POWER over Matter
The other day I was sitting over at the Preschool eating some peanuts.
A young friend happened to pass by. She entered the room and asked, “Whatcha eatin’?”
“Peanuts,” I said.
She said, “May I have one?”
There were only a few peanuts left. I gave her some and I popped the others into my mouth.
As I was lowering my hand from this delicious bite, I noticed another young friend at the door.
She came up to me.
Held out her hand and said, “Peanuts?”
Unfortunately, I didn’t have any left.
Even after five minutes of tears and loud screams, I’m not sure that I was able to explain it to her.
I was out of food – and there’s nothing I could do about it.
We’ve been going through the MIRACLES of Jesus and we have seen his power over INDIVIDUAL health challenges and over NATURE itself. But what happens when a bunch of individuals need help at the same time?
Does Jesus have enough power?
Before we get into a miracle with that exact challenge, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The God of YOU
The miracle is written about in Matthew 15. It starts at verse 29:
Jesus moved on from there and went along the Sea of Galilee. He went up onto the mountain and sat there. (Matthew 15:29-31)
Jesus again stays near the Sea of Galilee. This has been one of his favorite places. It isn’t because the Sea of Galilee is such a “spiritual” place. There isn’t a temple there or quiet retreat center. Jesus went there because the people were there.
There’s a lesson for us. God wants us as his church to not just bring his message to this building, but to bring this message where the people are.
If Jesus were around today, he’d frequent a Starbucks.
He’d love the local library.
He’d be a big fan of Crabtree Valley Mall.
He’d be where people are – and we, as his people, need to be where the people are.
And the people, large crowds of people came to him. They brought the lame, the blind, the crippled, those unable to speak and many others. They put them down at Jesus’ feet and he healed them.
Granted – there aren’t any details in that sentence.
Maybe he grabbed the lame by the hand and pulled them to their feet or simply spoke, “Get up.”
Maybe he put his hands directly over a mute’s mouth or divinely patted them on the back to loosen their vocal cords.
Maybe he threw water on those with leprosy or maybe he had them dive into the Sea of Galilee.
Or maybe he just looked at the crowd and said, “All y’all are healed.”
I don’t know.
The point is that it happened. Jesus healed a crowd of people who came to him.
That’s important. Because look at the next sentence:
As a result, the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healed, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel.
The Bible had mentioned the mountains earlier. More than likely, this is a reference to a group of hills down to the south east of the Sea of Galilee. That’s important because this was an area that wasn’t inhabited by the Israelites alone. It was filled with Gentiles (that is, non-Israelites). Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, North Africans, and West Asians.
This explains the exclamation! They call Jesus “The God of Israel.”
“He’s the God that dwells in Israel.”
“He’s a real powerful God, too. He healed my cousin. The ‘gods’ of my country couldn’t do that.”
“And apparently, he cares about me, too. Even though I’m not Jewish and I don’t dwell anywhere near Jerusalem.”
Jesus is the God of ALL PEOPLE.
Sometimes it’s easy to picture Jesus like the Genie from Aladdin. If you remember the plot, the Genie is only able to grant wishes and help the last person to rub the lamp. It’s the reason that near the end of the movie, Aladdin tries to get him to save his life, but the Genie can’t, because Jafar was the last person to rub the lamp and the Genie must listen to him.
You might think Jesus can’t help you.
As if Jesus only helps those people of one particular race.
Or Jesus only helps those “churchy” looking people over there.
Or Jesus only listens to people who have a middle-class salary or above.
Jesus is the God of all people.
He helps all people.
He died, rose, and proclaims the kingdom of heaven for all people.
Jesus is the God of YOU.
You don’t have to look any farther.
It’s not like looking for a Valentine.
You don’t have to create a dating app profile.
You don’t have to worry about God swiping left.
You don’t have to get yourself hyped up to go to a bar late at night hoping to bump into the “right god,” at least for a night.
Jesus is the God of YOU.
He came to earth for YOU.
He lived perfectly for YOU.
He died innocently for YOU.
He rose triumphantly for YOU.
He brings forgiveness for YOU.
He gives the promise of heaven for YOU.
He proclaims peace with the Father for YOU.
Talk about a Valentine?
This is more than just a picture of a Thomas the tank engine that says, “I chooo-chooo—choose you.”
This is Jesus, your God, giving his blood, to be with you now – and in eternity.
II. The Miracle
But we haven’t even gotten to the BIG miracle yet. Look at the next verse:
Jesus summoned his disciples and said, “I feel compassion for the people, because they have remained with me already three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they might faint on the way.” (v.34)
Jesus was preaching out on the mountain and some people had been sitting there, staying there, and listening to him there for three days. (Like some kind of Christian overnight camp…
…just without the egg & spoon races.)
Apparently, on the third day, the camp food that people had packed had run out. They didn’t have any bread. They didn’t have any meat. They didn’t have a Fruit Roll up, a Twizzler or even a marshmallow for a s’more.”
Jesus recognizes that.
And he cares about that.
And he speaks to the disciples about this.
The disciples respond, “Where can we get so many loaves in the wilderness to satisfy such a large crowd?” (v.33)
They were in the middle of the wilderness.
There wasn’t any civilization around.
It’s not like right here at church where there’s bound to be food in the Fellowship Hall. But…if we did run out we could head over to Chick-fil-A, Moe’s, Tropical Smoothie, Smashburger, the Mediterranean place, or even the gas station down the block (They’ve got a great deal of two hot dogs for $3).
“Jesus,” they said, “we can’t get food from anywhere close.”
“Emphasis on we.”
You on the other hand…
Jesus asked them, “How many loaves do you have?”
They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” (v.34)
Understand: a normal loaf of bread in Ancient Israelite culture would be about the size of a pita bread with a bit thicker substance to it. That’s not bad for one person to eat.
But seven of them?
That could maybe feed seven.
Or fourteen, but it wouldn’t fill them.
Plus, they have a few small fish. Currently, there is a list of 27 different types of fish that dwell in the Sea of Galilee. Some of the most commonly referenced in antiquity writing include are salmon and red-bellied tilapia.
The tilapia is the smaller. It’s about 12 inches in length.
A few of those? Feed a small family.
Add that to the bread? Maybe 15. But those 15 are all still hungry.
Look what Jesus does.
He instructed the crowd to sit down on the ground.
He took the seven loaves and the fish.
He gave thanks.
He broke them.
He gave them to the disciples.
The disciples gave them to the people.
They all ate and were filled. They picked up seven basketfuls of the broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children. (v.35-37)
Dissect those words.
(1) All Ate
Not some. Not a few. Not half. Not even most. ALL ate.
It wasn’t as if one little kid missed out because his brother ate his portion.
It wasn’t as if dad had to forego food so his wife could eat.
It wasn’t as if there was some guy who stepped out to use the restroom and by the time he came back there wasn’t any.
Jesus cared for all of them.
He used his power to provide for ALL of them.
The word implies that food was completed in their tummies. There wasn’t any space left for anything else.
We’re talking full—full.
Golden Corral full.
Three bags of Family Sized Doritos full.
Jesus provided enough that ALL were FULL.
(3) 4,000 Plus
Back in the day, a group of people was counted by the able-bodied men. Men were the ones who joined the army. It made sense to have an accurate account of people that you could use as makeshift soldiers.
Scripture tells us that there were about 4,000 men who ate.
But there were also women and children.
If half of the guys had wives present…
And half those wives had one child present.
7,000 people isn’t hard to get to.
And yet all 7,000 some were fed by 7 loaves of bread.
(Can you imagine finding a loaf of bread in the grocer’s aisle that said that? Feeds 1,000).
(4) Seven Baskets Full of Leftovers
When Jesus is done, he has the disciples collect all of the leftovers. Remember – they only had one basket to begin with. After feeding 4,000 plus people, I would imagine there to be ZERO basketfuls left.
But the disciples…
Bring back seven.
This is a miracle.
It’s an amazing miracle!
It was witnessed by thousands!
And just like any miracle.
The miracle is a sign of Jesus’ power.
Here’s the TRUTH:
Jesus has power over the TINIEST MOLECULES of MATTER
He had power to create bread out of no more bread.
He created flour – without having to thresh the wheat.
He created salt – without having to mine the Galilean Sea.
He created yeast – without having to get yeast from wherever yeast comes from.
He created matter out of thin air because he has power over even the tiniest of molecules.
He has power over making sure you’re getting enough oxygen.
He has power to make sure that the hairs on your head remain on your head.
He has power to ensure that the raindrops don’t make the ground so wet that your car slides off course.
He has power to create a one celled little human life without the womb of a mother.
Since Jesus has power over the tiniest molecules…
And Jesus is the God of you…
Jesus has power in the TINIEST MOMENTS of YOUR LIFE.
Because sometimes there are moments in our lives that seem TOO small for Jesus.
Too unworthy of being cared about.
When you’re feeling a little blue, because your friends didn’t invite you to the movies, Jesus cares and has power to heal.
When you’re feeling a little guilty about those words you said, Jesus cares and has power to forgive.
When you’re feeling a little bit sick with a tiny headache coming, Jesus cares and has power to make you feel better.
When you’re feeling a bit nervous, because you’re the new kid at school, Jesus cares and has power to remain beside you always.
When you’re feeling a little intimidated at the work you have to do, Jesus cares and says, “I am with you.”
Look again at how well Jesus cares during those moments. During this miracle, he provided for the hunger of the crowd.
But he didn’t just dissipate it.
He didn’t just tide the people over.
He gave them food until they had ENOUGH.
Jesus changes the “I’m hungry” to “enough!”
He did that for the people physically. He literally created matter where there wasn’t any in order to make that happen.
Yes, I suppose he could do the same thing for us.
But normally Jesus provides for us in different ways.
He provides through…
…giving you strength to work and make some money.
…a Valentine’s Day gift card from a loved one.
…a night out with friend who pays for the appetizers.
…an awesome fellowship snack table after worship.
…a financial gift of a caring church member.
God provides so that we have enough physically.
But he also provides….spiritually. Because though the focus of this miracle is the bread that satisfies their bodies, but we can’t forget about what Jesus did the three days before this. He spoke to them the Gospel message.
In fact, that’s the reason that the people stayed listening to Jesus!
They were so enthralled by his three-day sermon.
Can you imagine a sermon that good? (Don’t answer that question).
Jesus provides spiritually even today.
He provides a plate full of forgiveness.
He provides a smorgasbord of salvation.
He provides an “eating out of your ears” amount of eternal life.
He provides for all your spiritual needs.
IV. What Now?
(1) Give Thanks
Did you see that in the story? Jesus, who is God, before he goes about created matter out of nothing, he takes a moment and gives thanks.
That moment focused everyone’s hearts on what God was about to do.
Do the same thing.
This isn’t just an encouragement to say your table prayers. You should.
Have you ever thought about the common table prayer?
The one from the Psalms?
“Oh, give thanks unto the Lord…”
That before a meal.
But also before.
Also after being able to buy a new pair of socks at Target.
Also after ordering a new DVD on Amazon.
Also after getting a stick of gum from your grandpa.
Also after receiving a 10th Starbucks drink free because of the Starbucks app.
All of these gifts are from God.
May we take a moment to GIVE THANKS.
(2) Find Satisfaction in Jesus
Because we are a nation of unsatisfied people.
The world knows that, and it tells you that it will offer you satisfaction….
…in THIS BEER.
…in this plate of NACHOS BELLGRANDE.
…in this CUP OF COFFEE.
…In this LEWD INTERNET PHOTO.
…In this RAUNCHY COMEDY clip.
…In this ANGRY Facebook rant.
…In this approval from other church members.
…in this approval from other family members.
…in this approval from a significant other.
But all those things?
Won’t fully satisfy.
All those things?
Will go away.
“I am the Bread of Life. The one who comes to me will NEVER be hungry.” (John 6:35)
Did you hear that?
In Jesus you are…
MESSY: Origins of Sin
Have you ever gotten an unidentified stain on your shirt?
You’re getting along.
You’re minding your only business.
Suddenly, you look down and…
What is that? Coffee? Chocolate? Some kind of pinecone residue? (I don’t remember cuddling pinecones.)
It’s important to identify stains so that you know how to treat it correctly.
Today we’re continuing our sermon series called MESSY. Last week we talked about sin…what it is and how it messes up our relationship with God. Today we want to discover the origins of sin. By identifying where it comes from, we will better be able to battle it in our own lives. But before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Influencers, not Origins
The Scripture today is from Mark 7. It says, “The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed...So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” (v.1-5,
Jesus and his disciples were eating food. This is interesting thing to think about. Usually, I think of Jesus as a divine, miracle-performing being. He is. But he was also a true human. As true God, he was all powerful, energizing the universe, but as true man, he needed his calories.
Since some of the Pharisees were able to gather around Jesus, it meant that they were in a public place. Usually there was a common type area in the middle of town where you could set up a picnic and do some eating. Picture it like an ancient food court:
Matthew stopped at Chick-Fi-A.
James went to the Ragin’ Cajun.
Peter’s just walking around and getting as many free samples of chicken on a little toothpick as he can.
The Pharisee’s issue is that the disciples were eating with defiled hands. It was a ceremonial tradition amongst the elders in Jerusalem to give a ceremonial washing before they ate any food.
They’d wash up. They’d wash down. They’d wash all around.
The issue wasn’t that they were germaphobes.
The was ceremonial. Throughout the Old Testament God had placed certain restrictions on the food that was eaten and the cleanliness of their ceremonies in order to impress on the Israelites the fact that God was holy. The Pharisees had simply taken it a step farther and added extra hand washings and ceremonial cleansings in order to really make themselves holy.
That’s why they were so upset with Jesus.
Wasn’t he supposed to be a godly Teacher?
Why would he let his disciples eat without the ceremonial washing?
By doing so, wasn’t he teaching them to defile their bodies with sin?
Do you see the problem?
The Pharisees thought that unclean hands…
Would somehow contain sin…
That would make its way into the body…
And create a sinful heart.
It is faulty to assume that sin originates from exterior sources.
Now understand what that’s saying:
Exterior sources can absolutely nfluence us to sin.
They can tempt us to sin.
But it is NOT the place of origin.
I think that’s important to remember. Because as Christians we might want to cut down on sin. In doing so, we might look to cut out some exterior sources. But while that might be helpful, it wouldn’t be the origin. For example:
(1) Food and Drink
The wrong kind of food and drink can make you feel gross. And if you feel gross, it can make it easy to be gross towards others. It might be wise to stay away from that unhealthy food so you don’t feel so sluggish and aren’t so easily a slug. So, you back away from greasy hamburgers, stop drinking coffee and throw away (sigh) all the Doritos.
To be fair, those might be wise decisions. Food and drink can absolutely influence the way we act.
But be careful that you don’t think it’s the origin of sin. As if, all we need to do is be eat healthy, throw on some Essential Oils on it, and we’ll take care of the sin problem.
Because even if you are Crossfit gym levels of physical fitness, guess what?
You might still be a jerk to your coworkers.
You might still fight with your wife.
You might start lusting after that person at the gym.
You might start trusting your oil collection to keep your healthy, more than your God.
In short, sin would still be around.
Food and drank are only influencers, not the origin of sin.
This is another big influencer towards sin. If you’re watching TV shows with all kinds of swear words, don’t be surprised if you’re Preschooler repeats those swear words in front of your in-laws at the fancy restaurant. There have been Precious Lambs kids who are quoting characters that are a part of Games of Thrones. That might not be the wisest…
With social media, YouTube, the internet making it so easy to consume some downright awful content, we have to be diligent to keep our families safe from evil influences. It’s good to install filters on internet. It’s good to have a parental code on the TV. I think it’d be pretty fun to watch nothing but Veggietales, all the time, all the time, all the time.
But even if we severely cut down on our sinful media intake, there would still be sin.
Case in point?
All of human history before media existed.
There was no TV, but still sin.
No YouTube, still sin.
No smartphones and still sin.
Media is an influencer. It can lead us to sin, but it isn’t the origin.
Nobody wants stress. Stress at work. Stress at the home. Stress in relationships. Stress makes you high strung, on edge, and ready to jump down people’s throats.
Stress is an influencer of sin.
The more stress there is the tougher it is to not be sinfully unpleasant.
It’s why people try to destress:
If I go get a full body massage…
If I surround myself with nature…
If I just listen to some Enya…
My stress will fade away.
And so will sin.
Again, stress is an influencer. So removing yourself from stressful situations will be helpful in our battle against being sinfully unpleasant.
Stress isn’t the origin of sin.
I remember a while back being on vacation. It was nice because I was away from some of the stress that comes from being a pastor. I felt like I was a bit more low-key. I was feeling good. I was feeling pleasant. I was feeling like I was doing a better job managing being sinfully short with Julianna.
Then, she asked if I wanted to get up and workout. “Nah!”
She asked if I wanted to help with food. “I’m good.”
She asked if I wanted to do a devotion: “I’m too busy resting right now.”
Less stress had caused me to be less sinfully unpleasant and more sinfully lazy.
Stress is an influencer, but it isn’t the origin of sin.
II. Sin is Messy
This is Jesus’ point.
Particularly because the Pharisees were focusing on washing hands which barely had any effect on sin at all.
Listen to his response to the Pharisees: Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. (Mark 7:18-22)
Do you get it?
Sin doesn’t originate from exterior sources.
Sin originates from interior sources.
Before you punch someone in the face, you have to think: “I want to punch him in the face.”
Before you commit adultery, you have to think: “I want to commit adultery with that person.”
Before you steal, you have to think: “I want to steal that.”
Before you lie, you have to think: “I need to hide the truth.”
Before you gossip, you have to think: “I want to hurt that person.”
Before you act selfishly, you have to think: “I think my way is best.”
Sin comes from interior sources.
And one of those sources we are all too familiar with.
(1) From Your Heart
In the medical field, there are many different devices to help you get a better glimpse at what’s going inside the body: the X-Ray, the MRI, the CAT scan, the thing they do where you drink the neon liquid stuff and it appears on the machine as a bring neon color.
The Bible functions as a spiritual X-ray.
It tells us that the problem with sin lies in our hearts.
You might not like that truth, but just like the X-Ray isn’t lying, neither is God’s Word.
The problem with sin is within our hearts.
(2) From Your Parents’ Heart
Because they are people too and the Bible describes the sinful hearts of ALL people.
In fact, this answers the question: How did this sin get into my heart?
Jesus said John 3:5, “Flesh gives birth to flesh.”
Just like alligators gives birth to alligators.
Hedgehogs gives birth to hedgehogs.
Spiders give birth to…thousands of disgusting little spiders.
So, humans give birth to humans.
Even, sinful humans give birth to humans.
It means that your dad gave you your eyes, your nose, your male pattern baldness…
…and a sinful heart.
(3) From Adam
Before you get super mad at your parents, remember they got it from theirs.
And before you get super mad at your grandparents, remember they got it from theirs.
In fact, you’d have to trace all humans back to the very first humans.
A guy named Adam.
A woman named Eve.
They are two of only three people in the history of the world that were blessed to be born without sin.
Because God made them without sin.
And God said: “Here’s a beautiful world that I made for you. Beautiful flowers. Beautiful trees. Delicious fruits. Amazing animals. It’s yours. I love you. One way to show you love me? Just don’t eat from that one tree in the middle of the garden. Consider it your form of worship. Don’t eat of it and you’ll never bring sin into the world.”
And what did they choose to do?
They eat the fruit.
And immediately, sin infects their hearts:
For the first time ever, they feel shame: They put on some leaf clothing because, “Adam, stop looking at my body like that.”
For the first time ever, they blame: “Eve, this is all your fault!”
For the first time ever, they feel terrified: “God’s coming. He’ll be mad. We better hide.”
This is why the Bible says this: Sin entered the world through one man. (Romans 5:12)
Are you a part of the world?
Here’s the harsh truth:
Sin is in you.
III. The Non-Origin
Of course, right about now, your sinful heart might want to go a bit farther back in the origin story.
But…wasn’t there a devil?
A talking snake?
Wasn’t it his fault?
And honestly, wasn’t it God’s?
Because in the beginning was God.
He’s the one who created this world.
Why create the devil?
Why create the tree?
Why create Adam and Eve with the ability to sin?
Isn’t it God’s fault?
Check out Genesis 1:31. It’s a description of what happens at the end of creation. Look at what it says:
God saw all that he had made and it was very good. (1:31)
It had to be.
God doesn’t make stuff that is “Meh.”
God doesn’t do things that are “Ok.”
God doesn’t create things that are “imperfect.”
Sin did not originate from GOD.
He’s only good.
And his creation was only good.
The devil? He was an angel! An angel who freely chose to oppose his good Creator.
The tree? It was an altar. A way for people to freely chose to love their good Creator.
Adam and Eve? They were his perfect creation. And part of perfection was the ability to freely choose to love their Creator.
It’s like Google Maps. Google maps will listen to you. You can tell it to get you directions to the next city, to avoid tolls, to stop and find the local Taco Bell.
Google Maps will listen to you.
But it doesn’t love you.
God in his perfection made people to love.
He gave them freedom.
They chose to freely oppose him.
Sin isn’t on God;
It’s on us.
IV. The Exterminator
But that’s good news.
Because that means God is still good.
Sin didn’t infect him.
God isn’t the one who originated sin; but God is the one who exterminates it.
Look at how Romans describes it:
Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18-19)
Adam’s one act of sin is juxtaposed with God’s perfect act of rescue.
Adam did one sin; all people were brought into sinfulness. That includes you.
God did one righteous act; all people are brought into justification. That includes you.
And what is justification? It’s a court room term. It means: “a not guilty verdict.”
This means that in spite of your sinful heart, God’s righteous actions declare you “Not guilty.”
(1) Through Jesus’ Perfect Life
Do you remember earlier I mentioned three people who entered the world without sin?
One was Adam.
One was Eve.
They both chose to leave perfection and enter sin.
But the third one?
He chose to stay perfect.
The third one?
He was God himself.
The third option?
He was Jesus.
In Jesus, God became man.
In Jesus, God lived on this earth.
In Jesus, God lived under the law.
And then, just like Adam, He had a choice.
He could choose to fail miserably just like Adam…
“Through the obedience of the one man…” (v.19)
Jesus chose not to sin.
Jesus’ heart didn’t have any sin on it.
Jesus’ heart didn’t have any hate in it.
Jesus’ heart didn’t have any greed, any lust, any pride, any selfishness, any envy, any laziness, any sin of any kind at all.
Jesus’ heart was pure.
It obeyed God…
Even to death.
(2) Through Jesus’ Innocent Death.
Think back to the stain on the shirt illustration. If you had a stain on a shirt, one way you can get it out is by taking a clean rag.
You get it wet.
You blot it until the stain is out.
Of course, once you do that the stain might be out of the shirt, but it is now all over the sponge.
That’s what happened with Jesus.
Like a sponge, he soaked up all the dirt of your sin.
All the guilt of your past.
All the shame of this past week.
Jesus’ soaked it all up into his heart.
And so did your sin.
Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead.
But your sins did not.
It was exterminated.
…So also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. (v.18)
“All people” includes you.
…So also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (v.19)
“The many” includes you.
Jesus has exterminated your sin.
V. What Now?
This affects the way we deal with sin in our life. Take a look at the passages from James 1:19-21. It says this, “Take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”
Because a good part of our actions are determined by our emotions.
The example given in James is the emotion of anger. We get angry. Our anger tells us to do. We listen even if it is a sin.
You might say: “Anger is an emotion. How can I help it?”
The problem isn’t necessarily anger. God gets angry. He gets righteously angry against sin.
The problem isn’t emotion, it’s emotion coming from a sin infected heart.
It can be any emotion:
Sin infected happiness.
Sin infected fear.
Sin infected sadness.
Knowing that we can’t simply say: “I feel this way so I should do it.”
Pause and consider this emotional reaction is influenced by sin, simply because of my sinful heart.
Maybe, I shouldn’t do it.
(2) Listen to the Planted Word
Sin isn’t the only thing in our hearts.
By God’s grace, we have the Gospel in our hearts.
God planted it there through the message of the Gospel.
He planted knowledge of our Savior.
He planted knowledge of our saving.
He planted knowledge of what sin is and motivation for getting rid of it.
He planted knowledge of what’s God pleasing and motivation for doing it.
It’s like a pile of trash, stinky, dirty, disgusting…
…And yet, by God’s grace, a flower grows.
It’s the same in our hearts.
They are sin filled.
But by God’s grace, a flower grows.
By God’s Word, sin is defeated.
By God’s power, we bloom for him. Amen.
ACTS: Unfollow the Crowd
Last we left the Apostle Paul, he was in the city of Ephesus preaching the message that Jesus is the Savior. He stayed there for two years. During that time frame, a congregation had developed in Ephesus. A decent crowd of people would gather together each week to hear Paul’s sermons, sing hymns, say prayers, and high-five each other in the fellowship hall.
But this church crowd wasn’t the only kind of crowd that developed in Ephesus.
Today we’re going to learn about a crowd that developed in direct opposition to the Gospel. Our goal is get some guidance about the dangers of crowd-following in 2019 Raleigh. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Crowd Forms
The lesson comes from Acts 19. It says, “There arose a great disturbance about the Way. A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there.” (v.23)
A couple of notes:
Demetrius is a Greek name. It means, “servant of Demeter.” Demeter was the Greek goddess in charge of crops. She made sure that the grains grew. She made sure the oats grew. She made sure the corn grew. She made sure that they were golden and delicious. She made sure that they were a part of a daily balanced breakfast. (Something tells me that Demeter looked something like a breakfast food character).
But Demetrius wasn’t only worshipping deities around the food pyramid. He worked for the temple of Artemis. Artemis was the Greek goddess of hunting (meat). The story was that you could call on her and give gifts at her temple to increase your likelihood of bagging a quail on the morning hunt.
In Ephesus was the Temple to Artemis. It was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The temple was 425 feet long by 200 feet wide. It was tall and ornate with beautiful marble columns. People came from across the ancient world in order to visit this incredible wonder.
And while the tourists were visiting the temple, they could pick up a souvenir! That’s where Demetrius came into play. He was a silversmith. His job was to build replica temples and replica statues of Artemis that he would sell on the corner right outside the monument. The little silver statue would become a keepsake or a household idol that people would pray to and hold close for protection.
But business had been down recently.
It wasn’t related to the economy.
It wasn’t related to a lack of work.
It wasn’t due to the weather keeping people from going outside.
It was because of Paul.
Paul had been preaching against idols.
Paul had been telling people that Artemis wasn’t a real god.
Paul had been telling people that Jesus was the only real God.
People were believing him and subsequently buying fewer idols.
So…Demetrius called together a meeting of all the people involved with the temple. Silversmiths, store owners, gift shop employees, temple janitors, even Amazon Prime drivers who delivered the statues across town…
Demetrius gathered together everyone involved with the trade and said:
You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty. (v.25b-27)
Do you see the issue?
Paul is ruining Demetrius’ fine way of living. Before you know it, Demetrius might not be able to go the Angus Barn. He might not be able to afford his fancy jewelry and fine cheese. He might not be able to buy Grey Poupon at the local grocery store.
Demetrius was upset because he was losing money. You can almost hear him:
Sure, these people get forgiveness.
They get joy.
They get the promise of heaven.
But I won’t be able to make my payment on the second Lexus I bought, so…
Paul must be stopped!
Here’s the truth:
Crowds led by SINFUL HUMANS are opposed to HOLY GOD.
That was Demetrius. He was a sinful human. He was leading a crowd against God’s message.
But this will be true in any situation.
1) Because Sin opposes God.
God is good.
Sin is bad.
God is against sin.
Sin is against God.
God doesn’t say to sin: “You’re awesome.”
Sin doesn’t say to God: “Let’s be best friends.”
They are drastically opposed to one another.
It’s like UNC and Duke. When they are playing one another in their next basketball showdown, every time one team makes a basket those points are good for one side and bad for the other.
Duke can’t throw an alley-oop slam dunk and divide the points evenly among both squads.
UNC can’t hit a three pointer and have it appear on the other team’s scoreboard.
By the very nature of a game with opposing teams, good news for one team means bad news for the other.
By the very nature of reality, when something godly happens that’s good news for God’s side and bad news for crowds led by sin.
When a sinful leader is the leader of the crowd, that crowd will inevitably clash with God.
2) Because the Perspective is different.
Humans live on a timeline.
We are born.
We live 30, 40, 50 years.
Everything we do is on a timeline:
I need a report in by Friday.
I need to finish schooling by December.
I need to make enough money for my son’s inheritance before I die.
God is different.
God is eternal.
He is off the timeline.
He is concerned with eternity.
Because the temporal perspective is so different from the eternal perspective, there’s a contradiction.
Case in point:
God wanted people to stop worshipping idols so that they could know the Savior and have eternal life.
Demetrius wanted people to stop worshipping Jesus so that he could have more money and buy himself a nice steak dinner.
The perspective is different.
Crowds led by SINFUL HUMANS are opposed to HOLY GOD.
This is still true today.
In 2018 in rural Mexico, Pastor Eduardo Garcia served at local country church. One of the struggles in Mexico is drug addiction. Crystal meth has taken over in the area. It’s ruined health, finances, and family. Pastor Eduardo Garcia preached against the danger of Meth.
He taught that Meth couldn’t save you; only Jesus could.
He taught that Meth didn’t remove guilt; only Jesus did.
He taught that Meth eventually brought death; and Jesus brought life.
And a few drug addicts listened.
He got them help.
They got off the drugs.
Great news, right?
Except for the Drug Cartel.
They were losing money.
The Drug Cartel had Pastor Eduardo Garcia gunned down in the streets.
Crowds led by SINFUL HUMANS are opposed to HOLY GOD.
II. The Crowd Rages
Back to the story. When the crowd heard Demetrius’ speech, “They were furious and began shouting: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ ”(v.28)
They rushed into the city.
They pumped their fists.
They motioned for others to join them.
People joined the crowd who agreed with their cause.
People joined the crowd who loved Artemis.
People joined the crowd who enjoyed shouting.
People joined the crowd who didn’t want others to get mad at them for not joining the crowd.
People joined the crowd because they didn’t want to miss out on whatever was about to happen.
Regardless, the crowd grew in number.
They grabbed two men – Gaius and Aristarchus – two church members that worked with Paul.
They dragged them through the streets.
Eventually, the streets were so narrow – and the crowd was so big – that they had to make their way to the local theater. It was the only building big enough to house the large crowd that had gathered.
As they gathered and shouted, they threw a guy named Alexander to the front in order to explain this message of Jesus.
But – thing was – Alexander wasn’t even a believer.
He just looked like he might be.
When he tried to explain that, the crowd got angrier. They didn’t want to listen.
And then it started.
Two straight hours of shouting:
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! She’s the greatest god of all time.
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! This guy named Jesus is costing us money.
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! I really, really hate the Jews.
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! I just drank a bunch of booze.
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! I don’t know what I’m doing.
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! That plane in the sky? Is that a Boeing?
Two hours of screaming.
Screaming from people who don’t even know why they’re screaming in the first place.
Here’s the warning:
Crowd following can be a MINDLESS activity.
Maybe you’ve fallen victim.
Peer pressure in high school, “It’s what the cool kids are doing.”
Friends egging you on at a bar, “Come on. Just say it.”
Your family, “Hate those people. It’s what we do.”
Comments on your social media profile, “If you don’t believe this, you are despicable.”
Society, “If you want to fit in, get rid of the god stuff. That’s the way the crowd is going.”
It’s so easy to follow the crowd.
But MINDLESS crowd following is NEEDLESLY dangerous.
Jesus is loving.
Jesu is our Savior.
You trust him, right?
He died for you.
He rose for you.
He loves you.
There’s no one more trustworthy than Jesus, right?
Look at what your trustworthy Savior said in the Gospel for today:
Do not be afraid of the one who can kill the body, but be afraid of the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell. (Mark 10:28)
Do you hear what Jesus is saying?
Don’t fear a dislike on Facebook more than holy hellfire.
Don’t fear the loss of a friend more than the loss of your God.
Don’t fear society calling you a name more than your Lord calling you DAMNED.
Don’t fear anything more than your God.
III. The Crowd is Defeated
Because no crowd can OVERPOWER God.
Back to Ephesus.
The shouting had been going on for a solid two hours.
Finally, the city clerk, who is a high-ranking individual in Ephesians society, made his way to the front of the steps.
After motioning for them to be quiet, they finally chilled.
He said to them:
“Calm down; don’t do anything rash.” (v.36)
Guys, we need to stop.
Artemis is still known around the world.
We’re still rich.
Tourists are still visiting.
These two church members haven’t done anything illegal.
The reality is that if Caesar hears about this riot – we’re the ones who did something illegal.
And we’ll be the ones getting into trouble.
Then, he dismissed them.
And the crowd went home.
Because sometimes God protects his people through people that aren’t even his people.
No crowd can OVERPOWER God.
Take one more example from Jesus.
He was arrested by a crowd of angry men.
They brought him to the Assembly.
They shouted for hours, not ‘Great is Artemis!’, but “Crucify Him!”
They dragged him through the narrow streets.
They hung him on a cross…all the while jeering, mocking, and spitting.
He took his last breath and it looked like the crowd had won.
Three days later.
Three days later…
Jesus came back to life.
And that wasn’t the only crowd against him!
Because Jesus went to the cross with a crowd of your sins on his back.
The sins of rebelling against his Word.
The sins of bowing to peer pressure.
The sins of following the crowd opposed to God.
But those sins didn’t overpower Jesus.
He overpowered them.
Through faith in him, those sins won’t overpower you.
You are forgiven.
You are victorious.
Christ will bring you home to heaven.
Christ following ALWAYS leads to ETERNAL life.
No other crowd will do that.
Not a crowd of your friends.
Not a crowd of your coworkers.
Not a crowd of social media followers.
Only Jesus can.
Only Jesus will.
IV. What Now?
1) Identify the Leader.
Have you ever driven cross-country in a caravan? That’s when a bunch of cars all follow one another. If you’re going to do that, suddenly it becomes very important that you know who you’re following. Because if you don’t pay very good attention. Well…
I remember one time I was following a red van. I was supposed to follow it to a place in Durham. But after it was taking awhile, I looked up at the road signs and saw that I was approaching Greenville.
Turns out? I had been following a red van that wasn’t the one my friend was driving.
It’s important to identify the leaders in your crowds of people. Because that will tell you where you’re going.
Is the leader a sinful human?
Is it a sinful human who doesn’t care about Jesus?
Is it a sinful human who is led by Jesus? That’s the crowd you want.
2) Unfollow the Sinful Crowd.
Unfortunately, this is a lot harder than simply going onto Facebook and hitting “UNFOLLOW.” (Although that might be part of this.)
If it’s a crowd that you’ve been following for a while, you might have acquaintances, friendships, and good friends in that crowd.
Those relationships, emotions, and feelings will make it hard to unfollow that crowd.
If that crowd is leading you away from your Savior…
Don’t be Demetrius.
Don’t forfeit the Christ in exchange for money, for fame, for fortune, for good times, for a momentary pleasure…for stuff that doesn’t last.
3) Follow the Christ.
Because Christ is not overpowered by any crowd.
And if you’re following him, neither will you.
Because Christ always leads to eternal life.
If you’re following him, that’s where you’ll be.
Check out Revelation 7. It describes a different kind of crowd.
A bigger crowd.
A more diverse crowd.
A crowd shouting louder than that Ephesus crowd.
A crowd shouting longer than that Ephesus crowd.
A crowd shouting about a being greater than the Ephesus crowd was shouting about.
A crowd shouting in heaven:
“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Friends, that’s the crowd you want to be in.
The Light Shines Through You
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.
ACTS: The "Ordinary" Church Member
Thus far in Acts we’ve heard a lot about the Apostles – the guys that were the leaders in the church – the guys that Jesus promised the powerful Holy Spirit – the guys that Jesus hand-picked to spread the Gospel around the world. These men were integral to the Early Church.
But…what about the rest of the church?
What about the “ordinary” Church member?
Today we are going to look at an “ordinary” church member named Stephen. As we do that, we’ll learn some things about ourselves as “ordinary” church members here in Raleigh. 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. The “Ordinary” Church Member named Stephen
The majority of Stephen’s story come from Acts 7. But before we get there, I think we should actually start with a phrase from Acts 5:29:
“We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
Stephen didn’t say that.
But I imagine that phrase bounced around in his head as the sharp tip of a spear pressed against his lower back directing him to an angry mob of Jewish opposition.
“We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
The phrase had first been uttered by the Apostle Peter. While Stephen didn’t exactly hear it from Peter’s mouth, it had become somewhat of a rallying crying for the Early Christians. In fact, it played a key part in bringing Stephen into the Early Church. Yes, he was first intrigued by the message of Jesus – full and free forgiveness because of Jesus’ death at the cross, but then, it was the conviction that drove him to being actively involved.
The apostles were willing to obey God and teach the message of Jesus…
…Even when others opposed them.
…Even when they were put on trial.
…Even when the opposition threatened death.
…Even when their backs were torn to a bloody mess by the violent lashings (floggings) as a result of their preaching the Gospel.
“We must obey God rather than men.”
That’s why Stephen had signed up.
That’s why Stephen had gotten into this mess.
A few weeks earlier the Apostles had requested some help. The church had been growing so quickly – which was a blessing. There were over 10,000 people who confessed Jesus as Savior. But since it had grown so quickly the work had gotten beyond the scope of 12 men and some of their ministries had started to be neglected.
Case and point – the distribution of bread for the widows. There were quite a few widows in the church and, at the time, widows were treated as the bottom rung of society. They couldn’t get jobs. They couldn’t make money. They were usually in poverty.
The church had been dealing with that by setting up a mobile food bank. Members were to give contributions of money; Christians that worked in the bakery would make some bread, and the disciples would grab a big old cardboard box, stuff some bread into it, and deliver it to the widows in need.
But…the program had gotten too big.
The disciples had other priorities.
Some widows had been forgotten.
Doubly unfortunately, the issue had gotten racial. The widows that were Greek began to complain that they were being ignored because they were Greek and the only ones to receive bread were the widows that were Jews…because they were Jews. Granted, that wasn’t what the Apostles were doing; they were simply too busy preaching and teaching. Still they did recognize that racial tensions and divisions were not a good look for a church whose entire premise was “Jesus died for everyone.”
So…the Apostles made a plan. They decided to choose seven men to help them in the distribution of food. Seven men who would deliver the bread and visit the shut ins. Seven men who could share the message of Jesus as they went; and free the disciples up to share the message of Jesus all day long.
One of the men they chose was Stephen.
And Stephen accepted the appointment.
And Stephen was awesome at it.
He loved seeing the smiling widows answer the door.
He loved helping them restock their empty shelves.
He even enjoyed it when the older widows squeezed his cheeks, told him how they wish they had a grandson like them and gave him a Werther’s for his trouble.
And that’s what Stephen did.
He did the ordinary job of delivering bread.
He did the ordinary job of sharing Jesus with those he met with.
He did the ordinary job of sharing what he was doing and why he was doing it with the people he met with.
And that – was why he was arrested.
By the same men that had arrested Peter.
He was arrested for delivering bread and teaching the message of Jesus.
So, he stood.
Hands cuffed behind his back.
A spear implanted into his lower back.
A room filled with vicious, angry, violent opposition.
And they were telling him to stop.
Now they were telling him to never mention Jesus again.
Now they were telling him to shut up or die.
He wasn’t an apostle….
He wasn’t trained for this…
This wasn’t in the job description!
“We must obey God rather than men.”
There was that voice again.
And Stephen couldn’t help himself:
“Brothers…friends…well trained and high respected scholars of the Old Testament Scriptures!”
Ya’ll are Old Testament scholars, so can I ask you a few questions about the Old Testament?
Do ya’ll remember Abraham? God made a promise to him to move to a country he’d never heard of and he’d bless him. People rejected that message. But God fulfilled that promise.
And do you remember Joseph? God promised him in a dream that he would one day be a ruler. His brothers rejected that message and threw him into slavery. But God fulfilled that promise.
And do you remember Moses? God promised to leader Israel out of Egypt through him. The people rejected Moses and didn’t believe him. But God fulfilled his promised. He performed 10 miraculous plagues. He split the Red Sea. He brought them out. And then…they still rejected Moses and worshipped a golden statue of a cow.
And do you remember Elijah? And Elisha? Isaiah? Jeremiah? Joel and Habakkuk? God prophesied through them. But the people rejected them. They beat them, imprisoned them and killed them.
Friends, that’s what our ancestors did.
And that’s what you are now doing.
You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears; you always resist the Holy Spirit. (7:51)
You always resist God’s truth.
You are resisting the very Savior God sent for you – Jesus Christ.
And with that…the room erupted.
There were loud shouts.
There were swear words.
There was tearing of clothes and clenching of fists.
There were stiff-necked, with uncircumcised hearts and ears; resisting the Holy Spirit.
And Stephen dropped to his knees.
He looked up.
And he smiled:
“Look, I see heaven open and I see Jesus Christ standing at God’s right hand.” (7:56)
And the men charged the floor.
And they grabbed Stephen.
And they threw him outside.
And they began to throw stone after stone, rock after rock at Stephen.
Eyes swollen, mouth bleeding, lungs gasping for breath, said one last thing:
“Jesus, receive my spirit and don’t hold this sin against them.” (v.59)
And then, he died.
II. Lessons from Stephen about being an “Ordinary” Church Member
I think Stephen’s story is one of the most powerful in the entire Bible.
I think it’s incredible because Stephen was your average everyday church member with an average everyday church job.
Yet there are some incredible lessons that we can learn from this ordinary Church member. Here are a few things the ordinary Christian does…
(1) “Ordinary” Church Members Serve (Even when It’s Delivering Boxes of Bread)
Because that was probably not the most glamorous job.
It wasn’t that job that got your name in lights.
It wasn’t a job that would get you on a social media post.
It’s not the kind of job that develops its own hashtag: #ServingBreadIsAwesome
But Stephen did it anyway.
Because service is key.
Jesus said, “I didn’t come to be served, but to serve and give my life as a ransom for many.” (Mt. 20:28)
Stephen remembered how Jesus served him (by dying on the cross for his sins) and was motivated to serve others.
Here’s the thing – we have a lot of people that are a part of our church community.
And some of ya’ll are very smart. I know which ones I shouldn’t have a conversation about medical terms and which ones to avoid talking about computer coding with because the conversation will quickly go over my head.
Some of ya’ll are smart enough to do top level, top notch, sophisticated stuff…
…We need to be like Stephen.
We need to be willing to do the less glamorous jobs.
We need to be willing to humbly serve others…whether we have a master’s degree, a college degree or a high school diploma.
We need to be willing to deliver bread, to serve cookies, to water plants, to pick weeds, to change the classroom hamster bedding.
That’s the heart of service.
It’s the heart Stephen had.
It’s the heart Christ wants us to have.
(2) “Ordinary” Church Members …Knows God’s Word is MOST Important
That is why the Apostles came up with the position of bread deliverers.
And its why Stephen took the job.
Because God’s word was most important. And the Apostle’s needed to be spending their time doing that.
It’s why Stephen took advantage of the personal conversation and opportunities he had to share the message of God’s Word.
It’s why Stephen refused to compromise on God’s Word – even when faced with death.
Again – this is a key point of us today.
Because sometimes the things that we volunteer for at church don’t seem to be related to God’s Word.
There are things that are easy to relate – preaching, teaching, worship music playing, eldering….
…But other things are harder to see the connection. Things like: weed pulling, coffee making, website maintenance, and watching kids in the nursery.
In the bigger picture, these things free me up to share God’s Word. They free up Precious Lambs teachers to teach God’s Word. They free up guests and visitors to focus on God’s Word. They are absolutely, important and integral to a congregation’s Planting the Message of Jesus in the Heart of North Raleigh.
May I take a brief moment to free up all of you Stephens out there. To thank all of you who have been serving throughout this past year – as we grow, and more things are on my plate and more things are on our plans – thank you for your service to keep God’s Word as most important.
And a brief what now – consider ways you can continue to do that. Keep your eyes open as you serve for ways that you can share Jesus on a personal level.
Whether it’s talking to a fellow volunteer while trimming weeds…
Or welcome a visitor while you greet.
Or simply not complaining – like the people were doing – to help us stay less focused on complaints and more focused on our Savior Jesus.
(3) “Ordinary” Church Members …Suffer for their Faith
Because Stephen didn’t do anything wrong.
Stephen was simply delivering bread.
He was helping the sick.
And he was telling about Jesus.
But he suffered. He suffered even giving his life over to death.
Here’s the reality. Sometimes church Members, even “ordinary” church members suffer for their faith.
In fact, I sometimes wonder if it isn’t more often? Because Pastors deal a lot with church people.
Pastor have to spend a good amount of time in God’s Word prepping a sermon.
Pastors often get to teach people on their turf.
You work in the world.
You live in the world.
You have friends and family in the world.
You do life among the people that reject His Word and sometimes –reject you for following Jesus.
Expect to suffer.
A mean comment on Facebook.
A tension at work.
An angry speech from a family member.
Expect to suffer for following Jesus. Because honestly, it’d be extraordinary if ordinary church members didn’t suffer for their faith.
It’s entirely ordinary for ordinary church members to suffer.
And that’s ok.
It’s ok, because of our final point:
(4) “Ordinary” Church Members…Receive the Extraordinary Crown of Life
That’s the message that empowered Stephen to be willing to die for his faith.
He knew his Savior.
He knew that Jesus conquered death.
He knew that Jesus promised that he too would conquer death.
And then – after his sermon – after the crowd is already angry – Stephen looks up and sees Jesus’ standing in heaven.
That’s really interesting.
Because usually in the Bible, God is presented as “sitting on his throne.”
But here Jesus is standing.
You have to picture the same thing.
You have to picture the same thing, because it’s truth.
When you are suffering, when you encounter opposition, when you are struggling to maintain faith in an opposing to faith world, see Jesus standing and calling to you.
Revelation 2:10, Jesus says this, “Be faithful even to the point of death and I will give you the crown of life.”
That’s an extraordinary promise.
It’s an extraordinary promise to even ordinary people like you and me.
And it’s true.
When you cling to that extraordinary promise, God will work through ordinary you to do extraordinary things.
Isn’t that what happened with Stephen? His story is written in Scripture. His passion is recorded for us to read. His confident holding to God’s Word motivates us to stand up for God’s Word.
The “ordinary” church member – through whom God worked extraordinary things.
Brothers and sisters may our God do the same through you.
May he work extraordinary things as we work to Plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh. Amen.
Guest preacher, Pastor Doug Lange shares with us an important message: we don't need to get angry for Jesus or think we have to watch out for him. Our attempts usually hurt Jesus instead of helping him out. Jesus does take of things himself. He shows this to Peter and to us today.
Over the past couple of weeks, we have heard some amazing stories. About the Jordan River splitting in half, the walls of Jericho tumbling down, God’s grace in keeping the prostitute Rahab safe, his wrath against the greedy Achan and his incredible power that extended the daylight for 24 extra hours!
Today’s sermon is a bit different. Because we are getting to the part of Joshua that isn’t so jammed packed with action. The literature switches from narrative to a legal listing; from storytelling to atlas. It’s one of those parts of the Bible that might not seem like it’s got a lot to do with you.
You’d be wrong.
Today we’re going to take our first of two looks at the non-narrative parts of Joshua. This is from Joshua 13-21. Our goal is to discover a couple of different ways these listings are a blessing for 21st century Raleighians.
Before we do that, let’s pray: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. Your word is truth. Open our eyes to see what YOU want us to see. Open our ears to hear what YOU want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what YOU would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Temptation to Grow Tired
Chapter 13 starts right after Israel has finished conquering a vast majority of the land. Joshua 13:1. When Joshua had grown old and was well along in years, the LORD said to him, “You are now very old…”
Notice that there seems to be a repetitive theme. The Bible calls Joshua “old” and then, it rephrases it so that we don’t get confused, “well along in years.” Finally, the LORD himself approaches Joshua and the very first thing he says to him is, “You are…very old!”
Sheesh, God. Thanks a lot.
I doubt Joshua needed the reminder. The white hairs, the creaky knees and the wrinkles probably told him enough. In fact, if you jump forward in the book – Caleb, Joshua’s contemporary, is identified as 85 years old. Joshua, probably a bit older, might be around 90.
That means – things were not as easy as they used to be.
Each morning he would stand and straighten his back very slowly.
He would grab his pair of glasses and squint in order to read the 14-point font of Moses’ OT Writings.
Soldiers would pretend not to notice his inability to remember any of their names. Marty? Abimelech?
Joshua was no spring chicken.
So, what does God want?
Is this the talk where he tells him to slow things down?
Is this the talk where he told Joshua he probably shouldn’t drive anymore?
Is this the talk where he told Joshua about the new retirement village they had set up in the confines of Ai?
Joshua…there are still large areas of land to be taken over. (v.1b)
I still have plans for you.
I still have work for you.
You are not too old to serve me.
That’s a key truth I want to focus on for a moment. You are never too old to serve God.
I was sitting down next to a friend for coffee the other day. And in the midst of our conversation, the man began to tell me about his children. How he had fallen away from church and wasn’t a believer anymore.
And then…he sighed: But...what am I going to do? I’m old.
Is that really how it works?
Is Jesus just for young kids?
Is Jesus not for adults?
Do you get to a point where you’re so old that even God can’t use you?
Look at these Scriptures:
Matthew 28 says, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
Galatians 5 says, “Serve one another in love.”
Matthew 5, “Let your light shine.”
Notice Scripture does not say, “Go and make disciples – unless you have arthritis.”
It doesn’t say, “Serve one another in love…unless you are over 73. Then, serve in grouchiness.”
It doesn’t say, “Let your light shine…unless you live in a retirement community.”
There are no qualifiers.
These commands are all inclusive.
These commands are for you – no matter how old you are.
Because you are never too old to serve God!
Joshua was 90 years old and God still called on him to lead the Israelite army throughout the rest of Canaan!
But Joshua wasn’t alone.
Moses was 80 years old when God used him to get Israel out of Egypt.
Daniel was 87 when he was thrown into the lion’s den for confessing faith in Jesus.
Sarah was 99 when she gave birth to Isaac – forefather of Jesus.
Noah was 600 when God used him to build an ark and save humanity!
How old are you?
How will God use?
Don’t listen to the devil:
You are never too old to serve God.
II. The Temptation to Give Up
That’s what God wanted Joshua to do. Listen to his command: There are still very large areas of land to be taken over…be sure to allocate this land to Israel for an inheritance, as I have instructed you. (v.1b, 6) Because up to this point Israel hasn’t conquered everything. They only possess about 2/3 of the Promised Land. They had won many battles and driven out many armies, but they still needed to win victories up in the North kingdom and they still needed to drive out armies in the southwest.
The temptation might be to call it good.
The temptation might be to say close enough.
The temptation might be to grab a PBR and relax.
God doesn’t want them to quit.
God wants them to finish it.
And with good reason.
My initial favorite sports teams were based in Minnesota. Did you know this? I was 2 when I moved there from Baton Rouge, LA and I was 4 when I watched my first baseball and football games. The Twins and the Vikings. Then, in first grade I moved to Wisconsin. And in week one of the NFL season I was one of the only kids wearing Viking purple – while everyone else wore green and gold.
And there was polite joking.
And there was polite ribbing.
And…there was the time in fourth grade when Brett Favre led the Packers deep into the playoffs – and the Vikings were not so deep in the playoffs – that I finally switched allegiances.
People influence you. In sports teams, favorite restaurants, binge worthy TV shows and religion.
This is one of the main reasons for God driving out the Canaanites. He doesn’t want the Canaanites’ idol worship to influence the Israelites God worship. He doesn’t want the Canaanite unbelievers to lead Israelite believers to unbelief…
And Joshua gets it. He sends out each tribe into its particular region of the Promised Land in order to drive out all the nations. That’s exactly what chapters 11-19 entail. Numbers, places and results of their victories. But…hidden in the midst of these victories – in the midst of this long historical commentary on how they followed through on God’s commands – are a few verses which show that…they didn’t.
13:13 The Israelites did not drive out the people of Geshur and Maacah so they continue to live among Israel to this day.
15:53 Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites.
16:10 They did not dislodge the Canaanites in Gezer.
17:11-12 They were not able to occupy Beth Shan, Ibleam, Dor, Endor, Taanach and Megiddo...for the Canaanites lived in their region.
19:47 But the Danites had difficulty taking possession of their territory…so they moved up to Leshem.
Perhaps this seems like no big deal. Perhaps this seems like “at least they tried hard.”
Perhaps you can understand them being tired and saying – “Good enough. We don’t bother you and you don’t bother us.”
And everything seems fine.
Jump forward with me:
After Joshua died…another generation grew up who neither knew the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. Then, the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD…they followed and worshiped various gods of the people around them. So…the hand of the LORD was against them…and he sold them into the hand of their enemies all around them. (Judges 2:8-13)
Do you see the problem?
They didn’t listen to God.
They didn’t drive out the Canaanites.
And the Canaanites led them to worshipping false gods.
Just. Like. God. Said.
God has not asked us to conquer any kind of land or people in any kind of way. But God does tell us to fight against sin and drive it out of our lives – completely!
However – I wonder if sometimes we don’t do the same thing Israel does. Go about 90% of the way and call it good. I don’t commit adultery. Especially when it comes to something I like to call Peripheral Sins.
What’s a Peripheral Sin? Peripheral vision describes the vision to the right and the left of what you are focusing on. For example, if you look straight at the cross right now and I stand over here --- peripheral vision is me. Maybe you can tell that I’m there, but I’m not clear. I’m fuzzy. (Try and guess how many fingers I am holding up. Not easy)
Peripheral sins are the sins that we don’t focus on. Sins that we refuse to focus on. Sins that we can maybe kind of see in our life – but they aren’t big and clear like murder OR cheating on your wife so…we just kind of let those be.
For example – three common Peripheral Sins:
Granted, if you’ve struggled with lust, there may have been a moment when this wasn’t in the peripheral. And you fought pornography. And you stopped seeing that person who was threatening your marriage.
But at some point, the devil loves to get us to stop the fight.
I’m not looking at porn anymore; so, I’ll just look around at the gym. That should be ok.
I’m not planning on sleeping with that guy at work; I’m just flirting. My husband would be cool with it.
This right here? It’s just the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. I only read it for the articles…on sports.
Lust is not a small thing. It’s always a big thing. Drive it out.
(2) Sinful Anger.
Because for whatever the reason, anger is one of those sins that people say, “Well everyone gets angry.” (Which is true) and “Anger isn’t necessarily a sin.” (also, true) and “Anyways…it’s probably not a big deal the way I showed my anger there.” (Which is a bald-faced lie.)
Humans aren’t God.
Humans are sinful.
Human anger – even ‘righteous sounding anger’ will be tainted by sin.
And oftentimes is acted out sinfully.
Anger cannot be ignored.
It kills relationships at home.
It kills relationships at work.
It kills relationships at church.
It kills your relationship with God.
Anger is not a small thing. It’s a big thing. Drive it out.
After recent events in Virginia, this deserves to be revisited. Because I think the common sentiment is: I’m not a member of the KKK. I’m not a Neo-Nazi. I’m good. Stop telling me I’m racist.
But Jesus calls us to look deeper.
Jesus tells us sin affect us.
Jesus tells us that sinful selfishness easily affects the way that we think and act.
And when we see the problems – even small problems – drive them out.
If I befriend that guy who looks like me, but don’t even try to befriend that guy because…he doesn’t. There’s a problem. Drive the racism out.
If I make a joke here and a comment there, and say…but “it’s just a funny stereotype that’s all.” There’s a problem. Drive the racism out.
If I dismiss the struggles of my friend (who looks different) because I never had to deal with those kinds of struggles (since I look different) and it would make me uncomfortable to consider that people who do look like me might be part of the reason this friend who doesn’t look like you is struggling. There’s a problem. Drive the racism out.
In fact, drive all of these peripheral sins out. Because the reality is that they are sin. And sin destroys.
Lust destroys marriage.
Anger destroys churches.
Racism destroys society.
Drive it out before the destruction takes place!
III. God Finishes What He Started
Here’s the good news for Israel. In spite of their failure to completely drive out their enemies, God still blessed Israel. He gave them the Promised Land. He kept that in their possession. He made sure that Israelites were in that land when he finally sent the Savior from there.
God finished what he started.
In Bethlehem, Jesus was born.
In Nazareth, Jesus grew up.
In Cana, he turned water into wine.
At the Jordan, he revealed himself as Lord.
In Jericho, he healed a blind man.
Just outside Jerusalem he died…and just outside Jerusalem he rose from the dead.
God finished what he started.
And he was complete about it! Scripture says, “The blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin.”
Please note the all. It doesn’t say “some.” It doesn’t say “a few.” It doesn’t say, “Just the obvious big ones.”
His blood purifies you from peripheral lust.
His blood purifies you from seeping anger.
His blood purifies you from that hidden racism.
Jesus died and his blood completely purifies you from all sin.
It’s like a water purification system. If you put that on your faucet, the water goes through the first filter and the big sediment it blocked. Then, it goes through the secondary system and the little sediment it blocked. Finally, it goes through a laser purification process and even the hidden particles are destroyed.
Jesus purifies us from all sin.
And that empowers us to drive out all sin.
That’s exactly what God tells Joshua. Right after he tells Joshua about all of the nations that he still needs to drive out – God says this in verse 6: I myself will drive out the nations. He was still fighting with them. Even if they didn’t see gigantic miracles like the river splitting in half or the walls tumbling down or the sun sitting in the sky for an extra 24 hours – God was still with them and would not withdraw his support.
And God is still with you.
He’s not like some big athletic sponsorship that withdraws their sponsorship because the athlete tweets something they don’t agree with or posts a picture of something that they shouldn’t.
In spite of our sins – for the sake of Jesus – God will not withdraw his support. He is in your corner.
When you are old.
When you are young.
Whether you’re fighting lust, holding back anger or working against subtle racism, God is in your corner.
God has your back.
Runaway: The Dead Plant
Brothers and sisters, how would you feel if myself or any pastor started a sermon like this: “Look at how many seats are filled today. Look at the crowd who has come to hear the word of the Lord. I am absolutely livid that there are so many people who think they have a right to be here in God’s presence!”
Brothers and sisters, I don’t really feel this way about you or about our Lord. Hopefully it struck you as absolutely un-Christian, and rightly so. But it’s pretty similar to what we’re about to hear. When we look at Jonah here in a minute, we better be offended at his attitude toward what happened. But before we start lining up to hurl rocks in his direction, we also better take a close look at our own hearts and make sure his attitude isn’t still alive and kicking within ourselves, showing itself in ways that aren’t so obvious and absurd.
So to start with, let’s go back to our final chapter of Jonah. It’s been a real up and down ride through his story so far, but we left off on a pretty high note last week. Things seemed to have turned around and come out well. In fact, it was a satisfying conclusion to the whole mess and would’ve made any modern Hollywood producer happy. Jonah had been called to come preach a message of repentance to the city of Nineveh. He ran away. God pursued him. Jonah gave up running and threw himself on God’s mercy, and God had mercy. God rescued him and brought him home to try again. And it looked like Jonah learned his lesson. He went to Nineveh and he preached the message. “40 more days and Nineveh will be overturned!” And in a miracle greater than the fish, the people listened. All of them, from the king down to the smallest child repented and called on God for mercy. And God relented. They would not be destroyed. Jonah’s work bore the kind of fruit we dream about. God’s mission through Jonah had succeeded.
And now in our last chapter, we finally get some psychological insight into what’s been driving Jonah this whole time. Up until now we’ve kind of had to guess what’s been going through his head as he acted. Now we get to see what’s really been going on. It is a shocking contrast when you come across it. Especially when you remember that these chapter and verse numbers we see in our Bibles are not something God gave us but just a human invention to help us find certain parts. So let’s ignore those numbers and just look at the flow of the account. We end up reading this, “When God saw what [the Ninevites] did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.”
What? You want to run that by me again Jonah? Your mission was an unprecedented, miraculous success, and you’re angry? In fact, if you’ll permit me, I’d like to take a moment to give you an insight into the original language here in the Hebrew of this line. It comes out much stronger. It’s not good English, but a literal read of the Hebrew might sound something like this, “But this was evil to Jonah, a great evil and it burned to him.” Do you see that? This didn’t just upset Jonah some, he literally felt that what God did for the Ninevites was evil. An utter miscarriage of justice we might say! And that last bit, “it burned to him.” This isn’t the kind of anger where you just sit kind of fuming quietly in the corner, this is the kind of angry where the blood floods your face and you get red and hot from it. He was foaming at the mouth furious over this.
We can just picture Jonah now, going through the streets, going through the city, proclaiming his message. And he notices a change. People are starting to wear that unbearable sackcloth. They’re shouting to the Lord begging mercy. They’re sitting in the dust praying relentlessly with tears in their eyes. And he knows what this means. They’re listening to God’s message. And he knows what’s coming next. Or more to the point, he knows what’s not coming next. He figures out that God is going to forgive these people instead of destroying them, and we can just imagine the scowl that clouds his face as he continues his mission.
Why? He tells God exactly why. At the end he prays to the Lord and says. “I told you, God, I told you this would happen! This is exactly what I was afraid of from the start. You wondered why I ran away so quickly when you called me the first time? This is why! I know you. You’re a compassionate God, you’re so slow to anger and quick to forgive. I knew if I came out here and warned these people, they’d show some kind of repentance and you’d change your mind and let them go. Haven’t you been paying attention? Don’t you know what these people have done? Haven’t you seen how violent and sexually immoral they are? They should be destroyed! Good riddance! But no, you had me come and warn them and since they feel sorry about it and apologized you’re going to let them off the hook without any repercussions. This is so infuriating I would rather be dead than see it.”
We can see now that Jonah didn’t run away at the beginning because he was afraid of persecution. He wasn’t afraid of the enormity of his task. He wasn’t intimidated by the work involved or by having to carry it out himself, alone against a half-million people. He wasn’t afraid to tell all those people they were bad people and were going to die for it. No, he was afraid that he would succeed. He was afraid that they would listen. He hated those godless Ninevites and the last thing he wanted was for them to be spared God’s wrath. So he ran the other direction. And we can see now that even when God turned him around and sent him back, he still didn’t want his mission to work. Even now, after God decides to relent, we will see he still hopes that maybe it’ll change back.
God is patient and compassionate, of course, and his response to Jonah is a simple, calming rebuke, “Do you have any right to be angry?” he asks.
Jonah apparently has no response to this. Instead, his appointed task complete, he storms out of the city like a pouting child leaving the room. And does he go home? Does he put this whole thing behind him and go back to his daily life? No. He feels so strongly about this that he goes out east of the city and finds a place where he can sit and look out at the city. Forty days wasn’t up yet. Maybe, just maybe God will change his mind back and wreck the place. He builds himself a little makeshift shelter. And he sits in the desert sun and he waits and he watches. He is so single-minded in wanting these people punished that his life is literally brought to a standstill by this.
God cares just as much about Jonah as the entire city of Nineveh, and so he prepares a unique object-lesson to help Jonah understand. As Jonah sits and watches, his little shelter of twigs and dried leaves doesn’t do a whole lot to keep out the beating sun, but then miraculously, a plant of some sort springs to life overnight and provides a shade. Much better. Jonah’s liking this. His anger subsides some and he just enjoys relaxing there. This plant is his new best friend. But then the next day something has eaten away at the root of the plant and it withers away just as quick as it showed up. The sun rises and a scorching wind tears across the sands, the temperature jumps about 20 degrees and sucks all the moisture out of the air and now Jonah starts to act again like a teenager who just got embarrassed by Mom or Dad at school. He’s so angry that the plant is gone that he says he’d rather be dead than live without it.
Again God asks this question, “Do you have any right to be angry about this vine?”
We’re not at our rational best when we’re angry, so Jonah’s probably not thinking about his reply when he says, “I sure do! I’m so angry I could die!”
And the Lord, in love, drops the truth on Jonah. “Jonah you’re angry about the loss of this vine, right? But why? You had nothing invested in it. You didn’t tend to it. You didn’t make it grow. You didn’t raise it from a seedling. In fact, it was here one day and gone the next. And yet look at how important it was to you. A plant that lasted a day. Now turn back around and look at this city. People. Human souls. There are more than a hundred and twenty thousand children just in that city, never minding adults. People I created. Souls I care for. I raised them all. I caused them all to grow. And you want to be angry that I just didn’t wipe them out because I had an excuse to? Consider how precious they are to me. Instead of looking for a reason to punish them, shouldn’t I look for any reason to pardon them? Shouldn’t I look for any reason to forgive them?”
The story of Jonah ends here. And if we’re not careful, we can walk away from it thinking that this is a cautionary tale of one guy with a bad attitude who learned a lesson we already know. And yeah, I’m guessing not one of us has ever gotten so furious at the evil of a city that you went and sat out and watched to see if God would wipe it off the face of the earth (though maybe that fantasy occurred to you). No, to really watch ourselves for Jonah’s attitude we have to backpedal all the way to the start of the story. The word of the Lord came to Jonah and said, “Go preach against Nineveh.” Go and tell the Ninevites exactly about their evil and how I as God feel about it so they have a chance to change their ways and be saved. Jonah didn’t want them saved. Jonah didn’t think they deserved to be saved. So he went the other way.
Do we do this? Perhaps not literally run from the Lord but do we just ignore the same command he gives us? Do we treat someone differently because we have determined they’re not worth it? By God’s grace I should hope we’re never as overt about it as Jonah, but I know my own heart and I think if any of us are sitting here today thinking “I’ve never judged myself to be better than someone else,” then we’re lying to ourselves. We always do this. In many different ways. But before we wrap up this morning let’s look at first the root of where this attitude tends to come from and then at what God gives us to fight against it.
Like I said, this attitude of Jonah can manifest in many ways. Maybe we just don’t tell someone about Jesus because we don’t think they’re worth it, because we want them punished for what they’ve done. Usually it’s even more subtle than that. Maybe we’re just indignant that someone we know is forgiven at all. They come in here, unkempt, disrespectful, fresh from a life of blatant sin and they smile when God says they’re forgiven and we’re upset that this is it. Where’s the lesson learned? Where’s the guilt and shame poured out for a while? Where’s the consequences?
Okay I could keep going, but the point is, where does this all come from? Where did it come from in Jonah? It comes from a false sense of self-worth. You think you’re better than the other person. Again, you’d probably never say or even think those words as such. But the attitude is there. I deserve to have God save me because I’m worth it. I take my faith seriously. I try really hard for him. I’m a good person that God should be glad to have on his side unlike those slackers over there.
And at the same time, like Jonah, we are undervaluing the lives, the souls of those others. Rather than treasuring them and wanting them saved by any means possible, we’re more concerned with justice and fairness. And humanly speaking, maybe we’d be on to something.
But let’s balance this value-equation. Let’s consider our value, and their value. Do you know the answer to this question, “What is something worth?” Let me say that again in a different way, “How do you know what something, anything is worth?” You might think that’s a nonsense question that can’t have a real answer, but it does have one. A thing is worth what someone else is willing to pay for it.
Now as you consider your value on your own, as you consider the value of those we try to devalue, look to the cross and balance the equation. God himself became a human being so he could go in your place. Your own sin, your own lack of value meant God had to make up that worth himself. He had to pay for you. How much did he have to pay to bring you up to an acceptable level? Look at the cross. It was the blood of God himself. God himself had to suffer and die to complete your worth. I should hope that gives you insight into how worthless you are to start with.
But now consider it from the other side. How valuable are you to God? How much was he willing to pay for you? He was willing to pay for you in his own blood. And the same is true of that other soul you would like to consider yourself above. He or she is worth the blood of God. And before we start to devalue the blood of God saying something like “well, sure but that was a once for all shot. Jesus dying included everybody no matter who they were.” Sure, that’s true. But that’s because we are all equal sinners. If you and you alone were the only one who ever sinned, Jesus still would have done it. If that person we’re tempted to look down on was the only one who ever needed it, Jesus still would have done it.
Brothers, sisters, I call you that because that’s what you are to me. We are family in Christ, each equally important, each equally valued. Each soul out there is equally in need of the same salvation we have come to know. When we find ourselves struggling with that equality, when we start to think ourselves above or better than someone else, more deserving of God’s love and salvation, look back at that great equalizer; the cross. Remember what about you drove Christ there. Remember why he went anyway. He loves you. He treasures you. May that same love show itself through you to others in everything you do. Amen.
Family Matters: Anger Issues
It’s been an eventful week. Three separate shootings – in Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Dallas -- have captured the attention and the anger of our nation.
There have been protests against police and protests for the police.
Angry words on Facebook; angry videos on YouTube.
Anger at the police. Anger at racism. Anger at the media. Anger at the shooters.
Anger at white people. Anger at black people.
Anger at each other.
Originally this was going to be a series entirely on anger within a family – and I still plan on mentioning it – but the unfortunate events of the past week have left me convinced we need to examine this at a greater level. We need to examine this as a diverse family of God. If we want to continue living, growing, and serving North Raleigh together as a diverse community of believers – we need to discuss how God’s Word wants us to deal with anger – especially when it comes as the result of seemingly racist events.
Today we’re going to do three things:
(1) discuss the root of anger
(2) examine how God dealt with his anger
(3) learn how God wants us to express anger
Ready? Let’s pray to God and ask his blessing on this difficult discussion.
Strengthen us O Lord by the truth; your Word is truth. Remove our anger and hatred from our perceptions, O God. Instead, 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 want us to believe. Amen.
I. Getting to the Root of Anger
Our study of anger actually starts in John 2.
John 2 is very interesting. In it, there is yelling and shouting. Some people are waving their hands in desperation. Others are taking cover. The sheep are bleating. The cattle are stampeding. Money is being tossed to the ground; Tables are being flipped in the air. A whip is cracking and keeping all who were trying to stop the mayhem at bay.
It almost kinda sounds like an out of control protest.
But it’s not.
It’s Jesus...sweet, kind, mild mannered, turn the other cheek and let children come to him, Jesus.
(John 2:14-15) In the temple courts, Jesus found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of the cords and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.
It’s one of the most interesting sections in the Bible. At first glance, it appears Jesus was in the wrong. He lost his temper and was seemingly violent.
But…Jesus is without sin. He’s God. Scripture is clear on that. 1 John 3:5 says, “In Jesus, there is no sin.” 2 Cor. 5:21 says, “Jesus… had no sin.’ 1 Peter calls him “a lamb without blemish or defect.”
And if what Jesus did was sinful here, He couldn’t have died for our sins. He would have had to die for his own sins. As it is, he rose from the dead proving that he didn’t sin – not any other time in his life – and not here either.
Reexamine the situation. The people at the temple had been using the temple to worship God. Right outside the doors of church – in the outer hallway – were all kinds of sellers and money changers (like a flea market in church). People were bartering and making sales. Customers were shouting at poor prices. Sellers were driving up the market. Greed and deception were replacing worship and meditation. These sellers were distracting people from the truth of Scripture. They were leading them from faith to unbelief.
They were distracting people to hell.
Can you understand why Jesus’ was angry? (Not wanting people in hell sounds like a righteous reason to me.)
Follow the logic then:
Jesus was angry.
Jesus was sinless.
Anger isn’t sinful.
So: Anger isn’t sinful; therefore I can be as angry as I want and it isn’t sinful.
Is that true? Can our anger be totally, completely righteous -
With God? Absolutely.
With humans? Probably not.
Ephesians 4:22 says this, “Put off your old self which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires.” That’s an interesting phrase. Deceitful – as in – seems good, but isn’t. As in, seems righteous, but really isn’t.
I think that if ever there was a righteous reason to be angry, people not attending church to worship God seems like a perfect example of righteous anger. As a pastor – that’s a very common feeling. At about 3 in the afternoon as I’m going through attendance, I get angry that there weren’t more people there and I feel really righteous in that anger. I think, "Aren't I awesome God?"
But can I let you in on a secret? The devil loves to deceive pastors. He loves to deceive me. Too often my righteous anger isn’t, “because I’m concerned for spiritual welfare,” or “because God’s Word is at the bottom of your list, “ but, “God, I’m angry that these guys are making me look bad! You’re making me feel like an inadequate pastor. You’re making me feel unimportant.”
In other words – my anger looks righteous (I can even convince myself that it is) but that’s deceptive. In reality, my anger is selfish. Tainted by sin.
HERE’S THE TRUTH: Even the “righteous” anger of sinful humans is tainted by sin. It has to be.
Oranges produces orange juice. Apples produce apple juice. Avocados produces avocados juice.
Sinful humans produces sinful ways of looking at things.
This means – at the outset of your anger – whatever it is – even for the most righteous reasons – it will be tainted.
So. Stop and think about your anger. Is it righteous?
I’m angry that you didn’t take out the garbage – not because you are shirking responsibility, but because I’m going to have to get off of the couch and do it!
I’m angry that you spent all of our money in the budget, not because it’s bad stewardship of what God has given us, but because that’s not how I wanted to spend it.
I’m angry that my kids are disrespecting me, not because it means they are sinning, but because it makes me feel bad about my parenting!
I’m angry at the death of the police officers because I’m white. I don’t really have the same sadness over the death of the Mr. Sterling because “he probably deserved it.”
I’m angry at the death of those black men because I’m black; but I’m not angry at the loss of the policemen – because they’re jerks and they deserve it!
I’m angry at my friends who are insinuating that it’s hard to be a black person in America – not because it’s not true, but because it makes me feel bad as a white guy. (And I don’t like feeling bad.)
I’m angry at my friend who is sharing her anger about her cause, because I don’t think it’s important as my anger at this cause!
And so it goes.
And anger leads to more anger.
And the world is at war.
And the devil wins.
And angers divide his people.
And deceptive angers divides the family of God.
And here’s the thing, when you’re sinfully angry with others, God gets angry with you. Romans 1:8 says, “the Wrath of God is being revealed against all the godlessness and wickedness of people.”
He’s mad when you shout at your spouse, because you are harming your spouse, his child.
He’s mad when you call your brother names, because you are harming your brother, his child.
He’s mad when you tell mom that you “hate her,” because you are harming your mom, his child.
He’s mad when you call a person of a different race derogatory names, because you are harming His children.
He’s mad when you post nasty message on the wall of a friend who disagrees with you because you are harming His child.
He’s mad when you refuse to listen to a brother or sister from another culture tell you some of the struggles they are going through because you are sending a message of “I don’t care,” to someone he cares very much about – His child!
Ultimately, he’s mad at all of these racial anger driven sins, because just like other sins, they separate God from another one of his children...
II. How God Deals with Anger
So…How does God deal with anger against you?
This is a picture of a punching bag. They are these big old bags. Heavy and hard to move with a soft outer padding to absorb any and every attack that hits it. You can hit it as hard as you want and it doesn’t scream. It doesn’t shout. No one gets hurt. It absorbs every last ounce of your anger.
This is what God did with His wrath. He absorbed it. But not with a punching bag. Not with a pillow. Not even with a little sister.
He absorbed his own wrath with himself.
Romans 5:9 says this, “We shall be saved from God’s wrath through Jesus!” Because Jesus took the brunt of God’s wrath. He took a nail in his right hand; and a nail in his left. He took a spear in his side; he took his last breath. Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me? (Mark 15:34) ” as the Triune God splintered Himself from Himself. The Father dumped his wrath against sin on his son and Jesus died.
But He came back to life. He rose because God’s wrath had been fully absorbed in his sacrifice and was no more.
It means that by faith in Jesus, God’s wrath against any racist anger has dissipated.
It means that by faith in Jesus, you will not be punished.
It means that by faith in Jesus, you will not suffer God’s anger against your sins.
You are forgiven. God’s wrath has dissipated. He won’t retaliate or get revenge. In fact, he’s protecting you because you are at peace with him.
III. WHAT NOW?
Take a look at Ephesians 4:24 “You were taught…to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Ever been to the beach? If you have, then you know the beach loves to come home with you. It’ll be stuck between your toes, in your ears, and in your shoes. It’ll get in your car, on the floor, and in your seat. Three weeks later you may even find some in your ears. It’s really uncomfortable.
So what is a beach goer to do? Take a shower. Then, put on new clothes! Don’t put on your sandy clothes. That would make the shower worthless. Put on new clothes and remain clean.
Do the same spiritually. God has washed you clean from your angry, sinful past. He removed it from every part of you. From your clenched fists to your gnashing teeth, from your spiteful thoughts to hateful heart, God has washed you clean.
Put on the new self. The selfish, angry way? That’s the sinful way of the past way. God has made you new and he wants you to follow a new way in dealing with anger. Ephesians teaches us about this new self:
(1) In your Anger Don’t Sin
In verse 22 Paul says this, “In your anger, do not sin.” It’s an interesting statement. It means that if you had a 100% pure, completely absolutely righteous in every way reason to be angry (tough as that might be) – you still need to be careful and not sin.
Say your brother upsets you. What are some sinful ways to let out anger against him? Punch him. Call him a name. Break his stuff. Tell them you “hate them.” Refuse to talk to him.
Remember God’s reaction to his anger? He suffered bitterly on the cross to make everything right between you two again. God was angry, but channeled that anger into a loving action.
Do the same. Channel your anger into a loving action. Talk about it. Write a note about it. Consult God’s Word about it. Pray about it. If you are really angry, pray really hard about it until your emotional anger lessens.
The result? There’s not another sin for anyone to get angry at. Emotions fade. That’s a good thing.
(2) Get Rid of Footholds
Ephesians 4:27 says this, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry and do not give the devil a foothold." Footholds are for climbing; festering anger allows the devil to climb right into your life and destroy your family.
He can do it with the smallest thing. Like a tube of toothpaste. As in, it makes you angry that your spouse leaves the cap off to make it “easier” to get to. It might seem like a minor annoyance at first, but over time…day after day of putting the cap back on – day after day of muttering under your breath…day after day of storing up anger – until the devil climbs up these tiny footholds of minty freshness and BOOM! Anger! Shouting! Destruction!
Don’t let it get that far. Talk about the point of tension as soon as possible.
This is true with your friends of a different race. If you let your anger get the best of you and you can feel the tension between you – you need to talk about it. Invite them out for coffee. Meet them at the gym. Message them on Facebook.
(3) Be Kind and Compassionate
And when you do talk about it? Do so in a Godly manner. Ephesians 4:31-32 says this, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another.”
The natural impulse is to pick up your weapons of anger in order to defend yourself. Be bitter to defend yourself against the bitterness of others. Be filled with rage as a defense mechanism against feeling bad that someone might have a legitimate beef with you.
But God says, put those sharp weapons away. Instead get out kindness – which seems a lot like bringing a pillow to a sword fight.
But remember: That’s how God dealt with anger! Remember? He laid down his wrath. He went to the cross. He absorbed His wrath. He absorbed your sins. Because that’s what kindness and compassion does. It absorbs wrath. It absorbs anger. It absorbs bitterness.
Even when it comes to race.
We need compassion right now. The media says the opposite. It says you should arm yourself with anger and fighting words -- ready to defend yourself. Rage in one hand – malice in the other. Ready for any attack against me and my color/me and my culture.
Put that away. Listen to their fears. Listen to their concerns. Consider – just for a moment – that your brother or sister in Christ – may have very different experiences from you and very real feelings about those experiences. Listen and be compassionate.
When you are listening with kindness and compassion, you’ll notice something:
That terror in the sound of the Alton Sterling’s wife -- it sounds very similar to the raw emotion in the voice of Nina—a wife of a slain Dallas cop.
The fear in the voice of the black man at the protest is very similar to the fear in the voice of the young cop protecting the protest.
The sadness in the voice of your friend is very similar to yours.
And when you realize that -- you’ll also realize that you have the answer -- the same answer that calms your fears -- the same answer that gives you peace - the same answer that settles your anger: