Monday, November 24, 2008

"But Where Are The Nine: A Thanksgiving Message"

This message was preached at Hebron Baptist Church on Sunday, November 23, 2008.

Luke 17:11-19
Many years ago, a boat was wrecked in a storm on Lake Michigan at Evanston, Illinois. Students from Northwestern University formed themselves into rescue teams. One student, Edward Spencer, saved 17 people from the sinking ship. Years later, R.A. Torrey was talking about this incident at a meeting in Los Angeles, and a man in the audience called out that Edward Spencer was present. Dr. Torrey invited Spencer to the platform. An old man with white hair slowly climbed the steps as the applause rang. Dr. Torrey asked him if anything in particular stood out in his memory. “Only this, he replied, “of the 17 people I saved, not one of them thanked me.”

Jesus experienced a similar feeling when He cleansed 10 helpless and hopeless lepers out of their distress, but only one returned to thank Him. And our Lord replied, “Were there not 10 cleansed? But where are the nine?” (v.17). If gratitude is rare these days it is because people have either forgotten where they have come from or they have never experienced God’s amazing grace.
Life Application: God’s grace at work in our hearts leads to expressions of gratitude.

Verse 11 sets the scene for this healing and giving of thanks. Luke reminds us that Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. This is the beginning of His last trip to Jerusalem. Earlier (9:51), Luke tells us that Jesus had “steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus was driven by God to fulfill His purpose. But why go “through the midst of Samaria”? Although the most direct route, Samaria was typically avoided by the Jews. According to them, Samaria was a place of halfbreeds and outcasts. On top of all that, these men were lepers, the most despised of all outcasts! But Jesus was not like most of His fellow Jews. He purposely went “through the midst of Samaria.”

But this was no wrong turn or accident. Jesus knew no untouchables. Jesus did not see racial barriers or economic barriers or even religious barriers, Jesus only saw people – people made in the image of God, people broken by sin, people in need of healing, people in need of a relationship with God. Do we see people as Jesus did and does?

Jesus would leave the 99 sheep to seek after the one and on this day He found the “one” lost sheep that went astray. There were certainly many lost sheep in Samaria. Jesus had been here before (9:51-56). At that time, He got a cold reception. It was in Samaria that James and John saw this rejection and said to Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (v.54). Their GROW outreach program was evangelism by fire! Jesus replied, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them” (9:55-56).

Jesus didn’t give up on Samaria and neither should we give up on our Samarias. Just because we don’t see results from our efforts the first time, does not mean we should give up. Don’t stop praying for people. Don’t stop sharing Christ and encouraging them. This time around Jesus received a different welcome. The fields are now ready for harvesting. The lepers are Jesus’ welcoming committee. They are some of the lost sheep that James and John were ready to set fire to.

Luke tells us that these 10 men who met Jesus were lepers and they stood afar off (17:12). The Jews of course had no dealings with the Samaritans; yet in this group there was at least one Samaritan. Apparently a common tragedy such as leprosy had broken down the racial barriers that would have otherwise been erected. In the common misfortune of their leprosy they had forgotten that they were Jews and Samaritans and remembered only that they were men in need. How we need to see people in that way – not as acceptable or unacceptable, not as rich or poor, not as black or white, or people like us and people not like us, but just as people who share a common bond and need.

Leprosy was a terrible disease in that day. Because of their condition, these men would be outcasts and condemned to a life of isolation. They were cut off from their families, from others, and because of the Mosaic law restrictions, they were even cut off from God Himself (see Lev. 13:46). Lepers were required to announce their fate and to stand at a distance from others. They were the humiliated and the hopeless. They survived only on the pity of others and only God could change their fate.

Fortunately, for these men Jesus was in their midst. Jesus cleansing people from leprosy was a sign that the kingdom of God had arrived. You might remember when John the Baptist, jailed and discouraged, wanted to know if Jesus truly was the Messiah. He sent his disciples to Jesus to find out. Jesus said, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf here, the dead are raised, the poor have the Gospel preached to them” (Lk. 7:22). The only hope for these men was God and God in the flesh had come to them.

What do you do when all your avenues of help and hope are exhausted? What do you say to God? Do you know what these men did (17:13)? Unashamed, in desperation and without self-conscious thoughts of pride, “they lifted up their voices and said, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’” And the wonder of all this is that God saw them, heard their cry, and responded. They cried out and the biblical language expresses that they kept crying out. Their’s was a cry of persistence. It was Jesus Himself who said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7). Jesus taught us to pray with persistence – don’t give up!

What did the lepers ask for? Interestingly, it was not for healing but for mercy. Why mercy? Of all the people that experienced condemnation and judgement, they were used to being judged. What they wanted was some compassion, some pity, some mercy. This is what people are silently crying out for today – mercy, compassion. People are not looking for us to fix everything in their lives for that is beyond what we can do, but they are looking for people who will come alongside them and make them feel human. Do we make people feel welcomed, loved, human? Do we love the lepers of our world? The outcasts, the broken, the shamed? Jesus did and if we’re Jesus people, we will too!

The last place that you would expect Jesus to send them to, was where He told them to go (v.14). In the OT the priests were not only the ministers of religion, they were the ministers of health. Leviticus 14 prescribes their duties concerning the pronouncement of whether a person was clean or unclean. The lepers must have thought, “why go to the priests? We’ve been there before and we know what they are going to tell us. Why go and see them? They will just exclude me again. They will not show me any mercy?” Jesus was testing the sincerity of their faith. Jesus sent them to the priests for at least two reasons:
(1) He was validating God’s word. Jesus even said that He didn’t come to destroy the law but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17-18).
(2) But even more importantly, He connected faith to obedience, hearing with doing.
The healing was a work of God but they had to act upon His word. Their faith would be exercised by obedience to Jesus’ words. Faith is acting on God’s word before you can see the end result. These men would be healed when by faith they did what Jesus said to do.

Jesus said “go” and they went. What happened? Notice the all-important phrase in verse 14: “as they went, they were cleansed.” Had they trusted in their human instinct, they would have never gone. “Go to the priests! Been there and done that. Not going anywhere near that place.” But had they not went, they would not have experienced God’s healing. The evidence of faith is only seen as we walk by faith in obedience. Are you struggling in an area of your life but you can’t seem to see what’s going on? Has God spoken plainly to you in your situation? If He hasn’t wait upon Him. If He has, are you acting upon God’s word to you?

These men immediately did what Jesus said and “as they went, they were cleansed.” It was in the act of obedience that they received their healing from God. They were cleansed (v.14, Aorist, passive, indicative). The word is a form of “katharizo,” to cleanse, make clean, to declare ritually acceptable. To cleanse a disease such as leprosy. When they came to the priests, for the first time they heard the priests pronounce “you are clean my son.” When by faith we trust in Jesus Christ, we hear God the Father say to us, “you are clean my child for I have cleansed you.”

We don’t know what happened to these men but as far as we can tell they returned to their previous lives and social positions. But we do know that one of the men “when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God” (17:15). Going to see the priests would have to wait for him. He had to give thanks where thanks were due.

The one man rejoiced and fell at the feet of Jesus. This cleansed and changed man recognized Jesus as God and unashamedly gave Him thanks! The twist in the story is that Luke tells us that the one who came back, the only one of all people was a Samaritan (17:16). The Jews should have flocked to Jesus and acknowledged Him as the Messiah, but instead it was often the unlikely ones who loved Him. People who the Jews despised – tax collectors, sinners, people with stained pasts, the broken, even Samaritans.

It is true that the most thankful people are the people who know they have something to be thankful for. It is the people who know that without God they would be nothing who are the most grateful. The most ungrateful people are those who think they are somebody. They do not see the depth of their sinfulness. They feel that they have little to be forgiven of, so they have little to be thankful for. But people who really get it, people who know how dark sin is, who have been lifted up by God’s grace, they are the ones who pour out gratitude to God as sweet worship.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, Jesus said (Matt. 5:3). Blessed because they know their very breath depends upon the living God who is the creator, savior, and sustainer. Blessed because they know that without Jesus, they would be helpless and hopeless. Blessed because they know God’s amazing grace.

Jesus asked the healed man a series of questions (17:18-19). They were questions that needed no response and they were questions designed to be overheard, overheard by us, “But where are the nine?”(v.17). Like so many questions, this is one that is not seeking information for Jesus knew where they were. But it was a question of conviction, “Where are you?” “Are you aware of your lostness without Me? Are you aware that it is I who have paid the price for your sins on the cross? Are you grateful to God for what He has done in Christ?”

All we can determine about the nine lepers is that they received what they wanted and now they had no further need of Jesus. No story in all the Gospels shows man’s ingratitude toward God’s blessings as this one does. We would like to identify with the “one” who came to Jesus. We always see ourselves in Scripture as the good guys, but the truth is we are often like the nine who never came back.

How often have we prayed with desperate intensity for some particular area and God comes through. When our crisis is alleviated, it’s back to normal again. How often has God saved people out of a bed of sickness and yet when the affliction is past, the disease is in remission, then God is forgotten. “But where are the nine?” Are we too often life-time members of the club of nine?

There is actually a great difference between the “one” who returned to Jesus and the other “nine.” Jesus said of the one who was a Samaritan, “Go your way. Your faith has made you well.” The word for well (pf. tense) used here is “sozo” and means to save or heal. Jesus was saying that this man’s faith was complete, it was biblical saving faith, he was healed forever. This salvation encounter involved belief (trust) and action.

The one leper that returned to give thanks to God demonstrated saving faith and Jesus acknowledged his faith by saying to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well” (v.19). No one else that day heard those words except the one cleansed leper who happened to be a Samaritan. James helps us to understand saving faith. Faith that saves is faith that includes an active response. Using Abraham as an illustration of saving faith, James tells us that he was justified (i.e., made right with God) because his “faith was working together with his works” (Jas. 2:22). Abraham acted on God’s word.

The one leper was made “whole.” Ten were “cleansed,” “katharizo,” but only one was “healed,” “sozo.” The word for cleansing is where we get our English word, “catharsis” from. Catharsis Defined: “The purifying of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions; the alleviation of fears, problems, and complexes by bringing them to consciousness or giving them expression.”

Catharsis makes you feel better but it is not salvation. For the nine lepers Jesus was a way for them to experience catharsis. They found someone who could help them unload their problems. But when their problem was solved, they no longer needed the doctor. Many people today are seeking catharsis, an alleviation of some problem. There’s nothing wrong with that but we need to know that ultimate healing comes through an experience of God’s amazing grace. We don’t want to just come to church feeling guilty and go away feeling a little bit less guilty. We want to go away whole, we want to be changed.

But where are the nine?” Jesus asks. The nine are still with us today. They have been delivered out of an affliction, but not from their sins. They have known God’s goodness, but they have not known God’s grace. They have witnessed God’s healing in their body but they have never experienced the healing of the soul. The nine were cleansed of leprosy in their body but their is a leprosy of the heart that they have not dealt with. If you are a member of the club of “nine,” why not join the family of the redeemed? Be the “one” who really gets it – who is doer of God’s healing word.

The Lord’s Supper that we observe today is a supper of salvation. It is a thanksgiving feast. It is an opportunity for us as healed lepers to come before God with thanksgiving and praise for making us whole. This is why the Lord’s Supper has no significance to a person who is not a Christian, but it means everything to the child of God who has been washed clean by the blood of Jesus. The Supper reminds us of the living Jesus who is hear, who is still cleansing the souls of all who will call upon Him. Do you need the Great Physician this morning? He is hear and He is near.

Pastor Joe

ADVENT: Preparing For His Coming

The church year begins with The Season of Advent, the four Sundays before Christmas. Advent means “coming.” In Advent, we focus on the coming of Christ into the world (past), in our hearts (present), and the “second coming” (future). Celebrating Advent is a meaningful way to prepare for the Christmas season. What could your family do to make the Christmas season meaningful?

❆ Be sure to attend worship each Sunday. There will be special elements of the Christmas season shared in each worship service to remind you of the significance of Christ coming to earth.

❆ Pick up an Advent Devotional, “Come to the Manger,” available in the glassed foyer area. Set some time aside each day during Advent to be spiritually fed, inspired, and encouraged. While you’re picking up a devotional booklet, don’t forget to pick up a copy of “Advent, Christmas, Epiphany: What’s All This About?” This will help you to better understand the symbols and colors of Advent.

❆ Create a family Christmas tradition. Attend a Christmas play, special music presentation, town tree lighting, etc. Join us as we go Christmas Caroling on the 21st. Our own worship ministries at Hebron will be presenting “Christmas Fantasia” on December 7th at 6:00 p.m. Bring the entire family for this special Christmas musical event.

❆ Be a blessing to others by giving a special gift or by doing something special for someone who is not expecting it. The best way that we can celebrate the Christmas season is by sharing with others the greatest gift of all – Jesus!
You definitely don’t want to miss out on the wonder of the Christmas season. How will you celebrate this Christmas season?

In awe of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us!

Pastor Joe

Advent Week #1: Sermon Text for November 30, 2008

Mark 13:24-37

The Coming of the Son of Man

[24] “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; [25] the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. [26] Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. [27] And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven.

The Parable of the Fig Tree

[28] “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. [29] So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near—at the doors! [30] Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. [31] Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.

No One Knows the Day or Hour

[32] “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. [33] Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. [34] It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. [35] Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning— [36] lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. [37] And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”

For His Glory!
Pastor Joe

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sermon Text for Sunday, November 23, 2008

This Sunday I will be dealing with the theme of thanksgiving. Are you a grateful person? If gratitude is rare these days it is because people have either forgotten where they have come from, or because they have never experienced God's grace in salvation. In the story of the ten lepers who were cleansed, only one returned to give thanks to God. What about the nine? I want to be counted among the "one" who had a real experience of God's amazing grace. Join us for worship this Sunday as we give thanks to the Lord our creator and redeemer. "It is good to give thanks to the Lord" (Psalm 92:1).

Ten Lepers Cleansed
Luke 17:11-19

[11] Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. [12] Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. [13] And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” [14] So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed.
[15] And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, [16] and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. [17] So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? [18] Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” [19] And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”

Have a blessed week. See you Sunday.

For His Glory!

Pastor Joe