Looking for a job can be difficult.
Searching for jobs online.
Filing out applications.
Phoning, emailing, texting to check on those applications.
And the interview!
You rent a suit coat.
You part your hair ever so particularly.
You practice saying: “I’m not in it for the money, but because of the sheer joy I get from filling out spreadsheets and alphabetically filing documentation.”
As challenging as finding a job can be…
It gets exponentially more difficult if you have something on your record.
A terrible credit report.
A job history with a few firings.
Even an incriminating Facebook photo or post that you forgot to delete.
Past mistakes can make it difficult to find work in the now…
But what about God’s kingdom?
What if you have mistakes in your past?
Surely – if humans wouldn’t hire you – God, who is perfect, wouldn’t want you to work in his kingdom either…right?
Today’s EYEWITNESS account is about a guy named Peter, who had made some rather big blunders while working in God’s kingdom. We want to learn (1) what his failures were (2) how they affected his role in God’s kingdom and (3) what that means for our roles in kingdom work. 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. Peter’s Story
We are continuing where we left off last week. If you remember, Jesus had appeared to his disciples on the Sea of Galilee. When he appeared, he told them to toss their nets into the lake and – immediately – the net is full of fish. Amazing – because Jesus was 100 yards away on shore and the disciples had been out all night without catching anything.
But that wasn’t it – as the disciples row the boat to shore, Jesus already has fish sandwiches cooking over the fire for them to eat. It’d be similar to someone gifting you a $100 Starbucks gift card and then, when they invite you to Starbucks – they pay for the coffee for you.
Jesus did the same. He provided abundantly.
He provides abundantly.
And I’ll bet the disciples were loving this interaction.
Because Jesus was back!
He conquered death!
He was alive!
He was just as powerful as ever!
And he was with them.
This was great news --- for most of them.
While Peter was happy to see Jesus alive, it also reminded him of the last conversation that they shared.
It had been back before Jesus died.
Back before Jesus was arrested.
They had been sitting down for a meal and Jesus had said, “I tell you the truth. You will all fall away on account on me.” (Matthew 26:31)
And Peter heard it.
And believed most of it.
“Even if all fall away on account of you, Jesus, I never will.” (Matthew 26:33)
I mean…I’m Peter!
Jesus gave me that name.
It means “Rock.”
I am Peter and…I will not fall!
Turned to Peter.
Looked him straight in the eye.
And said this:
“Truly I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me – three times.” (v.34)
Peter would never forget those exact words.
Before that night was over a group of soldiers had come to arrest Jesus.
Swords, clubs, and spears – Peter was frightened like the rest of the disciples and ran away.
Then, sure, he regained his senses and made it into the courtyard where they were holding the illegal late-night trial of Jesus.
Only to deny knowing him.
But three times.
And then? The rooster crowed.
The one Jesus had predicted would crow - it crowed!
Peter hated roosters now.
Because now they were a reminder of how he had sinned.
A reminder of how he had failed…
A reminder of how he had fallen…
A reminder of his guilt.
Guilt is always tricky. It can easily burden a soul.
But Peter’s guilt was especially difficult for a trifecta of reasons that are especially hard to get over. For a few reasons:
He didn’t deny Jesus one time. He didn’t deny Jesus two times. He denied him three times in one evening. (Although during that third time it says that he called down curses upon himself, so even thought it was one “time period” perhaps it was a bunch of times within that time period).
Repeated guilt is hard.
We were given a good deal on a Prius a while back. Great car. Great gas mileage. Fun to drive.
But it’s extremely low to the ground. The bumper is about 2 inches from the street. So, when you come down our driveway which is on a decent incline…if you don’t turn the wheels at a specific angle to the right and back out at that exact angle – the front bumper scrapes.
Do you know how many times I’ve gotten that wrong? (I’m especially guilty of it every morning when I haven’t had my coffee yet) I keep messing up and I keep feeling guilty about it. In fact, the front bumper is cracked in all kinds of places. And it now serves as a 21st century, sheen black version of a rooster. Every time I look at it, I’m reminded of my failures!
Repeated guilt is hard.
Repeatedly drinking too much.
Repeatedly losing your temper.
Repeatedly looking at porn.
Repeatedly lying to your spouse.
Repeatedly being jerk at work.
Repeatedly being a bully to your family.
Repeated guilt is hard because there’s no excuse.
The devil comes along and says,
You know better!
But you did it anyway.
This is unforgivable.
Because Peter was a leader. He was a disciple; more than that – an apostle. There were only twelve of those hand selected and chosen by Jesus. And of those twelve disciples – Peter was definitely a leader among them: He had the privilege of walking on water. He saw Jesus heal a dead girl when many of them didn’t. He was chosen along with only two others to see Jesus go up on a mountain and reveal his heavenly brilliance. Peter was a leader.
And then he fell.
And when leaders fall…
They quickly become leaders in holding onto guilt.
Maybe you know.
Whether you’re a leader in your family.
Or a leader here at church.
Or a leader among your friends.
Or a teacher of kids.
Or even…you’re the only one at work who is Christian – making you a spiritual leader by default – and then you sin…?
How’s that feel?
The devil comes along and whispers:
“You’re a leader…and you did that?”
“I’m not sure you’re a leader anymore…”
“…I’m not even sure you’re a part of his kingdom.”
Because by the time Peter gets to the third denial, there’s a crowd of people gathered around him:
A crowd of people watch him as he shakes his head vigorously.
A crowd of people listening as cusses out Jesus.
A crowd of people taking mental note of his sin.
I wonder how many of those people Peter saw again.
I wonder how that went?
Public guilt is hard.
There’s this thing I receive every Monday called a Call Report. “Call” is a reference to the special “calling” that a ministry worker has to their particularly congregation. The “call report” details any changes in those ministry positions. It’ll say: “Pastor So-and-So retired.” “Pastor what’s-his-face is switching congregations.” And even “Pastor who’s-his-name has decided to remain at his current congregation.”
But every once in a while, it says this:
“Pastor removed for cause.”
To me, it’s a terrifying expression. It means “removed for doing some gross outward sin.” It’s a phrase that no pastor ever wants said about them. It’s terrifying among our pastor circles, because it is a phrase that screams: “Failure.”
And everyone now knows you as…
Not as a brother.
Not as a pastor.
Not even as your first name…
But as “Pastor, Removed for Cause.”
But as a non-pastor you can feel the same thing.
You might have a sin that your family knows about.
That your coworkers know about.
That your friends saw you do.
And now every moment you spend around them is spent like Peter:
Did they see me sin?
Do they know about my guilt?
Do they think of me as SINNER?
Like you’ve got a big old black marker on your forehead everywhere you go that says: “INSERT SIN HERE.”
Public sin is hard.
Any one of these three types of guilt are challenging on their own! If you’re dealing with any of these, they can overload you. Burden you. Suffocate you.
Peter had to deal with all three all at once. That’s an extreme amount of guilt.
And it needs an extreme amount of restoration.
II. Peter’s Restoration
Peter finished up his breakfast.
Another meal done.
Another visitation from Jesus without having to talk about the sinful things that I did.
If I just keep a low profile, stay quiet, and avoid eye contact, I should be able to avoid him altogether.
Peter turned around to find Jesus standing right in front of him.
Face to face.
Eye to eye.
Heart to heart.
“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
At this point, the conversation seemed a bit too familiar.
Three times? Really?
It reminded him of those three times that he denied Jesus.
Peter said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. (Jn. 21:15-17)
He doesn’t ream Peter out.
He doesn’t kick Peter out.
He doesn’t even respond to Peter’s claims of loving him with: “Umm…No, you didn’t. Remember?”
Jesus doesn’t bring guilt.
He brings restoration.
Restoration to God’s kingdom comes out of Jesus' work.
It didn’t come out of Peter earning it. Peter hadn’t done anything to make up for what he did.
But Jesus did do something.
Jesus did everything.
He lived perfectly when Peter could not.
He died innocently in his place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of Peter’s sin.
The same is true with you.
If you’ve sinned against God.
If you have repeated guilt.
If you have public guilt.
If you have leader guilt.
Jesus doesn’t make you do something to make up for it.
Jesus did everything for you.
He lived perfectly when you could not.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sin.
Remember earlier – when we talked about having a criminal record and how hard it is to find work with that record. One thing that you can do is you can get your record exponged.
It takes a lot of money.
A lot of time with lawyers. '
A lot of paperwork and a lot of pleading with a judge...
But it is sometimes possible to get it expunged, erased and cleared.
Understand this – Jesus has expunged your record.
He did all the work.
He paid for it completely.
Your guilt is expunged, erased, cleared.
In short – listen to Jesus’ message to you right now:
You are restored to my kingdom.
You are guilt free.
You are forgiven…and…You have work to do.
Restoration to God’s kingdom means Restoration to Kingdom Work.
That’s a bit unexpected. Because the devil would love to have you think:
“OK, fine. You are a part of his kingdom, but…Stay in the back. Go into the corner. Hide. Because you are not worthy of being on the front lines.”
But that’s not what Jesus says.
In Peter’s restoration, He goes straight to telling him to work for his kingdom.
He gives him a job.
He restores him not only to his kingdom, but to work in his kingdom.
And God has done the same for you.
He restored you to his kingdom.
He has restored you to kingdom work.
III. Kingdom Work
And what does that kingdom work look like? You get an idea in Jesus’ instruction to Peter.
Feed His Sheep.
Jesus says that is what true love for him is:
Feed my lambs. (v.15)
Take care of my sheep. (v.16)
Feed my Sheep. (v.17)
Does he own a farm I’ve never heard of?
Did he develop some petting zoo?
Does Jesus have a little lamb whose fleece was white as snow?
When Jesus talks about his lambs and his sheep, he’s talking about his people.
When Jesus talks about feeding those lambs and sheep, he’s talking about sharing the message of reconciliation with others.
You know the same message that gives you hope and comfort…
Give it to others!
Love for Jesus means sharing his message.
Telling your neighbor about Jesus.
Spreading the Gospel to your coworkers.
Sharing forgiveness with a church friend.
Teaching the little children about their Savior.
Inviting the community of North Raleigh to hear of God’s love.
He’s talking about our very mission:
To plant the Message of Jesus in the heart of north Raleigh.
When you are sharing the message of forgiveness, you are caring for sheep.
You’re leading someone to streams of living water.
You’re giving them some of God’s forgiveness.
You’re feeding them a steady diet of “Jesus died for you. Believe in him. You are forgiven.”
Here’s the challenge. The devil will love to convince that we aren’t worthy of sharing the message.
He’ll say that you aren’t qualified for that kind of work.
He’ll say that you are a failure.
He’ll say that you should leave that to others who aren’t as much of a failure.
But here’s the thing about feeding sheep.
It doesn’t matter if the farmer puts the food in the bucket.
It doesn’t matter if the farm hand puts the food into the bucket.
It doesn’t matter some disenfranchised, former farm hand puts the food into the bucket.
The sheep eat the food.
The food nourishes the sheep.
The sheep get the health benefits of the food -- no matter the moral background of the one who put the food into the buckets.
It’s the same with kingdom work.
The power is in the Word.
And those who are a part of kingdom are qualified to work with it.
And you…are an important part of his kingdom work.
Feed his lambs.
Take care of his sheep.
Feed them with the Gospel of Jesus.
We’re continuing our sermon series about EYEWITNESS Easter accounts where we read reports from people who saw Jesus come back to life with their own eyes.
We heard from a group of three women at the tomb.
We heard from Mary Magdalene a bit later.
We heard from 2 disciples on a road trip to Emmaus.
We heard from about 20 disciples in a locked room.
In total on Easter Sunday, there’s around 25 eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ resurrection.
In 4 different locations.
At 4 different times.
That’s a lot of proof.
And yet…maybe you’re not convinced…
Have you ever played the game of OLD MAID before?
What happens is you are dealt a hand of cards. Once it’s your turn you draw cards from any other player on the table. The goal is to get pairs until you run out of cards in your hand. And you never, ever want to get the Old Maid.
Which I’m not sure why anyone doesn’t want the Old Maid.
Generally speaking – I’d love an Old Maid.
It’d be great to have someone help around the house…but I digress.
What happened when I was growing up is my dad used to take his hand.
He’d spread it out in a fan.
He’d take one card and put it up…enticing-like.
And he’d say, “You should take this one. Trust me. It’ll be good.”
And I’d believe him.
Eventually. I didn’t take that card.
I was burned too many times.
I was skeptical.
Maybe you’ve gotten the Old Maid too many times.
Maybe you’ve been burned too often.
Maybe you’ve believed too many sinful people who have let you down too many times.
Maybe you’re skeptical about Jesus.
Today we’ll look an eyewitness account from a guy that was filled with skepticism. Our goal is to listen to how Jesus transforms his skepticism to faith – and see how we might transform ours into faith. 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 Eyewitness Account
Thomas’ eyewitness account comes from John 20. It starts in verses 24 with a caveat, “Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.“ It doesn’t say what Thomas was doing when Jesus appeared to all of the other disciples. Picture what you’d like. Maybe he was out for a walk. Maybe he was visiting a relative.
I like to think he was out getting coffee.
Probably a Venti black coffee.
And as he was sipping the coffee – because the coffee is taking his mind off the terrible events that have happened recently - he sighs.
This is really awful.
We spent years following that guy.
He’s no Messiah.
And we’ve got no hope.
As Thomas gets close to the door of the house, he takes a deep breath.
They are my friends. I should try and cheer them up. Get them ready to move on.
But from within the house –
Thomas doesn’t hear sadness.
He doesn’t hear crying.
Thomas has to really knock on the door to get them to hear him over their talking.
Finally, the door bursts open:
Alive! Thomas! He’s alive.
We saw him. We saw him. We saw him.
Thomas – we touched him. We put our fingers in his hands. We put our hands into his side.
Jesus’ resurrection is real!
And this goes on for a while.
Thomas’ friends trying to share their exuberance with their friend.
Ya’ll are crazy.
I don’t know happened. If you had too much to drink or you’re hallucinating.
But.. I do know what didn’t happen.
Jesus didn’t visit you.
He isn’t alive.
When will you guys get it through your thick skulls!
But one of them approaches:
We aren’t crazy.
We aren’t drunk.
Look around. There’s like 20 of us in the room.
20 of your closest, most sincere, loving friends in this room.
All of whom are telling you the truth – Jesus is alive!
We saw it with our eyes.
We touched him with our hands.
We’re telling you with our words.
Doesn’t that count for something?
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (v.26)
One week later.
Same time of day.
Only this time…
Thomas is with them.
Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” (v.26)
Then, Jesus made a bee-line for Thomas.
Hey friend. “Do you see me?” I’m right here.
Put your finger here. That’s where the nails were.
Put your hand into my side. Isn’t that what you wanted?
While you’re at it. Close your eyes and listen…Can you hear my lungs breathing?
Put your ear against my chest. That’s my heart.
If you won’t listen to your friends.
Listen to me:
Stop doubting and believe. (v.27)
To which Thomas.
Doubting, skeptical Thomas.
Can only say:
“My Lord and my God!” (v.28)
In other words:
II. Resurrection Truth
There it is. Thomas’ eyewitness account.
An account that has made Thomas forever known as Doubting Thomas.
Which – not super flattering.
I think, anxious Thomas, kinda-believing Thomas. or even average, everyday common Thomas would have been preferable.
But Doubting Thomas it is…and that’s important. Because his skepticism leads us to three incredible resurrection truths:
(1) Jesus Rose from the Dead
Fourth time it’s been key truth #1. It’ll keep coming.
But for real this time – because if last week’s account of 20 some odd people seeing, feeling, touching the risen Jesus … if that wasn’t enough.
Then, Thomas’ account is for you.
If you don’t believe this happened, Thomas’ words are for you.
He says, “I get it. I was skeptical too. Some guy dying and rising for the forgiveness of sins? It sounds crazy. It doesn’t happen. But it did. I saw him with my own eyes. I touched him with my own hands. I did a thorough investigation – And it led me to this truth: Jesus is alive!”
And here’s the really cool part.
If Jesus is really alive.
Then so is his forgiveness.
Even for the doubter.
Because…notice what Jesus does when he enters the room.
The first thing he says is: “Peace to you.”
That “you” is plural.
It is all encompassing.
It includes Thomas.
Jesus didn’t say, “Peace be to most of you…but not you Thomas. You can sit over there and be anxious for a bit.”
Jesus brought real forgiveness.
Even to the doubter.
Because maybe you’ve been doubting God.
Maybe you doubt this resurrection.
Maybe you’ve been doubting this Jesus thing.
Maybe you’ve never believed before.
Maybe you doubt God is with you, that God cares for you, that God loves you.
And listen to Jesus’ voice:
“Peace be to you.”
(2) Faith is a Gift
Thomas had said, “Unless I see Jesus with my own eyes and touch him with my own hands, I will not believe.”
Stop and listen to what just happened.
Sinful, imperfect Thomas just gave Holy, Righteous God…an ultimatum.
God doesn’t owe Thomas anything.
And yet – God gives Thomas exactly what he asks for.
He GIFTS Thomas exactly what he asked for.
He gives him the opportunity to be an eyewitness.
He gives Thomas faith.
And in fact, go a bit farther:
Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (vs. 29)
People who haven’t seen Jesus.
Who is Jesus talking about?
You see Jesus?
Dear believer, he’s talking about you.
But don’t get a big head. Listen again to Jesus’ words:
Blessed means given a gift.
And if you believe in Jesus…
If you believe that some dude died 2000 years ago, came back to life, and in him you are forgiven of all your sins?
That…is a gift.
A miraculous gift.
Don’t forget that.
I was talking with a woman the other day who was pretty excited to tell me that she got saved.
I said, “Oh. That sounds nice. What do you mean?”
And she said, “Well…I was already living a pretty perfect life. So, I though I might as well do it and decide to bring Jesus into my life. And Pastor, you should have seen it. I really did it.”
Did you catch that?
I did it. I did it. I did it.
I thought she said that she “got saved.”
But what she meant was, “I saved myself.”
Here’s the thing:
Faith isn’t something you do.
Faith isn’t something that you make happen.
Faith isn’t something that you get down on the ground, clench really hard and will into happening.
Faith is a gift of God.
If the devil has made you think that it’s something you do – be careful. It’s a line of thinking that leads to two scenarios:
(1) Pharisaical. AKA – Trust that I’m really awesome at believing.
(2) Despair. Because I’ll never be able to bring myself to believe this.
In both of those instances, faith isn’t in Jesus.
Faith is in oneself.
And that’s NOT saving faith.
Friends, faith is a gift.
Take a moment.
Give thanks to God for your Savior Jesus, yes.
But also gives thanks to God for your gift of faith.
(3) The Gift of Faith Comes through the Gospel
Because maybe you’re thinking – “God! I want this gift of faith. How are you going to send it?”
Maybe you can send me it via USPS?
But look at what John writes right after this eyewitness account. He says this: Jesus did many other miracles in the presence of his disciples – some that we didn’t even get to hear about – but these words are written – why? – that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (v.30-31)
Faith is a gift that comes through God’s Word.
Faith is a gift that comes through the words about Jesus.
Faith is a gift that comes from hearing about your Savior.
Scripture says this, “Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:8,9)
There’s not any fireworks.
There isn’t any magic incantations.
There isn’t any incredible 60 day fast that you need to do in order to cleanse your body and pray yourself into the kingdom of faith.
You simply need to hear the Gospel.
Because the Gospel brings the gift of faith.
How does it do that?
Because it’s not just some person’s words.
It’s the Word of God Himself.
The all-powerful, all loving, doing everything it can to reveal to you Jesus’ saving work to get you to heaven: God’s Word.
That leads me to two very simple WHAT NOWs:
(1) Immerse Yourself in God’s Word
Because if you have doubts, if you are unsure, if you are a skeptic…
The cure is not an ultimatum to God.
The cure is God’s Word.
His gentle, powerful, faith creating Word.
I love you.
I died for you.
I rose for you.
If you want a stronger faith – study God’s Word.
In church. In a group. With others. On your own. In your family.
If you think your faith will grow without God’s Word – that’s like thinking your home garden will grow without any water.
It won’t happen.
Some of ya’ll need to hear God’s Word on this. Immerse yourself in the only thing that gifts faith in order to grow your faith: God’s Word.
(2) Share God’s Word
Because you probably know someone who is a skeptic.
You probably know someone who is unsure.
You probably know someone who is doubting.
You might even think – I don’t know what needs to be done.
You know the solution.
It’s God’s Word.
Bring them God’s Word.
Tell them about Jesus.
Tell them about the Savior.
Because it is through that message of God’s Word and only through that message of God’s Word that God gifts faith. Why it’s so important to share it with others.
Go and tell!
We recently got a cat.
I know. I know…this sounds like a confessional.
But, it’s true. After 33 years of claiming that I would never own a cat, I caved, and I did.
And it’s been fun.
She enjoys keeping us safe from any fuzz balls and dust balls that she sees.
She loves to go hunting for leaves.
She even enjoys a playful, piercing bite to my front toe.
But the other day, my wife told me that she had done something crazy. Julianna texted me that we needed to close the windows so that the cat couldn’t climb the screen.
I said, “Yeah. How could she do that?”
Julianna said, “I see holes in the screen right now.”
I said, “Those are probably from bugs or some severe storm.”
She said, “I’m pretty positive it’s from the cat.”
I said, “Oh yeah. Prove it. How do you know?”
My wife texted me a photo of the cat climbing the screen.
Eyewitnesses are important. They are verbal proclaims of the visual truth. They are the difference between…
Fiction and non-fiction.
A fairy tale and history.
A lie and truth.
Over the next couple of weeks, we will be starting our sermon series called EYEWITNESS. It’s all about the eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. I think we need to do this because the resurrection of Jesus is too big a deal to rely on hearsay, to trust maybes and to listen to theories.
Our goal today is to look at a real eyewitness accounts…
Of real people…
Who had real interactions…
With the really risen Jesus…
As real proof of your real salvation.
Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Mary’s Background
The first eyewitness account that we are going to look at comes from a woman named Mary Magdalene. What interesting about Mary is that she doesn’t play a big part in Jesus’ three years of ministry on earth. In fact, there’s very little that is written about her except for this:
Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus had driven out seven demons. (Mark 16:9)
It’s not even a full sentence. Just a passing adjective comment.
But…one that’s pretty heavy.
She had been possessed by 7 demons. Evil spirits. Fallen angels. Powerful. They had taken hold of her mind. Something that Bible theorists will suggest happens from dabbling in the demonic activity (the occult, psychics, blood sacrifices) and excessive drug use.
Regardless how it happened to Mary, we know it was terrible.
She had no control of her personality.
She was a prisoner in her own mind.
In a state of deep depression.
With a helplessness that doesn’t go away.
Except, it did.
Mary was possessed.
Jesus healed her.
I don’t know exactly how, but if it is anything like Jesus’ other miracles, then it was probably as simple as Jesus lifting his hand and saying:
Which…Can you imagine?
If you’ve ever had a counselor help you with a breakthrough.
Or a pastor help you grasp God’s forgiveness.
Or a fatal diagnosis that a doctor diagnosed, prescribed medicine and helped you defeat.
You know the kind of deep connection that Mary had with Jesus.
That’s why she had become a follower of his:
She had been trapped, Jesus freed her.
She had been guilty, Jesus brought her forgiveness.
She had been depressed, Jesus brought her joy.
She had been lonely, Jesus brought her family.
She had been hopeless, Jesus made her hopeful.
He was violently, publicly, cruelly crucified on a cross.
And all of her hope?
All of her joy?
All of her sanity…
Started to slip away….
She could feel the devil’s grip tightening on her again.
II. The Eyewitness Account
That’s why she got up so early Sunday morning.
You see -- Jesus had been killed Friday evening. They buried him. She would have gone to his grave to mourn, but they have this Sabbath rule where you can’t go to visit the dead on a Saturday.
But Saturday was over.
It was still dark.
It’s not like she was sleeping anyways.
She threw on her sandals.
Fastened on her cloak.
And walked off to her friend’s house.
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!
“What do you want?”
“It’s Sunday. We were going to go to his grave. We were going to go to Jesus’ grave so that we can honor him.”
“But Mary. It’s not even light out yet. It’s still night time. It’s…just gonna take me a second while I get ready.”
As they walked through the slowly evaporating darkness, it was mostly quiet.
Whenever her friends tried to make small talk, Mary quieted them. “We’ve just gotta get to Jesus’ grave.”
As they approached the garden, Mary worked into a sprint walk.
She began opening up the bottle of perfume she had brought to pour on his grave and anoint his body.
“Mary, did you think about how we were going to get into the grave? There is that giant stone that the soldiers put there to make sure that no one could get in. I saw some of those guys. They’re built like models. It took about 5 of them to move it, I don’t see how we…”
She stopped talking.
Off in the distance was Jesus’ grave.
The giant stone?
It was moved.
Immediately, Mary burst into tears:
“What did they do? What have they done? They couldn’t just leave him alone. Those jerks! Those losers! How could they do this? How could they leave us like this? Without even a chance…to heal.”
She broke down.
Her friends tried to console her.
But Mary shrugged them off.
She turned around and sprinted back towards town.
She could barely see where she was going with tears clouding her vision.
She made her way to where some of the twelve disciples were staying.
She pounded at the door.
She screamed at the door.
She made a commotion till their let her in:
“They took his body. They took his body. They book his body…the tomb is empty!”
Two of the disciples rushed out.
They sprinted to see what she was saying.
And Mary tried to follow, but she grew too tired.
Her legs got wobbly.
She slammed her back against tree trunk.
And fell to the floor.
After sobbing for a good 15 minutes, She stood up.
She didn’t have any tears left.
She had to get to the bottom of this.
She had to get back to the tomb and find some kind of a clue…a witness…a footprint that would lead her to Jesus’ body.
She went back to the tomb.
Her friends were gone.
The disciples were gone.
The stone…was still gone.
This time…she took a deep breath…and approached the tomb.
Inside the tomb, she found some men.
Dressed in white.
A gleaming, blinding white light.
Radiating from their clothes.
Radiating from their faces.
Both sitting on the bier where Jesus’ body had been.
Between them? Grave clothes. Folded ever so nicely, ever so gently, as if they were no longer necessary.
“Woman, why are you crying?” they asked.
“They have taken my Lord away! And I don’t know where they have put them!”
Mary turned around. The men were nice. And it was strange that they were glowing, but…she didn’t have time. She needed to find his body.
Outside the tomb, someone else.
Hard to tell who – with the tears blurring her vision.
It was probably the gardener.
“Woman, why are you crying?”
This is the one. He must have taken the body. He must have moved it at the requests of the Pharisees!
“Tell me sir. Tell me…Please…Where did you take his body? Why did you leave the grave….empty?”
The air was still.
Mary’s breath paused for a moment.
She had heard that voice before.
She had heard that voice teach her about God.
She had heard that voice proclaim forgiveness.
She had heard that voice drive away her own demons!
It was Jesus!
“Teacher!” She cried as she grabbed a hold of him with a hug.
As she hugged, she knew it was real! She felt his shoulders.
She held him by the back.
She felt the warmth of his breath.
Jesus was alive.
III. Resurrection Truth
This is the eyewitness account of Mary.
It is an eyewitness account that is recorded for us in Scripture.
The guy who wrote it? John – he was one of the disciples that went running to the tomb after Mary told him it was open!
And the book of John? It was written down and passed around at a time when Mary Magdalene would have still been alive.
And she didn’t say “Nah, man. That’s wrong. It didn’t happen this way.”
She said, “That’s the truth.”
There are three really important divine truths that we need to take home with us today.
(1) Jesus Rose from the Dead
Granted. You might be skeptical of that truth.
Because most people when they are dead? They can’t do much. Their bodies just lie there and slowly decompose.
And even people who are living – they haven’t figured out a way to bring people that are dead back to life either.
But if this is true…
When Jesus was dead, he figured out one thing that no one else could ever figure out while they were alive – conquering death itself!
If you’re skeptical, Mary’s account is for you. Because think about how long it took her recognize that Jesus was alive.
She saw the immovable stoned – moved and her first reaction?
“They took his body.”
She went into the tomb and saw two angels –glowing with divine splendor. Her reaction?
“They took his body!”
She went outside the tomb and saw Jesus – but was so overcome with emotion that she says to Jesus,
“You must have taken his body!”
She wasn’t wrong.
It isn’t until Jesus…
Calls her name…
That she realizes the incredible truth right in front of her!
Friends, you might be dealing with sadness.
You might be dealing with difficulties in your marriage.
With challenges at work.
With a financial crisis.
With a terrifying diagnosis.
With guilt, shame, and sin.
And sometimes that can all cover our hearts and close our eyes and make us say, “There is no HOPE in this world! This Jesus’ thing can’t be true.”
When that happens…
Hear Jesus’ voice…
He’s calling to you.
“I am alive.”
(2) The Work of Salvation is Finished
Check out verse 17:
“Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
The reason Jesus came to earth was to win your salvation.
He came to suffer death for your sins.
He came to earn your way to heaven.
He came to pay for eternal life.
If he’s heading up to heaven, guess what?
That work is done.
Granted – that can be hard to believe.
It’s like Easter weekend. Maybe you are planning on having relatives to your house. Maybe you wanted to clean for your relatives -- so you make a check list: Sweep the floor, dust the counters, disinfect the countertops, clean the bathrooms, do the laundry, make the beds, clean up the toys, etc.
And you go to work.
And you come home and….
Your husband says, “Surprise! I did it already. It’s finished. You don’t have to clean anymore!”
How do you respond?
Probably…by sweeping the floor, dusting the counters, disinfecting the countertops, etc.
When Jesus tells you that it is finished.
It is finished.
Your salvation is won.
Your sins are forgiven.
Eternal life is yours.
Heaven is your home!
“It is finished.”
You don’t need to try and earn his love.
You don’t need to complete your salvation.
You don’t need to pay your way into heaven by working hard and becoming perfect.
Jesus did it for you.
(3) Go and Tell
Because right after Mary realizes that Jesus is standing right in front of her…
Having conquered sin and death…
Renewing her hope again…
She’s overcome with emotion.
She holds onto him.
She doesn’t want to ever go back to guilt and loneliness and despair. Never again!
But Jesus says something interesting:
“Do not hold onto me. Instead, go and tell.” (v.17)
Because there were others who had lost their hope.
There were others who were in despair.
There were others who were shacked to guilt.
Mary’s eyewitness message – would change that.
She would give them hope.
She would give them joy.
She would give them freedom.
Friends, there are still people like that today.
There are people who don’t know their Savior.
People who don’t know the resurrection story.
People who think Easter is all about sugary yellow marshmallow chicks
They are overcome with guilt.
They are dealing with a lack of joy.
They are struggling with despair.
Can you do me a favor?
Listen to your Savior.
Go and tell.
Later today at your Easter party, turn to the people who didn’t come to worship to celebrate this message and share the story of Easter. Go and Tell.
Later this evening when you are on your phones, take a note or two from this sermon and share on social media. Go and tell.
Tomorrow morning as you head to work – gather around the coffee pot, talk with your coworkers about why you liked Easter and how amazing this message of the risen Savior is. Go and tell.
And understand this.
You won’t be just giving them a story.
You won’t be just telling them a fairy tale.
You’ll be giving them true hope.
We are four weeks into our Fighting Temptation series.
Question: How is it going with that?
Are you on a hot streak against temptation like never before?
Have you been sinless for three weeks?
Are you a perfect, 1,567-0 against every temptation in the month of March?
Maybe a better question is:
Have you won any temptation battles?
Today we’re going to talk about what to do when you have failed at fighting temptation. 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. Two Different Reactions
The lesson we are going to look at is from the book of James 4. James is a letter written by James, a pastor in the early Christian church to Christians everywhere. In his letter, James gives all kinds of guidance to FIGHT temptation. He tells them to not be prideful (1:11), to be slow to anger (1:19), to get rid of moral filth (1:20), to watch their tongues (1:24), to not show favoritism (2:1), to care for others (2:15), to not curse (3:10), to not be envious (3:14), to be peace-loving (3:17), to not fight amongst each other (4:1), to not covet (4:3), and to not be romantic with someone that isn’t your spouse (4:4).
That’s a lot of commands.
That’s a lot of opportunity for temptation.
But about midway through chapter 4, James begins to talk about what to do if you find yourself falling to temptation. He identifies two completely different approaches to losing: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (4:6)
Have any of you been watching the NCAA Tournament? Teams win and teams lose. It’s interesting to listen to teams when they lose – whether it’s in an interview or Twitter – there’s really two different reactions to losing:
Some say, “We lost. We didn’t play well. We didn’t deserve to win. We failed.”
Others say, “It was the refs’ fault.” “My teammate didn’t play up to his potential.” “I read a mean tweet and I wasn’t able to focus like I should.”
Two different reactions:
Humility and Pride.
It’s the same thing when we fail at temptation.
We can respond in humility or pride.
God opposes the proud.
God gives grace to the humble.
II. Types of Pride
But it’s not necessarily that easy.
One of the trickiest things about pride is that pride tends to be very good at disguising itself.
It’s very good at not realizing its own sinfulness.
It’s very good at making you think – that it’s not prideful at all.
Because of that – I would submit that each and every one of us -- even long time Christians – struggle with some version of pride when we fail to temptation.
Here’s a list of a few different prideful ways that we respond when we fall to temptation. Which one are you?
1. The Bar-lower-er
It’s like the high jump. Did any of you have to do the high jump back in high school gym class? It isn’t easy. You have to time your run, time your approach, plant off the back foot while arching your back in the air, throwing your feet back and then jack-knifing over the top.
If you aren’t very good at it, what happens? The coach lowers the bar. From 5 foot to 4 foot 6 inches to 4 foot to…maybe let’s try laying the bar on the ground.
Bar-lower-ers do the same thing with the bar of conduct that God has set:
“God, I know you said to love my spouse – but marriage is hard. You should be happy! I wasn’t that rude.”
“I know the Bible says, ‘Don’t lust,’ but that’s unrealistic. God’s probably happy that I didn’t actually sleep with her…for long.”
“I know the Bible says, ‘Love your neighbor,’ but have you met my neighbors? I’ll tolerate them. What more can you really ask for?”
And there’s no sorrow.
There’s no humility.
Because the bar-lower-er makes it over the fake bar that he set up – while ignoring the divine bar that God set up way over his head.
2. The Fixer
That name comes from politics. A fixer is the person on your political team who has the ability to fix any negative, dirty laundry news story and make you into the hero of the narrative. If you’ve ever watched Scandal, this is Olivia Pope’s job. She finds out the bad story that’s going to hurt her client, she reworks it, and feeds that story out instead in order to make her client look good.
The Spiritual Fixer responds to sin the same way.
Bitter and angry at work? No. I was just standing my ground against all the bitter and angry people who were challenging my ideas!
Cheated on my wife? Nope. I’m just a romantic. A fan of true love. I’m the good guy in the story.
Said something racist? Nope. I was baited into it…by some other friends…who knew it would happen. They’re the real racists.
And there’s no sorrow.
There’s no humility.
Because the fixer imagines himself the hero of his story --- even when God says he’s clearly not.
3. The Accountant
Kudos to actual accountants. They do impressive work. They take numbers. They take receipts. They take line items and mistakes and put them all together to try and make the numbers balance – no matter how it is.
This is hard work. It’s why Kevin from The Office developed a “Keleven” It’s a made up, magic number he uses to balance the numbers when he can’t figure out the mistake.
The Spiritual Accountant does the same thing. They try to take the seeming “good” that they’ve done and balance it against the bad that they just committed. Like some kind of magic number, they try to make it balance.
Sure. I was grumpy this morning. But I was nice from like 1:15-3:30p yesterday afternoon so…
I have been gossiping a lot lately. But I did go to church Sunday and Wednesday for the Meditation service.
I know I told a lie there. But this morning I told like 4 truths. Things like “Good morning” and “I had an egg for breakfast.” It all balances out.
And there’s no sorrow.
There’s no humility.
Because the Spiritual Accountant thinks they’ve made up for their wrongdoing – even when God says the only way to make up for sinful wrongdoing is death.
4. The Bootstrapper
This type of person “Pulls themselves up by their Bootstraps.” Have you heard that phrase? Apparently, it means to be lying on the ground with your boots on and then, to grab ahold of the strap at the top of the boot until you are standing. This isn’t actually that possible. It’s really, really, really hard. Hence the phrase, “Pulling yourself up by your bootsteps” being an exemplary thing. If you can do that, then people will forget all about the fact that you fell – they’ll be way too impressed by the fact that you pulled yourself up by the bootstraps.
Spiritual Bootstrappers think they can do the same thing. They focus on how they’ll get themselves out of sin to distract themselves – and God – from the fact that they have sinned.
I know. I know. I got drunk for the 8th day in a row You might even call me addicted. No worries. When I get out of this, it’ll be that much more impressive.
Yes, I lost it on my kids again. But I’m gonna keep improving, keep working harder, and I’ll figure out how to deal with 4 whining kids all by myself.
And…I said things that made my spouse mad at me. But I’ll fix it. I’ll buy flowers. I’ll buy a nice card. I’ll send her a cutesy emoji. I’ll pull myself out of the pit I dug.
And there’s no sorrow.
There’s no humility.
Because the Bootstrapper distracts himself from his severe sin by looking at his half-hearted, sin-tainted, feeble efforts at righting it.
5. The Humble Looking
This seems a bit like an oxymoron. Because this type of response to sinning doesn’t seem prideful at all. In fact, they sound humble. They say things like, “I am a miserable sinner.” “I did an awful job.” “I am a horrible, no good, very bad person – God!”
It sounds humble.
God, I have so much sin, that it’s too much for you to handle on your own. I’ll try to help.
God, I’ve done so much wrong. I don’t think your blood can cover it all.
God, I really messed up. I can’t ask you to help. I don’t belong in church. That wouldn’t be right.
There’s false sorrow.
There’s false humility.
And there’s this strange clinging to a tiny ounce of sinful dignity, because “I’ll feel better about myself if I can help God out with getting rid of my sins.”
Here’s the truth:
All five of these responses to sin are prideful.
All five of these responses to sin set oneself up against God.
The Bar-lower-er says, “God, your bar wasn’t good enough. I’ll make my own.”
The Fixer says, “God, you don’t know the whole story. You’re wrong for rebuking me.”
The Accountant says, “God, if you don’t accept all the good I do for you, you’re the one who isn’t any good.”
The Bootstrapper says, “God, don’t patronize me. I don’t need your help. Even if you tell me I do need your help.”
The Humble Looking says, “God, you can’t do this on your own. You need my help.”
All five of these responses to falling at sin will leave you…imagining that you’re up and on your feet again.
When in reality…
You’re still lying on the ground.
You’re still beaten.
You. Aren’t. Getting. Up.
God opposes the proud…
God gives grace to the humble. (v.6)
III. Blessings of Humility
Our Old Testament lesson was from the book of Judges. Have you ever read the book of Judges? It fits in really well with today’s lesson, because it is filled with a very repetitive theme:
Repeated, repetitive failures to temptation.
It’s a cycle.
Israel falls to temptation.
God warns them to stop.
Israel has too much pride to listen.
God warns them again.
Israel still doesn’t listen and…
God is against them.
God sends a foreign nation to overtake them.
Israel is overrun by the Assyrians, the Moabites, the Philistines.
The once proud people of Israel are defeated – lying flat on their backs.
As they are on their backs…
They realize that they cannot get themselves out of the predicament.
Their story changes.
They ask God for mercy.
He sends a conqueror.
He sends a hero.
He fights for his people and gives them the victory!
Friends, there is blessing in humility. Look at what James says:
1. The Devil Flees
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (v.7)
Which seems strange. Because you would expect your best chance at beating the devil to involve puffing your chest out, getting really big, really prideful. Like scaring off a grizzly bear. You act as impressive as possible so as to scare him off.
The devil is not scared of you.
Not one bit.
On the other hand, when you are humble…
When you admit that you can’t do it alone…
When you call out for help…
He’s absolutely terrified!
2. God Comes Near
This is the reason the devil is terrified. Look at what James writes, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (v.8)
Because God is a God of mercy.
He is a God of compassion.
He is a God who helps those who need help.
He erupts volcanos.
He flicks his wrists to send hurricane like winds.
He pours out rushing flood waters.
He is the undisputed, undefeated, champion against temptation – and there is no love lost between him and the devil.
God shows up and the devil runs.
He does one of those things that the Roadrunner used to do in Looney Tunes and leaves a cloud of dust behind.
James writes, “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (v.8b)
Because the reality is that falling to temptation can feel awfully icky.
It can feel like the end of a long day working outside.
There’s dried sweat on your forehead.
Dirt under your finger nails.
And this…stench that just seems to be deeply entrenched in your skin.
He washes us cleans.
He washes away your guilt.
He washes away your shame.
He washes away the stink and the stench.
And replaces it with the beautiful perfume of the phrase: “Forgiven.”
4. Uplifting to the Highest Heights
James writes, “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (v. 9-10)
The truth is the humbling yourself means that you will be lowering yourself.
There’s a moment when you say, “I am a sinner.”
A moment when you say, “I failed, again.”
A moment when you say, “I can’t do this on my own.”
During that time, you can feel really low.
God forgives you.
God uplifts you.
God lifts you up beyond where you were before – and places you up beside Him – in His kingdom!
Do you get it? If you fall and a friend picks you up, your feet are back on solid ground.
But if you fall and God picks you up…your feet are on heavenly ground.
IV. What Now?
The one WHAT NOW? It’s pretty simple:
When you fail against temptation…
Humbly seek God’s help.
Humbly hear his promise of forgiveness.
No matter how many times you’ve fallen to temptation.
Like the son in the story that Jesus told.
Remember what he did?
He came up to his dad – long before his dad was dead – and said, “Give me my inheritance! I’ve had enough of living under your roof. I’m sick and tired of doing what you tell me to do. I’m sick of being here. There’s a whole world full of life out there. Give my money. Give my money so I can leave and never have to look at your ugly face again.”
And his dad was sad.
But he gave him the inheritance.
A couple hundred thousand dollars.
And the son takes the money.
He heads to the city.
He goes downtown.
He rents a high-rise $4,000 a month apartment.
Every night he goes to the finest steak restaurants.
He drinks top notch scotch after drinking top shelf vodka after drinking a $25 dollar shot of whiskey.
And he buys for his friends.
And he buys illegal drugs for him and his friends.
And he buys women for him and his friends.
And he wakes up around 2 pm the next day.
And does it all over again.
The money’s out.
No one will hire him.
He gets evicted.
His “friends” ignore his text messages.
He pretends to have enough cash for an Uber out of the city – only to pretend like he left his wallet in the other pants when he gets to a local pig farm that’s hiring.
And he gets a job.
Feeding the pigs.
He gives them slimy old applesauce.
He gives them moldy old cheese.
He gives them this greenish, brownish muck that he’s not sure – isn’t snot.
It looks so good.
He’s so hungry.
And he says to himself, “I should never have done it. I should never have left my dad. I had it good in my dad’s house. I was fed. I was clothed. I was…home.”
I don’t deserve to be his son.
But…maybe he’ll let me clean the outhouse. And gives me a few pieces of bread for supper.
He makes his way to his dad’s house.
When he reaches the dirt road, the long dirt road that leads to his Father’s house…
He takes a deep breath…before he walks up.
But before he can get far, way off in the distance…his dad. He sees him! And he takes off down the dirt road.
And the son thinks, “Here he comes. He’s going to give it to me. He’s going to scream at me. He’s going to tell me how awful and terrible I messed up and that I should buzz off and never be around again.”
And as his dad approaches.
He lifts up his hand.
And his son braces himself to be smacked on the cheek.
His hand doesn’t hit his face.
It embraces him.
But the son shrugs him off! “Seriously, Dad! I sinned. I did wrong. I don’t deserve to be your son! Let me work my way back. Let me do my own thing. Let me be a worker on the lowest run in your farm.”
But the dad…isn’t listening.
“Hey Walter! My son’s back!! Run; tell the cooks to get the steaks from the freezer. Go grab some of my finest wines. And text everyone that I know. There’s a party at my house tonight.”
Because…This son of mine is lost; but NOW? is found.
Friends, this is God’s reaction to you.
When you fail against temptation, humbly return.
And you’ll be welcomed home.
Last week we started our Fighting Temptation series by looking at Jesus’ one-on-one battle against the devil. We watched him effortlessly defeat Satan’s attempt at trying to make him sin. Jesus is the Undisputed, Undefeated, Unblemished Champion against Temptation.
But maybe you also noticed that the battle had some cost for Jesus.
It cost him time with his friends.
It cost him a stress-free month.
It cost him a delicious meal for about 40 days.
Truth is that temptation costs…
Is it worth it?
A couple of years back one of the dads at Precious Lambs taught karate. With some encouragement, I tried it out. And I enjoyed it! I liked learning the proper way to punch. I enjoyed learning a few combos. I think I looked pretty good in the ghee.
But after about a month of training, the Sensei invited me to a sparring match against another gym. I wouldn’t do any sparring, but I could watch more experienced classmates in action. He said, “In the future, this could be you.”
So, I watched.
It looked pretty fun.
I thought, “I sure would like to do that.”
Until about 30 minutes in. One gentleman began a reverse turn while lifting up his back leg (almost parallel to his head). As he completed his revolution, he brought his heel down in a striking manner towards his opponent’s head. Now – his opponent was ready and put his arm up to block the heel kick.
He did everything right.
And I thought: “I think I’ve had enough karate…”
It cost too much.
Today we’ll examine fighting temptation when it costs. Our goal this morning is to identify those costs, compare them to the costs of NOT fighting temptation and get some motivation to keep fighting even when it costs. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Costs of Fighting Temptation
The lesson for this morning comes from Philippians 3:17-21. A brief bit of background. This is from a letter written by a pastor named Paul to his former congregation in a city called Philippi. One of the key parts of the letter is to encourage the believers in Philippi to fight against temptation.
In 1:10 he says, “Be pure” and fight sexual temptation.
In 2:1-3 he says, “In humility consider others better than yourself” and fight selfish temptation.
In 2:14 he says, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing” and fight temptation to discord.
In 3:2 he says, “Watch out mutilators of the flesh” guys who taught you needed to be circumcised to be saved and fight the temptation of trusting your own works more than God.
All of this fighting temptation talk leads up to verse 17. Paul writes, “Join together in my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.”
Fight temptation like I, Paul, have fought temptation.
That sounds nice.
Paul was an apostle.
He fought temptation well.
It’d be good to fight like him.
Do you know what happened to Paul for fighting temptation?
I don’t know exactly how this letter got to the Philippians. But if it is anything like today, there’d be a return address up on in the corner of the envelope containing the letter. And…based on where Paul was when he wrote this, the return address would have said something like this:
Roman Inmate #1764
Roman Federal Prison
Rome, Italy 2761 Jailbird
And I bet the church thought:
Did we break some kind of legal code?
Is someone asking our church for money?
Did one of our youths from youth group get in a bunch of trouble?
It’s just your former pastor…
And yet Paul tells them! I’m in Chains for Christ!
“I’m in jail not because I fell to sin. But because I didn’t fall to sin.
Because I kept preaching the Word of God.
Because I kept telling others about Jesus.
Because I kept sharing the Gospel even when the temptation (and the temptation was great) even when the temptation was to stop sharing the Gospel.”
And now Paul tells the to join in his example, to fight temptation just like him.
But if I’m one of the Philippians reading this message, I’m not so sure!
Because if fighting temptation means going to prison, then…
Fighting temptation has a cost.
It costs you time with your family.
It costs you your job.
It costs you your freedom.
It costs you 6 am fresh coffee from Sola Coffee Café!
It’s like one of those commercials for a new drug. The voiceover tells you that this new, simple pill will allow you to grow back your hair in only 3 months. Everyone in the commercial looks happy. They all have a full head of hair. And you think: “Sure I’m interested. I’d love to get rid of my balding look.” Then, at the end of the commercial, there’s that part where they run through a few of the side effects in 10-point font:
Side effects include: nausea, headache, joint pain, dizziness, loss of sleep, too much sleep, loss of taste, loss of vision, loss of hearing and loss of hair.
Fighting temptation has side effects.
Fighting temptation has costs.
Here are a few common costs to fighting temptation
1) Earthly Relationships
I remember one time that I found a pretty good devotional. It was talking about a hot topic social issue. I posted this pretty good devotional on a hot topic social issue despite the temptation to maybe…move on. The result? I had a friend message me that if I ever did that again – he would block me. We wouldn’t be friends on Facebook.
Fighting temptation can cost you relationships.
“No, I won’t meet together for coffee and complaining anymore.” And they reply, “I guess you’re not our friend.”
“No, I won’t support your addiction and tell you that you don’t have a problem.” And they respond, “Okay. I’m done with you.”
“Significant other…I love you, but NO I won’t be sexually intimate with you until the promises of marriage.” And they say, “Well, then. You don’t love me. And we’re done here.”
2) Career Path
If you’re looking at Paul’s career strictly from an economic perspective, he made a big mistake by using his oratory skills to preach Jesus. Before he did that, he followed the Pharisees. He was an up and comer. Rich people liked him. He was a made man – a future leader in the city of Jerusalem. Thankfully Jesus intervened and taught Paul the truth – about what to believe and what to preach.
But then he taught about Jesus.
That landed him in jail.
Fighting Temptation can cost you your career path.
“No, I won’t fudge the numbers of my sales calls…and I’ll probably lose the promotion to the guy who does.”
“No, I won’t bad-mouth my coworkers…and I’ll probably lose the bonus to the guys who do.”
“No, I won’t hide my faith at work…and I’ll probably have to get a talking to from HR.”
3) Bodily Pleasure
Easy example. Think of the temptation to overeat. The temptation to have the third eclair is great! To say, “No!” comes with the cost of not having the pleasure of enjoying it.
Fighting temptation can cost you bodily pleasure.
“If I say NO to porn, it will cost me an excited feeling.”
“If I say NO to getting drunk, it’ll cost me a wonderful relaxation.”
“If I say NO to letting all of my rage out on that loser over there, then It’ll cost me the opportunity to get my stress out.”
4) Human Glory
For Paul, he lost all kinds of glory! He could have been something big. He could have been a guy that people walked by and said, “Now that guy’s impressive. He’s really good at following God’s laws. He’s so religious. He’s so holy.”
Instead? “That Paul guy is a loser.”
Fighting temptation can cost you human glory.
“If I say NO to racism and stop bad-mouthing people of another culture, it’ll make me feel inadequate because I won’t be able to distract people from my own flaws.”
“If I say NO to berating my wife, she might feel valuable and worthwhile to this family at the expense of me feeling like the sole provider!”
“If I say NO to pride, it’ll cost me all those people over there knowing how awesome I am!”
“If I say NO to making that funny dirty joke, all my grade school friends won’t think I’m cool anymore”
“If I say NO to drugs, all my high school friends will think I’m a loser.”
“If I say NO to supporting that sinful thing society says is “OK,” all my adult friends will think I’m a bigot.”
There is no doubt that Fighting Temptation comes with costs.
There is no doubt that Fighting Temptation will be painful.
There is no doubt that the temptation to not Fight Temptation is enticing.
II. The Cost of NOT Fighting
Before we give up on fighting temptation and give in to whatever sin is tempting us, we need to look at this from the other side.
We need to compare the cost of Fighting temptation with the cost of NOT fighting Temptation.
That’s exactly Paul’s next point. Look at what “not” fighting temptation costs:
For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. (v.18-20)
Did you catch it? Let’s break it apart to find some of the costs of not fighting temptation:
1) A Relationship with God
Specifically, Paul writes, “Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” (V.18) Before we said, a cost of fighting temptation is that you might lose some relationships: friends, family members, boyfriends, girlfriends, etc.
But if you stop fighting temptation and live in sin? You’ll forfeit your friendship with God.
And it isn’t that you’ll be an acquaintance or some guy on the bus that you have a neutral feeling with.
But you’ll be an enemy of God!
Why do that?
Why would you want to be an enemy of the One who gave his life for you to save you from sin and death?
Why would you want to be an enemy of the One who is all powerful? Who conquered death itself and will have no problem conquering YOU?
Understand: Giving up on Fighting Temptation means that you will be giving up on your relationship with God.
2) Eternal Path
Paul writes, “(Those people who don’t fight temptation) their destiny is destruction.” (v.19a) Contrast this with the loss of our career path.
Because “Yes,” fighting temptation may mean you lose out on the career prestige of this world, but NOT fighting temptation leads to a change in your eternal destiny.
Instead of the promise of eternal life forever in heaven?
It’s like a soda can. When you are done with a Pepsi, you might throw it on the ground and crush it. Destruction.
Do you really want your destiny to be the same as that of an aluminum 7-Up can?
That’s the cost of not fighting temptation.
3) Heavenly Pleasure
Paul writes, “Their god is their stomach.” (v.19b) Think about that. If your stomach is your ‘god,’ that means that it is the most important thing to you. Everything that you do in life is for your stomach and to serve your stomach.
But…what can your stomach give you?
A full feeling…for about 2 hours.
How about constipation?
If your stomach…better yet…if your physical body is your God, then your pleasure will be momentary.
But if Jesus is your God?
You have the pleasure of forgiveness.
You have the pleasure of a peace with God.
You have the pleasure of knowing your salvation is certain.
Not fighting temptation costs you that heavenly pleasure.
4) God’s Glory
Paul writes, “Their glory is their shame.” (v.19c) It’s an interesting verse. Because we said earlier that if you fight temptation, you might lose some of your own glory! Pride helps you feel good about yourself. Pride makes the world pay attention. Pride makes everyone in church pay attention to how awesome you are! It gives you a human version of glory.
But at the same time that it earns your momentary, human glory, it forfeits eternal heavenly glory.
And heavenly glory lasts!
Heavenly glory lasts forever.
Heavenly glory comes from the mouth of God himself as he says,
“You are forgiven.”
“You are mine.”
“Come, dwell with me…forever.”
Giving up on saying “No” to temptation forfeits that glory.
It forfeits heaven.
III. Other Reasons to Fight
Do you know the process for becoming a citizen in the United States?
You must have a valid Green Card for at least 5 years. There are costs involved in that.
You must apply and do paperwork and do some more paperwork. There are costs involved in that.
You must attend classes, take tests, and await results. There are costs involved in that.
Finally, you must be approved and take an oath of citizenships. Again – there are costs involved in that.
It costs a lot of money.
It takes a lot of work.
It involves a lot of time.
But that’s nothing compared to becoming a citizen of heaven!
God says we need to be holy.
God says that we need to be perfect.
God says that we need to love him with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind…all of the time!
We could never earn his citizenship. We fall to temptation too often.
The fact remains…
Dear believing friends…
Our citizenship is in heaven. (v.20)
Jesus paid for all of it.
Jesus did all of the paperwork.
Jesus has made you a citizen of his kingdom.
God the Father has approved you because of Jesus’ work.
You are a citizen of God’s kingdom.
And as a result, you have an incredible reason to fight temptation:
1) You are a Citizen of God’s Kingdom
A citizen of the United States may join the military and fight for our country.
Athletic citizens of the United States may join the Olympic team and win a gold medal for the U. S. flag.
Ambassador citizens of the U.S. may go to another country to watch out for and keep safe the U.S. Citizens in that foreign country.
If you are United States citizen, you do things on its behalf.
If you are a citizen of God’s kingdom? You do things on its behalf.
You fight temptation.
You are part of the one and only eternal kingdom of God Himself.
He fought for you and gave up his life to get you there.
Live like a citizen of His kingdom.
2) Fight on the Winning Side
Paul writes, “And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (v.21b)
Savior implies that he does saving.
Which implies that he is successful at saving.
Which implies that he wins every battle against anyone that tries to stop him from saving.
Which implies that he is a winner.
Which implies that whoever is on his side…is also a winner!
In Christ, you are a winner, too.
Remember – Jesus destroyed the devil in that one-on-one temptation battle last week.
Then he went on to crush Satan’s head with his work on the cross.
And as an encore, he destroyed death by emerging victoriously from the grave.
And in him – you are victorious.
In Jesus, you are a winner.
In Jesus, you will receive all of the victory spoils.
3) The Promise of a Glorious Body
Paul writes: “Jesus, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (v.21c)
Our bodies are lowly.
I can sleep for 8 hours and I’m still tired.
I can do about 30 pushups and then I just lay on my stomach.
I can resist putting a second Dorito into my mouth – for about 5 seconds.
Our bodies are lowly.
They are tired, weak and dying.
God promises that our bodies will be transformed.
After our bodies die.
After our souls are in heaven.
On the Last Day, when God does an incredible miracle and brings our bodies back to life.
They will still be our bodies, but…
They will be glorious!
Just like what happened to Jesus.
When rose from the dead, he made his way to see his disciples on that first Easter evening.
Think about all he went through.
Surely, his body would be weak.
But when Jesus walked in…
He was different.
He had nail marks in his hands, but they weren’t bleeding, bruised, or scabbed. His body was without pain.
He had a smile on his face and no sweat on his forehead. His body was without weakness.
The sin that he had taken on his body – our sins – was gone! His body was without shame.
That same kind of body is promised to you.
In eternal life, there will be no pain.
In eternal life, there will be no weakness to temptation.
In eternal life, there will be no remembrance of sinful failures.
There will be no guilt.
There will be no shame.
Friends, the benefits to following Jesus and fighting temptation far outweigh the benefits to not fight temptation.
May Jesus empower us to keep fighting temptation even when it costs.
Last week we talked about our FRESH purpose and that is to be a part of God’s mission to SAVE ALL PEOPLE by Planting the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh. It’s an incredible purpose. It’s a BIG purpose and it’s a privilege to be a part of this purpose.
Maybe you left last week thinking – What is the biggest thing that I can do to help accomplish this goal?
I could use my biceps! And help tear out old bushes, carry Bibles during Bible hour and lift children in need of diaper changes at the Preschool.
I could use my head! And start planning Sanctuary updates, outreach opportunities and how to improve our Youth Group.
I could use my money! And fund exterior improvements, advertisements to church events and tuition assistance for the kids.
Today, God’s Word wants you to consider something else.
A part of the body that’s not as BIG as your biceps.
Nor as SMART as your brain.
Nor as VALUED as your money.
Yet, this body part has the ability to be MOST VALUABLE when it comes to sharing the kingdom of God.
Today our topic is SPEECH. Our goal is to consider the great power of our tongues and how we might can use it on our mission to Plant the Message of Jesus in the hearts of North Raleigh. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Power of the Tongue
The section of God’s Word that we’ll study this morning comes from James 3. The book of James is a letter written by an important disciple in the early church called James. James was the leader in the church in Jerusalem. A very large church. The mother church, if you will of all the other churches. It’s where the message of Jesus started and spread to other parts of Asia Minor, to Europe…even to Raleigh, NC.
In Chapter 3, James is writes to Christians everywhere about how they use their tongues. Take a look:
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. (v.3-5a)
Anyone ever ridden a horse before? They are large animals. They are powerful animals. They have the ability to draw the Wells Fargo Wagon or the Budweiser beer carriage. Horses are the reason that we compare the power of a motor vehicle’s engine as horse power.
And if you try to move a horse with your hands, just by pushing them around? It ain’t gonna work. Instead, they developed something called a bit. It’s a small piece of technology (a rope) that fits into their mouth and attached to more rope. By pulling that rope (either on horseback or walking along the side) you can easily control which way you want the large powerful horse to go!
Gigantic power, tiny device.
Or how about a large ship? Think of a cruise ship. It’s filled with thousands of people. It has hundreds of pounds of margarita mix and suntan lotion. It has little to no problem carrying an entire set of conga line dancers in the little space in its cabin. It’s large. It’s powerful. If you are a small canoe boat in the way of a cruise ship, you better move.
But…in the back of the ship, right near the water, is a rudder. A small little part in comparison to the rest of the ship. This little rudder directs the wave flow and turns the gigantic ship.
Gigantic power; tiny device.
The Tongue is the exact same. It isn’t big. In comparison to the rest of the body, it’s rather small. Yet. The tongue wields great power.
It has the power to set your life’s course: “Honey, will you marry me?”
It has the power to get your career on track: “Yes. I do accept your offer and I will be regional manager of sales!”
It has the power to save your life: “Yes, I will go through with the chemo treatment.”
Though the tongue is small, its power is great.
Think about it.
George Washington used his tongue to win a revolution.
Abraham Lincoln used his tongue to end slavery.
Martin Luther King Jr. used his tongue to bring about great strides in equality.
And people are still using their tongues to accomplish all kinds of things – to this day.
II. Spitting Fire (Bad Uses of the Tongue)
But…because the tongue has such a great ability to accomplish powerful things…
It becomes imperative that we use them to accomplish positive, powerful things.
That is the very next thing that James writes:
Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire. (v.5b-6)
Do you remember Smokey the Bear? He always said, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” That wasn’t his way of saying, “stop using a blow torch to set the forest on fire.” In fact, I’m not sure that any forest fire has ever been started via blow torch. It was his way of saying, “Be sure to truly and completely douse your campfire in water. Because even the smallest ember or spark can set the entire forest on fire.” Think of that…some of the biggest forest fires in California – fires that have made people evacuate their homes – were caused by a simple, tiny flame.
When simple tiny words are used in the wrong way – they can cause just as great of damage. Here’s three things that your tongue can set fire to:
(1) Your Body
Look at the next part of the passage. James write, “The tongue is a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body.” (v.7) How does that work? The tongue leads you into sin which corrupts not only our tongue, but the whole body. ln other words, it is the gateway to sin that is happening right now.
“Why yes! I’ll go ahead and have that 7th shot of Jack Daniels!” And the whole body is corrupted with drunkenness.
“Why yes! I’ll go ahead and speak gossip with you!” And the whole body is corrupted with jealousy.
“Why yes! I think you’re a moron, too!” And the whole body is corrupted with rage and anger.
“Why no! I refuse to forgive you!” And the body remains corrupted with bitterness.
(2) Your Course
Look at the next part of the passage. James write, “The tongue…sets the course of one’s life on fire.” (v.7b) In other words – the tongue doesn’t just lead you to current sin, but it also leads to future sin.
“Why yes! I’ll tell you a lie about what I did for work last week!” And now I am on course with future lies to keep that lie going.
“Why yes! Even though I’m married, I find you to be quite attractive.” And now I am on course with future flirting, lust…even adultery!
“Why no! I don’t think that we should listen to the Bible on that point.” And now I have set my children on course to a life where we don’t listen to what God’s Word has to say!
(3) Its Own Eternal Destiny
James finishes by writing, “The tongue is itself set on fire by hell.” (v.7c)
Because…wicked words are sin.
The wages of sin is death.
Even eternal death in hell.
God doesn’t love it when we speak evil against His created beings or lead His created beings into sin.
He hates it so much he threatens punishment.
Even punishment in hell.
To be fair – the last one is probably good enough reason.
But combined, we have plenty of reason to tame our tongues…
To watch what we say.
To not use our tongues for evil.
III. Taming the Tongue
But…how does one tame their tongue?
Have you ever tried it?
James says this about taming the tongue:
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (v.7)
Think about how true that is.
Humans can tame Elephants. They’re gigantic creatures and yet, in India, they knock down trees and haul the logs wherever their trainers tell them to deliver it.
Humans can tame Lions. At the circus, the lion tamer turns to the king of the jungle, the sharp toothed, alpha predator and tells the ferocious cat to open his jaws and then – places his skull directly inside.
Humans can tame Killer Whales. At SeaWorld, Shamu, an aquatic animal of over 2,000 pounds – listens to his trainers as they hold up one tiny finish to get him to splash the crowd on demand.
Humans can train all of these different animals….
The elephant trainer struggles to stop his tongue from dropping four letter words when he steps in a pile of dung.
The lion tamer struggles to stop his tongue from boasting to his assistant because he thinks he is the greatest.
The SeaWorld trainer struggles to stop his tongue from lying – Yes, he did remember to feed the walruses – even though he didn’t.
Humans are terrible at taming their tongues.
No human can tame their own tongue.
Which means… the only one that can tame the tongue is someone isn’t human at all…
Do you know who has one of the worst tongues?
It’s the devil.
He’s been using his tongue to set the world on fire…ever since the beginning.
He spoke to God and said, “I should be God. Not you.”
He lied to Adam and Eve said, “Sin won’t be such a bad thing, trust me.”
He lies to you and me and says, “Your tongue has gotten you into so much trouble – there’s no way that God could ever forgive you.”
Satan has a powerful tongue.
His words can cause you to despair.
To be overwhelmed with guilt.
To be filled with regret.
To lose all hope.
While Satan’s tongue is powerful…
It’s not powerful enough.
If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One… (1 John 2:1)
Did you see that? Jesus is our Advocate.
That means he talks on our behalf.
And when the devil comes along and says, “Throw that person in hell! They have done so many sins.”
Jesus says, “Shut up!”
“I died for them.”
“I rose for them.”
“I defeated sin for them.”
“I defeated death for them.”
“They are forgiven.”
Jesus tames the devil’s tongue and speaks on our behalf.
His speech is more powerful!
It’s not just human speech. But it is God’s own speech.
God’s tongue? It can tame things that even humans cannot.
It tamed a storm when Jesus said, “Stop.”
It tamed an incurable skin disease when Jesus said, “Be healed.”
It tamed death itself when Jesus said to the young man’s corpse, “Live!”
And it tamed your guilt and shamed when Jesus said to you:
But that’s not it. Check out this passage:
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22)
Here’s the truth. With faith in Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit.
And with the Holy Spirit in our hearts we are able to tame our tongues.
Because the holy Spirit – he’s God.
He doesn’t speak any evil.
In addition, the Holy Spirit empowers you to tame your tongue,
And use it for HIS purpose.
To speak love.
To speak joy.
To speak peace.
To speak patience.
To speak goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
IV. What Now?
If you take a look at the next part of James’ letters – here’s a few rapid-fire instructions from James:
1) Produce a Singular Flow
James writes: With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (v.9-12)
Because if you bent down to grab a drink from a small area of fresh water and after bringing it to your lips, and got a mouth full of salt? That’s not good.
And if you went over to your fig tree and found some olives growing on it – I’d be really concerned about those olives.
If you have a fresh identity in Jesus, it will seem very odd if you mix your “praise Jesus” with the same old sinful language.
That means we’ve got to work hard by God’s grace to keep our language pleasant, kind, and loving -- not just on Sunday for an hour a week – but all the time.
With our family.
With our friends.
With our enemies.
May we produce a singular flow of refreshed language.
2) Keep it In
To do that, we’ve got to learn to keep it in. James said, “If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it!” (v.14)
Don’t say the angry thing that comes to mind.
Don’t drop the four-letter word.
Don’t just relay gossip without thinking about it.
We need to develop some self-control, that every time we’ve got something on our tongues, we stop. Think about it. And consider:
Does this work with my mission of Planting the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of my friends and family?
If not…don’t say it.
There’s nothing worse than a Christian working against his own mission by being uncareful with his tongue. Don’t hurt others’ work of sharing Jesus by gossiping about them.
I’ll never forget the time I was excited to follow up on a visitor to church to see if they wanted to come back. I asked them if they enjoyed the music? Yes. The message? Yes. The coffee? Yes.
But would they be back?
They had overheard a few ‘members’ at their fellowship table complaining about others in church.
They heard salty language in what was supposed to be a fresh water environment.
Keep those negative comments to yourself. Don’t infect others.
3) Purify your Language
Just like trying to purify your tap water so that you can drink it…
We’ve gotta purify our language so that it accomplishes our mission.
To do that, we’ve gotta run it through the best purity filter of all. God’s Word: “The wisdom that comes from heaven is PURE.” (v.17)
If you want to know if the thing you want to say is pure or not, run it by the God’s Word filter.
Is it a lie? God’s Word says don’t lie.
Is it gossip? God’s Word says don’t gossip. And true things are gossip, too!
Is it loving? God’s Word says, “Be loving.” Good…I can say that.
Familiarity with God’s Word will help install this permanent filter in our hearts - to prevent any disgusting outpouring of filth from our tongues.
4) Sow Peace
James writes, “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap in righteousness.” (v.18) Because when we are talking about the best, most positive, and on-the-mission things to speak – nothing comes close to speaking the peace of God’s Word.
There’s nothing more uplifting than telling others about their Savior.
There’s nothing more encouraging than reminding them of his love.
There’s nothing more heartening than telling someone they are forgiven.
And that Gospel message is like a seed that’s planted.
And after planting it carefully…
Again – again and again.
Eventually – that message might grow.
Grow into a harvest of righteousness.
A soul saved.
Friends, may God bless our speech as we used our tongues to the glory of God’s kingdom. 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.
Do you know someone rallies around this cry? Or maybe the more modern YOLO – You Only Live Once? Or going way back to classic Latin carpe diem? Seize the day! Whichever one it is, it’s a call to live life to the fullest, to get the most out of it, and never shrink from an opportunity that you might regret missing out on later.
Maybe you know that person, maybe you try to do it yourself. Today, as we continue our series on The Kingdom of God is Like, we’re going to look at some people who lived that way.
First, a little bit of recap and context. Maybe you’re aware, maybe you’re not, but this is our third week in what we call the End Times season of the church year. It’s a time when we focus on what the end of this world will be like, what we’re looking forward to, and where our ultimate confidence is.
Last week was the Sunday of Final Judgment, and appropriately enough we looked at the parable of the net. We saw how the angels would gather up all the people at the end of the age and separate them, good from bad – judging them, as it were. And we heard pretty clearly what would happen to those bad fish.
Today, we look more at the outcome for those good fish in the Sunday we call Saints Triumphant. This day celebrates the end that awaits the holy people of God, the triumphant celebration in the kingdom of heaven after this is all over. And our parable today, again appropriately, revolves around a great banquet being held. So, let’s take a look at the start of that story Jesus tells:
15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ ”
Let’s pause there. What do we have so far? A man, with apparently significant resources, prepares a grand banquet. Out of the blue, no apparent reason, just to celebrate. And he sends invitations out to all his friends, to all the movers and shakers and well-to-do people of the area. To anyone worth inviting. To this grand feast. Let’s think about that part first. Now, maybe you’re like me and you just love food and good times with friends. The idea of this could appeal to you a lot. But let’s try to put it more into our context. A dinner party today is, hey that’s great, but it’s not the end-all, be-all of our lifestyles. It was perhaps a bigger deal at that time. So maybe translate that into something that really speaks to you. A Caribbean cruise? A wilderness retreat? A Disney vacation package? A massive party in an airplane hangar?
Think about it, whatever comes to mind as the best kind of time you can think of having. Think about that grand time and then think about getting a card in the mail inviting you to it. It’s from someone you trust, it’s not a prank or a scam, it’s real. Imagine the excitement of holding that invite in your hand. Someone else is going to the trouble of getting this all set up, taking care of all the arrangements, the travel, the catering, the cost, the guest list, whatever it is. All you have to do is show up.
Now imagine… what on earth could possibly stop you from being there at the appointed time?
Okay, maybe there’s a few things. A sudden death in the family or severe illness. Natural disaster getting in your way. Some stuff that’s not really in your control. But that’s not what happens here. The call goes out, the banquet is ready. Just show up and enjoy it! And the servant sent to gather the guests gets… excuses.
And I mean, it’s not like they’re terrible excuses. They all have something to do that is more important to them than enjoying a nice banquet. One wants to check out a new purchase of land. Another needs to field-test his new oxen. Still another has a wife he needs to take care of. Seems reasonable. But on the other hand, would an evening out of their lives to attend the banquet really have ruined these other things? You could kind of see it going either way, right?
See, here’s the problem with the “No Regrets” lifestyle. You can’t do everything. Every day you’re faced with choices of doing one thing over another. And we all value activities differently. Maybe for you living life to its fullest means going out and being social every evening. Maybe for me it means eating a whole bag of Oreos and reading comic books all night. But at every juncture, at every decision point – how do you know which one you won’t regret?
You can’t. You just can’t for any earthly activity. But we’re not really talking about earthly activities, are we? Remember a parable is an earthly story that teaches us about the Kingdom of God. So this banquet is not a banquet, it’s God inviting us to best celebration there ever is and ever will be. The triumph of heaven.
Last week we talked about the uncomfortable reality that hell is real. But just as real is heaven. It’s better than you or I could imagine. It’s better than the best cruise where you don’t get seasick, better than the best camping trip with no mosquitoes, better than a Disney vacation without any lost luggage or crying children and better than the biggest celebration without the awkward relative who drinks too much. Better than any and all of that put together. It’s utterly peaceful, utterly joyful, completely exciting, and without any pain, ache, or fatigue. It’s a grand celebration that never gets boring or tiresome. It is, quite plainly, the best.
Now imagine… what on earth could possibly stop you from being there?
So why do we make excuses all the time? Because we think we don’t want to regret missing things that come up here and now. Some of them are utterly mundane and trivial. “I’ll get to God later, for now I need to try out this new Xbox game.” Those should be easy to spot. Some…like the excuses in our parable, well they seem more reasonable. “I’ll get to God later, but right now I have to sort out our finances.” “I’ll get to God soon, but right now I have to get the shopping for Christmas done.” “I’ll get to God, but this new relationship needs attention first.” “I’d like to have time for God, but my family needs me to do so much for them.”
We think we’ll regret it if we don’t do these things we “should” or “have to” do. Switch your perspective on regrets. We said before there’s no way to know which earthly activity you might regret missing. Sure. But I can tell you this for a fact: When your end comes, when the banquet is ready, you will regret it if you’re not there. I can also promise you this: when you’re there, you will not regret a single thing you missed here.
Think that over a second time. Let it sink in. You will not be in heaven saying to yourself, “You know this sure is a great time, but I’m sorry I didn’t get to see the Grand Canyon before I got here.” How absurd! Replace that with whatever you want. There is nothing you can miss here that will somehow regret in heaven. But whenever we put something ahead of time with God, whenever we cut him out of our lives because we’re afraid of missing out on something else, that’s exactly what we’re doing! Day by day, inch by inch, God gets squeezed out of our lives because we fear missing out on something else here.
Now, perhaps I’ve got you thinking, just like I’ve got me thinking, about all the times I’ve turned down God’s invitation in order to do something utterly trivial in comparison. That’s not a great feeling. Might have you feeling a little worthless overall from that behavior. If that’s how I treat his invitation, why should God even bother to invite me?
If so, take a look at what happens next.
21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
22 “ ‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’ ”
The choice guests don’t come. They all think they have better things to do. But the meal’s prepared, the celebration is ready, it can’t just go to waste! So, the master sends his servant back out. Go and get anyone you can find. Get those that have nothing better in their lives, those that would never turn down such an invitation. I don’t care that they can’t pay me back, if I get no favors or a return invitation someday. Gather everyone who’s worth nothing to anyone.
They do. But there’s still room. So, he sends his servant back out. Go even further out. In fact, there’s an interesting connotation in the original language here. The places the servant is sent the second time are places that robbers and highwaymen were known to lurk. In other words, you’ve got all the worthless people in here? Go and gather the criminals as well! I don’t care who they are or what they’ve done – I don’t want a single space to be wasted.
My brothers, my sisters, it doesn’t matter that you have nothing good to offer God for a place at the banquet. It doesn’t matter if you’re not worth inviting. None of us are. But Jesus himself has prepared this feast. He is the one who ensured there were more than enough places to go around. And God the Father wants none to be wasted.
Here’s the plain facts: Jesus died and rose for all. Because he is God, his death on the cross is valuable enough to pay the price for every person who has ever and will ever live. Heaven can never run out of room. Everyone is invited. You are invited. The only people who will not be there are those that turned away because they had something “better” to do. Anyone who looks to Jesus, who actually shows up is welcome to come in.
And it doesn’t matter what you’re worth to God. He’s God. He doesn’t need anything, there was never a chance that you could bring him something he didn’t already have. More than that, even if you’re a criminal, if you’ve fought against him in the past, he still wants you there. He wants everyone to enjoy the banquet prepared by his Son.
Being there in the end is all that matters. That banquet celebration in heaven is the only thing you’ll regret missing out on. It is the only important thing in your life. A hundred, a thousand other things will scream for your attention demanding that they be dealt with before the most important one, but don’t mistake urgent for important.
Your relationship with God will almost never seem urgent. So, you have to make it the priority. You have to make sure God gets time on your calendar and the best of your gifts first, every time. Make that happen first, because it is the most important, it is the one thing you will regret if you don’t. Then, after you’ve given God your first and best, then you can continue dealing with the other urgent matters in your life.
The kingdom of heaven is like the grandest banquet you can think of, it is the best party, the best vacation, the best experience you can imagine multiplied by more than you can imagine. And you’re invited. Jesus bought you a place. Don’t meander towards that end, run towards it. Don’t ever think for a moment you’ll regret spending time with him, in his word, doing his work over something else in this life. Nothing here even comes close.
Live with that banquet feast in mind. Live for God. No regrets.
Today we are continuing our series called The Kingdom of God is Like…and hearing yet another parable from Jesus about the kingdom of God. Remember, a parable is an earthly story that tells about the kingdom of God. So far – we have heard three.
And today we are going to double the number of parables that we’ve heard. We are looking at three very short, one sentence parables from Jesus. Each one offers a similar, but slightly distinct perspective on the Kingdom of God.
Before we begin, let’s pray: 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. …Like a Homeless Fox
The parables for consideration come in rapid fire format from Luke 9 starting at verse 57. It’s in a section where Jesus is walking about with a crowd of people following him. I always think that’s interesting and worthy of a sermon of its own – Jesus didn’t sit around and wait for people to come to him; he went out and found people to bring the message of the Gospel to.
But…I’ve already got three other sermons to go through today, so…I digress.
As Jesus is walking, one man is getting pretty motivated listening to Jesus.
He’s getting pretty excited.
He’s getting pretty pumped up.
So, he shouts: “Jesus, I will follow you wherever you go!” (v.57)
…Jesus doesn’t high five him.
…He doesn’t congratulate him.
…He doesn’t even clench his fist in private celebration.
He says, “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of man has no place to lay his head.” (v.58)
Have you ever seen a fox? Foxes can be hard to spot. Little, red, dog-looking things with fluffy tails. They are hard to spot, because they are very good at hiding. And they hide in their fox hole or fox den. Usually it’s thick inside some brush or a hole in the rocks or maybe even some mud in the ground.
It’s not fancy. There’s no Wi-Fi connection – but the fox has a place to be.
And a bird nest is similar. Bird nests are made from twigs, straw, branches, and even some stray dog hairs. They are not worth very much on Zillow, but it is a nice place for the bird to stay.
Think about this:
Foxes have bushy dens.
Birds have twiggy nests.
The Son of God who comes from heaven itself?
Not even a pile of twigs to call his own….
Very literally – during the 3 years that Jesus did ministry, he didn’t have a home. He didn’t have a studio apartment. He didn’t even have a room at the Extended Stay.
He was essentially homeless, staying wherever people opened their homes to him or under a myrtle tree if he had to.
It wasn’t because he was without resources. Remember: He made bread come out of thin air. He found a coin within a fish mouth. He controlled thunder and lightning.
He was homeless NOT because he didn’t have the resources.
He was homeless because he was too focused on his work with the Kingdom of God.
Truth: The Kingdom of God is greater than material wealth.
Because Jesus’ answer gives us a glimpse into the heart of the man who wanted to follow him. Commonly people thought Jesus was the Messiah, but they had a false idea of the Messiah. They thought that the Messiah would lead to political power, a restoration of the Kingdom of Israel, and a toppling of the Roman Empire.
The man probably thought:
“I’ll follow you Jesus! All the way to your future palace. Hopefully there’ll be a room in that palace for me. With my own servants and a plush bed and all the spending money I could desire.”
The kingdom of God was not about material wealth.
The kingdom of God was greater than material wealth.
This absolutely applies today. Because it is so easy to think that material wealth is greater than Kingdom wealth.
Whether it’s giving up money in the offering plate that could be used in a $401k.
Or giving up time on a Sunday that could be used to work on your side business and make some more cash.
Or giving up that good job offer that always has me working on Sunday and could lead to a million-dollar home near a golf course in North Raleigh.
Remember – the Kingdom of God is greater than Material Wealth.
Because material wealth won’t last.
The dollars will dry up.
The things will get old.
The stuff will need to be replaced.
This past week – if you saw the floors here – they are freshly waxed. They look awesome!
But this morning – I stepped with my shoes in the wrong direction and - well – material wealth doesn’t last.
But God’s kingdom does.
God’s kingdom offers forever forgiveness in Jesus.
God’s kingdom offers the promise of eternal life.
God’s kingdom offers the eternal comforts of heaven.
To be fair – Jesus knew that.
And he forsook material wealth in order to win for you eternal riches.
The Bible says this:
Though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich.
How poor did Jesus get? He died on a cross.
How rich will you be? He gives you a room in heaven.
While on earth remember – the Kingdom of God is greater than Material wealth.
II. …an Abandoned Burial Plot
As Jesus keeps walking, he turns to another person that he meets along the way and he says to him: “Follow me.” To which the man responds, “First, let me go and bury my father.” (v.59)
Which doesn’t seem like that crazy of a request.
That seems like a very important family task.
Of all the tasks that one could do – burying your family member seems near the top.
But look at Jesus’ response:
“Let the dead bury their own dead, you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (v.60)
Does that seem a little harsh?
If I asked one of you to help me go around the neighborhood and invite people to church and you responded that you needed to work on your dad’s funeral, I would probably tell you. “OK. No worries. I’m sorry for your loss. You are in my prayers.”
But Jesus says, “Don’t worry about your dead father, worry about the proclaiming the kingdom of God.”
If I can be crass for a moment.
At the seminary, one of our professors was talking about ministering at a funeral.
He mentioned that many love to talk about how great a person was in the funeral sermon.
He suggested we don’t do that.
If I can quote my seminary notes:
“The funeral sermon isn’t for the dead. They can’t hear you. They’re dead. The funeral sermon is for those who are alive – that they too, may live.”
Let’s be clear. Jesus isn’t saying that you shouldn’t have a funeral for your family.
But he is saying that even the most important seeming earthly task is nothing compared to the work of the kingdom of God.
To put it simply:
The kingdom of God is greater than any earthly task.
I think our society really needs to remember that.
Because it isn’t as if the struggle is between should I plan my dad’s funeral or tell about Jesus. (If it is, it’s a once in a lifetime struggle)
Usually the struggle is:
Can I go to worship this week? My kid has a baseball game.
Can I attend that Bible study? I’ve gotta do housework – have you seen the leaves at my house?
Should I plan on Garden Kids? Nah…I’ve got to work on some kind of task so that I can get to all my other tasks on my task list.
The Kingdom of God is greater than any Earthly Task.
It’s a task that produces lasting results.
Taking your kids to baseball practice will produce skills that last to high school, maybe collect – league softball and slowly deteriorate.
Raking your leaves? More will fall.
Any kind of task? You will have to do it again and again and again and again…because the benefits only last for a moment.
But the Kingdom of God last forever.
Jesus knew that.
It’s why Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:2)
He kept his mind on the most important task.
You do the same.
III. …a Plow
Final parable. Another person says to Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” (v.61)
It’s not as big a task as planning and carrying out a funeral.
It’s just a quick kiss on the cheek, a hug and a goodbye!
But – Jesus’ response is again surprising: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (v.62)
Have you ever used a plow? At the time of Jesus, they didn’t have a one of those big, gas-powered machines. They had a horse or donkey and hooked up to the plow. Your job is to stare where the plow is plowing and help to keep it in a straight line.
If you don’t pay attention, do you know what happens?
You go left.
You go right.
It gets all caddywampus.
And it’s the same with working in God’s kingdom.
If you’re more worried about what your family thinks than what God thinks then…
…I was going to go to worship, but my spouse wants me to Netflix binge with him.
…I was going to teach my kids that sin is wrong, but my sister disagrees with me.
…I was going to lead a pure life, but my boyfriend wants me to do otherwise.
And suddenly your following of Jesus is a caddywampus mess!
Here’s the third truth:
The Kingdom of God is greater than Any Kind of Relationship.
And again – Understand Jesus’ point.
He wants you to love your family. Absolutely he does:
The Bible tells you to love your family.
He’s the one who created the idea of family.
And he’s the one who created your family and gave them to you.
Please – this isn’t Jesus’ way of saying – stop loving your family!
It’s Jesus’ way of saying love your family; just love your heavenly Father more.
Because loving your Father most will actually show your family a greater love than you ever knew possible.
TRUTH: The Kingdom of God is greater than Any Kind of Relationship.
To be fair, our Heavenly Father knew that.
That’s why he was willing to put his relationship with you above his relationship with His only begotten Son.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
IV. What Now?
The message is simple. The message is clear.
The kingdom of God is greater than material wealth, earthly tasks, and any human relationship.
The kingdom of God is of the utmost importance.
Do you want to follow Jesus?
Follow this truth.
Make the God who made you most important be most important to you. Amen.