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Sermon Series

 

June 1, 2014 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

According to John 14:27 [NLTse]
“I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

Sermon – “What’s Keeping You From God?”
The Bible shows us that after His resurrection from the dead that Jesus appeared on and off to His disciples during a period of forty days. On that fortieth day (the anniversary of which was this past Thursday) Jesus was lifted up while His disciples were watching Him, lifted up into the sky towards space until the disciples lost sight of Him because of clouds.

Again and again across His visits to the disciples after He was raised but before He had ascended Jesus greeted them saying, “Peace be with you.” Every time He first sees them He blesses them saying, “Peace be with you.” It wasn’t a greeting He’d used prior to His sacrifice and resurrection. But now it’s the only greeting He seems to use, and Paul and the other apostolic writers similarly bless their readers saying, “Peace be with you” or “Grace and peace to you” or “Grace, joy, and peace be with you”…

I was studying the Greek word used across the New Testament for “peace” – the word eirene – and saw that eirene may have been derived from the Greek verb eiro which means “to join”. And I started wondering what joining had to do with peace… What I came up with is, by Jesus saying, “Peace be with you,” that He was calling the disciples to join with Him, to be on His team, to no longer be at odds with Him. At the same time He was declaring to them that they were joined with Him, that they were on His team, that they were no longer at odds with Him: “Peace be with you.”

And if that’s correct, then all the good things that are a part of God’s shalom – Christ’s peace – all the health and wealth and acceptance and contentment and fulfillment and wholeness and joy … that all the gifts and blessings of God – His salvation – are ours only as a part of joining with Him and our living joined to Him and our daily and throughout each day awareness of living joined to God the Father through Christ our Savior by the working of the Holy Spirit.

Whether this is absolutely true in the word peace/eirene or not, the idea is surely true in Jesus’ teachings about the blessings that come from abiding in Him and having Him abide in us. When Jesus speaks of Himself as the vine and each of us as individual branches, He’s telling us that the Father’s blessings, abundance, guidance, supernatural influence and authority, love, comfort, provision, care, etc… are all contingent upon our living joined with Him, nurturing our friendship with Him, giving our best to our relationship with Him, and our awareness throughout each day of being joined, being friends, living in relationship with God.

This truth is proclaimed and experienced in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper, as well. Jesus isn’t looking to merely have us believe that He is the Savior of the world or to merely have us believe that the resurrection is true. After all, a person can believe all those things and still not give their hearts and lives to Him. No, Jesus wants us to eat Him, and drink Him: To taste Him and see that He is good; and that means He wants us to experience Him and to savor and treasure His place and presence in our lives. (That’s why the communion bread is always the very best bread! And why we don’t get the 10% juice grape juice but only the 100% juice kind! Jesus is the best and wants us to taste and see!)

The Lord tells us that if we love Him we’ll obey His commandments and that then He’ll send His Holy Spirit so that we’ll know Jesus and the Father with us forever! He’s not giving us His commandments to ruin our fun or to get those around us thinking we’re weird. He’s given us His commandments so that we can taste Him and see how good He is; so that we can experience how good life abiding in Him and Him abiding in us is; so that we can experience His peace – this kind of peace  that the world can’t give and that keeps a person from every being troubled or afraid ever again.

Would you like that, to never be troubled or afraid ever again? Then, “Peace be with you.” “Taste and see.” “Have faith and live by that faith.”

I used to think that Jesus saying, “Peace be with you,” or the apostles writing, “Grace and peace to you,” were a charge or a challenge to us to remember something: To remember that since Jesus went to the cross that now nothing exists to stand between us and God. I thought that remembering that truth gave us power and grounding in what Jesus has done and its impact on our lives. I used to think it was important knowledge to help live abundantly day by day. But it’s so much more than that!

Jesus has come and died and given us the Holy Spirit so that we might be joined with God. It’s not that He’s given us something to carry around in our heads so that we can try to remember and get our thinking right. (Though meditating on His truth can help us change our thinking and help us live our lives more based on the truth.) But I know now that Jesus’ peace is so much more than merely “right thinking”. He’s made us into something new. Before He brought us to believe, we were on our own, cut off, separate, independent, divorced from the things of God. But now Jesus is with us (by the Holy Spirit that He’s sent to us), and now we’re joined to Him, we’re a part of Him, we’re dependent on Him, and we’ve become married again to the things of God, and to God Himself!

So what’s keeping you from God? It’s surely not anything on God’s side of the relationship. He’s made a way, a living Way, more miraculous than any parting of the Red Sea. He’s given us His Word; He’s given us His Son; He’s given us the Holy Spirit. What’s keeping you from receiving? What’s keeping you from tasting and seeing – trying and experiencing – His goodness?
He’s given us His commandments; are you loving Him by living by them? He’s given us the Lord’s Supper; are you feeding on bread and juice or are you participating in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ? He’s given us worship; are you singing hymns and worship songs or are you thanking, praising, and offering yourselves to Him? He’s given us His Word; are you reading the Bible or are you listening to Him speak to you? He’s given you His love; are you looking for more or are you letting it fill your hearts and satisfy your souls?
?
Come! Eat and drink. Love Him. Follow Him. Peace be with you!



May 11, 2014 A.D, by Pastor Ben Willis

Sermon
“How devoted are you to your mother?”
That can be a hard question to answer in a day like ours when the sadnesses and horrors of dysfunctional families and parental abuses are no longer “family secrets” but the stuff of headlines and bestsellers and Facebook message boards for all to see. And yet, generally speaking, you can still get away with insulting somebody’s dad, but don’t you go saying anything about someone’s mama!

So, again, I ask you: “How devoted are you to your mother?”
The Church used to be looked at as “a mother” to disciples. (We Protestants don’t tend to talk about that very much because it’s often thought of as a Catholic thing. But when Jesus was told that His mother and brothers were wanting to see Him, He responded, “My mother and My brothers are all those who hear God’s Word and obey it.” (Luke 8:20-21) And when a woman from the crowds following Him cried out to Jesus, “God bless Your mother – the womb from which You came, and the breasts that nursed You!” Jesus replied, “Even more blessed are all who hear the Word of God and put it into practice.” (Luke 11:27-28) So it was the Lord Jesus Himself Who changed our thinking to begin looking at fellow disciples and lovers of the Lord as family, and the church itself as “mother”.

2 John is even written to “to the chosen lady and to her children.” (2 John 1:1) Written during a time of intense persecution against Christians, it is universally understood that John was writing in code to “The Church”, with “the lady’s children” understood to be the particular “members” of the congregation.

This idea of Church as “mother” was so accepted and understood that The Revelation pictures the Church as “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head.” (12:1) This woman gives birth to God’s Messiah, and so the devil pursues her and “declared war against the rest of her children – all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus.” (vv. 5, 13, 17) Again, a vision of the Church and her particular members.

My mom was a great mom; is a great mom (I can say as I thank God for her being alive and still a part of my life today). I was in a lot of plays during my Middle- and High School years. My mom never missed a performance. I have vague but happy memories of special birthdays for me that she planned and celebrated. I can remember her always bringing me ginger ale and saltine crackers when I was sick in bed, and a cool cloth that she would use to wipe my face with. I remember when I was in third or fourth grade telling her I was going to marry her, and not knowing what I was going to do when she told me that she was already married to my dad, and that I would fall in love with another woman someday and marry her. I could talk with my mom about almost anything, and we would talk about lots of things together: Girls, growing up, school, friends, finances, honor, and responsibility.

Anybody here have a short-but-sweet story you want to share about your mom? …

My first memories of Church are warm, welcoming memories: Being invited by a friend to sing in his church’s children’s choir; a friendly Sunday School teacher when I used to go to church with neighbors; happy and fun church dinners and breakfasts; holding hands with a girl under the table during Confirmation Class; and the pastor joking with me about silly things I’d written in my senior yearbook page… But Church became the place I went when I was in trouble, too. When I realized I was developing a drinking problem I went and talked to the pastor. It was fellow Christians that first spotted God calling me to be a pastor. It was the Church that encouraged me and comforted me and surrounded me and my family when my little brother was killed.

The Church hasn’t been perfect (as no mother is ever perfect). I have lots of memories where the Church wasn’t there when I needed her; when the Church said and did hurtful – horribly hurtful – things. But, as we just said, no mother’s perfect…

Anybody have a short-but-sweet story you want to share about Mother church? …

So, how devoted are you to your mother?

Acts 2 tells us that the first Christians devoted themselves to Mother Church by being a part of the apostles’ teaching times and not missing the opportunities for fellowship and sharing meals, and by participating in the congregational prayer times. They devoted themselves. That word “devoted” conveys a picture of a boat reserved for a particular trip, or of a manservant or maidservant who has no commitments all day or night except to be at their master’s beck-and-call. So for those first Christians, if there was teaching or get-togethers or meals or prayer times going on among the church, if they could be, they were there!

How devoted are you to your Mother?

In the Ten Commandments, Commandment Five is “Honor your father and mother.” It is the only Commandment that comes with a promise, “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”
Acts 2 gives us a picture of what devotion to Mother Church looks like, and then gives a picture of what results from such devotion: Those first Christians were filled with a deep sense of awe; many miraculous signs and wonders were being performed by the leaders; they were always getting together and sharing their things (as though God owned all their things and not they themselves); and they looked forward to Worship; and shared their meals together; and they overflowed with joy and generosity! and, all the people around them thought highly of them; and more and more and always more people became followers of Christ! All as the result of being so devoted to their Mother…

Don’t you want that: Being in awe of God, or being in awe of Him again – like you used to? Seeing and hearing about miracles happening all around you and being a part of them yourself? Never again fearing that you’ll be in need? Living secure that the Church has your back and that you have theirs? Bursting with joy? and generosity? People thinking highly of you around town and our communities? (Can you picture it?) And more and more and more of our neighbors, and the business- and government-folk around us, and our teachers and friends and colleagues at work coming to Christ?

… Don’t you want that?

All because we’re devoted to our Mother.

How devoted are you to your Mother?



May 4, 2014, A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

According to Luke 23:46 [NLTse]

13 That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus Himself suddenly came and began walking with them. 16 But God kept them from recognizing Him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. 18 Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”

19 “What things?” Jesus asked.

“The things that happened to Jesus, the Man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet Who did powerful miracles, and He was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. 20 But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed Him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified Him. 21 We had hoped He was the Messiah Who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.

22 “Then some women from our group of His followers were at His tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. 23 They said His body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! 24 Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, His body was gone, just as the women had said.”

25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. 26 Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering His glory?” 27 Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.

28 By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if He were going on, 29 but they begged Him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So He went home with them. 30 As they sat down to eat, He took the bread and blessed it. Then He broke it and gave it to them. 31 Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him. And at that moment He disappeared!

32 They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as He talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” 33 And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, 34 who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter.”

35 Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized Him as he was breaking the bread. 36 And just as they were telling about it, Jesus Himself was suddenly standing there among them. “Peace be with you,” He said.

Sermon

It is a two-hour walk from Jerusalem northwest to Emmaus. (Though the exact location of the city is unknown.) It was common to travel in groups, catching up with those walking ahead of you or slowing down so others could catch up to you. The bigger your band the less likely you would be bothered by thieves and muggers. So when Cleopas and the other disciple – perhaps his wife or perhaps some other – saw Jesus (though they didn’t recognize Him to be Jesus) they welcomed Him to walk with them.

Jerusalem in these days was quite a place. If we likened Rome to New York City, we might liken Jerusalem to Vatican City: Much smaller than its cosmopolitan, center of the world counterpart, but with lots of grandeur and glamor of its own. And although it might not have had much influence when compared to Rome and the great cities of the Empire, just as Vatican City speaks for all the world’s Roman Catholics, Jerusalem spoke for all the Empire’s many Jews. And because it was the center of Jewish life, during holy days like the Festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Shelters, it would have been packed to overflowing with Jews from across the Empire: From Parthia, Medea, Elam, Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, Rome, Crete, and Arabia… And after three years of doing powerful miracles and showing Himself to be a mighty teacher, many of the Jews across the Empire had heard about Jesus of Nazareth, wondering if He were the Christ – God’s Messiah, and had come for the Passover hoping to see Him and judge for themselves.

But this Man who’d joined Cleopas and his companion didn’t seem to know anything about these things…

Until suddenly, after they’d told Him all about their messianic hopes and their confusion over His missing body, this stranger says, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering His glory?”

Would you open your Bibles with me to Genesis chapter 3… [As people turn to the page] This is the account of Eve’s being tempted by the Serpent and Adam and Eve’s choosing to trust the devil over God… After Adam and Eve eat the fruit God has told them not to eat, the Lord pays them a visit and – in v. 15 – speaking to the Serpent, He says, “Because you have done this, you are cursed … I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her Offspring. He will strike your head and your will strike His heel.” (v. 15)

Do you see? “Offspring” in English can be either singular or plural, but the Hebrew makes clear that this “offspring” is singular. One of Eve’s descendents will give the Serpent a death blow, but in doing so that Descendent will Himself be struck in return! From the beginning of all things God has told us to expect a suffering savior!

Turn to the Prophet Isaiah, 53… [As people turn the page] This passage is titled “The Suffering Servant”, though many Jewish Bibles distort this chapter, and it is not included in Jewish synagogue haftorah – that is, weekly Scripture readings…

“My Servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about His appearance, nothing to attract us to Him. He was despised and rejected—a Man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on Him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.

“Yet it was our weaknesses He carried; it was our sorrows that weighed Him down. And we thought His troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for His Own sins! But He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on Him the sins of us all.

“He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet He never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, He did not open His mouth. Unjustly condemned, He was led away. No one cared that He died without descendants, that His life was cut short in midstream. But He was struck down for the rebellion of My people. He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But He was buried like a criminal; He was put in a rich man’s grave.

“But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush Him and cause Him grief. Yet when His life is made an offering for sin, He will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in His hands. When He sees all that is accomplished by His anguish, He will be satisfied. And because of His experience, My righteous Servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for He will bear all their sins. I will give Him the honors of a victorious soldier, because He exposed Himself to death. He was counted among the rebels. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.”

Jesus Christ’s suffering was His path to glory. But the disciples were so caught up in the world’s admiration of political power and military might that they had become blinded to God’s Kingdom values: That the last will be first, and that life grows out of death.

Let’s look at the Prophet Zechariah, chapter 12 together… 500 years before Jesus’ birth Zechariah is speaking for God as to when He will deliver Jerusalem from all its enemies. And in v. 10 Zechariah speaks for the Lord, “Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the family of David and on the people of Jerusalem. They will look on Me Whom they have pierced and mourn for Him as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for Him as for a firstborn who has died…” (Now jump down to 13:1…) “On that day a fountain will be opened for the dynasty of David and for the people of Jerusalem, a fountain to cleanse them from all their sins and impurity.”

Do you see it? Sins forgiven! The rebellion started by Adam and Eve overturned! The relationship lost in the Garden restored! A spirit of grace and prayer, but the cost would be God Himself being pierced! And their grieving bitterly for Him like the way parents grieve and mourn at the death of an only child…

The Father had prepared His people – and has prepared us all – for a stricken Striker, a murdered Messiah, a crucified King. But the idea of a suffering Servant is no more popular today than 2,000 years ago.

So let us not be discouraged by bad circumstances or upsetting events or horrors or trials of any kind. Jesus said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

We follow the Suffering Servant; the crucified King. And to share in His glory we must first share in His sufferings. (See Romans 8:17)