Sermon – Sent for what?

Grace and peace, …

Lord, through the written word, and the spoken word, may we know your Living Word, Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

Many of you are familiar with Lee Strobel, who was for many years an award winning investigative reporter and editor for the Chicago Tribune. Some of you have seen the movie, The Case for Christ, that tells his story. He was living what he considered to be a great life until one day his wife came home and told him that she had become a Christian—she’d given her life to Christ.

Strobel was really angry. His view of Christianity was that it was a religion that worshiped a God whose main purpose was to make all kinds of rules designed to prevent people from ever having any fun—if, that is, God really existed at all. He decided that he would put his investigative skills to work and prove to his wife that Jesus was not the Son of God and that Christianity was a hoax.

As he investigated, however, he discovered that the evidence was overwhelmingly in support of Christianity. And as a result, Lee Strobel joined his wife in her Christian faith. Today Lee is a professor at Houston Baptist University and a teaching pastor at Woodlands Church in Texas.

When I read the opening verses of the Gospel of Luke, I’m reminded of Lee Strobel. Unlike the other three gospels, Matthew, Mark, and John, Luke was not an eyewitness to Jesus; he’s from the second generation of the church, that group of people who came to faith after Jesus ascended into heaven. We know that Luke was a Gentile, that he was a Greek from the city of Antioch and that he was by profession a physician. He was also a well-known historian and somehow he had become connected with Barnabas and the apostle Paul, both of whom spent quite a bit of time preaching and teaching in Antioch. Clearly Luke came to know Paul well, even traveling with him on some of his missionary journeys.

So if you’ll open your Bibles to the first chapter of Luke’s gospel, you’ll find that he begins with the words:

“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4).

No one knows for certain who Theophilus is, but what is clear is that Luke decided to conduct his own investigation into the claims of Christianity and that his gospel was a record of his findings. He interviewed many people who’d known Jesus personally, asking questions, listening to their accounts of the things Jesus said and did, until he was able to put together what he was certain was an accurate account of Jesus’ earthly life.

One of Luke’s primary sources was Mary the mother of Jesus, which is why his gospel provides so much more information about the events surrounding Jesus’ birth.

Around the same time that Luke was doing his investigation and writing his gospel, the apostle Peter was writing his second letter, probably from Rome, possibly even from prison. He writes in 2 Peter 1:14, “I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me.”

Although we don’t find this in Scripture, the church from its very early days, has believed that Peter was crucified for his faith in Jesus Christ—crucified upside down, because he said that he wasn’t worthy to die the way Jesus died.

Peter writes at a time when persecution is increasing, when many Christians are being killed for their faith—and when many are wondering whether Jesus really will return. A time when even inside the church some are wondering, “What’s the point?” Does it really matter how we live? A time when false teachers were, as Peter writes in 2:1-2, “secretly bringing in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, … and many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.”

Even in the church, Peter is saying, sexual permissiveness is being accepted as a legitimate Christian lifestyle. The purpose of his letter is to remind the churches to live a life that is pleasing to God. To remind them that Jesus really will be coming again, to remind them that the fact that He hasn’t returned yet isn’t because He has forgotten them but rather that He is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

God is giving us time to come to Him, giving us time to share the good news of the gospel with all those who still need to hear it.

2 Peter 3:11-12 asks the question: “What sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God?”

Jesus has been gone for probably just a little more than 30 years—and the churches, even those leading some of the churches, have begun to turn away from His Word and toward the ways of the world around them.

Sounds a lot like the church in our world today, doesn’t it?

And the question for us is the same as that which Peter asked 2000 years ago: “What sort of people ought you to be?”

We find our answer in the first chapter of Luke’s gospel as we meet a priest named Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, both of whom are descendants of Aaron. Luke 1:6 says “They were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.”

60 or 70 years before Peter’s letter was written, Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were living simple lives of faith. 400 years before that, God had stopped speaking to them—and yet they remembered His promises, they trusted that He would someday act on them, and so they devoted themselves to living for Him.

To be righteous before God in the Bible doesn’t mean without sin. To be righteous means that one worships God and tries to live in a way that is pleasing to Him. It means to keep the commandments—and to be a person of prayer.

Two ordinary people living ordinary lives that honor God—exactly the kind of people that God loves to use. And He does it in a way that makes it clear that, although God has been silent for 400 years, since the days of the prophet Malachi, He has not forgotten them.

Not only has He not forgotten them, but His hand has been continually upon them.

Priests were descended from Moses’ brother Aaron and by the time of Zechariah, more than 1000 years had passed. There were now somewhere around 18,000 priests serving in rotation twice a year. But to assist in the daily offering by going into the holy place was at best a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Selection was made by casting lots—and could we really imagine that it was just coincidence that the one time in his life that Zechariah is chosen is the day that the angel is sent to talk to him?

“What sort of people ought you to be?”

We now discover that Zechariah has not only been trying to live a godly life, he has also been a man of prayer. The angel said, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. … He will be great before the Lord. … And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, … to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:13-17).

So while Zechariah has surely been praying for a child, clearly that’s not all he’s been praying for. He must have also been praying for what God described to the prophet Malachi as “the great and awesome day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5). And before that day came, the Lord told Malachi that, “I will send you Elijah the prophet.”

The angel is telling Zechariah that the child he and Elizabeth will have is the long awaited prophet who will prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.

But Zechariah is doubtful. “How shall I know this? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years” (Luke 1:18).

How shall he know this? An angel is standing there telling him that it will happen and he doubts. Yes, he and Elizabeth are old, but he knows the Scripture. He knows that God sent a son to Abraham and Sarah when she was 90 years old and Abraham was 100. He knows that nothing is impossible for God.

“What sort of people ought you to be?”

Clearly not a doubting people. The angel appears to be astonished at the question. “Here I am, Gabriel, sent from God. How often does an angel show up to talk to you?”

But really, is it that hard to understand Zechariah’s doubt? Don’t we all have those times when we doubt? I know I do. I have no doubt at all that God can do all things—but I often have great doubt that He can do them through me.

Could it be that what Zechariah doubted was that God would use him, that God would use Elizabeth, to be the parents of the first prophet to come in 400 years?

“What sort of people ought you to be?”

Do you believe that God can use you? Do you believe that He created you and put you where you are in order to fulfill His purposes? That He has plans for you? That He has plans for every one of us? That none of us are here by accident?

“What sort of people ought you to be?”

We ought to be a people who are ready. We ought to be a people who are willing. Are we?

The angel told Zechariah that because he doubted he would be unable to speak until the day that his son was born—and when he left the temple, he could no longer speak. He went home to Elizabeth and soon she was pregnant.

“Old” and “advanced in years” probably meant that Zechariah and Elizabeth were over 60. So while they were excited about having a baby, they must have wondered if they were up to raising a child at their age.

Katherine in Estonia

“What sort of people ought you to be?”

We ought to be a people who value life. We live in a culture that places little value on life, a culture in which many think of an unborn child as not a real person, as something that can be disposed of if we don’t think we’re ready to have a child or if we don’t think we can’t afford to have a child or if we just don’t want the bother of having a child. Even in the church, many see nothing wrong with ending the life of a child in the womb.

And yet, we hear the angel tell Zechariah that the baby that Elizabeth will have “will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). Before he is even born, John the Baptist will be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Zechariah’s parents had no idea when Zechariah was born that God had chosen him to be the father of John the Baptist—but He had. He was part of God’s plan. What if he had not been allowed to live?

We learned at the LCMC Gathering held in Minneapolis in October that fully 1/3 of the High School graduating class of 2017 in this country did not graduate—because they were never allowed to be born. What plans that God had prepared for these lives will never be realized because the parents of these babies did not allow them to be born? Because they thought the mother was too young or the father was no longer in the picture or for whatever other reasons that seemed to make so much sense to them.

“What sort of people ought you to be?”

We ought to be a people who trust that even when things make no sense to us, even when things look awful, we can trust that God is in control. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”

Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”

How many of the problems that we face in this world, from cancer to Alzheimers to Parkinsons and a long list of other incurable illnesses, to terrorism and racism and a whole long list of problems that we face in our nation and our world are still with us because we did not allow the child that God was raising up to find the answer to be born? Is it possible that the next Billy Graham or Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Teresa or Martin Luther was not allowed to leave the womb alive?

No child has ever, since the beginning of time, been conceived without God allowing it to happen. And yet even in the church, we hear people who think abortion is sometimes necessary.

Pastor: Unborn infant diagnosed with problems and everyone urged abortion. Baby born healthy.

I can’t tell you how many times we have prayed for unborn babies when doctors have predicted a potential problem, only to have the babies born healthy. Many of you have been involved in those prayers.  I don’t think this is because doctors are incompetent—I believe that the God who answered the prayers of Zechariah continues to answer our prayers today.

“What sort of people ought you to be?”

We ought to be a people of prayer. A people of prayer without ceasing.

2 Peter 3:10 “The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the work that are done on it will be exposed.”

Jesus is coming back—we don’t know when but we do know that when He returns, there will be nowhere for us to hide. Every one of us will face Him.

“What sort of people ought you to be?”

Every one of us should be, according to the prophet Isaiah, “oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3).

Jesus is coming back—He hasn’t come yet, so there is still time. Still time for us to reach repentance. Still time for us to turn our lives to holiness and godliness, still time for us to worship our Lord and Savior with all of our lives, every moment of every day.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, don’t ignore this call from the apostle Peter. Don’t fail to “be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace” (2 Peter 3:14).

As I prepared this message, wildfires were raging in California, spreading at the rate of about “an acre a minute.” Hundreds of schools were forced to close, thousands were without power, hundreds of homes and businesses have been lost and many more were being evacuated. As horrible as this picture is, it is only the smallest glimpse of what will happen when Jesus actually returns. We won’t watch the flames from a safe distance of a few thousand miles—they’ll be everywhere.

Is this the beginning of the end? No, because when the end comes, it won’t be just California that’s on fire. Peter writes, “The heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!” (2 Peter 3:12).

The entire universe will be on fire. The fires that began in July across much of the western United States and Canada and that show no sign of ending any time soon could however be a foreshadowing of what is to come.

God promised Noah that the world would never again be destroyed by a flood—Scripture promises that the next time, God will destroy it by fire.

“What sort of people ought you to be?”

“Be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:14-15).

Let us pray—while there’s still time.

Gracious God, may you give each one of us the blessing of a strong desire to be the sort of people we ought to be. Give us the faith to believe that you really can be all in all to each one of us according to our need. Give us hearts that desire above all else to be used by you.