Wednesday, June 06, 2007

To Serve or to Be Served

For those of you who check in occasionally, I apologize for not having posted in a while. I am in the process of writing a Bible Study on the book of Malachi titled, "The Last Word."

It will be available for purchase when it is finished. I expect the cost to be $15.00 including shipping. It is being written and promoted as a "Ladies' Bible Study", but will be usable for both men and women's studies. It will be divided up as a 5 week study

Please e-mail me if you'd like more information on it

As for now, I'm posting a sermon that I preached last month when our pastor was out of town.

I'm posting it all in one post, and it is rather long, so grab a coke or cup of coffee and enjoy!

To Serve or to Be Served

As I have often said, I am thankful for the opportunity to fill the pulpit when our pastor is away, not so much for the opportunity to preach, as for the opportunity to teach.

I have set, or felt led to set, (at least for a while) a “theme” of sorts for my sermons or lessons, of a “connection” or an “interaction” between the Old and New Testaments. This began last fall when I taught a “Pre-Advent” lesson using the scripture from the Gospel of Luke concerning the two on the road to Emmaus. As you’ll remember, Luke tells us that “beginning with Moses and the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” And we saw that meant going all the way back to the book of Genesis.

And so, I have wanted to look at the prophecies concerning Jesus - prophecies made, and prophecies fulfilled.

This morning’s scripture comes from the book of Hebrews, located in the New Testament. And I have discovered, as I have found in most of my studies, enough exciting information for several weeks of sermons, or lessons. So, I will try to just give you a quick overview, and then share something that has been on my heart for several weeks now.

Hebrews is an interesting book for many reasons, but one, being that no one knows who wrote it. Everyone has an opinion, but no one knows for sure. In fact a quote by one of the early Church Fathers says, “Who wrote the Epistle, God only knows…”

This is a book that begins like a treatise, reads like a sermon, and ends like a personal letter. Some of it sounds like Paul, some of it sounds like Peter, and some of it reads like Luke’s writing. Others have thought perhaps Barnabus wrote it, or Aquila or possibly even Priscilla.

Personally I believe that it is Luke’s composition, combining one or more of Paul’s sermons and Paul’s teaching. If you’re interested, I can tell you why later.

The book or letter was written, as the name implies, to the Hebrews. These were Jewish men and women who had converted to Christianity, and were perhaps now questioning that decision. Not questioning it so much as to whether or not Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, but whether or not they may be able to just combine the two. They seemed to be missing the “pomp and circumstance” of the Jewish religion. They missed the rituals of the daily sacrifice, the parading of the High Priest, the tradition and elevation of Moses and the Old Testament prophets and angels. This “new” religion seemed rather “bland” compared to what they were used to… After all, its ministers were just lowly Galileans - most of them uneducated fishermen…

And so, the writer addresses all that. He teaches that Christ is above the Angels. He is greater than Moses and greater than the High Priests. He teaches that Jesus is the final sacrifice.

In fact, it has been said that the book of Hebrews is the most “Old Testament” of all the New Testament books because it teaches and clearly shows the fulfillment of all the Old Testament laws, rites, and rituals. As Jesus cried out on the cross, “It is finished!”

And so, that brings us to our text for today, Hebrews chapter 13 - the last chapter in the book (or sermon, or letter… however you want to categorize it.)

As this letter comes to a close, the writer does what most of us do when we write a letter. And although folks seldom write formal letters anymore, still when we begin to wind something down, we throw in several loosely connected “snippets” as sort of “after thoughts” or concluding remarks - sort of like “P.S.’s” or “by the way’s” or “don’t forget’s”… And he says:

(Chapter 13:1-9)
Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body. Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.

Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, "I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU," so that we confidently say, "THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME?"

Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.

And then he latches onto another thought with verse 10 and says:

(v 10-16)
We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp.

Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.

For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Then he adds a couple more “by the way’s”:
(v 17-19)
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things. And I urge you all the more to do this, so that I may be restored to you the sooner.

And then gives the benediction in verses 20-21, only to add another P.S. after it.

(v 22-25) But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. Take notice that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom, if he comes soon, I will see you.

Greet all of your leaders and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you. Grace be with you all.

He has, it seems, so much to say, and just a short time to say it.

Preachers today don’t spend much time on the book of Hebrews; after all, we’re not “Hebrew.” And if we want “pomp and circumstance” or “formality” all we need to do is go to a Catholic church, or an Episcopal church, or even one of our more “high church” Methodist churches. No, we kinda like our informality, our hugs, our singing and clapping, our raising of hands and praising and laughing… we just don’t get the big deal with “ritual.”

Maybe that’s just it… we don’t get it. Look at verse 10. We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.

What do you mean - we eat from an altar that “those who serve the tabernacle” can’t eat from? What’s that all about? Remember, this was written to the Hebrews; the Jews. They would know exactly what this meant. In the Jewish religion, during the offerings, portions of the animals were burned on the altar, portions were given to the priests for their food, and during the thank or peace offering, the family bringing the offering were even given a portion of it back to eat (for those of you in the current Bible study, watch for this when we study Hannah.)

What our writer is saying is, “for you who believe that Christ is the sacrifice, you don’t need to be doing that any more. It’s fulfilled, it’s finished, you can’t serve two religions, and you can’t serve two masters.”

“But,” he also says, “if you believe that Christ is the sacrifice; you are now “the church” and you have other obligations.”

Just because we are exempt from the rites and rituals of the Jewish religion; just because our sacrifice has been made; just because we no longer have to strive to fulfill the requirements of the Law, doesn’t mean that “nothing” is required of us. In some ways, now even more is required of us…

Look at verses 11-14. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.

Trust me, when you decide to truly follow Jesus, when you make a commitment to become His Church, it will “cost” you…

What did Jesus envision His Church to be?

I have a little booklet titled “Who Is This Jesus” by Michael Green and in it he uses Jesus’ prayer in John 17 to give us a list of the things that Christ’s true church will consist of. (Read that scripture later and see that Jesus actually prayed for YOU, before you were ever born. The saying is true that says, “when He was on the cross, You were on His mind!”)

He says:
1. The true church will consist of people who know God and Jesus - not just know about them, but truly know them. They are people who genuinely believe that Jesus came from God and that God sent Him for His unique mission. Jesus was not just a great teacher; He was not simply a “good man”. He was, and is, uniquely God. He is, “the way, the truth, and the life…”

2. The true church will consist of people who set out to purposely glorify Jesus, just as He glorifies the Father… That’s a deep word - “glorify” - it means to “give glory” and the word glory has to do with light. It means brilliance, or splendor. And so, when the church glorifies God, it becomes a reflection of the light or brilliance of God. In other words, just as the moon reflects the glory of the sun, so the church is meant to reflect the glory of the Lord.

3. The true church will consist of people who keep His Word. By this He means they will observe His teaching and honor it, and strive to obey it, rather than looking for ways to challenge it; rather than looking for ways to say, “yeah, but…”

4. The true church will consist of people who are united in the same way as Jesus is united with the Father. This unity doesn’t necessarily mean uniformity. It doesn’t mean we will look alike, think alike, dress alike, or even love alike, but it does mean we will love one another regardless of our differences… regardless of whether we actually “like” one another or not… Liking someone is a personality issue. Loving someone is a choice and a mandate.

5. The true church will consist of ordinary people who live ordinary lives in the world, but who are not OF the world. They are ordinary people who display the extraordinary power and love of Christ. They are people who do not sit comfortably in church on Sunday morning, and then wait for the repeat performance the following Sunday. As Jesus was sent - so are we.

6. And coming back to our Hebrews scripture, the true church will consist of people who can face the music. People who will “stick to their guns” even when the going gets rough.

The writer of Hebrews says in verse 13 and 14 So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.

The true church consists of people whose home and priorities are not bounded by this world. We are, in a sense, aliens and exiles here, as Jesus was. That doesn’t mean we’ll hunker down and become hermits. It doesn’t mean that we’ll hide out and ignore the plight of the world - no, it means we will deliberately set ourselves apart from all that we know to be wrong, in order to be of service to our friends and acquaintances who are yet strangers to Jesus. He did that for us, and He expects to see that attitude mirrored in us.

So, how do we do that? How do we do all these things that a “true church” is expected to do? The next couple of verses tell us how. (verse15-16) Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.

And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

“Sacrifice of praise”, huh? “Well, how hard can that be?” we might say. “Clap our hands a little, wave our arms a little, hold our hands up and sway when someone is singing… - hey, I can ‘praise’ with the best of ‘em!”

Oh really? Think there’s no “sacrificing” connected to praising Jesus? Well, think again - just ask the students at Virginia Tech after the most horrific day in the history of the school - indeed in the history of education everywhere! Ask any mother or father who’s lost a child; a wife who’s lost a husband, a child who’s lost a parent…

But, praise Him, they must… indeed, we must. He is our “thank offering.” He is our hope of redemption and of new life. He is the “first born of the dead.” Because He lives, we shall live, too.

But then we have to go back and read verse 13 again So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.

If we go to Him; if we carry His name, we will bear His reproach. It is becoming more and more apparent that anyone who calls upon the name of Jesus is shunned and ostracized.

The name of “God” is brandished around with great ease - because no one has to “explain” what they mean by “God”… It can mean anything (or nothing when it’s used in vain.) The Muslim says it, the Buddhist says it, the mystic says it, the Jew (orthodox or not) says it… even the nonbeliever says it…

But, one cannot say the Name of Jesus and remain neutral. JESUS CHRIST! We more often than not hear it as a curse, rather than a praise. But He IS our Saviour. This morning we sang “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! There’s just something about that name.” But folks, There is nothing “neutral” about that Name.

The Hebrews to whom this letter was written were in great danger of trying to combine the two religions of Judaism and Christianity. We today are in great danger of trying to combine the two religions of Christianity and secularism. We are trying to hold on to Jesus in this hand and the “world” in this hand; to the church in this hand and to be accepted by everyone else in this hand. You cannot live with a foot in each world, it will tear you apart!

The best example of this is found in Peter’s life. In the last chapter of the Gospel of John, you may remember the story…

Easter is over, the Resurrection is past, Jesus has appeared to the remaining 11 disciples, and Thomas has touched His hands and seen His side. And they’ve been told to wait in Jerusalem for the “power” that is to come upon them.

Somehow, or other, they wind up back in Galilee - back at their hometown. And Peter says, “Well, ain’t nothing happening here, I don’t know about you boys, but I’m goin’ fishing!” So 6 others decide to go with him.

They go out to the Sea of Galilee and fall right back into it like nothing has ever happened. It’s like riding a bicycle, they can still cast that net like they always did…

Only problem is, they don’t catch a thing - not a thing. And long about daybreak this Guy comes walking along the shore, and He says, “Eh boys! Ain’t catching anything are you?” They mumble "no.."

And He says, “Throw your nets out on the other side of the boat…” Now, this is beginning to sound familiar… And so, they do. And their net fills to capacity - so much so that it is taking all of them to drag it in!

And John, remember he’s the youngest, so he most likely has the best eyes, says, “Hey! It’s Jesus!” And Peter immediately grabs his shirt and dives overboard and swims to shore. And when he gets there he finds that Jesus has built a fire and cooked some fish and bread.

And he’s got to have remembered the last time he stood at a fire, in the early morning air, and looked into Jesus’ eyes…

But before anything can be said, the others have rowed to shore, so Peter busies himself with getting the fish out of the boat while the others are greeting Jesus.

The scriptures don’t give us any of the conversation they have over breakfast, I imagine it’s mostly small talk - “You sure do cook good fish, Jesus.” “Yeah, well, anything’s good when you’re hungry…”

But then after the meal is over Jesus, through some sort of body language, or motions, indicates to Peter that He wants to talk to him…

As they walk away from the others Jesus says, “Simon, son of John…” - not Peter, not Cephas, Peter’s not a “rock” now, it’s “Simon, son of John…”

“Do you love Me more than these?”

Now, we don’t know what the “these” are. We don’t know if they are the other disciples, “Do you love me more than you love them?”

We don’t know if it’s the fishing or the boats or the lifestyle, “Do you love Me more than these - worldly things?”

Or if it’s as I suspect, “Do you love Me more than these disciples love me?” Remember, Peter is the one who decried, “Oh my LORD! All the others may leave You, but I never will…” And of course he does.

“But wait,” you say, “he was forgiven of that.” Yes he was. We’re not talking about salvation here - just service and loyalty.

I say this because of the words that were used. Jesus said, “Do you love me?” Now the word used here is ag-a-pao’ the Greek word for total and complete allegiance or surrender - we know it as Agape. “Do You ag-a-pao Me more than these?”

And Peter says, “Yes Lord, You know that I “fi-lelo” You” I have a strong affection for You. I am fond of You. I really like You…” but he doesn’t say, “more than these…” Jesus says “then feed My lambs.”

Jesus asks him again, “Simon, do you ag-a-pao Me?” And this time He doesn’t mention anything about the others…

“Yes Lord, I just really like you a lot!” And Jesus says, “take care of my sheep.”

And the third time… “Simon, do you even really have a great affection for Me?” This time Jesus Himself uses the word filelo. And Peter is cut to the core, and he says, “Lord, You know all about me, and You know that I am doing the best I can.” And Jesus says, “Tend my sheep…”

In other words, “Rely on Me, and not on yourself.” You see, the difference between Agape love and Phileo Love is the difference between the heart and the head. Phileo love says, “I have to figure it out.” Agape love says, “It doesn’t make sense, but I will do it anyway…”

Our heads will say, “It doesn’t make sense to praise God when all hell is breaking loose!” But our hearts will say, “but praise Him, we must.”

The writer tells the Hebrews that “we have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat…” And we, brothers and sisters, have an altar at which those who deny the very Name of Jesus, have no right to kneel. Anyone who will kneel is welcome. Those who will not will perish.

“That sounds hard…” you might say. It IS hard! I heard someone say the other day, “there are some things you can be dogmatic about - there are some things you can be bulldog-matic about” and this is one of them. There is only one name by which mankind can be saved. And that is Jesus.

How about you? Are you willing to offer the “sacrifice of praise” and claim the Name of Jesus, regardless of what it costs you…? Have you bowed your knee to Christ? And then, when you do - (verse 16) And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

How will the world know? They will know we are Christians by our love… There are still some sacrifices that God requires…

Let us pray…

Jesus! My Master and my LORD! Your very Name should be the authority in our lives. Father God on the throne; Jesus my sacrifice; my redeemer - the Holy Spirit within my heart… God! It is too much for me to comprehend - but understand it or not. We must believe it. We must bow our hearts; bow our souls, and bow our knees to the Lord Jesus Christ, in Whose Name, and by Whose Authority we pray… Amen.

(We sang “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.)

You may or may not know our closing hymn. It’s an old song, so it wasn’t in any of our modern hymnbooks. The words are found in the bulletin. If you don’t it, I’m sure you’ll catch on pretty quickly - the words are easy and it’s a catchy tune.

But I’m going to ask you, if you’ve not already made that decision, make it today. If you have made that decision - then it’s time to get serious about it.

Will you take a stand for Jesus Christ? Remember, He took the cross for you!



Blogger TN Rambler said...

Good message. By the way, you can find "I Have Decided..." in the Faith We Sing, our supplement to the UM Hymnal. Will you be at Annual Conference? Let me know and I'll try to look you up.


10:23 PM  

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