Archive for December, 2011

Did Joseph Really See an Angel?

December 19, 2011

Title: Did Joseph Really See an Angel?

Text: Matthew 1:18-25

Time: December 15th, 2011

One of the great benefits of the Christmas season is we can explore all the many different Nativity themes found in the Bible. I love the holiday season because it gives me an excuse to teach and preach about the birth of the Lord Jesus in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. There are some pastors, sadly, who actually don’t enjoy the Christmas season, because they claim they are expected to come up with fresh messages on the old familiar Nativity topic – which they find difficult to do. But I’m just the opposite. I love to dig around the Gospels of Matthew and Luke in order to find some different angle on Christmas, some theme that hasn’t been explored thoroughly, so that I might preach on that. So I rather enjoy digging in to the accounts of the birth of Jesus because there is so much there that needs to be mined for all the truth it contains. So from that perspective, let’s dig into another issue involving the first Christmas account found in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter one (read). I’d like to focus on one specific passage, Matthew 1:20-21, 24, “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’. . . When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” Now for the longest time I as a Christian I was under the impression that Joseph, husband of Mary and earthly, human father of Jesus, had encountered an angel – or had an angelic visitation that told him what to do. I later learned that the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. Now my question is, is there a difference between really seeing an angel and simply dreaming you saw one? Or put another way, is there a difference between having an angel appear to you and having an angel in a dream appear to you? Well, clearly there is a difference. For example, if someone came up to me all excited and said, “I just had an angel appear to me and tell me something!” If I asked further and said, “Where did this angel appear to you?” And if they responded, “In my dream last night,” clearly, it would be less impressive than if an angel had really appeared to the person while he was awake. Why? Because all kinds of things pop into our heads during dreams, some pretty strange, bizarre and mysterious. But if we were to have something appear while we are fully awake, such as an angel, like, for example, what the shepherds in the fields outside of Bethlehem encountered with the angels in Luke 2 – that would be truly impressive and special. But for an angel to appear in a dream? That might seem a little under whelming. But is it? What really happened to Joseph? Let’s look at what happened to poor Joseph that night which convinced him to marry Mary. I’m not calling into question the reality of the vision, I’m just asking questions about it that might help us all understand our Christmas faith better. (more…)

Herod and the Baby Jesus

December 18, 2011

Title: Herod and the Baby Jesus

Text: Matthew 2:1-18

Time: December 11th, 2011

 

We’re only two weeks away from Christmas day, which happens to fall on a Sunday this year. I remember a few years back Christmas fell on a Sunday and I learned that a number of larger churches canceled Sunday church because they wanted families to spend time together on Christmas day. I’m not sure how I feel about that — canceling Sunday church in order to give families time together on Christmas Sunday. The rationale of the bigger, mega-churches is that since they have services on the Saturday before Christmas Sunday, people can simply come to church a day earlier and then have all day Sunday to spend with family celebrating Christmas. I understand the logic of it all, I’m just not comfortable with the idea of canceling Sunday church for any reason – family time or holiday – whatever. It may be a symptom of our age — that we bump God, church, prayer or the Bible, because of some agenda or plan we have in life. It may be a worldly practice that bows to the priorities of the modern world. On the other hand, we shouldn’t be legalistic about anything connected to the practice of Christianity. Just as the Apostle Paul says in Romans 14:5-6, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regard on day as special, does so to the Lord.” So maybe it’s not so bad an idea, some churches not meeting on Christmas Sunday. I’m not comfortable with it, but that’s just me. Call me old fashioned. But anyway, we are again this week talking about the Christmas account in the New Testament. Last time I talked about the Holy Spirit in connection with the conception of Jesus, how the New Testament underscores the truth that Jesus’ conception was holy – as opposed to unholy, as some thought. Joseph at first thought that Mary was pregnant through some unholy means, but in the end he believed the angel who explained to him that it was the Holy Spirit’s doing – or as the literal Greek states, “the Spirit which is Holy.” This week I’d like to look at another familiar passage in the Book of Matthew, the section that describes Herod’s reaction to the announcement of the Magi that a baby king is born. Part of the fun of the Christmas holiday season is we can explore all these interesting themes that relate to the Nativity. Here’s an interesting verse, “When King Herod heard this (the announcement by the Magi that a king is to be born) he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him,” Matthew 2:3. I’ve always been interested in this verse. What does it mean that King Herod was disturbed when he heard a king was to be born? And what does it mean that the whole city of Jerusalem was disturbed also upon hearing the news? Come with me this morning as we explore this peculiar passage. Maybe we can learn a little more about that first Christmas –and maybe God can teach us something we can apply to our lives today in modern times. (more…)

Jesus Was Born of the Spirit Which is Holy

December 10, 2011

Title: Jesus Was Born of the Spirit Which is Holy

Text: Matthew 1:18-25

Time: December 4th, 2011

 

We’re only twenty-one days away from Christmas day, so I thought I’d speak on the birth of Jesus. This sermon was inspired by my reading in the Greek New Testament, which is my daily habit that I try to keep as often as I can. I bring up the fact that this message was inspired by reading the Christmas account in Matthew in the original Greek because of something I noticed that doesn’t come through in the English translations. I first learned Greek during my college days at Wheaton College in Illinois over twenty-five years ago. Ever since I’ve tried to keep up my Greek by reading from it almost every day in connection with my daily devotions. Well, I was reading through both the Christmas account in Matthew and Luke, when something jumped out of the passage that drew attention to a point I’d never noticed before. Now usually the Bible translators do a really good job of translating the Greek into English for us whose main language is English, so we don’t have to worry that we are missing anything. But sometimes they simply overlook something that may or may not be important in their translation of Greek into English. For example, here’s what Matthew 20-21 says in the NIV, “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’” We are all familiar with this passage because it’s the angel’s announcement to Joseph through a dream that it’s ok to marry Mary. But what caught my eye in the original Greek language of the New Testament is this – the verse actually says something more than what is translated. Here’s what I mean. Here is the original, literal translation of the last part of verse twenty, “Because what is conceived in her is from the Spirit that is Holy,” or “the Spirit which is Holy.” Most translations translate it, “Because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” The King James Version, the Living Bible, Today’s English Version, Phillips Modern English, the Revised Standard Version, the Jerusalem Bible and New English Bible all translate it, “Holy Spirit,” also. And after all, “the Spirit of Holiness” or “the Spirit that is Holy” means “Holy Spirit” anyway. So all these translations are correct, but I think they miss something important that is being made in the text. If it weren’t for the context of the verse, there’d be no point to be made in me bringing up this slight detail. But because there is a very clear and important context for the use of the phrase, “the Spirit which is Holy,” I think that we are missing something when we simply translate the passage using merely, “Holy Spirit.” Let me explain. We are now in the Christmas season so let’s talk about the Christmas account of the birth of Jesus. Today, let’s look at a detail of that account from Luke 1:18-25 (read). (more…)

The Three Most Shocking Beliefs of Atheists

December 4, 2011

Title: The Three Most Shocking Beliefs of Atheists

Text: Psalm 14:1, Ecclesiastes 1:2, 13, 16-18, Isaiah 5:20

Time: November 11th, 2011

 

I’ve noticed that atheism is gaining ground in our society lately as I’ve watched television, listened to radio, read the newspapers and surfed the Internet. Atheism is no longer confined to a few individuals or even one person in every town – the “village” atheist. Today, on college campuses across the country there are more than a few outright atheists on the faculty and still others who are practically atheists in their worldview. Atheists appear on television documentaries as “experts” on a wide range of topics. So the general population is being exposed to a lot of atheist thinking today whether they know it or not. But what isn’t so widely known in the general public is just what atheists actually believe. Sure, atheism is disbelief in God – but it goes a lot further than that. The implications of atheism are shocking when we examine them. Most ordinary people never go any further with atheism than it’s a belief that excludes God, but it’s a lot more than that. The implications of atheism are not only shocking — they are outright depressing. It’s one thing for an atheist to appear on television as a cool intellectual who thinks he can explain everything without God; it’s another thing to actually map out what he’s saying and explore the radical implications to his beliefs.  If we take the time to really think through what an atheist is saying we’ll find that his view is dark and depressing and essentially nihilistic. Nihilism is the outlook of purposeless meaninglessness. Having studied philosophy at Wheaton College under one of the finest philosophers in the country, Arthur Holmes, I think I grasp most of the essential implications of atheism. I’m alarmed to see how warm and welcoming our society is to atheistic ideas today, whereas, only a few decades ago, most atheists would have been rejected automatically. But today, when television documentaries and news reporters turn to a scientific expert to explain something, more and more they turn to atheists. And more and more the general public is being tutored by atheistic thinking without even understanding the implications of atheism. So today, we’ll be examining the three most shocking beliefs of atheists. I’m sort of in a series entitled, “Three most shocking beliefs of . . .” It started when a newspaper published an article of mine on the three most shocking beliefs of Mormons. I then wrote sermons based on that article explaining the three most shocking beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the three most shocking beliefs of Christian Science – and today, I’m exposing the three most shocking beliefs of atheism. I plan to extend the series to include major world religions, such as Hinduism, Islam and others. As Christians we need to know what people are believing in our society, and more importantly, we need to know what the implications are of these different – and as we understand from the Bible – false beliefs. How can we share the gospel with people if we don’t know where they are coming from? We need to become like missionaries today and understand the culture we seek to influence for the Lord. Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool in his heart says there is no God.” That’s not the best way to enter a dialogue with an atheist, quoting this biblical passage, but it’s where the Bible begins with the philosophy of atheism. Let’s examine some other passages and examine atheism in closer detail. (more…)