Monday, September 24, 2012

Sermon on Mark 9:30-37 for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, "Instructable and Humble"

Sermon Outline:
1.      Happens every day in classrooms—teacher is explaining a new word or concept; students don’t understand, but are afraid to ask. Am I the only one? (usually not). Embarrassed? Seem smart as the rest—so stays silent. What happens? Learning gets stuck. As every teacher knows, asking questions is one of the best ways to learn and understand. Every good teacher is a pushover for good questions. Almost every one of them will follow a teachable tangent. Questions are a sign that minds are engaged and curiosity is opened. Clever teacher knows not to be sidetracked by distractions, questions that aren’t serious, or can’t be answered.
2.      We shouldn’t be afraid of asking questions. Encouraged. Dozens of questions just based on our Bible readings today. Some tough material. Each Sunday we read three sections of the Bible, taking us through major portions of the Bible every three years. Many more questions than can be answered in a single sermon, or I’d keep you here all day. Bible study>questions.
3.      Jesus was the greatest teacher. Wanted good questions, wanted learning—but never fell for trick questions, and often gave surprising answers. Sometimes answered a question with a question. Kept them on their toes. Today’s reading—private lesson with the 12 disciples. Coming betrayal, death, and resurrection. Told it three times. They didn’t get it. Wanted them to understand His biggest work—reason for why He was walking on this earth. His Kingship = His own suffering and death. Should have sparked dozens of questions, but they were afraid to ask. Embarrassed? Only ones who didn’t understand? Afraid to talk about death and the ultimate? (Might be a common fear today—hard for us to talk about death, esp. to our kids). Maybe fear of what death, even Jesus’ death, would mean for them.
4.      For now, content to forget about important things and argue over self-promotion—who was the greatest, ranking themselves, comparisons, putting themselves ahead of one another. Aren’t we often consumed with the same? Comparing possessions, beauty, fashion, intelligence, success, power, fame? Concerned to be ahead of everybody (or at least somebody) else? Were the disciples comparing who was the most righteous? Most qualified to lead? Doesn’t matter, because they missed the whole point of God’s kingdom. Jesus was teaching that His kingdom involved humility, service, and His own death and resurrection. They were consumed with rivalry. Ashamed to admit it, but Jesus saw through.
5.      Instead of a harsh lecture (what an opportunity!), He presents a child as a living object lesson. “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” And He took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but Him who sent me.” Jesus upsets their self-promoting way of thinking, and points them to being last of all and servant of all. But then why a child? What’s the connection between a child and servant? In the ancient world, a child had the same status in a household as a servant. Under a guardian or instructor. Only at a time set by their father, in adulthood, would they be free of their guardian. Whole life was regulated by their father.
6.      Really the same is true today. One pastor observed that kids don’t have the same low status today—but still dependent on parents. They have to go where we want them to, and when. Parents determine when they wake and go to bed, when they eat, watch TV, go to play with friends, etc. Of course they have minds of their own, and will try to assert their will, but if the house is to have any peace, the parent’s will has to prevail over the children’s. (David Scaer).
7.      So when Jesus describes the life of a child as being like the life of a servant, He means that it’s under regulation. Under rules and marked by humility and service. Quite the contrast to the self-promotion and contest for greatness that the disciples had in mind. But Jesus was also describing His own life. He was under regulation—the regulation of God, His Father (David Scaer). God’s will that Jesus was in the world. Betrayed by men, suffer death, and after three days rise. Jesus: a completely willing and obedient Son. He didn’t complain even as He suffered on the cross; He didn’t do it reluctantly or under force, but He willingly laid down His life. What possible motivation? Love. Incredible, divine love. Not too proud to humble Himself into service to mankind. To be the servant of all by laying down His life. This was Jesus’ faithful obedience, faithful sonship.
8.      Now what does it mean to receive a child in Jesus’ name? Taught disciples on many occasions—children aren’t a nuisance or bother. Invited them to come to Him, because the kingdom of God belongs to children. Models of simplicity, trust, humility. To receive a child in His name—is to welcome them, bring them to Jesus loving arms. We bring our children to Jesus when they come to church, to hear and be blessed by His Word. When we bring them to baptism to receive God’s adoption. When we pray with them or read them Bible stories. When they go to Sunday school to learn about God’s love for them.
9.      John 1 describes how when Jesus came into the world, He wasn’t received or welcomed. But those who did receive Him, He gave “the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (1:11-13). We who receive Jesus, who believe in Him, God makes children of God. Not born naturally, but re-born spiritually by water and the Holy Spirit (John 3). God’s family is always open to adoption, and He always welcomes new children into His family.
10.  What’s in store for God’s children? Christ sets us free from our sin, our wrongdoing. He sets us free from death. Jesus paid for our guilt on the cross. The apostle Paul says, “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:25-27). By faith in Christ God adopts us into His family. Being baptized into Christ, we’re tied to His victory. All the blessings of the family become ours.
11.  We become “heirs through God” (Gal. 4:7). A child asks an important question: “What is an heir?” An heir is the person who receives your possessions when you die. Usually the family members or dearly loved friends are given an inheritance. A person who dies leaves everything that belongs to them with their heirs when they die, according to their wishes. When the Bible tells us that God makes us heirs, we’ve been adopted by baptism into His family. We’ve become His children, His heirs, so that when Jesus died, His will was put into effect, and all that belonged to Him is shared with us, according to His wishes. By faith in Him, we share in the forgiveness of sins and His perfect righteousness and innocence before God. Forgiveness, our rescue from sin and death, and eternal life are God’s gifts through Him. God opens His heavenly mansions to His children. The only difference from an earthly will, is that Jesus lives again to share in the inheritance with us! He rose from death to conquer the grave and live with us. This is the heart of God’s kingdom that Jesus invites His children to enter—faithful and trusting in Him and His love. Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

1.      How comfortable are we with asking questions? To whom do we usually ask them? What things might keep us from asking (especially the important) questions? What kept the disciples from asking Jesus in Mark 9:30-32?

2.      When Jesus taught His disciples about His ultimate purpose for coming on earth (Mark 8:31-33; 9:30-32; 10:32-45), what uncomfortable truth did He reveal? Why might we not want to hear about Jesus’ death and resurrection? Why are we uncomfortable with death? What ultimate questions face us? How does Jesus take away the fear of death for those who believe in Him? 1 Corinthians 15:56-57; Philippians 1:21

3.      Why are we so consumed with self-promotion and comparison to others? How is this completely opposite from the way the kingdom of God works? Read Mark 9:33-37 & 10:32-45. How is being last of all and servant of all a portrait of Jesus’ own life, death, and resurrection? Philippians 2:1-11.

4.      Why would Jesus compare the status of a child to that of a servant? Galatians 3:23-4:7. How are children dependent on, and directed by their parents? How did Jesus completely and willingly submit Himself to God and His Law? Galatians 4:4-5; John 8:27-30; 10:17-18. What motivated this self-sacrifice? John 15:13

5.      What does Jesus mean about “receiving” a child in His name? Mark 10:13-16. How does this show Jesus’ value for children? How do we receive Jesus? John 1:10-13. What privileges are granted to those who are re-born as children of God? How does it happen? John 3:1-8; Galatians 3:25-29; 4:6-7

Monday, September 17, 2012

Sermon on Mark 9:14-29 for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, "I believe; help my unbelief!"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Our Gospel reading from Mark takes place right after Jesus has returned from His mountaintop transfiguration, where 3 disciples saw Him revealed as the Son of God. Returning to the plain, He finds out that the other disciples had failed in casting out a demon from a young boy, and were now surrounded by a crowd, arguing with the scribes. Jesus enters the scene, with the disciples likely embarrassed by their failure and the crowd eager to see if Jesus could succeed where the disciples had failed. Even the father of the child has a lukewarm hope in Jesus’ ability.
When Jesus hears the father’s report of the disciples’ failure, He shows great disappointment: “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” Where was their faith? Later He would explain to them they also lacked prayer. How would Jesus attend to this man’s needs, as well as to the weakness and lack of faith around Him?
v. 22 shows the deep passion and love of the father for his child, explaining the sufferings of his child, which just then were put on full display for Jesus and the crowd to witness. What a pitiful situation, with a son who was deeply afflicted, and a father who was barely able to prevent his child from suffering because of a malicious spirit that was casting the child into fire or water. The father begs that Jesus help and have compassion on him. His plea is still filled with doubt, hesitation, and fear: “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
Jesus doesn’t turn away from this passionate request, but seeks to bolster the man’s faith and his request, asking almost in His own amazement, “If you can!?” If only you knew who you were asking!!! “If you can” doesn’t even enter into the equation when you are asking God! With God all things are possible. There is no limitation to what God can do. To ask if God can is to forget who God is!
It’s a separate question if He is willing to do what we ask. How can we know? We might compare this to the leper in Mark 1, who asked Jesus, “If you are willing, you can make me clean”—to which Jesus replied, “I am willing—be clean”—and the man was instantly made well. Here again with the father of the epileptic child, Jesus was willing to grant the healing. Jesus was ever-willing to show compassion. But Jesus needed to elevate that man’s doubt, hesitation, and fear to become faith. The man doubted there was anyone who could help. He was nearly resigned to the terrible fate of His child. But Jesus was not one to leave a person captive to uncertainty. “All things are possible for one who believes”—He invites the man. The Lord God had given Jesus the “tongue of those who are taught, that [He] knew how to sustain with a word him who is weary” (Isaiah 50:4). With a sustaining word, Jesus gave hope to the man, showing that help from God was possible—indeed very near to him.
The stricken father responds again with deep emotion, “I believe; help my unbelief!” “I’m crying out to you, and I know my lack of faith is in the way. Help that too!” Jesus’ doctoring of this man’s soul was taking effect! He too, not only his son, needed Jesus’ help. Like a dimly burning candle wick, or a bruised reed, the glimmer of faith was now visible in this man. Smoldering embers were receiving oxygen and starting to glow. He didn’t crush the bruised reed or extinguish the dimly burning wick, but Jesus gently breathed life and faith into this injured man who had the cares of the world and a desperately sick son weighing on his shoulders. A man who barely dared to hope for help, and who’d been disappointed already once by Jesus’ disciples. A man caught in the chaos of an unfeeling crowd that could feel little of his deep pain in watching his son suffer.
To a man like this, to weary or grief-laden sinners like us, Jesus breathes His life. To those who feel resigned and hopeless under a world of evils and troubles beyond our power to fix or escape, Jesus speaks a word to sustain the weary—the word of His Gospel. To those with a weak or faltering faith, Jesus bolsters and revives our faith, shows us who we are talking to, and gives us faith with the very words that command it! His Word and Spirit speak life into us where before there is only the fear and gloom and suffering of life. His Word gently breathed across our dimly burning faith, invigorating, lightening, oxygenating our faith—as flakes of ash and doubt and despair fluttering away. The Good News that Jesus has taken all our sins and burdens upon Himself at the cross—this gospel creates and sustains our weary faith.
His Word moved that father, and it moves us in moments of doubt and disbelief to pray. To pray, “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!” I’m hanging on by a thread. I know you’re there and that You alone can help. Help me Lord! Fill me with the Holy Spirit where I am empty and lacking! Charge me with courage and strength, to overcome my weak and weary heart! And in a moment this loving father learned what we should all know—that it’s not the strength or weakness of your faith that determines the ability to save, but rather it is the One in whom you trust. Before the whole crowd, Jesus took command of the situation, demanded the unclean spirit to be gone and never return. He then raised the apparently lifeless boy and restored him whole and well to his father. In that moment, the father of the boy learned that Jesus is the One to trust—He is the One who can save.
You see, faith requires something to trust in. But only trust/faith that is located in the One who can save, is a faith that can save. Whether the weak faith of the father that begged Jesus for more strength to believe, or the strong faith of the one who knows Him who is able to save—both are placed in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, mighty to save. That faith placed in Jesus is saving faith—hope and life-giving faith. Faith that fixes itself on the One who is near and is able to help—Jesus Christ our Lord. Apart from Him, we can do nothing, but “All things are possible for one who believes!” And the prayer for more faith, the prayer of God’s children for the gift of the Holy Spirit, never goes unanswered, but God is always willing to supply us with deeper trust in Him and His Spirit to strengthen us (Luke 11:13).
To illustrate how it’s the object of faith, not its strength, that saves, consider the example of a person who needs a life-saving operation, and has total faith or trust in the surgeon, vs. the person who is timid and weak, but by faith consents to the surgery nevertheless. Whether strong or weak, it is the surgeon’s skill, not the patient’s certainty or anxiety that makes a successful surgery and recovery possible. By contrast, for the person who has no faith, who fears or distrusts the surgeon and won’t consent to the surgery, they cannot be helped, even if the surgeon is willing and able. Likewise with God, it’s a matter of trust. Do we have faith in Jesus to perform the life-saving heart transplant that we need?
However, this isn’t to say that there’s no difference between a strong and weak faith, or that weak faith cannot be a hindrance, or that faith doesn’t need to grow. Rather the father’s very prayer implies this need for a strengthened faith, saying: “Help my unbelief!”. There’s always room for faith to grow—even a mature and certain Christian continues to have much room for growth in depth of faith and maturity throughout their lifetime. We pray to God to “help our unbelief” by ridding us of our doubts and moving us to a deeper trust in Him. We pray for a stronger, deeper faith, that clings to Him in all uncertainties and holds to the rock which cannot be moved. But it’s still faith in the same Jesus, and it’s still the same Jesus who saves us—not the measure of how strong or weak we are—but that we look to Him.
In v. 29 Jesus says to His disciples that this demon could only be cast out by prayer. They learned one area where their own faith needed to grow—that of prayer. Jesus declares the incredible power of prayer, power over great and troubling evil and seemingly impossible circumstances. How often we greatly underestimate prayer, and take it for granted. And just like with faith, the power is not in prayer itself as some abstract notion or magical words—but prayer connected and directed to the One True God. Prayer to an idol, or to the mystical universe, or to a human being dead or alive, has no power whatsoever. In fact Jesus warned against the false prayers of the pagans that just heaped up empty phrases or babbled on with many words. He was teaching that God isn’t controlled by our prayer or by how many or how beautiful our words are. But rather God hears the prayers prayed to Him through Jesus Christ. ALL the power of prayer is the power of God alone—the One to whom we pray. God the Father and His Son Jesus command the demons with a word of His voice, and they must obey. Protesting or not, there’s no evil spirit that could oppose Jesus’ words.
Whatever your circumstances, know that Jesus, God’s Son, is in command of the situation, and that He answers the prayer to strengthen our faith, and to rid us of our unbelief. He guards and preserves our soul even through death’s darkest hour, and promises that whatever present sufferings we endure are light and momentary—before the day of glory. He does not send us anywhere He has not first gone, and He showed us His power over life and death by His own suffering, death, and resurrection. He is the true object of our faith—the One who is powerful to save and to heal, to hear and to answer. In Him we trust. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

  1. The account of the boy who Jesus healed of an unclean spirit follows right after the Transfiguration in Matthew 17, Mark, 9, and Luke 9. What scene was developing when Jesus returned from the mountain?

  1. How did Jesus react to the news that the disciples had been unable to cast out the demon? Why was their lack of faith troubling to Him?

  1. Describe the passionate plea of the father to Jesus. Why did Jesus stretch out His response, instead of immediately granting the man’s request? What was He seeking to do? Isaiah 42:1-3, 7; 50:4. How was He inviting him to have hope and faith? Matthew 11:25-30

  1. How does the father’s faltering but hopeful response become a model prayer for us when our faith is weak? Cf. Luke 17:5. When have you been weary and burdened to the point of giving up or losing hope? Why would the devil be delighted for us to be trapped in resignation? How does hopeless despair work in the devil’s favor?

  1. How does Jesus give and sustain faith? How does He enliven and support us? How do we know God is always willing to answer the prayer for more faith and for the power of His Holy Spirit? Luke 11:13

  1. Why is it essential that our faith/trust be in the right person—the true God? Why is this truly saving faith? Isaiah 43:10-11. Like faith, how does the power of prayer rest with God alone, and not our words or “formula” for prayer? Cf. James 5:16. To whom alone should prayer be directed? Matthew 6:7-13; John 14:6; 1 Timothy 2:5

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sermon on James 2:1-18, for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, "The Way of the Christian"

1.      James teaches what the “way of the Christian” looks like. What the manner of life looks like due to the faith that the Holy Spirit has put in our hearts by God’s Word. Suspicion because of strong emphasis on good works. But actually James in no way diminishes the importance of faith, but rather sees it as a necessary first before we have good works. The words of the sermon hymn explain it well: “Faith alone can justify. Works serve our neighbor and supply the proof that faith is living.” Today James sets out to prove that faith is living.
2.      Since only God can see the faith in our heart, it is through faith expressing itself in good works that we can see and recognize faith as genuine. Good works indicate faith that is present, while the absence of good works indicate that faith is absent. “So faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead”, James says.
3.      So what is the way of the Christian? Follows the life of Jesus. James begins with the example of favoritism or partiality. Jesus did not show partiality to the rich or the poor. He accepted the rich man Zaccheus who repented of his sin and followed Jesus. Jesus also sought out and honored the poor and outcast among the society, came near to them in illness and affliction, healed them, forgave them, and blessed them. Jesus didn’t judge according to the outward appearance, but according to the heart (which we aren’t able to do). We must not show favoritism based on wealth or social position. Don’t push aside poor to honor the wealthy. Christ blessed and honored the poor. He said that we’d always have them with us, but also entrusted their care to us. Christ didn’t say we’d eliminate poverty, gave the task of caring for needs and affliction, and showing Christian love not only in words, but also in deeds. James hammers home the point that words without deeds are empty and vacant. It’s not enough to wish someone well but do nothing. Words without deeds announce a missing faith, a faith that would instinctively rise to action in compassionate concern if it were present.
4.      While Christ did not set before us that impossible goal, God has set before us the impossible goal of keeping His law perfectly and entirely. That whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. There is no 99% success, or 90%, or 50% or any other partial achievement according to the law. You’re either totally successful in keeping God’s Holy Law, 100%; or one fails completely. Unlike horseshoes and hand grenades, close just doesn’t cut it. So why would God set before us such an impossible command? Why would God command us to obey His law perfectly, without fail, and leave room for no margin of error? So that we would stand utterly convicted and condemned under the law. So that every mouth would be silent and that we would acknowledge our sin and that we are accountable to God (Rom. 3:19-20). All escape routes closed off, all short-cuts and thoughts of getting into heaven by our own methods are gone; along with thoughts like “I’m a pretty good person, so I expect I’ll go to heaven”, or that God would grade on a curve (i.e. “I’m not nearly as bad as that person”--fill in the blank with Hitler or the other typical bad guys who we think are the only ones deserving of hell). The Law closes it all off.
5.      But how does our old sinful flesh twist this truth? Our sinful nature selfishly thinks that if anything we do against God’s law makes us guilty, then no additional harm is done if we add to or multiply our sins. This is the error-filled thinking of “I’ll sin more so that grace may increase.” May it never be!! May we never twist this word of God into a justification for more sinning. Some examples: “I have already sinned by lusting after her in my heart--I may as well also sin with my body.” Or “I’m already guilty of stealing a little--it will be no worse for me if I steal a lot.” Or “I’m already a sinner anyways, what harm is there in indulging in it a little.” Or “I can sin now and repent of it later”--turning grace into a license for sinning. Isn’t it remarkable how we  twist God’s judgment of our total guilt into a twisted legitimization of more sinning? Do you think God could possibly be pleased with that? Not at all! God takes no pleasure, but rather hates all wrongdoing, and wants it to be stopped! God rescues us out of the mud and mire of our sins--He does not encourage us to continue wallowing in them! Remember that Jesus said we should not cast pearls before swine (Matt. 7:6). But forgiveness isn’t meant to propel us over our conscience into further sin, but rather to rescue and deliver us from a guilty and fearful conscience, to leave sin behind.
6.      But why would God want us in such a position of helplessness under the law, and inability to do anything for ourselves to get out of our mess? Because it’s precisely there that all our pride and boasting falls away, and we can only lay hold of His promise of mercy and life in Jesus Christ. Only after accepting our guilty verdict, realizing that we’ve been condemned under God’s righteous law, can we be judged under a higher, better law. What James calls the “law of liberty” that shows mercy triumphing over judgment, or what Paul calls the “law of the Spirit of life that has set us free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2).  Hear James: “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (Jas 2:12-13).
7.      This “law of liberty” is better known to us as the Gospel or Good News. It’s our rescue from the impossible burden of the Law. The Good News that says that our guilty verdict was charged to Jesus, by His and God’s own will, and that He discharges all our guilty debt for us. He liberates or sets us free from the power of sin and death, taking its judgments and punishments on Himself at the cross. It’s the Good News that Jesus, God’s Son, is the one and only perfect law-keeper, who obediently fulfilled the whole law in every point, loving His neighbor as Himself in the most supreme and sublime ways. Loving us in the greatest love there is, to lay down His life for His friends--even more--for His enemies also. Without partiality to the rich or poor, to those who loved Him or hated Him, He took the full hit, the severest blow the law could deliver, so that we would be spared God’s wrath against sin.
8.      So that God’s mercy, His sparing, forgiving, releasing, and life-giving mercy, would triumph marvelously over judgment and give life to us. That God’s mercy might seize the poor and the meek, the ones with an anxious and fearful heart--and lift them up with the words “Be strong; fear not! Behold your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” God bids the weak be strong; comforts the weary. His vengeance is for the enemies of His people, but His rescue and salvation for those who look to Him in faith. God’s mercy is His greater law, His greater defining principle, that shows His heart and His love for His people. Though He is strict and uncompromising in His judgment of sin, He has shown immeasurably greater love and mercy in sparing us that judgment through Jesus Christ, and pouring out great and eternal blessings on top of it all!
9.      So what does the life of a cleansed, forgiven, and trusting Christian look like? First and foremost, they hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. They’ve been thoroughly convicted and judged under the law, so that they might turn to the only Savior Jesus Christ. They’ve been lifted up to His shoulders where they find peace and entrance into life. Their new, redeemed and cleansed heart is purged of sinful partiality and favoritism, even while the sinful desires of the flesh still cling to them. They strive to keep the command to love their neighbor as themselves to rich and poor alike, and are motivated by our Lord’s compassion for the poor, the hurt, and the suffering. They follow their words with actions, and their talk with a faithful walk. The faith of their heart is matched by the loving deeds of their hands.
10.  With this description some might think that this pattern of living is in reach, and will gladly seek do it. Some might also think we are back to impossibility, and a life lived under the law. But remember you are called by the Gospel, enlightened by the Holy Spirit’s gifts, sanctified (made holy) and kept in the one true faith. The difference is as Paul says: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Gal 2:20  Christ is now living in you through His Holy Spirit, and it is His life and love that is awake and moving in you to produce this life. This is the kind of real, living faith that James is describing, that jumps into action even before it’s asked, and is loving family, friends, and neighbor simply out of thankfulness and love to God.
11.  It is the living faith that is seen in works that are the proof that faith is living. Not works that gain us any credit before God, but rather the interest on His Holy Spirit “down-payment” in us. Works that are the fruit of His “principal” in us by a free and undeserved gift. Zero principal bears zero interest. Producing good works is the interest on God’s principal, so all credit and glory remains solely His. For us to try to gain salvation by our good works is trying to do Jesus’ work of redemption for Him, which He’s already completed and sealed as done. To say that faith and works belong together is simply to acknowledge cause and effect. Faith alone is the cause of salvation, but faith is never alone because good works are the effect. In other words, it’s only the trust in Jesus Christ as Savior that brings us salvation--but God-pleasing good works always follow. Real faith is received passively as a pure gift, but it becomes an active and doing thing, that does not rest but seeks out the good that is to be done, and does it. Not for credit or for a higher score, or for special treatment or recognition before others, but for God’s glory and for the need of the neighbor.
12.   A faith without works (since there really is no such thing) cannot save. Even the humblest of works, giving a glass of water to a child because they are a disciple, is a God-pleasing work (Matt. 10:42). So the Bible can at the same time clearly teach that good works have no part in earning our salvation, yet are a necessary fruit of faith that will be seen in all believers. The Bible can praise good works and commend us to be eager in doing them, yet show that they are never for boasting—but only for the real need of our neighbor. This is the way of a Christian. This is the way of a person who speaks and acts as those who are judged under the law of liberty. Under that higher law and principle of God, we have been forgiven and freed from all sin by Christ Jesus. We have the Gospel promises as our sure and certain freedom. And we joyfully live out that freedom in love toward our neighbor, Christ living and moving in us. This is the way of the Christian who rejoices that God’s mercy has triumphed over judgment, and blessing upon blessing is ours and ours to share. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

  1. How does the apostle James expose hypocrisy in James 2:1-18? Why are words without actions empty? James 2:14-17; 1:22-25; Rom. 2:13.

  1. How did Jesus show no partiality or favoritism between the rich and the poor, between the outcast and the accepted? Luke 18:35-19:10. What are ways in which we might “dishonor the poor” (James 2:6) or show favoritism to others, instead of treating all people with dignity and as made in God’s own image?

  1. Why does incomplete keeping of God’s law, at even the smallest level, make us guilty before God? James 2:10; Romans 3:19-20. What’s the purpose of the law’s condemnation of our sins? What realization does it bring about our situation before God? How are we sometimes tempted to make comparisons instead, to think we’re boosting ourselves up?

  1. Once we’ve accepted our guilty verdict according to God’s law, how are we liberated by Jesus Christ and a higher “law” of God’s? James 2:12-13; Romans 8:2. This higher truth, often called the Gospel or good news, reveals God’s mercy toward us, mercy that triumphs over judgment.

  1. In order to grant us mercy, what did Jesus have to undergo to fulfill the law and suffer our punishments? Galatians 4:4-5; Philippians 2:8

  1. What temptation arises for us to misuse forgiveness to excuse or go further into sin? What are some rationalizations we go through? By contrast, how does the true Christian receive the word of forgiveness and seek to live out their life? Why does faith always give rise to works, and yet salvation depends on the faith, not on works? John 15; Galatians 2:16

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Sermon on Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9, for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, "Light for the Nations"

Sermon outline:
1.      Deuteronomy (“second law”): Moses’ reaffirming God’s statutes and rules to a fledgling nation, about to enter the promised land. High calling, exalted among the nations as the treasured possession of God, kingdom of priests, holy nation (Ex. 19:6). Warned not to think too highly of themselves (Deut 9—you are not more righteous, or greater, but rather are stubborn). But because of God’s gracious choosing & show His glory. Their obedience to His law > witness for the nations. Righteousness and wisdom of God’s teaching. Show that God is not a national God (Israel only), but the God of all the nations.
2.      How did they do? Did they reach that high standard? Tried at times. Nearest example: Solomon’s reign. Temple dedication (1 Ki. 8:41-43)—draw in the nations. Queen of Sheba (1 Ki. 10). Did it last? Not even a generation. Fell away, disregarded law. Warning in Deut. 17 about kings not assembling power, prestige, wealth, and many wives to himself—but to hold to the law and statutes, read it all his life, do them, and not turn to the right or the left. Solomon turned away from all this. What would become of Israel’s witness? Increasing disobedience, warnings, exile. Broken covenant (Jer. 31). God’s purpose for the nation abandoned?? Who to look to for hope? Who would “restore the promise of this great nation?” Look to their kings (politicians)?
3.      God spoke a new promise for the nation—a light for the nations (Is. 42:6; 49:6). Left to one, lone, faithful Israelite to live out their purpose, to become what they had failed to be. One who would be a King in the line of King David and Solomon, but of perfect wisdom and understanding. Never departed from the law, meditated on it day and night, kept it with unfailing devotion, not turning from the right or left. This man, Jesus Christ, was the nation of Israel reduced to one man. One faithful, obedient man. Fulfilled the purpose and calling of Israel, all that they did not do. King of kings and Lord of lords. Light for the nations, witness and life to all peoples. All nations. Jesus’ death and resurrection raised Him to His rightful throne, of an eternal, spiritual kingdom, that exists now and here. Christians, all believers, joined to this kingdom, of royal priests and holy nation.
4.      High and holy calling to live, bear witness, give light to the nations. Hold to God’s law and teachings. Not for us, or our glory, but for God’s. Fall from it in sinning, but continually lifted up and return to Christ our head in repentance. Remains light for us and for the nations. He alone can restore the promise of this great “nation” or kingdom of believers. He fulfills and keeps the promise. Church is privileged to bear that light of Christ to all the world. Joined to that reclaimed purpose, so the world can see. Look to His light and live!

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      The title of the book “Deuteronomy” means “second law”—because the book was Moses’ re-issuing of the statutes and laws that God had given to Israel on Mt. Sinai, as Israel finished its 40 years of wandering in the desert, and prepared to enter the Promised Land. It was a solemn admonition to keep God’s laws before them and to do them.
2.      Why is it vital that we do not add or subtract from God’s Word and commands? Deuteronomy 4:2; Matthew 5:17-20; Revelation 22:18-19.
3.      What was God’s hope and expectation for how Israel would become an example for the nations, as He called them out of Egypt and established them as a new nation? Deuteronomy 4:6-8; Exodus 19:5-6; cf. 1 Kings 8:41-43. How did He warn them against pride in their exalted status? Deuteronomy 8:17-9:7
4.      When did they seem to begin attaining that high purpose and calling? 1 Kings 10:1-9. How long did it take for King Solomon to go astray? 1 Kings 11:1-13; cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34.  How had God warned about this, centuries before? Deuteronomy 17:14-20.
5.      How would God provide one faithful Israelite, one man to be a king on the throne of David, one wise man who would not turn from God’s law either to the right or to the left, and who would be the Light for the Nations? Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; 60:1-3; Psalm 98:1-3; Luke 2:32; John 8:12; Acts 13:47; 26:23. How does Jesus, as Israel reduced to one man, fulfill all the promise and expectation where Israel fell short? How does He give His church, as His spiritual kingdom, His light to continue to bear? Matthew 5:14-16; Philippians 2:15. How do we continue to bear that high and holy calling? 1 Peter 2:5, 9; Revelation 1:6.