Senior Saints

Prelude


What can we learn from senior saints in our midst? How many have lived just and devout lives? How many seniors have been faithful despite life’s suffering?

Purpose: Let’s learn from the examples of elderly saints.

Plan: Let’s look at the examples of Simeon and Anna in Luke 2:22-40.

Elderly


God commanded that we respect the elderly. An early command in Leviticus 19:32 says, “You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the Lord.” Proverbs 16:31 says, “The silver-haired head is a crown of glory, If it is found in the way of righteousness.” Job 12:12 says, “Wisdom is with aged men, And with length of days, understanding.” Isaiah 46:4 promises Israel, “Even to your old age, I am He, And even to gray hairs I will carry you! I have made, and I will bear; Even I will carry, and will deliver you.”

Luke 2:25-35 Simeon


In Luke 2:25-35 we read of aged Simeon “waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” He took Jesus into his arms and spoke the nunc dimittis (now you dismiss), which is used for evensong, and prophesied to Mary, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

Simeon (Catholic Encyclopedia)


Simeon, a “just and devout” man greeted Jesus in the Temple. Joseph and Mary made an offering (Leviticus 12:6-8). A poor family like theirs offered a “pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” as a purification rite. Simeon had received a premonition from the Holy Spirit, that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah. The Spirit guided him to the Christ child. Taking him up in his arms, he uttered prophetic words which have become part of our liturgy. Simeon is connected with untrustworthy legends. Was he the son of Hillel and the father of Gamaliel mentioned in Acts 5:34? Were his sons Charinus and Leucius?

Simeon (Orthodox Church in America)


Simeon is called the God-Receiver. Ancient historians tell us that the Egyptian pharaoh invited Simeon among seventy scholars to translate the Scriptures into Greek, “The Septuagint.” While translating Isaiah 7:14, he thought to translate “virgin” as “woman.” An angel stopped him saying, “You shall not die until you behold Christ the Lord born of a pure and spotless Virgin.” Simeon then lived in expectation of the Messiah. The Holy Spirit, led him to the Temple. “The Greek Anthology” quotes Mary referring to her Son as “older than ancient Adam.” The holy righteous Simeon the God-Receiver died at a great age. His remains were transferred to Constantinople in the sixth century.

Luke 2:36-40 Anna


In Luke 2:36-40 we read of aged Anna, “who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.” Having never remarried, she spent decades as a widow worshiping God daily in the Temple. She was a prophetess of the tribe of Asher, with its homeland around Galilee. So, even though some Jews denied that a prophet could come from Galilee (John 7:52) Anna did, and so did Jonah, Nahum, Hosea, Elijah and Elisha. While some attend a church and eventually quit, Anna did not. She endured in her zeal. She didn’t just believe Messiah would come, but “looked for redemption in Jerusalem.”

Anna (Catholic Encyclopedia)


Anna is an aged prophetess of the tribe of Asher. Legend says she had tutored Mary in the Temple. This highlights her special holy use by God in the life of Christ’s mother. Anna had lost her husband after only seven years of marriage and had never remarried. Anna devoted many decades of her life to the service of God in the Temple. She seems to be a model of the expectations of a widow in I Timothy 5:5-9. Because she spent so much of her time in the Temple, her presence at the presentation of Jesus is natural. She gave thanks to God and spoke of Him to others.

Anna (Orthodox Church in America)


Orthodox Christians celebrate the Great Feast of the Meeting of the Lord on February 2, remembering Simeon and Anna meeting the infant Christ. Perhaps having no children left tremendous sorrow in Anna’s heart.  She turned her pain into prayer, making it an offering to God, pouring out her heart to the Lord (Psalm 51:17). Damaged by life we can feel hopeless. Pouring out her anguish to God she trusted that there was hope. We too can discover what Anna found (Psalm 25:14). Ancient prophets clung to God in fasting and prayer, and He told them His secrets as a friend. Anna shared the Word of the Lord with others.

Postlude


Let’s learn from senior saints in our midst. Let’s follow the example of those who have lived just and devout lives. Let’s learn to be faithful despite life’s suffering.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Luke 2:22-40; Leviticus 19:32; Proverbs 16:31; Job 12:12; Isaiah 46:4; Leviticus 12:6-8; Isaiah 7:14; John 7:52; I Timothy 5:5-9; Psalm 51:17; Psalm 25:14

Complete Love

Prelude, Purpose, Plan

Do we love God completely? How do we love God with our whole heart, soul and mind? What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? We are tempted to emphasize only one dimension of loving God. Let us learn of the more complete love taught by Jesus. Let’s examine the Great Commandments in Matthew 22:34-46.

Summing up the Faith

How would we summarize our faith using the Hebrew Scriptures? The Bible contains many excellent summaries. Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). Do what is just and right (Isaiah 56:1). Seek God and live (Amos 5:4). Live by faithfulness (Habakkuk 2:4). These are articles of faith. Jesus chose a couple of other Old Testament summary statements, (Deuteronomy 6:5) love God and (Leviticus 19:18) love neighbor, not specifically the Ten Commandments, though certainly there in principle. They unite all of Christianity under one statement of belief. A summary of Christianity is found in the Great Commandment, someone in love with God.

Honda & Jesus

Soichiro Honda the founder of Honda Motor Company wanted to build better quality piston rings. He took classes at a local university’s engineering school to learn how to solve the problem. Once he found the answer he needed, he quit. His teachers wanted him to continue and graduate. He knew all he needed and did not want to waste time. The Honda Motor Company eventually became a resounding success. Education that takes one away from a central focus can be useless. Honda wanted to build piston rings, not become a general engineer. We can miss the most important things of our faith. Like Honda, Jesus focused on the most important thing.

Matthew 22:34-36 Jesus as a Threat

In Matthew 22:36 an expert in Old Testament law asked Jesus maliciously, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Why did he ask such a testing question? Was Jesus a perceived threat? Did the Church sin in the inquisition because of perceived threats? When we teach what Jesus and his Apostles taught, we carry his authority. When we teach what neither Jesus nor the Apostles taught, are we like the Pharisees and Sadducees? How can our dogmas be declared infallible or inerrant unless they focus on what Jesus taught? If he was physically present on earth today, would we accept him or also perceive Jesus as a threat?

Matthew 22:37 Loving God with All our Hearts

In Matthew 22:37 Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart”. Jesus summarizes the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:5), the central creed of both Judaism and Christianity, which in part is loving God with our entire heart. How do we love God with our hearts? If we lust after that which is not ours to have, then how can we love God in our hearts? So that makes us all guilty right? Yes, but we do ask for forgiveness. Do we ask for help from the Holy Spirit who fills our hearts with God’s love (Romans 5:5), with what is good, thankfulness, praise and singing?

Matthew 22:37 Loving God with our Minds

One individual said he loved God and Sunday School but hated theology. But, Sunday School is theology and all study of God is theology. Another said that we don’t need doctrine; we just need love. But, love is the principle doctrine. An anti-intellectual bias contradicts the Bible, because Jesus taught us to love God with our minds. In Greek the word literally refers to examining all sides of a matter, using thorough thinking. Have you ever heard someone claim God’s inspiration for a wrong teaching? Are we excusing mental laziness? Is not being ashamed of our minds also being ashamed of God? Jesus encouraged loving God with all of our intellect.

Matthew 22:37 Loving God with our Souls

How do we love God with all our soul? The Greek word in this passage is psyche which can also be translated as breath or spirit. In Psalm 42 the descendants of Korah composed a song of love to God, describing the soul thirsting for God like a deer panting for water. This passionate spiritual desire is something that we often ignore with our daily distractions. If we love God with our souls, then why would we want to miss assembling weekly with others who also love God? If we love God would we also love God with our souls through prayer, Bible study and meditating on the things of heaven?

Matthew 22:39 How Love Neighbor

The command to love our neighbor as ourselves strikes at the root of human failure. The seed of society’s evils is love for self and reckless disregard for others. It is also very shortsighted, because ultimately love of others returns long lasting recurring benefits to us and is therefore an act of self love. We were designed to naturally love ourselves. We want food, shelter, protection, health and happiness. As we appropriately bless others, crime and other evils should decrease. All this is impossible unless we first love God with all of our being. Instead of acting like vicious animals, devouring and destroying, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Love, the Universal Principle

The Great Commandment is a version of the golden rule (Matthew 7:12). Is it so important that God inspired it in other world religions, among those who have not yet come to know their Jesus as Savior? This principle is so fundamentally vital that God wanted every creed or religion to know it (Romans 1:19-21)? Even atheists who claim that they don’t believe in God admit its fundamental importance. Some people may object that God has nothing to do with religions other than Christianity. If God also believes and follows the principle of loving his neighbor, why would He not want to spread such an important universal principle universally?

What Liberal Commie Pinko said That?

Teacher: Class, what is the most important command of all?
Sabbatarian Sally: The Sabbath is the test command.
Calvinist Calvin: You must be predestined for salvation.
Catholic Cathy: Obey the successor of Peter.
Pentecostal Penny: Tongues are the initial evidence.
Amish Albert: Submit to the Gemeinde rules.
Orthodox Orson: Follow the ancient way.
Fundamental Freddie: Obey all the rules made up by the elders.
Methodist Mel: Wesley’s three rules.
Baptist Babette: Be immersed. If you’re not immersed, you’re not baptized.
Anglican Andy: Follow the middle way.
Teacher: What if I told you that love was the real deal?
Class: Love? What liberal Commie pinko said that?
Teacher: Jesus.
Class: Oh!

Matthew 22:41-46 The Messiah Riddle

In Matthew 22:41-46 Jesus asked some religious leaders, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” His answer is called the Messiah Riddle. The religious leaders answered that the Messiah was the son David. Jesus descended from King David. He asked them why David referred to his son or descendant as "my Lord." That passage reads, "The LORD [God] said to my Lord [my son]" (Psalm 110:1). That son, the Messiah is divine. But, Jesus did not always answer a riddle. Instead he asked, “If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?” Nobody could answer him and no one dared question Him anymore.

Psalm 84 Longing for Church

Psalm 84 reveals that, if we truly love God, we will desire to be where God is worshiped. We read in verse 2, “My soul longs, yes, even faints For the courts of the Lord; My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” As we pass through difficult times, pictured by the Valley of Baca (weeping), group worship is like a refreshing spring, when our focus is God (verse 6). As we appear before God in the place of worship (pictured by Zion), we continue to grow stronger. Zion pictures heavenly Jerusalem and the center of God’s action on earth. God’s action begins in the place of worship.

1 Corinthians 13 Paul’s Definition of Love

The Greek word agape does not always mean divine love. In some contexts it just means love or affection. In the Bible it sometimes even refers to a wrong kind of love. Men loved darkness (John 3:19), or the praise of men more than God (John 12:43), or this world (2 Timothy 4:10), three cases where agape was not godly love. The verb and noun form do not have different meanings. Just like the words love or affection in English, the meaning depends on the context. If we want a definition of agape which is the kind of love that God expects we must study 1 Corinthians 13.

Postlude

Loving God involves truth and time. When we talk to God, we are open and truthful. We take the time and talk to God often. Loving God is not just emotional, or intellectual, nor just spiritual but all of those dimensions. Jesus taught us to love God with all our heart, soul and mind.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Is Christmas Pagan?

Prelude

Is Christmas pagan? Is it okay for Christians to observe? Is Christmas even in the Bible?
Purpose: Let’s examine the worth of Christmas and why it’s a perfectly fine Christian celebration.
Plan: Let’s ask some questions that are controversial in some churches and look at the story of Christ’s birth in Luke 2:1-40.

Questions

What does the word Christmas mean? It literally means Christ’s Mass, or the Mass of Christ. Mass is an old word for the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper because it was held at the dismissal of the service. An old tradition held three masses at midnight, dawn and in the day on this special occasion.
Is Christmas pagan? The dates around Christmas were once used for festivals worshiping gods of nature, but those dates were chosen in part to replace paganism with a celebration of the birth of Jesus, not worship nature gods. So, yes, many winter solstice festivals were pagan but Christmas is not.
Was December 25th once part of pagan celebrations like Saturnalia and Brumalia? Yes, but God owns all days of the year. Nature worshipers do not own any days exclusively. What better way to eradicate false worship on a day than to rededicate it to God!
Was Jesus born on December 25th? No, probably not. Many possible dates for his birth have been suggested over the centuries. On December 25th we do not celebrate a calendar day, but the fact of His birth.
Does the Bible condemn worshiping God, in a manner like pagans worshiped their idols? Yes, and what it specifically forbids is child sacrifice and ritual prostitution, not prayers, singing, setting aside worship dates, or any similar practices that Christians and idolaters may have had in common.
Is Christmas too materialistic? Yes, and we all struggle to keep our priorities in proper balance.
Is the Christmas tree forbidden in Jeremiah 10? No, that’s a misreading of the chapter! It actually speaks about carving idols from a tree and covering them with gold, not about decorating a Christmas tree.
Were Christmas trees once pagan? Yes, pagans once decorated trees for nature worship. But, they are still God’s trees and Christians use creation for godly purposes. Many people decorate them to remind us of the tree of life with its 12 fruits, and our access to it once again in New Jerusalem.
Why don’t we just celebrate the Old Testament festivals? We are free to (Romans 14), but they primarily celebrate Old Testament events and while many of them anticipate New Testament events, none of them specifically celebrates the birth or resurrection of Jesus. The spirit of the law (2 Corinthians 3:6), that we learned under the guardianship or tutoring of the law (Galatians 3:24), teaches us the principle of celebrating New Testament events in a similar manner to celebrating Old Testament events.
Is gift-giving appropriate for Christmas? Jesus said that it is far better to give than to get (Acts 20:35). Giving is a good thing but we must also give wisely. When we focus on getting, or teach our children that Christmas is about what they will get, we are totally missing the point.
Is Christmas in the Bible? The word Christmas is not in the Bible, but the story of Christ’s birth is. Let’s look at Luke 2:1-40.

Reading

Luke 2:1-40 The Birth of Jesus

Postlude


Why would somebody NOT want to celebrate this marvelous event. We can have a pagan Christmas, if we focus on materialism and so wear ourselves out with physical preparations that we have no time left for Jesus. Let’s have a Holy Christmas, by making the worship of our Lord the most important part of this season.

A Humble Virgin

Prelude

What can we learn from a teenager? What can we learn from her faith? What can we learn from Mary the mother of Jesus?
Purpose: Let’s learn about the simplicity of trust in God.
Plan: Let’s look at Luke 1:26-38, the so-called Annunciation, the announcement to Mary of her pregnancy with the Christ child and her example of faith.

Luke 1:26-28 Elizabeth & Mary

Luke 1:26 says, “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth.” This was Elizabeth’s 6th month of pregnancy with John. It is the only indication we have that John was 6 months older than Jesus. Mary and Elizabeth were related. Some translations of verse 36 say they were cousins, but the original Greek word simply means a relative. Verse 28 says, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” Highly favored one is sometimes translated “full of grace” but more accurately portrays Mary as a receiver of grace than the “Mother of Grace.”

Luke 1:29-30 A Virgin

Mary was a virgin engaged to Joseph. It was common custom, so it’s possible that Mary was probably a teenager. She was greatly troubled at the words of the angel. So he comforted her saying, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” How great an example of faith can a teenager be? To be an unwed mother during her engagement period would have been a great scandal. What would her parents think? What would her groom think? What would the neighborhood gossip be? Would her child forever be called illegitimate? How could this be favor with God? The reassuring words of the angel were puzzling.
[Philip King & Lawrence Stager. Life in Biblical Israel. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2001. 37.]

Luke 1:31-33 You will Conceive

Luke 1:31 continues, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son.” Imagine being a teenage girl engaged to be married in a year. An angel appears to you in your parents’ home and tells you that you will bear the Savior of the world while a virgin. You are young and inexperienced in life. You are unsure of yourself. You are in a quandary whether your betrothed will still want to marry you. You wonder if people in your village will reject you. You are unsure what your own parents will say, but you have that innocent faith of young people. What will Mary say?

Luke 34-38 Mary’s Faith

In Luke 1:37 we read, “For with God nothing will be impossible.” An alternative translation seems to make more sense. “For from God no word shall be impossible.” In verse 38 Mary replied to the angel, Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” Mary chose to have faith instead of unbelief or complaining as Israel did. When we complain we are looking to visible circumstances instead of our invisible God. Instead of letting God be in control, we want to take control instead of waiting on his mighty hand. Do we complain or simply accept God at His word like Mary did?

Postlude

We can learn a lot from the teenage girl who bore the Christ child.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Light

Prelude

Who is the light? How are we, like John, not the light? What does light change?
Purpose: Let’s learn to testify of the Light.
Plan: Let’s look at John 1:6-8, 19-28 and John the Baptist as a witness who gave testimony about the One.

John 1:6-7a Witness

In John 1:6-7a we read, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light.Who is that Light? Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12 ) and, “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.” (John 12:46) The Greek word for witness is μαρτυρίαν (martyrian), from which we get the English word martyr. It means someone who is a witness, who gives testimony or evidence.

John 1:7b Believe

In John 1:7b we read the reason for John the Baptist’s testimony, “that all through him might believe.” We may give witness to Christ for all kinds of personal agendas. Are we suspected of having money as a motive? Is someone on an ego trip as people follow them? Do we follow a personality cult, fawning over a favorite preacher? Are we driven by guilt or motivated to save our local church from dying? Are our hearts really in it? Are we downright mean and promote a self-righteous message? John had the right motive: that all might believe. What is our motive for spreading the good news of Jesus Christ?

John 1:8 He was NOT the Light

When John preached, he told people that “He was not that Light.” (John 1:8) Does it honor God when churches preach about their denomination instead of pointing people to Jesus? John set the right example. He testified about someone other than himself, the Light. Should we follow what Francis of Assisi reputedly said, “Preach Jesus, and if necessary use words?” Is Matthew 5:16 an excuse for charitable deeds without words? “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.John teaches us that charitable deeds necessarily includes using words of the good news, witnessing to Jesus.

John 1:19-20 John’s Testimony about Himself

What was the testimony of John the Baptist? We are told what it was in John 1:19-28. Can a confession be negative? I suppose so, when the first thing that John confessed was, I am not the Christ.” Wow! In a world where politicians, ego maniacs and advertisers brag that they are the “anointed one,” God’s gift to the world, it is refreshing to hear from a humble man who points to another. In a world where several large denominations brag that they are the one true church because of authority or history or doctrine, it is refreshing to hear a man humbly say that he is not the One.

John 1:21-23 John’s Testimony about the Way

What was the testimony of John the Baptist? The thing that he testified about himself was, “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the Lord.’’” (John 1:23) People love egotistical titles. John simply called himself a voice. The message was more important to him than any self-exalting titles like successor to Elijah or the Prophet. Do we ever feel totally alone as Christians? Can we relate to John? Sometimes we must stand up and be a lone voice in the wilderness of a sinful world needing repentance. No other conviction but a call from God could overcome the loneliness on this mission.

John 1:24-28 John’s Testimony about the One

John testifies, “there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.” Ironically, he was sent by God and was confronted by a delegation sent by religious leaders. We religious leaders can fall into the trap of promoting our agendas, our denominations instead of the One who is preferred before us. We religious leaders so easily fall into the trap of the priests and Levites, and oppose Christ as easily as they did. Apart from God’s grace, we are not worthy of the divine tasks to which we have been called.

Postlude

Jesus is the light. We are not the light that John talked about, yet we are called to follow Jesus and be the light of the world, filled with good deeds and a good testimony about the One.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Boice, James Montgomery. The Gospel of John. BakerBooks. 1975.
Michaels, J. Ramsey. The Gospel of John. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Eerdmans. 2010.