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Sermon Series

 

April 6, 2014 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

According to John 11:1-44 [NLTse]

A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha. 2 This is the Mary who later poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair. Her brother, Lazarus, was sick. 3 So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling Him, “Lord, Your dear friend is very sick.”

4 But when Jesus heard about it He said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” 5 So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, 6 He stayed where He was for the next two days. 7 Finally, He said to His disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”

8 But His disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to stone You. Are you going there again?”

9 Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. 10 But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.” 11 Then He said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.”

12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” 13 They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died.

14 So He told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.”

16 Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.”

17 When Jesus arrived at Bethany, He was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. 18 Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, 19 and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. 20 When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him. But Mary stayed in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give You whatever You ask.”

23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”

25 Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in Me will live, even after dying. 26 Everyone who lives in Me and believes in Me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she told Him. “I have always believed You are the Messiah, the Son of God, the One Who has come into the world from God.” 28 Then she returned to Mary. She called Mary aside from the mourners and told her, “The Teacher is here and wants to see you.” 29 So Mary immediately went to Him.

30 Jesus had stayed outside the village, at the place where Martha met Him. 31 When the people who were at the house consoling Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there. 32 When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at His feet and said, “Lord, if only You had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and He was deeply troubled. 34 “Where have you put him?” He asked them.

They told Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Then Jesus wept. 36 The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much He loved him!” 37 But some said, “This Man healed a blind man. Couldn’t He have kept Lazarus from dying?”

38 Jesus was still angry as He arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.

But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”

40 Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” 41 So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to Heaven and said, “Father, thank You for hearing Me. 42 You always hear Me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe You sent Me.” 43 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”

Sermon

The focus for today’s message is not the Lord Jesus bringing Lazarus back from the dead. And yet how can we read about it without being amazed by God’s grace? What must the Lord Jesus have been experiencing to pray, “Father, thank You for hearing Me”? Had He asked the Father for Lazarus’ life, and had the Holy Spirit spoken and given Him the Father’s okay? We don’t know. But Jesus says to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in Me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in Me and believes in Me will never ever die.” And then Jesus, always ready to back up His claims with action proves it by tearing Lazarus out of Death’s hands and bringing him back from the dead!

He is God, this Jesus Whom we worship. Only God has the power over life and death. And Jesus brings Lazarus back to prove that He and the Father are indeed one! How great is our God! How mighty is our Savior! Our lives can be put in no better hands and to no better use than trusting Him, repenting of our old ways, and living our lives following Him wherever He leads!

Amen?

Now, along with the Lord Jesus’ confidence of the Father’s hearing His prayer for Lazarus, I want to draw our attention to v. 21 and Martha’s confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ, where she says: “Lord, if only You had been here, my brother would not have died.” She doesn’t say, “Lord, if you’d been here, You might have been able to save Lazarus.” No, she said, “If you’d been here, my brother would not have died.” And her sister Mary shows that same faith when in v. 32 she falls at Jesus’ feet and says the exact same words: “Lord, if only You had been here, my brother would not have died.”

How confident – like children – these sisters are, not only confident in Jesus’ power but also confident in Jesus’ love for them and their brother that they knew – they knew – that He would have used God’s power to save their brother, Lazarus.

Are we as confident? How confident are you that Jesus has and will keep on saving you through your troubles and through to the new Heaven and Earth and eternal life? Are you “pretty sure”? Do you like to “hope so”? We talk about being the family of God. What assurance to you have that you’re part of God’s family? Being the Church is like being a part of God’s team here in the world. How confident are you that you’re on God’s team?

Earlier in John the Lord tells us how we can have such confidence. He says, “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 to life.” (5:24) Most literally Jesus is talking here about “those who are listeners [on-going action] and those who are believers [on-going action] have eternal life.” And the “believers” here is that pisteu-o I spoke about some months ago: Not some passive, intellectual believing but a faith that reorders our values, priorities, and morals and directs our thoughts, words, and actions according to what we have believed.

So, I ask you, “Who here has listened to Jesus’ good news message?” … And, “Who here have believed that message, acting on it and letting it transform your lives?” … Well, then, according to Jesus Christ – not according to me – but according to Jesus, as you continue listening and believing you will never be condemned for your sins having already passed from death to life!

That’s you..! That’s me..! Hooray!

Let’s look at another one: 1 John 5:13… The apostle writes, “I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know you have eternal life.” John is telling us, and all who would read his letter, that if we believe in the name of the Son of God – Jesus – that we have eternal life. Again, believe is on-going action, so most literally, “you who continue believing”, and “believe” is, again, pisteu-o, that is, faith that is active, exercised, acted upon, and that transforms us more and more into the likeness of Christ.

Again, I ask you, “Who here believes in Jesus Christ, and has let His great news change what we set our minds to, what we say and how we say it, and what we do and why we do it? Have you let His great news change you?” Then, according to the apostle John, you have eternal life!

And we need to know this. We need this confidence. We need this assurance. Because, what happens to a child who isn’t assured of their mother and their father’s love? They go looking for love in all the wrong places. And what do Christians do who are not assured of the Father’s love? We add to the good news: Things like, God will save me because I’ve been good, or, God will save me because I tithe, or, God will save me because I gave up this or that bad habit, or, God will save me because I helped this or that person, etc.

All of these acts are a part of our believing Christian life, but none of them is why God has saved us. No, we are saved because, by God the Holy Spirit coming upon us and within us, we miraculously continue listening to and actively believing on the great news of Jesus’ sacrifice for sin, and our having been born anew into His resurrection-life because of it!

As a part of your devotions one day this week, write down a description of when, where, and how you began listening to the good news and began believing it.

Our Father not only wants us to be saved from sin, eternal death, and the fear of death, He also wants us to know He’s saved us from it all. The Lord Jesus is asking us, along with Martha, today, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in Me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in Me and believes in Me will never ever die. Are you believing this?”



March 30, 2014 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

Introduction

The word “holy,” in contemporary thinking, has become almost like an offense. How insulting to be thought of as “holy” (“O, aren’t you so holy!”), even in the church. Many want to add God to their lives but with little or no change needed on our parts. Some Christians want to be just like everyone else, they want to fit in, not make waves.

But the Christian life is not for those kinds of people. Because, by its very nature, being a Christian means being holy, being different. The Old Testament prophets, along with John the Baptist and, of course, then Jesus, called for a radical change for those who would trust and obey God. “Believe!” and “repent!” are at the heart of all truly New Testament preaching.

And “repent” means to change, not only our thinking but our actions. When we become disciples of Christ we are saved from the death our old desires and practices are leading us to, and called to live lives of holiness.

This call to holiness comes very early in Peter’s first letter and continues to be stressed throughout…

1 Peter 1:13-2:3 [NLTse]

13 So think clearly and exercise self-control. Look forward to the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. 14 So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. 15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God Who chose you is holy. 16 For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”

17 And remember that the heavenly Father to Whom you pray has no favorites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of Him during your time as “foreigners in the land.” 18 For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom He paid was not mere gold or silver. 19 It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. 20 God chose Him as your ransom long before the world began, but He has now revealed Him to you in these last days.

21 Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because He raised Christ from the dead and gave Him great glory.

22 You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart.

23 For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living Word of God. 24 As the Scriptures say,

“People are like grass; their beauty is like a flower in the field. The grass withers and the flower fades. 25 But the Word of the Lord remains forever.”

And that Word is the Good News that was preached to you.

So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. 2 Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, 3 now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

Sermon

We often minimize the gravity of our sin. “It’s no big deal,” we can think to ourselves. “I’m not as bad as others.” And likely you are not. But our standard for holiness as Christians is not “others”. Our Father doesn’t say, “Be holy because others are holy,” He says, “Be holy because I am holy.”

How casually, sometimes, we talk about our holy God and pray for the Holy Spirit: We pray for Him to come into our churches and into our hearts, but what would He find if He should come? Might He not find much that is painful and agonizing to Him?

Evangelist, writer, pastor, and educator R. A. Torrey once wrote, “What would we think if vile women from the lowest den of iniquity in a great city should go to the purest woman in the city and invite her to come and live with them in their disgusting vileness with no intention of changing their evil ways? But that would not be as shocking as for you and me to ask the Holy Spirit to come and dwell in our hearts when we have not thought of giving up our impurity, or our selfishness, or our worldliness, or our sin. It would not be as shocking as it is for us to invite the Holy Spirit to come into our churches when they are full of worldliness and selfishness and contention and envy and pride, and all that is unholy. But if the denizens of the lowest and vilest den of infamy should go to the purest and most Christ-like woman asking her to go and dwell with them with the intention of putting away everything that was vile and evil and giving to this holy and Christ-like woman the entire control of the place, she would go. And as sinful and selfish and imperfect as we may be, the infinitely Holy Spirit is ready to come and take His dwelling in our heart if we will surrender to Him the absolute control of our lives, and allow Him to bring everything in thought and fancy and feeling and purpose and imagination and action into conformity with His will. The infinitely Holy Spirit is ready to come into our churches, however imperfect and worldly they may be now, if we are willing to put the absolute control of everything in His hands.”

We are, all of us here, sinners. But we have not all given up our sin. Some of us cling to our sins – our impure thoughts, our gluttony, our sexual perversions and lusts, our hostility, our greed – we cling to our sins, our insecurities, our fears, but they keep us from Christ. So let’s lay them down!

Some of us will not give-over control of our lives to the Holy Spirit, needing and wanting to remain in control ourselves. We’ve always been jealous, proud, angry, unforgiving, ambitious, divisive, and conceited. “What’s wrong with that?”

What’s wrong is that Christ has put such things to death in His death on the cross, and He has put them to death in you! So cast them off today!

We don’t understand God’s hatred of sin, nor do we understand how destructive such ways are, so we keep on in our worrying and wild living, in our controlling and our lying and our “me”, “me”, “me” focus, in our quarreling and gossiping and envy… But they are killing you and killing those around you, your sins…

Because some are murderers, idolaters, and drunks, and because some have been involved in demonic activities, and because some are cheaters and adulterers and thieves Jesus Christ, the Son of God, had to be sacrificed, and whipped almost to death! He needed to be mocked and to die shamefully – completely rejected by His family and friends and all humanity because of our sins…

In his first letter, John writes, “We are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in [sin]; we are not practicing the truth. 7 But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 6-7)

Let’s come to the cross…

Matthew 5:13-16 [NLTse]

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.

2 Corinthians 6:14-18 [NLTse]

How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? 15 What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? 16 And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said:

“I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be My people. 17 Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you. 18 And I will be your Father, and you will be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”



March 23, 2014 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians 5:12-22 [NLTse]
12 Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. 13 Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other.
14 Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.
15 See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people.
16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
19 Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. 20 Do not scoff at prophecies, 21 but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. 22 Stay away from every kind of evil.

Sermon
Richard Foster begins his book, Celebration of Prayer, saying, “We today yearn for prayer and hide from prayer. We are attracted to it and repelled by it. We believe prayer is something we should do, even something we want to do, but it seems like a chasm stands between us and actually praying. We experience the agony of prayerlessness…
Does he speak for you? Do you want to pray, even yearn to pray, but for some reason avoid the practice when opportunities come? Do you find yourself too busy with work and family obligations to spend set-apart time fellowshipping with God? And yet you’re aware that your busyness rarely keeps you from eating or sleeping or shopping or watching the big game.

Do you believe that before you can really pray that your life needs some fine tuning? or that you need to know more about how to pray? or that you need to understand better how prayer works? Etc., etc…?

Let me steal your crutch and take away all your excuses by saying that you and I will never have pure enough motives, or be good enough, or know enough in order to pray rightly. So it’s time to set all these things aside and begin praying.
I’m not talking about what many have come to call “flash praying”: Those interactions we might have with the Lord as He comes to our mind at different times throughout the day, or when situations around us turn our hearts towards prayer. These are good. “Flash praying” is good. But Paul writes to the Thessalonians in verse 17, “Never stop praying.” And “flash praying” is a part of that, but God’s Spirit is calling us to something more.

“Praying without ceasing” means praying repeatedly and often. “Without ceasing” translates the Greek word adialeiptos. And in Romans 1:9, where Paul uses this word in a different context, he writes, “God knows how often I pray for you. Day and night [adialeiptos] I bring you and your needs in prayer to God, whom I serve with all my heart by spreading the Good News about his Son.”

Although Paul says, “Day and night,” surely he wasn’t in prayer for the Romans every minute of his waking hours, or even every minute of his prayers. Surely he also prayed about the many other things we read of throughout his letters. And yet clearly he mentioned them over and over, and often.
So “without ceasing” doesn’t mean that we have to be speaking prayers every minute of the day, but that we should be praying again and again, and often.
Paul is calling the Thessalonians – and all Christians – to make prayer a regular, habitual, recurring, disciplined part of our lives. We, who have put our independent, old lives to death with Christ and been raised to new lives, wholly dependent on God’s grace, need to treat prayer the way we treat eating and sleeping and doing our jobs; not hit or miss about it; not assuming that time will mystically appear in the midst of our other things. A husband who says he doesn’t need to have special times alone with his wife because he always feels so very close to her will not long feel so very close. Paul is calling all of us to a life of regular, planned meetings with God in prayer in which we praise Him for Who He is, and thank Him for what He has done, and ask Him for help, and seek His blessing on those we love, including the peoples of the world.
Don’t be discouraged if you’ve always had trouble praying. You don’t take an occasional jogger and sign them up for a marathon. If prayer is not a regular discipline for you, then set a goal for something that is practical and do-able for you, and begin there.

Jesus’ example to us is one of “rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark” and going out to a desolate place to pray (Mark 1:35), and also of going up to area mountains to pray, and praying “to God all night” (Luke 6:12).

Early-morning prayer begins our day acknowledging our dependence on God and giving whatever our waking hours may hold into His hands. Instead of waiting until temptations hit and we feel surrounded and overwhelmed, early-morning prayer takes the initiative and strikes first in the spiritual battles of our-coming day. And, of course, it is so predictable how Satan uses even good things to squeeze prayer out of our schedules. If we say to ourselves, “I will give some time to prayer later,” it generally does not happen.

So, saints across the centuries have demonstrated there to be many benefits to early-morning prayer. That being said, I tend to be an late-evening prayer person. But regardless of when, I would encourage us all to enjoy several times of prayer across our days: A longer time in focused prayer and Bible reading in the morning or at night (though it could be anytime), and then two or three other shorter times throughout the day, perhaps consistent with waking and/or mealtimes and bedtime.
These shorter occasions for prayer may be no more than a few minutes: A few minutes of focused calm and quiet, with your Bible open in front of you (or perhaps recalling and refreshing in your mind the words of the Scripture you were reading during the longer, morning or evening devotional time), asking that God would grant you contentment in Him for the next part of the day, and free you from sinful desires, so that you might shine for Christ and love people… So you are consciously dedicating every part of each day to God in focused prayer.
(And it is amazing how just a few minutes reading and praying the Word of God can bring spiritual clarity and power and peaceful-joy to the hours and segments of our days, even in the midst of much pressure.)

Plan ahead of time not only when but where you will pray and read throughout each day. (As we’ve already stated, the Devil will thwart you if you let him.) The longer, devotional time will need a place of relative privacy so you are not distracted and are able to read and sing and even cry…

Perhaps you don’t have space in your home for a “prayer closet” (as some call it). So do your best, perhaps explaining to your spouse or children or your roommate that when you are in that chair at that time that you would like to be undisturbed. Consider where could you create such a space? Do you have a spare closet where you could have a kneeling cushion, with a light for reading the Bible? Is there space under your stairs for a prayer bench or chair?

Evangelist and minister to orphans, George Mueller, used to take a walk for his longer devotional time: “I find it very beneficial to my health to walk thus for meditation before breakfast, and am now so in the habit of using the time for that purpose, that when I get into the open air, I generally take out a New Testament of good sized type which I carry with me for that purpose… I find it very profitable, not only to my body, but also to my soul.”

Most people (and that surely includes me) don’t have the godliness of heart and mind to offer up to God prayers of significant spiritual impact for any length of time. I think that to pray for longer than a few minutes in a God-centered, Christ-exalting way requires help. So let the passages you are reading devotionally be transformed into the basis for your prayers: Leading you to confess sin or to give thanks, to ask God for the help He’s promised or offered for you or those around you in the world; and then go on to the next words of verse, turning it all into prayer for yourselves or others as the Word leads you to it.

Prayer is nothing more than the communication in an ongoing and growing love-relationship between you and God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Anybody can do it because only one thing is required: Love.
So, “never stop praying”; or as Paul says to the Romans, “keep on praying” (Romans 12:12); and to the Ephesians, “pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion… alert and… persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere” (Ephesians 6:18); and to the Philippians, “devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.”
Would you pray with me?

Father in Heaven: By Your Spirit, help us to honor those who lead us in Your work. Grant us the grace to show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. Be among us that we would live peacefully with each other.
Speaking the truth in love, move us to warn those who are lazy and to encourage those who are timid and to care tenderly for those who are weak. Holy Spirit, overflow us with patience for everyone.
May we so follow after our crucified King, Your life the source for our lives, Lord Jesus, that not one of us would pay back evil to those committing evil against us, but always seek to do good to each other and to all people.
Fill us with Your joy; disciple us so that we never stop praying; and, move us to thanksgiving in all our circumstances.
May we never stifle the Holy Spirit, not scoffing at prophecies, but testing them instead. Grant us to hold on to what is good and to stay away from evil of every kind. We know this is Your will for all those who belong to Jesus Christ. And we ask, praying in Jesus’ name.
Amen?