Category Archives: Sermons

Treat Your Elders Well – 1 Timothy 5:17-25

As a professor at a seminary, I have the great privilege of training men for pastoral ministry. Every year new faces come in, full of excitement and trepidation as they start taking classes to prepare for pastoral ministry. What most of them don’t realize is how dangerous their calling truly is. According to some recent surveys,[1] somewhere between 1,500–1,700 pastors leave the ministry each month. That means on average 50–57 pastors leave the ministry every single day. These studies go on to note several more disturbing statistics:

  • 70% of pastors do not have someone they consider a close friend.
  • 33% of pastors confess having been involved in inappropriate sexual behavior.
  • 70% of pastors feel grossly underpaid.
  • 90% of pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week.
  • 80% of pastors believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families.
  • 80% of pastors feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastor.
  • 50% of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • 80% of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
  • 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.

And although this last statistic is not found in these studies, I know that it is true from the Bible:

  • 100% of pastors have a dangerous enemy who is absolutely determined to destroy them and the people they lead

These statistics are sobering, and quite frankly frightening. So the question for us as brothers and sisters in Christ to help these men that God has called to lead us? How should we treat our elders?

I believe this passage lays out four things we as God’s people must do:

  1. Provide for their needs (5:17-18)
  2. Protect their reputation (5:19)
  3. Pursue their repentance (5:20-21)
  4. Provide their reinforcements (5:22-25)

Interested in learning more? You can hear more from the sermon I recently preached at Christ’s Covenant Church. You can find the audio here.

The Work of the Spirit in Redemptive History

Have you ever found yourself thinking “I need a fresh start in life”? Or have you ever felt completely alone, like there was no one who truly knew you from the inside out? Have you ever felt like you lacked the power necessary to do what you know God wants you to do? Or have you ever wished that God would just speak to you a word of comfort, encouragement, or even correction?

Let’s be honest. All of us have been there at some point. Maybe some of you in this room this morning are there right now. Would you believe me if I told you that the answer to those questions is found in a story that starts in Genesis and ends in Revelation?

That’s what I tried to show this past Sunday morning when I had the privilege of preaching  at Christ’s Covenant Church. My task was to trace out the work of the Spirit as we follow the story of the Bible that runs from creation in Genesis 1 to the new creation in Revelation 21–22. Here is the audio:

Following the Spirit through the Story of the Bible

P.S. In light of the sermon topic, I thought it might be helpful to point to books that are helpful when thinking about the work of the Spirit throughout redemptive history:

Jim Hamilton, God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments

John Harvey, Anointed with the Spirit and Power: The Holy Spirit’s Empowering Presence

 

“A Salvation Long Ago Foretold” – 1 Peter 1:10-12

This past Sunday I had the privilege of preaching at Christ’s Covenant Church in our continuing series on “Living in a Place that’s not our Home” from 1 Peter. My text was 1 Peter 1:10-12, and the title of the sermon is “A Salvation Long Ago Foretold.” You can find the audio here. At that same link you will find some resources I have provided that may be of assistance in reading the Bible in a gospel-centered, Christ-focused way.

The Prodigal God and His Prodigal Sons

Last month (3/25) I had the privilege of speaking at the Day of Worship here at Grace College and Theological Seminary. I spoke on the parable commonly known as “The Prodigal Son”; however as you can see from the title of this post I have changed the title to fit the text more accurately. You can listen to the audio here.

N.B. Those who are familiar with Tim Keller’s book The Prodigal God will notice that I largely follow his take on the parable. I highly recommend this book; it is short and very readable even for those who are not particularly inclined to read.

TGIM – Thank God It’s Monday?

We are all familiar with the abbreviation TGIF – Thank God It’s Friday. It has become such a part of our culture that there is even a restaurant named T.G.I.Fridays! We live in a culture that often lives for the weekend, or the next vacation. According to a recent study, only about 45% of American workers are either satisfied or extremely satisfied with their jobs. A different survey suggests that the number may be as low as 33%. Only 20% of Americans feel very passionate about their jobs. Perhaps most telling was the fact that 33% of those surveyed believed they had reached a dead end in their career.

In light of that reality, a good number of us do not look forward to Monday and the start of the work week. But what would have to happen in our hearts to make us actually look forward to going to work no matter what kind of job situation we are in? To get us to the point where we might actually find ourselves saying TGIM – Thank God It’s Monday?

Only something as powerful as the gospel can transform our work from drudgery to delight. Curious? At this link you can listen to a recent sermon I gave from Ephesians 6:5-9. It was part of our church’s series entitled “The Gospel Changes Everything” in which we walked through the entire book of Ephesians.

God’s Greatest Gift (John 1:14)

Tonight I was supposed to preach at tonight’s Christmas Eve Service at Christ’s Covenant Church. Because the service has been cancelled due to bad weather, I am posting it here. Merry Christmas to you all.

God’s Greatest Gift
John 1:14
Matthew S. Harmon
Christ’s Covenant Church
Christmas Eve 2009

INTRODUCTION

Growing up as a kid Christmas Eve was probably my favorite day of the year. That’s because our family would open our gifts on Christmas Eve after we went to church. Because of that I often found it difficult to focus during the service as my thoughts wandered to what gifts were awaiting me when I got home. Would this finally be the year I get that remote control airplane? (It never happened). Maybe that’s you right now. Perhaps you even have a specific gift in mind that you hope is waiting for you under the tree.

No matter what that gift may be, it pales in comparison to the many gifts that God has given to us. Tonight we are going to look at the greatest of those gifts, and we find that gift described in John 1:14.

In words that are probably familiar to us, John writes “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Tonight we are going to focus on the phrase “dwelt among us.”

Here in this simple phrase we have mysteries so great that the angels desperately long to understand. In a nutshell, the greatest gift that God gives us is himself. But in order for us to understand the magnitude of what John is saying here, we need to step back and look at the larger story of the Bible.

GOD’S PRESENCE WITH HIS PEOPLE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

When God created Adam and Eve, he placed them in Garden of Eden. He set aside the garden as the place on earth where he would be with Adam and Eve in a special sense. Genesis 3 even implies that it was customary for God to walk in the Garden with Adam and Eve. Imagine that for a minute: God himself walking with Adam and Eve! Seeing God face to face in all his beauty and glory was a regular thing for them.

All of that changed when they rebelled against God by listening to the serpent. It didn’t take long for Adam and Eve to realize that they had made a disastrous mistake. Rather than feeling a sense of power and wisdom they experienced alienation—alienation from each other and even more importantly alienation from God. Instead of running TO God when the LORD came for his daily stroll through the Garden, they ran FROM him to hide from his presence.

When God finally confronts Adam and Eve about their sin, something very interesting happens. As the final aspect of his judgment on their sin, God banishes Adam and Eve from the Garden. Instead of being in the very presence of God they were exiled from God and sent away to live at a distance from God himself. God even placed cherubim, angelic beings, to prevent Adam and Eve from reentering the Garden. Because God is holy he could not allow sinful human beings into his presence.

From that point forward humanity remained at a distance from God. Occasionally God would appear to various individuals such as Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses. But when God redeemed the nation of Israel from their slavery in Egypt, he made a covenant with them. As part of that covenant God instructed Moses to build a tabernacle. The tabernacle was a portable tent that the Israelites would set up to meet with God. When they set the tent up, the Israelites surrounded it with a makeshift fence that enclosed an area that was 150 feet long by 75 feet wide. The tabernacle itself was 45 feet long, 15 feet wide and 15 feet high. Inside the tent were two distinct sections. The first was called the Holy Place, where only the priests could enter and perform their priestly duties. But at the back of the tabernacle was a second section separated by a thick veil. This section was called the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy Place. Inside was the ark of the covenant, and it was here that God descended in the form of a cloud to meet with his people. But the catch was that only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and only on one day a year—the Day of Atonement. Even then he had to go through elaborate washing rituals and sacrifices to be able to enter into the presence of God.

So on the one hand it is great that God dwells among his people, but this is a far cry from the way it was when Adam and Eve were in the Garden. They were able to walk with God and see him face to face. Now only one person—the high priest—could be in the very presence of God, and that only once a year! In fact, the average Israelite could not even enter the Holy Place; the closest he could get to the presence of God was in the courtyard outside of the tabernacle itself. The most he could hope for would be to see the cloud of God’s presence descend into the tabernacle from a sizable distance. We are a long way from the Garden at this point.

Hundreds of years later King Solomon built a temple in Jerusalem as a more permanent place where God dwelt with his people. The structure was similar to the tabernacle only on a grander scale. It had the Holy Place that was covered in gold throughout, measuring 60 feet long by 30 feet wide by 45 feet high. Behind that was the Holy of Holies, which was a 30 foot cube where the ark of the covenant was placed between two golden cherubim. Just as with the tabernacle, only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. So again, although the temple was a magnificent building, God’s presence remained accessible only to the high priest and that only once a year.

Eventually Solomon’s temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. when the Jews are taken off into exile. Although they return 70 years later and rebuild a temple, it was a pale shadow of Solomon’s temple. Indeed, those who had seen Solomon’s temple and then were present when the foundation for the new temple was laid wept because it fell so far short of what they had remembered. However, by the time that Jesus was born some 500 years later, the temple had once again become an awe-inspiring structure, even surpassing the grandeur of Solomon’s day. But there was one all-important difference—God’s presence never filled the temple! For hundreds of years God’s presence had remained absent from the temple.

THE WORD TABERNACLED AMONG US

With all of that background in place we can now look again at John 1:14 with fresh eyes. When John says that the Word, whom he earlier indicated was God himself, dwelled among us, he uses a very specific word. A literal translation would be “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” Just as God dwelled among his people in the tabernacle and the temple in the Old Testament, now he has done something far greater. He has taken up residence among us by taking on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ to live among sinful humanity.

Think about it. In the Old Testament only one person once a year could come into the presence of God, and then only after elaborate washing rituals and sacrifices. But now God takes on flesh and people could walk right up to him and touch him, talk to him, interact with him face-to-face! And yet the vast majority of people who encountered Jesus during his earthly life had no idea they were encountering God with us.

At this point you may be thinking, “That’s great for them, but Jesus is no longer walking the earth. How is God with us now that Jesus is gone?” Would you believe that there is something even better than Jesus dwelling WITH his people?

THE WORD TABERNACLES IN US

Listen to how Jesus comforts his disciples about his departure from them in John 14:16-17—

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you
forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it
neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be
in you.

Not only will the Holy Spirit dwell WITH his people; he will dwell IN them! Think about it. In the Old Testament only one person once a year could come into the presence of God, and then only after elaborate washing rituals and sacrifices. Then the Word became flesh and dwelled AMONG us. But Jesus says that after he departs to be with the Father he will send the Holy Spirit to be IN us. We have come a long way from the Garden of Eden!

But how is it possible that a perfectly holy God can dwell IN people who are by nature rebellious sinners? That is where the cross comes in. The Word becoming flesh by itself was not enough to reconcile us to God; instead it was necessary for the Word who had become flesh to live the life of perfect obedience that God demands of us and die a shameful death on the cross as the penalty for our sinful rebellion. Just as it was necessary for the high priest to offer sacrifices for sins to enter the presence of God, Jesus became our great high priest. And instead of offering the blood of bulls and goats, which could never actually take away sin, Jesus offered his own blood as the spotless Lamb of God. Through his death God opened the way for us to enter into his presence and for his presence to enter into us.

CONCLUSION

We began tonight talking about gifts. God’s gift of himself to us is far better than anything waiting for you under that Christmas tree. But this gift is something that has to be received. God does not dwell in everyone. For those who remain lost in their sinful rebellion are still in exile, separated from God and under his judgment. So how do we know whether or not God dwells in us? Listen to what John says in his first letter:

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.

When John speaks of confessing that Jesus is the Son of God, he does not mean simple intellectual agreement or saying certain words. Instead, he means trusting completely in who Jesus is and what he has done for our acceptance before a holy God. That kind of trust means turning away from our sin and treasuring Christ above all else in our lives.

Some of you here tonight have never trusted in Jesus Christ. Just like Adam and Eve you are cut off from God’s presence and lost in your sin. But there is no need to remain there. Tonight God offers you the greatest gift imaginable: himself. He offers it to you freely even though it cost the life of his very own Son to do so. He invites you right now to turn away from your sinful rebellion and surrender to him by faith in his Son Jesus Christ. There is no greater gift you could receive this Christmas than God forgiving you of the sin that separates you from him and coming to dwell inside of you by his Holy Spirit.

For those of us who have already received God’s greatest gift by trusting in the person and work of Jesus Christ, God is calling us to rediscover the wonder of that gift. That God would take up residence in our hearts is one of the great wonders imaginable. The God who spoke everything, including us, into existence has chosen to make us the place on earth where he dwells. This Christmas, let’s treasure God’s greatest gift—the gift of himself to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Let’s pray …