How to Celebrate the Birth of Christ – Luke 2:6-20

This has been one of the most unusual “Christmas” seasons in our life times. Many of the traditional social and family activities are being cancelled, curtailed or changed because of the virus hysteria. But life must go on, as they say. So our neighbors and some of our relatives are finding new ways to celebrate – creating new traditions. Fear not. I am not going to tell you how to celebrate “Christmas” in this confusing year, or in any other year for that matter. I am a preacher of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and “Christmas” is not a part of the gospel. As strange as it sounds – the modern celebration of “Christmas” has very little to do with the birth of Christ. For most people Christmas” is about gifts, parties, food and sentimental movies. I don’t know how many times I have heard in the past week that the primary focus of Christmas is on the family. For years experts have been scouring the writings of history, looking for references to “Christmas” or “December 25″ as the birthday of Jesus. According to one source, after a hundred years of research, the first known reference to December 25th was in the year 336. In an old list of Roman bishops these words appear – “25 Dec.: natus Christus in Betleem Judeae.” If that source is true, and it probably is, the first reference to the birth of Christ as taking place on December 25th was made more than 3 centuries after the event. That is 50% longer than the entire history of the United States. For...

The Dying Saint – Nehemiah 13:31

When we started this study last April, I said that Nehemiah could be used as an illustration of a New Testament Christian. Despite not knowing anything of Jesus Christ, this man’s trust was in Jehovah, and his service was for the glory of God. As we have seen over the last 8 months, he was not a typical Jew, worshiping God like some sort of robot. By the grace of God he was a child of the King of kings. From day #1 in human history, Ephesians 2:8 has been true, “by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” God’s gift of grace had been given to this man, and I have no doubt that he is with the Saviour today. Early on, I also said that Nehemiah was not a priest, a Levite, or a king, but an uncommonly common man. The Holy Spirit laid a need upon his heart, and he did was he could to meet that need, sacrificing a great deal in the process. Even though he knew nothing about the institution of the church of Christ, much of what Nehemiah did can be taught in the light of New Testament churches – their needs and their responsibilities. He built a wall around the congregation at Jerusalem, helping to identify it as God’s Holy City. And with that wall he protected its members from the unbelievers without, very much like publishing and teaching a church doctrinal statement. Then like a godly church deacon, he urged his fellow church members into a period of revival, highlighting...

Isaiah’s Five Senses – Isaiah 6:1-8

Permit me to use my imagination for a few moments. You can join me if you’d like. I am picturing a young Hebrew man – one of sons of prophets – trained in one of the schools of Elijah. He already has some experience using his gifts of prophecy, preaching and prognosticating. On this occasion, he isn’t preaching, but humbly standing in the courtyard of the temple of Solomon. He is surrounded by the splendor of tapestries, gold, silver and polished brass. There is the smell of slaughtered sacrifices, and there is still some blood which hasn’t been cleaned up as yet. As I see it, the daily ministration further inside the Temple, is coming to an end. One-by-one the priests are finishing their duties, and some are coming out of the Holy Place, returning to the dying sunlight outside. The singers and other musicians are slowly putting away their harps, psaltries and sackbuts. But this young man is not really paying any attention to any of that. He is deep in meditation and prayer. He has just spent a day doing prophet’s work, teaching the Word of God, and now he is feeling its toll. The good king Uzziah has recently died, and this man is concerned about the future of Israel. Jotham is in line to become the next king of Judah, and this is not good news. The nation is becoming more and more worldly and wicked. His sermons are going unheeded, and the people are sinfully running head-long towards catastrophe. Sometimes he wonders if he wouldn’t be more productive plowing the soil and chopping weeds....

The God who turns Curses into Blessings – Nehemiah 13:1-9

In order to get to this morning’s lesson, we have to look at two background items. As you know, Nehemiah is one of the Bible’s historical books; it is not poetry or prophesy. Yet despite being history, like Acts, for example – it is filled with the application of solid theology. These nine verses describe Nehemiah’s anger at finding Tobiah residing in an apartment in the Temple. It “grieved him sore,” and after tossing the man out on his ear, he ordered the cleansing of the rooms he had been using. That probably involved the same purification ceremony we considered Wednesday from chapter 12. But that is not my subject for this morning – it only lays in the background. The old fashioned boxer – before modern mixed martial arts – the boxer’s only weapons were his hands. But vitally important to the power of his punch was the stability of his feet. Before we get to the punch of this paragraph, we have to plant both feet properly on a good, solid foundation. Two things lay in the background of this scripture. Verse 1 – “On (the day of the dedication) they read in the book of Moses in the audience of the people; and therein was found written (in Deuteronomy 23), that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God for ever; Because they met not the children of Israel with bread and with water, but hired Balaam against them, that he should curse them: howbeit our God turned the curse into a blessing.” This takes us back to the history we...

Three Veils and a Vail – Hebrews 10:14-22a

Let’s begin this morning with a little quiz. If I gave you a piece of paper and asked you to write Mark 15:38, how would you spell the word “veil”? The verse reads, “And the VEIL of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.” Would you spell it“veil,” or “vail”? Some might even spell it “vale” or “vaile.” Now, in II Corinthians 3 where Paul was saying that the hearts and minds of Israel were darkened. How would you write verses 15 and 16 – “But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the VAIL is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the VAIL shall be taken away.” How do you spell the word “veil” – the lacy face-covering some women used to wear? Are these words “v E i l” or “v A i l ?” Do you know that in the Bible the word is spelled both ways? In addition to that, and I can’t explain why, but the veil of the temple is spelled one way in the Old Testament and the other way in the New. I am going to confine my subject this morning to the New Testament use of the word “veil.” There are two separate Greek words and two different English spellings. And I will say that the translations are consistent – one Greek word is always spelled “V E I L” and the other Greek word is always “V A I L.” I see four lessons contained in these two words, and I’d like to share them with you. Now...

Defense of the Vested Interest – Acts 19:23-41

One of the blessings of the Book of Acts is that it is practical. In reading Acts we can see the work of the Lord in ways that relate more directly to us than when we study some of the other books of the Bible. For example, we know the abstract principle that God is all powerful, and by faith we believe it. But when we visit Mt. St. Helens, and we view first hand what the little finger of God can do, it brings tangible meaning to the word “omnipotence.” And when we see a wrath-filled sinful wretch of a man instantly changed from persecutor to disciple, we nod our heads and acknowledge God’s sovereign omnipotence over the human heart. These things give us the means – and the reason – to praise the Lord Whom we are studying. The Bible tells us that Hell is hot and that there is an eternal judgment made up of fire and brimstone. These things are academic Biblical doctrine, dismissed by everyone but true believers, but when we see a lava flow incinerate a house, we begin to understand the more abstract and fantastic concepts about Hell. So the Book of Acts puts God before our eyes and, in a sense, lets us touch Him. It also puts up a mirror before our eyes and lets us see ourselves. It takes the abstract declaration from the Baptist preacher that there is a conflict between men and God, and it forces us to realize what that means and who we are in the midst of that conflict. If you will let it,...

Hands, Eyes and Hearts on the Sacrifice – Exodus 29:15-21

The verses we have just read describe a part of the dedication service for Israel’s first priests. In some ways the sacrifice involved in this ceremony was unique. But in other ways it was much like the daily burnt offerings or any of the personal sin offerings. In this case two full-grown male sheep had their throats slit, and as their blood gushed out at someone’s feet, much of it was collected in some sort of bowl. That blood was then sprinkled and applied to Aaron and his sons in their consecration as God’s servants. Those men came away smeared with blood, smelling like blood, and probably tasting a bit of that blood. It was on their clothing, on their faces, and possibly soaking through to their arms and chests. Without that blood they would not have been properly prepared for their priestly service. In fact without blood they would be in Hell today, because as God said later in Leviticus 17:11 – “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an ATONEMENT for the soul.” There will never be an atonement – a covering for sin – without the shedding of blood. NEVER. Not even today. My message this morning flows out of the blessing of a sermon which I heard the other day. A week ago yesterday the Oldfields and Fultons took in a special service at the Landmark Missionary Baptist Church of Spokane. That is the church pastored by Cliff...

A Sure Covenant – Nehemiah 9:36-38

Junior was born into a Baptist home and was taken to a small Baptist church throughout his childhood. He was a smart – precocious – an outgoing little kid, participating in his Sunday School classes, listening to the lessons and sometimes even to the sermons. He memorized scriptures, uttered little prayers, could name the books of the Bible, and knew dozens of Bible stories. But he never responded to the gospel; he was never born again. He was religious but unsaved. By his early teen years he began to loose interest in church, in school, in reading good books, in real life generally. He spent his free time playing video games; he began to run with the wrong crowd and to smoke weed. By the time he reached the age of seventeen, he was into heavier, more expensive drugs, and so he started stealing in order to support his addiction. At first is was taking money from his father’s wallet and his mother’s purse, but then it went to shop-lifting and selling the things which he stole. Eventually he was arrested but released, impressing his friends who looked with pride on that sort of thing. One night when out with his buddies, it was decided to rob an old man who appeared to have money. One of the gang hit the man with a heavy stick, and he toppled onto the concrete hitting his head. The group quickly pulled off his watch, stole his wallet and ran, but they were seen by a passerby and recorded by a nearby security camera. Two days later, they were all arrested, and...

Prayerful Theology – Nehemiah 9:1-7

I wish that I could somehow paint the scene that I have in my head. I picture several thousand hungry eyes resting on the pulpit which had been built in the Water Gate street. Ezra and Nehemiah are standing toward the back of the raised platform, and immediately in front of them are nine godly men – all Levites. One of the nine steps forward, raising his hands in invitation – “Everyone stand up and let us praise our God.” After pausing until the crowd is standing perfectly still, with his hands still raised and closing his eyes, he prays to the God of Heaven – Jehovah. “Blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.” I hope that you are basically familiar with the lengthy prayer which this man offers to the Lord. Interspersed with notes of praise is a great deal of Israelite history. And this makes me wonder about the actual nature of this prayer. It might be more like a prayerful hymn than what we usually think of as prayer. There are only a few requests in these 34 verses – to go along with a couple of promises. It is primarily a recounting of God’s merciful blessings upon a disobedient and gainsaying – argumentative people. As we shall see beginning with v.6, the history will be interpreted through the lens of Biblical theology. As I say, it may have been a prayer in the from of a hymn. Many of the hymns which we sing today contain the testimonies of the writers – the lyricists. We sing them, hopefully, with...

Faithful and Fearful – Nehemiah 7:1-3

This will not exactly be a gospel message, even though that is my usual intention for a Sunday morning. Spurgeon once told his students: “Every message should eventually come around to the Lord Jesus Christ and His gospel.” And in a round about way, if you hang in there long enough, so will this message. I am currently reading a biography about the life of “Eric Liddell.” Liddell was one of the heros of the 1981 British movie “Chariots of Fire.” It’s a good, clean film that I don’t mind recommending to people, despite its flaws. I also recommend, perhaps a bit more, this book, even though it doesn’t have the catchy music. The film is about the months before the 1924 Paris Olympics and two British runners, Liddell and Harold Abrahams. The Americans not withstanding, Liddell and Abrahams were the two fastest runners in the world. But they were contrasting characters – Abrahams would do anything short of cheating to win. And if he had not won the gold medal at Paris, he would have considered his life a waste. Liddell, the son of a Protestant missionary, ran for the glory of God, and nothing could make him break or bend his Christian principles – not even the possibility of Olympic gold. They were both 100m sprinters, but because some of the early races were to be held on Sunday, Liddell refused to compete. Eventually, he agreed to participate in a much longer race which did not take place on the Lord’s Day. For years he had been training to run the sprint, but in the months before...

Fear and Sin – Nehemiah 6:10-14

On a scale of 1 to 10 how fearful are you? 8, 5, 2 ??? For example, do you fear the Corona Virus? Apparently millions of Americans do. Do you fret about whether or not the government is going to force us all to receive their virus vaccination? Does your blood pressure rise when you hear about electronic currencies or the implantation of a chip? Are you anxious about the upcoming election? Do you worry about potential rioting when the results are announced? I don’t fear any of these things, and perhaps you don’t either, but many of our unsaved neighbors do. There may be as much fear in America today as there was during the Cuban Missile Crisis or World War 2. As I was thinking about today’s panic-stricken society, some of Thomas Paine’s words returned to me. I have never before publicly quoted Thomas Paine, and you’ll likely never hear me quote him again. But Paine, at the time of the revolution against Britain, was one of the most influential men in America. His pamphlets “Common Sense” and “The American Crisis” are sometimes said to make him the father of Revolution. But as a Deist, he also wrote “The Age of Reason,” which was an attack upon Christianity and the Bible. And for that reason I don’t want to give him much credit for anything positive. And yet here I am quoting the man – and deliberately misquoting him as well. On Dec. 23, 1776 Paine published an article called “The Crisis” which with some editing could be reused today. He began with the words which came...

The First Point in John’s Message – Matthew 3:1-4

There was a man who attended our services off and on for a couple years, but who finally had enough and left. He had strange opinions about a great many things, most of which were conjured up in his own head. I say that because it was nearly impossible to reason with him. He didn’t listen to any respected pastors, and he apparently didn’t read the classic works on theology or the Bible. He didn’t appear to be the follower of any man. So today he has chained his wife and children to his feet and has formed a “church” in his own home. One of the last differences between us revolves around “repentance.” He adamantly condemns the modern preaching of repentance. If he had the courage, I’m sure he would have withstood John the Baptist and even Christ Jesus – both of whom said things like, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” I think the man’s problem revolves around his own distorted definition of the word. He seems to confuse the Roman Catholic doctrine of “penance” with the Biblical doctrine of repentance. He also confuses “penitence” with repentance. “Penitence” involves the things people do, in penance, when they feel guilty about something. And “penance” is one of the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church in which when those folk make confession, they are absolved from the sins which they have committed after baptism. Without doubt, Christ, John, the apostles and God’s later evangelists were not thinking of “penance” or “penitence” when they used the word “repentance.” Here in Matthew 3 the ministry of...

He has Gone to Prepare – Matthew 25:31-34

This morning I have the pleasure to consider several of the most beloved scriptures in all the Word of God. What Christian has not been moved at some point in his life by the words of John 14 – “In my father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” Arguably Psalm 23 is the best known and loved of all scriptures – “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” And how about I Corinthians 2:9 – “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” These and a dozen other scriptures bring up a theme – a topic – that I’d like you to think about. We are told in these verses that God is – or has been – making preparations for His people. What a blessed thought. And what huge considerations. I know that this contains an accommodation to our weak minds, but there is reality behind the strictly human terminology. We know that the infinite and omnipotent God doesn’t need to plan things before getting them done. And He doesn’t need time in order to complete things. The Lord Jesus, in speaking to us, once said, “What king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten...

Nehemiah’s Imprecation – Nehemiah 4:4-5

William Parkinson, was a 3 term chaplain of the United States House of Representatives, and after that he became pastor of the First Baptist Church of New York. Long before, and shortly after his salvation, he was traveling on business, when he heard that a “celebrated preacher” was to deliver a message in a certain town, and Parkinson went to hear him. But the speaker didn’t arrive and the crowd grew restless. When someone recognized Parkinson as the school teacher from a nearby county, he was encouraged to read the Word and give an exhortation or two. Very reluctantly he complied. He chose Psalm 97 as his text, and he commended on verse 11 – “Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.” Parkinson, who was not a preacher at the time, then showed how the passage comforts the Christian and how it should alarm the sinner. It is reported that his hearers paid profound attention, and many became bathed in tears under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. When he had finished Parkinson was surprised to learn that he had been preaching for more than 3 hours. I mention this to point out that under the leadership of the Holy Spirit many scriptures which you and I might not think are important, can be used to present the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I have no idea how Parkinson used Psalm 97:11 to preach Christ. However, I hope to think that perhaps this prayer of Nehemiah might be used in that way. What first caught my attention and made me think in...

Going Without – Hebrews 12:14

Bro. Fulton and I often joke about one of the common styles of teaching and preaching. Right now, Austin is using the “expository method” in studying David – taking an entire chapter and generally exposing its highlights – while making personal applications. Our study of Nehemiah is similar, in that we are going through his book, but the style I am using is called “textual,” where I try to find specific sermonic points on which to hang the lessons. For example, we had a message on “Ejaculatory Prayer,” and the three points were – the nature, the privilege and the blessing of this kind of prayer. In this kind of preaching, the texts are usually only a few verses long, although tonight’s message covers an entire chapter. This is by far my favorite way of preaching, no matter what it is we are studying. And, personally, I think that it may be easier to digest and remember this kind of message. The third style, the one about which he and I joke, is called the “topical” method. In this variety of sermon, a specific subject is studied – taking scriptures and the points of the message from all over the Bible. There is nothing wrong with “topical preaching,” and sometimes it is the only way to study the subject. But quite often this is the choice of lazy preachers, who don’t want to do the work of real Bible study. Beware of the man who preaches nothing but topics. He may not be the Bible student you need. Topical messages are often by nature more simple than others. I’ve...