THE LAST CHRISTMAS
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
December 21, 2014
After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out,
“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just …
Once more they cried out,“Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever” …
And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” And from the throne came a voice saying,“Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great” …
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,“Hallelujah! For theLord our God the Almighty reigns.
— Revelation 19:1,3,4-5,6, ESV
As surely as there was the first Noël, there will be a last Christmas. Every one of us will one day celebrate our last celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. The thought sounds depressing at first, for few of us are really ready to spend our last dollars on presents and our last time with the ones we love. But for those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ, our last Christmas will be our best Christmas, for its presence will commence a countdown of days until we see God’s greatest gift, Himself, face to face.
If this was going to be your last Christmas, could you honestly say you are ready to meet Christ, face to face? What in the other world will He say to you? What in the words of this world will you say to Him? The best word I can find to say when our last Christmas has passed and we go to meet the Lord is, “Hallelujah!”
“Hallelujah” is a sacred Hebrew word that has been transliterated from Hebrew to Greek to English. It is a compound word formed from the words “praise” and the personal name for “God” — “Yahweh” or “Jehovah.” It is translated with the phrase “Praise the Lord” when it appears in the Old Testament. However, in the New Testament it is simply transliterated “Hallelujah.” Oddly enough, the word only appears four times in the New Testament, all inthe book of Revelation, all in this passage in chapter 19, and all to be spoken after the last Christmas, and our last day on earth, has passed.
“Hallelujah” is a word that inspired the Apostle John as he neared the end of his God-breathed writings in Revelation. It is a word that inspired the great composer George Frederick Handel and dominates the final movement of his magnum opus, Messiah, originally written for an Easter service but now a staple of Christmas concerts everywhere. It is a word true Christians can say in spirit and truth, at Christmas time or any time. It is a word we can say today, “Hallelujah,” and with this four-fold rendering of the word in Revelation, I want to give you four reasons to shout it out.
Hallelujah for God’s Salvation
“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God.” God saves His people for His own glory by His own power. Hallelujah!
In atheism, salvation does not exist. There is hardly any such thing as sin; therefore, there is no need to be saved from anything, except perhaps something that puts an obstacle inthe way of your personal pleasure and prosperity. Usually the biggest obstacle is religion, which is why atheists are on the attack against Christianity.
Religion should be scrutinized, all religions, to see how each defines and provides salvation. In virtually every case study of every other religion except for Christianity, salvation can be achieved by self-help, determinative action, or some other means by which mere mortals can satisfy the requirements of the gods. Salvation exists, and salvation must be earned, according to religion.
Biblical Christianity is remarkably different. Salvation is certainly a necessity, for sin is defined and our universal culpability condemns us and separates us from God. The way of salvation is provided, one unlike anything else you will find in any other religion. Salvation for humans is a gift from God and cannot be bought nor earned by any human effort. Asthe Old Testament prophet said, “Salvation is of the Lord” (ref. Jonah 2:9). Salvation belongs to the Lord, it is His gift to give, and He gives it to His chosen people for His own glory by His own power.
You can say, “Hallelujah!” if you are one of God’s chosen people. If you have received thegifts of repentance toward God (ref. Acts 11:18) and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (ref. Ephesians 2:8), then in essence you have received the gift of salvation (ref. John 1:12-13). It came to you not by the energy of your own mind and body, but by the power of God’s Spirit (ref. John 3:1ff; Titus 3:5). The gift of salvation puts you in a family of people who exists to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
Hallelujah for God’s Smoke
“Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” God makes smoke. Hallelujah!
Charles Haddon Spurgeon smoked cigars, which leads many to believe that God does, too. I plead agnosticism on this point. But I do know that the smoke that evokes the second “Hallelujah” does not come from even the finest tobacco. It comes from the wrath of God falling down upon a world of ignorant and militant unbelief.
The figurative source of this smoke in the revelatory words of John is identified as “thegreat prostitute.” This is not the world champion of the world’s oldest profession, but thegrand sum of the great damage that secular humanism and world religions have placarded on this planet. The lives of people who would not acknowledge sin and the lives of people who try to pay off God to absolve their sin will all go up in smoke. Yet the death of thewicked and the unbelievers is no reason for rejoicing.
We do not praise the Lord when sinners are punished. We praise the Lord when sin is no more. After our last day on earth has passed and we are completely saved in the presence of the Lord, we will cast an eye briefly on the world we leave behind and the smoke will rise. At that time we will realize that we are free from the penalty of sin by the price Jesus paid on the cross. At that time we will realize that we are free from the power of sin by theglorious transformation of our bodies to be like the body of Christ. At that time we will realize that we are free from even the presence of sin, for we will live in a new world where sin will be no more.
Hallelujah for God’s Servants
“Hallelujah! And from the throne came a voice saying, ‘Praise our God, all you His servants, you who fear Him, small and great.’” God has servants, and we can be included in that number. Hallelujah!
Who can praise the Lord for His salvation? Who can praise the Lord for deliverance fromthe penalty, power, and presence of sin? The people of God, yes. The children of God, oh yes. The members of the blood bought church of God, certainly. Believers, followers, even sheep, okay. But there is another name used here that fits every person who is a benefactor and recipient of the great salvation of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ: servant.
Are you a servant of God? This is synonymous with asking, Are you a Christian, or Are you saved? It is true that one cannot be saved by serving; but, it is also true that one is not saved by the Lord who does not serve the Lord. And all who serve the Lord serve Him out of fear.
Fear, here, does not connote terror or scary feelings. Fear here means, as it does so often in scripture, reverence and awe. Only one is worthy of such feelings, and that One is our triune God. This is why Christians worship Him in the ways and means He has subscribed, at least one day a week in public and every day of the week in private. This is why we engage in lifelong learning about Him, for God is worthy and God’s word is worth our investment of time and study. This is why we ordain our lives around Him, for all Christians are ordained servants of Christ, and every one of us has lasting gifts, latent talents, and a lifetime of days to give to God in service of our King.
Some servants of the Lord are small, like you and me. Some are great, like Luther and Calvin and Spurgeon. But through a door in Heaven marked “Servants Only,” all true Christians will slip the surly bonds of earth one day and gather together in Heaven and shout!
Hallelujah for God’s Sovereignty
“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.” God is sovereign. God is in control, at all times, over all people, places, and things. Hallelujah!
The first lines of Handel’s Messiah were inspired by the prophecy of Isaiah, the last lines bythe revelation of John. It was this verse exactly that we hear echoing in the repeated strains of the dramatic, final chorus. “The Lord our God omnipotent reigns” … “He shall reign forever and ever” … “Hallelujah!”
When it is all said and done, God will sit on His holy throne, and we will sit around His feet to give Him glory and praise. We will realize, at that time if not before, that God has been on His throne forever and ever, from eternity past to present to future. We will be pleased, we will be at peace, and we will praise the Lord. Hallelujah!
When my earthly father died, I was at peace with him. The last conversation we ever had occurred on Christmas Day 1998. It was our last Christmas, our last day, to talk, although neither one of us knew at the time he would pass away a few days later. Courtney Grace was a week old, all the DeVane girls had opened their presents, and we enjoyed a long conversation about the great gifts we received. We didn’t always say it, but the very last words we said to each other on that last Christmas were, “I love you.” Hallelujah!
Today you can be at peace with your Father, your Heavenly Father. Who knows, but Him, if this will be the last Christmas of your life? So much matters, your family, your friends,the things you have planned for your future, it really does. But nothing matters more than having peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ. This secures a love connection that will last for eternity. Tell God you love Him, believe in Him, worship Him, and serve Him. Tell God the one word that praises Him now and glories Him forever: “Hallelujah!”
LIVING ON THE EDGE
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
December 14, 2014
And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.
— Matthew 14:34-36, ESV
Most people today are living on the edge. For those who live from paycheck to paycheck, if the layoff comes, over the edge they go. For those who live on government pensions or assistance, if the government shuts down or defaults, over the edge they go. For those whose relationships are hanging by a thread, if one argument gets over-heated, over the edge they go. For those whose mental stability is strained by pain or illness, if one more thing goes wrong, over the edge they go. When you live on the edge and an ill wind blows, over the edge you go.
But there is a different way to live on the edge. It is a way that won’t let you fall, but brings you in. It is a way that doesn't lead to danger, but makes you safe. It is a way that will never lead to loss of life, but a way that secures abundant and eternal life. Of course, it is the Jesus way. The text at hand shows people reaching out a hand to touch just the edge of Jesus’ clothes. They were living on the edge, and God invites you to live on this edge, too.
Living on the edge with the Lord Jesus Christ requires the presence of the Lord. In this episode, Jesus went to Gennesaret. Only those living in this Galilean village at that time had the opportunity to reach out and touch the Lord, and those who did received the blessing of living on the edge.
The second person of our triune God emptied Himself of some of the prerogatives of deity during His sojourn on earth. For a brief lifetime, Jesus limited Himself to being in one place at one time. If you wanted to touch Him, listen to Him, follow Him, you had to be where Jesus was. But what about now? Is there any way to reach out and touch the edge of His garment today?
Right now, Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of God the Father. This metaphor means that God the Son, along with God the Father and God the Spirit, are one in power and presence. Our triune God is everywhere all the time, exercising complete knowledge and sovereign control over all persons, places, and things. In a general, mystical way, you can reach out and touch God any time from any place. But there are certain, spiritual places where you can especially touch the Lord and be touched by His great and amazing grace.
Christ is especially present in a Christ-centered church engaged in Christ-centered worship. In the midst of humble prayers, sincere praise, genuine communion, and biblical preaching, Jesus walks. As He passes by, you can reach out and live on the edge. If you are lost, God can give you faith. If you are discouraged, God can give you hope. If you feel unwanted and unworthy, God can give you unconditional love. If your body or soul is troubled in any way, God can give you peace. All of this and more can be grasped in the presence of God in a Christ-centered church.
And when you go home, you can take the Spirit of the Lord and the word of the Lord with you. In His presence, in the reading of Scripture and the meditations of the heart, Jesus walks. The faith, hope, love, and peace you experience on an Advent Sunday or any Lord’s Day is available to you seven days a week. But you must go to where Jesus is, and Christ is profoundly found in His church, in His holy word, and in prayer.
However, many go through the motions of church services and Bible readings and do not touch the Lord at all. They do not find Him because they are not truly seeking Him, but rather going through religious motions. The people in Gennesaret were blessed that day to grab the edge of Jesus’ cloak because “the men of that place recognized Him.”
Do you recognize Jesus in the sacred hour of worship? Do you hear Him speak during the reading of the Scriptures? It really depends on the Jesus you are looking for.
If you are looking for a Jesus who will love you and overlook your sins, you will not find Him. Many today are trying to force God to bless their adulterous marriages and homosexual unions. Many in days gone by have tried to bribe God with baptism and brief church membership, then escape the faith to live the bulk of their lives on their own terms. Many around the world wear crosses around their necks or pierced through their ears yet have no conception whatsoever of what it means to take up the cross and follow Him. They are looking for a Jesus that cannot be recognized in Scripture, history, or eternity.
If you are looking for a Jesus, like perhaps even some in Gennesaret that day, who will bless your body upon demand without making demands of your soul, you will not find Him. So many today flock to so-called faith healers and think by touching the faith healer they are touching God. All of these people are a bit touched, mentally, and they are blind leading the blind down to wrong edge of God. Christ did miracles like these in a brief glimpse of history, and occasionally chooses to break through today in the same manner, simply to prove His deity and stake claim to His lordship over all of life. To fail to make Him Lord, even while receiving the temporal blessing of healing, is to lose your grip on who Jesus really is.
Recognize Jesus as very God of very God, who made the heavens and the earth, who made humans in His image for His glory, who cursed man at the fall with depravity and death, who can cast both body and soul into Hell, who became flesh and walked among us, and who grants pardon and peace in Heaven by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Recognize this Jesus and grab hold of the edge of His garment, then find others and lead them to the edge, too.
When the presence of the Lord was in Gennesaret, and when the people recognized it was Jesus, they gathered together as many people as possible to live on the edge. It is impossible to experience Jesus in merely a personal way. Real Christianity longs for community. It is supremely interested in Christ, yet always interested in others, and seldom keeps Jesus just for the self.
I am totally unimpressed with those who claim a personal relationship with Jesus Christ but show no interest in the community of the saints, the local and biblical church. As the Old Covenant required association with a nation, the New Covenant expects an affiliation with the church. It is impossible to be faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ without being faithful to the body of Jesus Christ, and the body of Christ is the church.
The community of the church lives on the edge, together. When two or more of us are gathered together, and especially when we gather for Lord’s Day worship, Christ is present in our midst. In the nursery, the classrooms, and the sanctuary of the church, we teach our children and one another to recognize the real Christ, through the exposition of the Bible and the propagation of the gospel. As we gather as a community, we are equipped and inspired to go out and invite others to Christ and Christ’s church, so that they, too, may be able to reach out and grab the edge of Jesus’ garment.
“And as many as touched it were made well.”
Jesus made Himself present and available to people on that day in Gennesaret. His word and power proved that He was the promised Messiah. A community of people gathered around Him. But in order to be made well, a touch was required.
The physical healing power of Jesus was not unimportant, but when measured against eternity becomes slightly insignificant. People made well, even people raised from the dead, went on to become sick again and die. The real significance of Christ’s miracles is that they served as parables, parables of the gospel and the gift of eternal life. For those who touch Jesus, or rather are touched by Jesus, in a spiritual, saving way, shall never die. We can live on the edge of the kingdom of God now, and at the second advent of Christ will find ourselves right in the middle.
I did not know Christopher Reeve personally. I know he was Superman, but I do not know if he was a spiritual man. He was man of great courage, however, especially in the face of a near fatal accident that left him a quadriplegic in 1995. So severe was his paralysis, that he could not feel anything from the neck down. He did not receive a miracle and never walked again, but he did benefit from a remarkable form of neurosurgery that enabled his nerve endings an allowed him to feel the touches and hugs from his wife and children. “To be able to feel just the lightest touch is really a gift,” Reeve said.
Touch is a gift. That a great and mighty God would allow us to touch Him is grace. To reach out and grab in on the edge is faith. To follow Jesus throughout this life into eternity is the only work that really matters.
The Lord Jesus Christ is present, here and now. He makes Himself recognizable through His word and Spirit. You are in the community of sinners made saints. Reach out and touch His robe, let your sins and sorrows fly away, and live on the edge.
JESUS IN THE MOONLIGHT
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
December 7, 2014
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
— Matthew 14:22-33, ESV
When the sun is out you cannot see the other stars. The sun is just too bright in the daytime. However, when the sun goes down, the other stars in the sky begin to appear.
Watching the Son of God walk on the water is like looking into the sun. It is a beautiful, powerful, remarkable miracle. It is so bright, that it overshadows an assortment of other miracles that were taking place at the same time. But Jesus didn’t do this in the sunlight, He walked on water in the moonlight. So, if we look closely enough, we can see this miracle and a few others, and marvel together at the greatness and glory of God.
Please let me preface this sermon with a brief disclaimer about the difference between providence and miracles. Both flow from the sovereignty of God, His total control over all the cares and affairs of all things. By His providence, God provides for life and its sustainability through natural means. In the previous text, a boy possesses five biscuits and two fish for lunch, which he received by the good providence of God. A miracle, on the other hand, is the supernatural provision of God through an act that cannot be attributed to natural means. Twenty-thousand plus people were fed by those five loaves and two fish, which is an absolute miracle of God.
In the story at hand, God providentially provided the disciples of Jesus with a boat that could float. I’m sure oars and other necessities were on hand as well, and Jesus ordered them to get into the boat and cross the Sea of Galilee to their next ministry appointment. Providence procured them a way of passage to the other side of the sea. But miracles lit their way.
That I can pick up a phone, even a cell phone, and speak with family and friends is a great benefit of the providence of God. That I can speak with God Himself, anytime from anywhere, is a supernatural miracle. Prayer is probably the most powerful and at the same time most neglected miracle in the arsenal of the Christian and the Christian church.
Before our Lord displayed His miraculous walk on the water, He took time to pray. As a member of the Holy Trinity, the Son was in constant contact with the Father and the Spirit. As the sacrificial, self-emptying Savior of the world, the man Christ Jesus often stopped what He was doing to make time to pray with the Heavenly Father. Heavenly communication without wires is a miracle.
This is not to say that if you pray hard enough that you can make any miracle come to pass. This is to say that the praying itself is a miracle. It transcends anything Alexander Graham Bell or Verizon Wireless could ever think or do. Prayer does not bend God to do you bidding, it bends you to do God’s bidding. It is the miraculous means of preparation that enables you to embark on the Godward life. Prayer transforms you by making your rejoice in the glory and goodness of God, grieve over sin and strife, hope for the salvation of souls, care for the needs of people, and begin to see on earth at least a glimpse of what God sees from Heaven.
Through prayer Christ kept humble, even in the face of a crowd who wanted to make Him an earthly king. Through prayer Christ sensed His disciples in trouble on the sea, and determined to make His way to them. Through prayer the man Christ Jesus kept His eye on the providence of God, and the miracle of prayer paved the way for another miracle to follow.
Not only does Jesus perform miracles, Jesus is a miracle. He was, is, and always will be our supernatural God and Savior. That God became a man, and that a man could do what only God can do, is the greatest miracle of all time. This greatest miracle did great miracles, one of the most notable of which is walk right on top of the water.
I’ve set sail on the Sea of Galilee. It does not have sand bars. It is a small sea, about six by twelve miles, but it is deep. And Jesus walked on this water.
Jesus performed the miracle of walking on the water to demonstrate His deity. All of His miracles were done, at least in part, for this plain purpose. The deity of Christ is essential to the doctrine of salvation and virtually every other important doctrine of Christianity.
Jesus performed the miracle of walking on the water to get to the people He loved. That God would love any of us seems like a miracle to me. Christ came to His disciples in the moonlight, sometime between 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m., an early time to go the extra mile, especially on water.
Jesus performed the miracle of walking on the water because He is God, and only God can do miracles, sovereign miracles, anytime He wants, anyway He wants, and for anyone whom He wants. And in this miracle, the Lord shed some light on Simon Peter.
Jesus was not the only one who walked on the water on that moonlit night. Simon Peter did too, at least for a moment. So in the moment, Simon Peter was like Jesus Christ.
Christ-likeness is a miracle, because it requires supernatural ability. Every human being is born depraved, which does not necessarily mean we are all serial killers. Depravity means inability, the inability to do anything truly spiritual.
To walk on water required spiritual ability that Simon Peter did not naturally have, so Jesus granted him this supernatural ability for a moment. Peter began to sink because in another moment he tried to do things in his own strength rather than trusting in Jesus’ word.
If Jesus commands, Jesus will give the supernatural strength to obey. All obedience, all discipleship, every part and parcel of the spiritual life in Christ, also known as Christianity, also known as Christ-likeness, is owed to the miraculous power of God to save a human soul by coming to live inside and take control. The way some people can pray like Jesus prayed, walk like Jesus walked (rarely on water and often on land), live like Jesus lived, worship like Jesus worshiped, and go to where Jesus went, is a testimony to the miraculous, supernatural grace of God. Such supernatural grace has a trigger, and that trigger is faith, perhaps the greatest miracle of all.
“And those in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’” The only people that can truly worship God are those who have professed true faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The disciples worshiped Jesus because they believed in Him, but it was their belief in Him that made them worship, led them to prayer, convicted them to be obedient, caused them to love God and others, and made for them a place in Heaven. All of this is accomplished by faith, and faith is the greatest miracle God ever gave to man.
Some say faith is a decision of man, an action of the mind that triggers spiritual awareness and action. I do not dispute that entirely. Neither to I dispute the Big Bang Theory, that life as we know it began with a cataclysmic, cosmic blast that eventually put into place all that we can see and experience. But I believe strongly that God caused the Big Bang with His holy word. I also believe that God’s grace causes people to have faith and it is God who puts it into the heart of all those who truly believe. Just check out Holy Scripture, especially key texts like John 6:44 and 6:65, Acts 11:18 and 13:48, Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 3:5, and 2 Peter 1:1.
Faith is not natural and cannot be triggered by the energy of man. Faith is supernatural, and is activated by the grace of God. It is just as great a miracle, if not greater, that feeding thousands with a little food or walking on top of the Sea of Galilee. Those on the hillside would get hungry again, no one except Peter (and that just for a second) has walked on the water again, but every person who receives faith will live for Jesus in this life and live again with Jesus in the life to come.
A golden oldies song kicks off, “We get it on most every night, When that moon is big and bright, It’s a supernatural delight, Everybody’s dancing in the moonlight.” I don't know if Jesus was dancing in the moonlight, but I know He was walking on the water. I also know it wasn’t the only miracle that was performed by God that night. And, I know that if you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ right now, that miracles still happen all around us. Enjoy the moonlight. See the stars. Believe in miracles. Have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ!
WHAT THE LOVE OF GOD CAN DO
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
November 30, 2014
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
— Matthew 14:13-21, ESV
The feeding of the five thousand might well be the most notable of Christ’s miracles, notably because it is the only one told in all four of the New Testament Gospels. It brings a peak to the popularity of Jesus and prefaces a downhill slide from this hillside in Galilee to the one in Jerusalem called Mount Calvary. In Matthew’s telling, it highlights the love of God, shows what love can do, and loves what only God can do.
The Love of God
Read this text over and over in Matthew (or the other three Gospels) and you won’t find any Greek words translated into the four-letter English word “love.” But you will find a word, in verse 14, that speaks very loudly of love. It is translated “compassion.”
“Compassion” is a particular word found a dozen times in the Gospels and a total of twenty in the New Testament. In the Gospels, it is always used to describe Jesus, or Jesus uses it to describe a Christ-like character in one of His parables. It literally means to be moved on the inside, to feel something deep, because of love, care, and concern for another person or persons. It aptly describes our Lord Jesus Christ, the Christ-like characters the Good Samaritan and the Good Father of the prodigal son, and it ought to describe every follower of Christ (ref. 1 John 3:17).
Note the various ways and means Christ felt compassion in this passage. Jesus was moved because He remembered John the Baptist, and He took some time alone just to think about John. Jesus was moved because He saw people in need, and He immediately got involved in teaching (as recorded in the other Gospels), healing, and providing food. Jesus was mainly moved because people’s main need is the gospel, and He eventually gave them a great gospel presentation. Whenever Jesus encountered people, He was always compassionate, always moved by love, and always took action.
Jesus was moved because Jesus was, is, and always will be God, and God is love (ref. 1 John 4:8,16). And God is the greatest person of all to show us what love can do.
What Love Can Do
While the love of Christ can be seen in His remembrance of John and His healing touch upon members of the crowd, the most spectacular display of love in this story is the miraculous feeding of five thousand men plus over ten thousand other women and children. Jesus accomplished this feat by making a feast with just two fish and five loaves of bread. Love motivated the Lord, love moved Him into action, and love made a meal for about twenty-thousand hungry souls.
As we examine this spectacular miracle, we see some simpler things love can do in the heart of every man, especially a man or woman of God. Jesus was a man, as if He were not God at all; yet, He was God, as if He were not a man at all. He was the God-man, and there are some things in this story for all men to emulate and some things that only God can do. Let us first consider some of the things love can do in all of our hearts.
Love looks at people a certain way. In our sin-soaked, self-centered society, we tend to look at people as commodities to be used. We see them as votes that can usher us into office, as customers who can make us rich, as sex objects who can fulfill our lusts, or as statistics who can pad our pride. A man-centered view of man makes men objects. A God-centered view, however, motivated by the love of God, is quite different. In the long term, people should be looked upon as living souls who will spend eternity either in Heaven or Hell. What can we do to make a difference? In the immediate realm, people should be looked upon as fellow citizens to be cared for and helped. What can we do to help them? This is the way Jesus, God, love incarnate, looked at people.
Love is exceedingly optimistic. Critics are pessimistic, reporters are realistic, but lovers are always optimistic. They see, think, and believe the best. It takes love to overlook a spouse’s obvious faults and stay with them until death parts. It takes love to bear friends’ burdens, believing that one day they will be there to bear ours. It takes love to speak well of the leaders and members of a church in such a way that outsiders will want to attend. It takes love to swallow gossip instead of repeating it because you believe the person in question is better than that, and so are you. It takes optimistic love to connect with God, help other people, and hope that five loaves and two fish can feed thousands of hungry people on a hillside.
Love serves, love hopes, and love never fails, especially in the heart and hands of Jesus. He knew what love can do, and He did what only God can do, as a graphic picture of what only the love of God can do when it transforms a human soul.
What Only the Love of God Can Do
We can do a lot of things with love, but there are at least a couple of things that only God can do. Only God can create something out of nothing. And, only God can take something and make it more.
The Bible asserts that God made everything ex nihilo, or out of nothing. The Creator, out of an honorable love for His own glory and an overflowing love for the people of His choosing, made the heavens and the earth, the seas and the land, the plants and the animals, and every human being. God would have been perfectly sufficient and sufficiently perfect to remain separate from any created person or thing. But, as only God can do, He created creation around the people He created, to show them His great presence, power, and love.
Out of love, God made something out of nothing. How do you think those five loaves of bread and two fish got there in the first place? What about the young boy who brought them? What about the disciples and the crowd around them? At some point in some place on some day in some way, God made nothing something.
Only God can take nothing and make it something, and only God can take something and make it more. The miracle of the moment was taking the matter that constructed five loaves of bread and two fish, a meal made for one, and multiplying it into a dinner party for twenty-thousand, with twelve big baskets of leftovers besides. God took creation and recreated. God took substance that He had generated, and regenerated. God made something, more.
This is exactly what God does in salvation. He takes a human being, created and procreated, and recreates him or her into a brand new, born again child of God. Before the regeneration, we are about as lifeless as the bread and the fish. But in the hands of God, we become more. We are made alive, spiritually, and we are made to pass onto others spiritual life. The bread and the fish kept people from fainting. The Christian and the gospel keep people from dying, eternally, without Jesus Christ as Lord.
The making of the gospel and the remaking of a child of God is something only God can do, and He does it because He loves. The sharing of the gospel and the word of God is something you can do, and you will do it because of love. Take a look at what the love of God can do, in your life and the lives of others.
Take your life and give it to God today. Put it into His loving hands, just like five loaves and two fish. He can make it something more. Put your family into the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ, and watch Him make them something more. Let us put our church in the hands of God, and trust Him to multiply it and make it something more for His glory and the good of our community and world.
Let us reach out and do something that only love can do by telling our neighbors and loved ones about what only God can do. Love changes things, and God is love. He can make something out of nothing; and, He can make something, or someone, much, much more.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org