A Test of Faith

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Fathers can be excellent examples of faith. Martin Luther King Jr. father, a pastor, and a civil rights activist. He once said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” This fits very well with the Bible’s definition of faith found in the book of Hebrews 11:1: “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (NASB).

Abraham is a father in Scripture that stands out as an example of faith. Abraham stepped out in faith when God called him to leave his homeland and promised to bless him (Genesis 12:1-3). That blessing included a new land and family to pass that land to (Genesis 13:14-18, 15:1-4). Abraham’s faith was tested many times as he and Sarah passed out the childbearing years without an heir. When the finally had a son of their own, Isaac, it was a confirmation of their faith in God.

In Genesis 22, Abraham’s faith is tested one last time. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son on an altar. As we follow Abraham along this particularly hard part of his faith journey there are three lessons we must learn if we are going to walk by faith.

Genesis 22:1-6 describe the toughest test as Abraham’s faith was tested by God. A test is simply a way for God to reveal obedience, produce reverence, and discover authenticity. For Abraham, it looked back to the way His relationship with God began, and it looked forward to the way his family would relate to God in the future.

God told Abraham to take his only son, Isaac, to Mt. Moriah and offer him as a burnt sacrifice.  The next morning, Abraham rose early and made preparations for the trip. After three days, Abraham arrived at this destination and left his helpers at the base of the mountain. As he climbed to the place of sacrifice, Abraham carried the torch and the knife and Isaac carried the wood for the fire.

God tests us for our benefit. Sometimes our faith is strengthened like a muscle under pressure. Sometimes, we reconnect with the purpose for which we were made: to listen to and to enjoy a personal relationship with Him.to enjoy Him forever. Tests aren’t always pleasant, but they are effective.

Genesis 22:7-8 describes the longest walk as Abraham and Isaac approach the place of sacrifice. Isaac saw the wood and the fire, but he asked where the offering was. Abraham responds with a tremendous amount of faith explaining that the Lord would provide the offering. According to Hebrews 11:19, Abraham trusted God to work out the details of the sacrifice and to raise his son from the dead if necessary to fulfill His promises.

God wants us to trust Him in spite of the benefits we may experience. I wonder if some people would trust God if heaven or hell wasn’t hanging in the balance. I wonder if some people would still pray if their prayers weren’t answered. I wonder if some people still give to the Church if there were no tax incentives.

Genesis 22:9-14 describes a last-minute pardon as the Angel of the Lord stops Abraham at the last minute. Abraham had built the altar, arranged the wood for a fire, and tied Isaac up on the altar. As Abraham raised his knife high over his head to kill his son, the Angel of the Lord cried out, “Stop, now I know that you fear me!”

As Abraham caught his breath, he noticed a ram caught in a nearby thicket. He took the ram and offered it up in place of his son. Abraham called that place Jehovah Jireh, or “the Lord Will Provide.”

God cares for the long-term and day-to-day issues of life. God provides an eternal home in heaven for his children when they graduate from this earthly life (John 14:3). God also provides for the ongoing needs of our current reality (John 10:10). I like to think about it as the “here and the hereafter.”

Father Abraham’s test of faith teaches us about our faith as well. I hope it encourages the fathers to be men of deep faith and conviction. I also help it encourages others to pay attention to their examples of faith.

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Five Kinds of People Who Don’t Believe

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The 7-day Feast of Tabernacles was one of the most popular Jewish festivals in Jesus’ day, and for good reason. The Feast was full of meaningful rituals and traditions. The people ate and slept in temporary shelters. Every morning they celebrated the water ceremony. Every evening they gathered near the temple for a time of music and dancing. Men with religious influence carried burning torches in their hands and danced with enthusiasm while the temple orchestra filled the night with music.

That’s what was going on in John 8 when Jesus announced: “I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the Light of life” (v. 12). Based on John’s thesis statement in John 20:30-31, we might expect to read how many people in the crowd believed in Jesus. Instead, we find the opposite; we see how many in the crowd rejected Jesus. As the chapter unfolds, we learn about five kinds of people who don’t believe in Jesus.

1. People who reject Jesus’ testimony about Himself (8:13).

The Pharisees dismissed Jesus’ announcement because they thought He was speaking on his own authority. Jesus reminded them that the Law only required two people to establish a testimony as true. Jesus spoke in concert with the Heavenly Father. The Pharisee didn’t recognize Jesus as God’s messenger because they didn’t know God (v. 19).

From 1985 to 1991, about two hundred mainline NT scholars gathered throughout the U.S. twice a year as the Jesus Seminar.[1] The goal of this group was to reconstruct the “real historical Jesus” apart from the “mythical Jesus” presented in the Bible. This group concluded, erroneously, that Jesus never said 82 percent of words attributed to Him in the Gospels. People still commit the same kind of error today when they pick and choose which parts of the Bible they want to believe and obey.

2. People who are confused about Jesus’ death (8:22)

The crowd was confused when Jesus told them He would be going away. Jesus explained that they would know who He was when He was “lifted up.” This was a clear allusion to His death on a cross. When Jesus was lifted up on a cross, he became a sacrifice for the sin of the world. Those who refused this gift would die in their unbelief (v. 24).

Confusion over Jesus’ death still exists today. Those who think that Jesus was just a religious leader, or a moral example can’t help but see His death as a waste. Jesus was cut down in the prime of his life and his full potential was never filled. Those who believe that Jesus was both the Son of God and the Son of Man have a different perspective. They know that His death was a great gift as God bridged the gap between heaven and earth.

3. People who make a profession of faith without follow through (8:31)

Verse 30 says, “Many people came to believe in Him.” At first glance, this seems like a positive statement, it may not be so positive in this context. Jesus explained that genuine faith goes deeper than an outward statement. It takes obedience and consistency to show that you are really a follower of Jesus.

Genuine faith results in genuine freedom in the way a flashlight allows you to move through unfamiliar terrain without hurting yourself. Our community is full of people with a superficial understanding of faith. There are about 30k people who live within a 3-mile radius of our church.

4. People who are blind to their own sin (8:33).

The Jews claimed they had “never been enslaved to anyone.” This claim was historically inaccurate. At one time or another, the Jews have been enslaved or controlled by Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Media-Persia, Macedonia, Syria, and Rome. The Feast of Tabernacles was a reminder of their liberation from Egypt.[2] The Jews were as blind about their political situation they were about their spiritual situation.

Blindness can be dangerous when you are in denial. A 67-year-old woman went in for cataract surgery and received quite a shock. The woman had worn disposable contacts for 35 years. From time to time, she couldn’t find her lens in her right eye to remove it, so she figured she’d dropped it somewhere. When she went in for cataract surgery, the doctor found a “blue mass” made up of 27 contact lenses that had been left in her eye.

5. People who worship their religious traditions (8:53).

The Jews were offended at the idea that Jesus was greater than Abraham. They were proud of their ethnic and religious heritage. They were so fiercely protective of the rituals and traditions associated they couldn’t imagine anything different.

Jesus claimed to be the God who blessed Abraham. In Genesis. 12:1-3, God promised to bless the whole world through Abraham. Jesus claimed that promise had finally come true through Him.

Resistance to change is one indication of misplaced worship. Some people put their fain in faith and the outward observances of that faith. They worship Christianity instead of the Christ that makes Christianity possible.

John 8 serves as a warning. The people in this passage aren’t heathens, pagans, or atheists, they’re religious people gathered for a 7-day religious feast! They have faith, but it’s not saving faith because it’s not focused on the only One who can save.

[1]Wellum, Stephen J. (2016). God the Son Incarnate (p. 42) Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

[2]Borchert, G. L. (1996). John 1–11(Vol. 25A, p. 303). Nashville: B & H Publishers.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Uncommon Faith

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A man fell off a cliff but managed to grab a tree limb on the way down. The following conversation ensued. “Is anyone up there?” he called out. “I am here,” the Lord replied, “Do you believe me?” “Yes, Lord, I believe. I really believe, but I can’t hang on much longer,” the man exclaimed. “That’s all right” the Lord explained, “if you really believe you have nothing to worry about. I will save you. Just let go of the branch.” After a long pause, the man called out again, “Is anyone else up there?

The story about a man hanging from a cliff highlights the importance of faith even though it might be extreme. John 4:46-54 contains another story about the importance of faith. A royal official came to Jesus and gave us an example of uncommon faith.

The response of the royal official to Jesus stands out in comparison to his fellow Galileans. The Galileans welcomed Jesus, but Jesus knew their response was superficial and fickle. In comparison, the royal official response to Jesus with thoughtfulness and obedience. The royal official and the Galileean approaches to faith can be summed up in two very different statements.

“I’LL BELIEVE IT WHEN I SEE IT” (4:43-48).

The Jews in Galilee had heard all about Jesus signs and wonders. They had heard how he turned water into wine (John 2:1-12). They saw the signs he did in Jerusalem during the Passover feast (John 4:45).

The royal official had also heard about Jesus and he was desperate. He probably served at the pleasure of Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who married his half-brother’s wife, Herodias. As a representative of the state, he had a certain level of power and authority, but he was powerless to save his own son from death.

Jesus confronted the royal official and condemned this approach to faith. Jesus performed plenty of signs during his ministry, but for a specific purpose – that people would believe in him and experience eternal life (John 20:30-31). The Galileans saw Jesus as a wonder-worker, a cure-all magician who had to prove himself.

God doesn’t have to prove himself to any of us. He has chosen, in his grace, to reveal himself to us. When we demand a sign from God before we will believe, we place ourselves in authority over God.

“I’LL BELIEVE IT BECAUSE HE SAID IT” (4:49-54).

Jesus responded to the royal official with a command. Jesus ordered the official to go back home because his son had already been healed. The official believed Jesus and demonstrated his belief by leaving Jesus without any visible evidence of a miracle.

The royal official received confirmation before he ever saw his son. He came across some of his servants who were on their way to update him on his son’s condition. He knew that Jesus had healed his son because it happened just as Jesus gave the command.

The authenticity of the royal official’s faith in Christ can be seen in two ways. First, he cared enough to share with his family.  It was common in the first century for the family to take on the faith of the father, that doesn’t mean his family was just faking it. They experienced a miraculous healing in their home and they believed. Second, he continued to believe in Jesus even after his crisis was over.

The two approaches to faith on display in this story teach us one main truth: faith that demands a sign is not really faith at all. Faith is how we access eternal life. If we don’t have faith in Jesus Christ as the sinless Son of God, we cannot share in the eternal life that he has to offer. The royal official is not lifted up as an exception, but the rule. His “uncommon faith is the kind of faith” we must all have to be saved from our sins.

This matches the definition of faith found in Hebrews 11:1: “Faith is assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (NASB). It also helps to explain Thomas’ encounter with Jesus after the resurrection (John 20:24-29). Most people refer to him as “Doubting Thomas” because he refused to believe in the resurrection until he saw Jesus for himself. When Jesus finally appeared to Thomas he invited the skeptical disciple to touch his scars. Then, Jesus rebuked Thomas and blessed those who believe in him without seeing him: “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believe.” (v. 29).

Augustine once said, “Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore, seek not to understand that thou mayest believe, but believe that thou mayest understand.”

Click here if you want to listen to a message on this passage: https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/unitybaptistashland/episodes/2019-03-11T10_17_13-07_00

 

That You May Believe

john-sermon-ppt-title-bEveryone has a story to tell.

The Apostle John told his story about Jesus Christ. From everything we know, John was the only one of Christ’s original disciples that who lived into old age. John used his time to minister in the church and write Scripture. John wrote three Epistles, the book of Revelation, and the Gospel that bears his name.

Recently, we started a new sermon series at the church where I serve as pastor on the Gospel of John. Instead of starting at the beginning of the book, we started near the end where John reveals the purpose of his writing. In John 20:30-31, John identifies the keys unlocking his story about Jesus Christ. He writes first about his himself, and then about his mission.

1. The Man: John wrote from his own personal experience (v. 30).

John was transformed by his time with Jesus. He learned to balance and spiritual maturity. In his book, Twelve Ordinary Men, Pastor John MacArthur outlines three ways that John changed. First, John learned the balance of love and truth. Second, he learned to balance ambition with humility. Third, he learned the balance of suffering and glory. The old adage is “a leopard can’t change its spots,” but that wasn’t true for John. He grew from one of the “Sons of Thunder” into the Apostel of love (Mark 3:17).

John also witnessed Jesus perform many signs and wonders. John describes seven of those miracles in the first half of his Gospel. He focuses last half of his Gospel on Christ’s most incredible miracle, his resurrection from the dead. John tells us that Jesus did many more signs and wonders than were recorded in the pages of Scripture.

The only other place in the Bible where signs and wonders are so widespread is in the story of the Exodus. In Exodus 10:1-2, we read that God performed many signs through Moses so that the people would recognize God as God and come to know Him. John was thoroughly convinced that Jesus was God in the flesh because he saw him perform so many signs and wonders.

2. The Mission: John wrote for a special purpose (v. 31).

He wrote his story about Jesus so that his readers would exercise faith in Jesus. John uses some form of the verb “believe” 10 times more often than any of the other Gospel writers. In John’s story about Jesus, almost everyone that comes in contact with Jesus is faced with a choice to either believe in or not believe in Jesus.

He also wrote so that his readers would experience eternal life. Eternal life is a gift we receive from God by faith. is the gift we receive in return. Eternal life is a quality of life as well as a quantity of life. It describes life walking with Jesus day by day, either on this earth or in heaven.

In summary, John wrote his Gospel so that you would believe in Jesus Christ and eternal life.

John was the only disciple that we know that was present at Christ’s crucifixion. In John 19, we read about him standing by the foot of the cross with Jesus’ mother Mary and some other women. As Jesus was about to die, he asked John to take his mom into his home and take care of her. This tender moment paints a beautiful picture of belief and discipleship. John identified with Jesus at great risk to himself. John dedicated his life to caring for the people that Jesus cared about – His mom as well other disciples in the church. John also told his story of transformation with Jesus.

Just like the characters in John’s story about Jesus, you have a decision to make – what will you do with Jesus?

  • Will you identify with Jesus through repentance and faith?
  • Will you dedicate your life to caring for the people Jesus cares about?
  • Will you tell your story of transformation in Christ with others?

(Special thanks goes to Thearon Landrum for making a graphic for this post!)

Listen to the whole sermon at:

https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/unitybaptistashland/episodes/2019-01-15T05_33_43-08_00