Do You Believe?

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Do you believe in miracles? Big and small? Do you believe that God can alter the course of history and the course of your life? I do. He does it all the time. Every day people are being physically healed. Everyday food and money show up at just the right moment. Every day, all over the world, people’s lives are being transformed – addictions are being broken, marriages are being restored, rebellious children are coming home.

Think about the miracles performed by Jesus. Water was turned into wine. He healed the sick. He healed an invalid. He fed the 5,000 with a boy’s lunch. He walked on water and He calmed the storm. A man born blind was given sight.  A man who had been dead for four days was brought back to life! And then, in John 14:12 Jesus declared, “The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father.”

The miracles of Jesus are more than historical facts. Every miracle not only reveals what Jesus did, past tense. They reveal what He wants to do in your life, present tense. What He’s done before, He wants to do again. And if we live like the Scriptures define, God will do what He did.

For the Glory of God

Most of the miracles recorded in Scripture require a catalyst – someone willing to be used by God to usher in the miraculous. That’s where you and I come in. God wants to use us to usher in the miraculous. But there are certain requirements that you and I must meet. First, we need to place all that we are, and all that we have into the hands of Jesus. Second, I shared that God is in the business of connecting His followers with those in need of a miracle through divine appointments. Followers of Jesus must be in tune with the Spirit of God. Next, I shared with you that the people God uses for His glory and the good of others believe beyond a shadow of doubt that God is able to do far more than we could ever ask for or dream of!

John 11:1-44 – The Raising of Lazarus From the Dead

John begins our story by identifying Lazarus, by declaring that he was from Bethany of Judea and that he was the brother of Mary and Martha. You remember them, don’t you? The two sisters who were complete opposites? One was a worker bee – the other, much more relational – the one who wanted to sit at the feet of Jesus. We discover that Lazarus is sick; so sick that his sisters send someone to tell Jesus. We don’t know what’s wrong with him, only that he was near death. Their message was simple, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” They believed that Jesus was not only capable of healing their brother, but that His love for Lazarus would compel Him to heal him.

Jesus hears their message and declares in verse 4, “This sickness will not end in death, but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified in it.” Jesus wasn’t saying that Lazarus wouldn’t die. Most likely he was already dead. What He was saying was that the end result, the final outcome, would not be death, but rather, the glory of God! Sometimes sickness and even death may be the will of God because it brings Him glory. In this case, Lazarus’s circumstances would bring glory to God.

When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed two more days in the place that He was (Verse 6). Now that sounds a little unloving to me. What about you? Why would Jesus not heal Him on the spot? He has already proven that He didn’t have to be present to heal someone. Why didn’t Jesus leave immediately and travel the day’s journey to Bethany? I have a few suggestions. First, God’s delays strengthen our faith. They force us to trust Him. Second, the delay actually affirmed that Lazarus was dead. An important key to God’s future glory. And finally, His delay reminds us that Jesus worked on the Father’s timetable, not man’s.

After two days had passed, Jesus informs His disciples that they were headed to Bethany which was close to Jerusalem. The disciples were quick to point out that the religious leaders were determined to kill him! Jesus replies in verse 9, “Aren’t there twelve hours in a day?”  Just as no one can lengthen or shorten a day, Jesus was saying that no one can lengthen or shorten His ministry and life on earth. God is sovereign and He has an appointed time for all things; including Jesus’ death and departure.

Jesus then declares to His disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am on my way to wake him.” Lazarus was dead but Jesus was going to raise him from the dead! The delay served a purpose. Verse 15 tells us that the delay would strengthen the faith of the disciples. The resurrection of Lazarus from the dead would do far more to strengthen the disciples’ faith than a healing alone would have done. Jesus was pointing out that the disciples needed a powerful miracle to strengthen their faith.

When they arrived in Bethany they discovered that Lazarus had been in the grave for four days. The Jews believed that the soul of a dead person hovered around the body for three days hoping to reenter it and that on the fourth day after the body had begun to decompose, it departed. Only then was a death irreversible. Lazarus had begun to decompose. He was dead.

When Mary and Martha heard that Jesus was coming into the village, Martha, the busy one, ran to meet Jesus. When she saw Him, she declared in verse 21, “Lord, had you been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” Obviously, she was heartbroken over his death but I don’t think she was rebuking Jesus. I believe that she was declaring her belief in His ability to heal the sick. I am sure that the idea of Jesus raising her brother from the dead had never crossed her mind! Jesus responds, “Your brother will rise again.”

She acknowledges that Lazarus would rise from the dead in the future on the last day. Jesus points out that He is the resurrection and the life, challenging her to trust Him as the one who had power over death. Boy, was she in for a surprise!

Martha departs and Mary returns for a similar conversation. When Jesus saw her crying, and the crowd with her, He became angry. Why? To be honest, I am not sure, but I believe that it has something to do with the fact that death and sorrow were not part of the Father’s original plan. Man had chosen to sin and in doing so, brought suffering into the world. That makes Him angry.

Where have you put him?” He asks. As they led Jesus to the grave, scripture says that Jesus wept. Jesus didn’t burst into tears and start wailing like the mourners but rather, He burst into tears quietly. His love for Lazarus was real and the terrible impact of sin upon the world was enough to break His heart.  When they got to the cave where Lazarus was buried He commands them to remove the stone. Now that’s not a good idea. As a matter of fact, Martha reminds Jesus, “Lord, he already stinks. It’s been four days.”

Jesus responds with a mild rebuke, “Did I not say that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” Jesus is challenging Martha and Mary to stop focusing on their problem, the death of their brother, and to focus on Him. We do that as well. When things go wrong we tend to focus on the problem and not upon the greatness of our God. Reassured by Jesus’ words, she gives her consent to move the stone.

After the stone was rolled away, Jesus raised His eyes to heaven and spoke to the Father, “Father, I thank you that you heard me. I know that you always hear me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe You sent me.” Concluding His prayer Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And at the exact moment, Lazarus came out of the tomb. Alive!

Okay, let me give it to you straight. Lazarus didn’t walk out of the tomb, he came out doing the bunny hop! When the Jews buried someone they first tied their ankles together. And then, they tied their arms to the side of their body. Then they wrapped the deceased in strips of linen cloth. Lots of it! (About 100 pounds of them) Some scholars believe that they paid special attention to the head, wrapping it with cloth until it measured more than a foot in diameter. I bet you’re thinking like me – sounds like a mummy! Right? I thought so.

Based on what I just told you about Jewish burial customs, it seems to me that that two miracles happened that day, not one. First, Lazarus was brought back to life. The man with the stinking flesh came back to life and his decaying body was restored! But how did Lazarus get out of the tomb? He was in something like a full body cast! That’s the second miracle. Lazarus didn’t walk out of the tomb. He hopped out. Now that’s funny!

Do you believe this?

At the end of verse 26, after declaring that He was the resurrection and the life, Jesus asks Martha, “Do you believe this?” Martha’s response was simple but life-altering, “Yes Lord, I believe You are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” That’s the question God is asking you and me today, “Do you believe?” The answer determines your eternal destiny. In Romans 10:9 God declares, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Saved from what? Saved from the punishment you deserve for your sin. Saved from death. Saved from a broken relationship with God. Saved from spending an eternity in the lake of fire, separated from God. If you believe.

God raises the dead from the grave. He raises broken dreams from the dead. He resurrects bad relationships. And, He raises marriages from the ashes. He is a God of second chances and like Lazarus, God wants to give you a second chance. If you will let Him, He will give you your life back.  If you believe.

You can receive God’s free gift of salvation by praying a prayer like the one below. Although praying the prayer doesn’t save you, it should reflect the desire of your heart. And, if it is your desire, the Bible states that you are saved from your sin:

Dear God, I’m a sinner and know that my sins have destroyed our relationship. I acknowledge that I deserve death, separation from you for eternity. I’m sorry for my sins. I want to turn from my sins but cannot do so in my own power. I believe Jesus Christ is your Son. I believe He died on a cross for my sin and that You raised Him to life. I trust Him as my Savior and desire to follow Him as Lord from this day forward. Jesus, I put my trust in You and I submit my life to You. Holy Spirit, come into my life and be my guide. I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

 

Do You Want to Get Well?

do you want to get well

We all have challenges to face. Life isn’t the way we pictured it. We all struggle with sin and with disappointment. Maybe your marriage is a wreck. Maybe your kids are giving you fits. Maybe it has something to do with work. Or, with your finances. Maybe you, like the invalid in our text, have been in a bad situation for years. I believe that God wants to work a miracle in your life. He wants so much more for each of us than we can imagine. If we’re going to experience the miraculous some things have got to change. You cannot keep on doing what you have always done and expect different results!

In John 5, we read that Jesus and His disciples had traveled to Jerusalem for one of the mandatory religious festivals. By the sheep-gate, which is located in the north-east corner of the city, near the Temple, there was a two-pool complex about the size of a football field. It was called the Pool of Bethsaida. It had five porches around it to keep people out of the weather. It was a natural gathering place for the people of Jerusalem – especially the blind, the lame and the paralyzed.

Those in need of healing came there every day because they believed that if the water was stirred, moved if you will, and if you were the first person into the pool, you would experience healing. Winner, winner, chicken dinner! Rumor had it that the water was stirred by an angel. Not sure if it’s true. We’re not even sure if anyone was ever healed by being first. What I do know is that when things get bad, you and I are more apt to try anything if we think it will bring healing!

There was a man there who had been sick for 38 years. Not sure what his ailment was; he may have been paralyzed or extremely weak. What we do know is that he has been there a long time and that he couldn’t get himself into the pool when the stirring occurred. Sadly, he believed that his only hope was getting into the pool before anyone else. He was so weak that it wasn’t going to happen. And yet, every day like clockwork he went to the pool in hopes of being healed.

Does it sound familiar to you? How many people do you know who keep on doing the same things over and over again believing that it will one day produce different results? That’s the definition of insanity. We do it all the time. We know something has got to change. We know that our marriages need to get better, that we have to address our addictions, or that our kids need to be straightened out – but we keep on doing what we have always done expecting different results.

If you want God to do something new in your life, you cannot keep doing the same old thing. Jesus is calling out to you and me that “with God all things are possible.” He’s calling you to a step of faith, a new way of life. Healing comes on God’s terms, not ours. If we’re going to experience the miraculous, you and I will need to do a few things.

First, you have to determine if you really want to change. Jesus asked the invalid, “Do you want to change?” At first glance, it may seem like a silly question – of course he does! But think through this with me. Do you really want your marriage to be stronger? Do you really want to raise godly children? Do you want what God wants for your life and your family? No matter what goal you’re trying to achieve or what problem you’re trying to solve, you have to want to change – you have to be willing to pay the price. And, to pay the price, you have to see what life can be like with God in control. God declared in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you… plans for your well-being, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” God has a plan for your life!

Second, you and I need an accurate understanding of who God is and what He is capable of. The invalid didn’t have a clue who Jesus was. On that day he had no idea that the one standing before him was the Messiah, the only begotten Son of God, who turned water into wine, who gave sight to the blind and healed the sick. John 1:3 tells us that all things were created by Jesus! The one who spoke the world into existence can change your life – Jesus can make the impossible possible. In Matthew 16, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” He then followed up with the big question, “Who do you say that I am?” Who is Jesus to you? Is He Lord and Master?

Third, we must recognize how helpless we are apart from God which means we must be honest about our condition. In Psalm 51 David cried out to God, “Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:2-4). He didn’t try to excuse himself or sugarcoat things, and neither should we. The greatest holdup to healing in your life might be you!

Fourth, if you want God to do a new thing in your life you cannot keep on doing the same old things. The man in our text had been an invalid for 38 years. And I imagine, for many of those years he kept coming to the pool, thinking that today was going to be the day. What was he thinking? If you’re way isn’t working don’t you think it’s time to do things God’s way?  In Isaiah 55:8-9 God declares, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways.” This is the Lord’s declaration. “For as heaven is higher than earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Fifth, you have to realize that healing comes on God’s terms and not ours. Jesus commanded the invalid to get up, pick up your bedroll and walk. The directions were clear. Stand up on your own two feet. Bend over and pick up your mat. And now, walk. Could you imagine what was going through his mind? He hadn’t walked in 38 years! He didn’t know how to walk nor did he have the muscle strength to do so. No matter what your situation is, God’s Word has clear instructions on how to handle it. The question isn’t whether you’re capable of doing what needs to be done, you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. The question is, “Will you follow His instructions?” God promises in Psalm 37:5, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desire of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust in him, and he will act.”

Do you want to get well?

  • Decide – is it time to get well?
  • Take inventory – who is God to you?
  • Be honest – you cannot fix things on your own
  • Stop doing what you’ve always done
  • Choose to live in obedience to the will of God

 

Divine Appointments

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I believe in miracles. Big ones and small ones. Ones where God shows up and others where God shows off. I am a believer in the miraculous. I also believe that many, if not most of the miracles recorded in Scripture require a catalyst – someone willing to be used by God to usher in the miraculous – a miracle worker. Today we continue our quest to live in the miraculous by looking at a second principle regarding the miraculous:  God is in the business of connecting His followers with those in need of a miracle through divine appointments. I am saying that more times than not, God has you right where He wants you.

There was a group from a church on a mission trip to the Galapagos Islands which are located off of the coast of Ecuador. Long before they had left on their trip the group had been praying that God would set up divine appointments for each member of the team. They had been hopping the islands for a week, sharing the gospel with people who had never heard of Jesus. On one particular day, the team got up early for a forty-five-minute bus trip across the island of Santa Cruz to catch a ferry to a neighboring island. Only one paved road connected the port city and the ferry, with virtually no civilization in between them. That’s why they were surprised to see a hitch-hiker by the side of the road. The bus driver stopped and picked up a middle-aged man named Raul.

Raul could have sat anywhere he wanted to on the bus, there was plenty of room. As it was, he sat down next to Adam, one of the nicest and most caring people on the trip. He was also one of the few people on the bus who spoke Spanish fluently. In the midst of their conversation, Raul shared with Adam that he had thought seriously about committing suicide the night before, that he had gone as far as to tie heavy cement bricks to his feet as he sat on an ocean pier. He explained to Adam that his wife of 30 years had left him. Adam did more than listen to Raul; he understood how he felt since a few years earlier his wife of 15 years had left him and he too was suicidal at the time. Raul asked him, “How did you get through it?” Adam told him that he had turned to Jesus Christ and that Christ has given him a new life.

Raul explained that he felt like God had never been there for him, asking, “Where was God yesterday when my wife left me?” Adam pointed out that God had been there the whole time and that He was there especially now. He pointed out that God had sent a busload of Americans to his island and it was that bus that had picked him. He explained that the road had very little traffic. What were the odds of them being there when he needed them? He explained that Raul had sat next to a man who not only understood the pain of abandonment but next to one who was fluent in his language as well. God had brought Raul to the road and Adam to the island so that Raul could hear the gospel. On a human level, the two should never have met. You cannot manufacture those kinds of meetings.

We read in Acts 8:4-8 that the persecution of the early church by Saul drove Philip, one of the original deacons, to Samaria where he shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with them. The crowds paid attention and many people came to faith in Christ! The demon possessed were set free, the paralyzed walked again, and the sick were healed. Luke declares that as a result of Philip’s ministry there was great joy in the city! God had, through persecution, placed Philip right where He needed him.

We read in Acts 8:26 that an angel of God spoke to Philip in the midst of his success, commanding him to “get up and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” Now there are a few things that are a little bit strange about this request. First, there are two roads to Gaza. The one the angel tells Philip to take is the desert road, the one seldom used by people. He could not have picked an emptier stretch of road. Second, God is calling Philip to leave what appears to be a vibrant, life-giving ministry, to go somewhere else. Finally, God doesn’t tell him where he’s going.  Why would God command this successful missionary to pack up his bags and travel south to a seldom-used road in the heat of the day?

Strange as it may appear to the human mind, Philip gets up and obeys – immediately. You recall I said that God uses ordinary people, people who are willing to put all that they are and all that they have into the hands of Jesus? Philip is one of those guys. God knew that there would be a man, a foreigner, traveling that deserted road who had a hunger for truth and a need for the Gospel. He also knew that the man would receive the gospel and take the good news of Jesus back to his country. Philip knew none of that. All he knew was that God had spoken and that he needed to obey.

As Philip traveled south he came across an Ethiopian man who was a eunuch and a high official of the queen of Ethiopia. He was a man of power and prestige. He was also a man who had a vast emptiness in his soul. He had been to Jerusalem on a spiritual pilgrimage but had discovered nothing. He had gone away just as empty as he had come. Because he was a eunuch he was unable to participate in the Jewish worship services. At best, he would have been allowed to attend the synagogues and study the scriptures. Because he was a eunuch and a foreigner he would have been an outsider forever.

As he traveled back to his country he was reading a scroll which contained the book of Isaiah. As Philip watched this man pass by, the Spirit of God commanded him to “Go and join that chariot.” As he approached the eunuch, Philip heard him reading from the book of Isaiah so he asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” To which he replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”

The Eunuch invited Philip to join him in his chariot. Once he was situated Philip explained to him that Isaiah was speaking of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world – of Jesus Christ. He shared with him that all of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s standards and that what we deserve for our rebellion is death – complete and total separation from God. He shared with him that God demonstrated His love for us however by sending His Son Jesus to die upon a cross for our sins, that Jesus hung upon that cross as our substitute. He then shared with him that if he were to confess Jesus as Lord and believe in his heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, he could be saved from the penalty for his sins. How do I know? Look at the eunuch’s response in verse 37. He declares, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God!” The eunuch then ordered the chariot to stop and they both went into a pool of water where Philip baptized the eunuch!

Let me pause for a minute and ask you, “What are the odds of a man who fully understands the gospel meeting up with a man who is not only seeking God but reading a specific passage in the Book of Isaiah that describes the life of Jesus? What are the odds? What are the odds that Philip would finish his explanation of the gospel right where there was a pool of water deep enough for a baptism? Slim to none apart from God. But with God, all things are possible.

God is in the business of connecting His followers with those in need of a miracle. To put it another way, God uses divine appointments to bring hope to the hopeless. Philip hears an angel of the Lord speak and he obeys. He meets an Ethiopian eunuch on the way, interprets a passage of Scripture, shares the gospel, and baptizes him all on the same day! Oh, don’t let me forget, God then transports Philip to another place (Think Star Trek – Beam me up Scotty!) while the eunuch takes the gospel to his country.

From our text today we can find four “Be’s” that will place us in the position where God can use us for His glory and the good of the lost.

First, be listening for the Spirit to speak. Be alert. We read in verse 26, “An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip…” I believe that most people will never have this type of an experience because they are not good listeners! They’re not regularly tuned into the voice of God. How do you get there? First, turn down the noise. Get alone with God so that you can hear from Him. Turn off the distractions. Seek His face daily. Second, adjust your dial to God’s voice. Get into the Word of God! Third, pray for lost people by name. They’re all around us! Finally, ask God to grant you divine appointments. Let Him know you are a willing vessel!

Second, be active in the world. Philip left a vibrant ministry in Samaria. In doing so, he put himself in a place where God could use him. I am saying that you and I need to get out of the house! Get involved with the ministries of your church, go to football games, get involved in the life of your community. Why? Because the lost aren’t going to come to your house and ask you for help! Jesus said GO! To not be involved in the making of disciples, to not intentionally invest your life in the lost, is a sin.

Third, be expectant. You and I must believe that God is not only passionate about the lost, we must believe that God orchestrates divine appointments to connect the lost and the hurting with His followers. Philip was traveling on the road to Gaza when he saw the Ethiopian man. He was so passionate about sharing the gospel, so hungry to be used by God that the angel was able to direct his steps. I believe that God is at work in the lives of those who don’t know Him. And, because I believe that, I try to identify where God is at work in the people I meet!

Fourth, be equipped. We read in verse 35 that after the Ethiopian confessed that he didn’t understand the text and that Philip “proceeded to tell him the good news about Jesus, beginning from that scripture.” 1 Peter 3:15 commands us to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have.”

God uses divine appointments and everyday folks to reach people and experience the miraculous. Case in point: A man on a business trip was assigned a middle seat on an airplane. Tired and wanting sleep, he was irritated when the young girl with Down Syndrome seated next to him kept asking questions: “Mister, do you brush your teeth?” “Yes,” he replied. “That’s good,” she said, “People who don’t – LOSE their teeth.”

Then she asked, “Mister, do you smoke?” “No,” he answered. “Good, because people who DO get sick,” she said. After a brief silence, she turned to him again, “Mister, do you know Jesus?” “Yes, I DO,” he answered. “That’s good,” she added. “People who DO, go to heaven.” Though deeply touched, he settled back, hoping there would be no more questions. Just then she asked, “Mister…will you ask the man next to you if HE brushes HIS teeth?”

Well, you know what happened next. When she came to the question about Jesus, the second man answered, “I’m afraid I don’t understand.” And for the remainder of the flight, the first man got to share his faith with the second man – all because of a little girl with unusual persistence. God makes Himself known through ordinary people who make themselves available to God.

Living in the Miraculous

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There are days in life that define who you are and set direction for your life. We might not understand their significance at the moment, but the hand of God is clearly upon them. For me those days are marked in my mind with permanent ink: The day I married my wife. The day we left Wisconsin for Tennessee. The day I gave my life to Jesus, and the day God called us to be missionaries for the North American Mission Board. Scattered among those days, sprinkled like raindrops on the windshield of a car, are a wealth of miracles – miraculous moments orchestrated by God that were made possible by ordinary people who had been transformed by the gospel. They were people who heard the voice of God and obeyed His call to live life for the Father’s glory and the good of others.

You see I believe in miracles. Big ones and small ones. Ones where God shows up and others where God shows off. I am believer and am grateful for those who help make them happen.

In downtown Birmingham Alabama is a ministry called The Dream Center which has an amazing ministry to prostitutes. The prostitutes in Birmingham know where to go when they have a problem or are in need. One morning, as the director was walking out the front door of her home, she felt a prompting to go back into her home and grab a pair of wooly socks. It was so strange, and so clear, that she knew it was God. So, she turned around, grabbed the wooly socks, tucked them into her purse and headed to the dream center.

When she got to the center she found a prostitute passed out on the front steps. She carried the woman inside and called 911. As she held the woman in her arms, she slowly woke up. That’s when the director asked her, “Can I get you anything?” Without hesitation, the shivering woman said, “A pair of wooly socks.” (Come on now, what are the chances?) That’s when the director reached into her purse and pulled out the pair of wooly socks. The woman cracked a smile and softly declared, “They even match my outfit!”

The Catalyst

One of the things that I have noticed in Scripture is that many, if not most, of the miracles recorded require a catalyst – someone willing to be used by God to usher in the miraculous – a miracle worker. The paralytic needed four friends to carry him to Jesus and to lower him through the roof. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was needed at the first miracle. She didn’t tell her Son what to do, she simply pointed out that there wasn’t any wine and got Jesus involved. The Philippian jailer needed the praises of Paul and Silas to find salvation. The right words spoken at the right time, or a step of obedience when the Spirit nudges, may be all that another needs to experience the power of God in their lives.

Hebrews 10:24 commands you and I to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” To spur someone is to nudge them in the right direction. Sometimes it’s a pat on the back. Sometimes it is a kick in the pants. But either way, I can assure you that all around you are people who need a nudge towards God’s best! And it starts with you and I getting involved in people’s lives and obeying the nudges of the Holy Spirit.

Feeding the 5,000

Miracles were given by God to accomplish a variety of objectives. Some were done to confirm the truthfulness of the gospel message, others to bring help to those in need. Some miracles served to remove hindrances to people’s ministries… All were done to bring glory to God. In John 6 there is the story of the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus had been in Jerusalem where he ticked off the religious folks by healing a crippled man on the Sabbath. As a result, they began to persecute Him.

Sometime later Jesus, needing rest, crossed over to the far eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee with His disciples. Jesus goes up on a mountain top and sits down with His disciples. Looking up, He saw a huge crowd coming their way. He turned to Phillip, who had been raised close by, and asks him, “Where can we get enough food to feed them?” Now Jesus knew the answer. He was just testing Philip and the rest of His disciples. His goal was to strengthen their faith, to help them see that He was undeniably the Messiah and the Son of God.

Philip, knowing that there wasn’t any place to get that much bread, points out the obvious – “We don’t have enough money… it would take almost a year’s worth of wages!” Rather than focusing upon Jesus, who had already done some amazing miracles, Philip confesses that the situation was hopeless. You know the feeling, don’t you? The night’s darker than it has ever been. It appears that all hope is gone. Sure, God works miracles, but this case is different. It’s so dark. Listen to me, hope isn’t gone. Sure, it’s dark but God knows what you’re going through. Jesus knew that there wasn’t enough money or a place to buy bread. It’s how He likes it! It’s when He does His best work.

Andrew, unlike Philip, at least tried to find a solution. He tells Jesus that there’s a boy in the crowd who brought a lunch! “He’s got five loaves and two fish!” he declared. In verse 9 Andrew states, “But how far will that go with so many people?” I’m sure that the rest of the disciples agreed with Philip and Andrew. Not one of them responded by affirming the power of Jesus to provide. They had forgotten the turning of water into wine and the healing of the official’s son in Cana of Galilee. They had forgotten the healings performed by Jesus at the pool of Bethesda. Each and every one of them failed the test of their faith.

Jesus, instead of rebuking them for their lack of faith, puts them to work. “Have them sit on the grass…” Their faith may have failed, but not their obedience. Despite their doubts, they obeyed Jesus’ command and sat about 5,000 men and their families upon the grass. (The total of people sitting on the grass was more like 20,000 people!) Jesus rang the dinner bell even though there wasn’t anything at the table.  Jesus then took the boy’s lunch and thanked His Father for the meal they were about to eat! He thanks God for what hasn’t happened yet! Now that’s faith!!!

The disciples took the broken bread and fish from Jesus and begin to distribute them to the crowd. Don’t miss verse 11 which declares that they gave the people as much as they wanted! When they all had enough to eat, Jesus commands His disciples, “Gather the pieces left over. Let nothing be wasted.” Guess how much was left? Twelve baskets full – one for each disciple! In an amazing display of God’s abundant grace, the leftovers far exceeded the boys small lunch. Jesus not only fed the crowd, but He provided the next day’s meal for the disciples.

Living As A Catalyst for The Miraculous

Did you catch the miracle in the text? No, it’s not the feeding of 20,000 plus people. No, it’s not the provision of the twelve baskets of food for His disciples. The greatest miracle is that the boy shared his lunch! Now that’s huge. Kids don’t share. Their favorite word is “mine.” I’m sure that he could see that two fish couldn’t satisfy the crowd and yet, he placed what he had in the hands of Jesus. God doesn’t do the supernatural until we do the unnatural. The 20,000 had their bellies filled, the disciples got lunch for tomorrow, and the boy – he became a catalyst for the miraculous!

If we’re going to see God do miraculous things in our community – if we’re going to see broken families restored and addictions defeated, we need people like this child. We need people willing to place all that they are and all that have in the hands of Jesus. God desires to use us to be a catalyst for the miraculous. He calls the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the strong and the weak to the role. There are some principles in our text that will help us experience the miraculous.

First, seek intimacy with God, not miracles. As Jesus went about the region of Galilee performing miracles more and more people followed Him seeking a blessing for their lives. I understand the desire. Everyone has needs. But if you and I are going to experience the miraculous we must seek intimacy with God, not miracles – we must follow Jesus. I am convinced that if you follow Jesus close enough, and long enough, and far enough you’ll experience the miraculous. The crowd came for a moment, for a quick fix. The disciples however walked with Jesus daily.

Second, we must learn to recognize the voice of God and obey the nudges of the Holy Spirit. We read in John 10:3-5, “The shepherd calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. When He has brought all His own outside, He goes ahead of them. The sheep follow Him because they recognize His voice. They will never follow a stranger; instead they will run away from him, because they don’t recognize the voice of strangers.” As we seek intimacy with God we will learn to recognize the voice of God and, as we do, He will lead us into the miraculous. His Spirit desires to direct our lives. Although Jesus’ disciples failed the test of their faith, they were still obedient to His commands. He directed them into the miraculous.

Third, place what you have, no matter how little, into the hands of Jesus. Jesus was able to feed the crowd and provide for His disciples because a small boy placed what little he had into the hands of Jesus. It starts with the offering of our lives. Jesus said in Mark 9:35 that if anyone desires to be great in God’s eyes, he must be the servant of all. He must be willing to sacrifice all that he is and all that he has for the glory of God and the good of others. God doesn’t do the supernatural until we do the unnatural.

Fourth, praise God and give thanks for the things you don’t have yet. Jesus rang the dinner bell, gathering the crowd in the grass in groups of 50 and 100 before He had the food! He broke the bread and began to distribute it among the people before it had multiplied. He did the same with the fish – you can’t cut two fish into 20,000 pieces! Take your eyes off the size of the task and your abilities and focus upon the greatness of God and His ability to provide. Celebrate His provision in advance.

Finally, count and share the blessings of God. This may sound like a no brainer but we need to learn how to identify exactly what God is doing in our midst. In our text 5,000 men were fed with 5 loaves of bread and two fish. They ate all they wanted and there were 12 baskets of leftovers, one for each disciple. It’s important that we identify and celebrate what God is doing in our lives! Speaking about the miraculous is how we loan our faith to others. Our testimonies of what God has done for us become prophesies of what God will do for others in the future!

Miracles still happen today. God uses ordinary people who are surrendered to His will to do the miraculous. The key? Follow Jesus, obey the nudges of the Spirit, place all that you are and all that you have in the Father’s hand, praise God in advance and finally, tell His story – give Him the glory He deserves! If you do you too will experience the miraculous!

As Jesus Has Done To Me

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The gospel of Jesus Christ does more than just save us from the penalty of our sins… it transforms our lives and how we relate to others. In Matthew 18:21-33 Jesus illustrates for us the simple truth that it is impossible to experience the gospel and not see and treat others differently. Our text opens just after Jesus had just taught on how to deal with relational conflict. He states that if someone sins against you, you’re to go to them in private and seek reconciliation. If that doesn’t work you take witnesses and then if all else fails, bring them before the church. Peter must have been processing what Jesus said because he comes to Jesus with a question, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? As many as seven times?” Peter is asking a legitimate question. If someone sins against us continually, is there a point where we draw the line – where we stop forgiving them?

Jesus’s answer must have floored Peter.  “I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven.” Peter thought he was showing great love when he suggested that he forgive 7 times and now Jesus is saying that the standard was 490 times! I imagine Peter was thinking, “I can’t keep track of 490 offenses!” And to that Jesus would reply, “That’s the point. There is no limit to the amount of forgiveness we are to extend to others.” Paul states in 1 Corinthians 13:5 that love keeps no record of wrong.

Jesus, beginning in verse 23 of Matthew 18, uses a parable to reinforce the principle of forgiveness by telling the story of a King who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. One of the servants seemed to have created quite a tab! Maybe he stole it, we’re not sure. What is sure is that he owed the king 10 million dollars! The servant seemed to have spent it all and therefore, he couldn’t pay the king back. To settle the account the King commanded that the servant and his entire family be sold into slavery to pay at least a portion of the debt. Sadly, his family would have been in debt for generations.

The servant responded by throwing himself on the ground and crying out hysterically for time to pay the bill. I imagine those standing around felt uncomfortable, maybe embarrassed for the servant. And then something rather strange happened, “Then the master of that servant had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan.”

What? That’s right. The King looked at the man and, filled with compassion, forgave him of his debt. Every penny. All ten million! He took his bill and stamped it paid in full. Was it deserved? Nope. Did he earn it? Nope. No one could believe it – especially the servant. He was set free. He felt like a man who had just dodged a bullet. Shortly after leaving the presence of the king he runs into a co-worker – one who owed him $3. We read in verse 28, “That servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him, started choking him, and said, ‘Pay what you owe!’” Instead of extending grace or sharing with his friend the joy of his release – he sought justice. I bet you’re thinking, “How could a man forgiven of a ten million debt treat someone who owed him $3 like that?” And that is exactly Jesus’ point. The debtor falls to his knees and begs for mercy. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The creditor in this case, however, wasn’t willing – no compassion. He threw this one into jail until he could pay what he owed.

The parable doesn’t end there. Some other servants of the king saw what was going on. They were disgusted. So, they went and reported what they saw to the King. Calling the servant into his presence, the King declared, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” The king begins by pointing out that the forgiveness he had received wasn’t deserved – it had been a gift – given at the request of the servant. He begged for forgiveness. Sound familiar? While you and I were yet sinners Christ died for us. As our substitute, Jesus paid our debt. Did we deserve it? Nope. It was an undeserved gift granted to a rebellious child.

I love the King’s question, “In light of the forgiveness you have received, shouldn’t you extend forgiveness to others?” For those of us who have had their sins forgiven by Jesus, how can we, who have been forgiven so much, not forgive others? It is impossible to experience the gospel and not see and treat others differently. As Christ has done for us, we will do to others. Why? Because the love of Christ compels us!

The key to extending grace to others is related to our understanding of the depth of our own sin. The Bible states that we all, like sheep, have gone astray. Each and every one of us has sinned against God – that there isn’t one righteous one among us. We have sinned against God with our lies, with our gossip, and with our gluttony. We have sinned against God with our anger, our lust, our greed and our pride. We skip church, fail to tithe, refuse to invest in others, and let the hungry go unfed. We’ve committed adultery and murder in our hearts. We have failed to live by faith, to share the gospel, and refuse to forgive others. We live in a world that uses God’s name in vain, rejects the authority of God, and worships idols as we have remained silent. We have sinned and sinned greatly.

The apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 1:15 describes himself as the “chief” of all sinners. How could he describe himself that way? What about Judas? What about the Romans? There seems to be a lot of people in history who were greater sinners than Paul. And yet, Paul was telling the truth. From his perspective, he was number one. He was better acquainted with his own sins than he was with the sins of anyone else. When Paul thought of people who needed grace, he thought first of himself, not others.

Typically, most people tend to see others, and not themselves, as the chief sinner. We’re quick to see the depth of sin in others while failing to see our own sin. At the heart of our struggles is the inner desire to see others punished for their sin. How else will they learn from their sin and begin to clean up their lives? Can I ask a question? How did God transform you? Did He punish you for your sin? Nope. Not even close. He extended grace and mercy when we didn’t deserve either. God changed us by pouring out undeserved kindness upon us. While we were yet sinners Christ came and hung in our place. When we experienced the grace of God as expressed upon the cross we were changed.

And that’s how we should treat others. That’s how we help others change. Paul wrote in Romans 12:19-21, “Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord. But If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.”

Paul is saying that when someone sins against you or if you encounter someone trapped in sin, show them kindness – feed them and give them something to drink. My favorite line is the last, “conquer evil with good.” As Jesus has been to you, you are to be to others. I believe that when the world experiences grace and not condemnation from the church, they will be shocked into an awareness of the gospel! Jesus, in Luke 6:27-29, states, “But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also.

Jesus says that we are to love those who seek to harm us. We’re to bless those who curse us. We’re to pray for those who mistreat us. He goes so far as to say, “If someone hits you on the cheek, offer them the other cheek.” Let me be clear, Jesus isn’t calling us to be pacifists. He isn’t saying that if someone hits us in the face, encourage them to hit us again. In Jewish culture, one’s cheek represents a person’s relationship with another. Kissing someone’s cheek was a sign of peace and fellowship. Striking someone’s cheek meant that you were attacking or dishonoring the relationship.

When Jesus said that you and I were to turn to them the other cheek He was saying that we are to seek the reestablishment of the relationship. The goal is restoration, not retaliation. And restoration comes best through grace and mercy. If someone attacks you, forgive them and then, bless them. Bring them a gift. Take them out to eat. Pray for them. Encourage them. As Jesus has been to you, you are to be to others. Paul says it’s like heaping fiery coals on their heads.

I know that this is difficult. From our human perspective, maybe impossible. But you and I are commanded by God to love people as Jesus loved them. Our love for others isn’t based on merit. The love of Christ compels us to love others. When we realize that we’re the chief sinner, not them, it’s easier to show compassion. You may be thinking, “They don’t deserve it!” That’s the point. Jesus loved us in spite of our depravity. He extended grace, not punishment. Did we deserve it? No. It took most of us some time to understand and accept the love of God as well. Jesus’ love came to us a long time before we changed. His love was unconditional. Undeserved.

As Jesus has been to me, I will, in the power of the Holy Spirit, be to others.

The Gospel According to Zacchaeus

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Jesus came for those who were sick and poor. He came for the lost and the hurting. In Luke 5:31 Jesus declared, “It is not those who are healthy who need a doctor, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” We can’t earn God’s acceptance, any more than we can earn our salvation. Yet Jesus gives it to us, willingly—no matter who we are or what we’ve done. Jesus came for ragamuffins – people like us – the beat-up, burnt-out, ragged and too dirty by sin to sit at the Father’s feet on our own. He smiles upon us—the chosen objects of His ‘furious love.’ He accepts those people who know they will never be perfect.

Scripture, as well as history, is filled with the stories of ragamuffins who find love and life at the feet of Jesus. One such man is Zacchaeus the tax collector. Talk about a troubled man! A tax collector was a greedy combination of embezzler and extortionist, a traitor to his people and a sinner of the worst sort. That is why they are lumped together with prostitutes and other sinners. Jesus Himself uses tax collectors in parables designed to shock His hearers (Luke 18:10). Although Jesus counted a tax collector among his disciples (Luke 5:27), the most notorious tax collector in the Bible was Zacchaeus.

The story about Zacchaeus begins in the city of Jericho, a prosperous trade city on the road from Perea to Jerusalem. A considerable amount of traffic passed through Jericho on their way somewhere.  Jesus, like so many others, was passing through. He was on His way to Jerusalem for the last time and he attracted a great deal of attention. He was known far and wide because of His miracles. People longed to see Him, maybe to be healed. On the day that Jesus arrived the streets were crowded with throngs of people. Among them was the tax collector Zacchaeus. He was despised by the people, by his family, and by his neighbors. Nobody liked a tax collector.

Like many others, he had come that day to see Jesus. His problem was that he was short. He wasn’t able to see Jesus because of the large crowd (verse 3). They were in His way and they sure weren’t going to let him get closer to Jesus. Nobody was going to move over and allow him to see. Zacchaeus must have really wanted to see Jesus. Since he couldn’t see over the heads of the people or around them, he ran ahead and climbed into a sycamore tree which had low horizontal branches (verse 4).

I’ve always wondered why he wanted to see Jesus, why a man of his stature would climb a tree. Maybe he had a heavy heart, finding that his wealth and his greedy lifestyle to be unfulfilling and unsatisfying. Maybe he was tired of being hated by his community. Maybe he had discovered that there is little or no satisfaction in the things of this world. No matter what the reason was – up the tree he went.

When Jesus came by, He looked up into the tree, and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down because today it is necessary for me to stay at your house.” Jesus knew his name and was talking to him! Zacchaeus quickly descended from the tree. I can almost hear the leaves breaking off and the branches creaking—as he let himself down out of the tree. Zacchaeus came down “with joy”— absolutely thrilled that Jesus was coming to his house. It may have been the first time since he had been a little child at his mother’s knee, that he had heard his name pronounced in tones of kindness. At any rate, Jesus and the tax collector strode off to his house.

Not everybody was joyful on this occasion, however. When the crowds saw what was happening, they complained by saying, “He (Jesus) has gone to be the guest with a man that is a sinner” (verse 7). Those who murmured were undoubtedly religious folk, the Pharisees. Jesus had shocked them by inviting himself to be the guest of this notorious sinner. They could not understand how Jesus could associate with sinners like Zacchaeus. This was almost like Billy Graham coming to town, and staying with the owner of a downtown booze joint! The people of Jericho had failed to see that Jesus had a soft spot in his heart for people like Zacchaeus.

Exactly what Jesus said to Zacchaeus when they arrived at his house is not given in the text. Zacchaeus was so deeply impressed however that he rose to his feet, and he said, “Here and now I am giving half of my possessions to the poor!” Instead of the passion to get, he now had a passion to give. His grip on material things was loosened, and he was ready to give away much of his fortune. He had been transformed. He was a new creation.

Jesus declared, “Today salvation has come to this house” (verse 9). Zacchaeus became a follower of Jesus Christ that day. He repented of his sins and made restitution for his wrong-doing. A great spiritual miracle had taken place in the heart of Zacchaeus. The beauty of the lesson is that Jesus can do the same for any human being anywhere on earth—when there are genuine belief and repentance. It’s why He came. In the final verse of our lesson, Jesus declares, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

I imagined this week what it would be like to talk to Zacchaeus if I were to meet him in heaven. What story would he tell me? How would Zacchaeus describe the gospel? If Zacchaeus could tell us something today about the ministry of Jesus Christ, the Gospel of Zacchaeus would have three points, “He saw me, He welcomed me, and He changed me.”

He saw me. As Jesus walked through Jericho He was surrounded by a large number of people. Many were in need of healing. I imagine His mind was focused on what was about to happen in Jerusalem. Were His disciples ready? Was this the only plan or would God spare Him of the agony upon the cross? And yet, Jesus saw him. Out of all those people, one man stood out. I imagine that the gospel according to Zacchaeus would begin with the declaration, “Jesus saw me.”  We know that Jesus saw Zacchaeus in the tree, but I am saying that Jesus saw the real Zacchaeus – the tax collector, the sinner, the one who was hated by all – and loved him anyway. The crowd saw him as a vile sinner to be treated with distrust. Jesus saw him as a child of God in need of grace, a man blinded to the truth of the gospel by the enemy.

I also believe that Jesus saw that His Father was at work in Zacchaeus’ life. There were religious leaders all around, dressed in their finest garments, out in the market place. But God wasn’t at work in their lives. They had shut Him out. He was at work in the one least suspected of becoming a child of God. Zacchaeus was looking for Jesus. Maybe he sensed that Jesus was the only one who could get him out of this way of living. Maybe he thought Jesus was the only one who would accept him; love him.

All around us are tax collectors. In our community, certain people are avoided because of their political views, their moral behavior, or their lifestyles. Some are avoided because of where they live. Do we see them as God sees them? Do we see them as being beyond hope, as being contagious? Or, do we see them as Jesus sees them? Jesus loves them, He died for them upon the cross. They need to hear the Gospel message.

Second, Zacchaeus’ gospel would include the fact that Jesus welcomed him into His life. We read in verse 5 that after Jesus saw Zacchaeus He declared, Zacchaeus, hurry and come down because today it is necessary for me to stay at your house.” Jesus informed this sinful man that he was coming to dinner! Now Jesus wasn’t barging in, He was welcoming Zacchaeus into a relationship with Him. He was affirming his worth as a person. We understand that Zacchaeus’ story was a story of sin and isolation. People hated him and therefore, avoided him. And, I understand that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, to the cross, to His great High Priestly work of dying for our sins. And yet, it was during this time that Jesus’ story crossed Zacchaeus’ story. Jesus invited Zacchaeus into His world. They shared a meal – and life!

In this passage, Jesus commits a great social error: He goes to dine with a tax collector. In Luke 19:7 it says, “But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, ‘He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.’” It was legally forbidden to mingle with sinners who were outside the law. Can you imagine how Zacchaeus felt? How many times do you think Zacchaeus sat at home, all alone, wondering if anyone cared? Can you feel his loneliness? I think you can. Look around you. There are people who are wondering if anyone cares. They’re crying out. Maybe it’s you. In Zacchaeus’ Gospel, Jesus willingly hangs out with messed up people.

Finally, Zacchaeus’ Gospel doesn’t end with, “He welcomed me.” I am sure that Zacchaeus’ gospel would include, “He changed me!” Look at what Zacchaeus said after meeting with Jesus. “Look, I’ll give half of my possessions to the poor, Lord! And if I exhorted anything from anyone, I’ll pay back four times as much!” Zacchaeus was a changed man. He went from being one of the most selfish men in ancient Israel to the most generous-instantaneously, without being commanded to. He’s not giving away money because he has to-he’s giving money away because he wants to. The touch of Jesus changed Zacchaeus. He developed. He became human.

What caused the change? The simple answer is that Jesus treated Zacchaeus as one who was made in the image of God – one worth dying for- not like a sinner. Jesus called Zacchaeus down from the tree when everyone else shut him out. Zacchaeus wasn’t changed by a command of Jesus, but by an experience with Jesus. Transformation comes as we hear and appropriate the gospel into our lives. Jesus called Zacchaeus down from the place of shame and into a place of honor, and then He took Zacchaeus’ place on the tree.

The gospel of Zacchaeus declares that anyone, in any situation, coming out of any kind of past can be transformed and changed into a new creation in Christ. The truth is that those who curse God today may be preaching Him tomorrow. There may be some here this morning that will leave today new creations in Christ, like Zacchaeus, changed by the compassion of a loving Savior. Do you need His touch today? We all do! And He never withholds His love, His touch to those who cry out for Him. He always sees, always welcomes, and He always changes us.

Some of you have been hanging out in a Sycamore tree, looking, searching, hoping to catch a glimpse of mercy. He is with you. The Savior who came for us from heaven, the one who died in our place, and who rose again that we might have life – is right there with you. Why don’t you come on down? Why don’t you, in your heart of hearts, right now, accept His divine invitation? He sees you, He welcomes you, and He will transform you. You will not be the same.

 

The Gospel-Our Response

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The gospel always generates a response. Some are positive. Some are not. In Acts 17 we have a perfect example. The Apostle Paul is in Athens on one of his missionary journeys. The city was full of idols and he is faithfully preaching the gospel and more specifically, the resurrection of the dead. In verse 32 we find the first response, “When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some began to mock or ridicule him.” I guess you can see that the message didn’t sit well with them. They got angry. This is the worst-case scenario everybody fears.

The second response is in the second half of verse 32, “But others said, “We will hear you about this again.” I love this one. These people are intrigued, but unsure. They want to think about what they’ve heard and talk more. They have some questions, recognize that you might have some answers, and sincerely want to investigate. When this happens, we should praise God and ask Him to move in their hearts to respond in faith.

The final response is found in verse 34, “However, some men joined Him and believed…” This final response is everyone’s favorite. Some believed. Glory! Someone has crossed over from death to life! What could be greater? Our job is to proclaim the gospel with clarity and let God take it from there! We are not responsible for the results.

Not everyone who hears the gospel will make a decision to receive God’s gift of salvation. Some will take time to process what they heard while others will clearly reject the promise of life in Jesus Christ. But there will be those who, like the Philippian jailer in Acts 16, will ask, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” The question before us is, “How can a sinner who is spiritually dead and living under the influence of Satan, find new life in Christ? How does one move from knowing about the gospel to experiencing the gospel?” Jesus, in the Gospel of Mark, provides a clear and simple answer. In Mark 1:15 we read, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news (Gospel).” How does one move from death to life? Jesus says that you must repent and believe in the gospel. The proper response to the Gospel is to REPENT and BELIEVE.

Repentance

The word repent comes from the Greek word metanoia which means “to change one’s mind.” The Bible tells us that true repentance, however, will result in a change of actions (Luke 3:8-14; Acts 3:19). Paul, in Acts 26:20 declares, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” The full biblical definition of repentance would be a change of mind that results in a change of action.

First, repentance is a change of mind in regards to who Jesus is. In Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), he concludes with a call for the people to repent. Repent from what? Peter is calling the people who rejected Jesus to change their minds about Him, to recognize that He is indeed “Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36). When this change occurs, we will turn to Him as our Savior and surrender to His Lordship over our lives.

Second, repentance is a change of mind in regards to our sin. The gospel according to Jesus is as much a call to forsake sin as it is a summons to faith. From His first message to His last, the Savior’s theme was calling sinners to repentance-and this meant not only that they gained a new perspective on who He was, but also that they turned from sin and self to follow Him. In 1 Thessalonians 1:9 Paul described the repentance of the Thessalonians when he wrote, “You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” Note the three elements of repentance: a turning to God; a turning from sin; and the intent to serve God.

Through the work of the Holy Spirit, you and I are convicted of our sin and begin to see our sins as God sees them. First, we see that they are sins, not mistakes or bad choices. Second, we will see that we have sinned against God, that in choosing to sin we are rejecting God’s authority over our lives. Third, we will see that we have chosen to sin. It’s not our parent’s fault. It’s not because you grew up in a bad situation. We must take ownership for our sin. Next, true repentance should produce within us a total disdain for our sin and a genuine desire to flee from it. There should be remorse over our sin and a desire to turn from our rebellious way of living and seek to live according to God’s standards.

Third, repentance is a change of mind in regards to how we live our lives. It is impossible to truly change your mind about Christ and our sin without it leading to a change in behavior. That is why John the Baptist called people in Matthew 3:8 to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”  To experience the gospel, we must make a willful decision to allow God to be Lord over our lives and to reject the desire of our flesh to be in charge.

Let me touch on two things before we move on. First, repentance is not merely a human work. It is a gift from God. The early church, recognizing the authenticity of Cornelius’s conversion (Acts 11:18), concluded, “So then, God has given repentance resulting in life even to the Gentiles.” I believe that repentance is man’s response to the work of God in their lives. Second, repentance is not a single act, but a lifestyle choice. It is a continuous evaluation that I make as I compare my life to God’s Word and seek to conform to the image of Christ. It is a spiritual discipline that leads to holiness. None of us are sinless, so we all should be involved in repentance on a daily basis.

Believe

The second requirement for salvation presented by Jesus is belief. Not only must sinners have a change of mind which leads to a change in living, they must also believe in the gospel. As Christians, we believe that we’re all sinners, people who have rejected the authority of God in our lives. We believe that what we deserve for our rebellion is spiritual death and an eternity separated from God in hell. We believe that Jesus was God in the flesh and that He lived a sinless life. We believe that as He hung upon the cross God placed the sins of humanity upon His Son and poured out the wrath that we deserve upon Him. We believe that Jesus died upon that cross, was buried in a borrowed tomb and that on the third day He arose from the dead and ascended to His Father. We believe that Jesus’s death on the cross and His resurrection to new life allows for our sin and unrighteousness to be traded for His righteousness. We believe that Jesus’ righteousness is imputed or transferred to us when we, by faith, receive God’s gift of eternal life. We believe that we are “justified” or declared righteous by faith, not by being or doing good. That’s what we believe. That’s the substance of our faith and hope.

Conclusion

We cannot separate repentance and coming to Christ in faith. They describe the same person in the same action, but from different perspectives. In one instance (repentance), the person is viewed in relation to sin; in the other (faith), the person is viewed in relation to the Lord Jesus. But the individual who trusts in Christ simultaneously turns away from sin. In believing he repents and in repenting believes. Perhaps R. L. Dabney expressed it best when he insisted that repentance and faith are “twin” graces (perhaps we might say “conjoined twins”).

Are you ready to experience the gospel? Repent and believe. You can receive God’s free gift of salvation by praying a prayer like the one below where you ask God to do what you could not do on your own. Although praying the prayer doesn’t save you, it should reflect the desire of your heart. And, if it is your desire, the Bible states that you are saved from your sin:

Dear God, I’m a sinner and know that my sins have destroyed our relationship. I acknowledge that I deserve death, separation from you for eternity. I’m sorry for my sins. I want to turn from my sins but cannot do so in my own power. I believe Jesus Christ is your Son. I believe He died on a cross for my sin as my substitute and that You raised Him to life. I trust Him as my Savior and desire to follow Him as Lord from this day forward. Jesus, I put my trust in You and I submit my life to You. Holy Spirit, come into my life and be my guide. I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Jesus Is

JesusIs

The gospel is good news in that it is the announcement that God has reconciled us to Himself by sending His Son Jesus to die as a substitute for our sins, and that all who repent and believe in Him will have eternal life and have their relationship with God restored forever. We have seen in this sermon series that God is Holy, that He cannot dwell in the presence of sin nor can He let guilty sinners go unpunished. We also saw that He was a God of Love – He wishes that none would perish but that all would find life in Him. Last week we examined our lives and discovered that apart from God you and I were spiritually dead, trapped in bondage, living under the influence of Satan and by the desires of our flesh, and destined to be separated from God and to spend an eternity in hell. We needed someone to rescue us. We needed a Savior.

Greg Gilbert writes that the word “But” must be the most powerful word a human being can speak. It’s small, but it has the power to sweep away everything that has gone on before it. Coming after bad news, it has the power to lift the eyes and restore hope. More than any other word spoken by the human tongue, it has the ability to change everything:

  • The plane went down. But no one was hurt.
  • You have cancer. But it is very treatable.
  • Your son was in a car wreck. But he’s fine.

Last week we ended our time together by looking at Ephesians 2:4-5 where we read, “But God, who is abundant in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were in trespasses. By grace you have been saved.” Did you catch it? That word, did you see it? But… Even better, “But God…”

But God, who is holy and just, saw us trapped in our sin. He saw us in our hopelessness, destined to spend an eternity in hell. He knew that we were toast! But because of His abundant mercy and the great love that He had for us, He made us alive with the Messiah. Just as God raised Jesus from the dead and gave Him life, He offers to do the same for you and me! Those dead in their trespasses and sin can have new life in Jesus!

When I began this sermon series I stated that if you and I were going to fully understand the gospel and appropriate it into our lives we needed to ask four questions:

  • What is God like?
  • Who am I?
  • Who is Jesus?
  • What is the proper response to the gospel?

One of the most important questions you will ever ask and answer in your life is: “Who is Jesus?” Is Jesus just a teacher, a good man, a prophet? Or is He the “Messiah?” Was He a lunatic and a liar or is He Lord? Is He someone like you and I, someone who provided some great teaching on morality and made the world a better place, or is He the person the Bible claims that He is? If you and I are going to fully understand the gospel we must ask, “Who is Jesus?”

John the Apostle declares in the first chapter of his gospel that Jesus was God in the flesh. In John 1:1 we read, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John begins his gospel by declaring that Jesus had no beginning; that He was eternal. And, that He was not only with God – but that He was God! He is saying that Jesus was eternal – one with no beginning, and that He was God. John declares in verse 14 of chapter one that Jesus dwelt among us! It’s what we celebrate at Christmas! Jesus, the eternal Son of God, became flesh – took on human form and walked among us.

We read in John 1:14 that Jesus was fully man. He took on flesh and blood. He was born (Luke 2:7). He grew (Luke 2:40, 52). He grew tired (John 4:6) and got thirsty (John 19:28) and hungry (Matthew 4:2). He became physically weak (Matthew 4:11; Luke 23:26). He died (Luke 23:46). And He had a real human body after His resurrection (Luke 24:39; John 20:20, 27). How amazing that the divine Son of God would not just take on part of our humanity at that first Christmas, but all of it. Jesus is like us in every respect — human body, heart, mind, and will — except for sin (Hebrews 2:17; 4:15).

Jesus was not only fully God and fully man. He was so much more. The Bible declares that Jesus was sinless. Peter declares in 1 Peter 2:22-23, “He (Jesus) did not commit sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth; when reviled, He did not revile in return; when suffering He did not threaten but committed Himself to the One who judges justly.” Paul testified in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that Jesus “knew no sin,” while John declared that “in Him is no sin” (I John 3:5). Jesus was tempted, but in His essential nature He was God, and God cannot sin. Jesus came to earth to satisfy God’s requirement that we be punished for our sins. In Mark 10:45 Jesus declared that He came to give His life as a ransom for many. 1 Thessalonians 1:10 Paul states that Jesus rescued us from the coming wrath of God.

Next, Jesus is our perfect substitute. Peter continues in verse 24, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that having died to sins, we might live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed.” The holy Son of God took on flesh, lived a sinless life and then died in our place upon the cross. We deserved to be the ones placed on that cross to die because we are the ones who live sinful lives. But Christ took the punishment on Himself in our place—He substituted Himself for us and took what we rightly deserved. 2 Corinthians 5:21 declares, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

1 John 4:10 declares that God “sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” In the case of Jesus, His death upon the cross satisfied the law of God which requires that a sinner be punished; that they experience the wrath of God. Jesus Christ is our substitute, He took our place and suffered the wrath of God for us. It was a legal act whereby Christ fulfilled the law and lawfully paid the penalty for our sin. Jesus did what we could not. He took our place and bore our sins in His body on the cross and satisfied the debt.

The secret of God’s satisfaction lies in the character of the One Who paid the debt for sinners. God was satisfied with the work of the Cross because the One Who died at Calvary was His own beloved Son, the One who knew no sin. At stake is nothing less than the essence of Christianity. Historically understood, Christ’s substitutionary death gives hope to Christians in their sin and in their suffering. If we have any assurance of salvation, it is because of Christ’s bearing our sins upon the cross; if any joy, it flows from Christ’s shed blood on Calvary. Apart from Christ’s atoning work, we would be forever guilty, ashamed, and condemned before God.

Jesus is our righteousness. Many Christians today have an understanding of salvation that is not necessarily wrong, but that is much too small or incomplete. If I were to ask you, “Does God love you?” I am sure that the vast majority of you would affirm that fact. You might even point me to John 3:16 which declares that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. But do you know that God accepts you? That’s right! I bet that some of you are sitting there right now with your stomachs churning. You have failed to live up to God’s standards and you’re wondering, “How could God accept me?” You see we have in our minds this picture of a super Christian that we compare ourselves to (and believe that God does as well.)

Many of you know that God loves you, but how many of you are confident that He accepts you? Listen to me carefully: “If you are a true Christian, then you are as righteous and acceptable in the sight of God as Jesus Christ!”  Shocked? You’re sitting there running through your mind all of your failures and struggles. You may have tried to change your life without success. No matter what you have done or what you are failing to do today, God will not love you more or less than He did at the moment He saved you from your sins!

How can I declare that God accepts you? Because of what you do? Nope. It’s because of who you are in Christ Jesus. Romans 5:17 declares, “Since by the one man’s trespasses, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive the overflow of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”

Righteousness, a right standing with God and complete acceptability before God, is a gift. You don’t earn it. You don’t work for it and you certainly don’t deserve it. Like any gift, all you can do is accept it or reject it. And once you have it, it’s yours forever. What I am trying to tell you is that Jesus is your righteousness. God sees us as totally acceptable and righteous in His site right now – not because of what we do, but because of what Christ has done for us.

When you and I asked God to forgive us of our sins, He placed our sins upon His sinless Son, who then hung as our substitute upon the cross. When our debt was paid, when the wrath of God was satisfied, God clothed us with the righteousness of Christ. He now sees us as if we have never sinned and as if we have always obeyed (Gal. 3:27). Now listen to me carefully. I am not saying that God has accepted your behaviors or actions. You are acceptable to God because of who you are in Christ not because of anything you have done.

Who is Jesus to you? Have you placed your trust in Jesus Christ as the substitute for your sin? On the day of judgment, those who have rejected the gospel will receive the punishment they deserve, the punishment they have chosen. But those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior will enter into the presence of God and dwell with Him forever. It is only through faith in Jesus that we can be saved from our sins. There is no other way.

You can receive God’s free gift of salvation by praying a prayer like the one below where you ask God to do what you could not do on your own. Although praying the prayer doesn’t save you, it should reflect the desire of your heart. And, if it is your desire, the Bible states that you are saved from your sin:

Dear God, I’m a sinner and know that my sins have destroyed our relationship. I acknowledge that I deserve death, separation from you for eternity. I’m sorry for my sins. I want to turn from my sins but cannot do so in my own power. I believe Jesus Christ is your Son. I believe He died on a cross for my sin as my substitute and that You raised Him to life. I trust Him as my Savior and desire to follow Him as Lord from this day forward. Jesus, I put my trust in You and I submit my life to You. Holy Spirit, come into my life and be my guide. I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

I Am

who-am-i

The gospel of Jesus Christ is “good news” because it is the announcement that God has reconciled us to Himself by sending His Son Jesus to die as a substitute for our sins, and that all who repent and believe in Him will have eternal life. 2 Corinthians 5:21 declares, “For our sake God made Him who knew no sin, to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” The perfectly innocent died for the hopelessly guilty. My prayer is that you and I will see in this sermon series that the gospel is not just the means by which we are saved; it is the driving force behind our transformation and it is the motivation for our loving God and our neighbors. As the gospel is believed and appropriated into our lives our selfish hearts will burst alive with love for God and a passion to worship Him. As we worship the Father we will want others to experience the abundant life we have found in Jesus!

To fully appreciate the gospel, you and I must answer four questions:

  • What is God like?
  • Who am I?
  • Who is Jesus?
  • What is the proper response to the gospel?

What is God Like?

You and I could spend a lifetime discussing what God has revealed about Himself in the Bible – and we should. But there are some basic truths about God that you and I must understand if we are going to be impacted by the gospel. First, God is our creator and because we were created, we are owned. Because God owns us He has the right to tell us how to live. Second, God is holy. To call God holy is to speak of His majesty and purity. God is holy in that He, by His very nature, is without sin and is set apart from sin (1 John 1:5). He is “utterly distinct from His creation” not a better version of us. He is holy.

When we think of God’s holiness and the gospel two truths emerge. First, because God is holy our sins separate us from Him. God is cut off from everything that is sinful and evil – He cannot tolerate being in the presence of sin. Therefore, we read in Isaiah 59:2, “But your iniquities have built barriers between you and your God, and your sins have made Him hide His face from you so that He does not listen.” Our sins separate us from God. Second, because God is holy He must punish our sins. The Apostle Paul, in Romans 6:23 stated that the wages of sin is death. He figuratively uses the word “wages” to imply that this is something we are getting because we deserve it – we have, as it were, worked for it (6:20–21).

Third, the Bible says that God is love. The Bible declares that God is love and that everything He does is loving, just as everything He does is just and right. God is the perfect example of true love. Because He loves us, He wishes that none would perish. Let me give you just a few highlights about God’s love:

  • First, His Love is Unchangeable. Psalm 86:15 declares, “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
  • God’s Love is Eternal. Psalm 136:1-2 states, “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting. Give thanks to the God of gods, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
  • God’s love is Unconditional and Undeserved. There is nothing we can do to make Him love us either more or less. We don’t earn His love by meeting a certain set of expectations.

What is God like? He is the Creator of the universe and therefore, has the right to tell us what to do. Second, he is Holy. Distinct. Pure. And because He is holy our sin separates us from Him and, because we choose to sin, we deserve death. Finally, God is love. He wishes that none would perish, that all would come to everlasting life.

Who am I?

Today I want us to answer the question, “In light of who God is, who are we?” To fully understand the gospel and to appropriate it into our lives we must understand how God sees us before we come to faith in Christ and then, how He sees us after we have surrendered to His Lordship. To do so we must understand sin and its consequences.

We read in Genesis 2:15-17, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” When God created man, it was the Father’s intention that humanity would live in relationship with Him, that He would supply for all of their needs, that they would live under His authority and in doing so, they would enjoy Him forever. All they had to do was live in obedience to His command.

We read in Genesis 3:7, “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command to not eat from the tree of good and evil. They sinned. When Adam and Eve ate of the tree’s fruit they did more than violating a command of God, however. They made a conscious decision to reject God as the King over their lives. Beneath every act of disobedience is an act of rebellion against God’s authority over our lives.

We all have sinned and fallen short of God’s standards (RO 3:23). You and I, just like Adam and Eve, have disobeyed God’s commands. We acknowledge our sin but I believe that we don’t see our sin for what it truly is. Many years ago, on the very day I got my driver’s license, I was caught, and ticketed, by a local police officer for speeding. On the ticket, there was a box you could check that said, “I am guilty of the charge.” By checking the box, you were pleading guilty to the charge and could avoid having to go to court. I checked the box and became a convicted criminal. The truth is that I didn’t feel guilty. Nor did I feel remorse. (I was afraid however that my dad would find out.)

Why didn’t I feel bad? To be honest with you, I didn’t think the offense was that bad. After all, I was just speeding. Nobody was hurt. My crime wasn’t that bad! Sure, I had broken the law but it was a minor law that I broke – a step above a parking ticket! I believe that’s exactly how we see our sin. I imagine we’re all aware that we have violated one of God’s laws. We’re also aware that there are far greater sins that we didn’t commit and that there are greater law breakers out there!  I believe that we have reduced sin to a simple violation of God’s law.

Listen to me carefully. Every sin, regardless of its magnitude or regardless of the damage done to others – is the rejection of God Himself and of His lordship over our lives. In short, every sinful act or thought is the rejection of the Creator by His creation which is a detestable sin. That is why the Bible says in the Book of James that if we are guilty of one sin we are guilty of them all. We focus upon the magnitude of our sins, trying to reduce the extent of our guilt when at the heart of all sin is the rejection of God and His authority over our lives which is despicable. One of the most frightening statements in the Bible is found in Romans 3:19. The Apostle Paul had just declared that Jews and Gentiles alike are under the power of sin. He had just declared that there wasn’t one righteous person, that everyone has turned away from God. And then he writes that one day “every mouth will be silenced and the whole world will be held accountable to God.” Remember, God is holy and therefore, He will not excuse our sin. He will not let the guilty go unpunished. Because He is holy and just, He must punish us for our willful rebellion against His authority.

God had warned Adam that on the day he chose to sin He would surely die. Genesis 3:23 tells us that after their sin God drove Adam and Eve out of the garden and put an angel in place to keep them from coming back. On that day Adam and Eve died spiritually as well. You and I have rebelled against God’s leadership in our lives. Since we have chosen to sin, to reject God’s authority over our lives, we too are spiritually dead and separated from God. In the first couple of verse in Ephesians chapter two Paul paints a portrait of our spiritual condition before we came to know Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Let’s look at the text together.

Ephesians 2:1-5

First, Paul states that we were spiritually dead. He begins by saying in verse one that we were dead in our trespasses and sin prior to our conversion. To be physically ‘dead’ is to have lost life. Dead people are unable to respond to stimulus. Unable to communicate. No appetite. Cold. They are lifeless. Paul is saying that prior to our conversion you and I were spiritually dead. First, we were separated from the One who alone gives and sustains life. Second, because we were alienated from the one who gives and sustains life – we were dead. We were unable to respond to the things of God. Truth, righteousness, inner peace, joy, and ultimately every other good thing in life cannot be ours. We’re dead.

Second, Paul states that we were in spiritual bondage. Because we were spiritually dead we could only walk “according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air.” The ways of the world are the ways of living embraced by the world. Three things seem to characterize the ways of the world. First, humanism or the belief that man is his own boss and that he, and he alone, sets his own standard of good. In other words, man is his own god. Second, materialism or the quest to find happiness in the things of the world. And third, sexual perversion. Paul continues by saying that you and I, because we were spiritually dead, were living within the domain of Satan and under his authority. Knowingly or unknowingly, we were living under the influence of Satan. We failed to look to God as our example and instead, chose to follow the ways of the world. Thus, our lostness consists not only in our being cut off from our Creator, the source of life but also in being under the control of His enemy and living in a way that promotes the agenda and goals of that enemy.

Paul also states in verse three that we were living according to the desires of our flesh. By flesh, Paul doesn’t mean our bodies, because the body itself isn’t sinful. The flesh refers to our fallen nature, to the natural desire we have to sin. Our fallen nature wants to control our bodies and our minds and lead us to disobey God. In Galatians 5:19 Paul identifies the deeds of the flesh as immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.

Finally, Paul says that because we were spiritually dead and were in spiritual bondage we would face spiritual judgment. In the second half of verse three Paul writes that because we were walking like the world, living under the dominion of Satan, we were children of wrath. Whose wrath? God’s. Ephesians 5:6 tells us, Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” Because you and I rejected God’s authority and chose to walk like the world, fulfilling the desires of our flesh – the wrath of God was set to come upon us on the day of judgment.

We Need a Savior

Can you see that you and I were in a mess? Because we rejected God’s authority over our lives we were dead in our sin and incapable of any spiritual good. We were held captive by the ways of the world and were living under the control of Satan. The desires of our flesh, and not God, were dominating our lives. Because of our choices we were without hope, destined to experience the wrath of God. There was no way for you and me to get ourselves out of this condition. We were destined to be separated from God and to spend an eternity in hell. We needed someone to rescue us. We needed a Savior.

Paul continues in verses 4 & 5 of Ephesians 2, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!”  There’s the gospel once again! While we were yet sinners, God, who is rich in mercy and who loves His children, made us alive with Christ! Just as He raised Jesus from the dead, He can have given us life! Here’s the best part – He did so while we were dead in our trespasses. In other words, He moved us from death to life before we cleaned up our lives! Paul declared that you and I were saved by grace. God’s riches through the shed blood of Jesus are ours by faith (Eph. 2:8-9)!

On the day of judgment, those who have rejected the gospel will receive the punishment they deserve, the punishment they have chosen. But those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior will enter into the presence of God and dwell with Him forever. It is only through faith in Jesus that we can be saved from our sins. There is no other way.

If you acknowledge your need for a Savior; if you confess that you are a sinner who has rejected God and His rightful place in your life and if you believe that Jesus is the sinless Son of God and that His death on the cross paid for the sins of humanity, the Bible declares that you can be saved. All you have to do is ask God to save you from your sins and, with the power of the Holy Spirit, repent (turn) from your sins. Salvation is a gift received by grace through faith in the work of Jesus upon the cross!

We can receive God’s free gift of salvation by praying a prayer like the one below where we ask God to do what we could not do on your own. Although praying the prayer doesn’t save you, it should reflect the desire of your heart. And, if it is your desire, the Bible states that you are saved from your sin:

Dear God, I’m a sinner and know that my sins have destroyed our relationship. I acknowledge that I deserve death, separation from you for eternity. I’m sorry for my sins. I want to turn from my sins but cannot do so in my own power. I believe Jesus Christ is your Son. I believe He died on a cross for my sin and that You raised Him to life. I trust Him as my Savior and desire to follow Him as Lord from this day forward. Jesus, I put my trust in You and I submit my life to You. Holy Spirit, come into my life and be my guide. I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

If Anyone Be in Christ, They Are a New Creation

Paul declared in verses four and five that because of God’s great mercy and love, we have been made alive with Christ! He wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that those who have been born again are new creations… that the old things have passed away! We are not the same! Let me give you just a few changes in our lives worthy of getting excited about:

  • You have been set free from the law of sin and death. The power of sin has been broken in your lives! (RO 8:2 & 6:6)
  • You have been justified. God sees you as if you have never sinned and as if you have always obeyed. (RO 3:24)
  • You are no longer a slave but you are now a child of God – you have been adopted! (Gal. 4:7)
  • Your salvation has been sealed by the Holy Spirit – Nothing can separate you from the love of God. (Eph. 1:13 & RO 8:35)
  • You can boldly enter into God’s presence through prayer. (Eph. 3:12)
  • God will supply all of your needs. (Phil. 4:19)
  • You are a citizen of heaven. (Phil. 3:20 & JN 6:47)
  • You are no longer a sinner but a saint! (RO 1:7)
  • You have been delivered from the power of darkness and transformed into God’s Kingdom. (Col. 1:13)
  • You are an ambassador for Christ; your life has meaning and purpose. (2 Cor. 5:20 & Eph. 2:10)
  • You are free from condemnation. (RO 8:1)
  • You can do all things through Christ. (Phil. 4:13)

The gospel of Jesus Christ declares that you are accepted by God – we are His children, joint heirs with Jesus! It declares that you are secure in His love. Nothing can separate you from His love! And finally, you are significant. You are a masterpiece, appointed by God to bear fruit and to bring Him glory!

 

 

WHO I AM IN CHRIST

 

I AM ACCEPTED…

 

John 1:12                      I am God’s child.

John 15:15                    As a disciple, I am a friend of Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:1                    I have been justified; declared righteous.

1 Corinthians 6:17         I am united with the Lord, I am one with Him in spirit.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20    I have been bought with a price and I belong to God.

Ephesians 1:3-8             I have been chosen by God and adopted as His child.

Colossians 1:13-14        I have been redeemed and forgiven of my sins.

Colossians 2:9-10          I am complete in Christ.

Hebrews 4:14-16            I have direct access to the throne of grace.

 

I AM SECURE

 

Romans 8:1-2                I am free from condemnation because I have been set free from                                                the law of sin and death.

Romans 8:28                  I am assured that God works for my good in all things.

Romans 8:31-39            I cannot be separated from the love of God.

2 Corinthians 1:21-22    I have been established, anointed and sealed by God.

Colossians 3:1-4            I am hidden with Christ in God.

Philippians 3:1-4            I am confident that God will complete the good work that He                                                      began in me.

Philippians 3:20             I am a citizen of heaven.

2 Timothy 1:7                 I have not been given a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind.

1 John 5;18                   I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me.

 

 

I AM SIGNIFICANT…

 

John 15:5                      I am a branch of the Jesus Christ, the true vine.

John 15:16                    I have been chosen and appointed to bear much fruit.

1 Corinthians 3:16         I am God’s temple.

2 Corinthians 7:17-211  I am a new creation and a minister of reconciliation for God.

Ephesians 2:10              I am God’s workmanship; a masterpiece for His glory.

Ephesians 3:12              I can approach God with freedom and confidence.

Philippians 4:13             I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Matthew 28:18-20          I have been invited to participate in God’s mission.

2 Corinthians 5:20         I am an ambassador for Christ; my life has meaning and purpose.

God is…

God is

Last week we began a new series of messages about the gospel of Jesus Christ. My prayer is that you and I will see that the gospel is not just the means by which we are saved; it is the driving force behind our transformation, and it is the motivation for our loving God and our neighbors.  As the gospel is believed and appropriated into our lives our selfish hearts will burst alive with love for God and a passion to worship Him. As we worship the Father we will want others to experience the abundant life we have found in Jesus! Therefore, our desire to take this good news, the gospel, to others intensifies.

Over the next couple of weeks we will seek to gain a deeper understanding, and appreciation of, the Gospel. To do so we must biblically unpack four words: God, Man, Christ, and Response. Today we will see what the Bible tells us about God.

God Is…

Let me share with you a few things about our Father in heaven that I found on the internet. First, He’s not nearly as cranky as He was in the Old Testament! He’s mellowed. More of a grandfather if you know what I mean. Those ten commandments? They’re now suggestions! Now He’s like your best friend, always there for you and easy to talk to. And for most people – He never talks back! Now you and I both know He wishes we would be better. But He knows we’re human and after all, nobody is perfect! So, He doesn’t judge. Besides, forgiving people is what He does. It’s His job. After all, the Bible says He is love.

Not everything you read on the internet is true! The truth is this is how many people see God. As long as you see God this way, you will never understand or appreciate the gospel. You and I could spend a lifetime discussing what God has revealed about Himself in the Bible – and we should. But there are some basic truths about God that you and I must understand if we are going to be impacted by the gospel. For you and I to understand the gospel we must understand who God is.

God is our Creator: In the beginning God created the heaves and the earth… It was formless and void and so God created night and day, and then the heavens. Next, He created the dry land and covered it with vegetation. Then, He created two great lights – the sun and the moon and then the stars. Next, He created the fish of the sea and the birds of the air. And God saw that it was good. He created the animals – livestock and wild animals alike. And He said once again, “It is good.” And then, on the sixth day of creation, God created man. He formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. God saw all that He had made and declared that it was very good!

He is the King of the universe who created everything for His own glory. Psalm 139 declares that you and I were wonderfully designed by God. Genesis 1:27 tells us that we were “created” by God. And because we were created, we are owned. Because God created us, because He owns us, He has the right to tell us how to live. When God created Adam and Eve in the Garden He gave them just one commandment – don’t eat from this tree. God wasn’t on some power trip. He wasn’t acting like a child. He knew what was best for them and for us. He is a good, good Father.

God is Holy: We hear the phrase, “God is holy” and nod our heads in agreement, but do we know what it means? Have we stopped and asked ourselves what exactly makes God holy? Holiness is the primary attribute of God – we even sing about His holiness, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!” And we aren’t alone in our singing. When Isaiah stood before the throne of God he heard the angels singing, “Holy, holy, holy” (Isa. 6:3). To call God holy is to speak of His majesty and purity. He is “utterly distinct from His creation.” The Lord is perfectly pure. He is separate from sin, evil, and the defiled. Nothing can taint Him. He is incorruptible. God is holy in that He, by His very nature, is without sin and set apart from sin (1 John 1:5). By saying that God is holy we are acknowledging there is the absolute absence of evil in the existence of God. The Lord isn’t a better version of us. He is holy.

When we think of God’s holiness and the gospel two truths emerge. First, because God is holy our sins separate us from Him. The idea behind the concept of holiness is “separation.” It comes from a word meaning “to separate or cut off.” God is separate, or cut off, from everything that is sinful and evil-He cannot tolerate sin. Therefore, we read in Isaiah 59:2, “But your iniquities have built barriers between you and your God, and your sins have made Him hide His face from you so that He does not listen.” Our sins separate us from God. As a result of their sin, Adam and Eve were separated from God’s presence. No longer could they have communion with Him. This is the punishment promised by God for our sin.

Second, because God is holy He must punish our sins. In Genesis 2:17, when God was explaining to Adam His requirements, He told him that if he willfully disobeyed God there would be consequences. We read, “…on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.”  The Apostle Paul, in Romans 6:23 stated that the wages of sin is death. He figuratively uses the word “wages” to imply that this is something you are getting because you deserve it – you have, as it were, worked for it (6:20–21).

We are responsible for our own sins, and we are accountable to God for what we’ve done (or failed to do). We can’t blame anyone else; we alone must bear our guilt, for we alone have sinned. The Bible tells us that God is just. This means that He is fair and impartial. The fact that God is just means that He can, and will, judge between right and wrong. He will administer justice in accordance with His standards. In other words, because God is holy and just, He cannot let our sin go unpunished. To do so would require that God not be Himself.

God is Love: The Bible declares that God is love and that everything He does is loving, just as everything He does is just and right. God is the perfect example of true love. But how can we even begin to understand that truth? His love is very different from human love. God’s love isn’t based upon feelings or emotions or upon one’s performance. He doesn’t love us because we’re lovable or because we make Him feel good; He loves us because He is love – because we are His children (1 John 4:8).

Let me give you just a few highlights about God’s love:

  • First, His Love is Unchangeable. Psalm 86:15 declares, “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
  • God’s Love is Eternal. Psalm 136:1-2 states, “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting. Give thanks to the God of gods, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
  • God’s love is Unconditional and Undeserved. There is nothing we can do to make Him love us either more or less. We don’t earn His love by meeting a certain set of expectations. (This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t judge our sin or that people will not suffer for their disobedience.)

God loves even the most diabolical, wicked, perverse sinner. Peter wrote in 2 Peter 3:9 that God wishes that none would perish, that all would come to repentance. God loves sinners! Now God certainly does NOT love sin, but He loves the individual.

The Gospel

Let’s go back to the creation story. God removed Adam and Eve from the garden but left them with a promise of rescue and hope. His promise was that one of their descendants would ultimately defeat sin. Over the next few centuries, God prepared the way for someone special, someone who would become the Savior of all mankind. In fact, all of the Old Testament ultimately points to this specific person, called both Messiah and the Son of Man, as the focal point of all human history.

God became human in the person of Jesus Christ more than 2,000 years ago. His birth was miraculous since His mother was a virgin. His life was unique; although He was tempted like you and I, He never sinned. And His death was the supreme sacrifice because He willingly and painfully died on a cross for the sins of humanity. The perfectly innocent died for the hopelessly guilty. He took a place on the cross that was rightfully meant for us and then He died and was buried in a borrowed tomb. But the grave couldn’t hold Him. Three days after dying on the cross Jesus emerged from His tomb, fulfilling His earthly mission to defeat sin and death just as God promised. 1 Peter 3;18 declares, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit.”

God loves you. He knows exactly who and what you are. He knows that like everyone else you have sinned, but He doesn’t want you to perish. He wants you to know Him. He wants you to spend eternity with Him. You cannot earn God’s love and acceptance. It requires faith. Faith is simple trust in Jesus alone to save you from your sins. It means instead of believing you can rescue yourself, you transfer your trust to Him to save you from your sins through what He has done for you upon the cross. He paid the price that we couldn’t. In doing so, God’s wrath was satisfied. Ephesians 2:8-9 declares, “For by grace you have been saved though faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

You can receive God’s free gift of salvation by praying a prayer like the one below. Although praying the prayer doesn’t save you, it should reflect the desire of your heart. And, if it is your desire, the Bible states that you are saved from your sin: Dear God, I’m a sinner and know that my sins have destroyed our relationship. I acknowledge that I deserve death, separation from you for eternity. I’m sorry for my sins. I want to turn from my sins but cannot do so in my own power. I believe Jesus Christ is your Son. I believe He died on a cross for my sin and that You raised Him to life. I trust Him as my Savior and desire to follow Him as Lord from this day forward. Jesus, I put my trust in You and I submit my life to You. Holy Spirit, come into my life and be my guide. I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.