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Sunday, May 31, 2015


"What is the Good News?" Series (2015)
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church
May 10-31, 2015

    The Good News is Strength in Suffering (Philippians 1, 2 Corinthians 1)

    Sermon by: Robert Austel; May 31, 2015
    Text:Philippians 1:27-30; 2 Corinthians 1:2-5

    :: Sermon Audio (link) 
    Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

    :: Some Music Used
    Gathering Music/Song of Praise: "See What a Morning" (Getty/Townend)
    Song of Praise: "I Have a Shelter" (Sovereign Grace)
    Offering of Music: "Morning Has Broken" (Tyler Wall and Kelsey Gilsdorf, piano) (arr. Bober)
    Hymn of Sending: "The Solid Rock" (SOLID ROCK)
    Postlude: Kelsey Gilsdorf, piano

    :: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
    This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

    Today we are concluding our May sermon series exploring the meaning of the Gospel, or “Good News,” of Jesus Christ. We’ve seen that the news about Jesus is good because he brings God’s healing, help, and rescue to the human condition. We’ve seen that the news about Jesus is good because it is not just for a few select people, but for ALL who will hear. And last week we saw that the heart of the Good News is Jesus, himself: born, suffered, died, buried, and raised. It’s good because in all that Jesus shared in our humanity, offering us the opportunity to share and participate in what he accomplished.

    Today we look at one final aspect of the news about Jesus: it is good because Jesus gives us strength in the midst of suffering. We are going to look at two passages on that theme: one describes more the suffering that may come from following Jesus and the strength God gives us; the other describes how God comes to us in suffering to offer us the comfort of Christ. In both cases, knowing Jesus is Good News.

    Chasing Trouble? (Philippians 1:27-30)

    One of the challenging (and confusing!) aspects of true Christianity – that is, truly following and obeying Jesus Christ – is that it can get you in trouble. More than that, Jesus and the scripture seems to promise that it will. And most of us don’t want trouble. We don’t want suffering. Surely if a religion is good for anything it is to ease our suffering, right?

    Let’s examine that logic for a moment. If you decide to train to run a marathon, that’s a good and healthy thing. But that’s going to involve some struggle, some suffering. That’s a part of the training, right? Or if you decide to tithe or give a greater portion of your income to God’s work, that’s a good thing, but it’s going to involve some re-prioritization, some struggle, perhaps even some degree of suffering. Or if you commit to attending all of your children’s sports activities or musical endeavors over work, it may cost you advancement or bonuses and even invite critique at work. But it’s worth it!

    So it is with following Jesus Christ. In fact, all of those examples are tangible illustrations of what following Christ might look like. Paul compares it to training for athletic competition. Jesus talked to the rich young ruler about selling what he had to give to the poor. Jesus told the disciples to let the children come to him and receive his undivided attention.

    Jesus also came, not just to teach healthy and moral living, but to confront the spiritual powers of this world. He and the scriptures teach that he and his followers will be opposed and even attacked because of that conflict. This is what Paul is describing in the first chapter of Philippians, a letter he is writing to Christians in the city of Philippi from his own imprisonment for teaching about Christ. Yet Paul writes words of encouragement to those who would also follow Christ as he has:

    …conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel (good news) of Christ… standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the Good News faith. (vv. 27)
    Paul sees it as a privilege of that Good News faith not only to BELIEVE, but also “to suffer for [Jesus’] sake.” (v. 29)
    One of my favorite pastor-mentors used to remind his congregation during the benediction that Jesus came to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” For most of us in south Charlotte in 21st century America, these words “afflict the comfortable.” I’m comfortable in so many ways and Paul’s spiritual teaching about following Christ hits me in about the same way that watching “Biggest Loser” used to hit me. It’s the show about these pretty courageous morbidly obese people who agree to a several-month contest to see who can lose the most weight. Meanwhile, I watched the inspiring series unfold in the evening from the comfort of my La-Z-Boy chair, sometimes even enjoying a bowl of ice cream. Does church ever seem like that? We read inspiring stories of Jesus and his followers from the comfort of our chairs and lives and air conditioned sanctuary?

    Paul says that truly following Christ will involve some work and commitment and maybe even some trouble. But he also says it’s worth it – it is with Jesus, on behalf of Jesus, and for the sake of Jesus… again, that the world might be blessed.

    Comfort in Affliction (2 Corinthians 1:2-5)

    If you are thinking, “I’ve got enough trouble; what I really need is some help!” Paul also has a second word for us. It is the other side of that phrase, because Jesus also came to comfort the afflicted. In the opening chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul greets his readers with grace and peace and then names God as the “Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” So you get an indication where he is headed. Then in the next sentence, Paul uses the word ‘comfort’ no less than four times:
    …[God] comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (v. 4)
    Paul knows about affliction. Later in this chapter he will describe a “thorn in the flesh” – something that has been afflicting him that the Lord has not seen fit to take out of his life. We don’t know if that is a physical ailment (some suggest blindness or vision trouble) or a person. But Paul has to live with it, despite frequent prayer for help. What Paul does know is God’s presence and comfort. Paul has also been arrested, beaten, shipwrecked, imprisoned, and near death. So he knows a bit about affliction.

    Yet he holds out to us the comfort of God in Christ. God is with us in Christ; God sees our affliction; God hears our affliction. And Paul models for us that removing the affliction is not a prerequisite for knowing the peace and comfort of God. He encourages us to seek and receive the comfort of God and to extend that to others who might also need it. To Paul (and to me!) that is GOOD NEWS worth sharing!

    The Good News is Strength in Suffering

    In the last verse of our 2 Corinthians text, Paul points to both of the suffering themes we have looked at today. He writes succinctly:
    For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. (v. 5)
    That’s a very practical version of the rich theology we’ve looked at previously. Jesus joined himself to the human condition, both to come to us and to connect us with him. It makes sense that his presence with us and rescue of us brings us comfort. It also makes sense that in following after him we will face different “sufferings” for his sake. In both cases, he is with us. Whichever place you find yourself this morning, the Good News is that Jesus is your strength in suffering. Do you hear that? YOU are not your ultimate strength; Jesus is, because he is with you and goes before you.

    So whether you are on a spiritual recliner or in a heap on the floor, Jesus says, “Rise and walk” and offers his strong and compassionate hand to stand in his strength. That is Good News! Amen.

    Sunday, May 24, 2015

    The Good News is Christ, Raised (1 Corinthians 15.1-19)

    Sermon by: Robert Austell
    May 24, 2015
    Text: 1 Corinthians 15:1-19

    :: Sermon Audio (link) 
    Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

    :: Some Music Used

    Song of Praise: "See What a Morning" (Getty/Townend)
    The Word in Music: "Jesus, Messiah" (Choir) (Tomlin, arr. Lloyd Larson)
    Hymn of Response: "Because He Lives" (RESURRECTION)
    Offering of Testimony: "What Good News Have You Seen and Heard?"

    Hymn of Sending: "Sweet, Sweet Spirit" (MANNA)
    Choral Benediction: "The Lord Bless You and Keep You" (Lutkin)
    Hymn of Sending: Rick Bean, piano

    :: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
    This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

    During the month of May we have been looking at why the message about Jesus Christ is called “Gospel” – or Good News. We’ve looked at the content of the Good News: Jesus offers help, healing, and salvation (rescue) to those who trust Him. Last week, prompted by a vision the Apostle Paul had to take the message to the Macedonians of Northern Greece, we looked at the scope of the message: it is not just for a few or for insiders, but it is for all who will hear. It is specifically extended to outsiders and to all the nations or people of the world. Truly, God loves the world He made!

    This week we are looking even more closely at the person behind the content and the scope: Jesus, himself. In 1 Corinthians, Paul (he of the vision) is writing to one of the early Christian communities in the Greek city of Corinth – kind of a New York/Las Vegas kind of city. And Paul roots the Good News – help, healing, salvation, and for the Greeks – not only in Jesus, but in the resurrection of Jesus. Paul will even go so far as to say that without that resurrection, it’s all a waste of time… there is no good news. So clearly, this resurrection (also known as Easter) matters significantly to the Christian faith!

    Of First Importance (vv. 3-7)

    One of the things that makes this such a wonderful passage of scripture is that we get one of the earliest “creeds” of the Christian faith. Want to know what is important to the Christian faith? Paul names it here; it is “of first importance.” It was taught to him and he is sharing it – “the gospel (or Good News) which I preached to you” (v. 1) – with the believers in Corinth. It’s basically the events of Easter weekend; let’s look at it:

    Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (v. 3)

    Of first importance: Christ died for our sins. Just as this is a foundational part of the “Good News,” this is why we call “Good Friday” good! That Jesus of Nazareth was crucified is one of the most authenticated events of history, both in Christian and in secular literature. But it’s the rest of Paul’s description that constitutes the important part. Jesus didn’t die as a failed leader of a Jewish rebellion. He didn’t die because he was a threat to the established religious leadership. He died FOR OUR SINS. How that works is a whole sermon (or three) in itself, but scripture gives us several handles on understanding it. And Paul reminds us that his death for our sins was “according to the Scriptures.”

    In those scriptures we are told that human sin is our persistent turning from God, with all the implications and consequences of that; but Jesus is God’s persistent coming to us, which has its own implications and consequences. Here are three words to help you remember the importance of Jesus’ death.

    Jesus was a SUBSTITUTE: he took our place – necessary, scripture says because “there is no one good, not even one” (Romans 3:10ff; Psalm 53:1-3); indeed, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Not only did Jesus take our place in his death, he does it still; when God looks at one who trusts in Christ, he doesn’t see you (good thing, since we are STILL a mess!); he sees Jesus standing in your stead.

    Jesus was a SACRIFICE: he paid the price. This is perhaps the hardest part to grasp. Couldn’t God just waive the consequence of sin? Again, that’s a looong discussion. The simplest way I know to describe what is at stake there is to say it’s the difference between being hurt and saying “no big deal” and saying “I forgive you.” One pretends the hurt isn’t real; the other acknowledges it fully. That’s what God did through the cross. Jesus demonstrated just how big a deal sin and separation from God is; but also said (even literally!), “Father, forgive them.” There’s lots more to unpack there, but I think that difference gets at the bottom line of why the sacrifice was necessary. True forgiveness costs something, but also heals.

    Jesus was a VICTOR; he clinched the win. Where death and evil seemingly had claimed victory over humanity, Jesus claimed victory. Scripture says of the event, “Grave, where is your victory; death, where is your sting?” (Hosea 13:14 and 1 Corinthians 15:55) The picture is of an unlikely champion overcoming what appeared to be an overwhelming opponent: perhaps even like David and Goliath! And Jesus victory on the cross was like D-Day at Normandy, the decisive turning point marking the coming end of the war.

    He was buried and raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (v. 4)

    Paul goes on in his description of what is of first importance to the Good News in naming Jesus burial and resurrection, two more events of Easter weekend. And again, he notes that this was “according to the Scriptures.” Why is it important that Jesus was buried? It is part of his full humanity. We spent some time on that this spring, noting how Jesus was not only fully God, but fully human, identifying with us in suffering, temptation, and trial, while being fully obedient and sinless. Death was not excluded from the human experience; he not only lived as one of us, but experienced death itself. That’s another reason to say, “Grave, where is your victory; death, where is your sting?” Neither could hold him when God raised him.

    And so the resurrection is of first importance as well. We’ve also spent time on that – on Easter and since then. Resurrection wasn’t just beating death, though it was that. Resurrection is also FOR US; since Christ is our substitute and sacrifice and victor, he brings us along with him through all of that and into the new life of resurrection. Hold on to that; we’ll return and end there this morning!

    He appeared to Cephas… to the twelve… to more than 500… to the Apostles… and to me (vv. 5-7)

    Finally, and still of first importance, Jesus appeared after his death and resurrection. Paul lists so many, important because they are eye-witnesses to the resurrection. Over five hundred, alive at the time Paul writes to Corinth, who can testify to this first-order content of the Good News. The risen Jesus wasn’t a vision to one, retold and enlarged. The risen Jesus wasn’t a hallucination or hoax of the disciples. Jesus appeared to multiple people – men and women – in various locations, interacting physically and materially over meals and conversation and physical contact. How many witnesses does it take today to verify a story as true? Two or three? Is independent verification important? What about consistency of story? Paul pointed to some 600 or so to say, “Check it out; test the story; interview the witnesses.” This is all of first importance because of what it means, but also because it is TRUE.

    By the Grace of God (vv. 8-10)

    If that is a first-order summary of “the news” about Jesus, here’s what makes it so GOOD for Paul: it is full of God’s grace, an unexpected and undeserved gift experienced personally in one man’s life.

    You can hear it in verse 8. Paul is recounting all those to whom Jesus appeared and he gets to himself: “and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” Paul wasn’t one of the disciples who followed Jesus. He was a Pharisee! Remember them? They did not like Jesus one bit. And Paul was even worse, because he “persecuted the church of God.” (v. 9) He sought out and had at least one of the early Christians killed. For that reason he says of himself in v. 9, “I am… not fit to be called an apostle.”

    But Christ did appear to him. And here is the heart of the GOODNESS of God in his life: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain…” (v. 10). It’s the same thing we talked about last week. The Good News is GOOD because it is for all who will hear, even outsiders, outlaws, sinners, and failures like Moses, David, Rahab, Ruth, Peter, and… Paul. Paul gets it because he has experienced God’s grace personally. In his mind, if anyone did not deserve God’s mercy and grace, it was him. No wonder the substitution, sacrifice, and victory of Jesus was so personal and important. No wonder the resurrection and appearances were so good; Paul experienced it, lovingly and mercifully, when he least expected it. And he wants you to know.

    Christ, Raised (vv. 16-19)

    All that leads Paul finally to say, in verses 16-19, that if there is no resurrection (of Christ or us), then “your faith is worthless” and “we are… to be pitied.” (v. 17, 19) Why would he say that? He explains in v. 17… if Christ was not raised, then we are still in our sins. There has been no substitute, sacrifice, or victory. He goes on to say, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are… most to be pitied.” (v. 19) Really, Paul?

    That raises a question that was already running through my head. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God and love neighbor. How come THAT is not “of first importance?” Are Paul and Jesus at odds with each other, as some scholars claim? Here’s what I think is going on. Jesus was asked about action and (primarily) about this life. What are we to DO – what is the greatest commandment. And even then, our actions towards others (neighbor) was grounded first in our love for God (worship).

    Paul is talking about the news about Jesus. I don’t think Paul would have any argument with the greatest commandment. In his letter to the Romans (and elsewhere), Paul echoes that the commandments are summed up in love of neighbor, concluding that “love is the fulfillment of the law.” (13:9-10) But Paul also realizes how imperfectly we keep it. He knows firsthand the limits of law-keeping without the hope of God’s grace. Remember, he lived that life as diligently as any person could until Christ appeared to him. And Paul doesn’t do away with action and love of neighbor; he just realizes the futility of it without the great action (and most perfect love of God and neighbor) of Jesus, crucified, dead, and raised.

    I hope that is not news to you here. Paul isn’t arguing for faith without works. He’s describing why the news about Jesus is GOOD and life-giving (and works-producing). The young disciple, John, will later write, “We love because God first loved us.” Paul has experienced that first hand and he wants you to know just how GOOD that news is! And he finds the source of that Good News in these things: Jesus died, was buried, was raised, and has appeared to the unlikeliest sorts of folks, even you and me. And that changes everything! Amen.

    Sunday, May 17, 2015

    The Good News is for All Who Will Hear (Acts 16.9-13, Galatians 3.7-9)

    Sermon by: Robert Austell
    May 17, 2015 (Confirmation Sunday)
    Text: Acts 16:9-13; Romans 1:16; Galatians 3:7-9

    :: Sermon Audio (link) 
    Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

    :: Some Music Used
    Gathering Music: worship team
    Hymn of Praise: "Hear the Call of the Kingdom" (Getty/Townend)
    Confirmation Song: "Now You Make it Your Own" (Dawson/Austell)
    Offering of Music: "One Faith, One Hope, One Lord" (Courtney)
    Song of Praise: "The Doxology"
    Song of Sending: "Amazing Grace/My Chains are Gone" (Tomlin)
    Hymn of Sending: Rick Bean, piano

    :: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
    This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

    This month we are talking about Good News. I believe that more than ever we need to hear good news, and God does not disappoint. This story [the Bible] is full of God’s Good News; we just don’t always read it or learn it or remember it as such. In today’s scripture texts we have in story form and in theological form one of the great answers to the question, “What is the Good News?” I want to look with you at that story and that theology, then talk briefly about what that means for you and me.

    Where in the World is Macedonia?
    (Acts 16:9-13)

    In Acts 16, Paul receives a vision of a man from Macedonia appealing for help. In general, the world of Paul’s day was ruled by the Roman Empire, but still dominated by the remnants of culture from the preceding Greek Empires. And Macedonia had been at the center of that, home of Alexander the Great and site of the famed Mt. Olympus of the Greek gods. If ever there were a place for the Good News to be proclaimed outside Jerusalem, Macedonia was it.

    And, in fact, Paul was fresh off the significant confrontation recorded in Acts 15 with the “Jerusalem Council.” This was the group of Jesus’ disciples and followers kind of governing the early church IN Jerusalem and the question at hand was whether and how non-Jews might become Christ-followers. Should they hear the news of Christ at all? If so, should they be circumcised and follow Jewish food rules? After that groups of disciples made some significant decisions about this in Acts 15, it is noteworthy that Paul followed a fresh vision to take the message to the heart of Gentile culture and power.

    It is easy for us to take for granted or simply miss the significance of this. The earliest Christians were Jewish people who understood Jesus to be the Jewish Messiah. It was not at all obvious or clear to them that the message was to be carried abroad, despite Jesus’ own command to do just that. But it was Jesus who was being more authentic to his Jewish roots than his first disciples. He understood that God’s heart was for the whole world and that God had spoken that intent in the scriptures, even back in Abraham’s day.

    Good News to Abraham
    (Galatians 3, Romans 1, Genesis 12)

    One of the misconceptions about the Old Testament is that it is just the story of the people of Israel, but as precious as those chosen people are to God and in those scriptures, they are simply the focal point for God’s larger story of creating, loving, and redeeming – rescuing – the world gone astray. And there is no clearer place to see God’s intention to the world through a particular people than in God’s words to Abraham in Genesis 12. There God comes to Abraham, calling him to a new home and country and vows to bless him, give him a name and descendants, and land. And summing all that up, God says what is quoted in our Galatians text for today: “In you all the families of the earth (the nations) will be blessed.”

    And so in that same text in Galatians you have Paul describing this covenant with Abraham as God “preaching the gospel (Good News) beforehand to Abraham. God’s intent from the beginning was to love and provide salvation – deliverance, rescue, healing, and restoration – to all who would hear. And the Old Testament scriptures are full of those stories of Good News for outsiders, whether law-breakers like Moses, David, and those sent into Exile or women and ethnically other like Ruth, Rahab, and the people of Nineveh. And it is PRECISELY the Good News that God pursued, accepted, and called people like that to be a part of what He was doing in the world, such that Moses gave the Law, Ruth and Rahab became part of the lineage of King David and his descendant, Jesus of Nazareth; and the people of Nineveh turned to the Lord.

    Galatians 3:9 brings this back around with this powerful summary: “So then those who are of faith (those who listen and believe) are blessed with Abraham, the believer.” Whether the prostitute Rahab or the Moabite Ruth or the murderer Moses or the adulterer David or the Samaritan divorcee in John 4 or the Macedonians of Paul’s vision, the Good News of God’s redemptive love and action is for all who will hear, all who will listen and believe. That is the “blessing for all the people of the world” that God spoke over Abraham.

    For All Who Will Hear

    And that brings us to today and to you and me. First, Confirmation is just this; faith is something you have to hear for yourselves and one of the reasons we have Confirmation is to make sure every child that grows up in our church has the opportunity to hear and respond to the Good News with the ears of developing adult minds and hearts. What a blessing that these students have done just that!

    And for these four who have grown up in the church as well as for any of you who have gone to Church for a long time and when all those Christian ways of talking and doing things have kind of become habit, it can become easy to think that the Good News is just for you. Perhaps it’s not a conscious thought, but there is kind of a sense that you have earned God’s blessing; or maybe that there might be some folks, some outsiders, who don’t really deserve God’s blessing. You know – you’ve got to get yourself cleaned up to come into God’s presence or God’s house. It’s easy to start thinking that way.

    And if we start thinking that way, we start to ignore and discount and even turn away the Rahab’s and Ruth’s who may have heard a little Good News and want to check things out.

    OR, if you or I really mess up – if we really stray from what is right – we might conclude that God is done with us, that God only uses smart, clean, nice, together kinds of people for His work. But then we might start to ignore or discount or even turn away a Moses or David or Peter or divorced Samaritan woman – the same one who went, despite her shame, and got her whole town to come out and meet Jesus.

    Here’s what I’m getting at: it’s not enough to believe that there is Good News that God would have us hear and know. Part of the very essence of that Good News is that it is not limited to an insider crowd or based on the goodness of those who hear it. Rather, it is Good News because it is news of God’s great, healing, and redemptive love that is extended to all who will hear it. That means it’s for every one of you – not based on whether you are good enough for God, but based on whether you will accept God’s declaration of desire for you.

    That is the weight of this Good News; and it needs to sink in. Did you hear it? God’s declaration of healing and redemptive love is for you if you will hear and receive it. It is not based on your merit or performance or niceness or church attendance or purity or lack of any of those things; it is for all who will hear it. Do you hear it? God loves you.

    For all who have, who have been blessed with Abraham, the believer, it is also a reminder that God’s love extends WAY beyond these walls and relationships on the same terms. It is for all who will hear – out there – and we are privileged to bear that Good News. When Paul caught the vision, he responded immediately. How will you respond?

    Sunday, May 10, 2015

    The Good News is Help, Healing, and Salvation (John 4.14-21, 7.19-23)

    Sermon by: Robert Austell
    May 10, 2015
    Text: Isaiah 61:1-3; John 4:14-21; 7:19-23

    :: Sermon Audio (link) 
    Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

    :: Some Music Used
    Gathering Music: Rick Bean, piano
    Special Music: Prayer for Mothers (Children's Choir) (Donna Butler)
    Hymn of Praise: "O For a Thousand Tongues/One Great Love (David Crowder)
    The Word in Music: "Amazing Grace" (Choir) (Courtney)
    Offering of Music: "Simple Gifts" (Elizabeth Austell/Maggie Slade, piano) (arr. Richardson)
    Song of Praise: "The Doxology"
    Song of Sending: "Prepare the Way" (Evans/Nuzum)
    Hymn of Sending: Kelsey Gilsdorf, piano

    :: Testimony (audio)
    Cynthia Roberts shares part of her story in response to the question "What is the Good News?"

    :: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
    This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

    Today and through the end of May we are going to focus on answering the question “What is the Good News?” The church word for this was the “Gospel,” but that’s just older English for “good news.” In a world filled with so much bad news – on tv, in the papers, on the internet, all around us, and even in our own lives – it can be easy to get discouraged, lose hope, and despair. But Jesus came with good news. This Bible is a message of good news. I want to look with you at what it says and what Jesus said and see if we might not find some encouragement and help.

    So over the next few weeks we are going to look at different ways Jesus and the Bible answer that question: “What is the Good News?”

    A Hopeful Word (Isaiah 61)

    About 700 years before Jesus, God raised up a preacher for His struggling people, Israel. The ten northern tribes had been conquered and carried into Exile and the southern tribes were in the process of the same. They knew struggle, defeat, poverty, and enslavement. They knew what it was to lose hope and live in desperation. They would lose their homes and livelihoods and land and feel like God had left them.

    And Isaiah carried a message from the Lord: “The LORD has anointed me to bring GOOD NEWS to the afflicted… to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD.” (vv. 1-2) The thing is, that message was for something yet to come; that “year of the LORD” was to be in the future. So the people had to wait and trust and hope.

    Good News (Luke 4)

    Fast-forward 700 years. Jesus has been born into the world, grown up, and has just come out of forty days in the desert, where he was tested and tempted by the Devil. We understand this to be the beginning of his public ministry. He survives the test and is ready to reveal himself to the world. Interestingly enough, he doesn’t rush to the Temple in Jerusalem and leap from its walls, as he was tempted to do. He goes back to his hometown synagogue, the one he grew up going to, and he participates in the regular rituals of that synagogue. When it comes time to read from the Prophets, he stands up to read and opens to that passage from Isaiah 61. He reads those words about good news for the poor and afflicted; he reads those words that still ring as a hopeful promise of God all these years later.

    It’s a new generation, but there is still plenty of suffering and oppression, discouragement and depression to go around. The Assyrians and Babylonians have long since gone away and God’s people got to return home; but now the Romans rule the world and God’s people are still oppressed and “captive” – they just have a new captor now. So, those words still ring out just as good and hopeful as they did in Isaiah’s day. Good choice, Jesus!

    But then Jesus did something most shocking. Everyone new that those words were for a day still off in the distance. The Day of the Lord was in the future. But Jesus closed the scroll and declared, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (v. 21)

    Jesus announced that the Day was come, that hope was reality, and he located that reality in himself. And this set everyone off. Didn’t we grow up with him? Isn’t he the son of Joseph the carpenter? And they drove him out of town to the edge of a cliff and were prepared to throw him over.

    Why? Why is this response to good news that people are desperate to hear? This is the same good news God declares to us. How do you hear it? Is it good? Is it too good to be true? Is it threatening? Does it somehow stir up anger or another strong response in you, as it did the people that day?

    Signs of God at Work (Luke 7)

    We also heard a passage from Luke 7, only a few chapters after the first one. In this passage, some of the followers of John the Baptist have come to ask Jesus if he is the “Expected One” (i.e., the Messiah). His answer is interesting – it is rooted in that same promise from Isaiah. Jesus tells them, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news proclaimed to them.” (v. 22)

    In fact, if you look at the details of Jesus’ ministry, it is full of these very things: healing and help for desperate, sick, and hurting people. It’s also full of something else… something MORE. In his ministry, Jesus would not only demonstrate signs of God keeping the promises from Isaiah; he also made the connection between the immediate physical help/healing and the more lasting and spiritual implications. So Jesus healed but spoke of forgiveness; he healed physical blindness and spoke of spiritual blindness. And this was not something new with Jesus; it’s there in Isaiah as well. If you keep reading past the part Jesus quoted, God not only promises help and healing, but also promises comfort, joy, and the ability to praise God: “a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.” (v. 3a) Even beyond that, Isaiah offers imagery of new life and new growth: “they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” (v. 3b)

    The Good News is that God sees and hears and cares about our present circumstances, challenges, loss, and needs. In addition to our physical and material needs, God cares about our spiritual and emotional needs – our ability to know peace, joy, and connection with Him. God not only promises help and healing, but rescue and salvation. And in his teaching and ministry, Jesus not only upheld ALL those promises, but announced that they were no longer future hope, but present reality. That is the GOOD NEWS!

    What Have you Seen and Heard?

    I want to do more than talk at you about this. I want to do what Jesus did with the followers of John the Baptist who came to check him out. I want to ask you what YOU have seen and heard. Whether it is physical, material, and immediate or spiritual and emotional or something new, a new “planting of the Lord,” what have you seen or heard God do in your life?

    We have handed out slips of paper for this purpose. I’d ask you to consider how you have seen the Good News evidenced in your life and write that down (in a sentence) on that paper. No name is necessary, though I’d ask you to put your age. We’ll collect those and share them back with you in a few weeks as part of our answer to that question, “What is the Good News?”

    In just a few minutes, when it is time for the offering, Cynthia Roberts is going to share a bit of her story. Then, while the offering plates are passed, Maggie and Elizabeth are going to share a piece on the piano. I’d ask you to fold your slip of paper and put it in the offering plate when it is passed. Just a sentence answering “What is the Good News – what have YOU seen and heard?” and your age.

    I look forward to your response! Amen.