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Sermon Series

 

December 13, 2015 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

The Prophet Zephaniah 3:6-20 [NLTse]
“I have wiped out many nations, devastating their fortress walls and towers. Their streets are now deserted; their cities lie in silent ruin. There are no survivors—none at all. 7 I thought, ‘Surely they will have reverence for Me now! Surely they will listen to My warnings. Then I won’t need to strike again, destroying their homes.’ But no, they get up early to continue their evil deeds. 8 Therefore, be patient,” says the Lord. “Soon I will stand and accuse these evil nations. For I have decided to gather the kingdoms of the earth and pour out My fiercest anger and fury on them. All the earth will be devoured by the fire of My jealousy.
9 “Then I will purify the speech of all people, so that everyone can worship the Lord together. 10 My scattered people who live beyond the rivers of Ethiopia will come to present their offerings. 11 On that day you will no longer need to be ashamed, for you will no longer be rebels against Me. I will remove all proud and arrogant people from among you. There will be no more haughtiness on My holy mountain. 12 Those who are left will be the lowly and humble, for it is they who trust in the name of the Lord. 13 The remnant of Israel will do no wrong; they will never tell lies or deceive one another. They will eat and sleep in safety, and no one will make them afraid.”
14 Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! 15 For the Lord will remove His hand of judgment and will disperse the armies of your enemy. And the Lord Himself, the King of Israel, will live among you! At last your troubles will be over, and you will never again fear disaster. 16 On that day the announcement to Jerusalem will be, “Cheer up, Zion! Don’t be afraid! 17 For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love, He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
18 “I will gather you who mourn for the appointed festivals; you will be disgraced no more. 19 And I will deal severely with all who have oppressed you. I will save the weak and helpless ones; I will bring together those who were chased away. I will give glory and fame to My former exiles, wherever they have been mocked and shamed. 20 On that day I will gather you together and bring you home again. I will give you a good name, a name of distinction, among all the nations of the earth, as I restore your fortunes before their very eyes. I, the Lord, have spoken!”

Sermon
This reading from the prophet Zephaniah may be a strange one to sit around-together here a week and a half before Christmas, but there’s a method to my madness (so they say) and I hope you’ll stick with me. You see, I want to proclaim to you that I believe there is a plot to destroy the joy and wonder and good tidings of Christmas going on around us. And I want to point out this insidious plot and make it known to us all so that we can – together – acknowledge it and stand against it!

Perhaps we’re all familiar with the pressures that have been put on many of our government offices across our nation and the nations to stop placing scenes portraying the birth of Jesus on government properties at Christmastime. Perhaps we’re all familiar with the pressures that have been put on many cashiers and sales associates to keep them from wishing shoppers a “Merry Christmas!” Perhaps we’re all familiar with the intentional replacement of Christmas carols with more secular Christmas songs in shops and stores across our nation and the nations, and, perhaps, we’re all familiar with the growing trend towards “Happy Holidays” and Merry X-mas” leaving out the word and name of Christ…

This plot I’m speaking to you about started with all these things, but they are just the Prologue – the opening skirmishes – in this war, in this drama, in this plot that I believe is working itself out around us to destroy the joy and wonder that surround and accompany the good tidings of the birth of Christ Jesus of Nazareth, God With Us!

The new Star Wars movie is coming out this weekend: Movie #7 in the soon-to-be nine movie series. (Though, perhaps now that Disney’s running the show, there will be more.) Any Star Wars fans in the church? …

I’m a big Star Wars fan, as many of you know. I don’t walk around quoting Yoda or dressed up like a stormtrooper (as many die-hard fans do) but I’ve seen all the movies and read most of the associated novels.
For those of you not so familiar with Star Wars, it all happened “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Space ships keep people and trade connected to planets across the galaxy the way tractor trailers and container ships keep people and trade connected to cities and across nations here on Earth.

There’s a group of super-powered men and women and boys and girls called “Jedi” in Star Wars. Jedi are able to tap into the energy of the universe to enable them to be super-fast or super-strong or to predict future events, and they have set themselves up to be the peacekeepers of the galaxy.

When the first Star Wars movie came out back in 1977, it was the middle trilogy, Episode 4, and there were only two Jedi left: An old man named Ben Kenobi and a green, pointy-eared alien little-person named Yoda. It was Ben Kenobi’s job to safeguard a new generation of Jedi led by young Luke Skywalker, and it was Yoda’s job to train them.
When Episode 1 came out in 1999 that trilogy had to show the transformation from a galaxy filled with Jedi down to the galaxy fans had gotten to know in Episode 4, a galaxy where only two Jedi remained.
As you can imagine, a group of men and women and boys and girls who can tap into the energy of the universe to be able to fight in superhuman ways and even know the future, would be hard to beat!

But there’s a line out of one of the books associated with that first – Episode 1-3 – trilogy that has always stuck in my mind. It’s from a book called “Shatterpoint”, and it’s about a Jedi master named Mace Windu who’s probably the best fighter among the whole galaxy of Jedi. He’s wondering about all the changes that have been brought about by the civil war that has been raging around their once peaceful galaxy. And Mace asks himself, “What’s the best way to undermine and cripple a group of men and women and boys and girls who were raised for peace, knowledge, serenity, and harmony?” And he answers himself, “Such a group is undermined and crippled when you force them into the bloodshed, chaos, power-mongering, fear, and stark necessities of war.”
That’s the plot I see seeking to destroy the joys and wonders and good tidings of Christmas. It has nothing to do with a science fiction group of superheroes, of course. I’m talking about how you undermine and cripple a group of men and women and boys and girls who were made new to live lives of thanksgiving, peace, joy, faith, wonder, love, and the hope of everlasting life? As I look at the course of world events, and those events that have been occurring in various areas of the globe across the past two thousand years, I think, you come against them with terror, uncertainty, confusion, busy-ness, and hatred, all the while seeking to focus their attention on the realities and utmost importance of this life alone.

I believe that the devil and his evil crew have stirred up al-Qaeda, Isis, Vladimir Putin, and other terror-groups and local tyrants in order to tempt us towards worry and fear and in the hopes of stealing our joy and wonder. It is of critical importance to the expansion and strengthening of the Kingdom of Heaven across the face of the Earth (at least as much as is in our power) that we not give in to worry and fear, but that we grow in faith and acts of gracious love.

Which brings me back to our reading from the prophet Zephaniah, and the picture of shepherds being confronted by God’s angel and the armies of Heaven that we’ve been looking at across Worship this morning. Let me start with the shepherds…

Angels throughout the gospels assure those they visit not to be afraid. An angel visits Mary and tells her not to be afraid, that she’s going to bear God’s Son. An angel visits the shepherds in Bethlehem and tells them not to be afraid, that the Messiah has born. And thirty years later an angel appears to the women who come to Jesus’ grave that Sunday following His crucifixion and tell the women not to be afraid, that Jesus has overcome death.

What’s huge about these specific instances of angels telling Mary, the shepherds, and the women-coming-to-Jesus’-tomb not to be afraid is that the Bible uses the present, middle, second person imperative form of “don’t be afraid” each time. I know that’s a Greek thing and might not make sense to you, but, what that means is, the angel was telling Mary, the shepherds, and the women not just to not be afraid, but he was telling them in the strongest language – basically ordering them, “Never be afraid again!”

“Never be afraid again!”

The great news about the birth of Jesus the Messiah – the Son of God, the heir of King David’s throne – creates a new kind of person, when that person puts their faith and trust in such great news. It creates a person who never has to be afraid ever again. The great news about the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah – the Son of God, the heir of King David’s throne – creates a new kind of person, when that person puts their faith and trust in such great news. The reality of Emmanuel – God With Us in Jesus Christ – does not keep fearsome events from happening across the face of the Earth: For those first Christians Roman soldiers would keep acting like bullies, life-threatening storms would still rise up, kings would continue to casually slaughter the newborn children in a given town, etc…; and, in our day employment can lack security, health concerns can seem on the rise, and terrorists can randomly kill and publicly execute people. But by faith and trust in Jesus Christ – the One Who is King over all earthly kings and Who is Lord over all earthly lords – we are a “fear not” people, a “never be afraid again” people!

And Zephaniah 3 shows us how.

In vv. 9-13 the prophet says, “I will purify the speech of all people, so that everyone can worship the Lord together… You will no longer be rebels against Me… There will be no more haughtiness on My holy mountain… The remnant of Israel will do no wrong… and no one will make them afraid.”

So, to live before the Lord under the lordship of Jesus Christ without fear, the Lord calls us to repentance: That is, to turn our lives around from doing the things that are popular and allowed out among non-Christians to be about the things that the Holy Spirit calls us to in the Word of God, the Bible.

So… What is in your life that God doesn’t want there, according to His Word in the Bible? Do you have a habit in your life or a pattern in your life that God speaks against through His commandments or His prophets or the gospels or letters of the apostles? Offer it to the Lord. Lay it down – picture yourself taking it out of your life and laying it down – at the foot of Jesus’ cross. Acknowledge that it’s been a sin in your life, ask His forgiveness for all the ways it has hurt Him, hurt others, and hurt you, lay it down at the foot of the cross, and then leave it behind, asking for the Holy Spirit’s grace to truly leave it there.
We cannot know the fullness of the peace and protection of the One Who came to put sin to death if we have an, “O well,” attitude toward sin and are still playing around with it ourselves. It’s not about being perfect, but it is about repenting and wanting to get rid of anything that would stand between us and Jesus…

Vv. 14-17 of Zephaniah says, “Sing, O daughter of Zion… Be glad and rejoice with all your heart… And the Lord Himself, the King of Israel, will live among you! … With His love, He will calm all your fears…” Zephaniah is calling us to live in the presence of the Lord in worship.
If we want to enjoy the fullness of God’s calming all our fears, He calls us to repentance, and He calls us to know that He is always with us by the Holy Spirit, and to worship Him daily and throughout each day. Not just Worship on Sunday mornings and other opportunities the church gives, but worshiping at work as we think of Him, smile, and give Him thanks and praise; at school, worshiping in class and in the halls when we need a friend, and we remember the friendship we have with Jesus, and enjoy His company and companionship right there up and down those halls; at home, driving the car, out with our friends, humming His songs, thanking Him for the good things He does and gives, confident in and enjoying the reality of His presence with us always!
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Enjoying freedom from fear comes from enjoying the constant presence of the One Who fears nothing because He is master of everything and all else! Nurturing the reality that He is always near, letting those around us know of His presence with us, and worshiping Him throughout the day also nurtures fearlessness in us, even when the forces of darkness seem to be screeching and circling all around us.

Lastly, Zephaniah 3 vv. 18-20 speak of the gifts the Lord wants to give to us: “I will gather you… I will deal severely with all who have oppressed you… I will save the weak and helpless ones… I will give you glory and fame, you who have been mocked and shamed… I will bring you home… I will give you a good reputation, a good name…” God is calling us, through Zephaniah, to receive the good gifts He has for us!



December 6, 2015 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

According to Matthew 2:1-11 [NLTse]

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw His star as it rose, and we have come to worship Him.”

3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. 4 He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for My people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. 8 Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the Child with His mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Sermon

Bethlehem was occupied territory.

The Roman Empire was known for the peace and security it brought to its inhabitants. The Pax Romana it was called: The Roman Peace. But such peace and security came at a price. Rome ruled its territories with an iron fist. And the province of Judea, and the “little town of Bethlehem”, were a part of its territories.

It was a ninety mile journey from Joseph and Mary’s hometown of Nazareth to their ancestral home in Bethlehem. A ninety mile journey in a culture where traveling ten miles a day was quite an accomplishment. The main roads would have been well-maintained by their Roman masters, and travel would have been relatively safe because of the domineering Roman presence that enforced the Roman peace: Checkpoints. Garrisons. Patrols. Raids and surprise inspections without warning…

Joseph and Mary were not traveling to Bethlehem on vacation or to visit family, of course. They were descendants of King David, and so prior to their journey to Bethlehem Joseph particularly would have been held in high regard because of being a messianic hopeful – that is, because he was a “son of David” (a descendant of King David) that perhaps Joseph would prove himself to be the long-promised messiah-king of the Jews. Or perhaps his and Mary’s children would be. But that was before their journey to Bethlehem. Although they were to some extent celebrities (at least among their own people) because of being David’s descendants, Joseph and Mary had become outcasts on account of Mary’s shameful pregnancy. Even though Joseph had married her anyway, gossip spread like wildfire in those days, and everyone knew that Mary’s unborn child was not his. Mary had admitted it, but then tried to cover her shame with what sounded to everyone like some absurd story that she’d become pregnant miraculously by the Holy Spirit coming upon her…

No, Joseph and Mary were not welcomed by their extended family members in Bethlehem. But they had to travel the ninety miles to Bethlehem anyway. It was Emperor Caesar’s order that everyone in “the occupied territories” travel to their ancestral homes as a part of a census. It didn’t matter that Mary was nine months pregnant, ready to give birth at any moment along the way: Caesar demanded that everyone be counted so that the Empire would not lose one mina – not one fragment of a penny – of tax money!

Bethlehem was indeed a “little town” in those days, just like the song says. It likely had a population of a little less than 1,000 – just a little bit bigger than Milford – most of the inhabitants being wheat farmers, livestock farmers (sheep and goats, not cows), weavers, and stone masons (called “carpenters” in those days, most of their work coming from maintaining and improving the lavish buildings and palaces in nearby Jerusalem, only a five mile walk away).

Bethlehem was a safe place to live. The huge Roman presence in Jerusalem overflowed to grant security and safety to surrounding towns, like Bethlehem, as well, under the Roman’s thumb. Of course, Bethlehem received a bit of special attention from their overlords, containing the homestead of Israel’s favorite king and being the place where their hoped-for liberator-messiah was expected to be born, as it was.

And so, when Joseph and O-so-shamefully-pregnant Mary arrived at the Davidic compound in Bethlehem, everyone else received preferential lodging: Let the whore and her duped husband get what’s left after the respectable “sons of David” and their families get their rooms. Let the embarrassments sleep with the animals, if they have to. Better than bringing shame on our glorious ancestor’s proud reputation.

Of course, there was a lot of attention being paid to the House of David during this time. Messianic-fervor was at an all-time high. With all the benefits that many of the wealthy and political leaders were enjoying under the Roman’s rule, for the common person life was hard. The Romans could beat you, the Romans could take from you, the Romans could make you carry their stuff for them, if they wanted. And though you might get a fair trial if you were to press charges, most had learned that it wasn’t worth the trouble. And, as you know, when discontent and oppression are heavy, deliverance and deliverers are on everybody’s minds!

Concerning this “little town of Bethlehem” the prophet Micah spoke these words of the Lord 500 years earlier:

“But you, O Bethlehem (Ephrathah), [you] are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on My behalf,” said the LORD. 3 “The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies until the woman in labor gives birth. Then at last His fellow countrymen will return from exile to their own land. 4 And He will stand to lead His flock with the Lord’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. Then His people will live there undisturbed, for He will be highly honored around the world. 5 And He will be the source of peace.” (5:2-5)

And this Word has come to pass in the birth and majesty of Jesus Christ then and there, 2,000 years ago, in Bethlehem!

Jesus Christ: Whose origins are in the distant past! For the origin of Jesus was not Mary’s womb. In the Gospel of John Jesus prays, “Now, Father, bring Me into the glory We shared before the world began.” (17:5) Jesus – God the Son – has always existed, even before creation, in tri-unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit. We see evidence of this in Genesis 1, during the sixth day of creation, when God is recorded as having said, “Let Us make human beings in our image, to be like us… So God created human beings in His Own image. In the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” (vv. 26, 27)

And Philippians 2:6-11 tells us how the pre-existent – the always-existent – God the Son became the Son of God and the Son of Man, when Paul writes: “Though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When He appeared in human form, He humbled Himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated Him to the place of highest honor and gave Him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in Heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Yes, Jesus has always existed, with the Father, in tri-unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit. But He took off His divinity to be born a human being like us, to save us human beings.

The prophecy continues: “And the people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies until the woman in labor gives birth to this One Whose origins are in the distant past.”

You know, by faith, the apostle Paul makes clear that we Christians have been grafted into – that we’ve become a part of – Israel, according to our faith in Christ. (See Romans 11:1-24) (He makes equally clear that some who have been born Israel have been made not-Israel because of their lack of faith in Christ.) And all of humanity’s enemy – sin – did, indeed, hold absolute power over us, until the woman in labor gave birth to the pre-existent – the always-existent – Christ, and until we put our hope and trust in Him.

Yes, now the Lord Jesus has been born. And He leads us, His flock, with the Lord God’s Own strength; with the Lord God’s Own majesty! (The strength and the majesty that was His before He took off His divinity to be born a Man. The strength and majesty that is His again now that the Holy Spirit has come upon Him with the full authority and power of the living God.)

And now, despite wickedness and violence and unfaithfulness and sin and darkness of every tint and hue, of every shape and size, we – His people – shall live undisturbed. Don’t get me wrong. I know there is much in the world that might disturb a sane and conscientious and moral person. But as we make ourselves a part of Jesus’ flock, as we let Him lead us with God’s strength and as we let Him lead us in the majesty of God’s Own name, as we trust Him and His promises, trusting that what He’s said is true and acting upon it in love, loving with His, same unconditional love, expecting nothing in return, the growing darkness and the increased uncertainties will disturb us less and less, until we are, in all its fullness, living undisturbed.

And He will be highly honored around the world. And He will be the source of peace.



November 29, 2015 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

To the Hebrews 10:19-25 [NLTse]
19 And so, dear brothers and sisters,[f] we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20 By his death,[g] Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21 And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22 let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.
23 Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24 Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

Sermon
Anybody ever invited someone to church who told you, “O, I don’t need church. I worship God at home with Charles Stanley or Joseph Prince on Sunday mornings.” Or have you ever heard someone say, “I don’t need church. I worship God in my backyard or in the woods or…”

You know, don’t you, that what these people are telling you – whether they are truly Christians or not – is that they just want to do what they want to do. It doesn’t matter to them that the Bible tells us clearly and repeatedly that God wants us to meet together regularly. It doesn’t matter to them that the pattern the Bible gives for Worship, almost since the very beginning, has been for God’s people to meet together and worship Him together.

You see, worshiping at home or on your own let’s you be in control. You get to listen to the TV preacher’s sermon if you want, and you get to turn him or her off if you want. You get to sing whichever songs you want to sing, that is, if you want to sing songs at all on any given Sunday. You get to pray for what you want to pray about and for who you want to pray about, again, that is, if you decide you’re going to pray that Sunday.

We can trick ourselves into thinking that such a time of Worship is about God. But it is not. When we Worship when we want, for as long as we want, the way we want, doing whatever we want or not doing whatever we want, that is not worshiping God. That is worshiping ourselves, and the small little idol we’ve made God into.

And our Father has given us Worship, and called us to Worship together, just to set us free from those kinds of self-worship and those kinds of idolatry.

The truth is, we need each other.

And I’m not saying that we need each other because you and I are all that wonderful and we need each other’s wonderfulness in our lives. No. The stories you too often hear from many of the people who don’t want to go to church are stories about this or that Christian person hurting them or doing something that made going to church a burden or a chore instead of the wonder and glory of encountering God that Worship has been given to be.

And yet, recognizing that none of us are all that wonderful, and that we have a remarkable capacity to hurt each other and others, I say again, we need each other.

Across the Scriptures, but especially across the letters the apostle Paul wrote in the New Testament, there are many different ways that the Lord calls us to treat one another, that is, our fellow Christians.

The Lord calls us to be at peace with one another. He calls us to always seek to do go to one another. He calls us to be hospitable to one another without complaining. To not speak evil against one another. To build each other up. To be subject to one another. To no longer pass judgment on one another. To bear with one another. (That is, to put up with one another.) To love one another. To encourage one another. To agree with one another. To be kind to one another and to forgive one another. To welcome one another. To confess our sins to one another and to pray for each other. To outdoor each other in honoring each other. To never lie to each other. To live in harmony together. To provoke each other to love and good deeds. To become slaves to one another…

How can we do these things if we’re not together a lot? And notice that the list recognizes that we may be doing some things and treating one another in some ways that we don’t like, because it includes our needing to bear with each other and to forgive each other. (If we weren’t upsetting or frustrating each other we wouldn’t need to put up with each other or forgive.)

We human beings who trust in God through our trust in Jesus Christ cannot grow into maturity as Christians if we are not regularly spending time together in Worship, growing together in our studies or classes, and serving together in various ministries. Christians cannot grow into maturity alone: Just me and Jesus!

We need to sing songs we don’t like to sing. We need to pray for people we don’t want to pray for. We need to read from passages in the Bible we wouldn’t read if it were up to us. And we need to hear sermons and teachings that we disagree with and that push us out of our comfort zones and that stretch our faith and challenge our souls.
We need each other. We need the Church. Worshiping – Growing – Serving – and Inviting Others to join us.
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We need each other. We need the Church.