Category Archives: Luke

Where is the hope?

Title: Where is the hope?

Text: Luke 24.13-35

CIT: Two men who had followed Christ headed home after the events of the weekend. They were confused about all they had heard and experienced. But, an encounter with Christ changed it all.

CIS: I wonder if there is some confusion on the part of people listening in this morning. Let me clarify some information for you.

Introduction: We’re in Luke 24.13-35.

This past week Robert Schuller died. He was 88 years old. Cindy Lennon, the 1st wife of John Lennon passed away at the age of 75. Eddie LeBarron, the 1st QB of the Dallas Cowboys also died this week. He was 85. Furthermore, I was reading this week of the death of the oldest person in the world – Misao Okawa. Show pic: My guess is that she is the last person to be born in the 1800’s! Guiness is doing a search for the new oldest person.

What struck me about this article was a comment she made at her last birthday: She commented that her life seemed rather short. What! If 117 years isn’t is ‘rather short’, what hope do most all of us have! Think about this: if God told you today that you were going to die in the next few minutes, would you think to yourself: wow, that went by really fast?

A 5th person, someone you’ve probably never heard of who died last week is Emily Phillips. Emily was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February. She decided to pen her own obituary. The part that caught my attention was: So…I was bon; I blinked; and it was over. Talk about hopeless… BTW: she was 69 years old.

Today, my message is about hope, in light of hopelessness.

Where there is hope vs. where there is hopelessness

Life has a way of squeezing hope out of us. People betray us and let us down. The loss of a job; the fracture of a relationship; the despair from crushing news brought by a doctor; the disappointment we bring to ourselves…I never thought I’d find myself here. Gary Inrig: In any situation in life, Hope is like Oxygen to the soul, but hopelessness is like leukemia to the spirit.

That’s what today is all about: Resurrection Sunday. It is a day that reminds us that there is hope. In spite of all that may attack us, in spite of what may happen in the course of this life, there is hope.

Now, when we get to our text, we find a group of people who are hopeless. Many of them had given up the last three years to walk with him and learn from him. But there was more: their hope was that he was indeed the Messiah.

Let’s stand and read our text together. I’ll read vs13-21a; read;

But we had hoped… let those words ring in your ears for just a moment. My guess is that every single member of this tiny group of disciples believed Jesus was dead. They knew it. Not one of them believed he was alive after many of them had witnessed his death and burial.

When I think about Peter and his despair, how he ran away and wept. Friday must have been the worst day of his life, as he saw it. It was probably that way for all of them! Saturday was probably the longest day of their lives as they waited in silence and secret, for fear of what would happen to them. I don’t imagine Sunday was anything they were very excited about.

Think about this: why were the ladies on their way to the tomb that morning? It was to give Jesus a proper burial. Because back a couple of days, the Sabbath was upon them, they ran out of time. Two men buried Jesus. It was a hasty burial. The women were coming to do it right. This group, called his disciples, was hopeless. Jesus was executed – the death of a criminal – he was dead and buried. Their expectations would be the same as yours and mine – that a dead body would do what a dead body does: lay there and rot. Rd 21b; and now it’s been three days – he’s dead.

I’m sure this was tough on them. I’m not sure how you get over something like this. Peter had betrayed Jesus with his denial. They all had fled when Jesus was arrested. Some, though, appear to be doing their best to move on – to put this behind them: It’s over. Let’s go home. Geographically, Jerusalem is to their backs. Metaphorically, the events of Jerusalem are behind them. They’re talking about all that was to be. What happened? It was just a week ago that the whole city was in a uproar, welcoming him, laying out palms on his pathway and crying out, Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. We thought: this is it! It’s finally going to happen. Where did it all go wrong? How could things change so quickly!

Then, as they’re walking and talking – remembering – a stranger happens along. No big deal, many would have been traveling home after the Passover Celebration. Somehow though, they didn’t recognize this stranger. Their eyes were ‘kept’ from seeing him. The way it’s written here, it sounds as if this was God’s doing.

Now, you might be asking, how is this possible?

Ill.: When I was in Cotulla, I organized a youth choir. We were tiny – not really a choir at all. But I had a friend who was taking his youth to Florida on a long Choir tour/Mission Trip. My few grew into a big choir! There was only one problem. I had classes at seminary that interfered with the tour. My pastor was in full support of my schooling and felt I should get everything organized and send them off. Lisa was going to go with them. So, I did. Then I went back to school in Ft. Worth.

During the first few days on their journey, my adults noticed that they were being mistreated. They got all of the ‘dirty job’, the harder meals to prepare and clean up. The other group was getting preferential treatment. As it was, I had no classes the next day and only one on the day after that. I was sad that I couldn’t be there. One of the sponsors decided to buy me a ticket if I could come. Lisa asked and I said yes. Tickets were purchased and no one knew I was coming except my wife and this one chaperone. They wanted it to be a surprise. And a surprise it was!

I remember the flight. It was the first time I saw pacman in a field. I landed and Lisa and this chaperone, Linda, were there to pick me up. We were in Tallahassee/Crawfordville, Fl. They took me back to the church were our kids were in down time. The church we were staying at has a swimming pool and gym. Pretty cool. Anyway, I walked in to the gym and saw a group of men and teens playing basketball. They were from that church and I didn’t know them. My kids were all out playing in the pool. About that time, Donna Van Cleve, a mother of a couple of youth and one of my chaperones, walked into the gym. She saw me standing there with Lisa and Linda, but she didn’t recognize me. She figured I was one of the men from that church. I couldn’t believe that she didn’t say something to me. So I walked over to her and stood beside her watching the game. She just continued watching the game. So, I got closer and closer until I actually touched her shoulder to shoulder. She moved away and looked up to see who this creep was invading her space.

I’ll never forget her reaction. It was priceless. But, I’ll also never forget that she looked right at me and didn’t even recognize me. She said later that she was standing there thinking about me – that if I were there, I’d be playing basketball with those guys. That’s funny, I was on her mind, she saw me with her eyes, but didn’t even recognize me.

App.: I guess it was because she didn’t figure I should be there. That’s what’s going on with these guys: they thought Jesus was dead. They never expected him to be there.

Now, this stranger asks them what they’re talking about. What are you guys talking about as you walk along? The Gk here is so descriptive. Most literally, what words are you tossing back and forth between the two of you as you walk along? It’s kind of playful. Upbeat.

But they are not as he. The text actually tells us that they stop and stand still. Read v 17; And they stood still, looking sad. They actually stop walking. And they’re blown away that someone could be coming out of Jerusalem and not know what has been happening. Cleopas breaks the momentary silence with a question that I imagine he asks incredulously: rd v 18 Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And Jesus answers: what things?

Are you serious?!? What things? Lit.: Things?

“Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him.

But there is more: rd 21-24;

If your taking notes this morning, I’ve come to my first point: Hopelessness comes when you are confused.

  1. Hopelessness comes when you are confused (22-24)

exp.: Hopelessness comes when you can’t make sense of your situation. That’s how these guys were. You know, it’s the same today: there are many who are confused over the empty tomb. It doesn’t make sense to them. Here’s the situation: There was an execution. He was dead and buried. But today, The tomb is empty – there is no corpse.

They actually tell us why they’re confused. They don’t know this, but we can see it now. It’s because they don’t understand who Christ really is. To them he is: (rd v 19)

  • Jesus, a Jewish name
  • Nazareth, from a town around Galilee
  • A man – just a simple man, who did great things
  • A prophet – mighty in deed and in word
  • But he was condemned and put to death

Yes, 1st, they’re confused because they didn’t really know who he was.

2nd, they’re confused because they didn’t really understand what he came to do. They said, 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. What they say is right, but their understanding of what it means is different. They are thinking from a human, earthly standpoint. Yes, he’s come to set them free – but not from the Romans, but rather from their sins.

I’ve got to stop here and make an application: could it be that many are confused today because they’ve misunderstood the purpose for which Jesus came? Maybe you’re there today? Maybe you’ve thought that giving your life to Jesus meant that he was going to make everything perfect in your life. You’d never get sick, you’d always have enough money, you’d always prosper in all you do. No! The purpose of Christ’s coming to this earth wasn’t so you’d be healthy, wealthy and prosperous in the physical sense. He came to make atonement for your sin. And not your sin only, but for the sins of the world.

He then speaks to them in v 25; rd v 25-27;

He then takes them methodically through the O.T. and reveals to them just how this was all supposed to happen; rd Ps 22.1-18; Isaiah 52.13-53.12; It is as if these two men were eye witnesses to the crucifixion. It’s like they were sitting there at the foot of the cross, watching and listening in.

Rd 28-29; the time has passed quickly as they’ve walked together on their way. Jesus has opened the Scriptures to them and explained to them how it is that this has been God’s plan from the beginning. They ask him to stay:

  1. Because it’s practical – the day is far spent, if you keep going, you’ll be out on the road after dark
  2. Because it’s personal – there is nothing like the excitement of someone who knows what he is talking about.

ill.: There are certain scholars I have experienced this with. #1 David Helm. David has a mind for the deep things of God, but uses a vocabulary for us simply folk. He has a gift for communicating in a clear and concise way. I sat under his teaching and was amazed that his hour was up. It felt so short. R. Kent Hughes is another man like that. These men explain things and I’m like: why didn’t I see that?

That’s probably what has happened here: they want to spend a little more time with this stranger. I say this because there is something unusual about the set up; rd v 30; The Jewish custom was pretty particular about this: the man of the house was given this responsibility. He would lead his family in this manner. For some reason, unknown to us, Jesus performs this duty. Rd v 31;

I wonder what it was exactly that caused this.

  • Did he say something in Hebrew to begin the meal, something they had heard before, like:

הָאָרֶץ וְאֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם אֵת אֱלֹהִים ׃בָּרָא בְּרֵאשִׁית

  • Was it simply the way he said it, the way they had heard him say it before?
  • Or, was it the way he broke the bread as he spoke?
  • Or, did they see the wounds in his hands?
  • Or, was it simply as the Scripture records: 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.

I don’t know the answer to that, I only know their eyes were opened – and they knew. It’s him! It’s Jesus!

And the passage reads in v. 31: And he vanished from their sight.

t.s.: I told you point #1 is Hopelessness comes when you are confused. Here is Point #2

     2.    Hope comes when it all finally makes sense (14-16)

exp.: like these guys, I don’t know what that will be for you. Maybe you’ll finally understand his purpose. Maybe for the first time, Scripture will make sense. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll see him for who He is – The one sent to die for your sins.

ill.: It is amazing to me that the Empty Tomb didn’t confirm for these guys that Jesus was risen from the dead. The disciples began to think of physical possibilities. Mary: They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him. And again: “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” The Pharisees, too: The disciples have stolen the body.

Maybe, you’re like Thomas, who said that it was just too much for him to understand. Unless he could see the hands with the nail wounds and the whole in his side.

For these people, it has to make sense physically. But, maybe, just maybe, something is happening to you like happened to these two disciples, Cleopas and his friend. Rd v 32: 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”

I love what happens next: rd v 33-35; They got there, I’m guessing with the hope of telling everyone – but boom: they got upstaged! “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Isn’t that just like Simon Peter!

I love the logical reasoning behind the understanding that Jesus rose from the dead. William Lane Craig outlines them in his Paper – Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We see them in this text:

  1. First of all, there is an Execution that takes place. rd 19-21; He died.
  2. 2ndly, there is the Empty tomb. We see this in 22-25; pretty simple and straight forward. There is so much work that has been done on the historical accuracy of the resurrection. There are so many non-biblical accounts that verify the resurrection.
  3. 3rdly we have the Eye-witness accounts, the resurrection appearances. We this in 33-35; It’s more than just an empty tomb – there are verifiable witnesses to a resurrected Jesus. As Luke says in Acts 1.3: He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
  4. 4thly, we have the Explosion of growth through the early church. What would cause 3,000 men to get saved at a fisherman’s preaching? What would cause 2,000 more in another time of preaching? I love what Paul said to Agrippa and Festus in Acts 26.24-26

24 And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” 25 But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. 26 For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner.

The early church exploded because they were eyewitnesses to these accounts of an empty tomb and his appearances.

I think this is summed up best by an orthodox Jewish Rabbi, who by the way, believes in the resurrection, but denies Jesus as the Messiah. He believes God raised Jesus because of the incredible unjust done to him by his enemies and his followers alike. Pinchas Lapide writes: When the scared, frightened band of the apostles which was just about to throw away everything in order to flee in despair to Galilee; when these peasants, shepherds, and fishermen, who betrayed and denied their master and then failed him miserably, suddenly could be changed overnight into a confident mission society, convinced of salvation and able to work with much more success after Easter than before Easter, then no vision or hallucination is sufficient to explain such a revolutionary transformation.

Souce: William Lane Craig – Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

**Show next screen: execution, empty tomb, eye witnesses, explosion…

Conclusion: Let me ask you this morning: Where is your hope? Do you have hope? Do you understand that your life is like a vapor of steam that appears for just a moment? You are born, you blink, and boom, it’s over! As I talk about these things this morning, is there more confusion than confidence? Is your heart burning within you – is that the best way to describe it? Is there something going on and you don’t even understand it, but you know – for the 1st time or maybe the 1st time in a long time that you know – you really know Jesus died to pay the penalty for your sins, that he was buried in a borrowed tomb and that three days later he rose from the dead and is alive today! I want to encourage you to do the same thing: to rise up at this moment. Come on down and tell me about it. There will be others here to help you with just such a decision.

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Filed under Easter, Evangelism, Luke, Sermon

Luke 1.26-38

Title: Nothing will be impossible with God.

Text: Luke 1.26-38

CIT: Very much the outline of Zechariah’s story, Mary’s has a visit from the angel, Gabriel; however, her response and her son are very different.

CIS: Luke’s desire is to demonstrate the grand difference between the forerunner and the Savior. Jesus out distances John for a reason. He’s the Son of God and He will save his people from their sins.

Introduction: Good morning, we’re in Luke 1; This is probably an odd question, but I’m guessing most folks have heard a sermon preached at Christmas time about Mary. But I’ll bet most folks haven’t heard a sermon dedicated to Zechariah; or Elizabeth; or even John the Baptist. At least not at Christmas; usually, these characters are footnotes as the focus is placed upon Mary, Joseph, The Wisemen, The Shepherds and of Course, Baby Jesus.

So, I’m guessing you’ve heard of Mary? I’m guessing everyone has; Begin 1st, by reading the text;

A basic outline for Mary is exactly the same as last week’s message for Zechariah:

  1. The Angel’s Appearance (11-12; 26-27)
  2. The Angel’s Announcement (13-18; 28-33)
  3. The Angel’s Answer (19-23; 34-37)

That’s interesting to me. Is this Luke’s plan? Did it come out this way because as a writer, he wanted to flow and symmetry? I wonder, because upon closer inspection we see some incredible similarities:

  • He was troubled; v 12                  She was greatly troubled v 28
  • The angel said to him; v 13          The angel said to her; v 30
  • Do not be afraid; v 13                   Do not be afraid; v 30
  • Will bear you a son; v 13              You will…bear a son; v 31
  • And you shall call his name; v 13 and you shall call his name; v 31
  • He will be great; v 15                    he will be great v 32
  • Said to the angel; v 18                  said to the angel; v 34
  • And answering the angel               and answering the angel

said to him; v 19                                      said to her; v 35

  • Gabriel…God…sent; v 19             Gabriel….sent…God; v 26
  • And behold – this sign; v 20           and behold – this sign; v 36

Yeah, I think it is his plan. I think he wants to show how these two individuals work together, because they fulfill what was spoken of by the prophets. I read somewhere recently that Jesus fulfilled over 300 prophecies as spoken of 500 years, 800 years, 1000 years, 2000 years before. But there is more here; I think Luke’s practice isn’t so much to see what is similar, but really to see the differences.

Look at the vast differences between these two passages:

  • Elizabeth has a need – she’s desperate for a child, so that her shame might be taken away.
    • Mary has no such need. Indeed, her situation is going to shame her!
  • Three times the writer places emphasis on Elizabeth’s barrenness. (7a, 7b, 18)
    • Three times the writer places emphasis on Mary’s virginity. (27a, 27b, 34)
  • Gabriel encounters Zechariah in the holy of holies, just before the veil that separated the presence of God and the priest. (8-11)
    • Gabriel encounters Mary when he travels to where she is – Nazareth (26). A place that is considered ‘insignificant, despised and unclean’. John 1.45-46; Can anything good come from Nazareth?
  • Zechariah is a priest, selected by lot, that is to say, by God to serve in the Temple (v 5, 8).
    • Mary is the lowest of the low. She is probably barely a teenage girl from Nazareth. There is nothing special about her – age, gender, maybe even her family heritage; yet she is the one favored by God.
  • There will be what looks like similarities between John and Jesus, but, when it is said and done, Jesus will outdistance himself from John:
    • John will be great before the Lord (15) vs. Jesus will be great – the Son of the Most High God (32); John will be great before him, but Jesus will be his son!
    • John will be filled with the Holy Spirit (15) vs. Jesus’ conception will be the result of the activity of the Holy Spirit (35) John will be filled with the Holy Spirit, but Jesus will be of the Holy Spirit; John will be filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus will be holiness incarnate.
    • John will go before Jesus in the spirit and power of Elijah; John will be a prophet and a priest vs. Jesus will be King in the line of David – he will be prophet, priest and King; (36)

This last point struck me; it really did – it caught me off guard; here’s what I mean: I’ve been amazed at how the 12 disciples were willing to die for their faith in Jesus. Chuck Colson really convinced me of this with the issue of Watergate; three men couldn’t keep a secret; If Jesus were false or fake, if they didn’t really believe him to be the messiah, if they had stolen his body – they would never have all agreed to the conspiracy. No way. They had their property confiscated, their lives threatened, then beaten, and eventually, they all died, except one. Surely one would have turned states evidence! I get that. But John the Baptist?

John the Baptist is Jesus’ relative. They’re cousins. John the Baptist runs parallel with Christ for such a short time. We’re talking months. Then Jesus rises in popularity and John doesn’t fight it. How can this be? Check it out, he’s been the man for a few months now. People are coming out to him in the wilderness in droves. Then, his disciples complain that more and more people are following Christ and less and less are following John. John shows incredible humility. This is the way it is supposed to be. He must increase and I must decrease. Listen, that’s not the way humans respond.

Ill.: I heard an interview with Jimmy Johnson this week. He’s the former coach of the Dallas Cowboys – super bowl champs in 92, 93. Then Jimmy left. What? He was asked why? He said one day he made a trade for Tony Casillas. It was a big deal. He walked down the hall to Jerry’s office and told the owner that he’d made the trade. Jerry hadn’t even heard of Tony Casillas. Less than two hours later, the coach, Jimmy Johnson hears Jerry on TV announcing this blockbuster trade he just made for Tony Casillas. As soon as Jerry gets back to his office, Jimmy comes down there and asks what just happened. Jerry said: there’s a lot of attention out there and I want to get some of it. Jimmy Johnson said he knew that it was just a matter of time and he would be gone. Jerry wasn’t going to share the spotlight.

Ill.: I think of Basketball – remember Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neil? 3 championships in a row! They probably could have kept going, but neither one could let the other one take the credit! They blew up the team. Shaquille then played for the Heat, Suns, Celtics and Cavilers; honestly he just faded from the scene. I never even heard of his retirement. All because he couldn’t share the spotlight! He wanted all the credit.

App.: what will become of John, staggers the human mind. His willingness to let his cousin take his place in the spotlight and surpass him in popularity shakes us as we think deeply about it. It’s just not natural! I’ve seen this played out in the church and people don’t like someone else rising above them. Whether it is on the praise team or in the Bible Study class or the one who holds the power on a committee – people don’t like being one-upped.

I can see some of you disagree. Not you! You’re incredibly humble. If the Bible were written all over again, it would be said of you, that you are the meekest, must humble person on the earth. Have you ever thought?

  • Why do the elders get to decide…
  • Why do the deacons or why don’t the deacons…
  • Why does she get a bigger, why does he get a better class room than me? One so close to the kitchen, so close to the bathroom – why do they get a bathroom in their class?
  • Why does Venture get to…
  • Why does Bridgemark have a…
  • Why does she always sing on the praise team?
  • Why does he always play on the praise band?
  • Why does that committee get so much money?
  • To quote Abe Lincoln: Why is this thus and what is the reason for this thusness?
  • Why does KK get… or have… or need…
  • Why does Wendy get…or have…or need…
  • Why does New Beginnings Deaf Fellowship get or meet or have…
  • Why didn’t they ask me to serve on that committee… why did they ask her or him be that representative or…?

Listen, you may not voice your objections to someone else’s success – but the fleshly part of us cries for some recognition and hates it when we’ve been upped by someone. Even if you’re someone who works behind the scenes, you still want the credit due you! Especially if we think we deserve that…whatever it is.

There are some similarities, but the differences are greater by far. John is filled with the Holy Spirit, even from birth; But Christ is Holy. He is the Son of God. He will be King.

Here’s another stark contrast between the two stories:

  • Zechariah responds in disbelief; 18-20
    • Mary responds in belief; rd v 38; Lit.: Behold, the slave of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.

Exp.: you don’t see it in the English, but the Greek has word that appears in both v. 37 and v. 38; ῥῆμα; It’s translated: Nothing; the word ῥῆμα means word or thing; So lit.: No thing (event, matter) will be impossible for God. I like: No word, spoken by God will be impossible. Then she says: Let the word of God, that you have spoken happen to me.

There is some OT imagery here. Think of Sarah in her later years. God says: Nothing is too hard for God. Nothing. What He says – that is what will be accomplished.

There is still another difference:

  • We mentioned Zechariah’s disbelief; but what amazes me is the focus on his righteous and blameless life. Things are right and he’s willing to enter into the holy of holies with a clean conscience. But when it comes down to it – he rebels. That’s what disbelief is – it’s rebellion. When God tells you something – and you don’t believe him – you’re rebelling against him. Think of the Hebrew Children coming out of Egypt, getting ready to enter in the Promised Land. Here’s where I’m going with this:

App.: Some people are happier with their rules and regulations than they are with simple obedience. We line up with the Religious Rulers of the Old Testament when we live by a standard and a system but not by a surrendered obedience. We go to church, Bible study, serve under the bridge and look down upon those who don’t meet our standard. That’s Zechariah – obedient, blameless according to the Law, righteous in his actions, but when it came down to it – he rebelled;

  • Mary simply believed and obeyed; γένοιτό μοι; But, you may say the Bible doesn’t say she believed? Yes it does, Rd v 45

What does it mean to believe? Mary is a great example. It’s not about who has the best attendance or who memorizes the most verses or who gives the most money. It’s about a surrendered life that says: God, here is my life. I’m willing to be shamed for your glory. I’m willing to be used for your glory. I am your slave. γένοιτό μοι; Have your way in me!

*** Meghan O’Gieblyn: How do you sell God in the 21st Century: More Heaven, Less Hell. The Guardian – Liberal Newsmagazine. I was drawn to the article because of it’s title. Many of you probably remember my illustration a few weeks ago of the article recommending a Christianity without hell. I wondered if Meghan was commenting on that in any way. She doesn’t. Meghan is a former believer. According to her testimony, she got saved when she was 5. She doesn’t remember it though – all she knows is what her mother told her. Her struggle was and is over the issue of hell. No one could ever explain hell to her. She never really got over that: Why would a loving God ever send anyone to hell?

I would have stopped reading, but she began to really struggle with a particular issue, which she never resolves. She clearly understands the concept, but struggles with the reality. She participated in Street Evangelism as a student at Moody in Chicago. She traveled out to see what all the fuss was over this mega-church, Willow Creek. In her struggle with the doctrine of hell, she found it interesting that Bill Hybles never mentioned hell. She writes that she began to make it a game to watch him skirt the issue of hell. And it wasn’t just him, but the teachers as well.

Meghan was attending Willow Creek when 9/11 happened. She writes that Bill Hybels addressed the what had happened from the stage – and for the 1st time, she heard Hybels address evil.

I started my sophomore year at Moody in September 2001. The Sunday after 9/11, Willow Creek was one of many American churches filled with newcomers. I was eager to see how Bill Hybels would handle the event – whether he would demonise the enemy or invoke safe platitudes about the brevity of life. As it turned out, he did something completely different.

One of the biggest lessons of the past week, he began by saying, was that “evil is alive and well”. It was the first time I’d heard the word from his pulpit. He proposed that the evil we’d experienced was not limited to the men who flew the planes. He alluded to the terrorists’ accomplices and the people in other countries who were shown celebrating the tragedy. The pastor paused for a moment, and then said, “Let’s bring it close to home – what about the evil in me? Because boy, I felt it this week.” Hybels described his own anger when he was watching the news footage, his immediate craving for revenge. “What is it in us that makes some of us want others to pay a hundred times over for the wrong done to us?” he asked. “Well, that would be evil, and I felt it in me. Did you feel it in you?” With regard to the military response, he argued that Jesus’s teaching to not repay evil with evil was just as relevant at a national level. The vindictive rage we felt watching the attacks from our kitchen televisions was the same emotion that was creating hell all over the world.

At this point in her article, I think she misses the whole point of the message. She writes: I don’t know what prompted Hybels to diverge from the market-tested optimism that day, but it was a powerful sermon – people at Moody were talking about it all week. At the time, I didn’t appreciate just how radical it was. In speaking about his own capacity for revenge and hatred, he had opened up a possibility, a way of talking about evil that felt relevant and transformative. It wasn’t fire and brimstone; it wasn’t condemning the sinner as some degenerate Other. Rather, he was challenging his congregation to exercise empathy in a way that Jesus might have, suggesting that he among us without sin should cast the first stone.

Here’s what get’s me: Each of us has evil in us. That was my point earlier when I asked if you’ve ever felt bothered by being one-upped. If you’ve ever felt jealousy toward another or if you’ve ever coveted someone else’s position or place. In her article, she acknowledges the evil within. But, instead of seeing the salvation from this human condition she explains it away.

Part of what made church such a powerful experience for me as a child and a young adult was that it was the one place where my own faults and failings were recognised and accepted, where people referred to themselves affectionately as “sinners”, where it was taken as a given that the person standing in the pews beside you was morally fallible, but still you held hands and lifted your voice with hers as you worshipped in song. This camaraderie came from a collective understanding of evil – a belief that each person harboured within them a potential for sin and deserved, despite it, divine grace.

You see that last line – that’s where Meghan missed it. The Bible never teaches that we deserve divine grace. Instead, it teaches that because we’re evil, because we’re sinners, we deserve hell. Please don’t miss this: God is infinitely holy. There is no sin, blame, fault, or blemish in him at all. We are infinitely sinful. Just one sin separates us from God – so far that to explain it in earthly terms will limit that separation. God created a place of torment for those angels that rebelled against him. And, the Bible teaches as well, that the sin in us will be punished there, too.

That’s the whole point of the Christmas message! Listen to Matthew 1.18-21, where Gabriel appears to Joseph: 18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

That’s the gospel message – not that we deserve the grace of God – but that in spite of what we deserve, God grants it.

Let’s pray…

Conclusion: Invitation to come to Christ

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Luke 1.5-25

Title: Breaking the Silence

Text: Luke 1.5-25

CIT: This passage is the introduction section to a greater section communicating the birth of the Messiah. John’s birth was fulfillment of prophecy and designed to prepare the people for the coming Messiah.

Introduction: Luke 1 & Malachi 4; We’re in Luke chapters 1-2 this month. Turn to Luke 1; Zechariah gives us a little insight into what’s going on at the end of his prophecy – his Magnificat, the Magnificat part 2; rd 1.76-79; Indeed, for the Israelites, it had been a long, silent night. They should have known what was coming. They should have been watching for it.

Malachi closes and there is silence for 400 years. Read Malachi 4. The next time you hear from God, it will be through Elijah, whom the Lord will send. Amos warned Judah about it this silence long before Malachi (8.11-12).

11    “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God,

“when I will send a famine on the land—

not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water,

but of hearing the words of the Lord.

12    They shall wander from sea to sea,

and from north to east;

they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord,

but they shall not find it.

Luke sits to write his Gospel and it’s been more than 700 years since Amos told of the silence and 400 years since Malachi put down his pen and the silence began. Israel was plunged into utter darkness and silence as they awaited the promised sun of righteousness to rise with healing in its wings and to hear the words of God once again.

Luke begins his story with a time period and a place. rd v 5a; the reign of Herod and in Judea; specifically, we’ll see where in Jerusalem multiple times in this passage: in the Temple; we see more in v 5-7; Zechariah and Elizabeth – the characters in our story, but not our main focus:

  • Righteous
  • Blameless according to the law
  • Childless;

This doesn’t make sense to the Jewish mind – there is a contradiction in v 6-7; God blesses the righteous, the blameless with children! Here we see a holy woman forgotten by God? Can’t be! Either she isn’t really holy and blameless or God isn’t good. Here’s another contradiction. She barren and scorned, but God has chosen Zachariah for something incredible. Their fortunes appear to be up in that God has chosen Zachariah to serve as The priest to offer the incense in the holy place at the Temple.

There were so many priests, that they served in the Temple for on a rotating basis. Groups would serve from Sabbath to Sabbath and lots were casts for duties. From what I understand, 5 priest were selected during this time to offer incense. Actually, three worked outside and two inside. One actually offered the incense and the final priest served as his assistant when needed. We see that is what happens here to Zechariah in v. 8-9; the lot falls to Zechariah and he’s chosen (by God) to offer the Incense. V. 10 gives us a bit more information about the happenings in the Temple. Rd v 10; The people were praying. I saw this as a bit of a chiastic structure. Note verse 21-23; the structure looks like this then:

  • Service to the Lord begins(8)
    • In the Temple (9)
      • People watching and praying (10)
      • People waiting and wondering (21)
    • Exits the Temple (22)
  • Service to the Lord ends (23)

So, what’s in the middle? I’ve outlined this middle section, the section of focus into three parts:

  1. The Angel’s Appearance
  2. The Angel’s Announcement
  3. The Angel’s Answer

Transition: Let’s look closely;

1.     The Angel’s Appearance (11-12)

exp.: read v 12; in the holy place; right side of the Altar of Incense; between the altar of incense and the lampstand; 5 pieces of furniture That named: (1) the brazen altar of burnt offering, and (2) the laver, in the court of the tabernacle; (3) bread on the table of presence, (4) the lampstand, and (5) the golden altar of incense, in the holy place; and (6) the ark of the testimony in the holy of holies or the most holy place.

The Bible Exposition Commentary lists the many responsibilities of the priests: Lighting the lamp, washing at the laver, offering sacrifices and Burning the incense (Exod. 30:7–9). There were two altars in God’s sanctuary, a brazen altar that stood at the door and was used for the blood sacrifices, and a golden altar that stood before the veil and was used for the burning of incense. The golden altar pictures the offering up of prayer to the Lord.

ill.: Ps. 141:1–3: O Lord, I call upon you; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to you! 2 Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice! 3 Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!

Revelation 8.3-5: And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

I’m reminded of another man who saw an angel. This angel promised a son to a couple who was barren. Manoah and his wife, who had a son, Samson. They offered a burnt offering and when the flames went up before the Lord, the angel of the Lord when up in the flame.

app.: Do you think of your prayers like that? Consider this: when the priest was through with his offering, he would come out of the holy of holies and back to where the other priests were and then the people. As he left, the fragrance of Incense offering would be on him.

ill.: campfire; my clothes still have the smell. I wonder if this isn’t a great analogy for our prayers and presence with the master. Maybe others who encounter us would notice a spiritual fragrance about us, as having been with the Lord. Martin Luther is credited as saying, “We are all priests, and our praying is the burning of incense.”

Transition: Well, let’s look now at

–     Zechariah’s Reaction: rd v 12; He was troubled – that is shaken or stirred up; and fear fell upon him; rightly so! Only one priest would be selected to do what Zechariah is doing here. You don’t get a lot of traffic in the holy of holies! The priest would never have to say, “Hey, you’re in my way!” So, to see someone else in there would have caught him of guard.

Now, I have no idea if the angel looked human or massive or what? But whatever form this angel took, it must have been a pretty awesome sight to shake up Zechariah. Also, Do you remember what happened in Leviticus 10.1-3; Nadab and Abihu;

t.s.: We first see the angel’s appearing to Zechariah positioned between the Table with the Bread on it and the altar of incense. Then, the Angel of the Lord speaks:

2.     The Angel’s Announcement (13-18)

exp.: This is why he’s come, to make an announcement; look w/ me at this announcement: rd v 13; There are two parts to this announcement. The 1st deals w/ ‘you’ – Zechariah; the 2nd deals w/ the one to be born to you, namely John.

  1. What God is going to do in answer to your prayer
  2. What God is going to do through the answer to your prayer (i.e.: what God is going to do through John)

What God is going to do in answer to your prayer

  1. Do not be afraid; a common theme in Luke and a common phrase used by the Angel of the Lord; μὴ φοβοῦ
  2. Your prayer has been heard; You’ve been praying for a son, well…
  3. Your wife will bear a son! And, as confirmation to this…
  4. You shall call his name John.
  5. You will have joy and gladness, and furthermore…
  6. Many will rejoice at his birth

What God is going to do through the answer to your prayer (i.e.: what God is going to do through John); v14

  1. For he will be great before the Lord; this word ‘before’ is often translated ‘in the presence’; in the face, lit.: he will grow up in the presence of the Lord. So, because of this…
  2. He must not drink wine or strong drink; that’s because he’s gonna be a Baptist! John, the Baptist! No, I’m just kidding; there is nothing that I can find in the Bible that speaks against wine and beer (i.e: strong drink) except when:
    1. The Priest is in service in the Temple
    2. The Nazarite Vow – which was only for a short period of time
    3. During pregnancy for certain women
    4. I think it would be fair to say that the Bible warns against those whose goal for the day is to drink wine or strong drink. I think the point here is that John is going to be in service to the Lord his whole life long. Rd v 16;
  1. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit – From his mother’s womb
  2. He will turn many to God; not everyone, but many; rd v 17;
  3. He will go before the Lord
    1. In the Spirit of Elijah; we see that in his clothes, his persona;
    2. With the purpose of:
      1. Turning the Fathers hearts to their children
      2. Turning the Disobedient to the Wisdom of the just
      3. Making ready for the Lord a people prepared; he is going to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.

exp.: wouldn’t it be nice if we could spend some time right here on these three objectives: repeat. Well, look at

Zechariah’s Response: rd v 18; It’s hard to notice at first, but Zechariah doesn’t believe the angel; Zechariah makes three statements to declare his unbelief:

  • How shall I know this?: According to what shall I know this? Middle voice: for myself; Now, to be fair, Mary asks a question, too. But hers is much different. We’ll look at that later, and I’ll explain the difference then; however, here He shows his disbelief by his statements:
  • I, myself, am an old man.
  • My woman is late or really advanced in her days. Her child-bearing days are behind her. Evidently, You don’t know my situation!

ill.: What Zechariah failed to recognize is the Angel’s 1st statement: God has heard your prayers!

app.: This makes me think of my prayers. Do I pray to God for miracles and respond in disbelief, before he’s even answered!?!

t.s.: Hold that thought, because Gabe’s going to make Zechariah some promises:

3.     The Angel’s Answer (19-20)

exp.: rd v 19-20; Be careful what you ask for!

I myself am Gabriel; the one who is standing in the presence of God; sent: to speak and to bring good news (evangelism); Gk is still one sentence: being silent, unable to speak; and being silent and not being able to speak; until the day these things take place. Why? Because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their day.

app.: I wonder if we too often miss out on the blessings of God – if we miss out on answered prayer because we never really believed God anyway.

t.s.: In this passage, we see Zechariah has been praying and so have the people. And in response, one answer is given answering both requests! Rd v 21-22;

The people, too, have been praying. And yet, they don’t know that God is answering their prayer.

Conclusion: How do I know this? Because, the people have been in darkness and have experienced silence from the Lord for a long time – some 400 years. And now, he is breaking his silence. And now, a light is beginning to dawn.

Ladies and Gentlemen, that’s what Christmas is really all about.

So, what are our take-a-ways?

  1. The Christmas story begins and ends at the Temple. What a great reminder for us to acknowledge the perfection and holiness of God. For in so doing, we see ourselves for whom we really are.
  2. The Christmas story is filled with prayer. Zechariah, Elizabeth, the people, the incense. What are your prayers for this Christmas? Are they filled with selfish wishes or are they seasoned with concerns for others? Can others tell you’ve been with the master? Is there a spiritual fragrance about you?
  3. The Christmas story is good news. Evangelism is our English Equivalent. Have you ever thought that Christmas just might be the best time to share Christ with those around you – with whom you work: your boss or your employees? What about with your neighbors? Why do we give gifts and decorate? It’s an opportunity to share!
  4. Finally, I’m amazed that John has been praying and Gabriel says – Good News, Dude! God has heard your prayers. And yet, when John is given this positive response – he doesn’t believe it. Do you pray believing? Isn’t that how this journey with God begins? You believe God for his forgiveness and you surrender yourself to his Lordship.
  5. It had been a long 400 years of silence from the Father for them. And they should have been watching and waiting. It has been 2000 years for us. When Jesus comes again, will we be ready? Are you watching and waiting?

Invitation: Maybe it’s time for us to break the silence – to begin sharing – to begin praying – to begin believing

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