A Voice in the Wilderness

John 1:19-23

Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”  He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”  And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?”  He said, “I am not.”  “Are you the Prophet?”  And he answered, “No.” 

Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?”  He said: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  “Make straight the way of the Lord,”’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

A voice in the wilderness

  • What kind of voice? – Loud, clear and commanding
  • To whom is the voice speaking? –  He that has an ear
  • What was the message?  –  Repent, turn to Jesus
  • What was the character of the voice? –  Recognized his purpose was to draw attention to Jesus, not himself.  “I must decrease, He must increase.”

Isaiah 40:3-5 – The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  “Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

We are also called to be a voice in the wilderness

Matthew 28:19-20 – Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

John 20:21 – So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.

  • What is our voice?  Are we speaking without fear of man, are we clear in our message?
  • To whom are we speaking?  Are we really to speak to all we meet, to all who show an open heart?
  • What is our message?  Are we promoting our church, our doctrine, or Jesus Christ?
  • What is our character?  Are we trying to be noticed, to have our self-admired or looked up to?  Are we lifting up Jesus, not our self?

Sharing the “True” Light

John 1:1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.  There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe.  He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.  That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. 

He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.  He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.  But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:  who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

One of the great themes of the Gospel of John is “light.” 

John 1:4 – In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.

John 8:12 – Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

Matthew 4:14-16 – You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

John 3:19 – And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

Jesus is the true light.  While others talk about enlightment, we know and believe that Jesus IS the Light of the World.  Even though the true light has come, yet much of our world remains in darkness.

1 John 1:5-7 – This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.  If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

The darkness is great

  • Darkness by birth
  • The sins of our “first parents – Adam and Eve” passed down to all of us.

The Psalmist David states Psalm 51:5 – “Behold I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.”

  • None of us chose our parents, and one of us chose to be born in sin, but we do have a choice as to whether or not we will continue to live in that state of sinfulness.

Romans 3:23 tells us, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Romans 6:23 tells us, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”

  • Darkness by choice

John 3:19 tells us, “…men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.”

  • Much of the evil done in the world today is done as a matter of choice.
  • The Burnhams, missionaries in the Philippines, were held captive by a terrorist group for ransom money to fight a war of their own choosing.
  • The terrorists who flew into the World Trade Center buildings on 9/11 did so as a matter of choice.
  • The man/woman who kills their spouse or abuses their own children have made a choice.
  • The man who rejects Jesus is also making a choice to live in darkness.
  • Darkness by neglect
  • Even after Jesus told His disciples to “Go into all the world,” they wanted to stay in Jerusalem
  • It took the persecution found in Acts 8:1 to get the church moving out of Jerusalem with the Gospel.
  • The Church has had the Gospel for 2000 years and yet the majority of our world is still not evangelized.

What will it take for us to truly get serious about carrying the Gospel to the whole world?

The light is needed in our world

Matthew 5:14-16 – You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

Light, life and freedom are found in Jesus

John 14:46 – I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.

Acts 4:12 – Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

Romans 10:13-17 – For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.  How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?  And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:  “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!”  But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?”  So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

2 Corinthians 4:6 – For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

The Price God Paid for Christmas

John 1:14

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

A mountaineer got lost while climbing in the Alps – or so the story goes.  After days of stumbling around in a blizzard, he found a mountain pass that led to a valley that no one from the outside world had visited in centuries.  In this valley he discovered a community of people who had survived for generations with no eyesight.

When he tried to describe to these people the beauty of the night sky, the color of a sunset, and the joy of seeing someone smile, the valley people were first confused, then convinced that he was insane.  Because no one they knew could see, the experience was beyond their understanding.  They did not even have the vocabulary to understand what he described.

Then the mountaineer met a young woman of the valley, and they fell in love.  When they told the villagers that they wanted to be married, the leaders foresaw that the mountaineer’s descriptions of the joys of seeing and of the outside world would disrupt their community.  They told him that he could stay and be married only if he agreed to have his eyes blinded so he would be like everyone else.  Torn between his appreciation of his sight and his love for the young woman, the mountaineer finally agreed to meet their condition.

The night before the wedding and the ceremony that would blind him, the mountaineer took a walk to enjoy the night sky one last time.  He climbed higher and higher on the mountain that rose above the community.  Eventually he noticed that he had come to the mountain pass through which he had entered the valley.  Keeping his sight would be a simple matter of climbing through the pass and returning to the outside world.

The conflict between his love for his fiancée and his love of sight raged fierce within him.  But finally his love for the woman won out.  He returned to the valley and to the community where he would be married – and where he would be blinded for the rest of his life.

What a conflict!  What a decision!  What love the mountaineer had!

Of course, it is only a story – and an unlikely one at that.  But I know a similar story that is true, a story in which the hero accepts a handicap that will restrict him through eternity – all for love!

Divine and human

Supposed that 2,000 years ago God the Son looked at the sacrifice He would have to make to be born in a manger and die on a cross and had decided that the price was too high.  Imagine the consequences to you and me if, at the mountain pass of His decision, Christ had turned His back on us and returned to the glories of heaven that He was so familiar with.

Fortunately, He did not consider the price too high.  So Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who was 100 percent God and became 100 percent human.  Do we really understand what that means – what it meant for God, and what it means to us?

God’s problem

Consider God’s problem.  During the thousands of years people had been exposed to sin, their view of him had become distorted.  Every deviate interpretation of His character had been made the object of worship.  Some of those who believed Him to be an overbearing tyrant had come to believe they must appease Him by sacrificing their own children in their worship rites.  Others, who viewed Him as a weak, permissive being interested only in a good time, worshipped Him with acts of prostitution, bestiality, or gluttony.

In the names of their gods, the strong overwhelmed the weak, and the rich dominated the poor.  Apathy and greed flourished, and love and generosity withered away.

God realized that to salvage the situation, He could not simply speak to people in overpowering tones, as He did from Mount Sinai.  No, to teach human beings what He was really like in a way they would not soon forget, He would have to give a living example of His character in terms people would understand.  In a world where God was an unfocused reflection of humanity’s own selfish desires.  He would have to be focused into a being who was the essence of both humanity and divinity.  He would be as man without all the sin, selfish desires.  How could He be man, yet at the same time be God?

The community of blind people in that legendary Alpine valley could never understand what the mountaineer’s loss of his sight meant to him or how that loss demonstrated the profound love he held.  Similarly, our limited experience keeps us from fully comprehending the price Jesus paid to become human.  Because of that, we tend to trivialize the love His sacrifice reveals.

Christmas, the time when we celebrate Jesus’ birth, offers us the opportunity to take another look at His incredible history-changing life, a chance to recapture the sense of awe that many of us have lost.  It reminds us of His death and the hope of life that sacrifice provided for us.

The difference it makes

We recognize that Christ’s death on the cross made heaven possible for us.  But what of Christ’s life?  What differences did it make? 

By living on earth as a human being, Jesus challenged the conventional judgment and even the moral values of the time. 

Greed, selfishness, and lust for power influence our judgment more than we realize.  The concern for others that Jesus’ life reflect was just as disturbing to the status quo at His time as it would be for you and me to reveal to a community of blind people what it is like to see.  Jesus’ example turned conventional judgment on its ear.

Jesus taught us that motive rather than performance is what counts. 

Remember the story about the emperor’s new clothes?  They were “sewn” by a clever tailor who, aware of the King’s vanity, claimed that fools would not be able to see them.  Afraid of being recognized for the fools they were, everyone, including the king, went along with the charade.  It took a young boy to state the obvious and draw attention to the king’s lack of both britches and good sense.  Living in sin is like that.  We are all inadequate; we all have selfish motives.  Yet we go through our lives desperately seeking to ignore the obvious.  Let a little honesty creep in, and we are suddenly presented to the rest of the world as the emperor without his clothes, no longer regal but in desperate need of something to cover us up.  Jesus exposes our dishonesty, our spiritual nakedness. 

Jesus showed us that a positive approach is most effective at bringing out the best in people. 

Jesus did not need to condemn men and women as miserable sinners.  His mere presence revealed to them their moral shortcomings.  When we stand openly and honestly in the presence of Almighty God, He does not condemn; our sin condemns us.  Then He called them to look at the world from a different perspective, to center their lives on God instead of on things or on themselves.  This message led some people to seek spiritual wholeness.  Others, in turning from it, headed down a path of anger and resentment that eventually led them out of His presence and even into conspiring to get rid of Him. 

Imagine a cluster of flowers struggling to grow in a deep, junk-strewn ravine in which trees hide the sun.  Then a landscaping crew cleans out the ravine and thins the trees, allowing brilliant sunshine to pour down on the plants.

Overwhelmed by the powerful sun, some plants wither and die – perhaps wishing that everything had gone on as it was before.  Others, still shaded by the trees that remain, continue on much as they had in the past.  But a few of the plants withstand the initial shock of their exposure to the full light of the sun.  Soon they are basking in its light and flourish and multiplying beyond all previous guesses as to what their potential was.

Such is our relationship with Christ.  As we spend time with Him, we realize that His power is overwhelming.  If we welcome it and let it change us, we will grow to a degree we never before thought possible.

Jesus teaches us a proper appreciation of the power of love

Jesus revealed that most of us love selfishly and limit our love to a chosen few.  He showed that the most important thing any of us can do in life is to reflect the love God has shown us, to reflect it by loving our fellow humans.

Modern society talks a great deal about love and how it can change the world – or one’s personal life.  But society’s attempts at loving have merely resulted in increases in divorce rates, child pornography, incest and homosexuality – making it obvious society does not have any idea what love is.

We can never truly understand love until we learn where it comes from.  It comes from God.  He did not create it; He is love.  When you read 1 Corinthians 13 – the Love Chapter – you are reading about God. 

1 Corinthians 13:1-10 – Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.  And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.  Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part.  But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

When we learn to show this kind of love to those around us, we will reflect the character of God.  

What it would be like

Imagine being not being limited in time or space, able to know everything, to be everywhere at once, with limitless power available to you at any time.  Imagine then giving all that up to be restricted to one place at a time in the body of a man.  Then you can see how being born in Bethlehem as Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, changed God the Son forever.  At His birth, Jesus took human nature upon Himself.  He willingly shared in our world – knowing what it was to be hungry, tired, to suffer pain and humiliation.

Before the Son became human, we could only hear about God.  When He became a man, we could actually see who God is.

John 14:9 – Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’

The Eternal Word

John 1:1-5, 14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

Matthew 24:35 – Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.

2 Timothy 4:2-4 – Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.  For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;  and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.

Hebrews 4:12 – For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

The Word

  • Will meet your need – physical, spiritual, emotional, financial
  • Will convict of sin and cause you to repent
  • Will rise up within you and give you strength in time of need
  • Will set you free
  • Will lighten your load
  • Will take your guilt away
  • Will give you comfort in times of stress, sickness, loneliness
  • Will give you joy

Nehemiah 8:1-12 – Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel.  So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month.  Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.  So Ezra the scribe stood on a platform of wood which they had made for the purpose; and beside him, at his right hand, stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Urijah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah; and at his left hand Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam.  And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up.  And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God.  Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.  Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law; and the people stood in their place.  So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.  And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law.  Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”  So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.”  And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.

At the time these words were proclaimed, the Israelites had just returned from captivity in Babylon.  Under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, the people had rebuilt Jerusalem’s ruined walls.  And now they set their signs on reestablishing the temple and restoring the nation.

At this point Nehemiah called a special meeting at the city’s water gate, within Jerusalem’s rebuilt walls.  Some 42,360 Israelite men were on hand for this meeting.  Standing alongside them were 7,300 servants, including 245 singers.  Altogether, about 50,000 people were gathered.

First came the preaching of God’s Word.  Scripture says the people were hungry to hear it.  Ezra brought the Law before the congregation both of men and women and “all that could hear with understanding.”

These people did not need to have God’s Word pushed on them.  A consensus of hunger had developed among them.  They were fully prepared to submit to the authority of God’s Word.  They wanted to be governed by it, to make their lives conform to its truth.

Amazingly, Ezra preached to this crowd for five or six hours, “from the morning until midday.”  Yet no one noticed the time.  “The ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the Law.”  These people were totally captivated by God’s Word.

What an incredible scene.  You simply would not see such an occurrence in any American church today.  Yet, true revival can never take place without this kind of all-consuming hunger for God’s Word.  When God’s people grow weary of hearing His Word preached, a spiritual death begins and the joy of the Lord departs.

You may have heard the phrase “sermon tasters.”  This term is about 200 years old, originating in London during the mid-1800.  At that time, the great preacher, C. H. Spurgeon delivered sermons to 5,000 people every Sunday at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.  Across the city, Joseph Parker also preached anointed messaged.  And other fiery pastors preached throughout London, delivering deep, revelatory, prophetic words.

It became a popular sport among wealthy Londoners to hop in their carriages and race across the city from one church to another, sampling the preaching of these ministers.  Each Monday in Parliament, exclusive meetings were held to discuss which preached delivered the best sermon and who brought forth the deepest revelation.

These gadabouts were dubbed “sermon tasters.”  They always wanted to lay claim to some new spiritual truth or revelation.  But very few practiced what they heard.

At the water gate in Jerusalem, however, there was no eloquent preaching, no sensational sermon.  Ezra preached straight from the Scriptures, reading for hours on end.  As the people stood and listened to God’s Word, they grew excited.

At times Ezra was so overcome by what he read, he stopped to “bless the Lord, the great God.”  The glory of the Lord came down powerfully and everyone raised his hands in praise to God.  “All the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen’ with lifting up their hands.”  The people humbled themselves before God, in brokenness and repentance. 

Please note – this meeting did not include any exciting stories to stir up people’s emotions.  There was no manipulation from the pulpit, no dramatic testimony.  There was not any music as yet.  These people simply had an ear to hear everything God said to them.

Will last forever – God’s Word remains the same.  It is the same today as it was yesterday and will be tomorrow.  Under God, it is the ultimate source of our knowledge of God, His nature and His will.  It is also the ultimate authority in all matters of religion, faith, practice, morals and ethics.  The reliability of the Bible as the Word of God has stood the tests of time and circumstances for thousands of years.

Psalm 119:89 – Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven.

Numbers 23:19-20 – God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent.  Has He said, and will He not do?  Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?  Behold, I have received a command to bless; He has blessed, and I cannot reverse it.

The Bible is, in written form, the revelation of the eternal Word of God.  The enduring quality of the Bible as the Word of God, stands in sharp contrast to the mortality of humankind.  Even those who live the longest are in this world but for a short time.  Millennia pass, generation after generation pass, even whole nations pass away, but the Word of God endures forever.

In this continuously changing world, the bible is a pillar of stability.  The Bible is old, but it is not outdated.  It is not a retired set of instructions.  It is not out of circulation.  It is in this modern world where it seems morals are declining every year as much or even more in demand than it has ever been.  It still today contains truths and principles which remain the same for every person, regardless of nationality, for every place around the world and for every generation. 

Wake Up! The Answer is Right in Front of You

Luke 24:13-27

Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem.  And they talked together of all these things which had happened.  So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them.  But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him.  And He said to them, “What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?”  Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, “Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?”  And He said to them, “What things?”  So they said to Him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,  and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him.  But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened.  Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us.  When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive.  And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see.”  Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!  Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?”  And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.

Wake up!

The command “Wake Up!” indicates that perhaps someone is not awake yet, is troubled and/or perplexed, or perhaps their mind is not really on what is before them.

Cleopas and a traveling companion, another disciple perhaps his wife, were traveling and a stranger suddenly began to walk with them and talk to them.  Of course, we know the story.  The stranger to them was none other than Jesus who had risen from the grave.

In the context of this story and similar stores in other Scriptures we can readily see that these two traveling the road were not the only ones that did not recognize Jesus after His resurrection.

John 20:14 – Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.

John 21:4 – But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.

The answer is right in front of you

Was Jesus’ appearance or countenance different as He appeared to the disciples, to Mary or to Cleopas and his traveling companion?  Why did they not recognize Him?  What was their problem?  How could it be that those who had been around him, some almost daily for three years, knowing His movements, His speech, His mannerisms not comprehend who He was?

Luke 24:36-38 – Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.”  But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit.  And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts?

Luke 24:25 – Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!

When Thomas actually saw Jesus with his own eyes, then he believed

John 20:24-29 – Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”  So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”  And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!”  Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”  And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

When Mary heard Jesus call her name, she believed

John 20:14-16 – Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”  She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”  Jesus said to her, “Mary!”  She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher).

Wake up!  The answer is right in front of you!

How is it in times of extreme frustration, sorrow, pain, sickness, loneliness, joy, trouble…Jesus is there, working His way and will in our lives, yet we do not see or recognize who He is?

  • Is our faith weak?
  • Are we failing to trust Him?
  • Are we simply ignoring the tug on our heart, the knock on our door?
  • Are we so preoccupied with the cares of this life and the situation at hand that we cannot see Him in our situation?
  • Is our life so hopeless or full of despair that we cannot see Jesus at all?
  • In the sadness and despair of lives, hopes for family, our profession, school, acceptance, meaning and purpose of life, we must remember that Jesus does care. 

Even though we have feelings of hopelessness and despair, Jesus is there.  He said He would not leave us nor forsake us.  He said to not be troubled or afraid.  Wake up!  He is there!

What Are You Seeking?

Luke 24:1-12

Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.  But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb.  Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments.  Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’”  And they remembered His words.  Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.  It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them, who told these things to the apostles.  And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them.  But Peter arose and ran to the tomb; and stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying by themselves; and he departed, marveling to himself at what had happened.

  • He is risen – Hallelujah!
  • He is risen – Hallelujah
  • He is risen – Hallelujah    

The text asks the question, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  But that question can be changed as we take a closer look.  Why?

Why did redemption for mankind have to come about in such a drastic, horrific scene as the betrayal, the trial, the crucifixion?

Why did the Son of God have to go through such torture, misery and pain?

We find the answer to this question in the words of Jesus as He hung on the cross. 

John 19:30 – So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.

“It is finished” – In those words He said, “the work that You have sent me to do has been completed.  The battle for men’s souls is now won.  They do not have to die in their sins any more Father.”

  • “It is finished” – “I have taken upon Myself the sin of the whole world.
  • “It is finished” – The price is paid!
  • “It is finished” – All men and women can have forgiveness.
  • “It is finished” – Even the worst of sinners can know pardon.  They do not have to go on day after day in their sorrow, sin and shame.
  • “It is finished” – Jesus said, “I have done the work You sent me to do. 
  • “It is finished” – There is nothing left undone.

The second question we find in this text is “Why do you seek?”  In other words

  • What are you looking for? 
  • What is it you seek in life? 
  • What brings fulfillment?
  •  What brings true contentment and joy?

The answer to this question is found also in the words of Christ Jesus our Lord.  He answers this question in this way

Matthew 6:33 – But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

Isaiah 55:6-7 – Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near.  Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.

God is what we need to be looking for. 

Jeremiah 29:13 – And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.

  • Are we looking in the right place?
  • What do you seek after?
  • What are you looking for?

Christ is the answer!!!!

“Only one life – will soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Nothing else ultimately matters.  The risen Christ is the one who can satisfy every need, every longing, and every desire you have ever had, or will ever have.  He and He alone is the answer to what man seeks for.

The question in this test asks, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”  The only thing that will give life, joy and vitality that lasts for more than a fleeting moment is Jesus and the things of God. Since Adam and Eve, mankind has been seeking for life in things that cannot satisfy.

  • Drugs
  • Alcohol
  • Pornography
  • Illicit sex
  • Money
  • Fame

Only one thing can bring true and lasting satisfaction 

  • The risen Christ
  • The one who died on the cross
  • The one who suffered pain
  • The one who gave His life

Why seek the living among the dead?  Make a total commitment to Christ who gave His life that you might live. 

Father Forgive Them – Forgive Who?

Luke 23:34

Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

The King of Glory spoke these words from the cross.  These were among some of the last brief statements that He made.  Who exactly was He speaking to?

  • Of course He spoke to the Roman Soldiers.  They were standing there jeering and cursing having just nailed Him to the cross.  Of course it was their job.  They had been commanded to do so.  It was probably not the first crucifixion detail they had been assigned.  But this One was different.  This One claimed to be the Son of God.  He had stated that He would build the temple back in three days if it were destroyed.  The man was mad.  It had taken forty years to build.  They gambled for His clothes at the foot of the cross as they watched Him die.  Was it really the Roman soldiers He spoke of in His prayer to the Father?
  • Maybe, it was the Jewish crowd that He spoke to that was gathered there that day.  They had swarmed around Him as He had healed their sick, their blind and lame, cast out demonic spirits, fed them on occasion, and told them all types of parables and stories of God and His kingdom.  Now they had turned on Him because He did not fulfill their desires of who the Messiah should really be.  They had just recently shouted, “Hosanna, Hail King of the Jews.”  Then they shouted, “Crucify Him.”  Was it really the Jewish crowd He asked His Father to forgive?
  • Or, maybe it was His disciples, especially the ones who had fled and were afraid and in hiding.  Only John was present there with His mother and some other women who had been part of those who had followed Him from town to town and around the countryside.  Peter, especially, was always boasting and speaking all kind of big statements.  He obviously did not really know what he was saying.  Was it His cowardly disciples He asked His Father to forgive?
  • Or, maybe He saw ahead in time and saw that crowd as they were stoning Stephen to death, and especially that Saul of Tarsus character who was standing by as the stones killed this first martyr to His cause.  That crowd that was so full of hatred against Stephen.  Surely that is who He meant that forgiveness for.
  • Perhaps it was further on down in time when the early Christians were martyred in the coliseum of Rome by wild animals and killed by hanging, and torture of all kinds.   Surely their persecutors were included in His statement from the cross.   And on down thru the Inquisition and throughout all the persecution of the Middle Ages.  What about John Hus who was burned alive and all the others who where killed in nearly every country of the world.  Surely His statement was meant for them. 
  • What about all the wars fought in the name of religion, the Crusades, the Protestants against the Catholics and the Catholics against the Protestants?  Surely He had these in mind when He prayed His Father to forgive them.
  • What about the barbarians throughout the world who committed wholesale slaughter of whole groups and nationalities of peoples simply because they were different.  Men like Stalin, Hitler, Idi Amin, and the butchers in Rwanda.  Certainly He was speaking of them.
  • Or maybe He was speaking of all those native tribes and people in other lands, who because of their ignorance, killed missionaries and many other innocent people who were there just to preach to them the good news of salvation.  Surely that is who He meant.
  • Or maybe He looked out to our time and saw you and I when He was there on the Cross.  “Was it for crimes that I have done, He groaned upon the tree.  Amazing pity, grace unknown and love beyond degree.”  I ask myself, “Was it me He was speaking of as He hung there with His life’s blood ebbing out drop by drop”.  When He was there hanging on that Cross, could I have been on His mind?  Was my sin that I commit day by day, year by year without regard to my own eternity what He had in mind as He spoke that day.  Am I so calloused by my constant denial of wrong that I fail to grasp the total sacrifice that was made for me that day?   Surely He was speaking of me from the cross that day. 

Each of us alone can respond to that statement and cry out to Him in forgiveness. 

“Yes Lord, I need your forgiveness.  Yes Lord, I am guilty.  Yes Lord, I repeatedly do the same thing over and over again and I do it because I want to do what I do.  I know better.  I know right from wrong.  I am guilty.  I should have hung on the cross…not you Lord.  Father forgive me for I do know what I do.”

Denial of Jesus Christ

Luke 24:54-62

Having arrested Him, they led Him and brought Him into the high priest’s house. But Peter followed at a distance.  Now when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them.  And a certain servant girl, seeing him as he sat by the fire, looked intently at him and said, “This man was also with Him.”  But he denied Him, saying, “Woman, I do not know Him.”  And after a little while another saw him and said, “You also are of them.”  But Peter said, “Man, I am not!”  Then after about an hour had passed, another confidently affirmed, saying, “Surely this fellow also was with Him, for he is a Galilean.”  But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are saying!”  Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.  And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”  So Peter went out and wept bitterly.

We often speak negatively about Peter’s denying Jesus in His hour of need.  Yet, believers often deny Jesus in their daily lives.

What causes denial?

  • Following “afar off.”  Not focusing on Jesus, not identifying with Him, not having our mind fixed on Him.
  • Sitting “down among them.”  Following Jesus from a distance will lead us to become involved with sin.

2 Corinthians 6:17-18; 7:1 – Therefore “Come out from among them and be separate,” says the Lord.  “Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.  I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters,” says the Lord Almighty.

Holiness – “hagiosune” – “the process, quality and condition of a holy disposition and the quality of holiness in personal conduct.  It is the principle that separates the believer from the world.  Hagiosune consecrates us to God’s service both in moral dedication and life committed to purity.  It causes every component of our character to stand God’s inspection and meet His approval.”

Denial of pretense – Pretending not to know Jesus

The servant girl “looked intently” at Peter.  There appeared to be no imminent threat to Peter.  The servants were just standing around talking about the events of the evening.  Perhaps they were curious to know more about Jesus.  If he had acknowledged that he was a disciple of Jesus to this crowd, probably all he would have experienced was some mockery.  Of course, there always was some danger of being persecuted also, but probably in this crowd it would have only led to ridicule.  This may have been an excellence chance for Peter to tell them about Jesus.  Perhaps someone in the crowd would have believed in Him.

Matthew 10:33 – But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.

1 Pete 3:15 – But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.

Denial of discipleship – Denying that one is a committed follower of Jesus

When Peter was confronted with the words, “You are one of them,” he quickly stated, “I am not one of them.”  At this point, he is not just denying Jesus, he is denying that he is one of those who “followed” Him.

Mark 8:38 – For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.

2 Timothy 1:8 – Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God,

Denial of ignorance – Claiming to know nothing of what is being said, to know nothing about the Bible or its truths

Peter’s final claim was “I do not know what you are saying.” 

Answer to denial

  • Remember the Lord’s Word
  • Spend time alone with the Lord
  • Truly repent

Personal inventory

  • I have (or have never) denied Jesus by my words or actions.
  • I have (or have never) denied that I was a Christian or went to church.
  • I have (or have never) pretended that I did not know what people were talking about when the Bible or its truths were discussed.
  • I have (or have never) denied Jesus by remaining silent when I should have spoken up.
  • I have truly and sorrowfully repented of those times that I denied Jesus.
  • I have determined to never again deny Him.

Watchful Believers

Luke 23:34-38

But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.  For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.  And in the daytime He was teaching in the temple, but at night He went out and stayed on the mountain called Olivet. Then early in the morning all the people came to Him in the temple to hear Him.

Also see:  1 Peter 5:1-11; Matthew 26:41; Matthew 24:42; Mark 13:33

Watch  WORDS  

  • James 1:26                              gossip
  • Psalms 15:1-3                         backbiting/speaking truth
  • 1 Samuel 2:3                           arrogant/pride
  • Proverbs 6:16-19                    discord/false witness/lying
  • Titus 1:10-11                           vain talking/deceiver
  • Psalms 13:6                            sing unto the Lord
  • Psalms 100:1-2                       praise & bless Lord/thankful
  • Philippians 4:4                         rejoice always
  • 1 Thess. 5:16-18                     rejoice evermore/pray without ceasing/give thanks
  • James 1:22                             be doers of the Word
  • 1 Peter 4:7-9                           prayerful attitude/hospitable

Watch    ACTIONS 

  • 1 Thess. 5:6-8                         always vigilant/sober/watchful
  • Eccles. 12:13-14                     every act will be judged
  • Romans 8:1-13                       live and walk in the Spirit

Watch THOUGHTS

  • Romans 12:2                           renew your mind
  • Ephesians 4:17-23                  renew your mind
  • Acts 17:28-31                          correct your wrongful thinking
  • James 2:4                               do not be divisive/judging
  • 1 Chron. 28:9                          God knows all your imaginations
  • Psalms 119:30-31                   establish yourself
  • Hebrews 4:12                          the Word is a discerner
  • Isaiah 55:6-11                         our thoughts are not God’s 
  • 1 Peter 5:6-8                           humility
  • 1 Peter 3:4                             inner grace
  • Matthew 26:41            watch & pray/persevere/steadfast
  • James 1:4                               patience
  • Psalms 37:3-5                         trust/commit/delight
  • Matthew 5:3-11                       the Beatitudes – “Be Attitudes”

Watch CHARACTER

  • Proverbs 6:16-18                    wickedness
  • Psalms 15:1-2                         speak the truth
  • Psalms 119:2                          seek the Lord
  • Ezekiel 11:21                          judgment
  • Matthew 15:18-19                   uncleanness
  • Mark 7:21                                uncleanness
  • Isaiah 51:7                              no fear or reproach/law of God
  • Psalms 9:1-2                           sing praise with obedience

Watch HEART

  • John 14:1                                do not be troubled
  • Matthew 6:19-21                     where your treasure is

Is Your Worship From the Heart?

Luke 19:28-40

When He had said this, He went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.  And it came to pass, when He drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mountain called Olivet, that He sent two of His disciples,  saying, “Go into the village opposite you, where as you enter you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Loose it and bring it here.  And if anyone asks you, ‘Why are you loosing it?’ thus you shall say to him, ‘Because the Lord has need of it.’”  So those who were sent went their way and found it just as He had said to them.  But as they were loosing the colt, the owners of it said to them, “Why are you loosing the colt?”  And they said, “The Lord has need of him.”  Then they brought him to Jesus. And they threw their own clothes on the colt, and they set Jesus on him.  And as He went, many spread their clothes on the road.  Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying:  “ ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!’  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”  And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.”  But He answered and said to them, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.”

Sadly by the end of the week, the crowd was calling “Crucify him!”

Is your worship from the heart, or the kind of worship that could go from mass hysteria to mob violence?

We are physical, spiritual, social creatures.

The emotions that we reflect at various times in our lives are a part of these different elements.  When we are happy or depressed, joyous or sad, these emotions are the result of

  • Our physical well being
  • Our psychological outlook
  • Our spiritual relationship with the Creator

In extreme stress due to sickness, loss of a loved one, financial difficulties, marital problems, our entire being – body, soul and spirit or physical, spiritual and social are affected.

Here is the scene – Jesus’ triumphal entry. There were those who knew this Jesus

  • Mary Magdalene
  • A blind man
  • A crippled man
  • A leper
  • Others who had been touched in some way miraculously, wondrously by Jesus
  • Then there were those who only cried out “Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” along with those who really knew Him, who really had a relationship with Him, but were expecting a King, an earthly rule, a change from the Roman occupation they were experiencing.  Expecting someone to set them free of Rome and its bondage.  Their cries were “Hosanna”, but what did it really meant?  Was it “What can I get out of this man being King – more money, more prosperity, an easier life style, a better job without Rome breathing down my neck?  Wow!  I could have a much easier life.” 

Just a few days later those who were caught up in the emotional frenzy of the day – Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem – would be equally caught up in the emotional frenzy of the crowd who would cry out, “Crucify him!”

Who do you suppose really loved Jesus, the ones who had experienced a change in their life, their body or those just momentarily caught up in the events of the day?  It was hard to tell probably.  Their voices were all raised; they all shouted praises; it all sounded great. 

But there was a difference.

  • The ones who had really experienced a change in their life, the sinner, Mary Magdalene, the beggar, the lame man, the blind, all now restored – their praise was from the heart.
  • The others, part of the crowd, their emotional high was probably not too different to see, to hear, but there was a difference.  Their cry of “Hosanna” was for selfish reasons, was for what they wanted.

Is it really any different today?

We come into the church; we worship, we sing praises.  For those whose lives have really been touched by the Master, those whose sins have been forgiven, there is praise from the heart – the emotions of the heart, the soul, the spirit from way down deep inside.  Rejoicing, praising and worshiping God for who He is and for what He has done in their life.  Their worship is from the heart.

The others are giving lip service.  There may be emotion, perhaps frenzied, perhaps on the whole appearing not different from others, but theirs is worship from the lips, from being in the church, from perhaps longing or desire.  But their worship leaves them unchanged in their everyday life because there has not been a change in the inward man.

Their cry of praise, of worship could just as easily be cries of (do we dare say “crucify him”) for their life has not been touched by real change.

What kind is your worship?