Immorality Weakens the Christian

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I Corinthians 6:1-8

Buster wanted to take an earlier flight home but the plane appeared to be completely full. The gate agent confirmed his thoughts and placed his name on the standby list. Just moments before the plane was scheduled to depart, a large group of people deboarded. After some discussion with the agent, the group sat down in the lounge area. And then it happened, Buster heard his name called from the standby list. He rushed to the counter and paid for his fare. Then with his boarding pass in hand, he asked about the sudden availability. The attendant replied, “That group that got off of the plane is headed to a psychics’ convention and they felt directed to take the next flight.”

How do we decide what is right and wrong? Congress passes a law and we know right and wrong because it is defined by law. Whether something is moral or immoral is defined by scripture. Scripture defines us as moral if we do the will of God, but immoral if we do not. “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (I Corinthians 6:11)

I remember as a student in seminary visiting in the hospital, a patient was in the hospital suffering from some illnesses because of some life choices. She had been sexually promiscuous. I had been called in because she had been warned that her lifestyle was unhealthy and she could die if it continued. When we got to the heart of the problem she said, “God let the people in Sodom live this way.” “Didn’t you read the rest of the story? God destroyed Sodom because of the people’s sin.” Behavior contrary to established moral principles.

Paul confesses that often he does not understand himself, often he feels trapped in the bondage of sin. (Romans 7:15) Judah had three sons, Er, Onan and Shelah. Judah finds a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, was wicked in the LORD’s sight; so the LORD put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, “Lie with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the LORD’s sight; so he put him to death also. Judah then said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Live as a widow in your father’s house until my son Shelah grows up.” For he thought, “He may die too, just like his brothers.” So Tamar went to live in her father’s house. After a long time Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. When Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep,” she took off her widow’s clothes, covered herself with a veil to disguise herself, and then sat down at the entrance on the road to Timnah. When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute and propositions her, for she had covered her face. “Your seal and its cord, and the staff in your hand,” she answered. Meanwhile Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite in order to get his pledge back from the woman, but he did not find her. The story of Tamar ends with talk of “righteousness.” Judah proclaims that this wily woman is “more righteous” than he. The story can thus be read as a contrast between two types of righteousness.

Someone was telling me about their home church. They said it was a “Bible-believing church, a church taking stands against abortion and other assorted immorality. But when the pastor’s son got his girlfriend pregnant, and then confessed it and they married, the Board met and fired the pastor.
That’s our righteousness.

The Carr brothers trial ended with a death sentence. If I read my Bible correctly, God’s word gives government the right to punish evil doers, even with death. It was a horrible crime, and if I had been on that jury, I too would have given the death penalty. But with that sentence do we feel safer, or did a little of our society die?

Here is the point, with every sin we commit, no matter how small, we grieve God. Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. (Luke 22)

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. (Heb 10:26)
Matthew 15:19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. What is the cure? Fill the heart with things that will prevent immorality.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36)

A safari hunter was startled by the loud screeching of a bird. When he caught sight of the bird, it was darting back and forth around its nest. He was perplexed by all the racket until he noticed a huge snake moving up the tree.
The hunter could have easily aided the bird with one shot from his gun but he was captivated by the drama before him. As the snake slithered up the tree, the bird became silent and flew from the nest. It now seemed as though the snake would dine without resistance. But before the reptile could reach the nest, the mother bird returned with a leaf in her beak. She carefully placed the leaf over her babies then flew to another tree. The snake raised his head to strike but then hesitated. It froze as if it had met a foe. Slowly it recoiled from the nest and wound its way down the tree. The puzzled hunter related the event to native Africans when he returned to the camp. They laughed with enthusiasm as they explained this unlikely victory of the bird. The leaf that the mother had used to cover her nest was poisonous to the snake. What looked like nothing more than a leaf was in fact a life-saving shield. Our faith may at times feel as flimsy as a leaf, but God’s Word reminds us that it is a shield against the attacks of our serpentine enemy.

Fine Dining

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Matthew 26:17-30

As the salesman came to the front door, he turned to the little boy sitting on the steps and asked, “Is your mother home?” He said yes, and the salesman began to ring the doorbell. After several rings and no response, he turned to the boy and said, “I thought you said your mother was home,” to which the boy replied, “She is, but this isn’t my house.” Sometimes we get the wrong answers because we don’t ask the right questions.

The closest thing that the Jewish community had to the Lord’s Supper was the Passover meal. Everything unclean was to be taken out of the house. A special meal using special recipes was to be used. At the center of the meal was unleaved bread and roasted lamb. It was further directed that the lamb could not have any broken bones. And had to be roasted whole.

This became the basis for the Lord’s Supper and no significance is lost on the fact that Jesus serves the meal for the first time on Passover. The Passover lamb is symbolic of Jesus. Since no bones are broken in the Passover lamb no bones are broken in Jesus. (John 19:31-33) Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. The unleavened bread became symbolic of the purity of the body of Christ. There was nothing unclean or unholy about it. And Jesus Himself, not the world, broke it.

We find that the first century Church easily accepted the Lord’s Supper and participated in the meal at every opportunity of worship. But there was a great out cry by nonbelievers for what they thought was cannibalism. “They are eating Christ’s body.” Well, we are eating His body, but it is only symbolic.
This is a way to remember.

Jesus had already encountered much difficulty in this concept. At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? Jesus answered. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. I am the bread of life. Jesus is saying, there is something different about this bread. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.

The worship of God is comprised of many things; prayer, singing, sermons, Bible readings, etc. At the very center (the heart) of that worship is the body and blood of Christ. There is no worship of God that takes a higher form. It is the most holy moment in the worship of God. It is at the very point of God’s visitation into the congregation.

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Salvation is to be found in this meal. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

We worry about food, we worry about clothing, etc. What about spiritual food? For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.

It is easy for us in a weekly tradition to forget how important and how powerful this meal really is. This meal reminds us of a covenant between ourselves and God. A covenant of salvation. A covenant of forgiveness. A covenant of healing. A covenant of intimacy.

Paul warned the Church not to take this lightly. (1 Corinthians 11:27-30) Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.

“In an unworthy manner” does not mean without sin. We take the Lord’s Supper because we are sinners. In an unworthy manner means that we need to understand the importance of this meal. And have accepted Jesus into our hearts.

How To Change

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Matthew 4:17

There is a story in the Talmud of a rabbi who taught his students a lesson on preparing for death and on repentance. One of the students asked, “Rabbi, when should a man repent?” The rabbi responded: “Repent a day before your death.” His students were confused: “How can a man know the day of his death?” they asked. His answer: “He cannot — and since he may die tomorrow, it is all the more necessary for him to repent today.”

Everyone thinks of changing humanity and noone thinks of changing himself.
In the theological and ethical sense, repentance is a fundamental and thorough change in the hearts of people from sin and toward God. Although faith alone is the condition for salvation, repentance is bound up with faith and inseparable from it. Without some measure of faith no one can truly repent, and repentance never attains it’s deepest character until the sinner realizes through saving faith how great is the grace of God against whom he has sinned. On the other hand, there can be no saving faith without true repentance. Repentance contains essential elements: A genuine sorrow toward God on account of sin. An inward revulsion to sin necessarily followed by the actual forsaking of it. Humble self-surrender to the will and service of God.

One thief on the cross was saved, that none should despair; and only one, that none should presume. In Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom of God is seen the truth that repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin: By repentance, one turns away from sin; By faith, one turns toward God in accepting the Lord Jesus Christ. Such a twofold turning, or conversion, is necessary for entrance into the kingdom. “Unless you repent,” said Jesus, “you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3,5). The positive, or merciful, side is seen in these words: “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). We cannot put our new lives in our old wineskins!

If there are a thousand steps between us and God, He will take all but one.
He will leave the final one for us. The choice is ours. The man who knows his sins is greater than one who raises a dead man by his prayer. It is much easier to repent of sins that we have already committed than to repent of those we intend to commit.

Change is not easy! Look at the alcoholic, the smoker, the drug addict. The smoker can use medicine to reduce the effects of stopping. The alcoholic can use support groups to hold him accountable and to give support. Even the Church is a support group for sinners. A lot of things can be done, but it all comes down to taking the necessary steps.

When an archer misses the mark, he turns and looks for the fault within himself. Failure to hit the bulls eye is never the fault of the target. To improve your aim – improve yourself.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn tells of a time in the Siberian prison when he was weary from hard labor, weak from a starvation diet, and in pain from an untreated illness. He was being forced to shovel sand hour-after-backbreaking-hour. Finally he felt he could not go on. He just stopped, knowing that the guards would beat him severely, perhaps even to death. Just then another prisoner, a fellow Christian, took his shovel handle and, right at Solzhenitsyn’s feet, he drew in the sand the sign of the cross. Then he quickly erased it. But when Solzhenitsyn caught the glimpse of the cross, all hope and courage of the Gospel flooded his soul and enabled him to hold on. He says that he was saved that day by the sign of the cross.”

Foretelling It All

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Luke 1:26-38

Remember the old joke, “what does the rocket have at the end of its foot? A mistletoe!” Actually, the mistletoe was celebrated by ancient Scandinavians as a symbol of peace and tranquility. It was hung over doorways to tell all who entered that this was a place of peace. In more recent years it has become a part of Christmas celebrations with a similar meaning. Catching someone who stands under a mistletoe is a license to kiss that person.

In the fourth century A. D. a Turkish man in the town where Nicholas was a priest had three daughters who were of the age for marriage, but he was unable to find suitable husbands for them because he had no money to pay for their expected dowry. Nicholas saw the man’s misfortune and secretly threw three bags of gold through the chimney of the man’s home– one for each of the girls. As fortune would have it, the girls had lain their stockings by the fireplace to dry, and the coins fell into the stockings. The girls were able to marry because of the kindness of Nicholas. Nicholas had acted in secret, but his act of kindness was discovered. As the legend of St. Nicholas grew, the children would hope that Nicholas would leave them something.

It is probably the merging of fact and fiction that does the most harm to our faiths. Christmas is fun and exciting for all of us, but we sometimes mistake fiction for fact. We forget that Santa Claus is found in many different cultures, not just Christian communities. Even predominately non-Christian societies celebrate Christmas, not because of its connection to Christ, but the joy of giving. We are like one of Tennessee Williams’ play, “I don’t want realism…I want magic!”

We get caught up in a lot of things that really aren’t important. There always seems to be a debate about whether or not Mary was a virgin. Pulpit Committees will base the call of a pastor on whether or not the pastor believes in the virgin birth. Mary’s personal life has very little to do with the birth of Christ. Certainly she was highly favored by God, but so was King David.
It has less to do with being sinful than it does with relationship with God. I am sure there were lots of waggling tongues in Nazareth when Joseph took his very pregnant wife and headed off to Bethlehem. But the story isn’t about Mary or Joseph. “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. The issue of the virgin birth was never an issue until about 400 years ago. If you elevate Mary to a standing higher than human, you have to justify her actions. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matt 3:16) Paternity is established, it doesn’t matter who the mother really was!

Some people get all concerned about the fact that we don’t know the real birth date of Jesus. We do know it wasn’t December 25. We know two things:
The angels appearance with Mary takes place in the 6th month – probably August or September. When Jesus is born, the shepherds are out in the fields at night, watching their flocks – this is something that takes place only in the warmer months. This mostly likely means that Jesus was born late spring or early summer. But the day really isn’t what is important, is it?

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38)

We modern people like a predictable, cause-effect sort of world. I recall a line from the off-Broadway musical The Fantasticks: Plant a carrot, get a carrot, not a brussels sprout. That’s why I like vegetables: You know what they are about.

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David.
What is told to Mary is not for Mary’s benefit, but ours. It is not about whether Joseph and Mary are good enough to be parents. It is a story about God’s love for us!

You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. Perhaps John said it best, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) No wonder the angels sung out, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

May we never lose the real meaning of Christmas. It is about God, God’s gift to sinful humanity. For nothing is impossible with God.” Mary said. “May it be to me as you have said.”

God’s Promise To Mary

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Luke 1:46-55

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. Those words are very similar to the words of Hannah in the Old Testament. On one of Hannah’s visits to Shiloh she vowed before the Lord that if He would give her a son, she would devote him to His service. Her manner, speaking in an inaudible tone, attracted the attention of the high priest, Eli, who suspected her of drunkenness. From this suspicion she easily vindicated herself, received a blessing from Eli, and returned to her home with a lightened heart. Before the end of the year Hannah became the mother of a son, whom she named Samuel, approximately 1106 B.C.

When Samuel was old enough to be weaned, Hannah took him to Shiloh and presented him, with due form, to the high priest. The joy of Hannah found expression in an exulting song of thanksgiving. It is especially remarkable that in this song (2:10) the first mention in Scripture of the word anointed or Messiah was mentioned. As there was no king in Israel at the time, it seems the best interpretation of Christ.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus was the daughter of Eli, of the tribe of Judah and of the lineage of David, hence in the royal line. In the summer of the year Mary, a virgin betrothed to Joseph, was living in Nazareth, the angel Gabriel came to her with a message from God and announced that she was to be the mother of the long-expected Messiah-that by the power of the Holy Spirit the everlasting Son of the Father should be born to her. Informed by the angel that her cousin Elizabeth was within three months of delivering a child, Mary set off to visit her. Immediately upon her entrance into the house “Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice, and said, ‘Blessed among women are you, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!'”

In a few months Joseph found that Mary was with child and he was determined to “put her away secretly” instead of yielding her up to the law to suffer the penalty he supposed she would incur. But being assured of the truth by an angel, he took her as his wife. Soon after Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem to be enrolled for the taxing, and while there Jesus was born and laid in a manger. On the eighth day Jesus was circumcised. On the fortieth day after the nativity-until which time Mary could not leave the house (Lev 12:2-4)-she presented herself with her baby for their purification in the Temple. The poverty of Joseph and Mary is alluded to in the mention of their offering, “a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.” There she met Simeon and the prophetess Anna and heard their thanksgiving and prophecy (Luke 2:21-38).

Are we aware of just how important this story is? God, is a God of promises. God has kept the promise of the rainbow. Even though the waters of life rise around us, we take courage. Mary takes courage because she believes God’s promise.

Paul reminds the Church as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.” For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Corinthians 1:17)

It is so easy to try to vilify Mary. Was Mary the Mother of Any Children Other Than Jesus? Advocates of her perpetual virginity assert that she was not. Churches even put to the test of faith on whether or not she was a virgin at the time of Jesus’ birth. In the New Testament, it was a moot question. At Jesus’ baptism, As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16) At that moment paternity was established and nothing else was important.

What makes Mary great is the faith she puts in the promises of God. As children, lost in the woods are fearful of the sinister darkness — then suddenly hearing a sound from the sombre blackness a familiar voice, a loving, seeking, helping voice, their mother’s voice– so prayer is our reply to the voice from the Word of God in Jesus Christ which suddenly cries out to us in the mysterious, dark universe. It is the father calling us out of the world’s darkness. He calls us, seeks us, wants to bring us to Himself. “Where are you, my child?” Our prayers mean, “Here I am, Father. I was afraid until you called. Since you have spoken, I am afraid no longer. Come, I am waiting for you, take me, lead me by the hand through the dark, terrifying world.”

Moses was a good man but someone who had difficulty believing in God’s promises.
Jesus took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

God did not have to promise anything to sinful people. But the fact that almost all biblical promises are those made by God to man indicates that His nature is characterized chiefly by grace and faithfulness. Grace prompted God to promise a new land to the Israelites. His faithfulness urged Him to fulfill that promise, despite of the nation’s disobedience. As Paul pointed out, God’s faithfulness and grace are particularly evident in His promise to Abraham. This promise was eventually fulfilled in the work of Christ. Christians should trust completely that God’s promise of eternal life is secure. God answers prayer; sometimes, when hearts are weak, He gives the very gifts believers seek.
Often faith must learn a deeper rest, and trust God’s silence, when He does not speak; for He whose name is Love will send the best. Stars may burn out, mountain walls might not endure, but God is true; His promises are sure to those who seek him.

I heard of a college student who asked his father for a car at the time of his departure for college. The father said to him, “I’ll give you a car if you’ll promise to read the Bible through while you’re away in school.” And the boy promised. On the day of the boy’s departure, a Bible was given to the boy, but nothing was said about the car. The boy departed; he spent four years on the college campus; and at the time of graduation, asked his dad why he had not kept his promise, giving him the auto as he had said. The father’s reply spoke volumes as he said: “There was a check in the Bible for your car. You promised to read the Bible. Had you kept your promise to me, you would have discovered that I had kept my promise to you.”

God’s Promise To Zechariah

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Luke 1:5-25

In the movie Mary Poppins, the two children, Jane and Michael Banks, jumped into bed after their incredible first day with the amazing Mary Poppins. Jane asked, “Mary Poppins, you won’t ever leave us, will you?” Michael, full of excitement, looked at his new nanny and added, “Will you stay if we promise to be good?” Mary looked at the two and as she tucked them in replied, “Look, that’s a pie-crust promise. Easily made, easily broken!”

Personal and corporate honesty often pays off in dramatic ways. Donald Douglas, for example, built a reputation for his aircraft company and worked to preserve it. There was the time Douglas was competing with Boeing to sell Eastern Air Lines its first big jets. Eddie Rickenbacker, who headed Eastern, is said to have told Douglas that his specifications and claims for the DC-8 were close to his competition on everything but noise suppression. He then gave Douglas one last chance to out-promise Boeing on this feature. After consulting his engineers, Douglas reported back that he did not feel he could make that promise. Rickenbacker replied, “I know you can’t. I wanted to see if you were still honest. You just got yourself an order for $135,000,000. Now go home and silence those jets!”

A promise is a solemn assertion, by which one pledges his veracity that he will perform, or cause to be performed, that which he mentions. The Hebrews were called the “children of the promise”, as all true believers in Christ are called. These “who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” There are four classes of promises mentioned in Scripture: Those relating to the Messiah; Those relating to the church; Those relating to the Gentiles; Those relating to Israel as a nation.

Promises, not concrete successes, are the basis of Christian leadership. True worship always involves an element of mystery. God reveals Himself but rarely explains Himself. Christians do not live on explanations but on promises, and on deepening relationships. God deliberately keeps some things secret to keep us humble and trusting Him.

Jesus went to Jerusalem one Passover holiday and met a man who had waited thirty-eight years at the Bethesda pool for a healing. Tradition had it that every so often an angel of the Lord would stir the waters and whoever stepped in first would be cured. For thirty-eight years, this man had reached out for a healing only to be muscled aside by someone bigger and faster. Some folks say this man didn’t want to be healed, or else he would have pushed other folks aside and hustled into that pool himself. I say true patience is so scarce, we’re apt to confuse it with apathy. There’s a load of difference between the two. Apathy curls up into self-pity when times get hard. Patience quietly waits its turn, trusting that God will get around to making things right in his perfect time.

No one is greater then his/her word. “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, `Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your `Yes’ be `Yes,’ and your `No,’ `No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (Matthew 5:33)

A promise is a promise! Steve McQueen was a top billed actor who lead a life as tough as the ones he portrayed on the screen. Success filled his life until alcohol and a failed marriage left him empty. In his despair he attended a crusade led by one of Billy Graham’s associates. McQueen made a profession of faith and requested an opportunity to speak with Billy Graham. A connecting flight in Los Angeles allowed Dr. Graham to spend a couple of hours with Mr. McQueen in the actor’s limousine. The great evangelist shared numerous scriptures in his quest to give spiritual hope and confidence. Steve McQueen struggled with the thought of God giving eternal life to a man who had such a checkered past. In Titus 1:2, Steve McQueen found his hope -“the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago.” He requested something to write down the verse but Billy Graham gave McQueen his Bible instead. Later, Steve McQueen died in Mexico while seeking experimental treatment for his terminal cancer. He passed into eternal life with his Bible opened to Titus 1 and his finger resting on verse 2. Regardless of our past, we have the hope of God’s eternal promise.

God’s promises are like the stars; the darker the night, the brighter they shine. The large tractor-trailer trucks that travel the highways of the nation are subject to a load limit. This means that there is a limit as to how much weight each truck is allowed to carry. There is a good reason for establishing such limits. If the trucks were allowed to exceed their weight limit, the roads would eventually fall apart, because each road is designed to support vehicles only up to a certain weight. Likewise, God knows how much we can bear when he allows us to be tested. He has assigned a definite “load limit” to each of us and never exceeds it.

As children, lost in a woods, are fearful of the sinister darkness — and then, suddenly, hearing a sound from the blackness, a familiar voice. It is the father calling us out of the world’s darkness. He calls us, seeks us, wants to bring us to Himself.

Thankfully, the star of Bethlehem isn’t an empty star, and I pray, that after claiming that star our hearts won’t be found empty when someone who is spiritually hungry comes calling. The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.” When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

If It Happened Once….

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Matthew 28:1-10

A newly appointed young preacher was contacted by the local funeral director to hold a graveside service at a small country cemetery. There was to be no funeral, just the committal, because the deceased had no family or friends left. The young pastor started early to the cemetery, but soon lost his way. After making several wrong turns, he finally arrived a half-hour late. The hearse was no where in sight, and the workman were relaxing under a nearby tree, eating their lunch. The pastor went to the open grave and found that the vault lid was already in place. He took out his book and read the service. As he returned to his car, he overheard one of the workman say, “Maybe we’d better tell him that’s a septic tank.”

Something happened on Easter Day which made Christ more alive on the streets of Jerusalem forty days after his crucifixion than on the day of His Triumphal Entry. A false report might last forty days but the church which was founded on a Risen Christ has lasted for twenty centuries, producing generations of the race’s finest characters. There is a grave in Germany sealed with a granite slab and bound with strong chains. On it an atheist had inscribed, “Not to be opened throughout eternity.” Yet somehow a little acorn had fallen into some crack, and its outer shell “died.” Years after, everyone saw a huge oak tree which had completely broken up the slab, still having the inscribed arrogant words. The new life of the acorn had openly displayed the power of life. All that death can do, it did to Christ. Our Lord felt the chill of it. He died alone. But He did for us what we are not able to do for our loved ones . . . He explored the basements of death to the very bottom . . . and came back to tell us to be of good cheer.

When we look at Matthew’s account we focus upon that great stone that the soldiers had placed in front of the tomb of Jesus. That was the women’s main concern. Who will roll away the stone for us? To their amazement, the stone that was very large has been rolled away. That stone symbolizes the finality of the death of Jesus, the massiveness of the stone is like the massiveness of the death of Jesus that confronts the women at the cemetery. The stone is so great it can only be rolled away by some higher power.

That great power comes in the form of an earthquake, Matthew’s unique contribution to the Easter story. The earthquake signifies that the resurrection is not something private and personal with Jesus. The earth shaking signifies the cosmic, earth and heaven shaking significance of the event. Easter is large, cosmic, demanding upon our imaginations. “Suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.”

John says that they got to the tomb on Easter morning and it was empty.
Then, they went back home. Reminds you of the two disciples in Luke on the way to Emmaus. “Some women told us that Jesus had been raised from the dead, but we had already planned to have supper over in Emmaus, so we couldn’t change our reservations.” A man is raised from the dead and you can’t cancel lunch? Easter is an earthquake with doors shaken off tombs and dead people walking the streets, the stone rolled away by the ruckus and an imprudent angel sitting on it.

A new world was thereby offered to us. Jesus came back to forgive the very disciples who had forsaken him. The world is about forgiveness, as it turns out, not vengeance. And the earth shook. Jesus picked up a piece of bread and ate it and you could see the nail prints in his hands. The world is about life, as it turns out, not death. And the earth shook.

People are forever saying, “I could believe in the resurrection, but where is the evidence?” Well, the best evidence for Easter is the existence of the church, that body of people gathered together. There are ten other resurrections in the Bible! Elijah restore life to a boy whose mother is a widow. Elisha restore life to the Shunammite’s son. An unnamed dead man’s body is thrown in the tomb of Elisha. Ezekiel watched life come to a valley of dry bones. Jesus heals the widow of Nain’s son, Lazarus, Ruler’s daughter, Holy people in the tombs of Jerusalem. Peter raised Tabitha in Lydda. Paul raised Eutychus.

If it happened once? It has happened at least 11 times in the Bible. Who knows how many times it has really happened? The Easter lily is the floral symbol of Easter because its shape resembles a trumpet that heralds the resurrection of Jesus Christ.