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Sermon Series

 

“The Persistent Widow”March 11, 2018 A.D.by Pastor Ben Willis

LUKE 18:1-8 [NLTse]

One day Jesus told His disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. 2 “There was a judge in a certain city,” He said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. 3 A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ 4 The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, 5 but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”

6 Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. 7 Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to His chosen people who cry out to Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, He will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will He find on the earth who have faith?”

SERMON

Across these Sundays and Thursday-nights of Lent I’ve been preaching and teaching through the different stories the Lord Jesus used to help people better understand the Kingdom of Heaven.

Today’s parable – story – is special in that Luke makes absolutely clear why the Lord Jesus told the story: To show His disciples that they should always pray and never give up. And He ends the parable – the story – with this question: “But will My people believe Me? Will I find My people praying without giving up when I return?”

Let me tell you a reportedly true story that speaks to our topic of not giving up in prayer…

While crossing the Atlantic on an oceanliner pastor, evangelist, and Bible scholar F.B. Meyer was asked to address the first class passengers. At the

captain’s request Meyer spoke on “Answered Prayer.” An agnostic who was present at the service (an “agnostic” is someone who believes in God but doesn’t believe you can know God or have any kind of relationship with Him) – an agnostic – was asked by his friends, “What did you think of Dr. Meyer’s sermon?” The agnostic answered, “I didn’t believe a word of it.” That afternoon Meyer went to speak to those poor passengers who were making the voyage in the hold along with the baggage. Many of the listeners at Meyer’s morning address went along, including the agnostic, who claimed he just wanted to hear “what the babbler had to say.”

Before starting for the service, the agnostic put two oranges in his pocket. On his way he passed an elderly woman sitting in her deck chair fast asleep. Her hands were open. In the spirit of fun, the agnostic put the two oranges in her outstretched palms. After the meeting, he saw the old lady happily eating one of the pieces of fruit. “You seem to be enjoying that orange,” he remarked with a smile. “Yes, sir,” she replied, “My Father is very good to me.” “Your father? Surely your father can’t be still alive!” “Praise God,” the old lady replied, “He is very much alive.” “What do you mean?” pressed the agnostic. She explained, “I’ll tell you, sir. I have been seasick for days. I was asking God somehow to send me an orange. I suppose I fell asleep while I was praying. When I awoke, I found He had not only sent me one orange but two!” The agnostic was speechless. Later he was converted to Christ. J

Let me tell you another story about the importance of never giving up when we pray…

We should be like the 3-year-old boy who went to the grocery store with his mother. Before they entered the grocery store she said to him, “Now you’re not going to get any chocolate chip cookies, so don’t even ask.”

She put him up in the cart & he sat in the little child’s seat while she wheeled down the aisles He

was doing just fine until they came to the cookie section. He saw the chocolate chip cookies & he stood up in the seat & said, “Mom, can I have some chocolate chip cookies?” She said, “I told you not even to ask. You’re not going to get any at all.” So he sat back down.

They continued down the aisles, but in their search for certain items they ended up back in the cookie aisle. “Mom, can I please have some chocolate chip cookies?” She said, “I told you that you can’t have any. Now sit down & be quiet.”

Finally, they were approaching the checkout lane. The little boy sensed that this may be his last chance. So just before they got to the line, he stood up on the seat of the cart & shouted in his loudest voice, “In the name of Jesus, may I have some chocolate chip cookies?”

And everybody round about just laughed. Some even applauded. And, due to the generosity of the other shoppers, the little boy & his mother left with 23 boxes of chocolate chip cookies!

The life story of evangelist and orphanage director George Muller remains a powerful example to the virtue of persisting in prayer. Near the end of his life, Muller confided to a friend that he had been praying for two men to come to Christ for over fifty years. When the friend wondered why he continued to pray, Muller replied that if God had given him such a burden, then surely it was because the Lord intended to save those two men. It came to pass that one man came to Christ shortly before Muller died, and the other came to Christ shortly after his death…

And so the Lord Jesus is asking us: “But will My people believe Me? Will I find My people praying without giving up when I return?”

What are you praying for right now? A family member to come to Christ? A loved one with cancer? Victory over a stubborn habit? Wisdom to make a big decision? Guidance for the future? A

mate? A prodigal son or daughter? A marriage on the rocks? A deeper walk with God? Growing love for others? Deliverance from a critical spirit? Grace to forgive those who have hurt you? Hope for the future? Money to pay your bills? Relief from discouragement? Physical healing? A friend in deep need? Courage to keep going? Strength to make it through another day? Boldness to share Christ?

Let’s bear these, and whatever else may be burdening us, before the Throne of Grace as we renew the New Covenant by eating and drinking the Lord Jesus’ body and blood.

And let’s come to the table proclaiming our faith using the words of The Apostles’ Creed…



The Mustard Seed & The YeastMarch 04, 2018 A.D.by Pastor Ben Willis

THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW 13:31-35 [NLTse]

31 Here is another illustration Jesus used: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.”

33 Jesus also used this illustration: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

34 Jesus always used stories and illustrations like these when speaking to the crowds. In fact, He never spoke to them without using such parables. 35 This fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet:

“I will speak to you in parables. I will explain things hidden since the creation of the world.”

SERMON

Since the season of Lent began on February 14th I’ve been preaching and teaching through different parables the Lord Jesus used to describe God’s Kingdom, what Jesus often called “the Kingdom of Heaven”.

During our first Fast-Breaking Prayer Service I taught through the Parable of the Lamp. The first Sunday of Lent I preached the Parable of the Soils. Our next Prayer Service got “stormed-out”, so last Sunday – the second Sunday of Lent – I preached the Parable of the Fig Tree and the Parable of the Rich Fool. This past Fast-Breaking I taught through the Parable of the Hidden Treasure and the Parable of the Pearl. And today – this third Sunday of Lent – we have the Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Yeast. Let’s start with the Mustard Seed…

To be helped by this parable we need to correctly understand its key symbols: The mustard seed; the field; the tree that grew from the mustard seed; and, the birds that made nests in its branches.

So, the mustard seed was the smallest of the well-known seeds in Palestine at that time. While it becomes more of a shrub than a tree, it can reach 10-15 feet high! And the mustard seed represents the gospel: The good news that the resurrection-of-Jesus-of-Nazareth-from-the-dead proved that Jesus was not just an ordinary man and that His death was not just an ordinary crucifixion; but that Jesus’ death on the cross was a sacrifice for the sins of all who would receive it, and that His death paid the penalty that our sins deserved, opening the way for all who believe to live in close-relationship with Almighty God! Comparing that good news with a mustard seed means that it would start very small but then grow to reach millions throughout the world who will inherit God’s Kingdom.

The field in which the mustard seed is planted represents all the people of the earth to whom the gospel is shared: You; me; those across the Tri-State area; across the United States; to the ends of the earth!

And yet, there remains a vast difference between even a huge bush and a tree. That the mustard seed grows far beyond its natural-capacity-to-become-a-bush and miraculously-grows into a full-fledged tree makes clear that God’s power is at work in the seed, at work in the gospel. So, the success of the gospel – the good news about Jesus Christ – is a supernatural phenomenon: The Church – the visible expression of the Kingdom of God from every nation, tribe, people, and language – will not grow on account of human strivings and human achievements. No. God will grow His Church and provide the growth miraculously, against all odds, obstacles, and reason!

A tree, whose many and large branches offer shelter and security for birds was a symbol often used by the Old Testament prophets for a mighty

Kingdom that would give shelter to the nations. So, the birds are the nations of the earth. The tiny mustard seed, supernaturally-growing to be a mustard tree, symbolizing Jesus’ offer of security and everlasting life in God’s Kingdom.

Now let’s look at the Parable of the Yeast…

First, picture with me your Easter trees, okay? I mean, everybody’s got their Easter trees up, right? We’ve gone out to the tree lots and bought our favorites, or gone out and cut down our own, and brought them home and decorated them with lights, tinsel, and ornaments, put our empty tomb scene underneath and our angel announcing that Christ is risen at the top, right? …

Are you wondering what the heck I’m talking about? Yeah. Well, that’s how, I think, the Lord Jesus’ hearers would have heard this parable about the yeast. Because, we don’t have Easter trees, right? We have Christmas trees! In the same way, yeast was not seen as a good thing! Yeast is mentioned 88 times in different places across the Bible, including this one. In all the other 87 places where yeast is talked about it is representative of sin or something bad.

So, when the Lord Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of Heaven being like “the yeast a woman used in making bread”, I think His hearers would have heard Him describing something sinful and bad, and, as a good Jewish man Himself, I think the Lord Jesus would have intended something sinful and bad, as well!

So, when Jesus says that the Kingdom of Heaven is like “the yeast a woman used in making bread”, I think He’s addressing the issue of unbelievers being a part of Christ’s Church here on the earth. And when He goes on to say that, “Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough,” I think the Lord is making the point that the presence of unbelievers and the ongoing sinful actions of even genuine believers will impact the entire church. And we must not be surprised by this nor shaken during those times when it becomes obvious to us.

For example: I know a man who went to church, but because people in that church sometimes talked about each other in gossip-y ways and sometimes didn’t tell the truth in order to make themselves look good and sometimes were clique-y together, he decided not to go to church anymore, if that’s what Christians were like.

Then, a couple years before he died, he came here to our church and, although we (I’m sure) had unbelievers and not-yet-sanctified things going on amongst us – just like his first church – he was so starved for Christian fellowship and worship with others and the challenges and encouragement that comes from Bible Studies and opportunities to serve… he was so starved for it all that he saw past any of the bad stuff here and spent his final year or two lamenting all he’d missed out on because he’d judged Christ’s Bride.

And, of course, don’t we all know so many people who call themselves “Christians” (and I hope they truly are) who aren’t a part of church-life because of this or that sad thing that happened to them when they were part of a church at some other time in their lives.

How sad for them. Jesus told the Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Yeast together for their sakes: Because Christ’s Church is going to grow – it’s going to grow supernaturally! and it’s going to turn the world upside down! – but there are going to be unbelievers hidden within her, as well, and because even sincere Christians will continue to sin their whole lives long – though, with God’s help, in lesser and lesser ways – hurts will happen and disappointments will occur as long as the Church is in the world, until Jesus Christ comes to make all things new!

But the hurts and disappointments will all be worth it because of the fellowship, and the fullness and fulfillment that come from worshiping with others, and the growth and thrill that come from studying and serving with others…

Yes, the Kingdom of Heaven will begin small – twelve apostles gathered in an upper room – but by the power of the Holy Spirit it will grow to become a world-wide Church made up of every nation, tribe, people, and language, a worldwide community finding rest for their souls in the Prince of Peace. Even so, sin and sinners, genuine believers and those just pretending, will always be a part of it – all mixed-up together – while it’s here on this earth.

And the Lord Jesus tells us in the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds not to worry about figuring out who is who and which is which, and in the Sermon on the Mount He warns His followers not to judge another believer’s faith (whether genuine or not). There are going to be believers and unbelievers in the church; there are going to be times when some genuine and lasting believers have times of weakness and fall into sin and seasons of sin, just as there will be times when seemingly-genuine but soon-to-fall-away believers will appear so steadfast and unmovable in the faith!

Don’t worry about it. Don’t judge their love for Christ or their salvation. The Father’s power and sovereignty are such that even the presence and influence of unbelievers and even the presence and influence of our sinfulness will work together to accomplish His world-shaking and all-things-being-made-new purposes! Let’s simpley rejoice in the our salvation! And let’s praise Him that even as we seek to leave our sinfulness behind that He’s not cast us off but continues to call us His Own!



“Name-Calling”March 25, 2018 A.D.by Pastor Ben Wilson

SERMON – “Name-Calling”

THE GOSPEL OF MARK 11:1-11 [NLTse]

1When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples 2and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and He sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the One Who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming Kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest Heaven!”

11Then He entered Jerusalem and went into the Temple; and when He had looked around at everything, as it was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.

SERMON

Palm Sunday…

Let me ask you: What’s the big deal about Jesus – or anybody! – riding into a city like Jerusalem on a donkey? I mean, Jesus wasn’t teaching or healing anybody or causing any trouble. As a matter of fact, He barely said or did anything at all! What were the palm branches all about? Why were the Jewish people shouting and singing Psalm 118? And why were they so excited? Why were the Jewish leaders telling everyone to be quiet and to go home? And

why were the Romans so up-in-arms and on-edge? Why did any of it matter? What was it all about?

These things seem so foreign to us. They don’t make any sense. What is going on? Well, let me help us by painting a little bit of a different picture…

Okay: We have the same Jerusalem and the same windy street coming down off the Mount of Olives. This street, too, is flocked by Jews: Shouting, excited, and waving things. But Jesus isn’t riding on a donkey, He’s riding in a black convertible Cadillac with the top down. He’s sitting on top of the back seat waving to the crowds. And the crowds aren’t waving palm branches but State of Israel flags. And in the background, it’s not Psalm 118 we hear, but, [Hum “Hail To The Chief”] …

“Hail To The Chief”: That’s the president’s song! And that’s what was going on that first Palm Sunday.

You see, beginning with the crowning of Solomon, all the kings of Israel rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, flocked by crowds of cheering supporters waving palm branches, and singing the famous verses from Psalm 118: “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful to see. This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. Please, Lord, please save us! Please, Lord, please give us success! Bless the One Who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless You from the house of the Lord.” (Vv. 22-26)

And Jesus is our King. He did come to be our King. But He is so much more of a king than what we think of and look to kings for.

We look to kings and want lower taxes. So, Jesus tells Simon Peter to go catch a fish and that Peter will find a coin in the fish’s mouth that will be enough to pay His and Peter’s taxes. Paying taxes? It’s a simple thing for Jesus, it’s an easy thing for Jesus. He’s inviting us into that Kingdom where gold and precious gems are so plentiful that they’re all-but-worthless: Used to make gates and streets and city walls…

We look to kings and want better healthcare. And so the Lord Jesus healed all who came to Him. He made the blind see. He restored hearing to the deaf. He made the lame walk and the mute speak and sing His praises! Affordable healthcare? It’s a simple thing for Jesus, it’s an easy thing for Jesus. He’s inviting us into that Kingdom where there is no more tears, no more death, no more sorrow, no more crying, or pain…

We look to kings and want safety and security from terrorists at home and abroad. So, Jesus tells us “If you can’t keep someone from striking you then offer to let them strike you again. If someone can make you carry their stuff one mile then offer to carry it all even farther. If someone can take some of your stuff then offer to give them more of your stuff.” Safety and security? It’s a simple thing for Jesus, it’s an easy thing for Jesus, as He reminds us that “All people in this world can do is kill your body!” He invites us into that Kingdom where Death has lost its sting, where they don’t practice war anymore, where our souls are secure, and life is forever and ever. Amen?

We look to kings to take care of and provide for us. And so Jesus tells tired Simon Peter and his tired crew who haven’t caught any fish all night long to cast their nets in a certain place. Simon knows it’s useless, but does it to honor the Master, and they bring in more fish than can fit in their boats! Thousands of people show up and there’s only a couple loaves of bread and some fish! No problem for Jesus to feed them all, with plenty to spare! Care and provision? Those are simple things for Jesus, easy things for Jesus. He’s inviting us to that Kingdom where everyone is content and there is peace for our souls…

Calming raging seas and banishing threatening storms are easy for Jesus. Simple. Bringing about justice in the face of lawlessness and contempt for God is easy for Jesus. Simple. Convicting the hard-hearted of sin and forgiving the hardened-sinner of all their sins is easy for Jesus. Simple. Making our lives comfortable and easy would be easy for Jesus; simple. So, if things aren’t comfortable and easy, then you and I can be certain that something else is going on. You and I can be certain that there’s a wonderful, God-honoring and for-your-good reason for all our trials and troubles. And our King is calling us to trust Him and listen to Him and obey Him and follow Him through it all.

The Jews lining the road from Bethphage to Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday, so long ago, were looking for a king who would liberate them from the Roman oppressors and set up a kingdom of righteousness in the City of David where then the Jews would become the world-power and exercise their dominion over the entire earth. But that would have been so easy! So simple! The Lord Jesus had so much more for His people and for all people! The Lord Jesus told the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, My followers would fight to keep Me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But My Kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36) The Lord Jesus hadn’t come to merely set Israel free from their oppressors. That would have been so easy! So simple! No. He came to set all people free from all oppression, and especially the sin that clings so closely!

As the Lord Jesus Christ rode into Jerusalem that day in His presidential procession, the King of the Jews – the King of Heaven and Earth! – was inaugurating, not a new nation, but a new creation! And here we are two-thousand years later: It’s already begun! He’s making all things (and people) new! He’s set us free from bondage to sin and the death that sin leads to. He’s renovating this world – these cosmos! – remodeling, restoring a reality where sin is no more and righteousness is at home!

O, dear Church! We are content with so little! We look to the Scriptures and hope for some just and safe and prosperous earthly government, earthly kingdom. But God has more! What no eye has ever seen! What no ear has ever heard! What no mind

has ever even imagined! That’s what God has for us in Christ our King!

That’s why we turn the other cheek and bless those who curse us and forgive and give to the poor and serve the unlovely and bear hope and kindness into the world: Because we owe a massive debt to Jesus Christ on account of the love He has shown us on the cross and in His resurrection from the dead and in His pouring out upon us the Holy Spirit. And He calls us to repay Him that debt by joining Him in telling His story with all those who’ll listen and loving the world.