•  — Edited

    Jesus and Mistaken Praise (Mark 11:1-11)

    Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/707061--jesus-and-mistaken-praise

    Sermon Discussion Questions:

    1. What stood out to you most from the sermon?
    2. Can you think of someone who does not worship Jesus, but likes Jesus? What do they like about Him? How is this different from worshipping Jesus?
    3. Read Zechariah 9:9-11. What did the people of Jesus' day misunderstand about this verse?
    4. The Jews of Jesus' day assumed Jesus would look like a military leader, and this was why they were so excited about Jesus. Where might people like us today be in danger of having false assumptions about Jesus? What might excite us about Jesus that isn't necessarily true of Jesus? Hint: look to where you are disappointed most.
    5. Are there non-Christians in your life who might think they really love Jesus, when they actually love a Jesus of their own making, not the Jesus we meet in the Bible? What does evangelism and love look like for these people?
    6. What was the purpose of the parable of the blind men and the elephant?
    7. Why is the gospel the aspect of the Bible we are most prone to misunderstand?

    Sermon Manuscript:

    People have always liked Jesus.

    Charles Templeton, in his own words, “adored” Jesus. Templeton professed faith when he was 21 years old and was full of fire and passion for the Lord. That same year he began speaking to large crowds of people about the gospel, starting his own evangelistic rallies. 9 years later he met another young, zealous evangelist while on a Youth For Christ evangelism tour in Europe named Billy Graham. Billy and Charles became fast friends and often worked together in great crusades. But, by 1948 Charles began to have doubts about the reliability of the Bible. He entered Princeton Theological Seminary where his doubts only festered and grew. In less than a decade he publicly declared that he was now an agnostic. In 1996 he wrote a memoir titled Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith. In that book he recounts a conversation with Billy Graham where he tries to press Billy to abandon the Bible, but Billy simply and humbly admits that the Bible is God’s Word, so he cannot reject it. 

    A few years later, journalist Lee Strobel interviewed Templeton about his life and religious journey. “And how do you assess this Jesus?” It seemed like the next logical question—but I wasn’t ready for the response it would evoke…Templeton’s body language softened. It was as if he suddenly felt relaxed and comfortable in talking about an old and dear friend… “He was,” Templeton began, “the greatest human being who has ever lived. He was a moral genius. His ethical sense was unique. He was the intrinsically wisest person that I’ve ever encountered in my life or in my readings. His commitment was total and led to his own death, much to the detriment of the world. What could one say about him except that this was a form of greatness?” All of this, of course, said by an avowed agnostic.

    Jesus is a strange character of history, an odd mixture of magnetism and polarity. There are always droves of people who are attracted to Jesus, but there are also people who are strongly repelled by Jesus. We have seen this throughout Mark’s gospel thus far. Jesus begins His ministry by inviting the weak, the poor, and the wayward into His circle. His teaching bears a sensational kind of authority that sucks people in. Like a steel axe biting into a dead tree, his sermons sink into the religious teachers of the day, accusing and assaulting their pride and religious hypocrisy. He speaks in enigmatic parables that baffle the elite, but slowly explains them to His followers. He heals the sick, casts out demons, and proclaims that He can provide forgiveness of sins.

    He proclaims that He is in fact the long awaited for King of Israel, the Messiah whom the prophets have foretold about who will rescue Israel from her oppressors. And yet, He raises no armies and plans not violent upheavals. But He feeds thousands, and heals the blind, and raises the dead. He teaches that the kingdom of God is demonstrated through meekness and service. He takes time to spend with little children, with social outcasts, and notorious sinners, while often snubbing or offended the rich and influential. All of this creates massive crowds who adore Jesus, even while there are some who are left confused, offended, and even repulsed by Him—to the degree that they are currently plotting his assassination.

    How could someone be so loved and so hated at the same time? What’s even more surprising: Jesus has been teaching His small band of disciples secretly that the crowds have, in many ways, not understood the purpose of His arrival. In other words, for many in the crowds, what they love about Jesus is mistaken. And even more shocking, Jesus reveals that He is aware that He will be put to death once He arrives at Jerusalem. Our text today opens with Jesus taking His first step in Jerusalem since predicting this, starting the countdown to His gruesome death. Today is Sunday, but Friday is coming. 

    1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. 5 And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. 7 And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. 8 And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. 9 And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” 11 And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. – Mark 11:1-11

    The colt (donkey)

    The scene opens with Jesus cresting the hill to the east of Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives. As He surveys the city of David, Jesus turns to two of His disciples and sends them to go fetch a “colt” or a “young donkey” (cf. Matt 21:2; John 12:14-15) from a nearby village. Jesus has either set up an arrangement ahead of time for the donkey to be prepared or, more likely, it is simply another display of His divine omniscience peeking out in the text. His disciples bring back this donkey “on which no one has ever sat” (Mark 11:2) and create a makeshift saddle out of their cloaks for Jesus to ride upon. 

    Now, why did Mark think this was important to tell us? Surely, there was a great deal that occurred in the life of Jesus that we were not told about. The amount of biographical details that we are given about Jesus are remarkably slim. Mark’s gospel isn’t detailing for us everything that happened in the life of Jesus. Rather, there is an intentionality in what is included, a purpose to convey. So, Mark determined that this was something that was necessary to be included in his gospel account of Jesus. But why? Jesus’ riding on a donkey into Jerusalem is a fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, which opens up with, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zech 9:9 (cf. Matt 21:5; John 12:15). 

    This prophecy is written over 500 years before Jesus walks the earth and is recorded after Israel has been taken away as prisoners by Babylon and had no king sitting on the throne for quite some time. Zechariah encourages the downtrodden in Israel: Rejoice! The King is coming and he brings salvation with him—he comes not on a war horse, but on a donkey. What’s of even more significance is the specific phrase used here “foal of a donkey” (בֵּן אָתוֹן) The only other place in the Hebrew Bible that phrase is used is in Genesis 49:11, where God promises that there will arise a ruler from Judah, one of the earliest prophecies of the coming Messiah: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey's colt (בֵּן אָתוֹן)  to the choice vine,” Gen 49:10-11. 

    Do you see the importance here? Jesus is arriving as the promised King, the Messiah of the line of Judah, marching into Jerusalem. The boulder of expectation that has been tumbling through the pages of the Old Testament has now crashed onto the scene in the person of Jesus. 

    Now, we don’t want to make too much out of a donkey. It can sometimes be imagined that by Jesus riding a donkey itself He demonstrated the humility that Zechariah speaks of. While it would be silly to imagine a king riding a donkey into battle (it is not a warrior’s animal), it was actually common for kings to ride donkeys in the ancient world. Famously, during the coronation of King Solomon, the dying King David explains that Solomon is to be placed upon his donkey and to be marched to Jerusalem to be enthroned as king (1 Kings 1:33-37). Interestingly, Solomon is ordered to march into the western side of Jerusalem (Gihon), the same direction that Jesus marches into Jerusalem; when Solomon arrives in Jerusalem there is an explosion of praise and celebration at the coming king (1 Kings 1:40), and when Jesus enters Jerusalem people explode in praise and jubilation. What am I getting at? The gospel authors are wanting you to see Jesus like a king of Israel, like a son of David. Remember, it was only a few verses earlier that Jesus is explicitly and repeatedly called “Son of David” by Bartimaeus (Mark 10:47-48). In fact, this is how the crowds themselves respond.

    The celebration

    As Jesus begins to enter Jerusalem we are told that crowds begin throwing their cloaks down in front of them (cf. 2 Kings 9:13), pulling down palm branches and placing them before Jesus. Palm branches (identified in John 12:13) are significant because they had in the past few hundred years become a national symbol of Israel, popularized by the Maccabees in their political revolt after they fought off their foreign oppressors over 150 years ago. Don Carson comments, “In this instance [the waving of palm branches] may well have signaled nationalist hope that a messianic liberator was arriving on the scene (cf. John 6:14-15).” Mark is typically concise and does not give us a great deal of details, but Matthew tells us that at the triumphal entry “the whole city” of Jerusalem “is stirred up,” (Matt 21:10). The crowds begin to cry out as Jesus enters, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” Mark 11:9-10. “Hosanna” is Hebrew for “Save us now!” and is from a psalm that was said to every Jew who were making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem as they entered the temple (Ps 118). The Psalm is a prayer of thanksgiving and a plea for God to intervene and save His people from the violent nations who have cut them off (Ps 118:10-13). But, the phrase, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David,” is not in Psalm 118. This is something that the crowds are creating themselves. Where are they getting this?

    One thing we have been saying repeatedly while in the gospel of Mark is that the political climate that Jesus is living in is fraught with Messianic expectations. People are eager for a coming King who will arrive, fulfill the promises of God, and get rid of the Romans. Nearly a thousand years ago, God had made a promise to King David that David would always have a descendant of his to sit on the throne in Jerusalem (2 Sam 7). But it had been almost six hundred years since any descendant of David sat on the throne and the land that they were supposed to have as a divine right had been stripped from them and they had been dominated by numerous pagan nations. They have heard of Jesus’ popularity, His miracles, His authority over demonic powers, He has even been identified as a descendant of David—could this be the one? Now here he comes, riding on a donkey(!) from the Mount of Olives (where the Messiah was supposed to show up, Zech 14:4-5) and is headed to the temple where the Messiah was thought to arrive and establish His throne and the kingdom would be restored! Luke’s gospel makes the crowds chants more explicit: ““Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” Luke 19:38.

    Now, with all of this fanfare, all of these expectations that have created this moment of great import and gravity, what does Jesus do? “And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve,” Mark 11:11.

    Well, that’s a tad underwhelming.

    The misunderstanding 

    A key literary technique Mark has used throughout his gospel has been that of irony. It is the outsiders who are claimed to be the real insiders; it is the blind who really see spiritually better than anyone else. Here we see a moment that is loaded with an ironic twist. Jesus really is the Messiah. He has gone out of His way to make that evident and wants the crowd to know that He is the coming King. So, when the crowds are praising and celebrating the arrival of Jesus, they are correct in what they are doing. But, at the same time, they have profoundly misunderstood Jesus—so profoundly that these crowds only five days later will be crying out “crucify Him!” Jesus’ arrival in the temple, only to walk away and leave it, is the first taste that the crowds have misunderstood that nature of the Messiah’s mission. Even more jarring, the following day Jesus is going to arrive at the temple and instead of establishing the kingdom like they though He is going to turn around and curse the temple! (Mark 11:15-19). That would be like someone going through all of the motions to be nominated as president only to arrive at the inauguration to kick the podium over and begin cursing the American government.

    If we return to Zechariah we get a clue that the popular conception of the Messiah was mistaken: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. 11 As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit,” Zech 9:9-11. So, in other words, the King is coming bringing salvation—but this salvation isn’t a political salvation. Jesus is arriving on a donkey, not a war horse—in fact, He is going to cut off the war horses in Jerusalem! He is coming to establish a global domination, but not through war, not through violence, not through a political upheaval! But through proclaiming peace. Through the “blood of my covenant with you.” Of course, in four short days Jesus will lift up the cup and explain, “This is the blood of the covenant.” The victory, the salvation that Jesus has come to bring is a salvation from Israel’s great spiritual oppression—their sin. Sin’s consequence is death. Jesus has come to take that consequence on Himself and so free His people from this bondage that is far, far more deadly than Roman overlords. And now, He has come to remake the people of Israel into the global, multi-ethnic people of God: the Church, who will march forth throughout the globe proclaiming peace and good news to the nations. The Kingdom will stretch "from sea to sea," but will be carried by the missionaries, the disciples of Jesus who will spread the message and so spread the Kingdom. But they will extend the borders of this Kingdom not by taking lives, but by laying down theirs.


    -       Someone may be really excited about Jesus, but not know him. Sincerity alone does not make worship acceptable. Nadab and Abihu’s sincerity in offering strange fire to God that He had not commanded did not prevent them from being consumed (Lev 10). Someone may be able to cite Scripture and appear pious and have passionate, heartfelt worship to God, but be worshipping an entirely different god than Jesus Christ.

    -       To guard ourselves from this danger we must first and foremost be a people who listen. Our God is a God who speaks; we should be a people who listen. Perhaps you have heard of the parable of the blind men and the elephant? Six blind men happen upon an elephant. Having never encountered an elephant before they begin reaching out to figure out what an elephant is like. One man grabs the leg of an elephant and says, "Ah, elephants are round and stout, like a tree trunk." But another, grasping the tail of the elephant, explains, "No, elephants are thin and whispy, like a rope." Another, feeling the side of the elephant, exclaims, "You both are wrong; elephants are broad and flat, like a wall." And on and on it goes. The point of the parable, of course, is that each one of them is right and wrong at the same time; they each have a partial grasp of the truth, but not the whole truth. And if you're in "World Religions 101" your professor will explain that this is something like what all of the religions are like: each grasping part of the truth, each missing the whole, and each accusing the others of being incorrect. The "Truth" is simply too expansive for any one religion to fully grasp. How do we respond to that?

    Well, first off, this parable is self-contradictory--the parable is told from the vantage point of a person who can see the whole elephant and can confirm that all of the blind men are incorrect, a vantage point that the parable intends to say does not exist. Thus, for one person to say that they know definitively that all religions or worldviews only have a partial grip on the truth they are then claiming that they know for certain that all religions are incorrect in part. But to claim this, they must have a vantage point of total knowledge that they are simultaneously claiming doesn't exist. Kevin DeYoung notes: "For the story to make its point, the narrator has to have clear and accurate knowledge of the elephant." But DeYoung goes on to point a far more serious second flaw to this parable, "The story is a perfectly good description of human inability in matters of the divine. We are blind and unable to know God by our own devices. But the story never considers this paradigm-shattering question: What if the elephant talks? What if he tells the blind me, 'That wall-like structure is my side. That fan is really my ear. And that's not a rope; it's a tail.' If the elephant were to say all this, would the six blind men be considered humble for ignoring his word?" (DeYoung, Taking God at His Word, 69).

    -       The thing we are most prone to misunderstand is the gospel. This was what the crowds did not understand. They assumed that the Roman oppressors were their biggest problems. Their sin before a holy God? Not as vital. But the gospel speaks a sobering word to us all: there is nothing more dire, more serious, and more terrifying than the reality of our unforgiven sin before a holy God. And until we see that the gospel will seem nice, but not critical. And when the gospel is seen as simply a nice "add on" to our life, we will be prone to misunderstand it. We will assume that the gospel is a way we can augment our life with God, deal with our anxieties, and add a sense of religious mysticism to our lives. But the gospel assaults us with this arresting and wonderful truth: the daintiest and most unassuming of our sins have incurred the wrath of the omnipotent God, and this wrath will soon be discharged on all who disobey God. But this holy, wrathful God is not comprised of holiness and wrath alone; mingled with justice is mercy; coupled with anger is love. Our God sends His own Son to take on our own punishment that our sins have deserved. Jesus bears our guilt on the cross and stands before this holy God and absorbs the full venting of His wrath and anger for our unrighteousness and offers a full atonement, full payment of our debts. And three days later, He resurrects to newness of life and then ascends back to Heaven by the Father's side! Now, He gives this offer: all who will turn from their sins and put their faith in Him can be united to Him and His life can become theirs. The death He died on the cross, can take the place of the death their sins had earned. The resurrection He experienced emerging from the tomb, can become their resurrection to a new life. And His ascension to Heaven can become their way to the Father.

    That is the gospel and that is what we are most prone to misunderstand. We misunderstand this because we are, honestly, self-righteous, proud people. It is somewhat humiliating to acknowledge our total need, our absolute dependence on God. To admit that we are not just "a little bad" but wholly depraved and in need of radical mercy confronts the nice, air-brushed image of ourselves we carry around in our mind. But when see and believe the full-throated nature of the stunning grace of God towards wretches like us, we will fall on our knees before Jesus our King and say: "command me." Then, when we come across challenging passages of Scripture that confront us, that we would prefer to twist to mean something else, we will remember Peter's words, "Where else will we go, you alone have the Words of the eternal life." (John 6:68). Friend, believe the gospel, heed the gospel. Mere admiration of Jesus alone will not save you. A respectful acknowledgment of Jesus will not get rid of your guilt.

    In Strobel’s interview with Templeton, Templeton goes on for some time about his admiration for Jesus. Eventually he explains, “And if I may put it this way,” he said as his voice began to crack, ‘I . . . miss . . . him!” With that tears flooded his eyes. He turned his head and looked downward, raising his left hand to shield his face from me. His shoulders bobbed as he wept. . . .”

     “The unique nature of the colt (never before ridden) indicates that it was a special animal qualified for the sacred task of carrying Israel’s king (cf. Num. 19:2; Deut. 21:3; 1 Sam. 6:7; also m. Sanh. 2.5).” Stein, BECNT

     From about two centuries earlier, palm branches had already become a national (not to say nationalist) symbol. When Simon the Maccabee drove the Syrian forces out of the Jerusalem citadel he was met with music and the waving of palm branches (cf. 1 Macc. 13:51, 141 BC), which had also been prominent at the rededication of the temple (2 Macc. 10:7, 164 BC). Apocalyptic visions of the end utilize palm branches (Testament of Naphtali 5). Palms appear on the coins struck by the insurgents during the Jewish wars against Rome (AD 66-70, 132-135); indeed, the use of the palm as a symbol for Judea was sufficiently well established that the coins struck by the Romans to celebrate their victory also sported it.– Carson, PNTC, on John 12:13


    1. Jesus and Service (Mark 10:32-52)

      Sermon Discussion Questions:

      1. What stood out to you most from the sermon? What was most helpful? Most challenging?
      2. Jesus asks James, John, and Bartimaeus "What do you want me to do for you?" If Jesus already knows what they are going to ask, why ask them? What do you want Jesus to do for you? How would you answer that question if you were responding totally from your flesh? How would you answer that question if you were responding from the Spirit?
      3. What's the major differences between James/John and Bartimaeus?
      4. What was the purpose of the story of Bob?
      5. Read Mark 10:45. If you were speaking to a non-Christian, how would you explain what Jesus means by using the word "ransom" to describe His death?
      6. What are common opportunities you have to serve others around you in the way that Jesus has served you? What non-Christians do you know that you could serve this way? What are ways you could serve our church this way?

      Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/703823--jesus-and-service

      Sermon Manuscript:

      32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

      35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

      46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. – Mark 10:32-52

      “What do you want me to do for you?” This is the question that links together our two stories today: James and John’s request and the blind man, Bartimaeus. Both stories include these men approaching Jesus with requests, and to both Jesus responds with this question: “What do you want me to do for you?” Of course, Jesus already knows “what is in man” (John 2:24-25; cf. Mark 2:7-8), so He already knows their requests—why does He ask this question? Imagine later tonight you are tossing and turning in bed. You can’t sleep because you are troubled by something; you’re anxious, worried. You walk out to your living room and turn the light on only to find—to your surprise—that Jesus Christ, Himself, is sitting on your couch. He motions you to sit down and asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” What would you say?

      You remember when Jesus is sitting down with Peter after He has resurrected, after Peter denied Jesus three times. Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me, Peter?” And each time Peter responds, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you,” but by the third time, Peter, exasperated responds, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you,” John 20:17. And Peter was right: Jesus does know everything. Jesus wasn’t asking Peter these questions because He didn’t know the answer and was trying to get information out of Peter. That’s why you and I often ask questions, but that isn’t why Jesus asks questions. So why is Jesus asking these questions? If they aren’t for Jesus’ sake that must mean that they are for Peter’s sake: a man who denied Jesus three times is offered redemption by being asked three times if He does, in fact, love Jesus. So why, if Jesus were sitting on your sofa, would He ask you “What do you want me to do for you?” Why would Jesus ask Bartimaeus that? Why ask James and John that? He already knows the answer so if He is asking the question the answer isn’t for Him, it’s for the person asking it. Jesus is trying to draw out into the open these men’s desires, what they want most from Jesus, and it is a question we ought to ask ourselves: what do we want most from Jesus.

      In our text today we see two answers to that question: one is common, and one is necessary.


      It is somewhat jarring to read Jesus’ prediction of His crucifixion to occur right before such a crass request by James and John. This is Jesus’ third and final passion prediction of what awaits Him at Jerusalem. He goes more in-depth into the details of His death than at any other time. Jesus explains that the Gentiles will, “mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise,” Mark 10:34. Mocking, spitting, flogging, and murder—dramatic and arresting descriptions about what is about to happen. But immediately we are told that, “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory,” Mark 10:35-37. Jesus just told His disciples that He is about to die a gruesome, horrific, shameful death, and what do James and John do? They entirely ignore what Jesus has to say! Why? Because they are so transfixed on what they want. 

      There were many things that I thought I was prepared for in becoming a parent, but one of them that completely took me by surprise was having to teach my kids to be concerned when I or other people are hurting. Young children don’t have the situational awareness to realize when mom or dad are in a serious conversation, mom is feeling tired, or when dad just slipped on the ground and landed flat on his back and might need a minute or two before his toddlers leap knees-first into his stomach and face (all of this is purely hypothetical, of course). They just don’t see it; all they see is what they want and so are blind to the pain in front of them. This is what James and John (and the rest of the disciples) are like.

      What is their request?

      Why do James and John want to be seated at the right and left hand of Jesus in his glory? What does that mean? In Jewish culture, the most important guest at a feast or the most important teacher at a religious event would be seated in the center. Those who sat directly to the right and the left represented the most important guests or most gifted students, second only to the one at the center. So James and John are acknowledging that Jesus is the most important person of them all, yet want to lock in their status as the second most important amidst the disciples. What is the “glory” they are referring to? The glory is the arrival of the Messianic Kingdom. Jesus has declared that He is, indeed, the Messiah, the promised King of Israel who has come to restore. However, Mark’s gospel has taught us that the way Jesus has come to restore His people is very, very different than what everyone expected. This was the difficult lesson that Peter learned back in Mark 8:31-34—the Kingdom will not arrive by crushing Israel’s enemies. It will arrive by the Messiah Himself being crushed for the sins of His people. And Jesus calls all of His disciples to follow Him on this path of suffering, cross-bearing, and service. The disciples simply do not understand this (see Mark 8:17-18). They were arguing earlier in Mark 9:34 about which of them was the greatest and here we see that the argument is still raging—the disciples are still slow to understand, slow to see. 

      Jesus quickly explains to them: “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared,” Mark 10:38-40. Jesus wants to reveal to James and John how poorly they have misunderstood Jesus’ mission and the nature of the Kingdom: you do not know what you are asking. Jesus then proceeds to speak to them in a manner that is beyond their understanding—they assume everything Jesus is saying here agrees with their preconceived ideas of the Kingdom, when really everything Jesus says here is completely reversing their ideas. James and John assume that the “cup” and “baptism” of Jesus are blessings, when really they are cups full of suffering, baptisms of affliction. Jesus explains that they will, in fact, one day be following Jesus onto the path of suffering. The only other place in Mark gospel that the phrase “on the right and on the left hand” occur is in Mark 15:27, “And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left.” Jesus’ entrance into His glory doesn’t look like the enthronement of a conqueror sitting in an ornate, comfortable throne: it looks like being nailed to a cross. The one’s “seated” at Jesus’ right and left are the two thieves nailed to their crosses. James and John truly do not know what they are asking. 

      The rest of the disciples aren’t happy about what is going on: “41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” Mark 10:41-45.

      What James and John have requested is for prominence, power, and respect. This is what is common, natural, and normal in the world. If you desire to be great, what you are desiring is some elevated status that separates you from what is menial, boring, and lowly. Jesus, however, has an entirely different definition: if you want to become great, you must become a servant. This is one of those Christian truths that has become so oft quoted that it runs the risk of becoming banal. Yea, yea, we know—if you want to be great you have to become a servant, if you want to go up you have to go down. But nobody really wants to do that, right? Joe reminded me this week that often we are fine with being told we should be servants, but hate it when people actually treat us like a servant. What is a servant? The Greek word for “servant” here is diakonos, which is where we actually get our English word “deacon” from. It was a word used to describe people who would wait on tables for others. 

      Our pride and self-respect often bucks against this idea. We are often like Bob; Bob was a man I knew who was not a Christian, but held an important job where other people answered to him. He often dominated conversations, talking over other people and always insisting on talking about subjects that he found interesting or were directly about him. He always insisted that his way was correct and did not suffer fools kindly. But, one day, Bob is invited to church and hears the gospel and makes a profession of faith. Initially Bob is filled with a kind of childlike hunger to learn and to grow. He joins small groups, Bible studies, and wants to meet with pastors as much as he can. However, within a few months he begins to try to become a leader in the small group, dominates conversations, assumes the pastors of the church should start taking advice from him, and resists being corrected. What is going on? You see, Bob’s desires, what he actually wants most, never fundamentally changed. They just put on a set of religious clothes. 

      Why did Nietzsche hate Christianity so much?


      The only other place in Mark that we are told of a blind man being healed was back in Mark 8:22-26 which occurred directly after Jesus marvels at the spiritual blindness of his disciples (Mark 8:17-18) and directly precedes Jesus’ first prediction that He will die and that discipleship looks like following his example (Mark 8:31-38), which the disciples are totally baffled by. Here again Jesus has predicted that He will die and this will provide a blueprint for discipleship and His disciples have utterly misunderstood what He has said and, again, Jesus heals a blind man. Back in Mark 8 Jesus, marveling at the disciples unbelief asks them, “Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?” Mark 8:17-18. The healing of the blind men who ironically exhibit greater faith and understanding than the disciples serves to illustrate the spiritual need of the disciples.

      Bartimaeus’s request could not be more different than James and John’s. Bartimaeus is a blind beggar living on the street who hears that Jesus of Nazareth is coming by. Jesus’ reputation as a healer has gone far and wide, far enough for Bartimaeus to know that this is his opportunity to be healed. So he cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Mark 10:47-48. But notice there are three aspects of Bartimaeus’ request that we should pay attention to: 

      1.     “Son of David” Bartimaeus doesn’t view Jesus merely as a wonder-worker or physician. The title “Son of David” is a messianic title taken from 2 Sam 7 and Psalm 89. Bartimaeus knows that Jesus is the Messiah who has come to restore the kingdom of God. 

      2.     “Have mercy on me” Bartimaeus knows that he does not deserve what he is asking for. He has no right, no standing, no obligation to impose on Jesus to grant his request. He is simply throwing himself on the mercy of Jesus. When I was younger I was once pulled over for driving 95 mph in a 60 mph zone. Somehow, miraculously, I was let off with a warning. I definitely didn’t deserve it, but the police officer gave me what I didn’t deserve: mercy.

      3.     His persistence. Bartimaeus is yelling out to Jesus and the crowd around him is trying to hush him up. “Show some respect, man!” But Bartimaeus’ situation is so dire that he is driven to the point of desperation, so he cries out all the more. In Mark’s gospel it has always been those who have come to Jesus at the points of greatest desperation, with the most severe of need who are commended for the greatest faith. Jesus isn’t interested in a disinterested, respectful dialogue between equals, a conversation that seeks to keep decorum and sensibility intact like some aristocrat in a Jane Austen novel. No, Bartimaeus is like Jacob wrestling with God, insisting “I will not let you go until you bless me!” All presumption and pretentions have been abandoned for the sake finding mercy.

      In response to this cry we are told, literally, that “Jesus stood still” and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well (lit. “your faith has saved you”).” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way,” Mark 10:50-52. Note: the phrase “followed him on the way” is a discipleship formula used in Mark. “Following” Jesus and “the way” are used repeatedly to describe true disciples of Jesus. Bartimaeus is not simply healed, he is transformed into a disciple of Jesus.

      While the desires of the disciples are common, Bartimaeus shows us what is necessary: we need mercy, we need to be saved. 

      How Do We Change?

      While we may know that we ought to be servants and that our deepest desires should be to follow Jesus on the path of discipleship, we often don’t. So, how do we do change? The answer is found back in Jesus’ explanation of service: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” Mark 10:45. This is a “purple passage” which is almost blunted by any commentary made on it. But I will attempt to draw a few things out of this. 

      1.     Jesus did not come to be served. If anyone deserved to be served, it was the Son of God.

      2.     Not only that, but He came to serve. It’s one thing to picture someone of high nobility and significance declining to be waited on by servants. It’s another thing entirely for that high and holy one to pick up the towel of the servant and to go serve.

      3.     Not only that, but He came to serve in the costliest and lowliest of ways, to the point of death. He “gave His life.”

      4.     Not only that, but He gave His life as a “ransom.” There was an intentionality in His death. His death was an unfortunate consequence that brought His life of love and service to a tragic end. His death was the end! A ransom is a price paid to free someone else. In the beginning God, perfect in holiness, made us in His image. He made us to love Him, live for Him, and reflect His character to the watching world. We have failed to do so from the very beginning and so have now taken the consequence of turning against our Maker and His design for us. This consequence is death. But this great and holy God has, in unimaginable mercy, stepped down to pay the debt, to take on the consequence, that our sins have deserved. He has paid the ransom that our sins deserved so that we may be set free from the slavery of sin and death and receive eternal life. This is the good news of the gospel.

      When you see that for what it is, and truly believe, you will find your heart singing the lines of Wesley’s great hymn: Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and natures night, thing eye diffused a quickening ray, I woke, the dungeon flamed with light. My chains fell of, my heart was free, I rose went forth and followed thee.

      Read again Jesus’ words of service that we are called to:

      You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. – Mark 10:42-44

      -       Is there anywhere in your life that you “lord” your authority over others? Parents to children? Husbands to wives? Bosses to employees?

      -       Where in your life do you think, “Man, I just wish someone else would do this for me”? 

      -       Parents, caring for children

      -       Caring for the elderly

      -       Practicing hospitality 

      Shortly after the Reformation took hold in Europe, a community of believers known as the Moravians began to see the implications of the gospel imperatives and desired to begin mission work around the globe. Desiring to reach the West Indies, two Moravian missionaries voluntarily sold themselves into slavery so they could reach the unreached. Who does something like that? Who so quickly throws their life away? People who have seen what Jesus has done for them and who desire, in Jesus’ estimation, to be great.

      1. Jesus and Wealth (Mark 10:23-31)

        Discussion Questions:

        1. What stood out to you most from the sermon?
        2. What comes to your mind when you think of a "wealthy person"? How did Marc define "wealth" in the sermon? (See Prov 30:8-9)
        3. What is the danger of wealth? Where in your life do you see this danger? (i.e. "the cares of the world, the desires for things" "you cannot serve God and money")
        4. Why were the disciples amazed at Jesus' saying? How should we make sense of the Old Testament's teaching on monetary blessings for obedience, today? (Hint: distinction between "come and see" versus "go and tell").
        5. What did Jesus mean by his "hundredfold" blessing in verses 29-30? How do Christians experience this blessing today?
        6. How does the description of the blessing of the church community in verses 29-30 affect your participation in the fellowship of the church?
        7. Where would you like to see yourself grow in generosity?

        Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/700254--jesus-and-wealth

        Sermon Manuscript:

        And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” – Mark 10:23-31

        The disciples have just watched Jesus blow a serious opportunity. Approached by a wealthy, pious, seemingly humble man—who had good connections—Jesus totally botches it. He tells this rich young man that he must first sell everything he has, give it to the poor, and then follow Him. This is a bridge too far for the man so he walks away. Why would Jesus do such a thing?

        The Danger of Wealth

        “And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:23-27).

        What is wealth?

        Would you consider yourself a “rich person”? I have never met anyone who would describe themselves as “wealthy,” just like I have never met anyone who would confess to the sin of greed. What’s so hard about trying to determine whether or not we are wealthy or rich is that we always can point to people who are wealthier than us. “Wealth” in some sense is a relative

        category depending on your context. And in our context we can always find someone wealthier than us.

        I recently read that Elon Musk could spend 80,000 dollars a day for the next six thousand years before he ran out of money. That is a wealthy person, we think. But, of course, if we simply broaden our context than most of us in this room have more wealth than the overwhelming majority of individuals in the world. In fact, most of us in this room have more wealth than most kings and emperors have had throughout history. For example, if you were to simply rewind the clock one hundred years ago and try to explain to someone the capabilities of a smart phone—that with it you would have access to more information than any library could hold, could have more immediate entertainment available to you than the wealthiest of the wealthy of their day, could speak with other people on the other end of the globe (often with video)—they would probably assume that this magical device would be so opulent that only a rare few could afford such a trinket. But nearly everyone can afford a smart phone now. And this is the difficulty we find ourselves in. We are all in a society that has, as a whole, grown extravagantly more wealthy than the society that Jesus was in. 

        The closest we get to the Bible giving us a definition of “wealth” might be in the book of Proverbs: “Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God,” Prov 30:8-9. What is poverty? Lacking what you need to survive, to the degree that you are tempted to steal. What is wealth? Having far more than you need to survive, to the degree that you are tempted to think that you do not need God. Who needs God when you have a big stack of money? Poor people need God, of course. They don’t have savings accounts or insurance or credit cards, so they are far more open to turning to God for help. But if you have nice paycheck every month? Who needs prayer when you can just write a check? So “wealth” is having enough resources that you can live so comfortably that you are (foolishly) confident that is your own finances—not the Lord—that provides what you need.

        What is the danger of wealth?

        Jesus here does not go spend a great deal of time explaining what the particular danger of wealth is; He simply states it as a fact: it will prevent you from entering the kingdom of God. It will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle—as in, it is impossible. It would be easier for a locomotive to fit inside your mailbox or cruise liner to pass through a hool-a-hoop than for a rich person to be saved.

        Earlier in Mark’s gospel, in the parable of the four soils, Jesus explained that the pseudo-disciples (non-Christians) of the “thorny soil” have God’s word choked out by, “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things,” (Mark 4:19). The two attendant problems of the thorny soil (cares of the world, desires for other things) help color in the danger of wealth. What problems live in the same cul de sac of wealth? You start to care about what the rest of the world cares about, and your heart becomes glutted with desires for other things. When you don’t have the abundance of wealth life becomes simpler in some ways. But when you have money then there are huge temptations for your heart and mind to be consumed with the same things that non-Christians are consumed with: being on the “inner circle” of trendiness, getting the cushiest retirement possible, getting the next gadget, guarding yourself from all potential problems, etc.

        But we are also told that one of the dangers of wealth is that it is “deceitful.” It lies to you. It promises security, comfort, pleasure, approval, and sundry other offers. But it can’t actually give you those things. It is hiding a terrible danger. Hear what Paul warns, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs,” (1 Tim 6:9-10). The desire for riches are described as a kind of booby-trap; a pit with spikes at the bottom that has a paper-mâché covering. 

        Jesus summarizes all of this danger plainly: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money,” Matt 6:24. This is the basic root of all of the warnings around money: it wants to replace God. It becomes a form of idolatry. In fact, in the Old Testament it is often when Israel becomes wealthy and comfortable that they are most prone to abandoning Yahweh (cf. Deut 8:11-14). Like our passage from Proverbs earlier, Jesus points that wealth can intoxicate us to the point that we are confident that we no longer need God. And friends, because we live in a very wealthy society as a whole this means that we are in danger. We have set up camp in a pit of hungry tigers, yawning and unaware that at any moment we might be ripped apart. We should think about money the way we think about nuclear reactors. A nuclear reactor can be used to create a great deal of good for a society—if the profound danger of radioactivity is respected. Treat a spent fuel rod from a reactor carelessly, however, and it will kill you.

        How can you tell if money has begun to replace God in your life? In Dante’s Inferno, when Dante is brought to the fourth circle of Hell (Avarice) there he finds two different depictions of greed: those who were reckless in their spending and those who hoarded their money. That is a helpful warning to us: idolatry of money can look like maxing out credit cards and blowing money on things you don’t need, or it can look like a tight-fisted miserliness that is trying to save as much as possible. And it is certainly possible for each end of the extremes to look at the other and say, “Ah, there is greed! There is the danger!” and thus be comforted that they, in fact, are not greedy. 

        Are you generous with what you have? Do you tell yourself “no” so you can tell other people “yes” with your money? To be generous you have to be both wise with saving money and free to let money leave your hand.

        Why are the disciples amazed at what Jesus says?

        Given the teachings we just reflected on, why would the disciples be so amazed at Jesus’ pronouncement of the danger of wealth? Shouldn’t this be obvious to them? Well, while the Old Testament is filled with warnings about trusting in riches, it is also filled with many promises of riches. The book of Proverbs lays out repeatedly how living according to God’s wisdom will generally result in financial gain, “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich,” Prov 10:4. Also, as part of the covenant that God makes with Israel He promises them: “And the LORD will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give you. 12 The LORD will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. 13 And the LORD will make you the head and not the tail, and you shall only go up and not down, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, being careful to do them,” Deut 28:11-13. 

        Here, abundance, prosperity, and wealth are given as rewards for obeying God’s commandments. So the disciples likely would have understood that if an individual is wealthy—and they have not gained their wealth through ill-gotten means—then this must mean that this individual was favored by God, someone who was diligent to keep the commandments. And that certainly seemed to describe the rich young ruler; he explained that he had kept all of the commandments of the Torah since he was a young child. If anyone should be poised to be ushered into God’s Kingdom, it should have been this man! And yet, Jesus explains that it is actually the very hallmark that so many have interpreted as a sign of God’s blessing—his wealth—that is actually prohibiting him from being saved. This is why when Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God,” the disciples are, “exceedingly astonished,” and say to Jesus, “Then who can be saved?”

        How are we to make sense of this? The program of the Old Testament for God’s desire to bless the nations relied on a “come and see” mission. God chose a solitary nation, gave them a defined land mass, and wanted the nations to see the kingdom of God displayed materially in the nation of Israel. This is typified by the Queen of Sheba visiting Solomon, seeing the riches and wisdom God had bestowed on him and confessing that Yahweh is indeed God (1 Kings 10). God’s program in the New Testament, however, is a “go and tell” mission. God’s kingdom is no longer localized in one geographic location with one people group. It is now an international and multiethnic reality and the kingdom is now a spiritual reality that is now made present on earth wherever God’s people are. We do not have an ornate temple in Jerusalem where God dwells—we are the temple now! And this kingdom is not marked by material wealth but by sacrifice. Thus, there is no teaching anywhere in the New Testament that hints that God will bless anyone with riches if they are faithful to Him. In fact, almost the universal teaching of the New Testament is that riches and wealth are more of a burden than they are a blessing—the book of James speaks of riches in a strictly negative sense, almost as if it is curse. Disciples of Jesus, rather than swelling in riches, are to be recognized by their willingness to forsake comfort, homes, lands, even family for the sake of Jesus and the gospel.

        The Promise of Wealth

        Peter quickly points out that the disciples have not chosen this path of opulence: “Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you,” Mark 10:28.

        When Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John (Mark 1:18-20) they were in the middle of cleaning their fishing nets and immediately abandoned them to follow Jesus. Now, Peter is exaggerating some; he still has a home and a boat that they have been using (Mark 1:29; 3:9; 4:1). But, the disciples have abandoned everything, in a sense, to follow Jesus on His itinerant ministry around Judea. And Jesus is going to use the idea of abandoning everything we have for His sake as a basic paradigm of discipleship: “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple,” Luke 14:33. So, we should expect that the normal pattern of following Jesus is the willingness to renounce anything and everything for Jesus’ sake if need be. But here, paradoxically, Jesus makes a promise of return; a promise of wealth, if you will. Jesus explains that everyone who has had to pay the cost of leaving things behind to follow Him will be compensated richly.

        29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first,” Mark 10:29-31. 

        What are to make of this? There are three basic interpretations of this:

        1.     The prosperity gospel interpretation. Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, the grandparents of the prosperity gospel movement today, look at this passage and believe that this is an ironclad promise that you will have an extraordinary return on investment for whatever you spend on gospel ministry. In their book, “God’s Will is Prosperity,” they write, “You give $1 for the Gospel’s sake and $100 belongs to you; give $10 and receive $1,000; give $1,000 and receive $100,000.” And, lucky for them, they just so happen to be the benefactors of this system, conning millions of dollars out of the pockets of desperate people, often from the poorest of places, promising them untold wealth (one hundred fold!) if they will simply give to their ministry. Aside from being utterly despicable, this interpretation only can make sense if you don’t read the context of the story.

        How odd would it be for Jesus to explain in such stark terms the utter peril of riches, only to then make a “get-rich-quick” promise to His disciples. This interpretation neglects the overwhelming teaching of the New Testament on wealth, riches, and the very nature of the Christian life, which is to be marked by suffering, sacrifice, and generosity. Further, it is interesting that proponents of the health and wealth gospel often neglect Jesus’ promise that the blessings promised here also come “with persecutions.”

        2.     The heavenly rewards view. Another option, trying to stay clear away from sounding like a prosperity preacher, is to view all of the rewards Jesus lays out here to be heavenly rewards. So, we ought. Not to expect that God is going to be operating like a cosmic ATM, but we should expect that this life should be marked by sacrifice. Our rewards come when the Lord brings home—it is in heaven that we walk on streets of gold, not here. While I find this interpretation personally appealing and more accurate to the rest of the Biblical witness, I don’t think that is what Jesus is referring to. Jesus explains that the blessing we receive will happen “now in this time” and then promises that “in the age to come” we will receive “eternal life.” Further, it wouldn’t make much sense to understand how “persecutions” would be occurring while we are in heaven. 

        3.     The gift of the new covenant community: the church. What appears to be the most persuasive interpretation is to see these “hundred-fold blessings” to be granted here and now through the new family of God, the church. The Bible describes the relationships among Christians like that of a family: brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers (cf. 1 Tim 5:1-2; Rom 16:13; 1 Cor 4:15). The Bible also explains that Christians are to bear one another’s burdens and to use whatever financial resources the Lord has given us to help each other. This is why during our membership vows our congregation pledges to the new members that we will “care for them, open our lives, our homes, our dinner tables, our resources, and our hearts to” these new members.

        I know a missionary in Northern Iraq who works within a very traditional Muslim community. When he shares the gospel with young men and women, he knows that if they convert they will most likely be shut out from their entire family for the rest of their life—in some cases, they even have their lives threatened. He explains that this is one of the most common verses he goes to: following Jesus may mean that you will lose your family and it will mean persecution, but it will also come with a new family. When my wife and I moved away from home years ago so I could work at a church and then attend seminary it was extremely painful to leave our family and friends behind. But, lo and behold, we found that in the church we found another family. These are the blessings, the true wealth we have available to us in Christ.


        Marvel at the work of God to do what it is impossible. Friend, for you to be a wealthy person (which we all are) and to know Christ was humanly impossible. If I left you with a camel and a needle and said, “Figure out how to make it happen,” you would be left thinking: this cannot happen, this is impossible. And that is exactly the point. Jesus has done what you cannot do.

        This is the gospel. 

        This is conversion. 

        This is the Christian life. 

        God, time and time again overcomes what is impossible. We could not atone for our sins; we could not turn in faith; we could not keep walking the Christian life. But God has done it! He has provided a spotless lamb to pay for our sins, die in our place, and be resurrected to provide newness of life. He has given us the gift of faith, made our dead hearts come alive, and turn in repentance to Him. He sustains us on the path of obedience, guiding us home. He is doing what we cannot do! He is not teaching horses how to jump better, He is giving them wings and making them fly. So be not discouraged at what seems humanly impossible to you. Marvel at the power of God as He displays His ability to do what you and I cannot do ourselves.

        Be more generous than you think you should be. Tell yourself "no" so that you can tell other people "yes."

        Enjoy and be the wealth that the church is. If the church is meant to be a "hundredfold" compensation for losing your family, home, and land, then what weighty glory should we find in the community of faith? Within the church we are to find a staggering escalation in love, care, hospitality, unity, and affection that we find naturally in our biological family. So, dear church, be that for one another! Give yourselves wholly and fully to one another while you enjoy this blessing together.


        1. Member's Ministry: Give (Acts 2:42-47)

          Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/693365--members-ministry-give

          Sermon Manuscript:

          42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. – Acts 2:42-47

          Imagine you lived 800 years ago. The year would be 1221. The average life expectancy would have been around 35-40 years and the child mortality rate would have been around 50%. Unless you were the remarkably rare instance of an individual born into royalty or nobility of some sort, you likely would have been a serf, which would have meant that you were a farmer. Provided there was no plague tearing through the community nor any wars your king was summoning you to come fight in, your days would be entirely dictated by the needs of caring for the farm, livestock, hunting, and cooking. And all of this is done with medieval technology—no refrigerators, no rifles, no washing machines. Carl R. Trueman in his wonderful book The Rise and Triumph and the Modern Self reflects on the limitations of technology in the medieval ages in regards to farming: “while the farmer would plough up the ground and scatter the seed, he had no control over the weather, minimal control over the soil, and thus comparatively little control over whether his endeavors would succeed. That might well have meant for many that they had no control over life or death: they were entirely at the mercy of the environment.” Trueman brings this up to highlight how the fixed “givens” of the environment in the medieval ages affected the psychology of individuals living at that time. He continues:

          "In such a world, the authority of the created order was obvious and unavoidable. The world was what it was, and the individual needed to conform to it. Sowing seed in December or harvesting crops in March was doomed to failure. Yet with the advent of more-advanced agricultural technology, this given authority of the environment became increasingly attenuated. The development of irrigation meant that water could be moved or stored and then used when necessary. Increased knowledge of soil science and fertilizers and pesticides meant that the land could be manipulated to yield more and better crops. More controversially, the recent developments of genetics has allowed for the production of foods that are immune to certain conditions or parasites. I could go on, but the point is clear: whether we consider certain innovations to be good or bad, technology affects in profound ways how we think about the world and imagine our place in it. Today’s world is not the objectively authoritative place that it was eight hundred years ago; we think of it much more as a case of raw material that we can manipulate by our own power to our own purposes."

          For the majority of human history, mankind has sought to understand what the design of the created order was and how they could conform to it—there is a grain to the universe, and if you cut with the grain life would go much better for you. Now, however, with the advent of more and more sophisticated technology to help with much of the problems and discomforts that were normally experienced, we are left thinking that “reality is something we can manipulate according to our own wills and desires.” Is it hot outside? I can step inside where I have air-conditioning. Am I hungry? I can open my refrigerator and use a microwave. Am I sick? I can see a doctor. All of these, I should point out, are great things. I am grateful I live in an age of electric lights, vaccinations, automobiles, and books. I am grateful that if one of my children gets a minor infection it isn’t a death sentence. I am not attempting to somehow lament that we are no longer in the dark ages. What I am trying to do, however, is to reflect on what the unintended consequences of the precipitous rise in technology has done to our understanding of ourselves, and the world around us.

          We cannot return to pre-modern times, nor should we necessarily lament the arrival of technology. Discovering new technology is a part of the cultural mandate God first gave to Adam in Genesis 1:28 when he blessed him and commanded him to “subdue the earth and exercise dominion over it.” It isn’t like selfishness and laziness were created when the iPhone came out. But because technology amplifies human capacities and is created in a fallen world, this means that it will often produce amplifications of sinful, fallen nature, so it must be approached with great discernment and wisdom. So, we must ask ourselves how has this kind of conception of the self that technology has helped cultivate square with what Scripture tells us about the Christian life?  How do we respond to a world that tells me the greatest good I can achieve is to “be true to myself” with the Biblical injunction: “You are not your own. You were bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body.” 

          And while it might be easy for Christians to look at the sexual ethic of our day and see how it transparently flies in the face of God’s design—which it does—I wonder if we are as perceptive about more subtle ways this kind of thinking has affected us, particularly as it affects how we view conception of being a Christian and the duties attendant to it. As the cultural air we breathe encourages us to first view our money, time, energy, resources, and emotional currency with the question of, “what will fulfill my desires?” rather than, “What is the right thing to do with these?” how are we to respond? I want to reflect on one major way we can push directly against this cultural current as we consider the expectations of the life of a church.

          In our text today we will see how something cataclysmic happened and this created a radical transformation of the church and what this teaches us today.

          What Happened

          Our text today is the culmination of the dramatic events that occurred on the Jewish feast day of Pentecost. A few months after Jesus resurrected from the dead His disciples were praying together, awaiting the promised Holy Spirit to be given to them. Then, suddenly, fire descended from heaven upon this small band of Jesus followers—but not the fire of judgment, the fire of the Spirit of God and indwelt the believers there. Because Pentecost was a very significant holy day, Jews from all regions had funneled into Jerusalem to celebrate it, and Luke records 16 different people groups present (Acts 2:7-11). The Spirit-filled Christians go out and begin telling of “the mighty works of God” to these people and, miraculously, they all are able to understand them, despite the fact that they all speak different languages. It is like the tower of Babel in reverse. {Explain Babel} God is undoing the curse by uniting men from every nation under the universal language of the gospel. But this needs more explanation, so Peter stands up and delivers the great sermon of Pentecost.

          Peter explains that the gift of tongues is a fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel 2:28-32, and is therefore a sign that they have now entered the last days, the climactic conclusion of God’s redemptive plan for His people. All of Israel knew that when the Messiah arrived, the end of the ages was near. Jesus Christ, Peter explains, is the Messiah and forgiveness of sins is available through Him. The people are cut to the heart and are commanded to repent and to be baptized, and are immediately added to the Jerusalem church, about 3,000 souls (Acts 2:41). 

          So, what happened? The arrival of the Messiah and His work in His death and resurrection was attested to by the outpouring of the promised Holy Spirit as a sign that a new age had dawned. An age where Jew and non-Jew were to be welcomed into the family of God, where the forgiveness of sins could be offered, and the gifts of the Spirit be enjoyed. This age is the beginning of the new creation, inaugurated by the new covenant which has created a new people who will have a new set of priorities.

          What This Created

          Here is what we are told that this created: 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. – Acts 2:42-47

          This created…

          1.     A community devoted to hearing God’s Word taught and preached, to the fellowship of other Christians, to celebrating the Lord’s Supper, and to prayer.

          2.     A community marked by awe and reverence at the supernatural work of God.

          3.     A community that is so tightly knit together that they viewed their own possessions and resources as not belonging to themselves but to the collective whole of the church, seeking to help any who were in need.

          4.     A community that spent time together, daily worshiping God together, and happily and regularly sharing meals with one another.

          In many ways this describes what we have been talking about for the past number of weeks. A community that is marked by love for God and each other, a community who is committed to the truth, and a community committed to prayer. 

          But what we see in Acts 2 is more than just these disparate elements spoken of hypothetically or theoretically. We see what it looks like when the rubber meets the road. It is easy to theoretically affirm that Christians should love one another, but much harder to put that into concrete action. In the introduction to J.I. Packer’s classic work Knowing God, he distinguishes between two kinds of approaches to the Christian life. One is the approach of a group of people sitting on a balcony, looking at the path of the Christian and discussing and debating about the path and the different journeys it might lead to. The other approach is the one of the traveler who is actually walking the path. The traveler needs to know discuss and debate where the path leads and the outcomes of different routes just like the balcony sitter, but their approach is entirely different. Their approach is looking to immediately apply this truth to their life as they walk out the Christian journey. 

          It is one thing to affirm the need for a Christian fellowship to be marked by love; it is another to actually practice it. This is what we see in Acts 2.

          “The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.” – Bonhoeffer, Life Together

          What This Means 

          As a church whose aim is to create a covenant community who worships Christ above all, what does Acts 2 mean for us today? Acts 2 is, in many ways, a snapshot of the ideal of what God’s people are to aspire to be. 

          1.     A willingness to be inconvenienced for others—selling their possessions

          2.     A life that says “Hello”—hospitality as a way of life

          3.     Evangelistic implications—God added to their number

          We give. Give ourselves, our time, our energy, our resources. This flies in the face of our culture’s assumptions—we are pushing against a current.

          We do this through remembering and believing the gospel. Jesus was willing to be inconvenienced for us. Jesus was willing to be made poor for us. Jesus is willing to invite us to His supper, to break bread with us. Jesus is willing to spend time with us, to hear our prayers. 

          “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” – 2 Cor 8:9

          Quote from "The Hobbit": Don’t look to me, I’ve been bled dry by this venture! And what have I seen from my investment? Naught but misery and grief and…Bless my beard, take it! Take all of it!

          Let’s build something we want our grandchildren to talk about.

          1. Member's Ministry: Pray (1 John 5:14-15)

            Sermon Audio: https://sermons.faithlife.com/sermons/689886-member's-ministry:-pray-(1-john-5:14-15)

            Sermon Manuscript:

            And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. – 1 John 5:14-15

            In 1883 a bright young man from London was invited to attend a prayer meeting held by the famed Hudson Taylor, the pioneer of China Inland Missions. The young man was in the midst of contemplating his own future and wondered whether or not the Lord would call him to become a missionary to China. But, upon arriving at the prayer meeting, the young man found Mr. Taylor to be somewhat underwhelming:

            His appearance did not impress me. He was slightly built, and spoke in a quiet voice. Like most young men, I suppose I associated power with noise, and looked for physical presence in a leader. But when he said, "Let us pray," and proceeded to lead the meeting in prayer, my ideas underwent a change. I had never heard anyone pray like that. There was a simplicity, a tenderness, a boldness, a power that hushed and subdued me, and made it clear that God had admitted him to the inner circle of His friendship. Such praying was evidently the outcome of long tarrying in the secret place, and was as dew from the Lord.

            This last Summer, as we reflected on John 15 and the benefits of union with Christ, we reflected on this quote from Hudson Taylor: “It little matters to my servant whether I send him to buy a few cash worth of things, or the most expensive articles. In either case he looks to me for the money and brings me his purchases. So, if God should place me in serious perplexity, must He not give much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength? No fear that His resources will prove unequal to the emergency! And His resources are mine, for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me.” 

            God has promised to supply everything we need for life and for godliness; He has promised that if we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, then we don’t need to worry about our food and our clothes. He has given us every resource we need! And for Taylor, this brought about a radical kind of peace: “I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize this; for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest position He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult His grace is sufficient.” This is what is available for every Christian and one of the primary ways we can draw this blessed benefit up into our souls is through prayer. In prayer we pour out our hearts before God, and in God we find the resources we need.

            We want to reflect on prayer today as we think about how the members of this church can fulfill the work of the ministry that God has given them to create a covenant community who worships Christ above all. As Samuel the prophet is making his farewell address to the nation of Israel, exposing their sin and charging them to uphold God’s Law. At this, the nation of Israel wails and laments their sin, but Samuel responds: “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way,” 1 Sam 12:23. Friends, far be it from us friends that we should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for each other. So, let’s consider the power and resource of prayer we have at our fingertips (and prayer closets) and how this can help the members of our church fulfill the mission of our church. 

            Let’s look at our text once again: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him,” 1 John 5:14-15. 

            This text tells us that: (1) God hears us, (2) God answers us, and (3) this makes us confident.

            God Hears

            In the book of Genesis, Hagar is taken advantage of by Abraham and Sarah. The patriarch and matriarch of our faith lacked faith in God’s plan to give them a son, so Sarah forced her servant Hagar to bear children for her—a wicked thing to do. However, after Hagar became pregnant Sarah was inflamed with anger and jealousy and chased Hagar away. While languishing in the desert, the angel of the Lord appeared to a downtrodden Hagar and promised that God would care for her and her soon-to-be-born son, telling her, ““Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has listened to your affliction,” Gen 16:11. The name “Ishmael” in Hebrew means: “God hears me.” Our God is a God who hears.

            We all long to be heard. One of the great frustrations in relationships is when it feels like you are not understood, like the other person isn’t listening to you. This is especially true when the person who isn’t listening to you has authority and power over you. Children, doesn’t it feel frustrating when it feels like your parents don’t listen to you? One of the great frustrations of our political moment is that it feels like politicians—who hold this massive amount of power in our society—are disconnected from the people they are meant to represent. Imagine what it would be like if the mayor of our city were to knock on your door today and say, “I would like to hear what you have to say about this issue.” How shocking would that feel? You care about my opinion? My problems? Imagine how much more shocking it would be if it were the governor of our state? The president of our country? What would you do if the most powerful person alive today were to sit down and ask you, “Tell me what’s bothering you?”

            But friends, in prayer we don’t simply have some fallible, fallen human being who has been elected to some temporary position of power whose plans and efforts can be flawed or thwarted who wants to lend us their ear. We have the omnipotent, infinite, omniscient, eternal God who rules as the sovereign Lord over the cosmos who hears us. It would be staggering for the president to stop by your house for lunch today because, ultimately, you aren’t important enough to matter to him, he doesn’t have the time for you. But that isn’t true of our God! Our God is not limited, He is the Lord of time, so His schedule isn’t too busy to listen to you pour out your pain, your trivialities, your joys, your frustrations.

            But, most importantly, because a Christian has been united to Christ by faith, we now stand in Christ and are therefore now sons of God! So our prayers now have just as much right to be heard by the Father as Jesus’ prayers did—this is why Christians have traditionally closed their prayers “in Jesus’ name.” Perhaps something that is prohibiting you from prayer is the thought that you are not worthy or that because of your sins God shouldn’t listen to you. There is some measure of truth to that. The Psalms tell us that if we cherish iniquity in our heart, the Lord will not listen to us (Ps 66:18). 1 Peter warns husbands that if they do not live with their wives in an understanding way their prayers will be hindered (1 Pet 3:7). If you have excused your sin, decided to live with your sin, and justify it rather than repent and forsake it, then your heart and mind will be clouded and prayer will feel like you are pushing through a dark wall. But, if you have repented of your sins, acknowledged what they are, and asked God to forgive you, then your prayers are heard by the Father! Just as much as Jesus’ prayers were heard!

            God Answers Us

            1 John doesn’t merely say that God hears our prayers, but, “...if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him,” 1 John 5:15. If God hears us, we have what we have asked for. What an astonishing promise!

            Do you know the story of Elisha at Dothan? In 2 Kings 6 a Syrian army is marching towards the city of Dothan where Elisha and his servant are staying. When everyone wakes up the city is surrounded by horses and chariots of a very, very powerful army. But Elisha is utterly unworried. His servant begins to panic, asking Elisha what they are to do and Elisha prays and the servant’s eyes are opened and suddenly he is aware that the mountains around them are filled with horses and chariots of fire, a heavenly army that far outnumbers the Syrians. Elisha prays again for the Lord to blind the enemy and the entire Syrian army is struck blind. Boom! God heard Elisha’s prayer and answered it. We read that story and think: That’s what I’m talking about! But, why are so few of my prayers answered like that?

            Well, long ago, in that same city of Dothan, Joseph, one of Jacob’s twelve sons, arrives to check in on his brothers. When he arrives, however, they apprehend him, throw him into a pit, and then sell him into slavery, where he languishes and suffers unfairly for years (Gen 37). Same city, same God, but why in one does God immediately grant a request and shows up, but in the other He is totally silent and let’s His people suffer?

            The clue is found in verse 14 of 1 John: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us,” 1 John 5:14. According to his will. So, what was God’s will for Joseph? Well, of course, it was through his suffering and difficulty that he was eventually exalted to the position of authority in Egypt whereby he was able to then provide his administrative help to prepare for a great famine, and thereby saved millions of lives—including the lives of his very brothers who sold him into slavery. Certainly Joseph prayed several times for God to deliver him from his trials, from his imprisonment, from his suffering, and as days pooled into months and months pooled into years, Joseph didn’t get the answer he wanted. But, of course, he had no idea what God was doing in positioning Joseph to be in the final position that he would arrive at. If God had simply granted Joseph’s request to be delivered early on, millions of people, including his own family and father, would have died.

            This is why our prayers are not like a genie in a lamp where God automatically grants our every desire. Because God loves us, He grants us what lies in accordance with His plan. This is why Paul explains in Romans, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words,” Rom 8:26. Tim Keller calls this the “safety valve” of prayer. There are many times where we do not know what the right thing to prayer for is, but God’s Spirit helps us by interceding for us in our prayers. Keller explains, “God will always give us in prayer what we would have asked for if we knew everything that God knew.”

            George Macdonald, C.S. Lewis' hero, once wrote a children’s story called The Princess and the Goblin about a young princess who lives in a castle that is surrounded by mountains filled with goblins. Above her room, in the tower of the castle, lives the princesses’ fairy godmother. The fairy godmother gives her a ring that is attached to an invisible thread that only the princess can see. The godmother promises that anytime she is lost or in danger she can follow the thread and it will lead her to safety. One night, the princess thinks she hears a goblin in her room. So, she quickly grabs the invisible thread and begins to follow it out of her room. However, instead of going upstairs to her fairy godmother, the thread leads in the opposite direction, out of the castle itself. The princess trusts her godmother, so she follows the thread up till it leads to the very cave where the goblins live. Terrified, she panics and contemplates going back, but realizes that when she attempts to go back the thread disappears. The only option she has is to go forward into the cave. Upon arriving in the cave, however, she finds it deserted and discovers that her best friend, a young boy, has been trapped by the goblins and is being held prisoner. She frees her friend and continues to follow the thread back to the castle and to her fairy godmother. 

            The moral of the story: sometimes God’s will for our life does not look like what we thought it would look like, and so often our prayers can look like they are simply going unanswered. But we need only to trust the thread of God’s will as it leads us forward and continue in prayer. And if you are struggling with how to trust God when it feels like there is no way forward, consider our Savior. The book of Hebrews tells us, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence,” Heb 5:7. Jesus’ life was a life marked by prayer, and He prayed with fervor “to him who was able to save him from death” and He was heard. 1 John just told us that if God hears us we know that we have the requests of what we asked. But was Jesus spared from death? Well, yes and no. When Jesus is praying the Garden of Gethsemane and asks the Father to take this cup away from Him, He closes by saying, “but nevertheless not as I will, but as you will.” But Jesus’ request to be spared is manifestly denied. Jesus’ “thread” led to the cross, to the ultimate death, where He would go to bear the wrath of God for the sins of His people. And because Jesus did that, no matter where God’s will guides us, we know that we will never have to face that kind of judgment—God’s thread will never lead us to the outpouring of his wrath upon us and the eternal destruction, so we can rest assured and trust Him.

            But, Jesus’ thread also shot through the grave into the resurrection! Jesus’ was spared the finality and victory of death because He overcame them! So, He was spared ultimately from death, even if the victory came through death. So now, as we follow our great captain, we know that God’s will sometimes leads through scary, difficult places, but we know that the biggest, scariest problem has been dealt with, and we know that no matter what happens, on the other side of this life awaits resurrection hope.

            So we pray with confidence.


            How are we to pray if the future of God’s will for us is mysterious? We pray with confidence. We know that when God hears us, whatever we ask according to His will will be granted to us. This is why it so important to let God’s word guide us as we pray—look at how Jesus and the apostles prayed and use that as a template for how you ought to pray. We may not know precisely what God has in store for our lives in the future, but we know with certainty that it is God’s will that we grow in our sanctification, that we bear the fruit of the Spirit, that we be conformed to the image of Christ. There is no uncertainty about those truths, and those truths are the realities that will matter most in eternity. And we know that if those things are God’s will and we ask them of God, we will have what we have requested. 

            I ask great things; expect great things; shall receive great things. - "Voyage" from Valley of Vision

            1. Member's Ministry: Speak Truth (Eph 4:11-16)

              Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/686616--members-ministry-speak

              Sermon Manuscript:

              And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. – Eph 4:11-16

              Public protests devolved into riots; tensions over police brutality and racial hostilities boiled over; the American people felt uneasy as a bellicose president attempted to use his position to steamroll over those who opposed him and intimidated the media into only giving him positive press. The year is 1968 and Lyndon B. Johnson is stuck in the mire of Vietnam, steadily losing support for the war as the days go by. The landscape of America had been rocked and reeled by the advent of French existentialism and postmodern philosophies that had been imported into its universities, questioning the very idea of objective truth, identity, or meaning in life. The creation of teenage culture just a decade earlier had devolved into the sharp cultural divide between youth and their parents, creating suspicion and distrust in one another. These together gave rise to young people questioning many of the moral systems of their parents, bringing about the sexual revolution of the 60’s and alternative political ideologies which sought to radically correct the failures of past generations. You better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone, because the times they are changing.

              In 1965 news reporters from CBS stationed in Vietnam showed footage of US troops using flamethrowers and zippo lighters to torch thatch-roofed villages of non-combatants while Vietnamese women and children wailed in the background. Public support of Vietnam began to plummet and university students began to organize protests against the war. American journalists, up to this point, had never questioned or sought to undermine the American government in a war effort, but more and more often younger journalists sought to make it clear that they found the American war in Vietnam to be wrong. There was one journalist, however, who sought to keep personal evaluations out of his news reports, whose aim was to tell America “the way it is…”. Walter Cronkite, the CBS news anchor from 1962-1981, was known as “the most trusted man in America.” Seen as a paragon of impartiality and objectivity, Cronkite’s nightly news broadcasts rarely ever involved his personal commentary. Thus, when Cronkite traveled to Vietnam in 1968 and returned to report on the status of the American war effort, the country eagerly looked to hear from “Uncle Walter” on what was really going on. Cronkite himself had been frustrated with the cynicism of younger reporters and wanted to see for himself whether or not the Vietnamese offensive was as morally problematic and pyrrhic as they claimed.

              Cronkite’s report spent the majority of time interviewing generals, soldiers, and recounting the military strategies, remaining typically impartial and objective in his reporting. However, at the very close of the program Cronkite noted that he, unusually, was going to give his own “subjective” opinion. He famously noted that “from his vantage point” the only conceivable outcome of continuing to fight in Vietnam was to arrive at a bloody stalemate, thus America must negotiate for peace. Lyndon B. Johnson, after watching Cronkite’s report, switched off the TV and told an aide, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.” And he did. Support for the war bottomed out and a few weeks later LBJ made a news announcement that all bombing would cease in Vietnam and, much to everyone’s surprise, that he would not be seeking re-election as President.

              As we look at the turmoil in our country, the upheaval and division, we lack a unifying voice like Cronkite. There is no one who can tell our country “the way it is.” At least, no one we all will listen to. Postmodernism has only soured into a more vitriolic, angered force—you have your truth and I have my truth, but if you don’t affirm my truth then you are a danger to me. Trust in institutions like the government, media, and universities have only sunk lower. And the rise of information technologies coupled with social media platforms have given us oceans upon oceans of information with little wisdom in how to navigate it well. Like a toddler dumping over a bucket of BB’s, the internet scatters millions of data-points before us—some of them reliable, many not—and we have to try to discern who to listen to. A piece of objective, peer-reviewed, well-researched journalism can pop-up on our Facebook feed right next to a meme that makes wild, baseless accusations. And both will be seen in the same medium, giving them both an air of similar credibility. Add on to this that our society has emphasized feelings as a source of truth, and we are left with simply choosing what to believe based on what we want to believe. So logic, evidence, reason matter far less than emotional anecdotes, outrage, and fear. Truth, therefore, is in the eye of the feeler, and there are as many “truths” as there are people.

              What does this have to do with our text? I am bringing all of this up to show that our current cultural location has presented a grave, grave danger for the church. Far more dangerous than any political outcome, revolution, or upheaval, the demise of Truth presents an existential crisis for our faith. Truth in the capital “T” sense—not the personal, subjective idea of “my truth,” but the Truth; truth that is regardless of who affirms it, regardless of whether or not we like it, Truth that is true for all peoples of all cultures in all places. Scripture teaches us that the church, and therefore the Christians who comprise the church, live and grow through Truth.

              Give a plant water, and it grows. Give God’s people the Truth, and they will grow. More specifically, give them the truth spoken in love to one another, and they will grow in every way into Christ. 

              Sifting through our befuddling times, growing in wisdom and discernment, knowing who to listen to and who to ignore is a much needed task for Christians today. We dishonor God and hurt people when we champion things as “true” that are actually false. But long before we can enter into the puzzling exercise of doing that, we need to be trained by the schoolmaster of God’s eternal, unchanging Truth: God’s Word. While there may be a cacophony of contradictory voices screaming for your attention and your belief today and you are overwhelmed about who to listen to, here in this Sacred Book we need not be left wondering who to listen. Here, in these pages we can meet our Savior and listen to Him. And as we do that, we will be better equipped to face this ever-shifting world with the solid, unshifting bedrock of Truth under our feet. And this task, this ministry, is a ministry for us all.


              Paul begins this section by explaining that God has given gifts to the church through specific offices: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,” Eph 4:11-12. A few verses prior to this we are told that upon Jesus’ ascension to Heaven He has given the church gifts (Eph 4:8). These gifts given from Jesus Himself are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. While we would hold that some of these offices are no longer functioning in the post-apostolic church, we can notice the common denominator among all of these offices: they all have a gift in speaking God’s Word. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers all are charged with bringing God’s Word to His people. This is important because it helps us understand how they are supposed to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry.” Christians are prepared for the work God has given them by receiving God’s Word from the pastors that Jesus has given them as a gift.

              So, my role as your pastor and any other pastor here is to so speak God’s Word to you that you become competently prepared to fulfill the work of the ministry that God has given you here in this church. This is why I devote the lion share of my time in preparing to teach God’s Word. If I do not, then you will be unprepared for your work: “building up the body of Christ.” As we noted last week, this text assumes that “the work of the ministry” is actually carried out by the members of the church, not just the pastors. Perhaps that seems odd to you: isn’t that why we pay you? Isn’t it your job to do the ministry? But, alas, the Bible says otherwise. 

              But I want you to think about this from another angle. This is true not just because the Bible explicitly says so, but also because it makes sense in why it produce the healthiest disciples. If you were to attend a workout class where the instructor stood up and showed everyone how to do the exercises, how to lift the weights, and then sent everyone home without having them doing the exercises at all, would they be getting any healthier? Wouldn’t it be better to have your instructor show you how to do the exercises and then put the weights in your hand and say, “Okay, now you do it.” It will certainly be more difficult, but it will also make you stronger, healthier than the other class who just watches their instructor workout. The design of the ministry in the New Testament is a ministry that is led by the pastors who are equipping the saints, but is finally accomplished by the members themselves picking up the weights and doing the work themselves. 

              This is why we are considering this for these four weeks. Members of the church can fulfill the work of the ministry through their love, speaking, praying, and giving. But here in Ephesians, Paul is going to highlight “speaking.”


              You’re work is defined as such: “building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” Eph 4:12-13. The last two statements, “mature manhood, to the stature of the fullness of Christ,” are, in many ways, simply parroting the call to “build up the body of Christ”—to make it stronger, more mature, to look like Jesus. It is the phrase in the middle that helps shed considerable light on what that actually looks like: “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.”

              What should you be prioritizing as a member of this church? Unity. Earlier in Eph 4:1-3 Paul defined “unity” as the defining marker of what it means to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling of Christ.” But, this isn’t a “unity at all costs” kind of unity. It is a unity “of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” Our unity flows from a unity around God’s truth. The “faith” here refers to the objective content of our faith; what we believe in,namely, the knowledge of the Son of God. So our unity is not a unity that comes from arriving at the lowest common denominator in our doctrine or watering down the truth and shaving off the sharp edges so that we can stretch our tent as widely as possible. Our unity is a unity that is found in truth. 

              But, dear friend, I hope you see this danger. If our aim is to preserve the unity of our church, and that unity comes from our shared convictions of truth, then that means that we need to be discerning enough with knowing where to draw those lines of doctrine and where not to. In other words, there are doctrines that we will divide over, but that does not mean that we divide over every doctrine. So, that means that you need to know your Bible well enough to know when a doctrine is central enough that it must be fought over, and when it is just something that we can simply disagree on but maintain our unity together. This is the intent of our Statement of Faith. It is a collection of doctrines that we require for membership in the church because it includes what we have deemed to be central to our faith and unity as a church. If you’re wondering what doctrines are important enough to divide over, it might serve you to read through that statement. Also, it might help you to go back through the video series we did on conscience last year.

              So, what is the work of the ministry? Building up the body until we reach the unity of faith and knowledge of the son of God, till we are mature, till our life reflects Christ’s life. And how do we do that? Look down to verses 15-16, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love,” Eph 4:15-16. 

              This looks like speaking truth in love to one another. This phrase (speaking truth in love) doesn’t primarily refer to telling someone an inconvenient or uncomfortable fact in a kind way; it isn’t the equivalent of “with all due respect” (“Hey man, I’m just trying to speak the truth in love, but your breath smells terrible”). “Truth” here is referring to God’s Truth, right doctrine. As we will shortly see, it is set in direct contrast with false doctrine in verse 14 that destroy people’s souls. It is when we speak robust, Biblical, orthodox doctrine to each other, that the whole church grows. This shows us that we cannot think that doctrine is some arid, boring, dead thing that inflates your brain but does little else. The Bible teaches us that God’s truth brings life, growth, vitality. We can throw away the false dichotomy of a warm heart or rigorous intellectual life. Our handling of right doctrine, our speaking of it to one another, is the vigor and lifeblood of growth in the church. 

              But this assumes two things are necessary: (1) you must speak these truths to one another, (2) and it must be done in love. 

              These truths were never meant to simply be understood, believed, and then kept to ourselves. What good is it for a doctor to receive his years of training, his understanding of ailments, his medical equipment, only to be brought before the sick and dying and remain quiet, do nothing? God’s truth was never intended to be kept safe and secure in the quiet museum of our minds, but was intended to be raked through the mud in the rough and tumble of life. It must be used or God’s people will not grow. This means that we are willing to prioritize other people’s good over our own comfort. It may feel awkward and uncomfortable to speak truth to another person—but we aren’t waiting for things to feel easy, we are trying to be obedient to our Lord in our work of the ministry.

              But, of course, this cannot be done without love. Of course, speaking the truth to another is a display of our love for them. If our love for this person is lacking in our heart, if it is not evident, not communicated, then the truth may cause them to wilt, not grow. This is why we need to strive to build the relational bridges of love now so that when the time comes to drive the truck of God’s truth over that bridge, it is strong enough to bear the load. So this is why we ought to strive to practice hospitality, be faithful in our small group attendance, share meals together, pray for one another, so that our hearts can be knit together in love.

              So, if a brother begins to wander off into sin, we pursue after them and speak the truth of the gospel, reminding them of God's grace and of the need for repentance.

              If a sister is struggling with assurance of her salvation, we speak the truth of the eternal security that is found in her being predestined from before the foundations of the world.

              If our child is questioning why God lets bad things happen, we speak the truth in love to them, reminding them of God's good and (sometimes) mysterious sovereign purposes.


              What happens if we fail to carry out this task? Look back to verse 14: “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” So, we need to speak the truth in love to one another, build one another up in Christ until we reach the unity of the faith, we need to do the work of the ministry because, if we do not, we will remain children in the faith who are susceptible to making a shipwreck of our souls. The image Paul gives us is of a small boat bounced around by the waves, blown about by every crosswind, and behind those forces are deceitful, cunning people who are looking to take advantage of you. Friends, do you see the dire consequences of what happens if we fail to do the work of the ministry? People’s souls are on the line!

              Notice, that we are told that it is “human cunning” and “craftiness in deceitful schemes” that empowers this false teaching. This tells us that false teaching that wants to make a shipwreck of your faith doesn’t presentitself as something dangerous. It is “crafty,” the word used to describe Satan in Eden (Gen 3:1). Satan made his temptation to Eve sound attractive, plausible, wise. So, young people, be warned: there are a thousand ways that the world wants to trick you, wants you to believe its lies, and they will advertise almost all of them in positive, attractive, even moral ways. But if the only concept of “false teaching” you have in your mind is of something that looks bad from the get-go, there will be a great deal that will sneak past you. But how can you guard yourself from that? Read your Bibles and be intimately connected into the life of the church where other people will speak God’s truth to you in love.


              Friends, while the tempest of misinformation and information swirls around us, while we see a lack of a unifying voice to make sense of current events, what can we do? 

              1.     Make first things first. I may not be able to know with confidence what news stories are reliable and which aren’t, but in God’s Word I have something that is unquestionably reliable. So I will set my heart and my mind primarily on this Truth. Phil 4:8 tells me that I should set my mind on what is “true”—so God’s perfect, inerrant truth should be what dominates the majority of my mind and heart. So, friend, read your Bible.

              2.     Create an alternative to the world. As the world fractures and splits, the Church provides an alternative community. 

              a.     Here, when we speak the truth in love to one another it means that we reject the idea that Truth is a personal creation, but an objective reality that exists outside of us that we submit to—regardless of whether we like it or not. 

              b.     Thus, when we speak the truth in love to one another we grow in humility because we learn that sometimes we are wrong and need to be corrected. 

              c.     When we speak the truth in love to one another we are showing that a deep love for one another can be displayed in speaking truth. Speaking truth is not something we reserve for crushing our opponents, but for loving our brothers.

              d.     When we speak the truth in love to one another we demonstrate that we know that we are responsible for one another. When one of us begins to walk into sin, when one of us begins to struggle, we do not “cancel” them, we do not condemn them, we lovingly go after them.

              When we create a community like that, that is built on an ecosystem of love and truth, then we are met by the misinformation of our age, we will be far better prepared because: (1) we’ve lived our lives in connection with people who are different than us, so we understand that our perspective is sometimes limited, (2) we know that Truth isn’t dependent on our feelings or preferences, (3) we’ve been humbled by our own sin and know that we have certainly been wrong before, so that gives us pause before brashly asserting our own interpretation, (4) and we have been discipled by the Biblical pattern of wisdom, which exhorts us to be slow to speak, quick to listen, patient in evaluating evidence, willing to examine a matter fully, check sources, and in detail before pronouncing a verdict.

              1.  — Edited

                Member's Ministry: Love (1 John 4:19-5:3)

                Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/683599--members-ministry-love

                Sermon Manuscript:

                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.

                1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. – 1 John 4:19-5:3

                We are taking a brief break from our sermon series in Mark to reflect on our church’s mission statement and specifically, over these next four weeks, how the members of our church can functionally pursue that mission. Ephesians 4 explains: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,” (Eph 4:11-12). This teaches us that God gives pastors to the church so that they may equip the members of the church to do the work of the ministry. So, the assumption of the Bible is that every member of the church has a ministry—they are, in a way, the ministers. What is that ministry? It is summarized by “building up the body of Christ,” and further expanded upon by everything else Paul says through verse 16. But what I want to drill into is this idea of each member’s ministry. 

                What is your role in “creating a covenant community who worships Christ above all”? 

                Your responsibility could be summarized with four verbs: love, speak, pray, give. Today we will be focusing on “love”. 

                If you are exploring Christianity or are new to Christianity I wonder if you have considered the centrality of “love” to our faith. So central, in fact, that if one lacks love they prove that they are not actually a Christian. Listen to what John says just a few verses earlier in his letter: “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,” 1 John 4:16. God is love, therefore it is impossible to have an authentic encounter with God without also being confronted and transformed by His divine love. In Paul’s famous teaching on love from 1 Corinthians 13 (which we read earlier in the service) we learn that love is the integral component of all of our Christian life. If we know everything there is to know about the Bible, if we can manifest the most spectacular display of spiritual gifts and power, if we are the most devout of Christians—willing to sell everything we own to give to the poor, even to die for the faith—but lack love, all of it is pointless. Paul literally calls it the most important of all of the traits of a Christian (1 Cor 13:13; cf. Gal 5:22). If Christians should be defined by anything, known for anything, it should be our love (John 13:35).

                Love looks like a response

                John explains, “We love because God first loved us,” 1 John 4:19. We love because He first loved us. If you reverse the order of that sentence—God loves us because we first loved—you  lose Christianity. In the way that moon reflects the sun, our love (for God and for others) is a reflection of God’s love for us. If you are not a Christian here today and are wondering how Christianity works, you should know that (unlike other religions or worldviews) Christianity doesn’t fundamentally begin with you and your performance. In traditional, conservative cultures, your status and identity are contingent on you accepting the traditions and identity the wider community / parents place on you. In a progressive, liberal culture, your status and identity are contingent on you throwing off the shackles of tradition and finding out who you want to be for yourself, forging your own identity and personhood. Both of these will require you to adopt particular values, political commitments, and ideologies in order for you to continue to maintain your identity and your status. The common denominator in all of these, however, is that all of this is ultimately up to you, begins with you, and is about you. 

                Christianity begins with God and what He has done to make you His own, to give you an identity and a status. Our love of God is not first and foremost a feeling we have mustered up, it is not a lifestyle and set of values we have adopted—it is a response. We love because He first loved us. John makes this even more explicit just a few verses earlier, “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. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another,” 1 John 4:10-11. What is love? John begins by explaining what it is not. It isn’t that we loved God. In fact the Bible explains that our natural disposition towards God is one of enmity, hostility—we don’t naturally want God in our life. Our sin has so darkened the eyes of our soul that when the light of God is revealed we prefer the darkness. John explains, “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil,” John 3:19. We don’t love God; we loved darkness. We loved our sin. Our heart’s posture is that of Satan in Paradise Lost: “Better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven.” Leave us alone to our misery and wretchedness—at least we feel like we have some semblance of control here.

                And it is there, in that pit of darkness, in our waywardness that God stoops down and loves us, loves you. It appears baffling that God would do such a thing, but so it is. In Victor Hugo’s masterpiece, Les Misérables, the main character, Jean Valjean, spends years in prison for attempting to steal a loaf of bread. Upon his release he wanders from town to town but is shunned as a pariah. He is finally shown hospitality and kindness by a priest who provides shelter and food for him. In the middle of the night, however, Valjean decides to rob the unsuspecting priest and run off to town to sell the church’s silverware. The priest is then woken up by the authorities who explain that they have just apprehended Valjean trying to hock the items in town. The priest, however, welcomes Valjean like an old friend and explains that the silverware was a gift and quickly hands the church’s silver candlesticks as well to a thunderstruck Valjean, explaining he could get at least 200 franks for them. Valjean is left speechless. At the moment when he is dead-to-rights guilty, when he flagrantly abused the kindness of an old man (a priest, nonetheless!), and is caught red-handed, he is received with love, with grace. This becomes a catalyst for change in Valjean’s life, leading him to spend the rest of the book showing this same kind grace and love to his friends, family, and enemies. Love, the kind of love the Bible describes, only is produced out of a response.

                In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and gave His Son up to be a propitiation, a payment, for us. When we were in darkness, loving our sin, hating God, God broke in—not to pin to us to the wall with our guilt, not to read us the long list of judgment that was now finally going to be doled out upon us, not to finally let the hammer fall—but to shower us with love. To send His only Son to pay the debts of our sins, to wipe away our guilt. Friend, now if you will turn to Christ and believe in Him and submit to Him, you can experience that love, that forgiveness, that welcome, right now. If you want to know more about what that looks like, feel free to talk to one of our elders here or your friend or family who brought you here today.

                So, how does God love us? He loves us despite our sinfulness; He doesn’t love us because it is convenient or easy, but in a way that is costly; He loves us consistently.

                John continues, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another,” 1 John 4:11. This love that God shows us has implications for how we treat one another.

                Love looks like family

                John makes some staggering claims here: “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. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him,” 1 John 4:20-5:1. What is John saying?

                Love of God necessarily leads to loving your brother. “Love” here is directed vertically and horizontally.

                Who is your “brother”? This is a title used specifically in the New Testament to address other Christians. This is not the same thing as loving your “neighbor.” Your neighbor is anyone and everyone that the Lord puts in your life. “Brother” is referring specifically to others (men and women) who have been adopted into the family of Christ (cf. Rom 8:14-17). Everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. If anyone claims to love God but hates his brother, he is a liar. You cannot see God, but you can see your brother who is made in the image of God, and is being conformed day by day into the image of Christ (Rom 8:29). If you cannot love these people that you see, how do you suppose to love an invisible God that you cannot see? (cf. 1 Pet 1:8). Friends, if we want to create a covenant community who worships Christ above all, this is telling us that it is impossible to worship Christ above all if we don’t love each other.

                What does it look like to love your brother? Again, John helps us a little earlier in his letter: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth,” 1 John 3:16-18. In a day where we tend to think of love primarily as a feeling that happens to us, John shows us that love should look like concrete actions. Our lives should not be these hermetically sealed off capsules, keeping our time, our money, our food, our homes, our resources to ourselves. Rather, there should be a kind of permeability to them—we are aware of each other’s needs and abundances. This assumes that the lives of those who have truly experienced the love of God are lives that are marked by openness, generosity, humility, and willingness to be inconvenienced for others. 

                Of course, brotherly love includes feelings of love as well. Paul exhorts us: “Love one another with brotherly affection,” Rom 12:10. There should be a warmth of affection between fellow Christians, between church members. This should always be our aim. But our hearts often follow our actions. 

                When a brother or sister comes into our church let’s not make them feel like they have to earn the right to be loved, to be welcomed. Let’s not tell our more introverted, quiet members that they are less valuable because it is easier to engage with the outgoing ones. Let’s aim to have a life that is open to our brothers and sisters.

                “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

                Love looks like holiness

                John concludes by rounding out our understanding of love with a look at the law: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome,” 1 John 5:2-3. 

                This is fascinating. Earlier John wanted to show that you could not love God unless you loved other Christians, but here John says that you cannot love other Christians unless you love God and keep His commandments. So, this means…

                1.     That my personal relationship with the Lord and obedience to His commands has a direct effect on my ability to love you all well. According to the Bible, we cannot compartmentalize our lives into “private and public” or “sacred and secular.” What we do while we are alone affects what we do when in public. 

                2.     That if another person’s definition of love requires me to break God’s commandments, like giving approval of what God hates or joining them in their rebellion, then no matter what, it isn’t loving. 1 Corinthians 13 explains that love, “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth,” 1 Cor 13:6. 

                3.     Love of God naturally spills over into a desire for holiness. John explains that this is the love of God: that we keep his commandments. Jesus explained: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” John 14:15. If we find a painful lack of obedience to God’s commandments in our life, that likely means that there is a lack of love. God’s commandments are not burdensome—they are a delight! Because they bring more intimacy with the Lord, greater clarity to see Him.

                1. The Beauty of God and the Mission of the Church (1 Sam 4:1-11)

                  Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/680821--christs-church

                  Sermon Manuscript:

                  1 And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.

                  Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines. They encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek. 2 The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle. 3 And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.” 4 So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.

                  5 As soon as the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded. 6 And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” And when they learned that the ark of the LORD had come to the camp, 7 the Philistines were afraid, for they said, “A god has come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. 8 Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. 9 Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.”

                  10 So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell. 11 And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died. – 1 Sam 4:1-11

                  The most important relationships in our lives are covenantal, and less important ones are contractual.

                  A covenantal relationship puts primary emphasis on the relationship itself; a contractual relationship puts the emphasis on the actions, the output. In a covenantal relationship, our main focus is on the other person, in a contractual relationship our main focus is on what benefit we can get from it. And we must discern which relationships in our lives should be covenantal or contractual. 

                  But what about our relationship with God? Is our relationship with God primarily focused on God Himself, or is it focused on what God has to give us? Is it covenantal or contractual?

                  In the book of 1 Samuel we see story after story after story of what happens when people assume that their relationship with God is contractual. The story of our text today is simply illustrative of this bigger picture. 

                  Why Am I Preaching on This?

                  Perhaps you are wondering why I have decided to preach this sermon. As we approach the end of 2020 and look forward to what God has in store for us in 2021 I want to take some time to calibrate our church’s expectations and unify us together in the mission that God has given our church: to create a covenant community who worships Christ above all. The end of the year is a time where we reflect on making new decisions, changes we want to make to our lives. And it is no different for a church. Emerging from 2020 and looking forward to what the future holds for Quinault can create an air of anticipation. This last year was shrouded by so much frustration…being unable to meet for months, Zoom calls, quarantining, cancelled small groups, seeing ones we love be put into isolation, not being able to have pastors make home visits on our members, seeing loved ones grow sick, and seeing many hopes and dreams of what we wanted the last year to be to go up in flames—all of that creates a collective sense of “ugh, let’s hope next year is better.” 

                  But, perhaps the Lord knows what He is doing in giving us what He did in 2020. While we were unable to gather for a few months, in the last year we have been able to spend the majority of our Sunday’s together, singing, praying, and listening to God’s Word read and preached. We have been able to grow in our efforts to pray more regularly for one another through our prayer guides and membership directory. When I arrived here one year ago today, our church had 38 members. In the last year we have added 20 new members, which is more than a 50% increase. We have seen three brothers and sisters be baptized. We have seen new discipleship opportunities for men and women through men’s and women’s studies that started this Fall. We adopted a new Statement of Faith, and amended our membership covenant as well as our by-laws. We voted to support a new set of missionaries working in Bible translation, and ended the year coming in $10,000 over our expenses which we will use to install a new lighting system in our auditorium. And not to mention all of the tiny ways the pressure of the last year has caused us to lean more on the Lord, pray more, be more transparent with one another, reach out to one another for help, and practice hospitality more than we normally would have. We have much to be grateful to God for in the last year. 

                  But what should we expect for the next year? While the exhaustion and frustrations of 2020 can lead us to an anticipation of “Man, let’s just do something,” so too can the blessings of 2020: “Should we anticipate that God is going to increase our membership by another 50%? Should we declare that God will baptize even more or balloon our budget to new heights? What do we do with this momentum?”

                  This, of course, isn’t only a question for our church. What should your family anticipate for the next year? What would you like to have happen in your marriage? In your parenting? In your day-to-day war against sin? We want to see real change in our lives, we want to see change in our church, we want to see healthy, positive steps be taken in 2021. I want to see our church grow in its different ministry opportunities in reaching out to the community around us; I want to see a culture of evangelism and hospitality take hold in our church; and I want to see new opportunities for discipling our children take shape. But how do we bring that about? How do we approach this new year?

                  Here is what I want to emphasize to our church: there is nothing more important for our church, for yourself and your families, for the next year than to prioritize your relationship with the Lord. Surely you have all heard of this from some podcast or leadership book, but if you take a jar and a handful of larger rocks and a good deal of smaller pebbles and place the smaller pebbles in first and then try to put the larger rocks in afterwards, the rocks won’t fit into a jar. But if you put the big rocks in first and then pour the smaller rocks in around the larger rocks, then, surprisingly, all of the rocks will fit into the jar. That analogy is used often to explain why you should prioritize first and foremost the big tasks in your life—because you will be able to fill in the small tasks around them. While that might be true for productivity and scheduling, it is certainly true for the Christian life.

                  If we focus on the things that are to flow out of our relationship with the Lord (our evangelism, church growth, marriages, parenting, etc.) over our relationship with the Lord itself, we will suddenly find that we have no room for God in our lives. And we will wind up being like those that Paul warns of, “having an appearance of godliness, but denying its power,” (2 Tim 3:5). We may even begin to treat God as if we were in a contractual relationship with Him rather than a covenantal relationship, like we commune with God only to get what we want from Him. This is the warning of our text today.

                  The Cautionary Tale of Israel

                  The book of 1 Samuel is a picture of what two different relationships with God look like: a covenantal and a contractual. Those in a contractual relationship with God (Eli, his sons, most of Israel, Saul) use God to get what they want, to bring about the changes and results in their lives that they desire. Those in a covenantal relationship (Hannah, Samuel, and David) want God Himself; they are those “after God’s own heart,” (1 Sam 13:14).

                  The book explains how God has risen up Samuel to replace the wicked sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, who have used their positions as priests to forcefully rob others from the offerings given to God and to sleep with the women who were trying to worship at the tabernacle (1 Sam 2:12-17, 22). We are simply told that, despite the fact that they are priests of God, “they did not know the Lord,” (1 Sam 2:12). How shocking: men who are intended to be mediators between God and men, to help others know God more clearly and worship Him more rightly, they don’t even know God. They have no relationship with Him. They are simply using God as a free ticket to money, food, and sex. 

                  These two sons are set in direct contrast with the son of Hannah, Samuel. Hannah opens up the entire book of 1 Samuel with her prayers for a son. She is barren and wants a son more than anything. But she promises God that if He will give her a son, she will give Him back to God by devoting him to work in the tabernacle under Eli. God grants her request and gives her a son, and Hannah faithfully follows through with her promise. What does this tell us? God is Hannah’s highest priority. She offers up her son, the thing that she loves and desires most, to God. Samuel is an icon of contrast with Eli’s wicked sons, who use God to get what they want. One is a picture of a covenant relationship, the other of contractual relationship.

                  Sadly, most of Israel has followed the model of Eli’s sons. 1 Samuel occurs directly after the book of Judges. The time of the judges is a bleak one for Israel. Israel descends into a kind of moral perversion that is unparalleled in the Old Testament, making Sodom and Gomorrah look junior varsity in comparison. The constant refrain we are told over and over again is that, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes,” (Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25).

                  Our text today, 1 Samuel 4, is a story that takes place before any of the kings have arisen and right as the sons of Eli and Samuel have been contrasted with each other. We are told of the Philistines arising to wage war against Israel. Earlier, God foretold that Israel would face enemies in the Promised Land, but He also promised that He would help them in their battles so long as they remained faithful to the covenant that they had entered into with God at Mt. Sinai. Every Hebrew there at that battle would have known that promise and they would have know of the great and famous stories of God’s deliverance from past enemies, where God would part seas and send fire from heaven to consume their enemies. That would have been a great comfort as the foot soldiers prepared to fight.

                  However, much to their surprise, the Hebrews were spectacularly defeated, leaving nearly four thousand men dead (1 Sam 4:2). “And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies,” 1 Sam 4:3. They acknowledge that it is Yahweh Himself who has defeated them; they know something is wrong—the Philistines shouldn’t be able to defeat them. Didn’t God promise He would help them? Ah, that’s the problem! We forgot the Ark! 

                  The Ark of the Covenant was a small box that God had commanded Moses to construct while up on Mt. Sinai. It held the tablets of God’s commandments and was to be kept inside of the holiest place in the tabernacle. It represented God’s presence, acting as a sort of footstool of God’s heavenly throne (it was where heaven and earth met). No one was ever allowed to touch the ark or they would be struck dead, so priests would carry it on poles that supported it. It had previously been carried into battle during the siege of Jericho, so why not bring it out now? “So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God,” 1 Sam 4:4. 

                  Now, of course, the problem is not that the ark has been missing. The problem is that the nation of Israel has rejected God (1 Sam 8:7); they are all like Hophni and Phinehas and their presence with the ark is symbolic of what all of Israel’s standing before God is like: they do not know the Lord. But still, the arrival of the Ark brings a great deal of encouragement: “As soon as the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded,” 1 Sam 4:5. No one present second guessed that the arrival of the Ark was a sure sign that God was going to bless them, no one stopped to consider that perhaps the problem was that the nation had violated the covenant that the Ark contained. No one even said that they needed the Lord Himself—what do they need? The ark of covenant! We don’t need God, we just need His firepower. The box rolls into the camp like an Abrams tank rolling in to reinforce the front. Israel isn’t the only one who interprets it this way; so do the Philistines.

                  “And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” And when they learned that the ark of the LORD had come to the camp, the Philistines were afraid, for they said, “A god has come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness,” – 1 Sam 4:6-8.

                  The Philistines know what Yahweh has done to the Egyptians in the Exodus. They think that the god (or gods) of the Hebrews is now walking among them, so they are trembling in terror. This really seems to be working! The troops are heartened, the enemy is left quaking in their boots—what more could you ask for?

                  Only, this time, Israel suffers a defeat so severe that it utterly breaks the spirit of the nation. “So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell. And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died,” 1 Sam 4:10-11. Their defeat here is over seven times worse than the causalities from the first battle, plus Eli’s sons attending the ark are killed, plus the Ark itself is lost! The connection between heaven and earth, the footstool of God’s throne where His presence was made manifest…has been lost. When Eli hears this news he falls over and dies immediately (1 Sam 4:18).

                  Why would God let Israel lose so painfully? Why would He let a bunch of pagan Philistines march off with the Ark of the Covenant? Does this mean that the Philistine’s god (Dagon) is more powerful than Yahweh?

                  God is not a Genie

                  The Israelites viewed the Ark of the Covenant with the eye of superstitious folk-religion, not of faith. They did not know the Lord of the Covenant that the Ark was intended to represent. God was simply a force, a talisman of energy that they could appropriate for their own end. But God will not be batted around like some toy. He is not a tool we hold in our hands—we are held in His hands! Do you remember when Joshua was confronted by the angel of the Lord before the battle of Jericho and he asked him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come,” Joshua 5:13-14. God is not another player on the field who chooses a “side” to be on. It is we who have the choice: are we on God’s side or not?

                  As you look forward to the next year and think of what you want to have happen, what resolutions you want to make—maybe you want to lose ten pounds, pick up gardening, or maybe you want to simply be more intentional in your relationships, maybe you want to spend less time on your phone—whatever it is, we should be cautious of treating God like a means to those ends, like we are in some kind of give-and-take, contractual relationship with Him: Okay God, I will give you my time and attention if you will help me become more self-confident, if you will help me grow my business. 

                  We can even pursue spiritual goals this way. We can want to get rid of sin in our life or become more faithful in our spiritual disciplines, but pursue those things without actually pursuing God Himself. We should ask ourselves why we want to grow in those things—maybe you want to remove that habitual sin in your life not so much because it is keeping your from further intimacy with the Lord, but more because you are just embarrassed by it and it is making life more difficult. 

                  Tim Keller helpfully summarizes the dilemma this way: “Religious people find God useful. Christians find God beautiful.” Is God primarily useful to you? Or beautiful? Do you desire Him, or what He has to offer you?

                  This temptation is present for our church as a whole as well. Why do we want to see our church grow, to see people become disciples of Christ, why do we want to create a covenant community who worships Christ above all? If our answer is anything other than: we want to see God and we want as many other people

                  God is not whatever you want Him to be

                  It is normal and natural for people treat God as useful. This is the ethos of our day: everybody needs something that helps them get along in life. Life is hard and we need something to give us purpose, meaning, something that helps us deal with demons we all fight. So, whatever “religious” pursuit floats your boat, go for it! For some people that is traditional religion, for others it is found in a more self-guided experience, and for others it is found in (fill in the blank). All that matters is that we find something that works for us. But, of course, this assumes that (1) God is ultimately unknowable, and (2) what is most important is our felt-needs being met.

                  But what if God wants to speak to us? What if He wants us to quiet our soul’s constant yammering and to reveal Himself to us? And what if that overwhelms and transcends every man-made conception we had of Him? God is not a pool of energy, He is not some distant and aloof grandfather, He is not a calculating lawyer waiting to twist the screws to you for every fault and transgression: He is the covenant Lord who wants to enter into a covenant relationship with you. Not because you have anything special to offer Him—He just wants you. And He has sent His Son to pay for your sins, to take your penalty, so that you may be forgiven.

                  God has revealed Himself, made Himself known, and He has not done so primarily to take our natural, worldly desires and satisfy them, shape-shifting into whatever form of a deity or higher power we want Him to be. God has revealed Himself so that we might have a covenantal relationship with Him, to love Him, to know Him. And, to be sure, when we love God for God, then there will be a great change in our life, in our marriages, in our homes, in our church. If we “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you,” Matt 6:33. 

                  So, friend, as you look to the New Year, and as you look to your life, to our church, and think about everything you want to change, where you want to see growth, know this: there is nothing more important than prioritizing your relationship with the Lord. This should be the goal of everyone in this room: I want to know God more in 2021. Ask yourself: do I view God primarily as useful? Or as beautiful?

                  1. Christmas: The Humility of God

                    Christmas is a revelation of the heart of God. At Christmas we enjoy many things: time together as a family, traditions, good food, wonderful music, the nostalgia of shared memories. I, for one, love getting to see the electric joy beaming on my children’s faces as they unwrap presents. It is a wonderful, wonderful season. But, all of those good gifts are the leaves and branches that shoot forth from the trunk and roots of the tree of Christmas celebration: the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And with the arrival of Jesus Christ, we are given a profound disclosure of the God’s heart for weak people like me, like you.

                    You can tell a great deal by what someone is willing to be inconvenienced for. You can see a parent’s love for their child by their willingness to sit on metal bleachers in the dead of winter to watch a football game. You can see a church member’s love for one another when they carve out time in their hectic schedule to share a meal. But you can tell even more about someone by seeing what they are willing to suffer for. A parent’s love glimmers at that pee-wee football game, but it shines forth when a parent lays down their life so their child may live.

                    And at Christmas we see a disclosure of what matters most to God as we see what He is willing to be inconvenienced for, what He is willing to suffer for. What do we see matters most to God? The proclamation of the angels in Luke 2 reveal this: His glory being seen in our joy being spread. This is what God is willing to suffer for, be humiliated for. Glory, joy, suffering.

                    Let’s briefly consider these three elements in the Christmas story.

                    After the angel of the Lord explains what is going to happen, suddenly an entire heavenly host of angels appears, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14). This is what Christmas is about: God wants the world to see His beauty, His power, His goodness. And, as we considered a number of weeks ago in our first Advent sermon, sometimes God fixes the situation in such a dire, troubling way that when He comes in salvation, He looks all the more glorious. But what is His glory displayed in most? As the heavenly host praise God and ascribe glory to Him, their next breath is spent on declaring “Peace on earth.” Which brings us to the second major element: joy.

                    The angel of the Lord explains, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people,” Luke 2:10. The “good news” (gospel) of Christianity is a message of joy! God’s glory is not see in the display of His esoteric wisdom, or arcane philosophies. God doesn’t make the centerpiece of His praises abstract platitudes or systems of morality. It isn’t even in the display of raw power or vindictive judgment on enemies. God’s glory is seen in its proclamation of joy to all the peoples. The gospel is an announcement of great joy. This is what brings our God “glory in the highest.” How does this come? It comes through what our God is willing to suffer.

                    It is astonishing to ponder how far our God was willing to stoop to come down to us. I wonder if you remember the criticism George W. Bush received during Hurricane Katrina. The President had been away on a month long vacation at his ranch in Texas when Katrina hit. Deliberately trying to avoid the news, Bush was not made aware of the disaster for several days. When he realized the magnitude of how severe it was, he ended his vacation and decided to go back to Washington, but on his way back Air-Force One flew over New Orleans. Famously, a photographer snapped a picture of the President peering through the window of his private jet to look upon the havoc and destruction that lay below. The picture, many critics said, was a symbol of the President’s posture towards to plight of the victims: detached, distant, indifferent. I am not intending to make any evaluation of how our President handled that crisis, but it is a fitting analogy for how many people feel God relates to their problems. A distant onlooker peering over the rim of creation on us and our problems.

                    But Christmas is a direct refutation of that. God has come down! He has entered into this world, waded into the muck, and has identified Himself with us. But consider how low God was willing to go to identify with us in our most humble of estates, in our most weak and fragile form.

                    -       Jesus could have come down as a full-grown man, but He didn’t. He came as a baby. A weak, helpless, crying baby. I have a one year old at home right now and am constantly struck by the idea that, once, Jesus was this small, this helpless, this dependent. 

                    -       Jesus could have been born in a large city of importance, like Jerusalem, but He wasn’t. He was born out in the country in the small town of Bethlehem.

                    -       Jesus could have been born into a family of wealth or power. But He was born into poverty, to poor parents.

                    -       Jesus could have been born in a palace, or at least a comfortable, safe room. But He wasn’t. He was born in a lowly manger, where animals live.

                    Even the announcement of Jesus’ birth is shocking. The arrival of the birth of the Messiah is, quite literally, the most important proclamation in the world. Jesus has come, God has taken on flesh, and now the opportunity for salvation has come, the New Creation is arriving and a heavenly host of angelic emissaries are here to praise God and announce this climactic moment of historical significance to….a few shepherds? Why not send these angels to kings, princes, dignitaries, why not go to the Biblical scholars of the day, to the important, to the “people who matter”? Why reveal this truth to just a handful of blue-collar nobodies out in the middle of nowhere?

                    Because this is the way of the Messiah, the Word made Flesh. His ministry, His life, His work is not to be characterized by the usual patterns that the world tell us matters. Jesus has not come to win victory for His people through the regular means victory is achieved. No, the joy that He is laboring for to display the glory of God is not a joy that comes from the well-worn path of man-made joy, and man-centered glory. Jesus has come, Christmas has happened, so that Good Friday would occur, so that Easter could happen.

                    The “good news of great joy” that is for “all the peoples” is that this infant will grow, living a spectacularly law-abiding life, but will one day die a horrific, sin-atoning death so that our sins could be forgiven. As Joseph was told, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins,” Matt 1:21. 

                    So, as you celebrate Christmas this year remember:

                    1.     Jesus has come so that our eternal joy would be secured through the forgiveness of our sins. This is the greatest gift.

                    2.     Consider the humility of our God. Reflect on the depths to which God has gone, the humiliation He has endured to secure your salvation. Let that drive you to actively imitate this humility. Be wary of overlooking something that seems “beneath you.” What are the “mangers” and “shepherds” in your life? Where are you tempted to discredit God’s work because something is too small, too mundane, and too feeble? As J.I. Packer reminds us: “Our God is a God for the weak. Weakness is the way.”

                    In closing, reflect on these words from the song “Lower Still” from My Epic.

                    Look, he’s covered in dirt

                    The blood of his mother has mixed with the Earth

                    and she’s just a child who’s throbbing in pain

                    from the terror of birth by the light of a cave

                    now they’ve laid that small baby

                    where creatures come eat

                    like a meal for the swine who have no clue that he

                    is still holding together the world that they see

                    they don’t know just how low he has to go

                    Lower still

                    Look now he’s kneeling he’s washin’ their feet

                    though they’re all filthy fishermen, traitors and theives

                    now he’s pouring his heart out and they’re fallin’ asleep

                    but he has to go lower still

                    there is greater love to show

                    hands to the plow

                    further down now

                    blood must flow

                    all these steps are personal 

                    all his shame is ransom

                    oh do you see, do you see just how low, he has come

                    do you see it now?

                    no one takes from him

                    what he freely gives away

                    beat in his face

                    tear the skin off his back

                    Lower still, lower still

                    strip off his clothes

                    make him crawl through the streets

                    Lower still, lower still

                    hang him like meat

                    on a criminal’s tree

                    Lower still, lower still

                    bury his corpse in the Earth 

                    like a seed, like a seed, like a seed

                    Lower still, lower still

                    Lower still, lower still…

                    The Earth explodes

                    she cannot hold him!

                    And all therein is placed beneath Him

                    and death itself no longer reigns

                    it cannot keep the ones he gave himself to save

                    and as the universe shatters the darkness disolves

                    he alone will be honored

                    we will bathe in his splendor

                    as all heads bow lower still

                    all heads bow lower still

                    1. A New and Glorious Morn (Luke 1:67-79)

                      Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/677037--a-new-and-glorious-morn

                      Sermon Manuscript:

                      67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,

                      68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,

                      for he has visited and redeemed his people

                      69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us

                      in the house of his servant David,

                      70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

                      71 that we should be saved from our enemies

                      and from the hand of all who hate us;

                      72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers

                      and to remember his holy covenant,

                      73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us

                      74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,

                      might serve him without fear,

                      75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

                      76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;

                      for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

                      77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people

                      in the forgiveness of their sins,

                      78 because of the tender mercy of our God,

                      whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high

                      79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,

                      to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

                      -       Luke 1:67-79

                      Why do Christians want to share their faith? Why are we evangelistic? Why not be content in simply teaching our children, maintaining our traditions and keeping our conversations with our neighbors to the weather and the Seahawks? Even more puzzling, why do we send Christians to go to other communities, nations, uprooting their families and planting them in wholly unknown and sometimes hostile places, all just to share the gospel with others.

                      Two years ago a 26 year-old American, John Chau, paddled a kayak to the secluded North Sentinel Island in the Indian Sea, though it was illegal to do so. His aim was to preach the gospel to the Sentinelese people, who had no contact with the outside world and were known to be very violent towards outsiders. Chau was killed shortly after landing on the island. Many news outlets reported on the incident, wondering why one earth a young man would so carelessly throw his life away. Many even considered his desire to preach Christianity to these natives as a vestige of colonialism, and thus profoundly harmful—why would you try to rob someone of their cultural heritage by converting them? 

                      Why do Christians want to convert others?

                      That was a question a young Charlotte Moon contemplated, nearly 175 years before John Chau set out for the North Sentinel Island. Growing up in a wealthy family with strong Baptist convictions, ‘Lottie’ was given opportunities for education that most young women did not have access to. Standing only at a mere four foot three inches, Lottie’s stature was small (her feet could not touch the floor when she sat in chairs), but her intellect was large. By the age of 17 she was proficient in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, and Italian. But her heart was indifferent to the Lord, to the Church, to the entire Baptist conviction of evangelism and missions. A travelling evangelist and preacher was coming through her town one December and Lottie’s friends, aware of her spiritual state, pled with her repeatedly to go. Reluctantly, she agreed, but explained that she would only go in order to mock what was happening. But, that night, 162 years ago today, Lottie was born again.

                      Though she had many teaching opportunities in front of her, Lottie, a young single woman, decided to travel to China in order to share the gospel with unreached Chinese people. Life in China was difficult and people were often resistant to Lottie’s message. After four years, the small team of missionaries that had arrived in China had dwindled—several had died, more had simply abandoned the work—leaving only four missionaries left in the whole of their region. “This troubled Lottie. Why, she asked, did one million Southern Baptists only have one man and three women witnessing to thirty million souls?” And in time, more help would come. But Lottie remained in China for the next 39 years, converting and baptizing thousands and thousands, and suffering profound difficulties, isolation, depression, physical attacks, hunger, and persecution.

                      Why? She wrote, “[A Christian] should ask himself not if it is his duty to go to the heathen, but if he may dare stay at home. The command is so plain: ‘Go.’” There is something about the Christian faith that propels us forward, to speak to our neighbors, to send missionaries to unreached peoples, to go. And in our text today we will see that one of the central elements of Christmas centers on this reality. In Zechariah’s song, he recounts how God has sought to bless all nations through the birth of Christ. This is one of the reasons why Lottie Moon sought to create an offering gathered once a year by Southern Baptists at Christmas to support international missionaries around the globe. The birth of Jesus is good news for all people—we simply must go and tell it to them.

                      In our text today, we are going to be taken down a winding path through the Old Testament that might seem odd or unfamiliar. But I have been always helped by CS Lewis’ thought from his essay The Weight of Glory: “If our religion is something objective, then we must never avert our eyes from those elements in it which seem puzzling or repellent; for it will be precisely the puzzling or the repellent which conceals what we do not yet know and need to know.” As we walk through the first half of this song and find ourselves puzzled and we are tempted to just skip by the parts that bore us, perhaps that is a sign that these are the exact places we need to be focusing the bulk of our attention to.

                      God’s Promise to Abraham

                      The first half of Zechariah’s song (The Benedictus) centers on what God has promised His people, Israel. The song winds through the history of the Old Testament, tugging on the major threads woven through the Old Testament. These threads point forward to a future fulfillment and Zechariah is praising God because with the arrival of John and Jesus, these promises are now fulfilled.

                      1.     Zechariah explains that God has “visited and redeemed His people,” (Luke 1:68). “Redemption” is the language used in the Bible to refer to people who were slaves, but have been liberated from their captivity, purchased. It is used most often in the Old Testament to refer to the deliverance of the Hebrews from their Egyptian slavery in the book of Exodus. What happened at the Exodus? God’s people were slaves under the sentence of death, but God single-handedly and miraculously saved them by grace, redeeming them from death by the blood of a spotless lamb. After saving them, He made them into a new people, gave them a law, and promised them a land where they would dwell with God in peace and rest. But, God’s people didn’t obey God’s law, so they were removed from the land, sent into exile. But the prophets of Israel foretold of a day when God would again perform a great act of redemption, a new kind of Exodus that would surpass the old in its magnitude (eg. Isa 43). This is what Zechariah is saying has happened now.

                      2.     Zechariah continues to explain that God has also “raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David,” (Luke 1:68). “Raising up a horn” is a symbolic metaphor for strength and victory, as in when an animal with horns conquers another animal with horns; the animal that wins the battle raises its head, while the one that loses walks away with a lowered horn. Here we are told that God has raised up a horn of salvation specifically from the “house of His servant David.” This is referring to the messianic promise that God had made to David that he would have a descendant who would sit on His throne forever (2 Sam 7). Psalm 132 is a psalm dedicated to this promise. In it the psalmist records, “There I will make a horn to sprout for David; I have prepared a lamp for my anointed,” Ps 132:17. Zechariah is blessing God because now the descendant of David, the horn, has arrived; the kingdom will be reestablished, God’s enemies will be taken care of, and the people of God will find rest. This is why so much of Zechariah’s song speaks of being delivered from Israel’s enemies and serving God without fear (Luke 1:71; 74).

                      3.     Finally, Zechariah rejoices that God’s covenant with Abraham is being fulfilled, “to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days,” Luke 1:72-75. Abraham is the father of Israel—literally. In Genesis 12 God chooses Abraham (then Abram) and commands him to leave his country and promises him three things: (1) he will become a great nation, (2) He will have a land that God has promised Him, and (3) all of the families of the earth will be blessed through Him (Gen 12:1-3). In Genesis 15, however, Abraham is now an old man and has no children. How is he supposed to father an entire nation? God formally enters into a covenant with Abraham, reiterating this promise (which is repeated again in Gen 17, and 22). But it is only in chapter 22 where we see God take an “oath”—Zechariah highlights God’s covenant and oath in his song. 

                      Genesis 22 is the famous story of Abraham offering up Isaac, the promised heir through whom God pledged the multitude of Abraham’s descendants would come, for sacrifice upon God’s request. Before Abraham goes through with the sacrifice, God stops Abraham: “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided,” Gen 22:12-14.

                      And then, God speaks again to Abraham, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice,” Gen 22:16-18. God swearing by Himself is the oath, and the rest of the promises that He recounts are the blessings of the covenant God has made with Abraham. Now, Zechariah is saying that we can sing and rejoice because God has fulfilled this oath and covenant with the advent of Jesus Christ, with the result that now we are (1) delivered from our enemies and thus can (2) serve the Lord without fear, (3) in holiness and righteousness.

                      Exodus, David, Abraham. All of these rush together into this moment: the advent of Jesus. How does Jesus fulfill these expectations?

                      Jesus has come to bring about the new Exodus, the greater Exodus, to deliver and save His people from their slavery to sin and death, to make them a new people, give them His law, and lead them to the final Promised Land: the New Heavens and New Earth. He is the truer and greater spotless lamb, the Passover sacrifice, whose blood covers us and redeems us once for all from the Destroyer.

                      Jesus is the son of David and the truer and greater David. He is the unassuming, unexpected king of Israel, a man after God’s own heart, who slays the giant of sin and Satan, through surprising and humble means (His own death on the cross). Through His death and resurrection He has now ascended to Heaven and has taken His seat on His throne where He rules as the king over all creation, manifesting His kingdom on earth through His church, as we await the final consummation of His kingdom at His return.

                      Jesus is the fulfillment of the covenant and oath that God made to Abraham when He stayed his hand from sacrificing Isaac. God made the oath with Abraham because, “you have not withheld your son, your only son,” (Gen 22:16). Now, God will not withhold from us His son, His only son. Jesus is the truer and greater sacrifice that is offered up instead of Isaac, offering Himself for His people on the cross so that we would not perish but have everlasting life, that we may be declared holy and righteous. And now, through Jesus’ work, His people are now commissioned to go to the ends of the earth and spread this good news to all nations, till the people of God are as numerous as the sands on the seashore or the stars in the sky (which is why the gospels spend so much time recording Jesus’ interactions with non-Jewish people, demonstrating that salvation is not for ethnic Israel alone).

                      This is what is leading Zechariah to rejoice, to sing, to praise God. Israel’s great hope, great expectation has arrived. But what is most important to Zechariah?

                      The Tender Mercies of God

                      After recounting the numerous ways God is fulfilling what the prophets beforehand have prophesied, Zechariah then turns to his baby boy and prophesies over him: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,” Luke 1:76-77. John is to be a trailblazer to clear the way for the Lord, the Messiah Himself. John will be a teacher who will point people towards salvation—and what is this salvation? The forgiveness of sins. 

                      Why would God forgive our sins? Why would He save us? We are told, “because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace,” Luke 1:78-79. 

                      Why are we forgiven? The mercy of God. We are not saved out of the obligations of God. He doesn't owe use forgiveness. Perhaps it is tempting to assume that forgiving is just God's job: Of course I am forgiven, isn't God just eager to have my attention? Isn't that kind of taken for granted? We are not saved because God owes us anything--it is sheer mercy.

                      Further, we are not saved because we have slogged it through a tough time, punched the clock, knuckled down and scraped together some spiritual entrée that would please the Lord. We have not created something appealing that has bent God's gaze our direction and earned a pardon on our sins. We are saved by wholly undeserved, unmerited, doesn't make sense, mercy.

                      But friends, we aren’t even just saved by God’s mercy. We are saved because of His tender mercy. The Greek word for that is splanchna (σπλάγχνα), and it literally refers to someone’s internal organs—it is where we derive the English word “spleen” from. In the ancient world people believed that the guts were the seat of the most powerful and sympathetic of all emotions, especially compassion. Here Zechariah recognizes that God’s mercy towards His people is profoundly deep, heartfelt, powerful, tender. God is not just putting up with us; He isn’t just tired of listening to us complain and He knows if He will forgive our sins He can finally get some peace and quiet because, after all, He has much more important things to attend to. No, His heart is tender toward us. Ponder these three passages from the Old Testament that reveal God's heart towards sinners like you and me:

                      “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender,” Hos 11:8. At the height of Israel's sin and spiritual adultery, God still cannot fathom casting His people off. His heart is warmed as He thinks of His children. Our sin doesn't cause God's heart to become brittle and cold, but tender and warm.

                      I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. – Jer 32:41. What was the last thing you did with "all your heart and soul"? What was the last thing you did that expended every drop of sweat, blood, and tears to accomplish? This is the intensity with which God works towards doing good to His covenant people. His heart is not indifferent towards us, He is not mechanically shelling out forgiveness to a faceless mass of people. He is thrilled to work good for His children!

                      15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me. – Isa 49:15-16. Think of the attachment a mother feels towards her newborn child. These, according to Isaiah, are an imperfect reflection of God's more perfect affection for His children. Mother's may forget. God never will. He will not abandon you, He will not cast you aside--you are engraved on the palm of His hand. This is God's heart towards you.

                      You see friends, our salvation--the forgiveness of sins--flows from God's tender mercy. It is stunningly beautiful, and scandalously given to any and all who come to Christ. This is why Zechariah compares it with a sunrise. In the same way sunlight spills across a dark, cold morning, bringing light and warmth, so too does God's mercy beautifully spill out towards all persons who will put their faith in Christ. There is no darkness so dark that the light cannot overcome. And there is no sinner too far from God that He cannot be reconciled.

                      This is why we go. This news is just too good not to be shared. God has promised that through His people all families of the earth will be blessed. The new exodus has global implications. The new David is a King who will rule and reign over all nations, not just Israel. So we go to the ends of the earth and we share the gospel with our neighbors and we support missionaries and pray that God's Kingdom would come and His will would be done, here on earth as it is in heaven. We want people to see and know that there is a God who is gracious and merciful, who will forgive their sins and save them from destruction.

                      A thrill of hope

                      A weary world rejoices

                      For yonder breaks

                      A new and glorious morn