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Sermon Series

 

January 15, 2017 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

INTRODUCTION
What’s the most important thing in the world to you? Grab a piece of paper, or a pew envelope, or a corner of your Bulletin, and write down the most important thing in the world to you…

GENESIS 22:1-19 [NLTse]
Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called.
“Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”
2 “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”
3 The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.”
6 So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, 7 Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”
8 “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.
9 When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. 10 And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. 11 At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!”
12 “Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from Me even your son, your only son.”
13 Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. 14 Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
15 Then the angel of the Lord called again to Abraham from Heaven. 16 “This is what the Lord says: Because you have obeyed Me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by My Own name that 17 I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. 18 And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed Me.”
19 Then they returned to the servants and traveled back to Beersheba, where Abraham continued to live.

SERMON
Abraham was extremely wealthy. Kings considered him to be too powerful for them. He had so many workers, servants, and slaves that once – having armed them all – he defeated the combined military forces of several city-state nations! (With God’s help, of course.) The Bible talks about Abraham “camping” in different places, but Abraham’s “camps” must have been the size of large towns and city-states themselves!
But he had no son; he had no heir. Abraham had no children at all. One of his servants would end up inheriting his massive estate.

And then Isaac was born.

Abraham was 100. His wife, Sarah, was 90. But she miraculously became pregnant and she gave birth to Isaac!
And we can, perhaps, imagine how the sun must have risen and set on Isaac! After a lifetime of waiting Abraham finally had a son! He and Sarah finally had a son! And then the LORD commanded Abraham to offer the boy to Him as a sacrifice…
The very first of the Ten Commandments is “You must not have any other god but Me, says the LORD.” (See Exodus 20) And the Lord Jesus followed that up by saying, “Whoever comes to Me and does not hate father and mother, wife, husband, and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be My disciple.” (That is, when compared to our love for the Lord that our love for everyone and everything else must seem like hate—even our love for our fathers and mothers, our wives, husbands, and children, our brothers and sisters—and yes, even our love for our own lives must seem like hate compared to how much we love the Lord! Otherwise, Jesus says, we cannot be His disciples. And, I think we can know we have another “god” besides the LORD in our lives when we find that we don’t hate that one or that thing in comparison to our love for the Lord. As a matter of fact, I think we know we have another “god” in our lives besides the Lord when, if something happens to that one or that thing, then we get mad at the Lord and stop trusting Him and even, perhaps, start hating Him because of it!

Look at what you wrote on the pew envelope or piece of paper… If that person died, or if that thing was stolen or broke or was taken away, or if you lost the health you treasure or lost the job you love or was suddenly unable to do this or that thing that you love to do – whatever it is that you value most here in the world – if that was taken from you would you hate God for taking it (or for taking them)? Or is your love for our Father truly so great that, in comparison, you really do hate all else, and you truly would trust Him and surrender to Him the loss of even that which you consider most precious?

I remember, years ago, walking through a busy parking lot with my wife, Amy. We were waiting to cross at an especially awkward intersection when Amy saw an opening and ran across. It was like my life flashing before my eyes as in slow motion I saw a car that she hadn’t seen, and she was running right into its path. In that heartbeat I remember being so filled with my love for her and wondering if I would ever trust God again if He took her from me. In the next heartbeat I remember realizing that, if the devil could get me to hate or lose faith in God by hurting Amy, that then Amy would never be safe from the devil, because he would know that he could always use her to get in-between the Lord and me. And in the next heartbeat I realized that I needed to surrender Amy’s life and welfare into God’s hands: That her in His hands – alive, dead, sick, healthy – was the only place where she would ever truly be safe. And that she in His hands was the only place where I would ever truly be safe. And then the moment was over. The car braked. Amy made it safely to the other side. And I followed soon after.

God sometimes gives us opportunities to show Him, to show ourselves, and to show the watching world that He alone is the most important thing in our lives, and that nothing else is even close. And sometimes He does that by providing opportunities for us to “sacrifice” what may be competing with Him.
Of course, He’s worth it.

The Lord is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with love that never fails. He is good to everyone and showers compassion on His entire creation. (Psalm 145:8-9) Yes, He is rich in mercy and He loves us so much that, even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead. (Ephesians 2:4-5) No, He doesn’t deal harshly with us, even though sometimes we deserve it. He has removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west! He is tender and compassionate to those who revere Him, for He knows how weak we are… (Psalm 103:10, 12) He is good, and so ready to forgive, and so full of love that will never fail for all who ask Him for His help. (Psalm 86:5)
Yes, He is worth it!

I want to invite you to make a sacrifice to the Lord right now. I want you to sacrifice to the Lord that which you wrote down on that envelope or piece of paper at the beginning of the message. I’m going to invite this morning’s Ushers to come get the Offering Plates and collect that which is most important to us in this world: Just fold your piece of paper in half and place it into the Plate as a sacrifice to the Lord. (If you’re not ready to sacrifice your most-loved one or thing then feel free to put in a blank envelope and blank piece of paper, if you’re self-conscious about it, and be asking the Father to help you sacrifice it to Him as the week goes on…) But, Ushers, won’t you come and gather our sacrifices to our God…

[Have them give the Plates to me. Spread them across the top of the Lord’s Table. And give the Plates back to the Ushers.] [Sing the Doxology.] [Then lead in a sacrificial prayer over the sacrifices.]



January 8, 2017 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

JOHN 1:1-5 [NLTse]
In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He existed in the beginning with God. 3 God created everything through Him, and nothing was created except through Him. 4 The Word gave life to everything that was created, and His life brought light to everyone. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.

GENESIS 1:1-3, 6, 9, 14-15, 20, 24, 26, 31 [NLTse]
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.
3 Then God said, “Let there be light.” …
6 Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” …
9 Then God said, “Let the waters beneath the sky flow together into one place, so dry ground may appear.” …
14 Then God said, “Let lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. Let them be signs to mark the seasons, days, and years. Let these lights in the sky shine down on the earth.” …
20 Then God said, “Let the waters swarm with fish and other life. Let the skies be filled with birds of every kind.” …
24 Then God said, “Let the earth produce every sort of animal, each producing offspring of the same kind—livestock, small animals that scurry along the ground, and wild animals.” …
26 Then God said, “Let Us make human beings in Our image, to be like Us…
31 Then God looked over all He had made, and He saw that it was very good!

SERMON
God begins revealing Himself to humanity from the very first words of the Bible. He reveals Himself as creator, and He reveals that He Himself had no creator. He reveals that His image is not borne by winds or seas or by grass or trees or by sea-creatures or air-creatures or land-creatures, but that human beings alone – male and female – bear His likeness. The Lord reveals about Himself that He desired to create everything good, and that everything He created was, indeed, very, very good.

The Lord also reveals Himself as a Trinity.

In our reading from Genesis this past week (that we’ve also read this morning), the Bible opens saying, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” and it goes on. But it’s important for us to know that the word for “God” here is plural, literally, “In the beginning gods created the heavens and the earth…” However, we can’t translate that sentence that way because the verb “create” is singular. That is, one God – Who is revealing Himself as being more than one Person – created the heavens and the earth. Clear as mud, right?

We see evidence of this again later in chapter 1 when this same God says, “Let Us make humankind in Our image, according to Our likeness…” (V. 26): Here, again, is the One God speaking of Himself in the plural!
How does this work? What does this mean?

We get to understand this reality that the Lord is trying to reveal about Himself to us better when we turn to the Gospel of John (which is why we read from John first). John writes, “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He existed in the beginning with God. 3 God created everything through Him, and nothing was created except through Him.” (Vv. 1-3) We find out later in John that Jesus Christ is this so-called “Word” Who was in the beginning with God and Who Himself was (and is) God and through Whom everything that’s been created was created.

And we see this in Genesis, too, because “in the beginning” we see God beginning to create the heavens and the earth, and we see the Spirit of God hovering over the formless and empty heavens and earth, and we see God speaking the Word and see the heavens and the earth take on form and become no longer empty through the Word. So, here in the first two verses of the Bible we see this One Who speaks of Himself as We: God (Whom later we are taught to call and know as “Father”), Jesus Christ (Whom John reveals to be God’s Word), and the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of God)! A tri-unity Bible scholars have called it over time: The Trinity; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

And we see evidence of this elsewhere across the Bible, as well. The Bible speaks of the Father as God (Philippians 1:2). The Bible speaks of Jesus as God (Titus 2:13). And the Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit as God (Acts 5:3–4). Are these just three different ways of looking at God, or ways of referring to three different roles that God plays? The answer must be no, because the Bible also indicates that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons.

For example, since the Father sent the Son into the world (John 3:16), He cannot be the same person as the Son. Likewise, after the Son returned to the Father (John 16:10), the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit into the world (John 14:26; Acts 2:33). Therefore, the Holy Spirit must be distinct from the Father and the Son.

The baptism of Jesus is another example: We see God the Father speaking from Heaven and God the Holy Spirit descending from Heaven (in the form of a dove) as Jesus, God the Son, is coming up out of the water (Mark 1:10–11).
Open up your Bulletins to the picture shown there at the bottom of the left-hand flap. That the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons means that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. Jesus is God, but He is not the Father or the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God, but He is not the Son or the Father. They are different Persons, not merely three different of looking at God.

Maybe you’ve heard people say, “If Jesus is God, then He must have prayed to Himself while He was on earth.” But the answer to this objection lies in simply applying what we have already seen. While Jesus and the Father are both God, they are different Persons. Thus, Jesus prayed to God the Father without praying to Himself. In fact, it is precisely the continuing conversations between the Father and the Son that give us the best evidence that They are, indeed, distinct Persons with distinct centers of consciousness.

Another serious error people have made is to think that the Father became the Son, Who then became the Holy Spirit. But John 1:1-3 and Genesis 1:1-2, clearly show that this cannot be true: God always has been and always will be three Persons. There was never a time when one of the Persons of the Godhead did not exist. They are all eternal.
Of course, while the three members of the Trinity are distinct, this does not mean that any is inferior to the other. And the doctrine of the Trinity does not divide God into three parts. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each fully God. They are equal in power, love, mercy, justice, holiness, knowledge, and all other qualities.

If there is one passage which most clearly brings all of this together, it is Matthew 28:19: “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” First, notice that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinguished as distinct Persons. We baptize into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Second, notice that each Person must be God because they are all placed on the same level. In fact, would Jesus have us baptize in the name of a mere creature? Surely not! Therefore each of the Persons into Whose name we are to be baptized must be God. Third, notice that although the three divine Persons are distinct, we are baptized into their one name (singular), not into their name-s (plural). The three Persons are distinct, yet only constitute one name. This can only be if the three Persons are all one God.

We experience the Trinity because the Father has sent the Son and because the Father and Son send the Holy Spirit. We participate in the Trinity as we receive eternal life from the Father in the name of the Son through the Holy Spirit.
So the Trinity is to be our pattern: We are to be like it, joining together the one and the many. The church is the new humanity being re-made in the image of God. In the church we are striving – through the Holy Spirit – to express the plurality and unity of God; to be the individual and to be the congregation without compromising either. As Paul wrote, “In Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.’ (Romans 12:5)

At the end of his Gospel John records this prayer of Jesus’: “That they will all be one, just as You and I are one—as You are in Me, Father, and I am in You. And may they be in Us so that the world will believe You sent Me… So they may be one as We are one. I am in them and You are in Me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that You sent Me and that You love them as much as You love Me.” (17:21-23)

God’s image in humanity has been marred by sin and death, so now God’s New Covenant people – individually and together made new in Christ – are His image in the world. The Church is to reflect the Trinity. We’re to love one another; share with one another; rejoice and mourn with one another; share our lives. We’re to make decisions with regard to the church when those decisions affect the church just as the church is to help us make our own personal decisions even when those decisions will only affect us personally.

Jesus says that when the world sees our Trinity-like life that it will know that Jesus was indeed sent by the Father to save the world. So, the challenge is this: When the world sees our life together as Evangelical Presbyterian Church, does it see a sign of God’s salvation in us? Does our life together show our neighbors, friends, families, and coworkers the tri-une reality of God?



January 1, 2017 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

PASTOR: INTRODUCTION

As our reading begins, the Lord Jesus is at table with His disciples. They are celebrating the Passover, what’s come to be called “the Last Supper” among Christians.

During this Worship-meal, the Lord has told them that He knows one of them is planning to betray Him. At this, the disciples each begin denying the charge, asserting their strengths and the great things they’ve done as evidence that it could not be them. And soon, the question as to which of them was planning to betray the Lord gets lost in their squabbling over which of them had the most valuable strengths and had done the greatest things…

ELDER READS: LUKE 22:24-34 [NLTse]
May the Lord add His blessing to the reading of His Word…
24 A dispute also arose among [the disciples] as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 But [Jesus] said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

28 “You are those who have stood by Me in My trials; 29 and I confer on you, just as My Father has conferred on Me, a kingdom, 30 so that you may eat and drink at My table in My Kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

31 “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” 33 And [Simon Peter] said to Him, “Lord, I am ready to go with You to prison and to death!” 34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know Me.”

PASTOR BEN’S SERMON
Peter is weaker than he thinks.

The disciples are arguing amongst themselves as to which of them is greatest – having the greatest gifts, being the most valuable to Jesus, … – but the Lord interrupts them to let them know how weak they really are: That each of them will have turned their backs on Him by the end of that very same day.

Notice that the Lord doesn’t criticize them or berate them for their coming failures? No. Weakness is the human condition. And all kinds of weaknesses are acknowledged everywhere across the New Testament.

Jesus told His disciples that, in contrast to the spirit, the flesh is weak (Mark 14:38). Paul said that those who are poor are weak (Acts 20:35). The Corinthian Christians were weak in social status (1 Corinthians 1:26–27). Romans tells us that Jesus died for us while we were still weak, that is, while we were ungodly and lacked any possibility of deserving any kind of good (Romans 5:8). And we see that we are also often weak when we pray, lacking the words, lacking the know-how (Romans 8:26). And some Christians are spoken of as being weak because they judge others (Romans 14:1–4). Add to this the physical weaknesses Paul seems to speak of in different places (ie. 2 Corinthians 10:10), and his “thorn in the flesh” – whatever kind of weakness that was (2 Corinthians 12:7), and all the different types of troubles we can experience and find ourselves helpless – weak – in the face of (2 Corinthians 12:10).

If there were one broad explanation for weakness, it seems that it would be to lack: Being weak means we don’t have what it takes; we’re not sovereign, we’re not all-knowing, we’re not invincible; we’re not in control, we can’t be everywhere at once, and we can so very easily be stopped from doing the things we want to do and even be stopped from doing the things we feel God has called us to do…

If the Lord seems to so completely understand how weak we are – how lacking we are – then there must be a purpose for such weaknesses? There must be a goal or an aim for why our weaknesses exist, and why times of weakness come? Why insults, hardships, persecutions, calamities, troubles? Why can’t I find a job? Why does my dad have cancer? Why can’t I have children? Why do I have no friends? Why is nothing working in my life? Doesn’t God see? Doesn’t God care?
First, let’s remember that, as we’ve said, the Lord Jesus understands that we are weak: He understands our weaknesses. The Letter To the Hebrews makes clear that Jesus faced all the same types of weakness and times of weakness and lack that we do, the difference is that during such times Jesus didn’t give in to sin. So, the Lord’s not surprised by our what we can’t do and what we can’t be, He doesn’t condemn us for being weak: He’s experienced every single human weakness Himself. He just wants us to be like Him when we face weak times, and not give in to sin.

Because Satan wants to use times of weakness in our lives to destroy us and to destroy everything around us. Which is why it is OK to pray for relief when we’re feeling weak. After all, God doesn’t delight in our suffering! But Satan does and so he must be resisted.

That being said, God does have a purpose over and through Satan’s harassment in our times of weakness: The Lord’s seeking to develop our humility. Not the kind of humility that gets people saying they’re not good at something when they clearly are, but the kind of humility that reminds us Christian folk we need God. Peter was in danger of pride and becoming all puffed up with himself – “Lord, I am ready to go with You to prison and to death!” – and so God took steps to keep him humble: “Peter, the [rooster] will not crow this day until you have denied three times that you know Me.”
Our God and Father – the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – thinks our being humble – knowing our need for Him – is more important than our being comfortable. Clearly, He finds our being humble – our knowing our need for Him – more important than our convenience and our being free from pain. God will give us a mountain top experience in Paradise, and then bring us through anguish of soul to protect us from thinking that we have risen above the need for total reliance on His grace. So His purpose in our times of weakness is our humility and lowliness and living in total reliance on Him.
Of course, the Father is also seeking to draw attention to the grace and power of His Son through our weaknesses. And sometimes He does that by granting us supernatural ability by the Holy Spirit or by miraculously delivering us from our troubles and trials! But sometimes He does that by leaving us in our weaknesses, but giving us what we need to endure and even rejoice in our tribulations. (We need to let God be God here. If he wills to show the perfection of Jesus’ power in our weakness instead of by our escape from weakness, then we need to trust that He knows best. Hebrews 11 is a good guide here. It says that by faith some escaped the edge of the sword (v. 34) and by faith some were killed by the sword (v. 37). By faith some stopped the mouths of lions, and by faith others were sawn in two. By faith some were mighty in war, and by faith others suffered chains and imprisonment.)

It is critical to remember the truth of God’s sovereign grace when we are weak in the face of hardships and calamity. We must remember that God is in control of Satan, of kings and prime ministers and dictators, of bosses and employees, of husbands and wives, of kids and parents, of neighbors and coworkers and friends… Nothing can happen to the sons and daughters of God – those trusting in and following Jesus Christ – that God does not design with infinite skill and infinite love for our good and His glory. (Let me say that again: Nothing can happen to the sons and daughters of God – those trusting in and following Jesus Christ – that God does not design with infinite skill and infinite love for our good and His glory.)

(With our reading this past week in mind, it’s interesting to me that, the Lord Jesus, facing His Own greatest time of weakness and hardship and suffering – the days leading up to the cross – that He spent His time attending Worship Services (as we see Him always in the Temple and celebrating the Passover), He spent His time in the Word (as we see Him quoting Scripture, correcting misunderstandings, and teaching truth), He spent His time in prayer (as we see Him going off alone, and agonizing in the garden), and, He spent His time serving others and giving God the glory for it!
(So, I am hoping that 2017 will be a year for us – sons and daughters of God on account of our trust in and following of Jesus Christ – where each of us grows more faithful and steadfast in Worship, more committed to Bible-reading and application, more practiced in disciplined and informal prayer, and more active in serving each other and those around us and giving God the glory for it!)

But, alongside that, and with Peter and the other Eleven in mind, I hope, in 2017, that each of us will also give attention and effort to finding our weaknesses and maximizing their God-given purpose. That is, I hope we’ll stop complaining when we find ourselves in times of weakness, those trouble that we can’t do anything about. I hope we’ll stop complaining – to God and to the people around us – about our shortcomings, about our temptations, about what we have or what we don’t have, about all that we’re no good at, etc… Instead, I hope we’ll look for ways to turn our times of weakness into times for showing those around us how much we trust in Christ to give us what we need and get us through. And I hope we’ll look for ways to turn our weaknesses themselves into ways we can draw people’s attention to the strengths of Jesus Christ! That is, because you can’t do this, that, or some other thing, then what has such a weakness put you in the unique position of being able to do for Him? Because you can’t read lots of books quickly and easily, can you read God’s book deeply and live it more fully? Because you can’t be very active, can you pray more or study and be able to teach others or have a phone-calling or letter-writing or email-sending ministry? Because you can’t have kids of your own or because your kids are out of the house and you miss them terribly, can you be a mom or dad to other people’s kids, serving in the Nursery or Sunday School or Youth Group or some other ways? …

The Bible makes clear that deepest need you and I have when we are weak and facing troubles is not quick relief, but the confidence that what is happening to us is part of God’s greatest purposes in the universe: Growing our humility, the heart-felt knowledge that we need God very badly; and, drawing people’s attention to the grace and power of Jesus Christ—the grace and power that bore God the Son to the cross and kept Him there until God’s work of love was done.
These are what God is building into our lives through times of weakness and our weaknesses…

Let’s sing our praises!
Let’s stand for The Doxology…