(NRSV) Jesus Returns to Galilee

John 4:43 When the two days were over, he went from that place to Galilee 44 (for Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in the prophet’s own country). 45 When he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, since they had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the festival; for they too had gone to the festival.

Jesus Heals an Official’s Son

46 Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capern-a-um. 47 When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48 Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” 49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. 51 As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive. 52 So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, “Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.” 53 The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he himself believed, along with his whole household. 54 Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.

My favorite gospel is the gospel of John. Matthew’s gospel was written to convince the Jews that Jesus was king. To me the highlights of Matthew was the Beatitudes, and of course the foretelling of the return of Jesus. Mark was written primarily to a Roman audience unfamiliar with Jewish customs.  Mark was written in short, concise sentences because Mark’s primary concern was ensuring Jesus’ story was told. Luke was written to Gentiles and my favorite part is the Christmas story. The synoptic gospels shared parables that served to teach us how to follow Christ and live with our fellow man.  But John, written by the disciple Jesus loved the best, showed us from the very first verse that Jesus is eternal. It is a personal gospel and includes 7 “I Am” statements and 7 miracles pre-resurrection and one, the gathering of 153 fish, post-resurrection. 

The miracle of the healing of the official’s son was the second miracle recorded in John and, like the turning of the water into wine, also occurred in Cana. 

46 Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum (Capern-a-um).  Capernaum was about one day’s walk from Cana. 

47 When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48 Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” Strongs Dictionary translates this phrase unless you see to unless you people see. Jesus was aware that many people were following him solely for signs and wonders, and he knew that miracles did not lead to salvation. But it seems a little less harsh to me to hear that Jesus was directing comment not to this grieving father, but instead to really a generation of people. 

49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way.

There are two important ideas here. The first is that the official, being a day away from his son, believed Jesus was limited by time and place. He could not understand how a miracle could occur unless Jesus was in the child’s presence to lay hands upon the boy. 

I am reminded of what Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, said when Jesus arrived seemingly too late to save Lazarus from death. She said, if only you had been here my brother would not have died, and then Martha repeated the same sentiment. And do you remember what Jesus said?. (NRSV)John 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.“

They simply could not understand that Jesus had no such limitations as time and place. 

 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way.

So remember the first idea was that the man thought Jesus was limited by time and place. But the second important idea is that, in a startling turnaround, the official believed and began his return journey. 

In each miracle we have studied, we have seen that the people in need required just enough faith to ask for help. Jesus did not seek after those who needed a miracle. Why? Because Jesus was here to seek and save the lost. Yet, he was available to many who needed a miracle, and as is recorded in the last verse of John 21:25 (NRSV) 25 But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

Signs and wonders from God are obviously good things, but they should not form the foundation of our faith. We should not depend on them to prove God to us. In themselves, signs and wonders cannot change the heart; Israel saw incredible signs at Mount Sinai and even heard the very voice of God (Exodus 19:16-20:1), yet a short time later they worshipped a gold calf (Exodus 32:1-6).

Notice the nobleman did not ask for Jesus’ help on the basis of his station in life. Instead, he was asking for mercy because of the child’s great need. And when Jesus said “your child is healed”, the father did not require any further proof.  The father’s belief spread throughout the entire household. I love that. The faith of the father was so strong that he was able to share that faith with his family and those who worked in the household to the point that they all received salvation. 

I’ve heard it said the man ran to Cana in fear, but he walked back to Capernaum in faith. May we each walk in the same faith every day of our lives.   

One Minute to Midnight

Matthew 25:1-13 (ESV) Ten Virgins

1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

The church age began with Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell upon 120 people all gathered in one place. You all know the story—Jesus told his followers to stay in Jerusalem to watch and pray, because he was leaving a comforter, a Guide, a friend who would be with the Church until He came back again.

It is through the Holy spirit that the church was built, grew, and it is the Holy Spirit who will remain with us until that moment when Jesus comes back to catch us up in the clouds, to pluck us out of this present darkness, and into his marvelous light.  Some people call this gathering together the Rapture, which comes from the Greek word Harpazo. Others refer to it as the Second Coming, but we will learn today that these two events are separate in nature and in time.  

Today’s scripture is the parable of the ten virgins. To understand this parable, you must understand the Jewish wedding of Jesus’s time. Marriages were arranged between the fathers of the bride and groom. When an agreement was reached it was called the marriage covenant or the Betrothal. The Groom would return to the  father’s home  and he would begin building the house for the couple. When the father said the time had come, the groom took his wedding party and marched to the bride’s home. They made a lot of noise so that the bride and her wedding party would know it was time.  In fact, people on the streets would respond to the noise by yelling out, Behold, the bridegroom cometh! It was at night, and everyone in the wedding party was required to have a light. Each virgin had to be sure her lamp was filled with oil before she went to sleep.  The wise virgin carried extra oil, the foolish did not. 

Why was extra oil needed? Because no one knew the day nor the hour when the groom would come, and the light had to remain lit until they arrived home.   In our parable the foolish virgins let their oil burn out, and when they arrived at the gate, they were turned away with the most chilling words they would ever hear. I never knew you.

Oil represents the Holy Spirit, and we live in the age of grace where we have been so blessed to be able to have the Holy Spirit reside within us. He has always been with us. It is the Holy Spirit who urges us to receive the grace that saves us from our sins. It is the Holy Spirit who helps us to grow in sanctifying grace. In order to keep our lamps trimmed and burning, we must pay attention to them.  In order for Christ followers to remain ready for Jesus’s return, we must maintain a relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It is this relationship that provides the light that is needed for the journey home.

Jesus is coming soon. How can we know we are ready? Saving faith in Jesus Christ will manifest itself in every aspect of our lives. The fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) will begin to show. A desire for greater holiness and less sin will be apparent. And a consistent looking for His coming will mark our lives. One of the best passages articulating what saving grace and faith look like in a believer’s life is Titus 2:11-14, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”

Preachers have spouted false doctrine for years, but the time to sort out the truth from the lie is almost at an end. I’ve told you before if you do not believe the words we speak in the Apostle’s Creed then you are not a believer. Preachers today are teaching falsehoods  that are so antithetical to the gospel that if I were them I would be afraid God would strike me dead just like Ananias and Sapphire when they hid their money from the Lord.

Some preach Jesus was not born of a virgin.  This preaching is not new—it began roughly 100 years after Christ died. But it is not the gospel, never has been, never will be. Others preach Jesus was not resurrected.  It is not the gospel.  Others preach that the Bible was written for a different time, a different culture, and we who preach that God’s Word is forever faithful and forever true are not keeping up with the times, and if we would just listen to the Holy Spirit, He would (or they refer to Him as “it”) show us he is creating a new movement. If someone says that to me one more time I am going to throw up in my mouth.

I know a little bit about the movements  of the Holy Spirit, and there have been several over the past few hundred years. Do you know what each of these movements had in common? They were not bringing a new understanding of the Holy Scriptures to the world, No, instead, they were movements of divine grace to bring people out of the dark world of sin, and into the light. Each and every time.

Regarding the difference between the Rapture and the Second Coming, in the Rapture the Church is caught up to be with Christ. We go to be with Him. In the Second Coming Jesus comes to establish His kingdom on this earth. He comes to be with us. With the Rapture there will be a shout and the sound of the trumpet and those who believe will be caught up. With the Second Coming the Eastern sky will split in two and every person  shall see Jesus, descending on a cloud because that is the way he left. He will step onto the Mount of Olive’s and that mountain will be divided into two. 

The time for playing church is over. It is one minute until midnight, and Jesus is coming soon. I have given many altar calls since I have been here, but none so important as this one. I can’t tell you when Jesus is coming, but I can tell you he is. I can’t tell you if you are ready. Only God knows your heart. 

Ambassadors for Christ

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (NKJV)
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. 21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

What was Paul talking about when he says if we are in Christ we are a new creation? Paul was telling us that we are not just forgiven of our sins, we are changed. This transformation of heart is necessary if we are to move from simply believing and into people of action.

Think back for a moment to when your relationship with Jesus first began. If you were raised in church, you may not even remember the first time you heard about Jesus. He was always a part of your life. At some point, though, we who are called Christians come into a personal relationship with Christ. We receive that wonderful free gift called salvation and whether we are a child, a teen or adult, we realize our life will never be the same.

But, sometimes the newness of being a Christian wears off. Where we started out reading the Bible every day we become distracted and might go several days at a time without reading even a brief devotional. We might miss church services, and the more we miss, the less we miss being there. It is vital that we progress from being believing Christians to active intentional disciples.

When we read the Acts of the Apostles, we get the idea that the first churches were on fire for God with no problems whatsoever. And they were. After all, they added up to 5000 people to their numbers daily. And we think oh, if we could only model ourselves after these first disciples everything would be great. But Paul didn’t write letters to the Corinthians to tell them how great they were doing. No, he wrote to correct the errors that had developed.

The church at Corinth was in the middle of a pagan culture, and the new converts didn’t go from having no religion to Christianity. They had been worshipping gods, but just not the one true and living God. Many of them saw no problem with continuing their pagan worship while worshipping the God of the Bible, but to Paul that would have been a compromise that the church could not tolerate. Other problems became apparent. Factions developed in the church regarding leadership. False teaching became a problem. The church was a mess.

So Paul reminds the Corinthians of the importance of living as a new creation. When God reconciled us through Jesus’ death on the cross, He brought us back to Him, so that we could be in relationship with Him. We can only be in relationship with God when we turn away from sin. Does this mean we will never sin again? No, but it does mean we won’t seek sin. We will begin to make right choices. We cannot keep one foot in a muddy puddle of sin, while trying to plant our other foot on the solid rock. It doesn’t work that way.

You see, God wants us to respond to His love by choosing good over evil, light over dark, and service to others over self. But we cannot do this by ourselves. We must allow Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to accomplish every good thing to do His will.

When I was a new Christian, I was so young that I thought now that Jesus was my Savior I should be perfect. So each time I did not act as I thought Christians should behave, I questioned my salvation. After all, if Jesus was in my heart, why would I respond to someone in anger, why would I feel jealousy? No one explained to me that Christian living is a growth process. As we commit to God, it is God alone who creates in us this newness of life and heart, and each morning when we commit our day to God we can know that God has already committed to enable us to live according to His nature and not our own.

As we walk with God daily we begin to grow into His image. The Scripture informs us of the way God wants us to live, and grace transforms us, so that we move from being childish to child-like, we grow from being selfish to selfless, and God replaces that which was dead in us with that which is alive in Christ.

When we become intentional in our discipleship, God becomes supreme in our lives, and just we have been reconciled back to God, we need to share with others that they, too, can be reconciled to God. We are called to become Ambassadors for Christ in the world. We are not perfect, but we are perfectly redeemed. We are not perfect in mind, soul or body, but we are perfected in love. We are not perfect, but God equips us with all we need for doing His perfect will (Heb 13:21).

As Ambassadors we do not deliver our own message, but instead we relay the message of the one we represent. Truly the love of Christ compels us to carry not just God’s word as ambassadors of the faith, but we, through organizations such as the United Methodist Women, continue to perform acts of mercy to those at home and abroad.

Willingness to serve begins with the realization that each Christian has been uniquely gifted for a special role in His church which no other person can satisfactorily fill. If we do not serve in our God-given role we will leave a deficiency in our church and in our community. It is when we allow God to work through us and use us according to His good will that service becomes not a burden or a responsibility but a joy.

Paul says that God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Jesus’ work on the Cross is not just about saving us from eternal damnation, it is about what we do with our salvation. Do we take off our salvation like a coat that is too large for us and put it in our closet, and only take it out on Sundays, or do we grow into our salvation, learning to be not just Sunday Christians, but everyday Christians?

Salvation is not only a gift, it is a responsibility. We need to live into our salvation each and every day, with joy, with hope, with anticipation, remembering, that since our savior came, our lives should not be the same, old things have passed away, all things are new. May we embrace and celebrate this newness of life today and every day, and may we, through the power of the Holy Spirit, become ambassadors for Christ. In the name of the Father, the son and the Holy Spirit.

Find Us Faithful

Hebrews 12:1-3
Find Us Faithful
12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
At Asbury UMC in Little Rock, we have what I refer to as our Wall of Witnesses. It is a wall with portraits of all of the senior pastors at Asbury dating back 125 years. I never pass by that wall without thinking of this verse in Hebrews and being reminded of what these men have sacrificed so that we can worship at Asbury today. But the great cloud of witnesses referred to in this scripture is not merely a wall of photos in one church. No, it is all of the saints who have gone before us.
I have seen the Pittsburgh Steelers play at Heinz Field a couple of times, and to see 65,000 people, the majority of whom are cheering for the Steelers, even rivals the Razorbacks. Imagine that number multiplied by hundreds of thousands of saints whose only goal at that moment is to see you press on.
Hebrews was written to Jews who were probably in what is now Turkey. There had been an earthquake, Christians were under attack, and even the faithful were losing heart because Jesus had not yet returned.
Let’s read verses 1-3
The metaphor of a race is perfect to describe the life of a Christian.
Race Christian
Throw off encumbrances
Wear lightweight clothes, shoes Get rid of baggage
Sin, regret, hurts, disappointments
Keep your eyes on the markers showing you the way
Do not take detours Keep your eyes on Jesus
Do not allow the world’s distractions to prevent you from finishing the race
Run with perseverance—drink fluids, eat the right foods Be filled with the word and strengthened by prayer

These scriptures are filled with action.

  1. Throw off what hinders
    a. Discouragement—throwing cold water on. You have a fire of passion for something and someone throws cold water on it.
    b. Despondency—goes beyond discouragement—a heaviness of heart
    c. Distractions—anything that keeps you from reaching your goal.
  2. Keep your eyes on the prize—You cannot run full speed ahead while looking backwards
  3. Run with perseverance—Do not give up
    In running the Christian race, how do we prepare?
  4. Put away the self-help books and pick up the Bible—Wesley said there was no other book that leads to salvation
  5. Be faithful in church attendance—just like a runner who depends on the bystander to hand him/her some water, we need Christian support
  6. Be faithful in prayer
  7. Practice—your faith

How do we accomplish the tasks before us? We must develop a godly discipline.
How does discipline serve to help us?

  1. We find ourselves in a routine
  2. We begin to see the fruits of our efforts
  3. We become strong in the Lord and strong in standing against opposition
    When David angered God by taking a census, God asked from whom did David want to receive punishment. David said, you, I will take my punishment from you because then I will know it will be just and I might just receive mercy.

There is Something Wonderful about Today

There’s something wonderful about today
Today we are quarantined from a virus
We are not living our normal days
Yet we can still lift our eyes to the King of all Kings
We can still lift high our praise.
We witness anger and chaos
It chills us to our bones
Yet because Jesus said, “I will never leave you,”
We can be assured we are not alone.
Today is unlike any other,
do not let it slip away.
Rejoice in the minutes and the hours,
There is something wonderful about today.
©2020 Carol J. Grace


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