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Sermon Series

 

August 21, 2011 – “Jesus Christ, The Living Word”, Pastor Ben Willis

“Jesus Christ, the living Word, became flesh through His miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit and His virgin birth. He Who is true God became true man united in one Person forever. He died on the cross a sacrifice for our sins according to the Scriptures. On the third day He arose bodily from the dead, ascended into Heaven, where, at the right hand of the Majesty on High, He now is our High Priest and Mediator.”

Preaching through the “Essentials of Our Faith”, we encounter the Person of Jesus for the very first time with these words: “Jesus Christ, the living Word, became flesh…” There is much for the believer and the one seeking God in these few words: First, that this “Jesus” is the Christ of God, the long-expected Jewish Messiah Who would save God’s chosen people from their enemies; second, that this same “Jesus” is the living Word of God, all of the Holy Scriptures incarnate, come to life on Earth in human flesh; and, third, that this “Jesus” – Who was born a little more than 2,000 years ago in a land called Judea, a province of the Roman Empire, while a king named Herod the Great was ruling Judea and an emperor who called himself Caesar Augustus was ruling most of the known world – that this same “Jesus” existed as someone or something else before He was born, since it says, “Jesus Christ… became flesh…”

Going back to the idea of being God’s Messiah, if you want to open your Bibles to Psalm 2 you can see something of what the Jews were expecting as they waited for their deliverer. Psalm 2… (pg. 432)

“Why are the nations so angry? Why do they waste their time with futile plans? The kings of the Earth prepare for battle; the rulers plot together against the LORD and against His Christ. [“Christ” is the Greek word for “Messiah”, which in Hebrew means, “anointed one”.] …

“But the One Who rules in Heaven laughs. The Lord scoffs at them… For the Lord declares, ‘I have placed My chosen king on the throne in Jerusalem, on My holy mountain.’

“The king himself proclaims the LORD’s decree, saying: ‘The LORD said to me, “You are My son. Today I have become your Father. Only ask, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, the whole Earth as your possession.”’”

If you’ll keep the Psalm open in front of you you can see that in their Messiah – their Christ, their anointed one – the Jews were expecting someone who would be their king, an unconquerable military leader, and ?someone whom God would make to be “His Son”. And the Bible tells us, and this Second Essential affirms, that this Jesus, Who existed with God – as God – before God began creating anything, came into the world to be this king: God with us, but human flesh; and God’s words – the fullness of His divine heart and mind – miraculously born into humanity through a virgin, named Mary, from a little Galilean village called Nazareth.

The Essential goes on to enumerate several miracles that are essential to our faith as Christians, if we’re going to call ourselves “Christians”: That Jesus’ birth was a miracle, that is, that the only male involved in His conception was God the Father through the dynamic ministry of God the Holy Spirit; ?that Jesus’ execution on a Roman cross was not a travesty of justice but God’s plan since the beginning to – Himself, in Jesus His Christ – serve the death penalty for humanity’s sin; and, ?that Jesus didn’t – in fact, couldn’t – stay dead, but that He conquered death and showed that – as God’s King – His Kingdom had authority, even over the Land of the Dead itself!

In our modern day there is much skepticism regarding such “miracles” as these. For instance, people say that, likely, Mary became pregnant by some secret boyfriend or a charming Roman soldier… But that’s not a new claim. The Gospel of Matthew records for us that that’s what everyone who heard about Mary’s pregnancy thought! And because of that, Mary’s fiancé, Joseph, could have sentenced her to death because of it. But Matthew records that “Joseph was a righteous man”, and so chose to have her “put away quietly” so as not to disgrace her. (See Matthew 1:18-25) It wasn’t until an angel visited Joseph in a dream that he became convinced that Mary’s “story” of her divine pregnancy was true!

Today scoffers will say that human beings are all basically “good” people, so that God needing to send someone to be sacrificed for our sins is cruel and foolish, and that what happened to Jesus was merely one of the many recorded injustices of Roman rule.

And yet the entire book of Leviticus addresses willful sin and unintentional sin and even sin that people can be completely ignorant of: And how each of these types of sin – even committing acts we didn’t know were wrong! – require a sacrifice to atone for it.

And the Old Testament prophets go on and on about the sinfulness of humanity and the need for a redeemer… Turn in your Bibles to the Prophet Isaiah, 53… (pg. 570) Verse 4 says: “…we thought His troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for His own sins! But He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins…” And, hardly a human screw-up, farther along in v. 10 Isaiah goes on to say, “…it was the Lord’s good plan to crush Him and cause Him grief. Yet when His life is made an offering for sin, He will have many descendants…”

You can hear skeptics claim that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, but that His followers merely took His dead body from the tomb and hid it. But that’s nothing new. The Gospel of Matthew records that ancient critique, and reveals that the Jewish priests who had sentenced Jesus to death were the first ones to come up with it! And how they even bribed those who’d been set to guard Jesus’ tomb to spread it around! Dr. Luke in his gospel goes out of his way to show how after rising from the dead that the Lord Jesus was more than a disembodied spirit, and yet more than merely a physical man: He was able to eat, be touched, that His wounds were still visible, and yet that He could appear and disappear at will! (See Luke 24:13-49) The apostle Paul even writes that “more than 500 of His followers at one time” saw the Lord risen and alive!

And yet, even after seeing Him, watching Him, listening to Him, and even touching Him after He was raised from the dead, Matthew records that “some of them doubted.” (Matthew 28:16-17)

The Bible goes on to tell us that “the same One Who descended is the One Who ascended” (Ephesians 4:1-10) back into Heaven and perfect unity with the Father, with all authority over Heaven and Earth, and that from there He intercedes for us, and sometimes confronts us (as He did the apostle Paul on that “Road to Damascus”), and exercises His absolute authority so that all things work together for our good, so that we grow up and grow holy and grow perfect until we are – finally – just like Him!

Magic tricks, once we learn the trick, make us smile and laugh at our limitations and ignorance. As we grow and interact with the world we begin to understand, more and more, the mechanics that make our mysterious machines function. God gives us understanding (we call it “science”) behind the wonders of His universe… Likewise, I believe there will come a day when – in the new Heaven and the new Earth, outside the confines of Time and Space in Eternity, face-to-face with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit – we will be given comprehension of the workings of miracles, and we’ll laugh and find joy in our limitations and ignorance.

Until then, our Daddy in Heaven calls us to live by faith, believing that – and let’s join in reading the Second Essential together: “Jesus Christ, the living Word, became flesh through His miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit and His virgin birth. He Who is true God became true man united in one Person forever. He died on the cross a sacrifice for our sins according to the Scriptures. On the third day He arose bodily from the dead, ascended into Heaven, where, at the right hand of the Majesty on High, He now is our High Priest and Mediator.”

 

Ascription of Praise

To the God of all grace, Who calls you (and me!) to share His eternal glory in union with Christ, be the power forever!

(1 Peter 5:10-11)



August 14th, 2011 – “Trinity! O Trinity!”, Pastor Ben Willis

As we consider leaving the Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination (called the PCUSA) to join with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination (called the EPC), last week I began preaching through what the EPC calls the “Essentials of Our Faith”. These are statements of faith the EPC believes are non-negotiable. And for the EPC to be a good home for our congregation we have to be in full agreement with each of these statements.

If you’d look in your Bulletins and take out the insert titled, the “Essentials of Our Faith”… Let’s look at #1 together:

 

“We believe in one God, the sovereign Creator and Sustainer of all things, infinitely perfect and eternally existing in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To Him be all honor, glory and praise forever! …

[And if you jump down to the very bottom of the page…]

“These Essentials are set forth in greater detail in the Westminster Confession of Faith.”

(The Essentials of Our Faith, #1)

 

The foundational paragraph we read and preached through last week focused us upon the Scriptures. This week’s “Essential” is about the Trinity.

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity was established in the earliest centuries of the Church. We are monotheists, which mean we don’t believe in a whole bunch of different kinds of gods – each with their own area of sovereignty and authority – no, we believe in one God, Who made the universe, and Who keeps the universe going by His almighty power. The Bible makes that clear. And yet the Bible also makes clear that God has shown Himself to human beings in three distinct ways across history: As a holy, perfect Being, completely separated from humanity – us here on the Earth, Him separated from us in Heaven; ?as the Man, Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary, but Who claimed and proved Himself to at the same time be the Son of God; and, ?as a Spirit – a holy ghost – Who could come upon someone to give them special power and ability for a time to handle a particular task, and Who could also go within someone to speak God’s words to their hearts, convince them of their sinfulness, bring them to faith in God-the-Son, Jesus, and also to grant them special powers and abilities so they could live according to their faith in Jesus and so they could be comforted and spread that faith to others.

One God Who has shown Himself to human beings across history in three different ways: Tri/3; unity/1; Tri-unity; Trinity – that’s where the word comes from.

Now, before I go any further I want to point you all to the excellent sermon Elder Steve Davis gave on “The Trinity” this past May. There’s a lot of teachings about the Trinity I’m not going to mention here since it would only duplicate Steve’s excellent presentation. (And you can find the sermon on our website, FirstPresbyterianMilford.org, clicking on “sermons” in the left-hand column.)

In trying to help people comprehend the idea of “Trinity: 3 persons, yet all of the same substance” pastors and teachers have talked about water – how water can be solid-ice, liquid-water, and airy-steam, 3 different manifestations and yet all one-and-the-same substance, H2O/water. Likewise people have talked about human beings being heart & mind + physical body + life-giving spirit, 3 different parts and yet all necessary to make up one human being… But, of course, none of these truly shows the Trinity: Since the water comparison makes it seem that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all have very different functions from one another (which isn’t true), and since the human being comparison makes it seem like the persons of the Trinity all get added together to make up God (which isn’t true).

Looking at their distinctness, the Bible shows us:

  • The Father to be the One from Whom the Son was begotten (“begotten”, not made), and from Whom the Holy Spirit proceeded. The Father is the only One Who knows when the Last Day, the Day of Judgment, of this Age will be;
  • The Son is distinct in that He is the One Who became a man and died for us and rose from the dead. The Church also is His presence on Earth, continuing His work, now that He has ascended to Heaven; and,
  • The Holy Spirit is distinct in that He prays with us and within us, He gives specific talents and “fruits” to the people in the Church, and He helps to maintain truth within the Church.

And yet, though distinct, and having revealed God to us in distinct ways, each of the Godhead is fully God. For instance, if you’ll open your Bibles to Philippians 1:2… Paul writes, “May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.” The Father is specifically identified as “God” here. If you’ll turn to Colossians 2:9… The gospel of John begins saying, “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God… 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.” (1:1, 14) Colossians 2:9 summarizes it this way, “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.” So the Son is specifically identified as being “God”, as well. And now to Acts 5:3… We read of the apostle Peter’s rebuke to a member of the Jerusalem church: “Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself. The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God!” So Peter charges Ananias with lying to the Holy Spirit, that is, lying to God. So the Holy Spirit is specifically identified as “God”…

Turn to Isaiah 64:8, if you will… The prophet says, “And yet, O Lord, You are our Father. We are the clay, and You are the potter. We all are formed by Your hand.” So the Father is credited with creating. And yet turn to Colossians 1:15… “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through Him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on Earth.” So Jesus the Son is credited with creating. And now turn to Job 33:4… Where Job confesses: “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” So the Holy Spirit is credited with creating.

And one last example, turn to Jeremiah 17:10… Speaking on God’s behalf, Jeremiah says, “But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives.” The Father searches the heart. But turn to The Revelation 2:23… Beginning in the middle of the verse, the Lord Jesus says, “I am the One Who searches out the thoughts and intentions of every person. And I will give to each of you whatever you deserve.” So the Lord Jesus searches the human heart. And 1 Corinthians 2:10 says, “…God revealed these things by His Spirit. For His Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets.” So the Holy Spirit searches hearts and reveals deep secrets.

God has shown Himself to humanity through the ministry of three different “persons” – God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit – and yet each “person” is credited with the same activities of God: Creation; searching hearts; all the works of God.

Of course, the Lord Jesus is the Once Who has created most of the stir. God the Father and God the Holy Spirit show themselves across the pages of the Old Testament, and nobody accused God of being “two” there. No, it’s God showing Himself in Jesus Christ that has created such a stir, even causing people to ask: “Then was Jesus talking to Himself every time He prayed?” (Which is really a great question. It’s thoughtful, insightful…) And Paul’s Letter to the Philippians gives us a picture of how this wonderful mystery could happen…

If you’ll go to Philippians 2:5-11… Speaking of the Lord Jesus, Paul writes: “Though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When He appeared in human form, He humbled Himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated Him to the place of highest honor and gave Him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in Heaven and on Earth and under the Earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

The Lord Jesus “gave up His divine privileges” and became a man, an ordinary infant, boy, and man who – to quote Hebrews – “faced all the same testings we do, but did not sin.” (4:15) And during His baptism, when – like a dove settling upon Him – He was baptized by the Holy Spirit, He was at that time empowered by God-the-Holy-Spirit, and only then did He begin His ministry and miracles and works of power…

Let’s go back to the “Essentials of Our Faith” insert… Let’s read #1 together:

“We believe in one God, the sovereign Creator and Sustainer of all things, infinitely perfect and eternally existing in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To Him be all honor, glory and praise forever!

Amen?



August 7, AD2011 – “Essential: The Scripture”, Pastor Ben Willis

Except for any of you who may be visitors among us this morning, all of you know that the Session of Elders is leading our congregation to be dismissed from the Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination into membership in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination. As a part of this change it is important that we, as a local church, know as much about the denomination we are hoping to join – the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the EPC – as we can so that we don’t merely move from the fire into the frying pan, but from an association of churches where we clearly don’t fit into an association that shares our understanding of the Scriptures, the person and work of the Holy Spirit, and the identity and freedom we have as saints and sons & daughters in the Kingdom of Heaven and the household of God.


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