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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Faith, Hope, and Love (Matthew 8, 12; John 15.8-11)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
September 2, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: Jazz Piano (Rick Bean)
Hymn of FAITH: "Be Still, My Soul" (FINLANDIA)
Song of HOPE: "In Christ Alone" (Getty/Townend)
The Word in Music: "Open My Hands" (Sara Groves)
Offering of Music and Communion Music: Jazz Piano (Rick Bean)

Song of LOVE: "Holy Spirit" (Getty/Townend)
Postlude: Jazz Piano (Rick Bean)

"Faith, Hope, and Love"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
Text: Matthew 8:5-13; 12:8-21; John 15:8-11

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Today we wrap up our summer series on the fruit of the Holy Spirit, those qualities or traits that God promises to grow in each of us who trust and follow Jesus Christ. Each week we have taken one of those traits and looked to scripture to unpack, explain, and teach us what it means to exhibit that fruit. Let me remind you of what we have studied over the course of the summer (and you can see them hanging on our “fruit tree” to my right). First, from Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Then, from 2 Peter 1: moral excellence, knowledge, perseverance, Godliness, and today – love.

I think it is fitting to end with love. And in doing so I was reminded of the great verse at the end of the love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13, which says, “Faith, hope, and love, these three remain; but the greatest of these is love.”  And so, I’ve bundled together with love, these two other fruit of the Holy Spirit. In fact, they serve as a kind of frame for the list in 2 Peter 1. It begins with faith, doesn’t mention but requires hope (for perseverance), and ends with love. So, today we will look at three passages of scripture corresponding to each: faith, hope, and love.

FAITH Recognizes God’s Sovereign Authority (Matthew 8:5-13)

So the first of three passages we are going to look at is Matthew 8:5-13. It is the account of a Roman centurion asking Jesus to heal his paralyzed servant back home. If you’ve read the accounts of Jesus’ life and teaching, you may think, “Well, this is common enough FOR JESUS – healing someone who is sick.”  Sure, it’s a big deal because it’s supernatural, but there are lots of stories of Jesus healing people, and this is one of many such amazing stories.

But there is something more here that I want to highlight. It is true that Jesus performs a miracle and heals a sick man. If you read the story, it is even the case that Jesus does it at a distance, which is much more unusual; usually those he healed were right there with him. But pay attention to what leads to that healing-at-a-distance. It is the centurion’s FAITH, and faith is the spiritual fruit I want us to focus on.

The centurion asks Jesus to heal his servant and Jesus offers to come to the home and do so. Already, there is something unusual; it is a Roman soldier, a non-Jew, who is asking for a miracle. While perhaps not despised in the same way as the Samaritan’s, the Roman soldiers were also despised in Israel at the time. They were the enemy, the occupier, the invaders who over-taxed and who caused God’s people to suffer. Why would Jesus even talk to such a one?  In fact, the expectation was that the Messiah was coming to fight, kill, and drive out the Romans and men such as these!

And this soldier was a centurion, a commander of soldiers all in place to wield Rome’s authority over the Jewish people. And Jesus offered to go with him. And listen to what the centurion said to that: “Lord, I am not worthy for you to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” (v. 8)  That’s FAITH!  Faith is demonstrable trust in God. You didn’t have it just for being a Jew and we don’t have it just for being a member of a church. Faith is actively trusting God and this centurion had it!

But listen to him explain the basis for his faith. This is fascinating!  He continues, “For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” (v. 9)  In other words, out of his own experience of earthly authority he understood the divine and supernatural authority that Jesus held as Son of God and he trusted that for the healing of his slave.

Jesus goes on to “marvel” aloud to those around him, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel.” (v. 10)  Thus, Jesus uses this man’s faith and actions to define “great faith” – all the more surprising because it is found outside the place where God had most clearly revealed His character and power!  And Jesus concludes in response to the man of faith, “Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed.” And we are told that the servant was healed that very moment. (v. 13)

So what does this teach us about FAITH?  It is something lived out in word and deed. And at the least, FAITH recognizes God’s sovereign authority.

What does it mean for God to have and hold authority in your life?
…In the world in which you live and work and move? 
In what way does your faith recognize God’s authority?

HOPE is Rightly Placed in Christ Alone (Matthew 12:8-21)

The second of three passages we are going to look at is Matthew 12:8-21. It is the account of Jesus healing on the Sabbath. See, it’s another healing miracle; Jesus did that a lot!  In this case, Jesus healed a man who had a withered hand. Whether it was curled up from arthritis, or some other debilitating situation, Jesus restored it to normal health. Like the last story of healing, something stood out over and above the miraculous healing. In this case, it was because Jesus healed on the Sabbath.

Now, if you are like me, your first thought might be, “So what, he healed someone; isn’t that a little more important than what day it is, even if it’s a holy day?”  Well, in fact, it is!  But this was also a time of scrupulous observance of the Law of Moses, and keeping the Sabbath was a very big deal. In fact, it was one of the measures of being good and religious.

And we read that some that were there at the synagogue questioned Jesus, asking, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” and trying to accuse him. (v. 10)  But Jesus quotes the Law right back to them; it allowed for an animal that had fallen into a pit on the Sabbath to be lifted out. That was acceptable “work”; how much more valuable, then, is a man than a sheep!  Jesus not only upholds the Law about rest and work, but lifts out another vital part of the Law, the value of humanity as God’s creation.

And we go on to read that the Pharisees left, conspiring against him for another day.

Now here’s the part I want to highlight, that has to do with hope. Matthew goes on to offer commentary on this event, saying that Jesus was fulfilling what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet. Isaiah prophesied about one God would send: “Behold, my Servant whom I have chosen; my Beloved in whom my soul is well-pleased; I will put my Spirit upon him, and he shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles.” (v. 18)  That description reminds me of Jesus’ baptism, when God proclaimed just those words and the Holy Spirit alighted on Jesus as a dove!

And Matthew goes on to quote some more, ending with this statement: “And in his name the Gentiles will hope.” (v. 21)

Jesus didn’t come to do away with the Law, but to fulfill or complete it. He affirmed it and lifted it up to a higher level, reminding God’s people that we weren’t made for the Law, but the Law was given by God for us. Jesus affirmed his own Lordship over the Sabbath and the Law, even as he said in verse 8, “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

The man with the withered hand could have put his trust in the Law alone, and missed out on the healing power of God. In trusting in Jesus to heal him, he did not disregard God’s Word, but hoped in the One who was the Word in the flesh, God’s Living Word, Jesus.

What does this teach us about HOPE?  It is centered in the person of Jesus Christ, the living Word of God. Said another way, HOPE is rightly placed in Christ alone.

What does it mean for you to hope in Christ alone?
What competes for your hope?

LOVE is What We Share with the Triune God When We Abide in Christ (John 15:8-11)

The third passage we are going to look at is John 15:8-11. Unlike the other two passages, which were narrative accounts of Jesus healing, this is Jesus teaching on love, which is our final spiritual trait, described here as well as “fruit.”  Jesus says several important things here about love.

First, Jesus tells us that God is glorified – is honored and worshiped – when we bear spiritual fruit like love. We also know this from the Great Commandment, right?  That loving God with all that we are and all that we have is intimately connected to loving others as ourselves. The spiritual fruit of love gives worship back to God.

Jesus has loved us first. He says, “Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you.”  And then he invites us to “abide in my love.” (v. 9)  “Abide” means to know his love for us and make our home there… remain there… stay there.

And then he connects love with obedience, with keeping God’s commandments. That’s probably not the first think we would have linked with love. He is elaborating on HOW to abide or remain in his love… it is through obeying His word and teaching. This is interesting in conjunction with what we already looked at related to keeping the Law. Jesus has elevated obedience and focused it in himself, and this is the case in this passage as well. True obedience to God’s Word and commandments are right there connected to abiding in Christ’s love.

And finally, Jesus describes this love-obedience relationship in terms of joy. It is not obligation and drudgery but FULL of mutual joy. It is mutual because it is something we share with Jesus, who shares it with the Father through the Spirit. So what does this teach us about LOVE?  Love comes from God and is intimately bound up in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Said another way, LOVE mutual and joyful submission to the Triune God – it is what we share with Father, Son, and Spirit.

What does it mean for you to “abide” in Christ’s love?
How do you understand joyful obedience to God’s Word? 
What does it mean for you to glorify God through the spiritual fruit of love?

Finally, as you think back over whatever summer Sundays you were here, I would challenge you to take a few minutes this afternoon or this week to list out the fruits of the Spirit, to pray through each one and ask God to cultivate them in your life. Maybe pick one each day or week and try to be conscious of the work God is doing in your life. The teaching on love from John 15 summarizes well what can and should happen, that God is glorified when we “bear much fruit.”  And if you’ll remember back to Acts 2 at the beginning of the series, that witness back to who God is and what God is doing is one of the key reasons God sent the Holy Spirit to live and bear fruit in us in the first place. Amen.

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