This man came to Jesus by night…

(Jim Fields as Nicodemus, VBS 2018)

This is the first time in several years that the students of our community have not been visited by Nicodemus.  Our Vacation Bible School was cancelled this year as a precaution against spreading the COVID-19 virus. Even in the heat of summer, Brother Jim Fields from First Baptist Somerset regularly dons the costume and persona of the First Century Pharisee who came to Jesus by night. It has become a cherished tradition and Brother Jim and his wife have, along with so many others from Somerset, been greatly missed this summer. Even more, we have missed the time of teaching, explaining and rejoicing with students in our community that God loves us and sent his Son to save us.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16, ESV

Even as Nicodemus struggled to understand Jesus’ identity and message, he saw the goodness and godliness of both. Jesus met with him in secret, known only to his close followers, and the account that John preserves in his gospel has become one of the most cherished passages for preaching and teaching the good news that Jesus is the Son of God and came to the world to save sinners.

The third chapter of John gives us a great example of how Jesus taught his disciples and how he took time to answer the questions and concerns of just one person who came to him with doubts and left without completely resolving them. As we read this chapter and prepare for worship together this week, let us pray that others will be born again to see and enter Jesus’ kingdom, receiving his testimony by the work of the Holy Spirit. 

We missed VBS this year. But there are plenty of ways to evangelize; spread the good news, the gospel, or the evangel, that are pandemic-proof. The gathering of Jesus and a few of his closest, earliest followers with Nicodemus was well within the constraints of our modern need for “social distancing.” And this stands in God’s Word as one of the greatest examples of personal evangelism, performed by the only perfect person, the Son of God, “because of the great love with which he has loved us…”

Ephesians 1

Before the Foundation of the World

Nehemiah 9:6 reminds us as we worship God: “You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.”

He Chose Us; He Predestined Us

The first time I heard my oldest son’s heart beating, I was 20 years old. I heard two hearts at first. I heard my wife’s heart and I heard another quicker heartbeat. As the ultrasound technician moved the monitor and isolated his heartbeat, it was the first definite knowledge I had that there was now another person in our family. I loved him before I really knew him and certainly before he knew me. 

And that is where the analogy breaks down. I can’t love as completely and as selflessly as God loves. I had no foreknowledge of my son other than that he was there. I didn’t even know he would be a son.  Yet God knew us, chose us, loved us and adopted us in Christ before he began to create this universe. Before his Spirit stirred the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2) he had in his mind to save his people.

According to the Purpose of His Good Pleasure

Translators struggle and debate how to transition this Greek word into an English phrase. I’m not going to presume to know more than they do, but I will take a guess that maybe it is a combination of both attempts. God chooses us, not because of anything good in us, but because it pleases him to set the good purpose of his will upon saving us.

To the Praise of His Glory

Sola Deo Gloria. To the glory of God alone. That is the reason why it pleases him to save us. By his very nature, God cannot purpose in his will to do something that does not bring him glory now and forever. 

Holy, Holy, Holy

Remember that in the Bible, repetition equals exclamation. When Jesus sought to emphasis a particular truth in his teaching, he would say, “Verily, verily…” or “Truly, truly…” When the angels are praising God in the visions God gave to Isaiah or John, they cry “Holy, holy, holy.” Here in the opening of his letter, Paul extols these three points, three times. God chose us (v 4), he predestined us (v 5), and we having been predestined (v 11), according to the purpose of his will or the good pleasure of his will in verses 5, 9, and  11, are saved and now live forever to the praise of his glory and his glorious grace ( verses 6, 12, and 14).

I can’t write songs, but I wish someone would turn this chapter into a hymn. Maybe they already have. It is clear to me in reading that Paul is trying to lead the Ephesian church to use their theology to worship God. A biblical theology will cause us to extol and rejoice because of who God is and what he does. 


Faithfully Preach God’s Word

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God…”
1 Peter 1:22-23


Jeremiah 23 (main sermon text)

Acts 2, 13 (Examples of New Testament sermons)

1 Peter 1:22-25 

Defining Preaching by What It Isn’t

I remember my the first “sermon” I ever preached. 

I had no idea what I was doing. I haven’t been able to find the notes. I am glad it wasn’t recorded.

I do remember the scripture from which I tried to preach. It was Zechariah chapter 8. I chose the text to try to cast a vision for our church to pursue renewal and growth. This was, I think about 14 years ago.

I can now see that I started with what I wanted to say to people and found a passage of scripture that I thought I could us to support my ideas for what  our church needed to do. Jeremiah warns against prophets or preachers who preach from a starting point of their own visions or dreams.

Preaching is not just presenting our personal convictions, even convictions faithfully held and based upon Scripture. Preaching starts with studying to understand what the Bible passage really means and how it should be applied. Most Christians will never and should never preach a formal sermon (James 3:1), but every Christian should be ready to give a defense of the reason for the hope that is in us, and to do so with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). Even for those of us who will never preach to a crowd, we have to preach the word to ourselves. That means we read the Bible to know what it is saying. We should be careful not to go to the Bible with a conclusion already in mind. A healthy church requires members to read and study and leaders to read, study, teach, and preach the word faithful to what the word says. 

To the Glory of God

Our Scripture for next worship is Hebrews 13

The writer calls this a brief word of exhortation. 

 It took us four months. Four. Months.

I still feel like we barely skimmed the surface.

If this was him writing briefly, imagine how much more exhortation the writer thought his audience needed. Each time I came to this word, I was exhorted. Exhortation is more than teaching or encouragement. A sermon is an exhortation. A sermon urges us to take proper action and adopt proper attitudes. I am grateful that the Bible includes this book for a lesson on how to exhort, how to preach, how to explain or teach the Scripture while building in applications to how we should think, feel, and act.


“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
-Hebrews 13:20-21

This book is a lesson for how to read, teach, and preach the Bible. The writer in includes multiple exhortations to remember, obey, submit to and pray for our leaders. This is especially poignant as we are praying for leadership decisions as a church. As he began the letter with a proclamation of the supreme authority and glory of the Lord Jesus, he closes his letter with a plea for us to honor Christ and a prayer for Christ to be glorified in us. Since I was a child in this church.

I have always been impressed by this monument stone placed in the corner of our church’s worship hall. This is why we exist. To borrow from the catechism of our Presbyterian brothers and sisters, we are here to glorify God and enjoy him forever. That is the end to which this letter to the Hebrews was building and the end to which all of history is being driven. We live to glorify a God who created us and then became one of us. Jesus suffered, died, was buried, and rose again to make us fit to glorify and enjoy him forever.