If you have your Bibles with you, I would invite you to turn with me to 1 Peter chapter 1. For the next little while,…
So last week we were reminded of the many characteristics of the Bible.
It’s authoritative. It’s trustworthy. It’s without error. It’s alive. It’s powerful. It’s cohesive. It’s truth. It is the Word of God.
Simply knowing what the Bible is should be reason enough for us to want to spend time daily reading God’s Word – hearing what God has to say to us.
But we can’t stop with just reading it. Simply reading God’s Word isn’t enough. That’s a critical step #1, but step #2 is equally important – and that is that we have believe it and obey it. We have to live our lives in a way that reflects what we’ve just read.
James talks about this in James chapter 1, starting at verse 21….
So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.
22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.
We can’t just read the Bible – we have to accept it as truth and then live accordingly! If we don’t, James says it’s like glancing at your face in the mirror. Most of us do this every morning, we get up glance into the bathroom mirror – and we’re usually appalled at what we see! Crusties in the corners of our eyes, hair looking like we just went at it with the weed-whacker, drool residue on the side of our face – maybe even some pimples that grew up over night.
When we look in the mirror, the mirror tells us the painful truth. We’ve got some issue that we need to deal with. The question is: What do we do when we see that truth?
Do we walk away and forget what we look like? Do we just go on through our day oblivious to the disaster on our face? Hopefully not! As I look out at your smiling faces this morning, it looks like most of you – when you saw the truth in the mirror this morning – you did something about it!
You combed your hair. You washed your face. You popped the pimples or whatever…. But you addressed the issues that you saw in the mirror.
Well, we have to do that when we read the Bible too! When we read the Bible, it’s very much like a mirror – it shows us the things in our lives that we need to change. It tells us the truth about our situation. It points out the areas where our attitudes and actions are out of line with God’s.
Like we read in 2 Timothy 3:16 last week:
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 2 Timothy 3:16
The Bible makes those things quite clear. But the question is: what will we do about it when we see the truth?
When we read those things that point out where we’re off track, will we walk away and just ignore the issues in our life – or will we actually do something about it?
Like James says, we can’t just listen to God’s Word – we must do what it says. Otherwise, we’re only fooling ourselves!
But on the flip side of that, if we do listen to and obey God’s Word – James tells us that we will be blessed. He writes in verse 25….
We’re going to pick up our story today in Genesis chapter 21 – hopping over chapters 19 & 20 – but I would certainly encourage you to go back and read those chapters sometime this week – that will help you fill in the blanks of the story yourself.
Now while you’re turning to Genesis 21 in your Bibles, let me give you just a really quick summary of the story so far.
As I’ve pointed out before, the key issue in the whole story of Abraham is the issue of descendants. Namely that Abraham had none. One of the first bits of information that we read about Abraham was that his wife Sarah, had been unable to become pregnant. And of course, this is a big deal for any family, but it was particularly an issue for Abraham’s family because God had specifically promised to Abraham that his descendants would grow to become a great nation and they would inherit the land of Canaan or as we often call it “the Promised Land”. God was going to bless all of Abraham’s descendants and they in turn would be a blessing to every family on the earth.
However, through most of our story, Abraham has been childless. Several times God has appeared and reaffirmed his promise to Abraham – but by the time Abraham was 85, he still had no child on the horizon. So Abraham and Sarah decided to be proactive and help God out a little bit. They decided that Abraham should have a child with Sarah’s servant, Hagar. This was culturally acceptable – but was certainly not what God had in mind. The problems and the discord that this caused in the family became evident almost immediately. As soon as Hagar was pregnant, Hagar treated Sarah with contempt and Sarah treated Hagar so harshly that she ran away even before the child was born. Thankfully, God intervened and Hagar returned to Sarah and Abraham – and in due time, Hagar had her baby – little Ishmael.
Well, for many years, Abraham raised Ishmael as his dearly loved, one and only son – the son that he presumed was God’s promised child. But when Ishmael was 13 years old God appeared to Abraham and again reaffirmed his promise that Abraham would have a son – and that son would be born from Sarah – even though she was now 90 years old. God further clarified that Sarah’s son, Isaac, would be the one whom God would bless and would cause his descendants to grow to be a great nation – they would inherit the promised land, and they would be a blessing to every family on earth.
Of course, this was exactly what God had promised 24 years earlier – God’s plans had not changed even though Abraham and Sarah had not been careful to follow his plan. Despite their lack of faith, God remained faithful and today, we finally get to the part of the story where God finally does exactly what he said he would do for Abraham & Sarah. So in Genesis chapter 21, verse 1 we read:
The Lord kept his word and did for Sarah exactly what he had promised. 2 She became pregnant, and she gave birth to a son for Abraham in his old age. This happened at just the time God had said it would. Genesis 1:1-2
I love how this chapter starts: The Lord kept his word. He did exactly what he had promised. Despite the impossibility of it all – (considering that Abraham and Sarah were well past the age of having children – Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90) – despite the impossibility of them having children, God kept his Word.
I think I’ve mentioned before that when Heather & I were first married, I spent one spring working out at the Meadowbrook greenhouse just west of Penhold here. For the first two weeks of that job, when I came home from work at night, my body was sore. I was just carrying around these fairly light trays of plants, but I was using muscles that I didn’t usually use – straining them beyond their usual capabilities. But after about two weeks, I wasn’t really sore anymore. My body repaired the damage done and built up my muscles so they could handle that strain without issue.
And this is exact where this saying of “no pain – no gain” comes from. Without the pain that comes from straining your muscles, you will have no gain in strength. And so we often do this on purpose – (well, some people do). We call this exercise – or working-out. We purposely bring on this pain in our muscles so that we can grow in strength. A certain amount of pain is required if you want to gain muscle.
Well over the next few weeks, I want to use this catch phrase of ‘no pain, no gain’ as a way to remind us of what Easter is all about. At this time of year, most North Americans start thinking about eggs, bunnies, and chocolate – but of course, there is much more to Easter than that. And so over these next few weeks, I want to talk about what Easter is all about and why Easter matters. And I’ve titled this series “No Pain – No Gain.” Because this principle is true not just when it comes to our building our muscles – but it’s true when it comes to understanding the significance of Easter.
So the two big ideas I want to tackle over the next couple of weeks is the idea of pain and the idea of gain. I imagine most of you didn’t come here today to learn about body-building, so what is the ‘gain’ that we are looking for (if we’re not talking about gaining muscles) – and what is the ‘pain’ that leads to that gain? And of course, how does that all tie into Easter?
Well, let’s start by defining the ‘gain’ – that’ll be our focus for today.
And to do that, I want to start by taking a brief look in Ecclesiastes. Now Ecclesiastes was written by King Solomon and for much of the book, he writes about all the things that he tried to do to find meaning in life. Now keep in mind that King Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived.
- a loss of confidence or enthusiasm; dispiritedness.
- an attempt to prevent something by showing disapproval or creating difficulties; deterrent.
How many of you are familiar with this word? I’m pretty sure we all are. And not just linguistically. We are intimately familiar with this word in our lives.
Discouragement is a reality that we all face. When our plans don’t turn out how we hope – or when unexpected problems arise – or when others do or say things that steal our joy and cause us to question why we’re even doing this – discouragement can set in.
We get discouraged at our workplace or when that pile of laundry or dishes never goes away. As kids, we get discouraged at school when we struggle with academics or when our friends are being jerks. We get discouraged as parents when our kids just don’t get it and they keep making poor choices. We get discouraged when we struggle with health or emotional problems or when our relationships are strained. We get discouraged when we pay our bills or when the car won’t start or whatever it is!
I think most of us face discouragement nearly every day of our lives.
So what do we do when that happens? How do we deal with discouragement? It’s easy to throw up our hands and say “I give up! I’m not doing this anymore.” Or maybe we get angry – at people or circumstances – ourselves – or even at God. Somebody’s got to take the blame – right?
How do we deal with discouragement?
We’ve been preaching through the season of Advent – remembering the first (and looking forward to the second) coming of Jesus. These Advent candles remind us of the many gifts we have (and the gifts we look forward to) because of Jesus’ coming. We started two weeks ago with God’s gift of hope – last week was a reminder of the gift of peace – and this week, of course, we want to look at God’s gift of joy.
This gift of joy is made possible only because of Jesus’ arrival into the world as a little baby. We read at our Christmas Celebration on Friday in Luke chapter 2 of how, on the night of Jesus’ birth, angels appeared to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem and announced to them this good news that would bring great joy to all people. Let me read for you in Luke 2 – starting at verse 8.
8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Luke 2:8-12
This little baby boy, born in the Bethlehem some 2000 years ago would be the source of joy to the world – even for us here in Penhold in 2017.
And I know this probably isn’t necessarily ‘new’ news for you this morning. Chances are, you many of you have heard this good news before. Especially if you’ve been here for the past two weeks.
One of the concerns that I had when we decided to do these Advent messages was that hope, peace, and joy are so intertwined with each other that I feared I’d be preaching the same message every week – just using a different word.
- I could talk about how Jesus gives us hope because our sins are forgiven and he has promised to return and make all things right.
- I could talk about how Jesus gives us peace because our sins are forgiven and He has promised to return and make all things right.
- And I could talk about how Jesus gives us joy because our sins are forgiven and He has promised to return and make all things right.
And of course, that would all be very true! Christmas really is a ‘buy one, get two free’ kind of a deal. Hope, peace, and joy are all part of the same package. They are all made possible by Jesus coming to earth, being born as a baby in a manger – living and then dying on the cross and being raised back to life again.
But even though they are all so closely related, I do want to talk a little bit today specifically about joy. As I was studying up on the topic of joy this week – I found that even defining ‘joy’ could be a little tricky. There was no one clear definition of joy.
- Some would say that joy is another word for happiness. Others would say that joy is certainly not the same thing as happiness.
- Some would say that joy is a feeling or an emotion. Others would say, no. No it’s not.
- Some would say we can choose to be joyful – that is it an act of our will – but others see joyfulness a natural by-product of something else.
There are lots of different ways to define joy – I think there can be good arguments made for all of those different ways.
So how do we understand joy? What exactly did the angels mean when they said that this good news would bring great joy to all people? How does this good news help you and I experience joy today?
Regardless of how we define it, joy sure sounds like a good thing – so how do we get it? I guess that’s really our bottom line – how do we experience joy in our lives today?