Today we’re continuing our series called Follow. It’s all about following Jesus in 2017. Since it’s Baptism Sunday, our goal is to focus on following Jesus to the waters of Baptism. One simple goal – to understand the host of blessings that God provides those who follow him into the baptismal waters. Before we do that, join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Water of Life
We’re beginning our study in John 4 – It’s a section of Scripture that is not directly related to Baptism, at least – not at first. But it continues the story from where we left Jesus last week. Remember -- he had been identified by John the Baptist near the Jordan river. He called the disciples to follow him by the Sea of Galilee. Now they want to get to Judea. In order to get to Judea, they need to travel through a place called Samaria. That’s about a 60-mile journey!
This long before the invention of the minivan. Can you imagine that? All the disciples piled in a minivan. Peter wants to drive. John is trying to change the radio station dial. Andrew is in back: “Are we there yet?” There was no minivan. There was no car. This wasn’t even by horse. This was by foot – which was Jesus’ preferred method of travel. Still that’s a long way to walk by foot. So the group stopped near the Ancient civilization version of the rest stop: A stone well.
Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said, to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
And the woman was startled. “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” Now that might seem a bit rude, but there were some cultural reasons for her surprise.
(1) He was a Jew. She was a Samaritan. Scripture makes this note (Jews do not associate with Samaritans). If you think relations in America are bad today, they were worse amongst Jews and Samaritans. Jews purposefully would not spend time with Samaritans. So…this meeting and Jesus’ greeting was strange. It might be similar to a man in a turban approaching a young white woman or an older white man talking with a young black woman. It happens. It even happens in this church – praise the Lord – that’s a good thing. But it’s not the norm and people might think it a bit strange.
(2) In addition, he was a man – she was a woman – and they were alone. People were a lot more polite back then. Women didn’t want to unwittingly cause a man married to another woman to lust after them. Men tried hard not to woo and flirt a young woman into his bed before they were married. In fact, they were so serious about this (and perhaps as a culture we could learn a thing or two from this – but that’s another topic for another day) they refrained from speaking with members of the opposite sex in lonely places. That way there wouldn’t be any temptation.
Racism. Temptation. Both reasons for a conversation between the two of them to be strange. But I’m not sure that either of those really get to the heart of her surprise.
(3) Look at the time. Verse 6 says that, “It’s noon.” That tells us that the majority of well-visitors had gone for the day. Usually townsfolk would get there first thing in the morning to draw water for the day's’ activities. They would each take a bucket, put it on their head, bring it to the well, chat about the latest gossip in town, fill up each bucket, and then make their way back with enough water for cooking, cleaning, and drinking the rest of that day.
The only people who came at noon would have been travelers, like Jesus.
And anyone who didn’t want to meet anyone else at the well like this woman.
Jesus responds to her concerns, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (v.10)
Living water? Seriously? Sir – you don’t have anything to get the water with. It’s deep. You need something to get the water out. You can’t just lean down with your hand and scoop me some water. Unless this is some lame attempt at a pickup line. I’ll tell you what. If you can get water without a bucket and a rope – if you can get “living water” out of thin air – then you must be pretty great. You must be a magician. A great magician – even greater than Jacob – the guy who dug this well for us!
“Everyone…” Jesus interrupted her train of thought…“who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (v.13-14)
And the woman turns around with disdain on her face. Sure dude. Get me some of that water. I’d love that water. I hate having to come out here, fill up the buckets and bring them back each day – only to do it again tomorrow. If you’ve got living water, give it to me. I’d be more than happy to never have to do this stupid job again.
The woman smirked. That should have been enough sarcasm to get him to shut up. She called his bluff and now she can go back to getting the water out of the --
“Go,” Jesus said, “Call your husband and come back.” (v.16)
Immediately, the nerves throughout her body tightened. This was the reason that she didn’t come with the other women earlier in the day. "I don’t have a husband." She spoke shortly. She spoke sharply.
“You’re right. You don’t have a husband. The truth is that you’ve had five husbands – and the guy that you’re sleeping with right now; he isn’t your husband. What you have just said it quite true.” (v.16)
The woman froze. She let the bucket drop. How did he know? She had worked hard to avoid the embarrassment, to avoid the shame, to avoid the guilt. That’s why she came to the well when she did! How did this foreigner know? Who was he?
Still – that was a conversation that she did not want to have. That was sins that she did not want to drag up. So, she dropped the sarcasm and changed the subject:
Sir, you must be a prophet of some kind. Can I ask you a prophet question? We Samaritans worship on this mountain. Jewish people worship in the temple of Jerusalem. Who’s right?
And as she finished that question – the woman breathed a sigh of relief. Crisis avoided. Her past avoided. Her sins avoided.
Or so she thought.
“Woman, believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. (The place doesn’t really matter.) You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. (As in God did miracles among them and revealed his saving plan to them.) Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth…” (v.21-23)
As in making their marriage commitments true – the first time, not just the sixth time.
As in sleeping with their husband, not some guy she has no intention of staying with.
Worshipers worship in truth. Because God is spirit and his worshipers worship in truth. (v.24)
At this point – the woman’s heart must have been pounding. Her eyes widening. Sweat dripping. These were her secrets. These were her sins. These were the things that she couldn’t wash off of her soul – off of her mind and off her reputation. These were the things that had mucked up her life so much that she had given up trying – simply succumbed to the sins – and tried to avoid any reminder of her wrongdoing.
She stared at the ground. The only hope she had seemed like a fairy tale. It seemed so far off. It’s something that she remembered from her few days of Sunday School. She fought back tears. It was the only hope she had. "I know the Messiah called Christ is coming – he will explain everything to us." (v.25)
At this, Jesus leaned in. He lifted her chin. He looked into her eyes: “I, who speak to you, am He.” (v.26)
Break from the story. Do you understand what that means? Do you understand what that means for you?
Because we’re exactly like that woman. We’ve got problems. We’ve got aches. We’ve got pains. We try to deal using earthly things – money, home improvements, friends, career status, raising kids to be better than us! And we try to deal using sinful things – too much alcohol, self-medication, lust, fantasy, writing angry bitter things on our Facebook status.
But here’s the thing – all that stuff is just like that water in the well. It fills you up for a bit. Then, it fades. The money stops coming in. Your friends leave you. You lose your job. Your kids move. The drunken stupor turns into a headache. The self-medication turns into the shakes. The pornography turns into a broken relationship. The fantasy turns into a broken marriage. The bitter things on Facebook leave you without any friends.
These things are nothing more than regular water. H20. Dirty, mucky, bottom of the well wet molecules that quench thirst for a moment – but then fades away.
He’s the Water of Life.
He says to you:
I am the One who will fix it.
I am the One who will clean your soul.
I will clean up your past.
I will clean up your present.
I will clean up your future.
I am the water of life.
And the water of life is water that lasts!
He quenches our thirst for righteousness with his true righteousness gifted to us through us perfect life.
He quenches our thirst for forgiveness with his incredible sacrifice that he made on the cross.
He quenches our thirst for peace with God with his blood, shed to make peace with God.
He quenches our thirst for immortality with his incredible resurrection from the dead.
In short – you’re forgiven.
In Jesus, you are forgiven.
In Jesus, you will find a constant, eternal, never changing, unending source of spiritual nourishment.
II. The Water that Connects us to the Water of Life
Now – I said this is a message on baptism but we are now 1800 words in and I haven’t even mentioned it! That’s because baptism gets its power from Jesus. Baptism without Jesus is just water. It’s just like taking a shower, washing your hands, spraying off your dog or running through the sprinkler on a hot day.
Baptism is just water, unless Baptism is in Jesus. Then, Baptism is water that connects you to the water of life.
Listen to what Jesus said about baptism in Matthew 28:19. He said, “Go and make displaces of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
I’ve been working on fixing up our new house recently. Part of that is painting. Usually we’ve been using latex painting which comes off fairly easy. Usually with just water – but maybe a bit of soap. The other day I was staining a piece of wood. I dipped my paintbrush in. I stained the wood. Then, I took it to the sink. The paint didn’t come off like it should. In fact, it was just causing it to congeal. I went to look at the can of stain – it wasn’t latex, but oil paint. The kind that you can only get off when you wash it in paint thinner.
Here’s the deal with sin. It doesn’t come off in just water. It doesn’t come off in water and soap. It doesn’t come off in paint thinner.
Sin comes off when you wash in the Father who pours out his love for us in the promise of a Savior.
Sin comes off when you wash in the Son who shed his blood through the nail marks in his hands to win your forgiveness.
Sin comes off when you wash in the Holy Spirit who floods our hearts with God’s promises in His Word.
Sin comes off in baptism, not because of the water, but because of the Holy, incredible, divine, everlasting, all powerful, all complicated, all mysterious, all loving, Triune God of heaven and earth.
That’s why baptism isn’t just water. But water that connects you to the water of life.
This water of life gives you three blessings. Three awesome reasons to be baptized. Three awesome reasons to give thanks for your baptism:
(1) Baptism Cleans
Acts 2:38 says this, “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.” That’s a pretty powerful stand-alone statement on its own. God gives forgiveness of sins through baptism.
But it’s even more powerful when you understand the context. Because the guy preaching is Peter. The time he’s preaching is 53 days after Jesus’ crucifixion. And the people he is preaching to are literally people who stood in a crowd 53 days earlier and chanted “Crucify him! Crucify him!” about Jesus.
A bit earlier in this sermon Peter tells them that Jesus came back to life.
He tells them that this resurrection is proof that Jesus is God.
He tells them that this means they killed God.
And—not that we should rank sins – but let’s rank sins. Killing the author of Life himself is pretty high up there!
The people are hurt. The people are ashamed. The people are filled with guilt and cry out, “What must we do?” (Acts 2:37)
Peter’s response: “Repent – turn from sin and turn to God, turn from unbelief and turn to faith, And be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.” Even the sin of murdering Jesus.
That’s the cleansing power of Jesus in baptism. It washes you from your sins – no matter what your sin is!
Yelled at my wife to the point of her leaving me and now I have been bitterly blaming her for the whole ordeal and living a quiet angry, life on my own? Washed.
Baptism connects you to the cleansing power of Jesus.
(2) Baptism Rejuvenates
Titus 3:5 says this, “God saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal in Jesus.”
Because the truth is that sin is tiring. Feeling guilty is tiring. You and I – even if we’re Christians – still sin each day. At the end of the day, we’re disappointed in ourselves. We’ve failed. We may even be disgusted.
How awesome to hear: You are forgiven and be rejuvenated again.
Just like Jesus. He died. (out of energy) But three days later, Jesus came back to life. He lambasted the grave – he walked again!
By that same resurrection power, baptism resurrects you--- each day. It drowns the old, sinful you, but resurrection is the new you. The new man – the new woman – created to be apart from sin – created to live for Jesus.
(3) Baptism Uniforms You
The Super Bowl is next week. And each Super Bowl there are always people who don’t get their due. There will be lots of talk about Tom Brady and Matt Ryan. Talk about their coaches. Talk about their teams, their trainers, even their general managers. But not a lot of talk about their uniform specialists. That’s not fair. Without the uniform makers, we wouldn’t know who’s on who’s team! They wouldn’t know. The whole thing would be chaos!
Uniforms are important. Check out what Galatians 3:27 says, “All of you who have been baptized into Christ, have clothed yourselves with Christ.” You are no longer on the team of sin. You are no longer on the devil’s side. You are no longer on team ‘you.’
You are on God’s team. You are wearing the "Team Jesus" jersey.
What a team it is! It’s a team that has people of all different background and all different experiences and all different ages on it. Black and white, Asian and Latino, elderly and teenage, male and female, Republican and Democrat, Raleighian and Durhaminian. All united in Jesus Christ. All united in his family.
All on the same team.
Can I show you one last interesting note on John 4? After the woman hears that Jesus is the Messiah Scripture says that, “She left her bucket.” Interesting huh? She came with the bucket because she needed water!
She left without it because she received so much more.
If you’ve been baptized, leave content! God has done amazing things for you. You’ve been washed clean in Jesus.
If you haven’t been baptized, what are you waiting for? Jesus offers amazing blessings – all the blessings you need – Blessings that well up to eternal life.
Have you ever asked your kid to clean his room in the middle of video gaming? It never works very well.
I’m coming. Just after this level.
I’ll be there soon just a few more minutes.
Mom! I’m battling Bowser for control of the Mushroom Kingdom! If I don’t help now, the toadstools will be under his control forever. How can you talk about dirty sneakers at a time like this?
Of course – the same thing happens when you’re a grown-up.
Ever heard of a Honey-Do-List? What amazes me is how long honey do lists can become. They become long for two reasons. (1) One spouse will keep adding to it. Fix the toaster. Paint the garage. I think the heater’s broken! Could you set up a hanger system in my closet for all of my pocket scarves? (2) The other spouse will come up with reasons not to fix it. I’m going fishing. I’ve got work to do. Somebody’s gotta watch this football game, it won’t watch itself.
It makes me think: Putting things off is human nature. Procrastination is a key part of being a human.
But what about when procrastination makes its way into your spiritual life?
No big deal thing?
Today we’re continuing our series called Follow. It’s about following Jesus. Our focal point this morning is urgency. We want to learn why following Jesus is so urgent and how we can be urgent about Jesus in 2017. Before we do that, join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Urgency of Near
The main lesson comes from Matthew 4. This takes place after our lesson from last week. Remember? John had pointed at Jesus and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) The heavens opened at Jesus’ baptism. A dove landed on his shoulder and a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:15-17) Highlights.
That was a highlight for John. He had beheld the reality of his message – that a Savior was coming – with clear eyes. He must have felt pretty good.
Then, a lowlight. John, motivated by what he has seen in Jesus, keeps preaching. He preaches to the tax collectors. He preaches to prostitutes. He preaches to Pharisees. He even begins to preach to King Herod – the guy in charge of Judah. And Herod is interested in him. He wants to hear what this crazy preacher will say. He loves to hear him talk about those Pharisees. He loves to see those religious officials squirm. He loves John’s message.
Until – it hits home.
John turns and says to Herod, “And you? Stop sleeping with your brother’s wife. You aren’t married to her. She isn’t married to you. That sexual immorality. That’s one of the commandments: You shall not commit adultery. What you’re doing is wrong. It’s wrong and if you don’t change, you’re going to hell!”
Can you imagine Herod sweating? He’s embarrassed. (Thank goodness there wasn’t Twitter at that time.) He thinks it over. I can’t repent. That would make me look weak—like some crazy preacher has control over me. So instead Herod has John arrested and thrown into prison. Herod thinks, “There I’ve dealt with that. No more grand revolutionary spiritual voices for people to follow.”
And things are quiet.
When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee…From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:12,17)
What do you know about heaven? The Bible doesn’t provide a full architectural schematic of heaven. There aren’t any illustrations. You can’t find heaven on Zillow. Google Earth does not allow you to zoom in and see Peter’s car parked on a side street near the holy donut shop.
But the Bible does say this: In heaven, there is no sadness. There is no mourning. There is no sin. There is no pain. There is no hunger. There is no thirst. There is no loneliness. There is no evil. There is no cancer. There is no AIDS. There is no terror. There is no racism. There is no death. (Revelation 21)
There is God. There is his love. There is joy. There is love. There is family. There is friends. There is a peaceful forever existence in the happiness of eternity. (Revelation 21)
Sounds awesome, right?
Ok Pastor. How do I get there? Again – Heaven isn’t physical. Rand McNally doesn’t know the way. You can ask Siri and she will not know. Heaven isn’t a place you drive to, walk to, or ride a motorcycle to.
Heaven is spiritual.
Heaven is invisible.
Heaven is a place you go after this life.
Heaven is a place you go when you die.
Heaven is place you go for eternity.
Which means – God has to get you there. And since God is the one who does the transporting, understand that God is the one deciding whether you can come or not.
It’s kind of like driving in a car. I know that some people have rules when you ride in their car. No sodas. No chips. No food and drink. No melty chocolate. Why? Well – they probably have had kids spill all over the carpets as they hit a bump on the road. They would like a clean car. It is their car, so makes sense that they get to set the rules for it. I remember once trying to get into the car of my friend’s mom and she wouldn’t let me until I took off my dirty, muddy, shoes. I couldn’t be mad. It was her car, her rules. God’s the same way. Although it doesn’t bother God whether or not you are drinking a Coca-Cola when he comes to get you. There is something that God doesn’t want in heaven:
Do not be deceived: Evildoers will enter into the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
Back to Jesus. Jesus said, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” It means this – Abandon sin! Turn away from sin and follow God. Stop following lust. Stop following greed. Stop following pride. Stop following gossip. Stop following your vengeful desire to yell at your wife. Stop sin and turn to God. Because sin has no place in the kingdom of heaven. God doesn’t want sin in heaven. If you have sin, God doesn’t want you in heaven.
Pause with me for a moment. Here’s what the devil tempts us to think when you see that: Ok. I’ll work on it – eventually. I’m sure I won’t die for quite some time. I’m a young person. I just reached the age that you’re able to rent a car. I’ve got a long life left. Now? I need to worry about this life. I need to work on my job. I need to work on money. I need to work on my house. I need to work on my family. I need to work on my retirement package. I need to enjoy retirement.
I’ll deal with God later.
Look at what Jesus said again. Notice he did not say, “The Kingdom of God is later.”
He didn’t say: It’s not even close.
He didn’t say: It’s way in the distance.
He didn’t say: Don’t you worry about it. You have plenty of time.
He said, “It’s near.”
As in, close.
As in, soon.
As in, you could die in the next year, in the next month, 15 minutes after worship.
As in you could choke on a cookie (God forbid) after worship in the fellowship hall!
You don’t know when it will be time. You only know that it’s near. That means you need to follow Jesus – NOW!
Do you sense the urgency?
II. The Problem of Procrastination
Maybe you’re thinking:
Pastor, this is a young person's’ thing. When people get older, they get wiser and they come to their senses.
Here's the thing. I’ve met people of all ages. Teens who have said, “Later.” People in their twenties: Later. People in their thirties: Later. People in their forties: later. People in their sixties: later. People at the end of life – at the retirement homes I visit – where I don’t even know if I’ll see them next week – that I ask to come learn about Jesus with - Later.
It’s always later. This means that the problem isn’t maturity.
A couple of years back I saw that a friend of mine on Facebook was coming to Raleigh. It was a friend from the Seattle area where I was an intern pastor. A pretty good friend. We had gone to their house and hung out — plenty of times.
But this time I only saw it on Facebook. She knew that I was in Raleigh so…why didn’t she reach out? I left a note on the Facebook wall – If you’re in the area, come visit! She said, “Sure. I might be busy, but maybe I can get away.” A week later I saw a photo on Facebook of her relaxing and drinking an iced tea at Beasley’s downtown – I left a passive aggressive comment, “That place is awesome.”
Nothing. No response. Didn’t seek to hang out. Didn’t come to church.
Suddenly, I came to a harsh realization. I just wasn’t that important. It wasn’t a matter of too busy or unable. But not important. It's the same problem when it comes to following Jesus. The reality is that if you aren’t following Jesus, then he isn’t that important to you.
You can say, I just don’t have the time. But if Jesus is important enough, you’ll make the time.
I don’t have the time for Bible study – He’s not that important.
I’m too busy for church – He’s not that important.
I’ve got too much going on to be baptized – He’s not that important.
If Jesus was important to you, you’d do everything possible to make time for him.
If you haven’t, it’s your fault. Not your boss’ scheduling. Not your health. Not the weather.
If you don’t follow God, you don’t value Him.
If you don’t value Him, that’s sin.
If you’ve got sin, you can’t get into heaven.
If you can’t get into heaven, repent!
If you repent, do so now – because the kingdom of God is near!
III. Near (Revisited)
Near. Let’s revisit that phrase, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” We’ve been talking about that temporally – in relationship to time. Any day. Any minute. Any hour. That’s exactly what Jesus meant.
But sometimes there’s more than meets the eye with Jesus. Sometimes Jesus means more. Sometimes the answer is so much closer than you think. Maybe you’ve heard this passages before: Jesus said, “I am the way – no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Put that next to the last passage. “The Kingdom of heaven is near.” Do you see it?
If you were the listening to Jesus speak, then, yes, the kingdom of heaven was near – you could die any time – it’s temporal. But it’s also spatial. As in – the entrance to the kingdom of heaven is a few feet in front of you. He’s speaking with you. He’s sitting by you. He’s Jesus.
Remember what we heard John say about Jesus last week – “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” That’s what Jesus came to do on the cross. Because the reality is that every human being has sin – sin that they can’t remove on their own – sin that disqualifies them from heaven.
Jesus came to wash us from our sins. Jesus came to clean us up. Jesus came to make us ready for heaven.
Here’s why: Jesus understood urgency. Jesus understood that if he didn’t fix the problem of sin then you would not make it to heaven with him. Jesus understood that he had to live perfectly when you couldn’t, die innocently in your place, and rise triumphantly for all of your sins. Jesus knew that he had to do this in order to get you into heaven. He knew it and in fact -- It was a priority to him.
You were a priority to him.
Do you believe this?
Do you believe in Jesus? Are you ready to follow him?
Then, there’s something very important that you need to hear:
If you haven’t made Jesus a priority, you’re forgiven.
If others things have been more important than following him, you’re forgiven.
If you follow him – even if you’ve never followed him til right now, you are forgiven.
You will be in his kingdom.
IV. What Now?
How do you react to this awesome message? How do you make following Jesus a more important part of your life?
(1) Be Willing to Leave your Nets
Look at the account that takes place right after we hear about Jesus’ ministry: 18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.
Did you see that? They left their nets. That’s not a big deal if you’ve never touched a fish in your life and can’t tell the difference between a catfish and a guppy. But for these guys – it was everything! They left their nets – their livelihood. They left what made them money and followed him.
Do the same. Money is important, but not important enough to jeopardize your eternal future. Not important enough to jeopardize heaven.
If you are so busy, that you don’t have anytime to actively follow Jesus – make a change. Talk to your boss. Get Sundays off. Get a weekday off to join a small group. Turn off your work email at home and turn on your Bible.
Might you make less money? Might you not get promoted? Of course. That’s the reality of a world that doesn’t see the importance in following Jesus. But there’s eternal value in following Jesus. He will strengthen your faith in his Word. He will encourage you through his people. He will promote you – all the way to heaven.
(2) Be Willing to Leave Your Family
Look at the next verse: 21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
These guys go a step farther. They leave their family – not that their dad was necessarily against their leaving or putting up a big stink about it – but it’s still a challenge to leave family. And sometimes family can be one of the biggest challenges to following Jesus:
You’re still believing that? I don’t like how it’s changed you. I think you should give it up.
You’re going to church? Can’t you stay home and have breakfast in bed with me instead?
You can’t come hang out because you’re serving God? That’s crazy! If that’s how you’re going to act, don’t bother spending time with me.
But God isn’t saying – Have nothing to do with your family. We can see them. We love them. They love us. But God is saying don’t make them more important than following Jesus.
Because they don’t love you more than Jesus.
Because they didn’t give up their lives for you, Jesus did that.
Because your family can’t get you to heaven, only Jesus can.
(3) Embrace your New Family
Still that’s hard. How do you do leave behind family?
With your new family.
That’s what happened to the disciples. They became brothers. They became brothers and sisters. That was key because they were travelling around Asia minor spreading God’s Word. We still use that today when we talk about each other.
This is important. Because if you’re the only one in your family who believes in Jesus – that’s tough. It’s hard. But you’ve got family here. People who love you. People who care about you. People who will encourage you to follow Jesus all the way to heaven. Lean on them.
And if you’ve got lots of believing family – understand that about people who don’t – it’s hard. They need you to be their family. You can come here and catch up with your family sure. But branch out! There are others here who need your encouragement. They need your uplifting. Be someone to lean on.
Hebrews says this, “Let us encourage each other—and all the more as we see the Day approaching.” Do you hear the urgency? It isn’t just in following Jesus, but urgency in encouraging one another…because you never know when Jesus will come back. Be ready. Amen.
Who do you follow?
It’s interesting because thanks to Social Media, it is now very easy to see who you follow on Twitter or Instagram. If you looked at my profile, you’d find out that I follow a bunch of famous pastors, Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, Randall Cobb (there's a lot of Packers), and like 17 versions of Jesus.
But the most followed people on Social Media? Kim Kardashian – probably because people like to see her fashion and learn what’s hip and in. Lebron James – because people like to get insights into the life of such an incredible baller. Taylor Swift-- millions of followers aiming to see what her latest music is.
And here’s something interesting – you can now advertise to get more people to follow you. For instance, you might be scrolling through Facebook and an ad will pop up of a delicious looking cup of coffee “Follow Sola Coffee and get a free coffee NOW,” or there might be a cute cat video, “To see more cute cat videos, follow cutecatvideos.com.”
Of course, what goes on in Social Media is just a minuscule version of what happens to each of us – spiritually. Lots of voices – each day – calling to us “Follow me. Follow us. Follow our way of thinking.”
And while following the wrong person on Social Media might mean a few months of lame jokes and some of your friends thinking you aren’t as cool as they thought you were, following the wrong one spiritually has much worse consequences:
It determines your relationship with God.
It determines the peace you have in your life.
It determines where you spend eternity.
Today we are going to begin a sermon series called FOLLOW. We’re going to discuss what it means to follow Jesus as a 21st century, millennial, Raleighian. Today, we want to start by sifting through the voices that call us to follow them. We want to (1) become wary of voices (even religious voices) that point us in the wrong direction and (2) hear Jesus’ voices – and the incredible results of following him.
Before we do that, join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Be Wary of the Voices
Our lesson today takes place in John 1: 29. A bit of background on John 1 – This takes place around 30 AD. At the time, the Roman Empire is in control of large portions of Europe, Asia, Northern Africa – and even Israel. But while the government was controlled by these foreigners, the day-to-day religious life was governed by the reflections and suggestions of the religious leaders – a group of men called the Pharisees.
The Pharisees were zealots. They loved God’s law. They loved it so much that they couldn’t help but improve upon it. God’s law said to wear a prayer shawl which were giant, jewel studded aprons. God’s law said to rest on Saturday; they made sure to not take more than 500 steps. God’s law said to give 10% of your income; they gave up 10% of their salt shaker – measuring it, funneling it, and taking it to the temple for all to see: “Here’s my ten percent of salt. Did you remember your 10% of salt? I’m just 10% of salt better than you at connecting with God.”
They sound like wonderful guys, right?
But honestly – they were viewed that way. The people at the time looked up to them. From the outward perspective, these guys seemed to have it all together. They had money. They had religious things to say. They looked like they knew just what it took to get to God and to heaven. So many followed them. They listened to them. They learned from them. They hoped to be them.
John was different.
John ditched the long flowing robes and prayer shawls for camel skin clothing.
He ditched the bread baked for the holy show bread table for locusts and grasshoppers.
He ditched the decadence of the temple for the desert.
He ditched the quiet argumentation of the wise at the synagogue for the loud, hellfire and brimstone of a sports fan who's had too much to drink!
John was different. Compared to the Pharisees he looked like a perennial homeless guy complete with wily hair and a pungent odor. You wouldn’t expect that many people to follow him on spiritual matters.
But people did. In fact, the Gospel of Luke says that there were “crowds of people coming to him.” (3:7) The word, in the singular, gives you a picture of a church full. A crowd. But it’s in the plural – crowds of people. Like a group gathering downtown at the amphitheater to listen to Taylor Swift – that’s the kind of crowds that John was drawing to him.
More importantly – that’s the kind of crowd that the Pharisees were losing to him.
So they went to investigate. Take a look at John 1:19. “The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask John who he was.” Follow that question – Who are you? Who in the world do you think you are? Knowing what we know about the Pharisees in every other part of Scripture, you almost expect an element of "What gives you a right to take all these followers away from us?"
And if you’re John – looking around at all these people – seeing how they hang on your every word -realizing that so many of them had left the flock of Pharisees to come and hear you – wouldn’t you expect a bit of pride to swell in his heart? Maybe a sarcastic answer:
I’m everything you guys aren’t.
I’m a better leader than you.
I’m the guy these people are following. Who are you?
But instead look at how John replies – He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” (1:20)
Let’s talk about that. Messiah is a Hebrew word. It means “Anointed One.” The Anointed One was a part of the Jewish faith. Thousands of years earlier God had promised Abraham – the man from whom the entire genealogy of Israel was based – that one day someone would come from his family – one anointed to bless all people. That promise was repeated by God, “The Anointed One is coming! The Anointed One is coming!”
Prophet after prophet came.
Prophet after prophet spoke about the Anointed One.
Prophet after prophet was not the Anointed One.
Now a group of people was convinced that John might be the Messiah. He spoke so powerfully and his message was so intriguing. Maybe he was the Messiah. Maybe he was the one to lead them away from Roman power. Maybe he was the one to save them.
John could have said, “Yes, I am. Give me your money. Get me a hammock. Get me some of those big bunches of dark purple grapes and a few beautiful ladies to feed me – and I’ll tell you what to do next.”
But he doesn’t. He confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” (1:20)
Ok. But he still seemed pretty important and they still wanted to follow him. Follow their train of thought, “Then, who are you? Are you Elijah? He’s a really famous prophet from ancient Israel. He’s dead, but…maybe you are him come back from the dead? We’ll follow you!"
Are you the Prophet? A prophecy about Moses – arguably the most famous prophet of ancient Israel and how a prophet would come that was greater than him! Are you that prophet?
Then, who are you? We give up. Tell us who you are and we can start your fan club.
John said this, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (v.23)
Do any of you have a GPS? What’s pretty neat about a GPS is it tells you everywhere you want to go. It tells you step by step, turn by turn directions on how to get to Cameron for a Duke game or PNC for a State game or how to get to Asheville to go skiing.
What’s also cool about a GPS is that you can change the voice of the one talking to you. You can have it speak with a pleasant Southern accent, “Ya’ll turn right.” A Northern Wisconsin accent, “You betcha that’s a left turn there.” OR you can even have it speak as Mr. T. “I pity the fool who don’t make a U-turn right now!”
But Mr. T doesn’t really know what all these directions. He’s not sitting in some suite in downtown Raleigh with a headset on, Google maps pulled up and giving you directions where to go. He’s simply a voice – telling you what he’s been told to say.
That’s what John was. He was a voice. A voice that had been prophesied about by another voice – but a voice nonetheless.
A voice who would come before the Messiah.
A voice who would point people to the Messiah.
A voice who was not the Messiah.
A voice who told people – I’m not the Messiah.
Of course, that’s not always how it goes, is it? People don’t always say, “Don’t follow me. I’m not the answer.” Oftentimes people give you the impression that they are the Messiah – or at least that they’ll fix all of your problems.
And I think there are three areas of society where this is especially true:
We just got done with a political season in which people put all their hopes and dreams on various political candidates. He’s my Messiah. No, she’s my Messiah. He’s going to make my life better. No, she’s going to change my world.
People follow them. People put their hopes in him. People think they are the one who are going to fix things for them and are horribly disappointed when they don’t.
Understand this when politicians are running for office they need to do everything possible to explain why they are the best person for the job and why they will be your personal Messiah – even if they know they can’t be.
What I mean is – it wouldn’t be a very good political campaign if I said, “Vote for Kiecker. I’m ok – not terrible, but not great either. I’ll try hard…most of the time. I probably won’t make that much change in your personal life anyways.”
In the end, politicians have voices. Their voices elevate themselves. But be careful. Political candidates are not the Messiah.
This is interesting. Because pastors are supposed to be voices pointing people to the Messiah. But sometimes it becomes all about them.
Sometimes, it might not even be their fault. Listen to that pastor. He has it all together. He’ll turn your life around and if he ever leaves, it’ll be a disaster again!
Sometimes, it is their fault. Here’s what I did in my life. Here’s why it worked. Here’s why you need to follow me and do what I did (and send some money my way in the process.)
But here’s the problem: The pastor is not the Messiah. I’m not the Messiah. Joel Osteen is not the Messiah. Joyce Meyers is not the Messiah.
There is not a pastor right now who is the Messiah.
If a pastoral voice tells you to follow the Lord, awesome.
If a pastoral voice tells you to follow himself, be careful. Be very careful.
And if I ever start doing that – somebody slap me.
And then, there’s probably the trickiest voice to deal with. It’s one that you’ve heard before. It’s one that has influenced you throughout your life. It’s one that I guarantee you struggle with.
Your own voice.
We are so cleverly, stupid:
ON. MY. OWN.
Here’s the reality that John the Baptist realized – he was not the Messiah (and he had crowds of people following him!) You don’t have crowds of people following you. You might have hundreds of people following you on Instagram, but guess what – none of them think you can fix their life!
You are not the Messiah.
So stop trusting yourself as the Messiah.
It will have eternal consequences.
II. Follow the Lamb
Who is the Messiah then? Who should we put our trust in?
Read a bit farther with me. In fact, it’s the very next day. The crowds have returned. Some are disappointed. John isn’t the one. They have to keep searching, keep looking, and keep hoping to find the Messiah one day. John sense their frustration. John himself has that same frustration.
But then…he sees him. Walking slowly. Head down. Covered up in a tunic. Unassuming and unimpressive.
But John knows him and John points: John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Look at the Lamb.
See the Lamb.
Follow the Lamb.
That’s a really interesting name for the Savior. Because Lambs are not really that intimidating.
There aren’t any NFL teams calls the Lambs.
There isn’t any professional wrestler called “Lonnie, the Lamb.”
Where you hear that word – it doesn’t strike me with fear. I’m not suddenly concerned that the Lamb is going to suffocate me with his wool.
Why would you follow a lamb? Wouldn’t you just be counting him jumping over the same gate over and over until you fall asleep?
Don’t tune out just yet. John gives three awesome reasons to follow the man referred to as the Lamb.
(1) He Takes Away the Sin of the World.
This one has a lot to do with the culture of Ancient Israel. In the Old Testament, God had people sacrifice animals. Sometimes out of thanks. Sometimes out of trust. And sometimes for the forgiveness of sins.
When it was for the forgiveness of sins, God was making something clear to the Israelites: I hate sin. I hate it because it wrongs your fellow brothers and sisters. I hate it because it wrongs my children. I hate so much that I must punish it with death!
When lambs were sacrificed for sins, it was a constant reminder to the people of the divine, eternal consequence of their sins.
The only problem? If you were an Old Testament Israelite you probably saw lots of lambs killed. A lamb for my morning sin. A lamb for my 2 pm sin. A lamb for my evening sins. Lambs for the sins that I missed last week. Lambs for your sins and my sins and lambs for Uncle John’s sins. Lambs here, there, everywhere, up, down and in between. Lambs everywhere that Dr. Seuss could think of to describe it!
The sad reality?
Animal blood cannot take away sin.
But Jesus wasn’t an animal.
He wasn’t an cute, fluffy lamb.
He wasn’t even a man.
He was God’s Son.
With his death, he would take away the sins of the world.
With his death, he took away the sins of the world.
That means this: When you follow Jesus, your sins are forgiven.
The sin that can’t seem to leave your mind? Forgiven.
That sin your friends won’t let your forget on Facebook? Forgiven.
That sin that cost you your job? Forgiven.
That sin you struggled with for the past twelve years of your life? Forgiven.
Forgiven because the Lamb of God gave his blood for you.
(2) He’s Been Around Awhile.
One of the key talking points in a political race is experience. How many years have they been in government? How much experience do they have serving people? How many years of tenure do they have under their belt?
Look at what John says about Jesus, "The one who comes after me (Jesus) was before me.” Literally, he existed long before me!
This doesn’t mean John was bad at math. Because if you follow the story of Jesus, John’s birth was announced about six months before Jesus’. John was ½ a year older than Jesus.
But Jesus was not just human.
Jesus was also God.
It means he’s been around the block. He’s been around since the beginning. He’s been around since the formation of the earth. He’s been around since an eternity and half before there was an earth.
Talk about experience. He’s seen it all. He’s been through it all.
Making him the perfect one to follow.
Think about what you’re going through. Jesus gets it.
Financial struggles? He’s seen that and helped people through it.
Relationship struggles? He’s seen it before and comforted through it.
Struggles with guilt and shame?
Nervousness about a sickness?
Problems at school?
Doubts about the direction of your life?
Jesus has seen it. Jesus has helped people through it. Jesus will help you through it.
(3) Awesome stuff happens around Him.
In fact, John lets us in on a secret - the reason he was so confident that Jesus was the Lamb of God and the one to follow.
He says this “I saw the heavens open up.” And can you imagine that? We’re not talking about the clouds parting and there being a sunny day. We’re talking about some incredible, divine, never before seen moment – the sky is rendered. There’s a glimpse into heaven. There’s a brilliant light that even sunglasses won’t allow you to look into.
And a silhouette – a divine dove – starts hovering down from the split in the sky. It hovers to the right. It hovers to the left. All eyes are on it. Until it comes to rest right on Jesus’ shoulder.
And then, a voice – not John’s voice – a voice – a booming voice – a voice – not coming from some microphone system because microphone systems didn’t exist yet!
A voice from God himself says this, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
It was a moment that made John go “wow.”
It was a moment that made everyone else who saw it go, “That was incredible.”
It was a moment that made people stop and think – This guy is worth following.
My prayer is that it makes you stop and think the same – This guy, this God, this Lamb is worth following.
Recommit yourself to following Jesus in 2017. Amen.
Over the holiday season, I imagine there were lots of things you wanted to invite people to.
Come over for a holiday meal.
Come watch the Bowl Game with me.
Come watch the giant acorn drop with me.
Come shopping with me! There’s sales at Macy’s, JCPenney, Sears, Sam Ash, Claire’s, Pandora, and Belk! And that’s just at Crabtree Valley Mall.
And then, if you’re a part of a church your pastor asked you to share a Christmas Worship invite with your friends.
How’d that go?
Was that at easy as inviting someone over for the Big Game?
Was that as easy as inviting them out for a Double Cheeseburger?
If you’re like me, then probably not…In fact, it can be downright intimidating.
Case and point – I was at the Pickled Onion the other week – because my favorite NFL team, the Green Bay Packers, were not on regular TV. I was sitting by myself eating a delicious order of nachos, when I struck up a conversation with the Jacksonville Jaguars fan next to me.
First, I was impressed that a Jaguar’s fan even existed. And second, it was nice to talk to someone during the game.
And as we watched we talked about a lot of things: About the NFL and its concussion problem – about our favorite type of hot wing – about his former job in government – about our current government – about dogs and how to train them.
And, then about halfway through the game – he asked me a question during the lull of a commercial.
“What do you do?”
And…I looked over at him, cigarette hanging from his lip – PBR in his left hand. Football noise in the background. I know what I do. I’m a pastor. I tell people about the Almighty God, his hatred for sin and his answer in Jesus our Savior. But I also know how people react—I know how that answer could cause this new friend to switch spots – or at least clam up for the rest of the game.
Within that 5 seconds of silence – I had a crisis of conscience. I could answer. If I would, it might be the end of this friendship.
Should I clam up?
Should I make up something not necessarily true?
Should I tell him that I work in communications and leave it at that?
Maybe something like that has happened to you.
Maybe you’ve had moments to share the Gospel and clammed up.
Why? Why the anxiety? Why the nervousness? Why the fear?
Today – we are going to finish up our series called “Do Not Be Afraid” and we’re going to hear about the final time an angel said that, “Do not be afraid,” during the Christmas story. And as we do so, we want to learn (1) what is it about the Gospel message that’s so scary – to hear and to share (2) why we don’t have to be afraid of sharing it.
Before we do that, join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Afraid of Good News?
This takes place in Luke 2 beginning at verse 8. It’s actually the same night as baby Jesus was born – the very first Christmas.
You know how in movies, they sometimes segue from one scene to the next? Picture that here. We were just at the scene of Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in a manger. Mary’s crying. Joseph’s crying. The donkey is crying. Everyone is happy that the Savior has been born.
Segue to a shot of a dark night sky. A few stars quietly shining their light on the countryside.
The camera pans back to reveal a campfire. Smoldering. Roasting. A few men – ranging from age 19 to 67 are circled around the fire. One sits against a tree. One is laying on his side. Another is cuddled up with a gentle lamb.
They are shepherds. Their job is to watch sheep. They lead the sheep to water. They help the animals find food. They protect them from wolves and bandits.
And tonight, was a quiet night. As they passed around a loaf of stale bread that the eldest had kept in the side pocket of his tunic – they relaxed and listened to the hum of the locusts in the background.
It was a quiet life. Not a lot of exciting things happened. There was the occasional lamb in the thicket and the squirrel mistaken for a wolf, but usually the night was fairly dull. Boring. Uninteresting.
But on this particular night, something interesting began to happen. A light appeared in the sky. Slowly at first, but then building in brilliance.
One of them began to notice. At first, he didn’t say much – “It must be a shooting star.” But soon the light grew. It moved more quickly than a star and was more brilliant than a star – and it was getting closer than a star!
Wake up! What’s that?!
The star-like creature grew closer and closer until it stopped directly overhead.
It wasn’t a star.
It wasn’t a Chinese lantern.
It wasn’t a glow in the dark drone that wouldn’t be invented for another 2000 some years.
It was an angel.
Luke 2:9 says, “They were terrified.” Literally – they were afraid – a great fear.
The kind of fear reserved for horror movies, roller coasters and when you’re driving in the ice and snow and lose control of your car. That’s the kind of fear they have when they see an angel!
And why not?
(1) It’s an angel. Not an angel ornament or a stuffed Christmas angel. A real angel. Divine. Out of this world. Incredible.
(2) This angel was from God! He was messenger of God. He was a messenger of the Holy, All Powerful God. He was messenger of the Holy, All Powerful, sin hating God.
And these shepherds? Were sinners.
Their minds started racing.
Did God hear the gruff, four letter shepherd words that we were joking about earlier?
Does he know about what I did with the farmer’s daughter last weekend?
Can he smell the stale booze on my breath?
Is he here to confront me, because I haven’t been to synagogue in months?
Their minds were racing. This was a representative of God.
God knew all things.
God knew their sinful things.
God hated sinful things. He was undoubtedly about to destroy him. And all they had to defend themselves was a 5-foot piece of wood. A shepherd’s crook that might double as a bow staff, but what would that do against the fiery judgment of God?
They braced themselves for the attack. “It was nice shepherding with you. If you make it out alive, tell my wife I love her!”
I suppose that’s the rub. The friction between sinful humans and the divine message of the Gospel. It’s not God – It’s our sin. Our sin which burdens us with guilt. Our sin which stays on our hearts. Our sins which the devil uses to accuse us – God could never love you.
And, even after we know the truth of that message and we understand how God has used that to change our lives -- it’s almost like we project that onto others. They’ll get mad. They’ll get upset. They’ll not like the whole Savior from sin part – because it implies that they are sinners!
I was on Facebook the other day – and I saw one of my friends had posted something about Jesus being our Savior from sin. Sounds nice, right? But the comments that he had been receiving back were threatening. “Shut up with your religion.” “Yeah, some guy died a long time ago and that’s forgiveness.” “Keep your magical, mystical stories to yourself, Harry Potter.”
His response was this: “I’m sorry. I didn’t think it would upset ya’ll so much.”
Should we be surprised? Isn’t that expected? You understand – sinners naturally balk at God. In fact, Romans 8:7 says, “The sinful mind is hostile to God.” Yours was. At times – it still is. And no matter who you bring it to – understand that may very well be their reaction.
II. Finding Joy in the Good News
So…how do you change their attitude towards God?
Take medicine with big scoop of applesauce?
Do you add applesauce to the Gospel?
Do you make it more pleasant by removing sin and hell?
Do you just say things like “Be kinda sort spiritual and I’m sure it’ll all be fine.”
OR do you do like the angels do – and bring them the good news anyways…
Verse 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today, in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.”
Zero in on that message. It’s good news. Not terrifying, you’re about to be eternally destroyed by God’s hell fire wrath news. Good news.
And it’s for all people.
For the young shepherd struggling to control his sexual urges.
For the foreign shepherd feeling like he doesn’t fit in.
For the lifelong, aged shepherd who has a history of gruff language, broken relationships, and death creeping closer and closer.
The message is for all people – all shepherds – you.
Listen to the message:
A Savior has been born. A Savior from your sins. A Savior form your past. A Savior from the worst things you’ve said – and the worst things you’ve done. A Savior from the guilt and the pain – and the name calling of the devil: “Loser. Failure. Sinner.” A Savior from God’s Almighty wrath – a Savior to his everlasting love.
He is Christ! That’s the Greek word for Anointed One! As in – this is the One that was promised to Abraham, to Isaac and Jacob – Ancestors of the Jewish race. The One that is born is the one who fulfills God’s plan to save the world from sin. He is the fulfillment of God’s love to you.
He’s the Lord. As in master. As in ruler. And not “a” Lord or “a” ruler.” But “The” Lord and “the” ruler.
As in God. As in you needed a Savior from sin and death and hell – a job that’s impossible for any human being to conquer. Impossible for police. Impossible for firemen. Impossible for the military and political heroes and even a guy who’s really good at swinging a sword.
Impossible for humans! But not for God. So… God came.
God is that Savior.
And suddenly, more angels appear.
But this time the shepherds aren’t frightened.
This time they are overcome with joy.
And they find their gruff, off tune, monotonous voices to be humming along with the angelic choir:
14 “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to mankind on whom God’s favor rests!”
III. What now?
(1) Hurry and See
Look at what the shepherds did in response to the angels. Verse 15 says, “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has told us about.”
Notice it says, “When the angels had left them.” As in, right away – right afterwards.
Not – in the morning.
Not – later on this week.
Not – after we find appropriate replacements to watch over the sheep as we’re gone.
They just leave. They go! Because this message was that GOOD and this news was that INCREDIBLE!
Do the same. Hurry and See!
If you’re struggling to tell others about Jesus, because you are unsure about the validity of this message in your life – Hurry and See!
Hurry to your Bible and re-read the Gospel of God’s love for you.
Hurry and listen to a devotion in which God’s love is shared again and again.
Hurry and free up your schedule on Sunday to hear God’s Gospel over and over.
Hurry and get into a Bible study, where you can talk about God’s love, encourage with God’s love and lift each other up with God’s love throughout the week!
Hurry and see Jesus – because in Jesus you have your Savior. I don’t’ care who you are. He’s a Savior for all people.
He says, “I love you. Though you have sin, I came to save you. And I have. I lived perfectly when you couldn’t; died innocently in your place; and rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of every last one of your sins.”
Hurry and be reminded of that awesome truth! No matter what others think! Mary has just gotten baby Jesus to fall asleep. The long journey to Bethlehem has worn them out. The family falls asleep in each other’s arms.
Then, a rag tag group of dirty, rough, tough shepherds knocks at the door. “What do you want? Don’t harm my baby!”
We aren’t here to harm. We are here to praise. To bow. To see the Savior.
Let that be the same with you. Who cares if your relative says, “That sounds crazy.”
(2) Hurry and Share
This is what the shepherds do next. Verse 17 When they had seen Jesus, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child…
Remember: It’s early in the morning. Yet you get the impression with the conjunction and in this narrative – that as people are waking up, feeding the cattle, arranging their flowers, sweeping out their market shops for sales the next day – a group of dirty shepherds comes running through the streets:
“Stop what you’re doing. Something incredible has happened. A baby has been born! Not just any baby. A Savior. My Savior. Your Savior. Because of him, by faith in him, you won’t go to hell! You’ll be forgiven!”
But the shepherds didn’t care. The message was that incredible. The message was that good.
Like double coupons at Harris Teeter. Did you know about this? Apparently once a month, Harris Teeter will double your coupons. I think that’s awesome. If you find a coupon that’s fifty cents off, it’s now a dollar off. If you find one that’s 10% off, it’s now 20% off. If you find something’s a dollar off and the price of the item is $1.99, it’s free!
I really need to stock up on $2 off Doritos’ coupons!
It’s a good enough of a deal that you want to tell others.
Isn’t the message of Jesus that good, too? Eternal salvation for free. Forgiveness of sins for free. Heaven for free!
I want you to think about someone you know who doesn’t know the Gospel. Someone who doesn’t care about Jesus. Remember what we just learned – Jesus is their Savior, too. It’s even better than a double coupon deal at Harris Teeter. It’s double – no—infinite forgiveness in Jesus!
Don’t you want your family to know?
Don’t you want your friends to know?
Goodness – even that coworker that you don’t like that much --- needs to know!
But…what if they think I’m crazy? What if they don’t want to listen to me?
Honest truth is: They might. But why let that stop you? The message is too good. The message is too important.
Picture the shepherds: Can you imagine how crazy that might have sounded?
How do you know?
Well, we saw a multitude of angels in the skies.
We saw a virgin who had given birth to a child.
We visited a barn and found a family there.
We saw God – lying in a feeding trough!
Because it was so crazy, you’d think that the shepherds wouldn’t have done this to tarnish their already poor reputation. Why would you knowingly put your reputation on the line like that? It’s the same reason I don’t run around telling everyone that I saw a purple monkey flying through the air last night!
But the shepherds did share this message – with everyone they saw.
Because it was true.
You share that same message. It's true.
Don’t be afraid. Go and tell.
Your husband. Your wife. Your cousin. Call up a neighbor.
That’s the challenge for next week Sunday. It’s a brand-new sermon series we’re starting called “Follow.” It’s all about Following Jesus and it’s a great Sunday to invite a friend to join you in church.
Your challenge? Invite and bring a friend. Ask them to come with you to see Jesus. If they ask why it’s so important, don’t be afraid to tell them about your Savior. Don’t be afraid to tell them about the good news.
And if you get nervous? What will they say to me? What if they mock me? What if they make fun? What if they block you on Facebook?
Remember this – This is God’s message. It isn’t yours. God isn’t asking you to share your message on your own. Nope. God has your back.
The God who sends multitudes of angels into the sky – has your back.
The God who makes Mary pregnant when she hasn’t slept with anyone – has your back.
The God who became a human to save you has your back.
The God who lived, died and rose against has your back.
The God who forgives you -- The God who empowers you – the God who is commissioning you has your back.
Don’t be afraid to share the Gospel.
I did end up telling that guy at the Pickled Onion that I was a pastor.
And he did ask me a question or two about God.
And he did say that he may join us for worship one time.
And God willing – he will.
Share the Gospel message. Don’t be afraid. God has your back. Amen.
I. Joseph’s Plan
He looked down at the receipt that he had from the local florist and smiled. He had just purchased tens of dozens of flowers. Lilies, crocuses, wildflowers and roses. Some in vases, some in bundles and some to be attached directly to his bride’s dress and pinned to her hair. He didn’t have them yet, but at the right time on the right day, they would be arranged, delivered and set up.
Joseph made a check mark next to “flowers.”
Another stop made.
Another arrangement finished.
Another part of the plan – done.
Joseph was engaged to be married. It was a part of his plan. Rather – Mary, his bride-to-be, was a part of his plan. He had been looking forward to being with her for quite some time. He had seen her around the village of Nazareth. He had spoken with her as he delivered a table to a neighbor in his community. He had fallen for her. He had spoken to his parents. He had spoken to her parents. He had arranged to pay a dowry – a sum of money to show commitment to her and thankfulness to the family – he had worked hard, saved up, and asked her to be his wife.
Now – he looked forward to the next part of the plan. First, the wedding. Then, a family --- walking the streets with this lovely lady in his arm. Lifting his head up a little higher: “How’d a gruff carpenter like you end up with such a lady?” He dreamt of sitting down to Passover meal with his family. He dreams of children – a girl with Mary’s eyes – a boy with Joseph’s eyes. Family gatherings filled with comments from aunts and uncles: “Doesn’t he look like you?” “Doesn’t she have her father’s charm?”
But that was going to come. For now he’s waiting. Joseph was a righteous man. He was faithful to God and God’s Word. He wouldn’t sleep with her until he’d made his commitment. Until he’d commit his life, his spirit, his wallet, his love, and all the rest of himself, he wasn’t going to commit to unbuttoning his pants. And he wasn’t going to ask Mary for that special gift until he had given her everything!
So he waited.
He waited for that part of that plan.
He waited patiently.
One day as he worked on a brand-new piece of cabinetry for the Rabbi, his beautiful bride to be entered his workshop. He wiped the dust of his hands. He brushed it off of his pants. He made his way over and gave her a kiss on the cheek. He was excited to see her. Excited to hear her news. Excited to hear what other parts of the plan for the wedding he could cross off the list.
“The invitations? Are they out?”
“The food? Did you make a decision?”
“The music? Are we really letting your cousin Larry’s timbre band play the reception?”
“Joseph,” Mary interrupted. “I’m pregnant.”
Joseph’s smile faded faster than the dust on a board when the wind caught it. Pregnant? That wasn’t part of the plan. Not now. That wasn’t the part of the plan until later.
And Joseph knew his biology. This child wasn’t his. He had a been waiting. He had been waiting – hard as it was to wait – he had been waiting, patiently. But apparently, Mary hadn’t. Apparently, Mary didn’t care. Apparently the here and the now and a moment of pleasure was more important than the plan!
Joseph – I wasn’t unfaithful. Joseph – this child isn’t from an earthly guy. This child is of the Holy Spirit. (v.19)
Holy Spirit, huh? Is that what they’re calling it. Joseph, was it?
Bill the fancy city lawyer who had moved from Jerusalem?
Jacob, the butcher’s son?
Or was it Zacharias – the Rabbi’s kid? He had seen the way that he had been looking at her.
Joseph’s mind was swimming.
This was a DISASTER! This wasn’t the plan! And the plan was blowing up in his face.
Gone was the wedding.
Gone were the well wishes of family and friends.
Gone were the family meals.
Gone was the little boy with his nose and the little girl with his eyes – they wouldn’t even have his chin!
II. God’s Plan
Joseph was wandering the streets in distress – with his breath tinted with stale wine -- when he passed by the local synagogue:
You know, what was the point God?
I tried to listen to you. I tried to wait. I tried to do it by the book!
Why did this have to happen to me?
Why not some other guy?
Why not one of those non-religious, non-believing types?
Why did you let my plan change?
Still – he loved her.
He was thankful for her.
He didn’t want to embarrass her.
So, Joseph decided on a new plan: (v.19) Joseph had in mind to divorce her quietly.
No loud announcements. No complaining at the bar. No posting it in Facebook for all to see.
A quiet cancellation.
No more meeting with the venue.
No need to meet with the priest.
Maybe he could get his money back on the flowers.
Joseph made it home and started reformulating his plan. He put finishing touches on his NEW plan: who to tell, how to cancel, how to avoid embarrassment, and how to get his money back on the flowers -- written down bullet point by bullet point on a tablet at his bedside.
Until finally, he was exhausted enough to fall asleep.
That night, as he dreamt of that horrible moment that Mary told him this horrible news -- as he looked at the nervous expression on her face and heard the anger in his own voice – something was different.
Someone else was in the scene.
Someone who was shining brilliantly.
An angel of the LORD appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, Joseph, Son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. (v.20)
It’s from God.
The God who is always good.
The God who gave you life.
The God who gave you wonderful parents.
The God who blessed you with those talented, carpentry hands.
The God who blessed you with money for the dowry, money for the wedding, and money for those wedding flowers.
The God who blessed you with Mary.
Is the same God blessing you with this child.
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (v.21)
Because Joseph – this child means more than a family for you.
This child means you are a part of God’s family.
This child means that you are forgiven for doubting me.
This child means that through faith in him you will be God’s child.
III. What now?
How’s that for a story? How’s that for a change in plans? While this story is Joseph’s story – and there are elements that are unique to his story – there are two important truths for you and I to take away when it comes to our plans in 2017.
(1) God’s Plan is Better
Take this note: Mary and Joseph’s plan wasn't a bad plan. They were going to get married. They were going to wait to sleep together until after they publicly committed. They were protecting each other’s hearts – even as they followed God’s plan for marriage.
But that plan – while it wasn’t bad or wrong – wasn’t as good as God’s plan.
Look at his name again: Jesus – because he will save the people from his sins. That’s the God part. That’s the part that humans didn’t plan NOR could they manufacture if they did plan it!
God’s plan involved much more for Joseph -- more than a game of touch football in the yard. More than a young apprentice to help with carpentry work. More than somebody to carry on his family name.
God’s plan gave Joseph a Savior.
God’s plan is always better. Keep that in mind. It was true for Joseph. It’s true for you.
Scripture says this, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
That’s an interesting passage. Because how believable that passage is usually depends on what’s going on in our life. For instance, when things are going well, that passage is so easy to believe:
I got a new job – part of God’s plan!
I came into some money – this is God!
I have a clean bill of health – Thank you Lord!
We’re having a baby – What a blessed part of God’s plan.
But what happens when things aren’t so great? Is this passage, suddenly untrue?
I lose my job –God, where are you?
I am out of money – God must have forgotten his plan.
I have a disease – Way to go God.
We can’t have a baby – God, you don’t have any good plans for me, do you?
But even when things look bad, God is still planning things for our God – for your good:
Take Jesus – the little unborn baby in our story.
He grows up.
He is arrested when he hadn’t done anything wrong.
He is beaten, slapped, whipped, falsely accused, wrongfully imprisoned and hung up on a cross to die!
That looks awful!
But with those words – the angel’s promise to Joseph came true. Jesus saved the people from their sins!
He saved us from our doubts.
He saved us from accusing God.
He saved us from accusing God of not having good plans for us, by accomplishing his good plans for us.
That cross looks awful – but it means the most good for us.
Trust his plan --- even if it’s different. It’s always better.
Like my friend’s dad—Tad. I had met him a few times when we went over to my friend’s house to play video games. Tad was always busy. He had a job. He wore nice suits. He made lots of money. He had a nice car. He owned a very nice boat that he would use to go up on the lake and fish on weekends. He had an NFL ticket – and would sit in his easy chair all Sunday watching his teams. He didn’t have time for God. He had a plan that was going just fine without God!
But then, Tad got sick. Stage 4 cancer. Suddenly – work didn’t matter as much. Money didn’t matter as much. Nothing mattered as much as God.
He met with his son’s pastor. He spent a month vigorously studying the Bible. He came to faith in Jesus. He was baptized into Jesus name. He received Lord’s Supper for the first time. He was reminded of God’s promises in Scripture that Whoever believe in Jesus, will not perish but have eternal life. (Jn. 3:16)
Then, Tad died. But he didn’t perish, he went on to eternal life.
Cancer sounds bad. But God used that cancer as part of his plan for Tad – to take him away from hell – and bring him to eternal life in heaven!
Wow. God’s plans are good. God’s plans are better.
(2) God’s Plan is Planned
This is a second thing to take comfort in. God’s plans are made well in advance – hundreds of years in advance.
Look at what it says about God’s plan for Joseph in verses 22-23: All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel,’ which means – ‘God with us'.”
Understand then, that God’s plan for Joseph was not a last second, last ditch effort. Notice that God didn’t just come to Joseph and do a last second switcheroo. This wasn’t like heading out to eat, seeing that the line is too long for Chick-fil-A, so you stop at Taco Bell instead. Nope.
This good plan was on God’s heart and put into motion long before Joseph’s heart was ever put into motion.
The same is true for you. God’s plan is guiding your life
Now understand – this doesn’t mean that we are puppets. It’s not like we have strings and God moves us accordingly. God isn’t telling me, “Move your right arm now,” and “turn and smile right now.” Nope.
God gives us the freedom to choose. Freedom to choose whether to drink coffee or not. Freedom to choose whether to drink Folgers or Starbucks. Freedom to choose whether to drink another – or three or four.
We have choices, but God is still guiding us.
Think of it like a preschooler coloring a page. (Maybe a picture of a party hat and confetti for New Year’s). Dad might sit down behind this child. He might grab the crayon. He might help them keep the coloring in the lines. He guides; he leads; he directs.
God does the same for you. He guides. He leads. He directs. He did it in 2016. Maybe you can see how!
He’ll do it again in 2017. He will guide you. He will lead you. He will direct you!
Granted: You know that preschooler can whine and complain that his dad is helping him. In fact, he can even have a breakdown and push dad off of him – simply because he wants to go where he wants!
And, granted: You can do the same to God. You can whine and complain and push him off of you because you don’t want to follow his directions.
But that will eventually lead you to hell.
Because God’s plan is for you to get to heaven.
Trust him. Trust his Word. Trust his Son Jesus – and he will get you there. No matter what turns your life takes or what happens to you in 2017. God is guiding you to eternal life.
That’s what Joseph did. Our section ends like this: When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (v.24-25)
Do the same. Trust God. Follow him in 2017….no matter where you go and what happens to your plans.