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Sermon Series

 

January 17, 2016 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

John 6:35-47 [NLTse]

35 Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty. 36 But you haven’t believed in Me even though you have seen Me. 37 However, those the Father has given Me will come to Me, and I will never reject them. 38 For I have come down from Heaven to do the will of God Who sent Me, not to do My Own will. 39 And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those He has given Me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. 40 For it is My Father’s will that all who see His Son and believe in Him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.”

41 Then the people began to murmur in disagreement because He had said, “I am the bread that came down from Heaven.” 42 They said, “Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph? We know His father and mother. How can He say, ‘I came down from Heaven’?”

43 But Jesus replied, “Stop complaining about what I said. 44 For no one can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draws them to Me, and at the last day I will raise them up. 45 As it is written in the Scriptures, ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to Me. 46 (Not that anyone has ever seen the Father; only I, Who was sent from God, have seen Him.)

47 “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life.”

Sermon

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the entire creation was good. Everything lived in perfect harmony together – from quarks to koalas and from microbes to manatees – with the entire cosmos drawing its life-energy from the living breath – the Holy Spirit – of God. But all too quickly Adam and Eve showed that they didn’t want to be dependent on God. They wanted to know good from evil themselves, apart from Him, and they sinned, and so the cosmic harmony was broken: Life was broken; sin had entered the world, and through sin, death. And the Bible tells us that, because Adam and Eve had put themselves under the power of sin, and because every human being is descended from Adam and Eve, that every human being is born under the power of sin, as well. And because everyone sins everyone will die.

[Would opening the sermon talking about gene-o-grams and how we can get gifts from people that we don’t want be helpful?]

But Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life.”

The Lord Jesus is a little more specific earlier in John, chapter 3, verse 36, when He says, “Whoever has the Son has eternal life.” And in John 5:24 He’s more specific still, saying, “I tell you the truth, those who listen to My message and believe in God Who sent Me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.”

Do you notice the timeframe for this eternal life Jesus offered and is offering us? “Whoever has the Son has eternal life”; “I tell you the truth, those who listen to My message and believe in God Who sent Me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.”

Now, when you hear about and think about “eternal life”, don’t you (for the most part) find yourself thinking about life after death, life in Heaven, life in the resurrection, in the New Heaven and New Earth, when all things are new, that Jesus said He will bring with Him when He comes back for us? And yet the Lord Jesus is making clear here that the Kingdom of Heaven is now; that eternal life has already begun here and now; that it all began the moment we accepted Him, when we listened to His message and believed in the God He revealed to us. So, our focus on eternal life should not be in the future but right here and now in the present. Eternal life has begun!

In John 17:3 the Lord Jesus makes eternal life even easier to understand when He says, “And this is the way to have eternal life—to know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the One You sent to earth.” And, perhaps, we think this is obvious because of course we know Jesus: We know all about Him!

Except that the Lord isn’t speaking, here, about us getting to know about Him, that is, getting to know a bunch of facts and figures about Him; getting to know Him in an intellectual way. No, Jesus wants each of us to get to know Him personally.

We know this is true because in the Old Testament when a man got to “know” a woman the result was a baby being born! So the biblical idea of knowing someone is highly personal and deeply experiential. The Lord Jesus illustrates such “knowledge” in Matthew 7:21, when He says, “Not everyone who calls out to Me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of My Father in Heaven will enter.” (Matthew 7:21)

And that’s why the person of Jesus Christ is so very crucial. Critics want to say that Christians make too big a deal about Jesus, and that He divides Christianity apart from all that we have in common with other faiths. But only Jesus fully and accurately reveals the Father. The entire Old Testament is all about God, but when God was born, Himself, in Jesus Christ, those who knew the Old Testament best didn’t recognize Him!

Colossians 1:15 says, “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.” Colossians 2:9 says, “In Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.” And, Hebrews 1:3 says, “The Son radiates God’s Own glory and expresses the very character of God.” And  in John 17:6, Jesus prays, “I have revealed You to the ones You gave Me from this world.” And in John 14:9, He says, “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father.”

So, this “knowledge” of the Father and the Son that provides eternal life is not a knowledge based upon the research or study of some common and agreed upon ideas about “god” out there, but is a “knowledge” based on trusting and obeying, and serving and submitting to, God the Father Almighty Who has made Himself known in God the Son, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. It is a “knowledge” that puts Jesus’ needs before our own; a “knowledge” that moves us to lay aside the way we want to live our lives in order to live the way the Lord Jesus wants us to. It’s that kind of “knowledge”: A relationship…

Of course, Christians dying while the Lord has promised us eternal life has been a challenge for some. But we can have troubles in some areas of our lives – mental, emotional, and spiritual troubles – without us ever thinking that our life has ended. And so it is with death: We can be having troubles with our physical bodies even while we’re still vibrant mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

There have been instances where people have had the emotional part of them “die” because of an illness or accident while the rest of them seems quiet whole and “alive”. There have been instances where people have been declared “brain-dead”, and yet their body lives on sound and strong. But, as Christians, we never need be afraid of death because our spirits can never die now that they have been united with God’s eternal Spirit – the Holy Spirit.

So, regardless of what happens to our hearts, minds, and bodies – even if they die – we can know that we will never know complete, everlasting death as long as we live in covenant with the Father, knowing Him through knowing Jesus Christ. Because when our physical body dies we know that our souls instantly join Christ in the Garden of Eden in Heaven. And when Jesus returns to bring the dead back to life in the resurrection to come, we will return with Him, and our hearts and minds and spirits will join together again with our bodies – new death-, aging-, accident-, and sadness-free bodies – and that we will continue in eternal life…

Of course, even as eternal life is real and here and now, eternal death is also real. Eternal death is death that will last forever. It’s not an eternal dying, it’s an eternal death: There’s no coming back; it is the end. And all that is “death” will be an eternal reality for those who experience it: Separation from God; and that means separation from all that God is, like love, and joy, peace and patience, hope and kindness, goodness and generosity, etc…

Of course, that’s where we get our images of Hell, because the absence of love leaves either only hate or, perhaps, indifference. The absence of joy leaves only misery, depression, or woe. Without peace there remains only war and worry and disagreement. Without patience there is only agitation, impatience, and frustration. Without hope there is only despair and fear. Without kindness there’s only hostility and harshness, only intolerance and cruelty. If there’s no goodness then all that’s left is wickedness and meanness and dishonesty and corruption. And if there’s no generosity then all that’s left is selfishness and stinginess and greed.

And so eternal death has come to be pictured as a torture chamber or pitch blackness or all wailing and moaning or pain and suffering. And, of course, it’s all these things but worse: Worse than we can possibly contemplate or imagine, just as Heaven and Paradise and eternal life are better than anyone can possibly contemplate or imagine!

I want to invite the Praise Team up to lead us in singing our next song, “When We All Get To Heaven.” And yet, as we sing, I want us to sing in the understanding that eternal life has begun in us. If you know God the Father because you know and trust His Son, Jesus Christ, then eternal life has begun in you. And knowing the Father comes from knowing Jesus and living your life according to His will: Knowing God’s will, trusting Him, and then doing His will. Because it is as we grow in knowing God’s will better and better, and as we grow in trusting God more and more, and as we grow in doing His will more and more consistently that we truly grow in our relationship with God and truly show the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven, the reality of eternal life. So, as we sing let’s sing for the future! But let us also sing for the here and the now!

In Jesus Christ, Heaven has invaded Earth. And as Jesus’ life gets lived through us by the Holy Spirit, the Kingdom of Heaven is expanding soul by soul by soul. Eternal life has begun! If it’s begun in you sing loud! If eternal life has begun in you, sing hearty! Let’s torture the evil one with our praise!



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

John 4:1-26 [NLTse]

4 Jesus knew the Pharisees had heard that He was baptizing and making more disciples than John 2 (though Jesus Himself didn’t baptize them—His disciples did). 3 So He left Judea and returned to Galilee.

4 He had to go through Samaria on the way. 5 Eventually He came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. 7 Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give Me a drink.” 8 He was alone at the time because His disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.

9 The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”

10 Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and Who you are speaking to, you would ask Me, and I would give you living water.”

11 “But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? 12 And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”

13 Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. 14 But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”

15 “Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”

16 “Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.

17 “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.

Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband— 18 for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. 20 So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”

21 Jesus replied, “Believe Me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans know very little about the One you worship, while we Jews know all about Him, for salvation comes through the Jews. 23 But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship Him that way. 24 For God is spirit, so those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and in truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the One Who is called Christ. When He comes, He will explain everything to us.”

26 Then Jesus told her, “I am the Messiah!”

Sermon

She comes to the well at Noon, the hottest time of the day, when she knows no one else will be there to chastise, mock, or shun her. She’s surprised to find a Jew there, since Jews almost always skirt around to avoid Samaria when they traveling. She’s shocked when He asks her to get him water, since Jews have nothing to do with Samaritans, if they can help it! And she thinks He’s talking about giving her the freshest of water – living water – which makes no sense to her, either. After all, what is He going to do, put a spigot in her home so she can just turn it on and off when she wants to get a drink? That’s impossible!

But then He mentions her husband, and somehow He knows her sordid story. And I picture tears coming into her eyes as she tries to redirect the conversation away from her shame by asking Him about worship practices. But what He’s saying to her is so engaging and appealing: And He just said He was the Messiah! Could it be? That would surely explain Him. I must let everyone know! And she runs off. (Or, perhaps, she just took off to tell the man she was living with, but ran into the crowd of villagers on the way.)

Did you notice how she’s been changed by her time with Jesus? The villagers ordinarily wouldn’t have given her the time of day: Adulteress, whore, “easy-woman,” trouble they thought of her. And yet this day, after she’s been with Jesus, somehow the villagers are so taken by her zeal and joy and urgency that they forget who she is and they do as she says and go to the well to meet Jesus.

In the meantime, Jesus’ disciples have returned from the market with lunch just in time to see the woman run off. All of the sudden, Jesus isn’t hungry (which they don’t understand since He seemed famished just a little while earlier), and He starts speaking to them about the harvest being ready and how the Father is giving them a chance to gather in the produce of other’s labors. And it sounds to them like stealing, and, as usual, they don’t get what He’s talking about. And then the crowd of Samaritans arrive.

And a small group of Jews who ordinarily would have avoided Samaria all-together “like the plague” decide to stay a whole ‘nother day to establish the Kingdom of Heaven in Sychar. And the woman becomes a part of the community again with people eternally grateful to her for introducing them to Jesus! But now they know Him personally and not just through her testimony: He is the Savior of the world!

Isn’t that the way Christ is calling out to us – whether we have a good reputation or bad, whether we’re popular or outcast: To invite others to come meet Jesus?

The Elders believe that the way the Holy Spirit is wanting to make disciples of Jesus here at First Church is

To all be together showing our commitment to Christ in WORSHIP;

To GROW in our relationships and understanding of the gospel through a Bible class or small group;

To put our faith into practice by SERVING others and each other by being involved in ministry in the church; and,

To spread the good news by INVITING OTHERS to come meet Jesus themselves, inviting them to Worship or to a Bible class or small group…

This woman is such a great example of the INVITING OTHERS part: So moved by being in Jesus’ presence, and by His pushing her and stretching her, and His asking her to serve Him and offering Himself to serve her, and here she is, telling everyone – those who’ve hurt her, made fun of her, those who’ve ignored her existence, who’ve judged and turned everyone against her – but she doesn’t care anymore; Jesus has offered her living water that will bubble up in her to eternal life! God’s Messiah – the Christ – has come! For her!

Is Jesus’ good news still that good to you, to me, to us, that we can’t help letting those around us know about Him, our Savior, the Savior of the World!, the Lover of our Souls, our Lord and our God?

How excited are you about the Lord? Do you genuinely want people to come get to know Him? When you invite friends and family and neighbors is it just a, “Come, if you want.” Or do you follow up with them, too, “You’re coming, right?” And do you check to make sure they’re coming, “You said you would come!” So that they see our excitement and conviction and can’t say, “No”?

I love that such an outcast woman – and that you and me – a could become known as the evangelist to the Samaritans! That we could be known as the evangelist to our families, or to our workplace, or to our classmates or circle-of-friends, or wherever we share Him and go!



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

The Gospel of John 1:1-18 [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.

6 God sent a man, John the Baptist, 7 to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. 8 John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. 9 The One Who is the true light, Who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He came into the very world He created, but the world didn’t recognize Him. 11 He came to His Own people, and even they rejected Him. 12 But to all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

14 So the Word became human and made His home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen His glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

15 John testified about Him when he shouted to the crowds, “This is the One I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming after me Who is far greater than I am, for He existed long before me.’”

16 From His abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. 17 For the Law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, Who is Himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.

Sermon

If you really wanted to explain to someone how much you love them, what would you do?

Rent a billboard? Send a video? Flood the community with leaflets? Send someone you trusted to explain on your behalf? Or would you go yourself?

Anybody remember the movie “TRON”? It first came out in 1982? It didn’t make much of a splash when it first came out, other than some – for that time – groundbreaking visual affects. But, overtime, it developed a kind of “cult” following that spawned a bunch of video games, comic books, an animated TV show, and even a movie-sequel that came out in 2010.

As you may remember, in the movie, a computer game programmer is able to digitize himself and enter into his own computer game to fight off a virus that has entered the game’s system and is twisting its programming from being a fun, engaging, adventure game into a game of violence, slavery, and world domination.

I’ve watched the movie (it’s not very good, and is crude and immoral on top of that) and I’ve never perceived any evidence that it’s writers, directors, or producers saw it as any kind of Christian flick, but with our reading from John 1 this past week and this morning in mind, it sure gives a brilliantly modern portrayal of the gospel: Jesus Christ of Nazareth – the spoken Word of God, the heart and mind of God, the will and plans of God – born into humanity – the creation and desire and beloved of God.

John writes that the world and everything that exists was created through the Word, Jesus. And sure enough, Genesis 1 tells us that God spoke, “Let there be light,” and light came into existence. And God spoke, “Let the waters separate and have dry land appear,” and it happened. And God spoke, and it was created. And God spoke and it appeared. God’s Word was the agent of creation. Everything that exists has come into being by God speaking it into existence. Nothing was created except through God’s speaking. Nothing was created except through His Word. And John writes that, like in the movie “TRON”, that the Word came into the very world He created and used His intimate knowledge of the “program” to overcome the virus and undo its work…

We shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus knew the tricks necessary to overcome the devil. And we shouldn’t be surprised when we follow after Him, seeking to be full of unfailing love and faithfulness ourselves – full of grace and truth, just like He was (and is) – that we find ourselves overcoming the world, as well. After all, Jesus knit the world – all of reality – together. He knew (knows) all the ancient machinery. It’s His Own handiwork; His Own ideas; His Own design. The devil and his demons are created beings. They are ancient, but not as ancient as the One Who created them.

C. S. Lewis put it this way in The Chronicles of Narnia’s “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”. After being killed and coming back from the dead, Aslan, the Jesus figure in the story, says of the White Witch, the devil figure, he says, “Though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

As followers of Jesus, we Christians are not simply striving to be like Christ because being loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled are all the ways He was (and is). No. These characteristics of grace and truth, these fruits of unfailing love and faithfulness are the ways human beings were originally created to be. And when we live these ways, although there may be opposition and resistance from the non-Christians around us, these are the ways that grow our fellowship and communion with the Father, cause us to live in deepest harmony with the rest of creation, and will lead us to rich and deep abundance in our souls, continuing on into everlasting life once our death is past.

That’s why John can say in another place that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (14:6) He’s not a way, a truth, a life. He is the way life was meant to be. He is the truth about everything that exists and how it all interrelates. He is the life that God has wanted for each and every human soul: A life that has no fear of death because it is stronger than death and will live beyond the one death that the devil is due.

Because Jesus is the Maker; because He not only knows the “deeper magic” that’s at the heart of creation and all existence, but is Himself the power and authority behind that so-called “magic”; because He not only knows everything but because He knows everything about everything, you and I can have hope in the face of the impossible!

Under the Lord’s guidance, Moses, Aaron, and Miriam led the Israelites to a No-Win situation: The 20-mile wide Red Sea’s Gulf of Aquba on the one side and the fearsome Egyptian army on the other. But the God Who created it all provided a way where there was no way! Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90, and because they had no child of their own one of their slaves was going to inherit all their wealth and their covenant with God. But God knows the deeper magic, and He gave a 100 year old husband and his 90 year old wife a son! (Along with the joys and hard work of being parents. J) Elijah was alone up against the king’s priesthood: They were well-trained in the popular theology of their day, and there were many of them, and they had all the power and resources of the kingdom of Israel backing them. There was no way! But lighting came down and ignited Elijah’s offering, not theirs.

And Lazarus was in the tomb: The ultimate end. No way back. Until the One through Whom all things were made called him back from death: Just as He’d called creation into being He called Lazarus out from behind the gates of Hell. There was no struggle. There was no contest. The Word Who was with God and Who Himself was God spoke, and Death had to give Lazarus up!

The world, the darkness, non-Christians say, “It’s impossible!” But nothing’s impossible for the Word!

And so it is for your and my impossible situations: Cancer; no job; a lousy job that doesn’t provide; a troubled marriage; or troubles with your kids or with your parents; … God has a Way: Jesus is God’s Way. It may not be the Way we want. Even us Christians tend to want the ways of the world. But Jesus is the “still deeper” Way, the Way of Him Who designed it all, the Way of the One Who gave life to everything and brought light to everyone.

Because the cancer may get worse, and instead of healing you get peace. A job may appear that keeps you living paycheck to paycheck, but you find that you love the work and the people and that you come home each day like you’ve done something that mattered! Maybe your wife never comes around to our way of thinking, but instead you learn to grow in surrender and self-sacrifice as you go forward committing to loving and serving her. Maybe your kids never completely wake-up to the gospel and treating us the way they should, but instead we become prayer warriors as we battle on our knees in desperation for them day after day and year after year, and find ourselves being better parents than we ever thought we would be otherwise, full of grace and truth, full of unfailing love and faithfulness, as we follow Him in the Way.

The Way that was before the beginning. The Way that only God knows, that only the Creator knows, that only the Word knows…