Sunday, December 29, 2013

A new year begins with a new life! - 2 Corinthians 5:14-21

A new year begins with a new life! - 2 Corinthians 5:14-21
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 29, 2013 AM

Have you ever been around folks who know what they are doing is wrong yet they try to justify themselves with lame spiritual answers? You know what I mean, with answers like, “I think it is God’s will.” “I think this is best.” “I think God is leading.” Notice the common denominator? Like I said, lame. King Saul was confronted by Samuel after he did what he, thought was best and yet he knew better. (1 Samuel 15:12-16) God had given him a tremendous victory, but Saul thought he knew better than God did, even after God had specifically told him what he was to do; and what he was not to do. God in giving His people His will for their lives is never ever blurry in the details. He does not make His people guess. Nor does He allow spiritually fuzzy logic. Saul’s pathetic answer is basically the same lame answer folks give today when they know what they are doing is ungodly but they want to justify themselves.

Paul would write, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad... What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience.” (2 Corinthians 5:10-11 NIV) In this New Year, why not realize that God desires sacrifice more in your life than your personal comfort. He desires you follow Him even when it is personally difficult for you to do so and that may mean staying right where you are. Change has never occurred by catering to your personal desires, it is brought about by lives lived sacrificially for the Lord. A new year begins with a new life! Let’s discover how…

READ: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21

What compels you in life? What truly gets your buttons pushed to do what you are supposed to do in life? As we come to a New Year let’s discover what should compel us. As a new year begins with a new life, Paul writes that…

I. Christ’s love compels us to make changes! (Vv. 14-16)


  1. Few of us would deliberately want to be seen as foolish in the eyes of others, yet Paul, in order to show his sincerity was willing to do just that! He would write, "I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then receive me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool." (2 Corinthians 11:16-17 NIV) Here is what compelled Paul, "If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you." He was willing to appear crazy or foolish for those he loved in the Lord! But not the worldly ungodly foolishness, instead he would be crazy for Christ's sake and theirs! Why would Paul be so willing to do such a thing? He writes, "For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died!" And here is the core of the truth of what Paul was trying to teach his fellow believers, namely, he was willing to do whatever it took in order that they would know Jesus more! If Jesus was willing to die on the cross for our sins, shouldn’t Paul be willing to appear just as foolish? How about you? Are you willing? Paul knew and fully understood what it meant to live for Christ! He knew that Jesus "died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again!" Christians do not live for themselves! If they do, they are selfish, self-centered, and worthless to the kingdom of God! Paul would write, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me!" (Galatians 2:20 NIV) This is what compelled Paul! "So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer." Paul had once breathed death threats to those who lived for Jesus, but now he no longer viewed life in that way, instead he was compelled to live for Jesus! As a new year begins with a new life, Christ’s love compels us to make changes! In this coming new year are you willing to live foolishly for Him?

  EXAMPLE: David Crowder sings a song written by Matt Redman called "Undignified." It goes something like this: " I will dance I will sing to be mad for my king; nothing lord is hindering the passion in my soul! I will dance I will sing to be mad for my king; nothing lord is hindering the passion in my soul! And I'll become even more undignified than this; some would say its foolishness but I'll become even more undignified than this; some would say its foolishness!" It is a reference to David who danced and sang before the Lord in what some viewed as an undignified way. Paul wrote, "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him. It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption." (1 Corinthians 1:27-30 NIV) In this new year will you live foolishly for Him?

With every New Year, people make resolutions. Studies have shown that most of these resolutions last usually only for a few weeks at best. However, just as a new year begins with a new life, Paul writes that…

II. If we are in Christ, we are a new creation! (Vv. 17-19)

  1. "No one was more able to reflect on that transformation than Paul who switched from a persecutor of Christ to a proclaimer of Christ!" (The Bible Knowledge Commentary) It is useless for someone to say they believe in Jesus, yet be unchanged in life. A genuine Christian is a new creature; his old state has changed! He was once a child of Satan, he is now a child of God; he was once was dead in his sin, he now abides in Christ! "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" Yet many of us live our lives as if we never have been changed! Paul declared, "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like." Sounds like much of the world and sadly like many believers. "I warn you," Paul wrote, "as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." Paul knew that Christians should have nothing to do with anything that even hints at these kinds of ungodly actions. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." Paul knew that "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires." (Galatians 5:19-24 NIV) Yet too many believers flirt with ungodliness. They jump ship rather than stay the course, they fade instead of shine, and they enjoy making excuses for their ungodly actions! He would state, " All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ." And God did it for a reason, not just to make us feel better about ourselves; in fact, God “gave us the ministry of reconciliation!" Paul understood that "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them." But even more importantly, Paul reminds us that it is God Himself who "has committed to us the message of reconciliation!" That is what believers are to be about! We are to live like Christ and do the ministry God has given us as new creations in Him! Just as a new year begins with a new life, Paul writes that if we are in Christ, we are a new creation!

  EXAMPLE: A fresh start, a new beginning, or a do over is what many long for in life. Isn’t it therefore wonderful to know that God has done just that for us in Christ? Les Lamborn of RBC writes about Chris Simpson, "Chris Simpson’s life used to be consumed by hate. After he and his wife lost their first child, he was confused and angry. He directed that anger toward various ethnic groups and covered his body with hate-filled tattoos. After listening to his son mimic his hatred, though, Simpson knew he needed to change. He watched a Christian movie about courage and began attending church. One month later he was baptized as a follower of Jesus Christ. Simpson is now a new person and is leaving the hate behind him, which includes the painful and expensive process of having his tattoos removed." He continues by stating, " The apostle Paul knew something about this kind of deep transformation. He hated Jesus and persecuted His followers… Christ made Paul a new person. The old order of sin, death, and selfishness was gone and a new beginning, a new covenant, a new perspective and way of living had come. Following Jesus is not turning over a new leaf; it is beginning a new life under a new Master." Are you going to live your new life in the same old way or will you use it for the ministry the God has already given you? Just as a new year begins with a new life, Paul writes that if we are in Christ, we are a new creation!

Far too often we as believers forget we are representatives of Jesus. As His representative it is important for us to live lives that are like Him. Therefore, as a new year begins with a new life, Paul writes that…

III. We are now Christ's ambassadors! (Vv. 20-21)


  1. We execute the function of ambassadors in Christ’s stead. He came from the Father to mankind on this important embassy. Paul realized that Jesus has left the world, and appointed us in His place! "We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us." Do you understand the importance of Paul's words? An ambassador is a person sent from one sovereign power to another to represent that power. In other words, an ambassador is Christ in His stead when He cannot be there Himself! (Not that we are gods, or little messiahs, but that we are His ambassadors; His representatives here on earth until He comes again!) Christ while on earth represented the person of God the Father; His apostles and their successors represent the person of Christ. Christ declared the will of the Father to mankind; the apostles, His disciples, and future believers to proclaim the good news to the world! We are ambassadors for Christ. Therefore, someone who does not know Jesus as their Savior and Lord cannot ever represent God or His gospel! They are false ambassadors, false representatives trying to pass themselves off as the real deal. This is why Paul admonishes, "We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God." How can a representative of the Living God, in Christ, live a life that is ungodly? They cannot because they are not! How can someone say they love Jesus but dump on His body, His church? They are the dead limbs who have lopped themselves off the living branches. This was not a suggestion by Paul, nor was it simply something Jesus' followers could decide for themselves to do or not do. When you come to Christ, you are one of His ambassadors! The reason was obvious for Paul, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God!" Therefore, as a new year begins with a new life, Paul writes that we are now Christ's ambassadors!

  EXAMPLE: In the movie the Wizard of Oz, the Wizard tells the Tin Woodsman, “A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.” The Wizard of Oz may be a good movie, but it’s not a reliable source of how to live one's life for the Lord. God said something quite different. According to Him, the greatest commandment is to love—to love Him first and then others (Mark 12:29-31). Scripture says nothing about expecting to be loved in return. In fact, Jesus stated the opposite in His most famous sermon: "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:11-12 NIV) When it comes to love, the important thing we need to know is this: Christians are to be His love ambassadors. God’s intent is that the people who receive His love will become the conduit of His love to others. The apostle John wrote, "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." (1 John 4:7-8 NIV) Therefore, remember that as a new year begins with a new life, Paul writes that we are now Christ's ambassadors!

Conclusion:
A new year begins with a new life! Paul writes that Christ's love compels us to make changes, that if we are in Christ, we are a new creation, and that we are now Christ's ambassadors!

This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Fourth Sunday of Advent – The love of God fulfilled! – Luke 2:1-20

Fourth Sunday of Advent – The love of God fulfilled! – Luke 2:1-20
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 22, 2013 AM

There are certain dates in life that stand out more than others do. I remember my parents and grandparents talking about when the bombing of Pearl Harbor occurred and where they were and what they were doing. I remember the day the first American went into space and when we landed on the moon. I also remember when terrorists flew passenger jets into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. However, on a brighter note, I also vividly remember the day I was married and the day we brought our daughter home. Is it any wonder then that as believers we should celebrate by remembering the day the love of God was fulfilled?

On this the fourth Sunday of Advent we should pause as Christians and remember together the day Jesus was born. Before we pass out the presents, drink the hot apple cider, or eat the first candy canes of Christmas perhaps we would do well to stop and remember why there is Christ in Christmas. It is the day the love of God was fulfilled! Let’s refresh our memories as we remind ourselves of the wonder of that day.

READ: Luke 2:1-20

We discover that the love of God was fulfilled when…

I. God’s timing was just right! (Vv. 1-7)

  1. We often mark important events by what occurs in the world around us and Luke does this as well. He remarks that, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” The Savior of the world’s birth is marked by what occurred in the world at that time, a government census. We know that Caesar Augustus was made the ruler of the Roman Empire in 27 BC and ruled to 14 AD and because Herod the Great’s reign ended in 4 BC, Jesus was probably born before that time. In fact, “This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.” However, the word translated “first” probably should be more correctly translated “before”, which it often is, Quirinius was governor which fits the timeline. During these kinds of tax censuses, “everyone went to his own town to register.” And, “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.” Bethlehem was David’s ancestral home because he was a descendent of King David. “He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.” Both Joseph and Mary knew the importance of her pregnancy. She was carrying the Messiah, and so Mary accompanied Joseph for several reasons. The couple knew she would have her child during the time Joseph was gone, and they most likely did not want to be separated during the event. And, since they knew that the baby was the Messiah, they would have known the prophecy of Micah that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. While unsuspecting Caesars and government officials had no clue about how their edicts would affect the lives of the most important couple in the world, God used them for His perfect plan. “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” The love of God was fulfilled when God’s timing was just right!

  EXAMPLE: Timing is everything, or so they say. Paul writes, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5 NIV) Joe Stowell, for the Radio Bible Class, writes, “A quick look at history reveals that the coming of Christ was at just the right time. Centuries earlier, Alexander the Great conquered most of the known world, bringing with him the Greek culture and language. On the heels of his demise, the Roman Empire picked up where Alexander left off and expanded the territory under the unifying influence of the culture and language of the Greeks. It was under Roman rule that the crucifixion took place, where the blood of Christ was shed for us. It was under the rule of Rome that conditions were made ready for the spread of the gospel across three continents: good roads, territorial boundaries free of “passport” restrictions, and a unifying language. The providence of God had put all the pieces in place for the perfect time to send His Son. God’s timing is perfect in everything.” The love of God was fulfilled when God’s timing was just right!

Luke shares that the love of God was fulfilled when…

II. God’s announcement was given! (Vv. 8-14)

  1. What kings, Caesars, and governors cared about most was of no concern for God. In fact, God often uses the small things and the insignificant people to declare His ways and purposes. And here we discover “there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.” Those who were considered the outcasts from their own society, because they worked with animals by touching them, feeding them, and caring for them, the shepherds are the common folk God announces the birth of His son. God goes to these “least in the kingdom” first to proclaim the birth of His Son. Imagine being one of these lowly folks, tending your flock, and suddenly God’s messenger suddenly comes to where you are in the fields. Luke writes that, “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” Isn’t it interesting that God chose to go to these who raised the lambs to be sacrificed in the temple to disclose the birth of the Lamb of God who would be sacrificed? The first words of God’s messenger would be the words His Son would often use: “Do not be afraid.” God’s angel brings them “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” The good news of great joy was not just for the Hebrew nation but also for all people everywhere! “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” The Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of God! The shepherds would know what the angel declared to be true because they are given specific instructions on what they will find and how they will find him, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” A feeding trough would be the bed of the Savior and the simple dressings of a newborn would be his regal robe! Before the shepherds could completely digest what they have been told, “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’” The love of God was fulfilled when God’s announcement was given!

  EXAMPLE: During Boy Scouts we used to sing the Announcements Song, it was to the tunes of Row Row Your Boat, What Do You Do with a Drunken Sailor, Frères Jacques’, Have You Ever Seen a Lassie, and London Bridge. The ending was “Announcements, announcements, announcements! We’ve got a silly cheer, which you've just got to hear! It makes no sense we're sure you know; the announcements have to GO!” However, not all announcements are bad or boring. Wedding announcements, birth announcements, and announcements of achievement are ones that tell us of joyous occasions that we should celebrate! The announcement given to shepherds long ago certainly wasn’t boring or bad; it was good news of great joy! The love of God was fulfilled when God’s announcement was given!

We finally learn that the love of God was fulfilled when…

III. God’s good news was shared! (Vv. 15-20)

  1. Can you imagine what was going through the minds of those simple shepherds? Surprise, yes, shock, certainly, and perhaps some incredulity or astonished skepticism! What’s a shepherd supposed to do with this kind of news? Luke relates, “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’” Being the down-to-earth men they were known to be, they decide to go and see for themselves if what the angelic messengers spoke and sang about was true or not! “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.” Isn’t it interesting that neither the people's chief priests, the teachers of the law, nor the great Herod himself had enough faith to go themselves, but these men do! I can just imagine that when they came to where the child and his parents were, they were even more humbled. They find everything exactly as the angel said it would be. And so, “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” In the midst of this wonderful story is a simple truth of a mother’s heart, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” While potentates schemed, Wisemen wondered, and shepherds saw for themselves; a mother ponders what it all means for the future of her child. Of all the mothers of Israel, she was the one who gave birth to the Messiah! Meanwhile, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” The love of God was fulfilled when God’s good news was shared!

  EXAMPLE: Joe Stowell again for the Radio Bible Class writes, “I love the YouTube video of people in a food court of a mall, who in the midst of their ordinary lives were suddenly interrupted by someone who stood up and boldly began singing the “Hallelujah Chorus.” To the surprise of everyone, another person got up and joined the chorus, and then another, and another. Soon the food court was resounding with the celebrative harmonies of Handel’s masterpiece. A local opera company had planted their singers in strategic places so that they could joyfully interject the glory of God into the everyday lives of lunching shoppers.” He continues, “Every time I watch that video, it moves me to tears. It reminds me that bringing the glory of God into the ordinary situations of our world through the beautiful harmonies of Christlikeness is exactly what we are called to do. Think of intentionally interjecting God’s grace into a situation where some undeserving soul needs a second chance; of sharing the love of Christ with someone who is needy; of being the hands of Jesus that lift up a weary friend; or of bringing peace to a confusing and chaotic situation.” The same is true for those shepherds so long ago, for them the love of God was fulfilled when God’s good news was shared!

Conclusion:

The love of God was fulfilled when God’s timing was just right, when God’s announcement was given, and when God’s good news was shared!

This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Third Sunday of Advent – The Joy of our worship! - Matthew 2:1-12

Third Sunday of Advent – The Joy of our worship! - Matthew 2:1-12
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 15, 2013 AM

Though not everyone agrees on the timing of the arrival of the Magi from the East, they apparently came some time after the birth of Jesus. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, though still in Bethlehem, were now in a house (oikia, Matthew 2:11) but it can also mean place or residence, and could have been used generically by Matthew to describe where Mary and Joseph were simply staying for the moment. However, we also discover that Jesus was called a little child (paidion, Matthew 2:9, 11) rather than a newborn infant (brephos, Luke 2:12). Whether this is true or not is not the focus of the verses, but rather what was the focus of the Magi's worship. In fact, we discover what the joy of our worship is to be as we study the story of the Magi.

When my wife and I first began to date, I would drive hundreds of miles, often times during very bad weather just to see her. I wrote her letters where I had painstakingly taken hours to draw cartoon characters just to make her smile. At the time, just as it is now, I was and am willing to sacrifice anything for her happiness and contentment. Why would I do such things? Because I love her. She is the joy of my life. And isn’t that the way believers should respond to the Joy of their worship as well? Shouldn't Jesus be the Joy of our worship? Why do you worship? What or who is the focus of your worship? Let's discover just how and what the Joy of our worship should be…

READ: Matthew 2:1-12

In the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music, there is a famous song called, "Climb Every Mountain." The first two stanzas relate, "Climb every mountain, Search high and low; Follow every byway, Every path you know. Climb every mountain, Ford every stream; Follow every rainbow, Till you find your dream." Here in the first two verses of the second chapter of Matthew's gospel we discover that the Magi were willing to do just that. In fact, what they did in order to reach the joy of their worship was amazing. It teaches us that the Joy of our worship…

I. Inspires us to overcome any obstacle! (Vv. 1-2)

  1. The exact identity of the Magi is impossible to establish, though several ideas have been floated over the years. Everything from a secret society, magicians, wizards, or truth seekers. They have been given traditional names of Gaspar, Melchior and; Balthazar; and identified as representatives of the three groups of peoples that descended from Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. This notion is from about the 7th century. More likely they were Gentiles of high position from a country, perhaps Persia, northeast of Babylon. Maybe they were given a special revelation by God of the birth of the King of the Jews. This may simply have been revealed in the sky, as indicated by their title "Magi" (specialists in astronomy) and by the fact they referred to a star which they saw. Or this revelation could have come through some contact with Jewish scholars who had migrated to the East. Those who wanted to learn more about the world around them often read the manuscripts of religions, histories, or literature of other nations. Some think the Magi’s comments reflect a knowledge of Balaam’s prophecy concerning the "star" that would "come out of Jacob" (Numbers 24:17). Whatever the source, they came" After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod." And we discover the main reason is stated in their question, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." These men had to travel a long distance (between 550 to 600 miles), mostly walking or perhaps riding, and endure the hardships of thieves and robbers, weather and dirt, and weeks if not months of travel. They left the safety of hearth and home in search of a child and for the mere chance "to worship him"! The Joy of our worship inspires us to overcome any obstacle!

  EXAMPLE: There are many in our day and age who say they search for truth, but few recognize it when they see or hear it. Some give their lives away in servitude serving others, like Mother Teresa who constantly agonized over whether she truly had done enough "good things' for Jesus to love her and be saved! There are those who enter into a lifelong journey of bellybutton introspection, like the Dali Llama, who think by focusing on themselves and emptying themselves of all worldly desires they will find a sense of wholeness. Then there are those who want you to think that any thought given to faith is a fool's folly, because happiness is only found in the moment. Yet, it the midst of all of this we find Wisemen journeying from the East, following a heavenly star, hoping to kneel before a young boy on the chance that he might be the King of the Jews, the Messiah. That's what the Joy of worship does, it inspires us to overcome any obstacle in order to worship Him!

There are those who say they have found the object of their worship, but when one takes a closer look all you see is them! We can mouth Christian platitudes, wave our hands in the air, sing all the choruses we know, and even quote Scripture verbatim, but not know why we are to worship because we truly do not know Him whom we are to worship! The Joy of our worship…

II. Is more than counterfeit comprehension! (Vv. 4-8)


  1. King Herod knew what he worshiped and this is why, "When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him." It was said that it was better to be a pig in Herod's household than to be one of his children! Herod in his paranoia had several of his sons, a daughter, and several wives murdered. Herod was not the rightful king from the line of David. In fact he was not even a descendant of Jacob, but was descended from Esau and was an Edomite. This is why the Jews hated their king! Herod however was crafty and in fact did a lot to build up his nation militarily, financially, and physically. "When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born." Herod in his paranoia wanted to know who this threat to his throne was. They give him the answer gleaned from Micah, "But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel." Both Herod and his advisors had a counterfeit response and reason for their belief. The people's chief priests and teachers of the law wanted to show off their knowledge to their King and Herod wanted to thwart any opposition to his reign! What he learned was soon related to the Magi, "Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared." He was already planning his infanticidal response whereby "he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi." (Matthew 2:16 NIV) So, Herod sends them to Bethlehem and tells them, " Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him." He only wanted to "worship" him at the end of a sword. The Joy of worship is more than counterfeit comprehension!

  EXAMPLE: There is an atheist group who have paid for giant billboards with the message, "Who needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody." Interestingly, American Atheists President David Silverman, whose heritage is Jewish, says they are trying to focus only on the "fun" parts of Christmas. And sadly, this is what many Christians do as well with their worship. They focus only on the "fun" parts trying vainly to forget that worship of Christ is more than head knowledge or a regular commitment to show up on Sundays. Some view worship as a country club where they pay their dues for the benefits or show, it is more about receiving than giving, rights instead of responsibilities, entitlements instead of sacrifice, and being served instead of serving. They might as well be atheists asking, "Who needs Christ during worship? Nobody!" The Joy of worship is more than counterfeit comprehension!

Author Greig Beck in his thriller novel "Dark Rising" writes, "Without sacrifice, there is no freedom. Without freedom, there is no life. God bless them who give their all for us." He could have been writing about missionaries, but he wasn't. Instead he was writing about those in the military who sacrifice themselves for the cause of freedom. Should this not be said of the believer? In the story of the Magi and this third Sunday of Advent, we discover that the Joy of our worship…

III. Makes us enthusiastically sacrifice! (Vv. 9-12)

  1. Simple trust is an amazing thing. We discover it in children and are often silenced by it. We discover it here with the Magi and it should cause us to pause, because, "After they had heard the king, they went on their way." At this time they did not know Herod's intent, they only wanted to continue their journey. They followed the star they have seen earlier and wonders of wonders, "the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was!" Stars, like planets, usually go from east to west because of the earth's rotation, not north to south! Could it be therefore that “the star” which the Magi saw and which led them to a specific house was the Shekinah glory of God or one of His angelic messengers? Possibly. But " When they saw the star, they were overjoyed." They knew what it meant! It was showing them the way to the One they sought! The same God who had lead the children of Israel through the wilderness for 40 years, now lead these Wiseman. "On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him." They did not pause to worship or recognize Mary nor Joseph. The mother and father are of little importance to those who follow the Messiah. He alone is the focus of their worship! They immediately went to the object of their search, their worship! "Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh." Some believe the gifts signified the character of Jesus' life. Gold might represent His deity or purity, incense the fragrance of His life, and myrrh His sacrifice and death. Scripture does not say and therefore it is speculation. However, it speaks volumes on how these men were willing to enthusiastically sacrifice their time, talents, and treasures in order to worship Jesus! "And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route." The joy of our worship makes us enthusiastically sacrifice all that we have for Him!

  EXAMPLE: How about you? What do you sacrifice for the Joy of your worship? A couple of Sundays a month? Do you spend time reading His word? Do you share Him with those walking in darkness? Do you only show up to church for worship and never give any of your time, talent, or treasure to the Joy of your worship in His body the church? Maybe you are more like the four blind men in the Asian myth who come across an elephant for the first time and they try to describe it. One grasps the trunk and concludes it is a snake. Another touches the elephant's leg and describes it as a tree. A third finds the elephant's tail and concludes it is a rope. The fourth blind man, finds the elephant's side, assumes that it is, after all, a wall. It is not differing religions describing the same thing in radically differing ways. The truth is that spiritually blind folks cannot make sense from that which they are blinded to! The only commonality they had was they were all BLIND! Jesus correctly asked, " Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?" (Luke 6:39 NIV) Stop being blind, the Joy of your worship should make you enthusiastically sacrifice all that you have for Him!

Conclusion:

The Joy of our worship…

Inspires us to overcome any obstacle! Is more than counterfeit comprehension! Makes us enthusiastically sacrifice!

This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Second Sunday of Advent - The peace of God! - Isaiah 52:6-10

Second Sunday of Advent - The peace of God! - Isaiah 52:6-10
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 8, 2013 AM

Last week we spoke of how the Messiah would be called by the names of, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, (and) Prince of Peace.” There were those who incorrectly thought that the Messiah would bring about a cessation of conflicts or that everyone would all of a sudden become happy in His presence. Interestingly, there are those in our day and age who still have misconceptions of who the Messiah is and the peace He is to bring to the world. On this second Sunday of Advent, we will learn that the coming of the Messiah would bring peace. And, what that would mean for the entire human race.

Isaiah introduces us to a Messiah who would bring about His peace to all mankind. He begins this portion by calling the nation of Israel to wake up, “Awake, awake, O Zion, clothe yourself with strength. Put on your garments of splendor, O Jerusalem, the holy city. The uncircumcised (ungodly) and defiled will not enter you again.” Jerusalem’s pagan conquerors — the uncircumcised and defiled — would never again invade and pollute the holy city after the Messiah came. This is part of the peace He would bring. Let’s discover this morning the peace of God!

READ: Isaiah 52:6-10

The world today thinks that peace comes from the absence of conflict that it can be obtained through gain or government, but Isaiah teaches us that…

I. The peace of God comes from Him alone! (v. 6)

  1. God’s people would be freed from their chains, never to be enslaved again! Isaiah prophesied, “For this is what the LORD says: ‘You were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed.’” No amount of money could pay the debt they owed! The Israelites did not fully understand that the enslavement God saw His people under was the rebellion of sin and that they could never buy themselves back without the blood of a sacrifice! No amount of ransom could buy them back from their enslavement to sin, only the blood of the Lamb would! This is why the writer of Hebrews would state, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and in offerings, you were not pleased… Here I am--it is written about me in the scroll-- I have come to do your will, O God.’” (Hebrews 10:3-7 NIV) Jesus began His ministry by relating, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners...” (Luke 4:18-19 NIV) God would ask them, “And now what do I have here?” He answers His question by relating, “For my people have been taken away for nothing, and those who rule them mock, and all day long my name is constantly blasphemed.” (v. 5) while we may be shortsighted, God’s view is much longer. The Israelites willingly sold themselves into slavery for a pittance and those who enslaved them mocked God as a result! (Things haven’t changed much have they?) They refused to listen and repent, as they should. Yet, God’s plan all along was to redeem all people and His desire was that they would know how it occurred and who was responsible when happened! Israel would be restored and they would know peace but not in the manner, they thought. “Therefore my people will know my name; therefore in that day they will know that it is I who foretold it. Yes, it is I.” When the peace of God came, all people everywhere would know who brought it about. This is why the angels rejoiced singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.” (Luke 2:14 NIV) The peace of God comes from Him alone!

  EXAMPLE: Daily Bread’s Les Lamborn writes, “During the Christmas season, we wait. We wait in traffic. We wait in checkout lines to purchase gifts. We wait for family to arrive. We wait to gather around a table filled with our favorite foods. We wait to open presents lovingly chosen. All of this waiting can be a reminder to Christians that Christmas is a celebration of waiting for something much more important than holiday traditions. Like the ancient Israelites, many are waiting for Jesus.” the peace of God. Isaiah teaches us that the peace of God comes from Him alone!

God made the first move when He came as baby Jesus and the sacrificial Lamb. A star would appear marking the way, angels would proclaim Him, and shepherds would witness to what they saw. Isaiah teaches us that...

II. The peace of God would be proclaimed! (Vv. 7-8)

  1. Here is a wonderful picture of rescue. The enemy has surrounded the city, they are encamped around the walls and there is no escape. Thousands upon thousands of the enemy’s troops are assembled and just when they are ready to step forward to fight, there comes a cry from one of the watchmen on the wall of the besieged, “Look! Look to the mountains there is where our help comes from!” And all eyes strain to see a lone runner from the foothills headed to the besieged and the enemy parts for him like the waters of the Red Sea for Moses. Isaiah declares, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” Notice that the deliverance is not brought about by a larger army, more advanced weaponry, or a master general but by the beautiful “feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation”! And what is this message of salvation they proclaim to the those waiting for rescue and to the camp of the enemy? “Your God reigns!” As wonderful as was the return of Israel from their Babylonian captivity, what utter joy will be when the Messiah finally comes to Zion and proclaims, “Your God reigns!” Now, dear child of the King, you are the messenger of the Messiah in our besieged city. You are the one with beautiful feet to proclaim the peace of God, you are the one running from the mountains bring good new that that He alone reigns! “Listen!” Isaiah commands. “Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy.” Those entrapped can rejoice, because “When the LORD returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes.” Israel would see their Messiah coming to them, but some would not care or would refuse to hear Him when he came. But all the same, He came. And, they would see it with their own eyes. The peace of God would be proclaimed!

  EXAMPLE: Isaiah was a watchman, Nahum was a watchman, and various men in various ways prophesized announced the coming of the Messiah, the light of the world. John the Baptist was the last of these. “There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:6-11 NIV) And, now the last command the Messiah has given His watchmen on the wall who look to the mountains is, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”! The peace of God is to be proclaimed!

What joyous news, what a wonderful truth to proclaim, those enslaved and those surrounded by the enemy can be freed forever! Isaiah teaches us that…

III. The peace of God brings salvation! (Vv. 9-10)

  1. Over and over we find Isaiah telling the people to “burst into song” to “rejoice” because God would hear their cries for help. Isaiah tells them, “Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.” In the midst of standing in the ruin of their lives and the rubble of their city, they are to “Burst into songs of joy together”! How could they do such a thing? God has already “comforted His people.” In fact, the important message is that God has already “redeemed” bought back Jerusalem, meaning all of Israel. This is why John the Baptist’s papa, Zachariah, would break his silence by singing, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come and has redeemed His people!” (Luke 1:68 NIV) Isaiah wrote, “All the lands are at rest and at peace; they break into singing.” (Isaiah 14:7 NIV) Matthew would understand and reiterate Isaiah’s words by reminding us, “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’” (Matthew 4:16-17 NIV) The promise Isaiah proclaimed is the fact that God Himself would “lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” God would show the entire world His power and ability to bring salvation through His Messiah. It is summed up in the majestic wonderful words of John, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus would say, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27 NIV) The peace of God brings salvation!

  EXAMPLE: There are folks who read the last chapter first when they start a new thriller. They may think that it takes the anxiety out of reading. So it is with Christians because we know the end of the story, we can be messengers of peace in the midst of utter chaos, calm in the face of disaster. We are to experience peace under pressure. Kingdoms may fall, friends may falter, churches may fold, oceans may rise, and mountains may crumble, but we can be at peace. How do we maintain such composure? By remembering that the “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 NIV). In fact, just as Isaiah wanted the Israelites to be comforted that the Messiah would come, Jesus reminds us, “Yes, I am coming soon.” (Revelations 22:20 NIV) Today could be the day! The peace of God brings salvation!

Conclusion:
The peace of God comes from Him alone!
The peace of God would be proclaimed!
The peace of God brings salvation!

This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

First Sunday of Advent – Our expectation and hope! - Isaiah 9:2-7

First Sunday of Advent – Our expectation and hope! - Isaiah 9:2-7
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 1, 2013 AM

One of the great things to do with children is to keep an advent calendar and countdown the days until Christmas. Christmas is the celebration of the first Advent, the coming of the Savior of the world! As believers, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. But we also wait eagerly for the second advent when Christ will return! "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever." (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 NIV)

Certainly, a large part of our lives center around anticipation. How much we would lose if we were to wake up one day to the unexpected announcement: "Christmas in 10 minutes!" The enjoyment in many of life's events is built on the fact that we have time to anticipate them. Whether it is Christmas, vacations, trips, or sporting events, all grow in value because of the hours we spend looking forward to them—eagerly running through our minds the fun, challenges, and excitement they'll bring. Now imagine if you will the anticipation of the salvation of mankind coming to earth. That is what the first Sunday of Advent is all about, our expectation and hope! Let's discover why…
READ: Isaiah 9:2-7

Salvation would not break forth till it had become utterly dark along the horizon of Israel, according to Isaiah, "In that day… if one looks at the land, he will see darkness and distress; even the light will be darkened by the clouds." (Isaiah 5:29-30 NIV) -- Literally when the land of Jehovah, had become a land of the shadow of death because of the apostasy of its inhabitants. Sound familiar? It is always darkest before the dawn and here we discover that…

I. The Messiah would bring light to a darkened world! (Vv. 2-3)

  1. We are often introduced to a myriad of end of the world scenarios, from fiery asteroids crashing into the earth to killer zombie viruses that threaten all of mankind. Yet few in our day even give a nod or notice to the spiritual darkness that has engulfed the world. It is the same spiritual darkness that was overwhelming Israel. Like the spread of darkness by the Dark Lord Sauron in the Lord of the Rings written by Tolkien. Everywhere his influence touched became vile, corrupted, and spiritually dark. Tolkien deliberately wrote his books about Middle Earth as kind of a tale of how sin affects mankind. We find in the pages of Scripture that whenever mankind neglected their God, spiritual darkness spread. But now, "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." The veil is rendered! The darkness is pierced by the rising sun! Gandalf, in the Lord of the Rings tells the embattled at Helms Deep, "Look to my coming, at first light, on the fifth day. At dawn, look to the East!" John wrote, "The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world!" (John 1:9 NIV) Jesus related, "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." (John 3:19-21 NIV) Isaiah saw that the light of God would return to spiritually dark Israel, and in fact, "You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder." While those who loved God had been reduced to a remnant, they would be "enlarged" and their "joy" increased. They would rejoice again! The Messiah would bring light to a darkened world! 

  EXAMPLE: As a child, I began to fear the darkness. Part of the problem was my brother Ed who loved to whisper frightening scenarios to me after we had crawled into bed. But it was also because I could not see what laid in wait in the darkness. Now isn't it interesting that Scripture tells us that the ungodly love darkness "instead of light because their deeds" are evil. And, in fact, "Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed." I loved to have a flashlight as a kid that I could turn on to make sure there was nothing out there that could harm me. Light does that. It exposes anything that tries to hide in either the darkness of sin or a darkened room! With great anticipation Isaiah longed for the first Advent when the Messiah would bring light into a darkened world!

David would cry out, "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me." (Psalms 51:3 NIV) Mankind has always struggled with the sins of life. And, Jesus gave us examples whereby we come away realizing that we could never live up to the standard He has given us, "For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:20 NIV) But, now Isaiah tells us that…

II. The Messiah will ease the burden of sin! (Vv. 4-5)

  1. No one could have believed for even one second that the weak, ineffective, and subservient Israelites would pose any kind of threat to the more powerful Midianites. Yet, God did just that and in fact did it through someone totally unexpected! The future deliverance, which the prophet here celebrates, would be the counterpart of the Egyptian enslavement. Then, the whole of the great nation of Israel was redeemed, whereas now only a small remnant would participate in the final redemption! Isaiah compares it to the day when Gideon broke seven years domination of Midian over Israel. And, it would occur not with a great army, but with a handful of resolute warriors, strong in the Lord (Judges 7)! It was God "as in the day of Midian's defeat" Who "shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, (and) the rod of their oppressor." He did it through the One whom He will send. This will be a supernatural work of God! So complete will be the act of God sending His Messiah to ease our burden of sin that, "Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire." We see that all the trappings of the oppressor are heaped into a pile and set on fire; and, as they blaze up, the freed slaves exult in their liberty. Even the blood-drenched cloaks have been stripped from the corpses; they are tossed on the heap, and, saturated as they are, they burn! So complete is the victory that even the weapons of the conquered are destroyed. Our conquering King has been manifested, that He might annihilate the powers by which evil holds us bound. His victory is utterly complete; by His power and might the Messiah will ease the burden of sin!

  EXAMPLE: Today the Federal debt has become an enormous financial burden that many simply ignore. The estimated population of the United States is 317,129,319 so each citizen's share of this debt is $54,289.61. That is way more money than I make in a year! And it increases every day by $2.72 billion! It is an huge burden on us and future generations because it is an added tax to everything we buy and will affect how we live. Fewer college graduates will get jobs because there are fewer people retiring in order to survive, fewer companies hire because they have to pay off their share of taxes, and therefore goods and services increase for the same reasons. Incomes and retirement are reduced as taxes increase. It is a debt we can never pay that we had no say in what we owed! Jesus related to Peter, "Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?" Peter replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled." "You have judged correctly," Jesus said. (Luke 7:41-43 NIV) The sin debt of Israel and the entire world was enormous and could never be paid by all the sacrifices that could ever be made! Rejoice! By His power and might the Messiah will ease the burden of sin!

The promise of God would take an unexpected turn as His promises often do. This is why I often chuckle over those who think they have the return of Jesus all figured out, especially when He told us, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." (Matthew 24:36 NIV) This is why it was so amazing when Isaiah prophesized thousands of years beforehand that…

III. The Messiah will be born both God and man! (Vv. 6-7)

  1. Here is a wonderful amazing truth that makes even the hardest heart pause, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders." The Savior of the world, the Messiah, would be born a babe and all of God's government would be placed squarely on His small shoulders! Do you understand the importance of these few words? Can you grasp their meaning for all mankind? God's messengers would share with scruffy shepherds, "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." (Luke 2:10-12 NIV) There it is, amazing isn't it? But more than that, "he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, (and) Prince of Peace." Four beautiful names describe Him for us; He will be an exceptional teacher, the embodiment of our powerful God, reflecting His eternal nature, which brings the peace that surpasses all understanding! Now, Isaiah did not fully realize that Jesus would be the One who would fulfill all of this during His first advent, but it will come about that "Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever." God's promise to David would come true! God would rule and reign through His Messiah! How and why would God do this wonderful thing? Isaiah says, "The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this." It would be done because God joyously chose to do it! How totally marvelous that the fulfillment of God's promises is found in a tiny babe, wrapped in swaddling, lying in a manger! Isaiah's promise that the Messiah will be born both God and man is complete in Jesus Christ!

  EXAMPLE: Jesus related, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father." (John 14:9 NIV) "I am the bread of life." (John 6:48 NIV) "I am the light of the world." (John 8:12 NIV) "I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am!" (John 8:58 NIV) "I am the good shepherd." (John 10:11 NIV) "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies." (John 11:25 NIV) "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6 NIV) "I and the Father are one." (John 10:30 NIV) "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father." (John 14:9 NIV) The first Advent is the celebration of the fulfillment of Isaiah's promise that the Messiah will be born both God and man, Jesus Christ!

Conclusion:

The Messiah would bring light to a darkened world!
The Messiah will ease the burden of sin!
The Messiah will be born both God and man!

This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.