Pastors have a lot of different jobs. They preach. They teach. They counsel. They can be a youth group leader, a maintenance guy, a musician, even an administrator.
The other day I was performing one of the jobs that I am especially skilled at…
I was holding the door for parents as they came to pick up their kids at Precious Lambs. As I greet them, I try be friendly, make connections and ask, “If anything cool had happened lately.”
One friend did not have anything cool happen lately.
Life is hard, Pastor. Finances have been stressful. My work has been busy. Virtual learning is difficult. And my dad is in the hospital. Honestly, I don’t know if I can do this.
I listened and applied God’s Word, “That is difficult. Thankfully you aren’t alone. Your God is with you. He lived for you, died for you, and rose for you. With him by your side, you will get through this. Because nothing is too difficult for God”
They smiled. “Thank you.”
I said, “I’m glad you found it encouraging. There’s more where that came from. In fact, this weekend our church is gathering for worship, we’re examining some uplifting promises from God’s Word. Do you want to come?
Their smile turned to amusement.
Church? Pastor, I don’t need church.
I believe in God.
That’s good enough, right?
Maybe you’ve heard that sentiment before.
Maybe you’ve said that sentiment before.
Maybe you’ve been a long-time church person, but the pandemic has made you wonder…
Why do I need Church?
Our goal over the next month is to discover reasons behind church given from the inventor of church himself --
Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Because We Get to Meet with God
The first section of God’s Word we will look at to find the importance of church is found in the book of Hebrews.
A bit of background. Hebrews is a book written with an unknown author. It is one of only a handful of books with an unknown author. Some think it was written by the apostle Paul. Some think it was written by Paul’s comrade Apollos. Some think it was Barnabas or Timothy.
One thing that isn’t unclear is who inspired the book.
God is the author.
God is the one teaching us.
It also isn’t unclear to whom the book was written. It was written to recent converts to Christianity from Judaism. Those who read the book would have had a good understanding of Old Testament and the work of Jesus.
It also written at a time when persecution was at an all-time high for the Early Christian church.
Some Jews hated Christians.
Groups like the Pharisees wanted to kill believers. Especially those who used to be of their faith.
The Romans had a growing hatred for Christianity.
If you were a believer, it was very scary to meet up in person.
You could be thrown in prison.
You could have rocks thrown at you.
You could have a group of Roman soldiers interrupt your meeting, arrest you, and making you fight a pack of lions.
In short, if you went to a church, you could die.
Considering COVID-19, maybe you get it.
It seemed like the wise choice was to stay home.
It seemed like the wise choice was to disconnect from the church.
It seemed like the wise choice was to just do faith on your own.
But is it?
Brothers and sisters, we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place through the blood of Jesus. It is a new and living way he opened for us through the curtain, that is, his flesh. (v.19-20)
It makes a reference to the Most Holy Place. That was something from Old Testament Jewish worship. (Remember – the recipients were converts from Judaism. They would have understood the reference).
The Most Holy Place was a part of Old Testament temple. It contained the Ark of the Covenant. Inside the Ark was the original stone copy of the ten commandments, a jar of divine bread that had fallen from sky, and Aaron’s wooden staff. (It had once been a dead piece of wood, but had come to life with flowers blooming upon it.
It was a special place.
It was a place of God.
It was a place where God dwelt.
Not just anyone could go in there.
The temple courtyard was for commoners. That means that lay people who had Jewish blood could enter. But if you weren’t Jewish, you couldn’t.
Inside the temple was the Holy Place. It was sealed off by thick doors. Only the priests (kinda like pastors) could enter to offer animal sacrifices. Common people were not allowed.
Then, there was the Most Holy Place. It had a 4 inch thick curtain that separated it from the simple Holy Place. Only the high priest (think lead pastor) could enter one time per year and only to offer sacrifices.
All of this was to get across a point to God’s people.
God is holy.
Because of your sin, you can’t get anywhere near him.
Reread the passage from Hebrews, “We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place through the blood of Jesus. It is a new and living way he opened for us through the curtain, that is, his flesh."
If we did worship like the Old Testament Jews…
It’d be as if our Hospitality team stood at the entrance to the parking lot.
They make you show your Gethsemane membership card to park in the parking lot.
Then, an usher would come to your car and ask what kind of prayers you had for God.
He’d deliver them to the usher who would enter the church.
That usher would put some money in an offering plate and give the request to me.
I would take a special key to open up the double doors to the worship space, deposit lots of money in an offering place and prayer your prayer to God.
God would feel so very distant.
Because of our sin, he would be.
Maybe you get that feeling.
Maybe you’ve even felt that.
Like church cannot be for you, because you are too sinful.
Because you’ve been away for too long.
Because you are too ungodly.
But you’re wrong.
Because of Jesus, the temple is open.
Because of Jesus, we can enter.
Because of Jesus, we can enter the Holy Place.
Because of Jesus, we can enter the Most Holy Place.
Because of Jesus, we have access to God.
Friends, why be a part of a church? Why gather in the presence of God?
Because we GET TO meet with GOD!
The barrier of sin has been removed.
The curtain of guilt has been torn down.
We have access to our Lord and Savior.
You get to talk to the one who created you.
You get to hear from the one who created you.
You get to commune with the One who loved you so much that he died to save you.
You get to rub shoulders with the One so powerful, he conquered death itself.
And it really is true.
Even if you can’t see him.
Can I show you something Jesus told his disciples? Jesus said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Mt. 18:19)
Jesus told them this before he physically left his disciples for heaven.
I imagine they went back to this promise.
When things got tough…
When they suffered…
When they felt guilt…
When they felt attacked…
When they felt persecuted…
When they felt like they were all alone…
They could gather together.
There would be 1, 2, 3 of them…
Plus 1 more.
There would be 10, 11, 12 of them…
Plus 1 more.
There would be 55, 56, 57 of them.
Plus 1 more.
That 1 more?
And…the same is true with us.
When we get together…
Whether it’s in worship on a Sunday.
At a coffee shop with a few others.
Even at VBS yesterday!
Jesus is with you.
II. To Keep our Faith Unwavering
But that’s not the only reason to stay connected to church.
Let us approach with a sincere heart, in the full confidence of faith, because our hearts have been sprinkled to take away a bad conscience, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. Let us hold on firmly to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful. (v.22-23)
Do you know what a front delt fly is? It is a type of weightlifting exercise where you grab two dumbbells and lift them to shoulder level without bending your elbows. You keep your arms straight and hold at the top.
When I first started doing them, I wasn’t so great at them. When I held them for a moment at the top…
…my arms would waver.
…my weight would shake.
…my grip would loosen.
And I’d be seconds away from letting them drop.
But after lots of training, my grip strengthened, and my hold became unwavering.
To Keep our Faith UNWAVERING
Because when it comes to keeping our faith strong, we aren’t just talking about holding onto a 5-pound dumbbell. We are talking about holding onto the eternal life-giving promises of the One and Only Savior.
You need him for heaven.
Don’t drop him.
And just like weight training, you lift more with a trainer.
You lift more with a buddy.
You lift more with a friend saying, “You got this.”
Because if you wanted to push me theologically on the last point, you might say, “Jesus is always with us pastor. Even when we aren’t in church.”
Fair enough. Jesus is absolutely with us even when we’re alone. He promised, “Surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.” (Mt. 28:21)
Jesus is always with you.
But it doesn’t always feel like it.
And when you don’t feel like it, it is hard to convince yourself of it.
That’s when you need someone else.
Someone to look you in the eye.
Someone to tell you, “Jesus is real.”
Someone to have coffee, listen to your confession, and say to your heart, “You are forgiven.”
A pastor to remind you that you have been sprinkled with the waters of baptism and you are his child.
A group to meet you on ZOOM, hear your doubts, and encourage you.
A large group to fill your ears with the joyful melodies of a risen Savior.
III. To Encourage
But church isn’t just about keeping you…
Let us also consider carefully how to spur each other on to love and good works. Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have the habit of doing. Rather, let us encourage each other… (v.24-25)
In a 2015, pew research poll Americans from all walks of life were asked what they looked for in a church.
80% said they wanted sermons to uplift them
77% said they wanted to feel welcomed.
75% said they wanted a worship style they liked.
70% said they wanted a location convenient to them.
Do you know what was way at the bottom of the list?
Most were interested in how the church could serve them.
Few were interested in how they could serve the church.
But that just shows a misunderstanding of church.
To ENCOURAGE others
This isn’t just about you! You need to be an active part of this to encourage others.
To look them in the eye.
To tell them, “Jesus is real.”
To have coffee, listen to their confession, and say to their heart, “You are forgiven.”
To remind you that you have been sprinkled with the waters of baptism and you are His child.
To meet them on ZOOM, hear their doubts, and encourage them.
To join this large group to fill their ears with the joyful melodies of a risen Savior.
I get it…
Some of you might still say…
I am one of the few, pastor.
I know that I have access to God.
I am one of the small percentage who can keep their faith unwavering on their own.
I don’t need church.
I got this.
If that’s you…
After this point…
You’d better be getting on Google right now to get connected with a local church because you understand from your careful study of scripture that the local church needs you and your encouragement.
IV. Because the Day is Approaching
One more reason from this section.
Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have the habit of doing. Rather, let us encourage each other, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (v.25)
What does the writer mean by “the Day?”
The start of school?
Back to Church Sunday?
The Day that Amazon package arrives?
“The Day” is a phrase that is used throughout the book of Hebrews to refer to a day that hasn’t happened yet.
The Last Day.
The Final Day.
The Day you die.
What God is saying is that if you’re reading this, you are alive.
If you are alive, then you haven’t made it to heaven yet.
If you haven’t made it to heaven yet, do all you can to keep your faith in your Savior.
Because the DAY is Approaching
During the pandemic, death has been a real possibility.
We’ve told to stay home to keep people physically.
Fair enough. I don’t debate that. Science is good.
But… could one unintended consequence of keeping our space physically…
Be that we separated ourselves spiritually.
And a very real consequence of separating ourselves spiritually,
Be that we put ourselves in danger spiritually?
Rather than the pandemic being a reason to disconnect from church.
Hasn’t the pandemic been a reason that we desperately need church.
Be safe. But, be safe.
Be physically safe. But spiritually safe too.
Stay connected to your Savior.
Stay connected to other.
Stay connected to church. Amen
In last week’s sermon text, something amazing happened.
God saved the Israelites slaves from their Egyptian overlords. When they were trapped between the Red Sea and the pursuing Egyptian army, God delivered them. He caused the water to form two walls for the one million plus Israelites to safely escape to the other side. When they had made it through, he collapsed the sea onto the Egyptians so that they would never be a threat to his people again.
The Israelites were safe.
But what next?
They were in the desert.
They were in a land they had never been to before.
They were free for the first time in their lives.
Maybe, set up some tents?
Build a fire?
Elect someone to watch out for cougars?
Maybe look for the local Food Lion to buy some trail mix?
Before the Israelites could do anything to make this desert destination into a residence, they do something else…
I. Reason for Celebration!
Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord. They said: I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has thrown into the sea. (15:1)
I love how impromptu this is. The word “then” indicates that this singing occurred right after the Red Sea covered the Israelite’s tracks. “Then,” they immediately broke into an impromptu musical number about God.
It’s like the musical Oklahoma! (Have you seen it?) At the end, Jed, the bad guy, is defeated by Curly, the good guy. He is slain in a gunfight. How does the crowd respond?
Aw, Jed is dead.
But at least we are living in O-ooo-oooo-kla-homa!
Pharaoh and his chariots are slain. But the Israelites don’t see it as a time to hold a memorial.
They don’t go in search of food.
They don’t set up camp.
They don’t spend the first minutes trying to figure out how to make life work as a nomadic desert community.
There’s always reason to CELEBRATE God.
Because maybe you don’t feel like celebrating.
I’m not gonna lie.
I wasn’t sure I was.
You see – I did something foolish.
When I scheduled this sermon series with this date as the final Sunday in our series.
I thought to myself – I’m sure COVID will be basically done by then.
COVID numbers are rising again.
The variant is on the loose.
The economy is still floundering.
People are without jobs.
Companies are without employees.
Maybe you’re battling depression.
Struggling in your marriage.
Still single and can’t get a date.
Weighed down by a guilty conscience.
It might not seem like there’s reason to celebrate.
But there is always is reason to celebrate.
There are always reasons to celebrate. Moses’ song shares a few…
(1) Celebrate because of who God IS
In popular love songs, it is common to hear the artist describe who their love is as a reasons for their joyful singing:
Frank Sinatra sang that his love was, “all I long for, all I worship and adore.”
Van Morrison sang, “Sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-tee-dah”, because of his “brown eyed girl.”
The Temptations sang and danced and snapped their fingers to their beat… “And I guess you say what could make them feel this way? Their girl.”
Moses had reason to sing because of whom God was.
And we have reason to sing because of who God still is.
The Lord is my strength and song. He has become my salvation.
This is my God, and I will praise him; my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a warrior. The Lord is his name. (v.2-3)
Friends, God is a lot of things. But check out a specific few in Moses’ lyrics.
He calls God his Strength. That means he is the reason that Moses was able to keep going despite all of Pharaoh’s harsh stubbornness.
God is your strength.
He is the reason you are standing.
He is the reason you are breathing.
He is the reason you made it this far in the pandemic.
He is the reason you can keep searching for jobs.
He is the reason you are here worshiping right now.
Which seems like a reason to worship.
He calls God a Warrior. This ties into something Moses had said to the Israelites when they were trapped between the Red Sea and the approaching Egyptian army. Moses had said, “God will fight for you.”
And God did fight. He defeated the Egyptian army.
But the lyrics are present tense. They describe God as still fighting.
He is a warrior.
One who is fighting.
Fighting at the time Moses sang the song.
Fighting by the time Moses finished the song.
Fighting thousands of years later when we read the song.
God is fighting for you.
Finally, Moses calls God, My God.
Moses had grown up in the Egyptian polytheistic environment. It was common in that environment for these pagan cultures to buy or create statues in the market.
One might look like a frog.
One might look like the sun.
One might look like a cat.
You could buy these gods and bring them home. They were your household god - meant to protect you.
The closer you were in vicinity to the gods, the better their protection would be.
Everybody had their own god.
At the age of eighty Moses did too.
It’s just that his household God cannot be contained to one measly house.
You have that same God.
It’s the God over your household.
It’s the God over all households.
Moses does more in his song than simply praise God for who he is. Look at what he does next:
He has cast Pharaoh’s chariots and his army into the sea.
…Lord, your right hand has shattered the enemy.
In your great majesty you overthrew those who opposed you.
You sent out your burning anger. It consumed them like stubble.
At the blast from your nostrils the waters piled up...
You blew with your breath, and the sea covered the Egyptians.
…You stretched out your right hand, and the earth swallowed them. (v.4-12)
Did you catch that?
Eight times over the span of eight verses, God is described as doing an action.
I suppose that makes sense…
In a song about God, the content should be God and what God has done.
(2) Celebrate because of what God HAS DONE
We don’t always get this.
I recently said someone, “Isn’t God great?”
They responded, “Yes. That’s why I’ve been worshiping for so many years. I gave my life to him. I received him into my heart. I sing to him. I give money to him. I have all kinds of devotion for him.”
And I said, “Yes, but…isn’t God great?”
Watch out for this trick. The devil would love for our talk about God and what God has done to be focused on what we have done.
Which is far less impressive.
The results will be that you feel like there isn’t a lot of reason for celebration.
Instead, focus on what God has done!
And what has God done for you?
He thought you up.
He loved you.
He created you.
He gave you life.
He helped you grow.
He kept you alive.
He lived perfectly for you.
He died innocently for you.
He rose triumphantly for you.
He defeated sin for you.
He conquered guilt for you.
He fought death and won for you.
He redeemed you.
He rescued you.
He saved you.
He put you into his family.
He gave you a church family.
He has given you his Word.
God has certainly done a lot for us.
But he isn’t done yet either…
It’s probably why Moses wasn’t done with his song:
In your mercy you will lead the people that you have redeemed.
In your strength you will guide them to your holy pastureland. (v.13-14)
This is a shift in Moses’ song.
All the verbs prior to this have been past tense They have been actions that God has done in the past to get the people of Israel to the free side of the Red Sea.
But at verse 13 it switches to the future tense…
He will lead them. (v.13)
He will guide them. (v.14)
He will cause the surrounding nations to be terrified (v.14-15)
He will bring Israel onto his mountain. (v.17)
He will reign forever and ever. (v.18)
TRUTH: Celebrate what God WILL DO
I know that earlier I alluded to the fact that I cannot and dare not predict the complete end of COVID.
It may not happen.
But it will end.
God will end it.
If not on earth, in heaven.
There’s no COVID in heaven.
There’s no vaccines in heaven.
There’s no masks.
There’s no sanitizer.
There’s no overdue rent.
There’s no joblessness.
There’s no need for a stimulus check.
There’s no sin.
There’s no temptation.
There’s no falling to the same temptation for the 47th time.
There’s no guilt.
There’s no more thinking about that wrong thing you did in college.
There’s no more waking up and being overwhelmed by what you said last night.
There’s no depression.
There’s no sadness.
There’s no racism.
There’s no pain.
There’s nothing bad at all in The Promised Land.
Which is something that God will do for you.
By faith in Jesus, he will bring you to the Promised Land of heaven.
II. How to Celebrate
We have plenty of reasons to celebrate. How do we celebrate? Two ideas from Moses.
(1) Make God YOUR Song
Back in the “Who God is” section of his song, Moses called “God” his song.
That is, in his song about God he said that his song is God.
This is more than just lyrics.
Do you know what a musical theme is? In musicals and movies, the theme will often be heard in the background at the beginning of the movie. Then, it will reappear throughout the movie.
Take Jaws for example.
At the beginning credits, “Da-nah.”
At the first sighting of the shark, “Da-nah.”
Over and over again for the rest of the movie, “Da-nah.”
Eventually the theme of Jaws has become so iconic that I can sing to you two notes, “Da-nuh,” and you are immediately looking for the nearest life raft.
God was Moses’ theme.
If you took a look at Moses’ life, you would repeatedly hear God.
The raising of his staff for God to do miracles…the Lord.
Speaking the Lord’s name to Pharaoh…the Lord.
Redirecting the Israelites back to God’s promises…the Lord.
Writing down the book of Exodus…the Lord, the Lord, the Lord!
Moses’ song was God.
Is God YOUR song?
When people look at your life is God the theme they hear?
Or do they hear a song of selfishness?
A refrain of racism?
A melody of malice?
A hymn of hatred?
A tune of terror?
Make God your song.
Sing his praises in church.
Sing his praises online.
Sing his praises on social media.
Sing his praises to your kids.
Sing his praises to your spouse.
Sing his praises to your family.
Sing his praises to your friends.
Sing his praises to your coworkers.
Sing his praises to your neighbors.
Sing his praises to the dental hygienist who is asking if you remembered to floss since your last visit.
Sing God’s praises. Make HIM your song.
(2) Raise a Righteous Ruckus
When Moses and the Israelites complete their song, that’s not the end of the celebration.
Scripture says, “Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine, and all the women followed her with drums and dancing.” (v.20)
This was not quiet.
This was loud.
It wasn’t piano.
They raised a ruckus about their Redeemer.
And they did it…
Let’s raise a righteous ruckus together too.
God has put us together to bring the message of who he is, what he has done, and what he will do into our community.
It is so much louder when people do it together.
For example, what happens when I say, “Alleluia!” It’s ok. You can hear it.
But now what if we add in the front row and say, “Alleluia.” It’s a bit louder. More can hear it.
Now what if we add in everybody sitting in the front section. Notice it’s getting pretty loud.
What if the whole church shouts it together – even the people sitting at home. “Alleluia!” It’s loud here and it was heard in the vicinity of the community it is where you, the online worshipers are worshiping.
It is so much louder when we do it together.
It is so much louder when you join us in doing it together.
COVID is still happening.
But God is still happening too.
Let’s keep his celebration happening.