Month: January, 2018

Bible Study: God on Divorce

 

 Matthew 19:1-12

Why do you think divorce is so prevalent in our society today?

If everyone lived a righteous life, would there still be divorce? Explain. What does your answer then say about divorce?

Before we get further in the study, how do you think the church should respond to divorce and deal with it in the life of the Church?

Describe the ideal marriage.

What do you think Jesus means by calling a married couple “one flesh?”

What was the Pharisee’s intention on asking Jesus about divorce? Were they truly interested in His opinion?

How does Deuteronomy 24:1-4 correlate to what Jesus is teaching?

What do you think God means by “some indecency” in the Deuteronomy text?

In His argument, Jesus uses Genesis 1:27 and Malachi 2:10-16 to make His case. Why did he avoid Deuteronomy 24….or did He?

How could the people’s hardness of heart allow Moses to allow divorce? Was this right for Moses to do? Explain verse 8.

What makes marriage sacred? Is it only sacred when done by an ordained minister? How about those who become ordained in 15 minutes over the internet? Can anyone do it?

Why do you believe that sexual immorality (marital unfaithfulness) was given as the only reason for a divorce to be justified?

In your opinion, what qualifies as marital unfaithfulness (Pornia)?

Is divorce a refusal to obey God?

Should we treat the people who remarry without just cause and then marry again as adulterers? Verse 9

The disciples of Jesus seemed confused when they say to Jesus, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” What does this say about the disciples belief in divorce?

What do you think Jesus meant by His response in verse 11?

What is Jesus saying by using the example of eunuchs in His argument?

Now that you have done this study, has your answer changed as to how the church should respond to divorce?

(Note:  Bible study materials are gathered from various resources, i.e. Bible.org)

God on Divorce

 

Matthew 19:1-12

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

Today’s sermon will attempt to bring light to something that has confused churches for many centuries, divorce. What is it in God’s eyes? When is it permissible? How should we as a church family handle it? This is always a very difficult subject because it’s one of the greatest trials some people will ever undertake during their lives. It’s difficult because there is so much pain associated with it.

The purpose of this sermon is not to make any of you who have suffered divorce to feel guilty. It is a forgivable sin like any other sin and there are certain instances when it’s necessary. In instances of adultery, physical or emotional abuse, or even unbelief, for example, there could be a case made for it Biblically.

The purpose of this sermon, however, is to bring to light how God sees something that has become epidemic in our society. Today, in too many cases, marriage is seen as temporary. I’ll stay with my spouse until something better comes along. I’ve become bored with my spouse so I’ll try to find my excitement elsewhere. This wasn’t the spouse I thought I was getting so I’ll just divorce them and try again. We live in a society of disposable marriage.

For years we’ve been told that the divorce rate in the United States hovers around 50%. Fortunately, this is not true. Currently, the divorce rate is around 30.1% according to the last census bureau. Good news you say? Maybe if you compare it to 50%. Yet almost 1 in 3 marriages end in divorce. To me this number is astounding. 1 in 10 would be upsetting. What is happening in our society that a third of the people who get married end up divorced?

I believe some of the blame can be placed on how society sees marriage. Anymore its more of a secular thing. Anyone can marry anyone. If Bill wants to marry Tom that’s fine. And all you need to do to officiate a wedding is spend 15 minutes getting yourself ordained to some fake church on the internet. In our disposable society, we have often taken the sacredness of marriage out of the picture. God is no longer invited in anymore in many cases. Too often its all based on a piece of paper from the state, not on the words and commands of our Creator. And we wonder why nearly 1 in 3 marriages end in divorce.

Like I mentioned, I’m not here to make anyone feel guilty, but neither am I going to gloss over something that has become such a troubling statistic in a sick society. Divorce is wrong and there is far too much of it. Together, as Christians, we must take a stand against the destruction of such a sacred institution as marriage.

This sacredness is why God has some very strict teachings on marriage.  Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”  Genesis 2:22-24, Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”  Proverbs 18:22, “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD.”  And from our Gospel lesson for this morning in Matthew 19, “(Jesus) answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. 

God instituted Marriage to be the most intimate of relationships we have on earth, even more intimate then the relationships we are blessed to have with our parents. Therefore, we need to make every effort in our marriages to make them strong and fruitful. We need to   see again, marriage as the sacred institution it was ordained to be.

So far, we have begun to build a case as to why God forbids divorce except in the most extreme of cases. But there is more to say.

First, God forbids divorce because it results in a broken covenant between Him and the married couple. In a Christian ceremony, certain promises are made to God Himself. Til’ death do us part being foremost among them. If you were given a proper ceremony then it was done in the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It was counted as sacred because it was our triune God who blessed it. Each person took a sacred oath to love, honor and obey their spouse as long as they lived. This was no agreement with the state that is easily dismissed. This was an agreement with God to uphold a very sacred union. And any union with God is not able to be voided by man.

Malachi 2:10, 13-16, “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?  You cover the LORD’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.

So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

Rather stern words to be sure. Now, again, they are not repeated to make anyone feel bad. They are repeated because the truth has to be told. The people whom God is addressing in this section of scripture were breaking a sacred covenant and God was very upset about it. God detests divorce, he detests any covenant of His that has been broken. These people’s prayers and sacrifices were hindered because they cared little about the sacred oath they had made. Eventually, God stopped listening to their shallow words. God was disciplining them because the agreements between they and God had been broken by their cavalier response to His sacred promise.

If you look up no-fault divorce states on Google, the first heading you will see is this, “Washington state uncontested divorce – $149 online divorces in minutes.” That is what marriage has been relegated to. Unfortunately, this is nothing new. The Jews themselves had such a law. In fact, it was possible to get a divorce in Biblical times if a wife did anything to displease her husband. Burning breakfast was cause enough.

In Deuteronomy 24 we read this:

“When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the LORD. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.”

To liberal Jews this meant that a man could divorce his wife for any reason, no matter how shallow. But Jesus stated this was only done because of their hardness of heart but that God always intended to make marriage permanent. So, he gave them the words to change their thinking, “Whoever divorces His wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 

God also forbids divorce because of what it does to the family. Unfortunately, in any divorce with children involved, they more often suffer the most.

In a Nicholas Zill study, he reported that children of divorced parents are, regardless of their economic circumstances, more likely to have poor relationships with their parents, drop out of high school (13% for two parent homes, 31% for single parent homes) Become pregnant as teens (The teen pregnancy rate for two parent homes is 11% whereas the teen pregnancy rate among divorced families is 33%), and receive psychological help.

You see, this broken covenant is not just between you and God our you and your spouse, it is a sacred covenant that carries on to your children, and they know when a covenant has been broken.

Zill said, “Many people were saying single-parent families are just different, not necessarily worse or better, and the factors that link kids to problems have to do with poverty, but my research didn’t support that explanation.”

Author Maggie Gallagher summed up this problem in her book, The Abolition of Marriage.” She writes, “The evidence is now overwhelming that the collapse of marriage is creating a whole generation of children less happy, less physically and mentally healthy, less equipped to deal with life or produce at work, and more dangerous to themselves and others.” In divorce everyone suffers, especially our children, largely because they are never given a choice.

Divorce is a painful thing. It was never instituted by God and is caused by the sin that was ushered into their world. So how can we avoid it?

Jesus reminds us of a hint to this problem that was first said at the dawn of time, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” We must remember that this union is not just superficial, it’s a union of souls, a union of flesh itself. We are no longer two but one in marriage.

This thought is so alien in our world today. Our culture tells us over and over again that happiness is the ultimate goal, it tells us that we should be a person of the world following worldly values and if you don’t you will be chastised.

Love, in our culture, is really not about sacrifice anymore. It’s about what’s in it for me. “She’s beautiful and she looks good on my arm, I think I’ll marry her.” He makes me laugh and I like hanging out with him, I think I’ll marry him.” He or she is loaded, think of the nice things I can have, I think I’ll get hitched to that gravy train.”

But from the beginning, God has taught us that love is about the willingness to give of ourselves, not about what we can get from the other person. Marriage is about building that love over a lifetime through good times and bad.

We all want happiness and my wish for you is that you all remain happy in your marriage. But marriage isn’t about happiness especially when our desire for happiness is displaced as the goal. Looking for our ultimate happiness in marriage is usually a vain thing because nothing we could ever do could measure up to the happiness we seek. Happiness is much more than instant gratification, it comes as a result of two people working together over time. It’s not thrill seeking through materialism and sex that the world portrays it to be. True happiness can only come when God is a part of the union. The more I see marriage fail, the more I am convinced of this.

God instituted marriage as one of His greatest gifts to mankind. He knew this world would bring with it a myriad of problems that would be hard to face alone. He knew that children would need both a father and a mother to have the ultimate benefits from life. He knew that a loving relationship was the foundation of humanness and He wanted us to have it in its greatest degree.

Marriage means so much to God because relationship means so much to God. And any marriage rooted in Him will stand a much better chance of surviving because he is part of that relationship. Through Him two become one, each sacrificing for the benefit of the whole. Through God a beautiful and sacred union is given to last a lifetime.

So, let us all who are married, re-dedicate our lives to our spouses. Let us all be willing to go the extra mile to make the union God instituted work. Let us find our happiness in pleasing those whom God has given us, because they are truly gifts from God Himself intended for the benefit of a whole society.

For those who are not married, support those who are. Speak well of the institution, even if you yourself had a marriage that didn’t work.

God always wants what is best for you, so, those contemplating marriage, choose wisely and see the institution of marriage as the sacred union it is. Be prepared to give all of yourself to your spouse and don’t come into marriage for what you can get out of it.

And finally, as a church family, we are to handle everything in love. If two of our members are going through the process, we need to be there for them. If someone who is divorced visits our church, we are to welcome them.

And for those of you who have gone through divorce or are going through it. Know that God loves you with a God sized love. He wants you to make every effort but understands that sometimes things are beyond your control. Through repentance His forgiveness is assured. Make the rest of your life a blessing in His eyes.

Marriage is an amazing gift from a loving God, but it has its peaks and valleys like anything else. It’s hard enough to overcome the valleys alone. Lean on each other and on a loving God to see you through the tough times.  May God continue to bless this sacred gift and may we honor it by our actions. Amen.

The Harvest Is Plentiful…

 

Matthew 9:35-38

 

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

One of the most stirring movies that I have ever seen is the movie, Schindler’s List. It’s based off the true story of Oskar Schindler and his bravery in saving hundreds of Jews from death during World War 2. One of the most moving scenes is near the end of the movie. Oskar Schindler had invested his energy and his fortune in saving the lives of many who would have ended up in Hitler’s death camps had it not been for his willingness to put their lives before his own. The war was finally over and the Jews he had saved from certain death were now free, but now Schindler himself would become the fugitive. He walks to his car with a Jewish friend with the others all around and Schindler begins to cry. He looks at his watch and he knows that if he had sold it, he might have saved one more person. He looks at his car and knows that he could have exchanged it for additional lives and he says to his friend, “I could have done more.”  I could have done more.

This morning our topic is the plentiful harvest. It’s based on the words of Christ in our Gospel lesson, Matthew 9:37-38, where Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers to the harvest.”

So, what did he want His disciples to learn by telling them this. Many years ago now, Cheryl and I lived in Grand Junction Colorado. Our little house was cozy but the yard was awesome because it was filled with cherry trees. We couldn’t wait for the fruit to ripen so that we could gorge ourselves with its sweetness.

As soon as the cherries were ready to pick, we were out there collecting as many as we could. With them we made cherry pie, cherry juice, cherry crumb cake and I’m sure we ate more then we probably should have. Fresh fruit ripe for the picking. It was hard to resist. It was a great blessing to enjoy the “fruits” of our labor.

Today we heard the words of Jesus concerning the harvest. Now, it’s not cherries that He’s talking about. He’s talking about the harvesting of souls. The harvest is plentiful but the laborers few.

Even after picking so many cherries, we found that there were still many more than we had picked still on the trees. Eventually, these fruits that were left lost their sweetness. They were eaten by worms and other creatures or they just rotted away.

This was the analogy that Jesus was meaning His disciples to learn. The harvesting of souls is much like the harvesting of fruit. If you leave it too long, it becomes desecrated by others or lost to the world. Left too long and the soul can lose its sweet desire.

When Jesus looked out at the crowds following Him, He had compassion on them. So many helpless people, so many living in subjection to others. This was not a picture of the freedom He was offering. This was what He had come for, to reach the lost and the limited, the rejected and abandoned. They all mattered to Him no matter their status in life. His God sized love longed for them all to be saved from the limitations of this world.

Roy Fish served as a professor of evangelism at Southwest Baptist Seminary. Years ago, his infant son had an illness that brushed him near death. Fish’s heart broke at the thought of his son dying. As his son’s fragile body lay in his hospital bed, Fish asked in his heart, what would I regret most if my son were to die? As he pondered that question, the answer became very clear. I would regret that he died never knowing how much I loved him.

This is the compassion Jesus had as He looked out at the crowd. His heart grieved for them all because they didn’t fully know the depth of their heavenly Father’s love. His heart broke for all those who had yet to learn of His own love for them.

He looked out and He saw people harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. They were defeated in life, looking for anything that might bring them hope.

The toils and struggles of life had left them broken and desperate. They had lost any sense of purpose and their search continued for a reason to go on. Wandering crowds without meaning, without a reason to live. Like sheep without the direction and protection of the shepherd, many falling to the wilds of the world.

Sheep are rather dumb. They simply follow the one before them. If they have no shepherd to guide them they must trust the sheep walking ahead of them. Unfortunately, should that sheep walk off a cliff, the others are likely to follow.

So, it was for the crowds Jesus looked upon and as it is with so many in our world today. They simply follow the latest craze. If we legalize drugs and abortion, then it must be ok. If we decide to eliminate God from the public square then we’ll follow that all the way over the cliff.

These three thoughts, harassed, helpless, and a sheep without a shepherd are a fitting description of our own society.

Ralph Waldo Emerson was right when he said, “People are living lives of quiet desperation.” In their travels through life, they follow each other down the broad path to destruction, convinced the people before them are heading in the right direction. They are harassed to obey, helpless to resist and without guidance that is developed in truth.

In John 4:35, Jesus said to His followers, “Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest!” I wonder if that’s what you see when you look out over the harvest of souls ready for the picking. I wonder if you live with the urgency to get the crop in before it’s too late. If the reaping is too late, the crop will eventually fail.

In Jesus’ day, the population of the whole earth was about 150 million people. At the present time, it gains 150 million souls every two years. The harvest is indeed plentiful. Today the world’s population exceeds 6 billion people with the population of the United States just north of 300 million and each one of them contains the likeness of God.

Of the 6 Billion people in the world, it is estimated that over 30 million people will die worldwide without Christ this year. And of the 300 million people in this country, it is estimated that 41% of those people will be radically unchurched, in other words, they don’t go to church at all. Not for Easter, not for Christmas, not for weddings or funerals. 41%. How many of those are bound for the broad path? I believe the answer would sadden us all.

Pastor Vance Havner used to say, “The tragedy of our time is that the situation is desperate but the saints are not.” He’s talking about all of those who are satisfied in our faith. He’s talking about all those who speak of faith but rarely live it.

Jesus is looking for laborers because, right now, the laborers are few. He wants people driven by their faith to make a kingdom difference in the world. He wants people devoted to the cause of the lost. He wants you to feel what He feels with the same compassion He feels.

Jesus wants you to follow His example. In our Gospel it says that He did three things for the lost sheep. He taught, He proclaimed the Gospel and he healed. It’s not by mistake or coincidence that these three actions are found in the same place that Jesus mentions the lack of laborers. In its telling, He is instructing all of us what it means to be a laborer.

The harvest will never be reaped unless there are reapers to reap it. In other words, the lessons will be lost if there is no one to teach them. The Gospel will be lost if there is no one to proclaim it. The Healing will never happen unless there are healers to heal. Jesus Christ needs men and women to bring in the harvest by teaching, proclaiming and healing. And to do that, followers today need to see people as Jesus saw them.

So what can we do?

We can start taking responsibility for the harvest. God has chosen to work through His children and He’s counting on us to plant the seeds so the crop will be ready for harvest.

He is calling on all of us to take responsibility for our field. There are so many people we come into contact with everyday and many of them are lost: family, friends, co-workers, the lady who does your dry cleaning, the guy who fixes your car, even some in our churches. That is our field. We are responsible for them. We are to look with compassion on all of them. We are to teach, proclaim and heal with every opportunity.

Teach them what you know. Tell them of the love of Jesus and the price He paid for our salvation. Teach them godliness by living in a godly way. Teach them sacrifice by the sacrifices you make as a Christian. Teach them holiness by practicing holiness.

Proclaim the good news of the Gospel with passion. Show them the way to everlasting life. Guide them onto the narrow path by showing them what true freedom really means.

Heal their aching hearts. Find the lost and lonely and give them a purpose. Help them to reconcile broken relationships, lend them a hand in rebuilding their shattered lives.

Pray like you’ve never prayed before by praying for the harvest. Pray for the laborers of God to unite. Pray for the salvation of the lost, for Christian men and women to enter the fields with hope. In prayer we can do so much good, so pray continually.

Go and see people as Jesus does, helpless, harassed and without guidance. We can’t bring in the harvest until we first go into the harvest. Our job is not to save the harvest, that’s God’s job. Our job is to tell people about the Lord of the harvest, to work the fields, to do a little weeding. The Gospel begins with go. Without going there is no knowing. If we, as God’s own children refuse to go, then who will?

Finally, we can share our story, the one that led us to faith. The great sin of the church is its silence. I’ve heard people say, “I’ll let my life be my witness” and I’ve seen those same people fail over and over again. We have taken the Great Commission and made it the great omission. We turn people away by our lack of testimony and our hypocritical actions.

But, you say, the harvest is so vast. The needs are so over whelming. What can poor little I do?

I’m reminded of a story I heard of an old man, walking down the beach at dawn, who noticed a young man ahead of him picking up starfish and flinging them into the sea. Catching up to the youth, the old man asked him what he was doing. The answer was that the stranded starfish would die if left in the morning sun.

“But the beach goes on for miles, and there are millions of starfish,” Said the old man. “How can your effort make a difference?”

The young man looked at the starfish in his hand, threw it to safety in the waters and said. “It makes a difference to that one.”

Oskar Schindler realized he could have done more and that will always be the case. Yet, had he done nothing, hundreds would have died a horrifying death. I hope your hearts will be stirred to do more to make a difference in the harvest so that others will avoid an even more horrifying eternal death. I pray you will begin to see people as Jesus sees them. When you do, it will make all the difference in the world. My greatest hope is that you will follow Christ’s example to teach, proclaim and heal.

The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Be one of the few to bring hope to a lost soul. Oskar Schindler could have done more. Could you? Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bible Study: The Harvest is Plentiful…

 

Bible Study Questions – Matthew 9:35-38

Look at Matthew 4:23. How does it compare to Matthew 9:35 and what does this tell you about Christ’s ministry here on earth?

How is Matthew 28:19-20 similar to Matthew 9:35? What conclusion(s) are we to draw from this?

What 3 methods did Jesus use to do His ministry according to verse 35? How can we do the same?

What 3 phrases, in verse 36, are used to describe the crowds? In what ways do these phrases describe lost people in Bellingham, Seattle and the world today?

The more accurate interpretation of splagchnízomai is that Jesus not only saw and sympathized with their suffering, but that he experienced it emotionally within himself as well. Name a time when you had a similar feeling.

What do you think harassed and helpless meant in the context of verse 36?

What do you see when you look at your neighborhood, the city, and the world you live in?

What more can you do about what you see in the world around you?

Describe a shepherd in the context of verse 36. Why is it important to have a spiritual shepherd?

Can anyone be a spiritual shepherd? Why or why not

How is being a Christian like being a farmer?

Who are the laborers Christ is speaking of in verses 37-38?

Explain why the harvest is plentiful in this context. Why are the laborers few?

Who suffers when we choose not to serve as laborers in God’s harvest? Jeremiah 2:12-13; Hosea 7:1, 13, 13:9

Read Ezekiel 34:1-16. What are the parallels to this passage in Jesus’ ministry? How is it the responsibility of the leader to feed the sheep?

This passage tells us that the biggest barrier to what God has called us to be is not how the people will respond to us; rather, it is finding those who will go! What are your thoughts on this?

Read Philippians 2:1-8. Why is it so hard to not merely look to your own interests?

What does prayer have to do in finding laborers? Won’t God do this without prayer?

What is the greatest lesson you have learned about yourself after studying Matthew 9:35-38?

(Note:  Bible study materials are gathered from various resources, i.e. Bible.org.)

“Jesus Calms the Storm”

 

Text:  Matthew 8:23-27

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

In our second installation of “The Lost Chapters of Matthew,” series we come to Matthew 8. Within this chapter you’ll find a treasure trove of good material. In this section of Scripture Jesus cleanses a leper, we hear about the profound faith of the centurion, we witness in story Jesus healing many, including Peter’s Mother-in-law and two men from demons and we hear Jesus tell us about the cost of discipleship. Any of these stories would make good sermon material. But I gravitate to my favorite miracle of all, Jesus calming the waters.

Why is it my favorite? Because it seems to me to be the most human. The disciples lose all sense of decorum when the storm puts them in jeopardy. They become angry at Jesus because they don’t know what to do and it seems Jesus doesn’t care. And finally, my favorite moment of all, they are more scared of what just happened when the winds and the seas obeyed Jesus then they were of dying in the storm.

I can relate to any of these situations and I’m sure many of you can too. When the storms of life hit, I’ve had times when my whole personality changed. What once seemed logical now didn’t seem so cut and dried. I’ve had times when life wasn’t going as I had planned and I got angry with Jesus for not being there for me when I thought I needed Him most.

And I’ve had times of sheer awe as I have beheld the power of God so palpable and real. This miracle is my favorite because it’s so real. It’s nothing someone would have just made up because the emotions are too raw, the reactions too spontaneous.

After walking with Him, learning from Him and witnessing many other miracles performed by Him, this miracle stands out to the disciples the most. “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey Him?”

It’s most logical to continue with this story making an analogy about the calming of this storm and Christ’s ability to calm the storms in our lives and we’ll certainly get to this. But I want to try and answer the question the disciples asked, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and the sea obey Him?”

To answer the question, we go back to the story. Jesus and His disciples are on the Sea of Galilee. It’s important to note here that the sea is where many of them made their living. They knew all about its unpredictability. They were scared of the storm because it was probably not the first storm they’d been a part of.

The Sea of Galilee is an unusual body of water. It’s pear shaped, eight miles wide and 13 miles from North to South but its as much as 150 feet deep in some places and is 680 feet below sea level. Water comes gushing down from the mountains including 9200 ft high Mt. Herman.

This gushing water has cut deep ravines that act like funnels drawing violent winds down from the heights onto the lake, many times without warning. This is why the storm was so sudden for them, because the sea and its surroundings are primed for surprise.

All day long the pressure had been building up and the storm hit with a sudden fury. The disciples knew this would be a bad one too. Though they had been through many a storm, this one was especially bad. So bad, in fact, that they feared for their lives.

Yet, Jesus is calm through the roughest seas. So calm, in fact, that He’s sleeping. As his disciples bail water in a desperate attempt to save themselves, Jesus catches a few z’s.

Today is the second Sunday after the Epiphany. Epiphany remembers the visit of the magi, Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles. Jesus as no more than a toddler, we imagine Him sweet and gentile, not overly-anxious but always observing. During Epiphany we remember the Baptism of Jesus and the dove so gently descending upon the Savior.

Calmness was a trademark of much of Christ’s ministry. From a sleeping infant, to the willing recipient of God’s Spirit to the calmness found even in the greatest of storms.

Jesus was calm because He knew His purpose, His calling.

He came to fulfill prophecy, but for the moment, the disciples forget all about this calmness, this prophetic moment, and fear for their lives, even as Jesus sleeps. The disciples are worried that now may be the end but all the while they forget that God Himself is with them. Here is God in the flesh with little concern because He is bigger than the waves, He is stronger than the winds.

It’s easy to forget sometimes isn’t it, especially when the storms of life hit. Yet all the while, Jesus remains calm because our storms could never overcome His power over them. His whole purpose in coming to us was to help us overcome the storms we will most certainly face. His promise is to never leave us or forsake us during them.

Yet, too often when the storms hit, we forget just how powerful Christ is to guide us through them. We grab for the nearest pail hoping to bail ourselves out of danger while Jesus calmly waits for our invitation to do what He does.

Jesus left the stormless perfection of heaven for the boiling storms of earth: storms of sin, storms of rage, storms of unrighteousness. He left the certainty of paradise for the uncertainty of man. All because he loved us enough to want to clear away our storms here so that we might one day experience the end of our storms with Him in bliss. Jesus calmly came to save us by His power over life’s eruptions so that we might, one day, call heaven home.

What sort of man is this, that even winds and the sea obey Him?” He is the one who pours out His strength despite our weaknesses. After being woke up, he could have ignored their pleas, angry at their lack of faith. He could have simply ignored them and gone back to sleep. But that was not His purpose.

This storm was happening to teach a very valuable lesson. Jesus wanted His disciples to depend on Him and only Him. He wanted them to see His stillness during the storm. He wanted them to emulate His composure when all seemed lost.

Instead of giving up on them for their lack of faith, He shows them His power over the winds and the rain. He beckons them to stop and they do so with such a suddenness it terrifies all who witness it. “What sort of man is this, that even winds and the sea obey Him?”

Our Jesus, that same Jesus who watches over you and me, is a God of infinite power. He not only has the power to control the weather but He can move the very stars if need be. This same Jesus we pray to everyday, has the power to draw good even from evil. And He offers us all this, if we simply believe in His ability to do them.

Now, does that mean that every wish will be granted simply because we believe. No, because He is even bigger than that. He is greater than a Genie because he has already planned out our greatest path.

Jeremiah 29:11-13, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

This storm was a storm of purpose. A storm to remind His disciples that, while he is with them bodily, still all the power of the divine was with Him. A storm to remind them where the real power of the heavens lies.

The almighty power of Jesus was often surprising to His disciples. After all, they got to witness it almost every day. Jesus looked like hem, He spoke like them, He ate like them, yet he did it all without sin. His divine power was hidden by His flesh but it was so often on display. With a simple word He would make the blind to see and the deaf to hear. With a simple prayer He would feed thousands with a couple loaves of bread and a few fish. By desire alone, he would turn water into wine.

All had surprised them because Jesus was doing things no mere mortal could ever do. Yet, this miracle on the stormy seas, with Christ’s display of almighty power, scared them the most. This one showed them more power than they had ever seen before, at least in their limited capacity to recognize power. This night Jesus had proven His divine nature by showing His control over all of nature. With simple rebuke, everything comes crashing into clear focus. This man is truly God.

Titus 3:4-7: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

Later His disciples would witness a miracle even greater than the calming of the sea. They would witness a miracle so great that they couldn’t believe it even after they were told my Jesus Himself it would happen. One day soon, they would witness the miracle of Christ’s defeat of death. They would witness Him raising from His grave. They would see that death could not defeat Him because he was bigger even than death itself.

This last miracle would be the one that would change their lives forevermore. No more would they wonder who this man is. Now, the fullness of Godly power would be on display. Even Thomas would have to agree that everything they had learned before had just culminated into this one moment of truth. The man who calmed the storm in an instant was truly God Himself. No more would need to be revealed. All that Jesus had taught them was now clear. No more would they ever fear the things of earth because God was truly bigger than any worldly dilemma.

That same kind of faith Jesus wishes for you also. He was not just some man who said a few wise things and performed a few miracles. Jesus was God incarnate with all the power of the divine and all the love needed.

Today he invites you into His inner circle. He wants you to trust Him to calm the storms in your life just as he has promised. He wants you to depend on Him as your Guide to a better life than you could ever make for yourself. All it takes is the recognition of Christ in your life. He is the one who calmly waits for you to call out His name.

What sort of man is this, that even winds and the sea obey Him?” This is Jesus unlike any other human being that anyone has ever known. This is Jesus willing to calmly offer His body as the perfect sacrifice for all the sins of the world once and for all. This is Jesus who, by His almighty power, calms our troubled souls in an instant with His free forgiveness. This is Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the very Son of God come to bring us peace.

See His example of calmness during the storm and use it in your own life. Jesus was calm because he knew he was bigger than the storm, bigger even than death. When you need power in your life, trust in Him to impart His infinite power to you. Be calm because He is calm. Amen.

 

Bible Study: Jesus Calms the Storm

 

Matthew 8:23-27

Share times when you have experienced something catastrophic, within which Jesus has helped you.

*Interesting note* Although it’s called the “Sea” of Galilee, it’s actually a large, freshwater lake. As such, it’s sometimes referred to as Lake Galilee by modern folks. Others have also called it the “Lake of Gennesaret” (Jospehus), the “Sea of Tiberias” (naming it after a city on its southwestern shore), and “Sea of Kinnereth” (its ancient Hebrew name).

It says in verse one that when Jesus entered the boat, His disciples followed Him. What is truly required to follow Christ? Matthew 19:21; Mark 8:34-38 (What does it mean to deny oneself, to take up one’s cross); John 21:15-19; Philippians 3:12-16

Matthew says that the disciples cried out to Jesus “Lord, save us. We’re going to drown.” Mark says that the disciples said, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Luke says that they said, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown.” Why the discrepancy? What does this tell us about the moment?

Matthew says that Jesus said to them, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Mark says, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Luke simply says, “Where is your faith?” Why the rebuke at such a terrifying time?

What did Jesus mean to teach His disciples by His calmness?

*Interesting Note* the original Greek translated “Great storm” comes from the Greek words which mean megas (exceedingly great) and seismos (earthquake).

Why would the disciples be more scared of the calming of the storm then they were of the storm itself?

Why might a miracle of healing be less in the eyes of some than a miracle of nature?

What does this story tell us about (1) Jesus’ authority on earth (2) Faith and discipline (3) Life in the church?

Why is it so easy for so many to forget about God when they’re facing their greatest storms in life?

What does Scripture tell us about the value of staying calm? Ecclesiastes 10:4; Psalm 23:4, 37:7-9, 107:29-30; Proverbs 15:1; Matthew 11:28-30; John 14:1, 27; Ephesians 4:26; Philippians 4:6; James 1:19

In times of strife, where are we to go? Exodus 15:2; Psalm 33:4-6, 56:3; Isaiah 40:28-31, 41:10; Luke 12:8-10; Romans 1:18-20; 1 Corinthians 1:25-26; 1 Peter 2:1-5

(Note:  Bible study materials are gathered from various resources, i.e. Bible.org)

“And He Shall Be Called a Nazarene”

 

Matthew 2:19-23

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

To start this morning, I am introducing the beginning of a four-part series I originally called “The Lost Books of the Gospels.” Today we were to start “The Lost Books of Matthew.” Since introducing this, however, I have caused much anticipation, if not a little nervousness about the topic. “Did Matthew write other books we don’t know about?” “Is this some kind of apocrypha like book?” “Would our Lutheran fore-fathers approve?”

Well, for those who were concerned, 1) You fell into my trap. It’s all about the marketing. And 2) I really named it wrong.

In this four-part series, I am going to preach on chapters within each of the Gospels I have yet to teach in. This might be because they’re not included in our 3-year rotating pericope schedule (That’s the pre-scheduled Bible readings for each Sunday that every church is encouraged to follow and base their sermon from). It might be because when they were in the pericope, I decided to do the sermon from a different lesson than the Gospel lesson. I might have just been gone every time that certain pericope came up. But for whatever reason, in going through the pericope schedule 6-years in a row, I never spoke on the chapters I will cover, this morning being Matthew chapter 2.

So, as you might have now guessed, I thought it better to change the title to “The Lost Chapters of Matthew” instead. Not as yet unknown, just as yet untaught. Hope this clears everything up. No, I have not lost my mind….yet.

And today’s Gospel lesson is fitting because it’s a continuation of the Christmas story. This after-Christmas story begins in Egypt, where Joseph has recently taken His family to avoid the wrath of Herod, who wishes to kill the Christ child fearing the prophecy that the Child would be born to be the King of the Jews.

By now, Joseph is getting more comfortable with these angelic visions. It is now the third time that the angel has come to him in a dream and this time he tells Joseph that its time to return home.

You might remember in Matthew 1:20, Joseph is first visited by an angel with the assurance that all that Mary was telling him about her pregnancy was true. Then he is visited again with the warning about Herod and the encouragement to flee to Egypt. Finally, here in our Gospel lesson for this morning, he is visited two more times. First with the order to go to Israel and then again to flee to Galilee, specifically Nazareth.

This not only diverted them from danger, but it took them to a place people would least expect a king to live.

It would be easy to compare Nazareth with places like Deming or Arco. Not a lot of people lived there. The people of the bigger cities kind of looked down on them because they were considered by many to be not of the proper stock.

Now, all sane people know better about the people of Deming and Arco around here. They know that many of the best kind of people come from our rural communities. But, back then, Nazareth was not so fortunate.  It was Nathanael who made it known in John 1:43-46,

“The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 

This is a rather disappointing first impression on Nathanael’s part and all because Jesus was a Nazarene. And Nathanael should know, because he himself came from Nazareth. As I think of it, maybe this was some kind of self-deprecating humor on Nathan’s part.

Not only that, but Nazareth was part of Galilee, a gentile settlement on the edge. John tells us in chapter 7 of His Gospel that Nicodemus reminds Jesus that “No prophet arises from Galilee.”

So why Nazareth? Why such a nowhere town outside major Jewish settlements. Why a town so looked down upon? So despised? I mean, if some Iranian grew up and lived his whole life just outside Iran, I’m not sure he’d be received well even today if he came proclaiming things that the born and bred people of Iran needed to do to find salvation. I’m sure that even today it would put that person in great danger.

When Jesus first started His ministry, people were noticeably torn on whether to receive Him and His teachings or to reject them.  Back to John 7:25-31

Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, “Is not this the man whom they seek to kill? And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ? But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.” So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I come from. But I have not come of my own accord. He who sent me is true, and him you do not know. I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me. So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. Yet many of the people believed in him. They said, “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?” 

One side is saying, “this cannot be,” while the other side says, “How can this not be?” From the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus had an uphill battle to fight and much because on one fateful night, His family is led to Nazareth in Galilee.

But, in taking a step back, it really makes perfect sense. It was in Nazareth that Jesus would learn first hand about the down-trodden and despised. It was in Nazareth where He would learn that to get anything done you must be persistent and willing to go the extra mile. It was in Nazareth that he would learn what it felt like to be rejected and alone. In all this He would be prepared to face His own life of rejection, hate and condemnation. He was already battle tested because of where God had chosen Him to live and learn.

In many ways, the fates of Nazareth and of Jesus were a perfect match. Both were just out of the mainstream, away from the direct influence of the church but very much a part of it. Just as Nazareth was rejected so was Jesus, even by the people of Nazareth ironically. Just as Nazareth was an afterthought in the minds of many, so was Jesus in the eyes of the Pharisees, more an irritation than anything else.

So, Jesus would always and forever be a Nazarene for better or for worse. It would be the title He would wear at the beginning of His ministry, “Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Joseph.” It would hang as a title over His head at His death, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”

It was in humility that Jesus was raised and it was in humility He was killed yet He became the most important man to ever live because in that Humility He found His strength.

So it is fitting that the man of sorrows should come from a town of sorrows. Everything He had ever learned would prepare Him for the day His ministry would start in earnest. It’s almost as if God the Father knew what He was doing all along.

In this morning’s Gospel lesson Matthew affirms that it was no mistake that Jesus was from Nazareth. In fact, it was part of God’s salvation plan. In fact, this little tidbit in history also fulfilled a prophecy saying that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene.

Now, there is no place in the Old Testament that this prophecy can be found but it was well known enough that people of Jesus’ time would recognize it. This title would prove to be important throughout Jesus’ ministry because it was more proof to who He claimed to be. The title, “Jesus of Nazareth” is used 15 different times in the Book of Acts not because it pointed out where He was from but because it pointed out who He was, the prophesied Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God.

He was the one who would be born in humbleness to give His people strength. He was born in the worst conditions so that one day all believers in Him would find themselves in the very best of conditions.

He was born among people lost in the darkness of sin so that He might shine a light to freedom and salvation. He was born for you and me so that we might escape the limitations and disappointments of worldliness to a better life free from anguish and sorrow. Jesus was raised a Nazarene, so we could find ourselves one day to be citizens of heaven.  Isaiah 9:1-3:

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. 

Jesus had a very special calling and to fulfill it, His path led Him through Nazareth to learn and to grow. And, while our calling could never match His, we also have been given our paths in life. Some of us were born to privilege and some of us were born to struggle. Some of us found life easy while others found it hard and unforgiving. But, in a way, we have all been given our own Nazareth to live in and learn from and each path leads, eventually, to the same glorious place, though many lessons are to be learned along the way.

I believe Christ was to live in Nazareth as an example to all of us that no way is easy, not even the way of the Son of God. And, just like Jesus, He needed others to help Him along the way.

The things He would learn in Nazareth allowed Him to make His bigger mark in the world. Just like Jesus, we are to set out with the lessons we have learned, both good and bad, so that we might also make our mark as Christian believers in the world. I am convinced that nothing happens by accident. I was born and raised in Minot, North Dakota for a reason and I’m certain it was for more than learning how to live in cold. But if, one day, I am sent to save souls in Siberia, then I know I can do it well.

Embrace your own Nazareth. Look back to those places and events that shaped you to be who you are. Some memories will be joyful, others will fill you with pain and regret, but they can all serve for the greater good in the path God has set for you.

You don’t have to be Jesus the Nazarene, that parts already been accomplished, but you can be Corinne the Bellinghamite or Don the Lyndenite or Ron the Ferndalian. Spiritually grow where you have been planted. Use your own unique skills to continue the ministry that Jesus through the Holy Spirit has begun in you. In your own way you can be the rest of the story. May God use us all in exciting ways just like He used so many before us. Amen.

 

Bible Study: That He Will Be Called A Nazarene

 

Matthew 2:19-23

*Interesting note* This Herod is Archelaus, another cruel member of the Herod family whom Joseph did not trust. He ruled the southern part of Herod the Great’s territories (Judah, Samaria, and Idumea) from 4 b.c. – 6 a.d. when the Romans banished him to Gaul because of his cruelty.

This is the third appearance of an angel in Joseph’s dreams. When were the other two? Matthew 1:20, 2:12

Verse 20 says, “those” who sought the child’s life are dead. Other than Herod, who might have wanted Jesus dead? Matthew 2:3-4

How does verse 20 relate to the call to Moses in Exodus 4:19?

Joseph has gone through a lot. What qualities made him a good choice to be the step-father of Jesus?

How do you think Joseph could have heard about Archelaus?

There is no text in the Old Testament that talks of Nazareth, let alone as the place where the Messiah would live. Yet it says it was fulfilled prophecy that He be called a Nazarene. Why might this be?

There is, however, the term Nazarite in the OT which means, a person set apart as holy.” Where do we see this? Judges 13:3-7

Why didn’t Jesus fit the description of a Nazarite? Matthew 9:18-25, 26:26-29; Luke 7:34

Some scholars have made the connection between the names Nazareth and the Messianic title “Branch,” which is netzer in Hebrew. Where do we find evidence of this title? Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5, 33:15; Zechariah 3:8, 6:12; Revelation 5:5, 22:16

*Interesting note* The name Nazareth could also be related to the word nāzir (one consecrated by means of a vow)

Nazareth was not seen by Jews in positive terms (John 1:46). If so, why would God choose to make His Son a resident?

It is the Great God’s way to work exactly with nobodies in order, in Paul’s words, ‘to bring to naught the somebodies’ (Bruner). Why was bringing Christ to earth in the most humbling of situations advantageous over bringing in someone like a great war hero born to wealth and fame?

Why do Christians in some part of the world proudly wear title Nazarene today? Acts 24:5

How can we take advantage of humility to change the world for Christ?

(Note:  Bible study materials are gathered from various resources, i.e. Bible.org)