media

 

Sermon Series

 

July 24, 2016 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

Hebrews 9:11-28 [NLTse]

11 So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in Heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. 12 With His Own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—He entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.

13 Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. 14 Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered Himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. 15 That is why He is the One Who mediates a new covenant between God and people, so that all who are called can receive the eternal inheritance God has promised them. For Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed under that first covenant.

16 Now when someone leaves a will, it is necessary to prove that the person who made it is dead. 17 The will goes into effect only after the person’s death. While the person who made it is still alive, the will cannot be put into effect.

18 That is why even the first covenant was put into effect with the blood of an animal. 19 For after Moses had read each of God’s commandments to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, along with water, and sprinkled both the book of God’s Law and all the people, using hyssop branches and scarlet wool. 20 Then he said, “This blood confirms the covenant God has made with you.” 21 And in the same way, he sprinkled blood on the Tabernacle and on everything used for worship. 22 In fact, according to the Law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.

23 That is why the Tabernacle and everything in it, which were copies of things in Heaven, had to be purified by the blood of animals. But the real things in Heaven had to be purified with far better sacrifices than the blood of animals.

24 For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in Heaven. He entered into Heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf. 25 And He did not enter Heaven to offer Himself again and again, like the high priest here on earth who enters the Most Holy Place year after year with the blood of an animal. 26 If that had been necessary, Christ would have had to die again and again, ever since the world began. But now, once for all time, He has appeared at the end of the age to remove sin by His Own death as a sacrifice.

27 And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, 28 so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for Him.

Sermon

I want to draw your attention to the “Hebrews In a Nutshell” insert in our Bulletins. Like some other biblical books, Hebrews can seem pretty scattered, especially with all of its Old Testament references. So, I put this together in the hopes of bringing some clarity to it all. Hebrews is a radical book making radical claims. We must understand what the Lord is saying to us and the hope He is bringing to us in its pages!

But, back to our reading for today…

Anyone here like watching baseball? I don’t tend to watch much baseball, because I’m more of a people-person and I only like watching sports when I can watch the game with others. So, when my son, Noah, was a Yankees fan I used to watch a lot of Yankees games. But since he’s been off to college, Eden and Caleb are into watching other things, so I’ve been watching their other things with them.

But this past week as I was visiting with my folks (who are avid Orioles fans!) I got the chance to watch a game with my mom. The O’s were playing the Yanks this past week. (Who smacked ‘em right out of first place!) It was the first game of the series, and A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez; Designated Hitter for the Yankees) hit this home run! It was one of those shots where A-Rod didn’t even track the ball out of the park: He hit it; felt it hit the “sweet spot” on the bat; and just started jogging around the bases before the ball had even cleared the outfield.

The “sweet spot”.

I used to play baseball when I was a kid: 3rd Grade, 4th Grade, up through 7th or 8th Grade, I think. And I remember the “sweet spot”. You just knew you’d hit it right. You just knew it was going to be flying forever. Thinking about our reading today and thinking about the “sweet spot”, it reminds me of a part from the 1981 movie, “Chariots of Fire”. “Chariots of Fire” was about the 1924 Olympic games and long distance runner and gold medal likely Eric Liddel. Liddel was a devout Christian, and says in one part of the flick, “I believe that God made me for a purpose. [And he’s talking about missionary work.] But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

The “sweet spot”…

This passage from Hebrews 9 that Elder Neil Frazer just read teaches us many things. One is that the Tabernacle Moses built, the Temple that Solomon built, and the Second Temple that Herod the Great made into one of the wonders of the ancient world were all based upon a Tabernacle that exists now, and has existed for all Time, in Heaven. Exodus speaks of this heavenly Tabernacle (25:40), and several of the prophets were given visions of it (Micaiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel), as was the apostle John while he was on the Roman prison island of Patmos.

Hebrews also teaches us that reincarnation is a lie: “Each person is destined to die once,” Hebrews says, “and after that comes judgment.” (9:27) So, the Hindu, Buddhist, and New Age teaching that people live many lifetimes – going up the karma-ladder closer to Nirvana if you’ve been good, or going down the karma-ladder farther away from Nirvana if you’ve been bad – that that’s not true.

No, reincarnation is the ultimate works-righteousness teaching, trying to convince folks they don’t need a Savior. “Don’t worry!” reincarnation teaches. “If you mess it up in this life, you’ll have other lives to get it right!” But the Bible consistently says and shows that each human being has one life to live, that today is the day of salvation, don’t put off deciding about how you’re going to respond to Jesus for some other time, you might not get another time, “each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment!” Choose Jesus today! Enjoy the Father today! Live in the “sweet spot” today! (But I’m getting ahead of myself…)

So, Hebrews teaches us many things, but what I want us to see in our passage for today is that God is looking for worshipers!

After talking about the Old Covenant’s system of repeated animal sacrifices for sin, Hebrews 9:14 says, “Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God.” Why did Christ purify our consciences from sin? So that we can worship God! And since life is a lot more than just Worship Services, the idea of worship must include a whole lot more than just Sunday mornings. We were made to worship. The “sweet spot” of human existence is worship! The Lord is looking for worshipers.

Notice the detail about Jesus’ sacrifice that Hebrews 9:14 focuses on here: “Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds…” A whole lot more happened on the cross than just our consciences being purified from sin. A whole lot more. Our human natures – all that makes us human – our very souls themselves were put to death when the Lord Jesus died on the cross. A supernatural work across Time and space. Something we couldn’t do for ourselves, nor could any other but God the Son born into humanity do it for us. Every one who has ever put their trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord has died and been born again! But Hebrews, here, is focusing us on a particular aspect of Christ’s work; a specific aspect of our renewal: Our consciences being purified from our sinful deeds.

To worship God a man, woman, boy, and girl must know that their sins have been forgiven. We must have confidence in Christ that we’ve been washed, cleansed, made new. We can’t worship the Lord in all the “sweet” ways He’s made us to worship Him in when we’re always beating ourselves up again and again, condemning ourselves for past evil (even if it was just that morning). Either God the Son took off His divinity, was born a man, took our sins upon Himself on the cross, and put them to death there – once-and-for-all – or He did not. If He did put our sins to death and wash us clean and make us new then every time we think we’re no good and every time we think that God must hate us or be so frustrated with us we are thinking evil thoughts, untrue thoughts, thoughts the devil has put into our heads. Because the Lord has said, “I will forgive their wickedness and never again remember their sins.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

We can’t worship God unless our consciences have been purified from all our sinful deeds. We need to trust that Christ has done what He says He has done: Taken our sins to the cross. “If we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”

When we can talk freely about our sins and our sinfulness, we know we’ve been forgiven, it shows that our consciences have been purified. And we can worship the Lord.

But clearly the kind of worship Hebrews is saying Jesus died for is more than just attending Worship Services. Turn to Hebrews 13 with me…

The letter To the Hebrews ends with this charge to its original Jewish readers, and to all those who read it today. It is a charge to Christian living. It is a charge to the “sweet” way of Jesus. It is a charge to worship, and a picture of what daily, moment-by-moment worship looks like. I’ll summarize it this way:

  • Loving each other like family,
  • Making strangers feel at home,
  • Not forgetting those who are in prison and suffering for the faith,
  • Honoring marriage and being faithful in our marriages,
  • Not trusting in money,
  • Not being attracted to new religions and new-fangled religious practices,
  • Praising the Lord,
  • Sharing with those in need, and,
  • Obeying our spiritual leaders.

This is the supernatural life of worship we’ve been saved for, our consciences purified for, and called to. We can’t do these things on our own. We need the power of God. We need the Holy Spirit.

For instance, look around you at all the others here in the Sanctuary today. Do you love each one the same way you love your family? Would you respond to the person in front of you’s troubles the same way you would respond to your parents or kids’ troubles, or your brother’s or sister’s?

Another instance: In our culture it is hard to honor marriage and be faithful in our marriages when our society itself is redefining marriage and when so many powers and temptations are working to tear our marriages apart!

There’s so many distractions and activities competing for our time and attention. We can be drawn away from praising the Lord each day. We can be drawn away from meeting to praise Him together each Sunday.

No, it is clear that we cannot do these things on our own. We cannot live a life of worship on our own. We need God’s power, the power that raised Jesus from the dead. We need the Holy Spirit to live in such a way. And because He’s called us to live such “sweet” ways, we can trust Him to empower us to live it when we seek Him and ask.

When we live life our own way; when we give into those thoughts telling us, “I can’t live God’s way. It’s too much for me!” When we give into such thoughts we’re on our own. The Lord is not going to help us leave Him and forsake Him and pursue a life of doubt. He’s not going to help us because that would hurt us.

But when we seek Him and His Kingdom first, we can count on Him helping us every step of the Way.

As we’ve said, some days it may seem like too much. Of course it’s too much. This is a supernatural life of worship He’s called us to! It takes God the Holy Spirit and the power that raised Jesus from the dead to live these ways! But the Holy Spirit is ours for the asking (Luke 11:13) – the power that raised Jesus from the dead, ours for the asking – as we seek Him for His help to live in these “sweet” ways He’s called us to.

[Put the baseball bat over my shoulder.] And as we seek to worship Him these ways, as we seek Him and don’t give up, as we surrender and submit to Him and each other and don’t give up, as we seek to live His Way ourselves – not demanding that our spouses or our children or our parents or our leaders or whichever others around us start living this way and treating us in these ways first – as we trust Him, as we seek to worship Him in these ways: POW! [Swing the bat for a home run.] He meets us and helps us and joins with us and life comes together. So very “sweet”..!



July 10, 2016 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

Introduction

We’ve been reading through the New Testament this 2016, and I’ve committed to preach from something we’ve read the week before. As of today we’re smack-dab in the middle of Hebrews…

There is so much that we could read and talk about from Hebrews: The Lord Jesus’ humanity; the rest God has been promising His people since the beginning that we have partially in Christ and will have fully in the new Heavens and Earth to come; the Lord Jesus’ ministry as our high priest, intercessor, and sacrifice; how easy it is to drift away from the fullness of the God’s truth and the importance of not doing so; etc…

One of the difficult things about preaching from just one thing we’ve read the week before is having to choose from so much richness in God’s Word to pick just one thing to focus on. And I’ve chosen setting our sights on Jesus’ humanity, as Elder Doug Jacobs will proclaim to us in a moment…

Hebrews 2:5-18 [NLTse]

5 And furthermore, it is not angels who will control the future world we are talking about. 6 For in one place the Scriptures say,

“What are mere mortals that you should think about them, or a son of man that you should care for him? 7 Yet for a little while you made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. 8 You gave them authority over all things.”

Now when it says “all things,” it means nothing is left out. But we have not yet seen all things put under their authority. 9 What we do see is Jesus, who for a little while was given a position “a little lower than the angels”; and because he suffered death for us, he is now “crowned with glory and honor.” Yes, by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone. 10 God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.

11 So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters. 12 For he said to God,

“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you among your assembled people.”

13 He also said,

“I will put my trust in him,” that is, “I and the children God has given me.”

14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.

16 We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. 18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested

Sermon

Hebrews is all about the greatness of Jesus Christ. He is greater than angels. He is greater than Moses. He is greater than Aaron and any of the priesthood or high priesthood. He is greater than the Temple. He is the initiator of a greater covenant than the Old Covenant. His sacrifice is greater. His promises are greater. The life He has for us is greater…

And while psychics and new age gurus and self-proclaimed witches and mediums talk about their encounters with angels, the dead, spirits, and the like, we have been visited by God’s Son! People get so excited about seeing and being visited by angels or the dead or by spirits, and yet too many Christians have come to take for granted that in the words of the Bible, by the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we sons and daughters of God are visited by the very Son of the Most High each and every time we open its pages, and He walks with us and He talks with us and He tells us we are His Own there!

Praise the Lord! What a great salvation we’ve been given! What a great and marvelous Savior! What a great and marvelous Lord!

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not trying to be critical of Christians. I think the truth is that many have just gotten used to Jesus speaking to us through the words of Scripture. Whether we’ve always done what He’s called us to perfectly or less so, I think that many have come to take His voice across the pages of the Bible for granted: “Of course He speaks to me there!”. That being said, I think that many Christians are also just looking for something more in their relationship with Him. Just as our relationships with our friends or our husbands or wives can grow stale – we find we’ve gotten into a rut – likewise I think that our relationship with the Lord can grow stale, ho-hum, we want more of Him, we want Him to have more of us, … The great thing is that God is inexhaustible, uncontainable! There are no limits to His height, nor width, nor depth! Nor to His love for us, and the good things He has for us and with us! But we can have enough troubles keeping our friendships and marriages stirred up and fresh. How do we stir up and refresh our relationship with God?

Three things come to my mind: First, we need to fight the tendency to take God’s Word and the work of His Spirit through His Word for granted; the second is, we need to strive to strengthen and grow our relationship with Him through the spiritual exercises He’s laid before us.

One of the laws of thermodynamics is that energy runs down. That is, that complex things will always break down and become less complex over time. That high-energy systems will lose energy over time. Etc… So, it is no surprise that our relationships lose their energy and impact over time. It shouldn’t be surprising that it’s happening to us. We shouldn’t feel like Christian failures if we have times feeling a bit dull or far from the Lord. It’s an aspect of this fallen creation. And without yet going on to new things and fresh things we might do, we need to remind ourselves of the good and the great things we already have in Him. We need to stir up and celebrate the foundations of our salvation.

We have been chosen by God to be His sons and daughters. That truth should be enough to keep us dancing and giddy for several lifetimes, but often it grows cold! Jesus Christ has traded His full, righteous, rejoicing relationship with God for our lacking, sinful, separated lack of relationship with God. (Of course, after trading us He put our lack of relationship with God to death!) But the reality of such a trade and such an amazing and privileged relationship should be enough to keep us dancing and giddy for several lifetimes, but often it grows cold. The almighty God is always with us, always near. His Holy Spirit fills our lives and empowers us and comforts us, as we seek and follow Him, across life trials and strains. He has given us so many wonderful promises to look forward to in this life and in the new Heavens and Earth to come… All of this should be enough to keep us dancing and giddy through several lifetimes! But often it grows cold. So, our first work is to stir up and refresh our appreciation for it all.

For instance, how many times have you told your spouse, children, parents, friends, or folks at work or at the grocery store, “Well, I was talking with God this morning and He told me…” Too often we tell people we were reading the Bible or our devotional and it said…” And yet we believe that the Holy Spirit speaks God’s Word to us through the Scriptures, right? We believe that God answers us when we pray, right? So, we need to encourage ourselves in the truth of such wonders by letting those around us know that God spoke to us through the Bible or prayer! He met us and was gloriously near to us in Worship! Whatever the truth, we need to stir and refresh ourselves in the truth of these things by declaring and proclaiming these truths aloud to those around us. The people around us need to hear it. We need to say it!

What a wonderful salvation! What great and glorious revelation! It takes work to keep the good foundations of our relationships fresh and like-new. We must do so, for others’ sake and our own!

Secondly, many of us may have daily Bible reading and prayer times. And, of course, all of us here today are in Worship this morning. And being in the Word, and talking to God in prayer, and joining with others to sing His songs and proclaim His glory and learn about Him and praise Him and ask for His help (and more that we do in Worship), all these things are precious and strengthening and empowering and just plain good! But we need to stir up what we do with our families and loved ones and friends to keep those relationships vital and growing. And the same is true with the Lord.

Find some different ways to read the Bible. Try some different ways to pray. Give yourself to Worship – to singing, to praying, to responding to the Word – in different ways, etc… And, of course, there are other ways to enjoy God: Fasting; walking through a beautiful part of creation with Him while praising Him for it; setting apart special times to be quiet – to not speak and to turn off the TV or music, to be without your iPod or phone; going out of your way to serve someone just for Jesus’ sake; etc…

There are many “grace practices” you can find on the internet or by asking me… Stir up your relationship with God. Get out of the rut…

Lastly, and this is the reason I picked our reading for this morning: We can refresh and renew our relationship with the Lord by remembering the Lord Jesus’ humanity.

As I’ve preached a number of times before and as our reading this morning underlines: Jesus was like us in every way except that He did not sin. The one difference that Jesus has from us is that He was not conceived by a man and a woman. The Holy Spirit conceived Jesus in Mary’s womb.

When Adam sinned in the very beginning, he passed on his sin nature to his children when he made babies with Eve. And their children passed on that sin nature to their children. And so on through to today. But Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb. He had (and has) no sin nature.

Because of our sin nature, we are sinners in the womb and from birth. We can’t help sinning. Sin nature is a part of our DNA. But not Jesus. Because He had no sin nature He was able to not sin. And the Bible tells us that He sought God’s will and chose God’s will first and in every situation His entire short life long.

But other than that, Jesus was like us in every way the Bible says.

So that means He had financial hardships. That means He had relationship troubles and unreturned love. That means His folks disciplined Him in ways He didn’t like or thought were unfair. That means He was wronged, hated, made fun of, that He wanted things He couldn’t get or wasn’t allowed to get, etc…, etc…, etc… He was tempted in every way like we are except that He did not sin!

Notice it doesn’t say that He was like us in every way except that He never sinned AND He had God’s wonder-working power to preach and heal and work miracles. No, He was like us in respect to God’s power, to. That is, Jesus of Nazareth was born a human being. He didn’t have God’s power. Philippians 2:6 says that He took off His almighty power when He was born a human being. He had God’s power only because He was baptized by the Holy Spirit. (After John baptized Him with water we see the Holy Spirit coming upon out of Heaven in the form of a dove. That’s being baptized by the Holy Spirit: When the Holy Spirit comes upon you and fills you because of your faith and trust in the Father through your faith and trust in Jesus.)

And yet, Jesus did so many wonders! John ends his gospel saying that all the books in the world couldn’t contain all the wonders Jesus did, if all of His wonders had been written down! If He is just like us, as you say, Pastor, (you may be saying) then why don’t we see ourselves doing all those wonders? Why don’t we see you doing all those wonders, Pastor? (You may be saying.)

Well, (this is my answer to you) that’s what I believe God wants us to be talking about here this morning, because the Lord Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in Me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask for anything in My name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask Me for anything in My name, and I will do it!” (14:12-14) So, the Lord Jesus Himself has said that we can do the same works He has done and even greater works! So, either the Lord Jesus Christ is a liar, or something’s not right here…

Here’s what I think: I think that you and I don’t always do the empowered, miraculous works that Jesus did because we don’t believe we can. But Jesus always believed. As we’ve said, He’s like us in every way except He never sinned; He always believed; He always trusted in God and did what God directed Him to do. So, when the Father directed and empowered Him to speak, Jesus spoke! When the Father directed and empowered Him to heal, Jesus healed! When the Father revealed knowledge about those around Him to Jesus, Jesus believed that the knowledge had been revealed to Him by God and He acted on that knowledge the way God wanted Him to! But that’s not always true for us, is it?

Anybody here ever seen someone in great pain or going through great distress? … Anybody here ever asked God in that moment, “Do You want to heal them through me, Lord?” Or, “do You want to comfort them through me, Lord?” Or, “do You want to provide for them in some miraculous way through me, Lord?” And, if you have asked God these things, and if the Father’s answer has ever been “yes, I want to do that through you,” who here has always reached out in whatever way the Holy Spirit has led you to do so – to heal, to comfort, to provide – each and every time the Lord has led you to do so?

So, I think the Lord Jesus’ empowerment seems so very different from ours because He always believed! He always sought the Father’s will first at all times and in all circumstances, and He always did the Father’s will at all times and in all circumstances. And as is true for apostles, disciples, and others who’ve loved, trusted, and followed the Lord Jesus over the years before us, as we seek Him first more and more, and as we follow and obey and do His will more and more, then we will recognize better and better the Father’s direction, we’ll sense better and better His empowerment, and we’ll be able to step out in faith with greater and greater assurance that God Almighty has spoken to us, is wanting to work wonders through us for His glory, and we, too, will see more of the life and love and empowerment that we see in Jesus’ recorded life in our own lives and in the lives of those around us in His Church, as well.

We get more of the Father – more of God – by trusting Jesus and surrendering to the Holy Spirit. We get by giving. We receive by surrendering. We gain more life by laying our lives down.

People are visited by angels. Who cares! Big deal! I live with God’s Son! He walks with [pointing] you and He talks with [pointing] you, and He tells us we are His Own!

Let us refresh ourselves in the good things we have in Christ. Let us shake up our relationship with Him to try new things and to do old things new ways. And let’s take Him at His Word. Let us believe Him more intimately, asking Him what He wants us to do, and doing what He tells us.

It’s not crazy. It’s not fanatical. It’s living by faith. And Jesus has commanded us to do so, because He’s with us, visiting us, walking among us and talking to us by the Holy Spirit. The demons tremble and the angels rejoice!



July 3, 2016 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

Philemon 1-25 [NLTse]

1 This letter is from Paul, a prisoner for preaching the Good News about Christ Jesus, and from our brother Timothy.

I am writing to Philemon, our beloved co-worker, 2 and to our sister Apphia, and to our fellow soldier Archippus, and to the church that meets in your house.

3 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

4 I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon, 5 because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. 6 And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. 7 Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people.

8 That is why I am boldly asking a favor of you. I could demand it in the name of Christ because it is the right thing for you to do. 9 But because of our love, I prefer simply to ask you. Consider this as a request from me—Paul, an old man and now also a prisoner for the sake of Christ Jesus.

10 I appeal to you to show kindness to my child, Onesimus. I became his father in the faith while here in prison. 11 Onesimus hasn’t been of much use to you in the past, but now he is very useful to both of us. 12 I am sending him back to you, and with him comes my own heart.

13 I wanted to keep him here with me while I am in these chains for preaching the Good News, and he would have helped me on your behalf. 14 But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent. I wanted you to help because you were willing, not because you were forced. 15 It seems you lost Onesimus for a little while so that you could have him back forever. 16 He is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, PAUL, WRITE THIS WITH MY OWN HAND: I WILL REPAY IT. AND I WON’T MENTION THAT YOU OWE ME YOUR VERY SOUL!

20 Yes, my brother, please do me this favor for the Lord’s sake. Give me this encouragement in Christ.

21 I am confident as I write this letter that you will do what I ask and even more! 22 One more thing—please prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that God will answer your prayers and let me return to you soon.

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you his greetings. 24 So do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my co-workers.

25 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Sermon

We have been reading through the New Testament together as a congregation this 2016, and each Sunday I’ve been preaching from something we’ve read the week before. We just began reading Hebrews this past week. So, if you’ve gotten behind or haven’t been a part of this yet, catch up by reading Hebrews 1 and 2, and then you can find the readings for this-coming week – Hebrews 3 and onward – on the back flap of our Bulletins and on the right-hand side of our website.

As a part of this last-week’s readings, we read the short letter Philemon that Elder Neil Frazer just read to us again.

Philemon lived in Colosse and had apparently become a Christian through Paul’s ministry during one of the Paul’s several missionary journeys through that region. Like every person of any substance in the Roman world of that time, Philemon owned slaves. One of them, Onesimus, had run away. (A crime punishable by death.) To make matters worse, it seems Onesimus had stolen from Philemon as he fled. As the Holy Spirit would orchestrate things, however, while on the run Onesimus had come under Paul’s influence and had become a Christian! Paul was imprisoned during the time he was discipling Onesimus, and Onesimus had grown to become a great support and encouragement to Paul during his days and weeks in jail.

The reason for the letter is that Paul has made a huge demand of Onesimus: For Christ’s sake, Paul has demanded that Onesimus return to Colosse, face his master and any consequences for his sins in escaping and stealing from himi, and to be reconciled to his master, Philemon, if Philemon will allow it. In the letter itself, Paul has made a huge request of Philemon, asking him to accept Onesimus back, without any penalty. And if that weren’t enough, Paul is clearly hinting that Philemon should set Onesimus free!

We never find out what happened. Did Philemon punish Onesimus, or did he forgive him, set him free, and let him return to help Paul, as the apostle had hoped? We don’t know.

But we do see the gospel being lived out in several dramatic ways across the short letter. First, in Onesimus’ return to Colosse and his presenting himself to his master, Philemon, we can see that living in obedience to Jesus Christ is worth everything, even our very lives.

We live in a day where personal happiness is touted as being the most important thing to achieve in life. “Does it make you happy?” you hear people asking as the final deal-maker or -breaker for decisions today? (Or, “does he make you happy?” or, “does she make you happy?”) “If it’s good for me it must be good,” we’ve been brainwashed to believe. But Philemon shows us that making God happy – knowing and doing His will – is the way to achieve true happiness.

The Lord Jesus, as always, is our role-model in such things, and the One Who always goes first. Hebrews states in 12:1-2, “Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion Who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now He is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” I read these words and think that we human beings are too satisfied by lesser happiness-es. The Lord Jesus shows us that trusting the Father, even if trusting Him might lead to trouble and trial and a cross, is always the way to true and complete happiness.

Submitting himself to his master was clearly the faithful thing for Onesimus to do. And yet it could have led to his death! But trusting in Jesus is the road to true happiness. I can imagine the peace Onesimus must have experienced once he determined to trust in the Lord and return to pay his dues. Yes, I can imagine the temptations towards fear and worry that must have come against him, as well. But I can imagine how the Holy Spirit must have comforted this faithful son as he set himself to do the Father’s will, even though it might cost him his life.

A second way we see the gospel so beautifully lived out is when Paul asks Philemon to forgive Onesimus his many wrongs. Paul makes clear that he could have ordered Philemon to forgive Onesimus and set him free. Philemon accepted Paul’s apostleship, and so Paul’s words to him would have been as though coming directly from the Lord Jesus Himself! But Paul didn’t command Philemon to do what he wanted. Paul asked Philemon. He asked him to forgive Onesimus and set him free on account of their love for each other, Just as the Lord asks us to trust, follow, and obey Him on account of His love for us and our love for Him, likewise, Paul asked Philemon to forgive Onesimus and set him free on account of their mutual love, all the while making absolutely clear that Philemon didn’t have to do as he’d asked. He made sure that Philemon knew he was free to do what Paul had asked of him or not!

This can be a tough one in our culture that teaches us that we deserve the good things in life. So, we should take what we want, whatever it takes. Be nasty, be rude, coerce, manipulate, put others down, boss them around, if necessary: Whatever it takes to get what you want, do it. You deserve it! But that’s not Jesus’ Way.

Walking in Jesus’ Way, seeming gain proves loss, and seeming loss proves gain. The persecution of the early church drove Christians far afield, and thus spread the gospel – like seed carried on the wind. Blessing came from apparent disaster. Who could have prophesied that a Babe born in a stable in a remote and conquered province would be the Savior of the world? Or that pain could be a better teacher than prosperity? Or that the fact of death could reveal everlasting arms beneath the void? Or that a thieving, runaway slave could be a herald for God’s Kingdom?

The Lord Jesus tells us that the greatest will be the servant of all, that if you want to make your enemy miserable to do them good and treat them kindly, and (though it’s not Scripture), that love truly does conquer all.

And, a last beautiful picture of Christ I’d like to highlight: Acknowledging that Philemon may have suffered hardship or loss on account of Onesimus’ running away, we read of Paul telling Philemon to transfer any and all of Onesimus’ debts to Paul’s account: Paul would repay them all.

It’s the same way that the Lord Jesus responded to our own indebtedness: Christ Jesus paid the penalty our sins deserved, He died on the cross, we live confident in our righteousness before God on account of Jesus’ sacrifice. Likewise, Paul has told Philemon that whatever Onesimus owed him, whatever was due, that Paul would repay it to Philemon in full!

So, a Philemon recap:

Living in obedience to Jesus Christ is worth everything, even our very lives. Trusting Him is the source of true happiness;

Let’s make the main influence we have over others come from the love they know we have for them and that they have for us, instead of coming from any kind of heavy-handed power and authority; and,

Christ came to do what humanity could not do: Pay the penalty for human sin. Let us, likewise, commit ourselves to doing what we recognize others around us can’t do for themselves: To pay the debts they can’t repay; to pray the prayers they can’t yet offer; to serve expecting nothing in return; to use our influence and abilities, time and stuff, for Jesus’ sake in their lives.

Let us pray…