We’re on the final lesson in our three-part PEACE series. Back on December 1st, Pastor Robin reminded us that, as believers, we have PEACE with God because of what Jesus did for us. Two weeks ago, we talked about how that PEACE with God leads us towards PEACE with our family and friends.
But if we stopped the series there, it wouldn’t be complete.
It’d be like an unfinished Dot-to-Dot puzzle. Ever you seen one of those in a coloring book? You connected dot 1 to dot 2, dot 2 to dot 3, —all the way to dot 57 until there is a completed picture.
But what if you leave 58 to 79 unfinished? The picture isn’t complete. What was supposed to be a cookie ends up looking like the letter “c”.
The same thing is true with our sermon series.
If we forget to connect the final dot in God’s plan for PEACE, the picture ends up being completely different.
Because God’s declaration of PEACE to us and guidance in PEACE with family and friends isn’t just so that YOU have a peaceful Christmas.
God brings us to PEACE with him and guides us to live in PEACE with others so that we can deliver HIS PEACE to them.
Our goal for today is to:
(1) identify the BEST gift you can give anyone this Christmas
(2) understand WHAT MAKES this gift the best gift ever
(3) make a game plan for bringing this gift to people in your life
Before we begin: 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 Best Gift
The lesson for today comes from the book of Isaiah. It was written 700 years before the very first Christmas, at a time when the people of Judah didn’t have a lot to feel peaceful about.
Recently, the Assyrian army had been conquering countries, devastating cities, and violently tearing apart armies. Now, the army had gotten very close to the country of Judah -- even completely destroying and devastating their sister country of Israel – where many of their relatives and friends resided.
It was a time of war.
People were anxious.
People were concerned.
People lived in fear.
Young men were afraid to walk outside by themselves at night.
Fathers were nervous that a letter may contain news of another relative killed in battle.
Mothers cuddled their children closely, afraid they might not have many days left.
It was to that kind of atmosphere that God brought this message:
Rise up, sit enthroned, Jerusalem.
Free yourself from the chains on your neck…
For this is what the Lord says;
“You were sold for nothing,
And without money you will be redeemed… (Isaiah 52:2-4)
Did you catch it?
God’s message to the people of Judah was that Assyrian would not defeat them.
God would free them from their oppression.
Soon, they would be redeemed.
But here’s what I want you to do.
Put yourself in Isaiah’s shoes.
He just heard from God’s mouth the very good news that the war would end soon and there would be PEACE.
This is where there’s a shift in chapter 52.
Because to this point, Isaiah has been recording what God has told him to tell others.
Now, Isaiah comments on the job that God just gave him:
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (v.7)
Feet aren’t normally that beautiful.
They can be stinky.
They can be smelly.
They can have ingrown toenails.
They can have thick pieces of black hair on the big toe.
If you want beautiful feet, you’ve usually got to work hard at it.
You need to scrub off the calluses.
You need to clip your toenails.
You need to rub essential oils on them to keep them smelling good.
Even at Christmas, if you’re opening up present on your living room floor, you might want to throw on a pair of elf slippers or maybe some socks with jingle bells on them.
Feet aren’t normally very beautiful.
How beautiful on the feet of those who bring good news.
They got to walk to tell the young men; they were safe.
They got to deliver the message to the dad; that their relatives would come home.
They got to tell the mother’s; it’s ok to send your children outside now.
There is no greater GIFT than the gift of GOOD NEWS.
Think about it:
How awesome when a friend text message you, “There’s a 50% off sale down at Kohl’s.”
How wonderful when you get the email: “Your Amazon Prime order has shipped.”
How excited do your kids get when you say: “There’s only 2 more days until Christmas!”
The message of Jesus is also good news.
In fact, the word commonly used to describe the message of Jesus is “the Gospel.”
Did you know that the word “Gospel” literally means, “Good news.”
It’s the “good news” that we have a Savior.
Friends, there’s no greater gift than good news.
And there’s is no greater GOOD NEWS than the GOSPEL.
II. The Beauty of the Gospel
If you believe the Gospel, then perhaps you understand the incredible effect the Gospel has had on you.
But for a moment, I don’t want you to apply the Gospel to yourself.
I want you to apply it to someone you know that doesn’t’ believe it.
Think about it:
What kind of an effect would the Gospel have on them?
A few things:
(1) It brings PEACE
Christmas is a time that a lack of peace becomes very evident.
Kids proclaim STRESS: “You didn’t get me what I wanted.”
Parents proclaim STRESS: “You didn’t get your child what you should.”
Friends proclaim STRESS: “I can’t believe you aren’t spending more time with me.”
Spouses proclaim STRESS: “Christmas reminds me of how terrible of a spouse you are.”
People proclaim stress to each other.
But with the message of Jesus you get to proclaim PEACE. That out of all their relationships that they have…spouse, friend, coworker, parent, child, sibling, 2nd cousin twice remove, there is ONE relationship that they are guaranteed to have peace with and it just so happens to be the one being that they have sinned against the most:
(2) It brings GLAD TIDINGS from God
One thing that has been popular in Christmases past is the Christmas letter. People used to write down all the good things that happened over the past year and update friends and relatives on it. I remember receiving a letter from a nice elderly couple up from North Minnesota that only included the latest updates to their garden: “The colerabi came in good this year.” Even the millennial version of it – no letter; just a picture from Shutterfly – announces some kind of good news; “We’re still a family.”
When you tell your neighbors about Jesus, it’s really like you’re delivering God’s Christmas letter to them. And it’s one of the only Christmas letters with good news for the recipients: “Dear friend, Things are going well in heaven. My Son Jesus is still the Savior. His death and resurrection 2000 some years ago still paid for all of your sins. You are still forgiven. You are still at peace with me. You are saved.”
(3) It brings SALVATION
Particularly verse 7 says that when you proclaim the message of Jesus, you proclaim salvation. (v.7)
It’s kind of like participating in a giving (or angel) tree. We’ve got one in our hallway. If you happen to be the one that delivers the presents, you’ll be deliving to some people who didn’t have enough money to buy gifts for their kids. You’ll be “saving” Christmas.
But how much greater when it comes to the message of Jesus.
They owe a debt that they could never pay.
But when you tell them the message of Jesus?
That big guilt that they feel? They’re saved from it.
That big sin that they did? They’re saved form it.
That terrible death that they’re facing? They’re saved from it.
(4) It says, “GOD REIGNS”
Which is another layer to the Gospel message.
Because if the God who saved them, has good tidings for them, and is at peace with them is also the KING of the universe…
Then, whatever they’re going through…
…estrangement from family.
…their loving God is in control.
…and all will work out for their good.
III. Game Plan
Friends, it is eternally important to share the message of Jesus this Christmas. So…here’s what we’re going to do next. We’re going to game plan.
Because if you are one of the College Football teams you are currently game-planning for their upcoming Bowl game.
If you’re UNC, you’re game planning for Temple.
If you’re Wake Forest, you’re game planning for Michigan State.
If you’re Duke or NC State, you’re game planning for whoever you play in the opening game next year.
If you’re a believer listening to this today, you’ve got to game plan for how you’re going to share the Peace of Jesus this Christmas.
(1) Share TOGETHER
Because look at what Isaiah writes next: “Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy.” (v.8)
Notice it’s a plural. You have more than one watchman so that you can get the message out to the entire city, quickly and efficiently.
It’s the same for us. We share the message of Jesus TOGETHER.
TOGETHER we pool our funds for social media ads inviting people to Christmas Eve.
TOGETHER we work together to put on the best Gospel proclamation service Tuesday night.
TOGETHER we sharpen our skills in sharing faith through Bible study.
TOGETHER we challenge each other to share our faith.
TOGETHER we pray for each others’ efforts.
TOGETHER we plan to follow up on those who join us and connect them with the message of peace.
And it has to be TOGETHER.
Because the effect is larger when it’s TOGETHER.
It’s like going in with your siblings on a gift for mom and dad. If you pool you’re money, you can get the next HD TV. But on your own? You never will.
It’s the same thing.
TOGETHER, we reach North Raleigh.
But only TOGETHER.
On our own, we NEVER will.
(2) Identify your End of the Earth
Verse 10 says, “All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” (v.10) It’s a promise of our God. He died for ALL and he wants ALL to know about their Savior.
It’s kind of hard to invite someone who lives in Australia to worship in Raleigh.
Remember though – Christianity is a team sport.
God isn’t calling you personally to go to the ends of the earth.
He’s just calling you to go to the ends of YOUR earth.
To the ends of your block.
To the end of your cubicle.
To the end of your couch.
Who are the people you know who don’t know Jesus? Look at the bottom of your note sheet. There’s a spot for writing some of those people down. Take a moment, write them down. Plan to share Jesus with them.
(3) Include ALL Nations
Because its’ really, really, really, really, really easy to say, “I can’t think of anyone who looks like me to share the Gospel of jesus with, so I don’t know if there is any one for me to share the message of Jesus with.”
Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
That includes the people who look like you.
And the people who don’t.
The people who have the same culture as you.
And who don’t.
The people who have the same religion as you.
And who don’t.
Do you know someone like that? Don’t be too nervous to write them down. God’s peace is for them too!
(4) Rejoice TOGETHER
The final thing that I want to include is found in verse 9:
“Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.” (v.9)
And this is where I think we could do better.
Because, we all agree that many need to hear about Jesus.
And we agree that sharing Jesus is challenging to do.
Let’s celebrate when it happens.
Let’s rejoice when someone invites someone to Christmas via text message.
Let’s rejoice when someone shares a scripture on Facebook.
Let’s rejoice when someone brings someone along to worship.
Let’s rejoice together, because we share Jesus together.
Celebrating these accomplishments, pumps us up.
Gives glory to God.
And motivates us to keep sharing Jesus.
Friends, there is no better gift than the message of Jesus.
May God be with you as you share the message of Jesus.
We recently got a cat.
I know. I know…this sounds like a confessional.
But, it’s true. After 33 years of claiming that I would never own a cat, I caved, and I did.
And it’s been fun.
She enjoys keeping us safe from any fuzz balls and dust balls that she sees.
She loves to go hunting for leaves.
She even enjoys a playful, piercing bite to my front toe.
But the other day, my wife told me that she had done something crazy. Julianna texted me that we needed to close the windows so that the cat couldn’t climb the screen.
I said, “Yeah. How could she do that?”
Julianna said, “I see holes in the screen right now.”
I said, “Those are probably from bugs or some severe storm.”
She said, “I’m pretty positive it’s from the cat.”
I said, “Oh yeah. Prove it. How do you know?”
My wife texted me a photo of the cat climbing the screen.
Eyewitnesses are important. They are verbal proclaims of the visual truth. They are the difference between…
Fiction and non-fiction.
A fairy tale and history.
A lie and truth.
Over the next couple of weeks, we will be starting our sermon series called EYEWITNESS. It’s all about the eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. I think we need to do this because the resurrection of Jesus is too big a deal to rely on hearsay, to trust maybes and to listen to theories.
Our goal today is to look at a real eyewitness accounts…
Of real people…
Who had real interactions…
With the really risen Jesus…
As real proof of your real salvation.
Before we begin, a prayer: 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. Mary’s Background
The first eyewitness account that we are going to look at comes from a woman named Mary Magdalene. What interesting about Mary is that she doesn’t play a big part in Jesus’ three years of ministry on earth. In fact, there’s very little that is written about her except for this:
Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus had driven out seven demons. (Mark 16:9)
It’s not even a full sentence. Just a passing adjective comment.
But…one that’s pretty heavy.
She had been possessed by 7 demons. Evil spirits. Fallen angels. Powerful. They had taken hold of her mind. Something that Bible theorists will suggest happens from dabbling in the demonic activity (the occult, psychics, blood sacrifices) and excessive drug use.
Regardless how it happened to Mary, we know it was terrible.
She had no control of her personality.
She was a prisoner in her own mind.
In a state of deep depression.
With a helplessness that doesn’t go away.
Except, it did.
Mary was possessed.
Jesus healed her.
I don’t know exactly how, but if it is anything like Jesus’ other miracles, then it was probably as simple as Jesus lifting his hand and saying:
Which…Can you imagine?
If you’ve ever had a counselor help you with a breakthrough.
Or a pastor help you grasp God’s forgiveness.
Or a fatal diagnosis that a doctor diagnosed, prescribed medicine and helped you defeat.
You know the kind of deep connection that Mary had with Jesus.
That’s why she had become a follower of his:
She had been trapped, Jesus freed her.
She had been guilty, Jesus brought her forgiveness.
She had been depressed, Jesus brought her joy.
She had been lonely, Jesus brought her family.
She had been hopeless, Jesus made her hopeful.
He was violently, publicly, cruelly crucified on a cross.
And all of her hope?
All of her joy?
All of her sanity…
Started to slip away….
She could feel the devil’s grip tightening on her again.
II. The Eyewitness Account
That’s why she got up so early Sunday morning.
You see -- Jesus had been killed Friday evening. They buried him. She would have gone to his grave to mourn, but they have this Sabbath rule where you can’t go to visit the dead on a Saturday.
But Saturday was over.
It was still dark.
It’s not like she was sleeping anyways.
She threw on her sandals.
Fastened on her cloak.
And walked off to her friend’s house.
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!
“What do you want?”
“It’s Sunday. We were going to go to his grave. We were going to go to Jesus’ grave so that we can honor him.”
“But Mary. It’s not even light out yet. It’s still night time. It’s…just gonna take me a second while I get ready.”
As they walked through the slowly evaporating darkness, it was mostly quiet.
Whenever her friends tried to make small talk, Mary quieted them. “We’ve just gotta get to Jesus’ grave.”
As they approached the garden, Mary worked into a sprint walk.
She began opening up the bottle of perfume she had brought to pour on his grave and anoint his body.
“Mary, did you think about how we were going to get into the grave? There is that giant stone that the soldiers put there to make sure that no one could get in. I saw some of those guys. They’re built like models. It took about 5 of them to move it, I don’t see how we…”
She stopped talking.
Off in the distance was Jesus’ grave.
The giant stone?
It was moved.
Immediately, Mary burst into tears:
“What did they do? What have they done? They couldn’t just leave him alone. Those jerks! Those losers! How could they do this? How could they leave us like this? Without even a chance…to heal.”
She broke down.
Her friends tried to console her.
But Mary shrugged them off.
She turned around and sprinted back towards town.
She could barely see where she was going with tears clouding her vision.
She made her way to where some of the twelve disciples were staying.
She pounded at the door.
She screamed at the door.
She made a commotion till their let her in:
“They took his body. They took his body. They book his body…the tomb is empty!”
Two of the disciples rushed out.
They sprinted to see what she was saying.
And Mary tried to follow, but she grew too tired.
Her legs got wobbly.
She slammed her back against tree trunk.
And fell to the floor.
After sobbing for a good 15 minutes, She stood up.
She didn’t have any tears left.
She had to get to the bottom of this.
She had to get back to the tomb and find some kind of a clue…a witness…a footprint that would lead her to Jesus’ body.
She went back to the tomb.
Her friends were gone.
The disciples were gone.
The stone…was still gone.
This time…she took a deep breath…and approached the tomb.
Inside the tomb, she found some men.
Dressed in white.
A gleaming, blinding white light.
Radiating from their clothes.
Radiating from their faces.
Both sitting on the bier where Jesus’ body had been.
Between them? Grave clothes. Folded ever so nicely, ever so gently, as if they were no longer necessary.
“Woman, why are you crying?” they asked.
“They have taken my Lord away! And I don’t know where they have put them!”
Mary turned around. The men were nice. And it was strange that they were glowing, but…she didn’t have time. She needed to find his body.
Outside the tomb, someone else.
Hard to tell who – with the tears blurring her vision.
It was probably the gardener.
“Woman, why are you crying?”
This is the one. He must have taken the body. He must have moved it at the requests of the Pharisees!
“Tell me sir. Tell me…Please…Where did you take his body? Why did you leave the grave….empty?”
The air was still.
Mary’s breath paused for a moment.
She had heard that voice before.
She had heard that voice teach her about God.
She had heard that voice proclaim forgiveness.
She had heard that voice drive away her own demons!
It was Jesus!
“Teacher!” She cried as she grabbed a hold of him with a hug.
As she hugged, she knew it was real! She felt his shoulders.
She held him by the back.
She felt the warmth of his breath.
Jesus was alive.
III. Resurrection Truth
This is the eyewitness account of Mary.
It is an eyewitness account that is recorded for us in Scripture.
The guy who wrote it? John – he was one of the disciples that went running to the tomb after Mary told him it was open!
And the book of John? It was written down and passed around at a time when Mary Magdalene would have still been alive.
And she didn’t say “Nah, man. That’s wrong. It didn’t happen this way.”
She said, “That’s the truth.”
There are three really important divine truths that we need to take home with us today.
(1) Jesus Rose from the Dead
Granted. You might be skeptical of that truth.
Because most people when they are dead? They can’t do much. Their bodies just lie there and slowly decompose.
And even people who are living – they haven’t figured out a way to bring people that are dead back to life either.
But if this is true…
When Jesus was dead, he figured out one thing that no one else could ever figure out while they were alive – conquering death itself!
If you’re skeptical, Mary’s account is for you. Because think about how long it took her recognize that Jesus was alive.
She saw the immovable stoned – moved and her first reaction?
“They took his body.”
She went into the tomb and saw two angels –glowing with divine splendor. Her reaction?
“They took his body!”
She went outside the tomb and saw Jesus – but was so overcome with emotion that she says to Jesus,
“You must have taken his body!”
She wasn’t wrong.
It isn’t until Jesus…
Calls her name…
That she realizes the incredible truth right in front of her!
Friends, you might be dealing with sadness.
You might be dealing with difficulties in your marriage.
With challenges at work.
With a financial crisis.
With a terrifying diagnosis.
With guilt, shame, and sin.
And sometimes that can all cover our hearts and close our eyes and make us say, “There is no HOPE in this world! This Jesus’ thing can’t be true.”
When that happens…
Hear Jesus’ voice…
He’s calling to you.
“I am alive.”
(2) The Work of Salvation is Finished
Check out verse 17:
“Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
The reason Jesus came to earth was to win your salvation.
He came to suffer death for your sins.
He came to earn your way to heaven.
He came to pay for eternal life.
If he’s heading up to heaven, guess what?
That work is done.
Granted – that can be hard to believe.
It’s like Easter weekend. Maybe you are planning on having relatives to your house. Maybe you wanted to clean for your relatives -- so you make a check list: Sweep the floor, dust the counters, disinfect the countertops, clean the bathrooms, do the laundry, make the beds, clean up the toys, etc.
And you go to work.
And you come home and….
Your husband says, “Surprise! I did it already. It’s finished. You don’t have to clean anymore!”
How do you respond?
Probably…by sweeping the floor, dusting the counters, disinfecting the countertops, etc.
When Jesus tells you that it is finished.
It is finished.
Your salvation is won.
Your sins are forgiven.
Eternal life is yours.
Heaven is your home!
“It is finished.”
You don’t need to try and earn his love.
You don’t need to complete your salvation.
You don’t need to pay your way into heaven by working hard and becoming perfect.
Jesus did it for you.
(3) Go and Tell
Because right after Mary realizes that Jesus is standing right in front of her…
Having conquered sin and death…
Renewing her hope again…
She’s overcome with emotion.
She holds onto him.
She doesn’t want to ever go back to guilt and loneliness and despair. Never again!
But Jesus says something interesting:
“Do not hold onto me. Instead, go and tell.” (v.17)
Because there were others who had lost their hope.
There were others who were in despair.
There were others who were shacked to guilt.
Mary’s eyewitness message – would change that.
She would give them hope.
She would give them joy.
She would give them freedom.
Friends, there are still people like that today.
There are people who don’t know their Savior.
People who don’t know the resurrection story.
People who think Easter is all about sugary yellow marshmallow chicks
They are overcome with guilt.
They are dealing with a lack of joy.
They are struggling with despair.
Can you do me a favor?
Listen to your Savior.
Go and tell.
Later today at your Easter party, turn to the people who didn’t come to worship to celebrate this message and share the story of Easter. Go and Tell.
Later this evening when you are on your phones, take a note or two from this sermon and share on social media. Go and tell.
Tomorrow morning as you head to work – gather around the coffee pot, talk with your coworkers about why you liked Easter and how amazing this message of the risen Savior is. Go and tell.
And understand this.
You won’t be just giving them a story.
You won’t be just telling them a fairy tale.
You’ll be giving them true hope.
We are continuing our series called the Light of the World. We have already heard that the Light shines against the Darkness of this world and that it shines into the darkness of our own hearts. But today we want to unveil in Scripture how Jesus’ light shines through you.
Before we do that, a prayer: 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. Why Shine?
The lesson for this morning comes from Matthew 5:14-16. In this section, Jesus says: You are the light of the world… (v.14-16)
In context, the “you” is a reference to the people that were listening to Jesus out on a mountain.
By extension, it is a reference to people that listen to Jesus’ words in the 21st century.
By specific extension, it is a reference to people that are listening to Jesus in a cozy little church building in North Raleigh on December 23rd, 2018.
And Jesus has an important edict for you. He says, “You are the light of the world…Let your light shine.”
It’s similar to putting up Christmas lights. Maybe this happens to you. You put all of the lights up. You intricately string the lights around the tree. You pass over branches and under ornaments. You have it all nicely arranged and then? You gather the family around with a mug of hot cocoa to plug the lights in and…
You might say to the lights “SHINE! That’s what I bought you for. Shine already!” You might turn and twist and prod and poke and replace the little bulb that “I think it looks burnt out.” All along the way you start muttering: “Shine already.”
When you tell a light to shine, you are simply telling it to do what it is was made to do.
And when God tells us to shine, he is asking us to do exactly what he made us to do.
God tells you to shine:
Because that’s what light does.
Growing up, one of my sisters saved up some money and bought a little mechanical sunflower from Radio Shack. The little mechanical sunflower was an alarm clock that when it went it off – it didn’t make one of those loud BEEPING noises. Nor did it make one of those obnoxious CLANGING sounds.
It was worse.
Whenever the alarm went off it began to sing:
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey.
Haven’t you noticed, how much I love you; so don’t take my sunshine away.”
It always sang in this high-pitched chipmunk voice.
It always sang very early in the morning.
It always sang when I didn’t feel like being anybody’s sunshine!
Maybe Jesus’ words strike you like that.
Pastor, I don’t feel very much like shining. I’ve been really cranky this Holiday season.
Rather than jolly, I’ve been “jelly” of all the other mom friends on Facebook who have it together enough to get Christmas photos taken – and in the mail – and with actual words on them!
Rather than merry, I’ve been mercilessly badmouthing my coworker Fred so that I might get the biggest Christmas bonus this year.
Rather than cheery, I’ve been rather dreary. Because Christmas doesn’t distract from the fact that my life isn’t going so well right now!
And honestly…I FEEL like a screw up.
I FEEL like a sinner.
I FEEL like a no good, dirty rotten scoundrel.
I feel like a terrible husband, a horrible mom, and a very bad child.
I do not feel like a light at all.
How can I possible be one?
Do remember this phrase from a sermon or two ago?
“You were once darkness, but now…you are light in the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8)
Do you get it?
You are not a light based on what you do for God; but on what God has done for you.
You are not a light based on how you lived; but on how Christ lived.
You are not a light based on how you feel; but on what Christ felt for you.
And here’s what Christ did.
He lived perfectly when you could not.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly – in a brilliant flash of light – conquering sin and death.
And now He has made you a light.
Like a match that lights a candle, Christ lights the fabric of our hearts.
He calls you forgiven.
He calls you his child.
He calls you HIS LIGHT.
Even when you don’t feel like light.
That is exactly what you are.
Because that is what Christ made you.
But that’s not even the end game. Look at the next point:
“You are the light of the world…Let your light shine before people that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (v.14)
Glorify is an interesting verb. It means to make brilliant. To light up. To exalt brilliantly.
It’s a word associated with hosts of angels shining brightly in the sky on the very first Christmas.
With Jesus’ face when it shone brightly on a mountain outside Jerusalem.
With the glory of the light filled resurrection of Jesus.
And the word has a subtle shift when it comes to those who don’t have the ability to manifest actual, physical, visible light:
When we see the amazing thing of our Savior’s birth, we glorify God.
When we see the brilliance of his face on the mountain, we glorify God.
When we hear of the amazing truth of his resurrection, we glorify God.
And when we let our light shine before people, they see it and sometimes – they glorify God too.
It’s like a chain reaction.
God enlightens your heart.
You become a light.
Then, he uses you to share the message of his glory.
He brings them to the light, too.
God wants us to shine, because that’s how the light spread
To put it differently:
God wants us to share our faith because that’s how faith spreads.
II. Tips on Shining
1) Hide it Under a Bushel? NO!
That’s a phrase from a famous children’s song, but I think it finds its origins in this section from Matthew. Jesus says, “People do not light a lamp and put it under a bowl.” (Mt. 5:14)
That doesn’t make much sense does it? I doubt, for instance, that any of you spent hours adorning your Christmas tree with Christmas tree lights only to cover it with a big, black shroud.
Nor would it make any sense to buy ask for a brand-new lamp for Christmas. One from Joanna Gaine’s collection. Open up the present at Christmas, run over to a nearby outlet, plug it in, turn it on, and then place a big old bucket over the top of it.
It doesn’t make much sense to cover any kind of a lamp.
Similar – it doesn’t make sense to cover up your faith.
And yet, it’s so easy to do.
Don’t cover up your light.
Don’t hide it under a bushel.
Or a bowl.
Or a non-Christian everyday life veneer.
Don’t hide your faith.
Let it shine.
2) Put your Faith in a Prominent Place
Jesus says, “People do not light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand so that it gives light to everyone in the room.” (v.15)
We’ve been talking about getting some new LED lamps in the parking lot. And I was talking to the Duke Energy guy and he started discussing with me the amount lumens, the wattages and the shine radius. The shine radius allows you to see where the light of the new lamps will touch. He even had graph paper with little lines to show exactly how far we might expect light to go and the best position to place the fixture on the pole to get maximum exposure.
Why not do the same with our faith?
Why not position ourselves to maximize the sharing of our faith?
Rather than hide it, place your faith in a prominent place of your life.
Talk about your Savior with a family member who doesn’t believe in their Savior.
Make sure your Christmas cards mention the reason for the season.
Tell your kids that Jesus loves them.
Don’t shy away from posting inspirational Bible passages on social media.
Don’t stop asking your spouse to join you for worship.
Don’t remove the Jesus’ background from your computer just because that one guy in the cubicle next to you doesn’t love it.
And let your faith shine through your actions -
Hold more doors than normal.
Make someone else a cup of cocoa.
Give a very generous gift to someone that you know needs it.
Let your light have a prominent place in your life and then…
3) Be Non-Selective in Shining
Because it is so easy to be picky and choosy with whom we want to share the message of Jesus.
Let’s see – I’ll invite that coworker who I know already knows about Jesus. But that one guy – that I’m unsure about? I’ll just wish him Happy Holidays.
And I’ll be sure to give a nice Christmas card to neighbor A. But neighbor B? He’s kind of my enemy. So…no card for him.
I will absolutely share the message of Christmas with my family – except for cousin Bob, because his sexual preference makes sharing Jesus, kinda, uncomfortable.
Jesus says that when someone puts a light on a stand it “gives light to everyone in the room.” (v.15)
Lamps aren’t selective.
They don’t stop shining when they are around someone who makes them uncomfortable is around.
You don’t stop shining either.
So, here’s the challenge. You still have time.
Think about someone that makes you nervous.
Someone that you don’t necessarily like.
Got them in mind?
Cool. Now, go and shine.
Shine the light of your Savior into their heart.
For motivation? Think of your Savior!
He died for you while you were knee deep in disgusting sins.
He rose for you while you treated him like an enemy.
He brought his message of love to you while you were doing the very things that he hates!
Because of his non-selective way of shining on us, we are non-selective in the way that we shine, too!
4) Share in Your “House”
Because it mentions that the lamp on a stand gives light to everyone in the house. (v.15) It doesn’t give light to people outside the walls of the house, because it’s just a small table lamp. It can only be expected to shine so far.
Because it might be impossible for you to let your light shine to someone in China.
it will be really hard to let your light shine to someone in Australia.
It may even be difficult to let your light shine to someone across town.
That doesn’t mean that we stop shining.
We simply shine wherever God has placed us.
That means in your literal home.
…With your spouse.
…With your children.
…With the guests that join you for Christmas meals!
But it also means…anywhere you have spherical influence!
…at the hair salon.
…at the Starbucks.
…in line at the grocery store.
…to your mail person.
…to your UPS guy.
…The FedEx guy.
…to your Amazon Prime delivery guy.
…at the health club
…at the brewpub.
…even with your fellow friends at Raid night!
Whatever your sphere of influence is, be sure to shine!
Show love with your actions.
Share the message of Jesus.
Because we have kind of a big task.
God tells us to shine around the world.
Even when we understand our sphere of influence and we aim to let our light shine in North Raleigh…
But remember – you aren’t shining alone.
You aren’t responsible as one little candle with lighting up the whole city of Raleigh.
You have each other.
You have other Christians.
You have your Savior.
And Jesus? He’s not just another candle.
He’s like one of those gigantic, 10,000 lumen LED spotlights at a football stadium.
He shines brighter than anyone.
He shines brightly with you.
He shines brightly through you.
Last week we heard God’s call to RETURN to the One who is Faithful even when we’ve been unfaithful because He will be Faithful Forever! This week God calls us to return to Him for Abundant blessings! Before we dig into Scripture, a prayer: 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. A Severe Lack of Blessing?
Our lesson for today comes from 2 Kings 4. Chronologically we’re going even farther back in time than the last couple of weeks; though the situation is similar:
Two weeks ago, we heard God’s call to his 7th century B.C. people to leave idol worship behind and RETURN to Him.
Last week we heard God’s call to 8th century B.C. people to leave idol worship behind and RETURN to Him.
This week we get to hear God’s call to 9th century B.C. people to leave idol worship behind and RETURN to Him.
It’s a bit like my high school Football coach. “Furious Feet! Furious Feet! Furious Feet!” He said it all the time.
When we were in practice: “Furious Feet!”
When we were in the 1st quarter: “Furious Feet!”
When we were tied in the 4th quarter: “Furious Feet!”
When we were in Pizza Hut after the game; “Furious Feet!” (OK, maybe not that last one)
You get the point? We kept forgetting. He kept rebuking.
The same was true with God. The people kept forgetting Him, He kept rebuking them:
“RETURN to me.”
In fact, in all of 1st and 2nd Kings you would hear the call of “RETURN to me,” so often that it makes you wonder if anyone ever stayed close to God.
Enter 2 Kings 4. It’s an account that takes place within a small community of prophets. It was a group of people that had dedicated themselves and their families to serving the Lord. They spoke His message and stayed closed to Him.
Unfortunately, for one woman who had not abandoned God, recent events had made it seem like God was the one who had abandoned her:
“The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as slaves.” (2 Kings 4:1)
A couple of notes as to why this woman was in such despair:
(1) Recently Widowed. It doesn’t matter how tough you are – losing your spouse is hard. Your spouse is someone that you’ve known for a long time. Someone you’ve partnered with for a long time. Someone you’ve gone through ups and downs with for a long time. The Bible says in marriage that “two become one flesh.” When one of those two are removed from this world – that flesh is torn apart.
(2) She’s a Widow in a Society that wasn’t Friendly to Widows. In the 9th century B.C. world, society wasn’t that friendly to women – at all. There wasn’t equal pay. There weren’t equal job opportunities. In fact, there wasn’t much for women to do besides care for the family and help tend to whatever vegetables they were growing.
Now that this woman’s husband was dead, the family’s source of income was dead. She had to feed herself. She had to feed her kids. She had to pay the rent, feed the animals and pay the bills. The last of which leads to the third problem.
(3) She had an Old Testament Credit Shark after Her. Yes. Even back then, in Old Testament Israel, there were bill collectors. They couldn’t call you on the phone. They couldn’t send you email after email. They couldn’t text message you or lower your credit score, so…they showed up at her front door.
For some reason, I’m picture this guy with one of those curly moustaches and a maniacal laugh.
Because this guy tells her that if she doesn’t pay him back, he’s going to take away both of her sons and make them into slaves. They will work for years trying to pay back what was rightfully his.
And to be fair – this wasn’t illegal. In Old Testament society, it was common for:
(1) families to be held responsible for other family member’s debts
(2) people to be taken as slaves in order to work off debts.
This was why she was in need.
This was why she was turmoil.
This was why she was in need of help from an Almighty, All Loving, Always Faithful, Shepherd God!
But she was having a hard time reaching out to him. Because…
(4) She was Struggling with Faith. Look carefully at her words to the lead prophet Elisha, “YOUR servant is dead and YOU KNOW that he revered the Lord.” It’s almost an accusation against the company of prophets, against the work that they did together, again Elisha, against…God:
Where is this God guy?
He’s supposed to be a shepherd?
He’s supposed to have Good Ways?
He’s supposed to always be faithful?
My husband is dead.
I have no job.
I have no money.
I’m going to lose my sons.
Where is this God guy?
All those prophets that worship Baal? They’re doing fine. Their wives wear diamonds. Their kids have Xboxes. They have fully founded 401Ks.
We’ve been following God our whole lives. Even devoting our lives to him – and now we’re losing everything.
I don’t think God can help.
I don’t think God cares.
I don’t think God is real.
Can you relate?
II. The Real Issue
To be fair – Elisha does not get very defensive.
He listens to her.
He hears her complaints.
Then, he offers his response: How can I help you? (v.2)
I have to confess the first couple of times that I read that I read it like this: “How can I help you?” as in “What types of things do you think I could do to be helpful?” But – the thing is Elisha follows up by asking her about what she has in her house. It becomes obvious that he knows exactly what she wants and exactly how to help her.
That’s why I think we’re supposed to read this not as “What things can I do to be helpful?” but “How can I help you?”
As in, I’m just a human.
As in, I’m just a sinner.
As in, why not go to God?
Why not seek the One who is faithful?
Why not reach out to the One who cares for you?
Do you see the implication? She was looking for help Away from The Helper.
And that’s the first WHAT NOW for you and me as well.
If you’ve got problems and you’ve got issues and you’re looking for help, but you aren’t seeking the Helper…how do you expect to find help?
That’s like walking into Home Depot. Not having any idea where to find the 7” Circular band saw that you’re looking for. Walking right past the Help Desk. Ignoring the Customer service counter. And when the nice gentlemen in the orange apron asks, “How can I help you?” responding with “I’m good. No help needed.”
God is our Help.
God is always faithful.
God is always good.
God is always shepherding his flock.
That woman didn’t seem to recognize it.
Now…God as going to prove it.
III. God’s Incredible Abundance
Elisha asks the woman a second question, “Tell me, what do you have in your house?” (v.2)
Which seems like good advice.
Ransack your home for something to sell.
Perhaps a rummage sale – or a lemonade stand.
But the woman responds that she has nothing…nothing besides a one small jar of olive oil.
Something she could use for a couple of meals.
Something she could cook up a meal or two – if she had anything to put in the olive oil.
Something that might last a day or two before it was totally gone.
Elisha tells her, “Go around and ask all of your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few.” (v.3)
If I’m that woman, I’m a bit confused.
Empty jars? That’s like the ancient version of Tupperware.
Everyone had a lot of empty jars.
Empty, clay, worthless jars. They stored everything from water to oil to food.
But you want me to get empty jars?
Sure, Elisha, I’ll go ask them for empty jars and then I’ll open a business where I sell the Tupperware to people who have lids that don’t fit on any of their current Tupperware – because everyone has 20 some odd Tupperware and 20 some odd Tupperware lids that don’t’ fit any of those 20 some odd Tupperware.
She might have been a bit frazzled.
But she listens.
Until she gets to the next part of Elisha’s instruction:
Go inside. Lock all the doors behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all of the jars and as each is filled, put it to one side. (v.4)
My jar is little. These jars are big.
My jar is one. These jars are many.
Yet – you want me to pour my oil into this big jar?
You want me to pour this tiny bit of oil into that gigantic jar?
Done. It’ll take me about three seconds.
She lifts up the little jar.
Her son brings over a large jar.
She takes a deep breath.
And the jar is full, “Son, get another one.”
And she pours
And she pours some more.
And she says, “Get a couple to stand by.”
And she pours.
And she pours.
And she pours.
And she fills up every jar in that room with oil.
Until she gets to the last jar…
And she asks her son for one more.
And he says, “Mom, we don’t have anymore!”
And just like that – the oil stops.
She takes the oil.
She sells the oil.
She pays off her debts.
Friends, there is no explanation for why the oil kept pouring.
It wasn’t the other jars – they were empty.
It wasn’t from her friends – the doors were locked.
It wasn’t from Mary Poppins – this isn’t 18th century London.
This was God.
A miracle from God.
A miracle from the abundant blessings of God.
The Bible says this, “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” (James 1:17)
It says this, “Test me and see if I won’t throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour open so much blessing that there will not be enough room to store my blessings.” (Malachi 3:10)
It says this, “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor. 9:8)
God has an abundant number of blessings.
It’s like if you take all of our needs, all of our wants, all of our desires – clothing, shoes, food, drink, money, health – and we fit them into one of those little Dixie cups with a Disney character on the side.
We think about bringing that Dixie cup to God, but then for some reason we conclude:
He can’t handle this.
This is too much.
I’ve gotta do this on my own.
But the truth is that as we bring our Dixie cup sized requests to God – He begins pouring – pouring out abundant blessings.
And it’s like Niagara Falls in that Dixie cup.
God is able to abundantly provide for you.
God does abundantly provide for you.
And you might say, “But why don’t I get the million dollars that I asked God for way back in 5th grade? God must not be that abundant.”
Do you remember what happened with the oil?
It only stopped flowing because the family couldn’t handle anymore.
It’s not like God couldn’t produce more; the family didn’t have the ability to handle more.
Here’s the truth:
The problem isn’t God’s abundance; it’s our ability to handle God’s abundance.
God says, “You can’t handle that million dollars. You’d spend it all on Doritos and end up on the street.”
God says, “You aren’t yet strong enough to handle fame. You’d trust yourself and stop trusting me.”
God says, “If I bless you with that job, you’ll forget about me, disown me, and remove yourself from eternal life.”
God says, “I’ll provide for you abundantly, even abundantly providing for you means barely providing for you so that you keep your eyes on me and receive the MOST abundant blessing that I have to offer.
Case and point:
We have our own legal indebtedness. It’s true.
And now – I don’t have a hold of your Credit Card score, nor have I been compromised by the Lizard Lick Repo.
The Bible says that we are legally indebted to God.
We are supposed to live perfectly.
Every time we sin, we owe him the legal debt of death. “The Wages of sin is death.” (Romans 3:23)
But God has an abundance.
He came to earth.
He lived perfectly without incurring any sin debt of his own.
He died innocently to pay for your sin debt.
And the payment was abundant.
Because his blood began to pour from his side…
It covered your first sin.
His blood kept pouring from his side…
Enough to cover your second.
It kept pouring…
37th sin covered.
It kept pouring….
Bring me the 2,708th!
It kept pouring…
That’s sin number 120,262 completely covered.
God’s blood poured out on the cross until every last one of your sins was covered.
Such that YOU are abundantly forgiven.
And the blessings don’t stop there!
You now peace with God.
You are a part of his kingdom.
You are His child.
You are loved.
You are in His care.
You are never alone.
You are empowered by His Spirit.
You are given gifts of the spirit.
You have the promise of heaven.
You will conquer death.
You will live forever with him because of His abundant blessings in Jesus!
Friends, God provides abundantly.
Return to Him and take part of his abundant blessings. Amen.
This is a great question. There are a ton of resources for studying God’s Word. However, I think that might be the biggest problem. If there was only book to read, I think we would be in pretty good shape. Get book-read book. However, there are literally hundreds of Bible translations, not to mention the thousands of devotional books.
Where to start? I see four possible ideas:
Today we are having a Youth Confirmation and an Installation of a Teacher. Our message in Acts 4 fits perfectly. And I think it will be a blessing for you even if you aren’t being confirmed or installed. Before we begin our study, a prayer: 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 Story
This morning we’re going to pick up with our study exactly where we left off. Peter and John had just healed the Paralyzed Man at the Gate called Beautiful. It was a miracle so amazing that a crowd had gathered after the miracle. And Peter had used the opportunity to do two things: (1) give a public confirmation of his faith in Jesus and (2) teach the people about Jesus and his message.
The reality is that while many believed, not everyone did. Not everyone in the city was a believer.
Not everyone in the city was a part of the church.
But while some just didn’t believe and went about their business without becoming a part of the church; others took their unbelief a step farther:
The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. (V.1-2)
A couple notes from this section:
They were greatly disturbed. These people didn’t just ‘not believe.’ They were ‘disturbed’ by what was being taught. (That’s a word that’s usually used for tragedies or horror films). These people were disturbed at Peter’s teachings.
Which might seem strange! Everyone else was excited and in awe of the teaching that had enabled this Paralyzed Man to be able to walk.
But these people weren’t surprised.
They were disturbed.
Proclaiming the Resurrection. That’s what Peter’s teaching was all about. He was teaching that not only could the Paralyzed be able to rise up to their feet; but one day the dead will be raised to life.
That might be a bit disturbing – if you think of zombie apocalypse – but also might be disturbing if you didn’t think it would ever happen.
If you think that the resurrection will never happen, then Peter’s message was dangerous! It was causing people to be distracted from important things like money, fame and family – and focusing on worthless things that would happen – like eternal life.
In Jesus. That phrase tells us the reason that Peter believed a resurrection would happen. It was because of Jesus.
The guy that the Sadducees had falsely arrested.
The guy that the Sadducees had falsely convicted.
The guy that the Sadducees had killed.
And the guy that had ‘supposedly’ come back to life.
They thought they had killed the message of Jesus with the death of Jesus!
But now he was supposed to be alive.
And his message was definitely alive and well.
And so, they take action:
They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. (v.2-3)
The next morning, I imagine Peter and John awoke to a gruff, “Get up! It’s time to go.”
One soldier bent down to unlock the chains around their wrists, while another stood close by – sword draw – in case of any funny business.
They walked through the dark hallway of the underground and slowly made their way up the torch lit stairwell. The sun was barely risen – it’s dawn light revealing the path to a large courtroom.
As Peter and John entered, the hubbub of the crowd turned to loud hisses!
Every direction the disciples looked they saw eyebrows furled and teeth clenched in anger.
And there – at the front – in the middle of this angry crowd were two men that the disciples recognized: Annas, the former high priest and Caiaphas, the current high priest.
(If those names sound familiar to you, they should. These were the exact same two people that were in charge of the courtroom when they sentenced Jesus to death.)
“Silence!” Caiaphas barked. He leaned in and started the trial:
“By what power or what name do you do these things?” (v.7)
Some kind of illegal drug?
Peter cleared his throat. All eyes were on him.
Peter knew what they were capable of.
Peter knew that he was teaching the same message that had gotten Jesus killed.
Peter knew that if he spoke about Jesus, he could possibly be killed right now.
...and he didn’t care.
“Rulers; elders…It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is ‘the stone the builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven, given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (v.10-12)
II. Withstanding Opposition
Now, (Cullen; Jenni).
You’ll probably never be put on trial.
You’ll probably never have to face crucifixion.
You’ll probably never be faced with death because of your faith.
But…you will encounter opposition.
The high school teacher who tells you that your faith is foolish!
The preschool parent who thinks that kids don’t sin, and you shouldn’t tell their kids he’s a sinner.
The friends who tell you ‘church’ is stupid. And you’d be stupid to go to church.
Your own family question your career choice because…” You could make a lot more money somewhere else.”
Here’s the truth:
You will encounter opposition because you are Christian.
How will you respond?
Stop mentioning Jesus in your Bible time lessons?
Tell your friends, “I just come because my mom and dad make me.”
Hide the fact that you love Jesus on your Facebook profile?
Will you be like Peter?
Will you boldly confess your faith?
Will you boldly state that you follow Jesus?
Will you boldly share that YES! I believe?
It is my prayer and our prayer and God’s desire that you confess boldly.
In fact, this lesson teaches us that we have a lot of reasons to confess boldly.
1. You are Spirit-Filled
Did you catch that right before Peter spoke? The Bible tells us that Peter was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” (v.8) That’s God’s himself. That’s the Almighty Lord. That’s the same Holy Spirit who did incredible things on Pentecost Day!
He was able to give them instantaneous foreign language comprehension; the scribes took years to perfect Hebrew alone.
He placed flamelike apparitions upon their head; the teachers of the law had acolytes keep the candles in the sanctuary burning for them.
He made a tornadolike sound come into the midst of the living room; the Sadducees could only make a quiet raspberry noise.
And that same Holy Spirit is with you.
And He is way more powerful than any spiritual opposition you will face.
2. You are backed by Resurrection Power
In fact, verse 10 says, “By the name of Jesus Christ, whom you killed but whom God rose from the dead,” we speak this message. In other words, the disciples had seen Jesus die. But then they saw him come back to life. And then he promised that he would bring them back to life as well.
Think about that! If someone who had the ability to bring you back to life promised to bring you back to life, would you be a lot bolder?
It’s like on a video game when you have a few lives more than you usually do when facing Bowser at the end of Mario. You are more confident and do things more dangerous than you normally do!
You have been promised that you will live even though you die.
You’ve been promised this by one with the resurrection power to heal you.
You have a powerful resurrection backing you.
A resurrection more powerful than sin….
More powerful than guilt.
More powerful than death.
And more powerful than any threat the group of angry religious leaders could make.
3. Your faith is Essential
Peter says this, “There is no other name given to humans by which we must be saved.” (v.12)
Think about that.
The name “Cool” won’t save.
The name “Popular” won’t save.
The name “Enlightened,” won’t save.
Only the name “Jesus” will save.
Don’t disown the one name that will save. That’d be like fall off the dock down at Shelley Lake. And you aren’t good at swimming. And you start to flail. And you start to drown. And you need someone to help you. And you see your friend Bob over there on the dock. And he’s got a life preserver in his hand. And he’s a trained lifeguard.
But…your friends told you, “Bob isn’t cool.”
And you don’t want anyone to hear you asking for Bob’s help so…
You keep flailing…
That’s what it’s like to throw away the name of Jesus.
His name alone saves.
Jesus alone is our Savior.
Jesus alone died for you and rose for you.
There is no other name under heaven, given to mankind, by which we must be saved. (v.12)
No one else did that.
Not your friends.
Not your classmates.
Not some preschool parent.
Not even your family.
Only Jesus did.
III. What Now?
Confess your faith boldly.
And I don’t just mean in a minute when Cullen, you are able to confess your faith before loving family and friends.
And I don’t just mean in a moment when you, Jenni, are confess your faith and desires to teach before a congregation that is excited for you to teach.
I mean confessing boldly in front of whomever opposes your faith.
Because Jesus confessed you boldly before the devil himself.
When the devil said, “She’s a sinner.”
When Satan shouted, “He’s a failure.”
Jesus spoke loudly and confidently,
“He’s my son.”
“They are a part of my kingdom.”
Jesus boldly confessed us in the midst of the fiercest opposition. You boldly confess Jesus, in the midst of any opposition.
Whereas we don't normally flee, as in running away, from things in our every day life, we still do flee. In tonight's sermon with guest preacher, Pastor Tom Glende, learn how we can stop fleeing and live better for Jesus.
18 years the woman had been disfigured.
18 years the woman had been crumpled over.
18 years the woman had heard the comments.
“Do you see the hump? What happened to her?”
“She looks just like Quasimodo. She’s a hunchback.”
“Oh, child – don’t go near her. You don’t know where she’s been.”
Her daughters used to come around – sure. But lately they had not wanted to be seen by her.
The same with her friends – their friendships stopped as the ridicule started. They didn’t want to be a part of it.
Every once in a while, a passerby would stop over her – drop a penny in her jar, tell her that “it’d be ok,” and they were “glad to meet her” but that was the end of it.
No new friendships blossomed.
None of these people returned.
Nobody seemed to care.
She was all alone.
That loneliness? It was powerful. It sunk to the bottom depths of our soul. It filled her with sadness – a deep and dark depression – an expectation that nobody cared about it. Not even God.
In the midst of another day alone with her darkest thoughts, a voice called out to her. This voice was different. It wasn’t mocking. It wasn’t pitying. It wasn’t talking about her or above her or down at her.
It was talking to her.
The owner of the voice was surrounded by a group of people. They all seemed to be very invested in what he had to say. But he seemed to only be invested in her. He called her over to him, “Dear woman – come here.”
This was different.
This was caring.
This felt wonderful.
And when she did hobble over – his gentleness not changing after he saw her disfiguration – she felt a peace overcome her.
He spoke to her, “Dear woman…”
The implication – I see you. I care about you. I am here for you.
Then he said this, “Be set free from your infirmity.” (Luke 13:12)
The woman felt a release. She looked at him. He smiled. She slowly straightened. She was healed.
18 years. 18 years – and now she knew – She wasn’t alone. Now she knew – Jesus cared.
Jesus cares about you too. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t times that we feel lonely – I even feel it as a pastor. Today’s Psalm helps to remind us that we are not alone – no matter how much we feel like it. Before we begin, let’s say a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. How Long…Will I Feel Lonely?
Psalm 13 comes from King David again. So - similar to last week – there were lots of ups and downs in David’s career. Lots of good times, but also a lot of bad times. Times he even felt alone.
Like when he marched out to battle a giant of a man named Goliath – while all the other Israelite soldiers cowered.
Or the time when he ran away from the King of Israel – King Saul – who wanted to kill David before he took his throne.
Or he time when his own son, Absalom – tried to take the crown away from David, his dad – ousting him from the palace and turning the half the nation against him.
Pick one of those times – any of those times – and you get a sense of the loneliness that King David was feeling. Listen to what he writes,
How long LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Do you see the repeated question? How long... The implication is that David has been feeling very sad and lonely for what seems like – at least to David – a very long time.
Look at his accusations?
How long will you forget me? As if the Lord of heaven above – the very one formed him, created him, and Scripture says, “Anointed him specially to be king over Israel,” had forgotten all about him!
How long will you hide your face from me? As if David and God were playing a game of hide and seek, but God was refusing to come out – even after David had shouted, “Olly olly oxen free!”
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts? There’s this picture of a spiritual WrestleMania that was going on with David. The voice saying, “God loves you,” going one on one with the voice that says, “God hates you.” The thought of “I’m alone,” facing off in an iron man match against the thought, “God is with me.” The comfort of “God is with me,” being put into submission by the terror that “you are all alone.”
How long will my enemy triumph over me? Again – we don’t know exactly which enemy is referring to. Saul? David considered him God’s representative. Absalom? That was David’s son. One of the Philistines? Maybe.
But there could be another option.
Another enemy at work.
Another enemy that’s always at work.
An enemy that achieves that was achieving a great victory when he convinced David – God’s chosen instrument – that God wasn’t with him.
I’m talking about The Enemy - the devil.
What about you?
Do you feel like God has forgotten you?
Do you think he is hiding his face from you?
Do you find yourself wrestling with your thoughts against God’s promises?
Do you find yourself feeling – alone?
There’s a television show that took place around 2004. It was called Solitary. The premise of the show was that people would volunteer to be locked in a room without anyone else. The only one to talk to them was a giant robot named VAL. (Great name for a heartless, evil robot by the way) The show then served 2 purposes -- #1 it gave away $500,000 to the one who lasted in the room the longest, but #2 – more interesting – it showed how the human being reacts to being alone – to feeling alone.
It wasn’t good. Usually contestants left in tears, broke down or shouted at the top of their lungs until they were removed.
That’s because we are creatures that are meant to be together. Even back in the garden of Eden – “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two become one flesh.” (Genesis 2) Granted – that’s talking about the special relationship between a husband and a wife, but it’s also true that God wanted humans to exist in community. To communicate with each other. To be with each other. To be together.
That’s why being alone…is so hard. That’s why it leads to such depression. That’s why it leads to very dark feelings.
And that’s why when you feel that way – cry out to God! Look at how David’s heart cried out. Hear his cry for help:
3 Look on me and answer; Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
And my foes will rejoice when I fall.
Maybe that’s your cry.
Maybe you want God to answer.
Maybe, you want him to show you, to prove to you that you aren’t alone.
Listen to what comes next
II. How Long will God be with You?
5 But I trust in your unfailing love.
There’s that key word again – one of the most key words in all of Scripture: But. But means “There’s more.” But means, “There’s a contrasting truth.” But means, “Listen and hear how God fixes things.”
Look at the phrase that follows. I trust in your unfailing love.
Here is the difference between humans and God. Human friendships last for a time. Eventually – they end. Whether it’s from distance, busyness, arguments or death.
Human friendships last for a time, but eventually fail.
If you trust in human friendships to give you community, these friendship will fail you. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But one day. They will.
But if you trust in God? If God is the source of your community?
Listen again – His love is unfailing.
There is no mountain high enough.
There is no valley low enough.
There is no river wide enough.
To keep Him from you.
He’s never too busy.
He does not die – he’s eternal.
And when we’ve been argumentative? When we’ve been sinful? When our refusal to commune with him has set up this barrier of sin?
He knocks it down!
Like my dog, Clay. He’s fairly loyal. He loves to be by his owners whenever he can. If he’s ever separated from his owners, he starts to whine. It’s kind of obnoxious – definitely high pitched. But comforting to know how much he wants to be with us.
With our new house – there’s a patio in back. The back patio has a screen door. One of the reasons that we got a new house was so that we could let them in the back yard to play. We specifically thought the dogs would like the yard.
And they do. But the first time we left Clay in the back yard? He whined. He barked. He scratched. He –literally – broke through the screen door and made his way into the living room just to be with us.
God’s love is similar.
God’s love is better.
When our sins separated us from God – he came down to earth. He busted through the barrier of sin. He died gruesomely on the cross; he went into the grave; he rose triumphantly from death – and broke down the barrier between you and him.
Do you hear that? Listen again – When you had separated yourself from God – God did the unthinkable – He gave up his life to bring you back to Him!
Still think that no one cares about you? God’s love is unfailing. It hasn’t changed. It hasn’t lessened. It hasn’t grown weaker. He still loves you and cares for you with the same incredible desire.
You are not alone.
God is with you.
III. What Now?
(1) Look Where You’re At!
Did you notice what it says in verse 6. My heart rejoices in your salvation. That’s the same heart that earlier was filled with hurt. Earlier was filled with sadness. Earlier was filled with loneliness.
Now? It’s filled with joy. Why?
Because it is In God’s salvation.
Pastor, am I in God’s salvation?
Do you believe in Jesus?
Then, look where you’re at. You’re in God’s salvation. That means you’re with God. Because God is in God’s salvation. He’s there. You’re there. You’re together.
You aren’t alone.
No matter what you’re going through.
Financial hardships? Not alone.
Relational struggles? Not alone.
Disconnected from people? Not alone.
God is with you. You are in his salvation.
Because what other way can you react when you realize that your incredible God is right beside you!?!
It’s like a musical! People break out into song all the time. They break out into song when they find someone they have a crush on. They break into song when it’s a “beautiful morning.” They break out into song when they are seeing the “Wells Fargo wagon coming down the street.”
How awesome to know that your loving, incredible, forgiving, all powerful, all loving God is with you and will never leave you!
(3) Look Who Else is With You
Finally, look at who else is with you. Because if you’re in God’s salvation and your neighbor is in God’s salvation and I’m in God’s salvation – many of us are in God’s salvation – It’s not a very lonely room. It’s a packed house.
Lean on our brothers and sisters. Feeling lonely? Tell them. Talk to them. Work on building relationships here so that you have someone to uplift you and remind you that you are not alone.
And if someone comes to you for that encouragement? Give it to them. Don’t ignore them. In fact, if you see someone who looks lonely, could you go out of your way to show love to them? Just like God went out of his way to show love to you.
God is with you.
And if God is with you – then you know that even the dark time you are experiencing now – will go away.
Because look how David finishes the Psalm – The Lord has done good things for me.
David remembered how he felt alone with Goliath – but God helped him defeat the giant.
David remembered how he felt alone with Saul was attacking him – but God kept him safe.
David remembered how he felt alone when Absalom rebelled – but God defended him.
When God’s there’s, there’s no need to worry.
So why worry? Amen.
Today we’re continuing our sermon series called FOLLOW. It’s all about following Jesus in 2017. Today we want to talk about following Jesus when No One else is. We’re going to look at a very powerful piece of scripture. It’s only two verses long. But it’s two verses packed with a lot of meaning. Our goal is to hear from Jesus himself (1) two very good reasons to not follow him and then (2) one even better reason TO follow him. Before we do that, join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Two Good Reasons NOT to Follow Jesus
Today’s Scripture comes from the middle of the Sermon on the Mount – it’s a very famous sermon that Jesus gave all about what it’s like to truly follow God. We’re in Matthew 7:13-14. It’s near the end of the sermon and it’s kind of a good summation of everything that Jesus has been talking about in the two chapters prior to this. It does an excellent job of describing to us what following Jesus is like. He says,
"Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it."
(1) It's Lonely
Let me direct your attention first of all to the number of people on each road – the popular opinion if you will. One road has many on it; the other road has few on it.
This might be something called the Popular Principle. Think about that. If you were downtown Raleigh and there were a bunch of food trucks set up – one with a line of about 30 people and the other without anybody in line, which one would you go to? If you’re in a hurry, maybe the shorter line. But there’s something about the longer line that says to you, “That might be better food. If there’s so many people who like it, I might like it too.”
Well, what about Jesus? Was he popular?
Jump back with me to presumably a bit earlier in Jesus’ life. In Luke 4, Jesus is in Nazareth, the town he grew up in. He makes his way to their weekly church service at the synagogue and everyone’s excited to see him.
“My how you’ve grown. I haven't seen you since you were a young whipper snapper”
“I hear you’re a teacher now. I’m sure your parents are proud of you.”
“Do you remember that time when you finger painted with my son Ezekiel? It was so funny how your people looked just like trees!”
As the synagogue service starts, the people settle down and the local rabbi asks Jesus to come up front, read some scripture and share a teaching. The reading for that Sunday just so happens to be an Old Testament reading about the coming of the Messiah.
As Jesus spoke, they all smiled at him. What a nice young man. A rabbi is a noble calling. We are excited to hear his exposition – as in – we’re excited for him to say what every rabbi says about this part of Scripture: The Messiah is coming and we must prepare our hearts for his arrival.
But after Jesus gets done reading, after he rolls up the scroll, after he sets it back in its protective case, Jesus preaches a different sermon:
“Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)
As in, “The Messiah is no longer coming.”
As in, “The Messiah is already here.”
As in, “I am that Messiah.”
The people are shocked. Isn’t this Joseph’s son? Didn’t he grow up by us? How does he think he’s the Messiah?
And Jesus rebukes them. “No prophet is accepted in his hometown.” (Lk. 4:24)
And I am a prophet.
And you aren’t accepting me.
And you are sinning—You are rejecting your Messiah.
And do you know how the people respond?
No one claps.
No one says, “Amen.”
No one squeezes his cheeks, tells him how cute he is and hands him a lemon bar refreshment.
They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built in order to throw him off the cliff. (Lk 4:29)
Now Jesus escapes, but can you imagine the word that got around? Why would anyone want to follow Jesus if it meant you’d have to face an angry mob? Wouldn’t it be much easier to be a part of the angry mob? It doesn’t get any easier. There are hundreds, if not thousands, who shouted for his crucifixion just two years later!
It’s just what Jesus said, “Many and Few."
As in many don’t follow Jesus.
As in few do.
It was true back then, but is it true today?
Take a look at some research. This is from the Barna Pew Research group. From 2007 to 2012 they did a survey to discover the growth of certain religious groups. Check out some of the trends:
What’s the point? Christianity is declining. It is not the bandwagon anymore. To be fair, it may have been at one point – and maybe that’s why it was higher in the past. “I’m Christian. Why? Because everyone I know is Christian.” But it’s fading, quickly in the U.S.
But maybe you don’t need facts. Maybe you’ve noticed on your own.
Maybe you’re the only Christian at work, on your block, in your family, at your house!
It feels lonely.
It feels lonely when you’re the only one bowing your head for a prayer.
It feels lonely when your Jesus comment sits on Facebook without any likes.
It feels lonely when your minivan that sits 6 only sits 1 each Sunday…every Sunday…again & again.
It feels lonely to follow Jesus when no one else does…But understand it’s exactly what Jesus said it would be: “Many follow the other roads….Few follow Me.”
(2) It's Hard
But why? Why is it that so many people are not following Jesus? He offers forgiveness of sins, eternal life, & salvation! That’s sounds pretty good, right?
I suppose we could look at all the stats, pour over my Barna research polls, read book after book written on the subject. (There might be some value in doing so). But if you’re looking for the short, quick and entirely accurate answer. Look no farther than Jesus. Hear the second good reason not to follow Jesus.
For…broad is the road that…many enter through it. But narrow the road that... a few find it.
How many of you like going into a crawl space? It’s narrow. The ceiling is low. It’s easy to bump your head. You might even have to drag your knees across sharp gravel. Wouldn’t you rather pick a big door? Maybe one of those doors that they have at the mall where both sides of a door open up at the same time with plenty of room on both sides for you to walk, hand in hand, with a friend!
It’s the same spiritually. One is an easy walk. One is very challenging. That word narrow there means “hard pressed, squeezed.” Who likes being hard pressed? Who likes being squeezed? That’d be like going through each day while a professional wrestler is putting you in a sleeper hold! Who would choose that?
Jesus says that’s exactly why so few follow him. It’s not easy. It’s hard.
That’s what happened even at the time of Jesus. Look at John 6. Jesus had just gotten done feeding close to 10,000 people with a few loaves of bread and two fish. (A miracle). People were full. People were happy. Many wanted to make him their king.
But then Jesus began teaching again. He told people that “whoever believe(d) in him would never be thirsty.” (v.36) He said that “everyone who looks to Me and believes in me shall have eternal life and He would raise them up on the last day.” (v.40) He told them that “He was the bread of life & unless people ate his flesh and drank his blood, that would not have eternal life!” (v.53)
And the people said…
You’re crazy. Your flesh isn’t bread. Your blood isn’t drink.
You’re crazy. You can’t bring us back to life.
You’re crazy. You aren’t the Messiah. I won’t trust in you. I’m a good enough person on my own to get to heaven without – some carpenter from Nazareth!
v. 66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
People who had seen the miraculous feeding of the nearly 10,000…People who ate of his bread and tasted the fish. People who saw the 12 baskets left over. People who had no problem taking his food – that was easy – found it too hard to follow him.
And they left him.
Isn’t it the same thing today?
Do you know what a MEME is? It’s a photo or graphic with a brief message on it. Some are funny. Some are interested. Some exist to make a point. And in our YouTube, I don’t want to read, show me a photo society – these one sentence picturesque memes are popular. They’re all over social media.
Some aren’t very flattering to Christians. Try this sometime. Google “Stupid Christian memes.” Make sure you put a filter on your search phrase though, because they can get very crude and profanity filled, very quickly. I found one that’s not super crass – but still makes my skin crawl. Ready for it?
Religion - Helping stupid people feel important since the dawn of man.
How’s that make you feel? Good? Do you like it? It’s ok to say “no who would?“
Here’s where the devil does his best work:
Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to be on the bandwagon?
Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to just be quiet?
Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to not have to hear people call you awful names?
Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to stop following Jesus?
Here’s the reality. It would be.
It would be less lonely – There’s lot of people on the other road.
It would be easier – It’s wide and you aren’t hard pressed on any side.
Why, then? Why then would we keep following Jesus?
One reason. LIFE.
II. One Even Better Reason TO Follow Jesus
Read the passage from Matthew one more time. Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it.
Zero in on that word destruction. Honestly there’s not a way that I can fluff up that word. There’s not any way to sugar coat it. That big road? The one that’s easy? The one that’s apart from Jesus? The one that lots of people are on and is such a nice & pleasant trip?
When you get to the end it stops being pleasant – real quick.
There’s the burning, incredible wrath of a sin-hating, all powerful, holy God.
There’s hellfire. Forever. In Hellfire.
But the other road? The one that’s lonely. The one that’s tough. The one that isn’t all that pleasant. The one that’s filled with ridicule and scorn and memes mocking you for taking the road?
That road leads to life.
As in, no destruction.
As in, no annihilation.
As in, no hell.
As in, eternal life.
As in, everlasting peace.
As in, glory — forever.
If you’re thinking that sounds crazy – remember that’s the very reason the road is challenging. It seems crazy.
Kind of like when Jesus said he would feed 10,000 some people with a few loaves of bread and two fish—and he did.
And kind of like when Jesus said they could kill him, but he would come back to life three days later – and he did.
The stark contrast in the two roads couldn’t be more clear.
One road seems nice but leads to eternal destruction.
The other road seems tough, but leads to eternal life.
If you’ve been following the wrong road.
If you’ve been choosing the broad road, feel your pulse. Your time is not up. There’s still room on the road to life.
Jesus walked a tough, awful, lonely road to get you back on the right road.
He was left behind by his followers.
He was betrayed by a dear friend.
He was beaten by the people he came to save.
He was crucified by the humans he created.
He died as His Heavenly Father forsook him & abandoned him because of our sins.
But he did all this to make you a path – the only path – to God.
A path of forgiveness.
A path of peace with God.
A path to heaven.
III. What now?
1) Watch Out for Bandwagonism
The Super Bowl is today -- and while I’ve gotten over the fact that this is #NotMySuperBowl – I’m still not certain who I’ll cheer for. I’ll probably just hop on the bandwagon of whatever team the majority of people at the Super Bowl party are cheering for.
What’s a bandwagon you ask? A bandwagon is…
Hopping on the bandwagon, then, is a phrase that means you will cheer for a team, not because you like the way they are coached. Not because you think they’re good. Not even because you think their mascot is cute. Hopping on the bandwagon means that you cheer for a team, simply because everyone else is.
And the bandwagon is fun! You get high fives from lots of people. You cheer with lots of people. You get to sample people’s hot wings & bratwurst – just cause “You’re a fan of my time.” No one mocks you. No one makes fun of you. You laugh together. You win together. You lose together.
It is much more difficult to go against the bandwagon. If you are the only one at your Super Bowl party today cheering for the Falcons & everyone else is decked out in Tom Brady jerseys – that’s not as much fun. You can’t celebrate with all the gusto you want. You feel like you have to smile politely when something good happens – that’s all your celebrations are limited to. You have to endure teasing & raucous cheering when things go bad. Essentially – you, by yourself – are the enemy.
Don't be a bandwagon fan when it comes to Jesus.
Don't do it just because your family did.
Don't follow just because your friends do.
Follow because Jesus leads to life.
(2) Remember the Goal
As Jesus watched the backs of thousands of people, people who had been sitting at his feet just yesterday – but now were leaving him because he was crazy. He looked back at his closest friends – Peter, Andrew, James and John – the men that he had called from the fishing boat “Follow me.” He said, “You don’t want to leave too, do you?”
It was quiet.
The men looked at each other.
All eyes focused on Peter.
He nodded his head and stood up.
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Peter was right.
There was no other road for him.
There was no other road for the other disciples.
There was no other road for life.
And even if it was hard, even if it was lonely. There was no way he was turning around.
May God impress upon us the exact same confidence to follow Jesus…even when we’re all alone. Amen.
Who do you follow?
It’s interesting because thanks to Social Media, it is now very easy to see who you follow on Twitter or Instagram. If you looked at my profile, you’d find out that I follow a bunch of famous pastors, Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, Randall Cobb (there's a lot of Packers), and like 17 versions of Jesus.
But the most followed people on Social Media? Kim Kardashian – probably because people like to see her fashion and learn what’s hip and in. Lebron James – because people like to get insights into the life of such an incredible baller. Taylor Swift-- millions of followers aiming to see what her latest music is.
And here’s something interesting – you can now advertise to get more people to follow you. For instance, you might be scrolling through Facebook and an ad will pop up of a delicious looking cup of coffee “Follow Sola Coffee and get a free coffee NOW,” or there might be a cute cat video, “To see more cute cat videos, follow cutecatvideos.com.”
Of course, what goes on in Social Media is just a minuscule version of what happens to each of us – spiritually. Lots of voices – each day – calling to us “Follow me. Follow us. Follow our way of thinking.”
And while following the wrong person on Social Media might mean a few months of lame jokes and some of your friends thinking you aren’t as cool as they thought you were, following the wrong one spiritually has much worse consequences:
It determines your relationship with God.
It determines the peace you have in your life.
It determines where you spend eternity.
Today we are going to begin a sermon series called FOLLOW. We’re going to discuss what it means to follow Jesus as a 21st century, millennial, Raleighian. Today, we want to start by sifting through the voices that call us to follow them. We want to (1) become wary of voices (even religious voices) that point us in the wrong direction and (2) hear Jesus’ voices – and the incredible results of following him.
Before we do that, join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Be Wary of the Voices
Our lesson today takes place in John 1: 29. A bit of background on John 1 – This takes place around 30 AD. At the time, the Roman Empire is in control of large portions of Europe, Asia, Northern Africa – and even Israel. But while the government was controlled by these foreigners, the day-to-day religious life was governed by the reflections and suggestions of the religious leaders – a group of men called the Pharisees.
The Pharisees were zealots. They loved God’s law. They loved it so much that they couldn’t help but improve upon it. God’s law said to wear a prayer shawl which were giant, jewel studded aprons. God’s law said to rest on Saturday; they made sure to not take more than 500 steps. God’s law said to give 10% of your income; they gave up 10% of their salt shaker – measuring it, funneling it, and taking it to the temple for all to see: “Here’s my ten percent of salt. Did you remember your 10% of salt? I’m just 10% of salt better than you at connecting with God.”
They sound like wonderful guys, right?
But honestly – they were viewed that way. The people at the time looked up to them. From the outward perspective, these guys seemed to have it all together. They had money. They had religious things to say. They looked like they knew just what it took to get to God and to heaven. So many followed them. They listened to them. They learned from them. They hoped to be them.
John was different.
John ditched the long flowing robes and prayer shawls for camel skin clothing.
He ditched the bread baked for the holy show bread table for locusts and grasshoppers.
He ditched the decadence of the temple for the desert.
He ditched the quiet argumentation of the wise at the synagogue for the loud, hellfire and brimstone of a sports fan who's had too much to drink!
John was different. Compared to the Pharisees he looked like a perennial homeless guy complete with wily hair and a pungent odor. You wouldn’t expect that many people to follow him on spiritual matters.
But people did. In fact, the Gospel of Luke says that there were “crowds of people coming to him.” (3:7) The word, in the singular, gives you a picture of a church full. A crowd. But it’s in the plural – crowds of people. Like a group gathering downtown at the amphitheater to listen to Taylor Swift – that’s the kind of crowds that John was drawing to him.
More importantly – that’s the kind of crowd that the Pharisees were losing to him.
So they went to investigate. Take a look at John 1:19. “The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask John who he was.” Follow that question – Who are you? Who in the world do you think you are? Knowing what we know about the Pharisees in every other part of Scripture, you almost expect an element of "What gives you a right to take all these followers away from us?"
And if you’re John – looking around at all these people – seeing how they hang on your every word -realizing that so many of them had left the flock of Pharisees to come and hear you – wouldn’t you expect a bit of pride to swell in his heart? Maybe a sarcastic answer:
I’m everything you guys aren’t.
I’m a better leader than you.
I’m the guy these people are following. Who are you?
But instead look at how John replies – He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” (1:20)
Let’s talk about that. Messiah is a Hebrew word. It means “Anointed One.” The Anointed One was a part of the Jewish faith. Thousands of years earlier God had promised Abraham – the man from whom the entire genealogy of Israel was based – that one day someone would come from his family – one anointed to bless all people. That promise was repeated by God, “The Anointed One is coming! The Anointed One is coming!”
Prophet after prophet came.
Prophet after prophet spoke about the Anointed One.
Prophet after prophet was not the Anointed One.
Now a group of people was convinced that John might be the Messiah. He spoke so powerfully and his message was so intriguing. Maybe he was the Messiah. Maybe he was the one to lead them away from Roman power. Maybe he was the one to save them.
John could have said, “Yes, I am. Give me your money. Get me a hammock. Get me some of those big bunches of dark purple grapes and a few beautiful ladies to feed me – and I’ll tell you what to do next.”
But he doesn’t. He confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” (1:20)
Ok. But he still seemed pretty important and they still wanted to follow him. Follow their train of thought, “Then, who are you? Are you Elijah? He’s a really famous prophet from ancient Israel. He’s dead, but…maybe you are him come back from the dead? We’ll follow you!"
Are you the Prophet? A prophecy about Moses – arguably the most famous prophet of ancient Israel and how a prophet would come that was greater than him! Are you that prophet?
Then, who are you? We give up. Tell us who you are and we can start your fan club.
John said this, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (v.23)
Do any of you have a GPS? What’s pretty neat about a GPS is it tells you everywhere you want to go. It tells you step by step, turn by turn directions on how to get to Cameron for a Duke game or PNC for a State game or how to get to Asheville to go skiing.
What’s also cool about a GPS is that you can change the voice of the one talking to you. You can have it speak with a pleasant Southern accent, “Ya’ll turn right.” A Northern Wisconsin accent, “You betcha that’s a left turn there.” OR you can even have it speak as Mr. T. “I pity the fool who don’t make a U-turn right now!”
But Mr. T doesn’t really know what all these directions. He’s not sitting in some suite in downtown Raleigh with a headset on, Google maps pulled up and giving you directions where to go. He’s simply a voice – telling you what he’s been told to say.
That’s what John was. He was a voice. A voice that had been prophesied about by another voice – but a voice nonetheless.
A voice who would come before the Messiah.
A voice who would point people to the Messiah.
A voice who was not the Messiah.
A voice who told people – I’m not the Messiah.
Of course, that’s not always how it goes, is it? People don’t always say, “Don’t follow me. I’m not the answer.” Oftentimes people give you the impression that they are the Messiah – or at least that they’ll fix all of your problems.
And I think there are three areas of society where this is especially true:
We just got done with a political season in which people put all their hopes and dreams on various political candidates. He’s my Messiah. No, she’s my Messiah. He’s going to make my life better. No, she’s going to change my world.
People follow them. People put their hopes in him. People think they are the one who are going to fix things for them and are horribly disappointed when they don’t.
Understand this when politicians are running for office they need to do everything possible to explain why they are the best person for the job and why they will be your personal Messiah – even if they know they can’t be.
What I mean is – it wouldn’t be a very good political campaign if I said, “Vote for Kiecker. I’m ok – not terrible, but not great either. I’ll try hard…most of the time. I probably won’t make that much change in your personal life anyways.”
In the end, politicians have voices. Their voices elevate themselves. But be careful. Political candidates are not the Messiah.
This is interesting. Because pastors are supposed to be voices pointing people to the Messiah. But sometimes it becomes all about them.
Sometimes, it might not even be their fault. Listen to that pastor. He has it all together. He’ll turn your life around and if he ever leaves, it’ll be a disaster again!
Sometimes, it is their fault. Here’s what I did in my life. Here’s why it worked. Here’s why you need to follow me and do what I did (and send some money my way in the process.)
But here’s the problem: The pastor is not the Messiah. I’m not the Messiah. Joel Osteen is not the Messiah. Joyce Meyers is not the Messiah.
There is not a pastor right now who is the Messiah.
If a pastoral voice tells you to follow the Lord, awesome.
If a pastoral voice tells you to follow himself, be careful. Be very careful.
And if I ever start doing that – somebody slap me.
And then, there’s probably the trickiest voice to deal with. It’s one that you’ve heard before. It’s one that has influenced you throughout your life. It’s one that I guarantee you struggle with.
Your own voice.
We are so cleverly, stupid:
ON. MY. OWN.
Here’s the reality that John the Baptist realized – he was not the Messiah (and he had crowds of people following him!) You don’t have crowds of people following you. You might have hundreds of people following you on Instagram, but guess what – none of them think you can fix their life!
You are not the Messiah.
So stop trusting yourself as the Messiah.
It will have eternal consequences.
II. Follow the Lamb
Who is the Messiah then? Who should we put our trust in?
Read a bit farther with me. In fact, it’s the very next day. The crowds have returned. Some are disappointed. John isn’t the one. They have to keep searching, keep looking, and keep hoping to find the Messiah one day. John sense their frustration. John himself has that same frustration.
But then…he sees him. Walking slowly. Head down. Covered up in a tunic. Unassuming and unimpressive.
But John knows him and John points: John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Look at the Lamb.
See the Lamb.
Follow the Lamb.
That’s a really interesting name for the Savior. Because Lambs are not really that intimidating.
There aren’t any NFL teams calls the Lambs.
There isn’t any professional wrestler called “Lonnie, the Lamb.”
Where you hear that word – it doesn’t strike me with fear. I’m not suddenly concerned that the Lamb is going to suffocate me with his wool.
Why would you follow a lamb? Wouldn’t you just be counting him jumping over the same gate over and over until you fall asleep?
Don’t tune out just yet. John gives three awesome reasons to follow the man referred to as the Lamb.
(1) He Takes Away the Sin of the World.
This one has a lot to do with the culture of Ancient Israel. In the Old Testament, God had people sacrifice animals. Sometimes out of thanks. Sometimes out of trust. And sometimes for the forgiveness of sins.
When it was for the forgiveness of sins, God was making something clear to the Israelites: I hate sin. I hate it because it wrongs your fellow brothers and sisters. I hate it because it wrongs my children. I hate so much that I must punish it with death!
When lambs were sacrificed for sins, it was a constant reminder to the people of the divine, eternal consequence of their sins.
The only problem? If you were an Old Testament Israelite you probably saw lots of lambs killed. A lamb for my morning sin. A lamb for my 2 pm sin. A lamb for my evening sins. Lambs for the sins that I missed last week. Lambs for your sins and my sins and lambs for Uncle John’s sins. Lambs here, there, everywhere, up, down and in between. Lambs everywhere that Dr. Seuss could think of to describe it!
The sad reality?
Animal blood cannot take away sin.
But Jesus wasn’t an animal.
He wasn’t an cute, fluffy lamb.
He wasn’t even a man.
He was God’s Son.
With his death, he would take away the sins of the world.
With his death, he took away the sins of the world.
That means this: When you follow Jesus, your sins are forgiven.
The sin that can’t seem to leave your mind? Forgiven.
That sin your friends won’t let your forget on Facebook? Forgiven.
That sin that cost you your job? Forgiven.
That sin you struggled with for the past twelve years of your life? Forgiven.
Forgiven because the Lamb of God gave his blood for you.
(2) He’s Been Around Awhile.
One of the key talking points in a political race is experience. How many years have they been in government? How much experience do they have serving people? How many years of tenure do they have under their belt?
Look at what John says about Jesus, "The one who comes after me (Jesus) was before me.” Literally, he existed long before me!
This doesn’t mean John was bad at math. Because if you follow the story of Jesus, John’s birth was announced about six months before Jesus’. John was ½ a year older than Jesus.
But Jesus was not just human.
Jesus was also God.
It means he’s been around the block. He’s been around since the beginning. He’s been around since the formation of the earth. He’s been around since an eternity and half before there was an earth.
Talk about experience. He’s seen it all. He’s been through it all.
Making him the perfect one to follow.
Think about what you’re going through. Jesus gets it.
Financial struggles? He’s seen that and helped people through it.
Relationship struggles? He’s seen it before and comforted through it.
Struggles with guilt and shame?
Nervousness about a sickness?
Problems at school?
Doubts about the direction of your life?
Jesus has seen it. Jesus has helped people through it. Jesus will help you through it.
(3) Awesome stuff happens around Him.
In fact, John lets us in on a secret - the reason he was so confident that Jesus was the Lamb of God and the one to follow.
He says this “I saw the heavens open up.” And can you imagine that? We’re not talking about the clouds parting and there being a sunny day. We’re talking about some incredible, divine, never before seen moment – the sky is rendered. There’s a glimpse into heaven. There’s a brilliant light that even sunglasses won’t allow you to look into.
And a silhouette – a divine dove – starts hovering down from the split in the sky. It hovers to the right. It hovers to the left. All eyes are on it. Until it comes to rest right on Jesus’ shoulder.
And then, a voice – not John’s voice – a voice – a booming voice – a voice – not coming from some microphone system because microphone systems didn’t exist yet!
A voice from God himself says this, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
It was a moment that made John go “wow.”
It was a moment that made everyone else who saw it go, “That was incredible.”
It was a moment that made people stop and think – This guy is worth following.
My prayer is that it makes you stop and think the same – This guy, this God, this Lamb is worth following.
Recommit yourself to following Jesus in 2017. Amen.