Tag Archives: salvation

God’s Restoration Plan

Text:  Isaiah 12:1-6

(v. 1) You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me. (v. 2) Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. (v. 3) With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. (v. 4) And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. (v. 5) Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. (v. 6) Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Move 1
This brief chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah is a song of praise. Reminiscent of a Davidic psalm, this composition heralds the prospect of a reunited people, a “new Jerusalem,” and new world order. It points to the future Church and Kingdom redeemed and ruled by the righteous Messiah who will judge and save.

It speaks of a personal deliverance expressed in collective salvation. The content of the song is, therefore, spiritual and political. The song begins with acknowledgement of the exile experience as evidence of judgment. A post-exilic remnant seeks redemption in spite of spiritual and physical separation.  They also seek a political-economic restoration that attends a restored kingdom. Consequently, the preeminent grace of God’s salvation wins out and is worthy of thanksgiving praise.

As with many psalms set for worship, this song of praise evokes physical expressions that demonstrate the meaning of the sentiment “to give thanks.” The Hebrew word for praise employed here is yadah, which signifies the stretching out of one’s hands in thanks while singing. It is a confession of utter dependence upon God for the inferred gift, namely God’s deliverance. A people who were once scattered and symbolically disconnected from their God are now reunited, and thus reconnected to the One who has created them. There is an eschatological hope that has been fulfilled “in that day.”

Their profound longings for “home” are now met in a glorious family reunion made possible by a God who promised not to forsake them.  More importantly, they can bow before their true King without inhibition or recrimination. They can now wave their hands in joyous gratitude, for three essential reasons: God remembers, God redeems and God restores.

Move 2

First of all, God remembers. Verse one states: “You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me.” The original meaning of remembrance is “to re-member” or recollect. In other words, what was once literally and figuratively detached and incoherent is now connected and coherent.

One of the most egregious offenses that any Hebrew could commit was to forget who God was and what God has done. Likewise, the worst tragedy that any Hebrew could experience was for God to forget them. God’s wrath and judgment on a people resulted in a lack of memory of them, i.e. their abandonment and alienation from God and one another. Likewise, our African ancestors’ ultimate act of honor was to “keep alive” the saints in living memory. One is “forgotten” when their name and legacy are no longer mentioned. The fact that the remnant, once displaced and disconnected, has been re-collected is reason to give thanks.

It should also be noted that an act of remembrance can be a profoundly political act. There is a kind of “anamnestic solidarity,”1 to use Archie Smith’s term, in a communal worship that recounts their common past and collective salvation.

Black worship is a type of liturgical anamnesis, the opposite of amnesia. Anamnesis means “to recollect the forgotten past and to participate in a common memory and a common hope.”2 Authentic corporate worship takes seriously the scripture, “Where two or three are gathered in my Name, I am in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20)

Christ becomes fully present as both redeemer and liberator. James H. White discusses anamnesis as an objective of the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper, “No single English word conveys its full meaning; remembrance, recalling, representation, experiencing are all weak approximations.

Anamnesis expresses the sense that in repeating these actions one experiences once again the reality of Jesus himself present.”3 This certainly characterizes the spirit of the sentiment that an African American congregation has not “had church” until the presence of Jesus is felt in the house. Consequently, Thanksgiving is about “re-membering” who we are and whose we are. It is a defining feature of black worship that serves a psycho-social purpose in liberation and salvation. This enables black folk to shout, “Thank you!” in spite of receiving unmerited suffering, historically and presently. We remember to give thanks because God remembers us.

Second, God redeems. Verses 2-3 state: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Every Hebrew embodied a sacred identity derived from their relationship to God. Separation from God resulted in a fractured identity.  Before one could be restored, one had to be redeemed, and only God could redeem an alienated people.

Ed Wimberly describes redemption through John Wesley’s “therapeutic soteriology,”4 a key component of the evangelical enterprise that Africans in America first understood about the Gospel, as it was re-presented to an oppressed people. Sin, personal and social, separated individuals and communities from God. In the ancient worldview, to be disconnected from God is to not be a person.

A people who have been redeemed have a reason to give thanks: God has redeemed their privilege as a child of God and as a member of the redeemed community. I can sing, “I am redeemed, bought with a price. Jesus has changed my whole life. If anybody asks you, just who I am, tell them, I am redeemed.” (Jesse Dixon and the Chicago Community Choir)

Celebration
Finally, God restores. Verses 4-6 state: “Among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” This second “stanza” of the hymn signals a crescendo of appreciation for being redeemed and restored to privileged status as “royal Zion.”

The people of God are reminded to consider their present favor in light of their former plight. They have been restored, in the way that the book of I Peter asserts: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, his own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” (I Peter 2:9-10). This is what the saints had in mind when they sang, “When I think of the goodness of Jesus and all he has done for me. My soul sings ‘hallelujah.’ I thank God for saving me!”

Move 3

And so Mt. Olive, God is our redeemer and the one who restores us.  God wants us to remember his acts of mercy and kindness by giving him thanks.  God wants us to appreciate just how far he has brought us.

He has brought us from slavery to emancipation, from emancipation to liberation, from liberation to freedom.  God has brought us from the outhouse to the white house.  That’s the kind of God we serve; I know I’m right about it.

And this redemption, this restoration is not a singular event.  Every time I turn around, God keeps on blessing me.  I don’t know about you, but God picked me up this week.  God lit a fire under me and caused me to get up from my chair of depression and put on me a garment of hope.  God caused me to see beyond my suffering into his divine plan for my life.  And I can truly say, thank you.

Thank you Lord for all you’ve done and continue to do for me.  Thank you Father for continuing to forgive me, bless me, and defend me.  Thank you Father for making a way out of no way.  Thank you Father for blessing me when I didn’t deserve a blessing; thank you Father for picking me up out of the miry clay and planting my feet on a rock to stay.  Hallelujah! Hallelujah to your name.  Praise be unto our God and His Christ.  I thank you Lord for this great salvation!

Advertisements

Is the Church Leading the World to Jesus Christ?

20151109_122835“Dear friends,
I’ve dropped everything to write you about this life of salvation that we have in common. I have to write insisting—begging!—that you fight with everything you have in you for this faith entrusted to us as a gift to guard and cherish. What has happened is that some people have infiltrated our ranks (our Scriptures warned us this would happen), who beneath their pious skin are shameless scoundrels. Their design is to replace the sheer grace of our God with sheer license—which means doing away with Jesus Christ, our one and only Master.” (Jude 3-4, The Message Bible)

I look to the church to lead the world to Christ. What I see baffles me! I remember well how when I received a call to Christ and Christ’s gospel, I went to my beloved Willard W. Allen Lodge No. 108 and bid farewell to my brothers. They were happy for me that I had discovered my life’s calling and understood my decision to fully commit myself to the of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Is the Church transforming culture or is culture transforming the church? Are the two so intertwined until they are no longer singularly recognizable? Grambling State University has the Bayou Classic, a game that alumni and well-wishers look forward to each year. I daresay they have supporters committed to going to this one game even if they miss all the others. They prepare for it in advance to include budgeting, putting in time off at work, scheduling reunions, etc. It is of the utmost importance to them.

Do you as a supporter, no as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ have that one service, that one day you have committed to the Lord and refuse to substitute for anything else? For me, it is the Holy Communion Service. Despite what I have going on, it is my commitment to be at my church partaking of the Lord’s Supper with my members. I do whatever I can to keep this commitment above all others.

Jude warns us of confusing our commitment to Christ with that of our worldly pursuits and aspirations. I love the Lord and the Lord’s Church; never would I forsake her for obligations to any other group I’m affiliated with. Do you have such loyalty to your church?

The world stands in need of disciples of Jesus Christ leading the fight for their souls. They do not need associates, friends, comrades that flock to the same worldly pursuits as themselves. They who have not God, need those who do to become recognizable and distinct from any other group. The world needs our light to shine its brightest at this very moment in history. I urge you to consider whether your witness leads others to Christ or to something someone, some place, else.

In His Service,

Be Patient, A Change is Coming!

Text: Luke 21:5-19

Introduction

Votes were cast November 8th; the polls closed across the nation between 7-8pm; people waited patiently for the results, but even after votes were in, the winner was too close to call. People held their breath in hopes that their candidate would win. Then early Wednesday morning, we heard President-Elect Donald Trump would be our 45th President come January 20, 2017.

Shock, amazement, jubilation, despair, anger and joy filled the atmosphere. Millennials began protesting in the streets across the nation. Prophets of doom are being hired to speak in churches; news pundits and broadcasters are telling Donald what he needs to do next, as if he will listen to those who counted him out just a few months prior.

The world is in shock. They never expected Americans to elect such a brute of a man to the presidency. But this my friends is not the end. This is not the time for us to panic. World situations will continue to confound.

Jesus in our text addresses an impatient, stressed out crowd just like those in America today. Jesus talks to his disciples; not those in the world, but his disciples. And I pray today that you and I are disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ and can glean from his wisdom about what to do in tough times.

Move 1
His disciples’ questions about the future, reveal some impatience, some frustration about how they are going to make it in the coming days.
First, they are Impatient for Justice. They have suffered police brutality from the Roman Soldiers; been unfairly taxed to pay for government projects; incarcerated for minor infractions just for being Jewish; and murdered in the streets as if Jewish lives do not matter.
Second, they are impatient for validation. They know they are God’s children; people who have been blessed with gifts to help their people and the nation. Yet their dreams, hopes, and aspirations continue to be deferred.

Third, they are impatient for love. Hatred by the Romans is pervasive and can be evidenced by classism within the empire. Everyone has a place and moving up the social ladder outside their group is impossible. There is a place for the rich and a place for the poor within each ethnic and political group. No one can break out of the box that has been enforced upon them by the political powers of their community.
And so, they ask Jesus, the one anointed by God, to speak and lead them, “How much longer must we your disciples and God’s people contend with these unjust conditions?” They ask, “How can we stand in days like this?”

Move 2
Jesus responds in a way they least expect. Rather than tell them what will happen to the Romans, Jesus begins to tell them what will happen among their own community. Jesus says in Luke 21:5-6 (read). The things that are sacred to you; the things you hold most dear will be destroyed before change will come against your enemies. Jesus says you think God is going to begin his revolution with destruction of the Roman Empire, but not so.

The signs of change will begin with more deception and violence among your own people. In effect Jesus says situations must occur that cause God’s children to put their trust in God and not this world’s system of finance, government, and religion. Lord, have mercy!
Jesus breaks it down in Luke 21:7-19. Listen to the areas that Jesus addresses as signs that change is coming:

• False Christ will show up (v.8). People will begin to declare that they are the Messiah returned to deliver God’s people from bondage.

• Wars and rumors of wars will spread throughout the media (v.9). CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, continue to predict increased involvement in war against ISIS, Syria, North Korea, and the like.

• Civil Unrest (v.10). When Jesus says, nation shall rise against nation, he is referring to tribes, people groups (ethnicities). He is saying cultures will collide each fighting for the seemingly scarce resources on the earth that they need to survive.

• Natural disasters (v.11). And don’t we see that today? Flooding, fires, earthquakes, pestilences (incurable illnesses), and hunger abound.
That notwithstanding, Jesus says in Luke 21:12-18 that before any of these world issues take center stage, the people of God will be singled out for harsh times.

Listen to what Jesus says (read verses 12-18). Jesus says the people of God should be aware that things will get worse for them before they get better but a change is coming. Lord, have mercy!

Move 3
Jesus says there is only one way for God’s people, his disciples to get through these turbulent times of testing. He says in Luke 21:19, “By your patience possess your souls.” It is not a suggestion, it is a direct command from our commander in chief, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Protests do not trump patience; fighting police and destroying property will not trump patience! Jesus says activate patience as a weapon against injustice. Jesus says exercise patience and don’t live your life in panic mode as if the world is coming to an end because it is not yet time for God’s judgment of the world, God is getting his people ready to inherit the kingdom of God. Hallelujah!

Patience in this text is referring to “trials incident to service in the gospel.” In other words, as we follow the Great Commission, that of making disciples, we will be tested. For this word patience derives from the Greek word “hupomone” which is translated, “an abiding under.” It means that as we live out our calling as disciples, as we obey the command of Jesus in Luke 21:12-18, the things we suffer will be overcome by our testimony. How? Because the Holy Spirit will continue to empower us to think feel, choose, and imagine how great life will be in the coming kingdom of God as opposed to the trials we endure in this life.

Beloved, our task is to continue to stand for Jesus in the face of proclamations of doom and destruction. Our task is to be a witness about our great God and His Christ. And Jesus says that as we continue to confess Jesus as Lord, we will be empowered to stand. In other words, our test will not defeat us. We won’t look like what we been through, hallelujah!

Listen beloved, the world is destined for destruction; religious systems will become bankrupt; political systems will crumble; economic systems will falter; and ethnic groups will be divided into classes with no power. But God’s people and God’s word will stand forever. God’s people Jesus says will be unharmed because we have eternal life in Jesus.

Yes, they will arrest some of you, but hold on. Yes, they will talk about you and your stand for Christ, but hold on. Yes, they will put some of you to death, but hold on. Yes, relatives, parents, and friends will betray you, but hold on. Be patient, a change is coming

Let There Be No Strife Between Us

Text:  Genesis 13:8-9, NLT

8 Finally Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not allow this conflict to come between us or our herdsmen. After all, we are close relatives! 9 The whole countryside is open to you. Take your choice of any section of the land you want, and we will separate. If you want the land to the left, then I’ll take the land on the right. If you prefer the land on the right, then I’ll go to the left.” Genesis 13:8-9 (NLT)

Introduction

During his 10-year prison stay, Craig wrote to his family members on many occasions, declaring his repentance and asking for forgiveness – but no one answered. Because he was a minister and a leader in his community, his highly publicized trial had left a bitter taste in the mouth of his family. Upon his release, he continued to write, but no one in his family would communicate with him, even though he had been out of prison for more than two years.

 

Move 1

Abraham had taken Lot his nephew with him to the land that God had shown him.  Lot had been with Abram through famine and prosperity.  As relatives, they had endured much together.  Both of them had been prospered by God and all between the family seemed well.

Nonetheless, because of their prosperity both of them could not live on the same piece of property.  Abraham and Lot loved each other and got along well, but their employees were engaged in continuous conflicts over use of land, water, and resources.  This tension caused Abraham and Lot as close relatives to begin to withdraw from each other.  This conflict interfered with the special relationship they had always enjoyed.  Lord, have mercy!

Now let me add here that these conflicts had become so contentious they had become violent and Abraham knew that the situation had to change.  I’m so glad that somebody in the family, especially the one who has God on their side knows when to act.  Abraham did not sit idly by and watch the devil destroy his relationship with Lot and the rest of his family.  Abraham acted and moved to resolve the issue.

Abraham said again, “Let’s not allow this conflict to come between us or our herdsmen.  After all, we’re close relatives!”  I wonder if there’s anybody here among this assembly of family and friends who have allowed strife to come between you and your relatives to the point that you no longer fellowship one with the other.  I wonder if there’s anyone here who no longer attends the family reunion or no longer goes to visit a relative because of strife.  Well, if you’re in the building I stop by to tell you, God says, “Let no strife come between you because God is able to bless each of you.”  Hallelujah!

Abraham makes the first move; Abraham decides to give Lot the option to choose whatever land he wants as long as they continue to remain close as relatives.  Lot reveals his heart when he chose “the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley in the direction of Zoar.”  He made his decision because “the whole area was well watered.”  Water was like gold in the world economy today.  The one who controls the water controls the economy.  And it’s just like the situation in Israel and Palestine today; the one who controls the water controls the land.  Lord, have mercy!

Israel and Palestine have been feuding for generations because Israel insists on controlling the major water routes.  I wonder if there is anyone here this afternoon who is controlling things in your family and because of your control others in your family have been held back, held up, and kicked back.  I wonder is there anybody here who knows somebody in your family that won’t share the blessings God has given your family because they control that blessing.  I wonder if there is anyone here this afternoon who believes that you can stop your family member’s blessings because mother or father left you in charge of the property and the money.  Lord, have mercy!

I stop by to tell you this afternoon, you better be a blessing, because when you become a blessing to your family, God will do exceedingly abundantly above all things.  Can I get a witness here?  Anybody here every had the bless you in spite of…..in spite of what your relatives did to you…..in spite of what they said about you…..can I get a witness here?  Hallelujah!

 

Move 2

Well, let me move on.  I got to tell you three things about this text that demonstrates how friends and family should relate to one another.  Hallelujah!

First, families and friends should stick together.  You have heard it said, “Blood runs thicker than water.”  That means that when you are related to somebody you’re family.  You will not allow anyone or anything to come between you and family.  God called Abram out from his Father and Mother’s house.  God did not call Lot; but since Lot was Abraham’s nephew and Lot wanted to go with Uncle Abram, Abram allowed him to go with him.  Abram became responsible for Lot’s welfare and ensured that Lot had the same opportunities to be blessed that Abram had.  Lord, have mercy!

Abram did not try to keep Lot from the blessings that God blessed him with.  Abram shared all that God had blessed him with, with his nephew Lot.  And Lot became a wealthy and mighty man.  Hallelujah!  Abram knew that families should stick together and bless one another.  Can I get a witness here?

Not only should families stick together but families should settle any differences that come between them.  Notice carefully that it was the older family member that made the first gesture to settle the dispute.  Abram went to his nephew and made an offer of compromise so that the family could remain stable.

Somebody here this afternoon knows that you have been entrusted by your fore parents to watch over the family and to take care of your younger siblings, but you are acting stubborn and stuck up.  I stop by to tell you that as a child of God, you ought to make the first move.  You ought to give that younger person in the family the opportunity to blessed even if it looks like you might lose something.  Lord, have mercy!

Third, and finally, families should sacrifice for one another.  Abram had to sacrifice so that Lot could be blessed and move on with his life.  But the mnute Abram acted like his Father in Heaven, his Father in Heaven showed up to bless his socks off.  Lord, have mercy!

God said to Abram, “14 After Lot had gone, the Lord said to Abram, “Look as far as you can see in every direction—north and south, east and west. 15 I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants[a] as a permanent possession. 16 And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! 17 Go and walk through the land in every direction, for I am giving it to you.”

The devil told Abram he was stupid; the devil told Abram you crazy; the devil told Abram if I were you I wouldn’t give Lot anything.  You the one with the blessing on your life; just run Lot away and keep what God has given you.  God never promised Lot anything anyway.

But I’m so glad that Abram looked at the devil and told the devil, “You just don’t know who you’re dealing with.  For I serve a God who is able to take care of me.  I’m the head of this household; I’m in charge of my father’s brother’s son.  And because he’s family, I’m going to resolve this issue.”  Devil, get thee behind me.  I will let no strife come between Lot and me.  Devil, my family is more important than my pride; my family is more important than houses and lands; my family is more important than silver and gold.  Hallelujah!

 

Move 3 (Conclusion)

You remember Craig; let me finish the story about Craig and his family.  Just after his release from prison, Craig returned to his community and formed a ministry that provided homes for the community’s homeless. Now, Craig was in the news again. Two years had gone by, and Craig had served faithfully without receiving any pay.

One night, as Albert watched the evening news, he saw a newscaster at a ceremony where, to his amazement, his brother Craig was being awarded the key to the city for the good work his ministry was doing in the community. Suddenly, Albert felt convicted, and he saw his brother’s life in a different light. He decided that he would pay his brother a visit.

Craig looked thinner than Albert remembered. He looked tired and withdrawn – no doubt the effects of a 10-year prison term. Albert stood in the busy storefront office and embraced his brother awkwardly. Then he said, “Craig, I apologize for not seeking you out sooner. I’m sorry I let your past mistakes keep me away. I wanted to be the first one in the family to welcome you back. We all got together, and we want to bless your ministry with a $1,000 contribution.”

Both men let their tears run freely. After Albert made that first move, love was victorious. A wave of reconciliation swept through their family.  Lord, have mercy!

Well,  because you and I were walking along the road of life when all of a sudden we came to a deep cavern in the road.  The engineers had left on a thin, spider web that stretched from one side of the cavern to the other.  The spider web was the only way over to the other side.  You and I had a spider web’s chance of making it over the cavern to the other side.  Lord, have mercy!

The cavern was the sin and iniquity that Adam bequeathed to us as human beings.  The spider web was our attempts to love one another and to do good in the earth.  We found ourselves unable to do good because whenever we tried to do good, evil was always present.  Lord, have mercy!  Can I get a witness here!

Many times that spider web had been broken by strife and offense between brother and sister, father and mother, relatives and friends.  Many times we had been walking across the cavern on the spider web only to get suspended over the cavern and find ourselves falling into the ravine.  We had no way to ensure the spider web would hold.  We were without hope and without God in the world.  Lord, have mercy!

But I hear a voice crying down through the ages, “Prepare me a body, Lo I come in the volume of the book it is written of me to do thy will, O God.”  And I heard the angels singing, “Glory to God in the highest peace on earth good will toward men.  For unto you is born this day a Savior who is Christ the Lord!”  yes, he did.

He came not as an overseer or a judge; but he came as our kinsman redeemer and our Elder brother.  He came to settle the strife between us and God.  He came to sacrifice his life for our death.  For we were doomed to die and spend eternity in hell.  But Jesus came that we might have life and that more abundantly.  Yes, he came to make sure that you and me could make into the promised land.  Anybody here glad about what Jesus came to do.  Anybody here can bear witness that Jesus paid it all.  Anybody here knows that if it had not been the Lord on your side, you never would have made it.

I’m so glad that Jesus came.  I’m so glad that my elder brother made a way for me.  Are you glad this afternoon about what God did through Jesus Christ.  Well if you show enough glad, you ought to commit this afternoon to let no strife come between you and your family and friends.

You ought to tell the devil, because God is able, I’m able.  I’m going to forgive and bless my friends and I’m going to bless my family.  I’ll let nothing separate me from the responsibility to to love my friends and family.  I’m going to settle the issue today; I’m going to let go and let God right now!  Hallelujah!

Paul said it like this “All we like sheep have gone astray, each unto his own way;  and God has laid upon Jesus the iniquity of us all.”  Lord, have mercy!  Beloved, God reconciles people and all things to Himself through the sacrificial blood of Jesus. God’s plan to reconcile us to Himself reminds us that reconciliation requires that someone make the first move.

 

A Question of Priorities

38 Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. 40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. 41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: 42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:38-42)

 

Introduction

The scripture says “And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard his Word.”  In other words, Mary and Martha had been listening to Jesus; however, Martha got distracted by the cares of this life.  Martha and Mary had both been listening to Jesus.

Martha heard the word of Jesus, fell in love with Jesus, and wanted to do something for Jesus in order to demonstrate her love. She was inspired by Jesus to impact issues of injustice, poverty, mass incarceration, racial disparity, and hunger. She wanted to serve Jesus in the world and set about being busy with many issues.  She was engaged in ministry on behalf of Jesus, and left her ministry to Jesus.  She left worship for work!  Lord, have mercy!

 

Move 1

Like Martha, the church is busy about many things in this world.  We have fallen in love with Jesus, we have been inspired by Jesus, and we seek to impact the world by doing ministry on behalf of Jesus.  We as a church are engaged in ministry on behalf of Jesus, and have left her ministry to Jesus.  Sororities, fraternities, clubs, civic groups, families and other organized organizations have been inspired by the gospel to work on behalf of the kingdom of God.  Many of these activities are both necessary and relevant if the church is to bear witness of Christ in the world.  Let me cite a few of our concerns.

First, Voter Registration and Voter Education.  Church and Civic leaders are promoting voter education in every city, town, and parish.  Unmarried women, people of color, and young voters are playing a crucial role in America.  Increasing voter participation will be a challenge. The Rising American Electorate—and particularly millennials—are showing less enthusiasm about the election than many other voter groups. That’s one of the findings of a new poll conducted in nine battleground states by our sister organization, the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund.[1]  Will we be open to diversity or shut down our borders? Over the next four years, will it become harder or easier to vote, get health care or a college education, and earn paid sick days and wages that support families? Will we be a nation where the will of the majority prevails or a country that works only for the wealthy and the powerfully-connected?[2]  Yet the work continues because the deficits are huge:  over four-out-of-ten Rising American Electorate members are still not registered to vote. And churches are playing a major role in this effort.

Second, Black Lives Matter.  These are our children, founders from among members of the LGBT-Q community notwithstanding; they are being arrested, investigated, and threatened by the powers that be.  For them the Black Lives matter movement is everything.  Black Lives Matter originated in response to police brutality and injustice in America that had seemingly no response from the Black Bourgeoisie and Church Leaders to such racial disparity.  They are protesting, agitating, and insisting that real, tangible change comes in America.  Its cry is no justice, no peace; and not just justice for straight people but all people.  Just recently, I received this correspondence:

 

Dear Earl,

I just started a petition titled “Take the Pledge: Join the Movement for Black Lives”  Here’s what it says:  Guided by love, we continue to stand together for justice, human dignity and our shared goal of ending all forms of state violence against Black people. We organize, occupy, demonstrate, march and chant for a new future: A future we can be proud of. We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, who fought for their freedom and ours. Like them, we want a world where our lives matter.

We want an end to the war being waged on Black people, in all its forms. Some people fear change, and that’s ok. Many will attempt to halt our progress. That is not ok. Some will continue their attempts to undermine us, but we will remain undeterred.

For far too long, our unjust deaths have meant business as usual in this country. No more.

Our work remains undone until our lives are free of violence. That is the future we imagine.

Until that day comes:
We pledge togetherness— we will not allow ourselves to be divided.
We pledge to allow our thinking and actions to be guided by love.
We pledge to bring courage and power into our communities, and stop their flow out.
We pledge not to be controlled by fear, but instead by our dreams.

Join us, and pledge to do the same: Stand with the Movement for Black Lives.

– The Movement for Black Lives

 

This is important work; necessary work; and this new generation has taken up the gauntlet.  And the church would do well to help lead in this effort.  However, this is Sunday morning.  Are the concerns for black lives more urgent than our concern for worship of Jesus Christ?

Third, Eradication of Poverty and Hunger.  In 2013, the median household income for residents of Grambling was $19,657 compared to $31,912 for the entire Lincoln Parish and $44,164 for the State of Louisiana.  In plain English, over 2,000 of our residents are poor.  63.7% of Grambling residents have income below the national poverty level and of those the 18-24 year olds suffer most.  Grambling has got to do something to increase median wages and job opportunities in this city or they will be subsumed by Ruston in a few years.  Poverty creates choices from which irrational decisions are made; choices between food and medicine, education and shelter that those who do not live among the working poor never have to make.  Hunger is a major issue in this city and in this State.

“In cities across America, many low-income neighborhoods are also food deserts, areas that lack well-stocked and large grocery stores where people can find healthy food, and use food stamps, officially known as SNAP benefits, to purchase items.  On May 13, the Los Angeles City Council approved a plan that will require all of the city’s farmer’s markets to accept food stamps. The move means low-income families will have an easier time finding fresh vegetables and fruits that are often grown locally.”[3]

Yet the battle continues across the country.  “It’s already begun happening. In 2016, 500,000 to 1 million recipients will be officially cut from the “food stamp” rolls. Some reports say it could be more than 1 million recipients.  Before the end of the year, reports say, Tennessee will have eliminated 150,000; Florida will cut 300,000 recipients; North Carolina will chop 110,000 from the rolls. More than 40 states will see changes in the program.

It will happen because this year – with foolhardy confidence in the dubious proposition that the economy has substantially improved – the federal policies overseeing the program reverted back to guidelines established under President Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform package.

These guidelines restrict adults without children to food assistance for three months. Adults without young children who want to receive nutritional assistance beyond three months must find full-time jobs, or perform 20 hours a week of volunteer work (also known as “workfare”).”[4]

These issues and others cause Christians to get up early, stay up late, and work countless hours to bring justice and equity in the land.  Christians are busy about many things; hallelujah!  And Christians are quite successful in making a difference in the world in these issues among many others.  Satan’s kingdom is coming down.  Satan’s work against the people of God is being destroyed.  Yes, the government has made concessions; hunger is being dealt with; marches and protest abound throughout the land.  We are winning these earthly battles.  Our voice is being heard; our work for Christ moves forward.  However, as important as that is, Jesus says, “Rejoice not in your success.”  Don’t swell with pride when you are victorious. Hallelujah!

I hear Jesus in Luke 10: 17-20 advising his disciples to not get excited about the gains they are experiencing dealing with issues in the world.  Let me read it for you again, “17 The seventy came back triumphant. “Master, even the demons danced to your tune!”  18-20 Jesus said, “I know. I saw Satan fall, a bolt of lightning out of the sky. See what I’ve given you? Safe passage as you walk on snakes and scorpions, and protection from every assault of the Enemy. No one can put a hand on you. All the same, the great triumph is not in your authority over evil, but in God’s authority over you and presence with you. Not what you do for God but what God does for you—that’s the agenda for rejoicing.”

So then, work is important, success is assured, but that is not our highest priority.  The Westminster Catechism points us in the right direction.  It asks, “What is the chief aim of man?”  And answers with these words, “Man’s chief aim is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”  Mary points us in that direction.

 

Move 2

Mary did not get up with Martha; Mary continued to listen to Jesus.  Her relationship with Jesus was more important than the many things with which Martha had become engaged.  She wanted Jesus to get Mary to help her.  But Jesus without denouncing Martha’s work, gave preference to Mary’s desire.  Martha did ministry on behalf of Jesus; Mary did ministry to Jesus!

Mary knew that when you’re in the presence Jesus; it’s not time to work; it’s time to worship.  Worship is designed to get us to spend time with ministering to Jesus.  Put the rest of the world on hold because Worship can’t be divided.  You can’t worship and be mentally engaged in many other things.  God wants your undivided attention in worship.  Was it not Jesus who said in Matthew 11:28-30, “28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Mary chose to worship Jesus; Mary chose to sit at his feet.  Mary chose to give God praise for her Lord Jesus.  Yes, I wonder this morning did you come to worship or did you come to work.  Did you come to worship Him?  He is worthy of your praise.

Mary had worked with Martha on many issues during the week.  But when she came to worship, when the presence of Jesus was in the house, when a word from the Lord was going forth, she sat down and rested.  Mary, can you see her, sitting in worship just listening to the Word of God speak.  Can you see her being refreshed, renewed, and revived?  Beloved, I don’t know what you came to do, but I came to worship, I came to hear a word from the Lord.  I came to lay down heavy burdens and let the presence of Jesus fill me with God’s power and God’s Love.  I wonder this morning is there anybody here that came to worship the Lord!  You’ve been working all week long, handling the issues of life, but this morning, right now, do you just want to sit at the feet of Jesus and worship Him.  Do you just want the presence of God to be upon you and in you?  Hallelujah!

Martha and Mary show that if you’re going to be effective as a minister working on behalf of Jesus, then you have to make sure you spend time with the man Jesus Christ.  You have to do more than save our sons, register to vote, fight against injustice, you also have to worship.  And I stop by to tell somebody this morning that worship sets the atmosphere for victory in the world.  Worship gives you the power you need to defeat the enemy.  Worship ensures that your well does not run dry; work, eternal work issues forth from worship.

 

Move 3 (Celebration)

Worship was an integral part of the work we did during the Civil Rights Movement.  The night before each major march, the marchers would meet in a church for worship.  They would sing the songs of Zion that expressed their faith and trust in God.  Then some deacon would begin to pray a prayer of faith, and finally Dr. King, Dr. Abernathy, or Dr. Jackson would preach the unadulterated word of God.  Can you see them there, gathered together singing and giving praise to God.  Lord, have mercy!

It was from these settings that prophecy would flow.  Dr. King would be so enamored with Jesus until he could hear God say, “I might not get there with you; but we as a people will get to the promised land.”  The people would shout because spending time in worship was so inspirational.  Worship made the work worth doing; worship made the work successful.  And look where the Lord has brought us!  Hallelujah!

I’m reminded of another story and I’ll close with this one.

Peter and John were doing ministry on behalf of Jesus.  Their enemies, members of the Sanhedrin called them into question about their methods.  They had just seen Jesus heal a man lame from birth.  The entire town was celebrating the move of God.  This miracle caused people to give God glory and Peter and John gave the Sanhedrin Counsel the message that it was in the Name of Jesus that they had done this miracle.  The Sanhedrin became furious, threatened Peter and John with imprisonment, beatings and worse if they did not stop telling the world about Jesus and his resurrection.

When the Sanhedrin released them, they went back to the church and began to pray.  And the Bible says, “While they were praying, the place where they were meeting trembled and shook. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God’s Word with fearless confidence. The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! . . . The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them.” (Acts 4:31-33)

Mary reminds us that worship is our highest work.  Because in worship, miracles happen, prophecy flows forth, and God is glorified among us.  When we worship chains are broken.  When we worship, power to fight is granted. When we worship, we receive a word from the Lord.   When we worship we release the power of heaven to make the difference in our work!   Is there anybody here, ready to worship?  Hallelujah!

When we come to church, we come to worship Jesus Christ.  We come to thank God for what God has done through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.  We come to glorify God and enjoy him together.  Praise the Lord somebody!

[1] Why we need fireworks at the voting booth this year.  (2016). Retrieved from http://www.voterparticipation.org/need-fireworks-voting-booth-year/

[2] Ibid.

[3] Equal Voice News.  (2016).  A Food Desert Win: L.A. Farmers Markets to Take Food Stamps.  Retrieved from http://www.equalvoiceforfamilies.org/a-food-desert-win-l-a-farmers-markets-to-take-food-stamps/

[4] Darryl Lorenzo Wellington (2016).  Why good jobs are needed in the food stamp debate.  Retrieved from http://www.equalvoiceforfamilies.org/why-good-jobs-are-needed-in-the-food-stamp-debate/

The God Manifested in Jesus Cares About You!

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” 4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.  Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. [John 2:1-11]

 

Introduction/Anti-Thesis

Tony Kriz asks in his book Aloof, “What are we to do with a God who hides?  He is not alone.  Throughout the ages, men have debated whether God is concerned about his creation.  For example, Deist believe God has left us to our own devices.

Deism is a religion where it is generally believed that God is not (wholly or in part) involved in the affairs of human history.  They do believe that God created the world and everything in it.  They do believe that there is one God, though they reject the trinity.  However, for the most part, the Deists do not believe that God is involved with our lives.  God created the world and basically gave it all that it needed to run itself.  All, to the Deists, is governed by nature and natural laws.  All we can know about God could be found in nature.  They reject the Bible, revelations, and the like because those are man-made things invented through the superstition.

In any case the Deists believe that God is not concerned (though at various levels) with human history.  Therefore, we are all headed towards whatever fate has for us and whatever our greed and superstition may take us.

This general idea about God’s relation to His creation is widespread, though not as popular as it was in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  As a matter of fact, some of the founding fathers of the United States of America were deists.  Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Paine were Deists.[1]

There may be Gods who are unconcerned, aloof, and distant about human affairs but that God is not the God of Jesus Christ.  That God is not the God that we serve.  Can I get a witness?

 

Transition/Thesis

The Bible tells us otherwise in regards to the views of the Deists.  The Bible reveals to us that God is very much involved with the affairs of the human race.  [2]

Foundational to the Christian faith is the belief that the  God manifested in Jesus  is actively involved with His creation?  From Genesis to Revelation, God is revealed as a God that cares about his creation.  In fact at no time does God abandon us; God is always intervening in human affairs, not because he is indifferent but because God cares about our lives here in the earth and because God wants us to have the very best quality of life we can muster.  Lord, have mercy!

Synthesis/Main Points

At the beginning of Epiphany, we have emphasized that God prepared the world to worship Jesus.  God did that in the name he gave Jesus and in the way that the heavens proclaimed his name and the way that the gentiles approached him to worship him.  God prophesized that his name would be called Emmanuel, meaning God with us.  In other words, the epiphany says that God is manifested among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth now known as the Christ after his resurrection and ascension back into heaven.  Jesus the name says “will be great because he will save his people from their sins.”   It is a name that God gave to demonstrate the powerlessness of the devil to triumph over the plan of God for his people and Jesus overcome the devil once and for all on Calvary.  Lord, have mercy!

You will remember that John presents Jesus as God’s Word made flesh, dwelling among us; as being able to be touched, felt, and handled like any other human being.  John says “And we beheld his glory full of grace and truth.”  Jesus is the man that contains the Godhead bodily, the creator of the universe, offered as a ransom for sin in the earth.  Jesus is the one who opened up possibilities for humanity to grow and excel in the earth.  Jesus is the way, the truth and the life that affords those who accept him a way to live the abundant life.

And our text this morning shows the first sign that the God we worship in Jesus, cares.  This text proves without doubt that the mundane affairs of our lives are important to God.  The God manifested in Jesus is concerned not just about our sorrows, but about every facet of our lives. This includes but is not limited to instances of joy such as a wedding, the birth of a child, the party to celebrate a promotion, the cruise to relax and enjoy family and friends, all are equally important to our God manifested in Jesus of Nazareth, now known as Jesus the Christ.  Hallelujah!

That ought to cause you joy to know that God is not aloof, somewhere in the universe unconcerned about your life, but that God as manifested in Jesus is a very present help in time of trouble.  And I don’t know about you but that is music to my ears.  I need to know that God cares, and more specifically God cares for me.

Move 1

This text illustrates four points that I would like to highlight this morning.  Let me give them to you now and elaborate on each of them in due course.  First, the God manifested in Jesus cares about those things that are important to you.  Second, the God manifested in Jesus when you bring your cares to him, will work on your behalf.  Jesus has a solution to every dilemma you face in life. Third, the God manifested in Jesus offers you his very best solution. And finally, the God manifested in Jesus does all that he does to bring glory to his heavenly father, your God and my God.  Amen?

First, the God manifested in Jesus cares about those things that are important to you.  Here is the situation as outlined in verses 1-4, “On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

A wedding is going on.  Guests are enjoying themselves and as the custom is, wine is served at the wedding.  However, as the reception progresses Mary is informed that the wine is about consumed and more will be needed otherwise the groom and the bride will be embarrassed.  Mary is concerned; it is important to her that the wedding party is not embarrassed.

Everyone is having a good time and such humiliation will scar the wedding day for the couple.  And so Mary, knowing that Jesus cares, brings this problem to him.  Jesus not understanding that these types of things are important to God, asks, “Woman, why do you involve me?”  Yet the God manifested in Jesus speaks to Jesus and helps Jesus know that God does indeed care about whether this couple has a beautiful wedding celebration.

Many are the things that we discount God about.  Many are the things we don’t take to Jesus because we don’t believe God cares about them.  However, our text illustrates that what is important to you is important to God.  Never should you be ashamed to bring your cares to Jesus despite how trivial or human they might seem.  The God manifested in Jesus cares about those things that are important to you.  Hallelujah!

Second, the God manifested in Jesus when you bring your cares to him, will work on your behalf.  Listen, I want you to understand this as well:  Jesus has a solution to every dilemma you face in good times and in sullen times.  Listen to what happened in John 2:6-8, “Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

What Jesus did to address this problem was both natural and supernatural.  Jesus used the natural resources available to him to work a miracle for this couple.  The God in Jesus uses those things that are available to us to bless us.  You remember Elijah the prophet asked the widow, “What do you have in your house?”  Well, Jesus saw the water pots as a source of supply rather than as a source of waste.  The water in those posts were used to wash the feet of the guests, but Jesus took what was unclean, made it clean and transformed it into a blessing.

What are you withholding from Jesus because you think it’s not clean enough or appropriate enough to offer Jesus?  Let me tell you this morning that the God manifested in Jesus will work with what you have, not what you don’t have.  Hallelujah!

But let me move on.  Third, the God manifested in Jesus only offers you his very best.  Listen to the response to what the God in Jesus had done.  John 2:8b-10 reads, “They did so,  and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside  and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

Two keys exist in this solution.  First, they did what Jesus asked them to do.  Second, God intervened supernaturally to resolve their problem.  Beloved, when you do what Jesus asks; when you obey Jesus; miracles happen.  And miracles happen that far surpass anything that you could ever ask or think.  Jesus did not give them common wine; Jesus gave them the best wine.  Why?  Because the God manifested in Jesus only offers the very best to his children.  God wants you to have the very best and you need to understand that.  Beloved, God cares about you and wants the best for you.  Can you receive that this morning?  Say this with me: “My God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that I could ever ask or think.”  Hallelujah!

Finally, the God manifested in Jesus does all that he does to bring glory to his heavenly Father, your God and my God.   John 2:11 says, “What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

Listen, the God manifested in Jesus desires for you to worship him.  God desires for you to experience his glory (his power, his presence, his provision, his protection, and his love). When God takes interests in your life, he does so that the world might have a testimony of his goodness and his love.  And that’s why throughout the world men and women have exclaimed God’s goodness; God’s willingness to work in human affairs.  Just as God saved the day at this wedding, God wants you to bring your situations to him today.

Don’t save God for the big things in your life.  Don’t wait on a tragedy to pray and seek the God manifested in Jesus.  Rather, invite God to participate in all the activities of your life that are important to you.  The God manifested in Jesus wants you to be successful in everything you do.

Move 2 (Conclusion)

Epiphany is the sudden realization of something; it’s an unction; it’s a feeling.  When these people saw what Jesus was able to do, even at the wedding, it pointed to God his heavenly Father.  They began to believe what the prophet has spoken: “A virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall call his name Emmanuel, meaning God with us.”  They believed that his name would be called Jesus, “because he would save his people from their sins.”

During this epiphany season, I invite you to get to know Jesus as God manifested in the flesh.  I invite you to stop looking for some abstract, ephemeral God and try Jesus.  Beloved, I offer you the best gift ever given, I offer you Jesus, God manifested in the flesh.  I offer him to you because the God manifested in Jesus cares about your life, all of your life.

And so we don’t worship some distant, unknown Architect of the Universe, some Unmoved Mover. Rather we worship the God manifested in Jesus. God has prepared the entire creation to worship Jesus. For this God cares; this God can be touched by each of us. Touched by faith in Jesus, touched by prayer and supplication. Hallelujah!

[1] Cunningham, W. R. (2006). God’s Involvement in our lives.  Retrieved from http://www.pursuingthetruth.org/sermons/files/godsinvolvement.htm

[2] ibid

 

God Preparing the World to Worship Jesus!

Matthew 2:1-12

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men[a] from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose,[b] and we have come to worship him.”  King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,     are not least among the ruling cities[c] of Judah, for a ruler will come from you     who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’[d]

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!” After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

 

Introduction

I learned in English Composition that the opening paragraph (the first couple of sentences) should give the topic of the essay. Upon careful outlining of these first two verses it is clear that Jesus is the subject worship is the verb and that Jews and Gentiles are the objects.  In other words, this story of the magi is about how God prepared the world to worship Jesus.  However, unless a person has an epiphany regarding Jesus, they will never come to worship Jesus, God’s only begotten son, who has been crowned both Lord and Christ.

 

Move 1

Matthew elucidates for his church, three ways God prepared the entire world to worship Jesus. Joseph as the representative of the lineage of David and the Jews are on board. He’s ready to worship Jesus. Now God turns his attention to the Gentiles and through prophecy and signs gets them on board to worship Jesus.

First, God preordained the worship of Jesus out of every nation. In other words, God prophesized that he would send Jesus to restore Israel and unite the gentile nations under his light. Listen to what the prophet Isaiah and Micah proclaim.

Isaiah 60, verses 1-6 reads, “Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see. For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you. Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth, but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you. All nations will come to your light; mighty kings will come to see your radiance. “Look and see, for everyone is coming home! Your sons are coming from distant lands; your little daughters will be carried home.  Your eyes will shine, and your heart will thrill with joy, for merchants from around the world will come to you. They will bring you the wealth of many lands. Vast caravans of camels will converge on you, the camels of Midian and Ephah. The people of Sheba will bring gold and frankincense and will come worshiping the Lord.”

Micah gives the place for the entrance of Jesus into the world, the place where caravans of gentiles will come to worship Christ.  Micah 5:2-4 says, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf. The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies until the woman in labor gives birth. Then at last his fellow countrymen will return from exile to their own land. And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honored around the world.”

And Matthew provides the fulfillment of what God prophesized when he wrote in Matthew 1:18-23, 18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

This is indeed the culmination of advent. This is the coming of the great king Jesus who will save his people from their sins; who will have dwelling within his body the entire godhead. This god-man will be the answer to the demands of salvation for all who worship him. It says to us no matter where you reside, God is able. God is able to lift you up when you worship Jesus.

Second, God self-revealed himself in Jesus Christ to all humanity according to the scriptures. The church calls it an epiphany. What is an epiphany? An Epiphany describes a sudden and striking revelation.  Wikipedia defines “epiphany” as a feeling. The article says about epiphany, “Generally the term is used to describe a scientific breakthrough, religious, or philosophical discoveries (defined earlier as experiences of sudden and striking realization), but it can apply in any situation in which an enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective.”[1]

The church celebrates Epiphany as the sudden realization of not just the wise men, but of all Disciples of Christ in every age, that Jesus is the physical manifestation of God.[2]  John had such an epiphany and wrote in John 1:1-1-3, “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.”  But each of the apostles had this epiphany concerning Jesus and concluded with joy in John 1:14, “14 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 [Jesus].”

Paul also had such an epiphany and wrote in Colossians 2:9 reads, “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.”  Paul received this revelation from his encounter with Jesus was on the Damascus road and subsequent revelations as he labored in the gospel.

Third, God protected his investment in Jesus. When God got ready for Jesus to enter this world; God did not allow evil to prevail. Herod was no match for God protected Jesus by unmasking the desires of Herod to the wise men and God kept Herod from preventing the Gentiles to worship. In one bold dream God cemented forever the worship of Jesus. He told the magi, don’t trust Herod; go back home another way. And try as he might, evil could not destroy the worship of Jesus.

 

Move 2

What makes some people see a star and immediately pack their bags and head across the dessert for Bethlehem looking for a savior? Why is it that some people can see the brightest light of all lights shining in the sky and be torn from their ordinary hum drum existence and be driven to go and look for something they truly believe is so important that it will change their lives—and change the world. And yet others will see the same star the same night, in the same way, and look up and say, “well, yes, that was nice, now let’s go back inside to catch the start of the third season of ‘Downton Abbey’”? The wise men (Magi) were hundreds of miles away, but they got it.[3]  These wise men teach us three very important lessons about the worship of Jesus.

First, Those who understand who Jesus is (those who have an epiphany) will travel the farthest to find him. Our text says in verses 1-2, “Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

Second, Those who understand who Jesus is (those who have an epiphany) will travel the farthest to worship him. Matthew 2:10-11 reads, “10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

These wise men had an epiphany; a sudden realization that the star meant the fulfillment of prophecy; that God had done what he said; the Messiah had been born and getting to him to worship was the right approach.  Only by coming to Jesus to worship could gratefulness be demonstrated by those who had this revelation.

Third, these wise men teach us how to worship Jesus.  They come to worship and they do not come empty-handed.  They bring gifts prophetically linked to the destiny of Jesus Christ. Their gifts are ordinary gifts one would offer to a king: gold has great value; frankincense is a perfume; and myrrh is a common anointing oil. The gifts have symbolic significance in light of the identity of the baby to whom they are given. Gold is a symbol of kingship on earth, it symbolizes the wealth of the nations, the prosperity that occurs in the lives of those who worship God and obey his commandments.

Frankincense (used for incense) is a symbol of deity, and is used in worship.  “Incense engages our senses in inescapable ways. The smoke we see rising from the burning incense is the physical representation of our prayers rising to God. The aroma we smell reminds us to live our lives as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.[4]

Myrrh (an embalming oil) is a symbol of death.[5] It was used in embalming (John 19:39 ), also as a perfume ( Esther 2:12 ; Psalms 45:8 ; Proverbs 7:17 ). It was a custom of the Jews to give those who were condemned to death by crucifixion “wine mingled with myrrh” to produce insensibility.[6]  It prefigures the sacrifice Jesus would make on the cross for the sins of the world.  He would not take the numbing myrrh to reduce his sensation of pain, but his devoted disciples would anoint his body with it as he lay in the tomb.  Hallelujah!

Move 3 (Conclusion)

Listen beloved, do you understand who Jesus is?   Have you come to worship him as Lord and Savior? How do we honor Christ as our ruler, revere him as the Son of God, and lament his identity as the crucified Messiah?[7]

Because when we get the revelation, like the wise men got it, we too will return to our homes another way.  Matthew 2:12, reads, “12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.”  The revelation of who Jesus is will not allow us to return back to our worlds the same way we came.  We will bypass evildoers; we will walk in the light of Christ and live by his commands.

When you have an epiphany an awareness that Jesus is the light of the world and the Savior, your Savior from darkness and sin, you too will take another route home, to work, and to play.  No longer will you be the same person you were before you encountered Jesus.  No longer will you come to worship empty-handed.  You just like the magi will bring gifts tied to the destiny of the church in the world.  And that destiny is to make disciples and help usher in the kingdom of God in the earth.  No longer will you be known for your frugalness; you will be known for your generosity because now you understand who Jesus is.  Your heart, your life, and your possessions will be given to Jesus because you understand who He is.  Hallelujah!

Beloved, you and I were made for worship; we were made to give praise and glory to God through Jesus Christ. Yet, we must be prepared by receiving the revelation of Jesus contained in the Word of God. You and I must have an epiphany. Strange things happen when you experience an epiphany of who Jesus is. Look at what happened to the wise men; when they understood who Jesus was, they were totally transformed and determined to worship him.

I dare say someone here this morning needs to see Jesus for who he really is.  Jesus is God’s Son and God desires for you and me to worship him.  Worship him as king of kings and lord of lords.  Worship him because he is God’s Shekinah glory.  Worship because he is your light and your salvation.  God has prepared the world to worship Jesus?

And if you don’t worship him now, you will.  For Philippians 2:9-11 reads, “Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  God has prepared the world to worship Jesus and he created you for the self-same thing.  Will you worship him today?  Will you do as these wise men, bow down and worship Christ?  He stands ready to receive you into his kingdom today.  Will you come?  The door to the kingdom is open for you.  Walk on in!  Walk on in!

References:

[1] Chesser, D. (2015). Notes on Matthew 2:1-12. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epiphany

[2] Chesser, D.  ibid.

[3] Duncan, S. (2015). Who were those guys?  Retrieved from http://homebynow.blogspot.com/2013/01/who-were-those-guys.html

[4] Kleinwechter, S. (2013). Incense in Episcopal Worship.  Retrieved from http://www.stmartininthefields.org/incense-in-episcopal-worship/

[5] McKenzie, A. ibid.

[6]Bible Study Tools (2015) “Myrrh” Easton’s Bible Dictionary.  Retrieved from http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/myrrh/

[7] McKenzie, A. (2013)  ibid.