What's a miracle? Many people use this word in all sorts of ways today. Some call the birth of a baby the "miracle of life." When some are in a near miss car accident, they say, "it's a miracle." A technical definition from Vines is: "power, inherit ability, is used of works of a supernatural origin and character, such as could not be produced by natural agents and means." So to put it simply: a miracle is an event in which God supersedes or suspends the laws of nature. Miracles are events that nature or man could never do by themselves. Miracles are a direct act of God. It is not the odd, unusual or the rare. Miracles are the impossible. They are things that could NEVER happen. So things that occur once every few generations is not a miracle. If someone has a 1 and ninety-million chance of sinning a contest and wins, that is not a miracle. Surviving from a plane wreck is not a miracle. Snow in the spring is not a miracle.
In the gospel of Mark, more attention is given to what Jesus did than what He taught or prayed. Consider in the first chapters of this gospel all the miracles Jesus performed:
- Cast out the demon of the man in the synagogue (Mark 1:22-27)
- Healed Peter's mother-in-law (Mark 1:30)
- Healed the ill and demon-possessed (Mark 1:32-34)
- Cast out demons (Mark 1:39)
- Healed a leper (Mark 1:40-42)
- Healed a paralytic (Mark 2:1-12)
- Healed a withered hand (Mark 3:1-5)
Jesus was busy! We see how active Jesus was in just these first few chapters! In performing these miracles Jesus was demonstrating who He was - the Son of God. He was doing things that only God could do. He healed by word or by simply touching them. He walked on water. He calmed the storms with His voice. he raised the dead. His deeds confirmed the truth He was speaking, that He was the Son of God. Can you imagine seeing the things Jesus did? Can you imagine what it would be like to see Jesus performing these miracles? Would they cause you to have stronger faith in Him? What about the miracles you read of? God had incredible moments in Jesus' life recorded for us, to help produce faith in Him (John 20:30-31). What do you think of those miracles? Do they impress and amaze you? Do they help strengthen your faith in Jesus? Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God, not only because of what He said, but also because of what He did?
SINNERS CAN CHANGE
(HOW SINNERS CAN CHANGE)
The sermon tonight is a continuation of the sermon I preached this morning entitled “Sinners Can Change.”
The Bible teaches that it is possible to go too far and too long in the practice of sin ... and ultimately reach a “point of no return.”
- You can go beyond the reach of the gospel.
- You can reach a point in the practice of sin where it is no longer possible for you to be brought to repentance
- For that reason, we need to be reminded often of the dangers and consequences of sin.
But the Bible also teaches that sinners can change.
- Those who have not reached a point of no return, can return.
- The Bible examples of Manasseh, Rahab, the Corinthians, and the sinful woman of Lk 7 prove that sinners can change.
1. The Bible teaches us that sinners can change, and it teaches us how sinners can change.
The Bible teaches us in a very specific way, and in a very practical way, how sinners can overcome their sins.
- Drunkards can quit drinking … and the Bible tells them HOW.
- Liars can quit lying
- Fornicators, adulterers, and homosexuals can quit their immorality
- Thieves can quit stealing
- Filthy talkers can quit cursing and profaning God’s name
- And the Bible tells them HOW to do it!
- The Bible is a very practical HOW TO book.
- Tit 2:11-12 says: “For the saving grace of God has appeared to all men, instructing us in order that denying impiety and worldly lusts, we might live sensibly, and righteously, and piously in the present age” (Marshall’s Interlinear lit. tr.)
- Or, “For God’s favor has appeared with its offer of salvation to all mankind, training us to give up godless ways and worldly cravings and live serious, upright, and godly lives in this world” (Williams’ translation)
2. This is the Bible’s 7 step program to help you overcome the sin in your life.
The first step is: Be completely honest about your sin. Confess it sincerely to yourself and to God. . .and to others when it’s appropriate.
- In Psa 32:2 David said: “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no guile."
- “no guile” means “no dishonesty, no attempt to disguise, gloss over, extenuate, or justify the sin” (Speaker’s Commentary)
- And in Psa 51 we see in David an excellent example of a man who has finally faced up to his sins with complete honesty.
- David has “come to himself” and he sees his adultery with Bathsheba, and his treachery against her husband, as "TRANSGRESSION, INIQUITY, SIN, (and EVIL), involving every kind and degree of guilt” (Speaker’s Commentary)
- Read Psa 51:1-4
- A.A. has helped many drunkards to quit drinking with their 12 step program to sobriety.
- Step 1 says: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable”
- Step 5 says: “We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs”
- And the A.A. people will tell you that no alcoholic is going to quit drinking until he faces up to the fact that he is an alcoholic ... and I believe that’s true with regard to any sin, not just drunkenness
- Confession is good for the soul.
The second step is: Decide that you really want to change ... that you really want to overcome the sins in your life.
- God will not help you until you do.
- and you really can't help yourself until you do
- in fact, no one can
- Sometimes sin gets people into such miserable, unhappy situations that they’re willing to try anything ... even religion!
- But oftentimes they’re confused about what they really want. It may be that what they really want is relief, not repentance
- Oftentimes the sinner wants to change his situation, but he doesn’t really want to change himself
- Listen to what James says about the man who asks God for help when he really hasn’t firmly made up his mind that he wants what he’s asking for: Jas 1:6-8– ““But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
- “double-minded” is literally “two-souled.” It means “undecided” (Vincent’s); “wavering, uncertain, doubting; divided in interest” (Thayer)
- The man who hasn’t made up his mind about what he really wants will receive no help from the Lord ... and he will not overcome his sins until he makes up his mind that he really wants to
- In the A.A. program, step 6 says: “We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”
- For a sinner to change, he must decide that he really wants to change
The third step is: Learn to love God.
- Jesus said: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word ...” (Jn 14:23)
- If we love Him, we want to please Him
- Love for God is a very strong motivation to overcome sin
- But to love God we must first learn to truly appreciate God’s love for us.
- Because lJn 4:19 says: “We love Him because He first loved us”
- Everything about Jesus is deserving of our love, but most of all, His willingness to die on the cross because of our sins.
- Read: “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross”
When I survey the wondrous cross On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, Save in the death of Christ, my Lord;
All the vain things that charm me most I sacrifice them to His blood.
See, from His head, His hands, His feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did ever such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.
- Truly, God loves us; And anyone who truly loves God will quit the sins in his life.
The fourth step is: Learn to trust God.
- Paul said: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Php 4:13)
- If we put our trust in God, He has promised to help us overcome every temptation.
- 1Cor 10:13 says: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able; but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it”
- Eph 3:20 – “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,”
- We don’t have to know how God will help us ... we just have to trust Him that He can and will help
The fifth step is: Read the Bible every day.
- Do you realize that when you read from the Bible you’re listening to God?
- Who could possibly be a better influence on you than Him?
- The writer of Hebrews tells us “the word of God is living and active” (Heb.4:12, NAS).
- And Paul says, “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom 1:16)
- And again, it was Paul who said: “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Ac 20:32)
- If you really want to overcome the sins in your life, you will listen to God everyday.
The sixth step is: Pray to God every day.
- In the A.A. program, alcoholics who are trying to overcome their sin are told to begin and end each day with prayer.
- “Dear God, please help me to be sober this day”
- “Father, thank you for another day of sobriety”
- We often fail to overcome temptation because we try to do it all by ourselves instead of asking God for His help.
- 1Pet 5:6-7 says: “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you”
The seventh step is: surround yourself with faithful Christians.
- Oftentimes it’s our friends that drag us down.
- “Do not be deceived: Evil company corrupts good habits” (lCor 15:33)
- And listen to the wise counsel of the Proverbs:
- Prov 13:20 – “He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will be destroyed”
Summary of the last 3 steps: the powerful influences of daily Bible study, daily prayer, and constant association with faithful Christians will make it very hard to continue in the practice of any sin.
I believe you can see that the Bible is very practical in telling us how to overcome sin.
- Sinners can change ... and the Bible tells us HOW.
- It tells us how we can overcome the sins in our own lives
- It tells us how we can help others to overcome the sins in their lives
- Don't be deceived by the simplicity of what I’ve said about how to change and overcome your sins.
- Naaman the leper, in 2Kgs 5, almost refused the “cure” for his leprosy because he was expecting to be told to do “some great thing”
- What I’ve said ... what the Bible tells you to do ... may seem too simple, but it will work
- You can be what God wants you to be.
- Bill Walton
One of the most powerful and meaningful words of the English languish is this short, four letter word, "home." This small word can fill the heart with such hope, and can bolster the soul with such confidence. Home stirs a sense of longing in our hearts. Home reminds us of what is truly important. When we find ourselves in the midst of life's business, the crazy schedules, the impossible demands each day brings, home can still the mind with ease and peace, helping us realize that this toil and labor won't always be.
The Apostle Paul knew about the importance of home. Paul knew suffering. Paul faced more hardship in his life than most of us could imagine. In spite of his anguish, he remembered home. "We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord." 2 Cor. 5:8
What was Paul's desire/ He longed to leave this world behind and to be home with God. What a wonderful thought! I've heard it said before that home is where the heart is. For the Christian, home is where the Lord is. Don't let your worries and pains drag you down. Remember that for this moment we are just pilgrims. We're on our way home. Keep your eyes heavenward, and your thoughts on the Lord (Col. 3:2). Let's never become so comfortable in our life's situations that we fail to have the longing Paul expressed, preferring to be with His Lord. What a glorious day that will be! Dorothy said it best, "There's no place like home."
In Exodus 3 we find a series of excuses Moses gave to God as to why he was not capable of fulfilling God's plans. In the midst of these excuses Moses asks, "Who shall I say sent me?" The Lord answers " Them them that I Am has sent you, and further more that is My name that I want to be known by throughout all generations. This is my name forever." (Ex. 3:9-15) What God is saying is that I want you to know me by My name.
Names are important. We like it when people remember our name. In school we listen intently to hear our name called on the role, and hope that it is pronounced correctly. The name of the Lord is important, not only to Him, but it also should be to us! There are many names given for God in the Bible, and each one describes something about God. Here are a few examples:
- Jehovah Nissi - the Lord is our banner
- Jehovah Shalom - the Lord is our peace
In Exodus 3 we come across a name different than all the other names of the Lord. It is the most special name, the most holy and most personal name of the Lord. It is the name JEHOVAH. This is the name God said is to be remembered for all generations, used for all time.
In revealing His name to man God is showing:
- That He wants a personal relationship with us. He is not a distant God. He is not the God of the past, of the OT, that we only read about like a historical figure. He is not the God of the future, that one day we will know Him. He said He is the "I AM." Always present. Always existing.
- We can know more about Him. Names are revealing. Today we choose names that sound good. Some names are passed along, they've been in the family for years. Some are chosen to be different and unique. There was a time when names were given with the intent of displaying meaning and definition. For example, the name Daniel means, "God is my judge." The name David means, "beloved." The name Joshua means, "God saves." The name Immanuel means, "God with us." This special name that God has given, JEHOVAH, means "the everlasting God." It reveals God's nature - He always has been and always will be. He is the One from the very beginning. He is the One who brought everything into existence. Since He always has been, He always will be. Therefore I don't need to fear or feel alone because God ALWAYS will be (Heb. 13:5-6). He is not the "I could be..." or "I might one day be..."; He is the "I Am." What He is, He will always be. He is good (Jas. 1:17), and will always be good. He is holy (1 Pet. 1:16), and will always be holy. We learn a lot from His name!
When we turn to the New Testament we find the I Am in Jesus. In 8 statements Jesus identifies Him as the I Am, the One who always has been, and always will be: I am the bread of life (Jn. 6:35); I am the light (Jn. 8:12); I am the door (Jn 10:7); I am the good shepherd (Jn 10:11); I am the resurrection and the life (Jn. 11:25); I am the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6); I am the vine (Jn 15:1).
Here's a short poem reminding us of the great I Am:
"When my life fall apart who will stand with me?" I Am
"When the whole world needs to know of Jesus, who will tell them?" I Am
"Who will make sure truth will prevail over evil?" I Am
"I cannot do life on my own. I need someone to help me." I Am
"Who is smart enough to figure this out?" I Am
"If my family falls apart who will take care of me then?" I Am
"What if chemo is not enough?" I Am
"What if surgery is not a success?" I Am
"Who will stay with me in this empty house now that my mate's gone?" I Am
"Who will help me out of this pit of despair?" I Am
"God, I desperately need something fresh in my life." I Am
"Our world seems to be crumbling at the seems, what will last?" I Am
"Nobody is listening." I Am
"Nobody gives me friendship." I Am
"Nobody is on my side." I Am
"I am going under, somebody please help me." I Am
"My family deserves better than I have given them." I Am
"Who will make sense of this world and give my life meaning? " I Am
" I always have been, I always will be and this is my name forever. I Am."
In the relatively short time I’ve been here, I’ve done a lot of preaching in which I warned about the dangers and consequences of sin, and about how entangling and enslaving sin can be.
- Just consider some of the sermon titles I've preached:
- “NONE WHO GO TO HER RETURN AGAIN” is a sermon from Prov 2:19, warning against the sin of adultery ... that most people who commit adultery never quit!
- “NO PLACE FOR REPENTANCE” is a sermon from Heb 12:17, warning of how the this-life consequences of sin can be so tragic, and sometimes without remedy. One of the main points of the lesson was that the sinner who continues in sin sometimes completely loses the will to change
- “A COMMAND THAT SOME CANNOT OBEY” is a sermon warning that continuance in sin has caused some to get to the point where they are no longer capable of obeying the Lord’s command to repent
- And consider some of the Bible verses I’ve used in preaching those sermons:
- Prov 5:22 – “His own iniquities entrap the wicked man, And he is caught in the cords of his sin.”
- Heb 6:4-6 – ““For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.”
- 2Pet 2:14 – ““having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children.”
- Heb 10:26-27 – “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.”
- 2Pet 2:20-22 – ““For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”
- 2Th 2:10-12 – “and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
- And those Bible verses mean exactly what they say! And those sermons are needed!
- You can be overcome by sin.
- You can go too far and too long in the practice of sin.
- It is possible to put off repentance until repentance is no longer possible.
But I do not want to be so hard in my depiction of sin, and its dangers and consequences, that I discourage a sinner from even trying to change …. or that I discourage faithful Christians from making an all-out effort to help him change.
- The Bible verses I cited earlier, and my preaching from them, are meant to be a warning ... a sobering warning.
- But they are not meant to lead anyone to despair
- There should be a balance in my preaching and in our efforts toward those in sin: warning and encouragement
- I am concerned that when a sinner finally realizes how serious his sin is ... and how far from God he has gone ... he can become so discouraged and pessimistic about himself and his situation that he gives up on himself.
- Isn’t that what happened to Judas Iscariot? Didn’t he come to see himself as not fit to be the Lord’s disciple ... not fit to be the Lord’s friend ... not fit to be in the company of faithful disciples ... and not fit to live!
- Not everyone who comes to see himself as he is reacts like the Prodigal Son. Some see the long road back as too difficult and too unlikely. So they give up.
- Realizing what you are, and where you are, can be the beginning of repentance … but it can also be the beginning of despair
- I am also concerned that faithful Christians who realize the serious condition a sinner is in ... how opposite to the Christian life he has lived ... may discourage themselves from making diligent effort to save him.
- We may see him as hopeless ... when really he’s just helpless
- We can look at the man who has been a drunkard for 15 years and decide “he’ll be a drunkard for the rest of his life” ... “what’s the use of trying?” ... “he’s a hopeless drunk”
- We can look at the man who has been a wife-beater, a womanizer, and an overbearing, self-centered, self-serving tyrant and decide “nothing is going to change him”
- We can look at a woman who has divorced her husband, given up her children, started going to bars and dressing and talking like a slut, and decide “she’s gone” ... “she’s worthless”
1. I believe that sinners can change because the Bible teaches it.
Even those who have been involved in gross sin, and those who have continued long in the practice of sin, can change.
- I believe that sinners can overcome their sins.
- I believe that liars can quit lying.
- Thieves can quit stealing.
- Drunkards can quit drinking.
- Adulterers and fornicators can quit immorality.
The Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, teaches that sinners can change.
- Ezek 18:20-23,27-32
- “a wicked man (can turn) from all his sins which he has committed” (vs21)
- He can consider and turn away from all the transgressions which He committed (vs28)
- He can get “a new heart and a new spirit” (vs31)
- Lk 15:3,11-24
- Jesus associated with sinners because sinners can change.
- This parable, as well as the 2 before it, illustrates that sinners can change ... even one who has squandered his inheritance with harlots (Lk 15:30)
- 1Cor 5:1-5
- Although this man was guilty of such gross immorality that it wasn’t even named among the pagan Gentiles, Paul knew it was still possible for this man to change and be saved.
- And Paul was right! (2Cor 2:6-8)
- Although this man was guilty of such gross immorality that it wasn’t even named among the pagan Gentiles, Paul knew it was still possible for this man to change and be saved.
2. And the Bible gives us some outstanding examples of very sinful people who turned away from their practice of sin.
Consider: Manasseh, king of Judah
- “Mannaseh seduced Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the children of Israel” (vs9)
- He even built altars for the worship of false gods in the 2 courts of the temple (vs5), and put an idol in the temple itself (vs7)
- He even sacrificed some of his own children as burnt offering in the Valley of Hinnom (vs6)
- And the Lord had spoken to Manasseh, but he would not listen (vs10).
- But, God’s punishment worked. Manasseh truly repented (vs11-16)
- “he implored the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly” (vs12)
Consider: Rahab the harlot
- Just think about the kind of life she lived as a prostitute! Any man for a price!
- But, she became a believer in the God of Israel and changed her life completely (Jas 2:25)
- And she became the wife of Salmon, and the mother of Boaz who married Ruth ... and she became an ancestor to the Lord (Matt 1:5).
Consider: The Corinthians.
- “Corinth was a wicked city even as larger cities in the empire went at this period. The very term ‘Corinthian’ meant a profligate, and the verb ‘to Corinthianize’ meant to have intercourse with prostitutes ... Money was freely spent for sinful pleasures. Paul wrote his description of Pagan vice, Rom 1:18-32, in Corinth” (Lenski’s Introduction).
- The temple of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, which overlooked the city from Acrocorinthus, was served by as many as 1,000 temple prostitutes at times
- But Paul and Apollos and others preached the gospel even in Corinth.
- And from among fornicators, adulterers, idolators, homosexuals, and thieves. . .some were washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus!
Consider: The sinful woman of
- “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven” (vs47)
- And, according to the Lord’s teaching, those who have been the most sinful, if brought to a true repentance, will love Him most (vs42-43,47)
Summary: Yes, sinners can change. And the biggest sinners can become the most devout disciples.
- Tonight, in Part 2 of this lesson, I’m going to talk about HOW a sinner can change ... HOW a sinner can overcome any sin.
I know that it’s possible to go too far and too long in the practice of sin, and get to a point that is beyond help and beyond hope.
- But just the fact that you’re in this assembly this morning means you probably haven’t reached that point ... yet.
- If there is sin in your life now ... sin that you haven’t repented of and turned away from ... why not do that now?
- • Why not now, while there is time and opportunity?
- • Why not now, while your heart is yet tender and you still have the desire to change?
- Read the words to the song: “Lord, I’m Coming Home.”
I’ve wandered far away from God, Now I’m coming home;
The paths of sin too long I’ve trod, Lord, I’m coming home.
I’ve wasted many precious years, Now I’m coming home;
I now repent with bitter tears, Lord, I’m coming home.
I’m tired of sin and straying, Lord, Now I’m coming home.
I’ll trust Thy love, believe Thy word, Lord, I’m coming home.
My soul is sick, my heart is sore, Now I’m coming home;
My strength renew, my hope restore, Lord, I’m coming home.
Coming home, coming home, Never more to roam,
Open wide Thine arms of love, Lord, I’m coming home.
- Bill Walton
Worry. Anxious. Stressed. We know these feelings well. Worry plagues the mind and burdens the heart. We worry about finances. We worry about health. We worry about our family, especially our children. We worry about the economy and our jobs. We worry about the future. Worry seems to show a lack of confidence and assurance. It communicates the feelings of doubt, uncertainty, and fear.
Jesus said that we are not to worry (Matt. 6:25, 31, 34). It's not a gimmic or a simple saying to make us feel better. Jesus shows us how we have exactly what we need to live a life free from the burden of worry.
- We have a God who provides. In the context of the statments in Matthew 6 Jesus uses two illustrations to show why we don't need to worry. He shows us the birds, and how each bird has food to eat, and a nest to live in (Psalm 104:16-17). He shows us the lilies of the field, the pretty little flowers which are made so beautiful. The point Jesus is making is that if God takes care of the birds and the flowers, will not He care and provide for us, for humans who were made in His image (Gen. 1:26)? Trust in the God who provides and cares, even for the small things in this world.
- Jesus said that our heavenly Father knows about our every need (Matt. 6:32). Are you feeling worrried? Anxious? Is something troubling your heart? Turn to God. Talk to Him about it. As Peter said, cast your anxieties on the Lord because He cares for you (1 Pet. 5:7). Instead of wallowing in fear and stress, give it to God. Let your concern motivate you to take these issues to the One who can do something about it! Remember, God cares for you. Tell Him of your concerns. Open your heart to Him.
God provides. God listens. God cares. What calms the weary, worried heart is drawing near to God. God is ready to listen. Why not open up to Him now?
"Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." Matthew 11:11
There are many similarities between Jesus and John.
- They were related (Luke 1:36)
- Both were prophesied about from the OT (Mal. 4:5-6; Isa. 9:6-7)
- Both of their births were announced by angels (Luke 1:13-14; Luke 1:31-32)
- Both were preachers (Luke 3:3; Matt. 4:17)
- Both were killed (Matt. 14:10; Matt. 27:35, 50)
Though they were similar, John recognized his place. He was the humble servant of the almighty God who had come to earth (Matt. 3:11, John 3:28). In fact, when some of John's disciples began to leave him to follow Jesus, John's attitude was that, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). Even though John had his questions about Jesus' true identity (Matt. 11:3-4), we also see his great faith in declaring Jesus' position and purpose: the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29).
John is a great example for us. Our role is not to point others to ourselves. Like John, we must decrease and Jesus must increase. This is true in our influence towards others - that they should see less of me and more of Jesus in the way I conduct myself. This is also true in terms of person application - I must decrease and Jesus must increase. It is replacing my will, my focus, and my desires with the will, focus, and desires of the Lord. As we sing in the song, "Less of self, and and more of Thee." And as we see in the words of Jesus above, those least in the kingdom, the lowly servants of Christ today are greater than John. How do you measure up to John? Are you submitting to Christ's will? Are you seeking to advance the borders of God's kingdom, or the borders of your own life? Think on this today - less of self, and more of Jesus!
LEARNING TO FORGIVE
An old slave had defied his master’s order not to read the Bible, and his master was beating him for it. As the whip tore his flesh again and again, his master began to taunt him, saying, “What can your Bible do for you now, old man?” The old slave re-plied, “It can teach me to forgive you.”
Could that story possibly be a true story?
a. It doesn’t seem possible that anyone could be that forgiving, does it?
b. You might think: “After the beating was over and after his wounds had healed, maybe the old slave was able to forgive his master. But nobody could even think of forgiving while the whip was still ripping at his flesh.”
And yet, the Bible tells us that some men have done just that.
a. Jesus did that.
• Lk 23:34 -- “Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’”
• You will be tempted to dismiss the example of Jesus forgiving his executioners because He was both human and Divine, and you are “only human.”
• But Jesus says: “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (Jn 13:15).
• And Peter reminds us: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, we should follow His steps . . .” (1Pet 2:21).
b. Stephen did that.
• Ac 7:59-60 -- “And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ 60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
• And, of course, Stephen was altogether human.
• But he was so thoroughly influenced by the teaching and example of Jesus that he had come to have the same forgiving spirit.
• Isn’t that what Peter is talking about when he says: “. . . through these (Christian virtues) you may become partakers of the Divine nature . . .” (2 Pet 1:4).
The purpose of this lesson is to show you how it is possible for you to learn to forgive like Jesus and Stephen forgave.
a. I want to help you see how the “impossible” can be made possible.
1. We can learn to forgive like Jesus and Stephen if we rid ourselves of every vestige of self-righteousness.
The self-righteousness that is so incompatible with a forgiving spirit was typified by the Pharisees of Jesus’ day -- and Jesus exposed the ugliness and foolishness of their self-righteousness in some of His parables.
a. Luke 18:9-14 -- “Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men -- extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’”
b. In Luke 15 Jesus uses 3 parables to respond to the self-righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.
• The self-righteous attitude of the Pharisees is plain for all to see in Lk 15:1-2: “Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. 2 And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, ‘This Man receives sinners and eats with them.’”
b. Jesus responds to the self-righteous attitude of the Pharisees with 3 parables.
• The Parable of the Lost Sheep (vs 3-7) -- a man with a hundred sheep loses; so he leaves the ninety-nine sheep in the wilderness and searches for the lost sheep until he finds it, and then he rejoices over the lost sheep that has been brought back to the fold.
• The Parable of the Lost Coin (vs 8-10) -- a woman with ten silver coins loses one, and she turns the house upside down until she finds it, and then she rejoices over finding the lost coin.
• The Parable of the Lost Son (vs 11-32) -- a man has two sons, and the younger of the two sons asks for his portion of the inheritance and then he leaves home and spends his inheritance in prodigal living.
+ When he has squandered his inheritance and is reduced to feeding swine, he “comes to himself,” sincerely repents, and returns to his father.
+ His father rejoices and receives him back with open arms, but his older brother is resentful of the father’s willingness to forgive and accept him back.
c. The teaching of Jesus in this chapter . . .
• is a warning to us that we must not have the unforgiving attitude of the older brother.
+ vs32 -- “It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found”
• gives proof that no sin is so sinful that the Father is not willing to receive the repentant sinner back with open arms .
+ vs 20-24 -- “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. 23 And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. And they began to be merry.”
+ 1Cor 6:9-11 -- “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”
• shows us that whatever causes rejoicing in heaven ought to cause rejoicing in us.
+ If there is “more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety- nine righteous persons who need no repentance,” then there ought to be more joy in us over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
+ Luke 15:7 -- “I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.”
+ Luke 15:10 -- “Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
+ Luke 15:32 -- “It is right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.”
2. We can learn to forgive like Jesus and Stephen if we truly understand that we are completely dependent upon mercy ourselves -- the mercy of God.
If you really realize and appreciate the mercy God has shown you, you will be hum-bled by that realization and it will cause you to become sympathetic, compassionate, and merciful toward others.
a. Matt 18:23-34: Parable of the two debtors -- “Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.”
• Consider a man who is forgiven a $10 million debt, but who will not forgive someone else a debt of $17.00!
• The person who has received forgiveness from God for every sin he has ever committed, but is unwilling to forgive someone else, is the unforgiving man in the Lord’s parable.
b. Eph 4:32 -- "And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you."
c. Col 3:13-14 -- "Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection."
d. 2Cor 2:6-8 -- “This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, 7 so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. 8 Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.”
3. We can learn to forgive like Jesus and Stephen if we truly believe that our own salvation is dependent upon our willingness to forgive others.
Someone has very wisely said: “He who will not forgive others burns the bridge over which he himself must pass.”
a. That’s a very wise saying because it’s in perfect harmony with what the Bible everywhere teaches.
• Listen to the final outcome of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matt 18:34, 35 -- “And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers, until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
• And, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt 6:14, 15).
• And with similar words of warning, in Mk 11:25-26, Jesus says: “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
4. We can learn to forgive like Jesus and Stephen if we can learn to look ahead to the good that can result from forgiving.
Paul’s letter to Philemon serves as a good example of what the point I’m trying to make.
a. Paul’s letter was an appeal to Philemon (a Christian who was a slave owner) to forgive Onesimus (his runaway slave) of any wrongs he had committed against him.
b. In his efforts to encourage Philemon’s forgiveness he points out that there is every reason to believe that the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus will be far better, and far more rewarding, than it ever was before.
• vs11 -- “Who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me."
• vs16 -- “No longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord."
Another example is found in Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth.
a. 2 Cor 2:5-7 -- Paul encourages the Corinthians to forgive and comfort the immoral brother they had withdrawn from, and he urges them to reaffirm their love for him (because he has repented).
• And he says, “lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow”
b. By forgiving him and accepting him back they could help him to overcome his sin and keep him from becoming discouraged.
And, at the end of his letter, James says: “Brethren, if any among you wander from the truth, and someone turns him back (and forgiving him would certainly be a part of what’s involved in turning him back, bw), let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (Jas 5;19, 20).
5. We can learn to forgive like Jesus and Stephen as we learn to overcome evil with good.
2Sam 14:13 says that God “devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him” (NIV).
a. We must cultivate that same attitude toward those who have sinned against us.
b. We must sincerely want the one who has hurt us to repent, so that there can be forgiveness and reconciliation.
c. We must “devise ways” to bring about repentance, so that there can be forgiveness and reconciliation.
Actually, God has already devised the ways by which we can hope to achieve reconcil-iation. And it includes this: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21).
a. Joseph, in the Old Testament, is a good example.
• Joseph’s brothers hated him and treated him terribly -- Gen 37:3-11, 18-36
• But, look at how he sought to overcome evil with good -- 45:1-15
+ He willingly forgave them even though he had it in his power to take revenge upon them for what they had done to him.
• It was hard for his brother’s to believe that a man could really be that forgiving -- 50:15-21
• But Joseph was that forgiving . . . and we can learn to be that forgiving too.
We can become partakers of the Divine nature.
And we can learn to forgive like Jesus, and Stephen, and Joseph.
When somebody has been so unkind to you,
Some word spoken that pierces you through and through;
Think how He was beguiled, spat upon, and reviled;
Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in you.
- Bill Walton
While reading may be on the decline in our country, there are still many who enjoy a good book. A book is simply a collection of pages bound together. The pages could be a record. They could be telling a story. They may be a list of facts like an encylopedia.
The word "Bible" simply means books. It is a collection of books - 66.
We find different "books" mentioned throughout the Bible story:
- The covenant between God and man was written in a book (Ex. 24:7)
- Some of the wars which took place were contained in the "Book of Wars" (Num. 21:14)
- There was a "Book of Jashar" which contained David's dirge for Saul and Jonathan (2 Sam. 1:18)
- The genealogies of the exiles were recorded in a book (Neh. 7:5)
- Paul asked Timothy to bring the "books" and the "parchments" when he came (2 Tim. 4:13)
The most important book mentioned is found in Revelation 20. We see the judgment scene where there are many books opened, but there is also a special book called "The book of life." If anyone's name was not found in the book of life, they were thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). Only those whose names are written in the book of life will enter into the dwelling place of God (Rev. 21:27).
Your name can be written in that book today. Paul knew of some fellow workers in the gospel whose names were written in that book (Phil. 4:3). The way to have your name in the book of life, the way to gain life, is through Jesus (John 14:6).
Matthew 4, Mark 1, and Matthew 4 all record the occasion when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by Satan for 40 days. Luke tells us that Jesus hadn't eaten during that time, and was hungry (Luke 4:2). Satan took full advantage of the opportunity. He tempted Jesus' physical desires (appease your hunger, use your powers for yourself, turn the stone to bread - Luke 4:3). He tempted Jesus with the boastful pride of life (if you are the Son of God... I will give you all the kingdoms of the world if you bow down to me - Matt. 4:8-9). He questioned Jesus' trust in the Father (throw yourself down from the Temple, don't you believe God will save you? - Matt. 4:5-6).
What is amazing about Jesus is that He not only withstood the many temptations of Satan, but He did so without using a miracle or His power. Jesus didn't resort to calling the angels to thwart off Satan, or use His power to escape from Satan. Jesus used the very resource God has given to us for strength and support: the Scriptures. Each temptation was answered with "it is written." For us to live like Jesus will mean we too overcome the temptations of Satan and the world, not through our own cleaverness or intelligence, but by appealing and submitting to the will and words of God.