January 5, 2020
Rose of Sharon Baptist Church January 5, 2020
Church Service Notes
Scripture: Hebrews 12:1-3
As we join together for our first Sunday in the new year I want to ask how many of us made New Year Resolutions? American’s most frequent New Year Resolution is becoming healthier by dieting better and exercising more. As we make this resolution, or any other other resolution, we envision the result in our life if we successfully fulfill the resolution. Perhaps we envision ourselves thinner, full of life, and looking good in a bathing suit at a beautiful beach! This vision of our potential self inspires us to commit to our resolution and inspires our discipline to complete the exercise routine and to choose the healthier food options even when it may not be what we would prefer in that moment. The vision, of what could be, motivates us in the present.
What about our church? What is our vision and what are we trying to do? All churches share a purpose and the Bible tells us different means to fulfill our purpose. As was shared during our November revival services, the church has five functions: evangelism, fellowship, missions, worship, and discipleship. Rose of Sharon Baptist Church, we are to be engaged in these five actions. Evangelism is sharing the Gospel truth with people to invite people to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior and thereby join a personal relationship with Christ and experience salvation. Fellowship is the gathering together of believers to lift each other up, to encourage, to bear burdens, to share our lives together. Missions involves reaching out to people not in the church to meet their needs and share love with them to better their lives. Worship is giving praise and thanks to God, singing to the Lord, giving our tithes, prayer, and so many other ways in which we acknowledge the Lord God Almighty. Discipleship is our training of believers to grow in the faith, to better understand the Scriptures, to seek God more completely, raising up future leaders in the church, and growing people to be more like Christ. This is our work. This work comprises the race in which we are running that the writer describes in Hebrews 12:1-3.
We are all running in a race. Rose of Sharon has a race to run and each of our members are participants in that race. This is not a short distance sprint, rather it is a long distance race that we will continue until the Lord calls us home. The race has obstacles, challenges, hills to climb, rocky terrain to cross, mud to push through. The race also has downhills in which we will gain momentum, flats when the running will seem easy, and winds at our back to push us. We do not not run this race against other churches or against other entities. Most runners in long distance races run knowing they will not win the race. So why do they run at all? They run to achieve, for the fulfillment of saying they finished their race. And that is how we must run our race for God, we must run to complete the race God has put us in. As we run we can envision and look forward to the prize and crowns that await us if God judges that we have ran our race in a worthy manner. Our vision, Rose of Sharon, is to run our race in the worthy manner so that we may hear from God: “well done my good and faithful church”.
As we look into the Scriptures in Hebrews we find in verse 1 the writer telling us that we are running this race before a great cloud of witnesses. The witnesses are cheering us on and encouraging us to complete the race and to keep running. Having people cheer you onward is so encouraging and motivating in long distance running. To have friends cheering you on half way up a steep hill drives the runner to press on and reach the summit. We need this encouragement in our Christian race too. The writer of Hebrews tells us we have the great cloud of witnesses doing just that for us. Who are these witnesses? Some of them are the people from chapter 11 of Hebrews – the Hall of Faith chapter. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, the judges, the prophets, the martyrs, and other believers are watching our lives and cheering us onward. Can you imagine, King David is cheering for you! The one who slew the giant Goliath is cheering you onward up whatever hills we face and on toward the finish God has for us. I believe the angels are cheering for us. The Lord is cheering for us! And we must cheer for each other. We must encourage one another to run our race together!
Verse 1 continues and tells us to lay aside every weight and the sin that hinders us. Runners we must do this in the Christian race. We must repent and run without sin. If we have sin our race will not be in a worthy manner. Our vision is to hear from God that we ran in a worthy manner. If we try to “do” church at set service times and then live for ourselves and sin without concern outside the service then we are not running worthily. The race extends beyond the church service into every minute of our lives. And we are running to evangelize, if our lives are full of sin, how can anyone take our evangelism seriously? Sin must be left behind. We must also shed the weights. Weights such as our fears to evangelize, weights of fear of the unknown, weights of prideful traditions that we value higher than the Lord’s leading, weights of fear from judgement, weights of perceived inadequacy, or any other weight that we use as excuses to not move forward in the race. Whatever the weight you may have, Jesus says to cast it on Him, and our Lord is strong enough to carry whatever weight there is; so let God carry it for you and rely on His strength! There are also the weights of lifestyle. Any long distance runner knows the importance of proper training and preparation. Runners will train their bodies with practice runs, they will eat the right meals to fuel their bodies, and they will hydrate properly to ensure optimum performance. They will get sufficient rest the night before the race. All of this involves discipline and it ensures the runner is positioned for maximum success. Christians, we must discipline ourselves to ensure we will run in the most worthy manner.
Verse 1 continues with the instruction to run the race patiently. We must heed this instruction. If we get too far ahead of ourselves we risk burning ourselves out. If try to run on our own we will not have the encouragement of our fellow runners to push on it. Running long distance is a mental race. Running the race we run as a church is also mental. We must mentally commit to continue to run patiently no matter what we encounter. When it seems to easy to stay in bed and sleep – we must get up and go, when it is too daunting to speak to someone – we must share God’s love, when life has been to difficult – we must praise the Lord for He is always good, when it seems no one hears our lesson – we must prepare and study the lesson to disciple our class, God’s Word does not return void!
Sometimes the race is going to be hard and we are going to want to quit. Verse 2 and 3 tells us what we must do when that thought comes. We must look to Jesus! Jesus never quit His race, even though His race involved people abusing Him, when it was uphill as He carried the cross to exhaustion, when the nails were being driven into His hands, when He was lifted up on the cross to hang fighting for breath, at any moment Jesus could have stopped His race. Jesus could have called down angels to wipe out the people cheering His death. But Jesus didn’t. Why? Because Jesus had a vision of God’s plan being fulfilled and that was the salvation of people! Freedom from sin! Restoration with God for people! This vision kept Jesus on course in His race and He finished for us. Now we must finish the race for God! Let’s not quit. Let’s be found faithful and obedient and run in a worthy manner. Envision the fulfillment of our race, the working of God in people’s lives around us, in our community, our country, and our world, and envision the voice of the Lord telling us well done good and faithful servant as we receive the crowns He rewards us with.
Scripture: James 1:1
Tonight we will begin a new verse by verse study in Scripture and we will be working our way through the Book of James. Who is James and why did he write this letter that became Scripture? There are two predominant theories as to James’ identity. One is that James is James the son of Zebedee. James the son of Zebedee was a disciple of Jesus and the brother of the disciple John. Circumstances against his authorship are his early death. James the son of Zebedee was martyred as stated in Acts 12:2. This dated to the year 44 A.D.
The second primary consideration for the the identity of James, and the theory I believe, is that James is the brother of Jesus. Jesus’ brother James was also martyred but at a later date in the A.D. 60’s. Bible scholars point to the authoritative nature of the Book of James, the timeline of the deaths and other events in Acts as supporting the theory of James the brother of Jesus as the author.
What do we know about James? James is named Jesus’ brother in Matthew 13:55 and in other places. The people of the time clearly recognize James as a sibling of Jesus. Matthew 13:55 recognizes an important truth, James’ father was Joseph. Knowing Scripture we realize James is Jesus’ half brother since they had the same mother, Mary. We also find something interesting in John 7:1-5. Here the siblings of Jesus are found to be not believing Jesus’ claim as the Son of God. The conversation here seems to be sarcastic as Jesus’ brothers suggest He go to the upcoming feast and perform works to prove Himself. Evidently Jesus’ brothers have not seen or at least are not believing their eyes when it comes to Jesus’ miracles. I think this tells us something about the childhood of Jesus. Some suggest Jesus performed miracles as a child and Jesus showed His power in immature means as a child. However, if these claims were true then wouldn’t His siblings have known Jesus was at least a miracle-worker by the time we find them in John 7. Being they are found dismissive of Jesus’ claim in John 7, I believe we can conclude Jesus most likely did not perform miracles as a child but waited until His time was come for His ministry as suggested elsewhere in Scripture.
So, in the Books of the Gospels James is recorded to be Jesus’ brother and unbelieving. It is also interesting in that James is not mentioned at the crucifixion. In John 19 we have an account of the crucifixion and Jesus is recorded in verses 26-27 as seeing His mother and His disciple John. Jesus proclaims from the cross that John is Mary’s son and in this way places responsibility for Mary’s care on John. I believe this is further evidence of James not being a believer in Jesus at this point as Jesus is entrusting His mother care to a non-blood family member. However, at some point James’ belief would change and powerfully so.
We do not know what event leads to James changing his belief regarding Jesus but we do know he does eventually accept Jesus as His Lord and Savior, the Messiah. Perhaps it was the resurrection, perhaps it was the testimony of the disciples or others in the early church. But we find in Acts that James becomes a leader in the Jerusalem church. Acts 12:16-17 records part of Peter’s miraculous freeing from prison following the martyring of James the son of Zebedee. Once free Peter makes his way to way to a home and tells te believers there in verses 16 and 17 that they should tell James and the other brethren what has happened. This James is the brother of Jesus and now he has become a fellow believer and apparently a leading one as recognized by Peter.
Acts 15:1-29 records the church in Jerusalem resolving a matter concerning new Gentile believers and if they should be required to be saved. Paul and Barnabas report to the apostles and elders of the church in Jerusalem the conversion of the Gentiles. Peter testifies to the matter that the Gentiles should not need to be required to take on Jewish traditions as a condition of salvation and only faith by the grace of God should be required. Then in verse 13 James speaks after all the debating is complete and provides the resolution to the matter that others follow. James agrees with Peter and so faith and the grace of God is agreed as the way of salvation. James recommends the Jerusalem church write the Gentile believers and send messengers of the resolution as well as instructions on right living and encouragement. The church does so. Later in Acts we find James leading the Jerusalem church again through the same controversy. James instructs Paul to appeasing actions regarding the faith and puts to rest some division within the church while also reaffirming that salvation is through faith alone.
James is transform from an unbelieving family member to a leader within the church capable of resolving sensitive issues and strong personalities. James knows the Scriptures as evident by the quotations he makes in resolving issues and he is also practically minded as evidence by the instructions he sends to the Gentiles. James is also relationship minded as evidence by how he handles the controversy around Paul. The practicality of James, his knowledge of the Scriptures, and his value of relationships will be key within his letter, the Book of James. James’ letter is written to believers in Christ. Based on the language and lack of mention of certain events many Bible scholars date the letter to the 40’s A.D. meaning this could be the first written Book of the New Testament. Being so early it gives us a wonderful foundation for practical church matters and how to live as Christians.
I am also encouraged by the transformation of James. Here is a person that shared a roof with Jesus nearly his whole life but he is found to be unbelieving at first. Eventually he is converted and places his faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior and becomes a prominent church leader. There is hope for the loved ones in your life! Keep praying for them, keep living the gospel before them, and keep loving them for Jesus!
If we can be of help in some way to you, please let us know.
In Christ’s Love,