Sermon Options: November 5, 2023

October 1st, 2020

Living the Covenant

Joshua 3:7-17

Moses is dead, and Joshua has been commissioned by the Lord. Israel is making plans to enter the land promised by Yahweh. Joshua sends spies to Jericho, and they find shelter from, of all people, Rahab, a prostitute of the city.

In any event, Israel makes provisions for battle to possess the land Yahweh has promised to generation after generation of Israelites. Israel is camped by the Jordan and awaits further instruction from Yahweh via the new leader Joshua.

I. The Importance of the Land

For us moderns, it is easy to overlook the anticipation that the Israelites were feeling. For generations, they had anticipated the fulfillment of promise the land represented. As early as Genesis 12:5, our Scripture tells us "Abram took his wife Sarai...and all the possessions that they had gathered...and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan." Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph also formed their identities around this land of promise. For these ancestors, the land represented what the metaphor "heaven" represents for Christians. It was a destination where God could be celebrated in life's fullness. For hungry, nomadic people, the promise of "a land flowing with milk and honey" symbolized everything for which they had ever hoped. The most disappointing words heard by Moses surely must have been the Lord saying, "This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, 'I will give it to your descendants'; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there" (Deut. 34:4) . Joshua and the people would inhabit what Moses had worked a lifetime to attain.

II. The Promise and the Assurance

Our text today helps us anticipate and participate vicariously with the Hebrew children of promise in the attainment of the dream. The Lord tells Joshua many things that will encourage the people: "I will begin to exalt you...I will be with you as I was with Moses. You...shall command the priests [to] stand still in the Jordan" (vv. 7-8). Joshua said, "By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you" the enemies of the people of God (v. 10). And the ark of the Lord does pass before them into the Jordan. This scene reminds the biblically alert of another water crossing at the beginning of the wilderness wanderings. Now, like then, the Lord will be with them. The living God will act without fail!

III. The Promise to the New Israel

Pastors regularly have the privilege of standing with people at the church's altar as they make sacred marriage covenants. Anyone who has stood where pastors stand can see in people's eyes and by their actions how seriously they take the covenant they make "in the presence of God and these witnesses." Each time we, as members of the church, hear the story of Israel and their battles to remain faithful in the wilderness, we, too, are reminded of our own battles in our own wilderness. Though we must translate Israel's wilderness wanderings into our own cultural and social milieu, we know how difficult the battles with principalities and powers are. But we also do well to remember that, through the testimony of Scripture, we have a God who wants more for us than we can ever imagine. This is divine assurance, and it comes to us on the cross of Jesus and in Christ's resurrection.

For those who have placed their faith in Jesus, these age-old words from Deuteronomy still ring true: "The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. Not with our ancestors did the LORD make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today" (Deut. 5:2-3). Thanks be to God. Amen. (David Neil Mosser)

Marks of Ministry

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

Paul explained how the gospel came to Thessalonica (vv. 1-2); now he narrates how he ministered to the Thessalonian believers, thereby exemplifying significant marks of ministry. Christians who effectively serve Christ in ministry will be identified by these marks. These characteristics suggest how a ministry can develop and be maintained and how people can be influenced for Christ's sake.

I. Diligent Industry (v. 9)

According to rabbinic tradition, in order for a rabbi to teach, he had to have a job. Paul worked as a tentmaker to support himself so he would not be a financial burden to the Thessalonian congregation. In his second letter to the Thessalonian believers, he harshly criticized those who stopped working and focused completely on the day of the Lord's coming. His judgment was that if Christians did not work, they were not to be supported and fed by the hardworking members of their congregation (2 Thess. 3:10) . Paul could have claimed his rights as an apostle and required the Thessalonian church to financially support him (1 Thess. 2:7) ; instead, he sacrificially labored with his hands so that he could minister to the church in freedom. Ministers should use the gospel for their rightful needs and benefits. They should also be used by the Lord and the gospel in order to benefit the church and the world.

II. Exemplary Conduct (vv. 10, 12)

The old cliche, "Do as I say and not as I do," does not work in parenting or in ministry. Paul's ministry among the Thessalonian believers is backed up by a holy lifestyle. Both the work and the worker are holy. Paul calls these believers to the court of human justice to assess his behavior while he served them. He even appeals to the highest court in the universe, the supreme court of heaven, and requests the Almighty God to testify on his behalf. He is confident there will be a consensus that he has lived an exemplary Christian life among these believers. As a result of his credibility, he challenges the Thessalonian believers to imitate him and to live lives worthy of God, who called them into his kingdom (v. 12).

III. Fatherly Firmness (v. 11)

Paul said to the Thessalonians, "You have become very dear to us" (v. 8). The Greek word for "dear" or "beloved" is agapetoi, which represents the unconditional love of God. One characteristic of God's love is recognized in the feminine trait of a mother nursing or breast-feeding her children (v. 7). This is love in the mode of nurturing. Another characteristic of God's love is discerned in the masculine trait of a father advising and admonishing his children (v. 11). This is love in the form of instruction.

There is a caring spirit in the apostle Paul. This warm-spirited demeanor is especially seen in Paul through the windows of the images of a nurturing mother and an advising father. As a father, Paul involves himself with these believers and helps them move toward maturity in Christ. As a father, Paul watches over his Thessalonian family and makes sacrifices for their welfare.

Christians must imitate the posture of Paul through his threefold ministry as a father (v. 11 KJV): (1) "exhort" or give godly instruction to fellow believers who are seeking counsel; (2) "comfort" or console fellow Christians who are hurting from life's disasters; and (3) "charge" or urge fellow saints to become all they can be in Christ. IV. Incessant Gratitude (v. 13)

These verses are an expansion of the condensed thought of 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3. Paul and his companions are holding a service of thanksgiving as they reflect on their growing ministry to these believers: "We also constantly give thanks to God for this." They thanked God for the manner in which the Thessalonians received the proclaimed word. The word "received" appears twice in verse 13 (KJV). The Thessalonians doubly received the word. In the Greek text, there are two different words for "received." The first denotes a taking of the word; the second indicates a welcoming of the word. It is possible to appropriate the word and fail to appreciate the word.

Christians embrace biblical principles that will afford them blessings; and yet they may not appreciate God's Word for its essence—for what it is. Christians must learn to appropriate what comes out of God's hand as well as to appreciate God's hand for mere fellowship. In this way God will not simply be endured; God will be enjoyed. Jesus discussed the badge of discipleship: "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35 KJV). Paul wears this badge of discipleship as he ministers to the Thessalonians. The marks of ministry are seen through the Pauline lens of diligent industry, exemplary conduct, fatherly firmness, and incessant gratitude. Are these characteristics of your ministry? (Robert Smith, Jr.)

Living out of Character

Matthew 23:1-12

My son John, a college student with a theater minor, had a part in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. His friends attended a performance and had trouble controlling their laughter each time John spoke. Afterward they told him, "That was so much out of character for you. You are rarely serious." Some of the most effective stage presentations come from actors who share the experience of the character they portray.

The word hypocrite transliterates a Greek word for play-acting. Greek and Roman actors spoke in a large mask with mechanical devices for augmenting the force of the voice. The actor was a hypocrite—one who played the part. Jesus leveled his strongest judgment against spiritual hypocrites—God's people living out of character. Because hypocrisy takes so many casualties in the Kingdom, Jesus issues this strong warning. Max Lucado calls this "the crackdown of Christ on midway religion."

I. Playing the Part

The irreligious have no problem living out of character. Jesus described individuals who "sit on Moses' seat" and handle the Word of God: "They do not practice what they teach" (vv. 2-3). The Bible outsells all other books each year. One survey of customers at secular bookstores noted the Bible influenced them more than any other book. Yet the gap widens between reverence for the Bible and life governed by its principles.

Is your religion for show or for real? Do you serve God to be seen by others? I still remember from my youth a businessman who left our church for one that needed him much less, but "it was better for business." Playing the part may get you the best seat in the house or have you on center stage, but "all who exalt themselves will be humbled" (v. 12).

II. Living the Life

Jesus calls us to live the life of genuine discipleship instead of playing the part. "But you..." (vv. 8-12) contrasts with the hypocritical character pictured in verses 2-7. Anthony Munoz, former Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman and three-time NFL offensive player of the year, rejected an interview and feature story for Playboy magazine. "It was a decision between me and the Lord. When you get into what the Bible says you find out what God wants you to do," he said. "You have one teacher, the Christ" (vv. 8, 10), and his life and word provide the standard for living the life.

"You are all brethren," Jesus says, reminding us of the "fellowship of kindred minds." Hypocrites look out for themselves. Christians care for each other, admonish each other, and learn from each other. Jesus calls us to servanthood: "The greatest among you will be your servant" (v. 11). Robert E. Lee exemplified the servant who denied self for the sake of others. On what was probably his last trip to northern Virginia, a young mother brought her baby to Lee to be blessed. With the infant in his arms he slowly said, "Teach him he must deny himself." If we just play the part, everything ends when the curtain falls. When we live the life of Christ, the action continues. (Bill Wittaker)

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