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Sermon Series

 

December 8, 2013, AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”

2 “Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. 3 “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”

4 “You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. 5 “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

6 The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. 7 At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves.

8 When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. 9 Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

10 He replied, “I heard You walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.”

11 “Who told you that you were naked?” the Lord God asked. “Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?”

12 The man replied, “It was the woman You gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.”

13 Then the Lord God asked the woman, “What have you done?”

“The serpent deceived me,” she replied. “That’s why I ate it.”

14 Then the Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all animals, domestic and wild. You will crawl on your belly, groveling in the dust as long as you live. 15 And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”

16 Then He said to the woman,

“I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.”

17 And to the man He said,

“Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. 18 It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. 19 By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”

Sermon

Elder Joe Bell just read for us the account of “The Fall of Humanity”. The events it speaks of appear to have happened during the course of a single day, but it could have all happened across several days or even longer. (There’s no specific indications in the text.) But, enough to say that, in the words of one chapter is described humanity’s fall from a close, intimate, personal, living relationship with God to rebellion against and alienation from Him.

The telling of this incident in Genesis Chapter 3, short and sweet – in my opinion – does not do justice to the realities that must have been a part of these events. Because there is no commentary sharing what Adam and Eve were thinking they tend to come across as looking pretty “duped” and innocent in the whole thing, and the Lord God – our Father –coming across appearing so very harsh and over-reacting. (At least that’s how I’ve heard different people comment about it over many years.)

But notice that after the serpent – that dragon, the devil – tempted them with the idea of not having to trust God but to be able to know good from evil for themselves and to be able to become like God themselves, that Genesis tells us, “The woman was convinced.” (v. 6) Most literally the Hebrew says that she “saw” all that the serpent had told her, that is, she saw things differently after the serpent had spoken: Eve had given herself to a new lord. She no longer trusted God the Father but had come to believe the serpent, the devil, instead.

Interestingly, Genesis doesn’t tell us about Adam. Perhaps the idea percolated around his mind the rest of the day. (And perhaps even across several days, if it didn’t all happen right away.) But as he focused on the serpent’s promises more and more I imagine that pride began to form in his heart for what the devil promised him they could become, and lust for what he didn’t yet have, and anger at God for keeping it from them, and on and on until, I see he and Eve making their way to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil one day, and I picture Adam looking at the fruit of the Tree and then looking at Eve, and with a nod for her to go ahead, them silently agreeing to eat…

And suddenly they knew shame where before they’d only known innocence, and they tried to hide and distance themselves from God where before they’d only known vulnerability and security, and they blamed each other for their actions where before they’d taken responsibility… And the sheer pleasure of childbirth became tainted with pain, and the battle of the sexes began, and the joy of fulfilling work was spoiled by obligation and drudgery, and the reality of death entered the creation.

(Just an aside, one of the many harmful influences about evolutionary teaching – other than the fact that modern genetics has all but proven that species did not begin or develop that way – one of the many harmful influences about evolutionary teaching is death. Evolutionary teaching says that millions and billions of years of death produced humanity, but the Bible says that there was no death or dying or predators or hunting or anything else of the kind whatsoever before Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. [Of course, after the Fall God did permit human beings to hunt and trap and eat animals for food, and beasts began eating each other as food, but none of that was the case before the Fall.] And that’s what Jesus is leading us back to [or forward to]: That’s how the wolf will lie down with the lamb and the lion with the baby goat, etc… Because they won’t be predator and prey to one another any more! And a little child will lead them…)

So either the Bible is true or evolutionary teaching is true. And many teachers and professors and others will ridicule you if you believe the Bible, and such teaching causes people to doubt God’s Word, and so maybe this really means that in the Bible, and maybe it’s okay if I believe this part of the Scriptures but don’t believe that part… Again, that’s all just an aside…)

The reason I’m preaching about this here leading up to Christmas is, in our reading, did you see our Father promising Adam and Eve Jesus? Right here in Chapter 3 of Genesis! Look at it with me, v. 6, it’s our Father speaking to the serpent: The Lord says, “I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Some scholars over the years have minimized this verse to fable-like status, a cute reference as to why so many women don’t like snakes. Which may be cute but is clearly silly since not all women don’t like snakes. But it doesn’t even fit the context when the potentially plural of “offspring” becomes the absolutely singular as God promises, “He will strike your [the serpent’s] head, and you [the serpent] will strike his heel.” (Not only the first revelation that God will send a savior, but also the first revelation that that savior will suffer…)

Jesus Christ was not born Jesus of Nazareth just to save you from your sins. He was born to destroy that devil – Satan – and destroy the power of sin altogether, and every kind of rebellion and disobedience against God the Father once and for all! Jesus was not born at Christmastime in the hopes of making your life a little better. He was born in order to give you a new life! He wasn’t born in order to rent you and me for Sunday sing-a-longs and coffee clutches with His angels, He was born in order to buy us – body and soul! We are not our own, we’ve been purchased by His sinless death on the cross. We belong to God!

We had separated ourselves from God and Jesus came to make us friends of God. We were sons and daughters of destruction, but Jesus came to make us sons and daughters of God! We were headed for Hell, but Jesus came to be our bridge to Heaven-and-a-life-forever-with-God!

That’s Christmas! That’s why we sing! That’s why we decorate! That’s why we give gifts and have special parties and drive and travel to be with friends and family and other loved ones!

Because we couldn’t save ourselves: But God so loved us that He sent Jesus – the offspring of Eve – to save us! Our rebellion against God the Father and our constant hiding from Him left a God-shaped hole within each human beings’ heart. Try as we might nothing else can fill it! And God sent Jesus to come and fill it with what it had been made for, Himself!

Ephesians 2 says that since Adam and Eve that human beings are born and live in sin, obeying the devil – the commander of the powers in the unseen world. It is the devil’s power and influence over unredeemed human beings that keeps people refusing to obey God and following their self-centered and sin-drenched passions and predispositions. And in that condition, though people are technically “living” beings, the Bible says they are dead… And that is who we were. And the apostle Paul writes, “It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, He embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on His Own, with no help from us! Then He picked us up and set us down in highest Heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.” (Ephesians 2:4-6)

Sin has been defeated! Death has lost its sting! A new heavens and a new earth have been established and our Lord Jesus will bring them when He returns for us! He came the first time, just as God had promised, at Christmas. And the reality and celebration of Christmas is the down payment – our sure and certain hope – that He will indeed come back again!

That’s Christmas! That’s why He was born! Let these truths, let these wonders fill up our blessings and our “Merry Christmas’” and our celebrations with family and friends this wondrous season!

Now all glory to God, Who is able to make you strong, just as my Good News says. This message about Jesus Christ has revealed His plan for you Gentiles, a plan kept secret from the beginning of time. But now as the prophets foretold and as the eternal God has commanded, this message is made known to all Gentiles everywhere, so that they too might believe and obey Him. All glory to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, forever. Amen. (Romans 16:25-27)



November 24, 2013 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

Psalm 32 [NLTse] – A psalm of David.

1 Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! 2 Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty! 3 When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. 4 Day and night Your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.

Interlude

5 Finally, I confessed all my sins to You and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And You forgave me! All my guilt is gone.

Interlude

6 Therefore, let all the godly pray to You while there is still time, that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment. 7 For You are my hiding place; You protect me from trouble. You surround me with songs of victory.

Interlude

8 The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. 9 Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”

10 Many sorrows come to the wicked, but unfailing love surrounds those who trust the Lord. 11 So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you who obey Him! Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!

Sermon

In 1 Timothy 4:7-8 the apostle Paul writes to the young pastor, “Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales. Instead, train yourself to be godly. ‘Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.’”

When Paul speaks of training ourselves to be godly here he is using the Greek word gyumnadze, and we get gymnastics and gymnasium from that word. Literally, gyumnadze means “to exercise naked” (most literally, that’s what it means), because that’s what they did in those days.

Our modern athletes wear extra clothing – special clothing – and equipment when they compete. But in ancient times all the material in those loose robes and tunics could wrap around and impede your movement, so athletes would remove their clothes, taking off anything that might get in their way and keep them from doing their best.

I share this because we Christians must also “remove” anything that might hinder our goal of godliness. (First of all, of course, we must establish godliness as being our goal. But after that, we must remove anything that might in any way keep us from reaching that goal.) And as King David sings in Psalm 32, confession of sin is the way we Christians take off that which would drag us down so that we can be free to put on that which is truly helpful.

Hebrews 12:1, also using an athletics metaphor, puts it this way, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”

Our Father in Heaven calls us to enter His “gym” and get rid of everything that would keep us from doing our best. Guilt weighs heavy on a soul. Everything around us can be wonderful and bless-ed, but if we have un-confessed sin in our lives, our loving God and Father puts His heavy hand of discipline upon us until we admit it, until we confess it. He calls us to “stand naked” – transparent – before Him, painting an honest picture of ourselves, and asking for His forgiveness…

Many may tell you that it is foolish to confess your sins and admit your faults because it just gives those around you power over you. But “nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to Whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13) The truth is that God already knows our sins and already has power over us. He calls us to confess our sins for the same reason a parent wants a child to confess or a judge wants a guilty criminal to confess, so that we can show Him we are sorry and willing to take responsibility for our actions.

Proverbs 28:13 says,  “He who conceals his sin does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” And 1 John 1:9 promises, “If we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” The Lord’s purpose is to restore, not ruin, a person who is honest before Him. And His intention is not to just forgive us, His plan is to wash us clean!

When my kids were younger they could play hide-and-seek for hours. I’d watch them shut themselves in a closet or cover themselves in a blanket and they would shout from their “hiding place”, “Dad, go count and then come find me!” When we keep our sins to ourselves we foolishly think that we’re hiding well, not realizing that God knows exactly where we are. And, of course, the best part of the game for my kids was not the hiding, but being found.

Jesus has come and found us overwhelmed by fears and death and worries and sin of every kind. He has found us and offered us a deal, a new covenant: He will take our sin and go to the cross and put our sin to death there if we will take His righteousness and come to the cross and live our lives according to His Spirit-within-us that we’ll find there. But in order to take His righteousness we need to first give Him our sin: Our liberation comes through confession…

As we come to the Lord’s Table today – His great thanksgiving banquet! – let us trust our God and Father to free us from our burdens of guilt and shame, remorse and disgrace. True confession to God always precedes true communion with God. Let us confess our sins…



November 17, 2013 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

Psalm 40 [NLTse]

For the choir director: A psalm of David.

1 I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and He turned to me and heard my cry. 2 He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. 3 He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what He has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord.

4 Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord, who have no confidence in the proud or in those who worship idols. 5 O Lord my God, You have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them.

6 You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings. Now that You have made me listen, I finally understand—You don’t require burnt offerings or sin offerings. 7 Then I said, “Look, I have come. As is written about me in the Scriptures: 8 I take joy in doing Your will, my God, for Your instructions are written on my heart.”

9 I have told all Your people about Your justice. I have not been afraid to speak out, as You, O Lord, well know. 10 I have not kept the good news of Your justice hidden in my heart; I have talked about Your faithfulness and saving power. I have told everyone in the great assembly of Your unfailing love and faithfulness.

11 Lord, don’t hold back Your tender mercies from me. Let Your unfailing love and faithfulness always protect me. 12 For troubles surround me—too many to count! My sins pile up so high I can’t see my way out. They outnumber the hairs on my head. I have lost all courage.

13 Please, Lord, rescue me! Come quickly, Lord, and help me. 14 May those who try to destroy me be humiliated and put to shame. May those who take delight in my trouble be turned back in disgrace. 15 Let them be horrified by their shame, for they said, “Aha! We’ve got him now!”

16 But may all who search for You be filled with joy and gladness in You. May those who love Your salvation repeatedly shout, “The Lord is great!” 17 As for me, since I am poor and needy, let the Lord keep me in His thoughts. You are my helper and my savior. O my God, do not delay.

Why? What? How? Now!

Sermon – “Waiting… Waiting On The Lord”

Last week we looked across the Scriptures at the promise and wonders of Jesus’ return. That message began by acknowledging how frequently the promise of His return gets talked about across the Old and New Testaments – by Job, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Paul, Peter, James, John, as well as the Lord Jesus Himself, and often including great detail about His coming.

And, of course, He charges us to wait for Him. He calls us to expect His return. For Christians to live this life with anticipation!

And yet, after 2,000 years of waiting, here in our “microwave”, want-it-right-away society, I think the temptation can be for our anticipation to more often look like this…

But ditching ketchup for mayonnaise, or choosing to eat a dry burger instead of waiting and waiting and waiting is altogether different than not being ready when Jesus returns.

The Lord told a story one time about being ready and not being ready. He said, “Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. The five who were foolish didn’t take enough olive oil for their lamps, but the other five were wise enough to take along extra oil. When the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight they were roused by the shout, ‘Look, the bridegroom is coming! Come out and meet him!’

“All the bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. Then the five foolish ones asked the others, ‘Please give us some of your oil because our lamps are going out.’

“But the others replied, ‘We don’t have enough for all of us. Go to a shop and buy some for yourselves.’

“But while they were gone to buy oil, the bridegroom came. Then those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was locked. Later, when the other five bridesmaids returned, they stood outside, calling, ‘Lord! Lord! Open the door for us!’

“But he called back, ‘Believe me, I don’t know you!’

And Jesus ended saying, “So you, too, must keep watch! For you do not know the day or hour of My return.” (Matthew 25:1-13)

So being “ready” is not an option, nor is readiness something we can hope our church or our fellow Christians can do for us. We need to be ready, our lamps full when Jesus returns.

And yet even more, the Christian life is filled with waiting of all sorts, as we seek God’s guidance, cry out to Him for help, pray and wait for His answer… Waiting expectantly is a part of our following Christ and living by faith here in the world. But what does that look like, waiting expectantly? How do we nurture anticipation in ourselves? How do we live “ready” for something that may happen at any moment, and yet may not happen in our lifetimes?

In our Scripture reading from Psalm 40 this morning, King David was waiting, expectantly waiting. Verse 1 is most literally translated, “I waited and waited for the LORD to help me…” So David’s making it clear that he’d been banging on the bottle with his shoe for some time. But in verse 2 he goes on to make sure we know that it was worth it.

In Matthew 7:7-8 the Lord Jesus makes clear, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

So if we want to nurture anticipation for Christ’s return in ourselves, we need to keep asking Jesus to return in our prayers. And as we wait for other promises to be fulfilled, we need to keep on asking for them to be fulfilled. And as we pray and wait for God’s response, we need to keep on praying and keep our eyes and spirits open for His response.

One of the benefits – King David sings – to waiting expectantly (if you’ll look down at verse 3 with me) is that when the Lord does fulfill His promises and respond to our prayers that – because we’ve been so open about and sharing with those around us what we’ve been asking Him for and seeking from Him that – “Many will see what He has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the LORD.”

So “How Do We Nurture Anticipation?
How Do We Live ‘Ready’?” We keep asking Jesus to return; we keep on asking, seeking, knocking; we keep on praying…

(As we keep on praying, let’s not rebel too quickly against the waiting. Into verse 6 it says, “Now that You have made me listen, I finally understand…” and it goes on telling what God had revealed to David during his time waiting.

When we are actively, expectantly waiting on the Lord He’s got our full attention. He’s “making us listen”, and as we wait we can hear Him reveal things to us that we might at other times miss.)

As we wait, as we keep praying, verses 9-10 show us David boasting to those around him about God’s character and His faithfulness. As we wait on the Lord – to return, to answer our prayers – it helps our waiting to rehearse what He’s done for us in our past (and what He’s done for others, if that’s helpful.) I know some folks who keep a journal or a diary of God’s answers to prayer, His acts of saving power in their lives or that they’ve witnessed around them. Praising God and remembering and sharing with others all He’s done to deliver us before, to help us before, to answer us before, it all circles around to feed #1 and help keep us praying.

And we need this praising and we need this remembering what He’s done before because, as verses 11-12 show, as we wait it can sometimes become harder and harder to see beyond our problems: Our troubles can seem too many; our sins can seem too high; we can lose all courage as we wait.

So we fight that and nurture anticipation and live “ready” by Keeping asking Jesus to return, that is, by keeping on praying, and by regularly praising God and reminding ourselves and telling others about all He’s done for us in the past.

The Psalm closes with a prayer that others might find the Lord, too, knowing His joy and gladness, loving His salvation and praising Him, too! Likewise it can be such a great blessing for us, in the midst of our waiting and feeling the pressures of our troubles and temptations, being enticed by it all to be consumed by our thoughts about me, me, me, me, me to set our thoughts and some of our praying on others: That others around us would know the Lord; that they would know His love and His grace and His saving power; and that they would be encouraged as God responds to our prayers (and that we might be encouraged as He, perhaps, responds to theirs).

1) Keep on praying

2) Praise Him and tell again and again His saving acts

3) Pray for others to be saved and delivered and that God would answer their prayers.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are celebrations with much waiting and getting ready. May these seasons waitings and preparations remind us and keep us expectantly waiting as Jesus’ return draws near.