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Sermon Series

 

August 28, 2016 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

1 John 5:1-12 [NLTse]

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves His children, too. 2 We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey His commandments. 3 Loving God means keeping His commandments, and His commandments are not burdensome. 4 For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith. 5 And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

6 And Jesus Christ was revealed as God’s Son by His baptism in water and by shedding His blood on the cross—not by water only, but by water and blood. And the Spirit, Who is truth, confirms it with His testimony. 7 So we have these three witnesses—8 the Spirit, the water, and the blood—and all three agree. 9 Since we believe human testimony, surely we can believe the greater testimony that comes from God. And God has testified about His Son. 10 All who believe in the Son of God know in their hearts that this testimony is true. Those who don’t believe this are actually calling God a liar because they don’t believe what God has testified about His Son.

11 And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.

Sermon

We called ourselves to Worship this morning talking about a false teaching about Jesus that had begun being taught around the early church, and we talked about a modern parallel to that false teaching that is still being promoted today. Let me share with you some other beliefs about Jesus that are being taught today.

Jews believe Jesus was a rabbi, but nothing more than a popular teacher Who was respected by His followers and opponents alike. They do believe that Jesus had supernatural powers and that He worked miracles, but they believe His power came from the devil, not from God. Jews believe that Jesus claimed to be their Messiah, the King of Israel, but that eventually His claim was proven wrong. Although they believe that Jesus was crucified, Jews deny that He was ever raised from the dead…

We’ve already shared a little bit about what Muslims think of Jesus, but let me add some things. Muslims do believe that Jesus was conceived by God and born of a virgin. Muslims revere Jesus as one of God’s most important prophets. They believe He was a divinely wise teacher and an apostle sent by God specifically to Israel. But they do not believe He was God. Muslims believe Jesus performed many miracles even from childhood, and they even believe He ascended bodily into Heaven. And they believe He will sit beside Allah during the Judgment. But as I mentioned earlier, they deny that He was ever crucified, saying it was an illusion or that Judas was crucified instead of Him and was mistaken for Him. (There are some Muslim denominations that believe Jesus was indeed crucified, but they believe He survived the cross and continued to preach and teach and perform great miracles across a long life.)

Baha’i Faith believes Jesus was one of many manifestations of God and one of many messengers God has sent across history to gradually reveal His truth. They believe Abraham, Muhammad, Buddha, Krishna, and Zoroaster were other manifestations and messengers. All that Christianity teaches about Jesus Baha’i Faith teaches about Jesus, too, including his virgin birth, having both divine and human natures, working miracles, being crucified for the sins of humanity, and being raised from the dead. However, Baha’i Faith also believes that all of this is true for all of God’s manifestations and messengers, as well.

Hindus believe Jesus was one of the many gods that inhabit the cosmos and that have revealed divine characteristics to humanity. They believe He lived and taught superior ethics, and revere Him as a teacher, as well.

Buddhists believe Jesus was an enlightened man, that is, One Who lived His life by self-sacrifice and showing compassion to those in spiritual need. The teachings of Jesus are highly respected by Buddhists, especially His teachings about loving neighbors and demonstrating kindness and forgiveness. The Dalai Lama even speaks of Jesus and Buddha as being equally holy and enlightened.

New Age believers have a variety of beliefs about Jesus but widely agree that Jesus was a wise moral teacher. In general, New Age believers see Jesus as Someone Who completed the process of “spiritual evolution” that they believe all human beings are called to attain. (They believe such “spiritual evolution” occurs over successive generations of reincarnation.) (But, if you remember my sermon from several weeks ago, we’ve seen that the Bible makes clear that reincarnation is not true.)

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is God’s only direct creation, that everything else was created through Jesus Christ by means of God’s power. They believe Jesus served as a redeemer and a ransom-sacrifice to pay for the sins of humanity, consider Him to be the only intercessor and high priest between God and humanity, and believe that He has been appointed by God as the King and Judge of God’s Kingdom, but they also believe that references in the Bible to the Archangel Michael and Abaddon (or Apollyon) the Destroyer all refer to Jesus, as well.

Like Jehovah’s Witnesses and some others, Mormons believe that Jesus was/is a created being; that Jesus was first created as a spirit-being along with Satan. They believe He was born into humanity because He offered Himself to God to be humanities’ savior while Satan only offered to accuse humanity of all their sins. Mormons believe that Adam lived such a perfect life that he became God the Father. Likewise, they believe Jesus lived such a perfect life that He, too, was awarded deity, just as every human being can be.

So Jews believe Jesus was a great but deluded teacher, a demon-empowered miracle-worker, and a Messiah wanna-be who died on a cross 2,000 years ago. But in order to believe such things they are calling God a liar and they do not have eternal life.

Muslims believe Jesus was sent by Allah – God – to reveal God to humanity. But they don’t believe Jesus died for sins. Muslims believe He revealed Allah perfectly to us, but that we are still in our sins and needing to be perfectly righteous like Jesus was perfectly righteous in order to attain Heaven. But in order to believe such things they are calling God a liar and they do not have eternal life.

Baha’I Faith believe Jesus was just Who the Bible says He was and is, but so are all the other divine messengers and manifestations God has sent into the world across human history. But in order to believe such things they are calling God a liar and they do not have eternal life.

Hindus believe Jesus was one of many gods inhabiting the universe and one of many saviors. Buddhists and New Agers believe Jesus was an enlightened man, right alongside the Buddha himself. But they don’t believe Jesus died for sin. And in order to believe such things they are calling God a liar and they do not have eternal life.

Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe Jesus was God but He was the Archangel Michael born into humanity. And Mormons believe that Jesus achieved godhood by doing good works, just as any human being might do. But, again, in order to believe such things they are calling God a liar and they do not have eternal life.

But the Bible makes clear in our reading this morning from 1 John that “Jesus is the Christ”. He was not possessed by God’s Christ for a time, nor did He earn becoming the Christ by living a righteous life. He was not merely a good man, nor even a great man! And Jesus was not just God or even some angel or other spirit-being hidden in a human body. No, the eternal God the Son was born to be the Christ. He never stopped being God, and yet at the same time He was just a man, tempted with every temptation we face, except that He never gave in to sin. He is Jesus Christ: Jesus and the Christ are one. And John says that everyone who believes these things has become a child of God.

And this Jesus Christ has been revealed in His baptism, and He has been revealed in His crucifixion. The Holy Spirit baptized Him with water and the Spirit granting Him the grace to preach and teach and work all manner of wondrous miracles. And the Holy Spirit baptized Him with fire granting Him the grace to embrace and endure the cross, dying an agonizing and humiliating death; taking the sins of the world upon His shoulders and paying the penalty for them there. And the Holy Spirit raised Him from the dead as a testimony to these amazing truths. So, God Himself has testified about His Son, Jesus Christ, through His teaching, miracles, and coming back from the dead. (And those who don’t believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, are calling God a liar since God did these many signs and wonders through Jesus Christ to point the world to Him.)

Yes, God has given us a life that will last forever, but this life is only in His Son. If you have the Son (and you have Him if you believe in Him) you have this everlasting life. If you do not have the Son (and you do not have Him if you do not believe in Him) you do not have everlasting life.

And this Jesus Christ asks you and me today to answer this question: [to the congregation] “Who do you say that I am?”



August 21, 2016 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

2 Peter 3:1-13 [NLTse]

This is my second letter to you, dear friends, and in both of them I have tried to stimulate your wholesome thinking and refresh your memory. 2 I want you to remember what the holy prophets said long ago and what our Lord and Savior commanded through your apostles.

3 Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. 4 They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.”

5 They deliberately forget that God made the heavens long ago by the Word of His command, and He brought the earth out from the water and surrounded it with water. 6 Then He used the water to destroy the ancient world with a mighty flood. 7 And by the same Word, the present heavens and earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the Day of Judgment when ungodly people will be destroyed.

8 But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. 9 The Lord isn’t really being slow about His promise, as some people think. No, He is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. 10 But the Day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.

11 Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, 12 looking forward to the Day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, He will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. 13 But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth He has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.

Sermon

We’ve been reading the New Testament together as a congregation here in 2016. A week ago we finished reading through 1 Peter and began 2 Peter, and this past week we finished 2 Peter and started on 1 John.

These are all letters from the apostles: Peter being Simon Peter; John being the John of “James and John”, who were brothers, and fishing partners of Peter. Peter even goes so far, at the beginning of 2 Peter, to remind everyone that he’s not writing to them about things he heard from someone else. He reminds us all – his readers – that he was on the mountain when the Lord Jesus was transfigured and met with Moses and Elijah! These aren’t legends, he tells us! These aren’t fables! These aren’t even the tall-tales of a fisherman! He was there. He saw it happen. He heard God speak, “This is My beloved. Listen to Him!”

There’s an intensity about 2 Peter. After reminding everyone that he was there – a personal witness to such wonders and glory as the Transfiguration – Peter writes, “Therefore, I will always remind you about these things—even though you already know them and are standing firm in the truth you have been taught. And it is only right that I should keep on reminding you as long as I live. For our Lord Jesus Christ has shown me that I must soon leave this earthly life, so I will work hard to make sure you always remember these things after I am gone.” (1:12-15)

History tells us that Simon Peter was crucified by the Roman government on account of living with the Lord Jesus as his king instead of Caesar. (“Caesar” was the royal title for the emperor in that day.) But Peter didn’t consider himself worthy to die the way the Lord Jesus did, so Peter asked if he could be crucified upside down.

In 2 Peter we see that the great apostle knows that this death is near, so he writes the letter as a last message to his followers, likely focusing on that which he believes to be most important for them to know and remember in the years to come when he’s gone. And what does Peter talk about? He warns them about false teachers.

Peter says, “There will be false teachers among you.” (2:1) So, it’s not a possibility, it is a guarantee. And notice that he says, “among you.” Peter is writing to the church, so he is not talking about New Age folks blogging or the leaders of other faiths on television. He is talking about people in the local church: False teachers will be the leaders and members of our local congregations!

You see, Satan is the counterfeiter. He has a false trinity and a false gospel being preached by false ministers that produces false Christians. And Satan plants his counterfeit-believers in the same place that God plants true believers: In the church.

You may think that such false teachers and Christians would be easy to spot in the church: Boldly twisting the Scriptures and speaking lies, on the one hand, or idiotic buffoons, on the other. But it’s never been that easy.

The famous 19th Century Anglican Bishop J. C. Ryle recorded eight “symptoms” he’d been surprised to witness about false teachers in his day. He wrote:

“1. There is an undeniable zeal in some teachers of error – [and] their “earnestness” makes many people think they must be right.

“2. There is a great appearance of learning and theological knowledge [among false teachers] – many think that such clever and intellectual [people] must surely be safe to listen to.

“3. There is a general tendency to completely free and independent thinking today [Ryle writes] – many like to prove their independence of judgment by believing the newest ideas, which are [really] nothing but novelties.

“4. There is a wide-spread desire to appear kind, loving, and open-minded [in our day] – [and] many seem half-ashamed to say that anybody can be wrong or is a false teacher.

“5. There is always a portion of half-truth taught by modern false teachers – they are always using scriptural words and phrases, but with unscriptural meaning.

“6. There is a public craving for a more sensational and entertaining worship – people are impatient with the more inward and invisible work of God within the hearts of men [and that makes them susceptible to false teachers].

“7. There is a superficial readiness all around to believe anyone who talks cleverly, lovingly and earnestly, [as false teachers often do] forgetting that Satan often masquerades himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14).

“8. There is a wide-spread ignorance [concerning the Bible] among professing Christians – every heretic who speaks well is surely believed, and anyone who doubts [them are] called narrow-minded and unloving.”

Remember, Bishop Ryle said that in the 1800s when it took a huge amount of energy and effort to influence the masses. Messages were still mostly copied by hand, and teachers had to travel by foot or horseback. There were no cars or airplanes, websites, or Facebook pages. How much worse our situation today when just about every false teacher has a Twitter account!

Even so, just about anybody can recognize the difference between a true and false teacher and a true and false believer, if you really want to.

Faithful teachers and Christians tend to point their hearers to the Bible so we can see for ourselves what they are preaching and teaching. False teachers and Christians tend to want you to take their word for whatever they are promoting, often basing their arguments or debate on sources other than the Bible, such as scientific studies or popular opinion polls or the words and writings of well-known leaders.

For the true teacher and Christian, the Lord Jesus is at the center of life, truth, and absolutely necessary for salvation. For the false teacher and Christian, Jesus may seem important, but a careful listening shows other people, leaders, and ways of life also being critical or available for purpose and fullness of life, and that in truth, Jesus is out on the margins or only one savior among many.

The true teacher and Christian preaches and teaches to show and lead others out of slavery to sin and self-condemnation. The false teacher and Christian is a slave to sin and is stuck justifying or rationalizing what they do and why.

The true teacher and believer pursues and calls others to pursue goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love in all things and at all times. The false teacher and Christian is marked by arrogance and slander. “Trained in greed” and with “eyes full of adultery”, Peter writes. Eventually it becomes clear that for them it’s all about money, sex, and/or power.

Ultimately, the Lord Jesus tells us that we can always know the difference between true teachers and false teachers and true believers and counterfeit believers by their lives: “By their fruit you will know them,” Jesus said. So, do they remind you of Jesus? Do they stir up in you love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, trustworthiness, gentleness, and self-control? Do their lives reflect these qualities? Because these are the qualities that the Holy Spirit produces and spreads in a person’s life and through a person’s influence. So, if you don’t see these qualities in them or growing in you on account of their influence, then false seeds, foreign seeds, other seeds are being sown there and “Listener and Follower: Beware!”

Of course, the very best way to know the counterfeit is to master the original. So, read and keep reading your Bibles. (Even if it’s just a headings-worth to start with each day, or, of course, join us in reading the rest of the New Testament. This week’s readings are on the inside flap of our Bulletins.) Think about whatever you are reading and put it into practice in your lives. By doing so you will grow not only in the knowledge but also in the grace, of Jesus.



August 7, 2016 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

1 Peter 1:3-16 [NLTse]

3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by His great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, 4 and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in Heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. 5 And through your faith, God is protecting you by His power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.

6 So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. 7 These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.

8 You love Him even though you have never seen Him. Though you do not see Him now, you trust Him;

and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. 9 The reward for trusting Him will be the salvation of your souls.

10 This salvation was something even the prophets wanted to know more about when they prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you. 11 They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when He told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and His great glory afterward.

12 They were told that their messages were not for themselves, but for you. And now this Good News has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from Heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen.

13 So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. 14 So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. 15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God Who chose you is holy. 16 For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”

Sermon

There’s a lot of talk going around our community and our nation these days about foreigners and immigrants; a lot of talk about building walls and not granting visas, on the one hand, or legalizing everybody and giving everyone citizenship, on the other.

There are 10 things a person needs to do to become a citizen of the United States of America:

  1. You must be of age [18];
  2. You must be a permanent resident of the United States and,
  3. be able to prove it;
  4. You must be able to prove that you’ve spent at least 30 months physically in the country;
  5. You must have lived in the state where you applied for citizenship for at least 3 months;
  6. You must live according to good moral standards;
  7. You must demonstrate “an attachment” to the principles and ideals of the U.S. Constitution;
  8. You must be able to read, write, and speak English;
  9. You must have a basic understanding of U.S. history and government; and,
  10. You must take an oath of allegiance – an oath of loyalty and commitment – to the United States.

A citizen of the United States is then entitled to the protection of the United States and all of its blessings.

We began Worship listening to Peter remind us that we Christians are “living as foreigners” here in our communities and neighborhoods. Our faith in Christ has made us citizens of Heaven! but we are temporarily living here on the earth until our Country and our King call us home. This letter, First Peter, is all about what our lives are to be like: Living as citizens of Heaven, as we are “living as foreigners” here on the earth.

First, as citizens of Heaven we need to know that ours is a new life here and now. Just as to be a U.S. citizen people need to be permanent residents of the United States and be able to prove it, we need to guard ourselves against going back and forth between the ways of Heaven and the ways we used to live when we were merely citizens of the earth. Just as the U.S. requires people to live according to good moral standards, what we say and do or do not say and do not do are the ways should make clear to all those around us, believers and non-believers, that we are citizens of Heaven living here on the earth.

And just as those wanting to be citizens of the U.S. need to have lived in one of the fifty states for a certain period of time, we, Christians, need to be an active part of a local church: Participating in the life of the Kingdom of Heaven as it’s being lived out there, and doing our part to grow and expand the influence of Christ’s Kingdom through that church.

Bible Study is critical to help us get to know Heaven’s history and government, and to help us live allegiant – loyal and committed – to Heaven and to our King, Jesus Christ.

Living as citizens of Heaven is a call to be different. The word “holy” in the Bible is just a fancy word for being different: God has set us apart, made us His Own, so that we might live His way, differently from those around us. And, I know it’s hard to be different – to go against the grain, to swim against the flow – but the ways of Heaven are better than the ways of the earth and the leaders of Heaven are better and more trustworthy than the leaders of the earth, and our neighbors and friends and those around us need us to show them here on earth life as it is in Heaven.

As far as our life “living as foreigners” here, I’d like to highlight a couple things from Peter’s long list.

First, I want to highlight that living as foreigners is a life of war. Verse 13 says, “Prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control.” Passions, temptations, troubles, and trials are all weapons the devil strives to use to tear us down and destroy us from the inside and the outside. But the best defense is still a good offense. So, reading the Bible, praying and praising, worshiping, serving others, sharing our faith, getting to know and growing closer to other Christians… are all actions we are called to take to enjoy Christ’s victory in our battles. Don’t misunderstand me: We’re not on our own in these fights and we don’t need to figure out how to fight by ourselves; no, the Holy Spirit provides the grace we need to fight, and the Scriptures teach us God’s ways of fighting, ways that are so very different from the ways of the world. That being said, “living as foreigners” is war: A war to destroy sin and death by acts of love and self-sacrifice, a war to overcome evil by doing good.

Which leads us to a second aspect of our “living as foreigners” I want to highlight. 1 Peter 3:9 says, “Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and He will grant you His blessing.” God’s ways of fighting this war are not what we might think.

Proverbs 22:24-25 says, “If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat. If they are thirsty, give them water to drink. You will heap burning coals of shame on their heads, and the Lord will reward you.” The Apostle Paul quotes this Proverb in Romans 12 as an example of how we advance the Kingdom and overcome evil with good.

The Lord Jesus encourages the same kind of strategy when He commands us, “Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back.” (Luke 6:27-30) Selfish sinner that I can be, I admit that it helps me to not retaliate against those who have hurt me, but to do good to them instead, when I can remember that my doing good to them heaps burning coals on their heads in the spiritual world.

And one last highlight, we citizens of Heaven “living as foreigners” here must always be ready to share our faith. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “Worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.” Are you ready to tell someone else what Jesus has done for you, and what you’re hoping for from Him in the future? If you aren’t, I’d encourage you to get yourself ready.

For me, the Lord always being with me is what has changed (and keeps on changing) my life, that and that through prayer and the Bible, God talks with me, helping me see things as they truly are, and guiding my life. As for the future, the promises from Revelation hold my hope: Of a day when we will live with the Lord face-to-face, and He will wipe every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain, and all things will be made new!

We are Citizens of Heaven, not just citizens of the United States and the earth. We have been given new life in Christ so that we would no longer live with just the moment or with just this world in mind; no, we citizens of Heaven are a people living here on the earth, but with our hearts and minds set on eternity and the things of Heaven.