Langenburg Evangelical Fellowship

Lifting Up Christ, Transformed by His Love; Serving Others

Langenburg Evangelical Fellowship - a small church in southern Saskatchewan which promotes authentic worship of God, is Christ-centered, and holds the Bible as being divinely inspired and authoritative.

Sermon: Matthew 2:1-12

What Do We Do Now That Christmas Is Over?

January 1, 2017

Pastor Dennis Elhard

 

Twas the day after Christmas, and all through the house,                                                         Every creature was hurtin’ even the mouse.
The toys were all broken, their batteries dead;                                                                                
Santa passed out, with some ice on his head.

Wrapping and ribbons just covered the floor,                                                                          While upstairs the family continued to snore.
And I in my T-shirt, new Reeboks and jeans,                                                                                        
I went into the kitchen and started to clean.                                                                                             

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,                                                                          I sprang from the sink to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the curtains, and threw up the sash.                                                                                             

When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a little white truck, with an oversized mirror.
The driver was smiling, so lively and grand;
The patch on his jacket said ‘‘U.S. POSTMAN.’’                                                                                       

With a handful of bills, he grinned like a fox.
Then quickly he stuffed them into our mailbox.
Bill after bill, after bill, they still came.
Whistling and shouting he called them by name:
‘‘Now Dillard’s, now Broadway’s, now Penny’s and Sears
Here’s Robinson’s, Levitz’s and Target’s and Mervyn’s.
To the tip or your limit, every store, every mall,
Now chargeaway-chargeaway-chargeaway all!’’                                                                                         

He whooped and he whistled as he finished his work.
He filled up the box, and then turned with a jerk.
He sprang to his truck and he drove down the road,
Driving much faster with just half a load.                                                                                                            Then I heard him exclaim with great holiday cheer,
‘‘ENJOY WHAT YOU BOUGHT . . . . . . . YOU’LL BE PAYING ALL YEAR!’’

            Other than spending the next few weeks (months) trying to pay off your Christmas spending, what are you going to do now that Christmas is over?  Many of us can struggle with a kind of “after Christmas syndrome.”  I know that I sometimes can.  You plan and anticipate and wait, and then it’s here and gone in what seems like a flash.  The gifts are all unwrapped and your trash can is full.  Many of your family and friends are on their way home from the holidays.  The tree maybe already taken down along with all the other decorations and another Christmas has come and gone leaving you with the post-holiday blues.  Do any of you ever experience that?   Do you ever wonder if it’s really worth all the hype?  It’s all over so fast!

            What do Christians do, now that Christmas is over?  Do we just become blue?  Do we simply settle back into the old routine?  Do we pack away the Christmas spirit – put it up until next year?  A family was driving by the church a few days after Christmas when the little boy noticed that the nativity scene had been taken down.  He said, innocently enough, ‘‘I see they’ve put Jesus away for another year.’’ Unfortunately, all too often that is what happens. Jesus gets put away with all the wrappings, nativity scenes, lights, ornaments, etc.
            So what do we do now that Christmas is over? Well, there are some travellers who can show us what to do now that Christmas is over. Their story is found in Matthew 2:1–12. It is the account of the Wise Men, or the Magi.

            Who were these guys anyway?  The Magi were not kings, but probably served in the royal courts.  According to the ancient historian Herodotus, the magi were a tribe of people within a larger tribe who served as a hereditary priesthood – much like the Levites did for Israel.  They were pagan astronomers who also worked in science and the magic arts.  In the ancient world many believed that the stars could accurately predict the future, so the skies were watched constantly – particularly for any anomalies. These Magi probably came from either Persia or Babylon, and maintained a place of tremendous prominence and significance.

            It is curious that God would choose pagan priests to seek for and worship his Son.  But it is apparent that His own people (priests and scribes) were too spiritually blind to see the significance of these events unfolding right before them.  So in what way can these Magi show us what we should do now that Christmas is over – something we do all throughout the year?  Well, they teach us that we can seek Christ throughout the year (2: 1-2). 

            I have a little window sun-catcher that has these words on it, “The wise still seek him.”  That is as true today as it was in the time of the Magi.  The text reveals that the Magi were on a mission.  They had been captured by a phenomenon in the night sky, and through their research of ancient literature, which included the Jewish scriptures, they became convinced this was the sign of the Messiah – and they were seeking to find the “King of the Jews.” (Numbers 24:17) Their seeking was well after the miraculous birth had actually taken place.  We, too, are called to be seekers of Christ, and not just at Christmas time.  So what can we expect if we genuinely seek Christ?

            First: When we genuinely seek Christ it will require some things of us.  The Magi chose to seek the Christ child, but to find him required some things from them – and this will be also true for us.

A.  It takes effort to seek Christ.  There is no doubt that the Magi’s search required a great deal of effort.  They studied the ancient writings for hours in order to discern the meaning of the star.  If they came from the vicinity of Babylon, it was a journey of some 900 miles – several months of arduous travel.  No doubt they had to deal with some difficult people along the way, especially the self-absorbed and unpredictable King Herod.

            Why do we think that we can make progress on our spiritual journey without expending any effort?  Why is it so easy to “coast” spiritually?  Are we so concerned with “works righteousness” that we think we need to do nothing?  It takes some effort to truly find Christ, to worship Christ and to grow in him. As Paul says in Philippians, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”  (Run the race with endurance; press on)

B. It takes time to seek Christ.  The journey to find the child took a great commitment of time – to Bethlehem and back could’ve taken up to a year for the Magi.  How much time are you and I willing to spend in seeking Christ?  It’s not just a onetime experience, nor is it something that can be rushed.  Seeking Christ requires an ongoing commitment of time if we are to grow in him and in order for us to be transformed by Him.

C. It takes sacrifice to seek Christ.  The magi made great sacrifices to find the Christ-child.  They journeyed through dangerous and hostile lands; they offered extravagant and expensive gifts, and as we have already seen they sacrificed time and energy.  The Christian walk is a sacrificial walk that makes seeking Christ as our highest priority.  Are you willing to sacrifice something in order to seek Christ more in your life?

            The Wise Men model for us that seeking and finding Christ will require something from us.  While God provided them with a sign, they had to get on their camels and ride in order to see the fulfillment of the prophecy, and to reach their goal of worshiping him.

            Second: When we genuinely seek Christ, we will find him.  This is a beautiful promise from scripture.  Those who earnestly seek the Lord will find him.  In Jeremiah 29:13, we read these words: “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”  To those who take seriously their quest to find God, he promises to reveal himself. Again in Proverbs 8: 17, it says: “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.”  What a wonderful assurance of God’s desire for us to find and know him.  This is not some sort of hide-and-seek game.  He is not trying to be elusive, but he wants us seek him and desire to know him with all of our hearts – he wants us to show that we are serious in our quest.

            Third: When we genuinely seek Christ, we will be richly blessed.  Not only will we find him, we will also be blessed.  When the Magi saw the star stop over the place where the child was, the scripture says they were full of great joy (vs.10).  They had found what they were seeking, and were overjoyed at the realization of their journey’s purpose.  Finding Christ will bring joy into our lives like nothing else can.  Are you experiencing the joy of finding, and knowing and growing in Christ?

            Not only were the Magi blessed with joy, but they were richly blessed as they experienced his presence.  In coming into the presence of the child, verse 11 tells us that they “bowed down and worshiped him.”  While the star made them believe that he was something special, it is very doubtful that the Magi really understood the true identity/divinity of the child,.  And yet as they came into his presence, they fell to their knees and offered him their gifts that were fit for a King.  The presence of Christ brings blessing to the people.

            I love this verse from Psalm 16:11: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” (ESV)  When we genuinely seek Christ, and worship him with all of our hearts, we will experience the fullness of his joy, and the peace and glory of his presence.

             We have given consideration as to what we can expect if we genuinely seek Christ now that Christmas is over and we as stand on the threshold of 2017.  But let’s now look at the question of how do we seek him?  In the past I have often challenged you with these things on the first Sunday of a New Year.  The New Year is often thought of in terms of new beginnings. But to make a new beginning requires some sober thought on the past.  It is a time to examine our lives, to see if we are living according to our professed values and priorities.  Are we living lives of integrity, where our walk lines up with our talk?  Was there growth in our spiritual lives in 2016?  Are we producing more fruit?  Are we less angry, less prideful, less materialistic, more patient, more kind, more joyful, more loving – less stressed!  If you can’t say yes to at least some of these, then you need to be pro-active in making the kind of choices that will help you to grow spiritually.  It really comes down to our choices – really, if we’re honest about it!  So here are a few things we can do:

* Pray.  How often do you talk with God?  You will not grow in your spiritual life without prayer - period.  You cannot build a relationship without communication.  Men, how often do you pray with your wives?  Now, there’s a New Year’s resolution worth making.  Step up, men, and do it!

* Spend time daily in God’s Word.  The reading of scripture is crucial to your spiritual growth – I know, I’m a broken record on this.  But I stand on the truth of it.  This would be another good NY resolution.  If you started once and failed, don’t let that discourage you. Take up the challenge again – if you falter, even for a month, just pick it up where you left off.  Find a time and a place where you can have a regular quiet time with the Lord.  Ask the Lord to give you a hunger for his Word and that he would speak to you through it.  Read systematically.

* Attend church regularly.  In a number of surveys that I have seen recently, where people were asked about their church attendance, twice a month was considered to be regular.  My, how we have lowered the bar!  In my growing up world, regular meant every Sunday, unless you were sick or away.  Why should we attend Church? - First and foremost, to worship.  Worship is the highest calling and most important service of the believer.  We gather as a community of faith to worship and be edified, and it is a command of scripture.  Church attendance is an important aspect of your spiritual growth, and without it your spiritual life will die (Ill. live coal).

            We seek and find God by making spiritual disciplines and activities the priorities of our lives. (All of our hearts)  These things do not come natural to us in our flesh.  It is very easy to let them slide, or to ignore them, but our growth will be stunted – even leading to spiritual backsliding.  Christmas Day is over, but let’s make 2017 a year in which we seek the Lord like the Magi, because if we seek him we will find him and be blessed richly by him.

 

Sermon: 1 John 3:19-24

"Blessed Assurance"

January 8, 2017

Pastor Dennis Elhard

 

The word “assurance” is defined in the dictionary in this way – “making sure or certain”; or “a positive declaration inspiring confidence.”  Would that be a word that you would use to define your relationship with God this morning?  Are you confident of His love?  Do you have a deep assurance about your salvation?  You can have that assurance, and God wants you to have it.  However, many of us struggle with this issue of assurance in our relationship with God – and a feeling of uncertainty can so easily creep in.  Usually it is our own hearts and consciences that do most of the condemning, but Satan, our enemy, does his part as well.

            In John Stott’s comments about our passage this morning he says that the text’s “suggestion seems to be that it may not be either an unusual or an infrequent experience for the Christian’s serene assurance to be disturbed.”  Our constant struggle with sin can quickly cast doubts on our standing with God.  We can too easily heap condemnation on ourselves.  From our text today, we learn this: We can have assurance from God even when our hearts condemn us and blessings when they don’t.  We will have a wonderful assurance if we can answer the two questions that will be posed in this message.

            The passage today begins again with this oft repeated phrase – “This is how we know.”  It occurs twice in today’s text, in the beginning statement and again in the ending statement.  This is the sixth and seventh occurrence of the phrase so far in the letter.  It is the language of testing and of proof – as we have seen John continually uses this phrase to both warn and encourage his readers.  This is how we can know that we are truly a Christian, that we are truly a child of God, that we are truly saved.  Remember again John’s stated purpose in this letter – that your joy may be complete and that you may know that you have eternal life.  I am using these two statements to form the outline of the message today – and I will pose them to you as questions.  The answer to these questions can bring full assurance to our relationship with God.

            First: How do we know we belong to the truth?  Verse 16 begins: “This then is how we know that we belong to the truth.”  What does the word “This” refer to?  Whenever this phrase occurs it is always a question as to whether it is referring to what comes before the phrase or after.  Typically it refers to what follows, but in this instance, it seems to be referring to what comes before (then - NIV).  If that’s the case here, then how do we know we belong to the truth?

            A. Because we love with action and deeds.  In the section we looked at last time, John had made an impassioned plea to love our brothers and sisters.  Jesus has modelled that love for us in His life and in His death, and as His followers we are called to love the same.  It’s a love that is revealed in action and deeds, not in words and good intentions.  What John is saying here is that we know that we belong to the truth when that kind of love is evident in our lives.  We are genuine believers when our lives are characterized by a practical love for each other.  This is one way that we can gain assurance that we “belong to the truth.”  Is this evident in your life?

            B. Because God assures us that we belong to the truth (even when our hearts condemn us).  For when they do, God is “greater than our hearts and knows everything.”  This verse (20) is grammatically confusing; let me try and state it another way - We can have assurance before God even when our hearts try to condemn us because God is greater and knows everything about us.

            Many commentators suggest the heart here is a reference to the conscience.  While the conscience plays a very important role in revealing sin and wrong choices in our lives, it is not infallible, and its condemnation may often be even unjust and unwarranted.  In those cases we can appeal from our conscience to God, who is greater and more knowledgeable, and as Stott says, can “be more merciful towards us than our own heart.”  It’s amazing to think that we can bring more condemnation on ourselves that even God does!

            In this week’s Men of Integrity devotional Erwin Lutzer writes: A woman said to me, “Pastor Lutzer, I had an abortion, and the little girl would be about three years old now if I hadn’t aborted her.  When I walk into a mall and see a girl who is about that age, I’m just absolutely overwhelmed with guilt.”  I asked her, “Did you confess your sin?”  “I’ve confessed it a thousand times,” she replied.  Lutzer goes on to say, “Out of her deep pain and regret, this dear mother was caught in a cycle of confession, guilt, confession, guilt, and so on.  She needed to not only accept God’s forgiveness, but also his cleansing.  She didn’t need to wallow in the past every time she saw a little three year old girl.  She needed to affirm God’s promise to forgive.”

            “However overwhelmed with guilt our hearts may make us feel at times in the face of such failure, we need to turn to God and remember that He is faithful and just to forgive those who confess their sin.” (There is a condition – 1 John 1:9)  While we will not excuse ourselves of any sin, neither will we needlessly accuse ourselves.  The point being made is this – Regardless of how our hearts condemn us and question our status before God, a look at our changed life in how we treat others will be enough to convince us and remind us (overrule) that the God who has and is changing us is greater than our hearts.  We can know we belong to the truth because we love our brothers and sisters with actions and deeds and because God assures us we belong even when our own hearts accuse us otherwise.

            Second: How do we know that He lives in us? (vs. 21-24).  Practically speaking, this question is not much different from the first.  “This is how we know that He lives in us” – the question is answered by what comes before the phrase and after:

            A. Because our hearts do not condemn us.  If we are in a place in our spiritual walk where our hearts do not condemn us – because we know we belong to the truth, we are blessed with two benefits from the Lord.  First, we have confidence to come into his presence.  As NT believers, we have the awesome privilege of coming into the presence of our heavenly Father.  And we can come “confidently” – the word means with boldness (frankness) and assurance that we will be received.  Israel was never granted that privilege – except the priest once a year.  Because He lives in us, we are purified and made holy through the blood of Christ.

            (Marty) Second, since our hearts do not condemn us we can have confidence, which will lead to God responding to our prayers.  “But wait, doesn’t God always hear and respond to our prayers?”  You may have heard claims such as these – “There is nothing we can do or fail to do that will make God feel or act different towards us,” or “There is nothing we can ever do to win God’s favour.  While there is certainly nothing, absolutely nothing we can do to earn our salvation, Scripture does teach that as Christians our actions impact how God responds to us.”  For instance, in 1 Peter it is made clear that if a husband treats his wife poorly, it will hinder his prayers.  And it is the prayer of a righteous person that has power (James 5:16). 

            If our hearts do not condemn us, we can come into the Father’s presence with confidence and we can “receive from Him anything we ask.”  This is a tremendous promise, and yet one that we can find confusing when our prayers go unanswered.  I don’t have the time to go into this today, but I do want to point out that John repeats this same idea later in the letter – 5: 14 – “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”  Notice the addition in this verse – “according to His will.”  (in harmony)

            B. Because we obey his commands.  The reason that is given for receiving what we ask for is because we “obey his commands and do what pleases him.”  We have seen already in I John the necessary role of obedience in the life of a genuine Christian.  Many believers have bought in to the lie that once you are “in” it doesn’t really matter how you live.  But that is contrary to the clear teaching of scripture.  The idea of “pleasing Him” is another call that is found repeatedly in the Bible.  Our lives, our choices, our priorities should consistently come under the scrutiny of whether they are pleasing to God.  Because we keep his commands and do what is pleasing to him we can have confidence and be assured that we will receive answers to our prayers.

            In verse 23, John reminds his readers what exactly he is referring to in “his command.”  The commands of God (Jesus) are basically twofold - and this is nothing new – Jesus taught basically the same things in the “Great Commandments.”  The command of God is to believe in the name of His Son, and to love one another.  It all comes down to these two fundamental commands (Rom. 13: 8-10).  “Our focus needs to be on actively loving both God and the family of God.  As we do, we can rest assured that we live in (abide) God and God lives in us.” (Marty)

            We know that he lives in us and we in him because the fruit of that relationship is obedience to his commands.  But “God is not waiting to pounce on us when we sin.  Quite the contrary, he gives us the privilege of confessing our sin and finding forgiveness and cleansing.”  But he does expect the pattern of our lives to show we are pursuing obedience and holiness.

            C. Because the Spirit reveals it to us. John ends this passage with his first reference to the Spirit in the letter.  “This is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”   The introduction of the Spirit is both climatic to today’s passage and prepares the reader for what is coming next.  Everything that we have seen in this text is dependent on the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Nothing in our spiritual life is accomplished without the transforming power of the Spirit.  We cannot love one another without the power of the Spirit; we cannot obey God’s commands without the Spirit’s empowering us to do so; we cannot even escape the condemnation of our own hearts without the work of the Spirit within us.  The Spirit within us bears witness that we are God’s children – that we belong to the truth.  He is the one that produces the fruit of character as we abide in the vine of Christ and as he transforms our hearts.  The Spirit produces objective results in our lives that in turn give us the assurance that we belong to the truth and are living in him.

            We can have assurance from God even when our hearts condemn us and blessings when they don’t.  Do you have assurance in regards to your relationship to God?   Do not accept your conscience’s condemnation if you have confessed your sin to God.  His promise is to forgive, but do not continue in that sin.  True confession must also include repentance – a turning away from sin.  You can have assurance with God; you can know you belong to the truth, and you can know that he lives in you – just look at your fruit.  Are you growing in love towards your brothers and sisters?  Do you have a clear conscience before God?  Are you walking in obedience to his commands?  Do you have confidence in his presence and in your prayer life?  We have the possibility to live with a blessed assurance, a certainty of God’s blessing and salvation.  What a great way to begin the New Year!

 

Sermon: Hebrews 10:5-10

Why Did Jesus Come?

January 15, 2017

Pastor Dennis Elhard

 

We have just celebrated the miracle of the incarnation – the all-powerful God of the universe being born in a manger in Bethlehem; coming to live among his people – God in flesh appearing.  The Messiah has arrived in the fullness of time.  We've heard the Christmas stories again; we have sung the carols and listened to Christmas music.

            The simple beauty of the nativity story – the Bethlehem manger, the angels, the shepherds, the star and the wise men should be enjoyed for what it is – God's miraculous intervention into history by being born a child.  But the stories are not ends in themselves; they serve a higher purpose, to teach us the amazing reality of the incarnation – God with us.  But even the incarnation had a purpose that was already determined before creation.  So what was that purpose?  Why did Jesus come to earth in the form of a man?  The text that we will consider this morning from the book Hebrews teaches us that: Jesus came to do the will of the Father and to offer his body as the perfect sacrifice for all time.

            The author of Hebrews has up to this point been proceeding through the argument that reveals that Christ is superior over the entire OT sacrificial system.  The OT worship and sacrifices were but a shadow of the real thing because they offered no lasting effectiveness.  In the five verses that we are going to consider today the point is being made that Jesus is the superior sacrifice and the only sacrifice capable of removing our sin and cleansing our consciences – and that is the reason he had to come – and be born, and live, and die and rise again.

            You might be wondering – yes, but why bring up this subject now?  Do we have to think about his death when we have just celebrated his birth?  Well, no we don't have to, but the reality is that without his sacrifice there would be no reason to celebrate his birth.  But there is another reason as well – so let's turn to the text.  Verse 5 begins with these words: “Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:”  I wondered about this phrase because I was pretty sure that Jesus is nowhere quoted in the gospels as saying the words that follow – that is actually a quotation  taken from Psalm 40: 6-8 and applied to Jesus.   So what does this mean?  It seems that the author of the book of Hebrews, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is suggesting that these are the words Jesus said to the Father at the time of his incarnation – when he left heaven and came to the manger.  And through these verses, Jesus reveals his reasons for coming.  I would like to suggest three of them based on this passage:

            First: He came because of the Father's dissatisfaction with the sacrifice of animals.

While it is true that it was God who instituted the animal sacrifices of the OT, it is clear from this text that he did not “desire” (gr. To want, will, wish- 5X in text) them nor did they please him.  But they were a necessary step in the unfolding revelation of God's plan of redemption.  However, scripture is clear that God takes no pleasure in rivers of animal blood and piles of animal carcasses. (Exceptions: offering/aroma pleasing to the Lord. God was pleased with the hearts of the worshipers).  God's dissatisfaction with animal sacrifices was primarily based on these two things:

            A. They were ineffective for dealing with sin.  The animal sacrifices were a necessary step in order for Israel to be able to maintain a covenant relationship with God.  God is holy and his holiness means he is intolerant of sin. Sin is a barrier to a relationship with the Almighty.  It is also stated in Hebrews (9:22) that without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness of sin.  So the shedding of animal blood provided an atoning cover for the sins of the people, and they were able to maintain a relationship with God through them.  But while they were effective as a temporary covering, they had no power or ability to remove sin and to cleanse the conscience.  So in God's eyes the animal sacrifices provided only a temporary solution, but were ineffectual in dealing with the issue of sin - because it says in verse 4: “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

            They were also ineffective because it was necessary for these sacrifices to be ongoing.  Since they could not take away sin but only cover it, they had to be repeated over and over.  It was prescribed that two sacrifices had to be offered daily – morning and evening, with more animals on the Sabbath days and even more on the feast days.  Once a year the whole nation had to gather for the Day of Atonement in which the guilt of their past sins would be covered over in a special ceremony.  Rather than the removal of their sins, this Day was annual reminder of their ongoing sinful condition.

            B. People were using the sacrifices with incorrect assumptions.  God's dissatisfaction with the animal sacrifices stemmed from the fact that people were assuming that merely going through the ritual of the sacrifices was all that was required to satisfy him.  He was displeased with the sacrifices because the people thought they could appease God with the offering without the sacrifice of an engaged and repentant heart.   However, ritual done apart from a sincere commitment to God's will always fall short.  How often do we see this attitude continue in many churches today?

            So Jesus came because the Father was dissatisfied with the sacrifices of animals – they were ineffective in dealing with sin and they were leading people into ritualistic observance.  The OT system was divinely inspired, but it was only preliminary.

            Second: He came to do the Father's will – and he came willingly.  Jesus came to earth and took on a human body according to his own will.  But while he came willingly, his purpose in coming was to carry out/ to do his Father's will.  Many times throughout the gospels, we hear Jesus saying that “I have come to do the will of my Father.”  Well, what was the will of the Father?  I think this passage tells us his main purpose and will in sending Jesus.  Jesus says to the Father, “because of your dissatisfaction with animal sacrifices, you have prepared a body for me.  So here I am – I am willing to come and do your will.”  The will of the Father was to send his Son to earth - fully divine, fully human – to be sacrificed as a sin offering for all time - one that takes sin away and will never have to be repeated.

            In order for the atoning sacrifice to be effective and lasting, the sacrificial victim must be one who is capable of consent, and must of his own will place himself in the sinner's position, and Christ did so.  On the other hand, the animals were unwilling victims whose blood was powerless to cleanse.

            The author of Hebrews interprets what Jesus meant when he was willing to do the Father's will.  He “set aside” the first system of the OT and replaced it in favor of the new covenant in Jesus' blood – who offered a better sacrifice.  The Greek word translated in the NIV as “set aside” literally means “to kill” or “put to death.”  Strong language, for sure, but reminding us of the superiority of the Jesus' sacrifice over the animal sacrifices of the OT.  Jesus came to bring about the will of the Father – the new covenant of grace.

            Three: He came so that through the sacrifice of his own body, we could be made holy before God.  Verse 10 tells us that according to the desire of the Father, we who believe are made holy - receive salvation - through Jesus' sacrifice once for all.  Through Jesus we are sanctified – we are given a position of holiness through which we are now acceptable to God – we can be in a relationship with him.  That is the great gift that we are given – it is the ultimate reason that we celebrate Christmas.  Jesus' incarnation (meaning) and sacrifice are the reasons that we can be offered God's free gift of salvation and eternal life.  His sacrifice was the perfect sacrifice – it has the power to save us from our sin, and it will never have to be repeated.  But even though the Father was dissatisfied with the animal sacrifices, and the Son was willing to do his will, the Father's ultimate purpose to offer us life came with such a high cost.

            “Back in the days of the Great Depression, a Missouri man named John Griffith was the controller of a great railroad drawbridge across the Mississippi River.  One day in the summer of 1937 he decided to take his eight-year-old son, Greg, with him to work.  At noon, John put the bridge up to allow ships to pass and sat on the observation deck with this son to eat lunch.  Time passed quickly.  Suddenly he was startled by the shrieking of a train whistle in the distance.  He quickly looked at his watch and noticed that it was 1:07 – the Memphis Express, with four hundred passengers on board, was roaring towards the raised bridge!  He leaped from the observation deck and ran back to the control tower.  Just before throwing the master lever he glanced down for any ships below.  There a sight caught his eye that caused his heart to leap into his throat.  His son, Greg had slipped from the observation deck and had fallen into the massive gears that operate the bridge.  His left leg was caught in the cogs of the two main gears!  Desperately John's mind whirled to devise a rescue plan.  But as soon as he thought of a possibility he knew there was no way that it could done.

            Again, with alarming closeness, the train whistle shrieked in the air.  He could hear the clicking of the locomotive wheels over the tracks.  That was his son down there – yet there were four hundred passengers on the train.  John knew what he had to do, so he buried his head in his left arm and pushed the master switch forward.  That great massive bridge lowered into place just as the Memphis Express began to roar across the river. When John lifted his head with his face smeared with tears, he looked into the passing windows of the train.  There were businessmen casually reading their afternoon papers, finely dressed ladies in the dining car sipping coffee, and children pushing long spoons into their dishes of ice cream.  No one looked at the control house, and no one looked at the great gear box.  With wrenching agony, John Griffith cried out to the passing train: “I sacrificed my son for you people!  Don't you care?  The train rushed by, but nobody heard the words of an anguished father.”  This is a stark reminder of the words found in Lamentations 1: 12: “Is it nothing to you, all who pass by?”  I wonder how often our heavenly Father feels the kind of agony that this father did.  “I sacrificed my Son for you people – so that you could live! And yet you pass by without notice or care.  Does this mean nothing to you? 

            Jesus came to do the will of the Father and to offer his body as the perfect sacrifice for all time.   He came to be a sacrifice.  He was born for the ultimate purpose of being sacrificed.  Jesus Christ paid the price for our sins.  He offers the gift of a relationship with God and of eternal life – all you have to do is receive his gift by faith.  Receive his gift today – don't be like those who passed by unknowing and uncaring.

            Even for those who have received his gift of salvation, this is powerful reminder of God's great desire to redeem a people for himself.  He was willing to pay the ultimate price.  Sometimes we hear this message so much that the reality of the cost becomes lost.  May we always remember the Father's heart in why Jesus came to earth.   

 

Sermon: Numbers 6:22-27

The Blessing

January 22, 2017

Bryan Watson

Good morning.  The scripture passage on which I based this message is from Numbers 6:22-27.  You've all heard it many times before, but perhaps you didn't know where it came from.

Numbers 6:22-27 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.”’ “So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.”

When I was a young man living in Regina, I had a Pontiac 6000.  It was a nice little car, but it had a couple of quirks.  One quirk was that it ran like a cat.  Not "cat" as in "Caterpillar" heavy machinery, but rather a pussycat.  And not because it "purred" like a kitten, but because it didn't like water.  If the streets were the slightest bit wet, that car would spit and sputter and stall at every stoplight.  It was a true “fair-weather” friend.

But the other quirk it had was also weather related, and that is, when it turned cold, the circuit board in the steering wheel that controlled the horn would warp.  And so, every time I would turn the wheel to the left, the horn would honk.

Now, back then, I had to be in the office by 6:45 in the morning.  So I had to be out the door by 6:15 or so.  As fate would have it, I had to turn left to back out of the driveway.  Honk.  Honk.  And within 100 feet of the house, the street curved to the left.  Honk.

And this continued on until I get to my co-worker, Bill’s place.  He's standing in his driveway waiting for me when I turn left to pull in.  Honk!  Bill gets in, "What's your problem.  You didn't see me in the driveway?"  

Then we're at the stop light in, you guessed it, the left turning lane at Albert Street and Sask Drive.  The light turns green and the car in front of me proceeds to turn left with me following closely.  Honk!  Honk! 

I was amazed that morning at how friendly the folks in Regina are, waving and wishing me a great day!  The moral of this true story is found in Proverbs 27:14 Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing.

Today, I want to talk about how we can bless each other with words.  Now, for sure, there are other ways we can, and do, bless each other with acts of kindness.  Meals, gifts, acts of service like shovelling the snow off of someone's driveway, or giving someone a ride to the doctor... these are all ways we can bless each other.  But today, I want to focus on the way we bless each other with words. 

The 1828 Webster's Dictionary defines this aspect of blessing as follows:

BLESSING: Benediction; a wish of happiness pronounced; a prayer imploring happiness upon another.

1.    A solemn prophetic benediction, in which happiness is desired, invoked or foretold.

We all desire to be blessed.  As children, we long to hear the approval and affirmation of our parents.  Husbands long to hear the appreciation of their wives, and wives long to hear the love and adoration of their husbands.  Employees long to hear the approval of their bosses.  Parents long to hear the appreciation of their children.  The list goes on and on.

JACOB AND ESAU

In Old Testament times, when a son or a daughter received a particular blessing from their father, it was seen as a rite of passage; a particular moment when a boy became a man and a girl became a woman.  Often, this blessing included inheritance rights, as the firstborn son would receive double the inheritance of any of the other sons, as well as the mantle of family leadership.

The story of Jacob and Esau gives us a great example of this.  You can read the detailed events for yourself in Genesis 27, but let me give you a few highlights.

Jacob and Esau were the sons of Isaac.  They were twins, but Esau was the firstborn, and as such, had firstborn rights.  Isaac was getting old, and determined that it was time to give "The Blessing" to Esau.  So, he instructed Esau to go and prepare a special meal that Isaac would eat, and then give his blessing to Esau.  While Esau was out hunting game for the meal, Jacob and his mother Rebekah quickly prepared another meal.  Jacob disguised himself to be Esau, and presented the meal to his father, Isaac, deceiving him.  Isaac gave the blessing intended for Esau to Jacob.

When Esau got back and found out what happened, he was absolutely devastated.  As I mentioned, these blessings weren't given out flippantly, and nor could they be revoked.  Listen to the pain in this brief exchange:

Genesis 27:34-38 As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.” Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” Isaac answered and said to Esau, “Behold, I have made him lord over you, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?” Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.

Many years later, Jacob himself provides blessings to his children and a couple of his grandchildren upon his deathbed.  He blesses each one of them with a prophetic blessing.  You can read about this in Genesis 49.  I will tell you in advance, however, that some of the blessings these sons received was more a prophecy of “reaping what you sow” as opposed to how we think of blessings.

In the end, we all want to be blessed.  That's why the Benediction is one of my favourite parts of the worship service.  It isn't because it marks the end of the service, although on Sundays when we are having the fellowship meal, I start to shift in my seat a little bit. But really, it’s because I long to hear the blessing.  “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace."  Whether it's that or whether it's one of the other great benedictions that are prayed over us as a people, I long for those words to be pronounced over me

Gary Smalley and John Trent, in their book, "The Blessing" write, "Spoken words of blessing should start in the delivery room and continue throughout life.  Yet the 'lack of time' and the thief's motto, 'I'll have time to tell them tomorrow,' rob children of a needed blessing today.  'Oh, it's not a big deal,' you may say.  'They know I love them and that they're special without my having to say it.'  Really?  We wish that explanation worked with many of the people we counsel.  To them, their parents' silence has communicated something far different from love and acceptance."

Like the story about the couple who were married for 50 years and finally ended up in the counsellor's office after some difficulty.  "When was the last time you told your wife that you loved her?" asked the counsellor.  The husband replied, "I told her on our wedding day that I loved her, and if I ever change my mind, I'll let her know."  Do you think that wife felt blessed?

MARK HOLMEN, in his book “Church & Home” recounts a story about Rolf Garborg.  I want to read that to you now.

Do you want to know if that had an impact?  Holmen, in his workbook called, “Take It Home”, expands on this story by saying, “My daughter has been hearing this blessing every evening since she was two years old.  When I was leaving for a trip to speak in Canada, I went into my now eleven-year-old daughter’s room at 4:00 A.M. to give her a kiss goodbye.  I didn’t think she would wake up, but o my surprise she did.  And when she saw me, she reached out her arm from underneath the covers and extended it to me and then in her groggy, half awake voice she said the following words: ‘Daddy, as you go on your trip may the Lord bless you and keep you.  May He make His face shine on you and be gracious to you.  May the Lord look upon you with favour and keep you safe.  I love you, Daddy!  Amen.’”

I wish I could say that we had done that with our daughters, but it’s not too late.

NOT MAGIC WORDS

One thing I want to make clear here is that saying a blessing over someone is not a magic phrase. It's not an incantation or some genie-like lamp that we rub and everything just magically works out exactly as we say.  I do believe, however, in the power of prayer.  And I believe these blessings, given in the right spirit, do please God and cause both the one who is doing the blessing and the one who is being blessed to turn their hearts toward God, which sets the spiritual conditions in which blessing may occur.  After all, it is God Himself who instructed Moses in the book of Numbers about how to bless the people.  Using that example as our model provides us with the tools we need to bless others.

So, who should be blessing who, and how should we do it?  Well, the good news is, there's no real right way or wrong way to do this.  But we have a manual <the Bible> that provides us with some examples. 

We've already discussed the example that God gave to Moses in the Book of Numbers and how Mark Holmen and Rolf Garborg used it in their own families.  But let’s revisit that one more time from the aspect of a parent blessing their child.  What would that look like?  Well, for a young child, or even an older child who is comfortable with it, probably after getting tucked into bed, you’d place a hand on their shoulder or forehead and recite the blessing… The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace. Good night, I love you, Amen.”’

 For an adolescent or teenager, if they are uncomfortable with it, or just simply at that stage where Mom and Dad aren’t cool anymore, then maybe you don’t want to do this after “tucking them in.”  But I’m sure that God will provide a way and time if you keep your eyes open for it.  Mark Holmen says, “after they are asleep…”, but the problem with that is that your bedtime may be about 4 hours before theirs now.

And there are a lot of other examples of blessings that we could be saying.  The apostle Paul was a master of this, as the closing remarks of his letters shows.  As I read a few of these, you will automatically think of them as a benediction being given by a pastor to his congregation.  Let's think outside the box a little bit and consider how we may apply them in other circumstances.

Psalm 121:7-8 The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in From this time forth, and even forevermore.

1 Corinthians 16:23 – The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.

2 Corinthians 13:14 – May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Galatians 6:18 – The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit…

Ephesians 6:24 – Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.

Philippians 4:19 – My God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:23 – The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

2 Thessalonians 3:16 – Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times and in every way.  The Lord be with all of you.

And we shouldn’t just limit ourselves to these examples…

What if parents said this to their children before an exam or some other stressful event in their life:  Philippians 4:7 “May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

What if we prayed this over our children or grandchildren every day as they head off:  Romans 12:2 May you not be conformed to this world, but may you be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

What about husbands blessing their wives?  In our family, I have to leave early enough in the morning that Lori is still asleep when I leave.  But before I leave, I can gently place a hand on her shoulder and say, “May you feel my love today as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.  May God help me to have such a love.  For you are worth more than rubies, and my heart trusts you.”  That’s a combination of Ephesians 5:25 and Proverbs 31:10-11.

What if wives blessed their husbands every day?  Based on Ephesians 5:22-24 and Psalm 1:2-3: May God give you the wisdom to lead, just as Christ is the head of the Church.  May your delight be in God's law, that you may be like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in season, whose leaf does not whither, and may whatever you do prosper.

What about our brothers and sisters in Christ right here in this congregation?  Should we be blessing each other?  I would say, yes.  It means a lot to me, personally, when someone like Neil or Darwyn say a blessing over me… especially right before I am about to preach.  It gives me a sense of peace.  But it can get kind of awkward to pronounce a blessing on someone if you are over at their house for a visit.  It shouldn’t be awkward, but it is. 

I like the Jewish greeting of “Shalom”, which means “Peace.”  A simple blessing of “God bless you,” at somebody’s house shouldn’t be uncomfortable.  After all, we say it every time someone sneezes!

But I think we should work towards become a congregation that is comfortable with blessing each other.  And a great way to start that is to include a small blessing in our emails to each other, and to pray a blessing, like the ones I listed from Paul’s letters, over the names on the prayer cards that were handed out a while back.  Talk to Pastor Dennis or Donna if you need one.

You see, we all have the opportunity to be a blessing to one another.  And when it comes to children, I don’t think we have to limit this to our minor children.  I bet adult children would love to receive a blessing from their parents as well.

Now, maybe you are in a situation as either a minor child or an adult child, where you are just not going to receive a blessing from your parents.  Maybe they can’t because they have already passed away, or maybe they just won’t.  Maybe you’re in a situation where waiting for a blessing from another family member is looking impossible right now.  Maybe this entire sermon has actually been a discouragement to you.  What then?  Like Esau said, “Have you but one blessing? Bless me, even me also.”  Well, for those of you in this situation, I give you this blessing, right now.  From Isaiah 40:31 –

“But those who wait on the Lord

Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.”

So, may your strength be renewed, may you mount up with wings like eagles, may you run and not be weary, may you walk and not faint.  Amen.

Now for a disclaimer:  I have only scratched the surface of the idea of blessing others.  Reciting these blessings with our family and our church family is a great start, but there are things we should do beyond words in order to make being a blessing become a reality.  We would be wise to remember the words of James in James 2:15-16 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?

For today, however, I wanted to give us a place to start.  Let's start by giving the blessing to our family and brothers and sisters in Christ.  Whether it's saying a blessing over a child as they are going to bed, or blessing a friend on the phone or in an email, let's start taking it outside these four walls.

On the back of your bulletin in the sermon notes section, write down the name of someone you would like to begin saying a blessing for, and some thoughts about what you would like your blessing for that person to be.  How would you like to be blessed?  Maybe that’s something you can communicate to another.  I’ll give you a few seconds to think that through, but I also encourage you to treat it like a homework assignment.

As you leave the sanctuary today, there is going to be a sheet of paper with a couple of common blessings available to you.  Take one or more.  Tape them on the lightswitches of your child's bedroom.  Tape them by your phone.  Tape them below your loved one's picture on your fridge.  But don't take it and not use it.  And by the way, even if you think they are sleeping, say it anyway.  You never know who is listening.

 

Sermon: 1 John 4:1-6

Testing the Spirits

January 29, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

This morning we come to our second text in 1 John that reminds us again of this crucial truth: genuine believers hold certain beliefs about Jesus – certain non-negotiable truths. It is imperative that we hold these things to be true if we are truly born of the Spirit of God. Many of the things that Christianity holds to be true about Jesus Christ are unique from any other world religion or cult. These beliefs set us apart – and can make us unpopular. The world and its system values tolerance, but the teachings of Jesus and of scripture point to incarnation – foolishness to many - and promote exclusivity – intolerance to many.

The fact of the matter is that there are many competing spirits/voices in the world today who promote corrupt views on Christ. The explanations of who he really was have run the gamut of virtually every conceivable possibility. As I mentioned in my first message about this theme, it matters what we believe about Jesus, and it matters a lot. In fact, our eternal destination depends on it. We see from our text for today that there is a spirit of truth and a spirit of deception at work in our world, and it is vitally important that we learn to identify the true one. In order to confirm the origin/source of a spirit, it may be necessary to apply a test – and this is John’s message for us this morning. The test of whether a spirit is from God is whether the truth about Jesus is confessed and whether the Word of God is listened to. How can we test the spirits?

First: There is the call for discernment (vs.1). “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” John is basically repeating the message of Jesus here reported by Mark 13:22 - “For false Christ’s and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect.” John is warning that false prophets (who claim to speak spiritual revelation) are about, and their message must be tested. We must be able to discern what we are being taught.

The floor of the Princeton gym was being resurfaced, so Princeton basketball player (and later United States senator) Bill Bradley had to practice at Lawrenceville School. His first afternoon at Lawrenceville, he began by shooting fourteen-foot jump shots from the right side. He got off to a bad start, and he kept missing them. Six in a row hit the back rim of the basket and bounced out. He stopped and seemed to make an adjustment in his mind. Then he went up for another jump shot from the same spot and hit it cleanly. Four more shots went in without a miss. Then he paused and said, “You want to know something? That basket is about an inch and a half low.” Some weeks later, I went back to Lawrenceville with a steel tape measure. I borrowed a stepladder and measured the height of the basket. It was nine feet, ten and seven-eighths inches above the floor, or one and one-eighth inches too low.

Can you imagine that? What did it take for him to have the ability to discern the slightest error in the height of that basketball rim? How many shots did he have to take from that position on the floor to be able to detect that minute deviation? Thousands, I would imagine. If we make an analogy out of this with our need for spiritual discernment, what does it suggest? In order to discern even the smallest error of false teaching, we better be well practiced in the Word of God. In order to discern the falsehood, we must be well acquainted with authentic. (MC) “The funny thing about false teaching is that it usually sounds right! It’s compelling! It makes sense! Often, it is right...mostly, that is. But woven into the truth is enough false teaching to sink a ship.”

Test the spirits; test the teaching – is what is being taught from God – does it line up with scripture? Do not believe every teacher, every pastor, or every sermon – there are false teachings everywhere.

Second: There is the test of the content of the teaching (vs. 2-3). Again we come to this phrase that John has repeated so often in this letter, and is repeated twice in this passage today – “This is how you know (can recognize).” This is the language of testing, and John provides us with a means to test the spirits. Here’s the test itself: “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already on the world.” Back in chapter 2 the issue was “the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah), and here the denial is clarified more to “denying Jesus has come in the flesh.” This is a clear reference to the incarnation – the belief that Jesus is the divine Son of God – that he willingly left heaven and came to earth as a human being born in a manger.

The opposition in John’s day denied the full humanity and full deity of Jesus, and this has been an issue of contention all throughout history in and out of the church. In the context of John’s letter, there were teachers on both sides of the issue – some who suggested that Jesus only “appeared” to be human – some sort of divine apparition, and so they denied his full humanity. Others denied his full divinity - suggesting that he was human only, but that the “Christ spirit” came upon him at his baptism, but then left him just before his crucifixion.

The doctrine of the incarnation – Jesus as the divine Son of God remains a stumbling block today. Every world religion and cult without exception denies that Jesus is the Son of God who has “come in the flesh.” It is the unique claim of the Christian faith. Peter recently sent me an email from the website The Christians.com that had an article about a church in Scotland that opened up their pulpit to an Islamic woman. Listen to this:

A passage from the Koran that denies one of the central tenets of the Christian faith was sung aloud at a cathedral service in Scotland. The passage from Surah 19, which specifically denies that Jesus was the Son of God and says He should not be worshipped, was sung during a Eucharist service at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Glasgow to mark the feast of the Epiphany. A video of the recital was posted on YouTube showing a girl singing the passage in a typical Islamic style. It narrates the Islamic account of the birth of Jesus, which includes the claim that Mary was “ashamed” after giving birth, and the infant Christ miraculously spoke from the cradle – something not found in Christian scripture. She then concludes by singing verse 35, which states in translation: “It befitteth not the Majesty of Allah that He should take unto Himself a son,” and then verse 36, which has the infant Jesus saying: “And lo! Allah is my Lord and your Lord. So worship Him. That is the right path.” The cathedral praised the reading in a Facebook post, calling it a “wonderful event”.

Now, according to the teaching of John, are Muslims of the spirit of God, or of the spirit of the antichrist? I would say today’s scripture makes that very clear!

However, the denial of Jesus Christ as the Son of God in not is any way limited to the Muslims – it is equally denied by Buddhists and Hindus – and every other world religion. This truth is also denied by every quasi-Christian group. The Jehovah Witnesses teach that Jesus was God’s first creation, in fact before he was born of Mary he was the archangel Michael. Angels are not divine, they are created beings. Next time the JW’s come to your door, ask them this question, “Who is Jesus?” Then show them this text from 1 John – and if their answer is anything other than “the Son of God who has come in the flesh,” you know the spirit of their teaching is not from God. The Mormons believe that Jesus was the first-born of God’s many “spirit children,” and Lucifer was his brother. They also believe that Father God was once a man who progressed to godhood, and that divinity is possible for every human. This is not the God/Jesus of the Bible.

This truth about Jesus remains under attack to this day – and it is important that we hold to this doctrine. In the NT, even the demons recognized the fact of the incarnation. We cannot waiver on the identity of Jesus, because the whole foundation of our faith will collapse. (Stott) “The fundamental Christian doctrine which can never be compromised concerns the eternal divine – human person of Jesus Christ – the Son of God.” “The person of Christ is central.”

It is also important for me to make clear that this test of doctrine – that Jesus has come in the flesh – is only one test. While it is a necessary test, it is not a sufficient test. It was a very important test to the context of John’s time because the nature of Jesus was under attack. However, John has also made clear in this letter that there is also the test of obedience and love that are necessary for the Christian life. There are many false prophets / teachers in the church today who would never deny the incarnation of Christ. So it is not an absolute test – and we do see other distortions of the scriptures coming from a variety of directions. Here’s a few:

- There is a growing popularity in the church of the idea of universalism – that in the end everyone will ultimately be saved. This is an effort to fit God into our preconceptions. “Many people want a God who is all love and would never want anyone to suffer.” But is that what the scriptures really teach? What is the whole counsel of God on this issue?

- There is a growing movement among some evangelical leaders and churches to accept the gay lifestyle. Where is the scriptural basis for this?

- Many evangelicals have taught that in order to be saved one must simply admit they are a sinner, tell God they’re sorry and invite Jesus to be their personal Saviour. My teacher told of one incidence he witnessed where a worship leader made that invitation and then added, “Don’t expect your life to change much when you do…” My teacher said he wanted to stand up and shout “Heresy!” This is teaching salvation without transformation – is that biblical? “You cannot confess, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and not expect your life to change; and you cannot be saved without confessing ‘Jesus is Lord’.”

I know, these examples have no direct connection with confessing that Jesus has “come in the flesh,” but they do pertain to the principle in John’s admonition to test the spirits. These teachings, and many others, undermine the truth of the gospel. We cannot allow ourselves to become gullible; we must test the content and the spirit of the teachings.

Third: There is the test of the response to the teaching (4-6). Each of the verses, 4-6, begins with a different preposition and is followed by the words “are from” – which indicates a source that is then identified.

*You are from God (4). John is referring to his audience here. They are from God and have the power of the indwelling Spirit. Because of that they have been able to overcome (triumph) the false teachers who have not succeeded in deceiving them. We must remember that we have the Holy Spirit in us and He that is in us is greater than the spirit that is in the world. By being vigilant, the Spirit can and will protect us from the deception that is everywhere.

*They are from the world (5). They, of course, refer to the false teachers (ings). They are from the world; they are the spirit of the antichrist. They speak the viewpoints and the opinions of the world’s value system, and so the world likes them and listens to them. False teaching will usually come from people who are trying to fit God into their own image and conceptions of what he should be like – they create a god of their own making and their own desires.

*We are from God (6). Who are the “we” here? Most believe John is referring to the apostles – their oral and written teachings. Those who know God will receive and listen to the apostle’s teaching (NT). Those who do not know God will neither receive nor listen to the teachings of scripture. They don’t recognize the truth and they don’t want to hear it. As Luther once said, “When we speak from the Spirit of God, the majority snore.”

This, then, is the test – this is “how we know” the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. Our response to the Word of God indicates who we belong to, and whether or not we will listen indicates whether or not we really know God. It almost seems to suggest that the true people of God will recognize the true Word of God.

The test of whether a spirit is from God is whether the truth about Jesus is confessed and whether the Word of God is listened to. Jesus Christ is the only point of communication between heaven and earth. Let’s test the spirits, stand on the truth about Jesus, and contend with the sword of the Spirit – his Word.