When we come back from visiting interesting places, most of us bring gifts and souvenirs which we then give to family and friends. I know because whenever we go away, it seems we spend half our time in gift shops looking for the exactly right gift. We always have a list of people to buy for and I can tell you what a relief it is to finally check off the last name. Then I relax and enjoy the visit. But sometimes I really like what we bought for my brother-in-law and I secretly start looking for something else for him so I can keep his gift. But Jesus gave us gifts when he left bodily.
The passage in Luke tells us what happened following Jesus resurrection. He appeared to many people in and around Jerusalem, plus two walking to the village of Emmaus who returned and told their story. Luke says Jesus them took them as far as the village of Bethany, then He was taken up bodily into heaven as they watched.
Jesus promised that they would be gifted by the Holy Spirit. They would receive the Holy Spirit and with that, a new power in their lives. The promise was kept on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came and filled them as was promised. The power that the Holy Spirit brought them was for the task of communicating Jesus' message, but it is also for daily living..
In Ephesians, the apostle Paul says he is praying for his readers.
He uses interesting language.
He says that he prays that the eyes of their hearts will be enlightened, that they will have the spirit of wisdom.
The wisdom he is praying for is more than a pure head knowledge. He prays for that as well , but what he is praying for is that these people; and by extension us, will have an inner knowledge.
You know what that is like.
There are some kinds of understanding you gain through study and experience. But there are times when study and experience mature and you get that Aha! moment. It all comes together.
Or maybe even more closely resembling are those times when there is something you may have been struggling over, then for some reason you can't really explain, you suddenly know how it will turn out. There is no question in your mind.
And you are right.
That's close to what he is praying for; that they will have the Holy Spirit's enlightenment and gift of inner knowing. He asks for some specific content for that inner knowledge.
At the conclusion of my sermon, I am going to pray for that for you.
I am going to invite you to put in your request for what inner knowing you need from God right now.
He prays for specific content. It is:
1. To know the hope to which God has called us.
History goes through cycles of hope and pessimism. The first part of the twentieth century were times of incredible optimism, particularly in the English speaking world. World War One brought that to a crashing conclusion and the Great Depression of the '30's finished off what WW1 didn't kill.
The novels of John Steinbeck reflect that underlying despair. The Beat poets of the 1950's were not optimists, even though North America in particular was supremely optimistic right through into the mid 1960's.
Most writers say that our postmodern world is not a world or optimism or hope.
I don't read much in the popular press that I would call hopeful.
But did you know that God has called you to have hope?
It is not just a hope that life will go well. It is a hope that no matter how circumstances change, you know that you are solidly in the palm of God's hand.
It is also a hope that comes from knowing that our world and its history are are under the care of God. History is not just an avalanche rushing out of control down a mountainside.
It is pattern that is unfolding according to God's plan and permission.
Not everything that happens is God's plan, but it happens within His permission and is not out of control.
That gives me hope.
No matter how crazy life and the world can get, I personally am in God's hands and our world's history is like a river flowing between the high banks of God's purposes.
To have that hope, you need to know it as a certainty from within because of your relationship of faith with God.
2.To know the rich blessings of your inheritance
I love those commercials on TV where Ed McMahon shows up at the home of some unsuspecting person with an oversized multi-million dollar cheque. Now that has got to be an example of why you want to be fully dressed when you hear a knock at the door Saturday morning.
Talk about your life being turned upside down.
That's not exactly what it means to discover your wonderful inheritance. God does turn your life upside down, but normally its not that dramatic. You find hope when situations seem hopeless. You find peace when circumstances seem dark.
But what is our inheritance?
It is knowing that you are loved and cared for by the creator of the universe.
It is knowing that at the heart of the universe is a good and loving purpose for you.
It is knowing that the God of eternity is only a prayer away from you at any moment.
It is knowing that no matter what happens to you, that eternal life is a gift of God through Jesus.
It is knowing that and a whole lot more.
It is having God's resources available to you.
It is having the freedom that comes from knowing that God is not holding your failings against you.
And it is a whole lot more.
On one occasion, perhaps when he was stoned and left for dead, Paul writes in second Corinthians that he had what we would call an out of body experience when he saw heaven and eternity. He said it was far more wonderful than anything he could possibly describe.
My grandmother had an out of body experience and a vision of paradise. Her account was a part of our family story. Knowing what she had seen is still a reassurance to me.
Tombstones are getting updated, at least in Hollywood. At Hollywood Forever, a 64 acre cemetery next to Paramount Studios, they produce multimedia narratives that can be viewed on video cassette or a computer. The narratives feature still photographs of the deceased, interviews with friends, and film clips. A visitor can see the mini biographies of Rudolph Valentino, Cecil B. DeMille, Douglas Fairbanks, and 1,500 others buried there. The owners want to begin producing these multimedia narratives not just for Hollywood stars, but for anyone buried there.
A visit to any cemetery shows how desperate we are to be remembered after our deaths. But the memorials we can leave in this life are nothing compared to the glory that awaits Christians in the next.1
3. To know the immeasurable greatness of His power in your life.
There are two things that we all have as common experience:
- First is the desire to live a good life and for our life to count for something good.
- Second is how very difficult that can be.
It is so easy by contrast to give in to the pumpkin pie when we are on a diet.
It is so easy to forget certain items as income on our tax when we know it is going to be a financially difficult year.
It is so easy to forget what purity of mind and heart means when we walk past the racy advertisement outside the theater, or when we come across a passionate love scene on TV.
We are bombarded by photos of soldiers in Iraq who seemed to have forgotten all they had been taught at home and in school and church. When you are the only law in a foreign country, how do you hold onto your higher convictions?
I suppose psychologists in morality and ethics have opinions, and we will see them on Larry King Live. But the simple answer is, it ain't easy!
You need the help of God.
This is part of what Paul was praying for.
In a moment I will pray for this too.
I will pray that God will give you the strength to master whatever is your dilemma.
Be assured that God's strength is yours and that He will give it to you.
Lord, we have read your word. We see how Paul prayed for the church he knew, that the people in Ephesus would be given that inner certainty that comes from you.
Lord I pray that you will give it to us here this morning. For the person who teeters on faith and doubt, give your reassurance and your inner conviction.
For each of us, give us that gift of hope for whomever feels overwhelmed with despair and pessimism.
Lord give the gift of knowing our inheritance in you. Allow us to become aware of your plans for us and the wonderful future that awaits us.
I pray that you will give us your power to live the life we know you have called us to live. Lord we want to, but its so difficult. Help us Lord.
Preached Sunday May 23, 2004
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia
1 Citation: Mark Galli, managing editor, Christianity Today; source: "The Hollywood Forever Way of Death" The Atlantic Monthly (March 2001)