ACTS: Above All Else
We are restarting a sermon series that we did last summer. If you remember last summer, we went through a book in the Bible called “ACTS.” Acts is a book that describes the “ACTS of the Early Church.” This, by the way, is the Early Church in which our church finds its roots. The goal of the series was to discover (1) What the Early Church found important to do and (2) Consider how we might refocus on doing the very things that they did.
Because I think it’s really easy for a modern church to get distracted.
Maybe you know this, but Facebook knows what you think. Their website records everything you do on Facebook. Then, they distract you with ads for the very things you’ve been searching for on your Facebook profile.
For instance, Friday was a teacher workday. The teachers had some food delivered from McAllister’s deli. And even though I wasn’t in charge of ordering that food…my account must have been logged into the computer that was used for ordering and... coincidence? I am getting all kinds of ads for McAllister’s Deli.
The same is true for being a pastor. Because I am a pastor, the majority of the ads I see on Facebook are about church from businesses aimed at churches. The ads usually go something like this: “Your Church NEEDS this!” It’ll lead to articles that say things like:
Now these things could be beneficial.
But when it comes to what church NEEDS to be doing…
I’m thinking the answer should come from God, not the advertiser paying good money to track my internet usage habits.
Today we are going to dive into chapter 2 of ACTs and use the story of Pentecost as a base point for review of the last year’s sermon series. (That’s about 14 chapters in one sermon). Our goal is to identify the thing “Above All Else” that the Early Church needed to be engaged in and understand why we need to be doing that same thing.
Before we do that, a prayer:
Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. God’s “Above All Else”
Acts 2 take places during Pentecost. It was an Old Testament festival that occurred “fifty days after Passover.” “Pente” a root form meaning “five.” That’s where we get the word “pentagon,” or “five-sided shape.” “Pente” meaning “fifty” hence, a festival fifty days after Passover.
It was a big festival. It happened every year. It drew thousands of practicing Jews to Jerusalem. This year was no different. The streets were filled with people. They were up early shopping the marketplaces and getting the items necessary for celebrating the festival later that day. It was just like every other year.
At about 8 o’clock in the morning, there was the sound of a hurricane-like wind. Only it wasn’t coming from the sky, but a small corner house.
After that sound was going for a while, out of the house, burst a group of men with what appeared to be flames of fire ignited on the top of their heads.
Men who, being from Israel, should not have known the 20-some different languages of the various people there in Jerusalem for the festival.
Yet they spoke clearly. Efficiently. Fluently.
It was amazing.
It was incredible.
It was…too good to be true.
Someone shouted: “They have had too much wine.” (2:13)
Because…getting drunk usually increases your language skills?
But the reality was that this was more than a house party.
This was more than a regular celebration.
This was divine and miraculous.
This was God!!!
And now with everyone’s attention focused exactly where God wanted it, God moves one of the men, Peter to stand up and speak this message:
“15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people…’” (Acts 2:15-16)
That’s what’s happening! With the hurricane sound. With tongues of fire. With the different languages. This is God’s way of getting your attention.
About 50 days ago.
It wasn’t just 50 days until your 50 days celebration.
About 50 days ago.
You guys killed Jesus.
And this Jesus?
Wasn’t just some rebel.
Wasn’t just some teacher.
Wasn’t just some nice guy.
He was God.
He did miracles exactly like what you’re seeing here today!
He didn’t just cause storms; he stopped them.
He didn’t just make fire appear; but bread and wine and water.
He didn’t just speak different languages, but he spoke to dead people to make them alive.
He did the very things that only God could do because he was God Himself.
And you killed him.
You killed God.
And death didn’t stick.
I saw Him.
Now at this point the group that was listening started to get very uncomfortable.
Because some of the people who heard this were the very people that had been in Jerusalem 50 days earlier shouting for Jesus to be crucified.
And…if this was true…
Then, they had sinned.
And if this was true…
Jesus would be coming back to vaporize them.
What shall we do?” They cried.
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. (Acts 2:38)
And that’s it.
God’s message to the very people who killed Jesus…
About how they could get right with Jesus was simply this:
Turn from sin. Turn to Jesus.
To turn from unbelief to turn to belief.
Their way into God’s kingdom was simply belief in Jesus!
And be baptized.
To have someone pour water on you in Jesus’ name.
And the miraculous God who did these very miracles here today will work through that water to bring you forgiveness.
Does that seem too easy for those sinners?
Does that seem too easy for any sinner?
Does that seem too easy for you, a sinner?
Guess what? That’s the main message of the God powered, God inspired Early Christian Church.
The Early Church’s main message, also known as the Gospel, places you above all else.
It’s kind of like an internet troll. Someone who logs in and gets updates on your social media page or your blog…only because they can’t wait to go on your profile and argue…maybe post an obscene emoji and make you generally angry. Send inappropriate emails to every in your contact list, too.
How many of you wake up on a day to day basis and say: “I hope that internet troll guy is doing good today. Hey, maybe I should call him to check in. Better yet…Let me send him some Uber Eatz…what’s his favorite? Chicken wings?”
We have rebelled against God.
Like a spiritual internet troll to God we have repeatedly gone against him.
Consciously or not – when we complain about his rules, sin, do the opposite - we are completely against God.
Yet, He still did everything to save us!
In fact, he put YOU above everything else. Peter’s words bring that truth to the forefront.
(1) Above the Father’s Other Plans
Check out verse 23: “Jesus was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge.”
This Jesus thing wasn’t an accident.
It wasn’t an incident that got out of control.
It wasn’t an UNPLANNED thing.
It was planned by the Father eternities before you were ever you.
In fact, God set things in motion from the beginning of time to achieve your salvation, to bring you forgiveness and to connect you to his kingdom.
God’s ultimate plan isn’t a fireworks celebration for himself.
It isn’t millions of people bowing down to him.
It isn’t to have his name be the most Googled name of all time.
In heaven with him.
(2) Above Jesus’ Own Life
Peter continues, “Jesus was handed over to you…and you put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (v.23b) Notice the phrase “Handed over.” It doesn’t say, “You actively took him by force,” but he was passively “handed over.”
Jesus knew God’s plan was to have him die.
And he still volunteered for it.
Not because it would be easy. It isn’t as if Jesus said, “You know what would be a lot of fun? To have nails jammed into my hands, to have my metatarsals separated by a spike, to press a crown of thorns deeply into my skull and to hang up there while everyone ridiculed me until my lungs gave up and I died.”
Jesus went to the cross because…YOU.
Because He placed you above HIS OWN LIFE.
(3) Above the Holy Spirit’s Inconspicuousness
Peter continues, “Jesus has sent…the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” (v.33)
How much do you know about the Holy Spirit?
Briefly: He’s God.
One of the three persons in the ONE Triune God.
He’s always been around.
In fact, he appears at the very beginning of the Bible. In Genesis 1 it says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…Now…the earth was formless and empty and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.”
The Holy Spirit is there.
He is only mentioned in passing in a few vague Psalms and prophecies.
He prefers to do his work in inconspicuous mystery.
And the Holy Spirit goes out of his way to draw our attention to his presence.
The Holy Spirit wants you to pay attention.
He wants you to see how Jesus’ put YOU above his own life.
He wants you to know how God put YOU above his other plans.
He wants you to know that the Gospel places YOU above all else.
II. The Early Church’s “Above All Else”
Now the scene is a courtroom.
Peter is there.
But this time…he’s in chains.
And the people surrounding him are not a crowd of believers.
Violent angry men.
The same violent angry men that killed Jesus.
And unlike some of the people at Pentecost, these people want nothing to do with Jesus.
In fact, that’s the reason they have Peter arrested!
They want him to stop teaching about Jesus.
They want him to stop preaching the Gospel.
They want him to stop…or else.
And Peter looks around.
They’re glaring at him.
He knows they’re serious.
Serious…and blood thirsty.
He doesn’t care.
“We must obey God; rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
In other words:
The Early Church would keep preaching the Gospel.
They would keep telling people about Jesus.
Because they would place the Gospel above all else.
This is just one story that illustrates that.
Because throughout the book of Acts, the devil does everything possible to try and shove the Gospel to the bottom of the Early Church’s priority list.
But the Book of Acts is filled with stories where the Gospel triumphs!
Where it is placed above…
(1) 1st Century Racial Prejudices
Because the Gospel started among the Jewish people.
And the Jewish people – they had developed a superiority complex.
They thought themselves as God’s special people.
Afterall, the Old Testament was all about them.
They were God’s special people – to the point that they wouldn’t interact with non-Jewish people.
They wouldn’t eat a meal with them.
They would definitely not spend time with them unless they were forced to!
Enter a guy named Philip.
He’s on the road to Gaza.
He comes across a man who is an Ethiopian.
Normally Jews avoided non-Jews, but the Gospel doesn’t discriminate. “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’” (Acts 8:29)
Philip walked right up to the chariot, got into the chariot, sat right next to him in the chariot and shared the Gospel.
The Early Church placed the Gospel above Racial Prejudices.
This isn’t the only time.
Acts 8, says Philip also went to Samaria to continue telling non-Jewish people about Jewish.
Acts 13 and 14, chronicles an entire missionary journey specifically to non-Jewish people!
At Pentecost itself, the Gospel was presented in languages beyond Hebrew of the common Jewish people!
The Early Church placed the Gospel above Racial Prejudices.
(2) Social Status
This is a big deal. Because at that time, the most common religious entity – the Pharisees—loved rich people.
They loved people who could contribute to the upkeep of their gathering spaces.
They loved people who could also afford fine jewelry and fancy robes.
They loved people who would make them look cool by association.
Peter and John?
In Acts 3, the very first individual described hearing the Gospel?
A blind beggar.
A blind, homeless beggar.
A blind, homeless beggar at the bottom of social status.
And yet Peter is sure to bring him the message about how Jesus gives him the status of God’s eternal kingdom.
The Early Church placed the Gospel above Social Status.
(3) Jewish Traditions
To be fair, the Gospel is above any tradition.
Specifically, for the Early Church, Jewish traditions had become an obstacle to the Gospel.
And some of the staunchest Jewish traditions at that time had to do with food.
The tradition was that Jews only ate certain foods.
The tradition was that Jews only ate after washing their hands in a ceremonial way.
The tradition was that Jews never at in the home of a non-Jewish person.
Acts 11, Peter, who is 100% Jewish and 100% a follower of Jewish tradition…receives a vision.
In the vision, God tells him to go ahead – to eat meat – from…traditionally, unclean animals.
In other words, God tells him to break tradition. Peter refused by saying, “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” (Acts 10:14)
As soon as the vision is over, Peter receives a knock at his front door.
It’s a servant from a Roman Centurion – a non-Jewish, Roman centurion – who has invited him over to eat.
That’d be breaking tradition…but God had told Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15)
Peter went because he placed the Gospel above even his own traditions – all God’s doing. Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” Acts 10:34-35
The Gospel was above Jewish Traditions.
(4) Above Personal Vendettas
One of the more famous accounts in the first half of Acts is the account of a guy named Saul.
Saul, who did not like the Gospel.
He did not like Jesus.
In fact, he persecuted those who followed Jesus by threatening them, beating them up, and throwing them in prison.
Jesus appeared to him.
Then he became a believer.
In fact, Saul became such a committed believer that he wanted to help the disciples share the Gospel.
Acts 9:20, 26-27 “At once he began to preach in the synagogues [in Damascus] that Jesus is the Son of God…When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles.”
Because it’s not about them and what they feel. It’s about Jesus. We support others who want to share God’s Word
They put the GOSPEL above their own personal issues.
(5) Above Their Own Safety
Back to where we started.
The disciples began shouting the message of Jesus…
…in the middle of the very streets where Jesus had been put to death.
…surrounded by the very people who had supported his death.
But they didn’t care.
And this continues.
In Acts 3, they are put on trial.
In Acts 5, they are imprisoned.
In Acts 7, Stephen has stones thrown at him until he is killed.
In Acts 8, they undergo the aforementioned persecution of Saul.
In Acts 12, Peter is put on death row.
And at no point do they stop preaching.
At no point do they stop telling about Jesus.
At no point do they put their own lives above the Gospel.
Because the Gospel is about how Jesus put US above his own life.
III. WHAT NOW?
Consider these two truths:
The Gospel places you above all else. The Early Church placed the Gospel above all else.
Because of God’s work with the Early Church, you have the Gospel in your heart.
A simple What Now?
Put the Gospel Above All Else
I mentioned those Facebook ads at the beginning.
I think the devil works pretty similarly in our lives.
He’s smart. He watches us.
He knows the things that will distract us.
The things that will tempt us to think:
“God didn’t love you that much.” And “The Gospel’s not that important.”
Rather than the GOSPEL above all else…
He wants you to place the ALL ELSE above the Gospel.
Don’t let him.
PLACE THE GOSPEL ABOVE ALL ELSE!
Throughout this summer I am praying that God works in your heart to:
(1) understand more fully how God placed you above all else,
(2) throw light on areas in which you have placed other things above the Gospel,
(3) guide us, as a church, to refocus on placing THE GOSPEL above all else. Amen.
ACTS: Spirit Powered
Last week we started out our summer ACTS series by looking at the mission that Jesus gave the Early Christian Church. It’s a mission that still is the mission of the church today. It’s the mission of our church today.
And we learned that it was different from what his disciples expected in three ways:
1) The mission to build the kingdom was spiritual, not physical.
2) The mission required them to get off the sidelines and into the game.
3) The mission wasn’t going to just be local, but global.
Which is how we got to know about Jesus.
And it’s how we got to have the same mission.
And that’s a bit intimidating.
Even if we focus just on our specific end of the earth.
North Raleigh is where we are located. Boundary wise it runs from up at Falls Lake down to Millbrook, from Creedmoor over to Durant Nature Park. It’s a couple some square miles in each direction that holds over 115,000 people. The population is made up from lifelong Raleighians, to Northerners, to Midwesterners, to Southwesterners, to Northwesterners. It has people from Ethiopia, Nigeria, Kenya, Congo, Nepal, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Russia, Ukraine, Iraq, Iran, and many other places. And in the latest demographic study of the area, the most common religious group for all of these people was NONE.
God has given us – a church of about 200 – the mission to reach those 115,000 with the Gospel.
And that’s if we limit ourselves to North Raleigh.
That’s not to mention Durham, Chapel Hill, Morrisville and many others.
How can we do that all by ourselves?
Today we are continuing our study of Acts by looking at chapter 2, the story of Pentecost. In this section, God makes it very clear to us that our BIG, INTIMIDATING mission is not so intimidating, because we aren’t doing it…ALONE. Before we study, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Pentecost Scene
The scene we’re starting from is Acts 2. It takes place in a small room in the middle of Jerusalem. If you remember, that’s where Jesus told his disciples to go. “Do not leave, Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised.” (1:4)
So…after the disciples heard about their BIG, INTIMIDATING mission and Jesus left them for heaven (something else very intimidating), they went back to their house in Jerusalem ...and sat…
…and sat some more.
I imagine, things got a bit antsy.
When’s this gift coming?
How much longer do you think we have to wait?
I hope it never comes so we never have to start on this impossible mission!
Eventually, the disciples started doing things to stay busy:
In the corner, Matthew worked on an ancient Excel spreadsheet on funding for their mission.
In the kitchen, crumbs all over the table as James had been anxiety eating.
On the other side of the room was the dartboard where Philip and Nathanael had taken turns throwing darts at a rough sketch of the world – as if those darts would determine who would have to go where.
The BIG chair was occupied by Mary Magdalene who was sewing arch supports into Jude’s sandals because “to the ends of the earth,” seemed like a lot of walking.
And they sat….
…and sat some more.
When WAS this gift coming?
Suddenly, on the 10th day…Something happened.
It started as a low hum.
A few of the disciples took notice.
One went to check the kitchen garbage disposal.
As they listened, it grew louder and louder.
It sounded more like a storm. A loud, rushing, wind – a thunderstorm – a squall – something they experienced on the lake from time to time.
But they weren’t on a lake.
They were in the middle of the house. And this noise, this tornado like noise was coming right over the top of them!
As James scoured the room looking for the source of the sound, his eyes happened upon something else entirely.
A flame. A fire appeared on the top of his brother John’s head.
James panicked. He reached down, grabbed the nearest rug and threw it over John’s head as he tackled him to the floor. He smothered him in the blanket and helped him stop, drop and roll.
But after John grunted and asked him to get off, James removed the covering to discover the fire was still there.
Yet that wasn’t as shocking as to what he saw reflected in John’s eyeballs: there was fire on his own head too.
In fact, every disciple suddenly resembled a candlestick.
Fire was brimming off the top of their heads.
As if someone was turning 12 and they were the candles on the cake!
Peter looked across the room. He was marveling at the spectacle, until he saw the fire start to light off the top of Jude’s head. He noticed that the flame was dangerously close to the covering on Mary Magdalene’s head.
He shouted a warning:
Jude looked confused: “Que hablas amigo?”
“Kenichiwa.” said Matthew.
“Oui, Oui; French fries,” said Bartholomew.
The disciples looked at each other in amazement.
They hadn’t learned?
This. Was. The Gift.
Not the languages.
Not the fires.
Not the tornadolike sound.
This was the POWERFUL, UNSTOPPABLE, INCREDIBLE, DIVINE, Holy Spirit.
And He was with them.
And He was empowering them.
And suddenly…that BIG, INTIMIDATING mission?
Didn’t seem so scary anymore…
II. The Powerful Holy Spirit
This is the Pentecost story. It’s a celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Although it’s not the first time the Holy Spirit is mentioned throughout the Scriptures. It is probably THE time that He reveals Himself in such a magnificent fashion.
Think again about what the disciples witnessed the Holy Spirit doing.
(1) Tornado like Noise without the Tornado
Have you ever heard a tornado? Up in Minnesota, I remember hearing them from a distance, but (Thank the LORD) I’ve never heard them up close and personal. I’ve heard that it sounds something like a freight train coming through your living room. It’s loud. It’s harsh. It’s intense.
That’s the kind of noise that the disciples hear.
Only…as they look around…
Nobody’s hair is blowing to the side.
No one’s tunic is flopping in the wind.
Nobody’s beard is out of place.
The Holy Spirit is able to remove the visual and tangible qualities of a tornado and bring just the sound to the disciples.
It’d be like taking a soundtrack, putting it on some computer audio software and scrubbing out background noises.
The Holy Spirit does that with a storm.
Amazing! If he can empower the dead room temperature air with such a sound, imagine the incredible Gospel words He would do through the disciples.
(2) Flamelike Apparitions
The Bible is clear. These things looked like little flames of fire, but they weren’t fire. The disciples don’t get hurt, but they clearly see this glimpse into the divine manifesting itself above their heads.
They are like candles without the wax.
Like blowtorches without the gasoline.
Like campfires without the logs.
By the way – if you are feeling skeptical about this whole scene and you think it’s just a figment of one disciples’ imagination, remember – There were at least 12 people in that room. Probably more. I imagine that when they saw the fire on each other’s heads, they too were skeptical. They too investigated. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them touched it.
But…none of them came to the conclusion that this is all a big illusion similar to the illusion of our leader Jesus dying on the cross and rising form the dead…the illusion we’ve seen over 7 times.
Jesus was real.
Pentecost was real.
And if the Holy Spirit had no problem lighting a fire without fuel on their heads, he would have no problem lighting the fire of faith in people’s hearts.
(3) Instantaneous Foreign Language Fluency
I have an app on my phone for Duolingo. It pops up on a daily basis and tells me to practice my Spanish by going through quick three-minute lessons. I’ve been doing it for about a year and 1/2. I am only recently 50% fluent in Spanish. It takes that long to learn a language.
It was a lot faster.
And we know it isn’t just gibberish. At what happens when the people outside the house hear what’s going on.
Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
That’s over 15 languages represented.
Over 15 languages clearly communicated.
Unless the disciples have each been secretly learning one of those languages without telling the others…which just so happen to be the very languages needed for that Pentecost Day – This is a miracle!
If the Holy Spirit can teach them human languages like that, he would certainly teach them the spiritual words to say to convert hearts to their Savior.
This all leads to one awesome truth about the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is God
He is the third person of the Triune God.
He is all powerful, all knowing and all divine.
And on Pentecost, he proves that he is with the disciples on their mission.
III. The Holy Spirit and You?
But Pastor…Who cares? That’s nice that the disciples had the Holy Spirit with them, but how does that help me?
I can’t conjure up tornado noises.
I can’t snap my fingers and make flamelike apparitions appear.
I can’t speak any language beyond English – and dog; at least I can tell when he’s hungry – but I don’t have those powerful signs with me.
You might not.
But that doesn’t mean that same Powerful Holy Spirit isn’t with you.
Look at the following three passages:
“No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’, except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:3)
“Your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 6:19)
“Our gospel comes…with the Holy Spirit.” (1 Thess. 1:5)
The first passage is clear. If you believe that Jesus is Lord. If you authentically trust Jesus as your Savior, then guess what? You’ve got the Holy Spirit inside of you.
The second passage is speaking to believers. It reiterates that point – the Holy Spirit dwells within you! His temple is your body.
Finally, the last passage points out that the message of Jesus – that he is our savior from sin – comes packed with the power of the Holy Spirit.
Here’s the truth:
The powerful Holy Spirit of Pentecost is with you, too.
His power to teach instantaneous language has spoken the message of grace to your heart.
His power to light a flamelike apparition lights a fire for God in your hearts.
His powerful to conjure up the sound of the storm is infused with your message that “Jesus saves.”
The Holy Spirit of Pentecost is with you, too.
You need not fear the BIG, INTIMIDATING mission.
You need not fear telling your spouse about their Savior.
You need not fear inviting your friends to church.
You need only BE BOLD.
That’s what he disciples did. They went from sitting around, nervously waiting in a room, constantly thinking about this BIG INTIMIDATING task to running into the streets. Many who had shouted for Jesus’ death no more than 53 days earlier. The disciples found some steps and a few soap boxes; they stood up and started street preaching!
You ever done any street preaching before? It’s intimidating.
Imagine that as a downtown activity later today!
But the disciples didn’t fear that because the Holy Spirit was with them.
That same Holy Spirit is with you.
And…to be fair…I’m not asking that you start with street preaching. Not today. 😊
But, if I could challenge you, why not do some living room preaching?
Or maybe some employee’s break room teaching?
Or some social media gospel sharing?
Don’t be afraid. The Holy Spirit is with you.
In fact, here’s verse 21. It’s the main verse in Peter’s sermon that he gives to tens of thousands in the middle of Downtown Jerusalem. Look at his message: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” It’s a pretty awesome summary of the Gospel message, because it (1) implies our need for saving and (2) points out who the Savior is and (3) gives confidence that all who believe will be saved.
Write it down. Memorize it. If you’ve got your phone here today, why wait to share this until later? Do this. Go to your social media. Write it down. Check in at Gethsemane. Boldly share the message of Jesus.
And later this afternoon, take your family aside. Talk to the one who isn’t here today. Share this passage. Boldly share the message of Jesus.
Granted. You might be thinking. Will it work?
Check out the following verse.
It happens at the end of Pentecost.
It happens at the end of the impromptu street preaching.
It happens after Peter calls out the very men and women who crucified Jesus!
“Those who received the message were baptized, and about 3000 were added to their number that day.” (2:41)
Does the Holy Spirit work? Absolutely.
Will someone you tell immediately come to faith? Maybe not.
But the message will work.
Because the Holy Spirit works.
And the Holy Spirit is with you.
Share the Gospel. Amen.
Today is the first day of our summer season and we are starting a brand-new sermon series on the Book of Joshua. We did something similar to this a few years ago with a sermon series through 1 Peter. Our goal is to start with Joshua 1 today and end with Joshua 24 on Labor Day weekend.
But before we really get into Joshua my goal is to walk you through a bit of context to the story and introduce a few key themes that make their way through the book of Joshua. In other words, our text will be Genesis 12 to Joshua 1. That’s only 5 books of the Bible. And our goal is to do it in about 20 minutes.
We better say a prayer. (We need a prayer for that.)
O Lord strengthen us this morning by the truth. Your word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe.
1) A Promise from God
The story of Joshua revolves around a place called the “Promised Land.” The Promised Land was a very fertile and gorgeous area just to the east of the Mediterranean Sea—a land described as flowing with milk and honey. Today it’s Israel. But it hasn’t always been called Israel. In fact, it hasn’t even always been a Jewish land at all.
Genesis 12. There’s a guy named Abram. Abram is ordinary. He’s a farmer. He farms his unimpressive bit of family farmland in a place called Harran. It’s not so much milk and honey as it is rugged and desert. But…he tries. He works the ground. He sweats. He breaks his back. He hopes to one day provide for his wife and a son.
One day – in the midst digging holes and planting potatoes – Abram hears a voice. He looks around. Nobody.
He goes back to digging. The voice returns only louder. Abram looks around. Still no one. He mutters to himself and returns to work. But before his stone fashioned hoe can hit the ground, he hears the voice one more time – real loud. Only it’s not coming from around him. Not from the in front or behind, from the right or the left.
It’s coming from above.
“Abram go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you.” (Gen. 12:1-2)
And Abram? We might expect him to pinch himself.
Maybe to pretend it didn’t happen.
Maybe you’d expect him to pour himself a couple of shots of Old Testament Vodka.
But he doesn’t. Abram listens. He heads home. He packs his things. He tells his family to do the same. When they ask why, he simply says, “We’ve got to get to the land that God promised us.”
So, they go. They travel east. They make their way to a land called Canaan. They set up nomadic farm life there. They are blessed at their new home.
But the home isn’t theirs. He and his family are strangers. It doesn’t take a very long read in Genesis to realize this. In Genesis 23, Abram has to buy land to bury his wife. (And Abram remember – One day the promised land will be ours.) In Genesis 26, his son Isaac is forced to move by the natives. (And Isaac remembers – One day the promised land will be ours.) In Genesis 46, a famine causes Abram’s grandson to pick up his family and leave for Egypt. (And as they leave, they remember – One day the promised land will be ours.)
Time passes. God treats the people of Abraham well. They grow and grow in number. But while God treats the people well, the Egyptians do not. They enslave them. They oppress them. They force the men and young boys to work outside all day long in the hot desert sun making bricks and constructing buildings. They whip them and scream at them until the wounds on their backs are burned leaving new calloused scars every day.
But the people remembered: “One day…the Promised Land would be ours.”
But the slavery continued.
For 430 years.
The people began to doubt:
Ow, my back. It hurts so much. I hate this stuff.
Just remember – God told Abram that one day the Promised land would be ours. A land flowing with milk and honey.
Really? Just shut up. Did God really say that? No. It’s a myth. Hogwash. A non-reality. You’re a slave and will always be a slave. You’ll die a slave and none of us will ever see this “Promised Land.”
2) A Leader named Moses
Enter Moses. God sends him to the Egyptian King in order to free the people and bring them back to the Promised Land. So, Moses enters the Egyptian court --
Hey Pharaoh. Good to see you. You wouldn’t mind letting the Israelite people go, would you? It’d be pretty cool of you. I think, sir.
Pharaoh looks at him. “Who are you? I don’t have time for this. Guards!!!”
The soldiers grab Moses by the arms and begin to drag him out of the Palace.
Wait…wait…wait. I am a servant of the Most High God. And it is Him, not me, that is telling you to let them go.
Pharaoh suddenly becomes very interested. Oh, really? It’s your “god” telling me to do this? I like a challenge. I am Pharaoh, King of Egypt, and I am a God. I will not bow to your God and I will not let your people go.
Ok. Mr. Pharaoh sir. Only, God won’t like this. And I’m authorized to inform you that if you reject His request, God will send plagues on this land. Terrible things will happen until you let his people go.
Pharaoh laughed. Get out of my presence. I am a god and I listen to no one. Not you. Not your people. Not your God.
About an hour or so later, the King heads out back for his morning bath. He wades into the Nile. It’s a peaceful moment. Until Moses appears on the banks.
Pharaoh! My God says, “let my people go, or he will cause all the water in Egypt to turn into blood.”
Pharaoh laughs! Really? You again? I told you already, I will not let your people go. Besides you. Go. Far away from here.
Moses nods. He hits the water with his staff and then he leaves.
The Pharaoh mutters to himself and begins pouring water up and over his head. At first it falls down his chin with a trickle of brown – the dirt and clay of the desert making its way even onto the robes of the King. But then, the brown changes into a red. A deep red, A deep, thick blood red –red.
Pharaoh looks down at his hands in horror. A servant screams. A wave of red is overtaking the entire Nile. The Pharaoh gets out in time and asks for a bucket to wash off the blood. The servant returns with bad news. The well is made of blood, too. As are the water jugs. As is the royal reserve. In fact, all of the water in Egypt has been turned into blood.
The King wipes off his face with a cloth. So…it begins.
After returning to the palace, he asks Moses to enter. He tells Moses, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. Could you call your God and ask him to remove the blood and restore the water? I promise. I’ll let your people go when that happens.”
And Pharaoh says, “Just kidding. You’re still my slaves.”
Which sets into motion a terrifying month for the land of Egypt. Nine more times Moses asks the king to let the people go. Nine more times the King refuses. Nine more times God sends a terrifying, miraculous event: Frogs covering the land – jumping out of cooking pots, cupboards and toilets; miniature gnats crawling over everyone’s skin and leading to days of itchiness; swarms of flies bringing disease and lodging themselves into fruitcake and bath soaps; livestock dead; skin boils infesting the population of people; locusts eating most of the Egyptian crops; a hailstorm destroying what was left; and then darkness. Darkness – all night and all day for three days.
And then? The worst. God sends the angel of death to strike down the firstborn son of all of Egypt. But before doing so, he makes this promise to the Israelite people:
Today. Today is the day. Today is the day I set you free so that you might go to the land I promised you. Believe. Trust me. Take an innocent lamb. Kill it. Take its blood and painting on your doorframes. When my angel sees it, he will bring your family no harm. He will Passover.
The people do that. In Israel, it’s a morning of rejoicing.
But in Pharaoh’s palace, the handmaid weeps. She runs to tell a servant. The servant tells a guard. The guard slips a piece of paper under Pharaoh’s door. Pharaoh reads and burst into tears. He runs to his sons’ room and holds his lifeless body in his hands. He screams. He writhes. He gives word to tell Moses: “Get out of here. Leave! I never want to see you and your people again!”
And they do. Over a million Israelites are filled with excitement. They take their clothes. They take their food. They take their animals. They pack and they leave the city. They head in one massive exodus out of Egypt. They head to the Promised land. They follow Moses.
And on their journey – they see God’s hand through Moses. Moses leads them to the Red Sea, where in a display of awesome power – Moses lifts up his arm and the sea splits in half. God allows them safe passage through the waters – only to cave the water back in on the pursuing Egyptian army. Then Moses announces that God will provide food and He does. He sends manna -- a bread-like substance form the sky to feed the million of refugee Israelites. He sends quails – a bird flying in from the west – to give them a protein influx. Moses hits a rock when they are thirsty and water comes out. Moses goes up on a mountaintop; the mountaintop thunders and lightnings; a circle of fire surrounds the top; and Moses comes back down having heard the voice of God and bearing Ten Commandments etched in stone.
Then, they make it. They are at the border of Canaan. They are at the border of the Promised Land. Moses gathers together a group of twelve men. Twelve spies. He sends them into the land to check it out.
The men return with the report:
Moses. The people are huge. They’re giants. I’m pretty sure they could squish us under their feet. They have big muscles. No…huge muscles. Even their muscles have huge muscles. We don’t stand a chance.
Maybe, we should turn back. Maybe, we shouldn’t do this. Maybe, God can’t get us through this.
But not all of them think like that. Actually, two of the explorers think differently. Two explorers named Caleb and Joshua. Their message: Let’s go up. Let’s take this land. God promised it. God can do anything. God promised Abram. God did the plagues. God split the Red Sea. God provided manna from the sky. God can certainly help us take the land.
But the people disagree. They reject God’s purpose. And God responds: These people who have seen my signs in Egypt and in the wilderness, but who disobeyed me---not one of them will ever see the land I promised them.
And that’s it. No Promised Land. No glorious victory. Just 40 years in the desert. Wandering. Fuming. And Dying.
3) An Aide Named Joshua?
Fast forward 40 years.
It’s still hard to believe. Over 40 years Moses is all the people of Israel knew. For over 40 years, Moses is all Joshua knew. Moses led them out of Egypt. Moses led them through the wilderness. Moses led to the Promised Land. And the people still didn’t trust him.
Now he’s gone.
And the Promised Land seems like an impossibility.
Joshua puts his head down and prays.
Then, he hears a voice.
A voice that He hasn’t heard before.
A voice only Moses has heard before.
The LORD said to Joshua, “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river; the Euphrates—all the Hittites country – to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life.” (1:1-4)
And if I’m Joshua that’s an extremely intimidating statement.
Wait – a second. God, I’m Joshua. You usually talk to Moses. He’s not here anymore. Remember? You took his life.
Oh wait…You do mean me? I’m not a leader. I’m an aide. It’s even in my title. I’m simply an aide. I haven’t led people before.
I’m not like Moses. I don’t speak with fire. I haven’t done any miracles. I don’t have experience with Manna or splitting seas or swarms of locusts.
I’m just me. I’m just Joshua. How can you possibly think that I am the one to bring the people into the Promised Land?
Do you realize how big that is? That’s thousands of miles for me to cover!
How am I able to do such a great thing?
God -- I can’t do such a thing.
And there’s a pause.
A moment for the magnitude of the command to set in.
Then, God continues.
And God gives Joshua the answer:
“As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.” (v.5-6)
In other words:
Joshua, it isn’t about you.
Joshua, it’s about me.
Moses didn’t do those miracles; I did.
Abram didn’t make the promise; I did.
You won’t be the driving force behind entering this land; I will.
Joshua, I am with you.
4) What’s in it for You?
1) God is with You!
Granted. You may not have been taxed with leading an army of over a million people into battle for a country land. But. You might have your own challenges.
Steep financial difficulties.
A challenging new job.
A nerve wracking health issue.
Severe relationship struggles.
A very real and addictive temptation.
A big, big sin and big, big guilt.
It’s easy to think: I can’t do this! We need someone else for the job.
And you’d be right.
But it’s not about you.
It’s about God.
The God who turned water into blood.
The God who sent locusts, frogs, gnats, boils, hail and darkness.
The God who split the Red Sea.
The God who chiseled commandments into stone.
The God who brought his people to the borders of the Promised Land.
And…more than that.
The God who defeated sin.
The God who defeated death.
The God who lived perfectly.
The God who died innocently.
The God who rose triumphantly.
That’s the God who’s with you. And if you’re starting a training program on your faith this summer – this is a must! You must remember it’s ALL ABOUT GOD!
2) You have every reason to BE STRONG and COURAGEOUS
Any of you done any weight lifting recently? The thing about weight lifting is sometimes you have to lift things that are kind of scary. You have attempt a weight you haven’t lifted before. You have to try something that you aren’t sure you’ll be able to do.
That’s kind of scary.
But what if the Rock -- Dwayne Johnson -- is spotting you. #1 -- You don’t want to be a wimp so that he won’t lay the Smackdown on you, but #2 -- you’re comforted because there’s a strong guy spotting you. You will not be crushed underneath that weight.
You have a God who has done amazing things who has your back.
He’s spotting you.
Keep pushing through whatever you’ve got going on.
Keep pushing through this thing called life.
Rest assured that God has your back.
3) Encourage One Another
One last thought about Joshua. Do you remember when the people of Israel got to the border and the spies didn’t want to enter? Joshua was one of the two men that protested. Here is his exact protest:
Do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us.
Years later Joshua needs to hear his own words of encouragement as he begins his journey as Israel’s leader.
Look around. Do you see the people here? Do you see your brothers and sisters?
They have their own problems.
They have their own battles.
They have their own intimidating situations.
Remind them who their God is.
Remind them of his awesome miracles with Moses and his awesome miracles on the cross.
Remind them that he is with them.
Remind them to be strong and courageous.
And that’s what I’m here to do today.
As we start our Summer Spiritual Training program and as you go through this challenging thing called life – whatever you’re going through—whatever it might be:
God is with you.
Why Are People so Divided?
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
A crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”
Peter said, “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel," “In the last days, God says, 'I will pour out my Spirit on all people. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ "
I. Back When People were United
Take a look at Genesis 11. This takes place right after the worldwide flood. God had sent this flood to reset the world. There had been thousands of unbelievers – and only 8 – yes, 8 – believers. (If you ever feel alone in your faith right now, think about what it would have been like back then. That’s enough believers to maybe fill up 1 pew here in church).
In flooding the earth, God pressed the reset button. Genesis 10 talks about how that family of believers grew. They had kids and their sons and daughters had kids (and so on and so on). Which means that when you get to Genesis 11 – the people had one awesome, uniting factor. They were of the same family. They had the same lineage.
I don’t where you’re from, but whatever your culture, I imagine you’re proud of it. It’s ok to be proud of your culture. Maybe you enjoy that kind of food that reminds you of your culture. That’s great! I love cheese because of my German roots. You might love sushi because of your Japanese roots or barbecue because of your Southern roots. That fine. It’s good to be proud of your culture.
The problem is when we start setting up our culture as better than another culture. There will be problems. No one likes to hear that their culture is worse than another.
So can you imagine what is what like to not have that be an issue?
"What’s your favorite kind of food? Ancient human food. That’s where my family’s from.” "What!?! Me too! I’m a human too!” "That’s awesome. Let’s get together and eat human food, drink human drinks, and we can set up an ancient human restaurant!"
Besides making for a boring variety in food trucks, you get the drift. They didn’t have to argue about culture. That made them united.
That’s not all they had in common. Take a look at Genesis 11:1. Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. In the Hebrew, that literally means “They had a common lip.” That doesn’t mean they shared the same lip OR even that their lips looked similar. It’s a figure of speech meaning that they had the same language.
Have you ever tried to learn a language? It’s quite, difficult. I’m trying to learn Spanish right now using the DuoLingo app. I’ve been stuck at 53% fluency for about three months – Remembering to do it every day is difficult. It’s why I only know “un poquito Espanol”.
So can you imagine a world in which the Rosetta Stone language learning software did not exist? A world where there weren’t Second Language electives in school? A language in which you didn’t get upset that you couldn’t communicate with tech support from another country OR you went on a trip and didn’t have to carry a pocket dictionary with you just to order “ein Bier.”
What I’m saying is: Not having language barriers must have made for very pleasant communication. It must have really united those early humans.
Then, look at verse 2: “As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.” Now Shinar is eastward of where they were originally. Remember – Noah and his family had come down off of Mt. Ararat. It’s not a mountain that we can pinpoint today, but a good guess is that it’s somewhere in the middle east. The Plain of Shinar would be more East than that. A lot of scholar think that this would become Babylon.
This leads to one more commonality among these humans. They all shared the same land.
This means they all wanted the same geographic region to succeed! It was the Plains of Shinar Mets v. the Plains of Shinar Yankees – and everybody was cheering for the team from the Plains of Shinar. All the economic funding, all of their working, all of their prayers, all of their time, all of their effort went towards building up the Plains of Shinar.
In fact, this led to one more thing they all had in common. Check out verse 3-4. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a toward that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
In other words – they shared the same plan.
This wasn’t the idea of some dictator NOR was it a politic thought that was pushed through the media. Notice it says “They said to each other.” Everyone had the same thought. Everyone had the same desire. Everyone had the same goal – let’s build a giant tower so that this city becomes the best city of all time! A memorial to how awesome we are!
So they got to work. Brick material gatherers gathered brick materials. Brick makers made bricks. Oven heaters heated ovens. Bricklayers laid bricks. Architects sipped their coffees and architected. Everyone worked on it. Everyone supported it. Everyone was for it. Everyone was on board with it.
Everyone…except the One they forgot.
The Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The Lord said, “if as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
Not that God didn’t notice before. God knows all things. He sees all things. He is by all things. But verse 5 describes how God made a concerted examination of the building project; he examined the building & their hearts and he saw a few very ugly things.
1) They were united in their disobedience.
If you go back to when Noah got off the ark, God gave a pretty simple command. He had just saved them from complete destruction on earth by warning Noah and telling him about the flood. Secondly, by wiping out unbelief so that he didn’t lose his people forever in hell. In return, he says to them, “Be fruitful, increase in number & fill the earth.” (9:1)
This is the exact opposite of their reasoning for building the tower. “Let’s build ourselves a city so that we might not be scattered over the face of the earth.”
In fact, when you take a look at their building materials, they decide to bake the bricks (most likely in ovens) rather than let them sundry which was the common way of making bricks at that time. They decided to use tar for mortar – which was different than the common adhesive used at that time.
The result? The bricks were more permanent. The adhesive was more permanent. The building was more permanent.
And so was the people’s disobedience.
2) They were united in their pride.
Did you notice that about their brainstorming session? They said, “Let us make bricks…let us bake thoroughly…let us make a name for ourselves.”
This is entirely different from how the people of God had acted in the past. In Genesis 4:26 it says the people began “to glorify the name of the Lord.” That means they sang songs to the Lord. They built houses to show God’s glory. They grew crops to God’s glory.
Is God’s name anywhere on this building? No. The people didn’t even recognize God. They only thought of themselves. They only wanted their own glory.
It’s like the guy who goes on TV after a star basketball performance and he says, “I earned this. I did great. I’m number one. I want to keep winning so that I can cement my own legacy and get some more glory!”
Your legacy? Your glory? What about the God who created you?
Take a look at what God does. “Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
One minute – a guy is asking for a hammer; then next minute he is being told “No lo puedo descubrir.”
One minute – the foreman shouts: “Release the rock on three." The next he’s shouting "eins, zwei, drei!”
One minute everyone understand each other and everyone is getting along. The next minute? They’re confusing each other; arguing each other; and leaving their grand plan.
God scattered them from there over all the earth.
II. Now When People are Divided
But you know…What’s interesting? It wasn’t their new found differences that caused them to abandon their building project. It was the one thing they all had in common.
Pride. Sinful, disgusting, disobedient, pride.
It is the exact same thing that divides people today.
Instead of thinking what another’s culture is like and taking that into consideration, we think of our own and demand they take that into consideration.
Instead of saying, “How are things difficult for you?” we say, “Listen to how things are difficult for me!”
Instead of humbly accepting our failures in whatever culture we’re from, we love to blame others and force them to wear the label we’ve constructed.
Is it any wonder why we, as a people, are so divided? It’s because of what we have in common.
Jerusalem. A couple thousand years later.
The city was bustling. A group of Parthians are arguing with some Medes about the price of a horse. The Parthians are having a hard time understanding why that Arab wears his clothing that way. A Phrygian is having a hard time ordering off the local Hebrew menu and an Egyptian is giving the Roman guards an earful about why he hates their government.
Then, everyone quiets down. They hear something like a tornado wind coming from a small house in the corner of the market. From where they are looking, they see a group of men inside – little flames of fire on the top of their heads – as crowds start to gather, the men come out of the house. They begin speaking.
But not just in Hebrew. Not just in Latin either. In the languages of the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Jews, Cappadocians, Pontians, Asians, Phrygians, Pamphylians, Egyptians, Libyans, Cretans and Arabs.
While each person is hearing a different language, they are all hearing the same message – You’re sinners. You need a Savior. Jesus, who died and rose again is that Savior.
A few people mock them: “They have had too much wine.”
But one of the men stands up in reaction. He speaks with one voice – one voice heard by all their languages. 2 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,[d] put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 36 Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
The men looked around. Different faces. Different skin shades. Different cultures. Different headdresses. But they all had the exact same look of concern on their face. “Brothers,” a phrase absent of any cultural bias, “what should we do? How do we defeat our sins? How do we get on God’s good side? How do we return to our God?”
Listen to Peter’s reply if you are wondering the same thing – “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins “
Notice it wasn’t any different for the different people gathered that day. He didn’t tell some to pray. Some to dance. Some to sing and some to chant. Nope. This was no time for culture. This was time to address the One Shared Problem with their One Shared Savior.
Brothers and sisters – this is how God defeats division.
First, He defeats the division between us and God! Jesus lived perfectly when we couldn’t; he died innocently in our place and he rose triumphantly to proclaim us at peace with God.
It means that your selfishness is forgiven. Your racist attitude are forgiven. Your sinful ethnocentric cultural pride is forgiven.
Then, God defeats the division amongst humans.
It’s pretty interesting. The people wanted to build a big old tower – a tower so big that they would be united around their own awesomeness and never be lost. But then sinful pride got in the way and they never completed it.
Now God has something for all of us to unite around. Something else tall. Something else up.
It doesn’t matter if your Persian or Greek, Mede or Roman, Jew or non-Jew. It doesn’t matter if you are European American, African American, Asian American, Latino American, Middle Eastern American or any other kind of American – of if you don’t even consider yourself American at all.
The Cross unites us. Jesus unites us. One Savior. One Ruler. One Lord. One family.
God does all this because the Holy Spirit works through this.
As great as the miracles were that day – a whirlwind sounds without any wind, flames of fire without any burning, languages spoken without any learning – the most incredible miracle of all was thousands united – united to God & united to each other. The Holy Spirit does this in spite of our sinfulness, in spite of our pride, in spite of our misunderstanding, cultural confusions, and the straight up racism of this world.
The Holy Spirit unites us as family in one faith!
May he continue to do so, now and always. Amen.
Counter Culture: TRUTH
Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.
Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and that the Father is in me? The Words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and that the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.”
What had he just done.
Peter looked around. Thousands and thousands of pupils were now focused solely on him. The roar of the crowds chatter faded away. Everyone was waiting to hear what he had to say.
Peter wasn’t used to this. He was a fisherman. He was used to time on a quiet lake in the calm air. Peaceful. Warm. The occasional splash of a nearby jump. There wasn’t anyone else there besides his brother Andrew and his good friends James and John. On the lake, he certainly didn’t have to make any speeches other than the occasional mock speech he made to the salmon about how he had a good life and was now about to join the Great Frying Pan in the Sky.
Now Peter was in the center of Jerusalem. Now he was surrounded by strangers from strange cultures all over the Middle East – Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Judeans, Cappadoccians, Pontians, Asians, Phyrgians, Pamphylians, Egyptians and Romans. Now he was to make a speech.
What would he do? If he wanted to make the speech go well, he’d have to be very careful with his words. He could mention Jesus – sure, but he’d want to quickly acknowledge the sun god – Ra out of respect for the Egyptians there. Then, he’d need to talk about Artemis – the fertility goddess – in order to appease the Corinthian traders in town. Then, he’d need to make sure that they were all placed on equal footing as the Greek gods Zeus, Ares and Poseidon, while interspersing the names Jupiter, Mars, and Neptune for all those Romans who were present. All while not forgetting those Jews – they didn’t like to hear much about sin, so --- his big finish could be – “Jesus is the Messiah – and I think, it’s just my opinion, and you may think differently—that you didn’t treat him the best all the time.”
Yes. Peter could go that route. He could send everyone home happy. He could tell them that they all had different religions which were all utterly opposed to one another, but they all lead to God eventually…so…Raise your glasses and “Coexist!” That was the world’s definition of TRUTH!
That speech certainly had a happy ending. But…it didn’t seem right. Afterall, he’d been a disciple to Jesus. A man who didn’t accept the world’s definition of truth. A man whose definition was strange. A man whose definition was CounterCultural.
The more he thought about it, the more Jesus’ definition was echoing throughout his cerebrum:
"Peter, I am the Truth."
This morning we’re continuing our series called CounterCultural by taking a look at that counter cultural statement from Jesus. In a culture where truth is whatever you want the truth to be or whatever you feel the truth should be, and who is anyone to ever disagree with you, Jesus spoke to the most divisive truth of all -- Religion. And he wasn’t so wishy washy.
Take a look at that. It’s from John 14:6. Jesus’ disciples had just asked him to show them the way to God. Jesus responded, “I am… the Truth…No one comes to the Father, except through me.”
I. The Truth is The Truth.
Here’s the first thing take note of. The Truth is the Truth. Notice the definite article on Jesus’ predicate nominative. I am THE Truth. He didn’t say “I am a truth.” He didn’t say, “I one of the truths.” He didn’t say, “I feel like I am the truth. If you feel that way too, gnarly dude.”
The definite article is one letter in Greek and it is a very important letter. It means that Jesus considered himself to be THE only Truth and THE only way to know God.
In April, we had Pastor’s Conference in Philadelphia. One of the first things that we did when we were there was to drive directly downtown to get some Philly Cheese Steak. Have you ever been there? Literally, when you get downtown, you run into Geno’s--an awesome Philly name. It smells delicious. The moment you open up your car door, the smell of thick, roasted, peppery meat fills your nostrils. There’s a sign next to the window that says “Best Cheesesteak in Philly” and you believe it. You ordered a ½ pound sandwich. Wolf it down and smile. It's delicious.
Then, you look across the street. In bright neon, obnoxious, flashing light is a sign: “Pat’s – Best Cheesesteak in Philly.” So, you do your civic duty. You loosen your belt and you order another ½ pounder.
Which is true? Which is better? It’s really subjective, isn’t it? Subjective means that it is your opinion. When it comes to subjective truth, the truth can literally be whatever you want it to be.
But that’s not the kind of truth that Jesus was speaking about here. Jesus isn’t saying “I think I’m the best god.” He isn’t saying, “My words are pretty valid.”
Jesus said, “I am the truth.”
That’s not subjective truth, but objective truth. It’s not opinion, but fact. Objective truth is truth because it is the truth. My hair is brown. I have two eyes. The colors of the new Pentecost banners are red --- it’s still red, no matter how much you’d like it to be purple polka dotted. It’s red.
The problem is that society has confused objective truth with subjective truth.
Take the Common Core Curriculum. I don’t know a lot about it. But I read an eye opening article a while back. It examined the way that children were taught TRUTH and OPINION. In the article were real examples from a Scantron test where students were given a statement and then they had to mark if the statement was FACT or OPINION.
Let’s see how you do.
Fact or Opinion. It’s wrong to cheat on a test. – Did you say Fact? That’s wrong. Morality is only an opinion.
Fact or Opinion. Lying is wrong. – Did you say Fact again? How foolish that’s your opinion.
Fact or Opinion. All men are created equal. – The correct answer is opinion. Popular, yes. But not fact. Only opinion.
Or course-- and this is my question-- if the creators of the Scantron are saying that those statements are Opinions, then how do we know it’s Fact? Isn’t that just their opinion?
Objective truth is fact. Whether it’s the color of my hair of whether or stealing is wrong. Objective truth is truth for all people of all time. It isn’t determined by popular vote, emotional response, or moral majority.
Jesus statement is objective. He is THE TRUTH. His Words are the Truth. The Bible is The Truth. Jesus as God is The Truth.
II. The Truth Excludes Opposing Truths.
The second thing builds off of the first. Since the truth is the truth, it excludes any truth that’s opposes it. Notice what it says, “opposing truth.” If they aren’t in opposition, then they can certainly coexist but be true. For instance, I might say “This bag of Doritos is Cheesy” and you might say, “It is also Triangular.” Fair enough. We can coexist. They are not opposed to one another. They can both be true.
But if the two truths oppose one another, then one of the truths is not true.
For example, my dog Clay. My dog clay is a dog. I put a picture of him up there for ya’ll to confirm. His species is Canine.
Now what if I said, “Clay is a human.” That’s not true. Clay can’t be both canine and human no matter how much he wants it to be true – The fact that he is a dog nullifies the fact that he is a human and makes it not true.
With me so far?
Jesus just said that He is the Truth. Since Jesus is the Truth and the true way to God the Father, then any religion that claims to have the truth and yet speaks a different truth, necessitates that one of the truths is wrong!
· “There is God.” “There isn’t God.” Those aren’t both true. One is and one isn’t.
· “Jesus is God.” “Allah is God.” It’s not just a cultural thing. One is true; the other is false.
· “Christianity is the true way to God.” “Buddhism is the truest way to God.” There are no superlatives in contradicting statements.
· “God and I are cool because Jesus died for me.” and “God and I are cool because I’m not that bad of a sinner." These are mutually opposed statements. Someone is wrong.
In Jesus’ own words, who is he suggesting is wrong?
“I am the Truth…No one comes to the Father except through me.”
III. The Truth has been Substantiated.
Immediately, you need to be asking the question of any religion you stumble across – “How do I trust you? How do I know that what you are speaking is the truth?”
You could ask that question about other religious leaders. Mohammed would tell you “Because I went up on a mountain, received a vision, and I told you so.” Joseph Smith would tell you, “Because I went into the woods, picked up a pair of sunglasses that only I could use, and read a language that only I could know.” Buddha would tell you, “Because…don’t you just feel it, man?”
What would Jesus tell you? How would he defend the truth?
11 “Believe me when I tell you that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe based on the evidence of the miracles themselves.”
Jesus didn’t do these miracles in the forest by themselves. He didn’t do these miracles in a showroom at Vegas. He did these in his own backyard.
He did them in plain sight of tens of thousands of people:
· He made the blind man – who had been blinds for decades and who was known by thousands of people who had walked by him and heard his cry for “alms” --- Jesus made him see!
· He fed almost 10,000 people with just a 5 loaves of bread and two loaves of fish. Not only did their eyes see it, but their stomachs felt it! Their bellies attested to it: Jesus is God!
· He died. Then, he came back to life. He didn’t appear once. He didn’t appear twice. He didn’t appear to one person or two people. Or even just his disciples. He appeared to over 500 people, at many times, in various places – friends and foes alike!
Jesus did things that only God can do, to validate that he was the True God!
This is key for you. Because now others truths that he spoke about you are also true:
· You are children of God through faith.
· Whoever believes in Him will be saved
· In Jesus, we become the righteousness of God.
IV. Speaking The Truth Is Loving
Even so you now know what the Truth is understand that the world doesn’t care. Our world seems to have this idea that if you have the truth, the most loving thing for you to do is to keep your mouth shut!
Is that really the loving thing though? Is it really loving to have the truth and not share it?
We just got our Precious Lambs picture back. On the day they were taken it was a windy day, and right before we were all lined up, Julianna looked at my hair and grimaced. It was stringy. It was mussed up. She lifted her hand and tried to brush it out of my face.
But, I’ll confess something, in my own sinful nature, I got upset: “Leave it alone. It’s find. You’re embarrassing me.”
Now that we’ve gotten the pictures back…it turns out, I embarrassed me.
Speaking the truth is loving when it comes to mussed up hair. Even if the person gets upset, it’s loving!
If your child started climbing the side of the lion cage at the zoo would you shout, “Get down from there!” Or politely whisper to your neighbor, “I don’t dare shout at her. If she wants to climb the cage and play with the vicious tigers, I would be stifling her creativity and who she is as a human being if I stopped her.”
I hope you’d do the former!
May the same be true for the message of Jesus. Scripture says “Speak the truth in love.” Nowhere do you ever hear Jesus saying, “Don’t speak the truth.” Nowhere does Jesus say, “Speak the truths that are convenient.” Nowhere does Jesus say, “Speak the truth unless it hurts someone’s feelings.”
Jesus doesn’t care about feelings. Jesus cares about eternal souls.
You do the same. Courageously explain to your coworkers why the Bible is the truth. Tell your unbelieving spouse why you are concerned for his soul. Boldly tell your children, “They believe something different. It’s not the truth. We believe Jesus. Jesus is the truth.”
You aren’t being unloving for caring that your children hear the truth! Not at all.
In fact, you’re being just like Peter.
Let’s get back to that Pentecost scene. Peter took a breath. Then Peter spoke the truth:
He didn’t care if it seemed strange: “This is what was spoken about in the Prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.' " (2:16-18)
He didn’t care if it offended: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (2:22-23)
He didn’t care if it was exclusive: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (2:38)
He simply cared that they knew the truth and were saved. “Save yourselves from this wicked and corrupt generation.”
And you know what happened? Peter didn’t get beat up. He wasn’t thrown in prison. He didn’t get called a fool – not on Pentecost.
41 "Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day."
Praise God for the Truth. The Truth is Powerful. Amen.
There are a lot of famous spokesmen in the world. Tony the Tiger. Mr. Clean. Ronald McDonald. Lebron James. The Honey Bee from Honey Nut Cheerios. (Although I have to admit that I have no idea what his name is.)
A spokesman is important. These spokesmen help to sell the product. They tell you to invest in what the company sells. They tell you "you aren’t as cool as Lebron James if you don’t eat the Club Hamburger!”
If you had to name one spokesman for Christianity, whom would you name?
The whimsical and kind words of Max Lucado? The theologically heavy, yet humanly raw writings of Martin Luther? How about the wise, well-known voice of Billy Graham? The Gospel sing-song voice of Reverend T.D. Jakes?
All of these Christian speak and write in very different ways. Which one is the best? Which one is most correct?
What does the voice of Christianity sound like?
I wonder if the post Ascension disciples were pondering that very question. They had just received their marching orders. They were to “go and make disciples of all nations by baptizing them…and by teaching them to obey everything (Jesus) had commanded them.” (Mt. 28:19) Teaching involved talking. They would have to use their voice.
Should they be hellfire and brimstone like the Old Testament prophets? Should they speak mildly in one on one conversation? Should they hire speech writers to help them write the first sermon OR should they just hire someone to preach it for them? Maybe they could buy big rolls of papyrus, make bolded posters with crosses on them and place them all over the Colisseum?
As they sat their quietly in that Jerusalem room and pondered what the Christian voice might sound like, little did they know that God was about to reveal to them exactly what it sounded like.
1. What does the Christian Voice Sound Like?
Suddenly, they heard the sound like the blowing of a violent wind. Think of a hurricane without the rain. A tornado without the wind. Then, they saw what appeared to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. Finally, Scripture says they were filled with the Holy Spirit and then it describes how they went and immediately began preaching sermons. (Acts 2)
Understand what this means. These disciples – ordinary men – fishermen, accountants, untrained, unschooled – suddenly knew what the Christian voice sounded like. It was familiar.
It was their own.
What does it sound like today?
Look at what the prophet Joel has to say about Pentecost and the time after it in chapter two of his prophecy. He says, “Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants – both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” (Joel 2:28-29)
Consider then what the Christian voice sounds like.
Sometimes, Joel says, it sounds like sons and daughters.
If you have older children who have grown up and left the house, you might be nodding your head. But notice that Joel puts no age limit on this prophecy. Meaning that if your kid is still a kid, this prophecy is no less valid.
Now you may be thinking, “My kid? The voice of Christianity? Not so much. She’s inquisitive (always asking “Why?”) to be sure and she’s knows all the words to “Let It Go,” but the voice of Chrsitianity? That might be taking it too far.”
…Think of those Precious Lambs last weekend. They are nothing more than preschool . Not even tall enough to ride the Ferris Wheel at an amusement park. Last week they sang in church. High pitched? A little. Off key? Some. Off beat? Definitely.
But did that change their message? It was the Word of God from Matthew 28: “Surely, I will be with you always to the very end of the age.”
Wonderful. Beautiful. God’s Word.
Sometimes the voice of the Christian sounds like the voice of a child!
But that’s not all the Christian voice sounds like. Joel writes, “Your young men will see visions.” (2:28)
Again, that might sound a little strange. Teenage boys aren’t usually thought of for their responsibility. Culturally, we think of them as talking about the latest cheat codes on a video game, the stats of their favorite football team, and whether Marci Fischer has a crush on them or not!
But Joel tells us that “your young men will see visions.” High schoolers will challenge their public school teachers on the origins of the world. Teens from New Ulm join forces with some of our teens and go door-to-door inviting people to church. In a few weeks, the WELS Youth rally will gather over 2000 teens from across the United States united in singing praises to God. Shortly after that we will have teen confirmation and two young adults will confess their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ before all of us!
Sometimes, the voice of the Christian sounds like the voice of a teenager!
But that’s not all the Christian voice sounds like. Joel writes, “your old men will dream dreams.” (2:28)
Again, you might struggle to think this possible. Especially with a much older man who lives in a retirement home. One might think, “They need help with every aspect of living. They need someone to push the wheelchair. Someone to bring them food. If I want to hear anything they are saying, I have to lean in close and listen intently! How could they be the spokesmen of the Lord?”
Monday mornings I head over Brighton Gardens retirement home. The majority of the residents who join me for worship there have to be wheeled in. They need help finding the page in the bulletin. They need help finding a spot to sit.
They don’t need any help singing Amazing Grace! They sing “How Great Thou Art” at the top of their lungs. Sure, their fingers might write a with a tad more of a crook, but they can still write letters of blessing. Sure, their ways might be a bit old fashioned, but if you listen…really listen, you might learn wonderful lessons about God.
Respect your elders. Because sometimes the voice of Christianity sounds just like the voice of your grandparent!
But young men, old men, and young children are not all that the voices of Christians sound like. Joel tells us "I will pour out my Spirit on all people….even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” (Joel 2:28, 29)
In other words, at different times the voice of Christianity will sound like the voice of every believer.
But here’s where you really need to pay attention.
First, make sure no one’s around. Close a door. Breath deeply. Then, hum a bit. Softly a first, then a bit louder.
Did you hear it?
You just heard the voice of Christianity! You just heard the voice of one of God’s spokesmen.
2. How does a Christian Voice Speak?
Now I’m sure you are immediately objecting:
“I’m terrible at speaking.”
“I freeze up and say silly things.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“If I can’t convince my kids to eat their broccoli, how can I convince others to believe in Jesus?”
I’m sure the disciples might have had similar objections. In Jerusalem that first Pentecost was a United Nations of the Ancient World: Parthians, Median, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Cappadocians, Pontians, Asians, phyrgians, Pamphylians, Egyptians, Libyans, Romans, Cretans, and Arabs!
Yet, Scripture tells us that they heard the message of Jesus – clearly—and each in their own language.
This was long before the time of the Rosetta Stone. How could the disciples have been able to speak all these different languages so quickly?
Were they studying in their off time? When? They had been following Jesus for over three years. Were they naturally brilliant? Not necessarily. Some of them were fishermen and farmers. Were they drunk? Not at all!
Peter answers by pointing to the words of the prophet Joel: "I will pour out my Spirit on all people….I will pour my Spirit in those days.”
In other words, the disciples weren’t in it alone. Their voices didn’t speak by themselves. They had the Holy Spirit of God guiding them.
The same is true for you.
Now you might not have a tongue of fire on your head. You probably can’t speak in tongues and I don’t want you to even try picking up a poisonous snake.
Yet, if you are a believer, know this: You have the Holy Spirit with you!
How do I know this?
Scripture says, “No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3) You can’t be a believer unless the Holy Spirit is with you – in your heart.
This is comforting isn’t it? You, dear believer, are an instrument of the Holy Spirit. As you speak his Word, he is using you for his purposes.
Which means that there is no reason to worry!
I imagine that a rickety old violin might feel a little worried in the way that he will sound as a concert approaches. But, if that old violin hears that it will be played by a world renowned violinist, all that worry fades away!
You are an instrument that is in the hands of the Holy Spirit of God! He is world renowned for the faith that he works and strengthens through the Word. Though you may be broken and rusty in your speaking skills, that does not mean that He can’t use you to beautifully share God’s Word!
Scripture tells us, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)
This is true. It’s true even when you, yes, you, speak God’s Word.
3. What Does a Spokesman Say?
Now about the only objection you might have left is to ask the simple question, “what does the Christian voice say?”
Take a look at Peter’s speech in Acts 2 and you see that answer. Peter continues in his Pentecost address to speak of the past. Specifically, the past 50 days. He tells how Jesus lived. How Jesus died. How Jesus rose again. He tells them of how they sinned and how Jesus save them from their sins.
You know this. You know it well. So speak it. Speak of how your Savior lived perfectly, died innocently, and rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of sins.
Then, don’t just speak the past, but speak the future.
Now, you might be thinking, “The future? How am I to do that? I don’t own a crystal ball. I don’t get visions. I can’t read palms. My magic 8 ball is broken. How am I to speak about the future, if I don’t know it!?!”
But, dear Christian, as a believer in Jesus, might I add that you do know the future. Look at the words of Joel for a reminder:
God says, "I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood on the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” (Joel 2:30-32)
In other words, you know the Law. The end is coming. It comes as death for many of us. For others, it will come as Judgment day. And without Jesus, it will be dreadful.
But, you also know the Gospel. Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance! (Joel 2:33)
Don’t shudder in proclaiming comfort for the future. Confidently and boldly speak the good news of Jesus!
When Peter and the disciples had finished their work on the first Pentecost, Scripture tells us that over 3,000 were added to their number that day.
Brothers and sisters, you may not see thousands of people coming to faith as soon as you start sharing your faith, but don’t be surprised to start seeing results. The LORD is at work! He will cause people to think. He will cause people to ask questions. He will be at work as you share his word!
So, be a spokesman!
Just about the only time that a spokesman doesn’t do his job is when he doesn’t speak for the product he represents.
You represent Jesus. Do your job. Speak of him. At home, at work, on the job, with your neighbors, at the dog park, in the coffee shop, online. Be a spokesman for Jesus! Amen.