Sermon Options: January 12, 2020

December 9th, 2019

BRINGING JUSTICE, AND GENTLY

Isaiah 42-9

If you ask a child, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" it's unlikely you'll receive the answer, "I want to be a servant." "Servant" is not found on any of the lists of hot new careers for the rest of the nineties. Yet servanthood is at the essence of our faith. Indeed, God chose the image of the servant to describe the One God would send to give his life on our behalf. What does Isaiah tell us about the role played by his servant—and about our own role as servants of Christ?

I. The Servant Belongs to God
Three things characterize the servant in this portion of Isaiah 42. First, the servant is firmly grounded in Yahweh's support. The servant's introduction is framed with ascriptions that link the servant closely with God: "Here is my servant, whom I uphold,/my chosen, in whom my soul delights" (v. 1). Further, "I have put my spirit upon him." The servant is clearly God's servant, someone whose very identity and purpose are derived from God who has chosen that one for service.

II. The Servant Is Committed to Justice
The servant's role is clearly defined: to bring justice to the nations and on earth. This focus is mentioned three separate times in three verses (vv. 1, 3-4).

III. The Servant Is Motivated by Grace
Finally, the servant will do the work of justice with care, gentleness, and perseverance. Justice will be brought about without the servant's voice having been raised, without a wick being snuffed out, and without the servant having been overcome by the size or difficulty of the mission. The images of restraint particularly (bruised reed unbroken, dimly lit wick unquenched) give new meaning to the word grace. If justice is the mission, it is not to be marched in by a lockstepping holy army, but cupped in hand, cradled in arms, shielded by the body.

In Frederick Buechner's fictional account of Jacob, The Son of Laughter, God is sometimes called "the Shield," meaning that God "is always shielding us like a guttering wick...because the fire he is trying to start with us is a fire that the whole world will live to warm its hands at. It is a fire in the dark that will light the whole world home."

This profile of identity and task leaves us with a picture of "the servant" that is both inspiring in its tenderness and exemplary for any life of faith. Not only does the image of such a strong yet gentle worker of justice give us pause, it also becomes a model for how we live our lives and pattern our Christian labors. (Paul L. Escamilla)

BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS

Acts 10:34-43

A balloon vender was letting one balloon after another go up into the sky in order to entertain the children who had gathered to admire the balloons. Most of his balloons were gone when an African American child came up to him and said, "Mister, if you had a black balloon, would it go up into the sky like the others?"

The balloon vender, showing wisdom and perception that his occupation belied, understood what the child was really asking. He knelt down and said, "It's not the color of the balloon that matters; it's what's inside that makes it go up."

Regardless of our racial or cultural background, and regardless of what we have done wrong in the past, there is Someone who can always cause us to go up if he is inside us. His name is Jesus.

I. Christ Breaks Down Racial Barriers That Separate Us from One Another (vv. 34-37)
Jesus came to break down racial barriers. He gave his disciples the Great Commission to go to "all nations" (Matt. 28:19-20). He went to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) . It took a lot to convince Peter that Christ had broken the racial barrier. The words of Jesus, a trance, a vision, a miracle, and the conversion of Gentiles in Acts 10 were finally enough to cause him to make the bold declaration about the universality of the gospel in these verses.

However, even all that Peter experienced did not remove all the residue of racism in him. About eighteen years later in Antioch, he joined his Jewish brothers in snubbing the Gentile Christians and refusing to eat with them. The apostle Paul publicly challenged him, and he stood corrected. This public work of Christ all started with his baptism. It is our common baptism into Christ that makes us brothers and sisters in him and transcends all barriers between people, including race.

II. Christ Breaks Down Barriers of Sin That Separate Us from God (vv. 38-39, 43)
The prophet Isaiah wrote, "Your iniquities have been barriers/ between you and your God" (59:2). As Peter preached the story of Jesus, he included the indispensable element of the cross. It was on the cross that Jesus became the sacrifice for our sins so that the barrier erected by sin would be taken away. The veil of the Temple was rent, and now all those who call on the name of Jesus have full access to the presence of God because he died to secure our forgiveness.

As Peter stated, "Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (v. 43). When someone receives him, immediately he takes away the penalty of sin, gradually he takes away the power of sin, and ultimately he will take away the presence of sin.

III. Christ Breaks Down the Barrier of Death That Separates Us from Eternal Life (vv. 40-42)
In his gospel sermon Peter also included the resurrection of Jesus. The apostolic preachers had little novel to say. They repeated the story of Jesus, and that was adequate to bring people to conviction of their need for him as their Savior. How sad that people have heard the story of Jesus so many times that it has little effect on them. No matter how trained preachers are, or how well they can turn a phrase, Christian preachers must never get away from repeating the simple story that tells the good news of Jesus.

Part of the gospel story is the event of God raising Jesus from the dead. In fact, this truth is so important that Paul wrote, "If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain" (1 Cor. 15:14) . But the truth is that Christ has been raised, and through his resurrection, he secured eternal life for all those who follow him ( Rom. 6:4-5). (N. Allen Moseley)

THE VOICE OF BLESSING

Matthew 3:13-17

Sometimes we preoccupy ourselves with important questions to the extent that we overlook equally important questions. For example, Matthew 3:13-17 often finds us asking the question, "Why did Jesus have to be baptized?" But let us not overlook the equally important question, "What did baptism mean to Jesus?" Did it mean the time of the kingdom of God is now? Surely. Did it mean an identification with the Father? I think so. But it was also an experience of blessing for Jesus. God said, "You are on the right track. Continue with my blessing." The voice of blessing is one that many people take for granted. Many people wander through life, like Esau, searching for a blessing that is never pronounced.

A single mother, upon leaving for a date, shuts the door on her teenage daughter who is staying home alone—again. "If only she didn't look so much like her father."

An adult male sits in church today dreading the Parent Dedication Service, asking, "Why did my parents abandon me?"

On the other hand, Bobby, who was as athletically gifted as a hoe handle, did not make his high school baseball team, to no one's surprise. But he did ask to be the manager—some said "batboy"—and he became a part of the team. He played the hand that he had been dealt.

What's an "unblessed child" to do? Feel inferior? Strike out in bitterness? Curse the dark silence of a voice never heard? The answer is found in the One who emerged from the Jordan hearing the voice of approval, "You are my Son. You are headed in the right direction. Continue all the way to the cross." All the way to the cross!

Blessing involves responsibility. Jesus lived in obedience after receiving the blessing. He took the hand he had been dealt and he played it. That's what we can do. That may be all we can do. We must be like Jesus and let nothing deter us. The crowds wanted to make him king. He resisted. His best friend wanted to talk him out of it. He refused. Judas tried to force another course. Jesus chose to play the hand God had dealt. We can do the same. Parents and other significant adults will fail to bless us even under the best of circumstances. Other times we will not feel worthy of blessing. That is true—we're not worthy. As in Jesus' most famous story, the parent waits to bless whether or not we are worthy. God's presence depends not on our faithfulness but on God's. So we continue.

Keith Miller asked, "Who gives you your grade?" Who is the audience to whom we play out the drama of our lives? It can be an audience of the One who will never fail to be with us as we carry out God's will. John Claypool quotes a rabbi who once said, "When I stand before God, He will not ask me why were you not Abraham, Jacob or David?" He will ask, "Why were you not Bernie?" In 1969, Bob Whelan, six two and two hundred pounds, departed for Vietnam. Within a year this fine athlete returned weighing eighty-seven pounds. A land mine had blown away both legs. A long recovery followed. Never did he bow to despair or see himself as unblessed. "Before," he said, "I had one hundred options. Now, only five, but I'll make the best of those five."

In 1990, Bob Whelan completed the Boston Marathon. He covered all twenty-six miles-plus running on his hands and arms—hopping much like a frog. When he crossed the finish line, few dry eyes were seen. He is a winner. He chose to look to God in gratitude for what he was, not what he was not. He played the hand he was dealt. So can we, for each of us already has the blessing. (Gary L. Carver)

comments powered by Disqus