The Fear of the Lord

Those who know God fear him. That’s a strange idea, but when we understand who God is, we should have a healthy respect for him. The book of Proverbs often speaks of “the fear of the Lord.” Listen to find out why this matters so much. Brian Watson preached this sermon on October 25, 2020.

The Heart

How do we handle our emotions wisely? The book of Proverbs speaks about the heart and various emotions. God cares about how we feel. Our feelings often betray us, but the hope of the gospel strengthens our weary hearts. Brian Watson preached this message on October 11, 2020.

October 25, 2020

Here is the worship guide for Sunday, October 25, 2020.

PDF version of the worship guide to download or print.

The livestream will begin at 10:30 a.m. on our Facebook page or YouTube page.

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Description automatically generatedWelcome and Announcements

Opening Prayer

Hymn: “Be Thou My Vision”

Traditional Irish melody; ancient Irish text translated by Mary E. Byrne, set to verse by Eleanor H. Hull

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

Be Thou my wisdom, and Thou my true word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord.
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son,
Thou in me dwelling and I with Thee one.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance, now and always.
Thou, and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my treasure Thou art.

High King of heaven, my victory won,
may I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be my vision, O Ruler of all.

Hymn: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”

Words and music by Martin Luther

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
and He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God has willed His truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
one little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
the body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still:
His kingdom is forever.

Scripture Reading and Prayer:

1 Thessalonians 3:6–13 (ESV)

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, 10 as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?

11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Sermon: “The Fear of the Lord”

Here are the verses from Proverbs about fearing and trusting God:

Proverbs 14:26–27 (ESV)

26  In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence,
and his children will have a refuge.
27  The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life,
that one may turn away from the snares of death.

Proverbs 15:16 (ESV)

Better is a little with the fear of the Lord
than great treasure and trouble with it.

Proverbs 15:33 (ESV)

The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom,
and humility comes before honor.

Proverbs 16:6 (ESV)

By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for,
and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil.

Proverbs 16:20 (ESV)

Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good,

and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.

Proverbs19:23 (ESV)

The fear of the Lord leads to life,
and whoever has it rests satisfied;
he will not be visited by harm.

Proverbs 22:4 (ESV)

The reward for humility and fear of the Lord
is riches and honor and life.

Proverbs 23:17–18 (ESV)

17  Let not your heart envy sinners,
but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day.
18  Surely there is a future,
and your hope will not be cut off.

Proverbs 24:21–22 (ESV)

21  My son, fear the Lord and the king,
and do not join with those who do otherwise,
22  for disaster will arise suddenly from them,
and who knows the ruin that will come from them both?

Proverbs 28:14 (ESV)

Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always,
but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.

Proverbs 29:25 (ESV)

The fear of man lays a snare,
but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.

Hymn: “Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul”

Words by Anne Steele, music by Matt Merker

Dear refuge of my weary soul, on Thee, when sorrows rise,
on Thee, when waves of trouble roll, my fainting hope relies.
To Thee I tell each rising grief, for Thou alone canst heal;
Thy Word can bring a sweet relief for every pain I feel.

But oh! when gloomy doubts prevail, I fear to call Thee mine.
The springs of comfort seem to fail, and all my hopes decline.
Yet, gracious God, where shall I flee? Thou art my only trust;
and still my soul would cleave to Thee though prostrate in the dust

Hast Thou not bid me seek Thy face, and shall I seek in vain?
And can the ear of sovereign grace, be deaf when I complain?
No, still the ear of sovereign grace, attends the mourner’s prayer;
Oh, may I ever find access to breathe my sorrows there.

Thy mercy seat is open still, there let my soul retreat;
with humble hope attend Thy will, and wait beneath Thy feet.
Thy mercy seat is open still, here let my soul retreat;
with humble hope attend Thy will, and wait beneath Thy feet.

Benediction
1 Thessalonians 5:23–24 (ESV)

23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

 

Justice

What is justice? The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about justice. And if we think about justice in the context of the whole Bible, we must realize that not only have others been unjust, but we have been unjust, too. Yet there is hope: God justifies the unrighteous through the righteousness of Christ. Brian Watson preached this sermon on October 18, 2020.

The King

What characteristics does an ideal leader possess? The book of Proverbs speaks of wise and foolish kings, princes, and rulers. As we think of politics, we should consider what God in his wisdom says about leaders. Brian Watson preached this message on September 27, 2020.

October 18, 2020

Here is the worship guide for Sunday, October 18, 2020.

PDF version of the worship guide to download or print.

The livestream will begin at 10:30 a.m. on our Facebook page or YouTube page.

A picture containing drawing Description automatically generatedWelcome and Announcements

Opening Prayer

Hymn: “In Christ Alone”
Words and music by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend

In Christ alone my hope is found; He is my light, my strength, my song;
This Cornerstone, this solid ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace when fears are stilled, when strivings cease.
My Comforter, my All in All; here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone, who took on flesh; fullness of God in helpless babe.
This gift of love and righteousness scorned by the ones He came to save;
’til on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied;
for every sin on Him was laid; here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay; Light of the world by darkness slain.
Then, bursting forth in glorious Day, up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory, sin’s curse has lost its grip on me;
for I am His and He is mine, bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me.
From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from His hand;
’til He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I’ll stand!

Song: “This Is Amazing Grace”
Words and music by Phil Wickham, Jeremy Riddle, and Josh Farro

Who breaks the power of sin and darkness,
whose love is mighty and so much stronger?
The King of glory, the King above all kings.

Who shakes the whole earth with holy thunder
and leaves us breathless in awe and wonder?
The King of glory, the King above all kings.

This is amazing grace, this is unfailing love,
that You would take my place, that You would bear my cross.
You laid down Your life that I would be set free.
Oh, Jesus, I sing for all that You’ve done for me.

Who brings our chaos back into order,
who makes the orphan a son and daughter?
The King of glory, the King of glory.

Who rules the nations with truth and justice,
shines like the sun in all of its brilliance?
The King of glory, the King above all kings.

This is amazing grace, this is unfailing love,
that You would take my place, that You would bear my cross.
You laid down Your life that I would be set free.
Oh, Jesus, I sing for all that You’ve done for me.

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!
Worthy is the King who conquered the grave.
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!
Worthy is the King who conquered the grave.
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!
Worthy is the King who conquered the grave.
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!
Worthy, worthy, worthy!

This is amazing grace, this is unfailing love,
that You would take my place, that You would bear my cross.
You laid down Your life that I would be set free.
Oh, Jesus, I sing for all that You’ve done for me.

Scripture Reading and Prayer:
Ephesians 1:15–23 (ESV)

15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Sermon: “Justice”

Here are some of the Proverbs on justice:

Proverbs 16:11 (ESV)

 A just balance and scales are the Lord’s;
all the weights in the bag are his work.

Proverbs 17:13 (ESV)

If anyone returns evil for good,
evil will not depart from his house.

Proverbs 17:15 (ESV)

He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous
are both alike an abomination to the Lord.

Proverbs 17:23 (ESV)

The wicked accepts a bribe in secret
to pervert the ways of justice.

Proverbs 17:26 (ESV)

To impose a fine on a righteous man is not good,
nor to strike the noble for their uprightness.

Proverbs 18:5 (ESV)

It is not good to be partial to the wicked
or to deprive the righteous of justice.

Proverbs 18:17 (ESV)

The one who states his case first seems right,
until the other comes and examines him.

Proverbs 19:5 (ESV)

A false witness will not go unpunished,
and he who breathes out lies will not escape.

Proverbs 19:9 (ESV)

A false witness will not go unpunished,
and he who breathes out lies will perish.

Proverbs 19:28 (ESV)

A worthless witness mocks at justice,
and the mouth of the wicked devours iniquity.

Proverbs 20:22 (ESV)

Do not say, “I will repay evil”;
wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.

Proverbs 21:3 (ESV)

To do righteousness and justice
is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.

Proverbs 21:7 (ESV)

The violence of the wicked will sweep them away,
because they refuse to do what is just.

Proverbs 21:13 (ESV)

Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor
will himself call out and not be answered.

Proverbs 21:15 (ESV)

When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous
but terror to evildoers.

Proverbs 22:8 (ESV)

Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
and the rod of his fury will fail.

Proverbs 24:11–12 (ESV)

11  Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
12  If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?

Proverbs 24:23–25 (ESV)

23  These also are sayings of the wise.
Partiality in judging is not good.
24  Whoever says to the wicked, “You are in the right,”
will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations,
25  but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight,
and a good blessing will come upon them.

Proverbs 24:28–29 (ESV)

28  Be not a witness against your neighbor without cause,
and do not deceive with your lips.
29  Do not say, “I will do to him as he has done to me;
I will pay the man back for what he has done.”

Proverbs 28:3 (ESV)

A poor man who oppresses the poor
is a beating rain that leaves no food.

Hymn: “Compassion Hymn”

Words and music by Stuart Townend, Keith Getty, and Kristyn Getty

There is an everlasting kindness You lavished on us,
When the radiance of heaven came to rescue the lost.
You called the sheep without a shepherd to leave their distress
For Your streams of forgiveness and the shade of Your rest.

What boundless love, what fathomless grace
You have shown us, O God of compassion.
Each day we live an offering of praise
As we show to the world Your compassion.

And with compassion for the hurting You reached out Your hand
As the lame ran to meet You and the dead breathed again.
You saw behind the eyes of sorrow and shared in our tears;
Heard the sigh of the weary, let the children draw near.

What boundless love, what fathomless grace
You have shown us, O God of compassion.
Each day we live an offering of praise
As we show to the world Your compassion.

We stood beneath the cross of Calvary and gazed on Your face
At the thorns of oppression and the wounds of disgrace;
For surely You have borne our suffering and carried our grief,
As You pardoned the scoffer and showed grace to the thief.

What boundless love, what fathomless grace
You have shown us, O God of compassion.
Each day we live an offering of praise
As we show to the world Your compassion.

How beautiful the feet that carry this Gospel of peace
To the fields of injustice and the valleys of need.
To be a voice of hope and healing, to answer the cries
Of the hungry and helpless, with the mercy of Christ.

Benediction
Ephesians 3:20–21 (ESV)

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

 

October 11, 2020

Here is the worship guide for Sunday, October 11, 2020.

PDF version of the worship guide to download or print.

The livestream will begin at 10:30 a.m. on our Facebook page or YouTube page.

A picture containing drawing

Description automatically generatedWelcome and Announcements

Opening Prayer

Hymn: “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”

Words by Robert Robinson; music: traditional American melody

Come, Thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above;
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, mount of Thy redeeming love.

Hither to Thy love has blest me; Thou has brought me to this place;
And I know Thy hand will bring me safely home by Thy good grace.
Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God,
He, to rescue me from danger, bought me with His precious blood.

Oh, to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning, I shall see Thy lovely face,
Clothed then in the blood-washed linen how I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace.
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry, take my ransomed soul away;
Send Thine angels now to carry me to realms of endless day.

Song: “Yet Not I but through Christ in Me”

Words and music by Jonny Robinson, Rich Thompson, and Michael Farren

What gift of grace is Jesus my redeemer.
There is no more for heaven now to give.
He is my joy, my righteousness, and freedom,
My steadfast love, my deep and boundless peace.
To this I hold: my hope is only Jesus.
For my life is wholly bound to His.
Oh how strange and divine, I can sing: all is mine!
Yet not I, but through Christ in me.

The night is dark, but I am not forsaken.
For by my side, the Savior, He will stay.
I labor on in weakness and rejoicing,
For in my need, His power is displayed.

To this I hold: my Shepherd will defend me.
Through the deepest valley He will lead.
Oh the night has been won, and I shall overcome!
Yet not I, but through Christ in me.

No fate I dread, I know I am forgiven,
The future sure, the price it has been paid.
For Jesus bled and suffered for my pardon,
And He was raised to overthrow the grave.

To this I hold: my sin has been defeated.
Jesus now and ever is my plea.
Oh the chains are released, I can sing: I am free!
Yet not I, but through Christ in me.

With every breath I long to follow Jesus.
For He has said that He will bring me home.
And day by day I know He will renew me
Until I stand with joy before the throne.

To this I hold: my hope is only Jesus.
All the glory evermore to Him.
When the race is complete, still my lips shall repeat:
Yet not I, but through Christ in me!

When the race is complete, still my lips shall repeat:
Yet not I, but through Christ in me!
Yet not I, but through Christ in me!
Yet not I, but through Christ in me!

Scripture Reading and Prayer:
2 Corinthians 1:3–11 (ESV)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

Sermon: “The Heart”

Here are some of the Proverbs on emotions.

Proverbs 12:25 (ESV)

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down,
but a good word makes him glad.

Proverbs 13:12 (ESV)

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.

Proverbs 14:10 (ESV)

The heart knows its own bitterness,
and no stranger shares its joy.

Proverbs 14:13 (ESV)

Even in laughter the heart may ache,
and the end of joy may be grief.

Proverbs 15:13 (ESV)

A glad heart makes a cheerful face,
but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.

Proverbs 15:30 (ESV)

The light of the eyes rejoices the heart,
and good news refreshes the bones.

Proverbs 17:22 (ESV)

A joyful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Proverbs 18:14 (ESV)

A man’s spirit will endure sickness,
but a crushed spirit who can bear?

Proverbs 25:20 (ESV)

Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart
is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day,
and like vinegar on soda.

Proverbs 25:25 (ESV)

Like cold water to a thirsty soul,
so is good news from a far country.

Proverbs 27:19 (ESV)

As in water face reflects face,
so the heart of man reflects the man.

Song: “O Sing, My Soul”

Words and music by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa

O sing, my soul, the ancient song, and lend Your highest praise
to Him who is the King of old and dwells in endless days.
How resplendent His glory! How majestic His name!
Now to the Uncreated One, oh, Let the anthem raise.

O worship Him our Father God, the Spirit and the Word,
Who fashioned all things from His joy, and saw that it was good.
What perfection of friendship, what communion we shared!
But choosing death, we fell from life aside the guilty pair.

Now hear, my soul, the gospel song, attend the joyful news,
for Christ has come, the perfect Son, His Father’s will to choose.
In our place He did suffer, in our place became sin,
the death of death, the death of Christ who stands alive again

Now, people of the risen Lord, O hear the call to go.
Into the world we have been sent as messengers of hope.
Christ alone be our treasure, Christ alone our reward.
Come, bid the nations sing with us the praises of the Lord.

Benediction
2 Corinthians 13:14 (ESV)

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

 

October 4, 2020

Here is the worship guide for Sunday, October 4, 2020.

PDF version of the worship guide to download or print.

The worship service can be found on the church’s YouTube page.

A picture containing drawing

Description automatically generatedWelcome and Announcements

Opening Prayer

Song: “This Is Amazing Grace”

Words and music by Phil Wickham, Jeremy Riddle, and Josh Farro

Who breaks the power of sin and darkness,
whose love is mighty and so much stronger?
The King of glory, the King above all kings.
Who shakes the whole earth with holy thunder
and leaves us breathless in awe and wonder?
The King of glory, the King above all kings.

This is amazing grace, this is unfailing love,
that You would take my place, that You would bear my cross.
You laid down Your life that I would be set free.
Oh, Jesus, I sing for all that You’ve done for me.

Who brings our chaos back into order,
who makes the orphan a son and daughter?
The King of glory, the King of glory.
Who rules the nations with truth and justice,
shines like the sun in all of its brilliance?
The King of glory, the King above all kings.

This is amazing grace, this is unfailing love,
that You would take my place, that You would bear my cross.
You laid down Your life that I would be set free.
Oh, Jesus, I sing for all that You’ve done for me.

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!
Worthy is the King who conquered the grave.
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!
Worthy is the King who conquered the grave.
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!
Worthy is the King who conquered the grave.
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!
Worthy, worthy, worthy!

This is amazing grace, this is unfailing love,
that You would take my place, that You would bear my cross.
You laid down Your life that I would be set free.
Oh, Jesus, I sing for all that You’ve done for me.

Hymn: “Ye Servants of God”
Words by Charles Wesley, music by William Gardiner

Ye servants of God, your Master proclaim,  and publish abroad his wonderful name;
the name all-victorious of Jesus extol; his kingdom is glorious and rules over all.

God ruleth on high, almighty to save; and still He is nigh, His presence we have;
the great congregation his triumph shall sing, ascribing salvation to Jesus our King.

“Salvation to God, who sits on the throne!” let all cry aloud, and honor the Son:
the praises of Jesus the angels proclaim, fall down on their faces and worship the Lamb.

Then let us adore and give him his right: all glory and power, all wisdom and might;
all honor and blessing with angels above, and thanks never-ceasing and infinite love.

Scripture Reading and Prayer:

Philippians 1:3–11 (ESV)

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Sermon: “Counsel”

Here are some of the Proverbs on counsel and advice.

Proverbs 11:14 (ESV)

Where there is no guidance, a people falls,
but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.

Proverbs 12:15 (ESV)

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
but a wise man listens to advice.

Proverbs 13:10 (ESV)

By insolence comes nothing but strife,
but with those who take advice is wisdom.

Proverbs 15:22 (ESV)

Without counsel plans fail,
but with many advisers they succeed.

Proverbs 18:1 (ESV)

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire;
he breaks out against all sound judgment.

Proverbs 20:5 (ESV)

The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water,
but a man of understanding will draw it out.

Proverbs 20:18 (ESV)

Plans are established by counsel;
by wise guidance wage war.

Proverbs 24:6 (ESV)

for by wise guidance you can wage your war,
and in abundance of counselors there is victory.

Proverbs 21:28 (ESV)

A false witness will perish,
but the word of a man who hears will endure.

Proverbs 25:19 (ESV)

Trusting in a treacherous man in time of trouble
is like a bad tooth or a foot that slips.

You may also want to look up 1 Kings 12; Isaiah 11:15; John 14:15–17; Matthew 18:15–20; Acts 15

Song: “All I Have Is Christ”
Words and music by Jordan Kauflin

I once was lost in darkest night, yet thought I knew the way.
The sin that promised joy and life had led me to the grave.
I had no hope that You would own a rebel to Your will.
And if You had not loved me first, I would refuse You still.

But as I ran my hell-bound race, indifferent to the cost,
You looked upon my helpless state and led me to the cross.
And I beheld God’s love displayed, You suffered in my place.
You bore the wrath reserved for me, now all I know is grace.

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ.
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life.

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ.
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life.

Now, Lord, I would be Yours alone, and live so all might see
the strength to follow Your commands could never come from me.
Oh, Father, use my ransomed life in any way You choose,
and let my song forever be my only boast is You.

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ.
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life.

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ.
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life.

Benediction
Numbers 6:24–26 (ESV)

24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

 

September 27, 2020

Here is the worship guide for Sunday, September 27, 2020.

PDF version of the worship guide to download or print.

The livestream will begin at 10:30 a.m. on our Facebook page or YouTube page.

A picture containing drawing

Description automatically generatedWelcome and Announcements

Opening Prayer

Hymn: “O Worship the King”

Words by Robert Grant, music by Johann Michael Haydn

O worship the King all-glorious above,
and gratefully sing His wonderful love:
our shield and defender, the Ancient of Days,
pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.

O tell of His might, O sing of His grace,
whose robe is the light, whose canopy space.
His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
and dark is His path on the wings of the storm.

Thy bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air, it shines in the light;
it streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
and sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
in Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail.
Thy mercies, how tender, how firm to the end,
our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend!

Song: “This Is Amazing Grace”

Words and music by Phil Wickham, Jeremy Riddle, and Josh Farro

Who breaks the power of sin and darkness,
whose love is mighty and so much stronger?
The King of glory, the King above all kings.
Who shakes the whole earth with holy thunder
and leaves us breathless in awe and wonder?
The King of glory, the King above all kings.

This is amazing grace, this is unfailing love,
that You would take my place, that You would bear my cross.
You laid down Your life that I would be set free.
Oh, Jesus, I sing for all that You’ve done for me.

Who brings our chaos back into order,
who makes the orphan a son and daughter?
The King of glory, the King of glory.
Who rules the nations with truth and justice,
shines like the sun in all of its brilliance?
The King of glory, the King above all kings.

This is amazing grace, this is unfailing love,
that You would take my place, that You would bear my cross.
You laid down Your life that I would be set free.
Oh, Jesus, I sing for all that You’ve done for me.

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!
Worthy is the King who conquered the grave.
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!
Worthy is the King who conquered the grave.
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!
Worthy is the King who conquered the grave.
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!
Worthy, worthy, worthy!

This is amazing grace, this is unfailing love,
that You would take my place, that You would bear my cross.
You laid down Your life that I would be set free.
Oh, Jesus, I sing for all that You’ve done for me..

Scripture Reading and Prayer:

1 Timothy 2:1–4 (ESV)

1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Sermon: “The King”

There are many verses in the book of Proverbs that deal kings and rulers. Here are some of those verses, and some other passages from the Bible.

Proverbs 14:28 (ESV)

In a multitude of people is the glory of a king,
but without people a prince is ruined.

Proverbs 14:34–35 (ESV)

34  Righteousness exalts a nation,
but sin is a reproach to any people.
35  A servant who deals wisely has the king’s favor,
but his wrath falls on one who acts shamefully.

Proverbs 19:12 (ESV)

A king’s wrath is like the growling of a lion,
but his favor is like dew on the grass.

Proverbs 20:2 (ESV)

The terror of a king is like the growling of a lion;
whoever provokes him to anger forfeits his life.

Romans 13:1–7 (ESV)

1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

1 Peter 2:13–17 (ESV)

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

Proverbs 16:12–15 (ESV)

12  It is an abomination to kings to do evil,
for the throne is established by righteousness.
13  Righteous lips are the delight of a king,
and he loves him who speaks what is right.
14  A king’s wrath is a messenger of death,
and a wise man will appease it.
15  In the light of a king’s face there is life,
and his favor is like the clouds that bring the spring rain.

Daniel 2:20–23 (ESV)

20 Daniel answered and said:

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
21  He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
22  he reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him
23  To you, O God of my fathers,
I give thanks and praise,
for you have given me wisdom and might,
and have now made known to me what we asked of you,
for you have made known to us the king’s matter.”

John 19:10–11 (ESV)

10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”

Proverbs 29:12 (ESV)

If a ruler listens to falsehood,
all his officials will be wicked.

Proverbs 17:7 (ESV)

Fine speech is not becoming to a fool;
still less is false speech to a prince.

Proverbs 20:8 (ESV)

A king who sits on the throne of judgment
winnows all evil with his eyes.

Proverbs 20:26 (ESV)

A wise king winnows the wicked
and drives the wheel over them.

Proverbs 20:28 (ESV)

Steadfast love and faithfulness preserve the king,
and by steadfast love his throne is upheld.

Proverbs 21:1 (ESV)

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
he turns it wherever he will.

Proverbs 24:21–22 (ESV)

21  My son, fear the Lord and the king,
and do not join with those who do otherwise,
22  for disaster will arise suddenly from them,
and who knows the ruin that will come from them both?

Titus 3:1–8 (ESV)

1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.

[See also 1 Peter 2:13–17 above]

Proverbs 28:15–16 (ESV)

15  Like a roaring lion or a charging bear
is a wicked ruler over a poor people.
16  A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor,
but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days.

Proverbs 29:2 (ESV)

When the righteous increase, the people rejoice,
but when the wicked rule, the people groan.

Proverbs 29:4 (ESV)

By justice a king builds up the land,
but he who exacts gifts tears it down.

Proverbs 29:14 (ESV)

If a king faithfully judges the poor,
his throne will be established forever.

Proverbs 29:16 (ESV)

When the wicked increase, transgression increases,
but the righteous will look upon their downfall.

Proverbs 29:26 (ESV)

Many seek the face of a ruler,
but it is from the Lord that a man gets justice.

Psalm 146:3–4 (ESV)

Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
on that very day his plans perish.

Song: “Jesus Is Better”

Words and music by Aaron Ivey and Brett Land There is no other so sure and steady;

my hope is held in Your hand.
When castles crumble and breath is fleeting,
upon this rock I will stand, upon this rock I will stand.

Glory, glory, we have no other King but Jesus, Lord of all.
We raise the anthem, our loudest praises ring.
We crown Him Lord of all.

Your kindly rule has shattered and broken
the curse of sin’s tyranny.
My life is hidden ‘neath heaven’s shadow;
Your crimson flood covers me. Your crimson flood covers me.

Glory, glory, we have no other King but Jesus, Lord of all.
We raise the anthem, our loudest praises ring.
We crown Him Lord of all.

In all my sorrows Jesus is better; make my heart believe.
In ev’ry victory Jesus is better; make my heart believe.
Than any comfort Jesus is better; make my heart believe.
More than all riches Jesus is better; make my heart believe.
And our souls declaring Jesus is better; make my heart believe.
And our song eternal: Jesus is better; make my heart believe!

Glory, glory, we have no other King but Jesus, Lord of all.
Glory, glory, we have no other King but Jesus, Lord of all.
We raise the anthem, our loudest praises ring.
We crown Him Lord of all. We crown Him Lord of all!

Benediction
Titus 3:15b (ESV)

Grace be with you all.

 

A Word Fitly Spoken

The book of Proverbs tells us about those who mock and scoff and how to deal with them. It also tells us how words fitly spoken, words suited to their context, can persuade. Brian Watson preached this sermon on September 20, 2020.

On Death

PDF version for download or printing.

Introduction

When death penetrates our humdrum existence—when it bursts the bubble of our daily routine of work, errands, chores, diversions, entertainments, eating, and sleeping—we start to think.

But we try not to think about death much at all. There’s no time for such thought. We’re a click away from another channel to view, another site to surf. Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician and philosopher, once wrote,

As men are not able to fight against death, misery, ignorance, they have taken it into their heads, in order to be happy, not to think of them at all.

Despite these miseries, man wishes to be happy, and only wishes to be happy, and cannot wish not to be so. But how will he set about it? To be happy he would have to make himself immortal; but, not being able to do so, it has occurred to him to prevent himself from thinking of death.[1]

Additionally, though we are surrounded by the news of someone’s death, by violent digital simulations of gore and explosions, we don’t really see death all that much. How many of us have seen someone take their last breath? Unless you’re a doctor, a nurse, a police officer, a soldier on the front lines, an EMT, or an undertaker, you probably don’t have contact with dying people and corpses, do you?

Yet when someone we know dies—whether that person was beloved or simply who lived and breathed in the same circles we inhabit—we must think of death. We think of the loss of that particular life, but we invariably think about our own looming death—unless we distract ourselves from thinking that long.

There’s an interesting book by a French philosopher, who happens to be an atheist, named Luc Ferry. The book is called A Brief History of Thought. He begins by saying that the great problem for humanity is death. He says we’re different from animals because “a human being is the only creature who is aware of his limits. He knows that he will die, and that his near ones, those he loves, will also die. Consequently he cannot prevent himself from thinking about this state of affairs, which is disturbing and absurd, and almost unimaginable.”[2] He asks, “what do we desire above all else? To be understood, to be loved, not to be alone, not to be separated from our loved ones—in short, not to die and not to have them die on us.”[3] He says that the fear of death keeps us from really living, because we’re anxious about the future.

These thoughts of death give rise to troubling questions: Why do we die? What is the meaning of death? What, if anything, happens after death? Where can hope be found? I intend to answer these questions here.

Why Do We Die?

Whatever your own personal experience with death is, if death has come close to you, you surely recognize that death is a damned thing. I don’t say that lightly. Death is literally part of condemnation, the price to pay for sin. It hurts. It stings.

Christianity claims that we die because of the presence of sin in the world. God first made a perfect world, a world without death, disease, and pain. But when the first humans turned their backs on God and disobeyed him, the presence and power of sin entered into the world. There is a power at work within us—the power of sin—that gives us disordered hearts. We often desire things that are contrary to what God wants. And part of God’s judgment on sin involves our physical deaths. God told the first human after he sinned, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:17–19). In other words, life is going to be difficult; work will be hard; and eventually you will die. Unfortunately for us, we will all face that same fate. As Ecclesiastes 3:20 states, “All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.”

I realize that some people don’t believe this is why we die. Some people don’t think there is a God. They think we are the products of chance. We just happen to exist, and we have evolved from animals, and, like all animals, we die. Yet if this is so, why does death bother us so much? Why do we fear it? Why do we often avoid talking about our own deaths? If death is such a natural part of the world, why does it feel like an alien intruder? Why does the news of someone’s death produce such indignation and grief?

Many individuals place their trust in science. But science can’t tell us why we die. Science can tell us how we die. Science can tell us what happens at the cellular level, but it can’t tell us the meaning of death. We need someone to reveal the meaning to us, or else we’re just guessing.

What Is the Meaning of Death?

If you assume that after death lies nothing but nonexistence, you may not be bothered by your own death. I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone convinced that death is nothing but a long, dark sleep from which you will never awake. If that were so, our own deaths might not seem so bad. It would simply be nothing at all. It’s hard to say whether nonexistence is better or worse than existence. What would it be like to cease to exist? Whatever it is, we wouldn’t know. But there would be no pain, no agony, and no memories of any kind.

However, even if someone were to hold consistently to such a position, it does make sense to mourn the loss of those we love. After all, we’re still alive, and even if the deceased cease to exist, and are therefore not in pain, we still miss their presence in our lives. To mourn the loss of a relative or friend is understandable, regardless of what you believe regarding the possibility of the afterlife.

But we also respond to the deaths of strangers with a bit of indignation. This is certainly the case when there’s a shooting at a school, some terrible natural disaster, or a terrorist act. Now, if death is nothing, and those people are essentially nothing to us because they were not a part of our lives, why do we care? It makes little difference to our lives. Are we worried that something similar could happen to us? Is that it? I think there’s more to it.

If we’re honest, we fear death. Most of us try never to think about it. We distract ourselves with work, family obligations, hobbies, or frivolous entertainment in order not to think about death and the big questions that are often associated with death. Those big questions include: What is the meaning of life? What is truly important? What happens after death? Why are we here? I think most of us don’t have a philosophy that can answer such questions, so we don’t ask them.

But the way we react to death—the specter of our own death, the deaths of loved ones, and the deaths of strangers halfway around the world—indicates that we know death is wrong. It’s evil. It is simply not the way things are supposed to be. There is something very unnatural about death, even though we know all living things die.

I think the biblical view of death is the one that matches our experience. Like I said before, death is a damned thing. That is, the reason why we die is because of the presence of sin in the world. Sin is not just doing something “bad,” though it is that. Sin is a power. It is at work in our hearts and our minds to make us desire and think things that are contrary to what God has commanded and what he desires. Because of this power, and because we act on these urges and thoughts, the result is everything bad we experience: disease, decay, fighting, a lack of peace, natural disasters, and, yes, death. Part of the punishment for our rebellion against God is death.

Rebellion? Yes. “But I don’t rebel against God; I don’t even believe he exists!” Exactly. God made us to worship him, to know him and love him and make much of him. That is the purpose of our existence. That is what is meant when we are told that we are made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). But many of us go around acting (and even believing) like he doesn’t exist. If we aren’t fulfilling our purpose, we are in rebellion.

Imagine a hammer refusing to drive nails into wood. You would say that’s a rebellious hammer. Okay, a hammer isn’t a person and can’t do that. But you get the point. It would be like a person dressing in a US Postal Service uniform, collecting a pay check from the government, driving around in a little white vehicle with a bunch of letters and packages in it, and refusing to actually deliver that mail. That’s a mailman (or mailwoman, of course) in rebellion. You may or may not think he is a “bad” person, but refusing to do the very thing you were made to do is indeed very bad. And that’s the state we all find ourselves in.

So, though God made people who initially were not created to die, death came as a judgment against our rebellion. This is seen in Genesis 3, where Adam and Eve, the first human beings disobey God. And it’s quite famously stated in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death.” Death is something we’ve earned because our sin. (Likewise, James 1:14–15 tells us that our own twisted desires give birth to sin, which, when fully grown, brings forth death.)

So, that is why we die.

What Happens After We Die?

Scientists can never tell us what happens to our souls after we die. By definition, whatever existence we may or may not have after death is beyond observation and experimentation. Science cannot tell us whether we have souls or not, or whether there is a heaven or a hell. Science has its limits. Not all truth is confined to the natural world of observation and experimentation.

It is therefore necessary for someone to reveal to us what happens after die. We need to hear from someone who knows what does and does not happen, or else we could never know with certainty. Some people put a lot of stock in what they hear from people who have been clinically dead for a few minutes and then are revived. Personally, I’m a bit skeptical about that. I’m just not sure I trust that those people weren’t experiencing something in their minds that may or may not be true. What if they were dreaming or imagining something that was based only on their hopes or what they had heard from others? What if their experience of the afterlife was only a projection of what was already dormant in the recesses of their minds?

The exceptional experiences of those people aside, for the rest of us, death is an “outside the box” issue. Imagine that all of our experiences—everything we can observe and touch and discover—are enclosed in a box. Our planet, our galaxy, and our universe—these are all “inside the box” things. True, most of us will never explore all the contents of that box, but the point is that everything that we could possibly know through the greatest human discoveries fits inside that box. But there are “outside the box” issues, such as whether God exists or not, what the meaning and purpose of life is, and what happens after death. Those are things that we can’t discover on our own. Of course, we can speculate. But our speculation could very well be wrong, and those are issues that are too important to get wrong.

But this is where Christianity gives us great hope. God has revealed the truth of those issues to us. God is outside the box, but in no box of his own. God made the box. God sustains the box, keeping its form and shape and structure intact. And God works within the box, sustaining everything in it, too. God has sent messages into the box, by means of the Holy Spirit, an invisible, divine person who directed God’s messengers to say and write what he wanted them to. And here’s the most amazing thing of all: God became man and stepped into the box. And what happened after that gives us great hope.

Where Can Hope Be Found?

The Bible describes death as an enemy. This shouldn’t surprise us. As I said earlier, we already have this sense. If death is an enemy that conquers all human beings, our only hope is if someone—no mere mortal—can defeat this enemy. Can death ever be defeated? That sounds too good to be true. But it is true.

Our hero, the one who will defeat death, is Jesus. Jesus is God who became man. That’s what we celebrate every Christmas: the miracle of the incarnation, when God took on human form. He didn’t cease being God, but he added a human nature. This is like William Shakespeare entering into one of his own plays. Why would God enter into a world of death, of disease, and scores of other wrong, painful things? God entered into his creation in order to rescue us. He entered into his creation in order to pay the penalty for our rebellion. Every crime deserves a punishment, and because God is a perfect judge, he must punish the crimes. But if we were all punished for our crimes against God, there would be no hope for us—certainly no life after death.

Yet Jesus came to life the perfect life that we don’t live and to die the death that we deserve. In other words, as God the Son, he always obeyed the God the Father. Yet he died on a cross—an instrument of torture—in order to pay the penalty for us. God was satisfied to take the penalty that we deserve and to place it upon his Son. And the Son willingly came to take on that penalty himself.

But there’s something else: Jesus didn’t just die. On the third day, he rose from the grave. His resurrection from the dead shows that he has power over death. It shows he paid the penalty for our sin. He walked out a free man, and his empty tomb says that he paid the penalty for sin in full.

“O Death, Where Is Your Sting?”

Jesus later returned to heaven to be with the Father. But one day he will return and he will destroy the death.

In 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul, when talking about Jesus’ resurrection, says that Jesus’ work isn’t done yet. When he returns, he will deliver “the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (vv. 24–26).

Death is an enemy to be destroyed! And it will be destroyed. Remember, this message that Paul is relaying to us comes from God. Jesus commissioned Paul to be his representative, his apostle. Here, Paul is giving us this “outside the box” message regarding death. One day, Jesus will defeat it.

What does that mean for us? Those who have put their hope, their trust, their faith in Jesus, will one day have their own resurrection. We will all die—unless Jesus returns before we die. But those who have put their lives in the hands of Jesus will come back to life, in perfect bodies that can never die again. Here is what Paul says about that:

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:51–55)

One day, death will have no victory. Death will have no sting. When death dies, there will only be life. But this promise only holds true for those who have put their trust in Jesus.

What is Faith?

What does trust, or faith, in Jesus look like? Faith in Jesus must agree with a certain set of facts, a bare minimum, so to speak: there is one true God who created us; we have all gone astray (we have sinned against God); we therefore deserve judgment; Jesus is the God who became man, lived a perfect life, died a death in the place of sinners, and rose from the grave; therefore, it is only through Jesus that one can be saved.

But faith is more than believing a set of facts to be true. Faith is a relationship. In this context, faith in Jesus means loving Jesus, humbling one’s self before him, and possessing a willingness to follow him by obeying what he says. No one is saved by being good, by being obedient. One is saved from judgment by God’s grace, which operates through the instrument of faith. But real faith results in a transformed life, one marked by doing good. (This can be seen in Ephesians 2:8–10, and also James 2:14–26.)

Contrary to what some may believe, not everyone goes to heaven after death. Not everyone is in paradise, with God and with their loved ones. Only those who have true faith in Jesus will be in heaven. Only those who trust him for salvation and submit to him as Lord will be spared the wrath that is to come.

We Can Trust Jesus

If you read the four Gospels—the biographies of Jesus—you will find that Jesus is the most amazing figure that ever walked this earth. There are many good reasons to believe that these accounts of Jesus are true, that the Gospels themselves come from God. But perhaps the greatest one is this: Who would make up a story about God becoming man and dying for you? And if this story is true, who better to trust than the God who became man to die for you?

There’s one more passage I want to share. The book of Hebrews has much to say about Jesus. It tells us that Jesus is greater than angels and Moses and any other priest. He is truly the great High Priest, the one who mediates between God and human beings. And one of the works of Jesus was to destroy the power of evil, Satan himself, and the power of death. Hebrews 2:14–15 says that Jesus became a human being and died so “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

All of us fear death. I don’t know an honest person who says he or she isn’t afraid of death. Therefore, we are slaves to that fear. We like to think of ourselves as free, but we’re not. We’re enslaved to all kinds of things—addictions and fears chief among them. And we’re enslaved to our fear of death. But if we put our hope in Jesus, we don’t have to fear death. Jesus came to deliver us from death and the fear of death.

Do you believe that? Do you believe Jesus died for you and rose from the grave? Do you believe he will return to put an end to all evil, including death? If you trust Jesus, you have a hope that cannot be shaken, that can never be taken away. You will live a perfect life without end in a perfect world with God and every other person who trusted in the one true God. What a great day that will be.

Brian Watson

Notes

  1. Blaise Pascal, Pensées¸168-169, in The Harvard Classics 48: Blaise Pascal: Thoughts, Letters, and Minor Works, ed. Charles W. Eliot, trans. W. F. Trotter, M. L. Booth, and O. W. Wight (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1910), 63–64.
  2. Luc Ferry, A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living, trans. Theo Cuffe (New York: Harper, 2011), 2–3.
  3. Ibid., 4.

 

Words

Words matter. They can be used for good or ill. How then can we use our words wisely? The book of Proverbs says a great deal about words used wisely and foolishly. Brian Watson preached this message on those passages on September 13, 2020.

September 13, 2020

Here is the worship guide for Sunday, September 13, 2020.

PDF version of the worship guide to download or print.

The livestream will begin at 10:30 a.m. on our Facebook page.

A picture containing drawing

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Welcome and Announcements

Opening Prayer

Song: “This Is Our God”

Words and music by N. DeGraide, D. Fournier, Z. Jones, D. Pland, and G. Romanacce

God, our Father, full of power, Maker of the heavens, Maker of the world;
forming all things seen and unseen,
truly the Almighty beyond all measured worth. Holy is His Name.

We believe the Lord our God is One, Father, Spirit, Son; this is our God!
We believe forever He will reign. Let the church proclaim: this is our God!

Our Lord Jesus sent to save us, born unto a virgin, lived a perfect life;
greatly suffered, dying for us. From the grave He’s risen, seated now on high.
Holy is His Name.

We believe the Lord our God is One, Father, Spirit, Son; this is our God!
We believe forever He will reign. Let the church proclaim: this is our God!

Jesus will come back again to judge the living and the dead,
usher in the age to come; let everyone sing “amen.”
Jesus will come back again to judge the living and the dead,
usher in the age to come; let everyone sing “amen,”
let everyone sing “amen.”

Spirit, holy, One in glory, speaking through the prophets, empowering the Church;
life is given by and through Him, with the Son and Father, worshipped and adored.
Holy is His Name.

We believe the Lord our God is One, Father, Spirit, Son; this is our God!
We believe forever He will reign. Let the church proclaim: this is our God!

Hymn: “Speak, O Lord”

Words and music by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend

Speak, O Lord, as we come to You
to receive the food of Your Holy Word.
Take Your truth, plant it deep in us;
shape and fashion us in Your likeness,
that the light of Christ might be seen today
in our acts of love and our deeds of faith.
Speak, O Lord, and fulfill in us
all Your purposes for Your glory.

Teach us, Lord, full obedience,
holy reverence, true humility.
Test our thoughts and our attitudes
in the radiance of Your purity.
Cause our faith to rise; cause our eyes to see
your majestic love and authority.
Words of pow’r that can never fail,
let their truth prevail over unbelief.

Speak, O Lord, and renew our minds;
help us grasp the heights of Your plans for us.
Truths unchanged from the dawn of time
that will echo down through eternity.
And by grace we’ll stand on Your promises,
and by faith we’ll walk as You walk with us.
Speak, O Lord, till Your church is built
and the earth is filled with Your glory.

Scripture Reading and Prayer:

Psalm 150 (ESV)

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his excellent greatness!

Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!

Sermon: “Words”

There are many verses in the book of Proverbs that deal with words. Here are most of them arranged by topic. We will not read all of these this morning.

God’s word

Proverbs 30:5–6 (ESV)

Every word of God proves true;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
Do not add to his words,
lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.

Wisdom vs. folly in speech

Proverbs 10:31–32 (ESV)

31  The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom,
but the perverse tongue will be cut off.
32  The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable,
but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse.

Proverbs 14:7 (ESV)

Leave the presence of a fool,
for there you do not meet words of knowledge.

Proverbs 26:9 (ESV)

Like a thorn that goes up into the hand of a drunkard
is a proverb in the mouth of fools.

Words are a life and death matter

Proverbs 14:3 (ESV)

By the mouth of a fool comes a rod for his back,
but the lips of the wise will preserve them.

Proverbs 14:25 (ESV)

A truthful witness saves lives,
but one who breathes out lies is deceitful.

Proverbs 15:4 (ESV)

A gentle tongue is a tree of life,
but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.

Proverbs 18:6–8 (ESV)

A fool’s lips walk into a fight,
and his mouth invites a beating.
A fool’s mouth is his ruin,
and his lips are a snare to his soul.

Proverbs 18:20–21 (ESV)

20  From the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach is satisfied;
he is satisfied by the yield of his lips.
21  Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and those who love it will eat its fruits.

Wise ways of speaking

Listening

Proverbs 18:13 (ESV)

If one gives an answer before he hears,
it is his folly and shame.

Remaining silent

Proverbs 10:18–20 (ESV)

18  The one who conceals hatred has lying lips,
and whoever utters slander is a fool.
19  When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
20  The tongue of the righteous is choice silver;
the heart of the wicked is of little worth.

Proverbs 11:12–13 (ESV)

12  Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense,
but a man of understanding remains silent.
13  Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets,
but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.

Proverbs 13:2–3 (ESV)

From the fruit of his mouth a man eats what is good,
but the desire of the treacherous is for violence.|
Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life;
he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.

Proverbs 17:27–28 (ESV)

27  Whoever restrains his words has knowledge,
and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
28  Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;
when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.

Proverbs 21:23 (ESV)

Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue
keeps himself out of trouble.

Telling truth

Proverbs 12:17–19 (ESV)

17  Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence,
but a false witness utters deceit.
18  There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
19  Truthful lips endure forever,
but a lying tongue is but for a moment.

Proverbs 13:5 (ESV)

The righteous hates falsehood,
but the wicked brings shame and disgrace.

Proverbs 16:13 (ESV)

Righteous lips are the delight of a king,
and he loves him who speaks what is right.

Sharing knowledge and wisdom

Proverbs 15:2 (ESV)

The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,
but the mouths of fools pour out folly.

Proverbs 15:7 (ESV)

The lips of the wise spread knowledge;
not so the hearts of fools.

Proverbs 18:4 (ESV)

The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters;
the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.

Proverbs 20:15 (ESV)

There is gold and abundance of costly stones,
but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.

Bringing peace

Proverbs 15:1 (ESV)

A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Building others up

Proverbs 22:11 (ESV)

He who loves purity of heart,
and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend.

Knowing how to answer and persuade others

Proverbs 15:28 (ESV)

The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer,
but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.

Proverbs 16:21 (ESV)

The wise of heart is called discerning,
and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.

Proverbs 16:23–24 (ESV)

23  The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious
and adds persuasiveness to his lips.
24  Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul and health to the body.

Proverbs 25:11–13 (ESV)

11  A word fitly spoken
is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
12  Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold
is a wise reprover to a listening ear.
13  Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest
is a faithful messenger to those who send him;
he refreshes the soul of his masters.

Proverbs 25:15 (ESV)

With patience a ruler may be persuaded,
and a soft tongue will break a bone.

Proverbs 26:4–7 (ESV)

Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes.
Whoever sends a message by the hand of a fool
cuts off his own feet and drinks violence.
Like a lame man’s legs, which hang useless,
is a proverb in the mouth of fools.

Defending the oppressed

Proverbs 31:8–9 (ESV)

Open your mouth for the mute,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Foolish ways of speaking

Proverbs 26:17–26 (ESV)

17  Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own
is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.
18  Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death
19  is the man who deceives his neighbor
and says, “I am only joking!”
20  For lack of wood the fire goes out,
and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.
21  As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire,
so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.
22  The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;
they go down into the inner parts of the body.
23  Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel
are fervent lips with an evil heart.
24  Whoever hates disguises himself with his lips
and harbors deceit in his heart;
25  when he speaks graciously, believe him not,
for there are seven abominations in his heart;
26  though his hatred be covered with deception,
his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.

Speaking hateful words (tearing others down)

Proverbs 10:18 (ESV)

The one who conceals hatred has lying lips,
and whoever utters slander is a fool.

Proverbs 11:12–13 (ESV)

12  Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense,
but a man of understanding remains silent.
13  Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets,
but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.

Proverbs 25:23 (ESV)

The north wind brings forth rain,
and a backbiting tongue, angry looks.

Speaking rash words

See Proverbs 12:18 above

Proverbs 20:25 (ESV)

It is a snare to say rashly, “It is holy,”
and to reflect only after making vows.

Proverbs 29:20 (ESV)

Do you see a man who is hasty in his words?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.

Speaking words that divide

Proverbs 16:27–28 (ESV)

27  A worthless man plots evil,
and his speech is like a scorching fire.
28  A dishonest man spreads strife,
and a whisperer separates close friends.

Telling lies (and repeating that which isn’t true)

See Proverbs 12:17, 19 above

Proverbs 12:22–23 (ESV)

22  Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord,
but those who act faithfully are his delight.
23  A prudent man conceals knowledge,
but the heart of fools proclaims folly.

Proverbs 14:5 (ESV)

A faithful witness does not lie,
but a false witness breathes out lies.

Proverbs 17:4 (ESV)

An evildoer listens to wicked lips,
and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue.

Proverbs 17:20 (ESV)

A man of crooked heart does not discover good,
and one with a dishonest tongue falls into calamity.

Proverbs 19:1 (ESV)

Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity

than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool.

Proverbs 21:28 (ESV)

A false witness will perish,
but the word of a man who hears will endure.

Proverbs 25:18 (ESV)

A man who bears false witness against his neighbor
is like a war club, or a sword, or a sharp arrow.

Proverbs 26:28 (ESV)

A lying tongue hates its victims,
and a flattering mouth works ruin.

Proverbs 28:23 (ESV)

Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor
than he who flatters with his tongue.

Gossiping and slandering

Proverbs 18:8 (ESV)

The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;
they go down into the inner parts of the body.

Proverbs 17:9 (ESV)

Whoever covers an offense seeks love,
but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.

Proverbs 20:19 (ESV)

Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets;
therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.

Proverbs 25:9–10 (ESV)

Argue your case with your neighbor himself,
and do not reveal another’s secret,
10  lest he who hears you bring shame upon you,
and your ill repute have no end.

Boasting

Proverbs 27:2 (ESV)

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
a stranger, and not your own lips.

Venting

Proverbs 29:11 (ESV)

A fool gives full vent to his spirit,
but a wise man quietly holds it back.

Empty words

Proverbs 10:8 (ESV)

The wise of heart will receive commandments,
but a babbling fool will come to ruin.

Song: “Never Cease to Praise”

Words and music by Jeff Bourque

May we run this race, may we keep the faith,
may our eyes be fixed on Jesus,
that we’ll not lose heart in our struggle with sin,
and through suffering know endurance.

May we arm ourselves with the mind of Christ
to rejoice in trials and be not surprised.
May our hearts be so consumed by You
that we never cease to praise.

May our company be the saints You’ve called,
may we all stand firm in one spirit,
that the gospel’s truth may resound on earth,
that all living things may hear it.

May the fruits of faith mark the path we trod
through the life of Christ to the glory of God.
May our hearts be so consumed by You
that we never cease to praise.

May the words we share be Your grace and peace.
May our tongues speak Your proclamations
that the many parts of the body of Christ
be affirmed in their right relation.

As we long and wait for the groom to come,
may we learn to love, and spur each other on.
May our hearts be so consumed by You
that we never cease to praise.

When that day arrives, and our race is won,
when our griefs give way to deliverance,
we will fully know, as we’re fully known,
all our groans will end as new songs begin.

And a multitude from every tribe and tongue,
wearing robes of white, will stand before Your throne,
And our hearts will be so consumed by You
that we’ll never cease to praise!

May our hearts be so consumed by You
that we never cease to praise.

Benediction
Numbers 6:24–26 (ESV)

24  The Lord bless you and keep you;
25  the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26  the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

 

Family

God created family before there were cities, nations, or any man-made governments. It takes wisdom to live well as husbands and wives and parents and children. Find out what the book of Proverbs says about these important relationships. Brian Watson preached this sermon on September 6, 2020.

September 6, 2020

Here is the worship guide for Sunday, September 6, 2020.

PDF version of the worship guide to download or print.

The livestream will begin at 10:30 a.m. on our Facebook page.

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Welcome and Announcements

Opening Prayer

Hymn: “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”

Words by Robert Robinson; music: traditional American melody\

Come, Thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above;
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, mount of Thy redeeming love.

Hither to Thy love has blest me; Thou has brought me to this place;
And I know Thy hand will bring me safely home by Thy good grace.
Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God,
He, to rescue me from danger, bought me with His precious blood.

Oh, to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning, I shall see Thy lovely face,
Clothed then in the blood-washed linen how I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace.
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry, take my ransomed soul away;
Send Thine angels now to carry me to realms of endless day.

Song: “Never Cease to Praise”

Words and music by Jeff Bourque

May we run this race, may we keep the faith,
may our eyes be fixed on Jesus,
that we’ll not lose heart in our struggle with sin,
and through suffering know endurance.

May we arm ourselves with the mind of Christ
to rejoice in trials and be not surprised.
May our hearts be so consumed by You
that we never cease to praise.

May our company be the saints You’ve called,
may we all stand firm in one spirit,
that the gospel’s truth may resound on earth,
that all living things may hear it.

May the fruits of faith mark the path we trod
through the life of Christ to the glory of God.
May our hearts be so consumed by You
that we never cease to praise.

May the words we share be Your grace and peace.
May our tongues speak Your proclamations
that the many parts of the body of Christ
be affirmed in their right relation.

As we long and wait for the groom to come,
may we learn to love, and spur each other on.
May our hearts be so consumed by You
that we never cease to praise.

When that day arrives, and our race is won,
when our griefs give way to deliverance,
we will fully know, as we’re fully known,
all our groans will end as new songs begin.

And a multitude from every tribe and tongue,
wearing robes of white, will stand before Your throne,
And our hearts will be so consumed by You
that we’ll never cease to praise!

May our hearts be so consumed by You
that we never cease to praise.

Scripture Reading and Prayer:

Psalm 149 (ESV)

Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise in the assembly of the godly!
Let Israel be glad in his Maker;
let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
Let them praise his name with dancing,
making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
he adorns the humble with salvation.
Let the godly exult in glory;
let them sing for joy on their beds.
Let the high praises of God be in their throats
and two-edged swords in their hands,
to execute vengeance on the nations
and punishments on the peoples,
to bind their kings with chains
and their nobles with fetters of iron,
to execute on them the judgment written!
This is honor for all his godly ones.
Praise the Lord!

Sermon: “Family”

We will look at several Proverbs, and other passages, including some of the following:

Proverbs about marriage:

Proverbs 12:4 (ESV)
An excellent wife is the crown of her husband,
but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.

Proverbs 18:22 (ESV)
He who finds a wife finds a good thing
and obtains favor from the Lord.

Proverbs 19:13–14 (ESV)
13  A foolish son is ruin to his father,
and a wife’s quarreling is a continual dripping of rain.
14  House and wealth are inherited from fathers,
but a prudent wife is from the Lord.

Proverbs 21:9 (ESV)
It is better to live in a corner of the housetop
than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.

Proverbs 21:19 (ESV)
It is better to live in a desert land
than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman.

Proverbs 25:24 (ESV)
It is better to live in a corner of the housetop
than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.

Proverbs 27:8 (ESV)
Like a bird that strays from its nest
is a man who strays from his home.

Proverbs 27:15–16 (ESV)
15  A continual dripping on a rainy day
and a quarrelsome wife are alike;
16  to restrain her is to restrain the wind
or to grasp oil in one’s right hand.

Proverbs about children and discipline:

Proverbs 10:1 (ESV)
A wise son makes a glad father,
but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother.

Proverbs 13:24 (ESV)
Whoever spares the rod hates his son,
but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.

Proverbs 14:26 (ESV)
In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence,
and his children will have a refuge.

Proverbs 15:20 (ESV)
A wise son makes a glad father,
but a foolish man despises his mother.

Proverbs 17:2 (ESV)
A servant who deals wisely will rule over a son who acts shamefully
and will share the inheritance as one of the brothers.

Proverbs 17:21 (ESV)
He who sires a fool gets himself sorrow,
and the father of a fool has no joy.

Proverbs 17:25 (ESV)
A foolish son is a grief to his father
and bitterness to her who bore him.

Proverbs 19:13 (ESV)
A foolish son is ruin to his father,
and a wife’s quarreling is a continual dripping of rain.

Proverbs 19:18 (ESV)
Discipline your son, for there is hope;
do not set your heart on putting him to death.

Proverbs 19:26–27 (ESV)
26  He who does violence to his father and chases away his mother
is a son who brings shame and reproach.
27  Cease to hear instruction, my son,
and you will stray from the words of knowledge.

Proverbs 20:7 (ESV)
The righteous who walks in his integrity—
blessed are his children after him!

Proverbs 20:20 (ESV)
If one curses his father or his mother,
his lamp will be put out in utter darkness.

Proverbs 22:6 (ESV)
Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Proverbs 22:15 (ESV)
Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.

Proverbs 23:13–14 (ESV)
13  Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.
14  If you strike him with the rod,
you will save his soul from Sheol.

Proverbs 23:22 (ESV)
Listen to your father who gave you life,
and do not despise your mother when she is old.

Proverbs 23:24–25 (ESV)
24  The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice;
he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him.
25  Let your father and mother be glad;
let her who bore you rejoice.

Proverbs 28:24 (ESV)
Whoever robs his father or his mother
and says, “That is no transgression,”
is a companion to a man who destroys.

Proverbs 29:3 (ESV)
He who loves wisdom makes his father glad,
but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth.

Proverbs 29:15 (ESV)
The rod and reproof give wisdom,
but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.

Proverbs 29:17 (ESV)
Discipline your son, and he will give you rest;
he will give delight to your heart.

Proverbs 30:11 (ESV)
There are those who curse their fathers
and do not bless their mothers.

Proverbs 20:30 (ESV)
Blows that wound cleanse away evil;
strokes make clean the innermost parts.

Proverbs 29:19 (ESV)
By mere words a servant is not disciplined,
for though he understands, he will not respond.

Proverbs about grandparents and grandchildren:

Proverbs 13:22 (ESV)
A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children,
but the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous.

Proverbs 17:6 (ESV)
Grandchildren are the crown of the aged,
and the glory of children is their fathers.

Hymn: “O Fount of Love”

Words and music by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa

O fount of love divine that flows from my Savior’s bleeding side
Where sinners trade their filthy rags for His righteousness applied.
Mercy cleansing ev’ry stain, now rushing o’er us like a flood;
There the wretch and vilest ones stand adopted through His blood.

O mount of grace to Thee we cling, from the law hath set us free.
Once and for all on Calv’ry’s hill, love and justice shall agree.
Praise the Lord! The price is paid, the curse defeated by the Lamb.
We who once were slaves by birth, sons and daughters now we stand.

O well of joy is mine to drink, for my Lord has conquered death.,
Victorious forevermore, the ancient foe is laid to rest.
Hallelujah! Christ is King, alive and reigning on the throne;
Our tongues employed with hymns of praise: Glory be to God alone.

Hallelujah! Christ is King, alive and reigning on the throne;
Our tongues employed with hymns of praise: Glory be to God alone.

Benediction
Galatians 6:18 (ESV)

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.

 

A Friend

To live well, we need real friends. The book of Proverbs highlights the importance of friendship. The good news is that there is someone who can be our friend, who will stick with us through adversity. Brian Watson preached this sermon on August 30, 2020.

Anger

Anger is a common and explosive emotion. The Bible warns against anger, but there is a proper place for it. Find out how to be angry (and not be angry) in a godly way. Brian Watson preached this message on August 23, 2020.

The Slothful

Sloth isn’t just laziness. It’s a wrong attitude towards work. We become slothful when we fail to work at all, when we make work our god, and when we fail to do the work that God has called us to do. Brian Watson preached this sermon on August 16, 2020.

Self-Control

A person without self-control is open to attacks from without and within. This is certainly true in the area of lust. Brian Watson preached this message on August 9, 2020.

The Drunkard and the Glutton

Wisdom would has us eat and drink joyfully, gratefully, and in moderation. Yet there are many ways to abuse food and drink. Find out what the Bible has to say on these matters by listening to this sermon, preached by Brian Watson on August 2, 2020.

A Greedy Man Stirs up Strife

What does the Bible say about greed? How do we avoid greed? Brian Watson preached this message on July 26, 2020.

“Be Not Envious”

Continuing our study of the seven deadly sins, or seven root vices, we look at envy. Pastor Brian Watson preached this message on July 19, 2020.

Pride Goes before Destruction

Pride may very well be the root of all evil and sin. Not surprisingly, Proverbs mentions the problem of pride. Find out what the Bible says about the problem of pride as well as what it says about the solution to pride. Brian Watson preached this message on July 12, 2020.

Whoever Is Simple, Let Him Turn in Here (Proverbs 9)

Both wisdom and folly call to us. How do we know which is which? To whom are we listening and responding to? Learn how to discern between wisdom and folly by fearing the Lord. Brian Watson preached this message on July 5, 2020.

Whoever Finds Me Finds Life (Proverbs 8)

God’s wisdom calls to us, offering life. This wisdom is worth more than the world’s greatest riches. We can have it if we respond to wisdom’s call. Are we listening? Are we responding? Brian Watson preached this sermon on June 28, 2020.

Let Not Your Heart Turn Aside (Proverbs 6:20-7:27)

One of the great traps in life is sexual sin. Find out what wisdom says about sex and marriage and temptation by listening to this sermon, preached by Brian Watson on June 21, 2020.

One Who Sows Discord (Proverbs 6:1-19)

God hates those who sow discord. What creates division? Lies and gossip, as well as failing to pay our debts and to do work. Find out what wisdom God gives us concerning debt, work, and divisiveness, as well as how Jesus is the solution for our failures in these areas. Pastor Brian Watson preached this message, on Proverbs 6:1-19, on June 14, 2020.

A Forbidden Woman (Proverbs 5)

Solomon warns his son to stay away from a forbidden woman and to find enjoyment in his own wife. How does this apply to all of us, both men and women? Listen to find out. Pastor Brian Watson preached this sermon on June 7, 2020.

Be Attentive (Proverbs 4)

How do we become wise? We must listen to those who have wisdom. We must put their words into practice. And we must give our whole selves to the process of being wise. Brian Watson preached this sermon on Proverbs 4 on May 31, 2020.

The Lord by Wisdom Founded the Earth (Proverbs 3)

God created the universe by his wisdom. Because God is all-wise and all-knowing, and because he created life to function a certain way, the wise person listens to God’s word, leans on God’s understanding, and does life on God’s terms. Pastor Brian Watson preached this sermon on Proverbs 3 on May 24, 2020.

If You Receive My Words (Proverbs 2)

How do we learn? How do we become wise? We must seek wisdom and treasure it, yet it is God who gives wisdom and enables us to seek it. Brian Watson preached this message on Proverbs 2 on May 17, 2020.

To Know Wisdom (Proverbs 1)

We are flooded with information and misinformati0n. What we need is not always more facts. We need wisdom to learn how to live life well and to interpret what we experience. Wisdom begins with fearing the Lord, who is the source of wisdom. Brian Watson preached this message on May 10, 2020.

Prepare to Meet Your God

This sermon was preached by Brian Watson on May 3, 2020.
MP3 recording of the sermon.
PDF of the written sermon (or read below). 

Many of us have been spending more time at home than we’re used to spending. Some of us have spent more time at home than we want to spend. A few weeks ago, my wife said she felt like she was “in prison.” Isn’t it strange to think that we don’t feel at home while at home? Shouldn’t home be where we feel best?

Perhaps what we’re longing for is something more than being home. Perhaps we’re longing to be in our real home, the place where we really feel best.

C. S. Lewis addressed this issue in his sermon, “The Weight of Glory.” He said that we have this “desire for our own far-off country,” our real home.[1] What we’re longing for cannot be found in this world. But still we try to find it here and now. We try to something that will satisfy our longings in beauty and pleasures. Some of us may try to find what we’re looking for in the past. If only we could back, then everything would be right. Lewis says, “But this is all a cheat. . . . These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”[2]

We all need a people, a place, and a purpose. Without those things, we will never be satisfied. We were made to be God’s people, to dwell with him, and to live for him. What we really need to be satisfied is a right relationship with God. We were made for God. Being with him is our true home. Taking pleasure in praising him is our purpose. As Augustine prayed over sixteen hundred years ago, “You stir men to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” [3]

The story of the Bible is a story about leaving home and getting lost in our wanderings. It is a story about God calling us back home. He sends things into our lives to get our attention, to summon us back to himself—if only we would listen and return to him. It is a story about God coming to take us back home. And the end of the Bible is a depiction of that glorious homecoming, when all things will finally be well.

Today, we’re going to focus on the part where God sends things into our lives to call us back to himself. I think that’s appropriate in the age of the coronavirus. I don’t know exactly why this virus exists, but I think it’s possible that God is using this event to get our attention, to remind us of how much we need him.

Today we’re going to look at the book of Amos, from the Old Testament. Amos is one of the so-called “minor prophets.” However, I wouldn’t use that name. Some people refer to the “major prophets,” like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. They use that name because these are some of the longest books in the Bible. And then they refer to the “minor prophets,” the last twelve books of the Bible, which are significantly shorter. But it’s a mistake to think of these books as “minor.” They are very important.

Let’s get a little historical background for this book. It begins with these words:

The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake (Amos 1:1).[4]

Amos was a shepherd who lived in the eighth century B.C. During this time, Israel had divided into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom was called Israel, and during this time Jeroboam II was king (793–753 B.C.). The southern kingdom was called Judah, and during this time Uzziah was king (791–740 B.C.). Both kings reigned for over forty years, which meant that this was a time of unusual stability. It was also “a period of unprecedented prosperity.”[5] Both kingdoms were wealthy. But these kingdoms were surrounded by enemies. In particular, the northern kingdom was threatened by the Assyrian empire, which was becoming the world’s superpower.

The book begins with a word of judgment against the nations around Israel and Judah. This is what the second verse of the book says:

And he said:

“The Lord roars from Zion
and utters his voice from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds mourn,
and the top of Carmel withers” (Amos 1:2).

Amos is sharing a word of judgment against the nations, a word from God, whose voice “roars” from Jerusalem.

First, there is a warning against Syria, represented by their capital city of Damascus (Amos 1:3–5). This was the country north of Israel. Then, there is a warning against the Philistines who lived to the west (Amos 1:6–8). There is also a word of judgment against Tyre, also to the west (Amos 1:9–10). Then, God promises to punish nations to the east: Edom (Amos 1:11–12), Ammon, (Amos 1:13–15), and Moab (Amos 2:1–3).

Why was God going to punish these nations? The Philistines helped Edom by exiling Israelites there (Amos 1:6). The Edomites fought against Israel (Amos 1:11). And the Ammonites did, too. In fact, Amos says “they have ripped open pregnant women” (Amos 1:13). That’s how brutal war can be.

Now, if you lived in Amos’s day, and you lived in Judah and Israel, you would be happy to hear that God’s judgment was coming against these nations. You would think, “Finally, God is doing something to punish these people!” It would be like a Christian who is a Republican hearing that God is going to punish Democrats. God was finally going to punish all the enemies that surrounded Israel.

But then Amos delivers some shocking news. God is going to punish Judah (Amos 2:4–5) and Israel (Amos 2:6–15). Why? Look at Amos 2:4–5:

Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Judah,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they have rejected the law of the Lord,
and have not kept his statutes,
but their lies have led them astray,
those after which their fathers walked.
So I will send a fire upon Judah,
and it shall devour the strongholds of Jerusalem.”
Judah rejected God’s word, his law. They didn’t keep his commandments.

Then, look at Amos 2:6–8:

Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Israel,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals—
those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth
and turn aside the way of the afflicted;
a man and his father go in to the same girl,
so that my holy name is profaned;|
they lay themselves down beside every altar
on garments taken in pledge,
and in the house of their God they drink
the wine of those who have been fined.

The rich and powerful in Israel bought and sold people. They “trampled the poor.” There was also sexual immorality. Father and son had sex with the same woman. This might have been connected to pagan worship practices. Strange as it may seem, sex was part of the worship in some religions. And the people committed idolatry, which is spiritual adultery. God was supposed to be their only object of worship, but they cheated on him. They worshiped at all kinds of altars built to worship foreign gods.

These are specific charges against a specific people at a specific time and place, but these are some of the major sins in the Bible: using and oppressing people, usually through some kind of economic means; committing sexual immorality; and worship false gods. In fact, you could say that misusing money means that your god is money. Having sex outside of the only proper context for sex—marriage between a man and a woman—means that sex is your god. When anything other than the true God becomes the most important thing in our life, the thing that causes us to love, trust, and obey it, that is our god. That is what we’re worshiping. But we were made for God. And God has every right to punish us when we’re destroying ourselves by failing to live according to his design.

Failing to love God and live for him is also a failure to acknowledge what he’s done for us. God says that he brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt and sustained them until he led them to their own land (Amos 2:10). For all of us, he has given us life and sustains our lives. He is our Maker, the one who sustains every breath and heartbeat, every second that we live. Yet we run away from him.

In chapter 3, we read this:

Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt:

“You only have I known
of all the families of the earth;|
therefore I will punish you
for all your iniquities (Amos 3:1–2).

God reminds Israel that he rescued them from slavery in Egypt. And he says that of all the people on the earth, they alone were the ones he “knew.” Now, God is omniscient. He knows everything. He knows everything about us. What this means is that the Israelites were the only ones he made a covenant with. He revealed himself to them. He gave them promises that were tied to his commandments. If they would trust him and live life on his terms, they would live. But they didn’t.

So, God says, because you were my special people and turned away from me, I will punish you. The reason why they are going to be punished is because they should have known better. God had been exceedingly kind to them, and they didn’t appreciate him.

So, God warns them of punishment, punishment that will come through their enemies. He wants them to know that when enemies defeat their cities, it is because he has brought that about. In Amos 3:6, God says,

Is a trumpet blown in a city,
and the people are not afraid?
Does disaster come to a city,
unless the Lord has done it?

Nothing happens unless God has somehow planned it, or even caused it, to occur. That was true of the judgment that would come upon Israel.

But God doesn’t punish because he is unloving. He punishes in order to correct us. He was sending disaster upon Israel to get their attention.

Let’s look at Amos 4:6–13:

“I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities,
and lack of bread in all your places,
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the Lord.

“I also withheld the rain from you
when there were yet three months to the harvest;
I would send rain on one city,
and send no rain on another city;
one field would have rain,
and the field on which it did not rain would wither;
so two or three cities would wander to another city
to drink water, and would not be satisfied;
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the Lord.

“I struck you with blight and mildew;
your many gardens and your vineyards,
your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured;
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the Lord.

10  “I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt;
I killed your young men with the sword,
and carried away your horses,
and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils;
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the Lord.

11  “I overthrew some of you,
as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning;
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the Lord.

12  “Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel;
because I will do this to you,
prepare to meet your God, O Israel!”
13  For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind,
and declares to man what is his thought,
who makes the morning darkness,
and treads on the heights of the earth—
the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!

God gave his people famine, bad crops, pestilence, and military defeat—“yet you did not return to me.” That is such as sad refrain. God caused these things to fall upon Israel so that they would return to him, but they didn’t.

I want us to see that God has the power to control all these events. He controls the weather. He causes rain to fall, and he also causes drought. He can direct kings and armies. He uses these things to bring people back to himself.

Now, you may think, “Oh, that’s just the Old Testament. God in the New Testament wouldn’t do such a thing.” But look at Luke 13:1–5:

1 There were some present at that very time who told him [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

People tell Jesus that Pontius Pilate has slaughtered some Jews. That’s a form of moral evil, the kind of evil that people do to each other. Jesus asks if this happened because these Jews were worse sinners. The answer is “no.” And he says something like that will happen to everyone who doesn’t repent, who doesn’t turn to God. Then Jesus mentions how eighteen people died when a tower fell. We don’t know why the tower fell. Maybe it fell because it was poorly made. Perhaps the people who made it made it on the cheap, or they didn’t calculate how strong the tower needed to be. Perhaps it was a minor earthquake that caused the tower to fall. It could have been a form of natural evil, the bad things that happen in nature. Again, he says that the people who died that way weren’t worse sinners. But everyone who fails to repent, to turn back to God, will experience something similar.

In short, every time that some evil occurs, it is a reminder to turn back to God. The reason why these evils occur is that humans turned away from God from the very beginning. God made us to love, trust, and obey him and we don’t do that. We want to be our own gods and goddesses. So, God uses evils to punish us, to get our attention, to cause us to turn back to him.

This reminds me of some of the words of C. S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain. First, he addresses our problem with God. Because of our evil nature, we don’t really want to know God as he truly is. He writes,

What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they said, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves,’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.’[6]

Then, Lewis says that God isn’t that way. God is love, and real love doesn’t coddle. Real love isn’t afraid to let someone suffer, if that is necessary. If your child needs a painful shot to be immunized, you don’t withhold that treatment because she doesn’t like needles. Lewis writes, “Love, in its own nature, demands the perfecting of the beloved; . . . the mere ‘kindness’ which tolerates anything except suffering in its object is, in that respect, at the opposite pole from Love.”[7] God wants us to experience the very best in life, which is him. But, in our natural state, we don’t seek him. That is particularly true when things are going well, when we seem to be in control of our lives. To know that God is God and we are not, we must come to the end of our illusion that we are at the center of the universe. We must come to the end of thinking that we’re God, that we’re in control. God uses pain and suffering to bring us into that position. As Lewis famously writes, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”[8]

So, after these words of warning in Amos, God says to Israel: “Seek me and live” (Amos 5:4). “Seek the Lord and live” (Amos 5:6). And,

14  Seek good, and not evil,
that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
as you have said.
15  Hate evil, and love good,
and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph (Amos 5:14–15).

God tells the people to seek him, to seek good and forsake evil, so that they may live. Now, this doesn’t mean that we can return to God by doing good things. We cannot get to God through our own efforts. We know this from the rest of the Bible. Our sin, our rebellion against God, runs deep and it taints every part of us and everything we do. We can’t drive out the evil from within us. But if we seek God, we will want to do what is good.

But when we return to God, it’s more than just paying lip service. God wants more than just for us to do a few religious things. He wants our hearts. He wants changed lives. Look at Amos 5:21–24:

21  “I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22  Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
23  Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24  But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

One of the sins of Israel was religious hypocrisy. They thought they could worship God and also worship other gods. They thought they could go through the motions by praying and singing and offering sacrifices to God, and then go and live like all the pagan nations around them. But that isn’t pleasing to God. In fact, God says he hates that. He hates religious festivals when they aren’t done from the heart. He hates singing, even songs that are about him, if it comes from unclean lips. He doesn’t want sacrifices made by people who aren’t sacrificing their whole lives. Instead, God wants people to love him and to live according to his word. That’s what justice is.

You may notice that Amos quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. here. That’s a joke, of course. Martin Luther King quoted Amos as a call to justice. But this justice isn’t just “social” justice. There’s only one form of justice in the Bible, and that is loving God and loving people the way that God wants us to. If we do justice in the public square but do immoral things in our private lives, that isn’t justice. It won’t do to provide for the poor and then engage in sexual immorality, for example. God isn’t impressed by that. He sees our condition. He demands righteousness.

And that leaves us in a bind. We aren’t perfectly righteous. We are not just. Even when we try to praise God, there’s still some taint of sin. Amos knew this. When he was shown visions of judgment in chapter 7, he says, “O Lord God, please forgive!”

How can we be forgiven by God? Perhaps the clue comes in Amos. In chapter 5, God says there will be a “day of the Lord,” a day of “darkness, and not light” (Amos 5:18). This will be a day of punishment, but it’s also a day of salvation. In chapter 8, we read these words:

“And on that day,” declares the Lord God,
“I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight.” (Amos 8:9)

On the day of the Lord, a day of punishment and a day of salvation, the sun will go down at noon. Darkness will cover the earth at a time when there should be broad daylight.

This day of the Lord came almost three thousand years ago, when the only righteous man who ever lived, Jesus of Nazareth, was put to death. Jesus, the Son of God, was sent “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). He came from a far-off country, from heaven, to bring people back to their God. He did this by living the perfect life that we should live but don’t, and then by dying in our place, taking the punishment for our sin that we deserve. When Jesus was crucified, darkness came upon the land at noon, a sign that he was enduring the wrath of God that we have earned. He didn’t do this for everyone. Only those who turn to Jesus in faith, who seek the Lord, are forgiven of their sins and will live with God forever.

We know Jesus is the one who brings us back home to God because in chapter 9 of Amos, God promises that after punishment, there will be a day of rebuilding. Look at Amos 9:11–12:

11  “In that day I will raise up
the booth of David that is fallen
and repair its breaches,
and raise up its ruins
and rebuild it as in the days of old,
12  that they may possess the remnant of Edom
and all the nations who are called by my name,”
declares the Lord who does this.

God promises to rebuild “the booth of David.” That’s a reference to David’s kingdom. David, the second king of Israel, was a great king. But David had already died, and his kingdom was divided. Yet God promised that a descendant of David would come and build a kingdom that will never end. This perfect king would defeat Israel’s enemies and bring about peace and justice that would last forever. We know from the New Testament that Jesus is that King. And he is calling a remnant of people “from all nations” into his kingdom. This passage is quoted in the Acts 15 when Jewish Christians are trying to figure out how Gentile Christians should live. The point is that the true Israel is everyone—Jew, Gentile, American, Chinese, black, white, male, female, rich, poor—who is united to Jesus by faith.

And those people will go home. They will live with God forever in a perfect world. Look at the end of the book, Amos 9:13–15:

13  “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when the plowman shall overtake the reaper
and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and all the hills shall flow with it.
14  I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,|
and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
15  I will plant them on their land,
and they shall never again be uprooted
out of the land that I have given them,”
says the Lord your God.

This garden imagery reminds us of the garden of Eden, where humanity was first “planted.” We were kicked out of the garden because we didn’t love, trust, and obey God. How do we get back to the garden? Jesus. We’re told that he will come back to earth one day to make everything right. Those who trust in him will live in this perfect world. The images here are just a taste of what this perfect world will be like, a world of prosperity and pleasure. But most importantly, it will be home because our God dwells there.

Why do things like viruses occur? Why is the world disrupted economically? We could provide naturalistic answers, answers that only appeal to what we can see with our own eyes. Or, we could say, “Well, there’s no good reason.” Or, we could spend our time blaming politicians. But ultimately, God sends these things to get our attention. They are the megaphone he uses to rouse a deaf world. Are we listening? Are we turning back to God?

God lets us go our own way, running away from him to pursue our false gods. But God uses difficult events to bring us back to him. Will we answer his call? If you’re not a Christian, I urge you to turn to God while there is time. Learn about Jesus and follow him. If you want to know what that would look like in your life, send me a message and I’ll help you any way that I can. Christians, take God seriously. Don’t just pay him lip service. He deserves more than that.

Turn to God while there is time. If we continue to run away from God, he may very well let us go our own way—forever. And that will be a dreadful thing. Even in the book of Amos, there is a famine that is worse than lack of food, and there is a drought that is worse than lack of water. Amos 8:11 says,

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God,
“when I will send a famine on the land—
not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord.

The most horrifying thing is not to have God in your life, not to hear from him. Now, if you’re not a Christian, you may think that you don’t have God in your life and that you don’t hear from him now. But that’s not true. God is everywhere and all of creation speaks of God (Ps. 19:1–6). But there will be a day when all who have rejected God will be removed from him entirely. To be cut off from God means to be cut off from love, beauty, truth, light, and life. It’s worse than we can ever imagine.

But God has come to do everything you need to be put back into a right relationship with him. And right now, he is calling you back home. Come to Jesus, the truth, the life, and the way back to your God.

Notes

  1. C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: Harper One, 2001), 29.
  2. Ibid., 30–31.
  3. Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 3.
  4. All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).
  5. Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 423.
  6. C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: Touchstone, 1996), 35–36.
  7. Ibid., 36.
  8. Ibid., 83.

 

The Message of Job

Why do we suffer? Where is God when we’re in pain? What is the answer? These are questions that we ask ourselves, even subconsciously. They’re answered, at least in part, in the book of Job. This sermon was preached by Brian Watson on April 26, 2020.

This Illness Does Not Lead to Death (John 11)

What does Jesus have to do with the coronavirus, or any sickness, and death? Pastor Brian Watson preached this message on John 11 to show what Jesus did when his friend got sick and died.

Why Are You Troubled?

This sermon was preached by Brian Watson on Resurrection Sunday, April 12, 2020.
MP3 recording of the sermon.
PDF of the written sermon (or read below).

I want to begin by asking you three questions. One, how are you feeling today? How are you doing? Some of us might feel great: We’re three weeks into spring, warmer weather is coming, and the Red Sox haven’t lost a game yet this season. Others might not feel so great, especially in this time of the coronavirus pandemic. Some of us may feel anxious, or trapped in our own homes, going stir crazy. Some of us may be worried about finances. Others may be worried about our loved ones. And some of us might not feel well in general. We’re battling health problems, we’re lonely and depressed, and we don’t feel very hopeful right now.

That leads me to my second question: What are you putting your hope in? Many of us are looking forward to getting back to what we usually do, such as spending time with people we love, working outside of the home, going out to eat, going to the gym. We may put our hope in little things, like eating a nice meal, reading a book, or watching a new movie. We may hope for bigger things: Some of us are hoping that our health will improve, or that we’ll get a promotion. Some of us are looking forward to graduating, or moving, or getting a new job. Some of us may not see hopeful things on the immediate horizon, so we’re putting our hope in ultimate things, that one day God will make all things right. Some of us may have little hope at all right now. Though it’s the beginning of spring, some of us are stuck in fall, where everything is decaying. Some of us are stuck in winter, where everything is dead and barren.

That leads me to my third question: What is troubling you today? What has disappointed you? What has you feeling down? Sometimes we feel troubled simply because we live in a world where things go wrong. We live in a world where our bodies break down and we die. We live in a world where people treat each other poorly. We may also feel down because we had our hopes set on something, and then that hope was crushed. Often, it’s that gap between our expectations and reality that troubles us. We hoped for a relationship that ended. We had hopes for a job that we didn’t get. We had hopes that seeing a new doctor, or even having surgery, would fix our bodies, and yet we’re not healed.

Today, it’s Easter. We remember the resurrection of Jesus. And as we remember that, we’re going to look at a passage that speaks to our troubles and our dashed dreams, but also speaks to a great hope that we have.

Today, we’re going to look at Luke’s Gospel, one of the four biographies of Jesus that we find in the Bible. If you’re not used to reading carefully through the Bible, this may be new to you. Christians believe that the Bible is ultimately from God. The Bible is the way that God reveals himself most clearly. So, we consider it carefully. Otherwise, we would simply be making things up about God. And that’s one of humanity’s biggest problems. We try to make God in our image, after our likeness. But God has said that he has made us in his image. We’re supposed to conform to him, and not the other way around.

Today, we’re going to read Luke 24. We’ll start by reading the first twelve verses:

1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 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? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.[1]

The setting is a Sunday, just outside of Jerusalem. Jesus had been crucified on a Friday. Though he had done nothing wrong—as Luke makes clear (23:4, 14, 22, 47)—he was treated as a criminal. The Jewish religious leaders didn’t believe that he was the Messiah, the promised King of Israel. They didn’t believe he was the Son of God. They thought he was blaspheming. They also were jealous of him. So, they wanted to kill him. To do that, they brought him to Pontius Pilate, the Roman Empire’s governor over Judea. Pilate didn’t think Jesus was guilty or a threat to Rome, but he wanted to make sure that the crowds in Jerusalem didn’t break out into a riot. So, he had Jesus killed. After Jesus died, he was buried in a rich man’s tomb. We’re told that a number of women who had followed him saw where he was buried.

Now, we see that the women come back to the tomb on Sunday morning. They were going to anoint Jesus’ body with spices, which was a practice that people did at the time, in part to keep the decomposing body from smelling.[2] You can imagine their surprise when they return to the tomb and find it open and empty. They see a couple of angels. They remind the women that Jesus had predicted his own death and resurrection (Luke 9:21–22; 18:31–34). So, the women go and tell Jesus’ eleven apostles what had happened.

How do the apostles respond? Do they say, “Of course! We have absolutely no problem believing that dead bodies come back to life!” No, they don’t respond like that. We’re told, “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (verse 11). Why wouldn’t Jesus’ own apostles believe? After all, Jesus had told them at least twice that he would be raised from the dead. I suppose there are three reasons why they didn’t believe. One, people knew then, just as people know now, that dead people simply don’t come back to life. Anybody would find this news hard to believe. Two, people in Jesus’ day weren’t expecting that one person would come back to life in the middle of history. British theologian N. T. Wright has talked about this quite a bit. He says that Gentiles weren’t expecting this sort of thing.[3] He says that Jewish people “never imagined that ‘resurrection’ would happen to one person in the middle of time; they believed it would happen to all people at the end of time [Dan. 12:2; John 11:23–24]. The Easter stories are very strange, but they are not projections of what people ‘always hoped would happen.’”[4] So, the apostles weren’t expecting that a man would come back from the grave in an indestructible body in the middle of history. Here’s the third reason they didn’t believe: In that day, women were not regarded as trustworthy witnesses. In the first century in Palestine, a woman’s testimony was almost useless. In that male-dominated society, a woman’s testimony would be heard in court only in rare cases.[5] Now, to be clear, the Bible has a very high view of women. The Bible doesn’t teach that women can’t be believed. But at this time and in this place, a woman’s testimony wasn’t credible. In fact, that’s one of the more significant bits of evidence that shows that this story is true. If someone were making up this story, they wouldn’t have chosen women to be witnesses.

What’s interesting is that most of the objections that people have to the resurrection of Jesus are brought up in the Gospels: “We can’t believe it. Those people who saw the empty tomb or the resurrection must have seen a vision. They were really hallucinating. Someone must have stolen the body. This is simply too good to be true.” But it is true, and there are many good reasons to believe it’s true. If you want to learn more, go to wbcommunity.org/resurrection.

Luke leaves that scene with Peter, one of the apostles, confused. Then he shifts to another scene. Later that day, two other disciples were heading to Emmaus, and on the way there, they were met by a stranger. We read about that in verses 13–24.

13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”

Here, we find two disciples, one of whom is named Cleopas. They are returning from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus. At first, they don’t recognize Jesus. And they’re sad. When Jesus asks them what happened, Cleopas starts to say that Jesus was a prophet who worked miracles and spoke amazing things. He says, “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” Even though they had heard the report from the women, and even though they knew the apostles had found the tomb empty, it seems like they’re crushed. They don’t know what to believe. They certainly don’t seem hopeful. The reason they were so crushed is because they thought that the Messiah would come and deliver Israel out of captivity to the Roman Empire. They were hoping for a political savior, and Jesus obviously didn’t defeat the Roman Empire. They don’t understand why Jesus died, and they can’t believe he was raised from the dead. You can tell they really didn’t believe the women’s report, because Cleopas says they had a “vision” of angels. He doesn’t say they actually saw angels. And though the disciples found the empty tomb, no one seems to have seen Jesus alive.

Now, before we move on, try to put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you had your hopes set on something. Your dreams seemed to be coming true. And then, suddenly, those dreams are dashed. Now, today you may very well be hoping for a political savior. You may have your hopes wrapped up in who wins the next election. You may hope that your health will improve, or that you’ll get a better job. Some of you may hope that a relationship will improve, or that you’ll find the man or woman of your dreams. But what happens when the thing you hoped for doesn’t come true? What happens when you get the thing you hoped for, but that thing—or that person—turns out to be a disappointment? What happens then?

And let’s push this further. What happens if you get a great job, and make a lot of money? What then? Are you happy? What happens if you have a great family? Will you be completely satisfied? These things don’t last forever. The fact is that we live in a world where we lose things. We lose money and jobs and good looks and good health. And, eventually, we will lose loved ones and our own lives to the grave. In a world where even the best things can disappoint us, and when the best things have an expiration date, where you put your hope? Do you have an answer? Or do you just refuse to think about it? It’s something worth thinking about. In a world of death, where do we find hope?

There’s an interesting book by a French philosopher, who happens to be an atheist, named Luc Ferry. The book is called A Brief History of Thought. He begins by saying that the great problem for humanity is death. He says we’re different from animals because “a human being is the only creature who is aware of his limits. He knows that he will die, and that his near ones, those he loves, will also die. Consequently he cannot prevent himself from thinking about this state of affairs, which is disturbing and absurd, and almost unimaginable.”[6] He asks, “what do we desire above all else? To be understood, to be loved, not to be alone, not to be separated from our loved ones—in short, not to die and not to have them die on us.”[7] He says that the fear of death keeps us from really living, because we’re anxious about the future. What is the answer to this problem? Is there an answer? We can either hope that there is answer or we can give up hope and assume there is none. What is the answer for you?

I’ll come back to that idea, but first let’s come back to Luke’s words to see what happened next. I’ll read verses 25–35:

25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

When Jesus first encounters these two disciples, they don’t recognize him. They don’t see him. And they didn’t understand what Jesus had done in dying. They didn’t believe he had really risen from the dead. But now, they finally see who has been walking with them. But they don’t see Jesus until they do two things. First, Jesus tells them that they were slow to believe all that the prophets had spoken. He asks, rhetorically, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” The Christ is another way of saying, “The Messiah.” What Jesus means is that these two Jewish men should have known the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, well enough to know that the Messiah would suffer and die. Jesus was probably referring to the famous passage in Isaiah 53 about a suffering servant who would die for the sins of this people and make them righteous. He could also have referred to a number of Psalms that speak of one who suffered (such as Psalm 22). And then we’re told that Jesus has a Bible study with these men: He interpreted all that the Old Testament said about him, from the first five books of the Bible (“Moses”) through the Prophets and beyond.

Now, you won’t find the name “Jesus” in the Old Testament of your English Bibles, though the equivalent in Hebrew is “Joshua.” But what Jesus means is that, one way or another, all the Old Testament is about him. The Old Testament certainly shows the need for Jesus. The Old Testament reveals our condition, that we were made to have a relationship with God, but we’ve turned away from him. Therefore, we are separated from God and separated from each other. We fight, we experience pain, and we die. There are things like natural disasters and viruses in the world. But the Old Testament also promises that one day God would make things right. He would do this through a descendant of Abraham, the patriarch who lived two thousand years before Jesus (Gen. 12:1–3; 22:18; Gal 3:16). He would do this through a prophet like Moses, who would reveal God’s word (Deut. 18:15–19.) He would do this through a descendant of King David, a perfect king who would rule forever (2 Sam. 7:12–13; Isa. 9:1–7; 11:1–9). And he would do this through that suffering servant, who, though he was righteous, would die for his people’s sins, so that they could live (Isa. 52:13–53:12). Also, all the many kings, prophets, priests, sacrifices, the tabernacle and the temple—all these things point to Jesus.[8]

Here’s the second thing that happens before these disciples can see Jesus. They eat with him. The words that are used—“he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them” (v. 30)—are very similar to the words used in Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples (Luke 22:19). What does this mean? Well, eating with someone means fellowship. It means sharing with someone. In a very real sense, these disciples are sharing something life-giving with Jesus. And Jesus is the one who is serving them the thing that gives life. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says that he is “the bread of life.” He says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). Of course, Jesus is speaking metaphorically here. He means that he gives life. He gives spiritual life. He satisfies the hunger of our hearts. He quenches our spiritual thirst. And, as God, Jesus literally sustains life and can cause us to live forever. Just a few verses later in John 6, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6:53-55). Now, Jesus isn’t advocating for cannibalism. He’s speaking metaphorically. He’s saying, if you want to live—truly live—I need to be your spiritual food. If you want to live forever, I need to be your spiritual drink. In other words, we need a steady diet of Jesus in order to have real life.

Now, why do I bring these things up? Here’s the point: In order to see who Jesus really is, we need to see him in the Bible. We need to spend time with God’s word. We need to read good chunks of it, not just little crumbs here and there. We need to feast on the Bible in order to know who Jesus really is. Otherwise, we’ll never really see Jesus. And we need to “feed” on Jesus, in the sense that we need to spend time with him. How do we do that? Coming to church is a great start. So is reading the Bible. So is praying. But the fact is people will never really know Jesus unless they’re willing to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8; Heb. 6:5; 1 Pet. 2:3). If you’re not willing to read the Bible a bit and spend some time in a church that actually teaches the Bible, you’ll never really know Jesus. You won’t know what he’s like. And, according to Jesus, you won’t have the hope of eternal life. But if you’re willing to pursue Jesus, he may open up your eyes so you can see him as he truly is.

After Jesus opens the eyes of these disciples, he disappears. And the disciples go back to Jerusalem so they can tell the apostles what happened. And just as they do that, who shows up? Let’s see in verses 36–43:

36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.

Of course, Jesus shows up. Again, the apostles can’t believe it. They aren’t expecting to see Jesus, even after they hear reports from the women and from these disciples. At first, they think Jesus is a ghost. But Jesus says, “Look at me. Can’t you see it’s me in the flesh? Touch me, can’t you see this is a real body?” Ghosts don’t have real bodies. And they don’t eat. But Jesus does. Some people have claimed that the apostles actually hallucinated, or that they had some kind of spiritual vision of Jesus. But that couldn’t have happened. Groups of people don’t have hallucinations. And the New Testament makes it clear that Jesus actually rose from the dead, in a physical body (see 1 John 1:1–3). He rose in a body that cannot die again (Rom. 6:9).

And how do the disciples respond? They marvel. They were incredulous. It’s not that they didn’t believe in Jesus. It’s that they couldn’t get over the fact that a dead man was now alive again. They thought it was too good to be true. So, they “disbelieved for joy.” In the midst of their amazement, they experienced great joy. Their hope was still alive.

Then Jesus does what he did with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. He tells the apostles that his death and his resurrection were in accordance with all of the Old Testament. He helps them understand the Old Testament. We see this in verses 44–47.

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.

When he says, “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms,” he’s referring to the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible. This is the same content that we find in the Old Testament, but in a slightly different order. The point is that the whole of the Old Testament is about Jesus, and he came to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17). Jesus’ death and resurrection were all part of God’s plan. Why did God have this plan? God sent his Son so that people from all nations would repent and find forgiveness in Jesus. Repentance is turning away from your present course and turning to God. It’s changing your mind about what is true and right and ultimate. But it’s more than changing your mind. It’s changing your heart and your actions. The Bible promises that everyone who turns from their old ways and turns toward Jesus will be forgiven. They will be forgiven for rejecting God, and disobeying him, and simply ignoring him. Those who turn to Jesus will have eternal life. Though they die in this life, that’s not the end of the story. One day, Jesus will return to fix everything. When he comes, everyone will be raised from the dead. And all who are united to Jesus—everyone who has repented of sin and trusted in Jesus—will live in a perfect world, where there is no more pain, and decay, and death.

So, what does it look like to repent and have faith in Jesus? The quickest way I can say it is this: Agree with God.

Agree that he made us in his image, and not the other way around (Gen. 1:26–28). He is the ultimate truth, not us. We’re not the center of the universe, but he is (see Rom. 11:36).

Agree that though he made us to have a right relationship with him, one that involves love and worship and obedience, we have not loved him and worshiped him and obeyed him as we should. At best, we ignore God. We don’t think of him. We don’t thank him. We don’t bother to learn what he’s like. We don’t spend time with him. We don’t try to please him. At worst, we know there’s a God, we know what he wants us to do, and we don’t do it (see Rom. 3:23).

Agree that because we don’t live as we should, God has every right to remove us from his good creation forever. And when we are removed from the source of all that is good, the source of life, we find death. That’s what we deserve (Rom. 6:23).

Agree that though we deserve that God sent his Son, Jesus, into the world (John 3:16)

Agree that Jesus is God and man (John 1:1, 14; Rom. 1:3–4).

Agree that he lived a perfect life (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:22). He never failed to love, worship, honor, represent, and obey the Father. He is the only one who has done this.

Agree that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin (Col. 2:13–14).

Agree that he rose from the grave, showing that his death was acceptable to God, that he is the only way to eternal life, and that all his people will one day be fully restored (Rom. 4:25).

Agree that Jesus is the only way to be reconciled to God, and that turning to him is the only way to be accepted by God (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

Agree that Jesus is your King and start living for him (Rom. 14:7–8; 2 Cor. 5:14–15).

I could go on and on, but that’s basically what it looks like to put your trust in Jesus.

The end of Luke’s Gospel brings us to where the book of Acts begins. I preached through that book four years ago, and you can find all those messages on our website.[9] At the end of Luke’s Gospel, he tells his followers that they are witnesses to what he has done. He tells them that he will send the Holy Spirit to them. Then he blesses them and ascends to heaven.

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.”

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 worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.

Earlier in the sermon, I asked how you’re feeling. I asked what was troubling you. Are you troubled by the past? Perhaps you have regrets about the wrong things that you’ve done. Look back further into the past, to the cross where Jesus died to pay for failures. If you turn to Jesus, he has already taken care of everything you’ve ever done wrong. Perhaps others have harmed you in the past. If you turn to Jesus, you can trust that Jesus will take care of all wrongdoing. He will judge everyone who has ever lived, and he will vindicate you.

Perhaps you’re troubled about the future. If you turn to Jesus, no matter what happens, in the end everything will work out for your good. You will be raised from the dead in a glorious body that can never die, and you will live in Paradise with him.

No other religion or philosophy offers what Christianity does. The good news, the gospel, addresses the problems of our past and the worries of our future. No other system of thought offers the hope that Christianity does. Earlier, I mentioned an atheistic philosopher named Luc Ferry. Even he acknowledges, “I grant you that amongst the available doctrines of salvation, nothing can compete with Christianity.” Yet he then states that while he finds the faith appealing, he doesn’t believe it.[10] What’s interesting is that earlier in his book, he acknowledges that when he studied as a university student, he knew nothing of Christianity.[11] In his own words, “for years I knew more or less nothing about the intellectual history of Christianity.”[12]

I find that is often true: Christianity is often poorly understood. It has not been weighed and found wanting. No, it’s simply not been weighed by many. It’s often misrepresented or marginalized and ignored. Whenever it’s portrayed in mainstream media, it’s almost guaranteed to be misrepresented. Often, even people who claim to be Christians misrepresent Christ. I’m doing my best to present it truly and thoughtfully here. All I ask is that you would take the time to learn about Jesus. You can read about the evidence for the resurrection on our website.[13] You can learn about Jesus by making use of our website. You can explore a sermon series called “Who Is Jesus?”[14] Most importantly, you can do that by reading the Bible. To know Jesus, you must search Jesus’ Scriptures and spend time with him. And if you taste and see, you will see that he is good.

Notes

  1. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).
  2. “The Jews did not embalm, so the spices and perfumes help to calm death’s stench and slow decomposition.” Darrell L. Bock, Luke: 9:51–24:53, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996), 1877.
  3. “Nobody in the pagan world of Jesus’ day and thereafter actually claimed that somebody had been truly dead and had then come to be truly, and bodily, alive once more.” N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2003), 76.
  4. N. T. Wright, Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 192.
  5. Flavius Josephus the Jewish historian, writes in his Antiquities 4.8.15, “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex.”
  6. Luc Ferry, A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living, trans. Theo Cuffe (New York: Harper, 2011), 2–3.
  7. Ibid., 4.
  8. Jesus also says the Old Testament is about him in Luke 24:44; John 5:39.
  9. To listen or read sermons in this series, visit https://wbcommunity.org/acts.
  10. Ferry, A Brief History of Thought, 261, 263.
  11. According to Ferry, when he was a student in the last 1960s, “It was possible to pass our exams and even become a philosophy professor by knowing next to nothing about Judaism, Islam or Christianity” (ibid., 55).
  12. Ibid.
  13. https://wbcommunity.org/evidence-resurrection-jesus-christ, or https://wbcommunity.org/resurrection.
  14. https://wbcommunity.org/jesus.

 

Why Are You Troubled?`

What is troubling us? Usually, we’re troubled because we expected something or hoped for something and didn’t get it. But if we understand who Jesus truly is and what he came to do, and if we put our hope in him, we will not be disappointed. Listen to this message from Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020.

(The sound quality isn’t great. That is true for the last three or four weeks. We’ll work to improve sound quality going forward.)

Father, into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit

This sermon was preached on April 5, 2020 by Brian Watson.
MP3 recording of the sermon.
PDF of the written sermon (or read below).

It’s interesting to see how people react to this pandemic we find ourselves in. Some people don’t take it very seriously. There were stories of college students on spring break who weren’t going to let a virus stop them from their vacations. And some of them became sick.[1] It’s not surprising that some young people wouldn’t think much about their own mortality and the mortality of others. On the other end of the spectrum, some people are very afraid. Some people are afraid of getting sick, or they’re afraid of their loved ones getting sick. I think more of us are afraid that this situation will cause other problems. We think we’ll lose our jobs, run out of money, or run out of food and basic household supplies. Why do people hoard? Because, at the end of the day, most people fear death.

This pandemic only highlights what was and has always been a reality: We will all die. That’s a hard truth. But I think it’s a good thing to think about death, for the very reason that we will all die. In one of the most fascinating books of the Bible, Ecclesiastes, we read these words:

 It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
and the living will lay it to heart (Eccl. 7:2).[2]

Death is a great teacher. Since we’re all going to die, we should think more carefully about what matters most in life.

One of my favorite philosophers, Blaise Pascal, thought deeply about the meaning of life. He uses this illustration to shock us to think about the meaning of our lives:

Imagine a number of men in chains, all under the sentence of death, some of whom are each day butchered in the sight of the others; those remaining see their own condition in that of their fellows, and looking at each other with grief and despair await their turn. This is an image of the human condition.[3]

That’s a cheery thought, isn’t it? We’re all sentenced to die, we see other people much like us who receive that sentence, and we know our time is coming.

Since that is the case, it’s foolish not to think deeply and carefully about death. If death is a great teacher, what should it teach us? There’s a great book called Remember Death, written by Matthew McCullough, that came out a couple of years ago. In that book, McCullough writes these words: “Death makes a statement about who we are: we are not too important to die. We will die, like all those who’ve gone before us, and the world will keep on moving just as it always has. No one is indispensable. It’s a harsh, even terrifying statement.”[4] Let those words sink in a bit: “we are not too important to die.”

But those are not the last words that McCullough writes. He also writes this: “If death tells us we’re not too important to die, the gospel tells us we’re so important that Christ died for us.”[5] The word “gospel” literally means “good news.” We’re looking for good news these days. And the best news is that God would send his Son to die in place of his enemies.

If that doesn’t make sense to you, I urge you to keep listening. It’s ironic to think that anyone’s death could be good news. But that’s what Christians have always believed. At the heart of the Christian faith stands Jesus. And the central act of Jesus is to sacrifice himself for his people, which is what we’ll talk about today. The other act that is central to what Jesus has done is to rise from the grave in a body that can never die again. We’ll talk about that next week, on Resurrection Sunday, better known as Easter.

Today, we’re going to continue to study the Gospel of Luke. We’re going to look at Luke 23:44–56. I invite you to turn there in your Bibles, or your Bible apps. You can find the passage easily enough with a Google search, too. If you don’t have a Bible, would you let us know? You can send a private message or contact us through our website. We’ll mail a Bible to you to make sure that you have your own copy.

Let’s start by reading Luke 23:44–49:

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 breasts. 49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.

Over the past two months, as we have studied the closing chapters of Luke, we have seen that Jesus was betrayed by one of his own disciples, arrested by Jewish leaders who didn’t believe that he was the Christ, the anointed King of Israel, or the Son of God, that he was put on trial for making himself out to be those things, and that he was sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate in order to satisfying a bloodthirsty mob. Last week, we saw that Jesus was crucified, nailed to a cross as if he were a threat to the Roman Empire.

Jesus was crucified at the third hour (Mark 15:25), which would be about 9 a.m., three hours after sunrise. At the sixth hour, at about noon, darkness appeared until the ninth hour, 3 p.m. Obviously, this is an unusual event. Why is darkness appearing in the middle of the day?

This darkness has everything to do with how we understand the meaning of Jesus’ death. Light and darkness have deeper meanings in the Bible. Throughout the Bible, we’re told that the human condition is one of darkness. Think about what light does. It shows us what is real. Without light, we couldn’t see. Light exposes what is truly there. Light also gives life. Without any light from the sun, life on earth would end rather quickly. The Bible says that our real condition is that we’re separated from God. We have broken a relationship with God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. That relationship is broken by our failure to love him, honor him, and obey him. Instead of coming into the light, into a true relationship with God, we hide from him in the darkness (John 3:19–20). It is our running away from God, our hiding in darkness, that is ultimately responsible for what is broken in the world. That is why we die. We run from the source of light and life.

But Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12). Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, we’re told that Jesus came to bring light to those who were in darkness (Luke 1:79). God the Father sent God the Son to reveal what is true, and to shine a light on the path back to God. In fact, Jesus is not only the light, but he is also the way to God (John 14:6). It was appropriate that when Jesus was born, in the middle of the dark night, the sky was filled with angels and glory, a brilliant light (Luke 2:8–14).

But now it becomes dark in the middle of the day. Why does this happen?

The answer is that this darkness is a sign of judgment. If you’re familiar with the story of the Bible, you know that Israel was rescued while they were slaves in Egypt during the time of Moses. God delivered Israel out of Egypt through a series of plagues. The ninth plague was darkness that covered the land for three days (Exod. 10:21–29). This darkness was a sign that judgment was coming. And, indeed, the next plague was the death of all the firstborn in the land (Exod. 11:1–10). So, this darkness that lasted for three hours as Jesus was hanging on the cross was a sign that God was judging sin, rebellion against him.

God, as the perfect judge, must punish wrongdoing. He must punish crimes. And this is a loving thing to do because sin is destructive. A loving person will want to crush that which destroys. God has promised that in the end, he will do that.

In fact, that judgment against sin was often foretold by the prophets of the Old Testament. They referred to a “Day of the Lord,” a day of salvation for God’s people and a day of destruction for those who rebelled against him. These prophets spoke of what would happen when God judges sin, and this often involved darkness. Here are a few passages. This is Isaiah 13:9–11:

Behold, the day of the Lord comes,
cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,
to make the land a desolation
and to destroy its sinners from it.
10  For the stars of the heavens and their constellations
will not give their light;
the sun will be dark at its rising,
and the moon will not shed its light.
11  I will punish the world for its evil,
and the wicked for their iniquity;
I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant,
and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.

And here is another word from God about the Day of the Lord. This is Amos 8:9:

“And on that day,” declares the Lord God,
“I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight.”

Again, here is another word about this day of judgment. Here is Zephaniah 1:14–16:

14  The great day of the Lord is near,
near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter;
the mighty man cries aloud there.
15  A day of wrath is that day,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
16  a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the lofty battlements.

So, what is happening here in Jerusalem, when the sky turns dark in the middle of the day as Jesus is dying? It is a sign that God is judging sin. But, as we saw two weeks ago, and as we’ll see again today, Jesus is completely innocent. He never did anything wrong. He never sinned. So why is God judging him?

Remember those words I shared earlier: “If death tells us we’re not too important to die, the gospel tells us we’re so important that Christ died for us.” Jesus was dying in our place. He was enduring the judgment of God that we deserve. All rebellion against God and all the destruction that comes with failing to love him and love others, failing to live life on the Creator’s terms, will be judged. But God did something amazing. He sent his Son, who came willingly, to bear the penalty that we deserve. Jesus was enduring the Day of the Lord on the cross. He was dying to pay the penalty for sin, a penalty that all of us should face.

There’s another sign that Jesus was atoning for the sin of his people. We’re told that the curtain of the temple was torn in two. The temple was where God dwelled among his people. It was a place of worship, where people taught God’s word and prayed. It was also a place of sacrifice. God told Israel to sacrifice animals, symbolically transferring their guilt to animals who would die in their place. Now, an animal can’t bear the penalty for a human. So, these sacrifices did not actually satisfy justice. But God told the Israelites to do this, and it was a sign that sin deserves to be killed. It also was a sign that the death penalty could be taken by another.

When Jesus died, he fulfilled the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. His death made the temple obsolete. (The book of Hebrews makes this abundantly clear.)

In the Old Testament, for people to approach God, they had to go to the temple. They had to go through priests. But now, to go to God, we only need to go to Jesus. So, the curtain’s tearing was a sign that there is now open access to God. You don’t have to go to a special building. You don’t have a go to a priest. You have direct access to God through Jesus. In fact, Christianity says that all Christians are part of God’s temple. The Spirit of God does not dwell in some manmade building that you must visit. The Holy Spirit dwells in God’s people. And the Bible says that all Christians are royal priests. Jesus is our High Priest, and we must go to him to get to God, to be reconciled to God. This doesn’t mean that there is no longer any kind of structured religion. Jesus gave the church pastors to lead, teach, and protect his people (Eph.4:11ff). And his people do often meet in buildings. But none of these things are necessary to know God and have a right relationship with him. All you need is Jesus.

Though Jesus seems to be passive in his dying on the cross, he is in control. He lays down his life. He yields his life to God the Father. He continues to trust in the Father, even as he’s enduring hell on earth. When he says, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” he’s quoting something from the Old Testament. He’s quoting a part of Psalm 31. This is what Psalm 31:1–8 says:

In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
in your righteousness deliver me!
Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily!
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me!
For you are my rock and my fortress;
and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;
you take me out of the net they have hidden for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hand I commit my spirit;
you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.
I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols,
but I trust in the Lord.
I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love,
because you have seen my affliction;
you have known the distress of my soul,
and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
you have set my feet in a broad place.

Even as Jesus is enduring the greatest physical suffering we can imagine, and even as he’s enduring greater spiritual and psychological pain that we can ever imagine, he trusts in God. God is his refuge, his help. He knows that God will deliver him. Even as Jesus saves his people, he serves as an example of how to trust God even in our darkest moments.

When Jesus dies, we see another example. We see a positive reaction to Jesus. A Roman solider, a centurion, a leader of a group of one hundred soldiers, sees Jesus suffer and die, and he comes to this conclusion: “Certainly this man was innocent!” This is the seventh time that someone claims that Jesus is innocent. Luke makes it clear that Jesus wasn’t dying for his own wrongs, crimes, or sins. He was dying for ours. If you want to know why Jesus’ innocence is important, go back and listen to my message from two weeks ago.[6] Jesus fulfilled God’s designs for humanity by living the perfect life, and he takes the penalty of sin for all who trust in him, so that his people, those who believe that he is Savior, Lord, and God, those who trust in him and are willing to follow him, are regarded by God as perfectly righteous, and their sins are removed from them, so that they can be forgiven by God and reconciled to him.

We also see other reactions to Jesus. The crowd leaves the site after Jesus died and they lament. And we see women watching Jesus’ death. This is important for at least three reasons. One, Jesus had female followers (Luke 8:1–3). While his inner ring of disciples consisted only of men, Jesus loved women and treated them with respect. Sometimes you hear how the Bible is misogynistic or somehow against women. But that’s not true at all. It’s also important to see that Jesus’ faithful followers are willing to follow him to the end. That, too, is an example for us. And, third, it shows that these women witnessed Jesus’ death. Jesus truly died. Some people claim he didn’t. Islam teaches that Jesus only appeared to die, that either he didn’t die or that someone else who looked like him took his place on the cross. But that’s not true. These women knew Jesus, they knew what he looked like, and they saw that he actually died.

Now, let’s read the rest of today’s passage in Luke. Here is Luke 23:50–56:

50 Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.

On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

This passage is important because it talks about Jesus’ burial in the tomb. We’re now told of a man named Joseph, who was good and righteous. He was a member of the Jewish council that was opposed to Jesus. And he didn’t agree with their decision. We don’t know if he actively worked against them, or if he silently disagreed. But it’s clear that he knew that Jesus did not deserve to die. In the other Gospels, we’re told that he was a disciple of Jesus (Matt. 27:57; John 19:38).

Joseph wanted to honor Jesus by giving him a proper burial. Jesus would have been buried in a shallow, common grave if Joseph hadn’t stepped in. To be thrown into a ditch is dishonoring. It was particularly dishonoring in the view of Jewish people, though we would think the same thing today. Just recently I watched a documentary on the Holocaust, and that documentary showed footage of the emaciated corpses of Jews being pushed by a bulldozer into a ditch. It was a horrific thing to see. Though these people had already died, it was a further offense not to treat their bodies with care.

Joseph, a follower of Jesus, wanted to honor Jesus, to treat his body with respect. After all, the body is no less a creation of God than the soul. So, Joseph asks for Jesus’ body. In Mark’s Gospel, we’re told that Joseph “took courage” to do that. Pontius Pilate, the Roman leader, might have treated Joseph poorly for asking for the body of an enemy of the state. But he doesn’t do that. Joseph is allowed to take the body, and he puts it in his own, unused tomb. This is important because we see that Jesus’ body had a specific location after he died. He was put in a tomb, one that these women saw, a tomb that would be empty less than forty-eight hours later.

It is also important because it shows that even Jesus’ burial fulfills a prophecy of the Old Testament. Isaiah 53:9 says this:

And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Jesus really died. Joseph would be able to see this. Jesus’ female followers saw it. They saw exactly where Jesus was entombed. We’ll see why this important next week, when we consider Luke 24 and Jesus’ resurrection.

Luke also tells us that Jesus that it is now the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, a day of rest. In Jewish law, all work was to be done on six days. The seventh day was for rest and worship. So, Jesus died on the sixth day, when his work was done. He accomplished all the work that is necessary for us to have a right relationship with God. As Jesus says in John’s Gospel, “It is finished” (John 19:30). And then, on the seventh day, Jesus rested in the tomb. On the eighth day, or the first day of a new week, Jesus will rise from the grave, to begin a new era.

Now that we have looked at this passage, I’ll ask the question that I always ask: why does all of this matter?

It’s important to see why Jesus dies. He dies to satisfy God’s justice against sin. Since he is innocent, he didn’t die for his own sin. So, he must have died for the sins of others. And he did. All who come to Jesus in faith, who are willing to confess their sin, to acknowledge that they are not God, that Jesus is God and the world’s only Savior, and who are prepared to follow Jesus like these women and Joseph, are cleared of all their wrongdoing. They are innocent. They are reconciled to God. Our greatest need to is be connected to God, to have a right relationship with Jesus. And Jesus gives us that. He gives us open access to God. We simply need to come to him.

The death of Jesus is also very important to people who fear death. And I think all of us fear death in some way. There’s a book in the Bible called Hebrews, which talks about how Jesus is all that we need to be in the right before God. Jesus is greater than angels, prophets, and priests. He is the true temple, the true priest, the true sacrifice for sin. Early in that book, the author of Hebrews says that the Son of God was made to become like us. He became a human being, to live a perfect life and to die in our place. And Hebrews 2:14–15 says this:

14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

Through his death, Jesus destroyed the work of the devil (also 1 John 3:8). The devil wants to tempt us to sin and then accuse us of our sin. In other words, the devil wants to separate us from God. And we willingly separate ourselves from God when we hide in the darkness. But Jesus came to destroy Satan’s work and to bring us back to God. If you have put your trust in Jesus, you have no reason to fear death. You are delivered from the fear of death, which is a form of slavery. And that is so important in this time.

If you’re a Christian, you should find the idea of Jesus’ death comforting. That’s not only true because he died to pay the penalty for your sins. But Jesus knows what it’s like to die. Jesus can relate to us. He knows what it’s like to die.

You may wonder how it is that the Son of God can die. Well, we should remember that dying isn’t ceasing to exist. Death is the dissolution of the body, a separation of body and soul, something that is not God’s ultimate plan for us. Christianity says that the body is important, because God made it. That’s why it’s important to honor the body, even after death. So, Jesus was separated from his body, but he continued to exist. There’s never a moment when the Son of God hasn’t existed. But he did take on a human nature over two thousand years ago, and that meant having a human body, one that could die. But even as a man, Jesus never stopped existing. His soul endured and went to paradise, which was opened up by Jesus’ death. The curtain is torn, heaven’s gate is open, and Jesus invites you to come in.

If you do fear death, trust in Jesus. Jesus has died. He knows what it is like to be mortal. But he came back to life. And Jesus has reported what happens after death. He knows what lies beyond the curtain of death. That’s not a frontier that scientists or politicians or journalists can tell you about. Science is important. I would say it’s a gift from God. But it has its limits. It cannot tell us what lies beyond the grave. We need someone to report that to us, someone who has died and come back to life, someone who knows everything because he’s God. Jesus is that someone.

We’ll talk more about the resurrection next week, but I think it’s important to say this even now. Jesus once told someone mourning the death of her brother these very important words: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25–26). That is a question for you, too. Do you believe? If not, I urge you to. At the least, learn as much about Jesus and the Bible as you can. I would love to help you do that.

Notes

  1. David Montgomery and Manny Ramirez, “44 Texas Students Have Coronavirus After Spring Break Trip,” New York Times, April 1, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/01/us/coronavirus-texas-austin-spring-break-cabo.html.
  2. All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).
  3. Blaise Pascal, Pensées 434/199, trans. A. J. Krailsheimer, rev. ed. (London: Penguin, 1995), 137.
  4. Matthew McCullough, Remember Death: The Surprising Path to Living Hope (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 28.
  5. Ibid.
  6. https://wbcommunity.org/i-find-no-guilt-in-this-man.

 

Father, into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit (Luke 23:44-56)

Why did Jesus die? What is the meaning of his death? Find out by listening to his sermon, preached by Brian Watson on April 5, 2020.

Father, Forgive Them

This sermon was preached by Brian Watson on March 29, 2020.
MP3 recording of the sermon.
PDF of the written sermon (or read below).

For some people, this is a very tense time. To put it mildly, some people are freaking out. We may feel like we’re under pressure. We all have experienced other times of stress, times when we feel like we’re being squeezed. When we’re under pressure, what comes out of us? What comes out of you when you are put in the vise grips of life? I imagine that there are times when you’ve been under pressure and something ugly has come out of you. I can imagine that because it’s true of me. When I’ve been in stressful situations, some ugly things have poured out of me.

It’s during those moments that our true selves are revealed. So, what comes out of you when you’re stressed out and under pressure? What does that reveal about you?

Now let us think about what comes out of the greatest man who has ever lived, Jesus of Nazareth, when he was under tremendous stress. This morning, we’ll see what comes out of him when he is pressured in ways that you and I will never be. When he has been betrayed, rejected, abandoned, mocked, tortured, and put to death, what comes out of him? And how do people respond to Jesus in this situation? Those are the questions we’ll consider as we continue our study of the Gospel of Luke this morning.

We’ll be looking at Luke 23:26–43. I would encourage you to look at the text if you can. You can find it easily through a Google search, or by visiting www.esv.org/luke+23.

To give us some quick context: this is the moment when Jesus is about to die. Jesus isn’t just a man, he’s the God-man, the Son of God who has existed forever, and who took on a human nature over two thousand years ago. He has spent two or three years teaching and performing miracles. In this last week of his pre-crucifixion life, he was in Jerusalem for the time of the Passover. A conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day increased throughout the week. These religious leaders did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God, or the Christ (or Messiah), which is a reference to an anointed king, a descendant of King David, who would come and reign over Israel forever, defeating their enemies and bringing about perfect justice and peace. The religious leaders were jealous of Jesus, they wanted to maintain the status quo and their power, and they simply didn’t believe him. So, they arranged for Jesus to die. They told the Roman leader, Pontius Pilate, that Jesus was a threat to the Roman Empire. Pilate didn’t believe that Jesus had done anything to deserve death, but because the mob demanded that Jesus die, Pilate gave in to their demands.

And now we come to Jesus’ crucifixion. Let’s begin by reading Luke 23:26–31:

26 And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. 27 And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28 But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”[1]

Jesus was put on trial inside the walled city of Jerusalem. Law required that crucifixion take place outside the city. It was custom to have the condemned carry the cross beam to the place of crucifixion. But Jesus is probably too exhausted to carry his own cross. He has been awake for twenty-four hours. He probably hasn’t had anything to eat or drink in about twelve hours. He has been beaten and flogged, so that he probably has already lost a significant amount of blood.

So, the cross is given to a man named Simon, from Cyrene, which was in northern African, in what is now Libya. This man was probably in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. I don’t want to read too much into his carrying the cross, but perhaps this is an echo of Jesus’ earlier teaching, that all who want to be part of God’s kingdom must be willing to deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23). To have a right relationship with God, we must be willing to change, to deny our natural desires, to be willing to suffer along with Jesus.

As Jesus is making his way to the place where he will be crucified, some people mourn and lament for him. Jesus turns to the women and says that they shouldn’t weep for him. Instead, they should weep for themselves and their children. That’s strange, isn’t it? Jesus has already been tortured, and he is about to die, and yet he says that they shouldn’t be sad for him, but for themselves? Why? Because a time of suffering will come upon them. Jesus already taught that in the future, great suffering would occur in Jerusalem. Roughly forty years later, the Jewish people would rebel against the Roman Empire. Rome would respond by besieging the city, surrounding it, attacking it, and destroying it. The suffering would be great. Many Jewish people would die. This destruction was God’s judgment against Jerusalem for rejecting Jesus. Yet even though Jesus knows that God’s judgments are just, he is sorrowful about them. And he warns these women. If God’s judgment falls upon him, the only truly innocent person who has ever lived, what will happen to those who have rebelled against God?

The fact that Jesus is concerned more about these women and their future grief than his own suffering brings me to my first point. In all that is happening, Jesus is not primarily concerned with what is happening to him. He is concerned about others. This is what a perfect person looks like. First, that person is primarily concerned about God, because God is the greatest being there is. Second, that person loves others and cares for their welfare. Jesus puts us to shame in both ways. When we are doing well, we often don’t look to the needs of others first. But when we’re suffering, that’s the time we usually turn inward. But Jesus doesn’t do that. He looks outward. If you want to suffer well, do what Jesus does. But the fact that we don’t look outward when we suffer is proof that we’re not perfect. It’s proof that we need someone like Jesus.

Let’s move on now and read verses 32–38:

32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

Jesus is not crucified alone. There are two others with him. Luke says they’re criminals, but it’s wrong to call them thieves. Crucifixion was reserved for enemies of the state. It’s more likely that they we’re insurrectionists of some kind. We might call them terrorists today. At any rate, they arrive at the place of crucifixion, called “The Skull.” In Aramaic, it is called Golgotha, which means skull. Sometimes, we use the word “Calvary,” which is a good example of Christianese, a language that we Christians understand but others may not. Calvary is an anglicized version of a Latin word that means “skull.” It was probably called that because it was a bit of land that looked like a skull. It was there, outside that city walls, in view of passersby, that Jesus and these two criminals are executed.

Crucifixion involved attaching the condemned to a cross beam, either by rope or by nails. Jesus was nailed to the cross. At the least, nails would be driven through his wrists, and perhaps also his feet. The Gospels don’t get into the gory details, however. Crucifixion was a word that wasn’t used in polite society, because crucifixion was so gruesome. It’s enough to know that Jesus endured a terrible death.

And as he’s hanging on that cross, left to die a slow, agonizing, literally excruciating death, what does he do? What does he say? What comes out of him in that moment of pressure and pain? He says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is amazing. Jesus prays to God the Father that these people who are putting him to death would be forgiven. Now, they should have known what they were doing. They should have known who Jesus is. But because of their unbelief, they thought they were putting a blasphemer to death. They were wrong. They were doing something tremendously evil. Yet Jesus wants them to be forgiven.

Now, I don’t think Jesus expects that they will be forgiven without their realizing what they have done. To have forgiveness, or at least to have forgiveness and reconciliation, there must be confession on the part of those who have done wrong. There must be remorse. There must be a desire to change and repentance. We don’t know how many people involved in Jesus’ death later repented and sought God’s forgiveness. But the important thing is to see that Jesus has a heart of forgiveness. He doesn’t want to hold their sin against them. He wants them to be reconciled to God.

The fact that these people have stripped Jesus and are casting lots for his clothes, and the fact these people are mocking Jesus, even after he has prayed for their forgiveness, highlights how unworthy they are to receive God’s forgiveness. But we’re not much different. Sure, we haven’t mocked the Son of God to his face, but we have often ignored him, acting as if he doesn’t exist, or acting as if he’s not King. No one is worthy to receive God’s forgiveness. That’s why his forgiveness is an act of grace. It’s a gift. And Jesus seeks that gift for others.

I want to point out two other things before we move on. One, what happens here fulfills a prophetic psalm. Psalm 22 is one of many Psalms written by David. It begins with the famous line, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Both Matthew and Mark report that Jesus cried out those words while he was on the cross. Psalm 22 also contains other words fulfilled by Jesus. Here are verses 6–8:

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

And then look at verses 14–18:

14  I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
15  my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
16  For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
17  I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18  they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

These words illustrate the kind of pain and suffering that Jesus endured. He was surrounded by evildoers, who gloated over him and mocked him. “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him.” Jesus must have looked like a joke to those who mocked him. What kind of king is this, who is crucified? How can this man be the Son of God if he’s dying, and dying in such a shameful way?

Jesus could have saved himself. He could have come down from the cross. He could have accessed the divine power that was always at his command. He could have summoned legions of angels to crush his enemies. But he didn’t do that. He laid down his life for his enemies. Why? If Jesus saved himself, he couldn’t save others. Jesus came to earth not only to live the perfect life, but also to die in place of sinners. He came to take away the death penalty that we deserve. He came to receive God’s wrath, God’s just penalty against sin. This was God’s plan. It was the Son of God’s plan. Jesus can’t save himself and save others. So, he endures suffering in order that others can be forgiven. What comes out of Jesus in his suffering? Forgiveness and sacrifice. He focuses on God the Father and on those who will be reconciled to God through his selfless act of love.

Let’s move on to the last section of today’s passage. Here are verses 39–43:

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at 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 sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 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.”

When the people who were killing Jesus said, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” they were mocking Jesus. They thought it was a joke. But one of the criminals who is being crucified alongside Jesus picks up this language. Luke says he “railed” against Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” He must have been desperate for a rescue.

But the other criminal rebukes him. It’s as if he’s saying, “Don’t you realize what’s happening here? We’re both guilty. We deserve condemnation. But this man is righteous. He’s done nothing wrong. If you realized who we are and who this man is, you wouldn’t talk to him that way. If you feared God, you wouldn’t talk to this man that way.”

This is something of a confession. This second criminal realizes he’s guilty. He makes no excuses. He doesn’t expect to be rescued from the punishment that he deserves. So, it’s a confession of his sin. But it also seems to be a confession of faith. Perhaps he doesn’t realize exactly who Jesus is. But he knows that Jesus is innocent. And he also knows that Jesus has the power to bring him into God’s kingdom. He realizes that Jesus is a king. Perhaps he realizes Jesus is the King of kings. That’s why he says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

How did this criminal know this about Jesus? Perhaps he heard about Jesus before this day. Jesus had become well known. But Matthew, in his Gospel, says that those who were crucified “reviled” Jesus (Matt. 27:44). Matthew uses the plural to indicate that both men reviled Jesus. So, what could move this one criminal from disdaining Jesus to having faith in him? It must have been seeing how Jesus suffered, seeing that he didn’t hate those who hated him. He saw that Jesus didn’t curse those who cursed him. Instead, he asked for their forgiveness. What kind of man would do that? Perhaps, this criminal must have thought, Jesus’ claims are true.

If the people who killed Jesus, who mocked him, provide a negative example of how to respond to Jesus, this criminal provides a positive example. He knows he’s guilty and he knows Jesus is his only hope. And in response, Jesus says, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Paradise is a word that comes from the Persian language. It refers to an idyllic garden. Paradise is where God put the first human beings, Adam and Eve. When they rejected God, he removed them from paradise. And ever since, we have lived in a world marked by suffering and death. That’s why we have thing like viruses that kill people. It’s because of the first sin, and also because we continue to sin—all of us. Ever since mankind was kicked out of paradise, we have tried to get back in. We also desperately want to get back to the garden, to be with God, because that’s our real home. That’s what we were made for. We can’t find paradise in money or politics, in romantic relationships or careers, in convenience and entertainment. Paradise only comes with having a right relationship with God.

The one way back to paradise is Jesus. He is the only road that leads back to God. And to make it possible for rebels, enemies of God, to come back to the garden, someone must take their sin away from them. God is a perfect judge who must punish evil. He can’t let the crimes of our failure to love him and to love others go unpunished. If we received what we deserved, we would be like this criminal, condemned. But Jesus came to save his people from their sin. He seeks forgiveness. So, though he is perfectly righteous, he lays down his life, allowing himself to be arrested, tortured, and killed, so that we can go free. Jesus was numbered with the transgressors, and he takes away their sin.

In dying among criminals, Jesus fulfills another prophecy from the Old Testament. This is what Isaiah 53:11–12 says:

11  Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12  Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

The Righteous One makes others righteous. He bears their iniquities, their sins.

But Jesus doesn’t do this for everyone. He makes “many to be accounted righteous”—not all. He “bore the sin of many”—not all. He only takes away the sins of those who come to him in faith, those who realize who he is and who realize that he is their only hope.

What do we do with this passage? What does it have to do with us? Let us think of what we have already seen.

I want to speak first to Christians. Christians, we must look first to God and then the needs of others. We must love God and we must love others, just as Jesus did. Jesus is more than an example, but he’s not less than an example. We can follow him by caring more for what God wants of us than what we want for ourselves. We can follow Jesus by looking first to the needs of others instead of being so concerned about our own needs. Even in our suffering, we must not forget the needs of others.

In this time, there are people around us who have needs. Most of those needs will probably be very practical. People will need help getting groceries and other supplies. Many people will need financial help. Over three million people filed for unemployment just last week. We should check in on our families, friends, neighbors, and coworkers to see how they’re doing. We should be prepared to help as we are able.

One way to help is to give to our benevolence fund, also known as the deacons’ fund. That money is used to help people in need. If you want to give to that fund, you can simply mail a check to the church and put “benevolence” or “deacons’ fund” on the memo line. But you don’t need to go through the church to help others.

The greatest need that we all have is to be reconciled to God. And to do that, we need to know Jesus. So, Christians, use this time to help other people know about Jesus. Tell them what you believe. Share with them this video, or other resources we have online. Give them a book to read, or even a Bible.

Christians, we should also seek to forgive as we have been forgiven by God. We should never curse our enemies or respond to hate with hate. It’s not just Jesus who asked for the forgiveness of his enemies. The first Christian martyr, Stephen, did the same. As he was being stoned to death, he said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). We should have that same gracious, forgiving spirit.

Now, to those who are not yet Christians: In this passage, we see two different ways to respond to Jesus. You can respond by laughing off the idea that God can become man and die in your place to take away your sins. Most of you won’t mock Jesus or the Christian faith, though of course there are some people who do that. You’re more likely to be apathetic or indifferent, to shrug your shoulders and say, “That’s a nice story, but I don’t believe it.” But that’s just another way to reject Jesus. Jesus is not someone you can shrug your shoulders at. He’s either God incarnate, or this is all a lie. If he’s the Son of God, then he demands a response like the one the criminal gave him, a confession of our sin and a humble request for help. If he’s not the Son of God, if this is all a myth, then you can feel free to reject Jesus, Christianity, and the Bible.

But in order to reject Jesus, you must first know about him. And most people have never taken the time to think deeply about the claims of Christ and of Christianity. I encourage you to do that today. You’ll find a lot of resources on our website that will help you. You can listen to other sermons on the Gospel of Luke[2] or you can check out a series of messages I gave about Jesus a few years ago.[3] Or you can simply read the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Learn about why the Bible is historically accurate. Consider the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. If you want to know more, you can personally contact me. You can find my contact information on our website or send a private message through our Facebook page.

Last week I said that one of the things that prevents people coming to Jesus is that we have an authority problem. We don’t want a king to reign over us. We don’t want someone telling us what to do, especially when that involves making hard changes. Another reason that keeps people from coming to Jesus is having to take a hard look at ourselves and see that we’re guilty of rejecting God, that we’ve done wrong. That rejection of authority and that failure to confess our wrongdoing both stem from pride. But pride is foolish. We don’t have the power to fix ourselves or to fix this broken world. The coronavirus is proof of that. And even if a foolproof vaccine is developed very quickly, something else will occur that will kill us. We will all die. And before we die, so many other things beyond our control will happen to us. And we’ll do so many things we regret doing. We’re not in control, and we are all guilty.

The good news is that there is one who is in perfect control, who desires the forgiveness of sinners. Jesus welcomes such people into his kingdom. But we must realize we can’t force our way or earn our way into God’s kingdom. The criminal on the cross realized there was nothing he could do to earn God’s favor. He simply asked Jesus for help. That’s all that you need to do. Admit you’re broken, and that you haven’t loved God or others the way that you should. Ask Jesus for forgiveness and help. All your sins can be erased. You can be forgiven of everything you’ve ever done wrong. And you can have the promise of living in paradise with God. You can have that promise today if you turn to Jesus in faith.

Notes

  1. All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).
  2. https://wbcommunity.org/luke.
  3. https://wbcommunity.org/jesus

 

Father, Forgive Them (Luke 23:26-43)

What comes out of us when we’re under pressure? Contrast that with what came out of Jesus when he was dying on the cross. Brian Watson preached this sermon, on Luke 23:26-43, on March 29, 2020.

I Find No Guilt in This Man

This sermon was preached by Brian Watson on March 22, 2020.
MP3 recording of the sermon.
PDF of the written sermon (or read below).

This is a very strange time in our lives. And it can feel like a very heavy time. It’s a time of uncertainty, and it can be a time of fear. We have already heard the reports of high death counts in China and Italy, and it’s natural to wonder how many might die of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in America. As we respond to this pandemic by shutting down public gatherings, we know that life won’t be the same for us for some time, and that can lead to anxiety and panic. At times like these, we long for hope. We may wonder what all of this has to do with God. We may wonder what God is doing, and why there are things such as deadly viruses in the world.

Those kinds of responses and questions are natural. They come with living in an uncertain world. They come with living in a world that is marred by diseases, natural disasters, and death. So, where is hope? What does this have to do with God? What is God doing? I’m not sure that I can answer all those questions completely this morning, but I think we can get partial answers as we turn to another heavy time in history. In fact, I would argue that this was the heaviest time of all history. This is the time when God himself was subject to the powers of darkness.

This morning, we’re continuing our study of the Gospel of Luke. If you haven’t been with us before, you should know that we’re a church that is committed to studying the whole Bible. That means that we go through entire books of the Bible, looking at one passage each week. If you want to learn more about the rest of this book of the Bible, you can visit wbcommunity.org/luke. This morning, we’re going to look at Luke 23:1–25. If you have a Bible at home, I’m sure you can find that passage rather quickly. If you’re on your computer, you can pull it up by typing into your web browser “esv.org/luke+23.”

To give us some context: Jesus has been arrested by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. They have charged him with blasphemy, for claiming to believe that he is the Messiah, or the Christ, and the Son of God. Messiah or Christ mean “anointed one.” In the Old Testament, God promised that there would be a king of Israel who would reign forever and who would defeat Israel’s enemies. He would bring about justice and peace. He would be a perfect king. Now, Jesus is that perfect King, and he is the Son of God. But the Jewish leaders didn’t believe that.

The Jewish leaders wanted to kill Jesus, but they didn’t have the authority to put someone to death. They were living under the rule of the Roman Empire, the world’s superpower. If they wanted to put Jesus to death, they had to present him to the occupying forces. So, they bring him to Pontius Pilate, the prefect of Judea. The prefect was in charge of keeping the peace. He had the power to enforce capital punishment. That’s why Jesus is now presented to Pilate.

Let’s begin by reading Luke 23:1–25:

1 Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.”

When the Jewish leaders bring Jesus before Pontius Pilate, they make three accusations. They say that Jesus is misleading the nation, which means that his teaching is somehow dangerous and deceptive. Or so they think. But the fact is that they were misleading the nation, whereas Jesus only taught what was true. They also claim that he has forbidden giving money to Caesar, the Roman Emperor. But that is false. Jesus said it is right to pay taxes to Caesar Luke 20:25). Then, they say that Jesus has claimed to be the Christ, a king. That’s true. Jesus is the Christ, and he is the King of kings. But not in the way that some people might think. He didn’t come to overthrow the Roman Empire. He didn’t come to command an army and lead a revolution. He was no political threat to the Roman Empire. But the Jewish leaders hope that by presenting Jesus to Pilate in this way, that would be enough to get him executed.

Interestingly, similar charges are brought against Christians in the book of Acts. Paul was a great missionary and teacher, who traveled through the Roman Empire after Jesus’ death and resurrection, telling people about Jesus. When he was in the city of Thessalonica, in modern-day Greece, with his associate Silas, they taught about Jesus in the local synagogue. Some people didn’t like what they heard about Jesus, and they tried to get these Christians in trouble with the local authorities. They couldn’t find Paul and Silas, but they brought a man named Jason before the city’s authorities and said, “These men who have turned the world upside down . . . are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17:6–7). Jesus has always been viewed as a threat by some people. That’s still true today. It’s true in totalitarian countries, like North Korea. It’s true of Communist countries like China. But it’s also true of individuals. A lot of people reject Jesus because they realize that Jesus is an authority. You can’t really be a Christian without coming under the authority of Jesus. People realize that if you become a Christian, your life must change in some way. There are some things that you may have to give up. And they don’t like that. Some people just don’t like being told what to do. They want to be their own authorities.

Now, you can remain your own authority in this life and reject Jesus. But you can’t be your own king and have Jesus. If you reject Jesus, you reject your only path to God and to eternal life in a new creation where there are not more diseases and deadly viruses, where there is no more death. If you come under Jesus’ authority, you must admit your own failures and limitations, and you must start to obey King Jesus. You can’t have it both ways.

When Pilate is told about these charges, he asks Jesus if he is king of the Jews. Jesus only says, “You have said so.” These are the only words that Jesus says in this whole passage. Jesus doesn’t defend himself. He doesn’t make any qualifications to the charges made against him. This must have puzzled Pilate. He must have looked at Jesus, who was already beaten and must have looked rather weak, and not seen a threat to the Roman Empire. So, he says, “I find no guilt in this man.” Luke makes it abundantly clear that Jesus is innocent and has done nothing deserving of death.

But the crowds aren’t happy with that. They try to convince Pilate that Jesus is stirring up the people, and not just in Jerusalem. He has taught throughout the regions of Judea and Galilee. When Pilate hears this, he wonders whether Jesus was a Galilean. Galilee was a separate region, to the north, and it was under the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great, who was the Jewish ruler when Jesus was born. These Jewish rulers were under the authority of the Roman Empire, but Rome allowed them to exercise some power. So, Pilate sends Jesus to Herod Antipas. Perhaps Pilate was trying to pass the buck. He saw an innocent man and an angry crowd, and he didn’t want to take responsibility for whatever happened to Jesus.

At any rate, Pilate sends Jesus to Herod. Let’s read what happens next. Here are verses 6–12:

When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. 12 And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.

Herod Antipas was the Jewish ruler over Galilee and another region called Perea. He didn’t have all that much authority, since he was under Roman rule. He certainly didn’t have the authority that his father, Herod the Great, had. Herod the Great was a king, known as “King of the Jews.” But after his death, his kingdom was divided among his sons. Several years after this episode, this Herod sent his wife, Herodias, to Rome to ask if Herod could be given the title of “king.” The emperor refused and Herod was deposed.

This Herod was, like his father, a bad man. He took his brother’s wife as his own wife. He had John the Baptist beheaded. He wanted to see Jesus for some time (Luke 9:9). There was even a rumor that he wanted Jesus dead (Luke 13:31). But here we’re told that he wanted to see Jesus because he was hoping that Jesus would perform a “sign,” a miracle for him.

If you’ve ever seen Jesus Christ Superstar, you might remember that Herod sings a song in which he asks Jesus to turn his water into wine and walk across his swimming pool. He wants Jesus to perform for him. That’s how some people treat Jesus today, or how they treat God more generally. They expect God to perform wonders at their command. If God did that, then we would be the authorities. We would be kings. But God isn’t obligated to do what we demand. He has performed miracles, signs that point to his existence. Jesus did perform miracles, signs that illustrated what he came to do, which was to heal people of their greatest disease, sin. But he didn’t come to perform tricks or to entertain people’s curiosity.

So, Jesus doesn’t play that game. He doesn’t answer Herod’s questions. He knows that Herod is not sincerely interested in his identity or his mission. Yet, apparently, Herod doesn’t find Jesus to be a threat, despite the accusations given by the Jewish leaders. So, he sends him back to Pilate, but not before his soldiers mock Jesus. They put him in “splendid clothing,” as if to say, “If you’re such a great king, let’s dress you like one.” Of course, they didn’t believe he was king.

Then, Luke gives us this interesting little bit of information. Pilate and Herod had once been at odds with each other. But now, they became friends. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. They both agreed that Jesus was no threat. Yet neither of them did anything to save Jesus from the accusing Jewish leaders and the angry crowds. They were typical politicians, lacking courage and acting to save face.

So, Jesus is sent back to Pilate. Let’s read verses 13–16:

13 Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “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. 15 Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. 16 I will therefore punish and release him.”

This section is important because it establishes once again that Pilate didn’t find Jesus guilty, and neither did Herod. Jesus did nothing wrong. Ever. He certainly didn’t do anything to deserve the death penalty. I’ll talk more about that in a moment. But first, it’s interesting to see that Pilate was hoping he could release Jesus. He thought that if Jesus were flogged, that would satisfy the blood lust of the crowd. And he did have Jesus flogged (Matt. 27:26; John 19:1). That was a terrible punishment on its own. Flogging was done with a weapon torture: a wooden handle with leather strips that had bone or metal attached to them. Flogging would tear the skin and could even kill a man. But the crowd wasn’t satisfied by some blood; they wanted Jesus dead.

Let’s now read verses 18–25:

18 But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— 19 a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. 20 Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, 21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” 23 But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.

Pilate had a habit of releasing one criminal on Jewish holidays. The crowd knows this. They know that Pilate might release Jesus. So, they ask him to release another man instead, a man named Barabbas, an insurrectionist who had committed murder. He was basically a terrorist.

When Pilate tries to release Jesus instead, the crowds demand that Jesus be crucified. Crucifixion was a terrible way to kill someone. Roman citizens couldn’t be crucified. But enemies of Rome, people suspected of treason, could be. Crucifixion meant attaching a person to a cross with rope or nails and letting that person hang there until they could no longer breathe. It was a slow, agonizing way to die. And it was a public execution. It said: “Don’t mess with Rome.”

Pontius Pilate finds himself in a predicament. He can release Jesus, whom he finds to be innocent, but then he knows the crowds will not be satisfied. They might riot. And Pilate’s job was to maintain order. Or, he can give an innocent man over to the will of the people and release a real criminal. Pilate tries to plead with the crowd, but in the end, he gives into their demands. He releases Barabbas, a murderer, and he puts the only truly innocent person who has ever lived to death.

There’s a great irony here. Barabbas literally means “son of the father” (bar = son; abba = father). Jesus is the Son of God, the true Son of the true Father. Barabbas, obviously a guilty man and a true threat to the Roman Empire, is released. Jesus, who wasn’t a political threat and is the only sinless person who ever walked the face of the earth, is given the death penalty.

But that’s the message of Christianity, and Jesus’ death is no accident. And to understand this, we must consider the broader message of the Bible. The Bible says that God created the universe for his purposes. He didn’t have to create anything outside of himself. It’s not as if he was lonely or bored. But God chose to create the universe to display his greatness and to share his existence with human beings. God created humans in his image, which means they are supposed to reflect what he is like, to represent him on earth, and to rule the world by carrying out God’s commands. God also made us in his likeness, which means that we were made to be his children, to love him and obey him the way perfect children would love and obey a perfect parent. That’s good news, because it means that our lives have meaning and purpose. If there is no Creator, there is no ultimate meaning to life. We’re just cosmic accidents, and in the end, our lives don’t matter.

But there’s bad news. From the beginning, people have turned away from God. Instead of realizing that he is King, they wanted—and they still want—to be their own kings and queens, their own masters and lords. We tend to think the world revolves around us. And if there’s a God, he should do what we want. The result is that we live life on our terms, and not on God’s. We don’t do what he wants us to do, because we don’t love him as we should.

God desires perfect children, perfect covenant partners. God is perfect, and he can’t tolerate people making a mess of his creation. The first human beings lived in a garden paradise, where there was no death. But they were evicted from the garden, and were put in the wilderness, where life was hard, where we find diseases, where we die. Because of our sinful nature, we are alienated from God. We don’t see him; we don’t always feel his presence. Because of our sinful nature, we are alienated from each other. We have conflicts, we fight, we’re greedy and selfish—we hoard toilet paper and other supplies! And because of our sinful nature, we feel at odds internally. We realize we’re not who we should be, and we get depressed and anxious. We know we have thoughts and desires that are wrong. We know we have done and continue to do wrong things.

As I said, God cannot tolerate people making a mess of his creation. So, he kicked us out of paradise. And in this wilderness, we find things like viruses. The reason why things like the coronavirus exist is because of sin, because humans turned away from God in the beginning, something we call the Fall.

All of this is bad news. If we were to die separated from God by our lack of love, by our rebellion, by our sin, we would be alienated from him forever. And God would be right to punish and condemn us in that way.

But there’s really great news. There is a way back to God, a way back to paradise. And that way—the only way—is Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God. That means that he is God. He’s divine. He has always existed. He created the universe. (It’s most accurate to say that the Father created the universe through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.) But over two thousand years ago, the Son of God also became a man. When Jesus was conceived in Mary, a virgin, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Son of God added a second nature to himself. He still was and is God, but he also was and is a human being. This was God the Father’s plan, and it was God the Son’s plan (and God the Spirit’s plan, too).

The Son of God became a man for two reasons. One, to live the perfect life that God demands of human beings. That’s why it’s so important to see that Jesus was innocent. He is the only one who lived the way God wants us to live. He always loved God. He always worshiped God. He always obeyed God. He always loved other people perfectly. He was never greedy and selfish. So, he fulfilled God’s plans for humanity. And when people have a right relationship with Jesus, when they put their trust in him and are willing to follow him, then they are credited with his perfect standing, his innocence, his righteousness.

The second reason why the Son of God became a man was to pay the penalty for sin that his people deserve. We all deserve condemnation. And that sounds harsh, I know. But think about this: If you have a home, would you allow people there who don’t love you, who don’t abide by your rules, and who do things that are harmful to your family? You might put up with such a guest for a little while, but if they keep acting that way, you would kick them out. And that’s essentially what God does. He says, “You don’t want me, you don’t love me, you don’t want to obey my rules? Fine. Go your own way.” But that’s a terrible thing. God is the source of love. When we turn away from him, we find a world of hate. God is the source of beauty. When we turn away from him, we find ugliness. God is the source of light. When we turn away from him, we find darkness. God is the source of truth. When we turn away from him, we find lies. And God is the source of life. When we turn away from him, we find death.

If you want proof that people don’t really want God, consider something that happened this past week. We find ourselves in this strange world threatened by a new virus. You would think that if ever people would turn to God and humbly ask for his help, now would be the time. But we don’t see that happening. Sometimes, we something else, like a video of celebrities singing John Lennon’s song, “Imagine.” You might have seen the video. Gal Gadot, who plays Wonder Woman on the big screen, starts to sing the song, and then other celebrities follow her, singing one phrase at a time. It’s supposed to be a hopeful thing, signaling that we’re all in this together. If you know the song, you may remember some of the lyrics. The song can be taken as a hopeful vision of humans working together, united in harmony. But if you stop and think of the lyrics, it’s a troubling song. John Lennon asked us to imagine that there’s no heaven—“above us, only sky.” In other words, imagine that there’s no God. So, in a time of crisis, people are singing a song that says, “We don’t need God and religion. That stuff is divisive. We just need to love each other and get along, and then the world will be as one.” That song is proof that we don’t love God the way we should, that we don’t see that he is the one who gives us life and who sustains our lives at every moment. That song shows that we don’t see our desperate need for God. There’s no admission of our real problem, which is our sin. Frankly, the song is naïve, and it doesn’t provide us with any real answers to the very real problems of the world.

But Jesus is the answer. Jesus lives the perfect life. And Jesus pays the penalty for sin. He was crucified not just because some people didn’t believe him and hated him. He didn’t die just because Pontius Pilate was weak and was afraid to stand up to the crowds. He didn’t die just because he was betrayed, and because the powers of spiritual darkness wanted to destroy him. He died because it was God’s plan to have someone rescue us from the penalty of sin. This was Jesus’ plan, too. He laid down his life to pay for our sin. That’s why Jesus didn’t defend himself, and why he hardly says a word. The prophet Isaiah predicted Jesus’ sacrificial death roughly seven hundred years earlier. He said,

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth (Isa. 53:7).

Right before that verse in Isaiah 53, we read these words, also about Jesus:

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all (Isa. 53:5–6).

When Jesus died on the cross, he suffered the death penalty, but also much more than that. He took on God’s righteous punishment against sin, his holy wrath. He endured hell on earth so that we don’t have to.

We don’t have to experience hell if come to Jesus and put our trust in him. If we trust in him, he takes away our sins. Our punishment has already been paid. And we are credited with his perfection. That’s the good news. We don’t have to earn our way to God. In fact, we could never do that. Christianity says that even our best efforts are always tainted by bad motives. But God came down to us. He entered a world that can be beautiful but also ugly, a world that is governed by orderly laws of nature but can also appear to be chaotic, a world that supports life but ends in death. He did this to rescue us and to bring us back to God, to bring us ultimately to paradise, which will come in the future, when God remakes the world and removes all suffering, sin, and death.

So, why do we have things like the coronavirus? They are the result of sin in the world. These things are part of living in a fallen world. Cancer and earthquakes, toilet paper hoarding and murder, are the result of sin in the world. But there’s good news. God entered this world, and he subjected himself to rejection and betrayal, to mocking and torture, and even to death, so that he could save us. God has not promised that this life will be free of pain and sickness. But he has promised that he will sustain his people, even through death. And he has promised that one day, Jesus will return to bring human history as we know it to an end. And on that day, a new era will begin. There will be no more pain, no more disease, no more wars, and no more death. It will be God and his people dwelling in a renewed and perfected creation.

I urge us all to put our hope in God. Let us look to him during this time. I don’t know exactly why God has us in this situation, but I know that he uses things like this to teach us lessons and to draw us closer to him. So, let us focus on God. Specifically, let us focus on Jesus. If you don’t know him yet, learn more about him. And put your trust in him. Only he would lay down his life for you. No politician will do that. No one else can save you from your real problem, which is a broken relationship with God. But Jesus can, and he stands ready to receive you if you come to him.

 

I Find No Guilt in This Man (Luke 23:1-25)

Before Jesus goes to the cross, he is brought before two political leaders: Pontius Pilate and Herod Antipas. Both find him innocent, but both don’t let him go. This was no accident; it was God’s plan to rescue sinners. Brian Watson preached this sermon on March 22, 2020.

Are You the Son of God? (Luke 22:63-71)

Jesus’ path to the cross is marked by ironies. The one who is blasphemed is charged with blasphemy. The one who is Judge is judged. Jesus endured this to save to his people from their sins. Find out what happens when Jesus is put on trial, and God is in the dock. Brian Watson preached this sermon on March 1, 2020.

He Went out and Wept Bitterly

This sermon was preached by Brian Watson on February 23, 2020.
MP3 recording of the sermon.
PDF of the written sermon (or read below).

Last week, I asked us how we respond when we are hurt or attacked. What comes out of us during those moments of great pressure reveal what is inside of us.

That’s a very important point. But there’s something else we should think about. What happens when we’re the ones who fail? What do we do when we do what is wrong? In other words, what do we do with our failure, our mistakes, our sins? When we do what is wrong, how can we move forward? Is there hope for us? Can we be forgiven of serious failures?

Well, Christianity says there is great hope for sinners. This is why we refer to the central message of Christianity as the gospel, which simply means good news. Though we fail, God is able and willing to forgive his children.

We will see this today as we continue to look at the Gospel of Luke. We’ll see what happens when Peter fails. Though this passage doesn’t give us the full story, we can look to other parts of the Bible to see what happened to Peter after he failed.

So, without further ado, let’s turn to Luke 22:54–62. While you’re turning there, I just want to remind us that this passage is among one of many that is set on the night before Jesus died, the night he was betrayed and arrested. Last week, we saw that Jesus was arrested. Peter tried to defend Jesus with the sword, but Jesus told him not to do that. The disciples fled at Jesus’ arrest (Matt. 26:56). But Peter trailed behind Jesus and the Jewish leaders who arrested him, and Luke’s attention now turns to Peter.

Let’s now read Luke 22:54–62:

54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance. 55 And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. 56 Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” 57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” 58 And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” 59 And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly.[1]

Peter follows Jesus and those who arrested him from the Garden of Gethsemane back into Jerusalem, to the high priest’s house. Why was Peter following Jesus? We’re not told. Did he think he could take his sword out again and free Jesus? Did he simply want to see what would happen? We don’t know. But it seems like Peter wanted to do the right thing. He didn’t simply run away from danger, from the Jewish leaders who were hostile to Jesus and who would surely be hostile to Jesus’ disciples. Peter could have done that, and that would have been the safest thing to do. Instead, Peter follows Jesus and his captors from a distance.

While waiting in the courtyard, Peter tries to blend with other people who are warming themselves by a fire. Then, he is noticed. A servant sees Peter, recognizes him, and says, “This man was also with him.” If Peter said, “You’ve got that right!” he might have been arrested and put on trial alongside Jesus. Peter must have recognized the danger. So, in that moment of pressure, he lies to save his own skin.

Shortly thereafter, another person recognizes Peter as one of Jesus’ disciples. Now, Peter could have told the truth at that point, and confessed that he lied earlier. But as is so often the case, once we tell lies, instead of admitting what we have done, we double down in our dishonesty. I remember when I was a kid there used to be a public service announcement that played among commercial breaks of cartoons. And that PSA said something like, “When you tell one lie, it leads to another. So, you tell two lies to cover each other. Then you tell three lies, then, oh brother, you’re up to your neck in lies.”

After that second lie, about an hour goes by. Now, you might think that Peter would come to his senses, realize that he has twice denied Jesus, and resolve to tell the truth, no matter the consequences. But he doesn’t do that. Again, he is recognized. This time, someone figures out that Peter is from Galilee, just like Jesus, and infers that Peter must be one of Jesus’ followers. Peter says quite strongly that he doesn’t know Jesus. In Matthew’s Gospel, it says, “he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know the man’” (Matt. 26:74).

At that moment, a rooster crows, Jesus looks at Peter from a distance, and Peter remembers what Jesus had predicted. Earlier in this same chapter of Luke, Jesus told Peter that Peter would deny him. This is what we read in Luke 22:31–34:

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 33 Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”

And, sure enough, Jesus’ prediction comes to pass. Peter denies knowing Jesus three times.

We don’t know what kind of look Jesus gave Peter. Was it a look of sadness, of sorrow that a friend would deny even knowing him? It probably wasn’t a look of “I told you so.” Whatever it was, Peter remembered what Jesus had said, and left, weeping bitterly.

I think this episode is important for a number of reasons, primarily for what it teaches us about failure. If you’re like me, in moments of pressure and even in moments of panic, you might have done the wrong thing. You might have had many moments of failing to do the right thing when you’ve felt under pressure. And you might feel a great sense of guilt and shame because of your failure. But there is hope, and I think that is why the Gospel writers tell us about Peter and his failure.

I want to make a number of observations about this passage and about other passages that discuss Peter. The first is one that I made a few weeks ago when we read about how Jesus predicted Peter’s failure. Jesus chose twelve men to be his disciples, his inner ring of followers who would become his apostles, his authorized messengers. (Judas, who betrayed Jesus, was later replaced by Matthias.) Jesus chose men who were not perfect. They were not the most righteous, the most religious, the richest and most powerful men. They weren’t stupid, but they were also not elite scholars. They were people that were a bit like you and me.

When Jesus called Peter to follow him, Peter at first thought he was unworthy. In Luke 5, Jesus tells Simon Peter to follow him. After Jesus performed a miracle to demonstrate his divine power, Peter told him, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). What kind of sin did Peter have in his life? We don’t know. But if he is anything like you and me, there were some things he had done that bothered him, moral failures of which he was ashamed. He must have thought that the things he had done would disqualify him from serving someone like Jesus in any kind of official capacity.

But Jesus deliberately chose Peter. Jesus knew that Peter was a sinful man. And Jesus also knew that Peter would sin again. As we have already seen, Jesus knew that Peter would deny him. Yet Jesus chose this man to be the leader of this band of twelve brothers. And that is a picture of grace. God uses imperfect people as his servants. He uses people who have failed, people who have cracked under pressure. We might say God uses cracked and broken vessels to carry his perfect word to the world. God doesn’t have to do this. But God is merciful, not giving us over to what we deserve—at least not immediately. And for those who follow Jesus, putting their trust in him, God forgives all sin. And God doesn’t just wipe away that sin. He also gives his children good things that they don’t deserve.

So, the first thing to see is that Jesus chose this sinful man to be his servant, knowing his sin, past, present, and future.

The second thing to see is that what Peter did in this episode was truly wrong. It was no small thing to deny knowing Jesus. In Luke 12, Jesus said this:

And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God (Luke 12:8–9).

Peter denied Jesus before men. Jesus says the one who does that “will be denied before the angels of God,” which is a way of saying that God will say, “I don’t know that person” on judgment day (Matt. 7:23). It’s important that we understand that Jesus means that if one denies Jesus their whole life, they will be condemned. If one ends one’s life in a state of denying who Jesus is—Savior, Lord, Son of God—then that person will be condemned. But if it’s wrong to deny Jesus for one’s whole life, it seems like it’s wrong to deny Jesus at any point in one’s life. And that’s especially true of someone like Peter, who was no casual acquaintance of Jesus. Peter spent two or three years alongside Jesus. Peter was Jesus’ student, his brother, and friend. To deny knowing someone whom you actually know very well is a form of betrayal. Peter not only lied, but he separated himself from Jesus in order to protect himself from whatever harm the Jewish leaders might do to him. This was definitely a wrong thing to do.

We might wonder how someone like Peter, who had such privileged access to Jesus, who had seen Jesus’ many miracles, who was taught so much by Jesus, could do this. On one level, we could say that Peter panicked. He was scared in that moment. Instead of trusting Jesus, who had predicted what would happen to him, he was tempted to do the wrong thing in order to save himself. I know that I have sinned in moments of panic. There were times when I didn’t have a premeditated plan to sin, but when I was afraid and panicked, I did what was wrong. You might say that in those moments, we’re not thinking clearly. It Peter thought clearly, he would recall Jesus’ prophecies. He would have remembered Jesus’ power and promises. He would have thought, “No matter what these Jewish leaders might do to me, I’ll be okay.” But there’s something about sin that is irrational. It doesn’t always make sense.

The third thing we should see is Peter’s response to what happened. Though Peter didn’t come to his senses during that time when he denied Jesus three times, he did come to his senses immediately after, when the rooster crowed and when Jesus looked his way. At that moment, Peter knew exactly what he had done. And he wept bitterly. That is such a moving moment. And it’s something that I can relate to easily. When we sin, and then when we realize what we have done, there is a real bitterness to that realization. Sometimes, that bitterness is immediate. Other times, the bitter realization that we have failed comes later. There are times when it resurfaces again and again, whenever we think of the wrong things we have done.

I wonder if every once in a while, during the rest of his life, Peter thought about what he had done, and a moment of bitter realization reemerged. I also wonder if the apostle Paul had those moments. Even after Jesus rose from the grave, Paul opposed Jesus and his followers for a while. He arrested Christians so that they might be put to death for blasphemy. He approved of the first Christian martyr’s death (see Acts 8:1–3). Though Paul had been forgiven of all those sins when he came to see who Jesus really is and to put his trust in him, Paul still thought of himself as the foremost of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). I wonder if Peter thought of himself in similar ways, and if every once in a while, whenever his mind thought again of these events, the bitter taste of that memory of his more failure came back into his mouth.

At any rate, sin leaves a bitter taste. At the moment, it feels good. But later, when we realize what we had done, we feel guilty. We’re ashamed. We can’t believe that we would do something like that. Peter knew what that was like.

Luke doesn’t tell us what happened to Peter after this event. Specifically, Luke doesn’t give us information about whether Peter was forgiven. He just tells us that Peter ran to the empty tomb after Jesus died and rose from the grave. And in the sequel to his Gospel, the book of Acts, Luke depicts Peter as a leader of the apostles.

But John, in his Gospel, does tell us what happened. After Jesus rose from the grave, Jesus had a conversation with Peter. This is what we read in John 21:15–17:

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

Why does Jesus ask Peter three times if he loves him? Surely, his asking this question three times mirrors the three times that Peter denied Jesus. Now, Jesus asks Peter to affirm his love for him three times. And though John doesn’t specifically mention forgiveness or reconciliation, we understand that Jesus was forgiving Peter.

But we should also notice this: Jesus was reaffirming Peter’s position as an apostle. As we have already seen, when Jesus prophesied that Peter would deny him, he told Peter to strengthen his brothers (Luke 22:32). And here, Jesus tells Peter to “feed his sheep,” which most likely means that Peter should “feed” Christians “the word of God,” which is their spiritual food.

The point is that though Peter had sinned in a very serious way, he was forgiven, and he retained his position as an apostle. We can easily imagine Jesus forgiving Peter, but saying, “Peter, I love you, and I forgive you for denying me, but you failed your apostle audition. We’re going to have to give your position to someone else.” But Jesus doesn’t just forgive Peter. He continues to use Peter as his servant. Peter didn’t deserve to be an apostle. He hadn’t earned that position. But God is gracious. He gives us gifts. He uses sinners. And that should give us hope. You may feel that you’ve done things that are so wrong that here is no way God can forgive you. Or, you may understand that you’re forgiven, but you still think your sin disqualifies you to serve God. You may think, “Who am I to tell other people about Jesus when I’ve denied Jesus by my behavior?” When that happens, think about Peter.

Another thing that we should think about as we think about Peter is that his life was changed. Though he was a sinful man, and though he certainly sinned in this episode, his grew in faith and obedience. The book of Acts makes that clear. And we know from sources outside of the Bible that Peter would eventually be killed for being a Christian. Roughly thirty-five years after this event, he would not deny Jesus in order to save his life. I’m sure he learned from his sin. I’m sure he was strengthened by the knowledge that though Jesus died, he rose from the grave. Most importantly, the Holy Spirit gave Peter strength that he didn’t possess on his own.

God loves us so much that when we are adopted into his family through faith in Jesus, his Son, he wants us to grow. He doesn’t want us to stay the same. He changes us from the inside out. And we need to turn away from our old sinful habits. We need to repent. We need to pursue a greater knowledge of God. We need to obey God’s commands. God expects that of his children.

But that doesn’t mean that Peter never sinned again. I’m sure he did. I’m sure he had moments where he harbored bad thoughts and desires. And we’re told elsewhere in the Bible that in another moment of pressure, Peter panicked once again and did the wrong thing.

In one of Paul’s letters, Galatians, he tells of an episode where he and Peter were in the city of Antioch, where there was a church that had both Jewish and Gentile Christians. It’s hard for us to understand how radical that was. There was a huge divide between Jews and Gentiles. Jewish people thought Gentiles were unclean. This wasn’t just some sort of ethnic or racial division. This was also a religious division. But one of the amazing things about Christianity is that people from all kinds of backgrounds become one when they are united to Jesus by faith. In Christ, there is no Jew and Gentile, or black or white, or male and female (to paraphrase Gal. 3:28).

Peter knew that. But when Jewish leaders came to Antioch, he felt pressured to distance himself from Gentiles. He had been eating with them, which was a thing Jewish people didn’t do. But when these Jewish leaders came, Peter was afraid of them, or at least of their opinions, and so he stopped eating with the Gentiles. In doing that, he was denying the Gospel. This is what Paul writes in Galatians 2:11–14:

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Peter was acting like a hypocrite, like someone who never really understood the Gospel. And his behavior led another Christian, Barnabas, to act like a hypocrite, too. But Paul confronted Peter and told him he was wrong.

The point is that even after coming to Jesus, we still will fail. Those failures should be fewer in number and not as serious. But still, we wrestle with sin. And there are times when we fail.

Such is the power of sin. In our moments of weakness, when we are scared, when we are tired, when we have taken our eyes off of Jesus, we might panic and do the wrong thing. Sin promises us safety and security. It promises us pleasures. It promises us freedom. These are false promises, but when we’re not thinking clearly, we believe them. We fail to trust Jesus and we disobey him. And then we come to our senses once again and taste the bitterness of sin. And that is painful.

When I think about this tendency to fall back into sin, I think about different things. I think about songs. One of my favorite song writers is a man named Tom Waits. He has a beat-up voice and an odd sense of humor, but that’s part of what appeals to me. In one of his songs called “Walk Away,” he sings these words:

There are things I’ve done I can’t erase.
I want to look in the mirror and see another face.
I said, “never,” while I’m doing it again.
I wanna walk away, start over again.

I can relate to that. I can see the things that I’ve done wrong and desperately want to erase them. I want to be a different person. I wouldn’t mind looking at the mirror and seeing another face. I’ve told myself, “I’m never going to do that again.” And then I have.

There’s another song I think of, one that was sung by Johnny Cash towards the end of his career. (Though the song was written by Nick Lowe, not Cash.) It’s called “The Beast in Me.” It seems to describe that inner, sinful self that we try to suppress, but who escapes from his cage to do bad things. There’s something inside of us that is a like a beast. We try to keep it shut up in its cage. But there are times when it escapes and overcomes us, and we fail.

I also think about prayers. There’s a wonderful collection of prayers written by Puritans called The Valley of Vision. One prayer in that book is called “Yet I Sin.” Here is part of that prayer:

My faculties have been a weapon of revolt
against thee;
as a rebel I have misused my strength,
and served the foul adversary of thy kingdom.
Give me grace to bewail my insensate folly,
Grant me to know that the way of transgressors
is hard,
that evil paths are wretched paths,
that to depart from thee is to lose all good.

All these sins I mourn, lament, and for them
cry pardon.
Work in me more profound and abiding repentance;
Give me the fullness of a godly grief
that trembles and fears,
yet ever trusts and loves,
which is ever powerful, and ever confident;
Grant that through the tears of repentance
I may see more clearly the brightness
and glories of the saving cross.[2]

In that same collection of prayers, there’s another one called “The Dark Guest.” “The Dark Guest” is like “The Beast in Me.” It says, in part:

Destroy, O God, the dark guest within
whose hidden presence makes my life a hell.
Yet thou hast not left me here without grace;
The cross still stands and meets my needs
in the deepest straits of the soul. . . .
The memory of my great sins, my many
temptations, my falls,
bring afresh into my mind the remembrance
of thy great help, of thy support from heaven,
of the great grace that saved such a wretch
as I am.
There is no treasure so wonderful
as that continuous experience of thy grace
toward me which alone can subdue
the risings of sin within:
Give me more of it.[3]

These prayers confess to God that hellish nature of sin. They make no excuses for committing sin. Doing what is wrong is evil. We are without excuse. But these prayers cry out to God to bring about repentance. They ask God to destroy this beast within. And these prayers recall God’s remedy for sin. “The cross still stands and meets my needs in the deepest straits of the soul.” God the Father sent God the Son, who came willingly, to bear the penalty for sin. Jesus died on the cross, experiencing great physical and spiritual pain, in order to pay the penalty of sin for whoever would come to him in faith. This is the way that we are forgiven by God. Even the bitter memories of great sins “bring afresh into [our minds] the remembrance of [God’s] great help, . . . of the great help that saved such a wretch as I am.”

If you have felt the bitter taste of sin, if you know that you have done wrong, if you feel the guilt and shame that come along with doing wrong, I urge you to turn to Jesus. He stands ready to forgive us all our sins. All of them. We must trust that this is true. If you are not yet a Christian, turn to Jesus now.

Of course, we must also desire to be changed, to stop living the way we have always lived. But that doesn’t mean we will suddenly become perfect. We will continue to struggle with sin. Christians, if you struggle with sin, or if you struggle with the memory of your sin, turn to Jesus. There may be something in your past that you think of from time to time and think, “How could I do that? How could I do something that bad? How I could do something that I know is wrong? What was I thinking? How could I be that bad of a person?” When that happens, don’t just look back to your sins. Keep looking further back in the past. Look back to something that happened almost two thousand years ago, when the Son of God laid down his life to pay for your sins. Look to Jesus. Look to the cross. When those memories of sin come back, think of what Jesus has done for you. Experience once again God’s cleansing grace. And be thankful.

This is the best of news for failures and losers like you and me. Not long ago, I was reading through 1 Samuel again, and I came across a verse that I must have read several times. But this time, it really stood out. It was 1 Samuel 22:2, and it described the kind of people that started to follow David even before he was king. It says, “And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men.” Those in distress, those bitter in soul, found hope in David. How much more should people like that find their hope in the son of David, the true King of Israel, Jesus Christ. He beckons those who are crushed by the weight of sin to come to him and find rest. He will forgive you, cleanse you, restore you, and equip you to serve him.

Notes

  1. All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).
  2. The full prayer can be found here: https://banneroftruth.org/us/devotional/yet-i-sin.
  3. The full prayer can be found here: https://banneroftruth.org/us/devotional/the-dark-guest.

 

He Went out and Wept Bitterly (Luke 22:54-62)

What do we do with our failures, our mistakes, our sins? Peter, one of Jesus’ followers, denied knowing Jesus. Find out what we can learn from what happened to Peter, and how there is hope for the greatest of sinners. Brian Watson preached this sermon on February 23, 2020.

The Power of Darkness

This sermon was preached on February 16, 2020 by Brian Watson.
MP3 recording of the sermon.
PDF of the written sermon (or read below). 

How do you respond when someone hurts you? How do you respond when someone close to you betrays you and violates your trust? If someone hates you and acts in a way that is unfair toward you, do you respond in hate and with unfair tactics? Or do you respond in a way that is different, a way that reflects truth and love?

How we respond to difficult situations reveals who we truly are. When the pressures of life come upon us and we feel like we’re being squeezed, the real me and the real you will be exposed. What happens to us when we’re attacked, when we’re hurt, when we’re treated unfairly?

Today, as we continue to study the Gospel of Luke, we’re going to see Jesus’ arrest. We’ll see that he is betrayed. His arrest isn’t conducted publicly and in the light, but in secret, in the dark. His disciples try to respond one way to this arrest, by striking back. But Jesus responds with love.

We’re going to read Luke 22:47–53 this morning. Before we do, here’s a quick reminder of where we are in this story. It’s the night before Jesus will die. He has spent the last few hours with his disciples. He has taken a Passover meal with them, taking the elements of the meal, the bread and the wine, to demonstrate what his death will accomplish. He has warned them that one of the twelve disciples will betray him. He has also warned them against seeking greatness, teaching them instead to be humble and to serve, for that is the way to true greatness in God’s kingdom. He has told Peter that he will deny knowing Jesus. He has told them that the Scripture about him will be fulfilled, that he will be “numbered with the transgressors.” And, as we saw last week, he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, east of Jerusalem, that if there were any way possible, that he would be spared the suffering of the wrath of God that he would experience on the cross. Yet he yielded to the Father’s will.

Now, let’s read Luke 22:47–53:

47 While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49 And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. 52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? 53 When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”[1]

I want to point out three things that we see here. The first thing we see is Judas Iscariot’s betrayal. We have already talked about this, when we saw that Jesus predicted this betrayal. But now it comes to pass. After Jesus prays, Judas, who had left the group at the last supper, comes back with a crowd. Luke says that among the crowd were Jewish religious leaders, “chief priests and officers of the temple and elders.” Judas was in front of the crowd, and he identifies Jesus by kissing him, probably on the cheek.

Why does Judas kiss Jesus? A kiss was a common greeting of respect and love. It might have been the kind of greeting the disciples gave Jesus after they had been away for a while. It seems that Judas had arranged to identify Jesus by some sign. It was dark, and perhaps the officers of the temple didn’t know what Jesus looked like. Today, the identifying sign might have been a handshake or a hug. But in that time, it was a kiss.

Yet the kiss is ironic. Instead of a sign of love, it was a sign of hate, a sign of betrayal. The man who had spend a couple of years with Jesus, who was part of his inner circle of twelve disciples, who had been the treasurer of the group, betrayed Jesus. He told these Jewish leaders how they could arrest Jesus away from the teeming crowds in Jerusalem. He knew that Jesus would be alone with his disciples, just outside the city. The leaders could arrest Jesus without any public backlash, without setting off a riot. Jesus sold Jesus out.

Think about that for a moment. We believe that Jesus is no ordinary man. He is the God-man, the eternal Son of God who also became a human being, one person with two natures, one divine and one human. That means that while Jesus had all the essential characteristics of a human being, he was still God. He was still omnipotent, all-powerful. Yet Jesus made himself vulnerable. He loved these men. He served them. He spent a great deal of time with them, traveling with them, teaching them, revealing truths to them that the rest of them would teach and preach and write down.

Though Jesus knew in advance that Judas would betray him, it must have been something else to experience it. It’s one thing to know something is going to happen. That’s knowing a fact. It’s quite another to experience it happen. Jesus knew he would die, but it was quite another thing to experience a painful death and the spiritual suffering that came along with it. In a similar manner, Jesus knew he would be betrayed, but it must have been sorrowful all the same to see one of his friends betray him this way.

And what does that mean for us? Jesus knows what it’s like to be betrayed. I don’t know if you have experienced betrayal in your life, but you probably have. Of course, the betrayals that we experience are often not as dramatic; most people when they are betrayed aren’t put to death. But anytime someone we love, someone we have made ourselves vulnerable to, turns on us, that’s a betrayal. It could be a friend who has betrayed your trust. Betrayal can come from a co-worker. Betrayal can even come from a spouse. I know that I’ve experienced betrayal. There have been people that have been close to me, people I’ve trusted, who then surprised me by turning on me. Perhaps you’ve experienced the same thing. The fact that someone we wouldn’t expect to turn on us does is the worst aspect of betrayal. The loss of a relationship is worse than losing a job or experiencing some other bad consequence of betrayal. When people we love turn on us, we’re hurt and confused. We don’t know if someone else will turn on us, too.

When we finish the Gospel of Luke, we’re going to look at the book of Proverbs. Judas’ betrayal of Jesus reminds me of a passage in Proverbs. This is what Proverbs 27:5–6 says:

Better is open rebuke
than hidden love.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

Real friends will tell you the truth. They will “wound” you with things that you may not want to hear, but they will do that directly. The kisses of the enemy, however, might appear flattering at first. People who don’t truly love us will say things we might want to hear, things that will flatter us. Yet those same people will then turn on us.

The good news is that Jesus, the Son of God, knows what it’s like to be betrayed. Jesus can sympathize with us in our weakest moments. He knows what it’s like to have someone close to him turn on him. He understands. And Jesus was and is always a real friend. He doesn’t betray us. He rebukes us openly with his words. He tells us hard truths that we may not want to hear. We need to follow Jesus’ example in not betraying people by acting one way to them at one time, and then turning on them the next. Jesus is faithful, the one who never betrays but who was betrayed.

The next thing we should see in this passage is that those who betray, those who are aligned with the powers of darkness, don’t fight fair. At the end of this passage, Jesus says that those who came to arrest him were doing so with the power of darkness. They were doing what was evil. And evil doesn’t play by the rules. Jesus’ enemies should have arrested him in Jerusalem, during the day, in public. Jesus says that they could have done that. Every day that week, he was at the temple, teaching. They could easily have arrested him then if they thought he was a threat. Instead, they come secretly at night. And though Jesus never committed acts of violence against anyone, he was treated like a violent criminal. The word “robber” used here in verse 52 is one used of violent criminals, not mere thieves. Why are treating Jesus this way if he’s not a real threat? Because they want to get rid of him. Darkness doesn’t like the light. It hates light because light exposes the truth. Light reveals what is done in secret. So, the powers of darkness come upon Jesus. It is their hour.

The third thing we should see is that there are two different responses to Jesus’ arrest. One response comes from the other eleven disciples. They ask Jesus, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” Before he answers, one of them takes a sword and cuts off one of the ears of the servant of the high priest. In John’s Gospel, we’re told that the disciple who did this was Peter. John also gives us the servant’s name, Malchus (John 18:10). We can understand why Peter would want to fight. He’s trying to protect his teacher, his leader.

But Jesus has a very different reaction. He says, “No more of this!” Then he heals the servant’s ear, which is the last miracle he performs before he dies. He refuses to fight back. Even though the people who come against him are wrong and want to do him harm, he refuses to run away from his mission. He must die. In John’s Gospel he says to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:11).

Jesus could have defended himself. He certainly had the power to do so. Look at what happens in Matthew’s account of this episode. This is Matthew 26:51–54:

51 And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”

Jesus could have responded by calling upon thousands of angels. Twelve legions could be as many as 72,000. He could have struck down all of the Jewish leaders opposed to them and all their servants and soldiers. But he didn’t. He let himself be arrested so that Scripture would be fulfilled. He knew that he had to drink the cup of wrath that his Father had prepared for him.

Not only does Jesus refuse to fight back or run away, but he heals his enemy. He doesn’t respond to hate with hate. He doesn’t respond to swords with swords. He responds with love. Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, he taught about loving one’s enemy. This is what he says in Luke 6:27–29:

27 But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.

We could believe that what Jesus does here is extraordinary. We know that he has to be arrested, because he has to die. He has to die and experience God’s wrath in order to pay the penalty for sins. Of course, Jesus never committed any sins. He is the one perfect human being. So, he’s not dying for his own sins. He’s dying for the sins of all who will come to him in faith, those whom the Father draws to him, those who cling to Jesus because he is their only remedy for sin. If Jesus didn’t die for sins, we all would have to die for our sins. And we wouldn’t just have to die a physical death. We would have to die a spiritual death. We would be condemned, cast out of God’s creation, cut off from all of God’s blessings.

So, we could easily say, “Yes, of course Jesus didn’t fight back. He had to die.” And then we could act quite differently when we are attacked. But we can’t just write off Jesus’ actions as something that he had to do, but something that we don’t have to do. We just read his words: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.” When someone mistreats us, we will be tempted to strike back. If someone lies about us, we may be tempted to lie about them. If someone calls us a name, we might be tempted to call them names. If someone does something unethical towards us, we might think we’re allowed to do the same to them. But Jesus says, “No.”

Jesus’ message is reiterated by the apostles. Let’s look at what the apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans. Turn to Romans 12:14–21:

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

If someone persecutes you, you must bless them and not curse them. Do not repay evil with evil. Instead, do what is honorable. Don’t avenge yourself, but leave it to God to deal with those who have wronged you. God will deal with all evil. In the end, all evil will be punished. Those who have turned to Jesus in faith have already had all their evil punished. Those who reject Jesus will stand before him in judgment and they will have to pay for what they have done. We must trust that a final day of justice will come. We don’t have to try to right every single wrong in this life. Instead, treat people kindly. Overcome evil with good.

Paul can say those things because the Spirit of God led him to write those things. And Jesus spoke through his apostles by means of the Holy Spirit. So, Paul’s words are no less authoritative then Jesus’ words. His message is the same as Jesus’. Paul can tell us not to repay evil with evil, but to love and bless those who hate and curse us, because he knows that justice will be done. He can also say those things because God has instituted an authority that does provide justice. Paul goes on to say in Romans 13 that the “governing authorities . . . have been instituted by God” (Rom. 13:1). The government is “God’s servant” who “bear[s] the sword.” The government “is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4). According to the Bible, the main role of government is to punish evil and to protect those who do good from those who do evil. Obviously, governments don’t work perfectly. The Roman Empire wasn’t the perfect model of justice in Paul’s day, but Paul realized that the role of government was to punish evildoers. And if the government failed to punish evil, as it so often does, then evil would ultimately be punished by God. And that means Christians do not have to pick up weapons to avenge themselves.

Why does this matter? There’s a great temptation today to rely on power to get our way. It seems like all kinds of people are obsessed with politics because they realize that if their party has control of the various branches of government, they can then enforce their will on all the people. It seems like hardly anyone cares about truth and doing what is right. Instead, they cheer on the party that can enforce their agenda, regardless of whether that agenda is entirely good or not.

Christians have been caught up in this. I think we have been led to think that if only we could get control of the government, we could enforce our views on the nation. Now, that’s understandable. It matters who is in power. And it matters what laws are made and enforced. Laws cannot enforce virtue in the hearts of people. But laws can restrain vice. And laws are teachers. When the government says that something is legal or illegal, it is saying that something is acceptable (even if it’s not entirely moral) or that something is beyond the pale and is entirely unacceptable. So, we cannot pretend that politics doesn’t matter.

But I think there are some things that we fail to think about. One is that Christianity cannot be enforced or spread through power. We can’t make people believe in Jesus, or accept the doctrines of the Bible. Christianity can only be spread through persuasion and through the power of God.

Think about this: the early church had no political power. Christianity was an illegal religion. And it was considered a threat to the Roman Empire because Caesar, the emperor, was regarded as Lord. But Christianity said, “No, Jesus is Lord.” Jesus is the real King. The Roman Empire had many, many gods. Christianity teaches that there is only one true God. So, Christianity was at odds with the Roman Empire. And for about three centuries after Jesus died and rose from the grave, the Roman leaders were not Christians. Eventually, in the fourth century, Christianity became a legal religion and then even the official religion of the Roman Empire. But that was not the case in the early years. The first Christians had no political power. They weren’t the richest people. But Christianity spread through persuasion. Christians stated what Jesus did and how he fulfilled the promises of the Old Testament. They explained how all the other gods couldn’t save them, and that they were in fact false gods. They pointed out the beauty and the coherence of the Christian faith while pointing out the inferiority of other beliefs.

You simply can’t spread Christianity with force. To try to do so is wrong. Enforcing religion is more or less the way of Islam. Islam started in Saudi Arabia in the early seventh century. After Mohammed died, in 632, the alleged revelations of God that he received in his life were written down and codified in the Qur’an. And before long, the first Muslims engaged in military conquests in the Middle East and across northern Africa, all within the seventh century. By the early eighth century, Muslims invaded Spain.

Now, it’s technically true that people didn’t convert to Islam through violence. We don’t have accounts of people being told, “Confess Allah or you will die!” But Islam wouldn’t have spread without violence, force, and great social pressure. Those people who were not Muslims and who lived in lands that were conquered by Muslims were treated as second-class citizens. They were forced to pay taxes that Muslims didn’t have to pay. There was enormous social pressure to convert to Islam. And that is still true today in Islamic countries in the Middle East.

But that is not the way of Christianity. It can’t be, because you can’t force someone to have a change of heart. When we try to enforce what we believe, it simply doesn’t work. And it often creates a backlash. People resent being forced to live in a way they disagree with. Powerful social movements in our country have not been achieved through power. Part of the reason why the civil rights movement in the ‘50s and ‘60s of the last century worked so well is because it was accomplished through persuasion and through people being willing to be arrested and even to suffer mistreatment. Of course, Christians can and should agree that treating someone poorly based on their skin color or ethnicity is wrong. It’s a failure to treat someone as an image bearer of God, regardless of what they believe and how they live.

But there have been social movements in our country that do not align with Christianity. And they, too, have been spread not with violence or power, but with persuasion. We can think about homosexuality and now transgenderism. These movements have been spread through subtle means of persuasion. I don’t think there are good arguments to state why homosexual desires and behaviors are acceptable. I don’t think there are good arguments to say why we should believe that a biological man can be a woman, or a biological woman could be a man. Logic and truth are not on the side of people who advance such causes. But these movements have learned how to play upon the emotions of people. They have used media well, introducing characters in television shows and movies who were non-threatening, appealing to people’s sense of freedom, to the idea that we should be free to love whomever we want, however we choose.

If Christianity is going to counter such movements, it cannot do so through political power. That won’t succeed. We must engage in a battle for hearts and minds. We must present Christianity as a more beautiful alternative. We must persuade people that truth is on our side. We must show them through our acts of love that we care for them and want what is best for them. And I trust that what the Bible teaches about sex, sexuality, gender, and the family will be shown to be true and wise in the end. That may take a long time. In the interim, we must love and persuade.

The other reason why we can’t fight spiritual battles with political power and literal weapons of war is because, ultimately, this is a spiritual battle. This is what the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:3–6:

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

Paul’s message was opposed by many people. It was opposed by Jews who refused to see that Jesus was their Messiah, the one who fulfilled the promise of the Hebrew Bible. It was refused by Gentiles who didn’t want to turn from their idols to the true God. And it was even refused by people who claimed to be Christians yet who taught false things about Jesus. Paul realized his battle was not against people. Ultimately, it was against spiritual forces of evil, led by Satan himself. The weapons he used were not swords and clubs. He used reasoning and persuasion. He clung to the truth. He didn’t destroy people, but he destroyed arguments and opinion that were against the knowledge of God. His punishment wasn’t physical, but conducted through church discipline, using the censure of the church as a way of telling people they are wrong.

If you’re familiar with Ephesians, you may recall that Paul told Christians to “put on the whole armor of God” (Eph. 6:10–20). It’s a metaphor for finding our protection in Jesus. Most of the elements of that armor are purely defensive. The only weapon is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17). And right after that, he tells us to pray (Eph. 6:18). Our weapons to fight against evil and darkness are the Bible, prayer, faithfully obeying God, reasoning with people, and trusting in the power of the only One who can destroy darkness.

We need to learn how to fight against spiritual darkness with spiritual light. Instead of relying on political power, we must draw on God’s power by using the resources he has given to us. That’s why it’s so important to know the truth of the Bible and understand it well. It’s our “sword.” We don’t use the Bible to beat people up, but to show that what they believe is false. We must learn how to reason and persuade, and to do so in love. We must rely on God’s power, and ask him, through prayer, to deliver us from evil.

And we must be willing to suffer if that’s what God has called us to do. According to Paul, Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” by dying on the cross (Col. 2:15). He defeated evil through suffering. He triumphed by dying. Martyrdom has often been a powerful way of persuading people, because when people see someone dying for a cause, they start to consider that such a cause is worth dying for. Who would die for something they believed to be false? Who would die for something that they didn’t believe was important? The word “martyr” literally means “witness.” When we suffer for the sake of Jesus, we’re bearing witness to the world that Jesus is worth more than the world’s pleasures and comforts.

So, let us follow Jesus. He knows what it’s like to be betrayed. He knows that the forces of darkness are real and that they don’t fight fairly. Yet he knows that we can’t respond with hate and evil. We must respond with love. We must respond with blessings, not curses. And we must respond in faith. The gospel message teaches us that evil isn’t something outside of us. It teaches us that we have evil within us. And it also teaches us that Jesus died for evil people, that those who come to him in faith have their evil defeated, and that those who come to Jesus can love others who act in evil ways toward them. Trust in Jesus and follow in his footsteps.

Notes

  1. All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).

 

The Power of Darkness (Luke 22:47-53)

When Jesus was arrested, he refused to fight back. He was treated unfairly, but he was willing to suffer to fulfill God’s plans. Find out what we can learn from Jesus. This sermon was preached by Brian Watson on February 16, 2020.

Pray That You May Not Enter into Temptation

This sermon was preached by Brian Watson on February 9, 2020.
MP3 recording of the sermon.
PDF of the written sermon (or continue reading below). 

Many people claim to be Christians. And if you ask these people questions about different issues, whether those are ethical or doctrinal, you’ll likely get very different answers. In fact, if you ask people who claim to be Christians some very basic questions about who Jesus is and what he achieved during his time on earth, you’ll likely get different answers, too. That’s sad.

There are many truths about Jesus that are quite clearly expressed in the Bible. It’s rather clear that he was a man, a human being. Though he was conceived in a unique way, he was born, grew up, ate, drank, got tired, slept, felt emotions, experienced pain and suffering, and he died. If you pay attention to what the Bible says, I think it’s also clear that he’s the Son of God. He claims to be divine and equal to God the Father, he claims to forgive sins not committed directly against him, he says that people will be condemned if they don’t believe in him and follow his words.

Yet there are some aspects of Jesus that are harder to understand. How is that he could be both God and human at the same time? How could Jesus be tempted if he’s God? If he’s God, how could he really suffer? What exactly did his death accomplish?

These issues aren’t just intellectual issues. These theological issues have an impact on how we live. Knowing who Jesus is and what he came to do will shape our lives in dramatic ways, particularly as we deal with issues of sin and suffering.

Today, as we continue to study the Gospel of Luke, we’ll consider some of the more difficult aspects of who Jesus is and what he did. We’ll be looking at Luke 22:39–46, the passage that describes Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before he died. We’ll think about why Jesus prayed, what he prayed for, and the results of his prayer. And we’ll consider his words to his disciples, that they should pray that they may not enter into temptation.

So, with that in mind, let’s read today’s passage. Here is Luke 22:39–46:

39 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. 45 And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”[1]

Just to give us a bit of context: As I said, this is the night before Jesus will die. He is about to be arrested. He has already taken one last Passover meal with his disciples, he has told them something about the meaning of his imminent death, and he has warned them that one of them will betray him and one of them will deny him. Then, he and his followers left Jerusalem, crossed the Kidron Valley, just east of the city, and came to the Garden of Gethsemane, at the foot of the western slope of the Mount of Olives.

Jesus tells his disciples to pray that they may not enter into temptation, and then he withdraws a relatively short distance from them to pray on his own. In Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels, we’re told that Jesus took his inner circle of disciples, Peter, James, and John, with him (Matt. 26:36–46; Mark 14:32–42).

Now, I want us to see why Jesus prayed. Why, at this moment, does Jesus pray? In fact, why does Jesus need to pray at all, if he’s God? Well, Jesus prayed throughout his time on earth because he was also a man. He came to live the perfect human life. Most of the time, he didn’t rely on his divine power. There were times when he performed miracles and didn’t pray beforehand. But as a human being, and as the perfect human being, he relied on God the Father’s provision. A perfect human being realizes that he or she isn’t God, that God is the Creator, Sustainer, and Provider of all things. So, a perfect human being doesn’t rely on his own strength, but instead he relies on God.

Prayer isn’t simply asking God for things. We’ve read through most of the Psalms on Sunday mornings, and in those poems, those prayers, you see that the psalmists often express emotions to God. They simply talk to God. They praise him. They tell him how they are feeling. They express their concerns, their sorrows. They confess their sins. They dare to command God to rise up and defeat their enemies. They ask God where he is and how long it will be before they are vindicated. Prayer is quite simply spending time with God. Prayer is taking whatever you’re going through and processing it in the presence of God. God already knows whatever it is that you’ll say. You’re not going to tell something new to God. He knows everything, even what is going on in your heart and mind. God doesn’t need your requests to act. But what prayer does is it helps us to focus on God. In our time of need, it reminds us that God is there, that God is in control, and that he is our ultimate source of help and hope. Prayer realigns us to God.

So, why does Jesus pray? He knows what’s happening. He knows he’s about to die. He already has clearly predicted his death. He knows his body will be broken and his blood poured out. He knows Judas Iscariot is telling the Jewish leaders right now that where they can arrest him away from the teeming crowds in Jerusalem. Jesus knows that what he is about to endure isn’t just physical suffering, as bad as that will be. He is going to experience something far beyond physical pain. So, he prays.

What does Jesus pray for? Here is his prayer: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Jesus is asking to be relieved of something. But what? He wants a “cup” to be removed from him. Since he’s not literally drinking anything, this cup must be a figurative or symbolic reference. What is this cup? I’ve heard some people refer to this as a cup of suffering. It is that. But the cup refers to more than just suffering. You and I suffer in various ways. But the cup that Jesus had to drink wasn’t just any suffering.

To understand what “this cup” refers to, we must go back to the Old Testament. As a Jewish man, Jesus was steeped in the Old Testament. He often quoted and alluded to the Old Testament, just as the early Christian writers like Paul did. The cup is a reference to something we find in the Old Testament. It’s best to look at some passages that mention this cup to understand what Jesus is talking about.

First, we’ll look at the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah prophesied over seven hundred years earlier, at a time when Israel was divided into two kingdoms. During his ministry, the northern kingdom of Israel was defeated by the Assyrian Empire, and later, the southern kingdom of Judah would be defeated by the Babylonian Empire. The division and defeat of Israel happened because the Israelites turned away from God. They didn’t trust him and love him as they should have. They disobeyed him, broke his commands, and also started to worship false gods, idols. So, God gave them over to their sins and to their enemies. But God promised he would deliver a remnant, whom he would call back to himself and save.

In Isaiah 51, God says he would comfort his people, thought they had forgotten him (Isa. 51:12–13). Because they had forgotten him, God gave them over to punishment. Look at verses 17–23:

17  Wake yourself, wake yourself,
stand up, O Jerusalem,
you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord
the cup of his wrath,
who have drunk to the dregs
the bowl, the cup of staggering.
18  There is none to guide her
among all the sons she has borne;
there is none to take her by the hand
among all the sons she has brought up.
19  These two things have happened to you—
who will console you?—
devastation and destruction, famine and sword;
who will comfort you?
20  Your sons have fainted;
they lie at the head of every street
like an antelope in a net;
they are full of the wrath of the Lord,
the rebuke of your God.

21  Therefore hear this, you who are afflicted,
who are drunk, but not with wine:
22  Thus says your Lord, the Lord,
your God who pleads the cause of his people:
“Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering;
the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more;
23  and I will put it into the hand of your tormentors,
who have said to you,
‘Bow down, that we may pass over’;|
and you have made your back like the ground
and like the street for them to pass over.”

Jerusalem had once drunk the cup of God’s wrath, the cup of staggering, the bowl of his wrath. But now God says he will take that cup from them and give it to their enemies. The cup symbolizes God’s judgment against sin, his righteous anger and punishment against rebellion. Sin is a destructive force, wreaking destruction in God’s creation. God has every right to get angry against sin and to cast sinners out of his creation. If someone came into your home and started tearing things up and harming your family, you would want them to be removed and punished. So it is with God. To face God’s righteous punishment against sin is a dreadful thing.

There are other passages that talk of this cup of wrath. Consider Jeremiah 25:15–16:

15 Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. 16 They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.”

God told the prophet Jeremiah to give the nations, including Judah, the cup of his wrath. What he means is that Jeremiah was supposed to warn the nations of God’s judgment. A day of judgment, the Day of the Lord, will come upon the whole earth. All who have rejected God and rebelled against him will drink this cup.

God sends a similar message through the prophet Ezekiel. In chapter 23 of that book, God describes in a somewhat metaphorical way how both Israel and Judah, the divided kingdoms of Israel, rejected him and went after other gods. He tells Judah that what happened to her “sister” shall happen to her. Here is Ezekiel 23:31–34:

31 You have gone the way of your sister; therefore I will give her cup into your hand. 32 Thus says the Lord God:

“You shall drink your sister’s cup
that is deep and large;
you shall be laughed at and held in derision,
for it contains much;
33  you will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow.|
A cup of horror and desolation,
the cup of your sister Samaria;
34  you shall drink it and drain it out,
and gnaw its shards,
and tear your breasts;

for I have spoken, declares the Lord God.

Drinking from that cup sounds like a terrible thing, something that brings shame, horror, destruction, and pain.

Another passage that speaks of the cup is Psalm 75:6–8:

For not from the east or from the west
and not from the wilderness comes lifting up,
but it is God who executes judgment,
putting down one and lifting up another.
For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup
with foaming wine, well mixed,
and he pours out from it,
and all the wicked of the earth
shall drain it down to the dregs.

Again, the cup is associated with judgment.

There are a few other passages that mention the cup, but this is enough to see that the cup is something dreadful. It is a cup of God’s judgment, his wrath against sin. It brings destruction, horror, pain. It’s like drinking the worst poison that first makes someone crazy before killing them in the worst possible way. This is the cup that Jesus was referring to.

Why does this matter? Because there are some people who say that Jesus was referring to a cup of suffering. The cup does entail suffering, but it’s not just suffering. Jesus didn’t just suffer. You and I suffer, but we don’t face what Jesus faced. He didn’t just experience physical pain and death. He bore the wrath of God on the cross. Some people refuse to believe that. They say Jesus died as an example of how to lay down your life, or that he died because he was oppressed by a class of oppressors. There’s truth to those statements. But Jesus’ death wasn’t just an accident. It was planned by God. And his death accomplished something. He died to pay the penalty of sin for his people. If his death didn’t accomplish something, it wouldn’t be a good example. But we know that Jesus came to save his people from their sin (Matt. 1:21), and that his death ransomed his people from sin (Matt. 20:28; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 1:17–19; 2:18–25).

So, why is Jesus asking for this cup to be removed? Jesus knows he must die. He has already predicted his death. He realizes that it is part of the divine plan. But Jesus also knows that experiencing the wrath of God is something he hasn’t experienced before. He has to this point experienced unbroken fellowship with God the Father. He has only experienced the Father’s love and approval. Now, he knows that the experience of the Father’s love will be overshadowed by the experience of the Father’s wrath. He will experience a psychological, spiritual torment—what can best be described as hell on earth—and this is not something that Jesus wants to experience.

To understand what’s happening, we must first understand that Jesus has two natures. He is one person who has always had a divine nature. The Son of God has always existed as the Son. He is eternal. God the Father created the universe through him. But when Jesus was conceived, he added a second nature to himself. He also became man. Jesus doesn’t just have a body. He also has a human mind, a human soul, a human will. He needed to have these things in order to redeem them.

An early Christian theologian named Gregory Nazianzen wrote the following of Jesus:

If anyone has put his trust in Him as a Man without a human mind, he is really bereft of mind, and quite unworthy of salvation. For that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved. If only half Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole[2]

The point is that Jesus had a human mind as well as a divine mind. Jesus’ divine mind knows everything, every fact, past, present, and future. But he often only used his human mind, which didn’t know everything. Praying as a human, Jesus might have thought that there could be a way for him to avoid drinking that terrible cup of wrath. His divine will desired to go to the cross. But his human will, quite understandably, didn’t want to suffer God’s wrath.

We might say that Jesus was tempted not to drink this cup of judgment. We may wonder how the Son of God could be tempted. God, after all, has a perfect character. He can’t be tempted. But Jesus, as a human being, could be tempted. Yet Jesus had a perfect character. We’re often tempted to do the wrong thing because want to do things that are inherently wrong. Jesus could be tempted to do the wrong thing—to do what wasn’t the Father’s will, or the divine will—but not because he desired to do things that were inherently wrong. Not wanting to suffer and die isn’t inherently wrong. Wanting to kill an innocent human being or wanting to steal something is inherently wrong. But not wanting to drink the cup of God’s wrath isn’t wrong.

Still, we see in this passage that Jesus yields to the Father’s will. He says, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” He’s saying that his human will isn’t to suffer God’s wrath, but he realizes this is the divine will. It’s the Father’s will. But it’s also the Son of God’s will. The divine plan that is jointly held by the Father, Son, and Spirit, is that Jesus, the God-man, must be the one who drinks this cup of wrath. Jesus, in his humanity, yields to the Father’s will, because Jesus is the perfect human being. A perfect human being is obedient. And Jesus was, as the apostle Paul says, obedient even to death on the cross (Phil. 2:8).

Why is it the plan that Jesus must drink this cup of wrath? Why must Jesus die and suffer great physical and spiritual pain? It’s God’s plan to spare sinners from God’s wrath. Jesus drinks the cup of wrath so that you and I don’t have to. And that’s the amazing thing. We deserve to drink that cup. We all have sinned. God would be right to let us receive that punishment for our sin. But God is merciful. He doesn’t give us what we deserve. God is gracious. He gives us good things we could never merit. God gave us a way to be forgiven, to have someone else take our punishment. That way is Jesus. If we put our faith in Jesus, trusting that he is our hope and salvation, trusting that he is who the Bible says he is and that he is has done what the Bible says he has done, then we are forgiven. We will never drink that cup of wrath. We are put back into a right relationship with God, adopted as his children, and we will never be disowned.

And that was made possible because Jesus didn’t give into temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane. The first man, Adam, along with the first woman, Eve, gave into temptation in another garden, Eden. The last Adam, the one who came to redeem human beings, didn’t give into temptation.

I’m sure many of us saw the movie The Passion of the Christ, which came out in 2004. The movie, made by Mel Gibson, famously depicts Jesus suffering great physical pain. I don’t think it’s a great movie. It doesn’t contain a lot of theology. But there are some good moments. At the beginning of the movie, Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prays, but his prayers are met with silence. And he falls to the ground. Then Satan appears alongside of him. Satan appears as a woman, dressed in a dark cloak. Satan tries to make Jesus doubt that he can actually bear the sins of the world. Satan tries to get Jesus to doubt that God is really his Father. Then, a serpent comes from the bottom of Satan’s cloak and slithers toward Jesus. But Jesus resolves to do the Father’s will. He gets up and stomps on the serpent’s head, crushing it.

That is sort of what Jesus is going through here. He expresses his reluctance to drain the cup of wrath, but he also says that he will do the Father’s will.

What is the response to Jesus’ prayer? Well, the Father did not take the cup from him. Jesus would have to suffer. But notice that something happens. An angel comes to strengthen Jesus. Something similar happened when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. (See Luke 4:1–13.) Jesus turned away Satan’s temptations to receive a kingdom without first suffering. And after Jesus resisted temptation, angels came to minister to him (Matt. 4:11; Mark 1:13). Here, Jesus resists temptation, though he isn’t spared the cup. But what God the Father does is give him the strength to drink it. In fact, the angel apparently gave Jesus the strength to continue praying. He was in such agony that his sweat was like blood. Luke doesn’t say that Jesus was sweating blood. But his sweat was like blood. Perhaps the drops of his sweat were heavy like drops of blood. Or perhaps he was sweating profusely: sweat was pouring out of him the way blood pours out of a wound. Jesus was doing battle through prayer, and God gave him the strength to do that. God strengthened him to suffer.

Now, you may be wondering what all of this has to do with you. If you’re a Christian, it has everything to do with you. This is what Jesus endured to save you. He battled through temptation and agony. In distress, he cried out to the Father, asking if it were possible for there to be some other way. But he yielded to the Father. Jesus obeyed for you. He suffered for you. He died for you. It’s important to be reminded of this.

And if you are not a Christian, I hope that you would see the beauty of Jesus’ sacrifice. Look at what he was willing to endure. The weight of the world was upon his shoulders. The destiny of billions of people depended upon his actions. And Jesus triumphed by being willing to suffer so that he could save people. If you put your trust in him, you will be spared God’s wrath. But if you reject Jesus, you reject God. And the reality is that you will have to drink that cup of wrath yourself, and it will be greater suffering than you can imagine.

But there’s something else to see in this passage. Jesus twice tells his disciples to pray that they may not enter into temptation. At that moment, they would be tempted to abandon Jesus. Next week, we will see how Jesus is arrested. Judas and some soldiers and officers of the Jewish leaders were on their away to arrest Jesus. The temptation would be to run away, to abandon Jesus, to deny every knowing him, all to save their own skin. If they were coming to arrest and kill Jesus, they might do the same to Jesus’ followers.

Now, we will likely not be put in such a difficult situation. But there will be temptation to deny Jesus in situations that aren’t full of so much pressure. We may be tempted to abandon Jesus when our friends and family members don’t follow him. We may be tempted to abandon Jesus when it seems like the way of the world is more fun and satisfying. In other words, we may be tempted to abandon Jesus in order to pursue sin, to do things that Jesus forbids us to do. We may be tempted to abandon Jesus when we suffer, when things in this life don’t go the way we want them to go. When we endure physical pain, perhaps an injury or a disease, we may wonder if this God of the Bible really exists. When we suffer in our relationships, we may be tempted to give up on Jesus. There are many different situations that might lead us into temptation. And Jesus tells us to pray so that we wouldn’t give into temptation.

When you’re suffering, don’t run away from God. There’s always the temptation to ignore that suffering, perhaps to numb your pain with drugs or alcohol or to just avoid it through things like entertainment. Instead of dealing with the problems of our lives, we may tune them out by turning on the TV or binge-watching shows and movies on Netflix. Jesus asked the disciples to stay awake with him, but we’re told that they were “sleeping for sorrow.” They were so emotionally spent that they slept. That could literally be what happens to us. Instead of facing our problems, we might just want to sleep. I think that’s what people who commit suicide believe. It’s better to have to “sleep,” to be done with this life, than to deal with the sorrows and sufferings of this life.

But Jesus asks us to wrestle with God in prayer. When we suffer, we should cry out to God. When you’re hurting, talk to God. When you’re in distress, express your emotions to God. You can do that through tears and even shouting. Prayer doesn’t have to done in this hushed, polite, “religious” tone. Jesus prayed with great emotion. This is what the author of Hebrews writes: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Heb. 5:7). It’s perfectly acceptable to pray in loud cries, to pray through your tears. You can tell God how you really feel. You can ask him questions. You can beg him to spare you suffering.

But when we pray, we must realize that God may not answer us the way we want him to. When we’re hurting, our first instinct is to ask God to remove the thing that’s hurting us. That’s not a wrong thing to ask of God. Jesus did it. Paul did it, too (see 2 Cor. 12:1–10). Bringing that request to God makes us aware that God has the power to remove suffering from our lives. It reminds us that God is in control. And that’s a good thing. But we must also be willing to say, “Not my will, but yours.” God’s answer might very well be “no.” His plan might be for us to continue to suffer. But if that is the case, God will give us the strength to endure that suffering. God strengthened Jesus through the help of an angel. Luke doesn’t tell us what the angel did to strengthen Jesus. We’re not even sure that Jesus could see the angel. Perhaps when we’re suffering, angels minister to us in ways that we can’t see. I don’t know. But if God plans for us to suffer, then he will give us the strength to suffer.

So, if you’re facing something difficult today, something you wish were different in your life, tell God about it. Cry out to him. Tell him how you’re in pain, or you’re confused, or you don’t know what to do. Wrestle with him. Cry, shout, wail. Tell him what you would like to happen. But then be willing to do God’s will. When you pray, you will more than likely never hear an audible reply. You have to wait and see what God’s answer is. There are times when he removes the suffering, when he improves our situation, when he heals us. But there are many times when our circumstances don’t change, when we continue to suffer. If that is the case, take heart. God will strengthen you, perhaps in ways that you can’t sense, ways that you don’t see. He will give you the grace to endure. God will not ask us to bear the weight of the world on our shoulders. Only one person could do that, and he already did. But you will bear some weight. Just know that God will strengthen you to bear it. As Jesus told his disciples on that same night, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Notes

  1. All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).
  2. Gregory Nazianzen, “Select Letters of Saint Gregory Nazianzen,” in S. Cyril of Jerusalem, S. Gregory Nazianzen, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Charles Gordon Browne and James Edward Swallow, vol. 7, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1894), 440.