Two more . . . from 9/8/19

For those interested . . . “two more” minutes of thoughts from this morning’s sermon . . . 

“. . . for you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.” (Matthew 23:13) – Two things of note here:  (1) At the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, John the Baptist announced that the “kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2)  Jesus Himself talked a lot about the coming Kingdom (see the parables of Matthew 13 among other places.)  The “kingdom” Jesus referred to was the promised reign of the Messiah (Himself) upon the earth, reigning from Kind David’s throne as prophesied in the Old Testament.  When Jesus offered this Kingdom, it would have been inaugurated if the nation of Israel had accepted Jesus as the Messiah.  Because the nation (led by the scribes and the Pharisees) rejected Him, inauguration of the Kingdom was delayed (see Daniel 9:26).  Revelation 19-22 lets us know that ONE DAY, the kingdom will fully be inaugurated at the second coming of Christ.  Thus, the rejection of Jesus as Messiah by the Pharisees and the scribes SHUT THE DOOR to the kingdom for 2,000 years (and counting).  (2) Jesus was offering true salvation:  the Kingdom PLUS eternal life.   How sad that the Pharisees (and those who followed them) missed out on the kingdom and salvation because they refused to believe in Jesus.  Sadly the same thing happens today.  Too many people profess a religion, hoping it would save them.  But, like using a cardboard box as a tornado shelter, it cannot hold up against the F5 holiness of God when judgment comes.  Jesus-less religion may encourage morality or calm our minds . . . but only Christ can save us from our sins.

Where is 23:14?  If you were paying close attention to your Bibles this morning, you would have noticed that I read 23:13 and 23:15-22, but not 23:14.  AND, depending upon which version of the Bible you were using, your Bible may not have had a 23:14 at all!  The ESV, NIV, and NLT all exclude 23:14 altogether.  The NASB includes 23:14 (but in brackets).  The KJV includes 23:14 without notation.  So what gives?  The KJV of the bible was a translation from the early 1600’s.  At the time, the translators used a set of manuscripts known as the “majority text.”  We have no “manuscript” copies of the New Testament available today . . . meaning, Matthew’s original parchment is not in circulation, BUT, we do have thousands of early copies of Matthew that help us to understand exactly what Matthew wrote down.  As with anything that is often copied, it is possible that errors could be made in the transcription.  In Matthew 23:14, the majority text included this verse here – so the KJV translated it as a part of their work.  In the past 400 years, additional scholarship has helped us find that the earliest copies of Matthew that we have did not include 23:14.  Though 23:14 IS content said by Jesus in this speech (see parallel accounts in Mark and Luke), it most likely was ADDED to Matthew at a later date by well intended stenographers trying to harmonize the Gospels.  The ESV, NIV, and others recognize this, and omit the verse (albeit noting it in the footnotes of their translation.)  While some may think this weakens our confidence in the New Testament text, it actually encourages my confidence in it.  Christians do not have anything to fear when it comes to the truth.  Good scholarship and scientific principles have been used to determine the authenticity of Matthew’s Gospel . . . a letter that is 2,000 years old!  Rather than hiding this good scholarship, it is right there in our English Bibles for all to see.  Matthew’s Gospel is inerrant in its original manuscript, and has not been marred by two millennia of copying and translations.  It is still authoritative for us today.

“. . . You blind fools! . . . whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it!”  (Matthew 23:17a, 22) – The Pharisees and scribes received these strong rebukes from Jesus BECAUSE their self-righteousness blinded them from seeing both their need for a Savior AND that Jesus was that Savior.  The Pharisees were trusting in their personal performance to merit their salvation:  their belief was only if they personally fulfilled the Law would they gain eternal life.  When this is the mindset, often people recast the Law into a lesser standard . . . one they can fulfill.  One illustration of this for the Pharisees was their use of a convoluted system of “swears.”  While the heart of God is for His people to tell the truth (illustrated by the command to not lie), the Pharisees did not want to always tell the truth (but knew they needed to in order to attain eternal life).  So they created loopholes to allow them to lie, while still (in their opinion) meeting the obligations of the Law.  Jesus calls them out here (as He did in Matthew 5:33-37) . . . letting them know that they should just tell the truth and not invent ways around it through “fake swearing.”  Today, we still struggle with this principle.  We want to reinvent God’s Law into something we can attain on our own, so we add our own definitions to the clear teaching of Scripture in an attempt to lower the standard of God to our level.  An example of that is the command to “love our neighbor as ourselves.”  We have a tendency to lower this command to a more reasonable level by defining our “neighbors” as those closest to us.  Jesus (rightly) points out in the Parable of the Good Samaritan that ALL we come in contact with are our neighbors.  In this respect, the standard of God is simply too high for us to attain.  How can I love all in this way?  What are we to do?  Well, instead of lowering the standard of God to our level, we have another option . . . we can run to Jesus Christ!  He fulfilled the Law perfectly, can forgive us for how we fall short of it, and can (through His work through His Body- the Church) love the world HIS WAY. 

One last thought . . . 

Jesus did not have to pronounce these “woes” on the Pharisees.  Why does He do it?  Jesus pronounces these woes as a demonstration of His compassion and grace.  Graciously, He lets the Pharisees know they are on the highway to hell . . . giving them time to repent.  Compassionately, Jesus gives “woes” over the Pharisees within earshot of the crowds and the disciples . . . giving them a heads up to not repeat the folly of their national leaders.  

As we hear these warnings today, may they be reminders to us to take shelter in Jesus and not in the refrigerator boxes of our own religion. 

Authentic (part 4) Sermon Audio

On Sunday, September 8, 2019 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a message based on Matthew 23:13-22.  this sermon was part 4 of the “Authentic” sermon series.  Below you will find the audio to listen to, download, on share.

 

To listen offline, click the link to download:

Authentic #4 9.8.19

 

 

To listen online, use the media player below:

 

To watch the video of the worship service, visit our Facebook stream by clicking here.

 

Authentic (part 4) Sermon Questions

On Sunday, September 8, 2019 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Matthew 23:13-22.  This message was part 4 in the “Authentic” sermon series.  Below are a set of questions related to the message for personal reflection or group discussion.

 

Sermon Questions:

  1. Pray
  2. Read Matthew 23:13-22
  3. What are some of the “challenges” facing the Church (capital C) today?  Do you think most of these challenges as “outside” the church or “inside” the church?  Why?
  4. Jesus speaks out strongly against the Pharisees.  Based on this passage (and the sermon these questions are based on) why do you think Jesus was so outspoken against their opposition?
  5. What are some “refrigerator boxes” that people try to take eternal shelter inside?  Where are you taking shelter?
  6. What are some ways you have seen your relationship with Jesus Christ “sanctify” or grow you?  To say it another way, how is your life today “better” because of your relationship with Jesus?
  7. Are you ever tempted to twist the Scriptures so they fit your agenda/allow you to sin?  What about Jesus’ admonition in 23:16-22 challenges you about the way you read and apply the Scripture?
  8. We all fall short of God’s glory.  Thankfully “His Mercy is More!”  Confess your sin and find forgiveness, salvation, sanctification, and the support the Scripture provides!
  9. What is one particular application you took away from this message?

 

To access these questions in pdf format, click here.

Authentic (part 4) Preview

If I were to ask you what the greatest threats to the Church today are (notice Church with a capital “C” . . . meaning not just Wildwood), what would you say?

No doubt, the list would include Satanic attack, organized governmental opposition to Christianity, and moral decay in the culture around us.  To be sure, these are all definitely challenges in the world today, and threats to the Church.  However, if our list of problems ONLY included things on the outside of the Church, we would be naively mistaken.  There are certainly INSIDER challenges to the Church as well . . . things like doctrinal perversion, abuse of power, and misplaced priorities among leaders and congregants.  

Two things fascinate me about Jesus’ last public sermon before He went to the cross (found in Matthew 23):

  1. He focused His attention on the enemies to His new movement that were found WITHIN (and not OUTSIDE) the religious organizations of His people.  He did not spend time discussing the Roman’s or the secular culture’s moral bankruptcy.  He did not bemoan what was happening in the Roman bath houses or contemporary entertainment.  While there were certainly plenty of things to be repulsed by in first century Palestine among the religious outsiders, Jesus focused His attention on what was happening in the synagogues and the Temple courts.  He offered His strongest criticism and rebuke on the problems inside the “church” not outside it.
  2. He focused His attention NOT on the “liberal” end of the religious pool, but on the “conservatives.”  Not all Jews in the first century were red . . . many of them were blue.  In what John MacArthur has termed the harshest chapter in the Gospels (Matthew 23), Jesus blasts the conservative leaders of the religious right of His day:  the Scribes and the Pharisees.  He spares (in this address) the liberal Saducees or the politically minded Herodians (though they were equally lost), to focus on the destructive effect of the conservative religious leaders.  Does that surprise you at all?

When I say He focused on the “conservatives” that probably ruffles a few feathers, and so I want to clarify what I mean.  The Pharisees and the scribes were the most religious people in Israel at the time of Jesus.  They kept (at least their version of) the Law with dramatic and demonstrable fervency.  They studied the Scriptures and taught it to others (albeit with plenty of add-on’s from their tradition).  They believed in the judgment of God, life after death, the coming of a future Messiah, and many other “orthodox” truths that were REJECTED by the liberal end of Jewish society (notably the Saducees).  In this regard, they were the conservatives of Jesus’ day . . . they wanted to separate (the word “Pharisee” literally comes from the word “to separate”) from the evil practices of the world and from the liberal heresies of the Saducees.  And yet, Jesus still came after them STRONG.  Why?

In their desire to separate and be devout, they had fostered a self-righteous worldview that believed they alone were “good enough” for God.  By reworking the Scripture into a set of complex (but doable) external commands, they no longer felt a need for a Savior because they had “saved themselves” and were just waiting for their reward when Messiah came.  When Jesus comes and challenges the flimsy nature of their righteousness, they see Him as a threat to their dominance, and plot to take Him out instead of welcoming Him in.  

Though there were only about 6,000 Pharisees at the time of Jesus in Israel, they were a very influential group.  Many of them were scribes and religious leaders, teaching the nation of Israel.  So their ideas had great influence.  Though they were “good” at calling people to separate from the world, they also were demanding that people separate from Jesus Christ as well . . . their brand of conservatism had no place for a gracious Savior seeking and saving the lost and questioning their convoluted religiosity.  Since the consequences of their conservative corruption were so influential, Jesus (in a public way) calls them out in front of all just days before He went to the cross . . . to give all who initially heard the message, and all who read it today in Matthew’s Gospel, the chance to repent of our self-righteousness and cling to the Savior, regardless of what “color” (red or blue) we might be.

This Sunday at Wildwood, we will look at Matthew 23:13-22 in part 4 of our “Authentic” sermon series where Jesus talks about the dangers found INSIDE religion when we support religion (even Christianity) without room for Christ.  See you Sunday, September 8 at Wildwood in either our 9:45 or 11:00 service!

Two more . . . from 9/1/19

For many years now, I have been leading worship services in partnership with Wildwood’s Worship Pastor, Greg Hill.  (BTW: We are incredibly blessed to have this man leading our worship each week as a congregation!  But I digress . . .) As a part of every worship service we plan, we actually schedule down to the minute the content that is going into each service.  This kind of precision is necessary when multiple programs are working in tandem throughout the building (children/student/adult classes, multiple worship services, etc.) As such, Greg and I have a running joke that goes something like this:

Greg – “How long is the sermon going to be this week?”

Mark – “Two more minutes than I think.”

This may sound or seem silly to you, but I promise it is really how I feel.  No matter if I have 25 minutes for the sermon (like 3 weeks ago when we took extra time to honor the Hesses), or if I have 35 minutes (like I had two weeks ago), or if I have 30 minutes (like yesterday when we celebrated communion), I always wish I had 2 more minutes . . . 27, 32, or 37.  I know that if I had those “two,” invariably I would want 2 more.  Why is that?

You could say it is poor planning, but I actually script things out quite a bit . . . it actually has less to do with me as it has to do with God.  I am not blaming God, but worshipping Him as I say that.  His Word is just so much greater than any time can contain.  If I was simply sharing with you my opinions or personal philosophies, I would need to find ways to STRETCH time, but when God’s Word is at the heart of the sermon, who can exhaust it?

That said, I am going to be experimenting this fall with sharing “two more” with you from the previous message here on my blog.  I won’t do this every week most likely, but just as the Lord leads (and time allows).  I wanted to start this week because there were a couple of things from yesterday’s message I wanted to expand a bit upon.

NOTE:  You can find the 32 minute (ha ha) version of my 30 minute sermon from yesterday by clicking here (yes, it was my fault the service went 2 minutes long.)

Three added thoughts from Authentic (part 3):

  1. “They do all their deeds to be seen by others.  For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long” – Matthew 23:5.  In this verse I made the observation that Jesus was calling out the Pharisees and scribes as “actors wearing costumes” instead of possessing an authentic relationship with God.  In the message we talked about how the Pharisees wore fancy costumes as they worshipped that included “can’t miss them” phylacteries and fancy fringes.  Jesus here was not saying that people could not wear these accessories, but that they should not wear them FOR THE PURPOSE OF IMPRESSING OTHER PEOPLE.  If those items were helpful for worship or to encourage others, I don’t think Jesus would have called them out, but these items were designed to gain personal approval, so Jesus rejected them as a mere costume . . . an imitation, not authentic faith.  I made the application to our use of social media.  There is nothing wrong with the use of social media in connection with our faith . . . but we should not show our practice of our faith through social media as a means to convince other people how spiritual we are.  If we want to post to social media a picture of our Bible while we are having a quiet time in order to encourage our friends and family with a great truth we saw . . . go for it!  But if we want to post a picture of our quiet time on social media just so people know we are having a “quiet time” then we are venturing into phylacteries and fancy fringes.  It is a statement directed at our motivations as much as our actions.  Next time before you post, ask yourself, “why am I posting this? To gain the approval of others (so they will think I am more spiritual/a better person), or because I want to serve them through directing them to this truth or practice?”
  1. “And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 23:9.  Interesting that Jesus does not here say that they should not seek to be called “father” but that they should call “no man father.”  Now, this is not a rejection of the nuclear family, but it is calling out people’s ultimate allegiances.  In the first century, there were various “traditions of the fathers” . . . different streams of thinking passed down from famous rabbis of the past.  Some would say they were of “Father John” while others would say they were of “Father Sam,” etc.  The trajectories can end up way off when people attach themselves to thought “fathers” and take that person’s understanding, theology, philosophy as “gospel” and stop running the opinions of that person through the grid of Scripture.  I made the statement in the message that in our world today, people are equally tempted to associate with the teachings of people. Historically, there are people like Augustine, John Calvin, Martin Luther, or John Wesley – whose theological legacies have influenced millions.  Even today, people attribute much of their understanding of different issues to MacArthur, Piper, Keller, or others.  Jesus here is not denying the value and input of others . . . but He is warning against allowing any human being (and their interpretations/understandings of things) to take precedence over the Scriptures.  Our Heavenly Father Himself is the ultimate authority, and any other human leader is only ultimately authoritative as they are speaking in line with God’s revealed truth in Scripture.  God’s Word itself is to be our ultimate guide. 
  1. “The greatest among you shall be your servant.  Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” – Matthew 23:11-12.  It is fascinating that Jesus ends this section of His message with this statement.  At first glance, it seems like He was just making a generalized/disconnected statement . . . but this comment directly ties to the preceding context.  The Pharisees were promoting a religion that sought to elevate self by showy practices, earthly honors, and fancy titles.  Jesus cuts right to the chase and lets us know that the truly AUTHENTIC followers of God are best known by the love they show for others and the way they serve them.  Isn’t that amazing?  The Pharisees and scribes knew their bibles better than the average person, cared about theology, sought to be extreme in their “practices of personal piety,” and flat out wanted to “look” spiritual.  Yet, Jesus says they were merely actors . . . imitations that missed the mark.  The truly spiritual were not those who elevated themselves, but those who humbled themselves.  The truly spiritual were not those who knew “everything” but those who knew Him.  The truly spiritual were not those who pursued showy practices or fancy titles, but those who rolled up their sleeves to care for another – even if no one saw it (or tweeted about it).  If you want to pursue an authentic relationship with God, it begins with Christ and it plays out in modeling His love and service for others.  Can I get an “AMEN” to that?

Just a few things to continue to reflect on from yesterday.  Now if I only had 2 more minutes 🙂

Authentic (part 3) Sermon Audio

On Sunday, September 1, 2019 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Matthew 23:1-12.  This message was part 3 in the “Authentic” sermon series.  Below you will find the audio from the message to listen to, download, or share.

 

To listen offline, click the link to download:

Authentic #3 9.1.19

 

 

To listen online, use the media player below:

 

To watch the worship service, visit our Facebook stream by clicking here.

 

Authentic (part 3) Sermon Questions

On Sunday, September 1, 2019 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Matthew 23:1-12.  This message was part 3 in the “Authentic” sermon series.  Below are a set of questions related to the message for personal reflection or group discussion.

 

Sermon Questions:

  1. Pray
  2. Read Matthew 23:1-12
  3. What are some of the ways you see people “acting” religious?
  4. From what you know, how does Jesus HELP US in attaining righteousness, instead of simply TELLING US to “be good”?
  5. What are some of the things you are tempted to do/say/post so that others will know you are “spiritual”?  How can you ensure that your relationship with God is more than just “social media” deep?
  6. Have you ever struggled with finding your authority primarily in human authors/pastors/theologians MORE THAN in Jesus and the Scriptures?  What do these verses say about that?
  7. How do you balance giving proper respect to earthly authorities, with having God as your chief authority?
  8. What is one particular application you took away from this message?

To access these questions in pdf format, click here.

Authentic (week 3) Sermon Preview

Every February people all over the United States gather to watch the Academy Awards . . . a night celebrating the year in film, and a night to honor the most outstanding achievements of the past year.

Two of the most coveted Oscars handed out on that night are the prizes for best actor and best actress.  Over the past 5 years, these awards have gone to:

  • 2018 – Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody), Olivia Colman (The Favourite)
  • 2017 – Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour), Frances McDormand (3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
  • 2016 –   Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea), Emma Stone (La La Land)
  • 2015 – Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), Brie Larson (Room)
  • 2014 – Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

These roles represent a lot of variety in genre and personality . . . but each of these roles share something in common.  All 10 of these Oscars were awarded to people who were not playing themselves.  Gary Oldman won the award for playing Winston Churchill not himself.  Emma Stone won for playing Mia Dolan, not Emma Stone.  Now, you may be saying, “Of course!!!!  It is an award for ACTING, not BEING!”  In fact the bigger the gap between the actor’s native persona and the character they play, the greater the acting job (see Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking as exhibit “A”.)

Now I say that, because in this Sunday’s Scripture passage (Matthew 23:1-12), Jesus confronts the Pharisees and Scribes of His day and says they are merely ACTING like God’s children.  Jesus sees a big gap between what these religious leaders were saying and doing, and who they really were on the inside.  Far from giving them an award, Jesus was calling these hypocrites out for judgment.  They may have received the support of the academy of their peers, but God saw past the show . . . and was not impressed.

Can you and I relate to this story?  Do we talk a better “game” than we live?  Do we put on a show at Bible study and church that is better than we really are?  And if so . . . so what?  And if we want to change . . . how do we change?  And what HOPE does Jesus provide in the midst of this all (HINT:  A LOT OF HOPE!!!)

These are just some of the things we will be looking at as we tackle part 3 of our “Authentic” sermon series this Sunday at Wildwood.  Hope to see you in our 9:45 or 11:00 service.  Join us for worship, the Lord’s Supper, community, and a deep dive into God’s Word.  See you Sunday!

Authentic (Part 2) Sermon Audio

On Sunday, August 25, 2019 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Matthew 21:18-22, 28-32.  This message was part 2 of the “Authentic” sermon series.  Below is the audio from the sermon to listen to online, download, or share.

 

To listen offline, click the link to download:

Authentic #2 8.25.19

 

 

To listen online, use the media player below:

 

To watch a video of the entire service, visit the Facebook stream by clicking here.

 

Authentic (part 2) Sermon Questions

On Sunday, August 25, 2019 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Matthew 21:18-22, 28-32.  This message was part 2 in the “Authentic” sermon series.  Below, you will find questions related to this message for personal reflection or group discussion.

 

Sermon Questions:

  1. Pray
  2. Read Matthew 21:18-22, 28-32
  3. What are some examples you can think of where an “imitation” has proven hurtful to you in your life?
  4. Think of your experience with religion (particularly Christian religion) in your past.  What are some of the activities you have seen Christians do that could have the possibility of being merely a “leaf” (having the appearance of godliness, but no real substance behind it)?  In your experience, how can you tell if someone’s relationship with God (including your own) is bearing the “fruit” of authenticity?
  5. On a scale of 1-10 (where “1” is non-existent and “10” is exemplary), how would you rate your prayer life right now?  What is the correlation you see between an authentic faith and going before the Lord in prayer?  What is one thing you can do to increase your dependence upon the Lord in prayer?
  6. In the parable Jesus tells of the two sons in 21:28-32, which of the two sons do you resonate with the most?  (NOTE:  We ALL can be the “obedient” son if we simply choose to respond in faith to Jesus today!)
  7. What is one particular application you took away from this message?

To access these questions in pdf format, click here.