Immanuel – part 2

201912151030 Immanuel - part 2 (Matthew 1 18-25)

201912151030

Immanuel – part 2

Matthew 1:18-25 (CSB)

18 The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant from the Holy Spirit.

19 So her husband Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly.

20 But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.”

24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her

25 but did not have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. And he named him Jesus.

I want to begin with a recap of what we saw in Isaiah 7, the story of Ahaz.

That story contains the prophecy that God gave king Ahaz – the prophecy of an unmarried woman who would give birth to a child whom she would nickname Immanuel.

God had given Ahaz a choice. Ahaz could have obeyed God by refusing to seek help from Assyria, and trusted God to rescue the nation of Judah himself. Ahaz chose to ignore God’s offer of help, and disobey him. God still gave the sign. That sign was the nickname that this young woman gave to her child. The sign – the name Immanuel – became a symbol of God’s plan to rescue his people another way, at a different time.

Now let me restate this. God gave Ahaz a choice to make, and he made his choice, but it was the wrong choice. Then, God intervened again and offered to prove that Ahaz could trust him by granting him a supernatural sign. Ahaz refused to ask for a sign, but God gave the sign anyway, not specifically to Ahaz, but to his dynasty – the house of David. So, we have three elements to the story of Isaiah 7: a human choice, divine intervention, and a supernatural sign.

It just so happens that those same three elements are part of today’s story, which takes place seven centuries later.

JOSEPH MAKES THE WRONG CHOICE

Matthew 1:18 The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant from the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 1:19 So her husband Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly.

The Christmas story begins with the discovery of an unwanted pregnancy. In this culture today, if someone discovers an unwanted pregnancy, the choice seems to be between letting the child be born, or terminating the pregnancy.

But Joseph’s choice was not to abort the child. He knew that he had been responsible toward Mary, so he concluded that Mary must not have been faithful to him. But since he did not want to shame her, he decided divorce was his only option. In his culture, engagement was legally binding, so he decided to divorce her secretly.

The reason Joseph felt this was his only option was that he did not know the whole story.

Many times in our lives, we are going to be faced with decisions that are crucial and significant, but we will not have all the pertinent information we need to make the right choice. That is why we need to regularly seek God’s guidance through prayer. We also should be careful not to make judgments based on mere appearance.

Now, I am highlighting the fact that there are some major similarities between the stories in Isaiah 7 and Matthew 1, but there are also some glaring differences. Ahaz and Joseph are both prepared to make wrong choices, but that is where there is a change.

GOD INTERVENES, SO THAT HIS WILL IS ACCOMPLISHED.

Matthew 1:20 But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 1:21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Matthew 1:24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her

Matthew 1:25 but did not have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. And he named him Jesus.

God had sent a prophet to Ahaz, and Ahaz chose to ignore Isaiah, and make the wrong choice anyway. But God himself appears as an angel to Joseph in a dream. It is vitally important for the history and salvation of humanity that Joseph not make the wrong choice.

This is divine intervention. I find it interesting that the message God gives to Joseph starts out the same way his message to Ahaz did. God had told Isaiah to tell Ahaz:

Calm down and be quiet. Don’t be afraid or cowardly because of these two smoldering sticks, the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram, and the son of Remaliah” (Isaiah 7:4 CSB).

The Lord tells Joseph in the dream “don’t be afraid.” This is something that God has to keep saying to us when he intervenes in our lives because when stuff happens to us, anxiety is our first response.

God chose to send his Son into a family that was this close to disintegrating before it even began. There was an unwanted pregnancy, a difficult trip to Bethlehem at the worst possible time. There was no place to stay. There was an evil king who wanted to kill the child. All of these things had to weigh heavily on the hearts of Mary and Joseph. They would have been tempted to give up on their marriage, on their faith, and write themselves off as hopeless.

But what I see in this story is that it is just at that point when the anxiety level was the highest that God intervened. He didn’t fix all their problems but he did remind them that they were in his will and encouraged them not to be afraid but to trust in him.

If you have lived any time at all, you have experienced times like that. Some of you are probably going through such times right now. What does it take to get through times like that? We are stronger than we think we are, so it really doesn’t take a miracle to get us through our tough times.

But it does take a message from God, assuring us that he’s got this. God told Joseph that Mary’s pregnancy is not in conflict with his plan; Mary’s pregnancy is God’s plan. Of course, we can understand that today. We have the advantage of 2000 years of hindsight. But for Mary and Joseph, they had to trust God and not give in to fear.

JESUS HIMSELF BECAME THE SUPERNATURAL SIGN TO ISRAEL AND TO US.

Matthew 1:22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

Matthew 1:23 See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.”

There are some similarities and differences between this part of the story and Isaiah 7 as well. I want to draw attention to one of the differences.

In Isaiah’s story, the supernatural sign was the name Immanuel. It was apparently a nickname that this young woman would give her baby boy. It was a sign given not to Ahaz alone, but to his dynasty, the house of David. That sign basically said that Ahaz gave up on his God, but his God has not given upon his family. One day, God was going to rescue Judah, and he’s going to do it through another descendant of David.

We know today that the descendant of David who would rescue his people was Jesus. In fact, in the Matthew passage, it is Jesus himself who is the supernatural sign, not his name.

Matthew declares that Jesus’ virginal conception was the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. In Isaiah’s prediction, the birth of the child was to be natural, but the name the mother gave him was the supernatural sign.

When Matthew records the Isaiah 7:14 prophecy, he changes the pronoun.

  • a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14 NASB).

  • the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” (Matthew 1:23 NASB).

Immanuel was not going to be his parents’ nickname for Jesus. It was going to be his nation’s title.

Joseph was not told to name the child Immanuel. He was to be named Jesus, because he was God’s chosen savior. But his nation would come to recognize him as the sign of Immanuel – the sign that their God had not deserted them. God was still with them in the person of his Son.

The gospel message to you and me today is that Jesus can also be our Immanuel. This same Jesus who was born supernaturally came to die a death he didn’t deserve so that we can have a chance to live an eternal life that we do not deserve.

Jesus’ resurrection proves that God accepted that substitutionary death. And Jesus promises to come again and give us eternal life. Until then, Jesus being our Immanuel means this:

  • Jesus is with us “always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 NASB).

This message was preached by Jeff on Sunday, December 15th, at Lone Star Advent Christian Church in Clifton Forge, Virginia.

The video stream of the service can be watched here.

Immanuel – part 1

immanuel - part 1 - 01

Isaiah 7:10-17 (CSB)

10 Then the Lord spoke again to Ahaz:

11 “Ask for a sign from the Lord your God—it can be as deep as Sheol or as high as heaven.”

12 But Ahaz replied, “I will not ask. I will not test the Lord.”

13 Isaiah said, “Listen, house of David! Is it not enough for you to try the patience of men? Will you also try the patience of my God?

14 Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.

15 By the time he learns to reject what is bad and choose what is good, he will be eating curds and honey.

16 For before the boy knows to reject what is bad and choose what is good, the land of the two kings you dread will be abandoned.

17 The Lord will bring on you, your people, and your father’s house such a time as has never been since Ephraim separated from Judah: He will bring the king of Assyria.”

This time of year lots of people are thinking about the Christmas traditions. It gives us an opportunity to meditate on the gospel story behind those traditions. This year, I want us to think about one of the prophesied nicknames of Jesus: Immanuel. This passage is the first time in the Bible that name is mentioned, but the idea can be traced throughout the Bible. What does it mean for God to be with someone?

Adam & Eve’s Immanuel

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. So the Lord God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”” (Genesis 3:8-9). Imagine what it was like for God to personally visit you every evening! But as soon as they sinned, they could not bear that presence!

Noah & his family’s Immanuel

Gen 6:3 And the Lord said, “My Spirit will not remain with mankind forever, because they are corrupt. Their days will be 120 years.” (Genesis 6:3).

Imagine what it was like for this family to be singled out for preservation of all the families of the earth! God was with everyone up to a point, but he would stay with Noah and his family.

Joseph’s Immanuel

“The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, serving in the household of his Egyptian master. (Genesis 39:2). “But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him. He granted him favor with the prison warden. ” (Genesis 39:21).

Imagine the horror of being betrayed and abandoned by your family, and your employer, and losing your freedom and hope. But Joseph had a secret that kept him from despairing in the midst of that trial. The Lord was with him.

Moses and Joshua’s Immanuel

“the Lord your God will be with you, as he was with Moses” (Joshua 1:17). “And the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land” (Joshua 6:27).

Image the tremendous responsibility of leading an entire nation. But Moses and Joshua had a secret that kept them strong. The Lord was with them.

the judges’ Immanuel

“Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for the Israelites, the Lord was with him and saved the people from the power of their enemies while the judge was still alive.” (Judges 2:18)

Imagine having the responsibility not just to lead a nation, but to rescue it from the consequences of its failures and wrong choices! But the judges had a secret that gave them all the strength they needed – even the strength of Samson! It wasn’t their hair. That secret was that the Lord was with them.

David’s Immanuel

Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for you are with me…” (Psalm 23:4) “Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with David but had left Saul.” (1 Samuel 18:12)

For David, having God with him was a mixed blessing. It meant fellowship with God, and God’s presence when he went through the darkest valley. But it also meant that king Saul would be jealous of him and hate him. But God’s presence helped him through all the ordeals he would face as God’s chosen king.

AHAZ could have had an Immanuel!

Isaiah 7:10 Then the Lord spoke again to Ahaz:

The first time God spoke to Ahaz, he tried to get him to calm down and not to fear getting invaded by Syria and Israel, because he said it ain’t going to happen. He tried to get Ahaz to stand firm in his faith and trust God to deliver him and his nation. But Ahaz did not trust God. He had already decided that he could be rescued by an alliance with Assyria instead.

Isaiah 7:11 “Ask for a sign from the Lord your God – it can be as deep as Sheol or as high as heaven.” The prophet said, Hey Ahaz, this is your lucky day. God wants to give you a sign, and you get to choose what it is. You want God to raise someone from the dead, just ask. You want God to send an angel down from the sky, just ask.

Isaiah 7:12 But Ahaz replied, “I will not ask. I will not test the Lord.”

This makes Ahaz sound so humble and pious, but he was not. Ahaz was not a righteous king. He was an idolater. In fact, he had even sacrificed his own sons to Moloch. The reason Ahaz didn’t want to ask God is that Ahaz had rebelled against God. He wanted to be a success without God’s help.

Isaiah 7:13 Isaiah said, “Listen, house of David! Is it not enough for you to try the patience of men? Will you also try the patience of my God?

Isaiah had previously gone to Ahaz and assured him that his immediate neighbors to the north would not be able to overthrow him. But Ahaz ignored that assurance from Isaiah, so he tried the patience of the man – Isaiah. But Now Isaiah is speaking for God himself, and Ahaz still refuses. He is trying the patience of God.

Isaiah 7:14 Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.

We Christians are used to taking this verse out of this context. We tend to only think about it as Christmastime, and only in the context of the birth of Jesus. I want to talk about Immanuel in its Christmas context next week. This week, I want us to think about it in its Ahaz context. Who is the virgin that Isaiah mentioned to Ahaz? She had to be a young woman of marriageable age, and someone who is known by both Ahaz and Isaiah. The two most possible options are a young woman in Ahaz’s harem who will bear Ahaz a son, or a new bride for Isaiah. I think the second option has the most scriptural support. If you go on and read chapters 8 and 9 of Isaiah, it seems like those chapters continue the Immanuel prophecy, and that the son that Isaiah predicts in chapter 7 is Maher-shalal-hash-baz. That’s the name his father gives him, and Immanuel was probably a nickname that his mother gave him.

Isaiah 7:15 By the time he learns to reject what is bad and choose what is good, he will be eating curds and honey. Isaiah 7:16 For before the boy knows to reject what is bad and choose what is good, the land of the two kings you dread will be abandoned.

God’s word to Ahaz was that in the few years it takes for a young boy to grow to his age of accountability, Israel and Syria are not going to be the immediate threat that they are now. Something is going to change.

Isaiah 7:17 The Lord will bring on you, your people, and your father’s house such a time as has never been since Ephraim separated from Judah: He will bring the king of Assyria.”

What is going to happen instead is the superpower of Assyria is going to lay waste those lands to the north, and lay siege to Judah itself. Things are going to get so bad that the only things left to eat will be curds and honey – because all the crops will be gone. By the time mommy’s little Immanuel was ready for his Bar-Mitzvah, that had happened. God wanted to be Immanuel to Ahaz, but Ahaz refused to ask.

Is God with you? Have you invited the Lord into your heart? Let’s sing O Little Town of Bethlehem, and let’s make its final verse our prayer. O holy Child of Bethlehem Descend to us, we pray Cast out our sin and enter in Be born to us today We hear the Christmas angels The great glad tidings tell O come to us, abide with us Our Lord Emmanuel.

This message was preached by Jeff on Sunday, December 8th, at Lone Star Advent Christian Church in Clifton Forge, Virginia.

The video stream of the service is available here.

perspective on permanence

lonestar

perspective on permanence

Luke 12:27-34 (CSB)

Luke 12:27 “Consider how the wildflowers grow: They don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these. Luke 12:28 If that’s how God clothes the grass, which is in the field today and is thrown into the furnace tomorrow, how much more will he do for you – you of little faith? Luke 12:29 Don’t strive for what you should eat and what you should drink, and don’t be anxious. Luke 12:30 For the Gentile world eagerly seeks all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Luke 12:31 “But seek his kingdom, and these things will be provided for you. Luke 12:32 Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Make money-bags for yourselves that won’t grow old, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. Luke 12:34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

 

I can’t read a passage like this without thinking of last year’s hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail. It was awesome, and one of the things that made it awesome is that we would encounter fields of wild grass that were just beautiful. I remember thinking that this is what God can do with just one crayon out of the box. But then, he could also fill those fields with colorful flowers and just overwhelm us with beauty. And, Jesus is pointing out that nobody plants or maintains them. God just puts them there.

Jesus also mentions Solomon here, and there’s lots more that story.

Solomon is interesting as a biblical author because we have three books attributed to him, and each of the three books appears to have been written at a different time in his life.

The Song of Songs tells the story of a young, passionate man, in love with life and in love with the love of his life, and his bride returning that passionate love.

The Proverbs reveal a different Solomon, a middle-aged man whose zeal is spent on enjoying and understanding the world around him, and bringing control to its chaos. For Solomon, everything he touched had to be the very best. That is why Jesus mentioned “Solomon in all his glory” in today’s text. Solomon spent a lifetime getting the best clothes, building the best buildings, and amassing the best fortune.

Ecclesiastes reflects a yet different perspective. As an elderly man, Solomon reflects back on the pursuits of his life and concludes that he has wasted much of it on pursuits that were merely temporary, ultimately not as fulfilling as he had thought they would be.

Solomon’s big lesson was not that everything is meaningless. I think that text is mistranslated. I think what Solomon concluded is that after all is said and done, none of it will last.

The things we enjoy are not going to last.

The wisdom we pursue is not going to last.

Youth is not going to last.

Wealth is not going to last.

Power and influence are not going to last.

Human life is not going to last.

We have to understand life from that perspective to see what Jesus is saying to us in today’s text.

He said “Think about how the flowers grow; they do not work or produce clothing. Yet not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, how much more will he clothe you, you people of little faith!”

For many in Jesus’ day, clothing was the symbol of success and status. So people went out of their way to dress well, because it affected how they were treated. Have you ever noticed that when you dress well, people tend to pay more attention to you? But pursuit of better, more expensive clothing can steal time and effort from pursuing true maturity, so Jesus warns us all not to let concern over the wardrobe consume us.

Instead, we need to choose to trust God to give us all we need, and not be so focused on the externals.

Jesus said, that we should not be overly concerned about what we will eat and what we will drink, and we should not worry about such things, because all the nations of the world spend their time pursuing these things, and our Father knows that we need them. Instead, we should pursue his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Much of the world is obsessed with consuming and acquiring. The Lord says we should not follow that path. Instead, our obsession should be the things that our Father has provided for us. His kingdom is his plan for our future, and we pursue it today by taking advantage of the grace he has given us now.

We need to choose to focus our pursuit on God’s coming kingdom of grace.

Jesus said that he is the shepherd, and we are his little flock. We should not be afraid because what pleases our Father most is giving us that coming kingdom. We can sell your possessions and give to the poor. That will provide wallets that do not wear out “a treasure in the sky that never decreases, where no thief attacks and no moth destroys. Because where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. If our treasure is these temporary things, our heart will be so focused on the temporary that we do not have time for the permanent.

The permanent thing that the Lord tells us to pursue just happens to be the very thing that he says God is delighted to give us out of the riches of his grace. So, that is why we can afford to be so generous with the other things we have. We see those things (present possessions) as temporary, and we have already been promised an eternal inheritance to replace them. If our hearts were tied to this present stuff, it would indicate that we are not seeking Jesus.

Let us pray: LORD, today we want to take a lesson from Solomon. He discovered that a life focused on getting temporary things is a wasted life. Instead we want to focus our pursuit on your coming kingdom and being grateful for your present grace. Give us your perspective on this present stuff, and make us generous with it, because we know it’s not going to last. But your kingdom will.

the goal of Christian faith

goal - 01

Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:12 NASB).

Compete well for the faith and lay hold of that eternal life you were called for and made your good confession for in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:12 NET).

We leave traces of our hopes and dreams to the generations that come after us. We place markers that let the future world know what our aspirations were. One marker is our literature.

Suppose you walk with me through the library of modern books about the goal of the Christian faith. What kind of markers are we placing, describing our hope? Let’s look at this shelf:

goal - 03

There are a lot more books on the shelf, but the titles of these give us the idea. Lots of people think the goal of the Christian life is to get to a place called heaven when you die.

In fact, chances are, some of you may be scratching your heads as you read this. After all, doesn’t the very verse I just quoted say that Timothy’s goal was to get to heaven when he died? I know, it says to take hold of eternal life, but isn’t that the same thing?

I don’t think it is the same thing. I know, to many that might sound heretical, so let me explain:

goal - 04

Before Jesus died, he told the Jewish leaders that he was going somewhere, and where he was going they would not be able to come.1 They wondered what he meant by that. They thought he was going to go on a missionary tour and preach to the diaspora Jews scattered throughout the Roman Empire.2 Jesus repeated the same statement later to the same audience.3 By then, they had guessed that he was planning to commit suicide.4 He told them that he was not from this world; he was from above.5 John, when he wrote his Gospel, explained what Jesus meant. He said that Jesus was going “to depart from this world to the Father.”6 He quotes Jesus as saying “I am going to the Father,”7 But he promised to come back and take the disciples to be with him, so that they could be together from then on.8 He was not promising the disciples that they would go see God when they die. He was talking about the second coming.

In fact, later, when Paul talked about God here in his letter to Timothy, he said that “no human has ever seen” him, or is even “able to see” him.9 This was after some of those disciples had already died. They didn’t go to heaven. You cannot get to heaven – with or without roller skates!10

Now, obviously there are a lot of Christians who disagree with my interpretation of these passages. Even if we were to suppose that the Bible did teach that Christians go to heaven when they die, that still does not mean that going to heaven is the same thing as having eternal life.

goal - 05

Everybody knows that the heaven where God lives is eternal, right? But what about those Bible passages that say the present heaven is going to pass away?11 That’s right, the present heaven is going to pass away. It’s not eternal. In fact, when the apostle Paul had a vision of the future life, he saw that future in another place besides the present heaven. He called it the “third heaven.”12

Where is this third heaven? Wrong question. The right question is “When is the third heaven?” Listen to Dr. Glenn Peoples’ comments on 2 Peter 3:

  • Look at what is said here about the heavens and the earth: The “heavens and the earth” once perished. There now exists the “heavens and earth” that will one day pass away as well, and there will be a new heavens and earth. For those who are counting, how many is that? Which one is the eternal state? By my count, it’s the third.”13

I am not saying, or course, that God is not forever. I’m simply saying that what we now refer to as heaven may not be as eternal as God is. There’s going to be a new heaven. So, if you put your hopes on going to heaven, it is not the same thing as having eternal life.

goal - 06

I hope you see my point. Our hope should be grounded on the scriptural promises and proclamations, not human traditions. When we look at the actual texts of scripture, we see them consistently declaring that the goal of the Christian faith is eternal life.

goal - 07

So when the apostle Paul encourages Timothy to fight the good fight of faith and take hold of the eternal life to which he was called, he is encouraging Timothy to keep seeking the goal of his faith. That goal is not a place in the sky. That goal is immortality.

goal - 08

But, you see – our human religious traditions have contradicted this plain teaching of scripture by insisting that everyone is born with a soul which is already immortal. So, the goal is not becoming immortal. It is being released from the mortal body so that the immortal soul can enjoy heaven.

I see at least four problems scripturally with this doctrine when it makes dying and going to heaven the goal of the Christian faith.

goal - 09

 

goal - 10

 

What practical difference does it make if your goal is eternal life, rather than heaven when you die? I think it makes a lot of difference, and that difference can affect us in a variety of ways. But I want to focus on one fact which is implied in today’s text.

Paul told Timothy to “fight the good fight” to take hold of that eternal life which is the believer’s goal. He implied that how Timothy lived his temporary life now determined whether or not he would reach his goal of a permanent life in the future.

  • When Timothy came to Christ, someone prophesied that he would fight the good fight, keeping his faith and his conscience clear.29
  • In his final letter to Timothy, Paul says:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”30

Paul says he is looking forward to “the crown of righteousness.” What is that crown? It is what Jesus called “the resurrection of the righteous!”31 James and John called it the “crown of life.”32 Paul says we get that crown not at death, but at Christ’s second coming – the day of his appearing.

Our fight is not to gain a nice place to live for eternity. Our fight is to preserve something we have been promised. There is a resurrection to permanent life awaiting all those who stay true to their faith in Christ. That is the goal of Christian faith, and obtaining that goal is worth all the struggles we undergo. It is worth all the discipline and perseverance that we can muster.

1John 7:34.

2John 7:35-36.

3John 8:21.

4John 8:22.

5John 8:23.

6John 13:1.

7John 14:12.

8John 14:3.

91 Timothy 6:16 NET.

10I am referring to the Betty Johnson song “You can’t get to heaven on roller skates.”

11Matthew 5:18; 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33; Revelation 21:1.

122 Corinthians 12:2.

13Glenn Peoples, Did Paul Have an Out of Body Experience? (Afterlife, November 20, 2013).

14Matthew 19:29; Mark 10:17; Luke 10:25; 18:18.

15Matthew 19:16.

16Matthew 19:29; Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30.

17John 3:15-16; 6:40; 1 John 5:13.

18Matthew 25:46.

19Acts 13:48.

20Romans 2:7; 6:23; 1 John 5:11.

21Galatians 6:8.

22Titus 1:2; 1 John 2:25.

23Titus 3:7.

24Jude 1:21.

251 Corinthians 15:26

26Revelation 1:18.

27Titus 2:13.

28John 6:39,40,44,54; 1 Corinthians 15:42; Philippians 3:10-11; Hebrews 11:35.

291 Timothy 1:17-18.

302 Timothy 4:7-8.

31Luke 14:4.

32James 1:12; Revelation 2:10.

Called to bless

Japan 2017 (55)

I would like to begin with some reflections on the story of God’s call of Abram in Genesis 12:1-3.

Then Yahveh said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kin and your father’s household to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you an influential nation, and I will bless you and make your name important, and be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3 my translation).

I want to reflect on this text about Abram. I ask what his experience has in common with ours. This passage could accurately be called the first great commission. It can help us find our place in God’s plan for world missions.

  1. God called God set him apart from the family he came from, and the culture he was used to.
  • The New Testament tells us that the God of glory appeared to Abram in Mesopotamia (Acts 7:2). God called him away from the pagan world that he grew up in, to a life focused on the one true God. God spoke to Abram, and changed the focus of his life forever.
  • Every believer in Christ has a conversion experience where he or she encounters God, and each one of those experiences is a call from God. Paul told Timothy that God “has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace (2 Tim. 1:9 CSB17).”
  • That calling is first and foremost a calling to God himself, and away from the trappings that we are familiar with. Like Abram, our first mission is to separate ourselves unto God. If God wanted to simply “save” Abram, he would not have needed to affect his life in any way. If it was just about preserving Abram for eternity, God could have done that without Abram even knowing it. But God had a mission for Abram, and that mission required dedication and change.
  1. God changed Abram’s context. He sent him to different lands to be a blessing to different people.
  • I want to remind you of the words of today’s text: “Then Yahveh said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kin and your father’s household to the land that I will show you.” When the Lord Jesus commissioned his disciples to make disciples, they had to leave Galilee and go to Jerusalem to launch that discipling ministry. He had told those disciples “I appointed you to go and produce fruit (Jn. 15:16 CSB17).”  We had better not forget that there are two verbs in that statement.
  • Not every believer is going to have the privilege of serving as a missionary overseas, but every believer needs to consider where God wants him or her to be. Like Abram, God often uses us in a different context than the one we are born in. He takes us away from the familiar so that we can learn to trust him as we represent him.
  1. God committed himself to blessing Abram. He invested in the future of Abram and his family.
  • God did not call Abram to bless the nations without assuring him that he would be provided for and protected. Abram could bless because he had been blessed.  This is one of the secrets of successful mission work.  When we separate ourselves unto God, being willing to go where he wants us to go, he sets us apart from others by uniquely blessing us.  Abram learned that. Daniel learned that. John the Baptist learned that. Peter and Paul learned that.
  • Let’s not forget that our Lord has already pronounced a blessing upon us as his servants and representatives. Remember the beatitudes?

“”Blessed are the spiritually poor now, because theirs is the promised kingdom from the sky later. “Blessed are those who are mourning now, because they will be comforted later. “Blessed are those who are meek now, because they will inherit the land later.  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness now, because they will be satisfied later. “Blessed are those being merciful now, because they will receive mercy later. “Blessed are the clean in heart now, because they will see God later. “Blessed are the peacemakers now, because they will be called sons of God later. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, because theirs is the promised kingdom from the sky. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, because your future reward is great stored up in the sky, because they persecuted the prophets who were before you in the same way. “You are the salt of the land, but if salt has lost its taste, with what will the land be salted? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in the sky” (Matthew 5:3-16 my translation)

 

  • We are already blessed. That makes it possible for us to bless others as we serve Christ among them. The beatitudes are followed by the “salt and light” passages because there is a direct connection between blessing from the Lord and missions, the same way it was for Abram.
  1. God challenged Abram to be a blessing wherever he went.
  • God commanded and commissioned Abram to “be a blessing.” Of all the people on earth, God set Abram and his family to represent him and share him with others.
  • Jesus commanded and commissioned his church to make disciples among all the nations (Matthew 28:18-20). When we go where we need to go, lead people to come to Christ and be baptized in God’s name, and teach all that Christ taught, we also become a blessing wherever we go.

God has called you and me to bless the world around us.  He may change our context to put us where we need to be, and we need to be willing to let him do that. He has committed to blessing us and providing what we need so that we can bear fruit where he places us.  He challenges us to be a blessing wherever we go.

God blesses some people by sending them as missionaries.  But each of us is challenged by this text to follow God’s call to be a blessing. Here are three things that all of us can do to bless the nations.

  • SHARE your life and testimony with people. Perhaps the LORD will bring a stranger into your life who needs to know about Jesus.
  • SUPPORT those who are working as missionaries in other nations.
  • SEND someone to reach another nation for Christ.

May God continue to bless you as you seek to respond to his call.

{I originally shared this message in Barbourville Kentucky.  I recently adapted it and shared it in the Ayameike Advent Christian Church, Japan.  The photo is of Penny and me on one of our sightseeing excursions while in Japan, November 2017}.