Jesus' vision statement


What is our purpose as a church? 


Let us understand that Jesus had a purpose. 

Sermon Plan 

We will look at the gospel to the poor, Jesus' vision statement and our freedom in Christ. 

When churches neglect the poor 

Some Christians say they take the Bible literally, but then twist Jesus’ teachings about the Gospel for the poor (Luke 4:14-21) into spiritual poverty and preaching the Gospel alone without lifting a finger to help. We ought to take Jesus’ instructions about the poor more literally, because a part of bringing the good news is to live it out here and now. Half of Americans will experience poverty at some time. Income is declining for everyone except the very wealthy. A quarter of Americans earn poverty-level incomes. Educational costs are becoming impossible and yet low education causes poverty. Single and abused women are more likely to be poor. Only about a third of disabled people are able to find work. Jesus brings good news for the poor, and he expects us to deliver it not just in words alone. 

What Jesus said about the poor 

Jesus said the Gospel is good news for the poor (Luke 4:14-21). What else did he say about them? He told a rich man to sell everything and give it to the poor (Matthew 19:21), that we always have the poor but not him (Matthew 26:11), that the poor are blessed because the kingdom of heaven is theirs (Luke 6:20), giving to the poor cleans us on the inside (Luke 11:40-41) and provides us treasure in heaven (Luke 12:33). We should invite the poor to our parties (Luke 14:13) and the poor can be more generous than the rich (Luke 21:1-4). Some of us just play church, warm a pew, or pray and await a spiritual experience. And some of us know that real worship is taking good news to the poor. 

Jesus’ vision statement 

Many churches have a vision statement. After months or even years of discussion, that vision is summarized in a few succinct words. Jesus also gave a vision statement of sorts, and he quoted parts of Isaiah 61 to do so (Luke 4:14-21). He implied that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, because he had anointed Jesus to preach the gospel to the poor. He had sent Jesus to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. Is that a part of our vision as well? Is our primary purpose to preach, heal, deliver, give sight and liberty, or are we so tied to our ways that we are unwilling to follow after Jesus? 

Jesus’ homecoming debut 

Homecomings can be awkward. Old friends find it hard to accept the new you. You have finished your education and are now a respected professional in your field or worse, a preacher. Preachers find it hard to pastor their home churches, because a prophet is not without honor, except among his own down home neighborhood folk. So what was Jesus going to do for his homecoming debut before a familiar crowd (Luke 4:14-21)? Would he shrink back and pretend he was not on a special mission from God or would state his purpose plainly and bluntly? Imagine the gasps and whispering as he told it like it was! The prophecy that Jesus read from Isaiah was fulfilled in their presence that day. He was not ashamed of it. He was not bragging. He was simply declaring a mind-blowing fact. 

Free or squashed 

A lady visiting a church was told that only prostitutes wear makeup. She never went back. A man was told that tattoos defiled the temple of the Holy Spirit. He thought that he was decorating the temple. A preacher once danced to Cossack music and was criticized for not acting dignified. A churchgoer practiced hard to become a champion poker player. Some people gossiped saying he had a "gambling addiction." They had a "gossip addiction." The judgmental, restrictive yoke that many churches have become, tends to squash people into a prison of negativity and discouragement. Are we free in Christ, or in a religious prison, squashed, oppressed, and stunted? Let’s take the freedom that Jesus gave us! We are free to be who God made us to be, so forget the criticism of others (Luke 4:14-21). Let’s live free! 

Free from ungrace 

Since coming to mainstream Christianity I have experienced much wonderful grace. Superintendents, mentors and guides have accepted me with open arms and overlooked my many faults. I remember such wonderful grace in my grandmother and in my father in his old age. However, I spent years in a more legalistic part of the Evangelical world which rarely understood such wonderful grace. In discussion, one former district superintendent suggested that the theological basis of depravity prevented some Christians from seeing the good in people. Thankfully, some Protestant churches have retained our ancient heritage of remembering what God said of the original creation, that it was good. That foundation of goodness from creation sets us free from the prison of judgmentalism and oppressive negative thinking prevalent in some Christian denominations. Coupled with God’s forgiveness we are truly free indeed (Luke 4:14-21). 

Human nature good or evil

Is human nature good or evil? It depends where we start. If we start with the fall of man, then naturally we would be inclined to call human nature evil. However, those who say that human nature is good start earlier than Adam’s sin. They start with God’s original creation when he concluded that it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Catholics and Orthodox and mainstream Protestants say that the human nature that God gave us is “very good” and that claiming human beings are in “total depravity denies the image and likeness of God in mankind.”[1] On the other hand a positive theological anthropology sees that even in the vilest of human beings there is good. Such a worldview proclaims freedom for those held imprisoned by a negative perspective and freedom from depression and cynicism (Luke 4:14-21).

Outro/Take Home 

Jesus was concerned that the gospel went especially to the poor. What is the purpose of our church. Is it not to take the gospel to the poor, freedom for prisoners and setting the oppressed free?

Jesus making good better


What do wine and weddings have to do with you and me? 


Let us understand that Jesus makes good better. 

Sermon Plan 

We will look at weddings, making good better, abundance and the best from Jesus. 

Something always goes wrong 

Few weddings go off without a hitch. Something always goes wrong. In a recent family wedding the groom got a little ahead of things and started to lift his bride’s veil, much to the enjoyment of the preacher and the audience. The wine preparations for the wedding at Cana went south (John 2:1-11). It’s not clear whether the wine ran out or some was discovered to have already turned to vinegar. Bottom line: there was not enough for a week long celebration. The Bible describes wine as a blessing from God but like many blessings, dangerous if it's abused. In that society hospitality was much more highly expected than today. Jesus saved the wedding from a very embarrassing social catastrophe. As Christians we have the right and the privilege to ask Jesus for a miracle when something goes wrong. 

Making good better 

One Bible commentary describes the miracle of turning water into wine as not making “bad good, but good better” * (John 2:1-11). So, the institution of marriage is a good thing whereby a man and a woman become one flesh. Yet without Christ, a marriage is like water, good but not better. When we invite Christ as a guest into our marriages, he can turn the good water of human relationships into the better wine of heaven. Jesus provided the best wine at the wedding feast and provides the best wine to bless our marriages. And just as at the wedding feast Jesus does not do so by skimping, but generously. When Jesus blesses a marriage he does so abundantly. God gave us good things in all of life, but if we let him Jesus can make the good better. 

* Jamieson, Fawsset and Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. 1871. Web. January 15, 2013. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library. <

Theology of abundance 

What is a theology of abundance? It is not reckless destruction of the environment because of a belief that natural resources are unlimited. It is a belief in spiritual resources beyond our limited world. It is faith that God will provide abundantly and so we can be generous rather than greedy. We could believe that what we have is all that God will provide and so hoard things and bury them in a napkin rather than work to grow God’s gifts. A theology of abundance is based on faith in the acts of God such as Jesus feeding the 5,000 with only a few fish and loaves. It is a belief that Jesus can turn water into wine (John 2:1-11). It is a belief in the midst of the ordinary that the best wine is yet to come. 

A Jewish wedding 

What kind of wedding were Jesus and the disciples invited to at Cana (John 2:1-11)? In those days marriages were not a state or even a church affair, but a family one. The parents of the prospective couple were the authorities that approved the marriage and the engagement was as binding as a marriage contract is today. Once agreed to, the groom may have taken a year to build a house or addition onto his parents’ home. Then he came for his bride. With great celebration they entered their new dwelling to consummate the marriage. Only then did the festivities begin. and lasted a week with the whole community celebrating. A large amount of food and wine was needed, that’s why Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine may have supplied perhaps as much as 120-180 US gallons. 

The best wine 

When Jesus’ turned water into wine (John 2:1-11) it was described as the best wine. What makes the best wine? Let’s ignore the snobbery that goes along with brand names and regions and look at some things that make for real quality. Let’s focus on high quality dessert wines. They take more effort than an ordinary table wine. For an ice wine, the harvest is made at precisely the right moment when the grapes freeze while on the vine and pressed overnight while still frozen. This yields a more concentrated and sweeter wine than than an early harvest wine and is more expensive. Other dessert wines like Sauterne or Trockenbeerenauslese are also late harvest wines squeezed when the grape is almost dry yielding less wine per pound of grapes. That’s why quality dessert wines are sweeter and more expensive. 

Outro/Take Home 

Just as Jesus' mother Mary asked him to make good better,so too do we have the right and privilege to invite him into our lives and make good better.

Babylonian Captivity & Christmas


What do the Babylonian Captivity of Israel and the visit of the Magi 500 years later have to do with each other? What can we learn from the story of the Magi? 


Let us understand that God loves all peoples. 

Sermon Plan 

We will look at the Babylonian Captivity, the Magi and the gifts. 

Babylonian captivity & Christmas 

How does Israel’s Babylonian Captivity tie in with Christmas? What if our country was conquered by a foreign nation and large numbers of our population were exiled, taken captive for about 60 years? We have never experienced that, but historically native Americans and African Americans have. English history in Australia and the U.S. State of Georgia was begun by exiling prisoners to form a population base. During Israel’s captivity the current Babylonian Hebrew alphabet began. Jeremiah, 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Daniel and several deuterocanonical books recorded it. Many Jews never returned home. It was probably also their first major contact with the Magi, who were the sacred class in ancient Babylon. Their knowledge was a mixture of astrological superstition, semi-scientific alchemy, magic and early Zoroastrianism. It was descendants of this group who honored Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:1-12). 

Former captors celebrate Jesus 

Jews were deported from their own land into Babylonian captivity during the 500’s BC. At that time the chief of the magi was Nergal-Sharezer. They were the wise men of Babylon, priests, physicians, alchemists and astrologers. Their influence was widespread throughout much of the middle east. They most likely came into contact with teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures during the Jewish Babylonian captivity and mixed them into their own religion. Many Jews did not return from exile in Babylon and may have had further influence on the religion of the magi. The particular magi who came to visit the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12) could have come from virtually anywhere east of Jerusalem such as Persia, Babylon, Arabia, or India. It was 500 years later, a long time. National tragedy can be used by God to bring people to Jesus. 

The Magi 

Ever since we were children we have heard of the visit of the Magi after Jesus was born (Matthew 2:1-12). Who were they? The Greek term is magoi. Friberg [1] defines this as wise men of the Magian religion, magicians or sorcerers. Louw and Nida prefer “men of wisdom who studied the stars.” [2] An ancient historian, Herodotus of Halicarnassus [3] called them interpreters of omens and dreams [4] who perhaps still sacrificed to Persian gods. They were possibly baptized into the church many years later by the apostle Thomas while on his way to plant churches in India [5]. Why did pagans show more belief than followers of God? Herod had access through the Jews who had even easier access, but most of them chose not to be interested. What is our reaction to the birth of Jesus? 

[1] Friberg, Timothy, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller. Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament. Baker's Greek New Testament Library. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000. BibleWorks, v.3 
[2] Louw-Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 1989, United Bible Societies 

Magi facts and fiction 

The western tradition of three magi comes from the number of gifts that they gave. Eastern traditions suggests that there may have been twelve.[1] While they were certainly high officials, it is a myth that they were kings. That idea possibly arose around the 8th century in trying to retrofitPsalm 72:11 which was not meant to be quite that time-specific in nature. The names Melchior (a Persian scholar or king), Caspar (an Indian scholar or king) and Balthazar (an Arabian scholar or king) are also probably 8th century embellishments. The Christmas Nativity Scene is often but not always a montage of two events, Jesus born in a stable and the magi visiting him later in a house (Matthew 2:1-12). What is significant is that among the first to recognize Jesus as ruler of Israel were foreigners. 


Killing our children 

One of the saddest stories of Christmas is the murder of the children (Matthew 2:13-23), yet we are no different. We decry the senseless murder of innocent children at a school and the perverted treatment of little ones in child porn and then turn a blind eye to the greatest abuse of our children, abortion. Legitimate medical reasons for choosing between a child's life and its mother’s exist, but we kill innocent children mostly for convenience. We are a terribly hypocritical uncivilized peoples. We abhor rape and rightly have sympathy for our women. Yet we also punish the wrong people, the innocent children who had nothing to do with the crime, but are just as much victims as the mothers were. We decry all kinds of terrorism except our own homegrown terrorism against the innocents. When will we stop? 

Bringing pagans to Christ 

How can we bring people of different religions to Christ? Over the years I’ve seen many different approaches all the way from outright insults to arguments showing them the “error of their ways” and numerous more tactful approaches. How about letting God bring them to Christ? That’s what happened to the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12). How God did it is also interesting. Magi were astrologers among other things. How would God bring an astrologer to Christ? God has used many ways to reveal himself to people. In this case he used their own religion and revealed his purpose in a manner that they would understand, a star. There is nothing to be found of Old Testament language of condemnation for these pagans, but rather a gentle leading to the place of Christ’s birth even using elements of their own faith. 

A gift to bring 

Three foreign dignitaries with a completely different religion recognized Christ and brought a gift. Herod did not. Instead he plotted to kill the Christ child. What gift do we bring (Matthew 2:1-12)? The powerful often do not seek to give others recognition but to remain in power. It’s something that we see in our western democracies and is the same story no matter the form of government down through history. The story of the wandering astrologers, the Magi tells us that things are about to change. Non-Jews would soon be embraced by God. Herod did not offer a gift. He feared change, feared that his position may be about to be taken away. When we hear of a change in God’s way of doing things, we can choose to fear and threaten or bring a gift to the Messiah. 

Outro/Take Home 

How do we celebrate Jesus like the Magi or like Herod? Is he a threat to us or a joy?