Last week we started our summer sermon series called ACTS: The Early Church Initiative by reviewing the first fourteen chapters of the book of Acts. In it, we learned that a priority for the Early Church was to place the GOSPEL above all else…because in the Gospel, Jesus placed YOU above all else.
Today we are picking up where we left off last year. Which was action packed. Last year we heard about:
Fire appearing on the disciples’ heads.
A paralytic healed.
A Jesus-hater blinded.
A sorcerer converted.
Thousands baptized into Jesus’ name.
And as exciting as those things were, today we’re going to dive into something just as exciting.
Something just as thrilling.
Today we are going to hear about a marvelous, amazing, incredible, action packed…Meeting.
As we go through the events leading up to the first Church Council meeting, pay attention – you’ll see theme of Gospel above all else – running throughout the discussions. Our goal is to learn from that. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Problem
The account is from Acts 15 which begins right at the end of Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey. A journey that was successful. They had brought the message of the Gospel to people living in different countries who had never heard of Jesus.
And when they returned to their home congregation in Antioch Syria – the congregation that sponsored the mission trip – they shared their success!
About Cyprus where the Gospel overpowered the lies of a Satanist.
About Pisidian Antioch where they preached on the streets in front of thousands of people.
About being chased out of the city, mistaken for God, and narrowly avoiding attempted murder.
And about how through it all the Gospel was preached, and hundreds of souls came to faith in the saving message of Jesus.
And the congregation was thrilled.
As the night was winding down, Paul noticed a sign that had been affixed to the congregation’s 1st century version of a bulletin board: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” (15:1)
He went and got Barnabas.
Can you believe what they’re teaching?
This is the church that had convinced me it was by God’s grace apart from any Jewish custom that we’re saved.
A church sponsored OUR mission trip in which we were told to teach - people were saved by God’s grace apart from anything else.
A mission trip on which we taught that people were saved by Jesus apart from anything, anything, anything else.
Over the next couple days, there were heated discussions:
Paul and Barnabas said the Gospel was all about Grace.
The opposing leaders argued that it was about God’s grace…and following Old Testament Jewish Law.
A good portion of the people sat back and nodded in agreement with whomever made the last point.
Finally, they decided to send this question to the leadership of the Christian movement.
“Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.” (v.3)
Because the Apostles were the original twelve, they were the men who had followed Jesus.
Who had been taught by Jesus.
Who had been EYEWITNESESS of the Risen Lord Jesus.
Who had been commission by Jesus to preach the Gospel.
On whom the Holy Spirit had come in a hurricane like sounded, landed on their heads in tongues of fire and taught them languages they never learned.
If anyone knew what the Gospel was really about -- it was them.
II. The Very First Council Meeting
So, the group set off from Syria and headed south to Jerusalem.
As they went, they stopped at other churches where Paul and Barnabas told of the incredible works of God.
About the Gospel overpowering the lies of a Satanist.
About preaching in the streets in front of thousands of people.
About being chased out of the city, mistaken for God, and narrowly avoiding attempted murder.
And about how through it all, the Gospel was preached, and hundreds of souls came to faith in the saving message of Jesus.
And how all the churches were thrilled!
They were excited.
They were excited with how the saving message of Jesus had made its way even to non-Jewish people.
And the excitement continued in Jerusalem.
The Apostles welcomed them.
They hugged them.
They sat down and listened to Paul and Barnabas talk all about their journeys.
They got teary-eyed.
They were ready to sing “Praise God from whom All Blessings Flow” when…
Some…stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” (v.5)
Because in the Old Testament, God required obedience!
Don’t believe me? Read Leviticus. Read Numbers.
They had to be circumcised.
They had to cover their heads.
They had to wear prayer shawls.
And that’s our tradition.
A tradition added to by great men.
A tradition passed down by great men.
Traditions not to eat pork.
Traditions not to eat shellfish.
Traditions not to join in fellowship with anyone who doesn’t follow these traditions.
We’re supposed to drop them?
Centuries of Traditions, gone?
For the sake of some “Dirty Gentiles?”
I don’t think so.
At this Peter stood up.
Peter, the leader of the Apostles….
Peter who had preached a phenomenal sermon on Pentecost:
“Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the Gospel…”(v.7)
Do you remember that?
I was up on the roof doing some meditation when I went into a trance.
In that trance, God gave me a vision of a sheet filled with all kinds of animals.
Animals that we TRADITIONALLY don’t eat.
Food like pork chops, bacon, and oysters on the half shell.
And I said to God, “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
And God said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (vs. 14-15)
And then God repeated this sequence two more times.
And right at the end of it, when I was wondering what it all meant, three men sent by Cornelius, a Roman, stopped at the gate of my house. The Holy Spirit said to me, “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” (vs. 19-20)
I went down to answer. The men were sent here by his master, Cornelius, who had a vision from God – about me being in that house.
Wouldn’t I come to tell about Jesus?
Because that’s was the point of the vision.
God’s message wasn’t just for Jews anymore.
It was a message of Grace for Gentiles…
But you don’t’ have to take my word for it!
Because when I was there and when I preached the message of the Gospel.
The people believed…Something that only happens by the Holy Spirit.
And they began speaking in tongues – a miracle that happens only by the Holy Spirit.
A miracle as proof that this was real faith given by the Holy Spirit.
Guess what!?! That happened in a home that didn’t have any Jewish traditions.
They weren’t circumcised.
They weren’t wearing prayers shawls.
“God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.” (v.8-9)
“Now then, why do you try to test God?” (vs. 10)
Because you might think that you’re testing the Gentiles.
You might think that you’re testing their faith to see if it’s real and if they’re willing to become followers of Jesus.
You’re testing God.
You’re telling him:
“Hey God, I know you said that it’s by grace through faith in Jesus that we’re saved, but…I’m gonna preach the opposite. I want to test how long it takes for you to strike me down with a lightning bolt for teaching the opposite of you.”
Because…think about it!
You’re putting yokes on the necks of these Gentiles.
A yoke just like you put on your donkey.
Something that makes general movement in life much more difficult.
You’re putting yokes on their necks by demanding that they keep all these Old Testament Traditions…
When you couldn’t even keep them yourself.
Avram, look at that prayer shawl. That’s not regulation length.
And Jeremiah, I saw you last Sabbath. That walk was lots longer than the allotted 3000 steps according to our tradition.
And Ezekiel…I’ve got a guy over there who told me that he saw you eating a BLT last week.
And don’t even get me started on the lies, the greed, the lust, the moral failures of each and everyone of you.
Brothers, for centuries, we were under the yoke of a law that we could not keep.
The message of Jesus freed us from that yoke.
Why put that yoke on someone else?
Why not lift that yoke?
We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are. (v.7)
Until eventually, Paul and Barnabas took the opportunity to tell all about what happened on their missionary journey.
About the Gospel overpowering the lies of a Satanist.
About preaching in the streets in front of thousands of people.
About being chased out of the city, mistaken for God, and narrowly avoiding attempted murder.
And about how through it all, the Gospel was preached, and hundreds of souls came to faith in the saving message of Jesus.
When they were done…
James stood up.
James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem.
James, a Jew through and through.
We’ve heard from Peter.
We’ve heard from Paul.
We’ve heard from Barnabas.
But perhaps we need to hear from one more witness.
A witness that’s Jewish.
A witness that’s traditional.
A witness that cannot tell a lie.
The Old Testament Jewish Scriptures:
Amos 9:11-12 says:
“After this I will…rebuild David’s fallen tent.
…17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name.” (Acts 15:16-17)
Grace is grace.
We can’t force them to be Jewish and we don’t need to. And we don’t need to keep these traditions because Jesus fulfilled them all with His perfect life, death and resurrection. God doesn’t require sacrifices anymore!
It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. (Acts 15:19)
Brothers and sisters,
This is the truth.
Grace is grace.
It’s a truth that was discussed in Jerusalem.
By the Apostles of Jesus himself.
They came to a conclusion.
It hasn’t been overruled.
It hasn’t been overturned.
Grace is grace.
It isn’t worked for.
It isn’t earned.
It isn’t given in response to following Old Testament customs.
It isn’t given in response to following human customs.
It’s all about Jesus.
He lived perfectly when you couldn’t.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins.
Forgiveness is yours.
By God’s grace.
III. WHAT NOW?
Therefore, we follow the advice of James, the leader in Jerusalem. Don’t make Grace difficult.
1) For Yourself
How good are you at puzzles?
I can usually handle them if they are 20 pieces or less.
I’m really good if they have an outline for each shape.
I’m especially good at the puzzles for 4 years old and younger.
But I have a friend who is so good at puzzles, do you know what he does?
He flips the puzzles upside down.
He does them cardboard side facing up.
He wants to make it more difficult…
Sometimes I think we do the same thing with grace.
We add in the qualification of “perfection.”
We need to be the perfect mom.
We need to be a stellar dad.
We need to be the best teacher, an incredible provider and the best keeper of Christian customs ever.
We tell ourselves that in order to receive grace we need to follow God’s Laws perfectly.
just to be sure…
…we add in some of our own human customs and laws just to make it really difficult.
Grace is grace.
And because of God’s grace in Jesus, you are forgiven.
Jesus said this, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)
He said that because by grace salvation is yours.
By grace, you don’t have to earn God’s love.
By grace, you already have it.
2) For Others
I was at pastor’s conference this past week. And I was talking to a pastor who was telling me about something that happened to him recently. He had a gentleman join his worship service whom he had been trying to get to come for a long time.
A friend who wasn’t a part of a church.
Who didn’t actively worship and hadn’t known much about Jesus.
As he finally attended worship, the man was moved by the Gospel.
He was emotional as he listened.
He even shouted: “Amen,” at the end of the sermon.
Afterwards, the pastor was excited, and he went to talk to a member of his to share his excitement.
And he said, “Wasn’t it awesome having him join us?”
And the person he told this to simply rolled their eyes and said, “You better talk to him and tell him that we don’t shout AMEN around here. Especially if he plans on coming back.”
Friends, don’t make grace difficult for others.
Don’t add to God’s grace.
Don’t require human things.
Let grace be grace.
Grace for you.
Grace for the people you talk to.
As unyoked children of God, be in the business of unyoking those with heavy burdens to bear.
Because…the Gospel teaches that God placed YOU above all else.
And we, as an extension of the early church, need to place the Gospel above all else.
We’re taking a look at a part of Jesus’ High priestly prayer. It’s a prayer that takes place on the night that Jesus is betrayed. It happens right before he is crucified. He starts by praying for strength to be crucified for the sins of the world. Then, he prays for God to strengthen his twelve apostles – who will soon be without a leader and tasked with “making disciples of all nations.” But the last part of the prayer is very interesting. It’s a neat little treatise on unity.
I. God Wants Us to be One.
Take a look at John 17:0. Jesus says, “My prayer is not for them (the 12 apostles) alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message. That’s talking about Christians. It’s talking about the people the disciples would meet at Pentecost. The people that they would meet on their missionary journeys. The people who would believe through the very words that they wrote down. (By the way, the message we’re studying was written by John. John – one of the twelve through whom people would believe in Jesus.)
Jesus is praying not just for people in the 1st century, but the 21st century. Not just people in Israel, but in America. Not just people from Jerusalem, but people of all background, cultures, and history living in modern day, Raleigh, NC.
Jesus is praying for us. Through them, we’re united to Him.
What is He praying for us? Let him conclude his thought: “That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”
This is unity is not just some ‘loose’ concept. It isn’t “I like the ACC.” And now NC State, Duke, and UNC fans are all intimately united as one – until they play each other. Then, their throw Bojangles chicken at each other in the parking lot.
The Unity God wants is much more intimate than that. Jesus describes it this way, “I want them to be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”
That’s a pretty impressive unity. Because, as the Bible teaches, God is Triune. Get this. The Bible mentions The Father. It mentions the Son. It mentions the Holy Spirit. However – it also categorically condemns the notion that there are three different gods. The Bible makes it as clear as the Old Testament Jewish mantra stated, “The Lord our God, the LORD is one.”
But here’ where it gets strange. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. Three separate person. One undivided God. Three distinct people – one divine essence.
This truth is so hard to comprehend that Christians have been struggling for centuries to define it. The point is that this union; this unity is so wonderful and outrageously above our own detection that we can’t always tell where one ends and another begins.
We recently bought two leads for our dogs to hang out in our backyard. Each leash is about 100 feet. We didn’t want them to feel confined. But guess what? The other day they were whining while I was grilling. I looked over and they only had about 10 feet of leash each. Why? They had tangled their leashes together into a giant knot. I didn’t know where one leash started and they other ended!
That’s the kind of unity God is. That’s also the kind of unity God desires. A unity that is so intimately woven together that the outsider cannot tell where one ends and the other begins.
God doesn’t want divisions. He doesn’t want old and young. New believers and longtime Gethsemane members; traditional music fans and contemporary lovers; white Christians; black Christians, Christians and Hispanic Christians.
God wants unity. God wants Christians. That’s the unity that God wants us to have at Gethsemane!
II. If You Cause Divisions…?
Is that the kind of unity we have? Do you come here on a Sunday, survey the group that has gathered together and think – “Ah, my brothers and sisters! What a blessing to be here!”
Do you drive into the parking lot and think “Oh no, that cruddy old 2000 Ford Explorer is in the parking lot. I don’t want to see that person. He’s kind of annoying.”
Do you stop by the member photo board and think – “I haven’t seen that person in a while. Why are they still a member? We should kick them out. They haven’t earned this like I did.”
Do you survey the back of church and think, “I could sit there, but they’re new – what could I say to them? I could sit in back, but it looks like there are quite a few moms here with quite a few kids. Ugh! I suppose I could sit there, but that’s two rows away from that lady whom I haven’t forgiven for something she said 6 months ago. Or I could sit up front – but that’s too close to that woman that I want to gossip about…so…I guess I’ll go hide in the infant room!”
If that’s how you think, you have a different attitude than God. Take a look at how God feels about it: “I pray…that all (Believers) may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you….May they be one as we are one; I in them and you in me.”
God wants unity. He desires unity among his people. He desires unity among his family. He desires all to be united with him. If someone is working against that unity, then what? You aren’t just dividing up among ‘some church group.’ You are dividing up Christ’s family.
You are working against Christ.
Practically speaking, what does this look like in our church? Here are a few examples:
If you gossip, you are causing divisions and you are working against Christ.
If you refuse to forgive, you are causing divisions and you are working against Christ.
If you aren’t sorry about hurting someone here, you are causing divisions and you are working against Christ.
If you attack others, you are causing divisions and you are working against Christ.
If you whisper when others aren’t looking, you are causing divisions and you are working against Christ.
If you are playing church politics, you are causing divisions and you are working against Christ.
If you get together with friends and talk about how you didn’t like this pastor and/or you thought a former pastor was no good, then you are causing divisions and you are working against Christ.
Question? Do you really want to be working against Christ? At some point, God will grant your request. God will set you opposite him.
Forever. In Hell.
Repent then. Turn from your evil desires to make church about your agenda and not God’s. Turn and hear God’s agenda one more time:
I pray…that all (Believers) may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you….May they be one as we are one; I in them and you in me.”
That includes you. Even if you have been letting unforgiveness, gossip, and selfishness get the best of you – know this: God still desires you to be a part of this.
How do I know? God wanted unity with you so badly, that when your sinful selfishness got in the way he became a human being, walked the earth, did miracles, healed diseases, cured defects, and then allowed himself to be arrested, falsely accused, tortured and killed on two pieces of wood!
He did this to take away your sin.
He did this to restore you to God.
He did this to make you one with Him.
III. Our United Goal is Sharing Jesus
Football just started. How do you think your favorite team would fare if after the QB yelled hike, all the linemen, who are supposed to be on his side, turned around, ransacked him, and dog piled on top of him? Not very well! It doesn’t work when people have different goals, does it?
This is the problem. We won’t work if we have different goals. In fact, if we all selfishly have our own goals – we would have 159 different ways that we are being pulled. Some of the ways would be polar opposites. We would be a mess.
We would not be serving Jesus.
We need a goal to be united around. Jesus gives us that goal in this very part of Scripture, “May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me…Then, the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Jesus’ stated goal is to share his message with the world. To tell others what he has done. That he has lived perfectly, when we could not; that he died innocently, in our place; that he rose triumphantly for our sins; that, John 3:16 “Whoever believes in Jesus shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
This is our goal!
Let’s be clear. That’s what “Gather to the Garden” means. It means “Gather people to hear about God’s love in sending a Savior from sin.”
Our goal isn’t making a sweet preschool. It isn’t to save up lots of money. It isn’t to make an awesome ice cream social. It isn’t to provide community events, give you worship in the exact way you like best, help you make friends, find you a boyfriend, or provided a nice venue for a wedding and a funeral.
Our goal, our ultimate goal, our eyes focused on the goal in spite of what might come is the goal of sharing Jesus!
“Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even has you have loved me.”
At Jesus’ time, the world knew about God’s love through Jesus’ words, deeds, and actions. He literally walked the earth and told people.
Now? People know of God’s love through you. Through me. THROUGH US.
Through Sunday School teachers preparing lessons, parents bringing them an hour early on a Sunday morning, and those without kids encouraging those parents – “I know it was tough; but it’s so important!” God’s Work is done.
Through greeters in the parking lot making guests feel welcome, through ushers smiling and handing a worship folder, and through those in the pews offering a friendly “Hello,” God’s Work is done.
Through Precious Lambs teachers who have trained long and hard, through special gifts and prayers of the congregations, through time spent at a workday scrubbing the walls with a small wash cloth, God’s work is done!
IV. Jesus is the Glue
But, even when we know what we are united and we know we should be united, it is hard. We are sinful people. It’s hard to love sinful people and it’s hard for sinful people to love.
How can we overcome sin? How can we remain united?
Listen to Jesus’ words right in the middle of our text: 2 "I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.”
Jesus gave us his glory. He gave us his perfection. He gave us his love. He gave us his forgiveness.
This is our strength.
May God always keep us united. Amen.
Jesus sat down.
He was tired. Because constantly proving that you are in fact the Son of God, and the true Messiah, and the only way to heaven, and that it is by God’s grace that people are saved, and through faith that people will be in heaven, and that the miracles He did were in fact true honest to goodness, incredible miracles that proved all of the above – was hard work.
Jesus sat down opposite the temple treasury. It was a large chest located outside the temple doors. It was an easy way for anyone to come and drop off an offering to God.
And people came. One after another they came and dropped off their money into the box. They gave to God.
Since it was the time of the Passover, there were many in Jerusalem. More than usual. It was quite the spectacle too. Back then, people didn’t wireless confirm their gifts via an anonymous smartphone app. They didn’t write checks. They didn’t slip a few hundred dollars bills into an envelopes. They dropped bags of coins. Think Scrooge McDuck – with the big dollar signs on the side.
Because of this, it was very easy to distinguish between large gifts and no so large gifts. Large gifts filled a whole bag or more. Smaller gifts did not. Large gifts caught the attention of the Pharisees – smaller gifts did not.
In fact, you can almost hear the Pharisees gathered around the box, singing praise as one of their own drops off a large bag filled with shekels. “Oh what an awesome gifts! Hundreds of dollars given to the LORD, you are blessed.” “What’s that? Another bag? Incredible! You are an incredible giver. Your money will go a long way.”
So it continued – large donor after large donor passing by the treasure box as if they were models competing in a Miss America pageant – showcasing their “giving” to the Pharisaical world.
Then, a widow. She approached the chest. She reaches into her pockets. She removed a handkerchief and began to unravel it – slowly and delicately removed her offering.
There wasn’t any laud adulation coming from the onlookers. A few looks of disappointment, sure. Maybe a few giggles. No praise for her gift. It was too small. No one said anything.
“I tell you the truth this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.”
I. Our Culture on Giving
Doesn’t it seem strange for Jesus to say that? You almost feel like Jesus might need to head back to Kindergarten where he can grab a bunch of yellow plastic bears and use them to count that the woman’s offering was ridiculously smaller than the offerings that day. It was insignificant!
Because that’s the way our culture defines giving. We love to define giving by the amount.
Ever been to a hospital? Who makes it onto the wall? The big donors. They are the ones who get their names etched in stone and memorialized for all to see. Sometimes they even have a key on the side – ‘Copper plates mean copper donors – hundreds of dollars.’ ‘Silver plates mean silver donors – thousands of dollars.’ ‘Gold plates? – those are the super donors --- they have given over 500,000 dollars to the creation of this hospital!'
Do you ever fall into that trap? Maybe you look around during the offering. How much is that person giving? How many zeros are on that check? What size of a bill is everyone else putting in?
At Kroger, they’ve been doing this thing where they ask you to donate one dollar to Cancer Research right at the end of scanning all your groceries. Has it happened to you? It always catches me off guard. Sometimes I say “Yes” because I don’t want the grandma behind me to think I’m stingy. Other times, I say “No,” but then I explain, “Not this time. I give to a few others charities. I’ll keep this in mind for next month.”
Do I really need to explain myself? Does society really judge us on the basis of the size of our gift?
The answer is a definite “YES.” But more than that. We’ve regulated giving to the rich. In other words – we expect giving to come out of richness.
There is a YouTube video filmed by a man in Los Angeles. He’s rich, but he wanted to prove that very concept that our society expects giving to come out of richness.
So he dressed up as a homeless man. Then, he waited on the side of a downtown skyscraper. As people passed by in suits and ties, he got their attention.
“Hey buddy!” he said. (Oftentimes they’d keep walking because they didn’t want to give to him.) Then, he’s speak again, “No, no. I don’t want anything. I just want to give. I don’t have a lot in the world, but I do have the ability to give. So…here’s ten bucks. Buy yourself a lunch or something.”
How do you think people reacted? (How would you react?)
People were furious. They started calling him names and dropping four letters words. One man even threatened to punch his teeth him if he ever insulted him like that again. He was rich. He didn’t need money. And that guy was poor. “Giving wasn’t for him.”
Ask this question with me: Why do we think like this? Why do we insist that giving – true giving – can only come from the rich?
Could it be that if a gift isn’t measured by quantity – if a poor person could give a gift to God that is thousands of dollars less on the books – yet it’s just as rich in God’s eyes – then of what benefit is the gift to the rich? If giving doesn’t getting you brownie points before God, then…we’ll have to face our Almighty God in the cesspool of our sins. No amount of bargaining or bribing will change God’s mind. He will see us as the imperfect, unholy, holy wrath inducing creatures that we are.
II. The Greatest Giver
Which is why a correct understanding of giving is going to start with a correct understanding of the Gospel. A knowledge that God gave up all of his riches to save you.
I love this passage from 2 Corinthians 8:9. Take a look. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
This about our Lord Jesus Christ. He was incredibly rich. He resided in heaven above. He had copious amounts of whatever he wanted. Barrels full of lightning? Check. Golden lined streets of heaven? Yes. Diamonds and rubies and emeralds appearing on His fingers with a simple snap? Yes!
But he gave that all up. He was born in a place where cattle were fed. He grew up the son of a poor carpenter. He journeyed from place to place without any money around his belt. He was homeless! He slept on the ground. He, the God of sustenance, depended on others to sustain him!
Then, his life ended in the poorest of ways. All he owned was the crown of thorns piercing through his brow and the bloodstained cloth around his waist. Then, he gave up his richest possession – his own, Divine life.
Listen to that again. God who owns all things in the entire universe – gave it all up – including his life!
In doing so he donated to a charity that you know very well. Not the Red Cross. Not the Salvation Army. Not even WELS Home Missions.
He donated to you.
You were fresh out of righteousness. On the cross, Jesus gave you his.
You owed God a sin debt. With his debt, Jesus paid it in full.
You didn’t have any way to buy heaven. With his life, Jesus reserved a room specifically for you.
You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
Here’s the deal then, brothers and sisters, if you believe in Jesus, then you are rich. You may not have a fully funded emergency fund. You may not own an IRA. You might not drive anything but a used car.
But if you believe in Jesus, you have peace. You have forgiveness. Things that Donald Trump, Bill Gates, and every members of the Forbes richest people’s club could not buy!
III. New Thoughts on Giving
1) Giving Comes out of Love.
Therefore, on account of Jesus – giving takes on a whole new meaning. Now giving doesn’t come from wealth. But giving comes from love.
1 Timothy 6:10 is a very famous passage and often misquoted passage. You’ll find all kinds of memes on the internet stating it incorrectly “Money is the root of all evil.” That’s not what the Bible says. Look at what is written: "The Love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”
It makes sense when you think about it. Dave Ramsey says this. Money is like a brick. It’s inanimate. It’s neutral. There’s nothing good or bad about it. You can pick up the brick and throw it through a window – bad. You can pick up a brick and build an orphan’s hospital – good.
Same with money.
You can use it to buy a nice car just to show off – bad. Or you can use it to provide a reliable, safe, nice car for your family – good.
You can use it to horde money in your sock drawer because you can’t bear to part with it – bad. Or you can use it to save up to send your child to college – good.
You can use it to give a gigantic offering to church just to get your name on the wall - bad - OR you can empty out your spending money for the month to buy a bunch of Evangelism fliers with the hopes that the message of Jesus the Savior might reach some – good.
Do you see the difference in each of those examples? It isn’t the amount of money. It isn’t the gift. It’s the motivation.
If you love money, bad. If you love God, good.
It’s why 2 Corinthians 9:7 says this, “God loves a cheerful giver.” Not God loves the one who gives $200 or more each week. Nope. God loves a cheerful giver.
2) Giving Comes out of Trust.
However…pump the breaks for a second. Because I guarantee a bunch of you saw that and thought, “God loves a cheerful giver? Phew…I’m not too happy about this offering I was gonna give today. So, let me just take a moment and rip this check up and never look at it again.”
That’s not what God is saying to you with 2 Corinthians 9:7. It’s not a license for you to say, “I don’t feel 100% happy about this, so I’m not gonna give this.” If that were the case, pretty sure we’d be bankrupt.
Before you resolve never to give God another cent, look at the verse that immediately follows. 2 Corinthians 9:8 says this, “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all time, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”
In other words – Giving doesn’t just come out of love. Giving also comes out of TRUST.
Isn’t that exactly what the widow did? She had nothing left. Yet she gave it all up. Out of love, absolutely. God had given her a wonderful husband and a blessed life. But also out of trust. She trusted that God could and would give her everything she would need in the coming days to continue to serve God on earth. And if he didn’t, then she’d get more than she could ever dream of in heaven.
Do you trust God? He won salvation for you on a cross. He paid a debt you couldn’t pay. He has a storehouse full of infinity of everything!
Do you trust God to take care of you?
Today’s challenge is to consider increasing your offering. Whatever it is. I’m not naming numbers, because it isn’t about the amount. But I am asking this. Can you take another step forward in trust and give a bit more to the work of your Lord?
For us – we use the money to share the Gospel. To start with it’s the building which we use to share the Gospel. Then, it’s my salary – which isn’t commissioned based – so I don’t get more for you giving more. Let’s be clear on that.
Then, it’s Evangelism. We use gifts to share Jesus love to those in Raleigh. Through a website. Through online ads. Through pamphlets and fliers and signs.Through invites and THANK YOU gifts.
And a big project that we are considering – the Expansion of Precious Lambs. It’s gonna allow us to connect with even more families and share the message of the God who loves them. It’s going to allow us to connect with little kids and teach the true message that Jesus Loves Them to them. It's gonna open opportunities to expand our youth group outreach during the week back in the Current Precious Lambs area. It's’ going to open up opportunities to start an English as a Second Language Ministry to share Jesus’ love with the many global members of our community.
In short – your gift will be a gift of love for God and trust in God. Amen.
This Thursday is the Fourth of July. A time when we celebrate our nation. A time when we celebrate our Freedom. A time when we the birthday of the United States.
But are we really that United?
Just last week, a monumental decision took place in the Supreme Court about gay marriage. Many people celebrated in the streets, while others took to blogs to express their supreme disgust.
The Presidential election wasn't that long ago. The nation was basically split in half! 51% to 49%. This split wasn't just laxadasical either. Rather, these people were vehemently split in half!
How come? The Economy. Foreign relations. Gay marriage. Tax cuts. Health care reform.. Gun control. Abortion. Immigration laws. These are just some of the many topics that have deeply, ruthlessly divided the nation, emotionally charging people and putting them on polar opposite ends of belief!
It's enough to make the United States feel more like the Divided States.
But, you know what? We shouldn't be surprised. Unity is hard to come by. Rock bands break up because having your name appear first on the CD cover is more important than sharing the message of your music. Championship football teams break apart because money is more important than winning another Super Bowl. Business partnership fall apart because the bottom line is more important than working together to serve the world.
Why is unity so hard to accomplish?
I think the answer lies in what we all have in common.
I saw something a bit comical at the dog park the other day. A woman, who was possibly dog sitting, came into the park with six different dogs attached to these large leash carrying device. Before she entered the park, controlling the dogs seemed to be very easy. All the dogs sat nicely, because they wanted her to open the door that they might get into the park.
But then, things changed drastically. As the gate swung open, the German Shepherd tried to run to the right because he wanted to sniff the trees. The Black Lab ran straight forward to run and greet all his friends in the park. The two collies took notice of the tennis ball that just landed to the left, while the poodle jumped at her knees to be picked up and the big old American bull dragged behind because he wanted to go slow.
Isn't the same true for human beings? We only remain united with others as long as we get what we want. In other words, the one thing we all have in common is that we are all selfish! The very thing that destroys unity!
It's what happens in destroyed marriages. People get married because they want the loving feeling and romantic companionship they feel from the other person. When that feeling is no longer what the person wants or when one decides that he wants a new romantic companionship, the marriage suffers if it isn't over.
Now let's talk church. A church is a generally large group of people united around a system of beliefs that have the same goal. How can a group of people, of all different ages, of all different backgrounds, and of all different likes and dislikes possibly remain united?
I think our text for today, Romans 15:4-6 shares the answer. Listen to what it says:
4 Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, 6so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Did you see the word unity in there? Notice where it comes from. God. God gives unity.
And it has to be this way!?! How else would a group of sinful, selfish people, of all different background and experiences ever be or remain united?
Afterall, we are sinful, selfish human beings. And it isn't that hard for our sinful selfishness to rear it's ugly head...even when it comes to church matters: “I want the walls painted this color because I like that color. If someone thinks otherwise, they can stick it!” “I think the palm trees up front look better to the right of the pulpit. Grrr! I'm so upset I won't be able to go to church for weeks! “I like this style of music best. There really isn't any other style of music that's any good. Those who think differently than me can leave!” “I love having the Kroger brand Oreos from the store. Plus they are cheap. That's the only thing that should be served at fellowship time. If any thing else gets served, fine. I'll just leave.”
With such a selfish, sinful attitude, we could never be nor ever remain united.
You know what's strange though? This is the very first truth that God's Word unites us in.
For the Bible teaches that we are all the same. Sinful. Selfish. Humans. Deserving of God's wrath. In need of saving. There is no difference among us. It doesn't matter if you grew up in North Carolina or North Dakota. If you speak English, Spanish, or Hindi. If you like Duke, UNC, or NC State. You are a sinner!
But this only gives way to a second important truth: Jesus died to save us all. All of us. The young, single Hispanic mother. The well-off, Arabian Entrepeneur. The older pair of snowbirds who recently moved into their retirement home. The struggling family which is on their third apartment this past year. The African American gentleman. The Asian grandmother. Even...(And this is the hardest for me to believe because I know him too well)...even that 28 year old white guy preacher from Wisconsin. Jesus died to save all of us. We are united in this truth!
And what's interesting is that in order to win salvation for us, Jesus had to unite himself with the worst parts of us. He literally united himself with the unruly, selfish, awful, sinful part of us that no one would ever want to unite with. Yet Jesus did. He united himself with our sinful self and took it on as his own. It's why he suffered. It's why he died.
But, because they were united with him, our sins died as well. They were buried in the tomb. The dark door of no return slammed shut on them.
But then Jesus separated himself from our sins. Jesus returned from the grave, but our sins remained. Earlier in Romans 6:3-5, Paul makes that very asseration, “Don't, you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”
Brothers and sisters. This Jesus is our hope. The very hope that Paul describes in verse 5 of our text. The very hope that unites us.
No longer are we completely defined by the words: North Carolinian. Northern. Southern. White. African American. Asian American. Arabian American. Native American. Old. Young. Married. Single. Any of these.
We are Christians. Followers of Jesus. Walking Together.
God's love is greater than that. For not only does God give us unity through the Scriptures, but God keeps us united in this hope through the Scriptures! Look at what verse 4 says, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
Look at how Scripture unites us. First, it teaches us endurance.
Moms know about endurance. Say they are taking their child to the Doctor. And the entire way there their child in the back seat is screaming, crying, and pitching a fit! Mom wants to stop. Mom wants to turn around. Mom wants to drop kids off at the corner McDonalds and pick him up later today. But she doesn't. She endures in order to take her kid to the Doctor.
Scripture teaches us to endure just like those moms. But instead of enduring whining and screaming, we endure something a lot simpler. Differences of opinion.
Ever heard the big religious word "adiaphora?" Adiaphora is the neutral zone. It is the zone where something is neither commanded nor forbidden by God.
It is in this zone of adiaphora that Scriptures teaches us NOT to be selfish, but to endure different opinions that are different from ours in order to remain united with Christ! The stuff that IS commanded and forbidden by God? That's untouchable. That remains the same. But anything we endure for the sake of Christ.
It's why UNC fans worship opposite NC State fans. It's why Democrats worship opposite Republicans. It's why people who like modern Christian praise songs worship opposite people who enjoy the classic hymns. It's why people who have no idea how to turn on a computer sit opposite of those that have at least three mini computers with them in this church!
In other words, we endure one another, because in Jesus we are no longer focusing on ourselves, but we focus on others!
Endurance isn't the only way Scripture keeps us united. It also encourages us. For “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
Did you know that Wisconsin Synod Conservative Lutheran is not the religion of choice in this area. Raleigh is not Lutheransville. In fact, as our area becomes more and more global (and more and more secular) it's not necessarily Christianville anymore either.
These facts could leave us feeling like Elijah. He was up in a cave—hiding, because he was afraid he was the only one who was left that believed in the LORD.
Just as God comforted Elijah reminding him that he was not alone, but that God had reserved thousands in Israel who had not yet bowed down to Baal, so Scripture comforts us. It reminds us that we are not alone. It encourages by reminding us that we are united with hoards of Christians who have gone before. Disciples. Prophets. Ordinary people.
Finally, Scriptures encourages us that we are united with Jesus—who promises “Surely, I will be with you always to the very end of the age.” (Mt. 28:19)
God has blessed us even beyond that. Because there are other Christians in this world. In fact, we even have half a million other people who are completely united in our beliefs. Members of our Synod. Members who are trained by pastors who teach the Word in its truth and purity. Pastors who are trained by professors who teach the Word in its truth and purity. Professors who were trained by professors who teach the Word in its truth and purity.
The common thread? Scripture. The Word. It is the blessing of God that unites us in Christ. As Paul says in verse 5, May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus.”
God's Word is powerful! It has kept us united in the past. It keeps us united right now. It will keep us united in the future!
United, we walk together toward a goal. Verse 6 tells us this goal, “so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
What else will glorify God more than sharing the truths of His Word with the world!
This is what we do when we gives 10 percent of our church offering to our Wisconsin Synod. Those funds go to support mission work around the world. Sharing the Gospel in 30 different countries. Serving 150,000 more souls worldwide. Opening 10 new home missions each year. Translating good, truthful Bible materials into languages that do not have good truthful Bible materials. Training pastors and teachers to go and share the truths of God's Word in the world for generations to come!
Blessing upon blessing! We even get blessings in return! Synod dollars from Arizona, Alaska and Louisiana, helped to train me in God's Word that I might in turn train you.
A teen group from Ohio came and delivered 1700 fliers about Precious Lambs to the community. (2 families signed up already.) Another group from New Ulm, MN will be coming in late July.
Walking together in mission work is beautiful!
This is our goal in North Raleigh too.
With that group from New Ulm, we will be getting out into the community. Getting to know our neighbors. Learning about our neighbors. Showing we care for our neighbors that we might have a better idea of how to serve this area with the Gospel! sec
Then, we're going to take that information and dissect it. We'll determine what outreach ministries we can do to best serve the community. We'll learn what worship songs we might include in worship to make this place feel more like home to the community. We'll the people are who don't know about Jesus and we'll 'hit 'em hard' with the Gospel!
Maybe, based on that information, we'll end up doing things in worship and as outreach that aren't our personal favorites! So what! We will be fine with it, because we are united in sharing the true message of Jesus! United, Paul says, with one voice and heart!
It's kind of like a choir. In a big choir, there there are hundreds of different voices singing 8 or more different parts. But what's amazing is when a choir with so many different voice and different parts practices and sings together, the message is beautiful. It's louder than before. It's as if the angels themselves are singing
Brothers and sisters, may this be the way we work together. United...as many different individuals with many different backgrounds...united as one voice. Sharing the Gospel message with our community. Through the Synod, sharing the Gospel message with the World.
May God hold us united in these goals to the Glory of God the Father and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.