We are in the middle of our sermon series on Acts. In this series we have been to a lot of different places and learned a different lesson in each place. Today we’re getting a potpourri of lessons from one place and all on hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy comes from the Greek word “hypokrusis.” The word was used in Greek theater. It meant: “to play a part,” which, in Greek theater, often meant “wearing a mask.” It’s a part of theater still today – specifically known as the Marvel Big Screen.
Chris Evans dons a mask and becomes Captain America.
Chadwick Boseman dons a mask and becomes Black Panther.
Evangeline Lilly dons a mask and becomes The Wasp.
Hypocrisy, then, is when someone claims to be one thing, when they are not.
Before we begin our study of hypocrisy, 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. One Kind of Hypocrisy
The lesson from Acts 19 is the first big stop on Paul’s 3rd missionary journey. Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. (19:1a) Ephesus was the Capital of the Ancient province of Asia and a bustling commercial center. Paul had briefly been there at the end of the 2nd missionary journey. Before he left, he promised to return if God allowed. Paul’s appearance in chapter 19 is a fulfillment of that promise.
When Paul arrives, he finds some disciples. (v.1b) These men claimed to be followers of the Christ. Paul greets them pleasantly. (Maybe with some high fives, jokes about not having rocks thrown at him, and an invitation to go grab lunch at the local Smashburger).
As they are hanging out, Paul asks them some conversational questions:
What’s your favorite worship song?
What do you do to serve at the church?
Do you like your coffee dark or light roast?
Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? (v.2)
The Holy Spirit is absolutely in the heart of all believers. 1 Corinthians 12:3 says, “No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.” It’s simple. It’s clear. If you believe in Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit, because you need the Holy Spirit in order to believe.
But what Paul is talking about here is something different. Early in the history of the Christian church, during key faith-filled events, the Holy Spirit would visibly manifest his presence within a group of believers. This would serve to prove the truthfulness of the Gospel through miraculous signs. It happened at Pentecost (Acts 2) when tongues of fire appeared on the Apostles’ heads as they spoke in languages that they had never learned. It happened again in the house of the Roman Centurion Cornelius (Acts 10). In both instances, God was making it clear that this faith – and the message that this faith was placed in – was a very real and very divine message.
Paul’s question was about whether that had happened with them.
Did you get to speak in tongues?
Did fire appear on your heads?
Did you open your mouth and rainbows started shooting out?
The answer was a bit surprising:
“We hadn’t heard there was a Holy Spirit…” (v.3)
Paul responded, “Wait. What!?! You don’t know the Holy Spirit? He’s a key part of our teachings. He’s the one who brings us to faith. He’s the one who came down on Jesus like a dove. And Baptism! Haven’t you been baptized? Into whose name were you baptized? Because as far as I know…believers are baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the HOLY SPIRIT.”
The men responded, “We were baptized into John’s Baptism, into the name of the Christ who is going to come in the future.”
“OK… The Christ. Good. Did you know he has already come? Did you know he already did his Christ work? Did you know his name?”
And the men looked on at another, shrugged, and replied, “I don’t know…maybe…Bob?”
Divine forehead slap.
Here’s the truth: Sometimes hypocrisy comes from IGNORANCE.
It’s like the time I was at Buffalo Wild Wings and a lady near me was decked out in Tarheel gear as she watched them battle on the football field. A while later, the Tarheels had their quarterback sacked in the end zone. The woman stood up, clapped, and shouted, “Great job! Way to go.”
Until, her friends (also in Tarheel gear) motioned for her to sit down: “Stop cheering. That was a safety. That means its two points for the other team.”
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from IGNORANCE.
Yes, I’m a believer in Jesus…and I believe you can sleep with whomever you want. Does the Bible say differently?
Yes, my social profile says: “Christian”; I like all kinds of quotes from the Bible. Also quotes from the KKK. Is there something wrong?
Yes, I’m a Christian. I’ve been my whole life. But what do you mean when you are talking about salvation by grace? Never heard of it? I thought I’d get to heaven, simply because I was good enough….
Before you say, “But if someone doesn’t know, it’s no big deal.”
Remember that ignorant hypocrisy is still hypocrisy.
It’s still wrong.
If your son winds up and punches your little daughter in the face, you don’t say, “It’s ok. He didn’t know. Let him be.” No! You course correct immediately!
In the same way, it’s still wrong when we say we are followers of Jesus, but then do the opposite of followers of Jesus, even if we simply didn’t know followers of Jesus don’t do that.
There’s a simple cure for this kind of hypocrisy. It’s called knowledge. That’s what Paul gave these men. He said to them in verse 4, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”
Jesus is the Christ.
He lived perfectly when you couldn’t.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins. I saw it with my own eyes!
And the group believes.
They are baptized into Jesus’ name.
And that Holy Spirit that they didn’t know about? He makes himself visibly known. They began to speak in tongues, and they prophesied. (v.6) Visual proof of the invisible truth that their faith in Jesus wasn’t fake; it was real.
The same is true for you. Repent of your any hypocrisy of ignorance.
To do that, look at the truth.
The truth may be that what you’ve been doing is sin.
But the truth also is that you have a Savior.
And in Jesus, you are forgiven.
II. Another Kind of Hypocrisy
But not all hypocrisy is caused by ignorance.
Next Paul entered the synagogue, a place where they studied God’s Word.
He went and spoke boldly there for three months. (v.9a)
You would expect this to produce real believers.
These people wore religious jewelry.
They went to worship.
They knew lots of the Bible.
They knew all the words to all their favorite religious songs.
They knew prayers.
They knew religious logos.
They knew God’s Word.
And yet…when Paul was done speaking…
Some of them were obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. (v.9b)
And think about the hypocrisy of it all:
They studied God’s Word.
They knew God’s Word.
Then, they refused to believe God’s Word.
And even openly mocked God’s Word.
Only to sit around congratulating each other for following that Word that they were mocking.
It’s would be like sitting in the Fellowship Hall after worship and gossiping about another believer not being a very good believer and then congratulating yourselves on being such good believers even though you’re doing things that believers aren’t supposed to do.
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from ignorance; but sometimes hypocrisy comes from obstinance.
In fact, the Greek word there means “hardened.” Tough, rough, impenetrable.
Like a rock. There’s nothing getting through the exterior into the heart of the rock. Try it. You can punch the rock. You can hit the rock with a blow dart. You could try karate chopping the rock. Nothing. Even if you took a hammer to it - that rock isn’t splitting.
The same can happen with people’s hearts.
Even the hearts of long-time Christians.
I know racism is wrong. God is for all people. You should go tell it to those people over there. They’re the racist ones. In fact, that’s how all people like them are!
I know it says that sex outside of marriage is wrong. And I haven’t had it! Look at my purity ring! Now excuse me…the adult film. I uploaded on my iPhone is coming after it’s done buffering.
I know it! Pride is wrong. Preach it pastor! Especially at that guy over there. But don’t you preach it at humble me. There’s nobody humbler than I am.
And God’s Word connects with the heart.
And the heart hardens.
And hypocrisy ensues.
If you are a long-time church goer, take extra warning!
Don’t harden your heart to God’s Word.
And then sit around congratulating yourself for following God’s Word.
Instead of hardening your heart, look at God’s heart.
Because God’s heart was not hard.
His heart was filled with compassion.
His heart was filled with love for you…even when you repeatedly hardened your heart against him.
His heart was not hardened like a rock.
When he hung on that cross…
The soldiers reached up with a spear.
They plunged it into his him.
But softened with love for you.
Even now. Even if you’ve hardened your heart before, listen to his heart for you.
Repent of your hypocrisy.
And do it quickly.
III. All Kinds of Hypocrisy
As Paul continued his ministry, God continued to bless Paul. In fact, look at the amazing things that God did through Paul: Even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul were taken to the sick and their illnesses were cured, and the evil spirits left them. (v.12)
That’s amazing! Paul’s handkerchiefs cured from the flu and his aprons drove out evil spirits. But look at what happened, “Seven sons of Sceva (Which…Listen to the name. It sounds shady. Almost like an evil muppet or something) they went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon possessed. They would say, “In the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” (v.12-13)
To be fair, this doesn’t look hypocritical.
It looks like they are trying to help.
They aren’t ignorant of Jesus’ name. They use it.
They aren’t obstinately opposed to Jesus. God is against demons, too.
Yet, look at what happened.
One day an evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. (v.15)
Do you see the problem?
But God could.
Maybe they weren’t doing this out of love for Jesus.
But out of love for power.
Maybe they weren’t doing this out of love for others.
But out of love for themselves.
They were hypocrites.
Good ones too! It was hard to tell that they were doing anything wrong.
But here’s the truth:
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from ignorance.
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from obstinance.
But hypocrisy is always exposed.
A family member finds out.
A pastor discovers the truth.
Your spouse learns about what you were trying to hide.
Always hypocrisy is exposed.
Even if you successfully hide it from all other human beings, God knows.
God knows and he will expose it.
At the end of time, you won’t be able to hide it.
And he won’t be able to hide his displeasure.
He’ll simply say:
Jesus, I know…
And Paul I know…
Who are you?
IV. What Now?
Therefore, God calls us to repent.
To turn from hypocrisy.
To turn to our Savior.
And the way to do that is to:
(1). Switch Your Mask
We said that hypocrisy is putting on a mask. Covering up our sins with a nice looking, “Christian” façade.
Make me think of Halloween. That’s a time for masks. There’s a wide variety of them at Precious Lambs. I remember there was one kid who made his own mask. It was made of string and paper. The paper covered up…one of his eyebrows. He said: “You don’t know who I am.” And I said: “Uh-huh.”
Hypocrisy? That’s like hiding behind the paper eyebrow mask.
We think it hides our sinfulness from God.
Instead, check out Galatians 3:27
All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
Just like a full-fledged mask, it fully and completely covers up all your sins.
Jesus covers up your obstinance.
Jesus covers up your ignorance.
Jesus covers up your sin so much so that when God looks at you, He only sees – His child.
So much so that God calls us to our second WHAT NOW:
(2). Go Public
Look at the reaction of the people to what had occurred. Many who believed came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. (v.18)
Think about that: Believers gathered in the middle of the city with their arms filled of books that they had been storing in their homes. Books that weren’t about the Bible. Books that were about Satan, witchcraft, and sexual immorality.
It’d be like someone coming to the front of church and making a pile of a raunchy racist DVDs, two illegal drug baggies, and an iPhone loaded with pornographic content.
That’s take courage to do in front of everyone, right?
But they had the courage.
Because they were covered in Christ’s righteousness.
Because they knew they were God’s children.
Because they knew God’s children were serious about getting rid of sin.
Because they knew God’s other children wouldn’t ridicule them, but support them.
They went public with it.
Do the same.
Examine your heart.
Find your hypocrisy
And Go public with it.
Go public with a friend, a pastor, or a family member!
And if someone trusts you enough to publicly confess a secret sin to you, don’t say:
“Just a second while I share what you did on social media.”
Share the Gospel.
Remind them of Christ’s mask.
Help them incinerate whatever it is they are struggling with!
Because in that, God’s Word is spread.
In fact, look at the last verse:
In this way, the word of the Lord spread widely. (v.20)
Because when God’s Word gets us to stop being hypocrites and start being real, then God’s Word really spreads.
If we’re real -- real with God and real with each other -- then the community will notice.
Last week we started our summer sermon series called ACTS: The Early Church Initiative by reviewing the first fourteen chapters of the book of Acts. In it, we learned that a priority for the Early Church was to place the GOSPEL above all else…because in the Gospel, Jesus placed YOU above all else.
Today we are picking up where we left off last year. Which was action packed. Last year we heard about:
Fire appearing on the disciples’ heads.
A paralytic healed.
A Jesus-hater blinded.
A sorcerer converted.
Thousands baptized into Jesus’ name.
And as exciting as those things were, today we’re going to dive into something just as exciting.
Something just as thrilling.
Today we are going to hear about a marvelous, amazing, incredible, action packed…Meeting.
As we go through the events leading up to the first Church Council meeting, pay attention – you’ll see theme of Gospel above all else – running throughout the discussions. Our goal is to learn from that. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Problem
The account is from Acts 15 which begins right at the end of Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey. A journey that was successful. They had brought the message of the Gospel to people living in different countries who had never heard of Jesus.
And when they returned to their home congregation in Antioch Syria – the congregation that sponsored the mission trip – they shared their success!
About Cyprus where the Gospel overpowered the lies of a Satanist.
About Pisidian Antioch where they preached on the streets in front of thousands of people.
About being chased out of the city, mistaken for God, and narrowly avoiding attempted murder.
And about how through it all the Gospel was preached, and hundreds of souls came to faith in the saving message of Jesus.
And the congregation was thrilled.
As the night was winding down, Paul noticed a sign that had been affixed to the congregation’s 1st century version of a bulletin board: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” (15:1)
He went and got Barnabas.
Can you believe what they’re teaching?
This is the church that had convinced me it was by God’s grace apart from any Jewish custom that we’re saved.
A church sponsored OUR mission trip in which we were told to teach - people were saved by God’s grace apart from anything else.
A mission trip on which we taught that people were saved by Jesus apart from anything, anything, anything else.
Over the next couple days, there were heated discussions:
Paul and Barnabas said the Gospel was all about Grace.
The opposing leaders argued that it was about God’s grace…and following Old Testament Jewish Law.
A good portion of the people sat back and nodded in agreement with whomever made the last point.
Finally, they decided to send this question to the leadership of the Christian movement.
“Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.” (v.3)
Because the Apostles were the original twelve, they were the men who had followed Jesus.
Who had been taught by Jesus.
Who had been EYEWITNESESS of the Risen Lord Jesus.
Who had been commission by Jesus to preach the Gospel.
On whom the Holy Spirit had come in a hurricane like sounded, landed on their heads in tongues of fire and taught them languages they never learned.
If anyone knew what the Gospel was really about -- it was them.
II. The Very First Council Meeting
So, the group set off from Syria and headed south to Jerusalem.
As they went, they stopped at other churches where Paul and Barnabas told of the incredible works of God.
About the Gospel overpowering the lies of a Satanist.
About preaching in the streets in front of thousands of people.
About being chased out of the city, mistaken for God, and narrowly avoiding attempted murder.
And about how through it all, the Gospel was preached, and hundreds of souls came to faith in the saving message of Jesus.
And how all the churches were thrilled!
They were excited.
They were excited with how the saving message of Jesus had made its way even to non-Jewish people.
And the excitement continued in Jerusalem.
The Apostles welcomed them.
They hugged them.
They sat down and listened to Paul and Barnabas talk all about their journeys.
They got teary-eyed.
They were ready to sing “Praise God from whom All Blessings Flow” when…
Some…stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” (v.5)
Because in the Old Testament, God required obedience!
Don’t believe me? Read Leviticus. Read Numbers.
They had to be circumcised.
They had to cover their heads.
They had to wear prayer shawls.
And that’s our tradition.
A tradition added to by great men.
A tradition passed down by great men.
Traditions not to eat pork.
Traditions not to eat shellfish.
Traditions not to join in fellowship with anyone who doesn’t follow these traditions.
We’re supposed to drop them?
Centuries of Traditions, gone?
For the sake of some “Dirty Gentiles?”
I don’t think so.
At this Peter stood up.
Peter, the leader of the Apostles….
Peter who had preached a phenomenal sermon on Pentecost:
“Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the Gospel…”(v.7)
Do you remember that?
I was up on the roof doing some meditation when I went into a trance.
In that trance, God gave me a vision of a sheet filled with all kinds of animals.
Animals that we TRADITIONALLY don’t eat.
Food like pork chops, bacon, and oysters on the half shell.
And I said to God, “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
And God said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (vs. 14-15)
And then God repeated this sequence two more times.
And right at the end of it, when I was wondering what it all meant, three men sent by Cornelius, a Roman, stopped at the gate of my house. The Holy Spirit said to me, “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” (vs. 19-20)
I went down to answer. The men were sent here by his master, Cornelius, who had a vision from God – about me being in that house.
Wouldn’t I come to tell about Jesus?
Because that’s was the point of the vision.
God’s message wasn’t just for Jews anymore.
It was a message of Grace for Gentiles…
But you don’t’ have to take my word for it!
Because when I was there and when I preached the message of the Gospel.
The people believed…Something that only happens by the Holy Spirit.
And they began speaking in tongues – a miracle that happens only by the Holy Spirit.
A miracle as proof that this was real faith given by the Holy Spirit.
Guess what!?! That happened in a home that didn’t have any Jewish traditions.
They weren’t circumcised.
They weren’t wearing prayers shawls.
“God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.” (v.8-9)
“Now then, why do you try to test God?” (vs. 10)
Because you might think that you’re testing the Gentiles.
You might think that you’re testing their faith to see if it’s real and if they’re willing to become followers of Jesus.
You’re testing God.
You’re telling him:
“Hey God, I know you said that it’s by grace through faith in Jesus that we’re saved, but…I’m gonna preach the opposite. I want to test how long it takes for you to strike me down with a lightning bolt for teaching the opposite of you.”
Because…think about it!
You’re putting yokes on the necks of these Gentiles.
A yoke just like you put on your donkey.
Something that makes general movement in life much more difficult.
You’re putting yokes on their necks by demanding that they keep all these Old Testament Traditions…
When you couldn’t even keep them yourself.
Avram, look at that prayer shawl. That’s not regulation length.
And Jeremiah, I saw you last Sabbath. That walk was lots longer than the allotted 3000 steps according to our tradition.
And Ezekiel…I’ve got a guy over there who told me that he saw you eating a BLT last week.
And don’t even get me started on the lies, the greed, the lust, the moral failures of each and everyone of you.
Brothers, for centuries, we were under the yoke of a law that we could not keep.
The message of Jesus freed us from that yoke.
Why put that yoke on someone else?
Why not lift that yoke?
We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are. (v.7)
Until eventually, Paul and Barnabas took the opportunity to tell all about what happened on their missionary journey.
About the Gospel overpowering the lies of a Satanist.
About preaching in the streets in front of thousands of people.
About being chased out of the city, mistaken for God, and narrowly avoiding attempted murder.
And about how through it all, the Gospel was preached, and hundreds of souls came to faith in the saving message of Jesus.
When they were done…
James stood up.
James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem.
James, a Jew through and through.
We’ve heard from Peter.
We’ve heard from Paul.
We’ve heard from Barnabas.
But perhaps we need to hear from one more witness.
A witness that’s Jewish.
A witness that’s traditional.
A witness that cannot tell a lie.
The Old Testament Jewish Scriptures:
Amos 9:11-12 says:
“After this I will…rebuild David’s fallen tent.
…17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name.” (Acts 15:16-17)
Grace is grace.
We can’t force them to be Jewish and we don’t need to. And we don’t need to keep these traditions because Jesus fulfilled them all with His perfect life, death and resurrection. God doesn’t require sacrifices anymore!
It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. (Acts 15:19)
Brothers and sisters,
This is the truth.
Grace is grace.
It’s a truth that was discussed in Jerusalem.
By the Apostles of Jesus himself.
They came to a conclusion.
It hasn’t been overruled.
It hasn’t been overturned.
Grace is grace.
It isn’t worked for.
It isn’t earned.
It isn’t given in response to following Old Testament customs.
It isn’t given in response to following human customs.
It’s all about Jesus.
He lived perfectly when you couldn’t.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins.
Forgiveness is yours.
By God’s grace.
III. WHAT NOW?
Therefore, we follow the advice of James, the leader in Jerusalem. Don’t make Grace difficult.
1) For Yourself
How good are you at puzzles?
I can usually handle them if they are 20 pieces or less.
I’m really good if they have an outline for each shape.
I’m especially good at the puzzles for 4 years old and younger.
But I have a friend who is so good at puzzles, do you know what he does?
He flips the puzzles upside down.
He does them cardboard side facing up.
He wants to make it more difficult…
Sometimes I think we do the same thing with grace.
We add in the qualification of “perfection.”
We need to be the perfect mom.
We need to be a stellar dad.
We need to be the best teacher, an incredible provider and the best keeper of Christian customs ever.
We tell ourselves that in order to receive grace we need to follow God’s Laws perfectly.
just to be sure…
…we add in some of our own human customs and laws just to make it really difficult.
Grace is grace.
And because of God’s grace in Jesus, you are forgiven.
Jesus said this, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)
He said that because by grace salvation is yours.
By grace, you don’t have to earn God’s love.
By grace, you already have it.
2) For Others
I was at pastor’s conference this past week. And I was talking to a pastor who was telling me about something that happened to him recently. He had a gentleman join his worship service whom he had been trying to get to come for a long time.
A friend who wasn’t a part of a church.
Who didn’t actively worship and hadn’t known much about Jesus.
As he finally attended worship, the man was moved by the Gospel.
He was emotional as he listened.
He even shouted: “Amen,” at the end of the sermon.
Afterwards, the pastor was excited, and he went to talk to a member of his to share his excitement.
And he said, “Wasn’t it awesome having him join us?”
And the person he told this to simply rolled their eyes and said, “You better talk to him and tell him that we don’t shout AMEN around here. Especially if he plans on coming back.”
Friends, don’t make grace difficult for others.
Don’t add to God’s grace.
Don’t require human things.
Let grace be grace.
Grace for you.
Grace for the people you talk to.
As unyoked children of God, be in the business of unyoking those with heavy burdens to bear.
Because…the Gospel teaches that God placed YOU above all else.
And we, as an extension of the early church, need to place the Gospel above all else.
Over this sermon series, we’ve talked a lot about Fighting Temptation. But…How confident do you feel that you can fight temptation and win?
Today we’re going to study God’s Word and my goal is to teach you why you have every reason in the world to Fight Temptation confidently. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Reasons for Lacking Confidence
The lesson for this morning comes from Isaiah. He was a prophet who lived around 640 B.C. Mainly he preached warnings about what would happen to the Israelites if they didn’t start fighting temptation.
But most people didn’t listen.
God, through Isaiah, even predicted that they wouldn’t listen.
It’s why he prophesied that they would be taken into captivity.
Which…is exactly what happened. In 597 B.C., the Babylonian army ransacked the country of Judah. They destroyed the infrastructure and took hundreds of thousands of Israelites captive as prisoners back to Babylon.
It was then, in captivity, that many of the people began to listen.
They looked back at the prophesies of Isaiah and discovered sections like this:
“Who handed Jacob over to become loot, and Israel to the plunderers? Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned? For they would not follow his ways;
they did not obey his law. So he poured out on them his burning anger, the violence of war. It enveloped them in flames, yet they did not understand; it consumed them, but they did not take it to heart.” (v.24-25)
Can you imagine?
Being in captivity.
We didn’t follow his ways.
We did not obey his law.
We are in flames because of our sinful failures!
I can’t imagine that the Israelites had a lot of confidence.
Just a lot of “if onlys.”
If only I’d listened to God.
If only I had fought back against temptation.
If only I had told that merchant, “No. We don’t need your bejeweled god statues. We worship the one true, invisible God, the Lord.”
If only I had told my wife, “No, we aren’t going to teach our kids that worship isn’t important. We’ll tell them that worship is the most important thing to their eternal relationship with God.”
If only I had told my friends, “No, I’m not going to get drunk with you tonight…then I never would have done a lot of other things that I wish I had never done.”
If only I had told myself, “Get up. Fight these temptations. Stop being complacent and follow your God.”
Then, I wouldn’t be in captivity.
It feels too late.
I’ve failed too many times.
God has abandoned me.
Temptation will always win.
Can you relate?
Maybe your record against temptation isn’t good.
Maybe you keep losing in your personal battle against your personal demons.
Maybe you have a weakness that you’re so ashamed of – you question if you even belong in this church family.
Maybe you feel weighed down by guilt, alone in your battle, like you are in captivity to a particular sin!
Maybe you’ve tried psyching yourself up, waking up in prayer, saying, “Today is the day I beat that temptation,” only…to attempt your day…and…lose.
Maybe you feel alone like you are the only one who is fighting against a particular sin.
And, maybe, all of these thoughts convince you…
That you’ll never win.
That you’ll always fail against temptation.
That you have NO reason to be confident in ever winning again.
If that’s how you think…
II. Confidence from God Himself
Listen to Isaiah 43.
It’s written for God’s people.
It’s written for God’s people in captivity to Babylon.
It’s written for God’s people in captivity to their own sinful choices.
It’s written to God’s people – like you.
And it’s filled with confidence-boosting statements from God himself.
But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isaiah 43:1-3)
Look at those words.
Do you hear God’s voice?
He’s speaking to you.
And giving you all kinds of confidence.
(1) “You are my Creation.”
Look at the first verse. It says, “This is what the LORD says, he who created you, O Jacob; he who formed you, O Israel.” (43:1) It’s not even an actual statement of God yet, but through it, God still communicates something to you.
“You are my creation.”
Over at Precious Lambs, the kids take their artwork very, very seriously. They are proud of their artwork. They love to show off their artwork. They love to show me their artwork. They love to bring artwork home for mom and dad.
And they get really, really upset if they lose their artwork.
There was a girl the other day whose conversation with mom went something like this:
“Calm down. Honey. What’s wrong!”
“You threw my artwork away!”
“Are you sure? I just threw some of the pictures with scribbles on them away.”
“It wasn’t scribbles. It was a picture of a unicorn!”
Kids love their artwork because it’s their artwork.
They created it.
They put it on paper.
Their imagination developed the piece.
The same is true with God and you.
You come from the annals of God’s divine mind.
He thought you up before you ever thought your first word.
He knit you together with his own powerful, yet gentle hands. (Psalm 139:13)
Do you think God will just leave you to suffer?
Do you think God won’t come to your rescue?
Do you think God won’t work tirelessly to get you back even after your own sins have left you feeling like garbage?
(2) “You are Redeemed.”
Verse 2 says this, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.” (Isaiah 43:2a)
Redeem means to “buy back.” To “pay for.” To “purchase again.”
And God has redeemed YOU.
Because yes! We fell to sin.
Yes, we were owned by our guilt.
We were owned by our shame.
We were owned by our addictions.
We were owned by our brokenness.
Jesus came to earth.
He offered the most precious currency of all:
His perfect blood.
Jesus bought you.
Jesus paid for you.
Jesus redeemed you.
You do not belong to your addiction.
You do not belong to your temptation.
You do not belong to your sins.
You belong to God!
It’s like at Sola café: They have this little card at Sola café that if you remember to have it stamped every time you order a drink, the 10th drink is free! Even if you do what I do and order a small coffee, the cheapest thing on the menu, for the other 9 drinks, you can get a large, 6-dollar Caramel Macchiato for FREE. Fully paid for.
You have been fully paid for.
No matter how much sin you have fallen to.
You belong to God – fully and completely.
(3) “I know you.”
God says, “I have called you by name.” (Isaiah 43:2b) That’ s an uplifting truth.
Because it’s easy to feel like you are just a number.
It’s easy to feel as if God’s redemptive power is big and great, but not that personal.
It’s like calling for tech support. And you say, “Hi! I’m Phil calling from Gethsemane Church” and they say, “What’s your equipment ID number?” And you say, “I don’t know that. But I’m from Gethsemane Church, we have an account with you.” And they say, “Equipment ID Number please.” And you say, “I spoke with you about 15 minutes ago? Don’t you remember me?” And they say, “I remember you. You haven’t given me the Equipment ID Number yet.”
God says you are more than an Equipment ID Number to him.
You are you.
He knows your name.
He knows your first name.
He knows your last name.
He knows your middle name.
He knows your nickname.
He knows your maiden name.
He knows your username.
He knows your pet name.
He knows your surname.
He even knows your Superhero name – that you found out from that one Facebook quiz you took way back in 2014.
God knows you.
Personally knows you.
He knows your struggles.
He knows your weaknesses.
He knows the things you’ve told your friends.
He knows the things you’ve told your counselor.
He knows the things you haven’t told your counselor.
He stands beside you.
And whispers: “You have a new name.”
I will call you, “Mine.”
This is why he also whispers:
(4) “I am With You.”
God has Isaiah write this, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:3)
This is a metaphor.
Because in the Old Testament, the Israelite people had once been surrounded by their enemies and a deep, vast sea. They had no where to go! They were as good as dead.
But God was with them.
He split the waters and they crossed through on dry ground – fish and sea weed and currents on each side.
And again in the Old Testament, some men were thrown into a fiery furnace because they didn’t bow down and worship a giant golden statue of the king.
But God was with them.
He kept them safe in the flames so that not a hair, not a thread, not even a little piece of beard was singed in the fire. Neither did they smell of smoke.
And you…when you are surrounded by temptation.
When you feel all alone.
When you think there’s no way out.
When you are terrified of what’s going on in your life.
God is with you.
He will keep you safe.
He will help you out.
He will lead you safely – undrowned.
Victorious over temptation!
And here’s how he does it:
(5) “I am your Savior.”
God has Isaiah write this, “I am the LORD, your God, the holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (v.3)
That same powerful God who defeated split the Red Sea.
That same powerful God who kept the men safe in the furnace.
That same powerful God who died on the cross and saved you from sin – is your Savior.
It isn’t like waiting in the doctor’s office to see your specific specialist about your specific special problem and then someone walks into the room.
You don’t recognize them. You look closely at their name badge and it says: “Intern.”
God is your Savior.
Not your “might be Savior.”
Not your “Try-the-hardest-to-save-but-failing Savior.”
Not even “Everyone else’s Savior.”
No. Your Savior.
Which leads to a very powerful passage. Friends – write this down. Memorize it. Bring it from God’s heart to your heart:
“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions. I will forget your sins and remember your wickedness no more.” (v.25)
God has destroyed your sins so completely that he can’t even remember a single sin.
He can’t even remember that you’ve failed.
He can’t even remember that you’re a failure.
Because of him.
You are a winner.
III. What Now?
Fight like a champion.
And let me tell you:
Champions don’t come on out and let the other punch first.
They come out swinging.
They come out dodging.
They come out with a plan.
Do you have a temptation that you struggle against?
Come out swinging.
Come out dodging.
Come out with a plan.
(1) Come out Swinging
Because too often we are reactive against temptation. We wait for it to strike and hope that we can react when it does.
It’s like coffee. I drink too much.
Maybe…some of you knew that.
But here’s the thing…I know I drink too much yet, I put myself in the same situation each day.
I stay up later than I should.
I don’t have anything to drink until I have my morning coffee.
I hang out for the first hour of every weekday – within about 50 steps of the coffee pot.
No wonder I keep failing.
Why not go on the offensive? Romans 8:13 says: “By the Spirit, put to death the misdeeds of the body.” Don’t just punch them in the mouth or put them in a headlock. The language is stronger. Put them to death!
Talking about my caffeine struggle:
Why not drink 2 glasses of water before the coffee pot gets put on?
Why not go to bed 30 minutes earlier so that I’m not so tired?
Why not tell an entire congregation about it so that they can hold you accountable and tell you to drink a bit less?
Whatever your temptation is, think about it: how can you attack it?
(2) Come out Dodging
But there will be times when temptation blindsides you.
When suddenly you find yourself in situations in which things don’t look good.
When Satan pulls some guerrilla warfare on you.
The Bible tells the story about a guy named Joseph. He worked as a servant in the house of a rich government official. He loved working there. He respected his master. He wanted to keep his job.
One day – the government official’s wife – she developed a crush on Joseph – he was young and handsome – one day when noticed him working in the house when no one else is around. She said to him, “Come to bed with me. Sleep with me. No one is around. No one will know. You’ll be all mine.”
And Joseph said?
“I’m out of here.”
Literally – the Bible says that he runs away.
He dodges the temptation.
Why not do that?
Too often I think we tried to play the hero. We try to put ourselves in situations that we know we fail at – and wait to see if we might beat temptation.
The Bible says differently. 2 Timothy 2:2 says, “Flee youthful passions.”
Don’t hover over the page with all the scantily clad women -- click the “x” and get out of there.
Don’t hang around the coffee pot or water cooler that’s bringing up your favorite gossip. Leave.
Don’t sit at the dinner table, getting angrier and angrier ready to blow your top on your spouse – say, “Honey. Give me a second.” Walk away. Cool down. Don’t sin.
(3) Come out with a Plan
I imagine that’s what the final two teams in the NCAA tournament are doing right now. They are planning how to defeat each other. They are coming up with plays, they are coming up with values, they are getting ready to explain to their teams: “When we are in this situation, do this. When we are in this other situation, do this.”
It would be ludicrous for a team to be in the finals of the NCAA tournament and have their plan be, “I don’t have a plan. Try to win.”
It’s ludicrous for us to attempt to fight temptation without a plan.
Proverbs 14:22 says this, “Do not those who plot evil go astray? But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness.”
Friends, champions make a plan.
In Jesus, you are a champion.
Make a plan to fight against temptation.
If you have a sin that you struggle with…repeatedly, why not come up with a plan?
Why not take a moment and write it up. Literally write it up in a notebook.
Pray about it. Seek God’s wisdom about it. Ask a trusted friend about it. Then, write up your plan.
If you need help in this – I will help you.
So will the others at church.
That’s what I hope you’ll do for others.
Because that’s what church is.
Our goal is to help out, swing, dodge, and plan for your fight against temptation.
Which leads to our final point.
(4) View Yourself as the Champ!
Because it’s so easy to view yourself as nothing more than a sinner.
And to a certain extent that’s important. It leads us to Jesus.
But once we have heard the promise of God’s forgiveness and we leave these walls to battle temptation, it is so important that we see ourselves as God sees us – as winners in Jesus.
It’s like what happens during a basketball game. If you go into the game thinking, “We’ll probably lose because we are losers,” you’ll probably lose.
But if the coach can get you to think you have a chance or even that you’ll win, you have an advantage because you are already in a winning frame of mind.
Friend, you are a winner in Jesus.
Think of yourself as a winner.
Envision yourself squashing the devil and all of his foolish attempts – even if it’s a temptation by which he has squashed you over and over again.
Because you are in Christ.
Christ is in you.
He stomped the devil.
He stomped sin.
He stomped guilt.
He stomped shame.
He stomped death itself when…three days later…
Three days later, he rose from the grave.
Friends, as Christ is the winner, you are a winner.
Fight temptation. Amen.
There are quite a few famous families in the history of mankind.
Take politics. Families like the Clintons and the Bushes have officially etched their names in the history of American politics. Right alongside the earlier versions of the Adams and the Harrisons.
But famous families aren’t relegated to the realm of politics:
The Wright Brothers were known for their incredible invention of the airplane.
The Jackson 5 helped to shape the music scene.
The Baldwins are known for B-level comedy.
What is your family known for?
Think about that for a bit. What is your family known for?
Causing a ruckus at the Olive Garden?
Taking awkward family photos and posting them online?
Always being late for everything?
Is it possible that what you’re known for isn’t exactly what you want to be known for? If so…maybe you need to reexamine your family’s purpose.
Today we’re looking at God’s Word and he’s going to give you and your family – all of us as a Christian family – a Greater Purpose. Before we look at God’s Word, let’s say a prayer:
Strengthen us O Lord by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you want us to believe. Amen.
I. The Purpose of Salt
God teaches us about the purpose of his family in the great Sermon on the Mount. That’s in Matthew 5. This sermon is all about how God’s children who are a part of his family act. I want to focus in on verse 14. It says this, “You are the salt of the earth."
Check that out again. God calls his family “Salt.” Salt is an important part of the cooking experience. Salt makes a risotto taste perfecto. Salt helps Southern cooking taste just right. Salt is a dad’s secret ingredient. Salt even makes lima beans tolerable.
Salt is important because it keeps things from tasting bland. It was the same back then at Jesus’ time as it is now. People didn’t like bland food. Salt makes it taste different.
That’s what God’s family does. God’s family makes this world different.
If it wasn’t for people who loved God, this world would get pretty bland. If you turn on the TV, it already is. Murder after murder after murder. Crime after crime after crime. Hatred after hatred after hatred. Sin after sin after sin after sin after sin after sin after sin.
It’s like our world is stuck on a permanent set of reruns – the same sins over and over and over again.
But Christians are to be different. You are to be different.
Because that’s how God made you – different? Not innately. You were a sinner, too. You were apart from God and against God just like everyone else in this world. But Jesus lived perfectly when you could not. He died innocently in your place. He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of all of your sins. Then, he worked through his Word – through a friend, a family member, a church goer – whoever to bring you to faith. In Baptism he sealed you as a member of his family. He called you his own!
Now he says Live differently. Live the #SaltLife. That’s your purpose. To be different.
Why would you want to be bland? Why would you want to be just like every other family?
A family motivated by getting the latest iPhone and the coolest new car? Dull.
A family filled with filthy language? Boring. Heard it before.
A family Friday movie night watching the same old violent, sexual R rated movies? Seen it so many times, I’d rather sleep.
A family rushing from here to there to do extracurricular after extracurricular but skipping church because that’s more important than God? That’s so generic!
And look at Jesus’ warning. If the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? That’s a real warning. If you spend too much time in the things of this world, you start to lose your saltiness. You no longer have the same flavor you did before. You start to resemble an everyday, ordinary, of this world unbeliever, and then…well... The salt is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
God’s made you for so much more than to be trampled on.
God trampled on Satan that you might trample on him, too.
You are forgiven. Live the Salt Life.
Be the family that reserves Sunday mornings for worship.
Be the family that ends the night with devotion not TV.
Be the family that says prayers instead of swears.
Be the family that follows God’s Word instead of society’s whim.
Be the family that puts God and one another ahead of what society tells you that you should be.
Be salt. Be different.
II. The Purpose of Light
Salt is not the only thing that Jesus calls for us to be. Look at the next verse. 14 You are the light of the world.
Do you know what’s kind of annoying? At our house there isn’t a light switch when you enter the apartment. In order to turn on the light you have to walk into the dining area right in front of the door and pull the little hangy thing that is hanging from the ceiling fan. What’s annoying is that sometimes when you pull it – nothing happens.
That’s because across the way beside the kitchen is a light switch that controls the electricity to that fan. If that light switch is off, the fan doesn’t turn on. So you head over to the light switch, stumble in the dark, trip over a dog bone, and flip the switch – ONLY THE LIGHT DOESN’T TURN ON! Because you just turned it off when you pulled the string!
Light is important. We need it to see, to move, to work, to eat, to live! When you are expecting light and you don’t have it, it’s really disappointing.
Jesus say, You are the light of the world. You have been enlightened. Again -- this isn’t innate! You were born into the darkness of sin like everyone else. But God worked through his Word. He worked through Sunday school lessons and Bible stories. He worked through sermons and Bible readings. He worked through conversations with your family and friends to light up your eyes and help you to see the True God --Jesus Christ – and the True Way to Heaven – Jesus again!
Now. God says it’s your turn. It’s your turn to light the way. It’s your turn to help others see.
Jesus says, A city on a hill cannot be hidden. If it’s up on a mountain side, you see it. You can’t ignore it. It’s like going to downtown Raleigh. You will see the Wells Fargo Tower. It’s big enough. It can’t be missed. And that’s the way it should be when we live our lives! It should be obvious in our families and to our families that we love our Savior Jesus Christ!
Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand and its gives light to everyone in the house!
That doesn’t make much sense does it?
Who of you would go to JC Penney, Sears, and Home Goods, find the perfect lamp, go to Lowe’s for the right brand of LED light bulb, get home, open up the box, read the instructions, put the lamp together, try it out in 5 different spots until it fits the feng shui of the room, then grab a big old tarp and drape it over the lamp?
If you are hiding the fact that you are a Christian, that’s exactly what you are doing. Whether it’s on purpose or self-consciously – you are throwing a big old tarp over the very light that God put into your life – the very light that can guide others to the Light – Jesus Christ!
Don’t do that. Let your light shine.
That’s exactly how Jesus ends this section. He says, 16 In the same way – the same way as the lamp that’s put on a lampstand to do its job – let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
That’s a key point. Because we aren’t living lives of light for our own sake. We aren’t doing it so that we can people will say, “My aren’t they are a grand Christian family!” If that’s the motivation, then we’re still in darkness.
Instead, we live lives of love. We point others to Jesus. We post things about Jesus online. We talk about him at our table. We go to church. We say prayers in restaurants. We put fish on the back of our minivans – so that others might learn about our Savior and have the same comfort in the forgiveness of sins that we have.
III. WHAT NOW?
Why not make this section of God’s Word a motto for your family? Even if you are single – why not make this your motto? “Be light.” “Be salt.’ “Let your light shine.” You could post it on the fridge. Write it in your Google calendar. Talk about it at family dinners. Pray about it with your kids before you go to bed. Ask that question, “How was I a light for God today? How can I be a light for God tomorrow?”
The more this is on your hearts and minds – the more it will be a part of your day to day life.
2. Be the Light In Your Family
Now for some of you – you might be the only light in your family. You may be the only one who knows Jesus’ love. Even if you have a family who already knows Jesus’ love – listen to this encouragement. Be the light in your family.
Don’t be afraid to talk about your Savior! Don’t start thinking, “Well, we don’t really talk about that stuff. We just keep it light. We talk about sports and our favorite America’s Got Talent Act but we don’t talk about Jesus.”
Why not? He’s not afraid to talk about you.
He tells his heavenly Father how much he loves you…
…and how he took away your sins…
…and how you are now righteous in His sight…
…and how you are the jewel of his eye?
Don’t be afraid to talk about your Heavenly Family in your earthly family.
3.Help your Family be the Light.
We recently got a candelabra that we placed over the mantle in our apartment. Beforehand, we used to put up one candle for ambience sake. One candle doesn’t give a lot of light. But this candelabra has room for 5 candles. It’s a lot brighter!
That’s what happens when your family is united. That’s what happens when you are all burning as light for Christ. God is using you to be a regular torch in your neighborhood. A bright shining light on your block.
So what’s your family known for? Wouldn’t it be cool, if the answer was simply…Faith in Jesus?
And as we wrap up this series on Family Matters – may we ask God for forgiveness – because we haven’t always been known for Jesus. Then, let’s receive his forgiveness – because we are known by God as forgiven – and live anew. Ready to take our purpose and use our earthly family to make our heavenly family known. Amen.
John was excited.
Jesus was really on fire today. He was making some awesome promises and giving these people some incredible things to think about. Like a divine Presidential candidate, he was firing on all cylinders – He promised eternal life. He promised forgiveness. He promised peace with God.
This was good. Because, as much as he loved his friends, it would be nice to get some new blood in there. 12 just wasn’t a lot and there were only so many times he could listen to Peter’s best fish stories. They could use some more followers.
John turned around excited to see how well this speech was going.
He was shocked. Some were shaking their heads. Many had looks of disgust on their face. Others were leaving. The fast expanding hollowness of the synagogue picked up every last footstep as it left the building.
Why? Why were they leaving?
I. Too Tough to be True?
Take a look at what verse 61 says, “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Notice it says, “Many.” As opposed to just a few, there were many. The majority of the people there in the synagogue listening to Jesus, didn’t believe him.
It wasn’t like the crowd was filled with just Jesus’ enemies either. It says “many of his disciples.” Not the Pharisees who planned his death. Not the Sadducees who supported his death. Not the teachers of the Law, not atheists, not evolutionists, not polytheists. It was people who were following him.
They called Jesus’ teaching tough. That was their explanation. “His teaching was too difficult.” Why was it too difficult for them? Here are a few reasons:
1) Because of Who Jesus Was
Jesus was a regular Jewish guy. He was a carpenter. He wasn’t rich. He didn’t have a degree. He wasn’t even a Pharisee or a Sadducee. He didn’t have a title. He didn’t have a degree. He didn’t spend years out on a mountain searching for the meaning of life. Nor did he hide in a monastery for 15 years of silence nor is there any record of him being a Big muscular, Mr. Universe, strongman type.
Jesus appeared to be so…plain.
Do any of you know who Arielle Barill is? She is an 11 year old girl who appeared on America’s Got Talent this season. Her audition is very interesting. She entered the stage like so many had before. She looked very plain. Nothing fancy. Probably after a long dryspell of talent the judges were a little restless. “Go ahead” they say without a lot of confidence that this will be worth their while.
Then, she opened her mouth. She sang some of the most beautiful opera I’ve ever heard – and I don’t even like opera! She looked like nothing, but she was something.
Same thing with Jesus. Jesus looked like nothing but He was everything. Yet people only saw the ‘nothing.’ So they disregarded him.
The same thing might be happening with you. Jesus isn’t a flashy politician. He isn’t a respected talking head on Fox News. He isn’t a cool rapper. He isn’t a famous movie star. He doesn’t make it into People on a weekly basis. He doesn’t have as many followers on Instagram as Kim Kardashian.
He’s a guy who lived along time ago and was sentenced to death. Do we really want to listen to Him?
God forgive us for trusting our sight more than your Word.
2) Because of What He Taught
The second reason they were having problems with Jesus couples with the fact that Jesus didn’t look like much. What he taught was very tough. Below are just a few of his incredible, audacious statements:
· v.35 I am the Bread of Life…whoever eats of me will never go hungry again
· v.39 God wants me to raise up believers on the last day
· v.40 I will raise them up on the last day
· v.47 All who believe (in me) have eternal life.
· v.50 I am…from heaven.
· v.53 You must eat of me, if not, then there is no life in you!
When’s the last time you said something like that? When’s the last time you told a coworker, “You went to Cousins Subs? They’re good. But if you want a sandwich that really fills you up, take a bite out of me!” Or have you ever written down on an application for a credit card that your address was “Heaven” and your birthday was “before eternity"? Or have you ever went to visit a relative in the hospital and said, “If the doctor’s don’t do a good job fixing you, I’ll bring you back to life when it’s over."?
Can you understand why these statements would have been shocking to the people at Jesus’ time?
To be honest, they are still shocking today. People treat them accordingly.
Ever heard of the Thomas Jefferson Bible? It’s pretty interesting. Jefferson took the four Gospels--Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and developed a chronological, comprehensive telling of the Gospel story. All four books rolled into one.
I got my hands on a copy the other day. I skimmed to the end. Wanna know how Thomas Jefferson’s Gospel ends? “They laid Jesus in the grave and rolled a great stone in front of it.”
Did you notice something about that? Is it missing anything? Maybe an incredible earth shattering event three day later where Jesus rises from the dead and appears to over 500 people in a variety of places, at a variety of times, in a variety of ways.
Thomas Jefferson deleted that. He didn’t believe it. In fact, he deletes every miracle in the New Testament and every reference of Jesus to himself as the “Son of God.”
That’s Jefferson’s Bible. But…what about your version? What offensive parts have you dropped? What embarrassing truths do you hide? What ‘intolerant looking laws’ do you ‘fail to mention?
God forgive us when we trust our own sinful reasoning more than the surety of your promises.
3) Because of Peer Pressure
Of course one of the biggest reasons that so many people leave Jesus at this time is probably not their own opinion, but the opinions of others.
You’re sticking around and listening to Jesus? I don’t know who’s a bigger lunatic? You or him.
You’re buying what this guy is saying? You’re stupid.
If you are going to hang out with him, then know that I am not going to hang out with you.
Following Jesus was not the cool thing to do. Not then. Not now.
Tell me if this doesn’t happen to you on Facebook:
Hmmm. Let’s see. What should I post today? I’m really thankful that God has made this day, but…I don’t want to offend my angry atheist cousin. I did really like that devotion, but it implied that the Bible was right in teaching homosexuality as a sin…I don’t want to lose any friends. There’s a nice photo of Jesus with the children, but I know Uncle Joe will just leave a rude remark. Hmmm. Hmmm. I know…. Funny cat video.
Peer pressure’s a tough thing.
God forgive us if we let it affect our faith in you.
4) The REAL Reason
Of course – Jesus wanted the crowd –and us—to dig deeper. Listen to what Jesus says in verse 62 “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!” I love that first part. “Do you find it tough to believe that I am the Son of God? What about when I lift off of the ground before your very eyes, a glorious light shines from above, cherubim and seraphim escort me into the divine halls of heaven itself? Would you believe then?”
But then look at verse “63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.” Stop trusting your own sinful reason. Your own sinful eyes. Your own sinful peers. Stop trusting your own sinful self. Because (this is key) your own sinful self doesn’t even have the capability to believe. “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
In other words – the real reason that humans pass up the most glorious, incredible, life giving, sin forgiving, guilt removing, God’s love proving message of all time is IT’S WHO THEY ARE!
Think about it. Humans are sinners. All of us. Sin means rebellion from God. Sin doesn’t believe God. Sin refuses to trust God. Sin does not believe.
On our own, that's what we are. Unbelievers. And what does unbelief do? It UNBELIEVES. It convinces itself it doesn’t need a Savior and it doesn’t need saving and it’s doing just fine. Unbelief rejects Jesus’ teachings!
Here’s where it gets interesting. The word used for ‘teaching’ here is logos. It’s a Greek word that means “word” or “teaching.” This is the exact same Greek word that the Apostle John earlier in this very Gospel used to describe Jesus. “The Logos.”
This means that the people were rejecting not just Jesus’ teachings – but Jesus himself! When we reject Jesus’ teachings – we reject Jesus himself!
God forgive us for our rejection!
II. Too True & Too Marvelous to be Too Difficult!
The doors of the synagogue shut.
Jesus stared off in sadness. He had spoken the truth. He had told them of sin. He had told them he was the Savior. They didn’t believe them. It hurt. It hurt him now; it would hurt them later.
He turned around, wiping away a tear, and was shocked. There they were – Peter, Andrew, James, John, Thomas, Matthew, Philip, Bartholomew, James, Jude, Simon, and Judas. His 12 friends. His 12 disciples. They were still there.
67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
For the disciples, this faith was too true to be too tough.
1) Because of Jesus’ Words
Listen again to Peter’s two reasons. First he says, “You have the words of eternal life.”
Has anyone here seen the show House? It’s an interesting show. It’s about a Doctor who has a terrible bedside manner. He is selfish. He is rude. He isn’t any fun to work with.
But people come to him – far and wide. Why? Because he is brilliant. He solves medical mysteris that no one else can!
Jesus solves medical mysteries that even House can’t solve. Jesus solves sin. Jesus solves death. Even if coming to Jesus means that you have to admit some difficult things, He is worth it.
Like the Brussel sprouts I used for the kids devotion. They are bitter. They don’t taste great. (In my opinion, mom.) Yet they bring great health benefits. The same is true with Jesus. If we swallow the bitter pill that says, “I am a sinner; I need a Savior; You Jesus are that Savior.” The benefits are incredible!
It starts with forgiveness right now. To hear your Savior speak to your sinful heart and say, “You are forgiven. You are forgiven for rejecting my teachings. You are forgiven for falling to peer pressure. You are forgiven for doubting me. Be at peace. We’re cool. I will always love you.”
The blessings continue in heaven.
Ever had a sliver? Slivers aren’t cool. They hurt. They can be a bother to get out. You might use a tweezers or a needle. My mom used alcohol – it felt like torture.
There are no slivers in heaven. In heaven, arthritis is no more. Kidney struggles are gone. Terrorism is conquered. Hate is removed. Racism is non existent. Fear is too afraid to show its face. Guilt is evaporated. Sin is unwelcomed. The devil is banished. Death is dead!
2) Because He is the Son of God
Peter continued, “We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
For Peter – maybe it was earlier that very morning, when they were stuck on a boat in the middle of a stormy lake and they saw Jesus come walking towards them on top of the water! Or maybe it was when Jesus called to Him and enabled Peter to walk on the water as well. Or maybe it was the feeding of the 5000 that had happened just before that with a few loaves of bread and two fish. Or maybe it was the miraculous healing of the blind man, or the deaf man or the lame man or the leprous men or the boy who had an evil spirit or his mother-in-law who had a fever.
Jesus had convinced the disciples he was the Son of God by doing things that only the Son of God could do!
Including speaking the Word of Life. Literally. Whether it was “Little girl, get up!” as he grabbed the dead girl's hand and returned her to her family alive. Or “Young man, get up!” as he helped him off of his coffin in the midst of his own funeral procession. Or “Lazarus, come out,” as he called into the grave that Lazarus’ dead body had been placed into almost a week ago. Or when he said, “Destroy this body in three days and I will raise it again.” They did...destroy him. Three days…did pass. He did….rise again.
Jesus spoke the Words of Life, because he was the Son of God! Trust Him.
Your evolution profession? Not God’s Son. The angry atheist blogger? Not God’s Son. The LGBT activist? Not God’s Son. Your doubting family members? Not God’s Son. You? Not God’s Son. Neither are your feelings, your reasons, or your desires.
Jesus is! Don’t choose to follow an ‘easier’ teaching; choose to follow the only teaching.
Because, and this is incredible, look at the last thing Jesus says to his disciples, “Haven’t I chosen you?” This is strange. Usually you stroll down the grocery aisle and you choose what kind of bread you want to take home to your kids.
But Jesus? He chooses you. Rather…he has chosen you. He has chosen you to hear his message of Grace. If you have faith in Him, then know that he has chosen you to be his child. He has chosen you to live. He has chosen you to be His.
Trust Him. Trust Him, because what he has to say is too true and too marvelous to be too tough.
(Thanks to Guest Speaker --- Seth Neyhart)
1 PETER 2:9-13: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10) Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11) Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12) Live such good lives among the pagans, that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
My fellow Christians:
Who are you? What are you? What are you doing here? Why are things happening the way they are?
As human beings, we have a tendency to let the things happening in our everyday life to disturb, distract, and divert our attention. We think about what we have to do in order to get through the day, we react to what just happened, and forget to see things in the bigger picture.
Or we can go to the opposite extreme where, for whatever reason, we neglect to take care of what we need to do at work, at home, in our families. Sometimes we feel ground down, overwhelmed. Maybe we feel we are being taken advantage of or we can’t accomplish anything because of forces outside of our control. We just can’t seem to care anymore or get ourselves to take care of what we need to do. We don’t see our lives as having any really great meaning, purpose, or point.
Today, we want to listen as Peter reminds us of who and what we really are, a people chosen by God. Your life has meaning and importance because God chose you. God chose you to belong to Him. God chose you to receive His mercy. God chose you to live in His glory.
Peter starts our section with four phrases. He calls us: “A chosen people”, “a royal priesthood”, a “holy nation”, and in conclusion, a “people belonging to God.” All four of these phrases have their separate shadings of meaning, but taken together, they have one clear message: God chose you, each and every one of you here today, to belong to Him and to be part of His kingdom. And because God chose you, and only because God chose you, you are part of a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people belonging to God.
When Peter wrote: “you are a chosen people,” this was not a new concept to his first audience. The early Christians knew that just as the nation of Israel was called God’s chosen people in the Old Testament, in the very same way all the believers in Jesus Christ were chosen by God to be part of the kingdom of heaven.
And not just any part. We are also called a “royal priesthood.” We are not just subjects of the kingdom of heaven, we are also called priests. Not just me or the Pastor, and not just a certain select “special” advanced group of Christians among us. No, Peter says that every single Christian is a priest, and together we are all a “royal priesthood.”
When is the last time you thought about yourself as a priest? What does that mean, anyway?
In verse five, we heard about Peter telling us to be a “holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Now this does not mean that we offer sacrifices to appease God or pay for our sins. That has already been accomplished by the ultimate High Priest, Jesus Christ. Because he lived a perfect life as a human and died on the cross as God to pay for all the evil we have ever done and all the failures we have ever had, and we are now able to do the work of priesthood.
Now as a priest you have not only the right but also the duty and privilege to reflect the holiness of God in your life and offer spiritual sacrifices of yourself, your heart, your mind, your body, your time, and your love. You the right, duty and privilege to pray directly to God, not only for yourself, but also for others. You have the right, duty, and privilege to speak about God and what he has done. All because you are a priest.
And not just a priest, you are part of a “royal” priesthood. We are together priests serving in the kingdom of God. And that is why Peter also calls us a “holy nation.” A nation consists of citizens under one government in a specific geographic area with defined borders. There are common laws, and usually a common language and culture. Citizens of the “holy nation” also have a common language and culture, the language and culture of faith. Our first loyalty, our first allegiance is to God. In life, and through death into everlasting life in heaven, we are all members of a holy nation. And our fellow citizens are all around us.
Finally, because God chose you to belong to Him forever, you are part of “a people belonging to God.” This is your identity. This is who you are, forever. God chose you, and you are His.
But why? Why did God choose you? Why did God choose me? It was not because God needed us. It was not because we are somehow better than anyone else. It was not because we had an inside connection. No. God chose you to receive His mercy. Peter says: “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
From death to life, from darkness to light, from unbelief and destruction to faith and eternal glory, all of it is because of God’s mercy. What you are now is so much greater than what you were, because God chose you to receive His mercy.
It began before the world was even created. God says in Ephesians 1:4-5 “he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” God chose you back then, before the world began.
And in his mercy, God created your ancestors and through them, he brought you into being. He provided this world as a home and a place to provide for all of your physical needs.
After sin and evil came into the world, God gave you and me His Son, Jesus Christ, to restore our relationship to Him. Jesus sacrificed Himself for us, first by living a perfect life that we could not and offering His perfect life as a divine substitute for our failures. By dying on the cross, Jesus wiped out everything that we have ever done to offend God solely out of His love for us, earning us eternal life in heaven. And finally, the Holy Spirit has created faith in us, solely out of God’s mercy.
The more you think about it, the more humbling it is. God chose you to receive His mercy. Without it, you could not be part of God’s people. Indeed, there would be no “God’s people” at all!
For the truth is, no one can do this by themselves. No one can qualify on their own to be part of the holy nation. But because of what God did for you, in you, and through you to others, you, all of you, are the people of God, chosen, set apart, destined for heaven. God chose you to receive His mercy forever.
God’s choice of you, God’s mercy to you, are from eternity and for eternity. Which means God’s choice also has a huge impact on the life you live here and now. In the last two verses we read today, Peter sets out two themes about how God’s people live. For the rest of the epistle, Peter will go into details, but first, he gives us two general principles. Peter says: “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." 1 Peter 2:11-12.
God chose you to belong to Him, God chose you to receive His mercy, and in this life as well as the next, God chose you to live in His glory. While we are here living our lives, Peter says that in God’s mercy we do two things. First, we always strive to avoid what is evil and second, we live for what is good. Because we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, we act as aliens and strangers to what wrong in this world. The sinful desires we all have war against our souls because they war against God. We do our best to abstain from giving in to them, because we are not of the world, we are God’s chosen people chosen to live in His glory.
Instead, Peter tells us, “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of wrong, they may see your good and glorify God on the day he visits us.” As we work through some of the many examples of that in the weeks ahead, remember we lead our lives the way we do because God chose us to and God wants us to. God chose you to belong to Him, God chose you to receive His mercy. And God chose you to live in his Glory, now and forever. The choice has been made. God will not change his mind. Amen.
You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you will declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his most wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are a people. Once you hadn't been shown mercy, but now you have been shown mercy."
-- 1 Peter 2:9-10
The beginning of a New Year is often a time for reflection and self-realization:
“I'm out of shape.” “I'm a work-a-holic.” “I'm addicted to my iPhone.” “I'm in love.” “I'm not in love.” "I'm watching way too many reruns of Friends on Hulu." We take stock. We count our blessings. We plan for the New Year accordingly.
Today God's Word is going to help you with some self-realization. It reveals something about believers that is totally incredible about who we are and what God wants us to do!
The lesson is from the book of 1 Peter, a letter written by the Apostle Peter to “believers everywhere.” In the ancient world, yes, but as the letter has been preserved by God's grace...it is a letter that speaks directly to our group of believers here in Raleigh, NC.
In other words, it's a letter to us.
Listen to what Peter calls us first: “You are a chosen people.” This is huge for anyone anyone who was ever chosen last in kickball, anyone who was ever left unchosen at the prom's final dance, to anyone who wasn't chosen for that raise, to anyone who was not chosen to go to the sleepover.
When others in the world have rejected you, what an awesome truth to realize that God has chosen you!
Now watch out. This isn't anything to be prideful about. It's easy to start thinking, “Of course, Jesus chose me! He must have known how awesome I am at singing hymns. And he probably knows my commitment to upholding good morals. Obviously, he'd choose me over my tattooed neighbor.”
Before your ego outgrows the size of your head, look at verse 10 and remember: “Once,” Peter reminds us, "you were not a people!" Hear that again. “Once you were not a people.” Singularly: You were not a person. You were lost. You were nothing. Nothing to God.
It makes sense. Because honestly, what do you have to offer Jesus-- the Almighty Lord of heaven and earth? A substance addiction? An out of control temper? Laziness? The colorful language you use at work? The ability to gossip faster and more often than any other person in Raleigh?
Brother and sisters, know this: God chose you! But it wasn't because of you. It was in spite of you and your sinful self. God chose you simply because of him. Because of his love.
Let this change your attitude. Don't go around with that selfish vocabulary that a lot of Christians use: “I chose Jesus!” “I made a choice for him. And he's happy I did that.” As if we were the ones who did Jesus a favor by letting him be a part of our gang.
We are the ones to be honored! God is incredible. He is Almighty! He is holy. He has no reason to even be near sinners!
Yet in Jesus he has chosen us to be his people. And that's not without incredible benefits:
Look at what this choosing means for us in the next thing Peter tell calls us: A Royal Priesthood.
Just about every little girl's dream is to be a princess! To live in a Disney castle. To wear Disney jewels and Disney rings and go to a Disney dance.
But the idea of a royal treatment isn't just a kid thing. We live in a economic turmoil. Adults can feel as far away from riches as possible. We dream of owning five cars fully paid, as opposed to the one jaloppy that we can barely make the payment on. We dream of eating at a five star restaurant, not slurping the third bowl of ramen in the same week. We dream of living in a mansion, not moving from small apartment to smaller apartment in hopes that we'll save money.
If you are feeling like less than royalty because of your financial situation, then hear this: God has called you royalty!
This means more than taking a trip to Sleeping Beauty's castle. By faith in Jesus, you have the royal riches of God himself. The crown of life. The jewels of God's love. You are an heir to his royal palace in the ethereal streets of heaven itself.
Of course, princes and princesses act a certain way. They have a royal air about them. They lift their chin up as they walk and drink tea with their pinky lifted into the air.
Call it royal. Call it pompous. But they certainly act a certain way.
The royalty of heaven have a way about them too. In fact, it's the only way of heaven. It's the way of holiness.
Which leads to the third thing God reminds us that we are. “A holy people.”
This is so hard to grasp so hard to belive, because of what holy really means. It means that God is declaring you to be without sin.
Even for Christians, it is hard to believe this. The devil tells us the opposite. “You're unholy!” The world tells us the same, “You're imperfect.” Even our own memories betray us: “ How can you be holy? Remember that one sin you can't seem to wash off? And that other sin you can't seem to conquer? And that other sin that is so awful that if anyone else in this church ever found out then they wouldn't hesitate to kick you out! You're phony. You're pathetic. You're anything but holy.”
Certainly those voices in our head are loud.
But God's voice is louder.
And so was his cry on Calvary: "It is finished!" Equally loud was his cry as he conquered the grave on Easter Sunday.
In other Words, God has called you holy through faith in Jesus! Believe it. Don't question your Lord.
It's true because it isn't about you. Look at verse 10. This is not from us! It is from Jesus. His holy blood covers us. His holy life was exchanged for us. His holy sacrifice purifies us. His holy baptism seals us as God's holy people!
What's it like to hear that God has declared you to be without sin and not deserving of punishment?
It's akin to a cancer patient who has been dealing with the pain and fear of knowing that there is something unholy in his body, being told by the doctor that the cancer is gone.
This is us! We know our sin. We know what it deserves. And in Jesus, we hear God say: The sin is gone! You have been cured. You are pure! Through faith in Jesus, you are holy!
IV. A People Belonging to God.
God loves things that are holy. So we shouldn't be surprised but to hear what Peter reminds us of next, you are a people belonging to God.
I think of a child who loves his action figures. Spiderman. Superman. Batman. He loves them so much that he tells other kids they can't play with them. He wants them. He doesn't want them to get hurt. He doesn't want them to get broken.
That's why God warns us of sin! He is telling our sinful natures to back off! He is warning us of the pain sin causes. He is warning us of the devil's deceptions and the doubts that they cause.
God doesn't want anything else to have control of you. Not addictions. Not immorality. Not anything.
Again. Think back to the action figures. Kids may write their names on the bottom of them with permanent marker forever claiming the toys as their own.
God has written his name on you in Baptism. Through it, God sends his Holy Spirit into your heart to claim you as his own. To mark you as his. To say “You belong to me.”
God has a reason for all of this. He has a reason for making you his own. Peter tells us that reason. Follow along with verse 9 again: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God to declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."
God has given us a purpose. This is a great purpose for our church – for you as an individual in 2014: Declare God's praises! There's' two ways to do this:
First with your actions. Live differently. Fight addiction. Have morals. Have Biblical morals. Live by them. Live by them fearlessly. Speak boldly. Pray constantly. Raise Christian children. Worship regularly.
Declare God's praises by the way that you live. By living in accordance to his will.
Secondly, with your words.
There are some awesome restaurants in Raleigh. What I've noticed is that when people go to a good one, they are super excited. They pass it on. They tell their friends. They put it on Facebook. They suggest it to anyone who is asking.
Why not do the same with Jesus? This is what God is calling us to do! It is Jesus himself speaking to you in this passage: Telling you. You! To tell others about himself!
I know we've worked a lot last year inviting people to church last year. And by God's blessing we had all kinds of people to share the Gospel with. Even a few Sundays where we surpassed the apparent firecode.
But this year God is ready to challenge us in a new way. God wants us to continue to invite people to come, but now I think it is time we focus on going. Bringing the message of the Gospel to those who need to hear it.
I want you to take a moment and think. Think of someone who needs to hear about Jesus. We all know someone. Don't even try to suggest that you don't. The greater Raleigh area is over 1 million people strong. And, as we found out in our community surveys this summer, the greatest numer of households identify as “NOTHING”...not followers of Jesus.
Think about that person and write his name down. Do it right now. It could be a guy you work out with. A lady you drink coffee with. A coworker. A buddy. A neighbor. A cousin. A long lost friend on Facebook. Even your spouse!
Think about that name. Write it down. Now, I want you to do three simple things:
1. PRAY. Pray about that person pray that God would work in their lives to bring them to faith. Pray that God would give you opportunities to share the Gospel with that person.
2. LOOK. Look for opportunities to share the Gospel with them. It could be an inquisitive quesiton. Or a difficult time they are going through. Pay attention and look for chance to tell them about Jesus.
3. SHARE. Don't forget to share. Share about your all powerful God. Share your Savior. Share with others whom God loves that God loves them! Share that he sent his Son to die for them. Share that through faith in Him they too will be God's chosen people, royalty. Holy. Belonging to God.
Why should I do this? Don't do it to grow this church. Don't do it because I said so. Don't do it because it will make you feel good or because you might find a new friend.
Do it because it's who you are. You are a person chosen for God's Work. You are God's royalty with all the riches of his kingdom at your disposal. You are holy in his sight without fear of punishment. You are belong to your loving Lord and he will watch out for you.
May this self-realization empower you this week as you look to do the Lord's work.
This day. This week. This year.