We’ve been studying letters from Jesus to various 1st century churches. Often these churches are dealing with persecution from the outside. Whether it was ridicule, violence or temptation towards idol worship, the attack always came from the outside.
Sometimes the greatest attacks come from somewhere else.
I was playing soccer with some of the preschoolers. We divided up teams and I ended up on red team. We were trying to score against the blue team. And to be fair, it started with me doing that thing where I just dribble the ball by myself and let this entire wave of kids chase after me.
But eventually I decided I should let a kid from my team score. So, I passed the ball to him and…
He turned around and scored…
In our goal.
Today we are continuing our series called Dear Church. We’re going to hear about a church that was being attacked from within. Our goal is to identify how they were being attacked, hear God’s warning for our church, and learn what we can do to defeat attacks from within.
Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Thyatira’s Problem from Within
This letter starts in Revelation 2:18 “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.”
A couple of notes:
Thyatira is to the east and south of Pergamum, the home of the last letter recipients. It’s located in the middle of modern Turkey.
It was the home of a woman named Lydia. If you remember from this summer’s sermon series, that’s the name of a purple dealer who was doing some work by the river when she heard the message of Jesus from Paul. She believed, was baptized, and then became part of the church’s mission work. As a result, it’s conceivable that she was one of the founding members of the church in Thyatira.
In this letter, Jesus introduces himself as the Son of God. It’s the first time in the book of Revelation. Using that name here, communicates that the letter isn’t from some bumbling human, but from God himself:
And the Son of God has eyes like blazing fire. That means he has divine vision. It’s better than 20/20 vision, better than X-ray vision, better than hawk-like vision.
He sees us…
Finally, he has feet of burnished bronze. If you’re an NFL running back, that isn’t the best footgear. With bronze, you can’t move quickly. If you’re in the NBA, bronze footgear won’t win the Dunk contest.
But if want to stand still without moving, bronze footgear is perfect.
Jesus has bronze footgear.
Because he doesn’t move.
And his Word is unshakeable.
Look at what the unshakeable Son of God who sees into the very hearts of his people had to say:
I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. (v.19)
That’s good. They’ve been increasing their faith filled acts amid a challenging environment:
A Roman government that hated Christians.
A Jewish influence that hated Jesus.
False god worship that led people away from following Jesus.
Yet, that isn’t all Jesus sees:
Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. (v.20)
Have you ever heard of Jezebel before? She’s an Old Testament queen of Ancient Israel. She’s most famous for being wicked. During her regime, she organized more idol worship in Israel than ever before, she commanded soldiers to murder God’s prophets, and led hundreds of thousands her subjects away from the true God.
One-time Jezebel’s husband Ahab was sad because he wanted this nice vineyard that a neighbor owned. He had asked the neighbor to buy it, but the neighbor wanted to keep it because it had been in his family. As a result, Ahab pouted.
“I want it.”
“It’s not fair.”
“I’m the king.”
When Jezebel hears his tantrum, rather than giving him a time out or a lecture on how, “You can’t always have what you want, and pouting won’t get you anything anyway…”
She had the neighbor killed.
Scholars doubt whether the New Testament woman at Thyatira was called Jezebel. The reality is that thanks to OT Jezebel, the name wasn’t that attractive. Most parents didn’t want to name their children after a villain. (It’s why there aren’t a lot of Darths, Maleficents, or Voldemorts—although Jezebel would have made a very scary Halloween costume.)
Rather than being her real name, this could simply be Jesus’ way of describing how similar this woman was to that ancient queen. Both found joy in challenging God’s authority and leading people away from truth.
Both attacked from within:
Old Testament Jezebel tried to attacked God’s kingdom from within the palace of Ancient Israel.
New Testament Jezebel did it from within the pews of the Thyatiran church.
Both used deadly weapons:
Old Testament Jezebel attacked God’s kingdom with actual swords.
New Testament Jezebel? With false teachings.
She was misleading God’s servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. (v.10b)
It’s as if she’d gather her small group together and say: “I know pastor says that we shouldn’t sleep around, but…that’s unrealistic.”
Or she kept raising her hand during adult Bible study and said, “False God worship is just as good as fair as worship of Jesus. Equal rights!”
Or she wrote her own song to sing for meditation, “The church’s one foundation is illicit immorality.”
Or she taught the Sunday School Lesson, “The Bible says God created the world, but…that’s really not true kids. We’re all accidents evolved over billions of years. You don’t really matter.”
Jezebel was teaching falsehood within God’s church.
II. The Truth about False Teaching
That’s the difference from last week. If you remember, some of the people of the Pergamum church were holding to the same teachings of sexual immorality and false God worship. But none of them felt comfortable enough to teach them.
Jezebel, on the other hand?
She took every opportunity to teach falsehood within God’s church.
He takes this opportunity to express his opinion on false teaching:
God hates FALSE TEACHING in his church.
It’s like being a vegan. If you were a vegan and went to a healthy restaurant to get a Quinoa Burger. But then, as you took a bite of that Quinoa burger and it tasted like beef…You’d be upset.
But do you get the point? God is 100% for the truth.
In fact, Jesus said, “I am the truth.” (John 14:6)
That means God can have anything to do with falsehood.
And if his church, which is his body deals in falsehood, which he is against…
God isn’t happy.
He hates false teaching in his church.
And he hates it because…
False teaching is DANGEROUS.
Look at what was happening in Thyatira. The teachings of Jezebel were leading other members of the church into a sinful lifestyle and away from their Savior Jesus.
It’d be like driving along I-540 to the East. You go to the end of it where you’re supposed to segue onto 87. But instead of having you segue onto 87, Siri simply said, “Go straight.” And if you listened, Siri’s false teaching would lead you off the road to death.
False teaching does the same thing.
False teaching can lead people to hell.
And doubly so, when it comes within the church.
Because if you hear that teaching from someone in the church, you’ll probably trust it. You’ll think:
It was a church person who posted that message on Facebook…must be true.
It was a long-time member who said that thing in Bible study…must be accurate.
It was a big-time giver who wanted that thing in the leadership meeting…must be correct.
Now you might not think this is all that important for you.
You’re not a pastor.
You’re not a teacher.
But it absolutely is.
Sometimes people drop off books for us at Precious Lambs. And since we’re a Christian center, they often drop off Christian books. Seems safe, right?
A while back I was reading through a book all about Jesus’ life. It had cute little Jesus’ pictures. It had cute little rhyming words. It even had a child friendly picture of the cross.
But at the end of the book, it said this:
Jesus rose on Easter Day.
Following him is the way.
If we truly do what we should.
We’ll have heaven which is good.
We don’t do what we should.
We won’t have heaven by doing good.
And the point of Easter isn’t: Do good to earn God’s love.
The point of the Gospel is: You couldn’t do good, so Jesus earned heaven for you.
Can you imagine if a kid grew up hearing this?
The constant burden and weight of the law?
The guilt and shame of never being good enough?
The false teaching that they need to earn God’s love?
Rather than knowing her Savior.
Rather than knowing his love.
Rather than knowing forgiveness.
False teaching is dangerous.
Watch out for it in “Christian” books.
In “Christian” music.
In “Christian” friendships.
In “Christian” Facebook posts.
And if you find something that’s false, do something about it!
Because…TOLERATION of false teaching is a sin.
Look at whom Jesus is speaking to in this letter. It isn’t Jezebel. It’s the people that are tolerating her message.
And understand. Tolerate simply means, “to allow.”
And it can be a good thing.
It’s good to tolerate your country music.
It’s good to tolerate your kids’ TV shows.
It’s good to tolerate your coworker’s lunch smells.
If you tolerated an alligator, that had gotten into your living room….
If you didn’t call 911.
If you didn’t call Animal Control.
And that alligator bites your kid…
That’s on you!
God doesn’t just want you to not teach falsehood, but he also doesn’t want you to knowingly tolerate it.
Because he doesn’t tolerate it.
Because it will lead people to eternal danger.
Jesus will DEFEND his church.
That’s why Jesus speaks up. In fact, look at what he says about Jezebel:
I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So, I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children (most likely a reference to people who followed her teaching) …I will strike them…dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. (v.21-23)
This is one of those parts of the Bible that, maybe, sound harsh.
But it isn’t.
Jezebel was leading people to hell.
God wasn’t going to stand back and let that happen.
Think about it:
Jesus already went through hell to save us.
He lived perfectly on this earth.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of our sins.
Through the Gospel, he has brought us into his kingdom.
God didn’t do all that to allow some false teaching to take us away from him.
He will defend his church.
And he will defend you.
In fact, that’s what he’s doing right now.
He’s calling out false teaching.
He’s warning us of its danger.
He’s calling his people to act against it
Because of his love for his church.
Because of his love for you.
III. Hold onto Truth
Look at what Jesus tells his church:
Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to HOLD ON to what you have until I come.’ (v.24)
And what they had was the truth.
Don’t cling to falsehood.
Don’t search for some ‘better’ teaching.
Don’t scour the internet for a more socially acceptable doctrine.
Hold onto truth.
Hold onto Jesus.
Hold onto God’s Word.
Hold onto the Son of God.
Hold onto the one with blazing eyes.
Hold onto the one with feet of burnished bronze.
TRUTH: The Truth will DASH falsehood to pieces.
To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father.”
He mentions that falsehood, is a lot like a clay jar. It’s fashioned by humans. It’s shaped how they like it to be. It’s frail and fragile because a human put it together. You’ve got to be careful to handle it gently lest it fall to the ground, smash, and be exposed for the short-lasting thing that it is.
But that’s not the only metaphor in these verses.
There’s also an iron scepter. It’s bold. It’s strong. It’s intense. That’s what God gives his people to fight against falsehood.
The iron scepter?
Truth-holders are promised the MORNING STAR
A morning star is a scientific phenomenon. It’s not really a star. It’s a planet, like Venus, that on certain days can be visible from earth. Usually it’s visible just before morning. Hence, it’s called the morning star.
Because the morning star means…
…the night is almost over.
…the day is almost here.
…newness is about to star.
The morning star in the Bible?
Jesus said, “I am the morning star.” (Rev. 22:16)
Because of Jesus, the night is almost over.
Because of Jesus, the darkness will eventually end.
Because of Jesus, will experience something new.
Because of Jesus, we will shine…forevermore.
I was sitting down for a delicious lunch of homemade Lunchables in the PreK 4 classroom this past week. After discussing how delicious the ham and cheese combination was and whether or not it was an acceptable use of food to wear the deli ham as a necklace, the conversation turned to Halloween costumes.
One little girl was excited to tell me that she was going to be a unicorn.
Another little girl was excited to tell me that she was going to be a princess.
One more said that she would be a unicorn.
And a fourth said that was would be a princess.
Finally, the little girl, who had been waiting and shaking with excitement to tell me her costume got her chance.
And she told me she would be something different:
An Elsa Unicorn.
I was curious. “What did that look like? Cause that might be hard to be both.”
She said, “I wear a crown and a horn on my head. Princess unicorn.”
Today we are continuing our series called Dear Church. It’s a series based on letters from Jesus to his church. Today’s letter is to a church that was compromising. But not in a good way. Compromising in a way that made them look about as silly as an Elsa Unicorn compromise. Our goal today is to identify why Jesus was reprimanding their compromise, when compromise is bad in our Christian lives, and what to do about fixing it.
Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Good
This letter starts in Revelation 2:12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.
Pergamum was an ancient city located on a lofty hill. It was also a key state in Roman control of their empire and home to the Red Basilica of the Greek god, Isis.
To put it simply, everywhere that the people of Pergamum looked there was symbols of authority:
The high impressive hills showing the authority of nature.
The Basilica reminded them of the authority Greek gods had in their culture.
The large amount of soldiers representing the authority of the Roman government.
No wonder Jesus starts his address by reminding the Pergamum church of where true authority resides: Himself. He says that his words are a sharp double-edged sword.
Not just sharp on the left.
Not just sharp on the right.
Sharp on both sides.
That means his words don’t just take out everything on the left.
Nor do they take out everything on the right.
But both sides. He has all authority.
Briefly, I don’t think this is a direct reference to American politics, but still… It might be worth saying:
The right isn’t the ultimate authority.
The left isn’t the ultimate authority.
Jesus is the ultimate authority.
Next, Jesus gives the congregation a compliment: “I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.” (v. 13)
Pergamum was home to a large library of over 200,000 books. It was called The Library at Pergamum and is second in renown only to the Library at Alexandria.
Of course, this wasn’t Lifeway Christian Bookstore -- not all of these books were commentaries on the Bible. In fact, they often proposed ideologies and moralities in opposition to the Bible. These ideas from the books came influential in shaping Pergamum thought. Books that might have had titles like:
Greek Mythology – It’s not a Myth Anymore
101 Ways to a Good Relationship with the god, Isis
Temple Prostitution and You – a Beginners Guide
Food Sacrificed to Idols – 15 Minute Recipes for the Idol Worshiper on the Go
Pergamum was also home to a large theater. (Again, aptly named The Theater of Pergamum). It held over 10,000 people. By the way, its ruins are still there today.
At the time, attending the theater was a common way to spend the weekend. And common plays glorified things that weren’t so godly: worship of idols, pursuing money at all costs, adultery being okay as long as you sleep with the one you truly love, and generally bucking traditional morality and doing whatever you feel like doing.
In essence, this theater was doing what Hollywood does today.
That’s why Jesus calls this place Satan’s home.
There’s temptation everywhere.
There’s false teaching everywhere.
There’s evil everywhere.
In fact, it had gotten so bad that a believer named Antipas is killed.
Put to death because he witnessed to the truth of Jesus.
Pergamum was hard place to plant a church.
Yet… The church survived.
The church held onto FAITH in a city surrounded by VIOLENCE against it.
That word “held onto” means to “grasp firmly.”
It’s like playing tug of war with a dog. You are holding one end of the rope until your dog grabs onto the other end. Then…
It bares its teeth.
It shakes its head back and forth.
It growls as it tries to wrestle that rope way.
That’s what was happening in Pergamum – the culture was like a dog trying to wrestle faith away from the Pergamum church.
They didn’t let them.
They held on tightly to their faith.
That was good.
II. The Bad
But that’s also not the end of the letter. Look at what Jesus says next: “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans." (v.14-15)
Notice the word that Jesus uses.
He says, “Some of you hold to” these teachings.
That’s the same Greek word.
The one that involves holding tightly as if you’re in a canine tug of way.
The church at Pergamum was holding onto the teachings of Jesus.
But also…other teachings.
We talked about the Nicolaitans in the letter to Ephesus. Not much is known about them other than that Jesus hated their practices. (Revelation 2:6) It isn’t surprising he wasn’t impressed by the fact that some of the Pergamum church was holding onto practices that he hated.
Balaam was a false prophet in the Old Testament. He dabbled in occult type stuff. (Appropriate for Halloween, right?) He used spells, secret chants, and the power of the devil to see the future and cast curses onto people.
He was good at it.
In fact, he was so good at it that a guy named Balak who was king of the Moabites, hired Balaam to cast a curse on the people of Israel. If you remember, the people of Israel were God’s people in the Old Testament. He guided and blessed them, because one day the Savior Jesus would come from their race. But this was back at the time when the Israelites didn’t own any land, but were simply desert nomads.
Still, at over one million people in camp, the nation was impressive. It’s why Balak was concerned that they might come into Moab and destroy his nation. So, he hired Balaam to curse Israel.
Balaam was a big fan of money, so he agreed.
He shook out his hands.
He began cursing:
Hocus, Pocus…Hocus Crocus…Hocus…How can I curse those whom God has not cursed? (Numbers 23:8)
Sorry, King. Let me try again:
Bibbiddiy, boddiy, bless….God has blessed Israel and I cannot change it. (Numbers 23:20)
Just a second. Maybe we need to change up the curse location. Let’s try over on that hill there:
Eye of newt and ointment of Gibraltar – God’s kingdom will be exalted. (Numbers 24:7)
Balaam couldn’t curse Israel.
God wouldn’t let him.
But Balaam was sly. He still wanted money. So, he offered some advice to Balak.
If you can’t curse them, maybe you can tempt them.
Send out some women.
Get their men, to…you know.
And you’ll become a part of their kingdom.
And lead them away from their God that way.
It worked. Numbers 31:16 says this: Some followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord.
Thousands of years later, the same problem was happening in the Pergamum church.
Sure, they were believers in Jesus. But some wanted to cover their bases:
I believe in Jesus, but I also believe that Isis might be able to help me with my crops. So, I’ll bring some offering to him and while I’m there I’ll sleep with the temple prostitutes. I’ll just have to remember to set my alarm so that I can get up for worship tomorrow. I’m ushering.
Some held onto a TEACHING violently opposed to JESUS’ TEACHING.
And I do mean violently opposed.
Balaam said, “Worship false gods.”
Jesus said, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him 0nly.” (Mt. 4:10)
Balaam said, “Do anything to store up treasure on earth.”
Jesus said, “Do anything to store up treasure in heaven.” (Mt. 6:19)
Balaam said, “Sexuality is yours. Do with it whatever you want.
Jesus said, “Sexuality is God’s gift. Use it within marriage as He tells us.” (Mt. 19:4-5)
Do you see the problem?
The Pergamum church held onto Jesus’ teaching.
But they also held onto things that were the exact opposite of Jesus’ teaching.
They were compromising.
III. The Compromise
Now usually compromising is a good thing.
Kids on the playground compromise and they both get to be Spider-man.
Teens in school compromise and they both work on parts of the school project.
Adults at work compromise and they go the meeting for half an hour today and half an hour tomorrow.
Spouses compromise and they have asparagus (like mom wanted) with Doritos sprinkled on top (like dad wanted).
Compromise can be good.
But not always.
I was listening to a podcast called the Liturgists the other day. (Sounds Christian right?) And the topic was pornography. I thought – That’d be good to hear. Some good tips on how to continually teach people the extreme danger of this destructive thing.
But as I was listening. One of the speakers said this:
I’ve had some experiences with porn. And I found it to be helpful. I think it allows the opportunity to learn about sex and explore one’s sexuality. It’s just the lusts of the flesh, so whom does it harm?
And I started thinking in my head:
Your wife: who will feel like she can’t live up to it.
The actress: who will continue to feel like her worth is defined by how many watch her.
The industry: as you continue to give dollars to greedy jerks who don’t care how they treat women.
Me: because society will still see it as monetarily valuable and pump out pop-up ads and sultry material on the most tame websites.
And Jesus…who said – “I tell you if you look at a woman lustfully, you are guilty of adultery.”
But the people on the podcast?
You’re right. Porn is good.
Here’s the TRUTH:
Compromise is wrong when it treats BAD as GOOD.
Jesus loves good.
Jesus hates bad.
And he doesn’t compromise.
Which means there is no compromise in the Christian faith.
You can’t love Jesus and love watching porn.
You can’t fill your spirit with Jesus and fill your stomach with moonshine.
You can’t be faithful to Jesus and be faithful to your spouse.
You can’t worship Jesus and worship your bank account.
You can’t say the Gospel is most important, but them make your traditions most important.
You can’t claim to follow Jesus and then, do whatever you want.
You can’t claim to have the truth and then hold to teachings opposed to the truth!
If you want to hold onto Jesus, you can’t hold onto things that are opposed to Jesus.
Look at what Jesus says:
Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. (v.16)
And my words are sharp.
They will cut your soul.
Because if you want to keep compromising your faith,
And keep doing the things opposed to my kingdom.
Then, I’ve got compromise for you:
You get to keep doing all that sinful stuff.
And I get to kick you out of my kingdom.
IV. What Now?
Jesus says, “Repent.”
Look at your life.
See where you’re compromising your faith.
Drop anything that’s against your Savior.
Put your faith in your Savior.
Faith in Jesus isn’t about compromises:
Faith in Jesus is about promises:
To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” (2:17)
Did you follow that section? It’s symbolic and yet rich with very real promises from Jesus:
(1) Hidden Manna
I had mentioned earlier that the people of Israel used to be nomads in the desert. Deserts don’t normally have a lot of food. There aren’t fast food places on every corner. Uber Eatz couldn’t bring you fried chicken. It wasn’t even a good place for growing your own crops.
So here what God did.
Early in the morning God send little pieces of bread, raining down from the clouds and landing softly on the ground next to their tents. These little wafer-like things tasted a bit like a honey, but not quite. A bit like bread, but not quite.
The food was so strange that the people simply called it: Manna.
In Hebrew, that means, “What is it?”
Manna was unexplainable. Its mystery was hidden. Yet God provided nourishment through it.
The same is true with the Gospel.
The message is mysterious.
Yet, God provides nourishment for souls filled with guilt.
In fact, Jesus said this: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry.” (Jn. 6:35)
Because in his Word, he gives us nourishment.
For all the times we’ve compromised.
For all the times we’ve done what we shouldn’t.
For all the times we’ve loved evil more than Jesus, God’s Word tells you:
Jesus loved you.
Jesus died for you.
Jesus rose for you.
And through faith in him, you will be given a:
(2) A White Stone
In the ancient courtroom, a judge would lead the trial and give the verdict. But around the time of this letter, the Greek world began to introduce trial by jury. A jury would listen to the case. They would listen to the prosecution. They would listen to the defense. Then, they would vote.
If a juror found the person to be guilty, he would take a black stone and drop it into the official vote casting bag.
But if the juror found the person to be not guilty…?
Jesus says to the repentant: “I am giving you a white stone.”
You are innocent.
You are not guilty.
You are forgiven.
In fact, to illustrate the farther.
It says that on that stone will be…
(3) A New Name
Because if you are someone who has been compromising your faith, you might not have the greatest name.
You might call yourself:
A porn addict.
An easy woman.
A bad Christian.
He has a new name for you.
It isn’t based on you.
God calls you:
And there’s no compromise on that.
You are God’s.
Don’t compromise on him. Amen.
When I was in Seattle, WA, I had the goal to get to the top of the highest point in the lower 48 states, Mt. Rainier. I bought the right gear. I went into training. I learned from a woman who had been up Mount Everest three separate times.
On the day of the climb, we hiked up to Camp Muir, a base camp about 10,000 feet up. From there, we slept in a tiny wooden cabin to acclimate to the altitude and rest up for the final ascent. We went to bed at 6pm and woke up around Midnight. (You have to leave early in order to cross the ice bridges before the daylight gets too hot, the bridge melts and you fall to your death.)
It was about eight hours up when a blizzard kicked in. The air was sparse. The wind was frigid. My fingers were frozen. And it was only getting nastier. Some of the other climb groups had already turned around and gone back.
About an hour from the top, the lead expeditions said:
“This is getting pretty bad. I haven’t seen it this bad before. What do you think? We could go to the top and see the marvelous views, but…
If we don’t turn around, we could get frostbite or die.
So we thought about it and said:
“I’m sure Google images probably has some might fine photos of the top. So...
Sometimes suffering isn’t worth it.
Today we are continuing our series called Dear Church. It’s a series based on letters from Jesus to seven different churches. The letter for today looks at a church that was dealing with suffering…even suffering because they were believers. Our goal today is to understand what kind of suffering believers have to deal with and whether it’s worth that suffering.
Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The One who Knows Suffering
This letter starts in Revelation 2:8: “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty —yet you are rich!”
A few notes:
The letter is again written to the angel. We said that’s most likely referencing their pastoral leadership which, in turn, means it’s a letter written to the church in Smyrna.
Smyrna was an ancient Greek city at a central point on the Aegean coast. Because its positioning allowed for advantageous port conditions and an easily defendable city, Smyrna was full of people. In other words, it was a great place to start a church.
And someone had. We don’t know the exact apostle or disciple that founded it, which shows that the Gospel was spreading beyond the work rate of the apostles alone. This church was probably not started by one of the 12 apostles, yet Jesus considers it a church. Similarly, our church wasn’t started by one of the Apostles, yet Jesus would call it a real church.
Because the Holy Spirit was at work in the word.
Here in Raleigh.
So, both are churches.
Finally, the speaker is Jesus. This is his letter. And since this is a letter to a church that is suffering, he offers his credentials on the subject:
(1) Jesus Existed before SUFFERING
These are the words of him who is the First (v.8) Jesus existed eternally long before suffering ever existed. He created a world that was perfect, apart from suffering. Then, he watched as humans foolishly were led by the devil into suffering.
Don’t think that Jesus’ main goal is to end suffering?
To bring life back to the way that it once was?
It’d be like cleaning your living room, putting all the toys in their place and removing all the crumbs from the floor – making the place a gorgeous Better Homes and Gardens style living area.
Then, your kids happen.
And you’d like to see it back to the way it was when you were finished cleaning.
The same is true for God. He has on his heart a desire to bring things back to the way they were long before suffering happened.
And here’s the good news about that:
(2) Jesus will OUTLAST Suffering
These are the words of him who is the Last. (v.8) As in, he will last beyond all suffering.
He will outlast cancer.
He will outlast financial difficulties.
He will outlast persecutions.
He will outlast terrorism.
He will outlast racism.
He will outlast the little angry emojis that people put upon Christian content on Social Media.
He will outlast every form of suffering.
That doesn’t mean he hasn’t suffered.
(3) Jesus is FAMILIAR with suffering
These are the words of him who died. (v.8)
Do you know how Jesus died?
He was arrested by a mob.
He was beaten by that mob.
He was smacked and slapped till the early hours of the morning.
He was whipped thirty times with a 7 stranded leather whip that had metal shards on the end. (Also known as flogged)
He had a crown of thorns smashed down onto his head.
He was hit with a staff.
He was laid down upon two giant pieces of wood.
He had one nail driven through his right hand.
He had another nail driven through his left hand.
He had one more nail driven through his feet.
He hung on that cross as his lungs slowly collapsed.
He was abandoned by his friends.
He was betrayed by his disciples.
He was crucified by his people.
He had our sin and guilt and shame plaguing his soul.
He was familiar with suffering.
Suffering even to death!
Now – he lives.
He lives and walks among his churches.
(4) Jesus Knows YOUR suffering
Pause and reflect on that truth.
Because it’s easy to think:
No one knows my suffering.
No one understands.
No one gets this sadness I feel.
No one grasps the loneliness that I go through.
No one truly gets the depths of my depression.
Jesus is speaking to you. He says:
I know it feels like no one knows, but I know.
I know what it’s like to suffer.
I know that you are suffering.
I know what it is you’re suffering:
I know that you feel so poor because you are suffering.
In the midst of suffering…
You are rich.
(5) Jesus Gives Eternal RICHES to the Suffering
You are rich.
Rich in my love.
Rich in forgiveness.
Rich in the promise of eternal life.
You have a place in my family that all of the money in the world would be unable to buy.
You may be suffering, but you are not suffering from a lack of my promises.
II. Truths about Our Suffering
After giving his credentials as to why he is an expert in suffering, Jesus has a few things to say about the suffering that the people of Smyrna were going through. He says:
I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan. (v.9)
Apparently there was a group that was slandering the church. It was a group that claimed to be Jewish but wasn’t. This isn’t genealogical. Jesus is referring to people who were did not have a faith that matched the Old Testament faith, but pretended they did.
Because the Old Testament Jewish faith was that God would send a Messiah to save us from our sins. Overtime some Jews abandoned that faith and replaced it as, “God doesn’t need to save us from our sins, because I am Jewish and do Jewish things.”
When Jesus showed up, a “phony” Jewish faith is exactly what the Pharisees had. Jesus was the Messiah. The real Jewish faith would have believed in him. Instead, the “phony” Jewish faith rejected Jesus as Messiah because “they were good enough Jewish people on their own.”
Now after Jesus, this group was persecuting the church in Smyrna and it was bad enough to be called “suffering”:
Maybe they were calling them names.
Maybe some of them worked on the local tax board and were taxing their church building heavily.
Maybe some of them paid of the Roman soldiers to throw church members in prison.
Regardless, the church was suffering. What did Jesus say about this suffering? A few things:
(1) Believers WILL Suffer for their Faith
Look at what Jesus says in Verse 10: Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. At first glance, this seems comforting. But if you are a Smyrnian, don’t you think they read this and responded by saying:
What? About to suffer? You mean this isn’t even done yet?
That’s the truth.
For the Smyrnian people.
And for us:
The truth is that believers in Jesus will suffer.
Some suffering will happen because we’re on a sinful world where sinful people hurt one another. (Gossip, racism, and unfaithfulness)
Some suffering will happen because we’re in an imperfect world. (Cancer, pollution, and natural disasters)
Some suffering will happen because we’re believers in Jesus. (Things like angry comments on your Christian blog, being excluded from parties because you’re “That lousy Christian,” being yelled at by your spouse because “I’m not into that Jesus junk.”)
Jesus said this:
Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me. (Luke 10:16)
Just like you might not like a football team and, as a result, you don’t like fans of a certain football team.
Or you don’t like a politician and, as a result, you don’t like followers of that politician.
It’s the same thing with Jesus:
If someone doesn’t like Jesus.
They don’t like his followers.
If sinners made Jesus suffer,
They will make his followers suffer too.
(2) The Real Villain is the DEVIL
Because if it was just a bunch of humans making us suffer, you might think:
I can take them, Jesus. I took a few defense classes once, so…I got this.
But these people aren’t the real ones behind it. Look at what Jesus says about who was really behind the Smyrnian suffering:
I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you. (v.10b)
Now it wasn’t as if the devil showed up with a red pitchfork in his hands and pointy ears like some kind of Halloween costume.
But he influenced.
He gave people ideas like:
You should tell that Jesus supporter that he’s an idiot.
You should tell that Roman guard that Christian is breaking law by praying in public.
You should break up with your wife because the amount of Bible talk she has is crazy.
The same is true today.
The real villain isn’t whoever is persecuting you.
It’s the devil himself.
(3) Suffering Lasts for AWHILE
Because look at what Jesus says next:
You will suffer persecution for ten days.” (v.10c)
That doesn’t sound awful.
It’s the reason I sign up for ten days at a fitness camp. I figure – that’s not too long. I can handle it.
Or maybe you sign up for a ten day visit to your in-laws. You figure – that’s just over a week. I got this.
10 days of persecution? That’s doable.
But here’s the thing about numbers in revelation. They are metaphoric:
The number 3 represents God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The number 4 represents humans. Humans were created in God’s image, but aren’t God.
The number 7 represents the church. It’s 3 plus 4, where God connects with humans.
The number 10? It represents completeness.
Meaning the church at Smyrna would suffer until the suffering was completed.
In other words, for a while.
And the reality is that Christians will suffer…until their suffering on earth is completed.
Suffering will be a part of your life when you’re 5.
When you’re a teenager.
When you’re middle aged.
When you’re a senior.
Even suffering for your faith…
…will be a part of your life for a while.
Only for a while.
(4) The faithful will receive the CROWN of LIFE
Look at what Jesus says at the end of verse 10:
Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
Back at this time, the victor’s crown was associated with the Olympics. It was made of olive branches and given to the winner.
To the winner of the 100-meter dash: Victor’s crown.
To the winner of the 1600-meter run: Victor’s crown.
To the winner of the pole vault: Victor’s crown
To the winner of the steeple chase (whatever a steeple chase is): Victor’s crown.
After all the training.
After all the sweating.
After all the suffering.
A victor’s crown.
Look at what Jesus promises to those who are victorious.
Who go through suffering in this life.
But hold on to Jesus:
A victor’s crown.
But not just any victor’s crown. This isn’t made from olive branches.
It’s made of life.
Do you get it?
If you hold to Jesus despite the suffering this life brings, you will have eternal life.
Death won’t win.
You will defeat it.
Just like Jesus defeated death, you will defeat death too.
You will live.
And about this life…
It won’t be one of suffering.
(5) The Faithful’s SUFFERING will END
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death. (v.11)
That’s sounds awful.
First death is bad enough.
It’s nothing but suffering.
Nothing but awful.
Nothing but hell…
…because it is hell.
But dear believers, that’s not anything you have to be worried about. The faithful will not be hurt even in the slightest by hell.
Because in heaven? There is no hell.
In heaven? There is no death.
In heaven? There is NO suffering.
No suffering for faith.
No arguments with spouses.
No rebellious kids.
No ostracization from friends.
No suffering of any amount, variety or kind.
In heaven, SUFFERING is done.
Because you’re with the one that defeated suffering.
You’re with Jesus.
III. WHAT NOW?
Jesus’ words are simple: Be Faithful.
Because when being a believer gets hard, it’s tempting to not be faithful.
“I became a believer and I still get sick.
I still have work problems.
I still have financial difficulties.
Only now people ridicule me for my faith.”
It might seem easier to stop being faithful so that you won’t have this momentary suffering.
If you stay faithful, in the midst of the momentary suffering, you will have eternal blessings.
Because God is faithful.
That won’t change.
He sent his Son Jesus for you.
And through faith in him you will be removed from suffering…forever.
When you go to a restaurant, you can often tell what’s important to them based on what happens while you’re there:
A restaurant might have hired a five-star chef, serve food you can’t pronounce, and for a price you can’t afford because they love quality.
Another might have a laid-back atmosphere, chilled jazz music, and eclectic decorations because they love atmosphere.
Another might have inexpensive prices, smiling faces, and quick turnover on dishes because they love customers.
There’s a restaurant on one of Gordon Ramsay’s show a while back called Amy’s Baking Company. And after watching the episode, it’s pretty obvious that Amy’s Baking Company loved their own Amy. There were photos of her hanging throughout the restaurant. The food took hours to complete because Amy needed her time to work. The customers were sent away without any of their complaints being answered because Amy was always right. Even Gordon Ramsay left the show without turning the restaurant around because they didn’t love becoming a good restaurant as much as they loved Amy.
It’s easy to tell what a restaurant loves by looking at how they operate. It’s the same thing with churches:
This church loves community outreach.
This church loves beautiful music.
This church loves fantastic architecture.
Today we are continuing our series called Dear Church. It’s a series in which we examine letters from Jesus to seven different churches. The letter for today looks at a church that had the wrong love. Our goal: Identify what that love is, compare it with what we love as Gethsemane Church, and consider what we should love most of all.
Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Wrong Kind of Love
The lesson comes from Revelation 2:1. Take a look at the beginning of this letter from Jesus: “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.”
A few notes:
The letter is written to the angel. That’s either a reference to (1) an actual angel or more likely (2) the pastor of the church in Ephesus. Angel literally means “messenger” and since the pastor is the messenger bringing God’s Word to the people, the angel could easily represent that.
This church is the one in Ephesus. Ephesus was a church that started up after Paul did some groundwork there during his second missionary journey. If you remember, that’s the place where Paul stayed for two years until a riot started by the merchants and workers behind the Artemis of the Ephesians industry. Granted that would have been around 45 A.D. and Revelation would be around 90 A.D. So, a great period of time has passed within this church.
The one writing the letter is John, but these are the words of Jesus. Flashback to last week’s sermon:
Jesus is the one holding the seven stars.
Jesus is the one walking among the golden lampstands.
Jesus is the one speaking to his churches.
And remember, Revelation 1:20 reveals that the lampstands are the churches.
The symbolism is that Jesus walks amongst his churches.
He is there with his people.
He is with believers.
He is with YOU.
This was true for the Ephesian church. Jesus had been with the Ephesian church, he knows a thing or two about what is important to them. Look at what Jesus says to them:
I know your deeds. (v.2a) I know how you’ve been bringing bread to the local widows. I know how you’ve helped the poor in your community. I know how you’ve been kind to any foreigners who come to the area.
I know your hard work and your perseverance. (v.2b) I know that you’ve been battling city ordinances aimed against you at the hands of idol making industry. I know that some of your members have left because of persecution. I know that you’ve gathered up extra funds just to keep the church’s budget above water.
I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people. (v.2c) I know that you speak out against the greed of the city. I know you speak out against the temple prostitution ring. I know that you speak out against the local merchants as they go get wasted every evening after work.
I know that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not and have found them false. (v. 2d) I know that people have been coming to you claiming to be from Jesus, but they teach anything but Jesus. I know that rather than keep them around, you called them out. You pointed out their hypocrisy. You told them what was right.
You have persevered.
You have endured hardships for my name.
You have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. (v.3b-4)
Do you see the problem? Because as the letter begins, Jesus addresses them doing a bunch of things that a church ought to be doing!
It looked like there wasn’t any problem with what they were doing.
At least, not to the human eye.
Jesus’ eyes, are blazing fire. (1:14)
And his eyes saw the heart.
And their hearts had forsaken their first love.
And their hearts now had the wrong love.
TRUTH: The Ephesian church had the WRONG love.
Because they had forsaken their first love. Their first love was Jesus. When Paul had brought the message of the Gospel to them forty years earlier, they had loved the incredible news that he brought.
They loved how Jesus had been the only real God in a city of fake gods.
They loved how Jesus had made them a part of His kingdom.
They loved how Jesus had brought them forgiveness.
They loved how Jesus gave them confidence in the promise of eternal life.
But now, years later…
But now, years removed from when they first believed.
But now, they loved something else.
Now they had the wrong love.
Since this letter was written down and preserved, we’re able to reflect upon it today. Here’s where it’s a big deal. When our love becomes anything other than Jesus.
1) Doing Good
There’s a lot of good for churches to do: Food banks, food drives, working with youth, working with seniors, working with children, helping widows, helping veterans, singing down at the retirement home, knitting sweaters for refugees, collecting Toys for Tots, Bottles for Babies, and Doritos for Daddy’s.
It’s not wrong to do good.
It’s not wrong to love doing good.
In fact, if you aren’t doing any good, there’s a problem in your church.
If the thing you love most is simply “doing good” …
Did you know that the Church of Satan has a Facebook page? It’s a church dedicated to worshipping Satan. The page is filled with pictures of the devil and ancient cult-like worship. But it’s also filled with a request for socks.
The church of Satan ran a sock drive. They collected dry socks to give out to the homeless in their area. The idea was simply to “do good” and help people in the community.
And so I ask…
If all we love is doing good, then what’s the difference between this church and the church of Satan?
If we leave out Jesus, then what’s the difference between us and anything else?
Enduring as a church can get hard. You lose a couple of members. The cost of keeping a building open increases. The budget becomes harder and harder to make work.
So, if you have been around for a while, that’s awesome. You might love the fact that you’ve been around for awhile and you might be wiling to do whatever it takes to continue to be around for a while.
But if you love enduring more than anything…
Then, maybe you don’t teach what God’s Word says about hell. (We don’t want people to leave.)
Maybe you don’t rebuke that church member for sleeping with his girlfriend. (We don’t want to upset him.)
Maybe you don’t call out that church leader who gives a lot of money for bitter attitude because (We need his funds to survive.)
Suddenly, you’re enduring.
But not as a church of Jesus.
3) Hating Evil
Understand. God hates evil, too.
In fact, God is holy.
That means he hates evil more than you ever could.
But if our first love is pointing out evil:
Then, I imagine my sermons would just be about how bad everyone is out there.
Your homework would be to go on Facebook and put an angry face next to every article that supports something evil.
Our elder’s job would be to simply go onto blog posts and write angry messages.
Without mentioning Jesus.
Imagine that you were struggling with lying. Lying is a sin. Lying is evil. Then, you came to me and said: “Pastor, I have been lying. It’s wrong. It’s a sin. I’m so sorry.”
And I leaned in.
Looked you in the eye.
Then said: “You know lying is an awful sin deserving of God’s hellfire wrath. Go and do better or else.”
How do you feel?
Close to Jesus?
Here’s the truth:
If we loving “Hating evil” more than Jesus, then it leads us to not teach Jesus.
And if we don’t teach Jesus, isn’t that…
4) Being Right
At the time of the Early Church, pastors would travel from city to city. They’d introduce themselves as “a pastor of Jesus” and then ask to preach in the local church.
The problem is that some people weren’t really teachers of what Jesus taught. As they’d begin preaching things that Jesus didn’t teach and say things that Jesus didn’t. So, it was good for the church in Ephesus to point out where those apostles were wrong so that they didn’t lead people away from Jesus.
The problem was that over time the church seemed to stop teaching what was right because it would lead the people to Jesus, but because it meant “they were right.”
I think this is an especially important warning for our church. As Lutherans we trace our roots back to people who defend the truth. 500 some years ago a monk named Martin Luther defend the truth that we are saved by faith in Jesus against Catholic teaching that we had to earn it. 50 some years ago our group of Lutherans decided to hold to the truth instead of teaching what the Bible doesn’t say like so many other varieties of Lutherans.
But if our main love becomes “Being right” instead of “teaching Jesus”, then suddenly:
We aren’t right.
And all of this about the wrong love is a big deal. Look at what Jesus says next: Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. (2:5)
Remember what the lampstand represented?
Remember who walks among them?
And Jesus says that you if you are a church that keeps having the wrong love, he’s going pick up your lampstand, remove it from where he walks, and leave you by yourself.
Do you get it?
If you are a church whose first love is not Jesus, then, you are NOT a church.
If you aren’t a church, then you aren’t part of God’s family.
And if you aren’t a part of God’s family, then you’re far from Jesus.
II. The Right Love
The word used for love in verse 4 is AGAPE. AGAPE is a Greek word that means, “unconditional love.” It’s a love that’s all the time. It’s a love that’s independent. It’s a love that continues from one side, even when the other side does not reciprocate.
It’s also a type of love that humans fail miserably at.
That’s why in the Bible humans aren’t often described as having that type of love.
Most often the one described as having that type of love is God.
Because God is AGAPE…This is AGAPE: not that we AGAPED God, but that he AGAPED us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 Jn. 4:8, 10)
Do you get it?
Even when our first love is lost.
Even when we love other things more than God.;
Even when our love for Him grows cold.
God’s love for us does not.
God’s first love is YOU.
God loved you more than being in heaven.
God loved you more than staying away from this world.
God loved you more than suffering.
So, God came to earth.
God loved you more than his own blood.
God loved you more than his own breath.
God loved you more than his own life.
God lived for you.
God died for you.
God rose for you.
And that “first love” is more than just ordinally. As in, “you are my number one.”
God also loved you chronologically “first.”
Because God didn’t say: “I’ll wait up until you love me back before I do this.”
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
While we were still with the wrong love, God showed love for us.
While we were still void of love for Him, God filled our hearts with His love.
In fact, that leads to a second truth:
Because God loved us FIRST God is our FIRST LOVE.
It’s like Kool Aid. If had a cup of Kool Aid and I wanted to give you Kool Aid, but didn’t have any Kool Aid in my cup, then I couldn’t give you any Kool Aid because of my severe lack of Kool Aid.
When God is involved.
And God is a pitcher of Kool Aid.
And God pours his love in my heart.
Then, God has just enabled me to show love.
Love for God.
Love for Jesus.
Love for the Gospel
Love for others.
1 John 4:20 says this, “We love because Christ first loved us.”
The truth is that God’s loved empowers us to love him.
And our love for Jesus compels everything else.
Because notice that after Jesus reprimands the church for losing their first love, he gives them a compliment. He says: “But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (v.6)
Who exactly the Nicolaitans were is unknown.
That’s lost to history.
What isn’t lost to history is that Jesus was against them.
Which means the stuff that the Ephesians church had been doing, they should continue to do.
They should do good.
They should endure.
They should hate evil.
They should hold to what was right.
But they should do so, because of their love for Jesus.
Instead of doing good because “I love being called good;” we do good “because God is good to us.”
Instead of enduring because “I enjoy enduring;” we endure because “God’s love keeps us enduring.”
Instead of hating evil because “I like to think of myself not evil,” we hate evil because “God has saved me from evil.”
Instead of holding to what is right because “I like to be right,” we hold to what is right because the truth of Jesus is what saves.
III. WHAT NOW?
Look at how Jesus ends this letter to the Ephesians: Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (v.7a)
And if you’re wondering if that applies to you, put your hands to the side of your head.
Do you feel some flappy, cartilage things?
Those are ears.
You have them.
Please listen to Jesus’ letter.
Because I can’t look at your heart.
And you can’t look at mine.
So, God is asking each of us to look within ourselves:
To see where has our love grown cold.
Where have we loved other things more than Jesus.
When we find the answer, to repent:
To confess the wrong love that we have.
To return our first love, Jesus.
Look at Jesus’ promise: To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” (v.7)
Doesn’t that sound good.
For you, paradise might be a trip to the beach, sitting under a fancy umbrella, sipping martini’s and listening to Bob Marley.
But this is the paradise of God.
What’s God’s version of paradise?
Being with you.
Apart from things that get in the way.
Apart from sin.
Apart from fear.
Apart from shame.
Apart from guilt.
Apart from pain.
Apart from death.
By the tree of life.
So you’re with him forever.
That’s God’s version of paradise.
To be beyond the very last, with his very first love.
May God keep our hearts strong with him. Amen.
At Gethsemane, we get a goodly amount of mail. At times, I’ll open the mailbox and it will be chocked full of letters. If I’m honest, I feel excited. Maybe I’ll get something cool.
So, I read the envelopes:
Precious Lambs’ Director.
Precious Lambs’ Director.
Letter to Julianna.
Letter to Julianna.
Let me look inside:
I didn’t have Julianna’s address.
Could you get this to her.”
Maybe you feel the same way. If the letter is for someone else, it isn’t that exciting to you.
Our next sermon series is called Dear Church. It’s a study of the first chapters of Revelation. These first chapters contain a collection of seven letters written to seven first-century churches.
Yet none of these letters are addressed to “Gethsemane Church in Raleigh.”
None of them have the address of delivery listed as 1100 Newton Road.
None of them have your specific name on it.
So, you might wonder: “How valuable is studying a bunch of ancient letters that aren’t written to me?’
Today our goal is to identify the author, identify the recipients and discover the value these letters have for us. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Writer
Our lesson starts in Revelation 1:1-2. It says: The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servant what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw. (Revelation 1:1-2)
A couple of notes:
The word Revelation is the Greek Word apocalypsis. It’s where we get the word Apocalypse. It means the “unveiling of something that previously was hidden.” In this case, what is being unfolded is the future of the Christian church.
The writer is a guy named John. This is John the Apostle. The apostles were a special group of twelve men that Jesus had specially called to follow him for three years of ministry and continue his ministry after he left. During the time he was with Jesus, John learned deep theological truths and witnessed other worldly miracles.
In fact, John was one of a group of three Apostles that were witness to a few special events:
John saw Jesus’ face transformed into a brilliant sun like light.
John saw Jesus touch a dead girl’s hand and bring her back to life.
John saw Jesus in deep anguish as he prayed deep within a garden the night before he died.
John saw Jesus die.
And John was an eyewitness to Jesus’ resurrection.
As a result, John wanted to share his experience. He wrote a book in the Bible called John. In that book, he wrote about all that Jesus said and did while on earth. Later, John wrote a letter to believers everywhere called 1st John. It encouraged believers in their Savior Jesus. Finally, John writes two more letters called: 2nd and 3rd John that deal with supporting the truth of God’s Word.
That’s four books of the Bible that John had already authored. Revelation is his 5th book.
This letter has value, because it comes from a guy whose life was intimately connected with our Savior.
Look what else John says about himself: I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. (1:9)
Notice that John calls himself brother. Even though he has led an impressive life, John does not refer to himself as “The apostle” or “the guy who knows a lot more than you.”
John calls himself a brother.
A brother in sin.
A brother in salvation.
A brother in faith.
A brother in the church.
A brother in suffering.
Like you, John knew suffering.
He knew the physical pain of life on this earth.
He knew the emotional pain of being ridiculed for his faith.
He knew the spiritual pain of fighting sin, of fighting guilt, of fighting loneliness.
Matter of fact, John wrote this letter while he was on the island of Patmos. He had been exiled there because of his faith. He was alone. He probably felt lonely. He was familiar with suffering.
This letter has value, because it comes from a guy who understood the struggles of believers.
II. The Voice behind the Writer
John wasn’t a millennial.
He’s never been to the Triangle.
He didn’t own an iPhone.
He wasn’t familiar with how to run Windows 10.
He didn’t know any of the characters from Stranger Things.
John didn’t know what it was like for 21st century believers in Raleigh NC.
His letter might be valuable for a history class,
But not nowadays…
Look at what John writes next:
On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit. The Lord’s Day would have been Sunday. The fact that John was in the Spirit seems to indicate that he was in some form of worship.
Maybe singing songs to God’s praise.
Or on his knees in prayer.
Or preaching himself a sermon and writing down his own sermon responses.
In the middle of worship all by himself.
On the island all by himself.
In prayer all by himself.
John heard someone else:
I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on the scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches.” (v.10)
Do you get it?
John’s letter; isn’t his own.
He wrote it down.
But it came from someone else.
It’s kind of like Siri. If you’re driving down the road and you don’t want to text and drive (because you shouldn’t text and drive), you can tell Siri: “Siri. Text Julianna: Hi Love, I’ll be home at seven.” Siri will write it down. Siri will send the message. Siri will let Julianna know: “Hi Bub, I’ll be home at eleven.”
Jokes aside. When you send a message through Siri, Siri writes it down, but it’s really your message.
It’s the same thing here.
John wrote it down, but the letter come from this voice.
So, who is the one behind John’s letter? The text is full of clues:
(1) Trumpetlike Vocal Chords
It says the voice was like a trumpet. (v.11) On the one hand, it could be a reference to the decibel level. A trumpet is loud and boisterous, so this simile may be a reference to the voice being loud and boisterous. (There’s a reason the trumpet plays the daily wakeup call in the military)
Or perhaps has a brass instrument like quality to it. It literally sounds like a trumpet with a nasal, air filled quality to its melodies.
Either way, trumpetlike vocal cords are other worldly. Because most people can’t speak louder than a trumpet. And most people can’t speak in a voice that perfectly mimics a trumpet. (Go ahead and try – I’ll wait.)
(2) Surrounded by High Priest Gear
When John heard the voice, he turned around to see where it was coming from. He wrote, “When I turned, I saw seven golden lampstands and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. (v.13)
All that language is very Old Testament.
Old Testament worship involved these very ornate golden lampstands that held the burning candles during worship.
Old Testament worship was led by a high priest who wore a long white robe reaching down to cover his sandals.
Old Testament worship robes were decorated by a golden sash across the chest.
John, who was familiar with Old Testament worship, would have understood that this was a high priest.
The only thing he wouldn’t have understood was…
Where did the high priest come from?
And how did he set up the lampstands without making a sound?
And can you get the golden sash on sale down at Target?
Look at John’s description of the high priest. He describes him as, “like a son of man.” (v.13)
A son of man is a human.
Just like a son of a cow is a calf.
And the son of a cat is a kitty.
But John is careful in his words. He doesn’t say, “a son of man,” but, “like a son of man.”
As in similar, but not quite.
As in like, but also unlike.
As in human, but more…
(4) Otherworldly Facial Features
Verse 14 describes why John didn’t consider him your average human. He writes, “The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.”
White hair isn’t unheard of. It’s common. Yet the emphasis on it being “white like snow”; gives the impression this is an otherworldly type of white.
And check out the eyes!
Yes, there are now contacts that exist that you can put into your eyeballs to change the color of your iris. If you have blue eyes and want brown, there’s contact lenses for that.
If you have brown eyes and want blue, there’s contact lenses for that.
If you have regular colored eyes and want yours to look like fire, there’s contact lenses for that.
Those colors contact lenses weren’t invented until 2010.
And contact lenses in general didn’t exist until 1887.
That’s fire in his eyes.
And that’s not it for the otherworldly facial features:
In verse 17 it says, “Coming out of his mouth was a sharp double-edged sword.”
And in verse 18 it says, “His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.”
(5) Otherworldly Footwear
Look at verse 15: His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace.
Bronze is a precious metal. It’s used in making beautiful plates, decorations, and lampstands.
How many of you today are wearing bronze shoes?
How many of you own bronze shoes?
How many of you have ever seen bronze shoes?
But then, notice that the bronze was glowing! Did you know that bronze begins to glow & melt at about 1562 degrees Fahrenheit?
This is other worldly.
(6) Trumpetlike Riverlike Vocal Chords
I love this note. Because earlier John said that the voice was like a trumpet. And then at the end of verse 15 he says, “his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.”
What’s the deal? Can John not tell the difference between the sound of trumpet and the sound of a river? Nope.
John’s just in such shock at the other worldly voice of this being that he is struggling for metaphors.
The voice is that amazing.
(7) Star Grasping
Verse 16 records, “In his right hand he held seven stars.” There is no distinction here.
It doesn’t say, “In his right hand were seven things like stars.”
It doesn’t say, “Seven lights like stars.”
It doesn’t even say, “Seven shapes like stars.”
Legitimate, gas burning entities.
Three white dwarves.
Four red giants.
Four red dwarves
And three blue giants.
Regardless, the fact that this being has legitimate stars in his hands…
(8) The First & the Last
Because the voice speaks again and said this: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.” (v.17)
Think about that.
The voice says He is the First.
As in before all the sun.
As in before the moon.
As in before the earth.
As in before Adam.
As in before Eve.
As in before everything.
And the voice says He is the Last.
As in after the sun.
As in after the moon.
As in after the earth.
As in after all Adams.
And after all Eve.
As in after everything.
(9) Formerly Dead
The voice continues, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!” (v.18)
How many people do you know who are dead? Lots.
How many people do you know who are dead, but then came back to life?
Did you know the Bible records at least 9?
The widow of Zarephath’s son…dead; brought back to life.
The Shunnamite woman’s son…dead; brought back to life.
A random Israelite body…dead; brought back to life.
The young daughter of Jairus…dead; brought back to life.
The young man at Nain…dead; brought back to life.
Jesus’ friend Lazarus…dead; brought back to life.
Tabitha, the faithful church widow…dead; brought back to life.
Eutychus, the sleepy church goer…dead; brought back to life.
But did you know…
All those people died again.
There’s only one.
Only one who died.
came back to life.
And stayed alive.
This letter is from JESUS.
The one who lived for you.
The one who died for you.
The one who rose for you.
The one who lives for you.
The one who protects you.
The one who rules all things for you.
The one who will take care of you.
The one who will bring you home to heaven.
The one who will grant you eternal life.
This is a letter from Jesus Christ himself!
III. The Recipients
But there’s more. Look at the people to whom Jesus wrote this letter:
Jesus said, “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”
And to be fair John mentions the seven churches that will receive the letter earlier. The churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. (v.11)
Numbers are important in Revelation.
A few numbers come up frequently.
3 is the number of God. It represents the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
4 is the number of humanity. It’s close to God, but not quite. It represents the four corners of the earth that humans live upon.
7 is the sum of the two. It represents God in communion with humanity. It represents where God graciously connects with the souls he loves. It represents the place where God brings sinful lost humans into his family.
We’re talking about the Church.
Here’s the truth:
This is a letter written to YOU.
These letters are important.
Because they are written to YOU.
And they have been preserved for YOU.
And they are being proclaimed to YOU.
And these words are from Jesus for YOU.
IV. What Now?
There is no letter you have ever received more important.
No letter you’ve ever received with more value.
No letter you have ever received that comes from a higher place than these letters from Jesus himself.
Make sure you’re here.
If you can’t be, listen online.
Don’t miss the very important words of Jesus himself.
He loves you.
He cares for you.
He has a message for you, dear church.
There’s a lot of different kinds of soap.
Irish spring soap.
Soap in the shape of little flowers.
Soap in the shape of cartoon characters.
Soap that’s big and manly (and smells of rich mahogany).
Over our sermon series, we’ve discussed the spiritual mess of sin. We talked about what it is, where it comes from and how serious it is. Today we want to talk about how to clean it -- what kind of spiritual soap should we use. Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Wrong Kind of Soap
The Scripture for today is from the book of Isaiah. Isaiah was a prophet who lived 700 years before Jesus. He wrote this down at a time when the people of Israel had made a mess of their spiritual relationship with God. They had sinned by disobeying God. It had come from their hearts. They were in danger of spiritual death as a result of it.
But Israel wasn’t unaware of it. In fact, they had been taking actions to clean up their acts.
They had been attending worship.
They had been offering sacrifices.
They had been bringing offerings.
They did this in order to clean up their sinful mess.
But was it working?
Look at God’s response through the Prophet Isaiah:
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices--
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
Old Testament worship was very different from our worship of today.
Instead of bringing your offering in your wallet, purse, or iPhone, you’d bring it on a leash.
Instead of this pleasant altar with clean linens pressed upon it, there was a blood-stained altar with pieces of animal flesh hanging off the edges.
Instead of the beautiful music of organ or guitar, there was the loud, pained bleating of dying goats.
Instead of the nice smell of floral arrangements and morning coffee, there was the smell of burning and rotten corpses.
The reason the Israelites worshipped like this was that God had commanded it. In the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, you can still read about how God commanded that his people worship by offering sacrifices. The reason he did this was to impress upon his people the harsh reality that the wages of sin was death. (Because blood equals death.)
So, the Israelites sacrificed.
They sacrificed and assumed that the animal sacrifice would clean up their sins.
They were wrong.
Sin cannot be cleaned by ANIMAL SACRIFICES
And maybe you’re thinking “duh”. But remember this was the Old Testament version of worship. This is what they were used to. It was the way that they worshipped. In fact, I wonder if the Israelites might have thought that Isaiah was just telling them they had bad form!
Should the altar be relocated to the front right?
Is that the wrong kind of knife for the job?
Maybe we should be using penguins instead of lambs?
But the problem wasn’t the type of worship. It was that they thought their worship could clean them from sin.
Look at what God says next:
When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? (v.12) Can you believe that? God’s calling all the people coming to worship tramplers. As if he’s shaking his fist and shouting: “Get off my lawn!”
Stop bringing meaningless offerings! (v.13a) Whether the offering was an animal or some money or their latest supply of corn. It was meaningless. Even if they brought the best crop of corn they have ever grown: NC State Fair, best in show, blue ribbon corn – that corn couldn’t remove sin.
Your incense is detestable to me. (v.13b) It doesn’t smell like the sweet aroma of calamus and lily of the valley, but it still smells like the greed in your heart from work yesterday.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations-- These were special ceremonies. Special gatherings. Extra ceremonies and extra gatherings. The Israelites would come to worship on more than just one day a week.
Yet, God says: I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. (v.13c-14)
Did you hear that?
God is calling all these extra religious festivals and extra religious activities, a burden.
As if God looks at his watch on a Sabbath and says “Aw man! There’s worship in 5 minutes? Ugh. Not again…”
Is this a strange section of Scripture?
Why is God upset with their worship?
Why was he upset with this religious activity?
Check out verse 15:
When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!
A helpful note:
The Old Testament stance for prayer was to spread your legs apart, to raise your hands above your head, and open your hands towards God. The message this stance conveyed was “Dear God, hear my prayer.”
God said he wasn’t looking.
God said he wasn’t listening.
God said he wasn’t looking or listening because when they reached their hands up towards his heavenly throne, their hands were a mess.
They were filled with blood.
And he’s not talking about animal blood.
He’s talking about sin.
Sin cannot be cleaned by RELIGIOUS ACTIVITY.
It didn’t work for Old Testament Israel.
It doesn’t work for us.
If you think that your attendance today will wash away your sin…
If you think that the angle at which you bow your head for prayer will clean your soul…
If you think that the decibel at which you sing the upcoming hymns will knock lose sin from your heart…
If you think that because you do a certain kind of worship that kind of worship is designated to clean sin unlike any other kind of worship…
If you think that the offering you put in the plate will pay for your guilt….
If you think that the talent you display in serving will distract God from your shame…
If you think that the time you put in at 1100 Newton Road will counterbalance the time you put it sinning…
God still sees the greed all over your hands.
God still hears the words that you let out against your spouse.
God still sees the fingers that typed away to the latest porn site.
God still sees the finger that shot up in rage at your coworker.
Religious activity cannot wash away sin.
What then do we need to do?
Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. (v.16-17)
Instead of worrying about the cleanliness of your Sunday clothing; worry about the cleanliness of your heart.
Instead of taking a coin out of your pocket; take sin out of your life.
Instead of doing worship; just do good.
Figure out some way to remove all the guilt that you’ve amassed in your life up to this point.
Then, you’ll be clean.
Does this message from God leave anyone else in a panic?
This sounds impossible.
Because it is.
Here’s the truth:
Sin cannot be cleaned by YOU.
This is the truth God was impressing on the Israelites: They were worshiping with the idea that their worship would remove their sin.
This is the truth God is impressing on you. If you are worshiping God with the idea that YOU worshiping will remove your sins, you’re wrong.
In fact, if you are trusting that your worship is the key to your forgiveness.
It’s not only wrong.
II. The Right Kind of Soap
Then, what is the right kind of spiritual soap?
Check out what God says next: “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (v.18)
Did you see it? This is the part of the Scripture where God tells us how to clean our heart.
Don’t miss it.
It’s extremely important.
What does God tell us to do.
He doesn’t tell us to do anything to clean our sins, because there isn’t anything we can do to clean our sins.
But he still says our sins will be clean.
Because of him.
Sin is cleaned by OUR LORD.
It’s only fall, but briefly. Let’s talk about snow. The first snowfall is so very beautiful. The crisp, white flakes cover up everything in a nice, pristine blanket of white. In fact, if you look outside after a fresh snow fall you can’t see anything but snow.
Gone is the muddy area where grass wasn’t growing out back.
Gone is the pile of leaves that your kids forgot to clean up.
Gone are the piles of yuck that your dogs left behind.
Gone is the garbage.
Gone is the trash.
Gone is the oil spill from your nephew’s car.
All the gross is gone. Covered up by the clean snow.
That’s what God does to your sins.
They are covered.
White as snow.
Imagine you had a pair of wool socks. And as you wore those socks, tripped on a rock. In fact, you hit that rock so hard that you opened up the skin on your toe. It bled. Suddenly, your socks became crimson, the color of blood.
Blood is a tough stain to get out. It’s deep. It’s red. It’s obvious. You can’t hide it very well at all and you might not ever be able to get it out. Unless… you use the right kind of detergent. The right kind of bleach can do the miraculous. It can remove the blood red stain and leave behind nothing but wool.
As if the stain never existed.
That’s what God does to your sins.
They have been removed.
White as wool.
How does God cleanse us from the stain of sin?
Is it some divine form of bleach?
Does it involve a long soak in holy water?
Does he just use a bunch of holy elbow grease?
Take a look at Hebrews 11. It’s a New Testament book written after Jesus that makes a connection to Old Testament worship. It says:
The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ…cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death. (v.13-14)
Do you get it?
In the Old Testament, animal sacrifices never cleansed anyone’s sin.
But these sacrifices foreshadowed a sacrifice that would.
TRUTH: Sin is cleansed by JESUS’ BLOOD.
Jesus lived perfectly.
Jesus died innocently.
Jesus rose triumphantly.
As a result, the blood of Christ cleanses you from all acts that lead to death. (aka: sin)
Because of Jesus’ divine blood, the blood of sin on your hands has been removed.
Your heart is clean.
Your heart is pure.
Your heart is spotless because of the blood of the eternal lamb, Jesus Christ.
Of course, God need to connect us to this washing. And we can’t have a sermon on washing our souls clean without commenting on one very powerful way he connects us to the cleaning power of Jesus’ blood:
TRUTH: Sin is cleansed THROUGH BAPTISM.
Titus 3:5, “We were saved not because of the righteous things that we have done, but because of the washing with water through the Word.”
Baptism doesn’t look as impressive as the slaughtering of many sacrificial animals.
It’s just a little bit of water.
It’s just poured upon a head.
It looks like a regular old bath.
But it’s so much more.
Titus 3:5, ”we were saved not because of the righteous things that we have done, but because of the washing with water through the Word.”
That is baptism.
Baptism that washes.
It washes away our sins as it connects us to the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood.
III. What Now?
(1) Worship because you’ve been cleaned
Notice how that is phrased. It doesn’t say, “Worship in order to be clean,” but, “worship because you are clean.”
And you have been cleaned by Jesus’ Christ.
It’d be like if you had a party and the party left a big mess. Streamers everywhere. Drink glasses throughout. Birthday cake sprinkles all over the kitchen floor. Wrapping paper in the living room. And a spot of spit up from your young niece on the couch cushion.
And you lay down for a quick nap in order to get some energy to clean.
But when you wake up, it’s all done. Mom did it while you were sleeping. Everything’s clean: dusted, vacuumed, and picked up.
How do you react to that? With thanks!
It’s the same with Jesus.
We worship out of thanks for his forgiveness.
We worship out of thanks for the clean he left in our heart.
We worship out of thanks for the purity that he brought into our souls.
(2) Cherish Baptism
Baptism is one of the incredible ways God connects us to the powerful washing of his blood. So, we cherish it!
If you haven’t been baptized, cherish it – and be baptized.
If you have been baptized, cherish it – and thank God for your baptism.
Rather than an Old Testament sacrifice.
Baptism connects us to Jesus’ sacrifice.
Rather than something we do daily.
Baptism connects us to something Jesus did once.
Rather than something we hope might work.
Baptism connects us to Jesus’ death that worked completely.
Rather than leave you with bloody hands and a sinful heart.
Baptism leaves you with a wet head and a heart cleaned by your Savior.
So…You are clean.
We’re finishing up the sermon series all about the messiness of sin.
And maybe by the end of it you thought:
“Man, my sin has really made a mess.”
“My life’s a mess.”
“I’m a mess.”
If so, hear the message of today one last time:
Jesus cleans messes.
Jesus cleans your mess.
He doesn’t call you “Mess,” but, “clean.”
Whenever relatives come for a visit at our house, there is inevitably an argument.
Julianna says, “We need to clean up this mess.”
I say, “What mess? Looks good to me.”
She says, “There’s dog hair all over the floor.”
I say, “Define all over.”
She says, “There’s dirty dishes on the counter.”
I say, “They need to soak.”
She says, “There’s Dorito crumbs all over the couch.”
I say, “I wonder who did that.”
She says, “It’s messy.”
I say, “But how messy is it, really?”
Today we’re continuing our sermon series called MESSY. We’re going to ask the same question about sin. How messy is it, really? But before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Truth about “Minor” Sin
The Scripture today is from the book of James. It’s a letter written by a church leader named James to believers “scattered across the nations.” (1:1). Since we are believed and we are in a nation, it’s a letter written to us.
Look at what he encourages us to do: “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show FAVORITISM. (2:1)
Favoritism means to give partial treatment to someone at the expense of another.
For example, if you are stuck in traffic on I-440, haven’t been moving for minutes and suddenly a car comes from the on ramp and tries to cut in front of you, but before they do you notice a “Go Tarheels” sticker on their back bumper, well…
If you’re a UNC fan, you smile and let them in. Favoritism.
If you’re an NC State fan, you speed up to make sure that they stay behind you. Anti-favoritism.
Another example from James 2:2-4
Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes…The original Greek language of this letter actually says, “shiny” clothes. If you’re clothing is “shiny”, you’ve got some money: Jewel-studded Armani, diamond decorated Gucci, or maybe a big old Nike Symbol that glimmers in the sun.
And a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. (v.2) He’s got tears in his jeans and a stain on his shirt. He smells a bit stale – of sweat and cigarette smoke.
If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you…” In fact, take my seat. Let me fluff the pew cushion for you, I’ll go grab a bulletin. Did you want a coffee? Some sugars? Should I run to the store and get you a Frappucino? Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it. Just, sit by me.
But you say to the poor man, “You stand there.” We need to save the seats for the rich people.
Or “Sit on the floor by my feet.” (v.3) You’re dirty already, so a little more dirt shouldn’t hurt.
Partial treatment to someone at the expense of others.
And to be fair showing favoritism is common in this world.
Whether it’s favoritism because that person is rich.
Or a man.
Or a woman.
Or they enjoy a certain worship style.
Or they vote a certain way.
Or they were cheering for a certain college team yesterday.
That’s showing favoritism.
Because it’s so prevalent it might not seem like a huge deal.
But look what James says next: Have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with EVIL thoughts? (v.4)
To put it another way:
Wasn’t that favoritism…EVIL?
Even if it was just once.
Even if it was just a minor case.
Even if all that happened was that you took two chocolate chip cookies just to ensure that the person that you like got that last cookie and the other people you don’t favor as much didn’t, the favoritism is still evil.
TRUTH: “Minor” sin is a MAJOR mess.
It’s true for favoritism.
The same would be true for any other “minor” sin.
White lies? Evil.
A bit of gossip? Evil.
Secret racism? Evil.
Selfish pride? Evil.
Pinching your brother? Evil.
“Minor” sin is a MAJOR mess. Here’s some reasons why
(1) It Makes a MAJOR MESS of Kingdom Work
Look at what James writes next: Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? (v.5)
Jesus didn’t have favoritism.
He chose Bartimaeus, a blind beggar and went out to assure him of God’s love.
He chose a Samaritan woman, a non-Jew, non-male, and told her about her Savior.
He chose a prostitute, the type of person that no religious leader would ever choose and he told her about forgiveness.
Jesus didn’t show favoritism.
In fact, it’s because of that reason that you and I are ok. Because God is holy and favors holy things. Yet, he didn’t show favoritism to the “Holy”… (If he that would have been his mode of operation, he would have shown favoritism to no one.) Instead, Jesus showed love to sinners.
He showed love to you and me.
God’s kingdom doesn’t involve favoritism.
And if we, as part of God’s kingdom, show favoritism, then, we’re making a mess of his kingdom work.
In fact, if we do any minor sin, we’re making a mess of kingdom work.
Because kingdom work doesn’t involve sin.
A while back, a first-time visitor joined us for worship. When a visitor does that, I usually follow up with a THANK YOU email. In that email, is a brief survey they can take to talk about their experience. It’s a great way to gather feedback about what first time visitors feel about our worship.
And in the comments the person said: “I like the message. I like the music. But afterwards, in the fellowship hall I overheard some people complaining about the type of fellowship snacks available. To be honest, it really turned me off to the church.”
Even if the complaining was just a couple of seconds, a “Minor” sin.
It still left a big mess of kingdom work.
(2) “Minor” Sin makes you a Lawbreaker
Our Scripture continues: If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. (V.8-9)
Check out the word “convicted.” It’s a courtroom term. If you are convicted, then you have been called a lawbreaker.
You might be convicted of: speeding, a misdemeanor, fraud, even a felony.
Once you are convicted it’s on your record. Employers will look at your record and forever know you as a lawbreaker.
When you do a “minor” sin, it isn’t the circuit court convicting you.
It isn’t the district court.
It’s the county court.
It isn’t the state court.
The appellate court.
Or the Supreme Court.
It’s the Divine Court of our Heavenly King.
It’s God calling you a lawbreaker.
And it’s on your eternal record.
(3) “Minor” sin Leaves the Law Broken
Verse 10 says it this way: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”
It’s like God’s Law is a balloon. He blew it up. Full of divinely inspired air. He gave it to us and said: “Don’t pop it.” You’ll need this law, fully together and not broken in order to enter eternal life. So…be careful.
If you commit adultery, Kaboom!
If you commit murder, Kablam!
If you steal, Kablammo!
If you do anything wrong, the law will be broken!
And we take the Law.
And we don’t commit adultery.
We don’t murder.
We don’t steal.
And we think…you know…just a little bit of about some church members…and…POP!!!!
The law is broken.
That’s a big deal.
(4) “Minor” Sin means Eternal Death
Because we don’t have a fully together LAW necessary for eternal life.
Ezekiel 18:4 says, “the soul who sins even a “minor” sin is the one who will die.”
Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin any type of sin is death.
Matthew 5:19 says, “Anyone who breaks one of the least of my commands…will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”
“Minor” sin is a Major Mess.
II. Not a Minor Savior
Let’s do some math. If you averaged one sin per minute, not unlikely at all.
And you lived an average lifetime of 70 years.
And for every one sin during those seventy years, you place one inch of manure into a pile.
By the end of your life, that pile of manure would be 663 miles high.
When you realize that…
It can you leave you feeling mighty concerned.
Because if “minor” sin is a major mess.
If “minor” sin is actual sin.
Then, I’ve got a problem!
The things that I think…
The words that I’m not careful with…
The things I don’t without even thinking…
I’ve got lots more sin on my heart than I ever imagined.
How can I ever be free of this mess?
Look at what James says next:
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom. (v.12)
But…what Law gives freedom? It isn’t the Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments just pile up your guilt.
Pile up your shame.
Pile up with reminders of all your “minor” sin and how major their guilt is.
That’s not freedom.
The Law that gives freedom isn’t actually a law at all.
It’s the Gospel.
The Gospel is that Jesus lived perfectly without even a “minor” sin.
The Gospel is that Jesus suffered death for your “minor” sins
The Gospel is that Jesus resurrected and left that “minor” sin behind.
This is good news if you are feeling troubled by your “minor” sin, because…
The Gospel includes “minor” sin.
It’s not like the visit from the Health and Sanitation Inspector. When they visit, they peruse ever nook and cranny of your building. They rub their white glove for dust. They test waters for PH balance. They look under table, behind doors, and inside locked closets, on the back corner of the highest shelf for any unsanitary practice.
God isn’t like that.
He doesn’t miss a “minor’ sin hidden in some nook and cranny of your heart.
He found it all.
He didn’t miss a sin.
He didn’t forget to check for “favoritism.”
He didn’t accidently leave some “minor gossip” under a rug.
He thoroughly cleaned up all your sins.
All of your “Major” sins.
All of your “minor” sins.
All of your sins.
The reason isn’t because the minor sins aren’t a big mess, they are.
The reason is that
Jesus is bigger than the BIGGEST messes.
Even the mess of death.
Because crucifixions are BIG messes.
Sweat dripping on the ground.
Dirt & decay stuck to stained pieces of wood.
But Jesus was bigger than that mess.
He came out of the grave alive.
He came out of the grave and left the mess of death behind.
He was bigger than that HUGE, VISUAL mess…
…and that’s great news. Because it means Jesus is bigger than your HUGE, INVISIBLE mess:
In fact, look at verse 13: Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Mercy is Jesus.
Mercy is forgiveness.
Mercy is God’s message to you right now:
In Jesus, you are forgiven.
III. What Now?
(1) Live as Those Set Free
Look at James’ own WHAT NOW.
He says, because you are free in Jesus, Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom. (v.12)
Because it’s so easy to think that these “minor” sins are just part of life.
That we are stuck doing them.
That we’ll never be rid of them.
But that’s inaccurate.
You are free.
That means you are free
Free from gossip.
Free from white lies.
Free from occasional porn.
Free from complaining.
Free from arrogance.
Free from favoritism.
None of those sins control you.
You are free.
Free to speak kindly.
Free to speak truth.
Free to be pure.
Free to compliment.
Free to be humble.
Free to treat all people with respect and kindness.
(2) Be Merciful
Because we tend to want mercy for our “minor” sins.
“I know, I can be grouchy, please forgive me. It’s just a ‘minor’ thing.”
“It’s just one lie, please forgive.”
But when others do the same thing to us?
“He wasn’t polite to me, so I’ll be impolite to him.”
“He gossiped about me, so I’ll gossip about him.”
“He didn’t save me a spot in church, so I’ll hate him forever.”
James writes, “…judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.”
In other words:
If you want to judge others for their “minor” sins.
Then, God will judge you for yours.
And the punishment won’t be minor.
Instead, be merciful, because God has been merciful to you.
He forgave you all your sins, forgive others theirs.
It happened at PreK this past week.
A friend was riding his tricycle and he rode it directly into another friend’s leg.
The other friend began crying, sobbing, screaming.
So, the culprit came over.
It hadn’t been a purposeful hit.
It was relatively minor.
Yet he said to his tearful classmate:
The other friend immediately stopped crying and said: “I forgive you.”
Moments later they were playing together like nothing had happened.
Friends, that’s what God is talking about.
Recognizing sin is serious.
But recognizing we have a serious Savior.
We live freely apart from “minor” sin.
We forgive “minor” sins from our neighbors. Amen.
Have you ever gotten an unidentified stain on your shirt?
You’re getting along.
You’re minding your only business.
Suddenly, you look down and…
What is that? Coffee? Chocolate? Some kind of pinecone residue? (I don’t remember cuddling pinecones.)
It’s important to identify stains so that you know how to treat it correctly.
Today we’re continuing our sermon series called MESSY. Last week we talked about sin…what it is and how it messes up our relationship with God. Today we want to discover the origins of sin. By identifying where it comes from, we will better be able to battle it in our own lives. But before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Influencers, not Origins
The Scripture today is from Mark 7. It says, “The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed...So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” (v.1-5,
Jesus and his disciples were eating food. This is interesting thing to think about. Usually, I think of Jesus as a divine, miracle-performing being. He is. But he was also a true human. As true God, he was all powerful, energizing the universe, but as true man, he needed his calories.
Since some of the Pharisees were able to gather around Jesus, it meant that they were in a public place. Usually there was a common type area in the middle of town where you could set up a picnic and do some eating. Picture it like an ancient food court:
Matthew stopped at Chick-Fi-A.
James went to the Ragin’ Cajun.
Peter’s just walking around and getting as many free samples of chicken on a little toothpick as he can.
The Pharisee’s issue is that the disciples were eating with defiled hands. It was a ceremonial tradition amongst the elders in Jerusalem to give a ceremonial washing before they ate any food.
They’d wash up. They’d wash down. They’d wash all around.
The issue wasn’t that they were germaphobes.
The was ceremonial. Throughout the Old Testament God had placed certain restrictions on the food that was eaten and the cleanliness of their ceremonies in order to impress on the Israelites the fact that God was holy. The Pharisees had simply taken it a step farther and added extra hand washings and ceremonial cleansings in order to really make themselves holy.
That’s why they were so upset with Jesus.
Wasn’t he supposed to be a godly Teacher?
Why would he let his disciples eat without the ceremonial washing?
By doing so, wasn’t he teaching them to defile their bodies with sin?
Do you see the problem?
The Pharisees thought that unclean hands…
Would somehow contain sin…
That would make its way into the body…
And create a sinful heart.
It is faulty to assume that sin originates from exterior sources.
Now understand what that’s saying:
Exterior sources can absolutely nfluence us to sin.
They can tempt us to sin.
But it is NOT the place of origin.
I think that’s important to remember. Because as Christians we might want to cut down on sin. In doing so, we might look to cut out some exterior sources. But while that might be helpful, it wouldn’t be the origin. For example:
(1) Food and Drink
The wrong kind of food and drink can make you feel gross. And if you feel gross, it can make it easy to be gross towards others. It might be wise to stay away from that unhealthy food so you don’t feel so sluggish and aren’t so easily a slug. So, you back away from greasy hamburgers, stop drinking coffee and throw away (sigh) all the Doritos.
To be fair, those might be wise decisions. Food and drink can absolutely influence the way we act.
But be careful that you don’t think it’s the origin of sin. As if, all we need to do is be eat healthy, throw on some Essential Oils on it, and we’ll take care of the sin problem.
Because even if you are Crossfit gym levels of physical fitness, guess what?
You might still be a jerk to your coworkers.
You might still fight with your wife.
You might start lusting after that person at the gym.
You might start trusting your oil collection to keep your healthy, more than your God.
In short, sin would still be around.
Food and drank are only influencers, not the origin of sin.
This is another big influencer towards sin. If you’re watching TV shows with all kinds of swear words, don’t be surprised if you’re Preschooler repeats those swear words in front of your in-laws at the fancy restaurant. There have been Precious Lambs kids who are quoting characters that are a part of Games of Thrones. That might not be the wisest…
With social media, YouTube, the internet making it so easy to consume some downright awful content, we have to be diligent to keep our families safe from evil influences. It’s good to install filters on internet. It’s good to have a parental code on the TV. I think it’d be pretty fun to watch nothing but Veggietales, all the time, all the time, all the time.
But even if we severely cut down on our sinful media intake, there would still be sin.
Case in point?
All of human history before media existed.
There was no TV, but still sin.
No YouTube, still sin.
No smartphones and still sin.
Media is an influencer. It can lead us to sin, but it isn’t the origin.
Nobody wants stress. Stress at work. Stress at the home. Stress in relationships. Stress makes you high strung, on edge, and ready to jump down people’s throats.
Stress is an influencer of sin.
The more stress there is the tougher it is to not be sinfully unpleasant.
It’s why people try to destress:
If I go get a full body massage…
If I surround myself with nature…
If I just listen to some Enya…
My stress will fade away.
And so will sin.
Again, stress is an influencer. So removing yourself from stressful situations will be helpful in our battle against being sinfully unpleasant.
Stress isn’t the origin of sin.
I remember a while back being on vacation. It was nice because I was away from some of the stress that comes from being a pastor. I felt like I was a bit more low-key. I was feeling good. I was feeling pleasant. I was feeling like I was doing a better job managing being sinfully short with Julianna.
Then, she asked if I wanted to get up and workout. “Nah!”
She asked if I wanted to help with food. “I’m good.”
She asked if I wanted to do a devotion: “I’m too busy resting right now.”
Less stress had caused me to be less sinfully unpleasant and more sinfully lazy.
Stress is an influencer, but it isn’t the origin of sin.
II. Sin is Messy
This is Jesus’ point.
Particularly because the Pharisees were focusing on washing hands which barely had any effect on sin at all.
Listen to his response to the Pharisees: Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. (Mark 7:18-22)
Do you get it?
Sin doesn’t originate from exterior sources.
Sin originates from interior sources.
Before you punch someone in the face, you have to think: “I want to punch him in the face.”
Before you commit adultery, you have to think: “I want to commit adultery with that person.”
Before you steal, you have to think: “I want to steal that.”
Before you lie, you have to think: “I need to hide the truth.”
Before you gossip, you have to think: “I want to hurt that person.”
Before you act selfishly, you have to think: “I think my way is best.”
Sin comes from interior sources.
And one of those sources we are all too familiar with.
(1) From Your Heart
In the medical field, there are many different devices to help you get a better glimpse at what’s going inside the body: the X-Ray, the MRI, the CAT scan, the thing they do where you drink the neon liquid stuff and it appears on the machine as a bring neon color.
The Bible functions as a spiritual X-ray.
It tells us that the problem with sin lies in our hearts.
You might not like that truth, but just like the X-Ray isn’t lying, neither is God’s Word.
The problem with sin is within our hearts.
(2) From Your Parents’ Heart
Because they are people too and the Bible describes the sinful hearts of ALL people.
In fact, this answers the question: How did this sin get into my heart?
Jesus said John 3:5, “Flesh gives birth to flesh.”
Just like alligators gives birth to alligators.
Hedgehogs gives birth to hedgehogs.
Spiders give birth to…thousands of disgusting little spiders.
So, humans give birth to humans.
Even, sinful humans give birth to humans.
It means that your dad gave you your eyes, your nose, your male pattern baldness…
…and a sinful heart.
(3) From Adam
Before you get super mad at your parents, remember they got it from theirs.
And before you get super mad at your grandparents, remember they got it from theirs.
In fact, you’d have to trace all humans back to the very first humans.
A guy named Adam.
A woman named Eve.
They are two of only three people in the history of the world that were blessed to be born without sin.
Because God made them without sin.
And God said: “Here’s a beautiful world that I made for you. Beautiful flowers. Beautiful trees. Delicious fruits. Amazing animals. It’s yours. I love you. One way to show you love me? Just don’t eat from that one tree in the middle of the garden. Consider it your form of worship. Don’t eat of it and you’ll never bring sin into the world.”
And what did they choose to do?
They eat the fruit.
And immediately, sin infects their hearts:
For the first time ever, they feel shame: They put on some leaf clothing because, “Adam, stop looking at my body like that.”
For the first time ever, they blame: “Eve, this is all your fault!”
For the first time ever, they feel terrified: “God’s coming. He’ll be mad. We better hide.”
This is why the Bible says this: Sin entered the world through one man. (Romans 5:12)
Are you a part of the world?
Here’s the harsh truth:
Sin is in you.
III. The Non-Origin
Of course, right about now, your sinful heart might want to go a bit farther back in the origin story.
But…wasn’t there a devil?
A talking snake?
Wasn’t it his fault?
And honestly, wasn’t it God’s?
Because in the beginning was God.
He’s the one who created this world.
Why create the devil?
Why create the tree?
Why create Adam and Eve with the ability to sin?
Isn’t it God’s fault?
Check out Genesis 1:31. It’s a description of what happens at the end of creation. Look at what it says:
God saw all that he had made and it was very good. (1:31)
It had to be.
God doesn’t make stuff that is “Meh.”
God doesn’t do things that are “Ok.”
God doesn’t create things that are “imperfect.”
Sin did not originate from GOD.
He’s only good.
And his creation was only good.
The devil? He was an angel! An angel who freely chose to oppose his good Creator.
The tree? It was an altar. A way for people to freely chose to love their good Creator.
Adam and Eve? They were his perfect creation. And part of perfection was the ability to freely choose to love their Creator.
It’s like Google Maps. Google maps will listen to you. You can tell it to get you directions to the next city, to avoid tolls, to stop and find the local Taco Bell.
Google Maps will listen to you.
But it doesn’t love you.
God in his perfection made people to love.
He gave them freedom.
They chose to freely oppose him.
Sin isn’t on God;
It’s on us.
IV. The Exterminator
But that’s good news.
Because that means God is still good.
Sin didn’t infect him.
God isn’t the one who originated sin; but God is the one who exterminates it.
Look at how Romans describes it:
Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18-19)
Adam’s one act of sin is juxtaposed with God’s perfect act of rescue.
Adam did one sin; all people were brought into sinfulness. That includes you.
God did one righteous act; all people are brought into justification. That includes you.
And what is justification? It’s a court room term. It means: “a not guilty verdict.”
This means that in spite of your sinful heart, God’s righteous actions declare you “Not guilty.”
(1) Through Jesus’ Perfect Life
Do you remember earlier I mentioned three people who entered the world without sin?
One was Adam.
One was Eve.
They both chose to leave perfection and enter sin.
But the third one?
He chose to stay perfect.
The third one?
He was God himself.
The third option?
He was Jesus.
In Jesus, God became man.
In Jesus, God lived on this earth.
In Jesus, God lived under the law.
And then, just like Adam, He had a choice.
He could choose to fail miserably just like Adam…
“Through the obedience of the one man…” (v.19)
Jesus chose not to sin.
Jesus’ heart didn’t have any sin on it.
Jesus’ heart didn’t have any hate in it.
Jesus’ heart didn’t have any greed, any lust, any pride, any selfishness, any envy, any laziness, any sin of any kind at all.
Jesus’ heart was pure.
It obeyed God…
Even to death.
(2) Through Jesus’ Innocent Death.
Think back to the stain on the shirt illustration. If you had a stain on a shirt, one way you can get it out is by taking a clean rag.
You get it wet.
You blot it until the stain is out.
Of course, once you do that the stain might be out of the shirt, but it is now all over the sponge.
That’s what happened with Jesus.
Like a sponge, he soaked up all the dirt of your sin.
All the guilt of your past.
All the shame of this past week.
Jesus’ soaked it all up into his heart.
And so did your sin.
Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead.
But your sins did not.
It was exterminated.
…So also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. (v.18)
“All people” includes you.
…So also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (v.19)
“The many” includes you.
Jesus has exterminated your sin.
V. What Now?
This affects the way we deal with sin in our life. Take a look at the passages from James 1:19-21. It says this, “Take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”
Because a good part of our actions are determined by our emotions.
The example given in James is the emotion of anger. We get angry. Our anger tells us to do. We listen even if it is a sin.
You might say: “Anger is an emotion. How can I help it?”
The problem isn’t necessarily anger. God gets angry. He gets righteously angry against sin.
The problem isn’t emotion, it’s emotion coming from a sin infected heart.
It can be any emotion:
Sin infected happiness.
Sin infected fear.
Sin infected sadness.
Knowing that we can’t simply say: “I feel this way so I should do it.”
Pause and consider this emotional reaction is influenced by sin, simply because of my sinful heart.
Maybe, I shouldn’t do it.
(2) Listen to the Planted Word
Sin isn’t the only thing in our hearts.
By God’s grace, we have the Gospel in our hearts.
God planted it there through the message of the Gospel.
He planted knowledge of our Savior.
He planted knowledge of our saving.
He planted knowledge of what sin is and motivation for getting rid of it.
He planted knowledge of what’s God pleasing and motivation for doing it.
It’s like a pile of trash, stinky, dirty, disgusting…
…And yet, by God’s grace, a flower grows.
It’s the same in our hearts.
They are sin filled.
But by God’s grace, a flower grows.
By God’s Word, sin is defeated.
By God’s power, we bloom for him. Amen.
We have a leak on our roof. The rain comes down through a circular vent that was installed through the shingles and OSB without a line of caulk to protect the space surrounding it. My first attempt at fixing it (cover the area with tin foil) only worked until the tin toil blew off the roof. (About 2 days) On my second attempt, I went up to the roof with a caulking gun that I had loaded with roofing tar. I took that tar and did a nice circle around the opening. Case closed. (Julianna, man do you have handy husband.)
But that wasn’t it. It was still leaky. I went back to the roof, but couldn’t find an opening, so I decided to approach it from the other side. I went up into our crawl space attic, maneuvered around the insulation and shined a tiny flashlight up to the hole from the other direction. Sure enough! There were a few tiny little holes that were still allowing water into our place.
So, I picked up the caulking gun, pressed it against the holes and…
I tried again.
I pumped it a solid 7 or 8 times more until…
Apparently, I had forgotten to open up the top of the caulking tube. As a result, it busted out the back and all over my hands.
That tar was messy.
I used soap.
I used a second kind of soap.
I used a third kind of soap.
It was messy.
Today we’re starting our sermon series called MESSY. It’s all about something that’s the spiritual equivalent of tar all over your hands: something called sin. Something that can get all over your life, all over your relationships, and all over your relationship with God. Today we just wanted to identify what sin is and how we deal with it. But before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. What is Sin?
The Scripture that we’re looking at today is from the book of Mark. Mark is a guy who was an eyewitness to Jesus’ life. So, it’s likely that he was there for the event that we’re taking a look at today. Listen to what happens: As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17)
This story is actually recorded in two other places of Scripture. In Matthew’s version, we learn that he was a young man. (Mt. 19:20) In Luke’s version, we learn that he was a ruler. (Lk. 18:18) In all of the stories, we learn that he was rich.
So, here’s what you need to understand…
This guy was impressive.
He was the kind of guy who worked hard throughout his life. Maybe he was first chair trumpet, captain of the soccer team and the homecoming king all while graduating Cum Laude with three sets of honor cords.
The kind of guy that was no stranger to inheritance. His grandpa’s 401k. His dad’s H&R Block business. He was….
The kind of guy with a family boat house on Lake Gaston.
The kind of guy who’d gotten on Shark Tank and received a royalty deal from Mr. Wonderful.
The kind of guy who’d be an Instagram influencer – literally paid by companies — just to include a shot of himself drinking a Coca-Cola on his next social media post.
He was successful.
He also knew that none of this stuff was eternal life.
The assets would eventually run out.
The Lexus would stop running.
The six pack of abs would eventually fade to fat…then dust.
But he had earned everything else in his life.
Hence the question:
Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
Why do you call me good? There is no one good, but God alone. (v.18)
Understand what Jesus is saying:
God is good.
And eternal life is God’s.
Then eternal life must be good.
And since God is good.
And his commands are God’s.
Then, his commands are good.
And since eternal life is good.
And God’s commands are good.
To get to eternal life, one simply needs to do the good that your good God commands you to do:
Do not murder. Murder bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Do not commit adultery. Unfaithfulness is bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Do not steal. Theft is bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Do not give false testimony. Lying is bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Do not defraud. Gossip is bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Honor your Father and Mother. Disrespect is bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Do the good things. You inherit eternal life.
Do the bad things. You won’t.
Sin is the MESSINESS of OPPOSING God.
It’s like eating healthy. If you’re trying to eat healthy, then food is either good for your body or good for your taste buds.
Carrot mush. Good for your body, not for taste.
Deep friend Carrot Cake. Good for taste, not for body.
Bran Flakes. Good for body.
Frosted Flakes. Good for taste.
Kombucha. Good for body.
Vanilla Dr. Pepper. Good for taste.
Brussel sprouts. Good for body.
Doritos. Good for taste.
Brussel sprout flavored Doritos? Not good for either. Let’s make sure that it’ll never happen.
Sin and God are like that.
They are in opposition.
What’s good for sin is not good for God.
What’s good for God is not good for sin.
II. Sin is Messy
And one of the reasons that God has assigned the sinful things as sin is because sin causes all kinds of messiness in our lives.
Thinks about it:
(1) Sin Messes up Relationships
Just consider some of the sins that Jesus mentions here.
Stealing? It messes up your relationship with the friend you stole 20 bucks from.
Gossip? It messes up your relationship with the person who finds out you have been gossiping about them.
Adultery? It messes up your relationship with your spouse, with the person you’re commit adultery with, with the spouse of the person you’re committing adultery with, with your parents, with your spouse’s parents, with your parents of the person you’ve committed adultery with, with the parents of the spouse of the persons you’ve committed adultery with, with your siblings, with your siblings in law, with their friends, with your friends, and, God forbid, any children that are in the mix.
Now you might say:
Only if I get caught!
Is that really true?
Because even if you don’t get caught stealing, the relationship with your friend is affected because now you have to think of ways to lie to your friend and remember the lies that you said in order not to get caught.
And even if you don’t get caught by the person you’re gossiping about, the people you’re gossiping to hear what you’re saying, recognize what you’re doing, and are making mental notes to keep you at a distance.
And even if you don’t get caught in adultery, you quickly find yourself nitpicking and complaining about any minor offense from your spouse because you need to soothe your conscience and come up with tangible reasons to tell yourself: “It’s ok what I’m doing.”
Sin messes up relationships with others.
(2) Sin Messes Up Self Image
Because what happens when you sin?
You don’t usually feel good about you it.
You feel anxious.
You feel sad.
You feel guilty.
And here’s the thing, when people say things like “You’re such a good person.”
You nod and accept, but deep down there’s this little voice that says: “If they only knew…”
They wouldn’t call me good.
They’d call me -- unfaithful.
Which leads to our next issue…
(3) Sin Messes Up Your Relationship with God
It’s Back to Church Sunday. One thing I’ve been doing this week is reaching out to people who used to worship here but haven’t in a while. Just a simple message telling them that we missed them and would love for them to return.
In the process, I invited one friend of mine. And the person responded: “I’ll think about it.”
So, I followed up yesterday and asked if they might make it? They said they didn’t have a car. I said, “We could give a ride.”
They responded: “I don’t think I can get up that early.” I said: “The last service is at 11 am.”
Finally, they said: “Pastor, I can’t come, because life is mess right now. I need to get it together first. I can’t let God see me like this. I’m too guilty.”
How sad. Sin drives people apart from God.
It causes us to distance ourselves from him.
We miss out on knowing we have his protection.
We miss out on being uplifted by his love.
We miss out on hearing about his incredible plan for us.
We just kind of drift…away.
But none of this worries our impressive young man. When he hears Jesus’ answer, he’s feeling pretty good. Because Jesus mentioned a bunch of commands, that he hasn’t broken.
He hasn’t murdered.
He hasn’t committed adultery.
He hasn’t lied.
He’s done good.
He says to Jesus:
All these I have kept since I was a boy. (v.20)
Jesus looked at him.
Jesus loved him.
Jesus spoke to his heart:
One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have. Sell your 401k. Sell your internet business. Sell your stock in Disney. Sell your 70” HD TV. Sell your XBOX. Sell your Coach Handbag. Sell your Air Jordans. Sell your season tickets. Sell everything.
And give to the poor. To the homeless. To the impoverished. To the elderly man who can’t afford healthcare. To the guy at the I-540 on ramp asking for change. To the immigrant who can’t get a job because of the way he looks.
And you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come follow me. (v.21)
But the young man didn’t follow Jesus.
His face fell.
He grew sad.
He turned and left.
Because you see, Jesus had exposed his sin.
Did you catch it?
He loved earthly treasure more than heavenly treasure.
He loved STUFF more than the CREATOR of stuff.
He broke the 1st Commandment: You shall have no other gods.
He did bad.
He wasn’t good.
But more intriguing than the young man’s response, is what Jesus says next.
How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!... It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. (v.23,24)
Have you ever seen a camel before? It’s a big old animal. The average camel is 6 feet tall at the shoulder, 7 feet tall at the hump. It weighs about 1500 pounds.
The eye of a needle? It’s much tinier. It’s so tiny because it is designed for only a thread to pass through it.
I don’t have a camel with me. (The Greensboro Zoo wouldn’t get back to my request to borrow one)
But I do have this stuffed camel.
And this needle.
No matter how hard I smush it.
No matter how hard I jam it.
No matter how hard I push it.
It is impossible for this stuffed camel to go through the eye of this needle.
It is impossible for a real camel to go through the eye of a needle.
And it is impossible for a rich young man earn his way through the gates of heaven.
In fact, it is impossible for anyone to earn their way into the gates of heaven.
(4) Sin Messes Up Our Entrance into Heaven
Heaven is a good place.
Heaven is a divinely good place.
It is a place without any sin.
And if you’ve got sin on you…
If you’ve got a big sin…
If you’ve got a little sin…
If you’ve got any sin…
…it is impossible for you to earn your way into heaven.
III. The Solution
Jesus’ disciples are shocked all this. Because this impressive young gentleman, who had earned all varieties of accolades in his lifetime, wasn’t able to earn the accolade of heaven.
If he wasn’t getting in, then…
What about us?
Because he’s got it together, we don’t.
He’s impressive; we’re not.
He’s got everything going for him; not us.
He was the Bill Gates, the Mark Zuckerberg, the Elon Musk.
If he wasn’t getting in, then…
Who can be saved? (v.26)
Listen to Jesus’ response:
With humans, this is impossible. But not with God; with God all things are possible. (v.27)
Do you get it?
Heaven is impossible for any being with sin to earn.
He doesn’t have any sin.
He doesn’t struggle with wrong.
He isn’t messy…at all.
(1) Sin hasn’t MESSED UP God
Unlike all of the rest of us, God is sinless. He’s still good. He doesn’t do wrong. He doesn’t have any mess on his eternal being. He remains pure.
You won’t catch God in the fellowship area after church gossiping about that one guy.
You can’t Google for God’s criminal record because he doesn’t have any.
You won’t find photos of God from 2011 on Social Media in which he’s engaged in lewd activity.
You won’t find any racists tweets that have been deleted from God’s account.
God is incorruptible.
God is perfect.
God is sinless.
Sin hasn’t messed up God.
And it never will.
Which is big news.
Because it means
(2) God is the ONE to Clean the Mess Up
Think about it:
When I had that tar all over my hands, one of the worst things that could have done would be to try and wipe it off by rubbing my dirty hands together.
(It’s what I did), but it failed miserably.
Messy hands cannot clean up messy hands.
Sinful hands cannot clean up sinful hands.
But God’s hands aren’t dirty.
God’s hands aren’t messy.
God’s hands are holy.
God’s hands are pure.
God’s hands are divine.
God is the one to clean the mess up.
God is the one to clean YOUR mess up.
He is the ONLY one to clean your mess up.
He had to act.
And he did.
Back to the story. Peter is the name of one of Jesus’ disciples and he is having a hard time believing that he can’t earn heaven. So, he says to Jesus this: “WE have left everything to follow you.” (v.28)
That’s what you told the young man to do.
That’s what we did.
Granted, we didn’t have as much as he did, but we still left it.
We are following you.
Does that count for something?
Look at Jesus’ response:
Truly I tell you…no one who has left home for me and the Gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age…and in the age to come eternal life. (v.29-30)
Isn’t that strange?
Jesus just promised Peter eternal life.
It wasn’t because Peter could earn it. He couldn’t.
It wasn’t because Peter was perfect. He was a sinner.
It was because Peter followed Jesus.
But why would that work?
Jesus is God.
(3) The MESSINESS of Sin is Removed by Jesus
He is God come into this messy world.
He is God dealing with the messiness of humanity.
He is God who suffered a messy, bloody death at the hands of humans on the cross.
But when he died.
He took the messiness of your sins with him.
He took the messiness of your guilt to the cross.
He through the messiness of your sins into the grave…and the stone door was slammed shut.
And there they remained.
Jesus and our sins in the grave.
On the third day?
Jesus came out alive.
But our sins? They stayed there…dead.
Jesus has removed the messiness of your sins.
In Jesus you are clean.
In Jesus you are messiness-less.
In Jesus, you are forgiven.
You might think -
All the sins I have.
All the ways I’ve made a mess of it.
All the messiness in my heart.
But not for God.
God specializes in the impossible.
Like rising from the dead.
He did the visually impossible to prove the invisibly impossible
He did the visually impossible: rising from the dead, to prove the invisible impossible: removal of all the messiness of your sins.
IV. What Now?
It’s what the rich young man didn’t do. Follow Jesus.
It’s what the poor disciples did do. Follow Jesus.
And it’s what God is calling you to do: Follow Jesus.
It’s the way out of your sinful mess. Follow Jesus.
It’s the way out of your messy guilt. Follow Jesus.
It’s the way out of this messy world to place where there’s never any mess…
I was once called to a hospital room late at night. The elderly man I went to see was in grave condition. He was hooked up to a breathing machine. He was unable to move. His eyes were red and there were purple splotches creeping up his neck.
But when I got there…whatever brightness could come to his eyes, did.
Pastor, I’m so glad you’re here.
Pastor, I’m not gonna last much longer.
Pastor, I’ve been thinking about my life.
About how I messed things up with my wife.
About how I messed things up with my children.
About how I messed…things…up.
But…as big of a mess up as I was…
I know it’s not too big of a mess for Jesus.
Because ain’t nothing too big of a mess for Jesus.
He was right.
And he is right with Jesus.
Follow your Savior friends. He’ll fix your eternal mess and bring you to eternal life. Amen.