We are in the middle of our VICTORIOUS sermon series. So far, we’d talked about how Jesus gives us victory over DEATH and FEAR.
Maybe you listened to both of those messages.
You felt encouraged.
But then, a few days later, you started to DOUBT.
Today we’re going see how Jesus gives us VICTORY OVER DOUBT. Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Why Thomas Doubted
As a case study for doubt, we’re going to look at the story of one disciple named Thomas.
In fact, Thomas is such a good case study for doubt that he has developed the nickname “Doubting Thomas.”
This is unfortunate.
I bet he wishes he was remembered as “Believing Thomas,” “Courageous Thomas”, or even “Good Dental Hygiene Thomas.”
I doubt Thomas wanted to be known for Doubt.
But Thomas, one of the Twelve, the one called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. (John 20:24)
This account occurs late into the evening on that first Easter.
This after the women see the stone rolled open from the tomb.
This is after the women talk to angels who tell them about the resurrection.
This is after Mary Magdalene sees Jesus near the tomb.
This is after the other women meet Jesus outside the cemetery.
This is after two disciples traveling to Emmaus meet and speak with Jesus for three-plus hours.
This is after Peter gets a one-on-one visit from Jesus.
And this is after Jesus enters the locked room filled with 10 of the Twelve apostles - minus Judas, who took his own life and Thomas.
And I don’t know what Thomas was doing.
…Was he out shopping?
…Was he out visiting friends?
…Was he out grabbing some Starbucks orders?
…Was he stocking up on hand sanitizer for the group?
I don’t know.
The point is that he missed Jesus’ appearance.
So, the other disciples kept telling him, “We have seen the Lord!” (v.5)
You wouldn’t believe it Thomas – He was alive!
Peter was scared. He thought it was a ghost. But it was real!
He let us touch his hands.
We put our fingers into the nail holes.
We placed our hands into the speak mark in his side.
He is alive! Isn’t it amazing!?!
And Thomas listened.
He stroked his beard.
And said, “It is amazing…how absolutely gullible you think I am!”
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25)
Thomas didn’t trust his friends’ words.
Not as much as his eyesight.
Not as much as his sense of touch.
But it was more than just not trusting his friends.
Thomas trusted him OWN ABILITIES more than Jesus’ DIVINE ABILITIES
Thomas trusted his own ability to determine the veracity of the resurrection.
More than Jesus’ ability to accomplish one.
This is foolish when you consider the differences in Thomas and Jesus.
Thomas had the ability to defeat a cold, if he drank a lot of Orange Juice.
Jesus could beat a cold by speaking to it.
Thomas had the ability to float on water.
Jesus had the ability to walk on it.
Thomas had the ability to go to the local McDonalds and buy a Fish Filet.
Jesus had the ability to make 5000 more out of thin air.
It’s silly to trust a human being more than a Divine being.
It’s silly to trust a human being – even if that human being is yourself – more than Divine God.
II. Why We Doubt
This is not political, but pastoral.
In New York, the number of diagnoses each day has been going down. That’s good news. And maybe you saw that in response to that, the governor said this:
“The number is down because we brought the number down.” “God did not do that. Faith did not do that. Destiny did not do that. A lot of pain and suffering did that... That’s how it works. It’s math. And if you don’t continue to do that, you’re going to see that number go back up. And that will be a tragedy if that number goes back up.”
I get it. He was trying to tell people to keep social distancing, because it’s working.
But to say that it’s working apart from God?
Why can’t God have worked through a variety of messages, to turn people to do the kind thing and stay home… in addition to providing doctors and nurses the know how to work with patients and government leaders the wisdom to make wise policies.
Doubting that God is alive and working.
Sounds a lot like Thomas doubting that Jesus is alive and working.
Why do humans doubt God so much?
A few reasons…
(1) Doubt Arises from trusting HUMAN SENSES more than Jesus.
This was Thomas’ simple reason for not believing.
Unless he saw Jesus, touched Jesus, smelled Jesus, and heard Jesus, he wouldn’t believe.
It’s the same with us.
I don’t see God helping me with my finances, I only see it going down.
I don’t hear God’s voice calming my fears. I only hear the cries of panic from the rest of the world.
I can’t touch Jesus and give him a hug. I can’t touch anyone and give them a hug!
God doesn’t care.
God isn’t helping.
God isn’t there. y cares.
Do you realize how unreliable human senses really are?
Have you ever been to the eye doctor and had to cover up one of your eyes to read the eye chart? And they ask you to read line 4 and you’re like, “I think that’s a F. I know that’s an F. It must be an F.” So, you say, “I think it’s an F” and they say, “Nope. That’s an E.”
Our eyes are not totally reliable.
Have you ever seen those Febreze commercials where they blindfold people and put them in a room filled with garbage! Old banana peels, dirty diapers, mounds of pet hair. But…they cover it up with Febreze and the people think, “We must be in some kind of a rose a garden.”
Our noses are not totally reliable.
Auditory hallucination occurs when a person’s brain rewires itself to believe that certain thoughts or segments of music are being heard when in fact they are not. This can be caused by a concussion, a brain lesion, psychiatric disease or even high levels of caffeine. In an article published by the Scientific American, an estimated 15% of American Adults aged 18-64 regularly struggle with audio hallucinations, while that number doubles to 33% after the age of 65.
Our ears are not totally reliable.
He told a paralytic to walk and he did.
He told a blind man to see and he did.
He told a deaf man to hear and he did.
Trust Jesus more than your Senses.
(2) Doubt Arises from trusting HUMAN FEELINGS more than Jesus.
It wouldn’t make a lot of sense to conclude, “I’m feeling gloomy today, therefore, the sun must not be in existence anymore.”
Nor it is sensible to say, “I’m feeling scared, therefore, giant spider aliens must have invaded earth.”
Objective truth is not tied to subjective feeling.
Yet, we do this with God all the time.
I don’t feel very happy about the pandemic, God, so this must be the wrong choice.
The virus is making me sad, God, so you must not care about me.
I feel angry at the economic ramifications, so I’ve concluded that God is in the wrong.
There are all kinds of problems with trusting human emotions.
Human emotions are flimsy. They change rapidly and repeatedly.
Human emotions are singular. They consider one’s self and ignore how someone across the country is affected.
Human emotions are tied to health. If you get good sleep, it’s easier to feel happy.
But perhaps most importantly, the problem is that human feelings are tainted by sin.
You might feel sad that you aren’t able to go back to work, because making money was a great distraction from having to interact with your children.
You might feel angry that you can’t go to the gym, because you miss flirting with the instructor – even though she’s married and so are you.
I can feel sad that we’re doing online church. Some of the reasons for that sadness may be that I’m not able to feed my ego like I used to. Sinful.
But Jesus’ emotions were not tainted by sin.
When Jesus was about to go to the cross, it was the disciples who yelled at him and told him not to do it, because it made them sad.
If Jesus would have listened, they may have been happy for a moment – and currently sad as they spend forever in hell.
Instead, Jesus ignored human emotion and did what was necessary to save them – and us – with his death on the cross.
(3) Doubt Arises from trusting HUMAN REASON more than Jesus.
Here’s human reason on the coronavirus.
The coronavirus pandemic is causing suffering.
Therefore, the coronavirus pandemic isn’t good.
Therefore, God is either…
…good, but not really in control.
…in control, but not good.
…not existent at all.
Here’s some logic.
Humans aren’t perfect.
Therefore, their reasoning is imperfect.
Humans don’t know everything
Therefore, their reasoning is limited.
Humans aren’t always right.
Therefore, their reasoning is morally flawed.
If human reason is limited, imperfect, and morally flawed, then…
Maybe our reasoning about God during crisis is limited, imperfect, and flawed too.
It is unlimited.
It is perfect.
It is always right.
It is still unlimited.
it is still perfect.
it is still right.
III. Why We Shouldn’t Doubt
Like in the case of Thomas.
It didn’t make sense to Thomas that Jesus was alive.
It wasn’t rational.
It wasn’t reasonable.
Thomas didn’t understand it.
He gave his ultimatum.
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25)
After eight days, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Take your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting but believe.” (John 20:26-27)
Thomas touches the goosebumps on Jesus arms.
He runs his fingers over the nail marks in his hands.
He puts his hand through the spear mark in his side.
“My Lord and my God!” (v.28)
That’s a total transformation.
Jesus has driven away Thomas’ doubt.
Instead asking “Why should I believe?” he begins to ask, “Why did I ever doubt?”
Jesus changes “why believe” into “why doubt.”
When you think about this story objectively, there were all kinds of reasons to believe.
There had been twenty-some eyewitness reports.
These reports came from a variety of appearances.
The tomb was empty.
There had been a group of trusted friends telling him that they had seen Jesus.
There had even been Jesus’ own promises that he would rise from the dead – long before it ever happened.
Jesus changes “why believe” into “why doubt.”
That’s true for you too.
Because Jesus conquered death.
Jesus conquered your sin.
Jesus lives on high.
He is still in control.
He is still in love with you.
And he is still working all things for your eternal good.
Stop doubting and believe.
IV. How to battle Doubt
Yet…we do struggle.
We are sinners.
We are weak.
We are imperfect.
If we live, we will face doubts.
How do we battle doubt?
A few lessons from Scripture:
(1) Recognize YOU Can’t Stop Doubt
This is an important point. Because what I fear some of you might do when you are done with this worship service is to say to yourself, “I need to stop doubting. I can do it.” Then, you head into the corner, scrunch your face up, and say, “Stop doubting. Stop doubting. Stop doubting.”
This will not work.
It won’t be long before you say, “I doubt that I can keep this up.”
After Thomas’ confession of faith, look at Jesus’ response:
“Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (v.29)
Did you hear that?
Jesus called people who believe without seeing as BLESSED.
Blessed can mean “gifted.”
People who believe without seeing didn’t develop that ability on their own.
God gave it to them.
Faith is a GIFT.
It isn’t something you earn.
It isn’t something you do.
It is something that God gives.
(2) Let God Battle Doubt for You
Though Jesus’ implies that faith without seeing is something that’s impossible for a human to accomplish on their own, in that same sentence, Jesus also implies that people do believe.
Look at John’s answer:
Jesus, in the presence of his disciples, did many other miraculous signs that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (v.30-31)
Did you see it?
God wants you to know the reality of the risen Jesus.
God wants you to know so that you live forever in heaven with him.
God wants you to know and – in order that you would know – he inspired John to write it down for you.
God’s Word Battles Doubt for Us
Doubting that God will take care of your family? God’s Word says, “The Lord is my shepherd. He leads me beside quiet water. He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23)
Doubting that God will be able to conquer COVID-19? God’s Word says, “Praise the Lord, my soul, forget not God’s benefits – He forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.” (Psalm 103)
Doubting that God will give you the finances you need? God’s Word says, “Look at the birds of the air; they don’t work, yet our heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable?” (Matthew 6)
Doubting that God isn’t mad at you from all your sin? God’s Word says, “In Jesus we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Ephesians 1:7)
God’s Word battles doubt for us.
When you are starting to doubt.
When you are feeling like God isn’t in control.
When your senses, emotions, and reason are battling you, run to God’s Word and let God battle for you.
And then, once the doubts subside…
(3) Anchor Yourself to God’s word
The one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6)
Because life is very much like a sea.
Our senses smack us in the face like waves.
Our emotions swirl around us.
Reason flies into our face like the wind.
When you are anchored in God’s Word.
When you are clinging to God’s promises.
When you are holding to Jesus…
You will not sink into doubt.
But stand on Jesus. Amen.
This morning, we will begin our miracle series, by examining God’s incredible power of sickness. But before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Defining Miracle
I think it’s important to start a study on miracles by defining the word “miracle.” So, here it is:
A miracle is an occurrence outside the NATURAL laws of the Universe.
Because miracle can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. Over time, I think we’ve “dumbed down” the phrase.
For instance, we use it at childbirth. A baby is born and people post on Instagram: “Check out my child! #Miracle”
Is childbirth amazing? Yes. Is it a miracle though? Not really. That’s how God set up the universe.
We even use it in sports. “I can’t believe my favorite football team made the playoffs. It’s a miracle!” Might it have been impressive? Sure. But is it a miracle? Not so much.
But when the New Testament uses the word miracle it actually is talking about events that occur outside the natural order of things.
Seawater standing up like drywall? That’s not how water usually works.
A heavy rock wall tumbling because of trumpet noise? Not normal.
Three men being thrown into a fiery furnace and coming out unsinged? Let’s not test it.
A virgin giving birth to a child? Miracle.
In the New Testament, the number one miracle doer is Jesus.
But did you know that Jesus miracles aren’t often called miracles as much as they are called signs.
That’s interesting. Because a sign functions by pointing you in the right direction.
We have signs in our hallways that say “Restrooms” with a little arrow putting in a certain direction. The point of the sign? To direct you to the restrooms.
Even a traffic light. GREEN means “GO”, red means “STOP, and yellow means, “hurry up it’s about to turn red.”
Jesus’ miracles were SIGNS pointing people to his DIVINITY.
Think about it:
If God’s the one that set the laws of the universe into motion, then he is the only one able to act outside of those laws.
It’s like STAYING UP LATE. If the rule of your house is that kids need to be in bed by 9 pm, the kids need to go to bed, but the adult can stay up. (Granted, they might not. They might be in bed on the couch around 7:15 pm, but you get the point.)
Your kids can’t. You can. You set up the law; you can act outside of it.
Jesus acts outside of the laws of the universe set up by God, in all of his miracles.
Because he is God himself.
II. The Man with Leprosy
But it enough talking about it. Let me show you.
When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed him. Just then, a leper came to him and bowed down to him, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Mt. 8:1-2)
Notice. There are large crowds of people with Jesus. They had just heard Jesus give the Sermon on the Mount, a very famous sermon. They were all drawn in by Jesus’ speech and his ideas.
But someone that hadn’t made it up to the mountain was waiting as they came down.
He was a leper which means that he had the disease known as leprosy. It was a flesh-eating disease that slow dried out your cartilage and cause the tips of your fingers, your toes, your nose, and your ears to (brace yourself) fall off.
Leprosy was awful. Still is! If you want to know how awful, do a Google image search. (But not if you’re faint of heart.)
Besides being awful…
Leprosy was INCURABLE. This isn’t true anymore. There is a cure. But at the time, there weren’t any medicines, any acupuncture, any essential oil, any healthy diet, or any operation that anyone knew about in order to cure it. That means that if you were diagnosed with leprosy you had to quickly resign yourself to the fact that you would not be healed.
Leprosy was CONTAGIOUS. It was so contagious that if you were diagnosed with leprosy, you were sent into quarantine. Only the quarantine wasn’t a room in your house. You were sent outside the city walls, into the desert to live in what they called “leper colonies”.
Leprosy was FATAL. The end result, 100 percent of the time was death.
All these truths about leprosy left this man was without hope.
He had heard doctor after doctor tell him there was no cure.
He was alone, banished outside the city.
He knew what had happened to other friends – they died.
This meant -
He wouldn’t get to see his family again.
He wouldn’t get to hold his children again.
He wouldn’t get to kiss his wife again.
He wouldn’t feel better.
He wouldn’t regain strength.
He wouldn’t go back to his job.
He’d be by himself.
Outside the city walls.
Did you notice something about this man?
He approached Jesus with confidence.
He didn’t say: “If you are able…”
Or, “If you have the strength…”
Or, “If you have the right medicine…”
He said, “If you are willing…”
Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean.”
And after Jesus says that, there aren’t months of radiation.
There aren’t weeks of chemo.
There aren’t even 15 minutes to allow the medicine to take effect.
Jesus simply speaks and…
IMMEDIATELY he was healed of his leprosy.
And if you’re thinking, “That’s impossible.”
Remember – there’s a crowd of people present.
It wasn’t Jesus by himself.
There were hundreds of witnesses to this miracle.
Many who had undoubtedly seen that man sitting around outside the city gates day after day after day.
In fact, Jesus has professionals corroborate the healing. He tells him to “Go, show (himself) to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (v.4) The priests at this time were similar to doctors. They were able to pronounce people as diseased or not.
They were probably the same people who once told the man, “You are diseased, away from us!”
Now? They were saying to him, “You’re healed! Celebrate with us.”
And remember – while this is 2000 years after the fact, this book is not. These words that we are reading right now were written down at a time when the majority of the people who witnessed this would have still been alive.
Jesus is able to CURE the INCURABLE.
Here’s where this is important:
You might know someone who has been diagnosed with disease.
You may have been diagnosed with disease.
And internet articles might not give you a chance.
Social media anecdotes might not give you a chance.
Doctors might not give you a chance.
You have Jesus. And Jesus can cure the incurable.
Do you want a second instance of this? How about sin!?!
It’s CONTAGIOUS – passed down from parents to children.
It’s INCURABLE – nothing we can do will ever remove it.
It’s FATAL – “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)
But Jesus cured the incurable!
He lived perfectly when we couldn’t.
He died innocently on the cross.
He rose triumphantly and cured you of all sin, guilt and shame!
By faith in Jesus, you are forgiven.
Incurable guilt – CURED!
This means that whatever you’re dealing with, as long as you have Jesus, you have hope.
Because Jesus provides HOPE in any ILLNESS.
He cured the incurable disease of leprosy with his hand.
He cured the incurable disease of sin with his death.
There is nothing that Jesus can’t do.
There is no disease too incurable.
There is no disease too contagious.
There is no disease too fatal for Jesus.
III. The Centurion’s Servant
Word of this miracle got around.
In fact, it made its way outside the Jewish community to a Roman centurion whose servant was deathly ill.
He must have heard stories of Jesus.
Yet he had a lot working against him. In fact, I’m sure his advisors gave him a host of reasons not to waste his time:
“Jesus is Jewish. You’re Roman. There’s too big a racial divide. He won’t help you.”
“You’re a high ranking official. What will it look like for a Roman elite to go looking for help from a homeless carpenter?”
“You’re a sinner. From what I’ve heard, this man is a holy man. He won’t give you the time of day.”
For some reason…
He trusted Jesus.
And as he looked at his servant growing pale, soaked in sweat, and approaching death.
[the] centurion came to [Jesus] and pleaded with him, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed and suffering terribly.” (v.5)
Despite the racial difference…
Despite the social difference...
Despite the man’s sin…
Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” (v.6)
But the man, thought this was too much.
He was a high ranking official and he didn’t make house visits.
And Jesus was higher ranking than him.
He didn’t need to do a house visit.
And so, the high-ranking government official said, “Lord, I am not worthy for you to come under my roof.” I’m a sinful man. You’re holy. I don’t deserve anything from you.
But only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am also a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (v. 8-9)
You have authority too.
You tell diseases to leave and they do.
You tell health to return and it does.
You tell bodies to be healed and they listen, because you have authority over them.
When Jesus heard this, he marveled. He said to those who were following him, “Truly, I tell you: I have not found such great faith in anyone in Israel… Go. Let it be done for you as you have believed.” (v.10)
Here’s where it gets extra amazing.
Because when the man turned to leave, he made note of the position of the sun.
Maybe just to the right of the west of the cloud.
And when he returned home, he found the servant well.
But that’s not the amazing part.
After giving him a hug.
After doing the “happy dance.”
He asked one of the other servants.
When did this happen?
“At the time the sun was right to the west of the clouds! I remember. Because I was so excited, I ran outside to tell the others.”
Make no mistake.
This was a miracle.
This was Jesus.
Jesus provides HOPE even when he’s not VISIBLY PRESENT.
Because you won’t be able to see Jesus.
Look for Dr. Jesus.
He doesn’t work at Duke.
He doesn’t work at UNC.
He doesn’t work at Rex.
He doesn’t work at Wake Med.
He grants healing to those within those walls.
You can’t see Jesus.
But that doesn’t he isn’t with you.
And it doesn’t mean he won’t provide healing.
He’s all powerful. ‘
His power goes beyond physical, tangible presence.
Again – just like sin.
You and I weren’t physically there when Jesus died on the cross.
And yet Jesus didn’t have to come to 2020 in order to die in our physical presence.
His death and resurrection cross physical, temporal boundaries to bring healing and forgiveness.
His same healing power gives us hope in the face of illness.
IV. When Healing Doesn’t Happen
People die all the time from disease.
Some are even believers.
What’s the deal?
To answer that question – I want you to remember two significant things that these the two men in today’s accounts said.
(1) Lesson from the Centurion
Remember what the centurion said to Jesus?
“I’m not worthy…”
That’s a strange statement, because this centurion was a high ranking, Roman official.
He oversaw hundreds of soldiers. (Hence the name “Century-on”)
He had a good career.
Plenty of people who looked up to him.
And yet he didn’t say, “Jesus. I demand this, because I deserve it.”
He knew he was a sinner.
He knew he only deserved death.
He knew that any healing Jesus could grant was out of his mercy.
We need to remember the same thing.
I remember that I got sick for one of my birthday’s awhile back. And I thought….
“This isn’t fair! I work hard. I serve God. I serve God’s people. And now I get a day off to celebrate my birthday and I’m sick? God I deserve to be healed.”
Is that actually true?
Did I deserve healing?
Remember – the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.”
It’s easy to think:
I deserve healing.
I’ve done nice things.
I’ve been a good parent.
I’m worthy of being healed.
None of us are.
If God heals us physically, it’s not because we deserve it.
It’s because of his mercy.
But in God’s mercy is real hope.
Because unlike human ‘goodness’ which isn’t nearly as good as we think it is.
God’s mercy? Is a mercy that caused him to die on a cross for our sins.
Mercy that saved us to eternal life – where there won’t be any sickness.
And mercy that sometimes heals us from sickness.
(2) Lesson from the Leper
Remember what the leper said to Jesus?
“If you are willing…”
It wasn’t a question of whether healing was possible,
But whether it was God’s will.
In this man’s instance? It was.
But sometimes God’s will is that the sickness won’t be cured.
Is it because he loved that person less?
If you are suffering a sickness and you haven’t been healed yet, is it because God loves you less than the healthy?
He died on the cross for you.
He doesn’t love you less.
He loves you the same as those who are health.
In fact, it’s because of his LOVE combined with his incredible wisdom, that God sometimes allows a disease to run its course.
Sickness has a way of driving people towards Jesus.
Sickness can be God’s way of
Bringing you to faith…
Or strengthening your faith…
Or working through you to be a witness to our friends and family of our faith in Jesus.
Bringing you ultimate healing in heaven.
In heaven, there isn’t any leprosy.
In heaven, there isn’t any cancer.
In heaven, there isn’t any sickness.
In heaven, there is only health.
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.
When I was in Seattle, WA, I had the goal to get to the top of the highest point in the lower 48 states, Mt. Rainier. I bought the right gear. I went into training. I learned from a woman who had been up Mount Everest three separate times.
On the day of the climb, we hiked up to Camp Muir, a base camp about 10,000 feet up. From there, we slept in a tiny wooden cabin to acclimate to the altitude and rest up for the final ascent. We went to bed at 6pm and woke up around Midnight. (You have to leave early in order to cross the ice bridges before the daylight gets too hot, the bridge melts and you fall to your death.)
It was about eight hours up when a blizzard kicked in. The air was sparse. The wind was frigid. My fingers were frozen. And it was only getting nastier. Some of the other climb groups had already turned around and gone back.
About an hour from the top, the lead expeditions said:
“This is getting pretty bad. I haven’t seen it this bad before. What do you think? We could go to the top and see the marvelous views, but…
If we don’t turn around, we could get frostbite or die.
So we thought about it and said:
“I’m sure Google images probably has some might fine photos of the top. So...
Sometimes suffering isn’t worth it.
Today we are continuing our series called Dear Church. It’s a series based on letters from Jesus to seven different churches. The letter for today looks at a church that was dealing with suffering…even suffering because they were believers. Our goal today is to understand what kind of suffering believers have to deal with and whether it’s worth that suffering.
Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The One who Knows Suffering
This letter starts in Revelation 2:8: “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty —yet you are rich!”
A few notes:
The letter is again written to the angel. We said that’s most likely referencing their pastoral leadership which, in turn, means it’s a letter written to the church in Smyrna.
Smyrna was an ancient Greek city at a central point on the Aegean coast. Because its positioning allowed for advantageous port conditions and an easily defendable city, Smyrna was full of people. In other words, it was a great place to start a church.
And someone had. We don’t know the exact apostle or disciple that founded it, which shows that the Gospel was spreading beyond the work rate of the apostles alone. This church was probably not started by one of the 12 apostles, yet Jesus considers it a church. Similarly, our church wasn’t started by one of the Apostles, yet Jesus would call it a real church.
Because the Holy Spirit was at work in the word.
Here in Raleigh.
So, both are churches.
Finally, the speaker is Jesus. This is his letter. And since this is a letter to a church that is suffering, he offers his credentials on the subject:
(1) Jesus Existed before SUFFERING
These are the words of him who is the First (v.8) Jesus existed eternally long before suffering ever existed. He created a world that was perfect, apart from suffering. Then, he watched as humans foolishly were led by the devil into suffering.
Don’t think that Jesus’ main goal is to end suffering?
To bring life back to the way that it once was?
It’d be like cleaning your living room, putting all the toys in their place and removing all the crumbs from the floor – making the place a gorgeous Better Homes and Gardens style living area.
Then, your kids happen.
And you’d like to see it back to the way it was when you were finished cleaning.
The same is true for God. He has on his heart a desire to bring things back to the way they were long before suffering happened.
And here’s the good news about that:
(2) Jesus will OUTLAST Suffering
These are the words of him who is the Last. (v.8) As in, he will last beyond all suffering.
He will outlast cancer.
He will outlast financial difficulties.
He will outlast persecutions.
He will outlast terrorism.
He will outlast racism.
He will outlast the little angry emojis that people put upon Christian content on Social Media.
He will outlast every form of suffering.
That doesn’t mean he hasn’t suffered.
(3) Jesus is FAMILIAR with suffering
These are the words of him who died. (v.8)
Do you know how Jesus died?
He was arrested by a mob.
He was beaten by that mob.
He was smacked and slapped till the early hours of the morning.
He was whipped thirty times with a 7 stranded leather whip that had metal shards on the end. (Also known as flogged)
He had a crown of thorns smashed down onto his head.
He was hit with a staff.
He was laid down upon two giant pieces of wood.
He had one nail driven through his right hand.
He had another nail driven through his left hand.
He had one more nail driven through his feet.
He hung on that cross as his lungs slowly collapsed.
He was abandoned by his friends.
He was betrayed by his disciples.
He was crucified by his people.
He had our sin and guilt and shame plaguing his soul.
He was familiar with suffering.
Suffering even to death!
Now – he lives.
He lives and walks among his churches.
(4) Jesus Knows YOUR suffering
Pause and reflect on that truth.
Because it’s easy to think:
No one knows my suffering.
No one understands.
No one gets this sadness I feel.
No one grasps the loneliness that I go through.
No one truly gets the depths of my depression.
Jesus is speaking to you. He says:
I know it feels like no one knows, but I know.
I know what it’s like to suffer.
I know that you are suffering.
I know what it is you’re suffering:
I know that you feel so poor because you are suffering.
In the midst of suffering…
You are rich.
(5) Jesus Gives Eternal RICHES to the Suffering
You are rich.
Rich in my love.
Rich in forgiveness.
Rich in the promise of eternal life.
You have a place in my family that all of the money in the world would be unable to buy.
You may be suffering, but you are not suffering from a lack of my promises.
II. Truths about Our Suffering
After giving his credentials as to why he is an expert in suffering, Jesus has a few things to say about the suffering that the people of Smyrna were going through. He says:
I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan. (v.9)
Apparently there was a group that was slandering the church. It was a group that claimed to be Jewish but wasn’t. This isn’t genealogical. Jesus is referring to people who were did not have a faith that matched the Old Testament faith, but pretended they did.
Because the Old Testament Jewish faith was that God would send a Messiah to save us from our sins. Overtime some Jews abandoned that faith and replaced it as, “God doesn’t need to save us from our sins, because I am Jewish and do Jewish things.”
When Jesus showed up, a “phony” Jewish faith is exactly what the Pharisees had. Jesus was the Messiah. The real Jewish faith would have believed in him. Instead, the “phony” Jewish faith rejected Jesus as Messiah because “they were good enough Jewish people on their own.”
Now after Jesus, this group was persecuting the church in Smyrna and it was bad enough to be called “suffering”:
Maybe they were calling them names.
Maybe some of them worked on the local tax board and were taxing their church building heavily.
Maybe some of them paid of the Roman soldiers to throw church members in prison.
Regardless, the church was suffering. What did Jesus say about this suffering? A few things:
(1) Believers WILL Suffer for their Faith
Look at what Jesus says in Verse 10: Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. At first glance, this seems comforting. But if you are a Smyrnian, don’t you think they read this and responded by saying:
What? About to suffer? You mean this isn’t even done yet?
That’s the truth.
For the Smyrnian people.
And for us:
The truth is that believers in Jesus will suffer.
Some suffering will happen because we’re on a sinful world where sinful people hurt one another. (Gossip, racism, and unfaithfulness)
Some suffering will happen because we’re in an imperfect world. (Cancer, pollution, and natural disasters)
Some suffering will happen because we’re believers in Jesus. (Things like angry comments on your Christian blog, being excluded from parties because you’re “That lousy Christian,” being yelled at by your spouse because “I’m not into that Jesus junk.”)
Jesus said this:
Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me. (Luke 10:16)
Just like you might not like a football team and, as a result, you don’t like fans of a certain football team.
Or you don’t like a politician and, as a result, you don’t like followers of that politician.
It’s the same thing with Jesus:
If someone doesn’t like Jesus.
They don’t like his followers.
If sinners made Jesus suffer,
They will make his followers suffer too.
(2) The Real Villain is the DEVIL
Because if it was just a bunch of humans making us suffer, you might think:
I can take them, Jesus. I took a few defense classes once, so…I got this.
But these people aren’t the real ones behind it. Look at what Jesus says about who was really behind the Smyrnian suffering:
I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you. (v.10b)
Now it wasn’t as if the devil showed up with a red pitchfork in his hands and pointy ears like some kind of Halloween costume.
But he influenced.
He gave people ideas like:
You should tell that Jesus supporter that he’s an idiot.
You should tell that Roman guard that Christian is breaking law by praying in public.
You should break up with your wife because the amount of Bible talk she has is crazy.
The same is true today.
The real villain isn’t whoever is persecuting you.
It’s the devil himself.
(3) Suffering Lasts for AWHILE
Because look at what Jesus says next:
You will suffer persecution for ten days.” (v.10c)
That doesn’t sound awful.
It’s the reason I sign up for ten days at a fitness camp. I figure – that’s not too long. I can handle it.
Or maybe you sign up for a ten day visit to your in-laws. You figure – that’s just over a week. I got this.
10 days of persecution? That’s doable.
But here’s the thing about numbers in revelation. They are metaphoric:
The number 3 represents God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The number 4 represents humans. Humans were created in God’s image, but aren’t God.
The number 7 represents the church. It’s 3 plus 4, where God connects with humans.
The number 10? It represents completeness.
Meaning the church at Smyrna would suffer until the suffering was completed.
In other words, for a while.
And the reality is that Christians will suffer…until their suffering on earth is completed.
Suffering will be a part of your life when you’re 5.
When you’re a teenager.
When you’re middle aged.
When you’re a senior.
Even suffering for your faith…
…will be a part of your life for a while.
Only for a while.
(4) The faithful will receive the CROWN of LIFE
Look at what Jesus says at the end of verse 10:
Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
Back at this time, the victor’s crown was associated with the Olympics. It was made of olive branches and given to the winner.
To the winner of the 100-meter dash: Victor’s crown.
To the winner of the 1600-meter run: Victor’s crown.
To the winner of the pole vault: Victor’s crown
To the winner of the steeple chase (whatever a steeple chase is): Victor’s crown.
After all the training.
After all the sweating.
After all the suffering.
A victor’s crown.
Look at what Jesus promises to those who are victorious.
Who go through suffering in this life.
But hold on to Jesus:
A victor’s crown.
But not just any victor’s crown. This isn’t made from olive branches.
It’s made of life.
Do you get it?
If you hold to Jesus despite the suffering this life brings, you will have eternal life.
Death won’t win.
You will defeat it.
Just like Jesus defeated death, you will defeat death too.
You will live.
And about this life…
It won’t be one of suffering.
(5) The Faithful’s SUFFERING will END
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death. (v.11)
That’s sounds awful.
First death is bad enough.
It’s nothing but suffering.
Nothing but awful.
Nothing but hell…
…because it is hell.
But dear believers, that’s not anything you have to be worried about. The faithful will not be hurt even in the slightest by hell.
Because in heaven? There is no hell.
In heaven? There is no death.
In heaven? There is NO suffering.
No suffering for faith.
No arguments with spouses.
No rebellious kids.
No ostracization from friends.
No suffering of any amount, variety or kind.
In heaven, SUFFERING is done.
Because you’re with the one that defeated suffering.
You’re with Jesus.
III. WHAT NOW?
Jesus’ words are simple: Be Faithful.
Because when being a believer gets hard, it’s tempting to not be faithful.
“I became a believer and I still get sick.
I still have work problems.
I still have financial difficulties.
Only now people ridicule me for my faith.”
It might seem easier to stop being faithful so that you won’t have this momentary suffering.
If you stay faithful, in the midst of the momentary suffering, you will have eternal blessings.
Because God is faithful.
That won’t change.
He sent his Son Jesus for you.
And through faith in him you will be removed from suffering…forever.
Whenever relatives come for a visit at our house, there is inevitably an argument.
Julianna says, “We need to clean up this mess.”
I say, “What mess? Looks good to me.”
She says, “There’s dog hair all over the floor.”
I say, “Define all over.”
She says, “There’s dirty dishes on the counter.”
I say, “They need to soak.”
She says, “There’s Dorito crumbs all over the couch.”
I say, “I wonder who did that.”
She says, “It’s messy.”
I say, “But how messy is it, really?”
Today we’re continuing our sermon series called MESSY. We’re going to ask the same question about sin. How messy is it, really? 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. The Truth about “Minor” Sin
The Scripture today is from the book of James. It’s a letter written by a church leader named James to believers “scattered across the nations.” (1:1). Since we are believed and we are in a nation, it’s a letter written to us.
Look at what he encourages us to do: “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show FAVORITISM. (2:1)
Favoritism means to give partial treatment to someone at the expense of another.
For example, if you are stuck in traffic on I-440, haven’t been moving for minutes and suddenly a car comes from the on ramp and tries to cut in front of you, but before they do you notice a “Go Tarheels” sticker on their back bumper, well…
If you’re a UNC fan, you smile and let them in. Favoritism.
If you’re an NC State fan, you speed up to make sure that they stay behind you. Anti-favoritism.
Another example from James 2:2-4
Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes…The original Greek language of this letter actually says, “shiny” clothes. If you’re clothing is “shiny”, you’ve got some money: Jewel-studded Armani, diamond decorated Gucci, or maybe a big old Nike Symbol that glimmers in the sun.
And a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. (v.2) He’s got tears in his jeans and a stain on his shirt. He smells a bit stale – of sweat and cigarette smoke.
If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you…” In fact, take my seat. Let me fluff the pew cushion for you, I’ll go grab a bulletin. Did you want a coffee? Some sugars? Should I run to the store and get you a Frappucino? Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it. Just, sit by me.
But you say to the poor man, “You stand there.” We need to save the seats for the rich people.
Or “Sit on the floor by my feet.” (v.3) You’re dirty already, so a little more dirt shouldn’t hurt.
Partial treatment to someone at the expense of others.
And to be fair showing favoritism is common in this world.
Whether it’s favoritism because that person is rich.
Or a man.
Or a woman.
Or they enjoy a certain worship style.
Or they vote a certain way.
Or they were cheering for a certain college team yesterday.
That’s showing favoritism.
Because it’s so prevalent it might not seem like a huge deal.
But look what James says next: Have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with EVIL thoughts? (v.4)
To put it another way:
Wasn’t that favoritism…EVIL?
Even if it was just once.
Even if it was just a minor case.
Even if all that happened was that you took two chocolate chip cookies just to ensure that the person that you like got that last cookie and the other people you don’t favor as much didn’t, the favoritism is still evil.
TRUTH: “Minor” sin is a MAJOR mess.
It’s true for favoritism.
The same would be true for any other “minor” sin.
White lies? Evil.
A bit of gossip? Evil.
Secret racism? Evil.
Selfish pride? Evil.
Pinching your brother? Evil.
“Minor” sin is a MAJOR mess. Here’s some reasons why
(1) It Makes a MAJOR MESS of Kingdom Work
Look at what James writes next: Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? (v.5)
Jesus didn’t have favoritism.
He chose Bartimaeus, a blind beggar and went out to assure him of God’s love.
He chose a Samaritan woman, a non-Jew, non-male, and told her about her Savior.
He chose a prostitute, the type of person that no religious leader would ever choose and he told her about forgiveness.
Jesus didn’t show favoritism.
In fact, it’s because of that reason that you and I are ok. Because God is holy and favors holy things. Yet, he didn’t show favoritism to the “Holy”… (If he that would have been his mode of operation, he would have shown favoritism to no one.) Instead, Jesus showed love to sinners.
He showed love to you and me.
God’s kingdom doesn’t involve favoritism.
And if we, as part of God’s kingdom, show favoritism, then, we’re making a mess of his kingdom work.
In fact, if we do any minor sin, we’re making a mess of kingdom work.
Because kingdom work doesn’t involve sin.
A while back, a first-time visitor joined us for worship. When a visitor does that, I usually follow up with a THANK YOU email. In that email, is a brief survey they can take to talk about their experience. It’s a great way to gather feedback about what first time visitors feel about our worship.
And in the comments the person said: “I like the message. I like the music. But afterwards, in the fellowship hall I overheard some people complaining about the type of fellowship snacks available. To be honest, it really turned me off to the church.”
Even if the complaining was just a couple of seconds, a “Minor” sin.
It still left a big mess of kingdom work.
(2) “Minor” Sin makes you a Lawbreaker
Our Scripture continues: If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. (V.8-9)
Check out the word “convicted.” It’s a courtroom term. If you are convicted, then you have been called a lawbreaker.
You might be convicted of: speeding, a misdemeanor, fraud, even a felony.
Once you are convicted it’s on your record. Employers will look at your record and forever know you as a lawbreaker.
When you do a “minor” sin, it isn’t the circuit court convicting you.
It isn’t the district court.
It’s the county court.
It isn’t the state court.
The appellate court.
Or the Supreme Court.
It’s the Divine Court of our Heavenly King.
It’s God calling you a lawbreaker.
And it’s on your eternal record.
(3) “Minor” sin Leaves the Law Broken
Verse 10 says it this way: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”
It’s like God’s Law is a balloon. He blew it up. Full of divinely inspired air. He gave it to us and said: “Don’t pop it.” You’ll need this law, fully together and not broken in order to enter eternal life. So…be careful.
If you commit adultery, Kaboom!
If you commit murder, Kablam!
If you steal, Kablammo!
If you do anything wrong, the law will be broken!
And we take the Law.
And we don’t commit adultery.
We don’t murder.
We don’t steal.
And we think…you know…just a little bit of about some church members…and…POP!!!!
The law is broken.
That’s a big deal.
(4) “Minor” Sin means Eternal Death
Because we don’t have a fully together LAW necessary for eternal life.
Ezekiel 18:4 says, “the soul who sins even a “minor” sin is the one who will die.”
Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin any type of sin is death.
Matthew 5:19 says, “Anyone who breaks one of the least of my commands…will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”
“Minor” sin is a Major Mess.
II. Not a Minor Savior
Let’s do some math. If you averaged one sin per minute, not unlikely at all.
And you lived an average lifetime of 70 years.
And for every one sin during those seventy years, you place one inch of manure into a pile.
By the end of your life, that pile of manure would be 663 miles high.
When you realize that…
It can you leave you feeling mighty concerned.
Because if “minor” sin is a major mess.
If “minor” sin is actual sin.
Then, I’ve got a problem!
The things that I think…
The words that I’m not careful with…
The things I don’t without even thinking…
I’ve got lots more sin on my heart than I ever imagined.
How can I ever be free of this mess?
Look at what James says next:
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom. (v.12)
But…what Law gives freedom? It isn’t the Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments just pile up your guilt.
Pile up your shame.
Pile up with reminders of all your “minor” sin and how major their guilt is.
That’s not freedom.
The Law that gives freedom isn’t actually a law at all.
It’s the Gospel.
The Gospel is that Jesus lived perfectly without even a “minor” sin.
The Gospel is that Jesus suffered death for your “minor” sins
The Gospel is that Jesus resurrected and left that “minor” sin behind.
This is good news if you are feeling troubled by your “minor” sin, because…
The Gospel includes “minor” sin.
It’s not like the visit from the Health and Sanitation Inspector. When they visit, they peruse ever nook and cranny of your building. They rub their white glove for dust. They test waters for PH balance. They look under table, behind doors, and inside locked closets, on the back corner of the highest shelf for any unsanitary practice.
God isn’t like that.
He doesn’t miss a “minor’ sin hidden in some nook and cranny of your heart.
He found it all.
He didn’t miss a sin.
He didn’t forget to check for “favoritism.”
He didn’t accidently leave some “minor gossip” under a rug.
He thoroughly cleaned up all your sins.
All of your “Major” sins.
All of your “minor” sins.
All of your sins.
The reason isn’t because the minor sins aren’t a big mess, they are.
The reason is that
Jesus is bigger than the BIGGEST messes.
Even the mess of death.
Because crucifixions are BIG messes.
Sweat dripping on the ground.
Dirt & decay stuck to stained pieces of wood.
But Jesus was bigger than that mess.
He came out of the grave alive.
He came out of the grave and left the mess of death behind.
He was bigger than that HUGE, VISUAL mess…
…and that’s great news. Because it means Jesus is bigger than your HUGE, INVISIBLE mess:
In fact, look at verse 13: Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Mercy is Jesus.
Mercy is forgiveness.
Mercy is God’s message to you right now:
In Jesus, you are forgiven.
III. What Now?
(1) Live as Those Set Free
Look at James’ own WHAT NOW.
He says, because you are free in Jesus, Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom. (v.12)
Because it’s so easy to think that these “minor” sins are just part of life.
That we are stuck doing them.
That we’ll never be rid of them.
But that’s inaccurate.
You are free.
That means you are free
Free from gossip.
Free from white lies.
Free from occasional porn.
Free from complaining.
Free from arrogance.
Free from favoritism.
None of those sins control you.
You are free.
Free to speak kindly.
Free to speak truth.
Free to be pure.
Free to compliment.
Free to be humble.
Free to treat all people with respect and kindness.
(2) Be Merciful
Because we tend to want mercy for our “minor” sins.
“I know, I can be grouchy, please forgive me. It’s just a ‘minor’ thing.”
“It’s just one lie, please forgive.”
But when others do the same thing to us?
“He wasn’t polite to me, so I’ll be impolite to him.”
“He gossiped about me, so I’ll gossip about him.”
“He didn’t save me a spot in church, so I’ll hate him forever.”
James writes, “…judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.”
In other words:
If you want to judge others for their “minor” sins.
Then, God will judge you for yours.
And the punishment won’t be minor.
Instead, be merciful, because God has been merciful to you.
He forgave you all your sins, forgive others theirs.
It happened at PreK this past week.
A friend was riding his tricycle and he rode it directly into another friend’s leg.
The other friend began crying, sobbing, screaming.
So, the culprit came over.
It hadn’t been a purposeful hit.
It was relatively minor.
Yet he said to his tearful classmate:
The other friend immediately stopped crying and said: “I forgive you.”
Moments later they were playing together like nothing had happened.
Friends, that’s what God is talking about.
Recognizing sin is serious.
But recognizing we have a serious Savior.
We live freely apart from “minor” sin.
We forgive “minor” sins from our neighbors. 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.
Last week we talked about the riot in Ephesus where the crowd chanted against the Gospel for two straight hours, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!!” The crowd was rowdy. They were violent. They were angry. In fact, the situation was so dangerous that Paul’s friends wouldn’t even let him appear before the crowd in order to defend himself.
You might have expected that to end in tragedy.
The crowd quieted.
They went home.
Paul was safe.
But the Christians didn’t think it would be wise to keep Paul in Ephesus. So, after two years pastoring in Ephesus, Paul left. Acts 20:1 says, “He said goodbye and set out for Macedonia. He traveled throughout that area speaking many words of encouragement to the people.” It means Paul headed east. He crossed the sea and began revisiting the churches that he had started.
He went back to Philippi.
He went back to Thessalonica.
He went back to Berea.
He went back to Apollonia, Amphipolis, and Corinth.
Finally, he arrived in Greece where he stayed for three months. (v.3) While there he most likely revisited Corinth. Maybe even Athens. After those three months (most likely winter months where sailing is discouraged), Paul was about to sail for Syria, but because some Jews had plotted against him, he decided to go back through Macedonia. (v.3) Whether they were plotting to throw him overboard, sink the ship, or get him really drunk on rum in order to convince him to walk the plank, Paul found out and was kept safe.
Again, tragedy avoided.
In fact, Paul safely returns through all those cities to Philippi and from there he crosses the sea back to the Middle East and gets to Troas.
It’s not far now.
It’s should be a smooth journey, right?
Home is just around the corner.
And it’s there that tragedy strikes.
Today we’re going to learn about that tragedy that hit close to home. Then, we’ll learn how Jesus helps us through tragedy. 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 Tragedy
The lesson starts in verse 7. It says, “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.”
Read that again.
The disciples came together on the first day of the week. That’s a Sunday. It’s neat to note that Christians are gathering together, not on a Saturday like they did in the Old Testament, but on a Sunday. The same day of the week that Jesus rose from the dead. It’s also shortly after Passover. Just it was shortly after Passover that Jesus rose from the dead.
As they gathered, they were planning to break bread. That’s a reference to a fellowship meal. A 1st century potluck. Complete with Mazza balls, lamb casserole and (if it’s anything like our potlucks) about 17 different kinds of dessert.
But before they could get to the meal, Paul began preaching. Since it was the dinner hour, that the gathering probably started happening somewhere around 6pm. During that first hour, people greeted each other, the fellowship team arranged the meal, and the musicians warmed up on their instruments.
That means Paul would have began his sermon about an hour later, around 7pm.
Five hours later?
He’s still talking.
Insert joke about sermon length here.
One person there that evening was a young man named Eutychus.
That’s impressive. Because most young people in Troas would be focused on other things in the evening:
Spending their money at local establishments.
Getting home to their families.
Going out to eat with a young woman so that he might one day have a family.
But Eutychus was at church.
In the evening.
Since it was their version of Monday, he was probably tired and ready for a nap at home. But he didn’t want to miss seeing the Apostle Paul one last time before he left so…
Eutychus attended the gathering.
He greeted other church members.
He let his elders have the seats in the front.
He let the women with children have seats in the back.
He stood near the back, excited to listen to what Paul had to say.
And that’s what he did.
For fifteen minutes.
An hour fifteen minutes, an hour thirty minutes, two hours.
Eutychus started fanning himself:
Why is it so hot in here?
Probably all those lamps.
I mean…it makes it easier to see at night, but they are torches. It’s like there’s fifteen mini bonfires in this room.
Eutychus made his way over to the breeze of the nearest open window.
Two hours and two and a half hours.
Three hours, forty-five minutes.
My legs are started to get tired.
I’ve been up on them all day at work.
It’ll be ok. I’ll just sit on this window ledge right here.
Four and a half hours.
Suddenly, Eutychus started to get rather sleepy.
Paul’s words sounded so far away.
He was sure if he had just mentioned the Gospel or the Blospel…
Maybe, he’d close his eyes.
Just for a second.
He could still listen to his words.
He could still hear his sermon.
He could still…
When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story… (v.9)
And suddenly, there was a commotion.
What was that?
I think someone fell.
From on the ground.
Nope from the window.
Who was it?
I don’t know.
I didn’t see.
It’s Eutychus! That’s where he was sitting.
And they rushed down the stairs.
And they rushed out the building.
And they rushed to his body.
And they tried CPR.
And they felt for a pulse.
Meanwhile, Paul was up in the front of the room where he had been preaching.
His heart was racing.
And then he heard it:
He’s dead! Eutychus is dead!
Paul rushed to the door.
He ran to the steps.
He looked at Eutychus’ now limp body.
Oh God! This is a tragedy.
Oh God this is…
Now I don’t know exactly what happened next.
Did Paul speak any words?
Did Paul say prayer?
I don’t know exactly what Paul did next.
We do know what Eutychus did next:
“Don’t be alarmed,” Paul said. “He’s alive! (v.10)
II. Dealing with Skeptics
This account is amazing! A young man falls to his death in the middle of worship. But when Paul gets down to the body without performing CPR, without a defibrillator, without hitting his chest repeatedly in desperation…Eutychus lives! It’s a miracle.
Granted. You might be skeptical about this.
If you tried this with a dead ant out on your driveway, it wouldn’t work.
In fact, a Google search for Eutychus, will lead to some scholarly articles that propose an alternative. They write that: (1) Eutychus never died. He just got knocked out. (2) Paul simply got him out of his stupor, because someone dying and coming back to life is IMOPSSIBLE.
But there are quite a few things in the text that defend against that interpretation:
(1) The Number of Witnesses
Back to the mapwork section. In verse 4, there’s an interesting list. It’s a list of all the different people who are now accompanying Paul on his missionary journey. This list is interesting because it’s a where’s where of places Paul has shared the Gospel:
Sopater…from Berea, the place where the people studiously God’s Word.
Secundus from Thessalonica, the place where persecution was quite intense.
Gaius from Derbe who along with Aristarchus had been dragged through the streets of Ephesus during the riot.
Timothy from Lystra who joined Paul all the way back at the beginning of the second missionary journey.
Tychichus and Trophimus from the province of Asia…representing the various churches of the Galatians.
That’s seven men in all who present in that upper room.
Add in Eutychus for eight.
Then, verse 7 says that Paul was speaking to “the people”. If it would have been just these seven guys, the writer would have said the disciples. By choosing the word “people”, the writer reflects the fact that there were more than these eight. In fact, there were so many that Eutychus had to sit on the ledge of the window.
Here’s the point:
Fooling the whole crowd into thinking that Eutychus had resurrected when he never really died in the first place would have been very challenging with so many present.
Especially since, the crowd got there first.
(2) Logistics of a Lecture
Notice how our church is setup. The pastor is in the front. You all are facing me. The doors to exit the place are closest to you, the audience. I am the farthest from the common exits. It’s the same in most churches and lecture halls.
So, it is easy for someone to slip out without causing much of a disturbance. If a mom is quieting a child or someone needs to use the restroom, leaving from the back is so much easier than having to leave through the front and walking right by the pastor in the middle of the sermon.
Can you imagine reversing it? (Leaving worship would soon be the “walk of shame.”)
It would have been the same way for Paul’s speech. Even though the room may not have been any kind of lecture hall, they still would have setup the room so that Paul was farthest from the door so that the people could easily come and go if needed.
Why is this important?
Because Paul was not the first to get to Eutychus.
The people were.
He couldn’t trick them into thinking Eutychus was dead, when he really wasn’t.
In fact, some get to Eutychus and pick him up “dead” in verse 9 and it isn’t until verse 10 that Paul “goes down” to see him.
Paul couldn’t have tricked them.
And that really solidifies when you consider one more thing
(3) The Presence of Dr. Luke
Back to the group of missionaries with Paul. I left one out. It’s subtle, but it’s there. Verse 6 says, “We sailed…to Troas.” The “we”? That’s a reference to the man who wrote down the book of Acts. It wasn’t Paul, but a man named Luke. Luke had joined Paul’s missionary crew in Mysia. He travelled with Paul throughout missionary journey two and three. Paul even references Luke in some of the letters that he writes to the various churches.
Look at what he reveals about Luke in Colossians:
Our dear friend Luke, the doctor…” (v.4:14)
Did you catch that?
Do you see the significance?
Luke knew how to look for a pulse.
Luke knew how to check for breathing.
Luke knew how to identify a dead person.
I guarantee that Luke was one of the first people down to check on Eutychus.
And he was one of the first people to say: “There’s nothing we can do. He’s dead.”
“Time of death: 12:16am”
In fact, when Paul had stones thrown at him Lystra on his first missionary journey, the crowd left when they saw him fall to the ground in a clump. Luke wrote that Paul was dragged out of the city and that the Jews were “supposing that he was dead” (Acts 14:19).
Here’s the point: if Luke wanted to present the idea that the believers in Troas merely “supposed” that Eutychus was dead, he could have written that.
But he didn’t.
Because he was dead.
Until he wasn’t.
Because of Jesus.
Stop being skeptical. The miracle was real.
III. Transforming Tragedy
Jesus really transformed the situation. He really transformed the tragedy.
(1) Jesus Transforms Tragedy into Celebration.
Look at what happens next:
Then Paul went upstairs again. He broke bread and ate. (v.11a) Which...praise the Lord, the potluck food is finally being eaten. At least by Paul, probably by anyone else who didn’t want to be rude and hadn’t eaten while Paul was speaking. After the tragedy of falling out a window, people aren’t sobbing and crying tears, but laughing and eating some potluck eclairs! Jesus transformed the situation so that now they’re having a dinner party.
Jesus still transforms tragedy into celebration even today.
Because Jesus said that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (Jn. 3:16)
Just to prove his power to make that promise, Jesus brought people like Eutychus back to life.
But better than that:
Jesus brought himself back to life.
He died on the cross.
Hundreds of people watching his bloody, lifeless body taken down from the cross.
No one! Not a single person stopping to say: “Wait, he’s just knocked out.”
Nope. He was dead, dead. Dead, dead, dead.
Dead enough to be wrapped up in clothes and placed in a grave.
Three days later,
Jesus came back to life.
Jesus has power over life and death.
He provides believers with eternal life even when they die.
It’s why at the last funeral that we had here at Gethsemane.
And people were feeling sad.
And people were thinking it was a tragedy.
But then, we read the Gospel.
Then, we heard about Jesus promises.
Then, we remembered that our dear brother was in heaven above residing in eternal life.
And suddenly, people are in the fellowship hall, talking, laughing, swapping stories and in general, celebrating!
Because Jesus transformed tragedy into celebration.
(2) Jesus Enables ministry to Keep Going…Even when Tragedy Strikes.
Because sometimes when tragedy happens, life comes to a stand-still.
Even during lesser tragedies! Like Spiderman. This past week Sony Pictures and Marvel/Disney ended their deal working together. As of right now, Spiderman cannot appear in the MCU anymore.
And…tragedy. People are on social media like HOW CAN I MOVE ON!?!
The same is true for bigger tragedies.
They need a moment to process.
And to be fair, for a moment that evening in Troas, Paul stopped his sermon. The people stopped listening. Everyone needed to process.
But once Jesus brought Eutychus back to life, Paul grabbed some food and continued doing ministry. He kept talking until morning. (v.10b) Then, he set off for the next stop on the missionary journey.
Jesus enables ministry to keep going even during tragedy.
He gives us comfort.
He gives us joy.
He keeps us uplifted and implores us to keep sharing the Gospel.
In fact, the fact that tragedy happens doesn’t decrease the need for ministry;
It increases the need for ministry.
Because awful things happen in this sin filled world.
Racial hate crimes.
Hurricanes, car accidents, and horrific illness.
Somewhere something horrible happens every day.
That doesn’t mean we should run and hide.
But we need run and tell.
About the God who saw the sadness of tragedy.
About the God who saw the tragedies of this world.
About the God who saw the tragedies in your life.
And didn’t run from it.
But to it.
He came into this tragic world and died on the cross.
To rescue us from the tragedy of death.
To transform tragedy into celebration.
Through your message of the Gospel, he transforms the tragedies of others into celebration.
That’s our job.
That’s your job.
Whether it’s your child, your spouse, your friend, your neighbor, your coworker, or your followers on social media.
Because tragedy exists, God calls you to increase your ministry and share the message of Jesus.
(3) Jesus brings GREAT Comfort
That’s the final verse of the account. It says that after Paul left, “The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.” (v.12) Because that evening, they heard about God’s grace for sinners and saw his power over death.
That message of Jesus still brings great comfort even today.
Even amid horrific tragedy.
This past week Monday I was on social media, because sometimes as a pastor of a small medium sized church you’re in charge of social media. So, I was sitting there trying to plan (what kind of posts should we have this week) when I came across a post from a friend’s account that shocked me.
It was from a former Precious Lambs’ parent. One that had been a part of our preschool family a while back. We had ministered to her. Talked with her. Shared the Gospel with her. The kid sang in worship. The parent attended, even got their phone out to record his dancing while he was singing.
I enjoyed them.
On Monday, I saw a Facebook post that said she had passed away.
Son of around 3rd grade.
She passed away.
When I looked closer at the post, I had seen that the one posting was her son.
He was writing from her account.
He had posted a picture of him and his mom and he had written this:
“I’m sorry to say that my mom is gone. But she is in heaven now. Thank you, Jesus.”
Are you kidding me?
I’m tearing up as I’m reading about the tragedy.
I’m tearing up as I’m thinking about the tragedy.
This young man? He’s found comfort.
Great comfort in his Savior.
May Jesus be the one who gives you great comfort, too. Amen.
ACTS, All Powerful, Atheism, Attitude, Authority, Believe, Christian Living, Church, Comfort, Education, Faith, False Teachings, Impossible, North Raleigh, Raleigh, Repentance, Seriousness, Sin, True Heart, Urgency
Today we are continuing our walk through the second missionary journey of the Apostle Paul. Before we study God’s Words, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. About Athens
Last we left Paul, he had been in Thessalonica sharing the Gospel and he was run out of the city by a mob of people that had a volatile reaction to the message of Jesus. From there he went to Berea, where the people were of noble character and examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:1-11)
But after Paul was in Berea for a while, Acts 17:13 says: When the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the Word of God at Berea, they went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. They found out where Paul would be preaching. They marched around shouting “Down with Paul.” They held signs that had a picture of Paul’s face with a mustache drawn on it.
In response, the mission team split up. Since the believers and church in Berea were still young in faith, Silas, Timothy, and Luke stayed behind to teach them, meanwhile, Paul, the main guy the crowds were protesting, went to the next city by himself. The next city was called Athens.
A bit about Athens:
Athens had been a key city state in that Greek empire. It was a place for thinkers and movers. It was the birthplace of democracy. It was the home of Plato, Aristotle and many other philosophers. It had been important to Alexander the Great and it was still important under the Roman empire. It was artsy. It was academic. It was scholarly.
It was filled with idols.
While Paul was waiting…in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. (v.16)
Idols in the temples.
Idols on the street corners.
Idols at work.
Idols at home.
Idols at lunch.
Idols at breakfast.
Idols at dinner.
Idols at the local restaurant.
Idols at the museum.
Idols at the sports arena, the fishing harbor and the laundromat.
It almost sounds like Dr. Seuss:
Idols, idols in a box.
Idols, idols with a fox.
Idols, idols here and there.
Idols, idols everywhere!
For Paul, this was strange. Athens was supposed to be a place of wisdom. Yet, here were all these wise people bowing down to worship tiny, stone statues.
So, Paul spoke: He reasoned in the synagogue and in the marketplace. (v.17) He told them about Jesus. He told them about the Savior.
While Paul was there two different groups of people heard him speak:
One group was Epicurean. The Epicureans followed the philosophy of Epicurus who lived from 341-270 B.C. His philosophy was that there was no afterlife. The gods existed but didn’t really care what humans did. They were too busy with the own affairs to care. Their slogan: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!”
The other group was Stoic. The Stoics followed the philosophy of Zero who lived from 340-265 B.C. He had the perspective that you had to do more than waste your life away. The gods put people here for a reason and that reason was to work. It was the highest form of pleasure to work (and to do so every day). Their slogan was a bit different: “Eat, Drink, and do work, for tomorrow…we do more work.”
These two philosophies were common opponents.
It was blue-collar worker versus free thinking hippie.
It was the constant busyness of Wall Street versus the laid-back jazz of Bourbon Street.
It was “Whatever man” versus “Get to work, man.”
They were common opponents.
But when Paul came to town, these common opponents had a common enemy:
What do you mean there’s more to life than pleasure?
What do you mean there’s more to life than work?
They asked: “What is this babbler trying to say?”…And they took Paul to the Areopagus. (v.19)
The Areopagus was the place for new ideas. It was named after the god of war: “Ares.” His name literally meant: “Hill of the war god.” It was an appropriate name for the place where people would go to battle for their new ideas against some of the brightest minds of the ancient world.
That is the reason that they brought Paul to the Areopagus.
They wanted him to battle for his new idea.
They wanted him to go to war for Jesus.
And Paul did.
II. About the Unknown God
Paul began his sermon:
Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. (v.22)
You have gods for everything.
A god of the sun.
A god for the moon.
A god for the sea; a god for the land.
A god for love; a god for war.
You even have a god for beer!
In fact, as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I…found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. (v.23)
You covered your bases.
Just in case you missed some god, you made him an altar.
Here’s the thing:
What you worship as unknown…
…I am going to proclaim to you… (v.23)
For starters, the Unknown God is not in HUMAN BUILT DWELLINGS.
He doesn’t reside in some epic stone arena.
He doesn’t kick up his feet in some tiny, jewel studded mausoleum.
You won’t find him down on 71st and Elm at a corner apartment with a jacuzzi and a view of the city.
He isn’t like Athena. The goddess for whom you built your city and for whom you built that gigantic Parthenon.
With its impressive columns.
And marble grandeur.
The Unknown God?
He doesn’t need that.
The Unknown God…
He made the world and everything in it does not live in temples built by hands. (v.24)
And he isn’t IN NEED OF SERVICE.
I’ve seen how ya’ll run about.
If things don’t go well for you. Maybe you lost your job.
Here’s what you do:
You go to the marketplace, buy a couple of apples, you run to the temple of Athena and place them on a silver bowl.
Maybe you lost your job because Athena was hungry.
The Unknown God isn’t like that.
He is not some pet that you need to feed.
He doesn’t need to be taken for a walk.
He doesn’t need you to scratch him behind the ears so that he’ll be pleased with you.
The Unknown God is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all people life and breath and everything else. (v.25)
He’s all powerful.
But he isn’t ALOOF.
He’s not like Zeus, King of the gods. He isn’t up on Mount Olympus having a banquet with fine wines and beautiful goddesses, throwing grapes down his throat and afterwards gathering with Ares and Poseidon for a couple of rounds of Wii Bowling.
He doesn’t say: “Eat, drink…I don’t care if you’re passed out in a ditch tomorrow morning.”
Nor does he say: “Work; work…I don’t care if you’re stressed out all week long.”
The Unknown God is not aloof.
Because listen to this:
He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. (v.26)
Did you hear that?
He made you.
He cared about you.
He placed you here.
He placed you now.
He determined your steps to take you to this exact moment.
Because he is not WANTING TO REMAIN UNKNOWN.
That’s why he did this.
That’s why you’re all gathered here in the Areopagus.
God brought you here.
God brought you now.
That you might seek him and perhaps reach out to him and find him, though he is not far from each of us. (v.27)
Finding God is what you want, isn’t it?
You’re here to find God.
It’s why you discuss the latest ideas.
It’s why you reason out the latest thoughts.
It’s why you talk about the latest meditations and popular trends for fasting.
It’s why you have been doing this day after day after day…
All in hopes that you will find God.
That desire to find God? It comes from God.
That mind for finding God? It comes from God.
Do you know what else comes from God?
And pay attention.
Because this message is important.
The Unknown God is NOT PATIENT FOREVER.
For a long time, God has been.
Think about it:
You’ve been worshiping rocks.
You’ve been bowing down to stone.
You’ve been shouting the praises of pieces of paper covered in glitter.
All the while the Lord is the one who created you, made you, sustains you, and nourishes you.
You’re giving thanks to a pet rock?
God has been patient.
He’s hasn’t struck you down yet.
In the past, God has overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. (v.30-31a)
You won’t be judged by some stone.
You won’t be judged by some rock.
You won’t be judged by some imperfect Mount Olympian with questionable morals who’s in a romantic relationship with some half-man, half-horse.
You will be judged by the Universe Creating, Almighty, Eternal, invested in your life, knowing everything about your life, God himself.
He will judge you.
All your sins.
God will judge you.
And he’s got Holy Fire in his eyes.
How do you think you’ll be judged if you’ve been worshiping rocks?
And you want proof?
This is not UNPROVEN.
Because that man that will judge the world for God?
He’s his Son.
He’s a guy named Jesus.
And God has given proof that Jesus will judge.
What kind of proof?
He did the one thing that Zeus couldn’t do.
He did the one thing that Aphrodite couldn’t do.
He did the one thing that your dear Athena couldn’t do.
He did the one thing that you and all your wisdom could never figure out how to do.
He raised Jesus from the dead. (v.31b)
III. WHAT NOW?
And it was right about that time, that the people stopped Paul from speaking. They said, “We’ll have to see more about this some other time.”
They let him go.
They didn’t throw him in prison.
They “tolerated” his message.
But…they didn’t believe it.
Don’t just tolerate the message of Jesus.
(1) Stop Searching
The other day I was down near the capitol building and I hear some music. On the north side near the street was a group of people. They were dressed in full religious garb. They had on jewels and bangles. They were playing tambourines and acoustic guitars. And as they were dancing, they were chanting a phrase: “Hare Krishna.”
Have you heard of it?
It’s a stranger type of religion made popular by John Lennon. The tenet is that the best way to connect with God is through music. Specifically – through playing the music to and chanting the words “Hare Krishna.” Through singing and chanting, you become centered in God. You become one with God. You find God…. (And the Beatles make some money as you buy their album).
Whether it’s musical chant.
Doing good work after good work after good work.
People are in search of God.
And maybe you are, too.
But you know what?
You can stop searching.
God’s right here.
God is Jesus.
That’s one of the reasons the resurrection happened!
It’s like one of those nighttime cyclists who is wearing neon green with flashing lights on his vest. He’s bright. He’s colored. He’s put his outfit together in such a way so that you don’t miss him!
The resurrection is like that.
It’s the Unknown God’s way of saying to you:
Here I am!
Don’t miss me.
I have made myself known.
I am Jesus.
I am your Savior.
I am your Redeemer.
And my message is this:
Repent means “to turn.”
To turn from sin.
To turn to God.
Whether you are a first-time hearer of this message or a long-time listener.
We are sinners who need to hear this message from God.
Turn from that sin.
You know the one I’m talking about.
Turn from that sin.
God knows the one I’m talking about.
Turn from that sin.
God isn’t stone who couldn’t possibly know…
Turn from that sin.
God is the Unknown God who knows you so deeply.
Turn from sin.
And turn to God to be saved.
Because when you turn to the Unknown God…
When you turn to Jesus…
Something else becomes unknown…
God, who KNOWS all of your sins, says your sins are now UNKNOWN, because he KNEW the cross and you KNOW his resurrection from the grave that the God who was formerly UNKNOWN is now KNOWN by you and who says:
I KNOW you.
Today we are looking at the final sermon in our EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS sermon series. It is based on the final time Jesus appeared to his group of disciples.
Have you counted up the appearances so far?
How many are there?
The other women.
The Emmaus Disciples.
The group of disciples on Easter.
The group of disciples - plus Thomas – one week later.
The group of disciples on the fishing trip.
That’s six accounts so far.
But that’s not all of them.
There’s another time that Jesus saw Peter – one-on-one. (1 Cor. 15:5)
There’s a time that Jesus appeared to a guy called James – either the disciple or Jesus’ half-brother. (1 Cor. 15:7)
There’s a time where Jesus gives his disciples the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19-21)
There’s a time that Jesus appeared to more than 500 disciples all at one time (1 Cor. 15:6)
There’s even a time when Jesus appears to a guy named Saul who was hell-bent on destroying Christianity, but Jesus’ appearance transforms his heart into a guy named Paul who goes on 4 missionary journeys, starts 20 churches, and writes 13 books of the Bible (Acts 9).
If you were counting – that’s 11 different appearances to over 500 different people.
The resurrection is not made up.
It is REAL.
But if so…maybe you still struggle with this.
Because would it be so much easier if you could SEE Jesus?
If you could take a trip to the Holy Land and get a selfie with him?
If you could check out his Twitter handle for his perspective on any cultural situation?
If you could text him every time you had a question on a Bible passage…
Why did Jesus leave?
Why did he disappear?
Today’s EYEWITNESS account is the 12th recorded account in Scripture. It is the last one that occurs before he physically disappears. Today we want to learn (1) where Jesus went (2) why he disappeared (3) and what he wants us to do in the meantime. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The “Disappearance”
The lesson we are looking at to begin with comes from Luke 24:50-51: When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.
Timeline wise this is the 40th day after Easter. We find that out from Acts 1 – which is an expanded version of this same exact account.
Note that this final appearance starts with Jesus leading his disciples. That’s appropriate. He had led his disciples for 3 years. He had led him the last 40 days. He would lead them up until his last day on earth. In fact, that’s literally what disciple means: “follower.”
And he led them to Bethany. Bethany is a small town just to the east of Jerusalem. The city is the place where Jesus commandeered the donkey for his entrance into Jerusalem. In this instance, they are just outside of Bethany where a few hills are located.
And as they get to the top of the hill…
He disciples his disciples just like he had done so many times before.
Unlike so many times before…
His feet go up.
They lift off the ground.
And his body begins floating.
And he goes up.
And up. Until…
A cloud hid him from their sight.
Do any of you know who Criss Angel is? He’s like a tattooed, goth version of David Copperfield. He is famous for street magic.
One of the tricks that he did was he began to levitate in the air. Mind you – this is on the sidewalk, in the street, apart from a magician’s stage.
I thought that was amazing.
There’s a YouTube video of him explaining the trick. Essentially, he is wearing a special pair of pants that (1) break away in the front (2) have a mannequin’s foot attached to the back of it. This enables him to plant his real foot on the ground, balance, and go into a squat that makes it look like he is beginning to float parallel to the ground. The rest is misdirection and camera positioning.
And voila! Magic.
Jesus’ ascension is not a magic trick.
He isn’t floating on a false leg.
There isn’t camera misdirection.
He doesn’t hitch a ride on a hot air balloon, a jet pack or even a drone.
He goes all the way up to the sky
Without any strings attached.
Until he is hidden by a cloud.
This is a miracle!
This is Jesus’ ascension.
Jesus didn’t disappear; he ASCENDED into heaven.
This is a really important distinction.
Because if Jesus disappeared – we’re left confused and frightened.
But Jesus didn’t just disappear.
He ascended to heaven.
That word is really important. If any of you watched Game of Thrones – and I haven’t – but I think I can reveal this without giving a spoiler. I heard that at the end someone conquers all of the other people and ascended to the throne. He wins the Game of Thrones. He ascended to his position of power.
He did it because the struggle was over!
Jesus ascended because He conquered sin.
Jesus ascended because He conquered guilt.
Jesus ascended because He conquered shame.
Jesus ascended because He conquered death.
Jesus ascended because the work of salvation was completed.
That’s so important to remember!
Because Jesus’ whole purpose on earth was to defeat all of our spiritual enemies.
If he ascended to heaven? That’s because his work is done.
Remember that – it’s really easy to think:
I’ve got more to do.
I’ve got to become the perfect mom.
Jesus weakened sin, guilt and shame – but I have to finish them.
There’s even churches out there that preach – you’ve got more to do!
You’ve gotta get to perfection.
You’ve gotta improve.
You’ve gotta do some things to complete Jesus’ work for him.
Jesus doesn’t leave tasks unfinished.
Jesus always completes.
And Jesus completed completely conquering your sin.
If he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have left!
Jesus ascended where he rules over all.
Ephesians says this: “He raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” (1:20-21)
Did you hear that?
The one who loves you more than you could ever dream is in control of all things.
He’s ruler over cities, counties, and states.
He’s ruler over kings, despots, and presidents.
He’s ruler over wind, waves, and the hot temperature outside right now!
He’s is ruler over all things!
Nothing’s more powerful.
Nothing can defeat him.
There’s one more place that he would love to rule:
I went to McDonald's the other day with a coupon for a free meal that someone had given me. After I ordered Value Meal number seven, I handed them the card and the person said: “Just a second. I can’t authorize this.”
She called over her coworker who looked at the card and said: “We need a manager to authorize this.”
She called over a shift manager who looked at the card and said: “I’m sorry. I can’t authorize this.”
She called over her manager who looked at the card, entered the code and authorized it.
It’s the same thing with life.
We want peace.
We want joy.
We want courage.
And we try to find it from all the things that don’t have the authority to give it:
Things like lust.
Things like greed.
Things like money, fame, career…a desire to be perfect!
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” (Colossians 3:15)
Because Christ is God.
Christ is the one true ruler.
Christ offers true peace.
And Christ also offers us direction.
II. Our Mission
Because if the boss leaves and you don’t know what to do, it can be stressful:
Should we finish the reports?
Should we work on new clients?
Should we try to recover old ones?
UGH! Maybe we should just drink all of the coffee.
Christ didn’t leave us unclear with what to do. Look at what he told his disciples before his ascension:
Jesus told his disciples, “This is what is written (that’s a reference to Old Testament prophecy.) The Messiah will suffer (Jesus suffered) and rise from the dead on the third day (Jesus did), and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”(That hadn’t happened yet…)
But then look at what Jesus says next:
“You are witnesses of these things.” (Lk. 24:46-48)
Do you get it?
The final part of God’s plan is bringing the message of forgiveness to everyone.
And while all the other parts happened through Jesus…
This is the part that happens through you:
Before being UPLIFTED, Jesus commanded us to UPLIFT.
You don’t need to be confused about your task on this earth.
You see a coworker who is down? Approach them, listen to them, and share the message of Jesus.
Tucking your kids in for the night? Tuck them in, kiss their forehead, and share the message of Jesus.
Have a spouse who doesn’t believe? Go home, give them a hug, and share the message of Jesus.
Serve in ministry here at school? Do the lesson plans, cut out the art project, and share the message of Jesus.
Serve in leadership here at church? Think about funding, consider maintenance, but don’t forget our goal is to SHARE THE MESSAGE OF JESUS!
But don’t think you have to do it alone.
“I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” More specifically in Acts: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you….” (1:8)
Ten days later.
The disciples are in Jerusalem just like Jesus told them to be.
There’s the sound of a hurricane like wind without the wind coming from within the room they are staying.
They look around and they see tongues of fire appear on the top of each other’s heads.
They are able to speak fluently in languages that they have never even studied.
The Holy Spirit was with them.
And they immediately find courage. Because they go out that day and do some sidewalk preaching – in the middle of downtown Jerusalem – with the end result that over 3,000 people are baptized and believe.
The Holy Spirit was with them.
And the Holy Spirit is with you.
Jesus left you with the promise of the HOLY SPIRIT.
By faith, the Holy Spirit is with you and he does the impossible.
He made fire appear on the heads of disciples.
He made them speak in language they never learned.
He made the sound of a hurricane occur without any hurricane winds.
He does the incredible!
The seemingly impossible.
Working through you.
To bring others to faith!
But that’s not all.
Look at verses 49-50 of Luke 24:
When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, Jesus lifted up his hands and blessed them.
Throughout Scripture, whenever Jesus’ hands are involved, there are some amazing blessings:
In Luke 13 he lays his hands on a woman who had never been able to straighten her back…and instantly she did.
In Mark 7, he lays his hands on a man who is deaf and mute and…instantly he hears and speaks.
In Mark 8, he lays his hands on a blind man’s eyes and…instantly he sees.
In Mark 6, it simply says, “He laid his hands on…sick people and healed them.” (v.5)
Talk about blessings.
And then, there’s the final blessing that pours from his hands.
He heads to a cross.
They take his hands and nails them.
And then blood flows forth.
But not just blood.
Jesus left, but left us with BLESSINGS pouring from his HANDS.
Even though you can’t see his hands.
Even though you can’t touch them.
The truth is no less true.
The blessings are no less real.
It’s one of the reasons that pastors for centuries have continued this tradition. Using the words of Scripture – God’s Word – they lift up their hands. They communicate God’s blessings on the congregation. They say: “The Lord bless you and keep you.”
This is more than just wishful thinking.
This is God’s real blessing given to you.
III. What Now?
I think that if you were a passerby and saw the aftermath of the Ascension, you might have laughed.
Because there were 20 some dudes.
Eyes lifted upwards.
Staring into the cloud.
Gazing into the sky.
Mouths dropped wide open.
And this continued…
A tap on the shoulder:
“The angel said, ‘Why do you stand there staring up into the sky? This same Jesus who left you…will come back in the same way you saw him go into heaven.’” (Acts 1:10)
In other words:
You have a job to do.
Stop looking into heaven.
And start looking around.
Don’t you see…?
There are souls who need this message.
Souls in your office.
Souls at the garage.
Souls in your neighborhood.
Souls in your kid’s room.
Souls in your kitchen.
Souls in the easy chair across from you while watching Netflix tonight.
Everywhere you look there is work that needs to be done!
What a privilege God wants to work through YOU!
Keep your eyes on the task that Jesus has given you
Be a WITNESS of the EYEWITNESS truth of your Risen Savior. Amen.