Sermon Options: March 11, 2018

February 11th, 2018

Patience for the Way

Numbers 21:4-9

We are inching our way toward Easter. We are impatient and want to get there now! In some respects we are like God’s people in today’s scripture text. The Jews are moving from Mount Hor to the Red Sea. They are still very much a pilgrim people, not sure of their destination but anxious about the journey. Their grumbling is treated as a serious problem. Impatience breeds distrust and mutiny. As we wait during this Easter season we can learn needed lessons.

I. Waiting on God Takes Special Patience

Our whole society seems to be waiting for something significant. What significant event are we waiting for? It varies with different people. For some it is more money or a better job. For others the hunger is for meaning in life. Henri Nouwen has written: “Beneath all the great accomplishments of our time there is a deep current of despair. While efficiency and control are the great aspirations of our society, the loneliness, isolation, lack of friendship and intimacy . . . and a deep sense of uselessness fill the hearts of millions of people in our success-oriented world.”

Like the ancient Jews, we are “on the way” also. But to where? Often we do not know, and that lack of knowledge requires open hearts and patience. Our journey takes patience and grace. We cannot put life on fast-forward. What we can do is to rely on God to help us develop patience. It is listed as part of the fruit of the spirit of God in Galatians 5:22-23.

II. God’s Good Gifts Are Not to Be Ignored

The people “spoke against God and against Moses” (v. 5). That sounds so typical! They had a better plan! Their question was extremely sarcastic. They wanted to know why they were led out into the desert to die of hunger and thirst. The rest of the complaint is summed up by these words: “There is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” The people hated the manna, the special food given by God.

The liberty they had and the food they consumed were not enough for them. They wanted more! But what really matters in life? Is it not some worthwhile work to be engaged in?

Albert Schweitzer left a promising career in medicine and music to pursue his sense of calling in Africa. He served as overseer of the laborers who cleared vegetation on the site and worked on the buildings. One of the most educated and gifted men of his age, Schweitzer was foreman of a group of workers hewing down trees! He wrote in his book Out of My Life and Thoughts: “As soon as the building site had been cleared, I started making the land near it ready for cultivation. What a joy it was to win fields from the jungle!” One of the gifts of God is a sense of work to accomplish. Patience is required to find that work and to accomplish it.

III. God Takes Care of Our Most Pressing Problems

The Jews were bitten by poisonous snakes because of their grumbling. God provided a remedy for their dilemma. A snake of bronze was made and placed on a pole. Whenever someone was bitten he had only to look at the bronze serpent and he would live. We learn from 2 Kings 18:4 that the bronze snake later became a pagan symbol and lost its original meaning.

Jesus took the image of a healing pole and applied it to himself in John 3:14-15. He said he was to be lifted up. Anyone who looked to him for life would find it. Most people want to cling to life at all costs and will do almost anything to escape death.

We will do well to consider an ancient Persian story about a rich man who was walking in his garden with one of his servants. The servant cried out that he had just encountered Death who threatened him. The servant begged his master for the use of his fastest horse so he could flee to Teheran, which he could reach that night. The master consented and the servant galloped off at full speed. On returning to the house, the master himself met Death and questioned him: “Why did you terrify and threaten my servant like that?” Death said, “I did not threaten him. I only showed surprise in finding him here when I had planned to meet him in Teheran tonight.”

We have a sin problem and a mortality problem. God, through Christ, provides a way to be redeemed from sin and to have eternal life. (Don M. Aycock)

To See God’s Power

Ephesians 2:1-10

If in this Easter season you would see the greatness of God’s power, look not to creation with its awesome mountain grandeur; look not to the dark secret of the seashore at night, mind-boggling as the unfolding universe is; look not to the accounts of Jesus healing and teaching, as out of step with this world as they are. Rather, look to the power of God revealed in the two resurrections—the resurrection of Jesus, and the resurrection of each and every saint from the unredeemed life.

I. The Resurrection of Jesus Demonstrates His Lordship

God’s power is demonstrated first and foremost in raising Jesus. This was no public event; there was no news conference, no brass band or TV coverage. Yet in the stillness of that resurrection dawn, a new world was born. God’s re-creation of the world began in earnest.

The significance of the Resurrection is that the outcome of the struggle with Satan is settled; planning on the new world and the new race of men and women like Jesus can begin. God made this Jesus, his beloved son, lord of all the universe. His name is above all authority, all power, all rule, and all lordship. And Jesus is lord of the church, the re-created people of God.

II. The Resurrection of Jesus Confirms Our New Life

This unique, unparalleled demonstration of God’s power in raising Jesus is also shown in the raising of every follower of Jesus from the dark kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of light, the kingdom of the Son of God.

As we look at this account of the Christian’s resurrection to new life, have you experienced it? Paul packages the thrilling theology of Jesus resurrection in chapter 1 with a grim anthropology (2:1-5), a sketch in satanology (2:1-5), and the importance of walking in good works (2:6-10).

In verses 1-5 we have a dark study of humankind—a condensation of Romans 1:18 through chapter 3. We see the saga of the living dead, those who are dead and know it not. It speaks of a common captivity of humankind; we were all dead, deluded, dominated, disobedient. We walked in trespasses and sins.

We did not stroll absently nor stumble accidentally into this deadly walk; it was a deliberate choice of steps in a chosen direction (v. 2). We walked according to the aeon (the god Aion, worshiped two centuries before Christ, was a personification of this world) or course of this world. By our very nature we were children of wrath; children filled with wrath and children destined to experience the wrath of God unless by some miracle we were saved. We were children with a tendency toward the will of the flesh and the imaginations of an evil heart.

Paul acknowledges the sinister, unexplainable operation of an evil force, both within us and outside us, acting upon us. The living dead, those spiritually still under the spell of the devil, know not that they are dead. It is only after we have been raised, made alive in Christ, tasted the eternal cup of God’s grace, that we know we were dead in our sins and trespasses. Thus the Christian hates with a holy hatred the dead man’s walk of pride, self-justification, and immorality.

In verse 5 we see Paul ringing the changes on the theology of grace expressed in the resurrection we share with Jesus Christ. God’s great love sent Jesus to cancel the powers of evil and to plead with our deadened spirits. Through the Holy Spirit we are made aware of our sin, moved to repentance, our desires are changed and a new vision is planted in our souls. Our spiritual resurrection in Christ is proof to all the powers in the universe that God blesses his people.

III. The Resurrection of Jesus Challenges Us to a New Walk

We are raised to walk in a new path, not in the old darkness where our feet never ceased to stray, but in a path strewn with good works that God has provided for us before we even knew him.

There are three kinds of work mentioned in verses 8-10. There is God’s work, a work of salvation springing from his eternal decision to love us, to pour out his grace through Jesus, to reveal the secret of the gospel through us, to appoint Christ as ruler over all, to create a new race of people like Jesus. Then there are the human works mentioned in verses 8-9. However commendable a man’s kindness, generosity, moral outlook, rule keeping—“All for sin could not atone; thou must save, and thou alone” (“Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me, Augustus M. Toplady). The long and the short of it is simply that we cannot be saved by anything we do; but only by what God has done in Christ.

The third category of works is the good works of the Christian seen in verse 10. There are several references in the Bible to an examination of our works at Judgment Day. These works are not the works of the merely moral person, but the works spoken of in this verse. God’s mercy in Christ gives a foundation and basis for the good works of a Christian. His good works are a result, not a cause, of his salvation.

In eternity, God prepared good works, like mystery packages, and put them in the life path of each Christian, that we should find them and carry them out in our daily life. In this way we show forth to an unbelieving world by our very nature, outlook, and deeds what the power of God really is. (Earl C. Davis)

Sin and Snakebites

John 3:14-21

Weaving images of Christ within the context of human sinfulness, the Gospel of John helps one to feel a part of the tapestry that began even before the New Testament. When the people of Israel encountered venomous snakes in the wilderness Num. 21), God offered a way of salvation. God still offers a solution to our need for salvation: Jesus Christ.

I. We Must First Recognize Our Need

If our own sin was as obvious as a snakebite, comprehending our need for salvation would be easier. One obstacle to overcoming sin is denial. We deny our brokenness and our need for God’s mercy. The Bible repeatedly reveals God’s pattern of offering solutions to the crises of the human condition. God’s grace and mercy are ready to respond to human need. The stumbling block arises in our failure to accept the gift.

Questions of denial are the signs of alarm. “Why do I need to be saved?” we may ask, or “From what do I need to be saved?” “Why do I need Jesus Christ?” We are like alcoholics who must first own up to their alcoholism, or addicts who must confess their helplessness. We are all sinners who must recognize our sinfulness.

Some have accused the church of ego-bashing and negativity when we talk of sin. This is missing the point and adding to the denial of the human condition. Christ does not say that we are to live in misery because we are sinful. Christ offers abundant life to those who acknowledge their sin and their need for salvation. The Bible says that we are guilty of sin. The Bible does not say that we are to spend our lives feeling guilty, but living as forgiven people.

II. God Offers a Means of Salvation

God does not remove evil. God offers a solution to the crisis of evil, a means of salvation. God did not save the Israelites by taking the serpents away. The Israelites were saved by faith in God’s ability to save them. Some people face enormous hardship in life. It is faith that sees them through such struggles.

History records that when Abraham Lincoln was seven years old, his family was forced out of their home on a legal technicality, and he had to work to help support them. At age nine, his mother died. At age twenty-two, he lost his job as a store clerk. He wanted to go to law school, but his education was lacking. At twenty-three, he went into debt to become a partner in a small store. At twenty-six, his business partner died, leaving him a huge debt that took years to repay. At twenty-eight, after courting a young woman for four years, he asked her to marry him but she said no. At thirty-seven, on his third try, he was elected to Congress, but two years later, he lost re-election. At forty-one, his four-year-old son died. At forty-five, he ran for the Senate and lost. At forty-seven, he failed as the vice-presidential candidate. At forty-nine, he ran for the Senate again, and lost. At fifty-one, he was elected president of the United States and became one of the greatest leaders of this nation.

When someone asked Lincoln what enabled him to endure a life of hardship, he replied, “Faith in God.”

III. God’s Grace Overcomes Our Sin

Offering judgment has always been easier than offering grace. Certainly there are consequences for sin. The awesome message of this passage is that God offers grace to a world deserving of condemnation. Though the world did not believe in God, God believed in the world. That is still the message today. Undeserved grace is the foundation of salvation.

Such extravagant grace calls for a radical response. We accept God’s gift of grace when we commit ourselves to follow Christ through faith. God calls to a sinful world. Our response echoes God’s call of love, devotion, and forgiveness. The motto “Jesus Saves” is not just a slogan; it is a life-transforming reality. (Gary G. Kindley)

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