The penultimate reading of Jesus’ passion history this evening will also serve as a primary basis for our message tonight. Chances are you’ve heard it before. You’re probably familiar with the grim picture it paints. Here is God himself, our savior, brought out after a savage beating and now put to death. Not because he did wrong, but because he didn’t. He would not toe the line with the corrupt religious leaders of the day and instead spoke the truth. Their jealousy drove them to this end. He came to help, and he was executed because they did not worship God, they worshipped themselves.
Of course, it’s easy to point that kind of finger at the events that surround the cross. How dare they attack Jesus. How dare they put him to death for no reason. How loathsome. How vile.
Perhaps you remember some time ago when Mel Gibson produced his Passion of the Christ movie? Now I know he’s been the subject of controversy since then, but let’s put that aside for a moment. There was a stir of controversy around his movie at the time, as it included the biblically accurate line where the crowd, shouting for Jesus’ death, took responsibility for his death. “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” they shout. In compromise, the production chose not to subtitle that line in the film, leaving it only shouted in Aramaic. But what was telling was Gibson’s response to this controversy when interviewed. He was asked, point blank, who really killed Jesus.
His response? “I did.”
Whatever else you want to say about him, his answer was spot-on. The people of the day may have been responsible for carrying out the events that happened, but God orchestrated everything that happened, Jesus allowed jealous men to put him on the cross. But it was my sin that made him go. It was my failures he suffered for there. It was because of me that he did this. It was because of and for me that he died.
The payment made on the cross is universal. Jesus suffered for all at once. Yes. But it is also personal. It happened because of you. It happened because of me. I often like to remind myself that if, in all of creation, I was the only one who ever sinned…Jesus still would have done this. Just for me. Or just for you.
It is a grim spectacle, and a testimony to just how awful our sins are. The defeat of death that plays out here is vicious, and it is difficult to look at, but it is a necessary reminder of the seriousness of our crimes. This is what should have happened to us. Listen, as God goes in your place:
As they were going out of the city, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon. They forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. They came to a place called Golgotha, which means “The place of the skull.” They offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. After they had crucified him, they divided his clothing among themselves by casting lots. Then they sat down and were keeping watch over him there. Above his head they posted the written charge against him: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
At the same time two criminals were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. People who passed by kept insulting him, shaking their heads, and saying, “You who were going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!”
In the same way the chief priests, experts in the law, and elders kept mocking him. They said, “He saved others, but he cannot save himself. If he’s the King of Israel, let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now, if he wants him, because he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” In the same way even the criminals who were crucified with him kept insulting him.
From the sixth hour until the ninth hour, there was darkness over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “This fellow is calling for Elijah.”
Immediately one of them ran, took a sponge, and soaked it with sour wine. Then he put it on a stick and gave him a drink. The rest said, “Leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
After Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. Suddenly, the temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and rocks were split. Tombs were opened, and many bodies of saints who had fallen asleep were raised to life. Those who came out of the tombs went into the holy city after Jesus’ resurrection and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those who were guarding Jesus with him saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they were terrified and said, “Truly this was the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:32-54)
There’s a detail in the passion reading that may have blown by you with everything that happened, and I’d like to focus on it this evening. But to understand its significance, we have to go back. Way back. Hundreds of years back to the earliest days of the Israelite nation, on their journey away from Egypt, wandering in the desert.
Back then, the primary place of worship was the tabernacle of the Lord. It was built exactly as God prescribed to them. The Temple of the Lord built in Jerusalem built centuries later would simply be a larger-scale version of this same house of worship. The space was laid out like 3 cubes set side by side by side. The first two formed a single space, the Holy Place, where the majority of worship was done. The last cubic space was separated from the rest by a curtain. Not a lot of detail is given about the curtain, except that it was thick enough that you couldn’t possibly see through it, and that it covered the space entirely, making it 15 feet tall by 15 feet wide.
The last space was called the Most Holy Place or Holy of Holies. Here was where the ark of the covenant sat, containing a number of holy relics God instructed the Israelites to store there. But what is more significant is that God said his presence would dwell in the Most Holy Place. Of course, we know from our Lenten series that God is everywhere, but he was making a point here, that his presence dwelt there in a unique way, and so to enter this space behind the curtain was truly to come into the presence of the living God.
In this account from Leviticus, God establishes a festival called the Day of Atonement. And in it, he impresses upon the people just how ridiculously difficult and dangerous it is to approach a holy God as a sinful human being. Aaron’s two sons had already died for not treating God’s presence with the proper respect. Listen how strictly God defends his holy presence and how difficult it is for a sinner to approach him. Only with blood could Aaron make this one, tentative approach to God on behalf of the people once every year.
The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron’s two sons, who had died when they approached the presence of the Lord. The Lord said to Moses, “Tell your brother Aaron that he must not enter into the Holy Place at any time he chooses by going inside the veil which is in front of the atonement seat that is on the ark. This is so that he will not die, for I appear in the cloud over the atonement seat.”
This is how Aaron shall enter the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a whole burnt offering. He is to wear a sacred linen tunic, with linen underwear covering his flesh, with the linen sash as his belt, and with his head wrapped with the linen turban. These are the sacred garments. He must wash his body with water and then put the garments on. From the congregation of the people of Israel he shall also receive two male goats for a sin offering and one ram for a whole burnt offering.
Aaron shall present the bull for his own sin offering, to make atonement for himself and for his household.
After Aaron has presented the bull for his sin offering to make atonement for himself and for his household, he shall slaughter the bull for his sin offering. Then he is to take a full pan of glowing coals from the top of the altar, which is before the Lord, and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and bring them inside the veil. He is to put the incense on the fire before the Lord so that the cloud from the incense covers the atonement seat that is over the Testimony, so he will not die. He is to take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger upon the surface of the atonement seat on its east side. He is also to sprinkle some of the blood seven times with his finger in front of the atonement seat. He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering of the people. He is to bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he had done with the blood of the bull. He is to sprinkle it on the atonement seat and in front of the atonement seat. He shall make atonement for the sanctuary to cleanse it from the uncleanness of the Israelites and from their rebellions and all their sins. This is what he shall do for the Tent of Meeting, which dwells in the midst of Israel’s uncleanness. When he enters to make atonement in the sanctuary, no other person may be in the Tent of Meeting until he has come out. In this way he shall make atonement for himself and his household, as well as for the entire assembly of Israel. He shall then come out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it. He is to take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat and smear it all around the horns of the altar. With his finger he is to sprinkle some of the blood upon it seven times. In this way he is to purify it and set it apart from the uncleanness of the Israelites. (Leviticus 16:1-6,11-19)
And here’s where we come to our point.
The Most Holy Place still existed in Jesus’ time. It was simply much bigger and was part of the stationary temple built in Jerusalem, and not a mobile Tabernacle that could be put up and taken down as needed. The linear dimensions were double that of the tabernacle, which means if you remember your volume equations, it was eight times larger inside than the previous model. The curtain separating the Holy from the Most Holy place would hang 30 feet in the air down to the floor.
The rules and promised consequence around the Most Holy Place still stood. No one could just approach God. You didn’t go in there unless you were instructed to and only if you did everything just right or literally being in God’s presence would kill you. Sin cannot stand in the presence of a Holy God. It is a stark reminder of how seriously we are separated from him.
But on this day:
After Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. Suddenly, the temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom.
Thirty feet, top to bottom. This was not some damage as a result of the earthquake that happened here. This was a deliberate, miraculous sign. Jesus went to the cross for our sin, and he suffered there for it. It was ugly and he died. It looked like a miserable defeat. But then, the curtain was torn.
You see...the divide was gone.
Our sin, our un-holiness is what separates us from a Holy God. It’s what keeps us from being able to approach him. It divides us from him.
But it’s gone.
Your sins are paid for. They don’t exist to God anymore. You can approach him with confidence, because you are holy in his eyes now. The tearing of the curtain says, “Come on in.” As we sit here, day by day feeling cut off from the rest of the world, we have this privilege. We can approach God ourselves with petition and prayer, not needing any intermediary.
And at the end of all this nonsense, we go to him. Nothing stops us anymore. The curtain is gone. We leave here, we go direct to God’s presence, to be with him forever. This is our promise, bound up in the tearing of that curtain as Jesus gave up his life for you.
Tonight, with reverence we humbly remember why this was necessary. We let ourselves be reminded what the stark cost of our sin really is. We feel the shame that it was my fault this happened. It is good to be reminded why we need a Savior. It’s good to look at the cost of our sins so we stay humble. But we should not wallow in this evening as though it were a loss. More than ever we need to remember that this was a triumph for God and for us.
Jesus went willingly for you and for me. He stayed there because he loves you. He died to pay your price. It looks ugly, but it was a victory. God did exactly what he set out to accomplish this night. The curtain is torn, the divide between us is removed. Defeat? No; victory!
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve learned a lot about IDOLATRY.
Idolatry is placing something that isn’t GOD in God’s PLACE.
Our idols are that we FEAR, LOVE or TRUST more than God.
Church is a place where idolatry can creep in and take God’s place in our worship
Jesus has FREED us from slavery to idolatry.
As a result, God wants the FREE to FLEE idolatry & SERVE others.
Putting these truths into practice means we are to approach each day like a battle.
One of the things that I legitimately struggle with is eating too much junk food. The whole Doritos thing. It’s real. I can go through an entire bag in a sitting which will cause me to feel “wonderful” in the morning.
I was talking to some pastor brothers earlier this week and we discussed how this is a stressful situation as pastors and how the devil will use this stressful situation to try and get us to turn to our vices for comfort.
Now I was feeling pretty pumped up. I was excited to try and not eat Doritos at the end of the day. I was confident that I’d do well.
When Julianna texted me to go to the store to see if I could pick up some supplies…
And I happened by the Dorito aisle because it was next to the contact solution (like 5 aisles to the right, but…)
And I saw that delicious bag taunting me.
I made the healthy choice.
I bought Cool Ranch.
I think there’s veggies in it.
Ever feel like that?
That the idols you struggle with are just too powerful?
As if they’ll always win?
Are you ready to give up?
This message from God’s Word is for you. 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; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Dire Situation
To learn more about how to battle idolatry, we’re going to look at one of the most prolific times of idolatry in the Bible. It revolves around a king named Ahab. Listen to the Bible’s brief description of him: Ahab committed more evil in the eyes of the Lord than all those who had gone before him. (1 Kings 16:30)
He considered it a trivial thing to walk in the sins of Jeroboam. (v.31a) Jeroboam was a king who brought back the worship of golden calves. That’s the sin from back at the time of Moses. It had returned. And Ahab? He kept it going. But to him, it was just child’ s play.
Ahab served Baal and bowed down to him. (v.31b) Baal was a bit more hardcore. He was a statue of a half man and half bull. Baal was more hardcore than the golden calf because, Baal required child sacrifices. Something that the REAL GOD was and is absolutely against.
But Ahab, the king of the people of Israel, the REAL GOD’s people, didn’t fight Baal worship.
Ahab erected an altar to Baal in the house of Baal. (v.32)
Ahab spent government money on a house for Baal.
Ahab spent tax money on a monument to this “Baal”.
Ahab placed a tiny golden plate at the entrance that said, “Temple to Baal – Built by Ahab.”
Ahab did more than that!
He erected Asherah poles around Israel.
He commanded festivals for people to worship these false gods.
He gave positions to over 450 Baal-ian clergy
He murdered the prophets of the REAL God.
There is no wonder that the Bible summarizes Ahab like this:
Ahab did even more to provoke the Lord God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who had gone before him. (v.33)
He was terrible.
Because of his terrible leadership, the situation in Israel was spiritually terrible.
Notice I said spiritually terrible.
Because economically things seemed to be going well.
There was plenty of food.
There were buildings going up.
People were wealthy.
Everything seemed wonderful.
Though it was a spiritual disaster.
Elijah… said to Ahab, “As surely as the Lord lives, the God of Israel before whom I stand, there will be no dew or rain during the coming years.” (1 Kings 17:1)
The skies closed.
The rain stopped.
The crops dried up.
No morning dew.
No afternoon showers.
Not even a “sprinkling.”
For three whole years.
On a seemingly good economy?
Friends, I’m not Elijah.
I don’t have a special verbal revelation from God.
I can’t tell you exactly why the Pandemic is happening.
But I do have God’s Word and I can say this.
God works through CALAMITY to return people to the REAL GOD.
During this calamity, I can say confidently that God wants you to RETURN to Him.
To turn from your idols.
To turn from things.
To turn from stuff.
To turn from your social media.
To turn from your own agenda.
To turn from selfishness.
To turn from pride.
To turn from anything that is not the REAL GOD
And turn back to Him, the REAL GOD.
II. The Challenge
At the end of the three years of drought, God sent the prophet Elijah to King Ahab. As he approached, Ahab said this to Elijah, ““Is that you, the one who brings trouble on Israel?” (v.17)
Not a repentant bone in his body.
Not a bit of humility in his heart.
Not an inkling of thought that ‘Maybe this has something to with the fact that I slaughtered all of God’s prophets, erected false idols in God’s temple, sacrificed children to piece of stone and generally led hundreds of thousands of people away from the true God onto the road to hell.”
“This is all God’s fault.”
Idol worshipers tend to blame GOD for problems caused by their own IDOLATRY.
Elijah calls him on it:
He says, “Dude, it isn’t I who have brought trouble on Israel. It was you. You abandoned the real God. You stopped obeying his commands. You started bowing down to a statue. You have been single handedly leading a nation of people away from their Savior.
“You and me? Let’s not fight.
Let’s have our Gods fight.”
They made a plan.
A notice was sent to all the people of Israel.
Thousands gathered on a local hilltop.
Ahab gathered all 450 prophets of Baal.
Elijah, the only prophet of God left, gathered himself.
Then Elijah said to all the people, “How long will you stagger around on two crutches?”
“I can’t follow God. All of my friends like Baal.”
“Oh no! I’m sick. Better return to God.”
“OK. I’m better. Just in time to join my friends in THINGS & STUFF.”
“Uh oh. There’s a recession. I’d better get back into my Bible.”
“Crud. The girl I like doesn’t like Jesus. I’d better stop name dropping him.”
“Well, since she dumped me. I guess it’s ok to go back to worship.”
Stop staggering on two crutches.
If the Lord is God, follow him. If Baal is God, follow him.” (v.21)
And the people, well…
…You know how at work…when the boss asks if anyone is interested in doing extra hours over the weekend…and it wouldn’t be an increase in pay, just something you do because “blah blah blah” you “love the company?
And no one says anything.
That’s how the people responded to Elijah.
With awkward silence.
III. The Showdown
“I am the only one left of the Lord’s prophets, but the prophets of Baal total four hundred fifty men. Provide two bulls for us. Let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it up and place it on the firewood, but they are not to light the fire. I will prepare the other bull and place it on the firewood, but I will not light the fire. Then you will call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers with fire, he is God.” (v.22-24)
The people nodded.
Elijah let prophets of Baal go first.
They carefully examine both bull carcasses.
Between the 450 of them, they would have been able to select the one that burned more quickly.
Then, they took their carcass.
They placed it on some firewood.
And they called on the name of Baal from morning until noon. (v.26)
Oh Great, wonderful Baal! Send fire upon us your servants.
Baal, Baal, amazing and magnificent. Showcase your power right now!
Baal, Baal, he’s our half man, half bull, if he can’t do it no one can!
Baal, Baal, please…
At noon, Elijah began to mock them.
“Shout louder! He is a god, isn’t he?
He may be deep in thought…you know. Trying to figure out how to light the fire without matches.
Or busy…The word in Hebrew means “busy using the restroom.”
Or on a journey…visiting his cousin in Newark.
The prophets shouted louder.
They screamed at the top of their lungs.
They danced as fast as their feet could move them.
They cut themselves thinking – that if they bled, maybe Baal would care enough to send one little spark.
They kept up a prophetic frenzy until the time of the evening sacrifice, but there was no sound. No one answered. There was no response. (v.29)
After eight long hours, Elijah stood up.
Calmly, he took twelve stones and made an altar.
He dug around the altar until there was trench.
Then, he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the sacrifice and on the wood.” (v.33)
The servants looked at one another oddly. Because that’s not usually the best way to prepare a sacrifice. But…it was Elijah’s turn now, so…
They poured the four jars of water onto the sacrificed.
Until the sacrifice was soaked.
The water was drenched.
There was even a little river flowing in the trench.
Then, Elijah walked to the altar.
He looked up.
“O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and that I have done all these things by your word. Answer me, Lord! Answer me so that this people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you are turning their hearts back to you.” (v.36-37)
As soon as he finished.
As soon as he put the “n” sound on the “Amen…”
Fire from the Lord fell on the sacrifice and on the wood, the stones, and the dirt. (v.37)
It burned up the water-soaked carcass.
It consumed the drenched firewood.
It burned up the stones.
And even licked up the water in the trench. (v.37)
When all the people saw this, they fell on their knees and said, “The Lord, he is God! The Lord, he is God!” (v.39)
Friends, here’s a truth that remains true to this day:
God UTTERLY DEMOLISHES any idol he’s up against.
It doesn’t matter what idol you put up against the REAL GOD, the LORD, Jesus Christ, in a one-on-one battle, God wins.
God versus Baal? God wins.
God versus Asherah? God wins.
God versus Dagon? God wins..
God versus Zeus. God wins..
God versus Aphrodite. God wins.
God versus Poseidon. God wins.
God versus Vishnu. God wins.
God versus Buddha. God wins.
God versus Allah. God wins.
God versus Entertainment. God wins.
God versus Social Media. God wins.
God versus A Booming Economy. God wins.
God versus Science. God wins.
God versus Politicians. God wins.
God versus Society. God wins.
God versus Greed. God wins.
God versus Lust. God wins.
God versus Pride. God wins.
God versus yourself? God wins.
God utterly demolishes any idol he’s up against.
And God utterly demolishes any idol worshipers he’s up against.
Elijah’s words seem appropriate:
Stop staggering on two crutches. If the Lord is God, follow him. (v.21)
Turn to God.
But don’t do so in fear.
Even if you’ve been staggering between idol worship and God.
Don’t be afraid.
God UTTERLY DEMOLISHED our SIN of idolatry.
The title of this sermon is the Great Idolatry showdown.
But…I wasn’t talking about this incredible public event on Mount Carmel.
I was talking about the quiet private event in the garden of Gethsemane.
Because there, the devil used every idol he could think of.
To tell Jesus, “Stop listening to your Father. Don’t go through with the plan. None of these people are worth it. None of them matter. They’ve gone after their own idols. They haven’t worshipped the true God. They’ve sinned. Let them the fire of God consume them.”
Bowed to the ground.
He looked up to heaven.
He said, “Father…not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)
Then, Jesus got up.
He went to be arrested.
He allowed himself to be sacrificed on the cross.
In doing so…
Jesus utterly destroyed all your sins.
He utterly destroyed all the times you’ve staggered between idols.
He consumed with raging fire all the times you’ve worshipped things other than him.
He burned to ash every last one of your sins.
Friends, take heart.
Jesus, the True God, is on your side.
IV. What Now?
All that being said, idols are a part of life. The devil will do everything he can to make you lose battle after battle against idolatry. How do we fight back? A few ideas:
(1) Lift Up Your Eyes
Because that’s what Elijah did. Instead of looking forward at some stupid statue, he looked up to the true God.
Right now, God calls you to the same. Colossians 3:1-3 says this, “Because you were raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.”
During the Coronavirus crisis, it’s tempting to look around. To look at your bank account, to look at doctor’s recommendations, to look at social media post after social media post to try and find answers.
And it’s not wrong to do that.
But if we’re not LOOKING UP, we’re not looking to the true God.
Because when you look to the true God.
When you see that he burns up water drenched sacrifices with a giant fireball from heaven…
When you see that he defeats sin with his death and resurrection…
He’s the One you need.
(2) Remember your Identify
That’s what the people of Israel had forgotten. They had forgotten that they were God’s children. They had forgotten all of God’s incredible miracles. They had forgotten God’s merciful promise of the Savior.
They had begun to believe – they belonged to Baal.
It’s easy when Idolatry attacks to feel like that’s your identity:
I’m a drunkard.
I’m an addict.
I’m a grump.
I’m a failure.
That’s not who you are.
I was watching a show called 100 humans on Netflix. It does experiments on a variety of humans to gain input on the human psyche. One experiment had humans learn to twirl plates on a stick. They had two hours of guidance and instruction from a professional plate spinner. Then, they would come and perform for judges.
But before they performed the judges would blindly pull out a ping pong ball from a hat. If the ball was blue, they would give positive reinforcement no matter how terrible they were. If the ball was red, they would give negative reinforcement, no matter how good it was.
Then, after receiving the judge’s reaction, the humans would be allowed two more hours of practice. Then, they’d re-perform.
Everyone who was told that they did terribly? Their time of plate in the air went down. One guy didn’t even attempt because he believed what the judge’s said: “I’m worse than a dog.”
But everyone who was encouraged? They improved. One lady who hadn’t actually gotten the plate to spin the first time said, “You told me I doing great. So I kept trying.”
Here’s what God says about you:
For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (v.3-4)
You are his child.
You are forgiven.
You are a GOD worshiper.
No matter what idols you have worshipped in the past, that identity is dead because of Jesus.
(3) Put to Death Your Idols
Did you know that’s what Elijah did at the end of the section? God had Elijah and the people put to death the 450 prophets of Baal.
That might sound harsh to you.
But remember – these prophets had been involved in the murder of God’s prophets, the murder of young children, and leading an entire nation to eternal destruction in hell.
Do the same with your idols:
Put to death whatever is worldly in you: sexual immorality, uncleanness, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. (v.6)
Understand – that does NOT mean harm any person in any way at all.
But it does mean REMOVE the idols that you fall to.
Put a filter on the computer that leads to Internet porn.
Install an app that limits access to social media.
Pour your booze down the drain.
Cut off the friendship that’s leading you away from Jesus.
(4) Be Confident
Because GOD wins! Despite the disadvantages it appears that God has.
Think of the account of Elijah.
Baal has 450 prophets; GOD only had 1.
Baal had first pick of the sacrifices; GOD got the leftover.
Baal had a dry altar area; GOD’s was drenched.
Baal had 8 hours to set it on fire; GOD had a few minutes.
But GOD won.
It might look like the idols in your life will always win.
With the help of the virus, it might seem impossible.
But you’re wrong.
GOD always wins.
Even when it looks like he’s at a disadvantage, he’s not.
He’s the only TRUE GOD.
And the true GOD always wins. Amen.
IDOLATRY: Freedom From Idolatry
We are in the middle of our IDOLATRY sermon series. This week we want to learn about living how to BE FREE and how to LIVE FREE. Before that, 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; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Proof that You’re Free
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve learned a lot about IDOLATRY.
Idolatry is placing something that isn’t God in God’s place.
Our idols are the things that lead us to fear, love, and trust in them more than God.
Church is a place where subtle idols can creep up and take God’s place in or hearts.
All of this awareness of idolatry has begun to make me think it’s a lot like Coronavirus
It feels like it’s everywhere.
You can’t see it coming.
It can make you do all kind of things that you don’t normally do.
Like a slave.
Jesus agrees. Look at John 8:34 “Everyone who keeps committing sin is a slave to sin.”
Since sin happens when you don’t treat God as your true god, it follows that, “Everyone who keeps committing sin is a slave to idolatry.”
If you keep lusting after photos of your gym mates online, you’re a slave to the idol of your sex drive.
If you keep getting hammered on Jack Daniel’s, you’re a slave to the idol of alcohol.
If you keep spending hours upon hours on Facebook checking how many likes your post received, you’re a slave to the idol of your pride.
If you keep telling lies about your struggles to your church family, you’re a slave to the idol of reputation.
If you keep being lazy around the house, you’re a slave to the idol of sloth.
If you keep getting angry with your family, you’re a slave to the idol of “It’s my way or the highway.”
If you keep SINNING, idolatry is ENSLAVING you.
So…how does one break free?
Jesus said, “A slave does not remain in the family forever. A son does remain forever.”
Jesus is referencing the ancient system of servanthood. In that system, you would sign on to work as a “slave” or a “servant” to pay off a debt or to borrow money for a mortgage. For our sakes, imagine you took a job at a local pig farm and were contracted to work until the end of summer. You live on the farm. You’re greeted as a family member. You get to eat at the big family-style table for BBQ and greens every evening.
But when your time was up, you leave. And you don’t get to be at the farm anymore.
On the other hand, if you were a child of that family?
You would always be a part of the family.
You’d be greeted as part of the family.
You’d have a bed waiting for you on the farm.
Even if you were away for a long period of time, when you returned mom would make sure there’s a spot at the table with your favorite, Lemon Meringue Pie, waiting for you.
Brothers and sisters, you are God’s child.
You are a part of his family.
And always will be.
You ARE NOT a slave.
But you are free.
In fact, Jesus says, “If the Son sets you free, you really will be free. (John 8:34-36)
Did you hear that?
If Jesus sets your free, you’ll be free indeed.
Jesus did set you free.
Here’s the truth then:
You are FREE from idolatry because JESUS set you FREE.
Because Jesus doesn’t do anything half way.
He didn’t get you some of the way free.
He didn’t attempt at freeing you and fail.
He doesn’t say, “You free yourself.”
He set you FREE.
You are not a SLAVE to idolatry.
You are FREE!
II. “The Free” Flee
The Corinthians were a group of believers who lived in Corinth. Corinth was a city filled with idol worship. There was a large temple to Aphrodite the goddess of love, another impressive temple to Poseidon, the god of the sea, and various miniature temples to Apollo, Isis, Venus and Demeter.
Some of the believers in the Corinthians church had formerly been practicing idol worshippers.
But Jesus had set them free.
In his letter to this group of former slaves to idol worship, Paul encourages them in how to LIVE Free. He says, “Therefore, my dear friends, FLEE from idolatry.” (1 Cor. 10:14)
Flee means get out of there.
It means “run.”
It means “sprint.”
It means be like my dog Frankie. Frankie hates… (that probably isn’t a strong enough word)… Frankie loathes laundry baskets. I don’t know why. Maybe a laundry basket bullied her for days on end before she came to our family. Regardless, when she sees a laundry basket near her, she cowers in the corner with her tail between her legs and as soon as there’s a space for her to get out of the room, she sprints outside and goes to the corner farthest from the basket.
“Flee” means to run out of the room as fast your four legs can carry you and get as far away from idolatry as possible!
But the thing about humans is that we tend to be more like my cat, Minnie. The other day Minnie found a bunch of string and played with it until she was tangled up within it. She started meowing. I let her out.
No more than about 5 minutes later, she was meowing again, because she was back in the string.
“Flee” does not mean getting entangled in the idolatry that you were just released from.
The FREE from idolatry FLEE from idolatry
In Corinth, there were often feasts for the different idols. (Think about it like Lenten meals…just…dedicated to a false god.)
Zesty Chicken Sunday dedicated to Zeus.
Apple Pie-Apple Turnovers dedicated to Apollo.
Doritos Dinner dedicated to Demeter.
These meals would allow the community to gather for FREE food in the name of the idol.
Now remember the people of Corinth had been freed from idol worship by the message of Christ.
Yet when they were walking by the local idol temple and saw that there was FREE FOOD?
They joined in.
Would you consider that “FLEEING” from idolatry?
Paul didn’t. Allow him to explain. “Judge for yourselves what I am saying. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ? (v.15-16)
The answer to both questions is YES.
When we eat the bread of Lord’s Supper, we are intimately connected with Jesus’ body that was broken so we might have life.
When we drink the wine at Lord’s Supper, we are intimately connected with the blood Jesus shed for our forgiveness.
When we sit at the Lord’s Table, we are intimately connected with the REAL GOD.
More than that we are connected to God’s people. Paul writes, “Because there is one bread, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (v.17)
This is a simple principle:
If you’re connected to Jesus in Lord’s Supper…
And I’m connected to Jesus in Lord’s Supper…
Then we are connected.
This is an awesome truth.
But if that’s true about the Lord’s table, then it’s true about an idol’s table too!
Paul writes, “Those who eat the sacrifices are partners of [that] altar, aren’t they? (v.18)
He adds, “What am I saying? That food from idol sacrifices is anything, or that an idol is anything? No. (v.19)
An idol is nothing more than some wood, some paints, and a bunch of glitter.
An idol isn’t real.
Therefore, you can’t be united with an idol, because an idol isn’t anything.
But this wasn’t a harmless offense.
Because while idols aren’t real, the demons that make you believe that idols are real…
“What [these idol worshippers] sacrifice, “they sacrifice to demons, and not to God” and I do not want you to become partners of demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and of the table of demons.” (v.20)
Because here’s the truth:
Continuing in idolatry connects you with DEMONS.
Using the internet to worship God on a Sunday morning, partners you with GOD! But using that same internet to look up dirty pictures on a Sunday night, partners you with demons.
Typing “Praise Jesus” on social media now, partners you with God! But typing “curse this person” later, partners you with demons.
Tuning in for the family devotion now, partners you with GOD! But getting the popcorn ready for the R-rated horror flick later, partners you with demons.
Giving online to the church now, partners you with GOD! But giving the rest of our funds to internet gambling later, partners you with demons.
If Paul still hasn’t convinced you to FLEE from idolatry, look at verse 21.
Are we trying to provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he is? (v.21)
It’s a call back to the 1st Commandment: “You shall have no other gods” Why? “Because the LORD your God is a jealous God, punishing those who hate him.” (Exodus 20:5)
Because the truth is that GOD wants you badly.
That’s why he invites you to his altar.
At an idols’ altar, people want the idol’s help so badly they would shed blood for the idol.
At God’s altar, God wants you in his family so badly, GOD gives his blood for you.
At his altar, God speaks to you and says:
You are FREE.
Live FREE & FLEE.
III. “The Free” Serve
This is not all God has to say about how the FREE, live FREELY. He writes,
“Everything is permitted”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permitted”—but not everything builds up. Let no one seek his own good, but that of others.
The concept in Greek culture was, “do whatever you want, because who cares!?!” For Greeks, this way of thinking revolved around their moral law. It’s the reason that GREEK culture is the culture that later is associated with frat house party.
Paul pits that logic against God’s logic.
There are some things in life that are permissible.
They are neither commanded nor forbidden by God.
Let’s call those “Free-to-Choose Things”
“Free-to-choose things” include…
…what kind of socks you’re wearing right now.
…what kind of donut you had for breakfast.
…how much cream you put in your coffee.
…whether you should eat turkey bacon or pig bacon.
All of these things are neutral. We are “Free-to-choose.”
Yet, in these “free-to-choose” things, the FREE, must be careful of making these neutral things into an idol.
The FREE must be careful not to use these “Free-to-choose” items to serve themselves.
Rather, The FREE use their freedom to SERVE others.
Besides meals dedicated to idols which Paul already identified as something believers should not participate in, there was the issue of “food that had formerly been sacrificed to idols, but was now being sold at the local farmer’s market for a value menu price.” Leftovers were often sold by the pagan priests to the merchant, who in turn would sell it to the people.
Now Paul had just told the believers to never eat at the table of the idol worshipping feasts.
What about this formerly sacrificed to idols meat?
The answer? It depends.
Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without asking questions for the sake of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” (v.26) That includes this chicken and asparagus plate. It is from God, so go ahead. Just don’t ask questions. Otherwise, the devil will make your conscience over sensitive and you’ll think you’re doing wrong.
If one of the unbelievers invites you over and you want to go, eat whatever you are served without asking questions for the sake of conscience. (v.27) Again, don’t ask. Eat! Enjoy. Make friends with unbelievers in the hopes that you can share the Gospel with them.
But if someone says to you, “This is from a sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. I mean the other person’s conscience, not your own. (v.29) Because imagine you are with a recent believer, who had just stopped worshipping Aphrodite. They just learned the 1st Commandment in Starting Point class. And now, you are about to eat piece of Tiramisu that had been sacrificed to a false god?
Best case scenario? You’ll leave them really confused.
Worst case? They’ll head to the next Aphrodite fest, participate in the things of demons, and be pulled away from faith.
Sometimes serving others means we DON’T.
You don’t have a beer, even though you can, because you’re sitting next to a former alcoholic.
You don’t call Peter a saint, even though it’s Biblical, because you’re talking with someone who occasionally prays to saints.
You don’t watch a movie in the basement with the lights off, alone, with your girlfriend – even though it’s not wrong to do so – because you’re both trying to be pure. And this is counterproductive.
But Paul continues, “I mean the other person’s conscience, not your own. Why is my freedom judged by someone else’s conscience? If I eat the food with thankfulness, why am I criticized for something for which I give thanks?”
I think this is included because of one particular group that Paul knew would read this letter and totally abuse his words.
The Judaizers were a group of believers who believed that people were saved by faith in Jesus and by adhering to Old Testament Jewish customs.
The Judaizers didn’t struggle with whether idols were real.
They struggled with humility.
Meaning they could take what Paul just said and respond:
You’re right. This is just food.
It’s not wrong to eat, but we won’t because we’re better than you.
And you better not…
…or you’ll be sinning against our conscience.
In this instance?
Paul recommends you take a big old bite.
You’re not dealing with a young in faith believer struggling with a lack of knowledge.
You’re dealing with a “mature” in faith believer struggling with a lack of humility.
Sometimes serving others means we DO.
For instance, baptism. We baptize at Gethsemane church by pouring water over people’s heads. This is because the word Jesus when he tells us to “baptize” simply means to “wash with water.” That means, however you wash with water, is baptism.
But some church groups confess, “You must put someone completely under the water or it isn’t baptism.”
We could capitulate.
We could get a baptismal tank and only dunk people.
After talking and explaining and showing from God’s Word what God actually says,
We could “serve them by DOING.”
By pouring water, our action speaks to them, “This is permissible. Stop making YOUR WAY into an idol.”
Sometimes serving others means we DO; sometimes serving others means we DON’T.
How do we know when to do what? Paul gives us 2 questions to apply to any situation.
(1) Is it for God’s Glory?
That’s our goal as Christians to bring God glory as we freely serve him. Paul says, “Whether you eat or drink, or do anything else, do everything to the glory of God.” (v.31)
Because ultimately, that’s what we’re here for.
This is an important question our leadership asked this week.
Does refraining from in-person worship and going online give glory to God?
It obeys the Fourth Commandment by honoring our government.
It obeys the Fifth Commandment by honoring the lives of others.
It obeys the Third Commandment by bringing God’s Word to God’s people.
A question for you to reflect these coming weeks will be --
Is the way I’m worshipping giving glory to God?
Should I watch in front of Netflix? Or in a quiet area of the room?
Should I scroll on my phone? Or set my phone aside?
Should I sing along with the music? Or not even click on them?
Do everything to the glory of God.
(2) Does it lead others to Jesus?
The ultimate way that God has glory is when someone comes to faith in him as their Savior. We are God’s church, so that’s our goal too. Paul writes, “Do not give offense to Jews, or Greeks, or God’s church, just as I also try to please all people in all things, by not seeking what is best for me but for the many, so that they may be saved.” (v.32)
If eating that exotic food dish gives me an opportunity to discuss Jesus’ love with my Hindu friends? I do.
If throwing that BLT away, allows me a chance to talk to my Jewish friends and share Jesus with them? I do.
If worshipping with an organ causes someone to check out of church before we can share Jesus with them, we don’t.
If worshipping with a drum set causes someone to walk out of church before we can share Jesus with them, we don’t.
If using hand sanitizer soothe someone’s worries so that they might listen to me calm their fears about Jesus, even if I just hand sanitized out in my car and I’ve already sanitized about 15 times today and I’m not even planning on high fiving them anyways? Hand sanitizer it is.
Because our goal as the FREE is to live FREE that others might also be FREE. Amen.
IDOLATRY: & Church?
We are in the middle of our IDOLATRY sermon series. So far, we have…
(1) defined idolatry as PLACING anything in God’s PLACE.
(2) identified personal idols as those things that we FEAR, LOVE or TRUST more than God.
(3) marveled as Jesus loved US more than himself by going to the cross to win forgiveness for our idolatry.
(4) been empowered to discover our own idols and get rid of them
In order to do this, I think it’s helpful to consider the places you visit each week and identify the idols that tempt you in each location. For example…
…work, where your boss sends you email reminders to worship idols of money and career every five minutes on the five minutes.
…the local bar, where you go every Thursday to practice some Thirsty Thursday Theology.
…your gym, where bowing down to do burpees quickly becomes bowing down to your bodacious body.
…your couch, here you have a nice little altar set up to the Netflix God.
… the bedroom down the hall from yours, where this tiny little 5-year-old God that demands all of your time and energy be spent pretending to be a Paw Patrol Character with them.
But, as you consider places where idols tempt you to worship them, how many of you thought of…
If we were playing Family Feud and the topic was “Place You’d Find an Idol in Modern America”, giving the answer “Church” is something that would cause Steve Harvey to do a double take.
Today we will be warned from God’s Word not to be deceived: church can absolutely be a place where idolatry lays hold of our hearts. We’ll consider if any idols have taken their way into our hearts and ask God’s help exposing and removing those idols. Before we do that, 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; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Background of Ezekiel
The lesson for this morning comes from Ezekiel 8. A bit of background:
In 597 B.C. the Babylonian Empire defeated the people of Israel and carried many people back into Babylon as exiles. These people were apart from their country, apart from where they grew up, and apart from their families.
But the truth was that God had ordained this exile. For years, God had been warning the people of Israel through prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, that this would unless they stopped worshipping idols and returned to worshipping the true God.
They didn’t listen.
So, God allowed the exile.
One might expect the exile to be what finally caused the people to change their ways, right?
Enter Ezekiel. Ezekiel is one of the priests of God who had been carried off with the exiles to Babylon. In Babylon, God transforms Ezekiel from a priest that brings requests from the people to God to a prophet that brings messages from God to the people. God had Ezekiel present these messages to the people in strange ways.
Once, God had Ezekiel go the city square and lie down on his side for 390 days. This was to represent how the 390 years that the people had been engaged in the sin of idolatry. (Ezekiel 4:5)
Another time, God had Ezekiel build a miniature model of Jerusalem. Then, he took an iron pan and placed it as a wall against the model, representing a Babylonian siege that God would send against the people of Jerusalem. (Ezekiel 4:3)
Yet one more time, God had Ezekiel shave off his beard. Then, he took a third of the beard shavings and burned them (to represent the third of Jerusalem that would be set on fire), a third of his beard shavings he threw into the wind (to represent the third that would flee the city and be scattered), and a third of the beard shavings he threw into the air and slashed with his sword (to represent the third of Jerusalem that would die by the sword). All these things would happen if the people didn’t return from idols to the true God.
These action prophecies led to Ezekiel garnering quite a following. Many of the elders in the city spent time with Ezekiel hoping to be present for another strange prophecy.
On the fifth day of the sixth month, in the sixth year of the exile, Ezekiel is chilling in his house with some of the elders. (I imagine they’re drinking some wine and watching the latest episode of the Bachelor).
When suddenly, Ezekiel goes into a trance.
He sees the figure of a man.
Chest of blazing fire.
Legs of glowing metal.
It’s the LORD.
And the LORD reaches out his hands,
Grabs Ezekiel by the hair,
And lifts him into the air.
He soars with Ezekiel out of the walls of Babylon.
He skyrockets him past the desert plains.
He lifts him up past the mountains.
And sets him down in Jerusalem.
Right in front of God’s temple.
I’m sure Ezekiel was filled with excitement:
This is my home!
This is my temple.
This is where I worked!
That is where I carved my name into a rock.
Over there is where little Suzy Lou gave me a kiss on the cheek in grade school!
As Ezekiel’s looked around his home…
He saw something…
II. Church Idols
(1) The Idol of JEALOUSY
The Spirit…brought me to the entrance of the north gate into the inner courtyard of the Temple, where the idolatrous image of jealousy, which provokes jealousy, was located. (8:3)
Can you imagine that? This is God’s holy temple. The place where you worship God and only God. And yet, there at the entrance welcoming you as you come in, is an idol.
At the entrance of our church, we’ve got some flowers.
We’ve got a bench.
We’ve got a sign that says, “worship this way.”
How would you feel if next week there was a big old statue of Buddha out front?
The idol that was in front of the temple is simply identified as jealousy.
While churches today might not have an actual, statue like idol at the entrance to their church, the IDOL OF JEALOUSY is absolutely a threat.
A while back, I noticed a young child that was in tears throughout the worship service.
Having a hard time.
Afterwards, he was still having a difficult time, so I asked him, “What’s wrong?”
“My brother ate the last goldfish. I didn’t get as many!”
Mom said, “Yep. That’s pretty much all we cared about throughout worship.”
Jealousy is a threat to take over your time of worship and craft an idol in your heart.
“Would you look at that person? He’s got so many friends. I wish I was more like him.”
“Really? She’s engaged and I’m not? How is that even possible? I’m way better looking.”
“That musician is very talented. So…it’s kinda cool they just made a mistake…Knock them down a peg or two.”
“That guy shouldn’t be on church leadership. I’d do a much a better job than him.”
“Look! There’s pastor capitulating to the new people again. When he’s gonna spend more time talking to me!?!”
The thing about the idol of jealousy is that it provokes jealousy.
Remember the first sermon in this series? God said, “You shall have no other Gods… for I am a jealous God visiting punishment on those who hate me.” (Exodus 20:3)
You might be consuming with jealousy for other people.
That leaves God jealous for you.
And Ezekiel was in shock.
And God tapped him on the shoulder.
And said, “You will see even great abominations than these.” (v.6)
(2) The Idol of REPUTATION
Next, he brought me to the entrance to the courtyard, and I looked and saw that there was a hole in the wall. (v.7)
Instead of telling Ezekiel to get out his spackle and a trowel to fix it, God tells him, “to dig through the wall.” So, Ezekiel does. I don’t know that he had some kind of Ancient Hebraic shovel, but he dug until he had a space big enough for his body to fit through.
Then, God told him, “Look around at the abominations in this room.” (v.8)
As Ezekiel enters, he notices the walls are engraved with “Every form of creeping creature and every kind of detestable animal and all the filthy idols.” (v.10) This is most likely a reference to the Gods of the Egyptians. Hieroglyphics – that glorified hawks, cats, and beetles as Gods.
But Ezekiel hadn’t discovered ancient room that no one knew existed.
People knew about it
Temple people knew about it.
In fact, inside the room was a group of about 70 Israelite elders, burning incense and praying to the carvings.
But what’s interesting is that these men were hidden! From the outside, the room looked like a temple of God, but hidden deep within the inside? Idolatry.
They wanted to protect their REPUTATION. It’s the only reason that they kept up appearances as “priests” of God. They craved the REPUTATION of God followers even though their hearts were far from him.
REPUTATION is just as much an idol today.
“I don’t want to be at worship today. But I better go so that it looks good to others.”
“Lots of prayers on social media for the Coronavirus. I’d better post one too so I look like a good Christian.”
“I can’t confess my secret sin of pornography to the elders, because they might look at me funny. I’ll just put on a smile, act like everything’s ok, and keep sinning.”
Want to know the ironic part of this?
REPUTATION worshippers think that everyone is fooled.
According to verse 12, the worshippers in the secret room were saying:
‘The Lord does not see us.’ (v.12)
Because the one that was seeing them do this, was the very one they claimed didn’t see them.
And God sees it when reputation becomes our idols.
And he hates it.
But God wasn’t done yet.
God grabbed him by the hand.
And said, “You will see even greater abominations...” (v.13)
(3) The Idol of PROSPERITY
Next, God brought Ezekiel to the entrance of the gateway of the House of the Lord that is on the north side, and right there (he) saw women sitting and wailing for Tammuz. (v.14)
Tammuz was the ancient Mesopotamian God of fertility. According to religious myth, when Tammuz was healthy then the land would be fertile. He’d bless the farmer with healthy crops. He’d give them an abundance of grain. He’d make sure that there was a BULL market in ancient crops.
But when things went poorly, perhaps during winter or a famine, Tammuz had died. Then, it was up to the worshippers of Tammuz to bring Tammuz back to life through mourning and crying.
(Sounds like some kind of Disney movie: “If you shed a tear of true love for your idol, then Tammuz will come back to life.”)
But really, it wasn’t Tammuz they loved.
It wasn’t Tammuz they were sad that died.
It was their PROSPERITY.
PROSPERITY is a big idol in the modern church.
People that worship just to get a better job.
People that worship just to get more money.
People that worship just to find themselves a happily family.
Not that any of those things are bad on their own.
But LOVING them more than God is.
Even right now. There’s a pandemic of COVID-19.
And we’re praying to God to get us through this.
To keep us from illness.
To keep our jobs strong.
To keep our economy prosperous.
Are we doing so because we LOVE God?
Or because we LOVE prosperity?
Because we TRUST God to take care of us…
Or we don’t TRUST life without stuff?
Because we FEAR God and know he’s in control…
Or because we FEAR the virus and think it is?
Worship is not a means for you to get PROSPERITY.
It’s a way to show trust in God when there isn’t PROSPERITY.
Because think about this.
You don’t have to mourn to bring the real God back from the dead.
He did that on his own.
God turned Ezekiel around.
And led him away from the entrance.
And said, “You will see even greater abominations than these.” (v.15)
(4) The Idol of REBELLION
Finally, God brought (Ezekiel) to the inner courtyard of the House of the Lord, and there at the entrance to the temple of the Lord, between the vestibule and the altar.
This is the main event.
It’s the place where priests would offer sacrifices to God.
It’s the place where priests would offer prayers to God.
It’s the place where priests would sing worship songs to God.
Usually that was done facing the altar (not that God was the altar), but it was a visual reminder that all of their worship was directed to God.
These men weren’t facing the altar.
Their backs were.
There were twenty-five men, showing their backsides to the temple of the Lord with their faces toward the east, and they were bowing down to the sun. (v.16)
They didn’t care what God wanted.
They did what they wanted.
And what they wanted was to be like all the other nations.
Worship isn’t about you.
It isn’t about what you want.
It isn’t about what you like.
It isn’t about what you desire.
It’s about God.
And here’s the warning, if you are making worship all about YOU, then it’s as if your back is turned to the altar.
As if you’re worshipping the sun.
As if you’re stinking a branch up God’s nose.
Look at that figure of speech in verse 17, “They are even sticking the branch up my nose!”
It’s the Old Testament equivalent to thumbing your nose at God.
Only the phrase is usually “stick a branch to my nose.”
God says that this open rebellion isn’t just a branch to his nose, but a branch up his nose.
This seems like a TERRIBLE idea.
III. The Church’s Real God
How does the REAL God feel about all this idolatry among his people?
“I also will act in wrath. My eye will not show pity, and I will have no compassion. They will call out to my ears with a loud cry, but I will not hear them.”
This segues directly into the very next chapter. Where God tells his servants to go through out Jerusalem and bring destruction to all who worship idols. And the messenger is about to go.
But before he does, he gives the messenger one last instruction:
The Lord said, “Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a TAV on the foreheads of those who moan and lament over the abominations being committed in her.” (v.4)
Those were the ones that God wouldn’t destroy.
Those who heard his message and repented.
But we need to talk about this “tav”. It’s a Hebrew letter that makes the sound of a “t”.
In the modern world, it looks similar to a lower case “n” just with a rocking chair like foot to the bottom left and a crossing between the two strokes at the top.
If you trace the history of the tav back to the time of Ezekiel?
It’s a cross.
Not that anyone who read this at Ezekiel’s time said, “There is a savior who will come and die on the cross to remove our sins of idolatry in God’s temple…” But as we look back and see what Ezekiel was saying, “Isn’t this amazing?”
Jesus has covered your sins.
His death on the cross has covered.
He has covered your idolatry of jealousy.
He has covered your idolatry of reputation.
he has covered your idolatry of prosperity.
He has covered your idolatry of rebellion.
He has covered you with his blood, called you his child, and made you his church.
Rejoice! You are forgiven!
IV. What Now?
(1) Honor God in Church
This is the main principle of worship. We want everything we do to be Christ centered.
It’s why Jesus comes up so much throughout the service:
In the songs.
In the prayers.
In the lessons.
In the kids’ lesson.
In the artwork.
In the bulletin.
On the powerpoint.
in the sermon, etc.
That’s absolutely what God has called us as church leadership to do.
But God also calls you to honor God in worship.
To throw out your jealousies.
To throw out your worries about reputation.
To throw out your desires for prosperity.
To throw out your own sinful wants and desires.
To worship God.
(2) Honor God AS Church
The Bible teaches in 1 Corinthians 6:19 that “you are the temple of God and the Holy Spirit lives in you.”
God loved you.
He bought you.
He threw out your idols.
And made your heart his temple.
In your heart, there’s a sign outside that says, “God is worshipped here.”
Because when you do, this whole thing about idolatry in church flips.
Instead of idols entering God’s domain of the church,
God’s church enters the idol’s domain of the world.
IDOLATRY: Identifying Idols
Last week we defined IDOLATRY. It is worshipping something that is NOT GOD as GOD. In the Old Testament, idolatry was very OPEN. People crafted statues, bowed to them, and offered sacrifices to them.
If that were the only version of idolatry, then today’s sermon on identifying idols would be pretty simple.
Step One. Go to your house.
Step Two. Identify any statues that you regularly pray to.
Step Three. Use a Sharpie and write on that statues – THIS IS AN IDOL.
Step Four. Throw those statues in the garbage.
But there’s a second definition of idolatry that we looked at last week. It happens when people unknowingly place something or someone in God’s place. We call this HIDDEN idolatry.
How does one identify hidden idols?
Today we will learn from God’s Word how to identify idols in our hearts. Before we do that, 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; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A “Gotcha” Question
The Scripture we’re searching today comes from Matthew 22:32-40. It takes place on the Tuesday before Jesus died. Tensions were between Jesus and the religious leaders of the city. So, that day was filled with theological showdowns. With a large crowd of people watching, the various religious groups asked Jesus questions in order to make him look like a fool.
It was GOTCHA journalism. Their questions were designed to make Jesus look like a fool or heretic in front of the public. If Jesus answered the wrong way, they were able to tell everyone that Jesus was a fool or a heretic.
If this would have happened in in 2020, social media would have jumped down Jesus’ throat.
There would have been ads on Facebook that said, “Expert in the Law EXPOSES Jesus” CLICK HERE.
Instagram memes making fun of what Jesus said.
Hashtags on Twitter: #JesusGetsOwned
Look at the question that one expert in the law comes up with:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” (v.36)
All of God’s commands are important.
All of God’s commands are good.
If they can get Jesus to pick one over the other…
If Jesus says, “Honor your Father and Mother” is most important, then can respond by saying, “So it’s not that big of a deal to kill someone?”
If Jesus says, “You shall not commit adultery” is most important, they can spread the word, “Jesus says stealing isn’t really that bad.”
If Jesus says, “You shall remember the Sabbath Day” is most important, they can tell others that “Jesus support coveting!”
If they could get Jesus to seemingly contradict what Scripture says,
He’d be an easy target for a smear campaign.
It’s not wise to try and pull one over on Jesus.
Look at Jesus’ response:
Jesus said to him, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets depends on these two commandments.” (v.38-40)
Notice that Jesus answers the questions about the singular greatest commandment by giving two.
The first command he lists is a version of the first commandment that God had written down on the two tables of stone given to Moses. (We talked about that story last week). That command is, “You shall have no other gods.” Jesus’ version is similar. “Love God more than anything.”
But then Jesus continues and mentions a second command in conjunction with the first: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
This command isn’t labelled as second in importance or value.
Just as the second command he’s going to list.
Jesus means that there is a link between the two:
One can’t love a neighbor as himself without loving God above all things.
One can’t love God above all things without loving their neighbor as themselves
In other words, all God’s commands are great, because all God’s commands are about love for God.
Love for GOD is the HEART of all commands.
Just like a heart needs to be pumping in order to send blood into all the area of the body so that your fingers pinch, your knees bend, and your tongue blows raspberries, so love for God pumps love throughout spiritual veins that we follow his commands.
Think about it:
Love for God leads to keeping the 3rd commandment in worship of God.
Love for God leads to keeping the 4th commandment and honoring the parents God gave you.
Love for God leads to keeping the 5th commandment and not harboring hatred for people God loves.
Love for God leads to keeping the 6th commandment and not viewing a soul that God created as being there for your pleasure.
Love for God leads to keeping the 7th commandments and not stealing what God has provided for his people.
Love for God leads to keeping the 8th commandment and not gossiping about people that God says he cares deeply about.
Love for God leads to keeping the 9th & 10th commandments and totally trusting that God has given you exactly what you need.
II. Identifying Idols
Jesus wins the battle of wits with the Pharisees. But that’s not all Jesus does. In his words, Jesus provides a blueprint for identifying idols in our lives. How? Look at Jesus’ words again.
(1) Your Idols are things that vie for YOUR HEART
The heart has always been used as a symbol for love. Although the actual human heart doesn’t exactly like the Valentine’s Day shape (there aren’t four ventricles), it is what keeps your blood pumping. As a result, the ancient world began to use the heart as a symbol to describe what “got your blood pumping.”
Therefore, we want to LOVE the Lord our God with all our heart!
Imagine for a moment that you were happily married.
Your heart was completely and absolutely in love with your spouse.
In fact, you were celebrating your anniversary down at Sullivan’s steakhouse.
You decide to reveal to your spouse that for your anniversary, you signed both of you up for a dating app.
Of course not, you’d be putting your marriage in jeopardy by allowing others who aren’t your spouse to attempt to vie for your heart with text message, with photos, with flirty, heart shaped emojis!
It’s the same with idols.
Your idols are the things that are vying for God’s place in your heart.
Could be your career.
Your bank account.
Careful. The things you love will try to crowd God out of your heart.
(2) Your Idols are things that vie for YOUR SOUL
The soul is a word used to describe the miraculous life within each of us. Our soul is who we are. In the Bible, the soul is often in need of rest.
Psalm 62 says, “My soul rests in God.”
Psalm 116 says, “Return to rest my soul, for God has been good to you.”
In Matthew 11, Jesus says, “In Me…You will find rest for your souls.”
If you’re resting, you’re doing so because you have faith everything will be ok while you’re sleeping.
If you’re awake, you’re not confident. You’re staying up late at the campfire watching for bobcats to attack.
GOD is the one we are to trust in.
So, idols are the things that vie for the TRUST of your soul.
I remember a Starting Point class that I did once. We were on lesson two – the lesson that really focuses in on sin and God’s grace. It’s the Gospel – the truth that we are sinner in need of a savior and we have a Savior in Jesus, trust him.
And this one guy said --
Nah. There’s gotta be more. I just don’t trust that Jesus did it all.
I’m a pretty good person.
I give a couple thousand dollars each year to charity.
I volunteered at the homeless shelter recently.
I think I TRUST that way more than some guy who died 2000 years ago.
Did you see what happened?
“Good things that he did” had become an idol.
It was crowded God out of his soul.
Careful. Things you trust will try to do the same.
(3) Your Idols are things that vie for YOUR MIND
The mind is a rational place. It is the place that looks as a situation and determines how scary it is. For instance, your mind is the thing that says, “Wow. There is an angry gorilla on the loose. I think I’ll stay in my locked house out of respect for the mad gorilla.”
Your mind houses FEAR.
Honestly, there is no being that should induce more FEAR than GOD!
God is all powerful.
God controls lighting
God controls thunder.
God controls tornados, volcanoes and hurricanes.
God is not to be crossed!
Your idols will try to convince you that they are scarier than God.
“I know God says this and it’d be scary to face him, but…it’s probably scarier to face the ridicule of society.”
“I know God hates sin and he threatens to exclude sinners from heaven, but…if you don’t do this sin you might be excluded from your friend group.”
“I know God says it’d be better for those who don’t teach their kids about God to be thrown into a lake with a millstone around their neck, but if you don’t take your kids to that birthday party, the other parents will *GASP* think you’re a bad parent.”
Careful. Things you fear will try to crowd God out of your mind.
Here’s the concluding truth to all of this:
Idolatry occurs when we FEAR, LOVE, or TRUST anything more than GOD.
Have you been practicing hidden idolatry?
If you go back to the connection between the two commandments though, there’s a foolproof test to determine this.
Because if love for God leads to an ability to keep the commandments.
Then an inability to keep the commandments is indicative of loving something other than God.
It means there another something else in my heart.
Pumping out its own agenda.
Shouting at the parents that GOD gave you because YOU don’t like what they did? Idolatry.
Holding a grudge against the church people that GOD loves because YOU don’t want to give them the satisfaction of forgiveness? Idolatry.
Staring down that blouse of the coworker that GOD created because YOU like the way it excites YOU? Idolatry.
Stealing that dollar bill from the billfold of your friend that GOD gave you, because YOU want it? Idolatry.
Badmouthing a friend via text message, a friend that God loves and died for and calls his beloved child, because her success makes YOU feel bad? Idolatry.
If you didn’t catch the point, idolatry happens whenever we sin.
And God hates idolatry.
III. The Only Non-Idolater
Thankfully there is good news.
Thankfully there is one who lived his whole life as a non-idolater.
In fact, he’s the only person in the history of humanity who never, ever committed idolatry.
(1) Jesus FEARED, LOVED, and TRUSTED God above All.
Jesus was in heaven.
Jesus never had to deal with anything difficult.
He could have chosen to sit up there in a divine heavenly hammock eating a heavenly four course meals!
But he didn’t.
He loved God more than his divine existence, so he came into this sin filled earth.
He feared God more than he feared what might happen to him, so he became a mortal being.
He trusted God more than he trusted the devil’s plan to “bow down and worship him”, so he followed God’s plan.
He loved God more than his own body, so he allowed humans to arrest him.
He feared God more than his captors, so he allowed them to lead him to the courtroom.
He trusted God more than his disciples’ plan to destroy all those awful Pharisees, and he allowed himself to die.
But God’s love wasn’t the only reason that Jesus did this.
(2) Jesus loved YOU as himself.
In fact, we might even say, “more than himself.”
When things got bad.
When he saw the back of the last prisoner to be whipped…
When he saw the sharp point of the nails…
When he saw the blood-stained wood of the cross…
When he saw the gravestones of those who had been crucified…
Jesus said, “OK.”
Because he loved you.
He loved you more than his breath.
He loved you more than his life.
He loved you as himself.
As his brother.
As his sister.
As his dear friend.
And the result?
Because of Jesus death, you are forgiven of all your idolatry.
For all the times you feared other things more than God, you are forgiven.
For all the times you trusted other things more than God, you are forgiven.
For all the times you loved other things more than God, you are forgiven.
There’s a reason you want GOD to fill your hearts,
Because GOD filled his heart with YOU.
IV. What Now?
(1) Identify Your Idols
Take advantage of the fact that God has forgiven you.
He has made you a part of his kingdom.
He has equipped you with guidance on identifying your idols.
I want you to take a moment and think about it.
What are the things you fear, love and trust more than GOD?
You can NOT do that. But if that’s your choice, understand it’ll be as if you had the choice between God on high and the Mr. Potato head idol from last week and for some reason you said to God – I think I need both.
You need only God.
Work on identifying your idols.
Write them down.
(2) Throw them Out
Sometimes, the idol is inherently sinful, and you absolutely should throw it out.
Got a bottle of booze that you love more than God? Toss it.
Got a prescription drug that you trust more than God? Stop abusing it.
Got a group of friends that you fear more than God? Stop hanging around them.
Sometimes, the idol isn’t something you can simply throw out.
In that case, spend some time each day identifying these things for what they are:
This is my spouse. I love her, but she’s not God.
This is my job. I appreciate it, but it’s not my job.
This is a dollar bill. It’s helpful, but it’s not my God.
While you might not be able to throw them out in an actual garbage can,
God calls us to throw them out of his place in your heart.
(3) Fill Your Heart with God.
Because here’s the truth about your heart.
When it’s filled with God, there isn’t room for any idols to get in.
It’s like a glass of water.
If you fill it with God, there’s no room for anything else.
And how do you fill your heart with God?
By spending time with him.
A personal bible study.
A group bible study.
A worship service.
A midweek service.
A morning devotion.
A bible reading.
A lunchtime devotion.
A devotion with your spouse.
Just having a conversation with your family about your savior.
God’s Word fills us with the message of Jesus.
We see how much he loves us.
And God convinces us…
We don’t need any phony idols.
We have the real GOD.
IDOLATRY: Defining Idolatry
Today we’re beginning a new series called IDOLATRY. We’re going to examine the Scriptures and our hearts that we might be more devoted to our Savior. Today our goal is to get a definition for what idolatry is. To do that, we’re going to deeply examine the very first commandment. Before we do that, 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; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Defining “god” and “God”
The Ten Commandments are recorded in Exodus 20. But it might be helpful to set the scene for these commandments. Nowadays we are used to laws being made by a bunch of people in suits. They argue on CSPAN, campaign with voters, enter a board room, and, after months of discussion, come back with 47 pages of rules that aren’t that much different from the last set of rules.
This isn’t that.
A man named Moses and a group of people called the Israelites are at the foot of a mountain called Sinai. They have been told that God will soon be giving them the Ten Commandments.
Suddenly, they begin to hear thunder.
Flashes of lightning streak the sky.
The mountain itself begins to quake.
And a thick cloud of smoke begins to come from the top of the mountain.
Then, a booming voice calls MOSES to join him at the summit.
But to leave everyone else at the foot of the mountain.
And Moses turns to the people,
“You guys cool with staying down here?”
Moses makes his way up the mountain and it becomes very clear. He will only be a messenger.
There will be no discussion.
There will be no campaigning.
There will be give and take.
There will be only Moses listening to this powerful voice.
And then, the voice introduces itself:
I am the Lord your God. (Exodus 20:2)
The book of Exodus was written down by Moses in the Hebrew language, because that is what the people of Israel spoke. As we examine that Hebrew, we grasp a better understand of exactly what is meant.
The Hebrew word for God is Elohim. It is a noun that is formed from a verb roof “eleh” that means “to adore.” That means…
You might “eleh” your newborn child.
You might “eleh” your spouse.
You might “eleh” tiramisu.
The noun, “Elohim”, is really a participle form of the verb “to adore.” The literal root meaning is “an adored one”. When “eleh” is used with “eloyhim” the word has a higher level than simple adoration.
It means “worship.”
According to the Hebrew language, then…
A “god” is something or someone that is ADORED or WORSHIPED.
The being that is speaking identifies himself as the one that Moses worships. But for Moses’ sake, and for ours, he lists his credentials for being worshiped.
(1) He is the LORD.
That’s the name of the Divine Being that first spoke to ancestor of Israelite people.
It is the name of the One that promised to make them into a great nation.
It is the name of the One that promised to send a Savior for all of humanity through their genealogy.
(2) He is the One who brought them out of Egypt where they were slaves.
And he did it in a powerful way!
When the King of Egypt wouldn’t listen to his plan to set the Israelites free from slavery,
The LORD turned all the water of Egypt into blood.
He sent plagues of flies, gnats, frogs, and locusts.
He turned the daylight into darkness.
He destroyed all the Egyptian crops with hail.
He infected the Egyptian’s skin with boils.
He warned the Egyptian King, but when he didn’t listen. He put to death every firstborn son in all of Egypt.
He split a sea of water into two walls for the Israelites to escape.
He had that sea of water come crashing down onto the Egyptians that were giving chase.
He fed them with bread from above.
And…he just caused the thunder, lightning, earthquake, and smoke spectacle on Mount Sinai.
And this One with all the credentials, has one simple, starting command for the people of Israel.
“You shall have no other gods before me.” (v.3)
The reason? There are no other beings, things, people, or stuff that are more worthy of being praised than me!
GOD is the One WORTHY of being MOST adored.
It’s like the MVP award in ACC basketball. There might be a lot of players who are valuable players, but they don’t give out 47 Valuable Player awards at the end of the season. They give only one. They give out one Most Valuable Player Award for Most Valuable Player.
GOD is the Most Valuable “god” because there is no being more worthy of worship than Him.
II. Defining “Idolatry”
But our sermon series is called “idolatry”, not “God.” So…what exactly is idolatry and what does that have to do with God?
Read the next part of God’s command:
You shall not make any carved image for yourself or a likeness of anything in heaven above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow down to them or be subservient to them. (v.5a)
What GOD is describing here is the ancient practice of IDOLATRY. This was actually a very common practice among many nations in the world. A people group would create a piece of art from wood or stone. They’d set it up in their homes and then, they would bow down to it. They’d pray to it. They’d give it gifts.
They’d adore it and make it their “god.”
To be fair, they often took their inspiration from some of the things that GOD created.
From the heavens. The Egyptian people had worshipped the sun god, named Ra! The theory was that the sun was big. It was amazing. It kept people warm. It was responsible for photosynthesis and if you didn’t respect it, you’d get sunburn. Surely, the SUN was worthy of worship.
From the Earth below. Another popular “god” was Baal! Baal was a large bull-like creature. The thought was that bull were muscular. Bulls were strong. Bulls would destroy you if you wore red. Bulls were not to be trifled with, so…worship a BULL!
From the waters under the earth. “Dagon” was a big fish-like god. It was worshipped in Ancient Babylonian culture. Again – the thought was that the sea was big. The sea was strong. The sea provided all kinds of food. If you didn’t respect the sea, then you’d be drowned. And what better to represent the sea than a giant fish man! So…worship giant fish man.
An idol is something CREATED to be most ADORED.
Wouldn’t THAT be an art project to do with your child? Go to Michael’s. Grab some markers, feathers, glitter, a variety of beads, and then you go home and take time gluing them into a rock.
Viola! We have something to worship.
That just doesn’t seem to make any sense, does it?
Especially if you are the people of Israel and you have been firsthand witnesses to God’s glorious acts.
Fast forward a bit --
Moses had been on the mountain top for days. God had just finished up writing down all his commands on two large pieces of stone. They were literally written by the finger of the LORD GOD himself.
Moses must have been excited to get down the mountain and show the people of Israel.
To show them what their great, incredible God had told him.
To show them, tell them about the very first command:
“It says, ‘You shall have no other gods.’ It means that we just shouldn’t make one of those idols like the other nations. We’ve got that one down, right?”
But as Moses made his way down the mountain.
He heard singing.
He heard partying.
He heard laughter.
As he made his way around the corner of a rock, the camp came into view.
There were the people.
And this large golden statue.
One they had just freshly made.
A statue of a golden calf.
That they were worshipping.
Idolatry is WORSHIPPING something NOT-GOD, as GOD.
In anger, Moses lifts the stone tablets and slams them to the ground.
A metaphor for how the Israelite people had shattered the very first commandment.
Is it that simple?
Just don’t make yourself an arts & craft IDOL and you’re in the clear on this commandment?
It still seems like an ancient command for ancient people, doesn’t it?
My high school senior year I was HONORABLE MENTION in the now defunct, Parkland Football conference as a linebacker. It came with a certificate and everything.
Shortly afterwards, I received an offer letter from the University of Wisconsin -Whitewater to try out for their football program. (Granted – all my other Senior Teammates received the same letter, but I digress.)
I remember feeling so good about that. I immediately envisioned myself becoming a starter and most valuable player for the Martin Luther College football team. (A small ministry college in Minnesota.) Over summer, I spent the summer in the weight room, running hills, and perfecting my high knees so that I could make this dream come true.
The very first game of my college career was on the road. Since we were a small Division 3 school, we could only take so many players.
I was cut.
And I was so angry. I remember going back to my dorm room and packing some things up in a duffel bag! I thought my world was over. I didn’t know if I’d ever be happy again. I was angry.
I thought, “If I didn’t make the football team, then what is the purpose going to this college designed at training you to go serve Jesus?”
If I could talk to 19-year-old me, I would say…
I don’t know.
Perhaps going into the ministry…
… and serving Jesus.
Did you see what I did?
I placed FOOTBALL in place of GOD.
I placed HONORABLE MENTION CERTIFICATE in place of GOD.
I placed FAME & FORTUNE (division 3 fame and fortune) in place of our SAVIOR.
I created an idol.
That leads to a more modern definition of idolatry.
Idolatry is PLACING something in GOD’S PLACE.
God said it this way, “You shall have no other gods BESIDES me.”
The word translated in English “beside” is sometimes translated “in front of.”
This makes for an excellent visual.
All you need is a few Duplos (or any child’s size block will do.)
Take one Duplos and write on it, “GOD” in all caps. That represents our Lord.
Then, take some others and write on them “IDOLS.” These represents anything that gets in the way.
What happens when you place these idols IN FRONT OF the LORD GOD.
God is important. But FOOTBALL is too. It’s only a small thing. I’ll just place it right here.
God is important. I still see that. But MY BANK ACCOUNT is. Can’t survive without money.
God is important. But so is a RELATIONSHIP. Even if I must compromise a few of my beliefs, God…well…you understand.
God is important…I think...But so is SOCIETY. Even God tells me to do something, I better check and see if society is ok with it.
And I’m an adult now. so…God I’ll get to you. After I take care of my CHILDREN.
God is kind of valuable…but so is my POPULARLITY. I’ll have to skip church while I check my social media likes.
God is ok I guess…but this BEER tastes really good.
God is fine…unless he gets in the way of my relationship. Because that’s the person whose approval I really want.
This is idolatry.
And idolatry is a big deal.
III. Why such a BIG Deal?
(1). God is JEALOUS.
…for I the Lord your God am a jealous God. (v.5b)
Sometimes people read that phrase and they think, “Jealousy?”
Isn’t that a sin?
Is God being sinful?
There’s an extreme difference between HOLY God jealousy and SINFUL human jealousy.
If you were up for an Employee of the Month award at Burger King and in that month you worked overtime every week, you sold more burgers than anyone else and you got there earlier than anyone else to scrub more grease on the floor than anyone else. You even came in at your manager’s request when that one guy was “sick”, the one whose Facebook status said, “Playing hooky today. Pity the fool that had to take my place.”
And at the employee meeting, the Boss reveals the employee of the month.
And it’s that guy.
When you are giving all your LOVE to something that doesn’t love you like God does.
When you are giving all your RESPECT to something that isn’t as powerful as God.
When you are giving all your TRUST to something that isn’t God.
God is jealous.
(2). God is VENGEFUL.
I follow up on the guilt of the fathers with their children, their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren, if they also hate me, but I show mercy to thousands who love me and keep my commandments (v.5c)
The phrase “follow up” comes from a Hebrew word that means “to make an official visit to bring punishment” upon someone.
Think of it like the cops showing up at a house to arrest someone during a domestic dispute.
Or the principal coming to your classroom to take someone to his office.
Or your mom coming to the toy room, to grab you by the ear and take you upstairs.
GOD is a just God.
GOD is a holy God.
It is unjust to call something GOD that isn’t GOD.
It is just to punish the injustice of calling something GOD that isn’t GOD.
In simple language,
idolatry is a sin.
it deserves God’s punishment.
Considering GOD makes thunder.
And the lightning strike.
And the mountain tremble.
And the smoke simmer.
GOD isn’t someone you want to cross.
But why is God so angry?
It’s deeper than simply God is jealous that you aren’t giving him the glory due him.
(3). God is SAVIOR.
Fast forward thousands of years from Moses.
The Law of Moses is still in place.
And a group of men have caught a woman in the act of adultery.
They grab her.
They bring her outside.
They throw her to the ground.
And, passing by at the time, Jesus.
He’s a righteous teacher.
Jesus! Join us. She committed sin. She committed adultery and by doing so she committed idolatry.
She has made SEX her God.
She has made INTIMACY her God.
She’d rather obey her urges then the one who created her.
Let’s help God out and FOLLOW UP on her guilt.
Jesus replied, “OK. Sounds good. Let’s let the one without sin throw the first stone.”
And the woman was in tears.
They were right.
She had sinned.
She had made something God that wasn’t God.
And that “god” couldn’t save her.
Surely, she had broken the first commandment.
She deserved to have God “follow up on her guilt.”
By leading these men in hurling stone at her.
She braced herself.
And heard a rock hit something.
But it wasn’t her skin.
It was the ground.
In fact, piles and piles of rocks hit the ground.
And all the men left.
And Jesus said this, “I do not condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.”
Do you get it?
Jesus gave mercy.
Jesus gave forgiveness.
Jesus loved her.
And this is the reason that GOD wants us to keep him as our number one God!
Because he is the Savior.
He lived perfectly.
He died innocently.
He rose triumphantly.
To save us.
Look at the end of verse 6. But I show mercy to thousands who love me and keep my commandments. (v.6)
When we turn to IDOLs that fail miserably at saving us from sin, it fills him with eternal frustration.
Because they can’t show mercy,
Only the real GOD can.
And he did.
And he does.
Do you get it?
The number one reason for you to ADORE God above all else,
The reason that God gets angry when IDOLS take your attention away from him.
Is because God ADORED you above all else.
Even his own life, breath, and heartbeat.
The God we serve is the one who served us.
The God we adored is the one who adored us.
The God we worship is the only one who saves. Amen.
We’re continuing our sermon series about EYEWITNESS Easter accounts where we read reports from people who saw Jesus come back to life with their own eyes.
We heard from a group of three women at the tomb.
We heard from Mary Magdalene a bit later.
We heard from 2 disciples on a road trip to Emmaus.
We heard from about 20 disciples in a locked room.
In total on Easter Sunday, there’s around 25 eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ resurrection.
In 4 different locations.
At 4 different times.
That’s a lot of proof.
And yet…maybe you’re not convinced…
Have you ever played the game of OLD MAID before?
What happens is you are dealt a hand of cards. Once it’s your turn you draw cards from any other player on the table. The goal is to get pairs until you run out of cards in your hand. And you never, ever want to get the Old Maid.
Which I’m not sure why anyone doesn’t want the Old Maid.
Generally speaking – I’d love an Old Maid.
It’d be great to have someone help around the house…but I digress.
What happened when I was growing up is my dad used to take his hand.
He’d spread it out in a fan.
He’d take one card and put it up…enticing-like.
And he’d say, “You should take this one. Trust me. It’ll be good.”
And I’d believe him.
Eventually. I didn’t take that card.
I was burned too many times.
I was skeptical.
Maybe you’ve gotten the Old Maid too many times.
Maybe you’ve been burned too often.
Maybe you’ve believed too many sinful people who have let you down too many times.
Maybe you’re skeptical about Jesus.
Today we’ll look an eyewitness account from a guy that was filled with skepticism. Our goal is to listen to how Jesus transforms his skepticism to faith – and see how we might transform ours into faith. 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. The Eyewitness Account
Thomas’ eyewitness account comes from John 20. It starts in verses 24 with a caveat, “Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.“ It doesn’t say what Thomas was doing when Jesus appeared to all of the other disciples. Picture what you’d like. Maybe he was out for a walk. Maybe he was visiting a relative.
I like to think he was out getting coffee.
Probably a Venti black coffee.
And as he was sipping the coffee – because the coffee is taking his mind off the terrible events that have happened recently - he sighs.
This is really awful.
We spent years following that guy.
He’s no Messiah.
And we’ve got no hope.
As Thomas gets close to the door of the house, he takes a deep breath.
They are my friends. I should try and cheer them up. Get them ready to move on.
But from within the house –
Thomas doesn’t hear sadness.
He doesn’t hear crying.
Thomas has to really knock on the door to get them to hear him over their talking.
Finally, the door bursts open:
Alive! Thomas! He’s alive.
We saw him. We saw him. We saw him.
Thomas – we touched him. We put our fingers in his hands. We put our hands into his side.
Jesus’ resurrection is real!
And this goes on for a while.
Thomas’ friends trying to share their exuberance with their friend.
Ya’ll are crazy.
I don’t know happened. If you had too much to drink or you’re hallucinating.
But.. I do know what didn’t happen.
Jesus didn’t visit you.
He isn’t alive.
When will you guys get it through your thick skulls!
But one of them approaches:
We aren’t crazy.
We aren’t drunk.
Look around. There’s like 20 of us in the room.
20 of your closest, most sincere, loving friends in this room.
All of whom are telling you the truth – Jesus is alive!
We saw it with our eyes.
We touched him with our hands.
We’re telling you with our words.
Doesn’t that count for something?
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (v.26)
One week later.
Same time of day.
Only this time…
Thomas is with them.
Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” (v.26)
Then, Jesus made a bee-line for Thomas.
Hey friend. “Do you see me?” I’m right here.
Put your finger here. That’s where the nails were.
Put your hand into my side. Isn’t that what you wanted?
While you’re at it. Close your eyes and listen…Can you hear my lungs breathing?
Put your ear against my chest. That’s my heart.
If you won’t listen to your friends.
Listen to me:
Stop doubting and believe. (v.27)
To which Thomas.
Doubting, skeptical Thomas.
Can only say:
“My Lord and my God!” (v.28)
In other words:
II. Resurrection Truth
There it is. Thomas’ eyewitness account.
An account that has made Thomas forever known as Doubting Thomas.
Which – not super flattering.
I think, anxious Thomas, kinda-believing Thomas. or even average, everyday common Thomas would have been preferable.
But Doubting Thomas it is…and that’s important. Because his skepticism leads us to three incredible resurrection truths:
(1) Jesus Rose from the Dead
Fourth time it’s been key truth #1. It’ll keep coming.
But for real this time – because if last week’s account of 20 some odd people seeing, feeling, touching the risen Jesus … if that wasn’t enough.
Then, Thomas’ account is for you.
If you don’t believe this happened, Thomas’ words are for you.
He says, “I get it. I was skeptical too. Some guy dying and rising for the forgiveness of sins? It sounds crazy. It doesn’t happen. But it did. I saw him with my own eyes. I touched him with my own hands. I did a thorough investigation – And it led me to this truth: Jesus is alive!”
And here’s the really cool part.
If Jesus is really alive.
Then so is his forgiveness.
Even for the doubter.
Because…notice what Jesus does when he enters the room.
The first thing he says is: “Peace to you.”
That “you” is plural.
It is all encompassing.
It includes Thomas.
Jesus didn’t say, “Peace be to most of you…but not you Thomas. You can sit over there and be anxious for a bit.”
Jesus brought real forgiveness.
Even to the doubter.
Because maybe you’ve been doubting God.
Maybe you doubt this resurrection.
Maybe you’ve been doubting this Jesus thing.
Maybe you’ve never believed before.
Maybe you doubt God is with you, that God cares for you, that God loves you.
And listen to Jesus’ voice:
“Peace be to you.”
(2) Faith is a Gift
Thomas had said, “Unless I see Jesus with my own eyes and touch him with my own hands, I will not believe.”
Stop and listen to what just happened.
Sinful, imperfect Thomas just gave Holy, Righteous God…an ultimatum.
God doesn’t owe Thomas anything.
And yet – God gives Thomas exactly what he asks for.
He GIFTS Thomas exactly what he asked for.
He gives him the opportunity to be an eyewitness.
He gives Thomas faith.
And in fact, go a bit farther:
Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (vs. 29)
People who haven’t seen Jesus.
Who is Jesus talking about?
You see Jesus?
Dear believer, he’s talking about you.
But don’t get a big head. Listen again to Jesus’ words:
Blessed means given a gift.
And if you believe in Jesus…
If you believe that some dude died 2000 years ago, came back to life, and in him you are forgiven of all your sins?
That…is a gift.
A miraculous gift.
Don’t forget that.
I was talking with a woman the other day who was pretty excited to tell me that she got saved.
I said, “Oh. That sounds nice. What do you mean?”
And she said, “Well…I was already living a pretty perfect life. So, I though I might as well do it and decide to bring Jesus into my life. And Pastor, you should have seen it. I really did it.”
Did you catch that?
I did it. I did it. I did it.
I thought she said that she “got saved.”
But what she meant was, “I saved myself.”
Here’s the thing:
Faith isn’t something you do.
Faith isn’t something that you make happen.
Faith isn’t something that you get down on the ground, clench really hard and will into happening.
Faith is a gift of God.
If the devil has made you think that it’s something you do – be careful. It’s a line of thinking that leads to two scenarios:
(1) Pharisaical. AKA – Trust that I’m really awesome at believing.
(2) Despair. Because I’ll never be able to bring myself to believe this.
In both of those instances, faith isn’t in Jesus.
Faith is in oneself.
And that’s NOT saving faith.
Friends, faith is a gift.
Take a moment.
Give thanks to God for your Savior Jesus, yes.
But also gives thanks to God for your gift of faith.
(3) The Gift of Faith Comes through the Gospel
Because maybe you’re thinking – “God! I want this gift of faith. How are you going to send it?”
Maybe you can send me it via USPS?
But look at what John writes right after this eyewitness account. He says this: Jesus did many other miracles in the presence of his disciples – some that we didn’t even get to hear about – but these words are written – why? – that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (v.30-31)
Faith is a gift that comes through God’s Word.
Faith is a gift that comes through the words about Jesus.
Faith is a gift that comes from hearing about your Savior.
Scripture says this, “Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:8,9)
There’s not any fireworks.
There isn’t any magic incantations.
There isn’t any incredible 60 day fast that you need to do in order to cleanse your body and pray yourself into the kingdom of faith.
You simply need to hear the Gospel.
Because the Gospel brings the gift of faith.
How does it do that?
Because it’s not just some person’s words.
It’s the Word of God Himself.
The all-powerful, all loving, doing everything it can to reveal to you Jesus’ saving work to get you to heaven: God’s Word.
That leads me to two very simple WHAT NOWs:
(1) Immerse Yourself in God’s Word
Because if you have doubts, if you are unsure, if you are a skeptic…
The cure is not an ultimatum to God.
The cure is God’s Word.
His gentle, powerful, faith creating Word.
I love you.
I died for you.
I rose for you.
If you want a stronger faith – study God’s Word.
In church. In a group. With others. On your own. In your family.
If you think your faith will grow without God’s Word – that’s like thinking your home garden will grow without any water.
It won’t happen.
Some of ya’ll need to hear God’s Word on this. Immerse yourself in the only thing that gifts faith in order to grow your faith: God’s Word.
(2) Share God’s Word
Because you probably know someone who is a skeptic.
You probably know someone who is unsure.
You probably know someone who is doubting.
You might even think – I don’t know what needs to be done.
You know the solution.
It’s God’s Word.
Bring them God’s Word.
Tell them about Jesus.
Tell them about the Savior.
Because it is through that message of God’s Word and only through that message of God’s Word that God gifts faith. Why it’s so important to share it with others.
Go and tell!
We are in the middle of our Eyewitness sermon series and so far, we have heard Eyewitness reports from Mary Magdalene and from the Emmaus Disciples (Named? Cleopas and the other guy). In addition, we heard there’s a group of at least three other women (Mary the mother of James, Joanna and others—Lk. 24:10) who saw Jesus alive as well. That means by evening on Easter Sunday there are 5 people who have witnessed Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
The unlikely story is building credibility.
DNA testing was introduced into our court system in the early 90s. Did you know that hundreds of people who were previously convicted by eyewitness reports have been found not-guilty thanks to the DNA Testing? In 70% of those cases, the reason for conviction was the eyewitness testimony of one or two people.
John Wixted, a psychologist for the University of California, San Diego – wanted to see how useful eyewitness testimony was. He conducted an experiment with police that focused on 348 robberies in 2013 that involved an eyewitness and a single suspect. He showed the eyewitness a group of 5 photos in which one was the convicted robber. The eyewitnesses got the correct suspect 1/3 of the time.
But…in addition to quizzing eyewitnesses on the correct suspect, he also asked them about their certainty – whether they were unsure, certain, or very certain.
Of the people who were very certain? They correctly identified the suspect 75% of the time.
And when there was even one other supporting eyewitness, the rate of correct identification shot up to 90%.
By evening on the very first Easter, Jesus was identified as risen by at least 5 eyewitnesses.
And their confidence? It was through the roof! They didn’t see Jesus running away or from a distance, but up close and personal.
But…they aren’t even the beginning of the eyewitness accounts.
Today we’ll look an eyewitness account that probably quadruples the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. The goal? Gain your confidence that Jesus is alive. 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. The Eyewitness Account
The eyewitness account is recorded in both the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Luke. We’re going be in both, starting with John. It says, “On the evening of that first day of the week...the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders…” (Jn. 20:19)
The section starts by describing a group of disciples together. The Gospel of Luke helps us better define who the group was gathered together.
A few notes:
It doesn’t involve Judas – he betrayed Judas and took his life because of the guilt.
It doesn’t involve Thomas – take note – we’ll talk more about that next week.
It does involve the Emmaus disciples – Cleopas and what’s-his-name show up to tell them all about their eyewitness experience.
It involves the women – Mary Magdalene, other Mary and Joanna, the other woman – who had seen Jesus rise from the dead.
And…maybe even a few others.
In short, the group is somewhere around 15-20 people.
And the doors were locked. It’s almost a horror film like setting. The disciples have the doors locked, latched, barred, with a couple pieces of furniture stacked against the door – all because they are afraid of the Jewish leaders.
The Jewish leaders just killed Jesus.
They crucified him.
They acted like a mob, wrongfully arrested him, falsely accused him, illegally convicted him, and forced Pilate’s hand to have him crucified.
What if the leaders did the same to them?
What if they had 12 more crosses just waiting to be filled with 12 more disciples?
What if any encounter with a Jewish leader would end the same way that Jesus’ encounter did…death?
And so, they hid.
And…all day long people had been entering the room with really weird accounts.
“We went to the grave and we thought he’d be dead, but the stone was moved!”
“An angel. A brilliantly bright angel. He saw us and spoke to us and said Jesus was alive.”
“It’s true. We listened to Mary. We ran to look. There wasn’t a body in the tomb.”
“I came back later and saw Jesus himself! I know it…because I heard his voice. A voice that healed me from demons.”
“We walked on the road with him. We talked with him. Would we have come all the way back here from Emmaus – a 7-mile sprint? – if we hadn’t really seen something?”
And to be fair – the reports brought excitement.
They brought mystery.
They brought questions.
But mostly…they brought fear.
Lots and lots of fear.
Because this fear of the Jews – had obviously caused their friends – delusions….
…their mind was playing tricks on them!
…a slow descent into madness.
How long until it hit them?
In the midst of the fear, confusion and hushed conversations…
Another guest appeared into the room.
Everyone was so distracted that they did not hear him enter.
Granted --- he didn’t knock.
He just appeared.
While they were…talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (Luke 24:36-37)
And the disciples…have anything but peace!
It’s the ghost!
He’s seeking vengeance.
He’s back to haunt us.
Jesus lifted up his hands.
The disciples braced themselves for the inevitable plasma-ball to come out and consume them.
Jesus said this, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (v.38)
One by one…the disciples looked at each other.
“Touch him? Touch the ghost?”
“You do it.”
“No, you do it.”
“I’m not touching the ghost!”
Finally, Peter pushes his brother Andrew forward.
He lifts up his hand.
He places it on Jesus’ hand…and…
“Whoa…Guys. It’s real.”
The other disciples quickly come over.
They feel the bumps on his skin.
They feel the hairs on his arms.
They touched the holes near his hands.
He has flesh and bone – just like any other living human has.
Jesus asks, “Do you have anything here to eat?” (v.42)
One of them hands over the fish sandwich.
They pass it to Jesus.
It’ll probably fall to the floor – he’s a spirit.
Jesus ate it in their presence. (v.43)
It went into his mouth.
Chewed by his teeth.
Tasted by his tongue.
Into his throat
Into his belly.
Just like it does with any living human being.
Then, Jesus gave them something else.
He said to them, “This is what I said would happen. Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Old Testament.” (v.44)
I had to die.
And I had to rise.
Just as it was written:
“God, you will not abandon my soul to the grave, nor let your Holy One see decay.” (Psalm 16:10)
“After he has suffered, the Messiah will see the light of life…” (Isaiah 53:11)
“Just as Jonah was three days and night in the belly of a fish, so the Son of man will be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth.” (Mt. 12:40)
Friends I am alive.
Jesus’ words echoed…
And the disciples came to a realization.
This wasn’t a hallucination.
This wasn’t a vision.
This wasn’t even a ghost.
This was something much worse.
This was real.
And it couldn’t be more terrifying!
Because the last time most of them saw Jesus?
It was in a garden, late at night, running away as he got arrested.
They had abandoned him.
They had denied him.
They had watched…without doing anything…as he died a slow, painful death on the cross.
They sinned against him…
Now he was back.
Proof that He was who He said He was.
Proof that He was God Almighty who controlled hurricanes, volcanoes and flash floods.
Proof that He was real --- and He was back – and He was back for one reason only:
One by one by the disciples looked towards the grounds.
They knew they were sinners and they were awaiting their sin-hating God to utterly destroy them.
Instead he repeated:
“Peace be with you.”
I am God.
I am alive.
I have the power of life and death.
But I am not angry. (Isaiah 27:4)
I am not here to get you.
I am not here for revenge.
I am here because we won.
Because your sins are forgiven.
Because we are at peace.
II. Resurrection Truth
There it is. The biggest, most populated eyewitness account that we’ve encountered to date.
It’s filled with reasons for confidence.
It’s filled with truth.
What is that truth? Three things:
(1) Jesus Rose from the Dead
Yep. Third time that it’s come up as a truth to learn from the eyewitness account.
Think about it. Jesus goes out of his way to prove that His physical, tangible body is in working order again.
His digestive system works.
His joints work.
His skin works.
He even invites the disciples – all 20-some of them – to do a full, thorough investigation.
Don’t you think they did everything possible to determine if it really was real or not?
Some tapped him.
Someone pinched him.
I gotta imagine someone might have even tried to pluck his arm hair out.
And Jesus allows it! Because it’s real.
And, it’s not just any old tangible working body, but his own working body.
He’s had the nail marks in his hands to prove it.
He’s had holes in his feet to prove it.
He had a big, old slit in his side to prove it.
If this was all one big ruse, then Jesus would have had to convince someone, “Hey, do you mind posing as me after I die on the cross? Really? Cool. Now…I know it sounds crazy, but would you be willing to shove nails into your hands, a stake through your feet and a spear into your side? We’re gonna need those wounds to heal up in order to convince people that it’s really me.”
It didn’t happen.
What did happen?
Jesus really, absolutely, complete rose from the dead.
And that’s important.
Because that means…
(2) We Have Peace
It’s a phrase that Jesus repeats a few times.
“Peace be with you.”
“Peace be with you.”
Because as hard as it might be to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, it might be harder to believe that we have peace with God.
Because we have guilt.
We have sinned.
We have shame.
Truth is – you might be believing that God is so angry with you.
Because of past sins.
Because of BIG past sins.
Because of repeated sins.
Because of unbelief.
Because of not following Jesus.
Because you haven’t been whom God called you to be!
And so…you don’t believe.
And the biggest reason you don’t believe in the resurrection is not be a lack of evidence.
But your biggest reason for not believing in the resurrection is the ramifications.
I am a sinner and lo, God hates me!
But…if Jesus rose.
Then, sin has been defeated.
And…if Jesus rose,
Your sin has been paid for.
And…if your sin has been paid for. Completely. 100% perfectly.
Then, God’s wrath has subsided.
And if God’s wrath has subsided.
Then, you have no reason to be afraid.
Hear Jesus’ words to you:
“Peace be with you.”
Understand. It isn’t because your sin isn’t a big deal – it’s a huge deal.
It isn’t because God doesn’t hate sin and evil – He absolutely does.
It isn’t because you’ve done enough to make up for it – you can’t, and you won’t.
It’s because of Jesus.
Unbelievable as it is – it’s true.
About as unbelievable as a resurrection – also true.
The visible nature of the resurrection provides tangible proof of the invisible truth of reconciliation with God. (Romans 4:25)
The resurrection is the visible proof of the invisible truth:
You have peace with God.
Which leads to our final truth:
(3) You have been Sent
To end his encounter with the disciples, Jesus says, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Do you get it?
God sent Jesus to bring us back to peace with Him.
And He sent risen Jesus to His disciples to confirm that peace with Him.
And He is sending us to share that peace with others.
He is sending YOU to share that peace with others.
Because there are people out there who are far apart from God.
Who are entangled in sin.
Who are covered in guilt.
Who are like those disciples huddled in that room afraid to face the world because they have no peace.
You give them that peace.
You tell them about Jesus.
And there aren’t any qualifications!
He doesn’t say, “If you have Seminary Certification then you have been sent.” Nope.
Qualifications for sharing Jesus include:
(1) Believing in Jesus.
(2) Hearing his call to “Go” and “Be sent.”
Which you just heard…
SO…this means you!
If you’ve known about Jesus since you were a child? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you’ve known about Jesus since this last Easter. Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are a 40 plus year member of this church? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you aren’t even a member yet? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are going home to a retirement community? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are going home to hang out in your playroom? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a master’s degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a bachelor’s degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a high school degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you don’t have any degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live near people who look and act like you? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you live near people who don’t look and don’t act like you? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a Republican? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a Democrat? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a political agnostic? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Raleigh? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Durham? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Wake Forest? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
IF you live in Chapel Hill? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Cary, Zebulon, Fuquay Varina, Rolesville, Louisburg…or any other villle or burg that I’m forgetting to mention here:
Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are a someone or an anyone who knows about Jesus…
(And friends – Jesus is talking to you)
You have been sent. Go and tell about Jesus.
And the Holy Spirit will be with you. Amen.
Last week we started our Eyewitness sermon series. Our goal is to look at Eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. Last week we heard the eyewitness account of Mary Magdalene. She reported that she saw an empty tomb, two angels, and Jesus Christ himself.
But today is a second part of the series. That implies – there’s more than one eyewitness account.
I remember growing up my family was visiting my grandmother in Omaha, NE. On the way, we stopped for lunch at a McDonald's. Now – this was during one of those Monopoly promotions – where you collect peel-able Monopoly pieces from fry containers and soda cups. Once we ordered our food, mom let us peel off the game pieces to see if we could collect a FREE fry or two-for-one ice cream cone.
But…we found something better.
If you know your Monopoly, then you know that Park Place is the last set on the board. In McDonald’s Monopoly, if you collect the Park Place piece and the Boardwalk piece, you win $1,000,0000.
And I told my mom, “We won! We won a million dollars. Because…I am sure that I have Boardwalk back at home.”
At first, she didn’t believe her 6-year-old son.
But we were on vacation for a whole week. So…I kept repeating the same truth.
I insisted to everyone that we were about to be millionaires.
I started introducing myself to my relatives as, “Future millionaire-cousin Phil.”
I began explaining to my mom that, “I deserved most of the money because I peeled off the game pieces, but don’t worry…she’d get some, since she paid for it and all.”
Finally, after a week of vacation, we got in the car. We drove home.
And…honestly…mom started to get excited.
She dreamt up a golden-plated vacuum cleaner.
She dreamed of never cooking again.
She closed her eyes and pictured a kid-free trip to sunny Hawaii.
So… after the 8-hour drive, we hopped out of the car, I ran up to my room, opened my dresser drawer and found…
The entire family followed me …
Another “Park Place.”
If there is only one witness, it is hard to believe them.
If there is only one witness, maybe you shouldn’t believe them.
If there is only one witness to Jesus’ resurrection, that witness could be passionate…but confused.
That’s why more than one eyewitness is important.
Today we’ll look at a second eyewitness account. 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. The Eyewitness Account
The eyewitness account comes from Luke 24:13. “Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.”
It’s an account from two people. A disciple named Cleopas (Memorize that. It’s a great Bible trivia answer) and the other guy is…completely unknown. In fact, they are so non-famous that they are better known as the “Emmaus disciples.” Why? Because they were on their way to Emmaus.
Think about that: They are better known by the small town they were travelling to than their actual names.
That’d be like waving to someone that you meet in the hallway today and saying, “Hi guy going to the bathroom. Hope your day is good.”
The account takes place a bit later in the day on the first Easter. A brief timeline –
Jesus rises from the dead.
The women appear at the tomb.
Mary Magdalene runs away in distress to the disciples.
The other women enter the tomb and see angels.
The two disciples run back to the tomb to see it’s empty.
Concurrently, the other women are on their way back to tell about the angels when they see Jesus. (So, there’s another eyewitness account)
Then, Mary reaches the tomb and see Jesus as well.
I’m thinking that places the time of day here as early afternoon. Because as they are walking to the town of Emmaus – they are discussing the eyewitness account of Mary, the women and the disciples.
And to be fair – they’ve got some time to discuss. Emmaus is about 7 miles away from Jerusalem. This is long before cars. It’s long before bikes. It’s long before those little ‘uber’ scooter things that are popular downtown. They have to walk. At a decent pace, the trip takes about 3 hours.
But as they get started.
As they get to walking.
As they get to talking.
Look who joins them:
Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. (v.15-16)
Look at that end part.
They were “kept” from recognizing him.
It’s a bit different from Mary Magdalene who misses Jesus because she’s clouded by grief and tears. The implication is that God did some kind of cloaking miracle to keep Jesus’ identity a secret.
Remember that. We’ll come back to it.
“Random stranger” Jesus asks them: “Friends, what are you discussing together as you go along?”
Cleopas replies, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
It’s the Greek equivalent of: “Have you been living under a rock?” Or “Has your Twitter account stopped working?”
To which Jesus’ simply replies: “What things?”
“About Jesus of Nazareth.” (v19)
Now before we get into it, understand what just happened.
Jesus just asked these two guys to tell him what they’ve been talking about.
They just happen to be talking about Jesus.
They are about to tell Jesus all about Jesus.
That’d be like Einstein asking you to explain the theory of relativity.
Or Gordon Ramsey asking you how to make the perfect risotto.
Let’s see how they do:
He was a prophet. That’s not wrong. A prophet is someone who speaks God’s Word. Jesus spoke God’s Word. Usually Old Testament prophets spoke God’s Word about the future. Jesus also spoke God’s Word about the future. He told the blind man, “You will see.” He told the deaf person, “You will hear.” He told the lame person, “You will walk.” He told his disciples, “We’ll go to Jerusalem and I’ll be arrested, convicted and crucified.”
Jesus was a prophet.
He was powerful. True. He told storms to stop and they did. He told waves to be calm and they were. He told 5 loaves of bread to multiply into enough bread to feed 5,000 people and they did. He told demons to abandon their human hosts – and they did. He told the dead to rise and they did.
Jesus was powerful.
He suffered. He was handed over to the chief priests. Truth.
He was sentenced to death. Truth.
They crucified him. Truth.
The disciples are on a roll – bring it home for us!
“We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” (v.31)
Did you hear that?
As in, “no longer hoping.”
As in, “Our hope was wrong.”
As in, “Jesus is not the redeemer.”
“And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women shocked us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
Really… it’s foolish.
Hopeful foolishness, but foolishness all the same.
Foolish that the women think he’s alive.
Foolish that others are starting to believe them.
Foolish that anyone we ever thought Jesus was the Redeemer.
They turned to Jesus. “What do you think?”
And Jesus responds: “How foolish…”
“How foolish…You are…
“And how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (v.26-27)
Like the Scripture where God tells the devil that one day the Redeemer will crush his head. Which is exactly what Jesus did on the cross.
Like that Scripture that says the Messiah would come from Abraham’s genealogical line.
Then Isaac’s. Then Jacob’s and Judah’s and many more.
Jesus was a part of that family line.
Like the Scripture that a virgin would give birth.
That the Redeemer would be born in Bethlehem.
That a star would appear to mark his birth
The virgin did; Jesus was; and a star appeared.
Like the Scripture that the Redeemer would make the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk.
Jesus made the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk.
Like the Scripture that the Redeemer would be betrayed.
Would be arrested.
Would be convicted.
Would be killed on a cross.
Jesus was betrayed.
And killed on a cross.
Like the Scripture that said, “After he has suffered, he will see the light of life…” (Isaiah 53:11)
As the witnesses had already told these men…
He saw the light of life.
At the end of about a 3-hour journey, the trio make it to Emmaus. They get to the path leading off the main road and into their house. The journey is over, but the disciples don’t want to stop listening to Jesus.
“Stay with us. It is evening. The day is almost over.” (Lk. 24:30)
So, Jesus did.
He entered the house.
They sat him at a table.
They got some bread out of the cupboard.
They sat down to eat.
Since he knew so much about Scripture, the Emmaus disciples thought it good to let him lead the prayer.
He took the bread.
And gave it to them.
And suddenly --- “Wait.”
“That sounded familiar.”
“He took bread, broke it and said prayers just like…
II. Resurrection Truth
This is the eyewitness account of the Emmaus disciples.
When you combine that with Mary’s eyewitness and the eyewitness of the other women…
We’re led to some important resurrection truths:
(1) Jesus Rose from the Dead
If you are wondering, YES…that is the exact same first truth as we learned last time.
But it bears repeating with the second set of eyewitnesses.
Think about it.
Mary and these disciples aren’t talking about the same time.
It isn’t as if they are both talking about something where they both identify a person incorrectly and they egg each other on to belief in the process.
They both have eyewitness sightings in different places at different times.
It’s like in your neighborhood. If one of your neighbors said, “I saw a deer in our backyard.”
You might not believe them. Maybe they thought it was a deer, but the way that the light was on the shadows – maybe it was just a really, really, big squirrel.
But if another neighbor tells you that they saw a deer drinking out of their pool on Thursday…
And a third neighbor tells you that they saw a deer in their backyard on Friday…
And a fourth neighbor says that they high fived a deer on a John Deere sometime on Saturday…
There’s a deer in your neighborhood.
Jesus wasn’t just seen by Mary in the garden.
And the other women on the road from the garden.
But also, these two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
3 different sightings.
And by the way --- these guys are relatively obscure! This is Cleopas’ only appearance. And the other guy doesn’t even have a name.
If the Resurrection was something that was made up, I imagine that humans would think:
“Let’s have Jesus appear to some really important people. I’m sure that others will believe it then. People like Peter and James and John. Maybe Pontius Pilate. Or…even Caiaphas. That’d make for a good story.”
Among the first people to see Jesus.
Cleopas – a relative unknown.
And unknown guy – an absolute unknown.
That means this story is real.
It means this resurrection is real.
It means your salvation is real.
Even if you feel like a Cleopas.
Even if you feel like an unknown.
Even if you feel like you aren’t that important in the grand scheme of things at all.
What does it tell you about the importance of your everyday average person that one of Jesus’ first appearances is to these two relative nobodies?
It tells you that they weren’t nobodies.
It tells you that they were very important to Jesus.
And it tells you that you aren’t a nobody.
It tells you that you are very important to Jesus.
He lived for YOU.
He died for YOU.
He rose for YOU.
(2) Scripture is Really, Really, Really Important
Because one of the most interesting things of this story – I said we’d come back to it – is at the beginning of the account. The disciples were “kept from recognizing him.” (v.16)
Now…if I was Jesus, I think my first instinct for removing doubts and revealing to these disciples that I was really alive would be…to reveal myself to them and show that I was really alive!
But he doesn’t do that.
Instead, he takes them to Scripture.
He takes them through Scripture.
He immerses them in Scripture until their hearts are burning.
And then…only after they already believe because of the Scriptures – then Jesus reveals himself.
Why is that important?
Because you and I can’t see Jesus.
You and I can’t touch Jesus.
You and I cannot be eyewitnesses of this truth.
But visual proof was not Jesus’ first solution to a doubting faith.
Scripture that we have today.
Scripture that we read today.
Scripture that you can read any time you are doubting.
Friends, if you have doubts about this message.
If you have doubts about your Savior.
If you are struggling with guilt and sin and shame that leads to doubting the whole Easter story…
Don’t try to will yourself to faith.
Don’t try to pray yourself to faith.
Don’t try to scream at yourself to faith.
Immerse yourself in Scripture.
Not only does God create faith through Scripture…
He strengthens it.
He sustains it.
He causes it to burn within you.
Which leads to our final point:
(3) Go and Tell (and go to great lengths to do so!)
After Jesus visually reveals himself to the disciples, he disappears. But his effect doesn’t.
“Weren’t our hearts burning within us as he talked on the road?” (v.32)
Didn’t our faith burn with confidence?
Didn’t our passion burn for Jesus?
And they got up.
And hearts still burning…
And decided they’d like their lungs to burn.
Get this! They take off on a 7-mile run back to Jerusalem!
They turn around and go back on a 7-mile sprint in order to share the message that they previously thought was foolishness!
The message that...Jesus was alive.
That they had seen him.
That Jesus was the Redeemer.
Friends, go to similar lengths to share Jesus.
Granted. I’m guessing you won’t have to go on a 7-mile sprint.
Maybe you just have to go down the block.
Maybe you just have to go onto your phone.
Maybe you just have to walk down the hall.
If you know others who don’t have the reality of the resurrection, share with them the reality of the resurrection.
Tell them about the eyewitnesses.
Tell them about Mary.
Tell them about Cleopas.
Tell them about…what’s-his-face.
Tell them about the Scriptures.
Tell them about the prophecies.
Tell them about how Jesus fulfills every one of them.
Tell them the message that Jesus is alive.
That Jesus rose form the dead.
That Jesus is the Redeemer.
Don’t be surprised if your heart doesn’t burn a little while you do so…
Last week was awesome. We celebrated Easter. I think I emailed that there were over 300 people in our North Raleigh community gathered together to hear the message of the Resurrected Lord.
And that’s awesome.
But…sometimes when I get down – it’s not like I can see people’s hearts.
It’s not like I can see how many people believed.
It’s not like we can visually see that the message had an effect.
Someone came up to me this week to talk.
Someone with whom – I don’t have much of a relationship with – I barely know them.
They wanted to share some struggles that they had been having.
Some deep sadness.
Some terrible events.
That were leading to depression – sadness – and the thought that “I am worthless.”
They had come for Easter.
They had heard the sermon.
They thought God was talking to them.
They believed it.
Now…I don’t always get to see it.
It’s not about me anyways. It’s about Jesus. It’s about Jesus. It’s about Jesus.
But…man…what a privilege!
Their heart was burning.
My heart was burning.
Our hearts were on fire for the message of the Risen Lord.
It’s my prayer that your heart is burning too!
And if so, won’t you share the message of Jesus with others?
Won’t you go Plant that message in the Heart of North Raleigh? Amen.
Thanks Through the Life of Joseph
For Humbling Us
Of all the things that get in our own way, pride is our own biggest obstacle. Why? Because it’s entirely unjustified. We are not good. We have nothing good in ourselves. We can produce nothing objectively good. Only God can do that. Only God can make us good. Only God can help us. Only God and his blessings are worth being proud of. When we start to have pride in ourselves, we need to be humbled.
Like Joseph. Joseph had gotten a bit of a big head. Dad liked him best of all his brothers. He had dreams that his family would bow down to him someday, and he was a little too happy to talk about that. And so, God humbled him. God took Joseph from his cushy place as Dad’s darling and sold him into slavery to remind him that he had no power of his own, that everything worth anything comes from God alone.
And so when we get too proud of ourselves, too confident in ourselves, we thank God that he takes the effort to humble us again, to take our power away, to show us how little we have on our own, so that we can return to the source of our real strength, God alone.
19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.” 21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22 “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father. 23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing—24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it. 25 As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.
26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.
28 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.
For His Own Timing
In an age of microwaves, the internet, smartphones, and other marvels, life has not gotten easier because of the conveniences, it has gotten more hectic. We expect everything immediately. I sent you a message an hour ago! I can’t believe it’ll take a full day before this is ready! These expectations only make life harder on us, we only contribute to it when we expect the same of others. And even moreso when we expect it of our God.
But God has his own timetable. With a perspective of time that we can’t match and wisdom beyond our understanding, God knows exactly when the right time to act is. And despite our best efforts to advise God, the time is not always what we think it should be, which would usually be “now”. God says be patient, I have better in mind for you.
Joseph had to understand this. He probably had hopes that he could be released from prison after helping one of Pharaoh’s own. But the time was not right. We’ll see shortly, he needed to stay where he was for now so that he could be in the right place to deliver a message from God to Pharaoh and in doing so save entire nations starvation.
For Daily Bread
The land of Egypt and surrounding nations were about to be in trouble. There would be seven very good years of harvest, but they would be followed by seven years of drought and famine. Imagine being lulled into the security of seven years of abundance, growing wasteful, and suddenly it’s all taken away from you. Maybe you don’t have to imagine. Maybe you’ve had that moment in your life where it felt like all was lost. But the God of grace and mercy promises to provide. Even to people who did not know him or worship him as God. So God put Joseph in the right place at the right time to warn Pharaoh of what was coming.
We thank God for providing. We are utterly dependent on our God in all ways, but sometimes we forget just how much we depend on him daily, even hourly. We need food and drink. Shelter and clothes. And our God provides daily. We don’t earn it. We don’t deserve it, but our God gives it to us all the same. It doesn’t always come in the way we expect, but our God never lets us down. And for that we give thanks. And we show our thanks by offering part of his gifts back to him.
For Joseph, things seemed to turn out alright. Yes, he had difficulty, but now he was second in command of Egypt. Not bad for starting as a slave. Joseph could have let the power and authority go to his head, but instead he recognized that he was only where he was by God’s hand and that God had only given him this honor in order to serve a greater good, the saving of lives.
It was this attitude that allowed him to face another challenge with a godly attitude; the reunion with his brothers. He had it within his authority to have them jailed the moment he saw them, even executed if he saw fit. But he didn’t. He recognized that he was as much a sinner as they each were. He recognized that through their sinful actions God had worked a greater good as he always does. Such understanding allowed him to face his brothers without anger and instead with forgiveness.
We give thanks to God that he allows the same in us. That by his spirit he creates hearts within us that are able to forgive just as he forgave us. We give great thanks that we are pardoned by the blood of Jesus, but we also give thanks that by his power we are able to release old hurts and grudges and live at peace with those who have wronged us. What a great gift to not need to be burdened and burned up from within by anger and rage but rather to be at peace, knowing that our God worked good for us even through the hurts, and knowing that the blood of Jesus paid for the crimes against us even as it paid for the crimes we ourselves committed. We give thanks that we are able to forgive.
For Our True Home
Despite all the good that happened with Joseph’s life, there was still a problem at the end of it. He wasn’t where he was supposed to be. Egypt was fine, and his family was provided for, but this wasn’t the place that God promised his great-grandfather. As fine as the living was, Joseph knew they wouldn’t stay. And he didn’t want them to stay, it wasn’t what God had in mind for them. Sure enough, down the road that would become very clear when the time came for Moses to lead the people out.
Despite everything that we have to be thankful for here and now, all the blessings God gives us, it is not perfect. It is far from it. Every day has its own pains and heartaches and troubles. Sometimes they pile on so deep and so quickly it could lead a person to despair. And so, we give thanks to our God that we are not staying here. This is not our true home, that is still to come.
There is much to be thankful for here and reasons to be happy while here. But we give thanks that God keeps our eyes down the path, in good times and bad, looking ahead to our true home that he has promised us. It is our greatest encouragement in all parts of life, that by the blood of Jesus we have an eternity with God to look forward to.
For the Savior
You might be surprised to hear that for as much attention as Joseph gets in the Bible, he’s not actually part of the line of the savior. That was his brother, Judah. Still, his life did serve one very important purpose. His actions and intervention during the Egyptian famine ensured that his family did not starve. His brothers lived, and their families lived. And through Judah, down through the line, was eventually born David the King and through David’s line was the ancestry of both Joseph and Mary, and from them, Jesus.
God made a promise in Eden, that someone would come to crush the serpent’s head. Jesus has done this for us. By Jesus we are saved. By Jesus are sins forgiven. By Jesus is the eternal home opened to us. Without him, this would all be meaningless. All the other things we might be thankful for are just dust in the wind, here and gone. Without Jesus the eternal gifts would not exist. Without Jesus we would have pale comforts for a short time until an eternal death.
And so more than anything this evening and every day, we give thanks for the Savior. We could lose everything, have all our earthly possessions taken from us, our family dead or gone, our health destroyed and be in pain every moment the rest of our lives and we could STILL be thankful, because it will end and Jesus will take us home. Above everything and at every moment, we give thanks for the savior Jesus.