We are in the middle of our IDOLATRY sermon series. So far, we have…
(1) defined idolatry as PLACING anything in God’s PLACE.
(2) identified personal idols as those things that we FEAR, LOVE or TRUST more than God.
(3) marveled as Jesus loved US more than himself by going to the cross to win forgiveness for our idolatry.
(4) been empowered to discover our own idols and get rid of them
In order to do this, I think it’s helpful to consider the places you visit each week and identify the idols that tempt you in each location. For example…
…work, where your boss sends you email reminders to worship idols of money and career every five minutes on the five minutes.
…the local bar, where you go every Thursday to practice some Thirsty Thursday Theology.
…your gym, where bowing down to do burpees quickly becomes bowing down to your bodacious body.
…your couch, here you have a nice little altar set up to the Netflix God.
… the bedroom down the hall from yours, where this tiny little 5-year-old God that demands all of your time and energy be spent pretending to be a Paw Patrol Character with them.
But, as you consider places where idols tempt you to worship them, how many of you thought of…
If we were playing Family Feud and the topic was “Place You’d Find an Idol in Modern America”, giving the answer “Church” is something that would cause Steve Harvey to do a double take.
Today we will be warned from God’s Word not to be deceived: church can absolutely be a place where idolatry lays hold of our hearts. We’ll consider if any idols have taken their way into our hearts and ask God’s help exposing and removing those idols. Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Background of Ezekiel
The lesson for this morning comes from Ezekiel 8. A bit of background:
In 597 B.C. the Babylonian Empire defeated the people of Israel and carried many people back into Babylon as exiles. These people were apart from their country, apart from where they grew up, and apart from their families.
But the truth was that God had ordained this exile. For years, God had been warning the people of Israel through prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, that this would unless they stopped worshipping idols and returned to worshipping the true God.
They didn’t listen.
So, God allowed the exile.
One might expect the exile to be what finally caused the people to change their ways, right?
Enter Ezekiel. Ezekiel is one of the priests of God who had been carried off with the exiles to Babylon. In Babylon, God transforms Ezekiel from a priest that brings requests from the people to God to a prophet that brings messages from God to the people. God had Ezekiel present these messages to the people in strange ways.
Once, God had Ezekiel go the city square and lie down on his side for 390 days. This was to represent how the 390 years that the people had been engaged in the sin of idolatry. (Ezekiel 4:5)
Another time, God had Ezekiel build a miniature model of Jerusalem. Then, he took an iron pan and placed it as a wall against the model, representing a Babylonian siege that God would send against the people of Jerusalem. (Ezekiel 4:3)
Yet one more time, God had Ezekiel shave off his beard. Then, he took a third of the beard shavings and burned them (to represent the third of Jerusalem that would be set on fire), a third of his beard shavings he threw into the wind (to represent the third that would flee the city and be scattered), and a third of the beard shavings he threw into the air and slashed with his sword (to represent the third of Jerusalem that would die by the sword). All these things would happen if the people didn’t return from idols to the true God.
These action prophecies led to Ezekiel garnering quite a following. Many of the elders in the city spent time with Ezekiel hoping to be present for another strange prophecy.
On the fifth day of the sixth month, in the sixth year of the exile, Ezekiel is chilling in his house with some of the elders. (I imagine they’re drinking some wine and watching the latest episode of the Bachelor).
When suddenly, Ezekiel goes into a trance.
He sees the figure of a man.
Chest of blazing fire.
Legs of glowing metal.
It’s the LORD.
And the LORD reaches out his hands,
Grabs Ezekiel by the hair,
And lifts him into the air.
He soars with Ezekiel out of the walls of Babylon.
He skyrockets him past the desert plains.
He lifts him up past the mountains.
And sets him down in Jerusalem.
Right in front of God’s temple.
I’m sure Ezekiel was filled with excitement:
This is my home!
This is my temple.
This is where I worked!
That is where I carved my name into a rock.
Over there is where little Suzy Lou gave me a kiss on the cheek in grade school!
As Ezekiel’s looked around his home…
He saw something…
II. Church Idols
(1) The Idol of JEALOUSY
The Spirit…brought me to the entrance of the north gate into the inner courtyard of the Temple, where the idolatrous image of jealousy, which provokes jealousy, was located. (8:3)
Can you imagine that? This is God’s holy temple. The place where you worship God and only God. And yet, there at the entrance welcoming you as you come in, is an idol.
At the entrance of our church, we’ve got some flowers.
We’ve got a bench.
We’ve got a sign that says, “worship this way.”
How would you feel if next week there was a big old statue of Buddha out front?
The idol that was in front of the temple is simply identified as jealousy.
While churches today might not have an actual, statue like idol at the entrance to their church, the IDOL OF JEALOUSY is absolutely a threat.
A while back, I noticed a young child that was in tears throughout the worship service.
Having a hard time.
Afterwards, he was still having a difficult time, so I asked him, “What’s wrong?”
“My brother ate the last goldfish. I didn’t get as many!”
Mom said, “Yep. That’s pretty much all we cared about throughout worship.”
Jealousy is a threat to take over your time of worship and craft an idol in your heart.
“Would you look at that person? He’s got so many friends. I wish I was more like him.”
“Really? She’s engaged and I’m not? How is that even possible? I’m way better looking.”
“That musician is very talented. So…it’s kinda cool they just made a mistake…Knock them down a peg or two.”
“That guy shouldn’t be on church leadership. I’d do a much a better job than him.”
“Look! There’s pastor capitulating to the new people again. When he’s gonna spend more time talking to me!?!”
The thing about the idol of jealousy is that it provokes jealousy.
Remember the first sermon in this series? God said, “You shall have no other Gods… for I am a jealous God visiting punishment on those who hate me.” (Exodus 20:3)
You might be consuming with jealousy for other people.
That leaves God jealous for you.
And Ezekiel was in shock.
And God tapped him on the shoulder.
And said, “You will see even great abominations than these.” (v.6)
(2) The Idol of REPUTATION
Next, he brought me to the entrance to the courtyard, and I looked and saw that there was a hole in the wall. (v.7)
Instead of telling Ezekiel to get out his spackle and a trowel to fix it, God tells him, “to dig through the wall.” So, Ezekiel does. I don’t know that he had some kind of Ancient Hebraic shovel, but he dug until he had a space big enough for his body to fit through.
Then, God told him, “Look around at the abominations in this room.” (v.8)
As Ezekiel enters, he notices the walls are engraved with “Every form of creeping creature and every kind of detestable animal and all the filthy idols.” (v.10) This is most likely a reference to the Gods of the Egyptians. Hieroglyphics – that glorified hawks, cats, and beetles as Gods.
But Ezekiel hadn’t discovered ancient room that no one knew existed.
People knew about it
Temple people knew about it.
In fact, inside the room was a group of about 70 Israelite elders, burning incense and praying to the carvings.
But what’s interesting is that these men were hidden! From the outside, the room looked like a temple of God, but hidden deep within the inside? Idolatry.
They wanted to protect their REPUTATION. It’s the only reason that they kept up appearances as “priests” of God. They craved the REPUTATION of God followers even though their hearts were far from him.
REPUTATION is just as much an idol today.
“I don’t want to be at worship today. But I better go so that it looks good to others.”
“Lots of prayers on social media for the Coronavirus. I’d better post one too so I look like a good Christian.”
“I can’t confess my secret sin of pornography to the elders, because they might look at me funny. I’ll just put on a smile, act like everything’s ok, and keep sinning.”
Want to know the ironic part of this?
REPUTATION worshippers think that everyone is fooled.
According to verse 12, the worshippers in the secret room were saying:
‘The Lord does not see us.’ (v.12)
Because the one that was seeing them do this, was the very one they claimed didn’t see them.
And God sees it when reputation becomes our idols.
And he hates it.
But God wasn’t done yet.
God grabbed him by the hand.
And said, “You will see even greater abominations...” (v.13)
(3) The Idol of PROSPERITY
Next, God brought Ezekiel to the entrance of the gateway of the House of the Lord that is on the north side, and right there (he) saw women sitting and wailing for Tammuz. (v.14)
Tammuz was the ancient Mesopotamian God of fertility. According to religious myth, when Tammuz was healthy then the land would be fertile. He’d bless the farmer with healthy crops. He’d give them an abundance of grain. He’d make sure that there was a BULL market in ancient crops.
But when things went poorly, perhaps during winter or a famine, Tammuz had died. Then, it was up to the worshippers of Tammuz to bring Tammuz back to life through mourning and crying.
(Sounds like some kind of Disney movie: “If you shed a tear of true love for your idol, then Tammuz will come back to life.”)
But really, it wasn’t Tammuz they loved.
It wasn’t Tammuz they were sad that died.
It was their PROSPERITY.
PROSPERITY is a big idol in the modern church.
People that worship just to get a better job.
People that worship just to get more money.
People that worship just to find themselves a happily family.
Not that any of those things are bad on their own.
But LOVING them more than God is.
Even right now. There’s a pandemic of COVID-19.
And we’re praying to God to get us through this.
To keep us from illness.
To keep our jobs strong.
To keep our economy prosperous.
Are we doing so because we LOVE God?
Or because we LOVE prosperity?
Because we TRUST God to take care of us…
Or we don’t TRUST life without stuff?
Because we FEAR God and know he’s in control…
Or because we FEAR the virus and think it is?
Worship is not a means for you to get PROSPERITY.
It’s a way to show trust in God when there isn’t PROSPERITY.
Because think about this.
You don’t have to mourn to bring the real God back from the dead.
He did that on his own.
God turned Ezekiel around.
And led him away from the entrance.
And said, “You will see even greater abominations than these.” (v.15)
(4) The Idol of REBELLION
Finally, God brought (Ezekiel) to the inner courtyard of the House of the Lord, and there at the entrance to the temple of the Lord, between the vestibule and the altar.
This is the main event.
It’s the place where priests would offer sacrifices to God.
It’s the place where priests would offer prayers to God.
It’s the place where priests would sing worship songs to God.
Usually that was done facing the altar (not that God was the altar), but it was a visual reminder that all of their worship was directed to God.
These men weren’t facing the altar.
Their backs were.
There were twenty-five men, showing their backsides to the temple of the Lord with their faces toward the east, and they were bowing down to the sun. (v.16)
They didn’t care what God wanted.
They did what they wanted.
And what they wanted was to be like all the other nations.
Worship isn’t about you.
It isn’t about what you want.
It isn’t about what you like.
It isn’t about what you desire.
It’s about God.
And here’s the warning, if you are making worship all about YOU, then it’s as if your back is turned to the altar.
As if you’re worshipping the sun.
As if you’re stinking a branch up God’s nose.
Look at that figure of speech in verse 17, “They are even sticking the branch up my nose!”
It’s the Old Testament equivalent to thumbing your nose at God.
Only the phrase is usually “stick a branch to my nose.”
God says that this open rebellion isn’t just a branch to his nose, but a branch up his nose.
This seems like a TERRIBLE idea.
III. The Church’s Real God
How does the REAL God feel about all this idolatry among his people?
“I also will act in wrath. My eye will not show pity, and I will have no compassion. They will call out to my ears with a loud cry, but I will not hear them.”
This segues directly into the very next chapter. Where God tells his servants to go through out Jerusalem and bring destruction to all who worship idols. And the messenger is about to go.
But before he does, he gives the messenger one last instruction:
The Lord said, “Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a TAV on the foreheads of those who moan and lament over the abominations being committed in her.” (v.4)
Those were the ones that God wouldn’t destroy.
Those who heard his message and repented.
But we need to talk about this “tav”. It’s a Hebrew letter that makes the sound of a “t”.
In the modern world, it looks similar to a lower case “n” just with a rocking chair like foot to the bottom left and a crossing between the two strokes at the top.
If you trace the history of the tav back to the time of Ezekiel?
It’s a cross.
Not that anyone who read this at Ezekiel’s time said, “There is a savior who will come and die on the cross to remove our sins of idolatry in God’s temple…” But as we look back and see what Ezekiel was saying, “Isn’t this amazing?”
Jesus has covered your sins.
His death on the cross has covered.
He has covered your idolatry of jealousy.
He has covered your idolatry of reputation.
he has covered your idolatry of prosperity.
He has covered your idolatry of rebellion.
He has covered you with his blood, called you his child, and made you his church.
Rejoice! You are forgiven!
IV. What Now?
(1) Honor God in Church
This is the main principle of worship. We want everything we do to be Christ centered.
It’s why Jesus comes up so much throughout the service:
In the songs.
In the prayers.
In the lessons.
In the kids’ lesson.
In the artwork.
In the bulletin.
On the powerpoint.
in the sermon, etc.
That’s absolutely what God has called us as church leadership to do.
But God also calls you to honor God in worship.
To throw out your jealousies.
To throw out your worries about reputation.
To throw out your desires for prosperity.
To throw out your own sinful wants and desires.
To worship God.
(2) Honor God AS Church
The Bible teaches in 1 Corinthians 6:19 that “you are the temple of God and the Holy Spirit lives in you.”
God loved you.
He bought you.
He threw out your idols.
And made your heart his temple.
In your heart, there’s a sign outside that says, “God is worshipped here.”
Because when you do, this whole thing about idolatry in church flips.
Instead of idols entering God’s domain of the church,
God’s church enters the idol’s domain of the world.
Last week we defined IDOLATRY. It is worshipping something that is NOT GOD as GOD. In the Old Testament, idolatry was very OPEN. People crafted statues, bowed to them, and offered sacrifices to them.
If that were the only version of idolatry, then today’s sermon on identifying idols would be pretty simple.
Step One. Go to your house.
Step Two. Identify any statues that you regularly pray to.
Step Three. Use a Sharpie and write on that statues – THIS IS AN IDOL.
Step Four. Throw those statues in the garbage.
But there’s a second definition of idolatry that we looked at last week. It happens when people unknowingly place something or someone in God’s place. We call this HIDDEN idolatry.
How does one identify hidden idols?
Today we will learn from God’s Word how to identify idols in our hearts. Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A “Gotcha” Question
The Scripture we’re searching today comes from Matthew 22:32-40. It takes place on the Tuesday before Jesus died. Tensions were between Jesus and the religious leaders of the city. So, that day was filled with theological showdowns. With a large crowd of people watching, the various religious groups asked Jesus questions in order to make him look like a fool.
It was GOTCHA journalism. Their questions were designed to make Jesus look like a fool or heretic in front of the public. If Jesus answered the wrong way, they were able to tell everyone that Jesus was a fool or a heretic.
If this would have happened in in 2020, social media would have jumped down Jesus’ throat.
There would have been ads on Facebook that said, “Expert in the Law EXPOSES Jesus” CLICK HERE.
Instagram memes making fun of what Jesus said.
Hashtags on Twitter: #JesusGetsOwned
Look at the question that one expert in the law comes up with:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” (v.36)
All of God’s commands are important.
All of God’s commands are good.
If they can get Jesus to pick one over the other…
If Jesus says, “Honor your Father and Mother” is most important, then can respond by saying, “So it’s not that big of a deal to kill someone?”
If Jesus says, “You shall not commit adultery” is most important, they can spread the word, “Jesus says stealing isn’t really that bad.”
If Jesus says, “You shall remember the Sabbath Day” is most important, they can tell others that “Jesus support coveting!”
If they could get Jesus to seemingly contradict what Scripture says,
He’d be an easy target for a smear campaign.
It’s not wise to try and pull one over on Jesus.
Look at Jesus’ response:
Jesus said to him, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets depends on these two commandments.” (v.38-40)
Notice that Jesus answers the questions about the singular greatest commandment by giving two.
The first command he lists is a version of the first commandment that God had written down on the two tables of stone given to Moses. (We talked about that story last week). That command is, “You shall have no other gods.” Jesus’ version is similar. “Love God more than anything.”
But then Jesus continues and mentions a second command in conjunction with the first: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
This command isn’t labelled as second in importance or value.
Just as the second command he’s going to list.
Jesus means that there is a link between the two:
One can’t love a neighbor as himself without loving God above all things.
One can’t love God above all things without loving their neighbor as themselves
In other words, all God’s commands are great, because all God’s commands are about love for God.
Love for GOD is the HEART of all commands.
Just like a heart needs to be pumping in order to send blood into all the area of the body so that your fingers pinch, your knees bend, and your tongue blows raspberries, so love for God pumps love throughout spiritual veins that we follow his commands.
Think about it:
Love for God leads to keeping the 3rd commandment in worship of God.
Love for God leads to keeping the 4th commandment and honoring the parents God gave you.
Love for God leads to keeping the 5th commandment and not harboring hatred for people God loves.
Love for God leads to keeping the 6th commandment and not viewing a soul that God created as being there for your pleasure.
Love for God leads to keeping the 7th commandments and not stealing what God has provided for his people.
Love for God leads to keeping the 8th commandment and not gossiping about people that God says he cares deeply about.
Love for God leads to keeping the 9th & 10th commandments and totally trusting that God has given you exactly what you need.
II. Identifying Idols
Jesus wins the battle of wits with the Pharisees. But that’s not all Jesus does. In his words, Jesus provides a blueprint for identifying idols in our lives. How? Look at Jesus’ words again.
(1) Your Idols are things that vie for YOUR HEART
The heart has always been used as a symbol for love. Although the actual human heart doesn’t exactly like the Valentine’s Day shape (there aren’t four ventricles), it is what keeps your blood pumping. As a result, the ancient world began to use the heart as a symbol to describe what “got your blood pumping.”
Therefore, we want to LOVE the Lord our God with all our heart!
Imagine for a moment that you were happily married.
Your heart was completely and absolutely in love with your spouse.
In fact, you were celebrating your anniversary down at Sullivan’s steakhouse.
You decide to reveal to your spouse that for your anniversary, you signed both of you up for a dating app.
Of course not, you’d be putting your marriage in jeopardy by allowing others who aren’t your spouse to attempt to vie for your heart with text message, with photos, with flirty, heart shaped emojis!
It’s the same with idols.
Your idols are the things that are vying for God’s place in your heart.
Could be your career.
Your bank account.
Careful. The things you love will try to crowd God out of your heart.
(2) Your Idols are things that vie for YOUR SOUL
The soul is a word used to describe the miraculous life within each of us. Our soul is who we are. In the Bible, the soul is often in need of rest.
Psalm 62 says, “My soul rests in God.”
Psalm 116 says, “Return to rest my soul, for God has been good to you.”
In Matthew 11, Jesus says, “In Me…You will find rest for your souls.”
If you’re resting, you’re doing so because you have faith everything will be ok while you’re sleeping.
If you’re awake, you’re not confident. You’re staying up late at the campfire watching for bobcats to attack.
GOD is the one we are to trust in.
So, idols are the things that vie for the TRUST of your soul.
I remember a Starting Point class that I did once. We were on lesson two – the lesson that really focuses in on sin and God’s grace. It’s the Gospel – the truth that we are sinner in need of a savior and we have a Savior in Jesus, trust him.
And this one guy said --
Nah. There’s gotta be more. I just don’t trust that Jesus did it all.
I’m a pretty good person.
I give a couple thousand dollars each year to charity.
I volunteered at the homeless shelter recently.
I think I TRUST that way more than some guy who died 2000 years ago.
Did you see what happened?
“Good things that he did” had become an idol.
It was crowded God out of his soul.
Careful. Things you trust will try to do the same.
(3) Your Idols are things that vie for YOUR MIND
The mind is a rational place. It is the place that looks as a situation and determines how scary it is. For instance, your mind is the thing that says, “Wow. There is an angry gorilla on the loose. I think I’ll stay in my locked house out of respect for the mad gorilla.”
Your mind houses FEAR.
Honestly, there is no being that should induce more FEAR than GOD!
God is all powerful.
God controls lighting
God controls thunder.
God controls tornados, volcanoes and hurricanes.
God is not to be crossed!
Your idols will try to convince you that they are scarier than God.
“I know God says this and it’d be scary to face him, but…it’s probably scarier to face the ridicule of society.”
“I know God hates sin and he threatens to exclude sinners from heaven, but…if you don’t do this sin you might be excluded from your friend group.”
“I know God says it’d be better for those who don’t teach their kids about God to be thrown into a lake with a millstone around their neck, but if you don’t take your kids to that birthday party, the other parents will *GASP* think you’re a bad parent.”
Careful. Things you fear will try to crowd God out of your mind.
Here’s the concluding truth to all of this:
Idolatry occurs when we FEAR, LOVE, or TRUST anything more than GOD.
Have you been practicing hidden idolatry?
If you go back to the connection between the two commandments though, there’s a foolproof test to determine this.
Because if love for God leads to an ability to keep the commandments.
Then an inability to keep the commandments is indicative of loving something other than God.
It means there another something else in my heart.
Pumping out its own agenda.
Shouting at the parents that GOD gave you because YOU don’t like what they did? Idolatry.
Holding a grudge against the church people that GOD loves because YOU don’t want to give them the satisfaction of forgiveness? Idolatry.
Staring down that blouse of the coworker that GOD created because YOU like the way it excites YOU? Idolatry.
Stealing that dollar bill from the billfold of your friend that GOD gave you, because YOU want it? Idolatry.
Badmouthing a friend via text message, a friend that God loves and died for and calls his beloved child, because her success makes YOU feel bad? Idolatry.
If you didn’t catch the point, idolatry happens whenever we sin.
And God hates idolatry.
III. The Only Non-Idolater
Thankfully there is good news.
Thankfully there is one who lived his whole life as a non-idolater.
In fact, he’s the only person in the history of humanity who never, ever committed idolatry.
(1) Jesus FEARED, LOVED, and TRUSTED God above All.
Jesus was in heaven.
Jesus never had to deal with anything difficult.
He could have chosen to sit up there in a divine heavenly hammock eating a heavenly four course meals!
But he didn’t.
He loved God more than his divine existence, so he came into this sin filled earth.
He feared God more than he feared what might happen to him, so he became a mortal being.
He trusted God more than he trusted the devil’s plan to “bow down and worship him”, so he followed God’s plan.
He loved God more than his own body, so he allowed humans to arrest him.
He feared God more than his captors, so he allowed them to lead him to the courtroom.
He trusted God more than his disciples’ plan to destroy all those awful Pharisees, and he allowed himself to die.
But God’s love wasn’t the only reason that Jesus did this.
(2) Jesus loved YOU as himself.
In fact, we might even say, “more than himself.”
When things got bad.
When he saw the back of the last prisoner to be whipped…
When he saw the sharp point of the nails…
When he saw the blood-stained wood of the cross…
When he saw the gravestones of those who had been crucified…
Jesus said, “OK.”
Because he loved you.
He loved you more than his breath.
He loved you more than his life.
He loved you as himself.
As his brother.
As his sister.
As his dear friend.
And the result?
Because of Jesus death, you are forgiven of all your idolatry.
For all the times you feared other things more than God, you are forgiven.
For all the times you trusted other things more than God, you are forgiven.
For all the times you loved other things more than God, you are forgiven.
There’s a reason you want GOD to fill your hearts,
Because GOD filled his heart with YOU.
IV. What Now?
(1) Identify Your Idols
Take advantage of the fact that God has forgiven you.
He has made you a part of his kingdom.
He has equipped you with guidance on identifying your idols.
I want you to take a moment and think about it.
What are the things you fear, love and trust more than GOD?
You can NOT do that. But if that’s your choice, understand it’ll be as if you had the choice between God on high and the Mr. Potato head idol from last week and for some reason you said to God – I think I need both.
You need only God.
Work on identifying your idols.
Write them down.
(2) Throw them Out
Sometimes, the idol is inherently sinful, and you absolutely should throw it out.
Got a bottle of booze that you love more than God? Toss it.
Got a prescription drug that you trust more than God? Stop abusing it.
Got a group of friends that you fear more than God? Stop hanging around them.
Sometimes, the idol isn’t something you can simply throw out.
In that case, spend some time each day identifying these things for what they are:
This is my spouse. I love her, but she’s not God.
This is my job. I appreciate it, but it’s not my job.
This is a dollar bill. It’s helpful, but it’s not my God.
While you might not be able to throw them out in an actual garbage can,
God calls us to throw them out of his place in your heart.
(3) Fill Your Heart with God.
Because here’s the truth about your heart.
When it’s filled with God, there isn’t room for any idols to get in.
It’s like a glass of water.
If you fill it with God, there’s no room for anything else.
And how do you fill your heart with God?
By spending time with him.
A personal bible study.
A group bible study.
A worship service.
A midweek service.
A morning devotion.
A bible reading.
A lunchtime devotion.
A devotion with your spouse.
Just having a conversation with your family about your savior.
God’s Word fills us with the message of Jesus.
We see how much he loves us.
And God convinces us…
We don’t need any phony idols.
We have the real GOD.
Today we’re beginning a new series called IDOLATRY. We’re going to examine the Scriptures and our hearts that we might be more devoted to our Savior. Today our goal is to get a definition for what idolatry is. To do that, we’re going to deeply examine the very first commandment. Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Defining “god” and “God”
The Ten Commandments are recorded in Exodus 20. But it might be helpful to set the scene for these commandments. Nowadays we are used to laws being made by a bunch of people in suits. They argue on CSPAN, campaign with voters, enter a board room, and, after months of discussion, come back with 47 pages of rules that aren’t that much different from the last set of rules.
This isn’t that.
A man named Moses and a group of people called the Israelites are at the foot of a mountain called Sinai. They have been told that God will soon be giving them the Ten Commandments.
Suddenly, they begin to hear thunder.
Flashes of lightning streak the sky.
The mountain itself begins to quake.
And a thick cloud of smoke begins to come from the top of the mountain.
Then, a booming voice calls MOSES to join him at the summit.
But to leave everyone else at the foot of the mountain.
And Moses turns to the people,
“You guys cool with staying down here?”
Moses makes his way up the mountain and it becomes very clear. He will only be a messenger.
There will be no discussion.
There will be no campaigning.
There will be give and take.
There will be only Moses listening to this powerful voice.
And then, the voice introduces itself:
I am the Lord your God. (Exodus 20:2)
The book of Exodus was written down by Moses in the Hebrew language, because that is what the people of Israel spoke. As we examine that Hebrew, we grasp a better understand of exactly what is meant.
The Hebrew word for God is Elohim. It is a noun that is formed from a verb roof “eleh” that means “to adore.” That means…
You might “eleh” your newborn child.
You might “eleh” your spouse.
You might “eleh” tiramisu.
The noun, “Elohim”, is really a participle form of the verb “to adore.” The literal root meaning is “an adored one”. When “eleh” is used with “eloyhim” the word has a higher level than simple adoration.
It means “worship.”
According to the Hebrew language, then…
A “god” is something or someone that is ADORED or WORSHIPED.
The being that is speaking identifies himself as the one that Moses worships. But for Moses’ sake, and for ours, he lists his credentials for being worshiped.
(1) He is the LORD.
That’s the name of the Divine Being that first spoke to ancestor of Israelite people.
It is the name of the One that promised to make them into a great nation.
It is the name of the One that promised to send a Savior for all of humanity through their genealogy.
(2) He is the One who brought them out of Egypt where they were slaves.
And he did it in a powerful way!
When the King of Egypt wouldn’t listen to his plan to set the Israelites free from slavery,
The LORD turned all the water of Egypt into blood.
He sent plagues of flies, gnats, frogs, and locusts.
He turned the daylight into darkness.
He destroyed all the Egyptian crops with hail.
He infected the Egyptian’s skin with boils.
He warned the Egyptian King, but when he didn’t listen. He put to death every firstborn son in all of Egypt.
He split a sea of water into two walls for the Israelites to escape.
He had that sea of water come crashing down onto the Egyptians that were giving chase.
He fed them with bread from above.
And…he just caused the thunder, lightning, earthquake, and smoke spectacle on Mount Sinai.
And this One with all the credentials, has one simple, starting command for the people of Israel.
“You shall have no other gods before me.” (v.3)
The reason? There are no other beings, things, people, or stuff that are more worthy of being praised than me!
GOD is the One WORTHY of being MOST adored.
It’s like the MVP award in ACC basketball. There might be a lot of players who are valuable players, but they don’t give out 47 Valuable Player awards at the end of the season. They give only one. They give out one Most Valuable Player Award for Most Valuable Player.
GOD is the Most Valuable “god” because there is no being more worthy of worship than Him.
II. Defining “Idolatry”
But our sermon series is called “idolatry”, not “God.” So…what exactly is idolatry and what does that have to do with God?
Read the next part of God’s command:
You shall not make any carved image for yourself or a likeness of anything in heaven above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow down to them or be subservient to them. (v.5a)
What GOD is describing here is the ancient practice of IDOLATRY. This was actually a very common practice among many nations in the world. A people group would create a piece of art from wood or stone. They’d set it up in their homes and then, they would bow down to it. They’d pray to it. They’d give it gifts.
They’d adore it and make it their “god.”
To be fair, they often took their inspiration from some of the things that GOD created.
From the heavens. The Egyptian people had worshipped the sun god, named Ra! The theory was that the sun was big. It was amazing. It kept people warm. It was responsible for photosynthesis and if you didn’t respect it, you’d get sunburn. Surely, the SUN was worthy of worship.
From the Earth below. Another popular “god” was Baal! Baal was a large bull-like creature. The thought was that bull were muscular. Bulls were strong. Bulls would destroy you if you wore red. Bulls were not to be trifled with, so…worship a BULL!
From the waters under the earth. “Dagon” was a big fish-like god. It was worshipped in Ancient Babylonian culture. Again – the thought was that the sea was big. The sea was strong. The sea provided all kinds of food. If you didn’t respect the sea, then you’d be drowned. And what better to represent the sea than a giant fish man! So…worship giant fish man.
An idol is something CREATED to be most ADORED.
Wouldn’t THAT be an art project to do with your child? Go to Michael’s. Grab some markers, feathers, glitter, a variety of beads, and then you go home and take time gluing them into a rock.
Viola! We have something to worship.
That just doesn’t seem to make any sense, does it?
Especially if you are the people of Israel and you have been firsthand witnesses to God’s glorious acts.
Fast forward a bit --
Moses had been on the mountain top for days. God had just finished up writing down all his commands on two large pieces of stone. They were literally written by the finger of the LORD GOD himself.
Moses must have been excited to get down the mountain and show the people of Israel.
To show them what their great, incredible God had told him.
To show them, tell them about the very first command:
“It says, ‘You shall have no other gods.’ It means that we just shouldn’t make one of those idols like the other nations. We’ve got that one down, right?”
But as Moses made his way down the mountain.
He heard singing.
He heard partying.
He heard laughter.
As he made his way around the corner of a rock, the camp came into view.
There were the people.
And this large golden statue.
One they had just freshly made.
A statue of a golden calf.
That they were worshipping.
Idolatry is WORSHIPPING something NOT-GOD, as GOD.
In anger, Moses lifts the stone tablets and slams them to the ground.
A metaphor for how the Israelite people had shattered the very first commandment.
Is it that simple?
Just don’t make yourself an arts & craft IDOL and you’re in the clear on this commandment?
It still seems like an ancient command for ancient people, doesn’t it?
My high school senior year I was HONORABLE MENTION in the now defunct, Parkland Football conference as a linebacker. It came with a certificate and everything.
Shortly afterwards, I received an offer letter from the University of Wisconsin -Whitewater to try out for their football program. (Granted – all my other Senior Teammates received the same letter, but I digress.)
I remember feeling so good about that. I immediately envisioned myself becoming a starter and most valuable player for the Martin Luther College football team. (A small ministry college in Minnesota.) Over summer, I spent the summer in the weight room, running hills, and perfecting my high knees so that I could make this dream come true.
The very first game of my college career was on the road. Since we were a small Division 3 school, we could only take so many players.
I was cut.
And I was so angry. I remember going back to my dorm room and packing some things up in a duffel bag! I thought my world was over. I didn’t know if I’d ever be happy again. I was angry.
I thought, “If I didn’t make the football team, then what is the purpose going to this college designed at training you to go serve Jesus?”
If I could talk to 19-year-old me, I would say…
I don’t know.
Perhaps going into the ministry…
… and serving Jesus.
Did you see what I did?
I placed FOOTBALL in place of GOD.
I placed HONORABLE MENTION CERTIFICATE in place of GOD.
I placed FAME & FORTUNE (division 3 fame and fortune) in place of our SAVIOR.
I created an idol.
That leads to a more modern definition of idolatry.
Idolatry is PLACING something in GOD’S PLACE.
God said it this way, “You shall have no other gods BESIDES me.”
The word translated in English “beside” is sometimes translated “in front of.”
This makes for an excellent visual.
All you need is a few Duplos (or any child’s size block will do.)
Take one Duplos and write on it, “GOD” in all caps. That represents our Lord.
Then, take some others and write on them “IDOLS.” These represents anything that gets in the way.
What happens when you place these idols IN FRONT OF the LORD GOD.
God is important. But FOOTBALL is too. It’s only a small thing. I’ll just place it right here.
God is important. I still see that. But MY BANK ACCOUNT is. Can’t survive without money.
God is important. But so is a RELATIONSHIP. Even if I must compromise a few of my beliefs, God…well…you understand.
God is important…I think...But so is SOCIETY. Even God tells me to do something, I better check and see if society is ok with it.
And I’m an adult now. so…God I’ll get to you. After I take care of my CHILDREN.
God is kind of valuable…but so is my POPULARLITY. I’ll have to skip church while I check my social media likes.
God is ok I guess…but this BEER tastes really good.
God is fine…unless he gets in the way of my relationship. Because that’s the person whose approval I really want.
This is idolatry.
And idolatry is a big deal.
III. Why such a BIG Deal?
(1). God is JEALOUS.
…for I the Lord your God am a jealous God. (v.5b)
Sometimes people read that phrase and they think, “Jealousy?”
Isn’t that a sin?
Is God being sinful?
There’s an extreme difference between HOLY God jealousy and SINFUL human jealousy.
If you were up for an Employee of the Month award at Burger King and in that month you worked overtime every week, you sold more burgers than anyone else and you got there earlier than anyone else to scrub more grease on the floor than anyone else. You even came in at your manager’s request when that one guy was “sick”, the one whose Facebook status said, “Playing hooky today. Pity the fool that had to take my place.”
And at the employee meeting, the Boss reveals the employee of the month.
And it’s that guy.
When you are giving all your LOVE to something that doesn’t love you like God does.
When you are giving all your RESPECT to something that isn’t as powerful as God.
When you are giving all your TRUST to something that isn’t God.
God is jealous.
(2). God is VENGEFUL.
I follow up on the guilt of the fathers with their children, their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren, if they also hate me, but I show mercy to thousands who love me and keep my commandments (v.5c)
The phrase “follow up” comes from a Hebrew word that means “to make an official visit to bring punishment” upon someone.
Think of it like the cops showing up at a house to arrest someone during a domestic dispute.
Or the principal coming to your classroom to take someone to his office.
Or your mom coming to the toy room, to grab you by the ear and take you upstairs.
GOD is a just God.
GOD is a holy God.
It is unjust to call something GOD that isn’t GOD.
It is just to punish the injustice of calling something GOD that isn’t GOD.
In simple language,
idolatry is a sin.
it deserves God’s punishment.
Considering GOD makes thunder.
And the lightning strike.
And the mountain tremble.
And the smoke simmer.
GOD isn’t someone you want to cross.
But why is God so angry?
It’s deeper than simply God is jealous that you aren’t giving him the glory due him.
(3). God is SAVIOR.
Fast forward thousands of years from Moses.
The Law of Moses is still in place.
And a group of men have caught a woman in the act of adultery.
They grab her.
They bring her outside.
They throw her to the ground.
And, passing by at the time, Jesus.
He’s a righteous teacher.
Jesus! Join us. She committed sin. She committed adultery and by doing so she committed idolatry.
She has made SEX her God.
She has made INTIMACY her God.
She’d rather obey her urges then the one who created her.
Let’s help God out and FOLLOW UP on her guilt.
Jesus replied, “OK. Sounds good. Let’s let the one without sin throw the first stone.”
And the woman was in tears.
They were right.
She had sinned.
She had made something God that wasn’t God.
And that “god” couldn’t save her.
Surely, she had broken the first commandment.
She deserved to have God “follow up on her guilt.”
By leading these men in hurling stone at her.
She braced herself.
And heard a rock hit something.
But it wasn’t her skin.
It was the ground.
In fact, piles and piles of rocks hit the ground.
And all the men left.
And Jesus said this, “I do not condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.”
Do you get it?
Jesus gave mercy.
Jesus gave forgiveness.
Jesus loved her.
And this is the reason that GOD wants us to keep him as our number one God!
Because he is the Savior.
He lived perfectly.
He died innocently.
He rose triumphantly.
To save us.
Look at the end of verse 6. But I show mercy to thousands who love me and keep my commandments. (v.6)
When we turn to IDOLs that fail miserably at saving us from sin, it fills him with eternal frustration.
Because they can’t show mercy,
Only the real GOD can.
And he did.
And he does.
Do you get it?
The number one reason for you to ADORE God above all else,
The reason that God gets angry when IDOLS take your attention away from him.
Is because God ADORED you above all else.
Even his own life, breath, and heartbeat.
The God we serve is the one who served us.
The God we adored is the one who adored us.
The God we worship is the only one who saves. Amen.
I was sitting down for a delicious lunch of homemade Lunchables in the PreK 4 classroom this past week. After discussing how delicious the ham and cheese combination was and whether or not it was an acceptable use of food to wear the deli ham as a necklace, the conversation turned to Halloween costumes.
One little girl was excited to tell me that she was going to be a unicorn.
Another little girl was excited to tell me that she was going to be a princess.
One more said that she would be a unicorn.
And a fourth said that was would be a princess.
Finally, the little girl, who had been waiting and shaking with excitement to tell me her costume got her chance.
And she told me she would be something different:
An Elsa Unicorn.
I was curious. “What did that look like? Cause that might be hard to be both.”
She said, “I wear a crown and a horn on my head. Princess unicorn.”
Today we are continuing our series called Dear Church. It’s a series based on letters from Jesus to his church. Today’s letter is to a church that was compromising. But not in a good way. Compromising in a way that made them look about as silly as an Elsa Unicorn compromise. Our goal today is to identify why Jesus was reprimanding their compromise, when compromise is bad in our Christian lives, and what to do about fixing it.
Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Good
This letter starts in Revelation 2:12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.
Pergamum was an ancient city located on a lofty hill. It was also a key state in Roman control of their empire and home to the Red Basilica of the Greek god, Isis.
To put it simply, everywhere that the people of Pergamum looked there was symbols of authority:
The high impressive hills showing the authority of nature.
The Basilica reminded them of the authority Greek gods had in their culture.
The large amount of soldiers representing the authority of the Roman government.
No wonder Jesus starts his address by reminding the Pergamum church of where true authority resides: Himself. He says that his words are a sharp double-edged sword.
Not just sharp on the left.
Not just sharp on the right.
Sharp on both sides.
That means his words don’t just take out everything on the left.
Nor do they take out everything on the right.
But both sides. He has all authority.
Briefly, I don’t think this is a direct reference to American politics, but still… It might be worth saying:
The right isn’t the ultimate authority.
The left isn’t the ultimate authority.
Jesus is the ultimate authority.
Next, Jesus gives the congregation a compliment: “I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.” (v. 13)
Pergamum was home to a large library of over 200,000 books. It was called The Library at Pergamum and is second in renown only to the Library at Alexandria.
Of course, this wasn’t Lifeway Christian Bookstore -- not all of these books were commentaries on the Bible. In fact, they often proposed ideologies and moralities in opposition to the Bible. These ideas from the books came influential in shaping Pergamum thought. Books that might have had titles like:
Greek Mythology – It’s not a Myth Anymore
101 Ways to a Good Relationship with the god, Isis
Temple Prostitution and You – a Beginners Guide
Food Sacrificed to Idols – 15 Minute Recipes for the Idol Worshiper on the Go
Pergamum was also home to a large theater. (Again, aptly named The Theater of Pergamum). It held over 10,000 people. By the way, its ruins are still there today.
At the time, attending the theater was a common way to spend the weekend. And common plays glorified things that weren’t so godly: worship of idols, pursuing money at all costs, adultery being okay as long as you sleep with the one you truly love, and generally bucking traditional morality and doing whatever you feel like doing.
In essence, this theater was doing what Hollywood does today.
That’s why Jesus calls this place Satan’s home.
There’s temptation everywhere.
There’s false teaching everywhere.
There’s evil everywhere.
In fact, it had gotten so bad that a believer named Antipas is killed.
Put to death because he witnessed to the truth of Jesus.
Pergamum was hard place to plant a church.
Yet… The church survived.
The church held onto FAITH in a city surrounded by VIOLENCE against it.
That word “held onto” means to “grasp firmly.”
It’s like playing tug of war with a dog. You are holding one end of the rope until your dog grabs onto the other end. Then…
It bares its teeth.
It shakes its head back and forth.
It growls as it tries to wrestle that rope way.
That’s what was happening in Pergamum – the culture was like a dog trying to wrestle faith away from the Pergamum church.
They didn’t let them.
They held on tightly to their faith.
That was good.
II. The Bad
But that’s also not the end of the letter. Look at what Jesus says next: “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans." (v.14-15)
Notice the word that Jesus uses.
He says, “Some of you hold to” these teachings.
That’s the same Greek word.
The one that involves holding tightly as if you’re in a canine tug of way.
The church at Pergamum was holding onto the teachings of Jesus.
But also…other teachings.
We talked about the Nicolaitans in the letter to Ephesus. Not much is known about them other than that Jesus hated their practices. (Revelation 2:6) It isn’t surprising he wasn’t impressed by the fact that some of the Pergamum church was holding onto practices that he hated.
Balaam was a false prophet in the Old Testament. He dabbled in occult type stuff. (Appropriate for Halloween, right?) He used spells, secret chants, and the power of the devil to see the future and cast curses onto people.
He was good at it.
In fact, he was so good at it that a guy named Balak who was king of the Moabites, hired Balaam to cast a curse on the people of Israel. If you remember, the people of Israel were God’s people in the Old Testament. He guided and blessed them, because one day the Savior Jesus would come from their race. But this was back at the time when the Israelites didn’t own any land, but were simply desert nomads.
Still, at over one million people in camp, the nation was impressive. It’s why Balak was concerned that they might come into Moab and destroy his nation. So, he hired Balaam to curse Israel.
Balaam was a big fan of money, so he agreed.
He shook out his hands.
He began cursing:
Hocus, Pocus…Hocus Crocus…Hocus…How can I curse those whom God has not cursed? (Numbers 23:8)
Sorry, King. Let me try again:
Bibbiddiy, boddiy, bless….God has blessed Israel and I cannot change it. (Numbers 23:20)
Just a second. Maybe we need to change up the curse location. Let’s try over on that hill there:
Eye of newt and ointment of Gibraltar – God’s kingdom will be exalted. (Numbers 24:7)
Balaam couldn’t curse Israel.
God wouldn’t let him.
But Balaam was sly. He still wanted money. So, he offered some advice to Balak.
If you can’t curse them, maybe you can tempt them.
Send out some women.
Get their men, to…you know.
And you’ll become a part of their kingdom.
And lead them away from their God that way.
It worked. Numbers 31:16 says this: Some followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord.
Thousands of years later, the same problem was happening in the Pergamum church.
Sure, they were believers in Jesus. But some wanted to cover their bases:
I believe in Jesus, but I also believe that Isis might be able to help me with my crops. So, I’ll bring some offering to him and while I’m there I’ll sleep with the temple prostitutes. I’ll just have to remember to set my alarm so that I can get up for worship tomorrow. I’m ushering.
Some held onto a TEACHING violently opposed to JESUS’ TEACHING.
And I do mean violently opposed.
Balaam said, “Worship false gods.”
Jesus said, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him 0nly.” (Mt. 4:10)
Balaam said, “Do anything to store up treasure on earth.”
Jesus said, “Do anything to store up treasure in heaven.” (Mt. 6:19)
Balaam said, “Sexuality is yours. Do with it whatever you want.
Jesus said, “Sexuality is God’s gift. Use it within marriage as He tells us.” (Mt. 19:4-5)
Do you see the problem?
The Pergamum church held onto Jesus’ teaching.
But they also held onto things that were the exact opposite of Jesus’ teaching.
They were compromising.
III. The Compromise
Now usually compromising is a good thing.
Kids on the playground compromise and they both get to be Spider-man.
Teens in school compromise and they both work on parts of the school project.
Adults at work compromise and they go the meeting for half an hour today and half an hour tomorrow.
Spouses compromise and they have asparagus (like mom wanted) with Doritos sprinkled on top (like dad wanted).
Compromise can be good.
But not always.
I was listening to a podcast called the Liturgists the other day. (Sounds Christian right?) And the topic was pornography. I thought – That’d be good to hear. Some good tips on how to continually teach people the extreme danger of this destructive thing.
But as I was listening. One of the speakers said this:
I’ve had some experiences with porn. And I found it to be helpful. I think it allows the opportunity to learn about sex and explore one’s sexuality. It’s just the lusts of the flesh, so whom does it harm?
And I started thinking in my head:
Your wife: who will feel like she can’t live up to it.
The actress: who will continue to feel like her worth is defined by how many watch her.
The industry: as you continue to give dollars to greedy jerks who don’t care how they treat women.
Me: because society will still see it as monetarily valuable and pump out pop-up ads and sultry material on the most tame websites.
And Jesus…who said – “I tell you if you look at a woman lustfully, you are guilty of adultery.”
But the people on the podcast?
You’re right. Porn is good.
Here’s the TRUTH:
Compromise is wrong when it treats BAD as GOOD.
Jesus loves good.
Jesus hates bad.
And he doesn’t compromise.
Which means there is no compromise in the Christian faith.
You can’t love Jesus and love watching porn.
You can’t fill your spirit with Jesus and fill your stomach with moonshine.
You can’t be faithful to Jesus and be faithful to your spouse.
You can’t worship Jesus and worship your bank account.
You can’t say the Gospel is most important, but them make your traditions most important.
You can’t claim to follow Jesus and then, do whatever you want.
You can’t claim to have the truth and then hold to teachings opposed to the truth!
If you want to hold onto Jesus, you can’t hold onto things that are opposed to Jesus.
Look at what Jesus says:
Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. (v.16)
And my words are sharp.
They will cut your soul.
Because if you want to keep compromising your faith,
And keep doing the things opposed to my kingdom.
Then, I’ve got compromise for you:
You get to keep doing all that sinful stuff.
And I get to kick you out of my kingdom.
IV. What Now?
Jesus says, “Repent.”
Look at your life.
See where you’re compromising your faith.
Drop anything that’s against your Savior.
Put your faith in your Savior.
Faith in Jesus isn’t about compromises:
Faith in Jesus is about promises:
To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” (2:17)
Did you follow that section? It’s symbolic and yet rich with very real promises from Jesus:
(1) Hidden Manna
I had mentioned earlier that the people of Israel used to be nomads in the desert. Deserts don’t normally have a lot of food. There aren’t fast food places on every corner. Uber Eatz couldn’t bring you fried chicken. It wasn’t even a good place for growing your own crops.
So here what God did.
Early in the morning God send little pieces of bread, raining down from the clouds and landing softly on the ground next to their tents. These little wafer-like things tasted a bit like a honey, but not quite. A bit like bread, but not quite.
The food was so strange that the people simply called it: Manna.
In Hebrew, that means, “What is it?”
Manna was unexplainable. Its mystery was hidden. Yet God provided nourishment through it.
The same is true with the Gospel.
The message is mysterious.
Yet, God provides nourishment for souls filled with guilt.
In fact, Jesus said this: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry.” (Jn. 6:35)
Because in his Word, he gives us nourishment.
For all the times we’ve compromised.
For all the times we’ve done what we shouldn’t.
For all the times we’ve loved evil more than Jesus, God’s Word tells you:
Jesus loved you.
Jesus died for you.
Jesus rose for you.
And through faith in him, you will be given a:
(2) A White Stone
In the ancient courtroom, a judge would lead the trial and give the verdict. But around the time of this letter, the Greek world began to introduce trial by jury. A jury would listen to the case. They would listen to the prosecution. They would listen to the defense. Then, they would vote.
If a juror found the person to be guilty, he would take a black stone and drop it into the official vote casting bag.
But if the juror found the person to be not guilty…?
Jesus says to the repentant: “I am giving you a white stone.”
You are innocent.
You are not guilty.
You are forgiven.
In fact, to illustrate the farther.
It says that on that stone will be…
(3) A New Name
Because if you are someone who has been compromising your faith, you might not have the greatest name.
You might call yourself:
A porn addict.
An easy woman.
A bad Christian.
He has a new name for you.
It isn’t based on you.
God calls you:
And there’s no compromise on that.
You are God’s.
Don’t compromise on him. Amen.
When I was in Seattle, WA, I had the goal to get to the top of the highest point in the lower 48 states, Mt. Rainier. I bought the right gear. I went into training. I learned from a woman who had been up Mount Everest three separate times.
On the day of the climb, we hiked up to Camp Muir, a base camp about 10,000 feet up. From there, we slept in a tiny wooden cabin to acclimate to the altitude and rest up for the final ascent. We went to bed at 6pm and woke up around Midnight. (You have to leave early in order to cross the ice bridges before the daylight gets too hot, the bridge melts and you fall to your death.)
It was about eight hours up when a blizzard kicked in. The air was sparse. The wind was frigid. My fingers were frozen. And it was only getting nastier. Some of the other climb groups had already turned around and gone back.
About an hour from the top, the lead expeditions said:
“This is getting pretty bad. I haven’t seen it this bad before. What do you think? We could go to the top and see the marvelous views, but…
If we don’t turn around, we could get frostbite or die.
So we thought about it and said:
“I’m sure Google images probably has some might fine photos of the top. So...
Sometimes suffering isn’t worth it.
Today we are continuing our series called Dear Church. It’s a series based on letters from Jesus to seven different churches. The letter for today looks at a church that was dealing with suffering…even suffering because they were believers. Our goal today is to understand what kind of suffering believers have to deal with and whether it’s worth that suffering.
Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The One who Knows Suffering
This letter starts in Revelation 2:8: “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty —yet you are rich!”
A few notes:
The letter is again written to the angel. We said that’s most likely referencing their pastoral leadership which, in turn, means it’s a letter written to the church in Smyrna.
Smyrna was an ancient Greek city at a central point on the Aegean coast. Because its positioning allowed for advantageous port conditions and an easily defendable city, Smyrna was full of people. In other words, it was a great place to start a church.
And someone had. We don’t know the exact apostle or disciple that founded it, which shows that the Gospel was spreading beyond the work rate of the apostles alone. This church was probably not started by one of the 12 apostles, yet Jesus considers it a church. Similarly, our church wasn’t started by one of the Apostles, yet Jesus would call it a real church.
Because the Holy Spirit was at work in the word.
Here in Raleigh.
So, both are churches.
Finally, the speaker is Jesus. This is his letter. And since this is a letter to a church that is suffering, he offers his credentials on the subject:
(1) Jesus Existed before SUFFERING
These are the words of him who is the First (v.8) Jesus existed eternally long before suffering ever existed. He created a world that was perfect, apart from suffering. Then, he watched as humans foolishly were led by the devil into suffering.
Don’t think that Jesus’ main goal is to end suffering?
To bring life back to the way that it once was?
It’d be like cleaning your living room, putting all the toys in their place and removing all the crumbs from the floor – making the place a gorgeous Better Homes and Gardens style living area.
Then, your kids happen.
And you’d like to see it back to the way it was when you were finished cleaning.
The same is true for God. He has on his heart a desire to bring things back to the way they were long before suffering happened.
And here’s the good news about that:
(2) Jesus will OUTLAST Suffering
These are the words of him who is the Last. (v.8) As in, he will last beyond all suffering.
He will outlast cancer.
He will outlast financial difficulties.
He will outlast persecutions.
He will outlast terrorism.
He will outlast racism.
He will outlast the little angry emojis that people put upon Christian content on Social Media.
He will outlast every form of suffering.
That doesn’t mean he hasn’t suffered.
(3) Jesus is FAMILIAR with suffering
These are the words of him who died. (v.8)
Do you know how Jesus died?
He was arrested by a mob.
He was beaten by that mob.
He was smacked and slapped till the early hours of the morning.
He was whipped thirty times with a 7 stranded leather whip that had metal shards on the end. (Also known as flogged)
He had a crown of thorns smashed down onto his head.
He was hit with a staff.
He was laid down upon two giant pieces of wood.
He had one nail driven through his right hand.
He had another nail driven through his left hand.
He had one more nail driven through his feet.
He hung on that cross as his lungs slowly collapsed.
He was abandoned by his friends.
He was betrayed by his disciples.
He was crucified by his people.
He had our sin and guilt and shame plaguing his soul.
He was familiar with suffering.
Suffering even to death!
Now – he lives.
He lives and walks among his churches.
(4) Jesus Knows YOUR suffering
Pause and reflect on that truth.
Because it’s easy to think:
No one knows my suffering.
No one understands.
No one gets this sadness I feel.
No one grasps the loneliness that I go through.
No one truly gets the depths of my depression.
Jesus is speaking to you. He says:
I know it feels like no one knows, but I know.
I know what it’s like to suffer.
I know that you are suffering.
I know what it is you’re suffering:
I know that you feel so poor because you are suffering.
In the midst of suffering…
You are rich.
(5) Jesus Gives Eternal RICHES to the Suffering
You are rich.
Rich in my love.
Rich in forgiveness.
Rich in the promise of eternal life.
You have a place in my family that all of the money in the world would be unable to buy.
You may be suffering, but you are not suffering from a lack of my promises.
II. Truths about Our Suffering
After giving his credentials as to why he is an expert in suffering, Jesus has a few things to say about the suffering that the people of Smyrna were going through. He says:
I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan. (v.9)
Apparently there was a group that was slandering the church. It was a group that claimed to be Jewish but wasn’t. This isn’t genealogical. Jesus is referring to people who were did not have a faith that matched the Old Testament faith, but pretended they did.
Because the Old Testament Jewish faith was that God would send a Messiah to save us from our sins. Overtime some Jews abandoned that faith and replaced it as, “God doesn’t need to save us from our sins, because I am Jewish and do Jewish things.”
When Jesus showed up, a “phony” Jewish faith is exactly what the Pharisees had. Jesus was the Messiah. The real Jewish faith would have believed in him. Instead, the “phony” Jewish faith rejected Jesus as Messiah because “they were good enough Jewish people on their own.”
Now after Jesus, this group was persecuting the church in Smyrna and it was bad enough to be called “suffering”:
Maybe they were calling them names.
Maybe some of them worked on the local tax board and were taxing their church building heavily.
Maybe some of them paid of the Roman soldiers to throw church members in prison.
Regardless, the church was suffering. What did Jesus say about this suffering? A few things:
(1) Believers WILL Suffer for their Faith
Look at what Jesus says in Verse 10: Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. At first glance, this seems comforting. But if you are a Smyrnian, don’t you think they read this and responded by saying:
What? About to suffer? You mean this isn’t even done yet?
That’s the truth.
For the Smyrnian people.
And for us:
The truth is that believers in Jesus will suffer.
Some suffering will happen because we’re on a sinful world where sinful people hurt one another. (Gossip, racism, and unfaithfulness)
Some suffering will happen because we’re in an imperfect world. (Cancer, pollution, and natural disasters)
Some suffering will happen because we’re believers in Jesus. (Things like angry comments on your Christian blog, being excluded from parties because you’re “That lousy Christian,” being yelled at by your spouse because “I’m not into that Jesus junk.”)
Jesus said this:
Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me. (Luke 10:16)
Just like you might not like a football team and, as a result, you don’t like fans of a certain football team.
Or you don’t like a politician and, as a result, you don’t like followers of that politician.
It’s the same thing with Jesus:
If someone doesn’t like Jesus.
They don’t like his followers.
If sinners made Jesus suffer,
They will make his followers suffer too.
(2) The Real Villain is the DEVIL
Because if it was just a bunch of humans making us suffer, you might think:
I can take them, Jesus. I took a few defense classes once, so…I got this.
But these people aren’t the real ones behind it. Look at what Jesus says about who was really behind the Smyrnian suffering:
I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you. (v.10b)
Now it wasn’t as if the devil showed up with a red pitchfork in his hands and pointy ears like some kind of Halloween costume.
But he influenced.
He gave people ideas like:
You should tell that Jesus supporter that he’s an idiot.
You should tell that Roman guard that Christian is breaking law by praying in public.
You should break up with your wife because the amount of Bible talk she has is crazy.
The same is true today.
The real villain isn’t whoever is persecuting you.
It’s the devil himself.
(3) Suffering Lasts for AWHILE
Because look at what Jesus says next:
You will suffer persecution for ten days.” (v.10c)
That doesn’t sound awful.
It’s the reason I sign up for ten days at a fitness camp. I figure – that’s not too long. I can handle it.
Or maybe you sign up for a ten day visit to your in-laws. You figure – that’s just over a week. I got this.
10 days of persecution? That’s doable.
But here’s the thing about numbers in revelation. They are metaphoric:
The number 3 represents God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The number 4 represents humans. Humans were created in God’s image, but aren’t God.
The number 7 represents the church. It’s 3 plus 4, where God connects with humans.
The number 10? It represents completeness.
Meaning the church at Smyrna would suffer until the suffering was completed.
In other words, for a while.
And the reality is that Christians will suffer…until their suffering on earth is completed.
Suffering will be a part of your life when you’re 5.
When you’re a teenager.
When you’re middle aged.
When you’re a senior.
Even suffering for your faith…
…will be a part of your life for a while.
Only for a while.
(4) The faithful will receive the CROWN of LIFE
Look at what Jesus says at the end of verse 10:
Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
Back at this time, the victor’s crown was associated with the Olympics. It was made of olive branches and given to the winner.
To the winner of the 100-meter dash: Victor’s crown.
To the winner of the 1600-meter run: Victor’s crown.
To the winner of the pole vault: Victor’s crown
To the winner of the steeple chase (whatever a steeple chase is): Victor’s crown.
After all the training.
After all the sweating.
After all the suffering.
A victor’s crown.
Look at what Jesus promises to those who are victorious.
Who go through suffering in this life.
But hold on to Jesus:
A victor’s crown.
But not just any victor’s crown. This isn’t made from olive branches.
It’s made of life.
Do you get it?
If you hold to Jesus despite the suffering this life brings, you will have eternal life.
Death won’t win.
You will defeat it.
Just like Jesus defeated death, you will defeat death too.
You will live.
And about this life…
It won’t be one of suffering.
(5) The Faithful’s SUFFERING will END
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death. (v.11)
That’s sounds awful.
First death is bad enough.
It’s nothing but suffering.
Nothing but awful.
Nothing but hell…
…because it is hell.
But dear believers, that’s not anything you have to be worried about. The faithful will not be hurt even in the slightest by hell.
Because in heaven? There is no hell.
In heaven? There is no death.
In heaven? There is NO suffering.
No suffering for faith.
No arguments with spouses.
No rebellious kids.
No ostracization from friends.
No suffering of any amount, variety or kind.
In heaven, SUFFERING is done.
Because you’re with the one that defeated suffering.
You’re with Jesus.
III. WHAT NOW?
Jesus’ words are simple: Be Faithful.
Because when being a believer gets hard, it’s tempting to not be faithful.
“I became a believer and I still get sick.
I still have work problems.
I still have financial difficulties.
Only now people ridicule me for my faith.”
It might seem easier to stop being faithful so that you won’t have this momentary suffering.
If you stay faithful, in the midst of the momentary suffering, you will have eternal blessings.
Because God is faithful.
That won’t change.
He sent his Son Jesus for you.
And through faith in him you will be removed from suffering…forever.
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.
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.
Today we are looking at the final sermon in our EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS sermon series. It is based on the final time Jesus appeared to his group of disciples.
Have you counted up the appearances so far?
How many are there?
The other women.
The Emmaus Disciples.
The group of disciples on Easter.
The group of disciples - plus Thomas – one week later.
The group of disciples on the fishing trip.
That’s six accounts so far.
But that’s not all of them.
There’s another time that Jesus saw Peter – one-on-one. (1 Cor. 15:5)
There’s a time that Jesus appeared to a guy called James – either the disciple or Jesus’ half-brother. (1 Cor. 15:7)
There’s a time where Jesus gives his disciples the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19-21)
There’s a time that Jesus appeared to more than 500 disciples all at one time (1 Cor. 15:6)
There’s even a time when Jesus appears to a guy named Saul who was hell-bent on destroying Christianity, but Jesus’ appearance transforms his heart into a guy named Paul who goes on 4 missionary journeys, starts 20 churches, and writes 13 books of the Bible (Acts 9).
If you were counting – that’s 11 different appearances to over 500 different people.
The resurrection is not made up.
It is REAL.
But if so…maybe you still struggle with this.
Because would it be so much easier if you could SEE Jesus?
If you could take a trip to the Holy Land and get a selfie with him?
If you could check out his Twitter handle for his perspective on any cultural situation?
If you could text him every time you had a question on a Bible passage…
Why did Jesus leave?
Why did he disappear?
Today’s EYEWITNESS account is the 12th recorded account in Scripture. It is the last one that occurs before he physically disappears. Today we want to learn (1) where Jesus went (2) why he disappeared (3) and what he wants us to do in the meantime. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The “Disappearance”
The lesson we are looking at to begin with comes from Luke 24:50-51: When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.
Timeline wise this is the 40th day after Easter. We find that out from Acts 1 – which is an expanded version of this same exact account.
Note that this final appearance starts with Jesus leading his disciples. That’s appropriate. He had led his disciples for 3 years. He had led him the last 40 days. He would lead them up until his last day on earth. In fact, that’s literally what disciple means: “follower.”
And he led them to Bethany. Bethany is a small town just to the east of Jerusalem. The city is the place where Jesus commandeered the donkey for his entrance into Jerusalem. In this instance, they are just outside of Bethany where a few hills are located.
And as they get to the top of the hill…
He disciples his disciples just like he had done so many times before.
Unlike so many times before…
His feet go up.
They lift off the ground.
And his body begins floating.
And he goes up.
And up. Until…
A cloud hid him from their sight.
Do any of you know who Criss Angel is? He’s like a tattooed, goth version of David Copperfield. He is famous for street magic.
One of the tricks that he did was he began to levitate in the air. Mind you – this is on the sidewalk, in the street, apart from a magician’s stage.
I thought that was amazing.
There’s a YouTube video of him explaining the trick. Essentially, he is wearing a special pair of pants that (1) break away in the front (2) have a mannequin’s foot attached to the back of it. This enables him to plant his real foot on the ground, balance, and go into a squat that makes it look like he is beginning to float parallel to the ground. The rest is misdirection and camera positioning.
And voila! Magic.
Jesus’ ascension is not a magic trick.
He isn’t floating on a false leg.
There isn’t camera misdirection.
He doesn’t hitch a ride on a hot air balloon, a jet pack or even a drone.
He goes all the way up to the sky
Without any strings attached.
Until he is hidden by a cloud.
This is a miracle!
This is Jesus’ ascension.
Jesus didn’t disappear; he ASCENDED into heaven.
This is a really important distinction.
Because if Jesus disappeared – we’re left confused and frightened.
But Jesus didn’t just disappear.
He ascended to heaven.
That word is really important. If any of you watched Game of Thrones – and I haven’t – but I think I can reveal this without giving a spoiler. I heard that at the end someone conquers all of the other people and ascended to the throne. He wins the Game of Thrones. He ascended to his position of power.
He did it because the struggle was over!
Jesus ascended because He conquered sin.
Jesus ascended because He conquered guilt.
Jesus ascended because He conquered shame.
Jesus ascended because He conquered death.
Jesus ascended because the work of salvation was completed.
That’s so important to remember!
Because Jesus’ whole purpose on earth was to defeat all of our spiritual enemies.
If he ascended to heaven? That’s because his work is done.
Remember that – it’s really easy to think:
I’ve got more to do.
I’ve got to become the perfect mom.
Jesus weakened sin, guilt and shame – but I have to finish them.
There’s even churches out there that preach – you’ve got more to do!
You’ve gotta get to perfection.
You’ve gotta improve.
You’ve gotta do some things to complete Jesus’ work for him.
Jesus doesn’t leave tasks unfinished.
Jesus always completes.
And Jesus completed completely conquering your sin.
If he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have left!
Jesus ascended where he rules over all.
Ephesians says this: “He raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” (1:20-21)
Did you hear that?
The one who loves you more than you could ever dream is in control of all things.
He’s ruler over cities, counties, and states.
He’s ruler over kings, despots, and presidents.
He’s ruler over wind, waves, and the hot temperature outside right now!
He’s is ruler over all things!
Nothing’s more powerful.
Nothing can defeat him.
There’s one more place that he would love to rule:
I went to McDonald's the other day with a coupon for a free meal that someone had given me. After I ordered Value Meal number seven, I handed them the card and the person said: “Just a second. I can’t authorize this.”
She called over her coworker who looked at the card and said: “We need a manager to authorize this.”
She called over a shift manager who looked at the card and said: “I’m sorry. I can’t authorize this.”
She called over her manager who looked at the card, entered the code and authorized it.
It’s the same thing with life.
We want peace.
We want joy.
We want courage.
And we try to find it from all the things that don’t have the authority to give it:
Things like lust.
Things like greed.
Things like money, fame, career…a desire to be perfect!
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” (Colossians 3:15)
Because Christ is God.
Christ is the one true ruler.
Christ offers true peace.
And Christ also offers us direction.
II. Our Mission
Because if the boss leaves and you don’t know what to do, it can be stressful:
Should we finish the reports?
Should we work on new clients?
Should we try to recover old ones?
UGH! Maybe we should just drink all of the coffee.
Christ didn’t leave us unclear with what to do. Look at what he told his disciples before his ascension:
Jesus told his disciples, “This is what is written (that’s a reference to Old Testament prophecy.) The Messiah will suffer (Jesus suffered) and rise from the dead on the third day (Jesus did), and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”(That hadn’t happened yet…)
But then look at what Jesus says next:
“You are witnesses of these things.” (Lk. 24:46-48)
Do you get it?
The final part of God’s plan is bringing the message of forgiveness to everyone.
And while all the other parts happened through Jesus…
This is the part that happens through you:
Before being UPLIFTED, Jesus commanded us to UPLIFT.
You don’t need to be confused about your task on this earth.
You see a coworker who is down? Approach them, listen to them, and share the message of Jesus.
Tucking your kids in for the night? Tuck them in, kiss their forehead, and share the message of Jesus.
Have a spouse who doesn’t believe? Go home, give them a hug, and share the message of Jesus.
Serve in ministry here at school? Do the lesson plans, cut out the art project, and share the message of Jesus.
Serve in leadership here at church? Think about funding, consider maintenance, but don’t forget our goal is to SHARE THE MESSAGE OF JESUS!
But don’t think you have to do it alone.
“I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” More specifically in Acts: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you….” (1:8)
Ten days later.
The disciples are in Jerusalem just like Jesus told them to be.
There’s the sound of a hurricane like wind without the wind coming from within the room they are staying.
They look around and they see tongues of fire appear on the top of each other’s heads.
They are able to speak fluently in languages that they have never even studied.
The Holy Spirit was with them.
And they immediately find courage. Because they go out that day and do some sidewalk preaching – in the middle of downtown Jerusalem – with the end result that over 3,000 people are baptized and believe.
The Holy Spirit was with them.
And the Holy Spirit is with you.
Jesus left you with the promise of the HOLY SPIRIT.
By faith, the Holy Spirit is with you and he does the impossible.
He made fire appear on the heads of disciples.
He made them speak in language they never learned.
He made the sound of a hurricane occur without any hurricane winds.
He does the incredible!
The seemingly impossible.
Working through you.
To bring others to faith!
But that’s not all.
Look at verses 49-50 of Luke 24:
When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, Jesus lifted up his hands and blessed them.
Throughout Scripture, whenever Jesus’ hands are involved, there are some amazing blessings:
In Luke 13 he lays his hands on a woman who had never been able to straighten her back…and instantly she did.
In Mark 7, he lays his hands on a man who is deaf and mute and…instantly he hears and speaks.
In Mark 8, he lays his hands on a blind man’s eyes and…instantly he sees.
In Mark 6, it simply says, “He laid his hands on…sick people and healed them.” (v.5)
Talk about blessings.
And then, there’s the final blessing that pours from his hands.
He heads to a cross.
They take his hands and nails them.
And then blood flows forth.
But not just blood.
Jesus left, but left us with BLESSINGS pouring from his HANDS.
Even though you can’t see his hands.
Even though you can’t touch them.
The truth is no less true.
The blessings are no less real.
It’s one of the reasons that pastors for centuries have continued this tradition. Using the words of Scripture – God’s Word – they lift up their hands. They communicate God’s blessings on the congregation. They say: “The Lord bless you and keep you.”
This is more than just wishful thinking.
This is God’s real blessing given to you.
III. What Now?
I think that if you were a passerby and saw the aftermath of the Ascension, you might have laughed.
Because there were 20 some dudes.
Eyes lifted upwards.
Staring into the cloud.
Gazing into the sky.
Mouths dropped wide open.
And this continued…
A tap on the shoulder:
“The angel said, ‘Why do you stand there staring up into the sky? This same Jesus who left you…will come back in the same way you saw him go into heaven.’” (Acts 1:10)
In other words:
You have a job to do.
Stop looking into heaven.
And start looking around.
Don’t you see…?
There are souls who need this message.
Souls in your office.
Souls at the garage.
Souls in your neighborhood.
Souls in your kid’s room.
Souls in your kitchen.
Souls in the easy chair across from you while watching Netflix tonight.
Everywhere you look there is work that needs to be done!
What a privilege God wants to work through YOU!
Keep your eyes on the task that Jesus has given you
Be a WITNESS of the EYEWITNESS truth of your Risen Savior. Amen.
What is your purpose in 2019?
Pay off the mortgage – and every action that you take, every decision that you make is with the goal of paying off that house?
Maybe it’s just to look good – and every food you eat, every movement you make has the goal of looking more like you did in your twenties?
Help your business grow – and every Facebook post that you share has the goal of taking your entrepreneurship to the next level?
We recently got a cat. Yep. A cat. It’s my first one – and I guess it’s not as bad as I thought because I’m still living. Her name is Minnie. Her full name is Minnie, Warrior Kitty.
Now – she can’t talk, but after watching her interact with our house for the past two weeks – I think I understand what her mission is for 2019. I think her mission is to defend the world at all costs against any button, any remote control, any dust ball and any stray tissue that dares cross her path!
Pretty lofty goals…I know.
We’re in the middle of a sermon series called FRESH. This week our topic is PUPORSE. We want to find a fresh purpose in God for 2019 – what kind of mission statement can we adopt in our personal lives to fulfill that purpose! 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. A 1st Century Purpose
The section of God’s Word that we’ll study this morning comes from 1 Timothy 2. Timothy is a letter written to a young pastor named Timothy. It is written by Paul who was an older pastor that had a lot of experience starting churches. In this section, he is giving Timothy some instructions on what he should be teaching the people. He writes:
I urge, first of all, that prayers, petitions, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people and for kings and all in authority. (1 Timothy 2:1)
Note the “First of all.” It identifies the first thing in a list of things that Paul will be telling Timothy to teach the congregation. But it also denotes a certain level of importance. This first teaching is of great importance to God’s kingdom; so, it is listed first. It’s important, by the way, in both the 1st century AND the 21st century. So…listen up.
The first thing that’s of great importance for Christians to do?
(1) Pray for All people.
That’s not easy. Usually people like to pray for people that they (1) know and that they (2) like. It’s why people pray for themselves (they like themselves). Also their family, their kids, their spouse, and maybe even a few people from church…but probably not all of them.
Paul’s instruction is more all-encompassing than that. Paul says to pray for all people.
That includes not only the people that we know and like…
But the people that we don’t know and might not like.
For the stranger across town.
For the stranger across the world.
For the coworker that you don’t like.
For the friend that’s no longer your friend.
For the rich guy who owns a mansion.
For the homeless guy on the street.
Even for the internet troll who puts an angry face on all of your political posts.
God’s Word says to pray for all of those people.
And then to top it all off - he says to pray for a group of people that probably ranks high on most people’s list of people that they don’t want to pray for:
It’s like the coup de grace of un-prayable people.
(2) Pray for the Government.
This is interesting timing. Because we just completed a month-long government shut down. And it is highly possible that there will be another one. A shut down where lawmakers and elected officials can’t coexist and are costing people their salaries; not their own, but the people who aren’t involved in those decisions and use that money to live on.
Does it seem hard to pray for those Washington guys right about now?
If so, think about this:
The letter we are reading was written at a time when there was no democracy. There weren’t term limits. There wasn’t an opportunity to vote someone out of office if you didn’t agree with their methods.
There was the Roman emperor.
Using violent Roman soldiers.
To enforce his will.
And his most recent will? It was to throw Christians in jail, separate families, and even murder them.
Yet…Christians were still supposed to PRAY for the government.
Since it’s been recorded for us, we are still supposed to pray for our government.
That’s hard, too.
But…maybe it depends on the prayer!
Maybe it makes sense for us to pray for the government to enact laws to make our lives better.
Or to make laws that give US a tax break.
Or to make laws that fit our own political agendas.
Is that what our prayers are for?
Nope. Look at verse 2:
Pray…That we may live peaceful and quiet lives in godliness and holiness. (v.2b)
For our godliness and holiness.
For a culture that amplifies our godliness and holiness.
To put it another way –
We are to pray that God helps us let HIS light shine.
II. God’s Mission Statement
Now – this prayer request comes from God’s Word.
So…Maybe that seems a bit – selfish.
Maybe that seems a bit – vain.
Let me get this straight God...YOU want me to pray to YOU for opportunities to make YOU more well- known?
This is not about God. Take a look at verse 3:
God our Savior wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
You can learn a lot about an organization by its mission statement.
Do you know PETA? People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Their mission is to support the rights of all animals.
Habitat for Humanity? Their mission is to bring people together to build homes and hope.
Starbucks? To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one cup at a time…
Domino’s mission statement? To sell more pizza.
What is God’s mission Statement?
Let everyone know how awesome I am?
Reign terror on all people.
Confuse people about what His plans?
God’s mission statement is this:
Save All People.
That’s really a God-sized mission statement, right?
Because God’s mission is not that some might be saved.
Or a lot.
Or even most.
God wants all people to be saved.
And that mission is what guides his every action!
We saw it in our Gospel lesson for today.
Jesus had spent all night doing miracles.
He made the blind see.
He made the deaf hear.
He made the lame walk.
He made the guy with the cold better.
He made the woman with cancer well.
He made the child with epilepsy calm, healthy.
Jesus did miracle after miracle until it was too dark for people to come find him at the house he was at.
Early the next morning, before he got back to doing miracles, Jesus went up on a hillside to pray.
As he was praying, he heard a commotion in the distance.
It was his disciples:
Jesus! There you are. We’ve been looking all over for you.
I know it’s early but they’re here. The sick. The lame. Some kid who has a whooping cough. Some guy who can’t walk. There’s a woman who has a very bad fever. They’re all here – waiting at the house – waiting for you to heal them. We told them to wait but – Jesus, if we want to stay ahead of this, you’d better get back so that you can help them.
And Jesus listened.
He got to his feet.
And said something – rather strange:
“Let us go someplace else – to the nearby villages – that I may preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1:38)
Doesn’t that seem strange?
Jesus usually helps people, right?
And that is the exact reason that he doesn’t go back to down to heal the people who were physically ill.
He needed to head to other villages in order to help others who were spiritually ill.
In short, Jesus understood his mission: TO SAVE ALL PEOPLE.
He understood his mission even when the prayers and requests of all people were – “Don’t do that eternal soul saving mission; come over here and do the ‘make my life better now’ mission.”
It’s proof that Jesus wasn’t all talk.
He wasn’t like some CEO who says that he wants to help lots of people, but when the going gets tough – isn’t willing to give up a cent.
Jesus… gave himself as a ransom for all people. (v.6)
When the only way to save people from their sins was for him to give up his life…
Jesus didn’t bat an eye.
He came down to earth.
He lived perfectly when we couldn’t.
He died innocently in our place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of all of our sins.
And to be fair – we’ve talked about it very broadly.
God’s goal is to save all people.
But Narrowly, God’s mission has always been To. Save. You.
It’s why he’s speaking to you today.
It’s why he’s speaking to you in these words.
It’s why he’s speaking to your heart and imploring you.
Believe in Jesus.
III. Our Mission Statement
But that’s not the end of this lesson. Look at what Paul writes next:
For this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles. (v.7)
A herald was specifically associated with royalty. The herald would give messages on behalf of the king. He’d carry one of those long, large golden trumpets – he’d blow the trumpet and deliver a message from the King. “Hear ye; hear ye; Whoppers are now 2 for $3 at the Burger King’s restaurant.” We use the word in a famous Christmas song – “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Herald angels are not a bunch of angels with the same first name: “Harold, I told you to put your halo back on!” Herald angels were messengers delivering a message from the Divine King: “A Savior has been born!”
Paul was a herald, too. His job was to herald the message of Jesus, the Savior.
To herald it in the marketplace.
To herald it in the synagogue.
To herald it at Uncle Lou’s backyard cookout.
Everywhere he went he heralded the message of Jesus.
Paul was also an apostle. That’s a very specific job. An apostle is a word used to describe the 12 apostles and Paul. The twelve apostles were men who (1) saw the risen Lord Jesus, (2) were sent out by Jesus (3) were given the ability to do miracles by the Holy Spirit.
Undoubtedly that was very helpful for Paul! Because as he heralded the message of the Savior, the miracles that he was able to do would help to prove that his message was truth.
(It’s very similar to why Jesus’ did miracles. It was a supplement to his mission of Saving all people) Paul was able to do miracles as a supplement to help him share the message of Jesus which saved all people!
But what about you?
You might not be able to do miracles.
So…how do you fit into this mission?
Have you ever heard Mt. 28:19? It says, “Go and make disciples of all nations…by teaching them everything I have commanded you.”
Part of what the apostles heralded was the message of Jesus.
And another part of what the apostles heralded was the importance of sharing the message of Jesus. Take a look:
2 Corinthians 5:20, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors as if God were making his appeal through us.”
1 Peter 3:15, “Be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have.”
Mark 16:15, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation.”
Do you get it?
You have purpose.
Your purpose is to be a supporter and a part of Jesus’ mission.
That’s a big deal.
Your purpose isn’t just temporal, it’s eternal.
Your purpose isn’t just human, it’s divine.
Your purpose isn’t just to help something with something that will last a moment; your purpose it to help someone with something that will last for eternity.
You have purpose.
And that purpose is specific!! The apostle Paul did this in a very specific context. The Bible says that he was a teacher of the Gentiles. He didn’t just stay in the synagogues. He didn’t just stay with the people that were Jewish. He was specifically called to bring the message to the Middle East and Southern Europe.
You have a specific purpose, too.
In fact, you have a specific purpose that is key to God’s kingdom.
Because you can to share the message with people that Paul never will be able to do.
You are can share the message with people that I can’t.
You are called to be a part of Jesus’ mission for your people.
Your Facebook friends.
Not only do you have purpose, but you are key to God’s mission.
God will work through you to bring the message of Jesus to the people that you are connected to!
IV. What Now?
1. Pray for Mission Work
Do you remember what Paul was telling Timothy to tell the people? They were to be prayer warriors for the mission of God.
Since that message has been preserved for you and me to read today, we can say with confidence that God wants you to participate in his mission by being a prayer warrior for his kingdom.
That’s important. Because it’s really easy to pray for yourself.
It’s really easy to pray for God to help you with your cold.
To pray for God to help you with your work.
To pray for God to help you with your finances.
And to be fair – you should pray for those things.
But God also wants us to pray for the spiritual.
God wants us to pray for His Mission.
In fact, that’s what he tells us to do in the Lord’s prayer.
In God’s prayer we say, “Thy Kingdom Come.”
That’s not a reference to God becoming president of America in 2020.
It isn’t a reference to God setting up a Christian utopia on this earth.
It’s a reference to mission work!
Pray for mission work.
Add it to your Google calendar.
Write reminders to pray on your bedside post.
Pray for people you know that need to hear about Jesus.
Pray for people you don’t know that need to hear about Jesus.
And pray for the people that you plan to share Jesus with.
If you are a teacher, you need to teach.
If you are writer, you need to write.
Because if you are a coal miner, the most important thing for you to do is to mine coal.
If you are a herald, then the most important thing for you to do is herald!
To share the saving message of Jesus.
To herald at home.
To herald at work.
To herald at the dinner table.
To herald on a night out with friends.
To herald online.
To herald via text message.
To herald in person.
To herald in the heart of North Raleigh.
And, here’s the thing: when it comes to being a herald – it doesn’t do a lot of good to herald when no one is looking.
It doesn’t do a lot of good to herald quietly.
Speak loudly the message of Jesus for all to here.
Which may be a bit intimidating.
You might feel like you can’t do it.
But you’re never alone. God is always with you and may He continue to bless you as you live out your purpose. Amen.
Today we are finishing up our series called the Kingdom of God is Like. Throughout this series we have looked at a variety of parables that teach us a variety of things about the Kingdom of God. Do you remember them all? There should be 10.
We learned that God’s kingdom is like…
A sower that throws seed on the ground because sometimes faith grows; sometimes it doesn’t.
A growing seed because faith grows through repeated, repetitive, consistent and persistent use of God’s Word.
A mustard seed because it is seemingly insignificant work that is of eternal significance.
A homeless fox because it is greater than any material wealth.
An abandoned burial plot because it is greater than any earthly task.
A plow because it is greater than any human relationship.
A treasure because it is worth giving up everything to make sure it’s yours.
A net because it collects all sorts of people on this earth – people that will be sorted when the kingdom work is over.
A banquet because the party will be so awesome in heaven there won’t be any regrets about unaccomplished earthly work here.
One thing that all of those parables have in common is that they focused on future fulfillment. Jesus was teaching his disciples about something that would happen later on.
Today’s parable deals with immediate fulfillment. As in – as soon as Jesus gets done telling it – the exact things he had just predicted to happen began to happen.
Intrigued? This is the parable of the Vineyard Crime Scene. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Parable of the Vineyard Crime Scene
This parable comes from Matthew 21:33. The timeline of this parable is important. It takes place at the end of Jesus’ three years of ministry.
For three years he has preached the good news of God.
For three years he has proclaimed forgiveness to ‘sinners.’
For three years he has befriended the lowly, scum of society.
For three years….
He has infuriated the religious leaders of the day.
In fact, they hated Jesus!
In fact, it would not have been a stretch to say: They hated Jesus!
Crowds had stopped following them and started following Jesus. They hated that.
Crowds had stopped listening to them and started listening to Jesus. They hated that.
Jesus called them “sinners” lumping them in with the scum of society – ‘regular, common, disgusting people.’ They hated that most of all.
And Jesus knows this.
He knows they hate him.
He knows they want to kill him.
He tells the following parable to them:
There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He does a lot of the hard work to get the place up and running. He tills the ground. He plants the seeds. He builds an irrigation system. He installs that fence-like apparatus up and down the rows so that the grape vines can grow onto it.
Then, when he has the winery up and running, he realizes – I could make a decent amount of money on this. After all, winery tourism is a huge deal. He builds a wall around it, installs a wine press, adds a watch tower, maybe even a nice patio for visitors to enjoy sipping on a Merlot while the sun sets on the chateau in the distance.
Then, when it’s ready to make some money: He rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. (v.33b) Not that he didn’t still have some involvement. (Our guy is smarter than that) He makes a deal with the farmers to pay him his share of the profits that they make on his winery. Maybe, 25%? (It’s one of those royalty deals that Mr. Wonderful loves to do on Shark Tank.) As long as they are making money on it, he’s making money on it too.
It’s his land and it’s nice they are able to use it at a low price and make some money too.
The time comes for him to pick up his money.
He checks the mail – nothing there.
He looks at his Google Money Request – no dice.
He searches his email for ‘winery royalty’ and there are ZERO search results.
He sends one of his trusted servants. “Could you go to my winery tomorrow and pick up the royalty payment for me? Here’s some spending cash and a first-class airline ticket. Thanks!”
And the servant goes.
And the man waits for him to return.
And he never comes back.
So he says to a second servant: “Maybe Bob wasn’t the most trustworthy. Maybe he took the spending money and went gambling or something? I don’t know. Here. You go to that winery and bring me the royalty check.”
And that servant goes.
And the man waits for his return.
And he never comes.
This goes on for three, four, five servants – until finally, one of them makes his way back to his master.
He in a cast.
The farmers did this to me. I introduced myself politely as your representative. I reminded them that this was your land and it was a kind thing for you to let them use it. And then, they smiled—and sucker punched me. They started kicking me. One of them grabbed a vine to strangle me. If it wasn’t for the pepper spray that I packed on my key chain, I would never have gotten out of there.
Worse. Some of the other servants weren’t so lucky.
I saw a company vehicle that had been torched.
I came across Bob’s blood-stained company jacket.
I hacked into some security footage that shows one of our guys being murdered because he asked for the money.
These aren’t farmers! They’re murderers! Let’s get ‘em.
But the entrepreneur doesn’t get angry.
He doesn’t call the police.
He doesn’t seek revenge…yet.
He says, “Let’s send my son.” They will respect my son. (v.37)
Entrepreneur Jr. gets called into the office.
They explain the situation to him.
They figure – he’s so well-known and so heavily photographed by paparazzi, surely the farmers won’t harm him because such a crime would result in obvious retribution.
But when his son gets there.
And steps out of the company limousine.
And he greets them with a smile and a hearty handshake:
“Gentlemen, I know you’ve had some differences in the past, but I am not here to take everything away from you. I’m just here to collect the portion of rent that is rightfully, legally my dad’s. If you can hand me that check, I’ll be on my way and you can go back to working this vineyard – my Father’s vineyard – in peace. Does that sound like a deal?”
He holds out his hand for the check.
And he smiles.
And the farmers smile.
And they reach in their back pockets.
But not for their wallets,
For their weapons:
“This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.” So they took him out of the vineyard and killed him.” (v.39)
II. The Reality of God’s Kingdom
This may be the darkest of the parables.
It seems like it belongs on HBO programming and not in the Bible.
But remember – every parable is an earthly story that teaches us about God’s kingdom.
And Jesus told this parable to teach the angry, hate-filled religious leaders something about God’s kingdom.
When he gets done with the parable he asked them:
When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants? (v.40)
And they respond correctly.
He’ll bring those wretches to a wretched end. (v.41)
He’ll get revenge.
He’ll avenge the death of his son.
He’ll get the police involved and all of those murders will be arrested!
Then, he’ll get some new tenants – some better tenants – and rent out the vineyard to them.
Look at Jesus’ response to their answer:
Have you never read in the Scriptures: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone…” (v.42)
It’s one more mini parable. This one is about construction. Because in construction, when you are building a house – especially in the ancient world of stone built, brick by brick walls, one of the most important parts of building was the cornerstone.
A cornerstone needs to be a perfectly right angle. The 90-degree bend ensures that every other wall is aligned perfectly in the square. If it’s 89.9 degrees? The whole building will be off. If it’s 90.01 degrees, the building will be off.
It needs to be perfectly straight.
And perfectly hefty as it is foundational for the whole house.
Well, apparently when the builders were looking for the cornerstone – they came across a pretty ugly stone.
It’s not square.
It’s not straight.
It’s just a rock that doesn’t deserve a place anywhere really.
They pick it up and toss it into the construction dumpster.
They don’t need it.
Do you get it yet?
Do you understand the parables?
Because the religious leaders did.
In fact, mark it down!
This is the only parable that they ever understood perfectly. Look:
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. (v.45)
They were the ones who had rejected Jesus, the cornerstone.
They were the ones who kept rejecting God’s servants.
In fact, they were the ones who were literally plotting the death of God’s only Son!
And instead of repenting when they hear Jesus call them out…
Instead of asking forgiveness…
Instead of seeking compassion…what do they do?
They bring the parable to fulfillment:
They looked for a way to arrest Jesus. (v.45)
They looked for a way to arrest the Vineyard owners’ son.
They looked for a way to dispose of the rejected stone.
III. A Familiar Crime Scene…
Why? Why did the Religious leaders do it?
Why did they reject Jesus as Savior and plot his death?
They wanted to steal God’s glory.
PROBLEM: They wanted God’s kingdom to be about their glory.
They didn’t want to depend on someone else, they wanted the glory of depending on themselves.
They didn’t want to have to trust in someone else, they wanted to trust in their own awesomeness.
They didn’t want to have faith in some carpenter from Galilee, they wanted trust in their own sinful selves from Idiotville.
And they were so confident that they wanted no part of Jesus – they were willing to KILL him and fulfill the parable that he just told about them – forever etching themselves in the annals as wretched wretches…
…just to steal some of God’s glory for themselves.
But that’s the part where the crime feels eerily familiar.
It’s kinda like a calling card left by a serial criminal.
The Joker in Batman leaves behind a Joker card.
The local gang leaves behind their brand of graffiti.
The Wet Bandits in Home Alone leave behind a flooded sink.
This “STEALING GOD’S GLORY” thing is a calling card of a very familiar criminal:
Did ya’ll have a good Thanksgiving dinner? Maybe you had some delicious potatoes and some of those green beans with the crispy onions sprinkled on top. Maybe you had some delicious oven roasted turkey with gravy.
And maybe you were involved in making that meal happen!
You spent hours putting it together.
You have blisters from holding the French Chef knife.
Your wallet has a burn hole from the money you spent on the food.
You’re ready to enjoy the meal that you have earned.
And then, right before that first bite of potatoes and gravy, someone inevitably says : “Let’s all take turns saying one thing we’re thankful for.”
And someone thanks God.
And someone else thanks Jesus.
And someone else thanks this God guy again.
And finally, it’s your turn and you get your chance to speak and say: I’m thankful that…I didn’t get too tired this year to make the meal. I mean, I was, but I pulled through. I just buckled down and made the meal. You know – the one that you’re all eating! I did that. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Thank you! I mean – Thank me for making this a great year for me”
Friends, watch out for self-righteousness.
He resides in each of us.
He wants us to steal God’s glory.
“Sure, God loves you. It’s because you’re so lovable.”
“You don’t need Jesus. You’re a pretty good person on your own.”
“OK! Fine, Jesus died for you! But YOU’RE the one who believed in Him so…who’s the real hero here anyway?”
Today, God approaches you like that vineyard owner and asks that you give him what is rightfully his – HIS GLORY!
And the warning from Jesus’ parable is this:
Don’t boot God from God’s kingdom.
Because without God? It’s not God’s kingdom.
And without God’s kingdom… well?
That’s just you. Facing God’s vengeance.
IV. The Cornerstone
Do you remember the rejected stone?
The one with all the bumps.
The one that looked like a terrible choice for any kind of stone, so the builders threw it into the dumpster?
This isn’t in the parable, but I imagine that before they left work for that day the workers went to clock out And as they left, they told their boss that the stone he recommended, didn’t work out! So, they threw it away.
And the boss apologizes. “No worries guys. I’ll work on it. I’ll find the perfect cornerstone and have it in by the morning.
The next day…
As they are drinking their coffee and preparing for another day of work, they come to the construction site and…WHOA! There in the corner – where the best of the best – the visually perfect and totally right stone should be – is that stone that they, the builders, had rejected.
It has become the cornerstone.
And despite the Pharisees’ rejection of Jesus!
And despite their dumping of him into the rejection heap of the cross
And throwing him into a make shift dumpster –called a grave…
Three days later.
Three days later…
Three days later, he comes back to life.
“The stone the builders rejected has become the Cornerstone. The LORD has done this and it is marvelous in his eyes.” (v.42b)
Because no one else could have done this!
No one else could remove our sins.
No one else could win our forgiveness.
No one else could rise form the dead and then promise us eternal life as well.
Except God himself.
Here’s the truth: God’s kingdom is ALL about GOD’S glory.
It’s not about you achieving some kind of glory on your own.
It’s not about you getting enough glory so that God might like you.
It’s not about you earning your way to heaven.
It’s about his grace.
it’s about his forgiveness.
It’s about his glory.
But here’s the thing! Wouldn’t it have been much easier for God to win glory if he just put on some really cool laser light show?
Why didn’t he just stick to making a beautiful sunset?
Why did he go through with all of this awful, suffering and death…he obviously knew it was coming and went through with it anyway?
God went through with this suffering and death in order to bring you into his glory.
Because while God’s kingdom is all about God’s glory…, it’s also true that God’s kingdom is about YOU sharing in God’s GLORY.
That’s why Jesus did what he did.
He loved you that much.
In fact, that’s really the point of all these parables. Whether it’s about planting faith in our heart or preparing a banquet in heaven, whether it’s collecting us in the net of his kingdom work or being the cornerstone to build our eternal lives upon…It’s all about God’s glory and it’s all about YOU sharing in God’s glory.
Glory be to God!
God’s kingdom is marvelous in His eyes!
And…I hope…it’s marvelous in yours too. Amen.