Last we left the Apostle Paul, he was in the city of Ephesus preaching the message that Jesus is the Savior. He stayed there for two years. During that time frame, a congregation had developed in Ephesus. A decent crowd of people would gather together each week to hear Paul’s sermons, sing hymns, say prayers, and high-five each other in the fellowship hall.
But this church crowd wasn’t the only kind of crowd that developed in Ephesus.
Today we’re going to learn about a crowd that developed in direct opposition to the Gospel. Our goal is get some guidance about the dangers of crowd-following in 2019 Raleigh. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Crowd Forms
The lesson comes from Acts 19. It says, “There arose a great disturbance about the Way. A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there.” (v.23)
A couple of notes:
Demetrius is a Greek name. It means, “servant of Demeter.” Demeter was the Greek goddess in charge of crops. She made sure that the grains grew. She made sure the oats grew. She made sure the corn grew. She made sure that they were golden and delicious. She made sure that they were a part of a daily balanced breakfast. (Something tells me that Demeter looked something like a breakfast food character).
But Demetrius wasn’t only worshipping deities around the food pyramid. He worked for the temple of Artemis. Artemis was the Greek goddess of hunting (meat). The story was that you could call on her and give gifts at her temple to increase your likelihood of bagging a quail on the morning hunt.
In Ephesus was the Temple to Artemis. It was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The temple was 425 feet long by 200 feet wide. It was tall and ornate with beautiful marble columns. People came from across the ancient world in order to visit this incredible wonder.
And while the tourists were visiting the temple, they could pick up a souvenir! That’s where Demetrius came into play. He was a silversmith. His job was to build replica temples and replica statues of Artemis that he would sell on the corner right outside the monument. The little silver statue would become a keepsake or a household idol that people would pray to and hold close for protection.
But business had been down recently.
It wasn’t related to the economy.
It wasn’t related to a lack of work.
It wasn’t due to the weather keeping people from going outside.
It was because of Paul.
Paul had been preaching against idols.
Paul had been telling people that Artemis wasn’t a real god.
Paul had been telling people that Jesus was the only real God.
People were believing him and subsequently buying fewer idols.
So…Demetrius called together a meeting of all the people involved with the temple. Silversmiths, store owners, gift shop employees, temple janitors, even Amazon Prime drivers who delivered the statues across town…
Demetrius gathered together everyone involved with the trade and said:
You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty. (v.25b-27)
Do you see the issue?
Paul is ruining Demetrius’ fine way of living. Before you know it, Demetrius might not be able to go the Angus Barn. He might not be able to afford his fancy jewelry and fine cheese. He might not be able to buy Grey Poupon at the local grocery store.
Demetrius was upset because he was losing money. You can almost hear him:
Sure, these people get forgiveness.
They get joy.
They get the promise of heaven.
But I won’t be able to make my payment on the second Lexus I bought, so…
Paul must be stopped!
Here’s the truth:
Crowds led by SINFUL HUMANS are opposed to HOLY GOD.
That was Demetrius. He was a sinful human. He was leading a crowd against God’s message.
But this will be true in any situation.
1) Because Sin opposes God.
God is good.
Sin is bad.
God is against sin.
Sin is against God.
God doesn’t say to sin: “You’re awesome.”
Sin doesn’t say to God: “Let’s be best friends.”
They are drastically opposed to one another.
It’s like UNC and Duke. When they are playing one another in their next basketball showdown, every time one team makes a basket those points are good for one side and bad for the other.
Duke can’t throw an alley-oop slam dunk and divide the points evenly among both squads.
UNC can’t hit a three pointer and have it appear on the other team’s scoreboard.
By the very nature of a game with opposing teams, good news for one team means bad news for the other.
By the very nature of reality, when something godly happens that’s good news for God’s side and bad news for crowds led by sin.
When a sinful leader is the leader of the crowd, that crowd will inevitably clash with God.
2) Because the Perspective is different.
Humans live on a timeline.
We are born.
We live 30, 40, 50 years.
Everything we do is on a timeline:
I need a report in by Friday.
I need to finish schooling by December.
I need to make enough money for my son’s inheritance before I die.
God is different.
God is eternal.
He is off the timeline.
He is concerned with eternity.
Because the temporal perspective is so different from the eternal perspective, there’s a contradiction.
Case in point:
God wanted people to stop worshipping idols so that they could know the Savior and have eternal life.
Demetrius wanted people to stop worshipping Jesus so that he could have more money and buy himself a nice steak dinner.
The perspective is different.
Crowds led by SINFUL HUMANS are opposed to HOLY GOD.
This is still true today.
In 2018 in rural Mexico, Pastor Eduardo Garcia served at local country church. One of the struggles in Mexico is drug addiction. Crystal meth has taken over in the area. It’s ruined health, finances, and family. Pastor Eduardo Garcia preached against the danger of Meth.
He taught that Meth couldn’t save you; only Jesus could.
He taught that Meth didn’t remove guilt; only Jesus did.
He taught that Meth eventually brought death; and Jesus brought life.
And a few drug addicts listened.
He got them help.
They got off the drugs.
Great news, right?
Except for the Drug Cartel.
They were losing money.
The Drug Cartel had Pastor Eduardo Garcia gunned down in the streets.
Crowds led by SINFUL HUMANS are opposed to HOLY GOD.
II. The Crowd Rages
Back to the story. When the crowd heard Demetrius’ speech, “They were furious and began shouting: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ ”(v.28)
They rushed into the city.
They pumped their fists.
They motioned for others to join them.
People joined the crowd who agreed with their cause.
People joined the crowd who loved Artemis.
People joined the crowd who enjoyed shouting.
People joined the crowd who didn’t want others to get mad at them for not joining the crowd.
People joined the crowd because they didn’t want to miss out on whatever was about to happen.
Regardless, the crowd grew in number.
They grabbed two men – Gaius and Aristarchus – two church members that worked with Paul.
They dragged them through the streets.
Eventually, the streets were so narrow – and the crowd was so big – that they had to make their way to the local theater. It was the only building big enough to house the large crowd that had gathered.
As they gathered and shouted, they threw a guy named Alexander to the front in order to explain this message of Jesus.
But – thing was – Alexander wasn’t even a believer.
He just looked like he might be.
When he tried to explain that, the crowd got angrier. They didn’t want to listen.
And then it started.
Two straight hours of shouting:
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! She’s the greatest god of all time.
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! This guy named Jesus is costing us money.
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! I really, really hate the Jews.
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! I just drank a bunch of booze.
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! I don’t know what I’m doing.
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! That plane in the sky? Is that a Boeing?
Two hours of screaming.
Screaming from people who don’t even know why they’re screaming in the first place.
Here’s the warning:
Crowd following can be a MINDLESS activity.
Maybe you’ve fallen victim.
Peer pressure in high school, “It’s what the cool kids are doing.”
Friends egging you on at a bar, “Come on. Just say it.”
Your family, “Hate those people. It’s what we do.”
Comments on your social media profile, “If you don’t believe this, you are despicable.”
Society, “If you want to fit in, get rid of the god stuff. That’s the way the crowd is going.”
It’s so easy to follow the crowd.
But MINDLESS crowd following is NEEDLESLY dangerous.
Jesus is loving.
Jesu is our Savior.
You trust him, right?
He died for you.
He rose for you.
He loves you.
There’s no one more trustworthy than Jesus, right?
Look at what your trustworthy Savior said in the Gospel for today:
Do not be afraid of the one who can kill the body, but be afraid of the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell. (Mark 10:28)
Do you hear what Jesus is saying?
Don’t fear a dislike on Facebook more than holy hellfire.
Don’t fear the loss of a friend more than the loss of your God.
Don’t fear society calling you a name more than your Lord calling you DAMNED.
Don’t fear anything more than your God.
III. The Crowd is Defeated
Because no crowd can OVERPOWER God.
Back to Ephesus.
The shouting had been going on for a solid two hours.
Finally, the city clerk, who is a high-ranking individual in Ephesians society, made his way to the front of the steps.
After motioning for them to be quiet, they finally chilled.
He said to them:
“Calm down; don’t do anything rash.” (v.36)
Guys, we need to stop.
Artemis is still known around the world.
We’re still rich.
Tourists are still visiting.
These two church members haven’t done anything illegal.
The reality is that if Caesar hears about this riot – we’re the ones who did something illegal.
And we’ll be the ones getting into trouble.
Then, he dismissed them.
And the crowd went home.
Because sometimes God protects his people through people that aren’t even his people.
No crowd can OVERPOWER God.
Take one more example from Jesus.
He was arrested by a crowd of angry men.
They brought him to the Assembly.
They shouted for hours, not ‘Great is Artemis!’, but “Crucify Him!”
They dragged him through the narrow streets.
They hung him on a cross…all the while jeering, mocking, and spitting.
He took his last breath and it looked like the crowd had won.
Three days later.
Three days later…
Jesus came back to life.
And that wasn’t the only crowd against him!
Because Jesus went to the cross with a crowd of your sins on his back.
The sins of rebelling against his Word.
The sins of bowing to peer pressure.
The sins of following the crowd opposed to God.
But those sins didn’t overpower Jesus.
He overpowered them.
Through faith in him, those sins won’t overpower you.
You are forgiven.
You are victorious.
Christ will bring you home to heaven.
Christ following ALWAYS leads to ETERNAL life.
No other crowd will do that.
Not a crowd of your friends.
Not a crowd of your coworkers.
Not a crowd of social media followers.
Only Jesus can.
Only Jesus will.
IV. What Now?
1) Identify the Leader.
Have you ever driven cross-country in a caravan? That’s when a bunch of cars all follow one another. If you’re going to do that, suddenly it becomes very important that you know who you’re following. Because if you don’t pay very good attention. Well…
I remember one time I was following a red van. I was supposed to follow it to a place in Durham. But after it was taking awhile, I looked up at the road signs and saw that I was approaching Greenville.
Turns out? I had been following a red van that wasn’t the one my friend was driving.
It’s important to identify the leaders in your crowds of people. Because that will tell you where you’re going.
Is the leader a sinful human?
Is it a sinful human who doesn’t care about Jesus?
Is it a sinful human who is led by Jesus? That’s the crowd you want.
2) Unfollow the Sinful Crowd.
Unfortunately, this is a lot harder than simply going onto Facebook and hitting “UNFOLLOW.” (Although that might be part of this.)
If it’s a crowd that you’ve been following for a while, you might have acquaintances, friendships, and good friends in that crowd.
Those relationships, emotions, and feelings will make it hard to unfollow that crowd.
If that crowd is leading you away from your Savior…
Don’t be Demetrius.
Don’t forfeit the Christ in exchange for money, for fame, for fortune, for good times, for a momentary pleasure…for stuff that doesn’t last.
3) Follow the Christ.
Because Christ is not overpowered by any crowd.
And if you’re following him, neither will you.
Because Christ always leads to eternal life.
If you’re following him, that’s where you’ll be.
Check out Revelation 7. It describes a different kind of crowd.
A bigger crowd.
A more diverse crowd.
A crowd shouting louder than that Ephesus crowd.
A crowd shouting longer than that Ephesus crowd.
A crowd shouting about a being greater than the Ephesus crowd was shouting about.
A crowd shouting in heaven:
“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Friends, that’s the crowd you want to be in.
We are in the middle of our sermon series on Acts. In this series we have been to a lot of different places and learned a different lesson in each place. Today we’re getting a potpourri of lessons from one place and all on hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy comes from the Greek word “hypokrusis.” The word was used in Greek theater. It meant: “to play a part,” which, in Greek theater, often meant “wearing a mask.” It’s a part of theater still today – specifically known as the Marvel Big Screen.
Chris Evans dons a mask and becomes Captain America.
Chadwick Boseman dons a mask and becomes Black Panther.
Evangeline Lilly dons a mask and becomes The Wasp.
Hypocrisy, then, is when someone claims to be one thing, when they are not.
Before we begin our study of hypocrisy, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. One Kind of Hypocrisy
The lesson from Acts 19 is the first big stop on Paul’s 3rd missionary journey. Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. (19:1a) Ephesus was the Capital of the Ancient province of Asia and a bustling commercial center. Paul had briefly been there at the end of the 2nd missionary journey. Before he left, he promised to return if God allowed. Paul’s appearance in chapter 19 is a fulfillment of that promise.
When Paul arrives, he finds some disciples. (v.1b) These men claimed to be followers of the Christ. Paul greets them pleasantly. (Maybe with some high fives, jokes about not having rocks thrown at him, and an invitation to go grab lunch at the local Smashburger).
As they are hanging out, Paul asks them some conversational questions:
What’s your favorite worship song?
What do you do to serve at the church?
Do you like your coffee dark or light roast?
Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? (v.2)
The Holy Spirit is absolutely in the heart of all believers. 1 Corinthians 12:3 says, “No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.” It’s simple. It’s clear. If you believe in Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit, because you need the Holy Spirit in order to believe.
But what Paul is talking about here is something different. Early in the history of the Christian church, during key faith-filled events, the Holy Spirit would visibly manifest his presence within a group of believers. This would serve to prove the truthfulness of the Gospel through miraculous signs. It happened at Pentecost (Acts 2) when tongues of fire appeared on the Apostles’ heads as they spoke in languages that they had never learned. It happened again in the house of the Roman Centurion Cornelius (Acts 10). In both instances, God was making it clear that this faith – and the message that this faith was placed in – was a very real and very divine message.
Paul’s question was about whether that had happened with them.
Did you get to speak in tongues?
Did fire appear on your heads?
Did you open your mouth and rainbows started shooting out?
The answer was a bit surprising:
“We hadn’t heard there was a Holy Spirit…” (v.3)
Paul responded, “Wait. What!?! You don’t know the Holy Spirit? He’s a key part of our teachings. He’s the one who brings us to faith. He’s the one who came down on Jesus like a dove. And Baptism! Haven’t you been baptized? Into whose name were you baptized? Because as far as I know…believers are baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the HOLY SPIRIT.”
The men responded, “We were baptized into John’s Baptism, into the name of the Christ who is going to come in the future.”
“OK… The Christ. Good. Did you know he has already come? Did you know he already did his Christ work? Did you know his name?”
And the men looked on at another, shrugged, and replied, “I don’t know…maybe…Bob?”
Divine forehead slap.
Here’s the truth: Sometimes hypocrisy comes from IGNORANCE.
It’s like the time I was at Buffalo Wild Wings and a lady near me was decked out in Tarheel gear as she watched them battle on the football field. A while later, the Tarheels had their quarterback sacked in the end zone. The woman stood up, clapped, and shouted, “Great job! Way to go.”
Until, her friends (also in Tarheel gear) motioned for her to sit down: “Stop cheering. That was a safety. That means its two points for the other team.”
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from IGNORANCE.
Yes, I’m a believer in Jesus…and I believe you can sleep with whomever you want. Does the Bible say differently?
Yes, my social profile says: “Christian”; I like all kinds of quotes from the Bible. Also quotes from the KKK. Is there something wrong?
Yes, I’m a Christian. I’ve been my whole life. But what do you mean when you are talking about salvation by grace? Never heard of it? I thought I’d get to heaven, simply because I was good enough….
Before you say, “But if someone doesn’t know, it’s no big deal.”
Remember that ignorant hypocrisy is still hypocrisy.
It’s still wrong.
If your son winds up and punches your little daughter in the face, you don’t say, “It’s ok. He didn’t know. Let him be.” No! You course correct immediately!
In the same way, it’s still wrong when we say we are followers of Jesus, but then do the opposite of followers of Jesus, even if we simply didn’t know followers of Jesus don’t do that.
There’s a simple cure for this kind of hypocrisy. It’s called knowledge. That’s what Paul gave these men. He said to them in verse 4, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”
Jesus is the Christ.
He lived perfectly when you couldn’t.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins. I saw it with my own eyes!
And the group believes.
They are baptized into Jesus’ name.
And that Holy Spirit that they didn’t know about? He makes himself visibly known. They began to speak in tongues, and they prophesied. (v.6) Visual proof of the invisible truth that their faith in Jesus wasn’t fake; it was real.
The same is true for you. Repent of your any hypocrisy of ignorance.
To do that, look at the truth.
The truth may be that what you’ve been doing is sin.
But the truth also is that you have a Savior.
And in Jesus, you are forgiven.
II. Another Kind of Hypocrisy
But not all hypocrisy is caused by ignorance.
Next Paul entered the synagogue, a place where they studied God’s Word.
He went and spoke boldly there for three months. (v.9a)
You would expect this to produce real believers.
These people wore religious jewelry.
They went to worship.
They knew lots of the Bible.
They knew all the words to all their favorite religious songs.
They knew prayers.
They knew religious logos.
They knew God’s Word.
And yet…when Paul was done speaking…
Some of them were obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. (v.9b)
And think about the hypocrisy of it all:
They studied God’s Word.
They knew God’s Word.
Then, they refused to believe God’s Word.
And even openly mocked God’s Word.
Only to sit around congratulating each other for following that Word that they were mocking.
It’s would be like sitting in the Fellowship Hall after worship and gossiping about another believer not being a very good believer and then congratulating yourselves on being such good believers even though you’re doing things that believers aren’t supposed to do.
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from ignorance; but sometimes hypocrisy comes from obstinance.
In fact, the Greek word there means “hardened.” Tough, rough, impenetrable.
Like a rock. There’s nothing getting through the exterior into the heart of the rock. Try it. You can punch the rock. You can hit the rock with a blow dart. You could try karate chopping the rock. Nothing. Even if you took a hammer to it - that rock isn’t splitting.
The same can happen with people’s hearts.
Even the hearts of long-time Christians.
I know racism is wrong. God is for all people. You should go tell it to those people over there. They’re the racist ones. In fact, that’s how all people like them are!
I know it says that sex outside of marriage is wrong. And I haven’t had it! Look at my purity ring! Now excuse me…the adult film. I uploaded on my iPhone is coming after it’s done buffering.
I know it! Pride is wrong. Preach it pastor! Especially at that guy over there. But don’t you preach it at humble me. There’s nobody humbler than I am.
And God’s Word connects with the heart.
And the heart hardens.
And hypocrisy ensues.
If you are a long-time church goer, take extra warning!
Don’t harden your heart to God’s Word.
And then sit around congratulating yourself for following God’s Word.
Instead of hardening your heart, look at God’s heart.
Because God’s heart was not hard.
His heart was filled with compassion.
His heart was filled with love for you…even when you repeatedly hardened your heart against him.
His heart was not hardened like a rock.
When he hung on that cross…
The soldiers reached up with a spear.
They plunged it into his him.
But softened with love for you.
Even now. Even if you’ve hardened your heart before, listen to his heart for you.
Repent of your hypocrisy.
And do it quickly.
III. All Kinds of Hypocrisy
As Paul continued his ministry, God continued to bless Paul. In fact, look at the amazing things that God did through Paul: Even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul were taken to the sick and their illnesses were cured, and the evil spirits left them. (v.12)
That’s amazing! Paul’s handkerchiefs cured from the flu and his aprons drove out evil spirits. But look at what happened, “Seven sons of Sceva (Which…Listen to the name. It sounds shady. Almost like an evil muppet or something) they went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon possessed. They would say, “In the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” (v.12-13)
To be fair, this doesn’t look hypocritical.
It looks like they are trying to help.
They aren’t ignorant of Jesus’ name. They use it.
They aren’t obstinately opposed to Jesus. God is against demons, too.
Yet, look at what happened.
One day an evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. (v.15)
Do you see the problem?
But God could.
Maybe they weren’t doing this out of love for Jesus.
But out of love for power.
Maybe they weren’t doing this out of love for others.
But out of love for themselves.
They were hypocrites.
Good ones too! It was hard to tell that they were doing anything wrong.
But here’s the truth:
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from ignorance.
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from obstinance.
But hypocrisy is always exposed.
A family member finds out.
A pastor discovers the truth.
Your spouse learns about what you were trying to hide.
Always hypocrisy is exposed.
Even if you successfully hide it from all other human beings, God knows.
God knows and he will expose it.
At the end of time, you won’t be able to hide it.
And he won’t be able to hide his displeasure.
He’ll simply say:
Jesus, I know…
And Paul I know…
Who are you?
IV. What Now?
Therefore, God calls us to repent.
To turn from hypocrisy.
To turn to our Savior.
And the way to do that is to:
(1). Switch Your Mask
We said that hypocrisy is putting on a mask. Covering up our sins with a nice looking, “Christian” façade.
Make me think of Halloween. That’s a time for masks. There’s a wide variety of them at Precious Lambs. I remember there was one kid who made his own mask. It was made of string and paper. The paper covered up…one of his eyebrows. He said: “You don’t know who I am.” And I said: “Uh-huh.”
Hypocrisy? That’s like hiding behind the paper eyebrow mask.
We think it hides our sinfulness from God.
Instead, check out Galatians 3:27
All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
Just like a full-fledged mask, it fully and completely covers up all your sins.
Jesus covers up your obstinance.
Jesus covers up your ignorance.
Jesus covers up your sin so much so that when God looks at you, He only sees – His child.
So much so that God calls us to our second WHAT NOW:
(2). Go Public
Look at the reaction of the people to what had occurred. Many who believed came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. (v.18)
Think about that: Believers gathered in the middle of the city with their arms filled of books that they had been storing in their homes. Books that weren’t about the Bible. Books that were about Satan, witchcraft, and sexual immorality.
It’d be like someone coming to the front of church and making a pile of a raunchy racist DVDs, two illegal drug baggies, and an iPhone loaded with pornographic content.
That’s take courage to do in front of everyone, right?
But they had the courage.
Because they were covered in Christ’s righteousness.
Because they knew they were God’s children.
Because they knew God’s children were serious about getting rid of sin.
Because they knew God’s other children wouldn’t ridicule them, but support them.
They went public with it.
Do the same.
Examine your heart.
Find your hypocrisy
And Go public with it.
Go public with a friend, a pastor, or a family member!
And if someone trusts you enough to publicly confess a secret sin to you, don’t say:
“Just a second while I share what you did on social media.”
Share the Gospel.
Remind them of Christ’s mask.
Help them incinerate whatever it is they are struggling with!
Because in that, God’s Word is spread.
In fact, look at the last verse:
In this way, the word of the Lord spread widely. (v.20)
Because when God’s Word gets us to stop being hypocrites and start being real, then God’s Word really spreads.
If we’re real -- real with God and real with each other -- then the community will notice.
Throughout our study of ACTS, maybe you’ve noticed something: The Gospel is unstoppable.
It’s like a locomotive. It keeps going. It keeps moving. (Don’t get in its way). You can’t stop it.
It’s like a Boeing jet. It keeps going. It keeps moving. (It travels long distances). You can’t stop it.
It’s like a toddler after a bunch of fruit snacks. It keeps going. It keeps moving. (It doesn’t even crash after the sugar rush). You can’t stop it.
Will the run of the Gospel continue? Before we study God’s Word, 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. When Workers are Few…
The lesson comes from Acts 18. Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. (18:1) Corinth was located about 45 miles east of Athens. The best way to get there was a long dirt road. That’s how Paul got there. He walked on his own down a long dirt road by himself.
As he approached, he would have seen a grand city. Corinth had one of the largest populations of the ancient world. It contained a large marketplace where all kinds of merchants gathered to sell their goods. It was money driven. People liked the finer goods of life. They were always busy buying and selling.
Corinth was also the location of the temple to Aphrodite. She was the goddess of love and sex. Just as the worship of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, influenced the philosophy and wisdom of Athens, the worship of Aphrodite, the goddess of sex, influenced the city of Corinth. People were very loose with their sexuality.
In fact, it is recorded that once a week, the one thousand priestesses of Aphrodite would come down from the temple. They’d enter the city and “ply their wares.” They’d sleep with men. They’d sleep with women. They’d sleep with a bunch of men and women.
If preaching the Gospel in Athens was like talking amongst a large group of philosophy professors, preaching the Gospel in Corinth was like catching a group of porn actors on their smoke break.
Put yourself in Paul’s sandals.
As he walked towards the city.
On a dirt road.
Seeing the city in the distance.
He might have thought:
How am I going to do this?
I’m by myself, God! This Corinth? It has over 1,000 temple prostitutes.
And you teach that sex is a special gift for one and one woman in marriage.
These people? They sleep with one man and one woman before the morning coffee break! (It’s embedded in their culture.)
And…how am I going to get throughout the entire city? It’s huge. Markets and merchants everywhere.
Where am I even going to stay? The only hotel rooms come with a voluptuous roommate and a red light special?
God, is this the end of Gospel ministry?
But if Paul had those concerns, God answered Paul.
Not with words.
Paul met a Jew named Aquila…and his wife Priscilla. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. (v.2,3)
Tentmaking was an important ancient trade. Because people walked from city to city, tents were brought along in case you had to set up shelter and spend the night along the roadway. These tents were generally made from animal skins. Over time, those skins would wear and tear in the wind and grit. A tent maker would prepare the skin for being a shelter, sew it together, and fix up any tears in it.
Paul had training in this skillset. Granted, he had been busy preaching the Gospel. He hadn’t used these skills for a while. But as he walked around Corinth, unsure of where to go and what to do, the tentmaking shop felt familiar.
Hey guys! I’m a tentmaker, too.
I was trained up at Tentmaker Tech in Jerusalem. You?
How long have you been in the business?
Is that a Craftsman skinning knife in your hands? I love those.
Do you have a favorite animal skin? I’m especially fond of North African camel myself.
Eventually the tentmaking conversation leads to a job.
The job leads to housing.
The housing leads to Paul telling them about Jesus.
Before you know it, Paul has friends.
He has supporters.
He has funding.
He has a place to stay.
He has fellow believers and partners in his Gospel ministry.
And the Gospel doesn’t stop. Instead, it spread. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. (v.4)
When WORKERS are few, God provides MORE.
This is something that we’ve seen in the history of Gethsemane church.
Gethsemane church started about 47 years ago when a group of people started worship services in their living room. They’d gather the family around one of those big old TV sets, turn off the TV, and put a cross on top. Instant altar. Then, they’d listen to worship cassettes (do you remember cassettes?) of neighboring church services that they had received in the mail.
All the while -- they had the hope that God would provide a pastor to help them Plant Jesus in the Heart of North Raleigh.
And God did. A guy named Pastor Paul Schmiege who moved to Raleigh and helped plant the very church building that we are blessed to set foot inside of.
God provided More workers.
And God has kept doing that.
When we’ve needed musicians? God provided.
When we’ve needed someone who’s good with finances? God provided.
When we needed someone who’s good with technology? God provided.
When we needed an architect, a construction manager, and data analysts to help build the new facility to reach others with the Gospel? God provided.
Really recently – we needed someone to help teach PreK 4 students about Jesus. We sent a request to our church body’s worker training school. Get this -- there were hundreds of requests and only about 1/3 of them would be filled. I even received a phone call from our District President that said “Be prepared. We might not have anyone for you.” And yet – God provided. He gifted us a new teacher (some of you met her last week).
The same is true in your personal Gospel ministry.
If you’re the only believer…
…in your family.
…at the gym.
Remember: When workers are few, God provides more.
You’re the MORE.
II. When Some Reject
God kept providing more. Weeks later, reinforcements arrived. Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, so Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. (v.5)
This was Paul’s normal plan. He’d go to a city. He’d spend time in the local synagogue. He’d meet with the Jews: people who believed in Biblically defined marriage, who read the Old Testament Scriptures, and who were familiar with the concept of the Messiah.
This seems like a good plan.
The Jews opposed Paul and became abusive. (v.6)
Ok. Enough lecturing us on sin. Why don’t you go out into the world and tell those Corinthians about sin?
Stop telling us about a Savior. Have you seen what’s happening out there in sex-crazed Corinth?
Get out of our face. We don’t need you. We don’t need the Gospel.
And Paul listened to them.
He turned around.
He shook out his robe. (Just to get the stench of unbelief off it).
He walked out the exit.
He walked down the dirt path.
He turned right.
He walked up the entry path to the house next door.
In fact, Scripture says this: Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. Notice it doesn’t call Titius Justus (let’s call him “TJ”) a Jew. Luke, the author of this book, usually records if someone is a Jew. He doesn’t here. It means TJ wasn’t a part of the Jewish synagogue. In fact, his name is Latin. He’s a Corinthian!
And just like most Corinthians, TJ probably had his own sexual history.
It could have been:
Sleeping with his boss’ daughter.
Experimenting with the guy at the bar.
Those Saturday nights with all the booze and all the wrong choices.
All of it left him feeling unclean.
Like there were these awful areas of his life that he couldn’t scrub off his soul.
Can you relate?
And even though he lived next door to a religious place like the synagogue, they hadn’t let him become a part of it.
He wasn’t worthy.
He didn’t belong.
Paul walked right up to his door.
Paul told him about Jesus.
About how Jesus lived perfectly, died innocently and rose triumphantly.
About how Jesus cleans us from the inside out.
About how Jesus transforms people…
From unclean to pure.
From just a body to an eternal soul.
From nothing more than a cheap thrill to a blood bought soul.
From sexual sinner to forgiven.
Get this: TJ doesn’t just become a believer. He becomes an active partner in the ministry: The Bible says: Crispus, whose name always makes me think of cereal, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized. (v7-8)
When the Gospel is THROWN OUT, it just goes NEXT DOOR.
That means if someone’s sharing the Gospel with you, don’t reject it.
Don’t try to stop it.
Don’t throw it out the door.
Because you won’t be able to stop it.
It’ll just move next door.
So will the promises of forgiveness, eternal life, and transformation.
But if you hold onto it.
No matter your past.
No matter your sexual past.
In Jesus you become pure, eternal and forgiven.
If someone’s sharing the Gospel with you, don’t reject it. Cling to it.
And if you’re sharing the Gospel and someone rejects it, don’t quit. Just…go next door.
A while back, I was walking around the neighborhood, sharing information about our church and inviting them to learn about Jesus. I had been to a couple of doors where they said things like: “I don’t need your religion.” “I don’t have time.” And “Get off my porch step.”
After many rejections, I knocked on one more door. It was opened by a large middle Eastern man with some big muscles. He had just moved from Iraq. In fact, he had fought in the Iraqi army.
I remember thinking: “This is probably not going to go well.”
So, I invited him to worship.
Years later? He’s a baptized member of our congregation.
If you’re sharing the Gospel and someone rejects it, don’t stop sharing the Gospel.
Just do what Paul did.
Shake your clothes out.
And move next door.
To the next cubicle.
To the next Facebook friend.
To the next, next door neighbor.
Keep sharing the Unstoppable Gospel Message.
III. When Persecution Happens
But for Paul, it all seemed too familiar. He’d had this happen before. He preaches the Gospel in the synagogue. Some believe. Some reject the message. He preaches until…
…A plot against his life.
None of this had happened yet, but based on his experiences, Paul may have been thinking of an escape route.
One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” (v.9-10)
So, he stuck around.
His haters stood in the background glaring, whispering, and folding their arms angrily, but Paul kept preaching.
Until one day, The Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him to the place of judgment. “This man,” they said, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.”
You do know the Roman law, Roman governor?
New religions are illegal.
Greek mythology? That’s cool.
Roman mythology? Fine.
Thanks to your gracious ruling, Judaism is fine as well.
But this guy preaches new stuff!
He should be fined and arrested.
As they spoke, I know what I would have been thinking.
I would have started wracking my brain about a good defense:
How this really wasn’t a new religion.
How the Gospel was the real message of the Old Testament.
How Jesus was your Savior too, Your Eminency.
But before Paul could speak.
“If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law – settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.” (v.14-15)
And with that – he threw the case out.
It’s exactly like God said.
And here’s the thing. That declaration of Gallio set a precedent. Paul was now free to continue to preach the Gospel in Corinth and there’s nothing anyone could do to stop it.
The Gospel is unstoppable because…it’s God.
Think about it:
God is the content of the Gospel.
God is the power of the Gospel.
God is the will of the Gospel.
God is the promise of the Gospel.
God is the deliverer of the Gospel.
God is in control of the Gospel.
God is the one that makes sure that his Gospel NEVER stops.
Because God doesn’t stop.
Even when some angry men arrested God.
Beat God up.
And nailed God hand and foot to the cross.
That didn’t stop God.
Three days later, he came back to life.
And the Gospel spread.
If death can’t stop the Gospel message, then nothing will.
In fact, look at the concluding verse to the Corinthian account: Then the crowd there turned on Sosthenes the synagogue leader and beat him in front of the proconsul; and Gallio showed no concern whatever. (Acts 18:17) The Jews were upset that Sosthenes – the leader of their revolt against the Gospel – did not do his job. Paul wasn’t convicted. The Gospel kept going.
Years later, Paul writes a letter to the congregation at Corinth.
Years later, He writes to believers to tell them about Jesus’ love for them.
Years later, in the very first verse, Paul writes this:
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes. (1 Corinthians 1:1)
Did you see that? Sosthenes isn’t a very common name.
And in Corinth?
The Gospel did it again.
An enemy of the Gospel.
Not only becoming a believer in the Gospel.
But joining the movement and becoming a partner in the Gospel.
The Gospel doesn’t stop.
Join the movement.
Hop on the unstoppable train. Amen.
We are finishing up our Fighting Temptation sermon series this morning. If you’ve been here following along, this is the culmination. We’re going to take everything we’ve learned about fighting temptation and apply it to enduring in the fight against temptation.
If you haven’t been here, that’s okay. Because we’re going to be talking about how to endure your walk of faith -- in a world filled with doubt, shame, guilt, and other things that make it feel like you should just give up on faith.
In short, if you want to enjoy eternal life…this is for you.
Before we study, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Surrounded by Witnesses
The section we’re going to look at it from the book of Hebrews 12: 1-3. Briefly – Hebrews is a letter written to believers anywhere at any time. We are believers. We are somewhere and sometimes – so…this is written to us.
This is written to you.
Look at the encouragement in chapter 12:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Right away, I get this picture of a track and field meet. The stadium seating is filled with people. They’ve got their popcorn. They’ve got their sports drinks. They’ve got their sunglasses on and a granola bar for the kids. They are cheering on your behalf – “You can do it! You’ve got this! Keep running.”
There’s even that coach running alongside the infield. He’s the one’s that’s running by you as you hit the corner – he’s screaming. He’s yelling. He’s waving his arms in big old circles – (because I think he thinks that it’ll help with the airflow so you can run faster.) He’s part of the crowd of people that are encouraging you and cheering you on.
But who is this group of people that the Bible is talking about?
Who are these witnesses?
(1) Those who have Finished the Race
It is usually in good taste, once you finish a race, to turn around and cheer for those who are still finishing up. You’re letting them know it’s possible by the fact that you already made it.
Scripture is filled with those who have finished the race.
Scripture is filled with those who have fought the fight against temptation.
Scripture is filled with those who have walked the walk of faith.
Like a guy named Abraham -- God said to him, “Get up. Move your family. Go to a different country. Even though I won’t tell you where, it’ll be good, just…trust me.”
And Abraham did.
And God gave him the land of Israel that would lead to the entire nation of Israel as we know them today.
Like a woman named Sarah – God said to her, “Even though you’re 90 years old and are barren, I will come back in a year and you will have a son – trust me.”
And Sarah did.
And God gave her a child named Isaac --- the great, great, great, great, many times over, grandfather of Jesus Christ.
Like a guy named Moses – God said to him, “I will work through you to do miraculous signs and lead my people out of slavery in Egypt – trust me.”
And Moses did.
And God sent locusts, frogs, hail, bugs, darkness and blood until the king of Egypt finally let them go.
And a young boy named David – God said to him, “Even though you are small, I will take care of you. Trust me.”
And David did.
And God protected him – guiding a tiny little stone from a sling shot into the gap of the giant goliath’s helmet – knocking him down – dead.
And a young man named Joshua – God said to him, “Even though there’s a gigantic wall surrounding the city, I will help you defeat Jericho and it will be yours…trust me.”
And Joshua did.
And God roared, Jericho trembled, God shook the city of Jericho and sent the walls of Jericho a tumbling down.
And a guy named Daniel – God said to him, “Even though the king has threatened a night in the lion’s den for not worshipping him, don’t do it. I’ll protect you…trust me.”
And Daniel did.
And God sent angels to calm those ferocious beasts – that come the next morning – the lions were snuggling up to Daniel purring like housecats.
And a young woman named Mary – God said to her, “Even though you’ve never slept with anyone – and biology says it’s impossible, trust me…You will have a Son and will call his name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
And she did.
And God did. And Jesus was born of a virgin.
And a guy named Peter…And Andrew. And James and John…and Thomas and Philip and hundreds more – to whom Jesus himself said, “They will kill me…. But…three days later…I will come back to life. Trust me.”
And they… didn’t.
But God did anyway. He came back to life.
The Bible is filled with people who have finished the race of faith.
And through the pages of Scripture – they cheer you on:
You will win.
(2) Those who are Running the Race with you
Because when you run a race – it’s good to run a race with friends. It’s nice to have people there to push you. People there to encourage you. People there to say, “You know what. Why don’t we walk for a bit.”
God has given you people to encourage you.
God has given you people to uplift you.
God has given you people to witness to God’s grace and run the race with you.
I remember Pastor John Jeske. He was a pastor of mine growing up. He preached rather long sermons. (Some of you are wondering – “How long does he think a ‘long sermon’ is…?”) He was a kind, gentle, older man – who always took the time to shake my hand and ask how my day was going.
He encouraged me.
One of the interactions that I ever had was a graduation card that I received from him. It said, “Philip, keep holding onto Jesus and keep sharing him with others.”
It wasn’t much.
A few simple words.
Yet – even today –
Years after I received that card.
Years after Pastor Jeske became a member of God’s congregation in heaven.
I hear his encouragement.
I want you to take a moment and think about some of the people God has given you to encourage you.
A grandma? A grandpa?
A church friend?
Because that’s really the point of church. It’s a group of people who gather together to encourage, uplift, run beside, pull each other along, and occasionally -- give someone a ride on their back as we run the race of faith together.
If you don’t have that group of people, God says you need it.
If you have that group of people, God says, “Don’t forget to encourage them too.”
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Because you wouldn’t do very well in a race if your shoelaces were tied together.
You wouldn’t do very well in a race if you were wrapped up in toilet paper.
You wouldn’t do very well in a race if you are the only one with a weighted backpack of about 50 pounds. (Unless you’re that one guy at my gym – who always wears the 50-pound backpack…I think he wears it when he brushes his teeth.)
But you get the point? You can’t run well when things are tangling you up and slowing you down.
And you can’t run the race of faith when things are tangling you up and slowing you down.
Again, what might entangle you? Two things:
(1) Sin that Entangles
This one seems easy.
Sin is bad.
God is good.
Sin is wrong.
God is opposed to wrong.
If you are trying to run the race of faith with God, then you’re going to be immensely slowed down.
And we’re not necessarily talking about tripping up in sin – that happens to all Christians all the time because we are all sinners.
But we’re talking about sin that entangles.
Sin that’s repeated.
Sin that’s repetitive.
Sin that’s got you all wrapped up.
Because think about it:
It’s hard set your heart after God, when your heart is after a bunch of porn on the internet.
It’s hard to run with all your strength, when most of your strength is boasting on social media.
It’s hard to run with joy, when you’re harboring bitterness in your heart.
It’s hard to share Jesus with people of all cultures, when you’d rather share your racist thoughts about other cultures.
It’s hard to trust God’s forgiveness of you, when you’re struggling with forgiving in your heart.
It’s hard to work together to share the Gospel, when you’re working on your own to share gossip about others at church.
Throw off the sin that entangles.
(2) Anything that Hinders
But it’s not just that. Scripture says to throw off anything that hinders.
Meaning things that aren’t necessarily sin.
Cause there’s all kinds of things in this world that aren’t necessarily sin. They are spiritually neutral. Things like: TV, sleep, food, money, career, sports, Rice Krispy Bars, Pokémon, and vegetables – (except for brussels sprouts – those are probably sinful – just kidding…kind of.)
Neutral things are not wrong on their own.
They become wrong, when they consume you to the point of slowing your spiritual race.
Like video games. I enjoy video games. Not the violent, intense, R rated games that have all kinds of questionable content.
But the light-hearted, goofy video games – that leave you questioning how old I am.
But here’s the thing. If those video games start to take up my time, if they start to envelop my thoughts, if I start thinking more about “How can I save princess Peach from Bowser” – rather than – “How can I share Jesus who saves eternally with that person…”
Video games have become a hindrance.
They need to be thrown off.
Think about you and your life.
What is slowing you down?
I bet it’s different than mine.
But I also bet there is one.
The devil will do everything possible to make you think that’s most important.
But it’s not.
So…whatever has become a hindrance to growing in faith, following Jesus, and sharing his message.
Identify and throw it off.
III. Eyes on the Prize
One more thing that Scripture implores us to do as we run the race of faith:
Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. (v.2)
Over at Lafayette Village, every September they hold Octoberfest. Let me say that again – Every September, they hold Octoberfest. (I think that the 4th of July is celebrated on August 10th this year, too). Part of the celebration is the Annual Wiener Dog Race. (Picture it.) It is exactly what you picture. A race with wiener dogs. The race isn’t long. It’s probably the length of a pew. And the dogs are dropped off at the starting line. They are positioned behind a starting gate and then, their owner goes down to the finish line – ready to call for the dog and cheer them to victory.
Sounds simple, right?
But…here’s what happens.
The announcer says, “On your mark. Get set. Go!”
The gates open…and…
One of them immediately runs over to the walls and starts trying to jump over them to get to the crowd.
Another sees a butterfly in the air and chases it to the other side.
A third was on his way to the end but stops when he sees the little kid eating a “hot dog.”
And a fourth – just kinda settles down for a nap.
I remember watching a race. It’s literally 30 feet in length, but it took about 5 minutes because the dogs couldn’t keep their attention on the endgame.
The same thing is true in this life.
We can’t get distracted by shiny, flashy things.
We can’t lose focus from Christ – and drift to career, money, friendship, physique…
None of those things lead to the finish line of eternal life.
None of those things lead to the finish line of heaven.
Only one thing does --
So fix your eyes on Jesus.
Why Jesus? Three reasons…
(1) He is the author of your faith
An author is someone who writes a book. They are the ones who come up with the ideas and write it on a page. People like Dr. Seuss, Maya Angelou and Nathaniel Hawthorne. All authors – all wrote their ideas and thoughts down on paper.
Jesus is the author of faith.
Its contents: He looked down upon earth. He saw that we were mired in sin, guilt and shame. He saw that we couldn’t get ourselves out of it – and eternal death was our destiny. So…he wrote “Faith.”
He came down to earthly willingly.
Lived perfectly when we couldn’t.
Died innocently in our place.
And rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of all of our sins!
He said, “Put your faith in ME, in ME, in ME, not in yourself, in ME!”
Jesus authored the contents of our faith – but – more than that – he authored your faith.
He came to you through Scripture.
He came to you through the words of someone who knew Scripture.
He came to you through the waters of baptism.
He brought you the message that we are sinners and are in need of a Savior.
He wrote on your heart the words of faith:
“I belong to Jesus.”
“He is my Savior.”
“I will follow him.”
Think about it: If he is the one who set you on this journey of faith!
Since he’s the one who started you on it, keep your eyes on him – he’ll help you through it.
(2) He is the Perfecter of Your Faith
In fact, he’ll get you to the end! The Scripture says, “He is the perfecter of your faith.” That means – you can’t do this race without him. You can’t do this race without your Savior. You can’t do this race on your own.
Be careful with that. It’s so common for Christians to say – “Thanks Jesus for starting me out on faith. I appreciate it. But…I don’t want you to get tired…Let me run it on my own.”
And a couple of paces – they’re passed out in a spiritual ditch.
Jesus said this, “I am the Vine; you are the branches. If someone remains in me and I in them, they will bear much fruit. Apart from me; they can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
If you think you can do this race without Jesus, you’ll be like one of those old branches lying in the woods. Brittle. Withered. Dead.
But…if you stay connected to Jesus, hear his promise: you will grow.
You will be nourished.
Your faith will flourish.
You will run and you will run fast.
(3) He’s Excellent at Keeping His Eye on the Prize
One more reason to keep your eyes on Jesus.
Today is Palm Sunday. It’s the day we remember how Jesus came to Jerusalem in a festive fashion.
He rode on a donkey.
People were cheering for him.
They were waving Palm branches in the air.
They were pumping their fists in the air.
They were laying their coats on the ground so the donkey didn’t have to step on mud.
The entire city of Jerusalem was watching this one-person parade of Jesus and shouting:
HOSANNA! HOSANNA TO THE SON OF DAVID!
The scene is impressive.
And you might think – I can understand why Jesus wanted to go to Jerusalem.
If that was his goal…Who wouldn’t want to have an entire city singing your adulation and giving praise and attention to you.
That’s not why Jesus went to Jerusalem.
“We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him.” (Luke 18:31-33)
Do you see it?
Jesus reason for going to Jerusalem wasn’t Palm Sunday; it was Good Friday.
He didn’t come to earth for the adulation of the crowd; but the ridicule of the soldiers.
He didn’t come to hear “Hosanna!”; but to hear “Crucify him.”
He didn’t come to have palms waves at him, but to have nailed driven into his him.
He didn’t come to ride on a donkey, but to hang from a cross.
He didn’t come to gain glory for himself; he came to gain glory for you.
Jesus’ eyes were on the prize.
And the prize wasn’t himself.
The prize was YOU.
Hebrews says, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
That ultimate joy of God.
That ultimate joy of God that powered Jesus to go through with dying on the cross.
Was the promise of eternity with you.
What helped Jesus endured his immensely painful moments on the cross, was considering eternity with you.
What will help you endure the intense painful moments in this life, the moments that make you doubt, the moments that make you want to give up…
Is considering Jesus.
You will not grow weary and lose heart.
You will run.
All the way.
To your Savior’s waiting arms. Amen.
What is your purpose in 2019?
Pay off the mortgage – and every action that you take, every decision that you make is with the goal of paying off that house?
Maybe it’s just to look good – and every food you eat, every movement you make has the goal of looking more like you did in your twenties?
Help your business grow – and every Facebook post that you share has the goal of taking your entrepreneurship to the next level?
We recently got a cat. Yep. A cat. It’s my first one – and I guess it’s not as bad as I thought because I’m still living. Her name is Minnie. Her full name is Minnie, Warrior Kitty.
Now – she can’t talk, but after watching her interact with our house for the past two weeks – I think I understand what her mission is for 2019. I think her mission is to defend the world at all costs against any button, any remote control, any dust ball and any stray tissue that dares cross her path!
Pretty lofty goals…I know.
We’re in the middle of a sermon series called FRESH. This week our topic is PUPORSE. We want to find a fresh purpose in God for 2019 – what kind of mission statement can we adopt in our personal lives to fulfill that purpose! Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A 1st Century Purpose
The section of God’s Word that we’ll study this morning comes from 1 Timothy 2. Timothy is a letter written to a young pastor named Timothy. It is written by Paul who was an older pastor that had a lot of experience starting churches. In this section, he is giving Timothy some instructions on what he should be teaching the people. He writes:
I urge, first of all, that prayers, petitions, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people and for kings and all in authority. (1 Timothy 2:1)
Note the “First of all.” It identifies the first thing in a list of things that Paul will be telling Timothy to teach the congregation. But it also denotes a certain level of importance. This first teaching is of great importance to God’s kingdom; so, it is listed first. It’s important, by the way, in both the 1st century AND the 21st century. So…listen up.
The first thing that’s of great importance for Christians to do?
(1) Pray for All people.
That’s not easy. Usually people like to pray for people that they (1) know and that they (2) like. It’s why people pray for themselves (they like themselves). Also their family, their kids, their spouse, and maybe even a few people from church…but probably not all of them.
Paul’s instruction is more all-encompassing than that. Paul says to pray for all people.
That includes not only the people that we know and like…
But the people that we don’t know and might not like.
For the stranger across town.
For the stranger across the world.
For the coworker that you don’t like.
For the friend that’s no longer your friend.
For the rich guy who owns a mansion.
For the homeless guy on the street.
Even for the internet troll who puts an angry face on all of your political posts.
God’s Word says to pray for all of those people.
And then to top it all off - he says to pray for a group of people that probably ranks high on most people’s list of people that they don’t want to pray for:
It’s like the coup de grace of un-prayable people.
(2) Pray for the Government.
This is interesting timing. Because we just completed a month-long government shut down. And it is highly possible that there will be another one. A shut down where lawmakers and elected officials can’t coexist and are costing people their salaries; not their own, but the people who aren’t involved in those decisions and use that money to live on.
Does it seem hard to pray for those Washington guys right about now?
If so, think about this:
The letter we are reading was written at a time when there was no democracy. There weren’t term limits. There wasn’t an opportunity to vote someone out of office if you didn’t agree with their methods.
There was the Roman emperor.
Using violent Roman soldiers.
To enforce his will.
And his most recent will? It was to throw Christians in jail, separate families, and even murder them.
Yet…Christians were still supposed to PRAY for the government.
Since it’s been recorded for us, we are still supposed to pray for our government.
That’s hard, too.
But…maybe it depends on the prayer!
Maybe it makes sense for us to pray for the government to enact laws to make our lives better.
Or to make laws that give US a tax break.
Or to make laws that fit our own political agendas.
Is that what our prayers are for?
Nope. Look at verse 2:
Pray…That we may live peaceful and quiet lives in godliness and holiness. (v.2b)
For our godliness and holiness.
For a culture that amplifies our godliness and holiness.
To put it another way –
We are to pray that God helps us let HIS light shine.
II. God’s Mission Statement
Now – this prayer request comes from God’s Word.
So…Maybe that seems a bit – selfish.
Maybe that seems a bit – vain.
Let me get this straight God...YOU want me to pray to YOU for opportunities to make YOU more well- known?
This is not about God. Take a look at verse 3:
God our Savior wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
You can learn a lot about an organization by its mission statement.
Do you know PETA? People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Their mission is to support the rights of all animals.
Habitat for Humanity? Their mission is to bring people together to build homes and hope.
Starbucks? To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one cup at a time…
Domino’s mission statement? To sell more pizza.
What is God’s mission Statement?
Let everyone know how awesome I am?
Reign terror on all people.
Confuse people about what His plans?
God’s mission statement is this:
Save All People.
That’s really a God-sized mission statement, right?
Because God’s mission is not that some might be saved.
Or a lot.
Or even most.
God wants all people to be saved.
And that mission is what guides his every action!
We saw it in our Gospel lesson for today.
Jesus had spent all night doing miracles.
He made the blind see.
He made the deaf hear.
He made the lame walk.
He made the guy with the cold better.
He made the woman with cancer well.
He made the child with epilepsy calm, healthy.
Jesus did miracle after miracle until it was too dark for people to come find him at the house he was at.
Early the next morning, before he got back to doing miracles, Jesus went up on a hillside to pray.
As he was praying, he heard a commotion in the distance.
It was his disciples:
Jesus! There you are. We’ve been looking all over for you.
I know it’s early but they’re here. The sick. The lame. Some kid who has a whooping cough. Some guy who can’t walk. There’s a woman who has a very bad fever. They’re all here – waiting at the house – waiting for you to heal them. We told them to wait but – Jesus, if we want to stay ahead of this, you’d better get back so that you can help them.
And Jesus listened.
He got to his feet.
And said something – rather strange:
“Let us go someplace else – to the nearby villages – that I may preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1:38)
Doesn’t that seem strange?
Jesus usually helps people, right?
And that is the exact reason that he doesn’t go back to down to heal the people who were physically ill.
He needed to head to other villages in order to help others who were spiritually ill.
In short, Jesus understood his mission: TO SAVE ALL PEOPLE.
He understood his mission even when the prayers and requests of all people were – “Don’t do that eternal soul saving mission; come over here and do the ‘make my life better now’ mission.”
It’s proof that Jesus wasn’t all talk.
He wasn’t like some CEO who says that he wants to help lots of people, but when the going gets tough – isn’t willing to give up a cent.
Jesus… gave himself as a ransom for all people. (v.6)
When the only way to save people from their sins was for him to give up his life…
Jesus didn’t bat an eye.
He came down to earth.
He lived perfectly when we couldn’t.
He died innocently in our place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of all of our sins.
And to be fair – we’ve talked about it very broadly.
God’s goal is to save all people.
But Narrowly, God’s mission has always been To. Save. You.
It’s why he’s speaking to you today.
It’s why he’s speaking to you in these words.
It’s why he’s speaking to your heart and imploring you.
Believe in Jesus.
III. Our Mission Statement
But that’s not the end of this lesson. Look at what Paul writes next:
For this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles. (v.7)
A herald was specifically associated with royalty. The herald would give messages on behalf of the king. He’d carry one of those long, large golden trumpets – he’d blow the trumpet and deliver a message from the King. “Hear ye; hear ye; Whoppers are now 2 for $3 at the Burger King’s restaurant.” We use the word in a famous Christmas song – “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Herald angels are not a bunch of angels with the same first name: “Harold, I told you to put your halo back on!” Herald angels were messengers delivering a message from the Divine King: “A Savior has been born!”
Paul was a herald, too. His job was to herald the message of Jesus, the Savior.
To herald it in the marketplace.
To herald it in the synagogue.
To herald it at Uncle Lou’s backyard cookout.
Everywhere he went he heralded the message of Jesus.
Paul was also an apostle. That’s a very specific job. An apostle is a word used to describe the 12 apostles and Paul. The twelve apostles were men who (1) saw the risen Lord Jesus, (2) were sent out by Jesus (3) were given the ability to do miracles by the Holy Spirit.
Undoubtedly that was very helpful for Paul! Because as he heralded the message of the Savior, the miracles that he was able to do would help to prove that his message was truth.
(It’s very similar to why Jesus’ did miracles. It was a supplement to his mission of Saving all people) Paul was able to do miracles as a supplement to help him share the message of Jesus which saved all people!
But what about you?
You might not be able to do miracles.
So…how do you fit into this mission?
Have you ever heard Mt. 28:19? It says, “Go and make disciples of all nations…by teaching them everything I have commanded you.”
Part of what the apostles heralded was the message of Jesus.
And another part of what the apostles heralded was the importance of sharing the message of Jesus. Take a look:
2 Corinthians 5:20, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors as if God were making his appeal through us.”
1 Peter 3:15, “Be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have.”
Mark 16:15, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation.”
Do you get it?
You have purpose.
Your purpose is to be a supporter and a part of Jesus’ mission.
That’s a big deal.
Your purpose isn’t just temporal, it’s eternal.
Your purpose isn’t just human, it’s divine.
Your purpose isn’t just to help something with something that will last a moment; your purpose it to help someone with something that will last for eternity.
You have purpose.
And that purpose is specific!! The apostle Paul did this in a very specific context. The Bible says that he was a teacher of the Gentiles. He didn’t just stay in the synagogues. He didn’t just stay with the people that were Jewish. He was specifically called to bring the message to the Middle East and Southern Europe.
You have a specific purpose, too.
In fact, you have a specific purpose that is key to God’s kingdom.
Because you can to share the message with people that Paul never will be able to do.
You are can share the message with people that I can’t.
You are called to be a part of Jesus’ mission for your people.
Your Facebook friends.
Not only do you have purpose, but you are key to God’s mission.
God will work through you to bring the message of Jesus to the people that you are connected to!
IV. What Now?
1. Pray for Mission Work
Do you remember what Paul was telling Timothy to tell the people? They were to be prayer warriors for the mission of God.
Since that message has been preserved for you and me to read today, we can say with confidence that God wants you to participate in his mission by being a prayer warrior for his kingdom.
That’s important. Because it’s really easy to pray for yourself.
It’s really easy to pray for God to help you with your cold.
To pray for God to help you with your work.
To pray for God to help you with your finances.
And to be fair – you should pray for those things.
But God also wants us to pray for the spiritual.
God wants us to pray for His Mission.
In fact, that’s what he tells us to do in the Lord’s prayer.
In God’s prayer we say, “Thy Kingdom Come.”
That’s not a reference to God becoming president of America in 2020.
It isn’t a reference to God setting up a Christian utopia on this earth.
It’s a reference to mission work!
Pray for mission work.
Add it to your Google calendar.
Write reminders to pray on your bedside post.
Pray for people you know that need to hear about Jesus.
Pray for people you don’t know that need to hear about Jesus.
And pray for the people that you plan to share Jesus with.
If you are a teacher, you need to teach.
If you are writer, you need to write.
Because if you are a coal miner, the most important thing for you to do is to mine coal.
If you are a herald, then the most important thing for you to do is herald!
To share the saving message of Jesus.
To herald at home.
To herald at work.
To herald at the dinner table.
To herald on a night out with friends.
To herald online.
To herald via text message.
To herald in person.
To herald in the heart of North Raleigh.
And, here’s the thing: when it comes to being a herald – it doesn’t do a lot of good to herald when no one is looking.
It doesn’t do a lot of good to herald quietly.
Speak loudly the message of Jesus for all to here.
Which may be a bit intimidating.
You might feel like you can’t do it.
But you’re never alone. God is always with you and may He continue to bless you as you live out your purpose. Amen.
Last week we started a sermon series called FRESH. The goal was to get a FRESH start in 2019. We started by getting a FRESH perspective on our relationship with God. We saw Jesus interact with a guy named Levi whom many religious leaders considered a ‘scum of the earth’ sinner to flip our perspectives on God and humans around. We learned that God came for sinners, not the righteous. The Savior from sin did not come for the sinless, but for the sinful.
This is exciting news.
But…maybe you don’t feel so excited.
Ever been to the farmer’s market? There’s one close by that bills itself as full of fresh, local produce. And to be fair – it is! As you walk around, there’s fresh asparagus, locally grown sweet potatoes, and dark green collards that will make delicious cooked greens.
But as you get somewhere near the midst of the market…
Amid Kinston, and even Raleigh proper…
There in the corner, you see it:
A big ol’ section of Florida Oranges.
They’ve even got the FLORIDA orange stickers on them as they sit right underneath the “Local, Fresh Market” sign.
Maybe you feel like that.
Maybe you feel like God’s kingdom is filled with religious looking people.
And, yes, Jesus came for sinners, but…Me? I’m a big, bad sinner.
Like a 3-week old Florida orange in a North Carolina Local Fresh market:
I don’t belong.
Today we are going to take the message of God’s love that brings a FRESH start and look at how it personally affects you. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Personally Given by God
The lesson for today comes from the book of Titus. Titus, the book, is a letter written to Titus, the person. Titus, the person, first appears in a few other New Testament books. He came to faith in Jesus from the preaching of a pastor named Paul. But Titus didn’t just become a peripheral believer. He became an active member of the early church. He worked with Paul. He became a missionary. He helped start churches.
Eventually all of this experience led Paul to appoint Titus as the Lead Pastor of the congregation in Crete.
Now I imagine this was an exciting new job for Titus:
He got to share the Gospel!
He got to lead a group of believers to share the good news with their community.
He got to high five kids in children’s lessons.
And he always got the leftovers from the fellowship after worship.
But being a pastor doesn’t come without its challenges.
And being a pastor in Crete didn’t come without challenges, too:
Hotheaded Elders. The elders in church were being quite hot-headed with each other. There were disagreements and arguments. Consider this: Titus was younger than them. It is not so easy to tell older men what to do, let alone rebuke them. (2:1-2)
A Sin-filled Ladies’ Aid. The ladies aid got together to drink wine and gossip. Again – Titus was a lot younger than them. It must have been difficult to go from the “cute, little pastor’s assistant” to their pastor who rebukes them. (2:4)
Peers Struggling with Impurity. The young men were struggling with purity. Titus’ job was to stick out like a sore thumb among his peers and tell them to live pure lives – to stop looking at porn and stop sleeping with people that they weren’t married to. Have you ever tried to tell your peers that what they are doing isn’t right? It’s not so easy. (2:6)
False Doctrine. Some in the church believed things that weren’t true about Jesus; and some of those who believed it were teaching it in their version of group Bible study. Titus’ job? To tell them they were wrong and show them why they were wrong…even if they have doctorates, even if they have master’s degrees, even if Titus was still fairly new to this whole pastor thing! (2:1)
With all these challenges, I imagine that Titus was having some doubts.
I know it, because I’ve experienced the same thing as a pastor.
How can I be their leader?
How can I tell them to stop sinning when I’ve done the same sins?
How can I be the one to give them wisdom when I struggle to make the wise decisions every day?
How could I ever be worthy of being in God’s kingdom? Let alone serving in it?
Paul thought Titus needed encouragement. That’s why he wrote the letter to his comrade. Look at some of the encouragement: At one time, we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. (3:3)
Wait a second.
Titus is struggling with his worthiness to be a leader in God’s church.
And Paul’s encouraging response is to remind him of his total unworthiness?
And yet that’s what Paul tells Titus:
You were foolish! You didn’t know anything about God’s word.
You were disobedient! You did the same lustful things that the young men are struggling with.
You were deceived – following all kinds of false teachings and wrong viewpoints.
You were enslaved – with sin, with temptation, with guilt and shame.
Why would these words of discouragement be the words Paul uses to encourage Titus?
Because Paul thinks it is vitally important for Titus to understand this:
A Spiritual FRESH Start is NOT of Oneself Personally.
Imagine for a moment if you were really sweaty. Like really, really sweaty.
Like a one-hour workout at the Crossfit gym – biking, running, sit-ups.
You want to freshen up, so…
You take a shower.
You wash with soap.
You even spray on some nice cologne.
Then, you put on the exact same sweaty gym clothes that you had before.
Think about it:
If Titus really was going to start his FRESH Position as a FRESH Titus, the same, non-fresh things would happen!
He’d mess up.
He’d wake up the next day.
And sin and fail and mess up.
He’d feel like he was putting on the same sweaty, stale unspiritual, sinful self every day.
And I’ll tell you the truth.
If you try to start the new year FRESH, by using the same old power, motivation and strength (namely – your own) as you have in the past – it won’t be long before you smell that same old stench of sin.
Instead, look elsewhere for spiritual freshness elsewhere
That’s where Paul directs Titus: When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (v.4-5)
Did you catch that?
It wasn’t because of Titus that Titus was personally saved.
It wasn’t because of Titus’ own accomplishments.
It wasn’t because of his own works.
It wasn’t because of he, himself, or him!
It was because of God!
It was because of God’s love.
It was because of God’s mercy.
The same is true with you.
Your fresh start isn’t personally of you but personally of God!
God, who is holy…
God, who is divine…
God, who doesn’t have an ounce of sin in him…
God, who is merciful to save you from your miserable state…
That God is the God who had a hand in your own personal fresh start!
It’s similar to going to a Five Star Restaurant. It is disappointing to find out that your food isn’t prepared by the Five Star Chef and will only be prepared by his assistant. It’s just not as good. There’s a bit too much seasoning; the fish is uncooked; and the chicken Cordon Bleu is chicken Cordon “Meh.”
But when the Five Star Chef personally has a hand in your dish, it is magnifique!
God personally had a hand in your worthiness.
His hand was nailed to a cross.
His hand shed His blood.
His hand went limp as He died for you.
Three days later…
His hand moved again.
His hand had blood rushing back into it.
His hand was raised in victory as the conquering hero who saved you!
He tells you.
That you, yes you.
You, and I’m not kidding about this.
You, my believing friend, are forgiven.
Because of this, you, yes, YOU; have a FRESH start.
II. Baptism – a Personalized Gift
But that’s not all. Because God is such a God that he doesn’t stop at personally giving you a FRESH start.
Nope. He proclaims it to you in one of the most personal ways ever.
He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.
Have you ever been to a church service – and the message is on point! And it’s filled with God’s grace and forgiveness and Jesus your Savior.
And you look around and you see everybody nodding their heads. They look enlightened. They are smiling. A few of them are even throwing in an “Amen.”
And you do too, fit in, but not to draw too much attention to yourself.
Yet…the reality is…
You feel like this message isn’t for you.
That nice-looking church lady over there. She’s even got one of those cross medallions fastened to her pocket. The message is definitely for her.
And that friendly church usher who is always so psyched for worship. It’s probably for him.
But not me.
I have sin.
I have a lot of sin.
The message is for them, not me.
In Baptism, God doesn’t leave you room for doubt. Because in Baptism…
…who else is having their sins washed away than the one whose body is being washed with water?
…who else is being welcomed by the triune God, then the one who is having the name of the Triune God spoken over him?
…who else is being covered in God’s love, then the one whose forehead is covered with water miraculous connected with God’s love?
…who else is being baptized into God’s kingdom, but the one who is being baptized into God’s kingdom!?!
In Baptism, God Gives a Fresh Start to you Personally.
And we know that it works! Because look at the power behind it: God saved us…by the Holy Spirit…through Jesus Christ. (v. 6)
Did you catch that? It is the Triune God himself! The real, divine, three persons in one God, God himself who is actively providing the power in Baptism.
That’s important because the power of this personalized fresh start isn’t dependent on the kind of water that is used. (Wait…has that water gone through three levels of purification?)
It isn’t dependent on the pastor’s morality! (“We’ll have to reschedule for tomorrow. Because I looked at my Facebook feed this morning and had all kinds of unchristian thoughts…”)
It isn’t even dependent on the sincerity of my personal confession. (“I’ll have to redo my baptism because I’m not so certain that I totally meant it.”)
It isn’t event dependent on my age. (“Was I old enough to try make MY baptism effective?”)
The power in Baptism is dependent on God.
The Holy Spirit.
Baptism is personally powered by the Triune God!
Your sins are no match for the volcano-erupting power of our Father!
Your guilt is no match for the holy, innocent blood of Jesus Christ.
Your doubts are no match for the faith producing power of the Holy Spirit.
And this isn’t a one-time power.
It isn’t as if God did this for you one time, but after that you were on your own.
Look again at what kind of a baptism it is: “A washing of rebirth and renewal.”
Rebirth implies a new life.
Rebirth implies a new identity.
Rebirth implies a new being entirely!
Think about it.
We were sinful, now we are forgiven.
We were enslaved, now we are free.
We were foolish, now we are called wise.
We were disobedient, now we are obedient.
We have been reborn!
For Titus, his baptism meant that he could approach his work in God’s kingdom with complete and utter confidence. He had a new identity in Jesus!
For you, your baptism means that you can approach your work in God’s kingdom with the same complete and utter confidence. You have a new identity in Jesus.
But it’s not just about rebirth; it’s also about renewal.
That’s a word that has a negative connotation for me. Because about 5 years ago we signed up for a 1-year magazine trial to Time Magazine and Real Simple Magazine. The deal was that we get an entire year of issues for $2. Every year come Christmas – because I’m not busy during Christmas – as I’m looking at our bank account to make sure that we will survive Christmas presents – I notice a charge from the magazine companies for about $200. And I call the number associated with it – and they are so thankful that I automatically renewed my subscription at full price for a full year!
Usually I select cancel and they tell me I can’t cancel, but GREAT NEWS! I have been selected for a 1 year’s subscription for $2.
Think of Baptism as the incredible, automatically renewing promise of God.
Because nowhere does God’s Word say: “You did wrong. You need another Baptism.” That would make Baptism into a temporal human work.
Instead, the Bible views it as God’s enduring, eternal promise. A promise that renews.
When you are done with an especially sin heavy day – But I am baptized! God made me his child.
When you are dealing with an especially strong temptation – but I am baptized! God put me in his kingdom.
When you are heavy laden with guilt – but I am baptized! – Jesus promised me forgiveness.
The promise of baptism offers personal renewal.
Every day renewal in God’s grace.
III. WHAT NOW?
1) If you aren’t Baptized, Be Baptized
If you haven’t been baptized, be baptized. Because in baptism, you receive the personalized gift of God for you personally in a very personal method.
If you haven’t been baptized, be baptized.
Or at least do this: Talk to me about it.
Write a note on your connection card.
Let’s have a conversation to answer your questions over coffee.
And you might say: “Well, I’m not sure if I’m ready. I’m not sure that I’m worthy of this blessing.”
You’re right. You aren’t.
But baptism isn’t something that you need to become worthy of receiving.
It’s something that by receiving you become worthy because of your connection to your Savior.
Do you believe in Jesus? Be baptized.
2) If you are Baptized, Remember it!
Sometimes during a birthday party, you open up a photo album or head to your iPhone and start to look at past birthdays.
There’s the one where you tried to put out the candle with your finger.
The one where crazy Uncle Joe tried to convince you that you were turning into a monkey.
The one where all your friends came over, ate up the cake, and ran around playing Ninja Turtles for 3 hours.
But don’t forget to reflect on your Rebirthday.
Because of your Rebirthday you have a new identity.
Because of your Rebirthday you have a new name – forgiven.
Because of your Rebirthday you have a fresh, new purpose!
This is the picture you need to remember no matter what you face in 2019.
You have a FRESH start.
It’s of God’s eternal promise and power.
It’s who you are today, tomorrow and always – thanks to God’s promise.
Pastor Kiecker joined a gym and he really likes it. It’s called the Iron Tribe (you know, Iron like as in pumping iron?). It’s fun and hey, it’s good for your health.
But one thing to really appreciate about the gym is the hours. They run class all week long and throughout the day. So, he could go at 5:45am or 6:00pm. It’s great because it fits his schedule and lets him join the “Tribe” and workout on his own time, whenever that happens to work out. And…if you miss workouts for a week? No worries. They’ll still welcome you back with open barbells. It’s nice for some things to be able to commit at your own pace.
But…what about Christianity? What kind of commitment is involved? Is it a 9 to 5 thing? Weekends only thing? An hour every Sunday? Every so many Sundays? Less? Or more? As we continue our series on Disciple let’s take the time this morning to ask ourselves: How often does a disciple need to be a disciple?
Today we want to dig into Scripture and see just how much time Jesus invested in his work and by extension how much time he expects his disciples to invest in the work of discipleship. 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. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Jesus Is Always On
The lesson for today is from Mark 1:29. It takes place right after last week’s lesson where Jesus drove the demon out of the sermon heckler. Look at verse 29 it says this: As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. (v.29) A bit of context for those who have been following this sermon series: The group of disciples currently consists of Peter, Andrew, James and John – the same group of four that were called to follow Jesus while fishing and they all saw Jesus drive out the demon. Then, together they set out to the home of Simon and Andrew as soon as they were done with events at the synagogue.
Before we move on, think about what Jesus had been through on that particular day so far: He’d been teaching at the synagogue all day long – maybe 9 to 5? He’d been answering questions. He’d been speaking. He’d been teaching. And then, at the end of it all, he had to do battle with the demon-possessed man.
I don’t know if you’ve ever taught a class or done some public speaking but…it’s exhausting. I can pretty much guarantee you there’s a nap in my future this afternoon. (Pastor Kiecker’s the same if you’re curious!) So…I can’t imagine an all-day affair. Your feet get tired from moving about. Your voice gets tired from talking. Your brain gets tired from thinking. (Granted – mine might get tired a bit easier than yours, but…you get the point).
By all counts Jesus should have been tired. It was time for a break. Time for a stop for wings with the coworkers. To kick back and relax a little, and just unplug from it all. But that’s not where the disciples take him.
They went…to the home of Simon and Andrew. (v29) And it’s not to have a nice meal or play a game of cards … Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever and they immediately told Jesus about her. (v.30)
Hmmm…that’s probably not so subtle a hint? If I was Simon, I could understand why I would want Jesus to come to my house! I had literally just seen him drive a demon out of a demon-possessed man. He did it without a long process of chanting. He didn’t use oils. He didn’t fight the demon. He simply spoke and the impure spirit was gone. And if I’m Simon, I’m thinking:
That’s amazing! This Jesus is awesome. And I’m following him. I don’t think I have to worry about being possessed or injured or sick or…Sick..? That’s right. My mother-in-law is sick. And Jesu is powerful. You don’t suppose… “Hey Jesus…you wouldn’t want to have supper at my house?”
Jesus is asked to do some work as soon as normal work hours are over. It’s evening. It’s getting dark. For me, it’s time to sit on the couch, put your feet on the Ottoman and see what’s on Netflix. If anything pressing is waiting for me when I get home from work my reaction is usually, “Can’t it wait for tomorrow?” I wouldn’t blame Jesus if he turned to Peter and said, “Not tonight. I’m done for the day, I’ll be available tomorrow…”
But he doesn’t.
Jesus went to her. He took her hand. He helped her up. And the fever left her. (v.31) And this wasn’t just some motivational encouragement that compels her to stop loafing about and get on her feet. Look at the difference! She was in bed, unable to move, unable to join the festivities and all Jesus does is help her up and suddenly – she’s feeling good enough that she began to wait on them.
Nothing I’ve ever taken for a cold works that quickly. Or that well. Even when it does kick in I’m still pretty out of it and need some rest. Here’s the point – and it’s evident here & throughout Scripture – Jesus is always on! He is always ready to help his people. He is always ready to help his disciples. He is always ready to help – especially you!
In fact, the Bible says this, “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Mt. 7:7) This is Jesus’ promise to Peter, Andrew, James, and John. They simply had to tap him on the shoulder. They simply had to speak with him. They simply had to ask. And for you and I, it’s the same, but just a different means of getting the message to him. We speak to God through prayer. We pour out our hearts to him. We give him our requests and questions – and he listens! Jesus is always on!
Think about that for a company policy. It’s not often that you find one like that. Yes, there are some grocery stores that are open 24/7, but I’ve noticed that they tend to be severely under employed in the overnight hours. They might only have 1 or 2 people in the whole store; meaning that if I needed some help finding the Doritos at 4:15am… they might not be able to. (Not that that would happen, Pastor Kiecker and I both know where the Doritos are kept.)
Or think about a customer service phone line. Have you ever tried to get customer support for say your health insurance outside of business hours? You don’t get it. You just get a voicemail saying that they aren’t open right now.
And if you’ve got a doctor; even the friendliest, most caring doctor has times of unavailability. He needs some sleep. He doesn’t make appointments at 1:20a on a Saturday morning. And you might not be able to get a hold of him on vacation, while he’s sleeping, or when he’s in the hospital being sick himself! I’ve even heard stories of pastors getting 102 degree fevers when they are supposed to be preaching a sermon on Jesus driving out fevers! Pastors aren’t Jesus. Even they aren’t able to be always on.
But not Jesus. He is always on. He is always, always, always on. He is on at 9am. He is on at 5pm. He is on in the middle of the day. He is on in the middle of the night. He is on for Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day and even when all of Wake County is closed for ice and snow! Jesus is always on, ready to hear you, ready to comfort you, ready to serve you with the message of his Gospel.
II. How On Are We?
Now here’s where it gets interesting. Because Simon isn’t the only one who has the idea to ask Jesus to help. In fact, I picture Jesus and the disciples relaxing now. Simon’s mother-in-law is up. She’s about. Not that the group put her to work, she’s just that kind of person who can’t sit still when there’s company. She’s making everyone coffee and throwing together a few appetizers for the whole group to kick back and enjoy after-hours relaxation.
Then, suddenly…a knock. It’s one of the ladies from the synagogue earlier. She saw what Jesus did for the man with the demon and well – her son? He isn’t well. He’s sick. Would Jesus be willing to heal him?
Jesus gets up. He smiles. He nods. He heals her son.
It isn’t long after that interaction and Jesus is just about getting back to his snack when... another knock. It’s an older gentlemen. He was watching at the synagogue too. And well – he didn’t want to say this then, it’s embarrassing but… look at his hand. It’s shriveled and very painful. If maybe Jesus was around…
And Jesus gets up. He smiles. He nods. He heals the man’s hand.
And this time, before Simon can close the door… a shout! “Is Jesus in there? My name is Sally and I heard about what Jesus did today with the demon possessed man. Would you be willing to help my father? He has the same problem.” “And I’m Joshua. I heard Jesus speak today and saw his incredible power. Jesus, do you think your power can help heal this catch in my left knee?” “And I’m Betty, and this is my husband. He severely injured his hand while fishing the other day. Can you heal him so he can work again?”
And people keep coming. And the line keeps moving. And the whole town gathered at the door and… Jesus healed many. (v.33-34)
Now – It doesn’t tell us how the disciples reacted to this. It doesn’t tell us how Simon, the guy whose house this was reacted to the whole town gathering at his door, but I’m not sure he loved it. To be fair – yes – it was great to have Jesus come back to his home and help his mom-in-law. But…he was Jesus’ friend. He was his coworker. He was a part of this movement. What Jesus did for him, that wasn’t work; that was helping a friend. But these people? Shouldn’t they know better? What right do they claim to ask? Shouldn’t they leave them alone? Shouldn’t they let us take a break?
I think this could very easily have been Simon’s reaction, because people love the idea that Jesus is always on for them. But when it comes to being on for others, well…
The other day someone came into Pastor’s office and they needed some help. They needed to talk. They needed to vent. They needed some help with a food card too. It took up some time. And what was kind of interesting is that shortly after the conversation was over someone else who had seen that person come in entered his office. “Wow. That was a long time. Don’t they know that you’re busy? You’ve got a lot to do. How rude.... Anyways…do you mind if I sit down? I’ve got some things on my mind I could use help with…”
That’s irony. But we all do it. People demand that God always be available for them; and yet struggle to be even a bit available for others! This is wrong. In fact, listen to these passages:
Galatians 5:13: Serve one another.
John 13:34: Love one another.
1 Peter 3:15: Always be prepared to give an answer about the hope that you have.
Notice there is no time limit. There are no hours of operation. It doesn’t say, “Serve one another from 9 to 5.” It doesn’t say, “love one another for an hour every Sunday.” It doesn’t say, “Be prepared once a year.” Nope. Jesus’ disciples are to be always on, always ready to serve, always ready to love, and always ready to share the Gospel message. When we’re not, that’s selfish.
That… might not have felt so good to hear or think about. You might be feeling very convicted. As I had to sit down and prepare to present this message to you, I shared the sentiment that Pastor Kiecker himself wrote: I’m not sure that I’ve felt more convicted as a disciple than getting ready to share this message.
After all, I get tired. I get cranky. And more quickly than I’d care to admit, I get to a point where I don’t want to do much for anyone but me.
It’s humbling to think of how quickly we do give up on being on for others. Thankfully there’s something encouraging here. Because, in spite of our selfishness in spending our time and our energy, Jesus is selfless. He is always on, and always ready to serve.
And in fact, he’s already invested an incredible amount of time on you.
The Bible tells us: Long before the world began, God spent eternities thinking of you. In eternity, He saw your sin and developed a plan to save you. He spent thousands of years prophesying those plans for you. He lived 33 years on earth for you. He spent one awful night of suffering for you. He spent an excruciating 3 hours on the cross for you. He spent 3 days in the grave for you. He broke out of the tomb in an instant for you. He worked through his word time after time in your life to share this message to you – for you.
Jesus has eternities invested in you. Here’s the truth: His eternal investment in us empowers us to invest in others. Simply put: If God cares that much about you, to invest that much time in you, can’t you invest a few minutes in others?
III. What Now?
Knowing all Jesus has done for us, here are a few things to learn from the text:
First of all, Take Action. And not next month. Not next week. Not tomorrow. Take action today. Think of someone you know. Someone who’s hurting, someone who’s depressed, someone who’s sick, someone who needs to hear about Jesus, or just someone you know. And take action.
Just like Jesus. Did you notice all the action verbs? Jesus went. Jesus took. Jesus helped. Jesus healed. Jesus didn’t waste any time acting when he saw those in need. DO the same. Act. Today. Serve. Love and share Jesus.
Next, Rest. Because the point of this section is not, don’t rest. We need rest, or we can’t keep serving. We’re not Jesus, we’re not God. We need time to recharge. But it’s not rest for rest’s sake, it’s rest with a purpose. The purpose of being energized, excited and ready to serve others as a disciple.
Case in point: the very next verse tells us that early the next morning Jesus got up early and went out mountain side to pray. He got away from people. He got away from busy. He took a moment and connected with God. The point? Jesus needed rest – and he’s the Son of God.
You need rest too. But make your rest intentional. Don’t just grab a pillow. Don’t grab a pillow and your phone and play Diamond Crush for three hours. Rest physically and rest spiritually. That’s very important. Because when we rest spiritually, we get spiritually reenergized. We see God’s love for us. We read about the time he’s spent on us. We are filled with his love to go and share his love.
And it’s kind of ironic, because spiritual reset takes time! But if you are too busy for spiritual rest, you’ll actually get spiritually tired of being a disciple. If you take the time for spiritual rest, you’ll find the spiritual energy, motivation and reason to serve others as a disciple.
Finally, Prioritize Your Service. Because early that next morning as Jesus is getting his spiritual rest and praying, Simon and the other disciples come running up the hill, “Everyone is looking for you Jesus!”(v.37) There’s plenty more people who need you to heal their physical ailments. And based on everything we just read to this point, I’d expect Jesus to say, “Okay!”
But he doesn’t. Instead? “Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (v.38)
You understand, this isn’t Jesus being rude. This is Jesus having his priorities straight. Helping others’ physical needs is one thing, but healing their spiritual needs with the message of the Gospel? That’s the purpose.
Keep your priorities straight. Don’t help your kids with their homework in place of helping them grow in God’s Word. Don’t serve your wife with a romantic date night, in place of helping her grow in God’s love. Don’t serve the homeless with some physical food, while neglecting to share the spiritual food of Jesus.
Because brothers & sisters, discipleship is a 24/7 calling. It’s not just busy work. It’s the work of our Lord who has invested so much in us. Soak in what your God has done for you and what he continues to do for you that he may empower us to invest the good he’s given us in others. Amen.
Today we are continuing our series called DEEP by taking a look at DEEP COMMITMENT. We want to find out how deep of a commitment God wants us to make to him. We want to do so by taking a look at the story of Jeremiah.
I. A Lesson from Jeremiah
Jeremiah was a prophet. That means He received messages from God and his job was to speak these messages from God. Now that would be a pretty neat job if the message from God was nice to hear.
“You will be healed from cancer.”
“You will win the lottery.”
“Your favorite team will win the Super Bowl.”
"There's a two for one sale on Lay's Sour Cream and Onion chips!"
But, unfortunately, the messages that God had Jeremiah speak were not always that pleasant.
Take chapter 37 for instance. The city of Jerusalem had been surrounded by the Babylonian army. They had been under siege and for months they had been cut off from supplies. No food, no water, no arrangements could be restocked. People were getting hungry. People were getting thirsty. People were getting nervous that they would die in Jerusalem.
But then, things changed. The army of Pharaoh had left from Egypt and word reached the Babylonians that they were coming to attack them. Rather than wait for a surprise attack, the Babylonians left the siege and went out to face Egyptians.
Seems like the perfect chance to escape the siege, right?
The king at the time – King Zedekiah – was a little indecisive. He liked that idea, but he needed to know for sure if it was the right move. He decided to ask Jeremiah to tell him what God would have them do.
Make note of that. He wanted to know what God had to say. He asked for it!
He sent word to Jeremiah. Jeremiah inquired of God; God responded; and Jeremiah responded to the King. Just not like he wanted him to:
7 “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Pharaoh’s army, which has marched out to support you, will go back to its own land, to Egypt. 8 Then the Babylonians will return and attack this city; they will capture it and burn it down.’
9 “This is what the LORD says: Do not deceive yourselves, thinking, ‘The Babylonians will surely leave us.’ They will not! 10 Even if you were to defeat the entire Babylonian army that is attacking you and only wounded men were left in their tents, they would come out and burn this city down."
We’re in the middle of the NFL season. If a team were down by 6 late in the fourth quarter and getting a break like recovering a fumble, it doesn’t go very well if the coach’s timeout speech is: “Let’s hike the ball and then QB1, take the ball and hand it into the hands of their star defensive linemen. We’re gonna lose anyway. Let’s lose gracefully.”
Coaches don’t say that. They’d probably get fired.
Jeremiah’s message to the Israelites was “Don’t run. Don’t fight. Even if they only had injured guys – the same result will happen. God is bringing you into the hands of your enemies.”
The Israelites didn’t like this message. Look at what happens: 15 They were angry with Jeremiah and had him beaten and imprisoned…16 Jeremiah was put into a vaulted cell in a dungeon, where he remained a long time.
But here’s where it gets really interesting. After that ‘long time’, King Zedekiah sends for Jeremiah again. He had him released from the vault. He had him brought to the palace. He had his personal guards leave him. One on one, the king asked Jeremiah again, “Is there any word from the Lord?”
This was Jeremiah’s chance. He could get himself set free. All he had to do was tell a little lie. All he had to do was tell the King was he wanted to hear. All he had to say was tell the people what they wanted to here.
But Jeremiah didn’t do it.
17 Jeremiah replied, “You will be delivered into the hands of the Babylonians.” He was too committed to God.
Why? Why didn't Jeremiah tell the man what he wanted to hear? Why didn't he value his life? Why was he so insisted on telling what God said?
Easy: Commitment means speaking the truth.
Bill Nye the science guy is in the news. He released statements calling Christian opposition to abortion as “foolish, ignorant, and antiquated.” He said, “Life doesn’t start at conception. That’s a fact.”
Now I don’t like to be called foolish ignorant and stupid. That's not fun. I don't have a martyr wish...
...But I also know what the Bible says, “God created my inmost being; God knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13) I also know that life is not a right of human, but "a gracious gift of God” (1 Peter 3:17) I know that God commands us, "Do not murder."
This is kind of a Jeremiah situation isn't it? We're not facing a pit, but we are facing ridicule, scorn, and harsh words.
What should we do?
Learn from Jeremiah. Stay committed to God ! In he face of your friend’s ridicule, stay committed to God and speak the truth. In the face of a trolling message on Facebook, stay committed to your Lord and speak the truth. When your nephew tells you that you are an old fashioned bigot, stay committed to the Lord and speak the truth.
Why? You might say. Why would I stay committed to God if it brought me so much trouble?
Psalm 84 gives us reason. The Psalmist wrote, "Better is one day in your courts, O Lord, than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. For the Lord is a sun and a shield, the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.”
God’s way is better. It's better to be that door man who hears the celebration of music of salvation through a muffled door and who catches a glimpse of the party whenever he opens it than it is to be dwelling in the seat of honor among the hateful, guilty, bandits of hell.
Follow God. It's worth it.
II. A Lesson from Ebed-Melek
Jeremiah’s message worked…kinda. The King’s conscience was stricken and he released Jeremiah. Time to take it easy, right?
Not so much. In the very next chapter, Jeremiah is recorded preaching the same message that got him into trouble with even more vigor. He walks up and down among the crowds of people in Israel and Jeremiah says this: 2 “This is what the LORD says: ‘Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague, but whoever goes over to the Babylonians will live. They will escape with their lives; they will live."
How do the people react? Surprise, surprise: They react in the exact same way. Although this time, they decide not to go through the king, since he became a softy and let Jeremiah go.
6 They took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern…which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern; it had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.
Can you imagine that? We have MUD DAY here at Precious Lambs where kids get to make mud pies, play in mud pools, and slide down mud slip and slides.
But…do you know what’s nice about Mud Day? It ends. You can go home and get clean.
Not Jeremiah. He was stuck in the cold, stinky mud. Nothing was drinkable. The air was damp and dark. I’m sure there were creepy crawlies that might have made an appearance too.
Nobody envied Jeremiah.
In fact, I imagine that the majority of people distanced themselves from him as much as possible. Would you really want to join Jeremiah in the cistern? There wasn’t that much room. As a result, there’s no record of anybody speaking up for Jeremiah.
Except for a foreigner.
Ebed-Melek, a Cushite…heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern…Ebed-Melek went and said to the king, “My lord the king, these men have acted wickedly in all they have done to Jeremiah the prophet. They have thrown him into a cistern, where he will starve to death when there is no longer any bread in the city.”
This is so interesting, because Ebed-Melek wasn’t even an Israelite. There wasn’t any patriotism at work. He simply saw God in Jeremiah and evil in the people opposed to him. He was committed to God and stood up for a speaker of God’s truth.
This is a second lesson for us to take from the book of Jeremiah about commitment. This time from humble Ebed-Melek – Commitment means supporting those who speak the truth of God.
There's a video floating around YouTube called "I'm a Christian But..." It shows various people come on the screen and list something about Christianity that don't want to be linked together with.
"I'm a Christian, but...I'm not judgmental."
"I'm a Christian, but...I'm not intolerant."
"I'm a Christian, but...I'm not a homophobe."
"I'm a Christian, but...I'm not a Pharisee who thinks he's better than other Christians. (Other than in this very video.)
The video is sad. Instead of standing up and defending truth and supporting other Christians who are trying to hold to the truths of God's Word, these people seem to be more interested in distancing themselves from stereotypes of Christianity. Stereotypes said by opponents of Christianity.
In the process, they distance themselves from those who speak the truth of the Lord.
That's not commitment.
Ebed-Melek was committed though. His words worked too. The king granted him permission to grab some men and some rope and pull Jeremiah out of the pit.
May I add that your words of encouragement to a friend – to an elder – to a pastor for speaking the truth – are just like that. They lift people out of a pit – a lonely pit of following God in a hostile world.
If you join up with the world, it will have the opposite effect. It will drag down God’s message. It will drag down the people who care for God and care for your soul.
Don’t do that. Stay committed to God by supporting those who are committed to God!
III. A Lesson from Zedekiah
After Jeremiah was released from the cistern, King Zedekiah brought Jeremiah to him one more time. (Maybe Jeremiah’s words were pricking at his conscience). He asks Jeremiah one more time to hear what God has to say.
And, not surprisingly, Jeremiah gets defensive. He basically says, “If I tell you the truth, then you’ll kill me. I don’t want to die. Why should I speak to you?” (38:16)
But Zedekiah assures him that will not happen. So Jeremiah tells him the same thing -- one last time, “If you surrender… your life will be spared and this city will not be burned down; you and your family will live. 18 But if you will not surrender…this city will be given into the hands of the Babylonians and they will burn it down; you yourself will not escape from them.”
And at first, it looks like King Zedekiah is going to listen. He doesn’t respond in anger. He doesn’t send for his guards. He just lets Jeremiah go.
But…if you read into the next chapter, that’s not what Zedekiah does. “39:1 In the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah…Babylon marched against Jerusalem …When Zedekiah king of Judah and all the soldiers saw them, they fled!”
They didn’t surrender. They didn’t do what God said. The result?
"5 The Babylonian army pursued them and overtook Zedekiah…They captured him and… the king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes and also killed all the nobles of Judah. 7 Then he put out Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him with bronze shackles to take him to Babylon.”
Wow. Guess Zedekiah should have listened.
Take a look at the above cartoon. It's funny because it's true. It's also a little sad.
The other day I was waiting for somebody to pick me up at our apartment.
I was certain that they wouldn't come for a while though, so I was on the couch in my Green Bay Packer Zubaz sweatpants lounging and eating a bag of chips.
Then, there was a knock at the door.
I brushed off the chip crumbs and hobbled embarrassedly to the door. I opened it a crack and told him I'd be out in a few minutes. I ran to the bedroom threw on some jeans and hustled outside.
Good thing he wasn't in a hurry, because I wasn't ready.
Jesus told a similar parable:
1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
9 “ ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. (Matthew 25)
One needs to understand the way things worked in first century Jewish weddings. The virgins were basically bridesmaids and they weren't yet at the wedding celebration. They were waiting for the groom to come and pick them up. In order to make it easy for the groom to identify them, they would carry lamps (think torches) that were fueled by oil. When the groom saw these lamps, he would know whom he needed to bring to the wedding.
The wise ones made sure they had enough oil to be ready. The foolish ones did not and they missed out on everything!
The way Jesus takes us to his heavenly banquet works a little differently. It has nothing to do with oil and fire and everything to do with faith in his Son, Jesus Christ as our Savior.
But faith isn't just something where you close your eyes, clench your fists, and think "I believe" as hard as you can. It's not something that you "earn" once and then have for the rest of your life. Faith needs to be fed. Just like those lamps needed oil to stay burning so our faith needs fuel to stay burning.
Only the fuel isn't kerosene. It's God's Word.
How are you at keeping your faith burning? Do you run to God's Word on a daily basis? Do you take advantage of opportunities to hear His Word at your church? Do you have a Bible study you attend? Or devotionals sent to you on a daily basis?
There is nothing more important.
Sometimes we get to thinking: "I need to go to exercise, make breakfast, go to work, drop the kids off at softball, get a haircut, and read two hours worth of blogs on Facebook or my day isn't complete!"
Yet there is often something conspicuously absent from that list. Let's rethink that. If you don't remember to feed your faith, your day isn't complete.
Your faith needs to be fed the nutrients of God's promises, the vitamins of God's guidance, and the assurance of God's forgiveness. Why go a day without it?
Jesus could return at any time. Repent and turn to his Word. He will create a burning fire in your heart. The Holy Spirit will feed your faith. The Lord Jesus Christ will personally come and escort you home to heaven.
Even if you're wearing Green Bay Packer Zubaz Pants.
I remember when I was younger. A tween, actually. I came across a foldout in the Sunday newspaper. It was for the BMG Record club. They had a great deal! 12 CDS for the price of a penny. Which sounded awesome! This was my chance to become a hipster music lover just like a few of my friends. I could build my own CD collection of Chumbawamba, Hootie and the Blowfish and Blue Traveler CDs.
But, there was a catch! You had commit to buying just one more CD in the next year.
That doesn't seem like a big deal now. A $10 CD plus $2 shipping and handling would get you 12 more CDs for a penny.
But I remember agonizing over that decision! How could I commit? Was I ready to commit? Could I make that commitment?
Today's question is of a bit more importance than your commitment to popular music CDs. Today's question deals with your commitment to Jesus.
How committed do you have to be to follow Jesus? Come to church every once in a while? Buy a few “Jesus' songs" for your iPhone. Own a Bible (or at least a Bible app)?
In the Gospel of Luke 9:57-62, through three different episodes, Jesus teaches us that following him is not so easy and that it takes total commitment.
1) More Committed to Jesus than Stuff!
Take a look at verses 57-58:
57 As Jesus and his disciples were walking along the road, a man said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
Think about that situation. A man wants to join Jesus. He makes what seems to be a bold statement. “I WILL FOLLOW YOU WHEREVER YOU GO!” In other words, “I am committed!”
We might expect Jesus to be excited. To offer the man quick and easy access into following him.
But Jesus warns him.
Think about a fox. He's committed to doing fox stuff. He chases chickens and tricks gingerbread men. But he does get to take a break from this commitment to rest in the comfort of his den. It's similar with the birds. They are committed to doing bird stuff: building nests, finding worms, singing loud songs right outside my window early on a Saturday morning. But in the end, they too get to come home, take a break from their commitment and rest in the aforementioned nest.
Following Jesus? Well, there's no guarantee that there will be these comforts.
For Jesus, these comforts didn’t exist! He left his home. He traveled from city to city. He didn't make reservations at the local Super 8 either. He didn't always know where he'd be sleeping.
If this man was going to follow Jesus, he could expect the same thing. He would have to be more committed to Jesus than his own stuff!
What about you? Are more committed to Jesus than stuff?
Are you committed enough to give up tickets to the 11pm showing of Man of Steel in order to not miss worshipping Jesus the following morning?
Would you give up the pictures on Facebook of you partying hard with in order to be a better witness for Jesus?
Would you give up the next episode of The Bachelorette in order to attend a Bible study with Christian friends?
Would you give up your internet access in order to keep your eyes from sinful images and better follow Jesus?
Would you give up your bottle of Jack Daniels in order to better focus on pleasing your Lord?
Are you committed enough to Jesus to give up stuff for him?
In fact, sometimes we are more committed to the thought of stuff, than Jesus. “I'm committed to my job every Sunday and late into the night. I need to keep this job so that I can one day buy myself a better home. That’s the only reason I’m not more involved with my church and in personal Bible study. I’m working hard. Trying to save up for my retirement home. I'm committed to it!”
Certainly this isn’t the kind of commitment that God was talking about when he said, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Luke 10:26)
Thank God for Jesus.
Even though we haven't been more committed to him than stuff, he was more committed to us than stuff. All stuff. All his stuff.
Think about what he said, “no place to lay his head.” Meaning, Jesus, true God, creator of the Universe, who owns all things (trees, stones, mountains, valleys...and everything that humans make we these resources) gave all of this up! He didn't care if never laid on a memory foam mattress. He didn't need a Buckwheat stuffed pillow. He didn't care if he never had his own man-cave!
Jesus wasn't committed to any of his stuff, because Jesus was committed to you! You, worshipper of stuff, entrenched in sin and destined for hell, were the object of Jesus' desire. This is why he gave up everything to come to earth for you!
Although, maybe, he didn't give up everything. He did have one place to lay his head. A place that he was committed to. A place he was destined for:
An old, wooden plank. The cross.
Jesus was committed to this cross, because he was committed to you! Committed to save you from your sins! He forgives you for valuing stuff more than him!
And having done so, think about this, God promises you eternal rewards. Heavenly stuff. Other worldly stuff. Stuff without tarnish and beyond battery life. Bodies--imperishable. Ruby lined streets—remarkable!
A room in our Father's kingdom. Your own room. Never foreclosed. Never run down. Always warmed by the love of the Lord.
Brothers and sisters, commit yourself to the LORD more than the stuff of this earth, because he was commited to you!
2) More Committed to Jesus than To Do Lists.
But Commitment to Jesus means more than being willing to give up stuff to follow him. Listen to what he says to another man in verse 59. 59 Jesus said to another man, “Follow me.”But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
This seems kind of harsh. If the man's dad had died, why wouldn't Jesus let the man go and say his good byes?
But the truth is that he hadn't. If his father had died, culture would have dictated that he would be engrossed in funeral arrangements already.
So it seems that this man's father hadn't yet died. But he was getting older. Ready for hospice. Death was at the door.
This changes what the man was saying. In essence, “Jesus. I'll give you my promise. I'll follow you. Just not now. First, I need to wait for my father to die. That'll be a whole process. Then, I give you my word, then I'll be committed to you.”
Interesting. But what do you suppose would have happened when his dad did die?
“Jesus, I know I said I'd be committed to you now, but I've really gotta work on my career first, then I'll follow you. And I need a family, so can you wait until I'm married with three kids? But...wait, before I do that I'm gonna want to see the world, have all kinds of fun in college, make mistakes, and enjoy earthly life. So...can I get back to you after I retire? Then, I'll commit to you! I promise.”
It's what we so often do! Instead of viewing Jesus as more important than anything else on our ToDoList, we put him on the ToDoList....and he's at the bottom!
Even in the Day-to-Day! We get up. “Ok today's the day, that I start the day with a morning devotion. But first, I'd better go work out, because it's nice out.” Then, “I stink, so I need a shower. I can't possibly read God's Word while I stink.” Then, “I better eat breakfast now. Jesus wouldn't want me to be distracted from his Word because of an empty stomach.” Next, “Shoot. I better leave for work in order to beat the traffic.” Then, “Jesus wants me to work hard. So I better work hard and not focus on anything but work for now. I can do the devotion later.” Then, “I got a quick break. It's probably only enough time to check out Facebook. But hey God, maybe they'll be a devotion on there.”
Brothers and sisters, here's the truth: Often, we aren't more committed to Jesus than our own ToDoLists! That's not any commitment at all!
Instead, Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their own dead, (a great play on words) Let the spiritually dead, bury the physically dead. But you go and proclaim the kingdom of God!” Meaning: make this your most important thing on the ToDoList!
This is what Jesus did. There wasn't a single thing that he found more important to do than wining us the kingdom of God! He didn't pursue masters in carpentry. He didn't gather a following to become king of Judea. We never see him talking about retiring in a small country shack by the Sea of Galilee.
To Jesus, there was nothing more important than gathering into the kingdom of God!
And, on a personal note, there is nothing more important to him than gathering you into the kingdom of God.
This is why he's worked on you throughout your life. He opened the door to God's kingdom with his death and resurrection. Then, he brings us through that door with his Word. By the power of his Holy Spirit! He does this through friends who spoke God's Word to us. Devotions that empowered us. Baptism which washed us clean! Communion which empowers us! In other words, God is still working tirelessly on the number one item on his ToDolist: Bringing you to heaven!
Brothers and sisters, make him number one on your ToDoList. Make him greater than your ToDoList. If you don't get all your work done each day, so what? As long as you are sharing Jesus with your words and actions, you are accomplishing the most important goal!
Didn't get to retirement as quickly as you wanted? So what! As long as you were a faithful witness to the one who made you his number one priority, you will have done all that’s needed.
Be committed to Jesus. More than anything on your ToDoLists!
3) More Committed to Jesus than Relationships
But that's not it. For Jesus commitment to him is greater than commitment above stuff and todolists.
Check out verse 61, Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.”
That's a fair request isn't it? He's asking to go give his mom a hug. His wife a kiss. His kids a high five. Isn't that important enough? Wouldn't Jesus allow that?
“Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
I don't assume that a lot of you have been plowing in your lifetime. But perhaps you've pushed a lawnmower. If so, you know it's important to watch where you are going while you mow. That way you have straight lines and done run into anything.
You ever tried to mow while looking backwards? It's not so pretty. The lines are crooked. You stumble. Eventually you hit a stump.
It’s the same way as we go through life following Jesus. He wants us to remain focused.
I think that we'd like to think that family and friends will be a help to us as we follow Jesus.
But not always:
“Why do you go to church anyways? They just want your money. It's all a big sham!”
“You're telling me that what I'm doing is a sin? You're being judgmental. You're not being loving to me...your own son! Stop talking about it or I'm not going to be talking to you ever again”
“Sins forgiven? Really!?! I know what you did growing up. I know how awful you are. You're going to have to work hard to win my forgiveness and certainly God's!”
How do you react to family criticisms of your faith? If you're like me then, perhaps there are times you've said nothing. You've stayed quiet. Backed down. Tried to preserve friendship at the expense of no longer following Jesus.
“But blood is thicker than anything!”
What about the one who gave his blood for you?
Think about Jesus once more. His own brothers, scripture tells us, didn't even believe in him. They thought him crazy! They thought he was speaking hogwash. (John 7:5)
Did Jesus stop what he was doing so his brothers wouldn't be so embarrassed and would go grab a beer with him at the local pub?
Not so much.
And what about us!?! We, his brothers and sisters, who have denied him, ignored him, pretended not to care about him in order to save our earthly relationships. Has he quieted down in order not to embarrass us? Has he backed down his stance on social sins in order not to turn us into bigots?
Not at all.
Yet, in spite of us. In spite of his brothers. Without their support. Without our support. He marched to the cross. He did what was more loving. He continued his mission to save us. To save us family!
It meant he was alone. On that cross abandoned by family and friends. Abandoned by his heavenly Father!
But none of that mattered to Jesus. What mattered was saving his family.
What mattered was saving you.
So what’s interesting is that by not following his brother’s requests, by making ‘turmoil’ in his family, Jesus was actually showing greater love for his family than ever before! (After his death and resurrection, two of his brothers put their faith in him and probably wrote two books of the Bible: James and Jude).
The same is true for us. Because there is no greater care for family, than care of souls! That means that when we are more committed to Jesus than our family, we are actually more committed to our family than we were before!
It's why we are willing to suffer the ridicule of our brother in order that we might lead them to faith in Jesus. It's why we suffer estrangement from cousins that God might work through your warnings to bring them closing to his family. It's why we are willing to deal with the crying and shouting of kids who don't want to go to church, in order to bring them to church where God takes care of his family!
It was the 1970s.
The Communist soldiers had discovered their illegal bible study. As the Pastor was reading from the bible, men with guns suddenly broke into the home, terrorizing the believers who had gathered to worship. They shouted insults and threatened to kill the Christians. The leading officer pointed his gun at the pastor’s head. “Hand me your bible” he demanded. Reluctantly the pastor handed over his bible, his prized possession. With a sneer on his face, the guard threw the bible to the floor. He glared at the small congregation. “We will let you go” he growled, “but first you must spit on this book of lies. Anyone who refuses will be shot.” The believers had no choice but to obey the officer’s order.
A soldier pointed his gun at one of the men. “You first." The man slowly got up and knelt down by the Bible. Reluctantly, he spat on it, praying, “Father, please forgive me.” He stood up and walked to the door. The soldiers stood back and allowed him to leave.
“Okay, you!” the soldier said, nudging a woman forward. In tears, she could barely do what he demanded. She spat only a little, but it was enough. She too was allowed to leave.
Quietly a young girl came forward. Overcome with love for her Lord, she knelt down and picked up the bible. She wiped off the spit with her dress. “What have they done to your Word? Please forgive them,” she prayed.
It was only moments later that she saw her committed Lord’s forgiving face.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus calls for total commitment. But he does so, only because he is totally committed to you! He proved it in his innocent life. He proved it on the cross. He proved coming out of the triumphant tomb!
May this message of total commitment build you up and lift you up into total commitment for him. Amen.