Strategic Retreat

Strategic Retreat

December 29, 2019*

(First Sunday after Christmas)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 63:7-9                          Matthew 2:13-23                               Hebrews 2:10-18

 

Shortly after our nation’s founders signed the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Army, commanded by George Washington, was fighting for its life.  The British had landed an overwhelming force on Long Island, defeated the American patriots in Brooklyn, and had nearly 9,000 of Washington’s soldiers trapped against the East River.  British General Sir William Howe prepared to lay siege to the surrounded Americans and was intent on annihilating them to the last man.  But, as General Howe prepared his offensive, General Washington and his troops rounded up all the boats that they could find and, as silently as possible, even using rags to muffle the sound of the oars and maintaining their campfires so to deceive the British, the Americans ferried their army across the river in the dark of night on August 29, 1776.  At sunrise, many remained on the Long Island side of the river, but God, or luck, was on Washington’s side and a dense fog masked the final stages of the withdrawal.  In the end, all 9000 colonists and nearly all their equipment was successfully evacuated, and they lived to fight another day.  Continental officer Benjamin Tallmadge later wrote, “In the history of warfare I do not recollect a more fortunate retreat,”  (This story from History.com – https://www.history.com/news/7-brilliant-military-retreats)

Sometimes, when faced with an overwhelming enemy force, the wisest course is not to stay and fight, but to run away to fight another day.  In those cases, and history records many of them, it is not cowardly to make a strategic retreat.  We find such things even in scripture.  But first, we once again remember the prophecies recorded by the prophet Isaiah.  But in this passage, Isaiah not only writes about the messiah that was to come, but about the deeds that he would do, the emotions that he would have, and the connection that he would have to the heart of God’s people.  (Isaiah 63:7-9)

I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord,
    the deeds for which he is to be praised,
    according to all the Lord has done for us—
yes, the many good things
    he has done for Israel,
    according to his compassion and many kindnesses.
He said, “Surely they are my people,
    children who will be true to me”;
    and so he became their Savior.
In all their distress he too was distressed,
    and the angel of his presence saved them.
In his love and mercy, he redeemed them;
    he lifted them up and carried them
    all the days of old.

Isaiah says that it was the actions of God for which he was normally remembered, but also that God had done these things because of his kindness, and compassion.  As the savior of his people, God was distressed when his people were distressed.  God rescued and redeemed his people because of the mercy that he had for them and the love that he felt for them.  And those feelings continue even as the messiah arrives upon the earth.  In Matthew 2:13-23, as the messiah begins God’s invasion of our world, we hear the story of God’s greatest strategic retreat.

13 When they [the wise men] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.”

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

This is all good stuff but remember that Isaiah said that God was remembered for the deeds that he did, and for things like kindness and compassion.  So, as we think about the story about Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’ flight to Egypt, I want to particularly listen for two things: First, listen for what people did and second, pay attention to what emotions they must have felt. 

At the beginning of our story, I’m just going to guess that Mary and Joseph were tired.  This part of the story doesn’t immediately follow the Christmas story and could happen as much as two years later.  So, as we begin, Mary and Joseph have made a home in Bethlehem, or elsewhere, and are raising a toddler.  But Joseph is still a faithful man of God who both hears from and listens to God.  This is important because when God comes to Joseph in a dream, Joseph pays attention.  Now, I’m willing to grant that this was probably no ordinary dream, but still, how easy would it have been for Joseph to simply write it off as the result of some bad fish, or something he ate the night before? 

But Joseph immediately understands that this dream is from God and he immediately understands the importance of it.  He awakens Mary, in the middle of the night, they wrap up the baby, and apparently without even saying goodbye to their neighbors, family, and friends, they left town.  In two sentences they’ve gone from just being a couple of tired parents, to being terrified and fleeing for their lives because the King and his entire army want them dead. 

Herod, who was emotionally unstable, and who, at the very least, suffered from severe paranoia and who had no qualms at all about committing the vilest atrocities in order to remain in power, is incredibly angry.  Herod realizes that the Magi saw through his “I just want to worship him” act and is furious that they left the country without telling him where the baby was.  But, because Herod is both paranoid and a cold-blooded killer, he sends his army to Bethlehem with orders to kill every male child that was two years old or younger.  If Herod can’t be sure which child the Magi visited, his plan is to just kill all of them.

It is easy to understand that this mass execution of babies terrorizes the entire village and has every mother in the town out in the streets weeping and mourning just as the prophet Jeremiah has foretold hundreds of years earlier.  And then, several years later, Herod the Great dies, and the areas over which he had ruled were divided up among several of his sons.  When that happens, God once again calls upon Joseph in a dream and tells him that it is time to come home.  But even as they journey back, they hear that one of those sons, Herod Archelaus, who by some accounts was even more cruel and despotic than his father, is now the ruler over Judea, which included both Bethlehem and Jerusalem.  With that news, Mary and Joseph are once again afraid for their lives and for the life of their child, so they choose to bypass Bethlehem and make their way north instead to the area of Galilee and Nazareth which was ruled over by Herod Antipas, another son of Herod the Great.

But so, what?  Why is any of that important? 

Make no mistake, it is important, but before I explain why, let’s first look at something that we find in Hebrews 2:10-18.

10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So, Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 12 He says,

“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
    in the assembly I will sing your praises.”

13 And again,

“I will put my trust in him.”

And again, he says,

“Here am I, and the children God has given me.”

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

The writer of Hebrews wants to be certain that we understand the importance of Jesus’ suffering.  It is the suffering of Jesus that reminds us of his humanity and what assures us that Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters.  He says, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity.”  And he goes on to say that “he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”  And finally, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”  The writer of Hebrews is insistent that the humanity of Jesus is not only important, it is vital, critical, and indeed, the whole story falls apart without it.

And that is also exactly why it’s important to focus on what Mary and Joseph did, and the emotions that they felt.  Too many times we hear people write off parts of the gospel message or discredit important parts of Christian faith by saying that Jesus wasn’t completely human in one way or another.  Some say that Jesus was only an idea and not a real person, or that he was only a spirit and not entirely a creature of flesh and blood, or that he was partly God and partly human and that’s the only reason that Jesus was able to live a perfect and sinless life. 

But none of those things fit with the story of scripture.

The writer of Hebrews wanted to be sure that we understood that, and so did Matthew.  Matthew takes the time to tell the story of this strategic retreat so that we understand the people in it and the emotions behind it.  Mary and Joseph were poor, but they were also people of a deep and devout faith and trust in God.  And not only did they know the struggle of daily survival and living, they understood fear.  When God told them to run, they didn’t wait until morning and say goodbye, they ran for their lives in the middle of the night.  The idea that King Herod wanted their baby dead, and maybe them as well, was terrifying.  Everyone knew the horror that Herod was capable of.  There were no mixed messages about Jesus in the minds of Mary and Joseph.  They knew that he was a human being in every respect.  A baby that wet the bed, a toddler that forgot his shoes and wandered off when you weren’t watching closely enough.  They knew that Jesus wasn’t godlike.  They knew that Jesus didn’t have any godly power that would protect them from Herod’s soldiers.  They knew that Jesus was no vaporous spirit, but that he was 100 percent flesh and blood just like them, and just like us, in every respect.

And because he was, he is able to help us.

Because he was human, he became a merciful and faithful high priest that made atonement for the sins of his people.  Without Jesus’ humanity, he would not have been able to rescue us.

But he was and he did.

And the unrelenting, overwhelming fear of Mary and Joseph is proof of Jesus’ humanity.

 

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Because He Did, We Do.

Because He Did, We Do

December 24, 2019

(Christmas Eve)

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Isaiah 9:2-7                       Titus 2:11-14                                      Luke 2:1-20

 

MEDITATION:

In case you somehow didn’t notice, this is Christmas Eve.  But so, what?  Why do we come together and retell the story every year?  Why does it matter?  Why do events that happened more than two thousand years ago matter to us in the twenty-first century at all?  I mean, isn’t it just a nice story that we tell children?  Why should a bedtime story be so important? 

But it does matter.  And yes, it does matter to adults and children alike.  And what’s more, not only is it worth repeating, and not only is it foundational to our faith, this story demands something from us.  Because we are the people who walked in darkness and saw a great light.  We are the people to whom a child has been born.  We are the people who have been rescued, by him, from sin and death.  We are the people who have been put under his authority, and when we accepted Jesus as our rescuer and savior, we chose to follow him and obey his commands.

So, what is it that Jesus requires of us?

We all know that’s not a simple question.  We read scripture at home, and we come to church every Sunday, and sometimes more, so that we can study together, and learn together and help one another to do understand and to do what Jesus wants us to do.  But for tonight, let’s listen to the words that we find in Titus 2:11-14, where we hear this:

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 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.

Salvation and rescue have been offered to all people.  And because we are the people who said “yes” to Jesus’ offer of rescue, then we are called to say “no” to ungodliness and instead live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives even if, and even when, the world around us preaches that God is dead, and it’s okay to do anything that feels good.

Titus reminds us that Jesus came to earth, lived among us, died, and rose from the dead so that we could be redeemed from a life of wickedness and evil, and so that Jesus could be at work purifying us so that we would be eager to do good.

Although it is a beautiful story, we don’t just celebrate on Christmas Eve because it’s a beautiful story.  We celebrate Christmas Eve because it is important for us to remember what he did and for whom he did it.  The Christmas story is the beginning of God’s invasion of the earth as he works to reclaim his people and call them back to him.  Jesus didn’t just come to save some random shepherds, a handful of disciples, and a few others.  Jesus didn’t come just to fulfill the promises that God gave to the Jews through his prophets.  Jesus came to rescue all of us.  Jesus came to rescue humanity.  Jesus came to rescue everyone.  Christmas brings a message filled good news of great joy for all the people.

But the work of telling all the people about that good news isn’t finished yet.

If nothing else, Christmas should remind us of two things.  First, that we are called to live as if our faith is important.  To live the way that Jesus lived.  To set aside the wickedness that is so common to the world and to live godly lives of purity.  Simply put, we need to look like, and live like, Jesus.  And second, because Jesus came to rescue all the people, and all the people haven’t yet heard his story, we must be in the business of making sure that they do.

Because Jesus did, we still do.

We love the Christmas story.  It’s awesome.  It’s far more than just a children’s bedtime story.

It is good news of great joy for all the people.

Every one of us should go out from this place and make sure that everyone, that all the people, hear that good news.

Merry Christmas everyone.

 

READINGS:

Reading 1 – Isaiah 9:2-5

2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest,
    as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood
    shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

Reading 2 – Isaiah 9:6-7

For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
    and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
    He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Reading 3 – Luke 2:1-7

2:1 
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

 

Reading 4 – Luke 2:8-14

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Reading 5 – Luke 2:15-20

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Given Grace to Give Grace

Given Grace to Give Grace

December 22, 2019*

(Fourth Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 7:10-16                            Matthew 1:18-25                               Romans 1:1-7

 

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to know the future?

Sometimes it might be a good thing.  When we’re going through difficult and challenging times it might be nice to know that things are going to turn out well for us.  When we worry about our children or grandchildren, it might be nice to know that they will eventually find their way, get an education, find a good job, and become responsible, productive, people of faith who love God.  Certainly, if we knew what the stock market was going to do next year, or even next week, we could make a lot of money.

But, on the other hand, would you want to know that your difficult and challenging times were only going to get worse?  Or that your children and grandchildren were not going to find their way?  Would you want to know the future if it was full of bad news?  Probably not.  And that’s exactly why Israel’s kings usually cringed whenever the prophets of God came to visit them.  God’s prophets had a reputation of only showing up when there was bad news and were sometimes thought of as harbingers of doom.  King Obadiah called Elijah the “troubler of Israel.”  God’s prophets knew that it wasn’t popular to know the future if the future wasn’t filled with good news.

And that’s a part of what is going on in the story we’re about to read, as Isaiah shares God’s words with King Ahaz of Judah in Isaiah 7:10-16.

10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”

13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.

Ahaz remembers that the people of God are not supposed to put God to the test, and that is so ingrained in him that he won’t do it even when God asks him to do it.  God tells Ahaz that he will accomplish whatever it takes to prove to him that the things that Isaiah is saying will truly happen.  But, since Ahaz refuses to ask for such a sign, God names one instead and says that “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.” 

Now, if you think about that for a minute, Isaiah’s prophecy sounds a little weird if the only meaning is the one that we remember at Christmastime because a that wouldn’t have answered King Ahaz’s question at all.  But, many of God’s prophecies had not one, but two meanings and two fulfillments.  The first would be one that made sense in the immediate future and the second would make sense in the more distant future.  This is one of those times.  The first meaning was that a young, unmarried woman, quite possibly a woman that both Isaiah and King Ahaz knew, such as the woman who was betrothed to Isaiah, who we would think of as Isaiah’s fiancée, and future wife, would, in a short amount of time, become pregnant and have a baby.  The second meaning, of course, is the one with which we are more familiar and that is one that became understood as something that would happen with the coming of Israel’s messiah.

And so, in this passage, God promises Ahaz that before Isaiah’s baby is old enough the choose right from wrong, traditionally about 12 or 13 years old, those who were attacking him, the kingdoms of Aram and the northern tribes of Israel, would come to an end.  And, while that sounds like good news, if you read the rest of that passage it quickly becomes clear that this is one of those times where things are going to get worse before they get better.  But, in any case, the second meaning is God’s promise of a messiah who would rescue his people for all time.  And it is that fulfillment that we see in the story of Matthew 1:18-25 where we hear these words:

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Just as God had promised to King Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah, the rescuer of humanity, God’s messiah, is born to a virgin.  But Joseph was terrified.  The woman to whom he had been pledged in marriage was pregnant and it was clear that he wasn’t the father.  At that point, Joseph had three choices and none of them were particularly good.  Since having sex before marriage was prohibited under the law of Moses, and it would seem obvious to most people that this is what Mary had done (since that was the ordinary way in which pregnancy happens), Mary would not only be seen as violating the law, but also as bringing disgrace to her family, bringing disgrace to Joseph’s family, and also breaking the contract that bound the two of them together. 

Joseph’s first option, under the law, was to publicly humiliate Mary and announce what she had done, and possibly even have her stoned to death (although that rarely, if ever, actually happened).  The second choice would be to quietly divorce her on the grounds that she had already broken the contract between their families.  The third choice was probably the worst choice of all, and that was to go ahead with their marriage.  This option would bring disgrace, humiliation, and financial hardship to both of their families, and would make Joseph, his father, and all of his family look stupid for going ahead with a marriage to a woman who had violated her promise even before their wedding. 

But even though all these choices seemed like bad ones, Joseph, being a nice guy, thought that he would choose the one that was the least damaging to everyone.

But God had other ideas.

God tells Joseph, in a dream, not to be afraid, that Mary had really not slept with anyone else, that the child she was carrying was actually the child of God and would become the one who would rescue God’s people from sin.  And when he woke up, Joseph did what God told him to do and in doing so, models for us some of the best characteristics of God, God’s people, and humanity.  In order to do what Joseph does requires extraordinary trust, abundant love, a mountain of faith, a pile of forgiveness, a large measure of grace, and more an ample amount of hope.

But what is it that we should take away from these stories?  How does the story of Christmas guide us as we live our lives in the twenty-first century?  And, even though he lived two thousand years ago, the apostle Paul understood a part of that answer as he wrote to the church in Rome as we see in Romans 1:1-7.

1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul reminds everyone in the church that the Gospel message, the story of the messiah’s birth, death, and resurrection, was a story that God promised, through the prophets, hundreds of years before it happened.  It was because of God’s love for us that he created a way for us to be rescued from our own selfishness and sinfulness.  Just as Joseph rescued Mary by taking her home to live with him, just as Joseph chose hope, love, and grace, so did God.  Just as Joseph showed mercy and grace to Mary, God showed mercy and grace to us by sending his Son to rescue us.  It is through Jesus Christ that we received these gifts from God and, Paul says, because we have received these gifts from God, through Jesus Christ, we are, in turn, called by God to share this Good News with the rest of the world.

Paul is clear that the message of Jesus Christ was never just a message for the Jews, but has always been a message for the Jews, the Gentiles, and for the entire world.  And while I am sure that Paul didn’t intend for this to be Christmas message, it certainly is one because when Paul says that the Gentiles are being called to belong to Jesus Christ it reminds us of this:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:8-10)

Good news.  For all the people.

We have been given grace, so that we might give grace to those around us, to the people we love, to the people we fear, to the people we hate, to the insiders, to the outsiders, to the connected, to the outcasts, to citizens, to foreigners…

…to everyone.

The world would not have heard the message of Jesus if Joseph didn’t have enough faith and trust in God to show mercy and grace to Mary.

And two thousand years of history hasn’t changed that.

One of the clear messages in the story of Christmas is that we are called to share God’s mercy and grace so that everyone around us can hear the message of Jesus.

As we leave this place, let us remember that we are God’s agents of grace.

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Mystery Revealed!

Mystery Revealed

January 06, 2019*

Epiphany

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 60:1-6              Matthew 2:1-12                     Ephesians 3:1-12

 

Have you ever read mystery stories?  Honestly, there was a long time during which, although I was an avid reader, I never had any interest in reading mysteries.  But at some point, I took a class that studied the genre of mystery stories for a required credit in English literature.  For that class we were required to read, and study, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, and a dozen others.  But in studying this subject, we learned a new word that stuck with me despite being a word that is a little uncommon.  We learned the word, “denouement.”   Here’s an official definition.

Denouement (pronounced Day-noo-mawhn)

noun: denouement; plural noun: denouements; noun: dénouement; plural noun: dénouements

The final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together, and matters are explained or resolved.   The climax of a chain of events, usually when something is decided or made clear.

synonyms: culmination, climax, conclusion, solution

What this means, at least as we discuss mystery stories, is usually the part of the story where the detective calls everyone together and points out the guilty person, or explains how the mystery happened, and clears up all the confusion that the reader has been wrestling with during the story.  This is usually the climax of the story and from then on, most of the story is just housekeeping and explaining how everyone lived “happily ever after.”

But by now you’ve noticed that this morning’s message is entitled, “Mystery Revealed” so I’m sure some of you are wondering what that’s all about.  In reply, I’m going to ask you to bear with me for a little while because before I get to the end, it will all become clear(er).  We begin 800 years before the time of Jesus in the writings of the propher Isaiah where we hear these words that describe the Messiah that was to come (Isaiah 60:1-6):

60:1 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you  and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,  and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

“Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip.
Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.
Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

Even in such a quick reading, we can immediately see several things that sound familiar to us from the Christmas story: a messiah that brings light to the world and dispels the darkness, nations that are drawn to toward the light of the new messiah, wanderers, expatriates, and captives that return to Israel from afar, kings of other nations who worship him, and who send gifts of gold and incense.  And we see the fulfillment of many of these prophecies in the coming of the magi in Matthew 2:1-12.

2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Nations came to the light of his star to worship him and bring gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  And while all of God’s lost children have yet been repatriated into Israel, we remember that Jesus often said that his mission on earth was to rescue the lost sheep of Israel. And if we continue reading the scriptures, we also find Paul’s explanation of the mystery of Jesus Christ as it relates to Isaiah, Jesus, and the coming of the magi in Ephesians 3:1-12.

3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. 13 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

Paul says that the mystery of the messiah was revealed to Paul, and the mystery is that through Jesus Christ, the Gentiles have been invited back into the family of God.  And once this mystery was revealed to us, then we realize that we can see that revelation from the beginning of the Christmas story.  We realize that the genealogies of Jesus, found in the gospels, show us that Mary and Joseph came from a family that welcomed in foreigners and strangers, and we realize that the story of the magi is a story about gentiles and foreigners being among the first worshippers of the newborn messiah king.

The revelation of Paul, the mystery that is revealed, is that not only is the Christmas story a beautiful story, not only is it “good new of great joy” but that the messiah Jesus came “for all the people” and it wasn’t just all the Jewish people or for all the descendants of Abraham.  The story of Christmas is good news of great joy for all the gentile people, and that means all of us.  The arrival of the magi in the Christmas story is the part of the story where we show up.  While the shepherds were the Jewish outsiders, the magi are the aliens, the strangers, the ultimate outsiders.  This is one of the reasons that the Orthodox church celebrates Christmas in January, today, at Epiphany.  The arrival of the magi is the part of the story that includes us, it is the gentile denouement, the climax of the story where everything is revealed. 

Epiphany, and the arrival of the magi, is the part of the Christmas story where we are invited in and where we become a part of God’s family.

Epiphany means that Christmas isn’t just a Jewish story.

It’s our story.

And we are invited, in fact, as the church, we are commanded, to tell the world so that the story of Christmas, and the love of Jesus Christ, can be everyone’s story.

How’s that for a Christmas present?

Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Hope in a World Falling Apart

“Hope in a World falling Apart”

December 24, 2018

(Christmas Eve)

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Isaiah 9:2-7                       Titus 2:11-14                                      Luke 2:1-20

READINGS:

Reading 1 – Isaiah 9:2-5

2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest,
    as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood
    shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

Reading 2 – Isaiah 9:6-7

For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
    and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
    He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Reading 3 – Luke 2:1-7

2:1 
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Reading 4 – Luke 2:8-14

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Reading 5 – Luke 2:15-20

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

MEDITATION:

Several of our readings this evening come from the prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah lived in a world that was falling apart.  Writing from the land of Judah, at a time when the Assyrian Empire was growing stronger by the day, Isaiah watched as Judah’s own leader, King Ahaz, chose to stand with the Assyrian empire instead of his neighbors in Syria and his brothers of the northern tribes of Israel.  Despite Isaiah’s warning, Ahaz aided the Assyrians in conquering their neighbors and their brothers.  Everyone could see the handwriting on the wall.  Everyone knew that, eventually, the Assyrians would turn on them.  And, although it wouldn’t happen for more than a hundred years, Isaiah prophesied about the eventual conquest of Judah, the captivity of both Israel and Judah in Babylon, the rise of power of Cyrus the Persian, and the return of the Jews to Israel and Judah after seventy years of captivity, as well as the Messiah that was to come.

These were dark days, but Isaiah wrote about a light that would dispel the darkness.  Although the people were oppressed, Isaiah wrote about the freedom that would come.  Although they were surrounded by armies, warfare and bloodshed, Isaiah wrote about a child who would be the Prince of Peace.  Isaiah proclaimed that a rescuer would come from God, a rescuer who would have the authority to bring about never-ending peace and who would establish his kingdom, not with force and oppression, but with justice and righteousness.  Isaiah’s message was a message of hope.

Seven hundred years later, as that same country was occupied by foreign armies, God’s people were similarly well acquainted with violence, oppression, warfare, bloodshed, and death.  In that time, angels appeared in the skies over a band of shepherds and declared that the day prophesied by Isaiah had finally come.  “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

Two thousand years later, we still remember that night and we celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, the rescuer and redeemer of all humanity.  But, like Isaiah and the shepherds, we too live in a world that seems to be falling apart.  Like them, we are also too familiar with violence, oppression, warfare and bloodshed.  And we still look forward to the day when the boots of our soldiers and all of their bloodstained uniforms will be thrown into the fire.  We look forward to the end of darkness, oppression, and death.  We look forward to the day when there will be never-ending peace, as Jesus Christ rules over all the earth with justice and righteousness.

But we also remember the instructions of the prophet Titus who said (Titus 2:11-14):

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all,12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly,13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

While we wait for the return of Jesus we have work to do.  Amid the chaos of the world in which we live, we are to pursue purity, and live lives that are self-controlled, righteous, and godly.  Jesus came, and surrendered his life, so that we could be rescued from sin and death, and to be transformed into a people who are passionate about doing good.

Yes, we live in a world that seems to be falling apart.  But we remember that in Matthew 4:16, Jesus said: “the people living in darkness have seen a great light, on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”

The world that we live in today, much like the world of Isaiah, often seems to teeter on the brink of chaos and disaster.  Every day seems to bring more bad news, or at least more news of death, destruction, and mayhem.  But something changed between the time of Isaiah and today.  Two thousand years ago, two unmarried young people found shelter in a barn and watched as hope entered the world.

And so, while we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace, and while we look forward to the return of Jesus Christ, we know that his work falls to us.  The mission of Jesus Christ has become the mission of his church.  The mission of Jesus Christ has become our mission.  Until Jesus sits on the throne and brings peace and justice to the world, we are called by God to do whatever we can to bring godliness, justice, righteousness, purity, peace, and yes, hope, into the world in which we live.

I admit it’s a big job. 

But it is possible. 

If we work together.

With.        God’s.        Help.

 

 

 


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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Scandal of Christmas

Note: This was originally a Facebook post back in 2014 and I’ve repeated it there occasionally, but I thought that it was also worth sharing here.

 

We’ve made Christmas pretty with twinkly lights, shiny decorations and well dressed characters in the nativity but we forget that Christmas was and is a story of scandal.

A baby born to poor, unmarried parents who were themselves descended from prostitutes, foreigners, adulterers, murders, and the absolute WORST king that Israel had ever had, a man who was describes as more evil than Israel’s enemy the Ammonites.

His birth was announced to shepherds, people at the very bottom of the social order. The rich, the important, and the popular were excluded.

Everything about the story is aimed at reminding us that God uses the weak, the small, the outcasts, the unpopular and the people that others call failures to do his greatest work.

The coming of the the Messiah was not the triumph of the establishment, but an invitation to everyone who has ever felt like they weren’t good enough, or rich enough, or just simply not “enough.”

The scandal of Christmas is that God came to earth to invite us all, regardless of wealth, race, popularity, nationality, or even goodness. He came to redeem and transform us, at his expense, so that we could *all* be invited into his house.

Never forget the scandal of Christmas because it was that very scandal that invited us in to become sons and daughters of God.

Merry Christmas everyone.

 

 

 

 


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Costly Love

Costly Love

December 23, 2018*

Fourth Sunday of Advent

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Micah 5:2-5a              Luke 1:39-45              Hebrews 10:5-10

Love.

Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent and today is set aside to remember love.  But if there’s one thing that anyone knows about love, its that love isn’t always roses and unicorns, sweetness and light.  Sometimes love is painful and not at all like a sappy Hallmark Christmas movie.

But in particular, because this is church, and because we’re celebrating Advent and the birth of Jesus, the love that we’re talking about is God’s love, and the love of Jesus.  And for that, we begin this morning with the prophet Micah who lived and proclaimed the words of God between 750 and 686 B.C.  And in his writings, Micah tells of a king, a rescuer, whom God would eventually send to reunite the Israelites. (Micah 5:2-5a)

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”

Therefore Israel will be abandoned
    until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
    to join the Israelites.

He will stand and shepherd his flock
    in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
    will reach to the ends of the earth.

And he will be our peace.

Seven hundred years before the Christmas story unfolds, Micah says that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem and hints that he will be a descendant from the line of King David.  But more curiously, Micah declares that the origins of this coming king are from ancient times.  He is, he will be, a ruler who has been known throughout antiquity, perhaps reminding God’s people that he is the rescuer that the prophets had been writing about from the very beginning.

And it is this rescuer, redeemer, messiah, and king that Micah describes as someone who will stand up for his people and protect his flock through the strength of God.  He is the one who will bring security, greatness, honor and glory to his people.  And it is this king who will finally bring the one thing for which everyone had been praying for thousands of years.  Peace. 

“And he will be our peace.”

Fast forward seven hundred years and in Luke 1:39-45 we read these words:

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

From the moment that Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, she knows, as does her unborn son John the Baptist, that Mary’s son will not only be a blessing to God’s people but will also be their king.  Elizabeth knows that it is through Mary, and through her son, that God has chosen to fulfill his promises to his people.

But so, what?

Of course, keeping promises is a good thing, but what difference does it make to us two thousand years later?

And we can find the answer to that in the letter written to the people known as the Hebrews.  Scholars have argued whether the author of this letter is Barnabus or possibly Apollos who travelled with Paul, but in either case, this is what he says about the coming of Jesus in Hebrews 10:5-10.

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
    but a body you prepared for me;
with burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you were not pleased.
Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
    I have come to do your will, my God.

First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

First off, we are reminded that Jesus was quoting the words of King David and Psalm 40 when he spoke about God’s displeasure with the sacrifices of his followers.  Although those sacrifices satisfied the requirements and the specifications of the Law of Moses, they weren’t what God wanted because, although the people were performing the ritual, they were not doing the will of God.  It is as if the people were performing an act of the mind, but not allowing God to reach their hearts.  Beyond that, the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus came to set aside the entire sacrificial system so that he could establish the will of God as the new standard of obedience.   The result, the “so what,” was that where God’s people were once periodically and repeatedly purified, temporarily, through the sacrifice of animals and other offerings on the altar of the Temple, we have now been purified and made holy through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ once, forever.

So, you see, the difference that this makes two thousand years later, the “so what,” of the Christmas story, is the greatest gift that God has ever given to humanity and the most expensive gift ever conceived.  The coming of Jesus, and his sacrifice, death, and resurrection are the gift that brings perfection, purification, and holiness to us imperfect, impure, unholy, and altogether messy human beings. 

The coming of Jesus, son of David, the Prince of Peace, and Lord of lords, is the fulfillment of every prophecy written about the messiah for two thousand years.  The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is a gift that was and is unimaginably expensive, horrifically painful, and inconceivably wondrous, and it represents the epitome, peak and pinnacle, the very embodiment…

…of costly love.

 

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.