He Came Preaching and Teaching

Bishop J. C. Ryle, one of England’s greatest preachers, wrote, “The brightest days of the Church have been those when preaching was honored. The darkest days of the Church have been those when it was lightly esteemed. . . . Let us honor the sacraments and public prayers of the church and reverently use them. But let us not place them above preaching.”

Do you agree?

Jesus must certainly agree, because he began his ministry in Capernaum preaching and teaching. Our text says, “From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Mark says, “They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law” (Mark 1:21-22).

It is said that, if you study the history of some of the great churches in America, you will find these places had the privilege of hearing God’s Word preached faithfully, dynamically, and lovingly by people who have themselves walked in a personal relationship with Christ and considered the Bible their only authority in matters of faith and life. The preachers were not necessarily great orators, but people who lived with great conviction. Preaching for them was a matter of life or death. They lived to preach.

One such church is the Moody Church in Chicago. Dwight L. Moody, considered to be the Billy Graham of his day, was the pastor of that church for many years. Today people still flock to the church knowing they will hear great preaching of God’s Holy Word. My grandson attends Moody church regularly, though it is not an easy church to attend. The parking is difficult and many other reasons exist for choosing another church more conveniently located. Yet, when asked why he chooses Moody for his regular place of worship, he is quick to respond, “I know I will hear a great sermon, and my soul will be fed on God’s Word.”

Moody and his successors have seen the importance of preaching and teaching the Bible. His church has drawn thousands of people over the years. We can learn from this example. It is one thing to attract people to our services through friendliness, motivational speaking, and attractive messages (even when they are not true to scriptural teaching). However, experience has taught us such congregations will not long endure. We must build on the Rock, and the Rock is Jesus.

Our text tells us that Capernaum was in the part of Palestine known as Galilee of the Gentiles. This means that many foreigners made Capernaum and the surrounding area their home. They were hungry for new thoughts on spiritual matters, so they came to hear Christ’s message.

Does that part of Galilee remind you of our nation? We have welcomed people with all kinds of spiritual backgrounds to our shores. Our society is made up of atheists, agnostics (people who are indifferent to religion), Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, and other cults. What an opportunity the Church has to preach and teach these people about the grace of God!

Where preaching is strong, these spiritually-hungry people will listen. Where preaching is weak, the Church has little to say to them. Our culture writes off Christianity when the speaker is not sure what they are talking about. When the preacher or teacher fills his sermon or lecture with “This is probably true” statements, they do not impress the listener. “How can they teach me something that is not proven in their own mind?” Remember that Jesus taught with authority.

This leads to the question, What is the Church’s message? The answer is, Jesus sets the agenda. The topics are still relevant. Here are two examples:

1. God is your Father and wants to live in a personal relationship with you. He is not a tyrant who is out to get you. It is true that he can punish those who live contrary to his will. However, even that punishment is done in love. While our sin separates us from a righteous God, he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to suffer, die, and be raised to pay the price for our sins. He took our sins upon himself and went to the cross to pay the price for these sins.

If we will receive Christ, he will take our sins away and bring us into a relationship with him. That relationship is personal. We can come to him any time with our joys and sorrows, our worries and our confusions, for He has promised to always be with us.

When a church preaches and teaches this message on a regular basis, a relationship with Christ will develop in the lives of its listeners, even if it takes a lifetime. God is waiting for us, and he has plenty of time. But do we? Who knows what the next hour will bring.

2. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” This is a statement from Jesus’ sermon. Does it not need to be heard today also? You might wonder, if you receive Jesus and live according to his will, might you move into a three million-dollar home and drive a Lexus?

No. In fact, he tells us that his followers can expect suffering of one type or another. This verse is spoken to people whose lives are filled with worry, wondering if they will even have enough to satisfy the basic needs of life. Jesus says, “Trust me. I will direct you, and your needs will be satisfied.”

Discuss topics like these in a mixed group of believers and unbelievers and you will find interesting results. You can be sure they will be back for more.

Some topics Jesus raised are not appreciated by the natural mind. However, a congregation that wants to be a church of the Word cannot pick and choose what they will preach and teach. God’s Word must be proclaimed with conviction! These truths must then be wrestled with in a small group until it is time to move on to another teaching of our Lord. This does not mean that we will have the answers to all our questions in this life, but someday we will fully understand.

This text tells us the importance of a congregation guarding the pulpit and the classroom. Make sure you know what is going on. Remember, what we teach either strengthens or weakens the church. We can see evidence all around us that, where biblical ignorance increases in a church, the worshipers decrease in number. God gives us a wake-up call. Acting in love, let us investigate what is happening. This is pleasing to our Lord.

A Christmas Evaluation

Did the message of Christmas make a spiritual impact on your life? You heard the Gospel proclaimed in many different ways Ð the carols, the great anthems of the season, the preaching in your church and over the radio and television. This question deserves some serious thought.

Let’s turn to the words of John the Baptist and see if they give us any help in answering the question.

In our text, John writes, “I would not have known him, except the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ÔThe man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”

We might translate these words from John as, I would not have known him except the Holy Spirit had opened my eyes and revealed to me that he is the Son of God.

John the Baptist was a contemporary of Jesus. His mother, Elizabeth, was a cousin of the Virgin Mary. His father, Zechariah, was a priest. The angels had revealed to John’s parents that their son, who was yet to be born, would grow up to be the forerunner of Jesus, the Messiah.

It is doubtful that John the Baptist and Jesus had ever met until the day Jesus was baptized. John was raised in the wilderness down by the Red Sea. Jesus grew up in Nazareth. But on the day of Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit made it clear to John that this was not only his relative in the flesh, but the Son of God.

This is an important point in answering our question. The Holy Spirit is the One who opens our eyes to behold Jesus as Savior and Lord. If anything is going on in our lives spiritually speaking, it is the Holy Spirit who is at work. The exciting truth is that He, who revealed Christ to John the Baptist, is also the One who brings this same revelation to us through His Word. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can say Jesus is Lord.

Does this help us to think seriously about the question, Did the message of the Christmas Gospel make any change in my life? Let’s draw a couple verbal pictures where all of this could have taken place during the Christmas season.

You are on your way home from work. It’s Christmas Eve, and you hear the familiar words being read from the Gospel of St. Luke, “Fear not, for there is born to you this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” You give these words serious thought. Under the Christmas tree are gifts. It is a part of the season. But the Bible says that God’s gift to you is a Savior.

You told your wife that she shouldn’t bother buying a gift for you. There wasn’t one thing in the world that you needed. But that wasn’t quite true, was it? Suddenly you realize how much you need a Savior. Only He can forgive your sins. Without him, guilt lies buried in your soul.

That is the Holy Spirit at work in you as he worked in the life of John the Baptist. Did you respond to His voice? Then the Christmas message had an impact on your life. Are you going to do something about it?

Let’s draw another imaginary picture that could be very real.

You were attending the Sunday school Christmas program. Your eight-year-old daughter was telling the story of Jesus’ birth. How innocent she is. She has no understanding of what kind of a world she is facing. How will she deal with the many temptations facing her in the next ten years? You can’t protect her from the tempter. Only a personal relationship with Christ will give her the power to defeat him. What is her home doing to strengthen that faith? You go to church almost every Sunday, but have little or no devotional time in your home. You pray for the family, but do they know it? Have they heard you pray?

As you come away from the church that night, you are thrilled with the Christmas message that your daughter shared with the congregation. However, little is being done in the home to strengthen her faith. You have not shared your faith with your daughter as your mother did with you.

If you had some of these thoughts, the Christmas message did make an impact on your life. Are you going to see that things change in your home? They will never change unless you let the Holy Spirit lead and strengthen you in sharing this glorious message of God’s love.

Hearing all of this, you brush it off and say, “What are you trying to do, build a guilt complex in us?”

I am sure that it would not be possible for me to do this. However, the Holy Spirit is perhaps trying to show you how much you need this Savior and how your children need to hear about Jesus Christ from you. That was one of the purposes of proclaiming the Christmas message.

You probably don’t say anymore, but you are doing plenty of thinking. “I will not share my thoughts, but the preacher should know that nothing happened of a spiritual nature in my life this Christmas. It was just more of the same.”

Oh, didn’t anything happen? I wonder if that seed of the Gospel was not planted? Perhaps it will take years before it bears fruit. The day will come when you need the Lord. Only He will be able to sustain you in your anxiety or sorrow. He will be there, but not with the attitude of saying, “I told you so.” No, when you come to him with all of your needs, he will be there as a loving Father anxious to give you strength, because he is a God of grace. So don’t be too quick to say nothing happened in your life, spiritually speaking, this Christmas.

The Holy Spirit is at work in our lives. Remember what John the Baptist said about his own relationship with the Lord: “I would not have known him, except the Spirit had pointed him out to me. Then I could confess, ÔBehold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. He must increase, but I must decrease.'”

What Shall I Do With Jesus?

What shall I do with Jesus?

This is a question that has been asked by millions of people. It has been asked by world leaders, scholars, the wealthy, and the poor. Any person who has been told the story of Jesus has answered the question in one way or another.

It is the question that came to Herod two thousand years ago. Constantine had to deal with it. It tormented Hitler and Stalin, and it is the question we are confronted with in our text today.

The story tells about Herod, who was very upset when he learned that this child, who was born in Bethlehem, would be the King of the Jews. This was a real threat to the old man.

William Barclay gives us some interesting information regarding Herod, who was himself half Jew. He was well received by the Roman government. They trusted him because he was able to keep peace and order in Palestine. Herod was a great builder. The Temple in Jerusalem was built during his reign. He also could be a very generous man. In times of difficulty he remitted the tax to make things easier for the people. In the famine of 25 BC, he actually melted down his own gold plate to buy corn for the starving people.

However, Herod had one terrible flaw in his character: he was almost insanely suspicious. Although he had always been suspicious, the older he was the more suspicious he became. He murdered his wife, her mother, and his three sons. Augustus, the Roman Emperor, once said, “It is safer to be Herod’s pig than to be his son.”

Now this wild man had learned that a child had been born who would be King of the Jews. What would he do with Jesus? It did not take him long to connive a vicious plan. He issued an order that all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years or younger were to be killed. In plain language, Herod answered this question by saying, “Kill Jesus, even though it will be necessary to kill others with him.” The man was crazy.

Others have followed in the steps of Herod. Nero, for example, killed the Christians. He had to get rid of the followers of Jesus. They had been saying that he was the Son of God, and had come into the world to forgive people and restore fellowship with God.

In recent years we have had people like Stalin and Hitler. They said they had to get rid of this Christian influence, for it will not be a bedfellow with Nazism and Communism. The leaders in China and some countries in Africa have ordered the same terrible punishment Ð that Christians were to be killed Ð that Herod ordered.

All of us who have had the opportunity to learn about Jesus must decide what we will do with him. Perhaps you learned about him in your home, your Sunday school or confirmation class where he was depicted as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. Maybe it was in a stirring worship service that the Holy Spirit spoke to you. The question stands: What shall I do with Jesus?

In answering this question, we must consider the claims of Jesus. For if you are truly a follower of Jesus, then these are some of the truths that you accept:

¥ Jesus is God, the God Incarnate, God Himself. He came into this world to be the Savior of all who would receive him.

¥ He is the world’s only Savior who died on the cross for the sins of the world. He was raised on the third day, and forty days later he ascended into heaven with a commission for us to go into all the world to tell the story of Jesus Christ, because one day he will be coming back for his church.

¥ Those who trust in him as Savior and Lord belong to that church. It is made up of people from all around the world. They are his own.

¥ When we have him in our hearts, it will show in our lives. When he was asked what was the greatest of all the commandments, he replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, and your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” As followers of Christ, if we carry hatred in our hearts and animosity toward other people, we must get rid of that kind of spirit.

These are some of the teachings that, as Christians, we must believe. St. Paul, in II Corinthians 5:17, says, “Remember this, if anyone is in Christ Jesus, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; the new has come.” Parts of our life that can be categorized as old must pass away. What is the new that is to come? It is a new, vibrant message. A new life. We will live as changed people in the kingdom of God.

Our question today is, What am I going to do with Jesus? If you have known anything about him, then you must have an answer for it.

Godless leaders like Adolph Hitler and Joe Stalin said to get rid of him, for his influence was dangerous to their plans. Yet, there are those today who have the same viewpoint, but say it in a nicer way. “His influence is dangerous. It will permeate a good mind with clear thinking, and move it to one that relies on matters of faith.” That person is saying they must get rid of Jesus. Nations and empires have said that time and again. Those who have said it consistently have fallen.

The second answer is to ignore him. Jesus is a threat and if you let him get too much of your life, you will be a different person. Jesus not only said he could change lives, he actually changed them. Look at the Christian people around you in today’s world and remember what they once were. What a difference! This is what the Lord Jesus Christ can do.

Look at the Apostle Paul. He hated the Church and wanted to destroy the Christians. Yet when the Lord Jesus got hold of him, he could only receive him. Before that he wanted to get rid of him or ignore him. Millions of people who have had the Holy Spirit speak to them in the Word have had their lives changed because of Jesus.

There are those who say they do not deny that Jesus was a great religious leader and made a great contribution to western civilization and its thought. But then they leave it at that. “He has very little relevance in my life. So I have gotten rid of him. Do not try to make him God and Savior. That is bordering on fanaticism.”

The world is full of people who were brought up in a Christian home with their parents raising them in the truth. Then they grew up, left home, and decided they’d had enough of Christianity, so they quit going to church. They then became successful and found they had a security outside of Jesus Christ. When they got married, they had no consideration regarding the faith of their spouse or their relationship with the Lord. What was important were physical attraction, personality, and social connections.

When they took that spouse home, the parents asked if they belonged to a church. “No,” was the response. So the parents asked them to give it some consideration, and they agreed to take care of it in time. Yet never once was the Word of God opened. The husband and wife never prayed with each other, and the children never received Christian instruction.

That person was saying, “We are going to ignore Jesus. Others may want to live with Jesus, but for us, other things are more important, like money and prestige.” So they throw the family away, spiritually speaking.

The Magi held a third answer Ð that was to worship him. When they learned that Jesus was to be the King of the Jews, they knelt down before him, made their confession, and brought him gifts. However, Jesus would grow up and bring them the greatest of gifts Ð the forgiveness of sins, the promise of an abundant life, and the assurance of life after death.

We will have hundreds of important questions to answer in our lifetimes. Questions regarding health issues, such as dementia and cancer. We need to be united in order to learn the answers to these perplexing problems. We face political issues. Who will we vote for? Who can best lead us? Yet none of these questions are as important as this one: What shall I do with Jesus?

We, like the Magi of old, need to bow before his manger, before his cross, before the empty tomb, and let him give us the gift of gifts Ð the forgiveness of sins, grace, and the assurance of salvation. If we will let him into our lives, he will turn us around and affect our lives in such a way that we will find the answers to most of the other questions.

Herod was crazy. Yet those who want to get rid of Jesus or ignore him, are doing what Herod was doing. Turn to Christ and let him minister to you. The answer to our question will not only affect your years on this earth, but will determine your eternal destiny.

God Is the Encourager

Are you carrying some concerns, if not fears, into the new year?

The disciple John watched over Mary after Jesus’ resurrection. He could well have asked if, during Jesus’ early years, there were times when she needed encouragement in order to believe all that the angel had revealed to her.

Mary’s response could have been, “Yes, John, I was living with a mystery, and I needed much help to believe what the angel said to me. God always had a way of encouraging me.”

One example of God’s encouragement was Mary and Joseph’s visit to Simeon. Shortly after Jesus’ circumcision Ð which is a Jewish rite Ð they took the child to the temple in Jerusalem for the Rite of Presentation. They met Simeon who had been told in a revelation that, before his death, he would see the Messiah. Now this prophecy had been fulfilled, and so he prayed, “Lord, now dismiss your servant in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:21-35).

God was giving Mary an encouraging word through Simeon.

Then came the visit of the Magi, who we often refer to as the three wise men. These people came with a question: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We have seen his star and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:1-2).

When they found the child, the Bible tells us the Magi fell down and worshiped Jesus. They had found the king. What do you think that did for Mary? She recalled what the angels had said: “His kingdom would have no end.” Her faith was being strengthened by the visit of the wise men. No matter what happened, God was revealing to Mary that she had given birth to the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

God is the encourager. This is the message we need to hear.

As we walk through life with all of its discouragements and disappointments, we need an encourager. Let us look at some of these experiences where we ask what is going to happen in the future.

Turning on our televisions, we are confronted with questions about our nation. Those of us who live in Iowa have lived through months of campaigning by those who want to be a candidate for president in November of this year. The Republicans tell us that this nation cannot stand another four years of Republican leadership. The Republicans are telling us that the Democrats will give our country away and gradually we will lose the freedoms that we cherish.

Wow! No matter how it comes out, it will not be good for the United States. In all of this rhetoric, as we found our way to the caucus of our choice, we asked ourselves who we should support to be a candidate for the highest office in our land.

Does God have an answer? Is he that practical?

Yes, he is. Listen to his counsel: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12). A verse such as this gave Billy Graham the courage back in 1952 to say, “The Christian people in America are going to vote for the person with the strongest moral and spiritual platform” (a quotation from The Preacher and the Presidents).

I am not sure that Graham was right. I am afraid that many Christians voted for the one who benefitted them the most, or they simply followed the old party line, which had been the party of their family for generations. Yet I am confident that Billy was right when he implied that, if the leaders would bend their knees and search for the will of God, our land would be blessed.

God is the encourager!

Health problems cause many frightening hours. How much will I have to suffer? How will I manage life after my loved one is gone? Two of my close friends have suffered almost more than one family can take. It started years ago when the daughter, newly married, was diagnosed with cancer. The mother then had two bouts with cancer. Then dad had cancer, and now a son has been diagnosed with cancer. They find strength in the Word of God through a verse spoken by Job: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). They remain strong, thanking God for each day he gives them.

God is the encourager!

Even the Church gives us disappointing days. The church, which was once so strong, continues to decline, at least in western civilization. Scripture is questioned. Some insist that we must listen to culture’s interpretation of the Bible. Same-sex marriages, once called sin, today are being blessed by certain parts of the church. Is the decline in the influence of the Church in Europe a picture of the American Church tomorrow?

All of this might happen. However, Jesus has given us an encouraging word. He says, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). He does not say where the Church will be standing when he returns, but it will exist. That promise is not given to any single denomination, but to those who trust him. He will be with them.

God is the encourager!

We start a new year. It can be exciting. It can be frightening. Just remember Ð God is the encourager!