It is 2020 and perhaps you’ve submitted your New Year’s Resolutions.
Exercise 3x per week.
Read more books.
Watch less Netflix.
Drink less coffee.
I just resolved to drink MORE coffee.
I’m telling you so that you can hold me accountable.
Sometimes people have spiritual resolutions.
Connect more with God.
Find inner peace.
Pray more often.
How many have BE MORE ACTIVE IN CHURCH as part of their resolutions?
According to a 2017 PEW Research poll, (www.perform.org/religious-landscape-study):
71% of Americans claim to believe in God.
56% think that religion is important.
58% pray daily.
That doesn’t sound horrible.
When it comes to religious service attendance….
Only 36% attend on a weekly basis.
And when you remove the non-Christian versions of those…
The number is even lower.
Maybe 15% of Americans in ‘church’ on a weekly basis.
Why so low?
Why such a low view of “the church?”
A big part of the answer lies in misconceptions about church.
This morning out goal is use the Bible to answer the question WHY CHURCH. Because, church is a GIFT from God. But before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. WHY Church
Before we get going, it’s important to define church, because the word “church” has at least three definitions:
1. A building (brick and mortar)
2. A corporation (See: “Church, Inc.” or “Gethsemane Church”)
3. A group of believers.
It’s that third definition that is the Biblical definition of church, because it is that third definition that brings about definitions 1 and 2.
And one of the greatest Biblical texts on church is found in Hebrews 10. Hebrews is a letter written shortly after the time of Jesus that connected Jesus to the Old Testament. And in chapter 10, it begins with a comparison of Old Testament and New Testament “priests.”
Look at verse 11 (In the case of Old Testament worship), every priest stood ministering day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which are never able to remove sin. (v.11)
The priest, an old testament version of pastor, attended a religious ceremony each day. He’d wake up, dress up in priestly garments, walk to the local temple, and begin his daily religious ceremonies.
One key ceremony was sacrifice. People would bring with them whatever animals they could afford: a ram, a goat, a bird, 0r a lamb. The priest would then take that lamb and sacrifice it on the altar to “atone for the sin of whoever brought.”
But here’s the thing. People sinned a lot. Sometimes on the way home from the temple.
“Hi Jehoiachin, what did you bring me today?”
“Hello priest. I brought a small dove to pay for my sin of lust. The next-door neighbor is very beautiful, and I couldn’t help myself.”
“Very well. I’ll take this dove and sacrifice it for your sins.”
2 minutes later.
“Yes, Jehoiachin why are you back so soon?”
“Yes, um. Sorry. Here’s another dove. I was on the way out and – another beautiful woman. My apologies.”
1 minute later.
“Jehoiachin!?! Another woman?”
“No. This time I just stubbed my toe on the corner rock and said some words I shouldn’t. Anyways…I’m out of birds. Do you take VISA?”
These priests offered the same sacrifices again and again.
But here’s the kicker:
These sacrifices can never take away sin.
All that sacrifice.
All that time.
All that repetition and religious ceremony.
None of it did anything.
It never took away any sin.
It never removed guilt.
It never removed actual shame before God.
Church isn’t FOR SACRIFICE
Sometimes we can be tempted to look at church like that.
I need to sacrifice some time this Sunday to make up for the time I spent overdrinking during the holidays.
I need to sacrifice some money this Sunday to make up for the money I spent on materialism this Christmas.
I need to sacrifice some energy this Sunday to make up for the energy I spent arguing with my spouse over New Year’s.
These “sacrifices” can NEVER take away sin.
These “sacrifices” can NEVER take away guilt.
These “sacrifices” can NEVER take away shame.
You can never sacrifice anything to pay for your sins.
But if sacrificing in the Old Testament didn’t take away sins, why did God command it?
Check out verse 12:
(A different) priest, after he offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God.
Do you get it?
Old Testament sacrifice never took away sin.
They simply pointed forward to the priest who would.
Church exists because GOD SACRIFICED for us.
That one priest is Jesus!
He made a sacrifice for us – for our sins…
For you – for your sins.
But if you remember the story of Jesus, there isn’t ever a story about him putting on priestly garments and entering the temple to sacrifice an animal.
He did things much differently than your common priest.
(1) He Sacrificed HIMSELF
This is truly different than any other priest.
Because there was never a priest that ever went up to the altar and said, “OK. Today, I think I’ll take my own life for the sake of Joe Schmo.”
But Jesus did.
In fact, the Bible calls Jesus the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
He is priest and Lamb.
The one who demands payment and the one who pays.
Sacrifice-er and sacrifce-ee.
But that’s why it worked! It wasn’t just the blood of some random animals, but the blood of God himself.
(2) He Sacrificed ONCE.
The Old Testament priest went home at the end of the day. They took off their bloody clothes, placed them in the wash, and went to bed only to do the same thing the very next day.
When Jesus was done with his sacrifice, he sat down at God’s right hand. (v.12) He never sacrificed again.
This means the payment was complete. You sin has been paid for.
Whatever you did wrong in 2019.
No matter how many times you did it.
No matter how big it was.
No matter how guilty you still feel about it.
Jesus paid for all your sins in 2019.
And for all your sins in 2018.
And for 2000—however many years you’ve been alive before that.
He paid for all your past sins and…
He has paid for all your coming sins.
(3) He Sacrificed FOR ALL TIME
Because look at what it says next;
Since then he has been waiting until his enemies are made a footstool under his feet. By only one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being sanctified. (v.13-14)
Notice Jesus isn’t up and ready to be a sacrifice for your 2020 sins.
Because Jesus’ one sacrifice has eternal value.
You don’t need to go into 2020 with absolute terror of sinning again.
Newsflash – you will.
Not that it is our goal to sin, it isn’t. God love empowers us to love others and fight sin.
When you do sin…
Do not despair.
When you do sin…
Simply look to the same Savior you looked to in 2019.
In Jesus, you have forgiveness.
And in Jesus, you will always have forgiveness.
Friends, this is the reason we are the church.
Church is not something that you need to FEAR.
Nor it is something that you need to do out of FEAR.
Rather it’s something Christ made us so we wouldn’t FEAR.
And something we participate in because we have no reason to FEAR.
II. Blessings of Church
But it doesn’t stop there. Because God gives us blessings through his gift of church.
(1) Access to God
Check out verse 19, “Brothers, we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place through the blood of Jesus. It is a new and living way he opened for us through the curtain, that is, his flesh.”
In the Old Testament, worship the temple area was separated into various parts.
There was the courtyard where people could enter with sacrifices.
There was a special area called the Holy Place where only priests could enter on behalf of the people.
And there was the Most Holy Place that only one High Priest could enter once a year.
To emphasize this, the Most Holy Place was even separated from the rest of the temple by thick heavy curtains.
God’s is MOST HOLY.
As a result, we sinful people could never commune with Him.
Do you know what happened when Jesus died on the cross?
The Bible says this:
The curtain of the temple was torn in two. (Matthew 15:38)
God’s holy requirements were gone.
The sin that separates unholy humans from Holy God has been removed.
Church is one of the ways God does that.
Because church is where we hear his Word.
Church is where we gather around sacraments.
Church is where God communes with us, whether it’s here in our worship space or around a round table for Growth Group at Starbucks.
We have access to God thanks to Jesus and that’s an amazing reason to be a part of church.
Because can you imagine if you were given high clearance, top secret government clearance to walk into a top-secret government agency?
Like FBI Headquarters or maybe Area 51. Wouldn’t you love to go?
The same thing has happened with God.
God has given you an all access pass to Him.
You don’t need a secret code.
You don’t need to put your fingerprints on file.
There isn’t a retina scanner out front. (Mostly because we can’t pay for it)
You have access to this group where God speaks to his people.
(2) A Clean Conscience
Verse 22 continues, “Let us approach with a sincere heart, in the full confidence of faith, because our hearts have been sprinkled to take away a bad conscience, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.”
Because it is so easy for the devil to get into our heads.
To tell us, “You used to be able to be near God, but you sinned this past week.”
“You did bad.”
“You did wrong.”
“You’re too guilty to be a part of church.”
But do you know why the devil wants you to believe that?
Because church is a place where God removes that guilt.
Where a pastor preaches a sermon with the conclusion, “Thanks to Jesus! We have forgiveness.”
Where a song points out: “Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
Where a friend quietly listens to your confession, grabs you by the hand, looks you in the eye and says, “Jesus died. Jesus rose. In him, you are forgiven.”
(3) A Strengthened Grip on Hope
Verse 23 says this, “Let us hold on firmly to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful.”
Because life is like driving a go-kart on a bumpy road. Have you ever tried that? The bumps, the divots, the gravel can make for a rough ride so much that you aren’t able to keep a steady, straight line as you travel. If you want to keep on course, you have to grip the steering wheel very tightly to make sure that you stay straight.
It’s the same way in life.
Bumps come in many forms.
And all of these bumps threaten to throw you off course.
And lose your grip on your hope.
But in the church, God gives you others who can help you steer for a bit.
Who can give you hope.
Who can say things like:
“I know this is tough, but God is still the victor. Stay faithful.”
“God has your back brother. Can I pray for you?”
“As hard as it is now, God promises he will take you home to heaven and I know that’s what he’s going to do.”
(4) Spurring Buddies
I’ve got a new workout group that I’m a part of and the current trainer has developed all kinds of ways to keep me active.
She spurs me on with emails: “Here’s the workouts for the week. Can’t wait to see you there!”
She spurs me on with Facebook group messages: “Workout tomorrow. Better be there.”
She spurs me on with text messages: “Hey Phil! Haven’t seen you for a while. Did you trade your dumbbells in for a bag of Doritos?”
She spurs me on with text messages from other trainers: “Hey Phil! Your trainer said I should message you to get you back in the gym. You in?”
At some point, I go back to the gym. Sometimes because I’m encouraged. Other times because I’m annoyed.
Both times? The result is a good thing.
In church, we do the same thing for each other spiritually. The exact phrase from Scripture is found in verse 24. It says, “Let us also consider carefully how to spur each other on to love and good works.”
Because on the one hand, you might be having a hard time being nice to a particular coworker. But then you hear a sermon on “Kindness,” someone mentions being kind to coworkers as an answer in Growth Group, and another church friend keeps putting “being a light” photographs on Instagram.
You’re spurred on to good works.
And vice versa!
Church isn’t just a place for you to be spurred on to good works, but a place where you spur others on to good works.
It happened not that long ago. Someone was super excited to say they had just invited a friend to Christmas worship.
And, feeling proud and sinfully vain, I thought: “Oh, they listened to my sermon…Hmmm.”
But this person said:
“It wasn’t even your sermon. I just heard another church member talking about doing it and it spurred me on to try it myself.”
But do you get it?
Prayerfully, I might give some encouragement in a sermon.
But prayerfully, you’re giving encouragement too.
(5) Preparation for the Day
God’s Word says, “Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have the habit of doing. Rather, let us encourage each other, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (v.25)
Because it’s easier to prepare for something with others.
It’s always easier to prepare a New Year’s celebration with others helping you. Together you can put up streamer decorations, turn on the live broadcast of the Acorn, cook some of those little hot dogs, and spending hours cutting out little pieces of construction paper to throw as confetti (and about 10 seconds actually tossing it).
It’s the same things for the Day!
Here’s the thing about The Day.
And by The Day, I mean, Judgment Day.
And by Judgment Day, I mean, when Jesus either ends your life on this earth or when Jesus returns to end all life on earth.
It’s easier to stay prepared for Jesus with others surrounding you.
In fact, it’s almost necessary!
That’s why God tells us to “not neglect meeting together, as some have the habit of doing. But to encourage each other, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Don’t think you’re the one person in the history of the world that’s going to be able to hold onto faith by yourself.
That’s foolish and in direct contradiction to what God is telling you here today.
And it may very well result in you not be prepared—at all.
Let us not give up meeting together.
Let us encourage one another.
And all the more as the day approaches!
It’s why CHURCH needs to be on your New Year’s Resolution.
Because church is a lot like charcoal.
There’s the story of a man who used to be a part of a church but had stopped coming for months on end. He wouldn’t answer phone calls. He wouldn’t answer email. He wouldn’t answer text messages. Finally, the pastor got into his car and went to see him.
The man saw the pastor as he approached the house, so he went to the front door to greet him.
“It’s fine pastor. You can come in, but I know why you’re here. And let me tell ya – it won’t work. I’m not coming back to church.”
The pastor simply nodded and listened as he sat next to the man’s fireplace.
“I won’t come back because someone was mean to me.”
The pastor grabbed the fire poker.
“He didn’t apologize, and no one came to get me.”
The pastor stirred the coals.
“Besides, I don’t think staying home hurts me…”
The pastor moved a single coal away from the other coals.
The man stopped talking.
Together they watched as that single coal started to fade.
To grow dim.
To stop burning.
“I’ll be there this Sunday,” the man said.
This is the gift of church.
A place where God lights a fire of faith in our hearts.
A place where we help each other keep that faith burning. Amen.
When I was in Seattle, WA, I had the goal to get to the top of the highest point in the lower 48 states, Mt. Rainier. I bought the right gear. I went into training. I learned from a woman who had been up Mount Everest three separate times.
On the day of the climb, we hiked up to Camp Muir, a base camp about 10,000 feet up. From there, we slept in a tiny wooden cabin to acclimate to the altitude and rest up for the final ascent. We went to bed at 6pm and woke up around Midnight. (You have to leave early in order to cross the ice bridges before the daylight gets too hot, the bridge melts and you fall to your death.)
It was about eight hours up when a blizzard kicked in. The air was sparse. The wind was frigid. My fingers were frozen. And it was only getting nastier. Some of the other climb groups had already turned around and gone back.
About an hour from the top, the lead expeditions said:
“This is getting pretty bad. I haven’t seen it this bad before. What do you think? We could go to the top and see the marvelous views, but…
If we don’t turn around, we could get frostbite or die.
So we thought about it and said:
“I’m sure Google images probably has some might fine photos of the top. So...
Sometimes suffering isn’t worth it.
Today we are continuing our series called Dear Church. It’s a series based on letters from Jesus to seven different churches. The letter for today looks at a church that was dealing with suffering…even suffering because they were believers. Our goal today is to understand what kind of suffering believers have to deal with and whether it’s worth that suffering.
Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The One who Knows Suffering
This letter starts in Revelation 2:8: “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty —yet you are rich!”
A few notes:
The letter is again written to the angel. We said that’s most likely referencing their pastoral leadership which, in turn, means it’s a letter written to the church in Smyrna.
Smyrna was an ancient Greek city at a central point on the Aegean coast. Because its positioning allowed for advantageous port conditions and an easily defendable city, Smyrna was full of people. In other words, it was a great place to start a church.
And someone had. We don’t know the exact apostle or disciple that founded it, which shows that the Gospel was spreading beyond the work rate of the apostles alone. This church was probably not started by one of the 12 apostles, yet Jesus considers it a church. Similarly, our church wasn’t started by one of the Apostles, yet Jesus would call it a real church.
Because the Holy Spirit was at work in the word.
Here in Raleigh.
So, both are churches.
Finally, the speaker is Jesus. This is his letter. And since this is a letter to a church that is suffering, he offers his credentials on the subject:
(1) Jesus Existed before SUFFERING
These are the words of him who is the First (v.8) Jesus existed eternally long before suffering ever existed. He created a world that was perfect, apart from suffering. Then, he watched as humans foolishly were led by the devil into suffering.
Don’t think that Jesus’ main goal is to end suffering?
To bring life back to the way that it once was?
It’d be like cleaning your living room, putting all the toys in their place and removing all the crumbs from the floor – making the place a gorgeous Better Homes and Gardens style living area.
Then, your kids happen.
And you’d like to see it back to the way it was when you were finished cleaning.
The same is true for God. He has on his heart a desire to bring things back to the way they were long before suffering happened.
And here’s the good news about that:
(2) Jesus will OUTLAST Suffering
These are the words of him who is the Last. (v.8) As in, he will last beyond all suffering.
He will outlast cancer.
He will outlast financial difficulties.
He will outlast persecutions.
He will outlast terrorism.
He will outlast racism.
He will outlast the little angry emojis that people put upon Christian content on Social Media.
He will outlast every form of suffering.
That doesn’t mean he hasn’t suffered.
(3) Jesus is FAMILIAR with suffering
These are the words of him who died. (v.8)
Do you know how Jesus died?
He was arrested by a mob.
He was beaten by that mob.
He was smacked and slapped till the early hours of the morning.
He was whipped thirty times with a 7 stranded leather whip that had metal shards on the end. (Also known as flogged)
He had a crown of thorns smashed down onto his head.
He was hit with a staff.
He was laid down upon two giant pieces of wood.
He had one nail driven through his right hand.
He had another nail driven through his left hand.
He had one more nail driven through his feet.
He hung on that cross as his lungs slowly collapsed.
He was abandoned by his friends.
He was betrayed by his disciples.
He was crucified by his people.
He had our sin and guilt and shame plaguing his soul.
He was familiar with suffering.
Suffering even to death!
Now – he lives.
He lives and walks among his churches.
(4) Jesus Knows YOUR suffering
Pause and reflect on that truth.
Because it’s easy to think:
No one knows my suffering.
No one understands.
No one gets this sadness I feel.
No one grasps the loneliness that I go through.
No one truly gets the depths of my depression.
Jesus is speaking to you. He says:
I know it feels like no one knows, but I know.
I know what it’s like to suffer.
I know that you are suffering.
I know what it is you’re suffering:
I know that you feel so poor because you are suffering.
In the midst of suffering…
You are rich.
(5) Jesus Gives Eternal RICHES to the Suffering
You are rich.
Rich in my love.
Rich in forgiveness.
Rich in the promise of eternal life.
You have a place in my family that all of the money in the world would be unable to buy.
You may be suffering, but you are not suffering from a lack of my promises.
II. Truths about Our Suffering
After giving his credentials as to why he is an expert in suffering, Jesus has a few things to say about the suffering that the people of Smyrna were going through. He says:
I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan. (v.9)
Apparently there was a group that was slandering the church. It was a group that claimed to be Jewish but wasn’t. This isn’t genealogical. Jesus is referring to people who were did not have a faith that matched the Old Testament faith, but pretended they did.
Because the Old Testament Jewish faith was that God would send a Messiah to save us from our sins. Overtime some Jews abandoned that faith and replaced it as, “God doesn’t need to save us from our sins, because I am Jewish and do Jewish things.”
When Jesus showed up, a “phony” Jewish faith is exactly what the Pharisees had. Jesus was the Messiah. The real Jewish faith would have believed in him. Instead, the “phony” Jewish faith rejected Jesus as Messiah because “they were good enough Jewish people on their own.”
Now after Jesus, this group was persecuting the church in Smyrna and it was bad enough to be called “suffering”:
Maybe they were calling them names.
Maybe some of them worked on the local tax board and were taxing their church building heavily.
Maybe some of them paid of the Roman soldiers to throw church members in prison.
Regardless, the church was suffering. What did Jesus say about this suffering? A few things:
(1) Believers WILL Suffer for their Faith
Look at what Jesus says in Verse 10: Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. At first glance, this seems comforting. But if you are a Smyrnian, don’t you think they read this and responded by saying:
What? About to suffer? You mean this isn’t even done yet?
That’s the truth.
For the Smyrnian people.
And for us:
The truth is that believers in Jesus will suffer.
Some suffering will happen because we’re on a sinful world where sinful people hurt one another. (Gossip, racism, and unfaithfulness)
Some suffering will happen because we’re in an imperfect world. (Cancer, pollution, and natural disasters)
Some suffering will happen because we’re believers in Jesus. (Things like angry comments on your Christian blog, being excluded from parties because you’re “That lousy Christian,” being yelled at by your spouse because “I’m not into that Jesus junk.”)
Jesus said this:
Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me. (Luke 10:16)
Just like you might not like a football team and, as a result, you don’t like fans of a certain football team.
Or you don’t like a politician and, as a result, you don’t like followers of that politician.
It’s the same thing with Jesus:
If someone doesn’t like Jesus.
They don’t like his followers.
If sinners made Jesus suffer,
They will make his followers suffer too.
(2) The Real Villain is the DEVIL
Because if it was just a bunch of humans making us suffer, you might think:
I can take them, Jesus. I took a few defense classes once, so…I got this.
But these people aren’t the real ones behind it. Look at what Jesus says about who was really behind the Smyrnian suffering:
I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you. (v.10b)
Now it wasn’t as if the devil showed up with a red pitchfork in his hands and pointy ears like some kind of Halloween costume.
But he influenced.
He gave people ideas like:
You should tell that Jesus supporter that he’s an idiot.
You should tell that Roman guard that Christian is breaking law by praying in public.
You should break up with your wife because the amount of Bible talk she has is crazy.
The same is true today.
The real villain isn’t whoever is persecuting you.
It’s the devil himself.
(3) Suffering Lasts for AWHILE
Because look at what Jesus says next:
You will suffer persecution for ten days.” (v.10c)
That doesn’t sound awful.
It’s the reason I sign up for ten days at a fitness camp. I figure – that’s not too long. I can handle it.
Or maybe you sign up for a ten day visit to your in-laws. You figure – that’s just over a week. I got this.
10 days of persecution? That’s doable.
But here’s the thing about numbers in revelation. They are metaphoric:
The number 3 represents God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The number 4 represents humans. Humans were created in God’s image, but aren’t God.
The number 7 represents the church. It’s 3 plus 4, where God connects with humans.
The number 10? It represents completeness.
Meaning the church at Smyrna would suffer until the suffering was completed.
In other words, for a while.
And the reality is that Christians will suffer…until their suffering on earth is completed.
Suffering will be a part of your life when you’re 5.
When you’re a teenager.
When you’re middle aged.
When you’re a senior.
Even suffering for your faith…
…will be a part of your life for a while.
Only for a while.
(4) The faithful will receive the CROWN of LIFE
Look at what Jesus says at the end of verse 10:
Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
Back at this time, the victor’s crown was associated with the Olympics. It was made of olive branches and given to the winner.
To the winner of the 100-meter dash: Victor’s crown.
To the winner of the 1600-meter run: Victor’s crown.
To the winner of the pole vault: Victor’s crown
To the winner of the steeple chase (whatever a steeple chase is): Victor’s crown.
After all the training.
After all the sweating.
After all the suffering.
A victor’s crown.
Look at what Jesus promises to those who are victorious.
Who go through suffering in this life.
But hold on to Jesus:
A victor’s crown.
But not just any victor’s crown. This isn’t made from olive branches.
It’s made of life.
Do you get it?
If you hold to Jesus despite the suffering this life brings, you will have eternal life.
Death won’t win.
You will defeat it.
Just like Jesus defeated death, you will defeat death too.
You will live.
And about this life…
It won’t be one of suffering.
(5) The Faithful’s SUFFERING will END
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death. (v.11)
That’s sounds awful.
First death is bad enough.
It’s nothing but suffering.
Nothing but awful.
Nothing but hell…
…because it is hell.
But dear believers, that’s not anything you have to be worried about. The faithful will not be hurt even in the slightest by hell.
Because in heaven? There is no hell.
In heaven? There is no death.
In heaven? There is NO suffering.
No suffering for faith.
No arguments with spouses.
No rebellious kids.
No ostracization from friends.
No suffering of any amount, variety or kind.
In heaven, SUFFERING is done.
Because you’re with the one that defeated suffering.
You’re with Jesus.
III. WHAT NOW?
Jesus’ words are simple: Be Faithful.
Because when being a believer gets hard, it’s tempting to not be faithful.
“I became a believer and I still get sick.
I still have work problems.
I still have financial difficulties.
Only now people ridicule me for my faith.”
It might seem easier to stop being faithful so that you won’t have this momentary suffering.
If you stay faithful, in the midst of the momentary suffering, you will have eternal blessings.
Because God is faithful.
That won’t change.
He sent his Son Jesus for you.
And through faith in him you will be removed from suffering…forever.
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.
At Gethsemane, we get a goodly amount of mail. At times, I’ll open the mailbox and it will be chocked full of letters. If I’m honest, I feel excited. Maybe I’ll get something cool.
So, I read the envelopes:
Precious Lambs’ Director.
Precious Lambs’ Director.
Letter to Julianna.
Letter to Julianna.
Let me look inside:
I didn’t have Julianna’s address.
Could you get this to her.”
Maybe you feel the same way. If the letter is for someone else, it isn’t that exciting to you.
Our next sermon series is called Dear Church. It’s a study of the first chapters of Revelation. These first chapters contain a collection of seven letters written to seven first-century churches.
Yet none of these letters are addressed to “Gethsemane Church in Raleigh.”
None of them have the address of delivery listed as 1100 Newton Road.
None of them have your specific name on it.
So, you might wonder: “How valuable is studying a bunch of ancient letters that aren’t written to me?’
Today our goal is to identify the author, identify the recipients and discover the value these letters have for us. 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 Writer
Our lesson starts in Revelation 1:1-2. It says: The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servant what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw. (Revelation 1:1-2)
A couple of notes:
The word Revelation is the Greek Word apocalypsis. It’s where we get the word Apocalypse. It means the “unveiling of something that previously was hidden.” In this case, what is being unfolded is the future of the Christian church.
The writer is a guy named John. This is John the Apostle. The apostles were a special group of twelve men that Jesus had specially called to follow him for three years of ministry and continue his ministry after he left. During the time he was with Jesus, John learned deep theological truths and witnessed other worldly miracles.
In fact, John was one of a group of three Apostles that were witness to a few special events:
John saw Jesus’ face transformed into a brilliant sun like light.
John saw Jesus touch a dead girl’s hand and bring her back to life.
John saw Jesus in deep anguish as he prayed deep within a garden the night before he died.
John saw Jesus die.
And John was an eyewitness to Jesus’ resurrection.
As a result, John wanted to share his experience. He wrote a book in the Bible called John. In that book, he wrote about all that Jesus said and did while on earth. Later, John wrote a letter to believers everywhere called 1st John. It encouraged believers in their Savior Jesus. Finally, John writes two more letters called: 2nd and 3rd John that deal with supporting the truth of God’s Word.
That’s four books of the Bible that John had already authored. Revelation is his 5th book.
This letter has value, because it comes from a guy whose life was intimately connected with our Savior.
Look what else John says about himself: I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. (1:9)
Notice that John calls himself brother. Even though he has led an impressive life, John does not refer to himself as “The apostle” or “the guy who knows a lot more than you.”
John calls himself a brother.
A brother in sin.
A brother in salvation.
A brother in faith.
A brother in the church.
A brother in suffering.
Like you, John knew suffering.
He knew the physical pain of life on this earth.
He knew the emotional pain of being ridiculed for his faith.
He knew the spiritual pain of fighting sin, of fighting guilt, of fighting loneliness.
Matter of fact, John wrote this letter while he was on the island of Patmos. He had been exiled there because of his faith. He was alone. He probably felt lonely. He was familiar with suffering.
This letter has value, because it comes from a guy who understood the struggles of believers.
II. The Voice behind the Writer
John wasn’t a millennial.
He’s never been to the Triangle.
He didn’t own an iPhone.
He wasn’t familiar with how to run Windows 10.
He didn’t know any of the characters from Stranger Things.
John didn’t know what it was like for 21st century believers in Raleigh NC.
His letter might be valuable for a history class,
But not nowadays…
Look at what John writes next:
On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit. The Lord’s Day would have been Sunday. The fact that John was in the Spirit seems to indicate that he was in some form of worship.
Maybe singing songs to God’s praise.
Or on his knees in prayer.
Or preaching himself a sermon and writing down his own sermon responses.
In the middle of worship all by himself.
On the island all by himself.
In prayer all by himself.
John heard someone else:
I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on the scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches.” (v.10)
Do you get it?
John’s letter; isn’t his own.
He wrote it down.
But it came from someone else.
It’s kind of like Siri. If you’re driving down the road and you don’t want to text and drive (because you shouldn’t text and drive), you can tell Siri: “Siri. Text Julianna: Hi Love, I’ll be home at seven.” Siri will write it down. Siri will send the message. Siri will let Julianna know: “Hi Bub, I’ll be home at eleven.”
Jokes aside. When you send a message through Siri, Siri writes it down, but it’s really your message.
It’s the same thing here.
John wrote it down, but the letter come from this voice.
So, who is the one behind John’s letter? The text is full of clues:
(1) Trumpetlike Vocal Chords
It says the voice was like a trumpet. (v.11) On the one hand, it could be a reference to the decibel level. A trumpet is loud and boisterous, so this simile may be a reference to the voice being loud and boisterous. (There’s a reason the trumpet plays the daily wakeup call in the military)
Or perhaps has a brass instrument like quality to it. It literally sounds like a trumpet with a nasal, air filled quality to its melodies.
Either way, trumpetlike vocal cords are other worldly. Because most people can’t speak louder than a trumpet. And most people can’t speak in a voice that perfectly mimics a trumpet. (Go ahead and try – I’ll wait.)
(2) Surrounded by High Priest Gear
When John heard the voice, he turned around to see where it was coming from. He wrote, “When I turned, I saw seven golden lampstands and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. (v.13)
All that language is very Old Testament.
Old Testament worship involved these very ornate golden lampstands that held the burning candles during worship.
Old Testament worship was led by a high priest who wore a long white robe reaching down to cover his sandals.
Old Testament worship robes were decorated by a golden sash across the chest.
John, who was familiar with Old Testament worship, would have understood that this was a high priest.
The only thing he wouldn’t have understood was…
Where did the high priest come from?
And how did he set up the lampstands without making a sound?
And can you get the golden sash on sale down at Target?
Look at John’s description of the high priest. He describes him as, “like a son of man.” (v.13)
A son of man is a human.
Just like a son of a cow is a calf.
And the son of a cat is a kitty.
But John is careful in his words. He doesn’t say, “a son of man,” but, “like a son of man.”
As in similar, but not quite.
As in like, but also unlike.
As in human, but more…
(4) Otherworldly Facial Features
Verse 14 describes why John didn’t consider him your average human. He writes, “The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.”
White hair isn’t unheard of. It’s common. Yet the emphasis on it being “white like snow”; gives the impression this is an otherworldly type of white.
And check out the eyes!
Yes, there are now contacts that exist that you can put into your eyeballs to change the color of your iris. If you have blue eyes and want brown, there’s contact lenses for that.
If you have brown eyes and want blue, there’s contact lenses for that.
If you have regular colored eyes and want yours to look like fire, there’s contact lenses for that.
Those colors contact lenses weren’t invented until 2010.
And contact lenses in general didn’t exist until 1887.
That’s fire in his eyes.
And that’s not it for the otherworldly facial features:
In verse 17 it says, “Coming out of his mouth was a sharp double-edged sword.”
And in verse 18 it says, “His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.”
(5) Otherworldly Footwear
Look at verse 15: His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace.
Bronze is a precious metal. It’s used in making beautiful plates, decorations, and lampstands.
How many of you today are wearing bronze shoes?
How many of you own bronze shoes?
How many of you have ever seen bronze shoes?
But then, notice that the bronze was glowing! Did you know that bronze begins to glow & melt at about 1562 degrees Fahrenheit?
This is other worldly.
(6) Trumpetlike Riverlike Vocal Chords
I love this note. Because earlier John said that the voice was like a trumpet. And then at the end of verse 15 he says, “his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.”
What’s the deal? Can John not tell the difference between the sound of trumpet and the sound of a river? Nope.
John’s just in such shock at the other worldly voice of this being that he is struggling for metaphors.
The voice is that amazing.
(7) Star Grasping
Verse 16 records, “In his right hand he held seven stars.” There is no distinction here.
It doesn’t say, “In his right hand were seven things like stars.”
It doesn’t say, “Seven lights like stars.”
It doesn’t even say, “Seven shapes like stars.”
Legitimate, gas burning entities.
Three white dwarves.
Four red giants.
Four red dwarves
And three blue giants.
Regardless, the fact that this being has legitimate stars in his hands…
(8) The First & the Last
Because the voice speaks again and said this: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.” (v.17)
Think about that.
The voice says He is the First.
As in before all the sun.
As in before the moon.
As in before the earth.
As in before Adam.
As in before Eve.
As in before everything.
And the voice says He is the Last.
As in after the sun.
As in after the moon.
As in after the earth.
As in after all Adams.
And after all Eve.
As in after everything.
(9) Formerly Dead
The voice continues, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!” (v.18)
How many people do you know who are dead? Lots.
How many people do you know who are dead, but then came back to life?
Did you know the Bible records at least 9?
The widow of Zarephath’s son…dead; brought back to life.
The Shunnamite woman’s son…dead; brought back to life.
A random Israelite body…dead; brought back to life.
The young daughter of Jairus…dead; brought back to life.
The young man at Nain…dead; brought back to life.
Jesus’ friend Lazarus…dead; brought back to life.
Tabitha, the faithful church widow…dead; brought back to life.
Eutychus, the sleepy church goer…dead; brought back to life.
But did you know…
All those people died again.
There’s only one.
Only one who died.
came back to life.
And stayed alive.
This letter is from JESUS.
The one who lived for you.
The one who died for you.
The one who rose for you.
The one who lives for you.
The one who protects you.
The one who rules all things for you.
The one who will take care of you.
The one who will bring you home to heaven.
The one who will grant you eternal life.
This is a letter from Jesus Christ himself!
III. The Recipients
But there’s more. Look at the people to whom Jesus wrote this letter:
Jesus said, “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”
And to be fair John mentions the seven churches that will receive the letter earlier. The churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. (v.11)
Numbers are important in Revelation.
A few numbers come up frequently.
3 is the number of God. It represents the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
4 is the number of humanity. It’s close to God, but not quite. It represents the four corners of the earth that humans live upon.
7 is the sum of the two. It represents God in communion with humanity. It represents where God graciously connects with the souls he loves. It represents the place where God brings sinful lost humans into his family.
We’re talking about the Church.
Here’s the truth:
This is a letter written to YOU.
These letters are important.
Because they are written to YOU.
And they have been preserved for YOU.
And they are being proclaimed to YOU.
And these words are from Jesus for YOU.
IV. What Now?
There is no letter you have ever received more important.
No letter you’ve ever received with more value.
No letter you have ever received that comes from a higher place than these letters from Jesus himself.
Make sure you’re here.
If you can’t be, listen online.
Don’t miss the very important words of Jesus himself.
He loves you.
He cares for you.
He has a message for you, dear church.
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.
We are in the middle of our sermon series on Acts. In this series we have been to a lot of different places and learned a different lesson in each place. Today we’re getting a potpourri of lessons from one place and all on hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy comes from the Greek word “hypokrusis.” The word was used in Greek theater. It meant: “to play a part,” which, in Greek theater, often meant “wearing a mask.” It’s a part of theater still today – specifically known as the Marvel Big Screen.
Chris Evans dons a mask and becomes Captain America.
Chadwick Boseman dons a mask and becomes Black Panther.
Evangeline Lilly dons a mask and becomes The Wasp.
Hypocrisy, then, is when someone claims to be one thing, when they are not.
Before we begin our study of hypocrisy, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. One Kind of Hypocrisy
The lesson from Acts 19 is the first big stop on Paul’s 3rd missionary journey. Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. (19:1a) Ephesus was the Capital of the Ancient province of Asia and a bustling commercial center. Paul had briefly been there at the end of the 2nd missionary journey. Before he left, he promised to return if God allowed. Paul’s appearance in chapter 19 is a fulfillment of that promise.
When Paul arrives, he finds some disciples. (v.1b) These men claimed to be followers of the Christ. Paul greets them pleasantly. (Maybe with some high fives, jokes about not having rocks thrown at him, and an invitation to go grab lunch at the local Smashburger).
As they are hanging out, Paul asks them some conversational questions:
What’s your favorite worship song?
What do you do to serve at the church?
Do you like your coffee dark or light roast?
Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? (v.2)
The Holy Spirit is absolutely in the heart of all believers. 1 Corinthians 12:3 says, “No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.” It’s simple. It’s clear. If you believe in Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit, because you need the Holy Spirit in order to believe.
But what Paul is talking about here is something different. Early in the history of the Christian church, during key faith-filled events, the Holy Spirit would visibly manifest his presence within a group of believers. This would serve to prove the truthfulness of the Gospel through miraculous signs. It happened at Pentecost (Acts 2) when tongues of fire appeared on the Apostles’ heads as they spoke in languages that they had never learned. It happened again in the house of the Roman Centurion Cornelius (Acts 10). In both instances, God was making it clear that this faith – and the message that this faith was placed in – was a very real and very divine message.
Paul’s question was about whether that had happened with them.
Did you get to speak in tongues?
Did fire appear on your heads?
Did you open your mouth and rainbows started shooting out?
The answer was a bit surprising:
“We hadn’t heard there was a Holy Spirit…” (v.3)
Paul responded, “Wait. What!?! You don’t know the Holy Spirit? He’s a key part of our teachings. He’s the one who brings us to faith. He’s the one who came down on Jesus like a dove. And Baptism! Haven’t you been baptized? Into whose name were you baptized? Because as far as I know…believers are baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the HOLY SPIRIT.”
The men responded, “We were baptized into John’s Baptism, into the name of the Christ who is going to come in the future.”
“OK… The Christ. Good. Did you know he has already come? Did you know he already did his Christ work? Did you know his name?”
And the men looked on at another, shrugged, and replied, “I don’t know…maybe…Bob?”
Divine forehead slap.
Here’s the truth: Sometimes hypocrisy comes from IGNORANCE.
It’s like the time I was at Buffalo Wild Wings and a lady near me was decked out in Tarheel gear as she watched them battle on the football field. A while later, the Tarheels had their quarterback sacked in the end zone. The woman stood up, clapped, and shouted, “Great job! Way to go.”
Until, her friends (also in Tarheel gear) motioned for her to sit down: “Stop cheering. That was a safety. That means its two points for the other team.”
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from IGNORANCE.
Yes, I’m a believer in Jesus…and I believe you can sleep with whomever you want. Does the Bible say differently?
Yes, my social profile says: “Christian”; I like all kinds of quotes from the Bible. Also quotes from the KKK. Is there something wrong?
Yes, I’m a Christian. I’ve been my whole life. But what do you mean when you are talking about salvation by grace? Never heard of it? I thought I’d get to heaven, simply because I was good enough….
Before you say, “But if someone doesn’t know, it’s no big deal.”
Remember that ignorant hypocrisy is still hypocrisy.
It’s still wrong.
If your son winds up and punches your little daughter in the face, you don’t say, “It’s ok. He didn’t know. Let him be.” No! You course correct immediately!
In the same way, it’s still wrong when we say we are followers of Jesus, but then do the opposite of followers of Jesus, even if we simply didn’t know followers of Jesus don’t do that.
There’s a simple cure for this kind of hypocrisy. It’s called knowledge. That’s what Paul gave these men. He said to them in verse 4, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”
Jesus is the Christ.
He lived perfectly when you couldn’t.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins. I saw it with my own eyes!
And the group believes.
They are baptized into Jesus’ name.
And that Holy Spirit that they didn’t know about? He makes himself visibly known. They began to speak in tongues, and they prophesied. (v.6) Visual proof of the invisible truth that their faith in Jesus wasn’t fake; it was real.
The same is true for you. Repent of your any hypocrisy of ignorance.
To do that, look at the truth.
The truth may be that what you’ve been doing is sin.
But the truth also is that you have a Savior.
And in Jesus, you are forgiven.
II. Another Kind of Hypocrisy
But not all hypocrisy is caused by ignorance.
Next Paul entered the synagogue, a place where they studied God’s Word.
He went and spoke boldly there for three months. (v.9a)
You would expect this to produce real believers.
These people wore religious jewelry.
They went to worship.
They knew lots of the Bible.
They knew all the words to all their favorite religious songs.
They knew prayers.
They knew religious logos.
They knew God’s Word.
And yet…when Paul was done speaking…
Some of them were obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. (v.9b)
And think about the hypocrisy of it all:
They studied God’s Word.
They knew God’s Word.
Then, they refused to believe God’s Word.
And even openly mocked God’s Word.
Only to sit around congratulating each other for following that Word that they were mocking.
It’s would be like sitting in the Fellowship Hall after worship and gossiping about another believer not being a very good believer and then congratulating yourselves on being such good believers even though you’re doing things that believers aren’t supposed to do.
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from ignorance; but sometimes hypocrisy comes from obstinance.
In fact, the Greek word there means “hardened.” Tough, rough, impenetrable.
Like a rock. There’s nothing getting through the exterior into the heart of the rock. Try it. You can punch the rock. You can hit the rock with a blow dart. You could try karate chopping the rock. Nothing. Even if you took a hammer to it - that rock isn’t splitting.
The same can happen with people’s hearts.
Even the hearts of long-time Christians.
I know racism is wrong. God is for all people. You should go tell it to those people over there. They’re the racist ones. In fact, that’s how all people like them are!
I know it says that sex outside of marriage is wrong. And I haven’t had it! Look at my purity ring! Now excuse me…the adult film. I uploaded on my iPhone is coming after it’s done buffering.
I know it! Pride is wrong. Preach it pastor! Especially at that guy over there. But don’t you preach it at humble me. There’s nobody humbler than I am.
And God’s Word connects with the heart.
And the heart hardens.
And hypocrisy ensues.
If you are a long-time church goer, take extra warning!
Don’t harden your heart to God’s Word.
And then sit around congratulating yourself for following God’s Word.
Instead of hardening your heart, look at God’s heart.
Because God’s heart was not hard.
His heart was filled with compassion.
His heart was filled with love for you…even when you repeatedly hardened your heart against him.
His heart was not hardened like a rock.
When he hung on that cross…
The soldiers reached up with a spear.
They plunged it into his him.
But softened with love for you.
Even now. Even if you’ve hardened your heart before, listen to his heart for you.
Repent of your hypocrisy.
And do it quickly.
III. All Kinds of Hypocrisy
As Paul continued his ministry, God continued to bless Paul. In fact, look at the amazing things that God did through Paul: Even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul were taken to the sick and their illnesses were cured, and the evil spirits left them. (v.12)
That’s amazing! Paul’s handkerchiefs cured from the flu and his aprons drove out evil spirits. But look at what happened, “Seven sons of Sceva (Which…Listen to the name. It sounds shady. Almost like an evil muppet or something) they went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon possessed. They would say, “In the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” (v.12-13)
To be fair, this doesn’t look hypocritical.
It looks like they are trying to help.
They aren’t ignorant of Jesus’ name. They use it.
They aren’t obstinately opposed to Jesus. God is against demons, too.
Yet, look at what happened.
One day an evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. (v.15)
Do you see the problem?
But God could.
Maybe they weren’t doing this out of love for Jesus.
But out of love for power.
Maybe they weren’t doing this out of love for others.
But out of love for themselves.
They were hypocrites.
Good ones too! It was hard to tell that they were doing anything wrong.
But here’s the truth:
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from ignorance.
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from obstinance.
But hypocrisy is always exposed.
A family member finds out.
A pastor discovers the truth.
Your spouse learns about what you were trying to hide.
Always hypocrisy is exposed.
Even if you successfully hide it from all other human beings, God knows.
God knows and he will expose it.
At the end of time, you won’t be able to hide it.
And he won’t be able to hide his displeasure.
He’ll simply say:
Jesus, I know…
And Paul I know…
Who are you?
IV. What Now?
Therefore, God calls us to repent.
To turn from hypocrisy.
To turn to our Savior.
And the way to do that is to:
(1). Switch Your Mask
We said that hypocrisy is putting on a mask. Covering up our sins with a nice looking, “Christian” façade.
Make me think of Halloween. That’s a time for masks. There’s a wide variety of them at Precious Lambs. I remember there was one kid who made his own mask. It was made of string and paper. The paper covered up…one of his eyebrows. He said: “You don’t know who I am.” And I said: “Uh-huh.”
Hypocrisy? That’s like hiding behind the paper eyebrow mask.
We think it hides our sinfulness from God.
Instead, check out Galatians 3:27
All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
Just like a full-fledged mask, it fully and completely covers up all your sins.
Jesus covers up your obstinance.
Jesus covers up your ignorance.
Jesus covers up your sin so much so that when God looks at you, He only sees – His child.
So much so that God calls us to our second WHAT NOW:
(2). Go Public
Look at the reaction of the people to what had occurred. Many who believed came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. (v.18)
Think about that: Believers gathered in the middle of the city with their arms filled of books that they had been storing in their homes. Books that weren’t about the Bible. Books that were about Satan, witchcraft, and sexual immorality.
It’d be like someone coming to the front of church and making a pile of a raunchy racist DVDs, two illegal drug baggies, and an iPhone loaded with pornographic content.
That’s take courage to do in front of everyone, right?
But they had the courage.
Because they were covered in Christ’s righteousness.
Because they knew they were God’s children.
Because they knew God’s children were serious about getting rid of sin.
Because they knew God’s other children wouldn’t ridicule them, but support them.
They went public with it.
Do the same.
Examine your heart.
Find your hypocrisy
And Go public with it.
Go public with a friend, a pastor, or a family member!
And if someone trusts you enough to publicly confess a secret sin to you, don’t say:
“Just a second while I share what you did on social media.”
Share the Gospel.
Remind them of Christ’s mask.
Help them incinerate whatever it is they are struggling with!
Because in that, God’s Word is spread.
In fact, look at the last verse:
In this way, the word of the Lord spread widely. (v.20)
Because when God’s Word gets us to stop being hypocrites and start being real, then God’s Word really spreads.
If we’re real -- real with God and real with each other -- then the community will notice.
Last week we continued to follow the apostle Paul as he left Athens and went alone on to Corinth. It seemed an impossible task, one man against a city of very devoted sinners. Of course, it wasn’t the first time God sent a man alone against unbelief like that, but it was an intimidating prospect, nonetheless.
But Paul did not stay alone for long. He reached out on common ground, met like-minded people, and before long a small congregation was blossoming. In fact, this pattern repeated most places he went. Even where he was forcibly driven out, he left behind a contingent of the faithful who continued the work after he departed. Though he made his rounds, sharing Jesus, strengthening churches, and moving on, each place he worked carried on the work without him.
Today, it is that effect in particular that we want to look at. That from the efforts of one, many can come to faith by God’s power. And each one of those many can reach out to just as many more. Let’s begin by taking a look at our reading for today, from Acts 18:
Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sisters and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken. They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. When he landed at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch.
After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.
Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.
One hates to talk numbers when discussing the church. God wants all people to be saved. He does not measure success in numerical terms. The effectiveness of the Gospel or a congregation should not be measured in numerical growth. It’s a slippery slope to talk numbers.
That being said.
Foregoing issues of doctrinal divide and incorrect teachings, the number of people in the world with saving faith in Jesus could probably be estimated in the hundreds of millions. The number of people who have passed to heaven in the faith in the last 2000 years makes that number significantly higher. Imagine what that number would look like though, if Paul had been the only one teaching people about Jesus. If everyone who had come to faith by his efforts simply took that faith home and enjoyed it for themselves and that was that? God is all-powerful, but humanly speaking – how fast can one person share the faith with the world?
In fact, even Jesus himself said the task was too great. He said the workers were too few and to ask for more workers. He turned to his disciples, told them to pray for more workers that the lost and helpless sheep might get what they so desperately need.
And we’ve seen through the book of Acts how desperately people need Jesus. And people haven’t changed much since our time. As we look at the people in Acts who need Jesus, we don’t just see the same people in our world, we even see ourselves. We see either what we once were or struggle every day not to turn into.
We saw the group that loved just indulging in everything life had to offer in order to try to find happiness on any given day. Do you know that person? Have you tried it yourself? Or even given into it a little bit? The rush of whatever is great… but at the end you have to face reality. And it’s never the same the second time. You have to go bigger and better. And you get caught in an endless loop of one-upping everything that went before. Doesn’t even have to be a sinful vice. Could just be a hobby or vacation or something. You’re working towards that one thing that you say, “when I get here, I’ll be happy and content and everything will be good.” But it’s a hamster wheel. It doesn’t work. And you just have to do it all over again. It’s a hollow chasing of the wind.
We saw the group that preferred to work for satisfaction. That’s just as deceptive a trap. Either you work really hard and end up with a false sense of security from how great you are… or you more likely stumble and make mistakes and end up utterly discouraged that you just can’t seem to get it right. It’s just as bad as chasing those hollow pleasures to think that somehow my life, my worth, my joy has to come from how good I am at something. I can’t stop moving and working because if I do, I’ll realize how empty it really is and it’ll all come crashing down.
And the less said about the town of Corinth and their worship of Aphrodite, the better. Sexual sin is some of the most prevalent in our world. We all know someone caught up in it and we’d be utterly foolish to think that as Christian believers we are above it or immune to it.
All of these people in our world are people chasing empty lives, knowing on some level that something is missing but unable to fill it. And before we look down our nose, they are exactly what you and I would be except for God’s grace in saving us. They need someone to save them. They need a God who died to make these things right. To give them joy and comfort that lasts, water they can drink and never be thirsty again. They need Jesus to fill that void and calm their desperate pursuits.
Just like we needed Jesus to do the same for us. And to help us daily that we don’t go back to those ways. We’re here to plant Jesus in the heart of North Raleigh and beyond…because North Raleigh is full of hurting people who desperately need it.
But this is not a job that one man can do. It’s not even a job that a small team of called workers can do. It is the calling of every Christian to multiply the faith wherever you go.
Jesus told the disciples to pray for workers and then what happened next? He made his disciples workers and sent them out to work. Paul made friends of Priscilla and Aquilla and before long they were travelling with Paul and teaching other believers
And what about that list of people Paul sent greetings to in Rome? You know, at the point Paul wrote that letter, Paul himself had never even been to Rome? And yet he had a laundry list of people he personally knew who had gone there to carry out ministry for Jesus.
The mission of the church can be summed up simply in two words: Grow and Go. We are to grow the faith of existing believers and we are to go with that faith to share it with others. If you look at Jesus’ great commission that is exactly the directive you’ll find him giving. But the great way about how God works is that each person the Holy Spirit works on and brings to faith is another person to carry out that same mission. One reaches many, the many reach many more, and on and on it goes.
We are a congregation. A gathering. We are very different, with different backgrounds, different attitudes and quirks and foibles. But we are united as a gathering of believers in Christ to carry out his mission. This is not a passive club that we show up to, put our dues in the offering plate and go home with a little bit of salvation. The believers are the church and the church is the believers. Yes, to guide our path we call a man specially trained to lead and shepherd us. Yes, we call teachers to bring up our children. Yes, we appoint leaders to help keep the chaos a bit organized. But you are still the church.
And the ministry of the church is more than Pastor Kiecker can do alone. It’s more than the preschool teachers can do alone. It’s more than the church council can even do alone. It’s up to all of us. Every believer working together to accomplish that mission to multiply the church, to share the gospel message, give the Holy Spirit his moment to work and bring others to the faith you know and treasure.
We’ve talked about the people who are hurting, we know how badly they need it. We know that could just as easily be you or me. And yes, maybe they’ll reject it. God doesn’t hold us accountable for that. He does hold us accountable if we never speak up. If we never do anything. How can anyone believe if they don’t hear and how can they hear if we don’t speak?
Now, I know we’re not all equally equipped. That’s part of the reason we have different roles in the church. We are not all here to do exactly the same things. But we all have gifts that can be used to carry out this ministry. Use them! Maybe it’s not a direct outreach effort, but it’s still work that supports that outreach. Whether it’s helping worship run smoothly for the visitor or keeping our facility beautiful to glorify God or taking some task off another’s plate so they can focus on larger priorities – we all talents and gifts to contribute to the ministry.
And let me just backpedal for a second and point out that ministry is not all about outreach, either. Remember I said the mission of the church is to Grow and Go. Becoming a believer means we are saved, 100%. But it’s also not the end of our earthly walk with God. Faith needs to be fed, nurtured, and grown. The ministry to strengthen faith right here in our own midst through regular worship and study and devotion is just as vital as the ministry to reach outside of our congregation. Look at Priscilla, Aquilla, and Apollos strengthening each other through instruction and study of God’s word prior to really tackling the task of reaching out.
What are you doing to grow? Are you making a point to attend Sunday bible study or one of the mid-week groups? Do you have a devotional habit to dig into scripture regularly on your own? Do you have someone you can reach out to for help when you wrestle with a difficult section of the Bible? If you don’t feel up to the task of reaching out, then start by reaching in – grow your faith in the Word here and help others do the same. And, if you’re not sure where to start – which is super common, then ask. Ask Pastor Kiecker, ask me, ask the leadership. Any of us can point you in the right direction and give you resources to get started.
Brothers and sisters, we are the church. We are the gathering of believers called to do his work. Study his word, learn from him regularly, build yourself up in that truth and then share it out there with those who so desperately need it. Ultimately the work of salvation is up to the Holy Spirit. He is the one who changes hearts and brings people to faith. The success of our mission is in his hands, not ours. But he has chosen to rely on us for the opportunity. Study the gospel, share the gospel, that more can know Jesus, that more can share Jesus, that the most can be saved. Amen.
ACTS, All Powerful, Atheism, Attitude, Authority, Believe, Christian Living, Church, Comfort, Education, Faith, False Teachings, Impossible, North Raleigh, Raleigh, Repentance, Seriousness, Sin, True Heart, Urgency
Today we are continuing our walk through the second missionary journey of the Apostle Paul. Before we study God’s Words, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. About Athens
Last we left Paul, he had been in Thessalonica sharing the Gospel and he was run out of the city by a mob of people that had a volatile reaction to the message of Jesus. From there he went to Berea, where the people were of noble character and examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:1-11)
But after Paul was in Berea for a while, Acts 17:13 says: When the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the Word of God at Berea, they went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. They found out where Paul would be preaching. They marched around shouting “Down with Paul.” They held signs that had a picture of Paul’s face with a mustache drawn on it.
In response, the mission team split up. Since the believers and church in Berea were still young in faith, Silas, Timothy, and Luke stayed behind to teach them, meanwhile, Paul, the main guy the crowds were protesting, went to the next city by himself. The next city was called Athens.
A bit about Athens:
Athens had been a key city state in that Greek empire. It was a place for thinkers and movers. It was the birthplace of democracy. It was the home of Plato, Aristotle and many other philosophers. It had been important to Alexander the Great and it was still important under the Roman empire. It was artsy. It was academic. It was scholarly.
It was filled with idols.
While Paul was waiting…in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. (v.16)
Idols in the temples.
Idols on the street corners.
Idols at work.
Idols at home.
Idols at lunch.
Idols at breakfast.
Idols at dinner.
Idols at the local restaurant.
Idols at the museum.
Idols at the sports arena, the fishing harbor and the laundromat.
It almost sounds like Dr. Seuss:
Idols, idols in a box.
Idols, idols with a fox.
Idols, idols here and there.
Idols, idols everywhere!
For Paul, this was strange. Athens was supposed to be a place of wisdom. Yet, here were all these wise people bowing down to worship tiny, stone statues.
So, Paul spoke: He reasoned in the synagogue and in the marketplace. (v.17) He told them about Jesus. He told them about the Savior.
While Paul was there two different groups of people heard him speak:
One group was Epicurean. The Epicureans followed the philosophy of Epicurus who lived from 341-270 B.C. His philosophy was that there was no afterlife. The gods existed but didn’t really care what humans did. They were too busy with the own affairs to care. Their slogan: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!”
The other group was Stoic. The Stoics followed the philosophy of Zero who lived from 340-265 B.C. He had the perspective that you had to do more than waste your life away. The gods put people here for a reason and that reason was to work. It was the highest form of pleasure to work (and to do so every day). Their slogan was a bit different: “Eat, Drink, and do work, for tomorrow…we do more work.”
These two philosophies were common opponents.
It was blue-collar worker versus free thinking hippie.
It was the constant busyness of Wall Street versus the laid-back jazz of Bourbon Street.
It was “Whatever man” versus “Get to work, man.”
They were common opponents.
But when Paul came to town, these common opponents had a common enemy:
What do you mean there’s more to life than pleasure?
What do you mean there’s more to life than work?
They asked: “What is this babbler trying to say?”…And they took Paul to the Areopagus. (v.19)
The Areopagus was the place for new ideas. It was named after the god of war: “Ares.” His name literally meant: “Hill of the war god.” It was an appropriate name for the place where people would go to battle for their new ideas against some of the brightest minds of the ancient world.
That is the reason that they brought Paul to the Areopagus.
They wanted him to battle for his new idea.
They wanted him to go to war for Jesus.
And Paul did.
II. About the Unknown God
Paul began his sermon:
Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. (v.22)
You have gods for everything.
A god of the sun.
A god for the moon.
A god for the sea; a god for the land.
A god for love; a god for war.
You even have a god for beer!
In fact, as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I…found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. (v.23)
You covered your bases.
Just in case you missed some god, you made him an altar.
Here’s the thing:
What you worship as unknown…
…I am going to proclaim to you… (v.23)
For starters, the Unknown God is not in HUMAN BUILT DWELLINGS.
He doesn’t reside in some epic stone arena.
He doesn’t kick up his feet in some tiny, jewel studded mausoleum.
You won’t find him down on 71st and Elm at a corner apartment with a jacuzzi and a view of the city.
He isn’t like Athena. The goddess for whom you built your city and for whom you built that gigantic Parthenon.
With its impressive columns.
And marble grandeur.
The Unknown God?
He doesn’t need that.
The Unknown God…
He made the world and everything in it does not live in temples built by hands. (v.24)
And he isn’t IN NEED OF SERVICE.
I’ve seen how ya’ll run about.
If things don’t go well for you. Maybe you lost your job.
Here’s what you do:
You go to the marketplace, buy a couple of apples, you run to the temple of Athena and place them on a silver bowl.
Maybe you lost your job because Athena was hungry.
The Unknown God isn’t like that.
He is not some pet that you need to feed.
He doesn’t need to be taken for a walk.
He doesn’t need you to scratch him behind the ears so that he’ll be pleased with you.
The Unknown God is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all people life and breath and everything else. (v.25)
He’s all powerful.
But he isn’t ALOOF.
He’s not like Zeus, King of the gods. He isn’t up on Mount Olympus having a banquet with fine wines and beautiful goddesses, throwing grapes down his throat and afterwards gathering with Ares and Poseidon for a couple of rounds of Wii Bowling.
He doesn’t say: “Eat, drink…I don’t care if you’re passed out in a ditch tomorrow morning.”
Nor does he say: “Work; work…I don’t care if you’re stressed out all week long.”
The Unknown God is not aloof.
Because listen to this:
He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. (v.26)
Did you hear that?
He made you.
He cared about you.
He placed you here.
He placed you now.
He determined your steps to take you to this exact moment.
Because he is not WANTING TO REMAIN UNKNOWN.
That’s why he did this.
That’s why you’re all gathered here in the Areopagus.
God brought you here.
God brought you now.
That you might seek him and perhaps reach out to him and find him, though he is not far from each of us. (v.27)
Finding God is what you want, isn’t it?
You’re here to find God.
It’s why you discuss the latest ideas.
It’s why you reason out the latest thoughts.
It’s why you talk about the latest meditations and popular trends for fasting.
It’s why you have been doing this day after day after day…
All in hopes that you will find God.
That desire to find God? It comes from God.
That mind for finding God? It comes from God.
Do you know what else comes from God?
And pay attention.
Because this message is important.
The Unknown God is NOT PATIENT FOREVER.
For a long time, God has been.
Think about it:
You’ve been worshiping rocks.
You’ve been bowing down to stone.
You’ve been shouting the praises of pieces of paper covered in glitter.
All the while the Lord is the one who created you, made you, sustains you, and nourishes you.
You’re giving thanks to a pet rock?
God has been patient.
He’s hasn’t struck you down yet.
In the past, God has overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. (v.30-31a)
You won’t be judged by some stone.
You won’t be judged by some rock.
You won’t be judged by some imperfect Mount Olympian with questionable morals who’s in a romantic relationship with some half-man, half-horse.
You will be judged by the Universe Creating, Almighty, Eternal, invested in your life, knowing everything about your life, God himself.
He will judge you.
All your sins.
God will judge you.
And he’s got Holy Fire in his eyes.
How do you think you’ll be judged if you’ve been worshiping rocks?
And you want proof?
This is not UNPROVEN.
Because that man that will judge the world for God?
He’s his Son.
He’s a guy named Jesus.
And God has given proof that Jesus will judge.
What kind of proof?
He did the one thing that Zeus couldn’t do.
He did the one thing that Aphrodite couldn’t do.
He did the one thing that your dear Athena couldn’t do.
He did the one thing that you and all your wisdom could never figure out how to do.
He raised Jesus from the dead. (v.31b)
III. WHAT NOW?
And it was right about that time, that the people stopped Paul from speaking. They said, “We’ll have to see more about this some other time.”
They let him go.
They didn’t throw him in prison.
They “tolerated” his message.
But…they didn’t believe it.
Don’t just tolerate the message of Jesus.
(1) Stop Searching
The other day I was down near the capitol building and I hear some music. On the north side near the street was a group of people. They were dressed in full religious garb. They had on jewels and bangles. They were playing tambourines and acoustic guitars. And as they were dancing, they were chanting a phrase: “Hare Krishna.”
Have you heard of it?
It’s a stranger type of religion made popular by John Lennon. The tenet is that the best way to connect with God is through music. Specifically – through playing the music to and chanting the words “Hare Krishna.” Through singing and chanting, you become centered in God. You become one with God. You find God…. (And the Beatles make some money as you buy their album).
Whether it’s musical chant.
Doing good work after good work after good work.
People are in search of God.
And maybe you are, too.
But you know what?
You can stop searching.
God’s right here.
God is Jesus.
That’s one of the reasons the resurrection happened!
It’s like one of those nighttime cyclists who is wearing neon green with flashing lights on his vest. He’s bright. He’s colored. He’s put his outfit together in such a way so that you don’t miss him!
The resurrection is like that.
It’s the Unknown God’s way of saying to you:
Here I am!
Don’t miss me.
I have made myself known.
I am Jesus.
I am your Savior.
I am your Redeemer.
And my message is this:
Repent means “to turn.”
To turn from sin.
To turn to God.
Whether you are a first-time hearer of this message or a long-time listener.
We are sinners who need to hear this message from God.
Turn from that sin.
You know the one I’m talking about.
Turn from that sin.
God knows the one I’m talking about.
Turn from that sin.
God isn’t stone who couldn’t possibly know…
Turn from that sin.
God is the Unknown God who knows you so deeply.
Turn from sin.
And turn to God to be saved.
Because when you turn to the Unknown God…
When you turn to Jesus…
Something else becomes unknown…
God, who KNOWS all of your sins, says your sins are now UNKNOWN, because he KNEW the cross and you KNOW his resurrection from the grave that the God who was formerly UNKNOWN is now KNOWN by you and who says:
I KNOW you.
Last week we started our Eyewitness sermon series. Our goal is to look at Eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. Last week we heard the eyewitness account of Mary Magdalene. She reported that she saw an empty tomb, two angels, and Jesus Christ himself.
But today is a second part of the series. That implies – there’s more than one eyewitness account.
I remember growing up my family was visiting my grandmother in Omaha, NE. On the way, we stopped for lunch at a McDonald's. Now – this was during one of those Monopoly promotions – where you collect peel-able Monopoly pieces from fry containers and soda cups. Once we ordered our food, mom let us peel off the game pieces to see if we could collect a FREE fry or two-for-one ice cream cone.
But…we found something better.
If you know your Monopoly, then you know that Park Place is the last set on the board. In McDonald’s Monopoly, if you collect the Park Place piece and the Boardwalk piece, you win $1,000,0000.
And I told my mom, “We won! We won a million dollars. Because…I am sure that I have Boardwalk back at home.”
At first, she didn’t believe her 6-year-old son.
But we were on vacation for a whole week. So…I kept repeating the same truth.
I insisted to everyone that we were about to be millionaires.
I started introducing myself to my relatives as, “Future millionaire-cousin Phil.”
I began explaining to my mom that, “I deserved most of the money because I peeled off the game pieces, but don’t worry…she’d get some, since she paid for it and all.”
Finally, after a week of vacation, we got in the car. We drove home.
And…honestly…mom started to get excited.
She dreamt up a golden-plated vacuum cleaner.
She dreamed of never cooking again.
She closed her eyes and pictured a kid-free trip to sunny Hawaii.
So… after the 8-hour drive, we hopped out of the car, I ran up to my room, opened my dresser drawer and found…
The entire family followed me …
Another “Park Place.”
If there is only one witness, it is hard to believe them.
If there is only one witness, maybe you shouldn’t believe them.
If there is only one witness to Jesus’ resurrection, that witness could be passionate…but confused.
That’s why more than one eyewitness is important.
Today we’ll look at a second eyewitness account. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Eyewitness Account
The eyewitness account comes from Luke 24:13. “Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.”
It’s an account from two people. A disciple named Cleopas (Memorize that. It’s a great Bible trivia answer) and the other guy is…completely unknown. In fact, they are so non-famous that they are better known as the “Emmaus disciples.” Why? Because they were on their way to Emmaus.
Think about that: They are better known by the small town they were travelling to than their actual names.
That’d be like waving to someone that you meet in the hallway today and saying, “Hi guy going to the bathroom. Hope your day is good.”
The account takes place a bit later in the day on the first Easter. A brief timeline –
Jesus rises from the dead.
The women appear at the tomb.
Mary Magdalene runs away in distress to the disciples.
The other women enter the tomb and see angels.
The two disciples run back to the tomb to see it’s empty.
Concurrently, the other women are on their way back to tell about the angels when they see Jesus. (So, there’s another eyewitness account)
Then, Mary reaches the tomb and see Jesus as well.
I’m thinking that places the time of day here as early afternoon. Because as they are walking to the town of Emmaus – they are discussing the eyewitness account of Mary, the women and the disciples.
And to be fair – they’ve got some time to discuss. Emmaus is about 7 miles away from Jerusalem. This is long before cars. It’s long before bikes. It’s long before those little ‘uber’ scooter things that are popular downtown. They have to walk. At a decent pace, the trip takes about 3 hours.
But as they get started.
As they get to walking.
As they get to talking.
Look who joins them:
Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. (v.15-16)
Look at that end part.
They were “kept” from recognizing him.
It’s a bit different from Mary Magdalene who misses Jesus because she’s clouded by grief and tears. The implication is that God did some kind of cloaking miracle to keep Jesus’ identity a secret.
Remember that. We’ll come back to it.
“Random stranger” Jesus asks them: “Friends, what are you discussing together as you go along?”
Cleopas replies, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
It’s the Greek equivalent of: “Have you been living under a rock?” Or “Has your Twitter account stopped working?”
To which Jesus’ simply replies: “What things?”
“About Jesus of Nazareth.” (v19)
Now before we get into it, understand what just happened.
Jesus just asked these two guys to tell him what they’ve been talking about.
They just happen to be talking about Jesus.
They are about to tell Jesus all about Jesus.
That’d be like Einstein asking you to explain the theory of relativity.
Or Gordon Ramsey asking you how to make the perfect risotto.
Let’s see how they do:
He was a prophet. That’s not wrong. A prophet is someone who speaks God’s Word. Jesus spoke God’s Word. Usually Old Testament prophets spoke God’s Word about the future. Jesus also spoke God’s Word about the future. He told the blind man, “You will see.” He told the deaf person, “You will hear.” He told the lame person, “You will walk.” He told his disciples, “We’ll go to Jerusalem and I’ll be arrested, convicted and crucified.”
Jesus was a prophet.
He was powerful. True. He told storms to stop and they did. He told waves to be calm and they were. He told 5 loaves of bread to multiply into enough bread to feed 5,000 people and they did. He told demons to abandon their human hosts – and they did. He told the dead to rise and they did.
Jesus was powerful.
He suffered. He was handed over to the chief priests. Truth.
He was sentenced to death. Truth.
They crucified him. Truth.
The disciples are on a roll – bring it home for us!
“We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” (v.31)
Did you hear that?
As in, “no longer hoping.”
As in, “Our hope was wrong.”
As in, “Jesus is not the redeemer.”
“And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women shocked us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
Really… it’s foolish.
Hopeful foolishness, but foolishness all the same.
Foolish that the women think he’s alive.
Foolish that others are starting to believe them.
Foolish that anyone we ever thought Jesus was the Redeemer.
They turned to Jesus. “What do you think?”
And Jesus responds: “How foolish…”
“How foolish…You are…
“And how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (v.26-27)
Like the Scripture where God tells the devil that one day the Redeemer will crush his head. Which is exactly what Jesus did on the cross.
Like that Scripture that says the Messiah would come from Abraham’s genealogical line.
Then Isaac’s. Then Jacob’s and Judah’s and many more.
Jesus was a part of that family line.
Like the Scripture that a virgin would give birth.
That the Redeemer would be born in Bethlehem.
That a star would appear to mark his birth
The virgin did; Jesus was; and a star appeared.
Like the Scripture that the Redeemer would make the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk.
Jesus made the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk.
Like the Scripture that the Redeemer would be betrayed.
Would be arrested.
Would be convicted.
Would be killed on a cross.
Jesus was betrayed.
And killed on a cross.
Like the Scripture that said, “After he has suffered, he will see the light of life…” (Isaiah 53:11)
As the witnesses had already told these men…
He saw the light of life.
At the end of about a 3-hour journey, the trio make it to Emmaus. They get to the path leading off the main road and into their house. The journey is over, but the disciples don’t want to stop listening to Jesus.
“Stay with us. It is evening. The day is almost over.” (Lk. 24:30)
So, Jesus did.
He entered the house.
They sat him at a table.
They got some bread out of the cupboard.
They sat down to eat.
Since he knew so much about Scripture, the Emmaus disciples thought it good to let him lead the prayer.
He took the bread.
And gave it to them.
And suddenly --- “Wait.”
“That sounded familiar.”
“He took bread, broke it and said prayers just like…
II. Resurrection Truth
This is the eyewitness account of the Emmaus disciples.
When you combine that with Mary’s eyewitness and the eyewitness of the other women…
We’re led to some important resurrection truths:
(1) Jesus Rose from the Dead
If you are wondering, YES…that is the exact same first truth as we learned last time.
But it bears repeating with the second set of eyewitnesses.
Think about it.
Mary and these disciples aren’t talking about the same time.
It isn’t as if they are both talking about something where they both identify a person incorrectly and they egg each other on to belief in the process.
They both have eyewitness sightings in different places at different times.
It’s like in your neighborhood. If one of your neighbors said, “I saw a deer in our backyard.”
You might not believe them. Maybe they thought it was a deer, but the way that the light was on the shadows – maybe it was just a really, really, big squirrel.
But if another neighbor tells you that they saw a deer drinking out of their pool on Thursday…
And a third neighbor tells you that they saw a deer in their backyard on Friday…
And a fourth neighbor says that they high fived a deer on a John Deere sometime on Saturday…
There’s a deer in your neighborhood.
Jesus wasn’t just seen by Mary in the garden.
And the other women on the road from the garden.
But also, these two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
3 different sightings.
And by the way --- these guys are relatively obscure! This is Cleopas’ only appearance. And the other guy doesn’t even have a name.
If the Resurrection was something that was made up, I imagine that humans would think:
“Let’s have Jesus appear to some really important people. I’m sure that others will believe it then. People like Peter and James and John. Maybe Pontius Pilate. Or…even Caiaphas. That’d make for a good story.”
Among the first people to see Jesus.
Cleopas – a relative unknown.
And unknown guy – an absolute unknown.
That means this story is real.
It means this resurrection is real.
It means your salvation is real.
Even if you feel like a Cleopas.
Even if you feel like an unknown.
Even if you feel like you aren’t that important in the grand scheme of things at all.
What does it tell you about the importance of your everyday average person that one of Jesus’ first appearances is to these two relative nobodies?
It tells you that they weren’t nobodies.
It tells you that they were very important to Jesus.
And it tells you that you aren’t a nobody.
It tells you that you are very important to Jesus.
He lived for YOU.
He died for YOU.
He rose for YOU.
(2) Scripture is Really, Really, Really Important
Because one of the most interesting things of this story – I said we’d come back to it – is at the beginning of the account. The disciples were “kept from recognizing him.” (v.16)
Now…if I was Jesus, I think my first instinct for removing doubts and revealing to these disciples that I was really alive would be…to reveal myself to them and show that I was really alive!
But he doesn’t do that.
Instead, he takes them to Scripture.
He takes them through Scripture.
He immerses them in Scripture until their hearts are burning.
And then…only after they already believe because of the Scriptures – then Jesus reveals himself.
Why is that important?
Because you and I can’t see Jesus.
You and I can’t touch Jesus.
You and I cannot be eyewitnesses of this truth.
But visual proof was not Jesus’ first solution to a doubting faith.
Scripture that we have today.
Scripture that we read today.
Scripture that you can read any time you are doubting.
Friends, if you have doubts about this message.
If you have doubts about your Savior.
If you are struggling with guilt and sin and shame that leads to doubting the whole Easter story…
Don’t try to will yourself to faith.
Don’t try to pray yourself to faith.
Don’t try to scream at yourself to faith.
Immerse yourself in Scripture.
Not only does God create faith through Scripture…
He strengthens it.
He sustains it.
He causes it to burn within you.
Which leads to our final point:
(3) Go and Tell (and go to great lengths to do so!)
After Jesus visually reveals himself to the disciples, he disappears. But his effect doesn’t.
“Weren’t our hearts burning within us as he talked on the road?” (v.32)
Didn’t our faith burn with confidence?
Didn’t our passion burn for Jesus?
And they got up.
And hearts still burning…
And decided they’d like their lungs to burn.
Get this! They take off on a 7-mile run back to Jerusalem!
They turn around and go back on a 7-mile sprint in order to share the message that they previously thought was foolishness!
The message that...Jesus was alive.
That they had seen him.
That Jesus was the Redeemer.
Friends, go to similar lengths to share Jesus.
Granted. I’m guessing you won’t have to go on a 7-mile sprint.
Maybe you just have to go down the block.
Maybe you just have to go onto your phone.
Maybe you just have to walk down the hall.
If you know others who don’t have the reality of the resurrection, share with them the reality of the resurrection.
Tell them about the eyewitnesses.
Tell them about Mary.
Tell them about Cleopas.
Tell them about…what’s-his-face.
Tell them about the Scriptures.
Tell them about the prophecies.
Tell them about how Jesus fulfills every one of them.
Tell them the message that Jesus is alive.
That Jesus rose form the dead.
That Jesus is the Redeemer.
Don’t be surprised if your heart doesn’t burn a little while you do so…
Last week was awesome. We celebrated Easter. I think I emailed that there were over 300 people in our North Raleigh community gathered together to hear the message of the Resurrected Lord.
And that’s awesome.
But…sometimes when I get down – it’s not like I can see people’s hearts.
It’s not like I can see how many people believed.
It’s not like we can visually see that the message had an effect.
Someone came up to me this week to talk.
Someone with whom – I don’t have much of a relationship with – I barely know them.
They wanted to share some struggles that they had been having.
Some deep sadness.
Some terrible events.
That were leading to depression – sadness – and the thought that “I am worthless.”
They had come for Easter.
They had heard the sermon.
They thought God was talking to them.
They believed it.
Now…I don’t always get to see it.
It’s not about me anyways. It’s about Jesus. It’s about Jesus. It’s about Jesus.
But…man…what a privilege!
Their heart was burning.
My heart was burning.
Our hearts were on fire for the message of the Risen Lord.
It’s my prayer that your heart is burning too!
And if so, won’t you share the message of Jesus with others?
Won’t you go Plant that message in the Heart of North Raleigh? Amen.
We recently got a cat.
I know. I know…this sounds like a confessional.
But, it’s true. After 33 years of claiming that I would never own a cat, I caved, and I did.
And it’s been fun.
She enjoys keeping us safe from any fuzz balls and dust balls that she sees.
She loves to go hunting for leaves.
She even enjoys a playful, piercing bite to my front toe.
But the other day, my wife told me that she had done something crazy. Julianna texted me that we needed to close the windows so that the cat couldn’t climb the screen.
I said, “Yeah. How could she do that?”
Julianna said, “I see holes in the screen right now.”
I said, “Those are probably from bugs or some severe storm.”
She said, “I’m pretty positive it’s from the cat.”
I said, “Oh yeah. Prove it. How do you know?”
My wife texted me a photo of the cat climbing the screen.
Eyewitnesses are important. They are verbal proclaims of the visual truth. They are the difference between…
Fiction and non-fiction.
A fairy tale and history.
A lie and truth.
Over the next couple of weeks, we will be starting our sermon series called EYEWITNESS. It’s all about the eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. I think we need to do this because the resurrection of Jesus is too big a deal to rely on hearsay, to trust maybes and to listen to theories.
Our goal today is to look at a real eyewitness accounts…
Of real people…
Who had real interactions…
With the really risen Jesus…
As real proof of your real salvation.
Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Mary’s Background
The first eyewitness account that we are going to look at comes from a woman named Mary Magdalene. What interesting about Mary is that she doesn’t play a big part in Jesus’ three years of ministry on earth. In fact, there’s very little that is written about her except for this:
Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus had driven out seven demons. (Mark 16:9)
It’s not even a full sentence. Just a passing adjective comment.
But…one that’s pretty heavy.
She had been possessed by 7 demons. Evil spirits. Fallen angels. Powerful. They had taken hold of her mind. Something that Bible theorists will suggest happens from dabbling in the demonic activity (the occult, psychics, blood sacrifices) and excessive drug use.
Regardless how it happened to Mary, we know it was terrible.
She had no control of her personality.
She was a prisoner in her own mind.
In a state of deep depression.
With a helplessness that doesn’t go away.
Except, it did.
Mary was possessed.
Jesus healed her.
I don’t know exactly how, but if it is anything like Jesus’ other miracles, then it was probably as simple as Jesus lifting his hand and saying:
Which…Can you imagine?
If you’ve ever had a counselor help you with a breakthrough.
Or a pastor help you grasp God’s forgiveness.
Or a fatal diagnosis that a doctor diagnosed, prescribed medicine and helped you defeat.
You know the kind of deep connection that Mary had with Jesus.
That’s why she had become a follower of his:
She had been trapped, Jesus freed her.
She had been guilty, Jesus brought her forgiveness.
She had been depressed, Jesus brought her joy.
She had been lonely, Jesus brought her family.
She had been hopeless, Jesus made her hopeful.
He was violently, publicly, cruelly crucified on a cross.
And all of her hope?
All of her joy?
All of her sanity…
Started to slip away….
She could feel the devil’s grip tightening on her again.
II. The Eyewitness Account
That’s why she got up so early Sunday morning.
You see -- Jesus had been killed Friday evening. They buried him. She would have gone to his grave to mourn, but they have this Sabbath rule where you can’t go to visit the dead on a Saturday.
But Saturday was over.
It was still dark.
It’s not like she was sleeping anyways.
She threw on her sandals.
Fastened on her cloak.
And walked off to her friend’s house.
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!
“What do you want?”
“It’s Sunday. We were going to go to his grave. We were going to go to Jesus’ grave so that we can honor him.”
“But Mary. It’s not even light out yet. It’s still night time. It’s…just gonna take me a second while I get ready.”
As they walked through the slowly evaporating darkness, it was mostly quiet.
Whenever her friends tried to make small talk, Mary quieted them. “We’ve just gotta get to Jesus’ grave.”
As they approached the garden, Mary worked into a sprint walk.
She began opening up the bottle of perfume she had brought to pour on his grave and anoint his body.
“Mary, did you think about how we were going to get into the grave? There is that giant stone that the soldiers put there to make sure that no one could get in. I saw some of those guys. They’re built like models. It took about 5 of them to move it, I don’t see how we…”
She stopped talking.
Off in the distance was Jesus’ grave.
The giant stone?
It was moved.
Immediately, Mary burst into tears:
“What did they do? What have they done? They couldn’t just leave him alone. Those jerks! Those losers! How could they do this? How could they leave us like this? Without even a chance…to heal.”
She broke down.
Her friends tried to console her.
But Mary shrugged them off.
She turned around and sprinted back towards town.
She could barely see where she was going with tears clouding her vision.
She made her way to where some of the twelve disciples were staying.
She pounded at the door.
She screamed at the door.
She made a commotion till their let her in:
“They took his body. They took his body. They book his body…the tomb is empty!”
Two of the disciples rushed out.
They sprinted to see what she was saying.
And Mary tried to follow, but she grew too tired.
Her legs got wobbly.
She slammed her back against tree trunk.
And fell to the floor.
After sobbing for a good 15 minutes, She stood up.
She didn’t have any tears left.
She had to get to the bottom of this.
She had to get back to the tomb and find some kind of a clue…a witness…a footprint that would lead her to Jesus’ body.
She went back to the tomb.
Her friends were gone.
The disciples were gone.
The stone…was still gone.
This time…she took a deep breath…and approached the tomb.
Inside the tomb, she found some men.
Dressed in white.
A gleaming, blinding white light.
Radiating from their clothes.
Radiating from their faces.
Both sitting on the bier where Jesus’ body had been.
Between them? Grave clothes. Folded ever so nicely, ever so gently, as if they were no longer necessary.
“Woman, why are you crying?” they asked.
“They have taken my Lord away! And I don’t know where they have put them!”
Mary turned around. The men were nice. And it was strange that they were glowing, but…she didn’t have time. She needed to find his body.
Outside the tomb, someone else.
Hard to tell who – with the tears blurring her vision.
It was probably the gardener.
“Woman, why are you crying?”
This is the one. He must have taken the body. He must have moved it at the requests of the Pharisees!
“Tell me sir. Tell me…Please…Where did you take his body? Why did you leave the grave….empty?”
The air was still.
Mary’s breath paused for a moment.
She had heard that voice before.
She had heard that voice teach her about God.
She had heard that voice proclaim forgiveness.
She had heard that voice drive away her own demons!
It was Jesus!
“Teacher!” She cried as she grabbed a hold of him with a hug.
As she hugged, she knew it was real! She felt his shoulders.
She held him by the back.
She felt the warmth of his breath.
Jesus was alive.
III. Resurrection Truth
This is the eyewitness account of Mary.
It is an eyewitness account that is recorded for us in Scripture.
The guy who wrote it? John – he was one of the disciples that went running to the tomb after Mary told him it was open!
And the book of John? It was written down and passed around at a time when Mary Magdalene would have still been alive.
And she didn’t say “Nah, man. That’s wrong. It didn’t happen this way.”
She said, “That’s the truth.”
There are three really important divine truths that we need to take home with us today.
(1) Jesus Rose from the Dead
Granted. You might be skeptical of that truth.
Because most people when they are dead? They can’t do much. Their bodies just lie there and slowly decompose.
And even people who are living – they haven’t figured out a way to bring people that are dead back to life either.
But if this is true…
When Jesus was dead, he figured out one thing that no one else could ever figure out while they were alive – conquering death itself!
If you’re skeptical, Mary’s account is for you. Because think about how long it took her recognize that Jesus was alive.
She saw the immovable stoned – moved and her first reaction?
“They took his body.”
She went into the tomb and saw two angels –glowing with divine splendor. Her reaction?
“They took his body!”
She went outside the tomb and saw Jesus – but was so overcome with emotion that she says to Jesus,
“You must have taken his body!”
She wasn’t wrong.
It isn’t until Jesus…
Calls her name…
That she realizes the incredible truth right in front of her!
Friends, you might be dealing with sadness.
You might be dealing with difficulties in your marriage.
With challenges at work.
With a financial crisis.
With a terrifying diagnosis.
With guilt, shame, and sin.
And sometimes that can all cover our hearts and close our eyes and make us say, “There is no HOPE in this world! This Jesus’ thing can’t be true.”
When that happens…
Hear Jesus’ voice…
He’s calling to you.
“I am alive.”
(2) The Work of Salvation is Finished
Check out verse 17:
“Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
The reason Jesus came to earth was to win your salvation.
He came to suffer death for your sins.
He came to earn your way to heaven.
He came to pay for eternal life.
If he’s heading up to heaven, guess what?
That work is done.
Granted – that can be hard to believe.
It’s like Easter weekend. Maybe you are planning on having relatives to your house. Maybe you wanted to clean for your relatives -- so you make a check list: Sweep the floor, dust the counters, disinfect the countertops, clean the bathrooms, do the laundry, make the beds, clean up the toys, etc.
And you go to work.
And you come home and….
Your husband says, “Surprise! I did it already. It’s finished. You don’t have to clean anymore!”
How do you respond?
Probably…by sweeping the floor, dusting the counters, disinfecting the countertops, etc.
When Jesus tells you that it is finished.
It is finished.
Your salvation is won.
Your sins are forgiven.
Eternal life is yours.
Heaven is your home!
“It is finished.”
You don’t need to try and earn his love.
You don’t need to complete your salvation.
You don’t need to pay your way into heaven by working hard and becoming perfect.
Jesus did it for you.
(3) Go and Tell
Because right after Mary realizes that Jesus is standing right in front of her…
Having conquered sin and death…
Renewing her hope again…
She’s overcome with emotion.
She holds onto him.
She doesn’t want to ever go back to guilt and loneliness and despair. Never again!
But Jesus says something interesting:
“Do not hold onto me. Instead, go and tell.” (v.17)
Because there were others who had lost their hope.
There were others who were in despair.
There were others who were shacked to guilt.
Mary’s eyewitness message – would change that.
She would give them hope.
She would give them joy.
She would give them freedom.
Friends, there are still people like that today.
There are people who don’t know their Savior.
People who don’t know the resurrection story.
People who think Easter is all about sugary yellow marshmallow chicks
They are overcome with guilt.
They are dealing with a lack of joy.
They are struggling with despair.
Can you do me a favor?
Listen to your Savior.
Go and tell.
Later today at your Easter party, turn to the people who didn’t come to worship to celebrate this message and share the story of Easter. Go and Tell.
Later this evening when you are on your phones, take a note or two from this sermon and share on social media. Go and tell.
Tomorrow morning as you head to work – gather around the coffee pot, talk with your coworkers about why you liked Easter and how amazing this message of the risen Savior is. Go and tell.
And understand this.
You won’t be just giving them a story.
You won’t be just telling them a fairy tale.
You’ll be giving them true hope.