Sermon Options: June 17, 2012

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Seeing People as God Does

1 Samuel 15:34–16:13

We see the outside of people; God sees the inside. We see the body; God sees the heart.

It wasn’t difficult for Samuel to anoint Saul as Israel’s first king. Saul was an impressive physical specimen. He looked like a king. On the other hand, Samuel may have found it more difficult to anoint David as king after Saul, because David was a mere lad. The shepherd boy looked like anything but a king. Saul turned out to be a failure as a king. David ruled with great success.

Someone may ask: “Why did God select Saul as king? Didn’t God know his heart?” Yes, of course God knew his heart. Likely, God gave Israel what they wanted, a king like the kings of other nations. They looked on the outside of Saul. He looked like a king. They would have refused the shepherd boy at that juncture. They needed to learn to see people like God sees people. So the Lord let them learn.

God frequently chooses the weak, common, unimpressive folk from human perspective to be his servants. The Messiah himself was described by Isaiah (53:2) as one whose outward appearance would not attract people to him.

How frequently we see only the outside and not the inside of people and thus make an incorrect judgment of the kind of persons they are. Think of the pastor selection committees of local churches who have given priority to external qualities rather than the character of prospective pastors. Vance Havner once quipped that he was glad he wasn’t handsome, because he had noticed that people expect the preaching of preachers to live up to their looks!

Why does the Lord frequently use those who are unimpressive in the sight of man to do his greatest work? There are at least two reasons.

I. God’s Power Made Obvious

People soon were astonished at David’s exploits in battle. It was obvious that he didn’t possess the physical prowess to accomplish those exploits; thus, God was given more credit than if David had been a powerful warrior.

Some of the apostle Paul’s critics in the church at Corinth were critical of his preaching skills. Tradition teaches us that he wasn’t a handsome man. Also, he had a chronic illness that hindered him physically. Yet, second only to Jesus, Paul became the dominant figure in the New Testament because he accomplished so much church-planting within the Gentile world. Paul is responsible for as many as thirteen of the New Testament writings, and is a central figure in the book of Acts. Paul gave the glory to God for all his accomplishments. Concerning his preaching, he wrote that his speech was not with “plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:4-5).

II. God Looks Beneath the Surface

The Lord wasn’t surprised by David’s feats. He knew the young man’s heart. He saw the qualities that could be divinely enhanced within him to make him a great king.

Similarly, God perceived in Saul of Tarsus the capacity to become a great Christian missionary, even when he was a vicious persecutor of Christians. God saved him and made of him an effective apostle to the Gentiles. He was used as the most influential instrument in the hands of God to break down the barrier between Jewish and Gentile believers. (Jerry E. Oswalt)

New Life in Christ

2 Corinthians 5:6-17

In previous passages Paul has dealt with faith in life eternal and how mortal existence is just a prelude to that which is yet to come. In this lesson he draws a parallel to discipleship. Unredeemed life, he suggests, is mere prelude to converted life.

I. Eternal Life Is a Promise

Paul states, “We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (v. 8). He trusts that death is simply a bridge linking worlds, a pathway leading Home. Maurice Boyd writes of a bridge in Europe engraved with these words: “Bridges are meant to cross over. No one builds his house there.” So it is with life. The journey is exciting. We love it and wish to linger. But ultimately this life is a bridge between worlds, and Home waits on the other side of crossing.

II. Abundant Life Is Also a Promise

Just as death means birth to life eternal, so does conversion mean re-birth to the abundant. “So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (v. 17).

Many people are familiar with Chuck Colson’s story and how he underwent a personal metamorphosis. Formerly a convicted Watergate criminal, he now is instrumental in ministry to the incarcerated. Colson’s previous experiences were a prelude to his new existence. The cocoon produced a butterfly.

A personal friend whose life crumbled has painstakingly rebuilt a new and devotedly Christian identity. He often concludes statements with the phrase, “That was in my former life.” For him, the new birth that Christ described to Nicodemus and Paul and affirmed in this passage was a moment of starting over. My friend became a new person. “So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

III. Judgment Is Not Our Prerogative

“From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view. . . . if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation” (vv. 16-17). When a person has experienced rebirth, it is not our role to judge his or her sincerity or to remind others of his or her former lifestyle.

I recall once commending a certain church member for his commitment to missions. He displayed in word and deed a genuine love for the underprivileged and dispossessed, and gave of himself graciously to assist them. A listener replied: “It’s true. He has become a great fellow. I remember when he was a drunken philanderer. What a wonderful change has occurred for him.” In one brief statement a person’s reputation was smeared and his authentic conversion was devalued.

“I remember when he was a drunken philanderer.” That statement served no purpose but to discredit and embarrass. It lacked compassion. Jesus would never have said something like that, and such is the standard for judging what we, too, should and should not say about others. (Michael Brown)

The Kingdom is Like . . .

Mark 4:26-34

There are so many things around us that make us wonder whether it is worth the effort to try to do mercy, love justice, and to live a life that is becoming to followers of Jesus Christ. Two thousand years of Christian faithfulness have gone by, and to judge by the mass media assaults on our consciousness, the world is worse instead of better.

What’s the use of trying to do good? Where are the signs of the coming of the kingdom of God?

There have been times in history when Christians were sure that the kingdom of God was just around the corner. During the periods of 1880 and 1920 in this country, we thought the kingdom was near. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., wrote in the Saturday Evening Post of February 1918: “I see the church molding the thought of the world as it has never done before, leading in all great movements of history as it should. I see it literally establishing the kingdom of God on earth.”

But now, as Bob Dylan once said, “We don’t talk so proud.” Now we are not so sure of the victory of goodness over evil.

The disciples of Jesus early in his ministry asked a lot of the same questions we ask today. “How come there aren’t more people at the service, Lord? If by their fruits ye shall know them, how come goodness seems to be having so few fruits?”

In response to their questions, Jesus told a series of parables—parables about sowing seed; about the different kinds of results; about the hidden growth and the harvest; about the mustard seed. These stories help us look at this coming kingdom of God and our participation in it.

I. The Coming Kingdom Is Assured

The good news is the assurance of a harvest. The kingdom will come. As surely as you and I can predict that death will come to each of us, Jesus says you can trust the forces of God’s mercy and grace and love to bring in the kingdom of God. Do not be discouraged by the size of the beginning; do not be concerned about the visible signs of the fruitiness of your efforts. The kingdom of God will come.

II. It Will Not Be a Kingdom of Our Making

The kingdom is one of grace and mercy that will come because God brings it. The church and the kingdom of God are the creation of God. The farmer does not know how the seed germinates and grows. Likewise, the kingdom of God grows in hidden, mysterious ways, independently of our human efforts.

The parable suggests that we are to be faithful farmers, sowers of the seed, and we are not to worry about the crop because God will produce the harvest. We are often tempted to become so caught up with worrying about the harvest that we neglect the sowing of the seed. Or we may forget that God keeps us in this world to act as ministers of reconciliation, to be salt to prevent the rotting from getting worse. Or we may be so depressed by the apparently unconquered power of evil that we lose all faith and thus contribute to the darkness.

Also, we may become so concerned with building the kingdom here on earth that we may forget that there is so much more to come. We may focus all of our attention on the possibilities of this world and forget that this world and all it offers are under judgment by the holiness of God. We may begin to equate our efforts and achievements with God’s kingdom and thus lose touch with the only true standard by which the events and accomplishments of this world can be measured.

III. God Calls Us to Faithfulness in Light of the Kingdom

When Elijah fled from Jezebel into the cave and complained to God that he was the only one left, God said, “Oh, hush, I have seven thousand who have not bowed a knee to Baal.” Jesus told the parables to help us hear the good news. The kingdom of God comes because it is God’s gift of mercy and grace. It comes as a wonderful surprise, as a gift of hope and as a miracle of love. Do not be discouraged; the kingdom will come. Do not neglect your part of faithfully scattering the seeds, but remember you are called simply to scatter the seeds and enjoy the new life that God has given you as his people. Do not neglect your calling; however, do not believe that your great society, your new deals, are God’s kingdom. The good news is that the harvest will come. (Rick Brand)

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