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The Village of Watkins Glen is widely known as a destination point for visitors to the Finger Lakes region who wish to see our local state park, the beautiful southern point of Senecal Lake, our local shops and of course, catch a NASCAR race. If you happen to be in town visiting, or you live in the area and are looking for a small, Bible-based church, please stop by.

We are located at 213 5th Street, across from Lafayette Park. Our service starts at 9:30 a.m.

What Kind of Soil Are You?

Jeff Miller

Sermon: What Kind of Soil Are You?

Text: Matthew 13

6/13/21

Intro: Good morning. I wasn’t planning on doing this, but I was trying to think about what to preach on this week, and somewhere I heard the phrase about God separating the wheat from the tares, or the chaff as some translations put it. I went there and looked and thought, no, there isn’t quite enough there for a sermon, besides, I don’t think there is anyone in this particular congregation that would be separated like chaff. 

By the way, what is chaff or tares? Not many of us really know a whole lot about wheat, I certainly don’t. For us, today, a better illustration would be like husks from corn. God will separate people as one separates the husks from the corn. The corn is saved and the husks are thrown away. 

And then I did another word search and came up with the sower, or farmer, and the seeds. And when I looked at that, I thought, yeah, that’s more like it. And then I looked at the chapter and thought, wait a minute, that’s the same chapter Dad preached on last week when he talked about why Jesus spoke in parables.

So, the Lord led me to look at that particular parable today. I’ve looked at it before a few years ago, and when I did, I examined it from The Gospel of Mark, but since Dad preached from Matthew last week, let’s piggy-back off of that and look at Matthew Chapter 13.

As you’re turning there, there are a couple of other points I want to make regarding why Jesus spoke in parables. Dad did a great job last week, and I asked him for his sermon notes on it because I might be inclined to preach that someday. Allan Ross, an author and seminary teacher, said this, Jesus, the King, was approaching a crisis in His presentation of Himself when it would be necessary to challenge peoples’ faith concerning His mission and indeed His identity. In view of this He chose to use parables to begin to uncover the faith of true disciples, and to demonstrate judgment on those who refused to see and hear.”

And that’s what dad talked about. But here are a couple of other reasons just to mention them briefly. Many people wanted to understand the Kingdom of God, and Jesus used parables so that people could understand God and His ways and His love for us in a more dramatic way. Again, not everyone accepted it. Even some who understood what Jesus was saying didn’t necessarily accept what Jesus was saying. Especially when Jesus talked about judgement and he was aiming straight for them, and they––the Pharisees and teachers of the law––knew it.

Another reason was so that people could not only understand certain aspects of God’s love for us (and his judgement), but also so that people could remember them better. It’s easier to remember a story than it is a sermon. Just like it’s easier to remember a song. 

I’m sure you’ve seen the meme: “My ability to remember song lyrics from the 80s far exceeds my ability to remember why I walked into the room.”

Parables are like that, easy to remember and easy to teach, to any age group. And speaking of teaching, let’s take a look at our scripture this week: Matthew 13:1-9.

Scripture: That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no roots. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Central Truth: So the question for you today is this, plain and simple, which soil are you?

Point 1: Now, I think that it’s safe to assume, since you’re all sitting here this morning, that you are not in the first category. You have heard the gospel, and you have not allowed Satan to come along and take it from you. But which one of the other soils are you? You could still be sitting in church today, and be any one of the other soils.

Let’s take a look at the second soil: Jesus said, “Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no roots.” This means that even though the Word of God is received, it does not last. When trouble or persecution comes, some quickly fall away. How easy is it to shrink back and fall away from God out of fear and persecution?

I’ll bet you that some of you would have never thought The United States would be a place where we would someday see Christian principles face persecution.

Do you remember just a few years ago, a Christian went to the Supreme Court of the United States just because he said no. That’s it. He said no. He refused to participate in a gay marriage. The headline from Fox News said, “Christian Baker at Center of Supreme Court Case: We’ve Faced Death Threats and Harassment.”

If someone told you, back in your childhood, that this would be a news headline, you might think they were crazy. Not in the United States. And when they told you what the headline was about, you would have thought they were even crazier, right? Think back 30 years ago, just before gay rights had really started in the mainstream, and someone told you that 25 years later we’d be at this point in society. You would have thought they were crazy.

How easy would it have been for the baker, Jack Philips, to cave in to the demands of the same sex couple? Especially when they’ve threatened lawsuits? Think about it. If the baker had gone ahead and made the cake out of fear of a lawsuit, you and I, and the rest of the world would have never known. It would not have been a problem. It would not have been a national issue. He would not have had to go through what he went through. It would have been so easy, and I’m sure it was probably very tempting, to just say yes. But he stood his ground and firmly stood up for what he believed to be the Godly thing to do.

But as the headline suggests, not only was he dragged all the way to The Supreme Court of the United States, not only has he lost business and employees, not only has he become a household name—which he probably didn’t want—but he has had to deal with harassment and death threats. I’m sure it has challenged his faith. But has this shaken his faith? The real question is, would it shake yours?

Notice in the verse, The soil was shallow. “When the sun came out, it scorched and withered quickly because it had no roots.” What does that mean? It means that Christianity requires a maturing process. It requires time to take root and allow those roots to go deep. God does not want a shallow relationship. As the Christian baker found out, Christianity will require a lot from us. We will need to have deep enough soil that will allow God’s word, and God himself, to become deeply rooted in us.

If the seed is God’s word, then to have God’s word go deep in us, it requires two things: First, devotion to studying God’s word and letting it take root in our lives. Second, it requires a testing of faith so that when the sun really does come out trying to scorch us—like the Christian baker, we will have already seen God’s goodness in our lives. We will have the faith and strength to stand against trials.

I have been surprised at how much more faith I have today than I did just a couple of years ago when I first started here. I can’t explain it. It doesn’t make sense. It would seem that if you are prospering, your faith would be strengthened because you would be seeing God’s blessings all the time. But that’s not true. Going through trials is when your faith is strengthened because you’ve seen God’s protection and provision over your circumstances. That’s an example of the Kingdom mindset that Jesus talks about in his teachings and parables. It’s one thing to be taught it and believe it; but it’s another thing to go through it and be tested to the point that you either bow out or you brace yourself and find that after a while, you really believe.

Point 2: This leads me to the next type of soil. It’s similar to the previous one. When Jesus was explaining the meaning of the parable to his disciples, he said in verse 22, “The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.”

What does this mean and how is it different from the last one?

Enduring Word Bible Commentary puts it this way: We might say this ground is too fertile. The word of God grows there, but so does everything else. And everything else soon begins to crowd out the word of God.

Jesus used the phrase, ‘The worries of this life.’ You know, the worries of this life are sometimes just the simple, everyday, ordinary things. 

Today, even, I’m the only one from my family here…again. I’m glad that my family is involved in things, but we live in a 24/7 world now. Everyone’s schedules are so full, that some activities now spill onto Sunday mornings too. And whatever happened to the 9-5 workweek? Many companies are 24/7. Where’s time for family? Where’s time for church? When do we have time to think about putting God first in our lives when we can’t even seem to get a break in our own lives to begin with. It always seems there’s someone else making the schedule for us and we’re just trying to keep up.

Diana and Rose often work on Sundays, and when they’re not, Diana takes Evelyn to Pony Club. Rose mentioned that she will be working 13 days straight without a day off. I remember doing that when I worked for the newspaper, and you all know I have three jobs if you count this one. I drive a medical shuttle and I freelance for my local weekly newspaper. I am also volunteering at two non-profits in Dansville. I’ve said this to a couple of people recently that I’m going to have to let go of some of those things so I don’t over exhaust myself. 

By the way, Diana and I are going away for a couple of weeks at the end of June and into July. That will be nice. 

So the cares of life distract us from God. You would think it would lead us to God, but it distracts us from God. Maybe the cares of this world even rob us of our faith as I mentioned before. Sometimes it strengthens our faith, but for others it robs us of our faith. 

Then Jesus used the phrase: ‘the deceitfulness of wealth.’ Think about that phrase for just a moment. How does material wealth deceive us? By making promises it can’t keep. People are tempted to believe that money is the answer to our problems rather than God. Why? Because money is tangible. We can see it, we can place a physical value to it. We can see right where it can fit into our lives and take care of problems. But people with money have problems, too. Not all problems go away when you have money, they either turn into different problems or certain problems have nothing to do with money. Relationship problems for example. 

Or, depending on how wealthy people spend their money, they may incur greater problems.

CNBC did a report a couple of years ago on lottery winners. This is what it said:

Lottery winners are more likely to declare bankruptcy within three to five years than the average American. What’s more, studies have shown that winning the lottery does not necessarily make you happier or healthier.

“Evidence shows that most people who make it to the top one percent of income earners usually don’t stay at the top for very long,” writes The Washington Post’s Jonnelle Marte.

Economist Jay L. Zagorsky agrees with the research. He writes for U.S. News and World Report: “Studies found that instead of getting people out of financial trouble, winning the lottery got people into more trouble, since bankruptcy rates soared for lottery winners three to five years after winning.”

We think wealth can replace, or even be, God’s provisions for us. Like I said, it’s easier to chase after wealth because wealth is something tangible. God’s provision is not always foreseeable. It’s invisible. It’s based on faith. 

Another example of why wealth is deceitful, for some, they believe their personal value as a human being lies in their finances. I have been guilty of that myself. Maybe that’s why God has kept me poor this long. He wants to keep reminding me that my value is not in my wealth or lack thereof. My value is not in what I am but in who I am. And I have to keep reminding myself that I am a child of God.

Lastly, Jesus added, and the desire for other things. This could be a myriad of things that have little or nothing to do with wealth. These are things of pleasure which may not be bad in and of themselves, but they become an idol. In other words, they’ll set God aside thinking He’s not worth their time. Afterall, it’s summer. Time to get to the cottage, get out the boat and get on the lake. And Sundays are for sleeping in.

Without good soil, the roots of the Word won’t go very far. The things of this world will choke out, or obstruct the desire for God in our lives.

Point 3: Now let’s go to the good soil. Here’s what Jesus said when explaining it to his disciples: “23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” I hope you are all in that category.

Let’s first take what Jesus said about hearing the word and accepting it. The soil can’t take all the credit for producing a bumper crop, can it? I’m not a farmer. Diana is the farmer in the family. She has done a lot of planting. She has a vegetable garden, and a couple of years ago she sold some of her vegetables at the farmer’s market across the street.

Now, I’ll bet you, she would know to never plant in any of the first places the farmer scattered his seeds. Today, when we plant, we don’t plant the way they did in Jesus’ time. We plant much more carefully and intentionally. In the story, the farmer wasn’t ignorant about which soil was good and which soil was bad. In that day and time, the farmers had a sack over one shoulder that hung down to the opposite waist, and they would scoop the seeds from the sack with their hands, walk about their fields and scatter it, allowing seed to fall and land where it may in the process.

But to expect a crop, whether back then or today, the farmer has to pick a field, dig out the rocks, rip out the thorn bushes, till the soil—and I’ll bet Diana won’t just scatter the seed, either. First she’ll start the seeds indoors to let them sprout there. Then she’ll be very intentional on planting each individual seed in her garden, in so-many rows, so-many spaces apart from each other.

About five years ago, we had a drought. I remember the whole family taking two hours out of our evenings, each with a watering can in hand and filling them up several times a night from a 250 gallon plastic water tank, watering her garden. She took time and energy making sure the garden was well tilled, the soil was right, the garden was watered and the garden was protected from animals.

You see, we can gladly be willing to receive the word. But before we can produce a bumper crop, we still have to allow God to till our soil, dig out the rocks, and weed out the thorn bushes to let the seed take root. Then, over a period of time, as we allow The Holy Spirit to water it, it begins to grow.

In other words, God’s word works for us in ways that don’t sprout up and become mature overnight. Over time, over constant Bible study, going to church, receiving the word of God through a variety of other ways such as books, music and listening to teachers on radio and tv (I know I criticize a lot of teachers and books, but we all know there are good ones out there too), being renewed and constantly watered by The Spirit—even in a season of drought we can find our spiritual life growing and producing.

There are a lot of references in the Bible about producing fruit and the type of fruit a Christian should produce. For example, the Fruit of the Spirit (meaning those who live by The Holy Spirit) is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control.

There are a number of verses all throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament that use the phrases fruit of righteousness or harvest of righteousness. Here are a few, very briefly:

  • Psalm 72:3 May the mountains bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness.
  • Isaiah 32:7 The fruit of righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.
  • Hebrews 12:11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
  • James 3:18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

You’ll notice the common theme above: we will bear a harvest of peace. Don’t we all need a little more peace in our lives? When we plant a garden or a fruit tree, one tiny seed can produce an enormous amount. How many apples can one apple seed produce? How many ears of corn can one seed produce? How many tomatoes can one seed produce? An abundance, more than we know what to do with. We have an apple tree out back that produces so many apples, we just don’t know what to do with them all. Farmers produce so much that they can’t harvest it all. Now think about what this means spiritually.

Conclusion: In the beginning, I asked, what soil are you? As I close, I want to ask you one more question. You’ll notice Jesus closes this statement by saying we can produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown”

Are you producing a 30 fold crop of righteousness? If you are, are you content with that? Maybe it’s time to produce 60 fold or 100 fold of the fruit of the Spirit or the fruit of righteousness in your life.

There’s only one way to increase the fruit of the Spirit in your lives and to produce a harvest of righteousness. Get closer to God. Though it takes time and effort to do so. I know, I said earlier that we don’t have time. But if you really want to increase your production of righteousness, or the fruit of the Spirit or the peace that comes with being close to God, then you will have to not find time, but make time. Spend alone time with Him, read His word, let it sink in. Pray and worship in your own home, in your car, wherever you happen to be, and let his Spirit come over you and change you. Maybe it’s on the way to work, maybe it’s getting up a few minutes earlier, maybe it’s changing the channel to a Christian station or just shutting it off and spending time in prayer.

And speaking of prayer, let’s pray:

Lord God, we ask that you would let your word sink into us. We accept your word, we make a decision today to be good soil. Today, if never before, we accept your word into our lives. We invite you to come, water our souls, pull out the weeds and the thorns that might be choking us—maybe we haven’t even realized that we have that kind of soil until now. Lord, we make a decision today to accept your word like never before, to make every effort to let it grow in our lives so that we may produce a harvest of righteousness in abundance. In Jesus name, amen.

The Second Coming Part 3: The Triumphal Return (is that a promise or a threat?)

Jeff Miller

5/30/21

The Second Coming Part 3: The Triumphal Return

Intro: Good morning. We’re concluding our three-week look at the return of Christ. There are a lot of passages in the Bible regarding this event. And I didn’t want to go on and on with it, but I felt led to keep it short, sweet and simple.

In fact, the three sermons are ones that we’ve looked at before, only not in a series, and I’ve felt led to do these together in a series. I’ve tweaked them a little bit from when I first preached them. Today’s sermon I did two years ago for Palm Sunday, and I’ve kept a lot of the Palm Sunday aspect to give you an example of Jesus’ first triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday compared to his triumphal return at his second coming. I thought it would go well with Memorial Day weekend since we honor those who have fallen in service, and Jesus’ triumphal return will be during a time of war––the great final battle of armageddon.

I’ve said that I didn’t want to get into the timeline of events when it came to Jesus’ second coming because there is some disagreement among that, and I would rather not try to confuse anyone or get boggled into that particular topic. But to give you a little bit of clarity, the event that we will be talking about today will either be part of the rapture––we will be caught up at the time that Jesus returns on a white horse––or we will be caught up, then either three or seven years later, return with Christ when he comes on a white horse. That’s part of the confusion that people have regarding the timeline, the Bible isn’t specific about that. But what we know is that we will be caught up to meet the Lord, according to 1 Thessalonians 4; and––either at that time or later––Jesus will return on a white horse, as we will read from Revelation later today.

Before we do, let’s take a look at another scripture this morning. Matthew 21:8-11.

As you’re turning there, the late Dr. John Kelman was ministering in New York City, and he asked one of his church members the question, “What is your solution to the present world unrest?” His answer, “A dictator.” 

”But,” argued the great preacher, “your Dictator would have to be a superman one with perfect understanding of civic and economic problems, and with genius to meet the opposition and resolve the fears of those who doubted and opposed him.” “I know it,” was the quiet answer; “but we are looking for such a Man, and we have Him in view. His name is Jesus.” Commented Dr. Kelman, “The thrill of that answer will never leave me.”

Unfortunately, a dictator will arise. One that the World will rather have than Jesus. But when Jesus returns, he will squelch that antichrist––which the apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4 calls the “man of lawlessness,” and the true Christ will reign.

Scripture:

 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Central Truth: This is pretty cut and dry. This is Jesus’ first triumphal entry into Jerusalem. But when he comes again, it will not be on a donkey of peace, but on a white horse of triumph.

Point 1: The first time he entered Jerusalem, of all things, Jesus entered on a donkey. Not the typical way you might expect a king to enter his territory, is it? You might expect that Jesus would have entered Jerusalem on a white horse. Maybe even a black horse. A polkadot horse. Any horse. But not a donkey.

But it was prophesied by Zechariah about 500 years before Jesus did that, that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem on a donkey.

It can be found in Zechariah Chapter 9, verse 9: 

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!

    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!

See, your king comes to you,

    righteous and victorious,

lowly and riding on a donkey,

    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Jesus is using this moment to tell the people of Jerusalem a couple of things without using words: 

  1. That he is fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy, which they probably would have known about. Therefore, Jesus is claiming himself as The Messiah–he is accepting that role and his fate. Just as he did again in the Garden of Gethsemane.
  1. He’s telling the people that he is not the warrior king that they were expecting him and treating him to be. Riding on a donkey was a symbol of peace. Riding a horse was the symbol of war. A white horse, specifically, was a symbol of triumph. And, the people laid before him the palm branches because the palm branches were traditionally used to lay down as a pathway for the entrance of a warrior king. And waving palm branches was used as a mark of rejoicing. 

So, while the people are saying one thing–who they perceive Jesus to be–Jesus is saying another. He is actually telling them, right in front of them, who he really is. And isn’t. Sound familiar? Things haven’t changed much, have they? 

I know I’ve been talking a lot about false teaching permeating the Church, and I hope you’re not sick of hearing me say this, but how much do we hear who people think Jesus is, regardless of who Jesus told us he actually is? The Bible is the biggest selling book of all time. It’s available everywhere. You can pick up a King James Bible for a dollar at Dollar Tree. You can read any translation online for free. There are churches on every street corner. When we visited friends in South Carolina last November, we were amazed at how many churches there were down there. Access to preaching is available 24/7 on tv, on radio, on satellite radio, on the internet. Christian books and movies and music are available to order at the touch of a button.
Jesus is telling us exactly who he is right in front of us, but our culture wants him to be someone else. It reminds me of the story of Lazarus and The Rich Man. Remember, in the story, what Abraham told Lazarus?

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

That was a prophetic statement Jesus gave about himself. Some people didn’t listen, even after he rose from the dead right in front of them.

Now, it’s become the complete opposite of what the people in Jerusalem thought 2000 years ago. They wanted a warrior savior, but today, people don’t want or feel the need for, nor even know what a savior is. I sometimes think back to when Evelyn was little and we would say our bedtime prayers and I would ask that she would come to know Jesus as her Lord and Saviour.

And in her little two or three-year-old voice she’d say, “What does saviour mean?” And I’d have to try to explain it to a three-year-old as best as I could. I’d say it was like a hero. That seemed to satisfy her enough.

But today, people don’t want a Jesus who is a messianic hero who has the power to save them, they want a man who taught all about love and peace and acceptance and confirmation. It’s as if Jesus’ life–even the Bible itself –can be summed up, in their opinion, to: Be nice. Be kind. Love one another. God loves you just the way you are. Don’t change a thing. 

No Messiah. No sin. No repentance. No judgement seat. No savior. And to some, even the cross only means that even the nicest, best, most loving people have to suffer unjustly too. I remember my high school art teacher, who had wanted to become a minister before becoming an art teacher, saying that. Jesus died on the cross to show us that everyone has to suffer.

In today’s culture, Jesus has become whoever and whatever you want him to be. A good teacher, a rabbi, a rebel, but not God. Not Messiah. And certainly not judge.

Last week, I talked about Richard Rohr, the Franciscan Priest who penned, The Universal Christ. Here’s a quote from an interview. He said, “What we used to think was an airy fairy, new age statement is now the Gospel! Now we know that Jesus’ prayer in John 17, that all may be one, has been answered! It all is one! And many of us are ready to have the eyes to see it.”

Did you hear that? According to him, there’s been this great awakening. Forget the past 2000 years and Billy Graham, the New Age is now the gospel. You see, just like the multitude who laid their palm branches before their king riding on a donkey, there are a lot of people today who make Jesus out to be what they want him to be. Yet, Jesus is making it plain and simple who he actually is, and who he’s always been. He is what the scriptures of the Old Testament say he is; He is who he said he is and proved himself to be in the New Testament. He’s right in front of our eyes, yet many people’s wishful thinking has him as someone else.

You wonder how people can carve idols and make their own god, they’re now doing that with Jesus. And with that, coming back to the end times, you can see how people will want an Antichrist, a reverse Christ. Someone who exemplifies what they want––a person of love without conviction. Acceptance of all people, except those who have the conviction of the real Christ. And someone who may promise peace, and will deliver peace until he has the whole world under his thumb. It will be especially bad for God’s people and the Jewish nation. And the way in which some influential people are responding to the recent attacks on Israel, the world is readying for such a person who will promise peace in the middle east but be on the side of the Palestinians who want to destroy Israel.

This antichrist will be a christlike figure who will arise from a Godless people as a religious figure for a Godless people. The antichrist will be a ruler for an antichrist society and cultivated by Satan.

Even back in the late 1800s, J.C. Ryle said:

Beware of manufacturing a God of your own: a God who is all mercy, but not just; a God who is all love, but not holy; a God who has a heaven for every body, but a hell for none; a God who can allow good and bad to be side by side in time, but will make no distinction between good and bad in eternity. Such a God is an idol of your own, as truly an idol as any snake or crocodile in an Egyptian temple. The hands of your own fancy and sentimentality have made him. He is not the God of the Bible, and beside the God of the Bible there is no God at all.

Yes, Jesus is, and was, a man of peace; a man of love. He did ride into Jerusalem on a donkey as a symbol of peace, not conquest. And John 3:17 says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” But the promise that is coming is the promise of Jesus to return riding a white horse of conquest into Jerusalem. He will take back what is rightfully His. He will squelch the Antichrist and his followers. And Jesus will set up his rightful throne in Jerusalem––in fact, a new Jerusalem.

Let’s take a look at that. This is the second set of verses we’re looking at today. This is from Revelation 19. If you have your Bibles, you can turn with me there. I’ll read from verses 11 through 16.

It’s a passage that doesn’t stop and move onto other subjects like other parts of the Bible. This is part of John’s overall vision, and so goes on throughout the rest of the chapter. In fact, the prophetic vision continues throughout the next three chapters until the end of Revelation. And just so you’re aware, the third set of verses we’ll be looking at is also in Revelation, in case you want to leave your Bibles open there. But for now, let’s take a look at chapter 19, verses 11 through 16.

As you’re turning there, this is what Gotquestions.org had to say:

What a vivid contrast we see in Jesus’ return with all His angels, as compared to His entry to Jerusalem upon a donkey! He is no longer riding a humble donkey. Jesus will return on a fiery white charger, bringing judgment, just as He had promised.

Point 2: 

11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords.

Now, it’s easy to get caught up in the drama of this. And I don’t want to do that. That’s why I cut it short. What I want to do is compare Jesus’ first coming with his second. The first time, he came as the Prince of Peace, the second time he will come as the warrior king that the Old Testament prophets foretold; and what the people of Jerusalem, and even today’s Jewish people, are expecting their Messiah to be. 

It’s kind of like the old saying, “Is that a threat or a promise?”

Today in the Word said: Biblical prophecy provides some of the greatest encouragement and hope available to us today. Just as the Old Testament is saturated with prophecies concerning Christ’s first advent, so both testaments are filled with references to the second coming of Christ. One scholar has estimated that there are 1,845 references to Christ’s second coming in the Old Testament, where 17 books give it prominence. In the 260 chapters of the New Testament, there are 318 references to the second advent of Christ–an amazing 1 out of every 30 verses. Twenty-three of the 27 New Testament books refer to this great event. For every prophecy in the Bible concerning Christ’s first advent, there are 8 which look forward to His second!

So, going back to that question, “Is that a promise or a threat?” It’s actually both, depending on whether or not you are on God’s side. For us, it’s a promise that we can look forward to. That’s a promise that we have in Christ. He is coming for His people. And when he comes, he will not be the Prince of Peace that he was when he came the first time. That’s another promise. And a threat. And it’s not something that we should gloat about. Jesus told us that we have a duty to tell the whole world about this event. We all know at least one person who needs to hear.

In Warren Wiersbe’s Meet Yourself in the Psalms, he tells about a frontier town where a horse bolted and ran away with a wagon carrying a little boy. Seeing the child in danger, a young man risked his life to catch the horse and stop the wagon. The child who was saved grew up to become a lawless man, and one day he stood before a judge to be sentenced for a serious crime. The prisoner recognized the judge as the man who, years before had saved his life; so he pled for mercy on the basis of that experience. But the words from the bench silenced his plea: “Young man,” the judge said. “Then I was your savior; today I am your judge, and I must sentence you to be hanged.” One day Jesus Christ will say to rebellious sinners, “During that long day of grace, I was the Savior, and I would have forgiven you. But today I am your Judge. Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire!”   

That’s not something I want to hear. We know that when Christ returns, not everyone will be saved, but the invitation is open now for everyone. If you still have your Bibles open to Revelation, turn with me to Chapter 21.

Conclusion: I know that we’ve hit on some heavy topics. There’s just no other way to tell the promise of Christ’s return without getting heavy about it. But as much as his triumphant return is a day of wrath, it is also a day of rejoicing. 

To conclude on a more positive note, let me read to you one more passage from Revelation. If you still have your Bibles open, this is from Revelation 21:3-7. As you’re turning there, let me read to you something from Dr. John MacArthur:

“For all who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, His coming will mean heaven for all eternity. Unlike Satan’s defeat, justice for the martyrs, and death for Christ rejectors, our gift of heaven will be totally undeserved. That is because we are under God’s grace. In ourselves we deserve the same fate as they; but in Christ we are granted forgiveness, redemption, holiness, and life everlasting in the presence of the unfading glory of our Lord.”

Scripture: Rev. 21:3-7

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. 

That, too, is part of the promise. We’ve all heard of ‘Heaven on Earth.’ This is it.

God does a complete makeover of Heaven and Earth, and God and His people will dwell there. In verse 11 John says, It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.” 

And this is where it talks about the streets of gold, pure as transparent glass. 

And the size of The New Jerusalem is huge. The Bible gives us specific dimensions, but it’s hard to picture in our minds what that looks like. To give you an idea, if you were to start at the top right-hand corner of the wall of the city at about Syracuse, you’d follow it south all the way down to the southernmost point of Florida. Then, cross westward into the middle of Mexico, then north to about where Wyoming and Montana meet. And then eastward from there, back to Syracuse again. That’s the size of just this one city.

You and I have that promise to look forward to. As we close, I was invited to a men’s breakfast a couple of years ago that was put on by the Dansville Foursquare Church. There, some of the men shared their testimonies. Do you know how many men had no interest in God whatsoever growing up? But somehow, God got ahold of them. And it was through other people. It was through other people’s lives. Not people badgering them to come to Christ, but living the Christian lifestyle and finally, they realized that they, too, needed that lifestyle. They came to a conclusion that they needed Christ. The Christ who is the Prince of Peace, not the judge.

We are not to badger people, we are not to over-evangelize. We are to wait for those times when the door to their hearts are open. As the Apostle Peter said, we are to have a ready answer for those who ask about the hope that is within us.

And we are to invite everyone we know to receive Christ as their savior, their hero. Do you know the number one reason why people don’t go to church? This is not just based on observation, it’s actually statistically proven. It’s not because they’re not interested, but believe it or not, it’s because they don’t feel like they will be welcomed. Do you know the number one thing that would convince them to go to church? Statistically speaking, simply being personally invited. We no longer live in a world where people just go to church. Nowadays, people come to church because they’re invited. 

It’s our job to make sure we invite people to come to church. We can’t expect them to come just because the doors are open.

In fact, Revelation ends with that invitation to everyone. Revelation 22 verse 17 says, “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”

Who is on your mind right now who needs to be invited? Who can you pray for, that God would call out to? And how can you make yourself ready to have an answer for the hope that is within you when they ask you about who this Jesus is to you.  

The Second Coming Part 2: Oil for our Lamps

Jeff Miller

9/13/20

Oil for our lamps

Intro: Good morning, well, last week we started a new short series focusing on Jesus’ second coming. And we’re going to do that but just looking at three sermons on the topic, and I’m not delving into a whole lot of interpretation and end times theories, just focusing on individual chunks of scripture rather than trying to piece together the whole.

When our kids were little, we had a VHS tape, yes our kids remember VHS tapes, we even still have a few sitting around. And we had one that had old Sunday School songs on it, and I think it might have had a few other traditional children’s songs on there too. I remember my mom saying she was glad they still had these old songs around for kids.

I kind of shrugged my shoulders at the time, but now I find the value in passing those things down from generation to generation. Like the hymns we sing each week, it’s nice to be reminded of these hymns and have given our kids exposure to the depth and richness of these hymns and traditions of a church like this one.

But you know, one of the reasons why so many of those songs don’t last is because to a child, they often don’t make sense. In older children’s songs there are references that children and even the parents don’t get.

For example, there was one called, “Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning.” And the kids never really questioned the meaning of that song, but here I was as an adult thinking, “what is this song saying? What is my lamp and what am I burning it for? I mean, I know it has to have some kind of religious meaning, but what is it? The song never explains it.”

Last week, we looked at Matthew 24. This week, if you have your Bible, you can turn with me to Matthew 25, and we’ll read the first 13 verses together. We’ll also look at Acts 12:1-17 later, so you might want to turn there now and put a bookmark there for later. But first we’ll read Matthew 25.

This goes along with what we read last week, in fact it’s very much the same in a lot of ways, Jesus is speaking about being ready for His return. 

I mentioned some of the old songs don’t give an explanation as to what they mean, but it’s interesting that Jesus didn’t always give an explanation to his parables. The people often scratched their heads, and even Jesus’ disciples asked for an explanation sometimes. And Jesus seemed a bit perturbed at having to explain it to them, as if you could just hear him sigh and see him roll his eyes. But this is a tough one. What does it mean? Well, let’s take a look at what it says first. By the way, like last week’s sermon, this is one we looked at before, about six months ago.

Scripture: “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

Central Truth: So what does this mean? Well, from the last verse, we can see that this references what Jesus was speaking about in the previous chapter. It’s kind of odd how some of the chapters of the Bible are separated. Sometimes they change in the middle of a thought, and we can see here that these beginning verses segue from the previous chapter where Jesus is telling his disciples about his return. Then he goes into this parable to illustrate what he just said. So you see how this fits in with what we talked about last week.

Last week in chapter 24, verse 36, we read, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

Then a few verses down, we also read, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

So the point is that Jesus wants us to keep watch, he wants us to understand the approximate timing of his coming. But with the parable of the ten virgins, there’s something more. And it’s said in verse 44 of chapter 24. “So you also must be ready.” What does it mean to be ready? That’s what I want to talk about today. Last week we talked about understanding the season of his return, today we’ll talk about the next step––to not only understand the season but to make sure we’re ready for his return.

Point 1:  So now we go back to the question, what is the oil in our lamps supposed to represent? Afterall, Jesus never says. And what about these ten maidens, I mean that’s kind of weird, right? At least in today’s society. Well, before we get into that, let’s look at a couple of other things.

First, remember the audience Jesus was talking to. Last week, we touched on the people Jesus was speaking about. Here, let’s think about the people Jesus is speaking to. He never said it was right or wrong to have more than one wife, it was just a reference point that the audience could understand. There was polygamy in those days, it was part of the culture. The point was not to talk about whether or not it was right or wrong, the point was something different. And in Eastern tradition, it was a different ceremony than today. Instead of meeting her at the altar, the groom came for his wife or wives. 

Anyway, you’ll notice they were waiting for him. So they were expecting their bridegroom to come. They were expecting not only that he would come, but that of course he would take them to be his bride. 

The bridegroom represents Christ at his coming. Revelation 19:7-9 says 7 Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. 8 Fine linen, bright and clean, was given to her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.) 9 Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”

And then Revelation 21 verse 2 says, “2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”

But in this parable, Jesus calls half of the young women foolish because they brought lamps but not oil for their lamps. Back then their lamps were like the lamps in Aladdin, and the wick for the lamp was in oil, which fueled the wick and kept it burning. When I was a kid we had a table lamp like that. We also had a kerosene heater. So I can kind of picture this in my head.

Today, we carry flashlights. It would be like us today carrying a flashlight without putting batteries in it first, or bringing a cellphone with a dead battery. It’s not very smart. 

Now, we all do dumb things like forget to bring those batteries that were sitting on the counter, or forget to check how much battery life is left on your phone. But the implication here is that they didn’t forget, they just thought it wasn’t important or they were lazy about it.  

I remember kids in school always wanting to borrow a pen or a sheet of paper. And after a while, you realize they have no intention of bringing their own paper or pen. They’re too lazy to stop at their locker. I think they thought it was cool back then to borrow pen and paper and not have their own. Their way of being rebellious or something.

So you could imagine someone unprepared saying, ‘Let me borrow some of your batteries so I can put it in my flashlight, or let me borrow your charger so I can charge my cell phone.’ But the others who were prepared said, ‘Sorry, I don’t have extra batteries’ or ‘There’s no place to plug in a charger here. You should have remembered to charge it before you left.’

So expectation was not enough. Ray Stedman puts it this way, “Though this group is united in its expectation, it is quite divided in the way it conducts its waiting. Five maidens have brought along extra oil, and five have not. This does not represent a division between good and bad, but, as Jesus says, between the wise and the foolish.”

So these maidens were believers. Perhaps not saved, though. You can be a believer and not be saved. You can believe in Jesus in your mind, but not have Jesus in your heart. And that’s where we learn about what the oil represents.

I just posted something on our church’s Facebook page this week, and I wrote, “An example of what I’ve been talking about regarding the change in Christian teaching and thought.” The article headline read, “DC Talk’s Kevin Max says he’s an ‘exvangelical’: ‘Deconstructing’ and ‘progressing’” 

Here’s what he said, “The total totalitarian fear that’s constant, in my opinion, in a lot of evangelical churches have made people regress over time. I feel like anybody out there going through it, they should just embrace it,” he added. “If they’re a believer, they should have these deep conversations with the God they believe in and really struggle with it, talk to Him about it.

“I believe in a God of the universe, and I believe that He can hear me. And that, in itself, is just plain kind of crazy. But if I believe that, then I truly believe that He cares about my progression and asking questions and wanting to know what is real and what isn’t real,” he ended. “I don’t think the God that I believe in is going to just all of a sudden ignore me because I don’t believe every single thing that’s written down somewhere. [meaning The Bible]

You notice how there is some truth to what he says, and then it becomes twisted? He mentioned also that he follows The Universal Christ. What is The Universal Christ? Well, Richard Rohr, a franciscan friar who literally wrote the book on it, put it this way on The Universal Christ website: 

Christ is more than Jesus’ last name. Jesus is a person whose example we can follow. Christ is a cosmic life principle in which all beings participate. The incarnation is an ongoing revelation of  Christ, uniting matter and spirit, operating as one and everywhere. Together—Jesus and Christ—show us “the way, the truth, and the life” of death and resurrection.

If Christ is the kite, Jesus is the person flying the kite and keeping it from escaping away into invisibility.

If Jesus is the person holding the string, Christ is the great banner in the sky, from whom all can draw life—even if they do not recognize the one flying the kite.

Jesus does not hold the kite to himself as much as he flies it aloft, for all to see and enjoy.

And, by the way, the true definition of the word ‘Christ’ is the Greek word for the Hebrew ‘Messiah’ which means ‘anointed one’ or ‘chosen one.’ God’s chosen one to save the world. Jesus is The Messiah and The Only Messiah. 

Now, I could go on and on about that subject alone, but do you see what I’m saying? Richard Rohr is the type of person who might await Jesus’ coming (I don’t know, maybe not), but not have brought oil for his lamp. In fact, I think he might not have even brought a lamp to begin with!

Point 2: Now, we’ll get back to that in a few minutes, but something I want to point out is that the maidens fell asleep because their wait was so long. Now, that’s just an indication that Jesus’ return would be a long time. Even the wise women slept, and there was no reprimand from the groom, so there’s nothing about that part of the story other than his coming will be a long wait, so it’s okay to go about doing normal activities and living a natural life. Our readiness isn’t about stopping life or not making plans for the near or distant future just in case he returns, it’s about how we’ve prepared our lamps.

Going to verse 6, we read, “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ 7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.”

In the delay, the foolish maidens ran out of oil. They didn’t have enough to begin with. They didn’t prepare for the long haul. They didn’t think it was necessary to refill until it was too late. And what happened? Well, they were at least wise enough to care about getting more. They were at least wise enough to have a sense of fear that if they didn’t have oil in their lamps when the groom came, he might dismiss them as his bride. There was something about this event where waiting and being present was not enough. They needed to have their lanterns lit or else the groom would not take them as his bride. They knew that, so they rushed to get some more.

Unfortunately, the groom came and did not wait for them. They missed their chance. They had good intentions, they tried. But they missed his coming. But that did not stop them. They tried again. They went to his home and knocked on the door, and the Lord of the manor said, “I do not know you.”

Wait a minute. Shouldn’t he have said, “Oh, what took you so long? Come on in! I’ve been expecting you!” I mean, better late than never, right? That’s how some churches preach the gospel now. Everyone is not just invited, but everyone gets to be part of the wedding banquet regardless of how much oil you have in your lamp, regardless of whether you’re ready for the Lord’s return or not.

Don’t worry, Jesus will let you in so long as we practice being The Universal Christ. By the way, when that book was released two years ago, it debuted at #4 in Publisher’s Weekly religion nonfiction bestsellers. Just so you’re aware of what kinds of things people are reading now. 

But Jesus doesn’t say to them, “I’ve been expecting you,” instead he says, “I never knew you.” There’s a big difference. There’s a big difference between those who have some kind of knowledge of who Jesus is in their minds but don’t have Jesus in their hearts. Having some kind of knowledge of who someone is, is not enough for them to welcome you into their home, let alone have you marry them.

How many of you wanted to marry your celebrity crush when you were younger? Could you imagine just knocking on their door expecting them to invite you in? At best, they’d meet you at the door and sign an autograph. They don’t know you and you don’t know them, either, other than what you’ve seen on TV or heard on the radio or read in an interview. 

Like the Universal Christ, many people think they know Jesus but all they know is that he’s some historical religious figure who taught about feeding the poor and being kind to everyone? A sort of male Mother Teresa. Some people would categorize Jesus as a political figure.

According to a study conducted by LifeWay Research for Ligonier Ministries’s biannual State of Theology survey: 52 percent of Americans say they believe Jesus was a “good teacher, but he was not God,” according to the survey. Although the poll’s finding about the general population may not be shocking, Ligonier said it is surprising that nearly a third of evangelicals (30 percent) affirm the statement and believe Jesus was a good teacher and nothing more…Meanwhile, 65 percent of evangelicals believe “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God” – a statement that [obviously] conflicts with the Bible.

The survey was based on interviews in March 2020 with 3,002 U.S. adults.

Point 3: So it isn’t having a knowledge or belief in Jesus or waiting for his return that is the key. And we assume that if we know him, he knows us. I mean, afterall, God is all-knowing, right? But it’s something about this oil that relates to Him knowing us. And we have to make sure that we’re prepared to have this oil when he returns, because he’ll pass us by if we’re the least bit late having it. And the least bit late is too late, and we need to be prepared because we don’t know when he’s returning.

Oil, in the Old Testament, is frequently used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Kings and priests were anointed with oil as a sign of their consecrated and Spirit-filled lives. Zechariah, the prophet, was shown a vision of a great golden lampstand with two olive trees standing beside it. The trees dripped oil into the bowls of the lampstand, and Zechariah was told: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). The oil symbolized the Spirit of God by which the light of testimony could be maintained in the hour of darkness (Ray Stedman).

We have a couple of ponies at home, and to keep their saddles soft and pliable and from drying out and cracking they use oil to preserve it. I’m sure somewhere you can find leather in a museum that is from the Middle Ages or even at the time of Jesus and The Roman Empire. Just for fun, I Googled “what is the oldest piece of leather in the world” and I came up with a 5,500-year-old leather shoe that was found in 2008 in excellent condition in the Areni-1 cave located in Armenia. It is a one-piece leather-hide shoe. According to the BBC, the well-preserved cow-hide shoe predates Stonehenge by 400 years and the Pyramids of Giza [the famous pyramids in Egypt] by 1,000 years.

And if you were a cowboy, you’d have to oil your saddle and other leathery components like the reins, your leather boots, your holster, all of that. A cowboy’s gotta keep those things oiled. Of course his gun. 

Not only do you use oils to help preserve leather, but people who are furniture restorers use oils to help restore the wood and make it like new. People who live in arid places like Arizona and New Mexico have to continually use oils to preserve their dining room tables and other wooden furniture from cracking due to the dryness. The oils seep into the cracks and cover over and in and through the wood, preserving it, keeping it from cracking any more. 

It is the same with the Holy Spirit that dwells in us and through us to preserve us, to fill in the cracks and to refinish us and make us new and preserve us. We sometimes see someone who is a preacher or musician or writer and we hear someone say, “so and so sure is anointed.” Caleb sent me the video he took of my ordination, and when you’re standing up there, it’s kind of like your wedding where you’re not paying attention to every word that’s being said. So when I watched it again, I was reminded how much the word ‘anointed’ was used. And the word ‘anointed’ means an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life. Someone does what they do in ministry because they are anointed with the The Holy Spirit.

I came across a devotional about oil being used to anoint sheep. In the famous Psalm 23, David said, “You anoint my head with oil.” 

What does that mean? What was he referring to? If you remember Psalm 23 it begins with “The Lord is my shepherd” 

Here’s what the devotional said: The shepherd anoints his sheep with oil for two purposes.  First, to repel insects.  If allowed to deposit their eggs into the soft membrane of a sheep’s nose they can drive the sheep insane; the ewes stop giving milk and the lambs stop growing.  So the shepherd anoints his sheep with an oil-like repellent that keeps the enemy at bay and the flock at peace.  Second, to heal wounds.  Most wounds result from living with the flock.  So the shepherd regularly inspects his sheep because he doesn’t want today’s wound to become tomorrow’s infection.

Whether circumstances are driving you crazy, or you have just been wounded as a result of living with the flock, always go to the Shepherd.  Before you go to anybody else, go to God because ‘He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds’ (Psalm 147:3 NIV). Then, bow before Him.

In order to be anointed the sheep must lower their heads and let the shepherd apply the oil.  Humble yourself, call on the Lord.  ‘God will always give what is right to his people who cry to him, he will not be slow to answer them’ (Luke 18:7 NCV).  David writes, ‘I shall be anointed with fresh oil’ (Psalm 92:10).  Yesterday’s oil is quickly contaminated by the dirt and grime of the journey, so you must go to God daily and ask Him to empower you with His Spirit.  A sheep doesn’t understand how the oil works, but it doesn’t have to.  It is enough to know that something happens in the presence of its shepherd that happens nowhere else.

You see, we can share our testimony and pray for one another and demonstrate God’s love for one another, but how can we share The Holy Spirit? People have to receive The Holy Spirit. Like the maidens, it just isn’t something they could share. People have to be filled with The Holy Spirit for themselves. 

Having a familiarity with Jesus as nothing more than an historical figure whose teachings we should follow isn’t enough. Deconstructing things that may have been wrong about the Church, like hypocrisy and legalism, and throwing the baby out with the bathwater and believing in a ‘new’ definition of Christ certainly isn’t enough. Even believing he’s God or the Son of God isn’t enough. Even going to church isn’t enough. Your lamp must have oil in it. 

I mentioned Ray Stedman a few minutes ago. Here’s a story he told of someone whose life had been filled with the oil of the Holy Spirit. 

I called on a man in the hospital once, a Christian of many years’ standing. I found him unable to talk, sitting up in bed, his body wasted away to a skeleton. He was unable to move a muscle, even to lift his arms or turn his head. The best he could do in the way of talking was to utter a few guttural sounds. I asked him if he would like me to read the Scripture to him and he nodded his head. As I read, I watched his eyes. As the marvelous words from passages in Isaiah began to sink into his ears, there came a flame into his eyes, a light such as never shone on land or sea. Before we finished, I could see in that emaciated body the glory of a flame burning, unquenchable, inexhaustible, fed by the oil of the Spirit, a flame that could never be put out.

Conclusion: You see, The Lord was about to come for that man in the hospital bed. It wasn’t just at the Return of Christ, it’s any time the Lord is to come for us. We must be ready. We must have oil in our lamp. We don’t know the day or the hour of the Lord’s return. We don’t know the day or the hour of our passing. 

When he comes for us, we need to have oil in our lamp. We need to be ready. The door is shut, both to the unbeliever who never tried to get in and to the foolish person who tried to live on their own without the Holy Spirit.

God tells us we need to be renewed. We need the renewing of our minds. We get dry and cracked like leather or wood. We need a fresh coating of that oil, and we need the shepherd to anoint that oil over our heads. 

Let’s take a moment today to do just that.

Prayer: Dear Lord, we come before you today to ask you to refresh us and renew us. To anoint our heads with the oil of your Holy Spirit. To pour not just over our heads, Lord, but to pour in us and through us. To fill up those cracks that have been made through spiritual dryness. To restore us and refresh us and to make us like new. To keep us and preserve us and to protect us.

Lord, I pray that you would fill our lamps with oil. Lord, we wait for you. We are eager for you to come and to take us to be with you. You call your Church your Bride. And Lord, I know that everyone here is a member of your Church, a member of your Bride. And Lord, I just ask that you would fill our lamps with oil as we wait for you to come. May our lanterns be lit for your arrival to take us home. In Jesus name, amen. 

The Second Coming Part 1: The Season of His Return

Jeff Miller

5/16/21

The Second Coming Part 1: The season of his return

Intro: Good morning. Well, after having three weeks off, I knew I’d have to start preaching again sometime. I’ll be preaching for the rest of May, and I thought I’d do a short series for the next three weeks. This is a series that could go on and on for three months, but I didn’t want to extend it too long because we could easily get lost into a quagmire of ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’ and by the end of it our heads would be spinning (including mine) and my job is to make scripture understandable not confusing. And that would be the topic of The End Times.

When I was leaning toward doing this series, I thought I’d ask some pastors if I could borrow some of their notes. For those of you who know David Daniels who pastors the Baptist church up the hill in Reading, he gave me this long email. And, as if I needed to make this sermon any longer, I’ll read it to you. It said this:

Jeff, here’s what I can offer you, don’t know it will be of much help. By way of intro — I grew up in the church and have been a believer for 68 years, was baptized over 63 years ago.

 In my youth, at my home church,  the 2nd Coming, the rapture, the tribulation were constantly subjects of preaching, SS classes, revival meetings, conferences, etc., etc., etc.

  Out of college, I was involved in a Christian singles group, where we started a Bible study. The first suggestion for our study was eschatology. We met regularly for a number of years and never changed that primary focus.  We had one person, who was well versed in the area,  leading it the whole time, although the membership changed considerably.  Not sure how long it continued, but I was part of it for 6 years and no longer single when I moved out-of-state and ended my participation.

  Moving to NY 40-some years ago, we became members of a church in Cortland as lay people. When they found out my background, Bible College, a seminary degree, jobs in Christian ministries, etc. I was asked to teach an adult SS class.  I gladly accepted.  Over the years, I’d cover a particular theme  for some time, and when that came to an end, the class members would select the subject matter to pursue next.  Two or 3 times, they wanted stuff on the end times, and I complied. My theological position has changed several times in all this.  Pre-trib/Pre-mill . . . Post-trib /pre-mill . . .  Amill . . .  back and forth more than once. I’ve never held to a post-millennial  doctrine — although I find the idea very appealing. Too bad there doesn’t seem to be any biblical foundation.

 All that to say, I’ve had a lot of experience in this area. When I was going through the ordination process, I was assigned a “mentor.” When my paper was in its final stages, he said, “You don’t have anything on eschatology. That’s required.” I said, No, it isn’t,” and showed him the booklet I had been given to follow. Requirements had been changed since his day, and it was no longer needed. I said I wasn’t putting anything in.  He replied, “You’d better be prepared for a question on it at your ordination council.”

 I did anticipate a question, and I’ll leave you with this. The question was raised, and I said: “He’s coming back.” If they had asked for more, I would have replied: “I’m waiting.” Actually, they asked for nothing further and I didn’t offer anything.

 That is the sum total of my current theological and eschatological position. At 75 years of age, I really don’t expect it to change beyond that.

Have fun with it,

David Daniels

In a follow up email, he wrote: Nothing below is copyrighted.  You’re more than welcome to use any or all of what I wrote – use my name or not – I don’t care. (You can make me Anonymous, he’s kind of a famous guy, wouldn’t mind being identified as him.)   

So all that to say, The End Times can be tricky. It’s hard to interpret, and other than “He’s coming back,” the theologians have differing thoughts on how to interpret all of the end times stuff. Like David said, amillennial, post millennial, pretrib, post trib…what does it all mean and which one is correct?

To give you another example, there’s a Youtuber that I watch often, his name is Mike Winger, and he’s an associate pastor at Hosanna Christian Fellowship in Bellflower, CA. He’s put together teaching videos on a number of different topics, and they are all very good and very well-balanced. One of them was a Youtube video that was over an hour and a half long on six different interpretations of The End Times.

So as you can see, it’s not as cut and dry as I wish it was. You know the old saying, “the more I learn, the less I know.” It applies to the End Times. 

And why is it hard to understand? Because the End Times are in pieces throughout the whole Bible. It’s in the Old Testament, it’s in the New Testament; each time it’s discussed, it’s in fragments. So there is no whole piece of The End Times in scripture. So theologians have had to try to put it together the best that they can.

So why bother doing a series on The End Times when it’s not really settled?

Well, because there are those fragments that we can take and look at as individual pieces and talk about those. And since I have the next three weeks to preach, I’ll be looking at three different parts, and these are pieces that we have looked at before, and instead of going back and looking at three new subjects, I felt compelled to go back to these.

I also felt as if God had confirmed that this was the right sermon series for now. For one, I keep hearing people referencing The End Times a lot lately––more so than any other time I think in my lifetime. And on Thursday, the day before I do my sermon prep, I got an email from Kingdom Winds, which is a platform that some of my blog posts and sermons are put up on, and out of nowhere, I got a notification that a blog on The Rapture that I posted up in February was going to be posted on Kingdom Winds later today, which I took as God kind of saying, “yeah, you’re supposed to be talking about this now.”

So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to look primarily at Matthew 24, we’ll be starting with verses 32-35; and then we’ll skip down to verses 42-44.

We’ll read more from that chapter, so you may want to keep your Bibles open to it, but to start, we’ll look at Matthew 24:32-35 and 42-44. 

We’ve been having some wacky weather for the past month or so, but for the past few days it’s been more seasonally Spring. And so today, we are going to look at the season of His return. How will we know when the season for his return has come and why should we know it?

Jesus taught us that we should keep an eye out for His return, and to understand the season of his return when it is about to happen in order to be encouraged when we see chaos surrounding us.

Scripture: Matthew 24:32-35; 42-44

32 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. 34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

And then down to verse 42:

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Central Truth: So, just to get it straight: we are not going to know specifically the day or the hour, but we are going to know the season. What I want to say to you today is that we have a promise of Christ’s return, and we have a promise of knowing the season in which it will happen. Like I said before, we might not have every single detail all ironed out. We might not have the timeline figured out. But we’ll be able to see what’s going around and be able to know the season we are in. Like Jesus’ example, Summer is near. Not only literally, but figuratively in this context, I truly believe the time of His return might be soon.

The reason why Jesus–and others throughout both the Old Testament and the New Testament gives us these signs is both for encouragement, and a warning. For those of us in Christ, it is an encouragement, but we are not to keep that encouragement to ourselves. It’s not so that we can gloat or hoard our peace, but to use our peace to give hope to the world during a chaotic season before it’s too late.

Point 1: So let’s look at what Jesus said prior to what we read. The whole chapter is devoted to what Jesus had to say about his own return. And you’ll notice in what we read, even Jesus himself does not know the day or the hour of his own return. So we certainly can’t predict something specific like that. People have tried. And obviously, they’ve been wrong. 

If we go back to verse 4 and read through verse 8, Jesus says:

“Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.

So what we see here, is just the beginning. Jesus describes them as ‘the beginning of birth pains,’ the beginning of the event. When someone has birth pains, those pains will tell you, it’s time to get to the hospital, something is about to happen. And if we look at it from the right perspective, birth pains tell you that something you’ve been waiting for is about to happen.

You know you’re going to give birth soon, but the hour of that event is unknown.

 Some say these birth pains have been going on since the time of Christ, and have been increasingly intensifying, as birth pains do, right? So the problems of this world have been increasingly intensifying for 2,000 years with false Christs, wars, plagues, famines, earthquakes and other natural disasters, but will peak in intensity just before Christ returns.

We know that the idea of false Christs will ultimately culminate into an Antichrist who will be in control for seven years, but will wreak havoc with full control of the world for three and a half of those years. It doesn’t sound long when you put it that way, but The Bible tells us that it is long enough for major destruction and persecution like the world has never seen. And we know that it’s easy even today to wreak havoc and major destruction almost instantly with the kinds of warfare we have–think of the cyber attack we just had on our pipeline and how destructive that could be on a large scale. Imagine that happening on a worldwide scale. What if every single pipeline in the world was cut off at once? 

This year marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Do you remember thinking, “what is going to happen next?” Do you remember that feeling? We knew war was imminent, we were going to strike back, but how was war in the Middle East going to affect everything else? There have been rockets launching against Israel this past week. And there are people––even elected officials in Washington, who are not standing by Israel, but seeing them as the enemy.

Israel will be seen as the enemy in the End Times, and the Antichrist will want to wipe it off the face of the earth, and he’ll have the backing of nations to help him do that.

Point 2: Moving on, if you still have your Bibles open, let’s look at Matthew 24, verses 10 and 11: “10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.”

Going down to verses 23 through 25, Jesus said, “23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time.”

I want to take a few moments now and talk about this: A false Christianity deceiving even the elect. ‘The elect’ is another term for Christians. In fact, Jesus starts his dialogue in verse 4 with the phrase, “Watch out that no one deceives you.” 

The apostle Paul warned young Timothy that there will be terrible times in the Last Days. Then he lists a number of ways in which people at that time will live––boastful, proud, lovers of money, lovers of themselves, wicked, abusive, disobedient to their parents––he goes on, and then he finishes up with “5 having a form of godliness but denying its power.”

In other words, there will be many who call themselves Christians, but live like sinners. Sound familiar? A lot of Christians used to go to church on Sunday and live like the world the rest of the week. Only they’d hide it from fellow church members. There’s a song that came out when I was my kids’ age called, “Hide the Beer, the Pastor’s Here.” 

That’s kind of how people lived. But now, churches are teaching their congregants it’s okay to live like the world, just be good and kind and seek unity because it’s all about being nice and helping people. There’s no such thing as sin or hell. You’re fine just the way you are.

John Bevere said of those verses in Timothy, “The reason for the terrible times would not be persecution from the government or atheists but instead would stem from widespread deception within the church.”

Like I said, there are things being preached in churches now, that would have never been taught 20 or 30 years ago. I came across a video of Billy Graham on The Tonight Show from 1973, and it’s amazing how times have changed when it comes to how Hollywood and talk shows treat evangelical Christians and the whole concept of evangelism. 

It’s as if not only Israel is the bad guys, but we’re the bad guys.

And not only is it coming from Hollywood and talk shows and other forms of media, even now the 21st Century church is different. We’re getting bombarded with doctrines from different groups who call themselves Christian. I talked about a blog I wrote on the Rapture, and I’ll post that up on the church’s Facebook page so you can read it. A few years ago, I wrote a blog series called, “Apostasy and Heresy is Suddenly Percolating.” And I’m posting that on our Facebook page too so you can read it.

Deception among not just the world, but among believers is a sign of the end times. But on the bright side, Warren Wiersbe said that Amos 8:11-12 warns us that the day will come when there will be a famine of God’s Word and people will run here and there seeking for truth but won’t find it. But God’s promise to Daniel in the last days is found in Daniel 12:4 where people will run here and there seeking and even increasing their knowledge of prophetic Scripture as they intently search the Word of God. Remember Jesus says that the gospel will be preached to all the world before he comes.

In other words, in the last days, we will see an increase of people seeking scripture and finding its knowledge because they will recognize and understand the season they are in.

I had breakfast with some seasoned pastors Friday morning. One was Harry Vellekoop, and another was a former Elim pastor and teacher who lives in Dansville, and another was a retired Assemblies of God pastor who worked alongside David Wilkerson. And the pastor who lived in Dansville was so discouraged by everything that he saw going on around him and pastor Harry and Lorin just had story after story of God’s goodness and things happening on a personal level like praying for the sick and then when they went back to the doctor, they were shocked because their condition was suddenly gone. That’s the kind of thing you’re not going to see on the news.

It really encouraged myself and the other Dansville pastor. And I think it’s going to be like that in the Last Days. Chaos around us, but Christ will be the calm in the center of the storm. He will still be at work in the hearts and minds of believers, and even in the minds of doubters who will come to know him because they’ll be prayed for and God will show up in an unbelievable way in their life. And so I think that during the End Times there will be both an apostasy and a revival at the same time. You’re going to see an apostasy increase in culture, but a revival in more personal ways.

Point 3: Going back to Matthew 24, verses 32-34  32“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. 34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Before I go on, what did Jesus mean when he said, “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened?” I mean if Jesus didn’t know the day or hour of his return, then how could he know if the generation he was speaking to would pass away before his return? 

But, if you look at it in context, who Jesus was referring to was not the generation he was talking to, but the generation he was talking about. They would not pass away until all these things have happened. That means everything he is describing will happen within one generation. 

When we look at this passage, Jesus wants us to know the signs of the times. He wants us to know in order to encourage us so that when chaos happens, we’ll understand it. We’ll see it with the correct lens. We will know and recognize what is happening and we’ll see it with hope and gladness. Yes, even fear, but fear with faith. We’ll see it and be able to discern what is going on so that we can bring hope to the world. 

It’s like I just read from Daniel. People are going to want to know. And we can give them the answers and be a shining light to the world who is seeking the truth in the midst of chaos. 

When the Antichrist comes, when wars and rumors of wars break out, when natural disasters occur, we need to know the scriptures of the End Times well enough that not only do we receive an understanding of what is going on around us, but we can point people to the scriptures as well and give people hope of Christ’s return, and an invitation to receive Christ.

On that same Friday, after breakfast, I stopped in at the library, which is next door to the restaurant, and I knew that the lady behind the desk went to the Lutheran church in Dansville. And I asked her how her church was doing. The church is about the size of ours, not many people attend. But she said it’s actually been doing better after COVID, and she thinks it’s because people are seeing that something is going on in the world and that they need God.

There’s a quote from an unknown source who said: Many evangelical believers have only heard preaching about the second coming of Christ that used fear as the motivation for readiness. As a result many people live with a certain resentment toward God and the idea of the second coming. But the dominant pattern of New Testament teaching is that Christ’s return will be a time of great joy for those who are prepared to meet Him. For those who are ready, that day will be a day of celebration and joy as Jesus’ followers enter His presence for unbroken fellowship with Him. Such a joyful possibility should also be a major motivation to be ready for that day.

Conclusion: I want to end with a couple of passages. If you want to turn to 2 Peter 3, we’ll read quite a bit from there. As you’re turning there, I’d like to read a short passage from James 5:7-8. 

7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.

See, here again, we see the sense of The Lord’s coming with hopeful anticipation in its proper season. Here, James uses the autumn season in which we are about to enter.

In 2 Peter 3, starting with verse 8, Peter urges his readers to be patient as well as they wait for the coming of the Lord. 

8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

17 Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

One more short verse and we’ll close. Luke records Jesus’ parable of the fig tree as well, but he prefaces it with this. “28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

I want to urge you to watch and wait expectantly for the Lord. Keep an eye on the times. Don’t get panicky or over cautious. But keep a ready and steady gaze on what is happening and discern how things might be progressing to that promised day. Every day, inch by inch for the past 2000 years have been steadily growing closer to that day. I don’t know if it’s going to be now or two hundred years from now, but who knows, it might just be sooner than we think.

What is it to you? Follow me.

Jeff Miller

4/18/21

John 21:15-25

Intro: Good morning. Last week we finished the “Weapons of our Warfare” series and today, I’m not going to start a new series but I felt led to give you a single sermon. It’s out of the Gospel of John, so if you have your Bibles please turn with me to the very last chapter––Chapter 21, and we’ll read the last ten verses from 25-35. I remember referencing this a few weeks ago, and I would like to focus on it today.

Before we read our scripture verse, I came across a couple of things I’d like to share with you on the subject of ‘calling.’

First, Bruce Larson said: “Quite often the absence of immediate success is the mark of a genuine call.”

That goes well with what we are going to talk about.

Second, Tyler Wigg-Stevenson on How We Get our Calling Wrong:

First, we get our calling wrong when we imagine that God needs us, to be the hero of our own story, rather than Christ. Second, we routinely misdiagnose the problem of our world, underestimating estimating the brokenness of sin and overestimating our ability to fix things . Third, our witness of God often depicts a Lord who is domesticated to serve our causes . Fourth, a justifiable  focus on external problems can easily blind us to the depth of our complicity in the pain of the human condition.

And that ties in with our passage today. We’re going to read about a very specific calling on a very specific individual who had previously faced a failure, yet God gave him a second chance. And someone whom I think had the great humility to not think of himself as a hero or worthy of the calling. In fact, I think he was downright scared. Let’s read:

Scripture: Jesus Reinstates Peter

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

24 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.

25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

 Central Truth: Now, I admit this is kind of an odd passage to preach from. And we’re going to tackle this more like a Bible study than a typical sermon. That is, I’m going to focus more on the story than on how it applies to us. As we read it, it’s more of an epilogue than anything. John is letting you know that Peter was reinstated as a disciple, that Peter had resolve and remorse and had a recommitment after having denied Jesus three times. In case anyone had wondered, he did not suffer the same fate as Judas. And I don’t think the two can really be compared anyway, but we certainly see Jesus’ forgiveness toward Peter for his denial. Here, when asked three times, he answers “Yes Lord, I love you,” three times. And we’re going to go deeper into that in a few minutes.

Another reason why this is here is because it also identifies John as a disciple. The one whom Jesus loved. And I remember many years ago, talking to someone who was maybe atheist, maybe agnostic, definitely a skeptic, who read that passage and thought it was a bunch of bunk. Why would a disciple brag like that? In the end, it just seems like the disciple was putting himself above all the rest “as the one whom Jesus loved” presumably more than the rest and my friend thought that John wrote himself in that way because he was bragging that he was the most loved or the greatest of the disciples.

But instead, John was giving a story that goes something like this: There once was a little boy…and then at the end of the amazing story the old man says, “and that little boy was me.”

It’s more of a wow factor, and it was John’s way of saying he experienced these things firsthand. It was his way of stating this was his eyewitness account.

Those were the main reasons why this epilogue is in there. But what I would like to focus on today is specifically what Jesus said to Peter. Why was it so important to Peter and why would The Holy Spirit have made sure John kept those words in his gospel? What does it mean for us today?

Have you ever looked at another person and saw that their calling was happening quicker or was more successful, even though they had the same talents that you had? Maybe you compared churches that were more successful than ours, and they had this or that and it was working out better for them and you wondered, “God, why them and not us?” 

God wants to remind us to not let that concern us. Our job is to keep running in our lane, keeping our eyes on the prize and being faithful doing what God has called us to do. It’s our obedience that matters to God, not necessarily what we consider success in our own eyes. Our obedience is considered success in God’s eyes. Just as no two people are alike, no two callings are alike. We have to stay focused on our calling, and nevermind about the other person’s calling, whether we consider it more successful or easier or more fair or whatever.

Point 1:  You’ll notice that Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” and then when Peter said yes, that’s when Jesus gave Peter the command, “Feed my sheep.” And Jesus didn’t stop asking at one time, he asked three times.

Our calling is part of our personal relationship between the Lord and us. It’s individual. Like I said, just as there are no two people alike, there are no two relationships with God that are quite the same––they are individual, personal relationships. We are each in a different place on the same path. The only person walking next to us on that path is Jesus. Some who started out with us might be further up the path, some might be behind. The focus shouldn’t be where my walk is with the Lord compared to someone else, the focus should simply be, “Do we love him?”

One of the ways in which our love is demonstrated is by our faithfulness to following the call of God on our lives, no matter whether it’s in ministry or business or a family situation that God is calling us to commit to. Our love for God is demonstrated by committing ourselves to the call no matter if it’s a more difficult road than we expected, or if it’s more difficult or less successful than someone else who is doing the same thing. 

Sometimes we see people who are much more successful and we ask God, “Why am I financially struggling when they’re not?” Or “Why is my church empty and theirs is full when I’m called just as much as they are?” 

See, we’re not that much unlike Peter. We’re a lot more like Peter than we would like to admit.

I honestly don’t think that Jesus was afraid that Peter might back out on him a second time. Afterall, Jesus knew that Peter would deny him three times when Peter didn’t even know that himself. So, I’m sure that Jesus knew that Peter would be filled and strengthened with The Holy Spirit. And when Jesus first called Peter to be a disciple, I’m sure he knew what Peter would eventually accomplish for God’s glory.

And what does Jesus ask of Peter? “Feed my sheep.” It sounds simple. A lot of people think that pastoring is simple, right? You mean, just teach and preach the gospel to your followers? Watch over them? Take care of them? Ask any pastor, it’s not always that simple. Peter might have thought, why do you need to ask me so emphatically? Why three times? Notice Peter was actually upset that Jesus would ask three times. He was insulted by it. 

But when Jesus asked Peter if he loved him three times, I think one of the reasons why Peter might have been offended was because he might have thought Jesus didn’t trust him for having denied him three times the night of his arrest. But I think that the resurrection and events that transpired afterward really strengthened Peter. I think that Peter’s remorse for having denied Jesus also strengthened him and gave him hope. Now Peter can have a second chance at serving Jesus. He can do it right this time, and he’s willing to go through anything in order to do it. And maybe Jesus asking him in this way might have strengthened Peter’s resolve even more.

But Jesus had to bring up that old wound. 

“Of course I love you,” Peter said. I can imagine him almost in tears. 

In the verses prior to this, we read that when the disciples were fishing, and they were not far from shore, they saw Jesus, and Peter jumped out of the boat and into the water because he was so excited to see Jesus. He just couldn’t wait to get to shore.

So Peter’s enthusiasm demonstrated just how much he loved Jesus.

Point 2: So what was Jesus actually getting at when he asked Peter this question three times? What he was saying was, “I’m going to ask you to do something, and it’s going to require commitment. A lot of commitment. Like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. There’s going to be ups and downs and victories and hardships. All like you’ve never had before and which you could never imagine.” That’s essentially what Jesus was saying when he asked Peter and stressed this question three times.

Then Jesus emphasizes the hardships in verses 18 and 19 when he said: 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

Now, by what Peter says next, there’s a little bit of fear, isn’t there? There’s still the realization that he may have to face the crowds again. He may be tempted to deny Jesus again. I can’t say as I’ve ever blamed Peter. I mean, if we were there, if it was us on the night Jesus was arrested, what might we have done? But that same thing is what Jesus is asking Peter to commit himself to. It wasn’t just a one-time deal. Peter is going to have to stand up to the crowds for the rest of his life. Jesus is asking Peter for a commitment that may end in his arrest, persecution and death.

There are many times throughout history where people have had to face death for following Jesus. They’ve made the choice to commit to Jesus. There are those even today who face death for following Jesus. 

This is from America Magazine in 2012:  “Though the statistics are uncertain and highly dependent on counting methodologies, the number of Christians killed for their faith every year almost certainly lies in the thousands and possibly tens of thousands. According to the International Society for Human Rights, Christians are estimated to make up 80 percent of those who are persecuted for their religion. They have been killed in India, Vietnam, Iraq, Colombia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Mexico, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Sri Lanka, China and Indonesia.”

These things might seem far away, but we don’t have to look any further than our own American history to see that people have put their lives on the line to commit to a cause they believed in. This is not particularly regarding Christianity, but imagine the resolve these men had to face death for what they knew was right:

On July 4, 2018, The Hutchinson Leader published this by Kay Johnson, 

By signing the [Declaration of Independence], the 56 men risked high treason against the King of England. In essence, they signed their death warrants because that was the penalty. However, death was not simple or quick. It was a process. First, the guilty party was to be hanged until unconscious. Then cut down and revived. Then disemboweled and beheaded. Then cut in quarters. Each quarter was to be boiled in oil. The remnants were scattered abroad so the last resting place of the offender would remain forever unnamed, unhonored and unknown.

In addition to death, all of the offender’s earthly goods were confiscated by the state. The family could own no property and this dictate extended to future heirs. In the words of Shakespeare, “For the sins of your fathers, you, though guiltless, must suffer.”

The Houston Chronicle published this in 1998:

Often when we ask for a person’s signature, we will call it their “John Hancock.” This is because of the fifty-six signatures on the Declaration of Independence, one stands out above the rest. That signature belongs to John Hancock. He was the first to sign the declaration and he signed it in a large and legible script so that the King of England could read his name without using glasses. 

Mr. Hancock wanted it to be very clear where his allegiance lay. His commitment to his country was so clear that when King George III offered amnesty to all who would cease fighting, John Hancock was among the select few who were left out of the offer.

This is the type of commitment Jesus is asking Peter to when he asked, “Do you love me?” 

Point 3:  

Now, it’s interesting that Peter is the only disciple focused on here. And again, maybe it’s because Jesus wanted that resolve from Peter. Maybe he wanted Peter to remember this moment when he might have had to face the crowds again. But Jesus  knew what would happen to all of the other disciples. They all had to make the same commitment. They all had to face hardships and persecution. 

Historically speaking, according to Christianity.com:

  • Peter was crucified, upside down at his request, since he did not feel he was worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord.
  • Paul was beheaded. 
  • Andrew was said to have been crucified.
  • Thomas is said to have died in India when pierced through with the spears of four soldiers.
  • Philip possibly had a powerful ministry in Carthage in North Africa and then in Asia Minor, where he converted the wife of a Roman governor. In retaliation the governor had Philip arrested and cruelly put to death.
  • Bartholomew had widespread missionary travels attributed to him by tradition: to India with Thomas, back to Armenia, and also to Ethiopia and Southern Arabia. There are various accounts of how he met his death as a martyr for the gospel.
  • Matthew the tax collector and writer of a Gospel ministered in Persia and Ethiopia. Some of the oldest reports say he was not martyred, while others say he was stabbed to death in Ethiopia.
  • James The Jewish historian Josephus reported that he was stoned and then clubbed to death.
  • Simon the Zealot so the story goes, ministered in Persia and was killed after refusing to sacrifice to the sun god.
  • Matthais The apostle chosen to replace Judas. Tradition sends him to Syria with Andrew and to death by burning.
  • John, the writer of this gospel was the only one of the apostles generally thought to have died a natural death from old age. But this same John is thought to have been the same John who wrote Revelation. And we know that Revelation was written from prison. So John, too, had suffered persecution.

All this to say, that Peter was not alone. Even though Jesus said, “what is that to you?” Peter was not alone in suffering for Christ’s call. John, and all of the other disciples, plus other apostles had to suffer for Christ.

Jesus was not saying that Peter would be the only one to suffer. Jesus just wanted Peter to be focused on his own calling. And that leads me back to us.

Just because Jesus could have answered Peter, or said, “Yeah, you’re all going to have to suffer greatly for me.” It might have put Peter to ease, I don’t know. Maybe it would have done the opposite. But the point is, what does it matter to us what another person’s calling is?

Now that isn’t to say that we can’t rejoice with someone else who is more successful than we are. Paul said to rejoice with those who rejoice. So if someone is successful in their calling––if their church is growing, if they’re a missionary who’s reaching the lost, if their business is doing well, if they’re doing well financially, if God seems to be intervening in their lives in ways that are just miraculous, and it seems that they are living more abundantly than we are, we should not be comparing our lives with theirs, we should rejoice with those who rejoice.

I remember a few weeks ago when I met with Pastor Harry Vellekoop who will be preaching for my ordination next week, he told me how he’s felt like an observer just watching God work around him. There’s been a tremendous growth and enthusiasm in his church. He took on a small church, similar to this one, and God’s just been doing tremendous things with it.

I have to admit I felt my heart sink a little because I haven’t been seeing the same things here, but at the same time I couldn’t help but be encouraged by his testimony. 

And I have to realize that God did not give me the time, the talents, the experience and the same calling that he gave pastor Harry. I have to stay focused on where I am and what God is calling me to do. And to be faithful loving God, feeding his sheep to the best of my ability, through the power of The Holy Spirit.

Conclusion: I would like to end today by reading something that Jo Jo Dawson wrote for Charisma Magazine. I came across this the morning I started to write today’s sermon, just after I had settled on my topic. And I think it goes well with today’s sermon and what we’ve discussed in my last series on The Armor of God. 

He said:

I’ve never seen the world and culture change as much as it has in the last 18 months, especially in America. Some of the change has been positive, and some has been very negative.

Many may feel confused or tempted to compromise in the midst of such dramatic change. However, I believe now more than ever it is time for the body of Christ to stand. I also believe that God is using the change in order to set the stage to pour out His spirit like never before.

The Lord spoke this simple word to me recently regarding everything going on in the world: “Stand.” As soon as the Lord spoke this to me, I was reminded of the story of Shammah, one of King David’s mighty men in 2 Samuel. 

When all others chose to retreat, Shammah stood and fought for what God had entrusted to him. Shammah could have run away from the fight like the rest of the men around him. He could have said, “This is just a field of lentils. It’s not worth fighting over.” However, Shammah didn’t just see a field of lentils; Shammah saw harvests for future generations. He knew that if he didn’t defend this field, those coming behind him would not see the harvest. Shammah took a stand, and the Lord stood with him and brought about a great victory! Just like Shammah, God is calling us to be mighty warriors in this hour and to take a stand and fight. When the Lord stands with you, you will never lose a battle.

My friends, it is time to stand for what you believe in. It is time to stand on the principles of God and the [promises] He has given to you. If God has said you can have something or be something, then it is already secure. When you are faced with a choice to either fight or retreat, what will you do? Will you stand in this hour, or will you run from what God has promised you?

[In other words, like Peter, “Do you love me?”]

I have committed to stand and fight all the days of my life for whatever God has for me, my family, my city and my nation. Before any battles come my way, I have already made up my mind to never run but instead to stand. Ephesians 6:13 says, “Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” We are in a battle. This battle is not just for us. It is for our families, our ministries and businesses, our cities, our regions and this nation. God wants to bring about a great victory. Will He be able to bring victory through you? Will you stand?

In this season, passive and lukewarm Christianity is finished. God is looking for those with a heart like Shammah to stand and fight for whatever field God has called them to. Don’t look at the things God has promised you and count it to be too insignificant to fight for. Future generations may very well be depending on you to stand. Now is the time to stand!

So what is it that God is calling you to do? We need to be like Peter. We need to be like Shammah. To stand and not be bothered with whether or not anyone else will stand with us. To stand and not be distracted by someone else’s work, calling, success or whatever fear or giant or Philistine army or crowd of mockers that might be facing us or threatening to persecute us. We must be focused on the call of God and be faithful to it. We must lean on God’s promises as our confidence. Future generations may well depend on the commitment we make today, wherever God sends us, to stand firm and faithful in the calling that God has placed in our hearts today.

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