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Sermon Series

 

May 22, AD2011 – “A Greater Offering”, Pastor Ben Willis

Leviticus 16:1-10 [NLTse]

1The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron’s two sons, who died after they entered the Lord’s presence and burned the wrong kind of fire before Him. 2The Lord said to Moses, “Warn your brother, Aaron, not to enter the Most Holy Place behind the inner curtain whenever he chooses; if he does, he will die. For the Ark’s cover—the place of atonement—is there, and I Myself am present in the cloud above the atonement cover.


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May 15, AD2011 – “The Trinity”, Elder Steve Davis

Our first Gospel lesson today comes from the Book of John, Chapter 3, beginning in the 1st verse:

Jesus Teaches Nicodemus

 1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

 3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

 4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Next, we read from the Book of Matthew, Chapter 28, beginning in the 16th verse:
The Great Commission

 16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

You know, every once in a while I like to live a little dangerously.  Pastor Ben sent me an email earlier this month that said that he and Amy were going to be away on this Sunday. Since I was scheduled to be the assisting Elder for the services anyway, he asked if I would like to do the whole thing and preach as well. I replied back, “Sure, glad to.” Now that’s not the dangerous part. I mean, I’ve been up here before. No, it was when I started thinking about sermon topics.  I thought, “I know, I can ask the confirmands what they would like me to preach about.” You see, Julia, Doug, and I teach this year’s confirmation class of young teens…”they can pick my sermon topic!”  I don’t think I had enough coffee that morning.  So last Sunday they were asked…and here is the topic they picked.: (slide) “How to Identify Farm Tractors by the Sound They Make.” Really. Tractors. I know people claim to pick out motorcycles by their distinctive sounds…but tractors?

Well, I’m never one to shy away from a challenge, so…(play sound clip)…(shouting over the noise) this is the sound of a Fendt Vario 930 TMS, a legendary ground breaker that first premiered in 1995. Listen to her go!…And this baby is an MB Trac 1800 Intercooler, built by Mercedes-Benz between the years 1973 and 1991. At its time its design and concept was revolutionary…(stop sound).

Actually, they were only kidding with the question about tractors and so was I. What they really wanted me to preach about was the Trinity…Father, Son, Holy Ghost…What’s that all about anyway? Terrific question.  You see, Trinity Sunday comes just eight weeks after Easter, which this year puts it on June 19, 2011. So it is very timely that they ask about the concept of the Trinity. To tell the truth, they usually ask great questions when they aren’t being silly. We have a real smart bunch joining the church this year.

You know, asking questions and talking about the answers is a good way to learn so why don’t we use that format to learn about the Trinity. It will be our own game of 20 questions. First up, what is the definition of trinity? Sounds like we can resolve this with a simple trip to the dictionary. That will answer all our questions quickly. (cross to get dictionary) It’s going to be a short sermon…I hope the coffee is ready downstairs. (Hold up big book) Actually, this is just my prop dictionary. I really just looked it up on line. It said, “trinity (noun)…a group of three.” Well that’s a big help. Oh, wait, with a capital T there is a different definition…”Also called Holy Trinity, Blessed Trinity (Christian theology) the union of three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in one Godhead.”

Actually, there are a lot of “three’s” found in the Bible and everywhere else. God’s attributes are three: omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. There are three great divisions completing time–past, present, and future. Thought, word, and deed, complete the sum of human capability.

Three times is the blessing given in Numbers 6:23, 24:–“The LORD bless thee and keep thee; The LORD make His face shine upon thee; and be gracious unto thee; The LORD lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace”The first occurrence of the number is in Genesis 1:13. “The third day” was the day on which the earth was caused to rise up out of the water, symbolical of that resurrection life which we have in Christ, and in which alone we can worship, or serve, or do any “good works.” Hence three is a number of RESURRECTION, for it was on the third day that Jesus rose again from the dead. I guess it’s like they said on “Schoolhouse Rock,” three is a magic number. But I digress…

So wait a minute, is God our Father, God? Yes. Is Jesus, the Son God? Yes. Is the Holy Spirit or the Holy Ghost or whatever you want to call it, God? Yes. So just how many gods do we worship here anyway? One. Hmm. Better keep the coffee warm downstairs. It’s really very simple. The Holy Blessed Trinity is one and the same God in three Divine Persons.

Let me try and explain it to you this way. I’m going to use an analogy, a comparison, because that can make the concept easier to understand. Just remember that no analogy is perfect. You see this prop dictionary I am holding? You would say that it is about 11 inches high. You would say it is about 9 inches wide. You would say that it is about 3 and a half inches deep. But I am only holding one book. And that book is 11 inches high and 9 inches wide and 3 and a half inches deep. And God is the Father and God is the Son and God is the Holy Spirit. Sometimes people use the water illustration to make this same point, but it still fails to adequately describe the Trinity. Liquid, vapor, and ice are forms of water. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not forms of God, each of them is God. So, while these illustrations may give us a picture of the Trinity, the picture is not entirely accurate. An infinite God cannot be fully described by a finite illustration.

We worship one God. Here is what it says in Deuteronomy 6: 4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

So how do we get three Persons out of that and each Person is Divine, no less?  Although the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are distinct Persons, they are not distinct in nature. The nature or essence of the Father is entirely the nature of the Son; and the nature of the Father and the Son is entirely the nature of the Holy Ghost. They are equal to one another because they are all God. And one did not come before another. Look what it says in the beginning of John:  1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

 9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Maybe we are getting hung up by the word “Persons.” Look at the choir or the praise team, each of them is a person and each is separate and distinct from one another and each has a separate soul. That is how our logical brains tend to work. But that is not how these divine Persons work. Remember, one nature, one essence? However, in order that we may better know the three divine Persons, certain perfections and works are attributed to each Person; for example, omnipotence and the works of omnipotence, such as creation, to the Father; wisdom and the works of wisdom, such as enlightenment, to the Son, love and the works of love, such as sanctification, to the Holy Ghost.

Can we completely understand how this all works? No. But it is true and we believe it nonetheless. Do I completely understand how my car works or how my computer runs? No. But I use them every day. And that’s okay. I believe in the Trinity because I have God’s word for it. God’s Word gives us a clear concept of the Trinity, the Godhead, a concept woven throughout the pages of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

Listen to what Jesus had to say about the Holy Spirit in John 14:  25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

That sounds much more like a Person than a personality of God. You might say that I have several personalities, or facets when you meet me in different settings or doing different things. For example, last night I was a theater tech when I was running lights at the Milford Theater for their tribute to the singer Ruth Etting, America’s Sweatheart of Song. This afternoon, I will be a computer geek, as I turn Friday night’s jazz concert at the school into a DVD and CD. And early tomorrow morning, I will be driving down to Fort Washington, PA to help make the world safe for pharmaceutical quality. But you still only see me any time you look.

Not so with God…just look at what it says in Matthew 3:  16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” There you have all three divne Persons in action at the same time, not just three divine Personalities. Have you ever seen the old Peter Sellers’ film, “The Mouse that Roared,” where the late Mr. Sellers played most of the major characters? This is not like that. You can’t use trick photography to explain this…this is not an illusion.

So far I have asked and answered about 7 of my 20 questions. I don’t think I am going to need all 20 to explain the Trinity to you…you are a very bright group. I see where the confirmands get it from. But I do sense a few more questions lurking about. Actually, I cribbed these next questions off the internet, since I thought they sounded so much like questions anyone would have.

Question: If Jesus was God, why would he kneel down and pray to himself “to remove this cup” (his impending death) from himself in the garden after the Last Supper, when the apostles all fell asleep? Why did he not grant himself his own wish? Why did he say to some other person, “…but let it not be my will, God, let it be yours.”? Who was he talking to? Why was he talking to that person? What did that other person have to do with Jesus/God taking his own life (if, he actually did take his own life?) In this scripture I truly sense that it was very, very painful and heartbreaking for Jesus to sacrifice his life, and that if it were entirely up to him, he might re-structure things. But I’m convinced that it was not entirely up to him – there was an entirely different person involved that Jesus was trying to please, trying to impress. I believe that other person was Jesus’ Father, God, who Jesus was praying to.

Answer: We have talked about various concepts about the Trinity already. With regard to Jesus, the Bible tells us he had both a divine and a human nature while he was here on earth. Consider some attributes of God that Jesus displayed in Scripture:

He was fully God, as described in Colossians 2:  9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. 

Only God knows the inner thoughts of man, yet Jesus saw evil in the hearts of the Jewish scribes, as decribed in Matthew 9: 2 Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”  3 At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”  4 Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? 

Only God knows the future, yet Jesus knew in advance those who would reject him and those who would follow him .

Jesus knows all things from John 16: 29 Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. 30 Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”

Jesus also knew other things that only God could know. He knew where the fish were in the water; he knew which fish contained the coin; he knew Lazarus had died.

On the other hand, Jesus also displayed some very human traits: Jesus was hungry at times. He wept at times. He felt “overwhelmed with sorrow” when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane. Hebrews 4:15 says he was “tempted in every way, just as we are.”

So, when Jesus knelt down to ask the Father “to remove this cup,” he was speaking from his human nature. He was obviously going through a very difficult time, to the point of even sweating blood. Not only was Jesus about to lay down his life, but the One who had existed in perfect, holy unity with his Father before coming to the earth was now about to take upon himself the sins of the world  He had been chosen before the creation of the world to be the sacrificial Lamb and only he could atone for the sins of all mankind. Yes, Jesus was definitely obeying the Father, but he was committed to following through because of his great love for you and for me…it was the very reason he came to earth. He came to seek and to save that which was lost.

Question: If Jesus/God died for my sins, who resurrected him? If he resurrected himself, did he truly “die” for my sins? When he said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”, who was Jesus/God talking to? If Jesus/God knew he had the ability to resurrect himself, what was sacrificed? What atonement was made for sin?

Answer: In other words, if Jesus is God, how could Jesus have been raised from the dead if God had been crucified? As mentioned in the previous answer, the teaching of the Trinity does not contradict the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead. The Father and the Holy Spirit were still in heaven while Jesus was on the earth. Though one person of the Godhead had been crucified, the other two persons (the Father and the Holy Spirit) were still overseeing the universe.

So hopefully you now have some understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. So what is there to be confused about? I think part of the confusion, especially for younger people, is that a lot of…stuff…I think that is a polite way to put it, is thrown up on the Internet in various forms and from various sources of very varied reliability.  Just remember, the internet will sit still for anything you want post on it. Not that you need to be high tech to have controversy. The reason that there was so much thought about the Trinity is that the very early church started having problems about some of the things that were being taught. This also happens today with some groups. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and Unitarians for example, all do not believe in the Trinity.  One of the main points they bring up is that the word “trinity” does not appear in the Bible, which is true. For that matter, the word “Bible” doesn’t appear in the Bible either (except on the cover and title page), but that term is pretty commonly used as well.

It can be rather difficult to find a source on the history of this doctrine on the internet that doesn’t present a very strong point of view. One site that manages in this case though is called ReligionFacts.com. I’m going to quote a little history from them now.

“The doctrine of the Trinity took centuries to develop, but the roots of the doctrine can be seen from the first century.

The word “Trinity” is not found in the New Testament, nor is the doctrine explicitly taught there. However, foundations of the concept of the Trinity can be seen in the New Testament, especially in the Gospel of John, one of the latest and most theologically developed of the New Testament books. 

Hints of Trinitarian beliefs can also be seen in the teachings of extra-biblical writers as early as the end of the first century. However, the clearest early expression of the concept came with Tertullian, a Latin theologian who wrote in the early third century. Tertullian coined the words “Trinity” and “person” and explained that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were “one in essence – not one in Person.”

About a century later, in 325, the Council of Nicea set out to officially define the relationship of the Son to the Father, in response to the controversial teachings of Arius. Led by bishop Athanasius, the council established the doctrine of the Trinity as orthodoxy and condemned Arius’ teaching that Christ was the first creation of God. The creed adopted by the council described Christ as “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.” 

Nicea did not end the controversy, however. Debate over how the creed (especially the phrase “one substance”) ought to be interpreted continued to rage for decades. One group advocated the doctrine that Christ was a “similar substance” as the Father. But for the most part, the issue of the Trinity was settled at Nicea and, by the fifth century, never again became a focus of serious controversy.”

The website goes on to say, “There are many differences in doctrine between various mainstream Christian denominations, but the doctrine of the Trinity is not one of them.

The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of the Christian faith and of Christian life. 
— Roman Catholicism

The fundamental truth of the Orthodox Church is the faith revealed in the True God: the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. — Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

We teach that the one true God. is the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, three distinct persons, but of one and the same divine essence, equal in power, equal in eternity, equal in majesty, because each person possesses the one divine essence . Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod)

We trust in the one triune God. — Presbyterian Church (USA)

The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being. — Southern Baptist Convention

There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there are three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity-the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. — United Methodist Church”

Looks like we have a lot of company when it comes to the Trinity. And it’s quite a topic to talk about on a sunny/cloudy/rainy Sunday morning. Maybe we were better off with our original topic – “How to Identify A Tractor By the Sound It Makes.” Only instead of tractors, maybe we had just better listen to nature, as God’s majesty shines through His Creation, listen to the words of Jesus, as they are read from the pulpit, or listen to the Holy Spirit, as the still small voice in our hearts.

Or we could just listen to Hymn No. 262 in the Hymnal: (slide)

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!

Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!

God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!



May 8, AD2011 – “Leper-cons”, Pastor Ben Willis

Leviticus 13:1-17 [NLTse]

1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 2 “If anyone has a swelling or a rash or discolored skin that might develop into a serious skin disease, that person must be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons. 3 The priest will examine the affected area of the skin. If the hair in the affected area has turned white and the problem appears to be more than skin-deep, it is a serious skin disease, and the priest who examines it must pronounce the person ceremonially unclean.

4 “But if the affected area of the skin is only a white discoloration and does not appear to be more than skin-deep, and if the hair on the spot has not turned white, the priest will quarantine the person for seven days. 5 On the seventh day the priest will make another examination. If he finds the affected area has not changed and the problem has not spread on the skin, the priest will quarantine the person for seven more days. 6 On the seventh day the priest will make another examination. If he finds the affected area has faded and has not spread, the priest will pronounce the person ceremonially clean. It was only a rash. The person’s clothing must be washed, and the person will be ceremonially clean. 7 But if the rash continues to spread after the person has been examined by the priest and has been pronounced clean, the infected person must return to be examined again. 8 If the priest finds that the rash has spread, he must pronounce the person ceremonially unclean, for it is indeed a skin disease.

9 “Anyone who develops a serious skin disease must go to the priest for an examination. 10 If the priest finds a white swelling on the skin, and some hair on the spot has turned white, and there is an open sore in the affected area, 11 it is a chronic skin disease, and the priest must pronounce the person ceremonially unclean. In such cases the person need not be quarantined, for it is obvious that the skin is defiled by the disease.

12 “Now suppose the disease has spread all over the person’s skin, covering the body from head to foot. 13 When the priest examines the infected person and finds that the disease covers the entire body, he will pronounce the person ceremonially clean. Since the skin has turned completely white, the person is clean. 14 But if any open sores appear, the infected person will be pronounced ceremonially unclean. 15 The priest must make this pronouncement as soon as he sees an open sore, since open sores indicate the presence of a skin disease. 16 However, if the open sores heal and turn white like the rest of the skin, the person must return to the priest 17 for another examination. If the affected areas have indeed turned white, the priest will then pronounce the person ceremonially clean by declaring, ‘You are clean!’”

Kyra and Karly have just beaten me in Wii baseball. Different kids are putting on skits as the rest of us watch and laugh. All the other Youth Leaders are asleep. It’s 4:22 Saturday morning during the Youth Group Lock-In and I’m writing my sermon…

[Acting this out. Cover my mouth and cry out] “Unclean! Unclean!” [Get one arm out of my jacket, letting it hang askew] “Unclean! Unclean!” [Begin walking down the Chancel steps, but then speaking to those sitting in the first rows] “Stay back! See, I am unclean! Stay back!”

Can you imagine? I don’t think any of us can imagine what it would be like to be permanently unclean in Israelite society. That’s an awkward way of saying that, of course, because if you were unclean in Israelite society you weren’t part of Israelite society! Leper colonies were established in ancient Israel because those who’d been declared unclean because of a chronic skin disease were not allowed to live within the towns and cities of Israel and Judah in Old Testament times, nor within the towns and cities of Judea and The Galilee in New Testament times. Lepers (the skin diseases included more than just leprosy – what is called “Hansen’s Disease” today – but they have come to be lumped together under the umbrella-term “leprosy”) lepers lived in isolation, separated from those not so afflicted. It didn’t matter if you were rich or poor, married or single, had a family or not: If you were declared to have a chronic skin disease, you were cut off from your money, your spouse, your children (or parents) and moved out of town to join the leper camp.

“Unclean! Unclean!” You always had to wear torn clothing. It’s not that lepers became poor and so could only afford ratty clothing. No, lepers had to wear torn clothing so it would be clear to any and all who saw them even from a distance that they were unclean. If you were a leper and you were out in the countryside (because it was forbidden for you to enter the towns or cities) if you were out in the countryside and came across another traveler, you had to announce yourself, “Unclean! Unclean!” covering your mouth even as you cried out.

The only other people you touched were other lepers. The only other people who touched you were other lepers. I can’t imagine, I don’t think any of us can imagine, what it would be like to be so isolated, so alone, and with no hope of being a part of your family, your marriage, your business and lands, your old life again…

And that’s what the Lord Jesus has saved us from.

There are some 613 different laws recorded across the pages of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. And almost half of them here in Leviticus. Laws that if kept declared a person “righteous”, and if not kept that declared a person “a sinner”! Laws that if kept declared a person “clean” and free to participate in society and to draw near to the Lord in His Temple, and if not kept that declared a person “unclean” and cut-off from society and cut-off from the Lord and His holy presence in His holy Temple.

The Law could tell you you were righteous and clean, or the Law could tell you you were a sinner and unclean. But that’s all the Law could do, that’s all the Law could ever do. And then the Lord Jesus came, and He forgave sinners their sin, and He made lepers clean, restoring them to their husbands and wives and parents and children and friends and position and community… and to God.

And the truth is that ultimately we were all lepers, cut-off from each other, cut off from God, until the Lord Jesus came and saved us. Everyone is a leper – everyone who’s not in Christ. Everyone is separated from those around them, and spouses and family members and co-workers… and God. Some people are aware of their isolation. Others don’t seem to care but have turned their circumstances into ways to live off of others or shirk responsibilities. But everyone is cut-off without Jesus’ touch, without Jesus’ words of forgiveness, without Jesus’ cleansing, and making us whole.

The Good News According to Mark tells us:

40 “A man with leprosy came and knelt in front of Jesus, begging to be healed. ‘If you are willing, You can heal me and make me clean,’ he said.

41 “Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. ‘I am willing,’ He said. ‘Be healed!’ 42 Instantly the leprosy disappeared, and the man was healed. 43 Then Jesus sent him on his way with a stern warning: 44 ‘Don’t tell anyone about this. Instead, go to the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the law of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy. This will be a public testimony that you have been cleansed.’”

When was the last time you came and knelt in front of Jesus begging to be healed and cleansed? The Lord Jesus has authority, compassion, and the will to heal you and make you clean…