Category Archives: Sermons

Triumph Often Begins With Death

One of the most consistent patterns of God’s dealings with us is this:
Vision → Death → Resurrection → Triumph

Looking back, can you see that pattern in your own life?

We could call it the Easter Formula. In all the span of history, the most obvious example of this divine pattern is the phenomenal events of Easter.

  • The promise of a Messiah.
  • The torturous death of Christ on the cross.
  • His amazing resurrection from the dead.
  • His promised return to reign in eternal triumph.

“Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er his foes.
He arose a victor from the dark domain.
And He lives forever, with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!”

Vision → death → resurrection → triumph is the proclamation of Easter. Look back over your own life, and I am sure you will see the Easter Formula repeated many times.

• God gave you a Vision. Maybe a specific promise impressed upon your heart. Maybe a calling received through His Holy Spirit. Maybe a desire or ambition that was a product of the unique person God created you to be.

• Then came the complete Death of that vision. The harsh circumstances of this life, including very possibly your own sins and shortcomings, made fulfillment of the vision seem utterly impossible. All hope was dead.

• Then, amazingly, miraculously, God Resurrected your vision and led you to Triumph. God kept His promise, long after you had given up. God worked in and through you to carry out your calling. God fulfilled that ambition at a time and in a way that you would never have believed possible.

God is the Great Author, and this is one of His most common story lines.

Abraham and Sarah longed to have a son. Infertility and the passage of time brought complete death to that vision. Then, God renewed their hope and miraculously gave them a son, Isaac, in their old age.

• God gave Joseph the dream of being a great ruler. Then Joseph’s dream was completely smashed to bits. Kidnapped, sold into slavery, falsely accused, thrown into prison — Joseph’s dream couldn’t have been any deader. Then God miraculously moved Joseph from travail to triumph, from imprisonment to power. Joseph’s vision came true, long after all hope was dead and gone.

• God positioned Moses to deliver his fellow countrymen. He grew up in the palace, the adopted grandson of Pharaoh! Then, due entirely to his own lawlessness, Moses became a murderer and fugitive and alien. The chance of ever being Israel’s deliverer was completely dead. But a full generation later, when Moses was 80 years old, God resurrected that vision in a spectacular way. Moses delivered God’s people and become one of the most important figures of history, long after fulfillment was a complete impossibility.

And that’s just Genesis and Exodus. This divine pattern, the Easter Formula, continues throughout the Scriptures. Consider David: anointed as a young boy, hunted down as a young man, then crowned the king. Job: who had it all, then lost it all, then received it all back twice over. Vision, death and resurrection have played out several times in the amazing story of Israel, and that nation’s ultimate Triumph lies ahead. It is even the story of this planet, from paradise lost … to sin, suffering, the coming tribulation, and ultimately, complete destruction … before the revelation of a New Earth.

What is the message of the Easter Formula in your own personal life right now?

Have hope: Don’t be fooled by the death of your vision. God is in the miracle-working business. Your hopelessness may be a step toward resurrection and triumph.

Have wisdom: Don’t be fooled by the source of your vision. God never promised to grant every whim or fulfill each earthly desire. However, if the promise came from Him, it will come to pass. Distinguishing between God’s vision and our own, between God’s hand at work and our own fleshly activity, is one of the great arts of spirituality. But it is possible to do. Search your heart. Ask for wisdom. Plead with the Great Communicator to make His will known.

Be patient: God is a patient God. He does not mark time the same way we do. Consider the stories above. Triumph often comes decades, centuries or even millennia after the vision.

Rise above: Life is about the process. Surely that much is clear.

The story of Christ, the greatest story ever told, is not finished yet. Actually, Jesus has barely begun. He came, He died and He rose again. That was just the First Act in the story of the Kingdom.

Now we wait. We hope. We are wise. Waiting patiently. Rising above. Believing that He will return … in triumph. And then — no more suffering, no more pain, no more poverty, no more hardship, no more death, no more tears.

“We eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of [His] power.” (Phil 3:20-21)

“Live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our Great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.” (Titus 2:12-13).


Jesus Became the Ultimate Human Sacrifice

> Sermon Series: “Five Truths a Telling: The Doctrines of Christmas”
> Sermon 1: “Jesus Is a Man”
> Segment 2: “Jesus Became the Ultimate Human Sacrifice”

* * * * *
Go to Segment 1:Heresies About the Christmas Baby
* * * * *

Many of us decorate our homes and lawns with nativity scenes at Christmas time. Did you know that the first nativity scene was organized by St. Francis of Assisi, almost 800 years ago? Oh, you already knew that one? OK, here’s another. Did you know that Francis came up with the idea as a device to refute false Gnostic teaching about Christ that was spreading in Europe at that time?

What better way to illustrate the true humanity of Christ than to remember the details of His birth?
• That he came from a human mother, a young girl named Mary.
• That he was born in a real place, a little village called Bethlehem, in Israel.
• At a real time, 2,000 years ago.
• And that his first bed was a manger, a feeding trough, in a stable.
Jesus was, and is, a man.

This is the second segment of a sermon simply titled, “Jesus Is a Man.” The first segment, “Heresies About the Christmas Baby,” is posted here. “Jesus Is a Man” is the first in a series of Christmas messages titled: “Five Truths a Telling: The Doctrines of Christmas.” Christmas beautifully communicates five fundamental truths about Jesus of Nazareth.
• Jesus is a Man.
• Jesus is God.
• Jesus is the Son of God.
• Jesus is our Savior.
• Jesus is our King.

The First Nativity Scene
Francis Bernardone was a Catholic priest in Italy in the early 1200s. In those days, a form of Gnostic false teaching was spreading through Italy and Europe. Heretics were teaching that all flesh is evil, and that Jesus couldn’t possibly have really occupied a fleshly body or been a real human being. (The specific heresy Francis was battling was Catharism. Catharism was a form of Christian Gnosticism, which I explained more fully in the preceding segment of this sermon).

To combat the false teachings of the Cathari, St. Francis organized the first living nativity scene. It was outdoors. He used live animals. To represent Jesus, he used a statue of a baby. At nightfall he invited the townfolk to come, their path illumined by torch light, to walk through his nativity scene. The message of what they saw was obvious: Jesus had a real human mother, and a real human birth, because Jesus was, and is, a very real human being.

When the people gathered there, Francis preached a gospel sermon, and then he led them in a song, which was the beginning of the modern Christmas carol. The idea caught on, and soon nativity scenes were being staged and Christmas carols were being sung all over Europe. The practice continues to this day. Every year, proclaiming in a very graphic way: when Jesus came from heaven to earth, He became a man, one of us.

The preacher and scholar Arthur Pink wrote:

While we always contend that Christ is God, let us never lose the conviction [that] He is most certainly a man. … [A]s to His manhood, perfect manhood, made in all respects like the rest of mankind, sin alone excepted. His humanity is real, for He was born. He lay in the virgin’s womb, and in due time was born. The gate by which we enter our first life he passed through also.

He was not created, nor transformed, but His humanity was begotten and born. As He was born, so in the circumstances of His birth, he is completely human. He was as weak and feeble as any other babe. He is not even royal, but human. Those born in marble halls of old were wrapped in purple garments, and were thought by the common people to be a superior race. But this Babe was wrapped in swaddling clothes and had a manger for a cradle, so that the true humanity of His being would come out.

Jesus’ Early Development
Luke 2 contains much of what the Bible tells us about the Christmas story. It also contains everything we know about Jesus’ early development.

• Luke 2:6-7 describes Jesus’ birth: “While they were there [in Bethlehem], the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger.”

• Verse 40 describes Jesus as a toddler: “The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.”

• Verse 46 describes Christ as a preadolescent: “Then, after three days, they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them, and asking them questions.”

• Verse 51 describes the conclusion of the confrontation between Jesus and His parents at the temple when he was twelve: “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and He continued in subjection to them.”

• And Verse 52 describes Jesus as a teenager and a young man: “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men.”

Jesus was a real man. He had to learn how to walk. He had to learn how to talk. He had to go to school. And ask questions. And study. He had to obey His parents. He had to mature physically. And he had to increase in wisdom. Because He was, and is, a human being.

Why So Important?
But why is Jesus’ humanity so important? Why is it so important for us to understand and believe that Jesus is a man? Why did the Apostle John go so far as to say that anyone who questions this doctrine is a heretic and an antichrist (John 4:1-3)?

One reason is that Continue reading


Jesus Became the Ultimate Human Sacrifice


Heresies About the Christmas Baby

> Sermon Series: “Five Truths a Telling: The Doctrines of Christmas”
> Sermon 1: “Jesus Is a Man”
> Segment 1: “Heresies About the Christmas Baby”

* * * * *

I love Christmas. It is one of my favorite times to be part of a church family. I believe celebrating Christmas is one of the more important things that a church does together as a worshipping congregation.

I can only imagine what Christmas is like for people who don’t go to church. For them, I suppose, Christmas is just another holiday — another chance to eat a lot of food, and watch some sports, and exchange some gifts. By themselves, those things sound pretty empty to me. At church, we celebrate the true meaning of the season with our songs and hymns, our candle-lit services, our Christmas programs and our Christmas sermons.

I suppose we preachers and teachers would like to believe that people learn their Christian doctrine primarily from the sermons we preach and the lessons we teach. But I think the truth is that quite a bit of the doctrine that most Christians know, they learned from the songs and hymns we sing, and from the visual things we do: things like baptism, and the Lord’s supper — and celebrating Christmas. The Christmas story communicates, in an exceptionally visual and clear way, many of the essential doctrines of Christianity.

This is the first in a series of Christmas messages titled: “Five Truths a Telling: The Doctrines of Christmas.” Christmas beautifully communicates five fundamental truths about Jesus.
• Jesus is a Man.
• Jesus is God.
• Jesus is the Son of God.
• Jesus is our Savior.
• Jesus is our King.
Man, God, Son of God, Savior and King. Five truths that Christmas so effectively proclaims, every year, loud and clear. “Five Truths a Telling: The Doctrines of Christmas.”

The Gnostic Heresy
The first of those five Christmas truths is a potent one: Jesus is a Man. A real man, a real human being.
• Jesus: the first-born son of Joseph and Mary, a humble, blue-collar family who lived in Galilee, in Israel.
• Jesus: who was born in a stable, round back, in Bethlehem.
• The oldest of several brothers and sisters.
• Jesus: Who played with his playmates, attended school, and as a teenager, became a carpenter by trade.
• Jesus of Nazareth.
You don’t get any more real or more human than Jesus.

And yet, one of the most persistent heresies with which Christianity has had to contend, since the earliest days, is the claim by some false teachers that Jesus was not really a man.

Toward the end of the 1st century, when Christianity was still only a few decades old, Christian Gnostics began to teach that Christ was not really a man. Their false teaching was based on the equally mistaken belief that the flesh is inherently evil. And so, they reasoned, Christ — who was holy, who was divine — could not have actually occupied wicked human flesh.

Some Gnostics (Docetics) said that Jesus didn’t really have a fleshly body. That it was just an illusion. Other Gnostics acknowledged that Jesus was a real person with a real body, but they taught that Jesus was not the real Christ. They claimed that the Christ was a spirit who came down from heaven and occupied Jesus’ body for three years, from the time of his baptism to just before his crucifixion. That Christ temporarily borrowed the body of Jesus of Nazareth, without being tainted by its physicality. Variations on these Gnostic themes have continued to resurface, century after century, for the last 2,000 years. There are those who teach such things today.

I have observed that many modern Christians — who would never describe themselves as Gnostics or would even know what that term means — seem to believe that the flesh is inherently evil, and that Jesus must not have really been a man. Not like other men. Not really like you and me. Because to understand Jesus as a true human being would somehow diminish Him.

Jesus at the Movies
You can see it in the way many of the modern movies have depicted Christ. In The Greatest Story Ever Told, Max Von Sydow’s Jesus speaks with an excruciatingly slow, hypnotic, other-worldly voice. In Ben-Hur, when the lead character collapses to the ground and Jesus offers him a dipper of water, the slave looks up at this kind stranger, and as they lock eyes, Ben-Hur looks as if he has seen a ghost.

Jesus was not other-worldly. He was not a ghost. He was a real human, born to this world, the Son of Man. Violins did not swell in the background when Jesus entered a room. People did not freeze in place and time when they looked into Jesus’s eyes. I don’t commend every aspect of Jesus Christ Superstar, but I think one reason that movie received such a negative response from the religious community is because it depicted Jesus as a real man — with personality and emotions and a temper. It can be startling, it can feel a bit scandalous, to fully embrace the truth that Jesus really is a man.

We picture Jesus with shoulder-length hair, wearing a flowing robe and sandals, and that image enhances our mystical perception of Him. But Jesus simply dressed like other men of his day. If Jesus were living in the contemporary Western world, He might have short-cropped hair and wear a business suit, or perhaps slacks and a sports shirt. Imagine Jesus, with his hair in a short clipper cut, dressed in blue jeans and a polo shirt. If you find such a Jesus hard to accept, is it because you have difficulty embracing the idea that Jesus is a real man?

Line in the Sand in 1 John
This subject is not open for debate. As a matter of fact, the New Testament categorically condemns the teaching that Jesus was not a man as heresy.

The epistle of I John was one of the last books of the Bible to be written, around 90 AD. By then, Christian Gnosticism was on the rise and gaining a toehold in the early churches. It is obvious that the Apostle John wrote 1 John specifically for the purpose of refuting and denouncing Gnosticism.

Listen how John opens his letter. 1 John 1:1:

What was from the beginning — what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life…

As John wrote that, he was an elderly man, probably 75 to 85 years old. He was remembering the time, more than half a century earlier, when he was a young man, perhaps a teenager, and he was a disciple and then an apostle of Jesus Christ. He tells his readers: “Don’t listen to what these Gnostic false teachers are telling you. I was there! I was there from the beginning. I saw Jesus in the flesh. I stood at the foot of the cross, as Jesus shed his real red blood. I touched Jesus with my own hands. So don’t listen to this nonsense that Jesus is not a real human being.”

In 1 John 4, John spells it out even more clearly. 1 John 4:1-3:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus, is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist.

You can’t state it any more clearly than that. This doctrine that Jesus is a Man is a fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith, and to deny it is to deny the faith.

This sermon series is titled, “Five Truths a Telling.” One of the truths that Christmas tells, loud and clear, is that Jesus is a man. Celebrating Christmas and remembering the Christmas story is one of the best ways we have to proclaim this essential doctrine. When we sing about the Christmas baby and re-create the details of His birth, we declare all over again, year after year, that Jesus was, and is, a real human.

Not some ghost, or spirit, or alien, or superman. He did not descend fully grown from the heavens. He did not ride in on a chariot. He did not materialize out of nowhere. He is not the figment of somebody’s imagination.

He was born. He was born! He is the Christmas baby. And thus, Jesus really did come in the flesh. That is a fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith.

* * * * *
Segment 2: “Jesus Became the Ultimate Human Sacrifice