It is 2020 and perhaps you’ve submitted your New Year’s Resolutions.
Exercise 3x per week.
Read more books.
Watch less Netflix.
Drink less coffee.
I just resolved to drink MORE coffee.
I’m telling you so that you can hold me accountable.
Sometimes people have spiritual resolutions.
Connect more with God.
Find inner peace.
Pray more often.
How many have BE MORE ACTIVE IN CHURCH as part of their resolutions?
According to a 2017 PEW Research poll, (www.perform.org/religious-landscape-study):
71% of Americans claim to believe in God.
56% think that religion is important.
58% pray daily.
That doesn’t sound horrible.
When it comes to religious service attendance….
Only 36% attend on a weekly basis.
And when you remove the non-Christian versions of those…
The number is even lower.
Maybe 15% of Americans in ‘church’ on a weekly basis.
Why so low?
Why such a low view of “the church?”
A big part of the answer lies in misconceptions about church.
This morning out goal is use the Bible to answer the question WHY CHURCH. Because, church is a GIFT from God. But before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. WHY Church
Before we get going, it’s important to define church, because the word “church” has at least three definitions:
1. A building (brick and mortar)
2. A corporation (See: “Church, Inc.” or “Gethsemane Church”)
3. A group of believers.
It’s that third definition that is the Biblical definition of church, because it is that third definition that brings about definitions 1 and 2.
And one of the greatest Biblical texts on church is found in Hebrews 10. Hebrews is a letter written shortly after the time of Jesus that connected Jesus to the Old Testament. And in chapter 10, it begins with a comparison of Old Testament and New Testament “priests.”
Look at verse 11 (In the case of Old Testament worship), every priest stood ministering day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which are never able to remove sin. (v.11)
The priest, an old testament version of pastor, attended a religious ceremony each day. He’d wake up, dress up in priestly garments, walk to the local temple, and begin his daily religious ceremonies.
One key ceremony was sacrifice. People would bring with them whatever animals they could afford: a ram, a goat, a bird, 0r a lamb. The priest would then take that lamb and sacrifice it on the altar to “atone for the sin of whoever brought.”
But here’s the thing. People sinned a lot. Sometimes on the way home from the temple.
“Hi Jehoiachin, what did you bring me today?”
“Hello priest. I brought a small dove to pay for my sin of lust. The next-door neighbor is very beautiful, and I couldn’t help myself.”
“Very well. I’ll take this dove and sacrifice it for your sins.”
2 minutes later.
“Yes, Jehoiachin why are you back so soon?”
“Yes, um. Sorry. Here’s another dove. I was on the way out and – another beautiful woman. My apologies.”
1 minute later.
“Jehoiachin!?! Another woman?”
“No. This time I just stubbed my toe on the corner rock and said some words I shouldn’t. Anyways…I’m out of birds. Do you take VISA?”
These priests offered the same sacrifices again and again.
But here’s the kicker:
These sacrifices can never take away sin.
All that sacrifice.
All that time.
All that repetition and religious ceremony.
None of it did anything.
It never took away any sin.
It never removed guilt.
It never removed actual shame before God.
Church isn’t FOR SACRIFICE
Sometimes we can be tempted to look at church like that.
I need to sacrifice some time this Sunday to make up for the time I spent overdrinking during the holidays.
I need to sacrifice some money this Sunday to make up for the money I spent on materialism this Christmas.
I need to sacrifice some energy this Sunday to make up for the energy I spent arguing with my spouse over New Year’s.
These “sacrifices” can NEVER take away sin.
These “sacrifices” can NEVER take away guilt.
These “sacrifices” can NEVER take away shame.
You can never sacrifice anything to pay for your sins.
But if sacrificing in the Old Testament didn’t take away sins, why did God command it?
Check out verse 12:
(A different) priest, after he offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God.
Do you get it?
Old Testament sacrifice never took away sin.
They simply pointed forward to the priest who would.
Church exists because GOD SACRIFICED for us.
That one priest is Jesus!
He made a sacrifice for us – for our sins…
For you – for your sins.
But if you remember the story of Jesus, there isn’t ever a story about him putting on priestly garments and entering the temple to sacrifice an animal.
He did things much differently than your common priest.
(1) He Sacrificed HIMSELF
This is truly different than any other priest.
Because there was never a priest that ever went up to the altar and said, “OK. Today, I think I’ll take my own life for the sake of Joe Schmo.”
But Jesus did.
In fact, the Bible calls Jesus the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
He is priest and Lamb.
The one who demands payment and the one who pays.
Sacrifice-er and sacrifce-ee.
But that’s why it worked! It wasn’t just the blood of some random animals, but the blood of God himself.
(2) He Sacrificed ONCE.
The Old Testament priest went home at the end of the day. They took off their bloody clothes, placed them in the wash, and went to bed only to do the same thing the very next day.
When Jesus was done with his sacrifice, he sat down at God’s right hand. (v.12) He never sacrificed again.
This means the payment was complete. You sin has been paid for.
Whatever you did wrong in 2019.
No matter how many times you did it.
No matter how big it was.
No matter how guilty you still feel about it.
Jesus paid for all your sins in 2019.
And for all your sins in 2018.
And for 2000—however many years you’ve been alive before that.
He paid for all your past sins and…
He has paid for all your coming sins.
(3) He Sacrificed FOR ALL TIME
Because look at what it says next;
Since then he has been waiting until his enemies are made a footstool under his feet. By only one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being sanctified. (v.13-14)
Notice Jesus isn’t up and ready to be a sacrifice for your 2020 sins.
Because Jesus’ one sacrifice has eternal value.
You don’t need to go into 2020 with absolute terror of sinning again.
Newsflash – you will.
Not that it is our goal to sin, it isn’t. God love empowers us to love others and fight sin.
When you do sin…
Do not despair.
When you do sin…
Simply look to the same Savior you looked to in 2019.
In Jesus, you have forgiveness.
And in Jesus, you will always have forgiveness.
Friends, this is the reason we are the church.
Church is not something that you need to FEAR.
Nor it is something that you need to do out of FEAR.
Rather it’s something Christ made us so we wouldn’t FEAR.
And something we participate in because we have no reason to FEAR.
II. Blessings of Church
But it doesn’t stop there. Because God gives us blessings through his gift of church.
(1) Access to God
Check out verse 19, “Brothers, we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place through the blood of Jesus. It is a new and living way he opened for us through the curtain, that is, his flesh.”
In the Old Testament, worship the temple area was separated into various parts.
There was the courtyard where people could enter with sacrifices.
There was a special area called the Holy Place where only priests could enter on behalf of the people.
And there was the Most Holy Place that only one High Priest could enter once a year.
To emphasize this, the Most Holy Place was even separated from the rest of the temple by thick heavy curtains.
God’s is MOST HOLY.
As a result, we sinful people could never commune with Him.
Do you know what happened when Jesus died on the cross?
The Bible says this:
The curtain of the temple was torn in two. (Matthew 15:38)
God’s holy requirements were gone.
The sin that separates unholy humans from Holy God has been removed.
Church is one of the ways God does that.
Because church is where we hear his Word.
Church is where we gather around sacraments.
Church is where God communes with us, whether it’s here in our worship space or around a round table for Growth Group at Starbucks.
We have access to God thanks to Jesus and that’s an amazing reason to be a part of church.
Because can you imagine if you were given high clearance, top secret government clearance to walk into a top-secret government agency?
Like FBI Headquarters or maybe Area 51. Wouldn’t you love to go?
The same thing has happened with God.
God has given you an all access pass to Him.
You don’t need a secret code.
You don’t need to put your fingerprints on file.
There isn’t a retina scanner out front. (Mostly because we can’t pay for it)
You have access to this group where God speaks to his people.
(2) A Clean Conscience
Verse 22 continues, “Let us approach with a sincere heart, in the full confidence of faith, because our hearts have been sprinkled to take away a bad conscience, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.”
Because it is so easy for the devil to get into our heads.
To tell us, “You used to be able to be near God, but you sinned this past week.”
“You did bad.”
“You did wrong.”
“You’re too guilty to be a part of church.”
But do you know why the devil wants you to believe that?
Because church is a place where God removes that guilt.
Where a pastor preaches a sermon with the conclusion, “Thanks to Jesus! We have forgiveness.”
Where a song points out: “Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
Where a friend quietly listens to your confession, grabs you by the hand, looks you in the eye and says, “Jesus died. Jesus rose. In him, you are forgiven.”
(3) A Strengthened Grip on Hope
Verse 23 says this, “Let us hold on firmly to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful.”
Because life is like driving a go-kart on a bumpy road. Have you ever tried that? The bumps, the divots, the gravel can make for a rough ride so much that you aren’t able to keep a steady, straight line as you travel. If you want to keep on course, you have to grip the steering wheel very tightly to make sure that you stay straight.
It’s the same way in life.
Bumps come in many forms.
And all of these bumps threaten to throw you off course.
And lose your grip on your hope.
But in the church, God gives you others who can help you steer for a bit.
Who can give you hope.
Who can say things like:
“I know this is tough, but God is still the victor. Stay faithful.”
“God has your back brother. Can I pray for you?”
“As hard as it is now, God promises he will take you home to heaven and I know that’s what he’s going to do.”
(4) Spurring Buddies
I’ve got a new workout group that I’m a part of and the current trainer has developed all kinds of ways to keep me active.
She spurs me on with emails: “Here’s the workouts for the week. Can’t wait to see you there!”
She spurs me on with Facebook group messages: “Workout tomorrow. Better be there.”
She spurs me on with text messages: “Hey Phil! Haven’t seen you for a while. Did you trade your dumbbells in for a bag of Doritos?”
She spurs me on with text messages from other trainers: “Hey Phil! Your trainer said I should message you to get you back in the gym. You in?”
At some point, I go back to the gym. Sometimes because I’m encouraged. Other times because I’m annoyed.
Both times? The result is a good thing.
In church, we do the same thing for each other spiritually. The exact phrase from Scripture is found in verse 24. It says, “Let us also consider carefully how to spur each other on to love and good works.”
Because on the one hand, you might be having a hard time being nice to a particular coworker. But then you hear a sermon on “Kindness,” someone mentions being kind to coworkers as an answer in Growth Group, and another church friend keeps putting “being a light” photographs on Instagram.
You’re spurred on to good works.
And vice versa!
Church isn’t just a place for you to be spurred on to good works, but a place where you spur others on to good works.
It happened not that long ago. Someone was super excited to say they had just invited a friend to Christmas worship.
And, feeling proud and sinfully vain, I thought: “Oh, they listened to my sermon…Hmmm.”
But this person said:
“It wasn’t even your sermon. I just heard another church member talking about doing it and it spurred me on to try it myself.”
But do you get it?
Prayerfully, I might give some encouragement in a sermon.
But prayerfully, you’re giving encouragement too.
(5) Preparation for the Day
God’s Word says, “Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have the habit of doing. Rather, let us encourage each other, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (v.25)
Because it’s easier to prepare for something with others.
It’s always easier to prepare a New Year’s celebration with others helping you. Together you can put up streamer decorations, turn on the live broadcast of the Acorn, cook some of those little hot dogs, and spending hours cutting out little pieces of construction paper to throw as confetti (and about 10 seconds actually tossing it).
It’s the same things for the Day!
Here’s the thing about The Day.
And by The Day, I mean, Judgment Day.
And by Judgment Day, I mean, when Jesus either ends your life on this earth or when Jesus returns to end all life on earth.
It’s easier to stay prepared for Jesus with others surrounding you.
In fact, it’s almost necessary!
That’s why God tells us to “not neglect meeting together, as some have the habit of doing. But to encourage each other, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Don’t think you’re the one person in the history of the world that’s going to be able to hold onto faith by yourself.
That’s foolish and in direct contradiction to what God is telling you here today.
And it may very well result in you not be prepared—at all.
Let us not give up meeting together.
Let us encourage one another.
And all the more as the day approaches!
It’s why CHURCH needs to be on your New Year’s Resolution.
Because church is a lot like charcoal.
There’s the story of a man who used to be a part of a church but had stopped coming for months on end. He wouldn’t answer phone calls. He wouldn’t answer email. He wouldn’t answer text messages. Finally, the pastor got into his car and went to see him.
The man saw the pastor as he approached the house, so he went to the front door to greet him.
“It’s fine pastor. You can come in, but I know why you’re here. And let me tell ya – it won’t work. I’m not coming back to church.”
The pastor simply nodded and listened as he sat next to the man’s fireplace.
“I won’t come back because someone was mean to me.”
The pastor grabbed the fire poker.
“He didn’t apologize, and no one came to get me.”
The pastor stirred the coals.
“Besides, I don’t think staying home hurts me…”
The pastor moved a single coal away from the other coals.
The man stopped talking.
Together they watched as that single coal started to fade.
To grow dim.
To stop burning.
“I’ll be there this Sunday,” the man said.
This is the gift of church.
A place where God lights a fire of faith in our hearts.
A place where we help each other keep that faith burning. Amen.
I love a peace-filled holiday evening.
The gentle glow of the Christmas lights on the tree.
A cup of cocoa warming your hands.
The potpourri filling the air with the soothing aroma of balsam and pine.
A pair of fuzzy Rudolph slippers cozying your feet.
The quiet melodies of Bing Crosby crooning in the background.
The voice coming from your child’s bedroom down the hall, “Mommy! Bobby’s looking at me funny.”
The shrill reply coming right back, “Nu-uh! He’s lying.”
The eye-rolling gaze from your spouse, “You’re turn to deal with it. I’m really into this episode of “The Great Christmas Bake-off.”
Your sharp response, “You never do any of the work around here.”
Your spouse’s reply, “I always do all the work!”
An interrupting DING to reveal a text from your coworker: “Hey loser! I can’t believe you said that about me at work today.”
And the Facebook reply from Uncle Marvin: “I vehemently disagree with your political stance, snowflake!”
All while Bing Crosby’s crooning is interrupted by Alexa: “Phone call from your monster-in-law. Shall I answer?”
Today we’re continuing our sermon series on PEACE and we’re going to talk about the one of the big things that can ruin a peace filled holiday evening: people.
Our goal is to identify types of peace that actually lead to unrest, determine how Jesus’ peace affects our relationship with others, and get guidance from God’s Word for a peace-filled Christmas with people. Before we begin: 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. False Peace
The text we’re studying for this morning comes from the book of Colossians. Colossians is a letter written to the church in Colosse. Even though it was a church that existed 2000 some years ago, thousands of miles across the ocean from North Carolina, in a language very different from us, it shared one very important similarity:
People who had arguments with their parents.
People who were estranged from their children.
People who were separated from their spouses.
People who were gossiped about at work.
People who sat on one side of the church because they didn’t want to fight with someone on the other side of the church.
Since they were people, we know the Colossian church didn’t have perfect peace.
In spite of all the sin…
In spite of all the anger…
In spite of all the reasons that people gave other people not to have peace,
Look at what God calls them to do: “Let Peace…rule in your hearts.” (v.15)
It’s written down for us too, so today the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts and says:
“Let Peace…rule in your hearts.” (v.15)
But there’s a lot of different types of peace in the world.
Which type rules your heart?
(1) Avoidance Peace
The person with this type of peace does what it describes…
They avoid talking about difficult issues with his wife.
They avoid that one person at work.
They avoid one person on Facebook
The theory is that if this person causes me unrest, I’ll avoid them so that things are peaceful.
And to be fair, that’s not a terrible idea in some situations. Especially if you’re amped up and emotionally charged,
What happens when you can’t quite avoid that person?
For example, I saw two kids on the playground the other day. One of them thought it was hilarious to follow the other one while making goose sounds in the ear of the other child. The other child didn’t like it. But instead of telling her friend to stop, she simply ran to the other side of the playground.
Until the other kid caught up. “HONK!”
Then, she went to the sandbox.
Finally, she went underneath the slide – the secret lair of the 4 year old playground.
And it was peaceful for a bit,
And suddenly, she stopped trying to hide and shouted, screamed, and generally had a full-fledged meltdown because of her friend.
The same thing happens to adults.
When the avoider can no longer avoid, the peace is disturbed.
And there’s one epic explosion.
Because avoidance peace, isn’t really peace at all.
It just aims to manage the tension.
(2) Substance-Induced Peace
Holiday parties mean that we may have to interact with people that are difficult. That causes anxiety. In anticipation, what can happen is that we self-medicate:
A shot of whiskey.
A six pack of beer.
An entire bag of Doritos.
Anything to distract us from our anxieties and give us peace.
But do substances really lead to lasting peace?
A shot of whiskey can loosen up your tension, and it can loosen your tongue as argue with your friend.
A six pack of beers leads to a calmness on your body – which leads to you calmly calling your coworker names – something they’ll remember on Monday.
A bag of chips can help you feel content when you feel discontent about a conversation with your spouse, but come 7 am? Sluggish and cranky. (And sluggish and cranky aren’t good for fostering peace in a marriage.)
Substances don’t give lasting peace. They simply numb us to the anxiety in our bodies.
Now, understand what I’m saying:
It’s not wrong to have a beer.
And it’s not wrong to eat a cookie.
But it is wrong to try to find peace in those things rather than your God.
(3) “Sneaky” Peace
This kind of peace LOOKS peaceful.
It LOOKS like you get along with others.
it LOOKS like you’re doing fine with your family.
It LOOKS like you enjoy your friends even when they’re planning something that you don’t like at all.
Instead of talking about it with them.
You talk about them with others.
Did you hear that coworker’s idea? It’s awful…
Here’s a funny meme about my brother eating a snack with the words “PIG” plastered over it.
Text, text, text. Everyone thinks I’m having a good time, but really, I hope that the tinsel suffocates them.
Sneaky peace isn’t peace.
Because when the gossip catches up to you, how do you think that goes over?
(4) Exhausted from Yelling Really, Really, Loudly Peace
This type of peace is also known as ‘Professional Wrestling” peace.
Because to these people, the answer to disagreement is simply to fight people!
They let people have it.
They write an angry email.
They blog incessantly – typing as loudly as their fingers can type.
And they get all their anger out and…
…They feel better.
Because they’re exhausted.
But this peace is not peace.
Because while you might feel ok for a moment.
The people you yelled at? Not so much.
This isn’t what people called to peace do.
(5) Selfish Peace
The selfish peace can be one of the trickiest of all. It’s a type of peace that exists, as long as, people agree with you.
Gingerbreads are the best kind of cookie, right? I’ll fight you if you disagree.
I think we should hold the work party on Friday night…, RIGHT EVERYONE!?!!
We should spend exactly $20 on each kid for Christmas. $20 is the right amount. We can peacefully get these presents, if you buy them for only $20.
But it’s even worse if someone disagrees with this type of person. Because instead of entertaining the idea that maybe, they, a sinful, imperfect human being, could possibly be incorrect, they blame all the discord on the other person.
It’s like the Grinch! He hated Christmas. He hated toys. He hated carols. He hated the Christmas feast and the roast beast.
And he hated it because the Whos liked it.
And he was convinced the Whos down in Whoville were all jerks.
And the disagreement was all their fault.
And it had nothing to do with the fact that he went and hid up on a mountain and was generally unpleasant to people all the time.
And so, the night he steals Christmas, he’s at peace, because it was all their fault anyway!
Stealing the toys? They deserve it.
Breaking the ornament? This is on them.
Losing the Roast Beast? Cindy Lou Who is the One to blame!
This type of thinking doesn’t lead to peace.
It just leads to people wanting nothing to do with you.
Here’s the truth:
Any peace other than JESUS’ peace creates DISHARMONY.
Picture your life like this piano.
You have a note.
You play it well – it sounds nice.
When you play well with others – there’s harmony.
When you and your family are at peace – beautiful.
When you and your friends are at peace – wonderful.
When you and your church family are at peace – phenomenal.
When you avoid disagreement and prefer growing bitter– CLANG!
When you self-medicate with substances – WHAM!
When you gossip – BANG!
With you rage – DISSONANCE!
When you stay self-centered – DISHARMONY!
False peace drives people apart.
If you’re in the business of driving people apart.
If you’re in the business of creating disharmony with people that God created…
You’re also creating disharmony with God.
II. The Peace of Jesus
Speaking of disharmony.
Mary was a young woman who was about ready to become harmoniously united to a guy named Joseph.
Like most, it was a day she dreamt of.
A beautiful wedding.
A beautiful ceremony.
A beautiful reception.
All leading up to a beautiful marriage.
As each day got closer to their SAVE the DATE, Mary’s anticipation for a harmonious marriage to start grew.
Standing right in front of her!
And his message to her:
You will give birth to a Son and call him Jesus. (v31)
Talk about something that could ruin a relationship.
Something that could cause disharmony and non-peace.
Mary was suddenly pregnant with a child that wasn’t from her soon-to-be husband!
Do you know what she says at the end of it all?
Do you know what she says after finding out this disruptive news?
“I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” (v.38)
Did you hear that?
There’s Peace for her.
And, if you read the rest of the story, peace for Joseph.
And the reason they have peace in their relationship?
It’s because they have peace with God.
Peace that only Jesus can bring.
Here’s a few unique things about the peace of Jesus:
(1) It’s Divine
This is the main point of last week’s sermon. You have peace with God!
Remember this memory verse from Romans 5:1
Therefore, since we have been declared innocent through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Is God’s peace.
Think about it.
It’s not peace with your dog or your cat.
it’s not peace with your two-year-old.
it’s not peace with your sister, your mom, your dad.
Or some random acquaintance that you haven’t talked to for years on Facebook.
You have peace with the ruler of the universe!
There’s no higher level of peace in existence.
(2) It’s Unearned
Note that this is totally different from the people. Usually, you have to earn their peace. If you wrong them by “accidently” eating all of their Christmas BonBons, you might need to…
…send them a humorous BonBon GIF.
…spend hours making your own version of chocolatey, peanut-buttery goodness.
But with God?
You have peace.
Because of Jesus.
Not because of you.
You don’t need to try harder.
You don’t need to do better.
You don’t need to give more.
You don’t need to believe better.
Jesus was born miraculously, lived perfectly, died innocently and rose triumphantly.
Because of him, you have peace.
(3) It’s Complete
That’s important to remember.
Because sometimes in our earthly relationships, there’s peace…but only in certain areas:
You might have peace with your Uncle, as long as you don’t talk about politics.
You might have peace with your spouse, as long as, you don’t talk about finances.
You might have peace with your children, as long as, you don’t ever tell them that they have to go to bed.
But with God? It’s a complete peace.
You have peace with God in the morning and at night.
You have peace with God on a Sunday and a Monday.
You have peace with God during church and afterwards.
You have peace with God when you’re feeling peaceful and even when you’re not.
God’s peace is complete.
And God’s peace is a peace that God has called us to with others.
III. How to Be Peaceful with People
How do you do it?
Look at the text again. Colossians offers some guidance.
(1) Let Jesus’ Peace Rule
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” (v.15)
Focus in on the word “rule”. The Greek word actually has to do with refereeing in sports.
As in, the guy in the striped shirt has the final say.
As in, the guy with the whistle determines what’s legal.
As in, some guy on a power trip gets to determine that the three point basket I shot as time expired to win the Consolation prize at a 6th grade boy’s basketball tournament, didn’t count! (I’m not bitter).
God says to let PEACE be the deciding factor in our hearts.
Let it determine our actions.
Let it determine our words.
But, not just any peace, this is Christ’s peace.
Remember – Christ’s peace is…
…DIVINE! Peace with your parents is a godly thing.
…UNEARNED! Be peaceful even if your someone hasn’t earned back peace.
…COMPLETE! Don’t just be peaceful while other family members are around…be peaceful all the time.
(2) Be Thankful!
Verse 15 ends with the instruction, “Be Thankful.” (v.15b)
Because if you are thankful, it is a lot more challenging to be cranky. In fact, it is scientifically proven that thankfulness releases a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is the chemical that is release when you exercise that makes you feel good.
So…when you’re feeling unrest from somebody else, take a moment – and be thankful.
Be thankful to God! He loves you. He gave you life. You are his.
Be thankful to Jesus! He loves you. He died for you. He rose for you. You are forgiven.
Be thankful for that person you are angry with!
If it’s a family member or a friend, there are things that you are thankful for about them.
You might not be thinking about it at the moment.
But when you practice thankfulness for that person, unrest starts to fade away.
For example, I just met someone whose mother gave them up when they were an infant.
The story goes that the mother was too addicted to drugs to be a good mother, so she gave her up for adoption.
But do you know what this formerly abandoned infant – now full-grown adult said?
I’m thankful for her.
Thankful she gave me life.
Thankfulness works against unrest.
(3) Digest a Wealth of God’s Word
This is the obligatory part of the sermon where I remind you to study more of God’s Word. But that’s what God’s Word says about God’s Word. Verse 16 says this, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another.”
Think about it.
The more that you know that you have peace with God, the more peaceful you’ll be with others.
Usually I tell you that you that spending time in God’s Word is a blessing for you.
And it is.
But flip the script today – because your time in God’s Word is also a blessing for others.
You won’t be so irritable.
You won’t react to every little thing someone says.
You won’t let the unpeaceful things of others hurt you because you will find peace in your Savior!
In fact, if you’re wondering whether or not you need more of God’s Word, ask yourself if you’re perfectly peaceful with your family.
If the answer is no, then…you need God’s Word.
Check out verse 16: “Teach And admonish one another with Psalm, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts towards God.” (v.16)
Did you know that God tells us to sing? Because music is a special gift from God. A special gift that can bring peace on its own. It’s why they science tells you that beautiful melodies of classical music can put your brainwaves at ease and help you study more peacefully and efficiently.
Now combine the peace of music with God’s Word.
Joy to the world the Lord has come! I have no reason to be mad at you.
Silent Night! Holy Night! It’s ok, I lost my place in line.
Oh Come, Oh come Emmanuel! Help me stay calm with my brother…Mel!
It’s a real thing though.
Music brings peace.
Music used to teach us the great things our God has done for us – divine peace.
(5) Act in Jesus’ Name
Check out verse 17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Because that’s really the whole point.
We are acting in Jesus’ name.
And if you are going around being a non-peaceful jerk, who’s going to believe that you have the message of peace?
On the other hand, if you’re able to stay calm, stay peaceful, stay joyful.
You’ll bring peace.
They’ll want peace.
You get to show them peace.
That’s really the whole point.
You have an incredible opportunity this season to share the peace of Jesus.
May God give us peace to do so. 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 week we continued to follow the apostle Paul as he left Athens and went alone on to Corinth. It seemed an impossible task, one man against a city of very devoted sinners. Of course, it wasn’t the first time God sent a man alone against unbelief like that, but it was an intimidating prospect, nonetheless.
But Paul did not stay alone for long. He reached out on common ground, met like-minded people, and before long a small congregation was blossoming. In fact, this pattern repeated most places he went. Even where he was forcibly driven out, he left behind a contingent of the faithful who continued the work after he departed. Though he made his rounds, sharing Jesus, strengthening churches, and moving on, each place he worked carried on the work without him.
Today, it is that effect in particular that we want to look at. That from the efforts of one, many can come to faith by God’s power. And each one of those many can reach out to just as many more. Let’s begin by taking a look at our reading for today, from Acts 18:
Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sisters and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken. They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. When he landed at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch.
After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.
Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.
One hates to talk numbers when discussing the church. God wants all people to be saved. He does not measure success in numerical terms. The effectiveness of the Gospel or a congregation should not be measured in numerical growth. It’s a slippery slope to talk numbers.
That being said.
Foregoing issues of doctrinal divide and incorrect teachings, the number of people in the world with saving faith in Jesus could probably be estimated in the hundreds of millions. The number of people who have passed to heaven in the faith in the last 2000 years makes that number significantly higher. Imagine what that number would look like though, if Paul had been the only one teaching people about Jesus. If everyone who had come to faith by his efforts simply took that faith home and enjoyed it for themselves and that was that? God is all-powerful, but humanly speaking – how fast can one person share the faith with the world?
In fact, even Jesus himself said the task was too great. He said the workers were too few and to ask for more workers. He turned to his disciples, told them to pray for more workers that the lost and helpless sheep might get what they so desperately need.
And we’ve seen through the book of Acts how desperately people need Jesus. And people haven’t changed much since our time. As we look at the people in Acts who need Jesus, we don’t just see the same people in our world, we even see ourselves. We see either what we once were or struggle every day not to turn into.
We saw the group that loved just indulging in everything life had to offer in order to try to find happiness on any given day. Do you know that person? Have you tried it yourself? Or even given into it a little bit? The rush of whatever is great… but at the end you have to face reality. And it’s never the same the second time. You have to go bigger and better. And you get caught in an endless loop of one-upping everything that went before. Doesn’t even have to be a sinful vice. Could just be a hobby or vacation or something. You’re working towards that one thing that you say, “when I get here, I’ll be happy and content and everything will be good.” But it’s a hamster wheel. It doesn’t work. And you just have to do it all over again. It’s a hollow chasing of the wind.
We saw the group that preferred to work for satisfaction. That’s just as deceptive a trap. Either you work really hard and end up with a false sense of security from how great you are… or you more likely stumble and make mistakes and end up utterly discouraged that you just can’t seem to get it right. It’s just as bad as chasing those hollow pleasures to think that somehow my life, my worth, my joy has to come from how good I am at something. I can’t stop moving and working because if I do, I’ll realize how empty it really is and it’ll all come crashing down.
And the less said about the town of Corinth and their worship of Aphrodite, the better. Sexual sin is some of the most prevalent in our world. We all know someone caught up in it and we’d be utterly foolish to think that as Christian believers we are above it or immune to it.
All of these people in our world are people chasing empty lives, knowing on some level that something is missing but unable to fill it. And before we look down our nose, they are exactly what you and I would be except for God’s grace in saving us. They need someone to save them. They need a God who died to make these things right. To give them joy and comfort that lasts, water they can drink and never be thirsty again. They need Jesus to fill that void and calm their desperate pursuits.
Just like we needed Jesus to do the same for us. And to help us daily that we don’t go back to those ways. We’re here to plant Jesus in the heart of North Raleigh and beyond…because North Raleigh is full of hurting people who desperately need it.
But this is not a job that one man can do. It’s not even a job that a small team of called workers can do. It is the calling of every Christian to multiply the faith wherever you go.
Jesus told the disciples to pray for workers and then what happened next? He made his disciples workers and sent them out to work. Paul made friends of Priscilla and Aquilla and before long they were travelling with Paul and teaching other believers
And what about that list of people Paul sent greetings to in Rome? You know, at the point Paul wrote that letter, Paul himself had never even been to Rome? And yet he had a laundry list of people he personally knew who had gone there to carry out ministry for Jesus.
The mission of the church can be summed up simply in two words: Grow and Go. We are to grow the faith of existing believers and we are to go with that faith to share it with others. If you look at Jesus’ great commission that is exactly the directive you’ll find him giving. But the great way about how God works is that each person the Holy Spirit works on and brings to faith is another person to carry out that same mission. One reaches many, the many reach many more, and on and on it goes.
We are a congregation. A gathering. We are very different, with different backgrounds, different attitudes and quirks and foibles. But we are united as a gathering of believers in Christ to carry out his mission. This is not a passive club that we show up to, put our dues in the offering plate and go home with a little bit of salvation. The believers are the church and the church is the believers. Yes, to guide our path we call a man specially trained to lead and shepherd us. Yes, we call teachers to bring up our children. Yes, we appoint leaders to help keep the chaos a bit organized. But you are still the church.
And the ministry of the church is more than Pastor Kiecker can do alone. It’s more than the preschool teachers can do alone. It’s more than the church council can even do alone. It’s up to all of us. Every believer working together to accomplish that mission to multiply the church, to share the gospel message, give the Holy Spirit his moment to work and bring others to the faith you know and treasure.
We’ve talked about the people who are hurting, we know how badly they need it. We know that could just as easily be you or me. And yes, maybe they’ll reject it. God doesn’t hold us accountable for that. He does hold us accountable if we never speak up. If we never do anything. How can anyone believe if they don’t hear and how can they hear if we don’t speak?
Now, I know we’re not all equally equipped. That’s part of the reason we have different roles in the church. We are not all here to do exactly the same things. But we all have gifts that can be used to carry out this ministry. Use them! Maybe it’s not a direct outreach effort, but it’s still work that supports that outreach. Whether it’s helping worship run smoothly for the visitor or keeping our facility beautiful to glorify God or taking some task off another’s plate so they can focus on larger priorities – we all talents and gifts to contribute to the ministry.
And let me just backpedal for a second and point out that ministry is not all about outreach, either. Remember I said the mission of the church is to Grow and Go. Becoming a believer means we are saved, 100%. But it’s also not the end of our earthly walk with God. Faith needs to be fed, nurtured, and grown. The ministry to strengthen faith right here in our own midst through regular worship and study and devotion is just as vital as the ministry to reach outside of our congregation. Look at Priscilla, Aquilla, and Apollos strengthening each other through instruction and study of God’s word prior to really tackling the task of reaching out.
What are you doing to grow? Are you making a point to attend Sunday bible study or one of the mid-week groups? Do you have a devotional habit to dig into scripture regularly on your own? Do you have someone you can reach out to for help when you wrestle with a difficult section of the Bible? If you don’t feel up to the task of reaching out, then start by reaching in – grow your faith in the Word here and help others do the same. And, if you’re not sure where to start – which is super common, then ask. Ask Pastor Kiecker, ask me, ask the leadership. Any of us can point you in the right direction and give you resources to get started.
Brothers and sisters, we are the church. We are the gathering of believers called to do his work. Study his word, learn from him regularly, build yourself up in that truth and then share it out there with those who so desperately need it. Ultimately the work of salvation is up to the Holy Spirit. He is the one who changes hearts and brings people to faith. The success of our mission is in his hands, not ours. But he has chosen to rely on us for the opportunity. Study the gospel, share the gospel, that more can know Jesus, that more can share Jesus, that the most can be saved. Amen.
Last week we started our summer sermon series called ACTS: The Early Church Initiative by reviewing the first fourteen chapters of the book of Acts. In it, we learned that a priority for the Early Church was to place the GOSPEL above all else…because in the Gospel, Jesus placed YOU above all else.
Today we are picking up where we left off last year. Which was action packed. Last year we heard about:
Fire appearing on the disciples’ heads.
A paralytic healed.
A Jesus-hater blinded.
A sorcerer converted.
Thousands baptized into Jesus’ name.
And as exciting as those things were, today we’re going to dive into something just as exciting.
Something just as thrilling.
Today we are going to hear about a marvelous, amazing, incredible, action packed…Meeting.
As we go through the events leading up to the first Church Council meeting, pay attention – you’ll see theme of Gospel above all else – running throughout the discussions. Our goal is to learn from that. 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 Problem
The account is from Acts 15 which begins right at the end of Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey. A journey that was successful. They had brought the message of the Gospel to people living in different countries who had never heard of Jesus.
And when they returned to their home congregation in Antioch Syria – the congregation that sponsored the mission trip – they shared their success!
About Cyprus where the Gospel overpowered the lies of a Satanist.
About Pisidian Antioch where they preached on the streets in front of thousands of people.
About being chased out of the city, mistaken for God, and narrowly avoiding attempted murder.
And about how through it all the Gospel was preached, and hundreds of souls came to faith in the saving message of Jesus.
And the congregation was thrilled.
As the night was winding down, Paul noticed a sign that had been affixed to the congregation’s 1st century version of a bulletin board: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” (15:1)
He went and got Barnabas.
Can you believe what they’re teaching?
This is the church that had convinced me it was by God’s grace apart from any Jewish custom that we’re saved.
A church sponsored OUR mission trip in which we were told to teach - people were saved by God’s grace apart from anything else.
A mission trip on which we taught that people were saved by Jesus apart from anything, anything, anything else.
Over the next couple days, there were heated discussions:
Paul and Barnabas said the Gospel was all about Grace.
The opposing leaders argued that it was about God’s grace…and following Old Testament Jewish Law.
A good portion of the people sat back and nodded in agreement with whomever made the last point.
Finally, they decided to send this question to the leadership of the Christian movement.
“Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.” (v.3)
Because the Apostles were the original twelve, they were the men who had followed Jesus.
Who had been taught by Jesus.
Who had been EYEWITNESESS of the Risen Lord Jesus.
Who had been commission by Jesus to preach the Gospel.
On whom the Holy Spirit had come in a hurricane like sounded, landed on their heads in tongues of fire and taught them languages they never learned.
If anyone knew what the Gospel was really about -- it was them.
II. The Very First Council Meeting
So, the group set off from Syria and headed south to Jerusalem.
As they went, they stopped at other churches where Paul and Barnabas told of the incredible works of God.
About the Gospel overpowering the lies of a Satanist.
About preaching in the streets in front of thousands of people.
About being chased out of the city, mistaken for God, and narrowly avoiding attempted murder.
And about how through it all, the Gospel was preached, and hundreds of souls came to faith in the saving message of Jesus.
And how all the churches were thrilled!
They were excited.
They were excited with how the saving message of Jesus had made its way even to non-Jewish people.
And the excitement continued in Jerusalem.
The Apostles welcomed them.
They hugged them.
They sat down and listened to Paul and Barnabas talk all about their journeys.
They got teary-eyed.
They were ready to sing “Praise God from whom All Blessings Flow” when…
Some…stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” (v.5)
Because in the Old Testament, God required obedience!
Don’t believe me? Read Leviticus. Read Numbers.
They had to be circumcised.
They had to cover their heads.
They had to wear prayer shawls.
And that’s our tradition.
A tradition added to by great men.
A tradition passed down by great men.
Traditions not to eat pork.
Traditions not to eat shellfish.
Traditions not to join in fellowship with anyone who doesn’t follow these traditions.
We’re supposed to drop them?
Centuries of Traditions, gone?
For the sake of some “Dirty Gentiles?”
I don’t think so.
At this Peter stood up.
Peter, the leader of the Apostles….
Peter who had preached a phenomenal sermon on Pentecost:
“Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the Gospel…”(v.7)
Do you remember that?
I was up on the roof doing some meditation when I went into a trance.
In that trance, God gave me a vision of a sheet filled with all kinds of animals.
Animals that we TRADITIONALLY don’t eat.
Food like pork chops, bacon, and oysters on the half shell.
And I said to God, “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
And God said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (vs. 14-15)
And then God repeated this sequence two more times.
And right at the end of it, when I was wondering what it all meant, three men sent by Cornelius, a Roman, stopped at the gate of my house. The Holy Spirit said to me, “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” (vs. 19-20)
I went down to answer. The men were sent here by his master, Cornelius, who had a vision from God – about me being in that house.
Wouldn’t I come to tell about Jesus?
Because that’s was the point of the vision.
God’s message wasn’t just for Jews anymore.
It was a message of Grace for Gentiles…
But you don’t’ have to take my word for it!
Because when I was there and when I preached the message of the Gospel.
The people believed…Something that only happens by the Holy Spirit.
And they began speaking in tongues – a miracle that happens only by the Holy Spirit.
A miracle as proof that this was real faith given by the Holy Spirit.
Guess what!?! That happened in a home that didn’t have any Jewish traditions.
They weren’t circumcised.
They weren’t wearing prayers shawls.
“God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.” (v.8-9)
“Now then, why do you try to test God?” (vs. 10)
Because you might think that you’re testing the Gentiles.
You might think that you’re testing their faith to see if it’s real and if they’re willing to become followers of Jesus.
You’re testing God.
You’re telling him:
“Hey God, I know you said that it’s by grace through faith in Jesus that we’re saved, but…I’m gonna preach the opposite. I want to test how long it takes for you to strike me down with a lightning bolt for teaching the opposite of you.”
Because…think about it!
You’re putting yokes on the necks of these Gentiles.
A yoke just like you put on your donkey.
Something that makes general movement in life much more difficult.
You’re putting yokes on their necks by demanding that they keep all these Old Testament Traditions…
When you couldn’t even keep them yourself.
Avram, look at that prayer shawl. That’s not regulation length.
And Jeremiah, I saw you last Sabbath. That walk was lots longer than the allotted 3000 steps according to our tradition.
And Ezekiel…I’ve got a guy over there who told me that he saw you eating a BLT last week.
And don’t even get me started on the lies, the greed, the lust, the moral failures of each and everyone of you.
Brothers, for centuries, we were under the yoke of a law that we could not keep.
The message of Jesus freed us from that yoke.
Why put that yoke on someone else?
Why not lift that yoke?
We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are. (v.7)
Until eventually, Paul and Barnabas took the opportunity to tell all about what happened on their missionary journey.
About the Gospel overpowering the lies of a Satanist.
About preaching in the streets in front of thousands of people.
About being chased out of the city, mistaken for God, and narrowly avoiding attempted murder.
And about how through it all, the Gospel was preached, and hundreds of souls came to faith in the saving message of Jesus.
When they were done…
James stood up.
James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem.
James, a Jew through and through.
We’ve heard from Peter.
We’ve heard from Paul.
We’ve heard from Barnabas.
But perhaps we need to hear from one more witness.
A witness that’s Jewish.
A witness that’s traditional.
A witness that cannot tell a lie.
The Old Testament Jewish Scriptures:
Amos 9:11-12 says:
“After this I will…rebuild David’s fallen tent.
…17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name.” (Acts 15:16-17)
Grace is grace.
We can’t force them to be Jewish and we don’t need to. And we don’t need to keep these traditions because Jesus fulfilled them all with His perfect life, death and resurrection. God doesn’t require sacrifices anymore!
It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. (Acts 15:19)
Brothers and sisters,
This is the truth.
Grace is grace.
It’s a truth that was discussed in Jerusalem.
By the Apostles of Jesus himself.
They came to a conclusion.
It hasn’t been overruled.
It hasn’t been overturned.
Grace is grace.
It isn’t worked for.
It isn’t earned.
It isn’t given in response to following Old Testament customs.
It isn’t given in response to following human customs.
It’s all about Jesus.
He lived perfectly when you couldn’t.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins.
Forgiveness is yours.
By God’s grace.
III. WHAT NOW?
Therefore, we follow the advice of James, the leader in Jerusalem. Don’t make Grace difficult.
1) For Yourself
How good are you at puzzles?
I can usually handle them if they are 20 pieces or less.
I’m really good if they have an outline for each shape.
I’m especially good at the puzzles for 4 years old and younger.
But I have a friend who is so good at puzzles, do you know what he does?
He flips the puzzles upside down.
He does them cardboard side facing up.
He wants to make it more difficult…
Sometimes I think we do the same thing with grace.
We add in the qualification of “perfection.”
We need to be the perfect mom.
We need to be a stellar dad.
We need to be the best teacher, an incredible provider and the best keeper of Christian customs ever.
We tell ourselves that in order to receive grace we need to follow God’s Laws perfectly.
just to be sure…
…we add in some of our own human customs and laws just to make it really difficult.
Grace is grace.
And because of God’s grace in Jesus, you are forgiven.
Jesus said this, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)
He said that because by grace salvation is yours.
By grace, you don’t have to earn God’s love.
By grace, you already have it.
2) For Others
I was at pastor’s conference this past week. And I was talking to a pastor who was telling me about something that happened to him recently. He had a gentleman join his worship service whom he had been trying to get to come for a long time.
A friend who wasn’t a part of a church.
Who didn’t actively worship and hadn’t known much about Jesus.
As he finally attended worship, the man was moved by the Gospel.
He was emotional as he listened.
He even shouted: “Amen,” at the end of the sermon.
Afterwards, the pastor was excited, and he went to talk to a member of his to share his excitement.
And he said, “Wasn’t it awesome having him join us?”
And the person he told this to simply rolled their eyes and said, “You better talk to him and tell him that we don’t shout AMEN around here. Especially if he plans on coming back.”
Friends, don’t make grace difficult for others.
Don’t add to God’s grace.
Don’t require human things.
Let grace be grace.
Grace for you.
Grace for the people you talk to.
As unyoked children of God, be in the business of unyoking those with heavy burdens to bear.
Because…the Gospel teaches that God placed YOU above all else.
And we, as an extension of the early church, need to place the Gospel above all else.
Jesus poses two questions tonight as he gets at an issue so important for our spiritual health. The topic we’re digging into is: being neither hypocritical in action, nor paralyzed into inaction. Take a listen. Jesus tells us:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."
Do you agree with this statement? “Hypocritical actions are one of the great damaging forces in our world.” I’m thinking especially of damaging to relationships, like friendships. Do you agree? Any disagreement?
Okay, now let me focus the statement in a little further: “Hypocritical actions are one of the great damaging forces in our world …and within churches.” If they are present, if they are allowed to go unchecked, do you agree? Yes.
We might be led to ponder adopting the minimalist approach that is popular in our culture today, namely “I’ll just keep myself from commenting on anything that anyone else does, to avoid the impression of being unlovingly hypocritical.” But before you go there, or if you’ve bought into that thinking to some degree, I’ve got an additional statement for us to consider:
“Inaction is also a great damaging force in our culture in our age.” Make the statement specific to when someone else with whom you are connected – family or close friend – is involved in something harmful. Adopting an “I’ll do nothing, say nothing, in order to avoid the impression of being unloving or hypocritical” approach, results many times in a great deal of damage impacting lives. Do you agree?
Let’s pinpoint the type of toxic effects for relationships that are in play with either one of the problematic approaches we’ve identified: being hypocritical in action, as well as being paralyzed into inaction. And keep in view there is more than our relationships with one another involved here. There is also the relationship for each one of us, as Christians, with our God that is connected here.
If we see someone in our family in Christ doing something harmful, if we do nothing we allow something toxic to go on working its damaging effects. Think about that proposition. It sounds silly! I’m sure you see the disconnect in that. We, as a family in Christ, want to help one another with identifying whatever is causing hurt or harm.
Doing that is important. And how we go at that goal is equally critical. If any “holier-than-thou” / any pride or self-righteous attitude is in the offering, the “help” being offered is actually likely to multiply the harm, rather than help remove it. Why? For starters, any correction offered with such an attitude is harmful to the one offering it. Pride or a self-righteous spirit would indicate some spiritual infection in thoughts and actions of that individual. And in many cases, the recipient of the correction too will experience additional hurt or harm. How so? Either they’ll see the self-righteous attitude for the hypocrisy that it really is, and be understandably turned off by it…. Or, there is this possibility: they can be potentially misled by the appeal of self-righteousness and pride. They may pursue the corrected behavior being offered, but if they do that with the wrong motivation of self-righteousness themselves, it is still spiritually harmful.
One word helps us guard against the immensely damaging attitude of hypocrisy when we step in to help someone else. It’s Jesus word: “first.” Matthew 7:5 - "You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."
Now as you see Jesus’ “first,” I want you to look at 1 Timothy 1:15, and see the apostle Paul use this “first” for himself:
This saying is trustworthy and worthy of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” of whom I am the first."
That “first” is a literal rendering where many English translations say “worst.”
As we place Jesus’ “first” in Matthew 7:5 beside the “first” here in Paul’s statement, we can each see a personal perspective for us to make our own. As we view ourselves - and everyone else in relation to us - I’m “first” among the sinners. If you’re standing “first” in line, seeing your sin, and then being on the receiving end of Jesus’ full and fully undeserved forgiveness and peace, - got it? - think of how that affects every interaction you have as you turn back to everyone else you face and encounter in your relationships.
Then you and I are not coming from any attitude of “holier than thou” or pride, but from an awareness of “here is a sinner who has received Jesus’ healing.” “Then” also “here is someone happy to share the healing medicine of God’s truth and love.”
Just think how different that is than if I were to be turning around to the people around me, without first standing before Jesus with the issue of my sin addressed… If I came to someone else to talk to them about their problem, but I go about that thinking I don’t have any problems myself or my problems are minor compared theirs… how much help am I going to be? That’s a recipe for turning them off (to disregard anything I offer), or tempting them to join in hypocrisy / pride themselves.
You could find example after example of harm done by those trying to correct others when they themselves have spiritual planks unaddressed.
Notice I say, unaddressed. But once addressed, don’t leave Jesus’ “then” undone. Jesus gives a 2nd part to his answer to the questions he poses here: “First… then.” How important is this “then”?
I’ve got another statement I want you to evaluate: “The opposite of love isn’t always hateful action. It is, maybe even sometimes more powerfully, felt in apathy.” Do you agree? Can lack of action cause such a negative impact in lives? Can it cause such negative kind of impact in a church, a Christian family?
Our Savior knows what He is talking about when he teaches us this “first… then” truth.
Hypocritical actions do harm in churches. Think of the conclusion people are likely to draw if such actions are left unaddressed.
Let’s follow Jesus’ direction. When we see / hear something wrong from someone in our group, let’s lovingly, humbly act.
Pastor Earle Treptow wrote an article entitled “Judge Me, Please!” I’m going to wrap up our topic with a few of his encouragements [2015/05/31/in FIC Features, Forward in Christ - Judge me, please! Earle D. Treptow].
While standing in line to board a plane, I noticed her tattoo. “No one can judge me,” it said. What struck me later about her tattoo was its placement. It was on the back of her neck, a place she probably didn’t see all that often. The words of the tattoo, then, weren’t really intended as words of comfort or encouragement for her. The tattoo meant to sound a warning to others. “You are going to judge me? Please! Who are you to talk to me about my attitude or my words or my actions? You’re no better than I am.”
We know exactly where she’s coming from! We don’t particularly care to have people question our attitudes or confront us about our actions. If they want to praise us for what we do, we are willing to listen. But should they wish to address some failing, we definitely don’t want to hear it.
That, however, is not the community in which the Lord wants his people to live. He brought us into his church and gave us our fellow believers for our benefit. Because he wants you to live with him forever, the Lord puts fellow believers into your life. He moves them to love you enough to judge you, to confront you with your sinful attitudes, and to rebuke your sinful actions. He does so for your everlasting good, to lead you to repentance and rescue you from death. Knowing our Savior’s love for our souls, we humbly ask our brothers and sisters in Christ, “Judge me, please!”
Or, to put that in terms of Jesus’ encouragement from Matthew 7… As we turn to one another after walking to the foot of our Savior, we say, “Please, help me see the ‘specks’ in my life.” May God grant this for His glory and for our good! Amen.
I’ve been experiencing some problems in my prayer life recently.
The things that I pray for don’t seem to be happening.
This has been going on for years!
I prayed for a pony when I was younger; never happened.
I’ve prayed for it to rain Doritos. Not once.
I’ve prayed for a couple million bucks to show up in my bank account. (I don’t know that there’s ever been a million that passed through the account since its inception)
On a more serious note – my wife and I have been praying for a child.
But…we’re about seven years in.
No little pastor.
No little Julianna.
Maybe the same thing has happened to you.
Maybe you’ve asked for something “good” and God has answered with something “bad.”
What’s the deal? Doesn’t God understand how prayer works?
Jesus has something to say on the matter. Check out his words from Matthew 7: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?”
Think about it:
If your son came up to you with his big, tear-filled eyes and said to you, “Mommy, my tummy’s grumbling. Can I have a piece of bread?” Would any of you say: “Sure, son!” Walk away. Grab a plate, a knife and some butter and then SLAM a big old rock onto the plate. “Bon Appetite!”
If your daughter really wanted a pet and said to you, “Daddy, I want to get a gold fish and name it Princess.” How many of you would say, “Sure, honey. Anything for you.” Get into car, you head to the pet store, and come back with a poisonous King Cobra. “Here you go sweetie. Although…I don’t know if we should name him Princess.”
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (v.11)
If you then, though you are an imperfect, sin-tainted, selfish human being, know to give a good gift to your child…
What do you think your perfect, holiness-radiating, selfless God will give to you?
God can ONLY give good gifts.
So…what’s the rub then? Why does God’s answers to our prayers sometimes seem disappointing? Two reasons. And they both involve inaccurate assumptions on our part.
(1) Assuming Your Request is Good
Think back to the Doritos prayer. I thought raining Doritos would be good.
It would also ruin the ecosystem, result in my digesting all kinds of germs, and probably ruin the Cool Ranch flavor!
Your child may think they know what is best. They may truly believe that staying up late and eating ice cream is what’s best – it’s certainly what they want most at that moment. However, a father who truly loves his children knows that staying up late and eating ice cream will result in children who don’t feel good shortly after and will have a following 12-hour period of crabbiness. The father looks at the whole picture, and knowing better than his child, may tell his child no – out of love!
The same is true for some of our real deal, difficult requests…
They may not always be centered in ‘goodness.’
They may be centered in “our sinful, imperfectness.”
Back to the prayer for a child.
One of the main reasons that I am praying for one?
I want one.
I want to be a father.
I want to teach them how to play catch.
I want to teach them how to ride a bike.
It sounds nice…
Did you hear what I was praying?
I want…I want…I want.
What about what God wants?
What about God’s desire to increase his eternal family?
What about planting the message of Jesus in the Heart of North Raleigh?
What about God’s desire to shape and mold myself and my wife and grow our faith as we dig deeper into His Word for answers?
What about the fact that I might not know what is good – eternally, absolutely, perfectly…good?
Friends, I don’t know your prayer requests.
But I know you too are an imperfect, broken, human being.
Could it be that our imperfect, broken human heart requests imperfect, broken things from our Father?
Thank God he doesn’t give us exactly what we want.
Thank God that he gives us exactly what is good.
Thank God that when I ask for a snake…God gives me a fish.
Thank God that when I ask for a stone…God gives me some bread.
(2) Assuming God’s Answers Can Be Bad
Because sometimes at the end of your prayers, God’s answer may be, “Yes. Your boyfriend is leaving you.”
Sometimes at the end of your prayers, God’s answer may be, “Yes, you will lose that job.”
Sometimes at the end of your prayers, God’s answer may be, “Yes. It’s confirmed. You have cancer.”
The temptation might be to say, “God, bad answer.”
The reality? God doesn’t give bad answers.
We might not always know how.
We might not always know why.
We might not always know much of anything.
But we do know one certain and sure reality:
God’s answers are only good.
Because God is only good.
Case and point? The cross.
We asked for a Savior.
We asked for God to send someone to help us.
We asked for God to get rid of our guilt, grief, and shame.
We probably pictured some type of superhero-looking guy.
A modern-day Avenger.
With an epic Thor like weapon and luscious, Chris Hemsworth looks.
We didn’t get that.
We got a carpenter’s apprentice.
A guy without a home.
A mild mannered dude who got roughed up and physically beaten on more than one occasion.
He was cursed at.
Arrested, convicted, bloodied, and killed.
And it’s easy to look up at the cross.
At his broken, bloodied, beaten body…
And say, “This can’t be any good. God, you didn’t answer my prayer. God, you don’t know what you’re doing!”
But we’d be wrong.
Because three days, later…
Three days later, Jesus didn’t just beat evil.
He didn’t just destroy sin.
He didn’t just wipe out death forever.
He guaranteed eternal life to you.
Do you see it? God answered your prayers.
Praying for a better life? God answered.
Praying for removal of guilt? God answered.
Praying for a Savior from all the junk you’re dealing with? God answered when he sent Jesus.
And Now? God keeps giving good gifts.
God isn’t hit or miss.
His gifts are always good.
That boyfriend? Could lead you away from faith.
That job? Could distract you from teaching your kids about their Savior.
That cancer? It’s will draw you closer in faith to me AND allow you all kinds of opportunity to witness to your family and friends until you join him in heaven apart from cancer…forever.
Because that’s the ultimate good.
Brothers and sisters, God’s answers all always good. Trust Him.
Whether he gives you some bread, some fish, or an eternal Savior…
God’s answers are always good. Amen.
We’re in the middle of a sermon series called FRESH. This week our topic is refreshing friendships. We want to learn how to seek refreshing friendships and how to be refreshing friends. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Friendship and Its Blessings
To start – a bit of a study on the Greek word for friendship: “Philia”. Philia is actually one of four Greek words for “love”:
Storge is the word used for parental love. In parental love, love develops downward between the parent and their child. The parent loves the child because he sees the child’s need for love. The child loves the parent because of their providing.
Eros is the word for romantic love. In romantic love, love develops between two people that are facing each other. Picture them looking into each other’s eyes romantically. This is a back and forth relationship. The man loves the woman because she is gorgeous. The woman loves the man because he is studly.
Philia is a bit different. Rather than a love that involves people looking at each other, friendship love develops between two people that are standing side by side. They are side by side as they face something together.
To put it another way, friendship develops as you go through life together:
Friendship develops as you cheer for your favorite football team together.
Friendship develops as you talk about being a mom together.
Friendship develops as you watch The Bachelor together.
Friendship develops as you pretend to be the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles together.
Unlike the other two types of love which point the people at each other, philia love points people at their shared goal.
Friendship is a love between two people who share a common goal.
For me, some of my best friends have come from my time playing football. I shared some common experiences with those guys. I remember sweating with them. I remember getting bruised with them. I remember waking up at 5am to go and run sprints around the football field with them. I remember rolling around in the mud in the middle of a torrential downpour with them. I remember practicing in 10-degree weather, snow falling everywhere, wearing these big yellow, football coats in order to stay warm with them.
I remember winning with them.
I remember losing with them.
I remember sharing the common goal of playing football with them.
And here’s the thing – I can call up some of those friends even today and instantly get into an argument about whose fault it is that in round 2 of State tournament. We gave up a 65-yard TD run to lose the game in the closing minutes (Spoiler: It wasn’t me. My assignment was the fullback)
Maybe you have a few friends like that, too. The Bible describes the blessings of friendship:
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. (Ecclesiastes 4:9) This is like that old Math problem. If I can paint a house in 45 hours and you can paint it in 40 hours, how fast do we paint it together? The answer is – that it’s faster. Two people with the shared goal of work, have the blessings of doing that work together.
If one falls down, one can help the other up. (v.10) You get the picture of two friends whose shared goal is running a Tough Mudder. If one of them falls down into the mud, the friend will stop to help them up. Their shared goal develops a bond where it is mutually beneficial to help each other along the goal.
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. (v.11) This is the blessing of protection. Remember – this is written at a time when people walked dangerous ancient roads from city to city – where bandits could easily attack a solo travel. Two people? That increases your eyes on attack; it increases your hands in the fight; it increases the muscle power on your team. Modernly speaking, two sets of thumbs increase your chances of defeating other teams in Fortnite.
Friendship is a Biblical concept. The Bible agrees that it is a blessing for people go through life together with other people.
II. Where to Avoid Friendship
The Bible also has something say about where to find our friendships.
It has something to say about the difference between a beneficial friendship and a not so beneficial friendship.
Take a look at James 4:4-5 -
Don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who choose to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
The Bible is not saying, “Don’t be friends with anyone in this world.” Nope. If that were the case, we’d have to pay closer attention to NASA’s trips searching for life on other planets. Chewbacca or ALF might be the only options.
But the Bible is telling us to be careful that earthly friendships do not lead us to loving the world – and worldly things – more than God.
Specifically – I think it warns against two types of friendships:
1) Sin Based Friendships.
This may seem obvious… at least…theoretically.
Friendships that lead you into sin are not refreshing.
Again – obviously, in theory; but oblivious in practicality.
It’s so easy for friendship to revolve around sin:
The friend with whom you share the goal of getting drunk – and the guilt of having done stupid things.
The friends with whom you share the joy of gossiping about others – and the insecurity that they’re probably doing that about you in some other group.
The friends with whom you share the goal of getting together and bad mouthing the government – and lack giving of attention to my own inadequacies and failures.
Friendships that revolve around sin also revolve around guilt.
There’s nothing refreshing about guilt.
2) Material Things.
This is more challenging to see, because material things are not inherently sinful.
It isn’t wrong to have money.
It isn’t wrong to like politics.
It isn’t wrong to enjoy the sandwiches at Chick-fil-A.
And it isn’t wrong to have friendship that are based on these things.
But…what happens when material things are your focus?
Let me tell you about the Corinthian congregation. The Corinthian congregation was a group of believers that lived in a very materially focused society. Corinth was a trading area. Corinth had a big marketplace. Corinth was about money, money, money, money. The here. The now. The everyday. The material.
And some of the Corinthians had a lot of friends that were very focused on material things.
So…the Corinthian believers had a bit of a disconnect going on in their lives.
On Sundays, they’d gather for worship and be reminded: “It’s all about Jesus! He is our Savior. He leads to eternal life.”
The rest of the week? “Jesus doesn’t matter. He isn’t real. Worry about money. That’s real.”
The end result? Quite a few of the Corinthian believers stopped believing in the resurrection.
That’s why Paul writes this: “You know that bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Cor. 15:54)
It’s like adding one rotten, fuzzy, moldy apple to the apple cider mixture. As soon as that apple’s is a part of the mixture, the whole thing gets disgusting.
The Corinthians were believers, but you have so many friendships based on non-believing things – Christianity started to fall away.
This is a big deal question -- Do you have friends like that?
Friends who threaten to take away your faith?
Understand -- the Bible isn’t telling us to drop all of those friends. Nope.
But it is telling us this:
The more time you spend on friendships that have little to no focus on the spiritual, the less you will be focused on the spiritual.
The less you are focused on the spiritual, the less you are focused on your Savior.
The less you are focused on your Savior, the more your faith will weaken.
The more your faith weakens, the closer you are to drifting away from faith forever.
III. Where to Seek Friendship
But if that’s where we should avoid seeking friendships,
What kind of friendships should we seek?
The Centurion paced back and forth in his office.
If ever he needed friends, it was right now.
You see – one of his trusted associates, a comrade, a friend, a coworker was very ill.
He was in need of a friend…
…But not just any friend.
He didn’t need a friend who could express platitudes and offer his “thoughts” being with them.
He was in need of a friend who could help.
A friend who could heal.
Because of his high position in the Roman government, he had plenty of places to look for that friend.
He could ask his higher ups for access to Caesar’s doctors.
He could ask his wealthy friends for contact in upcoming medicine.
He could ask his well-travelled commanders if they knew anyone from their travels who might be able to help.
But he didn’t turn to them.
Instead, he turned to the country he had conquered.
Instead, he turned to someone who wasn’t a doctor.
Instead, he turned to a lowly carpenter’s apprentice that he had never met.
And he said, “Heal my servant, but Lord, don’t trouble yourself (to come here), for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.” (v.6-7)
Jesus, I don’t deserve your help.
I might be a Roman centurion that commands a myriad of soldiers that enforce their rules of the country that you are but a lowly traveling minister of, but…I know, full well…that I don’t deserve your friendship.
Because you are more than a lowly carpenter.
You. Are. God Himself.
Jesus didn’t ignore Him.
Jesus didn’t say, “I have other friends.”
Jesus didn’t say, “And…who are you?”
He simply healed his servant.
There is no better friend than Jesus.
There is no friend more helpful.
There is no friend more worthy of being sought.
No friend more kind.
No friend more powerful.
No friend more merciful.
No friend more forgiving.
No friend who loves you more than Jesus Christ himself.
In fact, John 15 says this: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Understand – that’s what Jesus did for you. He not only said, “I’ll be your friend…even when you’ve sinned against me.”
He’ll said, “I’ll be your friend. And as my first act of friendship, I will die for you.”
And then, look at what Jesus says in John 15, “I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
Jesus calls you His friend.
And it means – you can call him YOURS.
And it means – there is no greater friendship that you can seek than your friendship with your Lord.
2. People who Point You to Jesus
If your friendship with Jesus is the number one friendship to seek, then a secondary type of friendship is people who point you to Jesus.
Maybe you’ve got a friend like that.
A friend who points you to Jesus.
A friend who reminds you of your Savior.
A friend who encourages you in the faith.
If you you’re having trouble thinking, look around. Do you see all these people? That’s why they exist.
You need them.
They need you.
In fact, Hebrews 10 says this, “Let us not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
The point? Find friends who point you to Jesus.
Be a friend who points people to Jesus.
IV. WHAT NOW?
1) Meetup with Church Friends
This is essentially the writer’s point in Hebrews when he says, “Do not give up meeting together.” The reason is twofold: (1) Don’t give up meeting with those who can refresh your faith. (2) Don’t give up meeting with those whose faith you can refresh.
And this isn’t just a Sunday thing.
It’s not just friends that you see for one hour a week each Sunday.
These are friends that God’s Word tells us to uplift throughout the week.
Question – You ever hung out with anyone at church during the week before? You should do it.
Are you nervous to ask them? Don’t worry they’re nervous, too.
Grab a coffee.
Send a Facebook message.
Have them over to your house.
And don’t just make a text message group. Is there any wonder that we are more connected now than ever before? Social media apps, 15 different ways to stay connected all within the palm of our hand – and yet – suicide rates are higher than ever in the U.S. Depression rates are high. Loneliness is high.
Because even though this is a blessing, if it is our only form of communication – we are missing something.
Actual. Physical. Interaction.
A high five.
A fist bump.
The Bible says, “Meet together.” Christians at the time of writing Hebrews, would have longed for a safe place to meet together, without the Roman government that wanted to KILL them.
We have the ability to meet together.
Let’s do so.
2) Encourage Each Other
Then, when we do meet together, look at what we’re to do: Encourage one another.
Notice it doesn’t say: “Let us not give up complaining to each other.”
Nor does it say: “Let us not give up gossip with one another.”
Nor does it even say: “Let us not give up getting together to fight.”
Meet together and encourage each other.
May I dare say that if you’re looking for something encouraging to say – there is nothing more encouraging than the message of Jesus.
3) Bring God into the Friendship
Because God doesn’t want you to only associate with believers. Look at Matthew 5, “You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before people that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven.”
If your light is going to shine before people who are in darkness, it necessitates that you interact with those in darkness.
Make friends in the world. Make friends with people who don’t believe. Make friends with those who aren’t focused on Jesus.
Tell them about Jesus.
Bring them the light of the world.
And I’ll tell you this – you will be the most REFRESHING friend they’ve ever met!
Do you remember earlier? We mentioned there were four types of love. I only talked about three. The fourth type of love is called AGAPE. Agape love is different than all the other loves. Because all the other loves are conditional.
I’ll love my child; if he acts like my child.
I’ll love my spouse; if she loves me.
I’ll love my friend; if we have things in common.
But Agape LOVE? It’s unconditional.
It’s one sided.
It’s love that just loves because that’s what this kind of love does.
That’s a kind of love that humans aren’t very good at.
But it is a kind of love that GOD specializes in.
And now, think about this: The God who has undeserved, constant, undisputed love for you – is the same God who is your friend!
The God with Agape love is your God of your Philia love.
And that’s the same refreshing message that God has called you to prepare for others.
Because the hearts of a REFRESHING friendship is none other than Jesus.