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Sunday, December 30, 2018

==COME AND SEE (FALL/ADVENT 2018)==

Come and See! (Fall/Advent 2018) Series Index
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church
September 23 - December 30, 2018

Through the testimony of the disciple John and others, we will take Jesus up on the invitation in John 1:46 to "Come and See" what he is all about.

Come and Worship (Matthew 2.1-12)


Sermon by: Robert Austell; December 30, 2018 - Matthew 12:1-12

:: 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." 



::: Music ::
O Come, All Ye Faithful
We Three Kings of Orient Ar
The First Noel

:: 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 is the last Sunday of the calendar year and the last Sunday in our “Come and See” series. I want to look with you at the story of the wise men. It is a familiar story, but sometimes familiarity causes us to overlook important details. So I’d like to highlight a few details that are easy to miss, then look at what led the wise men to Jesus, then look at their response to finding him. In that I think we will find a natural transition from our “Come and See” series to “Here I Am” series starting next week. And perhaps it will be a helpful way to come into the New Year.

Where Did the Manger Go?

I want to press on to some of the significant parts of the storyline, but there are a number of fascinating details, so let me mention some of those first. The magi came to Herod asking to see the newborn king. They were not, themselves, “three kings” but likely were the chief advisors to kings. As such, they were probably not traveling alone, but with a large group of attendants and guards. And their journey probably took several weeks. (For example, if they had come from Babylon itself, the trip would have taken about 40 days by the main trade route.) That this is who they were and how they traveled helps explain how they were able to gain an audience with and the attention of Herod.

To say a bit more, magi were a kind of scholarly priest that advised kings and rulers in the Middle East. We know that these magi were specifically familiar with the writings of the Hebrew scriptures (vv. 5-6) and that were also astronomers/astrologers (v. 2) because they mention both in the conversation with Herod. By ‘astronomer’ I mean that they were knowledgeable about the planets and stars and their movements, even in some surprisingly accurate detail. By ‘astrologer’ I mean that they ascribed meaning to the movement and relation of the planets and stars.

Remember, too, that many of the writings of the prophets in the Old Testament were written to Jewish exiles in Babylon in the 8th through the 5th centuries B.C. These were the same writings that spoke of the Messiah, the birth of a God-promised King. It was this same culture – in Babylon – that produced the magi. They were the scholar-priests who advised the kings and rulers of the Babylonian and successive empires. It is no accident that these magi would have come in contact with the writings like those of Micah, who wrote of a ruler who would one day come out of Bethlehem.

We also know from a little bit later in the story (v. 11) that when the magi found Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, the family was no longer in the setting for the birth, but were in a house in Bethlehem, probably staying with family there. Remember that Mary and Joseph had traveled to Bethlehem for the census at the time of Jesus birth (which was one reason it was hard to find room). But in the days that followed, it would have been very normal and typical, after giving birth, for relatives to house the young family for a time.

Finally, given the timeline and details, particularly of Herod’s decree in the horrible story that follows this one (Matthew 2:16ff), Jesus may have been anywhere from six weeks to two years old by the time the wise men came. It was only after his family fled to Egypt and Herod died that they returned and settled in Nazareth, where Jesus would grow up.

If you want to know any more about any of those details, let me know and I can tell you more or point you to where they come from in the text. But let’s turn now and look more closely at the encounter between the magi and Jesus.

Seek

First, it is fascinating and encouraging that the magi are a part of this story. Because who are they? They are non-Jewish seekers, interested in the truth and in significant matters of life. They do not have all the truth, but are searching with what information they have. For us, reading the story, they depict God’s interest in ALL the nations and peoples of the world – that ancient promise to Abraham to bless him in order to bless the world.

Said another way, they are a reminder to us that you don’t have to be born to the in-crowd to belong to God. God welcomes – even expects! – outsiders. And as Paul puts in theological terms in Romans in the New Testament, God has spread pointers to Himself across the natural world, such that no one is without excuse… all have an opportunity to notice and ask and seek. This is just what the magi did. They came looking – not even knowing specifically what they were looking for or what they would find.

To say that another way: if Jesus is God’s True Word (and I believe He is!), then any honest search for truth will lead you to God through Christ. Depending on your starting place, you may wander through some strange territory indeed. But if you are willing to let go of what is not Truth and keep seeking, you will find God. We have a great example of that with these magi. They thought they were coming to find a newly born “King of the Jews.” That’s probably why they went to Herod, thinking perhaps that Jesus would have relocated to the palace. But when they did find the holy family, in humble dwellings, they were able to adjust their expectations and encounter Jesus on his own terms. By the end of that encounter, God even spoke to them in a dream, leading them to choose another route home and away from Herod.

Though we also believe God finds people and does what we can’t do in terms of making us right with Him, Jesus also says that if we seek Him, we will find Him. God won’t hide or turn you away. So even if you don’t know all the particulars about God, about Jesus – even if you didn’t grow up in church or in the Christian faith; I encourage you to ask questions, to read, to look. That is what prompted us to “come and see” Jesus – to check out his teaching and ministry all Fall. And that led the magi just where they needed to go, even if it wasn’t quite what they originally envisioned.

Recognition and Respect

The magi came looking for the newborn king in order to give gifts and to worship. They said this to Herod up front (v. 2) even before meeting Jesus. It is unclear what they mean by ‘worship.’ The word means to literally bow or prostrate before an authority, so here likely means to offer him early recognition as king than the more spiritual overtones we associate with the term. They were advisors and, in a sense, envoys, to foreign kings and rulers; so this was also an opportunity to pay respect to a new king being born into the world.

On the one hand, we don’t know that they had any revelation or transformation upon finding Jesus. We read that they “fell to the ground and worshiped him.” Then they offered a kind of service when they “presented to him gifts.” (v. 11) These two acts were what they intended from the beginning. Perhaps the intent to worship and serve was part of their “seeking” that prepared them to see truly. Did those acts of worship and service take on new meaning once they arrived and saw Jesus and his parents? I don’t know.

Seek, Worship, Serve

It leaves me with the same kind of ambiguity and tension and hope I have when I talk to so many folks who are seeking God, trying to understand faith, or questioning faith. Isn’t there some magic prayer or secret answer or experience I can offer to make it all work for you? (for me?)

Here’s what I’ve been telling people most of my life…

Seek the Lord; seek Truth. Ask questions and be willing to have your mind, heart, and direction changed. Don’t do it in isolation; do it with people you trust. And the best place to seek and ask those questions is in the context of the worshiping community, the church. Nature and mountains and sunsets and oceans can point you in the general direction of God (that was Paul’s point in Romans), but if you want the specifics, it’s in the Bible. And If you want to test that out, live with it, see it in action, push back on it, do that in the context of worshiping and serving God in the faith community.

You may feel like you are going through the motions. You MAY BE going through the motions. But they are the right motions. The magi may have thought they were kneeling before and giving gifts to the next up-and-coming king. They were; he was just so much more. That’s okay.

Consider what they did see and experience along the way – whether they understood it or not. They read the Holy Word of God and trusted it enough to act on it. They saw some sort of sign, whether natural or supernatural, and followed it to Jesus. They offered worship and service to Jesus, whether they really grasped who he was or not (do we ever really grasp all of who he is?!). And God ‘spoke’ to them in a dream to lead them away from Herod as they left.

If you seek God, read and listen to His Holy Word, gather with others in worship and service, and are willing to follow where those things lead… none of those things create faith or make peace with God; but I sure can’t think of a better place to be to encounter God.

I can’t create faith or make peace with God either. But God can. And He said, “Seek and you will find.”

May God give us ears to hear.  Amen.

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Christmas Story (various scriptures and music)


Sermon by: Robert Austell; December 24, 2018 - various (see manuscript below)

:: 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." See the notes below about how the four-part sermon fit within a service of scripture and music. If you listen to the audio you may also want to follow along below and read the scripture being referenced.



::: Music :: see below for where various music was placed in this service of Word and music

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: 

The telling of the Christmas story tonight is divided into four sections: the beginning, God’s promises, anticipation and birth, and witnesses. The service is largely scripture reading and music meant to complement the readings. But I will offer a brief devotion on each section of the story after the scripture is read. I have stitched them together here (this manuscript) to offer a Christmas ‘sermon’.

"O Come All Ye Faithful" - congregation

In the Beginning

8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. … 12 The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 14 The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you will go, And dust you will eat All the days of your life; 15 And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.” (Genesis 3:8,12-15)

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.  (John 1:1-5)

Lighting of the Advent Wreath and Christ Candle

We started in the beginning because the birth of Jesus – and the existence of Jesus – were not an afterthought or a reaction to a problem or God’s back-up plan. But Jesus – the Word, the Life, the Light – was there in the beginning and before the creation of the world. Though the serpent and the sin of our first parents brought darkness into what God had declared good, that darkness could not even comprehend God’s bigness or power, God’s Light or Life, God’s forethought and readiness to draw near as we drew away. You can read that first story in Genesis as human failure, but that’s missing the big story. Rather it is the beginning of God’s love story for the world and people He created. Even in those earliest words of the ‘curse’ we glimpse a picture of the victory over sin and evil that God would unfold in history and in time. John pictures it as light that pierces the darkness and brings life to humanity once again. This is the prologue to the story of stories, but more than that, to the theme of hope that God has sung over our lives. “Get ready!” the story declares from the first pages, for the King is coming to make all things right and to make all things new. Where do you need to experience hope in your life?

"Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord" (Talbot/Caedmon's Call) - Worship Team

God’s Promises

15 Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, “By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” (Genesis 22:15-18)

2 The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them. 3 You shall multiply the nation, You shall increase their gladness; They will be glad in Your presence As with the gladness of harvest, As men rejoice when they divide the spoil. 4 For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders, The rod of their oppressor, as at the battle of Midian. 5 For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult, And cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire. 6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:2-7)

1 Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3 And He will delight in the fear of the Lord, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make a decision by what His ears hear; 4 But with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth… 10 Then in that day The nations will resort to the root of Jesse, Who will stand as a signal for the peoples; And His resting place will be glorious. (Isaiah 11:1-4a,10)

And so God spoke and sent messengers – angels and prophets – to declare that hopeful theme. God promises Abraham a future as broad as the night sky. And continuing the first words to Eve, God tells Abraham that He won’t just zap the world right from without, but will raise up salvation from among us. Later, prophets like Isaiah would start to paint a picture of this promised deliverer. He would bring light to a dark land. He will bring the kind of gladness and joy we get a taste of at harvest time or in victory. But the victory God’s deliverer will bring won’t merely be an earthly king, but will be known as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. Even the greatness of King David and his kingdom was just a taste of God’s coming Kingdom. Isaiah all describes God’s Savior as wise, understanding, and strong. He will judge with righteousness and decide with fairness, even for the poor and afflicted of the earth. Through angels and prophets – messengers and preachers – and through God’s own Word, God promised and prepared His people and the world for His coming rescue, restoration, and reign. And all this was an act of love by the Creator God, the loving Father, who would not abandon the world to darkness, but came after it. Jesus would one day describe God’s character in the story of a loving Father rejoicing and celebrating the return of his lost son, welcoming him home with joy. What does it mean to you to know that God has not abandoned you, but loves you?

"O Loving Father" - Worship Choir

Anticipation and Birth

26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” … 37 “For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:26-33,37)

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” 24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25)

These are the familiar stories of the days leading up to the birth of Jesus. We heard the story from Mary’s perspective and then from Joseph’s. After I speak we will hear Mary’s story concluded with the birth of Jesus as the choir then sings of the “Christmas Child.” But what of the story? On one hand, it’s completely unique. Even Mary’s cousin who had a miraculous birth did not experience giving birth to the Savior of the world. But perhaps you have known what it is to wait for God to do something. And you probably didn’t have the kind of clarity that comes with an angel-messenger, whether in reality like Mary or in a dream like Joseph. But if God is showing up and bringing hope and light to this world and to people’s lives – and this Bible says God DOES that – then sometimes we have to trust and listen and wait. In some ways it’s not unlike pregnancy. There can be excitement and joy, there can be confusion and pain, and there’s a lot of waiting for what is yet to be. That’s one reason I wanted to speak in the middle of this story. It’s easy to read the Bible story and rush to the end – the Christmas child being born. But much of our lives is spent in that anticipation phase. Are you waiting on God for something? Are you looking to God for something? Have you given up on God?

All of that is what it’s like to be human and finite! We get a personal glimpse into Mary’s wait. Scripture records a prayer Mary prayed during this waiting time. Karen is going to lead us together through praying part of that prayer. Then we’ll hear the conclusion of the birth story and the choir’s song about the “Christmas Child.”

Prayer (unison)
My soul exalts the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. 

1 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7)

"Christmas Child" (McGlohon, Bean) - Worship Choir

Witnesses

8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” 15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. (Luke 2:8-20)   

21 And when eight days had passed… they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord… 24 and to offer a sacrifice… 25 And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28 then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, 29 “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; 30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation, 31 Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.” 33 And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. 34 Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— 35 a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” 36 And there was a prophetess… advanced in years. [She] had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then as a widow to the age of 84. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. 38 At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:21-38)

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: 6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ” 7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” 9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:1-12)

Those readings were long and I usually save the wise men and Anna and Simeon for a later Sunday. (Indeed, we will look at the wise men more next Sunday.) But I wanted you to hear it all together – three stories of witnesses to the birth of Jesus. So much of the rest of the Gospel accounts bear witnesses to his adult life, but here are three detailed stories of people who encountered Jesus as a newborn and a young baby. They are the early witnesses to what God started in the beginning, promised through the ages, and was now bringing to the world. The SHEPHERDS heard the message: God’s saving and chosen one is born into the world… good news of great joy for ALL the people (not just Abraham’s descendents)! They went to see and carried the news out. SIMEON and ANNA saw the eight-day old Jesus in the Temple and recognized him as God’s promise kept. Simeon named him as God’s salvation and redemption, for Israel and for the world. The MAGI or Wise Men came to find and give gifts to the young child and ended up falling to the ground to worship him. God was indeed among us! Each of these witnesses not only witnessed Jesus himself, but bear witnesses to what started at the beginning: God has not abandoned us to darkness, but comes after us with hope and light and life through the person of Jesus Christ. He is worthy of trusting; he is worthy of following; and he is worthy of worshiping and serving. How will you respond to Jesus?

We are about to sing a hymn that invites us to “come and worship” in response to Jesus. Worship contains it all: trust, following, love, service. I invite you to sing, but also to consider your response to Jesus, to God’s loving and saving action toward the world and toward you. Amen.

"Angels, from the Realms of Glory" - congregation

Christmas Prayer 

Candlelighting Service: Silent Night, Commission and Response, Joy to the World  

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Go and See (Luke 2.8-18)


Sermon by: Robert Austell; December 23, 2018 - Luke 2:8-18

:: 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." 



::: Music ::
Here I Am to Worship (Hughes)
People, Look East (BESANCON)
OFFERTORY: While Shepherds Watched (arr. Peterson)
Good Christians, All Rejoice

:: 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.

All fall we have been considering the invitation to “Come and See” Jesus. That’s how some of the first followers of Jesus met him and followed him. Either a relative or a friend or Jesus himself said, in effect, “Come check him out – what he says, what he does, what he’s all about.” And people started trusting him and following him. And that still happens today. One of the first examples of this happened long before Jesus was walking around teaching about the Kingdom of God. In fact, he had JUST been born. Some messengers from God shared the news and we heard the story of some of the very first to “come and see” what God was doing through Jesus. As we near the end of our series I want to use this Christmas story to invite you again to consider Jesus and how you would respond to him.

The Message and the Messenger(s) 

This story starts with a message:

God’s saving and chosen one has come into the world. 
And while the name wasn’t yet announced, it’s Jesus! 
And this is good news; great news; joyful news

Now let’s be honest. Is that what you focused on when you heard this story? If I’m honest, I was picturing the angel that terrified a group of tough, rugged shepherds… the kind that wouldn’t flinch at a wolf or predator threatening their sheep. I pictured the whole army of angels that appeared shortly after the initial message. What in the world would that have looked like? So amazing!

But I think that’s precisely where the disconnect happens when we are trying to apply this story. Ordinarily, God doesn’t speak through beings so powerful that they cause our knees to go weak with fear. Ordinarily God doesn’t speak out of burning bushes and whirlwinds. The place where you and I are most likely to hear God’s message is in very ordinary ways – reading of scripture, preaching and teaching at church, or in the godly counsel of others. Sometimes God nudges our spirit as we pray or listen, but in my experience, we have to be really quiet and paying attention for that. And if God has spoken more loudly or impressively, then good for you. But even then, that may be a once or twice in a lifetime kind of thing. What about all the rest of the time?

Here’s the thing: what’s really important is not the messenger, but the message. And the message of the angel and the angel-army is the same one that I speak week in and week out. It’s the same one packed into every book, chapter, and verse of scripture. And it’s the same one God’s Holy Spirit whispers to our spirits when we are really listening:

God’s saving and chosen one has come into the world; he is Jesus! This is good news; great news; joyful news!

That’s God’s message for YOU this morning. No angels or angel-armies, but the same message those shepherds heard that night. And it’s God’s message for you.

A Sign or Two for Confirmation

As if the visuals were not enough, the angel offers a “sign” to confirm the message: “you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (and cue the angel-army praising God)

I’d offer a similar comment to what I said about the messenger. Signs are awesome! Confirmation is awesome! Wouldn’t life be so much easier if God would float a rainbow or peal of thunder in answer to our questions? “God, should I apply for the promotion at work?” (ka-boom!) …of course, then I’d be asking, “Was that a yes ka-boom or a no ka-boom?”

But more seriously, let me say two things about signs. First, they are not something God always or even often provides and should not be necessary, as helpful as they might be. Truth is enough! If a message is good and true or even hard and true, it stands on its own. And if you doubt, then by all means GO AND SEE! Check it out for yourself. But that’s not a sign; that’s confirmation.

And that’s the second thing I want to say: I believe God does provide confirmation because truth is self-confirming. If I tell you it’s raining outside and you think I am trustworthy, you may choose to prepare accordingly out of faith. But it is also fair to go see for yourself or take note of the truthfulness of my message once you are outside. That’s confirmation. And I think that’s at the heart of the invitation to come and see Jesus. And because I believe the message about Jesus is true, I have no hesitation and every reason to invite you to check him out and confirm the good message for yourself.

Don’t get caught in the trap of demanding a sign when confirmation is available. “God, heal my eyesight; then I’ll believe.” That’s not how God works. But try obeying Jesus’ teaching and walking in his footsteps and see what the effect is in your life. That confirmation that is available to you right now.

Go and See

After the angels were gone, the shepherds said to each other: “Let us go straight and see.” (v.15) And indeed, they found Mary and Joseph and the baby in the manger. And, of course, that was the sign that had been offered to them – a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. But what they had to believe for themselves was not the sign, but the message about who this child would become – the Savior of the world. And the indication is… they did believe. And we know that because they didn’t just look and leave, but also acted on that encounter. Something had changed.

So all fall I have been inviting you through the scriptures to “come and see” Jesus. We’ve heard his teaching, considered his actions, and pondered the implications for life. But the shepherds didn’t come and say, “Cool, there’s a swaddled baby just like the angel said!” and then go home. They made known the statement which had been told them about this child. And that statement was the same message you are hearing today and have heard all throughout the year

God’s saving and chosen one has come into the world; he is Jesus! 
This is good news; great news; joyful news!

The shepherds were changed. They not only went to confirm the message; they believed it and changed their behavior… they became message-bearers themselves. And that’s the application and next step for each of us hearing the timeless message this morning. Do we just keep showing up for the invitation again and again or do we believe and act on it? After Christmas we are going to look at one more story of people coming to see – that’s the Wise Men. But then in January we are going to look at stories of people who responded to God: some in faith, some with doubts, some with questions. But we’ll ask that next question: God, here I am… what do you want?

I hope you and your loved ones have a wonderful and special Christmas. Please join us tomorrow night for a special service of word and music around the Christmas story, and lighting of candles for the one who came as Light of the World. And on Christmas Day as you ponder the birth of Christ, ponder your response to the good, great, and joyful news that God’s saving and chosen one has come into the world. Amen!

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The First Gospel (Genesis 3.15)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; December 16, 2018 - Genesis 3:15

:: Sermon Audio :: sermon audio not available

::: Music :: this was a special Christmas music program; each choral piece below was paired with a prayer and with scipture; the scripture will be noted with the piece
  • Congregation: Joy to the World (ANTIOCH)
  • Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming (arr. Kirchner) - Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 11:1-5
  • Magnificat (arr. Getty) - Luke 1:26-38
  • Silent Night (arr. Pentatonix) - John 1:1-5,14,18
  • Angels from the Realms of Glory (arr. Forrest) - LUke 2:8-20
  • Congregation: Angels We Have Heard on High (GLORIA)
  • I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (arr. Williamson) - Luke 2:14; Colossians 3:12-15
  • O Holy Night (Adam) - Lisa Honeycutt, soloist - Isaiah 53:1-2,4-5; Mark 10:42-55
  • Sussex Carol (arr. Hagenberg) - Isaiah 9:1-2,6-7; Revelation 21:1-7
  • Offertory: Gesu Bambino - Rick Bean, piano; Susan Slade, flute
  • Congregation: O Com, O Come Emmanuel (VENI EMMANUEL)

:: 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’s sermon will be very brief, but do not judge the subject matter on the length of the sermon. The text is one verse: Genesis 3:15. I want to briefly explain it, share one illustration, and then the music ministry is going to unpack the rest of the story through music, scripture, and prayer.

Here’s the explanation…

God created the world and everything in it, including human beings. He declared it all good, but especially man and woman, who were uniquely made “in the image of God.” And they enjoyed the presence of God, worshiping through the tending of the earth and the keeping of God’s Word. But they turned away from those things and disobeyed God. There was plenty of blame to go around: the serpent tempted Eve; Eve ate; Adam watched silently; then Adam ate. And sin entered the world. The consequence was death, physically and spiritually.

But God was not surprised, not taken off guard. All God’s good creation was not undone in that moment, whether by the serpent or by humanity. Even in the midst of the reckoning God spoke words of promise and hope that something more would happen. The serpent – not merely a snake, but understood to be Satan, the tempter – hadn’t won though he would continue to hurt and bother humanity, “bruising the heel” of humanity’s descendants. But one of those same descendants would “bruise the head” of the serpent/Satan – a more crushing blow of defeat to the tempter of humanity. Scholars call this verse the proto-evangelion, the “first gospel” because it signals God’s plan from the very moment of the Fall. And, in fact, the Gospel of John tells us that the one who would become flesh and dwell among us existed BEFORE creation and before the fall. God was ready; God would not abandon or turn away at the first sign of trouble, but was already laying the plans for rescue, for salvation.

Now there are more than a few questions that this story brings to mind, but I want to focus on one: How come God did it that way? Why did He allow the serpent or sin or the possibility of any of this in the first place?

Here’s the illustration…

When we have children – Heather and I, but all humanity as well – we bring life into this world. The last thing we ever want for our children is to see them suffer or make bad decisions. And the tendency is there to raise them in a bullet-proof and germ-proof bubble. A variation of that is what is called “helicoptering” – following along too closely and jumping in to make every decision for them. But what kind of life would that be? Certainly not a free life. There is this space of freedom and thriving in the area between over-protecting and abandonment and we all try to figure out some kind of approach between those extremes.

I think what put this on my mind was a video on the Today Show this past week. A baby cam in the baby’s room showed the four-year-old older sister moving a chair over to her toddler sister’s crib to help enable “the great escape.” It was cute as all get out, but also a little terrifying. And as I reflected on it in light of this text, it was terribly profound. The parents had put the baby in a place of great safety – a crib with bars on the side. I wonder why no one ever puts bars on the top!? I guess because that would make it a cage. And at some point, many or most toddlers figure out how to climb over and out. And at some point the transition to the big kid bed happens. So parents are constantly finding that balance of safety and freedom. Those parents didn’t have a lid on the crib, but neither did they have knives and guns on the floor. Too much safety and we have our kids in cages, which is wrong. Too much freedom and we put them at risk, which is wrong. And those decisions keep playing out throughout childhood and adolescence and beyond.

It’s not a perfect illustration, but it helps me understand why God didn’t create us and cage us up. Humanity can always go its own way, whether we have outside influence or not. But neither did God abandon us to sin and death. Like I’m sure those parents did, He teaches us what is wrong and right, what is risky and what is healthy, and He loves us more than we can understand or imagine. And so, God stayed after humanity, speaking His Word, sending His prophets, and ultimately, sending His Son into the world, born of Mary, descended daughter of Eve. And that Son would indeed crush the head of the serpent, of the Adversary, Satan.

Listen now as we hear the story unfold through scripture, prayer, and song. Amen.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Get Ready (Isaiah 40.1-5, Matthew 3.1-6)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; December 9, 2018 - Isaiah 40:1-5; Matthew 3:1-6)

:: Sermon Audio :: Due to weather closing there is no sermon audio

::: Music ::
Prepare the Way (Evans/Nuzum)
People, Look East (BESANCON; arr. Vanderheide)
OFFERTORY: Prepare Ye the Way (Talbot/Caedmon's Call)
O Come, O Come Emmanuel (VENI EMMANUEL)

:: 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.

Get ready! Christmas is coming! And it’s got to be the happiest holiday of the year… right?

Maybe not. In fact, for real people in the real world, it’s often not. And all the bells and lights and Santas can’t brighten a sad or lonely heart. In fact, and here’s the kicker, the even more significant news of baby Jesus, of God come to earth, can just highlight and underscore the fact that I’m not perky and happy when everyone is supposed to be all “Joy to the World.”

Sometimes, Christmas can seem like a season of darkness rather than the season of light.

If this describes you or someone you know, listen up – today’s scriptures are for you. They are written to God’s chosen people, heirs of the covenant promise, and blessed people in all the earth. And at the time Isaiah was a prophet-preacher those blessed people lived in darkness… far from home… sad and lonely and disconnected from their God. They couldn’t see the light; they couldn’t see the promise; and had they celebrated it at the time, they certainly wouldn’t have seen the “merry” in Christmas.

One time Jesus said that he came, not to save the righteous, but to seek and save the lost. Jesus also came to show the glory and face of God, not to those already basking in it, but to those stuck in the darkness… to people like you and me.

Comfort My People

One of the lines in “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen?” talks about “comfort and joy.” Before joy and certainly before “merry gentlemen” is comfort. This is not comfort as in a soft lounge chair and a cool drink watching my favorite game comfort. This is comfort like a parent sitting with the child who has awakened in the middle of the night with a nightmare comfort. It is what God speaks of through Isaiah when He says, “Comfort, O comfort my people.”

Listen to at least three ways God speaks comfort to His people, who at this point were living away from home and feeling cut off from God because of their sin. God says, “Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her…”

    …that her warfare is ended…

    …that her iniquity has been removed…

    …that she has received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins…

God’s children had “warred” against God by disobeying Him and turning from Him. They had served and worshiped other gods; they had not followed God’s Word and Law in scripture; they had not listened to God’s prophets; they had lived like the world and people around them rather than live like a people set apart by and for God. And God had let them experience the consequences of that sin through their “exile”… being conquered and taken captive by Assyria and Babylon.

This is not just the particular story of Israel – this is the human story. You and I have warred against God through our sin. We have served and worshiped other gods, whether consciously or not. We too often look and live too much like the world and culture around us, rather than a people set apart by and for God. And many times the consequences of our choices are a captivity, a lostness, and a darkness.

Or, we might be like the children born in captivity. We were born into this situation, not even aware of all the choices our parents made to get us here. We may have “inherited” the darkness and not even understand all the reasons or sources of our situation.

We may feel like this darkness is paying for our sins; we may simply be confused and lost and lonely. However we got here, God speaks of comfort and announces that we need not stay where we are. It may feel like night right now, but dawn is coming; light is coming.

Prepare the Way

The second part of God’s Word through Isaiah is a voice calling, “Prepare the way” or in my loose translation: GET READY!

Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley; THEN the glory of the Lord will be revealed…

In ancient times, this preparation literally happened when a king was coming. The roads would be cleared off and even leveled out to “make way” for the king.

John the Baptist made use of this prophecy to talk of preparing for the coming Messiah. He preached of repentance and getting ready spiritually in one’s heart.

If I may pause for a moment of theological commentary, I am not talking about saving yourself through works or overlapping the saving work of God through Jesus Christ. I am talking about a very practical and commonsense role that you and I play in EXPERIENCING the light of Jesus in our lives.

Let me illustrate this way: let’s say Heather and I want to have some folks over to the house for a Christmas party. We must get ready to have company over. This is in addition to any cooking or party items. There are things to be picked up, dog hair to vacuum, cleaning, dusting – in other words, PREPARATIONS to be made.

Or think about sunrise. Though we may have waited up through the night for the sun to rise, you and I are not responsible for making the sun rise. That is God’s doing – God’s creation. Likewise, we do not have to summon God to earth, accomplish the forgiveness of sin, or dial a special long-distance number to talk to God. But, it is possible to miss the sunrise by leaving the blinds closed, never getting out of bed, or spending all our time in the basement.

In order to EXPERIENCE the light and presence of God, even as clearly as Jesus shows Him to us, we have to get ready and keep ready. There is clutter in our lives that gets in the way. Some of it is sinful – lusts, self-focus, other ‘gods’. Some of it is just distracting – work, busyness, computers, television, entertainments… but if it keeps us away from God, it’s a problem!

Isaiah speaks of “clearing the way” and “making smooth the highway.” It’s not the salvation, but it’s good, practical instruction on how to experience God’s presence and light rather than to continue in lostness and loneliness and not understand the problem.

Is your life too full of distractions – loud, packed stuff that blocks out the still, small voice of God?

Is there habitual sin that dominates your life – keeping you “warring” with God rather than at peace with Him?

Is there hidden history that you need to understand and confront? Were you seemingly “born into the darkness?” and need to talk with me or a Christian counselor about persistent struggles with the darkness that you seemingly inherited?

Are there medical reasons for the darkness? Lack of sleep, weight issues, lack of exercise, or biochemical imbalances are all “rough ground” that a doctor can help make smooth.

If you’re normal, there might be a bit of all of these cluttering your life, which means they are also obscuring your spiritual life.

Take action! Get ready! Clear away some clutter; repent and pray for forgiveness; talk to a trusted friend, counselor, or come see me; take stock of your physical and mental health and get your doctor’s opinion. “Prepare the way” is not a secret and super-spiritual exercise; it’s practical advice that is part of our responsibility toward God.

In Isaiah 40:5, after calling on us to get ready, Isaiah says “then”… THEN the glory of the Lord will be revealed.

Come and See

Preparing the way for the Lord as we’ve been discussing is like getting out of bed, getting dressed, and going outside to see the sunrise and experience the daylight. The GOOD NEWS is that the light has indeed come. Listen to Matthews words in Matthew 4, saying that Jesus accomplished this:

The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great light, and those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a light dawned. (Mt. 4:16)

The good news is that God’s glory HAS dawned. It is daylight outside the house! We are not condemned and consigned to live in darkness. There is hope and light and life, even if you are presently experiencing the darkness.

God’s Word to you and me this morning is not “Merry Christmas, everyone is now living in sunshiny Christian happiness”; rather, it is a message of comfort, a call to clear out the rubble, and an invitation to COME AND SEE

It is good and true what God says through Matthew. If you are sitting in darkness, if you are sitting in the land and shadow of death, take heart. God is there, even in the darkness. God’s promise and God’s reality is that a light has dawned.

Christmas: a Season of Dawning Glory

When my children were little, they sometimes awakened with nightmares in the middle of the night. Just as I would never have left them to fend for themselves, neither will God abandon you to the darkness. Nonetheless, it sometimes takes my children a while to awaken fully and realize that Heather or I are there whispering words of comfort and assurance. So God is speaking to each of you, “Comfort, O comfort my child… your warfare is over and your sin has been paid for in full.”

If you are like me, there’s stuff that keeps getting in the way of our relationship with God. Sometimes for me, and I imagine for you, it’s so significant that I have trouble seeing, hearing, or experiencing God at all. Maybe you’ve been on the mountaintop and God’s presence is as clear as mid-day. Maybe you’re in the valley and the only sign you have of the light are some shadows being cast around you. God is there. If God seems far away and life seems sad and lonely and dark, consider what obscures your life. Where do you need to make way and make room for God? And you need not go at it alone – your church family and I are more than willing to help.

And as we each look to Christmas – whether it is a bright and happy holiday or one less shiny – hear the good and true Word of God. God’s light has dawned. God is here because Jesus brought His face near. This Christmas season we will walk and struggle together to see God’s face through Jesus Christ. So come and see – maybe you will catch a glimpse of what God has done and is doing. And if you ask me, that will be enough. Amen.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

King Jesus (John 12.12-26)


Sermon by: Robert Austell; December 2, 2018 - John 12:12-26

:: 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." 



::: Music ::
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus/Behold, Your King (arr. Austell)
CHOIR: I Am Not My Own (Boersma/Courtney)
Amazing Love/You Are My King (Foote)
Revelation Song (Riddle)

:: 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 is the last of our “Come and See” messages from the Gospel of John. However, I’ll still be inviting you to come and see Jesus as we move into some Advent and Christmas stories in the coming weeks. Today we end with one of the significant things to know about Jesus: he is KING! The first part of today’s text describes the events we usually read for Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. But, we usually don’t use John’s version of that story because it is pretty short and lacks some of the details in the other Gospels. But there are some things unique to John’s account and we’ll focus in on those today as we try to understand what it means that Jesus is King.

I’m going to talk about the common expectation for the Messiah in Jesus’ day and then look at how there was MORE to Jesus’ kingship, as taught in scripture and as demonstrated in his teaching and ministry. And we’ll consider what it means for Jesus to be King of our lives.

Hero-King

In Jesus’ day people were looking for the Messiah. We’ve talked about this before. In the Hebrew scriptures God had promised to send a Messiah, or “anointed one.” This person would be a descendant of King David, the greatest king in the history of Israel. And he would be like David, blessed by God. Because the Roman Empire had conquered the known world, the common understanding and hope for the Messiah by the time Jesus lived was that the Messiah would be a warrior-king who would overthrow Rome and re-establish the kingdom of Israel on earth.

So in today’s text, as in every Palm Sunday story, the crowd shouts “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” (v.13a) This is part of Psalm 118, one of the scriptures that seems to point to a Messiah. “Hosanna” is Hebrew for “please save us!” So the people were literally calling out for the Messiah, a savior-king. That they expected this promised one to be a King is evident here because they add something not in Psalm 118. They say, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the lord, even the King of Israel.” (v.13) John adds another kingly quote from scripture: “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” (v.15)

Suffering Savior-King

I want to add a bit to the overall scriptural description of the Messiah, though. It is true that the Messiah – that Jesus – was descended from King David. It is true that the Messiah was to be a King. But the people had developed an incomplete understanding or that kingship. It was more the king they wanted than the king God would send! Let’s look at some other scripture.

Psalm 118 does have that memorable verse that the crowd quoted. I’ve noted that “Hosanna” isn’t a kind of Hallelujah or praise to God, but literally means “Please save us!” or “Save us now!” It is a cry for help. Psalm 118 also charts a course for the work the Messiah will do, particularly in vv. 22-29. The Messiah will indeed come as saving King, chosen by God; but the Messiah will first be rejected (v. 22) and a great sacrifice will be made (v. 27). The Messiah doesn’t come to save through earthly battle, but through spiritual sacrifice.

And the context in Zechariah is similar. The quote about a king riding on a donkey comes in the middle of a chapter on earthly victory of God’s people. But just a few chapters later, we read this powerful text in Zechariah 12:10:

“10 “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.

John the disciple wrote in v. 16, “These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him.” And John also notes the great attention generated by raising Lazarus from the dead (v. 17) and other miracles. It is no wonder that the crowd didn’t stop to do careful scriptural study. We have the advantage of hind-sight, and further explanation of the New Testament.

But even if we can excuse remembering these things in the moment, we should note that scholars of that day had focused on the triumphant Kingly themes of Messiah and de-emphasized the suffering servant kinds of themes as found in Isaiah 53. Yet Jesus was not only King and Messiah, he was suffering servant, as described in Isaiah 53; he was rejected and sacrificed, as described in Psalm 118; and he was betrayed, pierced, and mourned, as described in Zechariah 12.

While it is not the main point of this sermon, this should give us pause to consider where we might have overlooked the actual Jesus presented in scripture and instead constructed a savior or God of our own desire and design. One good guard against that mistake (and related disappointment down the line) is to keep going back to scripture and digging deeper and deeper to discover who God is, particularly as revealed through Jesus. That task is never done, particularly because scripture reveals Jesus to be invitational, and along with knowing him more and more deeply, we are called ever more deeply to release the things we cling to and follow after him.

Do You Want to See Jesus? (vv.20-26)

The second part of today’s lesson contains details not included in the other Gospels. It provides a description of some folks who wanted to “Come and See.” It also provides Jesus’ own description of his work as Messiah.

First, John tells us that there were some Greeks who sought out the disciples, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” These were not Jewish people living outside Jerusalem, but non-Jews who demonstrated interest and faith in the God of the Jews.  They were in town for the Passover Festival.  While later expansion of the Church would include Gentiles like these, Jesus had primarily focused his ministry on his own Jewish people. This gives us a glimpse of the scope of his understanding of God’s Kingdom. His message is basically the same as to anyone: listen, believe, and follow.  Just as Jesus didn’t distinguish between a tax collector and a Pharisee, or between men and women, neither does he between Jew and Greek.  Indeed, this encounter anticipates Paul’s declaration later in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

In response to these Greek seekers, Jesus seems to speak of his own death, using the image of a seed being planted as ‘dying’ to bear much fruit. But he eventually gets back to the core message of “listen, believe, and follow.”  Perhaps here, near his death, he is proclaiming what will become the heart of the Gospel, that one died for all who believed.  Then, having given the Greeks the opportunity to listen and believe in what he is about to do, he invites them to follow.

What comes after “Come and See?” Following is what comes next. After giving the Greeks the opportunity to listen and believe, he invites them to follow: “If anyone serves me, he must follow me… and the Father will honor him.” (v.26) This is the same invitation Jesus gives to every person, and to you.

“Come and see” Jesus – he is more than a teacher, a philosopher, a good man. He claimed to be God in the flesh and the Messiah sent from God. He is King, not the king we want, but the king we need. He is King of a spiritual Kingdom and he is a humble, sacrificing, gracious ruler. His invitation to each of us is to hear that news, believe that news, and follow after him in service to God. So I want to ask three questions:

Have you listened? Have you checked Jesus out for who he claimed to be?
 
If so, have you believed?
Do you believe? Is he trustworthy? Will you trust him?

And if so, will you follow?
Will you follow not the Savior you want, but the Savior you need… the one God has provided? Will you follow where he leads you?

That’s the invitation. May God give each of us ears to hear and hearts to follow! Amen.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Deep Feelings (John 11)


Sermon by: Robert Austell; November 25, 2018 - John 11:

:: 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." 



::: Music ::
Sing Praise to God
How Great is Our God/How Great Thou Art (Tomlin, Reeves, Cash)
OFFERTORY: I Will Rise (Tomlin)
There is a Balm in Gilead

:: 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.

If you’ve never memorized any verses of scripture, I want to offer you a gift today. It’s John 11, verse 35. I bet every one of you can memorize it before you leave today. I’m going to say it to you and see if you can repeat the whole thing back to me. Are you ready: Jesus wept.

Good job! I knew you could do it. But here’s the thing… it’s not just a cool thing that you now know the shortest verse in the Bible. It’s also one of the very, very significant verses of the Bible, and that’s what I want to talk about today. Have you ever thought about it: the significance that Jesus wept… that he had deep feelings. We often say that he is fully God and fully human, but I think it’s easy to gloss over what it means that he is fully human. He’s been where we are; he’s felt all the feels. And that’s really important.

Today I want to look with you at the extended story in John 11. There is much there we could look at; in fact one year I took 4-5 sermons to go through this chapter. But today we are going to look at the whole thing, focusing in on Jesus’ humanity and what that shortest of all verses can teach us. First I want to remind you of the overall story and the main characters in it. But then I want to spend most of our time talking about Jesus and what his deep feelings mean within the story as well as for us.

The Disciples

Let’s start with the disciples. As the chapter opens, Jesus is some distance away from Bethany, where Lazarus and his sisters lived. Bethany is also pretty close to Jerusalem. Jesus and the disciples have gone away to put some distance between them and Jerusalem, where Jesus got trouble healing and teaching near the Temple. (Remember previous weeks, healing the man at the pool on a Sabbath, comparing the Pharisees to robbers and thieves of God’s sheep?) Jesus gets word that Lazarus is sick, but then stays put for two more days before heading to Bethany. The disciples are at once concerned that he doesn’t rush back to heal Lazarus, but then concerned when he does decide to go because they will be facing risk in going near Jerusalem again. Jesus explains to them why he has delayed and why he is going. And that really provides the key to understanding all that will follow. It’s there in verse 4, spoken to the disciples: “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” As we move through the story, keep God’s glory in focus.

Martha

Martha is the responsible and duty-focused sister, the one in a different story who worked in the kitchen to prepare food when Jesus came to visit. She is the one who comes out to welcome and receive Jesus as he comes into town now. She is the “doer.” Here Martha seems to have her faith and theology right as well, even if we can’t quite peer into her soul. She asks where Jesus has been, but trusts in Lazarus’ resurrection on the last day. And even as the story unfolds she knows that Jesus can do anything. She acknowledges Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of God, who has come into the world.” (v. 27) And with that, she goes to get Mary, who is still in the house mourning.

Mary

Mary is the one who sat at Jesus’ feet… the relational one… the emotional one. In another story she extravagantly poured perfume on his feet and wiped them with her hair. Now she is holed up in the house, halfway through shivah, the Jewish period of mourning. It was customary for friends to sit with those grieving and come alongside them in their grief. Thus they were weeping loudly together (v. 33).

Martha had met Jesus outside of town and now goes to get Mary. In fact, there is no indication that Jesus went to the house at all. Perhaps this is again an indication of the risk in coming back near Jerusalem. Interestingly, Martha also speaks “secretly” to Mary, saying that “the Teacher” is asking for her. It is unclear whether Martha was just giving her privacy at this news or trying to not announce Jesus’ arrival in the presence of so many neighbors, but when Mary left the house in a rush, the group followed after her thinking she was going to grieve at the tomb. We will read later in chapter 12 that some of this crowd reported Jesus to the authorities (but also that some believed). So that risk for Jesus is ever-present.

But then Mary comes to Jesus and throws herself, weeping, at his feet. This is her own version of what Martha did, indicating that she recognizes him as the Christ and Son of God. It is at this point she speaks the exact same words that her sister, Martha, had spoken: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (v. 32) They are the same words, but somehow sound different from Mary’s lips.

I should note that I don't understand Mary or Martha to have been blaming or accusing Jesus. The timing indicates that Lazarus died very soon after the messenger was sent for Jesus. Rather, they are both grieving his absence and recognizing that he could have done something about sickness though death now seems a final reality.

Lazarus

We don’t really hear from Lazarus in today’s text because he is dead, but we might ponder what he was thinking as he grew increasingly sick to the point of death. Was he hoping Jesus would make it? Did he share his sisters’ faith in Jesus’ power? Was there a point when he realized Jesus wasn’t going to make it and how did that play out in his faith and emotions?

Between Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, we have a broad range of human response to suffering and death. Sometimes we call out to God out of faith, sometimes grief, sometimes life and death need. What was going on with Jesus during all this? Remember… keep your eye on the glory of God!

Jesus

When Jesus took all this in – Mary at his feet wailing in grief, the crowd of neighbors now gathered around and also wailing, and Mary’s statement – he snorted. Yes, I said ‘snorted.’ There’s a whole bunch of underlying vocabulary in this verse and it’s an interesting puzzle to piece it all together. What our text translates as “deeply moved in spirit” comes from words that literally mean “snort like a horse.” It is a phrase or figure of speech that is trying to describe that kind of emotional response that wells up from deep, deep within and takes you off-guard. And the particular emotion it is describing is one of anger or indignation. It’s not a calculated “harrumph!” but a sudden burst of anger. Adding to that, we read that Jesus was also “troubled.”

What caused this response? Well John tells us. It is “when Jesus saw Mary and the crowd wailing.” That’s his response. For most of my life I had in mind that this is where Jesus puts his arm around Mary and says, “There, there; it will be okay; I’m going to make everything better.” But that’s not his response at all. He, who IS truly the compassionate one, SNORTS in anger at the scene.
Another clue to his response is in what happens next. He snorts in anger and is troubled and then asks, “Where have you put Lazarus?” (v. 34) They – the crowd – answer, “Lord, come and see.” (v. 34)

And as they go to the tomb where Lazarus is buried, we get to our memory verse for today: “Jesus wept.” (v. 35) Now it seems out of place. Is he angry or sad? Maybe now he’s grieving along with Mary like we might have expected. Well, no, I don’t think that’s what is going on. For one, he’s on the move. And though you don’t see it in English, there is a different word used for his crying. In fact, that’s the difference. Mary and the neighbors were wailing, a public and almost ritual grieving. Jesus cried tears, a more private and personal emotional response. It is encouraging that Jesus, who is God in the flesh, can cry tears. But what is he crying about? It doesn’t seem to be a “there, there” moment with Mary. And, in fact, he is walking toward the tomb where he is about to raise Lazarus back to life, so it doesn’t even seem like it would be over the death of Lazarus. Let’s hold that question.

I hold it because Jesus snorts in anger one more time before getting to the tomb. Seeing his private tears as they walk, the crowd has two responses, commenting out loud. Some say, “See how he loved him!” (v.36) They are right that Jesus loved Lazarus, but I don’t think that’s why he is crying. Others say what Mary and Martha said, but with a little more doubt and accusation: “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?” (v. 37) Maybe he’s crying because he blew it and didn’t get here in time. And then, again, Jesus snorts in anger just as they all arrive at the tomb. (v. 38)

Jesus is angry, troubled, and tearful. I love that he is that emotional. It’s not something you expect from the God-man. You expect love and mercy, but those are a little more lofty or something. I don’t expect a Jesus that laughs or gets angry, much less one that giggles or snorts. And yet, here he is: angry, troubled, and tearful. So, we can get that much out of it; when we say Jesus was fully God and fully human, we shouldn’t short-change the fully human part. He has emotions and feels things deeply. But why, in this situation? Why was he so emotional?

Keep Your Eye on the Glory

This is where I go back to the glory. Keep your eye on the glory. All that is happening is for the glory of God and so that the Son of God will be glorified. He told us so. It is so God will shine and be shown to be the weightiest, most solid, THERE, powerful, eternal, reality of all. And Jesus as well.

This is not a self-contained story or miracle. All the miracles were about the glory of God and Jesus being glorified. There is a trajectory here and it doesn’t end with Lazarus being raised, but with Jesus being crucified and raised and being the Son of God. Jesus has been public for three years. He has taught about the Kingdom of God and he has done countless miraculous signs to point people to the Kingdom of God. He has faced increasing risk and knows with certainty where he is now headed. He knows that sin and death will not win, and he knows that God will have victory through his own obedient sacrifice. And he knows that raising Lazarus will give those watching one last great sign that it’s all true, that even the strongest thing they know – DEATH – is not stronger than the love of God.

But they haven’t seen it yet. Martha was close; she affirmed her belief in the future resurrection and the power of God in Jesus the Son of God. But Mary couldn’t see it. She was grieving, as Paul would later write in Thessalonians, as “do the rest who have no hope.” The neighbors were grieving as those who have no hope. At most, some thought that if he had just arrived sooner, he could have healed Lazarus of sickness. Sickness can be cured, but death is final.

I don’t think Jesus was angry AT Mary or the others. I think he was that whole mix of emotion – angry, troubled, tearful – because God's glory was SO close and all they could see was a cave with a stone lying against it. Death was a cave with a stone lying against it, with decaying flesh hidden behind it. It was only a few months at most until his own resurrection, and only moments until he would shout, “Roll away the stone!” but the time was not yet come and he had taken a long look at the hopelessness of humanity without God’s intervention.

It should have enraged him and made him weep. He was God’s champion sent to vanquish sin and death. I believe his emotion was stirred up by the immediacy of the battle he was about to fight and the stakes of that battle. These were indeed people he loved deeply; they and the whole world were at stake. And the deep emotion welled up within him.

And so, Jesus, the Son of God, the Light and Hope of the world, came to the tomb. "Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it." But then the power and glory of God was revealed, pointing to something greater yet to come.

What’s the Point?

I don’t know if you feel this way or not, but I think the Lazarus story can be one of the hardest stories to relate to in the Bible. It’s all well and good until Lazarus gets raised from the dead and then you are left wondering, “How come God’s never done this for me?” What are you supposed to take away from this? Is it that if you have strong enough faith, like Martha, then God will come through on the big miracle or answer to prayer? Or is it that if you are grief-stricken enough, like Mary, then God will have compassion and mercy and give you the big miracle or answer to prayer? There are some that think those are the lessons, but I think nothing could be further from the truth. God is not ours to manipulate or control through either faith or grief. Not only is that missing the point of this story, it’s not the way God works at all.

Instead, I believe these events were meant to point us to God’s glory. That’s the reason Jesus gave after all. At the Thanksgiving service last Tuesday I told people that God’s glory is a combination of who God is and what God has done. It’s His mighty deeds, but it’s also His character. That’s what’s on display here, not just raising a human being once from death, but anticipating the once and for all death and resurrection of Jesus for the world.

It’s a similar dynamic to worship music. It’s meant to point us to God and God’s glory, but it’s easy to take our eye off of that and focus on the music or the musician. Did I like it? Was Levi tearing it up on the drums? Weren’t those basses fantastic? Those things aren’t non-existent, but they are not why we do worship music. Or let me use another example from just a few weeks ago in the Gospel of John.

It’s the same dynamic as the Feeding of the 5,000. The crowd wants another miracle, wants to be fed magic bread. But Jesus is claiming more than that. He IS the Bread of Life. Mary and Martha (and presumably Lazarus) want to be well, want to live another day. But Jesus isn’t just bringing a resurrection; he IS THE Resurrection. He says that to Martha in verse 25: “I AM the resurrection and the life.” That’s the point… not what he did for Lazarus, but who He is.

We’ve been seeing all the ways Jesus spoke and lived out the invitation to “Come and See.” Here he not only does resurrection; he IS resurrection. What do you make of him? “I AM the resurrection and the life.” What do you see and hear in that and in his demonstration of God’s power with Lazarus? What difference will that make with you?

Amen.