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Advent series: Parables of faithful waiting

 We’re back into our advent series focused on Jesus’ parables of waiting for his second coming or “second advent.” I’m highlighting these because many among the people of God were not ready for Jesus’ first Advent. And so as we celebrate Jesus’ birth we rightly ask ourselves, are we ready for his second advent? Are we prepared?

Our text today is found in –

Matthew 25:1-13

– the parable of the ten maidens. (I have changed the ESV’s “virgins” to “maidens” throughout).

1Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.”

So this is about the second coming of Jesus when the kingdom of heaven will come to earth. When he returns, Jesus is saying, it will be like ten maidens waiting for a bridegroom.

We’ll come back to what this teaches us about the second coming, but for now let’s understand the parable.

Jesus is working with ancient marriage customs in this story. After the marriage ceremony, which included the exchange of vows, there would have been a marriage feast (v. 10) at the bridegroom’s house. (See Matthew 22:2-3 and that the groom answers the door at the end of the story.) The role of the maidens was to be ready, after the ceremony was over, to escort the bride and bridegroom to his house for the feast. They have lamps to do this, so they can light the way to the house in the evening.

In our story they’re in position and waiting. But there’s a problem . . .

2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.”

So some of the maidens brought along extra oil for their lamps, just in case, and some did not. The lamps are most likely oil lamps and not torches, maybe attached to a pole. (The word here can mean either. For instance it means lamp in in Acts 20:8 and Judith 10:22. Luke uses a different word that clearly means lamp in his short parallel to this parable – Luke 12:35. And the details of the story favor a lamp – torches wouldn’t burn long enough for them to sleep; vessels of oil seem more suited to filling a lamp; and trimming v. 7 seems to apply more to a lamp – Davies and Allison)

5As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps.”

The delay is the key element in this story. The bridegroom takes so long that they all fall asleep, with their lamps burning all the while. Then at midnight the call comes. It’s time for them to fulfill their duty in the procession. And so they trimmed the wicks of their lamps for maximum brightness. And this is where the foolishness of five of the maidens becomes clear.

8And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’”

The foolish ones didn’t expect or prepare for a delay of the bridegroom. And so when they awake their lamps are going out, which leads them to ask the others for some of their oil. But the wise maidens refuse because there isn’t enough for all and the procession would be a failure if all the lamps went out on the way. So they suggest they go and buy more oil. (It is possible that in a town with a wedding going on, people would be up late and able to sell them oil.)

Next we see the consequences of the lack of preparation on the part of the foolish ones.

10And 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.”

Those who were prepared were able to fulfill their function; they “were ready,” as it says. And they celebrated at the marriage feast.

11Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’”

Now the phrase, “I do not know you” doesn’t mean that the bridegroom doesn’t know them. They are most likely the bride’s good friends and relatives. It’s a statement of disassociation, “I have nothing to do with you now.” Or even, “I disown you.”

And then we have the lesson of the parable drawn out for us . . .

13Be prepared therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

–  that is, for Jesus’ return. (I have changed the ESV’s “watch therefore” to “be prepared.”) The phrase, “be prepared” can and often is translated as “stay awake” or “keep watch,” but here all the maidens slept and none are blamed for it. The issue is that some were not prepared and were thus shut out.

What this teaches us about Jesus’ second coming

It’s a pretty straightforward allegory.

  • The bridegroom’s coming = Jesus’ second coming (Is the “cry” of v. 6 the same as the “the cry of command” found in 1 Thessalonians 4:16? See also note below)
  • The ten maidens = disciples of Jesus who are waiting.
  • The delay = a delay in Jesus’ return. Jesus forewarns us here that it could take a while before he comes again.
  • The wedding feast = the messianic banquet. This is a common theme in Jesus’ teaching. This is the great party that will take place at the end of the world when Jesus and all his own celebrate his great victory and salvation.
  • The shut door = judgment.

(The maidens here match with what the living disciples will do when Jesus returns in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The word “meet” there and here has to do with an official delegation that goes out to welcome, and then escort a dignitary back into the city.)

This much is clear. But what about the central focus of the parable –the oil and the lamps?

The general point is the same as v. 13. Be prepared for Jesus’ return. The five foolish maidens didn’t count on a delay and so they didn’t prepare for it with extra oil.

To not know the day or the hour means that Jesus could return quickly – or as in this case – after a long time. And this parable teaches us to be ready for a delay. Don’t be caught off guard by it. (As many have pointed out, the slave left in charge saw the delay as a chance to be wicked and get away with it, but was judged. The foolish maidens didn’t consider or prepare for a delay and were judged for this.)

But is there more? Something more specific? I think so. The imagery of a lamp shining takes us back to Matthew 5:15-16 (different word in Greek but the same idea) where this refers to “good works” or being obedient to Jesus’ teaching and example. It means living out the Christian life. v. 16 says, “Let your  light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

And when equivalents to the phrase “Lord, lord” are used (Matthew 7:21, 22; Luke 13:25), as in our passage, as well as “I do not know you” (Matthew 7:23;; Luke 13:27) and “the door was shut” with people asking to get in (Luke 13:25) – when these phrases are used in Jesus’ teaching, the issue is Christians who are not walking in obedience to Jesus. (Jesus calls them “workers of lawlessness” Matthew 7:23; “workers of evil” Luke 13:27.)

And so to be prepared means that we have considered things carefully and are ready to follow Jesus, not just for a while, but for as long as our lives go on until Jesus returns. We are prepared to live out our Christian lives for the long haul; however long it takes until he returns.

And so I ask you –

Will you be ready?

Many among the people of God were not ready when Jesus first came. And here five of the ten maidens were not ready for his second coming.

Examine your own life. Are you a wise Christian or a foolish Christian? Are you committed to living in obedience to Jesus until he returns?

One final thought. Just as in the story when the wise could not share their oil, someone else’s preparedness can’t be shared with you. You can’t lean on your spouse, your friend or your parents. Their being prepared won’t help you. You must make sure you are prepared.

 

Advent series: Parables of faithful waiting

We are beginning Advent today. The word comes from Latin and means arrival or coming. We use it to refer to the first coming of Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas time – and the Advent season ahead of this is a way of preparing ourselves to celebrate this.

But of course, as we think about how to prepare ourselves to celebrate Jesus’ first coming,  it also makes us think about how to prepare ourselves for his second coming.

After all, many among the people of God were not ready for the first Advent of Jesus. And in the same way we have to ask, “will we be ready for his second Advent?” (Luke 2:34-35.)

We will be looking at three parables from Jesus about faithful waiting, and the first today is the parable of the slave left in charge, found in –

Matthew 24:45-51

 The question here is, will this slave be ready when his master returns? We begin with what it looks like if the slave is faithful and wise.

45“Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?” (I have changed ESV’s “servant” to “slave” throughout).

The situation is that the master has gone away for a time and has placed one of his slaves over the rest of his fellow slaves in his household. As such, he is in charge and has the responsibility of administering the affairs of the house. Specifically, his task is to give everyone in the household their food at the proper time.

Now this parable is certainly talking about pastors or elders in the church.

  • These are the ones Jesus has set over his household while he is gone (fellow slaves – v. 49).
  • And the imagery of feeding in Scripture is one that is associated with teaching – a chief role of a pastor or elder (e.g. Proverbs 10:21; Jeremiah 3:15; John 21:15, 17; 1 Corinthians 3:1-2; Hebrews 5:11-14; also Matthew 4:4).

(1 Timothy 3:4-5 speaks of elders as those in charge of the household of the church. I would argue that the presence of the words “not a drunkard, not violent” in the list of qualifications for an elder in 1 Timothy 3:3 reflects the influence of this parable. Luke uses the word “steward” in his version of this parable (12:42-48) which is used in Titus 1:7 for an elder. The context in Luke 12 points to this parable as focused on leaders. Peter says in v. 41, “Lord are you telling this parable – about the master and the thief – for us or for all?” Jesus then responds by telling our parable about leaders.)

So I’m preaching to myself this morning for sure. But this parable can also have application to anyone who has responsibilities in the community of Jesus.

46Blessed is that slave whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 47Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.”

So this is a trial run for this slave; a test. The key phrase is, “will find him so doing.” If the master finds him doing what he told him to do, which is the test, he is blessed.

Specifically, he will get a promotion: his temporary position will become permanent and he will gain more responsibility and honor, since he will now be over the household and all that the master possesses.

Our life in this world is a trial run for life in the world to come; the kingdom of God on this earth. And if we are doing what we are supposed to do when Jesus returns, we too will be blessed.

For pastors and elders this means exercising the authority they have rightly (Matthew 20:25-28) and being busy to lead and teach the church in the right way. For everyone it means doing all that Jesus has told us to do, whatever our role is. This is the mark of a faithful and wise slave, which we are called to be.

Next we turn to the other possibility, if the slave becomes wicked.

48But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eats and drinks with drunkards . . .”

 This isn’t another, different servant, but the same one (as we see in Luke 12:45). If he chooses to be wicked instead of faithful and wise, this is what will happen. (The word “that” points back to the previous slave. The word “wicked” is anticipatory of the bad things that will be described shortly.)

The problem is that the master is delayed. So this parable forewarns us that there may be a delay in Jesus’ coming. So the wicked slave thinks that because of this he can do whatever he wants and get away with it. And so instead of being faithful to his task he misuses his authority – beating his fellow slaves and neglects his responsibilities – going off and living it up with the wrong crowd. Instead of a focus on feeding the household, his job, he is busy feeding himself and drinking and partying.

Again our life in this world is a trial run. And if we think Jesus won’t come because it has taken so long, or that we have time to be irresponsible or if we entertain any other thought that would lead us to stop doing what Jesus has told us to do – there will be consequences when Jesus returns.

50the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know 51and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

 Jesus is saying, there will be consequences, because the master will return! And since the slave thinks his master won’t come or not anytime soon it catches him off guard.

v. 51 says literally he will “cut him in two.” He will be chopped in half. Jesus is getting our attention here. Just as he misused his authority to be violent to his fellow slaves, the master will use his rightful authority to violently judge him. Notice the symmetry. And he will be put with the hypocrites (a term Jesus uses for leaders who are false – Matthew 23. Luke 12:46 has “the unfaithful” or unbelievers). Just as he negligently associated himself with drunkards and partied, the master will rightly put him with the hypocrites where there is much suffering – weeping and gnashing of teeth. Again notice the symmetry. This latter phrase most likely means grinding one’s teeth because of pain. This is an image of Gehenna or hell.

This parable teaches us that if a pastor or elder misuses their authority and neglects to teach and lead their people – there will be judgment. And for anyone who is not doing what Jesus has told them to do – there will be judgment. Jesus will return on a day when we do not expect him and at an hour we do not know and we will be judged (the language of “day” and “hour” echoes 24:36, 44).

Well, just as this slave had a choice – to be wise and faithful doing what his master said, or to be wicked – not doing, or doing the opposite of what his master said, so –

We have a choice

What will yours be?

Many were not ready when Jesus came the first time. Are you ready for the master’s return at his second coming so that you will be blessed and rewarded? Are you faithfully doing what Jesus has told you to do, as we await his second advent?

 

Lesson on Prophecy

1. Where it is mentioned in Scripture: (post-Jesus’ resurrection) Acts 2:17-18; 19:6; 21:4; Romans 12:6; 1 Corinthians 12-14; Ephesians 2:20; 3:5; 4:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22; 1 Timothy 1:18; 4:14; 1 John 4:1-3; Revelation 19:10. Jesus said he would send out prophets – Matthew 23:34. Examples of prophets: Agabus (and others) Acts 11:27-28; 21:10; several are named, including Barnabas and Saul (Paul) – Acts 13:1; Judas and Silas – Acts 15:32; the four daughters of Stephen – Acts 21:9.

2. What is it?

  • It is Spirit prompted: Prophecy is a “manifestation of the Spirit” – 1 Corinthians 12:7. (2 Peter 1:21; Acts 21:11.)
  • The person is in control. They can choose to speak or not – 1 Corinthians 14:29-30. “The spirits of prophets are subject to prophets” – 1 Corinthians 14:32. It can be received and then delivered later.
  • Prophecy is spoken to people, not God. It is a message from God. “One who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” – 1 Corinthians 14:3.
  • It can come in a dream (Acts 2:17), a vision (Acts 2:17; Revelation) or simply as a verbal message.
  • It is a revelation from God about a matter – 1 Corinthians 14:30. In 1 Corinthians 14 “prophecy” and “a revelation” appear to be talking about the same thing.
    • It can disclose “the secrets” of someone’s heart – 1 Corinthians 14:24-25.
    • Agabus predicted a famine – Acts 11:28.
    • Prophets in Antioch confirmed sending out Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey – Acts 13:2.
    • Agabus warned Paul about his coming arrest – Acts 21:11.
    • Timothy was given guidance and encouragement for ministry – 1 Timothy 1:18.
    • A gift for ministry can be given by prophesy – 1 Timothy 4:14.
    • The book of Revelation is a prophecy. It includes exhortations, admonitions and visions of the future.
  • It can come as an encouragement or as an admonition (warning, challenge, rebuke) – 1 Corinthians 14:3; 14:24-25; Revelation.
  • It is not simply a teaching or a sermon, but these can come from prophetic insights given to the teacher or preacher. Teaching is a different gift – 1 Corinthians 12:28. Although in the Old Testament much of what prophets did was teach and preach based on the revelation God gave them. Paul saw his teaching as prophetic – 1 Corinthians 14:37-38.

3. Not everyone has this gift. Paul says, “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” – 1 Corinthians 14:1. He also says, “Now I want all of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy” – 1 Corinthians 14:5. Nevertheless, the question he asks in 1 Corinthians 12:29, “are all prophets?” grammatically requires a “no” answer. Although each of us has the Holy Spirit in us and so at any point any of us could exercise any gift, if God so chooses, normally God gives different gifts to different people and then calls us to act as a body complimenting each other. So only some will have a regular gift of prophecy.

4. Prophecy must be evaluated. Since it purports to give a message from God, it must be tested to see if it is sound. Paul says, “do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good” – 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21. He says, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said” – 1 Corinthians 14:29. 1 John 4:1 says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” It is evaluated by the Scriptures.

5. Prophecy does not equal Scripture. All of Scripture is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16) and prophecy also comes from the Spirit. But there are prophecies that are not recorded as Scripture in both Old and New Testaments (e.g. King Saul and Silas. See also Mark 13:11). And Scripture itself is made up of more than prophecy, including narratives, parables, teaching, proverbs etc. To be Scripture requires something more than just giving a prophecy. For instance, in the New Testament it has to be “apostolic.” That is, it has to be from the apostles or from the apostolic church under their guidance. They had a unique and nonreplicable role in giving us the message of Jesus. This is the foundational and irreplaceable revelation of Jesus. No prophecy today can claim this. Rather each prophecy today must be judged by the apostolic witness.

6. Rules for prophecy in church. Two or three may speak. “If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent” – 1 Corinthians 14:29-30. Everything must be done decently and in order – 1 Corinthians 14:40. “For God is not a God of confusion, but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” – 1 Corinthians 14:33.

7. Paul’s high view of prophecy. “Earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” – 1 Corinthians 14:1. “The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets” – 1 Corinthians 14:5. Prophecy builds up the church.

8. How is prophecy a sign to believers (1 Corinthians 14:22, 24-25)? Prophecy builds up, consoles and encourages believers – 1 Corinthians 14:3. It shows that God’s favor rests on them because he is speaking to them. Prophecy can even lead an unbeliever to become a believer – 1 Corinthians 14:24-25. And then that person will confirm that “God is really among you” – 1 Corinthians 14:25.

9. More from Acts. a) Prophecy is the larger term of which tongues is a sub-category. They all spoke in tongues and Peter said this fulfilled the prophecy that all would prophesy – Acts 2:14-17. b) Prophecy can be an outward evidence of the reception of the Spirit (Acts 2; 19:6). But so can any other Spirit manifestation/gift or no manifestation at all (Acts 13:12, 48-42; 14:21).

10. Love is more important than prophecy. “If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge . . . but have not love, I am nothing” – 1 Corinthians 13:2. “As for prophecies, they will pass away” – 1 Corinthians 13:9. But “love never ends” – 1 Corinthians 13:8.

1. Where it is mentioned in Scripture: Mark 16:17; Acts 2:1-18; Acts 10:45-46; Acts 19:6; 1 Corinthians 12-14.

2. What is it?

  • It is Spirit prompted: “. . . as the Spirit gave them utterance” – Acts 2:4. It is one of “the manifestation(s) of the Spirit” – 1 Corinthians 12:7.
  • The person is in control. They can choose to speak or not – 1 Corinthians 14:27-28.
  • It is spoken to God, not others. “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God” – 1 Corinthians 14:2. Also 1 Corinthians 14:28.
  • It is unintelligible speech:
    • It is not understood by the speaker. “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful” – 1 Corinthians 14:14. This is why the speaker would need to pray for the gift of interpretation to make what he/she is saying known – 1 Corinthians 14:13.
    • It is not understood by the hearer. “. . . no one understands him, but the utters mysteries in the Spirit” – 1 Corinthians 14:2. Also 1 Corinthians 14:16. This is why the gift of interpretation is needed for tongues to be used in the church.
  • It consists of prayers, singing praises and speaking a blessing or giving thanks – 1 Corinthians 14:14-17. Also in Acts it is associated with praising God – “telling the mighty works of God” – Acts 2:11; “extolling God” – Acts 10:46. This is most likely why tongues, unlike prophecy, do not need to be tested (1 Thessalonians 5:20-22; 1 Corinthians 14:29). It is not a message from God, but praises and prayers to God.
  • Are tongues human languages? It’s not clear. They are languages. But Paul also talks about the tongues of people and angels – 1 Corinthians 13:1. In Acts 2 human languages are involved, at least in the interpretation. It was a miracle of hearing. That is, God interpreted the tongues so that each person heard the 120 speaking in their own language – Acts 2:6-11 (v. 6 – “each one was hearing them speak in his own language”). In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul assumes that no one will be present who understands the language. And so the solution is another gift of the Spirit – the gift of interpretation.

3. Not everyone has this gift. Although he says in 1 Corinthians 14:5, “I want all of you to speak in tongues,” the question he asks in 1 Corinthians 12:30, “do all speak with tongues?” grammatically requires a “no” answer. Although each of us has the Holy Spirit in us and so at any point any of us could exercise any gift, if God so chooses, normally God gives different gifts to different people and then calls us to act as a body complimenting each other. So only some will have a regular gift of tongues.

4. Tongues must always be interpreted in church. To build up the church it must be understood. This can be done by the speaker who has the gift of interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:14) or by another person with this gift (1 Corinthians 14:27-28). Otherwise the person is to speak privately – 1 Corinthians 14:28. As this verse also says, “keep silent in the church.” No one should hear it in the congregation, since otherwise this would lead outsiders to say that the believers are “out of their mind” – 1 Corinthians 14:23.

5. Someone with the gift of tongues can use it privately. This is what Paul instructs in 1 Corinthians 14:28. This builds up the individual believer – 1 Corinthians 14:4.

6. Rules for tongues in the church. We are not to forbid it – 1 Corinthians 14:39. Two or three can speak in tongues as long as it is interpreted – 1 Corinthians 14:27. Everything must be done decently and in order – 1 Corinthians 14:40.

7. Does Paul disparage tongues? No. He simply corrects the Corinthians’ over evaluation of it in the gathered meeting. It is a gift of the Spirit – 1 Corinthians 12:7. Its use in private builds up a believer – 1 Corinthians 14:4. And if it is interpreted it builds up the church – 1 Corinthians 14:5. Paul also says, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.”

8. How are tongues without interpretation a sign to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:21-23)? In Isaiah 28:11-12 God tells Israel that since they didn’t listen to his message through the prophets he would speak to them with unknown tongues. That is, in an act of judgment, the Assyrians would capture them and take them away. Tongues then, are a sign of judgment (also Deuteronomy 28:49, Jeremiah 5:15). Paul applies this to the Corinthian situation. If they all speak in tongues, and an unbeliever comes into the service, it keeps the unbeliever from hearing God’s message and so they are in effect judged. They will think the Christians are out of their minds and thus leave without being called to repentance.

9. More from Acts. Three things: a) Tongues are treated as the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy that all would prophecy – Acts 2:14-17. So here tongues are a kind of subcategory of prophecy. b) Tongues can be an outward evidence of the reception of the Spirit (Acts 2; 10:45-46; 19:6). But so can any other Spirit manifestation/gift or no manifestation at all (Acts 13:12, 48-42; 14:21). c) Acts 2 presents the reversal of what happened at the tower of Babel – Genesis 11:1-9. There all spoke one language, but God judged them by giving them different languages to scatter them. Here God interprets the various tongues to draw together one people in Christ out of the nations.

10. Love is more important than speaking in tongues. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” – 1 Corinthians 13:1. “Tongues will cease” but “love never ends” – 1 Corinthians 13:8.

 

Series: God and seniors

I encouraged you senior adults last week to hear the message that God isn’t done with you yet. Whatever capacity you have, God wants to use to do the work of his kingdom. Today, we continue on with a senior adult focus talking about ministry to the next generation.

Our theme verses for today come from Psalm 71:17-18

O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.

God wants to use you seniors to pass on the faith to the next generation.

But some might say, “I don’t feel able to be involved in ministry anymore because of my age.” So let’s talk a moment about . . .

Ministering in weaknesses

A definite reality of old age is weakness.

  • For some this means failing physical health, for others more generally it means getting weaker as you get older.
  • For some this means failing mental health, for others more generally it means a loss of sharpness.
  • For some this means growing social dependence on others.

Regarding weakness, Psalm 71:9 says, “Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent.” The “time of old age” is defined in part by one’s strength being spent.

Here’s a somewhat humorous story about aging and weakness from 2 Samuel 19:32-34. “Barzillai was a very aged man, eighty years old. He had provided the king with food while he stayed at Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man. And the king said to Barzillai, ‘Come over with me, and I will provide for you with me in Jerusalem.” But Barzillai said to the king . . . ‘ Can your servant taste what he eats or what he drinks? Can I still listen to the voice of singing men and singing women?’” He’s saying to David, ‘No thanks, I can’t party anymore. Can’t taste the food; can’t hear the music.’

And then there is the very descriptive poem about aging in Ecclesiastes 12:1-5. I’m using the Contemporary English Version for this passage. “Keep your Creator in mind while you are young! In years to come, you will be burdened down with troubles and say, “I don’t enjoy life anymore.” Someday the light of the sun and the moon and the stars will all seem dim to you. Rain clouds will remain over your head. Your body will grow feeble, your teeth will decay, and your eyesight fail. The noisy grinding of grain will be shut out by your deaf ears, but even the song of a bird will keep you awake. You will be afraid to climb up a hill or walk down a road. Your hair will turn as white as almond blossoms. You will feel lifeless and drag along like an old grasshopper.”

Let me just say that, properly understood, we all minister with weaknesses, whatever they might be. So don’t be discouraged or let this sideline you from doing what God wants you to do. We all need to hear and understand what the Lord said to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It’s never about us and our strengths. Ministry is always about God, and letting him work through us – perhaps especially in our areas of weakness. All God asks of any of us is to offer up to him whatever capacity we have so that he can use us in the work of his kingdom.

In terms of ministry to the next generation, let me begin by saying –

You have much to offer

Let’s look at the numbers

  • In 1900 there were 3 million older adults in the U.S. (People 65 years of age or older.)
  • In 2008 there were 9 million older adults in the U.S.
  • By 2030 there will be 70 million older adults, almost 20% of the total U.S. population.
  • Nearly 85% of Americans today can expect to live beyond the age of sixty-five.
  • And, nearly 72% of older persons assess their health as good, very good, or excellent.
  • In fact, persons reaching age 65 have an average additional life expectancy of 17.3 years and rising (18.9 for women; 15.3 for men).

So there are lots of seniors, who are in relatively good shape, with more to come.

You also have good qualities as Christians. I will just mention two: 1) You often have wisdom. Job 12:12 – “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.”

Now, just because you are old doesn’t mean you are truly wise – but the chances are better. You have life experience in general, but also specifically experience in walking with God. And you have the long view of things. You see how things work out over the long haul, so you are not as interested in quick fixes or fads.

2) You often have humility. I see in older adults less pretense and less of a desire to prove oneself. You are also aware not only of past successes but also past failures.

And then you often have a good opportunity to do God’s work. You are not generally consumed with raising children or establishing a home. Often you have some financial base and more control of your time.

 So you have both numbers and good qualities, as well as opportunity.

Now let’s get more specific and look at some –

Biblical examples of ministry to the next generation

Of course, you can serve God according to whatever gifts and roles you have. But there is also an unofficial status that you have as an older Christian, if you have walked with the Lord for many years. And this carries some weight with it in congregational and family settings. It’s this role that I am focusing on. Here are five biblical examples of this:

1. You can teach the next generation. Exodus 12:26-27 says, “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.'” This takes place in a family context.

Psalm 78:2-4 says, “I will utter . . . things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.”

Again, these are not official roles as a teacher, but unofficial in family and church settings.

2. You can mentor the next generation. This involves working together in relationship with one another; an apprenticing relationship, passing on skills and knowledge. We know how Moses mentored Joshua and Elijah mentored Elisha, and Paul mentored Timothy.

Someone mentored me in college, Ralph Sprunk. He was a professor of Bible and theology. He took an interest in me, gave me some special attention, encouraged me and was a role model for me. This can have a powerful impact on a younger person, to be taken seriously by an older adult and encouraged and empowered by what you have learned. So that they don’t have to make all the mistakes you did and can have a leg up.

3. You can give counsel to the next generation. Exodus 18:13-24 tells the story of Jethro, Moses’ father in law counseling him to delegate his responsibilities to others. Moses was running himself into the ground. 24 says, “So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said.”

In the same way you can give counsel in areas of ministry and life to those younger than you, so that they can find their way through difficult situations.

4. You can pray for the next generation. An example of this is Jacob’s prayer in Genesis 48:15-16 for Ephraim and Manasseh, his grandsons. He prays for them here that God will bless them and that God’s will for them will be accomplished.

5. You can tell stories of praise to God. Many senior adults enjoy telling stories. And you might be tempted to tell negative stories or self-exalting stories. But you have the opportunity to tell stories that lift up God’s name; to tell how God has blessed you and been faithful to you.

Our text last week, Psalm 92:14-15, says, “The righteous still bear fruit in old age they are ever green and full of sap, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” What are they all green and full of sap to do? To tell how God is their Rock; how God is faithful.

And who better to listen to than someone who has walked for many years with the Lord, and can testify of God goodness and faithfulness? You don’t speak theoretically but from experience.

When I was a Conference Teacher in the Pacific Northwest Conference, one of the best things I did was to have older people come and tell stories of their time in Civilian Public Service (CPS) and other programs during times of war. They shared their stories and told the younger generation of leaders and pastors what it was like to choose to love enemies and to work for the good of their country. It was a very powerful experience.

What I’m saying in all this is that you are loved and valued! And you are uniquely qualified precisely because of your age to take up this role in the congregation and beyond; to have this unofficial role of teaching, mentoring, giving counsel, praying for and telling stories of God’s faithfulness to the next generation. I encourage you to take up this role and allow yourselves to be used by God both to bless others and to be blessed as you serve God.

Series: God and Seniors

We’re talking about aging this morning and what God has to say to our seniors. You can get it from the title – God isn’t done with you yet! That’s the message.

Now some of you may say, “Hey, what does this have to do with me?” Well, first, if you are blessed you will one day be a senior adult. So listen up.

And also, old age is relative. Psalm 90:10 says, “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty.” Now, some lived longer than this, but this was seen as the upper limit. But the average lifespan was lower, at least for some periods of biblical history. You could be considered a senior adult, even in your 40’s. So old age is a flexible concept.

 Our theme text for today is Psalm 92:12-15.

The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever green and full of sap to declare that the Lord is upright. He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

First of all, let me say that according to the Scriptures

Age is a good thing

 Being old and growing old is greatly valued. Proverbs 16:31 says, “Gray hair is a crown of glory.” It’s a sign of age and it’s to be celebrated. And older people are to be honored:

  • Leviticus 19:32 – “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man . . .” This is an expression of honor.
  • Proverbs 23:22 says it negatively, “Do not despise your mother when she is old.” Positively, it means honor her.
  • 1 Timothy 5:1-2 – “Do not speak harshly to an older man, but speak to him as a father . . . to older women as mothers . . .” (NRSV)

In fact, there was a bias for the older, at least when it comes to teaching and leading. It was the elders who led Israel. And this was so true that Paul had to say to Timothy, who was young – “Let no one despise you for your youth. . ..” – 1 Timothy 4:12.

Disrespect to elders is an indication of societal breakdown – Isaiah 3:5. “And the people will oppress one another . . . the youth will be insolent to the elder . . ..”

This honor is all rooted in the fifth commandment. Exodus 20:12 says, “Honor father and mother . . .” And parents by definition are older. Scripture extends this more broadly to cover all the older ones among us.

Things are quite different now.

Today many may feel marginalized because of their age

I’m not saying that any of you have allowed yourselves to be marginalized. But let’s think about this, because there are powerful pressures in our society to sideline you:

Message #1: Young is better. We live in a culture that values, or should I say, worships youth. It’s a serious idolatry that is all around us. The goal is not really to live to a “ripe old age” and to take pride and joy in the blessing of this. Old age is negative, something to be endured.

Rather, The goal is to stay and look young. And to lose this is a great tragedy to be avoided at all costs – and it can certainly cost a lot! There are whole industries committed to erasing old age – various cosmetics, surgeries and treatments.

I would just say, never be ashamed of your age. According to the Bible it’s your glory.

Message #2: Retirement is for idleness and entertainment. In America it has become a time to kick back and enjoy yourself – if you have saved enough money to be able to do this. Like the farmer in Luke 12:19 who said to himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’”

But the underlying message is that it’s time to move out of the way for the next generation. Go on out to pasture, but make sure it is a nice pasture.

But despite all this –

Age is no obstacle to being used by God

You bring much to the table. You know this, but let’s hear it and be reminded once again:

Abraham & Sarah. They were called to a new life adventure when he was 75 and she was 65 years old. Genesis 12:4 says, “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.”

And, God promised them a child when he was 100 and she was 90. Genesis 17:17 says,  “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’”

Think of Moses. He was eighty when God called him into ministry, to take on the mighty empire of Egypt. Exodus 7:7 says, “Now Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron eighty-three years old, when they spoke to Pharaoh.”

And Moses had 40 more years of fruitful ministry. Deuteronomy 34:7 says, “Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated.”

Remember Caleb. He was 40 when he went to spy out the land. And he was 85 when he took possession of his portion – Joshua 14:10-12.

And then we have Zechariah & Elizabeth. After being told that they would give birth to John the Baptist, Zechariah said to the angel, “. . .  I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years” – Luke 1:18. He expresses doubt about being used by God, especially to have a child. Yet God used them.

And then there is Anna, the prophetess, who was 84 when she saw Jesus as a child. Luke 2:36-38 says, “She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Jesus to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Joel 2:28 tells us that when the Spirit comes, “old men will dream dreams.” Peter, in Acts 2, applies this prophecy to our day, the time of the church.

Paul says in Philemon 1:9, “yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus.” He was probably in his 50’s here. But he was not too old to be out preaching the gospel and to be put in jail for it.

In John 21:18 Jesus said this to Peter, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” This has to do with the kind of death he would die, crucifixion, which according to tradition did happen. He was a martyr and witness for Jesus in old age.

My conclusion from all this –

 God isn’t done with any of us yet!

 There is no retirement from the work of the kingdom. Until he calls us home, God wants to work in us and through us. Whatever capacity God gives us, we should use to serve him. Don’t fret what you can’t do, do what you can.

So be encouraged seniors! You have much to give! And God will continue to use you, and all of us, for his purposes, if we allow him.

Let’s end by saying together Psalm 92:14-15:

The righteous still bear fruit in old age; they are ever green and full of sap, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

 

We are finishing up our series “How can I know I’m saved?” talking about the topic of the assurance of our salvation. My point in all of this is to encourage you that as a Christian you need not wonder where you stand with God. You need not be insecure in your relationship with God. God has more for us than that.

As we have seen, John says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” – 1 John 5:13. And the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16. We can and we should know that we have eternal life, and that our relationship with God is solid.

We’ve already looked at two of, what I am calling, the three bases of our assurance:

  • The assurance of God’s word and promises, and
  • The assurance of the Spirit

Today we look at the final source of our assurance, the assurance of a transformed life. And I also want to share with you a bit about the relationship of these three assurances to each other. But first –

The assurance of a transformed life

 The idea here is that if you are really a Christian, this will be evident in the way you live your life. You will be able to see this and even others will be able to see this and take notice.

Now this doesn’t mean that you won’t fail – you will. And there will always be things in our lives that we need to work on. But still, your salvation will be observable. So you can examine your life for signs of God’s work of salvation. And when you see these, they can give you assurance of your salvation.

This assurance rests on two crucial truths in Scripture:

1. Anyone who becomes a Christian is changed within. Something happens in us. God does something in us. Different images are used for this in Scripture:

  • We are born anew – John 3:3
  • We are a new creation in Christ – 1 Corinthians 5:17
  • We are raised with Christ to new life – Colossians 3:1

Something happens within us; we have a new heart; we come alive to God.

2. What is in a person will show up in their words and deeds. There is an unbreakable connection between what is within you, and what comes out of you. Now, you can fake it for a time, but eventually, over the long haul, what is within will come out in some form or another.

As Jesus said, “the tree is known by its fruit” – Matthew 12:33. And so if you have been transformed within by the saving work of God, this will show up in your everyday life, in your words and deeds.

Let’s look now at two ways of talking about this in Scripture. The first uses the language of  the fruit of the Spirit. 

Before the Spirit comes into us and changes us and empowers us to live differently we bear forth the fruit of our evil hearts. What is within us, evil, is what comes out of us. Things like “sexual immorality . . . enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness . . .” – Galatians 5:19-21. When we walk apart from the Spirit, these things characterize our lives. These things are the outward sign of our inner person.

But when the Spirit comes and changes our heart and we continue to access the power of the Spirit to live differently, this will show up in our behavior too. What is within will come out. We will bear forth “the fruit of the Spirit.”  Things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” – Galatians 5:22-23. These things will characterize our lives. They are the outward sign of the inward work of the Spirit within us. So when I see them in my life, I can be assured of God’s work within me.

Then, in 1 John, John uses the language of keeping the commandments of God.

He is talking to those whose faith has been shaken by false teachers and who are not fully confident of where they stand with God. He says, “By this we know that we have come to know him (that is, Jesus, or that we are a Christian), if we keep his commandments” – 1 John 2:3 (also 1 John 3:24). And then he says the same thing in reverse, “Whoever says ‘I know him’ (that is, I’m saved) but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” – 1 John 2:4 (also 1 John 1:6). Keeping God’s commands is the outward sign of the inward reality of salvation. Not keeping them shows that your heart is not, or is no longer set on God.

John goes on to focus in on the specific commandment, that we should love one another. “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers (fellow Christians)” – 1 John 3:14 (also 1 John 2:10). And the reverse is also true, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.” – 1 John 2:9. So he is giving us a test. Am I saved? John teaches us that we can tell by examining our lives to see if I love my brothers and sisters in the Lord; if I lay down my life for them. If I love fellow believers, this shows that God’s love is in my heart, that is, it shows what is within me. God has indeed done a work in my heart. And in this way, I can be assured that I truly am a Christian.

 So we have looked at –

Three bases for our assurance

  • The assurance of God’s word
  • The assurance of the Spirit
  • The assurance of a transformed life

Let me make a few points about the relationship between these:

1. The assurance of God’s word is foundational. That is, what God to us in Scripture.

So for instance you can have some inner feeling about your salvation, or an inward religious experience that might seem like the witness of the Spirit. But if you are not putting your faith in Jesus and turning from your sins, what the Word tells us, it doesn’t mean anything. We must always judge any perceived voice of the Spirit by the apostolic standard of the Word of God.

And again you can have some outward works, both moral and religious that might appear to be the assurance of a transformed life. But if you are not putting your faith in Jesus and walking in repentance, what the Word says, it doesn’t make a difference.

The assurance of the Spirit and the assurance of a transformed life are important and powerful, but if they are not based on the Word, they are useless in and of themselves. It is only when we put our faith in Jesus as our Savior and repent of our sins that we receive the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, that is, salvation.

2. The last two assurances supplement one another. Indeed, they need to.

On the one hand, the assurance of the Spirit is an inner, subjective experience. This is a very powerful source of knowledge, to know something deep in your heart. But such inward things can be misinterpreted. Maybe what we think is the voice of the Spirit is really just our own feelings. Sometimes we can misinterpret our inward experiences.

On the other hand, the assurance of a transformed life has to do with what is outward and objective, our words and deeds, which can be a very powerful testimony to us. But such outward things can be faked. We might have a form of godliness without the power. In other words, we can live an outwardly moral life in the power of the flesh. And such a life doesn’t come from a truly changed heart. It is merely outward. We can at least do this for a time, especially when others are looking. We all know of those who have gone to church their whole life, who don’t know the Lord.

So, my point here is that it is always best to have both of these assurances together to supplement each other; the inner and the outer; the subjective and the objective. When you have both of them this gives each of them individually even more power.

And then let me end by saying, 3. When you have all three, your assurance is well established. You have a truly solid foundation. As Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, “a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” And as Deuteronomy 19:15 teaches – a matter is established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

When you have the Word of God, the Spirit of God and the words and deeds of your life lining up together; when you have all three bases of assurance there is no need to doubt where you stand with God.