Have you seen that meme from the movie ELF? I saw it back on December 26th last year -- where Will Ferrell’s character is panicking with excitement because "There’s only 363 more days until Christmas!?!"
But now it’s not funny anymore. Now we are into the holiday stretch. Now we’re on the clock.
And there’s a lot of things that will be vying for your attention this Christmas season.
Macys’ will be wanting you to shop their sales.
Amazon will be wanting you to surf the net.
ABC Family will be wanting you to watch Christmas movies.
Your friends at work will be wanting you to attending an Ugly Sweater party.
Church will be wanting you to do “churchy” Christmas things.
And you’ll be wanting to wrap presents, drink some spiked egg nog, and curl up to some Bing Crosby at around 5pm.
There’s a lot of ways to prepare for Christmas. But are all of them good?
And I checked – you can find all kinds of Google articles on the “10 Most important Christmas things to spend time on” this holiday season.
But as cool and awesome as the internet is – maybe there’s somewhere else we can look for guidance on the holiday season.
Something that’s been around a lot longer.
Something that’s been around for every Christmas ever celebrated – and even a few before Christmas even happened.
Today we are going to start our series from God’s Word called Old Fashioned Christmas. We are going to look at how people prepared for Christmas – before there was Christmas! As we take a look at these Old Testament (before Jesus) Scripture readings, we’re going to get some divine guidance on our holiday season. Before we do that today, please 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. Time Without God?
We’re going to start this week in Isaiah chapters 1 and 2. Isaiah is a prophet who lived about 600 some years before Jesus was ever born. That means – he lived hundreds of years before anyone ever heard of Christmas – thousands of years before Walmart ever put their first Christmas tree display up in July.
At the time of Isaiah, the scene wasn’t exactly the peaceful, Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire situation that we think of today.
Look at what Isaiah writes about the state of Israel:
Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness—only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged…your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by strangers. Daughter Zion (that’s an ancient phrase meaning “Jerusalem”) is left like a shelter in a vineyard, like a hut in a cucumber field…” (1:6-8)
Ever been to a cucumber farm before? Me neither. But I love that illustration. Because during the peak cucumber season, the little cucumber storage huts are completely full. They are filled with vitamins and minerals – and big, plump juicy cucumbers that just can’t wait to be pickles.
But at the end of the harvest – after they’ve all been sold, and the left overs have been given to the local food shelter and the deer have found the mushy remains and eaten them up, there’s not much left. Just dirt. Bugs. A few rotten pieces in the corner. It’s desolate.
That’s how Isaiah describes Israel. They are dirty. They are bug ridden. They are desolate. There isn’t anything nutritious or beneficial about their existence.
But this message would have been strange to the Israelite people.
It says in 1:1 that this was written during the reign of Uzziah. You can learn more about the specifics of his reign in 2 Chronicles 26, but the general impression of his reign is that things weren’t all that bad when he was in charge. In fact, he probably had a good approval rating. He rebuilt Elath – a city that had been destroyed in southern Judah. He defeated the fierce, terrorist like enemies, the Philistines. (v.6) He worked a trade agreement where the Ammonites brought taxes and tribute (v.8) to him. He built towers, and walls, and cisterns (v.9); he had plenty of livestock (v.l0) and he had a well-trained army. (v.11)
The description in 2 Chronicles doesn’t match the description of Isaiah.
But Isaiah wasn’t commenting on the economic state.
He wasn’t commenting on the power of the Israelite drachma.
He wasn’t commenting on the scope of Israelite political power.
He was commenting on Israel’s spiritual condition. Isaiah 1:2 says, “Israel is a sinful nation. They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy one of Israel and turned their backs on Him.”
As in, they didn’t have time for God.
As in, they were too busy.
As in, he was last on their To Do List.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
I think this is a good time to stop and ask that question. How much time are you allotting for God this holiday season? You know – the One who created you, gave you life, has been taking care of you for years and sustains you each day so that you even have enough money and strength to celebrate Christmas in the first place…
How much time are you going to give Him?
An hour a Sunday – because I can use a lot of the service to write down my shopping list plan for the rest of Christmas!
A minute to skim through a Bible passage or two on social media – because it makes me feel better about lingering on angry political posts for an entire lunch break!
Hours at church each week – because To God Be the Glory! And also Me! I hope people see how awesome I am at Christmas – and to Me be the Glory!
We just had Black Friday. Hundreds of thousands in Raleigh hit the shops and the malls -- many of them at 4am! They spent all day shopping and even continued shopping into the night on their computer. Invigorated and excited by the deals that they found online.
But think about it:
4am is no problem for shopping, yet 10:30am on Sunday is too early for God?
An entire day is no problem devoted to parking at Crabtree Mall, but an hour is too long for God?
A weekend of shopping takes months of planning and couponing and mapping out the right area that I should go to at just the right time to get the best deals on the best items at the best times...but I’ll only consider mapping out my time with God, because Pastor said so.
It’s an epidemic in America. It can get us too! Even if you aren’t into shopping. Even if you’re only into Holiday marathons, party planning, wrapping, Christmas concert going, hunting, watching football or just making money to pay the credit card bills in January, it’s so easy to make God the very last One to spend time with.
And that’s where it gets serious. Even though Isaiah was only speaking of the spiritual condition of the Israelites his first prophecy, he was also offering a warning. If the people didn’t have time for God, eventually God wasn’t going to have time for them. And if He didn’t have time for them, then this spiritual destitution, would become very real. It would become very physical.
It would become eternal.
The same warning is true for you. If you don’t have time for God, why should He have time for you?
Eventually – He won’t!
It’s kind of like if you got into a Thanksgiving spat. Ever had one of those? You have some relatives and friends over to your house. You eat some turkey. You talk about the recipe for the dressing. But then, you start talking politics. Suddenly, your good friend is a big enemy. And you argue – crudely and rudely—for the entirety of the Halftime show.
What happens if you don’t apologize and make up before Thanksgiving is over? If they pick up their coat and leave without an apology for you, because you didn’t want to talk to them? Well…The sin festers. The bitterness intensifies. A friendship is ruined.
If you don’t return to God. If you don’t come back to your Savior. If you prepare for Christmas without God, eventually it will be too late.
And He’ll be gone.
II. God’s Time for Us
But don’t think that God wasn’t ever at work for you. Inside these harsh, scary, challenging words of Isaiah is one of the greatest promises of God’s love in the Old Testament:
“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” (1:18)
I used to be up in Wisconsin. Here’s the thing about living up North—sometimes you don’t get all of the leaves raked up before snow comes. Because -- it snows sometime in early September. Regardless – when that snow melts in mid-March, the ground is a mess. There’s mud, decayed leaves, an old McDonald’s Happy Meal bag, and a brownish, grey apple peel on the grass.
But then – it snows again. The next morning you wake up and there isn’t an inch of grass.
There isn’t a hint of trash.
You can’t see any of the mud.
Just this brilliant, sparkling, scene of fluffy, white snow.
God says that is what he would do for Israel.
God says that is what he would do for you.
Those filthy disgusting sins – the stuff that will ruin a Christmas celebration:
Rude words spoken.
Sex had…and lingering on your heart.
A past filled with yuck! and gross! and God could never love me.
Covered by God’s love.
Covered by divine forgiveness.
Covered by Jesus Christ.
Understand: God was always at work to do this for you. From before you were born – from Ancient times – from times long before the First Christmas ever took place – God was planning to send a Savior. God was spending all of his time working for you. He was keeping a small group of Israel alive from whom the Savior would emerge. He was maintaining promises in His Word. He was working miracle after miracle in the Old Testament to prove that He means his promises and keep faith growing.
At just the right time, He set up a Roman Government that would ask for a census at just the right time to move a young man named Joseph and his bride to be named Mary into the town of Bethlehem – long promised to be the home of the Savior. The Bible says this, "When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law – that’s us – that we might receive the full rights of His Children.” (Galatians 4:4-5)
Talk about incredible! God used all of His time for you.
And when the Savior did finally come…
He dedicated every hour of his life to you.
He dedicated the last moments of his breath to you.
He gave up his time on earth for you!
He rose triumphantly from the grave to offer you an eternity of time with Him in heaven.
III. What now?
(1) Go to His Mountain
The next chapter says this, “In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains…and all nations will flock to it.” (2:2)
That’s because things that are lifted high are easily seen.
Think about it -- how many times have you been driving down I-40 – it’s late in the day. You’re tired. You’re hungry. It’s late. You’re about to pull over and give up, but then, in the distance, you see it: The Golden arches. They mean delicious is on the way.
That’s why churches had steeples. So that no matter what’s going on – no matter where you are – no matter what kind of awful is going on in your life, you can look up and see – a cross. See the place where you can go and find God.
So -- Go to His mountain. Make sure that you have time to be in church this Christmas preparation season. Put it down on your Google calendar as a can’t miss event of the week. In fact, I think you can even lock it into Google calendar as an “unchangeable time.”
But we’re not open all the time. Does that mean God’s mountain is only open on Sundays? Of course not! You can go to God’s mountain without even leaving the comforts of your home. Pick up a Bible. Open it up. Use the Advent reading suggestion that is stuffed into your bulletin this week – Go to God’s mountain.
And please keep in mind that simply having this advent planner, doesn’t mean you’ve actually made it to God’s mountain. That’d be like assuming that once Google Maps is fired up, you’re at your destination. It doesn’t work like that. You’ve got to actually get in the car and drive.
And you’ve got to get into God’s Word to arrive at his mountain.
(2) Walk in His Footsteps
What do you do there? Look at what Isaiah says,
“Let us go to the mountain of the Lord to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways so that we may walk in his paths.” (v.3)
Because when you get to God’s mountains, that’s what you see: Footprints! And just like when there’s a fine dusting of snow and you walk outside, see your dad’s footsteps and try to follow them, that’s what we do on God’s mountain. We follow his footsteps. God’s footsteps lead to some incredible truths.
You see his steps throughout history to ready for the coming of the Savior.
You see his steps throughout prophecy to prepare for saving you.
You see his steps toward the cross – to take away all your sins.
You see his steps off the cross – with a tiny hole in each footprint – showing you just how much he loved you!
This means when you’re at God’s mountain – you don’t just chill. You’re active. Actively listening. Actively learning.
Not playing games on your iPhone.
Not looking up fantasy scores.
Not getting distracted by text messages.
Actively coming up with a plan to put God’s Word into your life.
(3) Live in Peace
Isaiah talks about this on God’s mountain: God will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords and make them into gardening tools. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore!
Which is something that happens during the holiday season. Supposedly, people lay down their differences and stop hating on one another.
Then, come December 26th it’s right back to hating on one another.
Calling people racist names on Facebook.
Gossiping about that coworker on the day back to work.
Leaving a nasty message for your parents about why you’ll never go to their house for Christmas again.
It’s funny. Things and stuff and gifts and cookie and garland and mistletoe and Santa – can make you happy, but they can’t bring peace. Deep down – the problems you have before Christmas are still there during Christmas – and still there after Christmas.
But Jesus deals with those problems.
The mountain of God brings peace.
The mountain of God brings you peace with God.
If you’ve got peace with God, it’s a lot easier to have peace with other.
So what do you do this Christmas season?
It just started. You’ve still got plenty of time. Add “Time with God” to your holiday list. Make it the most important part of your list. Listen to the words of Isaiah:
“Come, descendant of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
I have this theory about Thanksgiving. It might be a conspiracy theory, but it’s a theory nonetheless.
The theory? Thanksgiving Day was invented by moms.
Because moms love for their kids to be thankful.
When you get a piece of pie, say “Thank You.”
When someone says, you are looking ‘so big,' say “thank you.”
When you get a gift, sit down and write a Thank You card…
Thank you SO MUCH for the socks. I love them! They fit my ankles perfectly.
Thanksgiving must have come from moms. “Let’s invent a day in which everyone is reminded all day long to say thank you for the things I do and make – ALL YEAR LONG.”
But you know what’s sad? That we even have a Thanksgiving Day. If we had listened to our moms, we’d be thankful each day of the year. 364 days of Thanksgiving!
Instead, it’s more like 364 days of complaining, begrudging, and bemoaning.
One day of mom enforced, halfhearted, turkey basted, “football-is-on-so-let-me-get-it-out-of-the-way” thankfulness.
Today we want to focus in on a section from God’s Word in which a group of men learn an important lesson about giving thanks. As we look at the lesson from Luke 17, we’ll be reminded that mom was right. Giving thanks is super important! 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. Ten Healed…One Thankful
It was a strange version of a Thanksgiving dinner.
The men sat around a fading fire. Each had a make shift seat from the surrounding landscape.
A pile of leaves.
The fire was slowing roasting the last bit of quail that they had taken down with a slingshot. Divvying it up for a group of ten hardly removed their hunger – in fact, it was just enough to get them thinking about how they were hungry for more.
But…what could they do?
They were quarantined.
These men had a terrible, ancient disease called leprosy. Leprosy was a skin disease that slowly ate away at your skin from the extremities inwards. Leprosy caused your skin to grow deathly pale. It started to flake off. They’d lose finger tips and tips of ears and the cartilage on their nose.
It was severely painful.
And there wasn’t any cure.
And it was fatal.
And it was contagious. Extremely contagious. That’s why they were quarantined. When it had been discovered that each man was leprous, each of these men were sent away – from their families — from their spouses – from their kids – from their parents – from their friends.
As a result, they had become their own hodgepodge, strange, death expecting colony.
As they quietly chewed their meat and were mesmerized by the crackling of the fire – something – anything to take their mind off of the loneliness and sadness of their estate. They heard a crowd coming.
There off in the distance was a large line of people. They appeared to be chatting and listening to a leader – a man who commanded respect. A man who looked full of love. A man who seemed to be very popular.
Wait…Guys…Do you think this is that…Jesus guy?
They took a few steps forward and looked from a distance.
Yeah, I think so.
Suddenly they started shouting. Which isn’t that uncommon for lepers when they saw others coming. They were supposed to shout out: “UNCLEAN! UNCLEAN! Don’t come near us; we’re UNCLEAN!” It was supposed to be a warning – a human siren to let them know they were getting to close to the deadly, contagious disease.
But that’s not what they shouted this time:
JESUS! MASTER! Have pity on us. (Luke 17:13)
The man stopped the crowd. He turned and looked toward them. Then, he called back to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” (v.14)
Now the priests were important in ancient culture. The priests were kind of like doctors. They were educated and were able to determine health of individuals better than others. They were the ones who determine if someone was sick. They were the ones who determined if someone had leprosy. They were the ones who determined if someone should be quarantined – or if they were cured.
But…Jesus hadn’t done anything. He simply told them to go to the priests.
And yet, there something about his voice.
The men turned – all ten of them – and began to walk away from Jesus. They began to walk toward the priests.
Would this really work? Did this Jesus just need a second opinion? He hadn’t come near them. Maybe he needed the priest to confirm that they indeed had leprosy before he could cure it. That wasn’t very impressive. If he was the Son of God that many said he was, shouldn’t he have known?
One of them was so upset by this that he beat one of his hands into the other. If only we hadn’t listened, if only we hadn’t…wait.
He had felt that.
For the first time, in a long time, he had felt his fingers.
He looked down. No longer were they missing skin at the tips.
No longer were they a pale white.
No longer were they leprous.
Avram – Avram – check it out!
The excitement soon spread as each one of them realized what had just happened.
As they all realized that they had been healed.
As they all realized that they were no longer sick!
An energy overcame them like never before. Partly because of their new found health and partly because of adrenaline. They rushed off to the priests. He inspected each of them. They ran away from the temple. They immediately began celebrating – one found his mom and gave her a big hug. Another went to the local bar and ordered a round for everyone. A third found his lifelong crush – We can get married now! I’m healed.
They all began to celebrate. They all began to move on with their lives.
Except for one.
When he found out he was healed, he turned around.
He headed back towards the hills.
He wandered around until he found Jesus.
He came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet—and thanked him. (v.15-16)
He helped him to his feet.
He gave him a hug.
But then, Jesus stopped.
He looked around.
He pulled the man back.
Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner? (v.17-18)
The non-Jew? The one who doesn’t know any better? The one who wasn’t taught to “Give thanks to the LORD for he is good; his love endures forever?” (Psalm 118:1)
Rise my friend and go…your faith has made you well. (v.19)
II. Adding to that One
This story fits so well on Thanksgiving. In it, ten men receive an incredible blessing. But only one of them remembers what his mom had to say – only one of them returned to say Thank You.
But the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that this one guy is the strange one.
Because the Bible gives the impression that they had gone a ways before they realized they were healed. And it doesn’t record that Jesus made a plan to meet up with them afterwards. Plus – this was so incredibly exciting! They had been healed! It was time to do the things they couldn’t do before.
But this guy says --
I know it’s a long walk back.
I know I don’t have any idea where he is.
I know there’s a ton of other things I probably could be doing.
But I’ve gotta find Jesus. I’ve gotta thank him.
Jesus gives the reason behind this man’s thankfulness.
He gives the reason behind this man’s decision to delay his new life.
He gives the reason for this man’s marathon back to him.
Here’s the truth. Thanking God is the response of the faithful to the Faithful.
Think about that again: Thanking God is the response of the faithful to the Faithful.
Was God not faithful to the others? No. They were healed. Jesus even draws out that point. But…were they faithful to him? Not so much.
Which is so interesting, because when everything was going poorly, when they had no other choice, when they needed his miraculous healing power – they all turned to Him!
But the moment they were healed – See ya Jesus! I’ve gotta get on with my life.
They had a faith problem.
What about you? Are you faithful to the Faithful? Of course – I’m here at church, aren’t I?
Yes – but that doesn’t mean your thankful. It could just mean that someone else dragged you out of bed to get here. Which isn’t that impressive.
Do take note – it wasn’t the lifelong churchers that impressed Jesus. It was a Samaritan. A guy who didn’t grow up learning about God. A guy who didn’t grow up with stories of God’s goodness. A guy who didn’t grow up a part of God’s people.
Yet his thankfulness outshined all those who did!
What’s interesting about Thanksgiving is that it really is a secular holiday. It wasn’t necessarily started by the church. As a result, there will be all kinds of people who don’t believe in God – who barely believe in God – giving thanks to him today.
What about you?
Will unbelievers out thank you today?
Will non-church goers give more heartfelt thanks than you?
If so, there’s a faith problem.
If you’re only showing thanks just to try and beat the unbelievers at giving thanks – there’s a faith problem.
In fact, if I could diagnose you for a second – you may be sick.
With something much worse than leprosy.
Something that no doctor can cure.
Something that is so contagious every person on earth has it.
Something that is fatal – eternally fatal.
Something called sin.
But Jesus lived perfectly, when you could not.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the of forgiveness of all your sins.
Essentially healing you! You will not die, but live!
You don’t need to sit in your sinful, God hates many, leper colony of loneliness anymore.
God loves you.
You are in his kingdom.
Thankfulness is the response of the faithful to the Faithful.
So, dear faithful; be faithful.
There’s a lot of different ways to do it.
This man – put his life on hold – he ran all the way back through the wilderness and searched for Jesus until he could throw himself as His feet.
How will you be thankful? There’s a lot of ways:
Faithful attendance at worship.
Belting out the next song as loudly as you can.
Saying a special prayer today before you eat.
Quiet time with God tomorrow morning after the tryptophan wears off.
Telling others – at your meal later today – at the shopping mall tomorrow – that Jesus has healed you and inviting them to church to hear the same thing.
However, you choose to do it, do it daily. Listen to your mom’s words and be thankful to your Dad. Amen.
Have you ever heard of Angie’s List? It’s an online service that lets you hook up with various contractors in all kinds of areas. From painters to dry wallers, from lawn care to carpet care, from lizard wranglers to sheep shearers -- you can find the professional you need on Angie’s List
But you might wanna shop around. The truth is there are usually more than one company you can go with. Take plumbing, for example. If you need a plumber, you might like Plumberee – with lots of experience and fine craftsmanship, but a fine way of breaking the bank. Then again, there’s Bargain Plumbers less expensive, but so is their work. There’s Plumber’s R. Us. A bit corporate in its structure – so you know they can get the job done, but bad customer service. Then, there’s Frank’s Plumbing. Not as well known, but you can almost always get him on the phone and he does a fine job -- just as long as you don’t mind the smell of cigarettes that he brings with him everywhere he goes.
Who do you choose? The wise person shops around first, before making his decision.
Is the same thing true about grace? The last couple of weeks we’ve talked about the blessing of grace that Jesus brings. It’s without cost. It covers even the worst of sinners. It lasts into eternal life. It brings forgiveness for all your sins.
But…the wise person shops around first so…
What about Buddha? What type of grace does he offer?
What about Mohammed? I hear he has a good plan.
What about doing your best, trying your hardest, and earning some grace with the human spirit? That’s the American ideal. Plus you can get away with a lot more sins.
After all, doesn’t it kind of depend on your geography?
Different gods? Different traditions? Different religions?
Today we are finishing our series called Surprising Grace by looking at the exclusivity of grace. We’ll see why Grace must be from Jesus and how that’s true, no matter who you are or where you’re from. Before we do that, let’s say 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. Shopping Around for Other Options
Today’s account is taken from Revelation 5:1-12. Revelation is the final book in the Bible. It’s written by the Apostle John. It’s called Revelation because it’s a revelation that John received from God. A revelation of the future.
That’s why it has to be from God.
Remember: Time is like a jump rope. You and I are on the jump rope. Somewhere within this tiny ½ cm. It means we can only see behind us – as much as is preserved by history – and we can’t see too far in front of us – only making best guess predictions.
But God is of the timeline. He’s eternal. He sees everything from 6000 years ago to 15 years from now like it’s happening before his eyes.
That’s why God was able to tell John about the future in this revelation. He could see it happening. So, when we read Revelation, we find out about the future. We find out that sometimes – the future is comforting. Sometimes it’s scary. And sometimes…well…it’s strange.
John fell to his knees. The sight before him was too much.
For starters, there were these beasts. 4 incredible, terrifying beasts watching his every move. They were kind of like earthly beasts – and kind of not. One looked like an eagle. One like a lion. One like an ox. One like a man.
But they were only like these things. They were radiating. They were flying. They each had eyeballs all over them. Each eyeball blinking in tune with John’s every movement.
The beasts weren’t the only ones watching John. Surrounding him were 24 smaller thrones. Each throne had 24 elders – dressed in white and crowns of gold on their heads (v.4) Long, flowing, divine white hair gently flowing in the breeze – as if they were floating on water.
But the gentleness was interrupted. Flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder came from the center of the room. There stood a gigantic throne. There was a bright light radiating right in front of it. A white, bright light. The bright kind that makes you squint your eyes if you don’t have a pair of sunglasses.
But this light wasn’t coming from the sun. It wasn’t even coming from outside. It was coming from an ethereal rainbow that had fashioned itself at the top of the throne – marking and identifying the one who sat upon the throne.
Whose throne was it?
If John hadn’t figured it out yet – the melody of the elders made grew until it was at a thunderous level made him certain:
You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. (v.11)
John again looked to the ground in horror.
He was before God Almighty. He was before the Creator of heaven and earth.
He was before the one who makes volcanoes explode, tectonic plates shake, and flood water engulf the earth.
He, a sinner, was standing before the All holy, sin hating God.
But God wasn’t fixated on him. Not at the moment. At the moment, God was fixated on what he had in his hand.
It was a scroll. An ancient version of a eReader or book. Divine parchment tightly rolled up and sealed tightly with seven seals. (5:1)
What was in the scroll? Well there’s two books mentioned in the book of Revelation. One is called the Book of Life. That’s an important book. Because there is written the names of every person who has life – every person who is allowed to enter into heaven. Picture it like a divine guest list – only the bouncer isn’t some tough looking Italian guy named Guido.
It’s God himself.
Meaning this scroll was important. Without it, there was no way of knowing who it is that is allowed into heaven.
And…for whatever the reason, God wasn’t opening it.
In fact, one of the angels, a mighty angel, the king angel with bulging veins in his biceps and a heart tattoo on his left delt, started shouting in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” (v.2)
No one moved.
He repeated himself. Louder. “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?”
John looked around. Why wasn’t anyone trying to do it? Sure, the seals looked intimidating, but they were in God’s throne room. Why wasn’t he burly angel giving it a try? Why didn’t the ox-like thing try smashing it with his hoofs? Why didn't the eagle like thing try dive bombing it from on high? Why didn’t the 24 elders work together to develop some kind of divinely inspired Rube Goldberg machine to open it up?
But none of them were making their way to the scroll.
None of them were lifting a hand to break the seals.
Mostly, they were just shaking their heads – their divinely, haloed, eye-filled heads.
John began weeping. If that scroll wasn’t opened, then he wasn’t getting into heaven. Then, his friends weren’t getting into heaven. Then, none of his loved ones and fellow believers were getting into heaven.
v. 3 No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside of it.
Pay attention here. Because this has everything to do with God’s grace. Because we need God’s grace to get into heaven. We need God’s grace to get our names onto the pages of the Book of Life.
And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could write our names in there. In fact, they couldn’t even open the scroll or look inside of it.
Not anyone in that throne room. Not the mighty angel. Not the eagle. Not the ox. Not anyone on below that throne room either. Not Zeus. Not Hades. Not Hercules. Not Buddha. Not Mohammed. Not Vishnu.
Not a president. Not a king. Not any member of congress. Not a brilliant scientist. Not a billionaire business man.
Not even a guy who tries really hard and does his best and hopes that it’s enough to get his name in the book of Life.
There is no one else. No one who can get your name on the Book of Life.
No one who can win your forgiveness.
No one who can offer you’re an eternity in heaven.
II. The Exclusive Answer
“Do not weep!” cried one of the elders. His mouth agape in excitement. “Look! The Lion of the tribe of Judah has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
John took a deep breath. Of course! A lion. Lions are the King of the Jungle for a reason. They have majestic manes and fierce teeth for sinking into their prey. They have powerful jaws and swift, fierce claws. Lions were some of the most muscular and magnificent creatures on earth. A divine, heavenly version of it would have no problem destroying those seals!
John looked up with excitement. He covered his ears anticipating this miraculous roar!
But what he saw wasn’t a Lion.
It wasn’t fierce.
It wasn’t intimidating.
It didn’t roar.
Then, I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne. (5:6)
John turned his head in shock! A Lamb? Lambs aren’t intimidating! They don’t have claws – they have unbalanced hoofs. They don’t have majestic manes, but soft, gentle wool. They don’t roar – they baaa!
How was this creature – a creature of nursery rhymes and preschools – supposed to be the one to open the seals?
And this one wasn’t even in good health? It was looking as if it had been slain. (5:6) It looked like it was limping along. It needed to be held. It needed to be nourished. It didn’t need to be trying to open up these incredible seals.
John looked around. Is anybody going to stop this?
But no one else shared his concern. In fact, the others in the room – the elders, the winged creatures, the mighty angel – God himself – smiled at the sight of the Lamb and erupted into a magnificent song….
…to the Lamb:
You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain. (5:9)
Suddenly, it hit John.
The Lamb. The Lamb of God. He had heard that before.
He had read about it in the Old Testament – as the blood of innocent lambs foreshadowed this moment.
He had heard it from John the Baptist as he pointed at his leader “Look! The Lamb of God! Who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
He had seen it from his fellow disciple Peter who wrote, “-- a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:1
That’s who the Lamb was.
That’s why he was slain.
That’s why he alone could open the scroll.
Because that Lamb was Jesus!
Brothers and sisters, understand this! There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth who can open the scroll.
There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth who can get you into heaven.
There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth whose grace is enough for your eternal life.
No other being than Jesus Christ.
The Bible is simple then.
The Bible is clear.
God’s eternal vision has been revealed to you.
Do you desire forgiveness for your sins? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire to lose your guilt? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire to escape hell? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire eternal life? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire peace with God? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire eternal joy? Trust Jesus.
There is no one else who can provide these things – because the only one on the spiritual Angie’s List for salvation is The Lamb – Your Savior, Jesus Christ!!!
III. What Now?
(1) Celebrate this Exclusivity
Because what do they say? The only thing you don’t want to talk with people about are politics and religion. But…as this past election showed us – we had no problem talking politics. I’m friends with most of you on Facebook. I know this.
So why not religion?
Better yet…why not your Savior?
Better, better yet…why not the only one who provides forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation?
The elders didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
The four living creatures didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
The mighty angel didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
Even John – stopped being nervous and frightened and as he watched Jesus open up that scroll shouted: Worthy is the Lamb!
You do that too. In fact, why do you get on your Smartphone today and make that your status. #WorthyIsTheLamb
Don’t be afraid to let others know who it is that you trust. Don’t be afraid to let them know who it is they can trust.
(2) Celebrate Diversity
Because notice what it says about the Lamb in verse 9 You are worthy…because you were slain and with your blood you purchased persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
I love that. It means Jesus is your exclusive king no matter who you are.
It doesn’t matter what tribe you’re from. Which may be the closest Bible words for “race.” This is key, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, Asian or Latino, middle Eastern, Native American, combination of the above.
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And it doesn’t matter what language you speak. He’s the answer if you speak English or Spanish. Italian or German. Nigerian or Malawian. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Sign Language…even if you speak in emoji!
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And it doesn’t matter where you live. It doesn’t matter if you live in America or Iraq. Whether you live in Russia or China. Whether you live in Mexica or Canada. It doesn’t matter if you live in Durham or Cary or Chapel Hill or Knightdale or Morrisville or South Raleigh or North Raleigh or anywhere else on this planet!
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And if Jesus is king of us all – that means we’ve got to celebrate that diversity just like Jesus does. We’ve got hug those from different backgrounds. Speak with excitement – show excitement – to those who speak different languages. Grab hands and go to work with those from different places.
Celebrate Diversity because that’s what Jesus celebrates!
(3) Celebrate Unity
Because diversity…sometimes leads to division. I fear it’s happened to America. There’s so many different people in America that we let our differences get the best of us and we fight.
The same is true in Raleigh. It’s a global, multicultural, multigenerational community. It’s started to get divided.
The same could be true for our church. More and more God has enabled us to reflect the global, multicultural, diverse community that He will have in heaven.
How do we stay united?
Look carefully at verse 9 again You are worthy…because you were slain and with your blood you purchased persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom.
Did you hear that?
Not many kingdoms.
No a White kingdom and a Black kingdom and an Asian kingdom and a Hispanic kingdom.
Just a kingdom.
Jesus creates only one kingdom.
And we stand together as one kingdom, by remembering who it is that created that one kingdom.
And that’s kind of what happens at the end of the section. Everybody remembers that it’s all about Jesus and they started shouting – despite their differences – despite some being angels and some being lions and some being elders and some being many-eyed-flying-ox-like creatures.
Then, I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice, they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!"
But that’s not it. Because then, John prophesies about us. And he says this:
Then, I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea and all that is in them saying – (and since you are one of those creatures – please, say it with me ) “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!”
And the elders said “Amen!”
And I say “Amen.”
We were vacuuming up the dog hair (that gets all over your carpet when you have two dogs), when the vacuum stopped picking up the dog hair. It was just collecting it into a nice pile and not picking it up.
Then, it made a loud noise.
Then, it stopped making noise.
It was dead.
So, I went to the file folders that we have in our guest closet – and began looking for the warranty. Perhaps the company would fix it? Maybe they’d send a new one? Maybe we wouldn’t have to go out shopping?
I read the warranty.
Expired. About a month and a half ago.
Has something like that ever happened to you? Again – it’s not any good to never get coverage, yet it’s almost worse to have coverage and then lose coverage because the time has run out!
But what about God’s grace? We learned last week that it completely covers even the worst of sinners…
But for how long?
What are the terms?
Will it cover you 10 years from now?
Will it cover you 20 years from now?
Will it cover you…even after you die?
Today we are continuing our sermon series called Surprising Grace. Our goal is to examine the duration of God’s grace. We want to see: (1) How long his grace lasts (2) How long its benefits last (3) If you need to go looking for a replacement coverage anytime soon. Before we do that, let’s say 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 Duration of God’s Coverage
To learn about the duration of God’s grace – we’re going to turn to a man who had been under God’s grace for quite some time: The Apostle John. John is interesting, because he is one of the first disciples to learn about God’s grace. He is one of the first disciples that Jesus recruits while John is busy fishing. John gets to follow Jesus and see his grace throughout his ministry on earth. He seems him graciously cause the blind to see, the lame to walk, to deaf to hear – and the guilty to hear about God’s forgiveness.
It’s later on in life, after he’s known about God’s grace for years, that the Apostle John writes the letter known as 1 John. It’s a letter written to Christians everywhere and in chapter 2 he writes about the duration of God’s grace:
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the father, but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God the Father lives forever. (v.15-17)
I suppose the biggest problem with believing the long-lasting endurance of God’s grace is that nothing on earth lasts for that long of a time.
It’s true about neutral things.
A tree may last hundreds of years but eventually it falls down.
A flower may last for a season then winter comes and it dies.
A bag of Doritos is delicious, but lasts all about 3 minutes.
But it’s also true about sinful, worldly things. That’s essentially what John is referring to when he talks about the world and its desires in this section. “Things of the world” means “things born from the mind of the sinful world.”
What’s interesting is that we turn to these things for relief – for comfort.
A momentary high from that illegal drug.
A few hours of relaxation from drinking too much.
A few minutes rush from screaming obscenities at your family.
A few minutes rush from typing obscenities at that other political party on Twitter.
A few moments of private excitement with that person you aren’t married to.
These things offer moments of happiness…
…and a lifetime of regret.
A headache that lasts all morning.
An argument that lasts for hours.
An addiction that lasts for years.
A friendship spoiled for the rest of your life.
A guilty feeling that stays with you whenever you look at your spouse – for the rest of your life.
But should we be surprised? Look at where these highs are coming from. John writes, “These things do not come from the father, but from the world.”
Do any of you remember Oakley sunglasses? They were all the rage growing up. They had awesome aviator shades. They had a deep jet black frame. They were very durable and very cool.
But they also cost $250.
So -- many kids got imitation Oakleys. The ones from Walmart for $15 bucks. Problem is? You could tell they were phony. You could tell they were fake when they came apart at the hinges the first time you dropped them.
Should we be surprised that earthly things only last for a moment? They come from an earth that (in the grand scheme of eternity) will only last for a moment.
But God’s grace isn’t like that.
God’s grace isn’t from the world.
God’s grace is from God.
The world and its desires pass away, but the one who does the will of the Father lives forever.
What’s the will of the Father?
To believe in Jesus Christ.
To put your faith in the one who died, hit his expiration date, and then came back to life again.
To trust in the one who is indestructible, because his grace is indestructible – so that you too will be indestructible.
John knew this. He had seen it happen.
Lazarus was a friend of John’s. He was a friend of the entire family of disciples. He had sung hymns with them, said prayers with them, and told jokes with them.
Lazarus was also human.
Because he was a human he was susceptible to germs.
Because he was susceptible to germs, he got sick.
Because he was sick, he grew weak.
Because he grew weak, he started to die!
His body was from the earth which meant it was going to pass away.
And it died.
And he died.
They wrapped his body up in linens.
They placed him in a grave.
His family mourned their loss.
Then, Jesus came.
And Jesus spoke.
And Lazarus went right back to living.
It’s interesting, right before that happens Jesus explains why. He says this, “I am the Resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies; whoever lives and believes in me will never die!” (John 11:25-26)
Because God’s grace comes from God.
And God lasts forever.
So, his grace – lasts forever!
Another passage repeated throughout the old Testament says this, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good and his love endures forever!” Of course it does! God is eternal. He isn’t on the timeline. He doesn’t have an end and set time. His grace doesn’t have an end time. “His love endures forever,” is a phrase that lasts “forever!”
And this is comforting.
Because I heard about God’s grace a long time ago. I believed. God’s grace was mine.
But here’s a secret: I’ve sinned since then. I’ve even sinned since we talked about it last week.
Is God’s grace still enough?
Think of a jump rope. Maybe about 12 feet long? I want you to imagine for a minute that this jump rope covers all of eternity. That’s a long time. You and I exist on this tiny half centimeter right here.
God’s grace lasts longer than you.
It lasts longer than me.
What do you think? Can you outlast God’s grace?
God’s grace is forever.
But Pastor! People still die and miss out on God’s grace.
You’re right. That’s hell. But the problem isn’t with God’s grace. It's with people. People who throw away God's’ grace because they figure they can last on their own that’s like throwing away your insurance plan because you think you don’t need it. The problem isn’t the insurance plan. It's you.
And if you throw out God’s grace because you don’t think you need it anymore…The problem isn’t God’s grace. That’s on you.
But John continues, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us all our sins.” Even if that sin has been going on for a while – for your whole life – listen to God’s Word right now.
And be confident.
His grace is there.
II. The Duration of God’s Blessings
And its blessings are forever.
Take a look with me at a Bible book that was written even after 1 John. In fact, it’s the last book of the Bible to be written. It was written by the same John but at the end of his life. It’s a book called Revelation. It’s called Revelation because in the book, God gives John a revelation of what will happen in the future. Things that are easy for God to see, since He is beyond this whole timeline thing.
He writes this about heaven:
Believers are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
This is eternity. It mentions a few awesome things about the blessings that God has in store for us in heaven. Blessings that will endure forever:
(1) God’s Presence
That’s the first thing that pops out. The people are serving God day and night. They are with him. He’s at the center of the throne. You always know that he’s there.
Which isn’t always the case on earth.
We get nervous.
We get frightened.
We think: God, you left me! I’m all alone.
That’s never the case in heaven. Not that God has left us on this earth, he’s always there; but that we don’t always believe it. In heaven, that doubt is gone and God’s presence is completely obvious in a new, incredible way – as we serve him day and night.
Which sounds like work – except – notice – God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
It isn’t sad in heaven.
People don’t lose their jobs.
Finances aren’t difficult.
Friends don’t fight about politics.
Kids don’t tell parents that they hate them.
Parents don’t abandon kids.
People don’t call each other awful, racist names.
Because they are too joyful!
In fact, right before this section John writes down what those believers in heaven are saying. It’s isn’t complaining. It isn’t fighting. It isn’t arguing about who should get to take a break. It’s this: “Honor and glory and praise and thank be to our God and to the Lamb forever and ever! Amen!”
Do you have arthritis? Arthritis is something that kinda sorta can get the best of you. It’s this dull, achy, constant pain that affects your joints. So…how do you handle it? You take a pill. You have an Advil and water and you’re pain free! For about 4 hours. Then, you better take another pill before the pain comes back. And at the very best you can fall asleep and escape pain for 6 hours! Until it’s time to wake up and then the pain is even worse because the joint has been stiff all night long.
Heaven is final relief.
God’s grace brings forever relief. Revelation said, The sun won’t beat down on them nor any scorching heat. It won’t hurt. There won’t be any sunburn in heaven. That’s because there is no pain in heaven and that will last forever!
Think about it:
No hangnails ever.
No headaches ever.
No scraped knees ever.
No allergies ever.
No cancer ever.
No getting old…ever.
And no death.
John writes, “The Lamb will lead them…to springs of living water.” Springs that give eternal life. Springs that outlast death. Springs that allow us to say “that person is in a better place.”
Which is key.
Because death stinks.
This past Friday I went to Elmcroft Retirement home. It’s a place where I go to do a Bible study. I’ve been doing it for the past five and half years. And just about every one of those last five and a half years – an older woman by the name of Ms. Fannie has been there. It hurt her to get there. She had pain in her knees and she had struggles seeing. But she’d always be there.
Until this past Friday.
Because she couldn’t.
Because she passed away.
And it hurt. I was sad. This dear friend of mine had passed so quickly, so effortlessly, and life just moved on.
But then…I got to thinking – that’s why she always made sure she was there for Bible study. Because Ms. Fannie knew that life was short. Because Ms. Fannie knew that arthritis was temporary. Because Ms. Fannie knew that her momentary pain was just that – momentary.
And that Bible study? It contained the only thing that lasts:
Brothers and sisters, may we have that same attitude and do everything to hold until the truth that lasts forever. Amen.
Can you imagine going to the doctors and finding out that you aren’t covered?
And that they can’t remove the cancer?
Can you imagine standing before God and finding out that you aren’t covered?
That your sins are still there.
That your guilt is still there.
That the guilt you feel from that big ol’ sin, that bogs you down, day after day will be with you forever.
That you won’t be getting eternal life, but…
Today we are continuing our sermon series called Surprising Grace. Our goal is to look at the case study of the Apostle Paul and see why he was so sure that he was covered and to gain confidence that we are also covered. I want you to leave here today confident that you’re covered in God’s grace. But in order to do that, we’re going to need to hear God’s Word. Let’s say 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. A Case Study: Paul
To learn about just who it is that God’s grace covers, we’re going to head to 1 Timothy 1. 1 Timothy is a letter written by one of Jesus’ disciples. His name was Paul. The Apostle Paul. Maybe you’ve heard of him? In fact, he’s probably one of the top 5 -- outside of Jesus -- famous people me in the Bible. Moses, David, Mary, Peter and Paul.
Paul is kind of a man’s man of Christianity. He always puts me to shame when I read about how he preached God’s message to an angry group of men that told him to stop or they would kill him. Paul went on a missionary journey by foot, traveled hundreds of miles, started about 10 churches, and then returned home to grab a Pop Tart, take a shower, and head on another missionary journey.
Paul went on 4 missionary journeys.
He started over 20 churches.
He wrote 13 books of the Bible.
It’s why we shouldn’t be surprised to find out that Paul is covered: I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. (v.12)
Paul’s a part of God’s service.
No one is a part of God’s service that isn’t covered in his salvation plan.
Paul is covered in God’s salvation plan.
And that’s probably not all that encouraging.
Paul is a answer to Bible trivia.
Paul has had churches named after him.
Paul has had hundreds of thousands of sermons preached about him.
Of course, he’s getting covered!
That’d be like an insurance company saying, “Don’t worry. We’ll cover you. Look over there? Do you see that insanely in shape 22-year-old? The one with the bulging biceps, no history of heart problems, and the lesson than 2% body fat? He’s covered. No worries.”
But I do worry. Cause I’m not in that kind of shape.
And I’m not in the kind of spiritual shape that Paul was in. You?
But that’s not entirely accurate. There’s more to Paul’s story than the famous Apostle portion of his story. Check out verse 13. “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man….”
Do you know the first time Paul shows up in the Bible? He actually has a different name. It’s like a superhero. He’s not originally known as the Batman, but billionaire Bruce Wayne. And Paul is not originally known as the incredible Apostle Paul, but lowly, mild-mannered Saul.
In fact, Saul was kind of an apprentice. But he didn’t work for the Daily Planet or work as a lab technician in a government factory.
He worked for the Pharisees.
The very people that hated Jesus.
The very people who spearheaded the movement to kill Jesus.
In fact, when we first see Saul it’s in Acts 7. Saul is on the job helping the Pharisees stop the message of Jesus as the Savior of the world.
How are they doing it?
They aren’t blogging against it.
They aren’t writing articles against it.
They aren’t even spray painting the disciple’s headquarters.
They were throwing stones at one of Jesus’ followers.
One by one.
Until he was dead.
57 At Stephen’s confession that Jesus was the Savior, the Pharisees covered their ears and yelling at the top of their voices,they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named – Saul.
“Nice shot sir. Hit that no good Jesus-lover in the throat.”
“Well, don’t guys. I love how he’s moaning for mercy.”
“Oh look out…you got a bit of blood on your coat. No worries. I’ll wash it out. You just keep killing.”
That’s the same guy from 1 Timothy?
I haven’t even finished yet. Because if you read on, the scriptures say that Saul was really moved by this gang murder. So much so that he spearheaded the movement to put an end to Christianity. In chapter 8, it says, he persecuted the church in Jerusalem and began to destroy the church…Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison…And in chapter 9 -- He was breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.
Yes. This same guy. This same guy writes this in 1 Timothy 1:13 “Though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy…because I acted in ignorance and unbelief."
Which is such a strange reason for mercy. Because usually ignorance and unbelief do not lead to mercy.
Sorry officer I didn’t know that I was going 30 mph over the speed limit.
Sorry, officer. I saw the stop sign; I just didn’t believe that I needed to stop. No worries, right?
That’s not how it works. Ignorance and unbelief do not result in good things!
Ignorance and unbelief do NOT earn God’s mercy.
Sin deserves death.
Saul deserved death.
But he didn’t get death. Because of God’s mercy.
In fact, it had to be about God’s mercy. Just like we talked about last week. No one can earn God’s grace – God’s grace is a free gift to be given. Jesus came to Saul – literally when he was on the road to go throw more Christian men and women and children into jail, literally when he was about to take a sledge hammer to whatever house churches he could find – literally when he was going to post signs everywhere stated that “Any man or woman found practicing Christianity would be put to death,”
Jesus had mercy.
And it covered Saul! Not because his sins weren’t too bad. (we just heard – they were really bad!) God’s mercy covered Saul because God’s mercy was more than enough. (v.14) The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
It’s kind of like filling up a tea pot. Any of you have a teapot? I have a teapot that I use for coffee. But if you’re like me, I put it under the sink and let it start filling up --- then I go do something. I comb my hair. I brush my teeth. I pet the dogs. I read an article in Time magazine. I get distracted by a Facebook post. I put on my shoes. I get ready to leave and then I hear it!
I run back to the sink and find the teapot overflowing. And since the teapot is sitting over the drain, the teapot looks like it is soaking in a hot tub of water. There’s an abundant, overflowing amount.
That’s God’s grace. It overflowed to Saul. It overflowed so much that his past was completely washed away from God’s sight. It even washed away his old identity. He was no longer – Saul the blasphemer, but Paul the believer. He was no longer Saul the persecutor, but Paul the Apostle. He was no longer Saul the violent, but Paul – whom Christ suffered violently for.
Paul was completely covered by God’s grace.
II. A Case Study of You
And that’s awesome. Because it means something really, awesome for you.
And I don’t know how you take notes. But when you take notes and it’s an important point, you might do something to draw your attention to it. You might put an ink star. You might underline it. You might highlight it. You might highlight, underline and star it. You might put a bookmark in the Bible. You might make an audio recording of it. You might do something – anything to let you know about the note!
In the next verse, Paul has such an important note for you that he even takes the liberty of drawing attention to it for you. He says, in verse 15, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance…” That means: “LISTEN! PAY ATTENTION! IF YOU HAVEN’T BEEN PAYING ATTENTION TO ANY OTHER PART OF THIS SERMON, YOU NEED TO PAY ATTENTION NOW!”
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the worst!
This is so interesting, because usually the Bible puts us on equal footing. It says – “All have sinned and fall short and all are justified freely by Jesus.” (Romans 3:23) All are on the same playing field. That’s still true.
But humanly speaking we do put levels on sins.
“I didn’t really commit adultery – I didn’t have complete intercourse.”
“I’m not as bad as that guy because I wasn’t a knock out drunk.”
Paul knows the human heart. God knows the human heart. God has Paul write on that level of human wisdom. He says, “16 For that very reason, I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”
He says, “Do you really think you’re so bad that Jesus couldn’t save you? Do you really think you’ve done too much bad that Jesus’ forgiveness couldn’t cover you? Well. Let me ask you this:
Have you ever killed anyone for telling an elderly widow about Jesus?
Have you ever gone to church in order to tackle the pastor, handcuff him, and throw him into jail?
Have you ever taken a sledge hammer to the foundation of a church?
Have you ever sent email after email after email to a Christian friend – telling them they were the most vile person on earth and if they didn’t stop, you’d kill them!?!
God still had enough grace to cover him.
Paul was that bad.
But Jesus’ salvation was that good.
If God did that for Paul, won’t he do that for you?
In fact – that’s why Jesus came into the world: To save sinners! If you’re a sinner, Jesus came to die for you. He came to provide complete coverage for every last one of your sins. He came to completely cover you in his blood and conceal you in his pure and sweet forgiveness.
This is true for you.
No matter the sin.
Struggle with lust? Jesus came for you.
Struggle with hatred? Jesus came for you.
Struggle with greed? Jesus came for you.
Done something to get you in jail? Jesus came for you.
Done something to ruin your marriage? Jesus came for you.
Done something to ruin your relationship with your children? Jesus came for you.
If you’ve done something or anything sinful, Jesus came into this world to save you.
And? He did.
He lived perfectly.
He died innocently.
He rose triumphantly.
Jesus came into this world to save sinners – Jesus came into this world to save you!
Which means…You are fully covered.
III. What Now?
1) Revel in your New Identity
That’s what Paul did. He didn’t stay in the realm of “Woe is me! I’ve done so much wrong. I’m the worst of sinners.” He didn’t see himself like that because God didn’t see himself like that. In fact, the only reason he ever talked about it was to help others understand how incredible God’s grace was and is.
It’s like Halloween. At Halloween, you may have put on a mask. You may have been someone else. For the rest of the night – depending on how good you are at playing the part – you became a Dr. Who, Doc McStuffins or a Pokemon!
In fact, I came across one little kid who was doing an awesome job with his costume. He was pretending to be a ninja. He was such a good ninja. He was always tip toeing. He tried to sneak up on me a few times. He talked in a whisper. And when his mom came calling him to get him into the car, he was so into his character that he forgot about who he really was. He hid!
Understand this: Paul is not advocating that you play a character. He advocates that you revel in who you really are.
Child of God!
2) Honor the King!
Because there’s no reason to feel sorry anymore! We are forgiven. We are given grace. We are a part of his kingdom!
That’s exactly how Paul closes that section…which is so interesting, because it’s not even the end of his letter. He’s still at the beginning. But he can’t mention God’s incredible grace without breaking into praise. He says, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen!”
Make that your refrain.
Instead of posting on Facebook about how bad you’ve got it; post about the awesome you’ve got it in God.
Instead of getting to work to complain about the unfortunate consequences of sin; get to work tell others about the awesome consequences of God’s grace.
Instead of avoiding God in fear; come, worship Him – because his grace had completely covered you!
Today is Last Judgment Sunday. A day that we remember what’s coming up. A day when the Bible reminds us that one Day, Our King, Our Immortal, Incredible, Divine, earth shaking, mountain quaking, flood pouring, lightning storing God comes to earth and judges us.
Each of us.
And without coverage – that’s a terrifying thing.
But you have been covered.
You are covered.
By faith in Jesus, you will be covered.
Your words to him will not be – Please don’t! But filled with praise “To the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever!” (v.17)