How To Enter The Kingdom of God
HOW TO ENTER THE KINGDOM OF GOD
We sing a song: “What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” 1 John 1:7; Rev. 1:5. According to scripture, when are those sins washed away?
Now, let’s look at the passage that was read. This is a very familiar passage…we have all read this…we have all heard it many times.
- But as familiar as it is, it is even more important.
- It is important because in this passage Jesus tells a man what he “must do to enter into the Kingdom of God.”
When it comes to the spiritual realm, there are only two kingdoms.
- Paul in Colossians 1:13 says that there is a “domain of darkness” or a “kingdom of darkness“.
- And Eph 2 tells us that it is a kingdom in which people “walk according to the prince of the power of the air.”
- A kingdom where people refuse to “walk in obedience to God…where they live in obedience to the lust of their flesh…indulging in the desires of their flesh and minds.”
- It is a kingdom where people are “dead” in their trespasses and sins….and where they are separated from God…and doomed to be eternally lost.”
- Sin….and it only takes one….places a man or a woman in the “domain of darkness”.
Then there is this kingdom spoken of here in John 3 by Christ…the Kingdom of God.
- It is a kingdom where God reigns or rules.
- A kingdom where people walk in obedience to His will…and where sins are forgiven…and where people who once were “dead” in their trespasses…are now made “alive together with Christ.”
- And it is a kingdom where people are no longer separated from God and lost eternally…but a kingdom where people have fellowship with God as well as the promise of eternal life.
So, there are two kingdoms.
- One is a kingdom of darkness and death….the other a kingdom of light and life.
- And Jesus’ whole purpose for coming to this earth and dying on the cross was to provide a way for us out of the domain of darkness into the Kingdom of God.
But, not only did Jesus come to provide a way for us….but He also came to tell us how to get out of the one and into the other.
- And that is why this passage is so important.
- Because here in this passage, Jesus tells us “How to enter into the kingdom of God.
- So let’s look together at this extremely passage…and learn “How to enter into the Kingdom of God.”
Look at verse 1. “Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Him by night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with them.”
Now as you look at this I want you to notice some things.
- First of all, Nicodemus was a religious man!
- He was a Pharisees….and if you know anything about Pharisees you know that they were a religious sect that dedicated themselves to learning and observing the Law of Moses.
- Not only was he religious, but it says that he was a “ruler of the Jews.”
- He was a man of authority….a member of the Sanhedrin which was the supreme court of the Jews.
- Not only that, if you go over into John 19:38-39 you find out that after Jesus died, this same man brought about 100 pounds of spices to embalm Jesus’ body with.
- Not everyone could afford 100 pounds of spices.
- The indication is that Nicodemus was not only a religious man…and a man of authority…but he was also a wealthy man.
So what you have here is a man that had it all.
- He had power, he had money, and he was religious.
- He was highly respected…highly esteemed.
- And, not only that, he comes to Christ and confesses that Jesus is from God.
Now, a lot of people today would look at a man like Nicodemus and say “He’s going to heaven!”
- He is religious…He is apparently a good man…an honest man…after all he confessed that Jesus was from God.
- “This guy has got to be bound for heaven!”
But look what happens in verse 3.
- Nicodemus comes to Christ and Jesus says, “Truly, truly I say to you, UNLESS one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Here was a perfect opportunity for Jesus to make an exception!
- He could have said, “You are right Nicodemus…you are a good…religious man…enter right on in.”
- But He didn’t do that!
Look at verse 5: “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly I say to you, UNLESS one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.”
Look at verse 7: “Do not marvel that I said to you, “You MUST be born again.”
This isn’t optional!
- There are no exceptions.
- This is something that Jesus says you MUST do!
A lot of people today think they are the exception to this.
- We think that because we are a good person…because we live a good moral and ethical life…that Christ is just going to say, “Come on in! What is required of every one else isn’t required of you!”
But Jesus says, “Unless you are born again….unless you are born of the water and the Spirit, you cannot enter into the Kingdom of God!”
- He didn’t make an exception for Nicodemus.
- And, no matter if you are the nicest person in town He will not make an exception for you.
And the reason he won’t make an exception for you is because entrance into the Kingdom of God is not based on human performance.
- It is not based on how good you are…or how religious you are…or how rich you are.
- Verse 16 tells us that “God gave His only begotten Son”.
- The only reason we even have the opportunity to enter into the Kingdom of God is because Christ died on that cross.
- And the fact that “God Gave Him” means it is only by God’s grace that the Kingdom can be ours at all.
Entrance is based on believing what Christ says here in vs. 3 and 5 and 7…and then doing what He says.
- In other words, entrance into the Kingdom of God is based on faith and obedience…and it has nothing to do with who you are…how good you are…what you have done.
- It is not based on human performance…and there are no exceptions!
Just recently I talked with a fellow who had just recently gone to a relative’s funeral and he told me that because this relative was “a real nice and decent man” he had no doubts that he had gone to heaven.
If that is your thinking…if that is your idea….you keep in mind that Jesus himself said, “Unless you are born again, you will not enter into the Kingdom of God.”
So, what does Jesus mean in verse 3 when He says, “unless one is BORN AGAIN he will not see the Kingdom of God.”
- What does he mean by “BORN AGAIN?”
- What do you have to do to be BORN AGAIN?
There are several different ideas on this issue.
- The most popular…and the one that the majority of people have embraced is the idea that you are BORN AGAIN when you simply “accept Jesus as your personal savior”…and ask Him to come into your heart….by saying a prayer of forgiveness.
- Others says that you are BORN AGAIN when you have an experience with the Holy Spirit…when the Holy Spirit comes on you and saves you….and manifest itself to you by giving you different gifts.
- Some simply equate being BORN AGAIN with repenting; changing your life style.
There are several different ideas but surely, in a matter as important as this one…Jesus didn’t have several things in mind.
- So what does it take to be BORN AGAIN?
Well, Jesus tells us in verse 5.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
- Jesus says you must be “born of water and the Spirit.”
- Do you know what is interesting about this?
- Almost every religious group today agrees that you must be “born of the Spirit.”
- They agree with the second part of what Jesus says here.
But they try to ignore…or excuse the being “born of water.”
- And in doing so they are saying that being “born of water” means being “born without water.”
- Some say that the water here is the water that is broken when a child is born from the mother’s womb.
For 1500 years after Christ said these words…no one disputed what Christ meant here by being “born of water.”
- Everyone understood and accepted this as talking about
- It was only after John Calvin came on the scene that any one taught that this meant anything other than baptism.
But let me show you a couple passages of scripture. Turn to Galatians 3:26.
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”
Notice he says they are “sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”
- When did they become “sons of God?”
- Well, verse 27: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
And now look at verse 29: “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”
- When Jesus says that you must be “born of water”…He is talking about being baptized.
- Over and over again in scripture…when you read the accounts of others that were added to the kingdom….every one of them were baptized.
- There were no exceptions. In Acts 2:38-47…they were baptized.
- Simon the sorcerer in Acts 8.
- The Ethiopian Eunich in Acts 8.
- Saul in Acts 9.
- Cornelius in Acts 10.
- Lydia and the Philippian jailer in Acts 16.
- The disciples at Ephesus in Acts 19.
- Everyone of them were baptized.
- No one was ever added to the kingdom…or the church…without the water!
And some say, “Well, Nicodemus didn’t even know about baptism at the time.”
- Let me tell you, Nicodemus was a Pharisee…one of the Jewish court.
- John the Baptist had caused quite a stir with the Pharisees when he came baptizing.
- And if you look at John 3:26 you will find that Jesus himself was apparently baptizing people.
If you want to be “BORN AGAIN”…Jesus says you must be “born of water”…and the only water ever involved in anyone’s salvation in scripture is the water’s of baptism.
- You have to twist this passage….or ignore what Jesus says here…to say that you can be born again with out it.
But Jesus says you have to be BORN OF THE SPIRIT ALSO.”
- What is He talking about?
Well some think that this means that the Spirit “comes on you in a miraculous way” and makes you a child of God…and that man has no part in it.
- If that were true, then the Spirit would make ALL men children of God and there would be no need for Jesus to tell Nicodemus here that he had to do anything!
So what does He mean when he says you must be “BORN OF THE SPIRIT”?
- Look at Romans 8: 12-13: So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh– 13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Anyone can be baptized…but just because you are baptized doesn’t mean that you are going to be saved.
- Baptism is only where it begins…you must live according to the Spirit afterwards.
There are only two kingdoms: the kingdom of darkness and the Kingdom of God.
- God wants you to come into His kingdom.
- Jesus has made that possible by His death on the cross.
- What you must do is be born again…you must be baptized…and you must live according to the Spirit afterward.
- It is not optional…there are no exceptions.
The Value of The Soul
THE VALUE OF THE SOUL
I have a few pictures that I want to show you…these are things that are highly valued in our society…
- This is a Lexus car. One advertisement says of this car, “Experience Amazing.”
- Here is an X-Box. For teenagers and young people; even some adults these are highly desired.
- Here is a pair of Nike sports shoes. These are “the” brand for athletes.
- Here is a Louis Vuitton hand bag. I don’t know much about these but I understand they are a kind of a status symbol.
- Power, popularity, influence, sexual attraction and affection? Just watch the news and you find that these are apparently highly valued.
I could go on and on and show you picture after picture of all kinds of things…but I only have one more to ask you about. How valuable is this? (Your SOUL)
- Judging from what people do most of them don’t put much value on their soul (and that may be true for some of us).
- God tells us how much our soul is worth in that He gave His Son to die so that our souls could be saved.
- And here in the passage that was read. Jesus says, “For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul?” So from what Jesus says your soul is worth more than anything individually or collectively that this world has to offer.
- Our soul is the only thing we possess that is eternal and it is the only thing we will possess when we stand before the Lord to be judged.
- And yet, evidently most people don’t think the soul is all that valuable because most people in the world will and do exchange their SOUL for things of the world; things like these, things that will not last.
We have all seen in the news, instances where mobs of people go into a business or a department store, grab armloads of merchandise like X-boxes and Louis Vuitton purses and Nike shoes and walk out without paying for it.
- Every day we hear of another instance where individuals violently beat someone and hijack their “amazing” car.
- We read of human sex trafficking; drive by shootings; and sexual perversions. And is it any wonder? One thing that seems to be a common practice today is, instead of getting married, just living together. (Is it any wonder that our culture has migrated into some of the sexual perversions that we see today? Children learn from their parent’s example and if mom and dad don’t care about God’s design, why should they. When a man and a woman go through a marriage ceremony and repeat their vows that speaks of God, and His design; and it speaks of commitment to everyone in attendance, especially small children. And years later when children born into that marriage see wedding pictures and how beautiful mom was in her gown that inspires little girls to do the same. But if parents show no regard for God’s will and His design, then why should their children. So is it any wonder we are seeing all this sexual confusion and perversions?)
- And every day we witness the fight for power, influence, and popularity.
- People lie, steal, make excuses, and blame everyone else for their bad behavior…behavior that puts their souls in grave danger…but that is ok because, after all, “the things of this world are of more value than your soul!”
This is the example that the world sets before us.
- And in keeping with the world’s example parents start teaching their children at a young age “to lay up their treasures here on earth” and the one with the most “things” is the one who wins.
- And by the time they reach adulthood they are fully indoctrinated.
And it is easy to be lured into this trap.
- In fact, there are some who were once part of our number who have, like the Prodigal Son of Luke 15, left their heavenly Father and have been drawn to the “distant country.”
- The allurement is strong. But is it really worth it?
Obviously our Lord doesn’t think so. Remember Matthew 6:19-20. Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;
- All the things that the world says are more valuable and important than your soul will only be destroyed.
- But not so for those things that are heavenly treasures.
Remember in Luke 12:16-21 the rich man who was very productive and decided to build larger barns to store his grain and his goods.
- And he says, “I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come: take your ease and eat, drink and be merry.”
- Remember what God said to him: “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared? So is the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
Remember the “Rich, Young, Ruler” of Mark 10:17-22. He had it all. He was rich, he had power and influence, and he had youth and morality.
- But the one thing that he didn’t have was eternal life and the tragic thing is, he wasn’t willing to give up any of his earthly possesses, wealth, or power to get it!
- As a result the Bible says, “He went away grieved.”
In Mark 9:43-48 Jesus tells us that we would be better off being lame, crippled, and blind in this life and enter into heaven than it would be to be whole and enter into hell.
Everything in this world, all the luxuries; all the things; all the X-Boxes; all the Louis Vuitton purses…all of those things will be eaten by moths, destroyed by rust, left to someone else or ultimately be burned and yet people act like they are more valuable than their souls.
I suppose that one of the reasons why most people strive for what the world has to offer is fear.
- Fear of missing out; fear of doing without; fear of not being happy; fear of not fitting in or being powerful, or popular, or sexually attractive.
- People seem to always be trying to gain the approval of their peers.
But again Jesus says that there is something much more valuable. Look what He says in Matthew 10:28: And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
- If your soul is destroyed in hell; what benefit is it if you gain the approval of your worldly peers? None indeed!
So, what do we do? What do we do as we see some of our brothers and sisters in Christ, some of our family members, some of our children and grandchildren, some of our friends dangerously in the process of forfeiting their souls for the things of the world?
2 Tim 4:1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.
2 years ago over $240 billion dollars was spent in this country on advertising telling people that you just can’t live without this purse, or this car, or this set of ear buds, or this game console.
- Or if you want to have fun, or be popular, or if you want to be attractive physically and sexually, or if you want to be successful, it is essential that you drink this, or wear that, or act this way.
- Almost every social media site, Tik Tok; Twitter; Facebook; Snap chat; all have advertisements that do the same thing.
- Most movies; most books; most magazines; most music whether it is country and western, rock and roll, hip hop, soul, or rap promotes worldly values
- People are bombarded from all sides with the allurements of the world.
That is why it is critical that we, as the Lord’s people, step up and boldly proclaim the word of God and warn not only our brothers and sisters in Christ, not only our children and our grandchildren, about gaining the world and losing their souls…but we must also warn those who are in the world.
- Because if we don’t, then who will.
And I don’t believe that we have to be harsh. I don’t believe that we are to be judgmental.
- I don’t believe we are to be pushy or condemning.
- But I do believe that we are to be honest.
- And, like the apostle Paul says in Gal. 6:1, I believe we should try to “restore one in a spirit of gentleness.”
- And I believe what the apostle Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:7; that God has not given us a spirit of timidity; but one of power and love and discipline.
- I believe that if we don’t try, no one else will.
In 1 Cor. 13 the apostle Paul says, “Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things; Love never fails.”
- When we see a brother or sister or anyone else who is “forfeiting” their soul, if we sit back silently do we really love them?
Yesterday I had a man who claimed to be a follower of Christ tell me that he was seriously considering moving to Russia because things are so bad in this country and that things are only going to get worse. Perhaps he is right; perhaps things are only going to get worse.
- But I do not believe that God wants us to jump ship. I believe He wants us to “snatch as many as we can from the fire.”
We must quit being afraid of hurting people’s feelings; we must instead be concerned about their souls, and in love teach them that if they don’t get to heaven, nothing else matters.
What about you? If your life were to end today or this week, what would be the eternal destination of your soul? You can put that concern to rest if you will “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him.” Will you come…
1 Cor. 13:4-13
I want to direct your attention back to vs. 13.
The apostle Paul says, “But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest is love.
- When the apostle Paul wrote these words the brethren in the church at Corinth were foolishly arguing over their spiritual gifts.
- Those who had the gift of healing claimed to be of greater importance of those who had the gift of knowledge.
- And those who had the gift of miracles were exalting themselves over those who had the gift of prophecy. It was a mess.
- And here in chapter 13 the apostle Paul says “All of those spiritual gifts will come to an end”; vs 8.
- And instead of pursuing the spiritual gifts, pursue “faith, hope, and love; the greatest of which is love.” The spiritual gifts were precious but they were never meant to be the focus of the Christian life. Faith, hope, and love should be our pursuit.
We all know how important “faith” is.
- In Heb. 11:6 we are told that “without faith it is impossible to please God.”
- In Romans 1:17 we read that “The righteous will live by faith.”
- And in Eph 3:12 we are told that it is only because of our faith in Christ that we can boldly and confidently stand before God.
- Over and over the scriptures emphasize the essentiality, the necessity of a sincere faith.
And we all know how important “love” is.
- Here in this chapter in the first 3 verses, the apostle Paul says that you can have miraculous powers; you can have great knowledge and wisdom; and you can be generous to the poor and give totally of yourself, but if you don’t have love, “it profits you nothing.”
- In Mark 12 when a scribe asked Jesus “what commandment was the foremost of all” Jesus responded “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” and then He went on to answer that the second foremost commandment was to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
- And then in John 13, Jesus commands us “to love one another and that our love for each other will identify us as His disciples.”
- So, we know how important love is; in fact the apostle Paul says that of the three, “faith, hope, and love, the greatest is love.
But now, what about “hope?” Of the three, “hope” is probably the least talked about and yet, the Bible indicates that it has an essential part of, not only our Christian walk, but also our salvation.
- Why is “hope” so important?
First of all we need to understand what “hope” is.
- The word “hope” here is not talking about something you wish for.
- A child at Christmas “hopes” they get that special gift they want.
- You might hear someone say, “I hope to go see my kids this week.”
- That is not what the apostle Paul is talking about here.
This word “hope” here literally means “a confident expectation.” It is a certainty!
- You hear some people say, “I hope God will forgive me. I hope God will save me. I hope I will go to heaven.”
- Do you know why people, perhaps some of us, say that?
- We say that because we are basing our “hope” on our own human performance.
Listen, we “all fall short of the glory of God”; there are none perfect…but if we are “walking in the light as He Himself is in the light”; if we are living a faithful life in service to Christ, our “hope” is not based on how perfectly we walk; it is based on how “perfectly” Christ walked.
- What does the song say? “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’s name.”
And look at what the apostle Paul says in Titus 1:1-2. He says, Paul, a bond-servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness, 2 in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago,
- Our “hope” is not based on our human performance. Our “hope” is based on “Christ’s” sinless sacrifice, and God’s promise of eternal life, and the fact that it is “impossible for God to lie.”
Now, It may be that some need to repent, and they may need to be more obedient, but for those who are daily “keeping the faith and fighting the good fight”, don’t say, “I hope God will save me.”
- I dare to say that is an insult to our God and indicates that He can’t be trusted.
- Instead, put your confidence in the Father and the Son, and say, “Thanks be to God, salvation is mine.”
Now, let me show you how important, how essential your “hope in Christ” is. Look with me at 1 Thess. 1 starting in vs. 2. The apostle Paul says:
We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; 3 constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, 4 knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you;
Look at this Paul says, “Even as faith produces work; even as love produces labor; in the same way hope produces steadfastness; endurance; perseverance; or patience.
- Our hope is what makes us endure; it is what makes a man or woman forbear trials or whatever temptations might beset him or her.
- Our hope, our confidence in the promises of God, produces an inner strength that causes us to hang on.
In the last 2 years, as God’s people, we have been through a lot.
- We have had the Covid 19 virus; the mandatory wearing of masks; the temporary cancelation of our worship assemblies and Bible classes, and the suspension of our fellowships.
And then individually some of you have experienced and are continuing to experience serious health issues; and some of you have lost family members and friends that are close to you.
- When we go through these kinds of trials or temptations what is it that keeps you and I from giving up; from turning away from God?
- What causes an individual who is battling cancer and who cannot come to worship services to continue to send her contribution?
- What causes an individual to press on after they have lost a child, or a wife, or a mother?
- What causes an individual to return kindness to those who insult, or assault them?
- What causes us to keep trying to teach and reach out to others when it seems to do no good?
- It is our hope. Our hope in the Lord Jesus Christ…our hope in an eternal reward in heaven that produces endurance!
- Hope is so important.
Look at this found in 1 John 3:3. John says: And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He (our Lord) is pure.
- Satan hits us with every temptation imaginable; he is always “seeking someone to devour.”
- He may use the temptation to lie, to steal, or to cheat. (There is a lot to be gained if you will only lie, or cheat, or steal)
- He may use sexual temptations (I mean, no one will know); temptations for self-gratification; temptations for power or influence.
- He may use emotional temptations; temptations to get angry; to be depressed; discouraged.
What is it that motivates us from giving in to those temptations?
- What is it that motivates us to be pure, just as our Lord is pure?
- John says It is our “hope that is fixed on our Lord. “
Look at Romans 8:24-25: For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
In vs. 24 the Greek actually says, “For by hope we were saved.”
- Isn’t that strange?
- We might say that we are “saved by grace”; Eph. 2:8
- And we might say that we are “saved by Christ”; Acts 4:12.
- We might even mention that we are “saved by the blood of Christ”; Rev. 1:5.
- But the apostle Paul says here in Romans 8, “For by hope we were saved.”
And then Paul goes on to says in vs. 25 that we haven’t realized what we “hope” for, but with “perseverance we eagerly wait for it.”
- Let me ask you, when you responded to the gospel and were baptized, why did you do that? Was it because of “Hope?”
- “Hope”…confidence that your sins could be forgiven; confidence that eternal life could be yours; confidence that you could have and a home in heaven ?
- Isn’t that what motivated you and I to be saved…and then that same hope or confidence motivates us to “press on toward the goal”, no matter what we might encounter or endure, for the salvation that awaits us.
I guess that is what puzzles me today. For some here this morning, I don’t know why you have not come to Christ. But it seems to me if you understand the “hope” that He offers, you would not delay. But if you refuse, well there is no hope.
Look at 1 Thess 4:13: But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope.
- The apostle Paul doesn’t say that “we will not grieve.” What he says is, “We will not grieve like those who have no hope.”
- When a brother or sister in Christ falls asleep or dies, our hearts are broken.
- And yet we find comfort because we have hope…we have confidence knowing that they are at rest and will ultimately find their place in the Father’s house; John 14.
While those who have not fallen asleep in Christ …well there is no hope; there is no confidence in the assurances of God, and we are left to hopelessly grieve.
- In our worst times hope makes all the difference in the world.
And then another verse that we are all so familiar with, Heb. 11:1: The writer says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
- The word “assurance” – in the King James Version is translated “substance” and that is probably the best translation.
- The word “assurance” or “substance “ is the Greek word “hupostasis” and it means “to stand under”…it speaks of that which is a bulwark…that which holds up and supports something else.
- In the context of this passage the writer is saying that our “Faith is what holds up the things we hope for.”
- Faith is what holds up our confidence in a heavenly home; our confidence in salvation.
So what happens if our faith grows weak? Well, our hope will grow weak.
- And what if our faith fails? Then everything we hope for is lost.
- And remember what our hope motivates us to do? It motivates us to endure; to be pure; and it motivates us to be saved; and it gives us “comfort when a brother or sister falls asleep in Christ.”
For the sake of “hope” we should strive daily to keep our “faith” strong; strong by reading and studying our Bibles; by being in the worship assemblies; and by attending Bible classes.
In fact, let’s read Heb. 6:9-12. In the context of this passage some new converts to Christ were being tempted to leave Christianity and go back to Judaism.
- You might say that their faith had grown weak…and the Hebrew writer expresses his concern for them…and he encourages them to stay faithful to Christ.
- Starting vs. 9 look at what he says:
But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. 10 For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. 11 And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
Hope in a heavenly home; hope in salvation; hope in eternal life…motivates us to persevere; motivates us to be pure; motivated us to be saved; gives us comfort in times of sorrow; and motivates us to keep our faith strong.
- Our Lord paid a high price to give us hope…let’s not be sluggish, but be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises that hope assures us of.
What Is Prayer
WHAT IS PRAYER?
Matthew 6: 4-13
As I look at what Jesus says here in this passage, I have to confess that my prayer life is not what it should be.
- And I suspect that that is true for many of you.
- And that is too bad because prayer is essential to our spiritual growth and survival as children of God.
You have heard it said that the “family that prays together stays together.”
- Well, just as prayer strengthens the relationship in a family it also strengthens our relationship with God.
In 1 Thess. 5:17 the apostle Paul says, “Pray without ceasing.”
In Colossians 4:2 the apostle Paul says, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving…”
Then Luke 21:36, Jesus speaking of the judgment that was to come on Jerusalem tells His disciples; “Keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
And then Rom. 12:12 the apostle Paul says, “Be devoted to prayer…”
- The context for each of these admonitions to pray is a time of trial, persecution, difficulties in life.
- And when you consider what is going on in our culture; and when you consider some of the health issues that many are dealing with; prayer is not only needed but essential for our spiritual survival.
Whether it is a prayer of thanksgiving, or praise, or adoration, or confession of sin, or a personal petition, or intercession for the needs of others, or strength in a time of trial or persecution, prayer is essential to our spiritual growth and survival.
- And I can assure you that prayer is important to those that we pray for.
Now, for just a few minutes, to help us have a deeper, richer, more meaningful prayer life I would like to learn some things from this passage about prayer, perhaps to correct some misconceptions.
- When I first became a Christian nearly 50 years ago, I was asked to lead a prayer.
- I nearly panicked. I didn’t know how.
- In recent years I have been hesitant to lead a prayer in public because I was convinced my prayers didn’t do any good; that God didn’t hear me.
I have noticed that some of our men are hesitant to lead a prayer in our assemblies; I don’t know why for sure; but if you have some misconceptions like I did, hopefully our study will help you.
I want to begin by asking the question, “What is prayer?” Look starting in vs. 5:
“And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”
First, understand that scripture nowhere condemns public prayer; Acts 4:24-31 we have an example of public prayer.
- And scripture does not condemn individual prayer in a public place; (giving thanks in a restaurant; or having a prayer with someone in a hospital waiting room).
- Scripture does not condemn that.
What the Lord does condemn is ostentatious praying; praying intended to impress others or to attract attention to one’s self in order to be honored by men; to show how righteous and religious you are.
And when Jesus says, “go into your inner room and shut the door”, don’t take that to extremes.
- To interpret that with rigid legalism would be guilty of the Pharisaism which Jesus warns about.
- If all of our praying were to be done in secret we would have to give up praying in worship assemblies, family prayers, and praying with individuals.
- What Jesus is emphasizing here is praying in sincerity and not to be seen by men.
Now, notice in verse 6, Jesus says that when you pray, you are to “pray to your Father.”
- The word “pray” means to “make supplication…to humbly request or ask for something either for self or for someone else.”
- Examples: Ask for strength, courage, wisdom, love, healing, provision, for forgiveness, all sorts of things.
And who is the prayer to be addressed to? Jesus says, “pray to your Father.”
- Sometimes you hear someone get up to word a prayer and they will say, “Let’s talk to God.”
- That’s what prayer is. It’s talking to God.
The Bible is God speaking to man…
- And prayer is man speaking to God.
- It is your heart talking to His heart.
Understand, prayer is not talking or communicating with other people!
- Maybe I am wrong but I don’t know of any situation in the scriptures, other than the one here in these verses, where anyone, under the pretense of praying, talked to people instead of God.
- There are examples where people were prayed for; Luke 23:34; “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what that are doing!”; John 17 where Jesus prayed for His disciples; Acts 12:12 where the brethren were praying for Peter; but I am not aware of any example where anyone primarily talked to people under the pretense of praying to God.
- God is not the 3rd party in a prayer.
Prayers are not intended to be sermons to the brethren about things that need to be corrected, or things that need to be taken care of, “and God you can listen in if You want to.”
- That is not “talking to God.”
- And that is not what prayer is all about.
If you or I used our prayers as sermons to each other about things that need to be corrected, or things that need to be taken care of, or things we need to learn, we just as well get up and read this (the Bible) because that is what this is all about.
If I am talking to God and my brothers or sisters listen in, that’s great.
- But our prayers should not be constructed primarily to correct or admonish or even instruct our brothers and sisters with God simply listening in.
- We miss the whole purpose of prayer when we do that.
Look at vs. 7: And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. 8 “Therefore do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need, before you ask Him. “Pray, then, in this way:
When I was a kid, periodically my mom would take me to church; and there was one man who, from time to time, would lead the opening prayer.
- His prayers went on, and on, and on, and on and it was not uncommon for him to start repeating himself.
- And when he was praying one thing I noticed is after about 15 minutes people quit listening.
Here in vs. 7 Jesus is saying, “You don’t have to think that you have to pray long, lengthy prayers like the pagans do, for God to hear and bless you.”
- Jesus says because, “Your Father knows what you need, before you ask Him.”
This may be a hindrance for some who have been asked to lead a prayer for our assemblies and they are hesitant because they are not sure of what to say; and consequently their prayer won’t be very long; and their prayer may not be as eloquent as others they have heard.
- Your prayer doesn’t have to be long! In fact look at what Jesus says in vs. 9:
He says, “Pray, then, in this way:
‘Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name.
10’Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
11’Give us this day our daily bread. 12’And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13’And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.]’
How long did it take to read that prayer?
- It takes about 15-18 seconds to read this prayer and the point is, a prayer doesn’t have to be long and drawn out.
I am not saying that a prayer should only be a few seconds long. What I am saying is, when it comes to public prayers, if they are too long, those who are listening in often quit listening.
And as far as a prayer needing to be “eloquent” enough; eloquent to who: God or people?
- I have seen men get up and word some of the most beautiful, eloquent prayers; and then go home afterwards and verbally abuse their wives.
- God is not concerned about how eloquent a prayer is. God is concerned about a prayer being sincere with pure motives.
Now look at vs. 10: ‘Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
- A failure to understand this kept me from leading a public prayer for several years.
- I would pray and petition God for something and it seemed that my prayer went unheard; that maybe my prayer was no good.
When my daughter came down sick I prayed and prayed that God would make her well; and when she didn’t…I lost my confidence in prayer.
- The problem was, I wanted my “will to be done” instead of God’s will.
I don’t know for sure what God is doing with her illness; I am confident somewhere He is using it for His purpose; perhaps to prove my faith; perhaps to teach me something.
- But just because my will does not match up with His will does not mean that He is angry with me and I should stop praying.
Remember in Matthew 26:39, Jesus was in the garden and knowing that He would soon be crucified, prayed 3 times that God “would let this cup pass from Him” and remember what He said: “Yet, not as I will but as Thou wilt.”
- Have you ever thought about what would have happened if Jesus would have gotten His way? If God would have let that “cup pass from Him?”
- We don’t know what would have happened but aren’t we thankful that God didn’t take that cup from Him.
Our will may not match up with God’s will and when it doesn’t we are often disappointed.
- But our God is a loving, compassionate; merciful, evangelistic God who is trying to save all who will be saved; and just because our will doesn’t agree with His is no reason to quit praying.
Our prayer should always be one of “not my will, but Thy will be done” and humbly accept whatever He wills.
So what are some things to pray for? Well, in 1 John 5:14, the construction of the verse in the Greek basically says, “Ask for anything you want; but allow God to mark things off your list according to His will.”
- He always knows what is good for us and what will harm us; give Him the divine prerogative to protect us.
I have already mentioned somethings we can pray for: courage, wisdom, love, healing, provision, for forgiveness; peace. But look starting in vs. 10 again. Jesus says, “Thy kingdom come.”
- Praying for “God’s kingdom to come” means praying that the qualities of His kingdom would be evident in our lives.
- You might hear it phrased, “Help me to be a better disciple; or a better Christian; or help me be a better example to others.”
- This is something we all need; to be a better, more complete Christian.
In vs. 11 Jesus says, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
- Not only can we pray for ourselves and our own needs, we can also pray for the needs of others.
- And we can give thanks each day for God’s providential care.
Vs. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
- We can give thanks each day for what God has done for us and continues to do because He is the only one who can forgive us and He has done so through His Son.
- And it would be arrogant of us to ask God for forgiveness and not extend it to others.
- We can pray daily that we would be more like Christ and more willing to forgive.
And then vs. 13: And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
- “God, as weak as we are by nature and as prone as we are to sin, do not permit us to enter into situations which would expose us to temptation and the possibility of falling.”
- “Deliver us from evil.”
There is so much we can pray for…so much we need to pray for. We have a strong adversary and we need to devote ourselves to prayer and be alert in it.
- Prayer is important for our spiritual growth and survival.
- Prayer strengthens our relationship with God as well as with each other.
- Our prayers should be directed to God, if others listen in that is great, but God is not to be the 3rd party in the conversation.
- Whether it is a private prayer or a public prayer, we are to be sincere and have pure motives; and not pray just to be seen by men.
- Prayers are not intended to be sermons.
- Prayers do not have to be long.
- They do not have to be eloquent; just sincere instead.
- Our prayer should always be one of “not my will, but Thy will be done” and humbly accept whatever He wills.
Prayer is very important; it is essential; it is very much needed.
The Blessing of Affliction
THE BLESSING OF AFFLICTION
2 Cor. 1:3-11
Of all the dilemmas we face as Christians, the one Paul speaks of here in this passage…the problem of affliction…is perhaps the most difficult for us to deal with.
- We don’t understand why God allows it to happen.
- We think that as Christians we should be exempt from it.
- Because we serve a great and loving God, affliction and suffering is something that He should never allow to come our way.
And when it does happen we often criticize God and blame Him.
- “If God were a good God He wouldn’t let this happen.”
Sometimes we handle suffering and affliction in a different way.
- Instead of blaming God we blame the one who is suffering.
- Like Job’s friends, we reason that the one suffering “must have sinned.”
- And when it happens to us, we sometimes reason and say, “Well, God must be mad at me!” “I must have done something to make Him mad!” “I must have done something wrong.”
True, our wrong doings can cause us to suffer.
- But just because you are suffering does not automatically mean that you have made God mad.
This kind of thinking only brings about confusion…and frustration….and accusations and guilt on the sufferer that they may never recover from.
- And so, for the most part, we have never handled the problem of affliction very well.
Well, here in this passage Paul has some things to say on this subject and hopefully what he has to say will help us as we deal with affliction and suffering in our lives.
First thing I want you to notice is “no one is exempt.”
- It makes no difference who you are…whether you are the Apostle Paul…the Son of God…or an elder or preacher…
- Afflictions and sufferings and pressures…and stresses are going to come.
And the truth of the matter is, the fact that you are a faithful servant of God may mean that your afflictions will be more than those who are not faithful to God.
Look at Paul.
- Other than Christ, who would we consider to be a more faithful servant of God than Paul?
- And yet, in this passage, down in verse 8, Paul speaks of afflictions which caused him and Timothy to be “burdened excessively, beyond their strength, so that they despaired even of life.”
In verse 5 Paul says that what they were suffering were “sufferings of Christ.”
- And in verse 6 he says that they “suffered for the comfort and salvation” of these Corinthians.
So much of what Paul and Timothy suffered was due to their commitment and devotion to Christ.
- So just because you are a child of God…a servant of God…that doesn’t exempt you from afflictions….
- In fact, it could cause you to experience afflictions that you might not otherwise suffer.
So, no one is exempt from afflictions and suffering.
- Not you…not me.
- It is human to suffer because suffering comes with humanity.
- We are fallen creatures living in a fallen world.
- As a result, there is and will always be sin and suffering until the Lord comes again and puts and end to it all.
But now look at vs. 3. Paul says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all afflictions…”
- People look in a lot of places to find comfort in their times of affliction.
- Some look in exciting and dissipating pleasures of the flesh.
- They turn to strong drink or drugs….or to immoral activities.
- The problem with those things is, when you sober up…or when the high is over, the pain and affliction is still there…and you have really not been comforted at all.
- And the immoral relationships only add to the affliction.
Some people seek to find comfort by complaining…or by entering into depression and hopelessness.
- Again, these things only afflict us more.
Some simply try to ignore the affliction…or deny it….or pretend to forget it.
- Obviously there is no comfort in that.
We look in all of these different places to try to find comfort during our times of affliction.
But the one place we should look…we must look…in order to find true…real comfort in affliction is to God.
- 3 says that He is “the Father of mercies.” Mercies can be translated “compassions.”
- The fact that He is the “Father of compassion” indicates that He is the “source” of compassion.
- Any true, lasting compassion that we may find…begins with and comes from Him.
The verse says that He is the “God of ALL comfort.”
- ALL comfort!
- All good…genuine…real….lasting comfort comes from God!
And verse 4 says “He comforts us in “ALL our afflictions
- Not just some….not just certain kinds…but ALL of them.
And when it says that “He comforts us“, that is present tense which means that He continually….and constantly comforts us.
Far too often we look in the wrong places for our comfort.
- We look to ourselves.
- “I’ll figure it out! I’ll get through it alone.”
- We look to our material possessions…or our wealth.
- “Money will buy me peace of mind.”
- We look to our strength…our power…our prestige and authority.
- “I don’t have to pray…praying is a sign of weakness…I’m stronger than that.”
Well, that isn’t the place to look!
- Ask King David.
- He had knowledge…and wealth…and power.
- And yet, in his times of affliction where did David turn too?
- He turned to the one true source of true, lasting, comfort.
- He turned to God.
No wonder He said, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul. He guides me in the paths of rigteousness For His names sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for Thou are with me, They rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
In times of affliction…of suffering…of stress and pressure…turn to God for only God can make sense of it all.
- Only God can give it all a purpose…just like He did when Joseph was suffering because of his brothers and Joseph said, “You meant it for evil, God meant it for good.”
- Only God can use our afflictions to make us stronger…and to help us grow…to become more like the image of His Son.
And in the end, it is only God who can and will deliver us from all afflictions. He alone can and will wipe away all of our tears.
Look again at verse 3. At the time that we are suffering some affliction, it is hard to see any good in it.
- It is difficult to see how any of it can be beneficial.
- But look at what Paul says here in this verse.
- Paul says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comforts…”
Now watch this…“who comforts us in all our afflictions so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
When our daughter was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome….and we were told that she would have to deal with it for the rest of her life…it was really hard to accept that.
- We had a hard time understanding.
- Here she was, an AIM student in Germany…teaching people about Christ…serving Him…doing what we thought God wanted…and then she is stricken with CFS.
- It didn’t make much sense to us.
- But she put her faith and trust in God…and she accepted His will for her life…
- And at the time…she had opportunity to visit with and encourage several others who had been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome….
- And not only CFS…but some who were dealing with other discouragements ranging from diseases….all the way to emotional struggles.
- And today, even though she, for the most part, cannot leave her home, continues to send out cards of encouragement; corresponds frequently with a friend who lives in China; and she and Kevin have raised their daughter to be a willing servant of Christ.
She was afflicted….and comforted by God….and as a result she has been able to comfort others….and do so in an effective way because of her own experiences.
God is an evangelistic God.
- His desire is that “no one should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
- One of the most effective times to reach people for Christ is when they are suffering.
- When their world has been shaken and they are looking for a place of refuge.
- And the most effective teacher in a time like that is someone whose world was once shaken in the same way.
Some times our afflictions….and the comfort we receive from God…qualifies us….and equips us to be powerful tools for God to use to bring others to Him.
- Each one of us, in our different and unique experiences with suffering in life…can be used by God to sympathize with…to comfort…and point others to the source of all mercy and comfort…if we will only let Him.
Look at verses 8-9.
- In these verses Paul speaks of an affliction that came on them in Asia that burdened them “excessively, beyond their strength, so that they despaired even in life.”
- We don’t know what affliction he is talking about but whatever it was, it was severe enough that they, “had the sentence of death within them.”
- They were hopeless…and they apparently thought they were going to die.
But look at what he says next about this affliction. In vs. 9 Paul says,
“We had the sentence of death within ourselves IN ORDER THAT WE SHOULD NOT TRUST IN OURSELVES, BUT IN GOD WHO RAISES THE DEAD.”
We tend to rely on ourselves.
- We think that every thing depends on us…and all that we do…and all that we have…is ours because of our own efforts.
- And sometimes we become so haughty and arrogant that we think we are the “king of the world” and we think we are invincible.
If you go back to the Old Testament you find a guy named Nebuchadnezzar that was that way.
But the best thing that ever happened to Nebuchadnezzar was for him to suffer affliction and eat grass like a beast…because that experience brought him to a better understanding and knowledge of God.
- In fact, the indication from scripture is that Nebuchadnezzar may have become a faithful man of God.
Some times, our afflictions are the only thing that will cause us to slow down long enough to make us realize that we need God.
- That hope, peace, comfort and most of all, salvation, is not within us and our worldly pursuits…but they are in God. (the woman with the issue of blood; Jairus/daughter)
And sometimes our afflictions are the only thing that will make others realize their need for God as well.
- In 1965 as I stood at my fathers graveside…his death made me realize as an 11 year old boy that there was a whole lot more to life than just living and dying.
God preaches some of His most powerful sermons…and He extends some of His most appealing invitations to others…through our afflictions.
In this passage Paul speaks of afflictions. Something that none of us want to experience.
- And yet, how tragic it would be to go through life free from adversity and affliction.
- For to live a life free from affliction might cause us to never seek for or find our God and Father…the One who raises the dead.
Vs. 11: “You also joining in helping us through your prayers, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed upon us through the prayers of many.”
- Thankfulness to God is the only proper response for what he has done…even when we suffer affliction.
Afflictions will come. Turn to God for your comfort.
- Use your experiences to help and comfort others.
- And realize that God can and does often draw you as well as others closer to Him through your afflictions.
© Sunset Ridge Church of Christ 2023