Sermon Series


Sermon preached December 11th, AD2011, by Pastor Ben Willis

John 14:1-9 [NLTse]

1 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in Me. 2 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? 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with Me where I am. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” u

5 “No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where You are going, so how can we know the way?”

6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through Me. 7 If you had really known Me, you would know Who My Father is. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him!”

8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied. u

9 Jesus replied, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don’t know Who I am? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father!

The typical story we hear repeated is:

“It’s about 2000 years ago, the evening of December 25th. Mary rides into Bethlehem on a donkey, urgently needing to deliver her baby. Although it’s an emergency, all the innkeepers turn them away. So they deliver baby Jesus in a stable. Then angels sing to the shepherds. Afterwards, they all join three kings with camels in worshipping the quiet, newborn.”

The problem is, this story may be almost entirely wrong. The events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ have been retold so many times and in so many ways—in plays, poetry, books and movies—that most people have a distorted view of the true events, at least as the Bible portrays them.

Q1) u Did Mary ride a donkey to Bethlehem? Perhaps, but there are various other possibilities. The Bible doesn’t say how she got to Bethlehem. It only says that she came with Joseph.

Q2) Did Mary arrive in Bethlehem the night she gave birth? The Bible doesn’t suggest this. They could have arrived weeks earlier. God’s Word simply states, “while they were there [that is, while they were there in Bethlehem], the days were accomplished that she should be delivered” (Luke 2:6). If the census had been announced so that she could arrive in Joseph’s ancestral home well before her due date that would make more sense.

Q3) Did Joseph or Mary talk to any innkeepers? Perhaps, but there is no solid, biblical reason to believe that they did. Although innkeepers play a prominent part in many Christmas plays, no innkeeper is actually mentioned in the biblical record of Christ’s birth. Furthermore, it is just as likely, instead of an inn, that Mary and Joseph actually stayed in a house with relatives.

Q4) u Was Jesus born in a stable? Or a barn? Or a cave? The Bible does not mention any of these three places in connection with Christ’s birth, only that in place of an actual baby’s bed He was laid in a feeding trough, a manger. The Bible says they laid Jesus in a feeding trough because there was no room for Him in the kataluma.

I use the Greek word kataluma because it refer to an “inn”, but it can also indicate a “guest room” or “lodging place”. The only other time the word is used in the New Testament, it refers to what has come to be called the “upper room” where Jesus and His disciples celebrated the Last Supper (Mark 14:14-15). So the Lord could have been born in the stable of an inn, but He could have also been born in the house of one of Joseph’s relatives living in Bethlehem. And yet because the guest room may have been already occupied by others who were visiting for the census, Jesus and Mary and Joseph had to stay in the rooms under the house where the animals were kept: And they laid Jesus in the manger.

Q5) “Away in a manger the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.” Although this is part of a beautiful song, we cannot be sure that Jesus did not cry. The Bible does not report that He was exceptional in this way.

Q6) u Did angels sing to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem? Perhaps, but the Bible doesn’t specifically say that the angels sang. It says that first an angel appeared and spoke, and then “a multitude of the heavenly host [God’s heavenly army, appeared] praising God” (Luke 2:13).

Q7) Were angels present at Jesus’ birth? It seems logical to assume that they were, however, Scripture does not report it. And there is no evidence that any angels were visible to Mary and Joseph at this time.

Q8) u Did three kings riding camels come to honor Jesus’ birth? Believe it or not, the Bible does not say that any kings or camels visited young Jesus.

Matthew tells us that wise men – literally “magi” (carrying the idea of court magicians or ancient scientists) came, but it does not say how many. None of the early Church Fathers suggested that any of the magi were kings. And since the word “magi” used in the Bible is plural, there were apparently at least two, and there might have been three—but there could have been even more. Three seems to be represented in stories and art because the Bible mentions three gifts these “magi” presented: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

In addition, these “magi” (or wise men) did not necessarily visit Jesus the night He was born (as is commonly shown on greeting cards and in plays). And they may not have arrived for up to two years afterwards! Matthew refers to Jesus as “child” not a “baby” at the time of their visit, so it is possible that little Jesus was walking and talking by then! Even so, we know it would not have been after He was two, because King Herod met with the wise men before they reached Bethlehem, and when Herod sought to destroy the “newborn king”, to do so he had every boy in Bethlehem two years old or younger put to death “according to what he had learned from the wise men.”

All these inaccuracies and misconceptions about Christ’s birth have led many enemies of Christianity to challenge the accuracy of the gospel in general: “If we can’t get the Christmas story right,” they argue, “what else are we getting so very wrong?” And many believers, unfamiliar with the discrepancies, are caught off-guard and unable to give a faithful rebuttal and response. All to remind us that the plays and movies can be stirring and helpful in understanding the historical realities of these events, but we always need to test everything we hear against God’s Word, no matter what the source. The Bible is the final authority.

All this being said, the actual facts of Jesus’ birth – as recorded so simply in the Scriptures – are so much more wonderful than anything we might want to edit or add. u He was indeed born of a virgin in the city of Bethlehem exactly as prophesied many years before. u Jesus was conceived in Mary, not by a man, but by the Holy Spirit of God. u The Lord Jesus existed before the Creation of the world, part of u the Holy Trinity we speak of as God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. u He took off His divinity and was born as a human being for a purpose: To show us God the Father; to die as a willing sacrifice in payment for our sins; and to baptize us with the Holy Spirit, providing God’s salvation, now and always, as a free gift to all who will accept it and love Him, and trust Him, and follow Him.

During Advent, of course, we also celebrate the fact that He’s has gone ahead of us into God’s Paradise to prepare a place for us. And He’s promised, when everything is ready, u that He will come back and get us, so that we will always be with Him where He is.

“And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of Heaven with power and great glory. And He will send out His angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather His chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the Earth and Heaven… You must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” (24:3-31, 44)

Come, Lord Jesus!

December 4, 2011 AD, Sermon by Pastor Ben Willis

According to John 1:1-18 [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…

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…

16 From His abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. 17 For the Law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, Who is Himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.

Does everyone here know the story of Pinocchio? A toymaker named Geppetto carves a magic piece of wood into a puppet, and the puppet comes to life. Geppetto has always longed for a son and so makes all manner of sacrifices for the Pinocchio, but the animated puppet is attracted to all the wrong kinds of people, ignoring the cricket a fairy has given him to serve as his conscience. Even though the fairy tells Pinocchio that she desires to turn him into a real, human boy, Pinocchio keeps following bad advice and making bad choices that get him into more and more trouble and keep him away from his dream of becoming a real boy.

Finally Pinocchio, having done so many stupid and sad things that he’s made a donkey of himself (literally), he dies helping rescue Geppetto. But that’s when the fairy arrives, and brings him back to life, a real, human boy.

Through a series of strange events I got thinking how much like Pinocchio human beings are. The Bible shows us that human beings were first made to be so alive! and able, and intimate with God, and having an abundance of every good thing. But our first ancestor’s sinned and fell from such grace. Since then we’ve all been born kind of wooden, our lives filled with so much that seems alive, and yet many all too aware there is something missing.

The Lord sends His angels, speaking to us, guiding us, drawing us to Himself, like Pinocchio was given Jiminy Cricket to be his conscience. But our sinful nature is more drawn to listen to our own Stromboli’s (who flatter us, but only want to use us for their own ends) to friends like Lampwick (who don’t know any better than we do) and to Coachmen (who say they’ll give us every good thing but really just lead us into slavery). God says He will give us real life, but we want to do our own thing and go our own way and end up making donkeys out of ourselves…

With Pinocchio in mind, however, I get thinking: But how is a creature who’s born a wooden puppet to know what it means to be a real boy? I mean, as we’ve just talked about recently, in the Scriptures we read that – if we’ve given our lives to Christ – then we are “saints”, made holy by God on account of our faith.

[Pointing to myself] As one guy who used to be a wooden puppet [pointing out] to others: How can a block of wood (while they’re still a block of wood, at least) comprehend what it would be like to be a real boy? It’s like asking how can one who’s always been an orphan (while they are still an orphan) comprehend what it would be like to be part of a family? How can someone who’s never known what it’s like to be a saint comprehend what sainthood-living would be like?

Likewise, the Bible says that if we’re in Christ then we’ve been given “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms”. What does that look like? Can a sinful man or woman comprehend such a thing? Can even someone who’s been given new life in Christ comprehend such truth without being given some kind of special insight from God?

I mean, who here knows holiness enough to live the life of a saint – a holy one – every day? Who here has comprehended the Lord’s provision for us to make the most of every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in your life day by day?

The Bible tells us we are sons and daughters of God. It’s not a metaphor, as though God merely loves us with the love a good parent has for their children. No, almighty God has adopted us, bound us to Himself with a legally binding, eternal covenant to be His sons and His daughters.

And yet, who here fully comprehends what it means to live your life each day as a son of God? [Point to a male believer.] You’re a son of God! [Point to a female believer.] You’re a daughter of God! But do we really understand what that means, when it comes to what we do, how we do it, setting our priorities, responding to circumstances, throughout each and every day…

We know who we are – our new names and our new titles in the Kingdom of God, but we don’t fully know what those names or titles mean for us as we live our lives surrounded by others who haven’t (or at least haven’t yet) been given or received such a rebirth.

And here we are, December 4th: And our preparations and celebrations of Christmas are beginning. And God knows our need – knowing what we are but not what that means – and that’s the gift God has given us that first Christmas. Because we can look at Jesus and know what it looks like to truly trust that “with God all things are possible”. (Matthew 19:26) When confronted with illness or affliction or whatever form of trial or trouble, we can know how we’ve been born again to handle it by looking at how Jesus confronted such things. Across the pages of the Scriptures we can see how the Lord led men and women and boys and girls of faith to live as His sons and daughters through their joys and sorrows and celebrations and hardships.

10 or so years ago when Christians were asking each other “What Would Jesus Do?”, I remember a fellow Christian telling me how ridiculous they thought it all was since when Jesus encountered a sick person He just prayed for and healed them, and since we can’t do that then what’s the use.

But Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” (John 14:12) Do you believe that? I’m not asking if you can comprehend it: Do you believe it? Because those first disciples believed it.

Across the Book of Acts and scattered across the apostles Letters we read of those first Christians forgiving peoples’ sins, just as Jesus says His followers would be authorized to forgive peoples’ sins. And we see those first Christians performing miracles – healing diseases, casting out demons, preaching in languages they’d never learned to speak before, just as Jesus had said, “You will do the same works I have done, and even greater works.”

What about us? It takes faith. “WWJD – What Would Jesus Do?” It takes faith to do what Jesus would do, faith to believe that God will hear and respond to us – His sons and daughters – just as He responded to Jesus Christ His Son; faith to believe that “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms” is indeed ours.

It takes faith because our Father doesn’t promise us the same outcome that Jesus was given, when we do what He did. And it can take some practice, because we may have wrong motives when we act the way Jesus did. We may not always be sure what Jesus would ask for in a given circumstance at first, so it can take time to live close enough to Him to know better. And, of course, there’s times like when Jesus was in His Own hometown that we may find we can’t do much because of everyone’s disbelief around us…

But Romans 8:19 says, “The Creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.” (And that’s talking about sons and daughters of God.) The Creation is waiting eagerly for us to show ourselves to the world: Here we are, sons of God! Daughters of God! How do we reveal ourselves? Well, it’s Christmastime: What would Jesus do? And we reveal ourselves – and we live by faith – when we do likewise.

Of all the gifts God has given us, being reconciled to Him in Christ, and being filled with Him by the Holy Spirit, are the best. What’s the best gift we can give others and the world around us? Keep our eyes on Jesus; living by faith; doing what He did, or what we believe He would do. Let’s bless the world and reveal ourselves.

6 November 2011AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

The Letter To the Hebrews 10: 19-39 [NLTse]

19 And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter Heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20 By His death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21 And since we have a great High Priest Who rules over God’s House, 22 let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting Him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.

23 Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His promise. 24 Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near.

26 Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins. 27 There is only the terrible expectation of God’s judgment and the raging fire that will consume His enemies. 28 For anyone who refused to obey the Law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 Just think how much worse the punishment will be for those who have trampled on the Son of God, and have treated the blood of the Covenant, which made us holy, as if it were common and unholy, and have insulted and disdained the Holy Spirit Who brings God’s mercy to us. 30 For we know the One Who said, “I will take revenge. I will pay them back.” He also said, “The Lord will judge His Own people.” 31 It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

 32 Think back on those early days when you first learned about Christ. Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering. 33 Sometimes you were exposed to public ridicule and were beaten, and sometimes you helped others who were suffering the same things. 34 You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew there were better things waiting for you that will last forever.

35 So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! 36 Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that He has promised. 37 “For in just a little while, the Coming One will come and not delay. 38 And my righteous ones will live by faith. But I will take no pleasure in anyone who turns away.”

39 But we are not like those who turn away from God to their own destruction. We are the faithful ones, whose souls will be saved.

Good morning saints! Good morning sinners!

The apostle Paul introduces his letter To the Romans, “…to all of you in Rome who are loved by God and are called to be saints, His Own holy people.” (Romans 1:6) His first letter To the Corinthians, “…to God’s church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be saints, His Own holy people.” (1 Corinthians 1:2) And his second letter, “I am writing to God’s church in Corinth and to all of His saints, His holy people, throughout Greece.” (2 Corinthians 1:1) Ephesians begins, “…to God’s saints, His holy people in Ephesus, who are faithful followers of Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 1:1) Philippians, “…to all the saints, all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 1:1) And Colossians, “…to the saints, God’s holy people in the city of Colosse, who are faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.” (Colossians 1:2)

In our society, when someone is greatly honored, there is always a reason. It’s because they have accomplished something magnificent or helped in some great endeavor. No one ever gives a high honor and while presenting it says, “This is for you, even though you have never done anything special. We’re giving it to you just because!”

And yet that’s what God has done for us in Christ in making us saints, His holy, set-apart ones.

According to the Roman Catholic Church a follower of Christ is declared a “saint” only after s/he has been recognized as having lived a pious life, defended the faith, and lived worthy of being called a “saint”, lighting the way ahead for others. After such evidence has been given, it then must be proven that since their death at least four miracles had occurred as the result of the faithful praying to him or her. Only if these conditions have been met is the person called a “saint”.

But that’s not what the Bible tells us. “To all of you in Rome who are… called to be saints;” “to you who have been called by God to be saints;” “to all of His saints throughout Greece;” “to God’s saints;” “to all the saints;” as followers and lovers of Jesus Christ, we are called to be saints, and we are saints!

Of course, we may think that because we have never told huge lies or stolen anything of great worth or ever killed anyone or had an affair that, well, no wonder God loves us: Compared with all those being gossiped about and making headlines, we’re doing pretty good!

But our Lord and Savior, the Son of God, sets us straight: “I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the Court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of Hell.” (Matthew 5:21-22) “I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28) “I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! …You are to be perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-44, 48)

And James makes it crystal clear: “…The person who keeps all of the Laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s Laws.” (2:10, italics added)

The truth is, you and I have fallen into favor. God has chosen us to be saints, His holy ones, because it pleased Him to favor us. And the reason for His favor rests in His grace, not in our amazing lives. Now you and I may truly be nice people, even well-loved, perhaps, recognized by many as godly people… But God’s standard is not what others think, nor even what we think of ourselves. The almighty God’s standard is perfection. His grace and His favor are undeserved, even by the best of us. We have done nothing to deserve His mercy.

That’s what we celebrate every All Saints Day. It’s what we celebrate every funeral. It’s what we celebrate every Lord’s Day Sunday (if we would), every time we gather for Worship. It’s why the Christian life is so joyful! (The world celebrates Christmas each December 25th, but Christians celebrate with that kind of joy every day!) In the coming of Jesus Christ – in His birth in a stable, in His humble upbringing and ministry in an obscure little land, in His sacrificial death, in His resurrection from death! – we have been given a gift that truly keeps on giving. We have been given life. We have been given mercy. We have been forgiven our sins. We have been given right-standing with the perfect, holy One. We have been given sonship, recipients of an everlasting covenant of love.

We are so very aware that we are sinners. But we must let that awareness move us on to wonder that He has given us sainthood!

So let us leave our sins behind, not considering ourselves but keeping our eyes on Jesus. Let’s meditate on all the hostility He endured so that we won’t become weary and give up. In our troubles let’s recognize the Lord’s discipline and not give up when He corrects us, knowing He disciplines only those He loves, treating us as His Own children.


Ascription of Praise

Now may the God of peace—Who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with His blood—may He equip us with all we need for doing His will. May He produce in us, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to Him. All glory to Him forever and ever! Amen?

(Hebrews 13:20-21)