Looking For God
ORIGINAL FREE WILL BAPTIST CHURCH
ROCK RIDGE, NC
JANUARY 21, 2001
YEAR C - EPIPHANY 3
LESSONS: NEHEMIAH 8:2-10; PSALM 43:3-4; LUKE 4:14-21*
“LOOKING FOR GOD?”
LET US PRAY:
COME HOLY SPIRIT, FILL THE HEARTS OF YOUR FAITHFUL, AND KINDLE IN US THE FIRE OF YOUR LOVE. SEND FORTH YOUR SPIRIT AND WE SHALL BE CREATED. O GOD, WHO BY THE LIGHT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT DID INSTRUCT THE HEARTS OF THE FAITHFUL, GRANT THAT BY THAT SAME HOLY SPIRIT WE MAY BE TRULY WISE AND EVER ENJOY YOUR CONSOLATIONS, THROUGH JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD. AMEN.
I WANT TO THANK PASTOR WELLS FOR ASKING ME TO BRING YOU A MESSAGE THIS MORNING AND TO THANK YOU FOR BEING HERE TO RECEIVE THAT MESSAGE.
IT IS ALWAYS A GREAT HONOR TO BE ASKED TO PREACH THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST. IT IS AN ESPECIAL HONOR TO BE ASKED TO FILL THE PULPIT OF SUCH A GREAT PREACHER AS RAY WELLS.
NEHEMIAH 8:2-10 Judaism is born. Ezra reads the Law
8 2Accordingly, on the first day of the seventh month, the priest Ezra brought the Law before the assembly, consisting of men, women and all those old enough to understand.3In the square in front of the Water Gate, in the presence of the men and women, and of those old enough to understand, he read from the book from dawn till noon; all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.4The scribe Ezra stood on a wooden dais erected for the purpose; beside him stood, on his right, Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; on his left, Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam.5In full view of all the people—since he stood higher than them all—Ezra opened the book; and when he opened it, all the people stood up.6Then Ezra blessed Yahweh, the great God, and all the people raised their hands and answered, ‘Amen! Amen!’ then they bowed down and, face to the ground, prostrated themselves before Yahweh.7And Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabab, Hanan, Pelaiah, who were Levites, explained the Law to the people, while the people all kept their places.8Ezra read from the book of the Law of God, translating and giving the sense; so the reading was understood.9Then His Excellency Nehemiah and the priest–scribe Ezra and the Levites who were instructing the people said to all the people, ‘Today is sacred to Yahweh your God. Do not be mournful, do not weep.’ For the people were all in tears as they listened to the words of the Law.10He then said, ‘You may go; eat what is rich, drink what is sweet and send a helping to the man who has nothing prepared. For today is sacred to our Lord. Do not be sad: the joy of Yahweh is your stronghold.’
LOOKING FOR GOD? ARE WE LOOKING FOR GOD?
A FEW YEARS AGO THERE WAS A SONG THAT CONTAINED THE LINE, “LOOKING FOR LOVE IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES.”
SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE WE, IN THE CHURCH, ARE “LOOKING FOR GOD IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES”.
LET US REVIEW TOGETHER WHAT SCRIPTURE MIGHT REVEAL ABOUT OUR “LOOKING FOR GOD.”
TO SET THE STAGE FOR THE LESSON FROM NEHEMIAH, WE MUST UNDERSTAND THAT THE PEOPLE HAD BEEN AWAY IN CAPTIVITY FOR 70 YEARS. DURING THE 500 YEARS FROM KING DAVID TO KING JOHOIAHIM, THE PEOPLE HAD BECOME COMPLACENT AND HAD IGNORED THE TORAH, THE LAW.
NOW THE PEOPLE WERE CALLED TOGETHER AND EZRA READ TO THEM FROM GOD’S WORD…FROM THE WORD THAT TOLD THEM WHO THEY REALLY WERE…FROM THE WORD THAT TOLD THEM TO WHOM THEY BELONGED…FROM THE WORD THAT TOLD THEM WHO GOD REALLY WAS…FROM THE WORD THAT TOLD THEM HOW MUCH GOD LOVED THEM…FROM THE WORD THAT TOLD THEM HOW MUCH GOD WISHED AND LONGED FOR THEIR RETURN TO HOLINESS…AND THE PEOPLE WEPT.
AT THAT HOLY MOMENT, AT THAT POINT IN TIME, WHEN TIME SEEMED TO STAND STILL, THE PEOPLE WEPT.
MEN AND WOMEN AND CHILDREN, OLD ENOUGH TO UNDERSTAND, HAD BEEN CALLED TOGETHER, THE WHOLE ASSEMBLY OF THE PEOPLE, AND WHEN THE SCROLL WAS OPENED THEY ALL STOOD UP. THEY KNEW SOMETHING IMPORTANT WAS ABOUT TO HAPPEN, THEY KNEW SOMETHING HOLY WAS ABOUT TO HAPPEN, FOR WHEN THE READING BEGAN, THEY BOWED THEIR HEADS, FELL DOWN, AND PROSTRATED THEMSELVES BEFORE GOD.
THE ENTIRE COMMUNITY OF FAITH, THE ENTIRE CONGREGATION OF ISRAEL, WAS FACE DOWN BEFORE GOD WEEPING. THEY HEARD THE STORY OF HOW GOD HAD CREATED THEM, OF HOW GOD HAD LED THEM OUT OF CAPTIVITY, OF HOW GOD GAVE THEM THE LAW AND THE LAND, OF HOW GOD HAD LOVED THEM AND CONTINUALLY SENT MESSENGERS CALLING THEM TO REPENT, AND THEY STARTED TO UNDERSTAND WHO THEY REALLY WERE AND WHO GOD REALLY WAS, AND THEY WEPT.
BUT NEHEMIAH, EZRA, AND THE LEVITES WHO HAD HELPED INTERPRET THE READING UNDERSTOOD SOMETHING ELSE ABOUT THIS EVENT. THEY UNDERSTOOD THAT IT WAS A MOMENT OF JOY, NOT A MOMENT OF SADNESS. SO THEY TOLD THE PEOPLE TO STOP WEEPING, TO GET UP AND GO, TO CELEBRATE WITH FINE FOOD AND DRINK, AND TO SEND A SHARE TO ALL WHO COULD NOT PROVIDE FOR THEMSELVES.
NEHEMIAH, EZRA, AND THE LEVITES UNDERSTOOD THAT IF THIS HOLY MOMENT WAS TO LAST LONGER THAN A FEW HOURS OR A FEW DAYS, THAT IT MUST BE CELEBRATED AND SHARED. IT MUST ESPECIALLY BE SHARED WITH THE POOREST AND LEAST POWERFUL IN THE COMMUNITY.
THEY UNDERSTOOD THAT IF GOD’S WORD AND EVEN GOD’S HOLY PRESENCE AMONG THE PEOPLE WERE GOING TO LAST AND IF IT WERE TO BE LIFE CHANGING, IT MUST BE CELEBRATED AND IT MUST BE SHARED.
SO WHERE SHALL WE FIND GOD? WHERE SHALL WE LOOK?
THE ANSWER IS IN GOD’S WORD, AS WE HEAR IT, READ IT, STUDY IT. THE ANSWER IS IN CELEBRATION AS WE PRAY, PRAISE, AND WORSHIP. THE ANSWER IS IN SHARING AS WE TRANSLATE THE HEARING OF GOD’S WORD AND OUR CELEBRATION OF GOD’S HOLINESS INTO THE ACTION OF INCLUDING AS MANY AS POSSIBLE IN OUR CELEBRATION.
ARE WE LOOKING FOR GOD? ARE WE LONGING TO BE RECONNECTED TO THE GOD WHO CREATED US, WHO HAS SET US FREE, WHO LOVES US AND LONGS FOR OUR RETURN? THEN WE MUST READ AND STUDY GOD’S WORD, WE MUST PRAY, PRAISE, WORSHIP AND CELEBRATE THE TRUTH OF GOD’S LOVE, AND FINALLY WE MUST SHARE THIS WITH THE LEAST IN OUR COMMUNITY.
BELOVED, GOD’S WORD AND OUR CELEBRATION IS EMPTY UNLESS IT IS SHARED. IF WE COME HERE TO THIS HOLY PLACE AND HEAR GOD’S WORD AND IF WE GO HOME AND CELEBRATE WHAT WE HAVE HEARD BUT FAIL TO SHARE IT, THEN GOD WILL NOT HAVE BEEN FOUND, OUR LOOKING FOR GOD WILL HAVE BEEN IN VAIN, GOD’S PURPOSE WILL NOT HAVE BEEN FULFILLED, AND WE WILL HAVE FAILED IN OUR RESPONSE TO GOD’S LOVE. BELOVED, IF GOD LOVES US AND GOD DOES LOVE US, ARE WE NOT BOUND TO SHARE THAT LOVE? TO UNDERSTAND GOD’S LOVE AND TO CELEBRATE GOD’S LOVE IS NOT ENOUGH; WE MUST SHARE IT.
PLEASE TURN IN YOUR PEW BIBLES TO PSALM 43:3-4.
FOR ALMOST THREE THOUSAND YEARS AND EVEN TO THIS DAY, THOSE READYING THEMSELVES TO LEAD THE PEOPLE IN WORSHIP, HAVE SAID THESE WORDS. 3O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles. 4Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God.
THESE TWO VERSES FROM PSALM 43 ARE AN ADMISSION THAT THOSE WHO LEAD GOD’S PEOPLE IN WORSHIP NEED GOD’S LIGHT AND TRUTH, EVEN TO FIND THE ALTER. THEY ARE A PLEA FOR GOD TO SHOW THE WAY AND THEY ARE A PROMISE THAT IF GOD WILL SHOW THE WAY, WE WILL INDEED GO TO THE ALTER AND PRAISE GOD’S HOLY NAME.
THE INSTRUCTION HERE MAY BE FOR US: WE MAY THINK WE KNOW THE WAY TO THE ALTER OF GOD, WE SOMETIMES MAY BE SO BOLD AS TO TELL OTHERS HOW TO GET TO THE ALTER OF GOD, BUT WITHOUT GOD’S LIGHT AND TRUTH, NO ONE, NOT EVEN THE LEADERSHIP CAN COME TO THE ALTER OF GOD.
SAY THE WORD’S OF PSALM 43:3-4 WITH ME: 3O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles. 4Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God.
EACH TIME I RECITE THESE WORDS IN MY PRIVATE PRAYER TIME BEFORE WORSHIP, I AM REMINDED THAT IT WILL BE GOD’S LIGHT AND GOD’S TRUTH THAT WILL LEAD ME AND OTHERS TO THE ALTER OF GOD, TO THE GOD OF OUR JOY.
WE CANNOT FIND OUR OWN WAY. WE ALONE CANNOT FIND GOD. WE CANNOT TAKE CREDIT FOR OUR OWN SALVATION. GOD FINDS US. IT IS GOD’S LIGHT AND GOD’S TRUTH THAT LEADS US TO THE ALTER.
Jesus begins to preach LUKE 4:14-21
14Jesus, with the power of the Spirit in him, returned to Galilee; and his reputation spread throughout the countryside.15He taught in their synagogues and everyone glorified him.
Jesus at Nazareth
16He came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day as he usually did. He stood up to read,17and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written:18The spirit of the Lord is on me, for he has anointed me to bring the good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,19to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord. 20He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant, and sat down. In addition, all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him.21Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even while you are listening.’
22And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips. They said, ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely?’ 23But he replied, ‘No doubt you will quote me the saying, “Physician, heal yourself,” and tell me, “We have heard all that happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own country.” ’24And he went on, ‘In truth I tell you, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.25‘There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah’s day, when heaven remained shut for three years and six months and a great famine raged throughout the land,26but Elijah was not sent to any one of these: he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a town in Sidonia. 27And in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many suffering from virulent skin–diseases in Israel, but none of these was cured—only Naaman the Syrian.’ 28When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged.29They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him off the cliff,30but he passed straight through the crowd and walked away
WE HAVE RECENTLY EXPERIENCED THE CHRISTMAS SEASON. WE HAVE HEARD THE CHRISTMAS STORY READ AND CELEBRATED THE BIRTH OF JESUS. WE HAVE GIVEN GIFTS TO FAMILY AND FRIENDS. SOME OF THE GIFTS ARE ALREADY WORN OUT OR HAVE BEEN RETURNED TO THE STORE. NOW WHAT? WHERE IS JESUS NOW? THE MANGER SCENE HAS BEEN PUT AWAY, THE BABY JESUS, THIS TIME WRAPPED IN TISSUE PAPER, LYING IN A CARDBOARD BOX ON A CLOSET SHELF.
SO WHERE IS JESUS? IN ADDITION, WHO MUCH CARES? TAX SEASON IS UPON US, WE HAVE BILLS TO PAY FOR ALL THOSE WORN OUT AND RETURNED GIFTS. THERE ARE OTHER THINGS TO FRET ABOUT AND WORRY OVER. WE HAVE VALENTINES DAY, AND MARCH MADNESS, AND THE EASTER BUNNY, AND TRIPS TO THE BEACH THIS SUMMER TO OCCUPY OUR THOUGHTS. SO WHERE IS JESUS?
THE GOSPEL LESSON THIS MORNING TELLS US HE IS IN THE SYNAGOGUE, CAUSING TROUBLE. ALL THE GOSPELS TELL US THAT WHENEVER JESUS GOES TO TEMPLE OR SYNAGOGUE HE ENCOUNTERS TROUBLE.
WHEN HE WAS PRESENTED AS AN INFANT IN THE TEMPLE IN JERUSALEM, HIS MOTHER IS TOLD BY SIMEON THAT A SWORD WILL PIERCE HER HEART. AT TWELVE YEARS OLD AND ON A VISIT TO THAT SAME TEMPLE, HE STAYED BEHIND AND CAUSED JOSEPH AND MARY TO BACKTRACK IN ORDER TO FIND HIM. TOWARDS THE END OF HIS MINISTRY, HE UPSET THE TABLES OF THE MONEY CHANGERS IN THE TEMPLE, DROVE THEM OUT OF THE TEMPLE, AND CAUSED A GREAT COMMOTION.
IN THE GOSPEL PASSAGE WE HAVE JUST READ THIS MORNING, WE FIND JESUS IN THE SYNAGOGUE OF HIS HOME TOWN. HE HAS JUST RETURNED FROM BEING BAPTIZED BY JOHN AND FROM A FORTY-DAY FAST IN THE JUDEAN WILDERNESS, BEING TEMPTED BY SATAN. AFTER READING A PORTION OF THE ISAIAH SCROLL, JESUS BEGINS A DISCUSSION OF WHAT HE HAS READ BY SAYING, “TODAY IN YOUR HEARING THIS TEXT HAS COME TRUE.”
WHAT TEXT HAS COME TRUE?
…THAT GOOD NEWS WILL BE PREACHED TO THE POOR…
…THAT PRISONERS WILL BE SET FREE…
…THAT THE BLIND WILL SEE…
…THAT THE BROKEN WILL BE MADE WHOLE…
THAT IS NICE THE PEOPLE SEEN TO SAY. NEVERTHELESS, IF WE READ ON FURTHER IN LUKE’S GOSPEL, BEYOND OUR READING FOR THIS MORNING, WE FIND THAT JESUS QUOTED OTHER SCRIPTURE THAT REPORTED ON GOD’S LOVE FOR THOSE OUTSIDE THE CONGREGATION OF ISRAEL. NOW THAT IS A MESSAGE THAT EVEN THE HOMETOWN CROWD WOULD NOT ALLOW. THEREFORE, THEY RAN JESUS OUT OF THE SYNAGOGUE AND OUT OF TOWN.
BELOVED, AS LONG AS GOD’S MESSAGE IS READ AND UNDERSTOOD IN THE ABSTRACT, THERE IS NORMALLY NOT MUCH TROUBLE. HOWEVER, WHEN GOD’S MESSAGE IS PROCLAIMED AND RELATED TO OUR WORLD, AND TO US, IT COMES ALIVE AND OFTEN MEETS OPPOSITION.
WHEN JESUS QUOTED SCRIPTURE AND TOLD THE HOMETOWN FOLKS THAT GOD LOVED FOREIGNERS AND SINNERS AS MUCH AS HE LOVED THE FAITHFUL AND THE CHOSEN, HE GOT HIMSELF IN SOME REAL TROUBLE. THE MESSAGE THAT JESUS DELIVERED 2000 YEARS AGO IN A NAZARETH SYNAGOGUE IS EQUALLY TROUBLING TO US TODAY. GOD LOVES US, YES. BUT GOD LOVES THOSE WHO ARE NOT LIKE US, ALSO. GOD LOVES THOSE WHO DO NOT EVEN KNOW GOD. FROM THE CROSS, JESUS PRAYED TO THE FATHER FOR FORGIVENESS TO THOSE WHO HAD NAILED HIM THERE.
LOOKING FOR GOD? LOOKING FOR JESUS?
JESUS IS NOT WRAPPED IN TISSUE PAPER, LYING IN A CARDBOARD BOX ON A SHELF IN A CLOSET. JESUS IS OUT PROCLAIMING THE GOOD NEWS TO THE POOR, RELEASING PRISONERS, HEALING THE BLIND, AND RESTORING THE BROKEN.
YES, JESUS IS HERE TOO, IN OUR WORSHIP. HE IS VISIBLE AND MADE KNOWN IN OUR READING AND STUDY OF SCRIPTURE. HE IS VISIBLE AND MADE KNOWN IN OUR CELEBRATION OF HIS LOVE AND FORGIVENESS. BUT HE IS ALSO AND ESPECIALLY VISIBLE AND MADE KNOWN OUT THERE, OUTSIDE THIS BUILDING WHERE PEOPLE LIVE AND DIE, WHERE THEY LAUGH AND CRY, WHERE THEY REJOICE AND SUFFER. JESUS IS PRESENT WHEREEVER ACTS OF GRACE ARE PERFORMED IN HIS NAME. IT IS OUR DUTY TO GO AND MINISTER IN HIS NAME.
THE CREATING GOD WE LOOK FOR, THE SAVING JESUS WE LONG FOR, AND THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT WE NEED TO DO MINISTRY ARE AVAILABLE HERE AT THIS ALTER AND IN MANY OTHER PLACES, AND IT WILL BE GOD’S LIGHT AND TRUTH THAT WILL LEAD US TO HIS HOLY HILL, TO THE GOD OF OUR JOY, O GOD, MY GOD. AMEN.
IF YOU HAVE NOT MADE A PUBLIC COMMITMENT TO ACCEPT JESUS AS YOUR LORD AND SAVIOR OR IF YOU WISH TO REAFFIRM YOUR COMMITMENT TO FOLLOW JESUS OUT INTO THE WORLD TO PROCLAIM GOD’S LOVE, SALVATION, AND POWER, THEN I INVITE YOU TO COME FORWARD DURING THE SINGING OF HYMN #___________.
AND NOW UNTO GOD THE FATHER, GOD THE SON, AND GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT, BE ASCRIBED ALL MIGHT, MAJESTY, DOMINION, POWER, AND GLORY; THIS DAY AND FOREVERMORE. AMEN.
The New Jerusalem Bible: Reader’s Edition, (New York: Doubleday.) 1990.
The King James Version, (Cambridge: Cambridge) 1769.
The King James Version, (Cambridge: Cambridge) 1769.
The New Jerusalem Bible: Reader’s Edition, (New York: Doubleday.) 1990.