We are in the middle of our IDOLATRY sermon series. This week we want to learn about living how to BE FREE and how to LIVE FREE. Before that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Proof that You’re Free
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve learned a lot about IDOLATRY.
Idolatry is placing something that isn’t God in God’s place.
Our idols are the things that lead us to fear, love, and trust in them more than God.
Church is a place where subtle idols can creep up and take God’s place in or hearts.
All of this awareness of idolatry has begun to make me think it’s a lot like Coronavirus
It feels like it’s everywhere.
You can’t see it coming.
It can make you do all kind of things that you don’t normally do.
Like a slave.
Jesus agrees. Look at John 8:34 “Everyone who keeps committing sin is a slave to sin.”
Since sin happens when you don’t treat God as your true god, it follows that, “Everyone who keeps committing sin is a slave to idolatry.”
If you keep lusting after photos of your gym mates online, you’re a slave to the idol of your sex drive.
If you keep getting hammered on Jack Daniel’s, you’re a slave to the idol of alcohol.
If you keep spending hours upon hours on Facebook checking how many likes your post received, you’re a slave to the idol of your pride.
If you keep telling lies about your struggles to your church family, you’re a slave to the idol of reputation.
If you keep being lazy around the house, you’re a slave to the idol of sloth.
If you keep getting angry with your family, you’re a slave to the idol of “It’s my way or the highway.”
If you keep SINNING, idolatry is ENSLAVING you.
So…how does one break free?
Jesus said, “A slave does not remain in the family forever. A son does remain forever.”
Jesus is referencing the ancient system of servanthood. In that system, you would sign on to work as a “slave” or a “servant” to pay off a debt or to borrow money for a mortgage. For our sakes, imagine you took a job at a local pig farm and were contracted to work until the end of summer. You live on the farm. You’re greeted as a family member. You get to eat at the big family-style table for BBQ and greens every evening.
But when your time was up, you leave. And you don’t get to be at the farm anymore.
On the other hand, if you were a child of that family?
You would always be a part of the family.
You’d be greeted as part of the family.
You’d have a bed waiting for you on the farm.
Even if you were away for a long period of time, when you returned mom would make sure there’s a spot at the table with your favorite, Lemon Meringue Pie, waiting for you.
Brothers and sisters, you are God’s child.
You are a part of his family.
And always will be.
You ARE NOT a slave.
But you are free.
In fact, Jesus says, “If the Son sets you free, you really will be free. (John 8:34-36)
Did you hear that?
If Jesus sets your free, you’ll be free indeed.
Jesus did set you free.
Here’s the truth then:
You are FREE from idolatry because JESUS set you FREE.
Because Jesus doesn’t do anything half way.
He didn’t get you some of the way free.
He didn’t attempt at freeing you and fail.
He doesn’t say, “You free yourself.”
He set you FREE.
You are not a SLAVE to idolatry.
You are FREE!
II. “The Free” Flee
The Corinthians were a group of believers who lived in Corinth. Corinth was a city filled with idol worship. There was a large temple to Aphrodite the goddess of love, another impressive temple to Poseidon, the god of the sea, and various miniature temples to Apollo, Isis, Venus and Demeter.
Some of the believers in the Corinthians church had formerly been practicing idol worshippers.
But Jesus had set them free.
In his letter to this group of former slaves to idol worship, Paul encourages them in how to LIVE Free. He says, “Therefore, my dear friends, FLEE from idolatry.” (1 Cor. 10:14)
Flee means get out of there.
It means “run.”
It means “sprint.”
It means be like my dog Frankie. Frankie hates… (that probably isn’t a strong enough word)… Frankie loathes laundry baskets. I don’t know why. Maybe a laundry basket bullied her for days on end before she came to our family. Regardless, when she sees a laundry basket near her, she cowers in the corner with her tail between her legs and as soon as there’s a space for her to get out of the room, she sprints outside and goes to the corner farthest from the basket.
“Flee” means to run out of the room as fast your four legs can carry you and get as far away from idolatry as possible!
But the thing about humans is that we tend to be more like my cat, Minnie. The other day Minnie found a bunch of string and played with it until she was tangled up within it. She started meowing. I let her out.
No more than about 5 minutes later, she was meowing again, because she was back in the string.
“Flee” does not mean getting entangled in the idolatry that you were just released from.
The FREE from idolatry FLEE from idolatry
In Corinth, there were often feasts for the different idols. (Think about it like Lenten meals…just…dedicated to a false god.)
Zesty Chicken Sunday dedicated to Zeus.
Apple Pie-Apple Turnovers dedicated to Apollo.
Doritos Dinner dedicated to Demeter.
These meals would allow the community to gather for FREE food in the name of the idol.
Now remember the people of Corinth had been freed from idol worship by the message of Christ.
Yet when they were walking by the local idol temple and saw that there was FREE FOOD?
They joined in.
Would you consider that “FLEEING” from idolatry?
Paul didn’t. Allow him to explain. “Judge for yourselves what I am saying. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ? (v.15-16)
The answer to both questions is YES.
When we eat the bread of Lord’s Supper, we are intimately connected with Jesus’ body that was broken so we might have life.
When we drink the wine at Lord’s Supper, we are intimately connected with the blood Jesus shed for our forgiveness.
When we sit at the Lord’s Table, we are intimately connected with the REAL GOD.
More than that we are connected to God’s people. Paul writes, “Because there is one bread, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (v.17)
This is a simple principle:
If you’re connected to Jesus in Lord’s Supper…
And I’m connected to Jesus in Lord’s Supper…
Then we are connected.
This is an awesome truth.
But if that’s true about the Lord’s table, then it’s true about an idol’s table too!
Paul writes, “Those who eat the sacrifices are partners of [that] altar, aren’t they? (v.18)
He adds, “What am I saying? That food from idol sacrifices is anything, or that an idol is anything? No. (v.19)
An idol is nothing more than some wood, some paints, and a bunch of glitter.
An idol isn’t real.
Therefore, you can’t be united with an idol, because an idol isn’t anything.
But this wasn’t a harmless offense.
Because while idols aren’t real, the demons that make you believe that idols are real…
“What [these idol worshippers] sacrifice, “they sacrifice to demons, and not to God” and I do not want you to become partners of demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and of the table of demons.” (v.20)
Because here’s the truth:
Continuing in idolatry connects you with DEMONS.
Using the internet to worship God on a Sunday morning, partners you with GOD! But using that same internet to look up dirty pictures on a Sunday night, partners you with demons.
Typing “Praise Jesus” on social media now, partners you with God! But typing “curse this person” later, partners you with demons.
Tuning in for the family devotion now, partners you with GOD! But getting the popcorn ready for the R-rated horror flick later, partners you with demons.
Giving online to the church now, partners you with GOD! But giving the rest of our funds to internet gambling later, partners you with demons.
If Paul still hasn’t convinced you to FLEE from idolatry, look at verse 21.
Are we trying to provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he is? (v.21)
It’s a call back to the 1st Commandment: “You shall have no other gods” Why? “Because the LORD your God is a jealous God, punishing those who hate him.” (Exodus 20:5)
Because the truth is that GOD wants you badly.
That’s why he invites you to his altar.
At an idols’ altar, people want the idol’s help so badly they would shed blood for the idol.
At God’s altar, God wants you in his family so badly, GOD gives his blood for you.
At his altar, God speaks to you and says:
You are FREE.
Live FREE & FLEE.
III. “The Free” Serve
This is not all God has to say about how the FREE, live FREELY. He writes,
“Everything is permitted”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permitted”—but not everything builds up. Let no one seek his own good, but that of others.
The concept in Greek culture was, “do whatever you want, because who cares!?!” For Greeks, this way of thinking revolved around their moral law. It’s the reason that GREEK culture is the culture that later is associated with frat house party.
Paul pits that logic against God’s logic.
There are some things in life that are permissible.
They are neither commanded nor forbidden by God.
Let’s call those “Free-to-Choose Things”
“Free-to-choose things” include…
…what kind of socks you’re wearing right now.
…what kind of donut you had for breakfast.
…how much cream you put in your coffee.
…whether you should eat turkey bacon or pig bacon.
All of these things are neutral. We are “Free-to-choose.”
Yet, in these “free-to-choose” things, the FREE, must be careful of making these neutral things into an idol.
The FREE must be careful not to use these “Free-to-choose” items to serve themselves.
Rather, The FREE use their freedom to SERVE others.
Besides meals dedicated to idols which Paul already identified as something believers should not participate in, there was the issue of “food that had formerly been sacrificed to idols, but was now being sold at the local farmer’s market for a value menu price.” Leftovers were often sold by the pagan priests to the merchant, who in turn would sell it to the people.
Now Paul had just told the believers to never eat at the table of the idol worshipping feasts.
What about this formerly sacrificed to idols meat?
The answer? It depends.
Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without asking questions for the sake of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” (v.26) That includes this chicken and asparagus plate. It is from God, so go ahead. Just don’t ask questions. Otherwise, the devil will make your conscience over sensitive and you’ll think you’re doing wrong.
If one of the unbelievers invites you over and you want to go, eat whatever you are served without asking questions for the sake of conscience. (v.27) Again, don’t ask. Eat! Enjoy. Make friends with unbelievers in the hopes that you can share the Gospel with them.
But if someone says to you, “This is from a sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. I mean the other person’s conscience, not your own. (v.29) Because imagine you are with a recent believer, who had just stopped worshipping Aphrodite. They just learned the 1st Commandment in Starting Point class. And now, you are about to eat piece of Tiramisu that had been sacrificed to a false god?
Best case scenario? You’ll leave them really confused.
Worst case? They’ll head to the next Aphrodite fest, participate in the things of demons, and be pulled away from faith.
Sometimes serving others means we DON’T.
You don’t have a beer, even though you can, because you’re sitting next to a former alcoholic.
You don’t call Peter a saint, even though it’s Biblical, because you’re talking with someone who occasionally prays to saints.
You don’t watch a movie in the basement with the lights off, alone, with your girlfriend – even though it’s not wrong to do so – because you’re both trying to be pure. And this is counterproductive.
But Paul continues, “I mean the other person’s conscience, not your own. Why is my freedom judged by someone else’s conscience? If I eat the food with thankfulness, why am I criticized for something for which I give thanks?”
I think this is included because of one particular group that Paul knew would read this letter and totally abuse his words.
The Judaizers were a group of believers who believed that people were saved by faith in Jesus and by adhering to Old Testament Jewish customs.
The Judaizers didn’t struggle with whether idols were real.
They struggled with humility.
Meaning they could take what Paul just said and respond:
You’re right. This is just food.
It’s not wrong to eat, but we won’t because we’re better than you.
And you better not…
…or you’ll be sinning against our conscience.
In this instance?
Paul recommends you take a big old bite.
You’re not dealing with a young in faith believer struggling with a lack of knowledge.
You’re dealing with a “mature” in faith believer struggling with a lack of humility.
Sometimes serving others means we DO.
For instance, baptism. We baptize at Gethsemane church by pouring water over people’s heads. This is because the word Jesus when he tells us to “baptize” simply means to “wash with water.” That means, however you wash with water, is baptism.
But some church groups confess, “You must put someone completely under the water or it isn’t baptism.”
We could capitulate.
We could get a baptismal tank and only dunk people.
After talking and explaining and showing from God’s Word what God actually says,
We could “serve them by DOING.”
By pouring water, our action speaks to them, “This is permissible. Stop making YOUR WAY into an idol.”
Sometimes serving others means we DO; sometimes serving others means we DON’T.
How do we know when to do what? Paul gives us 2 questions to apply to any situation.
(1) Is it for God’s Glory?
That’s our goal as Christians to bring God glory as we freely serve him. Paul says, “Whether you eat or drink, or do anything else, do everything to the glory of God.” (v.31)
Because ultimately, that’s what we’re here for.
This is an important question our leadership asked this week.
Does refraining from in-person worship and going online give glory to God?
It obeys the Fourth Commandment by honoring our government.
It obeys the Fifth Commandment by honoring the lives of others.
It obeys the Third Commandment by bringing God’s Word to God’s people.
A question for you to reflect these coming weeks will be --
Is the way I’m worshipping giving glory to God?
Should I watch in front of Netflix? Or in a quiet area of the room?
Should I scroll on my phone? Or set my phone aside?
Should I sing along with the music? Or not even click on them?
Do everything to the glory of God.
(2) Does it lead others to Jesus?
The ultimate way that God has glory is when someone comes to faith in him as their Savior. We are God’s church, so that’s our goal too. Paul writes, “Do not give offense to Jews, or Greeks, or God’s church, just as I also try to please all people in all things, by not seeking what is best for me but for the many, so that they may be saved.” (v.32)
If eating that exotic food dish gives me an opportunity to discuss Jesus’ love with my Hindu friends? I do.
If throwing that BLT away, allows me a chance to talk to my Jewish friends and share Jesus with them? I do.
If worshipping with an organ causes someone to check out of church before we can share Jesus with them, we don’t.
If worshipping with a drum set causes someone to walk out of church before we can share Jesus with them, we don’t.
If using hand sanitizer soothe someone’s worries so that they might listen to me calm their fears about Jesus, even if I just hand sanitized out in my car and I’ve already sanitized about 15 times today and I’m not even planning on high fiving them anyways? Hand sanitizer it is.
Because our goal as the FREE is to live FREE that others might also be FREE. Amen.
We are in the middle of our IDOLATRY sermon series. So far, we have…
(1) defined idolatry as PLACING anything in God’s PLACE.
(2) identified personal idols as those things that we FEAR, LOVE or TRUST more than God.
(3) marveled as Jesus loved US more than himself by going to the cross to win forgiveness for our idolatry.
(4) been empowered to discover our own idols and get rid of them
In order to do this, I think it’s helpful to consider the places you visit each week and identify the idols that tempt you in each location. For example…
…work, where your boss sends you email reminders to worship idols of money and career every five minutes on the five minutes.
…the local bar, where you go every Thursday to practice some Thirsty Thursday Theology.
…your gym, where bowing down to do burpees quickly becomes bowing down to your bodacious body.
…your couch, here you have a nice little altar set up to the Netflix God.
… the bedroom down the hall from yours, where this tiny little 5-year-old God that demands all of your time and energy be spent pretending to be a Paw Patrol Character with them.
But, as you consider places where idols tempt you to worship them, how many of you thought of…
If we were playing Family Feud and the topic was “Place You’d Find an Idol in Modern America”, giving the answer “Church” is something that would cause Steve Harvey to do a double take.
Today we will be warned from God’s Word not to be deceived: church can absolutely be a place where idolatry lays hold of our hearts. We’ll consider if any idols have taken their way into our hearts and ask God’s help exposing and removing those idols. Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Background of Ezekiel
The lesson for this morning comes from Ezekiel 8. A bit of background:
In 597 B.C. the Babylonian Empire defeated the people of Israel and carried many people back into Babylon as exiles. These people were apart from their country, apart from where they grew up, and apart from their families.
But the truth was that God had ordained this exile. For years, God had been warning the people of Israel through prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, that this would unless they stopped worshipping idols and returned to worshipping the true God.
They didn’t listen.
So, God allowed the exile.
One might expect the exile to be what finally caused the people to change their ways, right?
Enter Ezekiel. Ezekiel is one of the priests of God who had been carried off with the exiles to Babylon. In Babylon, God transforms Ezekiel from a priest that brings requests from the people to God to a prophet that brings messages from God to the people. God had Ezekiel present these messages to the people in strange ways.
Once, God had Ezekiel go the city square and lie down on his side for 390 days. This was to represent how the 390 years that the people had been engaged in the sin of idolatry. (Ezekiel 4:5)
Another time, God had Ezekiel build a miniature model of Jerusalem. Then, he took an iron pan and placed it as a wall against the model, representing a Babylonian siege that God would send against the people of Jerusalem. (Ezekiel 4:3)
Yet one more time, God had Ezekiel shave off his beard. Then, he took a third of the beard shavings and burned them (to represent the third of Jerusalem that would be set on fire), a third of his beard shavings he threw into the wind (to represent the third that would flee the city and be scattered), and a third of the beard shavings he threw into the air and slashed with his sword (to represent the third of Jerusalem that would die by the sword). All these things would happen if the people didn’t return from idols to the true God.
These action prophecies led to Ezekiel garnering quite a following. Many of the elders in the city spent time with Ezekiel hoping to be present for another strange prophecy.
On the fifth day of the sixth month, in the sixth year of the exile, Ezekiel is chilling in his house with some of the elders. (I imagine they’re drinking some wine and watching the latest episode of the Bachelor).
When suddenly, Ezekiel goes into a trance.
He sees the figure of a man.
Chest of blazing fire.
Legs of glowing metal.
It’s the LORD.
And the LORD reaches out his hands,
Grabs Ezekiel by the hair,
And lifts him into the air.
He soars with Ezekiel out of the walls of Babylon.
He skyrockets him past the desert plains.
He lifts him up past the mountains.
And sets him down in Jerusalem.
Right in front of God’s temple.
I’m sure Ezekiel was filled with excitement:
This is my home!
This is my temple.
This is where I worked!
That is where I carved my name into a rock.
Over there is where little Suzy Lou gave me a kiss on the cheek in grade school!
As Ezekiel’s looked around his home…
He saw something…
II. Church Idols
(1) The Idol of JEALOUSY
The Spirit…brought me to the entrance of the north gate into the inner courtyard of the Temple, where the idolatrous image of jealousy, which provokes jealousy, was located. (8:3)
Can you imagine that? This is God’s holy temple. The place where you worship God and only God. And yet, there at the entrance welcoming you as you come in, is an idol.
At the entrance of our church, we’ve got some flowers.
We’ve got a bench.
We’ve got a sign that says, “worship this way.”
How would you feel if next week there was a big old statue of Buddha out front?
The idol that was in front of the temple is simply identified as jealousy.
While churches today might not have an actual, statue like idol at the entrance to their church, the IDOL OF JEALOUSY is absolutely a threat.
A while back, I noticed a young child that was in tears throughout the worship service.
Having a hard time.
Afterwards, he was still having a difficult time, so I asked him, “What’s wrong?”
“My brother ate the last goldfish. I didn’t get as many!”
Mom said, “Yep. That’s pretty much all we cared about throughout worship.”
Jealousy is a threat to take over your time of worship and craft an idol in your heart.
“Would you look at that person? He’s got so many friends. I wish I was more like him.”
“Really? She’s engaged and I’m not? How is that even possible? I’m way better looking.”
“That musician is very talented. So…it’s kinda cool they just made a mistake…Knock them down a peg or two.”
“That guy shouldn’t be on church leadership. I’d do a much a better job than him.”
“Look! There’s pastor capitulating to the new people again. When he’s gonna spend more time talking to me!?!”
The thing about the idol of jealousy is that it provokes jealousy.
Remember the first sermon in this series? God said, “You shall have no other Gods… for I am a jealous God visiting punishment on those who hate me.” (Exodus 20:3)
You might be consuming with jealousy for other people.
That leaves God jealous for you.
And Ezekiel was in shock.
And God tapped him on the shoulder.
And said, “You will see even great abominations than these.” (v.6)
(2) The Idol of REPUTATION
Next, he brought me to the entrance to the courtyard, and I looked and saw that there was a hole in the wall. (v.7)
Instead of telling Ezekiel to get out his spackle and a trowel to fix it, God tells him, “to dig through the wall.” So, Ezekiel does. I don’t know that he had some kind of Ancient Hebraic shovel, but he dug until he had a space big enough for his body to fit through.
Then, God told him, “Look around at the abominations in this room.” (v.8)
As Ezekiel enters, he notices the walls are engraved with “Every form of creeping creature and every kind of detestable animal and all the filthy idols.” (v.10) This is most likely a reference to the Gods of the Egyptians. Hieroglyphics – that glorified hawks, cats, and beetles as Gods.
But Ezekiel hadn’t discovered ancient room that no one knew existed.
People knew about it
Temple people knew about it.
In fact, inside the room was a group of about 70 Israelite elders, burning incense and praying to the carvings.
But what’s interesting is that these men were hidden! From the outside, the room looked like a temple of God, but hidden deep within the inside? Idolatry.
They wanted to protect their REPUTATION. It’s the only reason that they kept up appearances as “priests” of God. They craved the REPUTATION of God followers even though their hearts were far from him.
REPUTATION is just as much an idol today.
“I don’t want to be at worship today. But I better go so that it looks good to others.”
“Lots of prayers on social media for the Coronavirus. I’d better post one too so I look like a good Christian.”
“I can’t confess my secret sin of pornography to the elders, because they might look at me funny. I’ll just put on a smile, act like everything’s ok, and keep sinning.”
Want to know the ironic part of this?
REPUTATION worshippers think that everyone is fooled.
According to verse 12, the worshippers in the secret room were saying:
‘The Lord does not see us.’ (v.12)
Because the one that was seeing them do this, was the very one they claimed didn’t see them.
And God sees it when reputation becomes our idols.
And he hates it.
But God wasn’t done yet.
God grabbed him by the hand.
And said, “You will see even greater abominations...” (v.13)
(3) The Idol of PROSPERITY
Next, God brought Ezekiel to the entrance of the gateway of the House of the Lord that is on the north side, and right there (he) saw women sitting and wailing for Tammuz. (v.14)
Tammuz was the ancient Mesopotamian God of fertility. According to religious myth, when Tammuz was healthy then the land would be fertile. He’d bless the farmer with healthy crops. He’d give them an abundance of grain. He’d make sure that there was a BULL market in ancient crops.
But when things went poorly, perhaps during winter or a famine, Tammuz had died. Then, it was up to the worshippers of Tammuz to bring Tammuz back to life through mourning and crying.
(Sounds like some kind of Disney movie: “If you shed a tear of true love for your idol, then Tammuz will come back to life.”)
But really, it wasn’t Tammuz they loved.
It wasn’t Tammuz they were sad that died.
It was their PROSPERITY.
PROSPERITY is a big idol in the modern church.
People that worship just to get a better job.
People that worship just to get more money.
People that worship just to find themselves a happily family.
Not that any of those things are bad on their own.
But LOVING them more than God is.
Even right now. There’s a pandemic of COVID-19.
And we’re praying to God to get us through this.
To keep us from illness.
To keep our jobs strong.
To keep our economy prosperous.
Are we doing so because we LOVE God?
Or because we LOVE prosperity?
Because we TRUST God to take care of us…
Or we don’t TRUST life without stuff?
Because we FEAR God and know he’s in control…
Or because we FEAR the virus and think it is?
Worship is not a means for you to get PROSPERITY.
It’s a way to show trust in God when there isn’t PROSPERITY.
Because think about this.
You don’t have to mourn to bring the real God back from the dead.
He did that on his own.
God turned Ezekiel around.
And led him away from the entrance.
And said, “You will see even greater abominations than these.” (v.15)
(4) The Idol of REBELLION
Finally, God brought (Ezekiel) to the inner courtyard of the House of the Lord, and there at the entrance to the temple of the Lord, between the vestibule and the altar.
This is the main event.
It’s the place where priests would offer sacrifices to God.
It’s the place where priests would offer prayers to God.
It’s the place where priests would sing worship songs to God.
Usually that was done facing the altar (not that God was the altar), but it was a visual reminder that all of their worship was directed to God.
These men weren’t facing the altar.
Their backs were.
There were twenty-five men, showing their backsides to the temple of the Lord with their faces toward the east, and they were bowing down to the sun. (v.16)
They didn’t care what God wanted.
They did what they wanted.
And what they wanted was to be like all the other nations.
Worship isn’t about you.
It isn’t about what you want.
It isn’t about what you like.
It isn’t about what you desire.
It’s about God.
And here’s the warning, if you are making worship all about YOU, then it’s as if your back is turned to the altar.
As if you’re worshipping the sun.
As if you’re stinking a branch up God’s nose.
Look at that figure of speech in verse 17, “They are even sticking the branch up my nose!”
It’s the Old Testament equivalent to thumbing your nose at God.
Only the phrase is usually “stick a branch to my nose.”
God says that this open rebellion isn’t just a branch to his nose, but a branch up his nose.
This seems like a TERRIBLE idea.
III. The Church’s Real God
How does the REAL God feel about all this idolatry among his people?
“I also will act in wrath. My eye will not show pity, and I will have no compassion. They will call out to my ears with a loud cry, but I will not hear them.”
This segues directly into the very next chapter. Where God tells his servants to go through out Jerusalem and bring destruction to all who worship idols. And the messenger is about to go.
But before he does, he gives the messenger one last instruction:
The Lord said, “Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a TAV on the foreheads of those who moan and lament over the abominations being committed in her.” (v.4)
Those were the ones that God wouldn’t destroy.
Those who heard his message and repented.
But we need to talk about this “tav”. It’s a Hebrew letter that makes the sound of a “t”.
In the modern world, it looks similar to a lower case “n” just with a rocking chair like foot to the bottom left and a crossing between the two strokes at the top.
If you trace the history of the tav back to the time of Ezekiel?
It’s a cross.
Not that anyone who read this at Ezekiel’s time said, “There is a savior who will come and die on the cross to remove our sins of idolatry in God’s temple…” But as we look back and see what Ezekiel was saying, “Isn’t this amazing?”
Jesus has covered your sins.
His death on the cross has covered.
He has covered your idolatry of jealousy.
He has covered your idolatry of reputation.
he has covered your idolatry of prosperity.
He has covered your idolatry of rebellion.
He has covered you with his blood, called you his child, and made you his church.
Rejoice! You are forgiven!
IV. What Now?
(1) Honor God in Church
This is the main principle of worship. We want everything we do to be Christ centered.
It’s why Jesus comes up so much throughout the service:
In the songs.
In the prayers.
In the lessons.
In the kids’ lesson.
In the artwork.
In the bulletin.
On the powerpoint.
in the sermon, etc.
That’s absolutely what God has called us as church leadership to do.
But God also calls you to honor God in worship.
To throw out your jealousies.
To throw out your worries about reputation.
To throw out your desires for prosperity.
To throw out your own sinful wants and desires.
To worship God.
(2) Honor God AS Church
The Bible teaches in 1 Corinthians 6:19 that “you are the temple of God and the Holy Spirit lives in you.”
God loved you.
He bought you.
He threw out your idols.
And made your heart his temple.
In your heart, there’s a sign outside that says, “God is worshipped here.”
Because when you do, this whole thing about idolatry in church flips.
Instead of idols entering God’s domain of the church,
God’s church enters the idol’s domain of the world.
Last week we defined IDOLATRY. It is worshipping something that is NOT GOD as GOD. In the Old Testament, idolatry was very OPEN. People crafted statues, bowed to them, and offered sacrifices to them.
If that were the only version of idolatry, then today’s sermon on identifying idols would be pretty simple.
Step One. Go to your house.
Step Two. Identify any statues that you regularly pray to.
Step Three. Use a Sharpie and write on that statues – THIS IS AN IDOL.
Step Four. Throw those statues in the garbage.
But there’s a second definition of idolatry that we looked at last week. It happens when people unknowingly place something or someone in God’s place. We call this HIDDEN idolatry.
How does one identify hidden idols?
Today we will learn from God’s Word how to identify idols in our hearts. Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A “Gotcha” Question
The Scripture we’re searching today comes from Matthew 22:32-40. It takes place on the Tuesday before Jesus died. Tensions were between Jesus and the religious leaders of the city. So, that day was filled with theological showdowns. With a large crowd of people watching, the various religious groups asked Jesus questions in order to make him look like a fool.
It was GOTCHA journalism. Their questions were designed to make Jesus look like a fool or heretic in front of the public. If Jesus answered the wrong way, they were able to tell everyone that Jesus was a fool or a heretic.
If this would have happened in in 2020, social media would have jumped down Jesus’ throat.
There would have been ads on Facebook that said, “Expert in the Law EXPOSES Jesus” CLICK HERE.
Instagram memes making fun of what Jesus said.
Hashtags on Twitter: #JesusGetsOwned
Look at the question that one expert in the law comes up with:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” (v.36)
All of God’s commands are important.
All of God’s commands are good.
If they can get Jesus to pick one over the other…
If Jesus says, “Honor your Father and Mother” is most important, then can respond by saying, “So it’s not that big of a deal to kill someone?”
If Jesus says, “You shall not commit adultery” is most important, they can spread the word, “Jesus says stealing isn’t really that bad.”
If Jesus says, “You shall remember the Sabbath Day” is most important, they can tell others that “Jesus support coveting!”
If they could get Jesus to seemingly contradict what Scripture says,
He’d be an easy target for a smear campaign.
It’s not wise to try and pull one over on Jesus.
Look at Jesus’ response:
Jesus said to him, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets depends on these two commandments.” (v.38-40)
Notice that Jesus answers the questions about the singular greatest commandment by giving two.
The first command he lists is a version of the first commandment that God had written down on the two tables of stone given to Moses. (We talked about that story last week). That command is, “You shall have no other gods.” Jesus’ version is similar. “Love God more than anything.”
But then Jesus continues and mentions a second command in conjunction with the first: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
This command isn’t labelled as second in importance or value.
Just as the second command he’s going to list.
Jesus means that there is a link between the two:
One can’t love a neighbor as himself without loving God above all things.
One can’t love God above all things without loving their neighbor as themselves
In other words, all God’s commands are great, because all God’s commands are about love for God.
Love for GOD is the HEART of all commands.
Just like a heart needs to be pumping in order to send blood into all the area of the body so that your fingers pinch, your knees bend, and your tongue blows raspberries, so love for God pumps love throughout spiritual veins that we follow his commands.
Think about it:
Love for God leads to keeping the 3rd commandment in worship of God.
Love for God leads to keeping the 4th commandment and honoring the parents God gave you.
Love for God leads to keeping the 5th commandment and not harboring hatred for people God loves.
Love for God leads to keeping the 6th commandment and not viewing a soul that God created as being there for your pleasure.
Love for God leads to keeping the 7th commandments and not stealing what God has provided for his people.
Love for God leads to keeping the 8th commandment and not gossiping about people that God says he cares deeply about.
Love for God leads to keeping the 9th & 10th commandments and totally trusting that God has given you exactly what you need.
II. Identifying Idols
Jesus wins the battle of wits with the Pharisees. But that’s not all Jesus does. In his words, Jesus provides a blueprint for identifying idols in our lives. How? Look at Jesus’ words again.
(1) Your Idols are things that vie for YOUR HEART
The heart has always been used as a symbol for love. Although the actual human heart doesn’t exactly like the Valentine’s Day shape (there aren’t four ventricles), it is what keeps your blood pumping. As a result, the ancient world began to use the heart as a symbol to describe what “got your blood pumping.”
Therefore, we want to LOVE the Lord our God with all our heart!
Imagine for a moment that you were happily married.
Your heart was completely and absolutely in love with your spouse.
In fact, you were celebrating your anniversary down at Sullivan’s steakhouse.
You decide to reveal to your spouse that for your anniversary, you signed both of you up for a dating app.
Of course not, you’d be putting your marriage in jeopardy by allowing others who aren’t your spouse to attempt to vie for your heart with text message, with photos, with flirty, heart shaped emojis!
It’s the same with idols.
Your idols are the things that are vying for God’s place in your heart.
Could be your career.
Your bank account.
Careful. The things you love will try to crowd God out of your heart.
(2) Your Idols are things that vie for YOUR SOUL
The soul is a word used to describe the miraculous life within each of us. Our soul is who we are. In the Bible, the soul is often in need of rest.
Psalm 62 says, “My soul rests in God.”
Psalm 116 says, “Return to rest my soul, for God has been good to you.”
In Matthew 11, Jesus says, “In Me…You will find rest for your souls.”
If you’re resting, you’re doing so because you have faith everything will be ok while you’re sleeping.
If you’re awake, you’re not confident. You’re staying up late at the campfire watching for bobcats to attack.
GOD is the one we are to trust in.
So, idols are the things that vie for the TRUST of your soul.
I remember a Starting Point class that I did once. We were on lesson two – the lesson that really focuses in on sin and God’s grace. It’s the Gospel – the truth that we are sinner in need of a savior and we have a Savior in Jesus, trust him.
And this one guy said --
Nah. There’s gotta be more. I just don’t trust that Jesus did it all.
I’m a pretty good person.
I give a couple thousand dollars each year to charity.
I volunteered at the homeless shelter recently.
I think I TRUST that way more than some guy who died 2000 years ago.
Did you see what happened?
“Good things that he did” had become an idol.
It was crowded God out of his soul.
Careful. Things you trust will try to do the same.
(3) Your Idols are things that vie for YOUR MIND
The mind is a rational place. It is the place that looks as a situation and determines how scary it is. For instance, your mind is the thing that says, “Wow. There is an angry gorilla on the loose. I think I’ll stay in my locked house out of respect for the mad gorilla.”
Your mind houses FEAR.
Honestly, there is no being that should induce more FEAR than GOD!
God is all powerful.
God controls lighting
God controls thunder.
God controls tornados, volcanoes and hurricanes.
God is not to be crossed!
Your idols will try to convince you that they are scarier than God.
“I know God says this and it’d be scary to face him, but…it’s probably scarier to face the ridicule of society.”
“I know God hates sin and he threatens to exclude sinners from heaven, but…if you don’t do this sin you might be excluded from your friend group.”
“I know God says it’d be better for those who don’t teach their kids about God to be thrown into a lake with a millstone around their neck, but if you don’t take your kids to that birthday party, the other parents will *GASP* think you’re a bad parent.”
Careful. Things you fear will try to crowd God out of your mind.
Here’s the concluding truth to all of this:
Idolatry occurs when we FEAR, LOVE, or TRUST anything more than GOD.
Have you been practicing hidden idolatry?
If you go back to the connection between the two commandments though, there’s a foolproof test to determine this.
Because if love for God leads to an ability to keep the commandments.
Then an inability to keep the commandments is indicative of loving something other than God.
It means there another something else in my heart.
Pumping out its own agenda.
Shouting at the parents that GOD gave you because YOU don’t like what they did? Idolatry.
Holding a grudge against the church people that GOD loves because YOU don’t want to give them the satisfaction of forgiveness? Idolatry.
Staring down that blouse of the coworker that GOD created because YOU like the way it excites YOU? Idolatry.
Stealing that dollar bill from the billfold of your friend that GOD gave you, because YOU want it? Idolatry.
Badmouthing a friend via text message, a friend that God loves and died for and calls his beloved child, because her success makes YOU feel bad? Idolatry.
If you didn’t catch the point, idolatry happens whenever we sin.
And God hates idolatry.
III. The Only Non-Idolater
Thankfully there is good news.
Thankfully there is one who lived his whole life as a non-idolater.
In fact, he’s the only person in the history of humanity who never, ever committed idolatry.
(1) Jesus FEARED, LOVED, and TRUSTED God above All.
Jesus was in heaven.
Jesus never had to deal with anything difficult.
He could have chosen to sit up there in a divine heavenly hammock eating a heavenly four course meals!
But he didn’t.
He loved God more than his divine existence, so he came into this sin filled earth.
He feared God more than he feared what might happen to him, so he became a mortal being.
He trusted God more than he trusted the devil’s plan to “bow down and worship him”, so he followed God’s plan.
He loved God more than his own body, so he allowed humans to arrest him.
He feared God more than his captors, so he allowed them to lead him to the courtroom.
He trusted God more than his disciples’ plan to destroy all those awful Pharisees, and he allowed himself to die.
But God’s love wasn’t the only reason that Jesus did this.
(2) Jesus loved YOU as himself.
In fact, we might even say, “more than himself.”
When things got bad.
When he saw the back of the last prisoner to be whipped…
When he saw the sharp point of the nails…
When he saw the blood-stained wood of the cross…
When he saw the gravestones of those who had been crucified…
Jesus said, “OK.”
Because he loved you.
He loved you more than his breath.
He loved you more than his life.
He loved you as himself.
As his brother.
As his sister.
As his dear friend.
And the result?
Because of Jesus death, you are forgiven of all your idolatry.
For all the times you feared other things more than God, you are forgiven.
For all the times you trusted other things more than God, you are forgiven.
For all the times you loved other things more than God, you are forgiven.
There’s a reason you want GOD to fill your hearts,
Because GOD filled his heart with YOU.
IV. What Now?
(1) Identify Your Idols
Take advantage of the fact that God has forgiven you.
He has made you a part of his kingdom.
He has equipped you with guidance on identifying your idols.
I want you to take a moment and think about it.
What are the things you fear, love and trust more than GOD?
You can NOT do that. But if that’s your choice, understand it’ll be as if you had the choice between God on high and the Mr. Potato head idol from last week and for some reason you said to God – I think I need both.
You need only God.
Work on identifying your idols.
Write them down.
(2) Throw them Out
Sometimes, the idol is inherently sinful, and you absolutely should throw it out.
Got a bottle of booze that you love more than God? Toss it.
Got a prescription drug that you trust more than God? Stop abusing it.
Got a group of friends that you fear more than God? Stop hanging around them.
Sometimes, the idol isn’t something you can simply throw out.
In that case, spend some time each day identifying these things for what they are:
This is my spouse. I love her, but she’s not God.
This is my job. I appreciate it, but it’s not my job.
This is a dollar bill. It’s helpful, but it’s not my God.
While you might not be able to throw them out in an actual garbage can,
God calls us to throw them out of his place in your heart.
(3) Fill Your Heart with God.
Because here’s the truth about your heart.
When it’s filled with God, there isn’t room for any idols to get in.
It’s like a glass of water.
If you fill it with God, there’s no room for anything else.
And how do you fill your heart with God?
By spending time with him.
A personal bible study.
A group bible study.
A worship service.
A midweek service.
A morning devotion.
A bible reading.
A lunchtime devotion.
A devotion with your spouse.
Just having a conversation with your family about your savior.
God’s Word fills us with the message of Jesus.
We see how much he loves us.
And God convinces us…
We don’t need any phony idols.
We have the real GOD.
Today we’re beginning a new series called IDOLATRY. We’re going to examine the Scriptures and our hearts that we might be more devoted to our Savior. Today our goal is to get a definition for what idolatry is. To do that, we’re going to deeply examine the very first commandment. Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Defining “god” and “God”
The Ten Commandments are recorded in Exodus 20. But it might be helpful to set the scene for these commandments. Nowadays we are used to laws being made by a bunch of people in suits. They argue on CSPAN, campaign with voters, enter a board room, and, after months of discussion, come back with 47 pages of rules that aren’t that much different from the last set of rules.
This isn’t that.
A man named Moses and a group of people called the Israelites are at the foot of a mountain called Sinai. They have been told that God will soon be giving them the Ten Commandments.
Suddenly, they begin to hear thunder.
Flashes of lightning streak the sky.
The mountain itself begins to quake.
And a thick cloud of smoke begins to come from the top of the mountain.
Then, a booming voice calls MOSES to join him at the summit.
But to leave everyone else at the foot of the mountain.
And Moses turns to the people,
“You guys cool with staying down here?”
Moses makes his way up the mountain and it becomes very clear. He will only be a messenger.
There will be no discussion.
There will be no campaigning.
There will be give and take.
There will be only Moses listening to this powerful voice.
And then, the voice introduces itself:
I am the Lord your God. (Exodus 20:2)
The book of Exodus was written down by Moses in the Hebrew language, because that is what the people of Israel spoke. As we examine that Hebrew, we grasp a better understand of exactly what is meant.
The Hebrew word for God is Elohim. It is a noun that is formed from a verb roof “eleh” that means “to adore.” That means…
You might “eleh” your newborn child.
You might “eleh” your spouse.
You might “eleh” tiramisu.
The noun, “Elohim”, is really a participle form of the verb “to adore.” The literal root meaning is “an adored one”. When “eleh” is used with “eloyhim” the word has a higher level than simple adoration.
It means “worship.”
According to the Hebrew language, then…
A “god” is something or someone that is ADORED or WORSHIPED.
The being that is speaking identifies himself as the one that Moses worships. But for Moses’ sake, and for ours, he lists his credentials for being worshiped.
(1) He is the LORD.
That’s the name of the Divine Being that first spoke to ancestor of Israelite people.
It is the name of the One that promised to make them into a great nation.
It is the name of the One that promised to send a Savior for all of humanity through their genealogy.
(2) He is the One who brought them out of Egypt where they were slaves.
And he did it in a powerful way!
When the King of Egypt wouldn’t listen to his plan to set the Israelites free from slavery,
The LORD turned all the water of Egypt into blood.
He sent plagues of flies, gnats, frogs, and locusts.
He turned the daylight into darkness.
He destroyed all the Egyptian crops with hail.
He infected the Egyptian’s skin with boils.
He warned the Egyptian King, but when he didn’t listen. He put to death every firstborn son in all of Egypt.
He split a sea of water into two walls for the Israelites to escape.
He had that sea of water come crashing down onto the Egyptians that were giving chase.
He fed them with bread from above.
And…he just caused the thunder, lightning, earthquake, and smoke spectacle on Mount Sinai.
And this One with all the credentials, has one simple, starting command for the people of Israel.
“You shall have no other gods before me.” (v.3)
The reason? There are no other beings, things, people, or stuff that are more worthy of being praised than me!
GOD is the One WORTHY of being MOST adored.
It’s like the MVP award in ACC basketball. There might be a lot of players who are valuable players, but they don’t give out 47 Valuable Player awards at the end of the season. They give only one. They give out one Most Valuable Player Award for Most Valuable Player.
GOD is the Most Valuable “god” because there is no being more worthy of worship than Him.
II. Defining “Idolatry”
But our sermon series is called “idolatry”, not “God.” So…what exactly is idolatry and what does that have to do with God?
Read the next part of God’s command:
You shall not make any carved image for yourself or a likeness of anything in heaven above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow down to them or be subservient to them. (v.5a)
What GOD is describing here is the ancient practice of IDOLATRY. This was actually a very common practice among many nations in the world. A people group would create a piece of art from wood or stone. They’d set it up in their homes and then, they would bow down to it. They’d pray to it. They’d give it gifts.
They’d adore it and make it their “god.”
To be fair, they often took their inspiration from some of the things that GOD created.
From the heavens. The Egyptian people had worshipped the sun god, named Ra! The theory was that the sun was big. It was amazing. It kept people warm. It was responsible for photosynthesis and if you didn’t respect it, you’d get sunburn. Surely, the SUN was worthy of worship.
From the Earth below. Another popular “god” was Baal! Baal was a large bull-like creature. The thought was that bull were muscular. Bulls were strong. Bulls would destroy you if you wore red. Bulls were not to be trifled with, so…worship a BULL!
From the waters under the earth. “Dagon” was a big fish-like god. It was worshipped in Ancient Babylonian culture. Again – the thought was that the sea was big. The sea was strong. The sea provided all kinds of food. If you didn’t respect the sea, then you’d be drowned. And what better to represent the sea than a giant fish man! So…worship giant fish man.
An idol is something CREATED to be most ADORED.
Wouldn’t THAT be an art project to do with your child? Go to Michael’s. Grab some markers, feathers, glitter, a variety of beads, and then you go home and take time gluing them into a rock.
Viola! We have something to worship.
That just doesn’t seem to make any sense, does it?
Especially if you are the people of Israel and you have been firsthand witnesses to God’s glorious acts.
Fast forward a bit --
Moses had been on the mountain top for days. God had just finished up writing down all his commands on two large pieces of stone. They were literally written by the finger of the LORD GOD himself.
Moses must have been excited to get down the mountain and show the people of Israel.
To show them what their great, incredible God had told him.
To show them, tell them about the very first command:
“It says, ‘You shall have no other gods.’ It means that we just shouldn’t make one of those idols like the other nations. We’ve got that one down, right?”
But as Moses made his way down the mountain.
He heard singing.
He heard partying.
He heard laughter.
As he made his way around the corner of a rock, the camp came into view.
There were the people.
And this large golden statue.
One they had just freshly made.
A statue of a golden calf.
That they were worshipping.
Idolatry is WORSHIPPING something NOT-GOD, as GOD.
In anger, Moses lifts the stone tablets and slams them to the ground.
A metaphor for how the Israelite people had shattered the very first commandment.
Is it that simple?
Just don’t make yourself an arts & craft IDOL and you’re in the clear on this commandment?
It still seems like an ancient command for ancient people, doesn’t it?
My high school senior year I was HONORABLE MENTION in the now defunct, Parkland Football conference as a linebacker. It came with a certificate and everything.
Shortly afterwards, I received an offer letter from the University of Wisconsin -Whitewater to try out for their football program. (Granted – all my other Senior Teammates received the same letter, but I digress.)
I remember feeling so good about that. I immediately envisioned myself becoming a starter and most valuable player for the Martin Luther College football team. (A small ministry college in Minnesota.) Over summer, I spent the summer in the weight room, running hills, and perfecting my high knees so that I could make this dream come true.
The very first game of my college career was on the road. Since we were a small Division 3 school, we could only take so many players.
I was cut.
And I was so angry. I remember going back to my dorm room and packing some things up in a duffel bag! I thought my world was over. I didn’t know if I’d ever be happy again. I was angry.
I thought, “If I didn’t make the football team, then what is the purpose going to this college designed at training you to go serve Jesus?”
If I could talk to 19-year-old me, I would say…
I don’t know.
Perhaps going into the ministry…
… and serving Jesus.
Did you see what I did?
I placed FOOTBALL in place of GOD.
I placed HONORABLE MENTION CERTIFICATE in place of GOD.
I placed FAME & FORTUNE (division 3 fame and fortune) in place of our SAVIOR.
I created an idol.
That leads to a more modern definition of idolatry.
Idolatry is PLACING something in GOD’S PLACE.
God said it this way, “You shall have no other gods BESIDES me.”
The word translated in English “beside” is sometimes translated “in front of.”
This makes for an excellent visual.
All you need is a few Duplos (or any child’s size block will do.)
Take one Duplos and write on it, “GOD” in all caps. That represents our Lord.
Then, take some others and write on them “IDOLS.” These represents anything that gets in the way.
What happens when you place these idols IN FRONT OF the LORD GOD.
God is important. But FOOTBALL is too. It’s only a small thing. I’ll just place it right here.
God is important. I still see that. But MY BANK ACCOUNT is. Can’t survive without money.
God is important. But so is a RELATIONSHIP. Even if I must compromise a few of my beliefs, God…well…you understand.
God is important…I think...But so is SOCIETY. Even God tells me to do something, I better check and see if society is ok with it.
And I’m an adult now. so…God I’ll get to you. After I take care of my CHILDREN.
God is kind of valuable…but so is my POPULARLITY. I’ll have to skip church while I check my social media likes.
God is ok I guess…but this BEER tastes really good.
God is fine…unless he gets in the way of my relationship. Because that’s the person whose approval I really want.
This is idolatry.
And idolatry is a big deal.
III. Why such a BIG Deal?
(1). God is JEALOUS.
…for I the Lord your God am a jealous God. (v.5b)
Sometimes people read that phrase and they think, “Jealousy?”
Isn’t that a sin?
Is God being sinful?
There’s an extreme difference between HOLY God jealousy and SINFUL human jealousy.
If you were up for an Employee of the Month award at Burger King and in that month you worked overtime every week, you sold more burgers than anyone else and you got there earlier than anyone else to scrub more grease on the floor than anyone else. You even came in at your manager’s request when that one guy was “sick”, the one whose Facebook status said, “Playing hooky today. Pity the fool that had to take my place.”
And at the employee meeting, the Boss reveals the employee of the month.
And it’s that guy.
When you are giving all your LOVE to something that doesn’t love you like God does.
When you are giving all your RESPECT to something that isn’t as powerful as God.
When you are giving all your TRUST to something that isn’t God.
God is jealous.
(2). God is VENGEFUL.
I follow up on the guilt of the fathers with their children, their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren, if they also hate me, but I show mercy to thousands who love me and keep my commandments (v.5c)
The phrase “follow up” comes from a Hebrew word that means “to make an official visit to bring punishment” upon someone.
Think of it like the cops showing up at a house to arrest someone during a domestic dispute.
Or the principal coming to your classroom to take someone to his office.
Or your mom coming to the toy room, to grab you by the ear and take you upstairs.
GOD is a just God.
GOD is a holy God.
It is unjust to call something GOD that isn’t GOD.
It is just to punish the injustice of calling something GOD that isn’t GOD.
In simple language,
idolatry is a sin.
it deserves God’s punishment.
Considering GOD makes thunder.
And the lightning strike.
And the mountain tremble.
And the smoke simmer.
GOD isn’t someone you want to cross.
But why is God so angry?
It’s deeper than simply God is jealous that you aren’t giving him the glory due him.
(3). God is SAVIOR.
Fast forward thousands of years from Moses.
The Law of Moses is still in place.
And a group of men have caught a woman in the act of adultery.
They grab her.
They bring her outside.
They throw her to the ground.
And, passing by at the time, Jesus.
He’s a righteous teacher.
Jesus! Join us. She committed sin. She committed adultery and by doing so she committed idolatry.
She has made SEX her God.
She has made INTIMACY her God.
She’d rather obey her urges then the one who created her.
Let’s help God out and FOLLOW UP on her guilt.
Jesus replied, “OK. Sounds good. Let’s let the one without sin throw the first stone.”
And the woman was in tears.
They were right.
She had sinned.
She had made something God that wasn’t God.
And that “god” couldn’t save her.
Surely, she had broken the first commandment.
She deserved to have God “follow up on her guilt.”
By leading these men in hurling stone at her.
She braced herself.
And heard a rock hit something.
But it wasn’t her skin.
It was the ground.
In fact, piles and piles of rocks hit the ground.
And all the men left.
And Jesus said this, “I do not condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.”
Do you get it?
Jesus gave mercy.
Jesus gave forgiveness.
Jesus loved her.
And this is the reason that GOD wants us to keep him as our number one God!
Because he is the Savior.
He lived perfectly.
He died innocently.
He rose triumphantly.
To save us.
Look at the end of verse 6. But I show mercy to thousands who love me and keep my commandments. (v.6)
When we turn to IDOLs that fail miserably at saving us from sin, it fills him with eternal frustration.
Because they can’t show mercy,
Only the real GOD can.
And he did.
And he does.
Do you get it?
The number one reason for you to ADORE God above all else,
The reason that God gets angry when IDOLS take your attention away from him.
Is because God ADORED you above all else.
Even his own life, breath, and heartbeat.
The God we serve is the one who served us.
The God we adored is the one who adored us.
The God we worship is the only one who saves. Amen.
We are finishing up our sermon series by looking at one of the most visually incredible miracles in the Bible. 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. Peter’s Problem
The miracle itself is recorded in Matthew 17. But for a bit of context, we’ll start at the end of Matthew 16.
At this point, the disciples had seen Jesus do a plethora of miracles. As they sat down near a campfire, I wonder if they didn’t imagine the next ones:
What if Jesus suddenly made these rocks into delicious Steak dinners? Do you think I should ask him?
How about if he turns all the Roman soldiers into a bunch of chicken?
Speaking of the Roman empire, maybe he could take us to Pontius Pilate’s palace, and he could make it disappear!
I’ve got a better idea than that! Maybe he could make, you, Andrew, disappear!
Whatever they thought Jesus might be planning to do, it’s doubtful any of them considered what Jesus had planned:
Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (v.21)
You can cure leprosy.
You can banish demons.
You stopped the weather!
Why would you let these humans beat you up?
Why not give them leprosy?
Why not send the demons after them?
Why not cause a storm to take place within the walls of the Pharisee’s hideout!?!
But Peter was the boldest.
Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (v.22)
The disciples didn’t get it.
It didn’t make sense.
Jesus did all those miracles…
…so he could die?
To human reason, Jesus’ use of his power can seem ODD.
It’d be like going to a magic show where the magician has already levitated, sawed someone in half, and then, escaped a hyperbolic chamber filled with water while he was strapped into a strait jacket and then .for his final act, he pulls a quarter from a little girl’s ear.
How could death be Jesus’ final act?
I was talking to a friend the other day who whose aunt was very sick with cancer. The test results weren’t positive. The doctor’s predictions weren’t good.
So, the believer said this:
Isn’t this what Jesus is for? Isn’t the point of his POWER to help his people?
I wish I could talk to God. I’d set him straight on how he should be using his POWER.
I’d tell him, “NEVER Jesus! This shall NEVER happen.”
You ever thought something similar:
Jesus you’ve got power.
Here’s what you should do with it.
You should heal my aunt’s cancer.
You should fix my marriage.
You should end my job hunt.
You should give me more friends.
You should give me a child.
You should give me a husband.
God, if you don’t do that, you’re not doing a very good job with your power.
But do you know how Jesus responded to Peter’s rebuke?
He didn’t say, “Goodness, Peter. You’re right. Your sinful, imperfect, incomplete human reason has bested my sinless, perfect, all knowing divine reason.”
“Get behind me Satan! You don’t have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (v.23)
REBUKING Jesus’ use of power leads to Jesus’ REBUKE.
Because rebuking Jesus’ use of power is sin.
It’s like being a back-seat driver. If your spouse is driving, you may find yourself on occasion telling them where they are driving incorrectly:
Turn on your blinker sooner.
Speed Limit is 65.
Your hands aren’t at 10 & 2.
But can you imagine doing that to a professional race car driver? Like 2019 NASCAR Cup Series Champion, Kyle Busch?
Excuse me, Mr. Busch. But…I think you’re taking the turns a smidge tighter than you should.
Kyle Busch is better at driving than you.
And God is infinitely better at using his power than you.
It’s why he’s God and you’re not.
And if you’re telling him what to do, don’t be surprised if his response is simply:
Get behind me Satan.
II. The Miracle
Six days later…
Six days of Jesus’ words echoing in Peter’s ears.
Six days of cooling off.
Six days of thinking about what Jesus had said about his “death.”
Then, …Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John…and led them up onto a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured in front of them. (17:1)
The Greek word for “Transfigured” is “morphe.” It’s where we get the word Metamorphosis. It refers to a transformation or a change in one’s essence. (Like a butterfly, the Animorphs, or even the Mighty MORPHIN Power Rangers.)
Jesus’ metamorphosis beats them all.
His face was shining like the sun. (v.2a) Not just reflecting some morning sunlight off it. His skin was luminescent. It was shining so brightly that the disciples must have had to squint to look in his direction.
His clothing became as white as the light. (v2b) A bit odd, since Jesus’ desert clothing would have contained a bit of desert dirt stains on it. A yellow or light brown. But instantly it transformed to a bleach white that was so bleach white it twinkled – like the light.
And as the disciples squinted in Jesus’ general direction, they noticed two other figures standing there with him.
Moses. A prophet through whom God did incredible miracles: 10 plagues, the splitting of the Red Sea, and bread from heaven.
Elijah. Another prophet through whom God did incredible miracles: fire raining from heaven, birds delivering food, a young man brought back to life.
Two incredible miracles performers standing at the beckoning call of Jesus.
…they had both been dead.
Now they stood…alive.
And as Peter stood there looking at this ethereal, incredible, amazing sight, I think he came to one conclusion
Jesus’ miracles were only a HINT of his power.
The healing of incurable leprosy? Only a hint. Jesus could cure all disease with just a snap of his finger.
The enabling of the paralytic? Only a hint. Jesus could remove all paralysis with just a clap of his hands.
The resurrection of Jairus’ daughter? Only a hint. Jesus could bring all dead back to life, with only a whisper.
It’s like playing basketball, as a dad, with your 4th grade son. At first, you play easy. You let him score on you. You pretend to trip up. You only shoot three pointers.
But then, when your son gets a little cocky and starts to trash talk: “Your game stinks so much, you need a shower.”
So, the next time he goes for a layup, you swat it out of the air like Dikembe Mutumbo.
Just a HINT.
Jesus’ miracles were powerful.
But they were only a hint of his power.
Peter was so amazed.
He had seen snippets of Jesus’ power before, but now?
He was in full view of his glory.
Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you want, I will make three shelters here: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (v.4)
This whole face shine thing is pretty amazing
And I wouldn’t want it to go out because of a gust of wind and a bit of rain.
I’ll get some sticks.
I’ll get some leaves.
I’ll get you some protection from the elements…
While he was still speaking, the elements started to be controlled. A bright cloud overshadowed them.
It surrounded him.
It covered everyone else.
Till all Peter saw was bright cloud.
Then, a voice…
“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him.” (v.5)
Jesus is GOD’S own SON.
That’s been the point of the miracles this whole time.
They were SIGNS pointing to the fact that Jesus was God!
Curing the incurable? Only God could do that. Jesus did that. Jesus is God.
Eliminating paralysis? Only God could do that. Jesus did that. Jesus is God.
Banishing a legion of demons? Only God could do that. Jesus did, so Jesus is God.
Walking on water? Only God could do that. Jesus did that. Jesus is God.
Developing bread out of thin air? Only God could do that. Jesus did that. Jesus is God.
Raising the dead? Only God could do that. Jesus did that. Jesus is God.
III. A Two-Fold Reaction
All of this was overwhelming to Peter and the other disciples. When the disciples heard this, they fell face down and were terrified. (v.6)
They were trapped in the middle of a Divine cloud.
They were in the presence of God himself.
God was POWERFUL. They were WEAK.
God was DIVINE. They were HUMAN.
God was HOLY. They were SINNERS.
They hit the floor. Hoping that God wouldn’t be able to distinguish between them and the dirt.
Jesus’ power leads to FALLING DOWN in TERROR.
Yet, I don’t know that this happens all the time in church.
When you get ready for church in the morning, what do you think about?
I hope that one guy is there that I like to give high fives.
I hope that we can get in and get out in an hour.
I hope that the cookies are pretty good after worship. I’m starving.
Those are common things.
Things that I’ve thought of myself.
How often do you think?
I’m about to encounter, the face shining, clothing glowing, surrounded by dead prophets and a brilliant cloud, God.
Because it’s true.
In fact, the disciples were encountering that God long before being on the mountain.
Peter and the disciples had been walking with the divine Holy God himself for the last two years.
When they stopped for breakfast? It was God who stopped with them.
When they needed a break from walking? It was God who took a break with them.
When he complained out loud about not trusting God? It was the God whom he was complaining about that was in earshot.
And you encounter God, too.
You encounter ALL POWERFUL God when you gather to worship.
You encounter SIN HATING GOD, when you approach the Lord’s Table.
You encounter the ONE WHO CONTROLS THE CLOUDS, when you pick up a devotional book and spend 5 minutes reading God’s Word.
It’s why the disciples were lying face first on the ground.
waiting for the inevitable lightning bolt.
They felt a hand.
Jesus approached and as he touched them, he said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.”
They opened their eyes.
No brilliant light.
Jesus’ mercy leads to STANDING UP in CONFIDENCE.
Yes, you are standing in the presence of ALL HOLY, SIN HATING GOD.
But you are also standing in the presence of your ALL MERCIFUL Jesus.
Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn the world.
But to save the world.
He didn’t come into the world to condemn us.
But to save us.
He didn’t come into the world to condemn you.
But he came to save you.
He is the Savior.
IV. The Aftermaths
As they disciples were walking down the mountain, they began to conclude that Jesus was the Savior after all. But one prophecy didn’t add up. It was a prophecy from Malachi that said Elijah would come before the Messiah. And since, they had just stood in the face of all holy God and not been destroyed, they were confident enough to ask about it:
Elijah is coming. (v.11)
In fact, he already did. (v.12)
They didn’t recognize him.
And instead killed him.
Just like they’ll kill me. (v.11-12)
There’s one more note about this interaction. It said that the disciples realized “Elijah” was a reference to John the Baptist.
Who had to come.
Who had to be killed for prophecy to come true.
But they were still missing one point.
Jesus had to suffer.
Jesus had to die.
For prophecy to come to true.
Jesus’ impending death was NECESSARY.
This was the whole purpose of Jesus’ coming to earth.
Not to do miracles.
Not to heal everyone.
Not to defeat the Romans.
Not to do impressive feats of strength.
He came to suffer and die for your sins.
To conquer guilt.
To conquer shame.
To conquer death itself.
In fact, this Mount of Transfiguration, it’s pretty glorious. But it isn’t the mountain on which God showcased his greatest glory.
Because on Calvary, Jesus suffered.
On Calvary, Jesus died.
On Calvary, Jesus displayed his greatest glory…
…and saved you.
So…LISTEN TO JESUS.
You’ve got to imagine that plagued Peter for a bit.
He hadn’t listened to Jesus.
He had rebuked the Divine God, to HIS FACE.
And now that thundering cloud’s voice rang in his ears.
“Listen to Him.”
Do the same.
Even when it looks silly.
Even when it looks odd.
Even when it looks like God is calling you to do something that doesn’t make sense…
Be baptized? Listen to him.
Take and eat? Listen to him.
Worship an invisible God? Listen to him.
Stay faithful? Listen to him.
The other day I was sitting over at the Preschool eating some peanuts.
A young friend happened to pass by. She entered the room and asked, “Whatcha eatin’?”
“Peanuts,” I said.
She said, “May I have one?”
There were only a few peanuts left. I gave her some and I popped the others into my mouth.
As I was lowering my hand from this delicious bite, I noticed another young friend at the door.
She came up to me.
Held out her hand and said, “Peanuts?”
Unfortunately, I didn’t have any left.
Even after five minutes of tears and loud screams, I’m not sure that I was able to explain it to her.
I was out of food – and there’s nothing I could do about it.
We’ve been going through the MIRACLES of Jesus and we have seen his power over INDIVIDUAL health challenges and over NATURE itself. But what happens when a bunch of individuals need help at the same time?
Does Jesus have enough power?
Before we get into a miracle with that exact challenge, 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 God of YOU
The miracle is written about in Matthew 15. It starts at verse 29:
Jesus moved on from there and went along the Sea of Galilee. He went up onto the mountain and sat there. (Matthew 15:29-31)
Jesus again stays near the Sea of Galilee. This has been one of his favorite places. It isn’t because the Sea of Galilee is such a “spiritual” place. There isn’t a temple there or quiet retreat center. Jesus went there because the people were there.
There’s a lesson for us. God wants us as his church to not just bring his message to this building, but to bring this message where the people are.
If Jesus were around today, he’d frequent a Starbucks.
He’d love the local library.
He’d be a big fan of Crabtree Valley Mall.
He’d be where people are – and we, as his people, need to be where the people are.
And the people, large crowds of people came to him. They brought the lame, the blind, the crippled, those unable to speak and many others. They put them down at Jesus’ feet and he healed them.
Granted – there aren’t any details in that sentence.
Maybe he grabbed the lame by the hand and pulled them to their feet or simply spoke, “Get up.”
Maybe he put his hands directly over a mute’s mouth or divinely patted them on the back to loosen their vocal cords.
Maybe he threw water on those with leprosy or maybe he had them dive into the Sea of Galilee.
Or maybe he just looked at the crowd and said, “All y’all are healed.”
I don’t know.
The point is that it happened. Jesus healed a crowd of people who came to him.
That’s important. Because look at the next sentence:
As a result, the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healed, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel.
The Bible had mentioned the mountains earlier. More than likely, this is a reference to a group of hills down to the south east of the Sea of Galilee. That’s important because this was an area that wasn’t inhabited by the Israelites alone. It was filled with Gentiles (that is, non-Israelites). Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, North Africans, and West Asians.
This explains the exclamation! They call Jesus “The God of Israel.”
“He’s the God that dwells in Israel.”
“He’s a real powerful God, too. He healed my cousin. The ‘gods’ of my country couldn’t do that.”
“And apparently, he cares about me, too. Even though I’m not Jewish and I don’t dwell anywhere near Jerusalem.”
Jesus is the God of ALL PEOPLE.
Sometimes it’s easy to picture Jesus like the Genie from Aladdin. If you remember the plot, the Genie is only able to grant wishes and help the last person to rub the lamp. It’s the reason that near the end of the movie, Aladdin tries to get him to save his life, but the Genie can’t, because Jafar was the last person to rub the lamp and the Genie must listen to him.
You might think Jesus can’t help you.
As if Jesus only helps those people of one particular race.
Or Jesus only helps those “churchy” looking people over there.
Or Jesus only listens to people who have a middle-class salary or above.
Jesus is the God of all people.
He helps all people.
He died, rose, and proclaims the kingdom of heaven for all people.
Jesus is the God of YOU.
You don’t have to look any farther.
It’s not like looking for a Valentine.
You don’t have to create a dating app profile.
You don’t have to worry about God swiping left.
You don’t have to get yourself hyped up to go to a bar late at night hoping to bump into the “right god,” at least for a night.
Jesus is the God of YOU.
He came to earth for YOU.
He lived perfectly for YOU.
He died innocently for YOU.
He rose triumphantly for YOU.
He brings forgiveness for YOU.
He gives the promise of heaven for YOU.
He proclaims peace with the Father for YOU.
Talk about a Valentine?
This is more than just a picture of a Thomas the tank engine that says, “I chooo-chooo—choose you.”
This is Jesus, your God, giving his blood, to be with you now – and in eternity.
II. The Miracle
But we haven’t even gotten to the BIG miracle yet. Look at the next verse:
Jesus summoned his disciples and said, “I feel compassion for the people, because they have remained with me already three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they might faint on the way.” (v.34)
Jesus was preaching out on the mountain and some people had been sitting there, staying there, and listening to him there for three days. (Like some kind of Christian overnight camp…
…just without the egg & spoon races.)
Apparently, on the third day, the camp food that people had packed had run out. They didn’t have any bread. They didn’t have any meat. They didn’t have a Fruit Roll up, a Twizzler or even a marshmallow for a s’more.”
Jesus recognizes that.
And he cares about that.
And he speaks to the disciples about this.
The disciples respond, “Where can we get so many loaves in the wilderness to satisfy such a large crowd?” (v.33)
They were in the middle of the wilderness.
There wasn’t any civilization around.
It’s not like right here at church where there’s bound to be food in the Fellowship Hall. But…if we did run out we could head over to Chick-fil-A, Moe’s, Tropical Smoothie, Smashburger, the Mediterranean place, or even the gas station down the block (They’ve got a great deal of two hot dogs for $3).
“Jesus,” they said, “we can’t get food from anywhere close.”
“Emphasis on we.”
You on the other hand…
Jesus asked them, “How many loaves do you have?”
They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” (v.34)
Understand: a normal loaf of bread in Ancient Israelite culture would be about the size of a pita bread with a bit thicker substance to it. That’s not bad for one person to eat.
But seven of them?
That could maybe feed seven.
Or fourteen, but it wouldn’t fill them.
Plus, they have a few small fish. Currently, there is a list of 27 different types of fish that dwell in the Sea of Galilee. Some of the most commonly referenced in antiquity writing include are salmon and red-bellied tilapia.
The tilapia is the smaller. It’s about 12 inches in length.
A few of those? Feed a small family.
Add that to the bread? Maybe 15. But those 15 are all still hungry.
Look what Jesus does.
He instructed the crowd to sit down on the ground.
He took the seven loaves and the fish.
He gave thanks.
He broke them.
He gave them to the disciples.
The disciples gave them to the people.
They all ate and were filled. They picked up seven basketfuls of the broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children. (v.35-37)
Dissect those words.
(1) All Ate
Not some. Not a few. Not half. Not even most. ALL ate.
It wasn’t as if one little kid missed out because his brother ate his portion.
It wasn’t as if dad had to forego food so his wife could eat.
It wasn’t as if there was some guy who stepped out to use the restroom and by the time he came back there wasn’t any.
Jesus cared for all of them.
He used his power to provide for ALL of them.
The word implies that food was completed in their tummies. There wasn’t any space left for anything else.
We’re talking full—full.
Golden Corral full.
Three bags of Family Sized Doritos full.
Jesus provided enough that ALL were FULL.
(3) 4,000 Plus
Back in the day, a group of people was counted by the able-bodied men. Men were the ones who joined the army. It made sense to have an accurate account of people that you could use as makeshift soldiers.
Scripture tells us that there were about 4,000 men who ate.
But there were also women and children.
If half of the guys had wives present…
And half those wives had one child present.
7,000 people isn’t hard to get to.
And yet all 7,000 some were fed by 7 loaves of bread.
(Can you imagine finding a loaf of bread in the grocer’s aisle that said that? Feeds 1,000).
(4) Seven Baskets Full of Leftovers
When Jesus is done, he has the disciples collect all of the leftovers. Remember – they only had one basket to begin with. After feeding 4,000 plus people, I would imagine there to be ZERO basketfuls left.
But the disciples…
Bring back seven.
This is a miracle.
It’s an amazing miracle!
It was witnessed by thousands!
And just like any miracle.
The miracle is a sign of Jesus’ power.
Here’s the TRUTH:
Jesus has power over the TINIEST MOLECULES of MATTER
He had power to create bread out of no more bread.
He created flour – without having to thresh the wheat.
He created salt – without having to mine the Galilean Sea.
He created yeast – without having to get yeast from wherever yeast comes from.
He created matter out of thin air because he has power over even the tiniest of molecules.
He has power over making sure you’re getting enough oxygen.
He has power to make sure that the hairs on your head remain on your head.
He has power to ensure that the raindrops don’t make the ground so wet that your car slides off course.
He has power to create a one celled little human life without the womb of a mother.
Since Jesus has power over the tiniest molecules…
And Jesus is the God of you…
Jesus has power in the TINIEST MOMENTS of YOUR LIFE.
Because sometimes there are moments in our lives that seem TOO small for Jesus.
Too unworthy of being cared about.
When you’re feeling a little blue, because your friends didn’t invite you to the movies, Jesus cares and has power to heal.
When you’re feeling a little guilty about those words you said, Jesus cares and has power to forgive.
When you’re feeling a little bit sick with a tiny headache coming, Jesus cares and has power to make you feel better.
When you’re feeling a bit nervous, because you’re the new kid at school, Jesus cares and has power to remain beside you always.
When you’re feeling a little intimidated at the work you have to do, Jesus cares and says, “I am with you.”
Look again at how well Jesus cares during those moments. During this miracle, he provided for the hunger of the crowd.
But he didn’t just dissipate it.
He didn’t just tide the people over.
He gave them food until they had ENOUGH.
Jesus changes the “I’m hungry” to “enough!”
He did that for the people physically. He literally created matter where there wasn’t any in order to make that happen.
Yes, I suppose he could do the same thing for us.
But normally Jesus provides for us in different ways.
He provides through…
…giving you strength to work and make some money.
…a Valentine’s Day gift card from a loved one.
…a night out with friend who pays for the appetizers.
…an awesome fellowship snack table after worship.
…a financial gift of a caring church member.
God provides so that we have enough physically.
But he also provides….spiritually. Because though the focus of this miracle is the bread that satisfies their bodies, but we can’t forget about what Jesus did the three days before this. He spoke to them the Gospel message.
In fact, that’s the reason that the people stayed listening to Jesus!
They were so enthralled by his three-day sermon.
Can you imagine a sermon that good? (Don’t answer that question).
Jesus provides spiritually even today.
He provides a plate full of forgiveness.
He provides a smorgasbord of salvation.
He provides an “eating out of your ears” amount of eternal life.
He provides for all your spiritual needs.
IV. What Now?
(1) Give Thanks
Did you see that in the story? Jesus, who is God, before he goes about created matter out of nothing, he takes a moment and gives thanks.
That moment focused everyone’s hearts on what God was about to do.
Do the same thing.
This isn’t just an encouragement to say your table prayers. You should.
Have you ever thought about the common table prayer?
The one from the Psalms?
“Oh, give thanks unto the Lord…”
That before a meal.
But also before.
Also after being able to buy a new pair of socks at Target.
Also after ordering a new DVD on Amazon.
Also after getting a stick of gum from your grandpa.
Also after receiving a 10th Starbucks drink free because of the Starbucks app.
All of these gifts are from God.
May we take a moment to GIVE THANKS.
(2) Find Satisfaction in Jesus
Because we are a nation of unsatisfied people.
The world knows that, and it tells you that it will offer you satisfaction….
…in THIS BEER.
…in this plate of NACHOS BELLGRANDE.
…in this CUP OF COFFEE.
…In this LEWD INTERNET PHOTO.
…In this RAUNCHY COMEDY clip.
…In this ANGRY Facebook rant.
…In this approval from other church members.
…in this approval from other family members.
…in this approval from a significant other.
But all those things?
Won’t fully satisfy.
All those things?
Will go away.
“I am the Bread of Life. The one who comes to me will NEVER be hungry.” (John 6:35)
Did you hear that?
In Jesus you are…
We’re in the middle of our MIRACLE sermon series where we’ve seen Jesus’ power over a variety of things.
We saw his power over SICKNESS as he cured a man with incurable leprosy.
We saw his power over DEMONS as he expelled a legion of demons from a man’s soul.
We saw his power over PARALYSIS as he helped a man walk who had never walked before.
We saw his power over DEATH as he brought a recently dead, 12-year-old girl, back to life.
But, to be fair, each of these miracles was very INDIVIDUAL in nature.
Jesus focused his power and did a miracle over one INDIVIDUAL person.
What if the element that Jesus needs to control isn’t in the body, but in nature?
This morning, we going to pit Jesus’ power against the power of NATURE itself. 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 Miracle
The miracle is written about in Matthew 14:
Jesus urged the disciples to get into the boat and to go ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed the crowd, he went up onto the mountain by himself to pray.
Jesus had just completed a day filled with preaching and teaching and he needed a moment.
Notice Jesus doesn’t take a moment to get on Facebook.
He doesn’t take a moment to get on Twitter.
He doesn’t even take a moment to check to see if he has the highest score on Candy Crush.
Jesus takes a moment…and prays.
There’s a lesson in that.
But before he goes to pray, Jesus sends his disciples on a boat across the lake. He tells them, “Go on ahead. Row across. I’ll catch up.”
When evening came, he was there alone. This signifies the end of his prayer time. Jesus comes down the mountain and is ready to catch up to his disciples.
But…how is he going to do it? By then the boat was quite a distance from shore, being pounded by the waves because the wind was against it. (v.24b)
He doesn’t have a jet ski.
Plus – the waves are roughing up the boat. It’s not the kind of weather that anyone should think about swimming.
It’s the kind of weather that the lifeguard blows his whistle and makes everyone leave the beach – a RED warning – high hazard.
Unfortunately, the disciples are in the middle of the lake when the worst of the weather hits.
The waves keep pounding the boat.
They are so rough that if a disciple pauses rowing to take a break – the waves push them back a couple of boat lengths completely negating their progress.
This slows them down.
In fact, they are still rowing during the fourth watch of the night (v.25). That’s a reference to the division of labor among the night watchmen. In the 1st century, the first watch was from 6pm-9pm. That’s evening. The time the disciples started rowing. The second watch was from 9pm-midnight, the third watch was from midnight-3am, and the fourth watch was from 3am-6am.
The disciples have been rowing from the 1st watch to the 4th watch - around 9 hours.
They must have been tired.
They must have been exhausted.
They must have been wishing that their Savior, their Powerful Savior, would have been with them.
In the fourth watch of the night, Jesus came toward them, walking on the sea. (Matthew 14:22-24)
Read those words carefully:
It doesn’t say Jesus was doing a backstroke.
It doesn’t that he’s rowing a tiny boat.
It doesn’t say that he’s wading near shore.
He’s walking on the water.
Even the most common assumption among skeptics: that Jesus is walking on some strategically placed rocks, couldn’t be.
According to John, they were 3-4 miles out from shore. They had left from Tiberias down to the southeast and were headed for Capernaum to the North.
According to depth maps, that’d put them somewhere in the 25 to 30 feet deep region of the lake.
Way above any steppingstones.
Jesus has power over NATURE.
Whether or not an object sinks or floats depends on its density. The density of an object is based on the mass, size, and arrangement of the atoms.
To put it simply:
If atoms are more tightly compacted than water, the object will sink.
If atoms are less tightly compacted than water, the object will float.
A flat wax candle will float. The atoms are less tightly compacted than water.
But a piece of clay that weighs even less than the wax candle will sink. The atoms are more tightly compacted than the water.
For the record, a human foot supporting an entire human body sinks too.
More tightly compacted than water.
The human will sink.
Anecdotally, I remember trying this when I was younger. I’d go the local Aquatic Center, head over to the five-foot section and try to see how far I could walk on water before I would sink.
I never made it more than a step.
Even if I ran as fast as I could…
Humans don’t have power over nature.
But Jesus does.
Because Jesus is more than just a human.
Jesus is the one who INVENTED nature.
Jesus invented the moon.
Jesus invented the light.
Jesus invented the stars that were shining during the 4th watch of that night.
Jesus invented water.
Jesus invented storms.
Jesus invented winds that cause waves to pound.
Jesus invented the foot.
Jesus invented the human body.
Jesus invented the laws of density making it impossible for a human to walk on water.
Yet, it wasn’t (and isn’t) difficult for him to use his divine knowledge of nature to do things outside the natural laws of nature that were naturally set up!
In fact, this isn’t a very high degree of difficulty for him.
It’s not like me on a balance beam where I’m shaking and flailing my arms, and able to take about 3 steps before I come tumbling off.
He’s like a seasoned Olympic gymnast on the balance beam.
He’s walking on the very water that he invented.
II. The Response
Now remember – the disciples had been stuck in the middle of the lake for hours.
They were exhausted.
They were tired.
It was early in the wee hours of the morning.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified and cried out in fear, “It’s a ghost!” (v.26)
To the disciples, it was more logical to assume that a ghost was attacking them, than that Jesus was walking on the water.
Look at Jesus’ response:
“Take heart! It is I! Don’t be afraid.” (v.27)
I, the one who cured that incurable diseases of leprosy.
I, the one who healed the centurion’s servant from across town.
I, the one who drove out a legion of demons.
I, the one who gave that paralytic the ability to walk.
I, the one who brought that dead girl back to life.
I, the one who has traveled with you the past two years.
I, the one who has taught you the things of God.
I, the one who is your friend.
Jesus identifies himself as FRIEND.
It’s like when you come home late at night and your dog starts barking, even viciously. She’s afraid that you are there to break into the house and steal all her bones. She assumes you’re a bad guy or a, worse yet, a cat guy.
But, then, you identify yourself.
“Sparky, take heart. It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
Jesus is doing something crazy, incredible, and miraculous.
But they needn’t fear!
Because while he is God, he is also their friend.
And with GOD as a friend, there is no reason to FEAR.
That’s important to remember.
You might not be on a boat in the middle of a storm.
But you might be in the middle of a life storm
Cutbacks at work.
Feeling betrayed by your friends.
Separation papers from your spouse.
Trying to get enough finances to keep your home.
The death of a dear friend.
You might be metaphorically paddling and rowing with all of you might to get out of danger!
Terrified that you might sink.
If that’s you, listen to Jesus:
“Take heart! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
Jesus’ presence calmed the fears of at least one disciple.
Peter…said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” (v.28)
You commanded the leprosy to leave the leper.
You commanded the demons to leave the demon possessed man.
You commanded life to return to Jairus’ little girl.
If you want, command my feet to be buoyant – and they will.
To which, Jesus simply replied, “Come!” (v.29)
Can you picture what happened next?
Peter took a deep breath.
He grabbed a hold of the side of the boat.
He stood up.
He balanced himself.
He lifted one foot.
He hoisted it over the edge.
His sandal hit the cold liquid.
He took another deep breath.
He shifted his weight.
He planted his foot.
He lifted his other foot.
He planted it on the water.
He took a step.
He walked on water.
BOLD faith walks with Jesus, even among the STORMS.
Because for Peter, he didn’t see the storm anymore.
He only saw his Savior.
He saw his friend.
He saw his God.
He was filled with BOLD faith that Jesus would keep him up – and he did.
Granted, Jesus didn’t command us to walk on water.
But he did command us to walk with him.
To be PURE, even when our boyfriend doesn’t want to be.
To WORSHIP, even when none of our friends are.
To TRUST, even when the diagnosis is bad.
To BE GENTLE, even when everyone around you is harsh.
To MEDITATE on his Word, even when something cool is on Netflix.
To WALK WITH HIM, even when it means no longer walking with others.
This is hard to do.
Especially when the storms of life are happening all around you.
III. When Walking becomes Drowning
But that’s what Peter was doing.
And he was doing it well.
Maybe, even starting to strut a bit:
This was amazing!
The fish are underneath me.
The water is flowing under my feet.
My hair isn’t even that wet…
Off in the distance….
In his peripheral vision…
A big old wave.
Peter took his eyes off Jesus.
He took eyes of faith off Jesus.
Do you see his error?
Peter was able to walk among the storms as long as his eye was on Jesus.
But when he focuses was on the storm…
It’s the same for you and me.
Taking your eyes off Jesus will cause you to SINK.
You might be walking the walk of faith in the middle of a terrifying life storm.
But…the moment you take our eyes off Jesus?
Because life is overwhelming.
Life is challenging.
Life is filled with storms.
And on your own…
We’re like Peter.
Wildly splashing about.
Water in his nose.
Waves in his eyes.
Seaweed wrapping his feet.
As he’s sputtering and flailing, he manages a cry for help:
“Lord, save me!” (v.30)
To be fair, Jesus doesn’t say, “You’re on your own.”
He doesn’t say, “Ask me again when you have more faith.”
He doesn’t say, “Get to one knee and we can talk.”
Jesus stretched out his hand, took hold of him, and saved him.
“You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
I was walking on water.
You were walking on water.
Did you really think I’d let some wave ruin that?
When we’re drowning, GOD gives us a HAND.
He doesn’t abandon us.
He doesn’t leave us on our own.
He doesn’t just throw us a life preserver, tell us to float to shore and then, walk on ahead.
He rescues us.
Like when we were drowning in sin!
We were being slapped in the face by waves of guilt.
Shame was washing over us.
And death was about to take us to our watery grave.
Reached out his hands.
He reached out his hands to die on a cross.
He lifted us out of certain eternal death.
And rescued us to eternal life.
PRAISE THE LORD!
IV. What Now?
But maybe a few things from this lesson, to keep us from feeling like you’re drowning.
(1) Keep Your Eyes on Jesus
Because it was the moment that Peter took his eyes off Jesus, that’s when he began to drown.
It’s the same thing for us – the more time we focus on the storm and the less time we focus on Jesus, the more it feels like we’re drowning.
Keep your eyes on Jesus.
That’s why worship is so important. We’re putting our eyes on Jesus.
This is why group study is so important. We’re putting our eyes on Jesus.
It’s why studying the Bible, each day, is so important. You’re putting your eyes on Jesus.
Take a moment.
Think about it.
Are you keeping your eyes on Jesus?
If not, what are you going to do to keep your eyes on Jesus?
Make worship an every week thing.
Join a growth group.
Commit to an online Bible study.
Set aside 15 minutes each day to read and reflect on your Savior.
Keep your eyes on the one who walks on water which will empower you to walk on water.
(2) Worship Jesus as God
That is what the disciples did at the end of this event. When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. Those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God!” (v.32-33)
They bow down.
They start shouting Jesus’ praises.
They say to him, “You are God.”
God calls us to do the same thing.
To worship Jesus, not as a nice guy, nor a powerful angel, but as the Almighty, Divine Creator of Nature itself.
That makes all the difference.
Not that long ago I was spending time with a woman named Kaliyah.
She was struggling with finances because she was a single mother of two and didn’t have a job.
She had kids to feed and she didn’t have enough money for rent.
She also felt very guilty about this – if only she had made it work with the children’s father, then maybe they wouldn’t be in this mess.
After listening for a while, I said to her, “Why don’t we say a prayer and ask for Jesus to help?”
To which she responded, “Do you think he can handle it?”
Do you see the problem?
She didn’t see Jesus as God.
She saw him as someone wanting to help, but not able to help.
As a well-meaning human, but not God.
No wonder she didn’t have any idea if he could handle it.
When you worship Jesus as God,
You know that it’s the one walking on water who invites you to walk, too.
"Kobe Bryant died."
I was reading that message on my phone Sunday evening and my first reaction was that it was probably a hoax.
But I kept seeing reported by CNN, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC, and ESPN.
NBA Legend Kobe Bryant had been tragically killed in a helicopter accident.
There was even live video footage of the helicopter crash.
It was real.
And it really affected a lot of people.
Person after person on social media mourning the death of Kobe Bryant.
This is strange.
People die every day.
People die every hour.
People die every minute.
Why did Kobe’s death affect so many people?
Perhaps it has something to do with his celebrity.
Kobe was the best in the business.
He was at the top of his game.
He was the pinnacle of his craft.
He was involved in much charity work.
It looked like there wasn’t anything Kobe couldn’t do.
There wasn’t anything he couldn’t conquer.
Maybe it affects us so much because, “If Kobe couldn’t beat death, how can anyone of us?”
This morning, we continue our MIRACLE series, by pitting Jesus against death itself. The question: Who is more powerful? 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. Jairus’ Last Hope
We’re going to look at an account that is written about by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Each of them provides some different insight into the miracle, so by looking at them together we get a full picture of the event.
When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. (Mk. 5:21)
Then a man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come to his house, because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying. (Lk. 8:41-42)
Jairus was a synagogue leader, that is Jairus oversaw the upkeep and activities of this local place of worship. He was the one who made sure the synagogue was properly decorated for each religious festival. He made sure it was scheduled appropriately and the ladies’ group didn’t book the fellowship area the same night as the men’s group. He made sure that when little Hezekiah spilled cheerios in the back seats that those cheerios were picked up and removed before the next worship service.
And since Jairus worked with the synagogue, he also worked closely with the Pharisees.
Do you remember those Pharisees? They loved their synagogues.
They loved to have people watch them walk into synagogue.
They loved to have people watch them walk out of a synagogue.
They loved to have people associated them with synagogues.
They loved to have Jairus schedule activities for them to go to the synagogue so that they could be seen by others going to the synagogue.
And I doubt Jairus minded it.
Because if the Pharisees had your back, then you were a made man:
Well-liked and well taken care of.
That’s important. Because Jairus needed to be taken care of. Because Jairus was also a father. He had a little twelve-year old girl that he loved dearly.
Just like any father of a young girl, I’m sure that Jairus loved watching his daughter mature into a young lady.
He loved watching her discover her love for art.
He loved hearing about her dreams and goals in life.
He loved protecting her from all the “stupid” boys in her life.
He loved making her laugh funny faces, goofy noises…For some reason, I picture Jairus being a big fan of dad jokes. But…I won’t dogmatic about it, but…
“What did the drummer name his two daughters? Anna One! Anna Two!”
“Why did the picture go to jail?” “Because it was framed.”
“What do you call a bear without any teeth?” “A gummy bear.”
Jairus loved his daughter.
He loved her laugh.
He loved her smile.
He loved her twinkle in her eye.
Jairus would do anything for his daughter.
And that was being put to the test.
Recently Jairus’ daughter had been very sick. And I’ll bet he tried all things:
Getting her rest. Still sick.
Taking her to the doctor. Still sick.
Taking her to another doctor. Still sick.
Giving her over the counter medication. Still sick.
Giving her prescription medications. Still sick.
Even giving her Essential Oils like lavender and peppermint. Still sick.
He had tried everything.
Jairus knew about Jesus. He had heard how Jesus had healed many people. How he had cured disease after disease with just a few words.
But, do you remember those Pharisees that Jairus worked with?
Remember how they loved the synagogue so much they would take good care of Jairus as long as he did what they asked?
Those same Pharisees hated Jesus.
If Jairus went to Jesus, he might lose his friendship with the Pharisees.
He might lose his “in” with the Pharisees.
He might lose his job and his salary and his means of income to take care of his little girl.
I wonder if this gave him pause.
…made him wait to go to Jesus.
…made him think I’ll try everything else until…
Until, his daughter was almost dead.
Then, things changed.
The Pharisees’ approval wasn’t worth risking his daughter’s life.
He rushed off from his house, found Jesus, and threw himself at the ground.
An impressive, noble of a man, on his knees before Jesus.
“My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” (Mark 5:23)
So Jesus went with him. (Mark 5:24)
Jairus must have been excited.
The healer was coming with him.
Jesus and his miraculous power was going to do a miracle to his daughter.
His daughter wouldn’t die, because in Jesus there was hope.
As they kept walking…
And the crowd talked excitedly about other miracles Jesus had done.
And Jairus started to strut with confidence that his daughter would be healed.
Someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher anymore.” (Lk. 8:49)
Because she’s dead.
And so is her creativity.
And so is her laughter.
And so is her future.
Your daughter is dead.
TRUTH: Making Jesus your LAST hope may make you too LATE.
Jairus must have felt horrible!
If only he had come to Jesus sooner.
If Jesus would have been his first option way back when he daughter first was diagnosed, then she wouldn’t be dead.
Maybe you’ve felt similar.
If only I’d sought Jesus’ help with stress first, before I ended up addicted to Methamphetamine.
If only I’d sought Jesus’ guidance on my sexuality, not what I read in dark, pornographic chatrooms.
If only my spouse and I sought spiritual counseling sooner, before the infidelity, the yelling, and the moving out.
If only I’d taught my kids about Jesus first, brought them to worship, taught them about Sunday school, before they became a teen and turned their back on God.
If only I’d sought Jesus heart first, before I sought the heart of that guy who used me and abused me.
If only I’d gotten to the message of Jesus’ love sooner, before years of depression thinking that God hated me.
If only I’d worked through the Gospel to be reconciled with my friend, before…they died.
Making Jesus’ your last hope can lead to all kinds of regret.
But, even in the midst of Jairus’ like, “I-killed-my-daughter-because-I-didn’t-get-her-to-Jesus-soon-enough” regret….
Jesus offers hope.
II. Hope when there isn’t any
Back to the scene.
Jairus must have been in shock.
He’d never seen his daughter’s eye twinkle again.
He’d never get another hug.
He’d never hear another song.
The people were right.
He should send Jesus away.
His daughter was dead and there wasn’t any hope.
Before Jairus could muster the strength to dismiss him.
Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid.”
“She will be healed.” (Lk. 8:50)
From some hope.
To no hope.
To Jesus’ hope.
Jesus gives HOPE when there isn’t any.
When you can’t figure out where the finances are coming from, Jesus gives hope.
When the seventeenth job application has been rejected, Jesus gives hope.
When your heart hurts from that breakup, Jesus gives hope.
When you feel like you’ll never find “the one”, Jesus gives hope.
When you lose to that temptation again and again, Jesus gives hope.
When the parenting techniques aren’t working like they should, Jesus gives hope.
When the doctors tell you that it doesn’t look good, Jesus gives hope.
III. The World’s Hope
Jesus dismissed the crowd. Probably to spare Jairus’ from the embarrassment of his emotions. Then, Jesus, a few disciples, and Jairus made their way to the home.
Upon arriving, they came upon quite a scene.
When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. (Mk. 5:38)
At the time of Jesus, it was customary to hire professional mourners when someone died. These people would arrive and instantly develop a sad atmosphere. They’d sob and throw their heads back and make a big scene Matthew notes that there were flute players. (Mt. 8:23) They’d shed some tears, playing a sad song, and hand you a bill for their trouble.
It makes you wonder if they ever got together and practiced:
“Hold up guys. We are supposed to be professional mourners. Right now? We seem like a bunch of amateurs. Our choreography is all over the place. Bob, when I throw my right arm into the air and start wailing, “that’s your cue to throw yourself onto the ground and start convulsing. And Mary, it would be good if you shook your head back and forth while you screamed! You’ve got long hair and it really gives it that wild effect of wild sadness. And for goodness sake, Elizabeth, could you give us more tears? I’ll stick a cut-up onion in your sash if I have to.”
This is the best kind of hope the ancient world had to offer.
A distraction – at best.
But it doesn’t heal.
It doesn’t provide hope.
It’s nothing more than a SHOW.
The world’s HOPE is nothing more than a SHOW.
Think back to the Kobe Bryant Story.
Celebrities tweeted out all kinds of support and memories about Kobe.
Taylor Swift wrote, “My heart is in pieces hearing the news of this unimaginable tragedy… Sending my prayers, love, and endless condolences.”
Shaquille O’Neal said, “My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board,” he added. “I’M SICK RIGHT NOW!”
Khloe Kardashian simply said, “This can’t be true. My heart is broken.”
Scottie Pippen said, “I’m stunned. Words can’t even begin to describe how I feel about this tragedy.”
Now these people were hurting. They were sad.
And offering prayers to others is absolutely a blessing.
And it can be cathartic to talk to one another about your feelings.
But…Did you notice something?
None of these tweets brought Kobe back.
None of them promised LIFE.
Some of it, is just people going online, checking out the fact that others tweeted, and saying, “I’d better tweet about him – or I won’t look good.”
The world’s hope is nothing more than a show.
There’s a popular show on Netflix called The Casketeers It’s about a family owned funeral home in Hawaii. Each episode consists of a few funerals that they are planning for. In each episode, they work hard to make the funeral “nice.”
They practice ukulele.
They put out flower arrangements.
They polish the selected coffins.
The owner is kind of a clean freak and at least once per episode, he can be caught using a leaf blower to blow away the 4 or 5 leaves that have made their way into the parking lot.
The theory is that if they make it nice, it will help the family heal.
None of this gives ACTUAL HOPE.
Not the ukulele.
Not the flower arrangements.
Not the polished coffin.
Not even the leaf blower!
The person is still dead.
And there is no hope of LIFE.
The world’s hope is nothing more than a show….
Jesus is not “of the world.”
IV. Jesus’ Hope
Jesus had enough of the show.
“Go away, for the girl is not dead but is sleeping.” But they laughed at him. (Mt. 8:23-24)
“Oh? Does your pulse usually stop when YOU sleep?”
“Are you trying to say that you can fix this?”
“What a bunch of baloney! Stop giving Jairus false hope.”
Jesus did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother (Lk. 8:51)
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. (Mk 5:40)
And there was Jairus’ daughter….
No twinkle in the eye.
The pit in Jairus’ stomach was unbearable.
He grabbed his wife as she buried her tears into his shoulder.
But Jesus approached the girl.
He slowly got onto one knee.
He grabbed the girl by the palm.
He looked her right in the eyes.
“Talitha koum!” (Mk. 5:41)
Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around. (v.42)
Jairus was amazed!
He watched as she walked to Jesus and gave him a hug.
He watched as she walked to his wife and gave her a hug.
He watched as she made her way over to him, looked at him with that twinkle in her eye and gave him a hug too.
With a WORD, Jesus robs DEATH of its power.
He doesn’t do CPR.
He doesn’t hook her up to a defibrillator.
He doesn’t make her drink some kind of life-giving elixir made from the tears of a mythical Phoenix.
He just speaks.
This is how Jesus won life for you and me.
Because on the cross, Jesus defeated death with one word:
It’s the Greek word for the last thing that Jesus said on the cross.
It means, “It is finished.”
As in, “Sin is finished.”
“Guilt is finished.”
“Death is finished.”
I defeated them all and my work of defeated them is finished.
And now through faith in me….
You too will life.
Death is not the end.
You will be with me in heaven.
That’s REAL hope.
But that’s not even the end of the story. Because as Jairus and wife and child are all celebrating this amazing victory – and people start to flock in to celebrate this miracle, Jesus thinks about the girl. He told them to give her something to eat. (Mk. 5:43)
He isn’t showboating.
He isn’t flexing his muscles.
He isn’t taking a victory lap.
Jesus is caring.
TRUTH: Despite his ALMIGHTY Power, Jesus still cares TENDERLY.
There is no better combination.
He isn’t just able to defeat sin, but he tenderly speaks of forgiveness when you need it most.
This last week – I was able to visit a brother of ours in hospice.
Things didn’t look good when I went in.
I didn’t bring with me any medication.
I didn’t have any cures.
I didn’t even have a doctor’s nametag.
I simply had this message of forgiveness.
This message of God’s love.
This message that because Jesus lives, you brother, will live too.
Yesterday, we celebrated the fact that because Jesus has power over death, this man lives eternally.
And today we celebrate the fact that because Jesus has power over death –
You will live eternally too.
We’ve been in the middle of our MIRACLE sermon series. In the course of this study, we’ve seen Jesus miraculously help people before it’s too late.
He met a man with incurable leprosy and cured him before it became fatal.
He’s heard about a man sick in bed and healed him before it became his deathbed.
He met a man with thousands of demons coursing through his body and drove out those demons before any permanent damage was done.
What happens when the damage has already been done?
This morning, we continue our series, by examining an interaction Jesus had with a man who was paralyzed. His legs had already stopped working. He had no hope of walking again. Could Jesus help? 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 Story
The account we’re looking is found in three different parts of Scripture. It’s found in Matthew 9, Mark 2, & Luke 5. Each writer adds different aspects to our understanding of this incredible miracle, so we’ll be looking at all of them.
Jesus got into a boat, crossed over, and came to his own town. (Mt. 9:1) This would be Nazareth. The place Jesus grew up. It’s where he learned carpentry from his dad, where he went to Hebrew school with his buddies, where he played a game of baseball out at the local sandlot.
The people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door…
That means people were doing everything possible to fit into this room.
The three-person couch had become a five person couch.
The kids had to sit crisscross applesauce on the floor.
There were probably even a few people doing wall sits over in the corner.
It was like one of our hallways during a Christmas or Easter service – it was jam-packed full.
And he preached the word to them. (Mk. 2:1-2)
But there was one group of people that weren’t quite there yet.
Walking through the streets…
Huffing, puffing, sweating…
And taking a quick break to catch their breath…
Were a group of five friends.
One of them was laying down on a stretcher.
The other four were carrying him on that stretcher.
The man on the cot was paralyzed.
In fact, that’s all the Bible tells us about him.
Not his first name.
Not his last.
Not his favorite drink at Starbucks.
Not any characteristic of his personality.
Just that he was paralyzed.
He couldn’t walk.
He couldn’t run.
He could hop.
He couldn’t skip.
He couldn’t jump.
He couldn’t even stand up.
But his friends had a hunch.
They had heard about Jesus.
They had about his miraculous power.
They had heard about his compassion.
They thought that if they could get their friend to Jesus, he could help.
So, they took a swig of “Passover Power” Gatorade and lifted the cot once more.
“I think the house is just ahead. Don’t worry. We’ll see Jesus soon enough.”
The problem was that many other people had that same idea.
And, since they weren’t carrying anyone on a cot, they had already gotten there.
In fact, when they found the house it was so full of people that some were crowding around the outside windows just to get a glimpse of the Savior.
“Guys, I don’t think we can make it in.”
“Especially not with this stretcher.”
“What a waste of a morning. All this – for nothing!”
“Hey, paralyzed friend. I’m sorry. But I think you’ll have to remain paralyzed. Things just aren’t looking up.”
Did you say, “looking up?”
In 1st century Israel, roofing was a bit different than now. Rather than solid rain deterrent shingles made of fiberglass and asphalt granules that can withstand wind forces of up to 60mph from fine shingle companies like Owens Corning, GAF and CertainTeed that you nail gun into a wooden roofing frames, roofs at the time of Jesus were thatched of straw and mud. The higher-class citizens could afford pieces of tile that would be placed them into the mud concoction on top.
It wasn’t common practice for people to come into a house through a roof.
But in order to see Jesus…
The men took turns climbing up to the roof. With two on top, the two on the bottom hoisted up the cot containing their friend, grabbed a nearby rope and they climbed up themselves. Then, they began praying off the tiles, digging with their hands, and making a hole right in the middle of the roof.
On the underside, Jesus was in the middle of teaching. People were so interested in what he had to say that they had ignored the little kid crying. They had ignored the man with the cough in the corner.
But they couldn’t ignore this.
Because right above Jesus’ head, dirt started to fall.
Pieces of tile started to crack.
Light suddenly streamed in.
…lowered by ropes…
…with a man on it…
“Ummm….. Hiya Jesus!?!”
The room was silent.
What would Jesus do?
What would Jesus say?
How dare anyone interrupt him!
But Jesus smiled.
“Take heart Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2)
Do you remember how the room was filled with people? The Gospel of Luke makes note that some of those people were the Pharisees. These were the religious leaders of the time that didn’t like Jesus very much. After all, these crowds of people that were there to see him, used to be crowds of people that came to see them.
And upon hearing what Jesus said, they started muttering.
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Lk. 5:17-21)
Then some of the experts in the law said among themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming! (Mt. 9:3)
Blasphemy means saying you are God, when you aren’t.
That terrible sin in ancient Israelite society.
And with good reason.
If you tell people you are God (and you aren’t) and some of them believe (even though you aren’t), you’ll will be personally responsible for leading them to hell.
And since Jesus was telling this man that his sins were forgiven.
And only God can forgive sins.
Jesus was setting himself up as God!
Which would be blasphemy!
Jesus responded to their question with another question:
“Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? (Mt. 9:4)
To understand what Jesus is getting at, think of yourself in a conversation with a relative who can no longer walk.
Which is easier to write on a greeting card to that person:
“Your sins are forgiven” or “Get up and walk.”
I’ve visited a lot of hospitals.
I’ve visited a lot who are sick.
At Elmcroft retirement home, I run into people who can’t walk.
It’s not hard to tell them, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Have I ever said to one of these people, ‘Get up and walk.”
Why the difference?
If I tell someone their sins are forgiven, no one has any idea if that’s true or not.
Sins don’t go flying into the area.
A halo doesn’t appear on their head.
There isn’t a loud chorus of “Hallelujah.”
But if you tell someone who can’t walk to get up and walk…
If they don’t do that immediately?
You’re a fraud.
You’re a liar.
It didn’t work.
It is harder to claim a VISUAL miracle than an INVISIBLE one.
So, follow Jesus’ logic:
It’s harder to claim the visual miracle than the invisible one.
…so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. (Mt. 9:6)
Allow me to claim the hard one.
Jesus turned to the paralyzed man.
Looked up right in the eye.
And said, “Get up. Take your stretcher. Go home.”
And the man….
Looked at Jesus.
Looked at his friends
Wiggled his toes…and…
Took his stretcher.
And went home.
II. The Truth about Jesus
Jesus’ miracles are VISUAL proof of the INVISIBLE truth.
Remember: There was a room full of people in that room.
And since this was a local miracle involving a local man, they probably knew him.
And their responses:
This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mk. 2:12)
They were filled with awe and glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (Mt. 9:8)
Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.” (Lk. 5:26)
Jesus speaks the truth.
Even when the truth is invisible.
That’s really important.
Because most of you here today aren’t physically paralyzed.
You can stand.
You can walk.
You can job.
You can run (just maybe not for all that long)
You may be able to walk, but you might still understand what it’s like to be paralyzed.
Paralyzed with guilt from that one sin you did last week.
Paralyzed with shame from the way you’ve been acting in front of your spouse.
Paralyzed with fear that God has abandoned you completely.
Paralyzed with sadness that God could never forgive you.
What’s easier to say?
“Your sins are forgiven” or “Kill me and three days later I’ll come back to life.”
But to prove that Jesus has the authority to forgive sins….
Jesus was said he would rise from the dead – and he did.
And this is proof that when Jesus tells you that your sins are forgiven – they are.
And does this throughout Scripture:
Your sins have been forgiven on account of Jesus’ name. (1 Jn. 2:12)
If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins.” (1 John 1:9)
Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16)
Jesus’ power is real.
Forgiveness is real.
Your forgiveness is real.
Not trusting Jesus’ power to FORGIVE is EVIL.
Look back at what Jesus said about the people who didn’t trust his power to forgive. He said, “Why are you thinking EVIL in your hearts?” (Mt. 9:4)
They were thinking that it was evil for someone who wasn’t God to claim to be God by forgiving sins.
But what if that person who is claiming to be God is God.
Then, the evil isn’t coming from God who is claiming to be God.
The evil is come from the one claiming that God isn’t God.
And granted – you might not actually say that Jesus isn’t God.
But you might say,
“I’ve sinned too much, Jesus.”
“I should have to do something.”
“God needs me to help myself.”
Which is another way of saying:
Jesus, you don’t have authority to forgive sins.
Friends, that’s evil.
If that’s you, turn to Jesus.
And ask him forgiveness.
And trust that he grants it.
Jesus has all AUTHORITY to forgive.
It’s like a set of church keys:
If you asked me to unlock the front door of church for you, I could because I have the key & authority to do so.
If you asked me to unlock the janitor’s closet, I could because I have the key and the authority to do so.
If you asked me to unlock the door to Precious Lambs, I could because I have the key and the authority to do so.
If you asked Jesus to unlock you from the guilt of your sins, He could…
…and he would…
…and he did…because he has the key and authority to do so.
And the key was his blood.
Jesus lived perfectly.
Jesus died innocently.
Jesus rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins.
When he tells you that he unlocked guilt, he means it.
III. What Now?
(1) Do Whatever It Takes to Get to Jesus
Do a quick case study of this man’s friends:
They were willing to carry him great distances.
They were willing to climb a roof.
They were willing to cut a hole in that roof…
They were doing whatever it took to get to Jesus…
…all because they trusted Jesus’ power to heal.
Do the same.
Because it’s so easy in this life to feel paralyzed.
Things happen during the weak that can paralyze you with shame, guilt, sadness, and fear.
Jesus heals that paralysis.
So, do whatever you can to get to him.
That means making worship a can’t-miss for the week.
It means Group Study is something that you don’t let a little traffic deter you from.
It means that you reach over to your bedside table – and open the Bible.
(2) Do Whatever it Takes to Get Your Friends to Jesus
Because these men didn’t get to Jesus for themselves. They did whatever it took to get their friend to Jesus.
Do you know someone in need of the forgiveness Jesus brings?
Could be a friend.
A family member.
Someone paralyzed by fear, guilt, and shame.
Do whatever it takes to get them to Jesus.
Because Jesus has power over paralysis.
Power to free from any paralysis.
Power to free so that you can walk.
With Jesus. Amen.
This morning, we continue our miracle series, by examining Jesus’ power over demons. But 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. A House Divided
The lesson for this this morning comes from Matthew 8. It occurs at a time in Jesus’ ministry when he has already done plenty of miracles and healed multitudes of people. Word about him is spreading and people are flocking to see him.
A common question among the people is, “How can Jesus do miracles?”
There was a variety of answers:
“Those ‘sick’ people weren’t really sick to begin with.”
“Maybe, there was some kind of medicine involved?”
“He just got lucky.”
Mark 3:22 “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “He drives out demons by the ruler of demons.”
It’s similar to getting onto your spouse’s phone. Have you ever done that? When you are in control of the account, you can send text messages in your spouse’s name. “My husband is the greatest!” You can send out an email: “We should plan a surprise party for my spouse.” You can go onto Facebook and post a status update: “I have the best spouse ever! I am so lucky to have them as my spouse because they are the best ever.”
The contention is that Jesus can control demonic work because he’s working on the devil’s behalf.
He sold his soul to the devil.
Look at Jesus’ response:
“How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand but is finished.” (v.25-26)
The NFL Championships are today.
I wonder how many defense coordinators are coaching their players to wait for the ball to snap and then tackle their teammates next to them.
Or how many times the head coach will tell his running back to “knock over the Quarterback already.”
Or how many times Aaron Rodgers will decide to “throw the ball as hard as possible into the back of his center’s kneecaps.”
They probably won’t coach them that way.
Because a house divided against itself cannot stand.
And a football team divided against itself cannot stand.
And if the devil was driving out his demonic warriors?
His house wouldn’t stand.
This means that if Jesus is driving out demons and destroying their work, then…
TRUTH: Jesus and the Devil are NOT on the same side.
Because Jesus is good.
And the devil is not.
Good doesn’t work on behalf of evil.
Evil doesn’t work on behalf of good.
The two are dynamically opposed to one another.
Gives me pause.
Because we are on God’s side, right?
We are on the side of good, right?
Was everything you did this week on behalf of good?
That porn you’re looking at? Was that for good?
Those racist things you said? Was that for good?
That gossip you were sharing at church? Was that really for good?
Those complaints about that person across the aisle? Was that really for good?
If you’re on GOD’S side; you can’t do the DEVIL’S work.
Because if you do, then you’re working for the devil.
And if you’re working for the devil, then you’re working against Jesus’ kingdom.
And if you’re working against Jesus’ kingdom, then…
A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.
This is truth.
About your family.
About your friends.
About this church.
Understand - The devil wants nothing more than to destroy those things.
In fact, he’s all about destruction.
He loves destroying families.
Destroying souls forever in hell.
When you do evil, you work for him.
II. The Most Terrifying Thing
Jesus was definitely not working for the devil. There might not be a Bible story in which this is clearer than Matthew 8.
When Jesus arrived…in the region of the Gergesenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him there. They were very dangerous, so that nobody could pass that way. (v.28)
Possession is a simple word. If a dollar bill is in your possession, you own it and you control what it does. If you’re team is in possession of the football, they own it and controls what it does. If a remote control is in your possession, you own it and control what it does.
In demon possession, the demon is in control of the body and it controls what the body does.
If you are demon possessed, then…
You no longer have control of your body.
You no longer have control of your words.
You no longer have control of your life, because the devil and his demons are in control.
For these men, that’s exactly what happened! Demons took control.
And remember the goal of demons is destruction.
They destroyed their family life.
They destroyed their friendships.
They destroyed their lives.
In fact, Mark’s version of this account, adds that at least one of these men had caused so much trouble that local law enforcement had tried taking him outside the city and chaining him to a wall in an above ground tomb.
But… None could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones (Mark 5:4)
Sounds like a horror movie
When Jesus approaches….
It was just like a horror movie,
Not for Jesus.
The demons cried out “What do you want with us Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Mt. 8:29)
You are more powerful than us!
You are more miraculous than us.
Eventually, one day, we know that at “the time” you will seal us forever in the fires of hell.
We might bust out of these chains, but…
We’ll never bust out of your grip.
Demons are TERRIFIED of Jesus.
There are a lot of different phobias in the world.
Arachnophobiacs are afraid of spiders.
Agoraphobiacs are afraid of crowds.
Coulrophobiacs are afraid of clowns.
Mysophobiacsa are afraid of germs.
Phobophobiacs are afraid of being afraid.
What kind of fear do demons have?
They have Son-of-God-o-phobia.
Fear of God’s own Son.
And with good reason.
Because while demons are bent on destruction of God’s people,
Jesus is bent on the destruction of the destroyer.
Way back in the garden of Eden. That was God’s promise. He told Satan, who had just destroyed God’s work of a perfect world, that a day would come when one of Eve’s children would Crush his head.” (Gen. 3:15)
Jesus is on your SIDE.
The devil wants nothing more than your forever destruction in hell.
Jesus wants nothing more than your forever existence in heaven.
It’s why he came to earth.
It’s why he came to fight the devil.
It’s why he continues to fight for you against the devil.
(In fact, that’s what he’s doing with these very words in this very sermon at this very time.)
Jesus is fighting on your side.
III. The Confrontation
But can Jesus really defeat demons?
When Jesus approached the demon possessed men, he asked, “What is your name?” (Mark 5:9)
One of the men responded, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” (v.9)
A legion is a Roman concept. A Roman legion could be filled with a population of almost 500,000 soldiers.
Jesus wasn’t just dealing with one demon.
He wasn’t just dealing with two demons.
He was dealing with a legion of demons.
And it wasn’t just something the demon was saying…
In the field, next to this graveyard was a herd of pigs.
Eating some slop.
Sitting in the mud.
Being generally disgusting.
Jesus looked at the pigs.
He looked back at the demon-possessed men.
He looked past the demons and saw the two human souls trapped within.
And said, “Go!”
So the demons came out of the men and went into the pigs. Immediately the whole herd of pigs rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the water. (Mt. 8:30)
Now, when I first read this story, I thought, “That’s mean Jesus. What did the pigs do to you?”
First, Jesus is the ruler of all. He invented pigs. He gave the pigs life. He could that away as he pleased.
Second, think about what Jesus accomplished by allowing this. Granted, the demons just wanted to destroy something. But by allowing this, think of what Jesus accomplished.
Because at the exact instant, he told the legion of demons to leave the two men – an entire herd of pigs rushed into the river and drowned.
Do you get it?
This event was proof that the demon possession was no joke.
It was proof that demons were real.
Demons are absolutely REAL.
I think this is important to remember.
Because it’s common to talk about “demons.”
Could be “anxiety” that paralyzes our interactions with others.
Could be “guilt” that never seems to go away.
Could be “a temptation for addiction” that we just can’t seem to conquer.
We call it our “demons” but usually we mean “not demons.”
The reality is that when we call it “our demons” but we really mean “not demons,” - It’s usually “real demons.”
Demons are real.
They were real at Jesus’ time.
They are real today.
As real as demons are…
TRUTH: So is Jesus’ VICTORY.
Because the end result is that the two men who had been demon possessed were set free.
They were restored.
They had a Savior, Jesus.
That same Jesus went on to defeat the devil himself.
Even when the devil thought he won.
When he got the Pharisees to concoct a conspiracy…
When he got Judas to betray his teacher…
When he got a crowd to chant, “Crucify! Crucify!”…
When he got Pontius Pilate to be afraid, “Go ahead, just take him.”
When he caused those soldiers to nail Jesus hand and foot to the cross.
The devil probably thought he won.
Three days later.
His head was crushed.
Jesus defeated sin.
Jesus defeated guilt.
Jesus defeated death.
Jesus defeated the devil himself.
IV. What Now?
(1) Be Wary
The Bible tells us, “Your enemy the devil prowls around you like a roaring lion waiting for someone to devour, resist him. Standing firm in the faith.” (1 Peter 5:8)
Because if you are on an African safari, you’d be wary of lions.
You’d put something on camouflage you.
You’d carry a weapon for protection.
You’d probably put some kind of anti-lion repellent deodorant on to repel it.
And if you saw a lion – you’d get out of there!
Do the same thing with the devil.
We identify the areas of temptation that we fall.
We avoid those places.
When temptation comes, we flee as if our lives depended on it. (Because spiritually speaking, we do.)
Friends, be wary of the devil.
Be wary of demons.
(2) Be Confident
Because it’s easy to feel dejected when facing temptation.
Because we’ve lost to the devil so many times.
We’ve fallen to BIG temptations.
We’ve fallen to LITTLE temptations.
We’ve fallen to the SAME temptations again and again.
What could possibly make us believe that this time will be different?
Jesus is on our side.
He wins the victory every time.
Be confident because of Jesus. Amen.