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The joy of Jesus builds and sustains

The joy of Jesus builds and sustains

Joy is probably the fruit of the Spirit that is the most difficult for me. I have wrinkles in between my eyebrows from furrowing my eyebrows so much. I’m often thoughtful but very often fail to be thankful. I’m often more naturally jaundiced than jubilant.

But, I just taught on Philippians and it is the letter of joy. It refers to joy some 15 times. Philippians is the letter of joy that was written from jail.

As I was studying Philippians and Acts 16 that recounts the founding of the church of Philippi here is the main point that stuck out to me:

The joy of Jesus builds and sustains through diversity and adversity.

And that’s what I want took at.

The joy

Joy is a command so it must not be just a disposition. Joy is not just a personality thing. It’s a Christian thing.

Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit—fruit that grows and results from the Spirit. Guess what’s listed first?… Actually, it’s love. But, second is joy. I think Paul is making a point in the way he lists the fruit.

But, we should see here that the fruits of the Spirit are supernatural. That means they are not natural. It’s like some grapes I had the other day. They looked like they were from the Promised Land. They were unnaturally large and good tasting. To be honest, they weren’t strictly natural. They had some outside assistance. They were modified.

Or, think of massive muscly guys. They’re not natural. They’re using steroids. We, brothers and sisters, essentially need spiritual steroids. We can’t be what God wants us to be on our own.

I was talking to my daughter about her God-given gifts recently. Her middle name is joy, and she is especially joyful. And I said that’s like her “superpower.” But, as I’ve thought of it, I was both right and wrong in what I said. Right because the fruits of the Spirit—like joy—really are like superpowers; we don’t have them naturally by ourselves, they’re not common, and it is a type of power. Wrong because it’s really not “her’s,” it’s the Spirit working in and through her, that’s why it’s supernatural. That’s why the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit have the “of the Spirit” part.

My last name is O’Brien. It’s spelled “O’…” for a reason. The “O’” stands for “of Brian” or “decedent of Brian.” I think when we talk about biblical joy we should call it “joyo’”—joy of the Spirit. That’s where the joy came from. That’s joy’s origin story.

As Christians maybe we should say, “I loveo’ you.” I’m, of course, mainly joking. But, I do believe we’d be wise to remember joy’s origin story. Joyo’ is a superpower that can be used in the most unexpected circumstances.

It’s important for us to note that Jesus and Paul both command joy. We are not only called to duty, we are also called—commanded to—delight.

That should bring up a question for us. What is joy?…

of Jesus

I was talking to one of my daughters about this topic and she asked a good question. She said, “What is joy?” That’s a really important question because definitions are important. Without definitions, we can misunderstand one another and talk past one another.

“Joy” is never defined for us in the Bible. The word itself means delight. But, here’s what I think is a good definition from my reading of Philippians and of the New Testament: happiness in Jesus. Or, happiness not in mainly physical realities or circumstances but in spiritual realities and circumstances.

When joy is understood this way, which I think it should be after considering the way Paul uses it in Philippians, I can see why joy is often hard for me…

If joy is primarily happiness in Jesus and spiritual realities as I believe it is, what does it mean if I’m not joyful?…

It means I’m not caring about Jesus or spiritual realities. I’m focusing on earthly realities. I’m looking horizontally for happiness when it can only always been found when I look vertically to God.

That doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to be happy about the horizontal, only that our happiness cannot be found in this earth if it’s to last. Jesus said we can take heart because He has overcome the world, He doesn’t say we can take heart in the world…

Brothers and sisters, we need to work at being happy in Jesus, that’s how we can be joyful. That’s how Paul could sing in a damp stinky prison. Not because of his circumstances. He could sing because before he was a prisoner, he was a slave of Christ. That’s where his allegiance lay.

As we said, “joy” is referred to some 15 times in Philippians, but “Christ” is mentioned 18 in chapter 1. When we have joy in Jesus, we can have joy even in jail.

builds

The joy of Jesus builds the church and brings the most unlikely converts in. It brought Paul himself in. And in Acts 16 we see it brought other unlikely converts in too.

and sustains

The joy of Jesus, however, not only builds the church it also sustains the church. It sustains the church even through the challenges of different converts from different cultures coming together.

through diversity

The joy of Jesus builds and sustains through diversity because Jesus delivers and delights all sorts of people! Jailers and Jews, slaves and the snobby, the rich and rulers, the demon-possessed and the depressed. No one is past God’s reaching Grace.

God can build His Church with all sorts of people no matter the societal problems and He can provide life-transforming joy in the midst of it. Part of the American churches problem may not mainly be the problems of society, but that we act like it’s such a problem. We’re so baffled by it.

Unless the world delights in Jesus, they’re going to be hoodwinked by the devil. Yet, Jesus builds His church with problem people. He helps them, He makes them whole, He gives them transforming joy; happiness that is rooted not in circumstances, but in Him.

and adversity

Jesus says something surprising in Luke 6. He says, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you” (6:22). Then He says something else really surprising, “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy.” Why?! Why is Jesus telling us to leap for joy about something so terrible?

Jesus says, because “your reward is great in heaven.”

So, something super negative happens and we can still rejoice.

Jesus tells His disciples that they have power over the enemy and that the spirits are subject to them in Luke 10, but that is not what they are to rejoice in. They are to rejoice that their “names are written in heaven” (v. 20).

So, something super positive happens and we’re not to rejoice mainly in that.

That’s not all Jesus says about joy, though. He says the Kingdom of God is like a person joyfully selling all they have to buy a field. Why would a person joyfully give up everything? Only when they get something better thereby.

When we have joy in Jesus, we have untouchable joy. Even in the midst of great adversity.

Paul’s joy did not at all depend on circumstances. Paul had joy even in jail.

Brothers and sisters, the joy of Jesus builds and sustains through diversity and adversity.

*Photo by Jan Gottweiss 

Pervasive Peace through the Second Advent

In Christmas, we celebrate the advent or coming of Christ. The first coming enabled a way for peace to be realized. Humans can, through Christ, have renewed fellowship with God. Yet, as Jesus Himself said, in the world we will have trouble and tribulation.

So, if that’s the case, if in the world we will have difficulty and distress, then how can we have peace? This Sunday I get to preach on the “Pathway to Peace” from Isaiah chapter 11. I’m excited and thankful to be able to do that.

I, however, have too much material. So, I thought I’d share here, part of how that peace is possible.

First, Isaiah paints a beautiful and powerful picture of peace (see Isaiah 11:1-9). A little baby can play with a king cobra without fear (v. 8). How is this possible?

Isaiah 11:9 tells us: the knowledge of God is intimately experienced. And so: nothing will “harm nor destroy on all [the Lord’s] holy mountain.” Instead of harm, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

The Messiah will make it so not only the knowledge of the LORD is pervasive but intimacy with the LORD is too. Knowledge in the Old Testament is not merely head knowledge, but it is experiential (When Adam “knew” Eve, Genesis 4:1, it was not mere cognitive knowing, it was experiential).   

Also, we should ask, how is it that the waters cover the sea? The waters cover the sea by filling it to the fullness of capacity. God and His goodness will be experienced and known to maximum capacity! We will have the strength together with all the saints to comprehend and know “the breadth and length and height and depth” of the “love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” and we will be “filled with all the fullness of God” (see Ephesians 3:18-19).

Look at what’s going to happen when Jesus reigns on earth!:

“Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever” (Isaiah 9:7).

Of peace, there will be no end!

Justice and righteousness forevermore!

Of course, this is not yet a reality. First, Christ came as a Lamb to be slain. Next, He’s coming as the Lion of the tribe of Judah (see Revelation 5:5).

In that day, when perfect peace comes upon the earth, the LORD says, “my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands” (Is. 65:22). The most precious moments that we experience on earth—whether that’s a Thanksgiving dinner, a beautiful sunset, or being lost in a song or prayer of praise—will be multiplied infinitely.

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

How ironic, how sad, that the Rejected One, is the One who brings renewal of the whole earth.

Fellow Christians, please share the message that is so needed in these days of distress. And pray for your neighbors, that they would have peace that surpasses understanding.

Please pray that the Rejected One, the one alone who brings perfect and pervasive peace, would no longer be rejected.

Encouragement in Exile (A Sermon)

Intro

I want to say at the start that I understand it can be hard to sit there and be engaged. I’ve been there. I want to challenge you, however, to lean in and listen. The events we’re talking about here may be some 2500 years in the past but they have amazing significance today.

Plus, the book of Esther is an amazing book. It is a true work of literature. There is a heroine, suspense, irony, reversal, and surprising coincidences. Basically everything you’d want in a story.

Setting: Exile

The book of Esther tells “the story of events surrounding the rescue of the nation of Israel from the threat of extinction while it was in exile in Persia… The more profound and universal purpose of the story is to explain how God’s providence can protect his people.”[1]

Whoever you are, wherever you come from, and no matter where you are spiritually, this year has likely brought many challenges to you. I believe the book of Esther offers some much-needed perspective on things.

Chapters 1-2

As we saw the last two weeks, God’s people are in exile, under the reign of king Ahasuerus. Ahasuerus, as the King of Persia, has a ton of wealth. So he shows his wealth by having a party for 180 days (1:4).[2] With that much partying it is no wonder that he seems to be somewhat of a drunk and pushover. However, it appears that he’s trying to combat his pushover persona (but not his potential alcoholism!) with the help of his friends and so he makes an example of his wife Vashti who did not obey his every whim.

In Herodotus’ Histories, it says that that the “king of Persia could do anything he wished.”[3] And so, that’s what he did. He gets rid of his old wife and throws a lavish beauty pageant to find the most beautiful and pleasing bride in the kingdom (2:2-4). In somewhat of a Cinderella story, the king “fell in love” with Esther or at least more than all the other women and so he put the royal crown on her head and made her queen (v. 17).

Esther’s Exile

Israel is in Exile. God’s people are not in the Promised Land. They have a foreign ruler. And can you imagine, that ruler was allowed to do “anything he wished.”

Our Exile

We too are in exile, we too are not home. It may be different than Esther’s exile but we are in exile too. We see this truth in Scripture in various places. For instance, 1 Peter 1:1 talks about us being “elect exiles” and verse 17 tells us how we are to conduct ourselves throughout the time of our exile. First Peter 2:11 says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” Philippians 3:20 reminds us “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Hebrews 13:14 says that “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”

So, just as Esther was in exile, we as Christians are in exile too. This book is relevant and has a lot to encourage us in the midst of the challenges of exile.

More and more our exile is a very visible reality. The Public Religion Research Institute did a study on religious affiliation in America. Here are their findings:

 “The American religious landscape has undergone substantial changes in recent years… One of the most consequential shifts in American religion has been the rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans… In 1991, only six percent of Americans identified their religious affiliation as ‘none,’ and that number had not moved much since the early 1970s. By the end of the 1990s, 14% of the public claimed no religious affiliation. The rate of religious change accelerated further during the late 2000s and early 2010s, reaching 20% by 2012. Today, one-quarter (25%) of Americans claim no formal religious identity, making this group the single largest ‘religious group’ in the U.S.[4]

The study also found “about two-thirds (66%) of unaffiliated Americans agree ‘religion causes more problems in society than it solves.” They also “reject the notion that religion plays a crucial role in providing a moral foundation for children.”[5]

It is not just America, however, that is becoming increasingly less affiliated. The Church in America also has less and less commitment.

One recent study conducted by Barna Group for the book Faith for Exiles found that out of the around 1,500 people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine that grew up in the church (as Christians) the majority no longer go to church. 22% are now considered “ex-Christians.” 30% may identify themselves as Christians but they no longer go to church. 38% describe themselves as Christians and have attended church at least once in the last month but do not have the core beliefs or behaviors associated with being a disciple of Jesus. Only 10% were found to be regularly involved in the life of the church, trust in the authority of Scripture, affirm the death and resurrection of Jesus, and express a desire for their faith to impact their world.

Dedicated Christians are more in more considered odd. Christians are more and more on the fringes of society. If things don’t change, these trends will just continue in the future. The reality of our exile status will be felt more and more.

So, friends, Esther has a lot to teach us about our exile. Let’s go to the first scene…

1. Haman’s Plot (Ch. 3)

Scene 1 starts with Haman, the antagonist or bad guy of the story,[6] being promoted (3:1). It seems like he’s promoted because the beauty pageant was his idea.

Haman soon became furious at a Jewish man named Mordecai because he would not bow down to him. But instead of just taking it out on him, Haman wanted to destroy all the Jews throughout the whole kingdom (3:5-6). So, we see a big problem introduced in the plot.

Haman decided which day the Jews should be destroyed on by casting a lot. Lot is the word “pur,” so that’s where the name Purim, the Jewish holiday, comes from. Because Haman cast lots to decide what day the Jews would be destroyed on. However, as Proverbs 16:33 reminds us the lot (pur) is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. And so we see, even when the name of the LORD is not mentioned we see God is sovereign over human affairs and He will keep His promises to protect and bless His people. He will not let His people be wiped out.

Haman was so eager to destroy the Jews that he offered to pay the king ten thousand silver talents, the

equivalent of eighteen million dollars today,[7] of his own money if the king would allow him to destroy the Jews. The king agreed and a decree was sent and Haman and the king sat down to drink (again).

Then in Esther 3:13-15 it says, “Letters were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with instruction to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. A copy of the document was to be issued as a decree in every province by proclamation to all the peoples to be ready for that day. The couriers went out hurriedly by order of the king, and the decree was issued in Susa the citadel.”

Things clearly are not looking good. What can possibly be done? Let’s look next at…

2. Esther’s Plan (Ch. 4-5)

In scene 2 we see Mordecai appeal to Esther (Ch. 4). Mordecai hears about Haman’s plot to kill the Jews and so he talks to Esther about it. Mordecai says, in Esther 4:12-14, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. If you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will come for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (4:12-14)

Imagine how scary that must have been for Esther. She could be totally rejected, she could be killed. Yet she moved forward. She just had one thing to say to Mordecai. She said: “Hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I will also fast. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish” (4:15-16).

In the next scene, scene 3, we see Esther before the king (Ch. 5:1-8). Esther has her first banquet with the King. Esther goes to the king and says, “Please join me for a feast that I prepared and invite your friend Haman too” (5:4). Then, at the feast, Esther says let’s feast again tomorrow and we’ll talk more then (5:8).

(It’s funny, is Esther delaying? Is she nervous? Is she buttering him up? We don’t know…)

In scene 4 we see Haman’s exaltation and anger (Ch. 5:9-14). After the feast, Haman leaves and he is joyful and glad. But then he sees Mordecai on the way home and he doesn’t rise in respect before him or tremble before him. And so Haman is ticked off and his wrath is renewed (5:9).

Haman was able to contain himself, however, and made it home. When Haman was home he had his friends over and was talking with them and his wife. He was recounting how good everything was going and he told them that he even got to hangout with the king and his new bride (5:12). “However,” he said, “It’s all pointless to me, so long as I see Mordecai still alive” (cf. 5:13).

So, his wife and friends said, “Build a frame six-stories high and have Mordecai executed on it.” When Haman heard that idea, he said, “That’s it!” And with great excitement he had the structure built so that the entire city could see Mordecai his enemy impaled.

Haman was haughty. He thought he could have Mordicai and all the Jews murdered and get away with it. But, next we see…

3. Haman’s Downfall (Ch. 6-7)

In scene 5 we see Mordecai’s triumph and Haman’s fall (Ch. 6-7). As we flash to scene 5, we see Esther getting herself together and preparing for her talk with the king.

But, the king couldn’t sleep. So, he did what any self-respecting king would do, he asked for a bedtime story.

The king gave orders for the book of memorable deeds to be brought and read to him (6:1).[8] And before the

king got bored and fell asleep the story was recounted how Mordecai protected the king from an assassination attempt (6:1-2).

And the king said, “What honor or distinction has been given to Mordecai for what he did?” The king was told that “Nothing had been done” (v. 3).

That’s when, guess who walked in?…

Haman walks into the king’s palace to speak to the king about having Mordecai impaled.

However, before Haman could ask his question, the king asked him a question. The king said to Haman: “What should be done to the man whom the king wants to honor?” (v. 6)

And Haman thought to himself, “Who would the king want to honor more than me?!” (v. 6).

So Haman said to the king, in 6:6-9, “For the man whom the king wants to honor, I would get the royal robes out, and the best horse that the king has, and your favorite royal crown. And I would give it to him. And I would have a parade for him and lead him through the street and say: ‘This is what happens to the person that the king wants to honor!’”

Then the king said to Haman, “Great! Good ideas! Now hurry; and go do all that you just said for Mordecai the Jew! Do everything that you just said! (v. 10)

Wow.

Haman clearly is not doing very well.

Haman eventually goes home (“rough day at the office”). And his wife and friends concur that this is not a good situation… Obviously.

Haman can’t hide in shame. He has a feast to attend, Esther’s special feast to which he is a very special guest.

At the feast, Esther makes a request of the king. She says, in chapter 7 verse 4, “Please let me keep my life and the life of my people.” “For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated” (7:4).

Then king Ahasuerus said to queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has dared to do this?!” And Esther said, “A foe and enemy! [Pause for effect…] This wicked Haman!” (7:6)

Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.

The king stood up in his anger from his wine-drinking and went into the palace garden, but Haman stayed to beg for his life from queen Esther. But, the king returned from the garden just as Haman was falling on

the couch where Esther was. And the king said, “Will he even assault the queen in my presence?!” (7:8)

At this point, Haman had no hope.

One of the servants said, “The six-story structure that Haman prepared for Mordecai is standing at Haman’s house ready to go.” (7:9)

And so, Haman was executed on the stand that he had prepared for Mordecai (7:10).[9]

Wow. What a reversal. What unexpected deliverance. Of course, the stories not quite through but that’s all we’re covering until next week. So, let’s look at the…

Closing Scene (Takeaways Until Next Time)

There is so much to be gleaned. There are four takeaways I want to spend the remainder of time looking at.

1. God uses People

Esther is the unexpected star of the story. Ironically, Esther means, “star” and she was the star. There are 37 references to Esther by name. “Esther is an orphaned, exiled female. She is a most unlikely leader. Her only qualification is that she has won a beauty contest. Yet she joins a long line of unlikely heroes in the history of Israel.”[10]

God uses unlikely people and deliverers in unexpected ways. It’s actually kind of His standard operating procedure. God used Moses, a man with a stammering tongue. God anointed David to be king, the youngest and most unexpected of his brothers. God uses small armies to bring deliverance. God puts His treasure in jars of clay so that it will be clear that the power and glory belong to Him (see e.g. 2 Cor. 4:7). And God uses the foolishness of the cross to bring salvation and shame the “wise” (see 1 Cor. 1:18-31).

Where did the rescue come from? Esther? Mordecai? Xerxes? God? God uses means to accomplish His ends!

What we do matters. Our lives and our decision matter eternally. They ripple through the corridors of time. There was and never will be a meaningless moment. John S. Dickerson in his book,The Great Evangelical Recession, has said:

“The stakes are eternal. The victims or victors are not organizations or churches, but souls that will live forever… We can feel a bit like Frodo, the hobbit, in The Lord of the Rings. We are tiny creatures entrusted with an impossible task—to rescue humanity from unthinkable evil… All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”[11]

My family used to live in the D.C. area. We saw where the plane hit the Pentagon on September 11th. Leah and I have been to New York city and have seen where the Twin Towers used to be. We have been by the monument in Pennsylvania that commemorates the passengers in the plane that went down in on September the 11th instead of careening into the White House.

Think about the decisions that were made in that plane on that fateful day. Think about the weightiness of those decisions. Think about the effect of those decisions upon themselves and upon all of America.

We don’t often see the impact of our decisions that starkly but what we do or don’t do matters. It matters for us. It matters for others.

What we do matters. It matters eternally. God uses mere humans as His mouthpiece. God uses humans to do His will.

Friends, our lives matter, our actions matter, our voices matter.

If we knew a millionth of the magnitude of our lives we’d be moved to wonder. Our lives and our every action have significance because this world and this life is not all there is.

And for Christians, this is multiplied ten-fold. We are mouthpieces, ambassadors, commissioned by the one true God.

God gives us wit, wisdom, and human will. Will we use what God has given us? Will we rise to the occasion and work to reach this lost world with the good news of Jesus? Or, will we just sit back? As we’ve seen with Esther, it won’t be easy and it will be scary but who knows whether you have not come to this place in your life and this place in history for such a time as this (cf. 4:14)?!

Friends, let’s live fierce purposeful lives because we have purpose. Our lives matter more than we can know. 

That, too me, is very challenging and very encouraging. The other side of the coin, however, is very comforting and encouraging too. Let’s look at that now…

2. God is Sovereign

Haman has such hatred of the Jews he contrives of a pogrom and even bribes the king the modern equivalent of somewhere around $18,000,000 so that he can exterminate them. It does not look like rescue is going to come. How could it when the wicked one in power is willing to go to such lengths to destroy?! What hope was there really?…

Friends, if God’s not sovereign and He doesn’t save then that leaves it to you to save and be sovereign. If God is not Lord, then you have to be lord. It falls to you. Everything falls to you. You then have to govern the universe, at least your universe. You then have to rescue yourself or there will be no rescue…

In Esther there are 250 appearances of the Hebrew word for “king” or “to rule” and zero explicit references to God. The only other book that doesn’t explicitly mention God is the Song of Songs. In Esther it looks like Satan, “the ruler of this world” (Jn. 12:31 cf. Eph. 2:2), is in charge. But, he’s not. There’s someone unseen and unmentioned who really rules. And it’s Yahweh, the Creator and all-powerful One. He is God. He is in charge. We may not see Him. But we know Him. And we know He’s the boss.

The truth is though, from our perspective God is often not in view. We don’t see Him. And it looks like there is no hope. No rescue. We only see ourselves and earthly rulers. We either tremble in fear or we place our hope in them or we do both. We often think about earth and those who seemingly rule on earth. But the reality is, as Esther shows us, that there is someone orchestrating everything behind the veil…

In the book of Esther we see that God is present even when it seems like He’s not. “The book of Esther asks us to trust in God’s providence even when we can’t see it working. That requires a posture of hope, to believe that, no matter how horrible things get, God is committed to redeeming his good world and overcoming evil.”[12]

And so, we need to trust like Mordecai. We must not bow down to any earthly powers. And we need to fast and pray and ask others to fast and pray in times of need. We need to rely on God even when He seems absent. We need to lay our lives down in service to God with a heart that says, “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). Especially as we consider that Jesus did perish to purchase our salvation. 

As Mark Dever has said, “How could little orphan Esther end up as queen, Mordecai as prime minister, and the exiled Jewish people in prosperity, popularity, and safety!”[13] Only because God is the one truly on the throne of the universe. How could salvation come through the death of Messiah Jesus, because Jesus is Lord and the Son of God.

Our hope is in a Ruler, in a King. But, He is no earthly ruler. He is the King of kings, and Lord of lords. He is the one and only Sovereign. As David Platt has said, “This world is not a democracy. This world is a monarchy, and God is the King.”

Sometimes when things look the worst, is when God shows His power the most. Actually, at the end of all things, when Jesus comes back, things are going to look very bad and be very bad. But then Jesus is going to show up on the scene. And He’s going to vanquish His foes. He will arrive not on a lowly donkey but on a white horse of war. He will destroy His enemies with the sword of His mouth (Rev. 1:16; 19:15, 21). There will be no Haman, no human, and no supernatural force to stand in His way.

Elliot Clark said this in his helpful book, Evangelism as Exiles:

“Hope for the Christian isn’t just confidence in a certain, glorious future. It’s hope in a present providence. It’s hope that God’s plans can’t be thwarted by local authorities or irate mobs, by unfriendly bosses or unbelieving husbands, by Supreme Court rulings or the next election. The Christian hope is that God’s purposes are so unassailable that a great thunderstorm of events can’t drive them off course. Even when we’re wave-tossed and lost at sea, Jesus remains the captain of the ship and the commander of the storm.”[14]

That leads us to our next consideration…

3. God Punishes His Enemies

Another important thing Esther teaches us is that God always punishes His enemies. We also see that God will certainly deliver His people.[15] Therefore, we can be comforted in our struggles, courageous in our obedience, and confident and joyful in our waiting.[16]

It must be said, however, that if you are an enemy of God, that is bad news. The worst news.

But we can have hope. Even though we’re all naturally enemies of God because of our wrongdoing. We can have hope because…

4. God Saves in Unexpected Ways

The book of Esther amazingly goes from fast to feast! God brings about all sorts of unlikely plot twists. Here’s a picture that shows us the plot of Esther:

God rescues in unexpected ways. He always has.

The story of Esther is intricately and intrinsically linked to the cosmic story of rescue. It is through the deliverance that happens in the book of Esther that the deliverance from Messiah Jesus can happen. If Haman’s pogrom would have succeeded then God’s promise would not have. God, however, keeps His promises. He did and will provide the rescue we all need. Jesus, the Messiah, the Promised One, was born of a woman, as a Jew, and a descendent of David. Jesus did strike a death blow to Satan, the serpent of old, when He died on the cross and rose victorious over death and sin, and He soon will send Satan to the fiery pit.

So, just as Esther brought rescue, Jesus brings eternal rescue. Esther and Jesus are similar in some ways but also very different. Unlike Esther, Jesus had “no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected” (Is. 53.2-3). And unlike Esther who brought an amazing plot reversal akin to resurrection, Jesus actually brought resurrection, and final victory over Satan, sin, and death. So, Esther is good and we’re thankful for her but Jesus is clearly much better.

Esther brought reversal—from Jewish destruction to Jewish deliverance, from Mordecai being impaled high above the crowd to Haman being impaled high above the crowd, from a pogrom against the Jews to Jewish peace. But Jesus brings ultimate reversal. The dead shall rise. In the end, the last shall be first, and the first last. Those who weep will be comforted and rejoice.

The ultimate reversal is that victory comes through the cross. God works, and has always worked, in unexpected and glorious ways.

Lee Beach, the author of The Church in Exile, has said, God “is able to use marginalization and weakness for his missional purposes, and the church in the post-Christendom age needs to embrace this very Esther-like perspective at its core as it seeks to be the people of God in a foreign culture.”[17]

Conclusion

So friends, even as we face challenges in the changing world that we find ourselves in, we know that we serve the LORD who is all-powerful even when we can’t see Him. Even when we can’t see Him present, we can trust His promise. He will be with us. He will help us.

We know that He, in Messiah Jesus, has already provided the rescue we most need. So, we continue to live faithful lives in hope and trust.

Lastly, I have a challenge for you. One recent study by the Pinetops Foundation has said, “The next 30 years will represent the largest missions opportunity in the history of America. It is the largest and fastest numerical shift in religious affiliation in the history of this country… 35 million youth raised in families that call themselves Christians will say that they are not by 2050.”[18] What if God strategically raised you up for such a time as this? What if God want you to be on mission in exile?

To be honest, I don’t know what God is calling me to do about this. I don’t know what he’s calling you to do about this. But, perhaps, God has brought you to this point for such a time as this (cf. 4:14)? I want to take some time for us to pray and reflect on what God is leading us to do about the 35 million youth raised in Christian homes that are projected to leave the path of life for the path of destruction.

Esther took her life in her own hands, risked it all. What might God be calling you to?

Let’s take some time and ask our Father what He would have us do.


[1] Ryken, Ryken, Wilhoit, Ryken’s Bible Handbook, 207.

[2] Of course, it may not mean that the party was 180 consecutive days.

[3] Herodotus, Histories, 3.31.

[4] https://www.prri.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/PRRI-RNS-Unaffiliated-Report.pdf.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Haman is an Agagite which means he was a Canaanite which were longtime enemies of the Israelites. This comes into the plot of the story later on but this point is not made explicit.

[7] Charles F. Pfeiffer, Old Testament History, 489. That book, however, was published in 1973 so the figure would be higher today.

[8] Herodotus talks about such a book in Histories 8.85, 90.

[9] “Reversal seems the most important structural theme in Esther” (Dumbrell, Faith of Israel, 300 as quoted in Schreiner, The King in His Beauty, 224).

[10] Lee Beach, The Church in Exile, 79.

[11] John S. Dickerson,The Great Evangelical Recession, 126.

[12] Illustrated Summaries of Biblical Books by the Bible Project. “Even though God is never mentioned, Yahweh is King, and the Jews are his people. No plot to annihilate them will ever succeed, for Yahweh made a covenant with Israel and will fulfill his promises to them. The serpent and his offspring will not perish from the earth until the final victory is won, but they will not ultimately triumph. The kingdom will come in its fullness. The whole world will experience the blessing promised to Abraham” (Thomas R. Schreiner, The King in His Beauty, 225).

[13] Dever, The Message of the Old Testament, 462.

[14] Elliot Clark, Evangelism as Exiles, 42.

[15] See Dever, The Message of the Old Testament, 457ff.

[16] See Ibid.

[17] Beach, The Church in Exile, 79.

[18] “The Great Opportunity: The American Church in 2050,” 9. This is a study put out by the Pinetops Foundation.

Untouchable Peace: A Sermon on John 14

Untouchable Peace

Hi! I’m Paul O’Brien, one of the pastors at Ontario Christian Fellowship. I’m glad you’re checking out this sermon.

I wish I could see you. I think of John’s words from 1 John: “I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.” This is a little awkward… But I’m super thankful to God for technology.

Alright, let’s pray together…

Intro

Within the past seven days, a lot has changed…

  • Kids our home
  • Many are working from home
  • Restaurants, bars, libraries, and all sorts of businesses are closed
  • Travel is restricted
  • We are unable to visit our loves ones in nursing homes
  • And you’re at home

This is an unprecedented situation.

Many hearts are heavy.

Read More…

A Sermon on 1 Timothy 2

 

The passage that we are looking at today has some very controversial issues in it. We will look at them in a little bit but first I want to explain the background of the letter as well as the main point of what Paul says in this chapter.

Paul wrote this letter to Timothy to address a particular context and a particularly difficult situation in Ephesus. Paul was addressing false teaching (1 Tim. 1:3-20; 4:1-5; 6:2b-10) and he was telling Timothy how people ought to “behave in the household of God” (1 Tim. 2:1-3:16; 4:6-6:2a).[1] People at the church in Ephesus were teaching things that were wrong and doing wrong things.

Paul labored at the church in Ephesus for three years (Acts 20:31) and wrote one of the most amazing letters that have ever been written to them and yet they were still liable to fall to unhealthy teaching and living. We see later on that they were also liable to lose the love that they had for Jesus at first (Rev. 2:4). This letter should serve as a wakeup call to us! We too are capable of falling! We too need correction!

Paul wants people to teach what is right and act the right way in “God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). If the church is teaching and living wrong that’s really bad news for everyone. It is the church that is to be the “foundation of the truth.” If the church is not the set-apart light that it’s supposed to be how great is the darkness?!

It’s important that we not miss the main point of what Paul is saying in this passage because our modern disputes distract us. Paul’s main point in this chapter is to instruct us to pray. He tells us to pray together. And he tells us how to pray. So, the main point is: In light of Jesus’ sacrificial love, pray with compassion and holiness.

We will look at that in more detail soon. A few things, however, should be said at the outset. First, OCF is committed to a high view of Scripture; we believe it is the word of God. We also believe that unless the Bible is God’s word to us, we live without any real moral authority. “Right” and “wrong” would then become matters of personal taste or popular opinion. We would not be able to talk about justice or truth at all, for there would be no way to know objective truth.[2]

So, second, the Bible is our authority. The Bible informs us and teaches us. We are not to sit over the Bible, God’s word, and inform it… It informs us.[3]

Claire Smith has pointed out in her book, God’s Good Design, that “we do not come to the text as neutral readers. We all have cultural blind spots and sensitivities that influence our reading.” She goes on to say, and I couldn’t agree more, that “we must always allow God’s word to critique us and our culture, rather than the other way around.”[4]

Third, all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable. One of the reasons it’s profitable is for correction. One of the things the Bible does, is it functions like a mirror by which we can see ourselves and compare.

Fourth, we must always keep in mind God’s lordship and love. God is all wise and powerful as the Creator. But He is also good and loving. He has definitively shown that at the cross. God’s lordship and love should always inform how we think about things.

If what we discuss below is hard for you, I get it. But please don’t doubt the good character of God. And also don’t doubt His lordship. He is loving and Lord.

Read More…

My Checklist for Preaching

This is a checklist that I put together to look over as I prepare to preach. There are, of course, other things that I could have put on this list. But these are the specific things that I need to be sure to check at this point in ministry…  

  • Am I preaching the good news of Jesus?
  • Am I praying and pleading with God to bless my sermon?
  • Am I working with a team in preparation to preach?
  • Am I getting and listening to Leah’s feedback?
  • Am I preparing far enough in advance?
  • Am I preparing my sermon with specific people in mind?
  • Am I going to bring people on the journey with me? (Am I going to peak people’s interests? Am I taking baby steps when necessary or am I making huge leaps in my logical reasoning?)
  • Am I using the 6 Journalistic Questions (What?, Who?, When?, Why?, Where?, and How?) and answering what will be most helpful for the audience?
  • Am I illustrating my point like Jesus would have? And am I getting the full impact from my illustrations?
  • Is the sermon going to be “G rated”? (Is the sermon for a general audience or is it restricted to those with special training? Did I break it down like I need a mechanic to break it down for me?)
  • Is the sermon going to create and relieve tension?
  • Is my sermon focused, making one sustained point? (Am I considering what the one thing is that I want people to take away from the message?)
  • Can I pass the 3am test? (If I was awakened at 3am and asked about the main point and structure of the sermon could I answer in a helpful way?)
  • Will unbelievers understand and find the sermon appealing? (Not that we ever want to compromise the truth but we do want to intrigue unbelievers with the view of reality that the Bible gives)

In the future I’d like to write a blog post for each of the above points to further convince myself of their importance.

4 Reasons Sermons are Essential

Why are sermons such a big deal? The Bible tells us to sing as the gathered church. The Bible also tells us to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and baptisms. But why are sermons essential? 

Sermons are essential because they teach God’s truth so as to exalt Christ, encourage and build up, and exhort the gathered church.

First, the teaching aspect of the sermon is important. Its importance is seen all over Scripture (e.g. Neh. 8:7-8; 1 Tim. 3:2). God has spoken and so helping people understand and apply the revelation from Him is life-changing. God’s people, however, are able to understand His truth. This is because all believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:22; 1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16), Jesus has made all those in Him priests (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:5-6), and Scripture is clear on the things which are “necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation” (The Westminster Confession of Faith, ch. 1). Qualified teachers are still vital, however, because sound (or healthy) doctrine is vital. That is, in part, why pastors must be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Tim. 2:24) and defend the truth (2 Tim. 2:25; Titus 1:9). We also see in Scripture that right teaching leads to maturity and the body of Christ being equipped for every good work. Believers may be able to subsist on milk but teachers are able to provide needed meat (2 Cor. 3:2; Heb. 5:12-13).

Second, communicating God’s truth in sermons is vital because the Bible is the authoritative word of God and it is uniquely profitable (2 Tim. 3:16-17). It is our sole authority for faith and practice. Scripture is a light (Ps. 119:105,130), a sword (Eph. 6:17), a hammer (Jer. 23:29), and a surgeon (Heb. 4:12). Scripture is more essential than bread (Matt. 4:4), better than gold (Ps. 19:10; 119:72), and we need it to live (Ps. 119:144). Scripture is perfect (Ps. 19:7), true (Ps. 19:9), pure (Ps. 19:8), and eternal (1 Pet. 1:25). Scripture contains the words of life (Jn. 6:68) and the words that are breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16). Scripture gives joy (Ps. 119:111; Jer. 15:16), makes wise (Ps. 19:7), equips (2 Tim. 3:17), guards (Ps. 119:9), guides (Ps. 73:24; 119:105), saves (1 Pet. 1:23), sanctifies (Ps. 119:9,11; Jn. 17:17), and satisfies because by it we know God (1 Pet. 2:3 cf. Ps. 16:11; Jn. 17:3).

Read More…

“To God be the Glory!” Sermon on Psalm 115

Discussion Questions

  1. When you think of God’s glory, what are some of the things that first come to mind?
  2. God deserves glory for so many reasons. What are some reasons you think of that weren’t talked about in the sermon?
  3. Can you relate to C.S. Lewis’ struggle? Is it hard to understand why God cares so much about His own glory? What has been helpful for you as you think about this?
  4. What are some of the results of idolatry in our lives?
  5. What is an idol? Give some examples of good things in life that can become idols.
  6. What idols do you currently struggle with?
  7. How can personal success and achievement lead to a sense that we ourselves are god?
  8. What are possible signs in an individual’s life that point to the fact that success is an idol?

Why Read the Word?

In 2017, let’s consume the Word and diet everything else

The average American spends 50 minutes of their time each day on Facebook’s platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Messenger). That is one-sixteenth of the average American’s waking time.

Facebook, the web, ESPN, and news networks are built to engage and grab us (except perhaps CSPAN). There is a lot riding on whether or not we spend five or fifty minutes on Facebook. There is a lot invested to make us scroll, click, share… There are people fighting for our fascination and time. There are specialists employed and there are algorithms designed to grab our attention.

Of course, I am not the social media police, this is not 1984 or Fahrenheit 451. You can be on social media. I am. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Messenger… However, let’s consider the way we plan to spend our time in 2017. 

D.A. Carson has said,

“The challenge [to reading Scripture] has become increasingly severe in recent years, owing to several factors. All of us must confront the regular sins of laziness… The sheer pace of life… The constant sensory input from all sides is gently addictive—we become used to being entertained and diverted, and it is difficult to carve out the space and silence necessary for serious and thoughtful reading of Scripture.”[1]

Carson said that in a book published in 1998—18 years ago!—before the iPhone and before dial-up was replaced! Things have changed since 1998. Read More…

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