Honest Loafers

Please read 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 in your Bible.

Honest Loafers (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

      As I prepared this week’s message, I was determined to avoid mentioning COVID-19 entirely.  I want our worship time to give all of us a respite from the wearying anxiety caused by talking heads intent on making it an apocalypse for some form of personal gain.

Obviously in the world in which the Apostle Paul lived there was no knowledge of viruses and how they spread.  He used a familiar symbol – yeast – to describe how sin can work its way through a church.  So rather that mention COVID-19 even once, we’re going to make use of Paul’s symbolism instead!

CONTEXT – Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth dealt with a number of issues on which the church members had been divided.  Ironically, chapter five focuses on an issue in which they were united, but in the wrong.  There was an act of gross immorality among members of the church (v. 1).  Instead of confronting and condemning those involved, they were inexplicably PROUD of the sin (v. 2).  Paul promised he would deal correctly with this problem when he arrived if they did not get to it themselves (v. 3).  In our passage, Paul explained why it was disastrous for the church to condone sin and coddle sinners.

The Passover Lamb died to save us from sin, not to salve sinners.

  1. Dishonest loaves are corrupted by yeast.

The prohibition of yeast goes back to the original Passover.  In Exodus 12:14-20 we read God’s instructions for an annual Feast of Unleavened Bread, to be held on the week following the Passover.  This was a commemorative event.

However, the prohibition of yeast began as a practical consideration, unique to the historical moment that the Hebrew slaves left Egypt.  In Exodus 12:33-34 it is written, THE EGYPTIANS URGED THE PEOPLE TO HURRY AND LEAVE THE COUNTRY, “FOR OTHERWISE,” THE SAID, “WE WILL ALL DIE!”  SO THE PEOPLE TOOK THEIR DOUGH BEFORE THE YEAST WAS ADDED, AND CARRIED IT ON THEIR SHOULDERS IN KNEADING TROUGHS WRAPPED IN CLOTHING. All of this happened DURING THE NIGHT (31).  None of the slaves wanted to wait until morning for the dough to rise, so they didn’t add any yeast, but left Egypt as soon as possible.  The Egyptians didn’t want the Hebrews to wait around either – they were afraid for their lives!

The Apostle Paul, like Jesus, used yeast as a symbol of unresolved sin.  Jesus used it in Matthew 16:1-12, where He warned His disciples to be wary of the influence of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Every baker knows that when mixing dough, the amount of yeast is a lot smaller than the amount of flour and other ingredients, yet that yeast multiplies and has an effect on the whole loaf.  Similarly, the falsehoods of these hypocrites seemed very religious but would had a corrupting influence on one’s spiritual life.

In our passage,Paul used the same symbolism in regard to their ill-advised pride over a conspicuous sin. He wrote, DON’T YOU KNOW THAT A LITTLE YEAST WORKS THROUGH THE WHOLE BATCH OF DOUGH? and GET RID OF THE OLD YEAST THAT YOU MAY BE A NEW BATCH WITHOUT YEAST – AS YOU REALLY ARE.

The OLD YEAST is a symbol of sin and worldliness, vices like MALICE and WICKEDNESS.  Bread made without the OLD YEAST is characterized as having SINCERITY and TRUTH.

  1. Honest loaves are saved by sacrifice.

The practice of sacrificing a lamb goes back to the original Passover.  God commanded a year-old male sheep or goat be sacrificed at TWILIGHT, the beginning of the feast day He called the PASSOVER (Exodus 12:3-6).

Only on the very first occasion, the original Passover, the blood of the sacrifice was to be collected and painted on the door frames of the houses (Exodus 12:7).  The blood was a SIGN for those within the house that they would be spared the plague of the death of the firstborn (Exodus 12:12-3).  On that night, the angel of death passed over the houses where the door frames were marked with blood.

Under the New Covenant, sin is resolved by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our Passover Lamb.  Several New Testament passages, identify Jesus as a “lamb.”

In John 1:29, John the Baptist used this symbolism:

THE NEXT DAY JOHN SAW JESUS COMING TOWARD HIM AND SAID, “LOOK, THE LAMB OF GOD, WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD!”  In 1 Peter 1:9 Peter wrote about THE PRECIOUS BLOOD OF CHRIST, A LAMB WITHOUT BLEMISH OR DEFECT.  In Revelation, John used a LAMB as a symbol for Christ 31 times.

The New Testament confirms Jesus is the sacrifice for our sins, but only Paul specifically identifies Him as the “Passover Lamb.”  Paul’s purpose was to use the Feast of Unleavened Bread in a symbolic way to explain what Jesus has done for us.  The symbolism is fitting as there are similarities between the Passover lamb and Jesus.

The first is purity.  The lamb had to be WITHOUT BLEMISH – that is, having no physical defect.  Jesus was sinless, the human equivalent of being WITHOUT BLEMISH.

The second is function as a blood sacrifice.  Being under the lamb’s blood saved the firstborn of Israel.  By faith, we place ourselves under the blood of Jesus and are saved.

The third is having bones unbroken.  In His commands regarding the Passover meal, God made it clear that the bones of the lamb should not be broken.  In the John’s Gospel, it is clear Jesus’ bones were not broken after His death on the cross (John 19:33-36).  The significance of unbroken bones is not clear to me at the moment, but an educated guess would be respect for the sacrifice.

The Passover Lamb died to save us from sin, not to salve sinners.

When Paul wrote, LET US KEEP THE FESTIVAL he wasn’t thinking only of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  Continuing his use of that FESTIVAL as a symbol, he referred to the entirety of our life in Christ.  The way we do that is having a similar attitude toward sin that the Israelites were to have toward yeast.  In Exodus, they were commanded to get the yeast entirely out of the house; to have a “zero tolerance policy” toward it.  That’s what our attitude toward sin should be.

Unfortunately, our first instinct is to look around for someone on whom this policy can be enforced.  This policy starts with self first.  Jesus made it clear we don’t complain about the speck in someone else’s eye while we look cross-eyed around the log in our own eye.  He used that silly image to put His followers on notice: clean the yeast out of your own house first.  Help others to do the same only as the Holy Spirit directs you and only in loving, positive ways.

 

RESOURCES:

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, #10, W. Harold Mare

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Pfeiffer and Harrison

 

Who is ‘Us?’

Please read 1 John 2:18-27 in your Bible.

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      Today we celebrate our voluntary association with churches across our nation in a denomination called “American Baptists.”  Next Sunday we’ll do the same for our association with other American Baptist churches across the Dakotas.

The key word there is “voluntary.”  Baptists historically emphasize the freedom of each local church while at the same time recognize the practicality of working together to get more done.  Put another way, we value independence but practice interdependence.

Occasionally, the tension between those competing themes makes problems.  But as families are supposed to do, we solve our problems and remain in relationship.  Issues are rarely solved neatly or easily, but we work at resolution so we can remain in communion with each other.

We ask ourselves, “Is it worth the effort?”  One clue to an answer: over the last couple generations of American church life, the other six major Protestant denominations have lost followers at a horrific rate.  Alone among the “Seven Sisters” of the American Protestant churches, American Baptists have grown slightly over that time.  I would explain that as being the result of the evangelical and conservative churches like our own remaining in biblical truth and insisting the denomination do the same.  The boundary of any group is a definition of who they are and who they are not.  Today we’ll examine what John taught about the identity of true believers and the necessity of remaining in fellowship.

Denominational life is like family life; benefits accrue only to those who stay in relationship.

  1. Who we are not.

We are not ANTICHRISTS (18).  The term “antichrist” appears only in John’s letters.  In this verse He used it in both plural and singular forms. This tells me that “antichrist” is a movement of opposition, not just a single notorious individual.

According to verse nineteen the ANTICHRISTS were at one time in the church, but at no time did they really belong there.  The church is for Jesus’ followers, not Jesus’ detractors.  They are “against Christ” in the sense that they denied the truth about Jesus and taught falsehood instead.  In the Greek, the prefix translated “anti” also meant “in place of, against, and opposed to.”  The false teachers were not neutral on the subject of Jesus being the Christ; they were strong deniers of it.

John warned the fact that such individuals were present indicated they were in the LAST HOUR.  Jesus taught that prior to His Second Coming there will be an increase of persecution, of opposition to the truth.  The LAST DAYS precede the end of history and the world as we know it.  God will replace this sin-stained creation with a new heaven and earth.  This is the culmination of His plan, established before the creation of the universe.  Though two thousand years of history makes the LAST HOUR sound less immediate, the phrase refers to the time between Jesus’ Ascension and His Second Coming.  We are still in the LAST HOUR.

We are not quitters (19).  John’s reasoning seems rather circular: “We know we they were never Jesus people because they left us.  If they had belonged to Christ, they would never have left.”  However, his point is simply that “actions speak louder than words.”  No matter how pious they may have sounded or seemed their real intentions were betrayed when they walked out on the church.

By way of contrast, John used the word REMAIN five times in this passage.  Instead of leaving the church as the ANTICHRISTS had done, the true followers distinguished themselves by remaining.  The same Greek word is used extensively in John 15, in Jesus’ illustration of the VINE and the BRANCHES.  There He taught every good thing is possible to those who REMAIN in relationship with Jesus.  No good thing is possible apart from that close relationship.

We don’t lie about Jesus (22-23).  A specific falsehood these false teachers were purveying was the denial that JESUS IS THE CHRIST.  They tried to convince people that Jesus was not the Messiah; not God the Son.  True faith affirms the dual nature of Jesus Christ; He is both God and man.  To deny one or the other is an incomplete and false teaching.

This is a fundamental truth is implied in His name.  “Jesus” is our Savior’s given name and symbolizes the human side of His nature.  He was born a human being and existed in history, interacting with other human beings.  “Christ” is not His last name, it is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “messiah.”  This title symbolizes His divine nature.

We will not be lead astray (26). The two main subjects of John’s letters are truth and love.  In relationships, it is difficult to preserve both, but that is what God calls us to do.  John revealed that a purpose for his writing was to warn the people about false teachers in their midst.  They operated in neither truth nor love.  Instead, their purpose was to lead the people ASTRAY; away from the truth.  Whatever their motive, the false teachers knew the church folk would be easier to manipulate if they didn’t know the truth.

We don’t need to know how to argue with persons trying to persuade us to a contrary view, but we do need to keep our focus on Christ and simply refuse to be moved away from the faith we have received (JUST AS IT HAS TAUGHT YOU, REMAIN IN HIM).

  1. Who we are.

We are anointed (20+27).  “Anointing” is the biblical-era practice of applying oil to the body.  It was commonly done as an act of hospitality and for healing.  Less commonly, anointing had the purpose of ceremonially setting a person or object apart for God’s purpose.  For example, kings and priests were anointed for service; temple furnishings were anointed before being used.

John used anointing as a symbol of the “set-apart” status of Jesus followers.  We have received an ANOINTING FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT (20). Because they had received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, true followers are set apart to a divine purpose; to uphold truth and love. This is only possible because the Holy Spirit resides in us.

We know the truth (20-21, 27).  An important outcome of this anointing is knowledge of the truth.  The Holy Spirit grants every believer two important things: first, the illumination of Scripture.  The Holy Spirit enables every follower of Jesus the ability to read the word of God with understanding.  The Spirit enables us to apply what we’ve read and will bring it to mind when we need to recall what it said.

Second, Holy Spirit gives discernment.  As we live the life, the Holy Spirit enables believers to know the difference between good and evil.  When we can’t put a finger on how we know, we know because the Spirit told us.  God does not require us to have “blind faith” – just the opposite – we are to study the word, test it, learn what it says, and stay steady in the faith we have received (27).

The truth remains in us (24-25). God promises that His word and the Holy Spirit will REMAIN in the ones who REMAIN in Him.  Contrary to what our culture teaches, truth is not dependent on each person’s viewpoint.  It is not for us to make up a faith that suits us.  It is our job to receive the truth as defined by the Bible and the church, and make it our own by increasing our understanding of it.  By doing this, we receive the reward promised to those who REMAIN: ETERNAL LIFE.

Denominational life is like family life; benefits accrue only to those who stay in relationship.

There is a late-night talk show host whose name I won’t mention because I don’t like Jimmy Fallon’s politics.  One thing he does almost weekly is get the American public to do his work for him by tweeting responses to a topic he has chosen.  Here are some funny replies to #dumbestfamilyfights.

#1 = “My sister once screamed at me for an entire car ride because I was looking out her window.  To this day my whole family will randomly yell, ‘DON’T LOOK OUT MY WINDOW!’ at each other.”

#2 = “The day the clocks turned back for daylight savings time.  Members of my family kept arguing about what time we should feed the cat so she wouldn’t be confused.”

#3 – “My brothers often argue with each other on who is the ugly one between them both… They’re identical twins.”

#4 = “I jokingly asked my family: ‘How many of each type of animal did Moses take aboard the Ark?’  My Grandma says; 2.

“When I tried to tell her it was Noah, not Moses, she said I was wrong and stormed out of the room!  Dad says, ‘We don’t talk religion at the dinner table!’”

#5 = “For years, my dad has sworn he needs glasses, but my mom says he’s just ‘not trying hard enough.’”

RESOURCES:

Message #545

https://www.nbc.com/the-tonight-show/photos/hashtag-gallery-dumbestfamilyfight/3420957

Worthy Worker (Part Two)

Please read 2 Timothy 2:14-26 in your Bible.

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      I want to start by asking you to put on your thinking caps.  I’m going to read a variation of the classic “Trolley Problem” and ask you to record your response on your bulletin.

You are part of a seven man crew working on a section of railroad track.  You happen to be standing at a switch and notice that a out of control train barreling down the track. Directly ahead on the tracks are five of your coworkers who do not see the train that is headed straight for them. On a side track is one of your crewmates who has his back to the oncoming train.  There is no time to warn them as they’re all wearing noise-cancelling headphones.  If you pull the lever right next to you, the trolley will switch to the side track. You have two options:

  1. Do nothing and allow the train to kill the five people on the main track.
  2. Pull the lever, diverting the train onto the side track where it will kill one person.

You have to decide in a split second what to do.  What is the right thing to do?  Write a one or two on a piece of paper.  We will come back to this situation later.

For now, we’ll complete our look at being a Worthy Worker by observing that discerning right from wrong and choosing to do right is very much at heart of our worthiness.  God finds people of true faith to be useful to Him in the work of expanding His Kingdom.  This passage tells us how.

Our aim is to be worthy workers.

  1. Two examples of unworthy workers. (16-19)

Be alert: evil can grow in a church just as it can anywhere.  In v. 16, Paul warned THOSE WHO INDULGE IN [GODLESS CHATTER] GROW MORE AND MORE UNGODLY.  GODLESS CHATTER feeds negativity and encourages divisive sins of the tongue like gossip, complaining, and back-biting.  As we said in part one, CHATTER may sound harmless, but it is not.  It results in greater ungodliness.

In v. 17, Paul wrote that UNGODLY TEACHING WILL SPREAD LIKE GANGRENE.  GANGRENE is a flesh-rotting disease (one form of which is fatal in 48 hours), so Paul could hardly have chosen a more repulsive image to describe the effect of UNGODLY TEACHING.  He identified two people who were among the UNGODLY in Timothy’s church: HYMANAEUS and PHILETUS.  Who were these people?

In 1 Timothy 1:20 Hymaneus was one of two people whom Paul HANDED OVER TO SATAN TO BE TAUGHT NOT TO BLASPHEME (Alexander was the other).  This probably meant they were put out of the church in Ephesus for serious errors in their teaching.  PHILETUS is not named in 1 Timothy 1:20, nor anywhere else in the Bible.   He apparently joined Hymaneus and Alexander in their error and suffered the same penalty.  Putting them out of the church is somewhat similar to the treatment for GANGRENE; surgical removal of the bad tissue, usually in the form of amputation.  For the survival of the body, the bad parts have to be cut off.

Their sin was to HAVE WANDERED AWAY FROM THE TRUTH.  The word WANDERED is an unfortunate choice for translation of the Greek word that means “missed the mark, deviated, or went astray.”  “Wandered” allows for an accidental deviation when Hymaneus and Philetus chose to believe an error, and worse, talked others into believing the same error.

Specifically, their false teaching was stating THAT THE RESURRECTION HAS ALREADY TAKEN PLACE.  Paul does not explain their false teaching, merely noting that it attacked the most central teaching of the Christian faith: resurrection.  (See 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, where Paul vigorously defends the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, our personal resurrection, and the importance of these doctrines.)  What they did with this false teaching and how many people were taken in by it are details we are not meant to know.  It is sufficient for us to know that it was false and that it had a negative effect on the church in Ephesus.

The effect of their falsehood was to DESTROY THE FAITH OF SOME.  The word DESTROY can also be translated as “overturn.”  It meant that the false teaching had so affected some people that they ceased to believe the truth.  The health of the entire church was threatened, even though only SOME of the members fell in with Hymaneus and Philetus.

The good news is, though evil people and other circumstances can challenge our faith, the FOUNDATION God has set remains SOLID.  This FOUNDATION is the undeniable facts of God’s existence and His reward of those who earnestly seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

There are two promises of God’s protection of His people.  These promises are etched in the foundation like a cornerstone.

The first promise: THE LORD KNOWS THOSE WHO ARE HIS (Numbers 16:5).  God knows false teachers like Hymanaeus, Alexander, and Philetus.  While they may fool SOME of the people some of the time, they never fool God. God also knows everyone whose faith is real and based on the truth.  Remain faithful, and He will help you overcome and reward you when you do.

EVERYONE WHO CONFESSES THE NAME OF THE LORD MUST TURN FROM ALL WICKEDNESS. Here Paul paraphrased Numbers 16:26.  Though we do not do good in order to be saved, we do good in order to demonstrate our salvation, the change Jesus has made in our lives. A commitment to discipleship is part of the faith that saves.  As we learned again last week, turning away from wickedness is half of being a worthy worker.  The other half is pursuing good. Sometimes TURNING FROM ALL WICKEDNESS involves separating ourselves from people and sometimes it requires us to avoid places or circumstances that tempt us to do wrong.

  1. An illustration with household items. (20-21)

Paul contrasted two kinds of household items.  In order to understand the illustration, we must first see the LARGE HOUSE is as a symbol of the world in which we live.  In this world, people are either living for the Lord or not.  God made all of them, but not all of the people in the world are useful for God’s purposes. In many of our homes, we have one set of dishes for special occasions and another set for everyday use.  All the dishes are useful for serving food, but some of them are reserved for special uses.  The contrast between noble and ignoble ARTICLES (pots, bottles, pans, etc.) is a contrast of spiritual status and resulting usefulness to God.

The ones used for NOBLE PURPOSES are made of GOLD AND SILVER.  They are less numerous but more valuable in the sight of the Lord.  In the world, some people are “gold and silver” because they have faith and are obedient to God’s will.  Timothy is an example of a “noble article.”

The ones used for IGNOBLE purposes are made of WOOD AND CLAY.  These are common, worldly, and less valuable pieces.  They are not useful to God because they refuse faith and practice disobedience.  Hymenaeus, Alexander and Philetus are examples of “ignoble articles.”

Paul used similar imagery in Romans 9:21 = DOES NOT THE POTTER HAVE THE RIGHT TO MAKE OUT OF THE SAME LUMP OF CLAY SOME POTTERY FOR NOBLE PURPOSES AND SOME FOR COMMON USE?  The phrase THE SAME LUMP OF CLAY indicates that we share a common humanity.  Tragically, we do not share a common destiny.  As Jesus observed in Matthew 7:13-14, there will always be more people who do not refuse faith and service to the Lord.

Like a handy kitchen gadget, a follower of Jesus becomes a fit INSTRUMENT FOR NOBLE PURPOSES when he has, with God, cleansed himself from IGNOBLE PURPOSES.  NOBLE refers to doing what God has called you to do.  It is NOBLE to be obedient to God.  IGNOBLE refers to doing what you selfishly want to do, or what the world wants you to do; all kinds of disobedience.  Moreover, IGNOBLE refers to sinful acts because Paul wrote that the worthy worker must be CLEANSED of it before he is useful to the MASTER.

Having been cleansed, the worker is MADE HOLY and is thereby USEFUL TO THE MASTER AND PREPARED TO DO ANY GOOD WORK.  In this world household items never CLEANSE themselves (wouldn’t it be great to have dishes that washed themselves?!) and neither do people – not on their own, anyway.  God cleanses us from sin and its effects, but He waits for us to repent and ask His forgiveness.

This cleansing is part of what Paul means when he says we are to be MADE HOLY.  Moral purity is part of holiness and the other part is being set apart from worldly and ungodly things to spiritual maturity and godliness.

People who are MADE HOLY are then USEFUL to God, just as clean pots & pans are useful to a cook.  People who are MADE HOLY are PREPARED TO DO ANY GOOD WORK.  Truly good works begin with holiness.

Our aim is to be worthy workers.

      Let’s return to the train problem.  You may be interested to know that this is not merely an intellectual exercise, In 2003 Union Pacific dispatchers in Los Angeles, CA had to make a decision very much like this one.

Did you choose #1?  Five people are dead.

Did you choose #2?  Only one person is dead and you are among the 90% of people who made this choice when presented with this problem.

Did you make no choice or want to know more about the six people on the tracks before deciding?  Then five people are dead because you hesitated too long at the switch.  Not deciding is making a decision.

My point here is that everything you’ve done, every choice you’ve made, everything you believe goes into making that decision about the switch.  Life doesn’t always conveniently present us with choices that include a lot of time for research and weighing out values and deciding on priorities.

Spiritually maturing people will know God’s leading before the train starts barreling down the tracks.  They will have studied the word, been faithful in prayer, and experienced in good deeds.  In so doing, they will have replaced sinful instincts with godly ones and are better equipped to do, as Paul promised, every good work.

 

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Alan G. Nute

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, #11, Ralph Earle

A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Walter Bauer.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem

 

Worthy Worker (Part One)

Please read 2 Timothy 2:14-26 in your Bible.

Construction Minister_v03Image by James Best, (C) 2020,

https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

      First there was the refusal to shake hands.  Then there was the tearing of papers.  It was a rough morning in Mrs. Marple’s kindergarten class!  Say, what did you think I was talking about?!

Today we’re talking about being a “worthy worker;” a follower of Jesus who lives out the faith God has given.  Speaking of work: picture two factory workers talking. The woman says, “I can make the boss give me the day off.”

The man replies, “How would you do that?” The woman says, “Just wait and see.” She then hangs upside down from the ceiling.

The boss comes in and says, “What are you doing?” The woman replies, “I’m a light bulb.”

The boss then says, “You’ve been working so much that you’ve gone crazy. I think you need to take the day off.”

The man starts to follow her out and the boss says, “Where are you going?” The man says, “I’m going home, too. I can’t work in the dark.”

We’ve gotten pretty well acquainted with the church in Ephesus.  A young man named Timothy was the sole employee of that church and the Apostle Paul loved him so much he wrote Timothy a couple training manuals.  We’ll see this morning what the second manual says about the kind of workers of whom God approves. This ought to be a big concern to us, because one day we’ll stand before God for our biggest job performance review ever, and we REALLY want that promotion!

Our aim is to be worthy workers.

  1. V. 15 sets forth the goal for our daily life: being approved workers.

DO YOUR BEST proves some effort is required on our part.  The word means to “make haste, make every effort, be zealous or eager” to receive God’s approval.  God graciously supplies us with all we need to live holy and fruitful lives and He forgives us when we sin.  Our part is to exercise our will, to put for the effort, to make the right choices; to do our BEST.

Seek God’s approval by avoiding evil and pursuing good.  This requires CORRECTLY HANDLING THE WORD OF TRUTH.

Given the repeated emphasis on sins of the tongue, (QUARRELING, CHATTER, ARGUMENTS), Paul was evidently concerned about the church’s attention being diverted from approved doctrine to false teaching.

CORRECTLY HANDLING meant to plow a straight furrow, lay a direct road, or quarry a symmetrical stone.  It is handling God’s word in a straightforward way, letting it speak for itself, not trying to bend the word to fit one’s preferred meaning.  Indeed, the best use of the Bible is to use it at as close to the literal words on the page as possible.

Skeptics accuse the Bible of being unreliable as interpreters have bent it to support a variety of teachings.  We have to be careful to not give them evidence that is true.

A benefit of being approved is not having to be ASHAMED in this life and especially not on Judgment Day when all worker’s projects are tested (see 1 Corinthians 3:10-15).  It’s embarrassing to claim to understand God’s will and then be proven wrong.  It’s much, much worse to be judged as wrong by God on Judgment Day, when it’s too late to do anything about it.

  1. Worthy workers in God’s kingdom avoid evil and do good.

Paul supplied five examples of evils to be avoided. The first is QUARRELING mentioned in verses 14, 23, 24.  QUARRELING was condemned as being of NO VALUE.  It is like “empty calories” or “junk food,” it does nothing to sustain or improve life. It is worthless and wasteful.

Worse, it ONLY RUINS THOSE WHO LISTEN (often the innocent bystanders, not those arguing).  Disputes over words cause divisions which unsettle people, turning them away from God and turning them on one another.

There are two kinds of people who are prone to quarrel.  One kind is the Know-it-alls.  Because they refuse to concede there’s something they don’t know better than you, they will argue. The other kind is the Drama Queens who like to quarrel because it’s one way of creating some drama.  We see a great deal of QUARRELING on social media and in relation to Washington politics.

GODLESS CHATTER (16) is the second example of evil to be avoided.  Chatter can feel as if it is the least evil of all the sins of the tongue.  Sure it’s superficial and wastes time, but where’s the harm?

The Apostle Paul would allow none of that; he use the word GODLESS to characterize CHATTER properly: as evil.  To me, cable news networks and talk radio are two modern examples of chatter.  The Worthy Worker has no time to waste on typically sinful verbal fluff.

Third, Paul called on Timothy, a young man, to FLEE THE EVIL DESIRES OF YOUTH (22).  We might think of sensuality, impatience, arrogance, and self-centeredness as usual YOUTH sins.  I prefer to see this as Paul’s condemnation of immaturity.  Immaturity is understandable when you’re young, untrained, and inexperienced.  However, when you’re old enough and taught better and don’t do it, that’s a sin.  However you define the sins of youth, we are to FLEE from them.

The fourth example is strongly worded: DON’T HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH FOOLISH AND STUPID ARGUMENTS (24).  These inevitably lead to having the QUARRELS mentioned in verse fourteen. This reference to arguments makes me think of trying to prove whose football team is better, or comments left on websites that make letters to the editor look tame by comparison.

The fifth example to sins to NOT be RESENTFUL (24).  In our Adult Bible Study we’re finding out about the toxic nature of grudges and all forms of unresolved anger.  Resentment is a self-inflicted wound.  The person at whom we are needlessly angry is very likely to be unaware of their offense or care about it.  Why should we?

To complete the moral picture, God gave Paul five examples of good to be pursued.  The first is a set of four virtues found in verse twenty-two: PURSUE RIGHTEOUSNESS, FAITH, LOVE AND PEACE.  The word PURSUE means we’re not waiting for these virtues to fall out of the sky and hit us on the head like a cartoon anvil.  We must take an active role in cultivating them.

What challenged me this week was the commentator who pointed out that these virtues are exercised in relationships.  You can’t know that you have these virtues or develop them on your own.  We need the church and our families to do it.

The second example of pursuit-worthy virtue is to CALL ON THE LORD OUT OF A PURE HEART (22).  To CALL ON THE LORD is a reference to prayer.  As the Bible teaches, God hears the prayers of those who are PURE of HEART.  This is a moral state, but also refers to sincerity; single-mindedness.

The third virtue is kindness: BE KIND TO EVERYONE (24).  In recent national events we’ve seen that tolerance, patience, and gentleness can be in short supply. Isn’t this a place where the Church could show leadership in our culture?

Whatever one’s position in the church, home, or society, kindness is a virtue that is supposed to distinguish us from unbelievers.  I know how tempting it is to want to win arguments and votes, but the urge to win can never replace kindness.

The fourth virtue is to be ABLE TO TEACH (24). Some believers have a Spiritual Gift of teaching, but all believers are teachers.  All parents are teachers; that’s God’s plan.

Being ABLE TO TEACH requires first that we are learners.  We never want to be the “old dog” who refuses to learn “new tricks.”

Then we must develop our skill in teaching as we gain experience passing along what we know in all the virtuous ways we’ve discussed.  It’s no accident that teaching is listed between kindness and gentleness.

Fifth, GENTLY INSTRUCT those who OPPOSE you (25-26).  Gentleness is always appropriate, but is especially needed when instruction is given, and most of all, when instructing opponents.

Note the chain of reasoning. The HOPE motivating our offering instruction is that GOD WILL GRANT THEM REPENTANCE.  Then their REPENTANCE will lead them to a KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH.  The TRUTH will cause them to COME TO THEIR SENSES. (Literally, “return to soberness.”)  Becoming sensible, the opponents of faith will ESCAPE THE TRAP OF THE DEVIL, WHO HAS TAKEN THEM CAPTIVE TO DO HIS WILL.  It’s impossible to escape a trap when you refuse to recognize you’re in one.

Our aim is to be worthy workers.

      Today is “Church Vocations Sunday,” where we’re supposed to encourage people to consider careers in full-time Christian ministry.  As I am currently working on a letter of recommendation for a young lady who aspires to be a chaplain, we’ll call this a successful Church Vocations Sunday and expand the topic to do what Paul did; use work as a figurative way of explaining what it means to be a Christian.

So here we go: a Christian’s job description.

#1 – Show up for work.  The believer’s workplace is wherever there is someone who can be helped with an act of service or witness.  How many times do we fail to act on opportunities to talk about and demonstrate our faith?

#2 – Follow the boss’s instructions.  Our boss is God, the founder of the company.  He’s put instructions in our hearts and in the Bible, so no excuses.

#3 – Cooperate with your coworkers.  Whether they’re in management or on the floor, your fellow Christians deserve your very best love and treatment.

#4 – Wait patiently for pay day.  The best rewards for a job well done come after “retirement” from this company.  You can trust the Boss to keep track of your hours, but because He is generous, your envelope will contain something extra.

Show yourself to be a worthy worker!

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Alan G. Nute

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, #11, Ralph Earle

Bromance

Please read 1 Peter 1:13-25 in your favorite Bible.

Bromance_final (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020.

The term “bromance” is modern slang for a close but non-sexual relationship between two men.  It’s a combination of the words “brother” and “romance.”  If you’re of a more seasoned generation, it may help you to think of Laurel and Hardy, Hope and Crosby, the Lone Ranger and Tonto.

I was surprised by an internet article that argued against bromance, calling it a “fad.” Writing for ABC News, Brian Pobjie’s 2017 op ed piece flatly stated, “bromance spells disaster for men.”

He explained, “After all, being emotionally unavailable has worked for us for centuries; we were able to get so much done because we didn’t waste time having feelings.

“We were also happy — insofar as any man is capable of happiness — because without the confusion and angst of outwardly-expressed emotions, we never had to worry about whether we were feeling good or bad or worse than we should be.

“In particular, we didn’t have to worry about other men’s feelings, because as far as we knew they didn’t have any.

“We all know that this leads to only one thing: telling another man how you feel. And that leads to that man knowing how you feel. And how can you possibly go on from there?

Once another man knows how you feel, you might as well just leave the country.”

Do you think he was joking?

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-05-07/bromance-signals-decline-of-men/8501022

For our purposes, we might use “bromance” as a contemporary take on “brotherly love,” a term Peter used repeatedly in this letter as one standard for the fellowship God’s people are supposed to enjoy in Church.

CONTEXT: Peter wrote to churches across Asia Minor.  In this letter he had a lot to say about the quality of our life together in the local church.  Our passage this morning is a sample of his teaching on the subject of church relations.

Church life must be Christ-like.

  1. The Church is marked by purity. (22)

Intellectual agreement with the Christian faith is necessary, but by itself, it is not enough.  Being born again involves the whole person.  Real faith produces real change in individuals and churches.  One such change is purity, especially in contrast to the world.

We live pure lives because we want to obey God. We learn God’s standards and we want to please Him by keeping them.

Real purity is not just behaviors; it’s also an attitude, a world view.  Titus 1:5 gives us an example of this aspect of human behavior; TO THE PURE, ALL THINGS ARE PURE.  We betray our attitudes in our own words and deeds but also in the motives we attribute to others.  People who practice purity reveal the purity of their mindset by positivity; seeing good in others.

Because ethical choices are the ones we make ourselves, Peter wrote NOW THAT YOU HAVE PURIFIED YOURSELVES.  When we put this teaching together with other New Testament passages, we understand that purity is something we do in partnership with God.  Purity is a state of grace God gives, one which we must defend against worldly temptations and our own sinful appetites.  Purity is necessary for unity because it eliminates competition and a “win at all costs” attitude.

When we give into temptation and do not protect our purity by sinning, God offers us complete forgiveness if we repent.  Our purity is thereby restored by His gracious hand.

  1. The Church is marked by love. (22)

The words SO THAT connect the virtue of purity to the virtue of love.  Here we learn that purity is necessary for love to be sincere.  Love can be sincere if one’s motives for loving are pure.  Expressions of love that begin w/ evil or selfish motives are not sincere because the object is self, not the beloved.

Peter characterizes godly love in three ways.

It is SINCERE.  Pretending to love someone does not meet God’s standards.  Hypocrisy must never enter in.  Scripture condemns as sin deliberate falsehood in all its forms. Acting in loving ways to deceive someone is a vice, not a virtue.

It is brotherly.  The original language was actually gender neutral on this point, so modern translations who render it “brotherly and sisterly love” are not giving into “political correctness,” they are simply being more accurate.  This word refers to our church; our brothers and sisters in faith.  We tend to put a lot of attention on family at home, but in the Bible, our primary family is our church family.  Our brothers and sisters in faith deserve our best love.

Love comes DEEPLY, FROM THE HEART.  SINCERE LOVE is honest, which is a virtue.  But deep love goes further, arising from emotions and values that are central to our character.

Small talk and superficial acts of kindness come pretty easily; especially of the object of our love is someone that’s easy for us to love.  Surface-level love doesn’t require much of us and doesn’t risk much either.  On the other hand, deep love can be difficult and carries the emotional risks of exposure and rejection.  No wonder it doesn’t come naturally and is infrequent (especially between men).

  1. The Church is marked by eternality. (23-25)

One vice typical to human nature is impatience.  We prefer a quick fix to problems, immediate gratification, and instant everything.

What Peter makes clear in vs. 23-25 is that those who are BORN AGAIN are to be characterized by a view of eternity that determines our daily decisions.  Peter expresses this point in two ways.

First, those born again are NOT OF PERISHABLE SEED, BUT IMPERISHABLE.  Our life as believers must be dominated by God’s perspective, His big picture, eternal point of view.  When we were born into this world, we were given a PERISHABLE body, a life of limits.  When we are BORN AGAIN, we are given the promise of a new body, an eternal life.  Spiritual maturity is having our thinking and behaving more and more determined by a heavenly, eternal, perspective and less by an earthly, temporary one.

Second, this change from earthly to eternal is a life-long one.  It is only possible THROUGH THE LIVING AND ETERNAL WORD OF GOD.  The Bible is our most specific and accessible source of information about God.  We would not know what to believe or how to be saved apart from what the word tells us. Jesus is also referred to as the Word, so Peter may be making a reference to Jesus in this verse.  Both possibilities are equally true, for we need the Bible’s witness in order to know Jesus.  Following his teaching in v. 23, Peter makes use of the WORD OF GOD, quoting Isaiah 40:6-8 in vs. 24+25.

Church life must be Christ-like.

      I can’t approach the topic of brotherly love without mentioning Laurel and Hardy.  To me, they are an emblem of brotherhood.  When we had our sabbatical in England almost 30 years ago, we dedicated an afternoon to the small Laurel and Hardy Museum in Ulverston, the birthplace of Stan Laurel.

As I learned recently, there is an anecdote from their lives that proves their devotion to one another.  Their last performance together was on May 17, 1954.  Oliver Hardy had been stricken by a heart attack which ended his acting career.  He died three years later.  Though he survived Oliver Hardy by eight years, Stan Laurel refused all offers to appear on stage or screen without his partner.  In addition, throughout that time he kept writing new material for the comedy team as if they were still together.  That is an example of great dedication and friendship.

I offer Stan and Ollie as emblems of brotherly love because what made their comedy work was that their characters were polar opposites of one another.  Human nature is such that we tend to belittle or exclude others who are different from us.  Christ’s nature is just the opposite.  Remember how some people complained because Jesus included tax collectors and sinners in His circle?  Remember how He started a conversation with a Samaritan woman?

That’s how Christians are supposed to be, especially in our relationships with each other.  The love of Christ compels us to draw as wide a circle as possible, loving as many people as deeply as possible, opening the gates of heaven in our daily living.

 

RESOURCES:

Message #970

Gifted, Graced, Growing

Please read Romans 12:1-8.

God's Gifts_final (2)

Image by James Best, (C) 2020,

https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

God gives us all we need to grow in His grace.

      We need to begin by sharing some alarming information.  But first, a reminder of the Bible’s teaching that we are in this together:

If one part [of the Body of Christ] suffers, every part suffers with it. 1 Corinthians 12:26,  “The world has become less tolerant and less safe for Christians. Based on current statistics, every day around the world …

  • 8 Christians are killed for their faith.
  • 23 Christians are raped or sexually harassed.
  • 25 Churches are targeted and attacked.
  • 10 Christians are unjustly arrested or imprisoned for their faith.

Every week around the world …

  • 186 church buildings are attacked.
  • 276 Christian homes are burned or destroyed.

The total numbers reveal a more than a 1,000% increase in acts of persecution in 2019 over 2018.”

Violence Against Christians Surges; More Than 1,000% Increase in Attacks on Churches Since 2018

The point is this: the enemy is active and organized in its opposition to the truth of Jesus Christ. God created the church to be a body, a movement of people whose ambition is to shine the light of Jesus into a dark world.  We haven’t time to waste on lesser things.

CONTEXT – Bible teacher A.M. Hunter said there are two sides to the Gospel; the believing side and the “behaving side.”  A living faith is growing in knowing and doing.  Paul wrote a doxology (11:33-36) and then followed it up with a call to worship God by sacrifice.  In this way, Paul illustrated both the believing and behaving sides of faith.

  1. God gives gracious gifts.

One act of grace is God’s gift of revelation: it is gracious of God to reveal Himself to us.  In Romans 12:3, Paul reported that God gave him insight into the nature of humility and faith (3). This teaching came from God: FOR BY THE GRACE GIVEN ME I SAY TO EVERY ONE OF YOU.

The specific truth revealed on this occasion is found in the phrase, DO NOT THINK OF YOURSELF MORE HIGHLY THAN YOU OUGHT, for that is pride. Doubt is not the opposite of faith; pride is the opposite of faith!  As we learned in Bible Study recently, “EGO” is an acronym for “Edging God Out.” There is only room for one on the throne of our life; it must be God who sits there.

INSTEAD, Paul wrote, THINK OF YOURSELF WITH SOBER JUDGMENT, for that is humility.  Humility is an accurate self-understanding.  Faith allows us to see ourselves from God’s perspective and thereby to by humble.

Here’s a news flash!  We don’t create faith or even increase it: faith is something God gives us, as Paul wrote, IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE MEASURE OF FAITH GOD HAS GIVEN YOU.  Let me give you two New Testament examples of people who understood faith to be God’s gift.

– In Luke 17:5, Jesus’ disciples said to Him, “INCREASE OUR FAITH!”  There is no exertion of will to believe here, just a plea for more faith.

– In Mark 9:24 Jesus challenged the demoniac boy’s father to believe in order to see his son delivered.  In desperation the man cried out, “I DO BELIEVE! HELP ME OVERCOME MY UNBELIEF!”  He accurately understood faith to be something Jesus gives.

Part of humility is to avoid comparing ourselves with others.  Based on His knowledge of us, God gives each of us a MEASURE OF FAITH that is best for us.  We can pray for more faith, but we can’t create it, not with all the willpower in the world.

God created the Church for our benefit and gives abilities to serve in shared ministry (4-6).  We do not belong to ourselves, but to each other.  The problem is that pride gets in the way.  Pride feeds selfishness and is contrary to fellowship in the church.

Proud people try to support their pride by citing things like amount or length of service, education, or recognition, as if they are trying to work around grace. Any time someone has to build themselves up in a bid to get your attention you can be sure that it is pride – not love – that is at work in them.  Be wary of your own words.

A cure for pride is to think of one’s self WITH SOBER JUDGMENT. This requires a view of self that is informed by Scripture.

  1. God wants us to use His gifts.

Our best response to God’s grace is to worship Him (1). In the Old Testament, worship involved the sacrifice of animals to atone for one’s sin.  In the New Testament, worship still involves sacrifice, but not the killing of an animal, but the spiritual sacrifice of the worshiper, a LIVING SACRIFICE.

This is what Jesus meant when He said the greatest commandment is loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37).  The SACRIFICE of which Paul speaks is all of our personality must be poured into our life-long service to Christ.

Paul wrote that this kind of self-sacrifice is SPIRITUAL, “reasonable” or “true” worship.  This echoes Jesus’ teaching in John 4:24, that God the Father accepts worship that is spiritual and true.

God wants us to be transformed (2), growing in the faith He’s given.  One force opposing spiritual maturity is the devil or Satan.  He’s a liar, tempter and accuser, wielding distraction to achieve destruction.  Another force opposing spiritual maturity is the WORLD (aka “this age”).  The material world has a lot of influence because we temporarily live in it.  Part of the work of spiritual maturity is distancing ourselves from the world’s temptations and ties.

The institutions of this world want our loyalty and our resources.  The world wants conformity.  We’re to keep in line, not rock the boat, not defy their illusionary powers.  However, as God’s people, all we are and all we have belongs to God.  He calls us to transformation, becoming less worldly and more heavenly.  Our priority with our resources is using them to make Earth more heavenly.

The means of transformation Paul gives here is renewal of our minds.  Transformation is also something God gives, but there are things we can do to open our minds to renewal: prayer, study of God’s word, good works done in love, and obeying his commands.  The effect of this transformation is gaining wisdom to discern God’s will.  God’s will is always the best choice because it is GOOD, PERFECT, and PLEASING.

In general, we know that we are being transformed if selfishness is being replaced by godliness.  This is the spirit in which John the Baptist spoke of Jesus in John 3:30, “He must increase, I must decrease.”

God wants us to use our Spiritual Gifts (6-8).  We don’t have space to elaborate on the Gifts in this article.  It is enough for us to note that they are Gifts from God and therefore not a source of pride or competition in a church.  God gives as He wills, knowing up perfectly and working His will in us.

God gives us all we need to grow in His grace.

      I read this week that an egotist is someone who’s ME-DEEP in everything!  Part of God’s amazing grace is that He delivers us from a self-centered life.  He saves us from the burden of having to be right all the time.  He demonstrates forgiveness that renders perfectionism obsolete.  And on top of all that, He places us in a “forever family” that loves and supports us unconditionally.

When you think about it, the Bible has an awful lot to say against pride.  It has a lot to recommend depending on God rather than self.  All of that takes the pressure off and allows us to experience rest in Jesus Christ.

Here’s a practical experiment for you to try.  Whether you’re having a conversation in person, online, or on the phone, try to avoid first person pronouns.  Don’t use words like “I” and “me” and observe the conversation impartially.  When you don’t use those words, how often does the conversation turn to you?  Notice how much more you’ll have to listen and how much more responsive the other person becomes.  It’s a good feeling: you may want to make a habit of it!

 

RESOURCE:

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Romans, Leslie C. Allen.

Advent Angels Sighting #4

Advent Angel Sightings 3_final (1)

 (Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

          Please read Luke 2:8-20.

Our focus during Advent has been on the angels.  But this week I’ve read and heard a lot about the shepherds.  One fellow said they were servants of the temple, tending the sheep used for the sacrifices.  Another said they were hiding out, complaining and maybe even plotting against the census that had been ordered by Rome.  I suppose either, neither, or both of those things could be true.

What I believe is indisputable, however, is that these were ordinary joes, working men suddenly overtaken by God and by history in the course of their ordinary lives.  It ought to serve as an inspiration to all of us that God chose to announce the birth of Jesus to ordinary folks.  The angels bypassed the palaces and temple and went to a work site.  The good news came first to people much like us.  That’s God’s justice and maybe His sense of humor.

CONTEXT: The scene is a countryside, which fits with Bethlehem as a rural village and with Luke’s theme of the most important birth happening without the notice of the world’s rich and powerful.  KEEPING WATCH means they were taking shifts looking out for predators and keeping the flocks together.

God sent an army of angels and an army of shepherds to announce the Savior’s birth.

  1. Luke reveals information about angels.

A single angel appeared first and delivered the message.  The angel is not named, but it might have been Gabriel who did all the talking in chapter one.

The situation starts out very much like the other angelic visitations: sudden appearance, glorious light, fearful response, angel says, “Don’t be afraid.”  Another consistent feature is that the message is GOOD NEWS.  Contrary to the angelic message delivered to Mary and Zechariah, this one is not going to affect the size of the shepherds’ families.

It is GOOD NEWS FOR ALL THE PEOPLE.  That is, for all the people of Israel, as directly stated in 1:17, 68, 77.  On the other hand, Luke tended to use this expression to refer to the “common people” as opposed to their religious and political leaders.

It will occur IN THE TOWN OF DAVID; a hint that it will fulfill prophecy.  As we see later, Jesus did not fulfill popular expectations of the Messiah, but He was obedient to fulfill prophecy and the will of God the Father.

A SAVIOR HAS BEEN BORN TO YOU indicates that this baby will be more than just another heir of David.  He will play the pivotal part in God’s salvation.  This is an exceptional verse.  There are three titles mentioned in v.11; SAVIOR, CHRIST (“Messiah” or “Anointed One”), and LORD.  This is the only New Testament text where all three titles appear together.  This is the only time in Luke’s gospel that Jesus is referred to as “Savior.”

THIS WILL BE A SIGN: a circumstance so unique that it will be possible to identify the individual child.  A BABY WRAPPED IN CLOTHS AND LYING IN A MANGER are a mixed message; the CLOTHS imply the baby is wanted and cared-for, but LYING in a manger feels like abandonment. Verse sixteen makes it clear the when they arrived, the shepherds found MARY and JOSEPH there, so the baby was not abandoned after all.

Once the message is delivered, A GREAT COMPANY of angel APPEARED.  A GREAT COMPANY OF THE HEAVENLY HOST uses military terminology, but their activity is not military, it is worship; they glorify God.  Worship of God in heaven seems to be the primary activity of angels and we see it here for the first time.  Given the importance of Jesus’ birth, it makes sense to worship God on this occasion.

The worship promotes the idea that PEACE is the thing God is attempting to achieve here.  The Hebrew word for peace is shalom. Peace is much more than the absence of conflict, a temporary ceasefire.  It is a state of prosperity, security, and harmony, a degree of well-being, a taste of heaven on earth.  In Old Testament prophecy, a state of shalom is associated with the kind of kingdom the Messiah would bring to pass.

Who are the recipients of this peaceful kingdom?  The angels’ hymn says cryptically, MEN ON WHOM HIS FAVOR RESTS.  We don’t have enough information here to know whether this meant the Jews or the Church or both, in their turns.  It doesn’t really matter as the emphasis is not on the MEN, but on God’s FAVOR, or His grace.  Neither the Jews nor the Church deserve God’s FAVOR, so it is purely grace.

The message delivered, the angels returned to HEAVEN.  After all, they came from heaven.

  1. The shepherds responded faithfully.

They responded immediately.  In the same sentence that reports the angels’ return to heaven, the shepherds have decided to go to Bethlehem to check it out (verse fifteen).  Verse sixteen states they HURRIED OFF to Bethlehem.  This detail conveys an immediate response but also implies an enthusiastic one too.

They responded enthusiastically.  All that is reported about the shepherds conveys people who were understandably enthused to have been visited by angels and saw for themselves that the angel’s good news was perfectly true.

They responded worshipfully.  Verse twenty tells us the shepherd glorified and praised God, just as the company of angels had done in verse sixteen.  What they thought was praiseworthy was that God had kept His promises.  Everything the angels announced had come to pass; they had HEARD and SEEN it for themselves.

They responded evangelistically.  Verses seventeen and eighteen tell us the shepherds SPREAD THE WORD.  They reported their encounter with the angels and their meeting the baby and His parents. These verses also report the reaction of those who heard the shepherds’ testimony: ALL WHO HEARD IT WERE AMAZED.  As we’ve seen, amazement is the usual reply when people perceive God at work.

God sent an army of angels and an army of shepherds to announce the Savior’s birth.

What strikes me about Luke chapter two after verse two is that the only people mentioned who are “high and mighty” are the angels.  The HEAVENLY HOST appear in contrast to the powerless people who are named in this chapter.  Jesus is a baby; Joseph, Mary, the shepherds and literally everybody else are peasants.  This alone ought to squelch our ambition to “be somebody” or even get noticed.  We can get tired of our routine, long to escape our ordinariness.  Have you ever been greeted by someone who asked, “What’s new and exciting?”  What did you answer?

The shepherds had an answer to that question.  “Let me tell you something!” they’d say with excited voices.  Here’s something new and exciting: we have exactly the same good news that they did!  Jesus is born!  God has kept all His promises and delivered life and light to everyone in the dark shadow of death.

The angels and the shepherds had the same job, only the shepherds were volunteers.  Their job was to tell the GOOD NEWS.  That is our job too.  We have news to share and in this season we have an abundant opportunity to share it!

 

RESOURCES:

Word Biblical Commentary, Luke 1-9:20, John Nolland

Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible, Luke, Justo L. Gonzalez