Matthew and the Cost of Discipleship

Sermon Introduction

In Christian history, many believers have given their lives to follow Jesus. The first to be martyred was James in Acts. Shortly after, Stephen was killed for his faith. Persecution has been a mark of the church ever since. Amazing, isn’t it. That the religion most persecuted in history is the same one that has repeatedly pushed living in peace with one another. It’s almost as if there’s a spiritual force fighting against it.

In the 20th century, it is estimated 26 million Christians were killed for their beliefs. From AD 33 to 1900, 14 million Christians died for their faith. That is 65% of all martyrs happened in the prior century.

This is part of the cost Jesus spoke of in His parable in Luke 14:28, “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?”

At war with Jesus’ statement is the air of easy grace that pervades modern culture. Similar to the Prosperity Gospel, it says that God makes it easy for those who believe in him. I ask instead, what makes us better as people and Christians that we think God intends such ease when so many of our brothers and sisters have died for their faith?

A Lutheran pastor in Germany in the 1930s saw this same “easy grace” in his own nation. Disturbed by this lax Christianity, pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote The Cost of Discipleship, where he lays out what it costs to follow Christ. It is an eyeopening book for those used to easy grace.

Bonhoeffer has been criticized because while he demolishes easy grace, the book is commonly misunderstood to set discipleship as something only a few can attain. It reads almost as a mystical gift, granted only to those God so chooses.

However, whatever his mistake may have been, we must remember that the cost of non-discipleship is far greater. That was the problem Bonhoeffer worked against. He saw in his churches how many Christians just attended. They did not allow the Spirit to change their lives. The country was nominally Christian, so they went with the flow.

That country was Germany, just prior to World War II. Because of their lax lives in Christ, most Germans did not stand against Hitler until it was too late. Bonhoeffer was arrested and eventually killed by the Nazis because he had joined a rebel cell and plotted to assassinate Hitler.

Scripture Introduction

As you count the cost of your own life in Christ, turn to Matthew 9:9-13 and imagine yourself as Matthew. He was a tax collector, hated by his own people because he collaborated with the Romans. Tax collectors were not paid a wage or salary from the government. They were expected to keep a commission of the taxes. The tax collector would be told by his superiors that he needed to farm $6,000 from the city this month. Of that, he would turn over $5,500 to his manager and keep the rest as his payment.

However, all of them charged people more than what they owed and kept a bigger portion than the government said they should. The authorities looked the other way as long as the tax collectors sent in the requested amount.

Matthew 9:9-13 ¶ As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him. 10¶ Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 13 “But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Today, we will talk about Matthew the man, the disciple, and the apostle.

Matthew the Man

He is fully known as Matthew Levi, son of Alpheus. Matthew didn’t know that day how following Jesus would cost his life. He knew when he got up from the tax collector’s table that his job was gone. While the others could go back to their jobs should this rabbi fail, Matthew could not. Matthew was one of those who if a detective would say, “Just the facts, ma’am.”

As a tax collector, he was highly educated in math and writing. He would have been literate in Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew to work in Judea and Galille.

Of the Twelve, Matthew was undoubtedly the wealthiest. He had just gotten most of it through dishonest means. I imagine that Matthew and Zacheus had some conversations about how Jesus had saved them. They probably knew one another in their work. At the very least, they knew of each other.

As I said before, tax collectors were despised in most of the Empire. Some things never change. There’s even an old Irish tale where the Devil himself considers tax collectors to be scum of the earth. The Jews saw tax collectors as traitors. Since he worked in Galilee, we can conclude that Matthew worked for Herod Antipas, who paid tribute to Rome. Rome didn’t ship in imperial citizens to do the nasty work. They hired locals. We’ll never know what drove Matthew to collaborate with the invaders. Was he already a dishonest man? Was he merely desperate for a job? The Bible doesn’t say, and nothing of his life prior to his calling is mentioned.

What little we know, we glean from clues in the Bible. Matthew lived in Capernaum, the same city that Jesus called home. Capernaum was formerly the home of the prophet Nahum, centuries before. It was once called Elkosh, but after Nahum’s ministry, it was renamed Capernaum, “city of Nahum.”

Being a tax collector, this was Matthew’s assigned district. I imagine that he had heard Jesus preaching on the street before this day. Matthew hung on the fringes of the crowd as Jesus spoke of redemption and repentance. How many times did those sweet words prick his heart? How many times did he almost walk to Jesus and say, “cleanse me, rabbi”? Did Jesus ever make eye contact with him while preaching and give Matthew that look that said, “Come here”? I imagine that He did because Matthew follows when called that fateful day.

Yet something always brought him back to that table. Maybe it was the money. Maybe he couldn’t forgive himself so couldn’t imagine a rabbi praying for him. Matthew know exactly how much people hated him. He could see it in their face when they paid their taxes. The snarl, the curl of the lip, the disrespectful way they slammed the money onto the table. All of that said, “I hate you, traitor.” Because collaborators were worse than invaders. They had sold out to the invaders to steal from their own people.

Matthew was a man who knew how much he needed to be saved. The others, like those fisherman, hadn’t lived a life of being hated by their own countrymen. Matthew knew the need for redemption on a much more personal level than they. Every night he had to sleep, knowing how he had betrayed his people. Never say to yourself, it’s just a job, it doesn’t matter what I do, it’s who I am that matters. As Matthew knew, what you do defines who you are. He was a traitor because he had acted as a traitor. Everyday at his table, he robbed his own people and gave most of the money to the invaders.

Matthew was a man who had to stand alone when he went to the Temple in Jerusalem. No one would stand near him. He was shunned. It was a tax collector like Matthew who Jesus told about in the story, the man who cried out in the Temple, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

This man, Matthew, changed the day that Jesus called him away from the table.

Matthew the Disciple

Matthew doesn’t say much about his life after he becomes a disciple, either. His focus is on Jesus. Our focal character is often seen with Thomas the Doubter in the Gospels. When Matthew, Mark, and Luke lists the Apostles, they place Matthew and Thomas together. Peter and Andrew stand together in the lists because they are brothers. James and John are the same way. We have no indication that Matthew and Thomas are related, but the Bible gives another clue as to why they stand together in the lists.

Others in the list are put together who have something in common. Notice that Judas Iscariot is next to Simon the Zealot. Both their nicknames, Iscariot and Zealot, tell us about their personalities and priorities. Zealots were members of the rebel underground, plotting to throw off Roman oppression and restore Judea as an independent kingdom. I’m sure he didn’t think much of a collaborator being invited into the group! The Iscariot, or Ish Sicaroth which means man of the short dagger, were also members of this underground but more highly trained, respected, and feared. The zealot and the dagger man shared a link in their devotion to country. Likewise, we can conclude that Matthew and Thomas share something.

We all know about Thomas’ most famous moment—his doubting. What we often forget is how Thomas was the only one of the Twelve who understood the prophecies of the Messiah’s death! Only Thomas comprehended how the Son of David would die.

When the others told Thomas how Jesus had returned from the dead, Thomas expressed doubt and said he would not believe without seeing Jesus and the scars. Thomas was a man who appreciated facts.

Similarly, Matthew was a man who appreciated figures. He kept records for his work. He knew the approximate wealth of everyone in his district. When we read the Gospel of Matthew, this trait of tracking things comes into focus. Matthew is extremely detailed in his gospel. Mark writes in a very hurried fashion to benefit his Roman audience. Luke is detailed, telling of how Jesus spent time with the outcasts and traces Jesus all the way back to Adam as the Messiah for the whole world. Matthew writes in a Jewish style, heavy on details, linking back to the Scriptures, drawing forth lessons and teachings from prophecies that the others don’t.

Matthew uses Hebrew idioms that the others don’t. For example, Matthew is the only Gospel writer to use “Kingdom of Heaven.” When Mark and Luke record the same saying of Jesus, they say “Kingdom of God.” Why? Because Matthew was writing to the Hebrews and used Hebrew styles.

One can easily imagine Matthew keeping records of Jesus’ teachings and sermons. Matthew records 23 parables, more than either Mark or John and only 5 behind Luke. He alone tells us how Joseph considered putting Mary away and how God gave Joseph visions.

Matthew gives a detailed genealogy of Jesus, but he puts within it little markers of Jewish style. He breaks it up into three sections of 14 names each. From Abraham, named as the first Hebrew, to David is fourteen generations. From David to the captivity, 14. From the captivity to Jesus, another 14. Why 14? He skips a couple of names when we compare this list to others in Scripture, so the number 14 is chosen for a specific reason.

Unlike our system of separate letters and numbers, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin allowed letters to double as numbers. You would either write out the full number in words, or you could use the letters as numbers. Matthew presents Jesus as the ultimate son of Abraham and David. The Hebrew consonants of David, dWd (vowels were unwritten at this time), add up to 14. Daleth is 4, Waw is 6, and the final daleth is another 4. David’s name is 14 and the ultimate son of David will be explained in three groups of 14. If you are curious, Abraham’s name adds up to 123.

It wasn’t enough for Matthew to just follow Jesus that day. He immediately invited others to learn of Jesus as well. Matthew invited the people whom he knew best, fellow tax collectors and sinners. By the word sinner, we can assume prostitutes were on the list. Why would Matthew be friends with prostitutes? Because normal people shunned both of them. The outcasts could only make friends with one another. Once Matthew responded to Jesus, he was able to invite others immediately. Others like him, who knew they were sinners. Who knew the sickness in their soul. Others who hadn’t hardened their hearts to stone just yet.

There is a very interesting statement Jesus makes when the Pharisees confront him about the sinners he has surrounded himself with. He says, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.” He isn’t saying that the Pharisees don’t need Him. He is saying that the sick who recognize their sickness will respond to Him as a healer. There is no one who is righteous, but those who think they are righteous will not respond.

Matthew responded, knowing he was not righteous. He became a disciple, and Matthew the disciple was one of the eye witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. As an eyewitness and one of the chosen Twelve, he became an Apostle, chosen to share the redeeming words of Christ with those who needed it the most.

Matthew the Apostle

The Apostles first ministered in Jerusalem, then Judea, Samaria, and finally the uttermost parts of the earth, just as Jesus had told them to. Matthew ministered first to the Jews in Judea, writing the Gospel that bears his name. According to the early bishop Papias, who was taught by one of John’s converts, the Apostle Matthew wrote in Hebrew having collected the sayings of and about Jesus. Origen and Jerome also report that Matthew wrote first in Hebrew. Jerome even said he touched the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew while visiting the library of Caesarea.

Matthew ministered to Jews for about 15 years, then he went forth as a missionary. He established churches to the east in Persia, Syria, and south of the Caspian Sea. We do not know how he died for Christ save that he died for his faith. Some say he was burned, others stoned, and yet others beheaded. What they agree on is that he died a martyr for Christ.

Matthew the Apostle found another place where his life matched the teaching of Christ when he wrote down the parable of the soils. Instead of being rocky soil, which receives the word with joy but withers under hardship and persecution, Matthew was good soil. Good soil that brought forth a return that is still being measured today. Even in the face of persecution and death, Matthew stood firm.

The man who changed the life of Matthew claimed all of his life. Matthew died for the man who died for him. The man who got up from that table in Capernaum had never been the same since. When redemption comes to you, it is an amazing gift. I have seen how Christ changes people.

Jesus said that day Matthew converted that He desired “mercy and not sacrifice.” Matthew wrote instead of how Jesus had been the perfect sacrifice. How His sacrifice allowed God’s mercy to wash over the world. It cost Matthew to preach these things. It is Matthew who records Jesus saying, “what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” As Matthew wrote that down in his gospel, I bet he smiled. He gave up profit for his soul.

Matthew lived that question. He could have continued as a tax collector, gaining money every day. Growing in influence and power among the other tax collectors, even up to being Herod Antipas’ head tax collector in the region. But he gave it all up for Jesus. He forfeited the world and gained his soul.

Conclusion

Nothing comes without cost. All of the Twelve gave their lives for Christ except John who died of old age. Burned, hung, speared, stoned, beheaded. Peter and Andrew were crucified as Jesus had been. Mark was drug behind horses until he died. One of our denomination’s superintendents overseas became a Christian because he was fired from his job simply for attending a revival service. If it’s so illegal, it must be worth exploring more, he decided.

What has discipleship cost you? We live in the country with the most religious freedom in history. One does not have to have any religion, or one can practice any of them. However, a day is coming to this world when all Christians will be persecuted. Are you ready to live in that day?

Perhaps a more urgent question is what has non-discipleship cost you? Have the ways in which you haven’t tried to grow for God impacted your walk? In the first Assemblies of God church I attended, eight weeks in a row a message from the Lord was given that the congregation needed to spend more time in their Bibles.

Christians who don’t pay the price of discipleship will pay the price of non-discipleship. It is seen in lax Christian lives. Those who don’t pray don’t grow in Christ. These often think they are stronger Christians than they are. Some may not even be Christians any longer because of choices they have made. Those who don’t grow falter and stumble in their walk. When persecution comes, they die on the vine.

What price do you need to pay, today? Perhaps you need to spend more time in prayer or more time in the Word. Perhaps the cost to you is a monetary cost and you need to give more to missions. Our church supports missionaries who minister in some of the same places that Matthew did. Their lives are sometimes endangered.

What has it cost you to follow Christ? The price of discipleship may be high but the price of nondiscipleship is even higher.

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Sabellians in The Midst

The old adage says those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. However, those who do learn from history are drug along while those who did not learn repeat it.

At the beginning of my fellowship’s history, both of these adages were clearly illustrated. Shortly after organizing in Hot Springs, the General Council of the Assemblies of God had to deal with what was termed the “New Issue.” However, it was really a very old issue brought back to life. Those familiar with church history will recognize this denial of the Trinity into one God presenting himself in three aspects or modes as Sabellianism or modal monarchism.

The Assemblies of God had only two officers at first, a General Chairman (later retitled as General Superintendent) and General Secretary. When this issue reared its head, the second man to hold the office of chairman was in place while the secretary elected at the first council was still in office. Indeed, the secretary, J. Roswell Flower, would hold an office at either the national or district level from 1914 until 1959.

Reverend Flower grew up with only a nominal devotion to God. However, at age 19, he fully committed his faith to God at an early, Pentecostal revival. Feeling the call to ministry very quickly thereafter, he began to study the Bible and church history. Six years later, after being a pastor, he was elected the first General Secretary of the Assemblies of God. Flower, a former law student, was instrumental in helping the new fellowship form its first resolution of commitment in April of 1914. Because of the guiding hand of this gently-spirited man, the new organization formed as a “voluntary, cooperative fellowship” instead of a rigid denomination. Soon, Flower’s studies in history would be needed as well.

About seven years prior, a new teaching had begun at a Pentecostal camp meeting in California. This teaching was set to rock the world of the new fellowship. The teaching proclaimed that based on the baptismal formulas seen in Acts and the singular word “name” in the Great Commission, that the Godhead had only one name, that of Jesus. Further, they claimed that the trinity was an aberration, that one God had revealed himself in three modes or ways throughout history.

The heresy spread throughout the young Pentecostal movement. At one point, even several members of the Assemblies of God Executive Presbytery were taken astray.

As the heresy sunk into the movement, Flower attempted to head it off. He edited the magazine Christian Evangel and authored articles showing how the new issue was nothing more than the old heresy of Sabellianism revived and warmed over. Having studied history, he assumed that naming the issue by the heresy and showing how it had been condemned so long before would be enough to end its grip.

Unfortunately, Flower was wrong. Not enough of the pastors, leaders, and laymen in the fellowship were schooled enough in history for his words to turn the tide. He had no choice but to exercise his authority as general secretary to call for a general council. This would be the third general council to meet in two years.

At the first council in 1914, the delegates had resolved to have no statement of faith except one regarding the supremacy of the Bible and its authority. They did so in their desire to not become a hidebound denomination. They assumed that the ministers would continue the agreement they had from their camp meeting days to discuss any new teachings at regional and general councils before preaching them.

To rectify this blunder (for they had adopted the soft resolution on purpose), the elected officers (the general chairman and general secretary) appointed a committee to draft a statement of agreed upon doctrine. The main question would revolve around the Oneness controversy. All the ministers appointed to the committee were trinitarians. Even today, the longest item in the Statement of Fundamental Truths is the Nature of God.

At that third council, the delegates voted against the Sabellian position and for a Statement of Fundamental Truths. 150 ministers left the fellowship over losing the vote.

I cannot help but think that had more of those early ministers known their church history, the Oneness issue would never have arisen. It certainly would not have threatened to split the fellowship. However, since not enough were familiar with the history of heresies, an old issue gained a foothold in the church. Indeed, this teaching, one of the oldest heresies in the history of the church was named the New Issue.

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Called Where You Are (A St. Patrick’s Day Sermon)

FCF: The fallen world needs to be reached with the Gospel in ways they will respond to.

This is St. Patrick’s Day and thus an excellent day to talk about the missionary we celebrate. He has had more enduring success than almost any other missionary in Christian history.

St. Patrick was born in Roman Britain, somewhere around AD 415. Though his parents were practicing Christians, he had rebelled and considered himself a pagan. His father was a deacon and his grandfather a priest. When he was 16, he was captured by Irish pirates and taken to Ireland. Sold to a druid who raised sheep, Patrick now learned to pray. His master often left him with only minimal food and water for days at a time. He found relief from his cruel master only in continual prayer. He wrote later that he often prayed 100 times a day, and almost as much at night. Then he felt the love and fear of God surround him. Patrick reported that after six years as a slave, he heard a voice from heaven telling him it was time to flee. He escaped first to France (because that’s where the boat was going) and finally returned to Britain after training for the priesthood. Planning to live a quiet life in service to the God who saved him, he followed the family footsteps to become a priest in Britain.

God had other plans and called Patrick back to Ireland as a missionary when he was 45. Some have called Patrick the Apostle to Ireland. Indeed, when God called Patrick to missions, it was through another dream. Like Paul’s dream of Macedonia, Patrick dreamed of a Christian man who handed him letters written by the Irish. As he read the letters, he heard a voice of many Irish men saying, “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.”

There were a few Christians there, but not many. With six years living in Ireland as a slave, Patrick knew what the Isle was like and knew it would take a different approach to convert it to Christianity than had worked on the continent.

As the first missionaries moved throughout the empire, such as Paul, Peter, and others, they went to places where the people spoke one of the languages they knew, Greek. They went to places where everyone shared the same laws and had the same respect for law and order. This was in the main part of the empire. The missionaries to the German tribes faced many of the same problems Patrick did, but their solution of making the tribes Roman before making them Christian was not something Patrick could wait on. The Roman army had abandoned Britain before his capture! The church had no army with swords. Patrick went alone with his prayers.

He knew that what worked in the civilized empire would not work on the untamed frontier. As I said, when Patrick arrived as a missionary, he was one of a handful of Christians in Ireland. However, one century after he died, only the small kingdom of Munster in the south of Ireland was still pagan.

The biggest threat to Patrick’s work were the druids. They had power. Patrick knew this. The people in Ireland knew this. Patrick confronted the druids and preached that their nature gods were demons. The people feared the gods of Ireland (and they should, they were not nice gods), but Patrick turned that fear into hatred of the demonic. Like Elijah and the prophets of Ba’al, Patrick took on the druids with their nature gods and won. The bell he used to drive off the demons in one such encounter is preserved today in the National Museum of Ireland.

In another, Patrick stood alone against a powerful druid. The druid called up a thick fog and asked Patrick to do the same. Patrick challenged the druid to send away the fog. To the druids surprise, he could not. With a few words of prayer, Patrick asked God to drive away the fog. As the druid realized Patrick’s God was more powerful than his, he trembled in fear. Patrick asked God to strike the druid dead, just as the Israelites had slain the prophets of Ba’al.

As you can imagine, church with Patrick was not just a motivational speech at a business meeting! So many of our Christian churches today have left behind the miracles and prophecies to be little more than a Sunday morning club. For many church goers, the Sunday morning is all they have. They don’t really think about Christ in the week. This is sad and grievous. That one can be changed, freed from sin, and then think so little of it boggles the mind.

Patrick preached the mysteries of God, miracles of the Spirit, and the love of Jesus against the demonic. For his work, he was named a bishop of Ireland and then archbishop as Christianity spread throughout the Emerald Isle and the need for other bishops grew.

What man intended for evil, God used for good. A former slave, Patrick was the first Christian make ending slavery a part of his ministry. He was so against it that he stepped outside of his boundaries as a bishop in Ireland to excommunicate a Christian in Britain for organizing a slave raid.

He strove to end the slave trade in Ireland, and almost lived to see it happen. Thanks to him, the kingdoms of Ireland were the first places in the West to outlaw slavery and trading slaves. In his life, he did see human sacrifice in Ireland ended.

How did Patrick bring Christianity to this pagan isle? He had three prongs to his approach.

He Did not Let the Bad in His Past Stop Him

Christ commands us to keep going past the bad and not let it define us. He said,

Luke 6:27-28 “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

And Peter repeats that.

1 Peter 3:8-9 To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; 9 not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.

Like Christ, Patrick loved his enemies, blessed those who cursed him, he did good to those who hated him.

We can think of little more wrong to do to a person than to enslave them. In the ancient world, slavery was simply a part of life. Don’t get me wrong, it was recognized as a bad thing and no one wanted to be a slave, but all nations had slaves, sometimes of their own people. It’s estimated that in the first century, one quarter of the people living in Rome were in fact slaves.

Christianity was the first religion to teach against it. Starting with Paul’s letter to Philemon when he says, “I trust you will do even more than I say,” Patrick was the first to face it head on. Between Paul and Patrick, St. Augustine had written against it. John Chrysostom in Constantinople had preached against it in a sermon entitled, “Should we not make it a heaven on earth?”

Christianity allowed slaves to marry. Roman law said a slave’s owner could sell him without selling the rest of the family so they could not marry. When a slave was buried in a Christian cemetery, nothing on the grave would indicate the person beneath had been a slave. For most the mark of slavery endured beyond the grave, for the Christian, their past had been forgotten.

When a slave, Patrick had a harsh and cruel master. Patrick was often left alone with the sheep for weeks at a time, forced to look for his own food after the provisions ran out. Patrick’s master was also a druid priest, no wonder that Patrick left his paganism behind while in slavery.

Like Joseph having been a slave, Patrick took his curse and used it to better others. Had Joseph allowed his time in prison to make him bitter, he would not have saved all those nations during the famine years.

I can easily see Patrick deciding against ever returning to Ireland. The worst years of his life were spent there, but he returned good for evil and blessed those who cursed him.

What is the good that we can do to those who wrong us? How can we bless those who curse us?

He Started Where They Were

1 Peter 3:15-16 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.

The prior missionaries to Ireland kept making slow progress because the Irish could not comprehend the Trinity. To them, it sounded like one God with three faces. They had a god with three faces in their pantheon, and he was not a nice man. Other Irish simply thought the trinity to be nonsense.

I can concur with them that the Trinity is hard to understand. In fact, it is simply impossible for man to grasp all the nuances and complexities of it. However, the main part of it is easy to grasp. There is one God who exists as three persons. The Father, Son, and Spirit are all God but none of them are the same. Much ink has been spilled trying to parse out the relationships and how they work together. The exact nature of how it all works is a mystery.

It’s okay that we don’t understand all of it. What matters is that God has revealed it this way. There are many things in Scripture which are hard to understand. However, we need to be ready for those who have questions about this or any other part of our faith. But don’t be too concerned that we can’t answer them all.

Patrick found a way to explain the Trinity to the Irish in a way they could at least begin to grasp the concept. Once that assent was given, they were able to follow the rest of the way. Patrick used a beloved Irish symbol to explain it, the Shamrock. He showed them that all parts of the Godhead were part of the same plant but the three distinct yet identical leaves were joined together.

We might not be called upon to answer a question about the Trinity at first. We might have to answer a different question when bringing someone to the faith. What if they ask how we know that Christ physically rose from the dead? How do we know it wasn’t merely a spiritual resurrection they talk about?

We know this because they don’t describe it that way. If the writers of the New Testament intended for us to understand a spiritual resurrection without a physical body, they would not have spoken so much about the body! All of the Gospels record the empty tomb. What is the first thing there that says it wasn’t a spiritual resurrection? The tomb was empty! If it had been a spiritual resurrection, the body would have still been there.

When the Jewish leaders tried to say the resurrection didn’t happen, the Apostles answered by saying, ‘Then bring out the body.’ They couldn’t. That was all that had to be done to stop Christianity in its infancy. Bring out the body.

In All Things, He Let Christ be Seen

When Jesus was challenged to name the greatest law in Mark 12, He quoted this in verse 30. “AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’” He was quoting from a well-known passage in Deuteronomy known as the Shema, which is Hebrew for “Listen!” The full passage goes like this:

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5 “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8 “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

When ministering in Ireland, St. Patrick also wrote down a prayer that he prayed daily. More than anything else he wrote, this prayer sums up his approach to faith and the ministry.

“I bind unto myself today the strong name of the trinity, by invocation of the same, the Three in One, the One in Three. I bind this day to me forever by power of faith in Christ’s incarnation, His baptism in the Jordan river, His death on the cross for my salvation; His bursting from the spiced tomb, His riding up the heavenly way, His coming at the day of doom I bind unto myself today. I bind unto myself today the power of God to hold and lead, His eye to watch, His might to stay, His ear to harken to my need, the wisdom of my God to teach, His hand to guide, His shield to ward, the Word of God to give me speech, His heavenly host to be my guard. Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me; Christ to comfort and restore me; Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of a friend…

I bind unto myself the name, the strong name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same, the Three in One, and One in Three, of whom all nature hath creation, eternal Father, Spirit, Word; praise to the God of my salvation, salvation is of Christ the Lord!”

There are nine verses to the prayer like this. When you repeat something like that multiple times a day, every day, it gets in your head.

Patrick lived a life modeled after the heroes of the faith. Like Joseph and Paul, he was unjustly sentenced. Like Daniel, he took the faith into a foreign land. Where he went, he introduced people to Christ. Everything in his life revolved around Christ and making Him known. It wasn’t enough for Patrick to just show his faith by being different. He proclaimed his faith in everything he did.

He had to be ready at all times. The enemies of the faith were always at war with him. To be Christian in those times was not easy. Patrick knew that believers, new and old, needed one another, so like the missionaries before him, he planted churches wherever he went. He started monasteries and communities around them because Ireland didn’t have many towns or villages then.

We don’t know how Patrick died, but we know that he died on March 17, around 490. After living a life in service to God, he died where he had been most used by God.

The thoughts of that prayer come from Scripture and ask what it means to love the LORD with all you have and how to put that into practice in your life. How can you be Christ’s hand to those who need you? How can you be God’s wisdom to those who need to be taught?

When you need protection, Christ will be before you and behind you. When you need comfort, Christ will comfort and restore.

How will you show Christ to all who need you?

Conclusion

Because of his work, not only was Ireland converted, but France regained it’s Christianity after missionaries from Ireland went there. Missionaries from Ireland’s churches went to Scotland and eventually to Norway (ironically, taken as slaves just as Patrick had been). Because one man obeyed the call, Christianity thrived in places it had never taken root before.

Patrick and Paul faced great persecution and trials in preparation for their faith. Most Christians will not go through all of this. We won’t be struck blind to get our attention. We won’t serve as slaves to a cruel druid. But we will need to serve.

The question you have to ask yourself is this: “Will I be found faithful to the work God has called me to do regardless of the opposition I face?”

Will you? Whatever God has in store for you, will you do it no matter the cost? We live comfortable lives here. Would we be willing to give it up for Christ?

It’s easy to say yes in our minds. Yet, when it came down to it, how hard would it be to give things up for Christ’s sake?

I want to open the altar, now. Take the time to come and pray that God will strengthen you in your walk, to prepare you for everything He wants you to do. No matter the cost, follow.

Posted in Assemblies of God, Christian History, sermon | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

When Trials Pile On, Keep Trusting God (a sermon on Psalm 3)

FCF: Believers can trust God for protection and peace from the attacks of unbelievers.

This last week has been a time when God’s people have come under attack repeatedly. I saw a political cartoon this week that had the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah asking God when He would strike New York. This is a question I myself ask. This last week, New York governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law legalizing abortion at any time prior to birth. This bill had passed their house several times but always been stopped in the state senate. This year, the new state senate had democrats in the majority party and they pushed it through. Cuomo signed it.

And they celebrated. It made me sick to read about this whole thing. Think about the evil that must be within a person to celebrate the “right” to kill an unborn child one minute before it would have been born otherwise. And under this law, nondoctors can perform abortions. I guess that old canard about being worried about the life of the mother pales in comparison to being able to kill your child.

Also in the last week, a group of Catholic young men from Kentucky were lynched in the media for the crime of wearing MAGA hats at the March For Life. They were harassed and provoked for 45 minutes, but the boys simply stood and some did school chants. One smiled at the man beating a drum in his face and trying to provoke him but the boy did nothing.

Even as the truth has come out, and it did within an hour of the events, many of the media were still reporting a heavily clipped video and saying it was all the boys’ fault. The school closed for several days due to threats caused by the slanderous reports. Celebrities have called for the boys to be punched. Luckily, lawyers have been already contacted the boys’ families and offered to handle the cases for free.

This should not surprise us. Satan has always been attacking believers. If you give him the slightest inch, he will take a mile. In David’s life, we see him constantly under attack from Satan. David lived a far from perfect life, but he always kept his life grounded with faith. David’s mistakes were bigger than most of us ever will have, but that’s because David was in a place of authority and had the opportunity to make big mistakes. We’ll make smaller mistakes that can mess up our lives just as much, but there won’t be people 3,000 years later reading about it.

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Posted in Assemblies of God, nonfiction, Old Testament, sermon, The Last Crusade | Tagged , , | 1 Comment