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Friday, December 25, 2009

The Wise Men: Following the Evidence

Read Matthew 2: 1-12. The wise men. The 3 kings of Orient who come to Jerusalem seeking the Messiah. (P.S. The Bible doesn’t actually say how many wise men there were. Three’s a number from tradition.) They have seen a star which tells them that the time of the great prophesied King of Jews birth has come.

At this point in the Nativity record we are up to 2 years after Jesus birth (Matthew 2: 16). Look they didn’t have airplanes. These men have come from a far country, loaded with kingly gifts. We depict them as traveling on 3 lone camels, but they probably had an armed escort and/ or traveled in a caravan. From the appearance of the star to the time it took to pack, plan, and travel from whatever nation or nations in the Far East, Jesus was no longer an infant.

The wise men are well informed (hence the whole “wise” thing). They know that Jerusalem is the ancient capital of the Jewish people, so naturally, seeking a Jewish king, they show up at the royal palace in Jerusalem. Problem is: Jesus isn’t in Jerusalem.

Luke 2: 39     So when [Joseph and Mary] had performed all things [in the temple] according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth.

By the evidence of the star they had seen, the wisemen knew when the king of the Jews had been born, but they didn’t know where. Matthew 2: 4-6 tells us that the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem knew where the Messiah would be born, but had missed the fact that the time had actually come.

Did you catch that?

A carpenter was in the right place to meet Christ at his birth. A young virgin with a tarnished reputation was there for the full Incarnation of the Messiah. A bunch of lowly shepherds met the Jesus within hours of his birth. An old crazy man and an old crazy widow woman (Luke 2: 25-27, 36-38) had already had personal encounters with the promised Savior just days after His birth; but neither the most learned men in Judea nor the wisest ones in the Far East knew enough on their own to find their way into the presence of Jesus. Why? Because though they were waiting for and looking for the King of kings, they were each following only part of the evidence.

All around us, there is evidence that God is real (Psalm 19: 1-3). Following the evidence will draw us closer to God and His Truth, but that evidence isn’t always in the form that the world will accept.

From the Jewish scholars in Jerusalem, Herod, the evil secular king of Judea, discovered that the Messiah was to be come out of Bethlehem (Matthew 2: 4-6). From the wisemen, he discovered the timing. Herod pretends that he wants to worship Jesus (verse 8), but he really wants to destroy Him.

Another important point:

Don’t think that evil people don’t know stuff about God just because they are evil (2 Timothy 3: 7; James 2: 19). Be very, very, very careful when you get spiritual advice from people who say they believe in God but live and promote beliefs that devalue Jesus and the Truth of the Bible. These people may be well informed. They may know things that you don’t. They may present logical, well-referenced reasons why you should follow their directions. But, following them will not take you beyond a vague intellectual acknowledgment of God or something god-ish. To transcend that and to come to a personal relationship with the one true God, through Jesus you have to follow the trail of the evidence which, if you are willing to see, God has placed in front of you.

Herod pointed the wise men to Bethlehem. But God pointed them somewhere else.

Matthew 2: 9 ¶ When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother

At this point, Jesus is no longer a baby. He is a young child, and He is no longer in a stable outside of an inn in Bethlehem. After Jesus was circumcised and Mary was purified according to Jewish law (Luke 2: 22, 39; Leviticus 12: 2, 3), Jesus’ earthly family returned to Joseph’s hometown, Nazareth. The star was guiding them to Nazareth.

Bethlehem is just south of Jerusalem. Nazareth is way north. The wisemen had to make a decision. They could follow the logical advice of a convincing, powerful, but ungodly man. Or, they could follow God the rest of the way just as they had followed Him up to this point (by following the star).

They chose to follow the evidence that God had placed in their life and the result was a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.

11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

Examine your life for God’s evidence. How many times have you walked away from an accident or incident in which you should have been dead? How many times have you listened to a strange pull, a voice in your heart and learned that you had avoided tragedy? How many times have you ignored that voice and regretted it? That was God.

How many times has some Christian spoken an answer to a question they didn’t know you had? What faith has brought you this far? Are you now going to stop following that star because some dude said to? Open your eyes. See the evidence that God has placed right in front of you.

We so often pray for a sign. We so seldom acknowledge the signs He gives us every day.

Think about it. The wisemen followed a star. Not a vision of a star. An actual visible something in the sky. Lots of people must have seen it. But only these few were wise enough to follow it.

And, here’s one of the coolest things:

Once the wisemen have a personal encounter with Jesus and they fall down before Him, they no longer need the evidence. They have faith. They don’t abandon their education. They don’t cast off their knowledge. But, they now have a personal relationship with God, not just an intellectual acknowledgment of Him.

12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

They arrive in Israel following evidence. They leave following God.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Shepherds: From Outcasts to Evangelists

Shepherds: From Outcasts to Evangelists

Isaiah 9:6 For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

Read Luke 2: 8-20. The shepherds keeping watch over their flocks were waiting, too. As Jews they were waiting for the Messiah promised in Isa. 9: 6,7. They were waiting for Jesus to come, but they were waiting for the 1st Advent of Christ the same way most of us are waiting for His 2nd Coming. That is, in a general sense they expect Messiah some vague time or other, but right now, they’re not really thinking about Him. They’re thinking about their sheep.

The scripture does not say that the shepherds were praying or discussing prophecy or studying the night sky for signs and portents. Shepherding is their job and these men are at work. More pressing to them is breakfast, sleep, and their next pay. Just like us.

Luke 2: 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.
11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

The night shift routine is interrupted by a divine declaration: “The wait is over! Today is the day that the Savior is born. And guess what, you bunch of regular guys out here working and minding your own business? You are going to be the ones who find Him” (v. 12).

How do the shepherds react? No one shepherd is identified as the leader of the group. So (Luke 2: 15) they decide as a group, “Let’s go see more of this thing God is doing among us. We’ve been kinda sorta waiting for a great move of God. Well, fellas, it looks like we’re in one. Come on, let’s go.”

Luke 2: 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the Babe lying in a manger.

The shepherds did what we should do when the Lord interrupts our daily worries and routines. When you see the Lord move on your job, in your family, or within your circle of influence don’t just go back to business as usual. Gather those around you and seize the opportunity to draw each other closer to Jesus.

You may not consider yourself a Christian leader. The crucial moment may present itself while you have no greater spiritual credentials than the average person around you. So!

You don’t have to be a preacher to lead your circle to Christ. Just listen to the Lord. When God delivers something into your midst that nobody even knew they were waiting for, take the opportunity. Don’t just walk away alone, but invite them, all of them, to come with you. Don’t wait for the perfect time. Often you may have to walk the path of Christ alone, but don’t wait for a solitary moment when God is calling to you in a social one. Grab those you love, say “Let us go,” and then go with haste to seek Jesus.

And look at what God can do for you.

17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.
18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

These shepherds arrived in Bethlehem as shepherds, but they leave as the first Christian evangelists. They arrive with no spiritual credentials, but they have a personal encounter with the Savior of the world and they leave sharing the first Christian testimonies--together.

Don’t be ashamed of Christ before your friends.

Matthew 10: 32 “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.

Draw closer to Jesus now. Invite your friends to draw closer with you, now. God will show you all something wonderful. On this ordinary day, He can turn you all into something more than you had expected. He’ll give you what you are all really waiting for.

Next: The Wise Men-Following the Evidence

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Joseph: How A Good Man Goes Great

Joseph: How A Good Man Goes Wrong Great

Matthew 1: 18     Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. 19     Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.

Read Matthew 1: 18-25. In this passage for the Advent (Coming of Jesus) , Joseph is waiting. For what? He’s waiting for Mary, his betrothed. And Joseph has a good plan for Mary and him.

Maybe he’s been working and saving for awhile now.Maybe he expects to have his house built pretty soon. Pretty soon he’ll be ready to approach Mary’s father and receive Mary as his wife.

Luke 1:39, 40 tells us that after Gabriel’s announcement to her, Mary left Nazareth and traveled into the country of Judah to visit her cousin Elisabeth. This is not a trip around the corner. Nazareth to Judah was about 60 miles (for a lone, pregnant girl in 4 B.C.) . And that doesn’t even account for the extra distance if Mary took the traditional route around the country of Samaria. So Mary was most likely out of town when Joesph gets the news that she is pregnant. Their plans are ruined and he can’t even have a face-to-face with Mary about the whole thing. (No cell phones, no email).

It’s all messed up for Joseph.

Joseph is at a point in his life that is familiar to many of us. He has done everything he was supposed to do to receive the rewards of the good plan he had made. And suddenly something crazy goes wrong. And there we are, like Joseph, alone, trying to figure out how what in the world we’re going to do now.

Joseph figures there’s no way he can marry Marry now. But, Joseph is a “just” man (The word is dikaios and is also translated “righteous.”), and he really does love Marry. He doesn’t want to destroy her life by calling her out for adultery, so he decides to quietly cancel the betrothal (Matthew 1: 19).

When our good plans go really wrong it is human to think that God has somehow tricked us. We think that God has unfairly changed the rules in the middle of the game and we get upset. Sometimes we decide to just quit the whole thing. But remember Malachi 3:6 For I am the LORD, I change not;…

God never changes. But sometimes, God interjects change into our plans so that we can line up with his will.

Gabriel appears to Joseph (busy time for Gabriel). He explains what’s happening and tells Joseph, “fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” Gabriel explains that all the changes in their plans are a fulfillment of prophecy (Matthew 1: 22,23). Get it? This was God’s great plan all along.

Joseph is a righteous man, so of course he will follow God’s will. The question is how will he follow this new plan.

The answer: Just as he always had. Joseph had been a good man when he and Marry where betrothed. Now he takes her as his wife and becomes a good husband. Joseph had planned to be a good husband, provider, and protector once he’d gotten everything in his life lined up just right. Now, with everything thrown in disarray, he becomes a good husband, provider, and protector.

It is not circumstances that determine how we follow God, it is character and faith in Him.

Joseph would have had to go to Bethlehem for the census anway. Now, he goes and takes the very, very pregnant (“great with child”) Mary. Joseph doesn’t have the connections to get a room in the overcrowded town of Bethlehem. Perhaps the relatives Joseph had in his ancestral hometown refused to let this couple they considered to have conceived out of wedlock sleep in their home.

And consider this: Why was Mary, 9 months pregnant, even with Joseph? Yeah, they were married, but why wasn’t she at home being cared for by the women of her own family? Perhaps her family had cast her off at well. In any event, Joseph did not abandon her. He stayed with her, getting the only shelter they could find---a stable, because (v. 7) there was no room in the inn.

(This, by the way, is an example of a man who may not have 2 cents, but is worth a million dollars.)

If you have been serving God faithfully and you see your good plans falling apart, keep serving God faithfully. If you planned on faithfully helping out with the kids at church once a month and now you feel called into leadership of a youth ministry, lead as faithfully as you would have helped.

If you had planned to do good by deliver a couple of plates to the homeless and go home, but your heart has been called to spend great amounts of time ministering to them even though it means exposing yourself to their unpleasant circumstances, be now as faithful in this greater ministry as you would have been in the good one.

If you planned to be good by staying with your boyfriend/girlfriend, but trying to stay out of the partying and sinfulness of their lifestyle and now you feel convicted to break off the unhealthy relationship; be as strong in the difficult great thing as you’d planned to be in the good thing.

Like Joseph and Mary, doors may be shut to you that had been open before. Like Joseph, you may be unprepared in every visible way for this great plan God has revealed. That’s O.K. Keep being righteous. Keep being faithful.

Philipians 1:6 Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:

Galatians 6:9 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

Next: Shepherds: From Outcasts to Evangelists

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mary: A Story of Changed Plans

Mary, A Story of Changed Plans

Luke 1: 26     Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27     to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

Grab your Bible and read Luke 1: 26-47. In these verses Mary is waiting for something good. She is waiting for a husband. She is betrothed to a good man named Joseph and waiting for the day when they will live happily ever after as man and wife.

While Mary is waiting for that day to come, she is visited by the angel Gabriel. Gabriel tells Mary that she will conceive a son. Now stop for a moment, set aside our Christmas special image of this event, and think about it.

Mary does plan to get married and have a family, so why is the idea of conceiving a son so strange to her?

An ancient Middle Eastern betrothal wasn’t exactly like a modern engagement. In betrothal two families agreed that their children would marry one day. This agreement may have been in place for years before the marriage actually happened. Mary’s suspicion of Gabriel’s pronouncement indicates that the wedding isn’t imminent. Gabriel’s proclamation doesn’t synch with Mary’s good plan, so she’s suspicious.

We also need to recognize that the Bible’s depiction of Mary is not the simpering, mousy little vessel portrayed in movies. She was strong (consider all she had to endure as Jesus’ mother), and she was thoughtful. Several passages specifically refer to Mary observing and thinking deeply about what’s going on around her (Consider Luke 2: 10, 51). In Luke 1: 29 Mary listened to Gabriel and considered what manner of greeting this was.

When she hears Gabriel out, she asks a question which at first glance seemed to betray a lack of faith. Verse 34: Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” ("Know" meaning to have sexual intercourse.) Mary’s cousin Zacharias was struck mute for asking Gabriel a similar question in Luke 1:20. With a closer look though, the question really reveals how smart, strong, and faithful Mary was.

Mary is a virgin. Though betrothed, she’s not actually getting married anytime soon. So, in her mind, this self-proclaimed angel seems to be asking her to sin. And if Gabriel’s asking her to sin, he isn’t really a messenger from God. God will never ask us to achieve good or even great things by compromising His Word or by violating His commands.

For the faithful servant of God the end does not justify the means.

Gabriel explains that the Holy Spirit will overshadow Mary and that the child will be the Holy Son of God. He also points to her elderly cousin Elisabeth (Luke 1: 7, 13,14, 24,25) as a sign that what he says is true. This revelation is hard for Mary, but she tests Gabriel’s words and they line up with the Word of God revealed in the law and the prophets.

God has called Mary to discard her good plans and to become part of His great plan. God has accelerated her timeline and her objective. Marriage sooner. A child sooner. And not just a child by Joseph, but a child by the miraculous Incarnation of God Himself.

To this Mary responds “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (v. 38)

And in verse 39, Mary immediately gets up and goes alone to see Elisabeth and check out the rest of Gabriel’s story.

Deuteronomy 18: 22     when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.

It is said that “Good is the enemy of great.” Because of the good, Mary could have rejected this word from the Lord.

She could have said, “Look, Gabey. I got a plan here. I got a good man who’s gonna marry me one day. That’s good enough for me. I never asked for this mother-of-the-Messiah-by-the-Holy-Spirit-thing. ”

But, when she sees that the word from Gabriel lines up with the word of God and when she sees the confirmation in Elisabeth’s life, Mary realizes that God’s plan for her, though not what she was waiting for, is better than good. It is great. And she praises God . At Elisabeth’s house, Jesus in her womb, and John the Baptist turning flips in Elisabeth’s, Mary declares, “ My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior (Luke 1: 46, 47)   .

Next-- Joseph: How A Good Man Goes Wrong Great

Saturday, December 19, 2009


In John 10:22, 23, Jesus is in the temple during the Feast of Dedication. This feast, not listed among the festivals God gave in Leviticus 23, is today known as the Feast of Lights or Hannukah. Jesus, the light of the world, calls us to be light to the world. That light is supposed to be more than ornamental. That light is supposed to be powerful, personal, and public.

Being light to the dark world is an underlying theme of Christmas and Advent season. This is the challenge of this third in the Advent Sermon Series. It is also the challenge which the minstry of Hall Memorial CME Church is answering.

Listen to the sermon.

Now, do more than say, "Amen." Pray for our ministry at Hall Memorial CME Church. Participate in our work, or find a church near you and become an active part of their ministry.

Many lights together can scatter a great darkness where a single light alone may fail.

No more excuses. Get your light out into the streets.


Christmas and Advent is a time of excruciating waiting. Children (of all ages) wait impatiently for the dawn when they can tear into gifts and play. Hosts and hostesses wait for the guests to leave so that they can stop smiling. Business owners wait for the tallies to come in so they can see if they've made enough to survive another year. But most of all, Christians wait for Jesus to return and establish His Kingdom on Earth.

The question is, how do we wait? Not knowing the day nor the hour of our Lord's Return, feeling daily the pressures of a world that doesn't care about or believe in His Coming, beset by pressures in the here-and-now; what should the followers of Jesus Christ be doing that will sustain us in hope, comfort us in life, and add to our glory in the End? These are the questions Pastor Anderson T. Graves II explores in this 2nd in the Advent Sermon series.

Listen and hear the answer from the Word of God.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Wait For It (Advent)

When will Jesus return? Why hasn't He returned yet? How should we respond the signs of the times that so many people point out around us? What did Jesus Himself have to say about the signs of the end? These questions are crucial for Christians in this era. Whether or not you are "into" end time prophecy, a basic, Biblical understanding of our place in the 2nd Coming timeline is important. Without it you and I can be deceived or confused. And a misguided or directionless church is never a good thing.

Listen below as Pastor Anderson T. Graves II opens Old and New Testaments and shows us what the Bible says about our place in the endtimes. Hear this the first in a series of Advent sermons. Through this sermon the Lord does what He always does: teach us, comfort us, & challenge us to study His Word and hear Him ever more clearly.