Why Is Our Ministry Important?

Welcome, friends! Luke 4:14-30 is the account of Jesus reading the words of Isaiah the prophet to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and release for prisoners. How Christ used those words caused a huge commotion, and still does. Let’s find out together what happened. Click the videos below and let us consider Jesus….

Pastor Tim Ehrhardt, Luke 4:14-30

Gracious God, you bring glad tidings to the poor, heal the brokenhearted and free prisoners from jails. Please come to us and send us out, as forgiven people, to the poor, the brokenhearted, and the imprisoned. Amen.

Luke 4:14-30 – Why Is Our Ministry Important?

Jesus Unrolls the Scroll in the Synagogue, by French artist James Tissot (1836-1902)

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

 “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.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. (New International Version)

Jesus was the hometown boy of Nazareth, the rising star who was putting the small village on the map. He walked into the synagogue on the Sabbath with the people all watching with pride, their chests puffed with delight over one of their own making it to the big time. 

It just so happened that on that day the Old Testament reading was from the prophet Isaiah – a prophecy of grace and healing that fit the budding ministry of Jesus. Here was the hope of Israel. It was all bunnies and butterflies, until Jesus decided to say a few words to them all….

Jesus took the prophecy of Isaiah about proclaiming liberty to captives and the oppressed and then applied it, not to his fellow Jews who were present, but to, of all people, Gentiles! 

Jesus just had to open his mouth and point out that in the days of Elijah, the prophet was sent to a Gentile woman. In addition, Jesus let everyone know the prophet Elisha cleansed a Gentile. The gathered synagogue worshipers understood exactly what Jesus was doing – claiming to be the ultimate prophet, sent for those people. 

It was too much for the people gathered for worship. All hell broke loose as the “worshipers” became so angry and insolent that they drove Jesus out of town and tried to kill him. Jesus had that kind of effect throughout his earthly ministry by saying and doing the unexpected. 

The people of Nazareth seemed to have always interpreted the message of Isaiah and the prophets as being for themselves, not others. Whenever any believer or church loses sight of a biblical message and re-interprets it as being for only us, then we end up like the Nazarenes of old who did not recognize Jesus for who he really is and what he really came to do. 

Some believers and churches need a question asked of them: Are you ready to throw Jesus off a cliff?

Our faith is not merely individual; it is meant to impact the world. In the beginning the earth was created by God and it was good. Yet, it didn’t take long for things to go sideways. The fall of humanity into sin and disobedience brought death and decay to the world. Ever since, the human condition has been dominated by guilt, shame, indifference, violence, taking advantage of others, pride, and selfishness.

However, God did not leave the world to its own demise. The Lord began the process of reconciliation, culminating in the person and work of Jesus Christ. And now, Christians are a new society, the community of the redeemed, the church. As the people of God, we are called to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.

Jesus came to save us from our predicament, and to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and freedom for those oppressed by others. The kingdom of God is to extend over every square inch of this earth, every nation, every race and ethnicity, every institution and organization, and every individual. It all belongs to God’s rule and reign in Christ.

Jesus has made us, his disciples, ambassadors of reconciliation. Ever since the fall of humanity, God is reclaiming and redeeming, even now, all of creation back to himself. The Lord is seeking to bring people back into the harmony that existed in the Garden of Eden. Although this will only be fully realized when Christ returns, we presently now have the responsibility to be gracious agents of God’s kingdom, restoring all areas of this world and all people to their rightful place, at peace with God.

There is every reason to hope because a new world began emerging at the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death. As Christians, we accept struggle and hardship in this life and endure all things because, even though disease, destruction, and death claim so many lives, the love of God in Christ will never change nor die.

Because of the risen and ascended Christ, who is the light for all people everywhere, Christ’s disciples are able to respond to the great mass of human suffering with compassion.

This is important since compassion might not be our initial reaction to human suffering. Like the villagers in Christ’s hometown of Nazareth, we can chafe at the thought of compassionately reaching out to the poor, the prisoner, the blind, and the oppressed. We might either resist ministry to the “other” because we believe they caused their own poverty and adverse situation, or because we simply don’t believe we are wired for ministry to them.

If you knew me before I was a Christian, you might not recognize me. I didn’t love anybody. I had no compassion for anyone. It wasn’t until I experienced the love and compassion of Jesus Christ that my life turned upside-down. I began responding to human need with a deep concern. I sought to connect with all kinds of people. I wanted to make a difference in the world.

Back then I was (and to some degree still am) something of an agitator. Maybe that’s one reason I am so drawn to the compassion of Christ. For compassion is actually a radical form of criticism, declaring that our pains and our hurts are to be taken seriously, that they are not to be accepted as natural but abnormal and unacceptable for the human condition. It’s not supposed to be this way!

The compassion of Jesus needs to be understood as a totally subversive action against the kingdom of darkness, a bold and daring affront against all that keeps people locked into systems of oppression and poverty.

The world needs to experience the Church everywhere as a place and a people of good news – expressed in both word and deed – in which they are hospitably invited into the very life of God and experience the fullness of peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. In other words, we are not only in the personal transformation business, but we are also in the business of transforming society so that the common good of all persons is upheld.

As the church proclaims and seeks to establish the kingdom of God, it comes to see that all human need is important – whether it is spiritual, physical, mental, or emotional. We “do justice” by helping others experience the reality of God’s love in Christ and compassionately meet their holistic needs. We “love mercy” by showing hospitality and inviting folks very different from ourselves into our lives. We “walk humbly” with our God by emulating the compassionate ministry of Jesus to all people.

What is your “compassion quotient?” That is, how much compassion do you have in your life right now?

What are some tangible ways we can work on raising our level of compassion and demonstrating compassionate action to those around us and in our city?

It is questions like these that enable us to sync our lives with the heart of Jesus, who still desires to bring good news to the world.

Almighty God, you sent your Son Jesus Christ to reconcile the world to yourself: We praise and bless you for sending your people in the power of the Spirit to preach the Gospel to all nations. We thank you that in all parts of the earth a community of love has been gathered together by many prayers and labors, and that your people share in your mission of restoring all people to unity with yourself and one another in Christ; for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. Amen.

Revelation 21:1-7 – Making Everything New

Making All Things New by James Janknegt

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also, he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. (New Revised Standard Version)

The world as we now know it will someday pass away. 

We have a future hope – and it will literally be heaven on earth.

God will descend to dwell with us, and, so, will bring us to humanity’s original design God in the Garden – an unhindered relationship between God and people in which we are no longer dogged by a sinful nature, a sinful world system, and all the temptations a sinful devil uses to exploit for malevolent purposes. 

Tears, death, sorrow and pain will be a thing of the past. Our struggle with sin will be over.

The Apostle John’s revelation to the early church was a very encouraging message. The believers faced all kinds of trouble and persecution due to their commitment to Christ. To know that these problems are temporary, and that Christ’s changes are permanent, was a great comfort and boon to their faith.

One of the problems we experience in this present age is our chronic impatience. We want what we want, and we want it now! 

Throughout history God’s people have looked ahead in hope for the ultimate fulfillment of divine promises. John did not really give a brand new revelation to the church but upheld and anticipated, for Christians, what was true for Israel.   

“Look! I am creating new heavens and a new earth,
    and no one will even think about the old ones anymore.
Be glad; rejoice forever in my creation!
    And look! I will create Jerusalem as a place of happiness.
    Her people will be a source of joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
    and delight in my people.
And the sound of weeping and crying
    will be heard in it no more.” (Isaiah 65:17-19, NLT)
     

In Christ’s first advent, God’s people believed all these promises would be fully and finally realized. But, like a young couple in their engagement period, the promises of God were initiated but not yet realized or consummated. 

People throughout the centuries have struggled with patience, wondering if all this talk of renewal, restoration, and revival would ever happen.

“Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation….”  But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:4, 8-9, NIV)

God is even now in the process of moving history to its final stage. Can we be patient, letting God work until that final day comes? 

We live in an amazing time. Although the earth is a big place, we can traverse it by plane in less than two days. It used to be that a ship going across the Atlantic Ocean took three months from Europe to America. Now, we fly across the ocean in a matter of hours. Yet, we freak out whenever we have to be to the airport two hours before a flight and grump about standing in a twenty minute line to board a plane.

It used to be that communication moved at the same pace as a ship. Knowing about a significant event that happened in Europe took months to find out. Now we can know what kind of bread some Frenchman ate for breakfast almost instantly after he eats it because he posted it on social media. Yet, we complain about waiting a few extra seconds for something to load on our computers or smartphones, as if the world were about to end. 

Well, actually, the world is about to end.

Until that day comes, we are not to spend our remaining time trying to figure out exactly the day and hour of Christ’s second advent. We properly anticipate Jesus coming again when we let God change our hearts and lives, our neighborhoods and workplaces, our families and churches, to be like Christ.

God is presently preparing for Christ’s return by doing away with the old to make room for the new. With every changed life, there is the reminder that God is not slow in keeping promises but is active in transforming lives for good.

If anyone belongs to Christ, there is a new creation. The old things have gone; everything is made new!

2 Corinthians 5:17, NCV

The New Testament book of Revelation helps us break our fixation with the past and holding onto the ways we have always done things. We are reminded of God’s capacity and action for renewal. We can walk, right now, in newness of life. 

So, what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!

That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country. (Romans 6:1-5, MSG)

To overcome impatience and embrace perseverance, we need a better perspective.

In the fall of 1991, a car driven by a drunk driver jumped its lane and smashed headfirst into a minivan driven by a man named Jerry Sittser. Sittser and three of his children survived, but Sittser’s wife, four-year-old child, and mother died in the crash.

In his book, A Grace Revealed, Sittser shares the following interaction some months after the accident with his son, David, who was one of the children who survived:

“Do you think Mom sees us right now?” he suddenly asked.

I paused to ponder. “I don’t know, David. I think maybe she does see us. Why do you ask?”

“I don’t see how she could, Dad. I thought Heaven was full of happiness. How could she bear to see us so sad?”

Could Lynda, my wife, witness our pain in Heaven? How could that be possible? How could she bear it?

“I think she does see us,” I finally said. “But she sees the whole story, including how it all turns out, which is beautiful to her. It’s going to be a good story, David.”

When all is stripped from our lives, and the world as we know it is done away with, what are we left with? 

We are left with God. And a participation with Christ in the renewal of all things. We do that through alleviating and doing away with the evils and troubles of this world. Whenever we seek to eradicate things like global poverty and sex-trafficking; help others come to grips with the evil of this world; change old devilish ways of living; or come alongside others in their trouble; then, God is using us to make everything new.

The end is coming.

But it’s not yet here. 

What’s here right now is God patiently bringing salvation to all kinds of people. 

So, let’s allow God to be God. And let’s allow the Lord to use us in proclaiming the good news that all things are being made new.

Amen.

Hebrews 10:10-18 – Out with the Old, In with the New

Because Jesus Christ did what God wanted him to do, we are all purified from sin by the offering that he made of his own body once and for all.

Every Jewish priest performs his services every day and offers the same sacrifices many times; but these sacrifices can never take away sins. Christ, however, offered one sacrifice for sins, an offering that is effective forever, and then he sat down at the right side of God. There he now waits until God puts his enemies as a footstool under his feet. With one sacrifice, then, he has made perfect forever those who are purified from sin.

And the Holy Spirit also gives us his witness. First he says,

“This is the covenant that I will make with them
    in the days to come, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts
    and write them on their minds.”

And then he says, “I will not remember their sins and evil deeds any longer.”So, when these have been forgiven, an offering to take away sins is no longer needed. (Good News Translation)

As I sit at my computer, easily keyboarding my thoughts, it is almost inconceivable to me that I made it through my undergraduate college days in the early 1980s with a manual typewriter and notetaking with the old-fashioned pen and spiral notebook.  No cell phone, no tablet, no electronic devices aiding me through my education. Typewriters are now obsolete, along with corded dial telephones and wringer washers.

Yet even more incredible is the complete replacement of an old mundane system of ritual sacrifice to a religion of the heart in which God remembers the people’s sins no more. This is such a radical change that it would be like having self-cleaning dishes or total speech-to-text “writing” of “papers.” 

The new order of things described in Hebrews is so much more than a labor-saving device; it is a completely different system that leaves the old system obsolete forever. That is what Jesus Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice did on our behalf.

We live in a New Covenant era in which God has put divine laws on our hearts and written them on our minds. No typewriter, no computer, no keyboard necessary, because the blood of Christ has introduced a seminal change in how we relate to God. 

There is now a thorough forgiveness that no longer requires any labor, ritual, or work. Indeed, it is finished. Now, we have the privilege and opportunity of living into the new reality graciously provided for us. It is an era of great peace, joy, and goodwill.  It is so good that it would be absolutely ridiculous to go back to the old way.

So, slow down enough in this season to connect or re-connect with a most wonderful truth: Jesus Christ came to save sinners. Gratitude for our salvation from sin, death, and hell, recognized and acknowledged each day, helps to stave off living in the past.

Continually looking at a bygone era as the good old days probably wasn’t, in reality, near as great as it’s remembered. That’s because when things are hard in the present, we often reflexively retreat into the past, cherry-picking some good memories, then constructing a mental narrative without all the bad stuff which actually went along with it.

Instead, in this Advent season, Christians purposely focus upon and remember God’s merciful descent to live among humanity. Christ lived, died, rose from death, and is alive – interceding for us continually. Past and present come together in the person of Jesus.

The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish. (John 1:14, MSG)

The good news of Christianity is that we are gloriously forgiven and redeemed because of Christ, given for us, the once for all sacrifice for sin.

May this season be full of grace and wonder for you, as you pilgrim to the manger and adore Christ the newborn king.

Saving God, you have completely taken care of the sin issue once and for all through the blood of your Son.  Forgive me for my predilection to retreat into old obsolete ways of trying to earn peace and joy, instead of adopting the new, which sometimes seems almost too good to be true.  Thank you for deliverance and new life in Jesus Christ.  Amen.