Today we are FINISHING up our summer sermon series, as we are FINISHING up summer and the Apostle Paul is FINISHING up his third missionary journey. The last time Paul had been on the continent of Asia, things had ended abruptly. He had been in Ephesus and there had been a riot. People thirsty for his blood had chanted against him for over two hours. For his own safety, Paul left early the next morning. He left the congregation that he had served for over two years very abruptly without any kind of final, farewell sermon.
Knowing what it’s like to be a pastor.
And how easy it is to love a congregation.
I’ll bet Paul wished he had that chance.
Similarly, I imagine the Ephesians also wanted one more sermon. Because without Paul, ministry questions came to them.
Should they keep preaching in Bob’s home downtown or should they move to Bill’s home in the suburbs?
Should they serve the community of widows or focus on the community of the homeless?
Would their new fellowship hall look better with Neutral Gray or Eggshell White trim?
How should we do ministry?
That’s a good question.
Even for us at Gethsemane Church.
Today we’re going to look at Paul’s encore sermon to the Ephesians and we’ll consider his encore sermon to us this summer. Our goal is to learn from Paul some key principles for Gospel ministry in Raleigh, NC in 2019. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Lessons about Ministry
The lesson starts with a bit of geography. Check out verse 17: From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church.
Paul had been up in Troas. He wanted to get back to Jerusalem. An easy route would have taken him right past the Ephesians that he wanted to encourage. But Ephesus was still filled with people who weren’t very welcoming. So, rather than risk a riot, Paul took a trip down around Ephesus to Miletus. It was a city about 30 miles to the Southwest of Ephesus. From there, he sent words for the leadership of the Ephesian church to meetup with him.
When they arrived, they hugged.
They high fived.
They swapped stories about things that have happened without him.
Then, Paul got to teaching:
You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility… (v.18-19)
This is strange. Because by the time Paul had gotten to Ephesus, he had already started over ten different churches. He had preached to thousands of people. He had even begun writing a few books of the Bible.
You would imagine that Paul would come to town full of pride.
Talking about how impressive he was…
…and how the people needed to listen to him for community revitalization,
…as he handed out T-Shirts with his smiling face on them.
Paul was humble.
Paul reminded people how he was the chief of sinners,
How it was Jesus who saved him.
And Jesus who worked through him to do anything worthy of praise.
Here’s the lesson:
(1) Gospel Ministry is HUMBLE.
Gospel ministry points people to Jesus.
It lowers the importance of self.
It gives all glory to God.
Because if it doesn’t…
I’ve got this long-distance social media friend who recently underwent a bit of a transformation. He had been an alcoholic, now he’s been clean for a couple of months. He was a smoker; now he doesn’t own a pack. He had been drinking three coffees a day and now he drinks one lightly caffeinated tea.
He’s been sharing the story and, to be fair, when he first started doing this, he gave a lot of credit to Jesus. Jesus was the one who influenced him. The one who became the purpose behind his life. The one who empowered him to give up his addictions.
But it recently changed. His most recent post sounded something like this:
“Man, I’m feeling the change. I’m transforming myself. I reached down. I dug deep. I can give up all my vices. It feels good. It feels empowering. I love what I’ve become. If you need help, talk to me. I’ll get you the transformation that you need.”
Did you hear it?
All about him.
If Gospel ministry is about YOU, it’s NOT Gospel ministry.
If you tell your family that you’ve been on leadership for years and that’s why Gospel ministry is good at Gethsemane, that’s NOT Gospel ministry.
If you tell your friends that YOU have been teaching your kids some awesome values and YOUR devotion is the reason their life will be good, that’s NOT Gospel ministry.
If you post on social media that YOUR life has changed since YOU accepted Christ and YOU chose to change your life, that’s NOT Gospel ministry.
In those scenarios, there isn’t Gospel ministry going on, because none of those scenarios involve teaching the Gospel.
And, (this is a shocker), Gospel ministry involves teaching the Gospel.
It points people to Jesus.
It points people to their Savior.
It points people to the one who lived for them, died for them, and rose for them.
You didn’t do that for you, Jesus did.
And you didn’t do that for your friends, Jesus did.
You can’t save you, Jesus does.
You can’t save your friends, Jesus will.
Share the Gospel by humbly pointing to Jesus.
(2) Gospel Ministry is BOLD.
But don’t think of Gospel ministry as this meek, milquetoast thing. (Like the guy at Food Lion who is being forced for donations because his boss told him to. “Do you want to roundup and donate to the local hospital? It’s ok. I totally understand if you don’t. My boss makes me ask.”)
Nope. Gospel ministry is humble, but it’s also BOLD. Check out what Paul says next:
You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. (v.20-21)
Think back to some of the ways that Paul was bold on his missionary journeys:
In Athens, he preached that Greeks gods weren’t gods at all, to a group of people who had devoted themselves to worship of these gods.
In Thessalonica, he taught that people are saved by Jesus and not Jewish customs, to a group of people who were firmly entrenched in the fact that their Jewish customs saved them.
In Corinth, he told people that sexual immorality was sinful, in a culture that sexual immorality was what all the cool kids were doing.
In Ephesus, he taught that money wasn’t everything, Jesus was; to a group of rioters who were upset that he was costing them money.
Gospel ministry is BOLD.
In fact, if you look closely at what Paul says, he mentions two different ways that Gospel ministry is bold.
First, Gospel ministry BOLDLY preaches ALL of God’s Word.
It isn’t like a timeshare salesman. (Ever listened to one of those?) The venue is marvelous. The site is incredible. You’ll have a wonderful vacation and it’ll be so great for your and your family. This week-long vacation at a five-star resort will be yours for only one yearly payment of $500!
…Plus, monthly maintenance fees.
…and monthly checking fees.
…and you’ll probably never be able to book a room when you want.
…and you’ll have this timeshare forever.
…and we own your soul.
Paul wasn’t a timeshare salesman. He didn’t hide anything.
If you want to participate in Gospel ministry, you don’t either.
And don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean that the starting point becomes… “Friends, let me tell you what hell is like.”
Nope. But it does mean that we don’t shy away from truth in Scripture, even when it’s difficult to hear.
We BOLDLY preach ALL of God’s Word.
Second, Gospel ministry BOLDLY preaches to ALL.
Again, think of Paul. Some of the people he had to preach to might have been kind of nerve-wracking to talk to.
There were the Athenians, whose entire city was so foreign to him. Instead of the familiarity of churches, there were statues of other gods, another religion, everywhere.
Paul was bold. Paul preached to them.
There were the Jews. People who looked like him and talked like him, but when Paul told them they needed Jesus, they repeatedly persecuted him.
Paul was still bold. Paul preached to them.
The same is still true today. God is calling us at Gethsemane to share the Gospel with people who look like us, sure.
Those who look differently than us.
Those who dress differently than us.
Those who speak differently than us.
Those who cover their heads.
Those with tattoos all over their arms.
Those with three children from three different fathers.
Those who like the sports team that we can’t stand.
Those who came from a different state.
Those who moved from a different country.
Those who have a legal visa and those who don’t.
God simply calls us to BOLDLY share Jesus with ALL.
(3) Gospel Ministry is DANGEROUS
Look at what Paul says next, “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (v.22-24)
Because when Paul preached, sometimes people didn’t like it.
In Philippi, he was thrown into jail.
In Thessalonica, his friends were fined.
In Ephesus, a riot filled the streets.
The truth is that Gospel ministry is DANGEROUS to the sharer. In fact, when we are doing it right by boldly preaching ALL God’s Word to ALL people, there’s going to be an element of danger. Whether that danger is…
…Danger of losing a job. “You don’t bring up Jesus at work.”
…Danger of losing a friend. “We’re done. Keep your stupid mumbo jumbo to yourself.”
…Danger of losing a relationship. “I like you, but if you’re all about Jesus? We’re through.”
Gospel ministry is dangerous to the sharer.
But before you call it quits and say: “It’s too dangerous! I can’t handle that.” Consider this:
It’s even more dangerous if you don’t share the Gospel.
That loved one? Is in danger of never knowing God’s love.
That friend? Is in danger of a lifetime of guilt and shame.
That family member? Is in danger…of hell.
Share the Gospel.
It might be momentarily dangerous to you.
But…it will be eternally dangerous to the devil.
When the Gospel is preached, the devil’s stronghold on a person’s heart weakens.
When the Gospel is preached, Satan’s hold on a person’s conscience is lifted.
When the Gospel is preached, death is defeated.
That’s why Paul preached. In fact, look at what he says next:
“Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.
Paul didn’t know what might happen next.
But Paul didn’t hesitate either.
Because God had his back.
God also has yours.
Don’t hesitate either.
II. What Now?
These lessons from Paul lead up to a shift in his sermon. First, the sharing lessons from his own ministry and now give straight up imperatives on what to do next. It’s kind of like his own WHAT NOW? section. Secondly, he shifts from talking about outreach to talking about inreach. Look at Paul’s own WHAT NOW’s:
(1) Be a Shepherd
Paul says, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God. which he bought with his own blood.” (v.28)
Paul isn’t that interested in the Agrarian lifestyle. He doesn’t love wool so much that he wants whatever shepherds are in the congregation to “keep on sheering those sheep!”
This is an illustration of life in a church.
Because shepherds care for sheep. They feed the sheep. They give the sheep water. They protect the sheep. They go looking for the sheep when one of them is lost. They comfort the sheep when they are scared.
It’s the same way in a church.
A pastor (which is the Greek word for “shepherd”) cares for his people. He feeds them God’s word. He gives them the water of life. He protects them from doubts. He goes after them when they are straying from Jesus. He comforts them with God’s promises when they are scared.
Here Paul is sharing this with the Ephesian leadership.
But it’s also written down.
Which means it applies to you.
First, shepherd those assigned to you. If you’re an elder in the church, check in with those sheep. If you’re a spiritual mother to someone at this church, care for them. If you have been assigned children in your family, make sure they’re being fed God’s Word. If you are a Garden Kids’ teacher, guide your little ones to the Savior. If you’re a Precious Lambs teacher, keep your Precious Lambs safe.
Second, shepherd each other. We’ve got a great opportunity to do that. Back to Church Sunday is coming up next week. You might know someone who had been attending this church who hasn’t in a while.
Go after them.
Ask them how life is.
Tell them you miss them at worship.
Remind them the importance of being fed the Gospel.
If next week is Back to Church Sunday, consider this: Be a Shepherd Sunday…
…and…you get the point.
(2) Guard against Wolves
Paul says: I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! (v.29-31)
Spiritual wolves are those who distort the truth.
They are those who change the Gospel.
Those who feed their pride by leading others away from Jesus and to following them.
We need to be on our guard.
First, that we aren’t those wolves.
Second, that those wolves don’t get us.
Third, that those wolves don’t get others.
That can be hard. Because sometimes the wolf is in disguise. Sometimes he looks like a lamb. Sometimes the wolf looks nice.
But you’ll be able to tell who they are. Based on if they are someone leading you closer to Jesus or away from him.
Guard against wolves.
A wolf could be a coworker, a friend, a neighbor, even a boyfriend.
If they are leading you away from Jesus, be on your guard.
(3) Commit to the Word
Paul says it this way: “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (v.32)
Because if we are going to be shepherds of each other, we need a tool. Just like the shepherd has his staff, you have God’s Word. And…just like a shepherd commits himself to learning how to use that staff to protect his flock, we commit ourselves to learning how to use God’s Word to protect each other.
That means more than just being able to conk a spiritual wolf on the head.
We learn to graze its pages for spiritual food.
We learn to drink deeply from its well of life.
We learn to wield its truth like a sword driving away sin and doubt.
We learn to dwell within its pages, protect from death itself.
Look at how Paul ends: I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (v.33-35)
Because the main reason that Paul was so involved in ministry wasn’t to get rich.
It’s the same for you and me.
We don’t participate in ministry so that God blesses us financially.
We don’t participate in church so other might bless us financially.
We don’t become part of this ministry in order to get something.
Because we’ve already got all we need in Jesus.
Instead, we GIVE.
We give gifts to help others.
We give time to help others.
We give talents to help others.
Ministry is all about giving because the one our ministry is about is all about giving!
It’s about God who gave his life.
God who gives forgiveness…
God who will gives eternal life…
After Paul says all of this. He left.
But he left with confidence.
Because that church was in God’s hands.
Friends, we leave with confidence.
We are in God’s hands. Amen.
We are finishing up our series called GIVE this week. Brief review. We started by GIVING THE MANGER ANOTHER LOOK because in the manger we see the GIFT of God in our Savior Jesus Christ who gives forgiveness, eternal life and everlasting peace. Then, last week Pastor Zeratsky reminded us that this message of Hope is the greatest gift that we can give. If you remember he challenged us to make that our New Year’s Resolution: to spend 2018 giving the message of hope to others.
That’s great…but…to whom?
Because sometimes you don’t know who to give a gift to. It’s like that period after Christmas when you survey the gifts that you have and there’s that one gift – that one gift that you just can’t wait to regift. Maybe it’s the Nose Flute or Bacon Flavored Candy Canes or scented candle number 17. You don’t want it, but you aren’t really sure who would want it…so you scour Facebook and look through your address book unto you find Crazy Uncle Lou and look – his birthday is coming up in March!
The message of Jesus is a gift that’s meant to be regifted.
Who are you going to REGIFT it to?
Today our goal is to do a few things (1) learn who to give the Gospel to and (2) get some tips for sharing it. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Who to Give the Gift To
The lesson comes from Isaiah 60. It says this, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.” This is an imperative from God. It’s a command. Specifically, a command to the His people – us. “Arise! Shine!” Or the more modern version: “Get off the couch, stop watching Netflix and get back to sharing my message!!!” God is urgent. God implores us to be urgent. God implores us to do this now.
Why? “Darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples…” (v.2) This is not a literal darkness. Go ahead. Look outside. There isn’t a blackout now, nor was there a blackout in Israel at the time of this writing.
It’s a spiritual darkness. And it’s a BIG Program.
Did you see the weather charts this week? The charts were filled with a different shade of blue to reflect how cold it was throughout the country. In fact, the blue just seemed to cover the entire United States – especially a deep, dark blue up in in the Midwest.
If there was a weather chart showing where this spiritual darkness has covered people, it would look just like that weather map! Across the United States, into Canada, down to Mexico.
Anywhere there are people – there are people covered in spiritual darkness.
People who cannot see the Way to heaven.
People who don’t know who God is or where to find him.
People who have had their eyesight obscured and they cannot find forgiveness and peace.
People who need Jesus.
And that’s where you come in! Because “Darkness covers the earth, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.” This is originally a reference to Israel. Jesus was born a Jew. The message about him started in Israel. It was first vocalized to a bunch of shepherds “out in some fields nearby Bethlehem.”
But the message has left Israel.
It has made its way across the ocean.
It’s in Raleigh.
Dear believer, it’s in you.
Think about it. You were in darkness, but now you have the Light.
And it’s awesome.
Maybe you remember what that’s like:
To catch the first glimpses of the way to heaven.
To find light in the midst of a very dark time.
To see your Savior revealed for the very first time.
To know the peace and forgiveness that you’ve always searched for.
You have the Light. It’s Jesus! Now God implores you – share that light because there are people everywhere who need that light! And God is very serious about bringing that light to all people.
Backtrack about 2000 some years ago. Jesus had just been born in Bethlehem. But we’re not in Bethlehem. We’re hundreds of miles to the east.
A couple of guys – probably older – are taking their nightly look up into the sky. They’re chatting about life. About their favorite sports teams. About whether or not they should order a pizza for later that night, when suddenly,
“Hey? Did you see that?”
“Something…up there. It’s different.”
“Over there? That’s just Orion’s belt.”
“No, no. Over there? It’s new. It’s bright.”
The man rushes over to the table and rolls out a chart. He looks up. He looks down. He looks up. He looks down. He looks up and squints, then looks down and using a compass. It continues until…
“Aha! Look. It’s different. Something. Different. A star. A new star. Some kind of NEW incredible celestial event!”
The others look down at the chart.
Then, up at the sky.
Then, at one another.
Until one of them thinks out loud – “You don’t suppose…”
Another rushes over to a large chest. He opens it up and rifles through the scrolls found within like a bunch of wrapping paper rolls after Christmas. Until final, he stops. He brings one over to the group. He unfurls it.
“A star will rise out of Judah, a scepter will rise from Israel.” Numbers 24:17
That star? It’s the star of the Messiah. If we follow its light, we will find THE Light.
And so they do. They pack up. They load the camels. They set off on a journey. They travel miles. They travel months. They travel years. All the while, the star thing? It keeps moving. It keeps guiding them. It keeps showing them with its LIGHT the way to THE Light.
Until eventually, it stops over Bethlehem. No longer a stable, but a house.
And… On coming to the house, they saw the child Jesus with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. (v.10)
God cared so much about getting the message of the Light to those wise men from way out east – not even Israelites-- to see the Light that He intervened in the natural order of things and created a miraculous, traversing, celestial sphere to unmistakably guide them to Jesus!
God still wants that message to get to people everywhere.
Only he doesn’t use a star anymore.
Now? God will be using – you.
II. Tips on Giving the Gift
That’s what “Arise and Shine” means. It means “Go and share the message of Jesus with the world.”
That might sound a bit intimidating. You might think, “how am I supposed to get the message of Jesus across the world to Timbuktu?” You don’t need to think so big. God doesn’t require any one of us to single handedly share the message of the Gospel with all people everywhere. Remember – He’s the One behind the message. He’s the One getting it to all corners of the earth through the many stars – aka believers – that he places throughout the world.
You don’t need to bring the message to everybody.
But… you do need to shine in the part of the sky God puts you.
Look at the rest of this section from Isaiah 60 – there are a few hints for how to go about “shining” and bringing the message of Jesus to others.
1. Look Up
Because it is so easy to think, “who do I possibly know to share Jesus with?” For some reason, we tend to get this picture of people in African tribes far away or Tibetan colonies with malnourished children as the only ones who need to hear the Gospel. (And to be fair they do). But you know people who lives much closer to you than that who need to hear the Gospel.
See what it says in verse 4, “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you…” Originally this is a reference to Israel. They are the one in whom Jesus first shows up and when he does – all eyes turn toward the city to learn about him!
But Jesus no longer lives in Jerusalem.
Now Jesus lives within you.
If Jesus is living in you, people will notice and come to you.
Look up. Pay attention. Don’t miss it.
That mommy playdate where your friend asks, “You really do seem to have it all together. Why is it?” Look up. Share Jesus.
That buddy who asks what you are doing this Sunday. Look up. Share Jesus.
That child who says they are sorry for doing that wrong thing. Look up. Share Jesus.
The teen who confesses that they hate themself and don’t think anyone could love them. Look up. Share Jesus.
That coworker with tear filled eyes who shares with you that her boyfriend broke up with her and its making her feel unloved. Look up. Share Jesus.
That brother who’s having a beer with you and laments that things aren’t so right in his life – what is he missing? Look up. Share Jesus.
That guy at the coffee shop who looks a bit cold and a bit rough and seems like he is in need of a friend. Don’t miss it. Look up. Share Jesus.
2. Think Multi-culturally
Because it is so easy for us to be under the impression that the only people we will be good at sharing the Gospel with are those people who look and act exactly like us. If that were the case, I’d be preaching to a group of middle aged white males who enjoy Doritos a bit more than they should.
But our commission from God is not just to teach the Gospel to those who look like us, but those who don’t look like us too. Verse six implies that very truth. Look at how multicultural it is: “Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come.” Those wise men weren’t from Israel. They are from the East. Arabia? India? China? Who knows? But they weren’t Israelites searching to hear the message from more Israelites. It’s a multicultural vision, stirred on by God’s Almighty hand, proving God’s desire to bring this message to many.
God’s point to you: Don’t just sit around waiting for people who look just like you to share the message of Jesus to. Share it with those who look different.
But Pastor. I really don’t know that many people who are different culture than me. I really don’t know that anybody else lives in our cul de sac of a different culture. We all have the same color houses as the H.O.A. told us and we all have the same color of brown in our skin.
If that’s the case, here’s a challenge for you – don’t just think multiculturally, but live multiculturally.
Did you know Raleigh is diverse? According to the last U.S. Census, Raleigh was only 55% Caucasian – and that’s all different types of Caucasians – with a plethora of African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans and others. Another interesting stat – only 41% of people in Raleigh grew up in NC! 13% are from outside the United States.
You don’t have to take my statistical word for it. Drive up and down Falls of Neuse. Keep your eyes open. There are people of all different cultures and backgrounds all around. Look at the food. By my house there’s a Vietnamese Noodle shop that opened up near the Japanese Sushi place next to the Puerto Rican Latin Quarters across from the Italian and Mexican restaurants. And I’ll never forget the time I was canvassing through the apartment complex over on Sandy Forks and in the same day I had the opportunity to speak with a refugee from Iran, greet a family from Iraq, converse with two sisters from Nigeria, make jokes with a man from Mexico, learn about a Japanese grandfather and have tea with a group of about 12 from Tibet.
Raleigh is global. There are people of all cultures who need to hear the message of Jesus. But how can you bring it to them if you don’t go near them.
So, here’s the challenge. This week – Live Multiculturally. That is look for opportunities to converse with someone who looks a bit different from you. Maybe they’re at Food Lion – maybe they are at Walmart. It doesn’t matter. Say a prayer – have confidence in God’s blessings and make conversation.
Or maybe you know someone like that who lives on your block. Pack up some Christmas cookies and go next door to greet them and wish them a good 2018.
Or maybe you know someone like that at work – ask them to grab lunch with you and YOU pick up the tab.
Live Multiculturally. Think multiculturally so that you can shine multiculturally.
3. Share What Enlightens You
And what will I share Pastor? Simple. Share what enlightens you. That was the call to arms from Isaiah. The people are in darkness, But the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. You know Jesus is the Savior. You know about his forgiveness. You know about the peace that his grace has given you with God.
It’s not that hard. Let me ask you – What’s that on the wall? (A cross). Who was on it? (Jesus.) What happened to him? (He died) Why? (To take away my sins.) And what happened three days later on Easter? (he came back to life.) And what does he promise will happen to all who believe in him? (They will live with him in Heaven!)
Your kids know the answer.
You know the answer. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Speak the truths that God has spoken to you!
And don’t be afraid.
Don’t’ be nervous about messing up.
Don’t be nervous about what you’ll say. Remember the promise: “The LORD rises upon you.” Because God literally has risen upon you. His message hit your ears, the Holy Spirit worked on your heart and he is with you wherever you go.
And he will be with you when you share the message of Jesus.
4. Have Fun!
Because it really is a blast to watch God transform people’s lives through the message of salvation in Jesus. In fact, that’s exactly what Isaiah describes: Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy (v.5)
It’s kind of like what happens when you show someone your favorite movie. (Have you ever done that?) Usually you set the scene. You get some popcorn, you turn down the lights. You give them a comfy pillow. Then, you sit down to watch – but you aren’t watching them. You turn your head towards them and you watch to see if they laugh at all of the jokes that you laugh at. (This happens to my wife and I all of the time. I had to keep rewinding and showing Julianna scenes a 2nd or 3rd time because obviously you missed it – that was hilarious!)
We love to share movies with people because it gives us joy to see them joyful!
How much more with the message of Jesus! I’ll tell you it is one of the coolest things in the world to watch someone “get it”, to watch them “see”, to watch them step out of darkness into God’s Wonderful light.
Case and point – Roberta. Roberta was at Brighton Gardens Retirement Home. She wasn’t one of the residents there…she was a worker. In fact, she wasn’t even supposed to be listening – she was supposed to be working. To be honest, she didn’t get to hear all of the little service that I do there on Mondays. I didn’t look at her more than once – as a passing acknowledgement…
…but something afterwards was up. She came to talk with me. She looked distraught. She told me about how her 1st husband and she got divorced. She told me about how he had hurt her. She told me about her second husband and how he had just left her, and she suspected infidelity. She told me about how hard it was to raise a son by herself. She told me about how she felt depressed and unloved and alone.
And I got nervous as I listened.
And I got frightened.
And I remembered: “Arise. Shine.”
Roberta, there is one man who loves you.
There is one man who will never leave you.
One man who – when we left him – went to a cross and died --- giving up his life for you.
Because of him.
You aren’t alone.
You aren’t unloved.
You are forgiven.
And I smiled.
What a privilege!
Brothers and sisters – Arise; shine; for your light has come and thick darkness is covering the peoples.
Arise; shine; share the message of Jesus -- #GatherToTheGarden. Amen.
Well, it’s been about a week since Christmas…and it’s New Year’s Eve today now. How’d that week go for you? It’s always a really weird week for me. I feel kind of stalled. Like, Christmas is over and it’s time to move on, but New Year’s is right around the corner, so I can’t really get any traction or momentum going on anything during that time. Maybe it’s a mental block from back when I was a kid and had Christmas vacation between those two holidays.
For whatever reason and wherever it comes from, for me there’s always a tricky mental shift moving between those two. Christmas is over for all intents and purposes. The gifts are mostly given, the parties are attended, and the sweets have been eaten. So much time was spent over the last month or two building up for that, now I have to remember what life was like before and shift back to that.
And at the same time, it’s the New Year, a time when many of us take the opportunity to try to refresh our lives symbolically with resolutions to do things differently once the calendar turns over. That does seem to make an amount of sense, it’s a nice logical flow. Christmastime is over, it’s time to leave that behind and move on to something new.
Maybe though, maybe let’s not do that this year. After all, the story of Jesus wasn’t over with Christmas. It wasn’t like there was this great build-up to the birth of Jesus and then everyone came by and saw how amazing he was and then …the lights went out and end scene. People didn’t turn away, go home and forget all about it after that. Christmas was the start of Jesus, not the end.
And it was the start of something amazing, something wonderful that we would do just as well to not leave behind once December 25th is passed. What began there is something that so many people want, and even more people need without knowing they want. It’s something we need ourselves just as much and the closer we hold it, the better our lives are going to be year-round, and that’s going to pour out and affect the lives of those around us.
Maybe that’s the thing we do differently this year. Maybe that can be the resolution. To not let Christmas be “over”, but to carry that beginning forward into the new year. Like I mentioned a moment ago, that’s really the way it was meant to be. The celebration of Christ didn’t stop after his birthday.
After all, we’re only a week out from celebrating the birth of Jesus. In our account for today, we see that even forty days later he was still being celebrated. (Next week when we celebrate Epiphany we’ll see that even up to two years later he was still being celebrated!)
But for today we turn our eyes to the Temple in Jerusalem. As I said it’s about forty days since Jesus’ was born. Forty days since those shepherds maybe came over from the neighboring town of Bethlehem and ran through the streets telling wild stories about angels and a Savior born. And living in Jerusalem was a man who was waiting: Simeon.
He was a devout Jewish man. And so he was waiting, like all the true Jewish believers, for God to send the one he promised. The one anointed to save his people. The Messiah in the Hebrew language. The Christ in Greek. God had literally been promising this since the beginning of the world and Simeon trusted that this Savior would happen.
Maybe Simeon heard the rumors from the shepherds and got excited, realizing this was really happening. But he was still waiting. See, he had a special insight from the Holy Spirit, “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” That’s what he was waiting for.
And so on this particular day, he is moved by the Holy Spirit to visit the temple. And good thing, too. Mary and Joseph are there to present their firstborn, according to the law. Simeon sees them, sees the baby, and he knows. He knows who that is. He knows what it means for him. And just can’t help himself. He runs forward – at least, as fast as he can for his age – scoops up the baby, and bursts into one of the greatest songs of truth, joy, and praise that we have recorded. So great, in fact, that we hear it every month as part of our liturgy. Maybe you recognize it more like this.
There’s a reason this song is part of our regular liturgy. It so perfectly encapsulates what it means to be a Christian, to be someone who has seen and believes in Christ, though I’m not sure we think about it as often as we hear it. Do you understand what Simeon was saying here? He had been promised that he would live to see the Christ. Now he had. He was ready to depart in peace. And he didn’t mean leave the temple. He meant he was ready to die. To leave this life.
How could he say that? I mean, maybe at one point you’ve said something like, “Well, now I can die happy,” but I doubt you really meant you wanted to drop dead right there and leave this life. Simeon did though. Because he…really understood. Everything he needed from this life, everything he truly wanted, it was here in this infant in his arms. This boy meant he was saved. It meant the world was saved. He was forgiven and at peace with God. Heaven was open to him. What more could possibly happen here that could improve on that? What was left to do here? And so, his response: Take my life or leave it Lord, I don’t need it anymore. I can depart in peace.
That is the kind of peace you can just drink in. I love every chance I get to sing this song because of the peace it reminds me I have in Christ. The kind of peace I think we all wish we could have a little more often. And brothers and sisters, we absolutely can if we just cling to Christ after Christmas as tightly as Simeon did. If we make holding him our resolution this year.
After all, why do we make resolutions year after year? Well, think about them. Very few of us resolve to watch more TV in a week or eat more cookies each night after dinner. We pick things that we think are good for us, things we think will make us better. Either we resolve to do things that will improve our health or we resolve to do something we’ve always meant to or get rid of bad habits or start good habits. Whatever it is, we’re trying to do something to make our lives better, to accomplish something meaningful. Why? Because we don’t feel complete yet, we want to improve, we want to be good enough, we want something more out of life. We just want to be better.
I get the drive. It makes perfect sense. But the resolutions we usually chase to reach that goal are a fool’s errand. Even if we manage to hold on to the resolution (and how many do?), accomplishing those things won’t make the feeling go away. Saving more money, losing weight, quitting a nasty habit…I’m not saying don’t try to do those things – but they won’t make the feeling go away. You’ll still feel like there needs to be more before you’re done, before you’re good enough… before you’re really complete.
It makes sense why we try. You don’t feel like you’re complete or good enough (and you’re not), so that’s where you focus your effort, on yourself. You work on making yourself better. But it doesn’t and it won’t work. We, ourselves are the problem. You can’t save a burning building by using the burning building. You can’t fix the problem with the problem. This internal need to want to do better, to be better, to feel complete, it comes from the fact that we’re not all those things. We’re not good. We’re not complete. We’re broken.
We’re born apart from God. Born in sin. And instinctively we know this. So our default reaction is, as we said, to try to chase whatever in this life we think will fix that, even as Christians who should know better. And maybe the worst part is that on our own, we never really learn. When was the last time in your life you didn’t have some goal in front of you that you thought, “When this is done, when I have this, when I accomplish this, I’ll be happy. I’ll be complete, I’ll be content.” How many of those have you gone through so far? I’ve lost count. I still fall for it.
It doesn’t work. But the Christ. He makes the difference. We cannot be better enough for God. He is. We should be punished for what we’ve done. He was instead. Christ fixes what’s wrong with us, Christ makes us complete, Christ gives us the only thing we truly need from this life: peace with God himself. Christ finishes the work of our life.
Do you get that? Jesus died and rose so that your crimes would be paid for and so that the Father would see you as perfect. You are going to heaven. That’s a done deal. You do not need anything else from this life. That thing you think you have to finish before you run out of time? Don’t need it. All the nagging things that need doing before you can feel rested? Not so much. Look back to the manger and let the peace of these words just wrap you up, “Lord you let your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation.”
I’m not saying this is a license to sit idle, God has given us work to do here while we’re here. I’m saying see the Christ, embrace him in the joy of knowing what he means for you and realize you don’t need this life anymore. He completes your life by bringing you peace with God, and that’s all you needed. Work for God out of joy, not a driving desperation to accomplish. The real work is done.
And what is that work that God asks of us while we’re still here? There are a few things, but one of the greatest is to Give this message of hope to others. And this is not a chore. This is making Christmas our lives. Look again at Simeon. He saw the gift, he saw the hope, and he was complete. He did not smile, embrace Jesus and move on quietly. His heart overflowed with what was done for him and it poured out in song, it poured out in telling the people around him how amazing this gift was. He couldn’t help but share.
We see the same a little further on in our reading with Anna on that same day, who herself saw Jesus and couldn’t help but talk about it. She talked about it anyone who would listen, anyone who was also waiting for the Messiah to make them complete. She didn’t smile, think “that’s nice” and go on with her day. She had to see, and she had to tell.
This is the uncontrollable natural response to the real peace and completeness that the gift of Christmas brings us. Last week we talked about giving the manger another look. Keep doing that. Look in it again to see the fullness of your life. See the baby there that grew to a man, who died in your place and gave you everything you ever need. Feel the peace, the relief that comes from knowing your life is complete, and there’s nothing else you need to chase after or give up or do harder to make it better.
So, take all that time and effort and energy you would’ve used chasing those things you don’t need, and use it for God instead. Use it for something that matters. Give that same message of hope to others this year. Make that your resolution. To not leave Christmas behind but to take that truth out into our lives every day, to keep the peace with you and to let the joy and relief of that peace overflow to those around us.
Keep on giving, long after Christmas. Give the one thing that anyone needs. Give the gift that gives them the same peace and joy you know. Give a message of Hope. Amen.
I have three sisters in my family. Every year since I was young we have drawn names for Christmas. This means that whatever name you draw out of a hat you are in charge of getting gifts for that person. It’s a pretty good “Christmas-gift-getting-system.” The reality is that the simple magnitude of gifts – one – allowed us to stress a lot less and focus on other things. It also works well as spouses etc. added. Rather than have to add to the gift count – the spouse enters the rotation and the number of gifts needed to be bought remains the same: ONE.
This past year one of my sisters had the bright idea that everybody should get gifts for everybody! A gift for each sister – a gift for each spouse – a gift for every child – even a gift for every canine. (Which is way more doggie gifts than there should be.)
Not gonna lie; I started to panic. Because suddenly I had a lot of presents that I needed to GET!
Get one for my wife.
Get one for sister 1, one for sister 2, one for sister 3.
Get one for brother in law.
Get one for dog in law.
Not to mention get one for all of Julianna’s family too!
And for me – Christmas ‘stress’ is born in the word “getting.”
I doubt I’m alone.
We need to “GET” the right gifts.
We need to “GET” the lights up.
We need to “GET” the cookies right.
We need to “GET” the right Hatchimal that the commercial told us.
We need to “GET” a second credit card.
We want to “GET” a Christmas bonus.
We want to “GET” a new sweater.
We want to “GET” a peaceful time with family.
And all this focus on GETTING means all we end up GETTING is heartburn.
There must be a better way.
Today we are starting a 3 weeks sermon series on GIVING. Our goal is to look at the original Christmas story and see how it is all about GIVING. Today we will start learning about giving by GIVING A SECOND LOOK at the manger in order to really grasp the incredible gift that God gave to us that first Christmas. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Second Look at What’s in the Manger
In order to take our second look, I want you to go back about 2000 years to a place called Bethlehem. It’s pretty busy. Not because of Christmas – but because of the census. “Caesar Augustus has issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to their home town to register.” (Luke 2 v.1)
And busy it was. Long lost sons. Married and relocated daughters. Grandsons. Granddaughters. Even crazy Uncle Lou have all returned in order to be counted in Caesar’s mandated census.
And most make it there. They arrive during the day. Their relatives put them up. They fill up all of the Motel 6’s.
Except for one couple.
Meet Mary and Joseph, they’re a bit late.
To be fair – it was a long journey. From Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 100 miles – whether you take the shorter mountainous trade route or the longer flat route by the Jordan River – it would have taken the top Ironmen about 8 days.
Joseph wasn’t an Ironman.
And Mary was about 8 ½ months pregnant.
So, they trudge into Bethlehem after two weeks of donkey travel, two weeks of sleeping under trees, two weeks of “Ugh Joseph. We need to slow down.” Two weeks of “Do they have any chocolate-covered pickle trees in this wilderness?”
When they finally saw it, Bethlehem must have been like an oasis to them. Firelight burning from the windows -- visible about a half mile off.
Joseph. We need to hurry. My water broke.
Suddenly there is no peace.
They need to GET to town!
They need to GET to a hotel.
They need to GET a room!
I’m sorry. There isn’t any vacancy here.
Dude, you should have gotten here sooner, we’re all booked.
Get off my lawn already – the other guests are trying to sleep!
Until Joseph --- Can’t you please put us up for a night!?! My wife is in labor. We traveled for two weeks and the other six inns are full! I need to GET her a spot for the baby to be born!
The innkeeper holds up his hands.
He adjusts his tie.
And he says, “Well…we do have a spot in the barn…”
And they head around.
And Joseph helps Mary off of the donkey.
And Mary rests on a pile of hay.
And Joseph runs for a bucket of water.
And Mary cries out in pain.
And the nearby cattle begin mooing at the commotion disturbing their sleep.
Which causes the neighbors dog to bark.
Which causes the neighbors’ neighbor’s dog to bark.
Until all that noise and commotion is replaced by the gentle cry of a baby.
“And she wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a feeding trough, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Lk. 2:7)
And that…is the manger scene.
What do you see when you look at it? I think there are a couple different perspectives.
(1) The Nativity Perspective. Maybe you’re a nativity-ist? You see a quiet, gentle baby in a quiet, gentle scene, where even the cows are smiling. Mary isn’t sitting. Somehow she’s kneeling moments after birth. Joseph is calmly looking on – not like his hand is in pain because of how hard Mary was squeezing it.
If that’s what you see – you get a gentle, comforting feeling. It lasts for a bit. Until your own children start fighting about who gets to open the first gift…
(2) The Realist Perspective. This one happens when you think about it for a bit. You see a chaotic birth followed by a baby, wrapped in strips of old cloth, laying down next to the slobber filled hay – a scene that would have the Sanitation Department on Lockdown!
To be fair this scene provides a bit more comfort. You get to see the human spirit in action! You say, “Look at those odds that the couple faced! They got past the donkey travel, they got past the lack of vacancy, they made it to a spot where they could have a child – and if they can do that, I can get these stocking stuffers wrapped too.”
(3) The Divine Perspective.
But if that’s all you see in that scene…I need you to look closer.
Because the Bible tells us that there was more going on.
“The grace of God has appeared…” (Titus 2:11)
This is an interesting statement. Because grace is a concept. It’s an abstract object. It’s not tangible.
Grace is something that you give. It’s something that you get. It’s something that you receive.
And grace is something that humans do very poorly…even at Christmas:
You gave me what? Mental note to get them a $5 gift next year.
These cookies are off…That is NOT how grandma made them.
OK. That’s enough! You kids are too loud and Christmas. Is. Cancelled!
But when the Bible talks about grace.
It means grace.
Not “human defined grace” …But God’s grace.
And who can bring pure GRACE but the God of GRACE Himself?
Which is why when you look closely in that manger. You see GRACE.
GRACE who came out of the luxuries of heaven itself; to a stinky, sweaty, animal excrement filled barn.
GRACE who had been rubbing shoulders with holy, perfect angels; now on earth with crude sin-filled peasants, prostitutes and drunkards.
GRACE who owed us absolutely nothing; but who came to earth to GIVE us everything.
Understand this – when you look into the eyes of that little child, you are looking into the eyes of God himself.
II. What the ONE in the Manger Gives
That’s important to know.
Because if that’s God in the manger, he’s going to be bringing a plethora of good gifts.
He’s like that one uncle….The one who comes around Christmastime and bring all kinds of junk food. Tootsie Roll, cookies, a few of your favorite toys – maybe even the one Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle that your mom told him NOT to buy because you have too many TMNT toys.
He’s the kind of person that when you see him, you know you’re going to get a plethora of good gifts.
God’s just like that – only eternally better. Take a look at the gifts that he brings: “The grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearance of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14)
There’s a lot of awesomeness in this passage. Let’s break down the gifts.
Because we get it:
Wrong doing deserves punishment.
We get it so well that it is a part of our Christmas celebration – there’s this Santa Claus guy who gives gifts if you are good, but gives coal if you’ve done bad. It’s a punishment. The punishment of not receiving the good gifts and getting coal.
We all agree that naughty is not good.
And sin deserves punishment.
We just disagree on what level of naughty is deserves what level of punishment.
I was watching the Santa Claus 2 this past week. Have you seen it? It stars Tim Allen as Santa Claus and the premise is that he needs to find a Mrs. Clause before Christmas or he can no longer be Santa Claus. As a result, he has to leave the North Pole in order to find himself a date. The problem? Christmas is his busy time. He’s needed at the North Pole. So, they make a robotic Santa Claus that looks similar to him and leave him in charge of the workshop while Tim Allen goes in search of a wife.
And at first, it’s funny and cute. But soon the Santa robot starts reading the Christmas handbook. He learns that naughty kids are supposed to get coal. And when he looks at the lives of the kids from the past year, the Santa robot determines all of the kids are bad and they all deserve coal!
Here’s the thing: Santa Robot is obviously presented as the bad guy in that movie! But – he’s not wrong! The kids had done wrong and deserved coal.
The Bible speaks similarly “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 6:23) We are all sinners!
And, “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 3:23) We all deserve punishment.
And God does not threaten coal for those who did wrong.
God threatens the eternal fires of hell itself.
Pastor, why are you talking about hell on Christmas? That’s kind of a downer.
Question: If you found out that you were $1000 short on rent this month and for Christmas, someone gave you $1000 that would be an AWESOME gift.
Or if you had been praying for a baby for years and find out on Christmas Day that you are pregnant, AWESOME gift.
Or if you have had cancer, but get a called from radiology on December 23rd that the cancer…is…gone. There is nothing more incredible than that.
To understand how incredible the gift of the manger is, we need to understand exactly our problem.
We needed salvation.
We needed a Savior.
We needed someone to save us from the impending punishment that we have inflicted on ourselves.
Jesus is exactly that.
He lived perfectly when we couldn’t.
He died innocently in our place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of our sins.
In short, it’s like the name tags on two presents were switched.
Jesus earned heaven. We earned hell.
He got hell on the cross; we get heaven as his promise!
Now maybe you’re thinking – this couldn’t be for me. I’m too guilty. I’m too far gone. I’m too far apart from God.
But notice – it’s for all people!
It’s for the poor and the rich.
For the young and the old.
For the white and the black.
For the Asian and Latino.
For the Tarheel fans and the Duke fans.
For people with all kinds of backgrounds and all different kinds of sins an all different kinds of guilt – Jesus died for you.
(2) Gift of “No”
But salvation is not the only gift of Jesus. Look at the next part, “He teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions.” (Titus 2:12)
One year my mom got me the Super Mario Brothers 3 game for the NES. It was exactly what I wanted! I was very excited to get callouses on my fingers and watch Mario smoosh walking mushrooms. When I got it – I remember thanking mom a bunch. I remember making her a breakfast of “pop tarts” in bed. I remember working hard on telling my sisters to “play nice.” I was so thankful for her gift that I wanted to do nice things for her.
It’s the same with salvation. When we grasp what God has done for us, the natural result – we can’t wait to do what he wants!
We say “No” to the wrong.
We say “Yes” to God.
Which means living for God isn’t a gift we do out of fear.
It’s a gift we give out of his grace -- out of his Gift for us!
Think about it at Christmas:
God’s given you everything; that teaches you to say “NO” to commercialism.
God’s has given you all you need; it teaches you to say, “You grab the last BonBon.”
God loves you dearly: it teaches you to say, “I will show love to you even when you’re being so negative right now.”
(3) Blessed Hope
Gift three is not a gift that we get right away.
Ever had a gift like that? Maybe it’s tickets to a show coming up or a playoff game or an investment into a college fund. Those gifts are nice. Even if you don’t have the gift yet, you do get the gift of looking forward to it.
It’s the same thing with God. While we don’t have heaven yet, this promise gives us something right now:
And that’s a big deal.
Because you might be hoping for a nice Christmas.
You might be hoping for some new kitchen utensils.
You might be hoping for your kids to get along.
You might be hoping that your visit with your parents goes well.
But that hope – is kind of a wishy-washy hope – because “Who knows?”
But with God there is certainty:
He was born just as He said.
He died just as He said.
He rose just as He said.
And He will take you to be with Him just as He said.
In God there is HOPE.
III. What NOW?
(1) Give the Manger a 3rd, 4th and 5th Look
Because the more you look at a well thought out gift the more you are filled with gratitude.
This happens often with ornaments. You pull one out of your ornament box -- Maybe it’s a macaroni spray painted gold ornament with a picture of your kid when he was 6. What happens? Every year when you decorate the tree you see the ornament and you are filled with gratitude and love.
How much greater that truth when we focus on our Savior Jesus?
God’s love fills our hearts and the bad news, the scars of this past year, the anxieties of this life is pushed out.
So, don’t just look at the manger right now.
Look later tonight. Read Luke 2. Watch The Nativity on Netflix. Come back to worship tomorrow. Make a plan for worshipping repetitively throughout the New Year.
Give the manger a second look so that God’s love can flow to you and through you.
(2) Do Good “in the NOW”
Titus says this, “God’s grace teaches us to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” In the Greek language (the original language of the Bible for this section) it literally says, “in the NOW age.”
Meaning – not tomorrow.
Do good this evening with your family.
Be the one to clean up the wrapping paper.
Make sure people’s drinks are filled.
Pass out hugs and smiles like they are going out of style.
And GIVE His message of love.
Because Christmas was always about GIVING.
What God GAVE to us.
What God is GIVING to us.
What God will GIVE to us.
And what God will have us GIVE to others.
May God bless your giving this Christmas and always. Amen.
Integrity. HighTower. Bluefin. CreditKarma. Transcendent One.
Those aren't the names of super heroes. They are financial companies.
I know because now that my wife and I have all of our student loan paid off, we think it's wise to start investing.
Jesus thought investing was wise too. He said so in a parable. But, since it was a parable, it's fair to say that this had less to do with making a physical fortune and more to do with making a spiritual fortune. Check it out:
Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. 28 “ ‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’"
It's a harsh punishment from the master. To throw the servants out into the streets. But it's understandable. He's firing his guy because his guy didn't do any work for him. He simply took what was given him and hid. He didn't use it.
Wouldn't you expect the same thing for the fast food employee who was left to clean the walk in cooler, but three hours later hadn't started because he didn't want to make it look worse? The parable makes sense from an earthly perspective.
But parables are earthly stories with heavenly meanings. There is more to it here.
God is the master and we are the servants. He has given all of us gifts to serve him. These gifts range from monetary to musical, from administration to athletics!
But remember this is spiritual. God's goal isn't that we put what we have to work for the growth of our own kingdom, but for the growth of his kingdom. In every case God provides the correct combination of abilities, talents, responsibilities, and opportunities, so that all of us can be of real service to him in his kingdom.
This means you too!
God has given you exactly what you need to serve him. So...PUT IT TO USE to grow his kingdom.
Jesus used everything he had for you. He didn't just use his gifts to serve himself. He used them to serve you. He used his perfect life to earn eternal life. He died an innocent death to pay the price for your sins. He used his Almighty power to defeat rise from the dead to prove his victory. He used his loving promise to hold out for you the joys of heaven through faith in him.
Jesus didn't bury these talents in the ground. He put them to use. He wanted to grow in his kingdom. He wanted to add someone.
He invested in you!
Isn't it worth investing in Him?
PRAYER: Lord, thank you for all of the gifts that you have given me. Help me to recognize my talents and gifts and to use them for service in your kingdom. Please give me strength to serve you. Amen.