Category Archives: Sermon Notes – 2019

Jesus Rejected – Feb. 10, 2019 

People love to go to race tracks to see car accidents. It is the same way people go to hockey games to watch fistfights. Probably very similar to the way the Romans went to the Coliseum to see the death of the gladiators.

There is something thrilling and sad about a train wreck; we just can’t stop watching. Shows like American Idol, I have been told, are more exciting to watch, early on during the first auditions. That is when ‘the cats’ and ‘the tone deaf’ come out to sing.

Take for instance, Season 9, Jan. of 2010 in Orlando, Florida. A young man named Donald Jarrod Norrell, a graphic designer, drove from Georgia to audition. After stating, that he thought he could win the competition, he went on to sing ‘Amazing Grace’.

He was awful! One look at the disgust on the faces of the judges revealed ‘the truth’; and they quickly told him so, saying he “sounded like a lawnmower.”

But Jerrod refused to take no for an answer and went on to sing again, the same song. Eventually, they called in the security guards. He cried out, “I can’t leave!” as they escorted him out anyway  but he put up a fight and ended up handcuffed and arrested.

Now that is some serious rejection!

It is tough enough dealing with rejection privately, but quite another – when it is broadcast for the whole world to see and hear. It never goes away! I am sure all of us have felt the sting of rejection.  

It may have been when the person you asked out laughed in your face. Or the time you were excluded from a party. Maybe it was the best friend who rejected you for another. Or the job interview that did not go as planned. Maybe it was because you were too young, too old or too different. Finally, it may have been, when you were rejected by a dating partner or a spouse.

Rejection can be defined as ‘the act of pushing someone or something away’. It may consist of abuse, abandonment, neglect, or the withholding of affection. Dr. Charles R Solomon specializes in spiritual counseling, with a specialty in how to deal with rejection. He defines rejection as “The absence of meaningful love.” 

Rejection not only wounds us but can also hinder us from trusting, believing in others and/or engaging with others again. Not only can rejection leave us feeling paralyzed, we may also heap additional pain on ourselves and make it worse. Experts tell us that rejection affects us; emotionally, intellectually, psychologically, and physically. The question is, “Why is it so painful?”

The answer, scientists tell us, is that our brains are hard-wired that way. Researchers used MRI machines to question people who felt rejected and they found the same areas of our brains that are activated by physical pain also react to the experience of rejection.

Now, that being said, those who had a better handle on their emotions, did much better. In other words, those people who did not place too much value in the eyes or actions of others, seemed to react in a healthy manner. So, while rejection hurts, internalizing it and not dealing with it is far worse.

While rejection often feels personal, as in, it is our fault or an outright attack, it often has less to do with us than we imagine. There are often extenuating circumstances beyond our grasp; things that have little to do with us and more to do with the other person.

No one understood this better than Jesus. Before he was even born, Isaiah 53:2-3 described him like this, “He grew up before us like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces, he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”

John 1:11 reads, “He came to those who were his own, but his own did not receive him.” 

Isaiah literally says that Jesus was despised; he was not merely ignored or disliked. He was hated and loathed by the religious leaders and in the end, by all the people. Jesus was not just being discarded as unwanted or useless; he was considered a real threat to the status quo. Why?

Jesus questioned their interpretation of scripture, their traditions, their way of using the Temple and the way they treated the least, the lost and the outcasts. They accused him of being a drunk, they belittled him, tried to trap him and even called him the devil, himself.

In our Luke text, Jesus returns to Galilee and preaches throughout the countryside. It says he taught in the local synagogues and everyone praised him. From there he went to his hometown, Nazareth.

Then, on the Sabbath day, Saturday, as was his custom, he went into the synagogue. While there, he stood up to read. The scroll was handed to him and it was unrolled to Isaiah 61:1-2, and he began to read, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners – and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, – and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

After sitting down, he proclaimed, “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
    
And scripture says they were amazed and a bit shocked by his teaching. They acknowledge that he was speaking with wisdom and acting with power, but something just didn’t sit right. Isn’t this Joseph the carpenter’s son? Carpenter’s sons do not become prophets.

Here he was in the synagogue, a carpenter trying to teach them something about God and the Law. They all knew him. How could Jesus possibly be ‘who he was claiming to be’: the Messiah, God’s very own Son?

Not surprised, Jesus said, “No prophet is accepted in his hometown.” Then Jesus had the gull to go on and compare himself to Elijah and Elisha. All of the people in the synagogue immediately took offense and became furious. They saw this as scandalous, an abomination, and a threat to everything they stood for. This was no prophet, this was Mary’s son and they knew Jesus’ brothers and sisters.

So they rejected him and drove Jesus out of the synagogue. They took him out of town to the cliff of a tall hill. Once there, they planned on throwing him off to his death.

Mount Precipice is a cliff near the city of Nazareth in Israel. It has a 1,000 foot plunge, almost straight down. This is serious!

One pastor writes, “I don’t know about Jesus, but at that point ‘I’m going Ninja on every last one of those suckers. I was thinking’, he wrote, ‘Jesus, just take them all out!’”

But scripture says, “He walked right through the crowd and went on His way” (Luke 4:30).  The same pastor writes, “Jesus is amazing, no anger . . . no Ninja. He just remains calm and stays in control.”  (I love that!)

Over and over in scripture we see Jesus being rejected and we see his reaction. How could he remain so humble and not call down an army of angels? Only because Jesus knew that God had a greater purpose for his life. Jesus never got sidelined by other people’s problems and control issues. Here are several examples of times when he was rejected;

1) Jesus faced rejection from his own family. John 7:3-5 reveals that Jesus’ own brothers wanted him to reveal who he really was, but he said his time had not come. And so they rejected and did not believe in him. Also in Mark 3:20-21 Jesus went to a home but a crowd gathered and they were unable to eat. When his family heard they went out to restrain him, for they said, “He is out of his mind!”

2) Jesus would eventually face rejection from the other Jews in Jerusalem. They refused to call him ‘The King of the Jews’ and said ‘their only king was Caesar’.

3) Jesus faced rejection from his own followers. Judas betrayed him. All of the disciple’s abandoned him and Peter denied him 3 times.

4) Jesus was offered up with Barabbas, a thief and murderer. His own people chose Barabbas instead of him. Funny, Jesus was accepted by his enemies; a Roman soldier, Samaritans, outcasts – even Pilate could find no wrong in him, – yet the Jewish people rejected him; the ones he came to save first!

5) Finally, Jesus was rejected by God on the cross (or at least it appeared that way).

As he hung on the cross dying, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). In truth, I do not think God ever rejected Jesus, I think he simply turned his back on all our sin. But I don’t imagine that is how it felt at the time.

Maybe, in the back of his mind, Jesus was thinking about what God had said to Samuel when the people rejected him. The Israelites went to Samuel and demanded a king ‘to be the judge’ over them. Samuel was crushed but,

In 1 Samuel 8:7 the Lord said, “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; ‘it is not you they have rejected’ but the have rejected me as their king.” Again, God was being rejected by his people. They see Jesus – but they do not recognize him as their God. Imagine the pain of the Father in heaven as well as Jesus, who was before them.

In anger and frustration, Jesus could have said, “Enough! Father end this now, destroy them all! They will not learn.” But he does not. One of the most amazing things is Jesus never loses his focus for his mission. In the face of rejection, he offers grace, mercy, hope, love and forgiveness.

“Father forgive them, they know not what they are doing,” he said in Luke 23:34

Jesus wasn’t looking for our approval, he had God’s. Remember what God said at his baptism? “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17).

A few thoughts here… We can never avoid rejection. In fact our risk has not decreased, it has only increased. It used to be limited to our ‘one on one’ social interactions. Today, thanks to electronic communication, we can be rejected on dating apps, chat rooms, news posts, texts, Facebook, and all kinds of other social media. 

The thing is, we have to put it into perspective. We have to be careful whose approval we seek. And one wise counselor explained, “Always consider the source and the substance.”

Instead of letting every situation get to us, we must do what Jesus told the disciples to do as they traveled from town to town. In Mark 6:11 he said, “If any place will not welcome you or listen to you; shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.”

Jesus’ ultimate goal was to guide us into a loving relationship with God and one another. He did not come to destroy lives; we do that well enough on our own. He came to save lives. He said in John 10:10, “I have come so that they might have life, and that they might have it abundantly.”

Which brings me to my last and most important point; Jesus will never reject you. When someone else rejects you there will be deep wounds, there’s no denying that. He knows how we feel and he offers us an answer…

Isaiah 53:3-5 reads, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces; he was despised, and we didn’t value him. Surely he took up our sicknesses, and he carried our sorrows; yet we considered him stricken by God, struck by him and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, — and by his wounds we are healed.”

No matter how much rejection we are dealt, the love and grace God gives in return, covers it all. Like him, we can turn to the Father for assurance and find the comfort we seek.

May God guide you, to find in rejection, creative ways, like Jesus, to go the extra mile to serve even those who despise you in this life. As Luke 6:27-28 reminds us, “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

That is your assignment…       Amen.

 

The Lamb of God Notes – Feb. 3, 2019

One Sunday a young pastor decided to use the 23rd Psalm for his children’s sermon. He began telling them about sheep; that they aren’t smart and need lots of guidance. A shepherd’s job, he said, is to stay close to the sheep, protect them from wild animals and keep them from wandering away.

He pointed to the little children in the room and said they were the sheep and that they needed lots of guidance. Then the pastor put his hands up in a dramatic gesture, and said to the children, “If you are the sheep, then who is the shepherd?” He was clearly hoping they would say he was.

A few seconds of silence, then one little boy said, “Jesus is the shepherd.”

The young pastor was caught by surprise, said to the boy, “Well, then, who am I?”

The boy thought for a moment and said, “I guess you must be the sheep dog.”

If I could be that close to Jesus, I’d take that job.  I believe that most dogs are pretty noble creatures. Hey, I’ve been called worse!

But that little boy was right, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He has also been called; The Cornerstone, The Messiah, The True Vine, The Word of God and The Son of David. Some folks have even created long lists of over 150 names that are used to describe Jesus.

The Israelites were waiting for a Savior and King. They liked to use words that instilled confidence and power. They liked to think of Jesus as the Deliverer (like Moses); The Judge of Israel; The King of the Ages; The King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

So it is kind of interesting the way John the Baptist describes Jesus after his baptism. The next day, it says in John 1:29, Jesus was returning to the place where John was preaching. When John saw him he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have know him, but ‘the one who sent me to baptize with water’ told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the son of God.”

Again, the very next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

Now, this is not a coincidence, John the Baptist said the same thing two days in a row, the question is why? At this point, a lot of pastors begin preaching about atonement, substitution and restitution. They preach about the perfect sacrifice and how Jesus paid the penalty for sin on the cross. While all of that is great theology, at this point, it just doesn’t make sense.

Lambs get slaughtered and placed on the altar. This is supposed to be the Messiah, the Deliverer, The Son of God. The Israelites were waiting for someone to come and free them from oppression by the Roman government. They wanted a warrior not a lamb.

If John the Baptist would have said, “Look, the Mighty Lion of Judah” it would make more sense…but a lamb? So what was he thinking?

There are only two theories that hold up in relation to John the Baptists words.

The first theory is that John’s Gospel was written long after Jesus died and that John took some ‘creative liberties’ with his gospel. Unlike Matthew, Mark and Luke, John’s Gospel is more into symbolism and metaphor. It was also written much later.

John’s Gospel is also deeper into theology and Christology. Jesus is the Logos (the word of God), He is the Bread of Life, The Gate, The Vine, the I Am and the Lamb of God. In other words, John is proclaiming to his audience that ‘Jesus is God’ and then he goes on to explain how he fulfilled prophecy.

The second theory though, is closer to the other three Gospels. It is saying that we just have to understand the context that John used when he called Jesus ‘The Lamb of God’. We tend to look at it ‘as if’ John understood everything like we do now. He clearly did not.

When we think of Jesus as the Lamb of God, we tend to think about the cross and his death in our place. While it is true, the unblemished, uninjured lamb was the perfect sacrifice; that was not the only way the Israelites understood what it meant to be the Lamb of God.

You see, animal sacrifice was only a temporary fix and had to be repeated at least twice a year. The blood of the lambs covered sin but did not eliminate the long term problem.

In early Hebrew history, they also knew the Messiah as ‘the triumphant Lamb of God’. This is the Lamb we see later in the book of Revelation. This Lamb of God, did not come to be slaughtered but came to end the practice of sacrifice. This conquering Savior would literally take away the sin of the world. That is the Messiah that John the Baptist was speaking of.

Later, John the Baptist even questioned Jesus asking, “Are you the one who has come or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:10)

This Gentle, humble, compassionate Jesus wasn’t getting things done, at least not in the way they expected; so naturally, John had to wonder was there another savior coming?

In June of 2008, Rev. Mark Galli wrote a book called “Jesus Mean and Wild”. In it he writes, “The Contemporary Church loves to paint Jesus as gentle, meek and…, well, nice; but Jesus loved to make people uncomfortable and he was impulsive.

 Author John Ortberg writes, “Mark writes of a Jesus that is unleashed, untamed, undomesticated, and unpredictable. I want to know this Jesus, though he scares me a little.”

While it is true that Jesus screamed at the Pharisees and teachers of the Law and even turned over the tables in the Temple, most of the time Jesus tried to avoid confrontation. He often just slipped away or refused to be cornered by his enemies.

He told stories and answered questions with a question. He told his disciples to pay to God what was God’s and pay what was Caesar’s to Caesar. When he was arrested, he told his disciples who were itching for a fight, “No More of this!” (Luke 22:51)

And when Pilate addressed him, Jesus remained silent. (Mark 14:61)     Isaiah 53:7 reads, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; he was led like a lamb to slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.”

Still today we have trouble understanding just who Jesus was and still is. We are more comfortable with Jesus as a cross between; John Wayne, Rocky or Rambo than as a sacrificial Lamb.

Who doesn’t like to sing, “God’s not dead, surely he’s alive. He’s living on the inside, roaring like a lion.” The problem is; we want Jesus to be tough on everyone else but us!

We want him to ride in on a white horse and bring justice but we want mercy and grace.

Truth be told, what we really need is a God of compassion. We need a God who forgives. A God who really shows us love, mercy and grace; and a Savior who came to take away the sin of the world.

In the Old Testament, Hosea mentions that God has a loud voice, like the roar of a lion. And later he uses metaphors to say that God will avenge his enemies like a lion, a leopard or a bear. Yet in the midst of this, God states, that even though he is aroused, he will not carry out his fierce anger, nor will he devastate cities. Instead he says in Hosea 11:9, “For I am God, and not man the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath.”

And get this, the title ‘The Lion of Judah’ only appears once in scripture. In Revelation 5:5, we ‘see’ Jesus – but listen closely, “Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.”

And when John looked, here is what he saw, “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.” (Revelation 5:6)

A careful look at scripture, 1 Peter 5:8 reveals who the lion is, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

And Proverbs 28:15, Zephaniah 3:1-3 and Ezekiel 22:24-29 describe wicked rulers, evil nations – and evil men as roaring lions waiting to pounce on the innocent. In fact, the New Testament never refers to God as a lion. Yet it does speak of Jesus as a lamb over 37 times. In the final pages of the Bible, it is the Lamb who brings peace.

Revelation 21:3-4 reads, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

God gives us what we need, not what we think we want. Imagine this; he was triumphant through vulnerability and non-violence.

It was his compassion and love that overcomes all hatred. In his weakness is strength. It’s crazy, laughable, almost unimaginable, surprising, remarkable, wonderful, beautiful, — and completely true.

Who could have imagined that the Lamb of God was the real image of our God in heaven? “God’s not dead, he’s surely alive. He is living on the inside, and he’s as gentle as a lamb.”

Your assignment is,…to look up the lyrics for the song Agnus Dei, which means lamb of God. Post them where you can look at them all week long. Jesus is worthy of all honor and praise. Worthy is the Lamb.

And never forget, Jesus calls all of us to live like him, gentle, forgiving, loving, merciful and sacrificially. How will you live that out this week? Let me know next Sunday.

Amen.

The Temptation of Jesus – Jan. 27, 2019

George C. Parker was born on March 16, 1860 in New York City to Irish parents. He had four brothers and three sisters. Being in a large family meant that he had to speak up to be noticed and he had to be good at getting attention to get his needs met.

After Parker graduated from High School, work was hard to come by, so he became a con artist to make ends meet. In fact, George Parker was one of the greatest con men in US history.

A banker named David Hannum once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” This quote has since been associated to PT Barnum but also with George Parker. Here’s why…

George Parker made his living illegally selling New York property that was not his own. He sold large public landmarks to immigrants who were trying to make a fast buck. Among his successes, he sold; the original Madison Square Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Grant’s Tomb (by pretending to be the general’s grandson) the Statue of Liberty and you probably guessed it; The Brooklyn Bridge.

Parker was very good at creating fake documents and concocting very believable stories. He often claimed to be an architect that enjoyed building things rather than owning them. One newspaper article claimed that George Parker was ‘The man who sold the Brooklyn Bridge twice a week for 30 years’.

While his exploits are surly exaggerated, it is true that he sold the Brooklyn Bridge on a number of occasions. Police reported several instances where they had to remove people who claimed to own the bridge and began trying to collect tolls to cross it.

Parker was convicted of fraud 3 times. After one arrest, he stole a sheriff’s hat and coat and walked out of the courthouse and disappeared. After his final conviction, he was sentenced to a mandatory life sentence in Sing Sing Prison. He died eight years later behind bars, but he earned a reputation of being the most popular inmate. You see, everyone loved to hear the stories he told.

Ephesians 5:15 reminds us to, “Be very careful, then, how you live not as unwise, but as wise.” There are always those who will try to take advantage of us, they look for our weaknesses and prey on our needs and/or desires.

But there is no greater con man then the devil himself. The Bible says ‘he masquerades as an angel of light’, that he is a manipulator of truth; 1 Corinthians 14:33 calls him The Author of Confusion, John 8:44 reads, “When he speaks, he speaks in his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies, – and finally, 1 Peter 5:8 says ‘he is like a roaring lion waiting for someone to devour’.

Rev. Kent Crocket once remarked, “The devil looks like a nice guy. He gives you what you most want…but at a very high price.”

1 Corinthians 7:5 reminds married couples to stay connected and to not be tempted because of a lack of self-control. But this really applies to all of us. No one understood this better than Jesus himself.

After his Baptism by John the Baptist, Luke chapter 4 begins, “Then, Jesus full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan river. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for 40 days he was tempted by the devil.”

Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. All he had and needed was some water and the Spirit of God to fill him. Gandhi fasted for 21 days while in his 70s. And doctors agree that humans can fast without food (only water) for at least up to 2 months.

The desert is hot, desolate, wild and harsh. It is a tough place to be when you are fasting and praying. It quickly zaps your energy. Jesus was fully human and wrestling with internal and external questions. After 40 days, he had passed the worst of the stomach grumbling and hunger pains. But he was surely exhausted and the idea of sitting down to a good meal must have been on his mind constantly.

And that is when Satan, the Adversary, shows up in the desert. He knew what Jesus had been through and he was looking for Jesus’ weaknesses. And he found 3 possibilities…

First he sees Jesus’ physically weak state. “Haven’t eaten in a while, huh? I bet you’re starved. If you are ‘the Son of God’, tell those stones to become bread.” What little imagination he has. Let’s turn these stones into a steak, baked potato and apple pie ala-mode, right?

The Devil is appealing to his hunger, his appetite. Our drive to eat is a very basic human need. He is hoping to break Jesus down on a physical level. I can hear Satan whispering, “Give up this fast, its ok. You’re only human. Go ahead satisfy your own needs and desires.”

Really, that doesn’t sound that bad. In a short time, Jesus would be multiplying loaves and fishes, so what’s the harm? But no! Jesus is showing him and us that we can stand up to the liar. If he is to beat Satan, he must do it as a man, without heavenly powers. His strength must came from his relationship to the Father in heaven – not from himself.

Right now, Jesus was seeking the will of his Father in heaven; that came first. Later, as recorded in John 4:34, we see this more fully explained, Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”

So Jesus answered, “It is written; Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4) Thwarted, Satan tries again…

The second temptation deals with Jesus’ ego and pride. Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” Matthew 4:5-6.

The southwest corner of the Temple, according to Josephus, was a designated spot on the corner of the Temple, high above the houses and shops below, from which the priest stood when blowing the trumpet. It was probably about 450 feet high.

Satan is saying, ‘prove who you say you are. If you are divine and of God, nothing can happen to you.”

But Jesus understands that he is here to do the will of God, not to try to force God to serve or rescue  him. Ultimately, Jesus came ‘to give his life’, so this is contradictory to God’s plan.

So Jesus does not concede. He answered, “It is also written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Matt. 4:7)

Finally, the devil appealed to Jesus’ desire for power and dominion over the earth. The Bible says, “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’” (Mt. 4:8-9)

Satan took Jesus to a mountain, probably Mt. Hermon located at Israel’s northern border. It was the tallest mountain in Israel. Once there, he offered Jesus a shortcut to power and glory. In God’s plan Jesus would be given the place of supremacy only after suffering and being raised from the dead. In Satan’s plan, Jesus could bypass the cross and reign over the kingdoms of the world now.

In many ways this must have been a tempting offer. Jesus just had to hit the easy button! In exchange, all He had to do was bow down and worship Satan. Surely, just the thought of that broke the spell of the temptation.

Imagine, asking Jesus to ‘accept everything that God already owns’; also, everything that was created was created through Jesus and for him. In the end it may save Jesus from pain and suffering – but it would condemn the rest of us. Again, Jesus remains steadfast. He said, “Away from me Satan! For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” (Matt. 4:10)

You will notice, Jesus used no special powers, did not give Satan an inch and held his ground. That is how you do it; that is how you avoid temptation. Jesus proved that it can be done by any man or woman.

The truth is, we don’t follow his lead as often as we should. We stumble and fall when it comes to temptations of the flesh, to our pride and for want of power and ease. Jesus taught us that we can overcome through him with the Holy Spirit, when we stay near the Father and scripture.

I Corinthians 10:12-13 reads, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to all mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

One day, John Wesley was walking along the road with a friend who was deeply distressed and troubled. Then, the man expressed his ‘doubts of God’s goodness’. “I don’t know what I should do with all my worries and troubles,” he said.

At that point, Wesley noticed a cow looking over a stone wall, and asked the question, ‘Why does a cow look over the wall?’ Annoyed the man said, “I don’t know, because it can’t see through it, I suppose.” 

“Precisely!” said Wesley, “So, if you can’t see through your troubles, try looking over them and look up to God.”

We know that Satan is going to test us, so why wait until the last minute to fight him? Is it any wonder we give in and fail? Jesus showed us ‘how to stand strong in trials and temptations’. We just have to follow his example.

If we already know we are going to be tempted, why not be ready with scripture and filled with the Spirit ahead of time?  History proves that hard times define us as people and as a nation. Mankind, with the help of God, always makes it through. That is because we were created in love to endure through Christ.

Put your hope in God, just as Jesus taught us. It is by the saving grace of Jesus that we live to fight another day. If he could endure the cross for us, we can certainly overcome life’s temptations with his guidance.

I want to end with this illustration; A jeweler explained the way to tell a real diamond from a fake one. He said: “An imitation diamond is never as brilliant or strong as a genuine stone.

“If your eye is not experienced enough to detect the difference, a simple test is to place the stone under water. The imitation diamond is practically extinguished. A genuine diamond sparkles bright under water and is distinctly visible. If you place a genuine stone beside an imitation under water, the contrast will be apparent even to the least experienced eye.”

“The real diamond,” he said, always shines out when it is under pressure or when it is tested.”     

So, be the real deal. Shine the truth of Christ and you will survive and stand out in the darkest, most troubled times. Follow his lead, you don’t have to be a superhero, you just have to know, trust and serve the Lord.         

Your assignment is…to read and memorize one short passage of scripture that can help you, if you feel overwhelmed or tempted. And remember, as Ephesians 5:15 reminds us, “Be very careful how you live, live wisely.” Do not be taken in by anyone who wants to con you; especially the devil!

Jesus alone, showed us the way through.

Amen.

The Baptism of the Lord – Jan. 13, 2019

In the movie “O’ Brother Where Art Thou”, three criminals breakaway from a chain gang and go in search of buried treasure. While on the run they approach a river where a church group is baptizing its new converts.

After hearing the pastor say that God is washing away sin and setting folks free, two of the criminals run into the river to be baptized. As they emerge from the river, they are very excited. They immediately think all of their past sins are gone and that they are innocent again, so the police cannot touch them.

Then the third convict, played by George Clooney, remarks, “The Lord may have forgiven you and washed your sin away, but the State of Mississippi isn’t so forgiving and you still have to pay your debt.” 

That’s when a look of shock comes over their faces. Sure they got wet but they failed to understand a deeper truth. There was no real repentance or change of heart by them. And there was no connection to the community of believers or to God.

Baptism in Hebrew is referred to as MIKVEH meaning an immersion. Our word Baptism actually comes from the Greek word ‘baptismo’ again meaning to be immersed. Basically it is an immersion into another substance, for the purpose of being saturated by it.

Examples are; when you dye a garment, every fiber is penetrated or saturated by the dye. Or when you pickle, the cucumbers are immersed in the brine until they take on a new flavor or nature. In the instance of baptism, that substance is water but the idea is not meant to drown the person.

While water is the symbol of baptism, there is nothing magic or transformative about it. In other words, baptism does not save us. That is why the amount of water or type of baptism performed is not important. As United Methodists we sprinkle, pour or immerse. When we say, The Lord washes away sin; we believe there is a deeper spiritual process going on. There is also an issue of identity involved.

To the early believers, water represented chaos. The seas were unpredictable and menacing. The oceans held great creatures that could sink ships and take lives. It was part of the great unknown. But God could control and overcome the chaos in life. God separated the waters and made land appear in the book of Genesis. God divided the Red Sea for Moses and the Israelites.

The Bible tells us that Jesus could calm the waters and even walk on water. Chaos can turn our lives upside down but ultimately God has final control. God brings order out of chaos.

When God saved Noah and his family through the flood, they released a dove to see if the water had receded. One evening, the dove returned with a fresh olive branch in its beak. The last time the dove was released, it did not return.

Some early believers thought that the dove that disappeared from Noah’s Ark was the same dove that appeared above the head of Jesus when he was baptized. The dove showed God’s Spirit of Power over the waters of chaos and they believed it was being passed onto Jesus.

In his book ‘Stories for the Soul’, Raymond McHenry shares this baptism story; When Texas Pastor Jim Denison was in college, he served as a summer missionary in East Malaysia. While there, he attended a small church. At one of the church’s worship services, a teenage girl came forward to announce her decision to follow Christ and be baptized.

During the service, Denison noticed some worn-out luggage leaning against the wall of the church building. He asked the pastor there about it. The pastor pointed to the girl who had just been baptized and told Denison, “Her father said that if she was baptized as a Christian she could never go home again. So she brought her luggage.”

Baptism incorporates and identifies us with a specific community of believers. In other words, it makes us part of the family of God. But it also signifies our willingness to be bound in Christ. Through baptism, we are forgiven, cleansed and joined with other believers.

It is through the death and resurrection of Jesus that we are saved not by any acts of our own.      It is a gift from God. In it, I believe, God offers us a special blessing.

I also believe, that baptism is, one step towards a greater spiritual transformation. Let me explain… At the time of Christ’s birth, baptism served 1 of 2 purposes; although John the Baptist added a third option.

1) There was the baptism of conversion.

2) There was the baptism that initiated ‘a call’ from God.

3) And Finally, John’s was a baptism of repentance.

First, People who wanted to convert to Judaism were required to be baptized into a new life and new community. Theirs was a baptism of conversion. They were called to die and be reborn as new people of the Jewish faith.

Gentiles who wanted to become Jews had to undergo a three step process: The first step was they had to offer a sacrifice. The next step, the men had to be circumcised.  And the third step was, after the circumcision wound had healed, they went through the final step of baptism.

Jesus was already a Jew, so he had no reason to be converted.

Second, John the Baptist preached a baptism of repentance. “Repent,” he said, “For the kingdom of heaven is near.” To repent is to turn away from your sin and go in the opposite direction. It means; to take an active role in living a God directed life.

John’s baptism was unique because it called all people, Jews and Gentiles, to confession and repentance. This is why they gave him the name ‘The Baptist’. Crowds came to him to confess their sins and be baptized so they could be ready when God’s Messiah came. That is why the Pharisees and the Sadducees came out to see what John was doing. They wanted to know if he was doing this ‘in the Spirit of Elijah’ in preparation for the coming king.

Jesus didn’t need to repent because he had not sinned. That is why John initially refused to baptize Jesus and said, “I need to be baptized by you.” So to be baptized like this for Jesus, again, made no real sense.

Finally, the Jewish tradition dictated that those who were called to be priests need to be washed, cleansed and anointed first. This was a baptism of presentation for the call. There were Temple pools set aside just for that purpose. All priests were consecrated when they reached the age of 30. 

Leviticus 8:6 reads, “Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward and washed them in water.” Then he dressed them in the proper clothing and anointed or consecrated them with oil to take their places as the Temple priests. This act initiated Aaron’s ministry as ‘The High Priest’.

Similarly, the baptism of Jesus also initiated and consecrated Jesus for his call to step up as Teacher and Savior. This was literally his inauguration into public ministry.

While Jesus had no need to repent, he still aligned himself with us and our sin. He had no reason to convert, yet he recognized how it felt to be an outcast and chose to sympathize with us. He also did it, because God demanded it and he was always faithful.

So, he chose to focus on God and take his place in obedience, humility and accept his call from God to save us. You see, pleasing God has more to do with our attitude and actions than our going through the motions.

After Jesus was baptized, something remarkable happened. Matthew says, “Heaven was opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting him.”  Mark records, “Jesus saw heaven being ‘torn open’ and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove.” One pastor wrote, “All heaven broke loose”.

Luke states that heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the shape of a dove. And a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Matt. 5:17) Finally, John writes, “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.”

Just a note, the Spirit is not a dove but descended like a dove. In other words, the spirit hovered over Jesus and delicately came to rest upon him. But the image of a dove is also important because a dove was an offering made by the poorest in their society. This symbolized that Jesus came for all people; rich and poor; Jews and gentiles alike.

Depending on which Gospel were reading, we may not capture the full experience. In John’s gospel, the voice of God ‘spoke to him in the past’. But in the other 3 Gospels, we see the full power of how God manifests himself, – present at the same time. In this dramatic scene we already grasp the identity and function of the Trinity (a word that means tri-3 and Unity).

We hear the Father, the One who sends the Son to redeem the human race, the Son as the obedient servant who accomplishes the will of the Father, and the Holy Spirit as the sanctifier who empowers the mission of redemption. It is the most complete picture we have of the work of God in three persons.

Here is what I believe happened; when Jesus emerged from the water, I think heaven burst open just like it did for the shepherds in the fields. I think there were flashes of lightening and the boom of God’s voice was like thunder.

I don’t imagine he spoke in a soft whisper. If you are proud of your child, how many of us would remain silent or soft spoken? Psalm 18:13 says the voice of the Lord thunders from heaven. 

The words recorded in Matthew about Jesus, closely align with the prophecy in Isaiah 42:1, listen, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I put my Spirit in him and he will bring justice to the nations.

When Jesus chose to accept his calling from God, God was delighted and I think the same is true for each of us. When we repent, get baptized and align ourselves with God, I think the heavens rejoice.

Luke 15:10 says, “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Early on, I said that I believe Baptism is one step towards a greater spiritual transformation. After we accept Jesus as Lord and savior, baptism is the next step. Then, we become members.  Unfortunately that is where many folks stop – but that is not what is meant.

Our Baptism is really an awakening not something to check off a list. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, I believe we are to repent, and turn our lives around. While Baptism only takes a few minutes, it will take us the rest of our lives to become like Jesus.

Through baptism, we are converted as lost children and adopted into God’s family. Fully loved and fully meant to live and act like his family members.

And finally, I believe we are all being called by God to serve in some way, in his kingdom. Baptism is a pledge to follow Christ, wherever he leads us. It is our purpose and our mission. It is the time when real discipleship and commitment start. It is the time we grow closer to Jesus and listen for His call upon our lives.

We are all called for different purposes; Paul explains it well in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. The body of Christ needs every one of us to take our place in serving the Kingdom. He gave us each gifts to use, don’t waste Them!

The Christian walk is not over when we come to faith, the adventure and journey is just beginning. Ours is a path of becoming all that God intends for us to be.

It takes prayer, study, solid relationships, and discernment. It is not magic it is intentional hard work. But here is the thing; heaven rejoices everytime we move in the right direction.

Let’s celebrate our baptism. It is our call to action.

Remember your baptism, be thankful and be blessed.

Amen.