Monday, December 27, 2010

The Day After Christmas: What if Jesus Had Not Been Born?

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Preached at Northwest Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, December 26, 2010

Galatians 4:4-7, ”But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”
2 Timothy 1:8-12, “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.”
This morning, on this beautiful Day-After-Christmas morning, I’d like to invite you to do three things with me as we give God a chance to speak to us today. First of all, and most important of all, I want to urge you to hear and to heed what this Book – God’s Word – has to teach you today. Secondly, I invite to think about this world, the world that we live in, as we know it and understand it. And, then, thirdly, I want to ask you to do something just a little bit different with me today, than what you might be accustomed to doing on the day after Christmas. Yes, I know that for many of you, today, the Day after all the hoopla and excitement of yesterday, there may be dishes to wash, and decorations to put away, piles of Christmas wrapping paper trash to take out, and leftovers to reheat. But, listen – in the midst of all of those ‘Day After Chores’ – will you do something for me? Will you pause for just a few moments, and consider this disturbing question: “What if Jesus had not been born?”

Think with me about these Scriptures that we’ve just read, and others to which we’ve gone for instruction this Christmas season, passages from God’s Word that we believe and accept as true and reliable – consider the world we know it, as we’ve experienced it, and then, imagine this awful thought: IT’S ALL A BIG HOAX! Jesus never really was born!

What difference would it make in this world, as you and I know it, if Jesus had never been born – and – how would we be different if He had not been born?

You saw, as I saw, their red kettles, and their smiling, friendly bell-ringers in front of many of the grocery stores and department stores this season – who are they? You know, they are the Salvation Army. And, what are they doing? Collecting donations. Why? To do… say it with me, “to do what Jesus said to do!” To clothe the naked, to feed the hungry, to help the weak… What would this world be like, if there were no red-kettles? No bell-ringers?

Just up the road a few miles is a place we’ve visited before. In fact, several years ago, a number of times, we had the opportunity to prepare and serve a supper meal to the folks staying at this place. It’s a place designated by the name, “The Samaritan Inn”. Where did this place come up with such a strange name? The Samaritan Inn? I mean, this is McKinney, right? This is Collin County, right? This is North Texas, right? Not Samaria! Why the name the ‘Samaritan Inn’? You know why, don’t you? It’s because Jesus told a parable about a compassionate, generous, willing-to-help man from Samaria – who gave aid to an otherwise beaten, bloody, and abandoned soul on the side of the road. What if Jesus had never been born? Would that parable have been told? Would those people, those precious souls, whose lives God used us to touch through pans of baked beans, and trays of fried chicken, through smiles and hugs and handshakes, would they have been helped at a place called the ‘Samaritan Inn’ if Jesus had never been born?

‘Season’s Greetings’, ‘Happy Holidays’, ‘Winter Break’ – These and other odd expressions, conceived in the minds of people who pay for signs on the side of city buses - signs that say things like, “Four million Happy Atheists”, “God – we are just fin without you”. “Season’s Greetings”, “Happy Holidays”, “Winter Break”, “Yuletide Carols” – What if those phrases were all we could say, because Jesus had not been born?

Recently, we’ve had the names Matt W-----, and Justin A---- on our prayer list. Some of you know these young men and have ached for them as you’ve watched them struggle, and make wrong choices and then, end up facing the consequences of those choices, including time spent in the prison system. Listen, my Loved Ones - for every Matt and Justin you and I know, there a million or more just like them, behind bars today! TODAY! And, here’s the really sad part, in a sense, their families are behind bars, too! Their parents and grandparents, their siblings, their spouses, and to me, worst of all, their children – the children of inmates are behind bars! Now, let me ask you a question: Who is ministering to those inmates and their families? Who is at work to bring them help and hope through Bibles and Christian literature, and also, through practical things like teaching those young (and not-so-young) men and women how to do things that we take for granted, things like how to read, and how to do math, and how to prepare themselves to complete an education and to enter the workforce with real, marketable skills? And, who is seeing to it that as many of these inmates’ children receive at least one gift, at least one expression of love, sent in the name of their incarcerated parents, this season of the year? Is it the American Atheists Association? Is it the American Humanists Society? Is it the ‘God, we’re doing just fin without you’ crowd?

What if Jesus had not been born? Every year, several times a year, we read, we hear, and yes, with satellite TV beaming reports from all over the world, every year we see the terrible devastation and loss of life and a way of life caused by what we call ‘Natural Disasters’ – earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, mud-slides, wildfires, floods, etc., etc. Who is almost always first on the scene to help? The Red Crescent moon? The Red Star of David? The Red Hammer and Sickle? The Red Swastika? You know better don’t you? The always-first-on-the-scene relief workers are from the Red Cross – the Red Cross! And why a CROSS, instead of any of those other symbols? Because Jesus whose saving, helping, healing work is designated BY the cross, is the One who taught us and showed us what it means to love and assist those in need!

What if Jesus had never been born? I dare say that virtually all compassionate ministry to the needy in hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, orphanages, and disaster scenes would be absent! I dare say that the unwed mothers would only have one option: Planned Parenthood, and what it sells – rather than two options! I dare say that there would be a lot more people living under bridges and in card board boxes, if Jesus had not been born.

But, just for a minute, think about this also. Who are the folks who have painted and sculpted and carved the beautiful works of art that people the world over recognize and appreciate? The Michelangleo’s, the Leonardo Divinci’s – who are those people? And, who are the scientists who have studied, and researched, guided by a wisdom and power greater than their own, to discover cures for diseases, and inventions to make our lives more enjoyable? And, who are the men who founded great institutions of learning like Harvard and Yale and Princeton – for the advancement of a cause that yielded such things as the Red Cross and the Samaritan Inn and the Salvation Army? And, who are the men and women and families - some of whom we know, like the Relyea family – who have sacrificed literally years of their lives to travel to remote tribes of people, to learn their language and culture, to prepare an alphabet – a written ALPHABET for their tribes – that they might have books in their own language and be taught how to read them? Who are all these people? And, whom do they represent?

These men and women and families are and were followers of Jesus. They represent the One who taught them to love their neighbors as themselves, the One whose Great Physician’s hands set the example for their hands. The One whose words regarding the least of these - the poor, the blind, the naked, the hungry, the lonely, the imprisoned, the lost and dying – propel them to go and do what representatives of the crescent moon and Hammer and Sickle don’t do!

What if Jesus had not been born? To be honest with you, I don’t like to think about it! I don’t want to have to imagine a world without Christmas, do you? I don’t want to have to live, as a slave, under the bondage to the law! I don’t want to do without the glorious privileges of Son-ship, being able to cry out, “Abba, Father!” to my Maker, and my Redeemer, how about you? No! I am so glad to know – for certain, 2 Timothy 1:9 and following – I am so glad to know that before time began God had a plan for my life, a plan to extend His grace to me through His Son, Jesus Christ. And, then, look – look at what the text says. 2 Timothy 1:10 – a verse that means more to me now, than it did even three months ago; that before-time-began-plan, what did God do with it? Did He leave it on heaven’s drawing board? Did He scrap it and decide not to carry it out because of how much it was going to cost Him?! No! Listen, my friends, it’s the day AFTER the anniversary of the birth of our Savior! Why? Because God, who before time began purposed to extend His grace to us in Christ Jesus – what did He do? Listen to this, He “revealed [that grace] now, by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ.” And, that’s not all! Look at it! The appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, the reality of the Eternal Word of God becoming human flesh and dwelling among us, the wonder of Immanuel, ‘God With Us’, the Virgin Birth, sinless life, atoning, sacrificial death, victorious resurrection, glorious exaltation of Jesus, and all that goes with these things, they did something for us that the ACLU, the American Atheists Association, the American Society of Humanists, the Crescent Moon, the Hammer and Sickle, and Swastika would never do for us! That Baby born in Bethlehem, our Savior and King, His appearing – look what He brought us! Talk about Christmas gifts! Look what He did for us! “He has abolished death!” Praise God! “And has brought life, and immortality to light through the gospel!” Hallelujah! Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!

Let’s pray.

“God in heaven, our Father, I praise you today – December 26th – that I don’t have to think too long about a world without Christmas! No, Father, rather, I glorify you today for bringing that eternally-gracious plan to pass, when You sent your Son to do for us what no one could do, what no on else would do! Yes, thank You, thank You, thank You, for victory over death, for the adoption of sons, for life and immortality, for the Spirit of Your Son by Whom we cry ‘Abba! Father!’ Merry Christmas, Father.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bethlehem's Baby: Identification, Incarnation and Invitation

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Preached at Northwest Christan Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, December 19, 2010

John 1:1-18, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’” And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”

One of my favorite passages of Scripture to read, to study, and to preach from during the Christmas season is this passage - John 1:1-19, what is often referred to as the Prologue, the Introduction, to the grand and glorious presentation of the Son of God, the Bread of Life, the Living Water, the Light of the World, the Resurrection and the Life, the Great 'I Am', the Lord Jesus Christ.

Yes, I love to read, have repeatedly heard and studied and preached from the familiar passages in Matthew and Luke, the texts about visits of the angel Gabriel both to Joseph and to the Virgin Mary. The sections that describe the spectacular announcement of our Savior's birth that starlit night to those shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night, and even the passages about the arrival of the kings from the east, the surprise it was to Herod, his insane and sinister jealousy, and, of course, the star that led those wise men, and the record of the gifts of gold, frankincense, myrrh, and most of all, worship that they gave to the One who had been born King of the Jews. I love and thank God for the record of our Savior's birth found in Matthew's gospel, and in Luke's. But, listen – to me – there's just something special something unique and powerful about the way in which all these things are presented and proclaimed through the pen of the apostle John.

In Matthew and in Luke, God shows us the 'Baby Pictures' if you will, the surprised couple, betrothed to be married, suddenly expecting a baby, and not in the normal way, but by the power of God Most High! And, the trip to Bethlehem, because of the genealogical connections to the family of King David and the manger bed because there was no room in the Inn. Yes, in the Holy Spirit-inspired accounts of these events supplied by God's grace in the Gospel of Matthew and in the Gospel of Luke, we have the 'Baby Pictures'.

But here, in the equally inspired record of the apostle John, we are privileged to see, to look at, to behold, this Baby from several other, several different camera angles than we have available to us in Matthew and in Luke. This Baby, so small, so helpless, so innocent, so 'cute' as we all imagine Him to be, when we look at the 'Baby Pictures', who was He? And, what was the meaning, the significance – yes, even for our lives – of His coming?

In his own unique and penetrating style, the Holy Spirit speaking through the apostle John, answers these questions for us here, in John chapter one, verses one through eighteen.
As we examine this text this morning, let me suggest to you that John's portrait of this 'Baby' stretch out in two directions. First of all, all the way back to BEFORE Creation, to before Genesis one, one. And, then, in the other direction, all the way to Calvary, all the way to the Cross. John's simple, yet forceful language spans that incredible distance, from before creation, all the way to Calvary. And, it does so – the apostle John does so – utilizing three simple words to explain three huge ideas. Let's look at those two groups of three, one group at a time.

First of all, allow me to ask you this question: how many of you enjoy looking at baby pictures? There's nothing quite like the expressions that their cute, dimply, chubby-cheeked, faces can display, and the way in which those expressions makes us smile or even burst out laughing. But, listen – as much as I like to look at baby pictures, what makes those pictures to me – to us – is knowing WHO the baby is – and whose he or she is, right? In other words, like with so many other things in this world, in our lives, we are interested in, concerned about the Baby's identity. Who is this little one, and whose is he? Identity, identification, who is this Baby born in Bethlehem? Matthew informs us that He is Immanuel, God with us! And that His name was to be called Jesus, for He would save He people from their sins (Matthew 1:21, 23). And, Luke lets us in on the fact that the Baby whose 'pictures' he displays is none other than the Son of God, Christ the lord (Luke 1:35; 2:11).

But John, using the simple three-letter word – WAS – opens up to us a vantage point into the identity of this Baby that is nothing short of incredible! Who was this Baby? First off, verse one, He was – He is – the Word. To put it right down to where we can grasp this staggering concept, take your Bibles, hold them up like this for just a moment, and meditate on this amazing fact. This is His 'Baby Book', this is that place where, on literally every page, page AFTER page, I'm privileged to see HIS face! Jesus is the Word! Furthermore, notice verses one and two, and what they tell us about His identity, He's not only the Word! But, look at it! He also was in the Beginning, He was with God! And, he was God, He was what God was! Finally, verses 4 through 9, please notice that He was life, the Life, and light – THE Light, the Light of men, verse four tells us, and the True Light who enlightens every man!

Identification – Who is, who was, this 'Baby'? Stretching all the way back to BEFORE Genesis one, one, He is the eternal Creator, He is the Radiant and Penetrating Light, He is the all-powerful Life-Giver. And, all of that is true – why? Because He is God! He is God! 'Was' – just three little letters, 'Is' – only, two. But, listen, what the apostle John makes known to us about the identity of this Baby through those very few letters is powerful – staggering, awesome!

Simple word number two – this time, John uses four letters to spell the word 'CAME'. Verses 9 and 10 – This 'baby', identified by the apostolic witness here as the Eternal Word of God; look what these two verses tell us about Him! John 1:9 – He was the True Light, who came to enlighten every man. John 1:10 – He was the World's Creator, who came, who entered into His creation!

What are we talking about here? What huge, theological concept is out in the open, for us to grapple with here? Well, that three-letter word, 'WAS' underscored the facts about this Baby's identification. But, this four-letter word, 'CAME', building on the foundation of His amazing identification, opens up to us the even more amazing fact of His incarnation – His incarnation! The incredible, awe-inspiring fact that the Eternal Creator came to His own! (verse 11) And that, He, in fact, became flesh, just like you and me, and lived among us! (verse 14) Allow yourself a moment or two, just to meditate on those jaw-dropping truths.

He was, he is – using terms and phrases like Light and Life and “In the beginning,” and “with God,” the apostle John displays for us this Baby's identity! From his own, unique perspective he tells us WHO He is! And, then, by adding just one more letter, through the use of the common word 'came', the Spirit of God amazes us even more by revealing to us the movement – that's what this huge, theological concept we label 'Incarnation' is all about. It is the MOVEMENT of the otherwise untouchable, unreachable God to – where? Right down to our level and right into our lives. (John 1:14)

Which leaves us, then, with what? One more simple word – G-A-V-E. And, what is – to me – the most awesome truth of all. Not identification, nor even incarnation, but invitation. Invitation! GAVE and the incredible invitation made possible because of WHO this Baby is,and WHERE He came! Go with me, first of all, to verses 10 through 13.

John 1:10-13, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Walk with me through those four brief verses, will you? Who is this Baby we've come to worship this Christmas season? He is our Creation, He is this World's Creation – and Owner! So, what did He determine to do? Send us an email? Mail us a Christmas card? Write 'I love you' in the clouds? No! He came to His own – why? That they – that we – might receive Him! And, that in receiving Him, we might be born, “not of blood, not of the will of the flesh, not of the will of man, but born of God.” That we - who because of our sin, our rebellion against Him, our rejection of Him - might no longer be trapped in the darkness and dreary shadow of death, but might be set free, to walk in the newness of the Light of Life! This Baby came to do that! To offer to us the greatest invitation of all, “you can become God's children! You can belong to Him not just as your Maker, but as your Savior, by means of the New Birth!”

How? How did He do it? How did this Baby, so small, so helpless do it? Verses 16 and 17 – one simple word, four little letters, “He GAVE”.

John 1:16-17, “And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
  • He was – He is
  • He came
  • He gave
Through those three simple phrases, detailing for us what we need to know about this Baby's identification, incarnation, and invitation – what does the apostle John do? He lets us in on one final picture in this marvelous photographic display.

John 1:18, “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son,[a] who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”

In this Baby, the Light, the Life, the Eternal Word of God – in this Baby, we see God! Praise the Lord!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Virgin Birth: An Essential Doctrine

Preached at Northwest Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, December 12, 2010

Luke 1:26-38, “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”  Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.”

I told you last Lord's Day that preaching from this Book, the Word of God, during the Christmas season, can be both challenging and rewarding. As I indicated last time, the challenging part is saying something – uncovering, explaining, illustrating, and applying something - new and fresh, for listeners and learners who have heard you preach from these passage for 20 years now. What else is there to say? What else is there to discover and study and examine? Oh, believe me, there is plenty! The challenge – for me AND for you – is that we just have to work at it a little harder. We have to continue to ask God in the way the Psalmist asked God, “open our eyes that we may see wonderful things from your law” (Psalm 119:18).

Then there's the rewarding thing. What happens when we do work harder at it? What happens when God DOES answer that earnest, sincere prayer that heartfelt yearning to see and to know Him and His Word better? That's where the rewards come in, isn't it? That's when we sit back and marvel at what God shows us and teaches us and brings home to us!

Preaching to a congregation with whom you have served the Lord for 20 years, and doing so at Christmas time... You'd think I would know better; but I guess not. For you see, today, I'm going to preach what might be called a Doctrinal sermon. Now, before you lay back and go to sleep on me, before you slip your MP3 ear piece in your ear and tune me out because you think that what you're about to he is BO-RING! – will you do me a favor? Will you do yourself a favor? Don't go to sleep! And, don't tune me out as God teaches you from His Word.

I landed on the idea of a Doctrinal sermon, as exploration of the Biblical doctrine of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, simply by hearing again, reading again, for the 20th time (at least) the Words of Mary to the angel Gabriel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

You remember the context, the background for the question, don't you? As far as this otherwise unknown, humble, obscure young Jewish woman, Mary is concerned, to have God send an angelic messenger - to her – why that would never happen! Maybe to a priest, or a prophet or a king, or a captain of Israel's army, but not to me! And, then, for that angel to tell her what he tells her: “You are God's highly favored one... You are blessed among women... You will conceive in your womb, and bring forth a Son, whose name will be Jesus, who will be the Son of the Most High God, the King to sit on David's throne forever.” For Gabriel to tell her all this, why, that would be INCREDIBLE! Who wouldn't have asked a question like she posed to Gabriel?

But, here's where this gets interesting. This question of Mary: “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” Not only does this question open up the door for Gabriel to explain the How? Of this amazing event, a baby born to a virgin woman! But, perhaps even more significant ly, it moves us in the direction of asking and examining the Whys? The What Fors?

In case you didn't realize it, in many churches and denominations, those where the Word of God has been whittled down to only what is provable in this scientific age – in those congregations and denominations where the attitude of this Book is more one of pride, than humility, skepticism and doubt rather than trust; in those kinds of congregations and denominations, what do you think has happened to this Book's teaching about the Virgin Birth? In the business world they would say it like this: “There's something for 'File 13'!” In still other so-called churches and religions, this Doctrine is misunderstood to mean that somehow the sinless Son of God, for Him to be born into this world through a human instrument like Mary and, at the same time, to remain sinless having been born through here, requires – requires – that SHE be sinless! That she remain perpetually a virgin, and even, that she be born by way of an immaculate – sin free – conception! Then, there are the cults, who – because of their faulty views regarding the Person and Nature of Jesus Christ, that He is something less, something other than God in human flesh – when they come to passages like this, you know what they do, don't you? They come up with intricate schemes to circumvent what this Book says!

The Virgin Birth – How can this be? And, why? In case you hadn't noticed, I believe in this Doctrine. I believe that it's not a doctrine that we can either take or leave, without any consequences as to our faith. And, I believe that Mary, the Virgin Mary, espoused-betrothed to Joseph before they came together as husband and wife, I believe that this humble human, and yes, sinful instrument was God's means of carrying out His work, His amazing plan to bring His Son into the world as fully man, fully God and fully, completely sinless!

Now, having said all of that, and reminding you of the fact that virgins don't get pregnant! That what we're talking about here, in terms of How? is a miracle! And that, if we deny the possibility of miracles, we deny this miracle, and must otherwise delete or explain away this passage. Having said all of that, and reminded you of these things, allow me to explain to you why I believe this doctrine is so crucial and so marvelous!

What's at stake here?” Have you ever heard anybody ask that question? “What's at stake here with respect to believing and accurately understanding this doctrine?” A quick list for you – Number one: the very Word of God is at stake! Genesis 3:15 – the verse first prophecy regarding the coming of a Savior – Messiah – what does it tell us about Him? Genesis 3:15, the first gospel proclamation in all of Scripture tells us that One who would crush the head of the Serpent, the One who would be wounded at the heel by the Serpent – what does the text say? It tells us that the Coming One would be the Seed – the Offspring – not of a man, descended from Adam, but the Seed of woman! The One the New Testament describes as the “Second Adam” (see 1 Corinthians 15:20-28). The very Word of God is at stake with respect to this Doctrine. Isaiah 7:14 – the 'Immanuel, God with us' passage quoted by the apostle Matthew as being fulfilled when Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary – I mean, was God lying when He prophesied that “a virgin would conceive and bring forth a Son, and call His name Immanuel”, or was He telling us, foretelling nearly 800 years ahead of time? Was He telling us the truth? The very Word of God is at stake.

Secondly, the very Person-hood, the very Nature of Jesus is at stake. I believe as Scripture indicates in Galatians 4:4 and following, that “in the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law...” I believe that Jesus was born of Mary – yes; but listen, I do not believe that Jesus was begotten of Joseph! The genealogy passage with which the New Testament begins Matthew 1:1-16 - “So and so begot so and so; so and so and so begot so and so...” After 15 verses straight of that monotonous pattern – SURPRISE – in verse 16, the text does not say that Joseph, Mary's husband begot Jesus! Why? Because though fully human – having been born of a woman, born under the law – He is, as Gabriel told Mary in Luke 1:35, fully God, the Holy One, who would be called God's Son; literally the text says, “He would be 'begotten', not conceived by her alone, but 'begotten' by God and His miracle-working power!”

The doctrine of the Virgin Birth, the very Word of God is at stake. I mean, does God tell the truth or not? And, the very nature of Jesus is at stake. Is He fully human AND fully God? Or, Is He only human? Which lead me to the third crucial consideration pertaining to the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. What if the Word of God is wrong – or, even a lie? What if Jesus is only human? You see where this is leading, don't you? The very essence of salvation and the Gospel is at stake! “And Mary shall bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name 'JESUS', for He will save His people from their sins.” That's what the angel Gabriel told Joseph in that dream recorded in Matthew chapter one. “Name Him 'Jesus', 'Savior' – for He will save His people from their sins.” Do you see it, my Loved Ones? If the Bible is wrong - or a lie – if Jesus is just another sinful, 'Son of Adam' and that's who He is and all He is – then what? Then, how can He save us from our sins any more than you or I can save us?

The Virgin Birth, this Doctrine, as I said, it is a critical component of all these things. But, listen, before we close, allow me to underscore for you what a marvelous Doctrine of Scripture this is also. The Virgin Birth: what does it tell us? What does it teach us? Luke 1:37 – It tells us that nothing – NOTHING – is impossible with God! I mean, if God has the power to beget a child in the womb of a woman apart from any man's involvement - guess what? He has the power, the ability to “meet all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19-20). He has the strength to endue you and me with might by His Spirit in our inner being, in that place where we wrestle against principalities and powers and the rules of the darkness of this world (Ephesians 3:16ff; 6:10ff). The Virgin Birth of Jesus is a marvelous Doctrine because of what it teaches us about the power of God: miracles can and do happen! And, because of what it proclaims to us about the faithfulness of God. Genesis 3:15, Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6-7, Micah 5:2 – These passages are either true and accurate prophecies about the Birth of Jesus, or they are not! Listen! I believe they are true! And, if they are true, then what? God is faithful! He keeps His Word! You and I can trust Him now – today, to keep promises He's made to us!

Thirdly, I believe this Doctrine, the Doctrine of the Virgin Birth – is marvelous, because of what is shows us about God's amazing love, His tender compassion for folks like us. Immanuel - “God with us”, that magnificent and incredibly meaningful name through which God declares loud and clear this powerful message: “I know how you feel! I know what you're going through!”

The Virgin Birth – this much maligned, misunderstood and even maliciously removed doctrine of Scripture, not only is it God's answer to Mary's question, “How can this be...?” Much more, it is what supplies the platform, the unshakable basis for what this Book means when it says of Bethlehem's Baby: He is the Consolation of Israel, He is the Light to enlighten the Gentiles, He is the Forever King, He is Christ the Lord!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Immanuel: God With Us

Preached at Northwest Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, December 5, 2010

Matthew 1:18-25, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.”
At Christmas time, as I prepare the messages to bring to you each Lord’s Day, a lot of things go through my mind. What is it that God wants me to say to you at this time? What are the significant truths for our lives to be drawn out of the Scripture texts that tell us of Jesus’ birth? What unique and creative ways are there at my disposal to use in communicating the Christmas message? And even, what is there, about the birth of Jesus, that I can say, that hasn’t already been said or that you haven’t already heard? These and others questions are what I ask myself at this season of the year, as I make plans to preach on Sundays.

Now that I’ve sort of let you in on my thinking process, if you will, to tell you about what I’ve been considering as I got ready for this message. As I looked again at this passage here in Matthew chapter 1, and at the passages that record the events pertaining to Jesus’ birth found in Luke’s gospel and in John, I was once again intrigued and captured by the richness of meaning and significance wrapped up in that simple, but most wonderful of names – the name, ‘JESUS’ - and the numerous other descriptive names and titles given to Him as our Savior.

For example, think again with me: just what does His name, the name Jesus, mean? As the angel of the Lord, who appeared to Joseph in a dream, makes plain to him; this precious child born to Joseph’s espoused wife, Mary, was to be named ‘Jesus’ – why? Because He would ‘save His people from their sins.’

Jesus – Savior… What a tremendously significant name that is! And then, how about these that were given to Him? King of the Jews (the Magi, Matthew 2:2), the Shepherd of God’s people Israel (Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:6), Christ the Lord (angel of the Lord to shepherds, Luke 2:11), God’s salvation (Simeon to Mary & Joseph, Luke 2:30), the Light of Revelation to the Gentiles, the Glory of God’s people Israel (Luke 2:32) and even, the Redemption of Jerusalem (Anna, Luke 2:38).

Jesus, Who is He? Jesus – what does that precious name mean? The One God sent to save His people from their sins… what a wondrous name that is! And how blessed we are to be able to speak it, how privileged we are, because He is our Savior, to wear it! The name, Jesus.

As I said a moment ago, my thoughts have focused on that marvelous name – Jesus – and the many other names and descriptive titles, that tell us so much about our Savior, and give us so many reasons to praise God for sending Him. Well, in light of that, I want you to take a few moments with me this morning, to contemplate the depth of meaning and importance of yet another name ascribed to the Son of God. And that’s the name we find given to Him here in verse 23, the name Immanuel. Immanuel.

As the gospel writer, Matthew, makes plain to us, in verses 22 and 23, this name is a name that was first given to the virgin-born Son of God by the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, way back in Isaiah chapter 7, verse 14. Indeed, Jesus was given this name by this Holy Spirit-inspired prophet nearly 800 years before He was born! Important stuff!

However, what I believe to be equally important, and perhaps, more significant to us as we meditate again on what Christmas is all about, is the MEANING of this Ancient name for Jesus. And what does this name, Immanuel, mean?

That’s right! It means God with us! God with us! Sometime back, I was looking through my kid’s Children’s Bible Handbook for some simple, easy to understand, explanations of some things I was investigating, when I landed on the brief description listed under the heading: God. Here’s what the Children’s Bible Handbook has to say, “God: who is He? He is… the awesome Creator of the world, the Maker of all there is. God, what is He like? God is a spirit, and He does not have a body of flesh and blood as we do…”

Now, I want you to think about this simple definition and description of God with me for a moment. God is a spirit, not flesh and blood body like ours. He’s a spirit, and therefore, to flesh and blood folks like you and me, what is He? He’s unseen, and, as far as our 5 senses are concerned, He’s also unknown! He’s unseen, and as such, He’s unknown to us. And yet, made, as we are, in His image, what do we do? We wonder, and maybe even despair, asking, “Can we ever KNOW God? Can we ever SEE Him? Can we ever hear Him, touch Him and even experience Him?”

And, guess what? Then the answer, God’s amazing answer to this extremely important series of questions comes our way. And, what is the answer? Who is the answer?

Immanuel! Immanuel! We CAN know God! In Immanuel, we CAN see God! In Immanuel, we CAN hear Him, touch Him, and even experience Him! How? Because God’s Holy Spirit caused the virgin Mary to conceive and bring forth a Son, the Son of God named Immanuel – God with us!

Now that name Immanuel and it’s translation, God with us… I want you to take a closer look at each of those 3 words for a minute, will you?

First, the word, ‘God’. What is this incredible name, Immanuel, tell us about the Babe of Bethlehem’s manger? First thing, right off the bat, it tells us that He is God!! He is God! Not a ‘god’, with a small ‘g’, as some of the cultures would have us believe, but God – God, the Son – the Second Person of the Trinity! Yes, Immanuel, He is God! Not an idol to be venerated during the Advent Season, but God! Immanuel, He is God. Not a tabernacle, a portable worship center to be moved from place to place. He is God! Not a temple, a supposedly permanent structure built for worship, but God, the God who pitched His tent, who tabernacled Himself, and dwelt among us (John 1:14). Immanuel, who is He? He is God. Not a great human prophet like Elijah, He is God. Not a great human priest like Aaron, no He is God. Not a great human king like David; He is God. Not even a great human warrior like Joshua, but God! Immanuel, He is God!

So, what difference does that make?

Ask the people who heard Him deliver that magnificent Sermon on the Mount… “Why, He speaks as One who has authority, and not as our Scribes. When He speaks we must listen and obey! Ask the centurion of Capernaum, whose servant lay at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering, what difference does it make that Jesus is God? “All He had to do was say the word. He simply said the word, ‘you servant is healed’, and he WAS healed!” What difference does it make that Jesus is God? Ask the disciples who thought their ship was sunk, literally, until He arose from His sleep and said, “Peace, be still!” What difference does it make that Jesus is God? Ask the blind men, sitting beside the Jericho road, whose request, “Lord, we want our sight,” would have flabbergasted you and me! Yes, what difference does it make that Jesus is God? Ask the priests, who saw the temple curtain torn in two from top to bottom; ask Mary and Martha, who received their beloved brother back from the dead; and ask Thomas, that doubter, who didn’t believe until He saw His Savior’s nail-pierced hands and riven side…” Ask them! They’ll tell you what difference it makes that He is God!

Immanuel… who is He? He is God with us. Then what about that second word that translates the meaning of the name, Immanuel. The word, “with”. “With”!

You know it, don’t you? Christians like you and me, because we are seeking to be like our Lord, we offer to minister to one another, during those times of crisis in our lives, and what do we say to each other at those times? What kind of consolation do we offer to one another? We say things like… “I’m just a phone call away. I’m only down the street from you. I’m right next door to you. I’m WITH you! I’m here for you…”

Now, don’t get me wrong, we need to minister and be ready to minister to each other. And, it’s good to remind the one in need that we’re there to help. But really, now?! Have you ever called the preacher’s phone and gotten his voice mailbox? I bet you have! How many of you have ever stopped by your elders’ homes and found no one there? And, how many of you have ever wished, in the middle of the night, that you could run across town to talk to your brother or sister in Christ, but didn’t, because you knew he or she would be in bed asleep?!

You get where I’m going with this, I’m sure! With us, there are voice mailboxes, no answers to our door bell ringing, and times when we’re simply not available for each other. With Immanuel, there’s never a busy signal! With Immanuel, there will ALWAYS be Someone, the Great I-Am, on the other end of the line! And yes, praise God, with Immanuel, YOU can rest in peace knowing that He’s wide awake, and watching over you!

Immanuel… Immanuel! What a marvelous name! Immanuel, Who is He? He is God! Not a lifeless idol; not an ornate covenant box; not a good luck charm; not even the best Son of Adam you can think of; but God! He is God! The God who calms storms and feeds multitudes with a little boy’s sack lunch. The God Who gives sight to the blind eyes and breath to lifeless bodies. Immanuel, He is God. He is God. But, then – secondly, please remember that he is also WITH. Yes, with, not down the street, not across tow, nor even just a phone call away. But, Immanuel is WITH us. He is WITH us.

Then, third and finally, here’s the most unbelievable part of all about that precious name, Immanuel and what is means – the last word, just 2 letter, U-S. Us! God with us! Does the word ‘sinner’ seem to fit? How about this description, Ephesians 2:13, “Far away from God…”? Or, what about this one: all our righteousness is nothing but a bunch of filthy rags! Or, maybe you’re like Peter, the supposed expert when it comes to fishing, after Immanuel told him where to let down his nets. Remember his words, “Go AWAY from me, Lord! Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Or, perhaps, we look at the ‘spots’ of our rebellion, and the blemishes of our disobedience to God, and all we can think of is how we’re just like those 10 lepers were: unclean! Unclean! You know, everyone wants to get as far away as they can from me, from us.

But, then along comes Immanuel, and what does He say? What does He do? He says, “I didn’t come to all the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” He says, “Come and go with me, and I’ll show you how to fish for men!” He reaches out to you and me, and TOUCHES us, even though we’re covered with the leprosy, the filth of sin. He becomes sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him! He sheds His own blood to bring us near to Him! Thus, through Immanuel, we can shout with the Psalmists: “God is with us! He is our Shepherd! God with us, He is our light and our salvation! God with us, He is our refuge and strength. And, God with us, He is the One who leads us to the rock that is higher than we are!”

Immanuel – God… with… us…! What a precious name! What an incredibly important name! Beloved, my question for you this morning is: do you KNOW Him by that name? Is He YOUR Immanuel?

I was jotting down some notes for this message, and I happened to write down the letters for the word ‘Christ’, in order to formulate a kind of acrostic statement about who He is. And here’s what I came up with:

Christ came
Here to
Redeem us… Our
Immanuel and
Savior, in whom we
Trust and have taken refuge!

Christ came Here to Redeem us, our Immanuel and Savior, in whom we Trust and have taken refuge.

Think again about the questions I asked just a moment ago. Do you know Jesus by that precious name Immanuel? Is He your Immanuel?

The answer to these two supremely important questions takes us back to my little acrostic, and that all-important last letter – the letter ‘T’. Is Jesus your Immanuel? He is, if you Trust Him. He is, if you have taken refuge in Him!

Immanuel, God with us. There’s not a better Christmas gift available ANYWHERE, than Immanuel! Receive the gift, will you? Put your truth in Him, taken refuge in Him! Let Him be your Immanuel!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What Does it Mean to Be Born Again?

Preached at Northwest Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, November 28, 2010

1 John 5:14-21, “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.  If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that.  All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death.  We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him.  We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.  And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.  Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.
What does it mean to be ‘Born again’ or ‘Born of God’?  We’re nearing the end of our study of this marvelous portion of the Scripture, that portion we refer to as ‘First John’, the first letter penned by the apostle John, and once again, as over and over again through the course of this study, the Spirit of God uses the apostle John to confront us with this critical question, “What does it mean to be Born Again?”  Or, in the language of verse 18 of our text here, “What does it mean to be Born of God?” 

Whether we have been recently brought into God’s kingdom through faith in Jesus Christ, or whether we have known and been known by Him for years, this question is worth asking.  We need to come back to it regularly. 

In order to point us in the direction of the proper answers to this question, the apostle John presents us with three, ‘We know’ statements.  Three statements of fact to help us understand what it means to be ‘Born Again’, ‘Born of God’.  Let’s read those statements once again, shall we?

1 John 5:18-20, “We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him.  We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.  And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.”
What DOES it mean to be ‘Born Again,’ or ‘Born of God’?  If you and I were to be ‘Exhibits A’ and ‘B’ and ‘C’ and so forth, in a ‘court case’, paton ‘trial’, so to speak, by the people who know us, who watch us, who evaluate our claims to be God’s children, what would they be looking for as ‘evidence’ that our claims are valid?  Last Lord’s day’s service, that moving time of counting our blessings, capped off as it was by two joyful New Births, if someone from the outside had slipped in to watch and listen and take it all in, likely, sort of like the rest of us, they would have been caught up in the emotion of the moment, in the ‘experience’!  And, what a powerful and intensely meaningful experience it was, for certain!  But, listen – once they, our ‘outside observers’ had come back down to earth with the rest of us, what would they have been thinking?  What question would they have wanted to ask of those who had been baptized, and of all of us?  How about this one: “What’s the proof?”  For two of us, one week later, but for many of us, months, years, even decades later, ‘where’s the evidence’ that you or I have been ‘Born Again’, or ‘Born of God’?

Don’t get me wrong, the experience is necessary, and helpful.  The experience of repenting of one’s sins; the experience of confessing Christ before men; the experience of forsaking all others to trust Christ to save you; the experience of joining Him in Christian baptism, the experience of being buried with Him in the likeness of His death and then, raised to live in the newness of His resurrection life.  All these ‘experiences are helpful and necessary whether we participated in them last week, or 20, 40 or even 60 years ago! 

But, listen – in seeking to answer the question, “what does it mean to be ‘Born again’, or ‘Born of God’”, the apostle John, in this first letter of his, he moves us from reciting the 5-finger exercise (hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized), to the next step, finger #6, to the outcome, the evidence, the proof of the reality and validity of those first 5 steps we have taken – that step we might call ‘Living the Christian life’…

Proof #1 – The first of John’s ‘we know’ statements, contained in verse 18, what is at stake?  What’s the issue on the table, so to speak?  Mr. Outsider, coming into our midst to watch, to listen, to observe our lives, and then, compare them with our claims, what will he look for as ‘evidence’? 

Well, I’m not sure what Mr. Outsider would look for, but what the apostle John indicates that Mr. Outsider should see is a new lifestyle, a new lifestyle that is characteristic of you and me.  (1 John 5:18) 

Now, before we move on to verse 19, and then verses 20 and 21, let me ask you to explore something with me right here, for just a moment.  The evidence of the New Birth, the proof that you and I have been Born of God is first of all, a new lifestyle.  Now, what does that men?  What will a new lifestyle ‘look like’?  How will others know, how will WE know that such is the case for you and me?  Some might say that this new lifestyle will be along the lines of a change in the way we wear our hair, or a change in the car we drive, or that now we make an effort to be ‘in church’ each Lord’s Day.

But, listen – I want you to look again with me at verse 18, and take note of what this Book has to say about this ‘New lifestyle’.  “We know that whoever is born of God does not sin [literally, ‘does not keep on sinning’, ‘does not make it his habit to sin’], but he who has been born of God keeps himself [I think the idea there is that the child of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, seeks to restrain himself from sinning] and [thus] the wicked one does not touch him, is not able to get a hold on his life…” 

What does it mean to be ‘Born Again’, or ‘Born of God’?  Right off the bat, as we take in what God’s Word says about his new lifestyle, we observe, we must surely notice that God has some pretty challenging expectations of His people.  He expects them to wage war against sin as the guiding principle – against the tyrannical Ruler in their lives… He expects us - yes, us - to keep in mind what Paul said in Romans 6, that famous Baptism passage, do you remember what he said?  He said, “Shall you continue to sin so that God’s grace may about?  Certainly not!  You died to sin, you were baptized into Christ’s death, buried with Christ through baptism into death, so how can you continue to live in sin?” 

God’s expectations of His children are pretty challenging indeed!  But, listen!  So are His promises!  So are His promises!  1 John 2:1, “My little children, I write these things to you, so that you may not sin, even once.  But, but, if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One! 

Yes, God’s expectations of His children are very, very challenging.  “Whoever is born of God does not, does not keep on sinning – habitually, willfully, defiantly, rebelliously – the true child of God does not act that way.  His lifestyle is new and different, markedly different from his old lifestyle.  But, listen!  He doesn’t, you and I don’t go it alone!  1 John 5:18 and 2 Thessalonians 3:3 – mark them down, will you?  In our pursuit of this new habit, this new lifestyle of living as if we are dead to sin as the governing force over our lives, never forget this one fact: “The Lord is Faithful!”  And He will establish you and keep you from the evil one!”

‘What does it mean to be born again, born of God?’  1 John 5:18 – It means that you and I are in pursuit of a new lifestyle, a new habit regarding sin, a new way of living, with the help of the Holy Spirit! 

Secondly, it means that you and I have a new Source, a new sufficiency, a new leader!

Face #2 – ‘we know’ statement #2 – 1 John 5:19, “[And] we know that we are of God, and [that] the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.”

Back when we all were a lot younger, we played a children’s game called, ‘Follow the Leader’, you remember, don’t you?  One of the neighborhood bunch would step up to the front of the line and say, “Follower me, do what I do…”  And immediately, everyone would fall in behind him, and do this, because he did that, and do this, because he did that…  It’s a game of imitation, you know it!  And it’s also, you may not have thought about is this way before, but the game, ‘Follow the Leader’ is also a game of expectation, a game where the followers must, they are expected to do what the leader does, or else they can’t play. 

Now, listen.  1 John 5:19 – This Book says that when you and I became God’s children, when we were born again, born of Him, for us, the ‘game’ of following the world and its leader, the Devil – STOPPED!  I mean it was over!  As far as God is concerned, the world and its leader no longer are to hold sway over our lives!  Rather, the imitation is now supposed to be turned HIS direction!  As our New Leader, when He says, ‘Jump!’, our only question should be, ‘How high?’ 

To be born again, born of God, yes, it means that you and I have a new leader.  We are of God, He holds, or is supposed to hold the ultimate sway over our lives!  And, as a child of God, it should be obvious, my behavior, and my battling against sin, should make it increasingly obvious that I have, we have a new lifestyle – in Him! 

Then, third, and finally, take a look at verse 20 and 21, and notice what they have to say about the new loyalty, the new loyalty that is to be characteristic of the child of God! To me, this is the best part of all. Read it with me, will you please.
1 John 5:20-21, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.”
What does it mean to be 'Born Again', or 'Born of God'?
A new lifestyle is important, remember Mr. Outsider? That's one of the 'proofs' he's looking for! And, a new leader, my, oh my, that is important as well! God is my Father, and as His child, in keeping with the imitation principle, in keeping with the old adage, 'Like Father, like son' – I am to become more and more like Him! But, then there's the question, the honest and earnest question: “How?” “How in the world is a new lifestyle of 'sinning less, and confessing it when I sin, more', how in the world is this new lifestyle, and the command to follow my new Leader something I could ever get done?”
Sound impossible? Like I said, this is the part I like best, fact #3, “we know” statement number three.
1 John 5:20-21, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.”
How in the world are you and I ever going to live up to these incredibly high and holy expectations God has for His children? Fact #3 – Actually, it's a whole bundle of facts that we must always, ALL WAYS, remember. Take a look, 1 John 5:20 – The Son of God has come... Praise God! 1 John 5:20 – the Son of God has given us an understanding, an insight into all of this, right here, through His Word, right here (in me) through the indwelling presence of His Spirit – why? Jesus Christ came. And, Jesus Christ has given us this understanding – why? That we may know Him who is true, not simply know about Him, but know Him, be in a life-changing relationship with Him who is true, and in His Son Jesus Christ.
Knowing God, through Christ, that's the answer to the 'How' question... 'What does it mean to be Born Again, or Born of God?' One final thought. If Mr. Outsider were to slip in here today, and follow you and me around for the next week, how would he answer this question: “Is he born again? Is she born again?” How would he?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Football Huddles, Encouragement and the Church

Preached at Northwest Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, October 17, 2010.

1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13, “But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire. Therefore we wanted to come to you—even I, Paul, time and again—but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy. Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this. For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know. For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain. But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always have good remembrance of us, greatly desiring to see us, as we also to see you— therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith. For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord. For what thanks can we render to God for you, for all the joy with which we rejoice for your sake before our God, night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith? Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.”

I know you're going to find it hard to believe, when you look at this slender preacher of yours, but not so many years ago, as a young high school athlete I tried my hand at high school football. Yes, I weighed in at a massive 140 pounds, shoulder pads, cleats and all, and stepped out onto the gridiron to hit and be hit by guys 20, 40 and even 60 pounds bigger than I was. Yeah, I know, like a Japanese kami-kaze pilot, surely I must have been crazy to do it. But still I did it anyway. High school football, I have a lot of memories from those days. But, perhaps among my fondest of memories from my pigskin exploits would be the brief moments our team would spend in the huddle, before walking up to the line of scrimmage for the next play.

Come on, Pete – you've got to hit that guy a little lower, to move him out of Eubank's way. Good hand of, Mitchell – right where I need you to tuck the ball in. Great catch, Eric. I though I might have over thrown, but you ran under it and got it... Way to go!” The huddle. If you've never played football before, you might not realize how important a part of the game it really is. But, if you have put on the pads and helmet and cleats before, to run and block and tackle, you've been there, you know how important that 'huddle-time' can be before you face the other team at the next snap of the ball.

High school football team huddles, and the church, this gathering today of brothers and sisters in Christ, I don't know if you've ever thought about it this way before or not, but this morning I'd like to suggest to you that they are quite a bit alike. Like with my old high school team, we gather to celebrate victories, large and small, to sort of 'high 5' each other and say, “Wow! You scored a touch down!” And, we circle up to hear instructions about the next 'play' (from the Bible), “32 dive, wingback right on 3, break”. And, we even huddle up to see if we need to let our Coach know about anything so we can do better on the next play (prayer).

But, to me, perhaps one of the greatest, most significant similarities between football team huddles, and this time we spend here each Lord's Day is that which pertains to the subject of today's Bible text. I'm talking now about the subject of encouragement. While you are processing the meaning and implications of my comparison between football team huddles and the church, allow me to ask you a question. Encouragement, like the pat on the back the running back gives to the guard and tackle who opened the hole for him, like the hugs and high-fives the quarterback gives to the split end who just caught the long bomb in the end zone. Encouragement, “how is it that you and I are so starved for it?” “What is it about encouragement that we need, and I believe, need desperately?” And, one more question to ponder. What is it about who we are, what is it about our circumstances, our life situations, that daily reminds us of this need for encouragement?

While you are considering those questions, and what I've said about football huddles and the church, allow me to remind you that this Book of books, given to us by the God of Encouragement, it is a Book of Encouragement. It is full of encouraging words, you know that, don't you? “I will never leave you or forsake you...” (Hebrews 13:5-6) “Be of good cheer; it is I; don't be afraid...” (Matthew 14:27) “I will e with you always...” (Matthew 28:20) and “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even though he dies; and he who lives and believes in Me will never die...” (John 11:25-26)

The God of Encouragement has given us this Book, full of encouraging words and promises! Furthermore, through this Book, and in and for our lives, God has provided us with numerous examples of encouragement given and received. For instance, God gave lonely Adam a woman, a wife, Eve, to be his help-meet – what a blessing men, right? Then there's Moses; God called him to lead His people out of Egypt. But Moses said, “I can't, I can't, I can't.” So, what did God do? He sent Moses some encouragement, in the form of his brother Aaron. Then there's David, waging war for King Saul. God knew he couldn't do it alone, so God sent David a friend, an instrument of encouragement: Jonathan! Think about Jesus, He had the 12 to encourage Him. Paul had Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Titus and John Mark. And what about you and me? Not only has God brought us together, for the sake of encouraging one another. But, guess what? God has also given us His Spirit, yes, His Holy Spirit, the Counselor, the Comforter, the Encourager, to guide us, to help us, to LIFT US!

Encouragement, from this Book, from God's Spirit living and abiding in our hearts, from 'huddles' like this, why ARE we so starved for encouragement?

Well, perhaps, a part of it has to do with the way God made us. He made us to relate to one another, to weep with those who weep, to celebrate with those who celebrate! He made us with a huge, God-shaped hole that only He, by His Holy Spirit, can fill. Yes, perhaps, a part of the reason we crave encouragement has to do with the way we are made.

But, perhaps a part of it has to do with, is a symptom of our fallen, sinful condition. You don't have to read very far in the Bible, do you, to realize how the blissful joy of Eden, before sin, became tears, sorrow and anguish, thorns, thistles and sweat, AFTER sin! We crave encouragement, almost can't get enough of it – why? Because of the way God 'wired' us, yes. But also because of the way sin has 'short-circuited' that 'wiring'. And, yet, my friends. I think life, living in this world so scarred by sin, what happens to us? Well, to put it simply our circumstances, our life situations, they tend to almost DRAIN the courage out of us, don't they? Listen again to the text. 1 Thessalonians 3, Verses 3, 4 & 5, and Paul talks about afflictions, tribulations and temptations. And Satan's plan – who is Satan? Our biggest fan? Our greatest encourager? No! He's our enemy, our worst enemy! His scheme, Satan's wicked game-plan is to use afflictions, tribulations and ultimately, temptations to discourage us, disable us, and in the end to destroy us and our faith in Christ! To use the football analogy once again, the Devil, the 'Head coach' of the 'opposing team', what's he up to? His strategy is simple, but oh so clever. Listen, first he wants to move us from the line of scrimmage to the sidelines! Then after accomplishing that, he says, “my next step is to get them off the field and into the locker room. And, finally, once I've got that accomplished,' he says, 'I'm going to do all I can to get them out of the stadium!”

Encouragement – to encourage and to BE encouraged. Take a look at this passage with me, for just a few moments, and let's learn what it means to encourage and to BE encouraged!

To encourage, three quick insights – mark these down, would you? To encourage someone, to put courage back into each other, number one, we must truly CARE about each other! To put strength and stability into others, we must first care about others! The apostle Paul, what an example of an encourager he is, the apostle Paul, the writer of this Holy Spirit-directed letter, what drove him to write it? What prompted him to send Timothy to the congregation at Thessalonica, while he was left all alone at Athens?

Verse 5, “I sent (Timothy) to know to find out about your faith...” Verse 3 – I sent him to help you not to be shaken by your afflictions. Verse 2 – I sent Timothy, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith! Why did Paul do all of that? He did it because he cared! He encouraged the Baby Christians at Thessalonica because, like a good father, he cared about his spiritual children! To encourage, we must care about someone other than ourselves!

Secondly, Paul shows us, through his unselfish willingness to send his co-worker, Timothy, to assist the Thessalonians, that to encourage, to build up others, we must be willing to give, yes, I said, give, of our selves! Verse 10 tells us that he prayed night and day for these people - why would he do that? Because they were his brothers and his sisters! And, to them, to those he held dear in his heart, he gave, through his constant, fervent prayers, and his sending of emissaries of encouragement like Timothy. Paul gave of himself!

Which leads us, then, to the third thing we need to know and act upon, if we wish to encourage each other. I mentioned Paul's day and night PRAYERS for the Thessalonian Church, and their part in Paul's ministry of encouragement toward them. Now, watch this, take not of this. To encourage, as important as genuine care and unselfish giving may be to this process, without the hand of God, without the mercy and power of the GOD of encouragement, in the end, there IS no real encouragement given or received! Notice Paul's written prayers, both here, in 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13, and 2 Thessalonians 2:16 & 17. Paul says, through these prayers, I care, and I've given of myself, yes! But, unless our God and Father who loved us and our Lord Jesus Christ who gave Himself for us, are involved, there will be no such thing as “everlasting consolation, eternal encouragement, and good hope” - why is that? Because these gifts, these precious gifts for which our hearts crave, what are they? They are gifts, supplied by God's grace! His amazing grace!

To encourage, to put courage into someone else, we must care, and we must give. But, in the end, we must let God work through us, because He is the Source and Supplier of Encouragement!

So, what then? What happens in and to someone who is encouraged? Before we close, let me quickly help you see the marvel of the effects of the encouragement that the Lord gives through us, in the lives of those we love and care about.

Number one, when someone is encouraged, he is strengthened to stand, to be stable, when otherwise he might fall or be moved.

1 Thessalonians 3:1-3, “Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this.”

When someone is encouraged, I mean, truly encouraged by God, he has renewed strength to stand! Second, when someone is encouraged, 'man, that was a great block!' 'Man, that was a superb hole you opened up for me to run and to score!' When someone is encouraged God makes a way for him or her to be further instructed and perfected in his or her faith in Christ.

1 Thessalonians 3:10-13, night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith? Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.

When someone is encouraged, God makes a way for him to be further instructed and perfected in his faith.

Thirdly, when someone is encouraged, when God uses us to build up someone else in Christ, think of it! Think of the joy it brings our way, and, think of the witness, the testimony of God's power it is to others!
1 Thessalonians 3:6-9, “But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always have good remembrance of us, greatly desiring to see us, as we also to see you— therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith. For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord. For what thanks can we render to God for you, for all the joy with which we rejoice for your sake before our God.”

Finally, to be encouraged, in this 'huddle' time we have with God and each other before we go back to the 'scrimmage line' out there – what happens, what does God do when we build up each other? 1 Thessalonians 3:10 – God manifests His prayer-answering power and ability, to the glory of His name!

Encouragement. One of the keys things our God is looking for today, right now, from all of us who claim to be His people, is what? Commitment, God is looking to see if we really do have a commitment to Christ and to live for Christ, in this world! Now, here's the conclusion of the matter. How is that all going to happen? How is it that God, when He looks at us, is going to see that genuine and fervent commitment to Him? Anybody here ever played high school football before? We've 'huddled up' this morning, why? To encourage each other. And, through that encouragement, guess what God has done? He has worked to strengthen and sustain the very commitment to Christ He's looking for! Praise God!