My brothers and sisters in Christ,
God’s word that I would like to take time to study with you today comes from the book of Exodus in chapter 34. And before we begin, allow me a moment to read through it with you:
29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the LORD had given him on Mount Sinai. 33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34 But whenever he entered the LORD’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the LORD.
Now, I would love to take the time to pull back and give you the long version of our context here, of how we came to the point of this reading, but I think most of you want to be home before dinner time. Exodus is a great read, I suggest picking it up when you get home if you’re unfamiliar with it, but there’s really no way I can do the previous 33 chapters justice right now.
Suffice to say at this point, Moses is returning from the mountaintop to bring the laws to God’s people. This is his second trip. The last time he tried this, the people gave him up for dead after he was gone a few weeks, they abandoned God and turned to worshipping a golden calf. But not this time. And this time, Moses, unaware, had a face that shone with the glory of the Lord he had seen. The shining glory was not his own, it was a reflection, an after-effect of what he had seen. He had been in the presence of God Almighty and that showed to the Israelites when he returned. We have no frame of reference to even imagine what it was like, but we can certainly say it was a divine glory that these people were not used to seeing. So, what did they think of this? Were there lines outside Moses’ tent to go in and see it? Did the people come up to congratulate him, “Wow Moses, that’s so cool to see something like that!” No. They were afraid to even come near him.
Should that surprise us? No, it shouldn’t. Find one instance in the Bible, one time in recorded history where God’s glory shone to human beings, even in a limited capacity, and the person or people in question did not cower in fear. From God walking in the garden after the fall to find Adam and Eve, to the angel visitors who announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, to the disciples we read about at the mount of transfiguration, being confronted with the shining glory of God himself makes us afraid. Why? You may say, well it’s supernatural, we’re not used to it, naturally we’re afraid of the unknown. But there’s more to it than that. That doesn’t account for the kind of terror we read about when people see the glory of God. Why such fear?
I’m going to answer that question, but first let me turn this around. Because once you understand it, it’s actually not so amazing that people confronted with God are so afraid. What’s amazing is that people aren’t that terrified all the time. What do I mean? Let me explain to you a little bit about how our God has wired us. You see, God has stamped our hearts with his law, by nature he has placed in all of us a (somewhat) reliable standard of what is right and what is wrong. And when we do wrong, that voice inside us lets us know. That voice speaks up and stings us with the guilt of what we did and more to the point, fear of the consequences. The conscience is a terrifying thing.
Because we can’t live up to it. It is always there accusing us of something new we did wrong today or something we should have done that we ignored because it was convenient. Lost my temper on the freeway again. That same sinful indulgence I swore I’d never do again, did it again today. The perfectly reasonable excuse I made to get out of helping someone in need. It’s always there, every time, telling us we don’t measure up. We can’t keep it quiet because we can’t be good enough. If you don’t believe me, really listen to it for a day. Just a day. You can’t keep it quiet by what you do.
So, why aren’t we terrified all the time? How do people live with this terrifying voice inside them? We ignore it, we distract it, we turn away from listening to it just so we can have a moment’s peace where we’re not afraid of it. We’ve gotten really good at doing this over the centuries. We hum little rhymes of needless distractions, we focus on petty and inane things and pretend it’s not there, or worst of all we take up the morality of our culture and use that to sand the edges off it so it until it’s just a dull prod instead of a sharp sting.
Does that help? Yes, but no. The pain of the conscience exists for a reason and ignoring it is very dangerous. Like physical pain exists to warn us that something is wrong with our body, the conscience is there to warn us that something is wrong with our soul. Drowning out the conscience, ignoring it, that’s like taking painkillers to deal with a gunshot. It might make you comfy, but it’s not going to end well. Ignoring the conscience doesn’t change what it’s trying to tell us. It doesn’t change the fact that we are not good enough and we deserve punishment from God for it. The conscience is not there to be ignored, it’s there to convince you of that truth. You are not good enough. I hate to be a downer, but that is a fact. Ignoring or refusing it doesn’t change it. In fact, the sooner we accept that truth, the sooner there is hope for us. Because when we give up on ourselves, that’s when we go to find a solution elsewhere, outside ourselves. The conscience exists to convince you that you need God to save you.
But because we’re so good at ignoring our conscience, God sometimes has to stir it back up so we listen. Nothing does that quite like the literal glory of God in your sight. There’s a truth you can’t deny. Here’s holiness and perfection and wisdom and power and compared to what I am – well that’s an eye opener that can only leave you terrified. But we need that before there can be hope.
Do you see why, out of love for us, God might have to put the literal “fear of God” in us? If we don’t think we need him, if we think we can make it on our own, that’s dangerous. And so because he loves you, God will take steps to reignite that fear of him, he will make you afraid of him – not because he likes seeing you cower before his might! – he will make you afraid so that he can come at take that fear away.
So God comes to us and reminds us of who he is, and who we are. God, who only ever gives of himself to us. Who only has ever given to us what is best for us. God who has always shown you perfect love, always modeled to you perfect love. Nothing in your life has happened without God saying, “This exists because it is best for you, because I love you.” This God is the one we have torn at in our selfishness. This God is the one we’ve shouted at in anger because he didn’t do what we want. This God is the one we’ve ignored because it suited our interest and comfort that particular day. This God is the one we’ve had the ridiculous audacity to defiantly yell at him that he is doing it wrong and that we know better than him.
Back up a second and look at that shining glory again – who is it again you’re acting like this towards? God almighty who called the universe into being with mere words. God who brought you to life, gave you a soul and made you who you are. God who directs the events of this world every day. God who has the power to stop armies with a word and bring down nations with a thought. Who can open the earth to swallow whole those who defy him or choose to bring the dead to life. This God, with infinite power, with no authority over him, this God is the one you’ve defied and angered. It’s terrifying to look at this truth, but necessary. This fear of God is the beginning of hope. It seems counter-intuitive, I know, but the more fully we see our God’s true glory and holiness, the more fully we understand just how utterly we fail – the better off we are. Because once we’ve given up on ourselves, then we’re ready to be saved.
Aaron and the other leaders were afraid at Sinai… but that’s not all we get from God’s shining glory. What about the other mountain we read about today? Is that the reaction the disciples had on the mount of Transfiguration? Well, yes – but what did Jesus say right after? “Do not be afraid.” Fear was not the purpose of this trip. Jesus went up on the mountain with his closest disciples and gave them a glimpse behind the curtain of his humanity so they would have a truth to hold onto in the dark days ahead. This event was given to them by Jesus to be a comfort. They saw who he really was. They saw his glory and power. Soon it wouldn’t look like that anymore. Soon he would be arrested. He would be brutally beaten. He would be executed. It would look bad. But guys, put two and two together! The sheer power and glory radiating from this mountaintop – these things that happened – surely the God who revealed himself on the mountain could stop them any time. If these things happened, then it had to be because this is what Jesus wanted. He chose this dark end because of what it would do for you.
I want you to understand this – it was about you. He had you in mind as he endured and as he died. He didn’t save you just because you came with the package. He didn’t say to himself, “Well, I might as well do this, it’ll take care of everyone at once and be done with it.” If it was just you, only you, if you were the only sinner in all of history who needed him, he still would have done it. Because it was the only way to rescue you from yourself. Your crimes deserve death. His death for you frees you. The holiness and power of God should terrify you by nature, but we know that power and perfection stood up for us. And that very holiness that covers you now, that ensures you don’t ever need to be afraid of God again. His holiness does not stand against you, it is given to you by faith, and it is yours to wear freely. You are forgiven. The conscience exists to remind us of this fatal wound in our soul. Jesus has healed it, by his death. Completely in him, the conscience does not hold any fear for us again.
The shining glory of the Lord does this all for us. It needs to terrify us so we give up on ourselves and turn to him. And that same God with the same shining perfection and power freely gives us this truth, “I’ve got it covered,” he says. “What you did wrong, I fixed. I forgive you, and I grant you eternal life with me.” That voice is almighty and perfect. It does not lie. It does not make mistakes. There’s peace in that glory that we could never have on our own.
Of course, you and I don’t see the Lord’s glory face to face much these days, do we? But does that really change anything? Perhaps the Lord doesn’t physically appear in his glory so much anymore as he did to Moses or the disciples. But he still shines. He shines through his Word. Our Bibles, the scriptures are still our connection to him. What an amazing blessing we have, to have that glory on hand wherever we go. To be able to look into the face of that glory and remember just how badly we need him and how he in turn has filled that need perfectly. Make no mistake, in a very real way we still see our God face to face when we study his Word. And what’s more, we still reflect his glory into the world just as Moses did. The longer and more often we are exposed to him in the Scriptures regularly, the brighter that glory will shine by the Holy Spirit’s power. And that reflected glory will have an effect on the people around us.
You shine the reflected glory of God no differently than Moses when you reflect God’s Word in your life. Whenever choose his way over your way. When we don’t follow the crowd at work or home just because it’s easier. When we respond with love and forgiveness to those who try to hurt us, even when they don’t want it. When we try to help those who hate us. When we say “yes” for our God, even when the whole world is telling us that “no” is the right answer. Powered by our God, our godly words and actions shine the glory of the Lord at the world to remind them to be afraid. The glory we reflect stirs up in them the reminder that they don’t measure up and they need help. By shining the love of God at them, we want them to know the truth. They need a savior. And once they understand the need, we have that same Savior to offer them.
Brothers and Sisters, I want you to understand the importance of the task God asks of you in your life here. A life lived for Christ isn’t only a nice thing to do for God as a thank you to his love. It’s not only something you do to make your life better, knowing his ways are best. A life lived for Christ is the most pivotal way that we can shine with the reflected glory of our Lord into the world. Through those words and actions we reach out to try to save everyone around us. Start at the source of his glory. Soak it in through his Word. Take every opportunity to connect with the God you are not good enough for but the God who has made you good by his mercy and power. Look to the glory he reveals to you, and reflect that glory into your lives. Amen.
Ever been on a family vacation before?
It always sounds so nice. You get in the car, everyone has their seat and pillow from home. Dad’s driving. Mom has the directions. The bag with all the food is in the back seat for Brother to turn around and deliver snacks. Sister is in control of the DVD player. It sounds nice. The family on a trip together.
But then dad takes the turns on the highway a bit too fast -- Sister is feeling sick to her stomach.
Mom is distracted by sister and forgets to tell dad to turn on I-75. The car goes an hour out of the way.
Dad needs some trail mix to calm himself down, but there’s not any left. Brother ate all of it!
Sister won’t let anyone put any DVD in that isn’t an iCarly original – so that you hear the theme song in the back of your head the whole time.
Sometimes it’s easier to travel alone.
No one to complain about driving.
No one to give wrong directions.
No one else to eat the trail mix.
But what about following Jesus? What about spiritual travel? Is it nicer alone or together?
Today we’re continuing our series called Follow and we’re discussing what it’s like to follow together – as a church family. We will hear about some of the biggest threats to following together and be reminded of the blessings. 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. Divisions in Corinth
Our lesson comes from 1 Corinthians 1. A bit of background – 1 Corinthians is a letter written to a young church that was in a city called Corinth. The Corinthians had first learned about Jesus from a follower of Jesus named Paul. They were the ones who told them that they were sinners; that they needed a Savior; that Jesus was that Savior.
At first, the people were so excited about this message. They loved having salvation. They loved having freedom from sin. They loved the peace of God.
But then…something happened.
Paul left. Another Pastor – Pastor Apollos – showed up and took their place. It doesn’t appear he taught a much different message. He taught that they were sinners; that they needed a Savior and that Jesus was that Savior. (Same thing; same message.)
But Apollos must have done things a bit differently. (Maybe he didn’t choose the same worship music as Paul; maybe he bought a different kind of coffee for morning fellowship – I don’t know). Regardless, it started to cause some people to long for their past pastor.
I really miss Paul. He was so sarcastic.The type of guy you could grab a beer with and still be convicted.
Ok sure. But I’m a fan of Apollos. He’s no nonsense and he’s getting stuff done.
But some of his ideas are different. He doesn’t do things the same way that Paul does things. He’s #NotMyPastor.
Speak for yourself – I’m an Apollos guy. Times are changing. His way is better.
Well, I’ll always be a follower of Paul – first and foremost. I’m not a follower of Apollos.
I am. You can stay stuck in the past with the Paul way of doing things.
And then – into that culture – somehow the church became familiar with the teachings of a guy called Cephas (aka Peter). Peter was one of the original 12 disciples. Peter spoke with Jesus for 3 years. Peter must have introduced himself to them. Told about how he saw the resurrected Jesus and shared his ideas for the church of Jesus going forward.
Picture Peter the accomplished author you might find down at the Christian bookstore. A group of people moved to the area from Peter’s church in Jerusalem, joined the church, and ran every idea from the church council by the Apostle Peter.
Putting the sermon after the Bible study? WWPD (What Would Peter do?) – I don’t know if he’d think it was a good idea.
Welcoming Gentiles into the same congregation as Jews? WWPD? I’m not so sure.
Chocolate chip cookies for fellowship! WWPD? I think he’d buy Oreos.
Suddenly a shift started to take place in the church. Instead of one united group, there were different groups. They weren’t united Christians. They were Paulians, Peterites and Apollosians. A group of Paul followers would gather over here and badmouth the Barnabas brotherhood. The Barnabas brotherhood would meet over there and discuss ways to stop Apollos’ outreach plan. And Apollos’ selected church people would snap Instagram photos with the #ApollosChurch until it was trending.
Word got to Paul – the guy who first told them about Jesus. There weren’t phones back then. There wasn’t Snapchat. He couldn’t just TWEET his displeasure. So, he wrote a longhand letter. These divisions are one of the first things he addresses.
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”’ another, “I follow Cephas,” still another, “I follow Christ.”
I think this is interesting. Paul’s appeal is not for people to revert to doing things his way.
It isn’t for people to listen to all of his ideas.
It’s for people to stop be divided and started being united.
He asks some pretty poignant questions to get his point across:
(1) Is Christ divided? Are the Jews class A of Christians and the Gentiles class B? Did Jesus die once on a cross for the rich and once on a side street for the poor? Does John 3:16 say, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him and likes country music goes to heaven, but whoever believes in him and like rap music goes to a different heaven"? Not any worse, just not the same – not so that I have to listen to your country music the whole time I’m in heaven.
(2) Was Paul crucified for you? The quick answer is NO; he’s busy writing this very letter. Paul wasn’t crucified. Apollos wasn’t crucified. Peter, although some tradition suggests that he was eventually was crucified, was not crucified yet! And even when he did die – it didn’t have any incredible redemptive work. Ask the kids – Jesus died on the cross – not Paul, not Peter, not Apollos, not anyone or anything else.
(3) Were you baptized into the name of Paul? How would that have even sounded? “I baptize you in the name of Paul the Pharisee, Paul the persecutor, and Paul the reformed Christian missionary?"
And I love Paul’s parenthetical aside, “I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.)” Paul’s point isn’t that he didn’t want people to be baptized. (Baptism brings forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation. Things that Paul treasured dearly and dedicated the latter portion of his life preaching). Rather, Paul’s point is that people would have used being baptized by him as some kind of special badge that would have furthered division.
It’s like bringing home a gift for your kids. Maybe you get them each a PEZ dispenser. What if you got the PEZ dispenser for everyone in your family accept your middle child? How’s that go over? (“You love them more than me.”)
It’s the same thing with adults though. Imagine if your boss at work gives everyone a Valentine’s card with a PAYDAY chocolate attached to it. (Get it, PAYDAY?) What happens if you look around the office and you see everyone else has a delicious, chocolate, salty candy bar and you don’t? Division! You get angry. You whine.
Paul recognizes that – even with something as incredible as Baptism. As if people would wear ball caps that said, “Baptized by Paul” and others were visors that said, “Blessed by the hand of Apollos.”
TRUTH: People love taking good things and making them into divisive things. In the case of Baptism, they had taken something incredible – baptism – which unites you with God and with believers and they were now using it as a thing of division.
II. Divisions at Gethsemane?
Careful. Because the devil is still at work today. He is still trying to sabotage the church just as much as he did back then. He is still trying to sabotage our ministry here in Raleigh – just as much as he did then. By taking neutral things – even good things --- and making them into divisive things.
Here are three things that I think we have to be especially careful of.
Did you know it’s not sinful to engage in politics? It’s not sinful to watch political shows either. But what has happened is our country has such an incredible divide between the Republican and Democratic party – that we no longer view each other as people we politely disagree with. But people that we violently oppose! And let them know as much on Facebook and every other social media site we can get onto.
That can’t happen in this church.
That can’t happen when we are dedicated to sharing Jesus.
Jesus wasn’t Republican. Jesus wasn’t Democrat. (Neither of those were even around back then.)
Jesus is our God. He is our Savior. He is the Savior of your friend who votes in a different direction.
Don’t let politics get in the way and ruin the message of your Savior.
Culture is a great thing. It’s a view into God’s mind. That he created us so very different with so many different backgrounds, different food favorites and different styles of wearing our hair. It’s beautiful. Thanks to culture we have the ability to go to the Chinese restaurant on Monday, get Mexican on Tuesday, grab some soul food on Wednesday, try an Italian pizzeria on Thursday and finish it off with Japanese sushi on Friday.
Culture is great. But the temptation is to make it into something that divides – (See: Racism)
Racism has no place in the church. Jesus died for all. It says in the Bible Jesus died for Jews and for Gentiles – which means -- everyone who isn’t a Jew.
Don’t let culture get in the way and ruin the message of your Savior.
(3) Worship Styles.
I bring this up because we will be moving to two different services on Easter. Those two services may be different. One might be a more traditional style of worship (with robes and organ and old school hymns) while the other might be a more contemporary style of worship (without robes and with a band and new school songs).
Both are good. Both are different expressions of culture. Both share God’s Word.
Both could cause division.
Whether it’s “I’m a Traditional Christian” and "I’m a Contemporary Christian.”
Or whether it’s “I’m an early service Christian” and “I’m a late service Christian.”
Don’t let these causes division. Traditional worship didn’t die for you. You weren’t baptized into the name of Contemporary worship.
You were baptized into the name of Jesus.
III. Jesus Unites
In fact, Jesus died to stop division—division between us and God. Our sins had divided us from him. Read Isaiah 59:2 “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear.”
There’s this picture of this big thick bulletproof glass. You can see someone on the other side. It’s someone you love. You wish they could hear you. You’re banging on the glass for them to hear you and notice you and let you in.
But they don’t.
That’s the picture of sin and God. We see him. We know his power. We see the value in being with him. But our sins separate us. In a cruel, cruel joke reminding us how unworthy we are to approach a holy, divine God.
But Jesus is like a wrecking ball. Jesus comes in and smashed through the wall. Jesus comes in and knock down our sins. Jesus comes in and removes what separated us from God. Jesus unites us to our Heavenly Father.
TRUTH: God is not a God of division. God is a God of unity.
Paul recognized that. Look at how he continues the letter: Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
Look at that again – “The cross, the message that Jesus died for us, destroys our sin, and unites us with God the Father, is a message that divides.” Unbelievers call it foolishness. It doesn’t make any sense – some Jewish guy, a carpenter, died a few thousand years ago, and because of him I’m right with God?
But that same message that divides unbelievers is the message that unites us. It is the power of God.
It is the power for salvation for the Jew.
It is the power of salvation for the Gentile.
It is the power of salvation for the guy who got along with Paul.
It is the power of salvation for the guy who really liked Apollos.
It is the power of salvation for the girl who votes Republican.
It is the power of salvation for the girl who votes Democrat.
It is the power of salvation for the Italian, the German, the Iraqi, the African American, the Hispanic, and the Native American.
It is the power of salvation for the guy who likes guitars.
It is the power of salvation for the guy who likes organ.
It is the power of salvation for all of us. It is the one, incredible, power of salvation that unites us all!
IV. What now?
(1) Focus on What Unites
That’s such an easy thing for us to do. To point out what’s different. But there’s so much that’s the same. We all have eyes. We all have noses. We all have hands and feet. We all have a need to be connected with family and friends. We all have a need to be connected with God.
Check out verse 26: “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. 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…it is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus.”
Paul is saying – Stop thinking about what makes you different. Think about what makes you the same:
Y’all were sinners.
Y’all were ignorant.
Y’all were in need of a savior.
And all y’all have a Savior. That Savior is Jesus. He is your wisdom.
(2) Boast in God
That’s Paul’s conclusion on this first chapter. He says in verse 31, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” Because what’s boasting? Boasting is speaking openly and proudly about something you like or accomplished.
The problem with boasting is that is usually causes someone to feel awful who hasn’t accomplished what you are boasting about.
Boast in Jesus. Don’t boast in your favorite style of worship. Don’t boast in your favorite political party.
Boast in Jesus.
Boast in God.
Boast in the one who actually and completely unites us in every way.
Then, you are able to follow together.
Then, you are able to follow peaceably.
Then, you are able to help each other on the road to heaven.
A brother of our passed away this past week. I won’t give every detail, but know that he was an older gentleman who had struggles with his lungs. He also didn’t have a lot of family in the area. He lived alone.
That’s a hard thing to go through alone.
I had gotten the message that it wouldn’t be much longer while I was in Arizona. It’s hard to do bedside ministry from Arizona. But…here’s where following together comes in.
Pastor Rockhoff helped with a visit.
One of our elders helped with a visit.
My wife graciously drove me late at night for a visit.
I wasn’t there at the exact time of his death. But one of our elders was. From what I heard about his final minutes – as he was struggling and life was leaving him – our elder was blessed to be able to share with him God’s Word. Literally – reading the blessing.
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you.
The Lord look on you with favor and give you peace.
And the Lord gave him peace.
And the Lord brought him into peace.
And he now lives in eternal peace.
That’s following Jesus.
That’s following Jesus together.
Lord help us do that now and always. Amen.
It’s still tastes good, doesn’t it?
Peter looked over at Andrew as he sat down with a bowl of fish stew and a hearty loaf of bread. He stuffed a bite into his mouth.
I mean: It was amazing wasn’t it, Peter? We had 5 loafs of bread. That’s it! That’s like barely enough for Simon to eat his fill. He’s a zealot after all. But somehow, all of a sudden, there’s more than five loaves. I didn’t go to the store. You didn’t go to the store. Suddenly, out of thin air -- there’s thousands of loaves. We feed all 5,000 plus of them. No one asks for seconds. No one goes hungry. In fact – we’ve get 12 baskets left over – and it’s still good! This bread from basket number is delicious tonight. Isn’t that right John?
John slapped Andrew a high five as he joined the two for dinner.
It was amazing. But that’s what Jesus does, right? Think about what we saw earlier today. A man – born blind – never able to see. And he calls for Jesus. Jesus comes over. Jesus doesn’t give him money. Doesn’t give him food. Doesn’t give him medicine. He gives him spit. On His Eyes.
And there’d never been a better gift. He can see!
Andrew agreed. He’s amazing, isn’t he? It’s so great that we’re able to follow him.
And…Just exactly who are you following?
A hooded figure emerged from the shadows. The fire identified him as this Jesus – the guy they were following.
Tell me, he said, Who do the people say that I am? Who do they think you’re following?
You mean – besides the Pharisees? They think you’re a blasphemer. They think you’re a liar. They think you don’t have powers – but I don’t see how you do that blind man thing or this bread thing without having some kind of divine power.
John continued – But as for the others: Some say you are John the Baptist – back from the dead; Others say you are Elijah – back from the even deader, dead. Still others call you some kind of a prophet – They think that you’re something special, they just don’t know what! (v.19)
Jesus nodded. John put another bite of bread into his mouth. The other disciples gathered around the conversation.
Jesus spoke again, “What about you? Who do you say that I am?”
It was quiet, except for the gentle noise of soft chewing that covered up the turning gears of the disciples’ minds. Eyes darted back and forth – Who would answer?
Peter stood up.
“You, Jesus, are the Christ. The Son of the living God.” (v.20)
There was silence. The words hung in the gentle hillside air. But judging by Jesus’ smile – Peter knew he was right.
Suddenly, shouts of “Amen!” and “Preach it!” began to drown out the chirping of the crickets. The disciples slapped high fives and praised God! Peter had it right. That’s exactly who Jesus was. Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus was the long awaited, promised Savior. Jesus was the fulfillment of every Old Testament prophecy that they had ever read.
And that was awesome. Because it meant parties. It meant royalties. It meant that they were kind of like his cabinet. They’d have t-shirts with their names on them. They’d be sitting in a palace soon sipping on Long Island iced teas and letting the little bubbles from the jacuzzi hit their calf muscles. Hollywood would probably make spin off television shows about all of them!
Jesus watched the excitement in his disciples’ eyes. He let them feel that joy for a moment. Then, he interrupted: “I am your Savior. But…Don’t tell anyone.” (v.21)
The hooting and hollering stopped abruptly -- Lord, why not? Isn’t that the point?
Because. It’s not time yet. You know – the Pharisees don’t believe I’m the Messiah. The fact is, they are so angry about it that they are plotting to kill me. But there will be a time to tell others I’m the Messiah. There will be a time when I tell them I am the Messiah. Then, I must suffer many things. And I must be rejected by the elders. And I must be killed. (v. 22)
Peter broke the silence again: Never Lord! Never will that happen! You’re the Messiah. You’re our Messiah! We’ll fight for you. We’ll help you take the palace that is rightfully yours. We’ll make sure that you get the glory you deserve and we get the glory we deserve too. We won’t let you die! I won’t let you die! (Mt. 16:22)
As Peter spoke, the gentle expression from Jesus faded. It was replaced with eyes blazing full of anger: Get behind me Satan! You don’t have in mind the things of God, but of men. (Matthew 16:23)
Because here’s the truth…I must suffer. I must bear my cross. It is an absolute necessity for God’s salvation plan. It’s absolutely necessary to save you. And… you will bear a cross too. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it." (v.23-24)
Peter sat down. Embarrassment rushed to his face. The other disciples were silent too. The joy-filled aura from earlier had been replaced with a terrifying reality. As the words repeated:
If you want to follow me…
Take up your cross.
Come out of that story with me. The disciples go from the high of having identified the Messiah to the low of realizing what that meant. Our goal today – since we’re followers of Jesus too – is to understand two bitter realities of following Jesus and to learn one incredible truth that implores us to follow anyways. Pray with me: 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. There’s a Cross for Jesus.
Here’s the first thing that we learn and I need you to write this down in your notes. Since Jesus is the Messiah, there needed to be a cross for Jesus.
Take a look at this Greek word up here. (The New Testament part of the Bible was originally written in Greek.) This is a key word in Luke 9:21. DEI. DEI means “it is necessary.” That means that it “has to happen.” It “must happen.” It means that if whatever it is that is necessary doesn’t happen, the whole things a mess.
Think of work. Your boss might tell you “DEI” it is necessary for you to come to work. If you don’t, he will fire you.
Or it might be “DEI” necessary that you get a report done for your superiors or you will lose the big account.
Or at the Theme Park it might be “DEI” necessary for you to be 5-foot-tall to ride Space Mountain or you will not ride Space Mountain.
Look what Jesus says it necessary, “it is necessary for the Son of Man, that’s Jesus’ name for himself, to suffer, to be rejected and to be killed.” (Lk. 9:22)
As in, without the cross there is no salvation.
As in, without the cross there is no Messiah.
As in, without the cross you do not have a Savior.
And understand what we mean by cross. This doesn’t mean that Jesus would get a beautiful, jeweled necklace like you can get down at Lifeway bookstore. The cross wasn’t wall art. It wasn’t fine craftsmanship out of olive wood from Jerusalem.
It was a horror. It was a torture device. It was a wooden instrument stained with blood, sweat, and the stench of death.
It was awful.
But it was also necessary.
Scripture says this, “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 3:23) Jesus didn’t have sin. We did. He didn’t deserve death. We did. He didn’t die for himself. He died for us.
Jesus’ death was necessary for the payment to be made!
In a book, long before Jesus came to earth, Scripture says, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” (Deut. 21:23) Then, in a book written after Jesus came to earth and went up on that cross, Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”
In other words – a bullet wouldn’t do. A mobbing wouldn’t do. Slipping on a banana peel wouldn’t do. In order to assure us yet again that Jesus was in fact the Messiah – it labeled a very specific kind of death at a very specific kind of time that just adds itself into all the prophecies that point to Jesus as the very specific Messiah that you need. Old Testament prophesied that Jesus would die on a cross therefore…
Jesus’ death on a cross was necessary to identify him as Savior.
And if you want to follow Jesus, so is yours.
II. There’s a Cross for You.
That’s exactly what Jesus said. “Whoever (notice he doesn’t say, “You Twelve who are here with me right now,”) Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
So…Where’s your cross? I don’t have a big pile of wooden crosses stored in that back room up here. That’s not what it’s for. If that were true, I suppose that every Christian would have died from crucifixion. That’s just not the case.
A cross is painful.
A cross is hard.
Our definition of a cross: It is something that is painful and hard.
Is a cross a splinter then? That’s painful. That’s hard.
Can a cross be a cold? I’ve had some head colds that are painful & hard.
There’s more to the definition than that. Jesus continued, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. (v.24)
A cross is something painful. It’s something hard. It’s something painful and hard because of following Jesus.
It could be a splinter – If the splinter comes because you’ve been out building a tree house for the kids at Precious Lambs and so that more parents are impressed with the center, decide to bring their kids to Precious Lambs and learn about the salvation of Jesus.
It could be a cold – If the cold comes from spending a week in the preschool, exposing yourself to the germ sponges known as little children, just so that they might be exposed to their Savior.
A cross is something painful & hard because of following Jesus.
It’s not sleeping with your boyfriend, no matter how much the sexual tension burns, because you’re following Jesus.
It’s not yelling at everyone at work, keeping the anger & stress from being released, because you’re following Jesus.
It’s making a friendship uncomfortable because you can’t help but tell them about their Savior.
It’s giving a bit more money from your funds to the work of the Lord – even if it hurts – because you’re following Jesus.
Maybe you’re thinking: “This is hard. This isn’t what I signed up for. I wanted peace & joy & for life to be easier when I became a Christian. Can’t I follow Jesus without the pain & hardship? Can’t I follow Jesus without carrying the cross?”
Let me ask you this. Scenario. If I’m feeling super hungry, maybe I haven’t eaten for hours & mom sets some delicious, fresh-out-of-the-oven cookies onto the countertop. They smell delicious. Your mouth starts watering. But mom says, “Don’t eat them till after dinner.” And Jesus says, “Honor your Father and mother.” But you say, “Mom isn’t looking and I’m super hungry so, I’ll just take one.”
Who are you following?
It’s not Jesus.
You’re following yourself.
In fact, anytime you choose sin, you’re not following Jesus.
You’re not bearing your cross.
You’re setting it down, because “Man, Jesus this cross is too heavy.”
Here’s the problem. It says in verse 24, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it.” This is intriguing. The very thing we want to save is the very thing we will lose! Because our trust is in our own life – which is the very thing in need of saving – how then can it do the saving?
That’s like seeing a kitten drowning in a raging river and shouting out to the kitten, “Can you help me tie my shoe?” It won’t happen!
And the one who is in the position to do the saving? The Savior, Jesus? “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the Holy angels.” (v.25-26)
Picture fire. Picture heaven. Picture glory. Picture Jesus but not coming for you…
…coming after you.
Don’t have Jesus coming after you.
Have Jesus coming for you.
Pick up your cross & follow Him.
III. Jesus Defeated the Cross
There’s a part of Jesus’ words that I think the disciples miss the first time. That Peter must have completely glossed over. Look at what Jesus said one more time, “The Son of man must suffer, be rejected, kill AND…on the third day rise again from the dead.” (v.22)
Here’s the deal. Jesus was right about the suffering – A crown of thorns pierced his head, fists punched his face, a metal laced strap of seven cut through his back, nails went through his hands and his feet, and his lungs slowly lost the ability to breath.
And Jesus was right about the rejection. It was the chief priests and teachers of the law – the very people who knew the Old Testament enough to identify Jesus as Savior – who convicted him, who stormed the Roman governor’s house, who sat on his lawn chanted, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” until the government gave the go ahead for them to do so.
And Jesus was right about his death. Because the way he came down off that cross was limp, lifeless, dead.
Jesus was also right about his resurrection. Three days later he came out of his tomb – alive!
Jesus carried a cross.
Jesus defeated that cross.
Jesus will help you carry & defeat yours, too.
That’s the promise of heaven. Whatever you’re going through as a result of following Jesus, one day it will be no more.
There won’t be any hurt feelings from angry Facebook posts.
There won’t be any more struggles with finances from giving to Him.
There won’t be any more stress & struggle against temptation & sin.
There won’t be any friendships ruined because you were following Jesus first!
All of those crosses will be defeated.
Following Jesus, your cross will be defeated.
(1) Forfeit the World
What good is it in you gain the whole world, but forfeit your soul? (v.26)
Think of the scenario. What if you got the whole world – billions of dollars, a brand-new iPhone every time a new version came out, hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram, a clean bill of health & one of the little robots that does the vacuuming for you.
What good is it if you gain all that, but lose your soul?
Usually, it’s not even that much that we get.
What good is it if you gain a moment of sexual pleasure?
An extra dollar or two?
A better reputation among friends?
A release of anger?
The feeling of I showed him?
What good is it if you gain that minor moment of bodily happiness for an eternity of torture in hell?
It’s not good.
That’s like trading in your 1957 Chevy Corvette for half a chicken nugget. It’s a terrible idea! Don’t do it.
(2) Pick it up Daily.
What’s in your daily routine? Comb your hair? Brush your teeth? Put in your contacts? If you skip one of those, doesn’t your day feel incomplete? If you can taste the film from not brushing your teeth, you might try to scrub with your finger. Who wants to miss that?
What about picking up your cross? Same feeling.
Each day put on Christ. Each day live like a Christian. Each day prepare to let your let shine in a world where there isn’t a lot of light.
(3) See the Kingdom of God
Jesus concludes with a strange statement. Some of them wouldn’t taste death until they saw the kingdom of God. Probably doesn’t mean that there are disciple hiding out in some mountain somewhere never having died. In fact – in the coming verses a few of the disciples see God’s Kingdom in a glorious transfiguration atop a mountain. If that’s not what Jesus is talking about, maybe he’s talking about the apostle John seeing God’s kingdom in the revelation for the book of Revelation.
Regardless of what the exact reference is the result is not lost on us. Pick up your cross. Follow Jesus. And you will see the kingdom of God.
You’ll approach in awe.
You’ll see the joys of heaven.
You’ll set your cross down outside the gate.
Jesus will put his arm around you and say, “Well done. Put your cross down now & follow me.”
Today we’re continuing our sermon series called FOLLOW. It’s all about following Jesus in 2017. Today we want to talk about following Jesus when No One else is. We’re going to look at a very powerful piece of scripture. It’s only two verses long. But it’s two verses packed with a lot of meaning. Our goal is to hear from Jesus himself (1) two very good reasons to not follow him and then (2) one even better reason TO follow 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. Two Good Reasons NOT to Follow Jesus
Today’s Scripture comes from the middle of the Sermon on the Mount – it’s a very famous sermon that Jesus gave all about what it’s like to truly follow God. We’re in Matthew 7:13-14. It’s near the end of the sermon and it’s kind of a good summation of everything that Jesus has been talking about in the two chapters prior to this. It does an excellent job of describing to us what following Jesus is like. He says,
"Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it."
(1) It's Lonely
Let me direct your attention first of all to the number of people on each road – the popular opinion if you will. One road has many on it; the other road has few on it.
This might be something called the Popular Principle. Think about that. If you were downtown Raleigh and there were a bunch of food trucks set up – one with a line of about 30 people and the other without anybody in line, which one would you go to? If you’re in a hurry, maybe the shorter line. But there’s something about the longer line that says to you, “That might be better food. If there’s so many people who like it, I might like it too.”
Well, what about Jesus? Was he popular?
Jump back with me to presumably a bit earlier in Jesus’ life. In Luke 4, Jesus is in Nazareth, the town he grew up in. He makes his way to their weekly church service at the synagogue and everyone’s excited to see him.
“My how you’ve grown. I haven't seen you since you were a young whipper snapper”
“I hear you’re a teacher now. I’m sure your parents are proud of you.”
“Do you remember that time when you finger painted with my son Ezekiel? It was so funny how your people looked just like trees!”
As the synagogue service starts, the people settle down and the local rabbi asks Jesus to come up front, read some scripture and share a teaching. The reading for that Sunday just so happens to be an Old Testament reading about the coming of the Messiah.
As Jesus spoke, they all smiled at him. What a nice young man. A rabbi is a noble calling. We are excited to hear his exposition – as in – we’re excited for him to say what every rabbi says about this part of Scripture: The Messiah is coming and we must prepare our hearts for his arrival.
But after Jesus gets done reading, after he rolls up the scroll, after he sets it back in its protective case, Jesus preaches a different sermon:
“Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)
As in, “The Messiah is no longer coming.”
As in, “The Messiah is already here.”
As in, “I am that Messiah.”
The people are shocked. Isn’t this Joseph’s son? Didn’t he grow up by us? How does he think he’s the Messiah?
And Jesus rebukes them. “No prophet is accepted in his hometown.” (Lk. 4:24)
And I am a prophet.
And you aren’t accepting me.
And you are sinning—You are rejecting your Messiah.
And do you know how the people respond?
No one claps.
No one says, “Amen.”
No one squeezes his cheeks, tells him how cute he is and hands him a lemon bar refreshment.
They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built in order to throw him off the cliff. (Lk 4:29)
Now Jesus escapes, but can you imagine the word that got around? Why would anyone want to follow Jesus if it meant you’d have to face an angry mob? Wouldn’t it be much easier to be a part of the angry mob? It doesn’t get any easier. There are hundreds, if not thousands, who shouted for his crucifixion just two years later!
It’s just what Jesus said, “Many and Few."
As in many don’t follow Jesus.
As in few do.
It was true back then, but is it true today?
Take a look at some research. This is from the Barna Pew Research group. From 2007 to 2012 they did a survey to discover the growth of certain religious groups. Check out some of the trends:
What’s the point? Christianity is declining. It is not the bandwagon anymore. To be fair, it may have been at one point – and maybe that’s why it was higher in the past. “I’m Christian. Why? Because everyone I know is Christian.” But it’s fading, quickly in the U.S.
But maybe you don’t need facts. Maybe you’ve noticed on your own.
Maybe you’re the only Christian at work, on your block, in your family, at your house!
It feels lonely.
It feels lonely when you’re the only one bowing your head for a prayer.
It feels lonely when your Jesus comment sits on Facebook without any likes.
It feels lonely when your minivan that sits 6 only sits 1 each Sunday…every Sunday…again & again.
It feels lonely to follow Jesus when no one else does…But understand it’s exactly what Jesus said it would be: “Many follow the other roads….Few follow Me.”
(2) It's Hard
But why? Why is it that so many people are not following Jesus? He offers forgiveness of sins, eternal life, & salvation! That’s sounds pretty good, right?
I suppose we could look at all the stats, pour over my Barna research polls, read book after book written on the subject. (There might be some value in doing so). But if you’re looking for the short, quick and entirely accurate answer. Look no farther than Jesus. Hear the second good reason not to follow Jesus.
For…broad is the road that…many enter through it. But narrow the road that... a few find it.
How many of you like going into a crawl space? It’s narrow. The ceiling is low. It’s easy to bump your head. You might even have to drag your knees across sharp gravel. Wouldn’t you rather pick a big door? Maybe one of those doors that they have at the mall where both sides of a door open up at the same time with plenty of room on both sides for you to walk, hand in hand, with a friend!
It’s the same spiritually. One is an easy walk. One is very challenging. That word narrow there means “hard pressed, squeezed.” Who likes being hard pressed? Who likes being squeezed? That’d be like going through each day while a professional wrestler is putting you in a sleeper hold! Who would choose that?
Jesus says that’s exactly why so few follow him. It’s not easy. It’s hard.
That’s what happened even at the time of Jesus. Look at John 6. Jesus had just gotten done feeding close to 10,000 people with a few loaves of bread and two fish. (A miracle). People were full. People were happy. Many wanted to make him their king.
But then Jesus began teaching again. He told people that “whoever believe(d) in him would never be thirsty.” (v.36) He said that “everyone who looks to Me and believes in me shall have eternal life and He would raise them up on the last day.” (v.40) He told them that “He was the bread of life & unless people ate his flesh and drank his blood, that would not have eternal life!” (v.53)
And the people said…
You’re crazy. Your flesh isn’t bread. Your blood isn’t drink.
You’re crazy. You can’t bring us back to life.
You’re crazy. You aren’t the Messiah. I won’t trust in you. I’m a good enough person on my own to get to heaven without – some carpenter from Nazareth!
v. 66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
People who had seen the miraculous feeding of the nearly 10,000…People who ate of his bread and tasted the fish. People who saw the 12 baskets left over. People who had no problem taking his food – that was easy – found it too hard to follow him.
And they left him.
Isn’t it the same thing today?
Do you know what a MEME is? It’s a photo or graphic with a brief message on it. Some are funny. Some are interested. Some exist to make a point. And in our YouTube, I don’t want to read, show me a photo society – these one sentence picturesque memes are popular. They’re all over social media.
Some aren’t very flattering to Christians. Try this sometime. Google “Stupid Christian memes.” Make sure you put a filter on your search phrase though, because they can get very crude and profanity filled, very quickly. I found one that’s not super crass – but still makes my skin crawl. Ready for it?
Religion - Helping stupid people feel important since the dawn of man.
How’s that make you feel? Good? Do you like it? It’s ok to say “no who would?“
Here’s where the devil does his best work:
Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to be on the bandwagon?
Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to just be quiet?
Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to not have to hear people call you awful names?
Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to stop following Jesus?
Here’s the reality. It would be.
It would be less lonely – There’s lot of people on the other road.
It would be easier – It’s wide and you aren’t hard pressed on any side.
Why, then? Why then would we keep following Jesus?
One reason. LIFE.
II. One Even Better Reason TO Follow Jesus
Read the passage from Matthew one more time. Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it.
Zero in on that word destruction. Honestly there’s not a way that I can fluff up that word. There’s not any way to sugar coat it. That big road? The one that’s easy? The one that’s apart from Jesus? The one that lots of people are on and is such a nice & pleasant trip?
When you get to the end it stops being pleasant – real quick.
There’s the burning, incredible wrath of a sin-hating, all powerful, holy God.
There’s hellfire. Forever. In Hellfire.
But the other road? The one that’s lonely. The one that’s tough. The one that isn’t all that pleasant. The one that’s filled with ridicule and scorn and memes mocking you for taking the road?
That road leads to life.
As in, no destruction.
As in, no annihilation.
As in, no hell.
As in, eternal life.
As in, everlasting peace.
As in, glory — forever.
If you’re thinking that sounds crazy – remember that’s the very reason the road is challenging. It seems crazy.
Kind of like when Jesus said he would feed 10,000 some people with a few loaves of bread and two fish—and he did.
And kind of like when Jesus said they could kill him, but he would come back to life three days later – and he did.
The stark contrast in the two roads couldn’t be more clear.
One road seems nice but leads to eternal destruction.
The other road seems tough, but leads to eternal life.
If you’ve been following the wrong road.
If you’ve been choosing the broad road, feel your pulse. Your time is not up. There’s still room on the road to life.
Jesus walked a tough, awful, lonely road to get you back on the right road.
He was left behind by his followers.
He was betrayed by a dear friend.
He was beaten by the people he came to save.
He was crucified by the humans he created.
He died as His Heavenly Father forsook him & abandoned him because of our sins.
But he did all this to make you a path – the only path – to God.
A path of forgiveness.
A path of peace with God.
A path to heaven.
III. What now?
1) Watch Out for Bandwagonism
The Super Bowl is today -- and while I’ve gotten over the fact that this is #NotMySuperBowl – I’m still not certain who I’ll cheer for. I’ll probably just hop on the bandwagon of whatever team the majority of people at the Super Bowl party are cheering for.
What’s a bandwagon you ask? A bandwagon is…
Hopping on the bandwagon, then, is a phrase that means you will cheer for a team, not because you like the way they are coached. Not because you think they’re good. Not even because you think their mascot is cute. Hopping on the bandwagon means that you cheer for a team, simply because everyone else is.
And the bandwagon is fun! You get high fives from lots of people. You cheer with lots of people. You get to sample people’s hot wings & bratwurst – just cause “You’re a fan of my time.” No one mocks you. No one makes fun of you. You laugh together. You win together. You lose together.
It is much more difficult to go against the bandwagon. If you are the only one at your Super Bowl party today cheering for the Falcons & everyone else is decked out in Tom Brady jerseys – that’s not as much fun. You can’t celebrate with all the gusto you want. You feel like you have to smile politely when something good happens – that’s all your celebrations are limited to. You have to endure teasing & raucous cheering when things go bad. Essentially – you, by yourself – are the enemy.
Don't be a bandwagon fan when it comes to Jesus.
Don't do it just because your family did.
Don't follow just because your friends do.
Follow because Jesus leads to life.
(2) Remember the Goal
As Jesus watched the backs of thousands of people, people who had been sitting at his feet just yesterday – but now were leaving him because he was crazy. He looked back at his closest friends – Peter, Andrew, James and John – the men that he had called from the fishing boat “Follow me.” He said, “You don’t want to leave too, do you?”
It was quiet.
The men looked at each other.
All eyes focused on Peter.
He nodded his head and stood up.
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Peter was right.
There was no other road for him.
There was no other road for the other disciples.
There was no other road for life.
And even if it was hard, even if it was lonely. There was no way he was turning around.
May God impress upon us the exact same confidence to follow Jesus…even when we’re all alone. Amen.