Saturday, March 27, 2021

Palm Sunday - Hosanna In The Highest!

Bobservations Column

By Pastor Bob Lawrenz

John’s Gospel tells us that if all of what Jesus did were written in books, the world itself could not hold the volumes recording them (John 21:25).  And as we observe Palm Sunday with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, it is the culmination of His and His followers traveling south from the Galilee region where so many of Jesus’ works were done. But we dare not overlook the trip itself, and the mighty works that were done as they traveled. We cannot know the precise chronology of His teachings and miracles, but we do know that He walked and taught at the same time, ministering to those who had heard He was passing through. Crowds would gather because word of mouth would spread from town to town, and village to village that Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing was coming. Their southbound trip was needful, for every able-bodied Jew was required to go the Jerusalem for Passover, and being an observant Jew, Jesus was faithful to follow the dictates of the Levitical Law.

Near Jericho, there were two blind men whose sight Jesus healed. (Matt. 20:29-43, Mark 10:46-52, Luke 18:35-43.) Each of the Gospel accounts of this event varies a bit one to the next, but the basics are shared by all three accounts. The blind heard a commotion and asked what was going on. Jesus was passing their way, they were told, and they cried out to Him...

Where ever He went, people would come to Him with their requests. Physical healings, sinful lifestyles, and even demons were cast out. Though He never wanted any notoriety, word of Him spread from person to person, and town to town. If there was one word that described Jesus’ ministry, it was Humility. People may have been drawn to him for a variety of reasons, but anyone who heard Him or was touched by His ministry was changed.

The Pharisees that were among the crowds monitored His movements, and often provoked him with questions, but as the crowds grew, there was no denying that Jesus was a very special Person, and He was becoming a threat to the status-quo of the Jews in Jerusalem. In the end, Jesus would triumph, and the Jews and Romans would be exposed for who they were, and what they worshiped. Jesus sits now at the right hand of the father.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” ~ 2 Corinthians 5:17

Today's Audio Message

Mark 11:1-4 - "Hosanna In The Highest"

Chapter Summary:

The story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is found in all four Gospels. Jesus and his disciples are making their way from Bethphage and Bethany near the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem. It is here that Jesus commissions two of the disciples to head to the village and immediately after entering they will find a colt which had never been ridden. (The word colt is from the greek word, po’los - a young donkey.) He instructs them to untie it and bring it back. If anyone asked why they were doing this, they were to say, “The Lord has need of it…”

Why did the Lord need to ride a colt to enter Jerusalem at this time?  He did so in order to demonstrate to all who were in Jerusalem that He is the Messiah.  This is the fulfilling of the messianic prophecy of Zechariah 9:9.  This prophecy was about Him, and His entrance demonstrated to the Jews that He is their King.  

The triumphal entry is a significant event in Jerusalem.  There were multitudes and crowds who went before and those who followed. The whole city was stirred up.

The people understood that Jesus was claiming to be the coming King, their Messiah.  Their reaction speaks volumes as they shouted, “Hosanna (or, save us)! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord:  Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord:  Hosanna in the highest.”  Those that went before Him spread their cloaks and leafy branches on the dusty road before Him.  They understood the scriptures, the promise of the Messiah and what His entry meant.   

But little did they really know, and what that would actually mean.  Jesus was not going to Jerusalem to sit on a throne, but to the cross to make an atoning sacrifice for their sins. He had come to save them, but not in the way they imagined. Jesus knew He was entering the world to be the final and ultimate sacrifice for sin. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). Their cries for salvation were answered with the cross. Our heavenly Father provided us a spiritual salvation from the bondage and penalty of sin, through the sacrifice of His precious Son. This is our eternal hope!  

When we reflect on the triumphal entry, we should ask ourselves where we would have been in that mass of people.  Would we have been laying our cloaks in the road?  Would we have eagerly followed Jesus? Do we really understand His coming and what He would do for anyone who would believe?   


Saturday, March 20, 2021

Follow Me

Bobservations Column

By Pastor Bob Lawrenz

The second half of Matthew 8 takes us to the Lord’s complete power over all things. During this time, the Lord’s charisma is evident by the numbers of people that followed Him during His ministry.  Even as chapter 7 ended, Matthew notes that 1) Jesus’ doctrines astonished the people, and 2) He taught with authority, not as the scribes taught. (Matthew 7:28, 29)

The Word of God in the Old Testament has drawing power as we read it.  The simplicity of the Ten Commandments is beautiful in and of itself.  But the knowledge of good and evil is not sufficient to keep the Israelites from sinning. (And we are as the Jews!) The moral code we are all imbued with at birth (Genesis 3:22, 5:3 ) is in conflict with the desires and lusts within us. It is everyone’s internal struggle. Paul says, “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: these are contrary the one to the other: so that you cannot do the things that you would.” –Galatians 5:17.

The knowledge of good and evil actually fuels the battle for our souls! Yet God gives us grace, and motivates us to do better. Then He also empowers us to take the next step towards righteousness. As we saw contrasts between good and evil in the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5 to 7, we see the same contrasts worked out in daily living, in the attitudes of men’s hearts vs. God’s desire. King Solomon taught us that there is nothing new under the sun: with nearly 8 billion people on the Earth today, we all still struggle with the same 10 Commandments. We are our own peer group!

In this second half of the chapter, we can see evidence of who is behind evil even as Jesus teaches of good. Hindering the Lord’s work to perfect us and to mature us into the children He would like us to be, Satan is right at the door often plaguing our every step. We find here today a test of discipleship, a test of earthly circumstances, and a direct confrontation with demons. Yet Jesus wins out every time, just as He did when the devil tempted Him from the pinnacle of the Temple. Now we see why Jesus diligently encourages us to follow Him!
“If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour."  John 12:26 

Today's Audio Message

Matthew 8:18-34 - "Follow Me"

Chapter Summary:

As we finish up chapter 8 of Matthew's gospel, we continue to see Jesus' power over all things. Throughout this chapter, snapshot after snapshot we see Jesus meeting people who are going through various storms in their lives. They are desperate. They are weary. They can find no peace or comfort or help - until they hear of this man who is like no other, and they seek Him out.  “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”  Jeremiah 29:13

Jesus speaks like no other. They marvel at His teachings and are blown away by the power of His word. Who is this man who can heal the sick, cast our demons, restore the mind, calm the storm?

Over and over Jesus calls ordinary people to follow Him. We read of multitudes following Him for a while, but interestingly enough, the closer Jesus comes to the cross, many forsake Him. Excited by what they hear and what the see, many are willing to follow but have not considered the cost. They haven’t considered where He was going, nor understood what He was calling them to do. What does it mean to follow Jesus? There is a cost to discipleship, are we willing to fully surrender our lives in His hands no matter the cost?

Jesus does not just have power over the storms of nature, He has power over storms of a troubled heart. Jesus has the power to rescue and save the weary soul not only in this life, but for eternity. His power is greater than whatever trials or hardships you are going through. He can cleanse our hearts from sin, renew our minds, clothe us in robes of righteousness. He teaches us, loves us and gives us peace!

Even in spite of witnessing the power of Jesus, there are many who will reject Him, as we see in the last few verses of this chapter. After hearing all that He had done, casting out demons and into the swine and delivering those who were possessed by the devil, the entire city came out to meet Him and told Him to leave their coasts. They preferred the swine above the Savior. They preferred their rebellion, and their pagan lifestyles. They love darkness and hate the light. They reject His Word, and are angry at His good works because they are unwilling to abandon their depraved lusts. Jesus will not stay where He is not wanted. As they forsake Him, He will forsake them in the end.

Who is this man who alone has the power over all things? He is full of compassion and righteous works. He calls us to follow Him. He has come with a purpose, to lead us to the cross where He has purchased our redemption, paying the penalty for and releasing us from our sin and its punishment. The benefits are everlasting and cannot be obtained any other way - a new life, a new heart, forgiveness, righteousness, eternal life, adoption into His family fully reconciled with God and fellowship with Him.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Defilement, Distance & Faith

Bobservations Column

By Pastor Bob Lawrenz

Matthew Chapter 8 is a personal favorite in the Gospels. It comes after the studies in contrasts of the Sermon on the Mount, and as though it was a practicum after the “theoretical” teachings of Jesus. Theories need to be tested and proven. Thus, He begins the works here as described in the Prophets: healing the sick, and curing all manner of diseases by His glorious restoration powers, according to the needs. It is a very practical chapter with our Lord meeting the immediate needs of each person identified in the chapter that came His way: a leper, a Roman Centurion, and the Apostle Peter’s Mother-in-Law.

In a variety of ways, this chapter is the answer to the questions raised in our reading today in Second Kings 5 (an excellent chapter!). Consider the young maid in the story of Naaman: carried away captive in a Syrian raid, this young Israeli girl empathized with her new Mistress’ husband, a great Syrian Army Officer, and a leper! “If only he was with our prophet in Samaria, he might be healed,” she told her Mistress. While this unnamed maid is secondary to Naaman’s story, she is the catalyst, the key to his healing.

It reminds me that we don’t have to have name recognition to be used by God to help others, or to point them to faith in Christ, or in any other way to serve the Lord. The maid’s words were almost spoken as an aside to Naaman’s wife. A quiet prompting, and a word-of-knowledge that she shared! Though it was the Prophet Elisha that is accredited for this Syrian’s healing, we know that Elisha was merely doing God’s bidding, and directing the Syrian to blind faith in the King of kings, and Lord of lords. It was the quiet, personal word to an enemy’s wife that began the events in the chapter, resulting in his healing!

Sharing the Gospel includes events like this chapter. Whether it’s a quiet word, or addressing the crowd in a Crusade, hope is shared, and healing can begin in the lives of the broken and sick. Seeing a simple opportunity and acting in obedience to Christ is all that necessary.  Jesus calls us to what’s possible through Him, not to what’s possible through us.

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” – Prov. 25:11

Today's Audio Message: 

Matthew 8:1-17 - "Defilement, Distance & Faith"

Chapter Summary

At the closing of chapter 7 in the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, the scriptures end with people being astonished at Jesus' doctrines because "He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes."

Today as we begin chapter 8, we see this same emphasis on Jesus' authority illustrated in both word and deed. God never asks us to believe without proving to us that His Word is truth. Here we see the importance of Jesus’ healing ministry.

The reason the gospels emphasize Jesus’ healing ministry is not just that he is a source of health and well-being for this life, although he definitely is that, and it is not wrong to come to him with our physical needs, we are to come to Him with all of our needs. Our confidence in approaching God is that "if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us."  1 John 5:14.

Sickness and death and bondage to demonic powers are still realities in this world and are the glaring evidence that mankind in his sin and rebellion against God is under God’s curse. When Jesus comes on the scene in the gospels, healing all and delivering from demons and even raising the dead, God is displaying the truth that Jesus is the One who is going to remove that curse and give us new life in Him. This is why the gospels emphasize repeatedly that “all who came to him were healed.” The redemption that Jesus brings is total and complete. The Lord still performs miracles, He can still heal people, but ultimately, our full physical healing awaits us in heaven (Revelation 21).

As we see our Lord's compassion for those who are spiritually and physically sick, we will also see His willingness to go where others cannot, dare not go.

Faith removes all the barriers to God. Those who come to Him by faith, “Lord, if you are willing,” can fully trust that God stands ready to help, to save, to heal, and to restore them.

Jesus is not bound by barriers! He has full authority and full power because of WHO He is.  Jesus goes past all the normal protocols, much like with touching the leper. Because of faith, the leper breached the Levitical Law by approaching Jesus, and Jesus “violates” it by touching the leper and healing him. The purpose of the law was to lead us to Christ, and what a wonderful example this is.

Again Jesus reaches beyond the Jewish people, marveling at the faith of a Roman centurion to heal his servant, and we see God begin to work in the hearts of the Gentiles (Genesis 22:18). He is not limited by distance, He speaks and it is done.

We can see the full power and authority of Christ in His ability to heal, cleanse and restore, and as we finish this chapter in next week, we will also see Jesus' authority over the wind and the sea.

Who is this man that even the winds and the sea obey Him?

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Sermon On The Mount - Part 7: "Thou Shalt Not Eat Of It"

Bobservations Column

By Pastor Bob Lawrenz

During our Communion Service today, the sweetness of the fruit of the vine will be on our tongues. Making wine is a time honored profession, and a time consuming process. The growth of the fruit of the vine cannot be rushed. And it cannot be rushed as it ferments in the bottle either. The sweetness will develop for the patient vintner, and our God is a patient Husbandman.

There are no short-cuts in ministry. The Word of God will produce results in us in due time. Faithful believers will present themselves at church regularly, and study the Word on their own during the week to water their faith and make it grow. Storms will come, and threaten the crop, but a bruised reed He shall not break, but strengthen it instead.

There are also some who say they believe and take a short-cut by calling on God and using the name of Jesus before the fruit of their life has matured. There are yet others who want recognition and fame who also call upon the Lord, but are not even in His orchard or vineyard. The motivation of their heart is their pride, and a need for building a broad reputation. But instead of serving others, they are there to see their name in lights. These are only ministers to themselves. The Epistle Jude identifies them. 2 Peter 2 warns us of them. 2 Timothy 3 warns us of them and describes them to us. All the Epistles have something to say about false teachers, false professors, or the doctrines that they promote. Galatians 1:6-9 gets quite specific about those that would pervert the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and lead young believers astray.

All these things are summed up in Jesus’ teaching that we go over today in Matthew 7. There are many false prophets and professors in the world today. Even as the Apostle John tells us in 1 John 2:18-22, the spirit of antichrist was alive and well in his day. How much more do you think it might be present in our day. Pray for the gift of discernment, my brothers and sisters.

Jesus is more than a “feel good teacher.” He is more than a warm fuzzy God to snuggle up to like a child and their favorite stuffed animal. Jesus is doing more than inviting us to a universal salvation, open to all. He calls us to righteousness and will call us His friends as in John 15:14, if we obey His voice.

We are called to be fruit inspectors like the Bereans of Acts 17:11, "
These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so."

Today's Audio Message: Matthew 7:15-29

The Sermon On The Mount - Part 7:  "Thou Shalt Not Eat Of It"

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord has been teaching his disciples the contrasts between the life of the flesh and the life of the spirit. Last week we learned about the two contrasting paths people travel on. Today’s message contrasts Jesus’ instruction in verse 1 not to judge others, with a warning against false prophets and the call to discernment.

Jesus gives a severe warning in regards to false prophets, or literally “lying prophets”. We can find lying prophets throughout the Bible who have always plagued God’s people. They come into churches masquerading as bearers of God’s truth, yet serve up deceit, leading multitudes on a path of destruction. False prophets will even show up at your front door, preaching a perverted doctrine of salvation that leads others to utter damnation. The bible warns us over and over about false prophets. A true prophet does not contradict the word of God. A true shepherd, teacher or pastor teaches as Jesus taught.  He does not add to God's word, nor subtract from it.  He does not contradict the scriptures.  He does not instruct God's people to desire the things of the world, to compromise their faith, to embrace the culture, false doctrines or religions.  A true shepherd will always exalt Jesus, and the true gospel of salvation.

Jesus gives us a way to identify these false prophets - He tells us to look at their fruit. That is to say, what is being produced by their manner of living. Much like a diseased tree will produce rotten fruit, these deceivers will produce more deceivers.

Interestingly, this comes right after Jesus’ teaching on the wide and narrow paths. The narrow path is hard, but it leads to life; whereas the wide path is easy, but leads to destruction. Jesus is wanting us to be on guard against those who would lead us down the wide path. They might appear innocent and even godly on the outside, but on the inside are “ravenous wolves”. Their intent is to deceive you into their false ways. Their arguments may be convincing - after all, they disguise themselves to appear as sheep. A sheep appears harmless and gentle. In the Bible true followers of Jesus, those who will go to heaven (life), are described as sheep (cf. Matthew 25:33-34, John 10; Psalm 23). That means they will look and act like fellow believers. They will deceive many and even walk some right down the path leading to destruction (cf. Isaiah 19:13; Matthew 24:24).

We can avoid many of these pitfalls if we learn from Acts 17:11. These noble and wise people searched the scriptures diligently, and carefully examined what their teachers were teaching to be sure that it was true. They didn’t just take their word for it. We must have the ability to discriminate between the true gospel and a perverted reflection. Be eager to search the scriptures, and study with a deep desire to know the truth.

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