Scripture Passage – Matthew 1
Description – First of 2013 series on Being Empowered by God
I begin this morning with a word that you will frequently hear over the next four weeks and throughout the year.
To empower something is to equip, supply, and/or enable that something or that someone to accomplish something.
Now we can empower something or someone for good reasons and for bad reasons. We can enable people to fail or succeed, remain addicted or get in recovery from something, or to decline or grow.
A local church can be equipped, supplied, and enabled to succeed or fail; grow or decline; be effective or be ineffective.
God wants the local church, including our church, and Christians, including us, to be equipped, supplied, and enabled to grow. He does not want us to fail. (Amen? Amen!)
He wants to empower us so that His good work is done in our lives and in the lives of those we reach out to on a daily basis. Our mission field is outside the door of this church.
As such I believe that God has given us the following things to help us live and be empowered to serve Him:
Our salvation through His saving grace
The Holy Spirit and the Spiritual gifts which come from Him
Our skills and abilities.
The question becomes, “Do we/Do I choose to live empowered or not?”
This is the first month of 2013 and as I prayed about what I was to share with you in the opening weeks of this year, the theme of “First Chapters for First Months” came to my mind. As I pondered this theme I took time to go through the Bible and scan all 66 first chapters.
Then I prayed some more and I pondered some more and thought (some more) about this word empower (which is my focus word for this year – kinda like a new year’s resolution) and re-reviewed the chapters again.
And these five chapters made the cut because, I believe, they speak to both barriers and opportunities to live empowered.
So this morning I begin with a chapter, the first chapter of the New Testament and one of ‘those’ chapters – the ‘begats.’ However, I want us to read and hear this chapter from this perspective this morning:
God can, and does, use anyone to accomplish His mission and purpose. Our past, with its failures, its victories, its joys and its pains, and our future with its potential and purpose has a place and future in God’s hands and for God’s purposes.
Here is Matthew 1 from the New Living Translation:
(To read the passage, click on this link http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%201&version=NLT
The latter fourth of this chapter, verses 18-25, are the ones we most often hear and read. But first three fourths also has something to say to us as well.
To read verses 1 through 17 is to get an over view of Old Testament history in a very compact way and I think that if one was to spend time studying each of these persons listed, a clearer understanding of it would occur. Some of these people are described in great detail in the Old Testament. They have had many sermons and even books written about them and their faith journey. Their success and failures with following God are well documented.
Others of them have been presented as models of faithfulness in the midst of tough times. And yet another group represented in this passage are basically unknown to us.
One of the ways that we can study this passage is by using the generational groupings as defined in verse 17. There are three of them and they reflect three different and important Old Testament historical periods.
The first group contains a group of people who are familiar to us because much is written about them or they are involved in some important moments. This is the group of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Boaz, and King David. But let us not forget Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth as well! This makes up the patriarchal period followed by the time of the judges and then into the early years of the ancient Israelite monarchy.
I have selected three persons, one from each group to illustrate the point of God using our pasts as part of His current and future purposes.
The first person is Jacob.
A twin who talked his famished older twin brother, Easu into giving him his birthright and then, with his mother’s assistance and direction, deceived his father into thinking that he was Easu and received the all important blessing. The result was chaos, bitterness, rage, that required Jacob to leave home. At least fourteen years passed before he came face to face with his brother and they were reconciled but not before he came face to face with God and was no longer Jacob the Deceiver but Israel, God fighter, because “you have fought with God and with men and have won.”
Jacob was a stinker.
He was a trickster.
He was mamma’s favorite!
And he left a trail of conflict and bitterness behind him as he moved through life. But, God would use him, letting his mother know, in a prophetic moment prior to his birth, “your older son will serve your younger son.” Eventually he came to grips with who he was, a deceiver, a gypster, and he had to finally face the truth about himself. But God used him. He was part of the human line through which Joseph, the man who served as Jesus’ earthly father. He serves an example to us that no matter how we have lived our life, God can still use us to accomplish his purpose – even though we may walk or live with a ‘limp’ because of our choices.
The second group, from King David through the Babylonian exile, is a list of kings, of a united Israel and then the two divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah. They are an interesting group.
Some were wonderful rulers and others were awful and even downright evil. And some were a mixture of both.
One who has always caught my attention was King Hezekiah. He ruled the Southern Kingdom (which were ruled by the descendents of King David) and we can read about him in 2 Kings 18 and 2 Chronicles 29.
Here is a portion of what was written about him:
“Hezekiah was twenty-five years old when he became the king of Judah, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother was Abijah, the daughter of Zechariah. He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestor David had done. In the very first month of the first year of his reign, Hezekiah reopened the doors of the Temple of the Lord and repaired them.”
Hezekiah’s father was Ahaz who significantly altered the Temple to accommodate the practices of the pagan Assyrians’ who were next door by having a new altar made that was just like the pagan Assyrians. Ahaz also required one of his sons to walk between two fires which was a pagan worship practice as well.
The southern kingdom suffers under Ahaz until his death. Then his son Hezekiah becomes king. What is he going to do?
He did what was right and he restored the temple in Jerusalem to the way it was supposed to be and reinstituted worship of the one true God. I have a sense that there were a lot of nervous people when Hezekiah became king. He had a choice in how he was going to govern. He chose well.
But while king he faced some challenging circumstances. He faced invasion from the Assyrians who were now the dominate power in the region and desperately sought God to deliver the tiny nation which happened. Then he was faced with a serious life threatening illness to which he appealed to God for healing and was healed.
Hezekiah grew up in a family that would perhaps be labeled dysfunctional and even abusive today. He faced a leadership and a health crisis. But he kept on believing that the one true God of Israel would deliver him and God did. I think that he serves as example of one who chose to serve God in spite of his upbringing and the pressures he faced that he could have chosen to deal with in a way that would have taken him away from God.
Then there is Zerubbabel, mentioned in Matthew 1:13 and part of the group mentioned after the Babylonian exile.
There are several Zerubbabels mentioned in the Bible but this is the one referred to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah and was believed to be the grandson of King Jehoiakim. In Ezra 2 we read “Here is the list of the Jewish exiles of the provinces who returned from their captivity. King Nebuchadnezzar had deported them to Babylon, but now they returned to Jerusalem and the other towns in Judah where they originally lived. Their leaders were Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah.”
70 years have passed since the southern kingdom of Judah had been conquered and now Israel is about to be repatriated and Zerubbabel is among the leadership of the returning Israelites. And what Zerubabbel does when he returns is to help start the rebuilding of the Temple altar in Jerusalem so they again have a place of worship.
But as time passes Zerubabbel and the others are opposed by a group of people who did not wish to see the temple rebuilt. They basically get the equivalent of a court injunction to stop the work. But when the prophets Haggai and Zachariah show up in Jerusalem their prophetic words empower Zerubabbel to re-start the process. It is thought that twenty years went by before the work was complete
He too, encountered difficulties and challenges that probably stretched and tested his faith. But he gave of his skills and talents and was used by the Lord to help rebuild the Temple after 70 years of exile.
He serves as example of using his skills and abilities in difficult situations to serve God.
So what does all of this mean for us? How does this related to the issue of empowerment.
At ‘A’ certain point and in some instances certain points, these three men chose to obey the Lord and push forward. They serve as an example to us of faithfulness to the Lord through all kinds of situations and circumstances. As a result, they were empowered to serve the Lord in some difficult situations.
The image of the baton truly represents want it means to be empowered and this year I am handing off some batons to you. Each of us are empowered in some way and for some area of ministry and mission to my single goal for this year is to help you discover where you are empowered to serve and empower you to do so. Will you take your baton this year?