A Sermon: “Bring It”

I was scheduled to preach today in Truett Chapel, but a winter storm moved in to Central Texas and changed all of that. I recorded the sermon instead. For those who would rather read, the full manuscript is below. Enjoy.

“He said to them, ‘Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.’”

Matthew 13:52

Two weeks ago Dean Still asked me to preach on this occasion.

Here is how it happened.

After Truett’s convocation chapel service, I saw Dean Todd Still just beyond our doors. 

I thought his message was quite good. So, I walked up, shook his hand, mentioned his message, and told him “well done.”

He said, “Thank you.” 

Then he said, “Would you be willing to preach during chapel in two weeks?”

I said, “sure.”

The moral of the story is: “Never pay Dean Still a compliment.”

Now, I am thankful I was invited to preach and took time to prepare this sermon. I would like to thank Dean Todd Still and the members of the Truett Seminary community–students, faculty, and staff–for the opportunities I am given to serve, including this opportunity to have meditated on this Bible verse and to open the Scriptures together. 

I am humbled to serve the Lord at Truett Seminary, and among these friends.

A moment ago, I shared that when the Dean asked if I would preach, I said yes. After saying “sure,”my next thought was, “What am I going to talk about?” There are others in the room who have felt that way, maybe regarding the pulpit, maybe for another occasion. 

Thankfully we have great source material. 

While I read our verse a moment ago, if you have a Bible, please open to Matthew 13. We’ll contemplate verse 52 in detail. But we will look elsewhere in the chapter, and you may find it helpful to have a Bible open.

In Matthew 13:52, Jesus speaks to his closest followers, his disciples. This saying is recorded at the conclusion of a larger section of teachings, which Jesus offers in the form of parables concerning “the kingdom of heaven.” 

This chapter begins with Jesus speaking to large crowds from a boat. He first tells a famous story of a sower who goes out to sow seed, with the seed falling upon four varieties of soils; he explains to his disciples the power of the good news message, the results that can be expected by the sower, and the nature and complexity of the human heart and its mysterious, hidden capacity for receptivity or resistance to God’s gracious action and invitation.

Jesus then tells a story about a landowner who sows good seed in his field, but he later discovers an enemy has sown weeds among his wheat. Please think of the implications here for the community of faith with regard to living in unity, developing patience, endurance, forbearance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and keeping the “one another” commands. In the kingdom of heaven we will continue to see a mix of the good and the bad within our fellowship, and the Lord of the harvest will one day come and he will sift us as only he can.

Jesus makes two further statements about the kingdom of heaven and its worth, comparing it to a pearl of great price and a treasure buried in a field. He does not say that the kingdom equals these treasures in value. He says that a wise person is willing to part with everything they have to possess it. In my estimation, our appraisal of the kingdom often needs adjustment. We often value it too little, which is why our passion for it is so often too weak.

Finally, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a net, trolling the waters and gathering fish, both good and bad. As in the parable of the wheat and the weeds, there will eventually be a division, a sorting. But until that day, the wicked and the righteous are in the net together.

After telling these stories, in Matthew 13:51, Jesus turns to his disciples and asks, “Have you understood all these things?”

The disciples answer, “Yes.”

Think about that for a moment.

Jesus assumes that a possible learning outcome for his disciples, following the delivery of these parables, is understanding, or knowledge. 

Sure, Jesus explained the meaning of these teachings to them. 

Sure, when Jesus is your teacher, and he asks you if you understand, you may feel like “yes” is the only answer you can offer without looking dumb. 

But what if it were possible to spend time with Jesus, and with his teachings, and to come away with understanding, given the time, your teachability, and your attention?

Is understanding Jesus something, at this stage, you deeply want? 

How often is it otherwise? What accounts for the gap?

How often do disciples today listen to Jesus but remain without understanding and then accept that lack of understanding, content in our ignorance?

It is on the heels of these teachings about the kingdom of heaven, and, furthermore, on the heels of the question, “Have you understood all of these things?”, that we then come to Matthew 13:52, a statement that begins with the word “Therefore” and then contains what some consider a final parable of the kingdom of heaven. 

And it is a parable of the kingdom of heaven.

But what I see are three major “outcomes” evidenced in the lives of all disciples. 

Disciples are teachers. They are fully trained. And they are entrusted with treasures. 

As these outcomes are manifested, a way of living and being takes shape. This way of living and being applies to all who trust and follow Jesus, no matter who we are with, no matter where we are, and no matter what we are doing. 

What does Matthew 13:52 say? Here is Jesus: “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” 

Three things. First, teachers. Second, trained. Third, treasures. And finally and in summary, we’ll consider the task of those taught, trained, and entrusted with treasures, whom Jesus likens to householders in the kingdom of God. 

I. Teachers

When Jesus speaks to his disciples, those who, remember, claimed to have understood him, he compares them first to teachers of the law.

The KJV, NASB, NRSV, and ESV,  in place of “teachers of the law,” translate this term “scribes.” 

Eugene Peterson, in The Message paraphrase, chose “students.” 

The HCSB renders it “every student of Scripture.” 

The Greek term here is γραμματεὺς (grammateus). It means a writer, someone who is generally learned, but in the New Testament, most occurrences refer to a person who is religiously trained, familiar with the Five Books of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings. “Scribes” are often those who come and question Jesus, engaging him in debate, or even inquiring of him as interested pupils.

When Jesus speaks to his disciples in this verse, he describes them as scribes. He gives them a title, a role description, a term. This term clarifies, sharpens, maybe expands and widens what a disciple is to understand themselves to be.

Who, listening, claims to be a disciple of Jesus? 

How do you understand that identity? How do you apply that term to yourself? And does your definition of “disciple” encompass and include everything that follows Jesus’ “therefore” statement given in Matthew 13:52?

The titles we hold are role descriptors, identity markers, telling us something about who we are, what we are becoming, and, given time, who we will one day, fully, be. They tell others something about who we are and what they can rightly expect of us, too, when we stand in that role.

I’ve had three job titles at Truett. First, I was a covenant group mentor. Then I became the assistant director in the spiritual formation office, and then associate director. If you totaled my time of service in these three roles, I have served Truett five years. I didn’t know this until the Human Resources Department sent me a letter. Snuck up on me.

Each time I was given a new role, with a new title, I knew what I would be doing, but only in part. On my first day, maybe all I really knew was my title, or what I was to say when asked, “So what do you do?” 

But given time, experience, observation, reflection, refinement, and thought, my role gained added definition. I could say more about what I “do.” In my current role, I think I understand the things I do well and what I bring to the community that is valued, as well as the ways I need to grow. But I began with only a name and a few duties. That’s where I began. Growth then became possible through experience in what I was doing, applied parameters, feedback from a wider fellowship, and a desire to serve in my role in a fitting and excellent manner.

If you are a disciple of Jesus you are a scribe, or a teacher. Your identity, your role, is defined to include service as a scribe or teacher. You are a person who is generally learned, but more specifically, you are a person who has undergone and is undergoing religious training. A scribe is trained in the Scriptures, yes, but is also schooled in practical wisdom, ministerial skill, and spiritual experience. A scribe has knowledge. Jesus has named our role. He has defined that role within a community not only by naming it but by modeling it. Jesus shared his knowledge with those around him. His disciples follow his example.

A scribe is a servant, and one way they serve their community is as teachers. They are sources of communal memory. They are storytellers. They are learners seeking mastery; true masters always know there is more to learn and refine. They are well practiced in moral reasoning. They live according to a defined ethic. They depict for us what is good, true, and beautiful. They are people of upright character and sound doctrine. They are wise. They lead, vocally and demonstrably when necessary, but also quietly and subtly, as appointed and when pressed by the Spirit.

Jesus did not appoint only a few of his disciples as teachers. Jesus appoints us all. If you are his, you are a teacher.

II. Trained

Any objections? I’m sure there are. Some are thinking, “I have not heard this before.” Others, “that was not part of the deal.” Still, others, “but I am not gifted as a teacher.” 

All three responses are worth considering.

I’ll address the first and second by asking us to think about the gospel we commonly preach. We call people to come to Jesus, repent of sin, receive salvation, and then go to heaven. Prior to death: maybe we exhort people to go to church, maybe pray, maybe serve, maybe share your faith. Or, we encourage people to advocate for the “right” causes, and thus identify themselves with the “good” people. But even those actions and efforts are portrayed as being for the “truly committed.” The day to day life of the average person is often left unaddressed by the message we preach.

A few of our hearers get the sense that believing in Jesus, trusting him, asking Jesus into one’s heart, putting your faith in Christ, etc., means we adopt a new way of life. I say, “May their tribe increase.” 

But we will only see an increased number of people becoming disciples if we pay more careful attention to how we preach the message of the kingdom, placing before those we lead a renewed vision of what has been there waiting for us in the New Testament all along.

The philosopher Dallas Willard wrote that the great omission in the great commission is our very recent failure to articulate the good news message in a way that includes a robust portrayal of discipleship to Jesus in our appeals to believe in and follow Christ. 

As a result, we have converts, but not disciples. We have people who claim to be associated with Christ, yet fail to develop any serious intention to follow him, learn from him, adopt his ways, die unto themselves, be made alive to God, and to put on Christ, and thereby display his character. These converts do not become disciples, at least not in the fullest sense of the word. 

The late William J. Abraham, in his book The Logic of Evangelism, made a similar point when he noted that Jesus, in the Great Commission, told us to go and make disciples. Abraham notes that Jesus was explicit, saying this would not only involve baptizing, but teaching, and not teaching generally, but teaching specifically about life in the kingdom of God, which includes obedience to Jesus’ commands and adherence to his way of life. Abraham challenged us to think beyond conversion and toward initiation into a new relationship with God and a new community, which would then entail a new way of life.

If we haven’t heard that Christian disciples are, in their very nature as disciples, teachers and scribes, if we didn’t understand that was “part of the deal,” well, ignorance of something does not make it untrue. Truth stands on its own, whether we believe it or know it or are aware of it, or not. Ignorance is when something remains unknown. Discovering discipleship is more than what you previously imagined broadens your vision of what Christianity is, and, hopefully, compels and invites you to a fuller, deeper, and richer experience of the life of faith.

We heard a third objection a moment ago. If you are among those who don’t think of yourself as a person with teaching gifts, you’re in luck. Those in the company of Jesus are not left without resources. And the teaching task might be broader than you’ve imagined, inclusive of a diversity of educational encounters and instructional modalities. When we enter into a relationship with Jesus, where we are his disciples and he is our living Lord, Master, and Teacher, if we take him at his word that he will be with us always, even until the end of the ages, we undergo, and are undergoing, training, not only in the classroom, but through field work. 

We “become disciples” in the kingdom of heaven wherever we are, and wherever he sends. 

In one sense, we “are” disciples, and in another, we are “becoming” disciples. A disciple enters into a relationship with a master, a teacher, to learn the master’s ways, to become like the teacher. In Luke 6:40, Jesus himself said, “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” We will not surpass Jesus. But we will remind others of him. We will be like him.

Jesus says that the teachers of the law in the kingdom of heaven assume the role of an instructor, a person of knowledge, an example of wisdom as they are becoming a “disciple in the kingdom of heaven.” These teachers are also students. They are learners, and they are learning. They are being equipped for their service under God’s reign in God’s realm and in service to God’s people. They have “continuing education” requirements.

If you claim allegiance to Jesus, if you dwell in the kingdom he announced, inaugurated, proclaimed, and embodied, if he is your king and you are a citizen in his domain, if you look to him as Lord, you are a teacher. But teachers in the kingdom of heaven do not know it all. These teachers do not have a diploma saying they have mastered all spiritual knowledge. They are deeply humble. They are humble because they compare their knowledge to the knowledge of Jesus, and, compared to the one possessing all wisdom and power and might, they know that their knowledge remains small. They also know that the image-bearer in front of them, the person in every encounter, and the circumstances they enter into as a servant and as a student could be an occasion for learning in Jesus’ school. 

Class remains in session. The classroom of Christ is conducted in all of life, encompassing the entire sphere of human experience, inclusive of but not limited to human relationships both with the divine and with one another. Learning from Jesus is happening in and through our experiences, our conversations, our cultivation and care for the creation, and everything in between. The Teacher is near, always teaching, but not always from the front or in plain view.

Broaden your vision. The professor of record in the kingdom of heaven is Jesus himself. His teaching methods are precisely calibrated to the needs of every student. His adaptability and range as an instructor is unsurpassed. Jesus is concerned with how we relate to one another and to God. He is also concerned with how we relate to the world over which he is sovereign, the world which was created by him and through him and for him and holds together in him, which he has redeemed and is now renewing and restoring, “for God so loved the world,” and “behold, he is making all things new.”

Training for teachers in the kingdom of heaven is not only for those who speak in front of lecture halls or deliver sermons from pulpits or talk to children seated on carpet squares or who speak to youth in dimly lit rooms. 

Instead, teachers who have become disciples in the kingdom of heaven are learning and leading in every context, in every place, among every people, in a variety of roles. They are teachers in their families, in the kitchen and at the supper table. They are examples on the basketball court. They are bright lights in recovery rooms or in shelters. They are purveyors of kindness in grocery store checkout lines. They serve daily delight in a warm mug, coffee or tea passed over a countertop, prepared by and given from hand to hand.

We do teach with words and by the exchange of information. I hold the firm conviction that Christians should be able to offer reasons for the things they profess, that each should be taught and teach what is in accord with sound doctrine, that we have a tradition, teaching, wisdom, stories, and a gospel message that is to be preserved and passed down from generation to generation faithfully and consistently.

But I also believe we teach love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. I believe we impart practices of confession, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. I believe we model for our world peace-making; we “keep justice” and do “righteousness at all times,” as it says in Psalm 106:3. We are vessels of mercy, and so much more. 

We learn from Jesus. He will train us for the way, along the way, in his way. We become disciples trained in the kingdom of heaven. What will result?

III. Treasures

Jesus tells us. We will bring forth treasures, old and new.

Matthew 13:52, again, says, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

What exactly are these treasures?

John Calvin, commenting on Matthew 13:51 and 52, wrote:

[Jesus] says that teachers are like householders, who are not only careful about their own food, but have a store laid up for the nourishment of others; and who do not live at ease as to the passing day, but make provision for a future and distant period. The meaning, therefore, is that the teachers of the Church ought to be prepared by long study for giving to the people, as out of a storehouse, a variety of instruction concerning the word of God, as the necessity of the case may require. Many of the ancient expositors understand by things new and old the Law and the Gospel; but this appears to me to be forced. I understand them simply to mean a varied and manifold distribution, wisely and properly adapted to the capacity of every individual.

I think Calvin is right. A teacher trained in the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings forth treasures from the stores of their life and memory of “a varied and manifold distribution,” which they “wisely and properly [adapt] to the capacity of every individual.” 

I agree further with Calvin. I think Jesus does not speak here of the Old and New Testaments, or “Law and Gospel,” as some commentators assert. The treasures Jesus speaks of, old and new, include the Scriptures, which are able to make us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). But there’s more to it than that.

Let’s not miss this.

As Christian people, we believe God has given us the Holy Scriptures, the Bible. The Old Testament contains numerous exhortations given to Israel through Moses, in the Writings, and through the Prophets and Poets to teach God’s commands and pass on the stories to another generation, to instruct the people in God’s ways, that they might know the Lord and the wondrous works God has done for sake of God’s name and the salvation of God’s covenant people.

And the New Testament contains exhortations to teach, correct, rebuke, train, encourage, proclaim, and share God’s Word winsomely, persuasively, passionately, and convincingly.

In 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul encourages young Timothy to “preach the word.”

On the second floor of the Truett building, there is a corner containing couches and computers and a printer, a place where students land to read, study, converse. There are windows and a lot of natural light. Late in the spring term of 2022, I pulled a pink Post-it note from my desk, took out a black Sharpie, wrote, “Preach the Word” and placed one small square in one of those windows. I wanted anyone who walked by, and particularly our students, to be reminded of this exhortation. I hoped they would contemplate our calling to preach the Scriptures, of course. But also to preach Jesus, the Word-made-flesh. It’s faded now. But it is still there. That makes me a little glad. Preach the Word.

The Bible is, for us, an “old” book. It contains “old” treasures, in part because it contains truth, which has an eternal quality to it. Ancient wisdom can take on a modern, timely expression, with the Spirit’s help. When “Christ lives in us,” eternity enters time and old things become suddenly new. When we preach this “old” book with its “old” words and its “old” wisdom, there are times when it falls fresh and “feels” new. 

The Scriptures are one source for teachers who have become disciples in the kingdom of heaven to bring forth treasures old and new.

But what else might this mean? Let’s consider one more thought.

Makoto Fujimura is an artist. In his book Art and Faith: A Theology of Making, Fujimura reflects on art, creativity, and the divine. His work is with paint, crushed minerals, paper, and canvas, and his work has led him to contemplate the meaning not only of the Creation, God’s self-revelation as Creator, and humankind’s being made in the image of a Creator God, but also the meaning of “New Creation,” of which the New Testament speaks. He connects New Creation to his work as a maker. Fujimura writes: “The Bible is a story that moves from Creation to New Creation.” He thinks that we, as Christians, are part of the unfolding of that story.

But we do not always tell the story that way. Fujimura explains that many of the sermons he has heard across denominations focus on God’s “fixing” of broken things. Fujimura does not deny this is part of our message. God is a repairer and a restorer. But when we focus on God’s “fixing” to the neglect of God’s “making,” we miss a key aspect of God’s work of redemption and how God may “make” through us, even now. 

Fujimura calls Christian teaching that focuses only on fixing, “plumbing theology.” He invites us to begin a conversation about why we focus on fixing the pipes, but also what the pipes are for. He asks us to consider what would happen to a person whom God restores and repairs, for whom their “pipes” were mended, healed, restored. What would happen then? What would happen to a person who experienced wholeness in body, soundness of mind, health in the emotions, reconciliation, justice, and harmony in the social sphere, and a refreshing of the soul? What then?

Fujimura argues that God’s renewal and regenerative purposes would be displayed in our lives, in our world, and in our making, that “New Creation” would be evidenced in our present reality. Once the pipes are restored, their purpose is actualized. He writes:

  • Through the pipes flow the Holy Spirit to empower us, the broken people and fallen creation.
  • Through the pipes flows the blood of Christ to restore us and rejuvenate the earth.
  • Through the pipes flow the wine of the New Creation to invite us into the feast of the New. But the wine of the feast will flow backwards from the New Creation to our reality.

Fujimura claims, “All art, music, and poetry, by intention or not, invokes the New…What if we began to create, and live, into the New Creation to come?”

The answer: treasures, old and new, they are made, offered, brought forth, displayed, and shared.

IV. The Task

If it is true that “every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old,” then, what do we do and how do we do it?

First, we live as householders, as residents. Jesus compared teachers of the law who have become disciples in the kingdom of heaven to owners of a house, as people who belong, as those who have a place, not as those paying rent. When you are adopted into God’s family through Jesus Christ, you receive a share in the estate.

In John 14:1-4, Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Soon thereafter Jesus declares he is the way and the truth and the life, that no one comes to the Father except by him. Jesus secured for us a home. He has come, and he will come, to take us with him, so that we may be where he is.

Because of Jesus we can claim the promise of Psalm 23:6, which says: “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” 

First, we remember that in Christ we have been received into our true everlasting home, not because of what we do, but because of what he has done.

But we remember something else, a second thing. Who teaches the teachers? Who trains us for life in the kingdom of heaven? Who entrusts us with these treasures? 

Who invites us to “Come, follow me?” Who sends us forth to “Go, and make disciples of all nations?” Who promises to be “with us always, even until the end of the age?”

We are under the best possible care and loved with the greatest possible love. Jesus supplies us with everything we need. He will teach us to teach, train us to train, and supply us with treasures, among which he shines like a priceless, radiant jewel and as our invaluable, unsurpassable prize. 

We not only have a place. We have a person.

We are his. And he is ours.

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus, call to us, invite us to be your disciples. Enable us to respond to you in the depths of our soul with the answer, “Yes, I will follow you.” Thank you for being our teacher and for calling us to be teachers. Train us in the kingdom of heaven. Help us to learn from you. Adjust our sight, calibrate our hearing, and attune our heart so that we may see, listen, and receive your instruction, wherever you have us, and wherever you send us. Please reveal to us your treasures, gifts old and new, and graciously lead us, your servants, who have been brought into your household. You are our greatest treasure. Thank you for your love. May our love for you increase, and may your grace abound in and through us. Amen.

Sermon: Preach the Word

This sermon was delivered to the First Baptist Church of Valley Mills, Texas on July 31, 2022.

Scripture: 2 Timothy 4:1-8

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Sermon: Preach the Word

If you would open your Bibles with me to 2 Timothy 4:1-8. 

Rudyard Kipling, the author and poet most famous for The Jungle Book, wrote:

I keep six honest serving-men

  (They taught me all I knew);

Their names are What and Why and When

  And How and Where and Who.

So, as we return to our Scripture for this morning, let’s employ these servants for a moment. Each Sunday, I trust that the Scriptures are read. We should, of course, listen. But we should listen for understanding, and, having gained understanding, we should respond according to what we have heard. Who, what, when, where, why, and how can help us gather the facts, to interpret those facts, and then to live in light of what is true.

2 Timothy was written by the Apostle Paul to a young associate in the ministry named Timothy. It is thought that Paul wrote this letter near the end of his life, while imprisoned in Rome by Nero, sometime in the mid to late 60s, A. D.

In Acts 16, we learn that Paul first met Timothy in Lystra, by way of a city called Derbe.

I want you to picture the Mediterranean Sea, and think of Judea on the eastern border, with Syria now to the north, and, in the first century, Cilicia then as you turn the corner back to the west, and then as you move away from the coastline, you approach the region of Lycaonia, which is where Lystra is located.

Paul visited Lystra during his first and second missionary journeys, and it is thought he likely visited again during his third missionary journey. On Paul’s first visit to Lystra, he healed a man who was lame. You can read this story in Acts 14:8ff. This event drew a crowd and caused quite a stir. 

Since most of the people there were only familiar with the stories of the Greek and Roman myths and legends, when they saw what had happened, they said, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 

And they began calling Paul “Hermes” (in the Greek myths, Hermes was known as the herald of the gods), and they referred to Paul as such because he was the one doing all the talking, and they called Barnabas “Zeus,” I guess because maybe Barnabas was the strong silent type, or maybe they thought he had kind of a stormy look. 

But this became a problem. The priest of Zeus brought sacrifices, because the people wanted to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas, and when they found out about it, this greatly distressed Paul and Barnabas. So what did they do? It’s so great, I’m going to read it. This is Paul, in Acts 14:15-17:

“Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

Even after giving that speech, they still had trouble stopping the people from offering their sacrifices. While this ruckus was still going on, some of Paul’s opponents from Antioch and Iconium arrived in Lystra, turned the crowd against Paul, where they stoned him and left him for dead.

But, they were wrong. Paul must’ve been tough. The disciples gathered around Paul, and Paul got up, joined Barnabas, and they continued on their way. Back to work.

Now some of you are saying, “Wait a minute, why is this guy telling us this?” I’m telling you this because it widens the lens on the reading from 2 Timothy 4.

Timothy was probably born in Lystra. Imagine if you were a young person, and  you were present when these two men came to your town. Imagine, not only if you had heard about the healing of the lame man, but that you had heard about the claims these men were making.

Furthermore, in the speech we read just a moment ago, Paul claims that he and Barnabas brought “good news.” That’s not all. Paul and Barnabas told the people of Lystra to turn away from “worthless things to the living God.” And! And! Paul and Barnabas claimed that even though they had not known this living God, that God was nevertheless kind to the people of Lystra by providing for them rain and crops and even joy. In other words, Paul was telling them that even before they knew this God, God had been gracious toward them. Not to mention that Paul returned later to Lystra, even after they had tried to kill him.

If this was the local lore, you would think that this young man Timothy, if he did not witness these events, heard about them from friends, family, and neighbors. What must Timothy have thought of Paul?

In 2 Timothy 1 we learn that Timothy was raised knowing about Jesus. Paul mentions Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. This reminds us that while Timothy may have heard from Paul directly, it was the women in his life who faithfully shared the Word of God with him in a manner that was transformative and enduring. 

There are a few in this room who might have a similar testimony. Or, there may be a few who are, at present, Lois or Eunice to some young child.

The New Testament contains two letters addressed by Paul to Timothy. Not only did Timothy travel with Paul on his missionary journeys. Timothy became a pastor, a preacher. In our passage, we can glean that Paul is writing not only as a peer but as a mentor. He is an older Christian, addressing a younger Christian.

But whether we are young, old, or somewhere in between, I think there are four truths we can identify in Paul’s charge to Timothy, that apply to every person in this room.

First, Paul offers a charge to preach. Second, Paul identifies challenges Timothy will face (and that we still face today). Third, Paul describes the contrast of a committed life. And fourth, Paul speaks of a crown of righteousness that he, and we, hope to receive.

Listen everybody: that’s right, he’s a Baptist preacher, he’s got four points, not three, and each point begins with the same letter. 

Just praise Jesus I didn’t make it five points.

The charge, the challenges, the contrast, and the crown. 

If I were to have a fifth point, it would be “the Christ.” But don’t worry, we’ll get to him, too.

  1. The Charge to Preach

Paul’s instruction, his “charge” to Timothy given in verse two, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” is very famous. 

Consider briefly a couple of things. First, the Greek term translated “charge” is used four times in Paul’s letters (here, 2 Timothy 2:14, 1 Timothy 5:21, 1 Thessalonians 4:6), and in those other places, this word is variously rendered as a “solemn charge,” or a “warning” or as a “solemn testimony” to convey Paul’s meaning. 

Paul’s not just saying, “Go get’em, Tiger.” He’s leveling with Timothy about a matter he considers to be of utmost importance, a task that is very serious. This is supported by Paul’s lead up to the charge in 2 Timothy 4:1: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom…”

Paul isn’t only saying to Timothy that he is offering this charge, but rather, that he speaks on behalf of one greater. It’s one thing if I show up at your doorstep and tell you to do something because another neighbor wants it, greater still if I come on behalf of the mayor, greater still if I come as a representative of the governor, and greater still if I come as a person commissioned by the office of the President of the United States. 

Paul claims to represent a person, and a kingdom, that is even greater. Paul is saying to Timothy, “This is our commission, this is whom we represent, with a mission of highest importance: herald the message, announce the reign of God, invite others to put their faith in Jesus, and to live as the redeemed and renewed people of God.”

Second, Paul doesn’t say, “tell people how to live” or “preach what you feel.” The subject of preaching is clearly given: “the Word.” There is a dual meaning here. 

First, we are to preach the Bible, the Word of God, the written and recorded revelation of God’s speaking, action, and movement among his people. In 1 Timothy 4:13, Paul tells Timothy, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and teaching.” Remember, when Paul wrote to Timothy, the Scriptures were what we as Christians refer to as the Old Testament. The New Testament canon was still coming into shape.

Preaching the Word requires knowledge of the Scriptures. Listening to sermons is just one way to be equipped to know, preach, and teach the Bible. I hope that many in this room would join me in the study of the Scriptures, and the daily reading of the Bible. I read four chapters each day. The Bible, the Old and New Testament, is God’s Word.

But secondly, “the Word” is the term chosen by John the Evangelist, in the Gospel of John, to refer to Jesus, the “Word” made flesh. We are instructed to preach Jesus. And, in my opinion, if we search the Scriptures prayerfully, with the Holy Spirit’s help, and under the instruction of Jesus, we will discover that all the Bible points us toward him, and that the faithful teaching and preaching of the Bible will lead us to a deeper love and devotion to God, and to Jesus, for the Scriptures are fulfilled in him.

The first three words of this verse, “Preach the Word,” likely before today, have stuck in your mind. If not, it is my hope that after today, you will never forget that all Christians–not just Timothy–are tasked to “preach the Word.” Paul’s statement is an imperative, a grammatical term meaning a “command.” 

We are told to do it. We are told to be prepared to do it in all times and places. As we do it, we are told that this preaching task involves correction, rebuke, and encouragement. And we’re told that our posture, as we do it, is patient and careful as we teach or instruct.

Last weekend I was on retreat near Belton, at a place called Summers Mill, and while on retreat I read a book by R. Robert Creech, Pastoral Theology in the Baptist Tradition

In that book, Dr. Creech reminded me that congregations do not only have one minister or perhaps a ministerial staff of a few. Congregations, in the Baptist tradition, have understood themselves to be made up of a membership of ministers. We all have a priestly task, one unto another. The pastor is called as one among the membership to shepherd the flock, to care and feed and protect and to walk alongside the people of God. But the people, as a whole, share in the ministry.

In 1 Peter 2:9, we read, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

We are each called to proclaim the Word of God. Let’s be faithful in doing so, “in season and out of season; correct[ing], rebuk[ing] and encourag[ing]—with great patience and careful instruction.

  1. The Challenges, Past and Present

Paul knows the task won’t be easy. Remember, on Paul’s first visit to Timothy’s hometown, he experienced the highs and lows of ministry. He was worshiped as god, and then dragged out of town and left for dead. Timothy knew the risks.

Paul writes, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

Remember, Paul wrote these words nearly two thousand years ago. We think false teachers and futile pursuits, the seduction of lies and the abandonment of truth is a new phenomenon. We think that’s something that only emerged in our day.

But this text should disabuse of that notion. In my opinion, I think this text should not only be a clear call to discernment regarding those we believe adhere to false teachings about God, reality, salvation, etc. in our world but also a call to discern unsound doctrine and false teaching among God’s people, and to correct such errors, to search the Scriptures and to rely on the Spirit to lead us into all truth, to seek God and to ask God to help us to walk before him faithfully. 

This applies to me, too.

Martin Bucer, a Protestant Reformer who met and was influenced by Martin Luther in the 1500s, in his commentary on these verses, observed, “Obedience to the holy gospel is to be maintained with great earnestness, because there is nothing that the devil and proud flesh oppose so vehemently. And people always want to have teachers and prophets who will not chide them, but tell them what they like to hear…”

If we faithfully preach the word to one another, from time to time, we will be uncomfortable. Martin Bucer observed that sound preaching should lead us to be moved by what we have heard, to acknowledge our sins more fully, to commit ourselves more wholeheartedly to Christ, or to seek more earnestly to improve our ways.

If we keep Paul’s charge to Timothy, we’ll not only be discerning about falsehood “out there,” but “in here.” We’ll face that challenge, squarely. And we’ll call one another to seek God faithfully, walking by the Spirit, open to the Spirit’s instruction as we are led into all truth (John 16:13).

  1. The Contrast of a Committed Life

We’ve considered Paul’s instruction to preach the word, and considered the challenges both past and present to maintain a faithful witness to the word. Now, we’ll consider the contrast of a committed life.

Look again at verse five, “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

Paul offers a fourfold description of a faithful minister: 1) keep your head, 2) endure, 3) evangelize, and 4) fulfill your responsibilities.

Let me put that a slightly different way. Paul offers a fourfold description of a mature Christian disciple. All those in this room who consider themselves a follower of Jesus are called to keep a cool head in all situations, endure suffering, share the good news of and about Jesus and his kingdom, and to be a faithful minister–in this congregation, in your family, in your workplace, and in this community, in your school.

I play in a pickup basketball game every Friday morning at the First Baptist Church of Woodway. I am often, though not always, the oldest guy there. After about an hour of play, we pause, hear a devotional thought from one of the ministers there, and pray in groups of two and three.

This week, one of the men, named Austin, who came to play shared that on a recent trip to H. E. B., he felt God’s leading to buy the bottle of ranch dressing held by the man in line behind him. So he did. And he struck up a conversation with the man. He shared his faith. He said that this act of kindness was because of what Jesus had done for him. And this other man shared that four years ago, he had come to know Jesus. The other man was an ex-convict. He had dealt drugs. But God had totally changed his life.

So these two guys, they walk into the parking lot, and as they share their testimonies with one another, and as they begin praying with one another, another man approaches them. They ask what he needs. The man tells them that he needs prayer. He said to Austin and his new acquaintance that he was struggling with sexual sin, and that he needed help, and freedom, and grace. And so they prayed together, and for this man, who, in his shame, would not offer his name.

Listen everyone, the application here is not to go and buy someone else’s ranch dressing at H. E. B. This isn’t a gimmick, or a technique, or a strategy. But it does illustrate a posture, an openness and a receptivity to God’s leading, and a way of being in the world as a servant of Christ that we all need to consider. And let’s admit it: it’s weird. It’s out of the ordinary. 

But so is the kingdom of God–which, when Paul went about the Mediterranean world announcing it, led to his being charged with “turning the world upside down” and proclaiming a king other than Caesar, namely, Jesus Christ.

There should be a “Christian difference.” Together, let’s ask God to make us people who keep a cool head, endure, are ready to share our faith, and who faithfully execute our ministries.

  1. The Crown We Hope to Receive

The call to preach, the challenges, the contrast, and now, finally, the crown we hope to receive. In verses six to eight, Paul writes:

“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

Some of us, as we read this together, feel like Paul. We’ve given our life in service to Christ. The race marked out is nearing completion. Maybe we’re tired. Maybe we just want to be done. Maybe we’re struggling to finish.

Others are mid-race. We’re still running. We’re in the middle, the initial adrenaline has worn off, and the finish line may be distant enough that we’ve forgotten why we’re on the course.

And a few of us, I’m speaking with the young men and women, the teenagers in this room, have only recently left the starting line, and have only just begun our fight, our race.

We want to run well. Paul here offers us an image. He writes of “the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award…on that day.” He adds that this crown is not only his hope, but the hope of all who know and follow Jesus, who serve him today, and who long for his return.

John Trapp, an Englishman who lived in the 1600s and who wrote a commentary on the Bible, observed of these verses, “Salvation is called a crown of righteousness, not because it is a right due to us, but because it is purchased for us by the righteousness of Christ, and shall be freely given to those who are justified by faith.” In other words, we don’t run to earn our salvation, but to receive it. We’re on the course because we’ve already been called and claimed by Christ.

We run our race, we fight our fight, we preach the word, we face our challenges, we adhere to sound teaching, we live differently as citizens of Christ and his kingdom because we have looked, and we have seen what he has done, what he is doing, and what he will one day bring to completion. Salvation is God’s gift, accomplished by Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection. God’s salvation is being worked out, in us, in our world, and one day, will come in full on that day, when Christ returns. We live in and by and according to our hope.

Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Jesus has finished his work of salvation, and his purposes continue to be worked out today, in and through us. We’ve been given a charge.

But we don’t take it up alone. God is with us. Jesus leads us. Remember the words of the hymn we sung a moment ago, by Fanny Crosby?

All the way my Savior leads me–

What have I to ask beside?

Can I doubt His tender mercy,

Who through life has been my guide?

Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,

Here by faith in Him to dwell!

For I know, whate’er befall me,

Jesus doeth all things well;

For I know, whate’er befall me,

Jesus doeth all things well.

Jesus has gone before us. He is the author, the pioneer, and the finisher of our faith. Let’s keep the charge given to us. Let’s preach the word. Let’s face our challenges. Let’s live faithfully according to our calling and commitment. Let’s remember, Christ has won a crown for us, and he awaits us at the finish. Let’s run a good race. Let’s be like Paul. Let’s be like Timothy.

Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus. All the way, he leads us.

How Much Faith?

Photo by Sebastian Herrmann on Unsplash

In his sermon “The Law and the Promise,” Tim Keller offers his response to those who come asking, “How much do I have to trust God in order to be saved?”

Keller said:

If you are about to fall off a cliff, maybe you’ve already fallen, you’re falling off and you’re on your way to your death, you look up and see a branch sticking out of the side of the cliff, you look up at that thing, and I want to know, “How much faith do you have to have in order for it to save you?”

The answer is, “Just enough faith to grab it.” Because, your faith does not save you at all. It’s not the strength of your faith…it would be the strength of the branch that would save you, not the strength of your faith. If the branch is strong enough to save you, you’re saved.

It is not the quality of your faith, but the object of your faith, that saves you. Trust in God, who is mighty to save.

Sermon: A Lasting Peace

This sermon was delivered to the First Baptist Church of Valley Mills, Texas on October 10, 2021.

Scripture Reading: Joshua 11:16-19

So Joshua took this entire land: the hill country, all the Negev, the whole region of Goshen, the western foothills, the Arabah and the mountains of Israel with their foothills, 17 from Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir, to Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon. He captured all their kings and put them to death. 18 Joshua waged war against all these kings for a long time. 19 Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle.

Sermon: A Lasting Peace

First Baptist Church of Valley Mills, good morning. It is good to be together in fellowship, it is good to worship God, and it is good to come together in search of what is good, lasting, edifying, beautiful, praiseworthy, and true. 

Now, I trust that many of us together in this room know God. But for those that aren’t so certain, for those who are seeking, for those who might be wondering if God is there or if God can be known, well, it is my prayer this morning that God would draw near to us all, not so much that we would find God, but that God would find us and help us not only to see a path forward for how we should live, but that we would see God, that we would encounter Jesus, and that we would all, together, more fully trust him.

I want to tell you how I came to be here today. 

About ten days ago Pastor John Wheatley called me. I missed his call because I was in class, and then I went to lunch with a friend. I had left my cell phone in my desk drawer. 

When I came back from lunch, John came walking down the hall on the second floor at Truett Seminary, and stopped by my office. He then said, “Hey buddy, I normally give a little bit more lead time when I need someone to step in and preach, but I was wondering if you knew anyone who could come and offer the message at FBC Valley Mills on October 10.”

I said that I might be able to do it. I also said that I’d need to talk it over with my wife, Molly, because if you are married, well, maybe, well, you might understand.

So, the question is whether or not John meant “me” by “anyone,” or if he meant “anyone else.” 

Regardless, I’m here. For the record, I did receive clearance from my wife, Molly, to come and be present with you. And I’m glad to be here. My wife is a United Methodist minister, and she is preaching this morning at First Methodist Killeen. Maybe she is planning to say some things about me in her sermon this morning and wanted me out of the way. I guess I’ll have to watch it later on YouTube to find out.

At George’ Restaurant this past Monday John and I had lunch, and he told me what you’ve been up to. He shared that you have been reading the book of Joshua. He shared that you’re moving through the conquest. He had said to me that if I wanted to preach another text, if I wanted to break up the march that had begun with the comforting of Joshua and the crossing of the Jordan and the capture of Jericho, that I could. But I said that I would be happy for us to continue on, to keep going, to take the next steps with Joshua and the people of Israel, and to see what we might learn together.

I want to commend this congregation for reading this book together, chapter by chapter and verse by verse. In Joshua 1, Joshua is not only told by God to “be strong and very courageous,” but he is also told, “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then, you will be prosperous and successful.”

That’s a command with a promise. 

Aside from plain, straightforward obedience to that command, some of you might wonder from time to time, “Why in the world do we read these Old Testament stories?” Some of you younger people, in particular, may think as I did in a few, but not all, of my history classes, “These lists of difficult to pronounce names, the foreign geography, these ancient events…why should I care?”

That’s a good question. Let me give you a couple of reasons why we should care. First, we should care because these stories reveal something to us about the human condition, the nature of humanity, and the difficulties of life. Our world continues to be one of conflict, warfare, and strife. While each of us in this room may feel this to be true by differing degrees, that is the world we live in, one that is “not as it should be.” Facing reality is a first step toward wisdom.

But there is a second reason, a theological reason, that I’ll put to you very briefly, and very simply, though it could be the subject for a whole other sermon. 

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. And in Luke’s gospel, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus told his two traveling companions that everything written in Moses and the Prophets somehow pointed to him. The remainder of the New Testament contains citations and allusions to the Old Testament. Without knowledge of the Old Testament, we will not very well understand the New.

We must tend to the book of Joshua, and all of the other books of the Old Testament, not only so that we can better understand history, not only so that we can better understand the world of Jesus in the first century, a world that was steeped in these stories and narratives, but in order that we might more fully understand the character of God as it is revealed in all of Scripture. 

The stories of the Old Testament become our stories in and through our faith in Jesus, and by knowing these stories, by studying these narratives, by searching these words and considering them prayerfully, it is our hope that God might bring us to greater maturity and a deeper faith.

With that end in view, let’s turn our hearts and minds, together, to the reading for today. In today’s portion, we read Joshua and Israelite armies had been victorious in battle. This is not Israel’s first victory, nor will it be their last battle. But it is a significant moment. 

The “kings” with whom Joshua had been fighting, those whom we are told he captured and put to death, were Jabin, king of Hazor, Jobab, king of Madon, the kings of Shimron and Akshaph in the western foothills of Mt. Tabor. We know that Israel also faced the Canaanites in the east and west, the Ammonites, Hittites, Perizzites, and Jebusites in the hill country, and the Hivites, who lived at the base of Mount Hermon. We read this in Joshua 11:1-5. We receive a few further details about the kings whom the Israelites conquered in Joshua 12. 

These kings were defeated. According to Joshua 11:19, only one city “made peace” with Israel, the Hivites, who were the inhabitants of Gibeon. The remainder were defeated on the battlefield.

Joshua 11:23 says, “So Joshua took the entire land, just as the Lord had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war.”

We might think of this as “peace.”

“Peace” is something, certainly, I think all of us desire. While we may not be fighting a physical battle, as Joshua and the Israelites did, we certainly face inner, spiritual battles day by day. These inner battles may arise first as a wrestling within ourselves. But often we find these battles–what begins on the inside–can bring us into conflict with those around us–manifesting themselves on the outside.

Because of this, we continue to long for “rest” from war. We long for peace. And I’d wager a few of us are in a place of unrest today, if not outright war.

So this morning, in light of our reading, we’re going to consider peace: what it is not, what it is, and how we can have it.

Peace: What It Is Not

First, peace: what it isn’t.

Our English word “peace” has a particular connotation. We associate peace with the absence of battle, the cessation of fighting, a declared end to open conflict. And in a sense, this definition is helpful. Peace does include the absence of strife and hostility between warring factions, a declared end to struggle.

But I think together we can immediately recognize this definition has its limits. We have found ourselves in circumstances where a physical battle is absent, but a mental, emotional, spiritual, or social struggle rages on. In the same way that a lake can appear calm on the surface while underneath and at depth there is turbulence, we’ve seen how appearances can be deceiving. Even within ourselves, we know that while outwardly we can appear to be at peace, inwardly our mind, our emotions, and our spirit can be unsettled. Tumultuous. At war.

I once heard Paul W. Powell, former Dean of Truett Seminary and pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, tell a story of a fight he had with his wife, Cathy. They did not exchange blows. But Paul did say that things became frosty. Paul said Cathy was tough, stubborn. And as they drove down the road, they passed a field where there were a couple of mules, and Paul looked out the window, pointed, and said to Cathy, “Relatives of yours?”

And she said, “Yes. By marriage.”

Now that’s an old joke, one that Paul put to his own purposes. But it is an example of an absence of peace.

Peace is not merely the absence of outward, physical conflict. 

There is another biblical word that can broaden our understanding of peace and help us to better envision the kind of “rest,” the kind of “peace” that we are longing for.

And that leads us to turn to our second question. What is peace?

Peace: What It Is

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for “peace” is “shalom.”

“Shalom” encompasses wholeness of the body, or physical health. It encompasses peace and wholeness between two parties, or “right relationship,” whether of groups of people or individuals, and even between people and God. “Shalom” refers to prosperity, success, or fulfillment, what we might otherwise call “human flourishing.” And finally, “shalom” refers to the absence of conflict, or the cessation of war.

In Judges 6:24, we read that Gideon constructed an altar to God and called it “Yahweh Shalom,” or “The Lord is Peace.”

In Numbers 6:24-26, the Lord tells Moses to tell Aaron and his descendants to bless the people of Israel by saying: 

“The Lord bless you

    and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you

    and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you

    and give you peace.”’

This blessing is so that Israel might be reminded that they are under a covenant of “shalom” with God.

Isaiah 9:6 is a familiar text for many of us, where we read:

For to us a child is born,

    to us a son is given,

    and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

This passage promises a coming Messiah who would establish God’s rule, and is understood today by followers of Jesus as having been fulfilled in him.

In Romans 5:1-2, Paul writes, “since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” Trusting Jesus, by faith, yields peace.

In Ephesians 2:14-18, we read, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”

Here, Paul writes that Jesus is our peace, and in him, former divisions are overcome, and unity is found, in God.

Some of you are now saying, “So what, Ben, what does this all mean?”

Briefly, what it means is that peace is not merely a state of mind. Peace is a person. Jesus is our peace. The exhortation to be “at peace” that we find in Scripture is not merely an invitation for us to consider self-help techniques or strategies for resolving conflict or wisdom on how best to navigate the difficulties of life. Rather, the promise of peace is rooted in an invitation to relationship, to be reconciled to the one who grounds us in God’s reality, announced by Jesus as God’s kingdom. There, we find that we reside in an “unshakeable” kingdom, and we rest in a person who has won for us ultimate victory, a victory that is final and complete.

Peace: How We Can Have It

On the piece of paper you received on your way in today is a quote from Dwight L. Moody, which says, “Take your stand on the Rock of Ages. Let death, let judgement come: the victory is Christ’s and yours through him.” How, then, do we receive that victory? How do we live in that peace?

If peace is not merely the absence of outward conflict, but peace is also the presence of lasting, sustained wholeness in our relationships, encompassing our relationship with God, with other people and with ourselves, how do we get it?

In the Book of Joshua, we read of a people who experienced a momentary peace, an end to battle, a cessation of outward conflict. Through Joshua, God delivered Israel and established the Israelites in the Promised Land.

Jesus Christ is a conqueror greater than Joshua. In him, we receive eternal peace. We live in the confidence that the final victory over sin, evil, and death has already been won, that on a lonely hill in a time, relatively speaking, not too long ago on a wooden cross, where the skies darkened and where all hope appeared to be lost, Jesus took upon himself the sin of the world and opened the way to an eternal land of promise, and repaired a rift between us and God, making possible reconciliation, forgiveness, healing, and everlasting peace.

When Jesus’ friends and disciples watched him die upon the cross, they did not know that three days later Jesus would emerge from the grave in resurrected form. But he did. Jesus was vindicated by the Father, and raised in power by the Spirit. He revealed himself to his disciples, first to the women, and then also to what remained of the Twelve. He was with them for forty days. He taught them concerning the kingdom of God. He commissioned them to go and share good news. It is that same good news we celebrate today. Jesus is alive.

In John 20:21-23, we’re told the resurrected Christ appeared to the disciples and said to them “‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’”

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Having been reconciled to God, we become ambassadors of his peace.

Furthermore, Galatians 5:22-23 tells us, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” The Spirit of God is at work within us, transforming us, healing us, renewing us, and bringing forth evidence that we have been reconciled to God. And that others can be reconciled, too.

How do we receive the peace of God? By trusting in Christ, the one who won for us a  lasting peace, eternal life. The one who offered us the gift of friendship. The one who invites us all to trust him, to follow him.

Do you trust him? Do you want to trust him?

Even if you want to, but don’t yet, that’s a sign he’s calling. Keep seeking. Maybe, today is the day.

Do you want peace? That’s what Christ offers.

May God help us to be “strong and courageous.” It takes strength, and courage, to trust that Jesus Christ is for us our peace, the one in whom we have victory. 

Today, trust that in Jesus we have received peace, and that as a people who have been extended the gift of peace with God, we might bear witness to that peace, inviting all we encounter to likewise trust in God, the one who has given us eternal rest, and who has welcomed us into his eternal kingdom, and who has promised us that we are “more than conquerors” in Christ Jesus.

Let us pray. 

Sermon: “Come to Me”

This sermon was delivered to the people of the First Baptist Church, Valley Mills, Texas, on Sunday, July 5, 2020.

Introductory Remarks

Good morning.

If you would, please open your Bibles to Matthew 11:16-30. We’ll be reading out text in just a moment, and as we do so, I think it would be wise if as we hear these words we would also read these words together, so that we may think carefully about them as God’s people.

As you turn, let me say that it’s good to be with you, and it is an honor that your pastor, John Wheatley, invited me to join you today in worship. John is my friend by way of our shared work at Truett Seminary. John has also always spoken highly of you, this congregation. It is good to be with you this morning.

You may have heard or seen that my job at Truett has a long title: I serve as the Assistant Director of Spiritual Formation at the George W. Truett Theological Seminary. One of my friends asked, “Does that fit on your business card?” What does that mean? It means that I educate, inspire, and assist others in growing to become more like Jesus Christ in their inmost being, so that they might best serve his kingdom and purposes.

John said I could speak this morning about anything that I wanted to. Usually, when someone tells me that, I talk about professional wrestling. But instead, today I thought I’d talk about the work of spiritual formation. At Truett, when we engage with seminarians in our work to “become more like Jesus,” we can only hope that that work is already well underway, having begun in the context of the local church. The local church is the most vital, the most critical, and the most important setting within which people come to see Jesus, know Jesus, trust Jesus, follow Jesus, serve Jesus, and grow to become like Jesus until the day in which we are called home to be with Jesus in eternity.

Never forget that this shared work, as part of this people, in this local congregation, as part of this community, is interwoven and indispensable to the outworking of God’s redemptive purposes in history. God is working right here, among this people within whom Christ dwells. We are part of the body of Christ.

In order to function as the body of Christ we must listen to and heed the Word of God. Let’s hear these words from the Gospel of Matthew 11:16-30.

Reading: Matthew 11:16-30

16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

17 “‘We played the pipe for you,

    and you did not dance;

we sang a dirge,

    and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

20 Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

This is God’s Word.


What does our Scripture reading have to teach us today? What is God saying to us, today, in this text?

How does this passage help us to grow in becoming more like Jesus? And how does it call us to change, to respond, to think differently, to feel differently, to speak differently, to act differently, in light of God’s character, God’s person, and God’s grace?

Let’s consider four broad movements found in this passage which we will examine together today:

  1. The Way is Not Plain to Everyone (9)
  2. The Way is Not Taken by All (8)
  3. The Way is a Path That’s Revealed (9)
  4. The Way is a Person, Who Calls (8)

The Way is Not Plain to Everyone

Imagine if you will for a moment you are the owner of a gas station along a main highway which runs through the center of a fairly well developed town. You’ve lived in the community for years, and you know every curve, bump, and byway like the back of your hand. You’ve been along the main roads and the backroads, the side streets and the alleyways. You’ve seen people come and go, houses built up and torn down, businesses launch and close down. You’ve seen it, and you know the place.

One day a stranger comes into your store and they ask you how to get to the Johnson place. The Johnsons live on the outskirts of town, five turns from your station. You quickly tell the stranger, “Head north, turn right on Maple, drive three quarters of a mile and take a left hand turn on a small, unmarked drive just past a metal sculpture built from old mufflers outside of the pizza place there, then catch FM 1695 eastbound until you pass a barn with a faded Texas flag painted on the rooftop, after which you’ll see CR 529. Turn right there, and another two miles down the way, you’ll come to the Johnson place. The Johnson’s have a green mailbox with a small John Deere tractor on the top, which hides slightly behind an old hackberry tree, so keep your eyes open.”

The stranger may say, “Come again?”

Now, it’s not that they couldn’t get there. It’s not that you didn’t do a good job describing the way. But it is nevertheless true that the more familiar you become with something–with a place, with a way of life, with a manner of speaking, with a set of beliefs or a way of seeing the world–the more you forget what it was like for you to discover these things yourself. It took time, experience. And when a new person comes along, an outsider who doesn’t share the same knowledge and experience, sometimes we assume they should just “get it.”

In our passage today, Jesus doesn’t address people who are trying to get to the Johnson place. Rather, Jesus is addressing people who are trying to determine if he is the Messiah, God’s anointed one, the one who was anticipated and hoped for, the one who would usher in God’s kingdom and bring salvation and deliverance and peace.

If we look at the broader context, we see that Jesus is addressing “the crowd” when we begin our reading, and he is speaking to them specifically about John the Baptist. Jesus identifies John as a prophet, and more than a prophet: the Elijah who was to come, the one who would “prepare the way” for the Messiah. 

Nevertheless, there are those in the crowd who have refused to see John as the Messiah’s forerunner and to heed John’s direction, his “pointing the way,” if you will. When Jesus compares this generation to children saying, “We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn,” he is saying, this is a generation that cannot be satisfied, a generation that will always find a reason to say, “Nope, not that one.”

Jesus makes this plain for us when he says that John was rejected because he was too rigid, too strict, “neither eating nor drinking.” But when Jesus comes feasting, he is counted as being too loose. Tainted. Wild.

As readers today, and as those who are very familiar with the story of Jesus and where it goes, we think we wouldn’t have made the same mistake. We think, “Yes, we recognize Jesus. But outsiders, those in the crowd, they don’t. Why don’t they get it?”

But the irony here is that Matthew 11 begins with John the Baptist sending a word to Jesus, asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replies, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

You see insiders and outsiders can get it wrong. They can miss Jesus because they expect the wrong things of Jesus. We can expect the wrong things of Jesus. Rather than seeing Jesus as the Way, they miss it. We miss it. The church, dare I say, has at times missed Jesus when he has been standing here and in our midst. We’ve said, “Nope, not that one.”

Followers of Jesus, myself included, should always be marked by a tremendous humility. We should demonstrate deep knowledge that the Way of Jesus, the Person of Jesus, the invitation of Jesus, is not plain to everyone, and it once wasn’t plain to us. And if it is plain to us–that’s a sign of God’s grace. And we should constantly humble ourselves, seeking after God, saying, “Lord, light my way.”

The Way is Not Taken By All

In addition to the way not being plain to everyone, our text today shows us that the way is not taken by all.

Jesus speaks harsh words, hard words for us to hear today, for we like to think of God as a God of mercy and love rather than as a God of justice and judgment. The truth is God is both. That is the testimony of the Scriptures. 

When Jesus says, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe, Bethsaida! Woe, Capernaum!” we are given a warning. We would not want Jesus to say, “Woe to you, Austin! Woe, Waco! Woe, Woodway (where I live)! Woe, Valley Mills!” No, we do not want that.

Jesus speaks of the miracles performed in these places, the signs and wonders that had been performed in those places testifying to God’s power, to the inbreaking kingdom, and to Jesus’ identity as God’s Son. Yet, not all accepted him.

And while we may say, “If I were there, I would have believed,” we cannot be so sure. They saw miracles. 

But, we have been given testimony to an even greater miracle. We have heard the witness of those who saw something greater than anything which took place in Chorazin or Bethsaida or Capernaum. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, Paul writes:

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

On the third day, the tomb was empty. Christ is risen. Do we believe in this testimony, and thereby, believe in Christ? If we have not accepted Jesus as the Risen One, we have not accepted his way.

The Way is a Path That’s Revealed

If we have not accepted Jesus, if we have not chosen to walk after him and to follow his way, perhaps it is because we have not yet seen. Earlier I spoke of the humility that should be characteristic of a Christian person. Why should a Christian person be humble? Because salvation is no accomplishment or work of our own. It is an act of God’s grace.

Notice that after Jesus finishes pronouncing woes, he transitions to offering praise. Jesus says, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.”

Jesus then announces that “all things” have been entrusted to him by the Father, and that for those who trust Jesus, they too will know the Father. The Son reveals the Father. The Son, according to Hebrews 1:3, “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” In John 14:9, Jesus tells Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”

Christians worship and proclaim God as Trinity–three persons; one God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each as unique divine persons, yet as One God. In Jesus Christ, we have been united to this God through the gift of faith. When Jesus says, “No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him,” he is telling us that he is the way to God.

In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In John 14:7, Jesus adds, “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

The way to God is a path that is revealed. It is revealed by a person: the Son.

The Way is a Person, the Son

If we’ve learned anything today from our constellation of texts, as we have brought other passages of Scripture to bear on our primary reading, we will have seen that Jesus not only reveals the way and leads the way, but he himself is the Way.

Jesus’ great invitation in our passage this morning is this: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Those words have provided comfort to many for generations. They have provided comfort to me. Jesus looks upon the crowds, those who surround him, knowing that there are both those who reject him and those who desire to trust him, and he says these words, “Come to me.”

He speaks to the weary and the burdened. He offers rest. He uses an agrarian image, that of the yoke, bringing to our mind an image of the mature, well trained ox being paired together with a young, inexperienced steer. Jesus does not place himself behind the plow, urging us along, or ahead of the plow, showing the way. Rather, he places himself under the yoke, walking with, bearing up, experiencing alongside, and teaching, teaching, always teaching.

Jesus says that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. He says that he is gentle and humble in heart. Philosopher, theologian, and ordained Baptist preacher Dallas Willard once stated that discipleship to Jesus is “the way of the easy yoke,” not because following Jesus does not involve hardship or sacrifice, but because Jesus’ way truly is best. There is no other person, no other figure in human history, who can put us in touch with reality in such a way that we grow to be fully human, which is what God intended for us prior to the human race’s captivity to sin. 

Christ is the only one who can restore us, who can lead us into true rest. In fact, he has done it. Jesus bore our deepest burden and the greatest source of our weariness, the burden of sin, upon the cross, and there he put it to death. He is risen and now reigns, and his invitation still stands: “Come to me.” We are invited into his rest. It is freely given: a grace. We are invited to freely receive it.

The great salvation of Jesus is that not only does he redeem you from sin, not only does he reconcile you to God, but he remakes you, renews you, and reforms you so that you may faithfully serve as a representative of  Jesus Christ and his kingdom. He teaches you his way. He is the Way.

In John 17:3, Jesus says, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” In Matthew 11:28, Jesus says, “Come to me.” That’s the great invitation. Not, “be a better person.” But, “Come to me.” Trust in him. He will give you rest.

Will you do it? Will you come to Jesus?

Let us pray.

Wesley’s Doctrine of Entire Sanctification

Image by Just killing time from Pixabay

Kevin Watson is a scholar I appreciate and respect. This sermon is worth reading, even if you do not agree with Wesley’s argument for “Christian perfection.”

Here’s an excerpt:

We live in a world that is broken and hurting. People come to church looking for hope and healing. Increasingly, they are unwilling to give us much time to convince them that we actually have answers. If it appears that all we have to offer are some self-help strategies to tweak our lives and make them slightly better through the sheer force of our will, they will not stick around because they are smart enough to know that they don’t have to come to church to get that.

Here is what I am staking my life on: I believe that Jesus is real. I believe that he really lived, died on the cross, was raised from the dead on the third day, and has ascended to the right hand of God the Father. I believe that the Holy Spirit is with us now. I am staking my life on the truth of the gospel as it has been received by the church over centuries.

Entire sanctification is not about legalism and it is not about working harder and straining more. It is about receiving the gift of God’s perfect love into every single part of your life and allowing the love of God to change you, to heal you, to bring forgiveness, hope, and even healing in every place where it is needed. Entire sanctification is about the radical optimism that the grace of God is sufficient for every need. Entire sanctification makes us bold to look the world full in the face with eyes wide open to suffering and needs we know we cannot meet in our strength and have the faith to say “Jesus!” in complete trust and confidence that he is the answer.

I’m sharing this for three reasons.

I like Watson. That’s the first.

Second, I’m bookmarking this sermon for myself.

And third, a body to whom this message was delivered is that of the saints of Pollard United Methodist Church, who gather in my hometown of Tyler, Texas. Pollard is within eyesight of Andy Woods Elementary, where I attended first and second grade (Mrs. Giles and Mrs. Smith), and across the street from Pollard Park, where I took part in more than one practice for more than one sport. I have vague memories there from under a large oak tree, and playing on the playground with friends and classmates.