Sunday, December 24, 2017

THE UNIVERSAL MESSIAH

THE UNIVERSAL MESSIAH
Luke 2:25-35
         These days we here this word called, Globalization a lot. What is it? “An English princess with a Welsh title leaves a French hotel with an Egyptian companion who has supplanted a Pakistani; she gets into a German car with a Dutch engine that is driven by a Belgian chauffeur full of Scottish whiskey. They are then chased by Italian paparazzi on Japanese scooters and motor bikes into a Swiss built tunnel, where they crash. A rescue is briefly attempted by an American doctor using Brazilian medicines. And the whole story is told to you in Sharon at Hope Church by an Indian pastor who grew up in Costal Districts of Andhra Pradesh, that is Globalization.! (15 countries) So, did you guess who the princess being mentioned is? That’s right it’s Princess Diana[1].
            Is globalization a bad thing? How does God view diversity? Whether we like diversity or not, the world we live is becoming more and more diverse.  We are living in times where people are constantly on the move from one place to another. Who do you think is behind this cross migration? What should be the role of Hope Church in a vastly diverse community called Sharon? For the past four weeks we have been preparing our hearts for the, advent of Christ at Christmas. Our preparation includes many things: We remember Israel’s hope for the coming of God’s Messiah. We remember our need for a Savior to save us from our sins, give peace and restore our Joy eternal. As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, let’s look at Psalm of praise by Simeon around the birth of Christ and its worldwide implications. Luke 2:25-35   
Background: Let me give you the historical and background to our story. Luke notes, the emperor Augustus issued a decree to take the census throughout the Roman world.
            The Jewish historian Josephus notes this census took place under Quirinius during 6 or 7 A.D. What is the significance of this worldwide census? First, to show that the issues of power and status occupy the center stage, for both Augustus and Quirinius as they were introduced as wealthy sovereigns. Joseph along with the rest of the world, portrayed as their subordinates. Second, this new universal census was outwardly designed to number each nation by family and tribe. Property and income values were not recorded in this registration, but soon the statistics gathered in this census were used for the levying of poll taxes on Jews, hence they regarded census as a symbol of Roman oppression.
            Third, to imply that Jesus’ ministry would be universal. Fourth, the census locates the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, as the fulfilment of the prophecy of Micah 5:2, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
            As per the decree, Jews from all over the then Roman world made their way to Judea. Joseph and Mary too made their way to register themselves in the records to Bethlehem as Joseph belonged to the house of David. While they were there when the fullness of time came Mary gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger as there was no guest room available for them. According to the Mosaic law every first-born male is to be consecrated to the Lord. When the time came for the purification rites to be completed, Joseph and Mary took their eight days old baby Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem. Let’s pick up our story from here.

I. BEING IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME:
            We often hear people brag about their fortunes, somewhat like this:I guess we were in the right place at the right time, because the person ahead of us in line paid for our drinks!
            I got that great parking space because I pulled up just as someone was leaving. My friend could never get promoted when she worked here, but I've been in the right place at the right time to move up in the company. Unless you are in the right place at the right time you cannot meet a movie star. Being in the right place at the right time, what does it mean?
            The Cambridge dictionary defines it as, “being in the best position or place to take advantage of an opportunity. The key to success is to be in the right place at the right time.” One blogger notes, “Being in the right place at the right time is really a lesson about persistence.”[2] There is some truth in these explanations. Coming back to our story, Simeon was in the right place at the right time.  He was one of those who had been persistently waiting for the savior of the world. He was told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. From that day, Simeon was patiently waiting for the appearance of the Lord’s Messiah.
            On one of his visits to the temple he was prompted by the Holy Spirit, to go into the temple courts, and at the same time Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to be dedicated. Was it a coincidence or Simeon was at the right place at the right time? Seeing, the baby Jesus in the arms of his mother, Simeon must have been overwhelmed. His prayers were answered and his waiting had come to an end. He had been waiting to see the consolation of Israel. That was the salvation of Israel. Simeon took the boy in his arms and made some bold proclamations. Let’s see how that proclamation would impact our lives today in the 21st century.   

II. THE UNIVERSAL MESSIAH
            Vs, 29-32, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
            At the time of the birth of Jesus, many Jews were looking for solace. The Roman Empire was quite powerful and imposed an oppressive burden on the Jewish community. Life on the first century was hard for other reasons lack of clean water, disease, high maternal mortality rate, and a host of other challenges. In this bleak context, we see a righteous person anticipating some relief.[3] As Simeon was lifting Jesus in his arms he understood that he was not only embracing the messiah for the people of Israel, but for the whole world. In one way he was holding the Universal Messiah and proclaimed saying salvation of the Lord is for all nations.
            Is this proclamation consistent with God’s overall plan of salvation? Consider these scriptures: The call of Abraham, Genesis 12:1-3 “The Lord had said to Abram, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” God wanted to bless all nations through the seed of Abraham.
            Isaiah Prophesied, Isaiah 49:5-6 “And now the Lord says he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself… “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” These two scriptures reiterate that God’s salvation is meant for the Jews and the Gentiles alike.
            In Judaism tikkun olam. means, “God is repairing the whole world through his people.” This concept now is a regular part of the Jewish prayer service. Listen to a third century Jewish prayer, “And therefore, we pray to you, Lord our God, that we may speedily behold the splendor of your might, to banish idolatry from the earth –  and false gods will be utterly destroyed; to perfect the world under the sovereignty of the Almighty.
            All mankind shall invoke Your Name to turn all the wicked of the earth to you.”[4]  John the Baptist saw himself as the repairer of the world. Simeon saw the salvation of the gentiles. The Jewish community understood that God is repairing the world through them, so they get involved in fighting for justice, loving the immigrants and the eradication of poverty.
            It is interesting to note that Simeon embraced the universal Messiah in his hands. With his eyes closed he saw into the future, farther than any telescope could see, the salvation of millions of gentiles. How do we see the world today? Are we aware of what God is doing around the world? How do we respond when we encounter people from other countries, are we quick to dismiss them, or do we embrace them as Simeon did?
            I personally believe that God wants to repair the world through us his Church, so He is sending people from all over the world into our neighborhoods. Many bright international students from countries that are closed to the gospel, are coming to the USA, as the followers of the Universal Messiah how are we going to reach out to them?
            There are so many ways to build friendships with internationals who are likely craving relationships because they have left so many behind: Host an international student, or welcome home a college student from another country for meals on weekends and holidays. As a church let’s explore opportunities to work among the Somalin and Syrian refugees. Maybe we can plan on running or be a part of an ESL program in our community. The town of Sharon is well known as a diverse and welcoming community, let’s connect with our neighbors, take a meal to a Chinese or an Indian family down the street. As a popular proverb goes “where there is a will there is a way” let’s pray and ask God to put in our hearts a will and desire to build friendships, and to show us creative ways to share the gospel with our neighbors. Amen!



[1] An Illustration on globalization originally shared by Shahi Tharoor, Indian Member of Parliament shared in a Key note address at Harvard University in Boston. (Slightly Modified)
[2] https://www.danwaldschmidt.com/articles/2014/06/extreme-behavior/secret-right-place-right-time/
[3]  Dr. Todd M. Johnson, Director of the Center for the Studies of Global Christianity at GCTS
[4] https://jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/issues-v20-n03/tikkun-olam-repairing-the-world/

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Restoring Joy

RESTORING JOY (Psalm 126:1-6)
12-17-2017
Introduction: Growing up in India, Christmas season used to be one of the happiest seasons for me. Our parents never gave us gifts, yet there was such a joyful atmosphere at home, enjoying great food, and the company of each other, we were just happy to be a family. We found great delight in small things. On the contrary, in the western world, Christmas with all its commerce, has become one of the most hectic times of the year, sending many into debt and stress.
            The happy scenes of Christmas we see in the movies often don’t reflect what goes on at home. Many families get really stressed out at Christmas. In spite of all the gifts Kids turn out to be unhappy and ungrateful. On the other hand, something like “Operation Christmas Child Project” is bringing cheer and joy to many kids around the world.
            Why is it that Christmas turns out to be an unhappy event? An article from the BBC gives a few reasons why.[1] 1. In the run-up to Christmas, adults are often really busy at work. They have to balance this with getting all their food and present shopping. It can leave them short of money and short-tempered. 2. Relatives you see rarely and have little in common with often turn up at Christmas, which can lead to bad feelings in the house. 3. Adults often drink more than usual at Christmas. This and all the other stresses can lead to arguments and even violence.
            4. Many kids' parents are separated and they have to split Christmas between two homes. Their parents' relationships are often not good, which can be really upsetting. 5. Some kids live in difficult circumstances. They might be homeless or living in poverty. How is your Christmas season turning out to be? Are you becoming unhappy, sad and depressed?  How can we approach this season differently?   RESTORING JOY, Psalm 126:1-6

I. A LONGING TO BE RESTORED:
            For the past two weeks we have been following a few of the prophetic promises of Isaiah, who predicted that God would not leave Israel in exile but one day He would restore them back to their own land. The Psalmist recorded how they were treated by their enemies while they were in exile. Psalm 137: 2-4,There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion! How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land? we hung our harps.”
            This lament indicates the heart of the people of Israel who disowned their God and the holy city Jerusalem. They grieved to see Jerusalem playing puppet on a Babylonian stage. The exiles instruments turned to silence. They couldn’t sing songs even though their captors demanded them to, their hearts were heavy, they cried out to God to restore their fortunes.
            Vs 1-3When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” As a fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecies, Persian King Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 BC, and he issued a decree allowing the remnant of Israel to return to their homelands and rebuild their cities and temples.
            According to the decree the remnant returned to Jerusalem, only to find out the city was in absolute ruins and its gates had been burned with fire.  The initial years of their return and rebuilding of their city were not easy. There was a famine in the land, food was scarce, on top of that they had to pay high taxes on their fields, vineyards and homes inorder to get grain.
            They were borrowing money to pay taxes by subjecting their sons and daughters to slavery. These and many other unpleasant things were happening. They remembered their absolute agony in the foreign land, and compared it to their current struggles in their home land, they couldn’t have been more joyful. For Israelites the actual experience was so unexpected and seemed more like a dream than reality. Every time they thought of the great things the Lord has done for them they couldn’t help but break forth in joyful singing. Now living in their own land, with gratitude they sang this song of Ascents.
            How does this apply to us today? The Israelites longing to return to their home land is similar to the longing of every human heart to return to God.  St. Augustine recognized his restlessness when he said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Because of that inner longing to be with God, we become restless and un happy when we are asway from God. We long to be restored. How can we know the way back to God?

II. A PRAYER FOR RESTORATION
            Vs-4-6, “Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.” This whole Psalm is a prayer for restoration. The Israelites prayed to God to restore their nations’ fortunes like their best streams in the Negev.
            What do we know about the Negev? It is a desert region south of Beersheba, which is utterly dry in the summer, but their streams quickly fill up and flood with the rains of spring. The Psalmist is praying, in the same manner God will restore Israel’s fortunes so that they will change from nothing to everything in abundance. How did God restore their Joy?
            It was through their sowing tears of repentance over sin, Israelites reaped the harvest of a joyful restoration to their homeland. Though their immediate longing was fulfilled yet they did not stop praying for their future restoration, because they knew that their ultimate joy of being in God’s presence only be fulfilled when the Messiah establishes his Kingdom.

III JESUS RESTORES JOY
            Jews had been longing and waiting for the Messiah for thousands of years, has it ever happened, or do they still have to wait for a messiah to come and establish his Kingdom? The longing and waiting for the messiah is the true essence of the Advent season. Christmas is not about Santa Clause, rain deer, Christmas trees and gifts. Though it is lovely on Christmas day we unwrap or gifts and enjoy one another’s presence, let’s remember Christmas is all about the unwrapping the greatest gift that God has sent into this world over two thousand years ago.
            God unleashed his joy into this gloomy and dark world through a tiny baby who was born under unusual circumstances, in a town of Bethlehem in the mountains of Jerusalem.  Let’s see how joy was unfolded surrounding the birth of the Messiah. The angel told Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth will bear him a son, they will name him John and he will be a joy and delight, and many will rejoice because of his birth. Luke 1:13-14.
            The Angel Gabriel told Mary that she was going to have a child and she was to give him the name Jesus. After that rather puzzling news Mary sets off to see her cousin Elizabeth, when she heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy. Luke 1:44
            When the shepherds were tending their sheep at night, an angel of the Lord appeared and said, But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11. Fast forward, that boy grew up and became a man.
            He healed the sick, raised the dead and taught about the Kingdom of God. He encouraged his disciples to ask him anything in his name and he will give it to them so that their joy would be complete What does joy look like? How is biblical joy different than the joy we find in this world? The joy we find in this world in whatever means may be, it only gives us temporary pleasure and it is incomplete. It could quickly disappear when an adversity strikes us. Rick Warren, notes, “What’s the easiest thing for you to lose? Your glasses? Your keys? Your mind? The easiest thing of all to lose is your joy. You can lose it with one phone call or email, a letter or conversation. You can watch a commercial on TV and lose your joy. It’s the easiest thing in the world to lose.”[2] On the other hand, the joy Jesus gives to his followers will remain in them and with them and nothing or none can ever be able to take it away from them.
            Jesus tells us how we might experience true joy. "As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love. If you obey My Commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have obeyed My Father's commands and remain in His love. I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." (Jn. 15: 9 - 11)
            On this third Sunday of Advent, how is your soul? Is it in despair? Is it disturbed? Do you feel, you have lost your joy? How can we find our way back to God? Answers to these questions can be found in this golden prayer of David, “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”  Psalm 16:11.
            My prayer for all of us is that during this advent season, we will slow down from the mad rush, think and ponder the true meaning of Christmas. May our souls be restored, strengthened, and energized as we find some time to linger in the presence of God. May we find true Joy not in the material things but in meaningful relationships. May we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and savior and the true reason for this season, and share this great joy with others. Amen!




[1]http://news.bbc.co.uk/cbbcnews/hi/find_out/guides/misc/coping_with_christmas/newsid_3344000/3344499.stm
[2]http://pastorrick.com/devotional/english/get-your-joy-back 

Monday, December 11, 2017

THE SUFFERING SERVANT

THE SUFFERING SERVANT
Rev. Francis Balla, (Isaiah 52: 13--53: 1-12)
(Presented at Temple Israel, Sharon) 12/112017
1. Historical Background of Isaiah
2. The Messianic Prophecy
3. The prophetic fulfillment (Internal evidence)
4. The prophetic fulfillment (External evidence)
5. Personal Journey

I. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF ISAIAH: (740 BC-686 BC)
            The Kingdom of Israel was known as the United Monarch between 1050 -930 BC. It was divided into two kingdoms in 930 B.C.  Twelve Tribes moved to the north forming Northern Kingdom (Israel 930-722 BC). Two tribes moved to the south forming a Southern Kingdom (Judah 930-586 BC). God calls the prophet Isaiah during the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah (Isa 1:1) Under Jotham and Uzziah the conditions deteriorated. During Ahaz’s reign Assyria became a superpower and deported Judah’s sister kingdom Israel in 722 B.C. King Ahaz saw, Syria and Israel as greater threats. Isaiah’s ministry is placed between 740 BC-686 B.C.
            Isaiah tried to reassure Ahaz, asking he only have faith in God, but Ahaz refused and later on in 701 BC, during Hezekiah’s reign Assyria ravaged the Judean country side, and Jerusalem itself almost fell. Isaiah chapter 40, begins a major section that looks ahead to Judah’s return from Babylonian exile in the sixth century BC. The later parts of the book look even beyond Isaiah’s time, and contain several prophecies regarding the coming of the Messiah.
            The New testament finds in many of these passages, including some in the first part of the book, prophecies about the Messiah.  The most striking of these relate to Jesus, miraculous birth (Isaiah 7:4), and his suffering and death (Isaiah 53)

II. THE MESSIANIC PROPHECY (Isaiah 52:13-53:1-12)
            This servant song makes some of the clearest references to the work of Jesus to be found in the O.T, Jesus Himself taught His disciples that He fulfilled at least part of it: Luke 22:37, “It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” (Isaiah 53:12)
            Isaiah 53:1, “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? Interestingly Isaiah started with a question, it looks like the audience of his time had hard time to hear, understand and believe this prophecy regarding the suffering servant. Who is this suffering servant that Isaiah was talking about? Down through the centuries, to the first century AD, this question has puzzled many a people and continues to puzzle many even today.
            Here is just one encounter of an Ethiopian Eunuch around 70 AD, who had hard time understanding this text. He needed someone who could explain it to him. Acts 8:26-40, Let me summarize: An Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasure of the Queen of the Ethiopians (like our Secretary of Treasury), was returning home from worshipping in Jerusalem. In the chariot reading the book of the prophet Isaiah. 
            The Spirit directed Philip to go and talk to this man. Philip heard him reading Isaiah the prophet. Do you understand what you are reading? Phillip asked. He said, how can I unless someone explains it to me. He invited Philip to ride along with him in the Chariot. This was what the eunuch was reading, Vs,32-33“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.          Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” Isaiah 53:7-8 The eunuch asked Philip, please tell me, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?  Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him how that was fulfilled in Jesus. In the end the Ethiopian Eunuch believed in Jesus, was baptized in the desert and went home rejoicing. This is one incident, unless under careful explanation, this prophecy remains one of the most miss understood Messianic prophecies. Let me unpack who is the “suffering servant,” in this prophecy: In Isaiah, there are five passages called the “servant texts).
            They are: (Isaiah 42:1-7; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13—53:1-12).  God’s “servant” can be identified as corporate Israel, God’s people for example: Isaiah 41:8-9, “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen.”  Isaiah 42:19-20, “Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send?” Isaiah 44:1, “But now listen, Jacob, my servant, Israel, whom I have chosen.”  Vs21 “Remember these things, Jacob, for you, Israel, are my servant. I have made you, you are my servant; Israel, I will not forget you.”
            These are dealing with the servant being the corporate Israel. Yet this figure is also to be identified as an “individual who will restore Israel.” Isaiah 49:5-6 “And now the Lord says— he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength—he says:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” This begs a question who is this servant that the prophet is referring to here?  Here are some of the things that the servant will accomplish:
            1. He will bring back Jacob (Isaiah 49:5-6) 2. He will be a light to the nations (Isa 42:6, 49:6). Luke 2:32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” 3. He will bring hope to the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:1-7).
            Matt 12:17-21, “This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations…In his name the nations will put their hope.” 4. He will open the blind eyes, release the prisoners (Isaiah 42:7, Isa 35:5-6, Isaiah 61:1-2,) see Luke 4:18-19 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
            5. He will justify many bearing their inquiries (Isaiah 53:11) This servant figure is also known as the “suffering servant.” This brings me to ask us a question, according to the prophecy of Isaiah who is this suffering servant? Who has or will fit the criteria?  This is where my Christian upbringing and, studying the scriptures comes into the picture. Reading the Bible that was directly translated from the ancient Hebrew and Greek texts into my vernacular language called Telugu, I always saw and believed, the suffering servant as Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
             Jesus was like a lamb that was led to the slaughter. I believe this passage was referring to Jesus’ death on the cross, it was pointing to the Lamb of God who bears the sins of Israel upon himself. So, the servant is central to Israel’s salvation, but it is his death that will ultimately accomplish God’s purpose in bringing Jacob and being a light to the nations (= Gentiles)
             More than any other prophet Isaiah envisioned that, during this time of restoration, the nations will come and worship God in Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:1-4) In accordance with God’s redemptive purposes, Isaiah sees a time when the nations will be blessed by God. (Isa 19:23-24)        Isaiah announces that when God’s righteous king rules, the “nations” will turn to the root of Jesse (Isa 11:10) It took about 700 years, to see the fulfillment of Isaiah’s message. Let me share some internal, external evidence, and my personal story.

III. INTERNAL EVIDENCE:
            The four gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John recorded their encounter with Jesus, his ministry, death and resurrection. They often quoted several OT prophets, including from Isaiah 53. Here are a few scriptures that give us the internal evidence as to Jesus being the prophesied Messiah. Matthew begins his gospel with these words, “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham.” He records a series of 14 generations from Abraham to David, from David to the deportation, and from the deportation to the birth of the Messiah.  This is to establish that Jesus was indeed the, “seed of Abraham” “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed, “meaning one person, who is Christ.” Galatians 3:16
            Listen to the prophecy of Simeon who took the baby Jesus in his arms at the time of dedication in the temple, “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” Luke 2:30-32. When Isaiah saw that the Servant will be a light to the nations, he was effectively saying that he would be a light to the nations.”
            During Jesus’ ministry one day he went to a Synagogue he was given a scroll to read from, guess where did he read from? Isaiah 61:1-2, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor...” Then remarkably says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)
            Let’s look at a few from Isaiah 53, and see how precisely they were fulfilled during the death and resurrection of Jesus. Isaiah 53:3, “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”
            Fulfilment: Luke 18:31-33, “31 Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”
            Isaiah 53:4, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.” Fulfilment: This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.” Mat 8:17
            Isaiah 53:7, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Matthew 26:63, “Jesus remained silent.”  Matthew 27:14
            Isaiah 53:9, “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.” Matthew 27:57, “As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus.”  Isaiah, 53:11 “After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities” Romans 5: 18-19 “Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

IV EXTERNAL AVIDENCE
            What began as a first Church in Jerusalem, with about 3,000 people on the Day of Pentecost, became a world-wide movement of people from many nations. People from far ends of the earth have been justified and brought into the Kingdom of God as they put their faith in the completed work of redemption. Even after 2000 years, the gospel of Jesus Christ is bearing much fruit gaining around 2 billion followers of Christ in the worldwide Church of God. Though in the USA the Church attendance may seem to be declining, in Africa, Asia, in Latin America it is increasing rapidly. World’s largest single Church is the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul South Korea with membership of 800,000 people. There is another mega Church in Nigeria. Etc.             These are some of the external evidences of how the Suffering Servant Jesus Christ bearing the sins of the world, healing the broken hearted and setting people free who are imprisoned to their own guilt and shame. We believe that one-day Jesus Christ will come back to earth, “in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” Matthew 16:27 One of the disciples of Christ, John the Evangelist saw how Jesus will be coming to the earth in the last book of the Bible, Revelation 1:7 “Look, he is coming with the clouds, “and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So, shall it be! Amen.

V. MY PERSONAL JOURNEY
            Sometimes people have a misnomer, that Christianity is a western religion, but the truth of the matter is it is originated in the East, in Jerusalem from there it spread to the rest of the world. One of the twelve disciples of Jesus who was a skeptic and known as the “Doubting Thomas, when he was convinced that Jesus Christ was indeed the prophesied Messiah according to Isaiah, he was willing to die for the one who died for him. 
            Thomas travelled to India in the first century AD, preaching the gospel to the high cast Brahmins. Many were converted to Christianity. Eventually he was martyred for his faith, his tomb is still there in a city called Chennai in the southern part of India.
            I was born and brought up in a 4th generation Christian family in a coastal village in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India.  India is the land of millions of Hindu gods. Approximately 80% of all Indians are Hindus. Four generations ago my family, too were Hindus.  My great grandfather became a believer of Jesus through the efforts of some missionaries from UK.
            I attend church regularly and read my bible but never had a close relationship with Jesus.  My grandmother used to pray for my salvation earnestly. Since I did not have any bad habits like my friends I thought I was a good Christian hence that would get me to heaven. One day while I was reading a book about "The present and the near prophesied future,” Fear struck me that I would be left behind if Christ came back to the earth that day. By the end of reading the book I prayed and asked Jesus to come into my life, and that decision changed my life completely.
             Over the years Jesus, healed my broken heart, forgave my sins and has given me a purpose to live for Him. After my graduation in 1985, I joined YWAM serving with them for 20 years, involved in preaching the gospel, teaching, discipling young people and challenging believers to love and live for God. I’ve been married to a wonderful woman from the Netherlands for 22 years, we are raising together our three teenage daughters. I graduated with an MDiv from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in 2008. I’ve been in pastoral ministry in Quincy MA for eight years and currently I am pastoring at Hope Church in Sharon MA. It has been an exciting journey to get to know so many wonderful people in Sharon. I enjoy working with the Sharon Interfaith Clergy Association to make Sharon a better place.

Bibliography:  CASKET EMPTY, By Carol M. Kaminski

             
           

Sunday, December 3, 2017

COMFORT IN TURBULENT TIMES

COMFORT IN TURBULENT TIMES
Isaiah 40:1-11
Introduction:  There is this story about Muhammad Ali on an airplane. The flight attendant came and asked him to buckle his seat belt. He replied, “Superman don’t need no seat belt.” She responded, “Superman don’t need no plane.” Billy Graham told the following story: “Once while flying between cities on the African continent, I began to share my faith in Christ with some reporters who accompanied me. None seemed interested in hearing the Gospel. Suddenly the plane entered a very turbulent storm. The plane shook and began to bounce up and down. After we successfully came through the storm, one of the reporters approached me and said, ‘What were you saying about life after death?’
            As you turn on the TV or read the newspaper what do you see and read? There is famine, hunger, waves of mass migration of people creating an unprecedented refugee crisis worldwide. Nuclear threat from North Korea, not to mention, all the sex scandals that are coming out in our country, making a lot of people scared and frightened. As Leonard Sweet, Church historian, author and futurist, says in his book “Aqua Church” that we are in a very “unstable, unsteady and turbulent postmodern world.” Sweet goes on to offer that “what we face can be seen as a threat, but also as an opportunity of perhaps unprecedented proportions.”
            Without a doubt we are going through turbulent times in the world today. Most people when they face uncertainty, look for answers to their questions and solutions to their problems, but they look to politicians or activists to get them through tough times. We will look into an ancient prophetic text to see how a prophet guided the frightened and troubled nation of his time to where they can find peace, hope, comfort and security. Comfort in Turbulent Times. Isaiah 40:1-11
            A bit of background to the passage in Isaiah.  The prophet began his ministry during a time of relative peace and prosperity under Judah’s kings. He served under several kings. Under Jotham and Uzziah the conditions deteriorated. During Ahaz’s reign Assyria became a superpower and deported Judah’s sister kingdom Israel in 722 B.C King Ahaz saw, Syria and Israel as greater threats. Isaiah tried to reassure Ahaz, asking he only have faith in God, but Ahaz refused and later on in 701 BC, during Hezekiah’s reign Assyria ravaged the Judean country side, and Jerusalem itself almost fell.
            Isaiah chapter 40, begins a major section that looks ahead to Judah’s return from Babylonian exile in the sixth century BC. The later parts of the book look even beyond Isaiah’s time, and contain several prophecies regarding the coming of the Messiah. This ancient prophecy of Isaiah is as relevant to our times today as it was then to Judah.  Let’s look at the prophecy.
I COMFORT IN TURBULENT TIMES: Vs 1-5
            Not only was the Judean society wreaked by injustices and immorality, but their very existence as a nation was threatened by exile. Many felt God was nowhere to be found or simply didn’t care for their condition. The kingdom of Judah was facing turbulent times. Into this context, Isaiah speaks the most powerful words of comfort. Vs 1-2“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”
            This was a prophecy given by God to His people who were captive in a foreign land many miles away from their home city of Jerusalem. The prophet was crying out saying, “Comfort, comfort my people.” Those words must have sounded refreshing and reassuring to the captives, that God was not going to punish them any longer for their sins. He was not going to cast them away forever, but was going to restore them back to their home city Jerusalem.
            The Hebrew word, Macham here means, to comfort or to be comforted. This word appears about 65 times in various contexts. For example, II Samuel 12:24, “David comforted Bathsheba over the loss of their child.” Genesis 37:35, Jacob’s sons and daughters rose up to comfort him, with the possible loss of Joseph the son whom he loved dearly. Generally speaking, it comes naturally for mothers to comfort their children. When my daughters were, sick and hurting they would call for their mother to comfort them, not me.
            Isaiah uses a similar sentiment when it comes to God comforting his people. Isaiah, 66:13, As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” This scripture shows us that God’s compassion for Israel was warm and tender. He comforts his people as a mother would comfort her hurting children.  Are you going through a turbulent time? Are you physically and emotionally in pain and hurting?  
            In Vs 3-4, we read, about another prophecy “A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.” This prophecy was fulfilled in John the Baptist. We read about it in the first three gospels (Mt 3:3, Mk1:3; Lk 3:4). John himself declared, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord, “as the prophet Isaiah said.” John 1:23.
II GOD’S ENDURING WORD: (Vs 6-9)
            Down through the ages Christians have understood this prophecy was not only talking about forgiveness, and comfort for the covenanted people but also for the world through the one who was going to come to fulfill all the prophecies foretold in the Old Testament. After giving these two prophecies about the redeemer and his forbearer John the Baptist, the prophet goes on to explain the brevity of life and the longevity of God’s word.
            By doing so he was directing their focus from their temporary trails and struggles to be trusting on the enduring God’s word.  He compared all human life to the grass and the flower of the field, no matter how powerful, beautiful and successful a woman or a man can be, one day we all will dry up like the grass and fade away like a flower.  But what remains throughout eternity? It is the word of God. The Apostle Peter quoted these verses in I Peter 1:24-25, ““All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” That word is the good news that was announced to you.” What was the word preached as the good news to Peter’s audience?
            It was the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. All those who have believed in the gospel, put their hope and trust in Jesus will endure forever with him in heaven. But all those who reject Jesus in this life will perish in hell. The prophet Isaiah, encouraged the remnant of Judah to look forward to the one who was going to come and completely redeem them from their struggles. In Vs 9, he appeals to the city of Jerusalem to proclaim the good news of the Lord’s first coming loudly, like a messenger on a mountain to be seen and heard, to the rest of the cities in Judah. He calls out all the people to behold their God, and he goes on to describe how the Lord God will reveal himself.
III THE COMFORTING SHEPHERED: 10-11
            Vs 10-11 “See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” The prophet here uses two powerful and most vivid images that all the people of Judah have seen to convey the power, strength, the authority and the nature of God. First, the “Arm of God.”
            The Israelites and the nations surrounding Israel have had a firsthand experience of what the hand and the arm of God can do. “the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs and wonders, the mighty hand and the outstretched arm by which the Lord your God brought you out. The Lord your God will do the same to all the peoples of whom you are afraid.” Deuteronomy 7:19           When Isaiah mentioned, “the arm of the Lord,” people Judah knew what God was up to. He was going to deliver them from the hands of their enemy and restore them back to their home city Jerusalem. It was a good thing, but it was a temporary deliverance.  Isaiah’s prophecy goes beyond a temporary deliverance, it also aimed at the final deliverance of mankind from the evils of the society, and everything that seems to be frightening us. We can only be free from all our fears and feel secured when Jesus finally defeats and destroys Satan and his armies, and establishes his eternal Kingdom on earth. That is something we all can look forward to.
            In the meanwhile, what brings comfort to us is the second imagery of Isaiah, “the comforting Shepherd.” In the OT both rulers and deities were described as shepherds of their people in a rich and extensively used metaphor. The shepherd boy David described God as his personal shepherd in the all familiar Psalm 23.  The prophet Ezekiel declared God as the shepherd of his people. “For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks…so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered… I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel…” Ezekiel 34:11-16
            In our passage, Isaiah highlights the tenderness and the comforting nature of God’s shepherd’s heart. The hand and the arm that performed great wonders and brought terror to the enemies, is also capable to heal, comfort and lead his people gently.
            Look at the tender side of the shepherd of hearts, Vs 11 “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” This scripture greatly motivated me to be kind and tender to my wife Wilma, when she was nursing our girls. As a father, it taught me to gently lead my girls, pick them up and carry them on my shoulders each time they fell and hurt themselves.
            My response to my family as a husband and a father was only a poor imitation of what Jesus the good shepherd would do to each one of us. Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus.  In his very own words Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.” John 10:10-15

            During this first Sunday of the advent, let’s pause and look at ourselves. Are we like the sheep that have gone astray from the fold of God?  Have we become wounded, and hurting due to our independence, self-reliance and a proud heart that says, I can do and live without God? Some of us here perhaps are hurting both emotionally and physically and are in need of comfort.            My prayer is that you would return to the shepherd of your soul. You would let, the comforting shepherd gently pick you up, heal you, comfort you and lead you on a pathway to wholeness. As recipients of that comfort, hope and forgiveness, we can proclaim to a chaotic world, that there is Hope in Jesus, and he is the one who can comfort us in our turbulent times. Amen!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

THRIVING CHURCH

            THRIVING CHURCH       
Acts 2:42-47
Introduction:  A recent Pew foundation research suggests that mainline Protestant churches in the U.S. continue to experience decades-long decline, while the memberships of Pentecostal traditions are on the rise, according to new figures compiled by the National Council of Churches.[1] Another discouraging statistic. Sadly, only 28% of younger Americans between 23 and 37 attend churches. Other generations range between 43% and 52%. This is a significant drop in generational attendance and a large reason why many churches are seeing a decline in attendance. The cause is because churches are having a hard time changing with the needs of younger generations.[2] Have you wondered why we see the decrease in Protestant Mainline Churches and what is causing growth among the Pentecostals?
            The trend of growth and decline is normal in the life cycle of any Church. In the life of any church there is a time for growth, and at some point, it reaches its peak and then plateaus. Any Church which merely exists, for the sake of existing soon will start to decline, but when radical steps are taken and change is introduced that church will begin to thrive and grow.
            While many reasons can be attributed to the decline, only one reason can be stated for growth, it is the work of the Holy Spirit. Where the Holy Spirit is honored, respected and given prominence there we see both qualitative and quantitative growth. The Holy Spirit was at work in the early Church in Jerusalem, so the Church grew in numbers. If we want to see Hope Church thrive and grow, and become impactful, what radical changes are we ready to make? I title this message, “THRIVING CHURCH.”  Acts 2:42-47
            Before we look into the early church Model, let’s understand our vision statement; Glorifying God by becoming devoted followers of Christ a few weeks ago we looked at. The early Church understood what Glorifying God means both personally and corporately together as a church. They followed a few principles that were inspired by the Holy Spirit fervently.
            Acts Chapter two, begins with the fulfilment of a 9th century BC prophecy of Joel, “Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.” Joel 2:28-29.
            As promised, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon a group of 120 disciples, and several thousands of on lookers from all over the world. That day changed the history of the world forever.  Under the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter preached a powerful sermon and 3000 people were saved and got baptized. That was the First Church in Jerusalem. For our study we will call this Church, “The Acts 2 Church.”  
            In my study I noticed five guiding principles that guided the Acts 2 Church. My prayer is that Hope Church will apply those principles if we want to become relevant and fruitful in today’s world. They are: 1. Discipleship 2 God exalting Worship. 3.Connecting through Fellowship 4. Serving the Community. 5. Evangelism.  

I. DISCIPLESHIP: Vs 42
            It must have been very fresh in the disciple’s mind, the mandate of Christ to, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19.
            So, from the day one the early church took discipleship very seriously. Vs 42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer.” The new believers were eager to hear, learn and grow from the apostles and their teaching. It was an individual choice and no one forced it upon them. It was not a one-time event but an intentional, ongoing discipleship program which is still going on in many churches. The early believers were devoted to the teachings of the “Apostles” The word apostle here was referring to the twelve disciples that Jesus designated the term apostle (Mk 3:14) later on Paul was also included in the list. The early Apostles still speak to us through their teachings in the NT.
            Here at Hope Church I am happy to share that we take discipleship seriously. We want all our members to grow in the knowledge of God’s word. We have a committed team of teachers, every Sunday teach Bible times, for men, women, children, and teens. This past week I was delighted to get a call from one of my lost disciples. “He went to through a real tough time, stopped reading the bible and attending the church. He told me, pastor one day I was desperate, and I picked up my Bible, and there I found a one-year reading plan you gave me, I began to read it, now I am at the 90th day. Bible reading is giving me strength to face the challenges of each day. Now I want to study the Bible again with other believers.”
            That is the power of God’s word. The word of God is life giving, it reveals God’s plan for our lives, and it gives us strength to face the attacks of the enemy. Jesus knew God’s word and used is wisely against the devil. He urged his disciples not to live by the earthly food alone but by every word that proceeded from the mouth of God. The early Church was devoted to the teachings of the apostle, prayer, fellowship and God exalting worship.

II. GOD EXALTING WORSHIP:
            Vs 46, “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple…. praising God.  In our recent study we learned that, a healthy disciple is the one who engages wholeheartedly in meaningful, God-focused worship experiences on a weekly basis with the family of God.
            Talking about true worship to the Samaritan woman Jesus explains what kind of worship blesses God’s heart, “when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. John 4:33 There is something powerful that happens when believers come together and engage in God-exalting Worship. In the early Church the believers went to the temple to worship God on a daily basis.
            In this time and age going to church every day may not possible, but can we give one day the first day of the week, Sunday to the Lord? In the N.T Church, the disciples would gather on the first day of the week for worship, and for breaking of bread. “On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread,” Acts 20:7 They would also take up offerings every week. “Now concerning the collection for the saints: you should follow the directions I gave to the churches of Galatia. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that collections need not be taken when I come.” I Corinthians 16:1-2.
            We are living in the last days. Many people’s love for the Lord is growing cold, due to the increase of wickedness in our world. The only way we combat this Luke-warmness is by being committed to a church where we come to worship. Paul writing to Hebrews, emphasizes the need for a regular gathering of the saints.
            “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:23-25. Let’s honor our Sabbath rest. I strongly urge you to make it a habit of attending church every Sunday. Let’s show our friends and neighbors we are the followers of Christ and we go to church on Sundays to worship and fellowship with fellow believers. Let’s together build a strong worshipping community.  

III. CONNECTING THROUGH FELLOWSHIP
            Vs 42 & 46, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship…Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous (sincere) hearts. The Greek word for fellowship Koinonia means: To have fellowship with, participation in communion, arms-giving etc. The essential meaning of koinonia embraces concepts of community, communion, joint participation, sharing and intimacy. Koinonia can therefore refer in some contexts to a jointly contributed gift. The word appears 19 times in the Greek New Testament.[3]
            To put it in simple words. The early disciples loved to hang out together. Whenever they came together, they took part in communion and ate their meals with gladness and sincere hearts. In other words, there were no fake relationships, the early disciples genuinely enjoyed one another’s company. They connected with each other through fellowship.
            For the past eight weeks, we have practiced a form of Koinonia at Hope Church. We met Wednesday nights in our Life Groups, over a simple supper. Different ones prepared meals, we ate together, worshipped, studied from the word and prayed. That is what a Christian community ought to be. There is strength, when we connect with each other through our fellowship.

IV. SERVING THE COMMUNITY
            Vs 45, “they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” The early disciples served to meet the needs of their own community and also the needs of the larger community. Voluntarily they sold their possessions, goods, lands and brought the money and laid it at the apostle’s feet, and they in turn distributed to anyone who was in need. The poor and the needy in the community were taken care by the generosity of the believers. What ways can you serve Hope Church community and the community of Sharon?

V. EVANGELISM:
            Vs 47, “praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” Though this verse doesn’t directly talk about Evangelism, sharing the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ the early Church was very intentional about Evangelism. The goal of their discipleship, worship, connecting through fellowship, and the acts of service was to lead people to Christ. As they lived out their Christian faith intentionally, day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
            I see here a powerful model of Evangelism. We often think, evangelism is only done when we go out and preach the gospel to a crowd of people or go to door to door distributing literature. Unfortunately, the times have changed where that type of evangelism is not welcomed in our society. Under such circumstances, how do we evangelize people? Last week we were encouraged by Ken Milhous, that ministry is all about, building relationships. It may be a slow and laborious process, but it can produce lasting results.  I see this kind of evangelism happening all the time in the New Testament.
            Consider this model: Jesus, reached out to Andrew, Andrew went out and reached out to Simon Peter and we know from the Acts 2 account, Peter preached the gospel and 3000 people were saved. They in turn went out and reached others. Many in the world are craving for love and human touch. It’s our job to reach out and touch people with God’s love. Let me reiterate the five guiding principles in closing: Discipleship 2 God exalting Worship. 3.Connecting through Fellowship 4. Serving the Community. 5. Evangelism.
            If we want to take Hope Church to the next level of growth and see it thrive what changes are we willing to make? My prayer for Hope Church is that we will continue to excel in the above mentioned five aspects of ministry, and trust the Lord to give us the increase. Amen 

















[2]https://reachrightstudios.com/9-important-church-statistics-2017/ 
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koinonia