Sermon Options: January 19, 2020

December 11th, 2019

THE CALL OF THE SERVANT

Isaiah 49:1-7

In studying the four servant songs in Isaiah, we need to raise the question of the servant's identity. Is Isaiah referring to the nation Israel? Prophet? Messianic figure? In this, the second of the four servant songs (the last two are 50:4-9 and 52:13-53:12), the mystery is only heightened. Israel is identified with the servant at one point (v. 3), but then is placed over the servant further into the text (vv. 5-6; "Jacob" is a synonym for "Israel"). It is entirely possible that the enigma of the servant's identity is maintained by the prophet for a specific purpose, such as broadening the force of the message, allowing for identification with various figures or forces that act in the ways described, or leaving open the varying possibilities for God's "filling the shoes" of that figure, either individually or collectively (as with a nation or group).

The reality is that God used both the people of Israel collectively and Jesus specifically to fulfill divine purposes. And as followers of Christ, we are also called to the role of divine servants.

I. Divine Servants Are Called by God
On the order of Isaiah 42 , this text tells us some very specific and important things about this mysterious servant, developing further the profile begun there. The servant was called "before I was born," named "while I was in my mother's womb," and formed to be God's servant "in the womb." These beautiful biological hyperboles express the sense of complete envelopment of this chosen one in God's care and providential direction.

In the sense that the servant is a type in which all of us may find our identity, the claim of being called from the very beginning is one of assurance, utter humility, and clear authorization for the given task. (See Ps. 139 and Jer. 1 for other examples of this in utero image.) Verses 2-3 are the natural extensions of that basic image.

II. Divine Servants Are Called to Be Reconcilers
The servant's role is cast again, this time slightly differently. If it was spoken of in terms of justice in the first song, here it could be described as the work of bringing reconciliation and restoration to a broken, fallen people. Phrases such as "bring Jacob back," "gather Israel," and "raise up Jacob" fill out the meaning of the servant's justice mission. For the servant, for Isaiah, and for Yahweh, justice is more than redistribution of goods and redress of wrongs, though these are certainly central to its meaning. Justice as fleshed out here includes mercy and tender reconciliation. It is finally about gathering in, not sending away, about restoration, not destruction.

III. Divine Servants Are Called to Reach Out
Finally, the servant will bring to its clearest expression what has been an undercurrent throughout the Hebrew scriptures: the spreading of Yahweh's saving work beyond the chosen people. In a beautiful turn of phrase, Yahweh speaks through the servant to say that "it is too light [or slight] a thing" to bring reconciliation only to Israel. The salvation of God is bigger than any subgroup within God's creation and so, through this servant figure, will "reach to the end of the earth." All nations, all generations, and all creation together are the beneficiaries of that extended scope.

Likewise, God calls us to reach out beyond the close and comfortable, to carry God's love and grace to those who have never known it. Just as Jesus became the suffering servant and gave himself for us, so God calls us to divine service to carry the good news of salvation to a lost world. (Paul R. Escamilla)

ARE YOU SURE YOU ARE WRITING THE RIGHT CHURCH?

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Anthony Campolo speaks in many churches. On one Sunday morning he was running late to a particular church because he was driving through unfamiliar territory. When he finally arrived, the service had already begun, and he strode to the podium, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. He was there a few minutes when one of the people on the podium, who was obviously a ministerial type, stepped next to him and asked him who he was. He had arrived at the wrong church! The only thing to do was to apologize and get directions to the right church.

The church in Corinth was having serious problems with schisms, immaturity, and immorality. Paul had heard about this distressful situation from a letter he had received from some of the Corinthian Christians. Paul returned their letter with one that could be regarded as damage control. Imagine trying to correct theological and moral mix-ups by yourself and through the mail! Yet, amazingly, when Paul began his letter, he wrote of the Corinthian believers as "saints" and of his thanksgiving for the church. Sosthenes, who may have been Paul's secretary in this case, must have thought Paul was writing the wrong church. It wasn't that Paul glibly ignored all the bad news about the church; he took it very seriously and later addressed it directly. However, he was still able to give thanks.

In so doing Paul modeled behavior that is desperately needed in the modern church. He was able to look beyond the faults of fellow believers to see and affirm the good. Perhaps the paucity of this ability in today's church is the reason for the greener grass syndrome among ordained ministers. They transfer to First Church of Green Grass, often not stopping to think that the grass there was brown to the minister who just left it. This has not always been the case. In his research of eighteenth-century ministers, Donald Scott found that 71 percent of Yale's ministerial graduates between the years of 1745 and 1775 remained in the church to which they were first called until their deaths. What may we be thankful for in today's church?

I. We May Be Thankful for Christ's Work of Sanctification
Paul called these Christians "saints," and he referred to them as "those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus" (v. 2). Certainly, they were not perfect, but sanctification is both a reality and a process. "Please be patient with me; God isn't finished with me yet" is more than a slogan; it is a request that deserves a positive response.

II. We May Be Thankful for Christ's Work of Salvation
Paul thanked God for his grace in their lives (vv. 4-5). They had much spiritual progress to make, but God's grace gave them the resources they needed to change into the likeness of Christ. They, like the Ephesian Christians, had been dead in their trespasses, "but God..." (Eph. 2:1-4).

God is the One who transfers us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, and Paul knew that God was the One who was able to change the darkness in the Corinthians to light.

III. We May Be Thankful for Christ's Work of Glorification
Paul also looked ahead to the time when the saints would be "blameless" (v. 8) in the end time. Paul had hope. He saw the Christians as they were and also as they would be. God help us to do the same with one another. (N. Allen Moseley)

THE POWER OF A TESTIMONY

John 1:29-42

Some pastors say that the use of personal testimony is their most effective vehicle for stewardship enlistment. Ron Proctor, in speaking about church growth, recently stated that personal testimony is the most significant way to communicate to baby busters. Elton Trueblood, in his book The Company of the Committed, said in 1961, "The method of evangelism is inevitably the method of testimony." There is something special about a personal testimony.

I. A Testimony Grows Out of Personal Experience
John the Baptist gave his testimony concerning Jesus: "This is the Son of God" (vv. 32-34). His testimony spoke out of personal experience and his own relationship with Jesus. He spoke of firsthand, personal knowledge pointing beyond himself to the Messiah. John, quite a popular figure himself, was willing to decrease in order that Jesus might increase, even to the point of "losing" some of his own disciples.

A severe malady has afflicted certain members of our society. Quiet, humble, nonassuming people are suddenly turned overnight into loud, boastful, obnoxious braggarts. These individuals are known as new grandparents. When we have something we want to say, almost all of us are willing to give testimony. John's testimony about Jesus was so effective that two of his disciples chose to follow Jesus. One of the two was Andrew (v. 40).

Andrew, too, spoke out of personal experience, having spent the entire day with Jesus (v. 39). The Bible says that the first thing Andrew did was to go and find his brother Simon and tell him (v. 41). The Greek word here is proton, from which we get our word pronto , which means "immediately" or "straightway." Although he was the first to win someone, it was the last time Andrew would be first. From then on he was always listed as "Simon Peter's brother, Andrew." Another glowing characteristic of Andrew's testimony, as with John, was that he was willing to be second. He just wanted to bring others to Jesus ( John 6:8; 12:22). Of such is the kingdom of God, these quiet, unassuming, nonheadline-seeking persons.

II. A Testimony Can Be Shared Right Where We Are
Another characteristic of Andrew's testimony that we would do well to incorporate into our own was that he began where he was. He started at home. He went and found his brother. Often the greatest test of our spirituality is in the home among those who know us best.

As one of my professors used to say, "If you can be a Christian at home, you can be a Christian anywhere. But if you are not a Christian at home...." Think of the people Andrew has influenced through the life, witness, and writings of his famous brother, Simon Peter. There is a story of a German schoolmaster who bowed before his class every day before he began his lesson. Someone asked him why he did such a thing. "I bow before them each day," he replied, "because you never know what one of these students may become." One of those students was a young man by the name of Martin Luther. Only God and eternity can prove the worth of a testimony. (Gary L. Carver)

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