Wednesday, August 30, 2017

True Religion: Boasting Only in the Cross - part 2
(8/27/2017 Message)
What is true religion?

Some people think because there are many religions there must be many paths to the top of Mt. Fuji, so to speak.

Maybe we are all just seeing different facets of the same truth, they say.

Others say, “No, science has already proven that all religions are just superstitions based on what people do not know or understand yet.”

“Left to observation, we will someday discover all the mysteries of the universe on our own,” they say.

But in our man-centered pride we have willfully blinded ourselves to the truth.

The truth that our Creator God has already clearly made Himself known and reveals Himself over and over, every single day to us, through the things that He has made.

God reveals Himself daily in the amazing and intricate universe of life and beauty that He has designed all around us.

And then, through His Word, the Bible, He has clearly spoken, so that, as the Bible says, mankind is without excuse before God for not seeking to know Him. (Romans 1:18-20)

As we learned two weeks ago, in reality, there are only two religions: true religion and false religion.

Two weeks ago I spoke about how the cross of Christ is at the center of true religion.

Last week Tony Barrera reemphasized that point at the end of his message.

We saw that all humans have pridefully gone away from their Creator God, and do not seek Him as God, but rather humans basically boast about themselves instead.

In every false religion people go through all sorts of rituals, customs, or personal reassurances to make themselves good and acceptable, and to comfort their own consciences.

But at the cross of Christ our sin against God is revealed for the great damage it does - our pride and self-centered boasting falls to the ground, as God’s love is simultaneously lifted up.

And then God and His grace alone is clearly seen as the sole means of salvation, hope, comfort.

When we come to know God’s love for us and the justice for our rebellion shown through the cross, our hearts finally find a place to both rest and rejoice: in Him and in His glory alone.

And that is what faith at its core is, it is a seeing and embracing God in Christ as our great treasure and salvation, not ourselves.

At the cross Jesus paid the punishment, the death penalty that our sins against God deserve, and only through His sacrificial atonement can we be saved from God’s eternal judgement.

This is why the Eph. 2:8-9 says, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast”

And so true religion is a wonderfully God-centered thing, it is not of our own doing and we cannot boast in ourselves over anyone else.

What a joy it is to find, not just truth in the Bible, but truth that saves us from all that plagues us and frees us to enjoy true joy and love with God that will last forever.

And so the goal of these two messages is to not only to know the truth that will save us, but also to help us all to enjoy more of the fullness of life that comes through Jesus Christ alone.

So Galatians 6:14 says, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

But maybe my last message two weeks ago raised some questions in your minds.

So are you saying then that Christians do not have to be concerned about living good lives?

And if our salvation and joy are all about God’s work, then can we just sit back and do nothing?

No, not in the least.

Let’s continue in Eph. 2: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (v.10)

The main point for today is this:

True religion says that God’s saving grace not only saves us, but begins to transform us into the likeness of Christ through faith in Him. (repeat)

ポイント 1: 本物の宗教は、救って下さるという恵みだけでなく、キリストにある信仰を通して、キリストに似たものへと造り変えて下さることである。

It is not about us trying to transform our own hearts and lives through self-centered effort.

By God’s grace, given through His Word, the Bible, we begin to love the good we see in Him and hate the evil we see, especially the evil in our own hearts.

And this is owing to how God works in our hearts through the faith and love He give us.

So transformation from sinful hearts to pure hearts through faith is an essential part of true religion that is pleasing to our Creator God.

Yes, Hebrews 12:14 says that without personal holiness no one will see the Lord. (show)

James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

But if our salvation is all about God’s grace and His work, how can this verse say that pure religion is also about what we do?

And if it is about what we do also, then how can God alone get all the glory for our salvation?

And how can Christianity not fall into the same man-centeredness that characterizes the rest of the world’s religions, including atheism?

As Tony pointed out last week, this is why we need God’s Word, the Bible, daily: To reveal our wrong thoughts and to lead us into right thinking and, with by His help, to a right heart.

God wants to give us a heart like His own, one that is full of love for weak and needy people, like orphans and widows and others who are struggling through life, just as we were.

This is the same way that He loves and has compassion on us, as we struggled through life under our slavery to sin as non-Christians.

Titus 2:14 says, “[Christ] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

You see, at the heart of true religion is that we are forgiven and accepted by God, not because we have done good works, but rather to make us able and zealous to do them. (repeat)
ポイント 2: 本物の宗教の心は、神様によって赦され、受け入れられているという点であり、私たちのよい働きにはなんの関係もなく、むしろ、よい働きができるように、また望むようにさせて下さることである。

So true religion is not about what we do, but about a freeing transformation through the power of the cross of Jesus Christ that propels us to do good.

I have heard many Japanese and Americans say, “There are good people in every religion, so why do I need to be a Christian?”

At the heart of this question is again a man-centered way of thinking that says, “Good works are about what we do, and really that is the most important thing.”

But that is not the most important thing - God is the most important thing.

We do good works because He is good, and we long to reflect His love and be more like Him.

God’s Word says that we are fundamentally sinners who have rejected our Creator God, and so no one is going to go to heaven on the basis of their own goodness.

Because we are criminals, who have trampled on God’s glory, there are no “good people” in God’s eyes.

We all need His amazing grace every day, Christians included.

So why do Christians want to be good?

Because Jesus died on the cross to help us know the best, to make us more like Him, so that we could be drawn into the same enjoyment of God and His glory that He has.

God wants to give us the best, and the only way He can do that is to make us more like Him.

Henry Scougal, way back in 1677 said this, “The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love.”

If you love dirty, shameful, and selfish things, your soul will be dirty, shameful, and selfish.

But if you love the grand, eternal and infinite beauty of God, your soul will become more and more beautiful, noble, and excellent too.

God cares for our bodies, but He especially cares for our souls.

Because He wants the best for us, He wants our souls to have a passion for Him and for good works, as Titus 2:14 says.

He knows that this is what will really satisfy our souls and make them excellent and full of lasting joy!

1 Peter 3:18 says, “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”

All the countless benefits of the cross lead to this as their essence and aim: to bring us to God.

For in His presence is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore, Psalm 16:11 says.

It is not because God needs us to be good, but rather because He loves us and wants the best for us!

We don’t earn anything by good works, rather good works are gifts to us, through the power of Holy Spirit working in us through faith in the cross.

Isa. 26:12 says, “O Lord, you will ordain peace for us, for you have indeed done for us all our works.”

This is why when we get a look into heaven, and see the 24 elders before the throne in Revelation 4:10,

they cast down their crowns before Him and declare that everything good comes from Him.

Through the grace given through the cross, we begin to seek Christ, and come to trust Him, and we are purified by Him as we seek to become more and more like Him.

Truly, we owe Him thanks for every good thing we have or do.

Now to be sure, through faith in Christ and His cross, legally we have already been declared to be perfectly righteous in His eyes. In other words, we are justified.

Colossians 2:14 says that the cross has cancelled “the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.”

Hebrews 10:10 says, “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

And so we can say once and for all, “I am saved,” and “I am clean,” when we come to trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

However, this does not mean that Christians suddenly become perfect in experience or can now just be on autopilot, with God telling them every step to take.

No, rather by faith we begin to work out that salvation with fear and trembling in the Lord,

for it is God who is still at work within us both to will and work for His good pleasure, as Phil. 2:12-13 says. (show)

God works in us, and we work out that salvation in practice as we immerse ourselves in His Word and prayer, through the power of His Holy Spirit that lives in our hearts.

As we saw before, through faith God begins to give us a holy passion and zeal for good works.

Hebrews 10:14 says this: “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

So we are already perfect in our standing before God by His grace given through the cross alone, and yet we are still being made perfect -

We are still being sanctified. And until heaven, we will not be perfect in experience.

Sometimes, when I or my son Noah make problems for others by our mistakes or sins, I pat him on the shoulder and say to him, “We are still in process, aren’t we.”

It is my way of assuring Him that God still has a lot of work to do in both of our lives, even though we both love Jesus Christ and are dedicated Christians.

Sometimes non-Christians look at the sins and mistakes of Christians as a way to prove to themselves that Christianity therefore cannot be true.

What we all need to understand is that no Christian should ever claim to be without sin!

In fact 1 John 1:8-9 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

As Philippians 2:12 and 13 say, we are still in the process of working out our salvation as He works in us, through His power.

So 2 Corinthians 7:1 says, “Bring holiness to completion in the fear of the Lord.”

But we are not going to become holy and pure by our own strength, nor are we asked to.

As we live daily with fear and hope in the Lord, and seek to know Him through His Word, we can be empowered by Him to be transformed and grow closer to Him.

Psalm 147:10 says, “His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, 11 but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.”

So God is not looking for strong people to show Him how good they can be.

He wants us to admit our weaknesses, receive forgiveness, and then put our joy and confidence in His strength to help us do what is good and right.

It is not that God does not like horses, or the legs and strength of mankind.

He made both, and in their proper use He loves them both!

But neither are a reason for boasting or rejoicing in and of themselves.

All of the mental and physical power and health to do well is a gift from the Lord.

So God takes no pleasure in those who boast in their own ability, as if it were not a gift.

No, the Lord takes pleasure in those who realize the truth, that all of our strength and goodness and hope come from Him alone.

Often times I have felt that I am too weak to be a good dad or husband or teacher, and so I tell God that through prayer.

And that is when God has loved to come to me and powerfully help me do what I otherwise could not.

Many times I have finished teaching a class and thought, “Wow! Thank you, God, for working and helping me do that well.”

If you knew me right before I became a Christian, you would never believe that one day I would be preaching here at church.

Of course my lifestyle was not that of a Christian’s, but even more so, there is no way you would imagine me giving messages in front of large groups of people!

In junior high I remember turning red and having a cold sweat come over me when simply taking turns to read aloud in class.

As a freshman in college, I skipped classes and took bad grades instead of giving even a 5 minute speech.

Ironically, though I was a prideful person, I was also deeply insecure and afraid of what other people around me would think if I made a mistake.

In this group culture, maybe some of you can relate to being afraid of the group like I was.

The night I became a Christian I read a verse that said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10)

All along I had been afraid of the opinions of others, and now God was telling me that I really just needed to fear and respect one opinion: His opinion and what He thought of me.

But how do you hope in someone you also fear, as it says here? How are we to both fear God and hope in Him as well?

Usually hope and fear are opposite emotions.

Well, let’s imagine that you are in Greenland on a polar expedition.

You are looking over a huge ice canyon when suddenly a violent storm comes upon you.

You begin to realize that this powerful, icy wind is going to blow you right over the edge of the canyon and you have no hope to escape death.

And then suddenly you notice that there is a little cleft in a rock that you can hide inside, away from the storm where it will no longer affect you.

As you safely watch the storm around you blow, you are in awe of its power and you tremble at its ability to change the landscape.

And at the same time you rest in the hope that because of the strong rock you are completely safe.

When we find the resting place of Christ after realizing that we are doomed for our sins against our Almighty Creator God, we are in awe of who He is.

Like that powerful storm, our Creator is Almighty is coming at us with both the power and the right to send us into hell forever for our rebellion against Him.

And then Christ, God in human flesh, comes and becomes for us the strong rock of hiding and protection against God’s just wrath against our rebellion.

He takes all the winds and the abuse of the storm in our place, so that we might know His great love and have the firm hope and confidence of salvation in Him.

And like resting behind a strong rock, we become confident in His love for us.

And that is why I can preach with confidence today, because I know that I am completely safe in the rock of Jesus Christ already.

And you can be also.

Jesus, the rock of safety, needs none of my help, but He loves to provide for and protect us.

And in the end, that Rock, Jesus Christ, gets all the glory and we get all the joy in Him.

And although we have become adopted into God’s family and called his own dear children through faith, we still need that same gospel every day when the winds around us blow.

Every day we need God, every day we need the grace given through the cross of Christ.

And everyday we need to remember the power of God to transform us through His Word and by His Spirit living within our hearts as we seek to know and be close to Him.

Finally, 1 John 3:9-10.

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

While Christians still sin, we do not make a practice of sinning as we did before becoming Christians.

We are no longer enslaved by sin, but rather we are led by the Spirit of God, and therefore we cannot go on sinning as before.

This verse says that if we are of God then we will practice righteousness, and have love for other people, though never perfectly in this life.

And God does all of this in our hearts because we have become His children.

As children we are being shaped to look more and more like our Father in heaven.

As any small child, we will need both His discipline and training, as Hebrews 12:10 says.

And we will need the food of His Word to both grow and purify our hearts, as John 6:35 and 17:17 say.

We cannot be like Christ unless we get to know Him and communicate with Him through His Word often.

I am a twin and sometimes, when my brother and I were growing up, it seemed that we had ESP.

Sometimes we would suddenly start singing the same song at the exact same time, or say the same random words at the same time.

It was really funny and weird back then, but now that I think about, it probably wasn’t really that strange at all.

As brothers who spent vast amount of times with each other, enjoying the same things and the same events, and being the same age and the same gender,

And being that we were best friends, and had the same friends, it could be expected that we would start to think and act like each other at times.

In the same way, let us so walk with God each day, and meet with Him daily in His Word, and fellowship with His people

such that we can be more like Him and enjoy more of the same things He does.

Let us be ready to say just the thing that Jesus would say or do just the thing He would do.

To offer a kind word or an encouraging touch, and to declare the gospel to others around us.

There is not a better perspective nor a more excellent soul than His to emulate.

The Bible says that we are to grow up in Him and be rooted in Him and reflect God’s image more and more in our lives.

We are to become more and more like Christ, who is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature. (Heb. 1:3)

So let us live for the same things He did so that we can know the best of what He has to offer.

And what was Jesus’ ultimate purpose on Earth?

Jesus came to save us and reveal the glory of our Father God for our everlasting joy in Him.

Before going to the cross, in John 12:27-28, Jesus said this,

“for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.”

That was the #1 purpose Jesus had when He went to the cross, so that God would be honored and glorified and enjoyed for His amazing grace on us.

Jesus wants us to be brought into His family so that we could also enjoy the same thing He has from before time started,

And that is to be with God forever and enjoy His goodness and glory too.

There is nothing better, and no better gift that He could give us.

Let us share that same gift of love through our service to others unto all the nations, so that the entire world might be changed forever by Him in their lives.

What an amazing and wonderful purpose we were created for!

Let us pray.

Dear Lord, help us to see Christ and savor Him as our treasure and salvation.

For you say, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Please equip us and help us, so that we may delight in you, rejoice in you and then reveal your goodness through everything we say and do.

Help us to be bold, with the confidence we have in you, to not live for the praise of others, but to fear you and give people what they really need in You.

We thank you for the joy it is to walk through our lives with you as our Savior and Lord.

Help us to grow closer to you by communicating with you through the truth of your Word each day.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Reformation Day!

What is Reformation Day? It is the day the light of the gospel broke forth out of darkness. It was the day that began the Protestant Reformation. It was a day that led to Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and may other Reformers helping the church find its way back to God’s Word as the only authority for faith and life and leading the church back to the glorious doctrines of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It kindled the fires of missionary endeavors, it led to hymn writing and congregational singing, and it led to the centrality of the sermon and preaching for the people of God. It is the celebration of a theological, ecclesiastical, and cultural transformation.
So we celebrate Reformation Day. This day reminds us to be thankful for our past and to the Monk turned Reformer. What’s more, this day reminds us of our duty, our obligation, to keep the light of the gospel at the center of all we do. - Stephen Nichols

Read more here. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Twelve Ordinary Men

(My message from today at church)

Let’s begin by reading our text today from Luke 6:12-15.

12In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. 13And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: 14Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, 16and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

Before we jump into this text I want to first tie it to a historical event that is recorded in the Old Testament.

One thing that is unique about the Bible is that even though it was written by over 40 authors in 3 different languages over a period of 1,500 years,

it has one consistent developing message that is more layered with connections and foreshadowing than the world’s most highly thought-out novels.

And amazingly its foundation is built firmly on fulfilled prophecy and actual events and people in history!

It becomes obvious to those who humbly seek to understand the Bible, that it could not have been authored by anyone but a sovereign God who has planned out history!

God wants us to see His goodness and reliability so that we can confidently trust Him with our lives and use our lives to help others know Him also.

Well, in the Old Testament book of Judges, chapter 6, God comes in the form of an angel to speak to a simple and ordinary man named Gideon.

Instead of calling him ordinary though, God calls him a mighty man of valor, since God Himself is with him. (show v.12)

Gideon doesn’t seem to realize that it is the LORD who is speaking, and so he replies,

“Please, my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” (Judges 6:13)

Gideon had not seen the wonderful things his ancestors did, and he doubts God’s plan.

Maybe you have also doubted God’s ability to work positive change and salvation in the lives of your neighbors, friends, or even in your own life.

The great deeds of the Lord that we read about in the Bible seem like fairy tales to many.

Gideon had heard of the LORD’s great works in Egypt to bring the Israelites out of slavery through the Red Sea, but now he sees only oppression from the Midianites.

So God calls this ordinary man to do the extraordinary, to free Israel from the Midianites.

Gideon replies, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house.” (v.15)

Maybe you have felt this way when God calls you to do the seemingly impossible - To tell your family, friends and neighbors of the gospel and lead them to Christ.

Maybe you have replied this way also, “But Lord, what can I do? I am weak, I can’t speak well, I don’t even know the Bible very well.”

Later Gideon, in his weakness twice tests the Lord by laying a fleece on the ground.

He wanted to be sure that it was really God who was speaking to him.

There is no indication here or anywhere in the Bible that says it is okay to test the Lord like this.

In fact Jesus quoted the Old Testament when he said that we should not put the Lord to the test.

But God has mercy and even chooses to use this weak and sinful man for His plan!

Before Gideon goes to battle, God cuts his army from 32,000 soldiers to only 300.

The LORD explains to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ (Judges 7:2)

God was purposefully making Gideon and His army realize their great weakness so that He alone would get all of the glory when Israel was victorious.

And today also He specifically chooses to use weak people like us, so that we can see Him do amazing things too

and so that all the glory will go to where it rightly belongs: to Him alone.

In our verses today Jesus chooses his twelve disciples.

Just like when He chose Gideon (or Moses or Abraham or David for that matter) he chooses ordinary men and gives them a calling and a mission to accomplish.

And because they are weak and ordinary, God alone gets all the glory when through them the mission succeeds.

These are the twelve who would become the twelve apostles and would be sent out with Christ’s authority to preach the gospel after Jesus went back to heaven.

We do not know how many people were following Jesus at this point trying to learn from Him,

but we do know that the crowds were becoming so large it was hard for him to even move around freely.

Jesus’ ministry would last for just 3 short years, and it was roughly half way through this time when Jesus called his disciples in order to train them to carry on His ministry.

Some might imagine that if Christ had wanted His message to have maximum impact, He could have played off his popularity more effectively.

Modern wisdom would suggest he ought to have done everything to exploit his fame, tone down the controversies, and then call for even greater rallies and events.

But at about the time when the crowds were largest, Jesus preaches a message so boldly confronting to the tastes of the crowds that only the most devoted stayed on.

Among those who stayed were the Twelve, whom He personally selected to train and whom He appointed to represent Him.

You see the kingdom of God advances, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6)

And so these disciples were perfect because they were ordinary in every way.

Not one of them was a great scholar or speaker.

In fact they were outsiders as far as the religious establishment of Jesus’ day was concerned.

They were not outstanding in any natural talents or intellectual abilities.

On the contrary, they were all too prone to mistakes, misstatements, wrong attitudes, lapses of faith, and bitter failure- and no one more than the leader of the group, Peter.

At least four and possibly seven were fishermen and close friends from the unimportant town of Capernaum.

Galileans were deemed low-class, rural, and uneducated people.

Matthew, as we learned two weeks ago, had been a tax collector - a thief and virtually a traitor to the Jewish nation.

Yet with all of their faults and weaknesses, as remarkably ordinary as they all were, these men carried on Jesus’ ministry by His power after He went back to heaven.

God graciously empowered and used these few ordinary men to change the world, and their influence continues even on to this day.

As the apostles preached and healed, by God’s Spirit, God did amazing things through them.

And God’s Spirit also inspired them, as well as the former killer of Christians, Paul, to record for us the entire New Testament!

The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:26, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

Many Christians become discouraged and disheartened when their spiritual life and witness suffer because of sin and failure.

We sometimes think we are worthless in God’s kingdom and God could never use people like us.

And left to our own strength, that would be true!

But just like Gideon and the disciples, weak people are just the kind of people God loves to use - and really that includes all of us!

The sooner we realize our inability without Him, the sooner we can look to His strength and His Spirit to help us and be empowered to do greater things for His glory.

If you are a Christian, He wants to use your life to reveal His greatness too!

According to Isaiah 61:3, the prophesied result of Jesus’ ministry would be this:

“that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.”

And when God is most glorified, we are most satisfied in Him.

Our text for today started off with these words: “In these days(Luke 6:12)

It refers back to the accounts we have already looked at when there was escalating tension between Jesus and the religious leaders of Judaism.

The religious leaders opposed Jesus for forgiving the sins of the paralytic man.

They opposed Him for eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners.

Last week we saw that they opposed Him again when He permitted His disciples to pluck and eat grain on the Sabbath, and then when he healed on another Sabbath.

The conflict had reached a high point in Luke 6:11.

But they (the scribes and Pharisees) were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus. (Luke 6:11)

They were already furiously hatching plans to put Jesus to death.

It is at this precise point that Luke interjects that Jesus chose His disciples.

With only 18 months or so left before he would die, Jesus’ plan was to choose His apostles who would receive His personal training and be sent out as His ambassadors.

Today also, judging from history and the Bible, we are not assured that peace will continue forever for Christians in this nation.

So let’s train ourselves by growing close to Christ and His Word so that if the church ever has to stop meeting publically

or if the missionaries have to leave the country, the church will not stop growing!

We are all called to become Jesus’ ambassadors, sent out with His power and message like the disciples were!

To make sure Jesus did what the Father wanted Him to do, He spent the night in prayer.

In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.” (v. 12)

We have seen before that Jesus often got away to spend time with His Father, even when He was so busy with ministering to the needs of those around Him.

He found it necessary to remain close to His Father, and perhaps especially now, as He needed to make such an important choice about the future.

But, I believe that part of the reason He did this was to be an example to us who are also in need of guidance from our Father God.

We need to have His heart and His mind also, and this can only be obtained by spending a good amount of time with God in prayer over His Word.

“And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.” (v. 13-16)

In chapter 5 we already saw the calling of Simon, whom Jesus called Peter, or Rock, as well as the brothers James and John, his co-workers and friends in the fishing business.

Two weeks ago we saw the calling of Levi, or Matthew, as he was called.

But from a great crowd of many of these called ones, Jesus now calls those who will now become closest to Him and be named the Twelve apostles.

Peter, James and John formed the circle that was closest to Jesus and would be asked to accompany Jesus more and become the leaders.

Peter had a leader-like temperament, but like all the others he had both strengths and weaknesses.

Though he was clearly the leader of the twelve, he was far from perfect.

Even after being anointed by the Holy Spirit and even after performing miracles in Jesus’ Name and preaching great sermons that led thousands to Christ,

even then, the apostle Paul had to rebuke Peter for his error.

Even the best Christians will many times need to repent for their mistakes and sins.

I believe Jesus called Simon - the Rock, because Peter needed encouragement that he could be a strong leader if he lived in and trusted Christ’s power and not his own.

Eleven of the apostles are great encouragements to us because they exemplify how common, weak people like us can be used by God to do uncommon, remarkable things.

But the last apostle listed here, Judas, serves as a warning to us about the danger of living for our own sinful desires rather than living for Jesus and His kingdom.

What is amazing about the Twelve is that the choosing of the traitor Judas was part of a divinely guided process - Jesus knew what he would become.

Judas began just like the others began, but he never truly laid hold of Christ by faith as his Lord, and so he was never transformed like the rest.

While the rest were increasing in faith as sons of God, he was becoming more and more focused on money, power, and the things of this world.

It is significant that when Jesus predicted one of them would betray Him, no one pointed the finger of suspicion at Judas (Matthew 26:22-23).

He was so expert in his hypocrisy that no one seemed to distrust him.

He was so trusted he even kept the money bag for the whole group, and no suspected that he was in fact stealing from it. (show John 12:6)

But Jesus had known his heart from the beginning and still chose him. (show John 6:64-65)

The paradox of how divine sovereignty and human choice work together can be seen in Judas’ calling, but it is actually the same with the other apostles too.

They had all chosen Jesus, and yet He had chosen them first (show John 15:16).

In John 13:18, Jesus cites Psalm 41:9 and says, “I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’”

And in Matthew 26:24, Jesus says, “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

Through many verses in the New Testament and by the linking prophecies of the O.T we can see that it was always God’s plan to use Judas the traitor,

and yet it was Judas himself who committed the sins that led him to betray his Master to the religious leaders for just thirty pieces of silver.

Jesus’ plan was to go to the cross, and Judas’ sin was used by God to put Him there.

God has a plan that cannot be thwarted, so let us take care that we do not serve the plan of God like Judas did.

Let us seek the Lord in our weaknesses and sins, and use the opportunities we have to humbly come before Him by faith and learn from Him.

As we humble ourselves under Him, we will be changed into bold witnesses of Him to others, not because we were so wise and good, but because our Lord is.

As we grow with God, I encourage each of us to take younger believers under our wings, just like Jesus did, and train them up in the faith.

We can all be in the process of learning from others and training others around us, but we need to pray for this, like Jesus did, and then make a plan!

So I want to encourage you this week to take time, like Jesus did, to pray and seek God about how you can invest more deeply into the lives of those around you too.

Who does God want you to learn from? Who does God want you to invest in?

For some of you, like the disciples, you need to take the next step of trusting God and forget about yourself and your weaknesses and step out for His glory.

Maybe that means receiving training so you can preach or give your testimony at church, or maybe it means preparing yourself to talk with your neighbors about Christ.

I want to close with a Bible verse that has encouraged me, as a weak, ordinary Christian, to step out also and come to a new country as a missionary.

To move to a new country and learn a new language and become a missionary was a big step for an ordinary man like me, but I am trusting a BIG God!

Preaching the gospel and sharing our faith with others is not about how great we are, it is about how great God is!

“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
Let’s pray.

We also want people to recognize your presence in our lives, and be changed, dear Jesus.

Transform us and give us your vision as we spend time with you, Lord.

Help us to humbly follow you and be equipped like the eleven were, to be your ambassadors.

Help us realize that the all-surpassing power we need to share the good news with those around us is not from ourselves but it is from you. (2 Cor. 4:7)

We are like clay pots, but the treasure is inside of us, the treasure is You.

Help us and equip us to be your disciples so that we can help others who need you also.

Help us to step out in faith for the sake of your glory in this world.

In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen