Sermon Series


November 4, 2012 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

The Prophet Isaiah 21:1-10 [NLTse]

This message came to me concerning Babylon—the desert by the sea: Disaster is roaring down on you from the desert, like a whirlwind sweeping in from the Negev. 2 I see a terrifying vision: I see the betrayer betraying, the destroyer destroying. Go ahead, you Elamites and Medes, attack and lay siege. I will make an end to all the groaning Babylon caused.

3 My stomach aches and burns with pain. Sharp pangs of anguish are upon me, like those of a woman in labor. I grow faint when I hear what God is planning; I am too afraid to look. 4 My mind reels and my heart races. I longed for evening to come, but now I am terrified of the dark.

5 Look! They are preparing a great feast. They are spreading rugs for people to sit on. Everyone is eating and drinking. But quick! Grab your shields and prepare for battle. You are being attacked!

6 Meanwhile, the Lord said to me, “Put a watchman on the city wall. Let him shout out what he sees. 7 He should look for chariots drawn by pairs of horses, and for riders on donkeys and camels. Let the watchman be fully alert.”

8 Then the watchman called out, “Day after day I have stood on the watchtower, my lord. Night after night I have remained at my post. 9 Now at last—look! Here comes a man in a chariot with a pair of horses!” Then the watchman said, “Babylon is fallen, fallen! All the idols of Babylon lie broken on the ground!”

10 O my people, threshed and winnowed, I have told you everything the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has said, everything the God of Israel has told me.

For my devotions each week I read and study a Psalm, a section from one of the New Testament Letters or Revelation, a section from the Prophets, a section from one of the Gospels, a section from the Old Testament’s Law or History, and a chapter from the Book of Proverbs: One reading to study in-depth each day except Sunday. My reading from the Prophets this past week was this reading from the Prophet Isaiah 21.

As biblical prophecy can, this particular Word-of-the-Lord seems to address several different Babylon-related historical events. First, I believe – through Isaiah – that the Lord is speaking of an event that would occur during Isaiah’s own lifetime because, as Babylon was rising in power and seeking to challenge superpower Assyria’s dominance over the Middle East, first in 710 B.C. and then again in 689 B.C., seeing Babylon’s rising threat, the Assyrian army soundly and savagely crushed the armies of Babylon. Judah, along with Edom and the peoples of Arabia, had been seeking an alliance with Babylon against Assyria during those years. So when Assyria devastated Babylon, Assyria punished Judah, Edom, and the Arab kings, as well. (And you can see God’s revelation concerning these things in the Words about Edom and Arabia that follow our morning’s passage across the rest of Chapter 21.)

But I believe this prophecy also speaks of events that would happen 150-200 years after Isaiah’s death, after Babylon had supplanted Assyria as the invincible power of the region. History tells us that in 538 B.C., during a great feast that the last Babylonian king had thrown for his nobles, that invaders from the combined empires of the Medes and Persians secretly entered Babylon’s capitol and took control of the government without any organized opposition from the Babylonian military whatsoever. One day it was the Babylonian Empire; the next day it was the Medo-Persian Empire.

So in 710 and again in 689 B.C. “Babylon had fallen – had fallen!” And in 538 B.C., with tables set, rugs spread, with all her officers eating and drinking, “Babylon had fallen – had fallen!” And, of course, as you may know, “Babylon” is the symbolic name The Revelation to John gives the kingdom of this world led by Satan and his king, AntiChrist, and led in worship by the False Prophet. And we know that when our Lord Jesus returns to defeat these powers that have stood against Him that, then too, “Babylon will fall – Babylon has fallen!”

I speak of these things because the media has used phrases this week describing the storm and its devastation as being “of biblical proportions” and the Psalms and the Prophets are filled with poetry and pictures of the Lord’s absolute dominance over storm, flood, famine, the cosmos, even death itself.

I was speaking with Anita Gutschick this week, the actress who will be with us this-coming Saturday presenting Women of the Bible. Describing what she saw around her waterfront community in Maryland and on the TV from storm-ravaged New Jersey and New York, she said: “We’ve only seen a touch of God’s great power. He Who opened the floodgates of Heaven and released the waters under the Earth to flood the entire planet in Noah’s day has only demonstrated the slightest hint of His glory in Hurricane Sandy.”

And in our reading Isaiah had been praying against the Babylonians. First, that Judah would not put its hope in alliances with other nations, like Babylon, but put its hope in the Lord. And then, also, once Babylon began its dominance and its cruelty and Judah began to be crushed under its rule, Isaiah prayed for Judah’s deliverance from Babylon’s dominion…

And yet we hear Isaiah’s words of shock and compassion and mourning in response to the vision he’s been given concerning Babylon judgment by God. In verse 3 Isaiah cries: “My stomach aches and burns with pain. Sharp pangs of anguish are upon me, like those of a woman in labor. I grow faint when I hear what God is planning; I am too afraid to look. My mind reels and my heart races. I longed for evening to come, but now I am terrified of the dark.” Isaiah had prayed, longed for “evening” – for an end to Babylon’s day – but as he’s given this Word concerning the Lord’s judgment on Babylon he’s terrified of what he’s seen… Yes, they are Judah’s enemies but, O, Lord, it is so terrible…

And, I can’t speak for you but, it’s been terrible for me to see in the news of what so many have been going through because of this storm, these floods, these “acts of God”. Even as I’ve been praying that the Lord would use such horrors to draw people who’ve ignored Him to search for Him, even as I’ve been praying that He would use such horrors to punish the wicked and bring them to a real change of heart… I haven’t been praying against the New Yorkers or Jersey Shore folks as Isaiah had been praying against Babylon, but I, too, pray that all people will know the Lord, no matter the cost! And I, too, long for the day when Satan’s and Anti-Christ’s and the False Prophet’s persecution-of-Christ’s-Church, and their work-against-the-spread-of-the-gospel-and-Jesus’-Kingdom-across-the-face-of-the-Earth to end. I feel I can have some level of integrity in joining with Isaiah to say that “I longed for evening to come, but now I am terrified of the dark.” I know the Lord is righteous and loving and does everything well, and I want Jesus to return and for His Kingdom to come among us in all its fullness, but I hurt for what I see so many are going through…

I was considering these things the other night as I was drifting off to sleep. I was imagining myself on the Jersey Shore, standing on a deck or a rooftop as the sea level was rising to those 14’ surges before me. And I pictured a wall of water (like those 20’ waves that were reported) rising up over top of me. And it came crashing down on me and broke me like a rag doll against the railing and walls that were behind me. And in my dream (or this imagining) I was floating, dead, under the water around this neighborhood…

And then my next awareness was of being in Heaven. And it was glorious! And it was beautiful! And it was so much more than everything we’ve read or been told or that I’d ever imagined…

And I realized, or was given to realize, and remembered – in the face of my pity and heartache – that death’s not so bad when you belong to the Lord. For all those who’ve died in these horrors that-had-given-themselves-to-Jesus, they’re home now! They’re where we want to be! The dying of the lost and the stubborn and the proud, of those who’d rejected Him, that’s another thing, of course…

So it seems to me that it shouldn’t be that people are dying, have died, or will die that hurts me so much. After all, ultimately, that’s how we get home! So what is it that’s making me so sad, I thought? Well, maybe it’s the suffering I see people going through: The fear; the worry; the pain; the cold; the grieving; the broken dreams that I see across the faces on the news reports.

But even there I remember that the Bible tells us that Christians “can rejoice, too, when we [suffer] running into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance [in this life]. And endurance [in suffering] develops strength of character [in us], and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation [that Jesus will indeed rescue us!] And this hope [is not empty and] will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.” (Romans 5:3-5)

So, I want to help, and I want to ease peoples’ burdens and sufferings to help them see and know Christ in me. But I also want to trust God more in the midst of these horrors.

I remember that Jesus – with His disciples – was sailing across the Sea of Galilee when a life-threatening storm rose upon them. And Jesus spoke to those waves and to that storm, “Peace! Be still!” And all became calm. So I know that if storms around us rage and do not calm, but take life and cause trials and horrors and troubles, I know that God Almighty is there and choosing not to calm these things. And if He’s not calming the storm around us we can surely count on Him to calm the storm in us – the panic and worry and desire to control and the fear… He’ll calm the storm in me if I look – not to Babylon or the power company to save me but – to Him to save me. He’ll calm the storm in me if I believe the promises and truth of His Word and trust in Him, and focus not on saving myself but on showing His compassion and sorrow on those suffering around me – trusting that He has and will save me, setting me free to serve-and-love those who are a part of His flock as well as those sheep without a shepherd around me…

We are free to do live in this kind of liberty – the kind of liberty that no nation can give and no government can take away – when we trust and know how dearly God loves us, because He’s given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.


Lord over the winds and waves… We are like flowers: Glorious today, faded and gone tomorrow; but You remain forever… Yet You have made us to reflect Your glory forever by making people righteous through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ…

Give us Your Holy Spirit… Fill our hearts with Your love… Don’t let our warm-and-fuzzy sympathies water-down Your love for the world…  Give us grace so that peoples’ sufferings won’t be for nothing but – by working with You and sensitive the plans and purposes of Your Spirit – that we might be useful in helping the struggling, the suffering, the lost, and the distraught – those who think they’ve lost everything – come to know You and receive Your love, comfort, mercy, and grace, and to know that with You they’ve received everything they will ever truly need…

October 28, 2012 AD by Pastor Ben Willis

Genesis 17:1-14 [NLTse]

Today we are baptizing Olivia and Anya , according to their faith in Jesus Christ and the faith of their guardian, their grandmother, Robin Green…

The Bible’s teaching on baptism begins with the story of the baptism of our Lord Jesus, told in Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, and Luke 3:21-22.

The Word of God tells us that before Jesus was baptized, His cousin, John, began baptizing people as a sign of repentance and preparation for the coming of the Messiah. (See Mark 1:4-8.) But when Jesus Himself was baptized, the core meaning of baptism was changed: It was no longer a sign of repentance, for Jesus was without sin and had no need to repent. Rather, His baptism served as a “sign” publicly proclaiming Jesus’ ministry of salvation for the human race. For when Jesus came up out of the water and the voice from Heaven said, “You are My beloved Son,” the crowds heard God’s Word in Psalm 2, identifying Jesus as King David’s heir, and when the voice said, “You are My beloved Son in You I am well-pleased,” they heard God’s Word from Isaiah 42, identifying Jesus as the long-promised Messiah who would be filled with God’s Holy Spirit, bring forth justice to the nations, called in righteousness, appointed as a covenant to God’s people and a light to the nations, who would open blind eyes, and set the captives free.

So, for Christians, the primary meaning of our baptisms is identifying ourselves with Jesus Christ, and His Kingdom, and His Covenant.

Perhaps you’re thinking, but I thought baptism was a sign of repentance. Turn with me to 1 Peter 3:21… Here Peter does speak of baptism as, “not [sic] removing dirt from your body, but [sic] a response to God from a clean conscience.” And you can see the footnote that this passage could also be translated to say that baptism is “an appeal to God for a clean conscience,” and so link it to repentance. But, the Bible never shows someone being encouraged toward baptism merely to show their repentance. And I can tell you that no one has ever come to me for baptism so they can show their family, the congregation, and the world that they’ve repented of their sins. No, at its core baptism is not a sign of our repentance.

Some of you may have been taught that baptism is when we’re given the Holy Spirit. And, although we do see the Lord Jesus baptized by the Holy Spirit during His baptism, and although we do see the Holy Spirit coming upon several believers during their baptisms in the Book of Acts, Acts tells us of several others who were filled with the Holy Spirit before they were baptized and even several more upon whom the Holy Spirit fell after they’d been baptized. So baptism is not primarily a sign of the Holy Spirit coming upon us, either.

No. Although baptism is a picture of being washed and cleansed from sin and guilt and shame; and, although baptism is a picture of dying to self and being born again to live for Christ; and, although baptism can be an appeal to God for a clean conscience, and also can be a response to God after He’s cleansed our conscience; and, although baptism might be a time when the Holy Spirit comes upon us; and, although baptism does ofthen demonstrate the desire of the one baptized (or their guardians or parents) to have God the Father and God the Son live in them by seeking God the Holy Spirit to live in them; although all of these things are a part of baptism, at its heart, baptism is publicly acknowledging that we belong to God in Jesus Christ, and seeking God’s help in all these ways as we live by faith trusting Him day-by-day.

Just as the rite of circumcision identified the Israelites as God’s people from the time of Abraham to the time of Christ, baptism has identified Christians as God’s people from the time of Christ until today.

That being said, notice that baptism doesn’t save us; baptism doesn’t make us a part of the New Covenant the Lord Jesus established on the cross. Paul writes to the Christians living in the province of Galatia that, “you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (3:26) It’s our faith that saves us. (Thank You, Lord.) It’s our faith that grafts us into the Covenant the Father has made with us. And baptism is the sign of that faith, and baptism is an act we commit because of our faith, but apart from faith baptism – no matter how elaborately and majestically conducted – is just a sign…

The Bible teaches that this identification with Christ which parents have according to their faith is automatically shared with their children and all who are a part of their household. We see that spoken of in our reading from Genesis: As soon as a son was eight days old he was to be marked with the “sign” of the Covenant – the sign of circumcision – as were all the household servants and slaves. Likewise under the New Covenant, when parents and heads of households accepted Christ we see their entire families and whole households being baptized along with them. Turn with me to Acts 16:15… Here we see Lydia and her household being baptized. Down in v. 31… We see Paul and Silas’ jailer being baptized, “he and all his household.” And, if you’ll turn to 1 Corinthians 1:16… Paul speaks here of baptizing the entire household of Stephanas…

So today we are baptizing Olivia and Anya, according to their own faith in Christ and according to their guardian’s faith in Christ, and Robin’s promise to raise them to know Christ and follow Him. We baptize Olivia and Anya in the hopes they will confirm these baptismal vows with their words and their deeds when they reach an age of understanding – maybe their teen years… And in the hopes they will confirm these baptismal vows with their words and their deeds all the days of the their lives…

When my wife and I attend weddings together – whether I am presiding over the wedding or whether we are sitting next to each other during the ceremony – there is always a moment during the vows when we look at each other, confirming our vows with the words of the vows those being married are making. I encourage us all, as Robin and the girls answer the questions of baptism, to confirm our commitments to Christ – our identification with Him – our communion with Him – and His Kingdom and His Covenant.

Ascription of Praise

Now to Him Who has made us a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His Own people, in order that we may proclaim the mighty acts of Him Who called us out of darkness into God’s marvelous light, be all blessing and honor, glory and power, wisdom and thanksgiving forever and ever. Amen?

October 14, 2012 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

Book chapter:verses [NLTse]

Last Sunday during the Second Service a young man sitting in the front row interrupted my sermon to ask, out of the blue, “Does God hate gay people?” As you can imagine, everyone was shocked and taken aback by the question. (Perhaps the same way you are feeling right now. J) I quickly responded to the man, saying that God did not hate gay people, and quoted John 3:16 to him – that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whomever believed in Him would never perish but have everlasting life”. I then got back to the rest of my message by committing to him that I would address the question more fully at another time.

But as this past Monday came, and Tuesday, with all the reporting about states voting to legalize gay marriage and TV shows like Glee, True Blood, Grey’s Anatomy and so many others including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered characters, I felt increasingly compelled by the Lord to address this question directly today: Does God Hate gay people?

The answer to this question, as well as the reason for this question, comes from the Bible, of course. Would you open with me to Genesis 19:4-8… Two angels have been sent by God to the great city of Sodom to investigate whether the reports of the city’s wickedness were true or not. Afraid for their safety if they spent the night in the city square, Abraham’s nephew, Lot, has pleaded with them to spend the night in his home. And Genesis 19:4 tells us:

4 But before they retired for the night, all the men of Sodom, young and old, came from all over the city and surrounded the house. 5 They shouted to Lot, “Where are the men who came to spend the night with you? Bring them out to us so we can have sex with them!”

6 So Lot stepped outside to talk to them, shutting the door behind him. 7 “Please, my brothers,” he begged, “don’t do such a wicked thing.”

So here’s the first place, right here in the very first book of the Bible, where homosexual practice is described as being a “wicked thing”. But does God hate gay people?

Let’s turn to Leviticus 18:22… This is probably the most famous Old Testament passage concerning homosexuality. Moses writes: 22 “Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin.” And if you keep on reading your Bibles you will see Deuteronomy (23:17) banning gay behavior in Israel, and Judges (19:22-23) declaring homosexuality as a “great wickedness”, and 1 Kings (22:46) celebrating a king who banished all sodomites from the lands of Judah.

Clearly the Old Testament writings show that God detests gay sexual practices. But does God hate gay people?

Romans 1:26-27 is probably the most popular New Testament passage about homosexuality. Let’s turn there together… Paul’s writing about the progression of human depravity that follows when people seek to live life apart from God and make gods in their own images. And He writes: 26 That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. 27 And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.

So the male and female gay sex-acts are described as “shameful” and the result of God having abandoned men and women when they chose to obey their passions instead of obeying Him.

And we can go on in the New Testament and see how 1 Timothy (1:9-10) includes homosexual practice in a listing of behaviors that are godless and rebellious, and how Jude 7 speaks of homosexuality as a “gross immorality”. So there is a consistent condemnation of the homo-sexual behavior across the Scriptures. But that still leaves our question unaddressed: Does God hate gay people?

If you would turn with me to 1 Corinthians 6:9-12… I believe this passage is the most revealing of all the Bible’s messages about homosexuality. Paul writes: 9 Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, 10 or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. 11 Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

So, “Does God hate gay people?” No. It is God’s desire to adopt gay people into His New Covenant family and cleanse them of the power their same-sex attractions have had over them, and make them holy, and make them right with God through the Holy Spirit as they call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And yet this great love God has for gay people, and these great plans the Father has for gay people, aren’t just for gay people.  His great love and great plans are for those involved in other sinful sexual practices, too (because there are many more than just homosexuality), and all those who are worshiping idols, and all those who are having affairs, and who are stealing, and who are greedy, and who are set on getting drunk, and who are abusive in their relationships, and who cheat others. God loves sinners of every shape and size and has good plans for us all!

And Romans 5:8 Paul makes clear that “God demonstrates His Own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were yet sinners Christ died for us. He didn’t love us once we got our acts together and purged all the sin from our lives. In this the whole human race is addressed: While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.

If you have come here today because you have perceived the Father’s love for you, don’t let that trick you into thinking that your lifestyle must then be OK to God. Because God shows us His love by sending Christ to die for us while we were yet sinners.

At the same time, if you have come here today because you’ve perceived the Father’s love for you, then let the truth of that fill you with awe and wonder: The almighty, perfect, and holy God loves a wicked sinner like you. Let that fill you with awe and wonder: The almighty, perfect, and holy Son of God has taken off His divinity, and humbled Himself to live the weak and finite life of a human being, and died because He loves a wicked sinner like you.

If you have perceived the Father’s love for you, let it take you to your knees today in amazement at such an act; such a gift; such a love. And if you’ve received the Holy Spirit’s gift of God’s love into your heart, the only right response is to be so in awe of His washing away our guilt, and so in awe of the power He’s given us over sin, to now leave our every sinful practice and behavior behind and live to give Him all the credit and praise.

Our Father in Heaven can and wants to satisfy the love a gay person – and every person – is longing for: Those desires for love that lead us into homosexual behavior and stealing and cheating and greed… And the Father can – the Father has – and He desires for you and me to transform us and our desires so that our adulterous desires for others outside of our marriages, so that our attractions to other religions and powers, so that our desires for drinking or food or drugs might be satisfied by His love. And as He satisfies us with His great love, and as He sanctifies us and we let Him grow us to be more and more like Jesus, our sinful desires are replaced by His Own perfect and life-giving desires and His Own perfect will. So that our lives that were once filled with longing and desire and need and wanting more and more and more, can be transformed into lives fulfilled by the love and security of a good Father in Heaven: Lives of peace, joy, and contentment in the Holy Spirit, where we can plan our day and our lives and make our decisions based – not on our worry or discontent – but on His righteous will.

John 3:16 says that 16 “For God loves gay people and all people so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that every person who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent His Son to gay people and to all people not to judge them, but to save them through Him.

If you’re here and are struggling with homosexual attractions, don’t keep it a secret to yourself: Tell someone; let it out! Of course, whatever your struggle and temptation, don’t keep it to yourself: Confide in someone whom you know you can trust to encourage you and pray for you. Last week we were talking about having a discipleship partner, someone we can share our temptations and struggles, our victories and falls with, who will support us in living by faith, hold us accountable, and pray for us. Get a partner. Confess your sins to one another. Be healed! And live! The Father wants to adopt you and wash you clean and grow you in holiness until you and I are just like Jesus!

O the plans He has for me and you!