This is Part 7 in our Sermon Series “Small Matters.” We have looked at little known characters in the Bible who don’t make most “Who’s Who” lists of the Bible, but who’s contribution to the story of Mankind & God is significant.
This week’s “Small Matters” people aren’t even mentioned in the Bible, but their part in the Story of Mankind & God is significant, if not of ultimate importance. Who are we talking about? The Blacksmiths who made the nails used in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Why do these people warrant a place in this Sermon Series, especially at the beginning of the Lenten period? Let’s un-pack it all and see!
Nail (Noun) - a slender, typically rodshaped rigid piece of metal, usually in any ofnumerous standard lengths from a fraction of an inch to severalinches and having one end pointed and the other enlarged andflattened, for hammering into or through wood, other building materials, etc.
Nail (Verb) –
to fasten with a nail or nails, to make fast or keep firmly in one place or position.
Nailed (Expression) – often followed by the word “it”
is a phrase used to express success after achieving something seemingly difficult with relative ease or even as much to accomplish perfectly.
The phrase “nailed it” is often used when describing something with amazing accuracy or defining something perfectly using a picture, demonstrative expression imitating something, etc.
Considering the action of nailing Christ to the cross – it did indeed require all the tenses of this key word to accomplish the purpose of God.
First of all, let’s consider the blacksmiths. These were men who created objects from wrought iron or steel by forging the metal, using tools to hammer, bend, and cut. It was their job to make all things metal, it was their job to make spears, swords – instruments of danger, destruction and war. This was how they supported their families. How they fed and clothed their wives and children – how they purchased soft clothes to swaddle their newborn babies!
And… These were the men who hammered metal into the shape of a nail – so that our Savior, Jesus Christ could be nailed to the cross. These were the men whom God the Father gave the gift of craftsmanship to – so that God could “nail” His plan for redemption, thereby providing atonement for mankind through the sacrifice of His only Son. How did His plan work out? God literally “nailed it”!
Then… Because the Blacksmiths had done their job well – the soldiers were capable of accomplishing the rest of the process.
“After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice”. - Matthew 27:35
“Then the soldiers nailed him to the cross. They divided his clothes and threw dice[a] to decide who would get each piece.” - Mark 15:24
“When they came to a place called The Skull,[a] they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left.” - Luke 23:33
“There they nailed him to the cross. Two others were crucified with him, one on either side, with Jesus between them.” - John 19:18
They nailed Jesus to the cross – and God let it happen! And that action, nailed, secured, our redemption once and for all.
Mr. Blacksmith, sir… Did you know that your sins made the nails needed for your redemption? Did you know that there was one more element needed for these nails beyond your tools of your trade and the hot fire you worked over almost every day? Mr. Blacksmith, sir… did you know the nails you hammered into shape had your name on them? Did you know that as the nails you made were hammered through the flesh of the Son of Man that your eternal destiny was “nailed” once and for all? Are you sad about your sins? Do you hate your sins? Your nails were used – in a most cruel fashion – are you horrified? Are you happy? Are you horrified and happy and the same time?
Many years ago, in a missions school a little girl was sitting on the front seat when the Superintendent was telling about how they hanged Jesus on the cross. Tears came to her eyes, and she had to get up and go out. In the afternoon she came back smiling; and the superintendent asked her, “Mary, where did you go this morning?” And she said, “Oh, teacher! I could not stand it when you spoke to us about Jesus being nailed on the cross; for I felt just as if I helped to pound the nails in; and I went off a little piece from the school, and got down on my knees, and told Jesus that my sins helped to hang Him on the cross; and I asked Him to please forgive me for helping to kill Him; that I was sorry… and now I am happy.”
My Friends… Do you feel what that little girl felt? Do you realize, you too, are a Blacksmith?
Romans 5:6 – “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.”
God “Nailed It!”
This week is Number 6 in our “Small Matters” Sermon Series. For the past 5 weeks, we have focused on characters in the Bible who had a very small footprint, but gave us some very important lessons! Last week, our “Small Matters” character was a young servant girl, Rhoda who inspired us with her faith and belief in a God who most certainly answers all our prayers!
This week’s “Small Matters” character is a man named Bezalel! Bezalel is especially significant because of the powerful reference of God’s empowerment by the Holy Spirit for specific skill to complete the necessary tasks at hand. In fact this is one of the earliest references to being filled with the Holy Spirit.
Bezaleel joins the ranks of our “Small Matters” lineup because his contribution to the history of God’s people is principally because of a physical talent – as a skilled craftsman! Often and mistakenly so, we might assume that being filled with the Holy Spirit would most certainly result in a magnificent sermon, or spiritual poetry or profound prose. Bezaleel’s skills, accentuated by the Spirit of God, gives him an important place in Biblical history.
Let’s take a look!
Exodus 31:1-11: Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 “Look, I have specifically chosen Bezalel son of Uri, grandson of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. 3 I have filled him with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts. 4 He is a master craftsman, expert in working with gold, silver, and bronze. 5 He is skilled in engraving and mounting gemstones and in carving wood. He is a master at every craft! 6 “And I have personally appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, to be his assistant. Moreover, I have given special skill to all the gifted craftsmen so they can make all the things I have commanded you to make:
7 the Tabernacle;[a]
the Ark of the Covenant;[b]
the Ark’s cover—the place of atonement;
all the furnishings of the Tabernacle;
8 the table and its utensils;
the pure gold lampstand with all its accessories;
the incense altar;
9 the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils;
the washbasin with its stand;
10 the beautifully stitched garments—the sacred garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments for his sons to wear as they minister as priests;
11 the anointing oil; the fragrant incense for the Holy Place.
The craftsmen must make everything as I have commanded you.”
Look at the lineup of what these skilled craftsmen were tasked to make! Their incredible contribution certainly challenges our tendency to think that only those up front and/or in leadership positions are the most important. Without fulfilling God’s specific commands on how to construct all of the parts of temple and it’s furnishings, the rest of his commands concerning the usage of the temple would have been unnecessary.
You have all been given gifts by God – you, like Bezalel have been chosen! Chosen to use your gifts for God and the building of His Kingdom. Are you ready, willing and able to allow the Holy Spirit to use your gifts for God’s use?
Let’s look at Paul’s take on each person being used and necessary in the King of God!
I Corinthians 12:12-26:
The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. 13 Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. 14 Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. 15 If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? 18 But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. 19 How strange a body would be if it had only one part! 20 Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. 21 The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” 22 In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. 23 And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, 24 while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. 25 This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.
Three important traits mark Bezalel and these traits are also present in us!
1. In our earlier text we read of Bezalel’s incredibly skill as a craftsman. Let’s read Exodus 35:31-35 - The Lord has filled Bezalel with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts. 32 He is a master craftsman, expert in working with gold, silver, and bronze. 33 He is skilled in engraving and mounting gemstones and in carving wood. He is a master at every craft. 34 And the Lord has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach their skills to others. 35 The Lord has given them special skills as engravers, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple, and scarlet thread on fine linen cloth, and weavers. They excel as craftsmen and as designers. No matter your talent, it’s been given to you by God!
2. Trait #2, He had the ability to teach others his skills. The important thing is that you can also use your gift(s) to teach and inspire others (vs. 34). Will you
3. He had a great attitude and was eager and willing to use his gifts! Exodus 36:1-2 “The Lord has gifted Bezalel, Oholiab, and the other skilled craftsmen with wisdom and ability to perform any task involved in building the sanctuary. Let them construct and furnish the Tabernacle, just as the Lord has commanded.” So Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and all the others who were specially gifted by the Lord and were eager to get to work. He was eager to get to work! He had the right attitude – and because it was not about him and all about God – it showed – in an eagerness to get to work!
Challenge for us today!
1. How about you? Do recognize that you have skills the Lord can use? What are some of them? He’s given us all skills, abilities, talents and gifts.
2. Are you willing to share your gifts with others?
3. How’s your attitude about giving time to God to be a part of His team? Are you “eager” to use your gifts for God?
When you discover your talents God has given you, you will experience a fullness in Christ like never before. Why? Let’s look at Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”
You are God’s Masterpiece!!!! Just like Bezaleel! God wants you to be a Bezaleel!
Give Him your whole life and see what happens! Get ready to be used!
Give Him what you are able to give - what He's given you!
From a sermon by Rev. Dr. Marc Axelrod, Pastor, Peace Evangelical and Reformed Church, Potter, Wisconsin: There’s a great story about a California lady named Francis Green. She was 83 years old. She lived on Social Security. She had little money, but for eight years she’d been sending one dollar a year to the Republican National Convention. Then one day Frances got an RNC fund-raising letter in the mail inviting her to the White House to meet President Reagan. She never noticed the little RSVP card that suggested a positive reply needed to be accompanied by a generous donation. She thought she'd been invited because they appreciated her dollar-a year support. She took a train and rode for four days across the country in coach seating to meet the President. But when she got to the White House gate, her name was not on the list. She was heartbroken. But a Ford Motor Company executive was nearby. He talked to the guard. He spoke with a White House Presidential aide. And he said to Francis Green, "Come back here tomorrow at 9 a.m." The next day was anything but calm and easy at the White House. Ed Meese had just resigned. There had been a military uprising abroad. Reagan was in and out of high-level secret sessions. But Frances Green showed up at nine o'clock, full of expectation and enthusiasm. The executive met her, gave her a wonderful tour of the White House, then quietly led her by the Oval Office, thinking maybe, at best, she might get a quick glimpse of the president on her way out. Members of the National Security Council came out. High-ranking generals were coming and going. In the midst of all the hubbub, President Reagan glanced out and saw Frances Green. With a smile, he gestured her into his office. As she entered, he rose from his desk and called out, "Frances! Those lousy computers, they messed up again! If I'd known you were coming I would have come out there to get you myself." He then invited her to sit down, and they talked leisurely about California, her town, her life and family. The president of the United States gave Frances Green a lot of time that day- more time than he had. He knew this woman had nothing to give him, but she needed something he could give her. And so the Ford executive and the President took time to be kind and compassionate.
The President of the Universe wants to do the same thing for you! He has time for that, and He has time for you!
Give Him your gifts and your talents, not matter how small you think they might be, talk to Him about anything that's on your mind, and He will listen and respond in His sovereign timing – and… he will use your gifts for His glory – but you must willingly give!
Number 5 in our current Sermon Series, “Small Matters” – we look today at a young servant girl named Rhoda and the circumstances surrounding her being mentioned in Acts 12. While Rhoda is only mentioned one time in this passage, we have much to glean from her. Indeed, her small contribution teaches us in a most amusing way.
Let me ask you some questions:
Acts 12:1-19 – 12: About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. 2 He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword. 3 When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. (This took place during the Passover celebration.) 4 Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover. 5 But while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him. 6 The night before Peter was to be placed on trial, he was asleep, fastened with two chains between two soldiers. Others stood guard at the prison gate. 7 Suddenly, there was a bright light in the cell, and an angel of the Lord stood before Peter. The angel struck him on the side to awaken him and said, “Quick! Get up!” And the chains fell off his wrists.8 Then the angel told him, “Get dressed and put on your sandals.” And he did. “Now put on your coat and follow me,” the angel ordered. 9 So Peter left the cell, following the angel. But all the time he thought it was a vision. He didn’t realize it was actually happening. 10 They passed the first and second guard posts and came to the iron gate leading to the city, and this opened for them all by itself. So they passed through and started walking down the street, and then the angel suddenly left him. 11 Peter finally came to his senses. “It’s really true!” he said. “The Lord has sent his angel and saved me from Herod and from what the Jewish leaders[c] had planned to do to me!” 12 When he realized this, he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many were gathered for prayer. 13 He knocked at the door in the gate, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to open it.14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the door, she ran back inside and told everyone, “Peter is standing at the door!” 15 “You’re out of your mind!” they said. When she insisted, they decided, “It must be his angel.” 16 Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking. When they finally opened the door and saw him, they were amazed. 17 He motioned for them to quiet down and told them how the Lord had led him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers what happened,” he said. And then he went to another place. 18 At dawn there was a great commotion among the soldiers about what had happened to Peter. 19 Herod Agrippa ordered a thorough search for him. When he couldn’t be found, Herod interrogated the guards and sentenced them to death. Afterward Herod left Judea to stay in Caesarea for a while.
What happens in today’s story is incredibly serious and profound, but with some supreme comedic moments as well. Rhoda is at the center of one of those moments.
King Herod was persecuting believers. He had also killed James, the brother of John. He was all about politicking for his own personal positioning. He imprisoned Peter because he thought it would please the people – and because of this situation the Church was praying earnestly for him!
To ensure he would not escape he placed him under ridiculously unnecessary guard (four squads of four soldiers each). That many soldiers were no needed for one man, unless… God were to intervene (then 10,000 soldiers would not be enough).
In his book “Connecting with God,” author Herb Miller tells the story of a nightclub opening on Main Street in a small town. Upon hearing the news, the only church in that town organized an all-night prayer meeting. The members asked God to burn down the club. Within a few minutes lightning struck the club, and it burned to the ground. The club owner sued the church, which denied responsibility for the destruction of the club. After hearing both sides, the judge said, “It seems that wherever the guilt may lie, the nightclub owner believes in prayer, while the church doesn’t.”
Do we really believe in prayer?
Do we really believe that God answers every prayer?
How do we respond to His answers?
Because I love humor – and I love this story – let me highlight four instances in this story – moments while incredibly impactful, are interesting and perhaps even comical.
Comedic moment #1 – Peter was to go on trial the next morning – possibly incurring a death sentence, yet he was still asleep. Are you secure enough with your relationship with God you could fall asleep the last night of your life?
Comedic moment #2 – Peter was asleep so hard, the angel had to whack him on the side to wake him up. His chains fell off and the angel said – follow me! How would you like to wake up that way?
Comedic moment #3 – Peter was up and following the angel, but he thought he was just dreaming – I mean, why wouldn’t he think that? An angel leading him, past the guard posts and the city gate opening all by itself? Finally, when the angel left him, he came to his senses and realized he really was out of prison!
Comedic moment #4 – When Peter realized he was free, he went to a familiar home – the home of Mary, mother of John Mark, where many were gathered for prayer! Peter knocked on the door and Rhoda answers! She was so overjoyed when she heard his voice, she didn’t even open the door but ran back to the group and told them Peter was at the door. They thought she was crazy – and didn’t go to the door – and Peter kept knocking… Finally, they opened the door!
Let’s unpack this story a bit more.
Rhoda, our “Small Matters” character for today is a “celebrity!” If, even for a moment, she had a part in a story of an incredible, miraculous answer to prayer. Dr. Alexander Maclaren, a noted pastor and Greek & Hebrew Biblical scholar in his commentary on this passage, mentions that “Men will give their lives for fame, and this servant girl got it by one little act, and never knew that she had it.
Rhoda was basically a female slave in the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where the prayer team had gathered for the evening, had likely brought her from the island of Cyprus to work in her house. Mary was likely a “well-to-do” women with a large house, thus having room to effectively house a large prayer meeting. John Mark, incidentally was often referred to as just “Mark” wrote the gospel of Mark. He not only was the gospel writer, he was a companion of Paul & Paul’s traveling partner Barnabas (who was also John Mark’s cousin.” It was in this house, the house of strong believers who understood the power of prayer that “Rhoda” (whose name mean “a rose”) served.
While Rhoda was Mary’s servant, her position had not taken away Mary’s influence in her life. Rhoda was well acquainted with Peter – noted by her “recognizing his voice!”
It was Rhonda’s job – to answer the door. One might ask why then, upon recognizing Peter’s voice, did she not simply open the door – we must consider her conditioning. The Church was meeting behind closed doors because they were afraid of Herod’s soldiers. The irony here is… The Church also knew that Peter was in prison under ridiculously heavy guard and while praying in earnest, more than likely, did not expect God to answer their prayers so incredibly – let alone hear about his miraculous release by a personal visit from Peter – and the news being delivered by a servant girl, none-the-less!
Rhoda, a non-Jewess, a servant girl, the least in the house interrupting a prayer meeting of spiritual leaders…. How awesome is that?
Parallels anyone? Who found out about the Jesus the Messiah coming first? Who got to see Him first? The shepherds! In Christ’s day, shepherds stood on the bottom rung of the Palestinian social ladder. They shared the same unenviable status as tax collectors and dung sweepers. Only Luke mentions them.
Lesson #1 from Rhoda: Even if you feel you are a societal nobody, when you are a child of God, you join nobility – a partaker of the Divine – a child of the King, with full rights of His inheritance. Mary, while participating in the societal system of the day, was also a child of God – who taught and encouraged even her servant girl about Jesus, let her associate with the Church – even Peter! Mary more than likely had her servant girl Rhoda, kneeling beside her as the church prayed earnestly for Peter.
Lesson #2 from Rhoda: If your job is to open the door, then go open it. However, make sure you’re opening it for the right person to enter. Upon answering the knock, Rhoda first quietly asked through the keyhole, “who’s there?” When opening the door to anyone, make sure you know who’s knocking! Jesus gains entrance into our heart by knocking. But there are others that will come knocking, for your attention, for your support, for your life – make sure you open the door for the right person!
Rev. 3:20-22 (The Message) “Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you. Conquerors will sit alongside me at the head table, just as I, having conquered, took the place of honor at the side of my Father. That’s my gift to the conquerors! “Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches.”
Lesson #3 from Rhoda: Rhoda’s first duty was to open the door. Her second was to go tell the good news. We have that same duty! We must tell others the Good News of Jesus Christ. We must tell others that God answers prayers.
Conclusion: God answers prayers. Every time. Many of us love to share when God answers our prayer with a yes. We say, “God answered my prayer!” The reality is, God always answers your prayer with three answers: Yes, Wait, No.
When His answer is yes:
When His answer is wait:
When His answer is no:
In our story today, Rhoda, a servant, away from her home, in a foreign land, has embraced her new life – serving faithfully her mistress and most importantly, serving the King of Kings interrupted a prayer meeting of spiritual leaders and delivered the good news. She endured being called “out of her mind” but insisted the good news was true!
On “Super Bowl Sunday” it seems like we at least need one quote from a football movie. Drawing on Father Cavanaugh from the classic movie “Rudy,” – “Son, in 35 years of religious study, I have only come up with two hard, incontrovertible facts: there is a God, and… I am not Him.”
As our story today indicates, God can do whatever He wants to do – when He decides, and… He can use incredible supernatural means! He can use anyone he chooses and… He does! Thank you, Rhoda, for your example, thank you Rhoda for your faith and thank you Rhoda for embracing the God of your mistress and inspiring us to answer the door when Christ knocks – and be incredibly excited.
Who is Balaam?
Some may know him as “The guy the donkey talked to in the Bible!
However, his story is in Numbers and not many individuals or Bible Study groups spend a ton of time in Numbers. Balaam makes the list of our “Small Matters” lineup because he wasn’t even an Israelite prophet, yet God used him and in so doing, he learned an important lesson – even if the lesson came via some amazing communication from a donkey!
Here is the situation:
In Numbers 21, the Israelites were expanding their territories and with God’s blessing, conquering many powerful foes. King Balak of the Moabites, as he saw this unfold, was probably expecting his Kingdom to be next. So, fearing the worst, King Balak sought help from a certain someone named Balaam who was a proven expert in accessing the supernatural, and was willing to pay Balaam big money for his expertise.
A look at Balaam and his abilities:
Let’s pick up the story:
Balak son of Zippor, the Moabite king, had seen everything the Israelites did to the Amorites. 3 And when the people of Moab saw how many Israelites there were, they were terrified. 4 The king of Moab said to the elders of Midian, “This mob will devour everything in sight, like an ox devours grass in the field!” So Balak, king of Moab, 5 sent messengers to call Balaam son of Beor, who was living in his native land of Pethor[a] near the Euphrates River.[b]His message said: “Look, a vast horde of people has arrived from Egypt. They cover the face of the earth and are threatening me. 6 Please come and curse these people for me because they are too powerful for me. Then perhaps I will be able to conquer them and drive them from the land. I know that blessings fall on any people you bless, and curses fall on people you curse.”
7 Balak’s messengers, who were elders of Moab and Midian, set out with money to pay Balaam to place a curse upon Israel.[c] They went to Balaam and delivered Balak’s message to him. 8 “Stay here overnight,” Balaam said. “In the morning I will tell you whatever the Lord directs me to say.” So, the officials from Moab stayed there with Balaam.
9 That night God came to Balaam and asked him, “Who are these men visiting you?” 0 Balaam said to God, “Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent me this message: 11 ‘Look, a vast horde of people has arrived from Egypt, and they cover the face of the earth. Come and curse these people for me. Then perhaps I will be able to stand up to them and drive them from the land.’” 12 But God told Balaam, “Do not go with them. You are not to curse these people, for they have been blessed!”
13 The next morning Balaam got up and told Balak’s officials, “Go on home! The Lord will not let me go with you.” 14 So the Moabite officials returned to King Balak and reported, “Balaam refused to come with us.” 15 Then Balak tried again. This time he sent a larger number of even more distinguished officials than those he had sent the first time. 16 They went to Balaam and delivered this message to him: “This is what Balak son of Zippor says: Please don’t let anything stop you from coming to help me. 17 I will pay you very well and do whatever you tell me. Just come and curse these people for me!”
18 But Balaam responded to Balak’s messengers, “Even if Balak were to give me his palace filled with silver and gold, I would be powerless to do anything against the will of the Lord my God. 19 But stay here one more night, and I will see if the Lord has anything else to say to me.” 20 That night God came to Balaam and told him, “Since these men have come for you, get up and go with them. But do only what I tell you to do.”
21 So the next morning Balaam got up, saddled his donkey, and started off with the Moabite officials. 22 But God was angry that Balaam was going, so he sent the angel of the Lord to stand in the road to block his way. As Balaam and two servants were riding along, 23 Balaam’s donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand. The donkey bolted off the road into a field, but Balaam beat it and turned it back onto the road. 24 Then the angel of the Lord stood at a place where the road narrowed between two vineyard walls. 25 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it tried to squeeze by and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall. So, Balaam beat the donkey again.26 Then the angel of the Lord moved farther down the road and stood in a place too narrow for the donkey to get by at all. 27 This time when the donkey saw the angel, it lay down under Balaam. In a fit of rage Balaam beat the animal again with his staff.
28 Then the Lord gave the donkey the ability to speak. “What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?” it asked Balaam. 29 “You have made me look like a fool!” Balaam shouted. “If I had a sword with me, I would kill you!” 30 “But I am the same donkey you have ridden all your life,” the donkey answered. “Have I ever done anything like this before?” “No,” Balaam admitted. 31 Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the roadway with a drawn sword in his hand. Balaam bowed his head and fell face down on the ground before him. 32 “Why did you beat your donkey those three times?” the angel of the Lord demanded. “Look, I have come to block your way because you are stubbornly resisting me. 33 Three times the donkey saw me and shied away; otherwise, I would certainly have killed you by now and spared the donkey.” 34 Then Balaam confessed to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned. I didn’t realize you were standing in the road to block my way. I will return home if you are against my going.” 35 But the angel of the Lord told Balaam, “Go with these men, but say only what I tell you to say.” So, Balaam went on with Balak’s officials.36 When King Balak heard that Balaam was on the way, he went out to meet him at a Moabite town on the Arnon River at the farthest border of his land.
37 “Didn’t I send you an urgent invitation? Why didn’t you come right away?” Balak asked Balaam. “Didn’t you believe me when I said I would reward you richly?” 38 Balaam replied, “Look, now I have come, but I have no power to say whatever I want. I will speak only the message that God puts in my mouth.”
Before we go any further, let’s look at this from God’s perspective.
Why would God speak through a pagan sorcerer like Balaam? It is important to realize that God can use whatever means He chooses, including a pagan sorcerer. God wanted to get a message to the Moabites & King Balak. Balak had already employed the services of Balaam, so Balaam was available for God’s use (much like God using wicked Pharaoh to accomplish his will in Egypt).
God, came to Balaam at night in verses 9-12. God asked Balaam what he was doing and who he was doing it with? Balaam answered with the situation described to him by King Balak and what the King wanted from Balaam.
God told him not to go with the messengers from Balak sent to bring Balaam back, i.e., to leave the Israelites alone – don’t curse them, because they’d been blessed by God Himself.
So, what happens?
But Balaam had a fateful flaw – he made one very significant error – he said “but!” When it comes to obedience to God, you never, ever, ever say “but”! Let’s look at verses 19 & 20 again: “But stay here one more night, and I will see if the Lord has anything else to say to me.” That night God came to Balaam and told him, “Since these men have come for you, get up and go with them. But do only what I tell you to do.”
Now, one might say, did the Lord change His mind? God saw that Balaam was waffling – the lure of the money was great, so yes, God did come to Balaam that night, and He did allow him to go, but - with one very important caveat – “don’t say anything don’t tell you to say.”
Balaam had originally intended not to go against the will of God. However, the next morning, God saw through Balaam’s attitude, that he was going for the money and not to just give the Moabites a message from God. So, God became angry and sent an angel to stand in the road Balaam was traveling on his donkey.
5 questions that would be beneficial for us to consider our answers to today:
Arabian horses go through rigorous training in the deserts of the Middle East. The trainers require absolute obedience from the horses and test them to see if they are completely trained. The final test is almost beyond the endurance of any living thing. The trainers force the horses to do without water for many days. Then he turns them loose and of course they start running toward the water, but just as they get to the edge, ready to plunge in and drink, the trainer blows his whistle. The horses who have been completely trained and who have learned perfect obedience, stop. They turn around and come pacing back to the trainer. They stand there quivering, wanting water, but they wait in perfect obedience. When the trainer is sure that he has their obedience, he gives them a signal to go back to drink.
Now this may be severe but when you are on the trackless desert of Arabia and your life is entrusted to a horse, you had better have a trained obedient horse. We must accept God's training and obey Him.
Read Philemon 1 (The Message)
I, Paul, am a prisoner for the sake of Christ, here with my brother Timothy. I write this letter to you, Philemon, my good friend and companion in this work—also to our sister Apphia, to Archippus, a real trooper, and to the church that meets in your house. God’s best to you! Christ’s blessings on you! 4-7 Every time your name comes up in my prayers, I say, “Oh, thank you, God!” I keep hearing of the love and faith you have for the Master Jesus, which brims over to other believers. And I keep praying that this faith we hold in common keeps showing up in the good things we do, and that people recognize Christ in all of it. Friend, you have no idea how good your love makes me feel, doubly so when I see your hospitality to fellow believers. 8-9 In line with all this I have a favor to ask of you. As Christ’s ambassador and now a prisoner for him, I wouldn’t hesitate to command this if I thought it necessary, but I’d rather make it a personal request.
10-14 While here in jail, I’ve fathered a child, so to speak. And here he is, hand-carrying this letter—Onesimus! He was useless to you before; now he’s useful to both of us. I’m sending him back to you, but it feels like I’m cutting off my right arm in doing so. I wanted in the worst way to keep him here as your stand-in to help out while I’m in jail for the Message. But I didn’t want to do anything behind your back, make you do a good deed that you hadn’t willingly agreed to.
15-16 Maybe it’s all for the best that you lost him for a while. You’re getting him back now for good—and no mere slave this time, but a true Christian brother! That’s what he was to me—he’ll be even more than that to you. 17-20 So if you still consider me a comrade-in-arms, welcome him back as you would me. If he damaged anything or owes you anything, chalk it up to my account. This is my personal signature—Paul—and I stand behind it. (I don’t need to remind you, do I, that you owe your very life to me?) Do me this big favor, friend. You’ll be doing it for Christ, but it will also do my heart good. 21-22 I know you well enough to know you will. You’ll probably go far beyond what I’ve written. And by the way, get a room ready for me. Because of your prayers, I fully expect to be your guest again.
23-25 Epaphras, my cellmate in the cause of Christ, says hello. Also my coworkers Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke. All the best to you from the Master, Jesus Christ!
Who are the major players?
Paul – an apostle of Jesus Christ and the writer of this letter. Paul, while not the founder of the Colossian Church, had visited there and obviously had a great deal of influence and leadership.
Philemon – a member of the Colossian church, more than likely wealthy, and host of a “house church.” Known to be a kind, loving, and generous person.
Onesimus – a useless slave of Philemon, who had not only run away, but had more than likely stolen property from his master, Philemon.
Onesimus was a runaway slave and more than likely a thief. The punishment for a runaway slave was varied and often severe. If he were to return (or be returned) his transgressions could lead Philemon, his owner, to inflict beating, imprisonment, branding and even death upon him. For Philemon to be reunited with his slave and accept him as a brother in Christ and treat him as such (without any punishment), would truly be possible only through incredible grace and mercy shown.
Paul, while imprisoned in Rome (house arrest – able to receive friends and visitors), had met Onesimus and more than likely led him to the Lord. As he discipled Onesimus, Paul obviously was struck by Onesimus’ heart for God and for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For a “slave” and a new believer to trust Paul enough to return to his former master showed the incredible faith of Onesimus had in not just Paul, but in his Savior. Obviously, Paul knew that Onesimus, now a Christ-follower, must return to his master to make things right. So, confident that Philemon would receive Onesimus as a brother in Christ rather than a slave, he gave Onesimus a letter to give to Philemon. However, even though Paul was hopeful all would go well with this “re-uniting,” he used his influence to create the best scenario possible for this meeting:
What Philemon would have to do to receive Onesimus as a brother, rather than a slave:
We have no Biblical record of what happened when Onesimus returned.
It is interesting however, that Paul did hint that he would visit when he was able (vs. 22 - And by the way, get a room ready for me. Because of your prayers, I fully expect to be your guest again). Perhaps Paul thought this might give Philemon the final “push” to accept Onesimus as a brother. How would it look if Paul showed up and Philemon, a leader the church, had not taken heed of Paul’s encouragement?
It is possible however, that Onesimus became a bishop of the province of Asia.
Church history tells us that 50 or 60 years later, in a letter written to the Christians at Ephesus by the Christian martyr Ignatius, the name Onesimus appears again – this time as a highly-regarded bishop in the province of Asia.
Where is your standing with Christ?
Do you realize that no matter your past - you are offered eternal life – equality with all mankind who also believe in the Name of Jesus Christ?
So… Onesimus – a former slave leading the church of Asia?
You – a child of God – brother of Jesus – home for the Holy Spirit of God - literally a partaker of the Divine?
The letter to Philemon illustrates the power of forgiveness - this is the beauty of Christ – the beauty of the Bible – the glory of the Church – the story of grace and mercy.
What will you do with this story?
God is calling you today, urging you today and making possible for you today to receive and give Christ’s unlimited, unrequited love and forgiveness for yourself and in turn granting it to all.
& Puah (Phua)
Questions to begin today! Do you fear God more than you fear man? If Christ is your Savior – If you truly understand how important it is to comprehend the Nature of God, you will fear God!
God holds solely within His hand the destiny of every person that has lived or will live. We all have been given a choice. Eternity with God or eternity apart from God? In the time our characters (we will talk about today), lived - God loved His people, but they still had to obey His laws or face judgement from the Almighty.
Who were these women? Simply put – they were two Hebrew midwives to whom the nation of Israel owes big debt of gratitude. And their example serves as a powerful testimony to all of us today.
Let’s set the stage! Joseph – the one with the coat of many colors - Yep – that’s the one – had single-handedly with God’s power and through an incredible series of events, mastered the most amazing peaceful relationship with the powerful Egyptians.
As years went by, however, this symbiotic relationship came to a screeching halt in the most cruel way. When Joseph and his brothers all died, ending that generation – and the King of Egypt who was in power at the time knew nothing of Joseph and the wonderful things he had done for the people of Egypt in the past. He only saw the Israelites flourishing and was convinced something had to be done about that. We pick up the story in:
Exodus 1:8-22 - 8 Eventually, a new king came to power in Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph or what he had done. 9 He said to his people, “Look, the people of Israel now outnumber us and are stronger than we are. 10 We must make a plan to keep them from growing even more. If we don’t, and if war breaks out, they will join our enemies and fight against us. Then they will escape from the country.[b]” 11 So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. They appointed brutal slave drivers over them, hoping to wear them down with crushing labor. They forced them to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses as supply centers for the king. 12 But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more the Israelites multiplied and spread, and the more alarmed the Egyptians became. 13 So the Egyptians worked the people of Israel without mercy. 14 They made their lives bitter, forcing them to mix mortar and make bricks and do all the work in the fields. They were ruthless in all their demands.
15 Then Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, gave this order to the Hebrew midwives, Shipporah (Shiphrah) and Puah: 16 “When you help the Hebrew women as they give birth, watch as they deliver.[c] If the baby is a boy, kill him; if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 But because the midwives feared God, they refused to obey the king’s orders. They allowed the boys to live, too. 18 So the king of Egypt called for the midwives. “Why have you done this?” he demanded. “Why have you allowed the boys to live?” 19 “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women,” the midwives replied. “They are more vigorous and have their babies so quickly that we cannot get there in time.” 20 So God was good to the midwives, and the Israelites continued to multiply, growing more and more powerful. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own. 22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Throw every newborn Hebrew boy into the Nile River. But you may let the girls live.”
In order to squash the possibility of rebellion from the slaves who were growing more and more numerous and powerful, the horrible mandate was given to ruthlessly kill every baby boy as they were being born! When the King discovered a bunch of baby boys running around, he challenged the midwives as to their actions – the Hebrew midwives gave an answer – because they feared God more than King Pharaoh.
How significant was it that the Hebrew Midwives feared God more than the King? Let’s compare King Pharaoh to the Midwives to further comprehend how significant their actions really were as they acted to preserve their people. These differences are indeed dramatic!
King P – Great political and military power. Shipporah & Puah – None
King P – Official Prestige. Shipporah & Puah – Very Little
King P – He was a Man. Shipporah & Puah – Women
King P – He was King of the ruling people.. Shipporah & Puah – Slaves
King P – He was rich with the power to make others rich. Shipporah & Puah – Poor
They should have been intimidated – they were not. Why? They simply feared God more than man. Besides, as midwives, Pharaoh gave the order to the wrong people! They were all about preserving life, not ending it. They gave their lives to make sure the babies were born! They were not going against their standards.
Let’s Unpack the subject of the “Fear of God” at little more. What actually is the fear of God?
Let’s consult a theological writer, Charles Buck, who authored of the “Theological Dictionary” sometime before 1815. This book has been replicated in 2013 page by page so it’s system of divinity could be enjoyed by us today. Rev. Buck says this: Fear of God is that holy disposition or gracious habit formed in the soul by the Holy Spirit, whereby we are inclined to obey all God’s commands and evidences itself by:
1. A dread of His displeasure.
2. Desire of His favour.
3. Regard for His excellence.
4. Submission to do His will.
5. Gratitude for His benefits.
6. Conscientious obedience to His commands.
Does your fear of God include these things? If not, maybe you don’t truly fear God. Let’s look at three verses. Two in Proverbs & one in Psalms.
Proverbs 1:7 - Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
Proverbs 9:10 - Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment.
Psalm 25:14 - The Lord is a friend to those who fear him. He teaches them his covenant.
When the Fear of God is part of our DNA, we simply take Him and His Word more seriously than anything else in the world. When we do, we are able to hear from Him more effectively.
It was said of Lord Lawrence – an incredible force for good in India in the 1800’s – “He feared man so little, because he feared God so much!”
Dr. Hugh McMillan, Presbyterian writer, says it this way:
“If we fear God, we need know other fear. That Divine fear, like the space which the American settler burns around him as a defense against the prairie fire, clears a circle, within which we are absolutely safe…. The Citadel of a man’s heart that is set upon God, is impregnable! The Hebrew midwives, despise the patronage of a crown and set a king’s edict at defiance. There is no bravery equal to the bravery that is moral. Pharaoh may frown but his frowns will be unseen and un-regarded amid the light of an approving heaven!
Let’s Contemplate Lessons Learned from S & P by answering the following:
1. Do you fear God more than anything else?
2. Does obedience to God at any cost mean more to you than anything else?
3. Are you afraid of the consequences of doing the right thing?
4. Are you easily intimidated by people that would lead you away from God?
One time many years ago, the king of Hungary found himself depressed and unhappy. He sent for his brother, a good-natured but rather indifferent prince. The king said to him, "I am a great sinner; I fear to meet God." But the prince only laughed at him. This didn't help the king's disposition any. Though he was a believer, the king had gotten a glimpse of his guilt for the way he'd been living lately, and he seriously wanted help. In those days it was customary if the executioner sounded a trumpet before a man's door at any hour, it was a signal that he was to be led to his execution. The king sent the executioner in the dead of night to sound the fateful blast at his brother's door. The prince realized with horror what was happening. Quickly dressing, he stepped to the door and was seized by the executioner, and dragged pale and trembling into the king's presence. In an agony of terror he fell on his knees before his brother and begged to know how he had offended him. "My brother," answered the king, "if the sight of a human executioner is so terrible to you, shall not I, having grievously offended God, fear to be brought before the judgment seat of Christ?"
Shipporah (Shiphrah) and Puah could have easily been intimidated – they were not.
"Ittai the Gittite"
Listen to this sermon here
Takeaway: Are you a loyal person? Are you a loyal person to your friends? Will you stand by them no matter what? Are you a loyal follower of Jesus Christ? Will you stand by Jesus no matter the situation?
Bottom Line: You are a friend of God – Are you faithful and loyal like Ittai?
2 Samuel – 15:13-22 - 13 A messenger soon arrived in Jerusalem to tell David, “All Israel has joined Absalom in a conspiracy against you!” 14 “Then we must flee at once, or it will be too late!” David urged his men. “Hurry! If we get out of the city before Absalom arrives, both we and the city of Jerusalem will be spared from disaster.” 15 “We are with you,” his advisers replied. “Do what you think is best.” 16 So the king and all his household set out at once. He left no one behind except ten of his concubines to look after the palace. 17 The king and all his people set out on foot, pausing at the last house 18 to let all the king’s men move past to lead the way. There were 600 men from Gath who had come with David, along with the king’s bodyguard. 19 Then the king turned and said to Ittai, a leader of the men from Gath, “Why are you coming with us? Go on back to King Absalom, for you are a guest in Israel, a foreigner in exile. 20 You arrived only recently, and should I force you today to wander with us? I don’t even know where we will go. Go on back and take your kinsmen with you, and may the Lord show you his unfailing love and faithfulness.”
21 But Ittai said to the king, “I vow by the Lord and by your own life that I will go wherever my lord the king goes, no matter what happens—whether it means life or death.”
22 David replied, “All right, come with us.” So Ittai and all his men and their families went along.
Just who was Ittai? Why did he come to Jerusalem?
Ittai was from Gath – people from Gath were called “Gittites.” The Giant Goliath, was from Gath! The very giant David had killed as a young boy. Even though Ittai was a fellow Gittite to the legend Goliath, he was barred from his country and on the road with a force of 600 fellow mercenaries under his command. They came to Jerusalem with their families, basically on the run from their own country.
Why come to Jerusalem? It was not uncommon for David to have foreign, but loyal “non-Israelites in his armed forces. It is highly likely that Ittai and many of his fellow soldiers were friends of David that he had acquired when he was hiding from Saul many years before. The incredible gift of leadership and ethics given to David by God, obviously had a profound affect on Ittai and his countrymen. For that reason, they were ready to stand beside King David in spite of the pending rebellion led by David’s own son, Absalom.
Faithful Ittai wins the distinction for Most Loyal New Friend, encourages David, and secures the kickoff spot in our list of amazing, yet under-recognized biblical characters.
Ittai was faced with a situation that could land himself, his family and 600 fighting men and their families in a situation that could result in submission, slavery and even death.
In verse 21 we hear these incredible words spoken by Ittai in spite of that situation: “I vow by the Lord and by your own life that I will go wherever my lord the king goes, no matter what happens—whether it means life or death.”
Ittai’s loyalty to King David is quite remarkable for many reasons. Ittai was used to frontal attacks that he could see. But this time, Ittai was standing with David against a most formidable foe – David’s own son – which complicated matters considerably. Ittai more than likely didn’t know the extent of the complications this “son in rebellion” created for his friend David.
Just how formidable of a foe was Absalom? Let’s take a look!
In 2 Samuel 15 the beginning of the chapter, shows Absalom’s double-crossing intent of his own father, King David.
He was incredibly handsome and charismatic – a Bible-Times Rockstar! see 2 Samuel 14:25-27 - Now Absalom was praised as the most handsome man in all Israel. He was flawless from head to foot. 26 He cut his hair only once a year, and then only because it was so heavy. When he weighed it out, it came to five pounds![a] 27 He had three sons and one daughter. His daughter’s name was Tamar, and she was very beautiful.
Absalom was a schmoozer! See 2 Samuel 15:5-6 - When people tried to bow before him, Absalom wouldn’t let them. Instead, he took them by the hand and kissed them. 6 Absalom did this with everyone who came to the king for judgment, and so he stole the hearts of all the people of Israel.
Absalom was David’s son, but similarities stopped there – David was a King for his people, Absalom wanted to be a King for himself. He wanted to take Jerusalem because it was the capital city, full of government actions and businesses and culture.
Why didn’t David just “squash” Absalom and his rebellion as Absalom entered Jerusalem? Three probable explanations:
1. The rebellion was wide-spread and would not be suppressed easily.
2. He loved his son and didn’t want harm to come to him even though his son was bent on unseating him as king.
3. He loved his city, it’s architecture and its culture and didn’t want it destroyed during a historical battle.
Ittai was a true “loyal” friend. His loyalty extended as far as humanly possible.
What do we learn from Ittai?
If your commander is God – then serve Him without reservation or condition.
If your commander is God – then be faithful and loyal.
If your commander is God – then follow Him until you die.
The Reel Christmas
"I Know Him!"
Today is the final sermon in our Advent Series, “The Reel Christmas” a four-part series highlighting themes selected from favorite Christmas movies.
In week one, The Miracle on 34th Street highlighted themes of faith and believing.
In week two, How the Grinch Stole Christmas highlighted the fact that it’s all about the heart.
In week three, It’s A Wonderful Life highlighted how important it is to not compare yourself to others, but rather find your ultimate joy in what you do have instead of what you don’t.
Today, Christmas Eve, we learn a very important lesson from “Buddy the Elf” who understood a great deal about the true elements of Christmas – not the least of which was the ultimate excitement he showed when the announcement was made that “Santa was coming,” and he exclaimed: “I KNOW HIM!”
In case you haven't seen it - here is a short overview of this Christmas Comedy Classic:
Movie Synopsis (Gleaned largely from MHM.com <Movie House Memories – a Movie Review Blog>)
On Christmas Eve, a baby boy crawls into Santa Claus's sack at an orphanage and is unwittingly transported back to the North Pole. When discovered at the workshop, the elves name him "Buddy" because he is wearing "Little Buddy Diapers", and he is adopted by Papa Elf.
Papa Elf raises the little one as an Elf and names him Buddy. But the growing boy just doesn’t fit in because of his size and lack of elfish talent.
As Buddy (Will Farrell) develops into a discouraged man, Papa Elf decides that it is time to tell Buddy the truth about where he came from. Buddy learns for the first time of his deceased Mother and living Father that is on the naughty list. Buddy sets off through the candy cane forest to New York City to find his family.
In the Big City, Buddy is able to track down his Father, Walter Hobbs (James Caan) who never knew he existed and is not happy to meet this quirky man that eagerly calls him Dad.
Walter has a patient wife (Mary Steenbergen) and a son named Michael that come to accept Buddy as part of their family and force Walter to attempt a relationship with his long-lost son.
Buddy enthusiastically tours the city where he finds the world’s best cup of coffee. He lands a job at a department store where he meets and falls for Jovie (Zooey Deschaenel), who is working as an elf. Buddy loses this job when he calls out the fake and intoxicated store Santa and they get into a huge brawl.
Walter gives Buddy a job at his company where Buddy causes havoc for Walter and they have a falling out. Walter does not care about the quality of his books and only cares about making money. Buddy disrupts an important meeting between Walter and Miles Finch, a successful author who happens to be height challenged. Walter is infuriated and tells Buddy to get out of his life.
Buddy is hurt and runs away. As he roams the streets of NYC on Christmas Eve, he sees Santa and his team in distress in Central Park. Buddy tries to help Santa fix his sleigh but it won’t run because there isn’t enough Christmas spirit.
Jovie remembers Buddy telling her “the best way to spread Christmas cheer is to sing loud for all to hear.” Jovie begins singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and as others on the street and watching live news reports on television and even Walter join in, the sleigh begins to run. Santa’s job is saved!
Papa Elf updates the audience with the rest of the story. Buddy and Jovie marry and visit the North Pole with their “little one” and Walter is rehabilitated and founds his own successful publishing company. His first book is Buddy’s story. Everyone lives happily ever after and has a Merry Christmas.
I want to ask you some very important questions this morning.
Do you know Jesus, the baby born in the manger on Christmas Day?
Do you know Him?
How excited are you about knowing Him?
Why would we be ultimately excited about knowing Jesus and exclaiming like Buddy the Elf did, “I Know Him!?”
I want to unpack three reasons why we should be as excited as Buddy the Elf to be able to say: “I Know Him”
Reason #1: We should be excited because of Who He is!
John 1:1, 14, 18 - In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.
In the beautiful Christmas Song, What Child is This? The author pens these incredible words:
What Child is this - Who laid to rest - On Mary's lap is sleeping? Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet, While shepherds watch are keeping? So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh, Come Peasant, King to own Him The King of Kings salvation brings, Let loving hearts enthrone Him. This, this is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing - Haste, haste, to bring Him laud, The Babe, the Son of Mary. This is incredible knowledge! This is life-altering, a true “life-event!”
Reason #2: We should be excited because what Christ did for us!
I John 2:2-3 - He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world. And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments.
I Timothy 2:5 - For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity--the man Christ Jesus.
Jesus is it – He’s our only hope! And as a bonus, people all around, every year, celebrate His coming!
Reason #3: We should be excited because we can have complete access to the Christ of Christmas and to the “out of this world” benefit of having a personal relationship with Him.
Paul, while under house arrest in either Rome or Ephesus, wrote an incredibly encouraging letter to church in Philippi that he sent back with Epaphroditus after Epaphroditus delivered a monetary gift to Paul from the church. This letter, has been termed by man as having the main theme of “Joy.” In this letter, we find Paul’s reason for excitement!
Phil. 3:10-11 - I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!
The reason why Paul was excited? When Christ enters our life through trusting in Him alone for our salvation, we experience the same power that raised Him from the dead.
Look with me at Ephesians 2:1-8!
Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. 2 You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. 3 All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else. 4 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, 5 that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) 6 For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. 7 So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus. 8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.
This Gift? It’s Jesus! When we are born, we have to deal with spiritual death – being “dead to Christ because of our sin.” But the same power that raised Him from the dead has come to us. By accepting His Gift of salvation, we too can experience a resurrection from death to life eternal.
That knowledge is incredible! Do you know Jesus? Will you exclaim to everyone, everywhere – like Buddy the Elf when hearing that Santa was coming, – “I Know Him!?”
The Reel Christmas
“It’s A Wonderful Life”
This Advent Season, we are gleaning Biblical life lessons from all-time favorite movies! The first Sunday we considered lessons on believing and exercising faith, from Miracle on 34th Street. Last Sunday we gleaned a lesson from How The Grinch Stole Christmas about “heart problems and how small our hearts are when consumed by selfishness and hate.
This week we’d like to consider life lessons from an all-time favorite “It’s A Wonderful Life”
This week’s movie is considered a holiday classic. The gold standard of holiday movies. It was released in 1947 and bombed. It didn’t even making its production budget back.
It didn’t make many waves back in the day, but today this movie proves that sometimes even a mistake can’t stop from believing that it really is A Wonderful Life!
So full of energy, so full of hope, so full of optimism! But….. George Bailey never left town – never got to fulfill his life’s ambitions – instead he stayed in Bedford Falls and much to his chagrin, took over and ran his father’s Savings and Loan business. A rich, miserly, grouchy businessman in town, Mr. Potter, was constantly shoving his wealth around town and subsequently in George’s face.
George Bailey married his sweet heart and had beautiful children, but because George always put the needs of others ahead of his own wants and desires, the Savings and Loan could barely survive.
When $8,000 was misplaced by George’s Uncle Billy a series of events unfolds that causes George to lose it. George leaves his beautiful family and his old house in a huff believing that all was lost and only thinking about what a disaster life was. After getting drunk at a local bar, George gets in a fight and run out the door of the bar to a nearby bridge to contemplate ending his life. However, George’s guardian angel falls from heaven, Clarence who promptly dives into the river to prevent George from killing himself. Instead of jumping with the intent to end his life, George jumps in to save Clarence.
When George says to Clarence he wished he’d never been born, Clarence proceeds to show George an alternate timeline in which George had never been born. George is subsequently shocked and dismayed beyond words! One of the hardest things in life is to live in the present and simultaneously see a bigger picture. George Bailey went off the deep end, because he couldn’t see the bigger picture. How many of us, often feel like our life is just one despair from another and we might even wish we never would have been born?
King Solomon in Ecclesiastes says it well – let’s read from “The Message” this morning.
Smoke, nothing but smoke. [That’s what the Quester says.] There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke. What’s there to show for a lifetime of work, a lifetime of working your fingers to the bone? One generation goes its way, the next one arrives, but nothing changes—it’s business as usual for old planet earth. The sun comes up and the sun goes down, then does it again, and again—the same old round. The wind blows south, the wind blows north. Around and around and around it blows, blowing this way, then that—the whirling, erratic wind. All the rivers flow into the sea, but the sea never fills up. The rivers keep flowing to the same old place, and then start all over and do it again. Everything’s boring, utterly boring— no one can find any meaning in it. Boring to the eye, boring to the ear. What was will be again, what happened will happen again. There’s nothing new on this earth. Year after year it’s the same old thing. Does someone call out, “Hey, this is new”? Don’t get excited—it’s the same old story. Nobody remembers what happened yesterday. And the things that will happen tomorrow? Nobody’ll remember them either. Don’t count on being remembered.
Wow! What a dismal perspective! George Bailey felt just like the description of life in our Scripture today. How about you? Do you despair? Do you lack hope? Do you lack joy just in the fact that you’re alive? God has better things planned for your life than to live with that kind of discouragement.
You never realize how much you have until you lose it. Friends are better than anything you could seek. However, we tend not to let that be enough!
George Bailey gave of himself – gave up worldly pursuits to help others – but in the end, George spent so much time comparing his life to others that he couldn’t see what he had.
Comparison is one of Satan’s favorite tools. Jealousy, envy, comparison – they are thieves of joy!
James 3:16 -For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.
Do you look at others… At what they have and what you don’t have by comparison? George let the sin of comparison take away his joy - his life appeared so dismal, he wanted to end his life. But George was offered a second chance at life. Let’s look at what happened when Clarence was instrumental in getting a second chance for George Bailey. George returns home with an entirely different perspective. And he was about to experience a surprise like he’d never seen. Even in the face of insurmountable odds, His heart was changed and he became so much more positive – and his financial situation was about to become miraculously different.
Let’s get Paul’s perspective:
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (The Message)
So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.
THE REEL CHRISTMAS
Is Your Heart Big Enough?
Our Advent Sermon Series this year is entitled “The Reel Christmas.” We’ve selected four very popular Christmas movies to assist us in relaying truths about Christmas. Last week Miracle of 34th Street showed us the importance and necessity of believing and having faith. Today, we look to the timeless legend, The Grinch, for our message theme.
“Grinch’s Small Heart”
The Grinch’s heart was simply too small. Too small to understand the concept of doing anything except that which was selfish and for his own personal gain. And because his heart drove his words and actions, his misery demanded company. So he set out to destroy that which fed those with bigger hearts.
In today’s culture, we hear a lot about the heart.
A popular saying today is: “follow your heart…” or “I have to follow my heart.”
One of the most successful people in the computer business was a man named Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Computers. At the time of his death in 2011, Steve Jobs' net worth was estimated at $10.2 billion. From his early days at Apple, Jobs had been rich. He had a net worth of more than a million dollars by 1978, when he was 23 years old. Surely Steve Jobs would have been accurate with his quotes. Here’s what Mr. Jobs had to say about the heart: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
There is one simple inherent problem with following your heart and intuition. By your original nature, it will most often lead you away from God. Let’s look to one of God’s prophets to learn why.
Jeremiah 17:9 - "The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?”
Dr. Seuss, in our movie today, created a character that embarrassingly mirrors our natural character. That character will plague us until the day we die!
Paul is clear in his analysis of our character challenge in his letter to the Romans
Romans 7:21-25 – “I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart.23 But there is another power[e] within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.”
The answers to every challenge with the heart is found in Jesus Christ. But He has to inhabit our heart in order to do the work necessary. Jesus is the Light of the World and when He comes into our lives, He chases the darkness away.
God’s prophet Isaiah talked about this darkness and the need for Light hundreds of years before Christ came to earth.
Isaiah 9:2 – “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.”
Paul told the Romans plainly that he found the line between good and evil cutting through his own heart. Just resolving to do better, he said, didn’t produce the results he sought. John, too, wrote about the darkness within us, and our profound need for Christ’s light in our lives.
When truth comes, what happens?
The Grinch’s heart was too small - nothing could fit in it – only the darkness he was born with. But finally, he saw the light. And his heart grew!
Is your heart big enough for Jesus? Or do you have too many other things there?
Christmas will come, whether you have the light within, whether you make room in your heart and certainly with or without your celebration.