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Sermon Series

 

April 7, 2013 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

ELDER: Pastor Ben had begun preaching through the Gospel of John prior to these past Lenten and Easter Sundays. So we are picking up where he left off, reading from

John 3:13-21 [NLTse]

13 No one has ever gone to Heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from Heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life.

16 “For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him.

18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in Him. But anyone who does not believe in Him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. 19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s Light came into the world, but people loved the Darkness more than the Light, for their actions were evil. 20 All who do evil hate the Light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the Light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.”

As many of you know, my mother and her sisters own a summer house on a little island off the coast of Maine. There’s an interesting mixture of cultures up in that part of the world with those who live in absolute poverty living right alongside the mega-rich. My family and I ride the public ferry to get back and forth between the mainland and the island, wheel-barrowing our luggage and groceries the mile-or-so between the public dock and our house (because there are no cars allowed on the island), but our neighbors have several boats of their own, and a butler and a boat captain who coordinate all of their travels and belongings for them. It’s an interesting place to have grown up vacationing and to be now taking my family vacationing there, as well!

Several years ago I was in a little town called Somesville to buy a book at a local bookseller. The person ahead of me had a nice little pile of books in their hands, and when they got to the register they told the clerk to charge it to their mother’s (or perhaps it was their grandmother’s) account, I forget which. (That’s a pretty common practice you can see happening in all manner of long-standing stores and shops up there.) I remember thinking, “Wouldn’t that be nice to just be able to live off of another person’s wealth.” (Of course, practically speaking, I realize that’s exactly what I’m doing when I go up there, too. After all, it’s not my house where I’m staying, but is my mom’s and her sister’s.)

But the memory got me thinking that in a grander, more ultimate, way that’s how every Christian person lives: We live off of another person’s wealth: Because the entire debt of our sins has been charged to Christ’s account; and His unimaginable riches in righteousness have been credited to ours!

Let’s look at this together. Would you turn to Romans 3:23… 23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when He freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed His life, shedding His blood.”

Notice there the double-switch that happens when we put our trust in Jesus Christ: First, we’re freed from the just and right penalty we deserve because of our sins on account of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross; and then, second, when we believe, we’re made right with God, and are declared righteous, “Not guilty!” by Him.

This is called Justification By Faith. It is the instantaneous, legal act of God whereby, in response to our faith, God (1) declares our sins as having been forgiven – once and for all time – and (2) declares Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, declaring us to be righteous in His sight on account of our faith.

This is the good news of the gospel. Would you turn to Romans 3:28 with me? It says it this way, “28 We are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.”

Some of you may be wondering about all the good things we do and that all those Christians around the world do: “Doesn’t it matter that I’m a good person and that I’m trying so hard to be a good person?” Of course it matters! But it doesn’t make us right with God.

The Lord Jesus’ half-brother, James (who ended up leading the church in Jerusalem after the apostles all went out preaching and setting up churches), wrote about this same thing. Let’s turn to his letter – James – 2:14… He writes, “14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”

19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. 20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

“… 26 Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.”

So, you see, the good things we do and our acts of kindness and forgiving others are important, but they are important because they show those around us that we are Christians – men and women, boys and girls of faith. In addition, our good works are important because they show God’s character to those around us, as well – that is, people come to know that God is loving, that He is joyful, that He is peaceful, that He is patient, kind, good, faithful, 23 gentle, and self-controlled because they see those characteristics in us, His people of faith.

But none of these wonderful things we say or do make us right with God. Galatians 2:16 puts it this way, “16 We know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.”

I’ve quoted a variety of Scripture, but perhaps, even so, you refuse to believe this is justification by faith thing is true, because if it is then anybody could just believe and then be forgiven, even the most horrible of people! Right? And, of course, yes, that is true; that is the gospel: Anyone can be forgiven – even you – anyone can be forgiven and be made right with God if they actively trust in what God the Father has told us through the Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ has done. Otherwise, if our good deeds and kind words and forgiving and gracious ways – if all these things saved us and made us to be righteous, then we could all brag about it, couldn’t we? and say we’d all earned our salvation. And then we could point everyone around us to ourselves and say, “Look at me! Look at me! Be like me! Be like me!” But that’s not God’s way.

God’s way no one gets to take credit. Would you turn with me to Ephesians 2:8-9… “8 God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” You see, because our salvation is something that only God has done, and God alone, now we must point everyone to Him, saying, “Look at God! Look at what He’s done! Look what He does! He’s done it for me! He’ll do it for you!” As Philippians 3:9 says, “I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with Himself depends on faith.”

What all this justification by faith stuff practically means is that anybody can be made right with God. And that being made right with God is not based upon whether we’re a good person or not, and it doesn’t matter whether we feel like we’re right with God or not. It is a work that God does all by Himself, when we trust Him and live trusting Him. Anyone can be made right with God by trusting what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, and then doing the good works God then leads us to do.

[Ask someone:] Who can be made right with God? [The correct answer: “Anyone.”]

[Ask someone else:] And how is a person made right with God? [The correct answer is: “By trusting what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.”]

[Ask someone else:] And what else is important to make sure that our faith is real and alive? [The correct answer is: “By doing the good works God leads us to do once we’ve believed.”]

[Ask someone else:] Do those good things make us right with God? [The correct answer is: “No, we are made right with God according to our faith and trust in Christ.”]

Maybe you’ve decided that God could never love you… Not if He really knew who you were and all you’d done. You’ve tried being good, you’ve tried being good but you can’t! At least not good enough.

Well, believe the good news of justification by faith! Believe the good news of the gospel: According to your trust in Jesus Christ God declares you “not guilty” of sin, and instead declares you righteous and right with Him!

Believe that. Trust that. Live that! And live!



March 31, 2013 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

The Gospel According to Matthew 28:1-9 [NLTse]

Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb.

2 Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from Heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. 3 His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. 4 The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.

5 Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, Who was crucified. 6 He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as He said would happen. Come, see where His body was lying. 7 And now, go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead, and He is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see Him there. Remember what I have told you.”

8 The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. 9 And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to Him, grasped His feet, and worshiped Him…

If you type into your internet Browser: “10 Reasons To Believe Christ Rose From The Dead” you’ll get a variety of hits from a variety of different websites. This is a fairly typical list that I found on Radio Bible Class’ website at rbc.org:

10 Reasons To Believe Christ Rose From The Dead

  1. A pubic execution assured His death.
  2. In spite of guards, the grave was found empty.
  3. Many people claimed to have seen Him alive.
  • (By the time he wrote 1 Corinthians – about AD55 – the Apostle Paul claims that more than 500 different people had seen the Lord Jesus raised from the dead; 15:5-8 )
  1. A high official secured the gravesite.
  2. His apostles were dramatically changed.
  3. Witnesses were willing to die for their claims.
  4. Jewish believers changed their day of worship.
  5. Although it was unexpected, it was clearly predicted.
  6. It was a fitting climax to a miraculous life.

10.It fits the experience of those who trust Him.

There is probably no event across human history that has been more challenged, researched, debated, and proven than Jesus of Nazareth’s being raised from the dead. And yet many continue to not believe and doubt. I think people reject the facts because if Jesus was raised from the dead then He truly is all that He claimed to be. And if Jesus is truly all that He claimed to be, then all human beings are indeed subject to an almighty Creator, Lover, and Judge; and, that all human beings are indeed sinners deserving of punishment and judgment for our sins. Of course, if Jesus is truly all that He claimed to be, then it’s also true that God is for us and not against us (as some would slander); that Jesus has come and served the death-penalty for our sins; and, that, since He’s saved us in these ways that, He’s set us free to live not in fear or needing to control but at peace with Him, with the Holy Spirit living within us and giving us the power and ability when we need it, to accomplish His good works here on the Earth until Jesus returns to judge and make all things new!

This Resurrection-Easter morning I’d like us to focus on this last “evidence” for believing that Jesus is indeed alive: “That it fits the experience of those who trust Him.” And I’d like to invite Elder NAME to come forward to the Pulpit…

T: Geoffrey; Steve; Doug; Neil

C: Marilyn N.; Donna; Marilyn Y.; Joe

God’s highest purpose for the cross was not merely to forgive us of sin. It was so that, by forgiving us on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice, He could invite us back into an intimate, loving relationship with Him, our heavenly Father.

That Jesus Christ is alive is mind-boggling. But we must not be content to read the Scriptures and hear others’ stories and be awed by them. The Scriptures prophesy and these Elders testify to the reality of the close, on-going relationship that God the Father desires to have with us all by His Son, through His Spirit! A relationship He desires for us to pursue and enjoy our whole lives long.

John 1:12 says, “…to all who believed Him and accepted Him, [Jesus] gave the right to become children of God.” Do you believe that? Do you accept that? Do you believe Him? Do you accept Him?



March 24, 2013 AD, Sermon by Pastor Ben Willis

The Book of Joshua 1:1-9 [NLTse]

After the death of Moses the Lord’s servant, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant. He said, 2 “Moses My servant is dead. Therefore, the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them. 3 I promise you what I promised Moses: ‘Wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you— 4 from the Negev wilderness in the south to the Lebanon mountains in the north, from the Euphrates River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, including all the land of the Hittites.’ 5 No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you.

6 “Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. 7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. 8 Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. 9 This is My command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

As the Book of Joshua opens the Israelites are uuu camped along the east bank of the Jordan River, at the very edge of the Promised Land, and they are completing the mourning period for Moses who has just died.

Before his death, the Lord commissioned Moses’ assistant, Joshua, to lead Israel in Moses’ place. Joshua was one of only two living eyewitnesses to the Egyptian plagues and the Exodus from Egypt, and not only had he served as Moses’ assistant, but he had served as the commander of Israel’s armies during their wilderness wanderings.

The Lord promises Joshua what He had promised Moses, and what He had first promised Abraham (recorded back in Genesis 15): That all the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites would be Israel’s; from the Negev wildlands in the south to the Lebanon Mountains in the north, from the Euphrates River in the east to the Mediterranean coast on the west.

The Lord God Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, tells Joshua this first day of his “new job”, “No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live.” (v. 5a) Why? Because Joshua was so great? Or because Israel had developed into such a formidable force? No. No one would be able to stand against Joshua as long as he lived, God says, because “I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you!” (v. 5b)

The Lord God commands Joshua, “Be strong and courageous!” (v. 6a) Why? God says, because “you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them.” (6b) Moses didn’t appoint Joshua; and, Joshua wasn’t Israel’s choice: God picked him; Joshua was the one God had chosen to lead Israel to receive all God’s promises.

The Lord commands, “Be strong and very courageous,” but He also commands Joshua to “be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them…” (v. 7a-c) Why? Because “then you will be successful in everything you do.” (v. 7d)

To attain success humanity has always worked to make sure they had enough money, worked to make sure they had the right training, worked to make sure they had the proper people. And all of this may be wise and wisdom. But the Sovereign Lord makes absolutely clear, “Do you want to be successful? Then obey My Word; trust Me explicitly.” He says, “It will require strength of character and great courage because I uuu use “things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And [I use] things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. [I use] things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and use them to bring to nothing what the world considers important.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-28) You need to be strong and courageous because you won’t always look like you’re going to succeed – it may never seem to you like you’re going to succeed – but that’s because I’m going to make sure that I get the glory, not you,” says the Lord.

“If you want to be truly successful, successful here and now and forever with a success no one can ever take away from you, you need to be strong and courageous and do what I tell you to do when I tell you to do it. For I am with you, and I will always be with you,” says the Lord.

What’s Joshua’s part? The Lord tells him: “Study this Book of Instruction continually” (v. 8a) The NIV translation reads, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth,” and most literally it says, “Do not let this Book of the Law be removed from your mouth.” So the idea is, always keep it in your mouth, that is, be talking about it all the time: Ask questions about it, remind those around you of it, keep it as a part of your everyday conversation, etc… Of course, the New Living Translation we use says, “study”, because in a culture that did not yet have books or printing presses and where writings were rare and scarce, a person studied by talking about things with the wise, the elderly, those with more years and more experience, debating, saying, “Yeah, but,” “yeah, but,” and “what if…?” and “what if…?”

The Lord also tells Joshua, “Meditate on it day and night…” (v. 8b) We talked about Christian meditation last week: How in Christian meditation we repeat God’s truths to ourselves in order to take them into ourselves to replace the lies, deceptions, and half-truths we’ve often come to believe across the years before we became Christians. Why does the Lord want Joshua to meditate on His Word, on the truth? “So you will be sure to obey everything written in it,” God says.

Life in Christ is about believing the right things, but it is not just about believing. Paul uuu writes to the Ephesians, “God saved you by His grace when you believed… Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” (2:8-9) But Jesus’ half-brother, James, also made uuu clear: But “do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says!” (1:22) Through the faith that has saved us the Holy Spirit seeks to transform each of us – heart, mind, words, and deeds – into the likeness of Christ!

“Be strong… Be courageous… Obey Me… Study My Word… Meditate on My Truth… Only then will you prosper and succeed in everything you do.” (v. 8) Joshua’s success was not guaranteed unconditionally. For the very same reasons, neither is ours…

Surely our beloved Jesus had to live-out these commands given to Joshua to “Be strong and courageous!” because the Lord Jesus is the ultimate example of God’s using “things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise; using things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful; using things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, to bring to nothing what the world considers important.” After all, yes, He was hailed as king by His people that first Palm Sunday, but within the week those same crowds were yelling, “Crucify Him!” And they did. And He let them.

He stepped up to the plate, expected by His followers and all those watching Him to hit a grand slam home run! But He intentionally struck out, instead! How strong, how courageous one needs to be to look the fool, to seem the weakling to all those whom You created in the first place! (And so many of the world religions deny Jesus was the Son of God today just for that reason, saying that God would never allow Himself to be so mocked and so abused, no matter what.)

How strong and courageous our God! To pay the price of the sins of His creatures at the hands of His creatures! And then to still offer them – us – saving grace..!

“Be strong and courageous!” the Father commanded Him, “because it’s going to seem like You’re losing. But Your victory, My Son, will  be the greatest victory the world has ever known; the victory the world’s been waiting for ever since Adam and Eve believed that Serpent instead of Me!”

“Jesus, meek and mild,” I hear people say. I tell you, there is indomitable strength in His meekness – in true meekness; and there is courage in His mild-manner – in true mild-manneredness!

My friends, be strong, be courageous: Let us not ever be afraid or discouraged. For Emmanuel, the Lord our God, is with us wherever we go!

Hosanna in the highest Heaven! Save us, Lord! Thank You for saving us, Lord!