It is 2020 and perhaps you’ve submitted your New Year’s Resolutions.
Exercise 3x per week.
Read more books.
Watch less Netflix.
Drink less coffee.
I just resolved to drink MORE coffee.
I’m telling you so that you can hold me accountable.
Sometimes people have spiritual resolutions.
Connect more with God.
Find inner peace.
Pray more often.
How many have BE MORE ACTIVE IN CHURCH as part of their resolutions?
According to a 2017 PEW Research poll, (www.perform.org/religious-landscape-study):
71% of Americans claim to believe in God.
56% think that religion is important.
58% pray daily.
That doesn’t sound horrible.
When it comes to religious service attendance….
Only 36% attend on a weekly basis.
And when you remove the non-Christian versions of those…
The number is even lower.
Maybe 15% of Americans in ‘church’ on a weekly basis.
Why so low?
Why such a low view of “the church?”
A big part of the answer lies in misconceptions about church.
This morning out goal is use the Bible to answer the question WHY CHURCH. Because, church is a GIFT from God. But before we do that, 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. WHY Church
Before we get going, it’s important to define church, because the word “church” has at least three definitions:
1. A building (brick and mortar)
2. A corporation (See: “Church, Inc.” or “Gethsemane Church”)
3. A group of believers.
It’s that third definition that is the Biblical definition of church, because it is that third definition that brings about definitions 1 and 2.
And one of the greatest Biblical texts on church is found in Hebrews 10. Hebrews is a letter written shortly after the time of Jesus that connected Jesus to the Old Testament. And in chapter 10, it begins with a comparison of Old Testament and New Testament “priests.”
Look at verse 11 (In the case of Old Testament worship), every priest stood ministering day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which are never able to remove sin. (v.11)
The priest, an old testament version of pastor, attended a religious ceremony each day. He’d wake up, dress up in priestly garments, walk to the local temple, and begin his daily religious ceremonies.
One key ceremony was sacrifice. People would bring with them whatever animals they could afford: a ram, a goat, a bird, 0r a lamb. The priest would then take that lamb and sacrifice it on the altar to “atone for the sin of whoever brought.”
But here’s the thing. People sinned a lot. Sometimes on the way home from the temple.
“Hi Jehoiachin, what did you bring me today?”
“Hello priest. I brought a small dove to pay for my sin of lust. The next-door neighbor is very beautiful, and I couldn’t help myself.”
“Very well. I’ll take this dove and sacrifice it for your sins.”
2 minutes later.
“Yes, Jehoiachin why are you back so soon?”
“Yes, um. Sorry. Here’s another dove. I was on the way out and – another beautiful woman. My apologies.”
1 minute later.
“Jehoiachin!?! Another woman?”
“No. This time I just stubbed my toe on the corner rock and said some words I shouldn’t. Anyways…I’m out of birds. Do you take VISA?”
These priests offered the same sacrifices again and again.
But here’s the kicker:
These sacrifices can never take away sin.
All that sacrifice.
All that time.
All that repetition and religious ceremony.
None of it did anything.
It never took away any sin.
It never removed guilt.
It never removed actual shame before God.
Church isn’t FOR SACRIFICE
Sometimes we can be tempted to look at church like that.
I need to sacrifice some time this Sunday to make up for the time I spent overdrinking during the holidays.
I need to sacrifice some money this Sunday to make up for the money I spent on materialism this Christmas.
I need to sacrifice some energy this Sunday to make up for the energy I spent arguing with my spouse over New Year’s.
These “sacrifices” can NEVER take away sin.
These “sacrifices” can NEVER take away guilt.
These “sacrifices” can NEVER take away shame.
You can never sacrifice anything to pay for your sins.
But if sacrificing in the Old Testament didn’t take away sins, why did God command it?
Check out verse 12:
(A different) priest, after he offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God.
Do you get it?
Old Testament sacrifice never took away sin.
They simply pointed forward to the priest who would.
Church exists because GOD SACRIFICED for us.
That one priest is Jesus!
He made a sacrifice for us – for our sins…
For you – for your sins.
But if you remember the story of Jesus, there isn’t ever a story about him putting on priestly garments and entering the temple to sacrifice an animal.
He did things much differently than your common priest.
(1) He Sacrificed HIMSELF
This is truly different than any other priest.
Because there was never a priest that ever went up to the altar and said, “OK. Today, I think I’ll take my own life for the sake of Joe Schmo.”
But Jesus did.
In fact, the Bible calls Jesus the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
He is priest and Lamb.
The one who demands payment and the one who pays.
Sacrifice-er and sacrifce-ee.
But that’s why it worked! It wasn’t just the blood of some random animals, but the blood of God himself.
(2) He Sacrificed ONCE.
The Old Testament priest went home at the end of the day. They took off their bloody clothes, placed them in the wash, and went to bed only to do the same thing the very next day.
When Jesus was done with his sacrifice, he sat down at God’s right hand. (v.12) He never sacrificed again.
This means the payment was complete. You sin has been paid for.
Whatever you did wrong in 2019.
No matter how many times you did it.
No matter how big it was.
No matter how guilty you still feel about it.
Jesus paid for all your sins in 2019.
And for all your sins in 2018.
And for 2000—however many years you’ve been alive before that.
He paid for all your past sins and…
He has paid for all your coming sins.
(3) He Sacrificed FOR ALL TIME
Because look at what it says next;
Since then he has been waiting until his enemies are made a footstool under his feet. By only one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being sanctified. (v.13-14)
Notice Jesus isn’t up and ready to be a sacrifice for your 2020 sins.
Because Jesus’ one sacrifice has eternal value.
You don’t need to go into 2020 with absolute terror of sinning again.
Newsflash – you will.
Not that it is our goal to sin, it isn’t. God love empowers us to love others and fight sin.
When you do sin…
Do not despair.
When you do sin…
Simply look to the same Savior you looked to in 2019.
In Jesus, you have forgiveness.
And in Jesus, you will always have forgiveness.
Friends, this is the reason we are the church.
Church is not something that you need to FEAR.
Nor it is something that you need to do out of FEAR.
Rather it’s something Christ made us so we wouldn’t FEAR.
And something we participate in because we have no reason to FEAR.
II. Blessings of Church
But it doesn’t stop there. Because God gives us blessings through his gift of church.
(1) Access to God
Check out verse 19, “Brothers, we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place through the blood of Jesus. It is a new and living way he opened for us through the curtain, that is, his flesh.”
In the Old Testament, worship the temple area was separated into various parts.
There was the courtyard where people could enter with sacrifices.
There was a special area called the Holy Place where only priests could enter on behalf of the people.
And there was the Most Holy Place that only one High Priest could enter once a year.
To emphasize this, the Most Holy Place was even separated from the rest of the temple by thick heavy curtains.
God’s is MOST HOLY.
As a result, we sinful people could never commune with Him.
Do you know what happened when Jesus died on the cross?
The Bible says this:
The curtain of the temple was torn in two. (Matthew 15:38)
God’s holy requirements were gone.
The sin that separates unholy humans from Holy God has been removed.
Church is one of the ways God does that.
Because church is where we hear his Word.
Church is where we gather around sacraments.
Church is where God communes with us, whether it’s here in our worship space or around a round table for Growth Group at Starbucks.
We have access to God thanks to Jesus and that’s an amazing reason to be a part of church.
Because can you imagine if you were given high clearance, top secret government clearance to walk into a top-secret government agency?
Like FBI Headquarters or maybe Area 51. Wouldn’t you love to go?
The same thing has happened with God.
God has given you an all access pass to Him.
You don’t need a secret code.
You don’t need to put your fingerprints on file.
There isn’t a retina scanner out front. (Mostly because we can’t pay for it)
You have access to this group where God speaks to his people.
(2) A Clean Conscience
Verse 22 continues, “Let us approach with a sincere heart, in the full confidence of faith, because our hearts have been sprinkled to take away a bad conscience, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.”
Because it is so easy for the devil to get into our heads.
To tell us, “You used to be able to be near God, but you sinned this past week.”
“You did bad.”
“You did wrong.”
“You’re too guilty to be a part of church.”
But do you know why the devil wants you to believe that?
Because church is a place where God removes that guilt.
Where a pastor preaches a sermon with the conclusion, “Thanks to Jesus! We have forgiveness.”
Where a song points out: “Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
Where a friend quietly listens to your confession, grabs you by the hand, looks you in the eye and says, “Jesus died. Jesus rose. In him, you are forgiven.”
(3) A Strengthened Grip on Hope
Verse 23 says this, “Let us hold on firmly to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful.”
Because life is like driving a go-kart on a bumpy road. Have you ever tried that? The bumps, the divots, the gravel can make for a rough ride so much that you aren’t able to keep a steady, straight line as you travel. If you want to keep on course, you have to grip the steering wheel very tightly to make sure that you stay straight.
It’s the same way in life.
Bumps come in many forms.
And all of these bumps threaten to throw you off course.
And lose your grip on your hope.
But in the church, God gives you others who can help you steer for a bit.
Who can give you hope.
Who can say things like:
“I know this is tough, but God is still the victor. Stay faithful.”
“God has your back brother. Can I pray for you?”
“As hard as it is now, God promises he will take you home to heaven and I know that’s what he’s going to do.”
(4) Spurring Buddies
I’ve got a new workout group that I’m a part of and the current trainer has developed all kinds of ways to keep me active.
She spurs me on with emails: “Here’s the workouts for the week. Can’t wait to see you there!”
She spurs me on with Facebook group messages: “Workout tomorrow. Better be there.”
She spurs me on with text messages: “Hey Phil! Haven’t seen you for a while. Did you trade your dumbbells in for a bag of Doritos?”
She spurs me on with text messages from other trainers: “Hey Phil! Your trainer said I should message you to get you back in the gym. You in?”
At some point, I go back to the gym. Sometimes because I’m encouraged. Other times because I’m annoyed.
Both times? The result is a good thing.
In church, we do the same thing for each other spiritually. The exact phrase from Scripture is found in verse 24. It says, “Let us also consider carefully how to spur each other on to love and good works.”
Because on the one hand, you might be having a hard time being nice to a particular coworker. But then you hear a sermon on “Kindness,” someone mentions being kind to coworkers as an answer in Growth Group, and another church friend keeps putting “being a light” photographs on Instagram.
You’re spurred on to good works.
And vice versa!
Church isn’t just a place for you to be spurred on to good works, but a place where you spur others on to good works.
It happened not that long ago. Someone was super excited to say they had just invited a friend to Christmas worship.
And, feeling proud and sinfully vain, I thought: “Oh, they listened to my sermon…Hmmm.”
But this person said:
“It wasn’t even your sermon. I just heard another church member talking about doing it and it spurred me on to try it myself.”
But do you get it?
Prayerfully, I might give some encouragement in a sermon.
But prayerfully, you’re giving encouragement too.
(5) Preparation for the Day
God’s Word says, “Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have the habit of doing. Rather, let us encourage each other, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (v.25)
Because it’s easier to prepare for something with others.
It’s always easier to prepare a New Year’s celebration with others helping you. Together you can put up streamer decorations, turn on the live broadcast of the Acorn, cook some of those little hot dogs, and spending hours cutting out little pieces of construction paper to throw as confetti (and about 10 seconds actually tossing it).
It’s the same things for the Day!
Here’s the thing about The Day.
And by The Day, I mean, Judgment Day.
And by Judgment Day, I mean, when Jesus either ends your life on this earth or when Jesus returns to end all life on earth.
It’s easier to stay prepared for Jesus with others surrounding you.
In fact, it’s almost necessary!
That’s why God tells us to “not neglect meeting together, as some have the habit of doing. But to encourage each other, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Don’t think you’re the one person in the history of the world that’s going to be able to hold onto faith by yourself.
That’s foolish and in direct contradiction to what God is telling you here today.
And it may very well result in you not be prepared—at all.
Let us not give up meeting together.
Let us encourage one another.
And all the more as the day approaches!
It’s why CHURCH needs to be on your New Year’s Resolution.
Because church is a lot like charcoal.
There’s the story of a man who used to be a part of a church but had stopped coming for months on end. He wouldn’t answer phone calls. He wouldn’t answer email. He wouldn’t answer text messages. Finally, the pastor got into his car and went to see him.
The man saw the pastor as he approached the house, so he went to the front door to greet him.
“It’s fine pastor. You can come in, but I know why you’re here. And let me tell ya – it won’t work. I’m not coming back to church.”
The pastor simply nodded and listened as he sat next to the man’s fireplace.
“I won’t come back because someone was mean to me.”
The pastor grabbed the fire poker.
“He didn’t apologize, and no one came to get me.”
The pastor stirred the coals.
“Besides, I don’t think staying home hurts me…”
The pastor moved a single coal away from the other coals.
The man stopped talking.
Together they watched as that single coal started to fade.
To grow dim.
To stop burning.
“I’ll be there this Sunday,” the man said.
This is the gift of church.
A place where God lights a fire of faith in our hearts.
A place where we help each other keep that faith burning. Amen.
There’s a lot of different kinds of soap.
Irish spring soap.
Soap in the shape of little flowers.
Soap in the shape of cartoon characters.
Soap that’s big and manly (and smells of rich mahogany).
Over our sermon series, we’ve discussed the spiritual mess of sin. We talked about what it is, where it comes from and how serious it is. Today we want to talk about how to clean it -- what kind of spiritual soap should we use. Before we do that, 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 Wrong Kind of Soap
The Scripture for today is from the book of Isaiah. Isaiah was a prophet who lived 700 years before Jesus. He wrote this down at a time when the people of Israel had made a mess of their spiritual relationship with God. They had sinned by disobeying God. It had come from their hearts. They were in danger of spiritual death as a result of it.
But Israel wasn’t unaware of it. In fact, they had been taking actions to clean up their acts.
They had been attending worship.
They had been offering sacrifices.
They had been bringing offerings.
They did this in order to clean up their sinful mess.
But was it working?
Look at God’s response through the Prophet Isaiah:
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices--
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
Old Testament worship was very different from our worship of today.
Instead of bringing your offering in your wallet, purse, or iPhone, you’d bring it on a leash.
Instead of this pleasant altar with clean linens pressed upon it, there was a blood-stained altar with pieces of animal flesh hanging off the edges.
Instead of the beautiful music of organ or guitar, there was the loud, pained bleating of dying goats.
Instead of the nice smell of floral arrangements and morning coffee, there was the smell of burning and rotten corpses.
The reason the Israelites worshipped like this was that God had commanded it. In the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, you can still read about how God commanded that his people worship by offering sacrifices. The reason he did this was to impress upon his people the harsh reality that the wages of sin was death. (Because blood equals death.)
So, the Israelites sacrificed.
They sacrificed and assumed that the animal sacrifice would clean up their sins.
They were wrong.
Sin cannot be cleaned by ANIMAL SACRIFICES
And maybe you’re thinking “duh”. But remember this was the Old Testament version of worship. This is what they were used to. It was the way that they worshipped. In fact, I wonder if the Israelites might have thought that Isaiah was just telling them they had bad form!
Should the altar be relocated to the front right?
Is that the wrong kind of knife for the job?
Maybe we should be using penguins instead of lambs?
But the problem wasn’t the type of worship. It was that they thought their worship could clean them from sin.
Look at what God says next:
When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? (v.12) Can you believe that? God’s calling all the people coming to worship tramplers. As if he’s shaking his fist and shouting: “Get off my lawn!”
Stop bringing meaningless offerings! (v.13a) Whether the offering was an animal or some money or their latest supply of corn. It was meaningless. Even if they brought the best crop of corn they have ever grown: NC State Fair, best in show, blue ribbon corn – that corn couldn’t remove sin.
Your incense is detestable to me. (v.13b) It doesn’t smell like the sweet aroma of calamus and lily of the valley, but it still smells like the greed in your heart from work yesterday.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations-- These were special ceremonies. Special gatherings. Extra ceremonies and extra gatherings. The Israelites would come to worship on more than just one day a week.
Yet, God says: I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. (v.13c-14)
Did you hear that?
God is calling all these extra religious festivals and extra religious activities, a burden.
As if God looks at his watch on a Sabbath and says “Aw man! There’s worship in 5 minutes? Ugh. Not again…”
Is this a strange section of Scripture?
Why is God upset with their worship?
Why was he upset with this religious activity?
Check out verse 15:
When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!
A helpful note:
The Old Testament stance for prayer was to spread your legs apart, to raise your hands above your head, and open your hands towards God. The message this stance conveyed was “Dear God, hear my prayer.”
God said he wasn’t looking.
God said he wasn’t listening.
God said he wasn’t looking or listening because when they reached their hands up towards his heavenly throne, their hands were a mess.
They were filled with blood.
And he’s not talking about animal blood.
He’s talking about sin.
Sin cannot be cleaned by RELIGIOUS ACTIVITY.
It didn’t work for Old Testament Israel.
It doesn’t work for us.
If you think that your attendance today will wash away your sin…
If you think that the angle at which you bow your head for prayer will clean your soul…
If you think that the decibel at which you sing the upcoming hymns will knock lose sin from your heart…
If you think that because you do a certain kind of worship that kind of worship is designated to clean sin unlike any other kind of worship…
If you think that the offering you put in the plate will pay for your guilt….
If you think that the talent you display in serving will distract God from your shame…
If you think that the time you put in at 1100 Newton Road will counterbalance the time you put it sinning…
God still sees the greed all over your hands.
God still hears the words that you let out against your spouse.
God still sees the fingers that typed away to the latest porn site.
God still sees the finger that shot up in rage at your coworker.
Religious activity cannot wash away sin.
What then do we need to do?
Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. (v.16-17)
Instead of worrying about the cleanliness of your Sunday clothing; worry about the cleanliness of your heart.
Instead of taking a coin out of your pocket; take sin out of your life.
Instead of doing worship; just do good.
Figure out some way to remove all the guilt that you’ve amassed in your life up to this point.
Then, you’ll be clean.
Does this message from God leave anyone else in a panic?
This sounds impossible.
Because it is.
Here’s the truth:
Sin cannot be cleaned by YOU.
This is the truth God was impressing on the Israelites: They were worshiping with the idea that their worship would remove their sin.
This is the truth God is impressing on you. If you are worshiping God with the idea that YOU worshiping will remove your sins, you’re wrong.
In fact, if you are trusting that your worship is the key to your forgiveness.
It’s not only wrong.
II. The Right Kind of Soap
Then, what is the right kind of spiritual soap?
Check out what God says next: “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (v.18)
Did you see it? This is the part of the Scripture where God tells us how to clean our heart.
Don’t miss it.
It’s extremely important.
What does God tell us to do.
He doesn’t tell us to do anything to clean our sins, because there isn’t anything we can do to clean our sins.
But he still says our sins will be clean.
Because of him.
Sin is cleaned by OUR LORD.
It’s only fall, but briefly. Let’s talk about snow. The first snowfall is so very beautiful. The crisp, white flakes cover up everything in a nice, pristine blanket of white. In fact, if you look outside after a fresh snow fall you can’t see anything but snow.
Gone is the muddy area where grass wasn’t growing out back.
Gone is the pile of leaves that your kids forgot to clean up.
Gone are the piles of yuck that your dogs left behind.
Gone is the garbage.
Gone is the trash.
Gone is the oil spill from your nephew’s car.
All the gross is gone. Covered up by the clean snow.
That’s what God does to your sins.
They are covered.
White as snow.
Imagine you had a pair of wool socks. And as you wore those socks, tripped on a rock. In fact, you hit that rock so hard that you opened up the skin on your toe. It bled. Suddenly, your socks became crimson, the color of blood.
Blood is a tough stain to get out. It’s deep. It’s red. It’s obvious. You can’t hide it very well at all and you might not ever be able to get it out. Unless… you use the right kind of detergent. The right kind of bleach can do the miraculous. It can remove the blood red stain and leave behind nothing but wool.
As if the stain never existed.
That’s what God does to your sins.
They have been removed.
White as wool.
How does God cleanse us from the stain of sin?
Is it some divine form of bleach?
Does it involve a long soak in holy water?
Does he just use a bunch of holy elbow grease?
Take a look at Hebrews 11. It’s a New Testament book written after Jesus that makes a connection to Old Testament worship. It says:
The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ…cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death. (v.13-14)
Do you get it?
In the Old Testament, animal sacrifices never cleansed anyone’s sin.
But these sacrifices foreshadowed a sacrifice that would.
TRUTH: Sin is cleansed by JESUS’ BLOOD.
Jesus lived perfectly.
Jesus died innocently.
Jesus rose triumphantly.
As a result, the blood of Christ cleanses you from all acts that lead to death. (aka: sin)
Because of Jesus’ divine blood, the blood of sin on your hands has been removed.
Your heart is clean.
Your heart is pure.
Your heart is spotless because of the blood of the eternal lamb, Jesus Christ.
Of course, God need to connect us to this washing. And we can’t have a sermon on washing our souls clean without commenting on one very powerful way he connects us to the cleaning power of Jesus’ blood:
TRUTH: Sin is cleansed THROUGH BAPTISM.
Titus 3:5, “We were saved not because of the righteous things that we have done, but because of the washing with water through the Word.”
Baptism doesn’t look as impressive as the slaughtering of many sacrificial animals.
It’s just a little bit of water.
It’s just poured upon a head.
It looks like a regular old bath.
But it’s so much more.
Titus 3:5, ”we were saved not because of the righteous things that we have done, but because of the washing with water through the Word.”
That is baptism.
Baptism that washes.
It washes away our sins as it connects us to the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood.
III. What Now?
(1) Worship because you’ve been cleaned
Notice how that is phrased. It doesn’t say, “Worship in order to be clean,” but, “worship because you are clean.”
And you have been cleaned by Jesus’ Christ.
It’d be like if you had a party and the party left a big mess. Streamers everywhere. Drink glasses throughout. Birthday cake sprinkles all over the kitchen floor. Wrapping paper in the living room. And a spot of spit up from your young niece on the couch cushion.
And you lay down for a quick nap in order to get some energy to clean.
But when you wake up, it’s all done. Mom did it while you were sleeping. Everything’s clean: dusted, vacuumed, and picked up.
How do you react to that? With thanks!
It’s the same with Jesus.
We worship out of thanks for his forgiveness.
We worship out of thanks for the clean he left in our heart.
We worship out of thanks for the purity that he brought into our souls.
(2) Cherish Baptism
Baptism is one of the incredible ways God connects us to the powerful washing of his blood. So, we cherish it!
If you haven’t been baptized, cherish it – and be baptized.
If you have been baptized, cherish it – and thank God for your baptism.
Rather than an Old Testament sacrifice.
Baptism connects us to Jesus’ sacrifice.
Rather than something we do daily.
Baptism connects us to something Jesus did once.
Rather than something we hope might work.
Baptism connects us to Jesus’ death that worked completely.
Rather than leave you with bloody hands and a sinful heart.
Baptism leaves you with a wet head and a heart cleaned by your Savior.
So…You are clean.
We’re finishing up the sermon series all about the messiness of sin.
And maybe by the end of it you thought:
“Man, my sin has really made a mess.”
“My life’s a mess.”
“I’m a mess.”
If so, hear the message of today one last time:
Jesus cleans messes.
Jesus cleans your mess.
He doesn’t call you “Mess,” but, “clean.”
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.
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.
We are in the middle of our sermon series on Acts. In this series we have been to a lot of different places and learned a different lesson in each place. Today we’re getting a potpourri of lessons from one place and all on hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy comes from the Greek word “hypokrusis.” The word was used in Greek theater. It meant: “to play a part,” which, in Greek theater, often meant “wearing a mask.” It’s a part of theater still today – specifically known as the Marvel Big Screen.
Chris Evans dons a mask and becomes Captain America.
Chadwick Boseman dons a mask and becomes Black Panther.
Evangeline Lilly dons a mask and becomes The Wasp.
Hypocrisy, then, is when someone claims to be one thing, when they are not.
Before we begin our study of hypocrisy, 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. One Kind of Hypocrisy
The lesson from Acts 19 is the first big stop on Paul’s 3rd missionary journey. Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. (19:1a) Ephesus was the Capital of the Ancient province of Asia and a bustling commercial center. Paul had briefly been there at the end of the 2nd missionary journey. Before he left, he promised to return if God allowed. Paul’s appearance in chapter 19 is a fulfillment of that promise.
When Paul arrives, he finds some disciples. (v.1b) These men claimed to be followers of the Christ. Paul greets them pleasantly. (Maybe with some high fives, jokes about not having rocks thrown at him, and an invitation to go grab lunch at the local Smashburger).
As they are hanging out, Paul asks them some conversational questions:
What’s your favorite worship song?
What do you do to serve at the church?
Do you like your coffee dark or light roast?
Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? (v.2)
The Holy Spirit is absolutely in the heart of all believers. 1 Corinthians 12:3 says, “No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.” It’s simple. It’s clear. If you believe in Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit, because you need the Holy Spirit in order to believe.
But what Paul is talking about here is something different. Early in the history of the Christian church, during key faith-filled events, the Holy Spirit would visibly manifest his presence within a group of believers. This would serve to prove the truthfulness of the Gospel through miraculous signs. It happened at Pentecost (Acts 2) when tongues of fire appeared on the Apostles’ heads as they spoke in languages that they had never learned. It happened again in the house of the Roman Centurion Cornelius (Acts 10). In both instances, God was making it clear that this faith – and the message that this faith was placed in – was a very real and very divine message.
Paul’s question was about whether that had happened with them.
Did you get to speak in tongues?
Did fire appear on your heads?
Did you open your mouth and rainbows started shooting out?
The answer was a bit surprising:
“We hadn’t heard there was a Holy Spirit…” (v.3)
Paul responded, “Wait. What!?! You don’t know the Holy Spirit? He’s a key part of our teachings. He’s the one who brings us to faith. He’s the one who came down on Jesus like a dove. And Baptism! Haven’t you been baptized? Into whose name were you baptized? Because as far as I know…believers are baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the HOLY SPIRIT.”
The men responded, “We were baptized into John’s Baptism, into the name of the Christ who is going to come in the future.”
“OK… The Christ. Good. Did you know he has already come? Did you know he already did his Christ work? Did you know his name?”
And the men looked on at another, shrugged, and replied, “I don’t know…maybe…Bob?”
Divine forehead slap.
Here’s the truth: Sometimes hypocrisy comes from IGNORANCE.
It’s like the time I was at Buffalo Wild Wings and a lady near me was decked out in Tarheel gear as she watched them battle on the football field. A while later, the Tarheels had their quarterback sacked in the end zone. The woman stood up, clapped, and shouted, “Great job! Way to go.”
Until, her friends (also in Tarheel gear) motioned for her to sit down: “Stop cheering. That was a safety. That means its two points for the other team.”
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from IGNORANCE.
Yes, I’m a believer in Jesus…and I believe you can sleep with whomever you want. Does the Bible say differently?
Yes, my social profile says: “Christian”; I like all kinds of quotes from the Bible. Also quotes from the KKK. Is there something wrong?
Yes, I’m a Christian. I’ve been my whole life. But what do you mean when you are talking about salvation by grace? Never heard of it? I thought I’d get to heaven, simply because I was good enough….
Before you say, “But if someone doesn’t know, it’s no big deal.”
Remember that ignorant hypocrisy is still hypocrisy.
It’s still wrong.
If your son winds up and punches your little daughter in the face, you don’t say, “It’s ok. He didn’t know. Let him be.” No! You course correct immediately!
In the same way, it’s still wrong when we say we are followers of Jesus, but then do the opposite of followers of Jesus, even if we simply didn’t know followers of Jesus don’t do that.
There’s a simple cure for this kind of hypocrisy. It’s called knowledge. That’s what Paul gave these men. He said to them in verse 4, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”
Jesus is the Christ.
He lived perfectly when you couldn’t.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins. I saw it with my own eyes!
And the group believes.
They are baptized into Jesus’ name.
And that Holy Spirit that they didn’t know about? He makes himself visibly known. They began to speak in tongues, and they prophesied. (v.6) Visual proof of the invisible truth that their faith in Jesus wasn’t fake; it was real.
The same is true for you. Repent of your any hypocrisy of ignorance.
To do that, look at the truth.
The truth may be that what you’ve been doing is sin.
But the truth also is that you have a Savior.
And in Jesus, you are forgiven.
II. Another Kind of Hypocrisy
But not all hypocrisy is caused by ignorance.
Next Paul entered the synagogue, a place where they studied God’s Word.
He went and spoke boldly there for three months. (v.9a)
You would expect this to produce real believers.
These people wore religious jewelry.
They went to worship.
They knew lots of the Bible.
They knew all the words to all their favorite religious songs.
They knew prayers.
They knew religious logos.
They knew God’s Word.
And yet…when Paul was done speaking…
Some of them were obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. (v.9b)
And think about the hypocrisy of it all:
They studied God’s Word.
They knew God’s Word.
Then, they refused to believe God’s Word.
And even openly mocked God’s Word.
Only to sit around congratulating each other for following that Word that they were mocking.
It’s would be like sitting in the Fellowship Hall after worship and gossiping about another believer not being a very good believer and then congratulating yourselves on being such good believers even though you’re doing things that believers aren’t supposed to do.
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from ignorance; but sometimes hypocrisy comes from obstinance.
In fact, the Greek word there means “hardened.” Tough, rough, impenetrable.
Like a rock. There’s nothing getting through the exterior into the heart of the rock. Try it. You can punch the rock. You can hit the rock with a blow dart. You could try karate chopping the rock. Nothing. Even if you took a hammer to it - that rock isn’t splitting.
The same can happen with people’s hearts.
Even the hearts of long-time Christians.
I know racism is wrong. God is for all people. You should go tell it to those people over there. They’re the racist ones. In fact, that’s how all people like them are!
I know it says that sex outside of marriage is wrong. And I haven’t had it! Look at my purity ring! Now excuse me…the adult film. I uploaded on my iPhone is coming after it’s done buffering.
I know it! Pride is wrong. Preach it pastor! Especially at that guy over there. But don’t you preach it at humble me. There’s nobody humbler than I am.
And God’s Word connects with the heart.
And the heart hardens.
And hypocrisy ensues.
If you are a long-time church goer, take extra warning!
Don’t harden your heart to God’s Word.
And then sit around congratulating yourself for following God’s Word.
Instead of hardening your heart, look at God’s heart.
Because God’s heart was not hard.
His heart was filled with compassion.
His heart was filled with love for you…even when you repeatedly hardened your heart against him.
His heart was not hardened like a rock.
When he hung on that cross…
The soldiers reached up with a spear.
They plunged it into his him.
But softened with love for you.
Even now. Even if you’ve hardened your heart before, listen to his heart for you.
Repent of your hypocrisy.
And do it quickly.
III. All Kinds of Hypocrisy
As Paul continued his ministry, God continued to bless Paul. In fact, look at the amazing things that God did through Paul: Even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul were taken to the sick and their illnesses were cured, and the evil spirits left them. (v.12)
That’s amazing! Paul’s handkerchiefs cured from the flu and his aprons drove out evil spirits. But look at what happened, “Seven sons of Sceva (Which…Listen to the name. It sounds shady. Almost like an evil muppet or something) they went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon possessed. They would say, “In the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” (v.12-13)
To be fair, this doesn’t look hypocritical.
It looks like they are trying to help.
They aren’t ignorant of Jesus’ name. They use it.
They aren’t obstinately opposed to Jesus. God is against demons, too.
Yet, look at what happened.
One day an evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. (v.15)
Do you see the problem?
But God could.
Maybe they weren’t doing this out of love for Jesus.
But out of love for power.
Maybe they weren’t doing this out of love for others.
But out of love for themselves.
They were hypocrites.
Good ones too! It was hard to tell that they were doing anything wrong.
But here’s the truth:
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from ignorance.
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from obstinance.
But hypocrisy is always exposed.
A family member finds out.
A pastor discovers the truth.
Your spouse learns about what you were trying to hide.
Always hypocrisy is exposed.
Even if you successfully hide it from all other human beings, God knows.
God knows and he will expose it.
At the end of time, you won’t be able to hide it.
And he won’t be able to hide his displeasure.
He’ll simply say:
Jesus, I know…
And Paul I know…
Who are you?
IV. What Now?
Therefore, God calls us to repent.
To turn from hypocrisy.
To turn to our Savior.
And the way to do that is to:
(1). Switch Your Mask
We said that hypocrisy is putting on a mask. Covering up our sins with a nice looking, “Christian” façade.
Make me think of Halloween. That’s a time for masks. There’s a wide variety of them at Precious Lambs. I remember there was one kid who made his own mask. It was made of string and paper. The paper covered up…one of his eyebrows. He said: “You don’t know who I am.” And I said: “Uh-huh.”
Hypocrisy? That’s like hiding behind the paper eyebrow mask.
We think it hides our sinfulness from God.
Instead, check out Galatians 3:27
All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
Just like a full-fledged mask, it fully and completely covers up all your sins.
Jesus covers up your obstinance.
Jesus covers up your ignorance.
Jesus covers up your sin so much so that when God looks at you, He only sees – His child.
So much so that God calls us to our second WHAT NOW:
(2). Go Public
Look at the reaction of the people to what had occurred. Many who believed came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. (v.18)
Think about that: Believers gathered in the middle of the city with their arms filled of books that they had been storing in their homes. Books that weren’t about the Bible. Books that were about Satan, witchcraft, and sexual immorality.
It’d be like someone coming to the front of church and making a pile of a raunchy racist DVDs, two illegal drug baggies, and an iPhone loaded with pornographic content.
That’s take courage to do in front of everyone, right?
But they had the courage.
Because they were covered in Christ’s righteousness.
Because they knew they were God’s children.
Because they knew God’s children were serious about getting rid of sin.
Because they knew God’s other children wouldn’t ridicule them, but support them.
They went public with it.
Do the same.
Examine your heart.
Find your hypocrisy
And Go public with it.
Go public with a friend, a pastor, or a family member!
And if someone trusts you enough to publicly confess a secret sin to you, don’t say:
“Just a second while I share what you did on social media.”
Share the Gospel.
Remind them of Christ’s mask.
Help them incinerate whatever it is they are struggling with!
Because in that, God’s Word is spread.
In fact, look at the last verse:
In this way, the word of the Lord spread widely. (v.20)
Because when God’s Word gets us to stop being hypocrites and start being real, then God’s Word really spreads.
If we’re real -- real with God and real with each other -- then the community will notice.
ACTS, All Powerful, Atheism, Attitude, Authority, Believe, Christian Living, Church, Comfort, Education, Faith, False Teachings, Impossible, North Raleigh, Raleigh, Repentance, Seriousness, Sin, True Heart, Urgency
Today we are continuing our walk through the second missionary journey of the Apostle Paul. Before we study God’s Words, 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. About Athens
Last we left Paul, he had been in Thessalonica sharing the Gospel and he was run out of the city by a mob of people that had a volatile reaction to the message of Jesus. From there he went to Berea, where the people were of noble character and examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:1-11)
But after Paul was in Berea for a while, Acts 17:13 says: When the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the Word of God at Berea, they went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. They found out where Paul would be preaching. They marched around shouting “Down with Paul.” They held signs that had a picture of Paul’s face with a mustache drawn on it.
In response, the mission team split up. Since the believers and church in Berea were still young in faith, Silas, Timothy, and Luke stayed behind to teach them, meanwhile, Paul, the main guy the crowds were protesting, went to the next city by himself. The next city was called Athens.
A bit about Athens:
Athens had been a key city state in that Greek empire. It was a place for thinkers and movers. It was the birthplace of democracy. It was the home of Plato, Aristotle and many other philosophers. It had been important to Alexander the Great and it was still important under the Roman empire. It was artsy. It was academic. It was scholarly.
It was filled with idols.
While Paul was waiting…in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. (v.16)
Idols in the temples.
Idols on the street corners.
Idols at work.
Idols at home.
Idols at lunch.
Idols at breakfast.
Idols at dinner.
Idols at the local restaurant.
Idols at the museum.
Idols at the sports arena, the fishing harbor and the laundromat.
It almost sounds like Dr. Seuss:
Idols, idols in a box.
Idols, idols with a fox.
Idols, idols here and there.
Idols, idols everywhere!
For Paul, this was strange. Athens was supposed to be a place of wisdom. Yet, here were all these wise people bowing down to worship tiny, stone statues.
So, Paul spoke: He reasoned in the synagogue and in the marketplace. (v.17) He told them about Jesus. He told them about the Savior.
While Paul was there two different groups of people heard him speak:
One group was Epicurean. The Epicureans followed the philosophy of Epicurus who lived from 341-270 B.C. His philosophy was that there was no afterlife. The gods existed but didn’t really care what humans did. They were too busy with the own affairs to care. Their slogan: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!”
The other group was Stoic. The Stoics followed the philosophy of Zero who lived from 340-265 B.C. He had the perspective that you had to do more than waste your life away. The gods put people here for a reason and that reason was to work. It was the highest form of pleasure to work (and to do so every day). Their slogan was a bit different: “Eat, Drink, and do work, for tomorrow…we do more work.”
These two philosophies were common opponents.
It was blue-collar worker versus free thinking hippie.
It was the constant busyness of Wall Street versus the laid-back jazz of Bourbon Street.
It was “Whatever man” versus “Get to work, man.”
They were common opponents.
But when Paul came to town, these common opponents had a common enemy:
What do you mean there’s more to life than pleasure?
What do you mean there’s more to life than work?
They asked: “What is this babbler trying to say?”…And they took Paul to the Areopagus. (v.19)
The Areopagus was the place for new ideas. It was named after the god of war: “Ares.” His name literally meant: “Hill of the war god.” It was an appropriate name for the place where people would go to battle for their new ideas against some of the brightest minds of the ancient world.
That is the reason that they brought Paul to the Areopagus.
They wanted him to battle for his new idea.
They wanted him to go to war for Jesus.
And Paul did.
II. About the Unknown God
Paul began his sermon:
Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. (v.22)
You have gods for everything.
A god of the sun.
A god for the moon.
A god for the sea; a god for the land.
A god for love; a god for war.
You even have a god for beer!
In fact, as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I…found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. (v.23)
You covered your bases.
Just in case you missed some god, you made him an altar.
Here’s the thing:
What you worship as unknown…
…I am going to proclaim to you… (v.23)
For starters, the Unknown God is not in HUMAN BUILT DWELLINGS.
He doesn’t reside in some epic stone arena.
He doesn’t kick up his feet in some tiny, jewel studded mausoleum.
You won’t find him down on 71st and Elm at a corner apartment with a jacuzzi and a view of the city.
He isn’t like Athena. The goddess for whom you built your city and for whom you built that gigantic Parthenon.
With its impressive columns.
And marble grandeur.
The Unknown God?
He doesn’t need that.
The Unknown God…
He made the world and everything in it does not live in temples built by hands. (v.24)
And he isn’t IN NEED OF SERVICE.
I’ve seen how ya’ll run about.
If things don’t go well for you. Maybe you lost your job.
Here’s what you do:
You go to the marketplace, buy a couple of apples, you run to the temple of Athena and place them on a silver bowl.
Maybe you lost your job because Athena was hungry.
The Unknown God isn’t like that.
He is not some pet that you need to feed.
He doesn’t need to be taken for a walk.
He doesn’t need you to scratch him behind the ears so that he’ll be pleased with you.
The Unknown God is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all people life and breath and everything else. (v.25)
He’s all powerful.
But he isn’t ALOOF.
He’s not like Zeus, King of the gods. He isn’t up on Mount Olympus having a banquet with fine wines and beautiful goddesses, throwing grapes down his throat and afterwards gathering with Ares and Poseidon for a couple of rounds of Wii Bowling.
He doesn’t say: “Eat, drink…I don’t care if you’re passed out in a ditch tomorrow morning.”
Nor does he say: “Work; work…I don’t care if you’re stressed out all week long.”
The Unknown God is not aloof.
Because listen to this:
He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. (v.26)
Did you hear that?
He made you.
He cared about you.
He placed you here.
He placed you now.
He determined your steps to take you to this exact moment.
Because he is not WANTING TO REMAIN UNKNOWN.
That’s why he did this.
That’s why you’re all gathered here in the Areopagus.
God brought you here.
God brought you now.
That you might seek him and perhaps reach out to him and find him, though he is not far from each of us. (v.27)
Finding God is what you want, isn’t it?
You’re here to find God.
It’s why you discuss the latest ideas.
It’s why you reason out the latest thoughts.
It’s why you talk about the latest meditations and popular trends for fasting.
It’s why you have been doing this day after day after day…
All in hopes that you will find God.
That desire to find God? It comes from God.
That mind for finding God? It comes from God.
Do you know what else comes from God?
And pay attention.
Because this message is important.
The Unknown God is NOT PATIENT FOREVER.
For a long time, God has been.
Think about it:
You’ve been worshiping rocks.
You’ve been bowing down to stone.
You’ve been shouting the praises of pieces of paper covered in glitter.
All the while the Lord is the one who created you, made you, sustains you, and nourishes you.
You’re giving thanks to a pet rock?
God has been patient.
He’s hasn’t struck you down yet.
In the past, God has overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. (v.30-31a)
You won’t be judged by some stone.
You won’t be judged by some rock.
You won’t be judged by some imperfect Mount Olympian with questionable morals who’s in a romantic relationship with some half-man, half-horse.
You will be judged by the Universe Creating, Almighty, Eternal, invested in your life, knowing everything about your life, God himself.
He will judge you.
All your sins.
God will judge you.
And he’s got Holy Fire in his eyes.
How do you think you’ll be judged if you’ve been worshiping rocks?
And you want proof?
This is not UNPROVEN.
Because that man that will judge the world for God?
He’s his Son.
He’s a guy named Jesus.
And God has given proof that Jesus will judge.
What kind of proof?
He did the one thing that Zeus couldn’t do.
He did the one thing that Aphrodite couldn’t do.
He did the one thing that your dear Athena couldn’t do.
He did the one thing that you and all your wisdom could never figure out how to do.
He raised Jesus from the dead. (v.31b)
III. WHAT NOW?
And it was right about that time, that the people stopped Paul from speaking. They said, “We’ll have to see more about this some other time.”
They let him go.
They didn’t throw him in prison.
They “tolerated” his message.
But…they didn’t believe it.
Don’t just tolerate the message of Jesus.
(1) Stop Searching
The other day I was down near the capitol building and I hear some music. On the north side near the street was a group of people. They were dressed in full religious garb. They had on jewels and bangles. They were playing tambourines and acoustic guitars. And as they were dancing, they were chanting a phrase: “Hare Krishna.”
Have you heard of it?
It’s a stranger type of religion made popular by John Lennon. The tenet is that the best way to connect with God is through music. Specifically – through playing the music to and chanting the words “Hare Krishna.” Through singing and chanting, you become centered in God. You become one with God. You find God…. (And the Beatles make some money as you buy their album).
Whether it’s musical chant.
Doing good work after good work after good work.
People are in search of God.
And maybe you are, too.
But you know what?
You can stop searching.
God’s right here.
God is Jesus.
That’s one of the reasons the resurrection happened!
It’s like one of those nighttime cyclists who is wearing neon green with flashing lights on his vest. He’s bright. He’s colored. He’s put his outfit together in such a way so that you don’t miss him!
The resurrection is like that.
It’s the Unknown God’s way of saying to you:
Here I am!
Don’t miss me.
I have made myself known.
I am Jesus.
I am your Savior.
I am your Redeemer.
And my message is this:
Repent means “to turn.”
To turn from sin.
To turn to God.
Whether you are a first-time hearer of this message or a long-time listener.
We are sinners who need to hear this message from God.
Turn from that sin.
You know the one I’m talking about.
Turn from that sin.
God knows the one I’m talking about.
Turn from that sin.
God isn’t stone who couldn’t possibly know…
Turn from that sin.
God is the Unknown God who knows you so deeply.
Turn from sin.
And turn to God to be saved.
Because when you turn to the Unknown God…
When you turn to Jesus…
Something else becomes unknown…
God, who KNOWS all of your sins, says your sins are now UNKNOWN, because he KNEW the cross and you KNOW his resurrection from the grave that the God who was formerly UNKNOWN is now KNOWN by you and who says:
I KNOW you.
Last we left Paul, he was sharing the Gospel of Jesus in the city of Philippi. A time in his mission work that is filled with amazing stories: