'The Baptism of John' (Luke 3:1-20)
On Sunday we considered ten points about the life and ministry of John the Baptist. First, God prepared John in the wilderness. Second, John was the last Old Testament style prophet. Like many Old Testament prophets, we read that “the word of God came to John”. Third, John’s mission and message were clear. His mission? In fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy, John came to “Prepare the way of the LORD” and he did this not by preparing physical roads but the spiritual roads of people’s hearts for Messiah’s coming. The message? John “[preached] a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins”. Fourth, John’s ministry was characterised by great boldness. Like Elijah in the Old Testament, John boldly declared the message of repentance without fear or favour. Like John, we must be prepared to speak of hard truths – sin, judgment, hell – as well as the wonderful truths of God’s love, grace, mercy, forgiveness found in Jesus. Fifth, John preached repentance to all. Six, John’s spiritual instruction was incredibly practical. To those who came to John asking, “What shall we do?”, the form of repentance was not theoretical, academic or abstract but incredibly practical and involved real change.
Seventh, the repentance John preached involved a turning from and a turning to. To many people, repentance is a bad word but it should be a word that is dead to every believer. And repentance involves both a turning from sin – that which pertained to the old life – and a turning to active good. As Christians, we are to be “zealous for good works”. Eighth, John was clear who he was and who he was not. When questioned as to whether he was the Christ, John emphasised Jesus’ greater baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire and said that he was not worthy to loose Jesus’ sandal. At another points John said that he was but a friend of the bridegroom and that he rejoiced in the bridegroom saying, “Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.” How important it is that recognise how unworthy we are and that it is a privilege to serve and be used by the Lord. All glory and honour must be given to Him. Ninth, faithful obedience cost John his life.Finally, tenth, the least in the kingdom of God is greater than John. This is what Jesus said and it really does blow my mind! How can this be? Charles Spurgeon put it this way, “The least in the Gospel stands on higher ground that the greatest under the law.” It's not about us but all about Him. It is because of Jesus that we are under the New Covenant in Christ’s blood, the covenant of grace. It is because of Jesus that we are indwelt by the Spirit. Christ is in us and we are in Him. We are not merely friends of the bridegroom but the church is the Bride of Christ that He is coming back for. It is not about us but all about Him! We are unworthy but He is of infinite worth!
'The Feasts of the Lord' (Leviticus 23)
It was great to have Nigel Christensen from Celebrate Messiah with us on Sunday for our two-part teaching on ‘The Feasts of the Lord’ from Leviticus 23. I found it such a great encouragement and reminder of how the Bible is so clearly divine in origin, the very word of God. The way in which the Spring feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits and Pentecost, while connected to Israel’s history and harvest season, so clearly point to and find their fulfillment in Jesus at His first coming is just amazing. I loved learning of details which Nigel drew out such as that at the same time when Jesus was lifted up on the cross as the Lamb of God that the high-point sacrificial lamb was being offered in the temple.
It was a great point also that, in the same way that the feasts concerning Christ’s first coming were fulfilled literally and in such detail, we can have confidence that the Autumn feasts of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement and Tabernacles will likewise be fulfilled literally as written. God is faithful to perform His word and we can trust and rely on every word and promise of scripture. The Feast of Trumpets, which is commonly called Rosh HaShanah, in fact began on Sunday night at sundown just been. As the rapture of the church is the next feast which will find its fulfillment in Jesus, be encouraged by these words from 1 Corinthians 15:15:51 – 53, “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” Maranatha!
'The Son and the Silent Years' (Luke 2:39-52)
There is a lot that we can glean from the Gospels about Jesus’ life growing up. He grew in Nazareth with devout parents and had a big family. His legal father Joseph was a carpenter, a builder, and Jesus followed in the family trade. Joseph likely passed away before Jesus’ public ministry began so He knew what it was to bury a parent and mourn their loss. Jesus would have been part of His rural religious community and attended synagogue on a Sabbath. There is a lot we can glean but the details of ‘the silent years’ of Jesus’ life are largely unknown to us. Luke alone provides one account of Jesus growing up and going up to the temple when He was twelve years old. It is a fascinating account with Mary and Joseph temporarily misplacing the Messiah :) and eventually finding Him at home in the temple. The boy Jesus was in the midst of the teachers of the law asking them questions and listening to them. We see that Jesus’ understanding and perception regarding the scriptures was, from a young age, quite astonishing and surely not something these learned men had witnessed before. But the great significance I believe of this account, and why Luke choose to include it, is in Jesus’ response to Mary, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” The ESV translates this, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
We don’t know exactly when Jesus, in His humanity with its self-imposed limitation, realised that He was uniquely God’ Son and God Himself, however, it is clear from the temple account that He knew that He was the Son of the Father. And we see that from a young age, Jesus was focused on the spiritual, seeking to be in the Father’s house, as it were, and to be about the Father’s business. When you look at the Gospels it is clear that Jesus walked according to the divine ‘must’ and was always in step with the Father’s will and timing. The great business of course that Jesus came to this earth for was the salvation of souls. The Father sent the Son to live the perfect life and to die as the perfect substitutionary sacrifice for us. On the cross Jesus cried out, “It is finished”. Jesus completed all that the Father gave Him to do. My hope and prayer is that this sweet account would cause us to even more appreciate the humanity of our Saviour. That in so many ways His life was like ours and His experiences were like ours. And yet He is infinitely different from us. Only God in the flesh could make atonement for man and this is what the Perfect Man did and, in so doing, has brought many sons to glory. May we all be encouraged, like Jesus, to be about our Heavenly Father’s business this week.
'What Are You Waiting For?' (Luke 2:21-38)
In the first century A.D. under Caesar Augustus, Israel was occupied territory. Many Jews waited for the Messiah but they largely looked for one who would overthrow the Roman oppressor and release Israel from her yoke of bondage. The Messiah they wanted was the conquering king. There were some, however, who waited with more light regarding Messiah’s mission at His first coming. Two such people were Simeon and Anna. Simeon, sensitive to and led by the Holy Spirit, was “waiting for the Consolation of Israel”. Inspired by the Spirit, Simeon spoke of how, in Jesus, his eyes had seen God’s salvation. He spoke of how Jesus would be a stone “destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel”. He said that Jesus would be “for a sign which will be spoken against”, literally ‘a target that people shoot at’. And he told Mary that, “a sword will pierce through your own soul”. Anna was of a great age and lived her life worshipping God in the temple. Her vital service to God was fasting and prayer. Upon seeing Jesus she spoke of God “to all who looked for redemption in Jerusalem”.
We have in Simeon and Anna two great New Testament characters and examples. I asked the question, ‘what are you waiting for?’ What are you waiting for to live like Simeon sensitive to the Spirit and obedient to the Spirit? What are you waiting for to live like Anna and serve God in whatever capacity you are able? Her years of vigorous outward service were behind her but she could pray and she could fast. What are you waiting for to share the good news of God’s salvation with family and friends? What is your Messianic hope? Simeon was “waiting for the consolation of Israel” and Anna “looked for redemption in Jerusalem”. They both saw God’s salvation, the Redeemer, at Christ’s first coming. May we be among the faithful few who faithfully and prayerfully wait for Christ to come again.
'Humble Saviour' (Luke 2:1-20)
In this message we focused on the humble circumstances of Jesus’ birth. It would have been a humble journey for Joseph and Mary to take from Nazareth to Bethlehem required as they were to register for Caesar’s census. They were a humble couple from a humble town and Jesus’ was a humble birth. God is sovereign and He could have had His Son be born in a palace with the best possible medical care but instead He purposed that Jesus be born in a barn, likely the public courtyard of a full inn. The birth was obscure and, away from friends, family and a familiar midwife, it would have been a lonely birth with Mary swaddling her own babe. Besides Joseph and Mary, Zacharias and Elizabeth, the first to hear of Jesus’ birth were humble shepherds. These were ordinary men with an ordinary occupation. Unlike our pristine and polished Christmas mantel piece nativity scenes, the real nativity was raw and rustic.
What then does the humble circumstances of Jesus’ birth tell us? It tells us that Jesus came into the world to save all! From Augustus in Rome to the shepherds of Bethlehem, from the Pharisees in Jerusalem to the blue collar Nazarenes, God’s grace is available to all! Jew and Gentile. Male and female. Slave and free. Rich and poor. Educated and uneducated. The in crowd and the out crowd. None are outside the scope of God’s great grace and His love. The humility of the nativity speaks of Christ’s accessibility. The world has its political social and economic hierarchies – those it deems worthy and those it says are worthless. God’s word declares that all are sinners and that none are worthy but all are of great worth to God which is why He sent His Son to save. This is the most wonderful news for us! That God loves us and sent His Son into the world to die for us. And this is the most wonderful news that, like the angels to the shepherds, we can herald to the world around us, “on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
'Rejoicing in the Spirit' (Luke 1:39-80)
On Sunday we were in Luke 1:39 – 80 ‘Rejoicing in the Spirit’ where we saw five different people or groups rejoicing or praising God. There is the beautiful account of Mary entering Elizabeth’s home and baby John in utero jumping for joy. Elizabeth joyfully prophecies in a song or poem about Mary’s blessedness and God’s goodness to her saying, “But why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Mary then sings and wonderful song regarding God’s goodness to her and His faithfulness to Israel saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour.” Elizabeth’s community also rejoices with her at the great mercy that God had shown her. Finally, Zacharias, in full voice, praises God and his Spirit-inspired prophecy first blesses God for sending the Messiah and the speaks of his son John’s high and important calling. It really is a passage filled with such joy at who God is and all that He has done and will do for His people.
The application for us is all about joy. As Christians, we have every reason to rejoice and so much to rejoice in and so we should. Christian joy is of course not the same as happiness and is not based on outward circumstance but is deeper and is a fruit of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. Like Elizabeth’s community, we should rejoice when others rejoice and, in so doing, add to their joy. Like Mary, we should regard serving God as a privilege and humbly rejoice that He would use us. However, as good as it is to be used by God, the greater joy is that our names are written in heaven (Luke 20:10). May we be a people who rejoice daily in our salvation. That, as Zacharias said in his Spirit-inspired prophecy, we rejoice that God has sent the Saviour to redeem. Rejoice that God has “raised up a horn of salvation for us”, defeating the power of sin and death and the power and works of Satan. Rejoice that the words spoken by the prophets of old have been fulfilled. Rejoice that in Abraham’s seed – the Lord Jesus Christ – that all nations of the earth shall be blessed. Rejoice that we have received the knowledge of salvation and remission of sins through the blood of Christ. Rejoice that the Dayspring, the Messiah, has come from on high and visited us. Rejoice that we who were once in darkness have seen a great light. Rejoice that God in His gracious goodness has guided our feet into the way of peace. Philippians 4:4 exhorts us, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!”
'A Muted Response' (Luke 1:5-25)
Zacharias the priest was offering incense in the temple when the angel Gabriel appeared to him with an awesome announcement declaring the very best of news. Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth, who were unable to have children, would have a son in their old age and that son would be John the Baptist, the forerunner to the Messiah prophesied in Malachi 4 and Isaiah 40. This should have set Zacharias’ heart ablaze with awe and wonder but instead his response was rather muted and, because of his unbelief, he would be mute until his son was born.
We focused on two applications. First, regarding preparation. Zacharias would have prepared himself to minister in the temple through ceremonial washing, going over his priestly duties and by preparing his heart. John the Baptist’s ministry was one of preparation as he prepared hearts for the coming Messiah. We should likewise prepare our hearts to meet with God. Each day it is good to bring your heart before God in fresh surrender, to seek Him and to be spiritually prepared for the day ahead. Also, on a Sunday morning it is good to prepare your heart before service so that you come to church ready to worship God, to hear from God’s word and to play your part in ministering to the people of God. Second, regarding expectation. Zacharias was a godly man who loved the Lord and counted it a privilege to serve in the temple. However, at the crucial moment, his faith failed as he focused more on his inability (‘I’m old!’) than on God’s ability. Interestingly, some of the very things Zacharias had prayed for were being answered by God but he didn’t believe it. Sometimes we’re a bit like Zacharias in that we may pray for things but, for whatever reason, we don’t really expect God to answer our prayers or perhaps those ‘more difficult’ prayers. The encouragement for us is to remember that with God nothing is impossible. We should therefore pray with confidence and expectation as to who God is and what He is able to do. And truly God “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (Ephesians 3:20).
'Son of Man' (Luke 1:1-4)
I always enjoy starting a new book on a Sunday morning and am very much looking forward to teaching through the Gospel of Luke. From our introduction in Luke 1:1 – 4 ‘Son of Man’, something that spoke to me is the fact that Luke the physician was a tried-and-true medical missionary who had been out on the field serving alongside the Apostle Paul for years. As a Gentile who had seen the grace of God impact souls in Asia Minor, Europe and in Israel itself, it is perhaps not surprising that Luke emphasise how Jesus came for everyone. Luke’s Gospel has been referred to as the Gospel for the Gentiles, the Gospel for women, the Gospel for the poor, the Gospel of faith and indeed the universal Gospel. Luke pays special attention to how Jesus interacted with and showed the love of God to the outcast, the undesirable, the lame, the lost and the lonely. What a good reminder it is for us that the Gospel is for all and that none are outside God’s reach! And what a privilege it is for us to be ambassadors of Christ and proclaimers of the Gospel of God’s grace.
One commentator notes, “It has been said that a minister sees men at their best; a lawyer sees men at their worst, and a doctor sees men as they are.” Dr Luke is a keen observer and deft describer of humanity. He sees the humanity of people Jesus ministered to and hones in on individuals and different groups in their unique human need. Luke’s Gospel also emphasises the humanity of Jesus. Jesus was born as a man with His genealogy traced back to Adam. As a man, Jesus experienced hunger, thirst, tiredness, rejection and joy. We see the full array of human experience and emotion in Jesus. And, after Jesus’ long journey to Jerusalem and the cross that awaited Him, Luke shows Jesus as a man at His greatest hour of trial in the Garden of Gethsemane. We read of Jesus’ anguish of soul and the affect on His body as His sweat became like “great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44). The book of Hebrews describes the theological significance of this in that Jesus, being the Son of God and having come as the Son of Man, “learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:8 – 9). Jesus is perfectly qualified to serve as our Great High Priest as He was “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” and is able to sympathise with our weakness (Hebrews 4:15). It is through Him that we have access to God’s throne of grace. Praise God for Luke’s Gospel, the beauty of its writing and the wonderful way it reveals the Lord Jesus Christ to us.
'The Word and the Spirit' (Acts 2:42, Ephesians 4:11-12, Zechariah 4:6)
On Sunday we did something of an addendum to our Letters to the Seven Churches series with a teaching ‘The Word and the Spirit’. During our time we looked a bit at the history of the Calvary Movement, particularly how God used Pastor Chuck Smith and Calvary to reach many hippies during the Jesus Movement, and I expressed something of my heart for our church through these three scriptures.
1. Acts 2:42 “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers”. There was no great marketing programme to how the early church ‘did church’ but rather they stuck to some basics that we will do well to likewise continue steadfastly in. 2. Ephesians 4:11-12 says that the role of the pastor-teacher is “for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ”. A key reason why we teach through books of the Bible chapter by chapter and verse by verse is because it is God’s word that equips each one of us for the ministry that God has for us. Through God’s word we know God’s character, His ways, His will and His plans and purposes in the world. God’s word equips and prepares us to serve Him and to each play our part in ministering within the body of Christ. 3. Zechariah 4:6 “’Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit.’ Says the LORD of hosts.” The Calvary Movement has always prioritised the word of God and has also been characterised by an openness to the working, leading and empowering of the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is of course the Spirit of truth who leads us into all truth and who points the Christian and non-Christian to Christ. My heart and desire as pastor is that we would continue faithfully in God’s word, walking in obedience to it as individuals and as a church, and that we would continue to be led by the Holy Spirit and to seek God for open doors and opportunities to reach our generation with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
'Laodicea - The Lukewarm Church' (Revelation 3:14-22)
Whether it’s with tea, coffee or a bath, there seems to me to be a universal rule that things that are lukewarm are bad. Hot and cold both have their uses but lukewarm is rather useless. Jesus’ hardest words are given to the Laodiceans, “So then, because you are neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” What was their issue? What was their sin? Theirs was the great sin of self-sufficiency in that they were materially well-off and did not believe that they needed God. They wrongly regarded their material prosperity as a sign of God’s blessing and approval.
Laodicea gives us a warning not to get caught up in materialism or the things of this world which can cause to trust in ourselves and not in God. There is also warning also against the last days apostasy, that falling away from the faith and the truth of God’s word which, in the panorama of church history, Laodicea represents. There is also a reminder for us that God wants us to be hot spiritually. He wants us to burn with love for Him and to serve Him wholeheartedly. Indeed, the first and greatest commandment according to Jesus is, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:29 – 30). This is what God desires and requires of His people – wholehearted devotion. In considering Jesus’ words to the Laodiceans, I take comfort from the great promise given to this worst of churches. Jesus said, “To Him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on my throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” God can make the cold heart hot and He can also make the lukewarm heart hot. He can raise us from the depths of worldly sin to the heights of heaven to sit enthroned with Him. We must, however, play our part. And Christ’s command to those who find themselves in a state of lukewarmness today is this, “be zealous and repent”.
'Thyatira - The Corrupt Church' (Revelation 2:18-29)
One of the common objections to Christianity is the things done in the name of religion with the likes of the Crusades and the corruption seen in the church during the Dark and Middle Ages. In the panorama of church history, Thyatira represents the Papal or Catholic Church of those dark days. Jesus corrected Thyatira for allowing idolatry and immorality in the church through the working of Jezebel and so it is that various forms of idolatry and immorality have been allowed in the Catholic Church throughout church history and today. It's fair to say that Jesus is no fan of such corruption and corrupting influences in His church and He actively resists them. On the positive, something that particularly speaks to me is how Jesus commends the church at Thyatira for their works and said, “as for your works, the last are more than the first.” It is important that the cart of our good works, so to speak, follows the horse of faith. We are saved by grace through faith for good works (Ephesians 2:8 – 10). That is the order of things. As Christians and as a church we should be growing in good works and known for our good works. The good that we do provides a platform for us to share the good news that we believe.
'Pergamos - The Compromising Church' (Revelation 2:12-17)
Compromise is not a word that you want to be associated with as a Christian or as a church but it very much sums up what Jesus had to say about this church. Like the church at Smyrna, the believers in Pergamos were in a tough spiritual environment, so much so that Jesus said they dwelt “where Satan’s throne is”. And, like the church at Smyrna, they had experienced persecution. However, unlike the faithful Smyrnans and the church at Ephesus, the church at Pergamos had succumbed to compromise. Not everyone in the church was involved with it but there were those in the church who were caught up in the idolatrous and sexually immoral doctrine of Balaam. There were those also who held the doctrine of the Nicolaitans who created a separation between the ‘clergy’ and the ‘laity’ and placed barriers to believers free access to Jesus Christ as Mediator. These were serious issues and sins that were tolerated in the church. The church was not rooting out and dealing with issues as it should have. The church as a whole was compromised through compromise.
It is a good reminder for us to consider our own walks with the Lord and to remember that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9, 1 Corinthians 5:6). The nature of compromise is that it tends to happen little by little rather than as a wave of sudden backsliding. God has given us His Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin with the purpose of sanctifying us. When God’s Spirit convicts you, showing you certain sins, attitudes, and areas of your life where change is needed, you should respond in obedience and allow the Holy Spirit to have His way in you. Don’t let the seeds of compromise germinate or the leaven to spread but, by God’s grace and in His strength, keep short accounts with God and allow Him to work in you and make you more like the Lord Jesus Christ.
'Ephesus - The Cold Church' (Revelation 2:1-7)
This is the first of the seven churches in Revelation. This is the church that, in my view, we are perhaps the most like and yet must guard against becoming. They were a mature and well taught church, a bunch of believers who knew the Word, held fast to Biblical doctrine and were serious about good works and labouring in ministry. Jesus had many things to commend them for. I see in our church many of the positive things that Jesus saw in the Ephesians. But they needed correction in one key area – “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” The Ephesian church had become a cold and loveless church. Their motivation for ministry was off. Their service had become lifeless. They were still doing the right things but no longer for the right reasons. It is so important that our service, our works, our labour and our holding fast to God’s Word be rightly motived. Love for Jesus and, from that love, love for fellow believers and for non-believers is so important in our lives as Christians and as a church. Jesus’ command in response to such lovelessness was to remember, to repent and to repeat. If you find yourself today in a place where love for the Lord is no longer your motivation for whatever it is that you do in your Christian walk then I encourage you to get back to that first love today.
'Letters to the Seven Churches' (Revelation 1)
God cares about His Church and He cares about our church. The Church is God’s vessel to reach the world for Christ with the gospel. In this series we will look at Jesus’ letters to the seven churches in Asia and through this it is my hope and prayer that we can that much more be the church that God has called us to be.
Revelation 1 is an amazing chapter but something that particularly stands out to me is John’s description of His vision of Jesus. John saw “One like the Son of Man” and describes His judicial garments, His head and hair as white as snow, His eyes like a flame of fire, His feet like fine brass and His voice “as the sound of many waters”. Jesus has a sharp two-edged sword coming out of His mouth and “His countenance was like the sun shining it its strength”. He held the seven stars in His right and we walked amidst the seven lampstands. The vision was such that John fell at Jesus’ feet as dead. We are all familiar with the Babe of Bethlehem and the Christ of Calvary and we must always remember the wonder of the Jesus’ incarnation and His substitutionary atonement. It is good for us also to be reminded that Jesus is resurrected, ascended, seated on high and that He is coming again with clouds. The Jesus that John saw undid him, and I dear say that John’s view of Jesus grew from this majestic vision. My hope and prayer is that for each one of us as we study the seven letters that our view and vision of Jesus would become even greater and that our love, our worship and our service to Him would increase.