Today we are continuing our series called The Kingdom of God is like… and hearing yet another parable from Jesus about the kingdom of God. Remember, a parable is an earthly story that tells about the kingdom of God. We’ve heard two – both centered around farming.
We’ve heard so far…
…The Kingdom of God is like a farmer sowing seed – it lands on a lot of different soil types and has a lot of different results; just as God’s Word falls on lots of different heart types and has a lot of different results.
…The Kingdom of God is like a growing seed – the seed grows with repetitive, repeated, faithful, and persistent care; just as the seed of faith grows with repetitive, repeated, faithful and persistent use of God’s Word.
Today we are adding yet another farming parable to our list of Jesus’ parables and it’s going to teach us yet another facet of God’s kingdom. Before we begin, let’s pray: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story of the Mustard Seed
The parable is taken from Mark 4 which is the same chapter that the last two parables are from. So, it’s quite likely that Jesus tells it as a follow up to the other two parables that we mentioned before.
I love Jesus’ opening introduction to the parable in verse 30:
Again Jesus said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?”
You kind of get the impression that the disciples need some help.
They sat through two parables of Jesus – two teachings about the kingdom of God.
The first one they were confused about.
After the second one, didn’t seem to help much.
They must have been a lot of blank stares.
And now Jesus, the omniscient, Lord of heaven and earth, is trying to explain the divinely complete and eternally developed kingdom of God to these temporal, finite, and much simpler humans.
It’s kind of like trying to give directions to someone who doesn’t really know the area. Has that ever happened to you? Maybe you’re trying to get them to church. You tell them:
Head south on Falls of Neuse until you get to Newton Rd. Turn left and then it’ll be the little brown church to the right.
Do you know where Ravenscroft is? The library? It’s in that general vicinity.
Scratching their heads.
Go to the Han Dee Hugo Station. Turn left. Go 2500 feet. Turn left into the Parking lot with the sign for Gethsemane Lutheran Church.
SIGH. Just take my GPS.
Jesus shares that frustration. Trying to teach the things of God to puny minded humans beings.
So he says…
The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. (v.31)
If you wanted a BIG plant to grow in your garden, how big a seed would you need to plant?
The bigger the seed; the bigger the plant, right?
A sunflower seed.
A pumpkin seed.
An avocado pit.
They’re pretty big in the world of seeds; they must produce big plants. It makes sense.
What about a mustard seed?
Have you ever seen one of those? (Think of the Grey Poupon Mustard jar.) They are super tiny and barely visible if I held one up for you in the front of church.
In fact, it’s so tiny – that if I planted it – and if anything grew from it – I’d expect it to be a tiny, little grass sprout.
When planted, the seed grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade. (v.32)
It’s bigger than a sunflower.
Bigger than a pumpkin plant.
Bigger than an avocado bush.
It’s basically a tree. About 6, 7, 8 foot high.
Big enough that birds land in its branch.
All of that happens from this little seed.
Such a small, insignificant seed leads to an incredibly significant plant!
II. False Expectations
What’s the point of Jesus’ story?
Is Jesus just a really big fan of mustard?
Should we all go to Food Lion and grab a yellow, squeezable bottle of French’s mustard to put in the offering plate next Sunday?
Remember – a parable is an earthly story that teaches us about the kingdom of God.
Think about it…
What is God trying to teach us about His kingdom?
This past Monday at 9:30am I went to a local retirement home. It’s something that I’ve been doing for about 5 years now. I head to the home. I do an acapella, communion-less version of today’s service. I tell the people there about Jesus.
To be fair – when we first started, they put me on in the big living room area. And…I’m pretty loud. It wasn’t hard to get people’s attention. There was plenty of room. Usually we’d gather together about 20 some people to worship Jesus on a given Monday.
Recently they relocated me to a much smaller side room because some thought I was a bit of a distraction.
Recently the Lifestyle Coordinator that I worked with was replaced with a new coordinator.
Recently that side room has become a storage room of sorts - scrunching the chairs and causing us to lose space to Thanksgiving decorations.
This past Monday morning...there was one lady who joined me for worship.
It wasn’t the one who shouts “Amen.”
It wasn’t the one who sings along.
It wasn’t the one who nods at key points of the sermon.
It was the one who falls asleep about 3 minutes in.
I will not lie. I started to think:
What’s the point?
Why be here?
It isn’t anything BIG.
It isn’t anything SIGNIFICANT.
This can’t be the work of God because it isn’t BIG and SIGNIFCANT enough!
You ever thought like that? Have you ever thought…
Why am I attending this INSIGNIFICANT church service? It’s not even Christmas Eve. It’s some random service in October.
Why am I telling my kids this INSIGNIFCANT Bible story? They don’t even look like they’re listening.
Why am I making this INSIGNIFICANT invite to worship? My friend couldn’t care less.
Why am I prepping for this INSIGNIFCANT Sunday School class? There’ll be, what, 2 kids here?
Why would I have my child baptized? It’s an INSIGNIFICANT splash of water. What could it possibly do!
Friends, we are buying into a LIE.
Work in God’s Kingdom needs to SEEM SIGNIFICANT or it will BE INSIGNIFICANT.
The lie suddenly becomes:
Every time I share the message of Jesus; it needs to be greeted with SHOUTS of joy or it was worthless…
Each worship service needs strobe lights and smoke machines or it’s not really work in God’s kingdom.
Each Bible passage on Facebooks need to go viral or it will be utterly worthless.
Each time I teach kids, I need about 30 of them, lined up – like soldiers – listening to my words like the kids from Sound of Music or I might as well quit trying.
Careful. You’re listening to The Lie.
And it’s most dangerous when it comes to personally connecting with God.
Because we think:
I need to go to climb some mountain, in some freezing Antarctic culture and find a Sherpa on the very summit. That’s SIGNIFICANT and that’s connecting with God.
I need to go to some forest, deep in the jungle, to find a TEMPLE OF DOOM and an ancient artifact that will solve God for me. That’s SIGNIFICANT. That’s the way to God.
I need to spend hours in a laboratory, dissecting, experimenting, and divulging in order to unlock the secret God particle. That would be SIGNIFICANT and that would be the way to Him.
I need to give thousands of dollars to some charity to get my name on one of their plaques to ensure that God might like me. That’s SIGNIFICANT and maybe then God would pay attention to me!
We envision these grandiose ideals on how to connect with God, when God has simply, clearly made himself absolutely accessible through something seemingly insignificant.
Friends, if this what you believe -
That’s God’s Kingdom only shows up in the SEEMINGLY SIGNIFICANT.
In the BIG Seed.
In the FLASHING LIGHTS seed.
In the ABSOLUTELY IMPRESSIVE seed…
You are in danger of missing it altogether.
III. The Unexpected Reality
Like many of the people at Jesus’ time…
They expected the Savior to be look like someone SIGNIFICANT.
Like a king coming from a beautiful palace.
Like some soldier with a giant sword.
Like a general with a myriad of soldiers behind him.
Like an activist enacting visibly massive political upheaval.
But that’s not what they saw in Jesus.
Instead of a beautiful palace, he came from a feeding trough in some dilapidated barn.
Instead of a giant sword, he swung a carpenter’s hammer.
Instead of a myriad of soldiers, he had 12 disciples – 4 fishermen, an accountant, a political activist, a betrayer and 5 guys whose jobs were so insignificant they aren’t even written down in Scripture.
Instead of massive visual political upheaval, thee enacted invisible personal, spiritual change.
Even in his death – He seemed insignificant!
He didn’t die fighting a dragon.
He wasn’t fending off some super villain.
He didn’t go in some epic explosion.
He hung on a cross.
Where many common criminals hung before.
Where many common criminals hung after.
Jesus’ LIFE seem insignificant, but there is no LIFE more eternally important.
Because with his death he removed all of your sins.
With his blood he removed all of your guilt.
With his resurrection he declared heaven to be yours!
It might look common.
It might seem insignificant.
It might seem like a mustard seed of a teaching.
But belief in Jesus leads to a mustard plant like growth into the Kingdom of God itself.
If Jesus’ LIFE seemed insignificant, but there is no life more eternally important…
Jesus WORK might seem insignificant, but there is no WORK more eternally important.
That insignificant looking church service, can reinvigorate and replenish your faith in the Savior.
That insignificant looking Bible story – can fill your kids with trust in their Savior.
That insignificant invite to worship, might be one of a series of calls from God to bring that person to His kingdom.
That insignificant looking Sunday School class, could strengthen the faith of a future SS teacher who will continue to multiply God’s kingdom long after your gone.
Those insignificant looking drops of water, wash away sin and bring you into God’s eternal kingdom.
That insignificant looking, off-key acapella worship service in that stuffy, back storage room with only one person in attendance…might strengthen that person’s faith just enough to bring them home to heaven.
Like an insignificant looking mustard seed, God’s kingdom grows into the most eternally significant.
IV. What Now?
1. Do the Seemingly Insignificant
Work on memorizing Scripture.
Sing “Jesus Loves Me” with your kids.
Bring your kids to worship – even when they don’t want to.
Bring yourself to worship – even when it’s not a celebration Sunday.
Tell a coworker about Jesus – even if it’s not some incredible doctrinal statement.
Do the seemingly insignificant work this week and you will be doing the eternal important work of God’s kingdom.
And it’s not just personal…
When you’re leaving today, look behind across the parking lot. There’s an incredible new ministry center out there with an incredible ability to Plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh.
To be fair – it looks SIGNIFICANT.
But the work surrounding it – hasn’t always been…
Phone calls on hold to subcontractors.
Emails typed to potential parents.
Fixing the little tiny door latch for the cabinet in the janitor’s closet.
On its own, the work seemed insignificant.
Keep doing the insignificant when that opens.
Spend an extra minute talking to a parent about their life.
Add a dollar to the offering plate.
Paint a wall in the Fellowship Hall.
Do the Seemingly Insignificant work of God’s kingdom because there is nothing of more eternal significance.
2. Remember the Eternal Significance
Segue with me.
To something that isn’t a parable.
Segue with me.
To something that is a glimpse into the future.
Segue with me.
To the reality of heaven itself – the ultimate goal of God’s kingdom.
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9, 10, 13, 14)
Look at that multitude.
Look at those people.
It’s eternally significant.
If you look closely enough you might see…
There’s that person that you shared that seemingly insignificant Bible verse with.
There’s your neighbor that you shared a seemingly insignificant church invitation with.
There’s your child that you shared a seemingly insignificant 5-minute Bible story with.
You can't say for sure, so we must keep sharing God's Word. It's important!
The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed…
The work can look insignificant, but there is no work of more eternal significance.
Last week, we heard about how the Apostle Peter brought the Gospel to the Jews that lived in Lydda and Joppa. Today we’re going to hear about the first time that Peter brought the Gospel to people that weren’t Jews at all. As we study God’s Word, we’re going to delve into some very important and timely truths about the Gospel and Race. Before we do that, a prayer:
Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
The lesson picks up right where we left off last week. Peter is still in Joppa. He’s still ministering to Tabitha. He’s still sharing the message of Jesus with people who were quite interested in hearing him, since he just brought a dead woman back to life.
But eventually, Peter needs a break. Acts 10:9 says, “About noon...Peter went up on the roof to pray.”
Now, you don’t need to picture Peter trying to balance on a 45-pitch roof. (OSHA is not involved with this story). At that time, roofs were mostly flat. Since homes were commonly built in close proximity to each other to maximize space – it was used like a porch. It was relaxing and quiet, a good place for uninterrupted prayer.
And there must have been a lot of exciting things on Peter’s mind:
He’s thankful the Outreach initiatives that have taken place in Lydda and Joppa.
He’s starting to brainstorm for a new group – a Jews for Jesus – outreach group for Jews about Jesus.
He’s thinking it might be wise to plan a church outing to the local Jewish Carpenter’s Baseball game.
He’s brainstorming how to take my favorite Jewish songs and melodies – and transform them into songs about Jesus.
In short, Peter is excited.
He’s happy to see God work on the hearts of his Jewish compatriots.
And he heads to the roof for guidance from God!
While he’s up there, praying and praying and praying, he starts to get hungry.
But before he can head downstairs to the kitchen, he sees some food….
…Coming down from the sky.
Peter saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners…. like a picnic cloth… It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” (10:12-13)
And Peter looks at the animals on the sheet.
And Peter’s tummy rumbled.
And Peter was hungry.
And Peter said:
“Surely not Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” (v.14)
A bit of an explanation.
In the Old Testament, God revealed himself through the people of Israel. He chose to interact with them, do miracles on their behalf when they followed him, and against them when they didn’t. God did this – not because he loved the people of Israel more than other people – but because…He needed to choose some group of people to reveal Himself as the true God, lest all worship the sun, the moon, the stars, a pile of rocks, some dead scorpion, or some really bad abstract art.
It's essentially the Krispy Kreme Principle. Krispy Kreme lights up its sign to let you know when there are fresh, hot donuts available. The point of the sign is to get you to pay attention to the doughy goodness’ availability.
To get the attention of the other nations, God did miracles among the nation of Israel. (He split the Red Sea. He sent bread from heaven. He made the walls of Jericho come tumbling down).
God did miracles in the Israelite nation so that people of any nation might see that he is the true God of all nations.
When God has the attention of the other nations, what does he want to teach them? Key truth #1: God is HOLY. He is a God who hated sin. A God who loved purity.
Why is this God’s number one truth? Because if we don’t realize that truth, we’ll just remain in our sin, blissfully unaware of how far short from perfection we have fallen. When we realize that God is HOLY and he demands HOLINESS and we aren’t HOLY and have zero HOLINESS, we fall to the ground and ask God for mercy – and he granted that mercy in sending a Savior – Jesus Christ.
Knowing God is HOLY is important in understanding the need for the Gospel.
One way God taught his HOLINESS to other nations was through the Israelite diet.
Leviticus 11. It’s probably not a section of Scripture that any of you have memorized. It isn’t a part of Scripture that makes its way to Social Media posts. It doesn’t make for very good Scripture art around your home. But within Leviticus 11, God reveals strict dietary restrictions for the people of Israel. His goal? Make their diet so drastically different from that of other nations that people take notice, ask about the diet, and learn that God is HOLY.
Some of the restrictions were as follows:
Only finned sea creatures. This allowed for fish. But it meant that you couldn’t have lobster, crab or any kind of sushi.
Only domestic birds. Chicken and turkey were cool; pheasant, owl, vulture? Not so much.
Only animals that have a divided hoof and chew the cud. Again, beef and lamb are fine, but not camels and (the biggest tragedy of all) pigs. (Understand: NO BACON!)
When Peter looked at the picnic blanket from heaven, there were some animals there that would make fine cuisine: Oysters Rockefeller. Buttered crab. Stuffed Pheasant. Bacon Wrapped Bacon! He was hungry, but every animal on the blanket was one of the Old Testament forbidden animals and Peter didn’t want to disobey God’s Old Testament laws, so he replied to God: Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean!
And Peter must have felt pretty good about his answer.
He had just listened to God’s voice in the Old Testament;
He just ignored God’s voice that had just spoken to him in order to do so…but…
“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (v.15)
At the end of the vision, while Peter was standing there – a bit dumbfounded– and deeply pondering the meaning: Is bacon OK now? Should I stop by the local BBQ shop? A knock came from the downstairs door. Being on the roof, Peter scooted to the ridgeline and peeked over at the visitors. From the third floor he could make out the unmistakable insignia of Roman soldiers. Gentiles. Non-Jews. Non-Jews that currently were enforcing an unwanted rule on their kingdom.
Peter’s first thought was to hide.
His second thought was “those lousy good for nothing Romans.”
His third thought was “I want nothing to do with their kind.”
Then, God spoke again:
“Simon…Get up. Go downstairs. Go with these men.” (v.19)
Remember I mentioned the Old Testament dietary law? It was one of the ways that God impressed his holiness upon Old Testament Israel. There were other ways. They wore certain clothing. They made certain altars. They sacrificed certain sacrifices. And – they worshipped with certain people.
To impress His holiness on all people – Old Testament Israelites circumcised their male children. That was different in ancient times. No other nation did it. God had Israel do it, as a symbol of cutting off the sinful nature and being made new in God’s mercy.
Since the Jews were circumcised and every other race of people wasn’t, this meant that oftentimes the Israelites did things by themselves.
In fact, over time Jewish leadership developed rules that helped to keep people obeying God. They made a rule that you could not eat with anyone who wasn’t a Jew. That you could not have someone who wasn’t a Jew enter your home; that you could not enter the house of someone who wasn’t Jewish, because you dare not spend time with people who were “impure.”
All Israel knew that.
All Israel practiced that.
Peter knew that.
Peter practiced that.
But God just said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
And God had just told him to follow these men to their home so…
Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. (v.23)
Peter started out with them the next day (v.23b)
Peter arrived at the house of a Roman centurion named Cornelius and he entered the home. (v.25)
Did you hear that? Peter just broke hundreds of years of Jewish tradition to follow the voice of God.
Then, Peter gets to talking with Cornelius and it turns out Cornelius had a vision, too. God had come to Cornelius and given him specific instructions to send a group of men to Joppa to the exact house that Peter was at and to ask for a guy named Peter.
This was no coincidence.
So… Peter says this:
“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.” (v.34-35)
And Peter went on to tell these non-Jews people about Jesus.
He told them about how Jesus died for them.
He told them about how Jesus rose for them.
He told them about how Jesus fulfilled God’s plan to save them.
He told them about how anyone who believes in Jesus – any Jew – and even any non-Jew – receives forgiveness of sins in His name. (v.36-43)
He told them this because Peter now understood this important (and still relevant) truth:
God does not have a favorite “race” of people.
In God’s eyes, people are people.
There’s not a racist bone in God’s body.
There’s not a racist tweet in the Bible.
There’s not an ounce of racism in His way of thinking.
God created every race of people.
God loved every race of people.
God saw that every race of people had fallen into sin.
God sent a Savior for every race of people.
God’s blood covered the sins of every person of every race of people.
In short, no matter who you are; no matter what race you are; no matter what culture you are:
Jesus loves you.
Jesus died for you.
And no matter who your neighbor is, no matter what race they are, no matter what culture they are:
Jesus loved them.
Jesus died for them.
II. What Now?
The point of all this is still relevant today. It means not feeling guilty about a BLT sandwich. Guilty about bacon-wrapped, deep fried, pork chops? Maybe – but the guilt is for other reasons!
The deeper truth isn’t about food; but people.
(1) Identify Your Own Prejudice (and Fight Against it)
Granted. You might be saying:
“But pastor! I don’t have any prejudice. I love all people. I love all cultures. I love all races of people.”
I would hope that none of you openly confess to hating a certain race of people.
If you do openly confess that certain races of people are better than others, repent! That’s sinful.
But even if you don’t openly confess it, be careful:
Our prejudices can be trickier than that.
For example, what if I had started preaching today in a turban?
Or what if I had planned for worship only Gospel songs? The ones with lots of clapping and plenty of “Amens.”
Or what if the snacks afterwards were nothing but sushi?
You might not love it.
You might complain about it.
You might say, “That’s not what we do.”
Friends, that’s prejudice.
And we shouldn’t be surprised that all of us suffer from prejudice, because that’s what sin does.
Sin selfishly, egotistically focuses inward and says, “I am the best. My culture is the best. My people are the best. God loves how we do it best.”
Repent. This is not Godly.
Thankfully God doesn’t have prejudice. (not even against people who are prejudiced – aka – all of us).
Jesus battled those sins of prejudice for us.
Jesus took them to the cross.
Jesus died for us and our subtle racism and all of our prejudices.
Thanks be to Jesus.
Now he asks us to lay them at his go out to fight against them.
And we do that by #2:
(2) Obey God’s Call
The voice from heaven was not the first time Peter learned the less that God doesn’t play favorites. Jesus had taught that, too! He spent time with Samaritans. He spoke to a woman at the well who was a Samaritan. He healed the servant of a Roman soldier. Jesus even ordered Peter directly: “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
Up to this point, Peter had been thinking that “Go and make disciples of all nations” meant, “Go and make disciples of the Jews living in all nations.”
He was wrong.
And to his credit, when he realizes this, he obeys God right away. He takes the men into his home. He follows them to their home. He enters and shares the Gospel with them.
Do the same thing.
God didn’t say, “Go and make disciples of all the white people in Raleigh.”
He didn’t say, “Go and make disciples of all the Midwestern transplants in Raleigh.”
He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
Here’s the thing – when we do that – that kind of love reaches out past racial lines and unites people.
Honestly, it’s just like those Old Testament dietary restrictions. Only instead of watching what we eat, we watch how we act towards those who are different.
Because the truth is that America is divided by race. Racist pride is touted as desirable trait that leads to more and more divisiveness.
The Cross of Jesus is different.
The Cross of Jesus unites.
The blood of Jesus covers us all.
The church (our church) is to be a place where God has brought people of all languages, cultures and backgrounds – together. That’s different. If done correctly, it will stick out like an Old Testament Jew ordering the lamb at a Pork BBQ place.
It’ll stick out in a good way.
How do we do this?
We love one another.
We reach out to those that are different from us.
We are willing to say, “My desires and my culture are different than yours. And that’s ok. In fact, my desires and culture will take a back seat for the sake of you, my friend, and your culture.”
When you do this…
When we go to work on the sharing of God’s Gospel with all nations…
God blesses it.
Look what happened with Peter. In the middle of his speech, The Holy Spirit came upon all who heard his message. (v.44) It was God’s way of saying: “Yes! I approved. I don’t show favoritism. I love all people. And I am bringing this people into my kingdom at the same level as – and at the same equality as – you Jews who are also a part of my kingdom.”
God is behind the sharing of his Gospel message.
God is behind the sharing of his Gospel message to all people.
Let’s go to work.
Let’s share the Gospel with all people.
Today we’re in our final lesson of the Rise Up series. We’re going to learn that Jesus wants us to Rise Up and Go to Make Disciples. Our goal is to learn (1) Where Jesus wants us to go, why we should go, and (2) What we should do when we get there. Before we do that, let’s say a prayer and ask God to help us.
I. Go and Do What?
The lesson comes from Matthew 28. It’s another appearance of Jesus after his death and resurrection. Timeline wise, it takes place after the appearance to Thomas. We know this because a reference is made to the Eleven – which would include Thomas. In fact, lots of scholars point to the finality of Jesus’ language in this section to place this appearance near the end of his 40 days on earth after Easter.
Let’s start by reading the command that Jesus gave them. He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28)
I want you to put yourself in the disciple’s shoes for a moment. They had heard Jesus’ teaching. They had seen him die for making disciples!
Can you hear the collective gulp?
You mean, keep preaching your Words?
The very words that got you killed?
And to the nations? Like not just our families, but to strangers?
Because that’s what Jesus meant with those words. He wanted them to take the message beyond their group of Eleven!
He wanted them to…
Go to the Jews.
Go to the Samaritans.
Go to the Greeks and the Romans and the Egyptians.
Go to the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the teachers of the law.
Go to the prostitutes and the drunkards and the tax collectors.
Go to the people wherever they are people!
And he wants you and me to do the same.
Because – here’s the deal. Modern day believers are Jesus’ disciples and as Jesus’ disciples they carry on the disciples’ mission. DO YOU BELIEVE IN JESUS? Then, you have the same mission: Go and make disciples of all nations.
Go to your neighbor who speaks more Spanish than English.
Go to the immigrant who only moved here a month ago.
Go to the tattooed barista with the big stones in his ear holes.
Go to the coworker whose skin is a different shade of brown than yours.
Go to your cousin who’s gay.
Go to your husband even when he’s made it clear that he’s sick of you talking about Jesus with him.
Jesus wants you to GO!
Jesus wants Gethsemane to GO!
He wants us to go and make disciples!
II. Do What?
Now if you’re thinking, “OK. I’m going home. I’m going to put my dad in a headlock and force him to believe.” Don’t. That’s not what I’m saying. (And I don’t need a lawsuit). Jesus explained how to make disciples in his commission. “Go and make disciples by … teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
You may be thinking, “Pastor, how do I know what Jesus said? I’m not one of the Eleven?” Easy. You read what a few of the Eleven wrote down that Jesus said. That just so happens to be in the Bible.
Granted. You might not have the Bible memorized yet. (You probably never will.) Nor do you need to start sharing the message of Jesus by outlining the genealogy of Jesus with all of the names in order. Start with the main message.
What is that message? Do you remember the phrase S.O.S? It’s a series of letters that first started in WWI as a way for ships to communicate with others ships that they were in need of help. If they were in danger of sinking or under attacked, they’d use over Morse code to deliver the signal S.O.S. It communicates immensely important information very quickly.
When you are sharing the message of Jesus just remember S.O.S. to communicate the two most important concepts to your friends.
1) Show Our Sins
That’s what the Bible does. It shows us we haven’t measured up. It shows us our sin. It shows us that we need a Savior.
How so? It tells us what sin is and when we read what sin is – we think – it sounds familiar. For instance, the Bible says, “Don’t hate.” When I read that, I think, “Wait. I’ve done that. I couldn’t be?” Then, I keep reading and the Bible says, “Don’t lust.” I think, “Wait, I did that last week.” The Bible doesn’t miss a beat and says, “Love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.” I think, “Uh oh.” And if for some reason that doesn’t work, the Bible straight up says this, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 – In fact, write that down and memorize it for an easy way to share the Gospel.
The Bible shows our sin. It’s like a mirror that shows you where a stray whisker is or an x-ray that shows where the problem is – it shows our problem of sin. When you are talking with a friend, it will show them their problem of sin, too.
2) Show Our Savior
Thankfully the Bible doesn’t stop there. Thankfully, the Bible has a second S.O.S. In fact, it’s the bigger and more important message. The Bible also Shows our Savior. It tells us about Jesus, that he lived perfectly, died innocently and rose triumphantly for us in order to save us from all of our sins! To put it another way – it gives us the solution to the problem it exposes – it gives us Jesus, the solution for sin!
And I’ll tell you guys. There’s nothing better than looking someone in the tear-filled eye, struggling with guilt, up all night because their sins have been bothering them and causing them to feel like they will always be far apart from God eyes and telling them – Jesus lived for them. Jesus died for them. They are forgiven!
You can be a part of that. Remember: S.O.S. Show our Savior to your friends. In fact, remember Romans 3:23? Write down the second half right now (verse 24). All have sinned and fall short of the glorified God (vs. 23) and all are justified freely through grace in Christ Jesus (vs. 24). If you don’t feel comfortable explaining all this, then simply share that passage with a friend.
Not comfortable speaking? Email them.
Facebook message them.
Worst case scenario? Just invite them to church where they’ll be Shown the Savior! That’s part of going!
This is a separate point, but related to the past two. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (v.19) Baptism too make disciples. It’s an incredible blessing from God. It’s physical, tangible, visual Gospel.
Think of baptism like a Sharpie. I used Sharpies when I was younger to write my initials on the bottom of my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures. That way I wouldn’t lose the toys when my friends took their toys home.
In Baptism, God writes his name on you. He says that you are his through the death and resurrection of Jesus. He calls you his own. In order to make you his own, he cleansed you; purifies you; and makes you holy. He bathes you in the love of God the Father, in the precious blood of Jesus Christ and in the faith strengthening power of the Holy Spirit.
Pastor, I’m in. I’ll go get a firehose and a loud speaker. Let’s go downtown and baptize the whole city of Raleigh.
No! (Again – no need for a lawsuit.)
For adults, we baptize those who have heard God’s Word and ask to be baptized.
But there are some people you could baptize…
Some people who are apart of all nations and whom God has called you to go to!
Some people who are little people.
Baptize your child. If you haven’t done it yet, you need to. Jesus says it to you hear, “Go and make disciples of all nations – your kid is included – by baptizing.” Listen to Jesus. Make your child a disciple of Jesus. Baptize them in God’s name.
If you want to do this, email me. Text me. Talk to me after church. We’ll make happen! There’s no need to delay. We need to heed his direction and go!
III. But Why?
Granted. You might not want to do this. Telling your friends, your family, a stranger about religion might not seem like a very 21st century thing to do. It might not even be on your bucket list. Why should you?
Check out verse 19: Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
(1) Jesus said So
Have you ever worked in fast food? Imagine you were at McDonalds and you normally work the drive thru – the drive thru that your manager said you were to manage all night and never leave that post unless you wanted a “McDock” in salary.
What happens when the guy at the counter who just started his job says, “I need you to clean out the bathrooms.” Hopefully, you don’t listen. He doesn’t have the authority. But what if your manager, who told you to stay, who wears a special manager’s shirt, and even has a name tag that says, “Manager’ comes over and says, “Go and arrange the ketchup packets.”
Well…then you go and construct the Taj Mahal of ketchup packets. He has the authority.
Why listen to Jesus? Simply put. He has the authority. Not just some authority. Not just a little authority. But all authority in heaven and on earth.
If you questioned him on this, think of what happened a couple of weeks before this command. He rose from the dead. I can almost hear Jesus now:
Ya’ll remember a few days ago? Remember when you thought I was dead forever? Remember when I came back to life, but instead proved my authority over death? Remember how I have authority over life and death for you?
You should listen to me.
It makes sense. If you listen to him for the way to eternal life, why not listen to him for purpose in life? Why not Go?
(2) It’s of Eternal Importance
The second reason is a bit hidden. Listen again to Jesus’ words, “Go and makes disciples…” A disciple is a follower. A follower is a believer. According to Jesus himself who has the authority to authorize such things, “All who believe in me will be saved.”
In other words:
Jesus alone saves us to heaven.
Jesus alone saves us from hell.
Jesus alone saves us from eternal damnation to eternal life.
To put it simply – It’s of eternal importance to go and make disciples!
Granted. Most modern Americans do not see it this way. They see going and sharing your faith as unloving:
You’re forcing your beliefs onto me.
You’re trying to make me feel bad and yourself feel better.
Let me believe what I want and let me live my life. You’re being selfish!!!
But is sharing Jesus really selfish?
What if you were going on a date and you asked me how I looked and as you smiled at me, I saw a big, old, green, leafy spinach sticking out of your teeth. And what if I thought, “I don’t want this to get uncomfortable and I don’t want to hurt their feelings because I don’t want them to speak gruffly to me, so…You look great!”
Is that loving?
Nope. It’s selfish.
It’s the same thing with faith on a grander scale. If you are convinced that Jesus is your Savior and it is by faith in him alone that we are saved, you have to share this message. Sharing your faith isn’t selfish; not sharing is!
And Jesus isn’t about selfishness.
That’s why he went through the uncomfortable death on the cross for you.
Maybe it’s worth going through a much less uncomfortable moment with your friends?
(3) God has Your Back
Finally, remember that God has your back. Because this can be very intimidating. Go and make disciples of all nations! So Jesus told them that they would not be alone. He said this, “Surely I will be with you always to the very end of the age.” (Mt. 28:21)
That’s good news. Because Jesus wasn’t afraid of even the scariest of situations.
He wasn’t afraid of storms in the middle of the sea; he stopped them.
He wasn’t afraid of legions of demons; he drove them out.
He wasn’t afraid of fatal illness; he cured it with a snap of his fingers.
He wasn’t afraid of death; he rose triumphantly on the third day.
He isn’t afraid of your uncle getting a bit cranky.
He isn’t afraid of a few friends calling you a loser.
He isn’t afraid of someone BLOCKING him on Facebook.
Don’t you be either. He’s with you. He’ll protect you.
We’ve got a mission. And that’s the main message for this morning. Jesus has a mission for you and me – to go!
So don’t lollygag.
That’s what happened with the disciples. A couple of days after this commission, Jesus took them out to a hill and something amazing happened. He literally lifted off of the ground and levitated up to heaven.
No jet packs.
Just Jesus and his God power heading up into the clouds.
It was amazing enough that the response of the disciples was to stare, mouth open up into the sky.
That is, until a stranger tapped their shoulders.
The angel said, “Why do you stand there staring up into the sky? This same Jesus will come back in the same way you saw him go. But ya’ll? Go to Jerusalem. Wait for God’s gift. And then? Begin your work.”
Go and make disciples.
Allow this to be your divine shoulder tap:
Stop staring and go make disciples! Amen.
Have you ever heard of Angie’s List? It’s an online service that lets you hook up with various contractors in all kinds of areas. From painters to dry wallers, from lawn care to carpet care, from lizard wranglers to sheep shearers -- you can find the professional you need on Angie’s List
But you might wanna shop around. The truth is there are usually more than one company you can go with. Take plumbing, for example. If you need a plumber, you might like Plumberee – with lots of experience and fine craftsmanship, but a fine way of breaking the bank. Then again, there’s Bargain Plumbers less expensive, but so is their work. There’s Plumber’s R. Us. A bit corporate in its structure – so you know they can get the job done, but bad customer service. Then, there’s Frank’s Plumbing. Not as well known, but you can almost always get him on the phone and he does a fine job -- just as long as you don’t mind the smell of cigarettes that he brings with him everywhere he goes.
Who do you choose? The wise person shops around first, before making his decision.
Is the same thing true about grace? The last couple of weeks we’ve talked about the blessing of grace that Jesus brings. It’s without cost. It covers even the worst of sinners. It lasts into eternal life. It brings forgiveness for all your sins.
But…the wise person shops around first so…
What about Buddha? What type of grace does he offer?
What about Mohammed? I hear he has a good plan.
What about doing your best, trying your hardest, and earning some grace with the human spirit? That’s the American ideal. Plus you can get away with a lot more sins.
After all, doesn’t it kind of depend on your geography?
Different gods? Different traditions? Different religions?
Today we are finishing our series called Surprising Grace by looking at the exclusivity of grace. We’ll see why Grace must be from Jesus and how that’s true, no matter who you are or where you’re from. Before we do that, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Shopping Around for Other Options
Today’s account is taken from Revelation 5:1-12. Revelation is the final book in the Bible. It’s written by the Apostle John. It’s called Revelation because it’s a revelation that John received from God. A revelation of the future.
That’s why it has to be from God.
Remember: Time is like a jump rope. You and I are on the jump rope. Somewhere within this tiny ½ cm. It means we can only see behind us – as much as is preserved by history – and we can’t see too far in front of us – only making best guess predictions.
But God is of the timeline. He’s eternal. He sees everything from 6000 years ago to 15 years from now like it’s happening before his eyes.
That’s why God was able to tell John about the future in this revelation. He could see it happening. So, when we read Revelation, we find out about the future. We find out that sometimes – the future is comforting. Sometimes it’s scary. And sometimes…well…it’s strange.
John fell to his knees. The sight before him was too much.
For starters, there were these beasts. 4 incredible, terrifying beasts watching his every move. They were kind of like earthly beasts – and kind of not. One looked like an eagle. One like a lion. One like an ox. One like a man.
But they were only like these things. They were radiating. They were flying. They each had eyeballs all over them. Each eyeball blinking in tune with John’s every movement.
The beasts weren’t the only ones watching John. Surrounding him were 24 smaller thrones. Each throne had 24 elders – dressed in white and crowns of gold on their heads (v.4) Long, flowing, divine white hair gently flowing in the breeze – as if they were floating on water.
But the gentleness was interrupted. Flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder came from the center of the room. There stood a gigantic throne. There was a bright light radiating right in front of it. A white, bright light. The bright kind that makes you squint your eyes if you don’t have a pair of sunglasses.
But this light wasn’t coming from the sun. It wasn’t even coming from outside. It was coming from an ethereal rainbow that had fashioned itself at the top of the throne – marking and identifying the one who sat upon the throne.
Whose throne was it?
If John hadn’t figured it out yet – the melody of the elders made grew until it was at a thunderous level made him certain:
You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. (v.11)
John again looked to the ground in horror.
He was before God Almighty. He was before the Creator of heaven and earth.
He was before the one who makes volcanoes explode, tectonic plates shake, and flood water engulf the earth.
He, a sinner, was standing before the All holy, sin hating God.
But God wasn’t fixated on him. Not at the moment. At the moment, God was fixated on what he had in his hand.
It was a scroll. An ancient version of a eReader or book. Divine parchment tightly rolled up and sealed tightly with seven seals. (5:1)
What was in the scroll? Well there’s two books mentioned in the book of Revelation. One is called the Book of Life. That’s an important book. Because there is written the names of every person who has life – every person who is allowed to enter into heaven. Picture it like a divine guest list – only the bouncer isn’t some tough looking Italian guy named Guido.
It’s God himself.
Meaning this scroll was important. Without it, there was no way of knowing who it is that is allowed into heaven.
And…for whatever the reason, God wasn’t opening it.
In fact, one of the angels, a mighty angel, the king angel with bulging veins in his biceps and a heart tattoo on his left delt, started shouting in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” (v.2)
No one moved.
He repeated himself. Louder. “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?”
John looked around. Why wasn’t anyone trying to do it? Sure, the seals looked intimidating, but they were in God’s throne room. Why wasn’t he burly angel giving it a try? Why didn’t the ox-like thing try smashing it with his hoofs? Why didn't the eagle like thing try dive bombing it from on high? Why didn’t the 24 elders work together to develop some kind of divinely inspired Rube Goldberg machine to open it up?
But none of them were making their way to the scroll.
None of them were lifting a hand to break the seals.
Mostly, they were just shaking their heads – their divinely, haloed, eye-filled heads.
John began weeping. If that scroll wasn’t opened, then he wasn’t getting into heaven. Then, his friends weren’t getting into heaven. Then, none of his loved ones and fellow believers were getting into heaven.
v. 3 No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside of it.
Pay attention here. Because this has everything to do with God’s grace. Because we need God’s grace to get into heaven. We need God’s grace to get our names onto the pages of the Book of Life.
And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could write our names in there. In fact, they couldn’t even open the scroll or look inside of it.
Not anyone in that throne room. Not the mighty angel. Not the eagle. Not the ox. Not anyone on below that throne room either. Not Zeus. Not Hades. Not Hercules. Not Buddha. Not Mohammed. Not Vishnu.
Not a president. Not a king. Not any member of congress. Not a brilliant scientist. Not a billionaire business man.
Not even a guy who tries really hard and does his best and hopes that it’s enough to get his name in the book of Life.
There is no one else. No one who can get your name on the Book of Life.
No one who can win your forgiveness.
No one who can offer you’re an eternity in heaven.
II. The Exclusive Answer
“Do not weep!” cried one of the elders. His mouth agape in excitement. “Look! The Lion of the tribe of Judah has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
John took a deep breath. Of course! A lion. Lions are the King of the Jungle for a reason. They have majestic manes and fierce teeth for sinking into their prey. They have powerful jaws and swift, fierce claws. Lions were some of the most muscular and magnificent creatures on earth. A divine, heavenly version of it would have no problem destroying those seals!
John looked up with excitement. He covered his ears anticipating this miraculous roar!
But what he saw wasn’t a Lion.
It wasn’t fierce.
It wasn’t intimidating.
It didn’t roar.
Then, I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne. (5:6)
John turned his head in shock! A Lamb? Lambs aren’t intimidating! They don’t have claws – they have unbalanced hoofs. They don’t have majestic manes, but soft, gentle wool. They don’t roar – they baaa!
How was this creature – a creature of nursery rhymes and preschools – supposed to be the one to open the seals?
And this one wasn’t even in good health? It was looking as if it had been slain. (5:6) It looked like it was limping along. It needed to be held. It needed to be nourished. It didn’t need to be trying to open up these incredible seals.
John looked around. Is anybody going to stop this?
But no one else shared his concern. In fact, the others in the room – the elders, the winged creatures, the mighty angel – God himself – smiled at the sight of the Lamb and erupted into a magnificent song….
…to the Lamb:
You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain. (5:9)
Suddenly, it hit John.
The Lamb. The Lamb of God. He had heard that before.
He had read about it in the Old Testament – as the blood of innocent lambs foreshadowed this moment.
He had heard it from John the Baptist as he pointed at his leader “Look! The Lamb of God! Who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
He had seen it from his fellow disciple Peter who wrote, “-- a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:1
That’s who the Lamb was.
That’s why he was slain.
That’s why he alone could open the scroll.
Because that Lamb was Jesus!
Brothers and sisters, understand this! There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth who can open the scroll.
There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth who can get you into heaven.
There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth whose grace is enough for your eternal life.
No other being than Jesus Christ.
The Bible is simple then.
The Bible is clear.
God’s eternal vision has been revealed to you.
Do you desire forgiveness for your sins? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire to lose your guilt? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire to escape hell? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire eternal life? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire peace with God? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire eternal joy? Trust Jesus.
There is no one else who can provide these things – because the only one on the spiritual Angie’s List for salvation is The Lamb – Your Savior, Jesus Christ!!!
III. What Now?
(1) Celebrate this Exclusivity
Because what do they say? The only thing you don’t want to talk with people about are politics and religion. But…as this past election showed us – we had no problem talking politics. I’m friends with most of you on Facebook. I know this.
So why not religion?
Better yet…why not your Savior?
Better, better yet…why not the only one who provides forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation?
The elders didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
The four living creatures didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
The mighty angel didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
Even John – stopped being nervous and frightened and as he watched Jesus open up that scroll shouted: Worthy is the Lamb!
You do that too. In fact, why do you get on your Smartphone today and make that your status. #WorthyIsTheLamb
Don’t be afraid to let others know who it is that you trust. Don’t be afraid to let them know who it is they can trust.
(2) Celebrate Diversity
Because notice what it says about the Lamb in verse 9 You are worthy…because you were slain and with your blood you purchased persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
I love that. It means Jesus is your exclusive king no matter who you are.
It doesn’t matter what tribe you’re from. Which may be the closest Bible words for “race.” This is key, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, Asian or Latino, middle Eastern, Native American, combination of the above.
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And it doesn’t matter what language you speak. He’s the answer if you speak English or Spanish. Italian or German. Nigerian or Malawian. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Sign Language…even if you speak in emoji!
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And it doesn’t matter where you live. It doesn’t matter if you live in America or Iraq. Whether you live in Russia or China. Whether you live in Mexica or Canada. It doesn’t matter if you live in Durham or Cary or Chapel Hill or Knightdale or Morrisville or South Raleigh or North Raleigh or anywhere else on this planet!
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And if Jesus is king of us all – that means we’ve got to celebrate that diversity just like Jesus does. We’ve got hug those from different backgrounds. Speak with excitement – show excitement – to those who speak different languages. Grab hands and go to work with those from different places.
Celebrate Diversity because that’s what Jesus celebrates!
(3) Celebrate Unity
Because diversity…sometimes leads to division. I fear it’s happened to America. There’s so many different people in America that we let our differences get the best of us and we fight.
The same is true in Raleigh. It’s a global, multicultural, multigenerational community. It’s started to get divided.
The same could be true for our church. More and more God has enabled us to reflect the global, multicultural, diverse community that He will have in heaven.
How do we stay united?
Look carefully at verse 9 again You are worthy…because you were slain and with your blood you purchased persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom.
Did you hear that?
Not many kingdoms.
No a White kingdom and a Black kingdom and an Asian kingdom and a Hispanic kingdom.
Just a kingdom.
Jesus creates only one kingdom.
And we stand together as one kingdom, by remembering who it is that created that one kingdom.
And that’s kind of what happens at the end of the section. Everybody remembers that it’s all about Jesus and they started shouting – despite their differences – despite some being angels and some being lions and some being elders and some being many-eyed-flying-ox-like creatures.
Then, I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice, they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!"
But that’s not it. Because then, John prophesies about us. And he says this:
Then, I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea and all that is in them saying – (and since you are one of those creatures – please, say it with me ) “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!”
And the elders said “Amen!”
And I say “Amen.”
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.
Today’s topic is Race. I picked out this sermon series about three months ago and it is unfortunately very timely.
This past week an African American church in Charleston, SC was attacked during Bible study. 9 people were killed. Immediately my stomach churned. A peaceful place like the house of God – turned into a terrifying, madhouse of violence?
Since then facts have come out about the shooter. He is a 21 year old white male. About two years ago he began posting on a website that discussed all of the atrocities that African Americans had brought into America. According to the few who did survive he gave a speech mid gunfire to explain that “He needed to do this – to get back at African Americans and retake his country.”
Racism. Plain and simple.
But what’s scary is how the devil is using this terrible event. Because if you scroll through internet articles, blog posts, Facebook pages and Tweets , you’ll find anger. You’ll find fear. You’ll find deflection. You’ll find people more interested in defending themselves as some kind of representative of their race, than in defending and understanding those of another culture.
It’ easy to see the devil in this. He’s using these events to divide us! We cannot let him. Brothers and sisters, today we will reflect on race – our culture’s perspective and God’s perspective.
I. Our Culture on Race
The media is huge in forming our opinions on race. Consider this – in almost every violent attack over the past couple of years – what is one of the first details to be released? Not the victim’s family name. Not the shooter's job.
“Black Male Kills White Cop.”
“White Male Kills Black Cop”
“Latino Man Attacks Asian Family”
“Middle Eastern Terrorist at Large”
This has worn on our society. We have stopped seeing each other as individuals and instead see each other as our race.
Hispanic. White. Black. Asian. Middle Eastern. Native American. Indian.
Think you’re not infected?
Pretend you’re walking into a coffee shop. As you enter – you see a room filled with African American men with the faint beat of hip hop in the background. What did you think?
Now imagine the same coffee shop. This time you a bunch of white men in business suits talking about the latest Bloomberg report? Did you have the same thoughts?
Or what if you saw a group of men speaking in a Middle Eastern dialect with turbans on their heads and prayer shawls attached to their waist? Grab a coffee, sit down next to them and engage in conversation?
If there’s a difference to you, then you’ve been infected. You’ve stopped identifying people as individuals, and started identifying them as their race. Sadly, this has unintended consequences.
Jesus Loves the Little Children was written by C. Herbert Woolson during the American Civil War when racial tensions were very high – Woolson meant the song to reflect God’s perspective. We usually sing just the refrain but the verses add to it a special focus on God’s love for his children.
Did you hear how it went? Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.
But is that really how we view it? Tell me if this doesn’t sound more like how Americans like to think of it:
Jesus loves the Little Children…
All the children who look like me.
Brown hair, tall and German,
Accent gruff and Northern
Jesus loves the little children just like me!
Wait….That’s not how it goes, is it?
Here’s the problem when you find a person’s identify in their race only – you will develop a superiority complex. This is part natural and part defensive. We are sinful human beings who have done sinful things – and if we can’t placate God’s wrath with our own actions – at the very least it’s soothing to think that I’ve got a better chance at appeasing God because he loves my culture best.
Our Culture views our race as what defines us and uses it as a way to divide us.
II. God on Race
The Jewish people struggled with that exact thought. (I can understand why). God had promised to them that he would send a Savior through them. Because of that promise, God protected them throughout their history with incredible miracles. They were very blessed. But many had taken this too far. Viewing it far more than God’s merciful blessing, they began to think of it as something they themselves had done by simply ‘being’ Jewish. Many became convinced that God only loved their kind of people.
Take a look at the first passage you’ve got listed in your bulletin from Romans 10:12-13, “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile" (and Gentile means “not a Jew” so here we could include “European Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, Australian Americans – even Antarctican Americans --- if that’s’ even a thing) There is no difference --because the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Do you want some visible proof that God loves all people just the same? Dive into that last verse with me.
“The same Lord is Lord of all.” This means that God created all of us. He spent careful time, thoughts, and planning (and he had eternities of time) to make and create you the exact way that he did. He placed you into the perfect culture. He dyed your skin a beautiful color. He made your hair just the way he wanted it.
And look around. God did the same for the person in front of you, the person behind you, the person to your side. God created all and loves all.
“God richly blesses all.” Think about the different foods of this world. Isn’t it amazing how BBQ pork is drastically different from sushi which is drastically different from a burrito which is extremely different from a peanut butter sandwich? God has given people different foods, sure. But God still gives food. He gives clothing. He gives blessings to all of his people
Different blessings sure, but blessings all the same. Blessings that come from the same gracious hand of our loving Lord.
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Because as different as the shades of brown our skins might be, God looks beyond our skin. He looks into our souls. As he looks at our souls, he sees something eerily similar.
God sees people who are dying because of sin. He sees people who are lost because of sin. He sees people in danger of hell because of sin.
He sees people who need a Savior because of sin.
God sent a Savior. He sent his Son Jesus for all people. Jn. 3:16 well known verse of the Bible says just that, “God so loved the world – not Irish people, not Mexican people, not everyone north of the equator –nope. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life."
Did you see that? God loves people – all people – even the one who hate him – so much that he died for them.
He died for you. He died for people like you. He died for people who looked totally different than.
And he loves you all just the same.
Did some of you ever grow up watching black and white TV? It’s nice for what it did. It brought live action picture and sound into people’s homes. But compare that to what they have now! Beautiful colors – reds, yellows, greens and high definition. You can see the crystal blue of the ocean. You can watch the golden corn kernels pop in Midwestern field. You can see gorgeous array of purples and blues off the feathers of a peacock.
God’s world is a lot like that. He doesn’t see his people in drab grayscale. God sees a beautiful, HD colored world AND loves it.
III. A New View on Race
If God views us all the same, how should that affect the way we interact with one another? James 3:1 tells us, “Believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.” That starts as a matter of the heart. When you see how much Jesus loves you, his love will motivate you to love others in the same way.
But after that, how do you make such a countercultural statement visible to a world that divides by race, sticks us into our own little box and says, “That’s where you belong?”
The answer? Radical love.
There was a Jewish man who was on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho. That road goes through the desert. That means it was pretty quiet. It’s not 440. It’s not Capital Blvd. It’s not even Falls of Neuse. It was a lonesome road…similar to walking down a dark alley in the middle of the city.
Suddenly, the man was mugged. The raiders stripped him of his clothes, beat him silly, left him bloodied and bruised, and left him in a heap on the hot desert sand.
Thankfully help wasn’t too far off. It just so happened that a priest, the head of the Jewish religious community, was passing through. He was well trained in the things of God and trained to help the people. Surely, he’d help the man!
But he didn’t. When he saw the man he passed by on the other side.
Then a Levite approached. Levites were the ones who helped the priest. In fact, while the priests might have focused more on the ceremonious aspect of their religious, the Levites would have been useful in connected with the people in need. Here was a chance for him to do his job.
But he didn’t. He too passed by on the other side.
Then, a Samaritan approached. Now this is a big deal. Samaritans and Jews didn’t like each other. They were different races. They were races that didn’t get along. At best they didn’t trust each other. At worst they hated each other. It’s probably similar to how our own sad American history has pitted blacks and whites against each other. But maybe worse – picture a card carrying member of ISIS getting off his donkey and approaching you.
What do you expect him to do? If this were America, the options are too familiar. A few swift blows to his head to get him back for how his people hurt you in the past. A quick selfie with the body in the background, a degrading caption on it, and post it all over social media. A few muttered words: “It’s his people. It’s his problem. If only they worked harder, they wouldn’t be in this mess.” The man passes by and makes his way into town, tells everyone passionately about what he saw, and says, “The government should do something about this.’
But that’s not what happens. Note what does.
1) The Man Offers His Resources
The man pours olive oil – expensive stuff – all over his wounds as a salve. He takes wine –maybe the wine he had saved for the party he was heading to – and rubs its on his bruises to kill infection. He creates makeshift bandages from whatever linens he had available in his donkey’s sack and covered the man up. Then, he puts the man on his donkey. Remember they’re in the desert! Yet he decides to literally get off of his high horse and allow this stranger the luxury of riding into town. Then he takes him to a hotel and puts him to rest.
Do you have resources you can use to help? Has God gifted you with wealth? Has God gifted you with time? Has God gifted you with talents? Start thinking how can you use them to show love to those of another culture. How can you use your resources –God given resources – to reach out with the love of Jesus?
2) The Man Helps Immediately
I imagine that was a frightening situation for the Samaritan man. Here was a stranger lying in his blood. That’s something that might have given him pause just like the priest and the Levite that he’d resolve – I can’t help now, but maybe I can come back with some friends later.
But that wasn’t what the man did, was it? He dropped what his plans were and immediately helped this victim.
It will be tempting after this sermon to think – I like some of the ideas. I’ll put them into practice…someday. Someday when I have enough courage and when things settle down.
Number one, things won’t settle down. The devil’s on a roll and he’ll keep trying to divide us. Number two, you’ve got Jesus on your side. The Lord Almighty is with you. As those kids sang back in May, "Surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.” Why be afraid? Go outside your comfort zone to share God’s love…and do it now!
3) The Man Doesn’t Forget His New Friend
In the story, reality catches up the Samaritan. He has to leave. But notice that though he physically leaves, he doesn’t abandon his friend. He finds the manager. He says to the manager “Take care of him.” He offers to pay all of his medical expenses – whatever the hotel manager tells him it costs – just as long as the man is taken care of.
This was probably an inconvenience for him! I’m sure he had stuff of his own to take care of. Whatever business he had in Jericho he needed to tend to it. But now this man was his business. It was his brother -- of a different culture, sure, but his brother all the same. His brother was his business and he wasn’t going to forget about him.
May I advise you to do the same. Check back in with those you are reaching out to. Don’t just do it once, wipe the sweat off your brow, sigh and say, “There, I did what pastor asked and boy was it hard.” Instead – make them your business. Keep learning about them. Keep listening to them. Put them on your prayer list. Think of ways to reach out to them. Invite them for dinner. Ask them for coffee. Do something to say that I still care about you.
Would you start thinking like the Samaritan? Start think of ways you can put your love into practice with those who are of a different culture. In the midst of a terrible tragedy, you’ve got an opportunity. I want you to intentionalize this. You’ll naturally be friendly and loving towards those who are similar. That’s easy. Go out of your way to improve your relations with those different than you. Do the Jesus thing – He went out of his way (out of heaven to the cross) in order to show his love to us.
Let’s intentionalize our love!
That’s what one of the church members from Charleston did. Ethel Lance was her mom’s name. Ethel died in the shooting.
Her daughter had a chance to talk to the shooter. Her words were striking in the CounterCulture love.
She said this, “I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people but…I forgive you."
May God give us all this unifying, Christlike love. Amen.