We are finishing up our sermon series by looking at one of the most visually incredible miracles in the Bible. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Peter’s Problem
The miracle itself is recorded in Matthew 17. But for a bit of context, we’ll start at the end of Matthew 16.
At this point, the disciples had seen Jesus do a plethora of miracles. As they sat down near a campfire, I wonder if they didn’t imagine the next ones:
What if Jesus suddenly made these rocks into delicious Steak dinners? Do you think I should ask him?
How about if he turns all the Roman soldiers into a bunch of chicken?
Speaking of the Roman empire, maybe he could take us to Pontius Pilate’s palace, and he could make it disappear!
I’ve got a better idea than that! Maybe he could make, you, Andrew, disappear!
Whatever they thought Jesus might be planning to do, it’s doubtful any of them considered what Jesus had planned:
Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (v.21)
You can cure leprosy.
You can banish demons.
You stopped the weather!
Why would you let these humans beat you up?
Why not give them leprosy?
Why not send the demons after them?
Why not cause a storm to take place within the walls of the Pharisee’s hideout!?!
But Peter was the boldest.
Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (v.22)
The disciples didn’t get it.
It didn’t make sense.
Jesus did all those miracles…
…so he could die?
To human reason, Jesus’ use of his power can seem ODD.
It’d be like going to a magic show where the magician has already levitated, sawed someone in half, and then, escaped a hyperbolic chamber filled with water while he was strapped into a strait jacket and then .for his final act, he pulls a quarter from a little girl’s ear.
How could death be Jesus’ final act?
I was talking to a friend the other day who whose aunt was very sick with cancer. The test results weren’t positive. The doctor’s predictions weren’t good.
So, the believer said this:
Isn’t this what Jesus is for? Isn’t the point of his POWER to help his people?
I wish I could talk to God. I’d set him straight on how he should be using his POWER.
I’d tell him, “NEVER Jesus! This shall NEVER happen.”
You ever thought something similar:
Jesus you’ve got power.
Here’s what you should do with it.
You should heal my aunt’s cancer.
You should fix my marriage.
You should end my job hunt.
You should give me more friends.
You should give me a child.
You should give me a husband.
God, if you don’t do that, you’re not doing a very good job with your power.
But do you know how Jesus responded to Peter’s rebuke?
He didn’t say, “Goodness, Peter. You’re right. Your sinful, imperfect, incomplete human reason has bested my sinless, perfect, all knowing divine reason.”
“Get behind me Satan! You don’t have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (v.23)
REBUKING Jesus’ use of power leads to Jesus’ REBUKE.
Because rebuking Jesus’ use of power is sin.
It’s like being a back-seat driver. If your spouse is driving, you may find yourself on occasion telling them where they are driving incorrectly:
Turn on your blinker sooner.
Speed Limit is 65.
Your hands aren’t at 10 & 2.
But can you imagine doing that to a professional race car driver? Like 2019 NASCAR Cup Series Champion, Kyle Busch?
Excuse me, Mr. Busch. But…I think you’re taking the turns a smidge tighter than you should.
Kyle Busch is better at driving than you.
And God is infinitely better at using his power than you.
It’s why he’s God and you’re not.
And if you’re telling him what to do, don’t be surprised if his response is simply:
Get behind me Satan.
II. The Miracle
Six days later…
Six days of Jesus’ words echoing in Peter’s ears.
Six days of cooling off.
Six days of thinking about what Jesus had said about his “death.”
Then, …Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John…and led them up onto a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured in front of them. (17:1)
The Greek word for “Transfigured” is “morphe.” It’s where we get the word Metamorphosis. It refers to a transformation or a change in one’s essence. (Like a butterfly, the Animorphs, or even the Mighty MORPHIN Power Rangers.)
Jesus’ metamorphosis beats them all.
His face was shining like the sun. (v.2a) Not just reflecting some morning sunlight off it. His skin was luminescent. It was shining so brightly that the disciples must have had to squint to look in his direction.
His clothing became as white as the light. (v2b) A bit odd, since Jesus’ desert clothing would have contained a bit of desert dirt stains on it. A yellow or light brown. But instantly it transformed to a bleach white that was so bleach white it twinkled – like the light.
And as the disciples squinted in Jesus’ general direction, they noticed two other figures standing there with him.
Moses. A prophet through whom God did incredible miracles: 10 plagues, the splitting of the Red Sea, and bread from heaven.
Elijah. Another prophet through whom God did incredible miracles: fire raining from heaven, birds delivering food, a young man brought back to life.
Two incredible miracles performers standing at the beckoning call of Jesus.
…they had both been dead.
Now they stood…alive.
And as Peter stood there looking at this ethereal, incredible, amazing sight, I think he came to one conclusion
Jesus’ miracles were only a HINT of his power.
The healing of incurable leprosy? Only a hint. Jesus could cure all disease with just a snap of his finger.
The enabling of the paralytic? Only a hint. Jesus could remove all paralysis with just a clap of his hands.
The resurrection of Jairus’ daughter? Only a hint. Jesus could bring all dead back to life, with only a whisper.
It’s like playing basketball, as a dad, with your 4th grade son. At first, you play easy. You let him score on you. You pretend to trip up. You only shoot three pointers.
But then, when your son gets a little cocky and starts to trash talk: “Your game stinks so much, you need a shower.”
So, the next time he goes for a layup, you swat it out of the air like Dikembe Mutumbo.
Just a HINT.
Jesus’ miracles were powerful.
But they were only a hint of his power.
Peter was so amazed.
He had seen snippets of Jesus’ power before, but now?
He was in full view of his glory.
Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you want, I will make three shelters here: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (v.4)
This whole face shine thing is pretty amazing
And I wouldn’t want it to go out because of a gust of wind and a bit of rain.
I’ll get some sticks.
I’ll get some leaves.
I’ll get you some protection from the elements…
While he was still speaking, the elements started to be controlled. A bright cloud overshadowed them.
It surrounded him.
It covered everyone else.
Till all Peter saw was bright cloud.
Then, a voice…
“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him.” (v.5)
Jesus is GOD’S own SON.
That’s been the point of the miracles this whole time.
They were SIGNS pointing to the fact that Jesus was God!
Curing the incurable? Only God could do that. Jesus did that. Jesus is God.
Eliminating paralysis? Only God could do that. Jesus did that. Jesus is God.
Banishing a legion of demons? Only God could do that. Jesus did, so Jesus is God.
Walking on water? Only God could do that. Jesus did that. Jesus is God.
Developing bread out of thin air? Only God could do that. Jesus did that. Jesus is God.
Raising the dead? Only God could do that. Jesus did that. Jesus is God.
III. A Two-Fold Reaction
All of this was overwhelming to Peter and the other disciples. When the disciples heard this, they fell face down and were terrified. (v.6)
They were trapped in the middle of a Divine cloud.
They were in the presence of God himself.
God was POWERFUL. They were WEAK.
God was DIVINE. They were HUMAN.
God was HOLY. They were SINNERS.
They hit the floor. Hoping that God wouldn’t be able to distinguish between them and the dirt.
Jesus’ power leads to FALLING DOWN in TERROR.
Yet, I don’t know that this happens all the time in church.
When you get ready for church in the morning, what do you think about?
I hope that one guy is there that I like to give high fives.
I hope that we can get in and get out in an hour.
I hope that the cookies are pretty good after worship. I’m starving.
Those are common things.
Things that I’ve thought of myself.
How often do you think?
I’m about to encounter, the face shining, clothing glowing, surrounded by dead prophets and a brilliant cloud, God.
Because it’s true.
In fact, the disciples were encountering that God long before being on the mountain.
Peter and the disciples had been walking with the divine Holy God himself for the last two years.
When they stopped for breakfast? It was God who stopped with them.
When they needed a break from walking? It was God who took a break with them.
When he complained out loud about not trusting God? It was the God whom he was complaining about that was in earshot.
And you encounter God, too.
You encounter ALL POWERFUL God when you gather to worship.
You encounter SIN HATING GOD, when you approach the Lord’s Table.
You encounter the ONE WHO CONTROLS THE CLOUDS, when you pick up a devotional book and spend 5 minutes reading God’s Word.
It’s why the disciples were lying face first on the ground.
waiting for the inevitable lightning bolt.
They felt a hand.
Jesus approached and as he touched them, he said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.”
They opened their eyes.
No brilliant light.
Jesus’ mercy leads to STANDING UP in CONFIDENCE.
Yes, you are standing in the presence of ALL HOLY, SIN HATING GOD.
But you are also standing in the presence of your ALL MERCIFUL Jesus.
Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn the world.
But to save the world.
He didn’t come into the world to condemn us.
But to save us.
He didn’t come into the world to condemn you.
But he came to save you.
He is the Savior.
IV. The Aftermaths
As they disciples were walking down the mountain, they began to conclude that Jesus was the Savior after all. But one prophecy didn’t add up. It was a prophecy from Malachi that said Elijah would come before the Messiah. And since, they had just stood in the face of all holy God and not been destroyed, they were confident enough to ask about it:
Elijah is coming. (v.11)
In fact, he already did. (v.12)
They didn’t recognize him.
And instead killed him.
Just like they’ll kill me. (v.11-12)
There’s one more note about this interaction. It said that the disciples realized “Elijah” was a reference to John the Baptist.
Who had to come.
Who had to be killed for prophecy to come true.
But they were still missing one point.
Jesus had to suffer.
Jesus had to die.
For prophecy to come to true.
Jesus’ impending death was NECESSARY.
This was the whole purpose of Jesus’ coming to earth.
Not to do miracles.
Not to heal everyone.
Not to defeat the Romans.
Not to do impressive feats of strength.
He came to suffer and die for your sins.
To conquer guilt.
To conquer shame.
To conquer death itself.
In fact, this Mount of Transfiguration, it’s pretty glorious. But it isn’t the mountain on which God showcased his greatest glory.
Because on Calvary, Jesus suffered.
On Calvary, Jesus died.
On Calvary, Jesus displayed his greatest glory…
…and saved you.
So…LISTEN TO JESUS.
You’ve got to imagine that plagued Peter for a bit.
He hadn’t listened to Jesus.
He had rebuked the Divine God, to HIS FACE.
And now that thundering cloud’s voice rang in his ears.
“Listen to Him.”
Do the same.
Even when it looks silly.
Even when it looks odd.
Even when it looks like God is calling you to do something that doesn’t make sense…
Be baptized? Listen to him.
Take and eat? Listen to him.
Worship an invisible God? Listen to him.
Stay faithful? Listen to him.
This morning, we will begin our miracle series, by examining God’s incredible power of sickness. But before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Defining Miracle
I think it’s important to start a study on miracles by defining the word “miracle.” So, here it is:
A miracle is an occurrence outside the NATURAL laws of the Universe.
Because miracle can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. Over time, I think we’ve “dumbed down” the phrase.
For instance, we use it at childbirth. A baby is born and people post on Instagram: “Check out my child! #Miracle”
Is childbirth amazing? Yes. Is it a miracle though? Not really. That’s how God set up the universe.
We even use it in sports. “I can’t believe my favorite football team made the playoffs. It’s a miracle!” Might it have been impressive? Sure. But is it a miracle? Not so much.
But when the New Testament uses the word miracle it actually is talking about events that occur outside the natural order of things.
Seawater standing up like drywall? That’s not how water usually works.
A heavy rock wall tumbling because of trumpet noise? Not normal.
Three men being thrown into a fiery furnace and coming out unsinged? Let’s not test it.
A virgin giving birth to a child? Miracle.
In the New Testament, the number one miracle doer is Jesus.
But did you know that Jesus miracles aren’t often called miracles as much as they are called signs.
That’s interesting. Because a sign functions by pointing you in the right direction.
We have signs in our hallways that say “Restrooms” with a little arrow putting in a certain direction. The point of the sign? To direct you to the restrooms.
Even a traffic light. GREEN means “GO”, red means “STOP, and yellow means, “hurry up it’s about to turn red.”
Jesus’ miracles were SIGNS pointing people to his DIVINITY.
Think about it:
If God’s the one that set the laws of the universe into motion, then he is the only one able to act outside of those laws.
It’s like STAYING UP LATE. If the rule of your house is that kids need to be in bed by 9 pm, the kids need to go to bed, but the adult can stay up. (Granted, they might not. They might be in bed on the couch around 7:15 pm, but you get the point.)
Your kids can’t. You can. You set up the law; you can act outside of it.
Jesus acts outside of the laws of the universe set up by God, in all of his miracles.
Because he is God himself.
II. The Man with Leprosy
But it enough talking about it. Let me show you.
When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed him. Just then, a leper came to him and bowed down to him, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Mt. 8:1-2)
Notice. There are large crowds of people with Jesus. They had just heard Jesus give the Sermon on the Mount, a very famous sermon. They were all drawn in by Jesus’ speech and his ideas.
But someone that hadn’t made it up to the mountain was waiting as they came down.
He was a leper which means that he had the disease known as leprosy. It was a flesh-eating disease that slow dried out your cartilage and cause the tips of your fingers, your toes, your nose, and your ears to (brace yourself) fall off.
Leprosy was awful. Still is! If you want to know how awful, do a Google image search. (But not if you’re faint of heart.)
Besides being awful…
Leprosy was INCURABLE. This isn’t true anymore. There is a cure. But at the time, there weren’t any medicines, any acupuncture, any essential oil, any healthy diet, or any operation that anyone knew about in order to cure it. That means that if you were diagnosed with leprosy you had to quickly resign yourself to the fact that you would not be healed.
Leprosy was CONTAGIOUS. It was so contagious that if you were diagnosed with leprosy, you were sent into quarantine. Only the quarantine wasn’t a room in your house. You were sent outside the city walls, into the desert to live in what they called “leper colonies”.
Leprosy was FATAL. The end result, 100 percent of the time was death.
All these truths about leprosy left this man was without hope.
He had heard doctor after doctor tell him there was no cure.
He was alone, banished outside the city.
He knew what had happened to other friends – they died.
This meant -
He wouldn’t get to see his family again.
He wouldn’t get to hold his children again.
He wouldn’t get to kiss his wife again.
He wouldn’t feel better.
He wouldn’t regain strength.
He wouldn’t go back to his job.
He’d be by himself.
Outside the city walls.
Did you notice something about this man?
He approached Jesus with confidence.
He didn’t say: “If you are able…”
Or, “If you have the strength…”
Or, “If you have the right medicine…”
He said, “If you are willing…”
Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean.”
And after Jesus says that, there aren’t months of radiation.
There aren’t weeks of chemo.
There aren’t even 15 minutes to allow the medicine to take effect.
Jesus simply speaks and…
IMMEDIATELY he was healed of his leprosy.
And if you’re thinking, “That’s impossible.”
Remember – there’s a crowd of people present.
It wasn’t Jesus by himself.
There were hundreds of witnesses to this miracle.
Many who had undoubtedly seen that man sitting around outside the city gates day after day after day.
In fact, Jesus has professionals corroborate the healing. He tells him to “Go, show (himself) to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (v.4) The priests at this time were similar to doctors. They were able to pronounce people as diseased or not.
They were probably the same people who once told the man, “You are diseased, away from us!”
Now? They were saying to him, “You’re healed! Celebrate with us.”
And remember – while this is 2000 years after the fact, this book is not. These words that we are reading right now were written down at a time when the majority of the people who witnessed this would have still been alive.
Jesus is able to CURE the INCURABLE.
Here’s where this is important:
You might know someone who has been diagnosed with disease.
You may have been diagnosed with disease.
And internet articles might not give you a chance.
Social media anecdotes might not give you a chance.
Doctors might not give you a chance.
You have Jesus. And Jesus can cure the incurable.
Do you want a second instance of this? How about sin!?!
It’s CONTAGIOUS – passed down from parents to children.
It’s INCURABLE – nothing we can do will ever remove it.
It’s FATAL – “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)
But Jesus cured the incurable!
He lived perfectly when we couldn’t.
He died innocently on the cross.
He rose triumphantly and cured you of all sin, guilt and shame!
By faith in Jesus, you are forgiven.
Incurable guilt – CURED!
This means that whatever you’re dealing with, as long as you have Jesus, you have hope.
Because Jesus provides HOPE in any ILLNESS.
He cured the incurable disease of leprosy with his hand.
He cured the incurable disease of sin with his death.
There is nothing that Jesus can’t do.
There is no disease too incurable.
There is no disease too contagious.
There is no disease too fatal for Jesus.
III. The Centurion’s Servant
Word of this miracle got around.
In fact, it made its way outside the Jewish community to a Roman centurion whose servant was deathly ill.
He must have heard stories of Jesus.
Yet he had a lot working against him. In fact, I’m sure his advisors gave him a host of reasons not to waste his time:
“Jesus is Jewish. You’re Roman. There’s too big a racial divide. He won’t help you.”
“You’re a high ranking official. What will it look like for a Roman elite to go looking for help from a homeless carpenter?”
“You’re a sinner. From what I’ve heard, this man is a holy man. He won’t give you the time of day.”
For some reason…
He trusted Jesus.
And as he looked at his servant growing pale, soaked in sweat, and approaching death.
[the] centurion came to [Jesus] and pleaded with him, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed and suffering terribly.” (v.5)
Despite the racial difference…
Despite the social difference...
Despite the man’s sin…
Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” (v.6)
But the man, thought this was too much.
He was a high ranking official and he didn’t make house visits.
And Jesus was higher ranking than him.
He didn’t need to do a house visit.
And so, the high-ranking government official said, “Lord, I am not worthy for you to come under my roof.” I’m a sinful man. You’re holy. I don’t deserve anything from you.
But only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am also a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (v. 8-9)
You have authority too.
You tell diseases to leave and they do.
You tell health to return and it does.
You tell bodies to be healed and they listen, because you have authority over them.
When Jesus heard this, he marveled. He said to those who were following him, “Truly, I tell you: I have not found such great faith in anyone in Israel… Go. Let it be done for you as you have believed.” (v.10)
Here’s where it gets extra amazing.
Because when the man turned to leave, he made note of the position of the sun.
Maybe just to the right of the west of the cloud.
And when he returned home, he found the servant well.
But that’s not the amazing part.
After giving him a hug.
After doing the “happy dance.”
He asked one of the other servants.
When did this happen?
“At the time the sun was right to the west of the clouds! I remember. Because I was so excited, I ran outside to tell the others.”
Make no mistake.
This was a miracle.
This was Jesus.
Jesus provides HOPE even when he’s not VISIBLY PRESENT.
Because you won’t be able to see Jesus.
Look for Dr. Jesus.
He doesn’t work at Duke.
He doesn’t work at UNC.
He doesn’t work at Rex.
He doesn’t work at Wake Med.
He grants healing to those within those walls.
You can’t see Jesus.
But that doesn’t he isn’t with you.
And it doesn’t mean he won’t provide healing.
He’s all powerful. ‘
His power goes beyond physical, tangible presence.
Again – just like sin.
You and I weren’t physically there when Jesus died on the cross.
And yet Jesus didn’t have to come to 2020 in order to die in our physical presence.
His death and resurrection cross physical, temporal boundaries to bring healing and forgiveness.
His same healing power gives us hope in the face of illness.
IV. When Healing Doesn’t Happen
People die all the time from disease.
Some are even believers.
What’s the deal?
To answer that question – I want you to remember two significant things that these the two men in today’s accounts said.
(1) Lesson from the Centurion
Remember what the centurion said to Jesus?
“I’m not worthy…”
That’s a strange statement, because this centurion was a high ranking, Roman official.
He oversaw hundreds of soldiers. (Hence the name “Century-on”)
He had a good career.
Plenty of people who looked up to him.
And yet he didn’t say, “Jesus. I demand this, because I deserve it.”
He knew he was a sinner.
He knew he only deserved death.
He knew that any healing Jesus could grant was out of his mercy.
We need to remember the same thing.
I remember that I got sick for one of my birthday’s awhile back. And I thought….
“This isn’t fair! I work hard. I serve God. I serve God’s people. And now I get a day off to celebrate my birthday and I’m sick? God I deserve to be healed.”
Is that actually true?
Did I deserve healing?
Remember – the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.”
It’s easy to think:
I deserve healing.
I’ve done nice things.
I’ve been a good parent.
I’m worthy of being healed.
None of us are.
If God heals us physically, it’s not because we deserve it.
It’s because of his mercy.
But in God’s mercy is real hope.
Because unlike human ‘goodness’ which isn’t nearly as good as we think it is.
God’s mercy? Is a mercy that caused him to die on a cross for our sins.
Mercy that saved us to eternal life – where there won’t be any sickness.
And mercy that sometimes heals us from sickness.
(2) Lesson from the Leper
Remember what the leper said to Jesus?
“If you are willing…”
It wasn’t a question of whether healing was possible,
But whether it was God’s will.
In this man’s instance? It was.
But sometimes God’s will is that the sickness won’t be cured.
Is it because he loved that person less?
If you are suffering a sickness and you haven’t been healed yet, is it because God loves you less than the healthy?
He died on the cross for you.
He doesn’t love you less.
He loves you the same as those who are health.
In fact, it’s because of his LOVE combined with his incredible wisdom, that God sometimes allows a disease to run its course.
Sickness has a way of driving people towards Jesus.
Sickness can be God’s way of
Bringing you to faith…
Or strengthening your faith…
Or working through you to be a witness to our friends and family of our faith in Jesus.
Bringing you ultimate healing in heaven.
In heaven, there isn’t any leprosy.
In heaven, there isn’t any cancer.
In heaven, there isn’t any sickness.
In heaven, there is only health.
When I was in Seattle, WA, I had the goal to get to the top of the highest point in the lower 48 states, Mt. Rainier. I bought the right gear. I went into training. I learned from a woman who had been up Mount Everest three separate times.
On the day of the climb, we hiked up to Camp Muir, a base camp about 10,000 feet up. From there, we slept in a tiny wooden cabin to acclimate to the altitude and rest up for the final ascent. We went to bed at 6pm and woke up around Midnight. (You have to leave early in order to cross the ice bridges before the daylight gets too hot, the bridge melts and you fall to your death.)
It was about eight hours up when a blizzard kicked in. The air was sparse. The wind was frigid. My fingers were frozen. And it was only getting nastier. Some of the other climb groups had already turned around and gone back.
About an hour from the top, the lead expeditions said:
“This is getting pretty bad. I haven’t seen it this bad before. What do you think? We could go to the top and see the marvelous views, but…
If we don’t turn around, we could get frostbite or die.
So we thought about it and said:
“I’m sure Google images probably has some might fine photos of the top. So...
Sometimes suffering isn’t worth it.
Today we are continuing our series called Dear Church. It’s a series based on letters from Jesus to seven different churches. The letter for today looks at a church that was dealing with suffering…even suffering because they were believers. Our goal today is to understand what kind of suffering believers have to deal with and whether it’s worth that suffering.
Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The One who Knows Suffering
This letter starts in Revelation 2:8: “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty —yet you are rich!”
A few notes:
The letter is again written to the angel. We said that’s most likely referencing their pastoral leadership which, in turn, means it’s a letter written to the church in Smyrna.
Smyrna was an ancient Greek city at a central point on the Aegean coast. Because its positioning allowed for advantageous port conditions and an easily defendable city, Smyrna was full of people. In other words, it was a great place to start a church.
And someone had. We don’t know the exact apostle or disciple that founded it, which shows that the Gospel was spreading beyond the work rate of the apostles alone. This church was probably not started by one of the 12 apostles, yet Jesus considers it a church. Similarly, our church wasn’t started by one of the Apostles, yet Jesus would call it a real church.
Because the Holy Spirit was at work in the word.
Here in Raleigh.
So, both are churches.
Finally, the speaker is Jesus. This is his letter. And since this is a letter to a church that is suffering, he offers his credentials on the subject:
(1) Jesus Existed before SUFFERING
These are the words of him who is the First (v.8) Jesus existed eternally long before suffering ever existed. He created a world that was perfect, apart from suffering. Then, he watched as humans foolishly were led by the devil into suffering.
Don’t think that Jesus’ main goal is to end suffering?
To bring life back to the way that it once was?
It’d be like cleaning your living room, putting all the toys in their place and removing all the crumbs from the floor – making the place a gorgeous Better Homes and Gardens style living area.
Then, your kids happen.
And you’d like to see it back to the way it was when you were finished cleaning.
The same is true for God. He has on his heart a desire to bring things back to the way they were long before suffering happened.
And here’s the good news about that:
(2) Jesus will OUTLAST Suffering
These are the words of him who is the Last. (v.8) As in, he will last beyond all suffering.
He will outlast cancer.
He will outlast financial difficulties.
He will outlast persecutions.
He will outlast terrorism.
He will outlast racism.
He will outlast the little angry emojis that people put upon Christian content on Social Media.
He will outlast every form of suffering.
That doesn’t mean he hasn’t suffered.
(3) Jesus is FAMILIAR with suffering
These are the words of him who died. (v.8)
Do you know how Jesus died?
He was arrested by a mob.
He was beaten by that mob.
He was smacked and slapped till the early hours of the morning.
He was whipped thirty times with a 7 stranded leather whip that had metal shards on the end. (Also known as flogged)
He had a crown of thorns smashed down onto his head.
He was hit with a staff.
He was laid down upon two giant pieces of wood.
He had one nail driven through his right hand.
He had another nail driven through his left hand.
He had one more nail driven through his feet.
He hung on that cross as his lungs slowly collapsed.
He was abandoned by his friends.
He was betrayed by his disciples.
He was crucified by his people.
He had our sin and guilt and shame plaguing his soul.
He was familiar with suffering.
Suffering even to death!
Now – he lives.
He lives and walks among his churches.
(4) Jesus Knows YOUR suffering
Pause and reflect on that truth.
Because it’s easy to think:
No one knows my suffering.
No one understands.
No one gets this sadness I feel.
No one grasps the loneliness that I go through.
No one truly gets the depths of my depression.
Jesus is speaking to you. He says:
I know it feels like no one knows, but I know.
I know what it’s like to suffer.
I know that you are suffering.
I know what it is you’re suffering:
I know that you feel so poor because you are suffering.
In the midst of suffering…
You are rich.
(5) Jesus Gives Eternal RICHES to the Suffering
You are rich.
Rich in my love.
Rich in forgiveness.
Rich in the promise of eternal life.
You have a place in my family that all of the money in the world would be unable to buy.
You may be suffering, but you are not suffering from a lack of my promises.
II. Truths about Our Suffering
After giving his credentials as to why he is an expert in suffering, Jesus has a few things to say about the suffering that the people of Smyrna were going through. He says:
I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan. (v.9)
Apparently there was a group that was slandering the church. It was a group that claimed to be Jewish but wasn’t. This isn’t genealogical. Jesus is referring to people who were did not have a faith that matched the Old Testament faith, but pretended they did.
Because the Old Testament Jewish faith was that God would send a Messiah to save us from our sins. Overtime some Jews abandoned that faith and replaced it as, “God doesn’t need to save us from our sins, because I am Jewish and do Jewish things.”
When Jesus showed up, a “phony” Jewish faith is exactly what the Pharisees had. Jesus was the Messiah. The real Jewish faith would have believed in him. Instead, the “phony” Jewish faith rejected Jesus as Messiah because “they were good enough Jewish people on their own.”
Now after Jesus, this group was persecuting the church in Smyrna and it was bad enough to be called “suffering”:
Maybe they were calling them names.
Maybe some of them worked on the local tax board and were taxing their church building heavily.
Maybe some of them paid of the Roman soldiers to throw church members in prison.
Regardless, the church was suffering. What did Jesus say about this suffering? A few things:
(1) Believers WILL Suffer for their Faith
Look at what Jesus says in Verse 10: Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. At first glance, this seems comforting. But if you are a Smyrnian, don’t you think they read this and responded by saying:
What? About to suffer? You mean this isn’t even done yet?
That’s the truth.
For the Smyrnian people.
And for us:
The truth is that believers in Jesus will suffer.
Some suffering will happen because we’re on a sinful world where sinful people hurt one another. (Gossip, racism, and unfaithfulness)
Some suffering will happen because we’re in an imperfect world. (Cancer, pollution, and natural disasters)
Some suffering will happen because we’re believers in Jesus. (Things like angry comments on your Christian blog, being excluded from parties because you’re “That lousy Christian,” being yelled at by your spouse because “I’m not into that Jesus junk.”)
Jesus said this:
Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me. (Luke 10:16)
Just like you might not like a football team and, as a result, you don’t like fans of a certain football team.
Or you don’t like a politician and, as a result, you don’t like followers of that politician.
It’s the same thing with Jesus:
If someone doesn’t like Jesus.
They don’t like his followers.
If sinners made Jesus suffer,
They will make his followers suffer too.
(2) The Real Villain is the DEVIL
Because if it was just a bunch of humans making us suffer, you might think:
I can take them, Jesus. I took a few defense classes once, so…I got this.
But these people aren’t the real ones behind it. Look at what Jesus says about who was really behind the Smyrnian suffering:
I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you. (v.10b)
Now it wasn’t as if the devil showed up with a red pitchfork in his hands and pointy ears like some kind of Halloween costume.
But he influenced.
He gave people ideas like:
You should tell that Jesus supporter that he’s an idiot.
You should tell that Roman guard that Christian is breaking law by praying in public.
You should break up with your wife because the amount of Bible talk she has is crazy.
The same is true today.
The real villain isn’t whoever is persecuting you.
It’s the devil himself.
(3) Suffering Lasts for AWHILE
Because look at what Jesus says next:
You will suffer persecution for ten days.” (v.10c)
That doesn’t sound awful.
It’s the reason I sign up for ten days at a fitness camp. I figure – that’s not too long. I can handle it.
Or maybe you sign up for a ten day visit to your in-laws. You figure – that’s just over a week. I got this.
10 days of persecution? That’s doable.
But here’s the thing about numbers in revelation. They are metaphoric:
The number 3 represents God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The number 4 represents humans. Humans were created in God’s image, but aren’t God.
The number 7 represents the church. It’s 3 plus 4, where God connects with humans.
The number 10? It represents completeness.
Meaning the church at Smyrna would suffer until the suffering was completed.
In other words, for a while.
And the reality is that Christians will suffer…until their suffering on earth is completed.
Suffering will be a part of your life when you’re 5.
When you’re a teenager.
When you’re middle aged.
When you’re a senior.
Even suffering for your faith…
…will be a part of your life for a while.
Only for a while.
(4) The faithful will receive the CROWN of LIFE
Look at what Jesus says at the end of verse 10:
Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
Back at this time, the victor’s crown was associated with the Olympics. It was made of olive branches and given to the winner.
To the winner of the 100-meter dash: Victor’s crown.
To the winner of the 1600-meter run: Victor’s crown.
To the winner of the pole vault: Victor’s crown
To the winner of the steeple chase (whatever a steeple chase is): Victor’s crown.
After all the training.
After all the sweating.
After all the suffering.
A victor’s crown.
Look at what Jesus promises to those who are victorious.
Who go through suffering in this life.
But hold on to Jesus:
A victor’s crown.
But not just any victor’s crown. This isn’t made from olive branches.
It’s made of life.
Do you get it?
If you hold to Jesus despite the suffering this life brings, you will have eternal life.
Death won’t win.
You will defeat it.
Just like Jesus defeated death, you will defeat death too.
You will live.
And about this life…
It won’t be one of suffering.
(5) The Faithful’s SUFFERING will END
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death. (v.11)
That’s sounds awful.
First death is bad enough.
It’s nothing but suffering.
Nothing but awful.
Nothing but hell…
…because it is hell.
But dear believers, that’s not anything you have to be worried about. The faithful will not be hurt even in the slightest by hell.
Because in heaven? There is no hell.
In heaven? There is no death.
In heaven? There is NO suffering.
No suffering for faith.
No arguments with spouses.
No rebellious kids.
No ostracization from friends.
No suffering of any amount, variety or kind.
In heaven, SUFFERING is done.
Because you’re with the one that defeated suffering.
You’re with Jesus.
III. WHAT NOW?
Jesus’ words are simple: Be Faithful.
Because when being a believer gets hard, it’s tempting to not be faithful.
“I became a believer and I still get sick.
I still have work problems.
I still have financial difficulties.
Only now people ridicule me for my faith.”
It might seem easier to stop being faithful so that you won’t have this momentary suffering.
If you stay faithful, in the midst of the momentary suffering, you will have eternal blessings.
Because God is faithful.
That won’t change.
He sent his Son Jesus for you.
And through faith in him you will be removed from suffering…forever.
Have you ever gotten an unidentified stain on your shirt?
You’re getting along.
You’re minding your only business.
Suddenly, you look down and…
What is that? Coffee? Chocolate? Some kind of pinecone residue? (I don’t remember cuddling pinecones.)
It’s important to identify stains so that you know how to treat it correctly.
Today we’re continuing our sermon series called MESSY. Last week we talked about sin…what it is and how it messes up our relationship with God. Today we want to discover the origins of sin. By identifying where it comes from, we will better be able to battle it in our own lives. But before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Influencers, not Origins
The Scripture today is from Mark 7. It says, “The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed...So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” (v.1-5,
Jesus and his disciples were eating food. This is interesting thing to think about. Usually, I think of Jesus as a divine, miracle-performing being. He is. But he was also a true human. As true God, he was all powerful, energizing the universe, but as true man, he needed his calories.
Since some of the Pharisees were able to gather around Jesus, it meant that they were in a public place. Usually there was a common type area in the middle of town where you could set up a picnic and do some eating. Picture it like an ancient food court:
Matthew stopped at Chick-Fi-A.
James went to the Ragin’ Cajun.
Peter’s just walking around and getting as many free samples of chicken on a little toothpick as he can.
The Pharisee’s issue is that the disciples were eating with defiled hands. It was a ceremonial tradition amongst the elders in Jerusalem to give a ceremonial washing before they ate any food.
They’d wash up. They’d wash down. They’d wash all around.
The issue wasn’t that they were germaphobes.
The was ceremonial. Throughout the Old Testament God had placed certain restrictions on the food that was eaten and the cleanliness of their ceremonies in order to impress on the Israelites the fact that God was holy. The Pharisees had simply taken it a step farther and added extra hand washings and ceremonial cleansings in order to really make themselves holy.
That’s why they were so upset with Jesus.
Wasn’t he supposed to be a godly Teacher?
Why would he let his disciples eat without the ceremonial washing?
By doing so, wasn’t he teaching them to defile their bodies with sin?
Do you see the problem?
The Pharisees thought that unclean hands…
Would somehow contain sin…
That would make its way into the body…
And create a sinful heart.
It is faulty to assume that sin originates from exterior sources.
Now understand what that’s saying:
Exterior sources can absolutely nfluence us to sin.
They can tempt us to sin.
But it is NOT the place of origin.
I think that’s important to remember. Because as Christians we might want to cut down on sin. In doing so, we might look to cut out some exterior sources. But while that might be helpful, it wouldn’t be the origin. For example:
(1) Food and Drink
The wrong kind of food and drink can make you feel gross. And if you feel gross, it can make it easy to be gross towards others. It might be wise to stay away from that unhealthy food so you don’t feel so sluggish and aren’t so easily a slug. So, you back away from greasy hamburgers, stop drinking coffee and throw away (sigh) all the Doritos.
To be fair, those might be wise decisions. Food and drink can absolutely influence the way we act.
But be careful that you don’t think it’s the origin of sin. As if, all we need to do is be eat healthy, throw on some Essential Oils on it, and we’ll take care of the sin problem.
Because even if you are Crossfit gym levels of physical fitness, guess what?
You might still be a jerk to your coworkers.
You might still fight with your wife.
You might start lusting after that person at the gym.
You might start trusting your oil collection to keep your healthy, more than your God.
In short, sin would still be around.
Food and drank are only influencers, not the origin of sin.
This is another big influencer towards sin. If you’re watching TV shows with all kinds of swear words, don’t be surprised if you’re Preschooler repeats those swear words in front of your in-laws at the fancy restaurant. There have been Precious Lambs kids who are quoting characters that are a part of Games of Thrones. That might not be the wisest…
With social media, YouTube, the internet making it so easy to consume some downright awful content, we have to be diligent to keep our families safe from evil influences. It’s good to install filters on internet. It’s good to have a parental code on the TV. I think it’d be pretty fun to watch nothing but Veggietales, all the time, all the time, all the time.
But even if we severely cut down on our sinful media intake, there would still be sin.
Case in point?
All of human history before media existed.
There was no TV, but still sin.
No YouTube, still sin.
No smartphones and still sin.
Media is an influencer. It can lead us to sin, but it isn’t the origin.
Nobody wants stress. Stress at work. Stress at the home. Stress in relationships. Stress makes you high strung, on edge, and ready to jump down people’s throats.
Stress is an influencer of sin.
The more stress there is the tougher it is to not be sinfully unpleasant.
It’s why people try to destress:
If I go get a full body massage…
If I surround myself with nature…
If I just listen to some Enya…
My stress will fade away.
And so will sin.
Again, stress is an influencer. So removing yourself from stressful situations will be helpful in our battle against being sinfully unpleasant.
Stress isn’t the origin of sin.
I remember a while back being on vacation. It was nice because I was away from some of the stress that comes from being a pastor. I felt like I was a bit more low-key. I was feeling good. I was feeling pleasant. I was feeling like I was doing a better job managing being sinfully short with Julianna.
Then, she asked if I wanted to get up and workout. “Nah!”
She asked if I wanted to help with food. “I’m good.”
She asked if I wanted to do a devotion: “I’m too busy resting right now.”
Less stress had caused me to be less sinfully unpleasant and more sinfully lazy.
Stress is an influencer, but it isn’t the origin of sin.
II. Sin is Messy
This is Jesus’ point.
Particularly because the Pharisees were focusing on washing hands which barely had any effect on sin at all.
Listen to his response to the Pharisees: Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. (Mark 7:18-22)
Do you get it?
Sin doesn’t originate from exterior sources.
Sin originates from interior sources.
Before you punch someone in the face, you have to think: “I want to punch him in the face.”
Before you commit adultery, you have to think: “I want to commit adultery with that person.”
Before you steal, you have to think: “I want to steal that.”
Before you lie, you have to think: “I need to hide the truth.”
Before you gossip, you have to think: “I want to hurt that person.”
Before you act selfishly, you have to think: “I think my way is best.”
Sin comes from interior sources.
And one of those sources we are all too familiar with.
(1) From Your Heart
In the medical field, there are many different devices to help you get a better glimpse at what’s going inside the body: the X-Ray, the MRI, the CAT scan, the thing they do where you drink the neon liquid stuff and it appears on the machine as a bring neon color.
The Bible functions as a spiritual X-ray.
It tells us that the problem with sin lies in our hearts.
You might not like that truth, but just like the X-Ray isn’t lying, neither is God’s Word.
The problem with sin is within our hearts.
(2) From Your Parents’ Heart
Because they are people too and the Bible describes the sinful hearts of ALL people.
In fact, this answers the question: How did this sin get into my heart?
Jesus said John 3:5, “Flesh gives birth to flesh.”
Just like alligators gives birth to alligators.
Hedgehogs gives birth to hedgehogs.
Spiders give birth to…thousands of disgusting little spiders.
So, humans give birth to humans.
Even, sinful humans give birth to humans.
It means that your dad gave you your eyes, your nose, your male pattern baldness…
…and a sinful heart.
(3) From Adam
Before you get super mad at your parents, remember they got it from theirs.
And before you get super mad at your grandparents, remember they got it from theirs.
In fact, you’d have to trace all humans back to the very first humans.
A guy named Adam.
A woman named Eve.
They are two of only three people in the history of the world that were blessed to be born without sin.
Because God made them without sin.
And God said: “Here’s a beautiful world that I made for you. Beautiful flowers. Beautiful trees. Delicious fruits. Amazing animals. It’s yours. I love you. One way to show you love me? Just don’t eat from that one tree in the middle of the garden. Consider it your form of worship. Don’t eat of it and you’ll never bring sin into the world.”
And what did they choose to do?
They eat the fruit.
And immediately, sin infects their hearts:
For the first time ever, they feel shame: They put on some leaf clothing because, “Adam, stop looking at my body like that.”
For the first time ever, they blame: “Eve, this is all your fault!”
For the first time ever, they feel terrified: “God’s coming. He’ll be mad. We better hide.”
This is why the Bible says this: Sin entered the world through one man. (Romans 5:12)
Are you a part of the world?
Here’s the harsh truth:
Sin is in you.
III. The Non-Origin
Of course, right about now, your sinful heart might want to go a bit farther back in the origin story.
But…wasn’t there a devil?
A talking snake?
Wasn’t it his fault?
And honestly, wasn’t it God’s?
Because in the beginning was God.
He’s the one who created this world.
Why create the devil?
Why create the tree?
Why create Adam and Eve with the ability to sin?
Isn’t it God’s fault?
Check out Genesis 1:31. It’s a description of what happens at the end of creation. Look at what it says:
God saw all that he had made and it was very good. (1:31)
It had to be.
God doesn’t make stuff that is “Meh.”
God doesn’t do things that are “Ok.”
God doesn’t create things that are “imperfect.”
Sin did not originate from GOD.
He’s only good.
And his creation was only good.
The devil? He was an angel! An angel who freely chose to oppose his good Creator.
The tree? It was an altar. A way for people to freely chose to love their good Creator.
Adam and Eve? They were his perfect creation. And part of perfection was the ability to freely choose to love their Creator.
It’s like Google Maps. Google maps will listen to you. You can tell it to get you directions to the next city, to avoid tolls, to stop and find the local Taco Bell.
Google Maps will listen to you.
But it doesn’t love you.
God in his perfection made people to love.
He gave them freedom.
They chose to freely oppose him.
Sin isn’t on God;
It’s on us.
IV. The Exterminator
But that’s good news.
Because that means God is still good.
Sin didn’t infect him.
God isn’t the one who originated sin; but God is the one who exterminates it.
Look at how Romans describes it:
Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18-19)
Adam’s one act of sin is juxtaposed with God’s perfect act of rescue.
Adam did one sin; all people were brought into sinfulness. That includes you.
God did one righteous act; all people are brought into justification. That includes you.
And what is justification? It’s a court room term. It means: “a not guilty verdict.”
This means that in spite of your sinful heart, God’s righteous actions declare you “Not guilty.”
(1) Through Jesus’ Perfect Life
Do you remember earlier I mentioned three people who entered the world without sin?
One was Adam.
One was Eve.
They both chose to leave perfection and enter sin.
But the third one?
He chose to stay perfect.
The third one?
He was God himself.
The third option?
He was Jesus.
In Jesus, God became man.
In Jesus, God lived on this earth.
In Jesus, God lived under the law.
And then, just like Adam, He had a choice.
He could choose to fail miserably just like Adam…
“Through the obedience of the one man…” (v.19)
Jesus chose not to sin.
Jesus’ heart didn’t have any sin on it.
Jesus’ heart didn’t have any hate in it.
Jesus’ heart didn’t have any greed, any lust, any pride, any selfishness, any envy, any laziness, any sin of any kind at all.
Jesus’ heart was pure.
It obeyed God…
Even to death.
(2) Through Jesus’ Innocent Death.
Think back to the stain on the shirt illustration. If you had a stain on a shirt, one way you can get it out is by taking a clean rag.
You get it wet.
You blot it until the stain is out.
Of course, once you do that the stain might be out of the shirt, but it is now all over the sponge.
That’s what happened with Jesus.
Like a sponge, he soaked up all the dirt of your sin.
All the guilt of your past.
All the shame of this past week.
Jesus’ soaked it all up into his heart.
And so did your sin.
Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead.
But your sins did not.
It was exterminated.
…So also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. (v.18)
“All people” includes you.
…So also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (v.19)
“The many” includes you.
Jesus has exterminated your sin.
V. What Now?
This affects the way we deal with sin in our life. Take a look at the passages from James 1:19-21. It says this, “Take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”
Because a good part of our actions are determined by our emotions.
The example given in James is the emotion of anger. We get angry. Our anger tells us to do. We listen even if it is a sin.
You might say: “Anger is an emotion. How can I help it?”
The problem isn’t necessarily anger. God gets angry. He gets righteously angry against sin.
The problem isn’t emotion, it’s emotion coming from a sin infected heart.
It can be any emotion:
Sin infected happiness.
Sin infected fear.
Sin infected sadness.
Knowing that we can’t simply say: “I feel this way so I should do it.”
Pause and consider this emotional reaction is influenced by sin, simply because of my sinful heart.
Maybe, I shouldn’t do it.
(2) Listen to the Planted Word
Sin isn’t the only thing in our hearts.
By God’s grace, we have the Gospel in our hearts.
God planted it there through the message of the Gospel.
He planted knowledge of our Savior.
He planted knowledge of our saving.
He planted knowledge of what sin is and motivation for getting rid of it.
He planted knowledge of what’s God pleasing and motivation for doing it.
It’s like a pile of trash, stinky, dirty, disgusting…
…And yet, by God’s grace, a flower grows.
It’s the same in our hearts.
They are sin filled.
But by God’s grace, a flower grows.
By God’s Word, sin is defeated.
By God’s power, we bloom for him. Amen.
We have a leak on our roof. The rain comes down through a circular vent that was installed through the shingles and OSB without a line of caulk to protect the space surrounding it. My first attempt at fixing it (cover the area with tin foil) only worked until the tin toil blew off the roof. (About 2 days) On my second attempt, I went up to the roof with a caulking gun that I had loaded with roofing tar. I took that tar and did a nice circle around the opening. Case closed. (Julianna, man do you have handy husband.)
But that wasn’t it. It was still leaky. I went back to the roof, but couldn’t find an opening, so I decided to approach it from the other side. I went up into our crawl space attic, maneuvered around the insulation and shined a tiny flashlight up to the hole from the other direction. Sure enough! There were a few tiny little holes that were still allowing water into our place.
So, I picked up the caulking gun, pressed it against the holes and…
I tried again.
I pumped it a solid 7 or 8 times more until…
Apparently, I had forgotten to open up the top of the caulking tube. As a result, it busted out the back and all over my hands.
That tar was messy.
I used soap.
I used a second kind of soap.
I used a third kind of soap.
It was messy.
Today we’re starting our sermon series called MESSY. It’s all about something that’s the spiritual equivalent of tar all over your hands: something called sin. Something that can get all over your life, all over your relationships, and all over your relationship with God. Today we just wanted to identify what sin is and how we deal with it. But before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. What is Sin?
The Scripture that we’re looking at today is from the book of Mark. Mark is a guy who was an eyewitness to Jesus’ life. So, it’s likely that he was there for the event that we’re taking a look at today. Listen to what happens: As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17)
This story is actually recorded in two other places of Scripture. In Matthew’s version, we learn that he was a young man. (Mt. 19:20) In Luke’s version, we learn that he was a ruler. (Lk. 18:18) In all of the stories, we learn that he was rich.
So, here’s what you need to understand…
This guy was impressive.
He was the kind of guy who worked hard throughout his life. Maybe he was first chair trumpet, captain of the soccer team and the homecoming king all while graduating Cum Laude with three sets of honor cords.
The kind of guy that was no stranger to inheritance. His grandpa’s 401k. His dad’s H&R Block business. He was….
The kind of guy with a family boat house on Lake Gaston.
The kind of guy who’d gotten on Shark Tank and received a royalty deal from Mr. Wonderful.
The kind of guy who’d be an Instagram influencer – literally paid by companies — just to include a shot of himself drinking a Coca-Cola on his next social media post.
He was successful.
He also knew that none of this stuff was eternal life.
The assets would eventually run out.
The Lexus would stop running.
The six pack of abs would eventually fade to fat…then dust.
But he had earned everything else in his life.
Hence the question:
Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
Why do you call me good? There is no one good, but God alone. (v.18)
Understand what Jesus is saying:
God is good.
And eternal life is God’s.
Then eternal life must be good.
And since God is good.
And his commands are God’s.
Then, his commands are good.
And since eternal life is good.
And God’s commands are good.
To get to eternal life, one simply needs to do the good that your good God commands you to do:
Do not murder. Murder bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Do not commit adultery. Unfaithfulness is bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Do not steal. Theft is bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Do not give false testimony. Lying is bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Do not defraud. Gossip is bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Honor your Father and Mother. Disrespect is bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Do the good things. You inherit eternal life.
Do the bad things. You won’t.
Sin is the MESSINESS of OPPOSING God.
It’s like eating healthy. If you’re trying to eat healthy, then food is either good for your body or good for your taste buds.
Carrot mush. Good for your body, not for taste.
Deep friend Carrot Cake. Good for taste, not for body.
Bran Flakes. Good for body.
Frosted Flakes. Good for taste.
Kombucha. Good for body.
Vanilla Dr. Pepper. Good for taste.
Brussel sprouts. Good for body.
Doritos. Good for taste.
Brussel sprout flavored Doritos? Not good for either. Let’s make sure that it’ll never happen.
Sin and God are like that.
They are in opposition.
What’s good for sin is not good for God.
What’s good for God is not good for sin.
II. Sin is Messy
And one of the reasons that God has assigned the sinful things as sin is because sin causes all kinds of messiness in our lives.
Thinks about it:
(1) Sin Messes up Relationships
Just consider some of the sins that Jesus mentions here.
Stealing? It messes up your relationship with the friend you stole 20 bucks from.
Gossip? It messes up your relationship with the person who finds out you have been gossiping about them.
Adultery? It messes up your relationship with your spouse, with the person you’re commit adultery with, with the spouse of the person you’re committing adultery with, with your parents, with your spouse’s parents, with your parents of the person you’ve committed adultery with, with the parents of the spouse of the persons you’ve committed adultery with, with your siblings, with your siblings in law, with their friends, with your friends, and, God forbid, any children that are in the mix.
Now you might say:
Only if I get caught!
Is that really true?
Because even if you don’t get caught stealing, the relationship with your friend is affected because now you have to think of ways to lie to your friend and remember the lies that you said in order not to get caught.
And even if you don’t get caught by the person you’re gossiping about, the people you’re gossiping to hear what you’re saying, recognize what you’re doing, and are making mental notes to keep you at a distance.
And even if you don’t get caught in adultery, you quickly find yourself nitpicking and complaining about any minor offense from your spouse because you need to soothe your conscience and come up with tangible reasons to tell yourself: “It’s ok what I’m doing.”
Sin messes up relationships with others.
(2) Sin Messes Up Self Image
Because what happens when you sin?
You don’t usually feel good about you it.
You feel anxious.
You feel sad.
You feel guilty.
And here’s the thing, when people say things like “You’re such a good person.”
You nod and accept, but deep down there’s this little voice that says: “If they only knew…”
They wouldn’t call me good.
They’d call me -- unfaithful.
Which leads to our next issue…
(3) Sin Messes Up Your Relationship with God
It’s Back to Church Sunday. One thing I’ve been doing this week is reaching out to people who used to worship here but haven’t in a while. Just a simple message telling them that we missed them and would love for them to return.
In the process, I invited one friend of mine. And the person responded: “I’ll think about it.”
So, I followed up yesterday and asked if they might make it? They said they didn’t have a car. I said, “We could give a ride.”
They responded: “I don’t think I can get up that early.” I said: “The last service is at 11 am.”
Finally, they said: “Pastor, I can’t come, because life is mess right now. I need to get it together first. I can’t let God see me like this. I’m too guilty.”
How sad. Sin drives people apart from God.
It causes us to distance ourselves from him.
We miss out on knowing we have his protection.
We miss out on being uplifted by his love.
We miss out on hearing about his incredible plan for us.
We just kind of drift…away.
But none of this worries our impressive young man. When he hears Jesus’ answer, he’s feeling pretty good. Because Jesus mentioned a bunch of commands, that he hasn’t broken.
He hasn’t murdered.
He hasn’t committed adultery.
He hasn’t lied.
He’s done good.
He says to Jesus:
All these I have kept since I was a boy. (v.20)
Jesus looked at him.
Jesus loved him.
Jesus spoke to his heart:
One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have. Sell your 401k. Sell your internet business. Sell your stock in Disney. Sell your 70” HD TV. Sell your XBOX. Sell your Coach Handbag. Sell your Air Jordans. Sell your season tickets. Sell everything.
And give to the poor. To the homeless. To the impoverished. To the elderly man who can’t afford healthcare. To the guy at the I-540 on ramp asking for change. To the immigrant who can’t get a job because of the way he looks.
And you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come follow me. (v.21)
But the young man didn’t follow Jesus.
His face fell.
He grew sad.
He turned and left.
Because you see, Jesus had exposed his sin.
Did you catch it?
He loved earthly treasure more than heavenly treasure.
He loved STUFF more than the CREATOR of stuff.
He broke the 1st Commandment: You shall have no other gods.
He did bad.
He wasn’t good.
But more intriguing than the young man’s response, is what Jesus says next.
How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!... It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. (v.23,24)
Have you ever seen a camel before? It’s a big old animal. The average camel is 6 feet tall at the shoulder, 7 feet tall at the hump. It weighs about 1500 pounds.
The eye of a needle? It’s much tinier. It’s so tiny because it is designed for only a thread to pass through it.
I don’t have a camel with me. (The Greensboro Zoo wouldn’t get back to my request to borrow one)
But I do have this stuffed camel.
And this needle.
No matter how hard I smush it.
No matter how hard I jam it.
No matter how hard I push it.
It is impossible for this stuffed camel to go through the eye of this needle.
It is impossible for a real camel to go through the eye of a needle.
And it is impossible for a rich young man earn his way through the gates of heaven.
In fact, it is impossible for anyone to earn their way into the gates of heaven.
(4) Sin Messes Up Our Entrance into Heaven
Heaven is a good place.
Heaven is a divinely good place.
It is a place without any sin.
And if you’ve got sin on you…
If you’ve got a big sin…
If you’ve got a little sin…
If you’ve got any sin…
…it is impossible for you to earn your way into heaven.
III. The Solution
Jesus’ disciples are shocked all this. Because this impressive young gentleman, who had earned all varieties of accolades in his lifetime, wasn’t able to earn the accolade of heaven.
If he wasn’t getting in, then…
What about us?
Because he’s got it together, we don’t.
He’s impressive; we’re not.
He’s got everything going for him; not us.
He was the Bill Gates, the Mark Zuckerberg, the Elon Musk.
If he wasn’t getting in, then…
Who can be saved? (v.26)
Listen to Jesus’ response:
With humans, this is impossible. But not with God; with God all things are possible. (v.27)
Do you get it?
Heaven is impossible for any being with sin to earn.
He doesn’t have any sin.
He doesn’t struggle with wrong.
He isn’t messy…at all.
(1) Sin hasn’t MESSED UP God
Unlike all of the rest of us, God is sinless. He’s still good. He doesn’t do wrong. He doesn’t have any mess on his eternal being. He remains pure.
You won’t catch God in the fellowship area after church gossiping about that one guy.
You can’t Google for God’s criminal record because he doesn’t have any.
You won’t find photos of God from 2011 on Social Media in which he’s engaged in lewd activity.
You won’t find any racists tweets that have been deleted from God’s account.
God is incorruptible.
God is perfect.
God is sinless.
Sin hasn’t messed up God.
And it never will.
Which is big news.
Because it means
(2) God is the ONE to Clean the Mess Up
Think about it:
When I had that tar all over my hands, one of the worst things that could have done would be to try and wipe it off by rubbing my dirty hands together.
(It’s what I did), but it failed miserably.
Messy hands cannot clean up messy hands.
Sinful hands cannot clean up sinful hands.
But God’s hands aren’t dirty.
God’s hands aren’t messy.
God’s hands are holy.
God’s hands are pure.
God’s hands are divine.
God is the one to clean the mess up.
God is the one to clean YOUR mess up.
He is the ONLY one to clean your mess up.
He had to act.
And he did.
Back to the story. Peter is the name of one of Jesus’ disciples and he is having a hard time believing that he can’t earn heaven. So, he says to Jesus this: “WE have left everything to follow you.” (v.28)
That’s what you told the young man to do.
That’s what we did.
Granted, we didn’t have as much as he did, but we still left it.
We are following you.
Does that count for something?
Look at Jesus’ response:
Truly I tell you…no one who has left home for me and the Gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age…and in the age to come eternal life. (v.29-30)
Isn’t that strange?
Jesus just promised Peter eternal life.
It wasn’t because Peter could earn it. He couldn’t.
It wasn’t because Peter was perfect. He was a sinner.
It was because Peter followed Jesus.
But why would that work?
Jesus is God.
(3) The MESSINESS of Sin is Removed by Jesus
He is God come into this messy world.
He is God dealing with the messiness of humanity.
He is God who suffered a messy, bloody death at the hands of humans on the cross.
But when he died.
He took the messiness of your sins with him.
He took the messiness of your guilt to the cross.
He through the messiness of your sins into the grave…and the stone door was slammed shut.
And there they remained.
Jesus and our sins in the grave.
On the third day?
Jesus came out alive.
But our sins? They stayed there…dead.
Jesus has removed the messiness of your sins.
In Jesus you are clean.
In Jesus you are messiness-less.
In Jesus, you are forgiven.
You might think -
All the sins I have.
All the ways I’ve made a mess of it.
All the messiness in my heart.
But not for God.
God specializes in the impossible.
Like rising from the dead.
He did the visually impossible to prove the invisibly impossible
He did the visually impossible: rising from the dead, to prove the invisible impossible: removal of all the messiness of your sins.
IV. What Now?
It’s what the rich young man didn’t do. Follow Jesus.
It’s what the poor disciples did do. Follow Jesus.
And it’s what God is calling you to do: Follow Jesus.
It’s the way out of your sinful mess. Follow Jesus.
It’s the way out of your messy guilt. Follow Jesus.
It’s the way out of this messy world to place where there’s never any mess…
I was once called to a hospital room late at night. The elderly man I went to see was in grave condition. He was hooked up to a breathing machine. He was unable to move. His eyes were red and there were purple splotches creeping up his neck.
But when I got there…whatever brightness could come to his eyes, did.
Pastor, I’m so glad you’re here.
Pastor, I’m not gonna last much longer.
Pastor, I’ve been thinking about my life.
About how I messed things up with my wife.
About how I messed things up with my children.
About how I messed…things…up.
But…as big of a mess up as I was…
I know it’s not too big of a mess for Jesus.
Because ain’t nothing too big of a mess for Jesus.
He was right.
And he is right with Jesus.
Follow your Savior friends. He’ll fix your eternal mess and bring you to eternal life. Amen.
Today we are FINISHING up our summer sermon series, as we are FINISHING up summer and the Apostle Paul is FINISHING up his third missionary journey. The last time Paul had been on the continent of Asia, things had ended abruptly. He had been in Ephesus and there had been a riot. People thirsty for his blood had chanted against him for over two hours. For his own safety, Paul left early the next morning. He left the congregation that he had served for over two years very abruptly without any kind of final, farewell sermon.
Knowing what it’s like to be a pastor.
And how easy it is to love a congregation.
I’ll bet Paul wished he had that chance.
Similarly, I imagine the Ephesians also wanted one more sermon. Because without Paul, ministry questions came to them.
Should they keep preaching in Bob’s home downtown or should they move to Bill’s home in the suburbs?
Should they serve the community of widows or focus on the community of the homeless?
Would their new fellowship hall look better with Neutral Gray or Eggshell White trim?
How should we do ministry?
That’s a good question.
Even for us at Gethsemane Church.
Today we’re going to look at Paul’s encore sermon to the Ephesians and we’ll consider his encore sermon to us this summer. Our goal is to learn from Paul some key principles for Gospel ministry in Raleigh, NC in 2019. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Lessons about Ministry
The lesson starts with a bit of geography. Check out verse 17: From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church.
Paul had been up in Troas. He wanted to get back to Jerusalem. An easy route would have taken him right past the Ephesians that he wanted to encourage. But Ephesus was still filled with people who weren’t very welcoming. So, rather than risk a riot, Paul took a trip down around Ephesus to Miletus. It was a city about 30 miles to the Southwest of Ephesus. From there, he sent words for the leadership of the Ephesian church to meetup with him.
When they arrived, they hugged.
They high fived.
They swapped stories about things that have happened without him.
Then, Paul got to teaching:
You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility… (v.18-19)
This is strange. Because by the time Paul had gotten to Ephesus, he had already started over ten different churches. He had preached to thousands of people. He had even begun writing a few books of the Bible.
You would imagine that Paul would come to town full of pride.
Talking about how impressive he was…
…and how the people needed to listen to him for community revitalization,
…as he handed out T-Shirts with his smiling face on them.
Paul was humble.
Paul reminded people how he was the chief of sinners,
How it was Jesus who saved him.
And Jesus who worked through him to do anything worthy of praise.
Here’s the lesson:
(1) Gospel Ministry is HUMBLE.
Gospel ministry points people to Jesus.
It lowers the importance of self.
It gives all glory to God.
Because if it doesn’t…
I’ve got this long-distance social media friend who recently underwent a bit of a transformation. He had been an alcoholic, now he’s been clean for a couple of months. He was a smoker; now he doesn’t own a pack. He had been drinking three coffees a day and now he drinks one lightly caffeinated tea.
He’s been sharing the story and, to be fair, when he first started doing this, he gave a lot of credit to Jesus. Jesus was the one who influenced him. The one who became the purpose behind his life. The one who empowered him to give up his addictions.
But it recently changed. His most recent post sounded something like this:
“Man, I’m feeling the change. I’m transforming myself. I reached down. I dug deep. I can give up all my vices. It feels good. It feels empowering. I love what I’ve become. If you need help, talk to me. I’ll get you the transformation that you need.”
Did you hear it?
All about him.
If Gospel ministry is about YOU, it’s NOT Gospel ministry.
If you tell your family that you’ve been on leadership for years and that’s why Gospel ministry is good at Gethsemane, that’s NOT Gospel ministry.
If you tell your friends that YOU have been teaching your kids some awesome values and YOUR devotion is the reason their life will be good, that’s NOT Gospel ministry.
If you post on social media that YOUR life has changed since YOU accepted Christ and YOU chose to change your life, that’s NOT Gospel ministry.
In those scenarios, there isn’t Gospel ministry going on, because none of those scenarios involve teaching the Gospel.
And, (this is a shocker), Gospel ministry involves teaching the Gospel.
It points people to Jesus.
It points people to their Savior.
It points people to the one who lived for them, died for them, and rose for them.
You didn’t do that for you, Jesus did.
And you didn’t do that for your friends, Jesus did.
You can’t save you, Jesus does.
You can’t save your friends, Jesus will.
Share the Gospel by humbly pointing to Jesus.
(2) Gospel Ministry is BOLD.
But don’t think of Gospel ministry as this meek, milquetoast thing. (Like the guy at Food Lion who is being forced for donations because his boss told him to. “Do you want to roundup and donate to the local hospital? It’s ok. I totally understand if you don’t. My boss makes me ask.”)
Nope. Gospel ministry is humble, but it’s also BOLD. Check out what Paul says next:
You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. (v.20-21)
Think back to some of the ways that Paul was bold on his missionary journeys:
In Athens, he preached that Greeks gods weren’t gods at all, to a group of people who had devoted themselves to worship of these gods.
In Thessalonica, he taught that people are saved by Jesus and not Jewish customs, to a group of people who were firmly entrenched in the fact that their Jewish customs saved them.
In Corinth, he told people that sexual immorality was sinful, in a culture that sexual immorality was what all the cool kids were doing.
In Ephesus, he taught that money wasn’t everything, Jesus was; to a group of rioters who were upset that he was costing them money.
Gospel ministry is BOLD.
In fact, if you look closely at what Paul says, he mentions two different ways that Gospel ministry is bold.
First, Gospel ministry BOLDLY preaches ALL of God’s Word.
It isn’t like a timeshare salesman. (Ever listened to one of those?) The venue is marvelous. The site is incredible. You’ll have a wonderful vacation and it’ll be so great for your and your family. This week-long vacation at a five-star resort will be yours for only one yearly payment of $500!
…Plus, monthly maintenance fees.
…and monthly checking fees.
…and you’ll probably never be able to book a room when you want.
…and you’ll have this timeshare forever.
…and we own your soul.
Paul wasn’t a timeshare salesman. He didn’t hide anything.
If you want to participate in Gospel ministry, you don’t either.
And don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean that the starting point becomes… “Friends, let me tell you what hell is like.”
Nope. But it does mean that we don’t shy away from truth in Scripture, even when it’s difficult to hear.
We BOLDLY preach ALL of God’s Word.
Second, Gospel ministry BOLDLY preaches to ALL.
Again, think of Paul. Some of the people he had to preach to might have been kind of nerve-wracking to talk to.
There were the Athenians, whose entire city was so foreign to him. Instead of the familiarity of churches, there were statues of other gods, another religion, everywhere.
Paul was bold. Paul preached to them.
There were the Jews. People who looked like him and talked like him, but when Paul told them they needed Jesus, they repeatedly persecuted him.
Paul was still bold. Paul preached to them.
The same is still true today. God is calling us at Gethsemane to share the Gospel with people who look like us, sure.
Those who look differently than us.
Those who dress differently than us.
Those who speak differently than us.
Those who cover their heads.
Those with tattoos all over their arms.
Those with three children from three different fathers.
Those who like the sports team that we can’t stand.
Those who came from a different state.
Those who moved from a different country.
Those who have a legal visa and those who don’t.
God simply calls us to BOLDLY share Jesus with ALL.
(3) Gospel Ministry is DANGEROUS
Look at what Paul says next, “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (v.22-24)
Because when Paul preached, sometimes people didn’t like it.
In Philippi, he was thrown into jail.
In Thessalonica, his friends were fined.
In Ephesus, a riot filled the streets.
The truth is that Gospel ministry is DANGEROUS to the sharer. In fact, when we are doing it right by boldly preaching ALL God’s Word to ALL people, there’s going to be an element of danger. Whether that danger is…
…Danger of losing a job. “You don’t bring up Jesus at work.”
…Danger of losing a friend. “We’re done. Keep your stupid mumbo jumbo to yourself.”
…Danger of losing a relationship. “I like you, but if you’re all about Jesus? We’re through.”
Gospel ministry is dangerous to the sharer.
But before you call it quits and say: “It’s too dangerous! I can’t handle that.” Consider this:
It’s even more dangerous if you don’t share the Gospel.
That loved one? Is in danger of never knowing God’s love.
That friend? Is in danger of a lifetime of guilt and shame.
That family member? Is in danger…of hell.
Share the Gospel.
It might be momentarily dangerous to you.
But…it will be eternally dangerous to the devil.
When the Gospel is preached, the devil’s stronghold on a person’s heart weakens.
When the Gospel is preached, Satan’s hold on a person’s conscience is lifted.
When the Gospel is preached, death is defeated.
That’s why Paul preached. In fact, look at what he says next:
“Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.
Paul didn’t know what might happen next.
But Paul didn’t hesitate either.
Because God had his back.
God also has yours.
Don’t hesitate either.
II. What Now?
These lessons from Paul lead up to a shift in his sermon. First, the sharing lessons from his own ministry and now give straight up imperatives on what to do next. It’s kind of like his own WHAT NOW? section. Secondly, he shifts from talking about outreach to talking about inreach. Look at Paul’s own WHAT NOW’s:
(1) Be a Shepherd
Paul says, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God. which he bought with his own blood.” (v.28)
Paul isn’t that interested in the Agrarian lifestyle. He doesn’t love wool so much that he wants whatever shepherds are in the congregation to “keep on sheering those sheep!”
This is an illustration of life in a church.
Because shepherds care for sheep. They feed the sheep. They give the sheep water. They protect the sheep. They go looking for the sheep when one of them is lost. They comfort the sheep when they are scared.
It’s the same way in a church.
A pastor (which is the Greek word for “shepherd”) cares for his people. He feeds them God’s word. He gives them the water of life. He protects them from doubts. He goes after them when they are straying from Jesus. He comforts them with God’s promises when they are scared.
Here Paul is sharing this with the Ephesian leadership.
But it’s also written down.
Which means it applies to you.
First, shepherd those assigned to you. If you’re an elder in the church, check in with those sheep. If you’re a spiritual mother to someone at this church, care for them. If you have been assigned children in your family, make sure they’re being fed God’s Word. If you are a Garden Kids’ teacher, guide your little ones to the Savior. If you’re a Precious Lambs teacher, keep your Precious Lambs safe.
Second, shepherd each other. We’ve got a great opportunity to do that. Back to Church Sunday is coming up next week. You might know someone who had been attending this church who hasn’t in a while.
Go after them.
Ask them how life is.
Tell them you miss them at worship.
Remind them the importance of being fed the Gospel.
If next week is Back to Church Sunday, consider this: Be a Shepherd Sunday…
…and…you get the point.
(2) Guard against Wolves
Paul says: I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! (v.29-31)
Spiritual wolves are those who distort the truth.
They are those who change the Gospel.
Those who feed their pride by leading others away from Jesus and to following them.
We need to be on our guard.
First, that we aren’t those wolves.
Second, that those wolves don’t get us.
Third, that those wolves don’t get others.
That can be hard. Because sometimes the wolf is in disguise. Sometimes he looks like a lamb. Sometimes the wolf looks nice.
But you’ll be able to tell who they are. Based on if they are someone leading you closer to Jesus or away from him.
Guard against wolves.
A wolf could be a coworker, a friend, a neighbor, even a boyfriend.
If they are leading you away from Jesus, be on your guard.
(3) Commit to the Word
Paul says it this way: “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (v.32)
Because if we are going to be shepherds of each other, we need a tool. Just like the shepherd has his staff, you have God’s Word. And…just like a shepherd commits himself to learning how to use that staff to protect his flock, we commit ourselves to learning how to use God’s Word to protect each other.
That means more than just being able to conk a spiritual wolf on the head.
We learn to graze its pages for spiritual food.
We learn to drink deeply from its well of life.
We learn to wield its truth like a sword driving away sin and doubt.
We learn to dwell within its pages, protect from death itself.
Look at how Paul ends: I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (v.33-35)
Because the main reason that Paul was so involved in ministry wasn’t to get rich.
It’s the same for you and me.
We don’t participate in ministry so that God blesses us financially.
We don’t participate in church so other might bless us financially.
We don’t become part of this ministry in order to get something.
Because we’ve already got all we need in Jesus.
Instead, we GIVE.
We give gifts to help others.
We give time to help others.
We give talents to help others.
Ministry is all about giving because the one our ministry is about is all about giving!
It’s about God who gave his life.
God who gives forgiveness…
God who will gives eternal life…
After Paul says all of this. He left.
But he left with confidence.
Because that church was in God’s hands.
Friends, we leave with confidence.
We are in God’s hands. Amen.
Last we left the Apostle Paul, he was in the city of Ephesus preaching the message that Jesus is the Savior. He stayed there for two years. During that time frame, a congregation had developed in Ephesus. A decent crowd of people would gather together each week to hear Paul’s sermons, sing hymns, say prayers, and high-five each other in the fellowship hall.
But this church crowd wasn’t the only kind of crowd that developed in Ephesus.
Today we’re going to learn about a crowd that developed in direct opposition to the Gospel. Our goal is get some guidance about the dangers of crowd-following in 2019 Raleigh. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Crowd Forms
The lesson comes from Acts 19. It says, “There arose a great disturbance about the Way. A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there.” (v.23)
A couple of notes:
Demetrius is a Greek name. It means, “servant of Demeter.” Demeter was the Greek goddess in charge of crops. She made sure that the grains grew. She made sure the oats grew. She made sure the corn grew. She made sure that they were golden and delicious. She made sure that they were a part of a daily balanced breakfast. (Something tells me that Demeter looked something like a breakfast food character).
But Demetrius wasn’t only worshipping deities around the food pyramid. He worked for the temple of Artemis. Artemis was the Greek goddess of hunting (meat). The story was that you could call on her and give gifts at her temple to increase your likelihood of bagging a quail on the morning hunt.
In Ephesus was the Temple to Artemis. It was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The temple was 425 feet long by 200 feet wide. It was tall and ornate with beautiful marble columns. People came from across the ancient world in order to visit this incredible wonder.
And while the tourists were visiting the temple, they could pick up a souvenir! That’s where Demetrius came into play. He was a silversmith. His job was to build replica temples and replica statues of Artemis that he would sell on the corner right outside the monument. The little silver statue would become a keepsake or a household idol that people would pray to and hold close for protection.
But business had been down recently.
It wasn’t related to the economy.
It wasn’t related to a lack of work.
It wasn’t due to the weather keeping people from going outside.
It was because of Paul.
Paul had been preaching against idols.
Paul had been telling people that Artemis wasn’t a real god.
Paul had been telling people that Jesus was the only real God.
People were believing him and subsequently buying fewer idols.
So…Demetrius called together a meeting of all the people involved with the temple. Silversmiths, store owners, gift shop employees, temple janitors, even Amazon Prime drivers who delivered the statues across town…
Demetrius gathered together everyone involved with the trade and said:
You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty. (v.25b-27)
Do you see the issue?
Paul is ruining Demetrius’ fine way of living. Before you know it, Demetrius might not be able to go the Angus Barn. He might not be able to afford his fancy jewelry and fine cheese. He might not be able to buy Grey Poupon at the local grocery store.
Demetrius was upset because he was losing money. You can almost hear him:
Sure, these people get forgiveness.
They get joy.
They get the promise of heaven.
But I won’t be able to make my payment on the second Lexus I bought, so…
Paul must be stopped!
Here’s the truth:
Crowds led by SINFUL HUMANS are opposed to HOLY GOD.
That was Demetrius. He was a sinful human. He was leading a crowd against God’s message.
But this will be true in any situation.
1) Because Sin opposes God.
God is good.
Sin is bad.
God is against sin.
Sin is against God.
God doesn’t say to sin: “You’re awesome.”
Sin doesn’t say to God: “Let’s be best friends.”
They are drastically opposed to one another.
It’s like UNC and Duke. When they are playing one another in their next basketball showdown, every time one team makes a basket those points are good for one side and bad for the other.
Duke can’t throw an alley-oop slam dunk and divide the points evenly among both squads.
UNC can’t hit a three pointer and have it appear on the other team’s scoreboard.
By the very nature of a game with opposing teams, good news for one team means bad news for the other.
By the very nature of reality, when something godly happens that’s good news for God’s side and bad news for crowds led by sin.
When a sinful leader is the leader of the crowd, that crowd will inevitably clash with God.
2) Because the Perspective is different.
Humans live on a timeline.
We are born.
We live 30, 40, 50 years.
Everything we do is on a timeline:
I need a report in by Friday.
I need to finish schooling by December.
I need to make enough money for my son’s inheritance before I die.
God is different.
God is eternal.
He is off the timeline.
He is concerned with eternity.
Because the temporal perspective is so different from the eternal perspective, there’s a contradiction.
Case in point:
God wanted people to stop worshipping idols so that they could know the Savior and have eternal life.
Demetrius wanted people to stop worshipping Jesus so that he could have more money and buy himself a nice steak dinner.
The perspective is different.
Crowds led by SINFUL HUMANS are opposed to HOLY GOD.
This is still true today.
In 2018 in rural Mexico, Pastor Eduardo Garcia served at local country church. One of the struggles in Mexico is drug addiction. Crystal meth has taken over in the area. It’s ruined health, finances, and family. Pastor Eduardo Garcia preached against the danger of Meth.
He taught that Meth couldn’t save you; only Jesus could.
He taught that Meth didn’t remove guilt; only Jesus did.
He taught that Meth eventually brought death; and Jesus brought life.
And a few drug addicts listened.
He got them help.
They got off the drugs.
Great news, right?
Except for the Drug Cartel.
They were losing money.
The Drug Cartel had Pastor Eduardo Garcia gunned down in the streets.
Crowds led by SINFUL HUMANS are opposed to HOLY GOD.
II. The Crowd Rages
Back to the story. When the crowd heard Demetrius’ speech, “They were furious and began shouting: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ ”(v.28)
They rushed into the city.
They pumped their fists.
They motioned for others to join them.
People joined the crowd who agreed with their cause.
People joined the crowd who loved Artemis.
People joined the crowd who enjoyed shouting.
People joined the crowd who didn’t want others to get mad at them for not joining the crowd.
People joined the crowd because they didn’t want to miss out on whatever was about to happen.
Regardless, the crowd grew in number.
They grabbed two men – Gaius and Aristarchus – two church members that worked with Paul.
They dragged them through the streets.
Eventually, the streets were so narrow – and the crowd was so big – that they had to make their way to the local theater. It was the only building big enough to house the large crowd that had gathered.
As they gathered and shouted, they threw a guy named Alexander to the front in order to explain this message of Jesus.
But – thing was – Alexander wasn’t even a believer.
He just looked like he might be.
When he tried to explain that, the crowd got angrier. They didn’t want to listen.
And then it started.
Two straight hours of shouting:
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! She’s the greatest god of all time.
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! This guy named Jesus is costing us money.
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! I really, really hate the Jews.
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! I just drank a bunch of booze.
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! I don’t know what I’m doing.
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! That plane in the sky? Is that a Boeing?
Two hours of screaming.
Screaming from people who don’t even know why they’re screaming in the first place.
Here’s the warning:
Crowd following can be a MINDLESS activity.
Maybe you’ve fallen victim.
Peer pressure in high school, “It’s what the cool kids are doing.”
Friends egging you on at a bar, “Come on. Just say it.”
Your family, “Hate those people. It’s what we do.”
Comments on your social media profile, “If you don’t believe this, you are despicable.”
Society, “If you want to fit in, get rid of the god stuff. That’s the way the crowd is going.”
It’s so easy to follow the crowd.
But MINDLESS crowd following is NEEDLESLY dangerous.
Jesus is loving.
Jesu is our Savior.
You trust him, right?
He died for you.
He rose for you.
He loves you.
There’s no one more trustworthy than Jesus, right?
Look at what your trustworthy Savior said in the Gospel for today:
Do not be afraid of the one who can kill the body, but be afraid of the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell. (Mark 10:28)
Do you hear what Jesus is saying?
Don’t fear a dislike on Facebook more than holy hellfire.
Don’t fear the loss of a friend more than the loss of your God.
Don’t fear society calling you a name more than your Lord calling you DAMNED.
Don’t fear anything more than your God.
III. The Crowd is Defeated
Because no crowd can OVERPOWER God.
Back to Ephesus.
The shouting had been going on for a solid two hours.
Finally, the city clerk, who is a high-ranking individual in Ephesians society, made his way to the front of the steps.
After motioning for them to be quiet, they finally chilled.
He said to them:
“Calm down; don’t do anything rash.” (v.36)
Guys, we need to stop.
Artemis is still known around the world.
We’re still rich.
Tourists are still visiting.
These two church members haven’t done anything illegal.
The reality is that if Caesar hears about this riot – we’re the ones who did something illegal.
And we’ll be the ones getting into trouble.
Then, he dismissed them.
And the crowd went home.
Because sometimes God protects his people through people that aren’t even his people.
No crowd can OVERPOWER God.
Take one more example from Jesus.
He was arrested by a crowd of angry men.
They brought him to the Assembly.
They shouted for hours, not ‘Great is Artemis!’, but “Crucify Him!”
They dragged him through the narrow streets.
They hung him on a cross…all the while jeering, mocking, and spitting.
He took his last breath and it looked like the crowd had won.
Three days later.
Three days later…
Jesus came back to life.
And that wasn’t the only crowd against him!
Because Jesus went to the cross with a crowd of your sins on his back.
The sins of rebelling against his Word.
The sins of bowing to peer pressure.
The sins of following the crowd opposed to God.
But those sins didn’t overpower Jesus.
He overpowered them.
Through faith in him, those sins won’t overpower you.
You are forgiven.
You are victorious.
Christ will bring you home to heaven.
Christ following ALWAYS leads to ETERNAL life.
No other crowd will do that.
Not a crowd of your friends.
Not a crowd of your coworkers.
Not a crowd of social media followers.
Only Jesus can.
Only Jesus will.
IV. What Now?
1) Identify the Leader.
Have you ever driven cross-country in a caravan? That’s when a bunch of cars all follow one another. If you’re going to do that, suddenly it becomes very important that you know who you’re following. Because if you don’t pay very good attention. Well…
I remember one time I was following a red van. I was supposed to follow it to a place in Durham. But after it was taking awhile, I looked up at the road signs and saw that I was approaching Greenville.
Turns out? I had been following a red van that wasn’t the one my friend was driving.
It’s important to identify the leaders in your crowds of people. Because that will tell you where you’re going.
Is the leader a sinful human?
Is it a sinful human who doesn’t care about Jesus?
Is it a sinful human who is led by Jesus? That’s the crowd you want.
2) Unfollow the Sinful Crowd.
Unfortunately, this is a lot harder than simply going onto Facebook and hitting “UNFOLLOW.” (Although that might be part of this.)
If it’s a crowd that you’ve been following for a while, you might have acquaintances, friendships, and good friends in that crowd.
Those relationships, emotions, and feelings will make it hard to unfollow that crowd.
If that crowd is leading you away from your Savior…
Don’t be Demetrius.
Don’t forfeit the Christ in exchange for money, for fame, for fortune, for good times, for a momentary pleasure…for stuff that doesn’t last.
3) Follow the Christ.
Because Christ is not overpowered by any crowd.
And if you’re following him, neither will you.
Because Christ always leads to eternal life.
If you’re following him, that’s where you’ll be.
Check out Revelation 7. It describes a different kind of crowd.
A bigger crowd.
A more diverse crowd.
A crowd shouting louder than that Ephesus crowd.
A crowd shouting longer than that Ephesus crowd.
A crowd shouting about a being greater than the Ephesus crowd was shouting about.
A crowd shouting in heaven:
“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Friends, that’s the crowd you want to be in.
Last we left Paul, he was sharing the Gospel of Jesus in the city of Philippi. A time in his mission work that is filled with amazing stories: