Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Sermon– Acts 9:32-43 – Tabitha, get up

 Rev. Jeffrey T. Howard
Sermon– Acts 9:32-43 – Tabitha, get up
Presbyterian Church of Easton
May 8, 2022

Watch our worship service

Good morning and welcome to the Presbyterian Church of Easton.  I am continuing today with my series of sermons on the reaction to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  We are looking at what happened in the days, months and years following the event to see if there is evidence that the resurrection truly happened or if it was some type of conspiracy hoax.  

Over the last two weeks we looked at what happened to the lives of two people, Peter and Paul.  We applied a test from the first century rabbi, Gamaliel, that if the resurrection was true then we should expect to see transformation in the lives of Jesus’ followers, but if it was a hoax then we should see the followers of Jesus scatter return to their old lives and become irrelevant to history.  We saw that the lives of both Peter and Paul were transformed in such an extraordinary way that the only explanation was that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was the cause of their transformations.

Today we will continue to look at the reactions to the resurrection, but our test of the validity of our belief in the resurrection will be different.  Instead of using the Gamaliel test that we used the last two weeks we will be using a test that Jesus proposed early in his ministry.   

Luke 7:20-23

20 When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’”

21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.

Some messengers came to Jesus from John the Baptist asking if Jesus was truly the messiah they had all been waiting for.  Jesus’ reply was that the truth of his identity could be found in what he was doing.  The test that Jesus was suggesting was that if he was the messiah we should see him perform miracles such as healing the lame and bringing the dead back to life.  If we see these things happening, according to Jesus, then we know to believe that he is truly the messiah.  

Today we will be using this same test and applying it to the followers of Jesus Christ after the resurrection.  If the resurrection is true then we should see the apostles healing the sick and raising the dead to new life.  We will apply this test to another one of Jesus’ followers.  This one is a woman, a disciple of Jesus Christ, named Tabitha.  But before we get to all of this please pray with me.

  “Grant unto us, O Lord, to be occupied in the mysteries of thy Heavenly wisdom, with true progress in piety, to thy glory and our own edification. Amen.” (John Calvin)

Acts 9:32-43   32 As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the saints in Lydda.  33 There he found a man named Aeneas, a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years.  34 "Aeneas," Peter said to him, "Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and take care of your mat." Immediately Aeneas got up.  35 All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.  

So let’s apply Jesus’ test.   What did Peter do and what does this say about Jesus’ resurrection?   Peter simply announced that the risen Christ had healed a man who had been bedridden for eight year.   Amazingly, he was healed.   And we hear that everyone in that town saw the miracle and believed that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead.  This gives us great assurance that the resurrection really took place.   Let’s turn to the next story.   

Acts 9:36  In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor.  37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room.  38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, "Please come at once!"  

39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.  40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, "Tabitha, get up." She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up.  41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive.  42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.  43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.


Tabitha had died and the widows were crying.  This was a horrible tragedy for the widows.  Not only had they lost their husbands, but no one in their families would take care of them.  There were no sons, or brother-in-laws, or aging fathers who would take care of them.  In an age before women were accepted in the workplace and before they became eligible for Social Security benefits widows who had no family to care for them became destitute.  They were homeless begging for food.  Widows were the poorest of the poor.

Tabitha was a disciple of Jesus Christ who had followed Jesus’ example of caring for the poor.  Her ministry was to the widows.  She made clothes for them.  So when she died the widows had nothing but their grief and their tears.

But the widows remembered something that Tabitha had told them when she was alive.  They remembered the stories she had told them about Jesus, and how he had brought sight to the blind, healed the sick, and even brought the dead back to life.  Maybe, just maybe, they thought if they contacted some of Jesus’ followers, they could bring Tabitha back to life.  At least it was worth a try so they decided to send a letter to Peter asking him to please come at once.  And since no Hebrew man was likely to pay any attention to widows they sent the letter by a couple of Christian men hoping that Peter would be persuaded to come.

When Peter arrived he was taken upstairs to the room where Tabitha’s dead body had been placed.  The widows were in the room, crying.  Each one came over to Peter and through their tears they showed him the garments that Tabitha had sown out of her great love for them.  Surely, they thought, if the resurrection of Jesus Christ and promise of eternal life are true then Peter should be able to raise their beloved Tabitha from the dead and restore her to life.

At this point Peter must have remembered that day when Jesus sent him out as an apostle.  Let me read to you what happened that day.

Matthew 10:  5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans.  6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.  7 As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.'  8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.

Remembering that Jesus had given him the power to raise the dead Peter cleared the room, bowed his head and prayed.  He asked the risen Jesus to restore Tabitha to life.  And after his prayer he looked over at the dead woman and said, “Tabitha, get up.”   And so it happened.  She rose from the dead.  Proving that the resurrection of Jesus Christ did happen and assuring us of the promise of eternal life because the risen Jesus Christ raised Tabitha from death to life.

I’ll leave it to your imagination to see the scene when the widows returned to the upper room and saw that Tabitha was alive.  What I can tell you is that belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead spread throughout Joppa that day.

So Jesus raised Tabitha from the dead.  This is the proof that we need to believe that Jesus, himself, rose from the dead to new life.  And if we believe this the promise is that we will live beyond death as well.    

What about today, is Jesus still living and at work in our world?  I think the answer is “yes”. But, shouldn’t we expect some signs of this.  If Jesus is alive today shouldn’t we see the lame walking and the dead returning to life?   I don’t know about you but I have attended many funerals and I have yet to see a Pastor, after prayer, tell a dead person to get up and have that person rise up from the casket.  If something like that ever happened here in Easton, we would have to find a way to accommodate the tens of thousands of people who would come to the Eastern Shore to worship with us.   Consider these words also from the Apostle Paul.

 1 Corinthians 12:7-11  7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  8 To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit,  9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit,  10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.  11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

So it seems to me that if the Holy Spirit is with us, and I believe that it is, we should be receiving spiritual gifts of healing and miraculous power.  And we exercise these gifts, as Peter did, through prayer.  Scripture tells us that Jesus healed the sick and gave this power to us to heal in his name.  Jesus simply spoke a command and people were healed.  For us we heal by praying in Jesus’ name.  And when we pray in confidence for Jesus to heal us or a loved one we are filled with hope. 

When we pray for healing we must first understand that God desires healing for all who experience illness.  This understanding allows us to anticipate that our prayers will be heard and acted upon.  We must also have compassion for those for whom we pray.  Our prayers for healing will only be effective if we truly desire for someone to be healed.  When we pray for someone who is ill we become vulnerable, but we take the risk because the reward is so great.  And finally we must always remember that when we pray for healing we are not doing magic.  There is no direct cause and effect relationship between prayers and healing.  Many times our prayers do not have the desired result.  But we should not be discouraged because God heals in many different ways; our job is just to pray for healing and to trust God to act.

Miracles in the early church confirmed the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.   It confirmed that the Holy Spirit was present with the church.   And the Holy Spirit is here with us today.   So boldly pray for healing and praise God for his response to your prayer.  Let’s pray.

Lord Jesus, just as Peter bowed his head to you in prayer we bow our heads in prayer.  We asked that you heal us and our loved ones of our illnesses and diseases.  We trust that your presence and love will be with us no matter what happens.  And we believe that even though our loved ones may die in this life, you will one day raise them to new life in the presence of you, God the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Sermon - Acts 9:7-21 - “My Chosen Instrument”

 Rev. Jeffrey T. Howard
Presbyterian Church of Easton
Sermon - Acts 9:7-21 - “My Chosen Instrument”
May 1, 2022

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Good morning and welcome to Presbyterian Church of Easton on this glorious Spring Day, our Lord’s Day and this third Sunday of Easter.  I am continuing my series of sermons on the reactions to the resurrection.  

Our method of study comes from the first century Jewish scholar, Gamaliel, who suggested that if the resurrection was true we would see God’s transformative effects on the followers of Jesus and they would be successful in bringing people to faith in Jesus Christ.  But if the resurrection was a hoax then we would expect the followers of Jesus to scatter and go back to their old lives and live in obscurity.  So by looking at what happened to the followers of Jesus we can determine whether or not the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is true.  And we know that belief in the resurrection is crucial for our eternal lives.  So let’s get to this important work, but first please pray with me.

“Grant unto us, O Lord, to be occupied in the mysteries of thy Heavenly wisdom, with true progress in piety, to thy glory and our own edification. Amen.” (John Calvin)

Many years ago I attended two weddings just a couple of weeks apart.  Old friends were getting married.  There was great joy and celebration those days.  Each couple loved each other very much and there was great hope for both of these marriages.  But after a few years,  I learned that both of these couples had separated.  The passion that once brought them together has turned into anger which has pushed them apart.  This has caused me to reflect this week on the relationship between passion and anger.

I have seen new Christians come to faith in Jesus Christ with great passion.  This passion is shown in their strong desire to worship, pray and study scripture.  But sometimes, after a while, when their expectations of the faith are not met their passion turns to anger and they leave the church.  Sometimes this happens when they pray for healing for a loved one, healing that never comes.  Sometimes they pray for a job that they never get.  Sometimes they expect to always experience joy as a Christian and are shocked when they still experience pain, grief and guilt. 

So it occurs to me that both marriages and faith start with great passion and expectations, but these passions can turn to anger if our expectations are not met.

We can see all of this in the Apostle Paul.  Paul was a Jew growing up in Turkey in a small city called Tarsus.  He was named after the first king of Israel, Saul, his Hebrew name.  He was passionate about his faith.  As a young man he was sent to Jerusalem to study with the great rabbi, Gamaliel.  He was so passionate about studying and obeying scripture he became a Pharisee.  He was passionate about keeping his faith pure and this required that everyone obey God’s commands.

But his passion turned to anger whenever he thought that his faith was being corrupted.  He was angered by Greek and Roman influences on Judaism.  And when a Jewish sect, called the Way, began proclaiming their crucified leader as God, his anger turned violent.  Paul formed a group of thugs to harass these heretics.  And one incident led to the death of one of the leaders of church, a deacon, Stephen.   As a result of Paul’s gang-like activity, the followers of Jesus Christ went underground.  Many Christians fled Jerusalem while the leaders went into hiding.  It appeared that Paul’s violent efforts were successful.

When Paul heard that a group of Christians had fled to Syria he received diplomatic permission to go to Damascus to arrest the so called heretics and bring them back to Jerusalem to be thrown in jail.  And it was while Paul and his thugs were on their way to Damascus that Paul was stopped by a bright light which blinded him.

Just as God had appeared to Moses in a burning bush, the risen Jesus Christ appeared to Paul in that bright light.  And Paul began to realize that he was not persecuting heretics; rather he was persecuting his own God.  And this brings us to today’s scripture lesson.

 Acts 9:7-21  7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone.  8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus.  9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.  

10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, "Ananias!" "Yes, Lord," he answered.  11 The Lord told him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.  12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight."  

13 "Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.  14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name."  

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.  16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."  

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord-- Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here-- has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit."  18 

Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized,  19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.  

20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.  21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, "Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?"

These are legitimate questions being asked.  What happened to Paul to transform him from being a violent thug into being a great evangelist?  Let’s take a look.

As a result of the experience of blindness, Paul was given an opportunity to rest from his anger and think deeply about his faith.  We are told that he spent three days praying. We know that Paul then went back to Jerusalem where he continued with daily prayers in the temple.  

And so it was prayer that caused his anger to dissipate so that he could accept the reality that Jesus had been raised from the dead.  It was through prayer that Paul experienced the reality of the Holy Spirit to help him pray as he should and reveal to him the wisdom of God.  He found out that through prayer his faith would be perfected.  Paul offered prayers every morning and evening.  And it was through prayer that Paul found the ability to boldly proclaim the good news that Jesus Christ had been raised from the dead.  

Through prayer the great persecutor of the church became its greatest evangelist.  Paul set for himself the goal of bringing faith in Jesus Christ to everyone living around the Mediterranean.  Paul taught in synagogues and set up churches in people’s homes.  The letters he wrote to these churches are the earliest writings in our New Testament.  It is through the Apostle Paul that we understand what faith in Jesus Christ means.

So let’s apply our test from Gamaliel.  Do we see the kind of transformation in Paul that would lead us to believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead was an historical fact?  There is no doubt to the answer to this question.  By his encounter with the risen Jesus, Paul was transformed from a persecutor of Christians into a passionate evangelist bringing many people to the faith.  It was through Paul’s efforts that gentiles, non-Jews, began coming to faith in Jesus Christ in large numbers.  This transformation in Paul’s life indicates that something extraordinary had happened.  And we know that what did happen was nothing less than the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

So what do we do if, like Paul, our passion has turned to anger?  What should we do if we begin to hate the ones we once loved?  What should we do if our passion for the faith turns to anger?  The promise of scripture is that if you pray your anger will be transformed into passion and love.  

And this is why we worship the way we do.  Worship gives us time for prayer.  Just as Paul needed three days of blindness to have time for prayer we need time set aside each day for prayer.  And that is why we have our Wednesday Prayer Services and our worship on Sundays.  It carves out time in our busy days for prayer.  And this prayer will transform our lives.

If our lives are transformed the people of Easton will notice that something has happened to this church, just as the people of the first century noticed that something had happened to Paul.  If others see that we are transformed they will want to join with us in that transformation.  So pray that passion for the faith will return to our hearts and that this passion will attract others into our fellowship.

So we have seen in the transformation of Peter and Paul that the resurrection of Jesus Christ must be true and that through the work of the Holy Spirit and through the practice of daily prayer we too will be transformed as proof of the resurrection.   This transformation will remove our anger and restore to us our passion for the faith.  And all of this is a gift of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Let’s pray.

Lord Jesus, we pray today asking that you remove our anger and restore to us our passion.  Bless us with this transformation as proof of your resurrection from the dead.  And use it to bring new people to our church.  This we pray in your glorious name. Amen.

Sermon Acts 5:27-32 “Resurrection”

Rev. Jeffrey T. Howard
Sermon Acts 5:27-32 “Resurrection”
Presbyterian Church of Easton
April 24, 2022

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Good morning and welcome to this service of worship on the second Sunday of Easter.  Before we begin this morning I would like to tell you about something Grace and I are involved with.   We serve on the board of a brand new mission organization called Change Destiny, Life Africa.   

Change Destiny, Life Africa, was established by Samson Karens, an international student at Washington Theological Seminary.   Samson is from a small agricultural village called Naivasha in Kenya, Africa.   As a child Samson grew up on the streets and was getting into trouble.   A Christian missionary found him and got him involved with a church established by the African Inland Mission.   Samson received faith in Jesus Christ, and became a pastor.   Now he is studying in America and has set up Change Destiny, Life Africa as a mission organization to help the children in Naivasha, Kenya.

In June, Grace and I will be traveling to Naivasha with Samson and the Board of Directors of Change Destiny, Life Africa.   Please pray for us as we prepare for our journey.  If you would like more information about Change Destiny, Life Africa please visit the website:  www.changedestinylifeafrica.org.

Last week we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Today we will begin a look at reactions to the resurrection.  Taking a lesson from the first century rabbi named Gamaliel we will be testing whether the resurrection was a miracle from God or a hoax perpetrated by a group of people who had followed Jesus.  Gamaliel suggested that we test this in the following way:  

Acts 5:38-39 if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.  39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."   

So if the resurrection is false we would expect the disciples of Jesus to scatter and return to their old lives.  But if the resurrection is true then it is from God and we would expect transformation and new life.  Our study today is on the disciple Peter and his reaction to the resurrection.  What happens to Peter will show us if the resurrection is true or if he was a part of a conspiracy to plan a hoax.  

But before we get to all of this please pray with me.  “Grant unto us, O Lord, to be occupied in the mysteries of thy Heavenly wisdom, with true progress in piety, to thy glory and our own edification. Amen.” (John Calvin)

Over 20 years ago I was staying with a Christian family living in a Palestinian village.  They had several large locks on their front door.  I asked the owner of the house why there were so many locks.  He responded with a story I will never forget.  One day, he was walking home from work as a librarian as a major Palestinian university.  A group of Israeli soldiers picked him up and drove him home.  They forced their way into his house and pointed automatic weapons at his young children.  The soldiers then searched the house for the nonexistent terrorists they thought might be inside.  The owner of the house put locks on the door to keep the soldiers out because he was afraid.  And fear makes you live inside locked doors. 

A year later I was back home in Northern Virginia driving around the Beltway to a sales call in Laurel Md.  I was listening to the radio when I heard a report that an airplane had crashed into a building in New York City.  I was listening to a report from the Pentagon which was interrupted by an explosion.  When I arrived in Laurel I saw the collapse of a skyscraper on a small grainy black and white television.  Then I got back in the car, saw smoke rising from the Pentagon, and drove home.  I went inside my house and locked the door.

In the scripture that you heard earlier from the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of John, Peter and the other disciples were hiding in an upper room.  The doors were locked because Peter and the others were afraid.  Peter became afraid that awful night when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus.  He thought that he could hide behind a sword, but found that there was no place to hide.  Later that night Peter thought that he could hide behind a lie and denied that he was a follower of Jesus.  And now Peter thinks he can hide behind locked doors.

But there is one thing that locked doors cannot keep out, the risen Jesus.  Jesus, somehow, came through the locked doors with a gift, the gift of peace that shattered their fears.  Jesus knew that the fear that Peter and the others were experiencing was preventing them from leaving the locked room and boldly proclaiming his resurrection from the dead to the world.  So Jesus gave them the gift of peace that removed their fear by breathing on them the gift of the Holy Spirit.  

The Holy Spirit empowers us to respond to God’s call by calming our fears and sending us outside our locked doors.  So if the resurrection is true we would expect Peter and the other disciples to leave the locked room behind and boldly go into Jerusalem to declare Jesus’ resurrection to the world.  If it was not true then we would expect Peter to remain in fear and eventually to return to obscurity as a fisherman.  What happened to Peter?

The Book of Acts tells us that Peter and the others boldly left that room; went straight to the temple and proclaimed for all to hear that Jesus, whom the religious and political leaders had arrested and crucified, had defeated death by rising from the grave.  

The religious leaders, who had had Jesus executed, saw what Peter and the others were doing and arrested them to make them stop.  But that night God sent an angel to the jail, which freed Peter and the others, and commanded them to return to the temple and continue preaching as they had been doing.  The religious leaders were surprised when they heard that Peter and the others had returned.  So they had Peter and the disciples arrested and brought in for questioning.  And that brings us to today’s scripture.

Acts 5:27-32   27 Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest.  28 "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name," he said. "Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood."  

29 Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men!  30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead-- whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.  31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.  32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him."

Could this be the same Peter we were talking about earlier?  That Peter was hiding under the table in a locked room afraid to admit to being a follower of Jesus Christ.  But this Peter boldly proclaims his faith directly to the High Priest who has ordered him to shut up.  What has happened to Peter to make this sort of transformation in his behavior?  Clearly Peter’s fear is gone and he has become courageous. What has caused this transformation?  How do we explain all of this?

The Bible is clear.  The transformation in Peter’s behavior, and the loss of his fear came about because of his encounter with the risen Jesus Christ.  Peter knew that since the followers of Jesus were promised resurrection, death was no longer something to be feared.  On the night of Jesus’ arrest Peter was afraid that he might die.  He hid behind a sword.   He hid behind a denial.  Then after Mary’s  announcement that the Lord had risen, Peter hid in the upper room where he was afraid that he would be arrested and executed.   

But after his encounter with the risen Jesus he knew that death was no longer something to fear.  And this emboldened him to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ to everyone in Jerusalem including the people who had put Jesus to death.  His encounter with the risen Jesus Christ transformed his life and this transformation is the evidence we need to know that the resurrection must be true.

So how was it that Jesus transformed Peter from being a scared fisherman into a courageous evangelist for the faith?  Jesus did this by breathing on him.  Just as God had breathed life into Adam, so too did Jesus breathe courage and new life into Peter.  

And this breath or spirit of Jesus is still with us.  We know it as the Holy Spirit.   So it is the Holy Spirit who calms our fears so that we might exit our locked rooms and boldly proclaim the good news that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead.

So what happened to Peter after he defied the High Priest and the religious leaders in Jerusalem?  Was he arrested again and crucified like Christ?  No, because the Holy Spirit blew across the Sanhedrin that day.  

The Holy Spirit spoke through the prophet Gamaliel to the religious leaders and told them to let Peter go with a test.  If Peter was doing God’s work he would be successful, but if the work Peter was doing was not from God then he would fail.  Here is what happened next.

Acts 5:41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

Peter passed this test.  The church grew, adding thousands of people.  Peter became an evangelist to the Gentiles bringing non-Jews to the faith.  And tradition tells us that Peter later became the first Bishop of Rome.  After the experience of the risen Jesus Peter has been transformed.

Next week we will look at the amazing transformation of one of Gamaliel’s prized students.  His name was Saul of Tarsus.  Saul’s fear was so great he hid behind violence.  But as we will see the transformative power of an encounter with the risen Jesus is even greater than we thought.

So is the resurrection of Jesus Christ true?  Yes! The transformation of Peter could have occurred no other way.   By his encounter with the risen Jesus, his fear is gone and he is boldly going forward proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Have we experienced the risen Christ?  The world is watching as we take the test.  Will the Holy Spirit calm our fears and make us courageous proclaimers of our faith in Jesus Christ? Or will we hide in fear behind locked doors?  The world will know whether the resurrection is true or not by the transformation of our lives.  If we live in fear the world will know that God is not with us and people will disbelieve the resurrection.  But if we live as disciples of Jesus Christ by boldly proclaiming the Gospel, they will know that the risen Jesus lives in our lives and that his resurrection must be true.

Let’s pray.   Lord Jesus, we thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit.  Calm our fears.  Lead us out of our locked doors.  And help us to proclaim the good news which we have heard with boldness.  Glory to you Christ, our risen Lord.  Amen. 

Monday, April 18, 2022

Sermon – John 20: 1-18 “I Have Seen the Lord”

 Rev. Jeffrey T. Howard
Sermon – John 20: 1-18 “I Have Seen the Lord”
Presbyterian Church of Easton
Easter Sunday, April 17, 2022

Happy Easter!  This is the day we have been waiting for.   Jesus Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed.  Let's pray.  Jesus, victorious Lord, We exult in your resurrection. As we sing “alleluia” with our voices, let our lives embody “alleluia” as a testimony to your love and a witness to your eternal life. Amen.

Let's start by reviewing what has already happened.  Jesus was arrested, tried and executed on a cross.  A couple of the religious leaders, who believed in Jesus, removed him from the cross and placed him in a nearby tomb.  There is no question about it.  Christ was dead.  There were plenty of witnesses.  His disciples then took their usual sabbath rest at sunset.  Let's see what happened early Sunday morning.


NIV John 20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.  2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"  


Mary made her way to the tomb in the dark.  All of her hopes and dreams had been crucified the previous Friday.  She had spent the weekend in the fog of grief for the death of a loved one.  Then when she arrived at the tomb what she saw, or more specifically, what she didn't see scared her to death.  Jesus was missing from the tomb.  So she ran to get help.  Here is what happened.


3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb.  4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in.  6 Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there,  7 as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.  8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.  9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)  10 Then the disciples went back to their homes,  


Let's take a look at the evidence.  The two disciples have seen the empty tomb and discarded grave clothes.  The head cloth was neatly folded.  And we are told that one of them believed. What did this disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, believe?    I think that he believed what Jesus had told him at the supper on Thursday night.  Listen to what Jesus had said.


John 7:33 Jesus said, "I am with you for only a short time, and then I go to the one who sent me.  34 You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come." 


So the disciple must have believed that Jesus had died, and that his spirit went to heaven to be with God.  This would have been consistent with first century thought.  Our bodies die, return to dust, and our spirits go to heaven.  Most people today would be comfortable with this belief as were the two disciples. So they went back home to grieve the death of their dear friend, Jesus.    But as Paul Harvey used to say, let's look at “the rest of the story.”


11 but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb  12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.  13 They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?" "They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him."  


Mary's grief is almost overwhelming.  Not only had Jesus died, but now something has happened to his body.  Mary must have been very frightened by what was happening.  Everything was spiraling out of control.   Then, the most surprising thing in the Bible happened.


14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.  15 "Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him."  16 Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).  


Suddenly Mary's grief turned to joy.  Jesus was alive!  He was right there in front of her.  She recognized his voice.   All she wanted to do was give him a big hug.  But let's hear what Jesus has to say.


17 Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"  


Jesus is doing what he said he would do.  Death on a cross could not stop him.  He was alive, physically alive.  He was not a spirit or ghost.  He was physically alive, resurrected from the dead.  Let's get back to Mary.


18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that he had said these things to her. 


The Gospel of John is filled with twists and unexpected endings.  But no ending is more surprising than this one.  Jesus' spirit had gone to heaven, paradise.  But then his soul returned from heaven and entered his dead body again.  God made his dead heart to beat and cold blood to flow.  His lungs filled with air.  He stood up, folded his grave clothes, walked out of the tomb, got dressed in gardener’s clothes he found, and waited around for a chance to talk with Mary.   

At first Mary did not recognize him.  She thought he might be a gardener or something.  But when she heard his voice she recognized it.  By seeing and hearing Jesus she became the first of many people who witnessed his resurrection from the dead.  Jesus told her not to hug him because he had not yet ascended to heaven.  We learn from this that Jesus will ascend to the father in his physical flesh and blood body where he lives today in heaven at God's right hand.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a sign or miracle.  Its purpose, as is the purpose of all signs in the gospel of John, is to bring people to faith.  People see the sign and hear what it means and then come to believe.  So what does this all mean?  And what is it we should believe?  

The Gospel of John is about belief.  The key text in this important book comes from the third chapter and the sixteenth verse “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” The promise of Easter is that you will have eternal life.  You will live forever in the presence of God.   

But before we receive this promise we must first do something.  We must believe.  But believe in what?  What are we supposed to believe to receive this wonderful gift of eternal life?  The content of our belief is what we celebrate on Easter.  We believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.  

But how does someone come to this belief?  What is the process of conversion from unbelief to belief? The twentieth chapter of John gives us two examples of people coming out of the darkness of unbelief into the light of faith.  

Sometimes we come to believe in Jesus, like the disciple whom Jesus loved,  by seeing God in the world around us.  We see God in the beauty of our forests and streams and rivers and coastlines.  We see God in the faces of believers as they volunteer in church.  We see God in the stories shared by seniors in nursing homes.  We see God in the children as they learn Bible stories.  We see God as we share bread and wine in the Lord's Supper.  God has blessed us with eyes with which we can see him through the world he created.  The disciple Jesus loved saw an empty tomb, he remembered Jesus' teachings and he knew that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead.  He believed that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead.   And he was promised eternal life.

So I urge you this Easter to look for Jesus in the world around you.  Look for Jesus when the children enjoy their chocolate bunnies and jelly beans.  Look for Jesus when your family sits down for a meal.   Look for Jesus in the loving eyes of those caring for children or for aging parents.  Use your eyes to look for Jesus in the world and you will be blessed with the belief that he was truly resurrected from the dead with the promise for you of eternal life.

But seeing with our eyes is only one of the two ways we have of coming to belief.  Mary Magdalene saw Jesus with her own eyes, but even though she saw she still did not believe.  For some of us we need more than just seeing God at work in the world around us for us to come to belief.  Sometimes we just don't believe what we see.  Like Mary we need something more.  Mary turned away from Jesus and was not looking at him when the following happened.  Jesus spoke to her and said her name.  Mary Magdalene came to belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ not with her eyes but with her ears.  She believed in Jesus Christ when she heard Jesus say her name, and she received the promise of eternal life.

We can hear God's voice calling us through the scripture we read and hear proclaimed.  We come to belief in Jesus Christ by allowing God's voice to speak to us through the Bible.  That's why it is so important to start every day with God's word and prayer.  That's why it is so important to study God's word.  That's why it is so important to hear God's voice through the proclamation of the Gospel each Sunday morning.  Through all of these things we can hear God call our names and like Mary Magdalene come to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, with the promise of eternal life.

Once Mary Magdalene heard Jesus call her name, her eyes were opened and she could see him in the world.  This is what happens to us.  After we hear God's voice in our meditations, study and worship we then begin to see God in the world around us.  The Bible was written by people who had heard God's voice and saw God doing things.  They wrote these things down and the church has preserved them for us.  So as we are immersed in the Scripture we are better able to see God in our world.  Our study of the word of God helps us to see God in the world around us.  So our eyes and our ears work together to bring us to belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  With our ears we hear God speak to us in church through the pages of the Bible.  This helps to recognize God in the world we see with our eyes.  Through hearing and seeing we come to belief.

Later that night the disciples gathered back in the upper room.  They heard Mary Magdalene's report of her encounter with the risen Jesus.  Then they saw Jesus in the room with them.  They heard with their ears and saw with their eyes and came to belief.  

Like these disciples, we are a people who have heard God speaking to us through the scripture.  We are also a people who can see God at work in the world around us.  So we are a people who believe.  And on this Easter Sunday we believe with the disciple that Jesus loved and with Mary Magdalene and with the other disciples that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.  This belief comes with a promise.  Because we believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has promised us eternal life.  This is what we celebrate at Easter.  

And like Mary Magdalene and the disciples we just can't wait to proclaim to the world what we have heard and seen.  “I have seen the Lord”, said Mary to the disciples.   What will you say to the people you meet about what you have seen and heard?  I urge you to go and tell everyone the good news that Jesus Christ has been resurrected from the dead.  All who believe this, receive the gift of eternal life.  This may sound like something too good to be true.  But it is true, we have heard it and seen it.  So proclaim it as the truth to everyone you meet so they will hear it too and come to belief.  

The Easter story in John begins with the darkness of unbelief.  But then through hearing and seeing belief comes into the world.  This belief is that Jesus Christ, the light of the world, has been resurrected from the dead.  He lives!  Believe in your heart what others have heard and seen that Jesus conquered death.  As believers you will now receive the promise of eternal life.  Let’s pray.

Lord Jesus, we thank you for the gift of faith.  Through your voice in scripture and through your work in the world we have heard you and seen you.  So we believe in your resurrection from the dead and anticipate our own resurrections when we will live forever with you, and God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit. Help us to proclaim this good news to everyone we know.  This we pray in your holy name.  Amen.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Sermon – John 13:21-30 – Betrayal

 Rev. Jeffrey T. Howard
Sermon – John 13:21-30 – Betrayal
Presbyterian Church of Easton
Maundy Thursday 4/14/2022

John 13:21-30

21 After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23 One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; 24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. 27 After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

Jesus and his disciples have gathered for dinner.  They are arranged in a configuration common for Roman meals called a triclinium.  There is a central table with couches assembled in a horseshoe manner around the table.  Jesus and his disciples have reclined on the couches.  They are resting on their left elbows and eating with their right hands.  With this arrangement the disciples clearly see people to their right, but those on their left would be behind their backs and out of sight.  

Jesus and two disciples are reclining at the position of honor at the head of the table.  The other disciples are in groups of five along either side of the table.  They eat by picking up a small piece of bread with their right hands, dipping the bread in a bowl of olive oil, and eating it.

During the supper Jesus was very troubled.  He realized that his death was at hand, and this affected him as much as the death of his friend Lazarus did earlier.  Jesus told his disciples that someone would betray him.  

The Greek word that is translated as “betray” in your Bibles is paradidomi.   This word means that you hand over something of personal value to someone else.  For example, if you go to settle on a house and you are the seller, you hand over the deed of your house to someone else.  

In ancient times, if your brother was captured in battle you would redeem him and hand him over to his family.  Paradidomi would be translated here as “deliverance”.  

But if you handed someone on your side over to the enemy, paradidomi would be translated as “betrayal”.  Bible translators have assumed that Jesus is talking about Judas handing Jesus over to the authorities in the Garden of Gethsemane.  So they have translated paradidomi in this instance as “betrayal”.  

But we can’t be so sure that this is correct.  Jesus’ own disciples have no idea what Jesus was talking about.  So how could we know if Jesus was talking about deliverance or betrayal without looking at this passage a little closer?

Peter was sitting on the right side of the table.  He was in the line of sight of the disciple on Jesus' right hand.  The disciple to the right of Jesus was called “the disciple that Jesus loved”.  We don’t know who this was, but tradition says that this is John the son of Zebedee who had earlier asked Jesus to be permitted to sit at his right hand in heaven.  And here he is at the right hand of Jesus.  Tradition also tells us that John the son of Zebedee was the author of the fourth gospel, the one we are reading.  

It is possible that Peter gave some kind of hand signal to John the son of Zebedee to ask Jesus what he was talking about.  John leaned his head back so he could see Jesus sitting behind him and asked him to explain.

Jesus then picked up a small morsel of bread with his right hand, dipped it in the olive oil and said that he was talking about the one to whom he would give this bread.  Jesus then leaned back and offered the piece of bread to the disciple reclining at his left.  This disciple was Judas Iscariot, who was seated at a place of honor to the left of Jesus Christ.  We are then told that Jesus told him to do his deed quickly.  At this point the other disciples still have no clue what Jesus is talking about.  All they could do was to speculate on what Judas might be doing.

This is a very confusing passage.  It is about handing over something of personal value.  But from the way it is written we don’t really know who is handing over what and to whom.  We can read ahead and see Judas handing Jesus over to the authorities in the Garden of Gethsemane.  This is the traditional interpretation.   But remember, Jesus is under the authority of God.  How could Judas take Jesus away from God and hand him over to the Sanhedrin contrary to God’s will?  Judas just doesn’t have that kind of power, to hand over the very Son of God.  

I believe that the author of the fourth gospel is a sort of magician.  He makes you think that something is in his right hand when it is really in his left.  Someone has handed over something of personal value here but it may not be who or what we think.  We think that we see Judas handing Jesus over to the Jerusalem authorities.  But really it is Jesus who has handed over something of personal value, his friend and disciple Judas, to the authority of Satan, by casting him out into the night.  And Judas has handed over to Satan something of great personal value, his faith in Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

Like Judas, we are offered a choice between light and darkness, between belief and unbelief.  If we believe in the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, then we walk in the light and receive the blessings of eternal life.  But if we walk away from belief in Jesus then we also walk away from the light and we return to the darkness of sin and death. 

A few years ago, I was asked to do a funeral for Mark.  Mark was a homeless man who spent most days sitting on a stone wall next to my apartment building in Los Angeles.  Mark was an alcoholic and was addicted to painkillers.  I got to know Mark and his wife Kathy from conversations we had whenever I walked over to the church.  He came, a couple of times, to a Sunday Night dinner that we served.  But he was not active in church and I saw no evidence that he believed in Jesus Christ.  

Mark died one morning from an overdose of painkillers.  I remained on the sidewalk with his wife, Kathy, until the medical examiner came to take away the body. I allowed Kathy to use my cell phone to call his family.  

The next day Mark’s brother called me on that cell phone to talk with me about Mark.  He wanted a funeral for Mark, but was very concerned for his brother because of his lack of faith in Jesus.  

I did the funeral and talked a lot about God’s love that day.  But sadness permeated the family because they knew that Mark had no faith. And I was sad because I could not assure them about his eternal life.  

Don’t let this happen to you.  Hold onto your faith in Jesus Christ.  Encourage others to believe in Jesus Christ.  Always remain in the light of faith.  Continue in your baptismal belief in the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.  And then I can assure you of the blessing of God of eternal life. Amen.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Grace and Peace Episode Season 2 Episode 11

 Rev. Jeffrey T. Howard
Grace and Peace Episode Season 2 Episode 11
Presbyterian Church of Easton
April 3, 2022

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:7)

Romans 2:25 Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. 26 So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? 27 The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.

28 A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.

Circumcision was a Jewish practice that originated in Abrahams’ circumcision.   God and Abraham had made a covenant.   In this covenant God promised to give Abraham children and land to become a great nation.   In return God expected obedience.  Circumcision was a sign of that covenant.  We read this in Genesis 17:11 “You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.”  

So circumcision was supposed to be a sign of a covenant relationship between God and his people.   But over time the people forgot their promise of obedience.   They thought all they had to do was to be circumcised.

But Paul is pointing out that the sign of something is only as good as the reality it points to.   Suppose your favorite dry cleaner has gone out of business.  A locksmith has moved in, but as of yet has not replaced the sign.   The sign still says dry cleaners.   So when you go into the store with your dirty clothes you are disappointed.

So too with God.   God sees someone who is circumcised and assumes obedience.   Imagine God’s disappointment when the sign of circumcision points to someone who ignores God’s law.    But if God sees someone who is obedient, then God is thrilled and no sign is needed.

So don’t think that baptism or church attendance is enough.   They are certainly signs pointing to a reality.   And the reality, baptism and church attendance point to, is obedience.

Let's pray.   Heavenly Father, bless us not only with outwards signs of our covenant with you,  but also with true repentance of heart and an obedient spirit.  This we pray in our Lord Jesus’ name.  Amen.  

Sermon Philippians 2:3-4 “Humility”

 Rev. Jeffrey T. Howard
Presbyterian Church of Easton
Sermon Philippians 2:3-4 “Humility”
April 10, 2022

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Today we are receiving the One Great Hour of Sharing.   This is a special giving opportunity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).   Through the One Great Hour of Sharing we support the Self Development of People program, the Presbyterian Hunger program and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

“Presbyterian Disaster Assistance enables congregations and mission partners of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to witness to the healing love of Christ through caring for communities adversely affected by crises and catastrophic events.”

Specifically, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance “focuses on the long term recovery of disaster impacted communities. Provides training and disaster preparedness for presbyteries and synods.  Works collaboratively with church partners … internationally, and nationally with other faith based responders, World Food Program, Red Cross, FEMA and others.

As of the end of March, around 10.5 million people – more than a quarter of the Ukrainian population – have been forcibly displaced by the ongoing military offensive, including nearly 6.5 million internally displaced and more than 4 million displaced across international borders – including 204,000 third-country nationals. Over 2.3 million people are seeking refuge in Poland alone.”  https://pda.pcusa.org/situation/ukraine/

“As the violence in Ukraine continues, the number of people being displaced internally

and fleeing to neighboring countries increases by the day. And in the midst of the chaos,

there are sibling churches and ecumenical partners who are already providing assistance

with basic items for survival. Our first priority is to provide funding to these partners

on the ground. While the scale of this crisis is new, receiving refugees from Ukraine and

other countries in Central and Eastern Europe is not, which means we have trusted,

established partners with the knowledge and expertise to carry out this important work.

Our response will include both financial and technical assistance as the network of faith

communities providing humanitarian assistance grows in the months ahead.”  https://pda.pcusa.org/pda/resource/ukraine-bulletin/

The Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is our way of helping displaced people in Ukraine.   If you would like to participate in this effort please make a generous contribution to the One Great Hour of Sharing.

This will be my final sermon in the series on spiritual practices and Christian virtues.   Last winter we talked about spiritual practices, Worship, Prayer, Bible Study, Single-Mindedness, Total Surrender, Biblical Community, Spiritual Gifts, Offering My Time, Giving My Resources and Sharing My Faith.   This spring we have talked about Christian virtues, Love, Joy, Peace, Self-Control, Hope, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, and Gentleness.   As a result of our faith and spiritual practices we become virtuous like Jesus.  Today we turn to the final Christian virtue, humility.   We will get to this, but first, let’s pray.

“Grant unto us, O Lord, to be occupied in the mysteries of thy Heavenly wisdom, with true progress in piety, to thy glory and our own edification. Amen.” (John Calvin)

Let’s hear some biblical wisdom:

Psalm 18:27 You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty.

Psalm 25:9 He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.

Psalm 147:6 The Lord sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground.

Proverbs 3:34 He mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.

Proverbs 11:2 When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

Proverbs 16:18 Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.  19 Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud.

Proverbs 18:12 Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.

Proverbs 22:4 Humility is the fear of the Lord; its wages are riches and honor and life.

So God saves, guides, and sustains the humble.    And God gives to the humble wisdom, riches, honor and life.  There is no question about it.   It is wise to be humble.   Let’s look at the Christian virtue of humility.

Suppose you are part of a group.  You have high self-esteem.  You are strong, smart and educated.   You have been richly blessed.  You realize that you are stronger, smarter and better educated than anyone else in the group.   And you lord it over them.   You always tell others what to do.   You criticize them when they are doing it wrong.   You are always on them to get better.

Is this humility?  No.  This is arrogance.   You think that your superior gifts entitle you to boss everyone around.   They won’t like it.  They think you are arrogant.   And arrogance is the opposite of biblical humility.  You don’t want to be seen as being arrogant.

Now suppose you are part of a group, but you have low self-esteem.   You do not consider yourself to be very strong or smart or educated.   You don’t think that God has blessed you very much.   And you get pushed around by others.  You are a wimp.   Is this biblical humility?  No.  This is humiliation.  You don’t want to be a humiliated wimp.  

Humbleness is the opposite of being arrogant as a result of high self-esteem and is also the opposite of being a wimp from low self-esteem.  So, what is humbleness?   

To be humble you must have high self-esteem.   You must think of yourself as strong, smart and educated.  But unlike the arrogant person, you do not compare yourself with other people.   You do not think of yourself as being better than others.   Rather, you compare yourself with God.  

When you compare yourself with God,  you find that God is much stronger than you.   God is much smarter than you.   God is more educated than you will ever be.   You are pretty good but God is a whole lot better than you.  And when you realize this you will be humbled.   This is the virtue of biblical humility.

Suppose you are part of a group.  You have high self-esteem.  You are strong, smart and educated.   You have been richly blessed.  You realize that you are stronger, smarter and better educated than anyone else in the group.   But you also realize that you are nothing when compared to God.  What do you do?   Let’s turn to today’s scripture.

Philippians 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Again, suppose you are part of a group.  You have high self-esteem.  You are strong, smart and educated.   You have been richly blessed.  You realize that you are stronger, smarter and better educated than anyone else in the group.   You also realize that you are nothing when compared to God.  You have the virtue of biblical humility.    So now, you are concerned not with your own wants and desires but with the interests of the other members of the group.  You lift the group up by helping them use their gifts.   You are not arrogant.  You are not a wimp.   You are humble.  

Jesus was certainly humble.   He came as our king but was born in a stable, wrapped with rags, and slept in a feeding trough.  Jesus ate his last supper with us, but instead of sitting in the place of honor he washed our feet.  Jesus came into Jerusalem as a messiah but instead of leading an army he went to a cross, for us.   That is biblical humility.  And the apostle Paul tells us this.

Philippians 2:5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  6 Who, being in very nature God,  did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.  7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Jesus had high self-esteem.   He was strong, smart and educated.   But he wasn’t arrogant.   And he wasn’t a wimp.  Jesus was humble and he sacrificed everything, even his life,  to serve us.  Let’s listen to Jesus’ own teaching on humility.

Mark 10:35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

39 “We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 

42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

So humility is the Christian virtue that allows us to put the needs of others higher than our own needs.   We serve others instead of demanding that they serve us.

Let me tell you a story about a man who learned humility the hard way.   His name was Saul in Hebrew.   But you probably heard his Greek name, Paul.   Paul was a strong man, very smart and highly educated.   He had extremely high self-esteem.   And it came out as arrogance.   He heard about a Jewish sect in Jerusalem that was worshiping a man who claimed to be God.   And he decided that they had to be stopped.  

Paul was part of a mob that stoned a church deacon, Stephen, to death for his belief in Jesus Christ.    He persecuted Christians pulling them out of churches and throwing them in jail.  And when he had decimated the church in Jerusalem he received permission to carry his persecution of the church to Damascus.   On the way to Damascus, Paul met Jesus and was converted.  And as a Christian Paul, this strong, smart and educated man,  repented of his arrogance and became humble.   Let’s listen to his own words.

2 Corinthians 12:7 … Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

So through a physical difficulty, Paul started comparing himself, not to others, but to God.  And this strong, smart, educated man realized that when he compared himself with God he was truly weak.   This created in him the Christian virtue of humility.   And it changed his behavior toward others.

2 Corinthians 13:9 We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored. 10 This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down.

So when we are humble we have high self-esteem and we use our gifts to build others up and not tear them down.   The Prophet Micah said that this was the essence of a faithful life.

Micah 6:8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

There are many people in this church with high self-esteem.  You are strong, smart and educated.   You have been richly blessed.  You realize that you are stronger, smarter and better educated than others in the church.   If you use your strength, intelligence and education to try to control others you will be seen as being arrogant.   But if you compare what you have to God you are actually very weak.  So use your strength, intelligence and education to serve others by lifting them up then you will be exhibiting the Christian virtue of humbleness.

Let’s pray.  Father in heaven, teach us to be humble.   Help us to be strong, smart and educated.   Give us high self-esteem.   But keep us aware that we are nothing compared to you.  And in our humility help us to lift others up.   Bless us we pray, in Jesus Christ.  Amen.