Sermon Options: June 3, 2012
Guess What Happened in Worship
If someone commissioned me to write a book entitled Interesting Things That Happened in Worship, I would have abundant material. It might have to be multivolumes. Some of the volumes would be Tragedies, Funny Experiences, and Strange Occurrences.
Isaiah wrote in his prophecy what happened when he went to worship at the temple. He had a significant encounter with God. What happened to Isaiah needs to happen to us every time we come to worship.
I. We Need a Profound Awareness of God (vv. 1-4)
The most significant occurrence in worship happens when we focus our attention on God. The first thing that happened to Isaiah was he saw the Lord.
Isaiah’s awareness of God produced some great assurances. He was assured of the sovereignty of God. Uzziah, the king, had died, but God is and will forever be on God’s throne. Isaiah became overwhelmed with the majesty of God. Mysterious descriptions came to Isaiah in verse 2. The prophet acknowledged the holiness of God.
Genuine worship starts with God. Worshipers become aware of his presence, and as they become aware of his presence they know his traits.
II. We Need a Realistic Consciousness of Ourselves (v. 5)
As soon as Isaiah became aware of the holy God, he began to get a realistic view of himself. For creatures to be in the presence of the Creator makes creatures aware of their sins.
Isaiah had a realistic consciousness of his personal sinfulness: “Woe is me!” He elaborates on his condition with two expressions: “lost” and “unclean lips.” He acknowledged that his heart condition and verbal expression did not measure up to God’s expectations.
Isaiah also had a universal consciousness of sin. The sin problem prevailed in everyone else: “I live among a people of unclean lips” (v. 5b).
A realistic consciousness of ourselves always comes when we come into the presence of the King, the Lord of hosts. God does not just want us to face our sins. He wants to do something about them.
III. We Need a Generous Bestowal of Forgiveness (vv. 6-7)
As soon as Isaiah became painfully aware of his sin, God began the bestowal of forgiveness. God wants to take care of the sin problem in human lives.
Isaiah described it with two words: iniquity and sin. The world iniquity means “to twist.” The word sin means to fall short of God’s intention.
Isaiah experienced the remedy with God taking away his iniquity and purging his sin. God gave a complete pardon. We need God’s gracious bestowal of forgiveness.
IV. We Need a Willing Spirit to Serve God (v. 8)
Isaiah did not just have an encounter with God in the temple. His experience with God led to service in the world. All kinds of needs existed in Judah. People needed the Lord. God’s greatest desire is to help people with these needs.
To meet human needs, God uses human instruments. “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (v. 8b). God searched for volunteers. Then Isaiah responded: “Here am I; send me!” (v. 8c). Isaiah’s worship led to service for God.
The reason churches advertise “Worship with us” is because they know profitable experiences can happen in worship. When you miss worship, you never know what kind of remarkable encounter with God you may be missing! (Harold T. Bryson)
Living Fearlessly with God
For many people, the Trinity is a concept that does not compute. The main reason is that people often try to make three equal one. Theological battles have been vigorously fought over this idea, and Christians have declared each other heretics over their formulations of the Triune God. Rather than trying to pour the ocean of God’s truth on this matter into the teacup formulations of our minds, it is far better to take a lesson from Paul and discover the power for living that is resident in the experiencing of God in three personages.
Today’s focal text from Romans makes no attempt at constructing a mathematical equation. It merely sets out for us how the caring God can touch our lives in three different ways. Moreover, as in other passages of the New Testament (cf. 1 Pet. 1:2 and Rev. 1:4-5), Paul is not bound to confine himself to the later creedal order of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Theological formulations can often be very proper, but leave one with the feeling of being dry and dead. In contrast, Paul’s words ring with vitality and power. His God is not dead! His message about living with God is dynamic.
I. Living with the Spirit
Having detailed in the previous passages of Romans the radical differences between a life that is oriented to the created world (flesh) and one that is oriented to the Creator (Spirit), Paul challenges his readers to abandon any commitments that make the world (flesh) and its desires the goal of life. Such commitments can only lead to death (v. 13), because the pattern of world orientation is insecurity and fear (v. 15).
Those who are committed to God are entirely different because they are obedient to (led by) and have a deep sense of companionship through the Spirit. Insecurity is therefore banished in their sense of relationship (sonship and daughterhood) to God (vv. 14-16).
II. Relating to the Father
Paul and the New Testament writers are theocentric. The one God is the center of their theologies. For Jews like Paul who had even ceased to use the name of God (YHWH) because of fear of taking that name in vain, the designation of God as “Father” was revolutionary. Certainly Jesus had called God “Father,” but as a result he was labeled a blasphemer.
Even more significant was the fact that Jesus taught his disciples to call God “Father” (cf. Matt. 6:9). So important was this idea to Paul that he used not only the Greek word for Father but also included the Semitic word Abba (v. 15; cf. Gal. 4:5) , which probably goes back to Jesus himself. Praying to God as “Father,” therefore, probably encapsulated for Paul his dearest relationship. God cares for us and allows us to pray to him in the intimacy of a child-to-parent relationship.
III. Following the Model of Jesus
When Jesus called his disciples, he summoned them to “follow” him. The pattern of copying Jesus model is well established in the New Testament (cf. Phil. 2:1-11). But what is sometimes difficult to accept is that the model of Jesus is one of self-giving and suffering.
Paul understood the cost of discipleship, and he wanted all Christians to realize that following the Master would likely be painful (v. 17; cf. 1 Pet. 2:21) . Yet the hope of glory makes fearless living in the midst of pain possible because our future is in the hands of the living God (Rom. 8:18 ; cf. 1 Pet. 1:6-9). (Gerald L. Borchert)
What image comes to mind when you hear the words “born again”? The 1976 election of a “born again” Southern Baptist, Jimmy Carter, introduced the national media to the term. Perhaps you think of an Elmer Gantry-type preacher thundering hellfire and damnation. Maybe you see a man with a sign reading, “Ye must be born again.” Although Jesus only used the term once, it is frequently a caricature of authentic evangelical Christian faith. And that’s a pity—the truth is much too important to be lost.
I. Religion Is Not Enough
Soren Kierkegaard asked rhetorically, “How does one become a Christian in Christendom?” In other words, what distinguishes authentic Christian faith from the watered-down cultural Christianity of organized religion. How do you preach to the baptized?
Nicodemus was a wealthy Jewish leader of the Pharisee sect. He was sworn to observe the law of God. Intrigued by Jesus, he came by night—perhaps to avoid public exposure, perhaps because of the urgency of his quest. But Jesus would have nothing to do with the niceties of theological dialogue. He confronts Nicodemus with the challenge, “only those born from above can enter the kingdom of God.”
II. The New Birth Is a Mystery
Commentators spend a great deal of time and exegetical energy on what it means to be born of “water and spirit.” Certainly physical birth precedes spiritual birth. Water baptism is important, though Christ had not yet given that command to the church, so John’s baptism for repentance was all that Nicodemus would know. Certainly the washing of the word is tied to the working of the Spirit in the New Testament.
Yet Nicodemus must have missed the point entirely, or maybe we have. He was amazed by the notion of the new birth. Jesus compared the Spirit’s work to the wind. You may hear its sound and feel the effect, but you never know where the wind will blow next. We spend too much time in search of a formula or spiritual laws that, when followed, guarantee new birth.
III. The New Birth Transforms Lives
We are children of God not because we remember the day and hour we prayed a prayer or on what verse of “Just As I Am” we walked the aisle. Jesus says you only know the wind has blown by the effect. The fruit of Christ’s presence is the surest sign one is born again. John never forgot this lesson. In his first epistle he gave three evidences of those who are “sons of God.” If we love the brethren, acknowledge Jesus is Lord, and obey his commands we are disciples. I remember an old Presbyterian missionary who taught us theology in Bible college. One day he said that he could not remember a time when Christ was not real and precious in his life. A fellow student, troubled that Brother Davidson could not remember the day and the hour he was converted, challenged him: “How do you know you are a Christian?” Brother D. pounded on his chest and replied: “Because Jesus lives in my heart.” The evidence of Christ’s presence was real in Brother Davidson’s life.
God does love us and have a wonderful plan for our lives. We are born from above. The evidence is in the effect this blowing of the Spirit will have on our lives. (L. Joseph Rosas)