Jesus as a foreigner


Mistreatment of others is a hallmark of every nation on earth. Legislators may try to make laws to prevent it but even their laws are at times responsible. Does the message of our Savior’s birth give us any hope?


I hope that this message helps us recognise humanity’s mistreatment of others and how Jesus is our only hope.


We will look at two areas of abuse in our world, foreigners and innocent children.

The Bible and Foreigners

Jesus was a foreigner in Egypt and later in Nazareth. Under God’s law, uncircumcised foreigners did not have the privilege of citizenship like eating the Passover or being king. Citizens could not be charged interest but foreigners could. But in every other way foreigners were not to be mistreatedin any way, not oppressed, must be given the same poverty relief as a native born citizen, live the the same legal standards, and the same loving care as native born Israelites. God watches for the welfare of the foreigner and other disadvantaged groups. God will bless a people that does not oppress the foreigner. In the New Testament we are told that God will speak the Gospel through foreigners, but Christians of all nations are not foreigners to each other, though foreigners to the world with their citizenship in heaven.

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!


Jesus came to offer forgiveness and salvation from these and other sins. Humanity cannot solve its own problems. That’s why the world needs a Savior.

God’s values - Christmas Day 2013


Who would God invite to witness the most important birth on earth? We might be surprised as to the guests that God considered to be worthy.


I would like us to understand that worldly importance is unimportant to God. He has very different values.

Sermon Plan

We will look at God’s guest list and peace on earth.

Real breeding in heavenly style

The wealthy may flatter themselves that they have better breeding than the poor. Heaven may disagree. The announcement of Jesus’ birth was not made to the wealthy and powerful of this world, because God has different values than snobbery and selfishness. It is not because God is poor. He owns everything there is from here to the farthest reaches of outer space. But God understands true values. He announced the birth of the Christ to the lowest classes, among them unwashed and unkempt shepherds out in the field. Simeon was granted his dying wish to see the Christ child. He was a man whose only status was that he was righteous and devout. Anna had the privilege of announcing Christ. Her only status was that she worshiped and prayed night and day (Luke 2). Now that’s real breeding in heavenly style.

What Peace on Earth

Christmas proclaims peace on earth, but what peace on earth? That message only tells half the story. If we examine Luke 2:14 it has some other words as well. Many translations say peace on earth with whom God is well pleased or on whom his favor rests. That peace then seems to be conditional, rather than unconditional. In fact, one of the very first things Jesus experienced after his birth was a decided lack of peace on earth. He had to flee to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-23). In fact Jesus contradicted the idea that he came to bring peace on earth, by stating very clearly that he did not (Matthew 10:34; Luke 12:51-52). There is a real peace to those of good will, even in the midst of trials, a peace which passes understanding (Philippians 4:7).


Just as there is a peace which passes human understanding, so too is there a set of values that this world simply cannot understand. Let us learn from God what true values and true peace are.

Christmas Day - a True Children's Story

Once upon a time there was a little girl named Hattie May Wiatt. She lived in a house near her church in Philadelphia. It was a small church and very crowded. It was so small that people had to get admission tickets so as to take their turn going to church. One day a group of children were waiting outside to get into the Sunday School, but it too was already full. The children waiting were not very happy. One of the little children was Hattie May Wiatt. She had in her hand an offering and some books. She was debating on whether or not to wait or just go back home. Then all of a sudden Pastor Conwell happened by. He took her up in his arms and put her on his shoulder. She held on to his head tightly as he carried her through the crowd in the hall and into the Sunday school room. There was room for her in a chair away back in a corner.

The next morning as the pastor came down to the church from his home he passed by the Wiatt’s house, and met Hattie coming up the street on her way to school. As they met he told Hattie of his hopes that they would soon have a larger Sunday School room. She hoped they would too. Little Hattie was afraid to go to Sunday School alone because it was so crowded. The pastor repeated his dream to build a larger one soon and said he was only waiting for enough money to build a school building large enough to get all the little children in.

A couple of years later Hattie became very sick, and Pastor Conwell went to her home to see her. He prayed with her and walked up the street praying for the little girl as well. Somehow he knew it would not be long. And so it was that the sad day eventually came and Hattie May Wiatt died. Before she died Hattie had saved up 57 cents to start the Sunday School. She had it in a little bag and her mother handed it to the pastor. He took it to the church that week and announced that the church had the first gift toward the new Sunday school building. It was a gift from little Hattie May Wiatt who had gone on ahead of everyone else into the shining world that God has prepared for us.

Pastor Conwell then changed all the money into pennies and offered them for sale. He received about $250 for the 57 pennies, and 54 of those cents were returned. He then had the remaining 54 cents put in a frame where they could be seen by everyone. Then he took the $250 and changed it into pennies. By selling those pennies, the church received enough money to buy the house next door. The Wiatt Mite Society was formed to honor the small 57 cent mite given by Hattie. It owned the new building which became a department of the Sunday school.

But the crowds kept growing because in those days church was very important to people. Pastor Russell H. Conwell and the people remembered Hattie and knew that with a small offering like hers and faith anything was possible. The people had faith in God and believed God could build a larger church even though they did not even have money for a down payment. Some even had enough faith to say they ought to build on the main road.

Mr. Baird owned some nice land on Broad Street and Pastor Conwell asked him what he wanted for it. He said that he wanted $30,000 which might be worth almost a million today. Pastor Conwell told him that the church had only 54 cents toward the $30,000 but that they were foolish enough to think that some time the church would own that lot. Later the pastor went and asked Mr. Baird if he would hold the lot for five years. Mr. Baird said that he had been thinking about it and decided to lower his price to $25,000 and that he would take the 54 cents as the first payment. The church could give him a mortgage for the rest at 5% interest. So the pastor left the 54 cents with Mr. Baird who later returned it as a gift. So the church bought the lot, and began a new church building. Eventually the church turned the house purchased by the sale of the 57 cents into the first of many educational buildings which eventually became Temple University.

It all began with Hattie May Wiatt, a schoolgirl from a hard-working Philadelphia family. Her family was not wealthy but God multiplied her 57 cents into a large church of thousands, Philadelphia’s Temple University, the Samaritan Hospital, the Garretson Hospital and untold deeds of Christian kindness. Think of the people who have earned degrees and now serve their communities in law, medicine, dentistry, theology, and teaching because one little girl Hattie May Wiatt saved her 57 cents. She laid the foundations. Never underestimate what great things can be done by the smallest of gifts given in faith.

When Jesus comes back he will say ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ And so when we give to little children or those in need at Christmas time we are giving to Jesus. But giving is not just for Christmas. It is a way of life.

Receive Jesus - Christmas Eve 2013


People sometimes say to receive Jesus, but what does that mean and how do we being to do so?


I want to help us understand that listening to the Gospel each week in church is an important step to faith.

Sermon Plan

We will look at Jesus’ pre-existence as God and how we receive him.

Was Jesus Created?

In the early church, before the books of the New Testament became official as one work, some churches did not have all the Gospels. And so a controversy arose as to whether or not Jesus was God or a created being. It is known as Arianism and a form of it is still believed today by some groups, most notably the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Athanasius of Alexandria in Egypt used John 1:1-18 to counter this wrong idea. Not having all the New Testament meant parts of the puzzle were omitted. It is simple enough to see in the very first verse of John that the word (Logos in Greek) was God. It is also simple enough to see that through the Word (Jesus) all things were made. Without him nothing was made. He was not created, but created all things.

How do we receive Jesus

John (1:12) wrote that some receive the Word of God, Jesus. How do we receive a word? Is it not first by listening? Faith comes from hearing the word (Romans 10:14-17). Even when reading the Bible for personal reasons, an ancient practice was to read aloud, because then it is also heard. Public reading of the Bible in the congregation, making it clear and giving the meaning is also an ancient practice (Nehemiah 8:7-9). When preachers avoid the Bible, especially the words of Jesus, the sheep are not listening to “the Word.” Why do we say we believe in Jesus if we don’t listen to him? Why do we go to a church where Jesus may be quoted in the Gospel text for the day every Sunday, then ignore him in our politics, business practices and marriages?


Let us hear the word of God on a regular basis by making sure that we are at church services. Then our faith will grow.

God with us


What was it really like when Jesus was born?


Let us understand the circumstances of Jesus' birth.

Sermon Plan

We will look at Joseph's dilemma, the meanings of Jesus' names and whether or not Mary remained a perpetual virgin.

Joseph’s dilemma

Joseph had a dilemma (Matthew 1:18). He was betrothed to Mary but found her pregnant. A betrothal in those days was as binding as a marriage contract. The groom typically prepared a home, either as an addition to his parent’s home or a free-standing one depending on his financial ability. That could take a year. Then when all was prepared, the bridegroom would come to collect his bride. Hence the biblical pictures of Christ as the bridegroom who comes for his bride the Church. Finding Mary pregnant, Joseph had a dilemma. He was mindful to cancel the whole deal privately rather than put Mary to public disgrace and possible stoning by the more self-righteous in the community. Joseph was encouraged by an angel that this was a prophesied sign of a new age of peace and security for Israel. 

Imagine you are Joseph

Imagine you are Joseph, engaged to Mary. You are busy preparing a home to receive her. Then you discover that she is pregnant. You feel betrayed, deeply hurt. You are a righteous man who believes in faithfulness before marriage. That means that the both of you are to be virgins on your wedding night. But, you also believe in mercy because righteousness demands it. You contemplate breaking the engagement quietly, because you really love this woman and don’t want to disgrace her, nor have her punished. But you were not fully decided when you had a dream in which an angel said not to hesitate marrying Mary. Her pregnancy was of the Holy Spirit and would bring salvation. You marry her knowing you will be gossiped about, but that the child’s name would be “God saves” and “God with us”

An awkward start

Marriage ideally begins with a savings account, a house already built and a good job. But, many of us did not begin with any of those things. Joseph and Mary also did not begin their married life with the ideal start. They had an awkward and embarrassing pregnancy and a birth in a stable. The embarrassment was caused by knowing that many would not believe Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Even Joseph must have thought that Mary had betrayed him at first. There was also stress and anxiety and poverty. Today we would call them homeless. Yet this awkward, itinerant, not quite official couple on the edge of society was to give birth to the One who would save his people from their sins. “God with us” was born into human poverty to bring peace to the world.

Saved from Terrible Consequences

Jesus (Luke 2:15-21) was so named because he would save people from sin (Matthew 1:21). Wrongdoing has consequences both now and forever. Having false gods causes us to rely on things that cannot rescue us from calamity. Idolatry causes people to look in the wrong direction for help. Misusing the name of the Lord causes us to take the only one who can help lightly. Not taking a day of rest causes stress and early death. Dishonoring our parents causes broken families, poverty and crime. Murder destroys families and neighborhoods. Adultery breaks marriages and families, and spreads distrust and disease. Theft takes away the peace and security of our neighborhoods. Bearing false witness fills the land with false advertising and distrust. Coveting causes crime and war. Only Jesus can rescue us from the consequences of our bad decisions. 

Holy Name of Jesus

Jesus was so named when he was circumcised (Luke 2:15-21). It means “Jehovah [God] is salvation.” Salvation is liberation or help from God. Jesus would save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). His name would be the hope of the whole world (Matthew 12:15-21). The disciples complained about those who healed in Jesus’ name without authority, but Jesus said not to stop them. Anyone doing a miracle in his powerful name is on our side (Mark 9:38-40). The Catholic Society of the Holy Name is a fraternity that prays for those who blaspheme the name Jesus. In Greek Jesus’ name is Ἰησοῦς [capitalized ΙΗΣΟΥΣ] pronounced yay-soos. The first three letters capitalized in Greek were a common abbreviation for Jesus ΙΗΣ. In our English alphabet, those letters are written IHS, letters used to decorate churches everywhere. 

(References: | | 


The study of Jesus is central to Christianity. Christology studies Christ, his birth as "God with us" (Matthew 1:23), his resurrection, salvation in him and his two natures. Theologians see Jesus as both divine and human. Controversies over who Jesus was are not just modern news, but raged in the early centuries too. The Council of Chalcedon took place in 451 AD. It was the 4th Ecumenical Council and the last one that is widely recognized by Protestants. Its contributions to the Christian Church are perhaps the greatest consensus of opinions on Christology from church history. These are summarized in the 3rd great creed, the Chalcedonian Creed. In regard to Christ and Christology, the Chalcedonian Creed affirms the Trinity, Christ's virgin birth, his humanity and his deity, and the hypostatic union of his two natures in one person. 

Technology or God with us

As we look down into the future of our planet, we see possible devastation by an asteroid and eventual certain death of the planet as our solar system collapses and life on earth becomes impossible. Science tells us that Earth is only a temporary home. So we look to a long term solution of eventually having to abandon our solar system and find another earth-like planet far, far away. In short, we see our salvation as a species in “technology with us.” Whether or not we could eventually find a far away home planet is not quite certain. However, there is another solution to our dilemma, God. The Bible also tells us that Earth is only a temporary home and that our real long-term solution is found not in “technology with us” but in “God with us” (Matthew 1:23)

Jesus & Joshua

Jesus (Iesous) is from Greek for Joshua (Jeshua, Jehoshua). There were two men named Joshua whose lives were forerunners of Jesus Christ. It was under Joshua the son of Nun that Israel conquered 31 cities in the land of Canaan beginning around 1400 BC. Jesus (Luke 2:15-21) was given a name which means “God saves” because he was born to save each one of us (Matthew 1:21). We cannot save ourselves from death, but Jesus can if we let him. Joshua leading Israel into the promised land is symbolic of Jesus leading the saved into eternal life. A lesser known Joshua in the Bible, Joshua the son of Jozadak was the first person named as high priest after Israel returned from national captivity in Babylon (Haggai 1). Jesus is our high priest who offered himself (Hebrews 8:3-5). 

(References:; The Oxford History of the Biblical World. 1998. Oxford University Press;; 

IHS and Xmas

What are those funny “IHS” signs we see everywhere from communion tables to pulpits? Is it some kind of secret code for “in his service” or is it Latin, Greek or Hebrew? Some have thought that the letters stood for the Latin words “Jesus Hominum Salvator” meaning “Jesus Savior of Men” but that is not the case. Many original New Testaments were written in Greek capital letters and thus Jesus was written ΙΗΣΟΥΣ and the first three letters in English letters would be transliterated as IHS. That just happens to also be an ancient abbreviation for Jesus. What about Xmas? Is it x-ing Christ out of Christmas? In Greek Christ is Χριστός and the first letter in Greek, X is also an abbreviation for Christ. Xmas does not X Christ out of Christmas; it is an ancient abbreviation for Christmas. 

Outro/Take Home

Jesus was God with us, is God with us every hour of every day and will be God with us forever.

Offended by Jesus


What is our picture of Jesus? Could it be that if he walked the earth today many of us would be offended by him?


I want to introduce us to the possibility that we might we wrong about Jesus and not to be offended, but put our feet on the solid rock of the real Jesus.

Sermon Plan

We will examine John the Baptist’s offense at Jesus and see how it relates to Jesus and preparing for Jesus’ coming.

Are you the One

When John the Baptist heard of Jesus’ message, he was curious. He sent messengers to ask, “Are you the one...” (Matthew 11:3). John was to prepare the way for the Messiah. Yet Jesus was different than expected. Unlike John, he did not take on a Nazirite vow or the ascetic lifestyle of some of the prophets. He did not eat locusts or avoid wine. Jesus did not separate himself like a monk, but ate and drank with sinners. He was also not like some of the kings and judges of ancient Israel. He was not a warrior who came to fight and retake the land from occupying Roman armies. Instead, he came as a pacifist, who turned the other cheek. He healed and preached good news to the poor. Blessed are those who are not offended by this Jesus.

The only One

When John the Baptist sent messengers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one...” (Matthew 11:3), he did not ask whether Jesus was one of the ones, but the one. Our world looks to so many ones for the answers. We look to politicians to be the one. We are disappointed every single time we elect another one, and soon a movement begins to get rid of that one and install another one. We look to fashion gurus, financial whiz kids, motivational speakers, new gadgets and ideas. Flip through the TV channels any night and see the would be Messiahs. There is the guy selling salvation in real estate millions, the fellow selling salvation from old vacuum cleaners, the people selling salvation in jewelry, and the vitamin Messiahs. There is only one real savior and his name is Jesus.

Still the One

John the Baptist sent messengers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one...” (Matthew 11:3). Like John are we are also disappointed at Jesus that he did not come as we think he ought? He taught nothing about tongues speaking, no Sabbath requirement, no prayers to Mary, no rosaries, no succession of popes or bishops, no Christmas rush, and made no specific liturgical demands. He did heal and preach good news to the poor. Yet, his preaching was not about worldliness, nor receiving material blessings for our giving. His preaching was about giving and self-sacrifice. It was about a kingdom not of this world, which cannot be described in the sometimes abusive, authoritarian, oppressive terms of this world’s religions. Do we paint Jesus in our terms or his? Like John, do we ask if he is still the One?

The activist & the teacher

John the Baptist asked if Jesus was the One (Matthew 11:3). He seemed perhaps a little disappointed in the way Jesus conducted his ministry. John was more of an activist and revolutionary and Jesus was more of a healer and teacher. Did John jump into the political fray with Herod because he was frustrated that Jesus did not? Did John expect the Messiah to rally troops together to storm the gates of palaces and take over as did past Jewish revolutionaries? Jesus seemed to hint that John was offended at him. We read nowhere that Jesus invited John to be a disciple. John prepared the way but seemed to be looking for a different Messiah. Are we disappointed with Jesus, the life of poverty, the hair, the dying on a cross or are we people of faith in Christ?

Let us rescue Christmas all over again

Christmas has so many pagan connections that puritanical Christians avoid it altogether, citing God’s opposition to pagan worship when he really only banned things like child sacrifice and temple prostitution (Deuteronomy 12:29-31, 23:17). Rather than avoid it, early Christians sought to conquer it and capture the time for Christ. Just as early Christians converted pagan temples into churches, so too did they convert the many symbols of winter observances into Christian ones. Today, Christmas is again becoming a pagan festival. It seems to be about the commercial pursuit of profit, the giving and receiving of gifts, the office parties, the stampedes for merchandise and the pressure to spend beyond our means. In the midst of the chaos, perhaps even like a voice of one crying in the wilderness (Matthew 11:3) let us rescue Christmas all over again.

Hear and see the real Jesus

We hear a lot about Jesus. Some of it comes directly from one of the four Gospels. Some of it comes from people’s imaginations. John the Baptist had an image of Jesus in his mind, but Jesus was different than he expected. Jesus encouraged John’s disciples to tell him what they saw and heard (Matthew 11:4). What do we see and hear of Jesus? Do we see a little baby in a manger? Do we see a long haired hippie? Do we see the tooth fairy who will grant our wishes? Do we see someone who heals lives and proclaims good news to the poor? Instead of living a fiction of a Jesus invented according to what we wish him to be, let us get to know the real Jesus and be grateful that he is who he is.

What does a Messiah look like

If we look at John’s questioning of Jesus in Matthew 11:6, it seems as if he was asking for confirmation that Jesus was the Messiah. He was not sure what a Messiah looked like. Do we know what a Messiah looks like? What would we expect to hear and see? Would we anticipate that he would come with political power, worldly wealth, or military might. Would he be dressed in simple clothes like a prophet or in the opulent robes of a king? Jesus’ answer to those who asked on John’s behalf was none of those things. He said that the blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them. This is what the Messiah looks like. He is the one.

Offended at Jesus

Are churches offended by the simplicity of Christ’s teachings? Is that the reason we create so many human traditions? As new Christians we often swallow all kinds of human ideas. As we grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord, are we willing to discard misconceptions? When we find out that many beliefs of mere mortals are misguided, do we become offended at Jesus for allowing it? When talking to the followers of John the Baptist, Jesus reminded them of the signs predicted in the Old Testament proving who the Messiah was: healing and miracles. And then he said something seemingly strange: blessed are those who are not offended because of Christ (Matthew 11:6). In John the Baptist's case, things turned out differently than he expected. Will we be offended if while following Jesus our assumptions are contradicted?

Trees in the Bible

A Xmas tree, like all trees is good (Genesis 1:11-12), picturing the tree of life (Genesis 2:9) with 12 fruits (Revelation 22:2), picturing peace (1 Kings 4:25; Micah 4:1-4) and righteous people flourishing (Psalm 1:1-3; 92:12). Wisdom is a tree of life (Proverbs 3:13-18), the fruit of right living (Proverbs 11:30). Longing fulfilled (Proverbs 13:12) and a soothing tongue are like the tree of life (Proverbs 15:4). Don’t idolize trees (Jeremiah 10:2-5). They picture the kingdom of God (Luke 13:18-19) and faith (Luke 17:6). Jesus hung on a tree (Galatians 3:13) so that we may eat of the tree of life in paradise (Revelation 2:7). Let us wash our robes so that we may have right to that tree of life (Revelation 22:14-15).

Disappointed with Jesus

John the Baptist was not a follower of Jesus, but a forerunner. The shocking statement that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he (Matthew 11:11), seems to indicate that John had not yet become a part of that kingdom. He seemed disappointed with Jesus, even though his mission was to prepare the way for him. What about us? Are we disappointed with Jesus? Is that why we latch onto things that neither Jesus nor his Apostles demanded of the Church? Is that why we attach ourselves to traditions and fads that focus on things that Jesus did not think were important enough to mention? The reality of Jesus is what unites all Christians. Is not what divides us the Jesus of our own making, because like John, we are disappointed with the Jesus that is?

Taking God’s kingdom by violence

Experts give two opinions on Matthew 11:12 and perhaps they are both right. Perhaps Jesus actually intended for us to take a double meaning from this. One meaning is that in light of John the Baptist’s imprisonment and pending death, it is obvious that the kingdom of God suffers violence and violent people have been trying to take it by force. Yet, God is in charge and there is no stronger power than his. The other meaning is that the Greek word translated as violent can also be translated as zeal or aggressive force and that such ardent zeal is needed for Christians to enter God’s kingdom. The innuendos of taking both possible meanings are obvious and the lessons are important. Christianity is not always an easy path. It is a spiritual battle against evil attitudes and wicked ways.

Outro/Take Home

Could it be that we might we wrong about the real Jesus? Do we have unrealistic expectations of him? Are we expecting him to solve all our worldly problems now or do we look forward to that day when he will take over all the governments of this world? Have we put our feet on the solid rock of the real Jesus?

Preparing the way for Christ


Liberal Christianity preaches a watered-down feel-good message to the world. Is that what Jesus preached to the world? Why did he preach repentance? Why did John the Baptist preach so offensively?


Let us read Matthew 3:1-12 and understand that the way John the Baptist and Jesus did ministry is very different than many modern evangelists. Maybe they lack faith. Maybe they want to see something like numbers of people who answer an altar call or loud rambunctious shouts. Yet God works in mysterious ways changing peoples’ hearts. And what happens in our hearts is not immediately evident. Like faith, it is initially unseen.

Sermon Plan

We will look at John's ministry, repentance and a baptism of fire.

Preaching & teaching (vs. 1)

The word "preach" originally meant to “announce” the message of the kingdom of God? John the Baptist preached that the kingdom was near (Matthew 3:1-2). Jesus preached that same message (Matthew 4:17). Jesus instructed his disciples to preach it as well. Today, we associate preaching with what is taught at church, not what is announced to unbelievers. Both preaching and teaching are VERY important to the life of the church. Preaching was originally a public announcement to unbelievers including a message of repentance and turning to God (Matthew 3:2; 4:17). Teaching was supposed to be what happened inside of church time, instructing believers to obey what Jesus had commanded. The most important thing that we need to learn is what Jesus commanded. After all, that's what he instructed his disciples to teach (Matthew 28:19-20).

Something is wrong (vs. 2a)

When John called for repentance in Matthew 3:1-12 his proclamation signaled that something was wrong. Is such a message relevant for today? Is there something wrong with our modern world? Repentance is a change of heart about our life’s direction. Is our world in need of a change of direction? John’s message is an announcement of hope for a new beginning and a new world. The change of heart that John called for was to be accompanied by fruits. Thinking about the need for change is only a beginning. Something must also be done to create change. Only the most deluded of us would imagine that there is no need for change. The unasked question is: What must change? The answer is: our hearts. The root cause of all our planet’s ills is spiritual and so is the solution.

Repent of what

John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-12) and Jesus (Matthew 4:17) called for repentance. How can we repent if we do not first understand our sins? How have we placed pride and materialism before God? How have we worshiped man-made images? How have we taken God’s name in vain? How have we worked demanding our employees work without rest? How have we dishonored our parents and previous generations? How have we killed the innocent by killing our babies and withholding help from the needy? How many people’s marriages have we ruined by stealing their sexual innocence and marital happiness? How much have we stolen in unjust wages and putting in a full day’s labor? How much have we lied to sell overpriced and inferior products? How have we enticed others to covet and go into debt just to sell things?

Worship craze (vs. 2a)

“Come, just as you are to worship” goes a popular song. Yet, songs are not always written by well-versed theologians and sometimes weaken the message of the Gospel? Jesus did not go about preaching worship to new people, but some other rather more pointed things. Worship also means appreciating God's worth-ship in every area of life and not just singing songs. Worship is what mature Christians are learning to do. It is important not to ignore the way that Jesus or John the Baptist preached. John the Baptist prepared for the ministry of Jesus by calling for repentance (Matthew 3:1-12). Likewise Jesus did not preach worship to the public but “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17). Worship certainly begins with repentance. However, perhaps we could learn from how Jesus preached publicly calling for repentance.

How often repent (vs. 2a)

Sometimes we may think, “Repent? Sure, I did that before I was converted.” So, is repentance then just a one time thing? In Matthew 3:1-12 when John the Baptist began preparing the way for the ministry of Jesus, he did not use the word in a one time sense. The word repent is an ongoing command. After all, Christians will make many mistakes during life’s journey. If we think we’ve arrived, we can become arrogant and self-righteous. Conversion is merely the beginning of a process of change. Our journey usually begins with small changes. If we never come to the point of realizing how immature those initial ideas were, we may have stopped repenting. The idea that we do not have perfect knowledge and the humility to learn new perspectives are indicative of ongoing repentance.

God is now taking control (vs. 2b)

In Matthew 3:1-12 we read of John the baptizer’s announcement about the impending ministry of Jesus Christ. Yet, unlike former prophets, his announcement of repentance had a greater sense of urgency in that the “kingdom of heaven is near.” We moderns tend just to refer to “the kingdom” yet that is not how the apostles spoke. Whereas we tend to omit God or heaven from the phrase, the original language emphasized God or heaven. It was an announcement of the sovereignty of heaven or the kingship of God. In military terms, God was establishing a beachhead from which he would eventually take over. God’s kingdom is God’s rule. He rules in the lives of those who accept him. The words “the kingdom of heaven has come near” is the modern equivalent of saying that God is now taking control.1

1 The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary of the New Testament, R. T. France, 2007, Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, p. 102

Preacher in poor country clothes (vs. 4)

In Matthew 3:1-12 the writer introduces us to John the baptizer, a wilderness preacher dressed in the clothing of poor country folks, challenging the establishment with a new approach to sin. In the Hebrew Scriptures, a sin offering was to be made at the temple. John’s approach was most likely seen by the religious leaders as being in direct rebellion to that. However, as a herald of the new covenant which was to be made in the Messiah’s blood, John emphasized an oft overlooked ingredient, repentance, a change of heart. After confession of sin, John did not encourage the repentant to make a sin offering as in Leviticus 5, but to be baptized in water. John’s baptism of repentance paved the way for a new high priest who would also baptize people but in a far more powerful way.

The announcer (vs. 5)

In national assemblies of this world there is often a herald who announces important dignitaries. He is usually dressed in elaborate clothing. In Matthew 3:1-12 we are introduced to one of the most important newscasters in history. His job was to be herald of the most important announcement of all history. One could have thought that this announcement would be made in the leading assemblies of the most important cities of the time. Instead it was made in the wilderness at the edge of Roman imperial control. This last of the Old Testament prophets was dressed in the simple clothing of poor farming folk reminiscent of the prophet Elijah. He preached in a place of historic significance to Israel. Israel crossed the Jordan to become God’s people in this wilderness. It was a fitting place to announce a revival.

Truth or Comfort (vs. 7)

So many people today want words of comfort and they certainly have their place. But some of Christianity’s biggest churches have been built on comfort over truth. At times we need to be discomforted by the truth. John the Baptist was such a preacher. He did not start out with words like, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…” Rather, he started out with the same thing that Jesus also began with, a call to repent [have a change heart] for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 3:1-12). He was even starker with certain religious leaders who came on the scene, calling them a brood of snakes and warning them to produce outward fruit to prove an inward change of heart. In a selfish world perhaps what we all need now is a confrontation with the truth.

Social gospel & works salvation (vs. 8)

As in all things that divide Christians, the words “social gospel” are unfortunately misunderstood. The phrase is not a quote from scripture. However, the concept of a social responsibility towards others is there. One example is that of the selfish rich man in Luke 16:19-31 who was hard-hearted towards poor Lazarus. Another question that Protestants have is whether this passage requires works for salvation. I believe that Protestants and Catholics actually agree on works. The biggest difference is that Protestants see good works resulting from saving faith. Catholics see saving faith evidenced by good works. It’s like splitting hairs, if you ask me. The bottom line is that a social responsibility towards others is clearly evident among those who believe. Jesus told the Pharisees to show fruit of a changed heart. One such fruit is how we treat others.

A more powerful one (vs. 11)

Part of John the Baptist’s questioning if Jesus was the one (Matthew 11:2-15) may have been that he had predicted a more powerful one (Matthew 3:11-12). Some Christians may also be disappointed that we celebrate the birth of a baby on Christ’s first advent, rather than only focus on the power of his second advent. Yet God with us, Immanuel, was born among us as a helpless babe. Why? We human beings tend to focus on a different kind of power. We want dramatic miracles like the Red Sea crossing. We want power that we can see. Yet, like the still, small voice that Elijah experienced, the real power of God is not in things seen. It is in the potency of good news that Jesus brought. Perhaps if we hear that message we may find unimaginable power.

The baptism-of-fire riddle (vs. 11)

Bishops wear a mitre hat picturing tongues of fire resting on each of the faithful (Acts 2). Yet many churches which speak of this as the baptism of fire predicted by John in Matthew 3:1-12 do not recognize a water baptism that only places water on the head. What a contradiction! How then is the coming of the Holy Spirit also a baptism of fire? The Baptist argument is that only immersion is a proper baptism. However, if we accept that the children of Israel were baptized into Moses in a non-literal sense because they walked through dry shod, then the door is open for other modes of baptism. Baptism with fire also has a double meaning. The unrepentant who choose hell over heaven will also be thrown into a lake of fire, a mode even Baptists might approve.

Baptized on the head by fire (vs. 11)

Bishops wear a miter hat remembering the tongues of fire resting on people’s heads at Pentecost (Acts 2). Some church fathers and John of Damascus described this as the baptism of fire predicted by John the Baptist in Matthew 3:1-12. That is why some churches also recognize a baptism of water on the head. If we accept that the children of Israel were baptized into Moses in a non-literal sense because they walked through dry shod, then the door is open for the word baptism to also have a non-literal meaning. Other baptisms with fire are perhaps an immersion experience. Early Christians suffered great persecution, which we call a trial by fire or baptism of fire. Also the unrepentant who choose hell over heaven will sadly be cast into a lake of fire possibly resulting in their total immersion.

Jesus, steak or sizzle (vs. 12)

John the Baptist had preached that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, clean house and burn the chaff with fire (Matthew 3:11-12). Then a different side of Jesus shocked John and he was disappointed (Matthew 11:2-15). Was Jesus all sizzle and no steak? Was this just another empty promise? Was Jesus just like so many who promise more than they can deliver? Was Jesus just like so many who stir your emotions with exaggerated ideas, but in the end leave you empty? Even the disciples were disappointed that Jesus came to die for the world rather than conquer the world. Perhaps the real steak is not in a king like this world’s, but one who rules in the hearts of men and produces a fire that creates permanent change in us from the inside out.

Outro/Take Home

Rather than preaching smooth things, perhaps there is a better way. Perhaps what the world needs instead of a wishy-washy liberal message is a revival of John's and Christ's message of repentance.

Real Christmas stories: be ready


When will Jesus return? How ought we to live until then? 


I want us to learn that we do not know when Christ will return but that he will and we must keep watch. 

Sermon Plan

Read Matthew 24:36-44. We will prophecy, good and bad approaches to prophecy, what we do not know about prophecy, keeping watch and one man who did keep watch. 

End of an era (vs. 36)

A former Bible college acquaintance of mine went off the rails. He predicted that the end would begin on a specific month one year, and if it did not occur, he would declare himself a false prophet. As we have seen before in Christian history, the predicted date came and went, and instead of stepping down and declaring himself a false prophet, he came up with a brilliant excuse as to why his prophecies failed. When is the end of the world? In Matthew 24, Jesus' disciples asked him about it. What did he say? He predicted two things, the fall of Jerusalem which occurred in 70AD and that the end was not yet. The apostles wanted to know the sign of his coming and of the end of the age. Most of the sermon in Matthew 24 detailed the devastating events soon to follow, the end of an era for the Jews. The only specifics about when the end of the world would come were that the Gospel would be preached in the whole world and that no one knows the day or the hour of his return. So let's ignore the false prophets who say that Jesus will come this year or next. Instead, keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. That's what Jesus said. 

Prophecy, an exercise in caution (vs. 36)

Many claim to have the keys to prophecy, but are eventually proven wrong. Others bury their heads in the sand. Is there a balanced approach? How ought we to view the second coming of Jesus Christ? In every generation for the past 2,000 years, people have predicted that Jesus would return in their lifetimes and others have scoffed. Their prophecies all failed, giving more ammunition for those who love to ridicule. Naive Christians willingly follow dogmatically wild and speculative interpretations of prophecies and doubters willingly sneer. However, neither extreme is how prophecies are written. The Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 is a case in point. Here is a warning about being too specific with predictions such as the day of his return. The opposite is also true as Jesus warned about being lackadaisical by not keeping prayerful watch. 

End time normality (vs. 38)

In contrast to the usual apocalyptic visions, Matthew 24:38 includes some pictures of apparent normality before the second coming. There is nothing to suggest that eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage are more evil. People will be carrying on normal business on farms and in flour mills. It appears more likely that they either don’t notice or are ignoring the events around them and carrying on with business as usual. It is in such an outward sense of normalcy that believers are encouraged to keep watch. Routine can distract us and delude us into thinking that we don’t need to keep vigilant watch in prayerful preparation for his return. It appears then that in such apocalyptic times there may also be periods of normalcy. It is perhaps during those times that watching will be even more imperative. 

What we won’t know about the 2nd Coming (vs. 39, 42)

A part of the Olivet Discourse Matthew 24:39 is not only about calamitous events around the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, but also hints at similar events before the second coming. An interesting aspect of the prophecy is a list of things that we do not know. This is important because in order to be sure of what we do know, it is also vital to clearly understand what we don’t know or cannot know. When this was written nobody knew the day or hour. There is nothing to suggest that has changed because the story proposes that knowledge of end times will be just as knowledge of when Noah’s flood came. Nobody knew when that would happen either. We also read again that the audience would not know the day and that Jesus would come when unexpected. 

Righteous "left behind" (vs. 40)

The popular “left behind” theory suggests that people left behind are somehow those who are sinful and rebellious against God. They will not escape but are left behind, while the righteous are whisked away, so the idea goes. It is a teaching from dispensational theology. Yet Matthew 24:40 suggests the exact opposite to this viewpoint. The analogy in the Olivet Discourse compares those taken away with those who were swept away in Noah’s flood. In that case, those who were condemned were taken away and only the righteous were left behind. Rather than the righteous escaping by being taken away, the natural reading of this passage is the exact opposite of the “left behind” theories. The problem with prophetic theories is that they are inadequate. God gives enough clues to encourage hope, but leaves enough out to stimulate faith. 

Watching (vs. 42)

Matthew 24:42 is part of the Olivet discourse or Olivet prophecy. It is also called the little apocalypse because it is reminiscent of the book of Revelation. Apocalyptic writings are a symbolic genre, a point that literal interpretations often overlook. One of the mandates in the passage is to watch. What could that mean? A night watchman was a common task in cities, farms and villages. However, the task of a watchman was vigilance and that is the sense of the wording here. Similar wording is also used a little later in Matthew 26:41 where we are encouraged to watch and pray that we do not give into temptation. In the context of the prophecy, Jesus encouraged disciples to be ready at all times, because he is coming at an hour when we do not think he will. 

Real Christmas stories: watch what (vs. 42)

Two similar instructions are given in Matthew 24:42, watch and be ready. But watch what? At Jesus’ birth we read that shepherds watched their flocks by night, obviously to protect them from predators. What was Jesus’ focus when he said to watch? A watch is set when we want to protect our things from theft or our country from an enemy. We don’t know when they may be coming so we watch. In Revelation 16:15 the analogy is carried further as Jesus warns us to remain clothed. Another way of saying this is found in Mark 14:38. We are to watch and pray that we do not fall into temptation. Unlike the five foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) a good watch is someone who is always at the ready, always on guard lest the enemy tempt them. 

Real Christmas stories: prophetic guessing games (vs. 42-43)

In Matthew 24:42-43 Jesus said that two men would be working in the field, one would be taken and the other left. He also said that two women would be grinding at the mill, one would be taken and the other left. Some suggest that this ties in with the rapture, that those taken are blessed to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17), while those who are not are not worthy. Others suggest that the contrast with Noah’s flood shows that those taken are like those sinners swept away in the flood and those left are the blessed. Such prophetic guessing games supporting various theories made up by mere men miss the whole point. The whole point of the passage is not to argue over the how of the second coming, but to be ready. 

Real Christmas stories: Jesus like a burglar (vs. 43)

How is Jesus like a burglar? In Matthew 24:43 Jesus’ second coming is compared to that of a thief in the night. In a day when most villages did not have a police force, security was left to individual home owners. Neighbors would often combine forces and work out rosters for night watch. Jesus is like a burglar in only one way, his coming will be unexpected. The only way to deal with the threat of those who break into homes in the night is by being prepared and keeping watch. Before Jesus’ return, most people will be going about their daily business uninterested in the things of God and unaware of the approach of his coming. We are challenged to stay alert. We are challenged to to be vigilant. We are challenged to be prepared for Jesus’ coming. 

Real Christmas stories: be ready (vs. 44)

In the midst of commercial chaos and pressure to buy things is a very important reminder for Christians: be ready. The Advent season is a time to be ready for the celebration of Christ’s first coming. The custom of the Advent wreath is a reminder to be ready. Four Sundays leading up to Christmas candles remind us of stories surrounding the first coming of our Savior. Some popular choices are four red or purple or blue candles surrounding a white one. One of the four may be pink picturing joy or Mary. The first Sunday a candle is lit to remind us of important events. Then a second candle the next Sunday and so on until finally on Christmas Day the central Christ candle is lit. Preparation also reminds us to be ready for his second coming. One man spent his life ready for Christ’s return. 

Real Christmas stories: Nicholas (vs. 44)

Who is the most popular Christian outside of the Bible? We may think of many famous names but the answer is Nicholas of Myra, who was loved by many in his time and those know his story today. The fiction surrounding him has grown to the point that he is the second most prominent Christmas character after Jesus. Why is he so popular? Though he was very wealthy, he spent his life giving it away touching the lives of thousands. He saved many from financial ruin, helped out in disasters, defended people in court from false charges, provided food during famines, saved children from slavery, travelers from murder and prayed and saved sailors from shipwreck. The real Saint Nicholas is loved because he watched and waited for the Lord rather than what this world had to offer (Matthew 24:36-44). 

Real Christmas stories: The REAL Santa (vs. 44)

Why not tell our kids about the REAL Santa this year? Saint Nicholas was Bishop of Myra in ancient Turkey. He was well known for his generous giving of gifts. One famous story speaks of his giving dowries to a poor man, so that his daughters could get married rather than turn to prostitution in order to survive. Often he would travel to distant villages on a donkey to give gifts. He did not have elves, but he did apparently save an Ethiopian boy name Piter from slavery, who was so grateful that he hung around as Nicholas' assistant. Rather than condone paganism, Nicholas is said to have destroyed several pagan temples. The REAL story of Santa is about giving. Maybe we could teach our children what Acts 20:35 says, that it is more blessed to give than receive. 

Real Christmas stories: more on Nicholas (vs. 44)

Nicholas, was born around 280 AD on the Mediterranean coast of what is now the Turkish Riviera. The only son of wealthy Greek Christians, Nicholas gave his inheritance away to the poor. As bishop of Myra, he suffered persecution under Diocletian. He was tortured and imprisoned. Emperor Constantine had the persecuted Christians released. One legend tells of a poor man who Nicholas gave three bags of gold as a dowry for his daughters, so they did not have to become prostitutes. Nicholas was possibly part of the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD where he contributed to the Nicene Creed and condemned Arianism. Nicholas saved three innocent men from execution and reproved the governor for taking bribes to convict them. He became known for his secret gift-giving. The name Santa Claus is a corruption of the Dutch for Saint Nicholas. 

Outro/Take Home

Rather than becoming sucked into the consumerism and materialism of this world, let us live out the kingdom of God here and now, like the man from Myra who gave away his life’s fortune so that others could be blessed. We cannot know when Christ will return but he will and we must keep watch. We need to watch and pray so that when he comes we will be ready.