Join us as we hear about the very special and important message: the arrival of The Light of the World? What does this mean for me? How does it apply to my life today? Listen and find out!
Last week we started a new series called “The Kingdom of God is like…” It’s a series in which Jesus himself, the expert in the Kingdom of God, teaches us all about God’s kingdom through parables. A parable is a short earthly story that teaches about the Kingdom of God.
Last week’s parable taught there are many different reactions to the Gospel message. Some instantly reject it. Some quickly grow faith and quickly lose faith. Some have faith for a long time, but then worries and wealth choke out their faith. Some believe, grow, and reproduce – planting Gospel seeds in the hearts of others.
If you were listening last week, maybe you started thinking…
How do I make sure that every soil is like the good soil?
How do I ensure that everyone I tell about Jesus believes in him?
Afterall, Christianity has been around for over 2,000 years.
There have been a lot of smart Christians.
Surely, someone must have come up with some kind of identifiable, outlinable process to growing faith in someone’s heart with 100% accuracy!
It’s kind of like HelloFresh. Have any of you tried it? They send you recipes for a meal, all of the ingredients for the meal, and the exact amount of each ingredient for the meal. It’s broken down in such a simple, step by step process that even people like me (who previously were only really good at making Pop Tarts) able to cook Chicken Cordon Bleu w/ braised Asparagus.
And it’s edible.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was something like that for sharing Jesus?
Something with 100%, all the time, positive results.
Today we are looking at a second parable from Mark 4. It shares with us the secret to planting seed in the kingdom of God. Before we do, that, a prayer:
Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. How to Grow a Seed
The parable is from Mark 4:26. That’s the same chapter we were in last time. That means Jesus told it to his disciples shortly after telling them about the 4 different types of ways that the seed would grow.
Perhaps they were wondering the same thing we wondered earlier: Jesus, how can we ensure that all the plants grow!?! Give us some kind of a Ten Step Process.
Jesus gives them the answer.
With another parable:
This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.
Sound familiar? That’s almost the exact same thing as the previous parable.
Only instead of a farmer sowing seed, it’s just a man sowing seed.
And instead of focusing on the various result, it’s focusing on the process involved with achieving the desired result:
Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. (v.27)
Focus in on what the man is up to. He is not always sowing.
Sometimes he’s sleeping.
Sometimes he’s awake.
Sometimes he’s eating a hearty sower breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage and a bowl of hot grits with a slice of butter melting from the top down.
Sometimes he’s reading his copy of Farmer’s Digest magazine.
Sometimes he’s watching HGTV.
Sometimes he’s on Facebook marketplace looking for a good deal on a pair of coveralls.
To be fair, in the midst of this – he takes time to plant, time to water, time to weed, time to add fertilizer.
He absolutely tends to the plants.
But…for a long time, nothing seems to be growing!
Nothing seems to be happening.
It’s just a pile of dirt with a stick and the seed packet over the top of it – so he doesn’t forget where he planted.
After many days.
After many nights.
There is a plant.
And when he’s excitedly talking to his spouse that night he tells her:
It grew! And I don’t know how.
I don’t know if it was the watering.
Or the fertilizer.
Or playing my Weird Al hitlist on Pandora for it.
I don’t know exactly what happened to make it grow, but…it grew.
God made it grow.
Here’s the first key truth of the parable:
The secret to faith growing is that there’s no secret!
There’s no special phrase to say.
No special Kool Aid to drink.
No special pressure point you need to push to make faith grow.
Faith grows from using God’s Word.
It’s no secret.
It’s simple, everyday use of God’s Word.
That’s really important to remember.
Because sometimes, we get the sense that we need to concoct the perfect scenario to grow faith in someone’s heart.
The coffee needs to be bold.
The signage needs to be exquisite.
The ushers need to be on point.
The band needs to be well rehearsed.
The sermon needs to be energetic.
And the call to faith afterwards needs to be dramatic and it needs to happen in about 3 minutes or less -- or faith will fade.
And we should probably add a smoke machine and fireworks just to help their faith grow.
Don’t get me wrong. Those things are fine. (Some of those things are fine) They might even be good. We want to do our best for God.
But what those things don’t create faith.
God’s Word creates faith.
Because remember – God’s Word is the seed.
The seed contains all the power within it to grow!
When it didn’t grow in last week’s parable, the problem was never the seed. It was the soil.
When faith doesn’t grow in someone’s heart, the problem isn’t God’s Word – it’s the heart.
Therefore - the secret to the growing faith is faithful use of God’s Word.
It’s reading a passage from the Bible to your kids.
It’s typing a few words from the sermon on Facebook.
It’s telling a friend that Jesus is their Savior.
It’s texting your cousin a message from the Psalms.
It’s inviting your friend to join us for worship for Pentecost 21.
The mysterious secret to growing faith is found in the common, everyday use of God’s Word.
And while that might seem common…
It is far from it.
Because constant reminder of God’s forgiveness melts the disgusting guilt of sin away.
The simple melody of Jesus Loves Me may chase away the devil himself.
The ums and the ahs of a mediocre sermon – becomes the powerful, booming, authoritative voice of God himself declaring YOU. To. Be. His Child.
Keep planting God’s word in common, everyday ways and God’s Word will work to grow faith.
II. The Sprout Timeline
Next question: How long you need to do it?
I remember Miracle Gro. Do any of you? Its claim was that you toss one little thing of Miracle Grow into your watering can and it would immediately and efficiently cause your plants to grow. All it took was one application and soon you would be on your way to a prize-winning pumpkin!’
How long does it take to grow faith? Check out verse 27 again: Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. (v.27)
Notice there’s no time frame on how long he cares for the seed.
37 some odd years trying to get something to grow in that soil?
It’s indefinite, because the answer is indefinite.
Faith growing might take a day.
37 some odd years.
I’ll just go ahead and say I’ve witnessed this firsthand.
There have been people like Rebecca. We met. I got them into Bible Basics. I shared the Gospel. It took 1, maybe 2 plantings and faith grew.
Then, there are people like Eliza. We met. I, and the PL teachers, spent a year sharing Jesus with their kids. Then, the kids helped share Jesus with the parents. Then, there was another year of it. Then, a third year of it. Then a 4th year of it. Then, sometime around year 5 of it, I was able to get her into Bible Basics – Share faith, get her to church, wait another couple of months of that happening until finally: A plant of faith.
Do you understand the take home? It’s easy to get discouraged. Easy to think that faith is never going to grow. Easy to doubt that your attempts at sharing Jesus with your kid, your friend, your spouse will never work.
But the truth is:
The Timeline of faith growing is indefinite.
It’s different for different people.
You don’t stop sharing God’s Word with your spouse because I’ve been doing it for so long. It probably won’t work.
You don’t stop inviting your friend, because I’ve been doing it for so long...it probably won’t work.
You don’t stop telling your coworker about Jesus because I’ve been done that twice. If it hasn’t worked now, it won’t work ever.
If the person you want to share Jesus with is still alive, there’s still a chance for God’s Word to work.
If you think you should stop because they’ve kept telling you no, perhaps you’ve focusing too much on their reaction AND not enough on the powerful seed you have in your hand.
God’s powerful seed.
Share God’s Word.
III. The Rate of Faith Growth
One more thought.
Sometimes when someone comes to faith…
Sometimes when they confess their faith on a New Member Sunday…
I get super excited!
I think they are going to get so involved.
They’ll be here every weekend.
They’ll be fantastic givers.
They’ll be itching at every chance to get into God’s Word and do Bible Study.
That doesn’t happen.
And when that doesn’t happen, the temptation can be to say:
Fine then! Get out of this church.
Fine then! I’m taking your photo off the photo wall.
Fine then! Don’t expect me to keep after you; you’re on your own now!
But here’s the deal. Just as initial faith-growth is varied; so is maturing faith-growth. What I mean is that you the seed doesn’t get put into the ground and the next day you have an ear of corn stick straight out of the dirt. Nor do you get an apple popping out of an apple tree when it’s simply a twig on the ground.
There’s an order to growth. Check out verses 28-29:
All by itself the soil produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.
Again - the length of that growth can vary.
Oftentimes, it’s an issue with the soil.
It’s an issue with someone not getting into God’s Word.
But…when we are talking about other people -- Your job? It isn’t saying: “This thing isn’t growing as fast as I want. I’ll get out my garden hoe and dig it out of the ground.”
Your job is simply to tend to the plant with God’s Word.
It’s why you baptize your child, but then, you keep telling your kid about Jesus.
It’s why you bring your spouse to church once, but then you ask them to come again.
It’s why you get excited about the new believer getting connected to God's Word, but then you keep them connected to God’s Word.
But the endgame is the harvest.
It’s the end game of the apple lover. They plant the apple tree in order to taste that delicious bite of the first apple.
It’s the end game of the carrot lover. They plant the carrot plant in order to take a crunchy bite of that first carrot.
It’s the end game of the Brussels sprout lover. They plant the Brussels sprout bush in order to torture their children. No…because they want Brussels sprouts.
And that’s why God planted faith in you, he wants you to join him in heaven.
It’s why God grows faith through His Word he wants many in the harvest of heaven.
It’s why you will share your faith with those that you do, because you want them to share in the harvest of heaven.
Keep that in mind.
That’s the end game.
The Harvest of heaven. Amen.
Who here remembers King Herod?
Hmm, no, no not the King Herod who met with the wise men and then ordered all the infants in Bethlehem killed. That was his grandfather.
No, not the King Herod who ordered John the Baptist beheaded and later wanted to see Jesus perform a miracle. That was his uncle.
I’m talking about the King Herod who put the first apostle of Jesus to death and tried to do it again shortly after.
Of course, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were all the same king, right? The time-span is short enough that they could all be the same man and more to the point, they all behave very similarly. They have no regard for the true God. At best they are apathetic about it, and at worst they actively work against it just to further their own means.
And that’s exactly what’s happening in our reading today. This particular Herod, Herod Agrippa I, was just trying to secure his position as king. He was “king” of the Jews, but not in any way the Jews really recognized. He was put there by the Roman conquerors. The Jews hated the idea of any nation being over them, and this puppet king was just an ongoing reminder of it. So Herod had to deal with this constant distaste from them.
However, at this time, there was something else the Jews were starting to hate just as much. There were these men who were trying to subvert the Jewish religion. Followers of what was sometimes called The Way, but recently had started using the term “Christians”. The Jews hated these guys, too. And as the old saying goes, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Herod realized that if he attacked this new church movement, he’d earn himself some points in the polls with the Jewish people and that would make his job that much easier.
The first major target? James. Son of Zebedee, brother of John. Same John who later wrote the gospel of John, a few letters, and the book of Revelation. James was one of the original twelve, he’d walked with and learned from Jesus himself. And Herod, in true dictatorial power, had him executed. No trial or any sort of legal cause. Just, “you die.”
It’s not like being a Christian was a picnic so far, but this stepped it up even more. Yes, he wasn’t the first to die for Jesus, but he was the first of the twelve who was martyred. And this time it wasn’t just the Jewish leadership acting out, it was the Roman government. And not even because they opposed the message of Jesus, but because the king wanted to be popular.
So, if things weren’t already tense in Jerusalem for Christians, this was going to raise the bar. And it only went higher. The next target was Peter, probably the most prominent leader of the early church. And there was nothing Peter could do about it. Nothing any of them could do about it. Herod had all the authority, all the power. His word was law. He said kill somebody and it happened. Reasons didn’t matter. There was no law to protect from that. No justice. Herod was just in control of the situation and the Christians, the apostles were not.
And so, it happened that after his friend and travelling companion of the last four or so years was essentially murdered that Peter found himself in prison waiting a similar fate. Guarded by a rotating squad of soldiers, actually chained to the soldiers in the prison. The next day, probably, he was going to die. And it wasn’t going to stop there. Herod would keep on going until there wasn’t anyone left.
The rest of the believers, what could they do? They couldn’t storm Roman soldiers and force Peter free, they were just people, not fighters.
It’s a desperate situation. One of the most public leaders of the church was waiting to die. A man who opposed everything they stood for was in complete control. And the message of the gospel was in danger of being snuffed out by that man’s actions.
So why is Peter sleeping soundly? It wasn’t because he knew what was going to happen next. Because when an angel jarred him awake and the chains fell from his wrists, when he was led out of the prison unseen by any of the guards watching, Peter didn’t actually believe his eyes. He thought it was a vision, a dream. It wasn’t until he was out in the city proper when the angel left him, when he was hit by the cold of the night air and the silence that hung there after the angel left that he realized this was really happening. It was real.
Peter escapes. God rescued him. The believers had not sat idle but had prayed continuously for his rescue. God answered those prayers. He was free, and he would live to see another day.
And shortly after this event, Herod himself was struck dead by God. Go ahead and read the rest of the chapter when you get home today. Herod, being puffed up by some sycophants, was called a god. And he just soaked it in. God had enough and struck him down for such arrogance. The man in “complete control” died, just like that.
And the gospel spread. News of Herod’s death only set it further ablaze as it burned through the nations. Everything that seemed hopeless was overturned.
Brothers and Sisters, this is why Peter was sleeping soundly that night. Because he had utter confidence that it was God, not Herod that was in control. Peter thought he would die, but that didn’t matter to him because God is unstoppable. Peter knew that Herod’s plan couldn’t succeed in wiping out the gospel truth of Jesus because it was God’s gospel, with the power of God behind it. He knew for a fact that the gospel, by God’s power, is unstoppable.
Peter, by God’s power, was unstoppable. Every earthly power and authority came against him and it didn’t work because God didn’t allow it.
And before him, James, brother of John, son of Zebedee, by God’s power, was unstoppable.
You remember James, right? He was the first one Herod arrested and succeeded in killing.
Wait, let me rephrase that. He was the first one Herod tried to kill.
Maybe this whole time you were thinking about him. Maybe you were thinking “Great for Peter, what about James? God didn’t seem so keen on miraculously rescuing him!”
He didn’t? James was a sinner after all. We can even find that in the Gospels, like the time he and his brother arrogantly asked for a higher position than the rest of the twelve with Jesus. James deserved to die. And more than die, he deserved to be cut off from God and his mercy forever. He deserved hell.
But instead of that, God himself endured hell for James. He went in James’ place. And in return, he gave James the credit of a life lived without sin, in complete obedience to God. Jesus did those things for James. He lived and he died for James.
Herod did everything in his human power to stop James. But it didn’t work. The Roman sword that pierced him was what ushered him into the eternal arms of his Father. He didn’t die. He lives, forever, free of all pain and suffering and most especially free from the burden of sin. Peter was rescued from a cell. James was rescued from this life of pain and tears.
Peter’s time for that came eventually of course, but the point is that neither of these men were failed by God. And neither of them were overcome by the forces of this world. By God’s power, by the power of the gospel message, the message about Jesus, they were unstoppable.
I hope, by now, you realize this is not just a story about Peter and James. This is about you, too.
The gospel is unstoppable.
Peter, by God’s power, was unstoppable.
James, by God’s power, was unstoppable.
You, by God’s power, are unstoppable.
I don’t mean you can leave this building and go do whatever you want; that’s relying on your power and it’ll fail you every time. But the power of the gospel in you cannot be stopped.
It is this simple. You know the truth, that God lived for you, died for you, and rose to life for you. Because Jesus lived, died, and rose for you, you are forgiven and God will take you to be with him forever. That’s the good news that you know and trust, that is the gospel.
And there is no power here on earth that can stop you. Nothing can tear Jesus away from you. No human or natural agent can separate you from God’s love. And literally nothing that happens to you here on this earth can take away the salvation that God has given you freely by this truth. You are already saved. You are already rescued. Nothing can take that away from you. With the gospel truth in you, you are unstoppable.
It’s important to remember this perspective when your life seems anything but unstoppable. I doubt any of us will experience a night in prison awaiting execution, but that doesn’t mean we don’t find ourselves in situations where we feel beaten down, pushed around, and tempted to lose hope because whatever earthly situation we find ourselves in is not looking like it’s going to work out.
The message here is not “that earthly situation is going to work out”. It’s not “God will definitely miraculously free you from that earthly prison.” The message is that God has already freed you from a much more deadly prison. And that even if things don’t go our way here, it all leads to the same end – victory.
The troubles, the trials, the forces of this world will scream that they are in control of your life, and they will try to imprison you and beat you down. It may even seem like they are in control. Things we value, people we care about, even our own health might be taken away. But they can’t stop you. Because you have God and he cannot be stopped. Because of Jesus, you have already won. And the message continues.
I’m not saying God will never help you here and now either. He absolutely will. But that’s not where our hope is. Our hope is not in being delivered from bad bosses or car troubles or crushing debt or inoperable cancer. When it seems like he isn’t helping, when it’s like he’s not trying to rescue you at all, remember: he already has. Come what may, you are already saved.
God’s goal is to get you and anyone else he can to know and trust the gospel message so you can be safely brought to heaven with him. That mission will not be stopped. And while you are still here, God has chosen you to carry out that mission. Share the message that makes you unstoppable. The message cannot be stopped. No matter what powers try to stifle it, they will never succeed. Share it with confidence and share it out of love for those who need it.
You are saved, you are unstoppable in him. Share the truth so others may know the same rock-solid comfort. That is the path God has put before you: to speak his truth so long as you can. You will not be stopped on that path so long as God wants you to run. You cannot be stopped from sharing the truth so long as you are here.
Brothers and sisters, our God saves. Nothing in heaven above or on the earth below can stop him from carrying out his mission in you and through you. The gospel will continue.
Brothers and sisters, our God has saved you. Nothing in heaven above or on the earth below can stop you from being welcomed into his arms when this is all over.
Brothers and sisters, go out today, wake up every day after this absolutely secure in the certainty of this truth: God and his gospel are unstoppable.
This lesson picks up right after Stephen gets killed. If you remember from last week, Stephen was an ‘ordinary’ church member whose job was to deliver bread to widows and tell people about Jesus. And that’s what he did. And that’s what got him in trouble. In fact, that’s what got him killed – sharing about Jesus.
Unfortunately, the message of Stephen’s death empowered the enemies of the church. In fact, the Bible tells us – A great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. (v.2) They were afraid that what happened to Stephen might happen to them; so, they packed up and left. I suppose you might picture it kinda like a hurricane evacuation – they left to stay with relatives, friends and Motel 6’s in other cities and towns.
But…here’s what interesting. Look at verse 4: Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.
Wouldn’t you expect them to be quiet about their faith? Stephen had just died because of his faith. I would have expected them to not mention they are Christians, remove it from their Facebook profiles, and peel the fish stickers off their bumpers.
But they don’t.
Here’s the truth that’s going to become very evident over the remaining lessons in Acts: The Gospel is unstoppable.
You can kill one person. You can shut off the Christian radio. You can burn some bibles. You can suspend Gethsemane’s YouTube page from the internet.
But you cannot stop the Gospel.
The Gospel is unstoppable.
God always has a way of bringing his Gospel to the people that he wants to bring the Gospel to.
Namely – the world.
Today we are going to be following the Unstoppable Gospel as it is proclaimed by a young man named Philip (nice name). He was also one of the bread delivery men like Stephen. Through Philip we are going to learn some wonderful lessons about the power of the Gospel. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Unstoppable Power
Take a look 8:5. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed, or lame were healed. So there was great joy in the city.
A couple of notes:
In Samaria. Samaria was just to the North of Judea and Jerusalem. It was formerly a part of the Old Testament Israelite kingdom, but was currently inhabited by the Samaritans…a group that claimed Israelite ancestry from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. The point is that they weren’t Jewish. This was a different city with a different culture. A city that would have been very intimidating for Philip to go and share the Gospel.
But he does anyways. Confident that the Gospel is unstoppable.
Signs performed. This probably gave Philip confidence that the Gospel was unstoppable. The Apostles – who had been given the ability to do miracles by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost – had the ability to pass on the ability to do miracles to others by laying their hands on them. (It’s kinda like Galactus from the Marvel Universe. Google it.)
That’s exactly what they had done with the 7 bread delivery men. Stephen, Philip and their 5 other comrades had been given the power to do miracles by the 12 Apostles and God worked through all 19 of these men (12 + 7) to make all who heard the Gospel certain that God was behind this movement and this message.
It caused people to pay attention. Look at the result.
There was great joy in the city. Because that’s what the Gospel brings – joy.
It brings joy to know that your sins are forgiven.
It brings joy to know that you are at peace with God.
It brings joy to know that Jesus conquered death.
It brings joy to know that you will conquer death, too.
The Gospel brings joy – Sometimes we forget about that. Sometimes we get too concerned about financial difficulties, problems in our family life or things we don’t like at church that we miss the JOY of the Gospel! Could you listen in and hear it again: Jesus is your Savior!
That’s a message that will bring joy to anyone!
To me. To you.
To your mom. To your dad.
To your son. To your daughter.
To your mailman. To your next-door neighbor. To the swim team teacher.
In fact, the Gospel even brings joy to unexpected people.
Cue verse 9.
Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people…exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God. (v.9-10)
A few notes about Simon.
Simon, the Sorcerer. That words could refer to two things. (1) Simon was an illusionist. Something like David Copperfield of Bobo the Clown. He used trickery and misdirection in order to impress the crow or (2) He made use of the dark arts. He was somehow getting very real, very scary power from Satan or some other demon.
If that’s true, then Simon is the Voldemort of Ancient Samaria.
It’s not certain, but scholars (and I) tend to believe the second definition. Simon had very real power from some evil spirit. Why? Because earlier in the text, it mentions how Philip was repeatedly driving out demons. Could it be that these demons were so heavily present in that area because of Simon? – because of his dealings with the devil? More than likely. Dealing with the devil and devilish stuff – always has a price.
(Brief side note – because we don’t want to get too far off track. The same thing is true today. Stay away from psychics and palm readings, books about the occult and horror films. When you delve into that stuff, there is always a price to pay. Whether it is the actual appearance of evil spirits or just the heebie jeebies, there’s always a price to pay).
And if all you get is the heebie jeebies. If you get nervous and frightened and think, “God can’t protect me.” The devil wins when he gets you to think that.
Be careful. Back to the text.
Simon had ahold on the people’s imaginations. They viewed him as super important. They called him “The Great Power of God.” And Simon, WHO IS DEFINITELY NOT GETTING HIS POWER FROM GOD, allows the nickname! In fact, he embraces it. Like some Early NT Version of PT Barnum, he tells every one “I am the Greatest Showman!”
That’s a key difference between Simon and Philip isn’t it?
Philip did miracles to get people to praise Jesus.
Simon does miracles to get people to praise Himself.
And now that Philip has entered the area. Now that Philip is there too. Suddenly, there are two dueling attractions in Samaria!
Philip and the Gospel of Jesus.
Simon and the Gospel of Simon.
Who’s going to win?
Don’t be surprised:
The people believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ and they were baptized, both men and women. (v.12)
There it is.
In a head to head battle against a message that is pure evil – the Gospel is victorious!
The message of Jesus as the Savior wins a victory.
Because the Gospel is unstoppable.
People are baptized.
People become a part of God’s kingdom.
In fact, look at the next verse.
Simon himself believed and was baptized.
The dark arts magician.
The Greatest Show in Samaria.
The Guy who had given himself over to demonic power for fame…
Hears the Gospel
That’s Amazing. The Gospel is that powerful.
Which leads to the first application:
(1) Unleash the Gospel
That’s what Philip did. He wasn’t an Apostle. He wasn’t highly trained. He had simply heard the Gospel and yet through his faithful proclamation an entire town under the influence of a dark magician comes to faith!
You do the same thing.
You don’t have to own an Evangelism Degree.
You don’t have to have read Gospel Sharers 101.
You don’t have to have a fancy religious license for sharing the Gospel.
You just tell what you know.
That Jesus is the Savior.
That Jesus died on the cross to save us.
That because Jesus died on the cross we have forgiveness.
That whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
That’s the Gospel.
That’s the powerful Gospel.
That’s the Gospel that brought an entire town under the influence of a dark magician to faith.
That’s the Gospel that brought said dark magician to faith!
(2) Don’t Overlook the Sorcerers
Because too often I think we just aim to share the Gospel with polite looking people.
With people in a nice pastel colored polo and a clean pair of Tommy Hilfiger khakis.
With people who already are Christians.
But Jesus wants his message to make it to the people that look a bit intimidating.
The high ranking, atheist college professor.
The tattooed biker.
The turbaned Muslim.
The gang member.
Even the Satanist!
Maybe you don’t know anyone like that.
But maybe you know someone who puts their hatred for Christianity all over their Social media profile.
Maybe you have a coworker who is always ridiculing Christians at work.
Maybe you have a family member who has told you that he thinks God is stupid.
Those are the people we need to tell about Jesus.
And we can tell confidently, because the Gospel is powerful.
The Gospel is Unstoppable!
II. Not for Sale
Word of what happened in Samaria reached its way back to Jerusalem. The few Christian that were left there – namely the Apostles – were thrilled at what God’s Word had done in Samaria. They sent Peter and John to Samaria to visit the new church in Samaria, to encourage and uplift them.
When they arrived, they prayed for the news believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (v.16-17)
A couple of notes that are really important to understand what is meant by “They didn’t have the Holy Spirit.”
(1) Believers. These people were believers. If they were believers, they already had the Holy Spirit in their heart. The Bible tells us that “No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:3) Since these people were believers and believers are only believers because the Holy Spirit is in their heart, they had the Holy Spirit in a certain sense. in their heart creating faith.
What is meant then by not receiving the Holy Spirit? It’s a reference to the special gifts of the Holy Spirit. The gifts to do miracles – like casting out demons, healing people, and speaking in tongues – which is a divine, angelic language that was very prominent in the Early Christian Church. Remember – the Apostles had been given these abilities at Pentecost. They passed on that ability to others in the church through the laying on of hands. Still they hadn’t passed it on to the people in Samaria yet, because they hadn’t been to Samaria yet.
But…when they get there?
Peter and John prayed for them, placed their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Suddenly, people in the congregation at Samaria were able to speak in tongues, a few had the ability to heal, maybe even one or two could cast out demons.
It was amazing.
And that’s how our friend Simon thought!
That’s amazing! They can pass out the Holy Spirit simply by laying on their hands!?!
That’s a new kind of trick.
That’s a new kind of magic.
I want it.
I want that power.
I want that ability.
I no longer want to be a magician.
I want to be an apostle.
So he took a deep breath.
He power-walked up to Peter.
He held out a bag of money and said.
“I’d like to buy God’s magic powers. Will a fifty do?”
Peter answered, “May your money perish with you. You thought you could buy the gift of God with money! Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord that he may forgive you…for I see that you are captive to sin.” (v.20-22)
Now…I haven’t had anyone recently ask me to give them miraculous powers in exchange for a $100 bill. The application of this section isn’t that obvious.
But this is in the Bible for us to read and to contemplate so…
What was Simon after? Power. Influence. He thought he could give some money and get the position of Apostleship.
Question. Think about this. Why do you give?
I’m not just talking about money. But why do you give your time, your talents, your service to this church?
Do you want to GET a spot on the leadership team?
Do you want people to GET accolades for your work on the new building?
Do you want GET the respect of your neighbors because “he’s a church man”?
Or maybe it happens at home. Why do you give your time, talents and treasures there?
Do you want to GET your friends approval as a good, Christian mom?
Do you want to GET your wife’s approval as a good, Christian dad?
Do you want to GET a warm fuzzy feeling because “I’m a pretty good Christian”?
If you are giving in order to get, then your heart is captive to sin.
And that’s wrong.
And…God’s Word says this to you: May your gift perish with you! Repent of this wickedness and pray for God to forgive you.
And as you hear that, I pray that you react as Simon did. Because after Simon hears that call to repentance, his request to the Apostles changes dramatically. He no longer asks for the abilities of an apostle. He simply asks for God’s mercy.
Simon realized what that he hadn’t earned any of that power or prestige from God.
In fact, with his sin, Simon realized that he had only earned God’s punishment.
He needed God’s mercy.
That’s what we need, too, God’s mercy. The only thing we have earned from God is punishment. Not power. Not influence. Not some kind of special title at the church.
So, we ask for God’s mercy.
And God grants it.
He doesn’t just place your name on a church bulletin, but in the annals of heaven.
He doesn’t give you the title of Apostle, but forgiven child of God.
He doesn’t give you a temporary position in his church leadership, but an eternal position in his kingdom.
That’s way better!
And it leads to the final WHAT NOW. Instead of GIVING in order to GET, God wants us to
(3) Give because You’ve already Got!
We’ve got forgiveness.
We’ve got a place in God’s kingdom.
We’ve got eternal life.
We’ve got the status of child of God. Princes and princesses of the King of the Universe!
(Is there any higher status? I’m sorry, but church president, pastor, elder – they aren’t higher than that!)
We don’t need to worry about having some kind of special position in the church or some type of recognition.
We’ve already got the title that lasts.
And to be fair – this keeps all of us on the same page. It keeps us focused on our mission to Plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh, not 200 individual missions to Plant the Message that I’m Awesome in the Hearts of everyone else in the Church.
Instead, we focus together and singularly drive toward our goal of sharing God’s message in North Raleigh.
Giving money to plant the message of Jesus.
Giving time to plant the message of Jesus.
Giving talents to plant the message of Jesus,
And when that is our purpose…
And we’re simply focused on sharing the Gospel…
Think back to our first big truth:
The Gospel is UNSTOPPABLE!
It will be preached.
It will be proclaimed.
It will affect hearts.
It will be planted in the hearts of North Raleigh.
It will work.
Praise God for his powerful Gospel. Praise God for being a part of this kingdom work. Amen.
This is a great question. There are a ton of resources for studying God’s Word. However, I think that might be the biggest problem. If there was only book to read, I think we would be in pretty good shape. Get book-read book. However, there are literally hundreds of Bible translations, not to mention the thousands of devotional books.
Where to start? I see four possible ideas:
We’ve been in the book of Acts this summer. And maybe you’ve noticed – the book of ACTS is all about the ACTS of the Apostles. The Twelve guys that Jesus spend three years teaching. In Acts, Jesus had gone to heaven. The Apostles are going around preaching and teaching all by themselves.
And up to this point – over 3000 people believed their message. Amazing!
But not everyone believed.
Because sure, they like that Jesus guy.
Sure, they knew this Jesus guy was something special.
And yes, the disciples had been with Jesus…sure.
But…they weren’t Jesus.
So…was God still with them?
Was God’s power still with them?
Was their message the same?
Today we are going to answer that very question – which is SUPER important for us today, because the Apostle’s Teachings are what we have recorded in the New testament of the Bible. Before we begin our study, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Same Power.
The lesson in Acts 3 seems takes places days after Pentecost. By this time, the news about the Apostles had started to spread. News about the incredible events at Pentecost – that there was a tornadolike sounds emanating from the middle of a house, the apostles had something like fire on top of their heads and could speak in languages they had never learned – had spread.
People were interested.
The disciples kept preaching.
The disciples kept teaching.
But at the start of Acts 3, that’s not what they’re doing.
The Apostles are just living their life.
True story – even today – pastors don’t always work. (It’s true.) I don’t just preach and teach and counsel all day long. Sometimes I go to Food Lion to pick up deodorant. Sometimes I stop by the gym to workout. Sometimes I go to Home Depot for advice on Lawn Care Supplies.
The Apostles were doing the same thing.
Peter and John were heading into the temple.
Not to preach.
Not to teach.
But simply to pray.
The temple was rather large. It was so large that it had a bunch of different entrances that one could use to get into it. Each entrance had a specific name. (It might be like the PNC Arena – and the different entrances that they have).
One of the entrance was simply called BEAUTIFUL. It called to mind the notion that God and worship of God was Beautiful.
But at entrance of the gate.
Right under the incredible archways and the beautiful jewel studs.
Was something – not so beautiful.
A dirty middle-aged man.
A dirty middle-aged man sat on the ground.
A dirty middle-aged man sat on the ground and begged.
This man was paralyzed. He had never been able to walk a day in his life. Because he couldn’t walk, he also couldn’t work. (There weren’t a lot of desk jobs back in the day). The only thing that he could do was hold out his hand, ask for money, or ask others to grab some food for him.
And that’s what he did:
Sir, could you spare a few dollars?
Ma’am, do you have some extra money?
Friend, could you help me? Anything will do.
And as he asked, undoubtedly people responded in a lot of different ways:
Sorry bud. I don’t care cash on me.
Give you something? Why don’t you get a job?
Honey, please look the other way. Who knows where that guy has been!
Here you go – I suppose – Here’s a $10 – but I’d like 9 dollars in change please.
This was his life.
He was “the Paralyzed Beggar at the Gate called Beautiful.”
All the time.
And that was what he was doing as Peter and John walked by on their way to the temple for prayer:
“Good sirs! Do you have some money? Can you help a brother out?”
And the disciples stopped.
And the turned to the Paralyzed Man.
And the man got excited. Maybe they’d give him a dollar or two.
And Peter looked him straight in the eye.
And he said this, “Silver and gold, I do not have. But what I have, I give you. In the name of Jesus, WALK.” (v.6)
And the man looked at Peter.
Was Peter serious?
The man had never walked in day in his life.
If Peter didn’t have any money, he could just say so and get on his way – why did he need to rub it in like this?
But…then again…he looks sincere.
And I do really want to walk. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.
To do what I’ve never been able to do.
The man reached out his hand.
He took a hold of Peter’s
And instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. (v.7-8)
Because notice Peter didn’t give him some kind of pill to swallow.
He didn’t inject him with some kind of steroid.
He didn’t affix a robotic leg.
He spoke, and the man walked.
And he did much more than walk! Because check out verse 8, “He went with the disciples into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God!”
He wasn’t hobbling around.
It wasn’t like he took his first step and then sat down for a rest.
He was instantly walking and running and jumping and skipping and doing cartwheels and practicing his breakdancing!
This was amazing!
What’s the point?
This is a miracle.
A miracle that only God could do.
A miracle that Jesus had done on more than one occasion a couple of years earlier.
That meant this:
The disciples weren’t doing their work on their own.
God’s power had to be with them.
And if you’re skeptical, remember – this happened in the middle of the temple courts.
Surrounded by thousands of people.
And when people saw this formerly paralyzed man walking around – they recognized him as the paralyzed man who sat at the Gate called Beautiful!
And when they asked what happened and they heard what the Apostle’s did – it became absolutely, 100% certain of what happened.
God did a miracle.
God’s power was with the Apostles.
And that’s important to note.
II. Same Message.
I am working out a CrossFit Gym. And sometimes at the CrossFit Gym – people that I work out with tend to give me advice. There was a guy a few months back who started critiquing my clean and jerk method. He told me to get my shoulders up, to hold it close to my body and shift my weight onto my heels.
And as he said it, I started thinking, “Whatever dude. You’re just some guy like me trying to do this. What do you know? Why should I listen to you?”
Then we started the workout. And he was able to do about 150 more pounds than me.
Turns out – he knew what he was talking about.
This miracle was proof that the Apostles knew what they were talking about.
They would not have been able to do that miracle without God’s authority.
Which means if they have God’s authority to do miracles…
They have God’s authority to teach his message.
And we better pay close attention.
Look at what at that message:
Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? (We didn’t. We couldn’t. This was obviously God!) The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers (the God in the Old Testament, the God who does miracles, the ONLY God) has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One. You killed the author of Life…
Do you see what he says about Jesus?
God glorified Him!
He was the Messiah.
He was the Savior.
He was God himself.
You handed him over to be killed.
You disowned him.
You killed Him.
You killed the Author of Life.
You killed God.
But what could the crowd say?
Peter had just healed that paralyzed man that no one had been able to heal for over 40 years.
His message had to be sponsored by God – as divine truth.
Now…Peter’s words were directed at the crowd that had gathered.
However – they have been recorded.
We are reading them right now.
And in other parts of Scripture the Bible says:
“Jesus was pierced for our transgressions.” (Isaiah 53:5)
“He was delivered to death for our sins.” (Romans 4:25)
“Jesus bore our sins in his body on the cross.” (1 Peter 2:24)
In other words:
You handed Jesus over to be killed.
You disowned Jesus.
You killed Him.
You killed the Author of Life.
You killed God.
Again – we did not do this actively.
We didn’t swing the hammer.
We weren’t even alive back then.
But that doesn’t make it less true. Your sins are the reason that Jesus died. In fact, the miracle that occurred right before Peter did this, proved that this message is true.
And if you’re offended by that message, realize that it doesn’t’ make it any less true. You might not want to think of your sins as killing Jesus, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t.
Listen to Peter’s, God powered, approved message with a humble heart.
Your sins killed Jesus.
And then, listen with a heart ready for some good news.
Your sins killed Jesus, But God raised Jesus from the dead. (v.15)
That means sin didn’t kill him.
Jesus killed sin.
Sin didn’t overpower Jesus.
Jesus overpowered sin.
Your sin did not defeat Jesus.
Jesus defeated your sin.
And again. The disciples knew what they were talking about. Peter says, We are witnesses of this! (v.15)
And they were! Literal witnesses. They had seen Jesus alive after his death.
They touched his hands.
They touched his feet.
The saw the nails marks.
They could confirm that Jesus was alive.
And the miracle of the lame man walking could confirm that they were not lying.
Not to the crowds.
Not to you.
Jesus rose from the dead. It’s truth.
Turn to God.
Your sins will be wiped out. (v.19)
Think about that. Your sins will be…
Put your faith in Jesus and you’ll be witness to a miracle even greater than what happened with the Paralyzed Beggar at the Gate called Beautiful.
You’ll have God’s grace.
You’ve have sins forgiven.
You will be free of guilt.
You will have the promise of heaven.
And if you do believe.
Let me switch the language.
You have God’s grace.
Your sins are forgiven.
You are free of guilt.
You have the promise of heaven.
III. What Now?
1. Think Bigger
Because too often we think like the paralyzed man. When he saw the disciples, he thought – maybe they can help. Maybe they can give me a dollar – a few coins – a sandwich – or a Starbucks gift card. But what the disciples offered was so much greater! The ability to walk.
But even then, that wasn’t it. If we think that’s the extent of God’s grace, we’re wrong. Because he offered the man something greater than the ability to walk on earth – he offered him the ability to walk in heaven.
So often we think too small.
So often we think too ‘now.”
If only God could take this cold away.
If only God could get me that 1% raise.
If only God could help me find the right guy.
If only God could keep the sun out this morning.
But God has in mind to give you something much bigger.
Something that lasts much longer.
Something that is beyond your wildest imagination.
Absolute God authorized forgiveness of all your sins. Think BIG, Think ETERNAL. Think DIVINE in your prayers and have confidence God will give it.
2. Praise God!
We’re here today at the picnic and we are celebrating.
Celebrating good weather.
Celebrating a year of learning at Precious Lambs.
Celebrating fellowship at church.
Celebrating new members.
Celebrating good food.
And that’s great.
But– those aren’t the main reason for our celebration.
Our main reason for celebrating is the incredible news of our sins being wiped away.
Celebrate God’s goodness.
The Olympics are officially underway. One of my favorite parts is the behind the scenes documentaries that appear on the various athletes. They’re pretty exciting because you get to learn more about their background, their personality, and what drives them.
Like Mamee Birney. She’s a Short Track speed skater originally from Ghana, immigrated when she was 5 and now skating for the U.S. She’s one of the breakout stars of the Olympics and the very first black woman to qualify for the U.S. speedskating team. She’s intimidating. She’s bubbly. She’s excitable. She’s also 18 and just got her own cell phone for the very first time.
That’s fun. What’s nice about social media is that it connects us to these celebrities in an intimate way.
We really get to know them.
But what about Jesus?
Then disciples had followed him for 2 years.
They had seen amazing thing, heard amazing promises, and listened to amazing speeches.
But Jesus didn’t have an Instagram. How would they get to know the real Him?
Today we are travelling along with the disciples to an intimate retreat on a mountain. Our goal is to witness an event that teaches us intimate details about who Jesus is and talk about what that means for being His disciples. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
Context wise – this lesson takes a huge leap forward in time from last week’s sermon. It’s about 2 years after those early chapters in Mark and lots of things have happened.
There are more disciples. The original 4 fishers of men have grown to be 12 including political activists, accountants, and others from throughout the land of Judea.
There have been many miracles. The disciples have seen Jesus make the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, storms stop, and bread multiply out of thin air. They have seen a host of incredible, miraculous things.
They have become very familiar with Jesus’ mercy. Because in spite of His divine miracles, Jesus has been reaching out to the non-divine. He has spent time with prostitutes, eaten dinner with tax collectors, and helped the dregs of society that most religious leaders would not have touched.
After seeing all of these things, the disciples knew they were following someone great. But on this particular day, they were going to get a chance to really know the man behind the powers. They were going on a Retreat – not to Disney World – not to Great Wolf Lodge – but to a quiet mountaintop. This was their chance to really understand more about their leader.
You can almost hear them practicing their questions:
Who are you really?
What are your hopes and dreams?
What’s your favorite color?
Jesus, what is it that makes you tick?
But as they made their way up to the top of the mountain – and Peter cleared his throat ready to finally ask some of those tougher, get-to-know-you questions -- Jesus was already answering those questions.
Just not with words.
It began with a glow…A white like glow emanating from Jesus’ clothing. It was a bit strange because there wasn’t a washing machine located on the top of this mountain -- and last they had checked Jesus’ tunic it was stained with the dirt that had rubbed against him from night after night of sleeping under the stars.
And certainly not glowing.
But not as strange as what they saw next. Jesus’ face was also glowing. It wasn’t a mask. It wasn’t a trick of the sun. He wasn’t shining a flashlight on his face. In fact, he hadn’t done anything differently than simply set foot on the mountain.
Yet, his face was bright. Bright–bright. Wish you were wearing sun glasses bright. It was a brilliant shining white light that was emanating from the face of Jesus in a way unlike anything they had ever seen.
But before the disciples could make any hypotheses as to why the luminescence of their leader, another mystery…Two men. (A couple of hermits? Mountain men?) appeared with Jesus.
The disciples listened more closely. They didn’t speak like mountain men. They spoke like men of God. They talked about what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah, about God’s promises about the Messiah in the Old Testament, about the next stages of Jesus’ plans for saving the people.
Who were these guys? They listened closely to what Jesus called them:
“Moses, it’s just like God prophesied through you. I am the prophet like you from among the Israelite brothers.”
“And Elijah, it’s just like God worked through you – I have done miracle after miracle – only at an even more impressive clip.”
Peter’s jaw dropped.
He turned to John and mouthed those names again:
If that’s who these two were, that would be amazing!
They were heroes of the Old Testament.
They were legends of God’s Word.
They were rock stars in the world of the Jewish faith.
They were also…dead. At least, they had been for hundreds of years.
Now about this time Peter had an idea. What was going on was breathtaking! Bodily luminescence? Material translucence? An encounter with two souls from heaven itself? This was worth sticking around for.
Ummm…Jesus. Ummm….so it looks like you are having a good time here. Me too. Really. Would you like me to set up a tent for each of you? I can use those big leaves from the fig tree over there. I’ll even set up some rocks as a bed. I’m sure that’ll be way more comfy than whatever beds there are in heaven…?
Before Peter’s could think better of his suggestion – things changed again. An ethereal fog began to drift in. Deeper than a fog a cloud! It slowly began enveloping the entire seen: Jesus. Moses. Elijah. The sycamore trees. The rocks. The disciples – until a white condensation covered everything with a white glow coming from where Jesus’ face previously had been.
And then? A voice.
Not Moses’ voice.
Not Elijah’s voice.
Not Jesus’ voice.
Not Isaiah’s voice or Jeremiah’s voice or the voice of Abraham himself.
This voice was too loud.
“This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”
Peter and the others fell to the grounds. Frightened.
Because without seeing where this voice came from.
Without seeing where the voice was looking.
Without seeing who was talking.
It was God.
It was God talking to them.
“You must listen to him.”
II. The Truth about Who You’re Following
If the disciples didn’t understand before who it was they were following, suddenly things became very clear. Amazing? Yes. Hard to believe? Absolutely. But as plain as the bright light coming from Jesus’ face – they were following God’s Son.
And since God begets God from eternity – meaning He’s always there and his begotten – his Son is always there too—they were hearing from God about God – namely Jesus!
Their leader was the divine God of heaven and earth itself.
Think about the proof:
1. Fabric Luminescence
This might be the smallest of the miracles, but still pretty amazing! Tunics didn’t get changed often and they were worn in a desert community. In addition, Jesus had just climbed up the mountain. To expect it to be bright white, Clorox bleached white at the top of the mountain was pretty incredible.
In fact, it’s amazing to see that kind of a bright white clarity out of the washing machine. Right? It’s why when they run those Oxy Clean commercials and they dunk the ketchup and grass stained white tie into the bowl of product (because who doesn’t wear a bright white tie while eating hot dogs), it’s amazing how clean the product makes the garment.
This happened to Jesus.
Without any product.
Without any washing machine.
This was amazing. This was God.
2. Facial Luminescence.
I think this one is the next step up. Because this is not something that anyone had ever noticed about Jesus before. Think about it: his face was shining to the point of it being challenging to look at him. Even if the sun was shining, I don’t think it’s ever reflected off of anyone’s face to the point of making it difficult to look at them.
Perhaps a bald man’s head might produce that effect – ish. But Jesus wasn’t bald. He was 32 years old.
And there was something else on his face that would have completely prevented his skin from reflecting the sun’s rays in any kind of way that would imitate a ‘glitter shimmer.’
Again – Jesus’ face shining like a light is absolutely was amazing.
This was God.
3. Talking with Dead Celebrities.
And I think we need to focus in on that “dead” aspect. Because as amazing as it is that Jesus knew these celebrities of Jewish culture – it was even more amazing that he was talking to them hundreds of years after they had died.
For instance, what’s more impressive --
Hey! I just took a selfie with Justin Timberlake?
or Hey! I just took a selfie with Elvis Presley?
I don’t care what your taste is in music, the second one is way more impressive, because Elvis has been long dead!
And that’s the same thing that disciples witnessed.
And the men appeared out of nowhere.
And the men disappeared out of nowhere.
This was amazing.
This was God.
4. The Voice from the Ethereal Cloud
Which – I understand that the cloud itself might be explained. Clouds sometimes hang around the mountains. Sometimes they even hang around the lowlands – we call that fog.
But what are the chance a thick cloud envelopes the entire scene at the exact moment that Jesus’ clothes are glowing, his face is glowing and he’s speaking with two long dead celebrities?
I’m guessing – it’s not so much coincidence anymore.
And then – the VOICE!!! And remember – this is long before microphones.
It’s long before mini speakers.
It’s long before drones flying in noise from above.
This is nothing short of amazing.
This is nothing short of God.
Which is the point! The point of this account is pretty simple.
JESUS IS GOD!
You want to learn more about his character, his likes? His dislikes?
He’s the eternal God.
He dwells in the holiness of heaven itself.
He hates evil.
He loves good.
He is God eternal, immortal, invisible, all powerful from eternal himself.
III. WHAT NOW?
And this is key.
Because it leads to 3 very important truths about following Jesus.
1. Listen to Him
This is exactly what God’s voice said. “This is my Son; listen to him.”
That’s interesting. Because in a lot of groups/clubs there is a certain level of dialogue when it comes to action. For instance, the “Legion of Professional PEZ Collectors” will take votes to determine where they would like to host their next rally. What city will they be in? What type of PEZ themed candies will they eat? What hotel will they use?
People discuss plans.
Not with God.
When you’re in a group with God, the all-powerful, all wise, all eternal being gets the final say.
I bring that up because oftentimes we don’t treat God like that.
We get to discuss…– “Jesus, I get it. You think that’s sinful. I don’t. We live in a modern era after all. You’re going to have to compromise with me.”
TRUTH: If you think you can discuss, negotiate or compromise with God, then who are you treating as God?
That’s not wise. Because you can’t make your face glow.
You can’t make your clothes gleam.
You’ve never met Elijah.
You don’t know what Moses looked like.
A cloud has never enveloped you on your birthday to claim you as his perfect child.
And you can’t save yourself to heaven.
You aren’t God.
So…listen to the one who is.
Listen to Jesus.
2. Reconsider Jesus’ next Mountain
Because the very next mountain that Jesus comes to after this Transfiguration, isn’t so glorious looking.
It’s a mountain called the place of the skull.
A mountain where crucifixions occurred.
A mountain called Calvary.
There aren’t a few special friends; but thousands in angry opposition!
There isn’t a shining brilliance emanating from his face; but blood. And sweat…and more blood.
There aren’t two returned to life prophets; but two dying criminals.
There isn’t the voice of God himself; but the bitter silence of the Father turning his back on him.
It sure doesn’t look glorious.
…when you remember who Jesus is.
When you remember that’s God himself.
When you remember that is Eternal Holy God, entering mortality and suffering death and pain for me!
Calvary becomes beautiful.
More glorious than the mount of transfiguration.
Because it means you’re forgiven.
It means you’re His.
it means you are loved.
And it means you’ve gotta get down from the Mountain.
3. Get Down from the Mountain
Because I understand why Peter wanted to set up the tents. When he was on that mountain, it was obvious! Jesus is the Savior. Jesus is the true God. Jesus is worth following.
And sometimes in church, the same thing is obvious. We hear these stories. We learn God’s Word. We become convinced “Yes! Jesus is the Savior. Jesus is the true God. Jesus is worth following!” When you’re here, you might feel excited, pumped up, and convinced of that truth. It sure beats being out there in the world with coworkers who call you an idiot, social media that ridicules your faith, and friends are make you have doubts.
It’s nice to stay on the mountain.
But you can’t.
Jesus didn’t stay. Jesus had to get down that mountain. He still had to complete his mission. He had to suffer and die to accomplish our salvation.
And the disciples didn’t stay. They had to get down that mountain. They had to learn God’s Word deeply. They had to begin their ministry in sharing this message of God’s grace.
And you can’t stay either.
If you think discipleship is only thing that happens within these walls, you’re wrong.
Discipleship continues out there in the world.
We have people to tell.
We have people to tell that the one we follow is the TRUE God.
We have people to #GatherToTheGarden!
Here’s the thing – you’ve had a behind the scenes look at whom Jesus really is. Just like you might get excited to share a good interview about an Olympic hero, please share this truth about Jesus your Eternal Hero.
He is true God.
He is your savior.
He is the one you’re following. Amen.
The other day I saw on Facebook that a person was trying to start a movement – not quite as far reaching as Jesus, but… Their goal was to saturate Social Media with pictures of cute kittens doing cute things. Maybe it doesn’t seem like a big deal – but the goal was to help get rid of negativity and be positive.
Who would be opposed to a picture of a cute kitten?
Answer: Lots of people.
People who like dogs.
People who were downright mean.
People who told her to get a life and that the kittens needed to be her profile pic because she was so ugly.
Here’s the reality -- movements always have opposition – even harmless cat picture movements have opposition.
And so does Jesus.
The American Revolution had the British Forces.
The Civil Rights movement had the KKK.
Even in the fantasy world -- the Rebel Alliance was opposed by the Imperial Forces.
Movements always have opposition and so does Jesus’ discipleship movement.
Last week we learned that disciples are those who follow Jesus’ call. Today we want to dig into Scripture and learn from Jesus himself who our real opponents are and how we can defeat them. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
The lesson for today is from Mark 1:21. It takes place less than a week after the account about Jesus calling the first disciples on the fishing docks. In fact, verse 21 says it was on the next Sabbath Day. Since the fishermen were fishing in the last account, that means they were working. They wouldn’t have been working if it was the Sabbath Day (Saturday); so, it has been at most six days since Peter, Andrew, James and John started following Jesus.
That isn’t a lot of time.
It means they were still in the orientation part of becoming a disciple. They were still at the basics of their training. They were learning about their employer, about the benefits package and the specific role that they would play in the company.
And on this particular day class was outside the local synagogue.
And Jesus was on a roll.
“He is so amazing!”
“I know. His message is so on point. So different.”
“Yep. He talks about forgiveness. He talks about grace. I’m starting to feel like even I could be a part of his kingdom.”
“And it’s not like he’s making it up. Those Pharisees – that’s what they always say. They say, ‘I think’, ‘I surmise’ and ‘my personal opinion is.’ Not Jesus. He says, “This is God’s Word,’ ‘God says,” and “This is truth.”
As the disciples listened to the crowds’ reactions, they couldn’t help but feel excited. This thing had legs.
People were listening.
People were excited.
People wanted to be a part of this.
At least, most people…
WHAT DO YOU WANT WITH US JESUS OF NAZARETH!?!
All heads from the crowd immediately turned to the back.
There stood a man. Disheveled. Hair eschew. A bit of drool coming from his mouth as a wild-eyed gaze stared hatefully at Jesus.
He didn’t look good. And the vein that was throbbing from the top of his head screamed evil.
He spoke again.
What do you want with us? Did you come to Destroy us?
As he spoke, he motioned with his hands to the crowd around them. He meant to call into question Jesus’ motivation for this movement. He was implying that Jesus wasn’t really there to help, but to cause total and absolute destruction.
“I know who you are…!” He made his way forward – inching closer to Jesus as he pointed at him violently – “You are the Holy One of God.” (v..24)
At this, the disciples started to get a bit uncomfortable. Maybe it was the violence the man was spewing or the possibility that he was right! Regardless the crowd’s whispers had changed:
Who is this guy?
Is he right?
Is Jesus really against us? Or is this guy just a demon?
John’s ears perked up. A demon? If that last one was right, maybe this discipling wasn’t really worth it. After all, they had signed up to be fishers of men not fighters of demons. John’s eyes started darting as he looked for an escape route.
At this point, the man was feet away from Jesus.
The tension was building.
The drama was at a high.
The uncertainty of who would win was palpable.
Then, Jesus spoke:
“Be quiet and come out of the man.” (v.25)
No sooner did Jesus finish the “m” on the Hebrew word for “man” than the intruder began to shake.
He fell to his knees and let out a terrifying shriek and fell to the floor. Limp.
Jesus checked on him and the man sat up.
No longer looking evil but exhausted.
No longer hateful, but thankful.
No longer a demon, but a follower.
This is a very important account. It teaches what we said earlier -- there is opposition to Jesus’ message and it’s scarier than you think:
Jesus is opposed by the all too real demons of hell itself.
II. The Terrifying Reality of the Opposition
Have you ever seen Ghost Hunters before? It’s a documentary show on one of the cable channels. The premise is that a bunch of scientists will spend the night in a place that’s “haunted” and try to figure out if it’s real or fake. And they always come back with footage that’s questionable. A floating light. A moving picture. A high-pitched noise.
And…I don’t know. It could be a weird coincidence. It could be camera editing. It could be some guy in the background throwing things on camera.
I’ll tell you what it’s not. It’s not ghosts. The Bible doesn’t teach ghosts. The Bible teaches that when people die their souls do not hang out on earth to try and get done some unfinished business. Ecclesiastes 12:7 says, “The dust returns to the ground it came from and the spirit return to God who gave it.” This means that those noises and weird instances on ghost hunters cannot be caused by ghosts.
But it could something much worse.
If you are skeptical, this account of Jesus is very helpful. Consider the following:
1. Visible Immediacy of the Change
Notice: as soon as Jesus says, “get out of the man,” there is a violent reaction. It describes him as shaking, a violent shake and screaming. The original Greek sentence says, “And he loud noised a very loud noise.”
And it isn’t just a show! There are hundreds of people presents who absolutely believe something very strange just happened. The Bible says, “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this?...He gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”
And we know it wasn’t something that they were unsure about. Because do you really want your neighbors to call you crazy? Yet the people were so certain of this happening that they told anyone they could. In fact, the Bible says, “News about Jesus spread throughout the whole region”
This leads to the second point.
2. The Public Nature of the Event
Because this miracle was not done in vacuum.
It wasn’t behind closed doors.
It isn’t like only a few people saw it.
It was at the synagogue.
Lots of people saw it.
Lots of people knew the man who had been possessed.
And lots of people knew that after Jesus talked to him, there was a giant shriek, shaking and suddenly the man was perfectly sane.
And guess what? These people were still around by the time this document from Mark was circulating. Mark’s Gospel is written only about 10 years after the event. The people who read about the demon defeat near at the Synagogue near Galilee could have said “This isn’t true. I was there. It’s fake!”
But they didn’t.
Because they saw it.
And it was real.
In fact, it isn’t the only time.
3. Only One of Many Instances
The Gospel writers report that Jesus drove out other demons. What’s very interesting is that when he did so, there was always a visible, public, instantaneous change that took place in the person which proved to onlookers this was not phoniness.
Jesus drove out a mute man’s demon in Luke 11. The proof it was real? The man spoke -- for the first time in ages.
Jesus drove out a young boy’s demon in Mark 9. The proof it was real? The boy stopped convulsing on the ground, he was held by his father and his father confirmed his healing. (Think about it – would the dad really force his son into convulsions and cutting himself in order to pull one over on some gullible people? No way!)
And then, there’s the story of Legion. Legion who lived on an island. His name wasn’t really Legion – Legion is just the name that the demons referred to themselves because like the Roman Legion – they were many. Legion had been on an island because people were terrified of him because they knew he was demon possessed. They were so terrified that they chained him up.
Jesus went to see him. Terrified the demons, said, “Don’t get rid of us – send us into that herd of pigs over there.”
And instantly – the man fell to his knees healed.
But at the same instant – the pigs started squealing. The crowd with Jesus looked over to the fields and saw a stampede of pigs heading to the lake – to drown themselves.
And you might think? How cruel Jesus!
But understand this – If Jesus had simply said, “be well.” And the man was well – who would believe anything happened?
Instead, Jesus made it very clear –
This wasn’t a ruse.
This wasn’t phoniness.
This wasn’t a trick.
Demons were real.
Very real opposition for his disciples.
All of this leads to one very important truth for you to take home. BE WARY. The Bible says, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion waiting for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) And to be fair – lions don’t usually come running out, roaring and making as much noise possible in a bum rush attack. Nor do demons.
Instead, they tend to prowl. They hide. They make you think that there is no possible way that they exist…that you are safe…that you don’t need Jesus...that the sin isn’t so bad…that the temptation will be ok…
III. The Awesome Reality of Being Jesus’ Disciple
But don’t be afraid.
Because in the account, did you notice something?
There wasn’t a battle.
Jesus simply spoke, and he utterly destroyed the demon.
Later on – with that Legion guy – when the demons saw Jesus coming, the demons are the ones who scream!
Because while demons might be the things of a horror film for us – Jesus is the thing of horror to them.
THEY DON’T STAND A CHANCE.
Not even years later – when they had successfully tempted people.
When the devil entered Judas to betray him.
When the demons had led people into vitriol and violence that they angrily scream, “Crucify Him!”
And Jesus is nailed to a giant piece of wood to hang and die.
The demons celebrated and drank in the wine of this violence….
…About 5 am Sunday morning. The demons were still waking up from the hangover of their celebration…when…an earthquake, an empty grave – Jesus was alive!
He was not defeated.
He defeated the thing – death – that defeats us all.
He defeated thing – sin – that causes death.
And he defeated the things – demons – that tempt us to sin which leads to death.
Jesus defeated the devil and his demons on the cross!
And that’s the Jesus who is on your side.
So. Do not be afraid. If he was able to take their best shot and turn it around on their heads in devastating defeat while he was dead… What will he do while he lives?
He’ll protect you.
He’ll keep you safe.
He’ll destroy Satan’s attacks.
IV. What Now?
A. Don’t Play with Fire
Have you heard that one before? It makes sense. If you prefer not to get burned, it would be wise not to grab burning logs from your fire place for something to cuddle with. Stay away from the fire and you won’t get burned.
It’s the same thing with these demons. Because maybe you’re thinking: “This isn’t a problem for me. I don’t like the devil and I don’t worship him. It’s all good.”
Ouija board with my Friday night group – It’s just a joke.
Visit to a psychic? It’ll just be fun.
Some kind of mirror trick that I saw on YouTube? It isn’t real - -is it?
Careful. That’s playing with fire. You’ll get burned.
Even the movies we watch. We need to reevaluate. Because horror films – especially stuff related to the devil – it can get to you. It can scare you. It can cause nightmares. Some of you know this and it’s why you avoid it.
But I’m almost concerned for the people who think, “It’s no big deal. It doesn’t affect me.”
Watch out. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion…hidden, making you think it’s no big deal, waiting for the right moment to devour you.
Don’t let him have that opportunity. Don’t play with the Spiritual fire.
B. Call on Jesus
Because Jesus is powerful, and He has authority. His Word has authority.
I remember one time when I was an assistant pastor we were invited over by a fellow pastor to go to a house that the owners said was haunted. Honestly, the pastor seemed a bit spooked by the stories of what was going on there – weird changes in temperature, strange things in the mirror, and little kids who was insistent on seeing scary things.
We went together – a group of us – and…
We read God’s Word.
We implored the devil to leave.
And – I don’t know how much was going on – but I can at least say this: The devil had the lady spooked.
And God’s Word brought peace to the house.
God’s Word is powerful.
So, whatever your demons are – real, possession like demons – or (more likely) guilt, the temptation to lust, addiction, racism, you name it – run to Jesus’ powerful words.
Learn it speak it.
Jesus will drive your demons away.
Because Jesus is on our side and we know who wins.
Unlike the many who will watch the Super Bowl this Sunday and they will get nervous. They’ll get anxious. Maybe the game will get close and they will think, “I don’t know if we’re going to win.”
You know who wins.
It’s not the devil.
It’s not his legions of demons.
And Jesus gives you the victor over the opposition. Amen.
Things had finally settled down. For the very first time, you could call the Promised Land – Israel. The majority of the land had been conquered. The Israelites had moved in; they had planted their gardens; picked out the right backsplash; they had even set up a few of those little lawn gnomes on the front lawn.
The land was at rest.
What could they possibly have to worry about?
Today we are looking at the second to last chapter in Joshua. It’s essentially the first of two final sermons that Joshua preaches to his people. This one he speaks directly to the leaders of all 12 tribes. Listen as Joshua warns Israel of the danger that lay before them; a danger that we have to watch out for, too. Before we begin, a prayer: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. Your word is truth. Open our eyes to see what YOU want us to see. Open our ears to hear what YOU want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what YOU would have us believe. Amen.
I. Identify Bad Company
Chapter 23 starts by mentioning that Joshua is well advanced in years. He’s older than he was in the last sermon – and that was pretty old. And he summons all the leaders of Israel together to give them one final speech. Check out verse 7 in chapter 23. It’s a key verse in Joshua’s sermon. It says this, “Do not associate with the remaining nations; do not invoke the name of their gods or swear by them…but hold fast to the LORD your God, as you have until now.”
Maybe you get to that part and you wonder, why?
What was wrong with the Canaanite people?
Is God some kind of racist?
First of all, absolutely not.
God made all people.
God made the Canaanite people.
God loved the Canaanites.
But that was the problem. The Canaanites didn’t love God. Rather the Canaanites loved to take pieces of wood, cut them to the appropriate length, sand them down, use their carving knives to make a face, six eyes, a couple of noses -- sprinkle on some glitter and …voila! “This is my new god.” Even though…it didn’t exist until about 5 minutes ago.
And what’s interesting is that these Canaanites still held to their belief in these gods – even after all that had happened over the previous years!
Even when they heard of how the LORD held up the Jordan River.
And how the LORD knocked down the wall of Jericho with a couple of trumpet blasts.
And how the LORD caused the sun to stand in the sky and expand the daylight 24 hours.
And how the LORD had drastically changed the borders and boundaries of their land over the last couple of years.
The Canaanites still held to other gods.
The Canaanites still held to their own “pretend gods.”
And if Israel got too close, they would gladly teach Israel to do the same.
It’s easy to see how that would happen.
It starts with a trip to the local Canaanite Restaurant that everyone was raving about. The food was good and…the decorations were interesting. “Bartender…sir? What are those decorations?” “Those? Those are Asherah poles. They are devoted to the goddess Asherah. She’s pretty awesome. She lets you drink as much as you want and sleep with whomever you want.” (He nodded in the direction of one of the waitresses.) “Does your God let you do that?” “Um...no?”
Then, there was the time little Avram went for a sleep over in Little Philistine. And he came back so excited – “Mom and dad! It was so much fun. They have this god ‘Dagon.’ He’s part man and part fish. I saw his action figure. He has big muscles and karate chop action. PLUS, each package comes with a piece of gum. Can we get Dagonite action figure? Please!?!”
And then, there was the wedding. I don’t know. I like Bob. But? Should we really be entering Baal’s temple for a wedding? I’d feel weird about praying to a golden statue in order to bless them? But…then again. They are nice people. And…I heard there’s gonna be a Chocolate Fountain, so….
And I kinda like it.
And I kinda see where they are coming from.
And I kinda believe this isn’t so bad
And I kinda think that God might not be the only God.
And I kinda think I’m not a God follower anymore…
Scripture says this: “Bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Cor. 15:33) That was the point of what God was saying through Joshua. These Canaanites were bad company. These Canaanites could lead Israel into their own sin. These Canaanites could lead them away from faith in the true God.
One of the first steps in avoiding bad company is identifying bad company.
Because the thing about bad company is that it isn’t always so obvious. In fact, it’s usually not. For instance, you probably aren’t going to have a group of Satanists come to your door dressed in “Satan rules” t-shirts with matching tattoos and an invite card in their hand that says, “Join us for Back to Satan Worship Sunday.” It’s never that obvious. It’s usually much subtler. Here are three modern areas where bad company tends to hideout:
This isn’t just a warning for cyber sexual predators. (Although there is that and please watch out). It’s a warning against cyber spiritual predators.
And they look nice. They become friends with you. You have cheerful dialogue via social media. You comment on their cat pictures and they comment on the photo of your dog.
But then, you notice something different in their social feed. A steady stream of attacks on Jesus, followed by a constant promotion of sinful things. And at first you think – this doesn’t affect me. And at first you give them a LIKE because “They’re my friend.” And then later you give them a LIKE because “They made a good point.” And finally, you give them LIKES left and right because, “They’re right. God is awful.”
Bottom-line: If one of your friend keeps posting stuff from AtheistsAreTheBest.com…Please Be Careful. Bad company corrupts good character.
We all probably know this, but TV executives are not all that interested in helping you lead a holy life. Not even remotely. They want money and sin sells. So, they promote sin.
Please be careful. Because suddenly some of our favorite characters end up being a virtual version of bad company.
Homer Simpson may lead you to believe that drinking beer and hanging out on the couch is a great way to treat your wife.
Anything on HBO might make you think that those filthy words aren’t so big a deal.
Grey’s Anatomy could have you believe that sleeping around with anyone and everyone is just how life is.
Careful. Bad company corrupts good character.
That might sound crazy! Isn’t church supposed to be the place where we go for good company? Absolutely. It is. Yet – the devil works hard at church. And it’s easy for him to watch friendships be made, relationships be strengthened, and then…inject a bit of sin.
I’ll never forget about the time when I was at another church…and some of the older ladies invited me to join them for a Bible group. So, I went. And the Bible study opened like this:
Did you hear about so and so?
Oh I know. She’s terrible.
And did you hear about what that person did?
I know they are the worst.
And can you believe pastor did that?
I can’t and I think he’s pretty terrible.
I was there for about five minutes when I realized…
I wasn’t at a Bible group.
I was at a gossip group.
Bad company can exist even a church. Even when we don’t want it to.
If there’s a group that loves to get together and gossip, politely break it up.
Because this shouldn’t be a place for bad company…
…but sometimes…it can be.
So, we are careful and watch each other’s back because…Bad company corrupts good character (even in church).
II. The Problem with Bad Company
Yet it can be hard to leave bad company.
Oftentimes because bad company has something to offer in return:
Even “they think I’m cool.”
But the reality is that bad company has very little to offer. Listen to Joshua’s reminders:
(1) “Bad company” does not Save
The LORD has driven out before you powerful nations…the LORD your God fights for you...so be careful to love the LORD. (v.10-11)
Because their new Canaanite friends didn’t split the Jordan River.
And their “idol”- didn’t cause the walls of Jericho to come tumbling down.
To put it simply:
It was not some pile of rocks splashed with red paint and glitter that protected you from your enemies! It was the LORD.
Those false gods that the Canaanites promoted would not protect them! Neither will whatever it is that is causing you to want to remain in bad company.
Money won’t save.
Fame won’t save.
A promotion at work won’t save.
“Being cool” won’t save.
None of these things are god and none of them will save.
(2) God is the Opposition
In fact, they lead to big trouble. Joshua said, “If you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you…then you may be sure that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations before you.”
Because how else would you expect God to react? He brought them out of Egypt, provided for them in the desert, and conquered the Promised Land for them. In return, they hang around a pile of rocks and sing, “How Great is this Pile of Rocks.”
Here’s how God reacts. God doesn’t fight for bad company.
God fights against them.
And if you are a part of that bad company…
God fights against you.
(3) Bad company are Deathtraps
Joshua says it this way, “These nations will become snares and traps for you, whips on your back and thorns in your eyes, until you perish…” (v.13)
Have you ever used a sticky ant trap? It’s especially useful if you have lots of ants in your home. It’s a trap that you place on the ground around the area where they seem to get in. It lets off a really nice and pleasing smell to the ants (I don’t know. Sugar or something.) and the ants follow the smell. They walk onto the trap and…they get stuck. They can’t move. They are trapped. They die.
And that’s exactly what would happen to the Israelites.
These flashy new gods might seem nice.
The beautiful Canaanite fertility dancer might seem beautiful…
The handsome Asherah worshipper might seem like a gentleman…
But it was nothing more than a trap.
It would lead to false belief.
Which would lead to falling way from God.
Which would lead to falling away from salvation.
Which would lead to HELL.
TRUTH: Bad company always leads to death. Even if they aren’t promoting obvious idolatry, if they are promoting sin…sin leads to death. Thus: They are promoting death.
They are a trap.
Get out before it’s too late! Before these traps get ahold of you; get ahold of the LORD.
III. Why God?
These scary warnings drive us back to the true LORD.
They drive us back to Jesus.
And when we hold to Jesus, we need not be afraid. Here’s why:
You yourselves have seen everything the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake; it was the Lord your God who fought for you…The Lord your God himself will push the remaining nations out for your sake. He will drive them out before you, and you will take possession of their land, as the Lord your God promised you. (23:3-5)
1) Look at What God’s Done!
For Israel, He split the Jordan River in half in the middle of flood season. He caused the walls of Jericho to come tumbling down with a few blasts of a trumpet. He stopped the sun in the sky, gave you 24 extra hours of daylight, and led you to victory over five vicious armies. And look down at your feet! He gave you the very land that he promised to give their great, great, great, great, great, great-grandfather 500 years ago!
And since then?
He appeared on this earth. He lived perfectly, completely apart from bad company.
He died innocently, at the hands of bad company.
He rose triumphantly, defeating the bad company of sin, death, and the devil.
God saved you from sin! Nothing bad has ever come from Him.
Hold fast to the LORD.
2) Look at What God Will Do
He would knock out any nations that remained. He would give Israel the final 5% of the land. He would have no problem completing the job.
He will have no problem completing the job for you.
God is not like a credit card. His goodness doesn’t get maxed out…so that you have to put him back in your wallet and pull out a different credit card, because “I’m out of money, but those rhinestone studded slippers are really nice.”
God’s love is infinite.
God’s love is unending.
His resources are unlimited.
He will not fail you.
He will bring you home to heaven.
He will give you eternal rest.
He will give you peace.
IV. What now?
1) Identify Bad Company
That doesn’t mean just avoid people you don’t like.
It doesn’t mean that you avoid people who don’t believe like you do. The Bible says, “Be the light of the world.” In order to be that light…you have to be in the world.
But it does mean be careful. And if the situation warrants, avoid them.
If you struggle with gossip, avoid those who gossip.
If you struggle with alcohol, avoid the bar.
If you struggle with faith, avoid those who are making you question it.
Identify what your bad company is and be careful.
2) Be Good Company
Again, the Bible says, “Be the light of the world.” Be that good company that influences others back towards God!
Whether it’s at work, with friends, at school – be that light.
Even at church! Because (we said this earlier) that’s what God would have us be – an encouragement to one another to keep serving Him and keep sharing His message! We are to be the good company for one another.
3) Hold fast to the LORD
Because the LORD is all Israel ever needed. And the LORD is all you need. And the LORD is all will ever need.
Think about how you can hold fast to the LORD.
Do your own Bible reading.
Join a small group.
Make worship a weekly priority.
Whatever you’re doing – great – do more! Fill yourself with as much God as you fill yourself with social media.
And God will hold fast to you.
In fact, do you remember that earlier phrase? Bad company corrupts good character?
With God, the opposite is true. Because God-company purifies corrupted character.
May God purify us and make us good company for one another. Amen.
Do you know what I really love? Couches. Couches are awesome.
And if I’m telling the truth – there are times throughout the week when I dream of my couch.
When I’m working out, can’t wait to go to the couch.
When I’m tired of typing things, can’t wait to go to the couch.
When I’m stressed out, can’t wait to go to the couch, grab a bag of Doritos and catch up on America’s Got Talent.
Rest is good.
Rest keeps us going.
The promise of rest keeps us working.
We’ve been spending all summer in the book of Joshua. We have heard about the hard work of the Israelites in conquering the Promised Land and following God’s commands. Today we are going to hear about why it was all worth it. Our goal is to look back at the historical listings and land ownership documents in order to learn some valuable lessons about God’s promises of rest.
Before we do that, let’s pray: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. Your word is truth. Open our eyes to see what YOU want us to see. Open our ears to hear what YOU want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what YOU would have us believe. Amen.
I. Caleb’s Reward
Start our exploration of inheritance by looking at a man named Caleb. If you’ve been following along with this series from the beginning, Caleb might be a familiar name.
But just in case you need review…backtrack about 45 years.
Caleb was a middle aged warrior. He must have been a skilled fighter and a trusted infantryman, because Moses gave him a very important task. Caleb was selected as one of the 12 men who would infiltrate the region of Canaan, spy on the land, and bring back a report on the best places to attack, the weaknesses of the men, and the condition of the terrain.
In short, the group was supposed to come up with a plan to defeat Canaan.
Ummmm…it’s nice and all, but…is milk and honey really worth getting squashed like a bug?
These guys are giants! We don’t stand a chance.
Here’s our proposal for military action: (1) Pack up (2) March in the opposite direction (3) Never return.
The majority of the spies gave up before they even started.
Caleb walked forward to Moses.
Um. Mr. Moses, sir. I know I’m only one man. But I have a different idea. Yes, the people are big and yes, the men are muscular and yes, they would squash us in a one on one battle.
But…we aren’t alone. God is with us. You say these men are giants. God is a giant to these giants. With him on our side, nothing can stop us.
But unfortunately, his idea was drowned out by the misery of the other spies.
And the people listened to the other spies.
And God rebuked the people.
And God said that none of those adults would enter the Promised Land.
None…except Joshua and Caleb.
The LORD said, “No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your ancestors, except Caleb...He will see it and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the LORD wholeheartedly!” (Deut. 1:35-36)
Fast forward 45 years.
40 years in the wilderness.
5 years in battle.
45 years of following God.
And Caleb is ready for his inheritance.
Goodness. He’s 85 years old. It’s time for him to retire.
And there were plenty of places available that Israel already had in its possession.
You might expect him to choose a quiet farm.
A lazy valley.
A nice bungalow by the river.
“Now then give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.” (14:10-12)
Does this not seem a bit crazy?
Instead of taking the easy way.
Instead of choosing a simple plan.
Caleb wants a challenge.
Caleb wants to fight.
Caleb wants to head to the area that he had seen years ago and fight for his land…against giants…
…at 85 years old!?!
And the reason for his confidence?
It wasn’t his impeccable physical condition.
It wasn’t some secret serum of energy plucked from the honey of the land.
It wasn’t himself.
It was God.
“With the LORD helping I will drive them out just as He said.” (v.12)
Here’s the truth: Confidence in God leads to confidence in action.
And this confidence comes regardless of your age.
Whether you’re young and inexperienced.
Whether you’re older and tired.
Whether you’re middle aged and dealing with midlife crises –
Confidence in God leads to confidence in action.
That’s important to us as a church. Because God has given us a big task to do -- “Go and make disciples of all nations…” – And we might look at that statement and combine it with America’s perception on religion and decide: “I’m a believer now. I’m pretty content to take it easy, put my feet up on the pews and relax. Here. Here’s a buck or two for mission work. Enjoy.”
I’m not sure that’s serving God vigorously.
That’s serving God…while limping.
Be like Caleb.
Because you can be confident in God:
He kept Caleb safe for 45 years!
He provided bread from heaven.
He helped him cross the Jordan river.
He toppled the walls of Jericho.
He caused the sun to stand still and give Caleb and his friends an extra 24 hours to defeat their enemies!
That’s the God that you have on your side. A God that has shown similar power to your life.
He has kept you safe throughout your life.
He provides nourishment in his Word.
He helps you cross the challenges you face.
He toppled the wall of sin with his death on the cross.
And has extended your life into eternity through the resurrection of his Son!
Just imagine what it would be like if we stopped intimidating ourselves into not sharing the Gospel.
Or fighting amongst ourselves to distract us from sharing the Gospel.
Imagine if we were like Caleb and vigorously; confidently; boldly share Jesus!
There’d be evangelism going on in all of our homes.
There’d be evangelism at about 100 different workplaces.
There would be conversations about Jesus at Starbucks, Sheetz and Steak & Shake!
Take on this challenge. Back 2 Church Sunday is coming up in two weeks. I’ve got invites ready for you to pass out to others. I have email invitations for you to pass on. There will be social media blasts for you to like, forward, etc.
Don’t just send me an invite. I’m already coming.
Choose a friend who doesn’t know Jesus.
Even a friend who doesn’t like Jesus.
Even a friend who has denounced Jesus.
And invite them.
Tell them about Jesus.
And serve the LORD vigorously confident that the LORD is vigorously fighting for you.
II. The Temptation to Give Up
Enough about Caleb. Because God also has promises and inheritance for many people who didn’t follow God so whole heartedly. Chapters 14-19 chronicle the allotment of the land for all twelve tribes of Israel.
Perhaps what is most interesting is the relation of these sections to a bedside prophecy about 500 years earlier.
…the place is Egypt. Jacob, also known as Israel, is on his deathbed. Before he passes from the earth, he calls his twelve sons --- Yes, twelve sons – into his room. They crowd around the bed. They have tears in their eyes as they listen to his heavy breathing.
Yet in the midst of this sadness, God does something amazing. He works through Jacob to prophecy about the very land allotment that is reference in Joshua. Jacob speaks to his sons – and 500 years later the descendants of each of his sons is allotted land in accordance with these prophecies. Take a look:
Let’s start with Jacob’s most famous son – Joseph. He is the one with the multicolored coat. He was thrown into a pit by his brothers, thought to be dead, but ended up saving the land of Egypt from starvation. Jacob grants a double blessing to Joseph. He says, Joseph is a fruitful vine…a vine near a spring who climbs up over a wall. (v.22)
Immediately I get the picture of a one of those vines that you don’t plant. A weedy vine that you can’t quite control. What happens with those types of vines? You don’t plant them; but they end up taking up more of your garden and fence than anything else.
Jacob prophesies that Joseph will be like that. His land will be great and double in portion to anyone other tribes. Which seems strange. Because if you look over all of the book of Joshua, you will not find mention of a tribe named Joseph.
That’s because Joseph’s inheritance was double.
That’s because Josephs inheritance was given to his two sons – Manasseh and Ephraim.
God gives these people twice the land…and again God keeps his promises.
Jacob says to Zebulon: Zebulon will live by the seashore and become a haven for ships... (v.13) Which is exactly what happens. Joshua allots the Zebulonians (Zebulonites? Zebulonii? the people of Zebulon) an area that’s less than ten miles from the Mediterranean sea. These guys wore a lot of flip flops and got out their surfboards, because it happened exactly as God promised.
Jacob says to Asher: Asher’s food will be rich; delicacies fit for a king. (V.20) And 500 years later, Joshua grants them land near the northern border of the Mediterranean. Archaeologists indicate that that particular portion of land was filled with some of the country’s richest soil. It was perfect for growing pomegranates. God gave the Asherites wonderful farmland -- and God kept his promise.
Jacob says to Simeon: Simeon and Levi…will be scarce and dispersed in Israel. (v.5) This was a punishment on the brothers for a violent incident that God greatly disapproved of. And as a result, Levi doesn’t receive any inheritance at all. In fact, they are simply given places in cities to live in. And Simeon is given the smallest allotment of all. An allotment so small that it eventually gets swallowed up by one more tribe.
Jacob says to Judah: Judah, your brothers will praise you…because you are a lion’s cub. The scepter will not depart from Judah. (v.9-11) And like a lion – God gives Judah the lion’s share of the land. Look at how large it is! It’s huge. It’s the largest section of any tribe.
And above all else? It contains Jerusalem.
Jerusalem which would be home to many kings.
Jerusalem which would be home to many kings of Israel.
Jerusalem which would be home to THE king of Israel.
Here’s the point of all this. These land allotments are proof that God keeps his promises. Whether he’s promising lots of land, or a beach front, or even a tiny little bit…God gives exactly what he promises.
So, what about you? What has God promised you?
A beachfront like Zebulon?
A good gardening area like Asher?
Or just enough land for one of those tiny little houses like Levi?
God has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:12)
No matter what the devil says.
No matter how much he tells you that you don’t qualify.
No matter how much he tells you that you might forget.
God has not forgotten you.
He already paid for it.
He has a place reserved for you in heaven.
No matter how long it takes.
III. Joshua’s Inheritance
Which leads us to Joshua.
Because the very last inheritance that God passes out, isn’t given to some lonely orphan.
It isn’t given to some naysaying skeptic.
It’s given to their leader.
When they had finished dividing the land into its allotted portions, the Israelites gave Joshua son of Nun an inheritance among them, as the Lord had commanded. (Joshua 19:49)
Do you see the point?
Joshua followed God and God followed through.
When others didn’t want to, he stuck to God’s promises.
When he couldn’t get past a river, he stuck to God’s promises.
When he faced giant walls, he stuck to God’s promises.
When his people sinned and failed, he stuck to God’s promises.
When he fought an army of five kings, he stuck to God’s promises.
And God stuck to Joshua.
And Joshua had a home.
And Joshua had rest.
Do the same and God will do the same. Follow God and he’ll follow through for you.
If you’ve been abandoned, cling to God’s promises.
If you’ve been sick, cling to God’s promises.
If you have financial struggle, cling to God’s promises.
If you’re facing death, cling to God’s promises.
God will keep his promises and you will receive your inheritance…in heaven. Amen.