Sermon Series


June 17, 2012 AD, Sermon by Pastor Ben Willis

According to John 1:1-14 [NLTse]

1 In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He existed in the beginning with God. 3 God created everything through Him, and nothing was created except through Him. 4 The Word gave life to everything that was created, and His life brought light to everyone. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.

6 God sent a man, John the Baptist, 7 to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. 8 John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. 9 The One Who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He came into the very world He created, but the world didn’t recognize Him. 11 He came to His Own people, and even they rejected Him. 12 But to all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

14 So the Word became human and made His home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen His glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

The Hebrew people became the “People of God” when the Lord God elected – chose – to enter into a covenant with a man named Abram (later changing his name to “Abraham”). And Abraham had a son named “Isaac”, and Isaac had a son named “Jacob”, and Jacob had twelve sons, each the head of what have come to be called “the Twelve Tribes of Israel”. So the most frequently used name across the Old Testament Scriptures for a member of the Jewish people was “brother” reflecting their historical roots of all being related to one another through common ancestry to the “Patriarchs” (the Fathers): Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

As the divine head of their national family, and as the source of their life and the good things they enjoyed as a nation together, God was their “father”, the same way that a king is a “father” to his citizens. And yet Abraham was also their “father” because he, too, was their source: All the Jews had come from him; and, it was through him – Abraham – that the Lord God made the covenant with them that the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be the Lord’s people and the Lord would be their god. Of course, each Jew had their own earthly fathers, as well, their “daddy’s” who raised them and sheltered them and protected them and provided for them each day.

In a similar way that the Jews spoke (and speak) of themselves as members of one family because they all trace their ancestry back to Abraham, you can hear many voices around our society today speak about the “brotherhood of Mankind”: That because God made the first humans so then God has made all of us; which means that all human beings are “brothers and sisters” because God is our “Father” – our Maker, the Creator of all.

And wherever there is any kind of social unity you can hear words and expressions that speak of brotherhood: Because you like the Yankees you’re “My brother!” If you drive a Jeep you’re “My brother!” [Ask] Does anyone here like chocolate ice cream? My brothers! When people are like us in whatever way we will often talk about each other in terms of family, “My brother!”

Jesus has once and for all changed all that.

In the beginning when God created the Heavens and the Earth, the Bible tells us that God lived in close proximity, and in close mental, emotional, and spiritual intimacy with humanity. But there came a time when our first ancestors decided they liked what the Devil had to offer more than they liked what God had to offer. And so the close proximity and the close mental, emotional, and spiritual intimacy we once enjoyed with God was broken, and so human beings lived separated from God’s presence and our close intimate relationship with Him was broken.

Even so, across the generations communities of men and women have teamed up and built great “towers of Babel” and “wonders of the world” in great acts and exhibitions of community and brotherhood. But even in our greatness these have always been “brotherhood’s” of our own making: Brotherhoods we established ourselves on account of our common ties or common goals…

And as we’ve said, God called Himself together a people through Abraham: A people with a common ancestry and a common way of living in the world and a common purpose for their lives together. And, as we’ve said, the Jews knew themselves to be “brothers” and they knew God to be their “Father”, even if in a very formal way, like the way a grandfather might be the family “patriarch” – the family “father” – or the way a king or governor or clan leader might be looked up to as “the great father”…

But Jesus’ attitude towards God changed all that. Whenever the Lord Jesus spoke to God He always used the direct, intimate Abba – “Daddy” – to refer to God, rather than the customary Jewish title of respect, “My Father”. And although we can read of the Lord Jesus speaking about God as “the Almighty” and the “the Most High”… whenever the Lord spoke to God He addressed Him as “Abba, My Daddy”. Jesus’ unique revelation to us of God as “Abba, Daddy, Father” came directly from His Own personal knowledge and relationship with God as His Abba, His Daddy, His Father.

What Jesus has shown us is that God has chosen us to be His children: Not because He bore us, because He didn’t; not because we’re all related, because we’re not; not because we have so much in common, because, although we may have much in common with other Christians living here in the United States and in this Milford area, we have brothers and sisters whom God has also chosen to be His children who are vastly different from us. As a matter of fact the only thing we might have in common with many among the worldwide family of God – our true brothers and sisters – is our shared belief and trust in Jesus Christ!

Because Jesus is the key to our brotherhood (and sisterhood), dear saints. Because Jesus is the key to our Father! In the cross Jesus bridged the separation. Because Jesus always chose God, when we choose Jesus, we’re brought over the bridge and back into the close proximity and close mental, emotional, and spiritual intimacy that was lost so long ago.

Now some religions pretend there’s no such thing as sin and so don’t think we need the cross. And other religions teach that you can work really hard at being good and doing good and get across the chasm without the cross. But the Scriptures make absolutely clear that there is no way to bridge our separation from God other than by trusting in the cross of Christ. There is no other name under Heaven by which we must be saved. And that’s why God is our Daddy, because the Lord God Almighty has chosen us to be His children and because Jesus Christ our Savior has died for us and brought us back to Him.

It is of the utmost importance we understand that God is not looking to be our Lord or our Master or our King. The Lord God is not looking to be our Teacher or our Savior or even our Friend. (Even though He is all of those things.) What the Most High God is looking for is for us to know Him and live with Him and trust Him as our Father. Not the formality of, “Yes, Father; no, Father; thank You, Father.” No, He sent the Law and the Prophets, and in the fullness of Time He sent His One and only-begotten Son, giving us His Holy Spirit in order to be our “Daddy”.

No other faith is so intimate with their god. And yet the fuller truth is that no other faith has a god Who has revealed Himself to want to be so intimate with us; the God and Daddy of our Lord Jesus Christ; our Daddy in Heaven…

June 3rd, 2012 AD Sermon, by Pastor Ben Willis

Matthew 5:13-20 [NLTse]

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

14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

17 “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the Law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until Heaven and Earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s Law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. 19 So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s Laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

20 “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious Law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!

[Put the hermit crab on display.] This is my son Caleb’s hermit crab. His name is “Spidercrab” (because his shell is painted like Spiderman’s outfit). Sometimes I walk into Caleb’s room and just watch Spidercrab. Hermit crabs are mostly nocturnal, so I mostly get to watch him just before bedtime. They not only like to walk around their territory and explore, but they are also great climbers. He’ll be moving and climbing around, so much of him out of his shell! They are fascinating-looking little creatures, but I only get to watch Spidercrab when he doesn’t know I’m watching, because as soon as he sees me he disappears inside his shell until I’m gone.

Watching Spidercrab gets me thinking about some comments that friends and acquaintances have made to me recently.

One fella, who worshiped here for a time before moving away, told me he’d seen me walking around town, reading while I walked, and he thought it was neat how peaceful and content I looked to him as I strolled along on my way… Another lady who attends another church in the area came to me and said she’d seen me out on the church’s sidewalk giving my wife Amy a kiss, and how much she appreciated seeing me be so publicly affectionate towards her… And just this past Friday the UPS guy came in for a delivery, letting me know he’d seen me walking home up Route 6. (My car was in the shop that day so I was walking back and forth…)

It has all got me realizing that people are watching me: People are watching us! Whether we think they are or not; whether we want them to or not; and whether we like them watching us or not: People are watching us.

Jesus likens it to our being like a city on a hilltop. Many of you have heard me or my wife or kids tell stories about summer vacations at my mom and her sister’s house on an island off the coast of Acadia National Park in Maine. It can get pretty dark around Milford at night, but there’s enough light around us – even sky glow from New York City so far away – that it’s never absolutely dark. But on Sutton Island in Maine it gets pitch. And yet when you stand on the porch late at night, so dark you can’t differentiate between the darkness of the water before you and the shore of the Mt. Desert Island mainland in the distance, the lights from docks or houses scattered across Northeast Harbor and Seal Harbor across from us shine brightly like a constellation of stars!

“You are the light of the world,” the Lord Jesus teaches us, “like a city on a hilltop (or the lights of Mt. Desert Island) that – no matter how dark – cannot be hidden.”

And yet I know that sometimes we can be like Spidercrab: We can behave one way when we think nobody’s watching but behave very differently once we’re aware of others staring around us. Depending on who we’re with, sometimes we’re quiet – about Jesus and about spiritual things – when given great opportunities to speak! There’s so much pressure on us to go along with the crowd, and when we’re surrounded by a Christian crowd we go along with them, yet when we’re with a non-Christian crowd sometimes we go along with them, as well. Sometimes we can get into conversations with others about religious things and when they bring up Jesus we can downplay our connection to Him, all but denying Him because of those who are watching us. Many Christians don’t take the sin in our lives very seriously, allowing bad habits or harmful ways of thinking remain, even though the habits and ways dim our light. Of course, oftentimes people around us will recognize our light and ask us why we’re different. And, of course, sometimes we can end up pointing to ourselves or that we’re just having a good day instead of pointing them to Christ. And in our greedy, self-centered, control-fiend filled communities, sometimes just ignoring the hurting and suffering and needs of those around us is all we need to do to have people not see us as being different, shining bright, standing out…

When people watch us, what do they see? Do they see us sometimes putting on Christ and sometimes taking Him off again, behaving differently depending upon who we’re around? We’ve been baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit! We’ve been born again and made new creations through our faith in Christ. He has claimed our lives and we have freely given ourselves to Him! The Lord has given us His Holy Spirit so that those watching us might see what it looks like to live centered on Christ, our words and our deeds – like a city on a hill, like the night-lights on the other shore – bringing glory to God?

People are looking for love (in all the wrong places, perhaps, but clearly people are looking for love). And people are looking for joy and peace. (Not just happy times that come and go, but true, lasting joy. And the skyrocketing of alcohol and drug addictions and eating disorders make clear the extremes to which people will go in search of what they see as peace.)

People are looking for God. And they are looking at you and at me to see if there’s any evidence in our lives to show whether or not the God Jesus spoke of as “our Father” is the real deal.

Maybe you’re thinking people are looking for miracles and great acts of faith from us? (And, of course, they are.) But the miracles people are most-watchful for are to see if we’re generous when so many others are stingy; to see if we’re truly forgiven, or if it’s just words as they see us beating ourselves up again and again; to see if we truly care about others and put them first, or if we’re just as gossipy and nasty and out for me-me-me as everybody else; to see if we’re truly joyful, to see if we truly do have peace, even when a lot of junk and sad times and heartbreak are going on around us…

A lot of our co-workers and fellow students and neighbors around us know bits and pieces of the gospel. They are watching to see if the good news is truly good, and to see if it’s doing good things and having a good effect on our lives. People know that following Jesus means sacrifice: Not getting to do all the things they’ve grown to liking to do and having to give up behaviors they don’t really want to. And they are watching us to see if trusting in Jesus and making these sacrifices for Him might be worth it.

We may not always know it, but we Christians are like Spidercrab: Living our lives in a tank surrounded by so many people watching. Does what they see in us cause them to draw near and praise our Father in Heaven?

[Go stand behind the Lord’s Table.] Holy Spirit of God: In a moment we will eat the bread and drink the cup of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. Today may Your body and blood – the benefits of Your death for sin – grant us the grace to speak of You when given an opportunity; grant us the grace to not go along with the foolish crowd; grant us the grace to readily and joyfully acknowledge You our Master and Savior, our Teacher and Friend; grant us grace to leave behind every sin that might dim our light; and grant us grace to notice and help provide for those in whatever need around us. We ask for Your grace Holy Spirit, so that the name of Jesus Christ might be glorified on the Earth, and so that You – our Father in Heaven – might receive all the worship, praise, and holy majesty You so rightly deserve.

In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen?

May 20, 2012 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

The Revelation to John 5:1-12 [NLTse]

Then I saw a scroll in the right hand of the One Who was sitting on the throne. There was writing on the inside and the outside of the scroll, and it was sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a strong angel, who shouted with a loud voice: “Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and open it?” 3 But no one in Heaven or on Earth or under the Earth was able to open the scroll and read it.

4 Then I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll and read it. 5 But one of the twenty-four elders said to me, “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

6 Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered, but it was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which represent the sevenfold Spirit of God that is sent out into every part of the Earth. 7 He stepped forward and took the scroll from the right hand of the One sitting on the throne. 8 And when He took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they held gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. 9 And they sang a new song with these words:

“You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals and open it. For You were slaughtered, and Your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 And You have caused them to become a Kingdom of priests for our God. And they will reign on the Earth.”

11 Then I looked again, and I heard the voices of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and of the living beings and the elders. 12 And they sang in a mighty chorus:

“Worthy is the Lamb Who was slaughtered—to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.”

This past Thursday was Ascension Day.

The Bible tells us that, following His resurrection from the dead, the Lord Jesus appeared to His disciples over a period of 40 days giving them many convincing proofs He was alive and speaking with them about the Kingdom of God. At the end of those 40 days, Luke writes, “Then Jesus led them to Bethany, and lifting His hands to Heaven, He blessed them. While He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up to Heaven.” (24:50-51) (We read the fuller account from Acts as our Call to Worship.) And this past Thursday, Ascension Day, was the fortieth day following Easter when we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

Our Call to Worship this morning included some details about the Lord Jesus’ ascension into Heaven, when it said: “He was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see Him. As they strained to see Him rising into Heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why are you standing here staring into Heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into Heaven, but someday He will return from Heaven in the same way you saw Him go!’” (Acts 1:9-11) We see the Lord Jesus going up into the clouds of Heaven, and the angels say He will return the same way, descending from the clouds of Heaven.

The Lord Jesus spoke about these same things when He was on trial before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Council. When the High Priest asked Him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I Am. And you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of Heaven.” (Mark 14:62; Matthew 26:64)

The Lord Jesus’ statement is clearly pointing the High Priest and other council members to the future, speaking to them of His return. But He’s pointing them all back to the past, as well. About 500 years before Christ’s birth the prophet Daniel was given a vision of “the Ancient One” Who was seated on a throne in judgment. “His clothing was as white as snow, His hair like purest wool. He sat on a fiery throne with wheels of blazing fire, and a river of fire was pouring out, flowing from His presence. Millions of angels ministered to Him; many millions stood to attend Him…” And Daniel saw “someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of Heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into His presence. He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey Him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed.” (7:9-10, 13-14)

Which is the reason for our reading this morning from Revelation. The Revelation to John records many visions John was given concerning times in the past, the times John was living in, and times in the future. Chapter 5 that we read this morning was a vision from John’s past, of the Lord Jesus’ arrival into God-the Ancient One’s throne room in Heaven at His ascension, just as Daniel had foreseen. The Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world is praised as He enters; and He is worshiped. And His first act upon arriving is to exercise His “all-authority” and break open the seven seals of the scroll recording the events concerning the end.

Talking to the Ephesian Christians about the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe, Paul wrote, “This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated Him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the Heavenly realms. Now He is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made Him head over all things for the benefit of the church.” (1:19-22)

Jesus Christ ascended on the clouds of Heaven and was given “all authority in Heaven and on the Earth” (Matthew 28:18) and began His reign. All for the benefit of His church.

Referring to Psalm 110, Paul wrote, “For Christ must reign until He humbles all His enemies beneath His feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:25-26) All for the benefit of the church.

But how might this all benefit us? First, all these events encourage to know that Heaven is a place, a real place: The Lord Jesus Christ, in His resurrected body that could eat fish and talk to disciples yet also pass through locked doors, He went someplace when He ascended into Heaven. Some have proposed that Heaven is simply a state of mind or a state of being that has no actual location in our space-time universe. And yet, we do not cease to believe in air or gravity because we cannot see them. And many Christian believers and unbelievers have experienced the influence and intervention of angels, (and the Bible leads us to believe they are all around us,) and yet because we human beings do not by and large have the capacity to see them does not mean they do not exist.

The Lord Jesus said, “There is more than enough room in My Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with Me where I am.” (John 14:2-3) Yes, Heaven is a real place. And as we await the new Heaven and new Earth that will replace this one so tarnished by sin and death, Heaven is where we will wait with Him and return with Him.

The fact of Jesus’ ascension into this place called Heaven, and His being given all the power that’s in Heaven and on the Earth there, also means that, because of our union with Christ, that we are able to share here and now in this authority our Lord Jesus has been given.

The apostle Paul speaks of this when He writes, “For [God] raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with Him in the Heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:6) This is why you and I can use “God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments.” Why we can “destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God.” That’s how, when talking with our neighbors, coworkers, or friends, we are able to come up with those phrases or words or arguments that “capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)

Our unity with Christ and our sharing in His divine power now and our sharing more fully in the life to come is why we will one day “judge angels”. (1 Corinthians 6:3) And the Lord Jesus says about this power He’s sharing with us, “To all who are victorious, who obey Me to the very end, to them I will give authority over all the nations.
They will rule the nations with an iron rod and smash them like clay pots. They will have the same authority I received from My Father…” (Revelation 2:26-28)

We exercise this power in prayer. We exercise this power when we serve others, those around us, for Christ’s sake. We exercise this power when we’ve come to the end of our ability and yet, instead of giving up or running away, we stay the course trusting in God’s promises and abilities. We exercise this power every time we give up trying to manipulate and control events and circumstances and people around us; every time we lay down our plans and desires and accept what God has given us; every time we “take up our cross and follow Christ”.

About this authority we share, Hebrews says, “By faith [such] people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. Women received their loved ones back again from death.” Even so, Hebrews goes on, “others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection.” (11:33-35)

Yes, sometimes we exercise this power most mightily when we’ve reached the end of ourselves, in our weakness, because the Bible tells us that God’s power works best in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Of course, the Lord Jesus’ ascension to the place of all-power in Heaven also means that, even as the Holy Spirit lives in us so we can enjoy communion with Him each and every day during our lives here on the Earth, one day we will be with Him where He is face-to-face in Heaven, and in the new Heaven and the new Earth, and we will be with Him forever. And Paul charges us to “encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:18)