Sermon Options: February 4, 2018

January 4th, 2018

The High King of Heaven

Isaiah 40:21-31

Chapter 40 was written concerning the close of Israel’s exile in Babylon. It is filled with hope as the prophet is instructed to “comfort my people, says your God” (vv. 1-2). Prophets normally confront people with the Lord’s demands and call for their repentance. Here he is told to “speak tenderly” (literally “speak to the heart”). This is a message of encouragement and reassurance.

The focal passage shows God to be great—incomparable. As the songwriter exclaimed, “How great thou art.”

I. God Is Creator and Lord of History (vv. 21-24)

The Lord is the High King of heaven “who sits above the circle of the earth” (v. 22). The circle is the vault of the heavens above the earth. It appeared to be a dome on which the stars were fixed. (See Job 22:12-14.) God “walks on the dome of heaven.” In Genesis 1 it is called “the firmament” (v. 6). The sky looked to be a dome above the earth to ancient people. They envisioned God living above his creation.

The prophet ridiculed the mighty pagan rulers. He probably had King Cyrus in mind. To God the inhabitants of the earth appear no bigger than grasshoppers—and their princes amount to nothing (v. 23). They are like plants withered and blown away by the hot desert wind (the sirocco). The storm carries them away like stubble (v. 24). The Lord is King of kings.

II. God Is Incomparable (vv. 25-26)

To whom can God be compared? Certainly not to a pagan idol (vv. 18-20). Babylon was a center of star worship or astrology. They believed the stars to be gods. That ancient pagan myth is still very much alive—and still pagan. The prophet contends that the stars are part of God’s creation that line up in the heavens like soldiers on a parade ground and “not one is missing” (v. 26). Don’t worship the stars but the God who created them.

III. God Cares for Us (vv. 27-31)

Captive Israel had grown faint and weary. They had long been a people without a land and they had grown bitter. In verse 27 they accused God of ignoring their plight. The prophet assures them of the heavenly Father’s care. This eternal Creator does not grow weary and there is no limit to his understanding (v. 28). This Almighty God gives power and strength to those who trust in him (v. 29). As J. B. Phillips would say, “Their God was too small.” The prophet shows God to be great and the believer’s source of strength.

Verse 31—portraying eagle wings of faith—is a magnificent climax to the passage. When even the young are exhausted, those who wait on the Lord are empowered. Eagles molted and grew new feathers. Ancient people saw this as a symbol of spiritual renewal: “your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” ( Ps. 103:5) . To wait on the Lord literally means to cling to him as a vine entwines itself around a tree (wisteria). It is a metaphor for trust and dependence on the Lord.

In crisis he delivers us—we mount up with wings like eagles.

In busy times he delivers us—we run and do not grow weary.

In routine times he delivers us—we walk and do not faint.Faith is tough-minded trust in the Eternal. And faith is what results in victory in our lives. (Alton H. McEachern)

The Joy of Personal Evangelism

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

God has chosen people to be the only means of spreading the gospel. Why?

God is glorified in accomplishing the task using the simplest tools. Think of the pyramids of Egypt. People flock to them and stand amazed as they behold them. Because of their size? Hardly. They were built using only the most primitive technology and human labor. The fact that the Egyptians accomplished so much with so little amazes us.

Look around at the Body of Christ today. There are Christians in every nation, among every major language group. Billions of them. Because of angels? No. Because God has used people often no more willing, no more trained, no more gifted than any of us.

Paul recognizes three possibilities regarding our acceptance of our evangelistic mandate.

I. Some Will Never Share the Good News

Paul says the least about this possibility: “Woe to me if I do not.” What does he mean?

First, the person who fails to share the good news will lose the blessings he would have gained by having been a part of God’s work. I quit asking God why he used people the first time he used me to lead someone to Christ.

Paul knew that if he did not share, he would lose the blessing of seeing those he had won to Christ. He would lose the joy of knowing he had done for someone else what had been done for him. He also could be referring to the sorrow he would feel if he saw those left behind he could have helped.

II. Some Will Share the Good News, but Unwillingly

The idea of a reluctant witness is an amazing concept. It could describe some people who really don’t want new people to come into their church, but they allow it. Or perhaps they share unwillingly because they will feel guilty if they don’t.

Still, sharing the gospel unwillingly is a foreign concept to Paul. He doesn’t say much about it, except that there is no reward for sharing strictly out of a sense of obligation.

III. God’s Plan Is for Us to Share the Good News Joyfully

The greatest reward and joy is simply to share the good news freely with everyone. Paul doesn’t have to find out first if someone can afford the gospel, or if they deserve an opportunity.

Paul remembers just how special were the people God used to witness to him, and he delights in being that special to others. We all can remember people who helped us develop and grow: teachers, friends, relatives, and, of course, parents. And we appreciate these people. But the people I appreciate most are those who “risked offending me” by sharing their faith with me. There were several who witnessed to me, invited me to church, and tried to help me. To know someone else feels this way about me makes me feel rather special.

One last thing Paul says in verse 22b: “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.” A multitude of means exist by which we can reach people. Some friends witnessed to me directly. My wife’s mother didn’t think she could, so she offered me Sunday lunch if I would go to church with her. It was her prayers, and her unique approach to “lunchtime evangelism,” that helped me become Christian.

You may have neighbors who will not come to church, but they would come to a Bible study in your home. Maybe they would read a Christian book if you gave them one. If you do not like one method, keep looking for a method that fits you. But whatever the method, share with others what God has done for you! (Bill Groover)

What’s Our Perspective?

Mark 1:29-39

In recording the early part of Jesus ministry, Mark seeks to emphasize the multidimensional nature of who he is and what he has come to do. The healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, the casting out of demons, his teaching, and his statement concerning his preaching ministry all spotlight activities that will become the signposts of his ministry. From the beginning of his portrayal of Jesus, Mark seeks to define the many ways in which Jesus will proclaim and witness to the kingdom of God. Mark also reveals the source of his empowerment as he has Jesus rising early to be alone with God in prayer.

While these passages don’t carry the drama of the feeding of the five thousand or Jesus walking on the water, they do share in a subtle way the connection between the works Jesus does and the source that empowers such work. This is an important connection for Mark, because he wants us to realize that the kingdom that Jesus has been sent to express is a direct revelation of God and God’s activity in a hurting and sinful world. In all of these ways Jesus embodies and proclaims the presence of the kingdom of God.

I. The Kingdom Is Revealed in His Power Over Nature

As Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law, then others who are ill, one sees the power of God’s kingdom erupting into everyday life through the person of Jesus. In this Epiphany text, we see how God’s kingdom becomes manifest in the routine and ordinary lives of people.

The miracles of Jesus are not important because of their value as spectacle but because they symbolize the presence of the kingdom in human life. As Jesus moved into lives, so did the kingdom.

II. The Kingdom Is Revealed in His Power Over the Supernatural

Jesus demonstrates power over not just natural phenomena but also supernatural, represented by the demons who possessed people. He held utter authority over them, even to the point of forbidding their speech. They recognized that when Jesus spoke, he did so with the full authority and power of God’s kingdom.

III. The Kingdom Is Revealed in His Presence in Individual Lives

It is interesting to note the response of the people who experience that abiding presence. A woman rises from her illness to serve in a common way. Demons recognize Jesus for who he is when everyone else seems duped. His disciples, who should have trusted him most, act exasperated when they find him alone: they exclaim, “Everyone is searching for you” (v. 37). How strange to hear these stories and the stranger-still responses of those who experience the reality of God’s kingdom.

Jesus seems to stand out in these stories as the one who seems sure, trusting, and empowered to authoritatively and authentically manifest the difference God’s presence makes in the midst of all kinds of life experiences. Although subtle, these passages express the mystery of how God’s kingdom will manifest itself, and the mixed response of those who experience it.

What will be our response as we encounter the manifestation of God’s kingdom in the everyday? Moses at the burning bush; Isaiah in the temple; fisherman by the sea; a woman at a well; Paul on a road to Damascus—all serve to remind us of how God’s manifestation meets us where we are. As a pastor, I can recall haunting, yet powerful moments in ministry when in a hospital room, a nursing home, or in visiting a prospect, God encountered me and those around me and invited us to respond.

In such moments what will be our response? (Travis Franklin)

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