The Sovereign Judgment of Our God

Amos #02: an exposition of Amos 1:3-2:16. This message by Pastor Rod Harris was delivered at Trinity Baptist Church on Sunday evening, April 6, 2014.

Intro:

One of the hallmarks of biblical faith is the belief in the one true God.  Part of the reason why we draw the eire of the culture is our insistence that the whole world will one day answer to our God.  That does sound arrogant and it would be an audacious claim if it was made on the basis of our own assessment but such a claim is the revealed will of God.  He will judge the nations of the earth.  All men will given an account to Him.  Our God is not some tribal deity presiding over a select band of followers.  He is the creator of the heavens and the earth.  He is the supreme judge before whom every knee will bow.  However we cannot afford to be smug in our proclamation for we too will answer to Him.  The privilege of knowing Him, of having His word delivered to us and our unique relationship with Him does not mean we can sin with impunity.  That is the lesson the Northern Kingdom of Israel learned through the preaching of the fig picking prophet from Tekoa.  Our text this evening is found in Amos chapters 1 and 2.

Text: Amos 1:3-2:16

Near the end of the Northern Kingdom God called Amos to leave his flock and his farm in Judah to travel north to the kingdom of Israel.  He was assigned the task of declaring God’s sure and certain judgement on the nation.  His message was hard.  The truth bleak and yet there was the hint of grace within it.

The book of Amos is said to be one of the most readable, relevant and moving portions of the Word of God yet it is, for the most part, ignored.  Why?  Because its message hits a little too close to home.  Amos thunders against social injustice and dead ritual.  Subjects no more popular in the 8th century before Christ than they are today.  However it is a message that must be heard.  One that we must face head on.

In the text before us this evening Amos speaks of God’s judgment on Israel’s neighbors and then on Israel itself.  No doubt there were rousing “Amens!” as the prophet denounced the sins of Israel’s enemies.  But the mood quickly changed as he set his sites on God’s wayward people.

Listen to his words…

Thesis: Amos’ sobering message reminds us that God’s sovereign judgment is both comforting and frightening.
His judgment cuts both ways.  It is comforting in that the enemies of God will be dealt with.  Those who deny God and treat others with contempt will get what is coming to them.  God will not be mocked.  Whatsoever you sow that you will also reap.  What a comfort that is until you recognize your own sin.  The cry for justice is not one way.  Justice for our enemies and grace for us.

Looking at this text I want to draw out three truths.

  1. God will judge those who treat others with brutal contempt.  (1:3-2:3)
  2. God will judge those who defiantly set aside His sovereign commands.  (2:4-5)
  3. God will judge those who flippantly presume upon His grace.  (2:6-16)
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The Focus of Our Biblical Faith

Hebrews #02: an exposition of Hebrews 1:4-14. This message by Pastor Rod Harris was delivered at Trinity Baptist Church on Sunday morning, April 6, 2014.

Intro:

Have you ever thought, “You know life would be a little easier if I didn’t believe?”  Ever find yourself so beaten down by those around you who do not believe, it would just be easier if you just walked away?  Let’s face it living the Christian life is not easy.  Life is not all sunshine and no rain.  At times you find yourself at odds with the people you love and the people you have to work with.  Living by faith in an increasingly unbelieving culture can be grueling.  While you may not be tempted to deny your faith all together there is the temptation to “tone it down.”  Maybe you should not be so vocal.  Continue to believe in Jesus just don’t push the unique Son of God angle or demand that He is the only means of salvation.  Hold your beliefs privately, quietly do more to blend in with the surrounding culture.  Maybe then life would be a little easier.  Things would not be so tense at work or at family gatherings.

They were young in the faith.  They had believed the message of the Gospel and had trusted in Jesus as Messiah, as Lord and master.  By so doing they were spurned by their families.  The government came down on them.  Their faith cost them dearly.  Some had turned back.  They walked away from the faith.  Others were thinking of doing the same thing.  The writer of Hebrews took pen in hand to write to them about persevering.  His focus was on the person of the Lord Jesus.  Who is he and what did he do?  What sustains your faith in the face of great opposition is not a doctrine or a creed but a person.  The Lord himself.  The writer begins by saying God is not silent.  He has spoken many times in the past through various means.  But in these last days he has spoken his final word in the person of his Son.  Jesus is God’s final, ultimate word.  The Lord Jesus is the effulgence, the shining forth, of the glory of God.  He does not reflect God’s radiant glory he is that glory.  Further he is the exact imprint of God’s nature.  He is God.  This is the same one who has made purification for our sin.  He now sits at the right hand of the Majesty on high.  He has the superior name.  The name that is above every name.  And the one before whom all will bow.  The writer implores struggling believers to look to him.  Having stated the glory of the Son he now sets forth the evidence supporting his superiority.  Our text this morning begins with verse 4 of chapter 1.

Text: Hebrews 1:4-14

In our text the writer makes the case that Jesus is superior to angels.  That seems strange.  Why would he need to do that?  In order to understand you need to fix in your mind the temptation facing these struggling believers.  They are being pressured to back off their new found faith.  These harassed, persecuted and beleaguered saints were on the verge of turning back.  Their faith had cost them dearly.  But they would not have to blatantly deny Jesus just compromise a little.  Agree that Jesus was an angel but not God.  You can affirm, even revere him but not as God.  An angel, a great man, a wise teacher even a supreme teacher but not God.  But to compromise would be to deny.  Jesus is not a good man he is the god-man.  He is not a way of salvation.  He is the way of salvation.  He is not a hope he is the only hope.

As we work our way through this text we are reminded that…

Thesis: “A biblical faith steadfastly affirms and glories in the supremacy of the Lord Jesus.”

The writer expertly gathers various Old Testament texts to affirm the superiority of the Lord Jesus.  As we work through those we discover 5 affirmations of biblical faith.

  1. Biblical faith affirms that Jesus of Nazareth is uniquely the Son of God.  (1:4,5)
  2. Biblical faith affirms that Jesus alone is worthy of worship.  (1:6)
  3. Biblical faith affirms Jesus’ unique status as Sovereign over all things.  (1:7-9)
  4. Biblical faith affirms Jesus as the Eternal One.  (1:10-12)
  5. Biblical faith affirms Jesus as the almighty ruler and king.  (1:13-14)

Conclusion:

Are you beaten down?  Have the cares and sorrows of this life so overwhelmed you that you want to throw in the towel?  Take heart this glorious Son of the Living God is your God and he had given charge over his angels concerning you.  Does that mean your troubles will vanish?  No.  But you are not alone.  His power is sufficient.  These things are ultimately for your good and His glory.  Don’t turn back.  Don’t walk way look to Him.

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That’s Not What We Had in Mind!

Amos #01: an exposition of Amos 1:1; 7:10-17. This message by Pastor Rod Harris was delivered at Trinity Baptist Church on Sunday evening, March 30, 2014.

Intro:

It was a time of remarkable growth and prosperity.  After years of struggle they finally had some breathing room.  The economy was good.  They were becoming a power in the region.  They were in the middle of a building boom.  They had a nice, comfortable life.  That’s why they were so angry.  The last thing you want, when you have a nice respectable life going, is some preacher stirring up trouble!  To make matters worse he wasn’t one of them.  He was not even recognized by their religion.  He was from the south for heaven’s sake.  At first his preaching was pretty good.  He denounced all their enemies.  He spoke of God’s judgment on the surrounding nations.  Their initial reaction was, “You know, this guy is making a lot of sense.”  He was definitely getting good press.  There were certainly some “amens” and a few no doubt shouted, “preach it brother!”  Then he did the unthinkable.  We quit preach’n and went to meddl’n.  He started denouncing the sins of Israel.  He dared to say God was bringing that same judgment down on them.  “Who does this uneducated, unsophisticated farmer think he is?  What right does he have to waltz in here and say these things?”  His name was Amos.  A fig-picker turned prophet.  This evening we begin a study of the book that bears his name.

Text: Amos 1:1; 7:10-17

James Boice said that Amos was one of the most readable, relevant, and moving portions of the Word of God.  But in much of the church history little or no attention has been paid to it.  He goes on to suggest the reason for its being slighted is that it speaks so powerfully against social injustice and religious formalism, and thus many who would otherwise read it would be condemned by it.

It is true that issues of social justice have not been on the front burner in the evangelical church.  That, I think, is in reaction to the social gospel movement of the early 20th century and that social justice has long been a hobby horse for more liberal churches.  Yet event a casual reading of Scripture makes it abundantly clear God has a lot to say about or treatment of the poor and the need for justice.

Yet look around.  When we consider the number of people who live in abject poverty around the world it would be easy to question, “Does God care?”  When we consider the wide discrepancy even in this country between the wealthy and the poor it would be natural to wonder, “Does God care?”  When a child is brutalized, when a young girl is taken captive and made part of the sex trade industry – does God care?  When some schemer at work moves up the company ladder, does God care?  When you are slighted or your reputation is slandered – does God care?

Be careful if you’re asking that.  Because I would have to ask you, “Do you want Him to care?”  Do you want Him to care if you’ve slandered another?  Do you want Him to care if you’ve used the system to gain advantage over another?  If you’ve cheated in your spouse?

In light of these questions and in light of what God reveals to us through his prophet Amos, I have good news and bad news for you….

God cares!

The good news is the bad news.  God cares about sin and injustice.  He cares about our treatment of others and our obedience (or lack of obedience) to His commands.  As we begin our study of this most relevant prophet I want us to see that…

Thesis: Amos serves as a model of prophetic ministry.

We, like all churches and all believers, have been called to a prophetic ministry.  We are to represent God to the people.  We are to cry out against sin and injustice wherever we find it.  We are pretty good at pointing the finger but we must never forget judgment begins in the house of God.  We cannot afford to overlook our own sin.  In seeking to understand how we are to carry out this prophetic work let’s look at Amos.

There are three things I want to note.

  1.  Amos warns of the insecurity of a stable yet unrighteous nation.  (1:1a)
  2.  Amos reminds us of God’s delight in using the least qualified in extraordinary ways.  (1:1; 7:14-15)
  3.  Amos demonstrates the power of an uncompromised faith.  (7:10-13, 16-17)
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Sustaining, Enduring, Overcoming Faith

Hebrews #01: an exposition of Hebrews 1:1-4. This message by Pastor Rod Harris was delivered at Trinity Baptist Church on Sunday morning, March 30, 2014.

Intro:

The United States Supreme Court heard arguments this week in what is said to be, “the most important religious liberty case to come before the court in a quarter of a century.”  The specific issue has to do with the mandates of the affordable care act and the rights of private businesses owned by people with deeply held religious convictions.  But the issue is really much larger than that.  At stake is religious liberty.  If you’ve been paying attention in recent years you’ve noticed that the language has changed.  There are those who no longer talk of freedom of religion but rather freedom of worship.  That is an important distinction.  Freedom of worship says, “Sure worship as you please – in your church and leave it there.”  Freedom of religion is that you are free to live out your religious convictions within society.  It is no secret that the culture in general has shifted.  The place of religion is being pushed from the public to the private sector.  Your faith is your private business it has no place in public life.  Your faith says homosexuality is a sin?  You had best keep that to yourself.  Your faith demands that salvation is found in Christ and in Christ alone?  You might want to rethink that.  Orthodox Christianity, once the dominate faith of our country, is being marginalized.  Church attendance is shrinking.  Our message is being denounced as bigoted, outdated and culturally backwards.  I watched last week as Stephen Corbert spoke of dwindling church attendance by saying, “Here’s the church; there is the steeple; open the door and where are all the people?” as his audience howled.

What do you do when your faith is lampooned?  How are we to react when what we hold dear is mocked and ridiculed?  How do we stand when the tide of public opinion is against us?  Worse yet, where do we turn when our faith is on the wrong side of the law?

They were second generation believers.  They did not hear Jesus himself rather they believed his message as delivered by those who heard him.  As Jews they had longed for Messiah.  Now they had come to believe that Messiah had come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Their new found faith cost them dearly.  Family and friends turned on them.  The government outlawed them.  They were struggling to continue in the faith.  Some had already turned back.  Others were contemplating it.  The writer of Hebrews says to them, “Don’t turn back.  Christ is better than the best the world has to offer.”  Our text this morning is found in the first chapter of Hebrews.

Text: Hebrews 1:1-4

The book of Hebrews is different.  It doesn’t begin like a letter but it certainly ends like one.  It is not addressed to a specific individual or group yet clearly is written with a specific group in mind.  It most likely began as a sermon or series of sermons.  As for who wrote it, I think Origen was right when he declared, “God only knows who wrote this!”  What we do know about the author is that he was well educated, was extremely well versed in the Greek Old Testament and that he wrote with great eloquence.  Most likely the book was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD (references indicate the sacrifices where still being made).  Probably written to Jewish Christians living in Rome.

We do know that those who received this letter faced a very real threat: But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings,
33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.  34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.  (Hebrews 10:32-34)

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  (Hebrews 12:4)

Martyrdom was a real possibility for these believers.  What would the writer of Hebrews say to encourage these beleaguered saints?  What would he say to bolster their faith?  Two themes dominate the book.  Who is Jesus?  What did Jesus do?  He preached Christ.  He pointed to Jesus.

What is it that will enable you to stand against unbelief?  What is it that will sustain you when buffeted by doubt and hounded by those who refuse to believe?  When the winds of persecution begin to blow what will enable you to persevere?  Not doctrine.  Not as statement of faith.  Creeds and confessions will prove inadequate.  Your faith must rest squarely on the person of the Lord Jesus and His glory as revealed in God’s holy Word.

As these opening verses make clear…

Thesis: In the face of great adversity sustaining, enduring, overcoming faith demands a clear, unobstructed view of the exalted Christ.

No doubt these believers where asking some hard questions.  “Does God know what we are going through?  Does He care?  Where is He?  Why doesn’t He answer our prayers?  Why is God silent?”

The writer of Hebrews responds, God is not silent, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his son…”
1:1-2 tell us that through the Old Testament God revealed himself in true yet incomplete ways.  Various fragments or pieces of the puzzle supplied by the prophets.  Further God spoke in a variety of ways.  He spoke to Moses through the thunder and lightening at Sinai.  He whispered to Elijah at Horeb with a still small voice.  Ezekiel saw visions, Daniel dreamed dreams.  God appeared in human form to Abraham while He spoke through an angel to Jacob.  But in these last days God has spoken his final, ultimate word through His Son.

What follows is a glorious picture of the Lord Jesus.  Setting forth the reasons why we should look to him in times of crisis.  In chapter 12 the writer tells us to “fix our eyes on him” as the author and finisher of our faith.

  1. In times of crisis look to Jesus as the heir and goal of all things.  (1:2a)
  2.  When overwhelmed by the power of your enemies look to Jesus as the sovereign creator of all things.  (1:2b)
  3.  When you feel wholly inadequate look to the One who is God of very God.  (1:3a)
  4.  When you reach the end of yourself look to Him who is your Savior and Lord.  (1:3b-4)

Conclusion:

I’ve no doubt there are dark and troublesome days ahead.  I’m afraid we are heading into unchartered territory for us but I’m confident of this my hope is not in a doctrine, confession or creed but in the Lord Jesus himself.

  • Who is the heir and goal of all things.
  • Who is the sovereign Creator of all things.
  • Who is God of very God.
  • Who is Savior and Lord.
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Grace-filled Ministry

This exposition of Matthew 9:9-17 by Pastor Rod Harris was delivered at Trinity Baptist Church on Sunday evening, March 23, 2014.

Intro:

I’m one of those who thinks that what you believe is important.  It really does matter – it really makes a difference.  Me – I’m conservative.  Real conservative.  Ultra conservative – a little on the fundamentalist side.  But I also believe there are things far more important than just being “right.”  Right doctrine is critically important.  I believe we are responsible to God to maintain the faith handed down to us by our forefathers.  We have been entrusted with a precious treasure and we must guard and protect the truth.  But we are just as responsible to God to demonstrate the love and grace of the Lord Jesus when and as we proclaim and live out that truth!

Just as in the Lord Jesus we beheld the both the truth and the grace of God – we must embody both God’s truth and His grace.  Grace and truth are not antithetical they naturally go together!

One of the reasons I don’t like to consider myself a fundamentalist is that most of the ones that I have known through the years are just down right mean!

Theologically I don’t have a problem.  I agree with them pretty much down the line.
The problem is with their demeanor.  Da more conservative they are, da meaner dey get!

Fundamentalists tend to be narrow, harsh, unyielding, unsympathetic, unforgiving and well, just down right nasty!

I was asked once to attend a meeting with a group of pastors.  I went and found that it was a group of pastors who were, for the most part, very conservative in their theology.  I agreed with these guys as they discussed theological positions and interpretation of Scripture.  The problem was, they were the most depressing group of men I’d ever been around.  I had been quiet most of the meeting.  I was a guest, I didn’t want to upset anyone.  But finally they forced my hand.  They ask me to respond to what was being said.  I responded with what I thought was a very funny answer.  The only other person to laugh was the other visitor!  After an awkward silence I said, “I think you guys need to lighten up.  You’re taking yourselves way too serious.”  That was about 14 years ago – I’ve not received another invitation.

These were men entrusted with the Gospel of Grace.
They were the bearers of “Good News.”
They took their responsibility seriously.
In fact too seriously.  So seriously that they destroyed the meaning of the message.

That’s nothing new.  It’s been going on since the days when Jesus walked the earth.  Those who saw themselves as the guardians of the truth of God had robbed the message of it are meaning.  Through their determined orthodoxy they destroyed the joy of being the people of God.  It is not surprising that they would be the one’s who were determined to destroy the Lord Jesus and His message of love and grace.

The Scribes and Pharisees were constantly in the crowd seeking the grounds for an accusation against the Lord.  We find them again, lurking in the shadows of Matthew chapter 9.

Text:  Matthew 9:9-17

A careful examination of this text provides us with great insight into the ministry of the Lord Jesus.  What was his ministry like?  What was the tone or attitude of his ministry? How would you characterize the ministry of Jesus?  What, in turn, is to characterize our ministry?

As we explore this text we’re reminded that:

Thesis:  A grace-filled ministry mirrors the ministry of the Lord Jesus.

We are called not only to preach the message of God’s grace we are called to live the message of God’s grace.  Grace should characterize what we teach, how we teach and how we live!

I want you to note 2 characteristics of grace-filled ministry in our text.

  1. A grace-filled ministry delights in extending the Gospel to those most in need.  (9:9-13)
  2. A grace-filled ministry imparts joy rather than despair.  (9:14-17)
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Heirs of an Unhindered Gospel

2014 Acts #38: an exposition of Acts 28:17-31. This message by Pastor Rod Harris was delivered at Trinity Baptist Church on Sunday morning, March 23, 2014.

Intro:

We all know there are certain words that just don’t go together even when they go together.  Phrases that have become commonplace but the words themselves are contradictory.  We call them oxymorons.  Officially an oxymoron is defined as “a combination of contradictory or incongruous words.”  Originally it meant something pointedly foolish.  We talk about jumbo shrimp.  We say we’re doing nothing.  Just how do you draw a blank?  We think someone is pretty ugly or we take a working vacation.  Common words we use together that don’t go together – like long-winded preacher.  Come on, really?

There are other things that are not oxymorons but they seem equally foolish because we just don’t see how it could possibly be.  One great example is found at the end of the book of Acts.  Paul has been falsely accused.  He has been arrested and imprisoned for two years.  His life has been threatened.  Corrupt politicians had sought political gain by using him as a pawn.  Paul appealed to Caesar and finally was sent to Rome.

Along the way Paul found himself in the midst of a violent storm.  A storm so fierce seasoned sailors feared for their lives.  After assurance from God, Paul declared that they would be safe though the ship would be lost.  Once the ship ran aground and the castaways made it safely to shore.  Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake.  By the grace of God he survived.  For three months Paul ministered to the people of Malta and God granted success.  Finally Paul reaches Rome.  He spends another two years in prison with no formal charges brought against him.  Yet in spite of being held prisoner by the most powerful nation on earth, in spite of having a guard chained to his wrist 24 hours a day – Paul’s Gospel went forth unhindered for that two-year period!  During that two years visitors moved freely in and out of Paul’s residence.  Paul was faithful to preach and teach with great boldness throughout that time.  It is also at that time Paul wrote the New Testament books of Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians and Philippians.  It may well be that Paul’s most fruit years of ministry took place while shackled as a prisoner in Rome.  Chained yet unhindered.  Locked up and yet free.

Our text this morning is found in the 28th chapter of the book of Acts.

Text: Acts 28:17-31

Dr. Luke has come to the end of his two-volume history of the life and ministry of Jesus.
As a careful historian he has told of Jesus’ ministry and the movement of the Gospel from Jerusalem to the capital of the Roman Empire.

The outline of Acts is found in chapter 1 and verse 8.

“You will receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”

  • Jerusalem = Acts 1-7
  • Judea and Samaria = Acts 8-12
  • The ends of the earth = Acts 13-28

As we reflect on Paul’s ministry and the advance of the Gospel we find some encouragement for our own ministry.  After all we are heirs of this same ministry.  In a real sense the book of Acts is unfinished.  We are writing the final chapters.

As we conclude our study we are reminded that:

Thesis: We have been called to boldly go forth as heirs of an unhindered Gospel.

Regardless of our circumstance, regardless of the forces aligned against us the Gospel is powerful and will accomplish God’s ordained purpose.  If the pagan power of Imperial Rome cannot chain the Gospel, neither can secularism, postmodernism or the tide of public opinion.

In considering Paul’s ministry in Rome we find three characteristics of a faithful Gospel servant.

  1. The faithful Gospel servant passionately pleads the “good news” of Christ.  (28:17-23)
  2. The faithful Gospel servant prophetically denounces unbelief.  (28:24-29)
  3. The faithful Gospel servant powerfully proclaims the unhindered message.  (28:30-31)

Conclusion:

At the end of Acts we are left to wonder whatever became of Paul?
Luke doesn’t tell us.
Why is that?
It is because; in the final analysis it doesn’t matter.

The whole point of Paul’s life, in deed the book of Acts, is what matters is that we are faithful in the calling we have received.  Paul wasn’t the church.  The gospel is not dependent upon Paul anymore than it is dependent on me or you.

We have been called to boldly go forth as heirs of an unhindered Gospel.

May we passionately plead the good news of Christ;
Prophetically denounce unbelief;
And powerfully proclaim this unhindered message.

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Portrait of a Christ-like Ministry

This exposition of Matthew 12:1-14 was delivered by Pastor Rod Harris at Trinity Baptist Church on Sunday evening, March 16, 2014.

Intro:  

The cultural and intellectual shift of the last 2 decades have dramatically affected our world.  We have witnessed a denial of truth (as far as ultimate truth – truth with a capital “T”) and a rejection of long held religious truth.  While you might expect a complete denial of all meaning and all spiritual reality there is in fact a grasping for something that will “make sense” of all that has happened.  This is an exciting time for the church.  We have been given a platform for revealing the reality of our faith.  This is an exciting time for the Gospel of Christ!  This is an exciting moment to be alive and involved in the work of God.  We must seize this opportunity, this open window, for the time is coming when no man can work.  We must work while it is day.  We must faithfully declare the un-searchable riches of God’s grace.

In a consumer world of choice and self-gratification we as the church must fight in the arena of the marketplace to be heard.  The world is asking, “What are my options?”  “How does what you are “selling” differ from what others offer?”  What makes Christianity different from other world religions?  What separates Christianity from the rest?  These are the questions that the world is asking.  They are not unlike the questions asked by the world of the first century.

Matthew, the former tax collector turned apostle, took pen in hand to write an outline of the life and ministry of Jesus.  His purpose was not to produce a biography but rather to pull together a selective history for the purpose of demonstrating that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world.

In chapter 12, Matthew presents two Sabbath controversies that demonstrate mounting opposition from the religious establishment.  Here we find the first rumblings of a gathering storm that will ultimately irrupt in the cross of Calvary.  As we explore the incidents recorded in the opening words of Matthew 12 we learn something of the character and nature of the ministry of the Lord Jesus.
Text:  Matthew 12:1-14

Here our inspired narrator, with the skill of an artist paints for us a moving portrait of the ministry of Jesus.  This is vitally important to us as the church for we have been given the responsibility to carry on the ministry of Jesus.  In that respect the last chapter of Acts has not been written for we are living it!

In our text we learn a very valuable lesson.

Thesis:  The life-giving ministry of Jesus stands in stark contrast to the fatalistic faith of a religion of rules.

Throughout this section Matthew highlights the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees.  Each event widens the gap between the two.  Each serves to draw the line a little darker, until we come to verse 14, which says, “The Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.”

There are two fundamental concerns about Christ-like ministry reflected in this text.

  1. The ministry of Jesus majors on grace rather than on Law.  (12:1-8)
  2. The ministry of Jesus places mercy above orthodoxy.  (12:9-13)

Conclusion:

What kind of ministry are we going to have?

A ministry that is driven by programs, agendas, policies and rules or a ministry that is alive and responsive to the needs of others and the truth of the Gospel?

Too often our vision and understanding is too small.
We can’t put ministry in a box any more than we can put God in a box.

Policies are necessary.
Programs can be helpful.
Structure is essential.
But ministry must be driven by truth and grace!

We are not trying to get people to buy into our system.
We are not seeking to recruit representatives for our organization.
We are seeking to bring people into a living relationship with the living Christ!

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Steady in the Storm

2013 Acts #37: an exposition of Acts 27:1-44. This message by Pastor Rod Harris was delivered at Trinity Baptist Church on Sunday morning, March 16, 2014.

Intro:
The whole experience was surreal.  As we walked down the street the devastation defied description.  Trees stripped clean of their bark.  Cars crushed like discarded pop cans.  This was a residential neighborhood or at least it used to be.  Families were sifting through what once was their home trying to find something they could salvage.  Some tangible reminder of what was once their pride and joy.  It happened so fast.  Just a few minutes and it was over.  Everything – gone.  As chaplains we tried to bring comfort to those devastated by the tornadoes that ripped through Moore, Del City and Midwest City.  It’s a funny thing about storms.  One day everything is wonderful – no cares.  The next day wiped out.  Nothing but cares.  Yet, life goes on.  Storms are frightening because they can strike without warning.  Especially those storms that are not physical in nature.  What about the storm that comes from a knock on the door in the middle of the night?  A man with a badge tells you your loved one is never coming home?  What about the storm that rages when the doctor walks in the room shaking his head saying, “I’d hoped for better news?”  Or perhaps you have known the pain of hearing the words, “I just don’t love you anymore.”

Storms are inevitable in this world.  A world wracked by sin.  A world in the grip of evil and corruption.  How do you weather life’s emotional and spiritual storms?  Faith in Christ does not insure smooth sailing.  Your trusting Christ does not guarantee safe passage through life.  Storms come and go.  Devastation and debris dot the landscape.  The question is not will the storms come but rather how will you respond to life’s storms?
Our text this morning is found in the 27th chapter of Acts.

Text: Acts 27:9-25

By the time we reach our text, Paul’s life has been buffeted by storm for years!
He has faced constant harassment from the Jews.
He has faced hardship of every kind.
He has been beaten, stoned and needlessly imprisoned.

In fact listen to his version – 2 Corinthians 11:24-28.
Now wouldn’t that make a great recruiting poster!

In the immediate context he was arrested on false charges (bringing Gentiles into the temple).

He was rushed by a mob.
There was a plot to murder him.
He has been shuffled around as a political prisoner for 2 years.
Now he is finally on his way to Rome to appeal to Caesar.

James Smith, after careful and deliberate research was convinced that Acts 27 is an eyewitness account of peril at sea.  He published his findings in a book entitled The Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul.  Smith wrote, “No sailor would have written in a style so little like that of a sailor; no man not a sailor could have written a narrative of a sea voyage so consistent in all its parts, unless from actual observation.”

That is to say we have before us the literal, historical account of a treacherous sea voyage.  But the lessons drawn from that voyage apply equally well to all the storms of life.  Make no mistake about it.  This text is about God’s gracious deliverance of the apostle Paul and all those who traveled with him from a violent, life-threatening storm.  But the lessons learned are life lessons.  The same God who delivered Paul from the raging sea can and will deliver you from the storms that ransack your life.

Reflection on this text reminds us that:

Thesis:  In the midst of the storm, the believer must tenaciously cling to God and His promise.

An amazing thing happens in this text.  Professional sailors – those who have vast experience of sailing rough seas – become panic stricken.  The apostle Paul, on the other hand, remains remarkably calm.  I almost think too calm – especially when he says, “Fellas you should have listened to me…” (27:21-22)

I want us to focus our attention on 27:23-25.

When the storm winds blow.  When the rain become torrential.  What is it you desire?  A shelter.  A safe place.  You want something that doesn’t move!  You want something that can withstand the onslaught.  That is the child of God has in our Heavenly Father.  A shelter in the time of storm.

There are three principles or truths reflected in Paul’s words in 27:23-25.
What gave him such peace?
How was he able to remain calm?
Where did he find such strength?

Three things.

  1. The peace of knowing the God you serve.
  2. The peace of knowing the promise given.
  3. The peace of knowing that he can be trusted.
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The Cost of Discipleship

This is an exposition of Matthew 8:18-22. This message by Pastor Rod Harris was delivered at Trinity Baptist Church on Sunday evening, March 9, 2014.

Intro:

Bonhoeffer called it “Cheap Grace”.  Some modern day Bible teachers have called it “Easy Believeism.”  You might call it “nominal Christianity.”  Whatever name you choose it all boils down to people giving “lip service” to the Kingdom of God.  People claiming commitment but showing little or no fruit of genuine life.  They’ve walked an aisle, they’ve filled out a card – many have been “dunked” in water – but have never genuinely been born again.  To look at many of them you would think their love for Christ was a mile wide.  But scratch the surface and you will find it is about an 1/8 of an inch deep!  There have always been those who are quick to jump on the band wagon.  Those who are carried along on a wave of emotion.  Who rise and fall on the ebb and tide of feelings.  Throughout the history of the church there have been those who “join the church” for the same reason they join a country club.  They want something that will help their public image.  Some are seeking a balm for their aching conscience.  There is no repentance, no change.  There is not a desire to surrender all to Christ – they simply want to feel better about themselves.

Of course we, as the church, cannot point the finger of blame at a corrupt society and say, “Shame on you for trying to use God in such a self-serving way.”  We must bear some of the blame for the message we have preached.  Where did they get the idea it was okay to believe in God for their own benefit?  We told them that!  This is the result of our preaching a “Burger King” gospel that says, “Have it your way!”  A Gospel that allows the sinner to set the terms of surrender.  We do not come to God in our own way – we come His way or not at all.  By the way, we are not even comfortable with using language like “surrender.”  I remember being told as a young person that, “You do not surrender to God.  That is the language of defeat.  That is not the language of love.”  But take a good look at the Gospel.  Apart from Christ we are the enemy of God.  We are the object of God’s wrath.  Our only hope is to throw ourselves on the mercy of God in Christ Jesus.

It is a surrender.  I give up my life.  I must die to myself and begin to live for Christ.  That is demanding.  That is defeating.  And that is the Gospel.  It is a costly thing to follow the Lord Jesus.  And if we are to be faithful to our call as witness of the Gospel we must be prepared to, “Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help us God.”

Our text this evening is found in the 8th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel.

Text: Matthew 8:18-22

Matthew has just given us his account of the Sermon on the Mount (5-7).
That is followed with a series of “snap-shots” revealing the healing ministry of Jesus.
This is what his ministry is about – preaching, teaching and healing.
Now we are given some insight into what it means to follow Jesus.

This is a chilling passage.
Chilling because it is abundantly clear in its demands.
You have to work hard to miss the meaning of these words.

Thesis: Following Christ demands self-denial, sacrificial service and a single-hearted passion.

The issue in this passage is discipleship.
What does it mean to be a disciple/follower of Christ?
And this is for all of those who would claim to belong to him.
This is not just for the elite crowd.
This is not about the “special forces” – this is for the enlisted folks!
Ordinary believers like you and me.

A disciple is, in its most basic sense, a learner or follower.
A disciple in the broad sense is anyone who claims to follow a given teacher.
In a stricter sense, a disciple is one who is “officially” joined to a particular teacher.
In that strict sense a close relationship is required.

These two different understandings is what has led to some confusion.
On the one hand we refer to the apostles as “The disciples.”
And then we have a text like this where others are called “disciples.”
Keep in mind in this passage that one is “loosely” a disciple if they claim to follow.

Three things I want us to note from our text.

  1. To follow Jesus demands self-denial and homelessness in this world.  (8:18-20)
  2. To follow Jesus demands sacrificial service.  (8:21-22)
  3. To follow Jesus demands a single-hearted passion.  (Luke 9:61-62)

Conclusion:
To be a follower of Christ is not to mouth a simplistic prayer.
It is not adding a nice addition to your life.
It is a call to arms.
A call to sacrifice and possibly to death.

What does it mean to follow Christ?

It means self-denial and homelessness in this world, sacrificial service and single-hearted passion

Are you prepared to pay the price?

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A Captive Audience?

2013 Acts #36: an exposition of Acts 25:13-26:32. This message by Pastor Rod Harris was delivered at Trinity Baptist Church on Sunday morning, March 9, 2014.

Intro:

It was an impressive sight!  The crowd was made up of kings, governors, religious leaders, military officers and curious on lookers.  There was great pageantry and pomp.  Everywhere you turned there were signs of wealth and power.  Why had they come?  What was the purpose of this gathering?  They had come to hear the story of a political prisoner.  Strange that a squabble between competing sects within a religion should gain the attention of such notables.  But this prisoner had appealed to the Emperor himself.  Threats had been made on his life.  He had become something of a political football – tossed back and forth for the sake of political advantage.  With the nod of a head and the wave of a hand the prisoner was escorted into the room.  He was a small man, unimpressive in his appearance.  Not the kind of man you would expect to hold an audience.  But he was about to speak with great power and authority on how a dead man radically altered his life.  Now you know the context for our Scripture passage this morning found in Acts chapters 25 and 26.

Text: Acts 25:13-26:32

Are you ever intimidated about sharing your faith?
It is not that you doubt your faith or that you are ashamed of your faith.
But when you go to speak – the words just don’t seem to come.
What if you are asked a question you do not know the answer?
What if you will say something wrong and unintentionally mislead them?
What if they will get angry?
For whatever reason you freeze up.

Paul found himself in what can only be described as an intimidating circumstance.
The most powerful men in the region are sitting before him.
Dressed in their finest garments, surrounded by symbols of power.
And Paul a prisoner.
A prisoner brought in chains with no prior notice and called upon to give a defense.
But Paul was not alone and neither are you!

God never calls or commands without equipping.  “Lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age” was the promise of Christ to those who follow him.  “When you stand before kings and princes, do not worry about what you will say – I will give you the words to speak,” Jesus said to his disciples.  His final word to his followers before his ascension into glory was – “you will receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses.”

The message of our text is that:

Thesis: God has graciously promised to empower you to be his witness in every circumstance.

There are three great truths related to God’s empowering found in our text.

  1. The empowered witness seizes every opportunity to proclaim his experience of God’s grace.  (26:1-18)
  2. The empowered witness uncompromisingly calls on all to repent and believe.  (26:19-20)
  3. The empowered witness presses his hearers for a response.  (26:21-29)

Conclusion:

  • This is our job as witnesses and God has promised to empower you as his witness.
  • Seize the opportunity.
  • Call for repentance.
  • Press for a response.
  • And find God faithful to his promise.
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