Rejoice! The Son of Man Was Lifted Up (John 3:14-21)

Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Lent (3/15/15)

Traditionally the 4th Sunday in Lent has been called “Rejoice Sunday.” In the middle of the season of Lent we take this Sunday to remember that even as we sorrow over our sin, we can rejoice because Jesus came!

Text: John 3:14-21

Theme: Rejoice! The Son of Man Was Lifted Up

When is the last time you thanked God for being a Christian in America?

The headlines we’ve see over the last few months about what’s happening in Iraq and Syria give us a good opportunity to thank God that none of us have to worry about literally losing our heads for showing up here today. We American Christians have a lot to be thankful for in our lack of physical persecution.

Christians have been persecuted since Christianity began. Jesus promised that if they persecuted him, they would persecute his followers. According to church tradition, all of Jesus’ original disciples but one were killed for their faith. But in the history of the persecution of the Christian Church, there is one ten year period that earned the inauspicious title, “The Great Persecution”.

It began on February 23, 303 AD. Faced with mounting pressure from without and within to return Rome to its traditional values and religion the Roman emperor Diocletian set the bull’s-eye on the Christians.

Churches were burned to the ground. All Christian services were banned. All across the Roman Empire those who professed to be Christians were told to show up and hand over their Bible’s to the Romans so that every Bible in Rome could be burned. Christians in high places lost their jobs. Christians with homes found themselves homeless. The clergy were thrown into jail.

One year later, in 304, the persecution escalated. Rome decided that every Christian had to make a public sacrifice to the Roman gods – and if you didn’t you would be killed.

And so Christians died. Countless Christians refused to turn their backs on Jesus and died because of it. Whole communities of Christians were wiped from the face of the earth in what has become known as “the era of the martyrs.”

And then in February of 313 a Roman named Constantine took control of Rome. Supposedly, he had a dream in which his destiny was tied to Christianity, so he signed into law the Edict of Milan which formally ended “The Great Persecution.” And just ten years later, Constantine would make Christianity the official religion of Rome.

And then an interesting thing happened. Closet Christians began to come out of the woodworks. Christians who had hidden their faith for a decade, suddenly started professing Christ again. Christians who had caved to the pressure and pretended to worship Roman gods, started worshiping the true God again. And from this sprang one of the first post-persecution problems in the church.

You see, those who had stuck with Christ (displaying strong faith) – those who had lost fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters because they refused to turn their backs on Christ – they didn’t look too kindly on those weak Christians who had turned their backs on Christ to save their own skin. They didn’t want to have anything to do with them.

So some teaching, some healing had to happen.

Those Christians who had faced persecution and demonstrated incredibly strong faith needed to be reminded of an incredibly important truth. It is not the strength of our faith that saves us. It is the object of our faith that saves us – a lesson Jesus teaches very powerfully and clearly in John chapter 3. Continue reading

Consumed with Zeal for God (John 2:13-22)

Sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Lent (3/8/15)

Text: John 2:13-22

Theme: Consumed with Zeal for God

A little word association: What picture flashes through your mind when I say… Jesus?

Maybe it is that picture you saw hanging in a church basement somewhere – that picture of Jesus sitting on top of a hill with little kids all around and one lucky kid on his lap. Maybe the image you see is the kind, welcoming, calming Jesus carrying a lamb on his shoulder. Maybe you picture the cross and your Savior on that cross. Or maybe you picture an empty tomb.

Whatever image you thought of when I first said the name Jesus, I’m willing to bet none of you pictured the Jesus we read about in John 2:13-22…

Imagine, if you can, the rage, the wrath, and the violence it would take for one man to drive away a small herd of animals and dozens of people who didn’t want to be moved. Jesus didn’t walk into the temple and say, “Please guys, can you get out of here?” He made a whip and started screaming, and yelling, and beating.

It’s not a side of Jesus we are used to seeing. Today we see Jesus red-faced in wrath, spittle flying from his mouth as he screams on the top of his lungs, a whip cracking in his hand over the heads of, and on the backs of men and beast as he drives them from the Temple courts. Today we see a Jesus consumed with zeal for his Father.

And it’s not a side of Jesus we are used to seeing… but can you blame him? Continue reading

It Is Good That One Man Died For the People (John 18:12-16)

Sermon for Midweek Lent 2 (3/4/15)

Text: John 18:12-16

Theme: It Is Good That One Man Died for the People

            How many of you are familiar with the movie Red Dawn? I’m talking about the 1984 classic in which Patrick Swayze leads a group of teenagers in guerrilla warfare against the Russians who have invaded the United States. It’s an entertaining and suspenseful movie as Patrick and his gang of teenagers band together in the Rocky Mountains and fight the evil Russians.

That movie is the closest I have ever come to experiencing what it must have been like to be an everyday Jew at the time of Jesus – at least as far as experiencing what Roman rule must have been like.

As long as any of us have been alive (and long before that), America has been free. American’s haven’t experienced enemy occupation since we did it to ourselves in the Civil War. So it is hard for us to imagine all of the emotions and feelings everyday Jews would have had toward the Romans. It’s hard for us to imagine what it would have been like to live in a politically charged atmosphere like Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ arrest.

The Roman Empire was in the midst of the Pax Romana, a 200 year period of relative peace and stability in the Roman world. This was an unprecedented span in the history of the world. 200 years without a major war breaking out. 200 years of peace that the 20/20 hindsight of history reveals as God orchestrated, so that his fledgling New Testament Church could grow.

But just because there was peace doesn’t mean that things were always peaceful. You see, there’s just this thing about conquests that has been proven true over the history of the world – people, nations don’t like being conquered. They don’t like being occupied. No matter how far the conquering nation goes to keep peace, that doesn’t mean it’s always peaceful. Continue reading

John the Baptist, a Witness to the Light (John 1:6-8, 19-28)

Sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Advent (12/14/14)

Text: John 1:6-8, 19-28

Theme: John the Baptist, a Witness to the Light

As a pastor and missionary my mind is always coming up with some harebrained scheme or another to introduce people to Jesus. One idea came to me this last week that I’m really excited about.

Next week instead of meeting here in this building for worship, we are going to meet down at Algonkian Park, right down by the Potomac. That way we can worship in a place that really just exemplifies the wisdom and power of our God who created this beautiful world we live in. You may need to bundle up a little bit, but I think, in general, this will be a great outreach move. We’ll get out of the stuffy confines of this formal church and out in the real world, in the beauty and freedom of God’s creation.

And oh yeah, just a heads up, I’m gonna look a little different when you show up next week. Instead of a suit or robe like you usually see me wearing on a Sunday morning, I plan on getting my hands on some camel hide this next week, to make myself a new outfit. And if I look a little green in the face, or my breath smells a little funky, don’t worry. I’m just starting a new diet – one that will take some getting used to. I’ll be living off a diet bugs and honey for the foreseeable future.

So what do you think? I have to imagine that if your pastor started eating bugs, preaching his sermons wearing camel skins down by the Potomac, we’d stand a pretty good chance of making some headlines. I have to imagine we’d bring in a few interested spectators to see just what all this fuss is about down by the river. Seems like a pretty good outreach plan to me (kind of a “shock and awe” outreach plan, draw them in with something crazy and, hopefully, they’ll stick around for the message) – after all, it worked for John the Baptist, right? Continue reading

Look the Lamb of God (John 1:29-36)

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany (1/19/14)

Text: John 1:29-36

Theme: Look the Lamb of God!

            At the young age of 12, there was little that could prepare this boy for what he was about to see. He was on his way to the temple in Jerusalem, for the first time, with his dad, to offer a sacrifice for sin – just like God had commanded Moses centuries earlier.

Earlier that day he had walked with his dad through their sheep searching for the perfect specimen. His dad’s instructions were clear (God’s instructions were clear), the lamb they brought to the temple had to be perfect – no spots, no blemishes, no deformities.

They now led this lamb through town to the temple gates. What this boy of 12 witnessed that day, he would never forget. He watched in amazement as his dad dragged that nervous lamb before an incredible altar of bronze.

It was captivating to watch his dad place his hands on that lambs head, closing his eyes in a moment of silent reflection; he placed his sins on the head of this pure lamb.

The boy couldn’t help but cringe as his dad then grabbed a knife and slit that lamb’s throat. In morbid fascination he watched the blood pump from the lamb into a bowl. His dad proceeded to gut, butcher, and clean that lamb right there in the Temple courts.

Then the priest stepped in. He took the bowl of blood and walked up to the altar of bronze. He sprinkled blood on each of the four corners and poured out the rest at the base of the altar. He then took the pieces of lamb and threw them into the fire.

And with that, this dad and his son walked away from the temple knowing that their sins were forgiven, knowing that all was right with God. It was a day this boy would never forget…

I don’t think I am telling any of you anything new when I tell you that the worship service we are following today is nothing like the worship services of God’s people in the Old Testament.

If you were there in the Temple, instead of here in this church, the quiet of contemplation you were able to enjoy before worship today would have been disturbed by the bleating of sheep and the lowing of oxen bound for the slaughter. The beauty of the temple building would have been permanently stained with the blood of thousands of animals. And the air you are breathing would have been thick with the smoke of burning flesh, and hair, and feathers.

Why? Why this hellish scene for worship? Why did worship have to include so much fire and blood and death? Continue reading

Faith In Jesus = Freedom (John 8:31-36)

Text: John 8:31-36

Theme: Faith In Jesus = Freedom

            “You mean it is either abstinence for life or be stuck in a marriage to one person? You’re serious, aren’t you?” “You mean you honestly want to dictate what I can and can’t say? You honestly want to control what I can and can’t think?” “You want to critique how I spend my hard-earned money?”

A lot of people look at Christianity, they hear the endless gong of the Old Testament ringing out, “Do not lust, do not envy, do not slander,” and they cringe. They want freedom. They want to do what they want to do, they want to live however they please. This is 21st century America; they don’t want how they live their lives to be dictated for them. They don’t want to be forced to follow a set of rules they had no part in creating, a set of rules they didn’t choose.

A lot of people would look at the life of a Christian, like my Mother-in-law for example, and just feel sorry for her. A woman who gave up a career she always wanted to follow her husband, because it was her duty. A woman who gave birth to, changed diapers for, and tirelessly served eight children for decades because it was her duty. A woman who spent more time cooking in the kitchen than pursuing worldly success because it was her duty. They would look at her life and they would see something akin to slavery; slavery to an archaic set of rules and standards, slavery they want to be free from. Continue reading