Titus2Me – Workers

Titus 2:9-10

One wonders how many millions (actually more like billions) of dollars are spent annually on evangelistic campaigns. Yet Approximately 90 percent of all people surveyed as to how it was that they came to know Jesus Christ pointed to a personal witness, a friend, a relative, somebody whose life impacted their life. Less than ten percent of the people who come to Christ come because of something other than a personal witness. All the mass media, television, radio, all the mass evangelistic methods, all the crusades, all the musical concerts intended with evangelistic emphasis that move across this country, only make 10% of the annual converts to Christ.

Obviously our personal witness is vitally important in the cause of the Kingdom of Christ.

And this is why this chapter of Titus is so important. Remember, as we noted in the first week of the series, verse 10 informs us that when we choose to live a life of Godly values rather than worldly values, one of the spin-off effects is that “the teaching about God our Saviour” is “made attractive”. Conversely if we confess Christ with our mouths but live by worldly values we cause unbelievers to “malign the word of God” (v.5).

If 90% of world evangelization depends on the personal witness of Christians, we had better make sure that our personal lives as Christians reinforce our message. God is a saving God. And He saved us from sin to a life of holiness. The way you proclaim that is by living it. Godly character in the world is the greatest evangelistic strategy. We are, Paul says in Philippians 2:14-15, to shine as lights in the world in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. And frankly, unless there is that kind of credibility and integrity in the life of believers, the world is not going to buy our mass marketed message.

And then today’s verses are so important because most children spend more waking time in school than anywhere else … and most people spend more time at work than anywhere else … and today’s message is addressed to “slaves”.

“Slaves” or “ho duloi” in Greek are literally “those bound to render service, whether voluntary or forced.” I think that applies to children at school, students at University … and it definitely applies to employees at work.

In society, at the time of Titus, virtually the entire working force were slaves. Masters did not really work. They may have directed affairs, but the slaves did all the real work. Slaves were not only the labourers, they were the teachers, cooks, house-keepers, even administrators, healthcare workers, etc. It was essentially the first-century equivalent of an employer-employee relationship. Yes, of course it was much more than that and much worse than that in some instances … and it developed into something absolutely horrendous as time went by. But our nearest modern-day equivalent is our commitment to an employer or boss of whatever kind – that’s why I say I think we can apply all of the values we’re going to talk about today to a child’s relationship to their teachers or a student to their lecturer, as well as an employee to their employer.

Here are the Godly values we are to live by particularly in those relationships, in order to reinforce our efforts to bring our employers, teachers and lecturers into the Kingdom of God.

1. Submission (v.9)

We saw this principle in our week on married people too – we are to place ourselves under in order to serve – because that is the way of Jesus. Submission is a commendable thing because Christ submitted, even when it caused difficulty for Him.

This is the first, and for some the most uncomfortable principle of being a Spirit-filled worker. God has created an ordered Universe and a natural order where some are in positions of leadership and others in positions of following, and where those in “followership” positions do not always like or agree with the decisions of those in leadership. So all around the world in different nations, cultures and people groups there is a universal problem: Employees grumble against their bosses … those in ministry grumble against those who are over them in the Lord … those working for themselves will grumble about the clients who make demands, etc. Children will grumble about their teachers.

Why is that? I guess it’s because we somehow want to be the master of our own destiny … we don’t want to be told what to do or how to do it … we want to be in control … and having to follow someone else robs us of that control of our own destiny. So this question of being a Spirit-filled worker can be a tricky situation.

The Lord’s instruction is, however, that if we want to be Spirit-filled, godly workers we are to “be subject to our masters” (Titus 2:9) … to “obey our earthly masters with respect and fear.” (Ephesians 6:5) The two original Greek words used in this command are “phobos” and “tromos”. “Phobos” means quite literally “fear” while “tromos” means “quaking with fear”. So a better translation would be the one presented by the NKJV: “obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling”. The NIV is a bit too polite.

But now we have a problem of interpretation, don’t we? The Bible clearly tells us that the fear of man is a snare. It also tells us that God has not given us a spirit of fear … but of power, love and a sound mind. So how can it then turn around and tell us to tremble with fear before our earthly masters? Answer: It doesn’t. It says obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling … not obey him out of fear and trembling.

Your boss may be a tyrant, an ogre, an unjust person, or even a total incompetent … but no Christian is commanded to be a spineless wimp toward the boss. We are commanded to be obedient to his instructions because we fear … not him … but because we fear the Lord! Remember the Word says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Christians are to fear no-one but God.

God has placed us where we are as a scholar under teachers … as teachers under a headmaster … as headmasters under a Governing Body. God has placed us where we are as workers under a manager … as managers under directors or a CEO  … as CEO’s under a Board. God has placed us where we are as members of a Church under leaders … as leaders under pastors and ministers … as pastors and ministers under bishops, etc. We have prayed, “Give us this day our daily bread” and God has answered us and is using that person who is over us as part of the structure that is providing for us. And God has told us to allow those people who are over us to lead us therefore … we obey those who are over us because we fear the Lord … not them.

Now I heard a great explanation of that concept of fearing the Lord … I think it’s correct. When we fear the Lord we are not living afraid of the God who loves us … but we are afraid of displeasing Him … we are afraid of losing the full measure of His presence … of losing His favour. In order to please God we live in submission to our earthly masters … we treat them with respect and honour because God has somehow deemed fit to allow us to be working under their leadership … and so we trust God’s judgment and we obey the person over us.

2. Excellence (v.9)

The verse says that we should try to please our “masters”; viz. our manager … our leader … our teacher, etc.

Ephesians 6:7 tells us to serve as though we were serving the Lord, not men. This explains that our attitude of excellence ought to be motivated by the belief that we are doing this job for Jesus and Jesus only.

If we ever find that we work more diligently when the boss is around than when he’s not … or if we slack off when no-one is watching … or if we choose not to go the extra mile unless someone is going to notice … then we are falling short of the attitude required of us. Ephesians 6:6 says clearly, “Do not only obey your master when his eyes are on you but, like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.” The parallel passage in Colossians adds: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not men.”

We are to do our work to the absolute best of our ability even if no-one else is going to notice because JESUS always notices. So we are not to have the attitude of the employees whose boss put a notice up on the notice-board: “In case of fire, flee with the same reckless abandon you do each day at quitting time.” Rather we are to have the attitude that sees all our work as being for the Lord.

About 300 years ago Sir Christopher Wren was the architect building St. Paul’s Cathedral. He took a walk among the workers one day (most of whom had no idea who he was). He asked a few men, “What are you doing?”

One replied, “Anyone can see I’m cutting stone.”

Another replied, “I’m earning five shillings a day.”

The third replied, “I am helping Sir Christopher Wren build a great cathedral to the glory of God.”

 

 

A very significant way we can bring honour to God, which we all too often overlook, is by working hard at everything we do. Martin Luther expressed this when he said: “The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays – not because she may sing a hymn as she sweeps, but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God loves good craftsmanship.”

As William Bennet said in his Book of Virtues: “There are no menial jobs, only menial attitudes.

Our attitude to our work must be to do our absolute best. Not like the employee of whom it was said: “This man is depriving some village somewhere of its idiot!” … or the one of whom it was reported: “She sets low personal standards and then consistently fails to meet them.”

3. Not talking back (v.9)

The Greek word, “antilegos”, actually means to talk against. So the gist of this instruction is that we are not to be verbally rebellious. We are not to speak rebelliously to our superior or about our superior to others.

Of course we are free to air our views boldly and with conviction in the proper forum at work. We are not to be quiet mice who never say what we think or venture our opinions. But the point here is that once the decision is made and the instruction is given we are not to be a people who “mutter” like the Israelites muttered against Moses in the desert.  We are called to be committed to the decisions made and the task at hand. The Christian should be known for his or her verbal respect for authority. Remember this is so that the Gospel will be “adorned”.

The Christian is to be very clear that we are not called to give instructions to our superior or to master the task of what is called “upward delegation” – where we subtly or overtly take charge and make sure that the boss feels constant pressure to do things our way. We are not to mouth off, talk back, argue, rebel, oppose any requirement, but rather we are to honour our superiors with our speech.

4. Honesty (v.10)

The NIV translates the phrase, “not to steal from them.” The word is about “not pilfering” … you think that’s an old fashioned word, but I found an even older one for us to impress our friends with … when you go home tonight use this word in casual conversation to impress your friends and relations … “peculating”.

The Greek word means “to separate” and it’s a euphemism for sneaky stealing or stealthy thievery. It’s about “separating” things of value from the boss’s possession. So godly workers / students / scholars do not indulge in sneaky stealing.

That means no stealing homework … no subtle cheating on tests or assignments … no plagiarism.

It means no using my employer’s time and money for my own personal gain, my own personal errands or correspondence. A more relevant one to us perhaps is this – it means not using my employer’s or school’s data bundle for personal emails, facebook messages and tweets, or their time for slacking off to check personal messages, browse the web, etc.

Our honesty must be beyond question. We must not cheat or lie to cover our tracks. We must also not create false impressions of busy-ness or hard work … or work harder or better when we know someone is looking than we do when no-one’s around.

We do not lie to our employer, nor do we lie for our employer, because if we can lie for them we can also lie to them!!

Trustworthiness (v.10)

Strictly speaking, the word means trustworthiness and reliability. As we can see from the connecting word “but” that introduces the phrase “to show that they can be fully trusted”, this is actually still about honesty. We are to live with such honesty at work that our employers, teachers, lecturers come to realise that we are absolutely trustworthy.

 

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The Cornerstone

Matthew 7:24-27 // Acts 4:5-12 // 1 Peter 2:4-10

Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd, the Bread of Life, the Lamb of God, the True Vine … but He is also the Cornerstone. This is our image for today. In fact, as we will see, this is the first image which is variable depending on our reaction to it. 1 Peter 2 makes it clear that depending on our reaction to Him, Jesus is either a cornerstone or a stumbling stone. In Acts 4, as he preached to the high priest and to the rulers, elders and teachers of the law, Peter made this profound declaration: “It is by the name of Jesus Christ, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected which has become the cornerstone.”  We either accept Jesus as our Cornerstone or we stumble over Him and reject Him. It seems that with Jesus there is no middle-ground … there is no grey area … there is no opportunity for the lukewarm comfort zone. But more about that later.

A CORNERSTONE

In ancient architecture and construction the cornerstone was the stone that was laid to keep the walls together. It was the key point in the construction of the whole building. Without it … or if it was defective … the walls would not be level … the angles would all be wrong … and ultimately the whole building would come tumbling down. It was the stone upon which the structural integrity of the building rested.

In Isaiah 28:16 God gave the following prophecy: “Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be dismayed.’”

In essence, this is a prophecy that the Messiah, was going to be someone upon whom people individually and the people of God corporately could build their lives … if only they would place their trust in Him. ‘Whoever believes will not be dismayed.’

God is building a Kingdom and he is building a Kingdom-people whose lives are to be built on the cornerstone called Jesus Christ. To use the image of 1 Peter 2, God is building a temple of worship, not made of physical stones but of people all over the world … and the cornerstone of this building is Jesus. Not only that, but the cornerstone of each of their lives individually is also Jesus.

Now I know we are gathered here today as people who want to build our lives on the Cornerstone of Jesus. That’s why we came to church today. We came to worship Jesus as our Lord. We came to honour Him. We came to learn about living for His glory. So we want to know HOW to build our lives on Him. Here it comes:

1. Place Him at the corner

1 Peter 2:4 says: “Come to Him”; and in v.7 we are told that “to you who believe, this stone is precious.” In his sermon in Acts 4, Peter declared, “Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” These phrases are expressing the truth that there has to be a moment when we make a decision that Jesus Christ will be precious to us … that He will be the centre of our lives. Rather, if we are to stick with the cornerstone image … that He will be at the corner. Jesus will be the One upon Whom we rest the weight of our lives.

Because that is the Biblical meaning of the word “believe”. It is not just to give mental agreement to a principle about Jesus … to believe is to completely entrust ourselves to Jesus. We need to make a decision that Jesus Christ will be what holds our lives together … that we will commit ourselves completely to Him and place all of our trust in Him. We will put ourselves in a position that if Jesus fails or turns out to be a fake, absolutely everything in our lives will be ruined because everything we are and have and hope to be rest on HIM!! We have no plan B and no escape clause … all of us is invested in Jesus. That is how the building rests on the cornerstone. If the cornerstone is removed, it all comes tumbling down!!

I’m sure you’ve heard the story before of the missionary who was translating the Bible into the language of a cannibal tribe. Living among them he soon discovered that because of their propensity for eating one another, there was no equivalent word for the English word “trust”. After much struggle and frustration one day he called a local in … sat on a chair … and lifted his hands and feet up so that his entire weight was resting on the chair … and asked what the word was for what he was doing. The man gave him the word and he used that throughout the Bible translation to translate the words trust and faith.

To make Jesus the cornerstone of our lives we have to entrust the entirety of our lives to Him and rest all of our hopes and dreams and ambitions on Him!! That is where it begins. “The one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.”

 

2. Make Him our first love

It is one thing to trust Jesus and depend entirely on Him, but there is more to being a cornerstone than that. I was thinking about what meaning it would convey if I were to say to my wife, “You are the cornerstone of my life.” I think it would mean that I love her more than anything else that there is. If she was not there, my life would come tumbling down emotionally.

Now I believe that making Jesus the cornerstone of my life is about making Him my first love. To me the word “precious” carries that meaning. Jesus is the precious cornerstone!! If He is to be the cornerstone of my life, then nothing is to be more precious to me than Him! In Revelation 2:4 Jesus says to the church in Ephesus, “This I hold against you: You have forsaken your first love.”

This is the place in our hearts that is reserved for Jesus … it is not made for anyone else … not our spouse, not our kids, certainly not our jobs or cars or houses. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has placed eternity in the hearts of people. God has made a Jesus-shaped hole in our hearts that only Jesus can fill. To make Jesus the cornerstone of our lives is to place Him in His rightful place as the #1 love of our lives.

Now in practice that may seem a bit out of our control. But it is not about falling in love or being infatuated. That is why Jesus could say to the Ephesians, “return to your first love.” He told them that they had fallen out of love with Him but that they were to repent and return to that first love. So it is something that I can choose to do. But how?

Well in Revelation 3 Jesus continues and tells them to “do again the things you did at first.” If a married couple “falls out of love” they need to go back to the things they did for each other and together in the early days of their marriage. They need to begin to act like people who are in love. The feelings will not follow until we make the commitment to act like someone who is in love. And when we do that the feelings are almost certain to follow.

Well, with Jesus, it should be easy to ask, “What did I do when I first felt the surge of love for Jesus?” I got up really early in the morning to pray … to talk to the One I loved. I ravenously searched the Bible for truth about the One I loved. I worshipped as frequently as I could and with as much passion as I could muster. I stepped out in faith, going out on a limb for Him … because I loved Him. These are the things we do when we first love Jesus. And if we find our love growing cold we must return to doing them. We must place Jesus at the centre of our hearts as our first love.

 

3. Build upon His level

In the ancient building the cornerstone created the level surface upon which the walls would be built. It created a stable point for level walls.

Jesus in Matthew 7:24 said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on a rock.” In addition to our relationship with Jesus being the bedrock of our lives, the foundation Jesus offers for our lives, upon which we can build Kingdom-focussed, Jesus-honouring lives, is His teaching (His “words”).

Jesus spoke that word at the end of His most famous series of teachings – which we know as the Sermon on the Mount. He had just taught about living lives of love, forgivenesss, peace, righteousness, etc. And now He says that if we put those teachings into practice, we will build solid kingdom lives.

If Jesus is the cornerstone of my life then it means that I am building my life on His way of life. I am choosing daily to live by Jesus’ values and not the values of the world … to live a life of self-giving instead of selfishness … a life of forgiveness instead of bitterness … a life of purity instead of immorality … a life of generosity instead of a life of greed … a life of humility and servanthood instead of a life of pride … the list goes on and on.

The Christian world is too full of people who take the name of “Christian” and claim Christ as their Lord, but they build their lives on the values of the world not the values of the King. They are no more “Christian” than a monkey wearing a suit is a businessman. They do not have Jesus as their cornerstone … they have money or fame or power or pleasure. The person taking the name of Christ but living in a sexual relationship outside of marriage has pleasure as their cornerstone, not Jesus. The person taking the name of Christ but paying their workers less than a living wage has profit as their cornerstone, not Jesus. The person working 7 days a week to get that promotion has their career as their cornerstone, not Jesus.

Building a life on Christ the Cornerstone is building a life on His principles and values for living … and rejecting those principles and values outright which go against Jesus.

And perhaps that is why so many builders reject the cornerstone. Every time the cornerstone is mentioned in the Bible it is made clear that the same Stone (Jesus) is either a cornerstone or a stumbling stone. He is either the precious stone or the rejected stone!! What is it that makes people stumble over Jesus?

A STUMBLING STONE

It is precisely because of all that I’ve said to this point that so many people stumble over Jesus.

Jesus comes to us in Scripture claiming the first place of love in our lives … claiming to be the one on whom we ought to build our lives … claiming the highest place of allegiance and importance in our lives. You either respond to that with joy or you want to get rid of Him!!

During His earthly life the common people responded to Jesus with joy, but the powerful people wanted to kill Him. They forever challenged His authority to make the claims He made and to say the things He said, and to teach the things He taught, because they were offended at this man who claimed to be God and to deserve the place of highest allegiance.

If Jesus were only more comfortable and more culturally acceptable it would be much easier. Everyone would love Him and accept Him. But the problem is that then He would be our pet and not our Lord and Master and GOD!! And so those who want to be the lord and master of their own destiny stumble over Him.

As 1 Peter 2:8 says, “They stumble because they disobey the message.” What message do they disobey? Well, of course, the message to install Jesus as the cornerstone of their lives. People disobey when:

  1. People refuse to trust in Jesus. Instead they trust in wealth and possessions and material security … or even more tragically they trust in good works. And so they build on those things and their lives end in destruction because those things can never provide a solid foundation for a life. When the storms of life come, their lives collapse.
  2. At worst, people refuse to love Jesus more than they love themselves; and at best they refuse to love Him more than they love their families or children or spouse. And then when the storms of life come and those relationships are damaged or, even worse, destroyed, their lives collapse.
  3. People refuse to build their lives on Jesus’ teaching but choose worldly values and principles instead. And then when the storms of life come, their lives collapse, because Jesus’ values are the only truly eternal values.

Conclusion

Building your life on Jesus may be offensive to some and it may be very tough because it goes against so much of what our sinful human nature desires. But when we make the decision to build our lives on Jesus the Cornerstone, we will soon discover that building your life on Jesus is an eternal blessing. Building a life on the Cornerstone means that our lives will have eternal significance and specifically that when the tough times come, we will be able to stand because we have an absolutely sure foundation. May Jesus the Cornerstone be the foundation of your life and mine!!

The True Vine

John 15:1-17

As we approach our 4th Image of Christ, the True Vine, I’d like to begin by putting the lesson of the image into what I like to call a “pregnant sentence” – a sentence that contains the sermon in a nutshell. Then the rest of the sermon will be a matter of unpacking that pregnant sentence. So here it comes:

A life of abundant, eternal fruitfulness can only develop as we remain vitally connected to Jesus, the source of the Life-giving Holy Spirit, and receptive to the cleaning and pruning work of God the Father.

1. Abundant, eternal fruitfulness

When Jesus talks about fruit in this passage, what exactly does He mean? Of course, he is using an image. And to properly understand that image we have to have a sound Biblical background. The Bible uses the image of fruit to describe various things. As far as good and godly fruit goes, here are some of the Biblical meanings:

  1. Good fruit is a Christ-like character and lifestyle: Galatians 5:22-23 describes the “fruit of the Spirit” as being love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Ephesians 5:9 adds that the fruit of the Spirit is goodness, righteousness and truth. So firstly bearing good fruit as a disciple of Jesus amounts to developing the character and lifestyle of Jesus. That makes a lot of sense seeing as Jesus is the vine. You would expect grapes from the branches of a grape vine … so you would expect Jesus from the branches of a “Jesus-vine.”
  2. Titus 3:14 and 2 Corinthians 9:8 describe good fruit as being good works of every kind. So when we perform good deeds towards others, we are bearing good fruit. Scripture says that Jesus went around doing good (Acts 10:38) and so bearing fruit of the Jesus-vine means producing Jesus-like good deeds.
  3. Acts 10:38 also says that Jesus went around healing the sick … so praying for those in need and exposing them to the healing power is also one very important aspect of the fruit of the Jesus-vine.
  4. To these ideas of fruit, Colossians 1:16 and Romans 1:13 add that leading others to salvation through faith in Christ amounts to bearing fruit for the Kingdom. Jesus brought many people to new life in the Kingdom through them accepting Him as the Christ. We bear the fruit of the Jesus-vine when we lead others to Christ.
  5. Then in this very passage in John 15:9-13 and 17, it becomes clear to us that primarily Jesus describes a life of fruitfulness as one in which we live a life of love towards God and others. A person living a life of love is bearing the fruit of the Jesus-vine.

So, in a nutshell, what God wants from us as disciples of Jesus or “branches of the Jesus-vine” is that we would express the life of Jesus in the world we live in; i.e. live lives of love towards God and others.

Fruitful lives are characterised by living at peace with others; being patient with others; being kind towards others and always doing to them what we would like them to do to us; being godly in our choices; being faithful in our relationships; being gentle and doing no harm to anyone else; being self-controlled when emotions flare; being outspoken about the good news of Jesus Christ and thus leading many others to trust Him for salvation! He also declares that when we bear this fruit, it will be accompanied by much joy … abundant joy!!

This is the fruit that God our Father wants us to bear. And He doesn’t only want us to bear some of this … he wants us to bear MUCH fruit, says Jesus in John 15:8. He wants us to do MUCH good … to save MANY souls … to be radically holy and loving and joyful!

But to understand how, we have to turn to the image of Jesus as the Vine. Because this passage is clear: In order to bear this kind of fruit, we have to be like branches of a vine, where life flows into us from the Vine and out of us into fruit! We do not produce the fruit … we bear the fruit … which Jesus produces.

2. Jesus is the True Vine

Jesus states it clearly:

Jesus said to his disciples: I am the true vine … (John 15:1)

This is a very loaded statement for Jesus’ original listeners – the disciples. They were schooled in the Old Testament and so they knew that the “Vine” was an image for God’s people Israel. God describes Israel as His vine in Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:8-16; and Ezekiel 19:10. As God’s vine, Israel was called to be a source of God’s life to the world. They were called to reveal God to the world so that the world would come to God and receive true spiritual life.

God taught the Israelites how to do this. He gave them 10 commandments for living in such a way as to portray His character and nature to the world. Had they done so faithfully, not only would they have experienced fullness of life, but others around them would have been attracted to the God they were serving … and they would have come to this God and received life too.

But in Jeremiah 2:21, God graphically describes how His people had become a corrupt vine – a false vine. Instead of revealing God to the world, they had become just like the world … and they had died spiritually! At the time that Jeremiah was written, the people of Israel had tried to find spiritual life and well-being in worshiping fertility gods, committing idolatry, sexual immorality and trusting in political alliances rather than in God.

Israel in the time of Jesus was still a false vine … but now for a different reason.  Now they were absolutely committed to obeying the Ten Commandments, but they were so committed that they had made up thousands upon thousands of rules and regulations which God had never given, to try to live perfectly. But when the world looked at this vine, all they saw was legalistic judgmentalism … and they were not attracted … because there is none of God’s true life in legalism.

Israel it was trying to give life to people through rules and regulations and religion. Romans 7:5 says:

“For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.”

Trying to bear fruit by obeying the law actually only leads us to sin more! Israel was being a false vine!

So, in saying that He is the true vine, it would have been very clear to the disciples that Jesus was claiming that He was the true source of God’s life for the world. Jesus came to give life to people not through rules and regulations and religion, but through connecting us to the life-giving Spirit of God.

Romans 7:6 says: “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”

Jesus the Vine does not bring us life and make us fruitful by giving us rules and regulations to follow … He gives us life and makes us fruitful by being the source of the Life-giving Holy Spirit

3. The Holy Spirit is the sap

This is not stated in John 15, but all of Jesus’ teaching points to this reality. Just as the sap is hidden inside the trunk and the branches of the physical vine, so the sap is hidden in the parable, and it is hidden in our lives as Christians. Jesus described this in John 7:37-39:

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:37-39)

John Wesley called the Holy Spirit the “life of God in the soul of man”.

The Holy Spirit was the life and power of God in Jesus’ life on earth … and He is the life of God in the branches of the Jesus-vine too. Just as the sap gives life to the branches of a grape-vine, so the Holy Spirit gives life to us as branches of the Jesus-vine.

Just as the sap causes the fruit to grow on the branches, so the Holy Spirit causes fruit to grow in us. That is why Galatians 5:22-23 talks about “the fruit of the Spirit”.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God and His power at work in us is what will make us bear spiritual fruit. There can of course be no spiritual fruit with the Spirit!

 

4. We are the branches

The believer in Jesus, the follower of Jesus, is the branch in this image. In a different but very similar metaphor in Romans 11, Paul writes about how the Christian has been grafted into the vine.

When we committed our lives to Christ, God grafted us into Jesus! We are connected to Jesus and just as the vine expresses its nature through the branches, so Jesus expresses His character in the world through us.

The secret of being a healthy branch on a vine is, of course, in being vitally connected to the stem or trunk of that vine; i.e. to Jesus.

The health of our spiritual lives and the fruitfulness of our spiritual lives are not determined by our effort … but by the depth and strength and openness of our connection to Jesus!! If we are to be super-fruitful branches of the Jesus-vine then we need to be as closely connected to Jesus as possible. The connection needs to be clear and pure so that as much of the life-giving sap of the Holy Spirit can flow from Him to us. This is what Jesus called abiding in the vine.

 

5. Abiding in the Vine

Ten times in John 15, Jesus commands the disciples to “abide in Me”. He makes it clear that if they don’t then “apart from Me you can do nothing!” You cannot produce Jesus-fruit without abiding in the Jesus-vine … because if you’re not abiding in Jesus there is no Jesus-sap (the Holy Spirit) flowing into you.

He also makes it abundantly clear that if we do abide in Him then we will bear MUCH fruit. The more we abide the more fruit. It is not the branch that tries harder that produces much fruit … it is the branch that abides more that produces much fruit. Why? Because that branch has the greatest access to the life-giving, fruit-producing Holy Spirit. Simple.

Abiding in Jesus is all about relationship. Abiding more deeply and more fully is about having a deeper, richer relationship with Jesus. To “abide in” literally means to dwell in or live in. In John 14:23 Jesus promised: “If anyone loves me, they will obey me. Then my Father will love them, and we will come to them and live in them.”

To abide in Jesus is to live with Jesus. It is to seek, long for, thirst for, wait for Jesus … it is to see, know, love, hear and respond to Jesus. It is the heart of Psalm 42:1, “As the deer pants for water, so my soul longs for You oh Lord.” It is John 15:9: “Abide in my LOVE”.

Abiding is living in a love-relationship with Jesus. So in general terms I need to:

  1. Deepen the quality of my devoted time with Jesus (Psalm 27:4 says: “I ask only one thing, LORD: Let me live in your house every day of my life to see how wonderful you are and to pray in your temple.”) We are to set apart the best time of the day for Jesus. Savour His Word, the Bible, talk to Him and listen to Him. I would suggest keeping a journal of the Scriptures we read and the prayers we pray as a record of our relationship with Jesus
  2. Deepen my all-day attentiveness to Jesus. . Psalm 1 speaks of having our roots deep down into the Living Water by meditating on God’s Word day and night. That means that its not just during my quiet time that I listen and talk to Him, but all throughout the day as life goes on, I am to talk to and listen to Him.

We could also benefit from considering that Acts tells us that when Jesus had ascended the disciples abided in Him by the following:

  • They spent their time learning from the apostles, and they were like family to each other. They also broke bread and prayed together. (Acts 2:42)
  • Day after day they met together in the temple. They broke bread together in different homes and shared their food happily and freely, while praising God. Everyone liked them, and each day the Lord added to their group others who were being saved. (Act 2:46-47)

The Lamb of God

Genesis 22:6-14; Isaiah 53:4-7; John 1:29; Revelation 5

The Prophecy

On Friday the traffic was substantially lighter in Cape Town. It was a Muslim festival day. If my research is correct, they were commemorating the day Abraham took Isaac up mount Moriah to sacrifice him … the day when God provided a ram in the bush and saved Isaac.

It is an incredible passage – one in which Abraham speaks prophetically and says: “The Lord Himself will provide a lamb for the sacrifice.” But what Jews and Muslims alike fail to realise is that whereas Abraham says: “The Lord will provide a lamb,” God provided a ram. It says so very clearly in the passage. And yes, there is a difference … a big difference. A ram is not equal to a lamb.

Did Abraham get it wrong then? Should he have said that God will provide a ram? No. Speaking by the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, Abraham got it exactly right! Abraham was speaking prophetically – without knowing it. And as Christians we know that his prophecy has been fulfilled – in Jesus!

Isaiah spoke prophetically of the same thing in Isaiah 53:4-7 when he prophesied the coming of a Saviour who would be led like a lamb to the slaughter, to be sacrificed for our sins. He prophesied that by doing this, this Saviour would carry our sins away from us.

Isaiah was making reference to the sacrifice that his Jewish readers would have been very familiar with – a sacrifice God gave to the Israelites to make if they needed His forgiveness (Leviticus 1:1-4). They were to present to the priest a lamb without any defect or blemish, lay their hands on the head of the lamb and confess their sins … and then the lamb would die in their place. The image God was giving them was of their sins passing from themselves into the lamb … and then the lamb being punished for the sins in their place. The confession and the sacrifice of the lamb were symbols of the person acknowledging their wrongdoing and of God providing an innocent sacrifice to receive the punishment for the sin and thereby to carry the sins away from the person and grant them atonement and a fresh start with God.

So Isaiah and Abraham were both prophesying that in the future God would provide a lamb which would die in the place of humanity … taking the responsibility for our sins upon Himself … receiving the punishment of death that we should have received … and thereby allow us to receive complete forgiveness and atonement. We would be brought home to God – the barrier of our sins having been removed.

The Fulfilment

And then in the fullness of time, John the Baptist stands by the Jordan River baptising repentant sinners, and he looks up and sees Jesus coming … and in a loud voice he proclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

In Jesus the prophecies of the Old Testament were about to be fulfilled. In Jesus, One had come who would take the pollution of our sin upon Himself … receive the due punishment for that sin, be led like a lamb to the slaughter and die for that sin … so that all who “lay their hands on His head” may be forgiven, saved and brought home to God.

Scripture joins John the Baptist in testifying that Jesus is this Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world:

  • 1Pe 1:18-19 “For you know what was paid to set you free from the worthless manner of life handed down by your ancestors. It was not something that can be destroyed, such as silver or gold; it was the costly sacrifice of Christ, who was like a lamb without defect or flaw.”
  • 1Cor 5:7 “For our Passover Festival is ready, now that Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”
  • Heb 9:14  “Since this is true, how much more is accomplished by the blood of Christ! Through the eternal Spirit he offered himself as a perfect sacrifice to God. His blood will purify our consciences from useless rituals, so that we may serve the living God.”

 

So when we hear that Jesus is the Lamb of God, it is a very loaded statement. There is so much that one can learn from this particular image. Remember, in this series we are considering what all these different images of Christ teach us about Him – the Saviour who has come into the world.

1. Vulnerable Love

The first thing that this image of Jesus teaches us is His incredible act of voluntary vulnerability. When you think of a lamb being led off to the slaughter, this is a picture of absolute vulnerability.

Jesus Christ is God. Since before the creation of time he has ruled and reigned over eternity. He has all power, all knowledge, all wisdom, all beauty and glory. Listen to how He is praised in Revelation 5:

Rev 5:11-13 “As I looked, I heard the voices of a lot of angels around the throne and the voices of the living creatures and of the elders. There were millions and millions of them, and they were saying in a loud voice, “The Lamb who was killed is worthy to receive power, riches, wisdom, strength, honour, glory, and praise.” Then I heard all beings in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and in the sea offer praise. Together, all of them were saying, “Praise, honour, glory, and strength forever and ever to the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!””

This is Who Jesus has always been. And yet out of love for you and me, Jesus took on flesh and lived among us as a vulnerable human being with a life that could be snuffed out at any moment.

From childhood we are taught to protect ourselves. We have an inherent, pre-programmed tendency towards self-preservation. Vulnerability is seen as a weakness because it can so easily be exploited. And yet Jesus voluntarily made Himself vulnerable for our sakes. Almighty God, coming as a Lamb to be slain.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, if we are going to be disciples of this Jesus, then we too are going to have to learn the art of making ourselves vulnerable. The love of Jesus is a vulnerable love … it takes down walls … it risks opening itself up to others … even though those others may inflict harm.

2. Innocent Suffering

IN His vulnerability, however, Jesus was anything but weak. He was vulnerable but He was incredibly strong as a person. Not only did He live a perfect, sinless life, (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22) but He voluntarily accepted the blame for our sin. Jesus suffered injustice. He suffered at the hands of the Sanhedrin, Pontius Pilate, Herod, the Roman soldiers and the crowds of people who turned on Him … He received mocking, beating, whipping, dishonour, and public shame. He was considered cursed by God by the people of the day because He was crucified – and anyone crucified was cursed of God according to them.

Do you know how strong you have to be as a person to accept responsibility for something you did not do … to suffer for something you know you are innocent of? Yet Jesus took the punishment for OUR sins and he bore the weight of responsibility for all our wrongdoings. Although innocent, He accepted the suffering that was rightfully ours. He was an innocent lamb suffering for the sins of the world.

Even as we marvel at His love for us, let’s also receive the challenge that this offers to us as disciples of Jesus. There are moments when we will be called on to accept suffering in our lives, despite the fact that we don’t deserve it. We may need to accept the blame for something we did not do … we may need to be willing to humble ourselves and take responsibility for something someone else did wrong, in order to restore a relationship. As followers of Jesus we need to be willing to follow Him in innocent suffering!

3. Absolute commitment

A pig and a chicken were walking down the road. They passed a restaurant and saw a sign that said: “Today’s special: Bacon and eggs: R20”.

“Wow,” says the chicken, “That’s an amazing special.”

“I think it’s horrifying,” says that pig.

“But why?” says the chicken, “It’s an incredible bargain.”

“That’s easy for you to say,” says the pig. “For you it’s a donation, for me it’s a sacrifice.”

Human beings are generally so limited in our commitment to a cause. Like the pig being used for bacon, Jesus came into this world with an over-riding objective – to give His life for the sins of the world. He Himself said that no-one was taking His life from Him, but that He was laying it down of His own accord. He was not being forced to do it … he was not a victim. He was choosing to make the supreme sacrifice.

A soldier once returned from the war with only one leg. “Where did you lose your leg?” a friend asked him. He replied, “I did not lose it … I sacrificed it.” Jesus did not lose his life, He sacrificed it … he gave it up voluntarily.

We have a human tendency to cling on to everything that we feel is rightfully yours – our health, our possessions, our money. Jesus sets the example to us His disciples of a life lived in absolute commitment of everything He was and everything he had to the cause of the Kingdom of God! We are serving Jesus as His disciples and friends … serving Him in the cause of extending His kingdom to the ends of the earth. There is no higher cause. We ought to be absolutely committed to this cause. Jesus, the lamb of God, teaches us this!!

4. Life-giving

Finally, we need to remind ourselves that a person separated from God by their sin is DEAD. They are spiritually dead now, and they will be spiritually dead forever.

All have sinned. No-one is good enough. Too many people say to me as a pastor, “Oh I hope I’m good enough to get to heaven.” I always have bad news for them. No-one is good enough. But that’s exactly the point of the Lamb of God. He came because no-one is good enough. He came to make a way for us to be forgiven and made acceptable to God despite our not being good enough!!

If we use the image of the Lamb of God today, we can say in all honesty that right here in front of us today, Jesus stands as a sacrificial lamb. He looks at us and invites us to make use of Him as the sacrifice for our sins. Unlike the lamb in Leviticus, Jesus has volunteered for us to use Him as our sacrificial lamb … to (metaphorically of course) lay our hands on Him … confess our sinfulness and brokenness and guilt … and have all of it pass into Jesus the Lamb. And then, as the Lamb who has already been slain for the sins of the world, Jesus carries that sin away from us. The pollution of our sin passes from us to Him … the punishment for our sin passes from us to Him … and we are left cleansed.

The apostle John tells us the following in his first letter:

  • Jesus came to take away sin (3:5)
  • Jesus Christ is the sacrifice that takes away our sins and the sins of all the world’s people (2:2)
  • His blood cleanses us of all sin (1:7)

But all of this is based on our acceptance of or our “taking hold of” the offer of Jesus that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

You see it is conditional … if we confess our sins … if we take hold of the Lamb.

But if we do then there are some incredible benefits to us. We receive forgiveness and cleansing and acceptance by God as His children. But for me the most precious benefit of being cleansed by the sacrifice of the Lamb is stated in Hebrews 10:19-22

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

Because of Jesus the Lamb of God, we have access to the very throne room of God! We can come before God with confidence. And one day when we die and we come face to face with Almighty God, we will not stand before God to be punished for our sins … because that punishment has already been taken by Jesus!!

Conclusion

How do you need to respond to Jesus the Lamb of God today?

  • Do you perhaps need to place your hands on Him and confess your sins and accept His saving grace in your life … in order to have Him cleanse your sin and purify your life and bring you home into fellowship with God?
  • Or maybe you have done that but you know that as His disciple you need to up your game in terms of your commitment to Him. You look at the total commitment of Jesus the Lamb and you realise just how small and insignificant your own commitment to Him is.
  • Perhaps you have a situation in your life where you know that you are called to be Lamb-like and take responsibility for something that is not really your fault, in order to be obedient and faithful to Jesus and thereby to rescue a situation or a relationship.
  • Or perhaps you have realised that you do not make yourself vulnerable … that you have huge walls around yourself to keep others out … and that to be faithful to Jesus you have to let those walls down.

Today I suggest that we all lay hands on the Lamb and allow Him to minister to us!

 

The Bread of Life

John 6:25-51

As we continue in our series “Images of Christ” we come to the image of the Bread of Life.

The context of the saying by Jesus is that he had, the day before, fed the crowd of 5000 on a hillside overlooking Lake Galilee. Five small barley loaves and 2 small fish had miraculously been multiplied to be sufficient to not only feed the crowd but also to leave 12 basketsful of left-overs.

The crowd was so amazed and impressed that verse 15 tells us that they wanted to come and make Jesus king by force. They said among themselves: “Surely this is the Prophet who was to come into the world.”

You see, in the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 they saw a fulfilment of a Messianic sign. The Jewish Midrash Koheleth records that: “Rabbi Berechia said, ‘As was the first Redeemer, so also shall be the latter. The first Redeemer made manna descend from heaven … So also the latter Redeemer shall make manna descend.’

Their expectation was that when the long-awaited Messiah came, he would give them manna from heaven just as their forefathers had eaten in the desert. So when the Jews around Galilee experienced Jesus’ miraculous provision of bread they made the logical deduction that this man was the coming Messiah … and they were determined to make Him the king of Israel. They could almost taste the victory over the oppressive Romans already. If Jesus could feed 5000 from 5 loaves then imagine what He could do to the Romans. Life that had been so tough and so unfair was about to get a whole lot better. Not only would there be a great military victory, but they would be assured of food and prosperity under the rule of a King who could provide for them so easily and so well. Jesus was the One who could guarantee them physical / material comfort and prosperity … and they were going to make Him their King.

This was the point where Jesus had reached the apex of his popularity. Precisely because of this dangerous popularity, Jesus crossed the lake to get away from their demands. But the next day when they figured out where he was, the crowd followed him across the lake.

It was at that point that Jesus told a record-breaking crowd: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. John 6:35

And this began a debate with a crowd that grew increasingly unhappy with Jesus, until eventually a crowd that loved Him had turned away from Him.  John chapter 6 tells us they grumbled, they mumbled, they argued, they whined, and ultimately they left — in droves. The text gives us some clues as to the kind of people that left Jesus behind when he preached the “bread of life” sermon.

The point of today’s sermon is two-fold.

First, we will very briefly examine what Jesus meant by saying that He is the Bread of Life. And then secondly, we will try to see ourselves in those people who abandoned Jesus … in order to avoid the pitfalls that might cause us also to walk away from Jesus and miss out on the true bread of life.

The Bread of Life

What did Jesus mean when he said, “I am the Bread of Life”?

He was making a metaphorical statement that tells us that what bread was to physical life for the people of Jesus’ day … Jesus is to spiritual life for them and us.

Whereas:

  1. 1.     Bread satisfies physical hunger … Jesus satisfies our spiritual hunger for God;
  2. 2.     Bread strengthens the body … Jesus strengthens us spiritually
  3. 3.     Bread is a pleasure to eat … Jesus is a pleasure to be in relationship with
  4. 4.     Bread is life-sustaining … Jesus is “spiritual life”-sustaining

Yesterday, when we ran a test-run of the “free coffee” that we enjoyed at our church breakfast this morning, I said to Gerrida, “If Jesus had been around today He might have said, ‘I am the coffee of life.’” Jesus adds so much flavour and aroma and enjoyment to life!! Jesus makes life worth living.

Because Jesus has died on the cross to give us a relationship with God, when we “eat of Him” by believing in Him and committing our lives to His Leadership, Jesus turns on the lights in our lives … He gives us the power of the Holy Spirit within us … He fills us with joy, peace and especially He pours the love of God in to our hearts … he grants us forgiveness of the past and power for the future. He gives us abundant life … when we “eat of Him” the Bread of Life.

All of this and probably more is what Jesus meant when He said, I am the Bread of Life. But tragically many in the crowd of erstwhile disciples deserted Jesus that day. Why? And how can we avoid their pitfalls? Let’s take a closer look.

1. The Materialists

Many of the people who followed Jesus at this point were hoping for a political Saviour. They wanted political solutions, free hand-outs, and material goodies. For them Jesus was the latest and greatest gravy train. Rome had recently had limited success by instituting a sort of welfare program that they called “Bread for Peace”. There were many hungry, jobless, homeless people in Rome. So the government tried to avoid riots by buying them off with goodies. The plan backfired, because the demands of the crowd simply grew and grew. Perhaps we are in a similar situation in South Africa with our social grant programme and all of the unmet demands of the impoverished majority of people in this nation. I think we can all see that there is a great danger of revolt in our nation because once you start with this kind of programme you can’t stop!!

Well, Jesus knew that he faced a similar problem the day after he fed the masses with barley bread and fish. In fact, when the crowd arrived, look at how he greeted them. He said: “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. (John 6:26)

On a very minor scale, I can see how Jesus felt. Have you ever hung out a bird-feeder and filled it with food. Have you seen how the birds swarm around? But do those birds love you? Do they appreciate you? Do they have any sense of loyalty in return for your generosity? The next day, when the bird feeder is empty, the birds will desert you and move on to the next bird-feeder down the road.

Missionaries in third-world countries often talk about “Rice Christians.” These are people who quickly convert to Christianity in exchange for food or some other physical benefit. The problem with Rice Christians is that when goodies are gone, so are they.

Modern-day Christians are not so different. Too many people use church for business contacts or community status. And then there are also those of us who follow Jesus because of the promise that He will provide us with material wealth or health or an easy life. Any time we are following Jesus for what He can give us, we have fallen into this trap.

“Rice Christians can be found all over the world”. They look to God only for what they can get. They are quick to turn their back on God the first time He doesn’t deliver what they want.

Jesus told the crowd: “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” (v27)

The MATERIALISTS turned away from his message.

2. The Legalists

They asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” John 6:28

If these people couldn’t get a free lunch, they at least wanted a list of rules they could hang on to. Moses, their great leader of the past had fed them on manna but he had also given them a long list of commands to follow in order to earn God’s favour. (At least that’s the way they understood it). If Jesus wouldn’t give them free food then let Him at least give them the rules to follow so that they could earn it from God.

Sadly religion, by its very nature, often draws some people who are actually looking for a dominating, charismatic leader to call the shots and take over their lives. There are many cult group these days led by someone who turns his followers into some sort of robots.

Throughout Christian history, the church has often fallen into the sin of LEGALISM. The problem is, it’s easier to make rules than to build relationships. Jesus wants to live in the heart of every individual believer. He has sent his Spirit to write His Law on our hearts. He calls every one of us to study His word for ourselves and learn from Him. When we do that, our lives begin to take on a meaning and purpose and fulfilment that is unspeakable … and corporately the church enjoys an amazing unity. We don’t need to publish a list of rules: “Do’s and don’ts for 2012”. All we need is to teach the scripture and to encourage everyone to seek a personal relationship with the Lord.

But some people simply don’t want a deep relationship with God, because relationships are too much like hard work and they demand our hearts. Many would rather give their grudging obedience than give their hearts. They’d rather find a strong leader and memorize a set of rules to follow. Jesus had no interest in this kind of follower. Jesus came to build relationships, not rules. 

When the crowd demanded a list of works, Jesus gave this surprising answer: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.” John 6:29

As amazing as it sounds, Jesus wants a genuine love relationship with every one of us. That kind of relationship can’t be bought with goodies, and it can’t be built on rules. The MATERIALISTS wanted the goodies more than they wanted God. The LEGALISTS wanted the LAW but not the GIVER of that law. They rejected Jesus as a replacement for the rule-keeping religion of that day.

3. The Sensationalists

These people asked Jesus this absurd question: “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?” John 6:30

Think about it. Jesus had just fed over 5,000 people with 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread. The very next day, they are asking him for a SIGN! Obviously the miracle of feeding the 5,000 gave them enough faith to climb in boats and row all the way across the lake to find Jesus. But yesterday’s miracle was not enough to last until the next morning.

We have plenty of these kind of churchgoers today. I think of them as “Consumer Christians”. If you keep them “wowed” and entertained, you’ll keep them around. But the moment you bore them they are gone. They crave spiritual excitement. They love spectacular entertainment. They want new experiences all they time. They want comfortable chairs, air-conditioned auditoriums, video clips in the sermons, sound and lighting shows with the worship music. At another level they want Jesus to take them from one mountaintop spiritual experience to the next … with no valleys in between. They want all kinds of rewards but no responsibility.

Churches today are filled with such people …  with an insatiable appetite for spiritual excitement and entertainment, but a total lack of responsibility toward the Lord Himself. The sad truth is that many believers are very fickle. That’s why so many people hop from church to church — always looking for the newest style, the latest seminar, the most electrifying concert, and the most exciting presentation. Sadly, it’s way too easy for church-going people to start chasing after the latest fad in the religious world.

Jesus did not come to give us endless spiritual highs. He came to give us a chance to know Him.

Conclusion

Look at the message Jesus gave to the MATERIALISTS, the LEGALISTS, and the SENSATIONALISTS that day:
“The bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
“Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.”

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. John 6:33-36

The response of the crowd tells us a lot about the difference between what people WANT and what people NEED. So often the very thing people need the most is the last thing they are looking for.

When you think about it, the people who walked out on Jesus wanted what he could give to them in the same way a customer might demand service for pay. They wanted to do business with Jesus: Jesus the soup kitchen, Jesus the cult leader, Jesus the miracle-worker. But Jesus the Bread of Life didn’t resonate with them. So they walked away.

It turns out that even some of His disciples wanted Jesus only for what they could get out of Him. They had no real interest in a relationship with God. Verse 66 gives this sad indictment: From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

That led to one of the most poignant moments in the Bible. Jesus, who was totally God, was also totally human. He felt what any of us would feel. He experienced the pain of rejection … especially the rejection of those he had considered close friends. Jesus turned to his apostles with a question that must have been hard to ask: “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

Thankfully, good old Peter came through for Jesus. He spoke for the group: Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:67-69

What about us today? Shall we stay … or shall we go?? Jesus the Bread of Life awaits our decision.

Titus 2:2-3

Older Men and Women

As we launch into our second week in this series, let’s just recall together that we are studying a letter from the apostle Paul to the younger pastor, Titus, whom Paul had sent to the rather wild and woolly island of Crete to establish order and leadership in the young church there. In this letter, he is giving Titus instructions on how to build a healthy church.

Last week we considered verse 1 and Paul’s instruction to Titus to teach the members of his churches to behave in ways that harmonise with sound doctrine. I suggested that Paul was saying that healthy doctrine leads to healthy behaviour.

What is also important to remember from last week is that there were a number of motives for godly behaviour:

  1. It makes for a healthy church
  2. It harmonizes with sound doctrine
  3. It honours the Word (v.5)
  4. It silences the enemy (v8), and
  5. It makes the Gospel attractive (v.10)

As we continue, Titus 2 is addressing various groupings within the church. Tonight the group being addressed are the “older men and women”.

What is old?

So I guess the first question to ask is “What is old?”

The word Paul uses is “presbutes”. Paul uses it to describe himself in Philemon 9 at a time when we know he was in his 60’s. In Like 1:18 it is used to describe Elizabeth and Zachariah when they were beyond the years of child-bearing. And Philo and Hypocrates both use the word to refer to people who are over 50.

So I would conclude we’re talking about people over 50. Remember that in those days life-expectancy was also much lower than it is now, so to be over 50 was not quite as common as it is today.

General approach to the elderly

The second general question to consider before we get right in to the text is whether there is a general approach that Scripture takes towards the elderly. The answer, of course, is yes.

When it comes to older people, Biblical Christianity places huge value on the elders. I would like to use the key word, “Honour”. The Bible teaches us to honour those who are older. Here are a few examples:

  • Leviticus 19:32: “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God.” So we are to honour the elderly out of reverence for God.
  • Job 12:12: “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” We are to honour the elderly because through the years they have learnt much about God and come to greater wisdom.
  • Psalm 71:17-18: “Since my youth, Oh God you have taught me, and to this day I declare Your marvellous deeds; even when I’m old and grey.” We are to honour the elders because they have had much longer than us to learn the things of God and to serve God.
  • Psalm 92:12-14: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree … they will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.” The elders have the opportunity to bear richer and fuller fruit than us younger people because they have had longer to draw on the life of the Holy Spirit. So we are to honour them.

The Biblical ideal for the Christ-centred community is that the older people among us become a treasure and a tremendous blessing because of the knowledge, experience, wisdom and good fruit that they possess.

However … and that’s a big BUT … there is no value in being old if you are not godly. Older people are a treasure to the fellowship IF they walk in the way of righteousness.

So the general biblical approach to older people is that they are to be treated with honour (regardless) and that they are to behave in an honourable manner!!

The second half of the emphasis on honour – their behaviour – is our focus for tonight.

Now before you get up and leave because you are not older and therefore you suspect there’ll be nothing in this for you tonight, hang on a bit … we are all getting older, one day at a time … and perhaps the older people in the church today are not behaving the way they should be because they also never wanted to pay attention to these scriptures when THEY were young and so now they’re getting it wrong. So if you are young, then think of tonight’s message as preparation for the future … an investment.

OLDER MEN

The verses are divided in their advice to older men first and then older women. Personally I think that these are all qualities that we should all be striving for, regardless of our gender. But we’ll keep the division which is probably there because the Holy Spirit knows better than we do that there are particular struggles that are common to men more than to women and vice versa.

Our first focus is on older men.

Temperate

The Greek word is “nephaleos” and it means “sober”. It is the opposite of “reckless”. So whereas it literally refers to not being drunk (and that is very good advice to older men wanting to be godly), its metaphorical sense, in which Paul is using it here, is to be moderate, not self-indulgent and not extravagant … able to think things through with clarity of thought. A person who is temperate is able to resist being led by the nose of their own emotions and pleasures and is able to make decisions and behaviour choices based on sound thinking which weighs the consequences of their actions and makes responsible behaviour-decisions.

The thought is that through the years this man’s priorities have become godly so that he is no longer living for selfish motives and pleasures, no longer living for pleasure or achievement or the applause of others … but now he is living for God’s pleasure and applause and so he can think clearly. He is focussed on what really matters!!

Dignified

The Greek word is “semnos” and it is the opposite of impetuous. A dignified person is serious about life, they live in a way worthy of respect, and they are honourable. A dignified person is not flippant or frivolous – they have lived long enough to discover that life is a serious thing and choices have serious consequences. They have recovered from their youthful feelings of immortality and invincibility.

The word also carries the meaning of “composed”. They carry themselves with a quiet decorum and are not easily thrown into a spin.

Sensible

Here the Greek word is “sofrone” and it is the opposite of thoughtless. Such a person has discretion and discernment and they are sound of mind and self-controlled. They have the sound judgment that Romans 12:3 talks about and this helps them to make wise decisions.

Healthy / Sound in Faith

They have an unwavering faith in God because they have walked for such a long time under God’s faithfulness. Because they have constantly experienced the faithfulness and trustworthiness of God they trust Him implicitly for the current challenges and pressures of life. They know the Lord well through both Scripture and Experience and therefore they trust Him and also inspire the church to trust Him.

Healthy / Sound in Love

They have a healthy and unwavering love for God and for others. Because this man loves God he is a worshipper who expresses himself in worship and shows all the other elderly people that passionate worship is not only for the young. But because of his love for people he is also involved in the ministry of carrying other people’s burdens. (Galatians 6:2)

He loves serving and he keeps loving even when his love is rejected. He is patient, he is kind, he is not jealous or boastful. He is not rude, nor proud, nor does he demand that everyone does things his way. He is not irritable, he does not keep a record of wrongs. He perseveres, holds onto faith and hope and is in it for the long run with endurance!!

A tragedy of growing older is how often that leads to people becoming crotchety, unloving, bitter and selfish.

Healthy / Sound in endurance

Over the years of discipleship an older man has been through trials and suffering and the Lord has developed endurance and courage because of that. His body may become weaker, but his spirit is growing stronger. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4: “Outwardly we are wasting away but inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”

Of course that process is not automatic, and again a tragedy is when an older person has allowed the trials of life to harden them to God instead of allowing them to harden them for God.

OLDER WOMEN

As I mentioned at the start, I think that all of these qualities are qualities for all older people to strive for regardless of gender, but ones that Paul mentions to Titus which he is particularly to teach the older women in the church to pursue are the following:

Reverent in their behaviour

Literally the verse says: “that they be in behaviour as becomes holiness”. The idea is that their behaviour should be fitting or appropriate for a holy person. They are holy because they are in Christ … and their behaviour should show it. That much is true for every Christian. Here Paul, through Titus is issuing a challenge to the older women to lead the way in behaving in ways that would be expected from someone who has direct access to God. They are to portray sacred character … godliness!

A beautiful scriptural example is Anna in Luke 2. She is named as Anna, daughter of Phanuel and we are told that she was an 84 year old widow who was constantly in the temple courts worshipping and praying and fasting. She dedicated her time to God …so much so that when we decipher her name we discover that her first name means “grace” and she is a daughter of “phanuel” which means, “the face of God”. She is grace, the daughter of God’s face. She sought and found God’s face daily in worship and I bet you that shone out of her.

Older women are called to be people out of whose faces the love and beauty of God shine!! Their beauty is no longer to be found in their looks but in what Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:9-10, “good deeds appropriate to those who worship God.” Their love for God shines out of them in the way they speak and act towards others. They honour God by their behaviour.

Not malicious gossips

Ouch! Older women and gossip. Hey, the Bible makes the connection, not me.

But wait, there’s more. What is a malicious gossip? The Greek translated here by “not malicious gossip” is “me” (that’s ‘not’) ‘diabolos’ (slanderers, false accusers … but more literally Satan, the false accuser).

Get this people of God, when you gossip you are diabolos … the devil. The devil’s role is to accuse others. When you and I speak negatively about someone who is not there to defend themselves that is gossip … and that is satanic by its very definition.

Sadly all too often groups of older women are characterised by one thing and one thing only – gossip. Paul tells Titus to teach his older women not to do that!!

Not addicted to much wine

Apparently in Crete, like in many places today, older people turn to stimulants to refresh their weary bodies and tired minds, and he says your women are not to do that. Your women don’t need to become slaves to that. It must have been a common thing as it is today. These older believers are not to become drunkards, they’re not to give themselves to wine, they’re to maintain their senses.

 

God knew people in that culture would have to drink fermented drinks because of the very poor water quality and the abundance of water-borne disease. Alcohol was used as a kind of disinfectant in the water. And wine was generally then mingled with water or reduced to a paste and then water was introduced into it again and it could be drunk. The implication here is not that they should not drink normal wine which would be mixed with water so you couldn’t get drunk from it, but the idea of someone who was a drunkard. Perhaps in the pain of their old age and maybe even in the loneliness of their old age they wanted to dull their senses a bit and so they gave themselves over to these things and he says that’s not fitting. They need to be in full use of their senses for God’s holy purposes. They are to be like priests who draw into the presence of God. Their tongue is to speak nothing but that which is edifying and seasoned with grace, never are they to talk like the devil does, slandering or gossiping and never are they to become slaves of anything that inebriates them or takes away their senses.

 

Teach what is good

 

Older women, says Paul, are to be taught to teach what is good.

If we keep reading we’ll see that their primary teaching role was to teach the younger women. So Titus taught the older women (who were more readily available and for whom it was more proper to be taught by a younger man) … and then they in turn were the proper people to have teaching the younger women (whose husbands would not have been charmed by them being taught by a younger man). You see, all things were done properly and in a way so as not to give the enemy an opportunity to slander the Gospel.

 

She is to teach what is good. The word is ‘kalodidaskalos’, one word, teach good. What is right and what is good is to encourage young women to love their husbands, love their children, be sensible,

pure, workers at home, etc., etc. That’s their primary role to raise a godly generation of young women. I challenge the older women in our church to do that. The young women in your life are crucial…crucial. And you have them, they may be your daughters, they may be your daughters in law. They may be your granddaughters, they may be your daughter’s friends, they may be your nieces, they’re around, they may be those you know because of friendships, the daughters of your friends. They may be people in the church family. I don’t think they’re asking here for some kind of formal seminar. You have to come alongside and teach them how to live life, nurture them to godliness.

 

Conclusion

What about the grey power in the church? We need the older people. Moses was 80 when God called him to lead Israel, 80. And he gave many excuses, but age wasn’t one of them. Don’t underestimate your capability.

John Wesley travelled 250 thousand miles by horseback or on foot to preach. He preached 40 thousand sermons, produced 400 books and knew 10 languages. At 83 he was annoyed that he couldn’t write for more than 15 hours a day without hurting his eyes. Get this, at 86 he was ashamed that he could only…that he couldn’t preach more than twice a day. And he said, since his eighty-sixth birthday, he had to admit there was an increasing tendency to lie in bed until 5:30 A.M. What a terrible decline in character that is.

 

This church needs godly older people. You have so much to offer. Godly older generation, you are crucial to the life of the church. And our role as younger people is to honour the older people and encourage them and, yes, even plead with them to take up their rightful places in our lives and in the church.

The Good Shepherd

John 10:1-18

Two men were once called upon to stand up in a large classroom and recite Psalm 23. The first was a trained orator. He recited the psalm powerfully and with perfect pronunciation and technique. When he was finished the group applauded and asked him to do it again they had enjoyed it so much. The second was a much older, less educated man. He repeated the same words, “The Lord is my Shepherd …” But when he finished no sound came from the large class. People simply sat in a deep mood of devotion and prayer.

Then the first man stood up again and approached the front of the class. He said: “The difference between what you have just heard from my old friend, and what you heard from me is this: I know the Psalm. My friend knows the Shepherd.”

The point of Jesus’ teaching this morning is that you and I would leave this church today knowing the Shepherd. For many of us, we do know Him, but perhaps through this Word today, we may come to know Him better.

Let’s also remember the context of these statements by Jesus. He has just healed the blind man by making mud and smearing it on the man’s eyes – in John 9 – and then He has pointed out to the religious people that they are spiritually blind. Immediately he then launches into this famous declaration that He is the Good Shepherd. What is He doing? He’s using a word-picture / an image to open the blind spiritual eyes to see Who He is. I pray that today we will come to a deeper knowledge of who this Jesus truly is.

The Counterfeit

Jesus starts His teaching by referring to the Pharisees as false shepherds. They had just thrown the healed man out of their sheep-pen because he didn’t keep their rules. They were shepherds to whom the sheep didn’t really belong. Why not? Because they didn’t love the sheep.

I read the story yesterday of an Australian court that heard the case of two men claiming the same sheep belonged to each of them. The judge had the sheep brought into the court and sent the two men outside the door, instructing them to call the sheep. When the first man called, the sheep got a fright. When the second called, he bounded over to the door. He recognised the voice of his shepherd. He recognised the voice of the one who cared for him.

The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is one that can teach us a lot about the Lord. Primarily it teaches us about His love. As we will see, there are many facets to the love of the Good Shepherd. So let’s jump right in.

1. A Personal Love

The Good Shepherd calls His sheep by name. This is a wonderful truth to meditate on. Jesus Christ knows your name and He speaks to you by name.

These days, whether you go to the bank, or attend a seminar, or call a call centre, you’re only a number. We have an ID Number and a Pin Number. We have a login name and a password. We may even have a facebook identity. But how many people really know us?

Jesus Christ the Creator of the Universe … the Lord of all … knows your name. He knows YOU inside and out. He knows every hair on your head and every wrinkle on your skin. He knows absolutely everything about you. To Him you are so much more than a number … you are YOU.

You may be just a face in the crowd. You may feel totally lost and alone in this big city … alone in a crowded room. But you’re not alone. And you’re not insignificant because you have a Shepherd who loves you personally.

The Good Shepherd loves us all personally.

2. A Gentle Guiding Love

He goes on ahead of them and the sheep follow Him because they know His voice. In the Middle East a shepherd does not drive his sheep along – he calls them by their names and then they follow the sound of his voice. They are never forced to follow. Rather they are invited to follow the Shepherd’s gentle call.

The false shepherds then and false shepherds now all want to drive the sheep. They want to get the people of God going by pushing and prodding and threatening. And that’s not only true for religious false shepherds. It’s also true for the salesmen and advisors who try to motivate us to buy this or subscribe to that out of fear for what will happen if we don’t.

Jesus never forces us. Jesus goes ahead of us and calls us to follow … but the choice is always ours. In His love for us He is calling us on to the life that is truly life … but we need to listen carefully to hear that voice.

I want to encourage you today to become conscious of the need to listen for the gentle guiding voice of Jesus. Spend time with Him so that your ear can become accustomed to His voice. There are so many competing voices in this world … but if we know His voice well, we will be able to tune out the other voices and tune in to His voice and follow Him faithfully as He gently calls us.

The Shepherd loves us with a gentle, guiding love.

3.  A Protecting Love

The same statement about Jesus going ahead of us also teaches us that Jesus’ love is a protecting love. If the shepherd goes ahead of the sheep then if there is any danger along the way, the shepherd deals with it before it reaches the sheep. This is a wonderful thought. Jesus goes ahead of us and deals with things before they even affect us. We call this kind of love prevenient grace. It is the grace that goes ahead of us. It is Jesus being at work in our lives even before we know it, and Jesus being at work in our day even before we get into it.

I love to think of this ministry of the Lord … that he is in my day before I get there. I hear echoes of it in the wording of the creation story. There, each day we are told, “There was evening and there was morning, the 1st day. And there was evening and there was morning, the 2nd day; etc.” Even today the Jews count days from sunset to sunset … not from midnight to midnight like us Gentiles. But what does that tell us? It tells us that when I go to sleep on Sunday night, Monday has already begun for the Lord. While I sleep and get my rest for the new week tonight, the Lord is already at work in my coming week to prepare the way for me.

The Shepherd loves us with a protecting love.

4. An inviting Love

IN mid-metaphor, Jesus does a switch. He says that not only is He the Shepherd but He is also the door to the sheep pen. In John 14 Jesus declares, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no-one comes to the Father except through Me.”

A door to a sheep pen has 2 functions. It functions to allow sheep to enter and exit the pen … and it functions to keep imposters and predators out! When you enter through a door you enter a place of safety, shelter, warmth and security. Jesus is cryptically declaring the truth that there is only one way to get into a real relationship with God … only one way to come home to God, and that is through Him!

It’s nice to know that we are loved. But it is possible to be loved by God and still, through our choices, to spend eternity separated from God. Jesus is the door to the Father’s House … but we still have to enter the door.

Today the Good Shepherd is inviting you to enter into a relationship with God through Him. He calls you gently, inviting you to come home to God through putting your faith in Him, Jesus!

Today Jesus loves you with an inviting love.

5. A Satisfying Love

Those who enter the door will go in and out and find pasture … I have come that they may have life in abundance.

Two amazing statements from Jesus, basically telling us the same thing: viz. that when we come into the Father’s Family through the doorway of Jesus, He will fulfil all of our spiritual needs. He will grant us fullness and abundance of life!

This is not a guarantee of health, wealth and comfort. It is a guarantee that no matter what evil life may throw at us, we will always have an overflowing supply of love, joy and peace from the hand of the Lord. We will have all the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God at our disposal (the water and bread of spiritual life) to keep us strong and healthy spiritually!

He love sus with a satisfying love!

6. A Sacrificial Love

The Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep.

You can always tell how much something is really worth to someone by how much they are willing to pay for it. You can have something that is worth a million bucks on paper, but if you don’t have a buyer willing to pay that for it, it is not actually worth that much.

In the same way if we truly love someone we are willing to sacrifice anything for them. We will give up things that previously were most precious to us if that is going to help the person we love.

Now for you and me, there was no price the Lord was not willing to pay … and there was nothing He was not willing to sacrifice. He gave everything He had … His very life …to purchase us out of slavery to sin and death. When he was asked how much he loved you, He stretched out His hands and said, “This much”, and then He died.

The love of Jesus for you is a sacrificial love. He is willing to die for you. You may feel that there is no-one in this world that loves you … but He thinks you’re to die for … He loves you enough to die for you.

7. An Intimate Love

I know My sheep and my sheep know Me.

When the word “know” is used in Scripture it is a very loaded word. It is a word that expresses the idea of deep intimacy. So for example in the Genesis account we are told that “Adam knew Eve and she bore him a son.” Isaac took Rebecca into his tent and he “knew” her.

So while an ordinary reading of this verse is correct – that Jesus knows His people and they know Him … it is not just about a casual passing knowledge. Jesus is telling us that He knows us intimately and deeply and that His desire for us is that we will also know Him deeply and intimately.

Jesus does not want to have only a superficial relationship with us. He wants to have a deep relationship … an intimate relationship with us. He wants the kind of relationship where we don’t hide anything from Him and where He is free to speak to us about anything.

For this to be the case of course we need to open our hearts and minds to Jesus daily in prayer and Scripture reading. There is no other way to get to know Jesus personally and intimately. And Jesus is longing to have deeper intimacy with us. After all he loves us with an intimate love.