When we last left Paul, he had gone to Jerusalem despite warnings that when he went, he would suffer. While there, he met with the Jerusalem church leaders and learned that some Jewish believers were concerned that he was against the Jewish people. To prove this wasn’t true, Paul decided to participate in a traditional Jewish ceremony.
Today’s Scripture picks up as Paul is finishing up the ceremony. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Strange Time
The lesson begins in Acts 21:29 where Paul is completing the temple ceremony.
I picture him sitting in the mikveh pool relaxing with cucumbers over his eyes and soothing chanting in the background.
But then one of the cucumbers falls off.
And before he can put it back on, he notices some people who look familiar.
Opponents from his mission journeys.
People that hated him.
Paul tries to hide his face under the water, but it was too late:
Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul in the temple. they stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law, and against this place. And now he has even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” (Acts 21:27-28)
The first accusation was an exaggeration of the truth:
Paul did not preach that the Jewish culture was bad.
Paul did preach that the religion the Jewish leaders were teaching was bad.
They taught that you needed to following Hebrew traditions in order to make God love you and possibly, although not probably, earn your way to eternal life
Paul taught that you can’t earn God’s love, but God loved you so much that he suffered on a cross in order to absolutely earn your way to eternal life.
The second accusation was a bald-faced lie.
According to Jewish tradition, it was unlawful for a Gentile to enter the Jewish temple.
Paul knew this and hadn’t brought any Gentiles with him into the temple.
But this group had seen Trophimus, one of Paul’s comrades, in the city. They assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple. (v.29)
Long before Twitter.
Just like on Twitter.
It didn’t take long for others to join in the outrage.
The whole city was stirred up.
The people rushed together as a mob.
They seized Paul.
They dragged him out of the temple.
They had the “the gates…shut.” (v.30)
And Paul was surrounded by his enemies.
Let’s kill him.
Sure! But how?
Does anybody have any stones to throw?
Maybe we could ask one of the priests to borrow the knives they use in sacrifice.
While they were looking for a way to kill him… (v.31a)
The bell rang as the local law enforcement chief stepped out of a nearby coffee shop.
He took a sip of his cup o’ joe
And dunked his Jerusalem jelly donut in his coffee.
He almost spilled as concerned citizens got his attention!
“Sir, there’s a riot!”
“Sir, come quick!”
“Sir, you’d better get some of our best soldiers. It could get ugly.”
He immediately took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. (v.32)
As the crowd heard the sound of Roman chain mail rustling towards them (like the Ancient version of a police siren) and saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. (v.33)
Then the commander approached Paul.
He arrested him.
And gave an order that he should be bound with two chains.
The commander turned to the crowd:
What are you doing?
What’s going on?
Who is this guy?
What has he done? (v.33)
Some people shouted one thing.
Some people shouted another.
Some people just shouted.
It reminded the commander of a riot that had taken place in Jerusalem years earlier.
A mob had brought a man to the Governor’s palace in order to crucify him.
What was that guy’s name?
The commander motioned to his soldiers.
They needed to remove this man from the crowd if they wanted answers.
Two soldiers grabbed Paul under his arm pits and helped him climb some nearby stairs, while others cracked their whips to keep the crowd at bay.
II. The Testimony
As they made their way towards the barracks, the noise faded.
The commander began to relax.
He grabbed his donut out of his pocket, Jerusalem jelly all over his fingers, when…
“Sir, may I say something to you?” (v.37)
It was the prisoner.
You know Greek?
I thought you were that Egyptian terrorist who started the revolt?
Aren’t you the leader of almost 4,000 notorious assassins?
Paul smirked and shook his head.
“I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant city. I beg you, allow me to speak to the people.” (v.39)
The commander looked at him.
“Let me get this straight. You want to speak to the crowd that wants you dead?
The commander gave the soldiers permission to allow him to talk.
Paul went back to the high point of the steps.
Raised his hands towards the crowds. (v.40)
Gentlemen, brothers, and fathers, listen to my defense, which I am now going to make to you.
When they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet. (22:1-2)
I am a Jew. (v.3)
I was born in Tarsus of Cilicia, a Jewish city.
I was brought up in this city, Jerusalem. Very Jewish.
I trained at the feet of Gamaliel, a very famous, Jewish rabbi. Perhaps you know him.
I was trained according to the strict ways of the law of our Jewish fathers.
Friends, I don’t hate the Jews,
I am one.
I am just as zealous for God as all of you are today. (v.4)
I persecuted this Way, this teaching of Jesus, to the death.
I tied Christians up.
I threw Christians into prison.
If you don’t believe me, ask your high priest.
Ask your leaders. (v.4)
I think I still hold the record for most arrests in one day!
In fact, that’s what I was doing on my way to Damascus.
I was going to arrest all the Christians who had scattered there and thought they had gotten away from my holy hand of the law. (v.5)
While I was on the way and approaching Damascus, about noon a very bright light from heaven suddenly flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (v.7)
I didn’t recognize the voice.
I didn’t recognize the figure.
I did notice that he appeared to have a hole in each of his hands.
“Who are you, Lord?”
He said to me, “I am Jesus.” (v.8)
As in, the guy who started Christianity.
As in, the guy who was killed on a cross.
As in the guy who people had reported as resurrected.
As in the guy, I was persecuting.
I said, “What shall I do, Lord?”
The Lord said to me, “Get up and go into Damascus. There you will be told about everything you have been assigned to do.” (v.10)
Then, he was gone.
So was my sight.
My comrades had to lead me the rest of the way to Damascus (v.11)
There I sat in darkness.
Finally, I heard a knock at the front door.
A man entered named Ananias.
He said to me: “Brother Saul, receive your sight!”
At that very moment I was able to see him. (v.12-13)
Then he said, “The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear the sound of his voice. For you will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. Now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” (v.14-16)
What was I to do?
The guy I thought was dead? Was alive.
The guy I was persecuting? Had somehow decided not to kill me.
The guy I thought was a nobody? Was God himself.
I got up.
I was baptized.
Jesus washed my sins away.
And I have been serving Jesus ever since.
Which is why I returned to Jerusalem.
Not this time, another time.
I returned thinking I could preach to all of you.
As I was praying in the temple.
That very temple.
I fell into a trance and I saw the Lord telling me: “Hurry, get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.” (v.17-18)
Of course, that didn’t make sense to me.
I figured that you all knew me.
That you all trusted me.
That you would at least listen to me.
I thought, “Jesus, you’re wrong. They’ll at least give me a chance.”
Judging by your response to me today?
Jesus was right.
He said, “Go, because I will send you far away to the Gentiles.” (v.21)
At this, the people shouted for Paul’s death.
The rioting recommenced
Paul was taken away to prison.
III. The Truth
There it is.
Paul’s suffering began exactly as the Holy Spirit said it would.
But as it’s recorded, we get to witness to the incredible changes that have occurred within Paul.
They are changes that happened as a result of witnessing the Risen Lord Jesus with his own eyes.
They are changes that happen to us as we witness the Risen Lord Jesus through the Gospel.
(1) The Witness of Jesus Changes Your ETERNAL FATE
At the end of this pandemic, we are going to have a party.
And at that party, I think we should award Pandemic superlatives.
They’d be just like Senior superlatives only about the Pandemic.
Most creative mask wearer.
Greatest tweets about lack of toilet paper.
Longest run of meals made from food found at the back of the refrigerator.
What superlative would you get?
If you’re anything like me, maybe the one you’d win wouldn’t be all the desirable.
Biggest worrier about money.
Largest lack of faith that God will work things for good.
Most easily angered at being cooped up with kids.
Most effective at making your spouse feel like a failure with your rude comments.
Most impressive at hiding your racist prejudices with defensive words on Facebook.
Can I show you what Paul wrote about himself? He wrote, “I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15-16)
“Worst of sinners.”
Not that we should compare sinfulness, but if you challenged Paul for the big blue 1st place ribbon for most sinful…
He thinks he’d win.
Think about it:
Paul didn’t just not believe in Jesus.
He hunted down people who believed in Jesus, threatened to kill them, and threw them in prison.
His life goal was to rid the earth of the Gospel that brings people to heaven.
What might you imagine would happen when Paul met face to face with the death-defeating, demon-destroying, hell-fire-wielding, Jesus that he was persecuting?
Not what happened.
Because what happened was unexpected.
Jesus gently redirected Paul.
Jesus graciously sent Ananias to speak to him.
Jesus washed him from sin.
Jesus forgave him.
Jesus promised him a place in heaven.
The witness of Jesus changed Paul’s eternal fate.
From the eternal hellfire that an enemy of God deserves to the incredible gift of eternal life.
Dear friend, the witness of Jesus brings the same message for you.
In Jesus, you are forgiven.
No matter how much sinful junk you accumulated over your lifetime…
…in Jesus you are forgiven.
From the first of sinners to the worst of sinners and every sinner in between…
In Jesus you are forgiven.
(2) The Witness of Jesus Changes Your WITNESS
As a Pharisee, Paul’s witness had simply been:
Destroying Jesus’ message? Good.
In fact, he believed it so deeply that he dedicated his life to destroying the witness of the Gospel.
When he visually witnessed the Risen Savior?
His verbal witness changed.
From “Jesus is dead,” to “Jesus is alive.”
From “Jesus is bad,” to “Jesus is good.”
From “Jesus is not the way to eternal life,” to “Jesus is the only way to eternal life.”
From “Look at what an amazing person I am, God ought to love me,” to “Look at what a wretched man I am, God ought to hate me. But he didn’t and he doesn’t, because of Jesus.”
Jesus changes the witness for us too.
There’s a newer feature on Social media called “Stories.”
On “story” you can build your own brand.
You can do so without having to deal with comments of “haters.”
You can use your story to show yourself doing a good deed.
You can use your story to show yourself being a good mask wearer.
You can use your story to show yourself doing an impressive job teaching your kids.
But do you know what I’ve noticed?
No one ever uses their story to show their sin.
Here’s a photo of me yelling at my kids.
Here’s a graphic of something racist I once said.
Here’s me cheating on my wife.
No one wants sin to be part of their story.
But since we can’t get rid of sin, we just distract from it.
There’s this underlying tone on social media I must showcase the good that I do so that it will distract from the narrative that I might not be that great of a person.
But Jesus changes that story.
No longer is the story about how impressive you are.
Nor is the story about how unimpressive you are.
The story is about how impressive Jesus is.
About how he loved you.
About how he saved you.
About how he made you a part of his family.
About how you will be with him in heaven.
The story is that in Jesus, you are forgiven.
(3) The Witness of Jesus Changes WHAT YOU SEE
Something happened to Paul when he was blinded by Jesus.
Suddenly, his physical inability to see matched his spiritual inability to see.
But when Ananias showed up, he gave Paul his physical sight and spiritual sight.
A spiritual sight that changed what Paul saw.
For example, when you look at this account in Acts 21, what do you see?
…an angry mob?
…a violent crowd?
…Paul being beaten within an inch of his life?
That’s what I see too.
He didn’t see that.
He saw an opportunity.
An opportunity for a witness.
Jesus changes what we see.
Instead of seeing a never-ending pandemic, Jesus helps us see opportunity to tell others about how Jesus promises an end to all pandemics in heaven.
Instead of seeing insurmountable racial tensions, Jesus helps us see opportunity to tell our black friends that their lives do matter. They matter so much that Jesus died for them!
Instead of seeing tension in my own family, Jesus helps us see an opportunity to ease that tension with the Gospel.
Friends, may Jesus, who changed our eternal fate, empower us to witness for him even during unexpected opportunities. Amen.
Racism is a problem in America.
Maybe you knew that.
Maybe you know that from watching video of the brutal killing of George Floyd.
Maybe you know that from scrolling through your friend’s comments on social media.
Maybe you know that from your own personal experiences with other people.
But even if you didn’t see the video, aren’t on social media, or have a personal experience, you ought to believe it to be a problem.
Because the Bible says so.
The Bible says that this world is sinful.
The Bible says that racism is one of those sins.
The Bible says that everyone in the world is sinful.
Therefore, racism will be a problem in this world.
Since Raleigh is a part of this world, it’s a problem in our community.
How do we do battle racism?
How does the church respond?
Today we’ll examine what the Early Church did to deal with racial tensions. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
At the beginning of Acts 21, it was revealed that Paul was on his way to Jerusalem even though he knew from the Holy Spirit that he would suffer as he went. Many tried to stop him. But Paul went anyways.
In the next verses, Paul and his companions finish the final leg to Jerusalem. Look at what Luke, Paul’s companion, writes:
After this, we started on our way up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of Mnason, where we were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples. (v.15-16)
As you see it on a map, Caesarea is very closed to Jerusalem. In fact, this is the last stop that Paul makes before he gets to Jerusalem. There he finds a guy named Mnason. He was living in Caesarea. Mnason gets to meet up with Paul’s companions.
Who are Paul’s companions?
Luke. A fellow Jew.
Timothy. A biracial son of a Jewish woman and a Greek man.
Aristarchus & Secundus from Thessalonica. Two men with very Roman names.
Gaius from the island city of Derbe.
Sopater from Berea in Macedonia.
Tychichus and Trophimus from Asia.
It’s a large group of people from different cultures, backgrounds, and nationalities.
And how does Mnason react to them?
“You probably want to go downtown. That’s where the people of your race hangout.”
“Ya’ll probably belong at that church over there.”
“Just a second…Hello, police, there are foreigners here and I don’t know what to do?”
He brought them into his home.
But it didn’t stop there. Luke writes this, “We arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us warmly.” (v.18)
Think about this:
Jerusalem was filled with Jews.
That’s one very specific race of people.
One very specific culture.
Paul’s companions are from all over.
But look at how the Jewish believers welcome them:
No cold shoulder.
No lukewarm mistrust.
No hot anger that they dared get near them.
The Jewish believers welcomed them warmly.
With high fives.
With fist bumps.
And it continues -- The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard this, they praised God. (v.19-20)
Paul told about his exploits.
He told about preaching in Thessalonica where a large number of Gentiles started a church. (Acts 17:4)
He told about the Gospel-loving Berean church which was filled with Bible believing Jews and Greeks. (Acts 17:14)
He told about his time in Athens preaching in front of a crowd of Greeks! (Acts 17:16-33)
He told about the people of Corinth, a culture completely different from that of the Jerusalem Jews, and how there was a church there now that believed exactly what they believed. (Acts 18)
He told about Acquila and Priscilla, non-Jews, who were Paul’s friends and coworkers in Gospel preaching.
He told about his stop in Troas, a non-Jewish stronghold, where a young man named Eutychus was raised from the dead.
Paul told all about his exploits in sharing the Gospel with the Gentiles.
And the Jews?
They didn’t take to social media to bad mouth the Gentiles.
They didn’t insist that the work in Jerusalem was more important.
They didn’t say, “We don’t care that much about mission work to the Gentiles. Because Paul, all mission work matters.”
They praised God!
Believers have a BOND that penetrates RACIAL differences.
Not to embarrass this duo. But in church we have one set of friends that always gives me hope.
One is a middle-aged, Middle Eastern man who moved from Iraq.
The other is a senior Caucasian woman from Michigan.
At first glance, they don’t seem to have a lot in common.
Every time I’ve called on one of them during COVID-19, that friend has pointed out how they just got done speaking with the other one.
They love each other.
Almost like a mother and son.
Consider this passage:
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles…. (1 Cor. 12:12-13)
In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile…for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28)
We preach Christ crucified… to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ (is) the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor. 1:23-24)
Believers have a BOND that penetrates RACIAL differences.
There isn’t white baptism and black baptism. But baptism in Christ.
There isn’t a Caucasian Spirit and a Hispanic Spirit, but One Holy Spirit.
There isn’t one Savior for this group and another Savior for that group, but one Savior in Jesus.
The bond is JESUS who defeated RACISM on the cross!
Take note that the verb is written in the past tense.
Racism is a sin.
Vocal racism is a sin.
Quiet racism is a sin.
All racism is sin.
Jesus went to the cross to die for all sins.
One of those sins?
The sideways comments you said that ruined a friendship – Jesus died for that.
The insensitive meme that you posted online – Jesus died for that.
The judgment you made of another person because of what shade their skin is? Jesus died for that.
And when he died.
That sin died.
Your racism died.
In Christ, you are forgiven.
In Christ, you get to start fresh.
In Christ, you are called to fight against racism.
II. What Now?
To get to our very applicable what now, I need to finish the rest of the story.
The Jews got done with their impromptu worship service praising God for his work among the Gentiles, when the mature-in-faith Jewish leaders spoke to the mature-in-faith Gentile pastor. They said: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs.” (v.20-21)
A key truth about the Gospel is that forgiveness in Jesus is free.
A complementary truth is that one doesn’t need to follow certain cultural traditions in order to get to heaven.
Even though the message about Jesus came from the Jewish people (Jesus was Jewish), Paul correctly had been teaching the non-Jewish people that their faith in Jesus did not require them to follow Jewish customs in order to be saved.
But apparently, some of the “less mature in faith” Jewish believers had heard about what Paul was doing and incorrectly came to the conclusion that Paul was telling all of the Jews he came across to give up their Jewish customs completely.
Gossip led to them wrongly interpreting Paul’s actions.
And this was long before Twitter.
So…the leaders of the Jewish church had a suggestion for Paul, the leader of many Gentile churches:
There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. (v.23-24)
The vow that the leaders are referencing is a Nazarite vow.
The Nazarite vow was an Old Testament Jewish custom, but not for the faint of heart.
It was a Jewish tradition on steroids.
Those participating had to:
Abstain from all alcohol.
Refrain from cutting their hair.
Not to become ritually impure by coming into contact of any graves – even their own family members.
After a long period of time, the one who made the vow would mikveh, which is like a fancy, religious bathtub, then they’d shave their head and make three offerings: a lamb, a ewe, and a ram in addition to a basket of unleavened bread, a portion of their grain, and a drink offering.
The Jewish leaders are telling Paul,
Do you know what would calm the concerns of your Jewish brothers?
Even though you don’t have to…
Even though it isn’t required by God…
Even though you haven’t done anything wrong.
Pay for their expenses.
Pay for the mikveh visit for 4 men.
Pay for 4 lambs.
Pay for 4 ewes.
Pay for 4 rams.
Pay for all the grain.
Pay for the haircut.
Pay for it all – and they’ll see that you don’t hate their traditions.
That you love them too.
So, what does Paul do?
The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them. (v.26)
(1) Listen to Believing Family of Another Race
That’s what Paul did.
He could have said: “This doesn’t apply to me.”
He could have said: “This is their problem.”
He could have said, “I’m going to go back to taking care of myself.”
Because that’s not what Jesus did to him.
And it wasn’t what Jesus would do to them.
God calls us to do the same thing.
Now, I’m a white guy.
I’m going to speak as a white guy.
I haven’t experienced all the challenges people of color in America face.
The only way I’m going to find out?
I need to listen when my Asian brothers tell me about the harmful stereotypes they’ve encountered.
I need to listen when my Hispanic friends tell me about the prejudice they face.
I need to listen when my black brothers and sisters tell me that they feel like their lives don’t matter.
That last one is very serious.
Because their lives do matter.
They matter so much Jesus died for them.
What can I do?
Stop trying to defend myself.
Stop getting on angry Facebook rants.
(2) Act on Behalf of Your Christian Family of Another Race
Again, that’s what Paul did.
He took money of out his own pocket.
He took time of out of his own day.
He took appointments out of his own schedule in order to act on behalf of his Jewish brothers.
It’s the same right now.
Reach out to your Christian brothers and sisters of another race.
Tell them that you love them.
Tell them that you want to understand – then listen to what they’re saying.
Speak up when someone tells a racist joke.
Speak up when someone is acting in a prejudiced manner towards that other person.
Speak up when someone is causing your brother in Christ to feel afraid, endangered, or unvalued because of the color of their skin.
Seek out friendships outside of your race.
Seek out friendships for your children outside of your race.
Pray that God would work to drive out racism in this world.
With the absolute confidence that one day it will happen.
TRUTH: Jesus Promises an END to racism.
Revelation is the last book of the Bible.
It describes the last place we believers will end up –
A place called heaven.
Listen to this passage about heaven:
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. (Revelation 7:9)
Do you see it?
People from all over the world.
People from all different cultures.
People of all different races.
Not one racist comment.
Not one racist thought.
Not one racist action.
They’re too busy giving glory to the one who defeated racism.
They’re too busy enjoying the glory of heaven.
They’re too busy being united in Jesus.
May God drive out racism from our hearts and our united as a community. Amen.
We are picking up a sermon series that we started way back in 2018. For the past two summers, we have gone through the book of Acts. The thinking was that the book of Acts describes the actions of (1) the Holy Spirit and (2) the Early Christian church. Starting with Pentecost when the Holy Spirit begins the church with fire and strength, Acts shares how that fire kept burning within the Early church as they shared the message of Jesus.
And in the first 20 chapters, the Early Church is deeply engaged in sharing Jesus.
They sent out missionaries to do mission work.
They gave gifts to support mission work.
They prayed for the expansion of mission work.
They started new churches as a result of mission work.
The central figure in that mission work? Jesus.
After Jesus? A guy named Paul.
Paul’s faith was on fire for Jesus.
He had been on three different mission journeys.
He had been to over 20 cities.
He had started churches in at least 11 of them.
He had even written 6 books of the Bible.
Paul was (and is) a missionary legend.
If he would have had a YouTube page, he would have gotten 100 subscribers (a lot faster than we would have).
That’s why the plans that God has for Paul in the last 8 chapters of Acts seem so…
Today we’ll examine what to do when God has other plans. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
Chapter 21 picks up where we left Paul last summer.
He had visited with the elders of a church in Ephesus, encouraged them, and said his goodbyes. Then, he had gotten back onto a boat to deliver a sizeable offering that he had collected from all the mission churches for original church in Jerusalem, a church that was struggling with poverty.
The account, written by Paul’s travel buddy Luke, says in Acts 21:1-3:
After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Kos. The next day we went to Rhodes and from there to Patara. We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went on board and set sail. After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria. We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo. We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days. (v.4a)
Finally, a chance to slow down.
They got to hug fellow believers in Jesus.
They got to sit down and have a meal with them.
Maybe it was even a potluck meal. (“Please Paul, try some of my green Jell-O with pear pieces in it.”)
They studied God’s Word together.
They encouraged each other.
Maybe they even went sight-seeing together.
As they went…
The believers from Tyre also did something else:
Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. (v.4)
Good morning Paul! Would you like a glass of orange juice? You’ll need your vitamins if you plan on going to Jerusalem. I don’t think they serve OJ in jail.
Paul, can we do this Bible study outside? I just wanna show you the sun, before you end up in jail and never see it again.
Paul, before you leave, our kids have a brief song to sing. It’s called “God’s Got the whole world in his hands - except for possibly that jail cell in Jerusalem where Paul is headed.”
But Paul barely knew these people.
The Holy Spirit had told him to go to Jerusalem, so that was where he was going.
His companions agreed.
When it was time to leave, we left and continued our way. All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray.
“Lord, thank you for brother Paul. Thank you for his ministry. But Lord, could you change his mind? He’s being a fool, Lord. Amen.”
After saying goodbye to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home. We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed with them for a day. Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven.
Maybe you’ve heard of Philip the Evangelist before. He was one of seven men chosen by the original church in Jerusalem to help expand the mission work of the early church. He had brought the Gospel to quite a few places. He was a long-time servant of Jesus. If anyone could convince Paul not to go to Jerusalem, Philip could!
Philip also had four unmarried daughters who prophesied. (v.9) The Greek word used in this way means they had skills in explaining the teachings of God’s Word. So…maybe they could explain from God’s Word why Paul needed to go somewhere, anywhere else other than Jerusalem.
After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. (v.10)
Notice the difference.
The daughters of Philip were known for prophesying. That means they could explain God’s revelation of Scripture.
But Agabus was a prophet. That means he was directly given revelation from God.
Agabus took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it (v.11a)
He couldn’t move.
He couldn’t walk.
He was inside a makeshift straight jacket.
“The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’” (v.11)
Paul’s companions couldn’t handle it.
Even Luke himself, the guy writing this down confessed, we…pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. (v.12)
“Paul, I don’t want that to be the end of the story.”
“Paul, I can’t imagine that God wants that to be the end of your story.”
“Paul, God must have different plans.
Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (v.13)
Paul didn’t get angry.
But Paul also didn’t stutter.
He was going to Jerusalem.
“When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”” (v.14)
II. The Truth about God’s Plans
Does that ending seem like an empty platitude?
Because if you break apart what they’re saying…
If it was the “Lord’s will”…
If it was God’s plan…
…then that means God’s plan was for Paul to suffer.
That doesn’t seem right. Because when human beings plan things, we plan things specifically to avoid suffering. Otherwise, preparing for a trip to the Outer Banks would sound much different:
Let’s leave the suntan lotion behind. I’d really like to get burnt to a crisp, because I’m hoping to have the pain of burnt skin by the time this is over.
I wonder which AIRBNB on TripAdvisor has the worst review. I could really go for a terrible night’s sleep.
Hey, Honey! I think I found the place we should eat on Friday night. This Google review says that Bob’s Seafood has tasteless appetizers and a rancid fish smell. In fact, there’s a guy here who got food poisoning for 24 hours. Shall I go ahead and book a reservation?
As human beings, who hate suffering, we do everything in our planning to avoid suffering.
For God to plan suffering doesn’t seem right.
But can I show you something?
It’s from the previous chapter in the book of Acts, before Paul left the Ephesians elders to head to Jerusalem.
Look at what it says:
Now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. (Acts 20:22-23)
God’s plan for Paul did involve suffering.
SOMETIMES God’s Plans Involve SUFFERING
Because God is different.
God doesn’t try to avoid suffering.
He faces it.
He conquers it.
He knew that because of our sins, we were going to suffer.
Not just sunburn.
Not just inconvenience.
Not just through a salty clam.
He knew we would suffer eternal burning in hell.
God made plans.
God made plans to suffer so that you wouldn’t have to suffer.
And God went through with those plans.
He suffered rejection from his own people.
He suffered betrayal from a trusted friend.
He suffered abandonment from the rest of his friends.
He suffered humiliation as he was arrested.
The suffered through a false trial where lies were hurled against him.
He suffered slap after slap after slap to the face.
He suffered thirty lashes that made his back raw.
He suffered a crown of thorns jammed into his head.
He suffered a wooden rod strike to the body.
He suffered one nail through his right wrist.
He suffered another nail through his left wrist.
He suffered a final nail through his feet.
He suffered as he labored to breathe.
He suffered as he bled out.
He suffered as he died.
And his suffering ensured that you will not suffer eternally.
Since God suffered on earth, you will not suffer in hell.
God’s plan for Jesus involved suffering.
God’s plan for believers involves suffering too.
In fact, Romans 8:17. It was written by Paul, most likely, after he knew what was going to be happening to him in Jerusalem. He said: We share in his sufferings…
Did you notice what Paul said?
He said, “We.”
As in, “I’m not the only one that has suffering in God’s plan for them.”
As in, “You other believers will too.”
Sometimes God’s plans involve suffering.
ALWAYS God’s plans involve ETERNAL LIFE.
Because think back to Jesus.
Jesus suffered until he died on the cross.
But then the suffering was over.
Jesus went down to hell to enjoy proclaiming victory over the devil.
Jesus came out of the grave alive, well, and not suffering at all.
Jesus appeared to his disciples and…
He didn’t have to take a seat because he was out of breath.
He didn’t have to get some Neosporin because the wounds on his hands were causing him pain.
He didn’t have to leave the room because it was too painful to look in the faces of disciples that deserted him.
He was done with suffering.
Because he had conquered suffering.
This means God’s plan involved some suffering.
But it also involved a complete removal of suffering in eternal life.
And this wasn’t just for Jesus.
Can I give you the rest of that Romans passage? It says, “We share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (v.18)
Paul knew that if God’s plan was for him to suffer on earth, it was because God’s plan was to get him and others into heaven.
Not to give too many spoilers to the rest of our summer series, but as a result of God’s plan for Paul to suffer…
Paul gets opportunities to share Jesus that he never would have gotten.
People hear the Gospel message that never would have heard it.
Paul becomes an example for Christians centuries later to keep the faith in the midst of suffering.
The end result?
People are saved to eternal life that wouldn’t have been saved to eternal life as a result of Paul’s suffering.
And Paul gets eternal life too.
That’s because God’s plan always involves eternal life.
That’s God’s plan for you too.
He wants you in heaven.
He wants you to enter eternal life.
He wants you to go to a place where you won’t suffer.
III. What Now?
(1) Determine God’s Plan by God’s Word
That’s what Paul did. He determined God’s plan based on what God told him about God’s plan.
They had the same Word of God.
From the same Spirit of God.
But they determined it was not God’s plan, because they didn’t like it.
They were determining God’s plan based on how they felt about it.
By that logic, God’s plan would be for us to sin.
Because being a jerk to people that upset you? That can feel pretty good.
Drinking too much alcohol to get over stress? That can feel nice.
Sleeping with your girlfriend before you’re married? That can be exciting.
But God’s plan isn’t for us to sin.
Instead of going to sin-tainted emotions,
We go to God’s Holy Word.
In God’s Word, God reveals God’s plans for us.
Plans for us to love him.
Plans for us to love one another.
Plans for us to share his message.
And if going through with God’s plans means that we also go through some suffering?
The Lord’s will be done.
If standing up for your friends of a different race means you receive angry comments online?
The Lord’s will be done.
If keeping yourself pure sexually means you miss out on a moment of excitement?
The Lord’s will be done.
If keeping your faith in Jesus means that God removes the idol of money by causing you to lose your job?
The Lord’s will be done.
If being able to share the Gospel with people who need the Gospel means that you contract COVID-19 and head to the hospital?
The Lord’s will be done.
If a pandemic happens and we aren’t able to meet for large-group in-person worship for a long period of time, and that’s hard because we enjoy seeing the large groups of people gathered together all at once, but our online efforts reach one soul that we never would have reached otherwise?
The Lord’s will be done.
(2) Keep Jesus as Your Motivation
That’s what Paul did. Remember his reason for suffering?
It wasn’t for the name of Paul.
It wasn’t for the numbers in his IRA account.
It wasn’t even for his family
It was for the name of the Lord Jesus
Because Jesus saves; Paul doesn’t.
Jesus saves; I don’t.
Jesus saves; you don’t.
Making Jesus your motivation means your motivation is love.
And love allows you to follow God’s plan even when the plan involves suffering.
I’ll never forget the conversation.
There was a woman who was very sick.
She was in the hospital.
She was suffering.
A lot of her friends and family couldn’t believe she was sick!
They were upset.
They were angry.
They thought there was no way this could be God’s plan.
I looked up all the comforting Bible passages I could.
Because I was expecting she wouldn’t be in a good mood.
She said, “I’m fine pastor. I’m sick. Sure. It hurts. Yep. But God is good. Since I’ve been here, I’ve been able to tell some of the nurses about Jesus. One of the nurses revealed that she just had a nasty breakup with her husband who was unfaithful to her. I listened to her. I told her I was sorry that happened. Then, I told her about Jesus. How he has always been faithful to me. How he’s always loved me. How he was loving me and caring for me even in the hospital. And how that same Jesus loved her too! When I was done talking, the nurse didn’t laugh at me. She listened. She nodded. She said what I said affected her.”
And you know what, Pastor?
I think that’s one of the reasons God had me get this sickness.
So I could share the Gospel with her.
That she might be saved.
I couldn’t disagree.
I still don’t.
Friends, follow God’s plans even when there’s suffering.
Because his plans for you also involve eternal life.
Our soon-to-be daughter is still down at the orphanage. COVID-19 has closed the borders of Colombia and it may be a long while before they reopen.
Thankfully, we have been able to Skype with her. At least once a week, we get on the video call and Julianna reads Spanish stories while I say, “Hola! Hola!” over and over again in the background. It’s not the same as being able to have her, but it is a blessing.
Anyways, over the course of these calls, I’ve learned something.
It is HARD to hold the attention of an 18-month-old through Skype.
I mean…I give it my all.
I squeak the squeaky Flamingo.
I speak in a high-pitched voice.
I make a popping noise with my mouth.
I turn on the pretend telephone.
I make a big commotion all so that she’ll LOOK at the camera – just for a moment.
It can be a bit frustrating.
I wonder if God doesn’t feel the same way.
Everyone’s looking around and panicking about the Coronavirus, wondering how they’re going to stay healthy and keep the economy strong.
And God’s speaks through his Word and says,
“Hey. You. Look up here. Everything is going to be fine.”
Today God’s Word reminds us where to look for hope and direction. Before we get into it, 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. Where to Look?
The lesson we’re looking at in order to learn where to look is found in Colossians 3. A bit of background. Colosse was a city in Asia Minor. It had once been a glorious place filled with a booming economy and decadent riches.
At the time of the letter, it was less important.
It was old.
It was forgotten.
it was deteriorating.
Still, there was a group of believers there led by a pastor named Epaphras. Epaphras had taught them that they could be rich again. Not with gold or silver, but with the blood of Jesus shed for their forgiveness. The result would be eternal riches of God himself.
Enough people believed that a church formed.
But more recently, this church had been learning about a different sort of Gospel.
We don’t have full specifics on what exactly this false teaching was. But if you look at the book of Colossians, there are clues.
This teaching claimed that Jesus wasn’t God (2:8-9)
It taught that Jesus wasn’t the Savior. (2:11-14)
It taught that Jesus was a man who did the right things to become enlightened and if you just did the right things too… (2:16-23)
If you read enough academic articles…
If you gained enough human wisdom…
If you figured out the right medicinal combination…
If you listened to the most compelling philosophers….
If you found the correct spiritual disciplines…
If you ate the right kinds of foods…
If you just looked around for the right kind of wisdom, you would be…
Above this slime-ball world and all its problems.
Of course, none of that is the Gospel.
That’s why Pastor Epaphras left Colosse and traveled to Rome to meet up with another pastor named Paul. He explained the situation to him and (since Paul was experienced at writing letters to Christian churches), he asked Paul to write a letter to his congregation to get them looking in the right direction again.
Let me say that again:
Colossians was written to believers that had been LOOKING in the wrong place…
Colossians was written to redirect that group of believers to LOOK in the right place…
Sounds a bit like 21st century American believers in the midst of a global pandemic?
And to be fair.
Paul wrote this down.
But he was inspired by the Spirit of God.
The Spirit had this message preserve.
And we’re about to read it.
This is just as much as message for you and me as it was for the Colossians.
Because right now…
Where are you looking for answers?
Where are you looking for hope?
Where are you looking for guidance on what to do next?
Are you LOOKING AT the news? One source says things are getting better. But there’s a conflicting report on this second source? Followed by an opinion piece that calls all reports into question.
Are you LOOKING AT the curve? Maybe you’ve got it bookmarked as your home page, so you can check it at a moment’s notice: “It’s going down. It’s going up. It’s going down. Nope…I’m just holding my phone upside down.”
Are you LOOKING AT social media for comfort!? Do you know what would make me feel better? If I read through all of Uncle Mike’s conspiracy theory posts and then read through all 179 comments attached to it. That’ll make me feel better.
Are you LOOKING TO your bank account? Cause…if that IRA can just turn around and stop losing money – we’ll be ok.
Are you LOOKING TO politicians? They are trying their best. But have you ever considered all the things they’ve got to look at? They LOOK AT…
…what the rest of their party is saying,
…hundreds of thousands of differing opinions.
…scientific tables that are difficult to understand
…economic charts that that are just as difficult to understand.
…how their vote on a COVID-19 bill affects their own electability.
...one group of people that just want life to go back to normal.
…another group of people that want life to go back to quarantine.
All resulting in some rules/recommendation/encouragements that people are to follow.
I’m not making any political commentary on any politician’s work at all.
I’m simply saying that if government is where we’re looking for hope and comfort, we won’t find it.
Because I’m not sure they’ve found it.
Here’s the truth…
If you look AROUND for answers, you just find others LOOKING AROUND.
That’s what’s happening right now. It’s as if we’re throwing our shoulders in the air, scrunching our facing, and generally looking bewildered, only to look around and find others throwing their shoulders in the air, scrunching their faces, and looking bewildered.
If you look for comfort from those who need comfort? You won’t find it.
If you look for direction from others who are directionless? You won’t find direction.
If you look for peace from people who lack peace? You will continue to be without peace.
Where should we look?
Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1)
Don’t look to the left.
Don’t look to the right.
Don’t look straight ahead.
Don’t look straight down.
Don’t look at your family.
Don’t look at your friends.
Don’t look at your computer screen.
Don’t look introspectively within yourself.
God calls us to LOOK UP!
It’s like what your swimming instructor taught you while you were learning the backstroke. They strapped on one of those little flotation pillows to your stomach. They guided you into the water. They gently placed their hand underneath your back and calmly reminded you, “Look up!”
Because if you look down or around, you’ll cause yourself to spasm, to sink, to get a mouth full of chlorinated water.
But if you look up…
God says the same to us:
I know it feels like you’re drowning.
But you aren’t.
Just look up.
You’ll see me.
You’ll see me smiling,
I got you.
II. Why Look Up?
Colossians 3 gives us some very specific reasons to look up. Let’s take it apart.
(1) UP is where Christ LIVES
Verse 1 says “Seek the things that are above, where Christ IS…”
Notice the present tense.
It means that whatever the verb is referring to is currently happening.
In this instance, Christ is currently happening.
Because Jesus isn’t dead, but he lives!
He isn’t some bones in a grave.
He isn’t a pile of ashes on a mantle.
Jesus is alive.
If you don’t look up, you’ll miss him.
Can you imagine if that happened at Jesus’ Ascension?
Imagine that Jesus feet began to lift off the ground.
That his body began to rise in the air.
That his form was at the level of the pine trees.
But Simon the Zealot was too busy looking at the bee that had landed on the dandelion!
Simon! Look up!
You’re missing it!
You’re missing our Savior.
You’re missing our Hope.
You’re missing our Comfort.
You’re missing our glorious Christ!
Friends, it’s the same for you.
Look at Christ.
(2) UP is where Christ RULES
Verse 1 continues, “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”
Do we have any left handers out there today? I apologize. I don’t want to appear discriminatory to left handers. (I have some good friends who are left-handed. We’ll remain good friends…as long as we don’t sit next to each other while we’re eating.)
Generally, more people are right-handed. So in ancient culture, an idiom developed. Because the right hand was more powerful, a powerful person in government was often said to be, “the king’s right-hand man.” It didn’t mean he was always on his right side, but that he had authority.
Jesus is at God’s right hands.
He has authority.
He is in control.
Not some government official that barely knows you.
Not some bankers on wall street.
Not the devil.
Jesus is in control.
There’s no one better to have in control.
No one who is wiser.
No one who is more powerful.
No one who knows you more than you.
No one who loves you more than you…
No one more than Jesus.
The one in control.
(3) UP is where PURPOSE is
Verse 2 continues the thought. It says, “Set your mind on things above, not earthly things.” The logic is simple. Jesus is our leader. Jesus is in heaven. If you want to follow your leader, you listen to the things coming out of heaven, not the things that are coming out of earth.
If you are shopping and you see a roll of paper towel available on the shelf and you catch a grandma shopping next to you giving that same paper towel roll a glance…
The world says, “You need it! Put the pedal to the metal and grab the glory!”
But the message from heaven says, “The Lord loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)
You let her have it. And smile while doing so.
If you are meeting up with a friend for a walk and you notice that they are putting on a mask because they are afraid of catching COVID-19 and/or spreading it.
But you aren’t afraid. Because, “God’s got me.”
The world says, “Tough cookies for her. I do what I want. Nobody can make me do anything.”
But the message from heaven says, “Serve one another humbly in love.” (Galatians 5:13)
You wear the mask. Freely. Out of love.
If we open up for in-person worship and you are comfortable with the principles we put in place and are feeling ready to go. But you notice that another friend has chosen to continue to worship from home for the time being.
The world says, “Text her. Tell her that you’re a better Christian than her because you made it out and she didn’t.”
The from heaven says, “Be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)
So you text her: “Just checking to see how it’s going! Praying for you. You are my sister in faith.”
Look up. That’s where you’ll find purpose.
(4) UP is where your COVERING is
Sometimes you make mistakes while dealing with this pandemic.
Sometimes you lose your cool.
Sometimes you say things you shouldn’t say.
Sometimes you don’t take the proper precautions and expose someone to the virus.
Sometimes you harm friendships as a result.
Guilt is a thing.
Guilt over COVID-19 missteps is a real thing.
When COVID-19 guilt happens, the world wants you to just hide under a blanket of blaming other people:
“They’re just over sensitive.”
“They’re just misinformed.”
“They’re the ones with the problem.”
But that’s like taking a blanket and tossing it over your head in a game of hide and seek.
It doesn’t work.
Instead, look up for the eternal covering.
“For you died, now your life is hidden with Christ in God. (v.3)
Did you hear that?
Christ covers your guilt.
Christ covers your sins.
Christ covers all of your failures.
In Jesus, your sins are hidden.
In Jesus, you are forgiven.
(5) UP is where YOU will BE
The final reason to look up is found in verse 4,
“When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (v.4)
I had a colleague of mine die the other day.
He was a pastor of a mid-sized congregation. He had a family. He served many people with God’s Word. As a result, he will be sorely missed.
And as I was thinking about this, it home with me.
If that happened, that would be sad.
I enjoy all of you.
I enjoy ministering to you.
I look forward to seeing you again.
On the other hand…
I’m kind of jealous.
He is in a place where there aren’t computer glitches while preparing the sermon for Sunday.
He is in a place where he doesn’t have to deal with the fear of coronavirus.
He is in a place where he doesn’t have to social distancing from his people.
He is in a place where he doesn’t have to feel guilt for not making the best pastoral choices.
He is in a place where he doesn’t have to try to remember where he put his mask.
He is in a place where he doesn’t need to look up.
God calls us to look up right now, so that eventually we join him in a place where we no longer have to look up.
Because in heaven, there’s no need to look up.
In heaven, you simply look around.
You look around and see God.
You look around and see fellow believers.
You look around and see peace, safety, and health.
You look around and see Jesus.
When COVID-19 is finally over, I think church should have a party.
A non-socially distant party.
A party where everyone who enters gets good, old fashioned, human contact.
Even European cheek kisses?
There’ll be Juicy Juices available in the snack area – with two giant straws for you to share with a complete stranger!
Out back, we’ll have a giant game of twister…
And we’ll end the party by doing one of those things where everyone puts their hands in and then raise them by shouting something encouraging like: “Go Social Near Proximity!”
A non-social distance party sounds nice…
We aren’t there yet.
Not at all.
Some of you wonder.
When will that party happen?
Will that party EVER happen?
That party will absolutely happen.
In fact, the Bible guarantees such a party.
Only this party, it doesn’t happen on earth.
Today we hear from God’s Word about the ETERNAL VICTORY PARTY awaiting us in heaven. Before we get into it, 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 Vision of the Party
The lesson comes from the very last book in the Bible. It’s called Revelation. Revelation was written by one of Jesus’ 12 disciples named John. John was very close to Jesus. He had spent three years learning from Jesus, he was at the cross when Jesus died, he saw Jesus risen from the dead, and interacted with his risen Savior on multiple occasions. John was a key part of the early church and spreading the Gospel.
Unfortunately, that got John into trouble. He was exiled to an island called Patmos where he finished life by himself.
Think of it like his own quarantine.
But God didn’t let John’s time go to waste. While on the island of Patmos, God revealed to John some amazing things about the future. God came to John in several vision to reveal truths about the end times. These visions are written down in Revelation.
That’s why Revelation is called Apocalyptic Literature. Apocalyptic literature is pretty fantastic. It includes otherworldly creatures, strange metaphors, and complicated similes.
It’s like verbal art. Each word is like an artist’s brush stroke. The strokes come together to create a fantastic piece that speaks deep truth about the end times. For us, the challenging part is that the Holy Spirit’s work in Revelation is something like a Picasso – strange, out of place, hard to understand at first glance.
That’s important to keep in mind.
The temptation might be to take it apart piece by piece. To focus in on singular details.
But the Holy Spirit motivated John to write the vision as one continuous piece.
There’s value in backing up and looking at it in its entirety.
Let’s dive into the vision.
John was having a normal day.
It’s quiet on an exile island.
I imagine he woke up at the rays of sunlight.
He went and poured his drip coffee, “Patmos Perk Blend.”
He grabbed his scrolled copy of the first three chapters of Revelation.
Because these were Jesus’ words.
He went outside to use them for his morning devotion.
As he’s sitting on his patio, with the waves gently crashing in the background, he warms his hands on his mug and takes a deep breath:
“What a beautiful sunrise.
What a beautiful skyline.
Nothing could be more beautiful.”
Just then, something happened.
After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. (v.1)
And John did a double take.
It wasn’t as if the clouds parted.
It wasn’t as if the sun was shining more brightly.
The physical, earthly atmosphere opened to reveal the hidden, metaphysical realm of heaven
Then, a loud sound.
No, a voice.
No, a voice like trumpet.
No, a trumpet like voice.
The same voice that had spoken to him as he wrote those letters.
The same powerful voice that had spoken God’s Word.
The voice of Jesus.
(Jesus’) Voice…said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” (v.1)
No sooner had Jesus’ voice spoken, than John was in the Spirit. (v.2)
John was suddenly looking back at his body.
His spirit was entering the spirit realm and he was being led by the Spirit…
Through the air.
Through the sky.
Through the clouds.
Through the Ozone Layer.
Through the metaphysical doorway.
Once John got his bearings. He looked around.
And there before (him) was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. (v2b)
It was hard to make out who that someone was.
Because this Being.
And this Throne.
They were gleaming.
They were glowing with an otherworldly glow.
And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby.
Jasper is a beautiful, clear, diamond-like rock.
Ruby is a gorgeous, dark red gemstone.
John had seen them before as tiny stones worn by the religious leaders back on earth. The high priests wore the stones on his breastplate. They served as a beautiful reminder of the God’s grace and sovereignty.
Thus far in John’s life he had only seen these stones worn by someone.
Never as someone.
Above the One seated on the throne was an emerald-colored shape. (v.3)
It encircled the throne.
It encircled the jasper & ruby like being.
It encircled them like a rainbow.
In the Old Testament, the rainbow was given by God as reminder of God’s grace and mercy.
Unfortunately, all the rainbows that John had seen…faded.
Not this one.
This rainbow – endured.
Where God’s grace – stayed.
It took a couple of minutes. But John noticed that there were others in the room.
Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. (v.4)
They looked like princes.
All in uniform.
All in a holy, divine uniform.
John was about to compliment the nearest elder on his golden head gear, when…
From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. (v.5)
It was louder than any storm John had ever heard before.
Probably because he was closer to the source of a storm than John had ever been before.
This was the throne room of heaven.
This is the place where God controlled the weather.
This is the place where God told tornadoes where to go…
…and hurricanes to develop into category 4s.
…and earthquakes to rumble.
…and volcanoes to erupt.
…and wildfires to burn.
Speaking of burning…
In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. (v5b)
They didn’t seem to be going out.
Not at all.
They weren’t fading.
Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. (v.6)
In fact, that water was unlike any water John had ever seen before.
Most of the water he had seen was murky.
This greenish, brown from algae and mud.
Even the shores of the Mediterranean Sea on his island, which were clearer than lake water, weren’t as clear as this divine deluge.
This sea and how it got that way?
Was surpassing all John’s understanding.
In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures. (v.7)
And you’ll have to forgive John for the description. Because these creatures were unlike any creatures he had ever seen on earth.
For starters, they were covered with eyeballs all down their front and all down their backs. It would be enough to give anyone jitters.
But not John.
Not beside that peaceful water.
Not in the protection of the One on the throne.
The first living creature was like a lion, powerful and wild.
The second was like an ox, domestic and loyal.
The third had a face like a man, wise and beloved.
Th fourth was like a flying eagle, soaring and free.
Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. (v8)
John couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
This was incredible.
It was awesome.
It was worth giving a shout.
The living creatures beat him to it:
“ ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.” (v.8b)
“ ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.”
“ ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.”
It was a beautiful symphony.
But it wasn’t over.
Suddenly, the elders got down from their thrones.
They turned to face the Seated One.
They fell to the ground.
They took off their crowns.
And joined in the worship of the Seated One.
They cried, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (v.8)
He didn’t need to be afraid.
He didn’t need to be worried.
He didn’t need to be anything anymore…
Other than joyful.
He was with God.
II. Truths about the Eternal Victory Party
This revelation paints a beautiful picture for us of that eternal victory party. There’s a lot to talk about. But I’m going to limit myself to five things that will have value for our lives right now.
GOD is at the CENTER of the Victory Party.
The first things John sees is the One seated on the Throne. (v.2) His eyes are naturally drawn to him.
Then, there are these concentric circles going out and around the throne.
Verse 3 says the rainbow encircled the throne.
Verse 4 says the 24 elders were surrounding the throne.
Verse 6 says the 4 living creatures were around the throne.
Verse 9 says the elders bow down and praise the One on the throne.
In fact, if we read a bit farther in chapter 5:11, it says that 10,000 times 10,000 angels encircled the throne to praise God.
The point? God is at the center of this victory party.
Since God’s there? This is a good party.
This is a DIVINELY good party.
It’s not like human parties.
Sometimes human parties aren’t very good.
The punch isn’t bitter.
The taco dip isn’t overrun with too many refried beans.
The Enya music in the background isn’t ruining the mood.
This isn’t like a human party.
This party is good.
Sometimes human parties have sin at them. Sin that spoils the party and gives you a bad after taste for days!
Like the headache you have because you drank too much.
Or the drunken text message you need to explain because you were mad at someone.
Or the two of your friends who aren’t speaking together anymore because one got together with the other’s boyfriend.
This isn’t a human party.
This is a GOD party.
It isn’t a sinful party with horrid after-effects.
This is a God party.
With amazing forever effects.
At this party…
There’s no sadness.
There’s no pain.
There’s no fighting.
There’s no backstabbing.
There’s no gossip.
There’s no embarrassment.
There’s no sickness.
There’s no sin.
There’s no COVID-19.
There’s no economic downturn.
There’s no loss of job.
There’s no anxiety.
There’s only good.
The guest list includes ALL BELIEVERS
John describes 24 elders in front of the throne. This seems very likely to be a summation of two very important groups from the Bible. One from the Old Testament before Jesus and another group from the New Testament at the time of Jesus.
There were 12 tribes of Israel in the Old Testament. (This nation was chosen by God to preserve the promise of the Savior.)
There were 12 apostles in the New Testament. (These were chosen by the Savior to work closely with him.)
Putting those two together seems to symbolize a complete gathering of the Chosen from the Old and New Testament.
In other words:
Do you grasp what this means?
If you are a believer in Jesus as your Savior, you will be at this divine party.
That’s what happened when the Gospel was preached to you.
God wrote up one of those little invitations cards and sent it to you.
Of course, he didn’t send it on one of those Pinterest level cuties cards – although if the first way you learned about Jesus was through a Pinterest card with “Jesus Loves You” written on it, I suppose that’s exactly what he did.
And if you aren’t a believer, this is your invitation right now!
You are invited to the party.
A party without any pain, shame, or sadness.
If you’d like to be in that party, you’ve got to listen to the instructions on the invitation.
What are those instructions?
Do you remember how John got to the party?
He didn’t use GPS.
He didn’t use Google maps.
He didn’t ask Alexa.
The voice called to him.
It was the voice of Jesus.
The ONLY way to the eternal victory party is through JESUS.
And that’s good news.
Cause while these the most impressive party of all time,
There isn’t an exclusive list.
You don’t have to pay your way in.
You don’t have to be invited based on your humanitarian efforts.
You won’t be disqualified because you have that one sin in your past.
Jesus is your way to the victory party.
It’s only through Jesus that you get into the party.
He lived for you.
He died for you.
He rose for you.
It’s as simple as trusting Jesus’ invitation.
And you’ll be at that party.
The party is JOYFUL!
The living creatures with the eyeballs and the wings. I don’t know exactly what they represent. It seems the safest and easiest choice would be a representation of all living creatures.
The lion represents wild animals.
The ox represents domesticated animals.
The human represents humans.
The eagle represents birds.
Don’t ask me why there isn’t a slug with a bunch of eyes on it representing mollusks.
But did you notice this?
These living creatures praise God.
So do the angels.
So do the elders – aka – the Redeemed.
Everyone and everything are joyfully praising God!
No one is stopping to complain.
No one is stopping to argue.
No one is thinking about COVID-19.
No one is worried that they need to get home by 9 so they don’t get charged double by the babysitter.
Do you remember the last time you were just joyful?
You will be.
When you join the eternal victory party, you will be joyful!
But here’s where it gets interesting. Look closely at verse 9 again:
Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to the one who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four…worship the one who lives forever and ever…saying: You are worthy, Lord our God! (v.9-10)
Did you catch that?
It isn’t a one-time occurrence.
It isn’t a thing in the future.
It’s a “whenever” occurrence.
As in, this praise for our God is going on right now.
You don’t need to WAIT to join the party.
Whenever you see a beautiful sunrise and you are amazing at God’s artistry? Praise God!
Whenever you see a majestic wild animal on one of those National Geographic shows and you are amazed at God’s power? Praise God!
Whenever you look through your kids’ books on animals and you see a photo of one of those weird fish with the light on its head and you think: “That’s so creative.” Praise God!
Whenever you wake up to the beautiful face of your bride and think, “How blessed am I?” Praise God!
Whenever your family gathers together on the sofa for game night, safe and healthy? Praise God!
Whenever you see the gorgeous smile of your child on the screen saver of your cell phone? Praise God.
Whenever you wake up and realize you woke up. Praise God! It’s a day worth partying!
Whenever you hear about what your Savior did for you on the cross. Praise God!
Whenever you are reminded that you are redeemed? Praise God!
Whenever you think of the eternal victory party awaiting you? Praise God!
Friends, we’ve got all kinds of reasons to celebrate. Join God in the eternal victory party today!
When you spend a long period of time alone, you get to thinking.
At first, the thoughts might be fun.
It isn’t fair that coffee stains your teeth brown, but milk doesn’t stain your teeth white.
My dog probably thinks "fetch" is a game that I made up and he loves me for that.
Who is Mr. Dorito and where do I find him? And is the factory just like Willy Wonka’s? And if I attended would I eventually fold to pressure, sample the Cool Ranch Carnations will I be turned into a Dorito and be trapped there forever?
The things you think about, become less fun.
“Look! On Facebook, there’s that one girl you knew way back in high school. Do you remember what you did to her? That was awful. You’re a terrible person.”
“Do you see that couch over there? It’s a nice and comfy place to rest and be very rude to your spouse. Remember? You did it, yesterday!”
“Check out the empty beer cans in the trash. Remember when you drank way too many of them and made a fool of yourself and everyone saw!”
“Oh Listen! Do you hear that? It’s quiet. Because your kids don’t live here any more and they don’t call you because of the awful way you’ve treated them. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
Shame is difficult thing to master.
It can come out of nowhere.
Today we’ll see how Jesus gives us VICTORY OVER SHAME. 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. Corinthian Shame
Today’s lesson is from a book in the Bible called 1st Corinthians. It is the first letter written by a pastor named Paul to a church in a Greek city called Corinth. He writes this letter to encourage the believers, because a lot of these church members had been feeling ashamed.
In Corinth, there weren’t a lot of believers.
Most people believed in reason.
They believed in science.
They believed in what was socially acceptable.
Some guy dying on a cross to take away our sins?
That wasn’t reasonable.
That same guy coming back to life?
That wasn’t scientific.
That guy being the one and only true God?
That wasn’t very socially acceptable.
Society shamed the believers.
The produce merchant grabbed the shiny red apple from the believer. “You believe in Jesus. Here. Have him bring this rotten, worm-infested apple back to life.”
The neighbor knocked on their front door. “Listen! I heard you praying out loud from your front window. I don’t need to hear that. Keep that junk to yourself.”
The church’s maintenance man got to church and did a double take. The decorated cross? It had more decorations in the form of a graffiti telling them to get out of town.
The shame affected the believers.
Some were questioning their resurrected Lord.
Some were engaging in sinful things of the world in order to fit in.
Some were trying to make themselves feel better by shaming other believers.
In fact, there was a whole group that made it a point at each church to be divisive:
“You were baptized by Pastor P? Ha. He’s kind of a dork. I was baptized by Pastor A. Pastor A is the real deal and so are his followers. The world might shame us, but at least I’m not as shameful as you.”
God inspired Pastor Paul to write this letter to correct their thinking.
He writes, “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. (1 Cor. 1:26)
Take note of the verb.
It’s past tense.
The adjectival quality ascribed to the Corinthians by the verb was true before they were believers.
But now that they are believers.
It’s no longer valid.
They were not wise.
They were not influential.
They were of not of noble birth.
They were not, not wise.
They were not, not influential.
They were not, not of noble birth.
To put it simply, the Corinthian believers had no reason for shame. If they were still feeling shameful? it was because…
They were measuring their level of SHAME with the WRONG STANDARDS.
It’s kind of like baking a cake. You need to follow the directions and use the correct measuring devices.
If the recipe calls for a teaspoon of vanilla, putting in a tablespoon may mess up the consistency.
If it calls for a ½ cup of flour, putting in a full cup may cause it to taste starchy.
If it calls for one cup of sugar and you put in one quart, well, you’re following some six-year-old’s recipe for Kool-aid.
The same thing is true for believers. When we’re measuring shame, we can’t use the wrong measuring device.
II. Human Standards of Shame
What were some of the wrong measuring devices?
If you examine verse 26-27 closely, you can see the very standards. They are standards that are still around today and that can infect our mindset on shame.
Paul begins by writing, “Not many of you were wise by human standards… (v.26)
In preparation for our trip to Colombia, I am studying Spanish. I’ve been using phone book, telephone apps, and children’s books to practice. The other day I go to practice Spanish with one of my Spanish-speaking neighbors.
And I said something to him in Spanish, the neighbor said, “Tu hablas Espanol?” which means, “Do you speak Spanish?”
I replied, nonchalantly, “Si. Yo hablo un poco,” which means, “Yes, I speak a little.”
To which my wife Julianna replied, “No. Tu hablas un poquito,” which means, “No, you speak a very little bit.”
To be fair, that’s accurate.
But I felt embarrassed and couldn’t wait to be described as “un poco” Spanish speaker. I use that phrase to bolster my Spanish speaking ability, because I was ashamed.
I was ashamed because I was measuring my shame by intelligence.
This happens to all of us.
When our friends are mentioning the high-level universities they graduated from, we might feel ashamed of our Community College experience.
When we’re in a conversation with people and they tell a joke that we don’t understand, we feel ashamed and laugh anyways to appear smarter.
When someone points out that we misspelled some words on our social media post, we get mad. And block them from future posts.
Even if you are intelligent, when the knowledge is from an area that you don’t know much about you downplay it.
Like if you’re playing one of those trivia games at the local pub and you’ve been knocking it out of the park as you showcase your knowledge of history, arts, and literature.
But the next question is:
What is the biggest Football Game of the National Football League?
And you answer: The world series?
To save face, you start talking about how, “sports are the drudgery of society,” and, “true intellect is not measured by your ability to name batting averages.”
But we say that, because we are ashamed.
We’re ashamed because we’re measuring shame by intelligence.
But your intelligence doesn’t determine your level of shame.
Paul continues, “Not many of you were influential…” (v.26) The word in Greek refers to “being able to do something” or “to be powerful”. This word is used to describe two different types of power, both of which, we often use to measure whether we should feel shame or not.
(2a) Physical Power
This is the reason that people can be so very intimidated to go to the gym. We measure worth by how much we can lift. If the muscle-bound monkeys are throwing a couple hundred pounds over their heads over there and I’m over here pulling apart a pink rubber band, I feel ashamed because I’m measuring greatness by physical power.
Maybe this happens to you:
Maybe you feel ashamed because your physical health isn’t where it should be.
Maybe you feel ashamed because you aren’t as athletic as your friends.
Maybe you feel ashamed because you ate a whole bag of Doritos for morning snack.
But there’s a second kind of power that also induces feelings of shame:
(2b) Influential Power
This is the type of power that fits better into the context of 1 Corinthians. It has to do with influence in the community, at your job, in your family, or even in your church.
Are you embarrassed by how many YouTube followers you have?
Do you like your own Facebook posts just so it looks like you have more influence?
Are you self-conscious about how your spouse has a better job title than you? So, you made up a title for yourself?
Are you jealous of someone at church because they are in a leadership position? So, at every chance you get, you say things like, “That position’s really unimportant.”
Your level of influence doesn’t determine your level of shame.
(3) Social Status
Finally, Paul writes, “Not many of you were of noble birth… (v.26) The word in Greek here literally means “well-born”, that is, “born while well off.” It has to do with your genealogy and, as a result, your social status. Paul is reminding the Corinthians that not many of them were born into social privilege. It wasn’t as if they lost social privilege by becoming Christians.
The point? Don’t measure your shame by your social status.
Because the world would love to tell you when your social status should cause you shame.
If you listen to it, it’s easy to feel ashamed.
It’s easy to feel ashamed if your family doesn’t have a lot of money.
It’s easy to feel ashamed if your family was homeless.
It’s easy to feel ashamed if your dad was in jail.
It’s easy to feel ashamed if you can’t afford the clothes to make you feel as put together as the other job applicants.
It’s easy to feel ashamed if your family has a history of alcoholism.
It’s easy to feel ashamed if you grew up in foster care.
But if you’re feeling ashamed because of your social status, you’re believing the world’s lie.
Social status doesn’t determine your level of shame.
III. God’s Standards of Shame
What does determine actual shame?
It isn’t our standards.
It is God’s standards.
Look at what Paul writes next:
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (v.27-29)
Some of the most shameless people at the time of Jesus were a group called the Pharisees.
The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the day.
And to be fair…
They were intelligent.
They were quite rich.
They were influential in their neighborhoods.
But they were also quite shameless.
They’d flaunt their intelligence by using big Hebrew words that commoners couldn’t follow.
They’d flaunt their riches by walking around in expensive robes.
They’d flaunt their influence by reminding people daily, “Did you know I’m a Pharisee?”
As a result of their influence, intelligence, and social status, they were praised by society!
Imagine how they felt when Jesus left them out.
When he selected “idiot” fishermen…
When he ministered to “street beggars”…
When he rubbed shoulders with prostitutes, thieves, and outcasts.
Only to turn to the Pharisees and say.
These ones that you shame.
These ones are valued members of God’s family.
Why did Jesus do this?
So the Pharisees would be jealous.
So the Pharisees would be forced to think.
So the Pharisees would realize they were using the wrong measurement.
God chose the “SHAMEFUL” things (according to human standards) so the “UNASHAMED” (according to human standard) would realize their SHAME (according to his standards).
God finds value in holiness.
God finds value in godliness.
God finds value in “without-sin-ness.”
So many people miss that.
God must love me ‘cause I’m smart.
…‘cause I’m pretty.
…‘cause I’m muscular.
…‘cause I’m successful.
…‘cause I’m privileged.
God doesn’t use human standards.
God uses God standards.
God says, “Be holy as I am holy.” (Lev. 19:2)
God says, “Be perfect as I am perfect.” (Mt. 5:48)
God finds value in holiness.
God finds shame in sin.
Therefore, Jesus came to earth.
To remove our sin.
Which would remove our shame.
Which would leave God unashamed to have us in his family.
But if worldly things get in the way…
If you think like a Pharisee and use your own human standards.
Then, you miss out on the Savior.
TRUTH: Real shame comes from missing out on your SAVIOR from SHAME.
IV. The Savior from Shame
When you see your REAL shame.
When you see your REAL Savior from shame.
When you see Jesus?
Shame goes away.
Paul writes, “It is because of God that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (v.30)
To be “in Christ Jesus” means to have faith in him.
It means you are not in shame.
But you are in Jesus.
Believers in Christ are no longer in shame.
And look at the benefits of being in Jesus:
Because true wisdom comes from knowing Jesus. Knowing Jesus is knowing forgiveness of sins. It’s knowing removal of guilt. It’s knowing how to get to heaven.
You don’t get that from achieving a high-level degree.
You don’t get that from having honor cords.
You don’t get that from answer 49 out of 50 IQ question on a Facebook quiz.
You get to heaven by knowing and trusting Jesus.
By God’s standard, knowing Jesus means you are wise.
It doesn’t matter if you retook the 4th grade.
It doesn’t matter if you got a high school diploma.
It doesn’t matter what your GPA was.
If you know Jesus, by God’s standards you’re wise.
Righteousness is a courtroom term. It’s a term used by a judge. In fact, a judge determines if you are righteous or not.
If you aren’t? Then you’re guilty. That’s shameful.
The news will report that you’re guilty.
Twitter will trend with your guilty verdict.
Your face will appear on the front page of the Slammer.
But in Jesus?
You aren’t guilty.
You are unashamed because there’s not any wrongdoing anyone can pin on you.
Holiness has to do with purity.
In the Old Testament, if there was something impure about you, you need to do a ceremonial washing.
If you touched a dead body, unclean. Wash your hands.
If you ate the wrong food, unclean. Wash your hands.
If you had bled, unclean. Wash your hands.
If you were impure, then you dare not come anywhere near the temple.
You’d better stay outside the temple.
Across the street.
Near all the dirty scoundrels.
But in Jesus?
Cross the street.
Walk up the temple steps.
Go through the temple door.
Walk all the way up to the front altar…
Imagine for a second that you’re a young man taking a young girl out for a first date. You promised you’d pay. They’re excited. You pick them up. You take them to the restaurant. You let them order up as my appetizers as they want. You’re excited to show them that you’re a working man at your newspaper deliver job.
But when you get the bill.
You don’t have enough money.
You excuse yourself to the restroom and text your mom to wire you some money.
Because it’s way less shameful than saying to your date, ‘Can you spot me a $5?”
Jesus is our redemption.
In Jesus, we have enough of a payment.
In Jesus we have heaven.
We are a part of God’s family.
We are UNASHAMED.
V. What Now?
(1) Be Unashamed about Jesus!
All of this leads to Paul’s final point for the Corinthians, “Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
What’s his point?
Stop worrying about earthly standards.
Stop finding your glory in how wise you are.
Stop finding your glory in how influential you are.
Stop finding your glory in how high your social status is.
Stop bringing other people down just to make yourself look better.
Instead, find your value in Jesus.
Boast about his love for you.
Boast about your Savior.
Be unashamed of the one who removed your shame. Amen.
Social distancing isn’t my favorite.
Maybe it isn’t yours either.
But if you ever feel like you’re social distancing life isn’t very fun for you, google #SocialDistancingFails. You’ll quickly realize maybe you don’t have it so bad.
Like this guy who wanted some bananas, because he wanted to stay safe, he ordered 3 bananas for delivery –and received three bunches instead.
Or the guy whose phone stopped working, but because the repair shop was closed, he bought himself a brand-new phone – which he proceeded to drop as he opened the package.
Or this family, whose kid heard his mom talking about how she’d have to give him a haircut since the barber was closed, so - he tried it himself.
Social distancing is necessary for preventing the spread of the virus.
But it may also exacerbate another struggle:
Loneliness has been a problem in America before social distancing was ever a thing.
Today we’re going see how Jesus gives us VICTORY OVER LONELINESS. 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. What Makes the Good Shepherd “Good”
The Scripture we’re going to start with today comes from John 10.
Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd.” (John 10:11)
Shepherding was very common at the time of Jesus. Shepherds would usually take their flocks outside the city. They’d watch over them as they grazed. They’d lead them to water. They’d protect the sheep from any dangerous predators.
If you were a good shepherd, the sheep would be generally well fed.
You’d be awake watching the flock, for as long as your shift lasted.
And when the owner showed up to ask how you were doing, you were amicable.
That’s the human definition of “good” shepherd.
But that’s not God’s definition of a GOOD shepherd:
The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired man, who is not a shepherd, does not own the sheep. He sees the wolf coming, leaves the sheep, and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the sheep and scatters them. Because he works for money, he does not care about the sheep. (John 10:11-13)
In the literal sense of what Jesus says, let’s not judge the hired hand too harshly.
We see the passage and we think – how awful that hired hand is – he runs away from those poor sheep.
How could he do that?
If you worked at Starbucks, would you be willing to mix up a Latte, if it meant dodging machine gun fire over your head?
If you were a dog walker, would you keep doing your job, even if there were reports of land mines planted up and down your street?
If you were an accountant, would you be willing to do people’s taxes, even if alligators kept attacking you every time you started a spreadsheet (because they love “crunching” numbers)?
Of course not.
These are just jobs.
They might not be worth your life.
This is happening right now.
People aren’t going to work, because it isn’t worth getting the Coronavirus and possibly dying.
It’s the same thing with shepherding.
Shepherding was a regular line of work.
You got paid to watch sheep.
Most shepherds would not lay down their lives for their sheep.
Because $10 bucks an hour is not worth becoming a deli sandwich for a wolf pack.
Most shepherds wouldn’t lay down their lives for the sheep.
Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)
Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
You are his sheep.
Jesus lays down his life for you.
Key TRUTH 1:
The Good Shepherd would rather lose HIS LIFE than lose YOU.
II. The Good Shepherd Rescues
And you ask, “How was God about to lose me?”
Do you want to know the honest truth about sin?
Sin is reprehensible to God.
Granted – some sins are repulsive to us too.
But not all sin is.
You probably don’t have a problem with a few lies.
A gossipy comment on Facebook.
A lustful look every now and then.
A brief headache from a night of overdrinking.
Even a short, three-minute complaint session about your spouse.
Here’s where God is different.
God won’t allow SIN in his PRESENCE.
It’s like that one friend on Facebook that gets a bit too political for your taste.
They post every hour on the hour.
Unfortunately, you’ve paused to get angry at his posts long enough that Facebook recognizes your interests and shows you more and more of his political commentary.
Until eventually, you can’t stand it anymore.
You click in the upper right-hand corner.
You SNOOZE him for 30 days.
You have successfully removed him from your presence.
That’s how God feels about sin.
He hates sin so much that he wants sin completely removed from his presence.
But it’s deeper than that.
The other day there was a stink coming from our house. I couldn’t exactly identify what the stink was, so I tried various things.
Open the windows? Didn’t get rid of it.
Grab some Febreeze and cover the couches? Nope.
Burn a Pumpkin Spiced Latte candle? Now it just smells like Pumpkin Spiced Latte stink.
Finally, I got a bit too close to my dog, Clay.
I gave him a sniff.
And immediately took him outside.
If you want to treat the stink, remove the source of the stink.
God truly wants to treat sin.
But he knows that he can’t just treat the symptoms of sin.
He must remove the source.
And what’s the source of a sin? A sinner.
What’s the source of your sin?
Look at what Isaiah 59:2,
Your sins have separated you from your God!
Read that again. Slowly.
Your sins have separated YOU from God.
It doesn’t say, “Your sins have separated themselves from God!”
It says, “Your sins have separated YOU from God. “
God won’t allow SINNERS in His PRESENCE.
Friend, listen to God’s Word.
If this isn’t corrected, you’ll be socially distanced from God for all of eternity.
It’s the worse social isolation of all time.
Hell is eternal social distancing from God!
It’s a place where God isn’t there.
Sometimes on earth – things are bad.
But…at least we’ve got God.
There’s no GOD in hell.
There’s only LONELINESS.
But you see, this is where the Good Shepherd comes in.
Even though God, as Holy Judge, can’t stand your sin,
God, as Good Shepherd, can’t stand losing you.
He noticed that you were missing.
He noticed that you weren’t with the flock.
He noticed that you weren’t safely in God’s pastures.
The Good Shepherd picked up his staff.
The Good Shepherd put on his cloak.
The Good Shepherd walked out of his pasture.
The Good Shepherd came into Valley of the Shadow of Death. (We call it: Earth.)
And on earth, he found you.
Surrounded by wolves:
All led by that alpha dog, Satan.
But the Good Shepherd wasn’t afraid.
The Good Shepherd didn’t turn back.
The Good Shepherd made a deal with the wolves.
“Let my sheep go.”
“You can have me instead.”
And the wolves tore him to shreds.
They surrounded him!
They roughed him up.
They barked insults at him.
They tore his clothing.
They salivated as his blood.
And howled with delight as he died.
Why did the Shepherd allow this?
Why didn’t he run?
To save you.
The Good Shepherd allowed the wolves to HARM him that they wouldn’t harm YOU.
Allow me to give you a straightforward message from God’s word.
Because of what the Good Shepherd did, the wolf of sin no longer surrounds you.
Because of what the Good Shepherd, the wolf of guilt cannot lick its chops.
Because of what the Good Shepherd did, you will not be eternally isolated.
Because of what the Good Shepherd did, you are not separated from God.
Because of what the Good Shepherd did, you…have been brought…home.
KEY TRUTH 2:
The Good Shepherd saved you from ETERNAL ISOLATION.
III. The Good Shepherd Lives
Granted, that is great news!
You aren’t alone.
You are in God’s flock.
You are a part of God’s pasture.
You aren’t spiritually isolated from God.
It’s a bit dissatisfying.
We’re out of isolation.
But we had to lose the Good Shepherd in order to get here.
It’s too bad he couldn’t overpower the wolves.
Look at what Jesus says in verse 18:
No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it up again. (v.18)
Do you see that?
The wolves didn’t take the Good Shepherd’s life,
The Good Shepherd gave his life to them.
And why did he give it?
Because he knows he could take his life back again.
The Good Shepherd let the wolves OVERPOWER him because he knew he could overpower DEATH.
Talk about a skillset!
I don’t think any other shepherd had that skill.
Some were skilled at navigating to find water.
Others were skilled at identifying non-poisonous plants for the sheep to eat.
A few could probably sheer the wool into a killer mohawk.
But the Good Shepherd’s greatest skill?
Mastery over death.
And that’s exactly what happened!
Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead.
He came out of the grave.
He resurrected his own body.
And he lives!
KEY TRUTH 3:
The Good Shepherd LIVES!
Right now, he’s with you.
Right now, he’s watching over you.
Even if you’re at home alone.
Even if you’re in a hospital bed alone.
Even if you haven’t seen another person in 16 days!
Jesus is with you.
You aren’t alone.
IV. The Good Shepherd Knows You
Sometimes you’d rather be alone than with someone.
For instance, I have no desire to be left alone with any kind clown.
Not a creepy one.
Not a regular one.
Not Bozo the clown.
I’d rather be alone than with any of those clowns.
Maybe it’s similar for you.
Maybe you don’t want to be alone with your 7th grade math teacher.
Maybe you don’t want to be alone with your ex-spouse.
Maybe you don’t want to be alone with that former friend who dragged your name through the mud.
Maybe you don’t want to be alone with a stranger!
Picture that. Imagine you were isolated with someone who didn’t know you and you didn’t know them.
I see that you have hair.
So…what’s your favorite flavor of Dorito?
Jesus isn’t a stranger.
“I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.” (V.15)
Granted, there are billions of people in the world. It would be downright impossible for any one human to know them all.
In fact, I doubt there’s anyone in Raleigh who knows everyone in Raleigh.
Honestly, I don’t think I know all the people on my Facebook feed.
But Jesus knows all of those people.
And Jesus knows YOU.
And he knows you WELL.
Jesus knows YOU as intricately as he knows his FATHER.
God is Triune.
That means he is three in one.
The Father is God.
Jesus is God.
The Holy Spirit is God.
Yet there aren’t three gods, but one God.
The Father is God.
Jesus is God.
The Holy Spirit is God.
Yet there isn’t just one person, but three distinct persons.
This is impossible to fully grasp and understand.
But God gets it.
He understands how the three persons in the Godhead intersect.
He knows where one ends and the other begins.
He grasps how they are all three perfectly united as one Being.
And that’s how well God knows you.
He knows your fears.
He knows your sadness.
He knows your heartaches.
He knows what you’re going through right now.
And he is there with you.
Jesus knew your SECRET sin – and still DIED for you.
That’s what he repeats in verse 15. He says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.”
But Jesus isn’t repeating it just to show off.
He wants you to know how well he knows you.
He knows that it was YOU who stole the cookie from the cookie jar way back when you were 6.
He knows that it was YOU who graffitied that bathroom stall in high school.
He knows that it was YOU who passed on that gossip about your best friend.
He knows what YOU did behind closed doors.
He knows what YOU did under cover of darkness.
He knows what YOU did and have never told anyone.
He knows it.
And he still died for you.
KEY TRUTH 4:
The Good Shepherd KNOWS you better than ANYONE.
He knows your strengths.
He knows your weaknesses.
He knows exactly how he’ll work through you to bring more sheep into his sheep pen.
This leads to the “What Now?” for the week.
V. What Now?
(1) Call Out to Sheep Outside the Pen!
Jesus says this, “I also have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. (v.16)
Jesus isn’t satisfied with the sheep that are in his sheep pen now.
There are others who don’t know about his love.
There are others who aren’t believers.
There are others who aren’t a part of his sheep pen...
If that’s you, listen to his voice right now.
He’s calling you.
Come into the sheep pen.
But for those of us already in the sheep pen, this is Jesus command to us.
Call out to those other sheep.
Tell them about Jesus.
Share with them the Gospel message.
If you know someone who doesn’t know about Jesus, write their name down.
Write it down and then, here’s what I want you to do.
Look for ways to share Jesus with them.
You could talk with them about Jesus.
You could send them a text message with a link to this video.
You could send them an inspirational scripture.
Do this today – and then – put the note on your fridge –
So that you can do it again later this week.
The truth is that sometimes you must keep calling and calling.
If you have a pet, you understand this.
As you keep calling and calling, the Good Shepherd’s voice will be heard through your voice…
Calling them home.
(2) Call Out to Sheep Inside the Pen
Right now, we can’t physically get together.
But we need to still stay connected.
Look at what verse 17 says:
Then there will be one flock and one shepherd.
We are one flock.
We have one shepherd.
Write down someone that you know from our church community.
You can use the same piece of scratch paper.
Write down someone that you know and haven’t talked to in a while.
Got it down?
Reach out to them today.
Text to see how they’re doing.
Call to see what’s been going on.
Facetime so that you can smile at them.
Not only will they be hearing your voice.
Not only will you be hearing theirs.
But together, you’ll be hearing the Good Shepherd’s.
Because sheep know their shepherd’s voice.
There’s this video on YouTube of a field trip to a farm.
They came to the pasture with the sheep and the shepherd asked them to each take a shot at calling the sheep over to the gate.
The first kid tried, “Here sheepy! Sheepy!”
The second kid tried, “C’mon! Sheep. This way!”
A chaperone tried, “Baa! Baa! Come over here!”
Finally, it was the shepherd’s turn.
Now, it’s in Norwegian, so I’ll give you my best guess, but…
The shepherd calls out: “Alright sheep. Time to go!”
As soon as they hear his voice, the sheep look up.
As soon as he finishes his sentence, the sheep start moving.
Within 15 seconds, the whole flock comes running to their shepherd’s voice.
The sheep know the voice of their shepherd.
We know the voice of our shepherd.
And our shepherd says, “We aren’t alone.” Amen.
We are in the middle of our VICTORIOUS sermon series. So far, we’d talked about how Jesus gives us victory over DEATH and FEAR.
Maybe you listened to both of those messages.
You felt encouraged.
But then, a few days later, you started to DOUBT.
Today we’re going see how Jesus gives us VICTORY OVER DOUBT. 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. Why Thomas Doubted
As a case study for doubt, we’re going to look at the story of one disciple named Thomas.
In fact, Thomas is such a good case study for doubt that he has developed the nickname “Doubting Thomas.”
This is unfortunate.
I bet he wishes he was remembered as “Believing Thomas,” “Courageous Thomas”, or even “Good Dental Hygiene Thomas.”
I doubt Thomas wanted to be known for Doubt.
But Thomas, one of the Twelve, the one called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. (John 20:24)
This account occurs late into the evening on that first Easter.
This after the women see the stone rolled open from the tomb.
This is after the women talk to angels who tell them about the resurrection.
This is after Mary Magdalene sees Jesus near the tomb.
This is after the other women meet Jesus outside the cemetery.
This is after two disciples traveling to Emmaus meet and speak with Jesus for three-plus hours.
This is after Peter gets a one-on-one visit from Jesus.
And this is after Jesus enters the locked room filled with 10 of the Twelve apostles - minus Judas, who took his own life and Thomas.
And I don’t know what Thomas was doing.
…Was he out shopping?
…Was he out visiting friends?
…Was he out grabbing some Starbucks orders?
…Was he stocking up on hand sanitizer for the group?
I don’t know.
The point is that he missed Jesus’ appearance.
So, the other disciples kept telling him, “We have seen the Lord!” (v.5)
You wouldn’t believe it Thomas – He was alive!
Peter was scared. He thought it was a ghost. But it was real!
He let us touch his hands.
We put our fingers into the nail holes.
We placed our hands into the speak mark in his side.
He is alive! Isn’t it amazing!?!
And Thomas listened.
He stroked his beard.
And said, “It is amazing…how absolutely gullible you think I am!”
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25)
Thomas didn’t trust his friends’ words.
Not as much as his eyesight.
Not as much as his sense of touch.
But it was more than just not trusting his friends.
Thomas trusted him OWN ABILITIES more than Jesus’ DIVINE ABILITIES
Thomas trusted his own ability to determine the veracity of the resurrection.
More than Jesus’ ability to accomplish one.
This is foolish when you consider the differences in Thomas and Jesus.
Thomas had the ability to defeat a cold, if he drank a lot of Orange Juice.
Jesus could beat a cold by speaking to it.
Thomas had the ability to float on water.
Jesus had the ability to walk on it.
Thomas had the ability to go to the local McDonalds and buy a Fish Filet.
Jesus had the ability to make 5000 more out of thin air.
It’s silly to trust a human being more than a Divine being.
It’s silly to trust a human being – even if that human being is yourself – more than Divine God.
II. Why We Doubt
This is not political, but pastoral.
In New York, the number of diagnoses each day has been going down. That’s good news. And maybe you saw that in response to that, the governor said this:
“The number is down because we brought the number down.” “God did not do that. Faith did not do that. Destiny did not do that. A lot of pain and suffering did that... That’s how it works. It’s math. And if you don’t continue to do that, you’re going to see that number go back up. And that will be a tragedy if that number goes back up.”
I get it. He was trying to tell people to keep social distancing, because it’s working.
But to say that it’s working apart from God?
Why can’t God have worked through a variety of messages, to turn people to do the kind thing and stay home… in addition to providing doctors and nurses the know how to work with patients and government leaders the wisdom to make wise policies.
Doubting that God is alive and working.
Sounds a lot like Thomas doubting that Jesus is alive and working.
Why do humans doubt God so much?
A few reasons…
(1) Doubt Arises from trusting HUMAN SENSES more than Jesus.
This was Thomas’ simple reason for not believing.
Unless he saw Jesus, touched Jesus, smelled Jesus, and heard Jesus, he wouldn’t believe.
It’s the same with us.
I don’t see God helping me with my finances, I only see it going down.
I don’t hear God’s voice calming my fears. I only hear the cries of panic from the rest of the world.
I can’t touch Jesus and give him a hug. I can’t touch anyone and give them a hug!
God doesn’t care.
God isn’t helping.
God isn’t there. y cares.
Do you realize how unreliable human senses really are?
Have you ever been to the eye doctor and had to cover up one of your eyes to read the eye chart? And they ask you to read line 4 and you’re like, “I think that’s a F. I know that’s an F. It must be an F.” So, you say, “I think it’s an F” and they say, “Nope. That’s an E.”
Our eyes are not totally reliable.
Have you ever seen those Febreze commercials where they blindfold people and put them in a room filled with garbage! Old banana peels, dirty diapers, mounds of pet hair. But…they cover it up with Febreze and the people think, “We must be in some kind of a rose a garden.”
Our noses are not totally reliable.
Auditory hallucination occurs when a person’s brain rewires itself to believe that certain thoughts or segments of music are being heard when in fact they are not. This can be caused by a concussion, a brain lesion, psychiatric disease or even high levels of caffeine. In an article published by the Scientific American, an estimated 15% of American Adults aged 18-64 regularly struggle with audio hallucinations, while that number doubles to 33% after the age of 65.
Our ears are not totally reliable.
He told a paralytic to walk and he did.
He told a blind man to see and he did.
He told a deaf man to hear and he did.
Trust Jesus more than your Senses.
(2) Doubt Arises from trusting HUMAN FEELINGS more than Jesus.
It wouldn’t make a lot of sense to conclude, “I’m feeling gloomy today, therefore, the sun must not be in existence anymore.”
Nor it is sensible to say, “I’m feeling scared, therefore, giant spider aliens must have invaded earth.”
Objective truth is not tied to subjective feeling.
Yet, we do this with God all the time.
I don’t feel very happy about the pandemic, God, so this must be the wrong choice.
The virus is making me sad, God, so you must not care about me.
I feel angry at the economic ramifications, so I’ve concluded that God is in the wrong.
There are all kinds of problems with trusting human emotions.
Human emotions are flimsy. They change rapidly and repeatedly.
Human emotions are singular. They consider one’s self and ignore how someone across the country is affected.
Human emotions are tied to health. If you get good sleep, it’s easier to feel happy.
But perhaps most importantly, the problem is that human feelings are tainted by sin.
You might feel sad that you aren’t able to go back to work, because making money was a great distraction from having to interact with your children.
You might feel angry that you can’t go to the gym, because you miss flirting with the instructor – even though she’s married and so are you.
I can feel sad that we’re doing online church. Some of the reasons for that sadness may be that I’m not able to feed my ego like I used to. Sinful.
But Jesus’ emotions were not tainted by sin.
When Jesus was about to go to the cross, it was the disciples who yelled at him and told him not to do it, because it made them sad.
If Jesus would have listened, they may have been happy for a moment – and currently sad as they spend forever in hell.
Instead, Jesus ignored human emotion and did what was necessary to save them – and us – with his death on the cross.
(3) Doubt Arises from trusting HUMAN REASON more than Jesus.
Here’s human reason on the coronavirus.
The coronavirus pandemic is causing suffering.
Therefore, the coronavirus pandemic isn’t good.
Therefore, God is either…
…good, but not really in control.
…in control, but not good.
…not existent at all.
Here’s some logic.
Humans aren’t perfect.
Therefore, their reasoning is imperfect.
Humans don’t know everything
Therefore, their reasoning is limited.
Humans aren’t always right.
Therefore, their reasoning is morally flawed.
If human reason is limited, imperfect, and morally flawed, then…
Maybe our reasoning about God during crisis is limited, imperfect, and flawed too.
It is unlimited.
It is perfect.
It is always right.
It is still unlimited.
it is still perfect.
it is still right.
III. Why We Shouldn’t Doubt
Like in the case of Thomas.
It didn’t make sense to Thomas that Jesus was alive.
It wasn’t rational.
It wasn’t reasonable.
Thomas didn’t understand it.
He gave his ultimatum.
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25)
After eight days, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Take your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting but believe.” (John 20:26-27)
Thomas touches the goosebumps on Jesus arms.
He runs his fingers over the nail marks in his hands.
He puts his hand through the spear mark in his side.
“My Lord and my God!” (v.28)
That’s a total transformation.
Jesus has driven away Thomas’ doubt.
Instead asking “Why should I believe?” he begins to ask, “Why did I ever doubt?”
Jesus changes “why believe” into “why doubt.”
When you think about this story objectively, there were all kinds of reasons to believe.
There had been twenty-some eyewitness reports.
These reports came from a variety of appearances.
The tomb was empty.
There had been a group of trusted friends telling him that they had seen Jesus.
There had even been Jesus’ own promises that he would rise from the dead – long before it ever happened.
Jesus changes “why believe” into “why doubt.”
That’s true for you too.
Because Jesus conquered death.
Jesus conquered your sin.
Jesus lives on high.
He is still in control.
He is still in love with you.
And he is still working all things for your eternal good.
Stop doubting and believe.
IV. How to battle Doubt
Yet…we do struggle.
We are sinners.
We are weak.
We are imperfect.
If we live, we will face doubts.
How do we battle doubt?
A few lessons from Scripture:
(1) Recognize YOU Can’t Stop Doubt
This is an important point. Because what I fear some of you might do when you are done with this worship service is to say to yourself, “I need to stop doubting. I can do it.” Then, you head into the corner, scrunch your face up, and say, “Stop doubting. Stop doubting. Stop doubting.”
This will not work.
It won’t be long before you say, “I doubt that I can keep this up.”
After Thomas’ confession of faith, look at Jesus’ response:
“Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (v.29)
Did you hear that?
Jesus called people who believe without seeing as BLESSED.
Blessed can mean “gifted.”
People who believe without seeing didn’t develop that ability on their own.
God gave it to them.
Faith is a GIFT.
It isn’t something you earn.
It isn’t something you do.
It is something that God gives.
(2) Let God Battle Doubt for You
Though Jesus’ implies that faith without seeing is something that’s impossible for a human to accomplish on their own, in that same sentence, Jesus also implies that people do believe.
Look at John’s answer:
Jesus, in the presence of his disciples, did many other miraculous signs that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (v.30-31)
Did you see it?
God wants you to know the reality of the risen Jesus.
God wants you to know so that you live forever in heaven with him.
God wants you to know and – in order that you would know – he inspired John to write it down for you.
God’s Word Battles Doubt for Us
Doubting that God will take care of your family? God’s Word says, “The Lord is my shepherd. He leads me beside quiet water. He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23)
Doubting that God will be able to conquer COVID-19? God’s Word says, “Praise the Lord, my soul, forget not God’s benefits – He forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.” (Psalm 103)
Doubting that God will give you the finances you need? God’s Word says, “Look at the birds of the air; they don’t work, yet our heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable?” (Matthew 6)
Doubting that God isn’t mad at you from all your sin? God’s Word says, “In Jesus we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Ephesians 1:7)
God’s Word battles doubt for us.
When you are starting to doubt.
When you are feeling like God isn’t in control.
When your senses, emotions, and reason are battling you, run to God’s Word and let God battle for you.
And then, once the doubts subside…
(3) Anchor Yourself to God’s word
The one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6)
Because life is very much like a sea.
Our senses smack us in the face like waves.
Our emotions swirl around us.
Reason flies into our face like the wind.
When you are anchored in God’s Word.
When you are clinging to God’s promises.
When you are holding to Jesus…
You will not sink into doubt.
But stand on Jesus. Amen.
Last week we began our sermon series called VICTORY and were reminded how Jesus won the VICTORY over death with his glorious resurrection. Today we’re going back to the very first Easter to learn something else that Jesus gives use victory over. 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. When Fear Reigns
On the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were together…(Jn. 20:19)
I don’t think I’ve ever read this portion of Scripture before and felt so envious.
They weren’t practicing social distancing.
They got to be together.
They didn’t have to ZOOM.
They didn’t have to log on to YouTube.
Andrew didn’t have to tell Peter to turn his sound off when he wasn’t talking so that you could hear James the Less.
The disciples were together.
They weren’t having a meal.
They weren’t playing Settlers of Catan.
They weren’t enjoying drinks and throwing darts.
They were scared.
…the disciples were together… behind locked doors because of their fear of the Jews. (Jn. 20:19)
A latch at the top of the door.
A key lock from the inside.
A circular deadbolt.
A square deadbolt.
A combination lock.
One of those big old pieces of wood that you slide in front of the door.
A couple of chains.
A metal boot.
Even a bunch of chairs, tables, and boxes pushed in front.
The doors were locked because of the fear of the Jews.
They were talking about the religious leaders.
These guys were murderers.
They were vicious.
They had plotted.
They had planned.
They had pushed their agenda until Jesus had been brutally crucified.
If they did that to their leader, they might not stop until each of them was nailed to a cross.
But their fears were more than that…
The disciples were out of a job! With Jesus gone, their whole corporation had folded.
They couldn’t get out and make an income. They’d be risking arrest.
They were afraid for the future of their careers, afraid for the future of their families, and afraid for the future of their church
I bet they were even afraid of how they were going to get food through the night.
Without Jesus, FEARS reigns.
Because if Jesus were here, they’d be protected from the Roman soldiers. Jesus even drove out demons.
If Jesus were here, they didn’t need to worry about money. He once caught a fish with the exact amount of money needed to pay taxes.
If Jesus were here, they’d be taken care of, he fed over 5000 people with a few loaves of bread and two fish. He could use that leftover ground beef in the fridge and turn it into a Taco Supreme with the snap of his fingers.
Jesus wasn’t there.
And without Jesus,
This is a big problem in our world right now.
The devil is trying to distract us with bad report after bad report, terrible news after terrible news, horrible thing after horrible thing.
So that we miss out on Jesus.
Without Jesus, Fear reigns.
If I’m honest…
It’s worked on me.
I’ve been afraid.
What are some things that pastors are afraid of during COVID-19? I’ll tell you.
Afraid of never getting another high five.
Afraid that having to stay between lines will condition me not to move back and forth while I preach.
I’m afraid that we will lose momentum.
Afraid that those Sanctuary Updates…may never happen?
Afraid that our idea for a satellite church in Durham will stall.
Afraid that offerings will go down and we’ll have to trim our ministries?
Afraid that Precious Lambs will barely survive.
Afraid that we’ll lose families.
Afraid that we’ll lose workers.
Afraid that the virus might get to one of you.
Afraid that the virus might be spread by me.
Afraid that because of quarantine laws, one of our members might be dying and I won’t be able to see you in person before your final breath.
Afraid that we might not be able to get to little Daniela.
Afraid that she’ll get sick.
Afraid that since she’s immunocompromised that if she gets sick…
…I’ll never get to meet her.
That’s how it feels when the devil distances me from Jesus.
Because without Jesus, FEAR reigns.
II. Replacing Fear
But here’s the good news for you and me:
…The devil can never do that for very long.
…Because Jesus always finds his people.
…even behind locked doors.
Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, “Peace be with you!” (Jn. 20:19)
To be honest, their initial reaction was probably fear. In fact, the Gospel of Luke tells us that, “they were terrified and thought they were looking at a ghost.” (Luke 24:37)
To help with their fears, “Jesus showed them his hands and side” (20:20a)
Here. Feel the bumps on my skin.
Put your hands on my face. Warm, right?
Touch the ridges of the nail scars.
Notice the spear shaped mark in my side.
I’m not a ghost
I’m not a figment of your imagination.
And here’s what happens next
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. (v.20b)
Did you see that?
It had been a room filled with fear.
But when Jesus enters the room?
He turns it all around.
And its replacement?
Jesus replaces FEAR with JOY.
Afraid of lost income? Jesus offers your eternal riches that will never run out.
Afraid of a lost job? Jesus gives you a place working aside him in his kingdom.
Fearful of the virus? Jesus defeated death itself!
Fearful for your family? Jesus says you will always be a part of his.
Fearful for your church? Jesus is the church’s One foundation. It will not lose.
Afraid of being alone? Jesus is with you now and will never leave you.
III. Proclaiming Peace
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Look at what he does next:
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you! Just as the Father has sent me, I am also sending you.” (Jn. 20:21)
Notice how that starts: PEACE. Jesus says it again!
And I don’t think any of the disciples were upset that Jesus repeated himself. (Honestly, there shouldn’t be a limit in the number of times that God’s people can hear him say: “PEACE.”)
But I think there’s a reason he does this specifically here.
As they realize that it’s all true.
As they realize that Jesus really rose from the dead.
As they realize that he truly was standing before them…
It’s quite possible that another fear hit them.
He’s come to get us back!
Last we saw him, we abandoned him.
We denied him.
We went and hid while he faced death by himself.
We are sinners. Our Holy God has returned to get us!
Oh no! Please shoot your lightning bolts in Peter’s direction. It was all his idea!
But Jesus didn’t shoot them with a lightning bolt.
He didn’t yell at them.
He didn’t even give them a stern look.
He simply said:
I’m not here to hurt you.
Your sins are forgiven.
I’m not here to hurt you.
I’m here to recruit you.
PEACE-filled people proclaim PEACE.
Imagine with me what it will be like.
You’re watching the news.
Suddenly, there’s a breaking report.
The quarantine is over.
The virus is in remission.
What are you going to do when your spouse comes into the room and ask, “Has anything interested happened?”
Are you gonna say, “Nah.”?
No, you’ll tell her the good news.
You’ll text message a friend.
You’ll Facebook live yourself doing a Coronavirus is conquered dance.
We have better news than that.
Our sins have been forgiven.
Jesus conquered death.
We have the promise of eternal life.
This is worth sharing.
IV. What Now?
How do you do it? How do we proclaim peace in a COVID-19 world? I want to switch gears and head to the book of 1 John. That is the first letter written to believers everywhere by the Apostle John. John was one of the Apostles in that room on the first Easter Sunday. He was a guy that had been filled with fear until Jesus showed up and transformed it into joy.
He knows a thing or two about driving fear from people’s hearts,
Because Jesus drove fear from his own heart.
Listen to what he writes in 1 John 4:16-18.
God is love. He who remains in love remains in God and God in him. In this way his love has been brought to its goal among us, so that we may have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are just like Jesus. There is no fear in love, but complete love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. (1 John 4:16-18)
I love how that starts.
God is love.
Love is God.
It doesn’t say that God is FEAR.
It doesn’t say that God is ANXIETY.
It doesn’t say that God is TERRIFYING.
God is love.
Because God is love, he drives our FEAR.
And, because you are loved, God drives out FEAR through YOU.
How might God drive out fear through you? A few points
(1) Fill Your Heart with God
This is an important point. Because it is hard to be loving towards others when you’re afraid.
Do you remember my dog Frankie? The one that’s absolutely terrified of laundry baskets? Usually she’s friendly.
Usually she licks your hands.
Usually she has no problem cuddling next to you and showing you puppy love.
If that laundry basket is there?
She runs away.
No love is shown.
Because it’s hard to be loving towards others when you’re afraid.
So, how do we keep fear out of our hearts? Look at verse 16 again:
He who remains in love remains in God and God in him. (1 John 4:16)
This is a cup. It’s filled with air. You know it. I know it. We all know it .
If I wanted to get rid of the air, it would be difficult.
I can pour it out? Still filled with air.
I can dump it upside down? Still filled with air.
I could crush it. It’s still filled with air.
The same is true with fear.
If you have it in your heart, it’s there.
You can try to hide.
You can try to distract.
You can drink a lot.
You can yell a lot.
In the end, fear is still there.
Do you know the only way to remove the air?
Fill it with something else.
It’s the same thing with FEAR.
The only way to DRIVE OUT fear from your heart is to FILL your heart with JESUS.
That’s what we’re doing right now. Keep doing it.
Join a daily devotional.
Add an afternoon devotional.
Add an evening devotional.
Add a bible reading before bed.
Go to sleep to the Bible app (and the guy on the Bible app has such a gentle voice)…
Go to sleep to the Bible app reading from the Psalms.
If you want to drive out fear from OTHERS, fill your own heart with JESUS.
(2) Live God’s Love
In this way his love has been brought to its goal among us, so that we may have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are just like Jesus. (1 Jn. 4:17)
Because God’s Love is much different than the world’s love. The world’s love is very emotion based. “It’s about people making you feel butterflies and fireworks and sparks.”
God is love.
And I doubt God felt butterflies for you and me on the cross.
Because we were still sinners that
Yet God is love.
He still died for us. He still rose for us. He still saved us
God’s love is not an emotional reaction.
God’s love is an action DESPITE an emotional reaction.
And God isn’t calling you to feel butterflies with everyone you meet.
He’s calling you to perform actions of love even when others make us feel like we don’t want to
God’s calling you to…
…get up from the couch, do the dishes, even if your spouse didn’t ask in a nice voice.
…text message something nice to that person at work, even if they’ve just been badmouthing you on the group chat.
…give a call to your grandma, even if she’s mostly grouchy.
…spend time with your kids, even if they’re really cranky.
…help out that neighbor, who’s never friendly and always frowning.
Live God’s action-centered love.
(3) Speak the Gospel
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. (v.18)
Perfect love? That’s impossible for sinful humans to achieve.
Perfect love? That’s exactly who Jesus is.
He lived for us.
He died for us.
He rose for us.
That’s the message of love that drives out fear!
Remember earlier – how I described my fears.
Those were real fears.
But I don’t have them anymore. Know why?
I was talking to a pastoral friend. He let me vent. He let me share my fears.
And then…do you know what he said?
Even if all that happened, you’d be ok.
Because even if all that happened, you’d still have Jesus.
In fact, you have Jesus right now.
Don’t be afraid.
Without Jesus, fear reigns.
With Jesus, fear runs.
Share Jesus. Amen.
I love Peeps.
There’s something about gooey, sugary, artificially dyed animal shapes that really get a person hyped for Easter.
I enjoy trying to smoosh them together and see how many I can fit into my mouth at once.
And usually…they are the first thing to remind me that Easter is on its way.
Suddenly, they appear in a giant display at Food Lion visible as soon as I enter.
Not this year.
This year when I went to Food Lion?
Hand sanitizing stations.
And plastic barricades.
Doesn’t it feel a bit like Easter has been overshadowed?
To be fair – this pandemic is still scary.
There have been 1,577,360 cases of COVID-19 and 93,637 deaths.
6.6 million Americans filed for Unemployment last week.
The stock market continues to volatilely jump up and down.
Experts warn that the curve hasn’t slowed down yet.
When do we get a victory?
When do we get a win?
Today we’re going to look at the very first Easter and remember the victory that’s ours Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Sadness of Easter
The lesson this morning chronicles a group of a women who were very close to Jesus. Their story doesn’t start on Easter, but on Good Friday:
Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last...But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
They saw the nails pierce his hands.
They saw the thorns break his skull.
They saw him bleed.
They saw the soldiers mock him.
They saw the religious leaders mock him.
They saw random travelers mock him.
They saw him face.
They saw him weaken
They saw his life slowly slip away…
He was no more.
Instead of Jesus, there was a cold lifeless body.
What ensued next was a bit of a hurried event.
It was Friday afternoon.
By 6 pm, the Jewish Sabbath would start.
It was against religious law to have a dead person exposed and unburied once the holy evening began.
(Granted, you might expect it to be against religious law to kill the Son of God, but…who’s keeping track really…)
The soldiers took his body down.
They quickly carried it to Pilate.
Pilate gave it to a volunteer,
who quickly wrapped up the body.
Linens around the head.
Linens around the body.
Linens around the feet.
Skip the ointments.
Skip the oils.
Skip the perfumes…
There wasn’t much time left.
Grab some soldiers.
Carry the body to a tomb.
Put it inside.
And roll a giant stone in front.
Get home in time for supper.
While all of this was going on, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. (v.55-56)
On that day of rest…
I imagine they couldn’t help but think of what they’d seen.
Flashes of the horrors that Jesus went through interrupting their daily thoughts.
Every door shut triggering the memory of that hammer.
Even the red liquid of the tomato soup matching the red of his blood.
Every unpleasant smell generating a nausea at what they’d seen.
They tried to busy their minds by busying their hands.
Crushing some herbs.
Mixing some ointments.
Heating things to the right temperature.
They needed to properly bury his body.
To do the things that time had not allowed them to do.
To give him the respect he deserved.
To get some closure on this death that was hanging over their heads.
Death over their heads.
On the very first Easter.
I can’t help but notice that this year’s Easter and the first Easter have that in common because…
Like Easter 2020, the very first Easter began with DEATH hanging over the day.
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. (v.1)
“Mary, you pour the myrrh on his feet.”
“I’ll take some frankincense to his head.”
“Other Mary, you put sprinkle some of your special blend near the torso.”
“Salome! How are we even going to do this? There’s that giant stone. It must weigh hundreds of pounds. Do you think the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb will even be willing to let us insi-”
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. (v.3)
The women looked at each other.
Their question changed from who WILL roll away the stone to who DID roll away the stone.
Was it the soldiers?
Was it those nasty pharisees?
Was it some kind of grave robber?
But inside, they found nobody.
And no body.
While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. (v.4)
Messengers of the most high!
Divine servants of the All Mighty.
The women fell to the ground with their faces in the dirt.
The only things more terrifying than DEATH is facing the one who CONTROLS it.
Angels were from God.
God hated sin.
They had sin.
Were they about to be struck down?
But the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!”
You came here searching for a tomb.
Death sealed within.
But there’s no death here.
There’s no DEATH in Jesus’ tomb. He LIVES.
Stop being sad.
Start being joyful.
II. Victory Truths
Because Jesus lives, the Bible has some important truths for us to consider.
(1) When it comes to Death, Your Level of FEAR Depends on whom You’re TRUSTING to Defeat It
I remember growing up we had a neighborhood Easter egg hunt. Beforehand, we divided up into teams in order to go and find as many Easter eggs as we could and put them in our basket. My team? We had Jon Lindloff on our team. Jon was the fastest kid on the block. He was the most athletic. He could jump the farthest. Whatever team he was on would end up winning whatever athletic contest he was in because he was that impressive. He was like the 7-year-old, small midwestern town version of Lebron James.
When we were about to start the egg hunt challenge, we were pretty confident.
We weren’t afraid of losing.
Because we had Jon Lindloff.
As you face COVID-19, where do you find confidence for victory?
A latex glove? These can break.
Some sanitizer bottle? They only kill 99.99%
Social distancing rule? What if someone else doesn’t follow it?
Doctors? What if they’re so sleep deprived and tired they can’t give you the best care?
The government? What if can’t get along and come to a partisan agreement to help?
Scientists? What if they don’t discover a vaccine before it’s too late?
Trusting in an EARTHLY things to defeat death leads to High levels of FEAR
Because all those things?
Earthly things die.
You can’t trust in a thing that dies to defeat the things that causes those earthly things to die.
You need to trust in something that doesn’t die.
Back in the tomb, as the women were trying to process what the angels were saying about Jesus, the angels were trying to process how the women didn’t expect this resurrection. They said,
Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words. (v.6b-8)
They remembered about the time Jesus said he was like Jonah. Jonah had been inside the belly of a big old fish for three day, then come out alive. Like how Jesus had been in the belly of the earth for three days, then come out alive. (Matthew 12:40)
They remembered about the time Jesus said the Pharisees should go destroy the temple, but he would rebuild it in three days. At the time, they had thought he meant the gigantic stone structure in which they worshiped, but he had really meant his body. (John 2:19)
They remembered when Jesus said he was the kind of Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep. But one who did so confidently, because he had the authority to raise his body back to life again. (John 10)
They remembered when Jesus said plainly, “I am going to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill him. But three days after he is killed, he will rise.” (Mk. 9:31)
The truth is that…
Trusting in the HEAVENLY ONE leads to high levels of CONFIDENCE.
He defeated death just as he said.
Jesus is trustworthy.
He’ll get you through what’s going on.
(2) Jesus Holds an UNBLEMISHED Record against Death.
This is the reason that the angel says to the women: “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”
Not just because Jesus is living.
But Jesus is the LIFE.
A paraphrase might be:
“You really thought measly old death could defeat Jesus? Ha! Hey, Clarence. Put down your harp. You gotta hear this. It’s a good one.”
In fact, Jesus had already proven his power over death.
He met a young girl who had died a few hours before he made it to her room. Jesus grabbed her hand and brought her back to life.
Jesus stopped a procession for a young man who had died just yesterday. Jesus touched the casket and the brought him back to life.
Jesus missed the funeral of a friend of his and approached the tomb where his friend had been buried for over four days. Jesus opened the tomb and brought him back to life.
Jesus holds an UNBLEMISHED Record against Death.
And to the victor goes the spoils!
If you win at the Olympics, you get the gold medal.
If you win at the Super Bowl, you get a super bowl ring.
If you win a boxing match, you get the winner’s purse. (Which…I always thought was an actual purse. And I wondered why manly boxers carried purses, but…turns out they just meant money…whatever).
To the winner goes the spoils.
What are the spoils for Jesus’ victory?
Peace with God.
But here’s the thing.
Jesus didn’t take these spoils for himself.
He gives them to you.
Jesus’s VICTORY over death means you receive the SPOILS.
You have forgiveness.
You have peace with God.
You have eternal Life.
This means that when it comes to the Corona Virus, you will get the victory.
Regardless of how it comes.
God keeps you safe and you never get COVID-19. You win.
You get sick, but God heals your body. You win.
You get sick. You don’t heal. You die. But then you live forever in heaven!
(3) With hope in JESUS, there is ZERO reason to fear Death.
There’s a pretty fabulous Bible passage that talks about the victory Jesus had over death. It’s found in Corinthians 15:55, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
There was a dad who was sitting outside with his little girl. They were playing. Enjoying the nice day.
When suddenly, a bee flew near them.
This was a bigger deal to the girl than to most. She was allergic.
She began to cry.
She began to wail.
Dad wrapped her up in his big bear arms.
He protected her.
The bee landed on his bicep and stung him.
After the sting, dad let the girl go.
The bee was still flying around, but dad wasn’t worried.
The bee’s stinger was stuck in him.
It couldn’t sting his daughter anymore.
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (v.56-57)
Death has lost its sting.
IT cannot sting you any longer.
It’s no longer separation from God,
But an entrance into the joys of heaven.
III. What Now?
(1) Share the Victory
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. (v.9)
There are others who are fearful.
There are others who are afraid.
There are others who are spending this Easter…with death hanging over their heads.
Give them Jesus.
It’s what the women were so excited to do. They ran out of the tomb. They left their spices behind.
Because suddenly all that mattered was telling others about Jesus’ victory over death.
Do the same.
Put everything else down.
Go to tell a neighbor.
Go tell a friend.
Go tell a family member.
Christ is Victorious!