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.
Everybody loves a good conspiracy theory.
That we never landed on the moon.
That Area 51 houses all kinds of aliens.
That JFK was murdered by members of his own cabinet.
Did you know the NT Church was not without conspiracy?
Today we are going to read about a conspiracy that took place in the early church, learn a thing or two about our own hearts and see why God is the ultimate detective of truth. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Conspiracy
The conspiracy starts in Acts 5. But to really understand it well, we need to get some of the context from Acts 4:32-35. It says this:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet and it was distributed to anyone who had need. (4:32-35)
Did you follow what was going on? The Early Church took care of each other. When they noticed someone in need, they not only gave money to help that person out, but they sold property to get money to help that person out.
Verse 36 identifies one specific instance of that. It says, “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought he money and put it as the apostles’ feet.”
And I love that his nickname becomes “Son of Encouragement.” Because it is super encouraging when you are out of a job, when you don’t have enough money to feed your family, when you are running out of money to keep the lights on at church, for someone to give you a gift to help out. Now imagine if someone sells their property and gives all of the money to the work of the Lord!
What Barnabas did encouraged the Early Church: People said:
Look at what God did!
Look at what he worked in Barnabas’ heart!
Look at God’s grace to his people.
Segue to chapter 5 and there’s a guy named Ananias.
He has a wife named Sapphira.
Ananias was a part of the early church and had heard all about Barnabas’ awesome gift.
He heard his church friends talk about: “What an awesome gift that Barnabas gave!”
He saw it in the monthly report: “Thanks to Barnabas for his gift.”
He saw the Facebook post from the Early Church with Barnabas’ smiling face attached to the caption: “Thanks to Barnabas for his incredible gift – we helped 5 widows!”
Ananias saw all of this.
And he wanted in.
He wanted in, but he didn’t want to give up what Barnabas did to get in order to get it. So…
He came up with a plan:
Ananias together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge, he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. (5:1-2)
Did you follow what he did?
Say Ananias had a beach house (because beach houses are pretty awesome). He put that beach house on Zillow.com and ended up selling it for $500,000. Ananias took $250,000 of that beach house sale and put in the bank. Then, he took the rest -- $250,0000 and gave it to the Early Church. Only back then it wasn’t in a checkbook, but a big old bag filled with coins – copper, bronze and gold. (I imagine he looked kind of like the Monopoly guy as he came in and placed that bag before the disciples).
Ananias was expecting to hear the same kind of praise that was lavished on Barnabas to be lavished on him:
This is amazing Ananias!
You are wonderful Ananias.
I can’t wait to tell everyone, Ananias, about how you are such a wonderful man.
But that’s not what he got:
Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings, but to God.” (v.3-4)
When Ananias heard this, he fell down…and died. (v.5)
Let that sink in.
He sold a field.
He brought ½ the money and gifted it to the church.
He was rebuked.
And he died.
And that’s not the end of the story. Look at what happened next. About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened, Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” Did you really give all the money to the church?
And Sapphira – who knows full well that it isn’t – has no problem smiling, and saying, “Yep. That’s the full price. We gave it all to the church.”
And Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door and they will carry you out also.” (v.9)
And at that moment, she fell down at his feet and died. (v.10)
This might be one of the most shocking deaths in the Bible. It seems to come out of nowhere and when our imperfect, human nature reads this it seems to put God in a bad light! As a result, there are three main ways that scholars interpret this parable.
(1) It’s a propaganda myth – a propaganda story used to scare people into giving money to the church.
But if it were a mere propaganda myth, I think it would be a terrible choice. If I started telling people at Bible Basics, “After you’re a member, you’d better give about $1000 per month or God will give you a heart attack,” I’m not so sure our membership would be trending upward.
The point is that if the disciples made this up, it seems like a terrible advertising choice. If their goal was to make up and start a religious movement, this would be a fairly foolish and strange story to include in its origin story.
(2) It’s a weird coincidence -- a weird one at that. They were shocked at having been discovered so their blood pressure increased, genetic problems surfaced and…death.
But to believe, you have to believe that husband and wife both have that condition.
That husband and wife both die from that same condition within hours of each other.
That husband and wife both die right after Peter calls them out for their deception.
Not likely? It only leaves option 3.
(3) It’s the truth. While this is the least popular theory, it’s the only one that makes sense. People knew Ananias and Sapphira. They were a part of the church. People knew that they died – in fact a group of church people was there when Ananias brought the funds and died at Peter’s rebuke!
This is real.
This is truth.
This story circulated at a time when people said, “Oh yeah. I remember that…”
But IF IT’S TRUTH. What does it mean?
Is God a big meanie for doing this? That’s always our sinful, imperfect response and I’m asking you right now to fight it. Remember – we are imperfect. We are sinners. We are the ones whose hearts have been affected by evil. Before you bite on this, consider for just a moment the alternate perspective that God is not the bad guy in the story. That what happens is a good God fighting evil.
Ok. Ananias did evil. But what was his evil? Does it mean that our good God wants us to give 100% of your paycheck to him? No. In the Old Testament, God demanded 10% as an offering. In the NT, God demands that we give our first fruits, that we give cheerfully and that we give generously. God doesn’t demand 100% of our money. (Although if he did – he is the One who gives us all things, so it wouldn’t be unfair for him to ask for what he already owns.)
What’s the real problem?
Look at a few key phrases:
“You have lied to the Holy Spirit…” (v.3)
“You have not lied to human beings, but to God.” (v.4)
“How could you conspire to test the Spirit?” (v.9)
The problem wasn’t that they kept ½ the money, but that they pretended to give it all.
The problem wasn’t that he wanted to keep some cash, but that he wanted the label of super godly without being super godly.
The problem wasn’t that they stole God’s money, but that they wanted to steal God’s glory.
II. Conspiracy within Us
What about you?
Do you belong to a conspiracy?
Do you conspire to steal God’s glory?
Of course, as any good, conspirator your first response will be to deny it.
But…examine your life…if you’re involved in spiritual conspiracy to steal God’s glory…the clues are there.
Telling your friend “I give 10% of my money to church.” When you know by 10% you meant 10 % of 10% of your spending money which is 10% of your take home pay.
Spending more time getting the right filter for the photo of you studying the Bible to post on Instagram, than actually studying the Bible.
Making sure everyone here knows you as a devoted follower of Jesus, while your secret internet history shows you are a devoted follower of XXX.com.
Telling your coworker “I belong to Gethsemane Church,” and by belong you mean, “I show up and barely pay attention for about an hour every month.”
Stop stealing God’s glory as an individual.
But what really strikes me in this text is the word “conspire” in verse 9. Because conspire involves more than one person. Ananias and Sapphira conspired together.
Our goal as a church is to aim towards God’s glory. But…
We need to be oh so careful that don’t let this place become a secret hideout for conspirators against God.
A place where we high five each other and talk about how awesome we are at following God…and forget all about the God we are following.
A place where we build a state of the art Early Childhood Center and remind everyone about how hard we worked at making the ECC --- with no mention of the One who empowered us to do so.
A place where you tell me how great I am for coming here and I tell you how great I am for coming here – and we talk about how awesome we are at ministry without actually participating in any ministry.
We can’t be a church of lies.
We can’t be a church of deception.
Even though we might fool each other.
Even though we might fool others.
We can’t fool God.
Ananias and Sapphira couldn’t hide the truth from God.
God knows all things.
God sees all things.
God knew their sin.
God knew their heart.
And our good God judged their evil sin.
And you can’t hide the truth from God.
God knows all things.
God sees all things.
God knew their sin.
God knew their heart.
And our good God will judge your evil sins.
III. Good News in a Conviction Text?
As Christian preachers, we believe that the ultimate end to the story of the Bible is good. That a good sermon convicts people of sin, but then offers the solution for their sin in Jesus their Savior. Good news. It’s not hard to find the convicting part in this text. Don’t conspire, don’t lie to, don’t try to deceive the Holy Spirit! And we have, and we are convicted. Forgive us Lord.
But what about the good news?!?
Do you see it?
The good news in this text is simply this:
You aren’t dead yet.
Neither am I
God has mercifully, patiently, kindly continued to grant us life in spite of our deceptions and lies.
God has mercifully, patiently, kindly continued to reach out to us and call for truth.
God is mercifully, patiently, kindly reaching out to you with the truth right now.
And the truth about every human heart is this –
We are sinful.
We need a Savior.
We have a Savior.
Our Savior Jesus came to this world without a deceptive bone in his body.
And he died at the hands of men who conspired to steal God’s glory.
And when he died – he died far apart from any glory!
Yet – three days later – he rose and attained all glory.
But that glory, rightfully His, he offers up to you and to me.
That’s truth. It’s no conspiracy. It’s truth. God loves you dearly.
IV. What Now?
1. Be Truth-Filled
It always seems easier to lie.
It might seem easier to talk a big game.
To tell everyone you’ve got it all together.
To save face and make sure everyone knows “you’re a good Christian.”
But that’s not truthful.
1 John says this:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make God out to be a liar and his word is not in us. If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. (1 John 1:8-2:1)
Isn’t that crazy? When we deceive and try to steal God’s glory, all glory is removed from us. People will find out. Your glory façade will fall. (That’s what happened to Ananias).
But when we confess our sins and are truthful about our utter lack of glory, God gives us His own divine glory in Christ.
The glory of Jesus means that when God our Father examines with his divine-magnifying glass every aspect of our lives – our hearts, our thoughts, our hidden longings – the only thing that He finds – is righteousness. Sinlessness. Perfection.
Be truthful. Receive REAL glory.
2. Inspire Each Other
We do not want to be a church conspiring together to steal God’s glory.
But how awesome to be a church known for inspiring each other with God’s glory!
To inspire with the message that Jesus died for us!
To inspire with the message that Jesus rose for us!
To inspire with the message that Jesus forgives us.
To inspire with the message that His heavenly riches are ours!
The other day I met lady at a coffee shop while I was working on this very sermon. She found out that I was a pastor and she asked if she could give me some advice. She told me that I needed to stop mentioning the word sin. That I needed to stop mentioning the need for some Savior. That I needed to tell people they could do it and they were alright, and they were generally doing pretty well.
And I thought…
So…you want me to lie?
Because with all the love in my heart and motivated by the love in my heart, God tells us that is not true.
Things are not alright.
Helping each other pretend that things are alright might give the gift of momentary, phony, human glory.
But telling the truth and seeking the true Savior – gives eternal, real, lasting, divine glory.
God wants us to live in truth.
God wants to heal you.
In fact, if you continue Acts 5, right after the account of Ananias and Sapphira, the text returns to telling of God’s incredible healing power. It tells of how God made the lame walk, the sick healed and the injured well.
That’s the truth.
That’s what God wants for us.
That’s what God wants for you.
Be truthful about who you are. And you will be truth-filled with who Jesus made you to be. Amen.
The Olympics are officially underway. One of my favorite parts is the behind the scenes documentaries that appear on the various athletes. They’re pretty exciting because you get to learn more about their background, their personality, and what drives them.
Like Mamee Birney. She’s a Short Track speed skater originally from Ghana, immigrated when she was 5 and now skating for the U.S. She’s one of the breakout stars of the Olympics and the very first black woman to qualify for the U.S. speedskating team. She’s intimidating. She’s bubbly. She’s excitable. She’s also 18 and just got her own cell phone for the very first time.
That’s fun. What’s nice about social media is that it connects us to these celebrities in an intimate way.
We really get to know them.
But what about Jesus?
Then disciples had followed him for 2 years.
They had seen amazing thing, heard amazing promises, and listened to amazing speeches.
But Jesus didn’t have an Instagram. How would they get to know the real Him?
Today we are travelling along with the disciples to an intimate retreat on a mountain. Our goal is to witness an event that teaches us intimate details about who Jesus is and talk about what that means for being His disciples. 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. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
Context wise – this lesson takes a huge leap forward in time from last week’s sermon. It’s about 2 years after those early chapters in Mark and lots of things have happened.
There are more disciples. The original 4 fishers of men have grown to be 12 including political activists, accountants, and others from throughout the land of Judea.
There have been many miracles. The disciples have seen Jesus make the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, storms stop, and bread multiply out of thin air. They have seen a host of incredible, miraculous things.
They have become very familiar with Jesus’ mercy. Because in spite of His divine miracles, Jesus has been reaching out to the non-divine. He has spent time with prostitutes, eaten dinner with tax collectors, and helped the dregs of society that most religious leaders would not have touched.
After seeing all of these things, the disciples knew they were following someone great. But on this particular day, they were going to get a chance to really know the man behind the powers. They were going on a Retreat – not to Disney World – not to Great Wolf Lodge – but to a quiet mountaintop. This was their chance to really understand more about their leader.
You can almost hear them practicing their questions:
Who are you really?
What are your hopes and dreams?
What’s your favorite color?
Jesus, what is it that makes you tick?
But as they made their way up to the top of the mountain – and Peter cleared his throat ready to finally ask some of those tougher, get-to-know-you questions -- Jesus was already answering those questions.
Just not with words.
It began with a glow…A white like glow emanating from Jesus’ clothing. It was a bit strange because there wasn’t a washing machine located on the top of this mountain -- and last they had checked Jesus’ tunic it was stained with the dirt that had rubbed against him from night after night of sleeping under the stars.
And certainly not glowing.
But not as strange as what they saw next. Jesus’ face was also glowing. It wasn’t a mask. It wasn’t a trick of the sun. He wasn’t shining a flashlight on his face. In fact, he hadn’t done anything differently than simply set foot on the mountain.
Yet, his face was bright. Bright–bright. Wish you were wearing sun glasses bright. It was a brilliant shining white light that was emanating from the face of Jesus in a way unlike anything they had ever seen.
But before the disciples could make any hypotheses as to why the luminescence of their leader, another mystery…Two men. (A couple of hermits? Mountain men?) appeared with Jesus.
The disciples listened more closely. They didn’t speak like mountain men. They spoke like men of God. They talked about what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah, about God’s promises about the Messiah in the Old Testament, about the next stages of Jesus’ plans for saving the people.
Who were these guys? They listened closely to what Jesus called them:
“Moses, it’s just like God prophesied through you. I am the prophet like you from among the Israelite brothers.”
“And Elijah, it’s just like God worked through you – I have done miracle after miracle – only at an even more impressive clip.”
Peter’s jaw dropped.
He turned to John and mouthed those names again:
If that’s who these two were, that would be amazing!
They were heroes of the Old Testament.
They were legends of God’s Word.
They were rock stars in the world of the Jewish faith.
They were also…dead. At least, they had been for hundreds of years.
Now about this time Peter had an idea. What was going on was breathtaking! Bodily luminescence? Material translucence? An encounter with two souls from heaven itself? This was worth sticking around for.
Ummm…Jesus. Ummm….so it looks like you are having a good time here. Me too. Really. Would you like me to set up a tent for each of you? I can use those big leaves from the fig tree over there. I’ll even set up some rocks as a bed. I’m sure that’ll be way more comfy than whatever beds there are in heaven…?
Before Peter’s could think better of his suggestion – things changed again. An ethereal fog began to drift in. Deeper than a fog a cloud! It slowly began enveloping the entire seen: Jesus. Moses. Elijah. The sycamore trees. The rocks. The disciples – until a white condensation covered everything with a white glow coming from where Jesus’ face previously had been.
And then? A voice.
Not Moses’ voice.
Not Elijah’s voice.
Not Jesus’ voice.
Not Isaiah’s voice or Jeremiah’s voice or the voice of Abraham himself.
This voice was too loud.
“This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”
Peter and the others fell to the grounds. Frightened.
Because without seeing where this voice came from.
Without seeing where the voice was looking.
Without seeing who was talking.
It was God.
It was God talking to them.
“You must listen to him.”
II. The Truth about Who You’re Following
If the disciples didn’t understand before who it was they were following, suddenly things became very clear. Amazing? Yes. Hard to believe? Absolutely. But as plain as the bright light coming from Jesus’ face – they were following God’s Son.
And since God begets God from eternity – meaning He’s always there and his begotten – his Son is always there too—they were hearing from God about God – namely Jesus!
Their leader was the divine God of heaven and earth itself.
Think about the proof:
1. Fabric Luminescence
This might be the smallest of the miracles, but still pretty amazing! Tunics didn’t get changed often and they were worn in a desert community. In addition, Jesus had just climbed up the mountain. To expect it to be bright white, Clorox bleached white at the top of the mountain was pretty incredible.
In fact, it’s amazing to see that kind of a bright white clarity out of the washing machine. Right? It’s why when they run those Oxy Clean commercials and they dunk the ketchup and grass stained white tie into the bowl of product (because who doesn’t wear a bright white tie while eating hot dogs), it’s amazing how clean the product makes the garment.
This happened to Jesus.
Without any product.
Without any washing machine.
This was amazing. This was God.
2. Facial Luminescence.
I think this one is the next step up. Because this is not something that anyone had ever noticed about Jesus before. Think about it: his face was shining to the point of it being challenging to look at him. Even if the sun was shining, I don’t think it’s ever reflected off of anyone’s face to the point of making it difficult to look at them.
Perhaps a bald man’s head might produce that effect – ish. But Jesus wasn’t bald. He was 32 years old.
And there was something else on his face that would have completely prevented his skin from reflecting the sun’s rays in any kind of way that would imitate a ‘glitter shimmer.’
Again – Jesus’ face shining like a light is absolutely was amazing.
This was God.
3. Talking with Dead Celebrities.
And I think we need to focus in on that “dead” aspect. Because as amazing as it is that Jesus knew these celebrities of Jewish culture – it was even more amazing that he was talking to them hundreds of years after they had died.
For instance, what’s more impressive --
Hey! I just took a selfie with Justin Timberlake?
or Hey! I just took a selfie with Elvis Presley?
I don’t care what your taste is in music, the second one is way more impressive, because Elvis has been long dead!
And that’s the same thing that disciples witnessed.
And the men appeared out of nowhere.
And the men disappeared out of nowhere.
This was amazing.
This was God.
4. The Voice from the Ethereal Cloud
Which – I understand that the cloud itself might be explained. Clouds sometimes hang around the mountains. Sometimes they even hang around the lowlands – we call that fog.
But what are the chance a thick cloud envelopes the entire scene at the exact moment that Jesus’ clothes are glowing, his face is glowing and he’s speaking with two long dead celebrities?
I’m guessing – it’s not so much coincidence anymore.
And then – the VOICE!!! And remember – this is long before microphones.
It’s long before mini speakers.
It’s long before drones flying in noise from above.
This is nothing short of amazing.
This is nothing short of God.
Which is the point! The point of this account is pretty simple.
JESUS IS GOD!
You want to learn more about his character, his likes? His dislikes?
He’s the eternal God.
He dwells in the holiness of heaven itself.
He hates evil.
He loves good.
He is God eternal, immortal, invisible, all powerful from eternal himself.
III. WHAT NOW?
And this is key.
Because it leads to 3 very important truths about following Jesus.
1. Listen to Him
This is exactly what God’s voice said. “This is my Son; listen to him.”
That’s interesting. Because in a lot of groups/clubs there is a certain level of dialogue when it comes to action. For instance, the “Legion of Professional PEZ Collectors” will take votes to determine where they would like to host their next rally. What city will they be in? What type of PEZ themed candies will they eat? What hotel will they use?
People discuss plans.
Not with God.
When you’re in a group with God, the all-powerful, all wise, all eternal being gets the final say.
I bring that up because oftentimes we don’t treat God like that.
We get to discuss…– “Jesus, I get it. You think that’s sinful. I don’t. We live in a modern era after all. You’re going to have to compromise with me.”
TRUTH: If you think you can discuss, negotiate or compromise with God, then who are you treating as God?
That’s not wise. Because you can’t make your face glow.
You can’t make your clothes gleam.
You’ve never met Elijah.
You don’t know what Moses looked like.
A cloud has never enveloped you on your birthday to claim you as his perfect child.
And you can’t save yourself to heaven.
You aren’t God.
So…listen to the one who is.
Listen to Jesus.
2. Reconsider Jesus’ next Mountain
Because the very next mountain that Jesus comes to after this Transfiguration, isn’t so glorious looking.
It’s a mountain called the place of the skull.
A mountain where crucifixions occurred.
A mountain called Calvary.
There aren’t a few special friends; but thousands in angry opposition!
There isn’t a shining brilliance emanating from his face; but blood. And sweat…and more blood.
There aren’t two returned to life prophets; but two dying criminals.
There isn’t the voice of God himself; but the bitter silence of the Father turning his back on him.
It sure doesn’t look glorious.
…when you remember who Jesus is.
When you remember that’s God himself.
When you remember that is Eternal Holy God, entering mortality and suffering death and pain for me!
Calvary becomes beautiful.
More glorious than the mount of transfiguration.
Because it means you’re forgiven.
It means you’re His.
it means you are loved.
And it means you’ve gotta get down from the Mountain.
3. Get Down from the Mountain
Because I understand why Peter wanted to set up the tents. When he was on that mountain, it was obvious! Jesus is the Savior. Jesus is the true God. Jesus is worth following.
And sometimes in church, the same thing is obvious. We hear these stories. We learn God’s Word. We become convinced “Yes! Jesus is the Savior. Jesus is the true God. Jesus is worth following!” When you’re here, you might feel excited, pumped up, and convinced of that truth. It sure beats being out there in the world with coworkers who call you an idiot, social media that ridicules your faith, and friends are make you have doubts.
It’s nice to stay on the mountain.
But you can’t.
Jesus didn’t stay. Jesus had to get down that mountain. He still had to complete his mission. He had to suffer and die to accomplish our salvation.
And the disciples didn’t stay. They had to get down that mountain. They had to learn God’s Word deeply. They had to begin their ministry in sharing this message of God’s grace.
And you can’t stay either.
If you think discipleship is only thing that happens within these walls, you’re wrong.
Discipleship continues out there in the world.
We have people to tell.
We have people to tell that the one we follow is the TRUE God.
We have people to #GatherToTheGarden!
Here’s the thing – you’ve had a behind the scenes look at whom Jesus really is. Just like you might get excited to share a good interview about an Olympic hero, please share this truth about Jesus your Eternal Hero.
He is true God.
He is your savior.
He is the one you’re following. Amen.
Today we’re in our final lesson of the Rise Up series. We’re going to learn that Jesus wants us to Rise Up and Go to Make Disciples. Our goal is to learn (1) Where Jesus wants us to go, why we should go, and (2) What we should do when we get there. Before we do that, let’s say a prayer and ask God to help us.
I. Go and Do What?
The lesson comes from Matthew 28. It’s another appearance of Jesus after his death and resurrection. Timeline wise, it takes place after the appearance to Thomas. We know this because a reference is made to the Eleven – which would include Thomas. In fact, lots of scholars point to the finality of Jesus’ language in this section to place this appearance near the end of his 40 days on earth after Easter.
Let’s start by reading the command that Jesus gave them. He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28)
I want you to put yourself in the disciple’s shoes for a moment. They had heard Jesus’ teaching. They had seen him die for making disciples!
Can you hear the collective gulp?
You mean, keep preaching your Words?
The very words that got you killed?
And to the nations? Like not just our families, but to strangers?
Because that’s what Jesus meant with those words. He wanted them to take the message beyond their group of Eleven!
He wanted them to…
Go to the Jews.
Go to the Samaritans.
Go to the Greeks and the Romans and the Egyptians.
Go to the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the teachers of the law.
Go to the prostitutes and the drunkards and the tax collectors.
Go to the people wherever they are people!
And he wants you and me to do the same.
Because – here’s the deal. Modern day believers are Jesus’ disciples and as Jesus’ disciples they carry on the disciples’ mission. DO YOU BELIEVE IN JESUS? Then, you have the same mission: Go and make disciples of all nations.
Go to your neighbor who speaks more Spanish than English.
Go to the immigrant who only moved here a month ago.
Go to the tattooed barista with the big stones in his ear holes.
Go to the coworker whose skin is a different shade of brown than yours.
Go to your cousin who’s gay.
Go to your husband even when he’s made it clear that he’s sick of you talking about Jesus with him.
Jesus wants you to GO!
Jesus wants Gethsemane to GO!
He wants us to go and make disciples!
II. Do What?
Now if you’re thinking, “OK. I’m going home. I’m going to put my dad in a headlock and force him to believe.” Don’t. That’s not what I’m saying. (And I don’t need a lawsuit). Jesus explained how to make disciples in his commission. “Go and make disciples by … teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
You may be thinking, “Pastor, how do I know what Jesus said? I’m not one of the Eleven?” Easy. You read what a few of the Eleven wrote down that Jesus said. That just so happens to be in the Bible.
Granted. You might not have the Bible memorized yet. (You probably never will.) Nor do you need to start sharing the message of Jesus by outlining the genealogy of Jesus with all of the names in order. Start with the main message.
What is that message? Do you remember the phrase S.O.S? It’s a series of letters that first started in WWI as a way for ships to communicate with others ships that they were in need of help. If they were in danger of sinking or under attacked, they’d use over Morse code to deliver the signal S.O.S. It communicates immensely important information very quickly.
When you are sharing the message of Jesus just remember S.O.S. to communicate the two most important concepts to your friends.
1) Show Our Sins
That’s what the Bible does. It shows us we haven’t measured up. It shows us our sin. It shows us that we need a Savior.
How so? It tells us what sin is and when we read what sin is – we think – it sounds familiar. For instance, the Bible says, “Don’t hate.” When I read that, I think, “Wait. I’ve done that. I couldn’t be?” Then, I keep reading and the Bible says, “Don’t lust.” I think, “Wait, I did that last week.” The Bible doesn’t miss a beat and says, “Love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.” I think, “Uh oh.” And if for some reason that doesn’t work, the Bible straight up says this, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 – In fact, write that down and memorize it for an easy way to share the Gospel.
The Bible shows our sin. It’s like a mirror that shows you where a stray whisker is or an x-ray that shows where the problem is – it shows our problem of sin. When you are talking with a friend, it will show them their problem of sin, too.
2) Show Our Savior
Thankfully the Bible doesn’t stop there. Thankfully, the Bible has a second S.O.S. In fact, it’s the bigger and more important message. The Bible also Shows our Savior. It tells us about Jesus, that he lived perfectly, died innocently and rose triumphantly for us in order to save us from all of our sins! To put it another way – it gives us the solution to the problem it exposes – it gives us Jesus, the solution for sin!
And I’ll tell you guys. There’s nothing better than looking someone in the tear-filled eye, struggling with guilt, up all night because their sins have been bothering them and causing them to feel like they will always be far apart from God eyes and telling them – Jesus lived for them. Jesus died for them. They are forgiven!
You can be a part of that. Remember: S.O.S. Show our Savior to your friends. In fact, remember Romans 3:23? Write down the second half right now (verse 24). All have sinned and fall short of the glorified God (vs. 23) and all are justified freely through grace in Christ Jesus (vs. 24). If you don’t feel comfortable explaining all this, then simply share that passage with a friend.
Not comfortable speaking? Email them.
Facebook message them.
Worst case scenario? Just invite them to church where they’ll be Shown the Savior! That’s part of going!
This is a separate point, but related to the past two. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (v.19) Baptism too make disciples. It’s an incredible blessing from God. It’s physical, tangible, visual Gospel.
Think of baptism like a Sharpie. I used Sharpies when I was younger to write my initials on the bottom of my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures. That way I wouldn’t lose the toys when my friends took their toys home.
In Baptism, God writes his name on you. He says that you are his through the death and resurrection of Jesus. He calls you his own. In order to make you his own, he cleansed you; purifies you; and makes you holy. He bathes you in the love of God the Father, in the precious blood of Jesus Christ and in the faith strengthening power of the Holy Spirit.
Pastor, I’m in. I’ll go get a firehose and a loud speaker. Let’s go downtown and baptize the whole city of Raleigh.
No! (Again – no need for a lawsuit.)
For adults, we baptize those who have heard God’s Word and ask to be baptized.
But there are some people you could baptize…
Some people who are apart of all nations and whom God has called you to go to!
Some people who are little people.
Baptize your child. If you haven’t done it yet, you need to. Jesus says it to you hear, “Go and make disciples of all nations – your kid is included – by baptizing.” Listen to Jesus. Make your child a disciple of Jesus. Baptize them in God’s name.
If you want to do this, email me. Text me. Talk to me after church. We’ll make happen! There’s no need to delay. We need to heed his direction and go!
III. But Why?
Granted. You might not want to do this. Telling your friends, your family, a stranger about religion might not seem like a very 21st century thing to do. It might not even be on your bucket list. Why should you?
Check out verse 19: Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
(1) Jesus said So
Have you ever worked in fast food? Imagine you were at McDonalds and you normally work the drive thru – the drive thru that your manager said you were to manage all night and never leave that post unless you wanted a “McDock” in salary.
What happens when the guy at the counter who just started his job says, “I need you to clean out the bathrooms.” Hopefully, you don’t listen. He doesn’t have the authority. But what if your manager, who told you to stay, who wears a special manager’s shirt, and even has a name tag that says, “Manager’ comes over and says, “Go and arrange the ketchup packets.”
Well…then you go and construct the Taj Mahal of ketchup packets. He has the authority.
Why listen to Jesus? Simply put. He has the authority. Not just some authority. Not just a little authority. But all authority in heaven and on earth.
If you questioned him on this, think of what happened a couple of weeks before this command. He rose from the dead. I can almost hear Jesus now:
Ya’ll remember a few days ago? Remember when you thought I was dead forever? Remember when I came back to life, but instead proved my authority over death? Remember how I have authority over life and death for you?
You should listen to me.
It makes sense. If you listen to him for the way to eternal life, why not listen to him for purpose in life? Why not Go?
(2) It’s of Eternal Importance
The second reason is a bit hidden. Listen again to Jesus’ words, “Go and makes disciples…” A disciple is a follower. A follower is a believer. According to Jesus himself who has the authority to authorize such things, “All who believe in me will be saved.”
In other words:
Jesus alone saves us to heaven.
Jesus alone saves us from hell.
Jesus alone saves us from eternal damnation to eternal life.
To put it simply – It’s of eternal importance to go and make disciples!
Granted. Most modern Americans do not see it this way. They see going and sharing your faith as unloving:
You’re forcing your beliefs onto me.
You’re trying to make me feel bad and yourself feel better.
Let me believe what I want and let me live my life. You’re being selfish!!!
But is sharing Jesus really selfish?
What if you were going on a date and you asked me how I looked and as you smiled at me, I saw a big, old, green, leafy spinach sticking out of your teeth. And what if I thought, “I don’t want this to get uncomfortable and I don’t want to hurt their feelings because I don’t want them to speak gruffly to me, so…You look great!”
Is that loving?
Nope. It’s selfish.
It’s the same thing with faith on a grander scale. If you are convinced that Jesus is your Savior and it is by faith in him alone that we are saved, you have to share this message. Sharing your faith isn’t selfish; not sharing is!
And Jesus isn’t about selfishness.
That’s why he went through the uncomfortable death on the cross for you.
Maybe it’s worth going through a much less uncomfortable moment with your friends?
(3) God has Your Back
Finally, remember that God has your back. Because this can be very intimidating. Go and make disciples of all nations! So Jesus told them that they would not be alone. He said this, “Surely I will be with you always to the very end of the age.” (Mt. 28:21)
That’s good news. Because Jesus wasn’t afraid of even the scariest of situations.
He wasn’t afraid of storms in the middle of the sea; he stopped them.
He wasn’t afraid of legions of demons; he drove them out.
He wasn’t afraid of fatal illness; he cured it with a snap of his fingers.
He wasn’t afraid of death; he rose triumphantly on the third day.
He isn’t afraid of your uncle getting a bit cranky.
He isn’t afraid of a few friends calling you a loser.
He isn’t afraid of someone BLOCKING him on Facebook.
Don’t you be either. He’s with you. He’ll protect you.
We’ve got a mission. And that’s the main message for this morning. Jesus has a mission for you and me – to go!
So don’t lollygag.
That’s what happened with the disciples. A couple of days after this commission, Jesus took them out to a hill and something amazing happened. He literally lifted off of the ground and levitated up to heaven.
No jet packs.
Just Jesus and his God power heading up into the clouds.
It was amazing enough that the response of the disciples was to stare, mouth open up into the sky.
That is, until a stranger tapped their shoulders.
The angel said, “Why do you stand there staring up into the sky? This same Jesus will come back in the same way you saw him go. But ya’ll? Go to Jerusalem. Wait for God’s gift. And then? Begin your work.”
Go and make disciples.
Allow this to be your divine shoulder tap:
Stop staring and go make disciples! Amen.