Let me set the scene.
It was 7:30am on a Tuesday morning. Our Seminary classroom was in the basement. It was the only room without windows. But what it lacked in light, it made up for in warmth.
Dim, cozy, & early.
Sounds like the perfect place to preach a sermon right?
I started speaking. “Umm…uh…this is about…Jesus.” (My Professor, who had one of those moustaches that screamed “I’m a scholar” slowly shifted his pen and began scribbling into his notebook in back.)
I started sweating. I took a deep breath I continued.
Thirty some minutes later I was, thankfully, done. All in all…I wouldn’t say my first sermon was very memorable. The only thing that was memorable about it was the AMEN (which woke up a few classmates from their slumber.)
Today we’re taking a look at Jesus’ first recorded sermon. In contrast to my work, his first sermon is very memorable.
I. Jesus Preached In Church
Take a look at Luke 4:14-15. It says, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.”
Since we left Jesus last time, his ministry has kicked off. After changing water into wine, he went to be baptized by John the Baptist and as he did so the heavens opened up, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, and God the Father’s voice said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Would you be interested in hearing from the one who changed water into wine AND about whom a booming voice from heaven spoke in person?
It worked exactly how God wanted. These signs perked people’s interest so that they would come to see Jesus. And did they ever come. Scripture says that people came to see Jesus in all kinds of places. At the beach. On a hillside. In the streets.
But there was one place that seemed tailor made for listening to Jesus teach: THE SYNAGOGUE.
The synagogue was the Ancient Jewish version of church. People would gather together daily to read and discuss God’s Word. They would hear God’s law and they would discuss theological things. It was the place to be if you were in any way interested in learning about God.
But there was one synagogue Jesus hadn't been invited to just yet. It was one that was near and dear to his heart.
Take a look at verse 16: Jesus went to Nazareth where he had been brought up. This was his home synagogue. It was where he went to Sunday School. (To be fair, Jews worshipped on Saturdays, so Saturday School would have been more like it.) His neighbors went there. His relatives went there. He had sung in the choir there.
But it's not as if they even had specially requested Jesus to come and speak. Look at it again. Jesus went to Nazareth where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. Zero in on that last phrase. “As was his custom.” Think about that. Jesus wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary when he went to this church.
It was his custom. It’s what he did.
Have you seen those new GEICO Commercials? They’ve got one where everything is going wrong in the peanut butter factory. Jars on the ground; wrappers flying through the area; peanut butter mushed everywhere. When the manager asks, “Who’s responsible for this?” the workers point at the goat.
The ad says, “If you’re a scapegoat, you get blamed for things. It’s what you do. If you want to save money, you switch to GEICO. It’s what you do.”
If you’re God’s Son, you go to God’s house. It’s what you do.
By faith in Jesus, we’re God’s children, too. Isn’t it a little strange then that we don’t take invitations to our Father’s house quite as seriously?
· I believe. I just don’t go to church. I don’t need to. Church is unnecessary.
· My church? It’s in the field on Sunday morning.
· I can go to church online. That should be good enough.
Think about this: the Divine, Universe creating, God’s Word sending, author of life itself – Jesus Christ--- went to church! As God, he already knew all there was to know about the Scriptures (He inspired them after all) yet he went to church.
You? Are you better than Jesus?
If you aren't, perhaps you should be going to church.
In fact, Scripture calls it a necessity. A necessity for salvation? No. Necessity for strengthening faith, connecting to God, rebuking your sins, reminding of salvation, encouraging with prayers and serving others? Absolutely.
Granted. Church can happen at times other than Sunday morning at 10:30am. It happens during midweek Bible studies. It happens at Chick-fil-A with the Young Adult Group. It happens down at Elmcroft Retirement home for a Bible study. Jesus said, “Where two or three come together in my mind, there I am with them.” That’s church, too. Gathering together with Christians to hear God’s Word – that’s church.
BOTTOM LINE: If you’re a Christian, you do church. However you do church, you do church, because you are the church. It’s what you do.
II. Jesus Preached From Scripture
But one thing you might not have to do is to get up and give a sermon. Can you imagine if that became our practice? "If you are sitting in Pew 7 seat B, come up front—it’s your turn to do the sermon."
That’s exactly what happened with Jesus. Scriptures says, "He stood up and read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it was written."
Did you notice something very interesting? Jesus is the Son of God. He knows all things.
Yet – he didn’t just speak off the cuff. He read from the Bible.
Granted back then the Bible looked a bit different. Instead of books, they had scrolls. Generally, these were long pieces of parchment that had been rolled up. As you scrolled, you would roll the ends of it to get to the next page and the next words. There also wasn’t any New Testament yet. Jesus was busy living the New Testament.
Still, there's something to learn here. Jesus had a deep respect for the Old Testament. He had a love for the Bible. His sermon was based on God's Word.
Take this away from this section: Good sermons are based on God's Word.
This is key. Preachers should preach on God’s Word.
Not on last night’s debate.
Not on their political parties' latest agenda.
Not on the latest article in Time Magazine.
Not on some Facebook post.
Preaching, good preaching, is Biblical. It is based on the Bible.
Pastor, what does this have to do with me?
True. You might not be asked to preach in front of a congregation of people in a church building anytime soon. But that doesn't mean you won't preach.
You might get a chance to talk to your kids about some moral issue.
You might get to tell your coworkers about what you believe.
You might get to show your spouse how important Jesus is by going to church.
When you preach, use God's Word. Don't base your words and actions on what you want or what you feel. Base them on God's Word.
III. Jesus Preached About the Messiah
Now take a look at what part of the Bible that Jesus read from, it’s Isaiah 61. He read, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Sounds awesome right? Most of the people knew who this Scripture was talking about. It was talking about the Messiah. The Anointed One. The One promised by God to save them.
Think again about what the Messiah had to offer them AND has to offer you:
Good News for the Poor. If you receive bad news after bad news. Late fee after late bill after late fee. The power just got turned off because you’re too far behind. You don’t have enough money for gas to get your kids to school – and they’ll be expelled because you can’t get them there.
The Messiah is good news. The golden studded, eternal riches of God.
Healing for the Brokenhearted. If you’re brokenhearted. If the man you loved cheated on you. Broke your heart. Left you behind. Dumped you…alone, by yourself, with nothing but pain. “Why did I give so much of myself to him?”
The Messiah is good news. He will be faithful and will not leave you.
Freedom to the Captives. If you’ve been to jail. If you’ve been behind bars. If you’re now behind the bars of your own guilt and shame – unable to escape what you’ve done. Reminded of it at every job interview and every government application...
The Messiah is good news. He frees you from guilt. He releases you from your chains.
Recovery of sight to the Blind. If you are losing your sight…if you’ve lost your way. If you remember God, but you can’t see how he is in your life. If you can’t see the right path and everything looks…dark.
The Messiah is good news. He is the Light. He is the Way.
Deliverance for the Oppressed. If you are oppressed by your own thoughts. If the devil tells you that you are worthless, that God hates you, that God wants nothing to do with you, that you can never be saved - and these thoughts filter through your brain throughout the day. Each day. Especially in the quiet moments --- revealing a tumult inside your soul.
The Messiah is good news. He says, “You’re mine. I love you. I died for you.”
The congregation of people smiled. It was nice to be reminded of what the Messiah would do. Here in this Roman dominated culture, they felt oppressed and poor. They couldn’t wait for a Messiah to lead them back to glory.
I imagine that as Jesus closed the scroll, the people nodded with approval. Ms. Mertz who he used to help carry groceries in winked at him. Uncle Karl gave him a big thumbs up. They knew what was coming next. “The Messiah will come. Israel will be restored to glory.” It would be nice to hear this young man who had grown up from their own congregation preaching that same message.
Jesus returned to the center of the front. He looked at them. He sighed. He spoke.
Their jaws dropped.
“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Do you understand what Jesus was saying? His sermon theme and parts were simple.
PART ONE: You need a Messiah.
PART TWO: I am the Messiah.
He was saying that the portion from Isaiah that he read was talking about Him! Listen to Jesus:
I AM good news for the poor.
I AM healing for the broken-hearted.
I AM freedom for the captives.
I AM recovery of sight.
I AM Deliverance from oppression.
I AM the Messiah.
This wasn’t political either. This wasn’t his version of Trump’s “Make America great again.”
This was spiritual. It was eternal. He would be the Savior from Sin.
And…that’s it. He doesn’t say anymore. It’s short. (Even our fast paced, YouTube generation minds can pay attention that long). Jesus wants you to have one simple YET incredible takeaway.
HE IS YOUR SAVIOR.
Brothers and sisters, that’s still the main point today. Jesus is your Savior. If you never got anything out of sermons than that, so be it! That’s all that matters. YOU NEED A SAVIOR and JESUS IS THE SAVIOR!
As a church, this needs to be the central point too. When you new members come up here in a bit, that’s what you’ll confess…faith in Jesus as your Savior. After that we’ll have the Lord’s Supper, where we receive the true body and blood of Jesus our Savior. At the Voter’s assembly, we’ll talk about what the church is up to…keeping in mind our main reason for existing: PREACHING JESUS AS THE SAVIOR!
May it be the same in your life too. As you preach your sermons, make Jesus the center. Make him the center of your relationships, your church life, your quiet mornings, your work day, your conversation with friends, brushing your teeth, saying your prayers and going to bed.
In short, make Jesus the center of your life. It's all about Him. He is...the Savior. Amen.
Social Media is filled with them.
It wasn’t so easy to do when I was a child, otherwise I'm sure I could be embarrassed by them for years to come. Now all it takes is a cell phone and a semi, steady hand and viola – videos clips of your child’s first.
We record all kinds of first. First words. First crawl. First steps. First attempt at eating a pickle. First birthday. First day of school. First bike ride. First basketball game. First time ever watching Star Wars. Of course, nobody every records and posts a video of “my child’s first not wanting to eat broccoli tantrum,” but I digress.
Firsts are important for us. They showcase maturity and growth. And sometimes…they showcase something more.
Today we’re taking a look at another first of Jesus. But it isn’t something that's normal. In fact, it is by definition something abnormal. We are going to take a look at Jesus’ first miracle – an event unexplained by the laws of nature; supernatural; from God.
I. He Cares
Take a look at John 2:1. It says, “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.”
The setting is a wedding. Jesus had been invited to a wedding. So…stop for a moment and think about the last wedding you were at. You’ve got an idea of the setting. Beautiful flowers, friends and family, delicious food – all in all a joyous occasion.
But back then weddings were celebrated a bit differently from the way they are celebrated today. The reception lasted longer than a night. It appears that the party would go on for a few days.
At first, that sounds like a good idea. A week long party. But think about what that might be like. The bridesmaid that you made a fool of yourself while dancing now has to see you the next day. The usher that was flirting with you the night before – the one you weren’t interested in at all — has another shot to impress you. Uncle Ted, who you got into an argument about politics with, has a second chance to win the argument the next day. The cups, streamers, and dying flowers don’t look quite as beautiful the next day.
Of course – one of the big perks that probably kept people around and prevented them from returning home to work – FREE FOOD & FREE DRINKS. Think about it how nice that would be. Chicken Cordon Bleu for lunch. A butter lobster for dinner. Late night oven baked pizza snack. Prime rib for breakfast. Prime rib for lunch. Prime rib for dinner.
But at this particular wedding, something disappointing happened. The mother of the groom didn’t object to the marriage. The bride didn’t abandon the groom at the altar. The officiant didn’t even mess up the couple’s last night.
It was much worse: They had run out of wine!
I say it like that because it doesn’t appear to be all that big of a deal. Now granted – there were probably only two drinks available at the wedding – water and wine. The wine, more popular, because it had been fermented and filtered. To lose that as an option was at the very least a social embarrassment. At most – it was the breaking of a social contract. “I travelled through three cities to get here and they can’t even provide me with proper nourishment. How rude!”
Still – you’d think, with the exception of Uncle Karl, everyone would get over it. This isn’t someone who had gotten very sick. It isn’t someone who couldn’t walk. It isn’t someone who couldn’t talk or hear or see.
Mary sighed. She knew the couple and she knew the family. She didn’t like how embarrassed they looked. But…what could she do? On a carpenter’s salary, she didn’t have enough money to go and pick up a jar. Besides – Cana wasn’t her hometown. Where would she get the wine? What would be open at this hour?
There’s nothing she could do to help. Except…
Her son. Jesus. There was something extraordinary about him. She had treasured it in her heart. She reflected: An angel had announced his conception. She had given birth without having had sex. Shepherds came to worship him that night. Time after time, people had swept him up from her arms to praise God for his birth. Men from far in the east had visited them and given extravagant gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh. King Herod – had tried to kill him.
Now granted – He hadn’t done anything miraculous yet. He was a model boy. A perfect boy, but that didn't mean he could fix this.
Yet, there was something special about him. Something incredible. Something magnificent. Something divine.
When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
He looked at her.
He smiled. “Dear woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.”
Mary looked down. He’s right. Why would this be the time? Why would this be the first miracle? Why would, if he was the Savior of the World, have time to care about saving this couple’s reputation?
And yet. Maybe.
She motioned for the boy that was pouring a glass of water close by. She followed him back to where the other servants had gathered. She hushed her voice. She pointed at Jesus. “Do whatever he tells you.”
Have you ever felt like that? Have you felt that maybe your problems are just too unimportant for Jesus to care? Too small for him to “do a miracle?”
· I’ve got a big test coming up, but…it only makes up 15% of my grade. I’m in this alone. God’s got bigger things to do.
· I have a tough schedule this week – 50 hours of work, plus taking my kids to swim lessons and I’m meeting with my manager. But none of that’s spiritual, so…God bless my soul?
· I’d love to have God’s blessings. I’m meeting the realtor this week. But we’re aren’t able to afford anything over $300,000 and that’s pretty small for a hefty God. I think he’ll only be helping me if the house was over a million!
· What does God care about me? I’m not movie star. I’m no athlete. I’m no politician. I’m just me. Normal. Lactose intolerant. Kinda shy. God doesn’t care about me. He couldn’t.
Take a look at Jesus’ reaction to this minor problem. 6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.”
Take note. Jesus didn’t avoid Mary for the rest of the night. He didn’t say his goodbyes and get to the local motel. He didn’t give his disciples a few dollars and say, “You guys take care of it.”
He cared too much.
The same is true about you. He cares too much to ignore event the smallest of your requests for help. Take a look at what Jesus said here. He said, “29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Sparrows are tiny birds. They’re common and not all that impressive. Case in point: When’s the last time you went to the zoo and your kid said, “Mommy, when do we get to see the sparrow exhibit?” The toucan or the flamingo, sure…but sparrow? Probably not.
Yet God cares about one of them. He cares about what they are doing. He cares about the worms they eat, the twigs they need for their nests and the branches they rest on.
You are way more important than a sparrow. Jesus didn’t die for sparrows. He died to save you. He cares about you.
He even cares about your hair. Isn’t that amazing? God has a count of how many hairs you have on your head. Some of you are thinking – that’s not really that impressive. But think about what he’s saying. Yet God knows. God knows and God cares about you. He cares even about your hair count – something that there’s isn’t even an app for yet!
It means he cares about little ol’ you and he cares about the little ol’ things that go on in your life.
He cares about you. Every part of you. Even the seemingly less significant parts.
In fact, after seeing what Scripture says, the only way we can say, “God doesn’t care,” is if we listen to ourselves rather than him. Isn’t that the truth? When we think God doesn’t care, it’s because we don’t think it’s significant enough.
That’s tantamount to telling God – the things He cares about (you) – isn't important!
Stop that. Repent. Turn to your God who cares so much about you and receive his forgiveness.
II. He Can
Of course, maybe you’re thinking. That’s nice, but caring isn’t enough. It’s nice to hear he cares, but if you can’t help, then what’s the point?
It’d be like the Green Bay Packers last night. Did I care if they won? Absolutely. Did I wish I could help? Absolutely. Is there anything I could acutally do to help? Well…in spite of my superstition that as long as I stand with a bag of Doritos in my hand – NO!!!
What good is it if you care, but you can’t do anything!?!
Nearby Jesus were six big stone jars. They each held about thirty gallons of water. They were placed by the entrance to the wedding hall as an old fashioned faucet. Before indoor plumbing, this was key for washing hands – especially so in the Jewish culture which called for a ceremonial washing of the hands before they ate.
Jesus said to his servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’
The servants looked at each other. That was it? This woman had talked to them so confidently – This guy will fix the problem. – But all he wanted was more water. They could have come up with that. It didn’t solve the problem of wine – it just provided a less tasty consolation.
But they said they would, so they did. They went outside. The drew some water form the well. They filled each jar up to the brim. Then, they lugged them back – with sweat dripping down their foreheads.
Then, Jesus told them, “draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
Did you want him to confirm that it was water? Were you hoping that the master had had too much to drink and wouldn’t notice the different? C’mon guy. This won’t work. This is going to bring even more embarrassment than not having any wine at all.
But…they had promised. So, they took the ladle. They poured it into a nearby chalice. They took the cup to the master of the banquet. And they were totally ready to tell him, “It was that guys’ idea.”
The master took a sip. He swished it in his mouth. He swallowed. He leaned down and sniffed it. He smiled.
He called the bridegroom – who had been totally unaware of everything that just happened and he said to him, “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.”
Can you imagine what was going through the servant's’ mind? Wait. What happened? We filled that glass from the ladle. The ladle had been dipped in the jar of water. The water was from the well. The reason we did that was because Jesus….
Jesus! He must have done something. But…what? We were with the water the whole time. And how would he smuggle in 180 gallons of wine anyway? This was impossible. This was incredible. This was….
How do you normally make wine? First you plant the grapes. Then you grow the grapes. A process that takes a couple months. Then, you harvest the grapes. Then, follow the chart, you sanitize, combine, pitch, aerate, ferment, rack, stabilize, degas, clarify, fill, clear, rake, age, rack again, bottle, cork and condition.
Granted – Jesus could have skipped the first couple of steps – but still do you get the point? Wine making takes hundreds of hours of work, months of waiting, and lots of equipment.
Jesus made wine in seconds, with no waiting, and without nothing but water!
It’s a miracle.
Look at John’s conclusion to this section: “This was the first sign that Jesus did which revealed his glory.”
It’s like I’m sure Michael Jordan’s mom can remember the first basketball game that she thought, “He might be something special,” or Leonardo Da Vinci’s parents saw a painting and thought, “He might have some special artistic talent.”
The disciples saw Jesus do his very first God thing and got to thinking – he might be something special. He might be something divine.
This is where your mind needs to be too! Because this isn’t the only sign that Jesus does. He continues to show his incredible, God-power throughout his life. He makes the blind to see, the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, the mute to talk, the sick to be healthy, the water to be walked on, the storm to be quiet, the demons to leave, the skies to open up and a voice to proclaim, “This is my Son, whom I love with him I am well pleased,” the dead to come back to life…himself to die and come back to life.
Jesus did God things. Things that no one else could do, can do, or ever will do.
It means HE IS GOD!
The fact that he changed water into wine – reminds us that he really did change something else.
He changed your spiritual status.
He changed your guilt into forgiveness.
He changed your status of condemned into innocence.
He changed your death into life eternal.
Of course, apart from Jesus – the water would have still been water. Apart from your Savior, on your own, you will still be guilty. You will still be condemned. You will still be sentenced to eternal death in hell.
But with him – a miracle. A chance. Forgiveness. Innocence. Eternal life. And with that: peace, joy, and confidence.
Confidence that God cares and confidence that God can. Amen.
It’s 2016. The beginning of a New Year. And, here's a behind the scenes note, usually at the beginning of the year it is a time for the church leadership to assess the state of the church and make plans for the coming year. The same is here at Gethsemane. We talk about worship. We talk about in reach. We talk about what flavor coffee tastes best in the hallway. We talk about a lot of things and make plans for the New Year.
But one of the key things that we talk about in the church is something called OUTREACH. Outreach is "reaching out." But not just for a high five. It's reaching out with the life saving message of Jesus.
Think about it. Somebody reached out to you. It might have been your mom. Maybe a pastor. Maybe a friend. Maybe a Facebook post OR a coworker's invite. Whoever it was someone reached out to you and said, "Come and hear about your Savior. "
That's why Outreach is in the DNA of a Christian. In Jesus, we know forgiveness, the promise of eternal life, and victory over the devil. We desire for others to know that as well.
Today we’re starting our first sermon in our Firsts sermon series of 2016. We’re going to take a look at a few key firsts in the life of Jesus. I want to look at one of the very first OUTREACH Programs.
I. The Program's Goal
We’re going to look at Matthew 2. Take a look at it. This takes place somewhere around 1-2 years after Jesus’ birth. It says, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
It says that "magi" came to investigate Jesus' birth. Magi appear to have been some kind of astronomers, hence the term "wise" men. They had been observing the skies and recording the shapes of constellation patterns and star movements throughout their lives.
Why did they suddenly drop what they were doing and embark on a long journey across the desert? They noticed a different kind of star. Something new. Something peculiar. A star so divine in it's presence that it was obvious there was something amazing at the end.
A star that God had put there.
Think about how badly God wanted to do this outreach and get this news of Jesus' birth to them. He didn't send an email. He didn't call them on the telephone. He didn't even send a text message. He didn't even boost a post on Instagram!
HE MADE A GIANT BALL OF GAS EXPLODE INTO THE SKY.
It's kind of like one of those big spot lights that businesses might shine up in the sky at a grand opening. It can lead to a car dealership or a casino or a brand new mall. I saw one in the sky once and decided to followed it. The spotlight led to a small Minnesota country town's grand opening of a local gas station.
God's spotlight directs the world to a much bigger prize than a 2 for 1 slushie sale. God's spotlight directs the magi to the Son of God. The Savior. The Messiah. A Messiah that God desperately desired for these men to learn about.
That's the first thing about God's first outreach program. God had a DIVINE DESIRE for it's message to be shared. This must be our desire too. To tell the coworker who has been cheated on by her husband - that there is a God who is faithful and just and will never leave her. To tell our friend who has hated God -- that God took his best insults and went to the cross for him, to die for him. To tell the man who has struggled with drug abuse -- there is hope. It's your Savior. It's Jesus.
II. The Program's Reach
Now some of you might be saying, "What about the shepherds? Didn't God reach out to them with this message as well?" That's true. He did. On the night of Jesus' birth, the skies lit up with their message.
But the shepherds were only a couple of hills away from Jesus. They were of the people Israel. That means they should have been familiar with the promise of the Messiah, because the promise of the Messiah had been made to the Jewish people, was recorded by the Jewish people, and passed on by the Jewish people.
it's not so much outreach, but inreach.
But this divine star outreach, God doesn't stop within the borders of Israel. These Magi were "from the east." Scholarly study suggests that they must have known about the prophesies of a Messiah from Scripture. Scripture would have made its way east in the Babylonian captivity -- which segued into the reign of the Persian Empire. An empire in which Daniel (of Daniel and the Lion's Den fame) became a key part.
That would place these men in Ancient Persia -- Modern Day Iraq. That's hundreds of miles away from Jerusalem.
That's real outreach.
It's proof that a godly outreach program isn't just for people that like Mary and Joseph. It's for people from the East. It's for people from the West. It's for people from the North and the South ...and 2000 years in the future across the atlantic ocean just south of I-540 in the triangle!
Its' for us!
But it isnt' just for people like us. We can't just be concerned with looking for Christians who move down to the area and need a church. (Don't get me wrong those people need a church home. I'm happy to provide it and I hope they'll take up the outreach message with us.)
But if that's all we're doing, we aren't doing what God has called us to do. Check out the Great Commission. It says, "God and make disciples of all nations!" Not "of all the Midwesterners already a part of your Synod that look just like you." Nope. He says, "Go into all the nations."
We've got that opportunity here in Raleigh. We've got people from all over. I've met people from Russia and Nigeria, Congo and Korea, China and Chinatown, Mexico and Canada, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Nepal, New York, Bew Nampshire, New Guinea, Florida, Panama and Ecuador. I've met people who speak Spanish> People who speak French. People who speak with an accent. People from all over!
And they all need to hear about our Savior. They all need to be a focus of our outreach.
III. The Program's Message
But what do we tell them? "Come. We've got good coffee." "Come hear how you should vote in the next election." Come, eat some delicious cookies." Come, Hang out. Pastor's cool. Kind of?"
Listen to the message that the magi had heard. "Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews. We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
They came looking for a King. They came looking for one who ruled over sin. They came looking for one who ruled over the devil. They came looking for one who ruled over death. They came looking for one who would release them from the bondage of sin. One who would crusht eh power of death, One who would defeat the enemy -- Satan himself.
They came looking for one who would issue in a time of peace -- with God and an era of joy -- in salvation.
This was the message of the star. The King has come. It's Jesus.
That is our Message as well. Our message is beautiful in its simplicity. It's a message that our youngest members know very well. "What's that?" A cross. "Who was on it?" Jesus. "What happened to him?" He died." Why?" To take away our sins.
You know it too. Our message isn't, "Hey-- everything's cool-- no worries mon." It's "You have a savior from Sin death and hell. His name is Jesus!"
This has to be what our Sunday School teaches. It has to be what our Adult Bible classes teach. it has to be what our Facebook posts lead people to. it has to be what you tell otehrs when you invite them to church. Come and hear about the Savior!
IV. The Program's Success Rate
"But Pastor," you might be thinking, "How will this work? I've got this one friend who hates chruch and this other friend I invite all the time and they don't seem to care at all. There's no way this is gonna work. It's impossible.
Tell that to the Magi.
They were from the East. They saw a change in the stars. They packed their bags. they left their homes. They travelled by animal across the desert. They followed a star. They came to a home over which the star shone. They knocked on the door.
And they saw...a toddler.
This can't be right. We're looking for a king. Where is the giant muscles? Where is the palace? Where is the golden crown? Were we supposed to take a right at the sycamore tree?
But, then again, the Star. The Scritpures. The hand of God.
They approached the child. They knelt down on their knees. They bowed down and worshipped him.
Then, they opened up their bags and delviered him gifts for a king gold, frankincense and myrrfh. There weren't any shopkins in sight!
These men travelled hundreds of miles. They followed a star They bowed to a toddler. They gave him gifts for a king.
The Outreach Program worked.
God is behind the same outreach program today. He works through his Word. he works faith in the hearts of people. Keep that in mind. Our task isn't that impossible, because we have an impossible doing God behind it! He made a star appear out of nowhere. He can make faith appear in a person's heart out of nowhere. He will be behind our outreach in 2016!
V. The Program's Tool
Of course, there is one key difference in God's outreach program now as opposed to the plan in Matthew 2. Then, he used a star.
Now? Last I looked outside I didn't see a star shining down upon Gethsemane's steeple. we did get a nice new lamp that shines ont eh words "Gethsemane Lutehran" on the side of the building, but you can't see that unless you're on Newton Road.
What are we supposed to use?
Take a look at Jesus' words in Matthew 5: "You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men."
We don't depend on a star. We depend on us.
This is humbling. God could use another exploding ball of gas to bring people to the Savior. Intead, he chooses you. He chooses me. He chooses a bunch of sinful, failing, mistake making human beings to carry his message.
God has chosen Christians to be his light. He has chosen you and I to reflect his love. He has chosen you and I to pass on the message of the Savior!
This isn't just a pastor's job. You are a part of this. That "you" is plural. It encompasses us all. It encompasses you. You are so important in this.
Think about it. If only one of us invites a person to church, that means we have one light shining. One person coming. It's addition.
But if two people invite one person. That's 2 times 1. If ten people do it, that's ten times 1. If 100 people do it -- invite and bring just 1 person in the month of January -- that's not addition anymore.
Do you see why you are key in all of this? Whether you are young or old, male or female, long term Chrsitian or just come to faith, you are a key part in this outreach!
May God bless your outreach. Amen.
Genesis 17:1-7 (NIV84).
5 No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.
This is the tenth day of Christmas, and by now all of the gifts have been unwrapped. This is the time when we perhaps have begun to think about what we didn't receive that we had hoped for. Though Christmas is really about what God has already given: the gift of his only Son Jesus, we are all too human, and so was Abram.
The problem was that was way back in Genesis chapter twelve God had called him to leave his country and people and come to dwell in the Promised Land of Canaan. Promised, but never possessed by him during his lifetime. (Hebrews 11) God had promised to make him into "a great nation" but that had been when Abram had been seventy-five years old and now he was ninety- nine. Very few people even live to be that old. My father died last May at the age of 97, and that was far beyond the "three score and ten or four score" (seventy or eighty) the most might hope for. Twenty-four years had elapsed, and his wife Sarai was still barren.
I. More than the blessing Abraham sought (a son) - God promised A Gift for All Nations
God spoke to Abram again, as we read in Genesis chapter fifteen, and Abram complained "I am still childless." God again promised that "a son coming from your own body will be your heir" and so in Genesis chapter sixteen we read that Abram had a son by Sarai's maid Hagar, but God later told Abram (Genesis 17:21) that this son - who would be the father of the Arab nations - was not to be the son of blessing that God had promised. Instead, God had something else in mind. As God's words to Abraham had been recorded two chapters earlier in Genesis 15:
Genesis 15:3 ...all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. 2 I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” 3 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations.6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you."
A man of ninety to be a father who would then be one hundred years old. To hear of it, both Abraham and Sarah laughed. And that would be their son's name: Isaac (which means: "he laughs"). And wouldn't we also laugh to hear of something so fantastic, but true.
And we laugh with Abraham and Sarah, for the gift that God was to give to Abraham and Sarah was not only to be a blessing for them but a gift for all nations. In Isaac, God wasn't only blessing these two elderly parents but every man, woman and child on the face of the earth. Isaac was to be only one in a long line of descendants who would ultimately lead to the birth of Jesus, whose birth we celebrated ten days ago and whose suffering and death later atoned for your sins and my sins and the sins of all people. As we read in today’s Psalm reading:
Psalm 148:13, 14 13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for ... 14 He has raised up for his people a horn [i.e. a strong one - a king], the praise of all his saints [his holy ones]...
Or the Christmas Psalm: 98:1-2 1 Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things; ... 2 The Lord has made his salvation known...to the nations.
For the promised messiah was not to come only for his Old Testament saints, the people of Israel. Christ came for everyone. Sometimes people get the mistaken notion that God only cares about some people and that the Old Testament was only about the people of Israel. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The number of Bible passages that affirm that God want's all people to be saved would literally fill at least twenty pages and take hours to discuss. God cares about everybody!
Isaiah 42:6 (ESV) I will give you [Christ] as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations...
Isaiah 49:6 (ESV) I will make you [Christ] as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach the end of the earth.
It was never just about Abraham, or the people of Israel. Abraham would be the ancestor of the promised messiah, and he was to come (and now has come) to be the salvation of all people.
Isaiah 53:6 (NIV84) We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
In this, Abraham placed his trust. Abraham wasn't a perfect man. Faltering in his confidence, he had tried to fulfill God's promise of a son through his wife's servant girl Hagar. But salvation isn't ever about us and what we do but about God and what he has done on our behalf. Though sinful from birth (Psalm 51:5) and though none of us is righteous by what we do (Romans 3:10- 18), God has placed our iniquity - our sin - upon Jesus and he has atoned for the sins of all people. Our righteousness does not come from fulfilling God's law, but through faith in Christ:
Genesis 17:6 (NIV84) Abram believed the LORD, and he [the LORD] credited it to him as righteousness.
That's how God sees us now, you and me, as righteous in his sight, not because of what we have done, but despite all that we have done, purely because of what Jesus has done: This One who was born for us, has suffered and died for our sins and risen in victory over sin and death. In Christ God has declared all humankind righteous. He has absolved everyone on earth. As Edward Kaehler wrote in Summary of Christian Doctrine:
God has forgiven all sins. – Because of the redemption through the Christ God no longer imputes sins to men ...; He does not charge their transgressions against them, but credits them with the merits of Christ. Edward Koehler A Summary of Christian Doctrine 146.
1 JOHN 2:2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
The only thing is, that although all people have been redeemed (their sins have been paid for), this gift for all nations is received through faith in Christ and most people do not believe.
II. Will We Proclaim?
Only about 1⁄4 of the people on this planet self-identify as being Christians. There are 7.2 billion people on earth. That means that something like 5.4 billion people self-identify as not believing in Jesus Christ. And since Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, not a way, a truth and a life, people who don’t believe in Jesus don’t go to heaven. It’s not that God and the Christian faith is somehow exclusive – that we don’t want these people in heaven – but that Jesus is the only way to get there. Jesus is our elevator, and there is no stairway to heaven. That’s just the name of a song.
Every year 130 million children are born. Of these, about 98 million will probably never believe in Christ. Of the 68 million people who die this year, about 51 million will likely die without believing in Christ. That’s about 140 thousand per day. That’s about 58 hundred per hour. That’s about 97 per minute or about 1 1⁄2 for every tick of the clock. When the Titanic sank nearly 103 years ago 1,500 people perished because there weren't enough life boats. But right now we’re talking about a Titanic-sized catastrophe every 15 minutes, four times every hour of every day and night.
Earlier this morning in Bible Class we talked about Christ's Great Commission - to reach people everywhere with the message of the Gospel and if I asked you to put up your hand this morning if you are in favor of doing that, I am confident that every one of you would raise your hand. We believe that Jesus was born, suffered, died and rose again not only for us but for all people. We care about reaching people everywhere with the precious gospel of Jesus Christ. But it mostly isn't getting done, because caring about it doesn't necessarily make it happen.
For example, even though the “Christian World” (the part of the world that is predominately Christian) is only 11% of the world’s population, Christians spend 87% of their offerings on meeting their own needs and only 13% of offerings to reach out to the other 89% of the world. (See CGI (Christian Growth Initiative) CGIoutreach.org.)
When we speak of Christian missions, we divide the world into 3 sections: 1) the "Christian World," 2) the "Evangelized Non-Christian World" and 3) the "Un-Evangelized World."
In the “Christian World” there are 4.1 million full-time Christian workers (pastors, teachers, etc.), while there are only 1 million (a quarter as many) in the “Evangelized Non-Christian World” and only 20,500 church workers (2% as many) in the “Un-evangelized World.”
We have over 300,000 missionaries serving in the “Christian World” but only a hundred thousand (one third that number) in the “Evangelized Non-Christian World” and only about 10 thousand (10,200) (one percent as many) in the “Un-Evangelized World.” These numbers are all upside-down. (We are allocating the fewest number of workers where the need is the greatest.)
Perhaps we think that this is just being responsible. After all, isn’t it important for Christians to receive instruction and grow in their faith? Yes it is. But what of the lost? The world needs to hear the gospel, the only hope of salvation.
III. The Continuing Need to Bring God's God promised Gift to All Nations
In the United States, 2 1⁄2 million people die every year, 7 thousand per day, 113 per hour, about 2 people every second, most not believing in Christ. More than 4 1/2 million people are born in America every year, nearly 12 thousand per day, 194 per hour, more than 3 per second. Will someone bring them the gospel?
Sometimes I hear that we don't need to concern ourselves about such things. After all, we hear, God will take all his "elect" (predestined) to heaven. Yes he will, as he promises in Romans chapter 8, but Romans chapter 10 (:17) tells us that "faith comes by hearing the message" and "how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?" (:14) In Christian Dogmatics (3:476) Francis Pieper writes:
Election is...a selecting...in eternity of...persons...to salvation...In this choosing was included the work of the Holy Ghost, approaching the chosen with the Gospel and through the Gospel engendering faith in them. ...not without regard to the means...but in such a way as to provide for the preaching of the Gospel and the operation of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel for the generation of faith.
This isn't hypothetical. Where I was raised, in Oregon, only 5% of people attend a Christian church. I was in college before I came to know and believe in the gospel. I didn't hear the gospel from one of the few Christians I knew, nor did I hear the gospel in one of the few churches that I visited. I found the mercy and love of Christ in the pages of the Bible. Will everyone in North Carolina have an opportunity to hear the gospel?
Here in Raleigh, NC: 2,073 deaths / year, about 6 / day, or about every 4 hours. 5,554 births / year, 15 / day, one about one every 90 minutes (See my website: CGI (as in “Christian Growth Initiative”) -
lso invite you to visit my blog: AuthenticChristianityCGI.Wordpress.com.) The need for workers in God’s harvest field is more now than it ever has been, and it’s more than a pastor can do by himself.
IV. A 10-Point Mission Plan (from the Book of Acts) to bring God's promised A Gift for All Nations
As we go out with the gospel, how do we go? If we look in the book of Acts we find a ten-point
A. One: We go out in sufficient numbers to bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
And (briefly): And (Point 1), is that we go out in sufficient numbers. Jesus sent the Seventy out to a population of Israel that was about one million at that time. That would be about one missionary for every 14,000 people.
In Saint Paul’s three missionary journeys, he was accompanied a number of coworkers. (Acts 20:4-6). Paul didn't do the work alone. God granted him lots of help.
Wake County has a million people living in it; Raleigh has over four hundred thousand, after an increase of one hundred and fifty thousand during the past twelve years. To have the same number of evangelists for Raleigh as the early church did in Israel (one for every 14,000 people), we would need thirty people or thirty congregations in Raleigh; each with a "responsibility area" of about 14,000 people or about 5,000 homes each. Reaching 5,000 homes! Actually, that isn't so difficult. A team of 4 college students from WELS Kingdom Workers for a week each spring and a team of 2 college students for 10 weeks each summer could bring a personal gospel message to 5,000 homes in just 3 years. Some congregations with trained evangelists just take a compass, draw a big circle around their church's location, with perhaps a one and a half-mile radius. Then, even without the help of WELS Kingdom workers, they are able to canvass a quarter of their area each year: 1,200 homes per year at only 100 per month! In my mission in Florida we canvassed 13,000 homes.
Or, if 10 people spent a half-hour (part of one evening) each week, phoning 25 homes, in ten months these 10 people would have telephoned 10,000 homes. In a dozen years, these same 10 people could phone the home of every person currently living in Raleigh, North Carolina.
B. Two: It's Not As Hard As We Expect - We Don't Go Out Alone as we bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
Sometimes we are a little afraid to do so. But (Point 2) it’s not as hard as we expect and we don't go out alone. Jesus sent people out two by two (Mark 6:78); sometimes we do the same. We also go out after being fully equipped as trained evangelists. It's not always easy. Jesus said... "Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves." (Luke 10:3) but there's one more thing: We don't go out alone: God goes with us too. In thousands of visits we’ve run into a few unpleasant responses here and there. But I can’t say we’ve ever really been in danger.
C. Three: We depend on God as we bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
Jesus said ... "Do not take a purse or a bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road."
(Luke 10:4a) He’s talking about depending on God as we share the gospel. That’s (Point 3) D. Four: We Go Out with a Sense of Urgency as we bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
Jesus said: "...do not greet anyone on the road." (Luke 10:4b)
It’s like in the time Elisha sent out his servant and told him: “... If you meet anyone, do not greet
him, and if anyone greets you, do not answer. ...” (2 Kings 4:29)
That’s (Point 4). There is a sense of urgency in this. There is a whole world out there, dying without Christ.
E. Five: We Select Our Mission Fields Carefully & Strategically as we bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
Also (Point 5), as we select our mission fields, we do so carefully and strategically. Look, for example, where Saint Paul went. (see Acts 13:4-6, 15:36-41, Acts 14:5-7, 14:19-23, 16:1-5, Acts 14:24-26, Acts 19:1, 21-24) When we examine 25 different locations where Paul traveled, we find that these were places that were centers of government, centers of commerce, centers of travel, not just to facilitate his own journeys, but so that the message of the gospel would travel far and wide from the places where the seed of the Word of God was planted.
F. Six: God Opens Some Doors and Closes Others as we bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
(Point 6) Another thing we learn is that God opens some doors and he closes others. For example, God told Paul not to go to Asia and Bithynia (Acts 16b-8a). It wasn’t until later that we learn that a church was well-established in those areas. Some times God says “not yet” with some locations but then opens up opportunities elsewhere, as when God directed Paul to go to Macedonia.
G. Seven: Go Initially to where People have some Knowledge of the Bible as we bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
We also learn with the Apostles (Point 7), to go initially to places where there are people who have some knowledge of the Bible – but where God’s Word may have been misunderstood or misrepresented. In the case of the Apostles, it was to Jewish synagogues. Over and over again (as we are specifically told in 8 of the 25 places Paul visited), the apostle Paul went to synagogues to present the gospel. At that time there had not yet been a division between Jews and Christians. Here was a people instructed in Old Testament scripture, and it was an opportunity to show them that their scriptures pointed to Christ. When Jewish people rejected the message, they turned to people called “God-fearers” – non-Jewish people who had been instructed in the Old Testament and who believed in the God of Israel, but who had not officially
converted to the Jewish faith.
H. Eight: We Also Go Where God Opens Doors & Where The Gospel Is Needed Most as we bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
(Point 8) is that along with establishing a foothold among populations with knowledge of the Bible, Jesus and the Apostles also went where God opened doors and granted an opportunity: Jesus reached out to the Canaanite woman in the area of Tyre and Sidon (Matthew 15:21-28) and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-26, 39-42). It seems that Jesus specifically went to these places to talk with these people.
Paul did the same thing. When he found himself in Athens among a group of people who had little knowledge of scripture but who were willing to listen, he proclaimed God’s Word to them ...
22 ... “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. ... 34 A few men became followers .... (Acts 17:15-17, 22-24, 32-34 - During Paul’s 2nd Missionary Tour)
We might also mention Paul preaching to (and later baptizing) the Philippian jailor and his family in Acts 16 (:25-34). Sometimes God opens door that surprise us, but we also make sure to bring the gospel to the people who need it most.
I. Nine: When Your Message is Rejected in One Place, Move to Another as we bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
That brings us to (Point 9): When your message is rejected in one place, move on to another. As we read in Acts chapter 18:
But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he ... [went] to the Gentiles (Acts 18:6, see: 1-4, 6-8 – Paul’s 2nd Missionary Journey)
Remember, every door you knock on gets you closer to one that will open up and be receptive to the message of the gospel.
J. Ten:Work where youI message is received
i brings us to (Point 10): Work where your message is received. Jesus said:
5 "When you enter a house, first say, 'Peace to this house.'" 6 "If a man of peace is there ... 7 Stay in that house...." (Luke 10:5-7, (8)
V. The Content of The Message
What’s the message that we proclaim to people like this? It doesn’t need to be complicated. Their message was simply “the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Luke 10:9) God is normally not “near,” in the sense that our sin builds a wall between us and God. In the person of Jesus Christ, who is God himself, who died to pay for the sins of the world, the kingdom of heaven has indeed come near.
The message of law & gospel isn't complicated. We can summarize the outline from an evangelism program called "God's Great Exchange" in just four points: (1) God Requires, (2) God Sees, (3) God Gives, (4) God Assures. (Law) (1) God requires that we be perfect to be good enough to get to heaven. Now how many people can do that? (2) God sees that we are not perfect and can’t be good enough to get to heaven. (Gospel) (3) God Gives full forgiveness, because on the cross Jesus paid for all of our sins. And the promise of heaven is a free gift, which is what “grace” means. Sometimes people say, “religion is a crutch” and I say “no, it’s an electric wheelchair.” (4) God therefore Assures us that through faith, which means to trust in what Jesus has done on the cross rather than trusting in our own goodness, we are forgiven and will be in heaven.
God gave a promise to Abraham that he would become a father, and not only that, a father of many nations. God's promise looked beyond Abraham's son Isaac and the people of Israel. The promise was that one of Abraham's descendants would be the promised savior, Jesus. He was to be born, not only as Israel's messiah, but (in the words of the hymn), as the "Savior of the Gentile Nations." But the work is largely unfinished, for most people still do not believe and many have not yet heard the gospel. It is not as when the Titanic sank without enough lifeboats.
When God brought you to faith in Christ, he not only rescued you but placed you in his lifeboat, not only so that you could go to heaven one day, but so that you could invite others to come onboard. Christ has won salvation for all nations. It's now up to us, you and me and all of us, to bring this marvelous gift of salvation to the whole world.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.