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January 13, 2013 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

The Gospel According to John 1:19-34 [NLTse]

35 The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples. 36 As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” 37 When John’s two disciples heard this, they followed Jesus.

38 Jesus looked around and saw them following. “What do you want?” He asked them.

They replied, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are You staying?”

39 “Come and see,” He said. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when they went with Him to the place where He was staying, and they remained with Him the rest of the day.

40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of these men who heard what John said and then followed Jesus. 41 Andrew went to find his brother, Simon, and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means “Christ”).

42 Then Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus. Looking intently at Simon, Jesus said, “Your name is Simon, son of John—but you will be called Cephas” (which means “Peter”).

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Come, follow Me.”44 Philip was from Bethsaida, Andrew and Peter’s hometown.

45 Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

46 “Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

“Come and see for yourself,” Philip replied.

47 As they approached, Jesus said, “Now here is a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.”

48 “How do You know about me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus replied, “I could see you under the fig tree before Philip found you.”

49 Then Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!”

50 Jesus asked him, “Do you believe this just because I told you I had seen you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” 51 Then He said, “I tell you the truth, you will all see Heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man, the One Who is the stairway between Heaven and Earth.”

In our reading from John’s Gospel today we read about the gathering of Jesus’ first disciples: John the Baptist sends two of his disciples off to begin following Jesus; one is Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, who immediately goes to find his brother Simon to tell him about Jesus; and once back in Galilee Jesus calls a fellow named Phillip to follow Him, who immediately goes and tells his friend, Nathanael.

When Andrew brings his brother, Simon, to Jesus something significant happens: The Bible tells us, “Looking intently at Simon, Jesus said, ‘Your name is Simon, son of John—but you will be called Cephas’ (which means ‘Peter’).” [A rock.]

The word translated “looking intently” is the Greek word emblepsos, which most literally means to look upon (in the sense of “taking it all in”) but also to look into in the spiritual sense of Jesus truly knowing someone: Their secret thoughts, their heart, the very depths of their soul…

We don’t get to know whether or not Simon likes being called “rock”, but then we do get to see Jesus’ meeting with Nathanael, where the Lord Jesus says, “Now here is a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.”

Likewise in other passages we know that Jesus called the brothers James and John “Boanerges”, sons of thunder, and another Simon among the apostles was called “the zealot”. I’ve heard sermons relating what hotheads and troublemakers James and John must have been for Jesus to call them that. (Though they don’t come across that way in any of the Gospels.) And I’ve heard lectures telling how this other Simon must have been part of the anti-Roman group called the Zealots to have been named that. But what if James and John were relatively quiet, never rocking-the-boat kind of men? (The Bible shows us they had a domineering and pushy mom, and I can imagine sons with such mothers growing up to be that way.) What if Jesus named James and John “sons of thunder” because when He looked into them that is what He knew they truly were and would be? What if Simon was called “the zealot” not because of some political group he had been affiliated with, but because once Simon was in Christ and Christ was in him that he would be known for his zeal, “the zealot”?

The Bible shows us that Simon Peter was a people-pleaser: Telling Jesus he would die with Him, but then telling a servant-girl and bystanders three times that he’d never known the Lord; He ate forbidden foods with Gentile believers in Antioch, but then followers of the Torah-Law came to Antioch he started doing what they taught was right and wouldn’t even sit with the Gentile believers any longer. But Jesus said Simon would be called a rock!

And although Nathanael comes across as kind of a cynical and mocking sort, Jesus says, “No, that’s no longer you; you’re a man of absolute integrity.”

I pledged a fraternity my freshman year in college. During one of our “activities” one of the seniors in the fraternity was giving telling us what he thought of each of us. When he came to me he told me he thought I was “Indomitable”. (It means “impossible to subdue or defeat”.) He said to me something like, “When we make people a part of this fraternity our hazing and other activities are intended to break you down and make you to be just like us. And you go along, Willis: You do our pushups and situps and go through the nasty hoops we make you jump through. But I don’t think we’re breaking you down like the rest. And that might be good for you, or that might not…”

It’s funny that that name became kind of important to me across those years, a name I rallied around when times were especially difficult; a name that helped me hold onto who I was when my understanding of who I was began getting blurry.

To the Church in Pergamum, in The Revelation to John, the Lord Jesus writes, “To everyone who is victorious I will give some of the manna that has been hidden away in Heaven. And I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it.”

What does the Lord Jesus see when He looks into you? Don’t be distracted by what a retched sinner you think you are and so be thinking that that’s all He can see in you. Jesus came to save sinners. Jesus loves you. He loves sinners. Your sin doesn’t impress Him. He’s died for it and satisfied God’s justice against it on the cross. And don’t be distracted by your own sense of self-importance, if that blinds you. No one who is anybody is anything apart from Jesus Christ: Apart from Him we can do nothing.

What does the Lord see when He looks into you? I believe He has a new name for us all, a name that describes who we truly are born anew in Him…

The Lord Jesus knows you inside and out, the good and the bad, the beautiful and the shameful. And He loves you. And a part of His knowing you, a part of His looking at you intently in love to-save-you-and-rescue-you-and-make-you-new is this new name – a new identity, a new character – that He has for you, that is who you truly are now that you are in Him and He is in you! Who are you? What is your name?

Today and these days I encourage us to ask Jesus to tell you what your new name is. When you hear this name from Him in prayer or your readings, write it down. Study what it means. Share it with a wise, Christian confidant. Is it really your new name? If not, keep asking Him and waiting. If it is, rally around that name, meditate on your name, let it define you when the lines of who you are seem to be getting blurry, and when you have opportunities to make new choices that will show you and those around you the new kind of person Christ has re-made you to be.

In Jesus Christ the old has gone the new has come.



January 6, 2013 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

The Gospel According to John 1:19-34 [NLTse]

19 This was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Temple assistants from Jerusalem to ask John, “Who are you?” 20 He came right out and said, “I am not the Messiah.”

21 “Well then, who are you?” they asked. “Are you Elijah?”

“No,” he replied.

“Are you the Prophet we are expecting?”

“No.”

22 “Then who are you? We need an answer for those who sent us. What do you have to say about yourself?”

23 John replied in the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“I am a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Clear the way for the Lord’s coming!’”

24 Then the Pharisees who had been sent 25 asked him, “If you aren’t the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet, what right do you have to baptize?”

26 John told them, “I baptize with water, but right here in the crowd is someone you do not recognize. 27 Though His ministry follows mine, I’m not even worthy to be His slave and untie the straps of His sandal.”

28 This encounter took place in Bethany, an area east of the Jordan River, where John was baptizing.

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world! 30 He is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘A Man is coming after me Who is far greater than I am, for He existed long before me.’ 31 I did not recognize Him as the Messiah, but I have been baptizing with water so that He might be revealed to Israel.”

32 Then John testified, “I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from Heaven and resting upon Him. 33 I didn’t know He was the One, but when God sent me to baptize with water, He told me, ‘The One on Whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the One Who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that He is the Chosen One of God.”

One of the things that’s maybe different for me as a pastor than for most of you is that I spend most of my time with Christian people: People who have received Jesus of Nazareth as their Lord and Savior, people who are living their lives in fellowship with God, people who are trusting in His Word, and who are looking to Him to save… Most of you are working with, going up and down the halls with, standing in the check-out lines with people who are trying to save themselves, living their lives far away from God.

Because of this, one of the things that I get to see that’s a little bit different from what all of you see out there is that living knowing our sins are forgiven, living knowing that God has adopted us into His family, living in the hope of a better life to come in the new Heaven and the new Earth that Jesus is going to bring with Him when He comes back for us: I get to see that that isn’t enough for all God has planned for us – His children – here in the world.

I get to see many committed Christian people having trouble in their marriages. I get to see many committed Christian people struggling in their attitudes towards unsavory friends and co-workers. I get to see many committed Christian people losing the battle against putting too much focus and hope in the political scene. I get to see many committed Christian people overcome by their own desires and temptations, whether addictions or sinful habits or old, pre-Christian patterns of dealing with people: Unforgiveness, perfectionism, the need to be in control, etc… I get to see many committed Christians who are trying to live abundantly, and failing; people who have been washed and cleansed of their sins and are living in friendship, as sons and daughters of God, but who don’t have the power, don’t have the strength, don’t have it in them to overcome…

And then there are others – many committed Christian people – who are very capable, incredibly capable, who seem to be succeeding and overcoming this world. But I get to see that many of them are doing so by adopting the world’s ways and the world’s standards. They are more aggressive, more dominating, better arguers than those brothers and sisters and others around them. Some get their way by making people feel sorry for them. Others manipulate to get what they want. And, of course, many of these truly believe that what they want is what God wants. But I get to see that they seem to be succeeding and overcoming in this world because they are living and practicing ways that are very, very different from Jesus’ way: The way Jesus overcame the world.

The Bible shows us a power in Jesus Christ that all the powers in the world could not overthrow. We never see Him forcing Himself onto people. We never see Him arguing with people so that they’d believe Him. (We see Him arguing against what was false, but there is not a sense in His debates that He believed debate to be a way to bring His opponents into the Kingdom.) We never see Him fighting. We do see His zeal for God. We do see His willingness to stand firm, immoveable, for Kingdom causes. We even see His willingness to let those whom He loved around Him suffer when it would bring God glory. Of course, we see His willingness to be beaten, to be ridiculed, to be mocked, and even to die so that righteousness could be seen, and so that God’s purposes would be accomplished. Through it all He’s never the victim. Through it all we see Him victorious: Always the strong one; always overcoming.

King Jesus expressed (and still expresses) His power by serving even the “least of these” in His Kingdom. Jesus expressed His power by letting Himself be sacrificed, giving up His Own life so that those around Him might more fully live! Jesus expressed (and still expresses) His power through love. He makes His power known through joy. It is Jesus’ Own resurrection power that is His peace. We see Him showing God’s might through patience. He demonstrates His mighty nature through kindness. He shows the life and power that brought all creation into being through His generosity. He lives out the power that is able to forgive people’s sins by acts of faithfulness. The Lord Jesus Christ shows His power to be so superior to the power of the Evil One by being gentle. He shows us the authority He has over everything in Heaven and on the Earth through acts of self-control.

Such meek and lowly expressions of power! So contrary to the ways and standards of the world!

It reminds me, of course, of another group of Christians I get to see on a regular basis, being a pastor: Christians who are maybe wonderfully talented, and others who maybe are not; some who are very intelligent, and others who aren’t so much; Christians around us who have so very much to give, and others who are clearly lacking, and perhaps even need a lot of help themselves. But it is brothers and sisters around us in this church and in this community who are living not according to their own abilities and power but according to the abilities and power of the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist said, “When God sent me to baptize with water, He told me, ‘The One on Whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the One Who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’”

My friends; my brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ: Being washed and cleansed through John’s baptism with water is only the beginning – Commencement – of all that our Father wants for us now that He’s drawn us near to Himself through Jesus’ cleansing work on the cross. We need the Lord Jesus to baptize us with the Holy Spirit! For the sake of our marriages, we need the Holy Spirit. So that we might be godly dads and moms, and to help us raise our children to know God as their loving Father, we need the Holy Spirit. To be godly and obedient children, we need the Holy Spirit. To be hard-working, trustworthy, employees we need the Holy Spirit.

We need the Holy Spirit so we might be truly merciful, and so we might know how to truly help others in their times of need. We the Holy Spirit to stand against temptation and show people God’s righteousness with joy and thanksgiving! We need the Holy Spirit so that we might forgive others and seek one another’s forgiveness. We need the Holy Spirit to know the Father’s love, because it is the Holy Spirit Who pours the Father’s love into a person’s heart.

Perhaps you believe the Lord Jesus baptized you with the Holy Spirit when you first trusted in Him, or perhaps you had some marvelous experience when the Lord Jesus baptized you with the Holy Spirit. Praise God that you’ve received Jesus’ baptism! But He desires to baptize you again and again and again! Once filled with His Spirit we can’t help but pour ourselves out into the lives of others in acts of goodness and kindness, and sharing the good news about Jesus with them as we do. So we need to be re-filled, again and again and again! As Ephesians 5:18 says, “Keep being filled with the Holy Spirit.”



December 16, 2012 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

The Prophet Isaiah 9:1-7 [NLTse]

Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the Sea, will be filled with glory.

2 The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. 3 You will enlarge the nation of Israel, and its people will rejoice. They will rejoice before You as people rejoice at the harvest and like warriors dividing the plunder. 4 For You will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders. You will break the oppressor’s rod, just as You did when You destroyed the army of Midian. 5 The boots of the warrior and the uniforms bloodstained by war will all be burned. They will be fuel for the fire.

6 For a Child is born to us, a Son is given to us. The government will rest on His shoulders. And He will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of His ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!

As some of you may have noticed, this is the same passage of Scripture we read last week. Last week we spoke of how these promises of “a great light” and being set free from “slavery” and “heavy burdens” have been accomplished in the birth of Jesus Christ! Because Jesus has been born to us, because Jesus has been given to us, God is with us! And so having Jesus means we don’t have to be afraid and confused when others in the world and the world leaders around us are afraid and confused; we can rest secure knowing that Jesus is in control, and live confident in the truth God has revealed. We can have freedom sinful habits and addictions and every idol that would lead us away from God, all because Jesus Christ has been born to us!

That being said, this morning I’d like to go into more detail about these titles that Jesus Christ bears: He Who is “Wonderful Counselor!” “Mighty God!” “Everlasting Father!” “Prince of Peace!”

In the days before democracies a nation’s people had only their king to look to for making the right decisions for their welfare. I’m sure that folks still sat around talking politics, but it would never have been a discussion about getting this person or that person into power so that things might change: The nation lived at the whim of the king, and all a citizen could do was hope their king might be wise and compassionate and strong and powerful enough to protect them. One looked up to, hoped in, and trusted-for-the-best in the counsel of their king.

So the title “Counselor” points to Jesus Christ as our King, One Who can govern our lives and govern the nations well. And I think of all the times the Gospels tell us that the crowds were amazed at His teaching, and that His disciples were amazed at His teaching, and that the religious leaders of His day were amazed at His teaching… And with the reputations that many presidents and prime ministers and kings and governors, etc… have for being all too human, all too selfish, all too proud, and all too foolish, … to be promised a “wonderful Counselor” – an “astonishing Ruler”, a “truly wise King”… What a gift from God that would be, huh?

Now hold alongside that our Counselor Jesus also being “the Mighty God”. Isaiah 14:27 says, “The LORD of Heaven’s Armies has spoken – who can change His plans? When His hand is raised, who can stop Him?” So Jesus Christ is not just some King Who has some great royal program to institute among us. Jesus Christ has a royal program He has come to institute and no power in Heaven or on Earth can stop Him from instituting it. And all the world will marvel at this plan He has for the world, and all the peoples of the Earth will benefit from His plan, as well, all those, that is, who will accept His lordship and receive from the hands of the King!

And what’s His “royal program”? Open your Bible with me to Isaiah chapter 11…

“Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot—yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root. 2 And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him—the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3 He will delight in obeying the Lord. He will not judge by appearance nor make a decision based on hearsay. 4 He will give justice to the poor and make fair decisions for the exploited. The earth will shake at the force of His Word, and one breath from His mouth will destroy the wicked. 5 He will wear righteousness like a belt and truth like an undergarment.

6 In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all. 7 The cow will graze near the bear. The cub and the calf will lie down together. The lion will eat hay like a cow. 8 The baby will play safely near the hole of a cobra. Yes, a little child will put its hand in a nest of deadly snakes without harm. 9 Nothing will hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, for as the waters fill the sea, so the earth will be filled with people who know the Lord.”

Justice and righteousness for all, that’s Jesus’ royal program for our lives and for the nations. The wicked will be destroyed, and the earth shall know absolute peace. (And Isaiah describes this peace by showing animals that are typically threats to other animals now living in peace together.) “Nothing will hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain,” because the Earth will be filled with people who know the Lord. That’s what Jesus is bringing. That’s what His rule has begun to bring about. That’s His royal program.

And yet all of this is more than merely justice and wisdom and raw, universal power can bring about. This is the future Jesus’ rule and counsel will result in because, along with being the “Wonderful Counselor” and “Mighty God”, Jesus also provides for and protects His Own, always: He’s an everlasting Father. He is a constant caregiver. And we see His providing for His family, His flock, when He took those handfuls of bread and fish and fed those thousands and thousands of people with them. The woman He healed from the constant flow of blood knew Jesus as her everlasting Father when she touched Him and she was healed and He said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” And with politicians and those in positions of power hiding behind fall-guys, we see Jesus protecting us when He went to the cross: Our King, our Counselor, truly doing the wonderful by putting Himself between us and our enemy – God’s enemy – and taking the beating and punishment we deserved, so we wouldn’t have to…

And this peaceful, content, righteous, harmonious future will only come about because Jesus is the Prince of Peace, as well. And our Prince of Peace has fought the battle of the cross to destroy the power of sin that separated us from God. Giving sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf and speech to the mute and walking and running to the lame and life to the dead and freedom from those possessed and knowledge to the ignorant, Jesus has shown Himself to be the Prince of Prosperity, the giver of every good thing.

And as our Prince, He will not stop leading Heaven’s forces until there is peace: Until there is peace in you; until there is peace in me; until there is peace in our marriages; until there is peace in our families; until there is peace our community here in Milford; until there is peace among the peoples of the United States; until there is peace within and among all the people and nations of the Earth. He will not stop. Jesus will not relent.

These are very personal wars He’s waging in that Jesus will not let sin reign [point to someone] in your life, or [point to someone else] in your life, or in my life. And yet it is a very public work in that He will not let sin reign among the nations, either. Prince Jesus will keep putting our stuff in our faces. That is, He will keep having our wives or our husbands bring up our troubles, He will keep putting us together with those we’re in conflict with, He will keep allowing us to face our temptations; He will keep giving us opportunities to succeed and overcome and be at peace! He will keep coming against anything that threatens His royal program being fulfilled, the fulfillment of His peaceable Kingdom.

He will not rest, He will not cease, until nothing hurts or destroys in all His holy mountain; until as the waters fill the sea the earth is filled with people who know the Lord…