Monday, May 17, 2010

Another Woman of Real Worth

Sunday May 16, 2010

Acts 16:16-24

One of the great desperation moves of our Lord is that he reaches to the untouchables of society. I think of so many that followed Jesus and they were the ones who were at the outer edges of culture; they were the ones that others overlooked. Furthering this thought, Jesus was not afraid to encounter those who were very unlike him in order to impact their lives. All you have to do is look at a few of his closest disciples and you get a picture of a Messiah who was very unlike anything others were looking for then in a Messiah and certainly very different from anything others would be looking for today.

Last week we studied the account by Luke in Acts 16 of Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke himself going to the riverside to the place of prayer where they met a group of women of which Lydia, a Gentile business woman, was saved by faith in Jesus Christ and was baptized- as was her whole household.

Lydia, we learned, was a woman of means. She was smart, had business savvy and a woman of some wealth. When she gets saved she then turns her home into a church planting base from which Paul and his comrades can further their ministerial pursuits in Philippi.

Speaking of Philippi, we learned that it was a Roman colony that was free from the tax burdens that the Roman government placed on other cities and people groups. Philippi was founded by Alexander the Great's father, Philip II, who made it a strategic city on the main road through Greece.

These missionaries were in Philippi because the Holy Spirit stopped them from going on into Asia and instead gave Paul a dream of which the others agreed was vision for their ministry: a man weeping and begging for these men to come to Macedonia and rescue them.

In our scripture text we find that they are once again on their way to the place of prayer where they were last week. As they go a slave girl- "damsel" in one interpretation I found- who gave prophetic utterances, was announcing their comings and goings by saying: "These men are servants of the Most high God, who are telling you the way to be saved." After a few days of this Paul had had his fill! He turns to the girl and commands in the name of Jesus Christ that the demon come out of her. And it did- which created no small commotion for the owners of this slave. After all, without this "pythonic spirit" how in the world can she make money for them now? So they had Paul and Silas arrested, dragged before open court, they are beaten and sent to prison and their feet put into stocks.

This morning I want to address a matter that I believe goes beyond the Fortune 500 value of a person and get to the heart of your value and who you are in Christ. I believe that who you are in Jesus Christ gives you far more intrinsic value than anything else in all the world.

First of all, notice this slave girl's problem:

  1. Slavery in Sin.

What is a great tragedy for humanity is the issue of his or her proneness to commit certain acts of sin but humanity's problem of ingrained sin. If our sins were merely the results of bad judgment then we could be more understanding. However, sins problem is not bad judgment (other than Adam's bad judgment) but a problem of sin at the core of who we are humanly.

And so the Apostle Paul writing in Romans pictures sin as being a slave to unrighteousness. I can't help but get a picture of this slave girl who is being obedient to her slave owners because she has no other choice- except to die otherwise. And even then, in her world this is her lot that she has to live with.

Let me share a few reminders for a lot of you about this slavery to sin problem:

a) Sin oppresses the human person.

A man or woman cannot become all that God calls them to be through Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit if they are not free. This slave girl represents to us a person who is not her own in more ways than one. When a person is enslaved to what Paul tells the Galatian church are the sins of the flesh, they might think they are okay but in reality they are lost in their sinfulness. They are serving self and the interests of things other than God.

b) Sin diminishes God's image in humanity.

When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden their sin ushered in an altered state to the world. All of life became mutated and we now have an "abnormal universe," as Francis Schaeffer would put it. (Genesis p.p. 94-95) What is tragic is that as sin separated humanity from God this diminished the human person. However, through Jesus Christ the very image of God is stamped on the human heart.

I am convinced that a great deal of the problems that people deal with in life are the not the result of circumstances beyond their control, or even the result of circumstances within their control but the issue of self-esteem that is damaged by the sinfulness that has settled on all of humanity. Without Christ in a person's life there is very little likeness to the God of whose image we were created.

Don't ever forget that you are created in the image of God and after his likeness. Don't forget that you have a basic and inherited value as a person. What God wants to do with your life is raise you up above sin and self and transform your life and restore his image. He has predestined you "to be conformed to the likeness of His Son [Jesus Christ]." (Romans 8:29)

c) Sin leads to spiritual death.

Just as Adam and Eve ushered in death into the world, so to when you sin- when you allow yourself to be enslaved to that which is against God's commands and his will for your life- the eventual result will be spiritual death.

This sin needs to be rectified. This sin needs to be dealt with. That is why Jesus Christ died on the cross so that you and I might be set free from sin. "He who the Son has freed is free indeed!" Jesus says in John 8:36.

But let's clear the air about something else:

d) Not all sin is demon possession.

Yes, sin is wrong and not from God. Yes, sin diminishes the human person which Satan strives to do. However, just because a person is a slave to sin does not mean that they are demon possessed.

In this Acts 16 text, the narrative speaks of a slave girl who is a slave to others but even more than that, she is possessed of an evil spirit. I want to be clear that not all sin is the result of demon possession.

A Pythonic Spirit.

This slave girl is possessed with what many scholars refer to as a "pythonic spirit."

Allow me to interject a quick appendix about the issue of this spirit of divination. The NIV calls it a "spirit by which she predicted the future." The translators were close but not quite close enough. NLT- fortune teller. NKJV- fortune-telling. NASB- spirit of divination.

What did she have going on? She had is called a pythonic spirit.

  • She would relay an Oracle to the people who paid good money to her (or rather her slave owners). This message was supposedly from the gods.
  • She had a spiritual gift. Not a Holy Spirit gift but a demonic gift that was recognized by those who owned her and those who paid to hear what she had to say.
  • The pythonic spirit originated in a place called Delphi- not far from Philippi. In Greek mythology, the Greek god "Apollo" killed a large female serpent (a python).
  • The python possessed certain prophets & prophetesses of which this slave girl was one.
  • These messages or "Oracle at Delphi"- was when the python offers advice, counsel and direction to visitors, generals and government officials.

This Holy Bible forbids in no uncertain terms the messing around with these kinds of spirits. There is to be no room for the Christian to reading their horoscope, or consulting an 8 ball or playing around with a Ouiji board or visiting a fortune teller. The spirit realm is a very real domain and a very dangerous place to dabble in.

"But Pastor, my horoscope was right in the advice it gave me." Big deal! So was this slave-girl.

"But Pastor, I heard of a psychic who located a lost child or a murdered victim in the woods or helped police discover the real killer." So? This slave girl possessed powers that were not her own and she was even saying things that were true and accurate. But the source was wrong.

We cannot afford to allow certain things into our lives as Christians. We must be very keen about what is out there and what we touch on. I realize that there is a fascination with the supernatural and paranormal. But we must be very careful about what we allow ourselves to be exposed to.

I'll speak for myself and let the Holy Spirit speak to your heart as He sees fit. I avoid television programs that glorify the occult in any way. That's not to say I- as a pastor and in the role of study- might never view or read something for the sake of the gospel message. I'm not watching "Medium" or "Ghost Whisperer" for my entertainment. (I don't watch these shows to start with.)

Something we see about those who don't know Christ is the matter of…

2) Confusion in Living.

In Stuart, Florida where we used to work in was a five way corner similar to ours right across the street from us here in Shelby. When you arrived to the corner there seemed to be a panic that overcame you as a driver. It was aptly called "Confusion Corner" by everyone. We referred to it as a landmark when telling someone how to get to the other side of Stuart.

This slave girl was living a very confused life like so many without Jesus Christ. People who are looking to make in life find themselves mistaken and their mistake cost them their soul.

Notice a few observations about this confusion in living:

a) One may do the right thing but still be living the wrong way.

This slave girl was saying the right things but she was living the wrong way.

b) One may be living the wrong way and be unaware of their sin.

She was living the wrong way and completely blind to her sin.

c) One may be unaware of their sin but they are still responsible.

God will hold us all accountable for our works and what we did with Jesus Christ. No one will be able to plead innocent and claim like Bertrand Russell that God did not give them enough evidence of his existence.

Ultimately for anyone to be truly saved from their sin they to need to experience…

3. Deliverance by Christ.

I like what the old Bible Commentator, Matthew Henry had to say about our text this morning:

Satan, though the father of lies, will declare the most important truths, when he can thereby serve his purposes. But much mischief is done to the real servants of Christ, by unholy and false preachers of the gospel, who are confounded with them by careless observers. Those who do good by drawing men from sin, may expect to be reviled as troublers of the city. While they teach men to fear God, to believe in Christ, to forsake sin, and to live godly lives, they will be accused of teaching bad customs. (Matthew Henry)

We don't know for sure why, but Paul allows this demon possessed girl to continue announcing there presence for several days. I believe that Paul the others were discerning the spirit from which this was coming. They didn't have a "how-to" book on casting out demons or testing the spirits other than prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Which should speak volumes to us about how we deal with others who may be doing similar. At a certain point, though, Paul has had enough, he has discerned from the Holy Spirit that this is wrong and what to do about it.

a) The power of the name of Christ.

In the name of Jesus Christ this demon is cast out of her. In that moment Paul knew what had to be done. Maybe he awoke that morning with the answer to the problem. Maybe in that very moment the answer was revealed to him. However the answer to the slave girl's problem came by the Holy Spirit, the answer was the correct one. The demon was cast out of her.

b) The purpose of the disciple of Christ.

This points us to the purpose of every disciple of Christ. Our role may not be to specifically cast a demon out- even though may remain possible. Our role is to be obedient in bringing the message that Jesus saves and sets free the sinner.

This missionary team of Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke were bent on bringing the gospel message to those they encountered regardless of the personal cost to them. The result of Paul casting the demon out of this demon possessed slave girl was arrest, a kangaroo trial, beating and then imprisonment.

Are we willing to do what it takes regardless of the personal cost to us to bring the gospel message to a lost and dying world? Are you willing to dip into your savings account by faith and give so that others might be saved? I'm not saying that money buys souls but what I am saying is that it is very important that we understand the value and cost of operating a church ministry, church plants such as Manantial de Vida and other missionary ministries. So often we want the comforts of our personal lives without realizing the obligations that those who minister in your place go through. Those who have given up their personal goals and careers and dreams to be in full-time Christian service.

But even greater than this, what about your personal witness in the work place? Within your family? Your friends? Others at school? Standing in line at Cherry Hill or Wesco? These people we encounter have never dying souls that need Christ.

c)The peace of Christ to the new believer.

There is an inner peace that comes to the new believer in Christ that is far different than anything they could ever experience. It is amazing to me that when someone comes to Christ in a very real way they all seem to have that relief in knowing that their sins are forgiven. It is the same when the follower of Christ sins and comes to him for forgiveness once again. There is something special and holy about this peace.

d) The possibility of a new life through faith in Jesus Christ.

What is distressing to me as I have studied this passage of scripture is that there seems to be no further move on this slave girl's part for salvation. The demon has been exorcised from her but what happens to her remains a mystery. History tells us that this pythonic religion declined from this point and actually ceased within the next thirty years.

But let's not miss the truth of the matter: she had an opportunity of a lifetime. And whether we realize it or not, we all get that same opportunity when Christ knocks on our heart's door.

Conclusion: Freedom is no respecter of persons.

There are three essential truths that I want you to take with you to consider for your life:

  • There is freedom from slavery to sin. No matter what you are struggling with- pornography, swearing, anger, bitterness or anything else, Jesus Christ shed his blood on the cross so that you might know the forgiveness of your sins and the freedom that Christ can bring to your life.
  • There is freedom to live without confusion. You no longer need to live wondering what to do next in your life or what your life is all about. Jesus Christ gives purpose to every person who comes to him by faith. No matter how limited you feel your pool of talents might be, Jesus offers to you a life that is truly set free to live to your fullest potential in him.
  • There is freedom that supersedes all other "freedoms." The world is constantly marching and striving for "civil rights." I'm not against the idea of people having rights and being allowed to live their life. However, so what if you have all the freedoms and rights as a human being the world allows? These things do not compare with the glory that will be revealed in you through Jesus Christ.

So what must you do at this point? Understand the role of Christ in your life. He quotes Isaiah in stating his purpose for you and me:

"He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners." Isaiah 61:1

"Call to me and I will answer you…" Jeremiah 33:3

Call to Jesus and He will answer you. Freedom comes when we truly take the first step by faith and opening the door and letting Jesus come into our life. And once we allow Jesus into our life we must then allow him by faith to lead in every area of our life. And once we allow him to be Lord of every area of our life we begin to really know what it is to live by faith. Faith- to trust in him for our very self-esteem and trust in him with our very lives.



Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A WOMAN OF REAL WORTH

Sunday May 9, 2010

Acts 16:9-15

Ole died. So Lena went to the local paper to put a notice in the obituaries. The gentleman at the counter, after offering his condolences, asked Lena what she would like to say about Ole. Lena replied, "You yust put 'Ole died."

The gentleman, somewhat perplexed, said, "That's it? Just 'Ole died'? Surely, there must be something more you'd like to say about Ole. If it's money you're concerned about, the first five words are free. We must say something more."

So Lena pondered for a few minutes and finally said, "OK. You put 'Ole died. Boat for sale.'"

Happy Mother's Day to all of our ladies today. I am so grateful for all the moms of my life.

My interest in this message is about more than keeping up with the lectionary selections but to bring to mind the importance and value of every woman that is here today. You are valuable and you are important. Not for the things you do but for who you are in Christ Jesus. In a little while I'm going to speak about a woman named Lydia that we have read about in our text.

But let's lay out the historical background to this monumental event that is going to take place in Lydia's life.

The Apostle Paul has set out on his Second Missionary Journey beginning in late autumn of 49 AD from Jerusalem and then returning back to Jerusalem in 52 AD. (Acts 15:40-18:23) With him are Silas, the young preacher Timothy and then Luke- who caught up with them at Troas.

As we have read, these missionaries believed that the Holy Spirit was keeping them from moving eastward into Asia with the gospel message so they moved westward. Even then, they stopped in Troas to wait for a clearer indication of what they were to do next. It is then that Paul has a dream, they decide that this is a word from the Lord and then they move on towards the city of Philippi.

What is amazing to me is how God works. And so my first point of interest for us to consider is this:

  1. The Holy Spirit Positions God's People for Witnessing.


What is fascinating from Luke's narrative is how God has planned his work and then works his plan.


His plan has been to reach all of humanity. He was not interested in simply reaching the rich, famous and powerful. He was not interested in simply reaching the tired, the helpless and the poor. His plan was not to reach the men and not the women. Or reach the women and not the men. His plan was not to reach only a certain people group to the exclusion of another group.


What we witness throughout Acts is how the Holy Spirit not only empowers believers but opens the eyes of those who are blind to the truth about Jesus Christ. But what seems even more incredible is how the Holy Spirit guides this fledgling Church ministry.


Notice how Paul and his companions are stopped by the Holy Spirit from moving east towards modern day Iraq, Iran, India and China. Instead, they are compelled to move west but even then they stop in the town of Troas and wait.


Sometimes waiting is the most difficult part of ministry. I can tell you that the Apostle Paul was not the kind of guy to let grass grow under his tires. He was a man who had to be on the move and doing something for the ministry of Christ. There was no time to wait. However, they do wait. And Paul has a vision.


Oftentimes a vision for ministry is to be confirmed by those involved. Paul was not a one-man show. He certainly could have been but he was a team player. I am struck that as Paul shared the vision (or dream if you will) of a man from Greece weeping for them to come over to them that he did so not to control the movement of this missionary team but to clarify the Lord's will. This is important for any ministry seeking to move forward. Yes, God speaks through lead shepherds but more times than not the vision needs to be confirmed through his people who compose the Church.


Always the goal of ministry is kept in focus. The response wasn't simply, "Well let's go over to Macedonia and see what's up." Instead, they conclude that God had called them to preach the gospel to the people they would encounter. It's easy enough to make plans as a church but it's tougher to keep the real goal in focus. At the end of the day or week or month or year we must ask ourselves: Are we preaching the gospel to the people we are called to reach?


Which brings us as a church and you as an individual to this question: Are you doing just that?


Do we believe that the Holy Spirit has positioned this Church and each one of us into a place to witness about our Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation that he offers to those who trust in him by faith?


I am convinced that in the grand scheme of God's plan, he consistently positions his people to be witnesses of Christ in the places that they find themselves. However, to simply be in the right geographical location isn't enough to be effective. Ask any missionary and any pastor and everyone of them will tell you that to be in the right mission field or right church does not guarantee ministry success. Something else must be at work for witnessing to be effective.


Which speaks to our second point of interest:


2. Witnessing Finds One's self in Prayer.

This missionary team crosses the Aegean Sea and lands into modern day Greece. They then travel an additional ten miles by foot to the small city of Philippi.


Philippi was one of those special cities. They enjoyed a tax free status because they were labeled as a Roman colony. The Roman Empire from time to time would label certain cities as colonies and then plant retired soldiers from their armies there. The people would enjoy a status in the empire that most other foreign cities could hardly dare dream about. Philippi was not only a colony but they were also the capital of the one of the four provinces in Macedonia.


Philippi was founded in the 4th Century BC by Philip of Macedonia who happened to be Alexander the Great's father. The objective of founding the town was to take control of the neighboring gold mines and to establish a garrison at a strategic passage because Philippi was also on a main roadway. The city enjoyed special privileges for several centuries. It had an acropolis- which was a monument built on the highest hill-, Roman bath houses (an especially real treat since most people of those days bathed hardly once a year), a theatre and the entrance to the city had a special colonial archway that was supposed to stop foreign deities from entering.


Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke entered its gates anyway. One of the distinctive of their missionary work was to go to the Jews first with their message. So they looked for a Jewish synagogue but there was none. For a community of Jews to qualify to have a synagogue meant that there needed to be more than ten Jewish men (not women). There weren't ten and so there was no synagogue. What there was, though, in place of a synagogue was a place of prayer outside of the city by the river.


And so on the next Sabbath these missionaries made their way to the place of prayer. They knew if they went there something good would happen.


Remember:


  1. Philippi was a Roman Colony with Special Status.
  2. Paul & companions stayed in the city for several days- taking in the Grecian sights.
  3. On the Sabbath they went to the place of prayer.


What is interesting about prayer in the hands of God's people is that it awakens the soul to the reality of God's power in our lives. Every generation over the centuries has always challenged God's people to prayer. It seems that we always look back and believe that the previous generation could pray better than our generation. I don't like comparisons. Let's not focus on those glory days of prayer and create our own glory days of prayer.


These Acts missionaries who have set foot in Europe knew that a good witness for Jesus Christ will always find one's self in prayer. And so they go to the place of prayer. And when they do they teach us a valuable lesson:


3. Prayer Anticipates God's Working.


Yes, it's not good enough to just pray. We have to pray with anticipation.


I get frustrated in ministry because I feel like too often we as a church don't approach everything with a positive anticipation.


Let me ask you this: When you pray do expect something good to happen? When you came to church this morning did you expecting something good to happen? When you go to the place of prayer do you anticipate God to work in those prayer requests? Do you anticipate your lost son or daughter to get saved? Are you even praying that they get saved?


Sometimes we expect ministry to take place from the high pulpit. "The most effective preaching has not been done from high pulpits or to great audiences. The Christian message is a witness, and to be effective it must ever be on the personal level." (Schmul Commentary on Acts p. 234)


Prayer anticipates God's working. And these missionaries came to the place of prayer alongside the river and encountered a group of women.


What? No Jewish men to lead the way? Women? We're supposed to witness to women?


"Yes, guys. Those women right there are going to be your first converts in Europe."


It doesn't sound like much of a grand master plan to me. Women in the context of the first century world were not worth much more than slaves. Of course, women of Rome had a tiny bit higher status but not by much. And here God's men are called upon to share the gospel with women along a river in the open air.


But God had already been at work. He was working long before Paul and his band of brothers got there. God was working in the heart of a widow woman named Lydia. Lydia was a business owner who was a dealer in purple cloth from the town of Thyatira. She owned a home with a family and slaves. Her status in the community of Jews was one of influence. However, Lydia was not born Jewish nor did she become what was called a "proselyte" Jew. Instead, the scriptures say that she was "a worshipper of God."


And when she heard the message of salvation through Jesus Christ something good happened. If prayer anticipates God's working then expect God's working to do something. And his working did.


4. God's Working Opened a Woman's Heart.


The Lord opened Lydia's heart. John Wesley says that the eyes of the heart are naturally closed and to open them is the peculiar work of God. This woman gets saved because she sees the truth of Jesus Christ.


Lydia was a very wealthy woman. She was obviously a woman of influence and most likely was the leader of these other Jewish women. Where the Jewish men were, who knows, but God chose this willing heart of Lydia to be the human door of entrance for the gospel message to move into all of Europe.


Despite all they Lydia had, all that she accomplished and all of her influence she would not truly experience what self-worth is until her heart was opened to Jesus Christ.


I find it fascinating that God opens the eyes and ears of the unbeliever to the gospel message. And when he does that person then faces the decision to open the door of their heart to the one who is knocking.


Lydia's life is changed. But more is about to happen. Why?


5. A Woman's Heart Changes Her Household.


Not only is Lydia's life transformed but she is baptized. Baptism is significant. Baptism indicates a change of not only the heart but a change of one's life.


Her life was changed. She was no longer a worshipper of God who reverenced God but was now someone who was in a relationship with God. This is significant.


  • Lydia was a woman of wealth. Purple cloth was the kind of item that the royalty and rich wore in their garments. To be a trader in this item meant that you made money.
  • Lydia was a woman of motivation. Most scholars agree that she was a widow. Somehow through her own gumption she braved a man's world and ran her own business. This takes motivation.
  • Lydia was a woman of inspiration. She seems to already possess a desire to worship and serve God. Many believe that she was the leader of the women's prayer group that met every Sabbath outside of the city. If the men weren't going to do it then the women would. And they did.
  • Lydia was a woman of reason. When confronted with the truth she did not argue but realized that it made sense. And so she became a new convert to Christianity.



A lot of religions out there can speak of worship and prayer in some of the same ways that we do. However, they cannot speak of a relationship with God. Islam may seem like a very methodical religion that believes God may love but does not see God as a God of love.


God's love changes a person's heart. And Lydia gives to all women here today the inspiration that your changed heart through Jesus Christ may bring change to your whole family.


We see in a matter of a few words of scripture that not only was she baptized but so was her whole household. This included any children she had, her servants and slaves and perhaps even small children. She was testifying that not only would her life be different but her household would be different.


Conclusion: Becoming a Woman of Worth.


So what do we say now to the women of this congregation?


God wants to do more for your life than you could even imagine. I realize that in a group like ours there are frustrations with unsaved loved ones- including children and grandchildren. But I want to tell you to continue to put them into God's hands.


Your worth as a woman is not what the world says about you but what God says about you. Let him be the influence of your life. Let him be the one who gives you the strength to be the woman of God you are called to be.


How can you become a woman of real of worth?


First, allow God to love you. So often we have found women who have struggled in life because they simply have not let God love them. Let our Lord reach down into your heart with his love.


Second, believe that God loves you so much that he gave his Son Jesus Christ for your sins. Without this, all of us would be lost in our sins and suffer the eternal consequences for our sins. Here is an opportunity for you to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.


Third, let the Holy Spirit flow in and through your life. Just as the Holy Spirit guided the footsteps of these missionaries to bring the gospel message to Lydia, so too the Holy Spirit desires to lead your life so that you may truly flourish as a woman. A woman of real worth.


Are You His Listener?

Sunday April 25, 2010

John 10:22-30


22Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon's Colonnade. 24The Jews gathered around him, saying, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ tell us plainly."

25Jesus answered, "I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, 26but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. 30I and the Father are one."


What does it mean to hear the voice of God? That is the question for us to consider this morning. Way too often we hear what we want to hear. And far too often Christians especially find themselves in quandaries because they didn't truly hear what our Lord- our Good Shepherd- was telling them. But even more tragically, there are those who hear the gospel message that Jesus saves from all sin and yet unfortunately never take God at his word. They deliberately choose to trounce the Son of God and his sacrifice underfoot and fail to ever know him personally and truly.

The setting for this account by the Apostle John has some pretty fascinating history that is worth our investigation as we start this sermon.

Jesus has encountered the Jewish leaders on what is called Solomon's porch that is located on the east side of the temple during what is called the Feast of Dedication- or in our modern times "Hanakkuh." What is the history here?

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Some 200 years or less before this occasion, Jerusalem and Israel was subject to Syrian and Greek overlords and had such kings as Antiochus Epiphanes who came to power in 175 BC. He was especially ruthless. He decided that being king over the Israelites wasn't enough so he invaded Egypt. When he was in Egypt it was rumored that he had died and so the Jews were essentially dancing in the streets celebrating his death. Well, he really didn't die and he was furious that these Jews would treat him disrespectfully. So in 168 BC he raised up an army that invaded the city, killed some 40,000 Israelites. He wasn't done punishing them, though. He went into the holy temple of God and sacrificed a pig on the altar. And then to make sure they understood his hatred, he had the dead pig basically made into gravy and poured throughout the temple- desecrating it as much as possible. He went on to destroy the Law which was primarily composed of the first five books (the Pentateuch) and severely punished those who opposed him.

But God's people would not back down. A man named Mattathias with five sons rose up against the invaders. He called on his fellow Israelites to follow his example and escape to the mountains. Upon his death he encouraged his sons to carry on the fight. And so, to make a long story short, his son Judas Maccabeus led a revolt that restored Jerusalem and the temple back into their hands.

  • Son of Mattathias. Judas was the middle son of five sons.
  • Warrior from his youth. Possessed not only the skill to fight but to lead.
  • Leader of the army. Led a revolt against the invaders. He organized the other soldiers and appointed officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.
  • Defeated the enemy though out-numbered. Prior to battle they spent time in prayer and fasting at Mizpah which is called the place of prayer outside of Jerusalem.
    The enemy number some 40,000 to their 10,000. They were vastly out-number and didn't possess the weaponry that the enemies had. However, they defeated and plundered the enemy and their encampments.

Temple restored. The people then commenced to repairing the temple where all sorts of illicit sin and worship took place. The priests tore down the desecrated altar on which pigs were sacrificed and all sorts of other things took place and rebuilt it with fresh uncut stones. They then remade new vessels for worship. They gave praise to God for deliverance and set this time as a yearly celebration. However,

This is the beginning of what is called Hanukkah- the festival of lights. With the bronze candle gone they used a wooden candle instead. But they did not have any oil for the candle that was not contaminated except for one vial. This would last for only one day. They went ahead and lit the candle and it burned miraculously for eight days until new oil could be produced. Traditionally, on December 18th one candle is lit for each person in the household and is to burn for the next 8 days- until December 26th. Some even light an additional candle for each person each day. If you have five people in your home then by the end of Hanukkah there will be forty candles burning.

Jesus is not only approached by the Jewish authorities during the Festival of Lights, but he is approached by them on Solomon's porch. This is interesting because this was literally built during Solomon's day and was maintained when the temple was rebuilt by King Herod. It was a constant place of dedication. What is also interesting is that Peter preaches from this same place later in Acts 3 after he and John heal the crippled man who was sitting at the Beautiful Gate that led into the temple.

John mentions that it was winter- not because we needed to know that (any reader of his timeframe would already know that) but because the weather was most likely rainy or stormy and so Jesus and his followers were under the protection of Solomon's Portico.

All of this background hopefully helps us realize the significance of Jesus being challenged by the Jewish leaders. For them, they were setting what they believed to be a perfect trap. For Jesus, this was another opportunity to prove them as unbelievers and to affirm those who follow him in their faith.

And during this Feast of Dedication that is celebrated with candle-lights, Jesus is proclaimed as the Light that has come into the world.

What do we see happening? First,

  1. The Inconvenient Truth about Christ for the Jewish Leaders.

These opposers of Jesus come with what seems to be an innocent question. However, their question was far from innocent. "How long will you keep us in suspense?" In other words, they were literally asking: "How long will you kill us with suspense?" What were they doing?

a) They were trying to trap him.

If Jesus spoke immediately and declared himself as king of the Jews, these leaders would have immediately went to the Roman governor and tattled on him.

Jesus gives us an example of prudence. He handles the opposition with cautiousness and good sense. We need to do the same when dealing with unbelievers- especially those who hate us and want to spitefully use us. "Be wise as serpents and as harmless as doves" Jesus says elsewhere to his disciples. (Matthew 10:16)

He understood that in their goal to trap him they had a greater goal:

b) Their goal was to eliminate him.

They were constantly jealous of Jesus and sought to destroy him. However, being good politicians, they knew he had the backing of the people so they had to do things in the smoke-filled back rooms, so to speak.

c) He saw through their motives.

He knew their intentions and knew how far to push their buttons. They wanted him to declare that he was the king of the Jews. Instead, he declares that he and the Father are One. This blew their stack immediately. And even though he out-foxed them with their own words and was able to keep them off stride by the scriptures, verse 31 says that they picked up stones to stone him. He challenges them to simply look at his miracles but that isn't why they want to stone him. He called himself "god." Even though he gives them a Biblical lesson the use of "god" from the Psalms (82:6) they realize that his use of "the Father is in me and I am in the Father" is equaling himself with God.

What the leaders failed to see and so many fail to see today is that Jesus is "the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through him." (John 14:3) And furthering their problem was that they refused to truly listen with spiritual ears. They lacked the necessary ears to hear.

The Prophet Isaiah experienced the presence and voice of God speaking to him. The experience was so profound that he thought that he would die because he was in the presence of God. God accused his own people then: "Be ever hearing but never understanding; be ever seeing but never perceiving."

Hearing and seeing God requires spiritual ears and eyes. Through these a person's heart hears and sees. Until a person gets these, they won't get this salvation message that Christ has.

And how important is this to us as a Church? To each one of the seven Churches in Revelation Jesus says, "He who has ears let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches."

Those who have Christ in their lives have seen and have heard and have a new way of living and thinking. We think differently because we hear differently. We hear the voice of our Good Shepherd. For the world out there and for these Jewish leaders in Jesus' time, they do not hear and so their behavior cannot be expected to be any different.

This is why we pray for those in our friendship circles who do not know Christ- that they would have ears to hear and a heart to repent.

And so Jesus lets these leaders know that those who have heard and believe are different than they are. These Jewish leaders in this time frame have rejected Jesus as Lord and have rejected his message and his miracles. This is why they are continually at odds with Jesus. They not only have rejected him but they hate him and want to destroy him.

Nevertheless, Jesus has followers. And his relationship with them is different- different from anything anyone has heard before or since.

2. The Constant Relationship of Christ with His Sheep.

Anytime we approach scriptures as students of the Bible, we must be aware of one very simple rule: context. You will find your understanding of Scripture so much more meaningful when you adhere to this rule: keep things in context.

Of course, not everything written in the Bible is context oriented. The Proverbs are largely written as truths and advice that cross cultural boundaries everywhere.

To understand what Jesus is saying in this situation means to keep everything in context. We must put ourselves into John's context first rather than put John into our context. The context has to do with two important points: 1) what it means to be a sheep with Jesus as our Shepherd; and 2) the Jewish leaders opposition to Jesus. Once we put things into the context that it is about we realize that this is not about a struggling Christian hoping that he or she is still saved.

Jesus sets up some criteria here for us as his followers that are very important for us to understand.

a) My sheep listen… to my voice.

Too often too many Christians are getting pulled in all sorts of directions. If we are not careful we can be like a stray dog at a whistler's conference. We hear whistles but don't know which way to go.

If you are a true follower of Jesus Christ then you will have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying. A true follower of the Good Shepherds has his or her ears tuned in to what their Shepherd's voice sounds like. This is why it is critical- absolutely critical- for the believer in Christ to be into the Scriptures. Not only reading the Word but studying the Word. This is why we all need to be in a Bible preaching and believing Church and everyone needs to be participating in a small group study. This why every Christian needs to guard their heart against the influences of the world. This way we can learn to know what our Shepherd's voice sounds like.

Jesus goes on to say:

b) I know them… they follow me.

Jesus knows exactly who you are. He knows your shortcomings and your failings. He knows your potential and what it takes to live a true life of purpose in him. He knows you personally.

What is amazing, as I look back on my life, is that if Jesus knows me so well, why has he stuck with me? I'm not sure, but I count it a privilege to be counted as a follower of Jesus Christ.

Who do you follow? Who do you follow more? So many of us get so strung out with the "busy-ness" of life. We are all busy. But the question to ask: what are you busy with? Are you busy with living your life for Christ first in everything? Let's not live our lives just sprinkling a little bit of God in everything. Let's hear the voice of our Good Shepherd and follow after him by being "living sacrifices that are holy and acceptable to God." (Romans 12:1)

If Jesus truly knows who you are because of your faith in Him for salvation, then most certainly you will be following him. A sheep knows its Shepherd's voice; he has too. And when he hears his Shepherd's voice he follows his shepherd. If a sheep does not know his Shepherd's voice then he will not hear when the Shepherd is calling him to greener pastures; he will not hear when the Shepherd is calling him away from danger; he will not hear when the Shepherd is calling him to do His will.

The voice is known because the Shepherd knows his sheep personally. And our Savior, who gives us new life, knows us personally and intimately. Now it's up to us to get to know him personally and intimately through the Bible and through prayer and through obedience.

Jesus also gives a promise:

c) I give them eternal life… they shall never perish.

I would certainly agree with Warren Wiersbe's comment about this point. He writes: "We have eternal life, not just life for 'as long as we don't sin.'" I don't know any credible Wesleyan-Arminian preachers or teachers who advocate this kind of theology. I certainly don't. I refuse to live my life with one foot in hell and the other on a banana peel.

There are consequences for sin- always. And ultimately a person who continually chooses the life of sin and yet claims to be a Christian is only fooling themselves. Salvation is conditional upon our repentance. This relationship is conditional upon our following the Good Shepherd. If you claim to be a Christian and are not following in the footsteps of Christ then you are not a Christian and you do not have eternal life.

Eternal life comes from Jesus and we will have it forever. But what did Jesus say prior to this? My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. Because we listen to his voice and because we follow him do we have this eternal life in which we will never perish. Even in the face of the fiercest persecution and worst possible death, we can know that we are going to heaven. We can know that we are safe in the Father's hand.

And all of this, not by works- that any man should brag- but by the grace of God. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Jesus then says:

d) No one can snatch them… out of my hand.

And even though the enemy may strive against us we can know that our place with God is secure. As the Apostle Paul writes: "If God be for us who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31) As long as we are in the Good Shepherd's care nothing- absolutely nothing- can harm us. We are safe for eternity. The enemy- the devil- who goes to and fro seeking whom he may devour cannot bring harm to us. (1 Peter 5:8) As we listen to the voice of our Savior, the Good Shepherd; as we follow in his steps and living out his example; as we live our holy lives by faith no one can snatch us out of God's hands. Not the most powerful governments, armies or Satan himself.

We are safe for all of eternity.

Conclusion: What does that mean for you?

Are you LISTENING to your Good Shepherd?

Are you FOLLOWING your Good Shepherd?

Do you enjoy the ASSURRANCE of your salvation with your Good Shepherd?



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