ACTS: Unfollow the Crowd
Last we left the Apostle Paul, he was in the city of Ephesus preaching the message that Jesus is the Savior. He stayed there for two years. During that time frame, a congregation had developed in Ephesus. A decent crowd of people would gather together each week to hear Paul’s sermons, sing hymns, say prayers, and high-five each other in the fellowship hall.
But this church crowd wasn’t the only kind of crowd that developed in Ephesus.
Today we’re going to learn about a crowd that developed in direct opposition to the Gospel. Our goal is get some guidance about the dangers of crowd-following in 2019 Raleigh. Before we begin, a prayer: O 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. A Crowd Forms
The lesson comes from Acts 19. It says, “There arose a great disturbance about the Way. A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there.” (v.23)
A couple of notes:
Demetrius is a Greek name. It means, “servant of Demeter.” Demeter was the Greek goddess in charge of crops. She made sure that the grains grew. She made sure the oats grew. She made sure the corn grew. She made sure that they were golden and delicious. She made sure that they were a part of a daily balanced breakfast. (Something tells me that Demeter looked something like a breakfast food character).
But Demetrius wasn’t only worshipping deities around the food pyramid. He worked for the temple of Artemis. Artemis was the Greek goddess of hunting (meat). The story was that you could call on her and give gifts at her temple to increase your likelihood of bagging a quail on the morning hunt.
In Ephesus was the Temple to Artemis. It was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The temple was 425 feet long by 200 feet wide. It was tall and ornate with beautiful marble columns. People came from across the ancient world in order to visit this incredible wonder.
And while the tourists were visiting the temple, they could pick up a souvenir! That’s where Demetrius came into play. He was a silversmith. His job was to build replica temples and replica statues of Artemis that he would sell on the corner right outside the monument. The little silver statue would become a keepsake or a household idol that people would pray to and hold close for protection.
But business had been down recently.
It wasn’t related to the economy.
It wasn’t related to a lack of work.
It wasn’t due to the weather keeping people from going outside.
It was because of Paul.
Paul had been preaching against idols.
Paul had been telling people that Artemis wasn’t a real god.
Paul had been telling people that Jesus was the only real God.
People were believing him and subsequently buying fewer idols.
So…Demetrius called together a meeting of all the people involved with the temple. Silversmiths, store owners, gift shop employees, temple janitors, even Amazon Prime drivers who delivered the statues across town…
Demetrius gathered together everyone involved with the trade and said:
You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty. (v.25b-27)
Do you see the issue?
Paul is ruining Demetrius’ fine way of living. Before you know it, Demetrius might not be able to go the Angus Barn. He might not be able to afford his fancy jewelry and fine cheese. He might not be able to buy Grey Poupon at the local grocery store.
Demetrius was upset because he was losing money. You can almost hear him:
Sure, these people get forgiveness.
They get joy.
They get the promise of heaven.
But I won’t be able to make my payment on the second Lexus I bought, so…
Paul must be stopped!
Here’s the truth:
Crowds led by SINFUL HUMANS are opposed to HOLY GOD.
That was Demetrius. He was a sinful human. He was leading a crowd against God’s message.
But this will be true in any situation.
1) Because Sin opposes God.
God is good.
Sin is bad.
God is against sin.
Sin is against God.
God doesn’t say to sin: “You’re awesome.”
Sin doesn’t say to God: “Let’s be best friends.”
They are drastically opposed to one another.
It’s like UNC and Duke. When they are playing one another in their next basketball showdown, every time one team makes a basket those points are good for one side and bad for the other.
Duke can’t throw an alley-oop slam dunk and divide the points evenly among both squads.
UNC can’t hit a three pointer and have it appear on the other team’s scoreboard.
By the very nature of a game with opposing teams, good news for one team means bad news for the other.
By the very nature of reality, when something godly happens that’s good news for God’s side and bad news for crowds led by sin.
When a sinful leader is the leader of the crowd, that crowd will inevitably clash with God.
2) Because the Perspective is different.
Humans live on a timeline.
We are born.
We live 30, 40, 50 years.
Everything we do is on a timeline:
I need a report in by Friday.
I need to finish schooling by December.
I need to make enough money for my son’s inheritance before I die.
God is different.
God is eternal.
He is off the timeline.
He is concerned with eternity.
Because the temporal perspective is so different from the eternal perspective, there’s a contradiction.
Case in point:
God wanted people to stop worshipping idols so that they could know the Savior and have eternal life.
Demetrius wanted people to stop worshipping Jesus so that he could have more money and buy himself a nice steak dinner.
The perspective is different.
Crowds led by SINFUL HUMANS are opposed to HOLY GOD.
This is still true today.
In 2018 in rural Mexico, Pastor Eduardo Garcia served at local country church. One of the struggles in Mexico is drug addiction. Crystal meth has taken over in the area. It’s ruined health, finances, and family. Pastor Eduardo Garcia preached against the danger of Meth.
He taught that Meth couldn’t save you; only Jesus could.
He taught that Meth didn’t remove guilt; only Jesus did.
He taught that Meth eventually brought death; and Jesus brought life.
And a few drug addicts listened.
He got them help.
They got off the drugs.
Great news, right?
Except for the Drug Cartel.
They were losing money.
The Drug Cartel had Pastor Eduardo Garcia gunned down in the streets.
Crowds led by SINFUL HUMANS are opposed to HOLY GOD.
II. The Crowd Rages
Back to the story. When the crowd heard Demetrius’ speech, “They were furious and began shouting: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ ”(v.28)
They rushed into the city.
They pumped their fists.
They motioned for others to join them.
People joined the crowd who agreed with their cause.
People joined the crowd who loved Artemis.
People joined the crowd who enjoyed shouting.
People joined the crowd who didn’t want others to get mad at them for not joining the crowd.
People joined the crowd because they didn’t want to miss out on whatever was about to happen.
Regardless, the crowd grew in number.
They grabbed two men – Gaius and Aristarchus – two church members that worked with Paul.
They dragged them through the streets.
Eventually, the streets were so narrow – and the crowd was so big – that they had to make their way to the local theater. It was the only building big enough to house the large crowd that had gathered.
As they gathered and shouted, they threw a guy named Alexander to the front in order to explain this message of Jesus.
But – thing was – Alexander wasn’t even a believer.
He just looked like he might be.
When he tried to explain that, the crowd got angrier. They didn’t want to listen.
And then it started.
Two straight hours of shouting:
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! She’s the greatest god of all time.
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! This guy named Jesus is costing us money.
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! I really, really hate the Jews.
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! I just drank a bunch of booze.
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! I don’t know what I’m doing.
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! That plane in the sky? Is that a Boeing?
Two hours of screaming.
Screaming from people who don’t even know why they’re screaming in the first place.
Here’s the warning:
Crowd following can be a MINDLESS activity.
Maybe you’ve fallen victim.
Peer pressure in high school, “It’s what the cool kids are doing.”
Friends egging you on at a bar, “Come on. Just say it.”
Your family, “Hate those people. It’s what we do.”
Comments on your social media profile, “If you don’t believe this, you are despicable.”
Society, “If you want to fit in, get rid of the god stuff. That’s the way the crowd is going.”
It’s so easy to follow the crowd.
But MINDLESS crowd following is NEEDLESLY dangerous.
Jesus is loving.
Jesu is our Savior.
You trust him, right?
He died for you.
He rose for you.
He loves you.
There’s no one more trustworthy than Jesus, right?
Look at what your trustworthy Savior said in the Gospel for today:
Do not be afraid of the one who can kill the body, but be afraid of the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell. (Mark 10:28)
Do you hear what Jesus is saying?
Don’t fear a dislike on Facebook more than holy hellfire.
Don’t fear the loss of a friend more than the loss of your God.
Don’t fear society calling you a name more than your Lord calling you DAMNED.
Don’t fear anything more than your God.
III. The Crowd is Defeated
Because no crowd can OVERPOWER God.
Back to Ephesus.
The shouting had been going on for a solid two hours.
Finally, the city clerk, who is a high-ranking individual in Ephesians society, made his way to the front of the steps.
After motioning for them to be quiet, they finally chilled.
He said to them:
“Calm down; don’t do anything rash.” (v.36)
Guys, we need to stop.
Artemis is still known around the world.
We’re still rich.
Tourists are still visiting.
These two church members haven’t done anything illegal.
The reality is that if Caesar hears about this riot – we’re the ones who did something illegal.
And we’ll be the ones getting into trouble.
Then, he dismissed them.
And the crowd went home.
Because sometimes God protects his people through people that aren’t even his people.
No crowd can OVERPOWER God.
Take one more example from Jesus.
He was arrested by a crowd of angry men.
They brought him to the Assembly.
They shouted for hours, not ‘Great is Artemis!’, but “Crucify Him!”
They dragged him through the narrow streets.
They hung him on a cross…all the while jeering, mocking, and spitting.
He took his last breath and it looked like the crowd had won.
Three days later.
Three days later…
Jesus came back to life.
And that wasn’t the only crowd against him!
Because Jesus went to the cross with a crowd of your sins on his back.
The sins of rebelling against his Word.
The sins of bowing to peer pressure.
The sins of following the crowd opposed to God.
But those sins didn’t overpower Jesus.
He overpowered them.
Through faith in him, those sins won’t overpower you.
You are forgiven.
You are victorious.
Christ will bring you home to heaven.
Christ following ALWAYS leads to ETERNAL life.
No other crowd will do that.
Not a crowd of your friends.
Not a crowd of your coworkers.
Not a crowd of social media followers.
Only Jesus can.
Only Jesus will.
IV. What Now?
1) Identify the Leader.
Have you ever driven cross-country in a caravan? That’s when a bunch of cars all follow one another. If you’re going to do that, suddenly it becomes very important that you know who you’re following. Because if you don’t pay very good attention. Well…
I remember one time I was following a red van. I was supposed to follow it to a place in Durham. But after it was taking awhile, I looked up at the road signs and saw that I was approaching Greenville.
Turns out? I had been following a red van that wasn’t the one my friend was driving.
It’s important to identify the leaders in your crowds of people. Because that will tell you where you’re going.
Is the leader a sinful human?
Is it a sinful human who doesn’t care about Jesus?
Is it a sinful human who is led by Jesus? That’s the crowd you want.
2) Unfollow the Sinful Crowd.
Unfortunately, this is a lot harder than simply going onto Facebook and hitting “UNFOLLOW.” (Although that might be part of this.)
If it’s a crowd that you’ve been following for a while, you might have acquaintances, friendships, and good friends in that crowd.
Those relationships, emotions, and feelings will make it hard to unfollow that crowd.
If that crowd is leading you away from your Savior…
Don’t be Demetrius.
Don’t forfeit the Christ in exchange for money, for fame, for fortune, for good times, for a momentary pleasure…for stuff that doesn’t last.
3) Follow the Christ.
Because Christ is not overpowered by any crowd.
And if you’re following him, neither will you.
Because Christ always leads to eternal life.
If you’re following him, that’s where you’ll be.
Check out Revelation 7. It describes a different kind of crowd.
A bigger crowd.
A more diverse crowd.
A crowd shouting louder than that Ephesus crowd.
A crowd shouting longer than that Ephesus crowd.
A crowd shouting about a being greater than the Ephesus crowd was shouting about.
A crowd shouting in heaven:
“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Friends, that’s the crowd you want to be in.
Looking for a job can be difficult.
Searching for jobs online.
Filing out applications.
Phoning, emailing, texting to check on those applications.
And the interview!
You rent a suit coat.
You part your hair ever so particularly.
You practice saying: “I’m not in it for the money, but because of the sheer joy I get from filling out spreadsheets and alphabetically filing documentation.”
As challenging as finding a job can be…
It gets exponentially more difficult if you have something on your record.
A terrible credit report.
A job history with a few firings.
Even an incriminating Facebook photo or post that you forgot to delete.
Past mistakes can make it difficult to find work in the now…
But what about God’s kingdom?
What if you have mistakes in your past?
Surely – if humans wouldn’t hire you – God, who is perfect, wouldn’t want you to work in his kingdom either…right?
Today’s EYEWITNESS account is about a guy named Peter, who had made some rather big blunders while working in God’s kingdom. We want to learn (1) what his failures were (2) how they affected his role in God’s kingdom and (3) what that means for our roles in kingdom work. 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; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Peter’s Story
We are continuing where we left off last week. If you remember, Jesus had appeared to his disciples on the Sea of Galilee. When he appeared, he told them to toss their nets into the lake and – immediately – the net is full of fish. Amazing – because Jesus was 100 yards away on shore and the disciples had been out all night without catching anything.
But that wasn’t it – as the disciples row the boat to shore, Jesus already has fish sandwiches cooking over the fire for them to eat. It’d be similar to someone gifting you a $100 Starbucks gift card and then, when they invite you to Starbucks – they pay for the coffee for you.
Jesus did the same. He provided abundantly.
He provides abundantly.
And I’ll bet the disciples were loving this interaction.
Because Jesus was back!
He conquered death!
He was alive!
He was just as powerful as ever!
And he was with them.
This was great news --- for most of them.
While Peter was happy to see Jesus alive, it also reminded him of the last conversation that they shared.
It had been back before Jesus died.
Back before Jesus was arrested.
They had been sitting down for a meal and Jesus had said, “I tell you the truth. You will all fall away on account on me.” (Matthew 26:31)
And Peter heard it.
And believed most of it.
“Even if all fall away on account of you, Jesus, I never will.” (Matthew 26:33)
I mean…I’m Peter!
Jesus gave me that name.
It means “Rock.”
I am Peter and…I will not fall!
Turned to Peter.
Looked him straight in the eye.
And said this:
“Truly I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me – three times.” (v.34)
Peter would never forget those exact words.
Before that night was over a group of soldiers had come to arrest Jesus.
Swords, clubs, and spears – Peter was frightened like the rest of the disciples and ran away.
Then, sure, he regained his senses and made it into the courtyard where they were holding the illegal late-night trial of Jesus.
Only to deny knowing him.
But three times.
And then? The rooster crowed.
The one Jesus had predicted would crow - it crowed!
Peter hated roosters now.
Because now they were a reminder of how he had sinned.
A reminder of how he had failed…
A reminder of how he had fallen…
A reminder of his guilt.
Guilt is always tricky. It can easily burden a soul.
But Peter’s guilt was especially difficult for a trifecta of reasons that are especially hard to get over. For a few reasons:
He didn’t deny Jesus one time. He didn’t deny Jesus two times. He denied him three times in one evening. (Although during that third time it says that he called down curses upon himself, so even thought it was one “time period” perhaps it was a bunch of times within that time period).
Repeated guilt is hard.
We were given a good deal on a Prius a while back. Great car. Great gas mileage. Fun to drive.
But it’s extremely low to the ground. The bumper is about 2 inches from the street. So, when you come down our driveway which is on a decent incline…if you don’t turn the wheels at a specific angle to the right and back out at that exact angle – the front bumper scrapes.
Do you know how many times I’ve gotten that wrong? (I’m especially guilty of it every morning when I haven’t had my coffee yet) I keep messing up and I keep feeling guilty about it. In fact, the front bumper is cracked in all kinds of places. And it now serves as a 21st century, sheen black version of a rooster. Every time I look at it, I’m reminded of my failures!
Repeated guilt is hard.
Repeatedly drinking too much.
Repeatedly losing your temper.
Repeatedly looking at porn.
Repeatedly lying to your spouse.
Repeatedly being jerk at work.
Repeatedly being a bully to your family.
Repeated guilt is hard because there’s no excuse.
The devil comes along and says,
You know better!
But you did it anyway.
This is unforgivable.
Because Peter was a leader. He was a disciple; more than that – an apostle. There were only twelve of those hand selected and chosen by Jesus. And of those twelve disciples – Peter was definitely a leader among them: He had the privilege of walking on water. He saw Jesus heal a dead girl when many of them didn’t. He was chosen along with only two others to see Jesus go up on a mountain and reveal his heavenly brilliance. Peter was a leader.
And then he fell.
And when leaders fall…
They quickly become leaders in holding onto guilt.
Maybe you know.
Whether you’re a leader in your family.
Or a leader here at church.
Or a leader among your friends.
Or a teacher of kids.
Or even…you’re the only one at work who is Christian – making you a spiritual leader by default – and then you sin…?
How’s that feel?
The devil comes along and whispers:
“You’re a leader…and you did that?”
“I’m not sure you’re a leader anymore…”
“…I’m not even sure you’re a part of his kingdom.”
Because by the time Peter gets to the third denial, there’s a crowd of people gathered around him:
A crowd of people watch him as he shakes his head vigorously.
A crowd of people listening as cusses out Jesus.
A crowd of people taking mental note of his sin.
I wonder how many of those people Peter saw again.
I wonder how that went?
Public guilt is hard.
There’s this thing I receive every Monday called a Call Report. “Call” is a reference to the special “calling” that a ministry worker has to their particularly congregation. The “call report” details any changes in those ministry positions. It’ll say: “Pastor So-and-So retired.” “Pastor what’s-his-face is switching congregations.” And even “Pastor who’s-his-name has decided to remain at his current congregation.”
But every once in a while, it says this:
“Pastor removed for cause.”
To me, it’s a terrifying expression. It means “removed for doing some gross outward sin.” It’s a phrase that no pastor ever wants said about them. It’s terrifying among our pastor circles, because it is a phrase that screams: “Failure.”
And everyone now knows you as…
Not as a brother.
Not as a pastor.
Not even as your first name…
But as “Pastor, Removed for Cause.”
But as a non-pastor you can feel the same thing.
You might have a sin that your family knows about.
That your coworkers know about.
That your friends saw you do.
And now every moment you spend around them is spent like Peter:
Did they see me sin?
Do they know about my guilt?
Do they think of me as SINNER?
Like you’ve got a big old black marker on your forehead everywhere you go that says: “INSERT SIN HERE.”
Public sin is hard.
Any one of these three types of guilt are challenging on their own! If you’re dealing with any of these, they can overload you. Burden you. Suffocate you.
Peter had to deal with all three all at once. That’s an extreme amount of guilt.
And it needs an extreme amount of restoration.
II. Peter’s Restoration
Peter finished up his breakfast.
Another meal done.
Another visitation from Jesus without having to talk about the sinful things that I did.
If I just keep a low profile, stay quiet, and avoid eye contact, I should be able to avoid him altogether.
Peter turned around to find Jesus standing right in front of him.
Face to face.
Eye to eye.
Heart to heart.
“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
At this point, the conversation seemed a bit too familiar.
Three times? Really?
It reminded him of those three times that he denied Jesus.
Peter said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. (Jn. 21:15-17)
He doesn’t ream Peter out.
He doesn’t kick Peter out.
He doesn’t even respond to Peter’s claims of loving him with: “Umm…No, you didn’t. Remember?”
Jesus doesn’t bring guilt.
He brings restoration.
Restoration to God’s kingdom comes out of Jesus' work.
It didn’t come out of Peter earning it. Peter hadn’t done anything to make up for what he did.
But Jesus did do something.
Jesus did everything.
He lived perfectly when Peter could not.
He died innocently in his place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of Peter’s sin.
The same is true with you.
If you’ve sinned against God.
If you have repeated guilt.
If you have public guilt.
If you have leader guilt.
Jesus doesn’t make you do something to make up for it.
Jesus did everything for you.
He lived perfectly when you could not.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sin.
Remember earlier – when we talked about having a criminal record and how hard it is to find work with that record. One thing that you can do is you can get your record exponged.
It takes a lot of money.
A lot of time with lawyers. '
A lot of paperwork and a lot of pleading with a judge...
But it is sometimes possible to get it expunged, erased and cleared.
Understand this – Jesus has expunged your record.
He did all the work.
He paid for it completely.
Your guilt is expunged, erased, cleared.
In short – listen to Jesus’ message to you right now:
You are restored to my kingdom.
You are guilt free.
You are forgiven…and…You have work to do.
Restoration to God’s kingdom means Restoration to Kingdom Work.
That’s a bit unexpected. Because the devil would love to have you think:
“OK, fine. You are a part of his kingdom, but…Stay in the back. Go into the corner. Hide. Because you are not worthy of being on the front lines.”
But that’s not what Jesus says.
In Peter’s restoration, He goes straight to telling him to work for his kingdom.
He gives him a job.
He restores him not only to his kingdom, but to work in his kingdom.
And God has done the same for you.
He restored you to his kingdom.
He has restored you to kingdom work.
III. Kingdom Work
And what does that kingdom work look like? You get an idea in Jesus’ instruction to Peter.
Feed His Sheep.
Jesus says that is what true love for him is:
Feed my lambs. (v.15)
Take care of my sheep. (v.16)
Feed my Sheep. (v.17)
Does he own a farm I’ve never heard of?
Did he develop some petting zoo?
Does Jesus have a little lamb whose fleece was white as snow?
When Jesus talks about his lambs and his sheep, he’s talking about his people.
When Jesus talks about feeding those lambs and sheep, he’s talking about sharing the message of reconciliation with others.
You know the same message that gives you hope and comfort…
Give it to others!
Love for Jesus means sharing his message.
Telling your neighbor about Jesus.
Spreading the Gospel to your coworkers.
Sharing forgiveness with a church friend.
Teaching the little children about their Savior.
Inviting the community of North Raleigh to hear of God’s love.
He’s talking about our very mission:
To plant the Message of Jesus in the heart of north Raleigh.
When you are sharing the message of forgiveness, you are caring for sheep.
You’re leading someone to streams of living water.
You’re giving them some of God’s forgiveness.
You’re feeding them a steady diet of “Jesus died for you. Believe in him. You are forgiven.”
Here’s the challenge. The devil will love to convince that we aren’t worthy of sharing the message.
He’ll say that you aren’t qualified for that kind of work.
He’ll say that you are a failure.
He’ll say that you should leave that to others who aren’t as much of a failure.
But here’s the thing about feeding sheep.
It doesn’t matter if the farmer puts the food in the bucket.
It doesn’t matter if the farm hand puts the food into the bucket.
It doesn’t matter some disenfranchised, former farm hand puts the food into the bucket.
The sheep eat the food.
The food nourishes the sheep.
The sheep get the health benefits of the food -- no matter the moral background of the one who put the food into the buckets.
It’s the same with kingdom work.
The power is in the Word.
And those who are a part of kingdom are qualified to work with it.
And you…are an important part of his kingdom work.
Feed his lambs.
Take care of his sheep.
Feed them with the Gospel of Jesus.
Today we are finishing up our series called the Kingdom of God is Like. Throughout this series we have looked at a variety of parables that teach us a variety of things about the Kingdom of God. Do you remember them all? There should be 10.
We learned that God’s kingdom is like…
A sower that throws seed on the ground because sometimes faith grows; sometimes it doesn’t.
A growing seed because faith grows through repeated, repetitive, consistent and persistent use of God’s Word.
A mustard seed because it is seemingly insignificant work that is of eternal significance.
A homeless fox because it is greater than any material wealth.
An abandoned burial plot because it is greater than any earthly task.
A plow because it is greater than any human relationship.
A treasure because it is worth giving up everything to make sure it’s yours.
A net because it collects all sorts of people on this earth – people that will be sorted when the kingdom work is over.
A banquet because the party will be so awesome in heaven there won’t be any regrets about unaccomplished earthly work here.
One thing that all of those parables have in common is that they focused on future fulfillment. Jesus was teaching his disciples about something that would happen later on.
Today’s parable deals with immediate fulfillment. As in – as soon as Jesus gets done telling it – the exact things he had just predicted to happen began to happen.
Intrigued? This is the parable of the Vineyard Crime Scene. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the 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. The Parable of the Vineyard Crime Scene
This parable comes from Matthew 21:33. The timeline of this parable is important. It takes place at the end of Jesus’ three years of ministry.
For three years he has preached the good news of God.
For three years he has proclaimed forgiveness to ‘sinners.’
For three years he has befriended the lowly, scum of society.
For three years….
He has infuriated the religious leaders of the day.
In fact, they hated Jesus!
In fact, it would not have been a stretch to say: They hated Jesus!
Crowds had stopped following them and started following Jesus. They hated that.
Crowds had stopped listening to them and started listening to Jesus. They hated that.
Jesus called them “sinners” lumping them in with the scum of society – ‘regular, common, disgusting people.’ They hated that most of all.
And Jesus knows this.
He knows they hate him.
He knows they want to kill him.
He tells the following parable to them:
There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He does a lot of the hard work to get the place up and running. He tills the ground. He plants the seeds. He builds an irrigation system. He installs that fence-like apparatus up and down the rows so that the grape vines can grow onto it.
Then, when he has the winery up and running, he realizes – I could make a decent amount of money on this. After all, winery tourism is a huge deal. He builds a wall around it, installs a wine press, adds a watch tower, maybe even a nice patio for visitors to enjoy sipping on a Merlot while the sun sets on the chateau in the distance.
Then, when it’s ready to make some money: He rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. (v.33b) Not that he didn’t still have some involvement. (Our guy is smarter than that) He makes a deal with the farmers to pay him his share of the profits that they make on his winery. Maybe, 25%? (It’s one of those royalty deals that Mr. Wonderful loves to do on Shark Tank.) As long as they are making money on it, he’s making money on it too.
It’s his land and it’s nice they are able to use it at a low price and make some money too.
The time comes for him to pick up his money.
He checks the mail – nothing there.
He looks at his Google Money Request – no dice.
He searches his email for ‘winery royalty’ and there are ZERO search results.
He sends one of his trusted servants. “Could you go to my winery tomorrow and pick up the royalty payment for me? Here’s some spending cash and a first-class airline ticket. Thanks!”
And the servant goes.
And the man waits for him to return.
And he never comes back.
So he says to a second servant: “Maybe Bob wasn’t the most trustworthy. Maybe he took the spending money and went gambling or something? I don’t know. Here. You go to that winery and bring me the royalty check.”
And that servant goes.
And the man waits for his return.
And he never comes.
This goes on for three, four, five servants – until finally, one of them makes his way back to his master.
He in a cast.
The farmers did this to me. I introduced myself politely as your representative. I reminded them that this was your land and it was a kind thing for you to let them use it. And then, they smiled—and sucker punched me. They started kicking me. One of them grabbed a vine to strangle me. If it wasn’t for the pepper spray that I packed on my key chain, I would never have gotten out of there.
Worse. Some of the other servants weren’t so lucky.
I saw a company vehicle that had been torched.
I came across Bob’s blood-stained company jacket.
I hacked into some security footage that shows one of our guys being murdered because he asked for the money.
These aren’t farmers! They’re murderers! Let’s get ‘em.
But the entrepreneur doesn’t get angry.
He doesn’t call the police.
He doesn’t seek revenge…yet.
He says, “Let’s send my son.” They will respect my son. (v.37)
Entrepreneur Jr. gets called into the office.
They explain the situation to him.
They figure – he’s so well-known and so heavily photographed by paparazzi, surely the farmers won’t harm him because such a crime would result in obvious retribution.
But when his son gets there.
And steps out of the company limousine.
And he greets them with a smile and a hearty handshake:
“Gentlemen, I know you’ve had some differences in the past, but I am not here to take everything away from you. I’m just here to collect the portion of rent that is rightfully, legally my dad’s. If you can hand me that check, I’ll be on my way and you can go back to working this vineyard – my Father’s vineyard – in peace. Does that sound like a deal?”
He holds out his hand for the check.
And he smiles.
And the farmers smile.
And they reach in their back pockets.
But not for their wallets,
For their weapons:
“This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.” So they took him out of the vineyard and killed him.” (v.39)
II. The Reality of God’s Kingdom
This may be the darkest of the parables.
It seems like it belongs on HBO programming and not in the Bible.
But remember – every parable is an earthly story that teaches us about God’s kingdom.
And Jesus told this parable to teach the angry, hate-filled religious leaders something about God’s kingdom.
When he gets done with the parable he asked them:
When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants? (v.40)
And they respond correctly.
He’ll bring those wretches to a wretched end. (v.41)
He’ll get revenge.
He’ll avenge the death of his son.
He’ll get the police involved and all of those murders will be arrested!
Then, he’ll get some new tenants – some better tenants – and rent out the vineyard to them.
Look at Jesus’ response to their answer:
Have you never read in the Scriptures: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone…” (v.42)
It’s one more mini parable. This one is about construction. Because in construction, when you are building a house – especially in the ancient world of stone built, brick by brick walls, one of the most important parts of building was the cornerstone.
A cornerstone needs to be a perfectly right angle. The 90-degree bend ensures that every other wall is aligned perfectly in the square. If it’s 89.9 degrees? The whole building will be off. If it’s 90.01 degrees, the building will be off.
It needs to be perfectly straight.
And perfectly hefty as it is foundational for the whole house.
Well, apparently when the builders were looking for the cornerstone – they came across a pretty ugly stone.
It’s not square.
It’s not straight.
It’s just a rock that doesn’t deserve a place anywhere really.
They pick it up and toss it into the construction dumpster.
They don’t need it.
Do you get it yet?
Do you understand the parables?
Because the religious leaders did.
In fact, mark it down!
This is the only parable that they ever understood perfectly. Look:
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. (v.45)
They were the ones who had rejected Jesus, the cornerstone.
They were the ones who kept rejecting God’s servants.
In fact, they were the ones who were literally plotting the death of God’s only Son!
And instead of repenting when they hear Jesus call them out…
Instead of asking forgiveness…
Instead of seeking compassion…what do they do?
They bring the parable to fulfillment:
They looked for a way to arrest Jesus. (v.45)
They looked for a way to arrest the Vineyard owners’ son.
They looked for a way to dispose of the rejected stone.
III. A Familiar Crime Scene…
Why? Why did the Religious leaders do it?
Why did they reject Jesus as Savior and plot his death?
They wanted to steal God’s glory.
PROBLEM: They wanted God’s kingdom to be about their glory.
They didn’t want to depend on someone else, they wanted the glory of depending on themselves.
They didn’t want to have to trust in someone else, they wanted to trust in their own awesomeness.
They didn’t want to have faith in some carpenter from Galilee, they wanted trust in their own sinful selves from Idiotville.
And they were so confident that they wanted no part of Jesus – they were willing to KILL him and fulfill the parable that he just told about them – forever etching themselves in the annals as wretched wretches…
…just to steal some of God’s glory for themselves.
But that’s the part where the crime feels eerily familiar.
It’s kinda like a calling card left by a serial criminal.
The Joker in Batman leaves behind a Joker card.
The local gang leaves behind their brand of graffiti.
The Wet Bandits in Home Alone leave behind a flooded sink.
This “STEALING GOD’S GLORY” thing is a calling card of a very familiar criminal:
Did ya’ll have a good Thanksgiving dinner? Maybe you had some delicious potatoes and some of those green beans with the crispy onions sprinkled on top. Maybe you had some delicious oven roasted turkey with gravy.
And maybe you were involved in making that meal happen!
You spent hours putting it together.
You have blisters from holding the French Chef knife.
Your wallet has a burn hole from the money you spent on the food.
You’re ready to enjoy the meal that you have earned.
And then, right before that first bite of potatoes and gravy, someone inevitably says : “Let’s all take turns saying one thing we’re thankful for.”
And someone thanks God.
And someone else thanks Jesus.
And someone else thanks this God guy again.
And finally, it’s your turn and you get your chance to speak and say: I’m thankful that…I didn’t get too tired this year to make the meal. I mean, I was, but I pulled through. I just buckled down and made the meal. You know – the one that you’re all eating! I did that. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Thank you! I mean – Thank me for making this a great year for me”
Friends, watch out for self-righteousness.
He resides in each of us.
He wants us to steal God’s glory.
“Sure, God loves you. It’s because you’re so lovable.”
“You don’t need Jesus. You’re a pretty good person on your own.”
“OK! Fine, Jesus died for you! But YOU’RE the one who believed in Him so…who’s the real hero here anyway?”
Today, God approaches you like that vineyard owner and asks that you give him what is rightfully his – HIS GLORY!
And the warning from Jesus’ parable is this:
Don’t boot God from God’s kingdom.
Because without God? It’s not God’s kingdom.
And without God’s kingdom… well?
That’s just you. Facing God’s vengeance.
IV. The Cornerstone
Do you remember the rejected stone?
The one with all the bumps.
The one that looked like a terrible choice for any kind of stone, so the builders threw it into the dumpster?
This isn’t in the parable, but I imagine that before they left work for that day the workers went to clock out And as they left, they told their boss that the stone he recommended, didn’t work out! So, they threw it away.
And the boss apologizes. “No worries guys. I’ll work on it. I’ll find the perfect cornerstone and have it in by the morning.
The next day…
As they are drinking their coffee and preparing for another day of work, they come to the construction site and…WHOA! There in the corner – where the best of the best – the visually perfect and totally right stone should be – is that stone that they, the builders, had rejected.
It has become the cornerstone.
And despite the Pharisees’ rejection of Jesus!
And despite their dumping of him into the rejection heap of the cross
And throwing him into a make shift dumpster –called a grave…
Three days later.
Three days later…
Three days later, he comes back to life.
“The stone the builders rejected has become the Cornerstone. The LORD has done this and it is marvelous in his eyes.” (v.42b)
Because no one else could have done this!
No one else could remove our sins.
No one else could win our forgiveness.
No one else could rise form the dead and then promise us eternal life as well.
Except God himself.
Here’s the truth: God’s kingdom is ALL about GOD’S glory.
It’s not about you achieving some kind of glory on your own.
It’s not about you getting enough glory so that God might like you.
It’s not about you earning your way to heaven.
It’s about his grace.
it’s about his forgiveness.
It’s about his glory.
But here’s the thing! Wouldn’t it have been much easier for God to win glory if he just put on some really cool laser light show?
Why didn’t he just stick to making a beautiful sunset?
Why did he go through with all of this awful, suffering and death…he obviously knew it was coming and went through with it anyway?
God went through with this suffering and death in order to bring you into his glory.
Because while God’s kingdom is all about God’s glory…, it’s also true that God’s kingdom is about YOU sharing in God’s GLORY.
That’s why Jesus did what he did.
He loved you that much.
In fact, that’s really the point of all these parables. Whether it’s about planting faith in our heart or preparing a banquet in heaven, whether it’s collecting us in the net of his kingdom work or being the cornerstone to build our eternal lives upon…It’s all about God’s glory and it’s all about YOU sharing in God’s glory.
Glory be to God!
God’s kingdom is marvelous in His eyes!
And…I hope…it’s marvelous in yours too. Amen.
ACTS: The "Ordinary" Church Member
Thus far in Acts we’ve heard a lot about the Apostles – the guys that were the leaders in the church – the guys that Jesus promised the powerful Holy Spirit – the guys that Jesus hand-picked to spread the Gospel around the world. These men were integral to the Early Church.
But…what about the rest of the church?
What about the “ordinary” Church member?
Today we are going to look at an “ordinary” church member named Stephen. As we do that, we’ll learn some things about ourselves as “ordinary” church members here in Raleigh. 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. The “Ordinary” Church Member named Stephen
The majority of Stephen’s story come from Acts 7. But before we get there, I think we should actually start with a phrase from Acts 5:29:
“We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
Stephen didn’t say that.
But I imagine that phrase bounced around in his head as the sharp tip of a spear pressed against his lower back directing him to an angry mob of Jewish opposition.
“We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
The phrase had first been uttered by the Apostle Peter. While Stephen didn’t exactly hear it from Peter’s mouth, it had become somewhat of a rallying crying for the Early Christians. In fact, it played a key part in bringing Stephen into the Early Church. Yes, he was first intrigued by the message of Jesus – full and free forgiveness because of Jesus’ death at the cross, but then, it was the conviction that drove him to being actively involved.
The apostles were willing to obey God and teach the message of Jesus…
…Even when others opposed them.
…Even when they were put on trial.
…Even when the opposition threatened death.
…Even when their backs were torn to a bloody mess by the violent lashings (floggings) as a result of their preaching the Gospel.
“We must obey God rather than men.”
That’s why Stephen had signed up.
That’s why Stephen had gotten into this mess.
A few weeks earlier the Apostles had requested some help. The church had been growing so quickly – which was a blessing. There were over 10,000 people who confessed Jesus as Savior. But since it had grown so quickly the work had gotten beyond the scope of 12 men and some of their ministries had started to be neglected.
Case and point – the distribution of bread for the widows. There were quite a few widows in the church and, at the time, widows were treated as the bottom rung of society. They couldn’t get jobs. They couldn’t make money. They were usually in poverty.
The church had been dealing with that by setting up a mobile food bank. Members were to give contributions of money; Christians that worked in the bakery would make some bread, and the disciples would grab a big old cardboard box, stuff some bread into it, and deliver it to the widows in need.
But…the program had gotten too big.
The disciples had other priorities.
Some widows had been forgotten.
Doubly unfortunately, the issue had gotten racial. The widows that were Greek began to complain that they were being ignored because they were Greek and the only ones to receive bread were the widows that were Jews…because they were Jews. Granted, that wasn’t what the Apostles were doing; they were simply too busy preaching and teaching. Still they did recognize that racial tensions and divisions were not a good look for a church whose entire premise was “Jesus died for everyone.”
So…the Apostles made a plan. They decided to choose seven men to help them in the distribution of food. Seven men who would deliver the bread and visit the shut ins. Seven men who could share the message of Jesus as they went; and free the disciples up to share the message of Jesus all day long.
One of the men they chose was Stephen.
And Stephen accepted the appointment.
And Stephen was awesome at it.
He loved seeing the smiling widows answer the door.
He loved helping them restock their empty shelves.
He even enjoyed it when the older widows squeezed his cheeks, told him how they wish they had a grandson like them and gave him a Werther’s for his trouble.
And that’s what Stephen did.
He did the ordinary job of delivering bread.
He did the ordinary job of sharing Jesus with those he met with.
He did the ordinary job of sharing what he was doing and why he was doing it with the people he met with.
And that – was why he was arrested.
By the same men that had arrested Peter.
He was arrested for delivering bread and teaching the message of Jesus.
So, he stood.
Hands cuffed behind his back.
A spear implanted into his lower back.
A room filled with vicious, angry, violent opposition.
And they were telling him to stop.
Now they were telling him to never mention Jesus again.
Now they were telling him to shut up or die.
He wasn’t an apostle….
He wasn’t trained for this…
This wasn’t in the job description!
“We must obey God rather than men.”
There was that voice again.
And Stephen couldn’t help himself:
“Brothers…friends…well trained and high respected scholars of the Old Testament Scriptures!”
Ya’ll are Old Testament scholars, so can I ask you a few questions about the Old Testament?
Do ya’ll remember Abraham? God made a promise to him to move to a country he’d never heard of and he’d bless him. People rejected that message. But God fulfilled that promise.
And do you remember Joseph? God promised him in a dream that he would one day be a ruler. His brothers rejected that message and threw him into slavery. But God fulfilled that promise.
And do you remember Moses? God promised to leader Israel out of Egypt through him. The people rejected Moses and didn’t believe him. But God fulfilled his promised. He performed 10 miraculous plagues. He split the Red Sea. He brought them out. And then…they still rejected Moses and worshipped a golden statue of a cow.
And do you remember Elijah? And Elisha? Isaiah? Jeremiah? Joel and Habakkuk? God prophesied through them. But the people rejected them. They beat them, imprisoned them and killed them.
Friends, that’s what our ancestors did.
And that’s what you are now doing.
You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears; you always resist the Holy Spirit. (7:51)
You always resist God’s truth.
You are resisting the very Savior God sent for you – Jesus Christ.
And with that…the room erupted.
There were loud shouts.
There were swear words.
There was tearing of clothes and clenching of fists.
There were stiff-necked, with uncircumcised hearts and ears; resisting the Holy Spirit.
And Stephen dropped to his knees.
He looked up.
And he smiled:
“Look, I see heaven open and I see Jesus Christ standing at God’s right hand.” (7:56)
And the men charged the floor.
And they grabbed Stephen.
And they threw him outside.
And they began to throw stone after stone, rock after rock at Stephen.
Eyes swollen, mouth bleeding, lungs gasping for breath, said one last thing:
“Jesus, receive my spirit and don’t hold this sin against them.” (v.59)
And then, he died.
II. Lessons from Stephen about being an “Ordinary” Church Member
I think Stephen’s story is one of the most powerful in the entire Bible.
I think it’s incredible because Stephen was your average everyday church member with an average everyday church job.
Yet there are some incredible lessons that we can learn from this ordinary Church member. Here are a few things the ordinary Christian does…
(1) “Ordinary” Church Members Serve (Even when It’s Delivering Boxes of Bread)
Because that was probably not the most glamorous job.
It wasn’t that job that got your name in lights.
It wasn’t a job that would get you on a social media post.
It’s not the kind of job that develops its own hashtag: #ServingBreadIsAwesome
But Stephen did it anyway.
Because service is key.
Jesus said, “I didn’t come to be served, but to serve and give my life as a ransom for many.” (Mt. 20:28)
Stephen remembered how Jesus served him (by dying on the cross for his sins) and was motivated to serve others.
Here’s the thing – we have a lot of people that are a part of our church community.
And some of ya’ll are very smart. I know which ones I shouldn’t have a conversation about medical terms and which ones to avoid talking about computer coding with because the conversation will quickly go over my head.
Some of ya’ll are smart enough to do top level, top notch, sophisticated stuff…
…We need to be like Stephen.
We need to be willing to do the less glamorous jobs.
We need to be willing to humbly serve others…whether we have a master’s degree, a college degree or a high school diploma.
We need to be willing to deliver bread, to serve cookies, to water plants, to pick weeds, to change the classroom hamster bedding.
That’s the heart of service.
It’s the heart Stephen had.
It’s the heart Christ wants us to have.
(2) “Ordinary” Church Members …Knows God’s Word is MOST Important
That is why the Apostles came up with the position of bread deliverers.
And its why Stephen took the job.
Because God’s word was most important. And the Apostle’s needed to be spending their time doing that.
It’s why Stephen took advantage of the personal conversation and opportunities he had to share the message of God’s Word.
It’s why Stephen refused to compromise on God’s Word – even when faced with death.
Again – this is a key point of us today.
Because sometimes the things that we volunteer for at church don’t seem to be related to God’s Word.
There are things that are easy to relate – preaching, teaching, worship music playing, eldering….
…But other things are harder to see the connection. Things like: weed pulling, coffee making, website maintenance, and watching kids in the nursery.
In the bigger picture, these things free me up to share God’s Word. They free up Precious Lambs teachers to teach God’s Word. They free up guests and visitors to focus on God’s Word. They are absolutely, important and integral to a congregation’s Planting the Message of Jesus in the Heart of North Raleigh.
May I take a brief moment to free up all of you Stephens out there. To thank all of you who have been serving throughout this past year – as we grow, and more things are on my plate and more things are on our plans – thank you for your service to keep God’s Word as most important.
And a brief what now – consider ways you can continue to do that. Keep your eyes open as you serve for ways that you can share Jesus on a personal level.
Whether it’s talking to a fellow volunteer while trimming weeds…
Or welcome a visitor while you greet.
Or simply not complaining – like the people were doing – to help us stay less focused on complaints and more focused on our Savior Jesus.
(3) “Ordinary” Church Members …Suffer for their Faith
Because Stephen didn’t do anything wrong.
Stephen was simply delivering bread.
He was helping the sick.
And he was telling about Jesus.
But he suffered. He suffered even giving his life over to death.
Here’s the reality. Sometimes church Members, even “ordinary” church members suffer for their faith.
In fact, I sometimes wonder if it isn’t more often? Because Pastors deal a lot with church people.
Pastor have to spend a good amount of time in God’s Word prepping a sermon.
Pastors often get to teach people on their turf.
You work in the world.
You live in the world.
You have friends and family in the world.
You do life among the people that reject His Word and sometimes –reject you for following Jesus.
Expect to suffer.
A mean comment on Facebook.
A tension at work.
An angry speech from a family member.
Expect to suffer for following Jesus. Because honestly, it’d be extraordinary if ordinary church members didn’t suffer for their faith.
It’s entirely ordinary for ordinary church members to suffer.
And that’s ok.
It’s ok, because of our final point:
(4) “Ordinary” Church Members…Receive the Extraordinary Crown of Life
That’s the message that empowered Stephen to be willing to die for his faith.
He knew his Savior.
He knew that Jesus conquered death.
He knew that Jesus promised that he too would conquer death.
And then – after his sermon – after the crowd is already angry – Stephen looks up and sees Jesus’ standing in heaven.
That’s really interesting.
Because usually in the Bible, God is presented as “sitting on his throne.”
But here Jesus is standing.
You have to picture the same thing.
You have to picture the same thing, because it’s truth.
When you are suffering, when you encounter opposition, when you are struggling to maintain faith in an opposing to faith world, see Jesus standing and calling to you.
Revelation 2:10, Jesus says this, “Be faithful even to the point of death and I will give you the crown of life.”
That’s an extraordinary promise.
It’s an extraordinary promise to even ordinary people like you and me.
And it’s true.
When you cling to that extraordinary promise, God will work through ordinary you to do extraordinary things.
Isn’t that what happened with Stephen? His story is written in Scripture. His passion is recorded for us to read. His confident holding to God’s Word motivates us to stand up for God’s Word.
The “ordinary” church member – through whom God worked extraordinary things.
Brothers and sisters may our God do the same through you.
May he work extraordinary things as we work to Plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh. Amen.
Guest preacher, Pastor Doug Lange shares with us a message about Judas - that we're more like him than we want to admit to. We may not formally betray someone, but every time we sin, we betray Jesus. Thankfully, Jesus never betrays us and in Him (only Him) is there forgiveness and peace from our sins.
Tonight, we take a closer look at Judas. What comes to mind when you hear the name Judas? Betrayer? Thief? Good for nothing backstabber? Knowing what we know about Judas and what he did, these names seem to fit well. But was this always the case? Remember, Judas was chosen by Jesus to be one of those twelve disciples. These were guys who had the privilege of being in Jesus’ inner circle. They talked with him and witnessed all of the miracles he performed. Jesus led them, guided them and trained them.
Outwardly, Judas seemed to be just one of the twelve, but inwardly there was a problem. His greedy heart had turned cold to Jesus’ true mission. As it became more and more apparent that Jesus never intended to establish a kingdom on earth that Judas would benefit from, he turned away from Jesus. As Jesus talked about suffering and death, Judas saw the writing on the wall. He began to plan how he could salvage something from what he thought was a dead-end street.
From that point on, Judas’ spiritual life went downhill. He stole from the small treasury the disciples had. He got angry when a woman showed her love for Jesus by pouring expensive perfume on his feet. Finally, he willingly assisted in the murderous plot of Jesus’ enemies and betrayed Jesus for the going rate one would pay for a slave, a messily 30 coins. Judas had plunged head first into the depths of hell itself. Luke tells us, “Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. 4 And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. 5 They were delighted and agreed to give him money. 6 He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.”
As you know, Judas never got to enjoy that money. Tormented by what he had done, he tried to return it. However, he refused to look to Jesus for help and forgiveness. Sadly, hell had claimed Judas and even before Jesus was crucified for his sins, he plunged into eternity at the end of a rope.
What a tragic end to this one-time disciple of Jesus! Jesus offered Judas everything: friendship, a place among the twelve, forgiveness of sins and a place in God’s family forever. Even when he came to betray Jesus in the Garden, Jesus reached out to him one more time to reclaim him as his child. Sadly, Judas plugged his ears and closed his heart to Jesus’ offer of forgiveness and life.
As we consider the story of Judas, maybe we wonder, why? Didn’t Jesus know what Judas would become? Why would Jesus have chosen Judas, the greedy thief and potential traitor and welcome him into his midst? Our answer is Jesus’ love. Jesus came to save sinners. That included Judas, you and me.
You see, we have more in common with Judas than we want to admit. When we listen to these Bible stories about Jesus’ followers, we don’t mind being compared to Peter, the bold one, or Matthew, the grateful to be forgiven tax collector. But Judas? No way, we are not like him!
Yet, haven’t we, too, acted just like him? How often don’t we let our selfish ambitions get the better of us? How often don’t we seek the things of the world as he did? Like Judas, we are by nature sinful, and, as sinners, we all too often fix our eyes on our own earthly welfare. Truth be told, every time we sin we are really no different than Judas. Every selfish action we take, every dirty thought we have, every cutting word spoken to another, every time we neglect his words and do our own thing, we betray our Savior and deserve only his punishment now and forever. Because of our sins, Jesus should damn us right here and now!
Yet, by God’s grace this is where you and I differ from Judas. Jesus searched out Judas to the very end. He offered him forgiveness. Judas didn’t have to kill himself in despair and unbelief. But he did because he refused what Jesus came to do for him.
If you have made a mess of your life and want to know if Jesus still loves you, look to his cross and know he does. When you are confronted with your own sins and see how they have betrayed, Jesus don’t run away from him in despair as Judas. Instead, look at your Savior. See him suffering for you. Look at the cross and see how far he was willing to go to forgive you all your sins. Then listen to your Savior who has searched you out and found you say, “I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine!” Amen.
The Crowd -- Judas
I. The Betrayal
Judas nervously chewed his lip.
As he waited in the candlelit hallway, a chill slipped down his spine. “Was he doing the right thing?”
For so long, he had thought Jesus to be his leader. He was kind. He was convincing. He had claimed to be the Messiah. He had promised to start a new kingdom. He had promised the treasures of God himself!
To Judas, that was appealing. He knew he would look great in an expensive, purple robe. He loved the idea of showing off his fine collection of art to the merchants of the area as they sat down listening to his hired harpists and sampled the finest wines from the outskirts of the Middle East. He longed for the moment that he would have more wealth on his fingers than his entire neighborhood had in their local bank.
But the wealth never came. Judas kicked at the dirt. The wealth never came.
To be fair -- It could have! Oh how it could have! People loved Jesus. They were excited about Jesus. They respected Jesus. After he had fed thousands of them with another one of his unexplainable miracles, the people were ready to make him king and they wouldn’t have been that hard to ask them to finance his political campaign.
But Jesus wasn’t interested in money. He was interested in “spiritual wealth.” He talked about giving to the poor and taking care of widows. He went from place to place – not knowing where he would sleep each night. Oh how he hated that feeling. As the group treasurer, he knew all too well that they didn’t have a lot. In fact, if Judas had not taken advantage of his position and snuck a coin here and a coin there, for his own pension…all of that time, years of his life, would have been a total waste!
Judas clenched his fist. That would have been ok. Except. Except…Jesus had contradicted himself. When a woman spent thousands of dollars to take a bottle of vintage, top shelf perfume as a gift to Jesus – a gift which she promptly wasted by pouring out onto his feet, Jesus – defended her! There she was dumping liquid gold – Judas’ ticket to easy street – on to the floor where it seeped into the dust and slowly evaporated into nothing. And Jesus didn’t scold here. He didn’t tell her to give to the poor.
He scolded Judas!
“APPROACH!” One of the guards motioned with his scabbard. “The chief priests will see you now.”
Judas nodded. Nodded as if the speed of his neck’s movements would increase the likelihood that he was in the right.
4 And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. 5 They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.
It’s crazy isn’t it? Gathered together as Christians one thing we can agree on is Jesus was awesome. He was a nice guy. He did miraculous things. Can you imagine one of his own disciples throwing his relationship away for a couple months’ wages?
See the story of Judas isn’t not about how crazy it is that Judas would betray his Savior. But how crazy, easy it is, for us to do the same.
Here’s the truth. If you look for fulfillment in things other than Jesus, you will inevitably betray him. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Your sinful heart will become too much and you will turn your back on your Savior.
Just like Judas. He found fulfillment in money, and wealth and the idea that the Messiah would bring him money and wealth. When it became clear that Jesus wouldn’t do that, Judas threw him away...
II. The Warning
It was as Judas was pondering that very thing when suddenly a gruff voice caused him to jerk in his seat.
"Do you want to get him?”
A few drops of sweat formed beneath Judas’ beard.
“I said, “Do you want a biscuit?”
Judas nodded vigorously in order to hide his nervousness from Bartholomew. “Sure.”
But that kind of thing had been happening all night. Did they know? Did they know it was him? Did they know he was planning on betraying Jesus?
Batholomew handed him a piece of warm flatbread. “Here you go.” He smiled and patted Judas on the back.
They didn’t know. He had been so secret about it. They didn’t know and they wouldn’t find out. He was safe. He was in the clear. He could remain a part of these close friends and still get his reward for betraying Jesus. No one would ever know!
Then – Jesus caught his attention.
Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you going to betray me.”
Judas gulped. How did Jesus know? Did he send spies? He couldn’t possible have done so? He had been so careful. He had been covering his tracks. This secret was his secret and his alone. Jesus didn’t know. “Breath deeply. I’m in the clear.”
Thankfully – his demeanor fit in with the mood of the room. The other disciples were nervous too. “Lord, who is it?” “It isn’t I, Lord.” “ I would never Lord.”
“It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”
As the thick gravy seeped into the pores of the bread, It gave Judas a chance to think. Was this really the right thing? He could still stop it. Was betraying his friend and colleague really the right thing to do? He still had time to stop it. He still had time to tell the Pharisees no. He still had time to throw the silver back into their faces. He still had time to ask for forgiveness. He still had time to seek God’s mercy.
Then, Jesus gave the bread to Judas.
Back in college – I took Hebrew. Hebrew is not an easy subject. Because of that, I think to properly learn Hebrew you need a hard-nosed Hebrew Professor. One who requires hard work and demands that you pay attention. Professor Nass was definitely that. He assigned pages of memorization. It took hours to prepare for his class. AND...he had the OVERHEAD.
Do ya’ll remember overheads? You could put up pictures and outlines and word problems. Overheads were supposed to be used to guide learning They were the old school versions of Powerpoint.
My Professor used it for public shaming. He would turn on the overhead and slowly write down the number of A+’s, the number of A’s, the number of B’s, and so on and so forth.
I’ll never forget the time that my 70% was the only 70% in class. UGH. I felt like a fool.
When Jesus gives the bread to Judas, his goal is not Judas’ public humiliation. He isn’t getting some kind of joy in pointing out Judas’ heart.
This is Jesus is calling out to Judas. It is Jesus panged that He is losing one of his own. It is Jesus pleading with Judas to stop before it’s too late. To be saved from this sinful, path he was on!
If you’ve been betraying Jesus, understand this – God has been reaching out to you too!
A commandment that you suddenly remember. A Bible passage that scrolls across your screen on Twitter. A friend who mentions that they are concerned for you. That nervousness you get when talking to a pastor – “I hope he doesn’t mention. Please don’t mention it. Please let me get away with it.”
This sermon. Right now.
That’s God. He’s calling on you to do what’s right. He’s calling on you to repent.
Listen to Him! Stop betraying your Savior. Instead…betray your sinful heart. Betray your sinful desires. Betray the things that lead to death and hold onto your Savior who leads to life.
The Apostle Paul wrote this, “I strike blows to my body and make it my slave so that…I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” Meaning he didn’t let his sexual urges control him. He didn’t let his greed control him. He didn’t let his laziness or anger or jealousy or need to be liked control him.
He betrayed those desires in order to follow Jesus.
That’s what Paul did.
That’s what God wants you to do.
But that’s not what Judas did.
III. The Betrayal
With a small army behind him, Judas and his mob marched through the garden. This time there was no nervousness. They were armed with clubs, torches, and small swords. There would be no fight. They converged on Jesus’ favorite quiet place. They overtook Jesus and his small group. They surrounded the disciples. Tension built.
Judas approached out of the crowd – with façade of arrogance masking the fear in his heart. “Greetings Rabbi!” he said. He looked right into the eyes of Jesus. He smirked. Then, he kissed him – emphatically on the cheek.
But as wild-eyed with surprise the other disciples were, Jesus was at ease. He had been expecting them. “Friend, do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” Then, seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest.
Here’s the part that’s most incredible. After the interaction with Judas and the mob is surrounding him, Jesus asks them who they came for. When they say his name – Jesus simply says, “I am he.” He doesn’t run. He doesn’t hide. He doesn’t fight.
In fact, as He says that some kind of divine, supernatural force that knocks all of the soldiers to the ground. It’s a glimpse into the power and the strength that he could unleash at any time.
But Jesus didn’t unleash it. Instead? Instead he extended his arms, let the chains fasten around them, and he let them lead him away.
Isn’t it amazing? In spite the betrayal he endured from Judas and from you and from me, Jesus would not betray his mission. Jesus would not betray us. Jesus would not betray you. Scripture says, “When we were dead in our sins, God made us alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.”
That means If you have betrayed Jesus’, bow your head in shame, sure. But please lift it once more to see Jesus’ love. Watch as he holds out his hands. Listen as he quietly says, “Go ahead. Arrest me.” Cringe as he endures insults. Follow as he walks step after step after step through that dark night – knowing full well that a cross awaited him.
Rest assured. Rest assured knowing that Jesus went through this, because he knew that on the other side of this suffering was you. A perfect existence with you. A peaceful, perfect existence for you by faith in him. In Him. IN HIM.
Brothers and sisters, by faith in Jesus, your betrayals have been forgiven. You are at peace with God.
Don’t betray that truth. Trust in it. Trust in Jesus.
Judas didn’t do that. Instead, Judas had a terrible ending. His guilt was so great that he figured Jesus could never forgive him. He ran back to the Pharisees and threw his silver on the ground. Then, he threw his life away as he hung from a tree.
Don’t you do the same. It isn’t too late. Not for you. Not matter what you’ve done. It isn’t too late because Jesus did not betray you. Repent. Turn from sin. Turn to your Savior.
He will never betray you. Amen.
Lenten Reading: Betrayal
Besides fitting into the trendy, one word serial drama (Revenge, Believe, Resurrection), this ABC show stars a photographer, who begins an affair with a married lawyer working the opposite side of a high profile murder trial.
Betrayal. Intrigue. Immorality. It makes for a winning show.
I've got another idea for a hit drama. It's about a guy who betrays his mentor of three years. All for a chunk of money. It'll have greed. And murder. (Two things that sell big in Hollywood). Plus, the script is already written!
OK. It's not so much a script as a portion of Holy Scripture. Check it out from John 13 below:
18 “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’ 19 “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am. 20 Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me."
21 After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”
22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”
25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”
26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.
So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” 28 But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. 30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.
Can you believe Judas? Betraying the Lord! He leaves and with his actions sentences Jesus to death. The very Jesus who had called him. Who had taught him. Who had loved him.
But does the same story ever play out, albeit in a less intense way, within your own life?
* "Yes, I've always followed Jesus and I love everything he's taught me, but I need to drop "Christian" from my Facebook profile, because all of my friends have been calling Christians bigots lately...and I don't like it! Instead, I'll just like a few 'progressive' stories (and totally betray the very Lord I love!)"
* "I cherish the story of Easter, but I just saw another Christian at work get ridiculed for believing that the Bible is true. I'll pretend I think it's a joke too. I'll even laugh at a few anti-Bible jokes. Quick. Let me search on Google for a few anti-Christian comics. Maybe I can find one to distance myself from this stuff."
* "I grew up in Sunday school, always went to church, even enjoyed the delicious Chocolate chip cookies afterwards. But now I am older. My college friends won't take me seriously. They think that Christianity is a joke. I'm starting to get left out of event invitations. Maybe, I'd be cooler if you just stayed out all night drinking this Saturday. I'll just trade in my Savior for a bottle of PBR."
Betrayal. It might not make it to the small screen. It might not even make it to the "TV Shows you've never heard of" section on Hulu, but it is betrayal nonetheless.
Thankfully, He never betrayed us. He never betrayed his plan to save us.
It would have been so easy. He knew that Judas went to go get the soldiers. He knew that if he went to the garden, he would be arrested, falsely tried, and condemned. He knew about our future betrayals! All Jesus had to do was not go to the garden later that night and he wouldn't have had to suffer for a bunch of people who had betrayed him.
But Jesus went anyway.
He could not betray you! He loved you too much. He had to finish his mission -- however terrible -- in order to save you from eternal death in hell! He did that so "whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
This is what Jesus did for you. It means that through faith in him you are forgiven for all of your past betrayals!
And now? I'd like you to think about Jesus again. Unlike your friends who have backstabbed you, your coworkers who use you to get to the top and even your family who have turned on you in the past, Jesus has NEVER betrayed you.
So...why would you ever betray him?
Instead, stand behind him. Speak his truth boldly. Confess his name clearly. Never give up the fact that you are child of God and a follower of your righteous Lord.
That's an Emmy award winning moment.
PRAYER: Lord Jesus forgive me for all the times that I have betrayed you in order to save myself. Forgive me because you never betrayed me. It's why you went to the cross. Lord in the wake of this forgiveness empower me to day to withstand all the pressures of Satan and this world to betray you. Instead, lead me to speak the truths of your Word in love and clarity. In Jesus' name, Amen.