on catching up…

I am a little behind on sermon summaries. The exercise is a satisfying one for me as I think through the messages one more time. I occasionally think that I should write the summaries first, then maybe I would preach the messages better.

Last Wednesday, Dec 13, I preached our last message before Christmas from our NT series. I had intended to preach this message on Dec 3, but we had this snow problem. (Did I mention we don’t do snow?) We were looking at 1 Cor 11, a passage that has some controversy. I preached five messages on the first 16 verses when I was preaching through 1 Corinthians in order to give the issue of headcoverings a thorough treatment.

Our message this time was entitled ‘Two Difficulties in Worship‘. The first difficulty is the issue of headcoverings, the second difficulty is the issue of the manner in which at least some of the Corinthians were taking communion. My proposition: ‘God is as concerned with our manner in worship as he is with our willingness to participate in worship.’ First, on the headcoverings issue, the problem was that some of the Corinthian women were removing the headcoverings they normally wore when they were in church. They were doing this out of a misunderstanding of the consequences of the gospel and a lack of appreciation for the reasons for gender-specific cultural distinctions. They thought the gospel made men and women equal in Christ, which it does, and thus thought that in church, at least, they could dispense with headcoverings. Paul points out that gender distinction is God’s idea, it has a theological basis (the voluntary subordination of Christ in the Trinity) and that it reflects creation order. Those who practice headcoverings today are not wrong, but headcoverings are not the third sacrament either.

The more serious worship disorder in Corinth was the manner of taking the Lord’s supper. The Corinthians apparently were combining the observance with a pot-luck supper of sorts, but those who had little or none to bring were finding that it was a ‘no-luck’ supper for them. This is the unworthy manner Paul rebukes and says that some were sick or even dead as a result. So the passage calls for good order in worship, a consideration of one another and a submission to God in all.

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On to Sunday…

On Sunday, we continued our Thru the Christmas Passages series. This has been most enlightening for me. Our first message, ‘The Babe Leaped‘ came from Lk 1.39-45, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. The proposition was: “The work of God is confirmed by Spirit filled witnesses.” I keyed in on the response of the infant in utero and Elizabeth’s spirit filling. Mary travelled to see Elizabeth over a distance of 50-70 miles. I suggested that she could not have travelled this distance alone in that day and age, she must have had guardians or family with her. They would be important witnesses for her chastity. We looked at what Spirit filling meant in OT times, noted that Zacharias and John are also said to be filled with the Spirit in the chapter, John ‘from his mother’s womb’, which I take to be a life-long filling, unusual for an OT saint.

As Mary greets Elizabeth, the Spirit moves – Elizabeth learned of Mary’s news directly from God, there is no indication that she had any prior knowledge from Mary. She blesses Mary, blesses the Lord, remarks on her own blessedness in receiving the visit, and again blesses Mary, saying that the things the Lord promised SHALL [note future tense] take place. This indicates that the overshadowing had not yet occurred. Elizabeth’s prophecy is important as confirmation of the certainty of the things we believe (Lk 1.4). God moved and worked among different people to establish certainty. Mary came to stay in a small home in Judea at the time that she became pregnant. She had people around her all the time, including a Spirit filled prophet and prophetess who could vouch authoritatively for her chastity. The point is this: Do you have any trouble believing the doctrine of the virgin birth? God provided Spirit filled witnesses to confirm the work of God.

The second message, ‘What then shall this child be?‘, Lk 1.57-66, 80, concerned the birth of John. Our proposition: ‘No one can understand the work of God without someone coming along side to teach them.’ In this message we stood on the outside of the scene as observers at the naming celebration. We were friends and relations of the happy (and aged) couple. As Israelite observers, the pregnancy was a great wonder to us, accompanied by signs like Zacharias’ dumbness (and deafness). There is no way we could understand what it all meant, but we would know our Jewish history. We would know about Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, the wife of Manoah, and Hannah. We would realize God was doing something with this pregnancy, but what? (We wouldn’t have the privilege of having Dr. Luke explain it to us… Luke won’t write for another 60 years or so.)

As we stood observing the celebrations, we would have gathered early in the morning for the circumcision ceremony and naming. All would be going according to plan, although someone else would have to utter the prayer in Zacharias’ stead, since he could not speak. We would be shocked as Elizabeth interupted the prayer, which named the baby Zacharias, with the words, “No, his name is Jochanan (John).” We would turn to Zacharias and try to communicate, but again be shocked as Zacharias writes emphatically: “His name is John”. What could be the meaning of this name? The life this lad will live as he reaches manhood would be inexplicable to those who observe as well. He would become a strange man. What is the meaning of this?

As Zacharias emphatically named him, we would finally be mystified and shocked by the loosing of Zacharias’ tongue. What is God doing? What does it mean?

For those of us who live in the post-apostolic age, the explanation is recorded for us by Luke. But even that explanation will be missed by those who do not know the Lord unless someone tells them. The Lord employs other men to teach his Word to men. Our duty, as observers of the Word, is not merely amazed observance, but rather to proclaim what we have seen to other men.

Our third message of the day was perhaps the strongest. ‘Joseph, a just man‘, from Mt 1.18-25. The proposition: “Following God’s will means hearing God’s word, laying aside self-will, and obeying God.” Mary’s visit to Elizabeth appeared to end before the baby was born. Why? Wouldn’t family members have wanted to stay and observe the celebrations? Did Mary and her guardians come to help Elizabeth with the baby? Why did they leave before he was born? Was it because Mary’s pregnancy was discovered? I think it is quite likely that this was the reason. On arrival in Nazareth, Joseph would have to be informed. Joseph is a just (righteous) man, described in exactly the same terms as Zacharias and Elizabeth. Joseph is informed of Mary’s condition. A righteous man, and a man who loves Mary, he cannot bring himself to take her into court and accuse her as the Pharisees did to the woman caught in adultery. Instead, he makes sad, depressed plans to quietly divorce Mary and get on with his life. I imagine he is reeling emotionally, seated alone in the home he has been preparing for his bride, worried, down, depressed. In this state the Lord sends him a vision, instructs him not to fear, that the testimony of Mary is true, the child is of the Holy Ghost. Roused from the vision, Joseph immediately follows the Lord’s instructions. I imagine that he rushes to the home of his ‘friend of the bridegroom’ and calls him to attend. Tonight is the night. The little group of men gather their torches and in the evening march their wedding march to the home of Mary. They knock at the door and a worried father opens, Joseph declares, “I have come for my wife.” Instantly the hearts of the depressed are lifted, the bride hurriedly dressed, the procession taken to the home of the groom where the marriage is celebrated by friend and family. Joseph obeyed God without hesitation — he was a just man. Stewart Custer points out something about this family:

“Although he was a humble carpenter, Joseph would have the privilege of being the adoptive father of the Lord of heaven. He would see to it that his home was saturated with Scripture. The Lord Jesus had a profound knowledge of Scripture at a tender age (Lk 2.46-47); His younger brother, James, quotes more Scriptures in five chapters than any other NT writer. But then, Mary’s prayer was filled with Scripture as well.” [Custer, The Gospel of the King, p. 10]

God put the Son of God into a home where the Word of God would be the center of life. The will of God would be instantly and implicitly obeyed. “Following God’s will means hearing God’s word, laying aside self-will, and obeying God.” The Son of God, humanly speaking, learned obedience at the feet of a just man. May we learn obedience at the feet of the Son.

Regards,
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

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