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Jesus’ teaching about thanksgiving (A Thanksgiving Sermon) November 15, 2009

Posted by roberttalley in Luke, Religion, Sermons, Sovereignty, Thanksgiving.
2 comments

JESUS’ TEACHING ON THANKSGIVING
Luke 10:17-23

INTRODUCTION: If you were God, for what blessings would you want people to be MOST thankful? Would you want them to be thankful for their material possessions? for their families? perhaps for the talents and the opportunities that you have given them? or the country in which they have their heritage? For what would you prefer that people be thankful? Of course, God wants us to be thankful in everything and does not limit our thankfulness but it is interesting that Jesus tried to give some perspective to the disciples’ thanksgiving here in Luke 10.

I. Jesus taught that joy in and thanksgiving for our spiritual inheritance is superior to thanksgiving for our spiritual gifts (verses 17-20).

At the beginning of this chapter, Jesus sent out seventy men who, in addition to the twelve, were willing to meet the qualifications for discipleship outlined in Luke 9:57-62: (1) live for heavenly things; (2) recognize the urgency and priority of the call to discipleship; and (3) maintain their focus only on the things of Christ. These seventy men were sent out to preach (Luke 9:60), i.e. announce or declare the kingdom of God. They were to go before Him (verse 1), proclaiming the gospel of the Christ (verses 9 and 11). In addition, He granted them the spiritual gift of healing (verse 9). When they returned to Jesus, they reported that they had been able to exceed expectations. Not only had they proclaimed the gospel and healed people in the villages that had accepted the gospel, they reported that they had been able to exercise the spiritual gift of exorcism, that is, the casting out of demons (verse 17). This was unexpected and it was no doubt exhilarating. It filled them with joy to be able to perform such a mighty miracle.

a. They are not, however, to rejoice in this spiritual gift that God has given them. Jesus, after acknowledging that this ability and protection to overcome Satan’s forces came directly from Him (verses 18-19), told them that thanksgiving is to be rooted in our heavenly citizenship and not in our spiritual success and/or abilities. In other words, first and foremost of importance is not the performance of confirming works but rather your entrance into the kingdom of heaven through faith in the gospel of Christ.

This is the answer to the world’s preoccupation with doing something rather than being according to Henry Blackaby, “A time will come when the doing will be called for, but we cannot skip the relationship. The relationship with God must come first.””

Chuck Swindoll writes about an old survey, “In 1953, a senior class in Houston, Texas was asked, ‘What do you want to do?’ Several said: ‘Make a million bucks.’ Other answers included, ‘…play professional football’, ‘own my own race car and win the Indy 500’, ‘rob Chase Manhattan Bank and escape to Fiji’, ‘finish medical school and have a practice in Honolulu’, ‘marry a rich movie star and live in Beverly Hills’, ‘sing at the Met’, and the infamous ‘live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse.’ The problem however is not how they answered the question but the question they were asked. Instead of what do you want to do, they should have been asked about what they want to be.” That was the emphasis of Jesus in His response to the seventy.

b. We receive heavenly citizenship through faith in the gospel of Christ (verses 8-12). There is a lot of emphasis in the church today on spiritual gifts and not just in the charismatic churches. It is a misplaced emphasis. We need more of an emphasis on faith in the gospel of Christ.

Many people seem to think that spiritual gifts and works make us acceptable to God. Matthew 7:22-23 explains why spiritual gifts and works do not make you a child of God. Jesus said, “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

John 1:12 tells us how to become a child of God, “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.”

So Jesus contrasts the joy of spiritual gifts with the joy of the spiritual inheritance. Now most of us have never cast out demons or performed miraculous healings. Our spiritual gifts may be more mundane but the principle applies just the same. Look down in verses 38-42, where the distracted exercise of a mundane spiritual gift is contrasted with choosing to hear Christ’s words.

The story of Mary and Martha at first appears to be just tacked on to this chapter but when one realizes the lessons found earlier in Luke, it certainly makes sense. Jesus came into a village that apparently received Him, specifically in the house of Martha. Jesus practiced here exactly what He had commanded the seventy in verses 5-8. Martha, however, did not choose to rejoice in her salvation as Mary did but rather to fret and fuss over the preparations of the meal for Jesus Christ.

It is not that Martha did not receive Christ or that the seventy did not believe Christ that Jesus is responding to but rather they are focusing on the wrong thing: the seventy on the spiritual gift of exorcism, Martha on the spiritual gift of service. Jesus is bringing them back to a focus on Himself.

II. Jesus was thankful that His Father revealed the truth of the gospel to those who had no advantage in themselves (verses 21-24).

Christ’s thankfulness and joy in verse 21 refers not just to the reception of the villages and towns of the gospel of Christ but also to the faith of the seventy that produced such discipleship as that which they have just shown. The reason for His joy over the disadvantaged disciple is the disciples’ faith in the gospel of the kingdom.

It could be that Jesus is using a bit of sarcasm when talking about the wise and prudent. One of those wise and prudent men is introduced in verse 25. He was a lawyer, that is, a scribe who was an expert in the law of God. Jesus recognized his expertise when he answered correctly in verse 27, how to inherit eternal life. Yet this man had a spiritual blind spot which is revealed in verse 29 when he asked the self-justifying question, “And who is my neighbor?” This man understood the law, he even understood the spiritual character of the kingdom of God but he knew that he was lacking.

These seventy, however, were neither experts nor teachers. They were, however, men of great faith. Look at what Jesus demanded of them in 10:57-62. Only men of faith would forsake their homes, their families, and their social obligations to tell total strangers that the Messiah is coming. Some villages rejected them and they went on to another. Other villages accepted them. Why? Because God had revealed to them Jesus Christ and they had believed and now were telling others about Him.

a. This knowledge is not found by religious skill or religious intelligence (verses 21-24). Luther, in the last sermon he ever preached, describes the religiously skilled and religiously intelligent as those who try to put the bridle on the wrong end of the horse. Now I do not know a lot about horses but I suspect that will not work!

This lawyer had religious skill. He was a trained scribe. He had religious intelligence. Not only had he hand-copied the Old Testament many times, he had advanced to the place where he had understood its message but when the fulfillment of that message came on the stage, he did not recognize Him.

b. This knowledge comes only through Jesus Christ (verse 22). Verse 22 may be a bit confusing but if you read it carefully, it is clear that there is only one way to come to the Father, that is, to God, through Jesus Christ. Verse 21 reminds us that God found it good to give those without religious skill and training and intelligence an advantage through their knowledge of and faith through Jesus Christ.

i. He helps the helpless. Matthew records in a parallel passage how that Jesus does this. Jesus says, “Come unto Me, all you who are heavy laden and you will find rest for your souls.” The ignorant Galilean fisherman, the women who were looked down upon, the tax collectors and sinners who gladly heard Jesus, these people came to Jesus while the lawyers and the scribes and the Pharisees and the priests stood and looked down their noses at the One who would have gladly saved them from their sin, if only they would have received Him.

Look at the next chapter, Luke 11:52. “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.” These men had all the advantages but rather than accept Christ with the faith of the helpless they rejected Christ and hindered others who would have trusted Christ, if not for their confidence in the religious lawyers, scribes, and teachers.

ii. He teaches the ignorant. How? Verse 23-24 tells us how. He shows them who He is. It is one thing to teach, “I am the Messiah.” It is quite another to prove it through Messianic works like healing, exorcism, and resurrections. I think that is why Romans 5:8 is one of my favorite verses. It says that God showed His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” His death on the cross teaches through showing and proving His love for us. The question is this. Will you believe?

There is a Persian proverb that says, “He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not is a fool; shun him. He who knows not, and knows that he knows not, is a child; teach him.” God wants to teach you, not shun you. Turn to Christ today. Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me…and you will find rest for your souls.”

The Characters of the Book of Esther: Ahasuerus (Xerxes I) March 30, 2008

Posted by roberttalley in Esther, Religion, Sermons, Sovereignty.
2 comments

CHARACTERS IN ESTHER: AHASUERUS

God’s Hand in World Affairs

Esther 1:1-2:18

The Bible makes it clear that from all eternity God had a plan. What is not always clear, is how wicked men, especially wicked rulers are used by God to fulfill His plan. We find in the book of Esther in the character of Ahasuerus an example of how God controls world affairs through the arrogant and sometimes foolish designs of wicked men.

 

God is accomplishing His purposes not in spite of Ahasuerus but rather He is using Ahasuerus to serve His own great purpose, that is, to protect the nation of Israel. This is the theme of the book of Esther. In Esther 2:15-18, we find that the heart of the king and those of his officers were in God’s hand.

He uses Ahasuerus’ political ambitions (1:3-8).

Ahasuerus (Xerxes) was a man of great ambition. He was a man who was used to controlling his own fate as well as the fate of others. Ahasuerus was a very determined man.

Since it was in the “third year of his reign” (483 BC), these festivities would have been just prior to his invasion of Greece, and just after his successful suppression of the Egyptian and Babylonian revolts. This feast is both a celebration as well as a political stunt to boost morale and support for his Grecian campaign after his father Darius the Great had failed in his quest to conquer the Greeks at the battle of Marathon. He was apparently successful because he invaded with a huge army and navy including ten thousand elite soldiers called the Persian Immortals. This is the army that the three hundred Spartans and their allies held off at Thermopylae.

He uses Ahasuerus’ impulsive character (1:9-22 and 2:15c, 17).

We see this in the Bible but we also know this from history. Herodotus tells how shortly after this great feast as Ahasuerus was gathering his army, a man with four sons said to him, I am going with you to Greece and my three youngest sons are going with you to Greece but I ask leave of you that my eldest son might stay here and not go into battle. Ahasuerus in anger said, your son will stay here and he had the eldest son cut in half and set the carcass on the two sides of the road for the army to march between.

After Ahasuerus reached Greece, he attempted to build two bridges over the Hellespont. These bridges were destroyed by a storm. In his anger Ahasuerus ordered that the waters of the strait be whipped three hundred times and then had fetters thrown into the water as a punishment for the storm.

This is the man that Esther is going to have to deal with in our story. We find, however, that God controlled and even used Ahasuerus’ impetuous ways for His purposes (Esther 2:15c, 17). God used his hastiness in deposing a queen and later in his method of acquiring a new queen to allow Esther to become Ahasuerus’ favorite in the harem.

Now Esther was beautiful but in a sense she was just another pretty face. She was lined up with all the other women in the harem. She ate at the same table with them. She dressed the same way they dressed. She acted just like them. Nobody knew she was a Jew. How did she gain favor with the king’s court? What made the king pick her out? They were all good looking. They could all smile. They could all flirt. The reason Esther ended up queen is because God put her there.

He uses Ahasuerus’ life circumstances (compare 1:3 with 2:12-16).

The fierce resistance of the Spartan-led army at Thermopylae offered Athens time to prepare for a decisive naval battle that would determine the outcome of the war. The subsequent Greek victory at the Battle of Salamis left much of the Persian Empire‘s navy destroyed and Xerxes retreated to Asia, leaving a force in Greece under Mardonius, who was to meet the Greeks in battle one last time. The Spartans assembled at full strength and led a pan-Greek army that defeated the Persians decisively at the Battle of Plataea, ending the Greco-Persian War and with it, the expansion of the Persian Empire into Europe.” (adapted from Wikipedia).

Wiersbe: “…all this activity – eating and drinking, dethroning the queen, issuing edicts, and losing the war – was part of God’s plan to rescue His people from annihilation.

We can use Ahasuerus (and the rest of the book of Esther) to learn some important lessons.

Tim Challies tells of looking at a book that his uncle had used that gave step-by-step instructions on how to properly butcher a deer and prepare the meat. This book had chapters on how to butcher cows, pigs, sheep, rabbits, raccoons and chickens. It wasn’t hard to recognize the portion on butchering a deer—those pages were covered in blood. Obviously his uncle had kept this book with him through the butchering process and had turned to it often. There were bloody fingerprints on the edges and drops of blood smeared across the pages. It looked well-used. Apparently it served as a good guide because his uncle managed to properly butcher the deer and prepare it for eating. The week we were there he was preparing a pit in which he could smoke the meat from the next deer that found itself in his crosshairs.

Tim goes on to explain how that there are some pages in our Bibles that are covered in blood, so to speak. They are pages that we use to proclaim or defend our faith; they are pages with verses that uplift and inspire; they are the pages with verses that people like to adapt as their “life verses.” We turn to these pages often and love to learn from them.

But then there is Esther 1-2. The two chapters we are looking at today have little or no blood on them. There is little evidence that we have learned from these pages and that we use them to bolster my faith. There is little evidence that we have used those pages to teach me more about the God I serve (Adapted from Tim Challies at  http://www.challies.com/archives/articles/bible-study/blood-on-the-book.php).

If I may, I would like to drop three drops of blood on these two chapters this morning before we close.

Even when those in power do things that harm us, God can work His purposes through them in us. Whoever He is using in our life, it is a part of His purpose (verse 42). Every political leader, every CEO, every leader of an organization plays in some way a vital part in God’s plan. Why? Because He orders it. In the story of Genesis, Joseph put it this way when talking to his brothers, “You meant this for evil but God meant it for good. We do not need to fear when the events of the day are going against us. We do not need to get even. We need to trust in God’s power and in His purposes.

God is not limited by our character in accomplishing His purposes. Proverbs 21:1says,“ The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” When bad men get worse and worse, God does not get frustrated. God is not limited by our cowardice, our bitterness, our laziness, our lack of faith, or even by our wickedness. He will accomplish His purposes, even if the character of every man and woman on earth was against them, we could not slow Him down for a second.

God shapes every circumstance to accomplish His purposes.

This is often hard for us to accept. Yet it is true and it is a necessary truth. It is the truth that keeps us from debilitating fear and worry, the truth that stands between us and a fatalistic or pessimistic outlook. God is in control is not a catch phrase. It is the truth. That is the message of the book of Esther.

Next week we will look at Esther herself and her reaction to the difficult circumstances in which God put her.