God's love

Finding the Love You Want, 21 April 2024

Finding the Love You Want
Ruth: Finding God in the Ordinary
Ruth 1:19-2:14

Series Big Idea:
God does extraordinary things in and through the ordinary.
Big Idea: God will bless our faithfulness to Him and His people.
Marriage has changed a lot in our culture, just in my lifetime. Its literal definition changed in 2015 in the USA. Cohabitation is seen as an alternative to marriage for many. In the last five decades, marriage rates have dropped nearly 60%. But our text today is about—spoiler alert—a woman meeting her future husband. They didn’t meet on a dating site or at a bar, but it’s a great story.
Two weeks ago, we began our series on the book of Ruth. If you missed Pastor Mike’s sermon, the first chapter of the book introduces us to a woman named Naomi. She’s from Bethlehem—yes, that Bethlehem, though centuries before the birth of Jesus—and her family leaves during a famine and lives in Moab for about a decade. While there, her husband and two sons died, leaving her without the three men in her life, surrounded by her two daughters-in-law who are also widows. Naomi tells them to return to their mothers. One does…
But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” 18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more. (Ruth 1:16-18, NLT)   
Ruth and Naomi are widows, a great challenge in our day, but far more treacherous in their culture. Ruth is so committed to Naomi she gives up her cultural and religious identity to be with her. It’s possible she was impressed not only with Naomi, but her God. This vow is so compelling, Heather and I had it read at our wedding as a declaration of our dedication to one another.
Speaking of weddings, today’s message is entitled, “Finding the Love You Want.” We’re going to look at the incredible way God led Ruth to find a husband after the death of her first one. Before we continue, let me make a few important disclaimers. First, married life is not superior to single life. Some of you unmarried people like being single. Others think a spouse will “complete you” and idealize marriage. God doesn’t want everyone married, though it was His design for some of us to marry in order to reproduce, but with 8 billion people on the planet, I think we’re doing a pretty good job at that! There are many reasons why people are single, but it is not a curse. I’m deeply sorry for the way some church people have treated singles, whether it be unwanted match-making, a what’s-wrong-with-you attitude, or creating meat markets called “singles ministries.”
We are family, and we need one another. Singles can learn from marrieds and vice-versa and we need to do life together. Our Life Groups are a great tool for this…diverse, small communities where the young and old, married and unmarried, parents and those without kids, rich and poor…can experience life together, serving one another, loving one another. There are two single men in our church family who have each been “adopted” by a family and it brings me great joy to see them live life in such a community, despite not having a spouse. Paul wrote in the Bible,
Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. (1 Corinthians 7:8, NIV)
Jesus was unmarried. There’s no shame in singleness. But if you need help finding a mate, you might want to pay attention to this.
You’re welcome!
Ruth and her mother-in-law have lost their husbands…and they never had the privilege of seeing that video to aid in finding new ones!
So the two of them continued on their journey. When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked. (Ruth 1:19, NLT)   
Naomi had lived here and must’ve made quite an impression for “the entire town” to be excited to see her.
“Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. 21 I went away full, but the LORD has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the LORD has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?” (Ruth 1:20-21, NLT)
This is kind of dark, but I love her honesty. In this culture, names had tremendous meaning. Naomi’s life had changed so much she wanted to be called “bitter.” She felt God was punishing her, perhaps for leaving Bethlehem to live in a foreign country that worshipped other gods. While I can see why she felt it was a punishment, the Bible is filled with refugees, immigrants, and aliens and cares deeply for them. Guess what the name Ruth means? It means friendship or clinging. How appropriate! And Naomi? It means pleasant! Note in these two verses Naomi says, “I” or “me” eight times! She so fixated on herself she doesn’t even acknowledge the presence of Ruth, saying “the LORD has brought me home empty.”
It’s easy to pick on Naomi, but as Pastor Mike said two weeks ago, there’s much we don’t know about her, and there are things that reveal both her godliness and imperfections. One writer noted the similarities between her and Job. They both experienced tremendous loss and suffering, though Naomi did it as a woman, a widow, and a foreigner while living in Moab, things Job never experienced.
So Naomi returned from Moab, accompanied by her daughter-in-law Ruth, the young Moabite woman. They arrived in Bethlehem in late spring, at the beginning of the barley harvest. (Ruth 1:22, NLT)
Harvest time has always been important, but especially in an agrarian society. They couldn’t run up to Kroger and grab a frozen burrito or pick up fast food. If you don’t harvest, you die. Chapter one began with Naomi leaving Bethlehem and ends with her returning.  
Now there was a wealthy and influential man in Bethlehem named Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech. (Ruth 2:1, NLT)   
Hello Boaz! He’s a relative of Naomi’s late husband and is wealthy and influential. The book of Matthew mentions he is the son of Rahab, the former prostitute in Jericho who hid Israel’s spies in the book of Joshua.
One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.”
Naomi replied, “All right, my daughter, go ahead.” (Ruth 2:2, NLT)   
They were hungry and needed food.
So Ruth went out to gather grain behind the harvesters. And as it happened, she found herself working in a field that belonged to Boaz, the relative of her father-in-law, Elimelech. (Ruth 2:3, NLT)   
“As it happened.” The author is telling us this is not chance or coincidence, but God’s providence. He is at work in this situation, and He’s far more active in our lives than we realize. Ruth is a hungry, desperate widow, but God sees her. God sees you, too. This story is remarkable, but the greatest impact of Ruth and Boaz will not occur in their lifetime. God is doing something that will impact generations for centuries…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
This process of picking up leftover grain was known as gleaning (see Leviticus 19:9-10). There’s a food bank in metro Detroit called Gleaners.
While she was there, Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters. “The LORD be with you!” he said.
            “The LORD bless you!” the harvesters replied. (Ruth 2:4, NLT)   
This seems like a nice guy! He’s a wealthy, influential man who takes time to greet the poor collecting his leftovers.
Then Boaz asked his foreman, “Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?” (Ruth 2:5, NLT)
He notices Ruth…because she’s new? Because she’s young? Because she’s beautiful? The culture was patriarchal where every woman must belong to a man, whether it’s a husband or father. Unfortunately, some of these attitudes remain today, where women are treated as second-class citizens and single women are incomplete.  
And the foreman replied, “She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi. 7 She asked me this morning if she could gather grain behind the harvesters. She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest in the shelter.” (Ruth 2:6-7, NLT)
She’s a hard worker. That’s a good character trait.   
Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field. 9 See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.” (Ruth 2:8-9, NLT)   
This is probably not typical treatment of a gleaner. Either Boaz is very kind, he has an interest in her, or both.
Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.” (Ruth 2:10, NLT)   
Remember, Naomi was from Bethlehem, but Ruth was from Moab,
“Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. May the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” (Ruth 2:11-12, NLT)
Boaz is kind, but he’s also heard about the kindness of Ruth…without social media! Could this be a match made in heaven? We’ll see!  
“I hope I continue to please you, sir,” she replied. “You have comforted me by speaking so kindly to me, even though I am not one of your workers.” (Ruth 2:13, NLT)   
All Ruth is seeking is food for her and her mother-in-law, Naomi. But she is a vulnerable widow, as is Naomi.
At mealtime Boaz called to her, “Come over here, and help yourself to some food. You can dip your bread in the sour wine.” So she sat with his harvesters, and Boaz gave her some roasted grain to eat. She ate all she wanted and still had some left over. (Ruth 2:14, NLT)   
Now she has food, all right, but not from gleaning. These aren’t leftovers. She’s eating with the master of the house, so to speak. Not only did she have quality food, she’s dining at an all-you-can-eat buffet. I hope there’s a doggy bag for her to take some food to Naomi!
And that’s where we end today! Come back next time for the continuation of the story and see what happens between Ruth and Boaz.
So What?
The moral of this story is if you want to find love, glean from the nearest farm and hope the owner sees you and shows you favor! Not quite, but it is a truly remarkable story. It’s important to see that God is the main character. LORD—the all-caps sacred name for God—is mentioned several times. This is much more than a tragedy becoming hopeful or the search for a spouse.
There are some principles that apply not only to dating, but all friendships. First and foremost, God is sovereign. He is in control. Although He didn’t force these events to take place, He had a plan for Ruth…and Naomi…and Boaz…and an even bigger plan that we’ll see later in the series that impacts us today!
Second, God sees needs. He saw these widows. He hasn’t forgotten them. And He sees you, too. We have many actual widows in our First Alliance family. God sees you. We do, too, and want to love and serve you in your loss, grief, and loneliness. I read a remarkable statistic that 90% of wives will be widows for at least part of their lives. Throughout the Bible, we see three vulnerable people groups God instructs us to care for: widows, strangers, and orphans.
Third, God sees deeds. He not only sees our needs, He sees our deeds! Ruth showed radical love to her mother-in-law. She could’ve listen to Naomi who said, “Go find a husband. I don’t want to be a burden to you,” but instead, Ruth was committed to Naomi. God saw this, and others did, too, which is why Boaz heard about it and a primary reason why he showed such kindness to Ruth.
I’m not sure who needs to hear this today, but listen to these words from Paul:
So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. (1 Corinthians 15:58, NLT)
Ruth didn’t explicitly stay with Naomi for the Lord, but her devotion was an expression of love. Ruth was a woman of faith who loved God. This was clear in verses 1:16 and again in 2:12.
It’s easy to feel hidden and unnoticed. Sometimes the work we do takes weeks, month, years, even decades before it’s noticed, but God is always watching…and in time, it’s likely that your good deeds will be noticed and rewarded. Don’t give up. Don’t worry about human applause. You will be rewarded for eternity for the things you do for the LORD.
By the way, we don’t do good works to get saved. We do good works because we’ve been saved. Faith without works is dead. As Dallas Willard said, God’s not opposed to effort. He’s opposed to earning. Serving God and others should be the natural response to the cross, the empty tomb, and God’s amazing grace toward us.
Ultimately, God will bless our faithfulness to Him and His people. That blessing may be finding the love of your life. It might be experiencing the joy of a deep friendship. What we do matters. Who we worship matters most of all…and my heart is full of gratitude for our amazing God and His faithfulness. 
You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

A Lasting Love, 15 April 2018

A Lasting Love
D6 Series—
Songs from the Heart (Psalms)
Psalm 89

Series Overview: The Psalms reveal hearts poured out in inspired song.

Big Idea: God is awesome, faithful, loving, and just.


Today we are continuing our series, Songs from the Heart, on select Psalms. I mentioned last week how the book of Psalms was Israel’s hymnbook…and my favorite book of the Old Testament. The passion, authenticity, and artistry of these lyrics are so real, relevant, and inspiring…thousands of years after their writing.

On Resurrection Sunday, we saw glimpses of the suffering Jesus in Psalm 22. Last week, we looked at the Messianic nature of Psalm 72. Today we will explore Psalm 89, a long and somewhat unique psalm. Written by Ethan the Ezrahite, this maskil—a word with uncertain meaning, but possibly “instruction”—is packed with descriptions of Almighty God. Although it is too short to be considered a biography of God, it reveals to us many features of our Creator, not merely for the sake of intellectual curiosity, but rather to help us know our awesome God who is alive and personally knowable.

Since it’s so long, the text will largely speak for itself. It’s always my desire to proclaim the Word of God first and foremost every Sunday, letting my commentary merely aid you in understanding and application. The Bible is our authority—not my words. I challenge you today to listen to these beautiful descriptions of the Almighty.

A maskil of Ethan the Ezrahite.

I will sing of the LORD’S great love forever;
with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations.
I will declare that your love stands firm forever,
that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself. (Psalm 89:1-2)

Arguably the most important part of God’s character is love. In the book of 1 John, the scriptures simply say,

God is love. (1 John 4:16a)

God is the definition of love. Ethan, the psalmist, not only knows God’s love, he knows it’s great, and he will sing of it forever!

One of the most popular worship songs of the past twenty years is taken from this passage: “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever,” except Nathan says he
will sing of God’s great love forever. He declares it. God’s faithfulness, too, is announced.

Love and faithfulness.

You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David my servant,
‘I will establish your line forever
and make your throne firm through all generations.’ ”
(Psalm 89:3-4)

This note echoes last week’s Psalm describing the king and royalty. King Jesus was born in the lineage of David…and He will return and will rule forever.

The heavens praise your wonders, LORD,
your faithfulness too, in the assembly of the holy ones.
For who in the skies above can compare with the LORD?
Who is like the LORD among the heavenly beings? (Psalm 89:5-6)

If you’ve ever gazed at the stars in the sky, you’ve seen the same lights seen by the psalmist.

You may have heard Pastor Soper in the Mission 119 devotional tell the story of Theodore Roosevelt. He would gaze at the stars with his friend, William Beebe, the naturalist. They would chant together, “
That is the Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It consists of one hundred billion suns, each larger than our sun.” Then Roosevelt would grin and say, “No I think we are small enough! Let’s go to bed.”

Living in a city in world with electrical lights dominating our region, we are only able to get a glimpse of the heavenly bodies created at the sound of God’s voice. Another psalmist wrote,

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (Psalms 19:1)

I challenge you to take some time this week—if we get a clear sky—and admire God’s handiwork. A couple of weeks ago I was outside doing just that, nearly blinded by the intensity of the full moon. After being so careful not to look at the sun during the recent eclipse, I hesitated to stare at the moon, it was so bright and beautiful!

Although none of us have seen God, we can learn much about the Creator by studying creation.

In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared;
he is more awesome than all who surround him.
Who is like you, LORD God Almighty?
You, LORD, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you. (Psalm 89:7-8)

Ethan is at a loss for words. No one and nothing can compare to God. He has no equal. In biblical days, much like today among some religions, there is belief in multiple gods. For example, there are 33 categories of gods in Hinduism with the actual number of gods in the millions!

I’ve said before that I reserve the word “awesome” for God. If you think a car is awesome or your cell phone is awesome or the arrival of spring weather is awesome, that’s fine, but to me it’s a special “God” word. Our God is an awesome God…the awesome God!

You rule over the surging sea;
when its waves mount up, you still them.
You crushed Rahab like one of the slain;
with your strong arm you scattered your enemies. (Psalm 89:9-10)

God is powerful and He’s not afraid to use His power. It’s not that He hates people, but
rather He hates sin and evil. You might say God’s allergic to them! God has a real enemy named satan who has an army of demons who have been wreaking havoc on our planet since our first ancestors. God is omnipotent—all powerful—and also a God of justice, love, and mercy.

The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth;
you founded the world and all that is in it.
You created the north and the south;
Tabor and Hermon sing for joy at your name. (Psalm 89:11-12)

Everything belongs to God. He created it. He owns it. That includes you and me!

Your arm is endowed with power;
your hand is strong, your right hand exalted.
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
love and faithfulness go before you. (Psalm 89:13-14)

I love the creative use of words, describing God’s arm and hand. God is righteous and just…along with being love and faithful.

Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you,
who walk in the light of your presence, LORD.
They rejoice in your name all day long;
they celebrate your righteousness. (Psalm 89:15-16)

Here things shift briefly to humanity. Those who follow the LORD are blessed. God is with them. How can we not rejoice and celebrate? God is truly good news!

For you are their glory and strength,
and by your favor you exalt our horn.

Indeed, our shield
belongs to the LORD,
our king to the Holy One of Israel. (Psalm 89:17-18)

Is God your glory? Is God your strength? Is God your shield?

So far we’ve seen our God as loving, great, and powerful. He longs for nothing more than a relationship with you. Intimacy with you. He loves to reveal Himself through the pages of the Bible, among other things, and He loves the sound of your voice in prayer. In fact, I believe your voice is the most beautiful sound to God. Now things shift a bit.

Once you spoke in a vision,
to your faithful people you said:
“I have bestowed strength on a warrior;
I have raised up a young man from among the people. (Psalm 89:19)

I have found David my servant;
with my sacred oil I have anointed him.
My hand will sustain him;
surely my arm will strengthen him. (Psalm 89:20-21)

God chose David to be king over Israel. He wasn’t even considered worthy by his own family when there was a search for a king, yet God saw this shepherd, knew his heart, and made him arguably the greatest leader in Israel’s history. The book of 1 Samuel describes the account:

Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The LORD has not chosen these.”
So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”

Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”
So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.

Then the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.” (1 Samuel 16:10-12)

This is our God. He sees you! He knows your heart. You might not be famous or powerful, but you are known by God…and He can do incredible things in and through your life if you will commit all of your ways to Him. Back to David…

The enemy will not get the better of him;
the wicked will not oppress him.
I will crush his foes before him
and strike down his adversaries. (Psalm 89:22-23)

My faithful love will be with him,
and through my name his horn will be exalted.
I will set his hand over the sea,
his right hand over the rivers. (Psalm 89:24-25)

He will call out to me, ‘You are my Father,
my God, the Rock my Savior.’
And I will appoint him to be my firstborn,
the most exalted of the kings of the earth. (Psalm 89:26-27)

I will maintain my love to him forever,
and my covenant with him will never fail.
I will establish his line forever,
his throne as long as the heavens endure. (Psalm 89:28-29)

Now listen to this condition.

“If his sons forsake my law
and do not follow my statutes,
if they violate my decrees
and fail to keep my commands,
I will punish their sin with the rod,
their iniquity with flogging;
but I will not take my love from him,
nor will I ever betray my faithfulness. (Psalm 89:30-33)

Again, God hates sin. All sin. Would you like a list?! He doesn’t hate people who sin, but He hates sin. All sin separates us from God, something only restored through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

How do you respond to love? A common response to love is love! We love God before He first loved us. And how do we love God? Obedience. That’s it! Obeying God’s Word. The Bible is packed with instructions of how to live life to the full, to the max! Every time we ignore a command, we disrespect God, sin, and basically declare ourselves to be God. We know better than our Creator…or we simply choose to rebel.

There are some difficult commands in the Bible, but Jesus obeyed them all perfectly and wants us to follow His example, not because God is a control freak and wants to take away our fun, but because Father knows best.

Our culture—and courts—have basically said do whatever you want. Individual autonomy has been championed by at least one prominent judge, which sounds great on the surface, but we were made for community. We were made to be dependent. Our actions affect others. And most of all, we were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory. Following Jesus means you don’t get to do whatever you want, whenever you want!

You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20)

The context is sexuality. Pardon this brief tangent, but God created our bodies and created sex…for procreation and for a husband and wife to bond together and experience pleasure and connection. It’s a gift from God, but only between a husband and wife. That’s not politically correct in a world that says do whatever you want whenever you want as longer as there is “consent,” but God has special plans and purposes for our bodies, for our sexuality, for our health, for our time, talents, and treasures. I didn’t make the rules, but I know they’re for our ultimate satisfaction.

“If his sons forsake my law
and do not follow my statutes,
if they violate my decrees
and fail to keep my commands,
I will punish their sin with the rod,
their iniquity with flogging;
but I will not take my love from him,
nor will I ever betray my faithfulness. (Psalm 89:30-33)

We must never forsake God’s law, His statues, His decrees, His commands. If we truly love God, we will obey Him. Obedience is God’s love language.

I will not violate my covenant
or alter what my lips have uttered. (Psalm 89:34)

God never breaks His promises, His covenant, His word.

Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness—
and I will not lie to David—
that his line will continue forever
and his throne endure before me like the sun;
it will be established forever like the moon,
the faithful witness in the sky.” (Psalm 89:35-37)

Can you imagine such a legacy? What a statement by God! Now Ethan address God again with some strong statements.

But you have rejected, you have spurned,
you have been very angry with your anointed one.
You have renounced the covenant with your servant
and have defiled his crown in the dust. (Psalm 89:38-39)

You have broken through all his walls
and reduced his strongholds to ruins.
All who pass by have plundered him;
he has become the scorn of his neighbors. (Psalm 89:40-41)

You have exalted the right hand of his foes;
you have made all his enemies rejoice.
Indeed, you have turned back the edge of his sword
and have not supported him in battle. (Psalm 89:42-43)

You have put an end to his splendor
and cast his throne to the ground.
You have cut short the days of his youth;
you have covered him with a mantle of shame. (Psalm 89:44-45)

This is where things get interesting. Ethan has said these wonderful things about God, yet he has questions. He has concerns. He’s not just singing love songs to God 24/7. He’s real.

How long, LORD? Will you hide yourself forever?
How long will your wrath burn like fire? (Psalm 89:46)

Have you ever felt like God was hiding from you? I have! I have questioned God, doubted God, …and it’s ok to do so. God can handle it. He loves authenticity.

Remember how fleeting is my life.
For what futility you have created all humanity!
Who can live and not see death,
or who can escape the power of the grave? (Psalm 89:47-48)

Life is fragile. We all have an expiration date, and we must never forget it.

Lord, where is your former great love,
which in your faithfulness you swore to David? (Psalm 89:49)

More questions. It’s possible to gaze at the sky and proclaim God’s majesty, only to look down at the messy world we live in, filled with suffering and pain.

Remember, Lord, how your servant has been mocked,
how I bear in my heart the taunts of all the nations,
the taunts with which your enemies, LORD, have mocked,
with which they have mocked every step of your anointed one. (Psalm 89:50-51)

Following God is never easy, but justice will eventually be served and redemption will come. Ethan knows this, concluding

Praise be to the LORD forever!
Amen and Amen. (Psalm 89:52)

So What?

Psalm 89 is quite the scripture! What have we learned?

God is loving, but He hates sin and rebellion and refuses to ignore them.

(D6) We can trust the promises we find in the Bible because the Bible is God’s Word, and he is always faithful to His Word.

Do you read it? Listen to it? Study it? Know it? It’s the best tool we have for knowing God.

Israel’s tendency to turn away from God illustrates how we are engaged in a spiritual warfare.

The people of Israel had a roller coaster relationship with God, claiming allegiance and then abandoning Him. We have a real enemy who is destroying our world: school shootings, homelessness, corruption, racism, abortion, poverty, sex trafficking, injustice, hatred, suicide, …but we also are invited to follow the awesome God, the LORD of lords and the King of kings, Jesus Christ. As we said last week, in a kingdom, subjects submit to the king. We must submit to God, His commands, and His discipline, knowing that He loves us and wants what’s truly best for us. We love because He first loved us. We are faithful because He has been faithful to us. We serve others because He served us. We forgive others because we have been forgiven.

This week, how will you praise and honor God, even in the midst of stress and distress? You might begin by reviewing Psalm 89, this brief biography of the Almighty. Declare God’s character. Our God is the awesome, loving, faithful God.

God didn’t just talk about love, He demonstrated it by sending Jesus to live, die, and rise from the dead, bearing our guilt and shame and sin which God hates. Taking our place. We join the psalmists in praising God, yet we have even more to praise Him for being on this side of the cross. Hallelujah!

Credits: some notes from D6

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Preparation: Baptism & Temptation, 7 May 2017

    Preparation: Baptism & Temptation
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus\
    Mark 1:9-13

    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: Baptism and temptation prepared Jesus for the ministry that would follow.


    One of the most rewarding parts of my childhood was Boy Scouts. As a scout, I learned about nature, how to tie knots, rappelling, wilderness survival, and so much more. The Boy Scout motto is short yet powerful: Be prepared.

    Preparation. It’s one key to success in life. Anything worth doing is probably worth preparation which is why doctors devote more than a decade of their lives to education before performing their first surgery. It’s why an athlete will train for four years before entering Olympic competition. Legendary basketball coach John Wooden famously said, “When the opportunity arises, it is too late to prepare.”

    What kind of preparation would be necessary to revolutionize the world? No human has had a greater impact on our planet than Jesus Christ did in the three years of His public ministry. We know almost nothing about the first three decades of His life, but Mark tells us about two significant events in Jesus’ preparation—baptism and temptation. And it leads to one truth that will blow your mind!

    We’re in week three of an extensive series on The Real Jesus based upon the gospel or good news of Mark. This biography of Christ is short and sweet, the headlines, so to speak, of the life of Jesus.

    In week one, we saw Jesus as the Messiah, the fulfillment of hundreds of prophecies, the Son of God, one of three Persons of the Holy Trinity, yet fully human.

    Last Sunday we looked at the messenger, John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin who prepared the way for Christ. Today we see Jesus encountering John—and satan.

    At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. (Mark 1:9)

    John Mark, the writer of Mark, finally brings Jesus to the stage. His message is short and sweet. Jesus comes from an obscure village in Galilee and gets baptized.

    Last week we said baptism had several possible purposes in the first century. It was used for cleansing the body, publicly demonstrating one’s faith, or perhaps symbolically purifying one as they turn away from their sins. It can also represent turning toward God, not just away from evil.

    Baptism doesn’t remove sin. Jesus had no sin to remove. John had been baptizing in the Jordan River in the wilderness drawing crowds from the countryside and the city of Jerusalem, preparing the way for Jesus of Nazareth who finally arrives in Mark’s narrative, baptized by His cousin, John.

    Today, baptism is a ceremony we do for people who want to go public with their faith in Jesus. They enter the water and are dunked in what is symbolically a water grave, dying to their own selfish will and desires before emerging out of the water resurrected as a new creation, seeking to devote their lives to following Jesus.

    Jesus is dunked by John, and the original Greek clearly puts John in the background. The spotlight is on Jesus.

    Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. (Mark 1:10)

    Notice the details here. First, Jesus saw heaven being torn or ripped open as He was coming out of the water. The verb for “torn open” will be used again by Mark when he describes the temple veil being torn in two from the top to the bottom. What is opened can be closed, but what is torn is more permanent. Both episodes give us a glimpse into God’s kingdom. Remember, heaven is where God is. In the Bible, it often means God’s dimension behind ordinary reality. All heaven breaks loose when Jesus is baptized! The hope of Isaiah has come to pass: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you” (Isaiah 64:1).

    The Holy Spirit is then introduced, descending on Jesus “like” a dove. Can you think of any doves in the Bible? One brought an olive branch after the flood (Genesis 8). This doesn’t say a dove landed on Jesus, though. It says the Spirit descended on like a dove. It is as if the Spirit came upon Jesus, perhaps entering Him. We clearly see God the Son and God the Spirit together. The same Spirit that hovered over the waters at the beginning of creation in Genesis 1 now descends on Jesus as a sign that new creation has begun.

    The dove never came back: he was looking for some place to land. He tried to land on Noah, but Noah got drunk. He tried to land on Abraham…Moses…David…Solomon…Isaiah…Jeremiah…landed on Jesus.

    And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)

    The voice of God the Father is heard. It will later be heard at the transfiguration when He says, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him! (Mark 9:7). As one might expect, Jesus’ baptism was special. Heaven was torn open, the Holy Spirit came on Him like a dove, and the Father spoke, announcing Jesus as His Son.

    The Trinity

    One of the great mysteries of the Christian faith is the Trinity, one God in three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They exist in community.

    When we say, “God is love,” it’s not abstract. God is the community of love. The Father, Son, and Spirit interact as one. God rooted God’s communal identity in the core of our being as humans. We were made by community, for community. (Ruth Padilla Deborst)

    I can’t emphasize this enough— we struggle in our individualistic culture to understand and appreciate the community of love that is the Trinity.

    Artists have long depicted the Trinity with visual art. Some see a dismembered relationship between the three Persons while others see Them as a family, a community, relating to one another (Rublev).

    (art examples)

    How do we understand one God in three Persons? It is a mystery. No metaphor is adequate to describe God, but I like to think about an egg. The yolk, whites, and shell are all equally egg, yet distinct. We pray to the Father in the Name of the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.


    There is a sect of Christianity which denies the Trinity. It’s called modalism. They believe in one God in one Person who changes modes, one moment being the Father and then shifting to become the Son and then suddenly appearing as the Holy Spirit. I can’t begin to tell you how troubling this belief can be, especially when considering this text. How can God be in the water, in heaven, and a dove at the same time? Although the word “trinity” does not appear in the English translations of the Bible, the concept is vivid, especially here. It’s why we sang, “Holy, Holy, Holy” last week instead of “Holy.”

    The doctrine or belief in the Trinity is a beautiful picture of community, cooperation, and complementary collaboration.

    John the Baptist introduces Jesus.
    The Father identifies Him.
    The temptation will initiate Him.


    At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. (Mark 1:12-13)

    There’s no mention of a baptism celebration, but rather the Holy Spirit sends Jesus into the wilderness for forty days. That’s a long time, friends. The wilderness is a harsh, rocky desert region. The wilderness was a place of testing for the people of Israel, and they often failed. Jesus never fails.

    Forty is a special number in the Bible. It rained forty days and forty nights during the great flood (Genesis 7:12). The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Moses spent forty days and nights on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24:18; 34:28). Elijah spent forty days and nights journeying to Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:8).

    Jesus has been prepared for ministry by baptism and now it’s time for testing, for a face to face encounter with satan. Have you ever encountered satan? I doubt it. He has bigger fish to fry than you and me, I believe. He does, however, have an army of demons—fallen angels—who tempt and wreak havoc on our lives and world. The Greek word peirazo can mean tempt or test. In Hebrew, satan means adversary or enemy.

    And what about the wild animals? Some see them as satan’s allies in contrast to the angels that attend to Jesus. Some see an allusion to Psalm 91:11-13.

    For he will command his angels concerning you 
    to guard you in all your ways;
    they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
    You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
    you will trample the great lion and the serpent. (Psalm 91:11-13)

    I like animals, but not necessarily “wild” animals. They don’t usually make good pets!

    Matthew and Luke tell us more about the temptation but Mark simply gives us an image of Jesus and satan, angels and wild animals, good and evil. It will be a constant theme in the book…and all of human history.

    Jesus has been baptized and tested. He’s prepared and next week we’ll see Jesus’ ministry begin.

    One More Thing

    Occasionally I come across as reading so profound it’s not worth paraphrasing; it simply needs to be read. Listen to N.T. Wright:

    It happens all the time, in families, businesses, all over. Many children grow up in our world who have never had a father say to them (either in words, in looks, or in hugs), ‘You are my dear child’, let alone, ‘I’m pleased with you.’ In the Western world, even those fathers who think this in their hearts are often too tongue-tied or embarrassed to tell their children how delighted they are with them. Many, alas, go by the completely opposite route: angry voices, bitter rejection, the slamming of doors. 

    The whole Christian gospel could be summed up in this point: that when the living God looks at us, at every baptized and believing Christian
    , he says to us what he said to Jesus on that day. He sees us, not as we are in ourselves, but as we are in Jesus Christ. It sometimes seems impossible, especially to people who have never had this kind of support from their earthly parents, but it’s true: God looks at us, and says, ‘You are my dear, dear child; I’m delighted with you.’ Try reading that sentence slowly, with your own name at the start, and reflect quietly on God saying that to you, both at your baptism and every day since.

    How does this come about? It will take the whole story, particularly Jesus’ death and resurrection, to explain. But this is what the Christian gospel is all about.

    It is true for one simple but very profound reason: Jesus is the Messiah, and 
    the Messiah represents his people. What is true of him is true of them. The word ‘Messiah’ means ‘the anointed one’; and this story tells how Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit, marked out as God’s son. The Messiah is called ‘God’s son’ in a few biblical passages, including the one that the heavenly voice seems to be echoing here (Psalm 2.7). Though the early Christians realized quite quickly that Jesus was God’s son in an even deeper sense, they clung on to his messiahship for dear life. It was because Jesus was and is Messiah that God said to them, as he does to us today, what he said to Jesus at his baptism. And without that word from God all we often hear, in our mind’s ear, is doors being slammed.

    N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone) Westminster John Knox Press; bold are my highlights

    Your Team

    How can that be? Let me tell you a story about two men named Chris—Coghlan and Bryant. Last fall, they both played for the Chicago Cubs who finally won the World Series. Kris Bryant is arguably the best player on the team. He hit two home runs during the World Series and was the National League’s Most Valuable Player. Chris Coghlan batted three times in the World Series, struck out twice, and never made it to first base. There’s a tradition in baseball where every player on the championship team gets a diamond-covered ring worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Every player gets the same ring, whether they are superstars or bench-warmers.

    That’s how I like to think about what it means for us to be “in Christ,” a phrase used more than a dozen times in the book of Ephesians to describe followers of Jesus. We are on His team, we wear His uniform. The Chicago Cubs are World Champions which means every player on the team is equally a World Champion. When we are in Christ, everything the Father says about Jesus He says about us.

    Author Bob Goff said,
    "On the day of your worst screw-up, Jesus sees you and still calls you 'Beloved'!"

    That’s good news, friends. That’s great news!

    His baptism and temptation were preparation for a greater test…and a greater victory. Today is a great day to reflect upon your own journey, your own baptism if you’ve followed Jesus’ command to go public with your faith, something you can do next Sunday if you haven’t. It’s a great day to reflect upon your own temptations—those you overcame and those tests you failed. Jesus’ body was pierced and broken on the cross, His blood was poured out to offer forgiveness of your sins; past, present, and future. Hallelujah! Because of Jesus, the Father says, “You are my dear, dear child; I’m delighted with you."

    Credits: some ideas from Matt Carter (Austin Stone Community Church), Warren Wiersbe, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Parable of the Pearl, 16 August 2015

    Matthew 13:45-46

    Series Overview: this summertime series will examine the various parables of Jesus recorded in thirteenth chapter of Matthew.

    Big Idea: Jesus gave up everything for us.


    Today we continue our series on the parables of Jesus, timeless stories Jesus used to challenge, instruct, and provoke. Many were about the kingdom of heaven, sometimes referred to as the kingdom of God. As we are in that space between heaven and earth, between the past and the future, in the now and the not yet, we long for heaven to touch earth, for signs of God’s rule and reign breaking in amidst the rhetoric of Obama, Clinton, Bush, and Trump!

    Perhaps the central theme of Jesus’ legendary teaching was the kingdom. His early message was

    “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17b)

    Jesus taught his followers to pray

    …your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10)

    Last week we looked at the first of twin parables about selling and buying.

    “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. (Matthew 13:44)

    A hidden treasure is found. This week’s parable is slightly different.

    “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45-46)

    The merchant is searching for something special. He’s on a quest. Nothing is lost. Nothing is hidden. He is a hunter!

    How many of you are hunters?

    • deer
    • fish
    • bargains
    • shoes

    My hunting experience is rather slim! I once shot a CD out of a tree. That’s it!

    Perhaps when you hunt, you’re not exactly sure what you’re hunting for, but you’ll know it when you find it!

    I do remember a different kind of hunt I undertook in 1978. I was nine years old, began following sports, and started a baseball card collection. Topps created a set of 726 cards. I would go to the store, buy a back of cards, carefully open it like a Wonka bar possibly containing a golden ticket, and admired the precious cards, hoping for a superstar like Reggie Jackson, a rookie card like Eddie Murray, or players of my favorite teams, the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies. To this day, I cherish those cards, including the rookie cards of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker. But there’s one card in the set which I hunted for more than Pete Rose, Nolan Ryan, or even my all-time favorite player, Mike Schmidt. His name is Mike Cubbage.

    Have you ever heard of Mike Cubbage? Even most baseball fans wouldn’t know he played third base for the Minnesota Twins. His card value is listed among the “commons,” today valued at less than a dollar, but I would’ve payed most any price for his card…because after tearing open dozens—maybe hundreds—of packs, I had 725 of the 726 card set and I was missing one card: Mike Cubbage.

    I would’ve done just about anything for that Mike Cubbage baseball card! I didn’t have the Internet, a neighborhood hobby store, or even a large network of baseball card-collecting friends to assist me in finding this treasure. I could only buy more packs of cards, at 20 cents each, hoping to see the only face I had yet to see behind the red wax.

    And then the moment came. Those glasses! The scuffed batting helmet! The baby blue Twins uniform. I held that piece of cardboard in my hand as if it were a million dollar bill! The hunt was over!

    The Bible never spoke of baseball cards, but pearls were among the most valuable items on the planet.


    Pearls are a fascinating treasure. Wikipedia describes them this way:

    A pearl is a hard object produced within the soft tissue (specifically the mantle) of a living shelled mollusk. Just like the shell of a clam, a pearl is composed of calcium carbonate in minute crystalline form, which has been deposited in concentric layers. The ideal pearl is perfectly round and smooth, but many other shapes (baroque pearls) occur. The finest quality natural pearls have been highly valued as gemstones and objects of beauty for many centuries. Because of this, pearl has become a metaphor for something rare, fine, admirable and valuable.

    Pearls are mentioned several times in the Bible. Keep in mind many in the Bible had never seen a pearl as they were rare, a sign of beauty, wealth and extravagance. Paul cautioned God-fearing women in their display.

    I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, (1 Timothy 2:9)

    This does not mean women should never wear pearls, but simply they are valuable.

    One of the most vivid images of pearls is found in Revelation in the description of the city of New Jerusalem.

    The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass. (Revelation 21:21)

    Can you imagine? Wow!

    Suffice it to say, pearls are precious. They are beautiful.

    “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45-46)

    Selling all he had. I was reminded last Sunday of a man challenged by Jesus to sell all he had.

    As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

    “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

    “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

    Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

    At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

    Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:17-23)

    We could stop there. The man was unwilling to sacrifice earthly treasure for heavenly treasure. He valued his wealth over the kingdom of God. This is still true today. In my experience it is the rich who think they have no need for God, while the poor recognize their lack and are often more willing to surrender what little they have for the things of God. This passage makes many of us uncomfortable, doesn’t it? We hope Jesus never asks
    us to sell everything…and give it to the poor. How would that work? Where would we live? What would we wear? How would we get on Facebook?

    Mark continues…

    The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

    The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

    Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

    Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

    “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:24-31)

    For what would you sell everything? A hot spouse? Your children? Eternal life? Jesus?

    “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45-46)

    Merchants have money to buy goods to sell for a profit. Of course, if you sell everything for one item, your inventory becomes rather small! One interpretation of this parable is the sinner as merchant and Christ is the pearl, the sinner sells all he has to buy Christ. There’s a problem, though, because sinners don’t look for salvation. They also can’t sell all they have because salvation is not for sale, it’s a gift.

    My best understanding of this parable is the merchant is Jesus. He left His home in heaven to come to earth. He died for sinners, giving up everything. He became poor.

    Jesus was made sin for us. He was wounded for our transgressions. He put His white robe of righteousness around us and our sin. He makes us white as snow—white as pearls! Impurities made pure. We are HIs workmanship created in Christ Jesus. He sees us as we will be someday without spot or blemish. He sold all He had to gain the church, the Bride. When He shall appear, we shall be like Him.

    Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

    You are precious, friends, not because of who you are, but because of Who’s you are. Jesus gave everything—even HIs own life—for you and for me. It’s outrageous. It’s incredible. It’s amazing. It’s grace.

    I have about 100,000 baseball cards collected since childhood. That sounds like a lot, and my collection is probably worth a few thousand dollars, but I would gladly sell them all to buy one card…a 1910 Honus Wagner. The rarest of all baseball cards is valued at $2.8 million.

    Of course $2.8 million is nothing compared to eternal life, peace with God, reconciliation with the Creator, forgiven sins, endless hope, and unconditional love. As great as my love is for God, it pales in comparison to His love for us. Hallelujah! What a Savior!

    You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

    The Comparison Game, John 21:15-25, 1 December 2013

    Big Idea: There is no reason to compare yourself to others—only Jesus, the One who loves and accepts you.

    God wants you. Jesus said to Peter, “I still want you.” He still wants you, regardless of your past.


    The comparison game.
    We’ve all played it. We look at someone and judge ourselves better or worse, richer or poorer, more physically attractive or not as good looking, more or less mature, talented, smart, …the list is endless.

    Am I the only one that does this?!

    It used to be the first question asked at a pastor’s conference after, “What is your name?” was “How big is your church?” In other words, are you more or less successful than me based upon Sunday’s attendance. Can you see anything wrong?

    I recently heard someone say every
    reality TV show is designed to make us feel really good about ourselves or really bad. If you’ve ever watched an early season episode of American Idol you know what I mean. They tend to highlight the best and worst singers, placing viewers in the middle.

    This happens among Christians, too. There’s a never-ending temptation to gauge the spirituality of others, either feeling smug and arrogant toward “sinners” or we screw up and feel inferior to others who have their act together—or so it appears. We either commend or condemn ourselves.

    Let me remind you once again…

    Nothing you can do can make God love you more.
    Nothing you can do can make God love you less.

    This is how I feel about my kids. They are mine. They will always be mine. I love them. I will always love them. Sure, they will disappoint me, but my love is unconditional. I always want what’s best for them.

    When they screw up, there’s no shame. There’s not guilt. There’s forgiveness and grace. At least on my better days!

    We are all messed up…but loved. If you don’t believe me, imagine denying Jesus…three times?

    Back in John 18, Peter tastes his foot. Three times does exactly what Jesus said he would do—deny Him (John 13:38). These denials are so significant they are recorded in all four Gospels.

    Have you ever hurt someone? How did you feel the next time you saw them? Guilt? Shame? Avoidance? Even if the interaction included an apology, it’s often uncomfortable for a while, right?

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

    Jesus had given Simon the name Peter (Matt. 16:18) which means “rock.” If you recall, last week Jesus had cooked breakfast for him and six other disciples. Now the conversation Peter knew was inevitable was occurring. He had denied Jesus three times and it’s time for reconciliation. The aroma of charcoal is still in the air, reminding Peter of that dreadful night.

    What is “these?” The other disciples? Fish? The other disciples’ love for Jesus? We don’t really know, but clearly Jesus is engaging the one who denied Him three times. He asks Peter, “Do you love me?” The Greek word for love here is “agape,” the highest expression of love in the New Testament.

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

    Peter actually uses a different Greek word for love, “phileo” or brotherly love. This is why Philadelphia is called the city of brotherly love. These words were likely used interchangeably.

    Jesus said,
    “Feed my lambs.” (15b)

    A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending a workshop led by Dr. Gary Chapman. Some of you may be familiar with his classic book
    The Five Love Languages. It is essential reading for everyone. He talks about how each of us speaks one of five primary love languages, though our spouse or others may not and, therefore, we need to discover their love language in order to effectively communicate with them.

    Chapman has discovered there are five languages of apology:

    a. Expressing regret with "I'm sorry that I..." but explain what and why you are sorry without "but" in the apology; erase the but! Luke 15:21; Psalms 51
    b. Accepting responsibility. "I was wrong..." 1 John 1:9. This is the first step in teaching children to apologize
    c. Making restitution. "How can I make this right?" Luke 19:8
    d. Genuinely repenting. "I don't want this to keep happening." Acts 2:38
    e. Requesting forgiveness. "Will you please forgive me?" Psalms 51:2

    Not long ago my wife and I read about the importance of restitution. Often just saying “sorry” is insufficient; further action is required. This is clearly the case with Peter. Jesus could have simply said, “Peter, are you sorry for denying me?” and Peter could’ve said, “Yes” and the story would have ended, but Jesus wants more than an apology; He wants Peter to take action and feed His lambs.

    Last week was about fish. This week Jesus talks about lambs. Jesus is the Good Shepherd (Psalm 23) and He wants Peter to be a good shepherd, too. He wants Peter to take care of
    His lambs. Jesus Himself is the Passover Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, including ours and Peter’s.

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

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

    Jesus said,
    “Take care of my sheep.” (16)

    It’s amazing that after such a dramatic failure, Jesus would entrust His sheep to Peter. He would entrust the responsibility of His mission to this knuckle headed disciple and his ten ragamuffin colleagues.

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

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

    Jesus said,
    “Feed my sheep. (17)

    Three denials, three questions, three response, three commands.

    Notice the heart of the question is love for Jesus. If you are going to do anything for Jesus, you must love Him first. It’s so tempting to “do great things for God” and lose your first Love in the process. It’s easy to play religious games and fail to know and love Jesus. Sadly, I say this from experience. Each day I need to examine my own heart and my love for Jesus and let my “ministry” and life flow out of it.

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

    Jesus may be referring to crucifixion. It is believed that Peter was sentenced to crucifixion for his faith in Jesus, yet refused to die a similar death and asked to be crucified upside down.

    Jesus’ invitation to His disciples back in John chapter 1 was simple: “follow me.” In chapter ten He said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

    This is what it means to be a Christian. It is not about how often you attend church or how much of the Bible you have memorized. The true measure of your faith is how you follow Jesus. It might lead to martyrdom and death as it did for Peter.

    The problem is we are easily distracted. We start comparing ourselves to others that are less mature and we commend ourselves. We get prideful when we should be looking to our perfect Example, Jesus.

    It’s so easy to compare ourselves to others that are less mature—or more mature, in which case we condemn ourselves. One of the great hindrances of coming to God with child-like faith is shame. We know how we’ve screwed up and we wonder if God still loves us. The story of Peter is a great reminder that we’re sons and daughters by birth, not worth. Jesus says, “You’re mine. you’re forgiven. I love you I’m with you.”

    If you get nothing out of this message, get this: ignore the temptation to play the comparison game. You will always lose. Revel in the fact that Your Daddy loves you. Period. Don’t commend yourself. Don’t condemn yourself. Just keep your eyes on Jesus. Listen to His voice and obey.
    Follow Jesus.

    John concludes with three final things.

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

    Here we see Peter is still competing with John.

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

    Like the rest of the chapter, this is an interesting thing to include. Again, we’re quite sure the disciple Jesus loved was…John, the author of this Gospel. Of course, Peter and John both died.

    Notice how Peter plays the comparison game and Jesus’ responds twice with the same question: “What is that to you?”

    Have you ever envied someone else’s life? Have you ever wished you could be in their shoes?

    Jesus has one invitation for you. He says,
    “Follow Me.” He doesn’t say be religious, join a church, or be a professional Christian. He doesn’t say to follow Billy Graham. He doesn’t necessarily say sell everything you have and move to Africa. He says to follow.

    What is He calling you to do today? It may look different than what He is calling me to do. It may look different than what He called you to do in the past.
    When we compare ourselves to others, we take our attention off Jesus.

    Next, John says,

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

    John states again the truth of his experience and testimony. This is not a novel. It is an historical record of real events and a real Person. He takes a solemn oath of truth. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus never wrote a book? In fact, we only know for sure of one thing He wrote and that was in the dirt in the midst of religious people accusing a woman of sin (John 8).

    Finally, he recognizes the impossibility of recording everything Jesus did.

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

    Jesus was and is larger than life. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

    And with that, we conclude the Gospel of John, the good news biography of Jesus Christ!!! He experienced Jesus like no other. He suffered as a result, but appears to have no regrets. He wants everyone to know—even us 2000 years later—that Jesus is good. Jesus is God.

    Unlike other biographies, we don’t have to rely exclusively on second-hand information. Jesus is alive and He wants your life to become a book in which His love is written on your heart. He doesn’t want you to compare yourself to others, but rather follow Him.

    You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

    King of Love, John 19:16b-24, 22 September 2013

    Big Idea: Jesus held out His arms and said, “I love you THIS much!” Does everyone know?

    What is love?

    This week I was talking with a friend who told me about a family that has no faith in God because they only believe in science, that which can be proven. I asked about love. Can you prove that love exists? What is it?

    This is a question I return to again and again because it is used so often in our culture to describe so many different things. Frequently it is just a word used to manipulate someone into doing something, but love itself requires doing and action. Love is a verb.

    Our text for today could actually be a short passage referenced months ago in the third chapter of John. It says

    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)

    We continue our series on the Gospel or “good news” of John, a biography of Jesus written by one of His best friends. The next several weeks will address the final hours of Jesus before His burial. I must warn you that some of the content will be graphic and disturbing. Parents, be advised we have some short videos that involve the crucifixion. The suffering we have examined in the past few weeks was excruciating, but Jesus willingly experienced crucifixion, the ultimate Roman torture.

    Before we look at
    what Jesus did, I want to be crystal clear about why He suffered and died. He did it for you and for me.

    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)

    For God so loved you and me that He sent Jesus to die for us.

    Centuries earlier, the prophet Isaiah wrote

    But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
    the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
    (Isaiah 53:5)

    So begins Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ, the most successful rated R movie in history, grossing over $370 million.

    He was pierced, crushed, punished, and wounded…because He loves us.

    Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

    So the soldiers took charge of Jesus.

    If you recall, Pilate desperately wanted to release Jesus as He found no reason for Him to be arrested, much less executed. Bowing to the pressure of the Jewish leaders and their threats of involving Caesar, Jesus was handed over to be crucified by the soldiers.

    Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). (19:17)

    They took Jesus outside the city to crucify Him. This is a fascinating detail because the traditional place of Jesus’ death is now a church, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, but it is inside the city. Personally, I found it to be something of a religious freak show, a series of buildings that actually house multiple churches, religious artifacts, and a large box built in 1810, the edicule of the Holy Sepulchre that is supposed to commemorate the tomb where Jesus was buried! I found the whole thing to be very strange, dark, extremely religious (and not in a good way) and depressing. I found it a very odd way to celebrate a living Christ!

    There is another site outside the city that is believe to have possibly been the location because of its name, the place of the Skull.

    John tell us…

    There they crucified him, and with him two others —one on each side and Jesus in the middle. (19:18)

    John does not give us details of the crucifixion.

    One detail found in the other Gospels (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34) is Jesus quoting Psalm 22:

    My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
    (Psalm 22:1)

    When you understand a bit about crucifixion, you quickly understand why Jesus felt forsaken. In order to understand the agony from a medical perspective, I found this video.


    Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.” (19-21)

    It was fairly common for condemned criminals to wear signs around their necks while on their way to execution to serve warning to others.

    Jesus died for all and the sign was in multiple languages, the three most understood at the time. For God so loved the world. Even the declaration of Jesus’ Kingship was announced to all.

    Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

    Pilate infuriated the chief priests. He probably doesn’t believe Jesus is a king any more than they do, but he makes fun of them, a “calculated snub,” in the words of scholar N.T. Wright. Regardless, the words were true. Jesus is Israel’s Messiah and He died for every man, woman and child from every nation, tribe and tongue.

    May he rule from sea to sea
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.
    (Psalm 72:8)

    May all kings bow down to him
    and all nations serve him.

    For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
    the afflicted who have no one to help.
    He will take pity on the weak and the needy
    and save the needy from death.
    He will rescue them from oppression and violence,
    for precious is their blood in his sight.
    (Psalm 72:11-14)

    Anyone familiar with the Scriptures had to see the promised Messiah, yet it was the most religious that had Jesus arrested and crucified.

    When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. (23)

    “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”

    This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,

    “They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.”

    Indeed Psalm 22, which we mentioned earlier, continues

    Dogs surround me,
    a pack of villains encircles me;
    they pierce my hands and my feet.
    All my bones are on display;
    people stare and gloat over me.
    They divide my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.
    (Psalm 22:16-18)

    So this is what the soldiers did. (24b)

    So What?

    I struggled to prepare this message because it involved many disturbing images and accounts. At times, I found myself getting sick when I thought about the agony involved in crucifixion…but it was all part of Jesus’ ambition and plan to seek and save the lost, to offer hope to the hopeless, to offer forgiveness to us sinners, to offer reconciliation between us and our heaven Father we have rejected.

    This is a love story. This is passion.

    Have your received His love?
    Have you shared His love?

    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)

    You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.