Today we’re going to look at an Old Testament prophecy that is filled with some STRANGE predictions for Christmas 2020. Before we do, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. STRANGE Predictions
The lesson we are looking at is from Isaiah chapter 9. It is a prophecy written to the people of a country called Judah around 750 B.C.
Now, not long before this prophecy, Judah had been a very positive place to live. It had been experiencing economic growth. There was individual financial stability. It was a cozy, healthy nation in which you could raise your family in a cushy, plush life.
You could take your family downtown for the big festival.
You could take your wife on a date to a crowded restaurant.
You could brave the local mall (they called them marketplaces) and buy up all kinds of gadgets without having to worry about who touched them last.
You could even – get this - sit down 5 feet away from a stranger.
Things were good in Israel.
Recently, that had changed.
Neighboring countries had attacked and slaughtered 120,000 of their countrymen…
In one day.
And we think COVID numbers are bad…
Now there wasn’t time for festivals and recreation.
People were at home.
People were scared.
People were just concerned about whether they would survive!
It is to this sobering reality that Isaiah brought comforting predictions from God.
Predictions that were recorded.
Predictions that pointed to a time well beyond 750 B.C.
Predictions that find fulfillment in Christmas 2020.
Look for yourself.
Prediction 1: God’s Light Will Drive out Darkness
Maybe you’re thinking:
That’s not all that impressive of a prediction.
Cause there are Christmas lights every Christmas.
Light on the tree in your living room.
Lights on the inflatable reindeer on your lawn.
Lights – lots of lights – blindingly obnoxious lights – on that one house on the block.
In Hebrew, the word for darkness has another meaning.
Here’s what God says will happen to those in gloom.
“The people walking in darkness/gloom have seen a great light.
For those living in the land of the shadow/gloom of death, the light has dawned. (v.2)
Do you follow that prediction?
God’s light will drive out gloom this Christmas.
Which is strange.
Because not a lot of things can seem to be able to drive out COVID depression.
Even the most grandiose light display flashing in sync to the music of Manheim Steamroller only helps for a moment.
Then, when the display is over you think:
COVID is still going on.
I still lost my job.
I still haven’t had real personal interaction in months.
I’m still in deep depression.
But this prediction from God’s Word says the light has dawned.
It’s started shining.
And it continues to shine.
God’s Light will brighten the gloom this Christmas.
Prediction 2: God Will Multiply our Joy
Again, that seems strange.
We live in a world that’s filled with news mostly void of joy.
Bad COVID reports.
Bad news on Aunt Matilda.
Bad news from that you’ll have to quarantine even longer.
Maybe you might expect Christmas to add a bit of joy.
But not enough to make a difference.
God doesn’t promise to add to your joy.
But to multiply it.
Verse 3 says, “God, you have multiplied the nation and increased its joy.”
Has this ever happened to you?
You head to the store.
You’re only planning on making only one batch of cookies.
You decided on gingerbread men, because they have ginger in them – which decreases your risk for heart attack – or something.
But then, you see a display for macaroons. They are premade so you aren’t technically breaking your “only bake one vow.”
You see a kid in the aisle and are reminded of the cutouts mom made… You pick up the ingredients necessary for those too.
You head to the checkout and notice a low price on sprinkled sugar cookies. You get two boxes because “if you get the green ones, you’d need to get the red to balance out the color scheme.”
Then, you get home find a big package from Grandma filled with about 50 of her famous Snickerdoodles, 25 chocolate bonbons and a tin of those cookies with the Hershey’s kiss smushed onto the middle of it.
Your Christmas cookies have multiplied.
That’s what God promises to do with joy.
Even if your “joy” is at a level one.
Multiplied by ten.
That’s a lot more joy.
God will multiply joy this Christmas.
Prediction 3: God Will Defeat Oppressors
Oppression has been a key phrase in 2020.
And some of the worst kinds of oppressions happen within our own thoughts.
Oppressed by the racism you’ve felt ion your Facebook feed.
Oppressed by the hatred of that one coworker whose anger is not lost even though it’s on a ZOOM call.
Oppressed by the late notice after late notice of payments overdue.
Oppressed by guilt of not giving your kids a better education.
Oppressed by shame of not having enough money for your idea of a perfect Christmas.
Oppressed by a nagging little voice that keeps saying, “You didn’t do good enough.”
None of these things seem to be going away anytime soon.
It’s not like putting up a few decorative snowmen will stop their rule.
But look at what Scripture says:
God has broken the rod of the oppressors as…in the day of Midian.” (v.4)
That’s a reference to a Sunday school story involving a guy named Gideon. Do you now that one? It’s a story that happened long before the Jewish situation from 750 B.C. Israel was under the oppression of the Midianites. There wasn’t much Israel could do because the Midianites had an army “like a swarm of locusts.” (Judges 7:12) That means it was tens of thousands strong.
God tells Gideon to lead an army to fight them.
But Gideon says, “You only gave me 30,000 guys. That’s not big enough to fight back.”
And God says, “Hmmm…I did miscalculate the number. Let’s send 29,700 of them. I’ll give you the victory with a measly 300.”
And God does.
Like Gideon, you might be facing so many oppressors it seems like a swarm of locusts.
Like Gideon, you also have one powerful God on your side.
God will defeat oppressors this Christmas.
Prediction 4: Victory Will Be Yours
We have really lowered the definition of victory during COVID.
The other day I counted it a victory ‘cause I ordered pizza online.
Drove to the delivery place
Turned on my hazards.
Watched as they put the pizza on top of my car.
Rolled down my window.
Grabbed the pizza box.
And brought the pizza home.
And during COVID!
There aren’t a lot of victories right now.
It’s easy to not expect any this Christmas either.
But check out verse 5:
Every boot that marched in battle
and the garments rolled in blood will be burned.
They will be fuel for the fire. (v.5)
Did you hear that?
Burn your soldier uniforms.
Stop struggling for a victory.
You already have one.
Because the battle is done.
And the battle is won.
Victory will be yours this Christmas.
Because of God.
II. STRANGE Fulfillment
This is starting to sound good isn’t it?
I’m getting excited for Christmas again.
What do I need to do to make this happen?
Do I need to buy the right Christmas gift?
Do I need to fork over enough money?
Do I need to call up Rudolph or Frosty?
Do I need to do everything in my mommy power to create some type of Winter Wonderland paradise within my own apartment walls with decorations, goodies, Pinterest projects, and acoustic Christmas music in order to give my kids joy, light, and victory?
It has nothing to do with you.
And everything to do with a baby.
For to us a child is born.
To us a son is given. (v.6a)
Like a little tiny human?
Little tiny booties the size of my thumb?
Cause that child is no ordinary child.
That child will grow up.
That child will live perfectly.
That child will die innocently.
That child will rise triumphantly.
That child will save you.
That child is Jesus.
Look again at what makes him extraordinary.
He will be named: Wonderful Counselor. (v.6c)
Remember the depression we mentioned above?
One of the ways God drives out the darkness of gloom is with counseling.
Which makes sense.
There’s been a significant increase in needs for counseling throughout the pandemic.
Most of it via Zoom.
But Jesus is really good at counseling.
He offers counsel that no other counselor can.
Note that Jesus is called the “Wonderful” counselor.
That word “wonderful” is related to the word “miraculous.”
Jesus is the miraculous Counselor that offers miraculous Counsel.
He can say things that no other counselor can
I died for your sins. So, you’re totally forgiven for that.
You are loved by your Heavenly Father. I just talked to him about this last week.
That thing you are afraid of? I’ve seen what happen. It all turns out good.
He will be named: Mighty God, (v.6d)
And this explains the miracle!
It isn’t some elf bringing you these Christmas predictions.
It isn’t some magical reindeer bringing you good tidings.
It isn’t even the Amazon guy.
God who came in Jesus.
God who comes in Jesus.
God who is Jesus.
God who is your light.
God who is your joy.
God who has no problem defeating any of your oppressors.
God who has already given you eternal victory in Jesus!
He will be named: Everlasting Father (v.6d)
Because there have been quite a few deaths this year.
1.44 million worldwide.
Even of people we thought would last forever.
Like Alex Trebeck.
I was born in 1984.
Alex was hosting jeopardy since 1984.
He has literally been the host all my life.
But now he’s gone.
But Jesus isn’t.
And Jesus won’t ever be.
Jesus is everlasting.
He will be with you now and throughout the 2020 holiday season.
He will be named: Prince of Peace.
This is a big one.
Peace has been hard to come by in 2020.
Besides all the COVID.
All the isolation.
All the alone.
There has been
And just plain nastiness on Social Media.
Some posit we are on the brink of Civil War.
A made-for-TV Hallmark Christmas special won’t solve the world’s problems.
It won’t even give you lasting peace.
But do you know who will?
The prince of Peace.
Jesus brought us peace with God.
Jesus speaks peace to our hearts.
Jesus empowers us to be at peace with others because we are at peace with God.
III. One More STRANGE Prediction
This leads to one more prediction for 2020 Christmas.
Prediction 5: God’s Kingdom Will Flourish
This seems the most farfetched to this pastor.
Over the past months, I have seen church attendance drop.
Over these past months, I have seen a once full church look so empty.
Over these past months, I have seen more and more of our own family go from worshipers, to online worshipers, to occasional worshipers, to I think you should just leave me alone, pastor.
We’re unveiling our Christmas Eve plan – we’re doing four services to try and encourage people to join us, but even then, it won’t be the same.
The church family won’t be together.
We won’t be able to blast joy to the world at full strength.
In spite of what we’ve seen.
In spite of what we might see.
God promises this:
Jesus will rule on David’s throne and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
from now on, into eternity. (v.9)
You see it?
God’s kingdom will flourish this Christmas.
Whether we see it or not.
Because he will be on the throne.
Because he will be working through his people.
And, since you are one of his people, because he will work through you
God help us to see the good in this Christmas.
And help us to be the good in this Christmas.
We are finishing up our sermon series called STAND.
We learned that the only way to stand at peace with God is to stand IN GRACE.
We learned that that only way to stand in that invisible grace is to stand BY FAITH.
We learned that the only way to stand strong in faith is to stand ON GOD’S WORD.
Today we want to change prepositions one more time and learn what is means to stand WITH Jesus.
Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Challenge of Standing with Jesus
The lesson for today is taken from Matthew 10. It’s a speech given by Jesus to twelve men that Jesus hand-selected to stand with him as disciples.
This speech takes place before Jesus sends them out to walk the roads, find people, and tell others that Jesus was the Savior.
I imagine these guys were excited.
They had seen Jesus do some amazing things.
They had heard Jesus preach some incredible sermons.
They had watched as tremendous crowds of people followed Jesus.
Perhaps they were excited for the same thing to happen to them.
I’m sure Peter could envision all the smart things he’d say to his soon-to-be thousands of followers on Twitter.
But Jesus tells them to expect something different.
Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves…So be on guard against people. (Matthew 10:16-17)
Jesus immediately insinuates that there will danger if they stand with him.
The word he uses is translated, “Be on your guard,” or “beware.”
It’s the same word we use to tell people about the vicious Golden Retriever residing behind the futon.
If you get close, you may get slobbered to death.
Or at least some hair on your pant leg.
I’ve warned you.
Here Jesus says, “Beware…of people.”
Like religious people. “They will hand you over to councils, and they will whip you in their synagogues.” (v.17)
Like political people. “You will be brought into the presence of governors and kings for my sake.” (v.18)
Like people in their own family. “Brother will hand over his brother to death, and a father will do the same with his child. Children will rise up against parents and have them put to death.” (v.21)
It doesn’t stop there:
You will be hated by all people because of my name… (v.20)
Like people you work with.
Like people who live next door to you.
Like people you are considering dating.
Like people you are dating.
Like people you have dated.
Like people who teach you 11th grade science.
Like people on social media.
Like people who are behind you at the Starbucks drive thru and do not appreciate the Bible reminder you put on your bumper sticker.
Friends, here’s a TRUTH:
When you stand WITH JESUS, many will stand AGAINST YOU.
That’s important for us to remember.
Because sometimes as followers of Jesus, we expect things to get easier.
On the one hand, that’s true. We have absolute forgiveness and salvation in Jesus. There’s not any guilt left for us to conquer. We will be in heaven.
On the other hand…
Maybe something like this has happened to you.
You head to Starbucks, grab a coffee and sit down to do some work in their outdoor patio area.
You strike up a conversation with the guy sitting near you.
You both agree that COVID stinks and you can’t wait for it to be over.
You ask if it has affected their job.
They explain that it hasn’t changed much because they work for a software company and it’s easy to work from home.
You explain that you also have been working from home, but came to Starbucks for a brief change of scenery.
He says he understand and is glad he can still get a frappucino, even if it means social distancing.
You say, “Speaking social distancing: Why did the chicken cross the road?
He says, “He doesn’t know.”
You say, “Because the chicken behind it didn’t know how to social distance properly.”
You set your bag down and get out your Bible. You’re going to read while you’re at Starbucks.
He says, “You’re a Christian?”
You say, “Yes.”
He says, “How can you believe any of that junk?”
And he puts his mask back up.
He turns his head into another direction.
And goes onto his phone.
Maybe you’ve had something similar happen to you.
Jesus explains this phenomena:
A disciple is not above his teacher, nor is a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher and the servant like his master. If the master of the house was called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household! (v.24-25)
It’s logical really.
If someone hates Jesus’ teachings, how will they feel when you tell them, “I follow Jesus’ teachings.”
If someone hates Jesus’ work, how will they feel when you tell them, “I work for Jesus.”
If someone hates God, how will they feel when you tell them, “I belong to God’s family.”
People who stand against JESUS will stand against JESUS’ FOLLOWERS.
Do take note this isn’t a possibility.
This isn’t a plausibility.
This isn’t just something that might happen if you aren’t careful to be polite.
This is a reality.
Jesus uses future active language these events.
They will hand you over. (v.17)
You will be brought to governors. (v.18)
Brother will betray brother. (v.21)
You will be hated. (v.22)
According to Jesus, it is a fact that if you stand with him,
Others will stand against you.
Here’s an important question:
Are people standing against you?
Are you catching flack because you love Jesus?
I don’t mean that you’re being threatened with death. Praise the Lord we live in a nation that says, “You can’t kill anyone for their faith” – which includes our faith in Jesus. I’m not advocating that this be the case. (Although in some parts of the world, this is the case.)
The question for you, first-world American believer is this:
Is there any friction in your life because of your faith in Jesus?
One of the things you can do on Social media is you can LIKE “pages.” This is your way of saying you support that pages. It is a way for Facebook’s algorithm to send you content that you enjoy and increase the audience for that page’s message.
Some of you like Gethsemane for example.
That increases the likelihood that you will see our posts and events.
It also increases our exposure as we plant Jesus in North Raleigh.
The other day I decided to look back on my profile and see all the things that I like.
Some of them were expected:
But some of the things I found…
I had forgotten that I had LIKED them.
Like the book, “The Catcher in the Rye’. Honestly, I don’t think I ever finished it way back in American Literature class. And I can’t remember what it’s about. But I think I put it on there because I set up this profile when I was single, and I imagine that this was my way of seeming intelligent to my future wife.
I liked “Aladdin.” Which is cool. I do like it. But I’m not sure why I liked it enough to make it my “must know information” about me to all who view my profile.
I liked “Joshua Radin.” Who is a guy who sang that one song that was popular that one time.
Finally, I also liked “jogging.”
Not a book.
Not a movie.
Which is proof that this whole “LIKE” concept is a lie.
Is that how you follow Jesus?
Is it just something you did once because it seemed cool at the time?
Is it something people would have to search deep in your life, somewhere on tab number five, in order to know it was a part of you?
Is it hidden under all the popular, cool, and straight fire things that society likes so you blend in and life is comfortable?
Remember – Jesus said that when you follow him there will friction between you and the world.
Because there’s always friction between Jesus and the sinful world.
For your consideration…
If you say that you are following Jesus.
But you aren’t experiencing any kind of friction.
Not a disgusted look.
Not a disappointed, “You won’t join us in our sin.”
Not a shocked: “Why would you live your life that way?”
Not even an angry emoji.
Then either Jesus is a liar…
Maybe you are.
II. Blessings of Standing with Jesus
Do you know what the most quoted command in the Bible is?
It isn’t “love God.”
It isn’t “love others.”
It’s “Do not be afraid.”
Or another version of it like:
“Do not fear.”
“Do not be terrified.”
This section of Scripture is no exception.
Do not be afraid. (v.26)
Do not fear. (v.28)
So do not be afraid. (v.31)
One of the main reasons that we might be afraid to stand publicly with Jesus is fear.
Fear of acceptance.
Fear of what others will say.
Fear of what others will do.
To that fear, Jesus, “Do not be afraid to stand with me.”
And with good reason:
(1) Jesus Saves
If you’d like to live forever, stand with Jesus.
Because standing with your political party won’t do it.
Nor will standing with that political party.
Nor will standing with society.
Nor will standing with your friends.
Nor will standing with your family.
If you want to live forever, you need to stand with Jesus.
He lived perfectly when you couldn’t.
He died innocently in your place.
He brought forgiveness for all your sins.
Whoever endures to the end will be saved. (v.22)
Notice there is zero doubt in Jesus’ voice here.
Just like when he said, “Kill me and three days later, I will come back to life.”
They killed him.
And he came back to life.
Jesus speaks with certainty here.
If you stand with him here, you will stand with him there.
If you stand with him on earth, you will stand with him in heaven.
If you stand with him now, he promises to stand with you forever.
(2) Jesus Reveals the Truth
Jesus is holy.
The world is sinful.
The natural friction between holy Jesus and this sinful world leads the sinful world to conclude that Jesus was the bad guy.
The same thing happens today.
A consequence of following Jesus is the sinful world will conclude that Jesus followers are often considered to be the bad guy.
And nobody likes to be the bad guy.
Jesus says this, “Do not be afraid of them, because there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, and nothing hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim from the housetops. (v.26-27)
Did you hear that?
The truth is revealed.
The truth is that Jesus is the Savior.
One day everyone will realize that.
Whether they are standing on his side or not.
And if you’re standing on his side, listen to this --
It will be revealed that you are stand on the winning side.
You stand in truth.
You aren’t the bad guy.
You’re the good guy.
Because you are the forgiven guy.
Because Jesus is THE Good Guy.
(3) Jesus Controls Eternity
Because, honestly, what is the worst people could do to you?
For these disciples, it was death.
They would face death for the sake of Jesus.
And if history is to be believed, they faced death in some terrible ways.
Thomas had a spear thrown through his body.
James the Less was sawn in half.
Bartholomew was skinned.
Peter was crucified upside down.
All of which sounds awful.
But then again…
Each gruesome event only lasted for about 1 minute, tops.
Then, eternal bliss.
Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, fear the one who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (v.28)
They heard Jesus say that.
Then, they saw Jesus die.
And come back to life.
Now they stand eternally in heaven with him.
The same is true for you.
Don’t fear losing a Facebook friend.
Don’t fear losing popularity.
Don’t fear losing a job.
Stand with Jesus.
You will stand eternally.
(4) Jesus Cares Deeply for You
Daniela loves pajaros.
The very first day that we had her with us, we spent the afternoon at the park across the street.
The park was filled with pajaros.
That’s the Spanish word for birds.
She’d see one over here, point and say, “Ah!”
Then, quickly she’s seed another out of the corner of her eye and say, “Ah!”
She’d see one across the playground area and then embark on what must have seemed like an epic journey for her little legs, all the way across the park just to be near the pajaro.
Jesus says this: “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground without the knowledge and consent of your Father. So do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows. (v.29-31)
He is so very interested in your life.
He is so very invested.
When you face some kind of friction for your faith,
He is there.
Right beside you.
Cheering you on.
Do not be afraid to stand with Jesus.
Because he stands with you. Amen.
We are in the middle of a series called STAND.
In the first two messages, we learned that the only way to stand at peace with God is to STAND by FAITH in God’s GRACE.
It is difficult to put faith in this unseen grace.
I collect PEZ dispensers. Even though it’s nothing more than some cheap molded plastic with insertable little cubes of stale sugar, some PEZ dispensers can be quite expensive.
Like the Moustachio’d Alphine man.
PEZ released two versions of him. The clean-faced version of him is worth very little, but the version with a mustache is worth over $1000 dollars to hardcore collectors. He is rare and not easy to find.
If you found one online that was selling for $500, a good deal for that rare piece, I might not believe you till I saw the deal myself.
Even if I did see it, I’d probably look into whoever was running the ad. If the seller didn’t have any reviews on Google, I might not believe the seller.
But if the seller had their own shop and a link to hundreds of outstanding reviews calling him the Prince of PEZ…
I’m all in.
Faith in something you can’t see is validated by a voice of authority telling you about that something you cannot see.
How powerful is the voice behind the invisible truth of GRACE?
Today we’ll l0ok into the authority of God’s voice and learn to STAND on God’s Word. Before we do, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Story about Standing on God’s Word
In Daniel 3, a man named Nebuchadnezzar is King of Babylon. Recently, he had conquered many nations, established an incredible empire, and set up a powerful government.
But taking over the world had gotten a bit boring, so…
King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue. It was ninety feet tall and nine feet wide. (Daniel 3:1)
It’s about 8 stories high.
It’d be like three of our church building stacked on top of each other.
That’s a lot of gold material.
King Nebuchadnezzar sent word to assemble…all of the rulers of the provinces to come to the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. (v.2)
Since Nebuchadnezzar was a fancy king.
I’m sure it was a fancy party.
Fancy ballroom gowns.
Fancy red carpet to walk in upon.
Fancy music played by the fancy royal orchestra.
Fancy little hot dogs on the multicolored toothpicks.
(Sorry, that’s about as fancy as my imagination gets…)
In the middle of this grand party with all kinds of important people present, King Nebuchadnezzar unveils the purpose of the statue:
“To you peoples, nations, and languages, this command is given: When you hear the sound of …. all kinds of musical instruments, you will fall down and worship the gold statue that King Nebuchadnezzar set up. (v.4-5)
Not only has Nebuchadnezzar created a violent army.
Not only has your King created an empire.
Not only has he created an impressive government.
Not only has he created this fancy party.
But King Nebuchadnezzar…
Has created a god.
Making Nebuchadnezzar a Creator of gods…
If you will.
When you hear the music...
Bow down and worship the god Nebuchadnezzar created for you.
Revel in it.
Find peace from it.
And one more thing.
If for whatever reason you choose not to fall down and worship the statue…>
You will immediately be thrown into the blazing fiery furnace.” (v.6)
Your flesh will melt.
You’ll die a painful death.
Let’s test the system.
Immediately, the orchestra played, music filled the air, sweat poured own people’s faces…
Less because they believed that Nebuchadnezzar’s art project was an actual god.
More because they didn’t wanna die….
Everyone fell down…
As part of building his empire, Nebuchadnezzar had taken many individuals captive from the countries that he conquered. This included the nation of Israel. In Babylon, most of them served in lower class, peasant-level jobs to improve the lives of upper-class Babylonians.
But the more capable-looking young men were taken under Nebuchadnezzar’s wing. They were fed, taught, and trained to be high-level advisors in the Babylonian kingdom.
This included three young men named Shadrak, Meshak, and Abenego.
These young teenagers had been trained to fight like Babylonians.
They had been trained to speak like Babylonians.
They had been trained to govern like Babylonians.
And they had done such a good job, they were given high-up positions in the kingdom.
One thing they weren’t trained to do?
Worship Nebuchadnezzar’s art project “god”.
The others took great pleasure telling on them: “Your Majesty, may you live forever!... These men do not pay attention to you, Your Majesty. They do not serve your gods, and they do not worship the gold statue that you set up.” (v.9-12)
Nebuchadnezzar was angry.
This was a slap in his face…
And a slap in the golden face of the statue that he had set up.
He brought the three Israelites into his palace.
Is it true you didn’t bow?
Did you just miss the music?
Were you checking to see if others were bowing?
Maybe you have some arthritis in your knee?
Tell you what.
Don’t let anyone tell you that I’m not merciful.
I forgive you.
As long as you, bow down and worship the golden image…
“You will immediately be thrown into the blazing fiery furnace. What god will be able to save you from my hands?” (v.15)
The three men looked at one another.
They had heard the king’s words.
They knew he was serious.
They also remembered someone else’s words.
Words they had been taught way back in Hebrew school.
Words written on ancient, treasured scrolls:
The LORD said, “You shall have no other gods beside me. You shall not make any carved image for yourself or a likeness of anything in heaven above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow down to them or be subservient to them, for I the Lord your God am…God.” (v.3-5)
The men nodded at one another.
Meshach and Abednego put their hands on Shadrach’s shoulders.
Shadrach took a deep breath and spoke:
“We have no need to answer you about this matter. Since our God, whom we serve, does exist, he is able to save us from the blazing fiery furnace. So, he may save us from your hand, Your Majesty. But if he does not, you should know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods, and we will not worship the golden statue that you set up.” (v.17-18)
As hot as that fiery furnace was…
It was nowhere near as hot as Nebuchadnezzar’s temper.
How dare you!
Get out of my sight!
You think you can defy me!
Guards take them!
Heat the furnace seven times hotter than usual!
Do it quickly. I can’t wait to watch these men burn.
And the crews worked quickly.
The soldiers marched them towards the furnace.
While the furnace workers added fuel to the flame.
As Nebuchadnezzar took his seat to watch ‘the action.’
The soldiers tossed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the fire.
Because the situation had been so tense, the furnace workers had moved too quickly and missed important safety protocols. This resulted in a large heat blast exiting the furnace and killing the soldiers that threw the three captives into the fire.
The king noticed.
But he didn’t care.
He just wanted everyone to know that anyone who crossed him would fa….
Wait a second.
Didn’t I order three men thrown into the fire?
He said, “Look! I see four men, who are untied and walking around in the middle of the fire, unharmed. What is more, the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” (v.26)
In the middle of the fire.
Where not even oxygen could survive.
Stood four men.
And an angel of the LIVING God.
The King rubbed his eyes.
He ordered the men to come out of the furnace.
When they were removed from the heat, the king and the officials examined them.
Their hair wasn’t singed.
Their clothes weren’t burned.
Their bodies didn’t even smell like smoke.
Nebuchadnezzar was humbled.
Nebuchadnezzar hadn’t had the final say.
II. Standing on God’s Word
This is an amazing story of standing on God’s Word.
These men refused to listen to the king’s words.
Even if it cost them their lives.
In a world where we get nervous that standing on God’s Word might cost us a Facebook friend, how do we get fiery furnace level faith?
Remember a few key truths:
(1) HUMAN words come with HUMAN authority
Nebuchadnezzar really had a complex, didn’t he?
The Bible tries to draw that out in the opening verses of this story.
There’s a phrase that the author includes that dominates the initial paragraphs about the golden statue God.
“He set it up.”
It’s in verse 1.
It’s in verse 2.
It’s in verse 3.
It’s in verse 5 and verse 7.
The point is very clear.
This thing had zero authority.
In fact, it wouldn’t have even existed without Nebuchadnezzar.
This gave Nebuchadnezzar a “creator” complex.
Apparently, Nebuchadnezzar had forgotten that…
He too was created.
He too was born.
He too sat around in little Babylonian diapers.
He too needed to be taught to walk.
He too needed to be taught to talk.
He too needed someone to wipe his chin when he spit out his Babylonian broccoli soup.
Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t a Creator.
He was created
By the Creator.
There was always a BEING way more powerful than him.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego hadn’t forgotten that.
They knew the worst that the King could do is throw them in fire for about 30 seconds.
He could save his creation from the fire.
Or recreate them forever, perfectly in heaven.
Don’t forget that.
The guy who intimidates you on social media? Just a human.
The coworker who ridicules you for following God? Just a human.
The friend who tempts you to break God’s Word? Just a human too.
The judgmental words of your ex? Just human words too.
Their authority ends on the timeline.
They have no power into eternity.
(2) GOD’S word comes with GOD’S authority
Do you know the science of fire?
Fire is the result of applying enough heat to a fuel source, when you've got a whole lot of oxygen around. As the atoms in the fuel heat up, they begin to vibrate until they break free of the bonds holding them together and are released as volatile gases. These gases react with oxygen in the surrounding atmosphere. (Science.org/au)
At 118 degrees, human skin can sustain first-degree burns.
At 131 degrees, a second-degree burn injury can occur.
At 162 degrees, human skin is destroyed.
Humans have little to no authority over these atoms at the moment of ignition.
Let alone thrown into the middle of seven-times-hotter-than-normal fire.
But not God.
God has authority.
Authority to the burnable atoms of human skin from the combustible atoms of fire.
Of course, he does!
God invented fire on the fourth day of the world when he caused the greatest ball of fire in the universe to explode into existence.
We call it the sun.
Theologically this means that God has the final say.
If he calls something sin.
It is sin.
It doesn’t matter what the king of Babylon says.
It doesn’t matter what the laws of the Babylonians say.
It doesn’t matter what the Babylonian king threatens.
It matters what God says.
It doesn’t matter what Twitter says.
It doesn’t matter what Facebook says.
It doesn’t matter what MeWe says.
It matters what God says.
It doesn’t matter what Fox News says.
It doesn’t matter what CNN says.
It doesn’t matter what the Home Shopping Network says.
It matters what God says.
It doesn’t matter what your coworkers say.
It doesn’t matter what your friends say.
It doesn’t matter what your family says.
It doesn’t even matter what your pastor says…
Ultimately, it only matters what God says.
Because only God has ultimate authority.
If you are looking for answer on any issue.
Look at his Word.
He has ultimate authority.
(3) God’s Word SAVES
After the failed furnace execution, Nebuchadnezzar finally gets it right. He says this,
Blessed be the God of Shadrak, Meshak, and Abednego, who sent his angel and saved his servants… (v.28)
God is the one who orchestrated the miracle.
God is the only one who could orchestrate the miracle.
God is the only one who could orchestrate the saving miracle.
And he is the only one who orchestrated your saving miracle too.
His Word sent Jesus to earth.
His Word defied the devil.
His Word condemned Jesus.
His Word declared you innocent.
His Word brought himself back to life.
His Word is speaking to you right now:
“Your salvation is in Jesus.”
“You are forgiven.”
“You are my child.”
“You are mine.”
“Come back to me and live.”
God’s Word saves.
No other book.
No other pamphlet.
No other authority has the power of God’s Word.
God’s Word contains the message of Jesus who saved us.
God’s Word strengthens our faith in the message of Jesus.
God’s Word saves.
III. What Now?
Stand on God’s Word
Because human words have only human authority.
God’s Word has God’s authority.
And God’s Word saves.
When we’re standing on God’s Word.
It might save more than just you.
Because do you know what happens in the next chapter of Daniel?
The one who thought he could create a god.
The one who thought he was a god.
The one who learned he was not even remotely a god.
Look at what he says in Daniel 4:2-3
It seemed good to me to declare the signs and wonders that the Most High God did for me. How great are his signs! How mighty are his wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom, and his dominion extends from generation to generation.
The guy’s a believer.
The guy is most likely in heaven.
The three men who STOOD on God’s Word.
Do the same.
Stand on God’s Word.
Who knows whom God might save through you?
We are in the middle of a series called STAND. Last week, we began by talking about what you need to do to be able to STAND with God on your side.
The key truth we learned is that God stands by the actually INNOCENT. As sinners, if we want to be INNOCENT before God, you can’t stand before God on your WORKS. Because if you submit your “good” works as evidence, you also must submit your bad works.
It’s like a State Inspection. Your emissions may be under the limit. Your steering wheel may move smoothly. The exterior of the car might be shiny and red with a bright, Lightning McQueen style racing stripe. You might even have a nice, completely vacuumed, no cheerios on the carpet, interior.
But if you don’t have a tire on your passenger side rear wheel, you won’t pass the inspection.
If you submit your WORKS to God for inspection, he will inspect every single work you have ever done.
If he finds one sinful work…
…when he finds that sinful work,
…you will fail inspection.
Thankfully, God offers an alternative option for innocence.
Jesus died for you.
You are forgiven.
You pass inspection because of him.
When you stand in that truth of God’s grace, you are declared innocent.
Of course, that’s tough to do
You can’t see God’s grace.
As I look at my life, I only see my failures.
Failures as a son.
Failures as a husband.
Failures as a father.
Failures as a pastor.
Maybe you can relate.
How do we stay standing in grace when all we see is our own sinful yuck?
Today we’re discovering the answer as we dig into the Scriptural importance of faith. Before we do, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. To Those Who No Longer Stand
We are looking at a Biblical case study on faith. The text is from Romans 11. The subject in the case study is the nation of Israel.
The nation of Israel was God’s people. In the Old Testament time, God knew he needed to send a Savior for the world. He also knew that the Savior needed to both:
(1) become human – meaning he’d have to come from a human family,
(2) have prophecies written about him – so that people could look back at those prophecies to confidently identify the Savior.
God chose to entrust these blessings to a man named Israel.
He gave Israel a family.
Israel’s family had twelve sons.
Those sons would come to have their own families.
Eventually Israel’s family grew so large that calling it a family seemed unfair.
It became a nation.
But God’s promises given remained with that nation.
From that nation would come a Savior.
Therefore, God would protect that nation so that the nation would survive, and God’s promise would remain alive.
Even if God had to do it through miraculous means.
He caused a sea of water to split into two walls so that Israel can escape its former captors.
He spoke to them from the top of a smoky, shaking, thundering mountain and gave them Ten Commandments to govern their interactions with each other.
He took thick, stone walls of the impenetrable fortress of Jericho and tumbled them to the ground that Israel might have land for their nation.
He empowered them to build a beautiful temple of gold, silver, jasper, acacia wood in order to spend time with God and remember his promises.
He sent them prophet after prophet painstakingly reminding them of God’s promises and giving them clues of the birth of the Savior.
All of this led up to Jesus.
Jesus fit the prophecies given to Israel.
Jesus was born in Israel.
Jesus was a part of Israel’s family.
Jesus did miracles for Israel.
And how did the nation of Israel respond?
They killed him.
On a cross.
At the time of the book of Romans, the good news of the Savior had gone beyond the borders of Israel to people that are not the nation of Israel.
In chapter 11, Paul asks an important, theological question:
“So I ask, ‘Did (the people of Israel) stumble in order to fall permanently?’ ” (11:11)
They really did wrong.
They been entrusted with the promises of God and when that promise came?
They murdered him.
When they looked at themselves now, they no longer saw God’s people…
But God’s murderers.
Is an innocent verdict impossible for them?
“Absolutely not! Rather, by their trespass, salvation came to the Gentiles to make the Israelites jealous.” (11:12)
I think of 3rd grade puppy love. If you’re a boy and you have a crush on the girl, what do you do in order to make her like you?
You throw spitballs at her.
Because nothing says, “Be mine forever,” like a wad of spit-soaked paper.
But if she doesn’t seem interested. Instead, she’s flirting with Aaron Samuels, the jock of the playground. Then, you need to make her jealous.
By spitting spitballs at another girl.
Hopefully she sees me.
She misses the wads of romance.
She comes back to flirting with me.
God loved the people of Israel.
The people of Israel rejected him, so God gave the message of the Savior to the other nations.
Principally, because he loved those other nations.
Additionally, to make Israel jealous and draw them back into his grace.
This leads to a slightly complex truth:
God gives grace to the seemingly UNDESERVING so that the “seemingly” DESERVING realize they’re UNDESERVING and yearn for his GRACE.
I remember participating in prison ministry while I was at the Seminary. I went into a state penitentiary with a member of the local church who was going to press the play button on the tape recorder to cue the music for Amazing Grace. (Do you remember tape players? In order to run such a task you needed to be efficient in pushing the play button.)
There was a side room where we held worship. After we had set up and nodded to the guards, they ushered in about 20 guys.
All in orange jumpsuits.
It was hard not to wonder:
I wonder what they did.
But I preached the sermon.
On forgiveness and grace.
As I preached, I got more “Amens” than I have in the rest of my preaching combined.
And they sang Amazing Grace with gusto and excitement.
And they shook our hands vigorously afterwards saying, “Thank you so much for this teaching of grace.”
I don’t know if they were the real audience that day.
As we drove home, the local church volunteer said to me,
“I envy those guys.
“They get grace.
“When I look at my life, I see blessings, church stuff, and volunteer opportunities where I push the button. Sometimes, I think ‘I’m pretty good,’ and it devalues the power grace.
But when these guys look around, they see constant reminders of their sin. Yet…they cling to grace.
“Pastor, that’s real faith.”
He was right.
The volunteer and I found a lot of our confidence in the things we saw ourselves doing.
All their confidence was in God’s invisible grace.
But is this faith real?
Again, look at Israel:
“Now if their trespass meant riches for the world, and their failure meant riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fullness mean!” (v.12)
Think about it:
If God’s grace is for the non-Jew who never read the Old Testament, never sang a Psalm, never set foot in the temple, and never memorized even one of the Ten Commandments…
Then, it’s also for the Jew who did all those things and still rejected God’s promise.
If God’s grace is for the Jew who had all God’s promises, rejected all his promises, and even murdered God’s own son…
Then, God’s grace is for you.
If you’ve FALLEN out of grace, belief in JESUS means you STAND in grace again.
No matter what you’ve done.
God’s grace is big enough.
That’s where we look.
Not over here at the big WRONGS we’ve done.
But over here at the BIG GRACE Jesus won.
II. To Those Who Do Stand by Faith
But what about those us who do believe in Jesus?
Who haven’t fallen away.
Who have done a really excellent job of never falling away…
The next section speaks to believers:
“But if some of the branches were broken off, and you—a wild olive branch—were grafted in among them and share in the rich sap from the root of the olive tree, do not boast that you are better than the branches.” (v.17-18)
Grafting is a technique where a section of a stem with some leaf buds is attached to the stock of an existing tree. The wild shoot is cut in a way that it fits into a specific spot on the existing plant so that the transport vessels of both pieces line up. In this way, the grafted piece can continue to grow as it is fed nutrients and water by the stock plant.
In this illustration, Israel is a tree.
It was attached to the root of God’s grace.
But some rejected the Savior and were broken off.
Then, people who were not from the nation of Israel were then grated into their place.
They are a part of the tree.
Every much a part of God’s family.
But a weird phenomenon can happen with believers in God’s grace.
They can become convinced that it’s less about God’s grace.
…And more about their being AWESOME.
I have been attending worship over the pandemic. God wants me here ‘cause I’m so faithful.
I stayed at home over the pandemic. God wants me here ‘cause I’m so caring.
I voted this way in the election. God wants me here because I voted right.
Notice the “because.”
It’s no longer “Because I stand in Jesus’ grace.”
I believe I stand with God…because why wouldn’t God want to stand with me?
BOASTING can lead to faith in SELF.
I broke off a tree branch earlier this week.
I broke it off, because it was a branch that looked especially nice.
I thought it was a blessing to the tree.
But since I’ve broken it off, do you know what’s happened?
But the branch?
Remember that you are not supporting the root, but the root is supporting you. (v.18)
You need Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t need you.
You need grace.
Grace doesn’t need you to be grace.
“You will say: ‘Branches were broken off so that I am grafted in.’ That is true—but remember that they were broken off because of unbelief…Do not be conceited but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you.” (V.19-21)
The reason God removed the Jewish believers wasn’t because his grace wasn’t enough.
It’s because they didn’t believe his grace was enough.
They severed the connection.
God broke them off.
God says be careful.
Because it’s easy to think grace isn’t enough.
It’s easy to believe there must be something to DO for yourself.
And when you think grace is ABOUT you and yourself.
It isn’t long before your faith is IN yourself
And faith in yourself instead of Jesus goes by another name.
Have you heard this?
If your faith is in YOURSELF, you will be CUT OFF.
Have you ever considered the lifespan of a cross?
At some point the cross was a tree. Alive and blooming. Green and vibrant.
It got cut down.
Cut from the by the local Roman cross building artisan.
Chopped into two large pieces.
Fastened together by some rope.
Large enough for three hefty nails to splinter its fibers.
A dead thing used for death.
With bloody remnants of past deaths all over it.
This dead wood death device truly encompasses what a sinful person apart from grace is.
And that’s where Jesus died.
He placed himself in our position.
He died with our sins of deathly boasting on his bad.
He died as a spiritually dead branch cut off from God’s family tree.
Three days later.
Three days later he did something that no other dead branch had ever done.
He came to life.
Because the Branch lives.
You live as his Branch.
“And you remain in place by faith.”
HE’s the trunk.
He holds you up.
He gives you nourishment, support, life, strength, and forgiveness.
By faith in Jesus, you STAND.
III. What Now?
So how do we keep our faith strong in Jesus? Two ideas from this Scripture: Take note of God’s kindness and his severity: severity on those who have fallen, but God’s kindness on you—if you remain in his kindness; otherwise, you also will be cut off. (v.22)
(1) Note God’s Sternness
Sometimes Sunday School lessons can be hard to tell.
I was reading to Daniela one of the Bible story books that we’ve received. (If you’re a pastor, you get a lot of Bible story books. It’s a good thing.)
I decided to read the story of Noah’s ark.
I get to do all of my animal noises.
But as I was reading this book, I realized something.
Part of the story was missing.
The part where God decided to destroy the hundreds of thousands of people who had hated God and rejected his warnings for 40 years, so eventually God drowned them.
How many times you seen that in a kids’ story on Noah’s ark?
It’s tough to talk about. I get it.
But what is God telling us here.
The hard parts of the Bible.
The God’s judgment parts of the Bible.
We shouldn’t avoid those.
We need to hear them.
They are deep, cutting reminders of what happens when you put faith in yourself.
Something humans are prone to do.
God gives us these warnings as a blessing to us.
Because he doesn’t want us to drown in a universal flood.
He wants us to live eternally with him.
Don’t skip those parts in your Bible readings.
Don’t ignore those parts with your kids.
Don’t go get coffee during those parts of the sermon.
Take note of God’s sternness. And then…
(2) Take Note of God’s Kindness
Because when you come to God in repentance.
When we come to God recognize our sinfulness.
When we come to God in our deadness…
God grants life.
He shows us how he has been gracious to others through the Gospel.
He grafts us back into that very Gospel.
We are nourished in grace again.’
When you don’t see God’s grace out the world.
When you just see a bunch of jerks out in the world.
Here is where you see God’s grace and gain confidence to stand.
Like the woman from Mark 7.
Her daughter was demon possessed.
She repeatedly hurt herself.
She wasn’t in her right mind.
She seemed constantly lost.
Watching your daughter lose herself to her demons…
Can you imagine the pain in this mom’s heart?
She had heard of Jesus.
But Jesus was Jewish.
Jesus was a leader in the Jewish community.
The Jewish community wasn’t her community.
She didn’t have their religion.
She had never been in the temple.
She didn’t share the blood of Abraham.
She didn’t look like Israel.
She didn’t belong there.
I’m sure the looks of others made her feel that way.
There was something about this Jesus.
She found Jesus, threw herself on the ground and immediately began to cry out,
“Lord! Jesus! Help! Help me! Help my daughter!”
Jesus said to her, “Let the children be fed first.
“I was promised to the children of Israel.”
“It isn’t right take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Mark 7:27)
The woman heard him.
She processed his illustration.
“Lord, their little dogs under the table…
They get to eat the crumbs.
Give me a crumb of your power. My daughter will be saved.”
“Because of this statement, go! The demon has gone out of your daughter.” (Mark 7:29)
She went home.
And the demon had gone out of her daughter.
This is the power of Jesus.
And stand by faith in grace. Amen.
This is always a stressful Sunday to preach.
Every four years America is blessed to be able to vote.
Every four years America is blessed to be able to elect a president.
And every four years, there is a Sunday service a few days beforehand.
And this year…
Unless Facebook is deceiving me…
It appears that people are expecting me to preach one of two sermon themes today:
If you don’t vote for Trump, you don’t stand with God.
If you don’t vote for Biden, you don’t stand with God.
Try as I might…
I couldn’t find a Biblical text to support either one of those sermon themes…
Rather than tell you how to vote to stand with God.
Scripture asks a much more pertinent question.
How do you know God stands with YOU?
Friends, this is the sermon you need to hear today. Before we, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Standing Before God
The Scripture that describes how to stand with God on your side comes from Romans 5:1
“Having been justified…we have peace with God.”
The word used for “peace” here is the word commonly used to describe peace between warring nations. In this event, the leadership gets together and signs a treaty that says:
We are no longer fighting.
I will no longer try to stab you with my sword.
I will no longer try to shoot you with my musket.
I will no longer stand against you.
Because I will now stand with you.
Now I am on your side.
Is there anything better than the peace-filled pledge of the Creator?
The One who controls volcanos? On our side.
The One who controls 55mph winds? On our side.
The One who knows the cure for COVID? On our side.
So how do we get this peace accord?
According to this text, if you’d like peace with God you only need to do one thing, that is, to simply be “justified.”
Have you seen this word before?
This is a courtroom term. It’s a word used by judges to announce the verdict of a case.
If the person is guilty, the judge slams his gavel and declares that person “guilty” or “condemned.”
If the defendant is not guilty, the judge slams his gavel and declares that person “not guilty” or “justified.”
In this scenario, God is the judge.
If you can prove your innocence to him, he will join your side.
Do you have enough emails documenting your kindness to coworkers?
Or a couple you might need to delete?
Do you have enough photos on Instagram properly documenting how great of a mother you are?
Or do you think you’ll have to doctor up the fake smiles just a bit more?
Do you know enough people who can support your claim that you are “innocent?”
Or are you gonna need to offer a few bribes? Maybe even to your wife?
One of the challenges with my newfound fatherhood is trying to get my daughter to take her medicine. In the first days of having her with us, she refused to take it.
I haven’t tasted it. But based on the smell (a mixture of dirt and banana peel), I can understand why.
So, we hide it.
We put it in applesauce.
We put it in yogurt.
We put it in her favorite morning drink, hot chocolate.
We’d take a spoonful of delicious Colombian hot chocolate.
Move the spoon under the table.
Carefully sneak in one drop of medicine,
Bring the spoon above the table confidently
Put it into her mouth and…
She’d spit it out.
This is a microcosm of how people approach God.
You want an innocent lifestyle God?
Just a second.
I’ve been greedy lately. But if I mix in some money to charity, maybe God won’t notice.
I lost it on my kids. But if I take them to enough extracurriculars, I’m sure that it’ll be a wash.
I spent all night watching porn. But if I do the dishes, wash the car, and bring my wife some flowers, my life will still taste good.
Here you go?
God can taste the deception.
An ounce of sin…
…is that repulsive to him.
He will see all your sin.
If you stand in YOUR WORKS before God, you stand in GUILT.
Because you’ll have to stand in all your works.
The good and the bad.
The time you listened to your parents and did your homework and the time you didn’t listen and texting with your friends about what losers your parents are.
The time you thanked your coworker for her work and the time you told everyone that her work was your work.
The time you treated your husband to a steak dinner and the time you ignored his call ‘cause you were flirting with the trainer.
The time you called your wife “beautiful” and the time you called her a few other unrepeatable names.
The time you worshiped three times on a weekend and the time you got sick cause of overdrinking three times in a weekend.
And by the way…
Those good things?
Isaiah 64:6 says this, “All your righteous acts are as filthy rags.”
That’s a nice way to put it.
The reality is that Hebrew phrase refers to those filthy rags as “rags filled with bodily fluids.”
Gross, dirty, stinky, “Mom, can you get this one?” disgusting diapers.
That’s how God views the “good” things you do.
Because even the best human “good” things are tainted with human selfishness.
Think about it.
If you try to make up for your sins, by doing things in order to save your skin...
Making that work selfish.
Another dirty diaper for you to stand in.
Stop standing in your works.
Because if you do, you stand in GUILT.
And if you stand in GUILT…
…you don’t STAND.
Have you ever tried to push over a tree?
I mean a mature tree. Not a freshly planted one.
A tree with a solid trunk.
A tree with roots that move deeply into the ground.
A tree that’s been standing for 150 plus years.
Push as you might.
With your hands.
With your arm.
With your back.
With a running start.
You can’t get a tree like that to budge.
A few days ago Hurricane Zeta ran through Montgomery, Alabama.
The 50-plus mph winds toppled mature oak trees throughout the city.
Honestly, I don’t think God broke a sweat.
Look at the damage.
If God does that to an inanimate, amoral object?
What do you think he’ll do to animate, moral beings like you?
Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
If you try to stand in your works…
You will fall.
Out of favor with God.
Out of eternity with God.
II. Standing by Grace
If we can’t stand on works.
Is it even possible to stand?
I bet that’s what the guy from Matthew 9 thought.
He had been paralyzed his entire life.
There wasn’t any kind of work he could do to fix that.
No amount of physical therapy.
No amount of organic drug taking.
No amount of a positive outlook…
Could fix the broken nerve endings in his lower back.
He couldn’t do anything to stand.
His friends picked him up.
They brought him to a crowded house.
They scaled a wall.
They passed his cot up the wall.
They cut a hole in the roof.
They attached ropes to his cot.
They lowered him down.
To the feet of Jesus.
And there he lay.
Surrounded by judgy religious people
Looking up at the perfect Son of God.
He might have thought:
“Hi Jesus. Hear me out. Here are some reasons you should help me.”
But he didn’t get any of those out.
Jesus simply said, ““Get up. Take your stretcher. Go home.” (Matthew 9:6)
The man didn’t have to list his credentials.
He didn’t have to promise allegiance to Jesus.
He didn’t have to fork over the couple of dollars he had begged for earlier that day.
He simply stood.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (v.1)
Because here’s what Jesus did for you….
He stood in the eternal halls of heaven.
He stood and saw your lack of innocence.
He saw that you couldn’t stand and decided to do something about it.
He was born and needed to learn how to stand.
He stood in the temple proclaiming that people needed saving.
He stood in the streets proclaiming that he was that Savior.
He stood in a garden, surrounded by angry, blood-thirsty men.
He stood on trial surrounded by angrier, blood-thirstier men.
He stood and was condemned to die on a cross.
He stood on a little tiny wooden wedged that both of his feet had been positioned upon while a nail was driven through them both.
He stood on a hill of death as the Father gave him his verdict: GUILTY.
Until he couldn’t.
They took his dead body and laid it in the grave, never to stand again.
Three days later, Jesus stood on his two feet again.
Three days later, Jesus stood alive.
Three days later, Jesus stood victorious
TRUTH: Because of JESUS, you will STAND before God as INNOCENT.
Listen to that good news again.
Because of Jesus, you stand not guilty.
Because of Jesus, you stand at peace.
Because of Jesus, you stand forgiven.
But it’s more than that…
Through Jesus we also have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand. (v.2)
In the back of church, there is a keypad. It is left over from the days of having Precious Lambs in this building. It’s still useful today though. If someone needs to get into church and I am not at church to let them in, I can simply text them a code. They enter the code and get in.
Sometimes we view grace like a keycode.
“God graciously gave us this keycode.”
Now all we have to do is enter the right combination of good deeds and good works and we will obtain access into God’s kingdom.
Should we start at 11111?
But the reality is that grace isn’t a keycode of which you have to discover the combination.
Grace means the door is unlocked.
God entered the code.
He grabs us by the hand.
He brings us in.
It’s all about God.
Because of Jesus, we NOW stand in GRACE.
You don’t need to fret.
You don’t need to worry.
You don’t need to develop ways to get on God’s good side.
You stand in grace.
And grace is all about God.
And God is all you need.
People usually understand grace as like a seesaw:
On the one side, is God’s work:
It’s represented by a rhinoceros, wearing a backpack full of bowling balls and playing a piano.
On the other side of the seesaw is our work:
We need to do.
Actually, that’s inaccurate.
We need to remove the flea.
On our side, is nothing. Absolutely nothing.
On God’s side, is a rhinoceros, wearing a backpack full of bowling balls while playing the piano…and a flea, because we removed the flea from our side.
Grace is all about God.
Therefore, God’s grace is all you need.
III. What Now?
(1) Stay Standing in Grace
It’s like a game of Sumo wrestling. Do you know the rules?
1. Wear a big diaper.
2. Don’t get pushed out of the circle.
The devil would love nothing more than to push you out of grace.
The devil pushes you to sin.
With social media.
With your emotions.
Till you break.
But he hasn’t pushed you out of grace yet.
The real trick comes next. He says, “Jesus died for you and you responded by listening to me? That was awful. Stupid. And..honestly, it doesn’t seem like grace would be enough anymore. You’ll probably have to do something to get back into God’s grace.”
By trying to something to get back into God’s grace.
We step out of God’s grace.
Don’t let him trick you.
You don’t need to DO something to earn God’s grace.
Not even if you’ve previously done wrong.
God’s grace is enough.
(2) Show Grace
Back to the story of the paralyzed man.
Before Jesus healed him, he said to the man, “Your sins are forgiven.”
This upset the religious leaders who were there.
How could you claim to do that?
This guy is probably a miserable sinner.
He doesn’t do religious stuff like us.
How dare you make such an assertion.
Who do you think you are?
Jesus healed the man of paralysis.
Something only God can do.
Jesus is God and in him we have grace.
Jesus is God and in others have grace.
To question grace is to question Jesus’ power!
Pastor, God forgives. But not those kind of people.
It’s ok to be gracious, but you gotta be firm too.
Is that person really the kind of person God wants in our church?
Because if it wasn’t.
He wouldn’t want YOU either.
God has given us grace.
Give grace to others.
Forgive that grudge.
Be kind with your spouse even when they aren’t kind to you.
Be gentle with your kids even during the 18th time you’ve reminded them to turn off the iPad.
Because you stand in grace.
And they stay in grace too.
One more verse tied to this thought.
We rejoice confidently based on our hope for the glory of God. (Romans 5:2b)
This is important.
Because you might be a bit on edge.
You might be wondering what will happen with all the elections.
You might be nervous about what the next years will bring.
You might be frightened about when COVID might end.
I can’t tell you with any kind of certainty what will happen on Tuesday.
But I can tell you with 100% certainty what will happen in eternity.
You and I will be in heaven with Jesus.
Standing in grace.
Standing with Jesus.