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.
Presents are exciting. Even as a grown man of nearly *cough* years old, it would be hard for me to say that the pile of gifts under our tree doesn’t get me excited, that one of the best parts of the holiday for me is finding out what’s in all those brightly colored packages that have been sitting there taunting me for weeks.
Of course, presents are awesome, but we all know they’re not the reason we celebrate, we talked about that last night as God gave us his Son. We’ll look at that gift again today of course, it’s Christmas! But there’s more to unwrap from God, that’s why we’re all here this morning instead of playing with the new toys we unwrapped. (And I hope you got some proper toys. You’re never too old for toys.) So, this morning, we’re going to take some time and unwrap a few more presents, presents from God himself, presents that truly give us reason to celebrate.
I. Our Gift to God
We all know the expression, it gets repeated year-round, just more often at Christmas: “’Tis better to give than to receive.” So, with that in mind I thought maybe we’d start off at looking not at what God has given us but what we got God this year.
So? What did you get the big guy? Maybe an extra donation in the offering plate? Spend some extra time volunteering for the special services or in the community? Maybe you tried to reach out and make peace with that one family member.
Except… didn’t God give you that money to start with? Isn’t he the one that gave you the time and the strength and the ability to contribute here and out there? And if we’re being honest, wasn’t it partly your stubbornness and pride that caused the family rift to begin with?
I’m just shooting in the dark here with these but we could go on and on. The fact is, we can’t GIVE God anything he doesn’t already have. Everything we have came from him first. And on top of that, we daily ignore him, defy him, and act contrary to him. Our gift to him this year has been nothing…plus grief.
Let’s humbly remember this as we consider God’s gifts to us. We have given him nothing. He owes us nothing. In fact, we ought to be punished for our behavior. Our reading from Romans 3 reminds us of our default state:
Just as it is written:
There is no one who is righteous, not even one.
There is no one who understands. There is no one who searches for God.
They all turned away; together they became useless.
There is no one who does what is good; there is not even one.
Their throat is an open grave.
They kept deceiving with their tongues.
The poison of asps is on their lips.
Their mouth is filled with cursing and bitterness.
Their feet are quick to shed blood.
They leave a trail of destruction and suffering wherever they go.
The way of peace they did not know.
There is no fear of God in front of their eyes.
II. God's Gift: Himself
Between what little we have done for God and the grief we have given him, it’s shocking enough that he would offer us a way out of our situation at all. We committed the crime, we earned the punishment. He should refuse to ever come near us again. And even if God were to offer a way out, you would expect some kind of bargain, right? Rather than the jail time we could pay the fine as it were.
We’d expect that since we made the mess between us and God, his solution would be for us to clean it up. Some herculean effort, some list of labors that we had to perform to get back into his good graces. And that would be utterly fair. But instead of sending a list of demands to us, God does what he usually does, he takes what would make perfectly normal human sense...and then does the opposite.
He does not send a list of demands. He does not send some cruel taskmaster to get us back on track. Instead he sends...his Son. He sends, himself. The all-powerful, limitless God of creation, becomes part of his creation, joins us as a helpless baby and sets in motion the chain of events that will lead to our rescue and freedom from the mess we made. Because he is human, he goes in our place. Because he is God, everything he does can count for everyone. God’s first gift is, quite plainly, himself.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governing Syria. And everyone went to register, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the town of Nazareth, into Judea, to the town of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was from the house and family line of David. He went to be registered with Mary, his wife, who was pledged to him in marriage and was expecting a child.
And so it was that while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
There were in the same country shepherds staying out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified! But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. For behold, I bring you good news of great joy, which will be for all people: Today in the town of David, a Savior was born for you. He is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude from the heavenly army, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward mankind.”
III. God's Gift: A Perfect Life
Of course, God did not come here to walk around, take in the sights, and see what all was going on planet-side. He came here on a mission. You see, God, as a holy being, has two major requirements for anyone to be part of him or in his presence. It’s not arbitrary, it’s sort of like the laws of physics. Because he’s holy, certain requirements have to be met.
And the first one is a perfect, obedient, life. This makes sense. To be in God’s holy presence, you need to be holy yourself. And it’s not like his demands are unreasonable or cruel. In fact, the core of his command is love! Love God first and love each other equally. All his other commands flow from these. And yet as we confessed, we haven’t. We have been selfish and cruel, ignoring God and hurting each other.
We could not live a perfect life, so Jesus did. His entire lifespan as a human was carried out in perfect obedience to his Father. From birth to his march to the cross, he kept God’s will perfectly and when he was finished, he handed that life over to you to wear as a white robe that covers you completely. Your life is perfect in God’s eyes through Jesus’ gift.
We see just one example of Jesus’ obedience during his temptation in Matthew 4:
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. After he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The Tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.”
But Jesus answered, “It is written:
Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.”
Then the Devil took him into the holy city. He placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, and he said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you.
And they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”
Jesus said to him, “Again, it is written:
You shall not test the Lord your God.”
Again the Devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He said to him, “I will give you all of these things, if you will bow down and worship me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written:
Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”
Then the Devil left him, and just then angels came and served him.
IV. God's Gift: Forgiveness
I said before that God has two major requirements to be in his presence. One is the perfect life he lived for us and gave to us, the life that covers us now and makes us holy in his eyes. The other is that we be totally free of sin.
Well, wait, you might say, isn't that just the other side of the same coin? If we have a holy life, aren’t we automatically free from sin? Sure, we would be, if you had actually lived a holy life. But as we’ve established, you didn’t. The holy life you have is a gift, it covers you, it shows you as holy to God, but there’s still the problem of your debt.
You see, God has a justice system. It’s utterly perfect, utterly fair. Every sin is a crime against that system and like any other system of justice, every crime must be paid for. Whether that payment is community service, a fine, or jail time—reparation must be made. In this case, the payment that needs to be made for crimes against God himself… well it’s eternal death. It’s the agony of hell.
That is… a stern penalty. It is not a debt we could easily pay. And so the next gift God gives us through Jesus is full payment for our crimes.
On the cross, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” You see, hell is nothing less than to be completely abandoned by God. And that is what happened to Jesus on the cross. It was there that God abandoned him, that he suffered hell itself in your place.
And when it was done, knowing that your payment was made, he uttered that famous word “tetelestai”. “It is finished” in our reading. Also translated as “paid in full”. Jesus’ work was complete, the debt was paid, and God’s gift of forgiveness is entirely yours. From John 19:
After this, knowing that everything had now been finished, and to fulfill the Scripture, Jesus said, “I thirst.”
A jar full of sour wine was sitting there. So they put a sponge soaked in sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.
When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished!” Then, bowing his head, he gave up his spirit.
V. God's Gift: Eternal Life
God’s gifts: giving himself through Jesus, the perfect life lived on your behalf, the sacrifice on the cross to pay the debt for your sins are all leading up to this final gift that we now look forward to. Because of the baby we celebrate today, we have the confidence and peace of knowing our end.
This section from Revelation 7 stands on its own. Know that this is what belongs to you as a gift from God. Without further introduction:
After these things I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing in front of the throne and of the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and with palm branches in their hands. They called out with a loud voice and said:
Salvation comes from our God, who sits on the throne, and from the Lamb.
All the angels stood around the throne, the elders, and the four living creatures. They fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, saying:
Amen. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and might belong to our God forever and ever. Amen.
One of the elders spoke to me and said, “These people dressed in white robes, who are they and where did they come from?”
And I answered him, “Sir, you know.”
And he said to me:
These are the ones who are coming out of the great tribulation.
They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Because of this they are in front of the throne of God,
and they serve him day and night in his temple.
He who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
They will never be hungry or thirsty ever again.
The sun will never beat upon them, nor will any scorching heat,
for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
We’re on the final lesson in our three-part PEACE series. Back on December 1st, Pastor Robin reminded us that, as believers, we have PEACE with God because of what Jesus did for us. Two weeks ago, we talked about how that PEACE with God leads us towards PEACE with our family and friends.
But if we stopped the series there, it wouldn’t be complete.
It’d be like an unfinished Dot-to-Dot puzzle. Ever you seen one of those in a coloring book? You connected dot 1 to dot 2, dot 2 to dot 3, —all the way to dot 57 until there is a completed picture.
But what if you leave 58 to 79 unfinished? The picture isn’t complete. What was supposed to be a cookie ends up looking like the letter “c”.
The same thing is true with our sermon series.
If we forget to connect the final dot in God’s plan for PEACE, the picture ends up being completely different.
Because God’s declaration of PEACE to us and guidance in PEACE with family and friends isn’t just so that YOU have a peaceful Christmas.
God brings us to PEACE with him and guides us to live in PEACE with others so that we can deliver HIS PEACE to them.
Our goal for today is to:
(1) identify the BEST gift you can give anyone this Christmas
(2) understand WHAT MAKES this gift the best gift ever
(3) make a game plan for bringing this gift to people in your life
Before we begin: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Best Gift
The lesson for today comes from the book of Isaiah. It was written 700 years before the very first Christmas, at a time when the people of Judah didn’t have a lot to feel peaceful about.
Recently, the Assyrian army had been conquering countries, devastating cities, and violently tearing apart armies. Now, the army had gotten very close to the country of Judah -- even completely destroying and devastating their sister country of Israel – where many of their relatives and friends resided.
It was a time of war.
People were anxious.
People were concerned.
People lived in fear.
Young men were afraid to walk outside by themselves at night.
Fathers were nervous that a letter may contain news of another relative killed in battle.
Mothers cuddled their children closely, afraid they might not have many days left.
It was to that kind of atmosphere that God brought this message:
Rise up, sit enthroned, Jerusalem.
Free yourself from the chains on your neck…
For this is what the Lord says;
“You were sold for nothing,
And without money you will be redeemed… (Isaiah 52:2-4)
Did you catch it?
God’s message to the people of Judah was that Assyrian would not defeat them.
God would free them from their oppression.
Soon, they would be redeemed.
But here’s what I want you to do.
Put yourself in Isaiah’s shoes.
He just heard from God’s mouth the very good news that the war would end soon and there would be PEACE.
This is where there’s a shift in chapter 52.
Because to this point, Isaiah has been recording what God has told him to tell others.
Now, Isaiah comments on the job that God just gave him:
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (v.7)
Feet aren’t normally that beautiful.
They can be stinky.
They can be smelly.
They can have ingrown toenails.
They can have thick pieces of black hair on the big toe.
If you want beautiful feet, you’ve usually got to work hard at it.
You need to scrub off the calluses.
You need to clip your toenails.
You need to rub essential oils on them to keep them smelling good.
Even at Christmas, if you’re opening up present on your living room floor, you might want to throw on a pair of elf slippers or maybe some socks with jingle bells on them.
Feet aren’t normally very beautiful.
How beautiful on the feet of those who bring good news.
They got to walk to tell the young men; they were safe.
They got to deliver the message to the dad; that their relatives would come home.
They got to tell the mother’s; it’s ok to send your children outside now.
There is no greater GIFT than the gift of GOOD NEWS.
Think about it:
How awesome when a friend text message you, “There’s a 50% off sale down at Kohl’s.”
How wonderful when you get the email: “Your Amazon Prime order has shipped.”
How excited do your kids get when you say: “There’s only 2 more days until Christmas!”
The message of Jesus is also good news.
In fact, the word commonly used to describe the message of Jesus is “the Gospel.”
Did you know that the word “Gospel” literally means, “Good news.”
It’s the “good news” that we have a Savior.
Friends, there’s no greater gift than good news.
And there’s is no greater GOOD NEWS than the GOSPEL.
II. The Beauty of the Gospel
If you believe the Gospel, then perhaps you understand the incredible effect the Gospel has had on you.
But for a moment, I don’t want you to apply the Gospel to yourself.
I want you to apply it to someone you know that doesn’t’ believe it.
Think about it:
What kind of an effect would the Gospel have on them?
A few things:
(1) It brings PEACE
Christmas is a time that a lack of peace becomes very evident.
Kids proclaim STRESS: “You didn’t get me what I wanted.”
Parents proclaim STRESS: “You didn’t get your child what you should.”
Friends proclaim STRESS: “I can’t believe you aren’t spending more time with me.”
Spouses proclaim STRESS: “Christmas reminds me of how terrible of a spouse you are.”
People proclaim stress to each other.
But with the message of Jesus you get to proclaim PEACE. That out of all their relationships that they have…spouse, friend, coworker, parent, child, sibling, 2nd cousin twice remove, there is ONE relationship that they are guaranteed to have peace with and it just so happens to be the one being that they have sinned against the most:
(2) It brings GLAD TIDINGS from God
One thing that has been popular in Christmases past is the Christmas letter. People used to write down all the good things that happened over the past year and update friends and relatives on it. I remember receiving a letter from a nice elderly couple up from North Minnesota that only included the latest updates to their garden: “The colerabi came in good this year.” Even the millennial version of it – no letter; just a picture from Shutterfly – announces some kind of good news; “We’re still a family.”
When you tell your neighbors about Jesus, it’s really like you’re delivering God’s Christmas letter to them. And it’s one of the only Christmas letters with good news for the recipients: “Dear friend, Things are going well in heaven. My Son Jesus is still the Savior. His death and resurrection 2000 some years ago still paid for all of your sins. You are still forgiven. You are still at peace with me. You are saved.”
(3) It brings SALVATION
Particularly verse 7 says that when you proclaim the message of Jesus, you proclaim salvation. (v.7)
It’s kind of like participating in a giving (or angel) tree. We’ve got one in our hallway. If you happen to be the one that delivers the presents, you’ll be deliving to some people who didn’t have enough money to buy gifts for their kids. You’ll be “saving” Christmas.
But how much greater when it comes to the message of Jesus.
They owe a debt that they could never pay.
But when you tell them the message of Jesus?
That big guilt that they feel? They’re saved from it.
That big sin that they did? They’re saved form it.
That terrible death that they’re facing? They’re saved from it.
(4) It says, “GOD REIGNS”
Which is another layer to the Gospel message.
Because if the God who saved them, has good tidings for them, and is at peace with them is also the KING of the universe…
Then, whatever they’re going through…
…estrangement from family.
…their loving God is in control.
…and all will work out for their good.
III. Game Plan
Friends, it is eternally important to share the message of Jesus this Christmas. So…here’s what we’re going to do next. We’re going to game plan.
Because if you are one of the College Football teams you are currently game-planning for their upcoming Bowl game.
If you’re UNC, you’re game planning for Temple.
If you’re Wake Forest, you’re game planning for Michigan State.
If you’re Duke or NC State, you’re game planning for whoever you play in the opening game next year.
If you’re a believer listening to this today, you’ve got to game plan for how you’re going to share the Peace of Jesus this Christmas.
(1) Share TOGETHER
Because look at what Isaiah writes next: “Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy.” (v.8)
Notice it’s a plural. You have more than one watchman so that you can get the message out to the entire city, quickly and efficiently.
It’s the same for us. We share the message of Jesus TOGETHER.
TOGETHER we pool our funds for social media ads inviting people to Christmas Eve.
TOGETHER we work together to put on the best Gospel proclamation service Tuesday night.
TOGETHER we sharpen our skills in sharing faith through Bible study.
TOGETHER we challenge each other to share our faith.
TOGETHER we pray for each others’ efforts.
TOGETHER we plan to follow up on those who join us and connect them with the message of peace.
And it has to be TOGETHER.
Because the effect is larger when it’s TOGETHER.
It’s like going in with your siblings on a gift for mom and dad. If you pool you’re money, you can get the next HD TV. But on your own? You never will.
It’s the same thing.
TOGETHER, we reach North Raleigh.
But only TOGETHER.
On our own, we NEVER will.
(2) Identify your End of the Earth
Verse 10 says, “All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” (v.10) It’s a promise of our God. He died for ALL and he wants ALL to know about their Savior.
It’s kind of hard to invite someone who lives in Australia to worship in Raleigh.
Remember though – Christianity is a team sport.
God isn’t calling you personally to go to the ends of the earth.
He’s just calling you to go to the ends of YOUR earth.
To the ends of your block.
To the end of your cubicle.
To the end of your couch.
Who are the people you know who don’t know Jesus? Look at the bottom of your note sheet. There’s a spot for writing some of those people down. Take a moment, write them down. Plan to share Jesus with them.
(3) Include ALL Nations
Because its’ really, really, really, really, really easy to say, “I can’t think of anyone who looks like me to share the Gospel of jesus with, so I don’t know if there is any one for me to share the message of Jesus with.”
Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
That includes the people who look like you.
And the people who don’t.
The people who have the same culture as you.
And who don’t.
The people who have the same religion as you.
And who don’t.
Do you know someone like that? Don’t be too nervous to write them down. God’s peace is for them too!
(4) Rejoice TOGETHER
The final thing that I want to include is found in verse 9:
“Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.” (v.9)
And this is where I think we could do better.
Because, we all agree that many need to hear about Jesus.
And we agree that sharing Jesus is challenging to do.
Let’s celebrate when it happens.
Let’s rejoice when someone invites someone to Christmas via text message.
Let’s rejoice when someone shares a scripture on Facebook.
Let’s rejoice when someone brings someone along to worship.
Let’s rejoice together, because we share Jesus together.
Celebrating these accomplishments, pumps us up.
Gives glory to God.
And motivates us to keep sharing Jesus.
Friends, there is no better gift than the message of Jesus.
May God be with you as you share the message of Jesus.
I love a peace-filled holiday evening.
The gentle glow of the Christmas lights on the tree.
A cup of cocoa warming your hands.
The potpourri filling the air with the soothing aroma of balsam and pine.
A pair of fuzzy Rudolph slippers cozying your feet.
The quiet melodies of Bing Crosby crooning in the background.
The voice coming from your child’s bedroom down the hall, “Mommy! Bobby’s looking at me funny.”
The shrill reply coming right back, “Nu-uh! He’s lying.”
The eye-rolling gaze from your spouse, “You’re turn to deal with it. I’m really into this episode of “The Great Christmas Bake-off.”
Your sharp response, “You never do any of the work around here.”
Your spouse’s reply, “I always do all the work!”
An interrupting DING to reveal a text from your coworker: “Hey loser! I can’t believe you said that about me at work today.”
And the Facebook reply from Uncle Marvin: “I vehemently disagree with your political stance, snowflake!”
All while Bing Crosby’s crooning is interrupted by Alexa: “Phone call from your monster-in-law. Shall I answer?”
Today we’re continuing our sermon series on PEACE and we’re going to talk about the one of the big things that can ruin a peace filled holiday evening: people.
Our goal is to identify types of peace that actually lead to unrest, determine how Jesus’ peace affects our relationship with others, and get guidance from God’s Word for a peace-filled Christmas with people. Before we begin: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. False Peace
The text we’re studying for this morning comes from the book of Colossians. Colossians is a letter written to the church in Colosse. Even though it was a church that existed 2000 some years ago, thousands of miles across the ocean from North Carolina, in a language very different from us, it shared one very important similarity:
People who had arguments with their parents.
People who were estranged from their children.
People who were separated from their spouses.
People who were gossiped about at work.
People who sat on one side of the church because they didn’t want to fight with someone on the other side of the church.
Since they were people, we know the Colossian church didn’t have perfect peace.
In spite of all the sin…
In spite of all the anger…
In spite of all the reasons that people gave other people not to have peace,
Look at what God calls them to do: “Let Peace…rule in your hearts.” (v.15)
It’s written down for us too, so today the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts and says:
“Let Peace…rule in your hearts.” (v.15)
But there’s a lot of different types of peace in the world.
Which type rules your heart?
(1) Avoidance Peace
The person with this type of peace does what it describes…
They avoid talking about difficult issues with his wife.
They avoid that one person at work.
They avoid one person on Facebook
The theory is that if this person causes me unrest, I’ll avoid them so that things are peaceful.
And to be fair, that’s not a terrible idea in some situations. Especially if you’re amped up and emotionally charged,
What happens when you can’t quite avoid that person?
For example, I saw two kids on the playground the other day. One of them thought it was hilarious to follow the other one while making goose sounds in the ear of the other child. The other child didn’t like it. But instead of telling her friend to stop, she simply ran to the other side of the playground.
Until the other kid caught up. “HONK!”
Then, she went to the sandbox.
Finally, she went underneath the slide – the secret lair of the 4 year old playground.
And it was peaceful for a bit,
And suddenly, she stopped trying to hide and shouted, screamed, and generally had a full-fledged meltdown because of her friend.
The same thing happens to adults.
When the avoider can no longer avoid, the peace is disturbed.
And there’s one epic explosion.
Because avoidance peace, isn’t really peace at all.
It just aims to manage the tension.
(2) Substance-Induced Peace
Holiday parties mean that we may have to interact with people that are difficult. That causes anxiety. In anticipation, what can happen is that we self-medicate:
A shot of whiskey.
A six pack of beer.
An entire bag of Doritos.
Anything to distract us from our anxieties and give us peace.
But do substances really lead to lasting peace?
A shot of whiskey can loosen up your tension, and it can loosen your tongue as argue with your friend.
A six pack of beers leads to a calmness on your body – which leads to you calmly calling your coworker names – something they’ll remember on Monday.
A bag of chips can help you feel content when you feel discontent about a conversation with your spouse, but come 7 am? Sluggish and cranky. (And sluggish and cranky aren’t good for fostering peace in a marriage.)
Substances don’t give lasting peace. They simply numb us to the anxiety in our bodies.
Now, understand what I’m saying:
It’s not wrong to have a beer.
And it’s not wrong to eat a cookie.
But it is wrong to try to find peace in those things rather than your God.
(3) “Sneaky” Peace
This kind of peace LOOKS peaceful.
It LOOKS like you get along with others.
it LOOKS like you’re doing fine with your family.
It LOOKS like you enjoy your friends even when they’re planning something that you don’t like at all.
Instead of talking about it with them.
You talk about them with others.
Did you hear that coworker’s idea? It’s awful…
Here’s a funny meme about my brother eating a snack with the words “PIG” plastered over it.
Text, text, text. Everyone thinks I’m having a good time, but really, I hope that the tinsel suffocates them.
Sneaky peace isn’t peace.
Because when the gossip catches up to you, how do you think that goes over?
(4) Exhausted from Yelling Really, Really, Loudly Peace
This type of peace is also known as ‘Professional Wrestling” peace.
Because to these people, the answer to disagreement is simply to fight people!
They let people have it.
They write an angry email.
They blog incessantly – typing as loudly as their fingers can type.
And they get all their anger out and…
…They feel better.
Because they’re exhausted.
But this peace is not peace.
Because while you might feel ok for a moment.
The people you yelled at? Not so much.
This isn’t what people called to peace do.
(5) Selfish Peace
The selfish peace can be one of the trickiest of all. It’s a type of peace that exists, as long as, people agree with you.
Gingerbreads are the best kind of cookie, right? I’ll fight you if you disagree.
I think we should hold the work party on Friday night…, RIGHT EVERYONE!?!!
We should spend exactly $20 on each kid for Christmas. $20 is the right amount. We can peacefully get these presents, if you buy them for only $20.
But it’s even worse if someone disagrees with this type of person. Because instead of entertaining the idea that maybe, they, a sinful, imperfect human being, could possibly be incorrect, they blame all the discord on the other person.
It’s like the Grinch! He hated Christmas. He hated toys. He hated carols. He hated the Christmas feast and the roast beast.
And he hated it because the Whos liked it.
And he was convinced the Whos down in Whoville were all jerks.
And the disagreement was all their fault.
And it had nothing to do with the fact that he went and hid up on a mountain and was generally unpleasant to people all the time.
And so, the night he steals Christmas, he’s at peace, because it was all their fault anyway!
Stealing the toys? They deserve it.
Breaking the ornament? This is on them.
Losing the Roast Beast? Cindy Lou Who is the One to blame!
This type of thinking doesn’t lead to peace.
It just leads to people wanting nothing to do with you.
Here’s the truth:
Any peace other than JESUS’ peace creates DISHARMONY.
Picture your life like this piano.
You have a note.
You play it well – it sounds nice.
When you play well with others – there’s harmony.
When you and your family are at peace – beautiful.
When you and your friends are at peace – wonderful.
When you and your church family are at peace – phenomenal.
When you avoid disagreement and prefer growing bitter– CLANG!
When you self-medicate with substances – WHAM!
When you gossip – BANG!
With you rage – DISSONANCE!
When you stay self-centered – DISHARMONY!
False peace drives people apart.
If you’re in the business of driving people apart.
If you’re in the business of creating disharmony with people that God created…
You’re also creating disharmony with God.
II. The Peace of Jesus
Speaking of disharmony.
Mary was a young woman who was about ready to become harmoniously united to a guy named Joseph.
Like most, it was a day she dreamt of.
A beautiful wedding.
A beautiful ceremony.
A beautiful reception.
All leading up to a beautiful marriage.
As each day got closer to their SAVE the DATE, Mary’s anticipation for a harmonious marriage to start grew.
Standing right in front of her!
And his message to her:
You will give birth to a Son and call him Jesus. (v31)
Talk about something that could ruin a relationship.
Something that could cause disharmony and non-peace.
Mary was suddenly pregnant with a child that wasn’t from her soon-to-be husband!
Do you know what she says at the end of it all?
Do you know what she says after finding out this disruptive news?
“I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” (v.38)
Did you hear that?
There’s Peace for her.
And, if you read the rest of the story, peace for Joseph.
And the reason they have peace in their relationship?
It’s because they have peace with God.
Peace that only Jesus can bring.
Here’s a few unique things about the peace of Jesus:
(1) It’s Divine
This is the main point of last week’s sermon. You have peace with God!
Remember this memory verse from Romans 5:1
Therefore, since we have been declared innocent through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Is God’s peace.
Think about it.
It’s not peace with your dog or your cat.
it’s not peace with your two-year-old.
it’s not peace with your sister, your mom, your dad.
Or some random acquaintance that you haven’t talked to for years on Facebook.
You have peace with the ruler of the universe!
There’s no higher level of peace in existence.
(2) It’s Unearned
Note that this is totally different from the people. Usually, you have to earn their peace. If you wrong them by “accidently” eating all of their Christmas BonBons, you might need to…
…send them a humorous BonBon GIF.
…spend hours making your own version of chocolatey, peanut-buttery goodness.
But with God?
You have peace.
Because of Jesus.
Not because of you.
You don’t need to try harder.
You don’t need to do better.
You don’t need to give more.
You don’t need to believe better.
Jesus was born miraculously, lived perfectly, died innocently and rose triumphantly.
Because of him, you have peace.
(3) It’s Complete
That’s important to remember.
Because sometimes in our earthly relationships, there’s peace…but only in certain areas:
You might have peace with your Uncle, as long as you don’t talk about politics.
You might have peace with your spouse, as long as, you don’t talk about finances.
You might have peace with your children, as long as, you don’t ever tell them that they have to go to bed.
But with God? It’s a complete peace.
You have peace with God in the morning and at night.
You have peace with God on a Sunday and a Monday.
You have peace with God during church and afterwards.
You have peace with God when you’re feeling peaceful and even when you’re not.
God’s peace is complete.
And God’s peace is a peace that God has called us to with others.
III. How to Be Peaceful with People
How do you do it?
Look at the text again. Colossians offers some guidance.
(1) Let Jesus’ Peace Rule
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” (v.15)
Focus in on the word “rule”. The Greek word actually has to do with refereeing in sports.
As in, the guy in the striped shirt has the final say.
As in, the guy with the whistle determines what’s legal.
As in, some guy on a power trip gets to determine that the three point basket I shot as time expired to win the Consolation prize at a 6th grade boy’s basketball tournament, didn’t count! (I’m not bitter).
God says to let PEACE be the deciding factor in our hearts.
Let it determine our actions.
Let it determine our words.
But, not just any peace, this is Christ’s peace.
Remember – Christ’s peace is…
…DIVINE! Peace with your parents is a godly thing.
…UNEARNED! Be peaceful even if your someone hasn’t earned back peace.
…COMPLETE! Don’t just be peaceful while other family members are around…be peaceful all the time.
(2) Be Thankful!
Verse 15 ends with the instruction, “Be Thankful.” (v.15b)
Because if you are thankful, it is a lot more challenging to be cranky. In fact, it is scientifically proven that thankfulness releases a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is the chemical that is release when you exercise that makes you feel good.
So…when you’re feeling unrest from somebody else, take a moment – and be thankful.
Be thankful to God! He loves you. He gave you life. You are his.
Be thankful to Jesus! He loves you. He died for you. He rose for you. You are forgiven.
Be thankful for that person you are angry with!
If it’s a family member or a friend, there are things that you are thankful for about them.
You might not be thinking about it at the moment.
But when you practice thankfulness for that person, unrest starts to fade away.
For example, I just met someone whose mother gave them up when they were an infant.
The story goes that the mother was too addicted to drugs to be a good mother, so she gave her up for adoption.
But do you know what this formerly abandoned infant – now full-grown adult said?
I’m thankful for her.
Thankful she gave me life.
Thankfulness works against unrest.
(3) Digest a Wealth of God’s Word
This is the obligatory part of the sermon where I remind you to study more of God’s Word. But that’s what God’s Word says about God’s Word. Verse 16 says this, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another.”
Think about it.
The more that you know that you have peace with God, the more peaceful you’ll be with others.
Usually I tell you that you that spending time in God’s Word is a blessing for you.
And it is.
But flip the script today – because your time in God’s Word is also a blessing for others.
You won’t be so irritable.
You won’t react to every little thing someone says.
You won’t let the unpeaceful things of others hurt you because you will find peace in your Savior!
In fact, if you’re wondering whether or not you need more of God’s Word, ask yourself if you’re perfectly peaceful with your family.
If the answer is no, then…you need God’s Word.
Check out verse 16: “Teach And admonish one another with Psalm, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts towards God.” (v.16)
Did you know that God tells us to sing? Because music is a special gift from God. A special gift that can bring peace on its own. It’s why they science tells you that beautiful melodies of classical music can put your brainwaves at ease and help you study more peacefully and efficiently.
Now combine the peace of music with God’s Word.
Joy to the world the Lord has come! I have no reason to be mad at you.
Silent Night! Holy Night! It’s ok, I lost my place in line.
Oh Come, Oh come Emmanuel! Help me stay calm with my brother…Mel!
It’s a real thing though.
Music brings peace.
Music used to teach us the great things our God has done for us – divine peace.
(5) Act in Jesus’ Name
Check out verse 17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Because that’s really the whole point.
We are acting in Jesus’ name.
And if you are going around being a non-peaceful jerk, who’s going to believe that you have the message of peace?
On the other hand, if you’re able to stay calm, stay peaceful, stay joyful.
You’ll bring peace.
They’ll want peace.
You get to show them peace.
That’s really the whole point.
You have an incredible opportunity this season to share the peace of Jesus.
May God give us peace to do so. Amen.
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.
When you go to a restaurant, you can often tell what’s important to them based on what happens while you’re there:
A restaurant might have hired a five-star chef, serve food you can’t pronounce, and for a price you can’t afford because they love quality.
Another might have a laid-back atmosphere, chilled jazz music, and eclectic decorations because they love atmosphere.
Another might have inexpensive prices, smiling faces, and quick turnover on dishes because they love customers.
There’s a restaurant on one of Gordon Ramsay’s show a while back called Amy’s Baking Company. And after watching the episode, it’s pretty obvious that Amy’s Baking Company loved their own Amy. There were photos of her hanging throughout the restaurant. The food took hours to complete because Amy needed her time to work. The customers were sent away without any of their complaints being answered because Amy was always right. Even Gordon Ramsay left the show without turning the restaurant around because they didn’t love becoming a good restaurant as much as they loved Amy.
It’s easy to tell what a restaurant loves by looking at how they operate. It’s the same thing with churches:
This church loves community outreach.
This church loves beautiful music.
This church loves fantastic architecture.
Today we are continuing our series called Dear Church. It’s a series in which we examine letters from Jesus to seven different churches. The letter for today looks at a church that had the wrong love. Our goal: Identify what that love is, compare it with what we love as Gethsemane Church, and consider what we should love most of all.
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 Wrong Kind of Love
The lesson comes from Revelation 2:1. Take a look at the beginning of this letter from Jesus: “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.”
A few notes:
The letter is written to the angel. That’s either a reference to (1) an actual angel or more likely (2) the pastor of the church in Ephesus. Angel literally means “messenger” and since the pastor is the messenger bringing God’s Word to the people, the angel could easily represent that.
This church is the one in Ephesus. Ephesus was a church that started up after Paul did some groundwork there during his second missionary journey. If you remember, that’s the place where Paul stayed for two years until a riot started by the merchants and workers behind the Artemis of the Ephesians industry. Granted that would have been around 45 A.D. and Revelation would be around 90 A.D. So, a great period of time has passed within this church.
The one writing the letter is John, but these are the words of Jesus. Flashback to last week’s sermon:
Jesus is the one holding the seven stars.
Jesus is the one walking among the golden lampstands.
Jesus is the one speaking to his churches.
And remember, Revelation 1:20 reveals that the lampstands are the churches.
The symbolism is that Jesus walks amongst his churches.
He is there with his people.
He is with believers.
He is with YOU.
This was true for the Ephesian church. Jesus had been with the Ephesian church, he knows a thing or two about what is important to them. Look at what Jesus says to them:
I know your deeds. (v.2a) I know how you’ve been bringing bread to the local widows. I know how you’ve helped the poor in your community. I know how you’ve been kind to any foreigners who come to the area.
I know your hard work and your perseverance. (v.2b) I know that you’ve been battling city ordinances aimed against you at the hands of idol making industry. I know that some of your members have left because of persecution. I know that you’ve gathered up extra funds just to keep the church’s budget above water.
I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people. (v.2c) I know that you speak out against the greed of the city. I know you speak out against the temple prostitution ring. I know that you speak out against the local merchants as they go get wasted every evening after work.
I know that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not and have found them false. (v. 2d) I know that people have been coming to you claiming to be from Jesus, but they teach anything but Jesus. I know that rather than keep them around, you called them out. You pointed out their hypocrisy. You told them what was right.
You have persevered.
You have endured hardships for my name.
You have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. (v.3b-4)
Do you see the problem? Because as the letter begins, Jesus addresses them doing a bunch of things that a church ought to be doing!
It looked like there wasn’t any problem with what they were doing.
At least, not to the human eye.
Jesus’ eyes, are blazing fire. (1:14)
And his eyes saw the heart.
And their hearts had forsaken their first love.
And their hearts now had the wrong love.
TRUTH: The Ephesian church had the WRONG love.
Because they had forsaken their first love. Their first love was Jesus. When Paul had brought the message of the Gospel to them forty years earlier, they had loved the incredible news that he brought.
They loved how Jesus had been the only real God in a city of fake gods.
They loved how Jesus had made them a part of His kingdom.
They loved how Jesus had brought them forgiveness.
They loved how Jesus gave them confidence in the promise of eternal life.
But now, years later…
But now, years removed from when they first believed.
But now, they loved something else.
Now they had the wrong love.
Since this letter was written down and preserved, we’re able to reflect upon it today. Here’s where it’s a big deal. When our love becomes anything other than Jesus.
1) Doing Good
There’s a lot of good for churches to do: Food banks, food drives, working with youth, working with seniors, working with children, helping widows, helping veterans, singing down at the retirement home, knitting sweaters for refugees, collecting Toys for Tots, Bottles for Babies, and Doritos for Daddy’s.
It’s not wrong to do good.
It’s not wrong to love doing good.
In fact, if you aren’t doing any good, there’s a problem in your church.
If the thing you love most is simply “doing good” …
Did you know that the Church of Satan has a Facebook page? It’s a church dedicated to worshipping Satan. The page is filled with pictures of the devil and ancient cult-like worship. But it’s also filled with a request for socks.
The church of Satan ran a sock drive. They collected dry socks to give out to the homeless in their area. The idea was simply to “do good” and help people in the community.
And so I ask…
If all we love is doing good, then what’s the difference between this church and the church of Satan?
If we leave out Jesus, then what’s the difference between us and anything else?
Enduring as a church can get hard. You lose a couple of members. The cost of keeping a building open increases. The budget becomes harder and harder to make work.
So, if you have been around for a while, that’s awesome. You might love the fact that you’ve been around for awhile and you might be wiling to do whatever it takes to continue to be around for a while.
But if you love enduring more than anything…
Then, maybe you don’t teach what God’s Word says about hell. (We don’t want people to leave.)
Maybe you don’t rebuke that church member for sleeping with his girlfriend. (We don’t want to upset him.)
Maybe you don’t call out that church leader who gives a lot of money for bitter attitude because (We need his funds to survive.)
Suddenly, you’re enduring.
But not as a church of Jesus.
3) Hating Evil
Understand. God hates evil, too.
In fact, God is holy.
That means he hates evil more than you ever could.
But if our first love is pointing out evil:
Then, I imagine my sermons would just be about how bad everyone is out there.
Your homework would be to go on Facebook and put an angry face next to every article that supports something evil.
Our elder’s job would be to simply go onto blog posts and write angry messages.
Without mentioning Jesus.
Imagine that you were struggling with lying. Lying is a sin. Lying is evil. Then, you came to me and said: “Pastor, I have been lying. It’s wrong. It’s a sin. I’m so sorry.”
And I leaned in.
Looked you in the eye.
Then said: “You know lying is an awful sin deserving of God’s hellfire wrath. Go and do better or else.”
How do you feel?
Close to Jesus?
Here’s the truth:
If we loving “Hating evil” more than Jesus, then it leads us to not teach Jesus.
And if we don’t teach Jesus, isn’t that…
4) Being Right
At the time of the Early Church, pastors would travel from city to city. They’d introduce themselves as “a pastor of Jesus” and then ask to preach in the local church.
The problem is that some people weren’t really teachers of what Jesus taught. As they’d begin preaching things that Jesus didn’t teach and say things that Jesus didn’t. So, it was good for the church in Ephesus to point out where those apostles were wrong so that they didn’t lead people away from Jesus.
The problem was that over time the church seemed to stop teaching what was right because it would lead the people to Jesus, but because it meant “they were right.”
I think this is an especially important warning for our church. As Lutherans we trace our roots back to people who defend the truth. 500 some years ago a monk named Martin Luther defend the truth that we are saved by faith in Jesus against Catholic teaching that we had to earn it. 50 some years ago our group of Lutherans decided to hold to the truth instead of teaching what the Bible doesn’t say like so many other varieties of Lutherans.
But if our main love becomes “Being right” instead of “teaching Jesus”, then suddenly:
We aren’t right.
And all of this about the wrong love is a big deal. Look at what Jesus says next: Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. (2:5)
Remember what the lampstand represented?
Remember who walks among them?
And Jesus says that you if you are a church that keeps having the wrong love, he’s going pick up your lampstand, remove it from where he walks, and leave you by yourself.
Do you get it?
If you are a church whose first love is not Jesus, then, you are NOT a church.
If you aren’t a church, then you aren’t part of God’s family.
And if you aren’t a part of God’s family, then you’re far from Jesus.
II. The Right Love
The word used for love in verse 4 is AGAPE. AGAPE is a Greek word that means, “unconditional love.” It’s a love that’s all the time. It’s a love that’s independent. It’s a love that continues from one side, even when the other side does not reciprocate.
It’s also a type of love that humans fail miserably at.
That’s why in the Bible humans aren’t often described as having that type of love.
Most often the one described as having that type of love is God.
Because God is AGAPE…This is AGAPE: not that we AGAPED God, but that he AGAPED us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 Jn. 4:8, 10)
Do you get it?
Even when our first love is lost.
Even when we love other things more than God.;
Even when our love for Him grows cold.
God’s love for us does not.
God’s first love is YOU.
God loved you more than being in heaven.
God loved you more than staying away from this world.
God loved you more than suffering.
So, God came to earth.
God loved you more than his own blood.
God loved you more than his own breath.
God loved you more than his own life.
God lived for you.
God died for you.
God rose for you.
And that “first love” is more than just ordinally. As in, “you are my number one.”
God also loved you chronologically “first.”
Because God didn’t say: “I’ll wait up until you love me back before I do this.”
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
While we were still with the wrong love, God showed love for us.
While we were still void of love for Him, God filled our hearts with His love.
In fact, that leads to a second truth:
Because God loved us FIRST God is our FIRST LOVE.
It’s like Kool Aid. If had a cup of Kool Aid and I wanted to give you Kool Aid, but didn’t have any Kool Aid in my cup, then I couldn’t give you any Kool Aid because of my severe lack of Kool Aid.
When God is involved.
And God is a pitcher of Kool Aid.
And God pours his love in my heart.
Then, God has just enabled me to show love.
Love for God.
Love for Jesus.
Love for the Gospel
Love for others.
1 John 4:20 says this, “We love because Christ first loved us.”
The truth is that God’s loved empowers us to love him.
And our love for Jesus compels everything else.
Because notice that after Jesus reprimands the church for losing their first love, he gives them a compliment. He says: “But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (v.6)
Who exactly the Nicolaitans were is unknown.
That’s lost to history.
What isn’t lost to history is that Jesus was against them.
Which means the stuff that the Ephesians church had been doing, they should continue to do.
They should do good.
They should endure.
They should hate evil.
They should hold to what was right.
But they should do so, because of their love for Jesus.
Instead of doing good because “I love being called good;” we do good “because God is good to us.”
Instead of enduring because “I enjoy enduring;” we endure because “God’s love keeps us enduring.”
Instead of hating evil because “I like to think of myself not evil,” we hate evil because “God has saved me from evil.”
Instead of holding to what is right because “I like to be right,” we hold to what is right because the truth of Jesus is what saves.
III. WHAT NOW?
Look at how Jesus ends this letter to the Ephesians: Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (v.7a)
And if you’re wondering if that applies to you, put your hands to the side of your head.
Do you feel some flappy, cartilage things?
Those are ears.
You have them.
Please listen to Jesus’ letter.
Because I can’t look at your heart.
And you can’t look at mine.
So, God is asking each of us to look within ourselves:
To see where has our love grown cold.
Where have we loved other things more than Jesus.
When we find the answer, to repent:
To confess the wrong love that we have.
To return our first love, Jesus.
Look at Jesus’ promise: To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” (v.7)
Doesn’t that sound good.
For you, paradise might be a trip to the beach, sitting under a fancy umbrella, sipping martini’s and listening to Bob Marley.
But this is the paradise of God.
What’s God’s version of paradise?
Being with you.
Apart from things that get in the way.
Apart from sin.
Apart from fear.
Apart from shame.
Apart from guilt.
Apart from pain.
Apart from death.
By the tree of life.
So you’re with him forever.
That’s God’s version of paradise.
To be beyond the very last, with his very first love.
May God keep our hearts strong with him. Amen.
Have you ever gotten an unidentified stain on your shirt?
You’re getting along.
You’re minding your only business.
Suddenly, you look down and…
What is that? Coffee? Chocolate? Some kind of pinecone residue? (I don’t remember cuddling pinecones.)
It’s important to identify stains so that you know how to treat it correctly.
Today we’re continuing our sermon series called MESSY. Last week we talked about sin…what it is and how it messes up our relationship with God. Today we want to discover the origins of sin. By identifying where it comes from, we will better be able to battle it in our own lives. But before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Influencers, not Origins
The Scripture today is from Mark 7. It says, “The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed...So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” (v.1-5,
Jesus and his disciples were eating food. This is interesting thing to think about. Usually, I think of Jesus as a divine, miracle-performing being. He is. But he was also a true human. As true God, he was all powerful, energizing the universe, but as true man, he needed his calories.
Since some of the Pharisees were able to gather around Jesus, it meant that they were in a public place. Usually there was a common type area in the middle of town where you could set up a picnic and do some eating. Picture it like an ancient food court:
Matthew stopped at Chick-Fi-A.
James went to the Ragin’ Cajun.
Peter’s just walking around and getting as many free samples of chicken on a little toothpick as he can.
The Pharisee’s issue is that the disciples were eating with defiled hands. It was a ceremonial tradition amongst the elders in Jerusalem to give a ceremonial washing before they ate any food.
They’d wash up. They’d wash down. They’d wash all around.
The issue wasn’t that they were germaphobes.
The was ceremonial. Throughout the Old Testament God had placed certain restrictions on the food that was eaten and the cleanliness of their ceremonies in order to impress on the Israelites the fact that God was holy. The Pharisees had simply taken it a step farther and added extra hand washings and ceremonial cleansings in order to really make themselves holy.
That’s why they were so upset with Jesus.
Wasn’t he supposed to be a godly Teacher?
Why would he let his disciples eat without the ceremonial washing?
By doing so, wasn’t he teaching them to defile their bodies with sin?
Do you see the problem?
The Pharisees thought that unclean hands…
Would somehow contain sin…
That would make its way into the body…
And create a sinful heart.
It is faulty to assume that sin originates from exterior sources.
Now understand what that’s saying:
Exterior sources can absolutely nfluence us to sin.
They can tempt us to sin.
But it is NOT the place of origin.
I think that’s important to remember. Because as Christians we might want to cut down on sin. In doing so, we might look to cut out some exterior sources. But while that might be helpful, it wouldn’t be the origin. For example:
(1) Food and Drink
The wrong kind of food and drink can make you feel gross. And if you feel gross, it can make it easy to be gross towards others. It might be wise to stay away from that unhealthy food so you don’t feel so sluggish and aren’t so easily a slug. So, you back away from greasy hamburgers, stop drinking coffee and throw away (sigh) all the Doritos.
To be fair, those might be wise decisions. Food and drink can absolutely influence the way we act.
But be careful that you don’t think it’s the origin of sin. As if, all we need to do is be eat healthy, throw on some Essential Oils on it, and we’ll take care of the sin problem.
Because even if you are Crossfit gym levels of physical fitness, guess what?
You might still be a jerk to your coworkers.
You might still fight with your wife.
You might start lusting after that person at the gym.
You might start trusting your oil collection to keep your healthy, more than your God.
In short, sin would still be around.
Food and drank are only influencers, not the origin of sin.
This is another big influencer towards sin. If you’re watching TV shows with all kinds of swear words, don’t be surprised if you’re Preschooler repeats those swear words in front of your in-laws at the fancy restaurant. There have been Precious Lambs kids who are quoting characters that are a part of Games of Thrones. That might not be the wisest…
With social media, YouTube, the internet making it so easy to consume some downright awful content, we have to be diligent to keep our families safe from evil influences. It’s good to install filters on internet. It’s good to have a parental code on the TV. I think it’d be pretty fun to watch nothing but Veggietales, all the time, all the time, all the time.
But even if we severely cut down on our sinful media intake, there would still be sin.
Case in point?
All of human history before media existed.
There was no TV, but still sin.
No YouTube, still sin.
No smartphones and still sin.
Media is an influencer. It can lead us to sin, but it isn’t the origin.
Nobody wants stress. Stress at work. Stress at the home. Stress in relationships. Stress makes you high strung, on edge, and ready to jump down people’s throats.
Stress is an influencer of sin.
The more stress there is the tougher it is to not be sinfully unpleasant.
It’s why people try to destress:
If I go get a full body massage…
If I surround myself with nature…
If I just listen to some Enya…
My stress will fade away.
And so will sin.
Again, stress is an influencer. So removing yourself from stressful situations will be helpful in our battle against being sinfully unpleasant.
Stress isn’t the origin of sin.
I remember a while back being on vacation. It was nice because I was away from some of the stress that comes from being a pastor. I felt like I was a bit more low-key. I was feeling good. I was feeling pleasant. I was feeling like I was doing a better job managing being sinfully short with Julianna.
Then, she asked if I wanted to get up and workout. “Nah!”
She asked if I wanted to help with food. “I’m good.”
She asked if I wanted to do a devotion: “I’m too busy resting right now.”
Less stress had caused me to be less sinfully unpleasant and more sinfully lazy.
Stress is an influencer, but it isn’t the origin of sin.
II. Sin is Messy
This is Jesus’ point.
Particularly because the Pharisees were focusing on washing hands which barely had any effect on sin at all.
Listen to his response to the Pharisees: Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. (Mark 7:18-22)
Do you get it?
Sin doesn’t originate from exterior sources.
Sin originates from interior sources.
Before you punch someone in the face, you have to think: “I want to punch him in the face.”
Before you commit adultery, you have to think: “I want to commit adultery with that person.”
Before you steal, you have to think: “I want to steal that.”
Before you lie, you have to think: “I need to hide the truth.”
Before you gossip, you have to think: “I want to hurt that person.”
Before you act selfishly, you have to think: “I think my way is best.”
Sin comes from interior sources.
And one of those sources we are all too familiar with.
(1) From Your Heart
In the medical field, there are many different devices to help you get a better glimpse at what’s going inside the body: the X-Ray, the MRI, the CAT scan, the thing they do where you drink the neon liquid stuff and it appears on the machine as a bring neon color.
The Bible functions as a spiritual X-ray.
It tells us that the problem with sin lies in our hearts.
You might not like that truth, but just like the X-Ray isn’t lying, neither is God’s Word.
The problem with sin is within our hearts.
(2) From Your Parents’ Heart
Because they are people too and the Bible describes the sinful hearts of ALL people.
In fact, this answers the question: How did this sin get into my heart?
Jesus said John 3:5, “Flesh gives birth to flesh.”
Just like alligators gives birth to alligators.
Hedgehogs gives birth to hedgehogs.
Spiders give birth to…thousands of disgusting little spiders.
So, humans give birth to humans.
Even, sinful humans give birth to humans.
It means that your dad gave you your eyes, your nose, your male pattern baldness…
…and a sinful heart.
(3) From Adam
Before you get super mad at your parents, remember they got it from theirs.
And before you get super mad at your grandparents, remember they got it from theirs.
In fact, you’d have to trace all humans back to the very first humans.
A guy named Adam.
A woman named Eve.
They are two of only three people in the history of the world that were blessed to be born without sin.
Because God made them without sin.
And God said: “Here’s a beautiful world that I made for you. Beautiful flowers. Beautiful trees. Delicious fruits. Amazing animals. It’s yours. I love you. One way to show you love me? Just don’t eat from that one tree in the middle of the garden. Consider it your form of worship. Don’t eat of it and you’ll never bring sin into the world.”
And what did they choose to do?
They eat the fruit.
And immediately, sin infects their hearts:
For the first time ever, they feel shame: They put on some leaf clothing because, “Adam, stop looking at my body like that.”
For the first time ever, they blame: “Eve, this is all your fault!”
For the first time ever, they feel terrified: “God’s coming. He’ll be mad. We better hide.”
This is why the Bible says this: Sin entered the world through one man. (Romans 5:12)
Are you a part of the world?
Here’s the harsh truth:
Sin is in you.
III. The Non-Origin
Of course, right about now, your sinful heart might want to go a bit farther back in the origin story.
But…wasn’t there a devil?
A talking snake?
Wasn’t it his fault?
And honestly, wasn’t it God’s?
Because in the beginning was God.
He’s the one who created this world.
Why create the devil?
Why create the tree?
Why create Adam and Eve with the ability to sin?
Isn’t it God’s fault?
Check out Genesis 1:31. It’s a description of what happens at the end of creation. Look at what it says:
God saw all that he had made and it was very good. (1:31)
It had to be.
God doesn’t make stuff that is “Meh.”
God doesn’t do things that are “Ok.”
God doesn’t create things that are “imperfect.”
Sin did not originate from GOD.
He’s only good.
And his creation was only good.
The devil? He was an angel! An angel who freely chose to oppose his good Creator.
The tree? It was an altar. A way for people to freely chose to love their good Creator.
Adam and Eve? They were his perfect creation. And part of perfection was the ability to freely choose to love their Creator.
It’s like Google Maps. Google maps will listen to you. You can tell it to get you directions to the next city, to avoid tolls, to stop and find the local Taco Bell.
Google Maps will listen to you.
But it doesn’t love you.
God in his perfection made people to love.
He gave them freedom.
They chose to freely oppose him.
Sin isn’t on God;
It’s on us.
IV. The Exterminator
But that’s good news.
Because that means God is still good.
Sin didn’t infect him.
God isn’t the one who originated sin; but God is the one who exterminates it.
Look at how Romans describes it:
Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18-19)
Adam’s one act of sin is juxtaposed with God’s perfect act of rescue.
Adam did one sin; all people were brought into sinfulness. That includes you.
God did one righteous act; all people are brought into justification. That includes you.
And what is justification? It’s a court room term. It means: “a not guilty verdict.”
This means that in spite of your sinful heart, God’s righteous actions declare you “Not guilty.”
(1) Through Jesus’ Perfect Life
Do you remember earlier I mentioned three people who entered the world without sin?
One was Adam.
One was Eve.
They both chose to leave perfection and enter sin.
But the third one?
He chose to stay perfect.
The third one?
He was God himself.
The third option?
He was Jesus.
In Jesus, God became man.
In Jesus, God lived on this earth.
In Jesus, God lived under the law.
And then, just like Adam, He had a choice.
He could choose to fail miserably just like Adam…
“Through the obedience of the one man…” (v.19)
Jesus chose not to sin.
Jesus’ heart didn’t have any sin on it.
Jesus’ heart didn’t have any hate in it.
Jesus’ heart didn’t have any greed, any lust, any pride, any selfishness, any envy, any laziness, any sin of any kind at all.
Jesus’ heart was pure.
It obeyed God…
Even to death.
(2) Through Jesus’ Innocent Death.
Think back to the stain on the shirt illustration. If you had a stain on a shirt, one way you can get it out is by taking a clean rag.
You get it wet.
You blot it until the stain is out.
Of course, once you do that the stain might be out of the shirt, but it is now all over the sponge.
That’s what happened with Jesus.
Like a sponge, he soaked up all the dirt of your sin.
All the guilt of your past.
All the shame of this past week.
Jesus’ soaked it all up into his heart.
And so did your sin.
Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead.
But your sins did not.
It was exterminated.
…So also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. (v.18)
“All people” includes you.
…So also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (v.19)
“The many” includes you.
Jesus has exterminated your sin.
V. What Now?
This affects the way we deal with sin in our life. Take a look at the passages from James 1:19-21. It says this, “Take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”
Because a good part of our actions are determined by our emotions.
The example given in James is the emotion of anger. We get angry. Our anger tells us to do. We listen even if it is a sin.
You might say: “Anger is an emotion. How can I help it?”
The problem isn’t necessarily anger. God gets angry. He gets righteously angry against sin.
The problem isn’t emotion, it’s emotion coming from a sin infected heart.
It can be any emotion:
Sin infected happiness.
Sin infected fear.
Sin infected sadness.
Knowing that we can’t simply say: “I feel this way so I should do it.”
Pause and consider this emotional reaction is influenced by sin, simply because of my sinful heart.
Maybe, I shouldn’t do it.
(2) Listen to the Planted Word
Sin isn’t the only thing in our hearts.
By God’s grace, we have the Gospel in our hearts.
God planted it there through the message of the Gospel.
He planted knowledge of our Savior.
He planted knowledge of our saving.
He planted knowledge of what sin is and motivation for getting rid of it.
He planted knowledge of what’s God pleasing and motivation for doing it.
It’s like a pile of trash, stinky, dirty, disgusting…
…And yet, by God’s grace, a flower grows.
It’s the same in our hearts.
They are sin filled.
But by God’s grace, a flower grows.
By God’s Word, sin is defeated.
By God’s power, we bloom for him. Amen.
We have a leak on our roof. The rain comes down through a circular vent that was installed through the shingles and OSB without a line of caulk to protect the space surrounding it. My first attempt at fixing it (cover the area with tin foil) only worked until the tin toil blew off the roof. (About 2 days) On my second attempt, I went up to the roof with a caulking gun that I had loaded with roofing tar. I took that tar and did a nice circle around the opening. Case closed. (Julianna, man do you have handy husband.)
But that wasn’t it. It was still leaky. I went back to the roof, but couldn’t find an opening, so I decided to approach it from the other side. I went up into our crawl space attic, maneuvered around the insulation and shined a tiny flashlight up to the hole from the other direction. Sure enough! There were a few tiny little holes that were still allowing water into our place.
So, I picked up the caulking gun, pressed it against the holes and…
I tried again.
I pumped it a solid 7 or 8 times more until…
Apparently, I had forgotten to open up the top of the caulking tube. As a result, it busted out the back and all over my hands.
That tar was messy.
I used soap.
I used a second kind of soap.
I used a third kind of soap.
It was messy.
Today we’re starting our sermon series called MESSY. It’s all about something that’s the spiritual equivalent of tar all over your hands: something called sin. Something that can get all over your life, all over your relationships, and all over your relationship with God. Today we just wanted to identify what sin is and how we deal with it. But before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. What is Sin?
The Scripture that we’re looking at today is from the book of Mark. Mark is a guy who was an eyewitness to Jesus’ life. So, it’s likely that he was there for the event that we’re taking a look at today. Listen to what happens: As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17)
This story is actually recorded in two other places of Scripture. In Matthew’s version, we learn that he was a young man. (Mt. 19:20) In Luke’s version, we learn that he was a ruler. (Lk. 18:18) In all of the stories, we learn that he was rich.
So, here’s what you need to understand…
This guy was impressive.
He was the kind of guy who worked hard throughout his life. Maybe he was first chair trumpet, captain of the soccer team and the homecoming king all while graduating Cum Laude with three sets of honor cords.
The kind of guy that was no stranger to inheritance. His grandpa’s 401k. His dad’s H&R Block business. He was….
The kind of guy with a family boat house on Lake Gaston.
The kind of guy who’d gotten on Shark Tank and received a royalty deal from Mr. Wonderful.
The kind of guy who’d be an Instagram influencer – literally paid by companies — just to include a shot of himself drinking a Coca-Cola on his next social media post.
He was successful.
He also knew that none of this stuff was eternal life.
The assets would eventually run out.
The Lexus would stop running.
The six pack of abs would eventually fade to fat…then dust.
But he had earned everything else in his life.
Hence the question:
Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
Why do you call me good? There is no one good, but God alone. (v.18)
Understand what Jesus is saying:
God is good.
And eternal life is God’s.
Then eternal life must be good.
And since God is good.
And his commands are God’s.
Then, his commands are good.
And since eternal life is good.
And God’s commands are good.
To get to eternal life, one simply needs to do the good that your good God commands you to do:
Do not murder. Murder bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Do not commit adultery. Unfaithfulness is bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Do not steal. Theft is bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Do not give false testimony. Lying is bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Do not defraud. Gossip is bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Honor your Father and Mother. Disrespect is bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Do the good things. You inherit eternal life.
Do the bad things. You won’t.
Sin is the MESSINESS of OPPOSING God.
It’s like eating healthy. If you’re trying to eat healthy, then food is either good for your body or good for your taste buds.
Carrot mush. Good for your body, not for taste.
Deep friend Carrot Cake. Good for taste, not for body.
Bran Flakes. Good for body.
Frosted Flakes. Good for taste.
Kombucha. Good for body.
Vanilla Dr. Pepper. Good for taste.
Brussel sprouts. Good for body.
Doritos. Good for taste.
Brussel sprout flavored Doritos? Not good for either. Let’s make sure that it’ll never happen.
Sin and God are like that.
They are in opposition.
What’s good for sin is not good for God.
What’s good for God is not good for sin.
II. Sin is Messy
And one of the reasons that God has assigned the sinful things as sin is because sin causes all kinds of messiness in our lives.
Thinks about it:
(1) Sin Messes up Relationships
Just consider some of the sins that Jesus mentions here.
Stealing? It messes up your relationship with the friend you stole 20 bucks from.
Gossip? It messes up your relationship with the person who finds out you have been gossiping about them.
Adultery? It messes up your relationship with your spouse, with the person you’re commit adultery with, with the spouse of the person you’re committing adultery with, with your parents, with your spouse’s parents, with your parents of the person you’ve committed adultery with, with the parents of the spouse of the persons you’ve committed adultery with, with your siblings, with your siblings in law, with their friends, with your friends, and, God forbid, any children that are in the mix.
Now you might say:
Only if I get caught!
Is that really true?
Because even if you don’t get caught stealing, the relationship with your friend is affected because now you have to think of ways to lie to your friend and remember the lies that you said in order not to get caught.
And even if you don’t get caught by the person you’re gossiping about, the people you’re gossiping to hear what you’re saying, recognize what you’re doing, and are making mental notes to keep you at a distance.
And even if you don’t get caught in adultery, you quickly find yourself nitpicking and complaining about any minor offense from your spouse because you need to soothe your conscience and come up with tangible reasons to tell yourself: “It’s ok what I’m doing.”
Sin messes up relationships with others.
(2) Sin Messes Up Self Image
Because what happens when you sin?
You don’t usually feel good about you it.
You feel anxious.
You feel sad.
You feel guilty.
And here’s the thing, when people say things like “You’re such a good person.”
You nod and accept, but deep down there’s this little voice that says: “If they only knew…”
They wouldn’t call me good.
They’d call me -- unfaithful.
Which leads to our next issue…
(3) Sin Messes Up Your Relationship with God
It’s Back to Church Sunday. One thing I’ve been doing this week is reaching out to people who used to worship here but haven’t in a while. Just a simple message telling them that we missed them and would love for them to return.
In the process, I invited one friend of mine. And the person responded: “I’ll think about it.”
So, I followed up yesterday and asked if they might make it? They said they didn’t have a car. I said, “We could give a ride.”
They responded: “I don’t think I can get up that early.” I said: “The last service is at 11 am.”
Finally, they said: “Pastor, I can’t come, because life is mess right now. I need to get it together first. I can’t let God see me like this. I’m too guilty.”
How sad. Sin drives people apart from God.
It causes us to distance ourselves from him.
We miss out on knowing we have his protection.
We miss out on being uplifted by his love.
We miss out on hearing about his incredible plan for us.
We just kind of drift…away.
But none of this worries our impressive young man. When he hears Jesus’ answer, he’s feeling pretty good. Because Jesus mentioned a bunch of commands, that he hasn’t broken.
He hasn’t murdered.
He hasn’t committed adultery.
He hasn’t lied.
He’s done good.
He says to Jesus:
All these I have kept since I was a boy. (v.20)
Jesus looked at him.
Jesus loved him.
Jesus spoke to his heart:
One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have. Sell your 401k. Sell your internet business. Sell your stock in Disney. Sell your 70” HD TV. Sell your XBOX. Sell your Coach Handbag. Sell your Air Jordans. Sell your season tickets. Sell everything.
And give to the poor. To the homeless. To the impoverished. To the elderly man who can’t afford healthcare. To the guy at the I-540 on ramp asking for change. To the immigrant who can’t get a job because of the way he looks.
And you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come follow me. (v.21)
But the young man didn’t follow Jesus.
His face fell.
He grew sad.
He turned and left.
Because you see, Jesus had exposed his sin.
Did you catch it?
He loved earthly treasure more than heavenly treasure.
He loved STUFF more than the CREATOR of stuff.
He broke the 1st Commandment: You shall have no other gods.
He did bad.
He wasn’t good.
But more intriguing than the young man’s response, is what Jesus says next.
How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!... It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. (v.23,24)
Have you ever seen a camel before? It’s a big old animal. The average camel is 6 feet tall at the shoulder, 7 feet tall at the hump. It weighs about 1500 pounds.
The eye of a needle? It’s much tinier. It’s so tiny because it is designed for only a thread to pass through it.
I don’t have a camel with me. (The Greensboro Zoo wouldn’t get back to my request to borrow one)
But I do have this stuffed camel.
And this needle.
No matter how hard I smush it.
No matter how hard I jam it.
No matter how hard I push it.
It is impossible for this stuffed camel to go through the eye of this needle.
It is impossible for a real camel to go through the eye of a needle.
And it is impossible for a rich young man earn his way through the gates of heaven.
In fact, it is impossible for anyone to earn their way into the gates of heaven.
(4) Sin Messes Up Our Entrance into Heaven
Heaven is a good place.
Heaven is a divinely good place.
It is a place without any sin.
And if you’ve got sin on you…
If you’ve got a big sin…
If you’ve got a little sin…
If you’ve got any sin…
…it is impossible for you to earn your way into heaven.
III. The Solution
Jesus’ disciples are shocked all this. Because this impressive young gentleman, who had earned all varieties of accolades in his lifetime, wasn’t able to earn the accolade of heaven.
If he wasn’t getting in, then…
What about us?
Because he’s got it together, we don’t.
He’s impressive; we’re not.
He’s got everything going for him; not us.
He was the Bill Gates, the Mark Zuckerberg, the Elon Musk.
If he wasn’t getting in, then…
Who can be saved? (v.26)
Listen to Jesus’ response:
With humans, this is impossible. But not with God; with God all things are possible. (v.27)
Do you get it?
Heaven is impossible for any being with sin to earn.
He doesn’t have any sin.
He doesn’t struggle with wrong.
He isn’t messy…at all.
(1) Sin hasn’t MESSED UP God
Unlike all of the rest of us, God is sinless. He’s still good. He doesn’t do wrong. He doesn’t have any mess on his eternal being. He remains pure.
You won’t catch God in the fellowship area after church gossiping about that one guy.
You can’t Google for God’s criminal record because he doesn’t have any.
You won’t find photos of God from 2011 on Social Media in which he’s engaged in lewd activity.
You won’t find any racists tweets that have been deleted from God’s account.
God is incorruptible.
God is perfect.
God is sinless.
Sin hasn’t messed up God.
And it never will.
Which is big news.
Because it means
(2) God is the ONE to Clean the Mess Up
Think about it:
When I had that tar all over my hands, one of the worst things that could have done would be to try and wipe it off by rubbing my dirty hands together.
(It’s what I did), but it failed miserably.
Messy hands cannot clean up messy hands.
Sinful hands cannot clean up sinful hands.
But God’s hands aren’t dirty.
God’s hands aren’t messy.
God’s hands are holy.
God’s hands are pure.
God’s hands are divine.
God is the one to clean the mess up.
God is the one to clean YOUR mess up.
He is the ONLY one to clean your mess up.
He had to act.
And he did.
Back to the story. Peter is the name of one of Jesus’ disciples and he is having a hard time believing that he can’t earn heaven. So, he says to Jesus this: “WE have left everything to follow you.” (v.28)
That’s what you told the young man to do.
That’s what we did.
Granted, we didn’t have as much as he did, but we still left it.
We are following you.
Does that count for something?
Look at Jesus’ response:
Truly I tell you…no one who has left home for me and the Gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age…and in the age to come eternal life. (v.29-30)
Isn’t that strange?
Jesus just promised Peter eternal life.
It wasn’t because Peter could earn it. He couldn’t.
It wasn’t because Peter was perfect. He was a sinner.
It was because Peter followed Jesus.
But why would that work?
Jesus is God.
(3) The MESSINESS of Sin is Removed by Jesus
He is God come into this messy world.
He is God dealing with the messiness of humanity.
He is God who suffered a messy, bloody death at the hands of humans on the cross.
But when he died.
He took the messiness of your sins with him.
He took the messiness of your guilt to the cross.
He through the messiness of your sins into the grave…and the stone door was slammed shut.
And there they remained.
Jesus and our sins in the grave.
On the third day?
Jesus came out alive.
But our sins? They stayed there…dead.
Jesus has removed the messiness of your sins.
In Jesus you are clean.
In Jesus you are messiness-less.
In Jesus, you are forgiven.
You might think -
All the sins I have.
All the ways I’ve made a mess of it.
All the messiness in my heart.
But not for God.
God specializes in the impossible.
Like rising from the dead.
He did the visually impossible to prove the invisibly impossible
He did the visually impossible: rising from the dead, to prove the invisible impossible: removal of all the messiness of your sins.
IV. What Now?
It’s what the rich young man didn’t do. Follow Jesus.
It’s what the poor disciples did do. Follow Jesus.
And it’s what God is calling you to do: Follow Jesus.
It’s the way out of your sinful mess. Follow Jesus.
It’s the way out of your messy guilt. Follow Jesus.
It’s the way out of this messy world to place where there’s never any mess…
I was once called to a hospital room late at night. The elderly man I went to see was in grave condition. He was hooked up to a breathing machine. He was unable to move. His eyes were red and there were purple splotches creeping up his neck.
But when I got there…whatever brightness could come to his eyes, did.
Pastor, I’m so glad you’re here.
Pastor, I’m not gonna last much longer.
Pastor, I’ve been thinking about my life.
About how I messed things up with my wife.
About how I messed things up with my children.
About how I messed…things…up.
But…as big of a mess up as I was…
I know it’s not too big of a mess for Jesus.
Because ain’t nothing too big of a mess for Jesus.
He was right.
And he is right with Jesus.
Follow your Savior friends. He’ll fix your eternal mess and bring you to eternal life. Amen.
Last we left the Apostle Paul, he was in the city of Ephesus preaching the message that Jesus is the Savior. He stayed there for two years. During that time frame, a congregation had developed in Ephesus. A decent crowd of people would gather together each week to hear Paul’s sermons, sing hymns, say prayers, and high-five each other in the fellowship hall.
But this church crowd wasn’t the only kind of crowd that developed in Ephesus.
Today we’re going to learn about a crowd that developed in direct opposition to the Gospel. Our goal is get some guidance about the dangers of crowd-following in 2019 Raleigh. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Crowd Forms
The lesson comes from Acts 19. It says, “There arose a great disturbance about the Way. A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there.” (v.23)
A couple of notes:
Demetrius is a Greek name. It means, “servant of Demeter.” Demeter was the Greek goddess in charge of crops. She made sure that the grains grew. She made sure the oats grew. She made sure the corn grew. She made sure that they were golden and delicious. She made sure that they were a part of a daily balanced breakfast. (Something tells me that Demeter looked something like a breakfast food character).
But Demetrius wasn’t only worshipping deities around the food pyramid. He worked for the temple of Artemis. Artemis was the Greek goddess of hunting (meat). The story was that you could call on her and give gifts at her temple to increase your likelihood of bagging a quail on the morning hunt.
In Ephesus was the Temple to Artemis. It was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The temple was 425 feet long by 200 feet wide. It was tall and ornate with beautiful marble columns. People came from across the ancient world in order to visit this incredible wonder.
And while the tourists were visiting the temple, they could pick up a souvenir! That’s where Demetrius came into play. He was a silversmith. His job was to build replica temples and replica statues of Artemis that he would sell on the corner right outside the monument. The little silver statue would become a keepsake or a household idol that people would pray to and hold close for protection.
But business had been down recently.
It wasn’t related to the economy.
It wasn’t related to a lack of work.
It wasn’t due to the weather keeping people from going outside.
It was because of Paul.
Paul had been preaching against idols.
Paul had been telling people that Artemis wasn’t a real god.
Paul had been telling people that Jesus was the only real God.
People were believing him and subsequently buying fewer idols.
So…Demetrius called together a meeting of all the people involved with the temple. Silversmiths, store owners, gift shop employees, temple janitors, even Amazon Prime drivers who delivered the statues across town…
Demetrius gathered together everyone involved with the trade and said:
You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty. (v.25b-27)
Do you see the issue?
Paul is ruining Demetrius’ fine way of living. Before you know it, Demetrius might not be able to go the Angus Barn. He might not be able to afford his fancy jewelry and fine cheese. He might not be able to buy Grey Poupon at the local grocery store.
Demetrius was upset because he was losing money. You can almost hear him:
Sure, these people get forgiveness.
They get joy.
They get the promise of heaven.
But I won’t be able to make my payment on the second Lexus I bought, so…
Paul must be stopped!
Here’s the truth:
Crowds led by SINFUL HUMANS are opposed to HOLY GOD.
That was Demetrius. He was a sinful human. He was leading a crowd against God’s message.
But this will be true in any situation.
1) Because Sin opposes God.
God is good.
Sin is bad.
God is against sin.
Sin is against God.
God doesn’t say to sin: “You’re awesome.”
Sin doesn’t say to God: “Let’s be best friends.”
They are drastically opposed to one another.
It’s like UNC and Duke. When they are playing one another in their next basketball showdown, every time one team makes a basket those points are good for one side and bad for the other.
Duke can’t throw an alley-oop slam dunk and divide the points evenly among both squads.
UNC can’t hit a three pointer and have it appear on the other team’s scoreboard.
By the very nature of a game with opposing teams, good news for one team means bad news for the other.
By the very nature of reality, when something godly happens that’s good news for God’s side and bad news for crowds led by sin.
When a sinful leader is the leader of the crowd, that crowd will inevitably clash with God.
2) Because the Perspective is different.
Humans live on a timeline.
We are born.
We live 30, 40, 50 years.
Everything we do is on a timeline:
I need a report in by Friday.
I need to finish schooling by December.
I need to make enough money for my son’s inheritance before I die.
God is different.
God is eternal.
He is off the timeline.
He is concerned with eternity.
Because the temporal perspective is so different from the eternal perspective, there’s a contradiction.
Case in point:
God wanted people to stop worshipping idols so that they could know the Savior and have eternal life.
Demetrius wanted people to stop worshipping Jesus so that he could have more money and buy himself a nice steak dinner.
The perspective is different.
Crowds led by SINFUL HUMANS are opposed to HOLY GOD.
This is still true today.
In 2018 in rural Mexico, Pastor Eduardo Garcia served at local country church. One of the struggles in Mexico is drug addiction. Crystal meth has taken over in the area. It’s ruined health, finances, and family. Pastor Eduardo Garcia preached against the danger of Meth.
He taught that Meth couldn’t save you; only Jesus could.
He taught that Meth didn’t remove guilt; only Jesus did.
He taught that Meth eventually brought death; and Jesus brought life.
And a few drug addicts listened.
He got them help.
They got off the drugs.
Great news, right?
Except for the Drug Cartel.
They were losing money.
The Drug Cartel had Pastor Eduardo Garcia gunned down in the streets.
Crowds led by SINFUL HUMANS are opposed to HOLY GOD.
II. The Crowd Rages
Back to the story. When the crowd heard Demetrius’ speech, “They were furious and began shouting: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ ”(v.28)
They rushed into the city.
They pumped their fists.
They motioned for others to join them.
People joined the crowd who agreed with their cause.
People joined the crowd who loved Artemis.
People joined the crowd who enjoyed shouting.
People joined the crowd who didn’t want others to get mad at them for not joining the crowd.
People joined the crowd because they didn’t want to miss out on whatever was about to happen.
Regardless, the crowd grew in number.
They grabbed two men – Gaius and Aristarchus – two church members that worked with Paul.
They dragged them through the streets.
Eventually, the streets were so narrow – and the crowd was so big – that they had to make their way to the local theater. It was the only building big enough to house the large crowd that had gathered.
As they gathered and shouted, they threw a guy named Alexander to the front in order to explain this message of Jesus.
But – thing was – Alexander wasn’t even a believer.
He just looked like he might be.
When he tried to explain that, the crowd got angrier. They didn’t want to listen.
And then it started.
Two straight hours of shouting:
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! She’s the greatest god of all time.
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! This guy named Jesus is costing us money.
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! I really, really hate the Jews.
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! I just drank a bunch of booze.
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! I don’t know what I’m doing.
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! That plane in the sky? Is that a Boeing?
Two hours of screaming.
Screaming from people who don’t even know why they’re screaming in the first place.
Here’s the warning:
Crowd following can be a MINDLESS activity.
Maybe you’ve fallen victim.
Peer pressure in high school, “It’s what the cool kids are doing.”
Friends egging you on at a bar, “Come on. Just say it.”
Your family, “Hate those people. It’s what we do.”
Comments on your social media profile, “If you don’t believe this, you are despicable.”
Society, “If you want to fit in, get rid of the god stuff. That’s the way the crowd is going.”
It’s so easy to follow the crowd.
But MINDLESS crowd following is NEEDLESLY dangerous.
Jesus is loving.
Jesu is our Savior.
You trust him, right?
He died for you.
He rose for you.
He loves you.
There’s no one more trustworthy than Jesus, right?
Look at what your trustworthy Savior said in the Gospel for today:
Do not be afraid of the one who can kill the body, but be afraid of the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell. (Mark 10:28)
Do you hear what Jesus is saying?
Don’t fear a dislike on Facebook more than holy hellfire.
Don’t fear the loss of a friend more than the loss of your God.
Don’t fear society calling you a name more than your Lord calling you DAMNED.
Don’t fear anything more than your God.
III. The Crowd is Defeated
Because no crowd can OVERPOWER God.
Back to Ephesus.
The shouting had been going on for a solid two hours.
Finally, the city clerk, who is a high-ranking individual in Ephesians society, made his way to the front of the steps.
After motioning for them to be quiet, they finally chilled.
He said to them:
“Calm down; don’t do anything rash.” (v.36)
Guys, we need to stop.
Artemis is still known around the world.
We’re still rich.
Tourists are still visiting.
These two church members haven’t done anything illegal.
The reality is that if Caesar hears about this riot – we’re the ones who did something illegal.
And we’ll be the ones getting into trouble.
Then, he dismissed them.
And the crowd went home.
Because sometimes God protects his people through people that aren’t even his people.
No crowd can OVERPOWER God.
Take one more example from Jesus.
He was arrested by a crowd of angry men.
They brought him to the Assembly.
They shouted for hours, not ‘Great is Artemis!’, but “Crucify Him!”
They dragged him through the narrow streets.
They hung him on a cross…all the while jeering, mocking, and spitting.
He took his last breath and it looked like the crowd had won.
Three days later.
Three days later…
Jesus came back to life.
And that wasn’t the only crowd against him!
Because Jesus went to the cross with a crowd of your sins on his back.
The sins of rebelling against his Word.
The sins of bowing to peer pressure.
The sins of following the crowd opposed to God.
But those sins didn’t overpower Jesus.
He overpowered them.
Through faith in him, those sins won’t overpower you.
You are forgiven.
You are victorious.
Christ will bring you home to heaven.
Christ following ALWAYS leads to ETERNAL life.
No other crowd will do that.
Not a crowd of your friends.
Not a crowd of your coworkers.
Not a crowd of social media followers.
Only Jesus can.
Only Jesus will.
IV. What Now?
1) Identify the Leader.
Have you ever driven cross-country in a caravan? That’s when a bunch of cars all follow one another. If you’re going to do that, suddenly it becomes very important that you know who you’re following. Because if you don’t pay very good attention. Well…
I remember one time I was following a red van. I was supposed to follow it to a place in Durham. But after it was taking awhile, I looked up at the road signs and saw that I was approaching Greenville.
Turns out? I had been following a red van that wasn’t the one my friend was driving.
It’s important to identify the leaders in your crowds of people. Because that will tell you where you’re going.
Is the leader a sinful human?
Is it a sinful human who doesn’t care about Jesus?
Is it a sinful human who is led by Jesus? That’s the crowd you want.
2) Unfollow the Sinful Crowd.
Unfortunately, this is a lot harder than simply going onto Facebook and hitting “UNFOLLOW.” (Although that might be part of this.)
If it’s a crowd that you’ve been following for a while, you might have acquaintances, friendships, and good friends in that crowd.
Those relationships, emotions, and feelings will make it hard to unfollow that crowd.
If that crowd is leading you away from your Savior…
Don’t be Demetrius.
Don’t forfeit the Christ in exchange for money, for fame, for fortune, for good times, for a momentary pleasure…for stuff that doesn’t last.
3) Follow the Christ.
Because Christ is not overpowered by any crowd.
And if you’re following him, neither will you.
Because Christ always leads to eternal life.
If you’re following him, that’s where you’ll be.
Check out Revelation 7. It describes a different kind of crowd.
A bigger crowd.
A more diverse crowd.
A crowd shouting louder than that Ephesus crowd.
A crowd shouting longer than that Ephesus crowd.
A crowd shouting about a being greater than the Ephesus crowd was shouting about.
A crowd shouting in heaven:
“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Friends, that’s the crowd you want to be in.
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.