Ever wish you had paid more attention in seminary? Struggling with preparing a sermon? GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins wants to help pastors with useful resources to help them as they serve the Lord.
With more than a quarter century of pastoral leadership, Hawkins makes available some of his most popular sermon outlines for pastors, Sunday school teachers and other Bible study leaders. These free resources can help you as you prepare your sermon or lesson each week.
In addition to these sermon outlines, Hawkins offers his video Weekly Staff Meetings with insights on some of the most common issues pastors and ministers face as well as a Podcast.
Crossing over into a new year
January always brings an opportunity for a new beginning. It had been a long journey for the children of Israel now encamped on the eastern banks of the Jordan overlooking their promised land. They were about to cross over to their own new beginning. But before they crossed the river, Moses gave them a challenge and a reminder of some very important things to take with them as they crossed over.
As we stand now on the brink of this new year, we do so with the same challenges Moses gave his people so long ago. As we, ourselves, now have crossed over into this new year we are reminded of:
II. God's provision (v. 11)
III. God's presence (v. 12)
IV. God's promise (vv. 13-15)
V. God's protection (vv. 16-24)
As we have now embarked on this new year of opportunity and new beginning, we enter it with some wonderful reminders. We cross over with His provision, His presence, His promise and His protection. Yes, He didn’t bring us out except to take us in.
Having entered the 21st century, we find the Christian faith on a collision course with the world system. This has become increasingly apparent with the reactions to our recent Southern Baptist prayer efforts for people groups around the world. The outcry over our encouragement to pray for our Jewish friends has met incredible opposition not only from the secularists of the world but others who consider themselves a part of the Christian community. We have come a long way since the Apostle Paul said, Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved (Romans 10:1).
We have always understood that Christianity is cross-cultural. Now, we are being reminded that it is also counter-cultural. Too often the church today is trying to win a war without knowing where the battle is being fought. The war is not about submission. Submission is simply a skirmish. The war is not about abortion nor is it about such things as homosexual rights. Those are all skirmishes. The war is much bigger. It is a cosmic struggle between two diametrically opposing world views.
Postmodernism is resistant not just to our Christian truth claims but to all truth claims. The 21st century world philosophy tells us that all behavior, all beliefs, all lifestyles should be regarded as equally valid. Therefore, tolerance is the byword. So, along comes a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ who exclaims that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father but through him. And immediately, he finds himself at odds with the world system. Yes, our Christian faith is indeed counter-cultural.
At the heart of the issue is the main message of the church, eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Our culture tells us there are many paths to eternal life. Eastern religionists influencing the West today tell us there is one truth and many paths. Postmodernists tell us there are many paths and no real absolute truth. Since the central message of the church is salvation by grace through faith, this great truth needs to be proclaimed as never before in our world today. In Ephesians 2, the Apostle Paul reminds us of three things regarding salvation.
I. Salvation is God’s work (v. 8)
Where does salvation begin? The culture tells us it begins with man but God says it is by grace. Salvation is not my work. It is the work of God.
II. Salvation is God’s work in God’s way (vv. 8-9)
We want to shout these words…through faith…not of yourselves…the gift of God. Salvation is not only God’s work, it is in God’s way and his way is the way of faith alone.
III. Salvation is God’s work in God’s way according to God’s will (v. 10)
We are his “workmanship.” We get our English word, poem, from the Greek word we translate “workmanship.” We are God’s poem, his special work of art. We are created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk therein.
In the midst of all the recent “millennial madness” and hype of the new century, there is a factor that for the most part has been lost in it all. After all these two thousand years, the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ is still the defining moment of all human history! In a warm and winsome way, let’s tell the world what they so desperately need to hear this new year—Salvation is God’s work in God’s way according to God’s will.
1 Corinthians 11:23-28
1 Corinthians 11:23-28
“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you; that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it…” (1 Corinthians 11:23-24). And so, with these old and often repeated words Paul begins his instruction pertaining to the receiving of the bread and the cup of the Lord’s Supper.
It was the evening before His crucifixion, “the night in which He was betrayed,” that the Lord arranged to borrow an upper room on Mount Zion to host His disciples for the Jewish Seder meal at which He instituted a new supper to be done “in remembrance of Me.” We call this memorial meal the “Lord’s Supper.” And, rightly so. It is His and not ours. He does the inviting. Whenever we partake in this act of remembrance we are invited guests, as were the disciples in the upper room that fateful evening.
Why have we Christians been gathering in churches, in homes, in catacombs, in hidden basements, in prison cells and a myriad of other places down through the centuries to observe this meal? We do so in order that we might grant His request to “do this in remembrance of Me” (1 Corinthians 11:24). In the language of the New Testament the word here means to call back into our memories a vivid experience from the past and meditate upon it. The Greek text denotes indefinite repetition, that is, to do it again and again and again.
Our family has a large family photo album which virtually tells the story of each of our lives from birth until now. If you were to sit on our sofa and thumb through it, it would, most likely, not mean much to you. You would see my old home place on Crenshaw Street in Fort Worth. It is a little two bedroom, one bath, frame home with a white picket fence and a mimosa tree out in front. You would then quickly turn the page having seen it. But, when I see it, memories abound of experiences in that old house. When I look at that picture it reminds me of a scar I still carry on my leg where I fell on that fence trying to climb over it one day. My dad had told me a thousand times to stay off it, but I thought I knew best.
Susie’s and my first home is in that family picture album. That tiny little three-room house behind another house would mean nothing to you. But when I look at it, it brings up memories of joy and happiness of those first few months of marriage. Just looking at it reminds me of how ice would build up on the inside of our windows at night since the entire place was heated with only one small portable electric floor heater which would be moved from room to room. Warm and wonderful are fond family memories.
In the same way in which my family photo album brings to mind so many memories of bygone days, so do the bread and the cup of the Lord’s Supper table for members of God’s family. It may not mean much to those who have not been born into His family; but for those of us who have, it stirs in our hearts thankful memories of His sacrifice for us. This is one of the reasons that the Lord’s Supper is only for those who have, by faith, been born again into the family of God.
Paul says that by partaking of this supper we “proclaim the Lord’s death” (1 Corinthians 11:26). He uses the Greek word, καταγγελλω, here which means that we are preaching a sermon, proclaiming a message, when we come to the Lord’s Table. You say, “I could never preach a sermon.” But you do, each time you take of the cup and the bread. You are retelling the story of the cross and His vicarious death for us. The Lord’s Supper and baptism are sermons we all preach about the substitutionary, vicarious death of the Lord Jesus Christ. After all, the best of all the sermons are the ones preached by our lives and not simply our lips.
So as we come to the Lord’s Supper we are preaching a sermon. Our sermon has four points. There is a word of explanation, a word of exaltation, a word of expectation and a word of examination.
A Word of Explanation
“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you; that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread…” (1 Corinthians 11:23)
Initially, there is a word of explanation about that “which has been delivered” to us. The Lord’s Supper is an ordinance of Christ given to His church. An ordinance is a ceremony the Lord Jesus commanded His church to observe in this dispensation of grace which tells the story of the gospel in a symbolic or metaphorical form. There are two such ordinances of the church. One is baptism. In this act of obedience following our conversion experience the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord is beautifully pictured in our baptism by immersion. While this act does nothing to save us or wash away our sins, it is one of the first steps of obedience for every believer. The other ordinance given us by our Lord is the Lord’s Supper. While there is no saving grace in the digesting of the elements, it does show forth a beautiful picture of our Lord’s broken body in the unleavened bread and His shed blood in the cup.
The Lord’s Supper is not a ritual that is to be repeatedly observed in such a fashion that it loses its significance. Our Roman Catholic friends believe in what is termed transubstantiation. This belief holds to the fact that quite literally and actually the elements of the bread and the cup become the body and blood of the Lord. However, on that night when it was instituted, He said, “This is my body… ,” and the reality was they still enjoyed his actual physical presence in his real body at that moment. Our Lutheran friends hold to a belief called consubstantiation. This teaches that while the elements are still in fact bread and the fruit of the vine some mystical transformation ensues as they are taken into our bodies.
We, who are called Baptists, believe that the elements are symbolic. That is, that the bread and the cup are simply “pictures” of His broken body and shed blood. Scriptural interpretation comes in many forms. Sometimes Jesus spoke in parables, stories that told eternal truths. Who of us could ever forget the parable of the Prodigal Son? On other occasions Jesus spoke with simile. For example, the Bible speaks of the Spirit descending “like a dove” at His baptism. He also spoke in hyperbole, exaggerated expressions to drive home simple truths. Once, He said if our eye was offending us to “pluck it out.” That is an obvious hyperbole, especially when interpreted in light of all other scripture. And, often our Lord spoke metaphorically. He said in the Sermon on the Mount that His followers were to be “the salt of the earth.” He did not mean that we were literally to be salt but that we were to season life with His goodness and preserve our culture from decay. And thus, in the same manner, the elements of the Lord’s Supper are metaphorical expressions of His body and blood.
One of the most misunderstood and confusing portions of this text is in Paul’s statement that, “Whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27). Some who read these words inserted in this beautiful and instructive passage feel they are unworthy to come to the Lord’s Table. If the receiving of these elements depended upon our own worthiness, who of us could approach the table? The adverb used here in verse 27 means of “unequal weight.” The word picture is of a scale tipping down on one side with one side heavier than the other. On either side of that scale are our heart and our conduct, our faith and our works. This is not a question of worth or worthiness. After all, Paul called himself “less than the least of all the saints” in the Ephesian letter and in his last epistle to Timothy he referred to himself as “the chief of sinners.” This verse speaks of an attempt by the unconverted, the unrepentant and the unreconciled to come to the Lord’s Table. It involves a cavalier approach.
There is a word of explanation. The Lord’s Supper is a picture of the broken body and shed blood of our Lord in our behalf. There is no saving grace in the actual partaking of it but it is a “sermon” each of us preaches about His atoning sacrifice for our sins and a remembrance of Him.
A Word of Exaltation
“And when He had given thanks He broke it….” (1 Corinthians 11:24)
The second point in the sermon we preach at the Lord’s Table is a word of exaltation. How we exalt Him today for His broken body and shed blood that made a way out of no way for us. Note, when He “had given thanks He broke it.” He broke it. How prophetic. The cross was no accident. He willingly, voluntarily, laid down His life. In John 10:18 we hear Him proclaim, “No one takes it (my life) from Me for I lay it down Myself.”
The Lord’s Supper is a time of thanksgiving. The very word “Eucharist” comes from this Greek expression in verse 24 of giving thanks. We are a thankful people. In the busyness of our lives we are so prone to be forgetful. We tend to forget names and promises and even the purpose of our Lord’s coming. And so He brings us to His table and says, “This do in remembrance of Me” (1 Corinthians 11:25).
He died…for me! The Lord Jesus gave Himself for me… and you. He didn’t die in a white starched shirt with an expensive tie on some gold cross on a mahogany communion table in a high-steeple, stained-glass church. But out there where people were shouting and cursing and sweating. It was there that “He who knew no sin became sin for me that I might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
We do not partake of the Lord’s Supper to remind Him; but to remember Him. In remembering His death for us we exalt Him and give Him praise and thanks. We are a thankful people.
A Word of Expectation
“…you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26)
The Lord’s Supper experience is not simply an acknowledgment of His physical absence but a promise of His physical return. There was a word that was constantly escaping the lips of those first generational believers. “Maranatha!” The Lord is coming. They greeted each other with that word. They comforted one another with that word. They shouted it to one another in the final moments of martyrdom. They lived with the hope of His soon coming. When we partake of this memorial supper, we join them in proclaiming the Lord’s vicarious death “until He comes” again.
When He comes again, we will never again take the Lord’s Supper in the way we do today. It is only given to the church in this dispensation of grace. Why? There will be no need for it. We will have Him who the Supper pictures.
When I travel, I have had a habit of taking my wife’s picture along with me. I like to place it by the phone on the nightstand of the hotel room as a reminder of how much I love and miss her. But, I don’t do that when I get home. I have her actual presence which is so much more meaningful than a picture.
One golden daybreak our Lord is coming back to take us home. Now, while we are separated from His visible presence we put His picture out at the Lord’s Supper table. But there is coming a day when He will seat us at His table and what a day that will be! But until then, we eat of the bread and drink of the cup to “proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” There is not simply a word of explanation, a word of exaltation and a word of expectation. Finally, there is a word of examination.
A Word of Examination
“But let a man examine himself and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” (1 Corinthians 11:28)
The Lord’s Table should be a time of self-examination. The Greek word here translated, “examine,” is δοκιμαζω. It literally is saying, “Let a man put himself on trial. Let a man search his own heart; shining a light into its hidden recesses to see if there is any wicked thing revealed.” Here is the necessary factor of confession of sin.
Note the admonition to examine ourselves before we “eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” Here, we search our hearts for sins of the tongue; things we might have said which shouldn’t have been voiced. Here, we search our hearts for sins of action; things we may have done that should not have been acted out. Here, we search our hearts for sins of thought; things we have harbored in our minds. Our mind is like a hotel. The manager of the hotel cannot keep someone from entering the lobby but he can keep him from getting a room. It is not a sin for something to pass through our minds. The problem comes when we give it a room. Here, we also search our hearts for sins of omission, things we should have done that were left undone. Once this search is complete we “confess our sins” knowing that “He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Thus, at the Lord’s Supper table we look backward with a word of explanation. We look upward with a word of exaltation. We look forward with a word of expectation. And, we look inward with a word of examination.
Interestingly, there are usually six words written on every communion table in the world—“This do in remembrance of me.” In the first century world when this admonition was given there were no cameras, no videos, no mobile phones with built-in cameras. No one ever took a picture of Jesus. Some seem to think that in daVinci’s famous depiction of the Lord’s Supper that some photographer said, “Okay, everyone please get on one side of the table for the picture.” No. Jesus simply said, “This do in remembrance of Me…eat this bread and drink this cup.”
Leonardo daVinci was commissioned by the Duke of Milan to paint the famous masterpiece we now know as the Last Supper. He labored over it for several years giving precise attention to every minute detail including that of the disciples’ faces. He painted the table, the grouping, the chalice and finally the face of our Lord. When the work was completed, he showed it to a close confidant. He was awestruck by this marvelous work and said, “Oh, what a beautiful chalice. I cannot take my eyes off it.” daVinci immediately took his brush and painted through the chalice so that nothing would ever take precedence over the face of Christ. And so it should be for us when we come to the Lord’s Table. His presence with us should reign supreme.
The Lord’s Supper is our own photo album, as it were, where we can come and remember what He has done for us. For me it calls to memory that cold January morning when as a seventeen-year-old young man “old things passed away and all became new” when I put my trust in Him. As often as we eat of the bread and drink of the cup “we do show the Lord’s death until He comes.” Maranatha!
Coming to Christ
In these verses we find five different individuals who became followers of Christ. They had widely different temperaments. John was devoted and affectionate. Andrew was humble and practical. Peter was impulsive, the ultimate “type A” personality. Philip was often the skeptical type. And Nathaniel was meditative and contemplative. They picture for us the three ways people become followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some come to Him through:
I. Pulpit proclamation (vv. 35-39)
Andrew and John were part of John the Baptist’s congregation. They sat under his anointed preaching and it pointed them to the Lord Jesus. Others come through:
II. Private visitation (vv. 43-44)
No one went to Philip. He was never in a preaching service. Nor did he ever read a gospel tract. The Lord Jesus appeared to him privately and bid him to follow. The Lord is still seeking to save the lost today. Here we see the Good Shepherd Himself going after the sheep. Finally, others come through:
III. Personal confrontation (vv. 40-42; vv. 45-51)
Some are confronted with the claims of Christ by family and others by friends. Peter came to the Lord due to the personal confrontation from his brother, Andrew. Andrew sought him, taught him and brought him to the Lord (vv. 41-42). Nathaniel came by the personal confrontation of a friend, Philip (vv. 45-51) who was wise enough not to argue but to press the claims of Christ and say come and see.
Yes, some come through pulpit proclamation, others through private visitation, but most through personal confrontation. Andrew found Peter. Philip found Nathaniel and thus the church has grown through the centuries. The most rapid and far-reaching results were achieved in one generation without the use of television, the Internet, air travel or any of our modern conveniences. The gospel still spreads lip to lip, life to life, person to person. Someone you know needs to know Jesus and needs to be encouraged to come and see.
All over our world churches spend much of December in preparation for pageants and plays on Christmas Eve. During our years of pastoring in Fort Lauderdale our church began a Christmas pageant that through the years grew to mammoth proportions. But, I must confess that I much prefer the simple Christmas plays conducted by the thousands of smaller churches each Christmas Eve. There is beauty and dignity not only in the simple and oft-repeated story but also in the simplicity of crude props, terrycloth bathrobes serving as Shepherds’ robes and a plastic baby doll placed in a crib of hay and stubble. There is just something that seems to be atmospheric about Christmas Eve.
I always found it amazing how much went on backstage before the curtain ever rises in a Christmas presentation. There are props to be made. There are costumes to be sewn. There is child care to be provided for the cast. There are faces to be made up and platforms to be constructed. There is music to be rehearsed and lines to be memorized. It can be somewhat confusing, often complicated and sometimes even comical backstage.
But on this Christmas Eve when everything is focused on Bethlehem and the manger I would like for us to think a moment about what it must have been like backstage…backstage in heaven, that is. Backstage in heaven our Lord was speaking a farewell to the Old Testament saints, to the angels and to the Father. He, then, laid aside His glory, stepped over the portals of heaven and into the dung of a smelly Eastern stable.
What would He say to the Father as He departed? Before the curtain rose on the greatest event in all of human history what was the conversation backstage in heaven? Fortunately, the Bible has recorded it for us in Hebrews 10:5-7, “Therefore, when He came into the world He said, ‘Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure.’ Then I said, ‘I have come—in the volume of the book it is written of Me—to do Your will O God.’ ”
Now, that for which heaven had been waiting was coming. Now, that One to whom the prophets had been pointing was coming. The Father had been bringing to light the picture of His coming for generations. Way back in the early verses of Genesis the sun of His revelation began to rise casting its shadow for all to see. He was there pictured in the skins that clothed Adam and Eve, in righteous Abel’s offering, Isaac’s sacrificial lamb, in the Passover lamb of Egypt and in Isaiah’s fifty-third chapter. Now, on Christmas Eve, it is high noon on God’s clock of revelation. No more shadows. It is now “the fullness of time” and God was sending forth His own son. God, Himself, now clothed in human flesh, was stepping out of heaven and into human history. How? With “a body You have prepared for me.” Why? “To do your will O God.”
Christmas Eve in heaven…what a thought! Most of our thoughts on Christmas Eve are centered around what took place on earth. The Innkeeper. Joseph. Mary. Elizabeth. Zacharias. The stable. The shepherds. The wise men. The angels. But, what about Christmas Eve in heaven? Gabriel had returned from his visit and had made his report of Mary’s response upon hearing the news. “My soul magnifies the Lord,” she said. He reported on how faithful and obedient Joseph was while knowing that he would most likely become the brunt of every barroom joke in Nazareth. He told of the shepherds and their own excitement out in the fields of Bethlehem.
All of heaven was now looking over those portals. The “fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4) had come. Even though those on earth were mostly oblivious to this remarkable event, those in heaven were waiting, watching and worshipping.
Abel was looking over those portals. He had brought, not a work of his hands, but a sacrificial animal to the altar of worship and God had accepted it. “Now, I see it clearly,” he declares. Abraham was looking over those portals. He had left the land of his father and now he watches Christ make ready to do the same. Isaac was peering over the portals also on that Christmas Eve. He had put the wood on his back and carried it up Moriah to be sacrificed himself. Now, he too, sees it more clearly. Moses was watching. He had taken the Passover Lamb and spread its blood over the doorpost and lintel of the home and found out what it meant to be delivered from death and slavery. Rahab leaned over the portals that Christmas Eve also. Centuries earlier she had hung the scarlet thread out her window, a picture of Christ and His deliverance for us. And, Isaiah, he was certainly attentive. It was he who had prophesied that “a virgin would conceive” and would give birth to a Son who would later be “wounded for our transgressions.”
And thus, backstage on Christmas Eve, the Lord Jesus turned to the Father and said, “A body You have prepared for me….I go now to do Your will.” In these words we find two very important affirmations on this Christmas Eve. There is a word of condescension and a word of comprehension. Let’s go backstage in heaven and listen in on this Christmas Eve conversation.
A Word of Condescension
“…a body You have prepared for Me…” (Hebrews 10:5)
What a step—from the splendor of heaven to the womb of a woman and finally to the stable of Bethlehem. There is so much behind this statement of our Lord, “A body you have prepared for me.” The word “body” in the language of the New Testament translates a word meaning “material substance.” We know well the Bible teaches that God is a Spirit. Thus, what a word of condescension we find here. This great creator God stepped into a body of flesh to identify with us. In this body He would become our own sin bearer.
There is much revealed in the use of the word “prepared” in this statement of our Lord. It translates a Greek word, καταρτιζω, which means to be framed or to be perfectly joined together. It is found here in the middle voice which simply means that the subject performs the action upon himself. What a divine revelation — this is God who took upon Himself a body.
Here is condescension of the first and finest order. He became as helpless as a tiny seed planted in a young girl’s womb and as helpless as a little baby in total dependence upon someone else. He visited us and He did so as a baby. What condescension. His birth was unlike any other and yet, it was like ours in that it was accompanied by pain and struggle. He was born…not with the decency of a sterile environment with clean sheets…but in the dung and filth of a stable where sickness and death were likely possibilities.
Look at Mary. She is in labor. Her back is aching. Her feet are swollen. She is sweating. She is having contractions. The little babe’s head pushes itself into the world. She is struggling, pushing. And then, He arrives! God in flesh has come to visit us. Yes, “a body You have prepared for Me.”
Parenthetically, I have always been a bit amused at why some have a problem believing in the virgin birth and yet have no problem believing in the miracle of natural birth. How can two tiny specks of protoplasm be joined together resulting in all the intricacies of a nervous system, a respiratory system, a circulatory system and a digestive system? It is a miracle. Why, then, if we believe this can we not believe that this same great God could have planted His own seed in the womb of a young virgin girl?
Seven hundred years before Bethlehem the prophet Isaiah talked about a sign that would come. He said, “The Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). A sign is something that gets your attention and then tells you something. We have all seen them on the roadside during car trips. Isaiah told us to watch for a sign regarding the coming Messiah. And the sign was to be that a virgin would conceive and bear a son. This would take a miracle. So our Lord, backstage in heaven, says, “A body you have prepared for Me.” God planted that seed in that virgin girl Himself.
There are those today who contend that the virgin birth is not an important Christological doctrine. But it is vitally essential to Christ’s own Messiah-ship. He was the “God-man” and not God and man. He is God because He is the “only begotten of the Father” and He is man because He is “born of a woman.” God clothed Himself in human flesh.
Yes, in the words of our Lord this Christmas Eve, “A body You have prepared for Me.” What amazing condescension. He did not come as a grown man and rush out to the cross, but as a baby so that He could say to any and all of us, “I understand.” He knew what it was to face the accusations of illegitimacy throughout His life. He knew what it was to be deserted by much of His family and to be betrayed by His best friends. He knew the pain of being falsely and unjustly accused.
Yes, what amazing condescension. “A body You have prepared for Me.” He took a physical body so that one day we might have a spiritual body. He came to be with us in order that one day we could go to be with Him. He became what we are that we might one day become what He is in the sense of being with Him in a glorified state in His perfect paradise. In short, He came to earth so that we could go to heaven.
The miracle of Christmas and the virgin birth is that God formed the Christ in Mary. Before the day of Pentecost one body had contained the Lord Jesus but since then all bodies can through the new birth. Paul, the apostle, said, “I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19).
On this Christmas Eve amid all the joy of the season, look back-stage a moment. There is a word of condescension. “A body You have prepared for Me.”
A Word of Comprehension
“…I have come…to do Your will, O God.” (Hebrews 10:5-7)
Our Lord not only comprehended the will of the Father, He came to perform it. This is the primary purpose of His advent, that is, to do the Father’s will. He began with it here on Christmas Eve in heaven and thirty-three years later He ended with it in Gethsemane’s garden praying, “Not My will but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Here was a conscious willingness on His part. He willingly, voluntarily, laid down His life in obedience to the Father’s will. Later, in the prime of life, He was beaten almost beyond recognition, stripped and mocked, slapped and spit upon and finally nailed to a Roman cross of execution. And, all willingly.
Listen to our Lord, “I have come to do Your will, O God.” Willingly the Lord Jesus took a body. Willingly He was led before Caiaphas, then Pilate and on to the cross. He was never dragged or pushed as an unwilling victim. Hear Him in Isaiah’s prophecy, “I was not rebellious nor did I turn away. I gave my back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out My beard. I did not hide My face from shame or spitting” (Isaiah 50:5-6). Yes, we have a word of comprehension on this Christmas Eve. “I have come to do Your will, O God.”
In the preceding verse from our text, the writer of Hebrews had said, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). In fact He says, “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire” (Hebrews 10:5). Why then all the animal sacrifices on Temple Mount? They were all pointing to the Lamb of God Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ. God took no pleasure in the sacrifice of these animals (Hebrews 10:6).
They all simply were pointing to Jesus. In what sacrifice then did the Father take pleasure? The final and complete sacrifice of His Son. We know this because He told us so at the baptism of the Lord by John the Baptist. John said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The Father responded from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, in Him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
There are two small but very important words in our Lord’s word of comprehension. Note carefully, He said, “I have come to do Your will, O God.” It is not simply enough for us to know the will of God. We must do it in our own experience. The Lord did not come to find the will of God. He came to do the will of God. And there is a huge difference in the two. Many find God’s will but few seem to “do it.” True success in life is not simply to find God’s will for our lives but to actually do it. Jesus said, “I have come to do Your will, O God.”
This will of the Father took Jesus to Bethlehem, to Egypt, to Nazareth, to Capernaum, to Jerusalem and on to Gethsemane, Golgotha, the grave and then back to glory. And because of His faithfulness to the Father’s will, the writer of Hebrews says, “By that will we have been sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands ministering daily and offering the same sacrifices which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:10-12).
What if our Lord had called those legions of angels to deliver Him from the cross? What if He had known the will of the Father but not done it? There would be no Christmas tree, no ornaments, no presents, no Christmas Eve. There would be no church steeples, no churches, no New Testament. There would be no hymns, no hope. But thanks be to God that we “know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that we through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
There is not only a word of condescension but also a word of comprehension. The Lord came primarily to do the Father’s will and that will eventually took Him to a Roman cross. Early on He declared, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work” (John 4:34).
Christmas Eve in heaven. What a thought. What a night. Just before the curtain rises, our Lord turns to the Father and says, “A body You have prepared for me…I have come to do Your will, O God.” Should we do less this Christmas season? Since our Lord humbled Himself to say, “A body You have prepared for Me,” should we not also humble ourselves before Him? Since our Lord declared that He had come “to do” the Father’s will should we do less?
On this Christmas Eve in the midst of family and friends, pageants and plays and gadgets and gifts may we sincerely join the Apostle Paul in exclaiming, “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15).
Christmas Day: Let us now go to Bethlehem
It was an amazing night. Frederick Speakman, in his book The Salty Tang, put it like this, “It was silent and yet there was music. It was dark and yet there was light.” Bethlehem almost missed it. No room! Many of us recall the moment of the birth of our first born. The trip to the hospital, the sterile environment, the presence of family and friends. But on the first Christmas a young pregnant Jewess found herself without the decency of even a clean sheet on a simple cot. In her hour of childbirth her bed was straw in a stable and when the baby was born, with trembling, yet thankful, fingers she wrapped the baby in cloths and laid him in a manger.
Down the hillside from the small village was a group of common shepherds. While the big event was transpiring unannounced in Bethlehem they had a surprise visit from heaven itself. After the angelic announcement of the Messiah’s birth and the praise song of the heavenly choir, the shepherds said one to another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us” (Luke 2:15). And they came. And they found Him. Then they “returned glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told them.” (Luke 2:20).
Nestled on the top of a Judean mountain about six miles south of Jerusalem, Bethlehem has had a long and memorable history. It is first mentioned in scripture when Rachel died there and her heartbroken husband Jacob buried her just outside the city (Gen. 35:19). It was Bethlehem where Ruth, the Moabitess, fell in love with Boaz, the Lord of the harvest (Ruth 1:22). It was in this same village that David as a boy tended the sheep of his father and where he was anointed king by the prophet Samuel (I Sam. 17:15). It was Bethlehem, centuries before the coming of Christ, that Micah foretold would be the birthplace of the coming Messiah (Mic. 5:2).
As we walk through Bethlehem today it is still a small village on the side of the same hill. Fifty thousand residents call this town on Israel’s Palestinian-controlled West Bank their home. Their tiny streets are invaded by over one million visitors each year. Each of these pilgrims is there to visit the cave which rests underneath a large Byzantine Greek Orthodox church which has stood since 530 A.D. and itself was built over the site of the structure built by Helena, Constantine’s mother, in about 325 A.D. Today Bethlehem is a troubled village, awaiting like every other city in the world the coming of the Prince of Peace. Our Lord was born into an environment in Bethlehem much like the one that prevails today. Both the Jews of Jesus’ day and the Palestinians of modern times are subservient to the economic interests of their richer and more powerful neighbors. Both were in refugee camps or small villages alongside a culture that was more modern and influential. Both were victims of disgust and discrimination. And, both groups had an element within them that was prone to calling for armed revolt and violence. It was into this environment that our Lord entered our world.
Let’s go to Bethlehem and while there ask ourselves a question — is my life a Bethlehem? What do we mean? Bethlehem is a place of potential. It is a place of providence. It is a place of privilege. Our Lord longs for each of us to become a Bethlehem in our own right. That is, a person of potential, providence and privilege.
Bethlehem is a place of potential
Think of it. Of all the places for Messiah to be born, God chose Bethlehem. In the words of Micah it was “little among the thousands of Judah” (Mic. 5:2). One certainly would have expected Messiah to be born in Jerusalem or at least any of the scores of towns in the region larger and more prominent than Bethlehem. But God has a way of dwelling among the lowly. He said, “I dwell in the high and holy place, but with him who has a contrite and humble spirit” (Is. 57:15). Bethlehem reminds us that the small shall be great and the last shall be first, that God brings strength from weakness and brings the base things of the world to value and to nothing the things that are valued. Yes, Bethlehem is a place of potential. Perhaps you feel insignificant, little among those around you. You, like Bethlehem are just the person God can use. Bethlehem is a place of potential…and so are you! It may be that, like Bethlehem, you simply have not awakened to it yet.
As God looks upon us today He doesn’t see us for what we are but for what we could become, if and when we make room for Him. Do you remember Simon Peter’s first encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ? The Lord looked at him and saw him not for who and what he was, but for who and what he had the potential to become. He said, “You are Simon (a small pebble) but you shall be called Cephas (a rock)” (John 1:42). Jesus saw the potential that was in his life. Three and a half years later, Peter reached that potential and became the undisputed leader of the Jerusalem church.
As the Lord looks into your life and my life He sees us not for what we are now, but for what we could become. That is part of the message of Bethlehem. It is a place of potential. It was “little among the villages of Judah” (Mic. 5:2) but what potential it held. Is your life a Bethlehem, a place of potential?
God did not come to Caesar’s palace to be born, nor to Herod’s court. But very quietly, almost unannounced and somewhat incognito, He arrived in a seemingly insignificant little town, but a place of tremendous potential.
God is reminding us today that, even though we may seem somewhat insignificant in the eyes of the world, in His eyes we have potential for greatness. Bethlehem is a place of potential. See yourself as a Bethlehem today. You, too, are a person of potential.
Bethlehem is a place of providence
Long centuries before Christ’s birth, God foretold through His prophets that Bethlehem would be the birthplace of the promised Messiah of Israel. When reports spread of the “birth of a king,” Herod asked the chief priest the location of the King Messiah’s prophesied birthplace. He quickly replied, “in Bethlehem of Judea”(Matt. 2:5-6). But how could this be, since Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth, 70 miles and several days journey to the north? Bethlehem is not simply a place of potential, it is also a place of providence. God still works in the affairs of men by His own design and sovereign will.
Luke begins the story of the Christmas narrative by saying, “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1). But in reality there is so much more behind that verse. The decree was not issued by Caesar but by God Himself! It was divine providence moving Caesar to issue that decree. Caesar was but a pawn in the hand of God. If there was ever a place of providence it was Bethlehem. God put the whole world in motion to fulfill His word. At just the right time He used a Roman decree to move Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
God is still at work in our world today. Daniel reminds us that “the Most High rules in the kingdoms of men” (Dan. 4:17). Solomon says, “The King’s heart is in the hand of the Lord” (Prov. 21:1). God is moving behind the scenes in world affairs today. He is putting the whole world in motion to fulfill His word. There is tremendous euphoria over the unification of the European community especially in light of its common currency. Could it be that behind it all is the hand of God fulfilling His word as He moves our world toward the coming of a one-world government with an electrifying ruler who will emerge to offer world peace and will be followed by the masses?
Bethlehem is a place of providence even though the Jews of the first century world could not see it. Put yourself in their place. They were oppressed by an invading government to whom they despised paying taxes. They were inconvenienced and incurred unexpected expenses in order to travel to Bethlehem to register for the Roman tax. They must have wondered, “Where is God?” And all the while it was the hand of God’s providence behind the whole affair in order to get them to Bethlehem.
The same is true for us. Many things which may appear on the surface as problems may be nothing short of the hand of God getting us to our own Bethlehem. Perhaps you feel as inconvenienced as Mary must have felt. Talk about inconvenience, Mary had to journey 70 miles on the back of a donkey over the most rugged terrain imaginable while in her final trimester of pregnancy. And all the while God is moving behind the scenes, orchestrating by His providence your situation or circumstance and even allowing certain things to take place that do not appear to be of benefit to you. Why? In order to get you to Bethlehem so that you might see your potential and His providence. Is your life a Bethlehem?
Bethlehem reminds us that God fulfills His word. What He promises He performs no matter how insurmountable the obstacles may seem to be. If you begin to doubt some of the promises He has made to you, simply remember Bethlehem. It is a place of providence as well as potential.
Bethlehem is a place of privilege
What an awesome privilege to be the hand-picked city to cradle the Son of God. Out of all the cities in the world, why Bethlehem? Why not Jerusalem? It was the seat of religious power. But God was sending a message. The hope of the world is not in religion. Why not Rome? It was the center of political power. God wants everyone to know that the hope of the world is not in politics. What about Athens? It was the center of intellectual power. But the hope of the world is not in philosophy. God privileged the little town of Bethlehem because the hope of the world is in a Savior! Bethlehem is a place of privilege.
The Lord Jesus came on mission to Bethlehem and 33 years later that mission led Him to a cross outside the city walls of Jerusalem. But before the cross was a cradle and that cradle was divinely placed in the town of Bethlehem. But when the moment came, most of the village missed it. Divine moments come and go. How are you going to recognize them? Speakman says, “So often they show up like any other moment and so often when we are so occupied or so convinced something else we are doing is so important.” And the danger is we let the moment go and never know what could have become of it, much like the Bethlehem innkeeper.
This very chapter could be a Bethlehem moment for you! Like Bethlehem you too could awaken to a brand new world. The same Christ born in Bethlehem could be born again in you. Paul puts it this way, “My little children for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you” (Gal. 4:19). If we think Bethlehem is privileged to be the birthplace of our Lord, what a greater privilege for Him to be born in us. When much of our world has never even heard His sweet name, what a privilege for Him to reside in us.
In my library I have an old antique book written by a man named Phillips Brooks. He was pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia in the nineteenth century. In 1865 he made a personal pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Unlike the one I made recently, it took Brooks several weeks on board ship instead of several hours on board a jumbo jet. On Christmas Eve he made his way from Jerusalem to Bethlehem by horseback. The scene and experience were forever etched in his mind. Back home in Philadelphia during the Christmas season of 1868 his mind was flooded with memories of the earlier Bethlehem Christmas. He sat at his desk and the words began to flow from his pen to the paper. He penned the words that night that we believers have sung for over a century now known as “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Thinking of Bethlehem, Phillips Brooks put it this way — “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. ”Yes, the hopes and fears of all the years were met in Bethlehem that night. Christina Rosetti put “that night” in the following poetic language:
That night when shepherds heard the song of angelic hosts caroling near,
A deaf man turned in slumbers spell and dreamed that he could hear.
That night when in the cattle stall slept mother and child in humble fold,
A cripple turned his twisted limbs and dreamed that he was whole.
That night when o’er the new born babe a tender mother rose to lean,
A loathsome leper smiled in sleep and dreamed that he was clean.
That night when to the mother’s breast the little king was held secure,
A harlot slept a happy sleep and dreamed she was pure.
That night when in the manger lay the Holy One who came to save,
A man turned in the sleep of death and dreamed there was no grave.
What shall be our gift to him?
What shall I give him poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I’d give him a lamb.
If I were a wise man I’d do my part.
What shall I give him?
I know…I’ll give him my heart!
And when we do, we too, become a Bethlehem, a place of potential, providence, and privilege
Broken dreams and new beginnings
We all have our own Lazarus, that person or thing in which we have placed our hope. Somewhere along the way most of us have said with Mary and Martha, Lord, if you had been here this would not have happened! Many of us can relate to broken dreams and are in need of new beginnings.
The sickness, death, and resuscitation of Lazarus gives us insight into three stages of passage through which broken dreams can become new beginnings. We learn from John 11:
I. What to do when it is dusk (vv. 1-16)
Mary and Martha were living in the dusk in these verses. Lazarus was sick and although the darkness of death had not yet come, they could see it was near. Thomas was also living in the dusk. Hear him in verse 16, alluding to Christ’s own imminent death, saying, Let us also go, that we may die with him. There are some do’s and don’ts for us when it is dusk. Don’t live in denial (vv. 1-2), don’t depend upon performance (v. 3), don’t get impatient (vv. 5-6), and don’t panic (vv. 7-10). Do call on the Lord (v. 3), do look for a purpose (vv. 4, 11-15, 40), do find a promise (v. 4), and do take action (v. 16). When dusk comes and your dream seems to be dying don’t just sit there, call on the Lord and take action.
II. What to do when it is dark (vv. 17-37)
What do we do when our dreams have died? Lazarus was no longer sick but dead. Mary and Martha had prayed and hoped but their dream was now dead. What should we do when our own dreams are dead? Again, there are some do’s and don’ts. Don’t hold back your tears (vv. 33-35), don’t dwell on what might have been (v. 21), don’t forget what you know (v. 22), don’t blame God (v. 37), and don’t procrastinate (v. 29). Do face some big questions (v. 26), do be honest with your feelings (vv. 21, 31), do be yourself (vv. 20-21, 32), do reach out yourself to someone who is hurting (v. 28), do meet the Lord half way (vv. 20, 29-30). Like Mary and Martha, when our dreams are dead we are prone to ask, Could not Jesus who opened the blind man’s eyes keep Lazarus from dying? But, we, like them, might also find that what we think is a broken dream just might be an opportunity for a new beginning.
III. What to do when it is dawn (vv. 38-44)
The Lord Jesus still resurrects broken dreams today and turns them into new beginnings. It behooves us to know what to do when the dawn of a new day arrives. The dawn brought three things to this little family. It brought light (vv. 38-40). The stone was rolled away. It brought life (vv. 41-44). Lazarus came forth. It brought liberty (v. 44). He was loosed and let go.
What an ending to the story! The novelist, Jeffery Archer, is a master at twisting a tale. He weaves several plots through his books that seem to all fall together on the last page. Every time I finish one of his books I say to myself, “I should have seen that all along.” How many times in the story-lines of our lives have we looked back to say, “I should have seen it all along?” But we didn’t. Mary and Martha said, Lord, if you had been here Lazarus would not have died. True, perhaps. But neither would the Lord Jesus have been able to take a broken dream and turn it into a new beginning for His glory and our good.
Being before doing
I. The pathway towards the victorious life (vv. 3-5).
A. Commences with an awareness of our destitute condition.
Blessed are the poor in spirit (v. 3).
B. Continues with an attitude of desperate concern.
Blessed are those who mourn (v. 4).
C. Consummates with an acceptance of divine control.
Blessed are the gentle (meek) (v. 5).
II. The passageway into the victorious life (v. 6)
A. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
III. The proofs issuing out of the victorious life (vv. 7-10)
A. A concern which is humane.
Blessed are the merciful (v. 7).
B. A character which is holy.
Blessed are the pure in heart (v. 8).
C. A conduct which is harmonious.
Blessed are the peacemakers (v. 9).
D. A comprehension which is heavenly.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness (v. 10).
At the Brook Cherith
1 Kings 17:1-7
1 Kings 17:1-7
Elijah was one of the mightiest men of the Bible. The first mention of him in scripture occurs in 1 Kings 17 and finds him taking a trip to an obscure brook in the Jordanian wilderness. What enabled Elijah to later scale Mount Carmel and call down fire from heaven and march from one mountain top experience to another throughout his life? We shall discover that the most important trip he ever made was this one to the Brook Cherith by himself and alone. It was there he learned the basics of dependence upon God. We cannot bypass Cherith on our way to the Carmel experiences of life. At the Brook Cherith we see:
I. God’s recognized plan (vv. 1-3)
The key word is “hide” in verse three which means, and is translated elsewhere, absent one’s self. Elijah was not instructed to go the brook and hide so he would not be found out, but to absent himself there, to get alone with God and “take in” in order to later “give out”. This is God’s plan for all his children.
II. God’s restricted promise (v. 4)
The key word here is “there.” God promised to meet Elijah “there” at the Brook Cherith. Elijah received a promise from God but it was restricted and conditional. It is an important thing being where God wants us to be and doing what God wants us to do.
III. God’s required prerequisite (v. 5)
Elijah went and did according to the word of God. Obedience was, and still is, the key. Note his response. There was no doubt, no defiance, and no delay. He was obedient. This is God’s required prerequisite to blessing for all of us.
IV. God’s released provision (v. 6)
After getting alone with God, being in his will and moving in obedience then, and only then, did Elijah see the released provision of God upon him. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and evening and he drank from the cool brook.
V. God’s revealed purpose (v. 7)
The brook dried up! Some are prone to say, Some God that is. Elijah was where God told him to be and doing what he was told to do and the brook dried up. Could it be that Elijah’s heart was being tested to see if his trust was in the Brook Cherith or the living God?
Many are called to sit by drying brooks. There are drying brooks of health, resources, relationships, etc. It is easier to face the prophets of Baal on Carmel than to sit by a drying brook. But what does God do when the brook dries up and we learn the lessons of Cherith? He leads us on to higher ground. Note the next verse, The word of the Lord came to him saying, Arise and go up to Zarephath…and dwell there. I have commanded a widow to provide for you there. See, I have commanded a widow to provide for you (vv. 8-9). There is that word “there” again. There must be a Cherith to fit us for Carmel. I don’t know where your Cherith is, but I know He will lead you.
Approved or Ashamed?
2 Timothy 2:15
2 Timothy 2:15
One of the great temptations of the busy believer is to stop studying the Bible. The modern believer finds himself with so many resources that it becomes easy to evolve into a mode where we spend most of our time reading about the bible and less and less time actually studying God’s word itself, systematically and consistently.
Paul admonishes young Timothy, and us, at this point saying, "Be diligent (i.e., study) to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." In this single verse, there are four important truths to be applied to our own study habits.
The Believer's Mandate
The Authorized Version translates this command to "be diligent" with the word, "study." We are to be diligent, zealous about the task of studying God’s word. Paul is challenging all believers to take very serious their personal study habits. The Bible is a miracle book, one in which study never ends.
The Believer's Motivation
What is it that should motivate the believer to a lifetime of studying the Scriptures? It is so that when he is presented before the Lord Jesus, he might be "approved" by Him. The discipline of study is a stewardship from God and the believer should be motivated by a passionate longing to please the Lord, to hear Him say, "Well done, faithful servant."
The Believer's Manner
What is the manner by which we should go about our task of study? We are to be workers who “need not be ashamed.” Study is hard work. Doing word studies is laborious. Getting out our work tools of commentaries, Bible dictionaries and lexicons is labor intensive. We are reminded that we are about the “work of the ministry” as Paul mentioned to the Ephesians. The dedicated believer is to be a “worker” who devotes himself to a wholehearted study of God's Word.
The Believer's Message
All of this is to be done in order that we might "rightly divide the word of truth." We should approach the Bible with a deep reverence, even a fear that we might mishandle or misrepresent the truth. We should take caution against using every paraphrase we might find in order to twist the truth into our own way of thinking about a matter. This is a serious assignment.
Think about it…we are God's "workers." We will either be "approved" or "ashamed" when we stand before Him. This is our high calling and awesome task.