What should the ministry of Jesus Christ be teaching the brethren that will produce spiritual growth?
Good afternoon everyone. It's a pleasure to be here with you and greetings to all those attending the General Conference of Elders of the United Church of God in Cincinnati. Special greetings to all of those around the world who are hooked up, listening in, participating in the conference in this particular Sabbath service. I think we're all mindful of Jesus' admonition to Peter: "Feed My Sheep." He said: "Tend My Sheep." He also said: "Feed My Lambs." He repeated it three times so we'd all get it.
A number are serving as pastors for the first time with all that's happened and all pastors, whether new or experienced seek to strengthen their congregations by providing nourishing, spiritual food. As we've heard the theme for this year's conference is "Serving as Jesus Christ Serves." Today I want to focus on one aspect of this service. What exactly are we to feed the congregations we pastor? What are to feed His Lambs and His Sheep? I think you'll all agree that if the congregations aren't well fed, they won't grow and if they don't grow, surely the chief Shepherd will not be pleased. So let's examine what the ministry of Jesus Christ should be teaching to the brethren that will produce spiritual growth. Let's begin in Deuteronomy 18. Moses is talking to the people and said:
Deuteronomy 18:15 Deuteronomy 18:15The LORD your God will raise up to you a Prophet from the middle of you, of your brothers, like to me; to him you shall listen;
American King James Version× "The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, 16: according to all you desired of the Lord your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying: 'Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.' 17: And the Lord said to me: 'What they have spoken is good. 18: I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren and will put My words in his mouth and he shall speak to them all that I command Him.' (I'll put My words in his mouth. God would send His personal representative to bring additional teaching to Israel and that means we have more instruction that was not given at Mt. Sinai. God said He will put My words in his mouth. They'll be more instruction coming.) 19: 'And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him." (The NIV translates that: If anyone does not listen to My words which that Prophet speaks in My name, I myself will call him into account. ) Those are pretty strong words.
Israel was told to listen to His words, to His teaching and those who really listen would all live by the same teaching and then you have unity. Those who didn't heed His teaching, He said He would call into account.
I'd like you to look at John, chapter 6. These are scriptures we're all familiar with I believe.
John 6: 63 "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. (Now that's an amazing statement and deserves a lot of thought.) The words that I speak to you are spirit and they are life." (The words that Jesus brought from the Father have to do with eternal life. They have to do with the Spirit. Let's go down to verse 66.) 66: From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. (They could not fathom what He meant by eat My flesh and drink My blood, that was kind of advance doctrine they could not handle.) 67: Then Jesus said to the twelve, "Do you also want to go away?" 68: Then Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." (Today we want to focus on the words of eternal life.) Look at John, chapter 12, let's begin in verse 44.
John 12:44 John 12:44Jesus cried and said, He that believes on me, believes not on me, but on him that sent me.
American King James Version× Then Jesus cried out and said: "He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me. 45: And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me. 46: I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness." (You know many think that Jesus came to change His Father's teaching, but we know that's not true at all. He faithfully taught what the Father told Him to say and He died for it. The Father and Jesus are in perfect harmony on doctrine and teaching as we'll see eventually I hope. The light will show the way to eternal life, we'll see that in a minute.) 47: And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. (He could have judged the world from heaven; to save the world He had to come down here and die.) 48: He who rejects Me and does not receive My words, has that which judges him, the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day. (We all need to realize that when the Father said, I'll call him into account, that those words will be the basis for judgment on the judgment day. That's very important. Jesus thought the judgment of the last day will be based on the words He brought from the Father and those who reject it will be held accountable.) 49: For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. (How many people say I'm only here to deliver what I've been told to say? Jesus Christ did.) 50: And I know that His command is everlasting life. (Those who heed His words are on the way to eternal life) Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak." (The only way to eternal life is following the Father's teaching, brought by Jesus Christ. The key to providing our members with sound teaching is to understand that Jesus Christ is God's messenger, sent to bring the Father's teaching into a darkened world.)
Look at John 17. This is the intercessory prayer by the high priest in the new covenant. He says:
John 17:6 John 17:6I have manifested your name to the men which you gave me out of the world: your they were, and you gave them me; and they have kept your word.
American King James Version× "I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me and they have kept Your word. 7: Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. 8. For I have given to them the words (Here's the words again) which You have given Me; and they have received them and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me." (They recognized this was the teacher God would send with additional teaching and that those who didn't heed would be held accountable)
Peter makes that point explicitly in Acts 3, let's take a look at Acts 3. I think we're very familiar with these words beginning in verse 19. You'll remember that the lame man had been healed in the temple at the hour of prayer which would be about 3 P.M. and it was an astonishing thing to happen and drew a crowd.
Acts 3:19 Acts 3:19Repent you therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.
American King James Version× "Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, 20: and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, (In the King James margin it says majority text ordained for you beforehand) 21: whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began." (That's been a message around for a long time.)
We're familiar with verses 19 to 21, I think we're less familiar with the next couple verses. Verse 22: "For Moses truly said to the fathers: 'The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you. 23: And it shall come to pass that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.' (Did you not see how strong Peter made that? It is vitally important to hear the teaching that Jesus Christ brought. Those who don't will be utterly destroyed, that's extremely strong language. What could be more important?) Notice 25 and 26. 25: You are sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, 'And in your seed al the families of the earth shall be blessed.' 26: To you first, God, having raised up His Servant, Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities." (To bless the children of Israel. As you know as a whole they did not receive it. But some did, many were baptized that day and there was a turning around, they recognized it. It was sent to Israel first, but the long term plan was for everybody on earth to hear those words. That was God's plan for all the families of the earth.)
Let me also show you II John, verses 8 and 9; when I say show you, I know you already know what's in there. Remind you I guess is better.
II John 8: Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward. 9: Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. (Now John was going to make a simple statement here. Anyone who transgresses, we normally think of that as going against mote teaching that Moses brought and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ, abide in it, does not abide in the doctrine of Christ, the teaching Jesus brought, He said, does not have God. That's very strong straight forward, does not have God and then he goes on) He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.
Someone who lives in the teaching Jesus brought has both the Father and the Son. It's very important for us to understand this. For John the key issue was abiding the doctrine of Christ. As we'll see, the doctrine of Christ is practical instruction on how to love one another and how to love God. To see that I'd like to go back to Matthew's account in the Sermon on the Mount and we'll go through a few scriptures here to see the teaching Jesus Christ brought about how to love God and love neighbor. The beginning of it is what we should become ourselves, each of us. So he says in Matthew chapter 5.
Matthew 5:3 Matthew 5:3Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
American King James Version× "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
I think the apostle Paul provides a way to be able to understand these beatitudes. When Saul of Tarsus entered the road to Damascus, he was the proud leader of a group sent on a special mission by the high priest to Damascus. Then on the road came what we may call intervention. Jesus confronted him. Paul replied: "Who are you Lord?" I'm glad he put Lord in there because it gave a hint that he knew. "What do you want me to do?" A good answer. Where do we go from here? He was told to go into the city and you'll be told what to do. When Saul left the road to Damascus, he was blind. They had to lead him by the hand and he was beginning to learn what poor in spirit means. Becoming poor in spirit is where the New Testament Christianity begins. That's where Matthew began the teaching and that's where Paul began to learn what Christianity is. After the intervention, God gave Paul a three day time-out where he fasted and prayed, to think about how wrong he had been. His whole life had been totally misdirected. He was actually fighting the very God he claimed to serve. Jesus began His teaching by instructing His servants on seven attitudes that we must all exemplify. Number one was poor in spirit. The opposite of poor in spirit is proud and boastful. Those who are proud who are not poor in spirit are not Christ's disciples. We pastors must teach God's people the importance in being poor in spirit because theirs is the Kingdom of God.
Next comes Verse 4: " Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."
What do you suppose was going through Paul's mind during those three days of fasting and prayer? Wouldn't he be mourning for all those things he had said and done against Christ and his disciples? Wouldn't he be grieving about being so wrong and so misguided and so very public about it all? He told King Agrippa: "Indeed I myself what I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem and many are saying, so I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests and when they were put to death I cast my vote against them and I punished them often in every city, or every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme, deny Christ or I'll kill you, and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to 40, to foreign cities." Surely he mourned for participating in the stoning of Stephen, who he now recognized as a true servant of God, unlike himself. Having been humbled by Christ's intervention, the next step would have been to mourn for all his vanity, all his carnal thoughts, all his pomposity, all his actions. God blessed Paul with Godly repentance and it surely involved a lot of mourning. He would mourn from what he saw himself and he mourned for what he saw in the nation. The opposite of mourn is to lack awareness of one's spiritual state and the blindness of the troubled world. Remember the tax collector? He mourned, he wouldn't lift up his eyes and he said: "God be merciful to me a sinner." Then Jesus said that this man went home justified. We must teach God's people that it is only those who mourn who will be comforted.
Verse 5: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth"
As we know, many people think of meek as the same as weak, but it's not true. Meek means gentle, humble, considerate and courteous. It means being willing to learn from God and also from others. Paul began to listen to God in a way he never had before. The opposite of meek are know-it-alls. Their mind is on self, prefer to talk rather than listen and look down on others. Fellow elders we know, those who are not meek will not inherit the earth.
Verse 6: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled."
I'm sure Paul recognizing his profound spiritual blindness and began to hunger and thirst for true righteousness. Technically he knew the Hebrew bible well, but now his eyes were opened to what it actually said and he began to understand it in a more profound way. We hunger for what we don't have. We hunger for what we lack. We want to become sin free. We want our past and present sins forgiven and through God's power, to live forever without sin. The opposite of hunger and thirst for righteousness is self sufficiency and blindness to one's spiritual state. One thinks of the Laodiceans who didn't think they had any problems at all, so they wouldn't hunger in the same way of those who have seen the problems in there. Only those blessed with an appetite for God's righteousness will be filled with it.
Verse 7: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."
As we learn what righteousness is we must not go too far and become self righteous and haughty in our dealings with others. The opposite of merciful is quick to criticize, quick to judge, quick to condemn and Paul was given a very personal lesson on that. If you look at Acts chapter 7, as you know Stephen spoke boldly to the counsel and the counsel did not appreciate it at all.
Acts 7: 54 When they heard these things they were cut to the heart and they gnashed at him with their teeth.
(Now when you start biting on somebody, you're really upset with them.) 55: But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,, 56: and said, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" 57: Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears and ran at him with one accord; 58: and they cast him out of the city and stoned him and the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59: And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying. "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 60: Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Acts 8:1 Acts 8:1And Saul was consenting to his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.
American King James Version× Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
Did you notice it said Stephen cried out with a loud voice "Lord, don't lay this charge against them." (I wonder if Paul actually heard the cry? I presume he did. If he didn't I feel Luke, the author of Acts would have made it plain to him as they traveled together and remind him that Stephen had prayed for him to be forgiven. God answered in a way nobody was expecting, least of all the angry and vengeful Paul of Tarsus. Can you imagine in the resurrection when Stephen comes up and meets Paul the apostle whom God used to write about half the books in the New Testament? It's going to be quite a reunion. Stephen's prayer was answered and you can bet Paul thought about that a lot.)
Matthew 5:8 Matthew 5:8Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
American King James Version× "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
God as we know looks on the heart. If you examine the beatitudes you'll find all the focus on the heart. We need to teach members the importance of being pure in heart. The opposite of pure in heart are deceitful, critical and lustful. Christ said: "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish that the outside may be clean also. Woe unto to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you are like white-washed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so, you were also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." They look good, but they weren't; hypocrisy. Unless such folks turn around, they won't be seeing God.
Verse 9: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."
The pinnacle of these seven virtues is the peacemaker. They'll be called God's sons, they're just like their father. Peace breakers will not be called God's sons. Peace fakers will not be called God's sons. Peace makers will be called God's sons. Peace making is not easy. It's up there at the top of the list with Jesus, about the characteristics He wants His people to exemplify. The opposite of peacemakers are those who love to argue and provoke others, who are unwise and unloving, who involve in put-downs in trying to put people down. That does not produce peace. Peace making involves spiritual maturity and again the apostle Paul had something interesting on that. Look at Acts chapter 9.
Acts 9:26 Acts 9:26And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.
American King James Version× And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him and did not believe that he was a disciple. (It would be a little hard to believe.) 27: But Barnabas (Son of Encouragement) took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road and that He had spoken to him and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. 28: So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out. 29: And he spoke boldly in the name of Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him. (Hellenists, a Greek speaking Jews of which Paul was one. So he went to his fellow Hellenists and he was going to explain to them, the only problem was they wanted to kill him. Now when your audience wants to kill you, it's not good.) 30: When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus. (They sent him home. Saul, you're a nice guy, go away. He was only newly converted. He hadn't learned what peace-making involves, that takes time, that takes time. What was the result of the brethren? Notice the brethren did this. I don't know if it meant all of them together or what exactly he meant, but it says the brethren. What was the result? ) 31: Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied. (They began to grow. Paul had some things to learn about that. Later he would write: "Walk in wisdom towards those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let you speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how to answer everyone." Don't dump the whole salt shaker on the food, just a little bit. He was learning and God gave him time to ripen and he had the best teacher there is, Jesus Christ and he learned to be there. Jesus began his teaching by addressing how the disciples must become. He continued by helping them to understand His view of the law. Go to Matthew 5.)
Matthew 5:21 Matthew 5:21You have heard that it was said of them of old time, You shall not kill; and whoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:
American King James Version×"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder,' and whoever murders will be in danger of judgment. (He's going to explain the Christian view of the commandment, thou shall not kill.) 22: But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. (The judgment we heard was what the men of old thought. You're in danger of the judgment if you actually kill somebody. With Jesus, we're in the same boat, the same punishment if we're angry with our brother. Then he goes further.) And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' (Empty head) shall be in danger of the council. (That's more serious, that is disrespect. First anger, and you'll find this happens in relationships. You get angry with somebody, then you show disrespect towards them. Disrespect gets you to the council) But whoever says, 'You fool!' (Now this is contempt, contempt for a brother) shall be in danger of hell fire. (Brethren, hell fire is the second death. That's very strong. That's Jesus view of anger with brothers, the commandment, thou shall not kill. 23: Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, (You owe him money or he thinks you do, you said something or he heard you did or all the things that brothers may have against us) 24: leave your gift there before the altar and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother and then come and offer your gift. (Take immediate and urgent action to be reconciled with our brethren. That's the teaching of Jesus Christ) 25: Agree with your adversary quickly (Now this is an adversary, He'stalking about a brother before, somebody you'd think would be eager to reconcile. This is an adversary who probably isn't eager to reconcile.) while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer and you are thrown into prison. 26: Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny." (We want to deal with these problems even with adversaries, we try to reconcile quickly, as quickly as we can. Sometimes it's not easy, but that's what we're supposed to do.)
Let's look at Mathew 5, verse 43. You know these verses as well as I do.
Matthew 5:43 Matthew 5:43You have heard that it has been said, You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.
American King James Version× "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor (Which wasn't the teaching) and hate your enemy.' (Which wasn't, that was the teaching of the men of old.) 44: But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you (Which is what Stephen did) 45: that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." (I won't continue on that, but he means we learn to love as our Father does, it's how to love God and how to love your neighbor as the Father does.)
Matthew 6:14 Matthew 6:14For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
American King James Version×"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15: But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (It's important that we learn to forgive because if we don't forgive, we won't be forgiven. This is how to love others, to have a forgiving attitude toward others. Matthew 6.25, I won't go over that, you know it well enough. Not worry, therefore do not worry. Worry is not loving God. It means, will God take care of us or not? And He goes on to seek the Kingdom of God and He says God look after all the rest. You know it as well as I do. I don't need to go there.
Matthew 7:21 Matthew 7:21Not every one that said to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.
American King James Version× "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. (The will of the Father in heaven is always to love our brethren and to love God and the manifestation of it is different ways.) 22: Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in your name? 23: And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!" (You don't respect the teaching that was brought.) 24: Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, (What Moses said, if he doesn't do them, hold him account) I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: 25: and the rain descended, the floods came and the winds blew and beat on the house and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. (It was founded on what the rock brought to teach) 26: Now everyone who hears these sayings of Mine and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand." (And you know the end of the house that's on the sand.)
They teach how to love, and how to love God and how to love our neighbor. Salvation is for those who heed Christ's teaching and you know Matthew 18 about problems, somebody sins against you, isn't it somebody who goes against you, you go and you talk to him alone and if he hears you, you gained a brother and that happens most every time. There are exceptions though. If somebody doesn't hear you and doesn't hear a respected member or if he refuses to hear the church, he's not walking in the teaching of Jesus Christ. If we don't follow up, then we're not walking in the teaching of Jesus Christ either. It's important for us to do that and it's important for all members of the body of Christ to understand that.
Before His crucifixion Jesus instructed His disciples, His future apostles, to meet Him in a specific location. Now that He was raised from the dead He wanted to give them their marching orders. If you look at Matthew 28:16 Matthew 28:16Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.
American King James Version× Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed to them. 17: And when they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. 18: Then Jesus came and spoke to them saying: "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. (I think we ought to contemplate all authority, all authority goes back to Jesus Christ, whether it appears so or whether it doesn't) 19: Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations (With Peter, He gave him instructions to go out to those in the temple, now He sent them out to go to the whole world, to take those things out) baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20: teaching them to observe (teaching them to actually do all things, not some things, all things) all things that I have commanded you; and lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
Jesus faithfully served by delivering the words that the Father sent Him to bring. The apostles faithfully served by taking Jesus' teaching and preaching it and also by recording it for us to have available to us. The ministry today serves by faithfully teaching the words Jesus brought; the path to eternal life. Over the years we've invested a lot of time in the proclamation aspects of Christ's commission. But, we mustn't neglect the second half. Every Sabbath, elders have the opportunity, actually the responsibility, to teach Christ's disciples all things He commanded. We start with the Beatitudes but we go through all things. As Peter said, "Lord, to whom shall we go. You have the words of eternal life."