I have to believe in the Church. It is a vessel that has been used by God to do incredible world transformation since it’s beginnings. The Church is also still around, even though it seems like it should have died a long time ago.
This week, I am continuing a sermon series, for the season of Advent called, “Prepare the Way.” As I was working on, reading the scripture, and definitely praying about this week’s message (God Finds Favor in Us – Luke 1:39-59), I kept having a nagging feeling tugging at me. I have not been able to focus on the message at all this week.
God seems to be up to something.
This Sunday is also the third Sunday in Advent – the Sunday of Joy.
When have you felt JOY when you have been with other believers of Christ? How long did that joy last after you departed your friends or family? What would make this joy return and stay rooted in you?
I still believe in the power of the Church. I still believe in the power God gives his people. I still believe God is at work in this world even though it seems as if more and more hatred, crime, indifference, gossip, you name it, seem to be running rampant.
I still believe in the power of God through the Church.
Whenever I come across Christians, I tend to find there are a few different responses about God’s power: 1) some people expect it, 2) some people think God still has power today, 3) some people think God’s shown power was at the time of the original apostles, 4) some people will think God does not have any power, that it all depends on the people.
Where do you fall in those categories?
I find whenever things are going really good, my faith seems to rely more on what I can do. Whenever things are not going well, I find that’s when I cry out to God for help. I wonder how many of you can relate to this?
What would happen, what would change, if we took the time to truly cry out to God, not just speak out minds, but really cry our heart out to him and sit still so we can listen to him? God is still in the business of making the impossible possible. There is nothing God cannot do.
I’m not calling for us to ask for whatever we want. Through prayer, we find our hearts, minds, and intentions are beginning to get aligned with God’s heart and mission for the world.
Do you ever feel like your prayers are not being answered? Like you’re just talking to the ceiling? Like you haven’t experienced God’s power in your life?
I encourage you to block out as much time as you can and be patient on God. He is already with us. Be patient to hear from him because, we may not understand or realize how much junk we have clogging our ears and hearts that muffles his voice.
As you sit and be still before the Lord, pay attention to how you begin to feel. Pay attention to what seems to be calming down. Pay attention to the still small voice that is constantly speaking to us, and we tune out much of the time because we get busy with “our lives.”
I still believe in the power of God through the Church, but I wonder how much of God’s presence and power we are missing and not living out because of all the junk we have clogging our spiritual lives.
Do you believe people can really be changed by the power fo God?
Do you believe our communities can be transformed by the power of God?
Do you believe our state and nation can be transformed by the power fo God?
Do you believe our world can and will be transformed by the power of God?
If not, why?
The longer I am walking with Christ, the more I realize I do not know. The more I realize how much I depend on my abilities, my talents, my power, my personality.
If we want to see the power of God move more, in our lives, in the world, we should expect what we do not expect to witness. We should also be unashamed to share the full message of Jesus Christ. His life is where the power is and lives are never the same after encountering Jesus Christ.
How would you react if there was someone who came in off the street and joined us in worship ion Sunday? What if this person smelled, was on drugs, just finished a night of “work”, did not have a nice home? What would we do? Could we love this person as we know God loves us?
God still does miraculous things in our world. Let’s open our hearts to pay attention. Then let’s also be the people of joy, a joy that the Holy Spirit uses to fill us so we can spread this joy out into the world.
Next, if we haven’t experienced the power of God lately, how many people are we not encouraging to do what God called them to do? How many do we put on hold because it doesn’t line up with our agenda? How many people need to be encouraged to live the life God has called them to live, even if it seems impossible?
I have seen people get crushed when another person says the dream is not right, or gives false information about not having enough to to the work. God will always provide what we need to accomplish his mission. If we haven’t experienced the power of the Holy Spirit lately, how much are we getting in the way of God working in and through other people?
Everything I have just written has been what’s convicting me lately.
I know the power of God is so strong that you will experience a miracle either in your life or to/through someone around you. This is God’s favor. Grace for us so we can show his love and power in the world.
This is the message of Christmas. God came to earth to demonstrate his love, power, and grace for the world. This power is still alive and is still making a difference.
Are we open to this power? Are we ready to experience and witness God do incredible things all around us?
I am. I pray you are too.
Do you have your copy of the daily devotional on the Book of Acts?
The Book of Acts tells the historical events that shaped the early church through the powerful, dynamic movement of the Holy Spirit. This power is still available and working today all over the world. As we encounter the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we have the great opportunity to watch God do incredible work in and through us.This daily devotional walks us through the book of Acts so we can experience a personal revival and help us experience a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit in our own lives.
In the 1924 book by Richard Connell, The Most Dangerous Game is a story of big game hunter Sanger Rainsford and his friend Whitney ending up on an island owned by General Zaroff. The General talks about how he is bored with “traditional” hunting and has moved into hunting the most dangerous, the most cunning animal, ship-wrecked humans. This is a dark story that shows what happens when we lose our way and give in to the darkness of the world.
As disturbing as this book was, and still is, this is a good picture of the darkness humanity is capable of. We like to think that because we’re “evolved” and “more civil” now that we do not act like this. But the reality is human nature has not changed. There is still darkness looming over humanity. There is still something that pulls us away from the God who created us. There is still Sin.
Over the past several weeks, we have been diving into the life of Jesus Christ. Originally this was going to be the last message, but after some prayer, we’re adding two more so we can take the time to talk more fully about the life of Jesus Christ.
Remember we talked about why the question, “Who do you say Jesus is?” is really the most important question. From there we talked about his birth and were reminded this is not just a story we should only hear at Christmas time. Then we talked about his baptism and temptations. From there, we talked about his healing ministry. Last week, we talked about Jesus’ mission to seek and to save the lost. Today, we’re going to talk about the final 24 hours of Jesus’ earthly life.
READ LUKE 23:1-3
Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”
3 So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
In this scene, we are already in the courtroom of Pontius Pilate. How did we get here? To understand what’s going on, we have to go back in time about 12 hours.
Pastor and author Chuck Swindoll writes, “Jesus didn’t come to win the approval of people or to swing the majority of a disenfranchised voter base to embrace his platform and sweep him in a position of power in Jerusalem. He came to speak the “solemn truth”. And let’s face it; the truth is rarely popular. In fact, it usually offends the majority.”
This is an important thing for us to remember, especially when we talk about the final 24 hours of Jesus’ earthly life. All of a sudden we have shifted to what appears the majority wanted – for Jesus to keep doing his mission – to a different kind of majority, a group of people who are threatened by the truth and will stop at nothing to get what they want – Jesus gone so they can continue ruling and living the way they see fit.
Whenever people’s pride is threatened, there is really nothing that can stop them from acting the way they do. Reason doesn’t help because we begin to act on our feelings and emotions rather than logical thinking. In fact, if you really think about it, we have moved beyond the Age of Reason and are living in the Age of Feelings.
To understand more of why Jesus was so focused on his mission and purpose, we have to explore more into the depths humanity is capable of.
We can see a picture of this during the last supper (Luke 22:7-38).
Jesus and his disciples were gathering together to eat a meal together. They were enjoying the company, the food, the conversation. None of them know, except Jesus, the intentions of a single person. This person would have been upset because Jesus was not overthrowing Rome in a militaristic fashion. This person could also have been nervous because, as the writer of John points out, “[Judas] was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”
Judas was probably feeling guilt which turned into shame and he did not want anyone to find out what he was doing. This “secret” sin begins to eat at him and will cause him to betray the one he professed faith in. Judas was living a double life, and Jesus knew it. One of the most difficult things for us to hear is we do not ever really do anything in “secret.” God is always watching us. We learn through Jesus, “secret sin has a way of warping the mind and twisting one’s values grotesquely out of shape.”
Jesus always knows when we are living hypocritically because Jesus knows “what [is] in each person.” A double life always catches up with us and will cause us to act in ways we never intended or dreamed would be possible – all in the name of self-preservation.
Now, it is easy to keep this image of Judas, the image of the one who betrayed Jesus with a kiss and leaves it at that. We, as a people, tend to like it when people get “what they deserve.” But we have to be careful not to condemn Judas completely. Remember, Judas’ feet were still washed by Jesus (John 13) and Jesus was on the cross even for people like Judas. When we hear the words Jesus cried from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,”we hear Jesus’ compassion even for the worst of sinners. We hear the forgiveness of God stretching across the earth, across time, across ALL boundaries and borders that Sin has built.
Maybe you’re someone here today with a “secret sin,” one that would cause embarrassment. Make sure this does not take a hold of you and cause you to live a life far away from God, even though people see you as loving God. Hear this today, “You are NEVER too far from God. God is eternally drawing himself to you, desiring you live a free life: free from guilt and shame and pride. He is pursuing you so you can live in true freedom. Repent and come to the throne of grace where he is graciously and mercifully waiting for you.”
The next scene we come to is Peter. I love Peter. Peter can put both feet in his mouth – at the same time. He is always trying to show that he is “better” than the other disciples. So when Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me,”Peter becomes indignant and says, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”
Can you hear the pride in Peter’s reply? Here’s the deal though, whenever we are faced with a choice, the fallen human nature is to choose our own safety and preservation. It is only by the grace of God through the power of the Holy Spirit we have the strength to stand up for Christ and be counted as among his followers. We all have to understand we ALL deny Jesus every single day. When we focus on ourselves. When we choose to not help. When we choose to stay away from people different than us. When we refuse to publically acknowledge our faith in God because we’re scared of how people react or because we’re afraid of losing our jobs. We all have denied Jesus many times in our life.
Denying Jesus has more consequences than we might realize. Every time we do not live as God desires us to live, another person is turned off by Christianity and can become angry with God. We see this all the time when followers of Jesus Christ are mean, purposefully acting one way after professing another, refuse to let new people in, become so self-centered in our life we become indifferent to the suffering around us.
Jesus does not leave us in this state. He is giving us grace upon grace so we have new opportunities to turn our life around and so the world can see Christ in us. I love the line in the prayer of St. Patrick, “Christ in heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in the eye that sees me, Christ in the hear that hears me.”
Peter’s denial is left in the four gospel accounts on purpose. It is to show that we cannot think we are better and will never deny Jesus.
When have you been like Peter? When have you denied Jesus? He is not mad at you. In fact, Jesus is eternally calling you to come to him so he can show you grace upon grace and restore and redeem you.
Peter’s denial happened during the time Jesus was being tried. In scripture we see six trials taking place. None of them are really legal (according to the Jewish law) but they still took place. Three of the trials were in front of the Jewish religious leaders and three were in front of the civil authorities of Rome (Pilate and Herod). These were all undercover and attempted to be kept private so the religious leaders could get what they wanted without the rumblings or rioting of the crowds that adored and believed in Jesus.
During the trials, there were false accusations against Jesus. But Jesus stayed focused on his mission. He stayed the course for what he was sent to do and he did not let anything stop him. It may seem as if the people are doing this on their own; but what we begin to see is these trials are actually against humanity, not Jesus. God is taking this opportunity to further reveal the hearts that are in humanity. He foreknew this was going to happen and, in Jesus Christ, allowed the people to carry out their plan which God used for the redemption of the world.
Jesus came to show humanity the real life God intended for us to live. He is the living embodiment of the “suffering servant” the prophet Isaiah wrote about several hundred years beforehand:
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
The crucifixion story is difficult for many people to encounter, even read about. Steve Seamands writes, “Yet despite the unbearable physical agony, people in Roman times dreaded the shame associated with crucifixion…By pinning them up like insects, crucifixion was deliberately intended to display and humiliate its victims…Crucifixion, then, was deliberately designed to be loathsome, vulgar, revolting, and obscene…The hideous shame associated with the crucifixion was the main reason why the message of the cross seemed ludicrous to its original hearers.”
It is so easy for us to wear the cross as decoration or even as an accessory. But the sight of the cross, throughout history, has been gruesome and hideous because of how it was used. When you wear a cross or have the decorations of the cross, remember to see them as not something pretty to hang up. This is what the Son of God died upon. This is what God used to conquer the power of sin and death over humanity. This is the key that unlocked the chain so humanity did not have to be slaves to sin and the power of temptations anymore. The cross is the sign of victory.
Alister McGrath says, “The cross of Christ is the point of reference for Christian faith; Christian faith is based upon it and judged by it…Christian theology, Christian worship, and Christian ethics are essentially nothing other than an attempt to explore and develop the meaning and implications of the crucified Christ in every area of life.”
Many people around the globe love to have the cross with the body of Jesus to remind them of the suffering God in flesh endured for the sake of humanity. This is a constant reminder of how God is with us even in our sufferings because God himself suffered.
Many people prefer the empty cross to symbolize the risen Christ and the ultimate victory of sin and death. It is a reminder that Christ did not stay on the cross but is living eternally and has become our mediator between God and people.
The crucifixion is an important aspect of Jesus’ life we cannot just brush aside. The crucifixion reminds that God is willing to do EVERYTHING possible to redeem and restore humanity and all of creation. The cross reminds us that God knows and understands suffering on a very personal level.
Jesus died. Jesus was buried. Jesus was left in the tomb.
Always remember that this is not the end of the story. The worst thing in life is never the last thing. God always has the final word.
Stay tuned next week as we talk about the next incredible event of Jesus’ life that continues to change the world today..
We all have been in a place to betray Jesus. We all have denied Jesus. Jesus took on the weight of sin on humanity and carried that with him on the cross. Do not live in fear that God is mad at you. Do not live with guilt or shame. Repent (change your heart and lives), confess and live into the freedom that God has waiting for you. Come to the throne of grace and experience an incredible presence of grace and mercy that changes our lives.
Swindoll, Charles. “The Greatest Life of All: JESUS”
John 12:6 NIV
Swindoll, Charles. “The Greatest Life of All: JESUS”
John 2:25 NIV
Luke 23:34 NIV
Luke 22:34 NIV
Isaiah 53:2-7 NIV
Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”. Page 57
Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”. Page 55
Hebrews 9:15, 1 Timothy 2:5
I am excited to announce this NEW daily devotional:
BREAKTHROUGH: When the Holy Spirit Moves
You can order your Kindle or paperback option from Amazon: Click here to order.
The Book of Acts tells the historical events that shaped the early church through the powerful, dynamic movement of the Holy Spirit. This power is still available and working today all over the world.
As we encounter the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we have the great kopportunity to watch God do incredible work in and through us.
This daily devotional walks us through the book of Acts so we can experience a personal revival and help us experience a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit in our own lives.
You can order your Kindle or paperback option from Amazon: Click here to order.
It’s the same things that have happened to Paul and Barnabas before. People are undermining the truths they are speaking and are doing everything they can to discredit and remove the “threat” other leaders consider Paul to be. Have you experienced this kind of situation in your life?
Being a leader is difficult. It is a calling. It is a lifestyle. It is who God created the leader to be. Leadership is difficult and not for the faint hearted. Please don’t let this discourage you. Being a leader is also very rewarding. People in leadership, who exercise their gifts effectively, motivate and encourage others to reach toward a higher standard of living. When a leader answers the call of God in their lives, guiding people to see the work of the Living God all around is an incredible experience.
The thing I see, in this passage today, is how Paul and Barnabas kept growing in their confidence of being God’s servants because they paid more attention to the results than to the hardships that were going on around them and to them. Did you notice that people kept responding to the grace of God? Even in the midst of hardship, the midst of tragedy, chaos, God’s shining light came through and people’s lives are changed because of the work of the Holy Spirit.
Look around you, what do you see? Do you see more of the good or the bad around you? When you wake up each morning, what do you look forward to each day? I would encourage you to find ways to start each day with praising God for all the ways He is working in the world.
Now, this does not mean all we need to do is change our attitudes. This means we do change our minds, we change our hearts. Change happens with the work of the Holy Spirit is your life. It is not something we can do on our own. This change, this renewing of our hearts and minds happens when we are open to the Spirit working in us and allowing our eyes to see the incredible things that are really going on around us.
As you pay attention to the work of Jesus Christ, you have many chances to remember Who called you, and Who continues to work in and through you. I pray you grow in your confidence in Christ. Remember it is through Christ we get the power, direction, grace, and confidence to do the work He calls people to do.
Stay confident with Christ’s work in you and around you. As you stay confident in Christ’s work, I hope you can remain confident in the work Christ called you to do.
I know you have been in this position. Suddenly you feel like you should go to a certain place, or go down a certain trail (road, path, aisle, etc.). You’re not sure why, it’s just a feeling. You go about your business to finish what you came to do when it seems like all of a sudden someone crosses your path and in some form or another seeks your attention.
Now when this happens to me, I know I have some choices. I can look directly at the person and greet them trying to let them know how busy I am. I can pretend not to see them and just move on. Or, I can stop what I’m doing and really notice them and begin to talk. Has my day been interrupted? Yes. Does my anxiety about not finishing what I need to creep in? Yes. In the end is it worth having my day interrupted especially when I find out that particular person needed to talk with me in that moment? Absolutely!
My guess is that happens to us more than we realize. We can get so wrapped up in our day to day tasks and to do lists that we can forget the most important task we should do is to love and serve God which leads us to love and serve other people.
Philip was prompted by the Spirit to go down a certain road to a certain place. Take some time to re-read the scripture above. How was he prompted? It doesn’t say. My personal experience is I have felt a nudging in my spirit to do something or go somewhere. I have also had people come up to me (more than one) and mention the same thing (without them knowing the others said it). I have also read scripture and have come across passages and sense God leading me to do something similar. This also happens when I read other books. The point is to always be open to, and discerning, what God is asking us to do on a daily basis.
While on the path, Philip notices an important official riding a chariot down the road and reading. He could have gave a polite greeting and went on his way; but Philip listened to what the Ethiopian was reading. In my mind, when Philip heard the Ethiopian reading he stopped in his tracks. This caused him to stop the chariot and begin the conversation with Philip.
This is a passage that comes into my mind and heart a lot. We just never know who we will run into or what God will lead us to that day; but we can go with the attitude, “hey, why not!” There are people in our paths that need our particular gifts, our particular past hurts we dealt with or are dealing with, our particular knowledge and skills to encourage, support, and build them up to become more of the person God created them to be. When our hearts are open to God, relationships become more important.
We are given opportunities to interact with other people. Sometimes we get to witness a life change. More often than not we get to people one of several people who help and we do not get to see the results.
If we are open to the leading and prompting of the Holy Spirit, we will notice people and situations and go into them knowing that God is working there and is inviting us to be part of it. We just never know what the outcome will be.
Did Philip know how his chance encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch would turn out? No. But he still listened to the Spirit, stopped and listened to the Ethiopian, and professed Christ to him. Then, almost out of no where, baptism was talked about and they spotted water. The eunuch saw the water and basically said, “hey, why not?” He must have sensed that his life was changed because of what he had just heard and then decided the time was right to be baptized.
After baptizing him, Philip left. Did he get to see what happened next? No. Tradition says that the eunuch went back to Ethiopia and began to teach and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, starting and forming the Christian church in Ethiopia.
Listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. You just never know who you will cross paths with or what will change because you accepted God’s invitation to work with him.