Sermons

Why Joseph? – Matthew 1:18-25

Matthew 1:18-25

Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Matthew 1. We started this new Advent sermon series last week called Why the Nativity? And we’re just exploring some questions as we peer into the manger. Last week we considered why Jesus even needed to become a man at all? This week we’re asking the question: Why Joseph?

I saw an article on Wednesday in the CBS News Moneywatch website titled “High school athletes are getting major endorsement deals following state law changes.” The gist of the article was how NIL is impacting high school sports. (For those of you that aren’t familiar with NIL, it stands for naming, image and likeness.) The article highlighted one female high school basketball player that moved from KS to CA in order to position herself to take advantage of the NIL endorsements and college opportunities it presented. It also listed the three (3) highest paid high school athletes at the present time: Bronny James, the son of Lakers star LeBron James; Arch Manning, the third generation of the first family of quarterbacks; and Mikey Williams, a basketball star at San Ysidro High in San Diego.

Bronny James tops the list with a valuation of $7.5 million. He’s at Sierra Canyon High School in Los Angeles and recently signed a deal with Nike. Mikey Williams, committed to Memphis and has a multiyear deal with Puma. His valuation is figured to be $3.6 million. And Arch Manning, who attends Isidore Newman High School in New Orleans and has committed to Texas, is at $3.4 million.

The aspirations of many young people today would be completely alien to the men of Joseph’s day, and to Joseph himself. In fact, alien to many of you in your younger years. When Joseph was young, indeed when many of you were young, men didn’t desire prestige. (Well, maybe they did, but it wasn’t as obvious.) It seems that the desire of men from earlier generations was a good reputation. The decision to stand by Mary and stand for God was not an easy choice to make. And it’s not necessarily any easier today.

Let’s see what the Bible has to say concerning Joseph, and see if we can’t unpack the question: Why Joseph?

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

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called His name Jesus.

“Speak, O Lord, we pray, to our hearts this morning. Many of us have heard these verses before. Indeed, every year, in some way and in some fashion, we hear this story told. So, help us to hear it anew. Bring to us a fresh awareness of the lessons that we, too, can learn from the life of Joseph. Help us to see You – Our Savior – and to see ourselves and our need for You, for we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Author, Howard Edington, referred to Joseph as “the forgotten man of Christmas” – the man who was chosen to be the adoptive father of our Lord. He writes, “In the Word of God, Joseph stands silent. He is spoken to, he is spoken about, but not a single syllable crosses his lips. He is viewed by many people as just a bit player, an extra, in the Christmas drama.”

But according to Matthew’s genealogy (vss. 1-17), Joseph had the pedigree of a king. He had royalty in his blood. And yet, we know very little about him. He appears on the scene for a moment and then disappears. Judging from Mary’s sacrifice of two turtle doves (in Luke 2:24), we might imagine that he was relatively poor. When Jesus was teaching in Nazareth, later in life, the people said, “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” (Matthew 13:55). So, we know he was a carpenter, a craftsman (tekton is the Greek). He would have liked the feel of wood and stone, the satisfaction of building something sound and useful. He was also most likely a simple and practical man.

It’s important to know that in the Jewish culture, unlike our own, the groom was the primary focus of the wedding. Joseph probably looked forward to celebrating a simple life – taking Mary into his household, having children, maintaining a good name in the community, attending synagogue and just being the best husband and father, he could be. I imagine that he was fashioning a “well-constructed life.” But all of that was about to change when he discovered Mary’s baby.

Joseph’s Discovery of Mary’s Baby

We read of Joseph’s discovery in Matthew 1:18: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”

They were engaged, but there hadn’t been any physical union. That’s a novel idea. It’s a rare thing these days for couples to be engaged and not be sexually active. But such was the case with Joseph and Mary, and yet here she is and she’s PREGNANT. So, how do you explain that? It’s quite likely that even Mary’s parents didn’t understand or accept her story. But according to Matthew 1:18, Joseph had listened to Beyonce – he put a ring on it. The engagement agreement had been signed; dowry gifts had been given. Friends and relatives knew that Joe and Mary were a thing. But Mary’s got a baby! His discovery was sudden. It was unexpected. And I imagine there was a little suspicion on his part. Now let’s see his dilemma.

Joseph’s Dilemma Over Mary’s Baby

Matthew 1:19 says, “And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” Did you notice the maturity? What about his desire not to draw attention to the situation. Did you sense his intent to protect Mary, even when his own feelings weren’t quite sorted out? Again, so different from today’s messaging and advice. Record a video; post it to FB and Instagram, put it on Tik-Tok and Twitter. Run the other person through the mud – it’s the only right thing to do. That’s what we see happen today. But not Joseph.

Perhaps she had committed adultery. Not Mary – they’d known each other since childhood. Maybe she was raped. But surely, she’d have said something. Or could it be that, in fact, she had been chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah. After all, Joseph was a Jew. He was a devout Hebrew. Surely, he pondered the fact that the Messiah was to be born of the house of David. So, what could he do?

If he didn’t divorce Mary, then it might represent a failure to uphold the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). But to divorce her publicly was unthinkable. He’s in a quandary. He’s caught between a rock and a hard spot. He didn’t think she was guilty; so, he wasn’t able to condemn her. At the same time, however, he wasn’t able to fully justify her pregnancy either. So, he decided to secretly divorce her. Not wanting to interfere with what could be God’s mysterious purposes, ole Joe would set Mary aside. We’ve seen his discovery and dilemma, now let’s see his dream.

Josephs’ Dream About Mary’s Baby

In Matthew 1:20, we read, “But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’” If yesterday’s news of a pregnant fiancé wasn’t hard enough, now he has a dream with an angel telling him that it’s alright, that this is God’s plan.

I like to stop and try to put myself in the shoes of biblical characters sometimes. It’s called reading the Bible existentially – trying to experience the emotion, the pathos, the earthy nature of the text. Think about it. You’re engaged to your childhood sweetheart. She’s the only girl you’ve ever had eyes for, and you really want to get to know her (if you know what I mean). But you know that’s not what God desires. He wants you to wait, and so you have. But now she’s pregnant. And as you’re trying to figure out how to handle the situation, you have a dream where an angel appears and tells you everything is gonna be just fine – it’s all part of God’s plan. Now, you tell me, what kind of sense does that make?

The Explanation
The word for “dream” means to have a vision while you’re asleep. I don’t know about you, but my dreams have a tendency of being sketchy (at best). But not so with Joseph – at least this time. When the angel called Joseph, “[the] son of David,” it was a clear indication to Joseph that God’s Word to the prophets was being fulfilled.

Why do I believe that it was clear indication to Joseph that he wasn’t just seeing or hearing something crazy in his dreams? Look at verse 16 (we didn’t read verse 16). Who was Joseph’s dad? (Jacob.) If someone appeared in your dreams and called you by name, then you’d expect them to get your father right. Right? But the angel went back in time and pulled out Joseph’s great-grandfather from 28 generations ago. It’s hard for me to remember 3 generations ago, much less 28 generations.

This was no mistake. This was clearly prophecy being fulfilled. Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ physical father, but by his marriage to Mary, he would give Jesus true legal status because “he [Joseph] was of the house and lineage of David” (Luke 2:4).

The Instruction
The Lord further instructed Joseph that the Child’s name would be Jesus, for He would save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21); and as verse 25 states, Joseph “called His name Jesus.” Joseph was obedient to God. Are we? Would you have done as instructed?

The Revelation
Matthew goes on to reveal that Jesus’ virgin birth fulfilled what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, Isaiah: “‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23). Notice the article before the word “virgin.” This wasn’t just any virgin, both Isaiah and Matthew spoke of the virgin, the virgin Mary. So, we’ve seen Joseph’s discovery of baby Jesus, his dilemma about baby Jesus, his dream concerning baby Jesus. Let’s conclude with his decision about Jesus.

Joseph’s Decision About Mary’s Baby

Matthew 1:24-25 says, “Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.”

What happened in Joseph’s life illustrates what often happens in ours. Pastor and author, Max Lucado, in his book The Heart of Christmas describes Joseph as being “caught between what God says and what makes sense.” Have you ever been caught there, between what God says and what makes sense? Max continues, “Joseph didn’t let his confusion disrupt his obedience. He didn’t know everything. But he did what he knew.”

But the question remains: Why Joseph? The ultimate answer is because it was part of God’s plan. God made sure that everything in His plan would be carried out to the minutest detail – including using Joseph – because the purity of Jesus had to be protected. Chapter 1 of Matthew’s gospel reiterates this so clearly. In verse 18 we read, “Before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.” Verse 20 says, “That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” Verse 23 says, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child.” And, again, as verse 25 says, “[Joseph] did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son.”

Why Joseph? Because he was the person engaged to Mary, and it was Mary that was to give birth to Jesus. Why Joseph? Because God needed a man who was sturdy, stable, and practical, yet sensitive to the voice of God. Why Joseph? Because He needed someone with the fortitude of a carpenter. Why Joseph? Because God needed someone who would stand by and stand with a young virgin who might have seemed an object of ridicule, yet who carried in her womb the hope of the world.

Joseph was strong, but he was also compassionate; he was able to lead the tiring expedition to Bethlehem and to the stable, to love and encourage the mother of Christ. Joseph was the teacher to give Jesus His first lessons in the law of God. And in Jerusalem, when Jesus was twelve and it became evident that His first allegiance must be to another Father, Joseph was the man to humbly and silently step back and let God step forward. Amazingly, Joseph never spoke a word in the Christmas story. But what he did, speaks volumes to us all.

One of the lessons that comes from the life of Joseph is this: “the most important thing in the whole world can happen to the least important people in the world; that the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords can take up residence in the most ordinary of lives; that the greatest Somebody who ever lived can come to nobodies like Joseph [and] Mary [and] you [and] me.”

And isn’t this the very attitude that God requires from us? “Lord God, just tell me what to do, and I will do it. I will be obedient . . . anytime, anyplace, anywhere, anything. Lord God, I don’t understand it, and it doesn’t make sense, and as far as I know, it’s never happened before in the history of the world. But if You say it, I will do it.” That’s Joseph.

Let me conclude with this story. There was a young British student who was having a good time in England, studying engineering and, in his spare time, riding his motorcycle all over the English countryside. On a cold and rainy night, he crashed his motorcycle in a remote section of England and lay injured on the road for many hours. By the time he was hospitalized, pneumonia had set in, and the doctors gave him two weeks to live. During those two weeks, a letter arrived from his father who was a missionary in Angola. The letter, written many months before the accident, finally arrived by ship. The young man opened the letter and read his father’s first words. “Only one life; twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Laying there in that hospital bed, those words stabbed his heart and he gathered up his strength, pulled himself out of bed, and kneeled down to pray, “Lord, You’ve won. I now own You as King of kings and Lord of lords. And Lord, if You’ll heal my body, I will serve You anywhere, anytime, at any cost.”

The young lad recovered and went on to become a powerful pastor and evangelist. His name was Stephen Olford. If that name still doesn’t ring a bell, then it’s probably because – like Joseph – he was a quiet, yet stable, strong, compassionate man of God. A man of greater fame would come along. A man named Billy Graham, who said of Stephen Olford “he was the man who most influenced my ministry.” God brought him into a position of significant usefulness through the tragedy of an accident, but most of all through the willingness to say, “Anywhere, anytime, at any cost.”

And that’s essentially what Jesus said when asked to come to earth as our Savior: “Lord God, anywhere, anytime, at any cost.” When Joseph received the angel’s message, he walked away from what made human sense to do what God asked him to do . . . “anywhere, anytime, at any cost.” Are we willing to say, “Lord, I will serve You anywhere, anytime, at any cost”? Long ago, that was the road to Bethlehem. Today, it’s the road to victory in the life of a true believer.

It’s a happy day when we recognize that we don’t have to completely understand everything that God is doing in order to obey. God reserves the right to give us what we need to know, as we need to know it, and reveal the rest in due time. Think of what unfolded from the obedience of Joseph and Mary to God’s plan – nothing less than the salvation needed to redeem you and me from our sin. “Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).

Why Did Jesus Become a Man? – Various Texts

Various Texts

Well, we’re going to start a new sermon series this morning. And normally I begin each week by saying, “Take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to….” But this week is a little different. We’re going to be considering various texts. So, if you’re in the habit of taking notes, then perhaps you could just jot down the Bible reference for the points that we’re going to be considering.

As you might imagine, knowing that Advent and Christmas were just around the corner, I’ve been thinking about the Christmas story that we’re all familiar with. I’ve shared with many of you before that preaching during Advent and Christmas and Lent and Easter are (for me) some of the hardest sermons because everybody knows the story. Even if you’re not a Christian. Even if you don’t ever go to church, you’re still probably someone that pastors call C.E.O.’s (Christmas, Easter and other services). There aren’t many people that don’t have a basic knowledge of the Christmas story.

So, I’ve just been pondering some questions. For example, can you imagine how Mary must have felt as she gazed at her newborn Child? Ladies, you might appreciate the weight of this scene more than the guys. But I picture Mary, in the quiet of the night after giving birth, talking to herself, “The angel said this baby would be the Son of God, and wouldn’t you know it, he was right. Now, I’m sitting here in this dingy cave of a stable and here He is.” Can you see her in your mind’s eye just staring at Jesus and thinking about all these things? After all, that’s what the Bible says she did, “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

Every child that’s born is a miracle from heaven, but this Child was indeed a gift. This Child had been set apart from every other baby that had ever been born in the history of the world. But why? That’s the first question in our new series that I want us to re-examine this morning. Why did Jesus become a man? And the Bible provides five answers, and the first is to satisfy Old Testament prophecy.

To Satisfy Old Testament Prophecies

In Luke 24:44, Jesus said, “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” We believe in a God of truth, a God of faithfulness, a God who keeps His Word. Therefore, everything said about Jesus in the Old Testament had to be fulfilled.

It’s almost possible to write a complete Christology using only the Old Testament prophecies concerning Jesus? Christology is a technical term that basically means “a biography of Christ.” You almost don’t need the New Testament to understand who Jesus is/was. The Old Testament prophets spoke so frequently about a coming Messiah, that every page from Genesis to Malachi trembles with the wondrous anticipation of the anointed One.

Despite the fact that the prophetic books were written by many different writers at various times over many centuries, when taken together, there are glimmers of a Savior who would rescue His people and restore them to God. In fact, there were more than 300 specific prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures about the promised Messiah. For example, Isaiah said that this special Deliverer would be miraculously born of a virgin and that His name would be called Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” He wrote that not one year before it happened, not ten years, but hundreds of years before it took place.

The prophet Micah also offered a prediction that was both specific and startling. He said the King would be born in Bethlehem and that He would come from the distant past. When you read Micah 5:2, here’s what you learn: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me One who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”

In Jeremiah’s prophecies we learn that the birthplace of this coming One would suffer a massacre of infants. Jeremiah 31:15 reads, “Thus says the Lord: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.’” And Matthew 2:16-18 reveals the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy: “Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.’”

It was reported that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) calculated the odds of Jesus fulfilling just eight of the prophecies and the result was 1 in 100 trillion. To put that another way; it would be like covering the state of TX with silver dollars two feet deep and burying one painted silver dollar among them and asking a blind man to find it. And that’s just the fulfillment of eight prophecies.

The same report suggested that the chances of one man fulfilling 48 prophecies is the same as 10 to the power of 157, which is more than the odds of finding one atom among all the atoms of all the known galaxies of the universe. Suffice it to say, the fact that Jesus fulfilled almost 300 prophecies is proof beyond mathematical comprehension that He is the Messiah. Certainly, for the committed skeptic there may never be proof enough, but for those who are genuinely seeking answers, the evidence is clear that Jesus is who he said he is, and he did what the records say he did.

Why did Jesus become a man? First, to satisfy Old Testament prophecy. Second, to show us the Father.

To Show Us the Father

You remember, near the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He was talking to His disciples and telling them that He had to leave, and Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father?’” (John 14:8-9).

Jesus was God in a body. If you want to know who God is, you need to know who Jesus is because Jesus teaches you who God is. So, when you see Jesus doing what He did in the Gospels, you’re watching God at work. If you want to know God, then get to know Jesus.

By the way, this is one of the reasons why evangelical Christians tend to use the name Jesus more frequently than God. In societal and neighborly discourse, the name/term God is almost too generic, but when you use the name Jesus you’ve just narrowed down what you mean by God. That’s why the only way you can become a Christian is to know Jesus because Jesus is the way that you know God. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Why did Jesus become a man? To show us the Father. Third, Jesus became a man to save us from our sins.

To Save Us from Our Sins

In 1 Timothy 1:15 Paul wrote, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst” (NIV). Those of us that are intimately familiar with our sins, our shortcomings, our failings and temptations always want to argue with Paul. “No! I’m the worst sinner.” In either case, we had to have a God-Man to save us.

And because Jesus was God and Man, He lifted up one hand and took hold of the Father and with the other reached down and took hold of man. And at the cross, in that moment of time, He brought us together. And now with His hands reached out, He offers His salvation to all who will come to Him in faith.

If Christ had not come, the course of humanity would be one long, downward, hopeless trudge toward the eternal night of despair. But Almighty God did come. He interrupted all of that. He shut down the cycle of sin by sending Jesus to be our Savior. If you’ve never put your trust in Jesus Christ, you can’t know Him; and without knowing Him, you can’t know God. And without accepting Him, you can’t be forgiven. That’s the purpose of His coming – to forgive our sins.

Why did Jesus become a man? First, to satisfy Old Testament prophecy. Second, to show us the Father. Third, to save us from our sins. The fourth answer is to sympathize with our weaknesses.

To Sympathize With Our Weaknesses

Jesus became a man to sympathize with our weaknesses. In Hebrews 4:15-16 we read, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Do you know why you can go to Jesus with whatever is going on in your life and know that He hears you and understands you? Because He came down here to experience everything that we’ve experienced apart from sin.

Dr. Maxwell Maltz was a plastic surgeon that rose to some fame in the late 50’s and 60’s. In his autobiography, Doctor Pygmalion, he tells of a man who had been injured attempting to save his parents in a terrible fire. His elderly parents died in that fire. And he was burned over a great part of his body, his face badly disfigured. He mistakenly interpreted what had happened to him as some sort of punishment from God for not having gotten his parents out safely. In his anguish, he refused to let anyone see him, not even his wife. So, she went to see Dr. Maltz for help. He said, “I can fix him.” But she knew her husband would turn down any offer of plastic surgery. When she visited him again, he asked why she had come. She said, “I want you to disfigure my face, so that I can be like him. If I can share in his pain, then maybe he will let me back in his life.”

Maltz wrote, “I had never heard anything like that in my life. I had always been paid to help people look better. She wanted me to make her look like her husband.” He wouldn’t do it. But he decided to go and tell her husband what she had said. He knocked on the man’s door and said loudly, “I am a plastic surgeon and I want you to know that I can restore your face.” There was no response. “Please come out,” he said. Again, no answer. Still speaking through the door, Dr. Maltz told the man of his wife’s proposal. “She wants me to disfigure her face to make her face like yours in the hope that you will let her back into your life. That’s how much she loves you.” There was a brief moment of silence. And then, ever so slowly, the doorknob began to turn.

The way that woman felt about her husband is the way God feels about you and me. He took on our face and our disfigurement. He became a man so that God would become touchable, approachable, and reachable. That’s why the name Emmanuel – God with us – is so significant. Whatever you’ve been through, you can be sure that God has been all the way to the end of that road. And when you pray, He will embrace you with His love and say, “I have been there and experienced that.”

Finally, Jesus became a man to secure our hope of heaven.

To Secure Our Hope of Heaven

He came down so that we could go up. Colossians 1:27 says that, “Christ in you, [is] the hope of glory.” Until Christ comes to live within your heart, you’re not fit for heaven. Do you know how hard it is to say something like that in today’s world – “You’re not fit for heaven unless you know Jesus”? It’s absolutely true and biblical in every way, but it cuts against the sensitivities of our normal sidewalk conversation. To tell you friends and family members that they’re not fit for heaven unless they know Jesus… How arrogant? How elitest? How mean? And yet that’s one of the reasons that Jesus became a man.

There’s a Christmas carol that’s typically attributed to the great reformer, Martin Luther, called Away in a Manger. We’ve all sung it. We’re familiar with the tune. The last verse of that carol says:

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me I pray
Bless all the dear children, in Thy tender care
And fit us for heaven, to live with Thee there.

The only way you can live in heaven is with Christ in you. You come to God by coming to Jesus because Jesus is God, and He’s the One who paid the penalty for your sins. And one day, if we live until He returns, we’ll hear the trumpet, and we’ll go up to be with Him. And if we should die before He comes, our body will go in the grave, and our spirit will go to be with Him. If Almighty God has fulfilled all that He said about the first coming of Christ, then everything He says about His Second Coming will be fulfilled in the same way.

Let me conclude with this story. School was out for Christmas, and the family had chosen to spend the holiday in the country. Charlie pressed his nose against the bay window of the vacation home and marveled at the English winter they were experiencing. He was happy to trade the blackened streets of London for the cotton-white freshness of the snow-covered hills.

His mom invited him to go for a drive, and he quickly accepted. They snaked the car down a twisty road, the tires crunching the snow as they went, and the boy puffed his breath on the window. He was thrilled. (Can’t you picture it?)

The mother, however, was a bit more anxious. She could tell this was more than a normal storm. Heavy snowfall came down. Visibility lessened. And as she took a curve, the car started to slide, and it didn’t stop until it was in a ditch. She tried to drive out of the ditch, but she couldn’t do it. Little Charlie pushed, she pressed the gas, but they were just digging themselves in deeper. They were really stuck, and they needed help.

Charlie’s mom knew there was a house just a mile down the road. So, off they went, and they knocked on the door. “Of course,” the woman told them, “Of course you can come in. Please come in and warm yourselves. The phone is yours.” She offered them tea and cookies and urged them to stay until help arrived. An ordinary event? Perhaps, but don’t suggest that to the woman who opened the door. She has never forgotten that day. She retold the story a thousand times as if she’d only told it once. And who could blame her. It’s not often that royalty appears on your porch. You see, the two travelers stranded by that British roadway were no less than late Queen Elizabeth and now His Majesty, King Charles, who was only ten-year-old at the time.

I wouldn’t forget that day, would you? I’m here to tell you… Something far more wonderful than that has happened. Royalty has walked down our streets. Heaven’s Prince has knocked on our door, and God has moved into our neighborhood. He’s one of us. Almighty God is here. And He has you on His heart today. We don’t serve a God who’s far away. We serve a God who’s close at hand. He’s our Savior. That’s the message of Christmas and why Jesus became a man.

Love – 1 John 4:7-21

1 John 4:7-21

Well, let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to 1 John 4:7. We’re concluding this little 3-part series that I’ve simply called Faith, Hope & Love, and today we’re going to consider love. Now, talking about love and preaching about love is both easy and hard at the same time. Think about it.

Love is a junk drawer we dump all sorts of ideas into, just because we don’t have anywhere else to put them. I “love” God, and I “love” fishing. See the problem? The way we talk about “love” is so broad, so generic, that I’m not sure we understand it anymore. How should we define love? To some, love is tolerance. I hear this all the time, and I’m sure you do too. The idea is that rather than judge people, we should “love” them. And what people mean is that we shouldn’t call them out on things that the Bible says are wrong. After all, as long as it’s not hurting anybody, who are we to judge? And while this sounds nice, and forward, and progressive, it just doesn’t work for me.

Then, there are those of us for whom love is nothing more than passion for something. It’s the word we call on to conjure up all our feelings of affection. We love hiking, or we love that new song by that band you’ve never heard of, or we love pizza and college football. Love becomes the ubiquitous descriptor of our affections and interests.

When we aim “love” at people, we usually mean the exact same thing. When we say we love someone, what we typically mean is that we have deep feelings of affection because they make us feel alive, adventurous, brave, happy. Love, then, is pure, unfiltered emotion. So, you see, talking about love can be difficult.

At the same time, however, preaching about love is easy. There’s a story that’s told about the apostle John – the author of the letter we’re getting ready to read. It’s just a story, a legend, if you will. There’s nothing to suggest that it’s true, although it’s possible that it could’ve happened. But the story goes that when John was old, he had to be carried to church on a stretcher, on his bed mat, that he couldn’t walk. But because he was so revered as this great apostle who knew Jesus and was one of the original 12 disciples, people would pick him up and carry him to church where he would give the same sermon: “Little children, love one another.”

Well, that’s a great message but it gets old after a while. Soon someone asked him, “John, it’s a great message but why do you always say the same thing?” John replied, “Because it’s the Lord’s command. If that be done, then it’s enough.” So, we talk about love and we preach about love simply because it’s the Lord’s command. Follow along with me as I read 1 John 4:7-21:

7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.

13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as He is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because He first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

“Make the book live to me, O Lord. Show me Yourself within Your Word. Show me myself and show me my Savior, and make the Book live to me. For Jesus’ sake, amen.”

One of the great theologians of the last century was a man by the name of Dr. Karl Barth. His 12-volume work on systematic theology is titled Church Dogmatics, and it consists of over 10,000 pages. Toward the end of his life, Dr. Barth made a tour of the United States, where he had the opportunity to speak at several of our nation’s top universities. During a Q&A session following one of his lectures, a student posed, what seemed an impossible question.

“Dr. Barth, you’ve written extensively on every aspect of theology and church history. I’m wondering if you could sum it all up in a short sentence or two.” The room fell silent. Dr. Barth just stood there for a moment, carefully considering how to respond. Finally, Dr. Barth replied, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

Talking about love and preaching about love is easy and difficult all at the same time. Here’s a man that spilled ink on 10,000 pages in an attempt to expound upon the immensity and multi-faceted nature of God’s love (hard, complicated), and yet when asked to sum it up in a short sentence or two he quoted a children’s song written by Anna Bartlett Warner in 1860 (easy, simple).

This morning, I want to take just a moment and highlight where the love of God is displayed, how the love of God is defined, and what the love of God demands.

Love Displayed

First, where is the love of God displayed? Well, quite simply, according to verse 9, it’s seen in the revelation or the manifestation or the incarnation of Jesus Christ. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.” We’re approaching the season that is universally known as the season for gifts. Birthdays and anniversaries and other special occasions aside, there’s no other season in which we go to great lengths to demonstrate our love and appreciation for one another. And the preeminent gift of this season – at least according to the Bible and any church worth its salt – is the gift of the very One and Only Son of God.

I caught myself watching a couple of squirrels this week. I should’ve been working on a sermon but coming off a little vacation I found it difficult to get back in the saddle. They seemed set on entertaining me. They scampered amid the roots of the trees just outside my office window. They watch me peck at the keyboard. I watch them store their nuts and climb the trunk. But you know what? I’ve never considered becoming one of them. See, the squirrel world holds no appeal to me. Who wants to sleep next to a hairy rodent with beady eyes? (Then again, if you marry a Norris that’s what you get.)

Give up the Blue Ridge Mountains in the fall, bass fishing in the spring, grilling steak in the summer and laughter around a campfire for a hole in the ground and a diet of dirty nuts? Count me out.

But count Jesus in. Think about the world He left. Our classiest mansion would be a tree trunk to Him. Earth’s finest cuisine would be walnuts on heaven’s table. And the idea of becoming a squirrel with claws and tiny teeth and a furry tail? It’s nothing compared to God’s becoming an embryo and entering the womb of Mary. Yet, that’s precisely how love was displayed.

“For this is how God loved the world, He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). That verse, too, was written by John.

Love Defined

Next, then, how is love defined? Well, John tells us in verse 8 and then again in verse 16. He says, “God is love.” Then, as if to provide clarification and substance as to how it is that God is love, he offers the answer in verse 10. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” I hope you didn’t think you’d get through a sermon without learning the background of a Greek word. In this verse we encounter a big English word: “propitiation.” The Greek word is hilasmos and it’s only used twice in the New Testament and both times are in this first epistle of John. 1 John 2:2 says, “[Jesus Christ] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” And then we have our verse 1 John 4:10.

But what does propitiation mean? Well, a modern dictionary will say that it means “to appease” or “to placate.” I don’t like either of those words. To me, they suggest a mere soothing or softening of the wrath of an offended party. Worse still, the word “appease” implies an attempt to buy off somebody by negotiating or making concessions. There’s no negotiating with God when it comes to sin.

Jerry Bridges, noted author and pastor writes, “I believe a word that forcefully captures the essence of Jesus’ work of propitiation is the word exhausted. Jesus exhausted the wrath of God. It was not merely deflected and prevented from reaching us; it was exhausted. Jesus bore the full, unmitigated brunt of it. God’s wrath against sin was unleashed in all its fury on His beloved Son. God held nothing back.” (The Gospel for Real Life: Return to the Liberating Power of the Cross).

The gift of God that we recognize at Christmas isn’t just the incarnation, the birth of a baby in a manger, but is also the substitutionary atonement of the Lamb of God in my place, in your place, upon the cross of Calvary at Easter. It’s no wonder, then, when John the Baptist saw Jesus coming to him across the horizon he said, “Behold! the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

My sin had to be dealt with. Your sin had to be dealt with. Indeed, the sin of all mankind had to be dealt with, and according to Isaiah 53 and in fulfillment of that prophecy, it was the will of God the Father to crush His very own Son in our place. In the words of the hymnwriter, Stuart Townend, “How deep the Father’s love for us? How vast beyond all measure? That He should give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure.”

This is how God showed His love among us. He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. That’s love displayed. This is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. That’s love defined. And finally, in verse 11 we see the demands of just such a love.

Love Demanded

“Beloved, [since] God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” This, like so many other things that John preached and taught, is not new. In fact, if you look at 1 John 3:16 you read, “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” This is a call to become what we are. John isn’t saying that if we do this, then God will show up. Rather, John is saying that when we do this, when we love as Jesus loved, then we show ourselves to be God’s children.

I was looking for a way to conclude this sermon and, indeed, this entire 3-part series and it dawned on me to use a song. It’s a song taken directly from the pages of Scripture, and perhaps you’ll also notice the title of our series comes from this passage:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong, a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became a man, I put my childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; but then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13)

“Father in Heaven! You have loved us first, help us never to forget that You are love so that this sure conviction might triumph in our hearts over the seduction of the world, over the uneasiness of the soul, over the anxiety for the future, over the fright of the past, over the distress of the moment. But grant also that this conviction might discipline our soul so that our heart might remain faithful and sincere in the love which we bear to all those whom You have commanded us to love as we love ourselves. For we offer this prayer in the name of Christ Jesus, amen.”

Faith – Romans 1:16-17; Hebrews 11:1-3, 6

Romans 1:16-17; Hebrews 11:1-3, 6

Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Romans 1 and Hebrews 11. One of the benefits of pastoring a non-denominational church like ours is that we’re reminded of, or rather introduced to, Christian traditions in other like-minded congregations that we (ourselves) might not have known. For example, I grew up in a Baptist congregation and the church that I was in didn’t celebrate or acknowledge – at least in any formal way – Reformation Sunday. So, just before last week’s service, Geneva Larson, who comes from a Lutheran background, was eager to remind me that it was Reformation Sunday.

If you’re wondering, Reformation Sunday is the Sunday closest to October 31, and it’s called Reformation Sunday because it’s a reminder and celebration of the reformation movement that began when an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther had no intentions of splitting the Catholic Church, rather, he just wanted to address some of the excesses and abuses that he had seen and become convinced were opposed to God’s Word. Nevertheless, what sprang from that attempt to correct the Catholic Church did, indeed, lead to the Reformation, and ultimately to the establishment of many Protestant denominations of today.

So, although it’s a week late, I thought I’d offer a nod to Reformation Sunday as we start this new 3-part series: Faith, Hope and Love, by considering faith. After all, it was Romans 1:16-17 that God used to gain Luther’s attention about how someone is “made right,” or “justified” before a holy God. And Hebrews is tied into Romans by the fact that Hebrews 10:38 quotes the same verse from Habakkuk that Romans 1 uses. Plus, the author of Hebrews gives us a working definition of faith. With that as our introduction, let’s read these two passages together.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed beginning and ending in faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.

“Our God and our Father, we do pray that we might have that kind of faith. We pray that You would help us to understand what genuine faith is. Speak, then, into our lives now as we open your Word. Do for us what we cannot do for ourselves; make the Bible come alive. Show us ourselves, our need, our Savior, and bring our lives under the truth of your Word and in conformity with its application. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

What is faith? What does it mean to live by faith? Are you a man/woman of faith; and specifically, have you placed your faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ? That’s what I want us to consider this morning. See, this matter of faith is not a marginal issue. It’s not something that we can place far off in a corner, something we can push away for another day. It’s a pressing matter today, and every day. Faith is the indispensable channel of salvation. Faith is the corridor down which we walk into the experience of what it means to truly be a Christian.

For example, in Ephesians 2:8–9, in those well-worn words, we read this: “For it is by grace you have been saved,” and then comes the phrase, “through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” Where do the works come in? The works come in as an expression of faith, not as a replacement for it. Even faith itself is not something that we generate, but is a gift from the hand of God. So, let’s explore this for just a moment.

What Faith Is Not

In seeking to say what faith is, it’s important for us also to make clear what faith is not. In fact, the Puritans did this all the time when they preached. When they were giving a definition of something, they would always spend a long time explaining what it wasn’t, so that in finding out what it wasn’t, you would move closer to what it was. So, let me tell you what it isn’t, and perhaps we can narrow it down.

First of all, it is not simply a subjective religious feeling. It’s not a religious feeling that’s divorced from the truth that God has revealed in His Word. That may seem like a bit of a mouthful, and indeed it is, but it is very important. Faith is not simply a vague and internal feeling, “Oh yes, I’m a person of faith” – but it’s not connected to, it’s not tethered to, it’s not informed by objective truth found in the Word of God. That’s not genuine faith.

The Bible says that people who deny objective truth in favor of feelings (only) are not only deceived, but are contrary to Jesus. 1 John 2:22: “Who is the liar? It is the [person] who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a [person] is the antichrist – [they] den[y] the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” So, faith isn’t simply a feeling – regardless of how warm and fuzzy it makes us feel. There must be an objective reality that informs our faith.

Secondly, Christian faith is not the kind of positive mental attitude that seeks to make our dreams and our desires a reality. This, of course, has been popularized in the book The Power of Positive Thinking. Now, it is good to think positively. It’s nice to be around people who are positive rather than people who are negative. But positive thinking is not biblical faith. This is what Norman Vincent Peale says. He says, “Before you get out of your bed in the morning what you ought to do is say out loud in your bedroom, ‘I believe, I believe, I believe.’” Now, he doesn’t say in what or in whom; doesn’t really matter. Yes, it does! It’s crucial! You see, it is the object of faith that gives it significance; it’s not the immensity of our internal sensations or our mind’s ability to dream up stuff that gives foundation to our faith – it’s the person and work of Jesus.

So genuine biblical faith is not simply pumping ourselves up to believe that which the evidence precludes. Real faith, as Hebrews 11 makes clear, is not based on our feelings, which are unstable and fluctuate with the circumstances. Rather, genuine faith – biblical faith – is reliable because it’s based on the trustworthiness and the reliability of God. That’s the reason I included verse 6, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” In other words, we start with God.

That’s where Genesis 1:1 starts, is it not? “In the beginning God…” It doesn’t start with an argument for scientific creationism. It doesn’t start with an argument concerning the existence of God. It says, “In the beginning, God.” And every individual who’s been created has been stamped with the very handiwork of God; they’ve been made in the image of God. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1, 53:1).

What Faith Is

So, back in Hebrews 11:1, the writer isn’t talking about a wistful longing for something that may or may not happen. He’s not talking about believing in the improbable. He’s talking about a belief in what God says as opposed to what man suggests. This faith creates surety of what we hope for and certainty of what we do not see.

Do you ever wonder why it is that you believe what you believe? Do you ever think about that when you get down on your knees and you pray? And there’s no one in the room. And you can’t see anyone, and you can’t hear anything. And you say, “O God, I know that you hear my prayers.” How do you and I know that? How are we so certain of that? “O God, and I know that you know my circumstances, and that you mark my steps, and that every day of my life was written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 37:23, 139:16, paraphrased). Where did that come from? “O God, I know that when I die, I’ll go to heaven, but I’ve never seen heaven. I only have those descriptions at the end of the Bible and in various other places.” Where does all this come from? It’s a result of God’s grace and mercy to us in opening our eyes to the truth of who He is, and such faith creates certainty.

Believing faith is not the fluctuating notions of some kind of subjective dimension within the spirit of a man or a woman, but it is that which is engendered in us as a result of a consideration of what is before us and saying, “I’m going to examine it and look at this. And I am concluding that it takes more faith to believe in nothing than it takes to believe in a creator God.”

But you see, in our foolishness, and in our rebellion, and in our disinterest, and in our selfishness, and in our unwillingness to allow anyone else to take charge of our lives, we do not choose to believe in such a God, because such a God will have every right to make demands upon us. Such a God will have every right to call us into conformity with His commands. And so, rather than have to face the fact that we have broken God’s commands, and that we must say we’re sorry for that, and that we must accept His forgiveness for that, we choose, instead, not to come and confess! We would rather go on our own way. And when people ask us about faith, we’ll say, “Yes, I have faith. I’m optimism about tomorrow.” But it’s not biblical faith.

If you were to continue with Hebrews 11 – the Hall of Faith (as it were) – then you’d discover that all of these people heard the Word of God, they heard the story of God, they trusted the promise of God, and then they lived in the light of the promise. They heard the story, they trusted the promise, and then they lived their lives in faith.

Here’s the story: “I’m gonna flood the world.”

“Okay.”

Here’s the promise: “As you build an ark and the people run into it, they’ll be safe.”

“Okay.”

“Okay, build the ark.”

Some of us have okayed the first two, but we’ve never built the ark. Some of us have said, “Yeah, I understand the story, and I actually heard the promise, and I think I believe it.” But we never took the final step. And that’s why, when asked the question, “Are you a man or a woman of faith?” the answer has to be, “No, I’m not. I’m sorry, I’m not.” And what I want to say to you this morning is, you don’t have to walk out this building in that same position. You can, in a decisive act, make certain that you are a man or a woman of faith.

What’s Involved in Faith?

First of all, knowledge. Faith is dependent upon what can be known about God. In John 17, Jesus, as He’s about to pray to the Father, says in John 17:3, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” How can we know God? Well, He’s shown Himself in creation, He’s shown Himself in the Bible, and He’s shown Himself in Jesus.

In the opening chapter of John’s gospel, we read, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, [but Jesus] has made Him known” (John 1:14-18).

The fact of the matter is that Jesus is the exegesis of God. That’s the word that’s actually used here. When somebody says, “Well, how can I know God? How would God make Himself known so that I could know Him?” the answer is, in the person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s why it’s so important to consider the claims that Jesus made. Because it’s in knowing Him that we know God. And it’s this knowledge of God which gives the basis for our certainty.

When you travel as you do and some of you quite frequently, so that you know this stuff off by heart – “Good morning, Mr. Norris. Do you have a form of identification?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Have your bags been in your possession at all times?”

“Yes, they have.”

“Did anyone ask you to carry anything for them?”

“No, they flat-out did not, and if they had, I would have said no, because I don’t even want to carry my own bags,” and so on it goes.

But the issue is, did anybody unfamiliar to you get access to your stuff? Because you don’t want untrustworthy people getting ahold of things. You’re not simply gonna entrust that which is precious and important to you to just anybody. If we protect our luggage with great care, certainly we ought to give great consideration and care to our souls, right? So, you’re gonna have to use your mind as you read God’s Word to ask the question, “Is what God has made known of Himself – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – such that I may with confidence, on the knowledge that I have, move forward from here?”

And 1 John 5:9 says, “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that He has borne concerning His Son.” In other words, if we are prepared to trust relatively untrustworthy people at significant points in our lives – at the bank, on the bus, crossing a bridge, undergoing heart surgery – wouldn’t we trust God? What kind of proud arrogance is this, that I would trust my bank manager and I wouldn’t trust God who has revealed Himself in the person of His Son? That I would trust the airline pilot, but I would refuse to trust Jesus Christ?

The second thing involved in faith is assent. Not money. Not “a cent” but assent (a-s-s-e-n-t). Once we’ve recognized that certain things are true and are to be believed, then it involves our giving mental assent to them. Biblical faith is more than simply giving assent, but it is never less than giving assent.

You see, we talk about individuals who are inspirational, or who command confidence – someone who is so trustworthy that we’d be compelled to trust them even against our will. You sometimes listen to people… I watch these documentaries on World War II and listen to the stories of those in Korea or Vietnam or even Iraq and Afghanistan, and you find yourself saying “Why would you run over there like that? Why would you rush the beach, or climb out of the trench, or jump from that airplane?” And often they say, “Well, we had a captain. I’d trust him anywhere. He said, ‘We’re going,’ we’re going. Everything inside of me said, ‘I’m not going,’ but the captain, he compelled my belief. He compelled confidence in me.”

Folks, if you read the Bible and consider the claims of Jesus Christ, you’ll discover someone who compels belief. Everything inside of you is saying, “I don’t want to believe this stuff. I don’t want my life taken over. I don’t want somebody in charge of me.” But when you come and lay your life open before Christ, and when you see Him on the cross, and you understand that He bore your sin and all your rebellion and all of your emptiness and lostness and brokenness, He will compel belief in you. And knowledge will be followed by assent.

Finally, genuine faith involves trust. Faith that is “sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” involves not only knowledge and not only assent, but it involves trust. Intellectual assent, alone, cannot be equated with genuine faith. James makes that clear in James 2:19, where he lets us know that the devil and the demons are not atheists; they have an orthodox view of God. There has to be the transfer from the knowledge to the assent to the trust.

We see the summons to trust Christ in all of his invitations. He says, “Come to Me all you who are heavy laden, and I’ll give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Your life is all messed up; you’re carrying around shopping bags full of disgruntlement and disenchantment and all kind of things in your life. He says, “Come to me, and I’ll take those shopping bags for you. I’ll take all that rubbish.” He says, “If you would take my yoke upon you – in other words, if you would bow down underneath My commands and you would let Me run your life – if you would take My yoke upon you and you would learn from Me all the things I’ve told you in here, then you would find rest for your souls. And you would discover that I’m lowly, and I’m gentle, I’m humble in heart, and I’ll take care of your life” (Matthew 11:29, paraphrased).

Genuine, biblical faith is knowledge in an objective reality – Jesus. It’s acceptance of that knowledge, and it’s trust on the basis of the knowledge.

Peter’s Postscript – 1 Peter 5:12-14

1 Peter 5:12-14

Well, one final time; let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to 1 Peter 5. We made it. Or, rather, you made it. You hung into the very end, and you didn’t kill me in the process. I don’t know your feelings about 1 Peter, of course, but I’ve very much enjoyed our time together – running our fingers through the pages of this epistle.

When we come to the end of 1 Peter, as we have today, what we find is essentially a postscript. Last week we concluded with the doxology that is found in verse 11, and really that ends all that Peter has to say to the believers who have been persecuted and alienated and are dispersed throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. And I was tempted to just skip over these verses, until I began thinking about the importance of a P.S. at the end of a letter. The P.S.’s can make all the difference in the world. Like the fellow who wrote to his girlfriend:

Jennifer,

I love you so much. I would climb the highest mountain, swim the widest ocean, and cross the burning desert just to be with you. I will see you on Saturday.

P.S. …if it’s not raining

The P.S. made all the difference to the mushy, romantic expressions of love that came before. Or how about this one:

Dear Fred,

Seldom have we had such an employee of quality and consistency, as you. For productivity you’re hard to beat. As a team player you’re an example to all. As the year ends, we want to acknowledge the fine job you’ve done.

Sincerely, the District Manager

P.S. You’re fired.

See, you have to be careful with the P.S.’s, and here, in verses 12-14, not only do we have an apt summary of what Peter has written, but we also find three foundational elements of genuine Christian experience. Follow along with me as I read our final verses.

12 By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. 13 She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. 14 Greet one another with the kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.

“O Lord, Your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Give us grace to receive Your truth in faith and love, and strength to follow on the path You set before us; through Jesus Christ, Amen.”

The first foundational element of genuine Christian experience is…

Grace

We spoke about this last week when we considered the God of all grace. So, why talk about it again? Because our Christian experience is marked by it. Loved ones, grace is the sum and substance of our faith. That is to say; you cannot call yourself a Christian if you haven’t received God’s grace. You can come to church (and I want you to), you can help build a house for a homeless person (and I pray you might), you can speak kindly and lovingly to your neighbor (as you should), but unless and until you recognize the sinful and heinous nature of your heart and life before a holy God and cast yourself upon the mercy and love of Jesus Christ, which is grace, you are not a Christian. There must be a genuine surrender of ourselves to God’s grace.

It’s so fundamental that Peter talks about it in every chapter of this short letter. 1 Peter 1:2, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” Question: Peter, how might I experience this grace and peace? Answer: 1 Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” That’s grace. And what’s more, it’s also the gospel. It’s the Good News.

Like any good pastor, Peter closes this letter and says, “Folks, if you’ve heard nothing else that I’ve said, if you’ve not paid attention to any of the 105 verses that I’ve written, then please hear this; what is contained in this piece of mail is nothing but the TRUE… GRACE… of GOD.” There’s absolutely no doubt in Peter’s mind concerning it, and he wants his readers to be absolutely convinced about it too. And I, as the pastor of this church, want you, the flock, to be in no doubt concerning it either.

I don’t want you to walk out into another Monday believing that your Christian experience fights for its place on the vast array of religious opportunity. I want you to walk out into another Monday realizing that you, by God’s goodness, have been introduced to THE… TRUE… GRACE… of GOD. And until that becomes the conviction of our hearts, we’ll never be able to communicate it to a world that’s in desperate need of it.

Peter talks about grace in chapter 1:3. He talks about it in chapter 2:24, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” He talks about it in chapter 3:18, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” Again, and again, and again. Over and over and over again, Peter reminds us of the significance of the grace of God. No one here, today, knows anything of a genuine Christian experience unless you’ve made the discovery of Amazing Grace.

Love

Next is the priority of love. Peter says, “Greet one another with the kiss of love.” Some of you are getting excited. “Oh boy, I didn’t know we were called to kiss one another. What’s that all about?” Well, Jesus established the standard of love that we’re all called to live by. John 13:34 says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” Yes, I understand that, but back to the kissing thing. Where does that come into play?

Well, it was a custom of the Jews. It was normal for a disciple to kiss the cheek of his Rabbi and to lay his hands upon his shoulders. It was customary. Some of you have seen this. Both hands would be placed on the shoulders of the person in front of you and you would simply kiss them on the cheek. Hence Mark 14:44, when Jesus and the disciples are in the Garden of Gethsemane, we hear Judas’ instructions, “The one I will kiss is the man. Seize Him and lead Him away under guard.” It was customary for disciples to kiss their Rabbi, and this was Judas’ way of identifying Jesus to the authorities.

And as the pattern developed in the early church, it became part and parcel of Christian worship. The inward recognition of the grace of God upon someone’s life would lead to this external expression, and both Tertullian and Augustine refer to it. However, like expressions of love often do, it began to be abused, and another early church father, Athenagoras insists in his writings that the kiss must be given with the greatest care for “if there be mixed with it the least defilement of thought it excludes us from eternal life.” Clement of Alexandria, writing only about 75 years later, condemned the shameless use of it saying, “certain persons make the churches resound and thereby occasion foul suspicions and evil reports.”

By the 4th century, this kiss of love, was reserved for people of the same sex. And by the time of the 13th century the custom was tossed out altogether. The western equivalent is essentially a handshake, and probably safer all-round. The obligation to love is timeless, but the expression of it will vary with time and culture.

Peace

Finally, peace with God. At the center of this idea is Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The expression of this peace is found in Philippians 4:7, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” But we can’t experience that peace until we’ve been made right with God by means of Jesus – the Prince of Peace. Colossians 1:19-20 says, “For in Him [Jesus] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him [Jesus] to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.”

As the midterm elections are looming, there are so many voices expressing anxiety and uncertainty and fear. People longing for peace. And I’m not talking about the ceasing of wars and violence. I’m referring to the inner turmoil, the inner anguish of hearts and minds. Many are searching for peace, but they’re trying to do it without God, without acknowledging sin and their need of a Savior. Loved ones, I tell you it can’t be done. Jesus, Himself, testified that it’s impossible to find lasting, meaningful peace, apart from Him. John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” And Peter confirms this in the final sentence of this letter – a letter written to those in need of a reminder of the peace that we have (notice the last phrase) “Peace to all of you who are in Christ.” No peace without Jesus.

One commentator put it like this, “No one can enjoy real peace apart from Him, and all may enjoy it who belong to Him.” But this last sentence also poses a question: are you “in Christ?” Not, “are you in church?” Not, “do you know about Jesus?” But are you “in Christ?” Is this not a message for us to proclaim over the next 7 days (and beyond)? How can I come to terms with the living God? (Answer: grace.) How may I live in genuine relationship with people around me? (Answer: love.) How may I come to terms with myself as I make my journey through this life? (Answer: peace.) Three postscripts from Peter. Three essential elements of genuine Christian experience. Are they yours this morning? They can be.

The God of All Grace – 1 Peter 5:10-11

1 Peter 5:10-11

Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to 1 Peter 5. One of the things I’ve learned from listening to other preachers and theologians and Bible teachers is the significance of poetry in presenting the gospel. During my primary education, I wasn’t very fond of English and Grammar – what was called Language Arts, in those days. I was much more interested in History, Math and Science. But, alas, God has a sense of humor, and He called me to a vocation that’s dependent upon Reading and Writing and Grammar. Well, one of the things we were encouraged to do – maybe you were too – was to have some exposure to poetry. And since I didn’t like Language Arts anyway, I certainly didn’t understand the need to appreciate poetry. But that’s changed in the last decade.

What I do from week to week isn’t simply a matter of relaying information (at least it shouldn’t be). Yes, the Bible and the biblical story of Jesus Christ is information, but it’s more than people, places, and things. The truth contained in this book has a supernatural quality to it. It literally has the power to change our lives for all eternity – not just change our lives here on earth but impact our eternal destinies. And poetry, like hymnody, is one of the ways we communicate this eternal truth. There are few Christian poets (in my opinion) that rival Annie Johnson Flint, and He Giveth More Grace is one of them:

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added affliction, He addeth His mercy;
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

His love has no limit; His grace has no measure.
His pow’r has no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again!

That’s today’s scripture passage and sermon in a poem. The God of all grace giveth, and giveth, and giveth again. Follow along with me as I read 1 Peter 5:10-11:

10 And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To Him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

“Father, what we know not; teach us, what we have not; give us, what we are not; make us, for Your Son’s sake, amen.”

In these closing verses, Peter highlights for us six qualities about God and the first is…

God’s Character

We need to know God’s character. Peter says He’s “the God of all grace.” This is one of the great titles of God. The apostle Paul called Him “the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). Peter calls Him “the God of all grace.” It’s how God introduces Himself to Moses back in Exodus 34. He says, “I am Yahweh, the LORD God, merciful and gracious” (Exodus 34:6).

Please note that Peter did not refer to God as “the God of all fairness” or “the God of all justice,” although He absolutely is. Peter didn’t even refer to God as “the God of all truth,” or “the God of all correctness,” though He’s certainly those things as well. The one thing Peter wanted to leave with his audience was that their God is “the God of all grace.” David in Psalm 86 said, “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious” (Psalm 86:15).

Grace; that’s a great word, but when we come to the New Testament, that word takes on a whole new complexion. It’s the very covenant we relate to God with. It’s a covenant of unmerited favor. In just a few weeks we’ll be reading verses like this, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). So, under the law, God demands righteousness from man; but under grace, God gives righteousness to man. Under the law, righteousness is based on our good works; under grace, it’s based on Jesus’ good work, His finished work on the cross. Under the law, it only takes one sin to make you a sinner; under grace, it only takes one Savior to fix it all. So, to put it in its simple form: grace is how God deals with us. It’s not based on what we deserve, it’s based on what Jesus did.

Many of you know the acronym G-R-A-C-E: God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” In other words, God treated Jesus like we deserve to be treated, so that He can treat us like Jesus deserves to be treated. That’s grace. We’re saved by it. We’re secured by it. And ultimately, it’s “grace that will lead us home.” That’s His character.

God’s Calling

The second thing we need to know is God’s calling. Verse 10 continues “[May] the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory” stop right there. This tells me that God’s purpose for my life goes beyond a grace-filled life NOW and includes an eternal life LATER. Do you remember Jesus’ prayer in John 17? It’s often referred to as the High-Priestly prayer. In that prayer Jesus prayed, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory” (John 17:24a) Remember that? God, the Father, will answer that prayer one day and will take you to be with Jesus in His glory. But only if you know Him as “the God of all grace.”

See, this second truth (God’s calling) is based on the first truth (God’s character). Only if we know God as a result of the grace of Christ Jesus can He call us to His glory. What this does for Peter’s audience (and hopefully you and me) is that it raises their horizon. It lets them see beyond the pain of the immediate, beyond the pain of this life to something that’s beyond this life. Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world” (NLT). Life can hurt. But beyond the hurt, there’s heaven and, honestly, we often forget this when we’re in the midst of the pain.

That’s why it’s so important (from time-to-time) to slow down and just meditate on the realities of heaven. Think about the eternal glory that awaits. I know that none of us can speak with any authority beyond what the Bible has to say. None of us have been there and back – though some claim to have had out of body experiences or near-death encounters. But folks, one day, we’re actually going to see with our own eyes the glory of heaven. I think of the words of the old gospel song I Bowed on My Knees:

I dreamed of a city called Glory,
So bright and so fair.
When I entered the gates I cried, “Holy”
The angels all met me there:

They carried me from mansion to mansion,
And oh, the sights I saw,
But I said, “I want to see Jesus –
He’s the One who died for all.”

I bowed on my knees and cried,
“Holy, Holy, Holy.”
I clapped my hands and sang, “Glory,
Glory to the Son of God.”

As I entered the gates of that city,
My loved ones all knew me well.
They took me down the streets of Heaven;
The scenes were too many to tell;
I saw Abraham, Jacob and Isaac
Talked with Mark, and Timothy
But I said, “Timothy, I want to see Jesus,
‘Cause He’s the One who died for me.”

I bowed on my knees and cried,
“Holy, Holy, Holy.”
I clapped my hands and sang, “Glory,
Glory to the Son of God.”

That does something to you when you slow down and think about it. The apostle Paul says, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though we are wasting away outwardly, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. And so, we fix our eyes (there’s the horizon) we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporal, what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NIV). Live looking forward to what’s beyond life. There’s grace to make it through this life, and there’s glory that we’re called to afterwards.

But there’s something attached to it. I don’t want you to miss this…

God’s Condition

There’s a condition. Verse 10 says, “the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in [or by] Christ.” I mentioned this just a minute ago: you won’t automatically enjoy God’s grace in life and automatically enjoy God’s glory in heaven, without coming to Jesus. The first two qualities – God’s character and God’s eternal calling – are dependent upon this one. God’s grace and God’s glory are dependent upon knowing Jesus. It’s not automatic. Have you accepted the reality of what the Bible says concerning Jesus? Have you acknowledged your own sinfulness and confessed that sin? Have you thrown yourself upon the mercy and grace of Jesus and genuinely received His redemption, His pardon, His forgiveness?

One of the realities of pastoring is conducting funerals. It’s part of the job. I’ve been to a lot of funerals, and I’ve officiated my fair share. And some that I have been to, if I were just to walk in and listen to eulogies and listen to some preachers, I could assume by what I hear at some funerals that the only condition for you to get to heaven is to just be born. Be born, that’s all you gotta do. Live any way you want, make any choice you want, but at the end we’ll find some preacher who will push you into heaven, and say nice things about you.

I heard about the funeral of a scoundrel. I mean, this guy hated God, never wanted to go to church, never wanted God mentioned in his house, and everybody knew that about him. When he died, he had a funeral, and some preacher who didn’t know him gave the eulogy and gave the sermon and talked about how wonderful he was and went on for about ten minutes – offering words of praise and adulation. And everybody in the audience is like, “What!?” Finally, the man’s wife nudged her son and said, “Go up there and look in that casket and make sure that’s your dad. We might be at the wrong place.”

Folks, as much as I might want to tell you that’s all you have to do – be born – it’s not. According to Jesus, we have to be “born again” or “born from above” (John 3:3). Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Heaven is exclusive. And perhaps one of the biggest surprises in heaven will be who’s there and who’s not there. And we might just look at each other and go, “Larry, you’re here? After what you said on hole 13?” And Larry says, “Pastor, you’re here? After what you said when you missed that fish?” I know… It’s only by the grace of God through or in or by Christ Jesus.

God’s character is grace. God’s calling is glory. God’s condition is Christ. Fourth is…

God’s Curriculum

Again, Peter is summing up his whole letter, and notice what he says, “May the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while.” Remember who Peter is writing to – the persecuted, separated, alienated people of God – those who are suffering. Everybody goes through suffering. It’s a part of life, but it’s also a part of God’s curriculum. Pain happens to everybody, but purposeful pain only happens to the child of God. Everybody goes through pain, and for the average person they look back and they say, “I don’t get this. I don’t understand. That’s just a bad thing that happened.” But not for a believer. A believer knows the truth of Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” Everything works together. Purposeful pain is what children of God get.

I know there are people that will hear this sermon or read this sermon and want to challenge me. There are some folks within the body of Christ that believe all of our problems, all of our pain, all of our sinful habits and tendencies just go away when we receive Jesus as our Savior. They believe that it’s never God’s intention for us to suffer. They struggle – some genuinely, others not so genuinely – to have a place in their theology for righteous suffering. And yet many giants of the faith confirm that reality. I’ll only offer three, for the sake of time.

The apostle Paul says, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations [speaking of his visions of heaven] a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited” (2 Corinthians 12:7). So, even if it was from Satan, it was allowed by God. Why? To keep Paul’s ego in check. To help him rely upon the grace of God.

King David said, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71). Affliction, good? According to David, if it wasn’t for the affliction, then he wouldn’t have learned God’s commands, God’s truth.

And who can forget poor ole Job? The way that book opens, everything that Job experienced was allowed and permitted by God, through Satan, in order to bring about His divine purposes and glory. Do you remember what Job said to his wife after they experienced the pain of losing their children, their house, their business, everything that we value in life? He said, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10, NIV). Again, I will grant you that those tribulations and trials and sufferings were brought about by the hand of Satan, but God allowed them in order to strengthen Job, in order to bring Job to a deeper understanding of who God is. In ways we can’t fully explain or comprehend suffering is a part of God’s curriculum to bring Him glory and honor, which is the next quality…

God’s Commitment

Please see it: “[A]fter you have suffered a little while, [the God of all grace] will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” That’s God’s intention. If you’re suffering today, that’s what He’s after. He wants to make you “strong, firm and steadfast.” Do we wish He’d often times use different methods? Sure. Could He do it another way? Absolutely! Would we write our own stories with the pain of divorce, the death of children, verbal and physical abuse, addictions, and so forth? Probably not. But God uses those sufferings to “confirm, strengthen and establish” us.

As I said, I can’t fully explain it – at least not to my own satisfaction, and certainly not to yours – but even if I could we probably wouldn’t be able to comprehend it, which is why our churches and our faith have as its primary symbol the cross. It’s in the cross of Christ Jesus that we see God’s commitment brought to its rightful conclusion. It’s in the cross that we see the cruelty, the brutality, the horrifying pain and agony and suffering that God brought upon His son, Jesus, for our sake. And it’s also in the cross that we see God’s commitment through the power of the Holy Spirit to resurrect Christ from the grave. “After you have suffered a little while, [the God of all grace] will Himself restore you.”

God’s Compensation

You might ask, “What does God get out of all of this? What does God get out of giving us grace to live and calling us to glory and giving us through Jesus Christ the benefits and the refinement even through our own experiences. What does He get out of this?” Look at verse 11 and we’ll be done, “To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” Peter, like Paul, is just brought to a place in his writing that he just offers a word of praise. The word benediction is Latin (see, it ain’t always Greek). And yes, it’s made up of two Latin words bene meaning “well or good” and dictio meaning “to speak.” So, literally it’s well-speaking or good words. Peter just finds himself overwhelmed with all that God is and all that God does, and all that God has in store for those who are His and he just worships, he just praises God, he just blesses the Lord.

I began by quoting poetry and I mentioned that some of our best poems have been turned into hymns and one of those was written by Frederich Lehman titled The Love of God, and the third verse reads:

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
and were the skies of parchment made;
were ev’ry stalk on earth a quill,
and ev’ryone a scribe by trade;
to write the love of God above
would drain the ocean dry;
nor could the scroll contain the whole,
though stretched from sky to sky.

“God of grace and God of glory, we come to You – each of us – in desperate need of being restored, of being strengthened, of being made steadfast, of being established in Christ Jesus. Lord, we thank You that the Word of God does the work of God by the Spirit of God in the lives of us, the children of God. So, accomplish Your purposes in us, we pray. Keep us ever in Your will, and grant that we might be a help and not a hindrance to one another, as we follow Jesus, so that on that day we might stand before You complete in Him. It’s in His mighty name, the name of Jesus, our Christ, our Savior and our Lord that we pray. Amen.”

Our Enemy the Devil – 1 Peter 5:8-9

1 Peter 5:8-9

Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and go with me to 1 Peter. This is our 22nd week in 1 Peter (that’s almost 6 months), and I’ve discovered that I’m having a hard time bringing it to a close. But you know what; I’ve also learned that it’s not my fault. Isn’t that what our culture teaches us? “It’s not my fault.” Well, who’s fault, is it? It’s Peter’s fault. He keeps saying stuff, and some of the stuff that he says really needs to be considered. “Like what?” you ask. Well, like the fact that we have a real enemy – the devil. We’re only going to look at two verses today (1 Peter 5:8-9).

8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.

“Father, we pray because we want to say that we depend on You. We need Your help. It’s fairly plain to understand what we’ve just now read, but we need the help of the Holy Spirit to make real consideration and application in a way that would change our lives. Lord, I pray with what we discover today, as for some it will be eye-opening and sobering. O God, that we would rejoice because of the ultimate truth that this text bears out. We look to You, Lord, we thank You for this day that we can gather together and worship as Your flock, in Jesus’ name, amen.”

As I was considering the passage and the title for today’s sermon, my mind kept going back to that song from 1939. The one that was originally written and recorded by Solomon Linda for the South African Gallo Record Company under the title “Mbube.” You know it, right? No? I figured since my Greek was getting a little stale, perhaps Zulu would interest you. You speak Zulu right? Let me give you another word. How about this, “a-wimoweh, a-wimoweh, a-wimoweh.” How about it? (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)

Fun fact: the word that we sing as “a-wimoweh” is really uyimbube. Mbube is Zulu for “lion,” and in order to call a lion (like calling a kitty cat) you say uyimbube. But when Pete Seeger of The Weavers was translating the song into English, he misunderstood the word and wrote in “a-wimoweh.” And you mock my sermons…

But seriously, what if the lion doesn’t sleep tonight? What if the lion is on the prowl? What if the lion wants to destroy? We have an enemy. We have a brutal, attacking, destructive, unrelenting enemy and he’s described for us in these verses. Imagine this scenario with me for a moment. You’re at the zoo, and you’re there with your family and you’re wandering around the park, and suddenly over the PA system you hear this announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, we just wish to inform you that the lion has escaped its enclosure and it’s roaming about the park. And, by the way, this lion hasn’t eaten, so you may want to keep your children close.” You laugh, but this actually happened back in 2014, in Sydney, Australia. A lion got out of its enclosure in the park during operating hours and dozens of people had to be brought inside in order to be protected.

We have an enemy. He’s a real enemy, an invisible enemy, a deadly enemy, far deadlier than any lion on this earth. The apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:12 says, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places.” So, as we unpack these verses, there are four things I want us to understand about our enemy: his identity, his strategy, his territory, and his frailty.

His Identity – We Have An Enemy

Notice what it says in verse 8, “your adversary the devil.” Let’s just consider that for a moment. The word “devil,” diabolos in Greek, means one who slanders or one who will attack another by slander. It’s a term that’s used 35 times in Scripture. He’s called “the devil.” Another 54 times he’s referred to as “Satan;” another 5 times he’s called “the evil one;” another 8 times he’s called “the wicked one.” He’s also called “the destroyer,” “Abaddon,” “Apollyon,” “Lucifer,” and a host of other names.

He first appears in Genesis 3. His last appearance is in Revelation 20. In other words, his work spans all of human history. Now, I realize that some people hearing this or reading this flinch whenever they hear somebody like me talk about a literal devil. We live in a day and time when a lot of people deny the existence of a literal devil. Certainly, people who are unbelievers don’t give him much thought; and even born-again Christians, many of them, don’t consider the devil to be real. He’s just a cartoon character. He wears tight, little red underwear and has a funny goatee and hops around and goes from one comic book to the other.

The Gallup Organization said that although 70 percent of Americans believe in the devil, about half believe he’s just a metaphor for evil, not a real person, just evil in general. That doesn’t concern me. Here’s what concerns me: a poll from the Barna Group – polling only born-again Christians, or those that claimed to be – asked evangelical Christians: “Do you agree/disagree that the devil is a real, living being, and not just a symbol of evil?” Of those who said they were Christians, 32 percent “strongly disagreed,” 11 percent “disagreed somewhat,” and 5 percent “don’t know.”

When you add the “strongly disagree” and the “disagree somewhat” and the “don’t know,” you end up with 48 percent of Christians leaning to the idea that the devil is not a real being but just a symbol of evil, or they just don’t know. So, just in case I’m talking to any of that ilk, let me propose a question to you: How much stock do you put in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ concerning the devil? That’s really the issue. The issue is one of authority. Where do you derive your authority? Everybody gets authority from someplace.

Maybe your authority is your culture, what everybody else thinks about something – you want to go along with them. Maybe your authority is your tradition – what’s been passed down. Maybe it’s what your friends think? Perhaps your thinking and convictions are tightly associated with your emotions, so your authority is based upon how you’re feeling at any given moment? Or, is your authority from the Bible? And do you put stock in what Jesus said about the devil? See, when Jesus talked about the devil, He never referred to the devil as an “it” or a “that,” but a “he” and a “him” (personal pronouns). In Luke 10:18 Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning.” Those were Jesus’ words, His experience. D. L. Moody used to say, “I believe in the devil for two reasons: 1.) the Bible says he exists; and 2.) I’ve done business with him.”

I find Peter’s language of animals in this chapter fascinating. There’s something about this lion that we read about here; Peter pictures him as “a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour,” wandering around. However, this lion often wears a disguise. He’s portrayed as a lion in the text, but Jesus said he usually shows up like a wolf in (what?) sheep’s clothing. Isn’t it interesting that Peter has just been addressing the shepherds and then he talks to the sheep, and no he refers to one that he calls a lion but is really a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

He’s all about the cover up. He’s all about deception. He doesn’t come off as an enemy, but as a friend. When Satan first appeared to Eve, he questioned God: “Did God really say…” He comes off so deceptive. Paul says, that “Satan masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14) so friendly, not at all like a lion.

I read an interview with Mel Gibson about his movie The Passion of the Christ. (Can you believe that movie is almost 20 years old?) The interview caught my attention, because if you remember that movie, the actor that portrayed the devil was just creepy. And I’ve often wondered, “Ugh! What’s that about?” Well, the interviewer asked Mel Gibson this question: “Why was the devil portrayed by a person you couldn’t clearly identify? Was it a beautiful woman or a hideous man? Sometimes the character looked good and other times the character looked ugly.” Mel Gibson responded by saying, “I wanted it this way because that is how the enemy is. Evil looks good until you turn it around a little and you see the whole spectrum, and then you see the ugliness.” Oh, what a statement.

The ugly, brutal lion goes undetected. In fact, the world doesn’t see him as a lion, they’re going around calling a household kitty cat, “Here kitty, kitty, kitty” not knowing who he really is. Satan is either your friend or he’s your enemy, and for born-again believers he’s indeed our enemy. So, that’s his identity.

His Strategy – Our Enemy Has A Plan

Let’s look at his strategy. Peter says he “prowls about.” He’s on the prowl, “seeking someone to devour.” The word “devour,” is a very strong word. It means “to drink down, to swallow, to consume.” How does the devil devour people? Well, let me kind of boil it down and just get down to brass tacks. First, he wants you to burn in hell forever. How’s that for a bottom line? That’s what he wants. In John 10:10 Jesus said, “The thief comes for no other reason except to steal, to kill, to destroy.” That’s Satan’s intent. We know that hell was not made for people; it was made “for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). But misery loves company, and he wants to get as many people as possible in hell with him and his minions, and he wants humanity to burn in hell forever.

Second, if he can’t get that – and the only reason he couldn’t get that is if a person said “no” to him and said “yes” to Jesus – if he can’t get the heart of a believer, then the next best thing is to make you weak. Get you so weighed down and distracted with the piddly little stuff of life: this thing, that thing, your career, your boat, your project, just get you swimming in all of that and not thinking about advancing the kingdom of God. In that case, you’re just existing. You don’t really pose a threat to Satan and the kingdom of darkness, because you’re just impotent, you’re anemic, you’re weak.

So, here’s the bottom-line statement. Satan is hungry and gullible; and ill-prepared Christians are on his menu. He’s on the prowl, “seeking someone to devour.” Can I take your mind back to a familiar passage in the book of Job? You don’t have to turn there but recall it with me. In Job 1:8, God asks Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?” That’s a rhetorical question. It would be better translated: “You’ve been considering my servant Job, haven’t you?” The word “consider” means “to set your heart on, to study.” “You’ve been studying Job, haven’t you? You’ve been looking at him. You’ve been watching him, haven’t you? You’ve been eyeing him.”

So, Satan had been studying Job and thinking, “How can I undermine this blameless, perfect man?” Looking for weak points. Looking for a time to attack. This leads me to a couple conclusions. First, Satan is actively studying you. Does that make you feel a little unnerved? I hope so. It makes me feel a little creeped out. Ever been in a restaurant when you realize that person across the restaurant has been looking at you staring at you the whole time? It’s like, woo-ooh, that’s just weird. We have an enemy who studies us. All of us have weaknesses.

There are areas of our lives where we’re prone to sin, prone to stumble and fall. For some it could be anger. For others it could be lust and pornography. For others it can be a bad habit. For others it might be insecurity and lying, trying to project an image, because you always want people to accept you. Whatever that is, and you know what those areas are, you have an enemy who also knows what those areas are. And the point is this: whatever temptation Satan sends your way is custom made just for you. “You’ve been considering my servant Job,” that’s the idea of prowling around.

The second conclusion is that Satan operates within parameters. He can only act by permission of God and in line with God’s purposes, much like the demons who inhabited a man at Gedara. And before Jesus cast them out, they said, “Permit us to go into that herd of swine” (Luke 8:31-32). They operate only by permission. That give me comfort. I know I have an enemy who’s studying me and attacking me, but I have a Lord who’s sovereign over him permitting him certain freedoms and curtailing and restricting other freedoms. So, he can only go so far. So, this is what it means to me: when I’m in the fire of a trial or I’m in the fire of a temptation, I know that God has His eye on me and His finger on the thermostat. He knows what I can take. Paul said, “[God] will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

So that’s his identity and that’s his strategy. Consider now his territory.

His Territory – Our Enemy Is Active

Look at verse 9, “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of sufferings are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” Consider that phrase. Who’s “your brotherhood?” Fellow believers. “Throughout the world;” where’s that? Well, it could mean scattered outside the church, the worldly system. But it just means everywhere on earth where there are believers Satan is attacking. So, listen to this: Satan has access to the entire world geographically, but his focus of attack is on believers specifically, “your brotherhood in the world.” Did you know that three times Jesus Christ referred to Satan as “the ruler of this world?”

I’ve never liked that. I like to sing, “This is my Father’s world.” And it’s His world by creation, and it’s His world by sovereign purpose controlling everything, but He allows this devil, this Satan certain liberties and freedoms to move and to do. And though he’s on a leash (frankly, sometimes I wish the leash were a little shorter) he has access. The world is his oyster. It’s his platform of attack. Like the lion, who is considered to be the king of the jungle because he can roam just about anywhere, so too, this enemy roams wherever he wants. He roams. He searches. He looks for prey.

Go back in your mind to Job 1, the story I mentioned just a minute ago. Job 1:6 says, “Now there was a day when the sons of God (that’s angels) came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.” So, Satan appears before God to give an account. And the very next verses says, “The LORD said to Satan, ‘From where have you come?’ Satan answered the LORD and said, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’” So, he appears before God for some personal accounting, but he’s been cruising the earth.

Satan has access to heaven and earth? Stay with me here. He has some access to heaven. He had some ability to appear before God to give an account, but he was cruising the earth. Let me remind you of something else we often forget, or maybe you never knew this, but Satan is not in hell. He’s never been in hell. One day he’ll be in hell. He’s going there. But not yet. And oh, when he gets there, he won’t be in charge. He’ll be in chains. He’ll be the chief victim. But until then, he has freedom, and he wanders, and he works. He commands the demonic realm, but the theater of operations of that demonic realm is in the human world. So, this is what we’re dealing with: we have an invisible army in a visible world. It’s pretty tough. It’s like they’re everywhere, but you can’t see them. He’s not omnipresent, like God is, but he’s active all over the world.

So that’s his identity, his strategy, and his territory. I’ve saved the best for last; that’s his frailty.

His Frailty – Our Enemy Must Be Engaged

He can and must be engaged and he can be defeated. And that’s found in these words: “Be sober-minded, be watchful.” Also, verse 9, “Resist him, firm in your faith.” Listen, your enemy cannot be ignored. You can’t hunker yourself down in a church and say “I just don’t want to think about the devil.” That’s what some churches do. That’s why so many Christians attend churches that don’t talk about Satan – they think they can just pretend he doesn’t exist. But we have to engage him. One commentator put it like this, “The devil is never too busy to rock the cradle of a sleeping saint.” He has to be engaged. And it begins in the mind – where you think.

Let me point out three things (quickly) and we’ll be done. “Be sober-minded.” That’s a word that means “to be self-controlled, to be disciplined, to think clearly.” In other words, don’t allow yourself to be intoxicated by the amusements of this world. Be sober-minded. The battle always begins in the mind, folks, it always begins in the mind. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7, NKJV). Every behavioral scientist in the last several decades has said that most people are governed by sub-conscious thought. So, we begin in in the mind – what we think about. We have to think clearly.

Second, “be watchful.” The word means to be alert, to be vigilant, to be on the lookout, don’t fall asleep on the job. I think of Peter and James and John in the garden of Gethsemane, and I wonder if that wasn’t still resonating in Peter’s mind when he wrote this. Remember, Jesus came to him, and he said, “Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). So, watch out for attacks in weak areas. Watch out that you don’t get in a compromising position or a situation where you would be more apt to yield than to resist. Watch out.

Third, verse 9 says, “Resist him.” He can be resisted. We like to throw up our hands in frustration and weariness and say, “I just can’t resist…” as if the call to fight sin and wage war against our bodies is a waste of time. It’s not. We can resist Satan. Maybe not perfectly. Maybe not all of the time. But we can and we have. James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” But notice that it also says to do this “firm in the faith.” Now, this is one of those places where I actually don’t like the ESV. Normally, the ESV is a very good, very dependable, very accurate translation, but not here. The ESV says, “Resist him, firm in your faith.” The Greek uses the definite article “the faith.” This is so clear to us in our day. How many times have we recently heard people in our western American culture talk about “your truth” and “my truth.” “Well, that might be ‘your’ truth, but it’s not ‘my’ truth. Speak ‘your’ truth in this/that situation.” No, there’s only one truth. The question is whether you’re on the right side of truth.

The same is true for faith. There’s not ‘your’ faith and ‘my’ faith, as though we can pick/choose which parts of the gospel we want. The faith is the truth of the gospel as embodied in the Scripture. In Jude 1:3 we read, “Contend earnestly for the faith, once for all delivered to the saints.” Jude was speaking about the body of truth that has been passed down by the Holy Spirit in the written Word of God. What did Jesus do when the devil assaulted Him in the wilderness? He quoted Scripture, “It is written . . .” You gotta know what’s written before you can say, “It is written . . .” That’s why we need to know our Bibles, otherwise when we’re attacked, we’re going to say things like “Okay, uh, God helps those who help themselves. Oh, wait, that’s not it. A stitch in time saves nine. Oh, wait, I got it ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness.’” Standing firm in the faith is how you resist the devil. Be sober-minded. Be watchful. Resist him, firm in the faith.

Let me close with this, because otherwise you’ll leave here today saying, “Yeah, I heard a great sermon. I got an enemy who wants to kill me. Woo-hoo! It feels so good!” Listen, our enemy is a vicious lion. He’s a brutal lion, but he’s only a second-rate lion. He roars a lot. He sounds intimating, but he’s a second-rate lion. There’s a lion that out-ranks our enemy and He goes by the title the “Lion of Judah.” And John sees Him in the book of Revelation, and he says, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered” (Revelation 5:5). C. S. Lewis wrote a whole series of books, Chronicles of Narnia, and the Christ figure in that series was the lion Aslan. That’s what John was referring to.

The prophet Amos predicted, “The LORD roars from Zion and utters His voice from Jerusalem” (Amos 1:2). When Jesus was on the cross dying in Zion, our lion King, the true lion King, the Lion of Judah, roared from Jerusalem with these words, he cried out with a loud voice, “It is finished!” He made that proclamation. And one day our great enemy, Satan, the second-rate lion, the crafty, deceiving, manipulating lion will be “thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).

Until then he roams around, but until then we can be sober-minded, watchful, resisting him in the faith because “greater is the Lion of Judah that’s in us than the roaming evil lion that is in the world” (1 John 4:4, adapted).

“Father, we thank You for these truths. We thank You, Lord, that You don’t leave us in the dark about who our true enemy is, and what he does, and what we’re able to do – resisting him, standing firm in the faith. O God, most of all, we’re grateful that You and You alone are the true Lion of Judah, our King, our Savior, our Lord, for we offer this prayer in the name of Jesus, amen.”