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Showing posts with label God's love. Show all posts
Showing posts with label God's love. Show all posts

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Guest Blog - Lifted Up: Embracing Jesus' Sacrifice for Eternal Life by Noah Hunt

This past Sunday, we were blessed to have guest speaker Noah Hunt deliver a powerful sermon at Pleasant Grove Methodist Church. Noah's message, centered on John 3:14-18, beautifully illustrated the profound connection between Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness and Jesus being lifted on the cross for our salvation. For those who couldn't be with us or who wish to revisit Noah's insightful words, here is a summary of his sermon.

If you have a Bible with you this morning, or if you'd like to grab a pew Bible in front of you, the verses this morning will come from page 1,513. For those of you who brought a Bible with you, we will be in John chapter 3, reading verses 14 through 18. It is indeed a pleasure to be here with you this morning and to bring a word from the Lord. We'll begin reading at verse 14:

"Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. For God loved the world in this way: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God."

Let us pray.

Our Father in heaven, we are thankful for Your word to us. It is a clear word and a word of truth. You speak to us from the pages of Scripture, the Gospel, the good news. I pray this morning that You would awaken faith, belief, and trust in our hearts, that we might believe upon the name of Jesus Christ. I pray for those this morning who have believed for many years, that You would encourage our hearts, that we might want to follow You to greater depths of faith, and that we might want to act in greater acts of service for Your name's sake. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

I don't know how many of you own pets out there or how many of you are dog people, but if you've ever had a dog and watched it grow old and gray in the face, seen its joints begin to move slower than they used to, it's sort of a sad picture. You realize the truth of the old adage: it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks. I've had limited time in education—four years—but I can also say it's hard to teach older teachers new lessons. As we grow old, it's harder for us to learn, to become open to things that challenge us, to look at old truths with new sets of eyes.

In today's text, many of you who have studied the Bible for years know this passage comes from a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a wise teacher of the Bible, an older man with experience. I'm sure he was locked into his best practices and his understanding of how to communicate truth to his people. But here we have Nicodemus, an old Pharisee, coming in the dead of night to sit at the feet of Jesus of Nazareth, the Light of the World, a young Rabbi, a Carpenter's son. Who is He to you today?

Nicodemus, while old, callous, and perhaps jaded, knew there was something in the miracles and message of Jesus that he needed to hear. This morning, I invite you to turn the eyes of your heart upon Jesus and look full in His wonderful face, because the concerns of this world will grow dim in the light of His glory and grace.

Jesus does not condemn Nicodemus. He does not berate him or tell him he should know more by now, though He is a little critical. Jesus begins to build on what Nicodemus already knew. He turns to what Nicodemus knew best—the Old Testament, specifically the book of Numbers, chapter 21. Jesus mentions an example from Moses: "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up."

This might seem confusing at first. You might think of Moses' miracle before Pharaoh where he threw down a stick that became a serpent, but that's not what Jesus was referring to. In Numbers 21, the children of Israel were brought out of Egypt and wandered in the wilderness. They began to grumble and complain against God and Moses. In response, God sent snakes into their camp. As the snakes bit them and they began to die, the people cried out to Moses, confessing their sin and asking for intercession. God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and lift it on a pole. Those who looked at the serpent in faith were healed.

This morning, do you need to turn your eyes upon the One who was lifted up on a cross for you, to cover your sin with His blood? Do you need to turn your eyes upon the One who did not stay in the grave but was raised for your justification and freedom from sin?

Jesus was building new faith in the heart of Nicodemus, and He can do the same for you today. You might ask, "Why should I turn my eyes upon Jesus?" I offer you two points from these verses:

  1. Jesus is God's greatest gift, given so that believers will live forever.
  2. Jesus is God's Son, sent to save believers from condemnation.

This morning, I encourage you to wrestle with the truth of who Jesus is to you. Is He someone you acknowledge in passing, a good teacher, a moral philosopher? Or is He the very Son of God? Jesus is God's final offer, the only offer for eternal life, a life that begins today and continues into eternity. If you believe this gospel, you are living that eternal life now. It's not something to wait for; it starts today.

To appropriate this gift into your life, you must believe—not just intellectually, but to trust, to have faith, to rest yourself in Jesus. This morning, if you want to believe in Jesus Christ, you are trusting in a personal Savior who will carry you from this world into eternity.

Let us pray.

Our Father in heaven, we thank You this morning for Your word to us. Convict us of our sin and show us the condition of our hearts. Help us to believe that Jesus Christ is who He says He is, and that He is Lord. If someone is making a decision of belief today, I pray they would not leave this church without confessing that belief. Go with us this day and help us to seek and save that which was lost. In Jesus' name, amen.

Thank you for joining us for this powerful message. We pray that Noah Hunt's sermon has touched your heart and inspired you to turn your eyes upon Jesus, embracing His gift of eternal life. If you have any questions or need prayer, please reach out to us. God bless you!

Monday, October 23, 2023

Love Your Enemies

We are working our way through Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount from Matthew chapters 5-7.  His words have been challenging.  Today, we will find they are even more challenging.  Today, Jesus commands His flowers, “Love your enemies.”

Matthew 5:43-44
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 

Throughout His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shows He is the fulfilment of the Law.  In fact, He specifically said in Matthew 5:17, “I did not come to abolish the law…  No, I came to accomplish their purpose.

The Old Testament Law is quite clear that we are to love our neighbors.  Leviticus 19:18 says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  But nowhere in the Old Testament does it say to: “Hate your enemy.”  However, the Jews of Jesus day lived under tha hostile occupation of the Roman empire.  They had many enemies and they resented and resisted their Roman oppressors.  Many Jewish leaders therefore misinterpreted the Scriptures to say: “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”

It’s human nature to love people who are good to you and hate your enemies, but God’s Holy Law in the Old Testament holds human nature in check.  We find several places where the Old Testament teaches people to do good to their enemies.  Such as 

Exodus 23:4-5“If you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey that has strayed away, take it back to its owner. 5 If you see that the donkey of someone who hates you has collapsed under its load, do not walk by. Instead, stop and help.

Proverbs 25:21 – If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat.  If they are thirsty, give them water to drink.

So we see, Jesus upholds the spirit of God’s Law in the Old Testament while challenging the Jewish religious leaders misinterpretation of it.  Notice how the Old Testament teaches to do good to your enemies (and the emphasis is on doing good rather than on a loving feeling).

Matthew 5:44-45
But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 

It’s troubling to think God gives sunlight and rain to both the evil and the good.  In other words, God gives the same good things to evil people that He gives to good people.  Why, if God were fair, wouldn’t He reserve good things for good people and give wicked people only the evil they deserve?

Perhaps that’s the kind of world you long for—a world where evil people are punished and good people get rewards.  Is that what you want?

I can understand that.  However, the problem is we would all be punished and none of us would get a reward because none of us is good.  We have all acted like enemies of God.  Listen to what Romans 3:10-12 says:  “No one is righteous—not even one.  No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God.  All have turned away; all have become useless.  No one does good, not a single one.”  And Romans 3:23 sums it up: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”

What that means is every one of us is evil.  We have all been enemies of God who “actively opposed or were hostile to God.”  Rather than obeying God, we chased our own selfish ambitions.  Rather than surrender to God’s will, we wanted to do things our way. In sinful pride, we boasted “God is on our side.” But in fact, we were trying to use God’s for our own selfish purposes.

If God truly punished His enemies and only gave good to those who deserved it, everyone one of us would be living in Hell and there would be no one left for God to reward—no one except Jesus.

But as it is, God has given “his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.”  I am thankful.  Aren’t you?

Matthew 5:46-47

If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that?  Even corrupt tax collectors do that much.  47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else?  Even pagans do that. 

Jesus calls His disciples to be different than worldly people.  If you only ever love people who love you and are good to you, then you are no better than a worldly pagan.  A pagan—in biblical terms—is a heathen, an ungodly person, anyone who doesn’t worship the one true and living God of the Bible.  If you only love people who love you and are good to you, then you are no different than the ungodly, immoral, corrupt enemies of God all over this world.
Jesus wants us to be different.  Jesus wants us to be like Him.  Jesus wants us to love our enemies.

Now, it’s important to clear up what it means to love—according to Jesus.  We often have immature notions about love.  Biblical love is not a warm, fuzzy feeling of affection. Jesus isn’t telling us to find pleasure in our enemies or their bad behavior.  The love Jesus commands us to give is a specific kind of love.  The Greek word Jesus uses is Agape, which is the “sacrificial love of God”.  Agape is not a feeling; it is a verb.  In other words, it’s a love you give.  Agape is to love someone sacrificially, expecting nothing in return.  It's the way God loved us when He sent His one and only Son to die for us on the cross—not because we deserved it, but because God loves us sacrificially.

Agape love is what Jesus did when He allowed His hands and feet to be nailed to the cross, because Jesus knew His death would make our salvation possible.  So, when Jesus says, “Love your enemies…” He isn’t telling us to have warm fuzzy feelings.  Jesus wants His followers to love their enemies sacrificially, expecting nothing in return.

It’s nearly impossible to live like this.  But Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of God’s law.  Jesus loved perfectly.  He even loved His enemies—even when they:
Twisted God’s words for their own evil schemes,
Told lies about Jesus and His Disciples,
When they spat curses at Him and beat Him and mocked Him,
And even when they cruelly drove nails through His hands and feet and displayed Him on a cross to die while all His enemies watched and gloated.

Rather than cursing them or getting revenge, Jesus prayed and said:  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Jesus’ prayer wasn’t just for those standing at the foot of the cross.  He was also praying for you and me. Remember, in one way or another, we have all been enemies of God.  Every time we were dishonest, or were angry, or lusted in our heart, or were unfaithful, or sinned in any way, we were responsible for driving the nails through Jesus’ hands and feet.   It was our sin that put Christ on the cross.

But rather than seeking revenge or punishment, Jesus loved His enemies—us.  He perfectly represented the will of His Father in heaven.  And Jesus challenges us to do the same.

Matthew 5:48

But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.

We were created in the image of God.  We are to follow in the footsteps of Christ—to represent God, just as Jesus represented Him to us.  Just as Christ loved us, we are to love everyone else—even our enemies.  We are to be perfect, even as our Father in heaven is perfect.

But how can we possibly be perfect?  No one is perfect. That is true.  Humanly speaking, it si impossible, but with God all things are possible.

One of the distinctive teachings of Methodism is the belief in Christian perfection.  John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, taught Christians should strive to be perfect in love.  And Wesley taught that Christians—with the help of the Holy Spirit—can grow, over the course of a lifetime, to become perfect in love.

Methodists believe Christians cannot make the excuse, “Oh, we’re only human.  We’re not perfect.”  It is true, that we will make many mistakes—even after we decide to follow Jesus—because indeed, “We are only human.”  However, there is one way we can be perfect (with the help of God’s Holy Spirit).  The Holy Spirit can help us grow to a place where everything we do is motivated by love.  And so, with God’s help, if we cooperate, we can be perfect in love—even as our Father in heaven is perfect.  But we cannot do this on our own.  We need God’s help.

God will help you if we seek Him with all your heart.  You must first surrender to God through Jesus Christ.  You must recognize you are helpless to save yourself.  Nor can you stop sinning simply by shear willpower.  You need God to save you.  So you must repent and beg God for mercy.  Jesus will save you , but you must trust Jesus to save you.  And you must stop trying to do things your own way and let Jesus be Lord.

Then, you must follow Christ as a Disciple.  Jesus said if anyone wants to be His disciple, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily.  A cross is a symbol of suffering and self-denial.  Furthermore, you must cooperate with the Holy Spirit.  The same Spirit of God who created the universe comes to live inside you when you become a Christian.  That Holy Spirit can enable you to do anything the Spirit wants you to do, but you have to go along with the Spirit and do what He says.  And then, the Holy Spirit of God will enable you to truly love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.  And the same Spirit will also enable you to love your enemies.