I had the privilege this morning of preaching on John 18:28-40. Here is a summary of my sermon in one sentence: When Pontius Pilate asked, “What is truth?” he didn’t know He was face-to-face with truth incarnate-Jesus Christ.
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I had the privilege this morning of preaching on John 17:20-26. Here is a summary of my sermon in one sentence: The Lord Jesus prays for unity, presence with Him in heaven, and faithfulness to His mission for His church.
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“May you live in interesting times.” That Chinese proverb could be seen as a blessing or a curse depending on how we perceive it. As Christians in the United States in 2016, we live in interesting times. It doesn’t matter if we asked for it or not (or want it or not), it’s the truth. Erick Erickson make this statement in You Will Be Made to Care:
Each of us is going to have to choose – believe in Christ’s teachings or the world’s teachings, but either way you will be made to care. Jesus himself said it: “No one can serve two masters…” (Matt. 6:24). For far too long, Christians in America have been able to coast in peace on the faith fumes of yesterdays believers. But a peaceful people is seldom a religious people. And coasting can only take you one direction – downhill. It has been said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” We tend to change direction in life for one of two reasons. Either a crisis forces us to make a move, or our own vision for a better life pulls us in a new direction. Christians in America have lost our internal drive to grow our faith – because we haven’t had to. Because everything still looked okay on the outside, we thought we could afford to drift. We were wrong. The culture that we live in will no longer permit Christians to remain invisible, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the Kingdom of Heaven, even thought it may be briefly painful for believers in America.
Believers need to remember that our faith and loyalty to God are distinct from our love for our country. Not always incompatible, but different. And Christians may soon need to choose between the two as they are accused of being freaks and enemies of the state, of upending the social order of the secular elite. There’s going to have to be a resurgence in orthodox belief and boldness among believers so we can say we are Christians first and Americans second. The Judeo-Christian foundation we once shared with most people in our culture is no longer there. Russell Moore correctly notes that we can no longer make the assumption that people share what we believe. “There was a time when Christians could assume that most people in American culture agreed with us on values, if not on gospel. Even the way that some Christians engaged [culture] was to say, ‘This is not the real America. These are just some elites in Hollywood or somewhere else.’ Well, looking around now, those issues that were once wedge issues for the Right are now wedge issues for the Left in almost every category – on marriage, on sexuality, on marijuana, on drug use, on all of these sorts of things.”
Yes, the winds of change are blowing, and the changes do not necessarily favor the comfort of individual believers. Like countless Christians who’ve gone before us, we might wish we could avoid the war on our freedom to believe, but that choice is not ours to make. As Gandalf noted in The Lord of the Rings, we do not get to choose the battles of our time: “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
(pp. 206-207, italics in original)
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Why did Jesus teach in parables? That’s a good question, but the answer is not as clear as you might think. First of all, Jesus didn’t always use parables (or stories) when He taught. He only taught in parables after He was rejected by the Jewish leadership (mainly the Pharisees) who claimed He performed His miracles by the power of Satan. Second of all, the Lord Jesus didn’t teach in parables to make it easier for His hearers to understand. He taught in parables in order to hide His teaching from those who had rejected Him, and for those with ears to hear, they illustrate and clarify the truth.
John MacArthur makes those points well, and persuasively, in his book Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed Through the Stories Jesus Told. MacArthur provides what we’ve come to expect from him – a precise and thorough treatment of Scripture that’s both informative and challenging. Most of all, it’s faithful to Scripture.
Parables isn’t an exhaustive study of all of Jesus’ parables, but it does cover a number of them. The lessons drawn are timeless and much needed in today’s American church. I can recommend this book without any reservations whatsoever. Tolle lege!
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I had the privilege and honor of baptizing four people last Sunday. I’m thankful that one of the benefits of being a pastor is being able to share in “milestone moments” in people’s lives, such as births, marriages, deaths, conversions to faith in Christ, and baptisms. I’m grateful that God has graciously allowed me these experiences.
Along with the preaching of God’s Word, communion, prayer, worship, and several others, baptism is a means of grace. “The means of grace are any activities within the fellowship of the church that God uses to give more grace to Christians,” according to Wayne Grudem (Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, p. 950). In other words, God uses baptism, among other things, to encourage and strengthen His people on their journey with Him.
So, how does God use baptism to strengthen and encourage His people?
- The one who is baptized is encouraged and strengthened in their own faith. In the process of obeying the command to be baptized, commitment is strengthened and made more real.
- The gospel is proclaimed, certainly by the pastor as baptism is explained, and usually by those being baptized as they give their testimony of their conversion to faith in Jesus Christ.
- It reminds us of the meaning and symbolism of baptism. According to Romans 6:3-4, baptism is a picture of the reality of our union with Christ. We died with Christ. We were buried with Christ. We rose to newness of life with Christ. Going down into the water and coming back up out of it is an illustration of baptism’s meaning.
- We see our brothers and sisters in Christ obeying His command to be baptized. Their public obedience in this step of discipleship is encouraging to the rest of us. It’s encouraging when people seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt 6:33).
- We see that God is still at work saving and sanctifying people. God is still building His church and His kingdom; He’s still giving life to spiritually dead people; He hasn’t stopped drawing people to Himself; He’s still forgiving sins and changing hearts! Not only that, but He’s still transforming His people into the image of His Son (Rom 8:28-29)! God is still keeping His covenant promises. If that doesn’t encourage us, I don’t know what will.
- We see and hear that God uses different methods to draw people to Himself. As we hear the testimonies of those being baptized, we realize that the Lord doesn’t save us in the same way. There are important elements in each story that are the same in every testimony, but there are also some significant differences.
- For those who have been baptized, we’re reminded of our own baptism. We were raised to newness of life, too. Is our life new? Is it different?
- We’re reminded of what’s real and permanent (God and His kingdom) as opposed to what’s fading and temporary (this world and all it offers).
- We’re reminded that we’re not of this world – we don’t belong anymore and never will. I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back!
I was encouraged and strengthened last Sunday by the baptism of my two brothers and two sisters in Christ!
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This morning, I had the privilege of giving my hopes and prayers for Immanuel: My hope and prayer for Immanuel is that the good hand of God would be on us to help, provide, and protect us as we seek to advance His kingdom.
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