Last week we started our summer sermon series called ACTS: The Early Church Initiative by reviewing the first fourteen chapters of the book of Acts. In it, we learned that a priority for the Early Church was to place the GOSPEL above all else…because in the Gospel, Jesus placed YOU above all else.
Today we are picking up where we left off last year. Which was action packed. Last year we heard about:
Fire appearing on the disciples’ heads.
A paralytic healed.
A Jesus-hater blinded.
A sorcerer converted.
Thousands baptized into Jesus’ name.
And as exciting as those things were, today we’re going to dive into something just as exciting.
Something just as thrilling.
Today we are going to hear about a marvelous, amazing, incredible, action packed…Meeting.
As we go through the events leading up to the first Church Council meeting, pay attention – you’ll see theme of Gospel above all else – running throughout the discussions. Our goal is to learn from that. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Problem
The account is from Acts 15 which begins right at the end of Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey. A journey that was successful. They had brought the message of the Gospel to people living in different countries who had never heard of Jesus.
And when they returned to their home congregation in Antioch Syria – the congregation that sponsored the mission trip – they shared their success!
About Cyprus where the Gospel overpowered the lies of a Satanist.
About Pisidian Antioch where they preached on the streets in front of thousands of people.
About being chased out of the city, mistaken for God, and narrowly avoiding attempted murder.
And about how through it all the Gospel was preached, and hundreds of souls came to faith in the saving message of Jesus.
And the congregation was thrilled.
As the night was winding down, Paul noticed a sign that had been affixed to the congregation’s 1st century version of a bulletin board: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” (15:1)
He went and got Barnabas.
Can you believe what they’re teaching?
This is the church that had convinced me it was by God’s grace apart from any Jewish custom that we’re saved.
A church sponsored OUR mission trip in which we were told to teach - people were saved by God’s grace apart from anything else.
A mission trip on which we taught that people were saved by Jesus apart from anything, anything, anything else.
Over the next couple days, there were heated discussions:
Paul and Barnabas said the Gospel was all about Grace.
The opposing leaders argued that it was about God’s grace…and following Old Testament Jewish Law.
A good portion of the people sat back and nodded in agreement with whomever made the last point.
Finally, they decided to send this question to the leadership of the Christian movement.
“Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.” (v.3)
Because the Apostles were the original twelve, they were the men who had followed Jesus.
Who had been taught by Jesus.
Who had been EYEWITNESESS of the Risen Lord Jesus.
Who had been commission by Jesus to preach the Gospel.
On whom the Holy Spirit had come in a hurricane like sounded, landed on their heads in tongues of fire and taught them languages they never learned.
If anyone knew what the Gospel was really about -- it was them.
II. The Very First Council Meeting
So, the group set off from Syria and headed south to Jerusalem.
As they went, they stopped at other churches where Paul and Barnabas told of the incredible works of God.
About the Gospel overpowering the lies of a Satanist.
About preaching in the streets in front of thousands of people.
About being chased out of the city, mistaken for God, and narrowly avoiding attempted murder.
And about how through it all, the Gospel was preached, and hundreds of souls came to faith in the saving message of Jesus.
And how all the churches were thrilled!
They were excited.
They were excited with how the saving message of Jesus had made its way even to non-Jewish people.
And the excitement continued in Jerusalem.
The Apostles welcomed them.
They hugged them.
They sat down and listened to Paul and Barnabas talk all about their journeys.
They got teary-eyed.
They were ready to sing “Praise God from whom All Blessings Flow” when…
Some…stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” (v.5)
Because in the Old Testament, God required obedience!
Don’t believe me? Read Leviticus. Read Numbers.
They had to be circumcised.
They had to cover their heads.
They had to wear prayer shawls.
And that’s our tradition.
A tradition added to by great men.
A tradition passed down by great men.
Traditions not to eat pork.
Traditions not to eat shellfish.
Traditions not to join in fellowship with anyone who doesn’t follow these traditions.
We’re supposed to drop them?
Centuries of Traditions, gone?
For the sake of some “Dirty Gentiles?”
I don’t think so.
At this Peter stood up.
Peter, the leader of the Apostles….
Peter who had preached a phenomenal sermon on Pentecost:
“Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the Gospel…”(v.7)
Do you remember that?
I was up on the roof doing some meditation when I went into a trance.
In that trance, God gave me a vision of a sheet filled with all kinds of animals.
Animals that we TRADITIONALLY don’t eat.
Food like pork chops, bacon, and oysters on the half shell.
And I said to God, “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
And God said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (vs. 14-15)
And then God repeated this sequence two more times.
And right at the end of it, when I was wondering what it all meant, three men sent by Cornelius, a Roman, stopped at the gate of my house. The Holy Spirit said to me, “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” (vs. 19-20)
I went down to answer. The men were sent here by his master, Cornelius, who had a vision from God – about me being in that house.
Wouldn’t I come to tell about Jesus?
Because that’s was the point of the vision.
God’s message wasn’t just for Jews anymore.
It was a message of Grace for Gentiles…
But you don’t’ have to take my word for it!
Because when I was there and when I preached the message of the Gospel.
The people believed…Something that only happens by the Holy Spirit.
And they began speaking in tongues – a miracle that happens only by the Holy Spirit.
A miracle as proof that this was real faith given by the Holy Spirit.
Guess what!?! That happened in a home that didn’t have any Jewish traditions.
They weren’t circumcised.
They weren’t wearing prayers shawls.
“God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.” (v.8-9)
“Now then, why do you try to test God?” (vs. 10)
Because you might think that you’re testing the Gentiles.
You might think that you’re testing their faith to see if it’s real and if they’re willing to become followers of Jesus.
You’re testing God.
You’re telling him:
“Hey God, I know you said that it’s by grace through faith in Jesus that we’re saved, but…I’m gonna preach the opposite. I want to test how long it takes for you to strike me down with a lightning bolt for teaching the opposite of you.”
Because…think about it!
You’re putting yokes on the necks of these Gentiles.
A yoke just like you put on your donkey.
Something that makes general movement in life much more difficult.
You’re putting yokes on their necks by demanding that they keep all these Old Testament Traditions…
When you couldn’t even keep them yourself.
Avram, look at that prayer shawl. That’s not regulation length.
And Jeremiah, I saw you last Sabbath. That walk was lots longer than the allotted 3000 steps according to our tradition.
And Ezekiel…I’ve got a guy over there who told me that he saw you eating a BLT last week.
And don’t even get me started on the lies, the greed, the lust, the moral failures of each and everyone of you.
Brothers, for centuries, we were under the yoke of a law that we could not keep.
The message of Jesus freed us from that yoke.
Why put that yoke on someone else?
Why not lift that yoke?
We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are. (v.7)
Until eventually, Paul and Barnabas took the opportunity to tell all about what happened on their missionary journey.
About the Gospel overpowering the lies of a Satanist.
About preaching in the streets in front of thousands of people.
About being chased out of the city, mistaken for God, and narrowly avoiding attempted murder.
And about how through it all, the Gospel was preached, and hundreds of souls came to faith in the saving message of Jesus.
When they were done…
James stood up.
James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem.
James, a Jew through and through.
We’ve heard from Peter.
We’ve heard from Paul.
We’ve heard from Barnabas.
But perhaps we need to hear from one more witness.
A witness that’s Jewish.
A witness that’s traditional.
A witness that cannot tell a lie.
The Old Testament Jewish Scriptures:
Amos 9:11-12 says:
“After this I will…rebuild David’s fallen tent.
…17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name.” (Acts 15:16-17)
Grace is grace.
We can’t force them to be Jewish and we don’t need to. And we don’t need to keep these traditions because Jesus fulfilled them all with His perfect life, death and resurrection. God doesn’t require sacrifices anymore!
It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. (Acts 15:19)
Brothers and sisters,
This is the truth.
Grace is grace.
It’s a truth that was discussed in Jerusalem.
By the Apostles of Jesus himself.
They came to a conclusion.
It hasn’t been overruled.
It hasn’t been overturned.
Grace is grace.
It isn’t worked for.
It isn’t earned.
It isn’t given in response to following Old Testament customs.
It isn’t given in response to following human customs.
It’s all about Jesus.
He lived perfectly when you couldn’t.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins.
Forgiveness is yours.
By God’s grace.
III. WHAT NOW?
Therefore, we follow the advice of James, the leader in Jerusalem. Don’t make Grace difficult.
1) For Yourself
How good are you at puzzles?
I can usually handle them if they are 20 pieces or less.
I’m really good if they have an outline for each shape.
I’m especially good at the puzzles for 4 years old and younger.
But I have a friend who is so good at puzzles, do you know what he does?
He flips the puzzles upside down.
He does them cardboard side facing up.
He wants to make it more difficult…
Sometimes I think we do the same thing with grace.
We add in the qualification of “perfection.”
We need to be the perfect mom.
We need to be a stellar dad.
We need to be the best teacher, an incredible provider and the best keeper of Christian customs ever.
We tell ourselves that in order to receive grace we need to follow God’s Laws perfectly.
just to be sure…
…we add in some of our own human customs and laws just to make it really difficult.
Grace is grace.
And because of God’s grace in Jesus, you are forgiven.
Jesus said this, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)
He said that because by grace salvation is yours.
By grace, you don’t have to earn God’s love.
By grace, you already have it.
2) For Others
I was at pastor’s conference this past week. And I was talking to a pastor who was telling me about something that happened to him recently. He had a gentleman join his worship service whom he had been trying to get to come for a long time.
A friend who wasn’t a part of a church.
Who didn’t actively worship and hadn’t known much about Jesus.
As he finally attended worship, the man was moved by the Gospel.
He was emotional as he listened.
He even shouted: “Amen,” at the end of the sermon.
Afterwards, the pastor was excited, and he went to talk to a member of his to share his excitement.
And he said, “Wasn’t it awesome having him join us?”
And the person he told this to simply rolled their eyes and said, “You better talk to him and tell him that we don’t shout AMEN around here. Especially if he plans on coming back.”
Friends, don’t make grace difficult for others.
Don’t add to God’s grace.
Don’t require human things.
Let grace be grace.
Grace for you.
Grace for the people you talk to.
As unyoked children of God, be in the business of unyoking those with heavy burdens to bear.
Because…the Gospel teaches that God placed YOU above all else.
And we, as an extension of the early church, need to place the Gospel above all else.
John rubbed his wrists.
The chains were a bit tight. That as well as the bruise on his stomach where a punch had landed during his arrest were causing him to groan a bit.
“We’ll be ok,” a voice said. Though he couldn’t see because of the darkness in the prison, John knew that it was Peter. He had an unmistakable voice. Although, there in the prison, it sounded a bit defeated.
They had been arrested –arrested for talking about Jesus – for telling others about the sin-ridden state of their souls and for explaining that Jesus Christ was the only cure.
As the darkness deepened late into the night, thoughts swirled in John’s mind – “Why are we doing this? We are putting our very lives in danger. Is it worth it? If these people don’t want to hear about it, why should I tell them? I should just be quiet – mind my own business – and never see a prison cell like this again.”
John heard another voice…less familiar. “Come,” it said, in harmony with clicking locks. John’s chains were loosened. Peter’s chains were loosened. The doors were opened and the guards weren’t aware of any of it.
As they followed the voice into the light, they saw who was speaking to them. They had seen someone like him before – at Jesus’ own resurrection. It was an angel. An angel of God. The angel said to them, “Go, stand in the temple courts, and tell the people the full message of this new life.” Then, he was gone. And as the sunrise began to peek over the east side of the city, the disciples were faced with a choice: Go home, hide, run away, stay quiet, or…listen to God – and do the exact same thing that had gotten them into trouble in the first place.
To them, the choice was easy.
“At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.”
I. Our Culture Says, “Be Timid”
I’m not so sure that Christians are as bold today.
I was at a wedding not that long ago. It was a Christian wedding. In Christianity, we tach that Jesus is the center of a successful marriage. I was expecting the preaching to talk about Jesus being the center of the marriage.
But at the end of the ceremony, the number of times Jesus was mentioned? Zero.
Christ? One time – in passing.
To be fair the phrase “Eternal God” was used a lot of times, but you can imagine why. The pastor didn’t want to offend anyone. By mentioning the generic “god” then no one is offended. No one could accused this service of being “Christian.”
That’s not so bold.
But I think there's a reason this pastor was timid. It's the way our culture reacts to the word "Jesus." Have you ever noticed that? You can talk about religious thought. You can mention a "Divine Being." It's not a big deal to say "God."
But as soon as you mention Jesus...
Take Caitlin Jenner. Jenner won an ESPY award this past week for courage. Twitter was filled with congratulations! “Way to go.” “Way to be brave.” “Thanks for being bold.” The Twittervese was thankful that Jenner stood up for beliefs.
This is the exact same Twitterverse that three years ago saw Tim Tebow bow his head in prayer after scoring a touchdown, step in front of the cameras and say, “Thanks and glory be to Jesus,” and Twitter replied, “Shut up!” “Stop talking about your Christianity!” “Get your beliefs out of my face.”
This is American society. A place of free speech. A place that hates it when you talk about Jesus. They would rather you “Be silent,” “Keep your religion to yourself,” and “Leave Jesus out of it!”
That’s not bold. That’s timid.
But should we be surprised? Silencing Christianity might seem like a modern thought. But it isn’t. Look at what the local Pharisees do in response to Peter and John’s temple talk. They arrested them the first time. Then, after being encouraged by the angel to speak again – the Pharisees do the same thing. They arrested Peter and John again.
What’s interesting is what Scripture describes as the reasons for what they did. Check out Acts 4:2 when they first find out what Peter and John are doing. “They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” Do you see why they didn’t like the message? Because instead of facing sin and then hearing the Gospel message, they were scared by the implications. “If Christ was raised, then what have we done? We killed him! We will have to face God for what we’ve done.”
Does finding out that you killed God’s sound like a pleasant experience? Not so much.
It’s why they were doubly furious when they found the disciples the day after the prison break preaching the exact same message in the temple courts. 5:28 says, “The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be question by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in his name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
None of those Pharisees are alive anymore. There isn't anyone still living who literally used their voice to shout for Jesus’ death. There aren’t any Roman soldiers around who literally swung the hammer.
But they are plenty around who killed him. Plenty who killed God’s Son.
1 Peter 3:18 says this, “Christ died for sins once for all.”
That’s a scary thought. It means our sins (my sins) are what put Jesus on the cross. It's because of my lust, my hatred, my gossip, and my greed that God's Son died.
It's a scary enough thought that many refuse to believe it.
They hate to hear it.
They want it to be silenced.
And that’s sad. Sad because that’s not the end of the message.
II. Counter Culture says, “Be Bold”
Back in the courtroom, John looked around at the many eyes glaring at them. The tension was palatable. A drop of sweat fell down Peter’s beard.
Maybe they should be quiet before it cost them their lives.
John swallowed. He looks at Peter. Their eyes met and they spoke boldly, “We must obey God rather than men! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.”
Talk about bold. Notice how Peter and John not only say, “We’re not going to listen,” but they begin to preach the very thing that God them into trouble in the first place in front of the very people that had gotten them into trouble in the first place.
Why were the disciples so bold? Their speech gives us two reasons:
1) For the Sake of God
It’s a powerful statement. They knew that ultimately they answered to God. Not the Pharisees. Not the Sadducees. Not any members of those angry men glaring at them.
They answered to Jesus.
Jesus had been powerfully protecting his followers for centuries. When three men refused to bow down to a golden statue and were thrown into a fiery furnace as a result, God kept them from having even a hair on their heads singed. When Daniel refused to pray to anyone but the true God, God calmed the stomachs of the hungry lions who were supposed to viciously attack him. When Hezekiah dutifully prayed to God for help, when the Assyrian siege called for Him to denounce God and give up – God silent, quietly, removed that threat before the light of the next dawn.
And Jesus? They had seen him die for being bold – for boldly saying that if they killed him, he would rise again.
With such a powerful God on their side, how could the disciples do anything but speak his truth.
How can you do anything but speak the truth? Remember: You’ve got the same big, all powerful, all loving, all wise God on your side. He is your Creator, Redeemer, and Protector. He is the one you answer to. Not the media. Not your Facebook friends. Not your coworkers. Not the Twitterverse. Not a group of angry scientists. Not the talking heads on TV. Not the government. Not the homosexual agenda. Not even your own family.
Jesus is our leader. Jesus is our Savior. “We Must obey God rather than men!”
2) For the Sake of Those that want us to be Timid
But God isn’t the only reason that we speak boldly. Take a look at the rest of Acts 5 in your bulletin, “The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross.” We’ve heard that before. But now look at the end game for the disciples. “God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.”
The Pharisees were Israelites. So were the Sadducees. This means that the very men who were considering putting Peter and John to a violent end – were the very people that Peter and John were trying to save!
When I was younger, I hated Robitussin. For whatever reason, I remember needing it a lot. It tasted awful. I used to close my mouth and bite my lips so that I wouldn't have to put it on my taste buds.
But my mom always insisted. Then, I’d get better. I’d be healed.
As bitter as it may be to hear the truth about sin, eternity, and Jesus as the only Savior, it is also the only way for salvation. This is why we must be bold. We know how helpful the medicine is. (We know the medicine of Jesus is the ONLY medicine!) We must be bold for the sake of the very people who want us to NOT be bold! To bring them peace. To bring the forgiveness. To bring them heavenly joy. To bring them a promise of eternity.
To bring them to God.
Who do you know? Who needs to hear about Jesus? Who needs to hear about their Savior? Who’s hurting? Who is feeling shame? Who is struggling with guilt? Your co-workers? Your friends? Your neighbor? Your kids? Your wife?
Be bold. Tell them about Jesus. Tell them about how he lived perfectly. Tell them about how he died innocently. Tell them about how he rose triumphantly to save you from your sins. Be bold. Amen.
Happy Fourth of July weekend! It’s a weekend in which people all over America celebrate Freedom.
Did you? Did you grab a sparkler and spell out the letters ‘F-R-E-E-D-O-M’ in cursive?
Did you throw a bunch of poppers on the ground and yell “freedom”?
Did you launch a bottle rocket and sing?
Everyone celebrates freedom on Fourth of July weekend. Yet throughout most of the year we complain about not being free.
What does freedom entail? What does freedom really mean? Are you really free?
Today we’re going to look at what freedom means to our culture and what it means to God.
I. The Source of Real Freedom
Ever visited ffrg.org? That’s the official website for the Freedom From Religion Foundation. It is a website that heralds “free thought” and “free thinkers.” Sounds nice right?
Under the “About FFRF” tab on the website they tell you more about what they mean by free thinking: “The history of Western civilization shows us that most social and moral progress has been brought about by persons free from religion...”
In other words – if you want to be really free, you need to be free from religion.
It’s interesting though. Take a look at the first statement again. “…the most moral and social progress has been brought about by persons free from religion.” Isn’t the statement highly subjective – as in – it’s their opinion?
Isn’t it their opinion who the most influential people were in a movement?
Isn’t it their opinion how ‘free of a thinker’ and uninfluenced by religion a certain thinker was?
Isn’t it their opinion what moral and social progress is in the first place?
If all of these opinions must fit within the realm of the “free thinkers” established code of what established free thinking, then what about the thoughts that are free from free thinking?
I wonder what would happen if I sent them an email. “Dear Free thinkers, I have a free thought. It was developed apart from your website. I freely think that there is a God. It’s a freeing thought. Could you please add me into your Foundation? Thanks!”
Hmmm…I’m guessing there’s a reason that all of the people who are members of the organization are declared Atheists.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has become slaves to its own thoughts.
Jesus speaks differently. He says, “If you hold to my teachings, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” This is such an interesting statement especially if you combine it with something Jesus will say in just a few chapters of John. “I am the Truth.”
Meld those thoughts together for a minute. Understand what’s going on. The Truth sets free. Jesus is the Truth, therefore Jesus sets free. “Then you will know the truth, me, Jesus, and the truth, I, your Lord, will set you free.”
Our world claims true freedom comes apart from all religion –including Jesus. Jesus says true freedom comes from Himself.
Who do you believe?
Let’s make it objective. Let’s objectively look at which one is understand freedom better.
Jesus was not bound by the laws of physics – he walked on water.
I Google searched it. There aren’t any atheists been able to that recently.
Jesus was not bound by the laws of medicine – he healed people of incurable diseases simply by touching them.
You can check scholarly journals. There aren’t any records of doctors able to work outside the realm of medicine.
Jesus was not bound by the laws of the universe – he stopped storms with a wave of his hand.
Scientists can’t even predict them correctly, let alone stop them. They are bound by their inability to control the weather.
Jesus was not bound by death – he died and came back to life!
If you go to the Free Thinker website, you’ll see that many "free thinkers” were unable to free themselves from death. In fact, they’ll freely admit that they aren’t expecting to escape it!
Objectively speaking – Jesus lived in real freedom. He’s the only one who lives in real freedom. So only he can bring real freedom!
II. Freedom from What?
The Pharisees didn’t. When the Pharisees heard Jesus’ claim that true freedom came from him, they immediately started to rebuke him. “We are Abraham’s descendant and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
They didn’t see any chains around their ankles. They weren’t wearing computer chips to let their masters know where they were. They weren’t even slaves to the cruel Egyptians like their forefathers had been at the time of Moses. They didn’t see themselves as slaves. They didn’t see any reason for them to need freedom.
“Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”
Think of what Jesus is saying:
If you are a sinner, you are enslaved by sin. Whether you believe sin exists or not, you are a slave to sin. Whether you are religious or not, you are a slave to sin. Whether you are a ‘free thinker’ or not, you are still a slave to sin.
If you were in prison, a good old fashioned, locked down, no TV, behind bars, sleep on a cold metal bed prison, it may seem “freeing” to think that you aren’t in prison. It might seem freeing to imagine yourself only a beautiful Pacific island. It might seem freeing to imagine that you can do whatever you want whenever you want.
But it will only seem freeing. You’ll still be in prison.
If we are honest, being a slave to sin is awful. Have you ever felt it?
I slept with that guy again and I feel so ashamed. I don’t want to do it again, but I feel like the only thing that will make me forget the shame will be to be with him again!
I have a terrible headache. I’ve caused all kinds of friction in my family. I cussed out my wife. I’m dealing with all kinds of guilt. I’d stop doing it, except that’s all there is to cure me of this guilt.
I just got done losing my temper. I don’t like that. I won’t do it again. I hurt people. Except – what’s that? Someone is coming to confront me? I won’t stand for that. I must lose my temper again!
I’m a very proud person. I hear you saying that in order to be saved I have to admit that I’m a sinner, just like anyone else. See I would do it, except the thing is, my pride won't let me do it – literally! It doesn’t want to be destroyed and has too much of a grip on me. My pride rules my life.
I’m trapped in despair. I feel terrible. I feel not good. I can’t get out of this feeling. I hear God coming for me, but I can’t see where He is.
Brothers and sisters, if you are slave to sin – it’s easy to feel like things are out of control and there’s nothing you can do. No matter which sin it is that enslaves you – hear the Good News of Freedom from Jesus himself, “If the Son, if I, set you free, you will be free indeed.”
This makes so much sense. This is like someone from the free world – a jailer – someone with freedom – coming down to your prison cell with a key to unlock the door. Who are you gonna believe knows the way to freedom? The guy who came from freedom? Or the curmudgeonly old prisoner in the back who long ago gave up on freedom being a true thing?
Jesus is free.. Follow him to freedom!
He gives us freedom from sin in three awesome ways:
Free from Sin’s Guilt. Jesus freely came to this earth as no slave of sin. He never let sin take a hold of him either. Not till the cross. And then, it wasn’t his sin. It was yours. It didn’t have a hold of him, he had a hold of it.
Jesus took your sinful slave drivers – addition, sexual immorality, pride, despair, lust, greed, and whatever else might have hold of you – Jesus took those sins captive and he took them to the cross. He forced them to die with him – never to return to God’s sight.
This means you are forgiven. Be free from your guilt. Hear that again. You. Are. Forgiven.
Free from Sin’s Punishment. God punishes only sin and those enslaved to it. You aren’t enslaved anymore. You’ve been set free from sin. You will not be punished by God’s Almighty wrath!
If you were on death row and new evidence came to light exonerating you from all crime, you’d be release. You wouldn’t be punished.
New evidence came to our eternal Father. It’s the perfect life of Jesus. It means you will be set free from punishment in hell. Rather, you will spend eternity in the freedom of God’s peace.
Free from Sin’s Power. This is the part that really affects your day to day living. Before Jesus, sin is your master. It controls you. It tells you what to do.
But after Jesus, it can’t do that anymore. You aren’t a slave. You are a son. You are a daughter. You are a child of God who lives and breathes to serve his father.
Galatians 5:1 empowers us to do just that, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Let us stand firm then and not be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
I mentioned in the children’s lesson how much my dog loves getting off of his leash. He runs around with his tail wagging and the dumbest dog smile on his face.
That’s what happens – usually.
Every once in awhile I let him off his leash and he lazily lays down by my feet. It’s like he’s still chained up. He won’t move.
Same thing with his kennel. Sometimes he just sits inside. I open the door and he doesn’t move.
“Come on! You’re free!”
That’s what God is frantically urging you this morning. “You’re free! Get out of your sin. Stop your addiction. Turn to me for forgiveness and live apart from that sinful relationship.”
Brothers and sisters, won’t you listen to his beckoning call? Won’t you follow the one who set you free?
Jesus sat down.
He was tired. Because constantly proving that you are in fact the Son of God, and the true Messiah, and the only way to heaven, and that it is by God’s grace that people are saved, and through faith that people will be in heaven, and that the miracles He did were in fact true honest to goodness, incredible miracles that proved all of the above – was hard work.
Jesus sat down opposite the temple treasury. It was a large chest located outside the temple doors. It was an easy way for anyone to come and drop off an offering to God.
And people came. One after another they came and dropped off their money into the box. They gave to God.
Since it was the time of the Passover, there were many in Jerusalem. More than usual. It was quite the spectacle too. Back then, people didn’t wireless confirm their gifts via an anonymous smartphone app. They didn’t write checks. They didn’t slip a few hundred dollars bills into an envelopes. They dropped bags of coins. Think Scrooge McDuck – with the big dollar signs on the side.
Because of this, it was very easy to distinguish between large gifts and no so large gifts. Large gifts filled a whole bag or more. Smaller gifts did not. Large gifts caught the attention of the Pharisees – smaller gifts did not.
In fact, you can almost hear the Pharisees gathered around the box, singing praise as one of their own drops off a large bag filled with shekels. “Oh what an awesome gifts! Hundreds of dollars given to the LORD, you are blessed.” “What’s that? Another bag? Incredible! You are an incredible giver. Your money will go a long way.”
So it continued – large donor after large donor passing by the treasure box as if they were models competing in a Miss America pageant – showcasing their “giving” to the Pharisaical world.
Then, a widow. She approached the chest. She reaches into her pockets. She removed a handkerchief and began to unravel it – slowly and delicately removed her offering.
There wasn’t any laud adulation coming from the onlookers. A few looks of disappointment, sure. Maybe a few giggles. No praise for her gift. It was too small. No one said anything.
“I tell you the truth this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.”
I. Our Culture on Giving
Doesn’t it seem strange for Jesus to say that? You almost feel like Jesus might need to head back to Kindergarten where he can grab a bunch of yellow plastic bears and use them to count that the woman’s offering was ridiculously smaller than the offerings that day. It was insignificant!
Because that’s the way our culture defines giving. We love to define giving by the amount.
Ever been to a hospital? Who makes it onto the wall? The big donors. They are the ones who get their names etched in stone and memorialized for all to see. Sometimes they even have a key on the side – ‘Copper plates mean copper donors – hundreds of dollars.’ ‘Silver plates mean silver donors – thousands of dollars.’ ‘Gold plates? – those are the super donors --- they have given over 500,000 dollars to the creation of this hospital!'
Do you ever fall into that trap? Maybe you look around during the offering. How much is that person giving? How many zeros are on that check? What size of a bill is everyone else putting in?
At Kroger, they’ve been doing this thing where they ask you to donate one dollar to Cancer Research right at the end of scanning all your groceries. Has it happened to you? It always catches me off guard. Sometimes I say “Yes” because I don’t want the grandma behind me to think I’m stingy. Other times, I say “No,” but then I explain, “Not this time. I give to a few others charities. I’ll keep this in mind for next month.”
Do I really need to explain myself? Does society really judge us on the basis of the size of our gift?
The answer is a definite “YES.” But more than that. We’ve regulated giving to the rich. In other words – we expect giving to come out of richness.
There is a YouTube video filmed by a man in Los Angeles. He’s rich, but he wanted to prove that very concept that our society expects giving to come out of richness.
So he dressed up as a homeless man. Then, he waited on the side of a downtown skyscraper. As people passed by in suits and ties, he got their attention.
“Hey buddy!” he said. (Oftentimes they’d keep walking because they didn’t want to give to him.) Then, he’s speak again, “No, no. I don’t want anything. I just want to give. I don’t have a lot in the world, but I do have the ability to give. So…here’s ten bucks. Buy yourself a lunch or something.”
How do you think people reacted? (How would you react?)
People were furious. They started calling him names and dropping four letters words. One man even threatened to punch his teeth him if he ever insulted him like that again. He was rich. He didn’t need money. And that guy was poor. “Giving wasn’t for him.”
Ask this question with me: Why do we think like this? Why do we insist that giving – true giving – can only come from the rich?
Could it be that if a gift isn’t measured by quantity – if a poor person could give a gift to God that is thousands of dollars less on the books – yet it’s just as rich in God’s eyes – then of what benefit is the gift to the rich? If giving doesn’t getting you brownie points before God, then…we’ll have to face our Almighty God in the cesspool of our sins. No amount of bargaining or bribing will change God’s mind. He will see us as the imperfect, unholy, holy wrath inducing creatures that we are.
II. The Greatest Giver
Which is why a correct understanding of giving is going to start with a correct understanding of the Gospel. A knowledge that God gave up all of his riches to save you.
I love this passage from 2 Corinthians 8:9. Take a look. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
This about our Lord Jesus Christ. He was incredibly rich. He resided in heaven above. He had copious amounts of whatever he wanted. Barrels full of lightning? Check. Golden lined streets of heaven? Yes. Diamonds and rubies and emeralds appearing on His fingers with a simple snap? Yes!
But he gave that all up. He was born in a place where cattle were fed. He grew up the son of a poor carpenter. He journeyed from place to place without any money around his belt. He was homeless! He slept on the ground. He, the God of sustenance, depended on others to sustain him!
Then, his life ended in the poorest of ways. All he owned was the crown of thorns piercing through his brow and the bloodstained cloth around his waist. Then, he gave up his richest possession – his own, Divine life.
Listen to that again. God who owns all things in the entire universe – gave it all up – including his life!
In doing so he donated to a charity that you know very well. Not the Red Cross. Not the Salvation Army. Not even WELS Home Missions.
He donated to you.
You were fresh out of righteousness. On the cross, Jesus gave you his.
You owed God a sin debt. With his debt, Jesus paid it in full.
You didn’t have any way to buy heaven. With his life, Jesus reserved a room specifically for you.
You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
Here’s the deal then, brothers and sisters, if you believe in Jesus, then you are rich. You may not have a fully funded emergency fund. You may not own an IRA. You might not drive anything but a used car.
But if you believe in Jesus, you have peace. You have forgiveness. Things that Donald Trump, Bill Gates, and every members of the Forbes richest people’s club could not buy!
III. New Thoughts on Giving
1) Giving Comes out of Love.
Therefore, on account of Jesus – giving takes on a whole new meaning. Now giving doesn’t come from wealth. But giving comes from love.
1 Timothy 6:10 is a very famous passage and often misquoted passage. You’ll find all kinds of memes on the internet stating it incorrectly “Money is the root of all evil.” That’s not what the Bible says. Look at what is written: "The Love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”
It makes sense when you think about it. Dave Ramsey says this. Money is like a brick. It’s inanimate. It’s neutral. There’s nothing good or bad about it. You can pick up the brick and throw it through a window – bad. You can pick up a brick and build an orphan’s hospital – good.
Same with money.
You can use it to buy a nice car just to show off – bad. Or you can use it to provide a reliable, safe, nice car for your family – good.
You can use it to horde money in your sock drawer because you can’t bear to part with it – bad. Or you can use it to save up to send your child to college – good.
You can use it to give a gigantic offering to church just to get your name on the wall - bad - OR you can empty out your spending money for the month to buy a bunch of Evangelism fliers with the hopes that the message of Jesus the Savior might reach some – good.
Do you see the difference in each of those examples? It isn’t the amount of money. It isn’t the gift. It’s the motivation.
If you love money, bad. If you love God, good.
It’s why 2 Corinthians 9:7 says this, “God loves a cheerful giver.” Not God loves the one who gives $200 or more each week. Nope. God loves a cheerful giver.
2) Giving Comes out of Trust.
However…pump the breaks for a second. Because I guarantee a bunch of you saw that and thought, “God loves a cheerful giver? Phew…I’m not too happy about this offering I was gonna give today. So, let me just take a moment and rip this check up and never look at it again.”
That’s not what God is saying to you with 2 Corinthians 9:7. It’s not a license for you to say, “I don’t feel 100% happy about this, so I’m not gonna give this.” If that were the case, pretty sure we’d be bankrupt.
Before you resolve never to give God another cent, look at the verse that immediately follows. 2 Corinthians 9:8 says this, “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all time, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”
In other words – Giving doesn’t just come out of love. Giving also comes out of TRUST.
Isn’t that exactly what the widow did? She had nothing left. Yet she gave it all up. Out of love, absolutely. God had given her a wonderful husband and a blessed life. But also out of trust. She trusted that God could and would give her everything she would need in the coming days to continue to serve God on earth. And if he didn’t, then she’d get more than she could ever dream of in heaven.
Do you trust God? He won salvation for you on a cross. He paid a debt you couldn’t pay. He has a storehouse full of infinity of everything!
Do you trust God to take care of you?
Today’s challenge is to consider increasing your offering. Whatever it is. I’m not naming numbers, because it isn’t about the amount. But I am asking this. Can you take another step forward in trust and give a bit more to the work of your Lord?
For us – we use the money to share the Gospel. To start with it’s the building which we use to share the Gospel. Then, it’s my salary – which isn’t commissioned based – so I don’t get more for you giving more. Let’s be clear on that.
Then, it’s Evangelism. We use gifts to share Jesus love to those in Raleigh. Through a website. Through online ads. Through pamphlets and fliers and signs.Through invites and THANK YOU gifts.
And a big project that we are considering – the Expansion of Precious Lambs. It’s gonna allow us to connect with even more families and share the message of the God who loves them. It’s going to allow us to connect with little kids and teach the true message that Jesus Loves Them to them. It's gonna open opportunities to expand our youth group outreach during the week back in the Current Precious Lambs area. It's’ going to open up opportunities to start an English as a Second Language Ministry to share Jesus’ love with the many global members of our community.
In short – your gift will be a gift of love for God and trust in God. Amen.
Today’s topic is Race. I picked out this sermon series about three months ago and it is unfortunately very timely.
This past week an African American church in Charleston, SC was attacked during Bible study. 9 people were killed. Immediately my stomach churned. A peaceful place like the house of God – turned into a terrifying, madhouse of violence?
Since then facts have come out about the shooter. He is a 21 year old white male. About two years ago he began posting on a website that discussed all of the atrocities that African Americans had brought into America. According to the few who did survive he gave a speech mid gunfire to explain that “He needed to do this – to get back at African Americans and retake his country.”
Racism. Plain and simple.
But what’s scary is how the devil is using this terrible event. Because if you scroll through internet articles, blog posts, Facebook pages and Tweets , you’ll find anger. You’ll find fear. You’ll find deflection. You’ll find people more interested in defending themselves as some kind of representative of their race, than in defending and understanding those of another culture.
It’ easy to see the devil in this. He’s using these events to divide us! We cannot let him. Brothers and sisters, today we will reflect on race – our culture’s perspective and God’s perspective.
I. Our Culture on Race
The media is huge in forming our opinions on race. Consider this – in almost every violent attack over the past couple of years – what is one of the first details to be released? Not the victim’s family name. Not the shooter's job.
“Black Male Kills White Cop.”
“White Male Kills Black Cop”
“Latino Man Attacks Asian Family”
“Middle Eastern Terrorist at Large”
This has worn on our society. We have stopped seeing each other as individuals and instead see each other as our race.
Hispanic. White. Black. Asian. Middle Eastern. Native American. Indian.
Think you’re not infected?
Pretend you’re walking into a coffee shop. As you enter – you see a room filled with African American men with the faint beat of hip hop in the background. What did you think?
Now imagine the same coffee shop. This time you a bunch of white men in business suits talking about the latest Bloomberg report? Did you have the same thoughts?
Or what if you saw a group of men speaking in a Middle Eastern dialect with turbans on their heads and prayer shawls attached to their waist? Grab a coffee, sit down next to them and engage in conversation?
If there’s a difference to you, then you’ve been infected. You’ve stopped identifying people as individuals, and started identifying them as their race. Sadly, this has unintended consequences.
Jesus Loves the Little Children was written by C. Herbert Woolson during the American Civil War when racial tensions were very high – Woolson meant the song to reflect God’s perspective. We usually sing just the refrain but the verses add to it a special focus on God’s love for his children.
Did you hear how it went? Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.
But is that really how we view it? Tell me if this doesn’t sound more like how Americans like to think of it:
Jesus loves the Little Children…
All the children who look like me.
Brown hair, tall and German,
Accent gruff and Northern
Jesus loves the little children just like me!
Wait….That’s not how it goes, is it?
Here’s the problem when you find a person’s identify in their race only – you will develop a superiority complex. This is part natural and part defensive. We are sinful human beings who have done sinful things – and if we can’t placate God’s wrath with our own actions – at the very least it’s soothing to think that I’ve got a better chance at appeasing God because he loves my culture best.
Our Culture views our race as what defines us and uses it as a way to divide us.
II. God on Race
The Jewish people struggled with that exact thought. (I can understand why). God had promised to them that he would send a Savior through them. Because of that promise, God protected them throughout their history with incredible miracles. They were very blessed. But many had taken this too far. Viewing it far more than God’s merciful blessing, they began to think of it as something they themselves had done by simply ‘being’ Jewish. Many became convinced that God only loved their kind of people.
Take a look at the first passage you’ve got listed in your bulletin from Romans 10:12-13, “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile" (and Gentile means “not a Jew” so here we could include “European Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, Australian Americans – even Antarctican Americans --- if that’s’ even a thing) There is no difference --because the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Do you want some visible proof that God loves all people just the same? Dive into that last verse with me.
“The same Lord is Lord of all.” This means that God created all of us. He spent careful time, thoughts, and planning (and he had eternities of time) to make and create you the exact way that he did. He placed you into the perfect culture. He dyed your skin a beautiful color. He made your hair just the way he wanted it.
And look around. God did the same for the person in front of you, the person behind you, the person to your side. God created all and loves all.
“God richly blesses all.” Think about the different foods of this world. Isn’t it amazing how BBQ pork is drastically different from sushi which is drastically different from a burrito which is extremely different from a peanut butter sandwich? God has given people different foods, sure. But God still gives food. He gives clothing. He gives blessings to all of his people
Different blessings sure, but blessings all the same. Blessings that come from the same gracious hand of our loving Lord.
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Because as different as the shades of brown our skins might be, God looks beyond our skin. He looks into our souls. As he looks at our souls, he sees something eerily similar.
God sees people who are dying because of sin. He sees people who are lost because of sin. He sees people in danger of hell because of sin.
He sees people who need a Savior because of sin.
God sent a Savior. He sent his Son Jesus for all people. Jn. 3:16 well known verse of the Bible says just that, “God so loved the world – not Irish people, not Mexican people, not everyone north of the equator –nope. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life."
Did you see that? God loves people – all people – even the one who hate him – so much that he died for them.
He died for you. He died for people like you. He died for people who looked totally different than.
And he loves you all just the same.
Did some of you ever grow up watching black and white TV? It’s nice for what it did. It brought live action picture and sound into people’s homes. But compare that to what they have now! Beautiful colors – reds, yellows, greens and high definition. You can see the crystal blue of the ocean. You can watch the golden corn kernels pop in Midwestern field. You can see gorgeous array of purples and blues off the feathers of a peacock.
God’s world is a lot like that. He doesn’t see his people in drab grayscale. God sees a beautiful, HD colored world AND loves it.
III. A New View on Race
If God views us all the same, how should that affect the way we interact with one another? James 3:1 tells us, “Believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.” That starts as a matter of the heart. When you see how much Jesus loves you, his love will motivate you to love others in the same way.
But after that, how do you make such a countercultural statement visible to a world that divides by race, sticks us into our own little box and says, “That’s where you belong?”
The answer? Radical love.
There was a Jewish man who was on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho. That road goes through the desert. That means it was pretty quiet. It’s not 440. It’s not Capital Blvd. It’s not even Falls of Neuse. It was a lonesome road…similar to walking down a dark alley in the middle of the city.
Suddenly, the man was mugged. The raiders stripped him of his clothes, beat him silly, left him bloodied and bruised, and left him in a heap on the hot desert sand.
Thankfully help wasn’t too far off. It just so happened that a priest, the head of the Jewish religious community, was passing through. He was well trained in the things of God and trained to help the people. Surely, he’d help the man!
But he didn’t. When he saw the man he passed by on the other side.
Then a Levite approached. Levites were the ones who helped the priest. In fact, while the priests might have focused more on the ceremonious aspect of their religious, the Levites would have been useful in connected with the people in need. Here was a chance for him to do his job.
But he didn’t. He too passed by on the other side.
Then, a Samaritan approached. Now this is a big deal. Samaritans and Jews didn’t like each other. They were different races. They were races that didn’t get along. At best they didn’t trust each other. At worst they hated each other. It’s probably similar to how our own sad American history has pitted blacks and whites against each other. But maybe worse – picture a card carrying member of ISIS getting off his donkey and approaching you.
What do you expect him to do? If this were America, the options are too familiar. A few swift blows to his head to get him back for how his people hurt you in the past. A quick selfie with the body in the background, a degrading caption on it, and post it all over social media. A few muttered words: “It’s his people. It’s his problem. If only they worked harder, they wouldn’t be in this mess.” The man passes by and makes his way into town, tells everyone passionately about what he saw, and says, “The government should do something about this.’
But that’s not what happens. Note what does.
1) The Man Offers His Resources
The man pours olive oil – expensive stuff – all over his wounds as a salve. He takes wine –maybe the wine he had saved for the party he was heading to – and rubs its on his bruises to kill infection. He creates makeshift bandages from whatever linens he had available in his donkey’s sack and covered the man up. Then, he puts the man on his donkey. Remember they’re in the desert! Yet he decides to literally get off of his high horse and allow this stranger the luxury of riding into town. Then he takes him to a hotel and puts him to rest.
Do you have resources you can use to help? Has God gifted you with wealth? Has God gifted you with time? Has God gifted you with talents? Start thinking how can you use them to show love to those of another culture. How can you use your resources –God given resources – to reach out with the love of Jesus?
2) The Man Helps Immediately
I imagine that was a frightening situation for the Samaritan man. Here was a stranger lying in his blood. That’s something that might have given him pause just like the priest and the Levite that he’d resolve – I can’t help now, but maybe I can come back with some friends later.
But that wasn’t what the man did, was it? He dropped what his plans were and immediately helped this victim.
It will be tempting after this sermon to think – I like some of the ideas. I’ll put them into practice…someday. Someday when I have enough courage and when things settle down.
Number one, things won’t settle down. The devil’s on a roll and he’ll keep trying to divide us. Number two, you’ve got Jesus on your side. The Lord Almighty is with you. As those kids sang back in May, "Surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.” Why be afraid? Go outside your comfort zone to share God’s love…and do it now!
3) The Man Doesn’t Forget His New Friend
In the story, reality catches up the Samaritan. He has to leave. But notice that though he physically leaves, he doesn’t abandon his friend. He finds the manager. He says to the manager “Take care of him.” He offers to pay all of his medical expenses – whatever the hotel manager tells him it costs – just as long as the man is taken care of.
This was probably an inconvenience for him! I’m sure he had stuff of his own to take care of. Whatever business he had in Jericho he needed to tend to it. But now this man was his business. It was his brother -- of a different culture, sure, but his brother all the same. His brother was his business and he wasn’t going to forget about him.
May I advise you to do the same. Check back in with those you are reaching out to. Don’t just do it once, wipe the sweat off your brow, sigh and say, “There, I did what pastor asked and boy was it hard.” Instead – make them your business. Keep learning about them. Keep listening to them. Put them on your prayer list. Think of ways to reach out to them. Invite them for dinner. Ask them for coffee. Do something to say that I still care about you.
Would you start thinking like the Samaritan? Start think of ways you can put your love into practice with those who are of a different culture. In the midst of a terrible tragedy, you’ve got an opportunity. I want you to intentionalize this. You’ll naturally be friendly and loving towards those who are similar. That’s easy. Go out of your way to improve your relations with those different than you. Do the Jesus thing – He went out of his way (out of heaven to the cross) in order to show his love to us.
Let’s intentionalize our love!
That’s what one of the church members from Charleston did. Ethel Lance was her mom’s name. Ethel died in the shooting.
Her daughter had a chance to talk to the shooter. Her words were striking in the CounterCulture love.
She said this, “I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people but…I forgive you."
May God give us all this unifying, Christlike love. Amen.
She was beautiful.
He wasn’t really sure what she was, but whatever she was, she was beautiful.
Then, God explained: “I knew that you were lonely. Even though I had made this beautiful garden for you and filled with fish, birds, and animals, with gorgeous flowers and breathtaking sunrises…I knew it was only good. Not “very good.” I knew you needed someone to share this garden with. Someone like you. Someone of you.”
“So when you were sleeping, I took a part of you. I molded. I formed. I created another just like you. Another to complement you. Another to make you complete.
I call her “from man.” You call her “woman.”
Adam had a tear of joy in his eyes. As the robins chirped in perfect harmony with the blue jays and the hummingbirds hummed an accompaniment, while butterflies floated over their heads. Adam grabbed this “woman” by the hands. He took advantage of this romantic moment. He squeezed her tightly. He spoke quietly and beautifully – the first ever love poem: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because shew was taken out of man.”
Fast forward with me.
Now the garden was gone. Now the sound of the robins was replaced by the angry cawing of the buzzards. The green canopy had been replayed with a dead tree. Weeds, thistles, and thorns covered the scenery as the two sat down for a few measly turnips – all that had grown in this season. Adam was tired and covered in sweat. Eve was tired and covered in sweat. Their kids, Cain and Abel, were fighting in the background over who had to feed their pet pig.
The scene had changed. Gone was the perfect paradise, replaced by a shell of the garden – in their new real sinful world.
I’m sure they were tempted. Tempted to blame each other.
Everytime Eve slaved over a hot stove to make the exact same onion stew she always made, I imagine she longed for the ease of picking ready made strawberries, tangerines, and other citrus in the 70 degree temps of Eden. Then she thought of Adam – how he hadn’t been a good leader. How this was all his fault.
Meanwhile Adam washed up for dinner and picked at the thorns in his forefingers in order being careful not to touch the tender boils on his skin. I imagine he longed for Eden – when he lay on a palm branch hammock and asked the monkey to deliver him the best banana cocktail he could find. Then, he thought of Eve—how she had been tricked. How this was all her fault.
This scene was less romantic.
Maybe you hope for a marriage like Adam and Eve in the garden. If you are engaged, perhaps you think that’s exactly how it will be. If you’ve been married for a while perhaps you realize that married can look a lot more like the second scene. Maybe you don’t get married because you are sure your marriage will be like the second scene.
Today we’re taking a look at marriage. Marriage in a post Eden world. How do you make it work – in the future or right now? When should you call it quits? When is it just too hard?
I. The World’s Definition
Did you know that according to recent marriage trends it is likely that 44% of the couples that got married in 2014 will end in divorce? This isn't surprising news. Our world treats divorce as if it is no big deal.
Case and point: Kim Kardashian. Specifically her second marriage to the NBA star Kris Humphries. They built up the planning for this wedding for months on her reality TV show. Then, by the time the wedding aired, she was almost divorced. Their marriage lasted for 72 days.
When you watch the TV show, she brings up the same theme for divorce again and again, "I'm just not feeling in love anymore."
The world's definition of marriage is based on love, the feeling.
This perspective on marriage really affects the divorce question.
ABC’s popular reality show The Bachelor encompasses this. The man searching for his true wife slowly narrows it down to his true love as he sorts it out through romantic boat rides in remote lagoons, balloon rides over the setting sun, and private dances in a Cinderella like castle with special guest Bruno Mars performing live just for them. Finally the Bachelor decides that he feels in love. He feels like she will be the perfect wife. He gets dows on his knee and asks one of the women to marry him.
Trivia fact – Less than 10% of all bachelor relationships are still together.
And our world says, “That’s ok. If you don’t feel love anymore, how can you be expected to remain married?”
II. The Divorce Question
Based on our world's definition of marriage, you can understand the Pharisee’ question. Take a look at Matthew 19:1. They asked Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” What’s interesting is the implication. They seem to have some kind of moral compass. They seem to think that there are some good reasons and some not so good reasons.
Judging by the fact that they are humans – I imagine they judge good reasons – as their own; and bad reasons – as the reasons of others. “It’s ok. We’re getting divorced because she doesn’t make a casserole like my mom does.” “Tabitha and I have decided to part because things aren’t as romantic as they used to be.” “I’m getting my divorce papers tomorrow – because there’s another woman at the marketplace that I have taken a fancy too. Sorry. The heart wants what the heart wants!”
No wonder those who put their faith in human definitions of marriage often result in divorce.
Do you think similarly? Do you look for someone to marry based on how they make you feel? Do you remain married because you feel like you are in a Disney palace? Is real marriage really defined by the way that you felt?
But listen to what Jesus has to say: 4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
And the Pharisees get indignant. 7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. – In other words, you were so angry, sinful, and bitter that civically speaking, the government had to give you a divorce – or you’d be doing income taxes for the three wives you left and remarried within the past year. But it was not this way from the beginning. It is not this way in God’s neck of the wood. It isn’t this way in God’s definition. Jesus continues. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery."
In other words – If you get legally divorced, unless the other person ends the marriage first by having intimate relations with someone else OR abandoning the marriage, then you are sinning.
Why? Why is God so harsh? Could it be that’s God’s definition of marriage is about way more than simply – feelings?
Here are three things that prove it:
1) God made them males and female. The implication? God made men and women with the desire that they get married. He desired for them to connect with one another. He desired that they complement one another.
But what if I would rather marry a guy? What if I have romantic feelings for someone of the same sex?
Look very carefully at Jesus’ words. They are pretty clear. God made them “male and female…with the purpose of the man leaving his father and mother and being united to his wife…”
But this is more than just a proof passage for the traditional formula of marriage. It is proof that marriage is about more than what you feel. It is proof that love is about more than what you feel.
Otherwise Jesus would have said, “Haven’t you read…that they were made male and female – but I don’t care. Do what you want.”
He didn’t say that, because he did care. In Jesus’ definition, marriage is about more than feelings.
2) “Two become one flesh.”
In fact, look at how he continues: “For this reason a man will be united to his wife…and the two will become one flesh.”
What a beautiful illustration this is too. Remember Adam and Eve. Eve literally came form Adam. There was one body and then there were two.
But, when they were married, though they weren’t joined together as literal Siamese twins, these two, who were one, became one again. This connects the two that are married in an intense soul bond. It’s beyond emotions. It’s a commitment bond. A choice. A loving decision to stay connected for each other...for kids.
3) “What God has joined together, let no one separate.”
When two become one, then suddenly you can’t just throw up your hands, give up, and move to Kentucky because “I don’t feel in love with him anymore.” You can’t do that, because you’ll be tearing apart a special bond. You’ll be causing pain, sadness, and intense emotional bleeding.
Jesus doesn’t stand for that, because when you do that – you’re causing all kinds of pain and sadness to one of his own children!
But most importantly, you’ll be breaking apart God’s own work.
One thing I’ve learned about spending time in Precious Lambs is to keep your hands off of anything that looks remotely like it might be “In Progress.” A few days ago I went in during a break and saw some blocks on the floor. I thought, “I'll help. I’ll pick them up.” Just then, the little boy who had placed those blocks there came in with his eyes bawling in tears: “That’s my castle. You’re destroying my castle. How could you!?! You broke what I put together."
If you decide to give up on your marriage because it’s too hard…if you consistently look at porn in your marriage because you don’t feel it from her…if you love tempting a married man…if you enjoy flirting with married women…if you cheat on your spouse…if you tell your friend “Hey, I think you should give up, you tried hard.” Understand this: You are doing way more than simply divorcing…
…You are destroying God’s work.
III. God’s Definition
What is God’s definition of marriage then? If it isn’t about love feelings – what is it about?
Head with me to 1 Corinthians 13. These are some beautiful words that are commonly spoken at a wedding. Listen to how the Bible defines love.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.
Notice what it does not say, “Love is that little spark you have when you look at someone.” Note that it doesn’t say, “Love is the twist in your gut that you get when your crush looks at you.” Nowhere is there mention of “the fireworks that go off metaphorically as ABC production’s fireworks go off literally."
Everyone of those words involves an action. Love acts patient– when its recipient is repeatedly late for the time you are leaving. Love acts kind…doing the dishes when it feels like lounging on the couch. Love does not envy…it celebrates the accomplishments of those around it. Love does not act proud…It admits its faults, even when it hurts. Love does not dishonor others…even if it might make it feel pretty good to do so. Love is not self seeking – which will naturally lead one’s self to feel bad. Love is not easily angered – even when it feels wronged and hurt, it chooses to respond with kindness. Love keeps not record of wrongs – even though the record might be rather long, love actively chooses not to take it into consideration. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects actively keeping it’s love safe even when it doesn’t want to. It always trusts thoroughly believing that the two of you will make it, even when both of you feel like you are not going to. Love always hopes. It always perseveres. It NEVER fails.
There is no greater example of this than Jesus Christ himself. Check out the Scripture from 1 John. It says, “This is how we know what love is: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Jesus took action. He took action and actively bore your sins. He actively walked to the cross. He went through the agony of a crucifixion for you.
Jesus did this while we were sinners! He did do this because there was some kind of romantic spark between you and Him. He did it even when you were in the worst of your sins. He did it when there was nothing loveable about you at all. He did it even though you have repeatedly time and time gone against him. Which means that if you have broken your marriage vows, if you have been actively harming your spouse, if you have been involved in ruining someone else’s marriage, if you have been divorced and are seeking God again – then God’s message for you today is this: You are forgiven! You are forgiven and Jesus loves you.
That’s the message of Hosea. Do you know about Hosea? Hosea was a prophet whom God told to go and marry a prostitute. Sound like a good idea? It wasn’t. Hosea’s wife repeatedly cheated on him. Hosea would head downtown and literally pull her out of the bedroom from another drug induced coma with another man and bring her home, nurse her to health, and call her “sweetie” in the morning.
How could Hosea do that? Easy. It’s what God had done to him.
It’s also what God has done to us. We have repeatedly, over and over again been unfaithful to Him –and He has repeatedly – shown us love. He will not give up on you.
Because that’s God’s definition of marriage. His definition is not based on feeling love. His definition is based on action love. Underserved, gracious, passionate, all the time, action love.
God says you are his bride,. You are the object of his affection.
Since you know God’s love, won’t you show that same kind of love in your marriage too?
Head back with me to the Adam and Eve scene. Is it really so loveless? The two of them had legitimate gripes against the other one. They had caused sin to come into the world. They had forfeited perfection and now lived together in all of their day to day imperfection…
..but they stayed together. They forgave. They loved. They hugged. Their love didn’t fail because they had seen God’s love which never fails.
Brothers & sisters, may you find such a love and may you grow in such love. May you be filled with God’s action love. Amen.
WORTHY OF JUDGMENT.
They were right. She felt the shame. She had been feeling it for months now. Secret rendezvous. Hidden moments. Lies. To her husband. To his wife. To her own children.
Now it was at the forefront. She’d been caught. The secret she had worked to protect was now public knowledge. What would everyone think of her? What would her husband think? What would his wife think? What would her own children think? She wanted to die.
Then, there was a commotion. The men were distracted. Someone was joining the mob.
It was Jesus.
The mob was excited, “Join us! This woman is guilty of adultery. Join us! Let’s give her what the Law deserves. Let’s rid the earth of her.”
The woman shed another tear.
Jesus responded calmly. “OK – why doesn’t the person without any sin, throw the first stone.”
It was quiet. The men looked at one another. They looked at the woman. They looked at Jesus. Then someone threw the first stone…on the ground.
Today we’re going to continue our series on Counter Culture by talking about Purity. The heart of purity is found in the Sixth Commandment. Anyone? “You shall not commit adultery.” Some might call it a no fun commandment. Or that God is a prude.
But God made us sexual beings. God made us to reproduce. God gave us the gift of sex as a special blessing to connect to human beings together in a special way that they won’t connected with anyone else. It’s a lot different than a handshake. It was aimed to seal and connect you intimately to your spouse.
But the greater the blessing, the greater the pain when it is abused. There is pain, hurt feelings, guilt, and shame. (They are a lot worse than when you steal someone’s pencil when they aren’t looking).
And unlike many other sins – this one affects your own body. It changes the chemical reactions in the brain. It reprograms you to have a connection with someone you aren’t married to. It confuses you. It makes you feel icky. It makes you avoid contact with someone else because they make you feel guilty.
God didn’t want you to have any of that. So God made this command for your good. God wanted to protect your purity. I guess you could say, "You shall not cause yourself and your neighbor all kinds of pain, shame, and terrible heartache."
What then does it take to be pure? Let’s discuss definitions.
I. Defining Purity
1) The World’s Definition
When I first started working on this sermon, I thought the best way to define the world’s definition of purity might be: “Do whatever you want.” That’s what we tell each other. It’s what the media preaches. It’s what the Facebook videos with the sappy music teaches us. Just let people feel, love, and do what they want.
Then, a certain Vanity Fair magazine cover came out.
And people had opinions. People like Chris brown. Chris Brown who, in his music, proclaims to have slept with hundreds of women and in his Instagram photos is grinding and twisting against all kinds of scantily clad women, tweeted very negatively about Jenner. In his mind, Jenner was the definition of sexually impure.
Then, Chris went right back to rapping and partying and sleeping around.
Chris Brown embodies the world’s definition of purity. It’s the definition that the Pharisees had. Sexual purity is “not doing the sexual sins that I don’t do.” If that’s the definition of purity, guess what? You’ll always pass! Because you’ll always have not done the sins you have not done.
Be careful that you don’t fall for the world’s definition of purity. It can happen while you watch TV. Suddenly, the TV portrays a homosexual encounter. You look away “That’s sinful! I can’t believe they show that on TV.” Then, you change the channel and settle on the TV show where the nice young detective is falling in love with the burly cop. They aren’t married, but it’s ok...who hasn’t done that?
TIME OUT! Where’s the outrage? That’s a sin too!
But maybe we don’t have the same outrage, because if we did, we’d have to outrage our own sins.
And we don't want to.
So we fall into the trap of defining purity by the world's standards.
2) God’s Definition
Brace yourself for moment. Then, when you're ready take a look at God’s definition of purity in Ephesians 5:3. “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality…”
Listen again and write it down. God’s definition of purity means not even a hint of impurity. Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or any kind of impurity, or greed -- because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking which are out of place!”
If purity were food, God wants his wholly organic! He doesn’t want even an ounce of a contaminate in his selections. He doesn’t want anything, not even a modified Food Starch here OR a bug repellant there to have ever touched his tomatoes.
God doesn’t want any kind of sexual immorality to ever touch his children.
When you compare your life to that definition, how does it match up? Can you really tell God that you haven’t ever had an action, a motive, a word, or a thought that is impure?
If you can’t, if even an ounce of impurity has ever touched you then…you are impure! Remember God's a stickler so even a 1 night stand or 1 explicit lyrics rap song or 1 inappropriate website on your browser history ruins the whole shebang!
Maybe you now understand what the woman was feeling a little better.
She was bracing herself with her eyes closed because she knew her punishment was coming. She knew she was about to face her Maker in all of her sin!
She closed her eyes and waited.
Then she opened her eyes. The crowd was gone. The only thing remaining was a pile of stones and Jesus.
“Did no one condemn you?” he said. “No one sir,” she breathed.
“Then, neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.”
If you have left an impure life in the past and are seeking his forgiveness, then hear Jesus’ words to you. God’s Word says to you, “Neither do I condemn you.”
How does that work? All who have hope in Jesus purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 Jn. 3:3) It’s just like that children’s lesson we did. God’s power is like Clorox bleach. It destroys and rids our souls of all impurities from before God. It’s God’s promise in Baptism. In your Baptism. Baptism is like God’s permanent divine Clorox bleach that remains running throughout the soul veins of your body. It purifies you from all sin!
Do you believe this? Then you are pure…Live in purity.
II. Why Live in Purity
But you might be wondering – what’s the point? Our world is so sexually driven – it’s everywhere. You get very little judgment for sexual escapades. Guys get a high five and women get a giggle from a friend. Why should we strive for this “not even a hint” definition of purity!?! It’s darn near impossible!
Here are 5 reasons to strive for purity from Ephesians 5.
1) You are God’s Child
Check out verse 1. It says, “Be imitators of God, as dearly loved children.”
Did you ever want to be like your parents? I think that’s pretty natural for children. Girls want to wear dresses like their moms. Boys want to throw the baseball like their dads. One of the reasons I became a pastor was to be like my dad.
Spiritually speaking, God is your dad. He’s an awesome role model. He’s holy. He’s good. He’s never evil.
Do you want a good role model? Don’t make it some reality TV star who gets a bunch of girls or that woman from 50 Shades of Grey. Make it your heavenly dad and don’t let even a Hint of Impurity be in your life!
2) Christ Loves You
Verse 2 says this, “Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…”
Did you hear how much Christ loved you? He was willing to give himself up for you. He suffered extreme pain on the cross so that you won’t have to suffer any pain in eternity.
Porn -- doesn’t love you. That steamy romance author? Just wants your money. That television show? Just wants ratings. Your boyfriend…may love you…but not selflessly…in the moment…he may just want to use you.
Jesus always loves you and has your best interest in mind. Follow him and his direction. Don’t let even a hint of impurity be apart of your life.
3) Lust is Idolatry.
Check out verse 5. “An immoral, impure person…such a man is an idolater.”
Idolatry is a first commandment issue. In it’s simplest form, it refers to worshipping a small statue as a god.
But it doesn’t have to be a small statue. If you run to the internet for relief...if you run to the sights of the gym for enjoyment…if you study your romance novel more than God’s Word – who is really your God?
Don’t worship your own sinful desires. Worship God. Don’t let even a hint of impurity be a part of your life.
4) There’s No Impurity in Heaven
This is probably the scariest and most difficult reason for a pastor to relay to his people. But it’s also the most obvious reason and I’d be a pretty terrible interpreter of the God’s Word, if I failed to mention this one. Read verse 5 in its entirety: “Of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”
You’re welcome to object. “No way that’s true.” But verse 6 continues, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such impure things, God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.”
Brothers and sisters, I want you in heaven. God wants you in heaven. Don’t let even a hint of impurity be a part of your life.
5) You are Light.
As scary as verse 6 is, verse 8 is filled with comfort. It says this, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” In other words, you were once surrounded by the darkness of sinful lusts. Your lives were filled with erasing your internet browser, sneaking to hotels, making sure no one saw you looking at that magazine in the magazine aisle, and hoping no one noticed that you slept over at your boyfriend's house last night.
But now you know Jesus. Now you know the light. Now you are surrounded by the light of His presence. Now you are forgiven. Now you live for God.
Don’t let even a hint of impurity be a part of your life….Live as children of the light.
III. How to Live in Purity
So…how do you do it?
In America, we often approach these issues in the same way: “OK God…How far can I go?” How far is too far with my boyfriend? How long is too long for me to stare at the woman on the side of the road? How short is too short for this sexy shirt I’m wearing? How steamy is too steamy for this television scene I’m watching?
Stop asking how far you can go from God, but how far you can go in serving Him.
How can I stay pure as I go about dating? How can I serve my boyfriend with the way I dress? How can I serve my girlfriend with where I spend the night? How can I serve my spouse with the way I look at the internet? How can I serve my husband with my reading choices? How can I serve my children with the televisions shows that I choose to watch in their presence?
In short – Start asking how can I rid my life of impurity? Ephesians gives us three guidelines to keep in mind:
1) Come into the Light.
Look at what Ephesians says next, “Live as children of light…Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness…Expose these dark deeds. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.”
Isn’t it true that these kinds of sins often take place in the dark? Or at least when others are in the dark about that? Behind closed doors, when others are away, when the kids are in bed.
Jesus is saying here – stop hiding your struggle. Share it with a friend.
Yes – it’s a scary thought to ask another Christian for help. It’s humbling. But it’s also freeing. Ask someone for help. Ask an elder here. Ask me! Ask for help and---if someone asks you for help, don’t hold their struggle against them. Don’t be the Pharisee – “Ugh, Ugh, you struggle with that?” Don’t belittle them. They are coming to you for help – so praise God they are struggling and help them!
2) Be Wise.
In the book of Proverbs, King Solomon talks about a time he looked out his window and saw a young man walking down the street. As he was walking down the street, he saw a prostitute waiting for him. King Solomon thought, “Walk on the other side of the street. Get away from her! You’ll be safer away from the temptation.”
Instead, the young man walked right by her. She seduced him. He went with her.
Ephesians 5:15 says, “Be careful, then, how you live—not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”
If this is a struggle for you, don’t be foolish. Use common sense. If you struggle when you’re alone, make sure you aren’t alone. If you struggle when you go to the gym, don’t go to the gym. If you struggle with a certain kind of book, don’t get that book at the library. If you struggle with a certain kind of television show, don’t watch that. If you struggle with a certain kind of website, don’t go there. In fact, block it! Use internet software to police yourself. If you are more prone to struggle with all of this when you’re drunk, don’t get drunk. Don’t spend the night alone with your girlfriend if you can’t control yourself.
Be wise and God will bless you with victory after victory.
3) Be Filled with the Spirit.
All of this serving God and struggling against sin takes energy. It's like a battle. An athletic context of divine proportions.
That means you're going to need to replenish your spiritual electrolytes. Therefore, you need to keep yourself hydrated with the time tested, proven, spiritually reenergizing Gatorade:
"Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
If you want to live a pure life, you need to be filled with the pure Word of God. You need to be filled with his pure law for guidance. You need to be filled with His pure Gospel for the pure comfort of having a Savior who purified you from all sins.
Come back to our Gospel scene one more time that woman had heard Jesus’ precious words of forgiveness. She was filled with the Spirit as Jesus spoke words of forgiveness. She knew of God’s love when she didn’t deserve it.
Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.”
You are not your sin. You are not an adulteress. You are my child.
Jesus changed her identity with one awesome sentence of Gospel.
Hear the same thing that God is speaking to you: You are not perpetually stuck in sin. You are not a sex addict. You are not disgusting. You are not a pornographer. You are not a homosexual. You are not an adulteress.
You are not your sin.
You are God's child. You are loved. You are forgiven.
You are PURE.
When you think of someone wise, what does that person look like?
A pair of bifocals so that he can easily read the strenuous ideas of Voltaire and Shakespeare?
A sweater draped around his shoulders to keep him warm as he sits in the annals of the library?
Hair neatly parted in two, completely symmetrical and geometric?
A pipe -- filled with tobacco--allowing his mind a burst in thought with each puff?
John the Baptist didn't look anything like that.
He had wild hair.
He lived in the woods.
He wore camel skin for clothing.
He had pieces of leftover locust breakfast in his beard.
He probably didn't smell all that great, but he certainly looked foolish.
That's what the Pharisees thought. They were the wise people of John's day. They thought John looked foolish and they thought his message was just the ramblings of a lunatic hermit. "Water baptism for forgiveness? Repentance for the kingdom of God? What was he talking about?"
Then John said something that through them for a loop.
"Look the Lamb of God that takes away the Sin of the world."
They looked and they saw Jesus. He looked more put together than John, to be fair, but certainly not a Messiah. Another foolish thought from John.
Jesus approached John. John poured water on his head. Jesus came out of the water.
Then, the skies opened up. A brilliant light shone. A dove rested over Jesus. A loud voice from heaven spoke and said, "This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased."
Basically what John said.
Maybe John wasn't so foolish after all.
In America, we have our own definition of what wisdom looks like. God’s Wisdom often looks very different from that definition. So. Who’s right? Where is real wisdom? With God? Or with humans? Today is the next sermon in our CounterCultural sermons.
I. Human Wisdom Claims God’s Wisdom is Foolish
Take a look at the words from 1 Corinthians. Take note that 1 Corinthians is a letter written to a group of newbie Christians who lived in a very worldly society. There was false god worship, sexual immorality, and over drinking. There was also a place in the center of town where wise people could go to discuss the latest thoughts and ideas about the economy, philosophy, and theology.
Some of their godless thoughts were conflicting with Godly thought. So Paul writes an important reminder to this young church. He says in 1:18, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
Focus in on the first half of the verse. The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.
Have you ever heard of the Flying Spaghetti Monster? It is the official deity of the Pastafarians – a play on Rastafarianism, but also a parody of the Christian faith. The whole point of this religion is to mock the foolishness of religion. That’s clear as soon as you enter their website and read their "tagline.”
“The Flying Spaghetti Monster boiled for your sins! Be touched by his Noodly appendage before it is too late.”
To the world that’s hilarious – “Yep, Christianity is foolish! Virgin births, talking bushes, universal floods, a non evolutionary beginning. The message of the Bible is foolishness.”
But to believers – to us—it isn’t so much funny, but it’s heinous.
Why is there such a disconnect? Why is God’s wisdom in such direct contradiction to human wisdom? Here are three reasons.
1) The Time Gap
The saying goes: “With age comes wisdom.” It’s more than just something to keep those of us growing older calm. It means that the more experiences you have and the more time you’ve been around, the more you will learn.
Think of an electric outlet. Hopefully you have experienced enough in life to know that it is unwise to get your finger wet and sick it directly into the hole. A young child may not. Unfortunately, they might not listen to wisdom and have to learn just how bad of an idea it is through experience.
Same thing with your high school student. You might warn them about just how bad over drinking while underage will be for them. But, they might not listen after your talk. But after the experience of the awful hangover, a flood of guilt, and getting kicked off of the sports team, they might listen.
God has way more experience than human beings. The oldest person on earth is 121 years old. He has 121 years of experience. He has had 121 years to fill his brain with knowledge.
But that’s nothing compared to God. God is eternal. God has been around forever. He has been around longer than all of our ages in this church and in Raleigh combined.
In fact, he’s eternal! He existed before time began. He’s the one who began time. He’s the one who began the world. He’s the one who invented history. He’s the one who invented experience.
When you compare the knowledge of someone who has been around from before the beginning of time and someone who has been around for 30ish years, there will be a contrast in knowledge. Even if the younger one thinks he's smarter (your three year old as to when his bedtime should be) it doesn't mean he is!
Just cause we think we've lived enough years to think we're wise, doesn't mean we are! It's probably why older people are more patient in this area than young professionals. They've lived life. They've learned they aren't always right. They learned humility and they realize that they don't know everything.
That makes them wiser, wouldn't you say?
It's true with us and God. We need to stop thinking that "We're adults now. We can do this on our own," and start trusting the One who has been around forever.
2) The Knowledge Gap
I don’t know a lot about rocket science. In fact, if I took a look at the mathematic formulas necessary for getting into space – it would look like a bunch of gobbledy gook to me! Numbers, letters, strange symbols. I don’t see the wisdom in any of it!
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t wise. Just because I can’t understand it, doesn’t mean that the formulas for rocket fuel are unwise. It just means I’m unwise.
But it’s an interesting phenomena, isn’t it? The mind with less knowledge writes off greater knowledge simply because it doesn’t understand it!
Don’t you think this happens with God?
Take the definition of marriage. God says it’s between one man and one woman. God – the one who’s been around from eternity. The one who has an infinite knowledge of the universe. God who has an infinite knowledge of you and me.
Yet here we stand as 21st century beings whose 30 year old brain can be contained within a baseball hat and we say, “God, you’re wrong. Let’s change the definition.”
I love the story of Job. Job lost everything that he owned in the first two chapters of the book. Then the next 36 chapters relay a dialogue between Job and his friends in which his friends try to get him to curse God. They want him to ridicule God and basically confess, "God, I'm smarter than you and I would never have let this happen."
In the last three chapters, a new character is introduced. It’s God. In chapter 38, God makes a few very sarcastic (yet very good) points:
“Job...Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?...Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place?...“Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? ... Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?...Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this. What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!"
In short, God’s response is this: Job, you aren’t so smart. Stop trying to think you are. Stop trying to think that you’re smarter than God.
3) The Sin Gap
Yet humans still do. This leads to the third, final, and biggest reason that there is such a difference between Godly wisdom and human wisdom. The sin gap.
God is holy. He is just. He does not sin. He cannot sin. That means that his mind works perfectly.
Humans? Not so much. We’re filled with sin. Sin surrounds our lives. It affects our actions and it affects our minds. Our minds don’t work so perfectly. We aren't sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners!
Sin doesn’t just cause us to say hurtful things; it causes our minds to think, “I want to say hurtful things.” Sin doesn’t just cause us to engage in premarital sex; it causes our minds to think, “I want to engage in premarital sex.” Sin doesn’t just cause us to do the opposite of what God says; sin causes our minds to think “I want to do the opposite of what God says.”
Sin leads us to categorically and naturally rebel against all of God’s wisdom, because that’s what sin does!
Romans 8:7 says this, "The sinful mind is hostile to God’s Word. It does not submit to Him, nor can it do so.”
Siebert Becker, a former seminary professor, wrote an awesome book entitled “The Foolishness of God.” In his study, he makes this assessment: Humans reject the Bible, not because they don’t understand it, but precisely because they do understand it.”
Isn’t that the truth? The main reason we reject God isn't because God's Word is too difficult for us to understand, but because we don't want to.
For the times that when our tiny, unexperienced, sinful minds have rebelled against our timeless, all knowing, holy God’s wisdom – we ask God for forgiveness.
II. God Proves Human Wisdom is Foolish
While humans think that God’s wisdom is foolish, God has done things in a bit different fashion. God doesn’t just think human wisdom is foolish, God proves human wisdom is foolish. In two specific ways.
I. With Miracles…
Take a look at verses 19-20:
It is written: ‘I, the LORD, will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
Suddenly these categorical statements of human wisdom look absolutely foolish! God has proven it. He’s the one who created this world. He’s the one who knows the mysteries of this world. He’s the one who has no problem opening up the manipulating the current laws of science and gravity in order to show human beings that maybe we aren’t as smart as we think we are.
II. In His Salvation Plan
Verse 21 says this, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was therefore pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength."
Earlier today – what did the kids say was God’s plan of salvation? Jesus died. Our sins are gone. Through faith we’re saved. When you break it apart, it sounds foolish.
To the Jews, they said, “There needs to be some kind of fantastic incredible miracle taking place –a Laser light show or an awesome battle – when God comes to save us.” Jesus came back to life, but they still didn’t believe.
The Greeks demand, “We want wisdom. We want to have to search for truth and talk about truth and mull over truth and then once with have the truth we’ll believe it.” Jesus said “Found it! It’s me.” But they didn’t believe.
My Jewish neighbor once said to me, “You Christians are so crazy. You believe that there’s nothing you can do to save yourself, that Jesus did it all, and through faith you are forgiven and saved without having to do anything to be saved.”
My answer sounded foolish in my mind before I said it, but I said it anyways:
The Gospel is foolishness to human wisdom. But the Gospel doesn’t come from human wisdom. It comes from God. Therefore “through the foolishness of what was preached…God has saved those who believe!”
Through the foolishness of what was preached, God has saved you and me.
This is the reason that God chose this way for salvation: Listen to what Paul says next:
“26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth."
I love this passages because Paul is using the Corinthians as an example of unwise people being saved. “Ya’ll aren’t that smart. Ya’ll aren’t rocket scientists. You’re fishermen, prostitutes, and farmers.” You didn’t have jobs that required a Master’s degree!
"But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”
Because boasting doesn’t work. Being a Christian isn’t about “I figured it out.” It isn’t about “I’ve got the truth and you don’t.” It isn’t about “I was smart enough to figure this whole thing out.” If it were, then millions would be lost because they didn’t think they were smarter enough to figure salvation out, and millions more would be lost because “I am smart and have figured out salvation,” when in fact they haven’t.
No, Christianity isn’t about our wisdom. It’s about God’s wisdom. Trusting in God’s wisdom necessitates that we stop trusting in our wisdom. It necessitates that we say “God, I don’t know it all. God I need you. God you are wise and I trust you.”
And when we do that – when we admit that we aren’t as wise as we think – then, here’s the kicker-- we have true wisdom.
Therefore, it is because of God that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God our righteousness, our holiness, and our redemption.
Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
“I’ve got a God who walks on water.”
“I’ve got a God died and comes back to life.”
“I’ve got a Jesus who is 100 percent true God and 100 percent true man at the same time.”
“I’ve got a God who is three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – all at once, yet there aren’t three God, there’s only one.”
No…I can’t explain all those things. I’m not that wise!
But my God is. And I trust Him.
Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.
Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and that the Father is in me? The Words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and that the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.”
What had he just done.
Peter looked around. Thousands and thousands of pupils were now focused solely on him. The roar of the crowds chatter faded away. Everyone was waiting to hear what he had to say.
Peter wasn’t used to this. He was a fisherman. He was used to time on a quiet lake in the calm air. Peaceful. Warm. The occasional splash of a nearby jump. There wasn’t anyone else there besides his brother Andrew and his good friends James and John. On the lake, he certainly didn’t have to make any speeches other than the occasional mock speech he made to the salmon about how he had a good life and was now about to join the Great Frying Pan in the Sky.
Now Peter was in the center of Jerusalem. Now he was surrounded by strangers from strange cultures all over the Middle East – Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Judeans, Cappadoccians, Pontians, Asians, Phyrgians, Pamphylians, Egyptians and Romans. Now he was to make a speech.
What would he do? If he wanted to make the speech go well, he’d have to be very careful with his words. He could mention Jesus – sure, but he’d want to quickly acknowledge the sun god – Ra out of respect for the Egyptians there. Then, he’d need to talk about Artemis – the fertility goddess – in order to appease the Corinthian traders in town. Then, he’d need to make sure that they were all placed on equal footing as the Greek gods Zeus, Ares and Poseidon, while interspersing the names Jupiter, Mars, and Neptune for all those Romans who were present. All while not forgetting those Jews – they didn’t like to hear much about sin, so --- his big finish could be – “Jesus is the Messiah – and I think, it’s just my opinion, and you may think differently—that you didn’t treat him the best all the time.”
Yes. Peter could go that route. He could send everyone home happy. He could tell them that they all had different religions which were all utterly opposed to one another, but they all lead to God eventually…so…Raise your glasses and “Coexist!” That was the world’s definition of TRUTH!
That speech certainly had a happy ending. But…it didn’t seem right. Afterall, he’d been a disciple to Jesus. A man who didn’t accept the world’s definition of truth. A man whose definition was strange. A man whose definition was CounterCultural.
The more he thought about it, the more Jesus’ definition was echoing throughout his cerebrum:
"Peter, I am the Truth."
This morning we’re continuing our series called CounterCultural by taking a look at that counter cultural statement from Jesus. In a culture where truth is whatever you want the truth to be or whatever you feel the truth should be, and who is anyone to ever disagree with you, Jesus spoke to the most divisive truth of all -- Religion. And he wasn’t so wishy washy.
Take a look at that. It’s from John 14:6. Jesus’ disciples had just asked him to show them the way to God. Jesus responded, “I am… the Truth…No one comes to the Father, except through me.”
I. The Truth is The Truth.
Here’s the first thing take note of. The Truth is the Truth. Notice the definite article on Jesus’ predicate nominative. I am THE Truth. He didn’t say “I am a truth.” He didn’t say, “I one of the truths.” He didn’t say, “I feel like I am the truth. If you feel that way too, gnarly dude.”
The definite article is one letter in Greek and it is a very important letter. It means that Jesus considered himself to be THE only Truth and THE only way to know God.
In April, we had Pastor’s Conference in Philadelphia. One of the first things that we did when we were there was to drive directly downtown to get some Philly Cheese Steak. Have you ever been there? Literally, when you get downtown, you run into Geno’s--an awesome Philly name. It smells delicious. The moment you open up your car door, the smell of thick, roasted, peppery meat fills your nostrils. There’s a sign next to the window that says “Best Cheesesteak in Philly” and you believe it. You ordered a ½ pound sandwich. Wolf it down and smile. It's delicious.
Then, you look across the street. In bright neon, obnoxious, flashing light is a sign: “Pat’s – Best Cheesesteak in Philly.” So, you do your civic duty. You loosen your belt and you order another ½ pounder.
Which is true? Which is better? It’s really subjective, isn’t it? Subjective means that it is your opinion. When it comes to subjective truth, the truth can literally be whatever you want it to be.
But that’s not the kind of truth that Jesus was speaking about here. Jesus isn’t saying “I think I’m the best god.” He isn’t saying, “My words are pretty valid.”
Jesus said, “I am the truth.”
That’s not subjective truth, but objective truth. It’s not opinion, but fact. Objective truth is truth because it is the truth. My hair is brown. I have two eyes. The colors of the new Pentecost banners are red --- it’s still red, no matter how much you’d like it to be purple polka dotted. It’s red.
The problem is that society has confused objective truth with subjective truth.
Take the Common Core Curriculum. I don’t know a lot about it. But I read an eye opening article a while back. It examined the way that children were taught TRUTH and OPINION. In the article were real examples from a Scantron test where students were given a statement and then they had to mark if the statement was FACT or OPINION.
Let’s see how you do.
Fact or Opinion. It’s wrong to cheat on a test. – Did you say Fact? That’s wrong. Morality is only an opinion.
Fact or Opinion. Lying is wrong. – Did you say Fact again? How foolish that’s your opinion.
Fact or Opinion. All men are created equal. – The correct answer is opinion. Popular, yes. But not fact. Only opinion.
Or course-- and this is my question-- if the creators of the Scantron are saying that those statements are Opinions, then how do we know it’s Fact? Isn’t that just their opinion?
Objective truth is fact. Whether it’s the color of my hair of whether or stealing is wrong. Objective truth is truth for all people of all time. It isn’t determined by popular vote, emotional response, or moral majority.
Jesus statement is objective. He is THE TRUTH. His Words are the Truth. The Bible is The Truth. Jesus as God is The Truth.
II. The Truth Excludes Opposing Truths.
The second thing builds off of the first. Since the truth is the truth, it excludes any truth that’s opposes it. Notice what it says, “opposing truth.” If they aren’t in opposition, then they can certainly coexist but be true. For instance, I might say “This bag of Doritos is Cheesy” and you might say, “It is also Triangular.” Fair enough. We can coexist. They are not opposed to one another. They can both be true.
But if the two truths oppose one another, then one of the truths is not true.
For example, my dog Clay. My dog clay is a dog. I put a picture of him up there for ya’ll to confirm. His species is Canine.
Now what if I said, “Clay is a human.” That’s not true. Clay can’t be both canine and human no matter how much he wants it to be true – The fact that he is a dog nullifies the fact that he is a human and makes it not true.
With me so far?
Jesus just said that He is the Truth. Since Jesus is the Truth and the true way to God the Father, then any religion that claims to have the truth and yet speaks a different truth, necessitates that one of the truths is wrong!
· “There is God.” “There isn’t God.” Those aren’t both true. One is and one isn’t.
· “Jesus is God.” “Allah is God.” It’s not just a cultural thing. One is true; the other is false.
· “Christianity is the true way to God.” “Buddhism is the truest way to God.” There are no superlatives in contradicting statements.
· “God and I are cool because Jesus died for me.” and “God and I are cool because I’m not that bad of a sinner." These are mutually opposed statements. Someone is wrong.
In Jesus’ own words, who is he suggesting is wrong?
“I am the Truth…No one comes to the Father except through me.”
III. The Truth has been Substantiated.
Immediately, you need to be asking the question of any religion you stumble across – “How do I trust you? How do I know that what you are speaking is the truth?”
You could ask that question about other religious leaders. Mohammed would tell you “Because I went up on a mountain, received a vision, and I told you so.” Joseph Smith would tell you, “Because I went into the woods, picked up a pair of sunglasses that only I could use, and read a language that only I could know.” Buddha would tell you, “Because…don’t you just feel it, man?”
What would Jesus tell you? How would he defend the truth?
11 “Believe me when I tell you that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe based on the evidence of the miracles themselves.”
Jesus didn’t do these miracles in the forest by themselves. He didn’t do these miracles in a showroom at Vegas. He did these in his own backyard.
He did them in plain sight of tens of thousands of people:
· He made the blind man – who had been blinds for decades and who was known by thousands of people who had walked by him and heard his cry for “alms” --- Jesus made him see!
· He fed almost 10,000 people with just a 5 loaves of bread and two loaves of fish. Not only did their eyes see it, but their stomachs felt it! Their bellies attested to it: Jesus is God!
· He died. Then, he came back to life. He didn’t appear once. He didn’t appear twice. He didn’t appear to one person or two people. Or even just his disciples. He appeared to over 500 people, at many times, in various places – friends and foes alike!
Jesus did things that only God can do, to validate that he was the True God!
This is key for you. Because now others truths that he spoke about you are also true:
· You are children of God through faith.
· Whoever believes in Him will be saved
· In Jesus, we become the righteousness of God.
IV. Speaking The Truth Is Loving
Even so you now know what the Truth is understand that the world doesn’t care. Our world seems to have this idea that if you have the truth, the most loving thing for you to do is to keep your mouth shut!
Is that really the loving thing though? Is it really loving to have the truth and not share it?
We just got our Precious Lambs picture back. On the day they were taken it was a windy day, and right before we were all lined up, Julianna looked at my hair and grimaced. It was stringy. It was mussed up. She lifted her hand and tried to brush it out of my face.
But, I’ll confess something, in my own sinful nature, I got upset: “Leave it alone. It’s find. You’re embarrassing me.”
Now that we’ve gotten the pictures back…it turns out, I embarrassed me.
Speaking the truth is loving when it comes to mussed up hair. Even if the person gets upset, it’s loving!
If your child started climbing the side of the lion cage at the zoo would you shout, “Get down from there!” Or politely whisper to your neighbor, “I don’t dare shout at her. If she wants to climb the cage and play with the vicious tigers, I would be stifling her creativity and who she is as a human being if I stopped her.”
I hope you’d do the former!
May the same be true for the message of Jesus. Scripture says “Speak the truth in love.” Nowhere do you ever hear Jesus saying, “Don’t speak the truth.” Nowhere does Jesus say, “Speak the truths that are convenient.” Nowhere does Jesus say, “Speak the truth unless it hurts someone’s feelings.”
Jesus doesn’t care about feelings. Jesus cares about eternal souls.
You do the same. Courageously explain to your coworkers why the Bible is the truth. Tell your unbelieving spouse why you are concerned for his soul. Boldly tell your children, “They believe something different. It’s not the truth. We believe Jesus. Jesus is the truth.”
You aren’t being unloving for caring that your children hear the truth! Not at all.
In fact, you’re being just like Peter.
Let’s get back to that Pentecost scene. Peter took a breath. Then Peter spoke the truth:
He didn’t care if it seemed strange: “This is what was spoken about in the Prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.' " (2:16-18)
He didn’t care if it offended: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (2:22-23)
He didn’t care if it was exclusive: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (2:38)
He simply cared that they knew the truth and were saved. “Save yourselves from this wicked and corrupt generation.”
And you know what happened? Peter didn’t get beat up. He wasn’t thrown in prison. He didn’t get called a fool – not on Pentecost.
41 "Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day."
Praise God for the Truth. The Truth is Powerful. Amen.
It was finally time.
They were a who’s who of discipleship. The real followers of Jesus. 11 men who had followed him everywhere for the past 3 years. They had left their families, their jobs, their identities…They had left their lives in order to follow Jesus.
Now it felt like it was about time.
After all the travelling, all of the missing home, all of the time away from kids, all of the sleeping under random bushes, all of the wondering where their next meal would be from, all of the time being basically “homeless”, all of the holding back crowds who desperately wanted to see Jesus, all of the confusing teachings, all of the nerve wracking speeches, all the angry glares from the religious leaders, all of the hiding, all of the terror, all of the horror in seeing their leader dead, and all of the glory in seeing him back to life…now it seemed like it was time. Time for them to get their reward.
“Lord are you at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel?”
Because surely, if now was the time to set up an earthly kingdom with Jesus at the head, they would be high up there too. Then, it would all have been worth it. They could trade in their dirty travel garments for the purple robes of a king. They could trade in scaling fish for scaling the statue of them that would go in their own hometowns. They would be princes in God’s kingdom – each of them would be assigned a personal Pharisees who would feed them grapes and wave palm branches to cool the hot Middle Eastern air – as they lounged on their limited edition, gold studded, discipleship lawn chairs while sampling an endless supply of 2 Loaf bread direct from Jesus’ power.
Jesus began to answer them. He gave another speech about how that’s not really his reason in coming to earth – but I imagine the disciples missed it. They were too busy dreaming about how they would GQ their outfits to process what he was saying.
Then, something happened that they couldn’t miss.
Jesus feet moved. Not forward. Not backwards. But upwards. They kept moving upwards.
The disciples looked around expecting to see Peter behind Jesus lifting Jesus up in a big bear hug –but he too was staring in amazement with them. There was no strings, no jetpack, no helicopter. They weren’t in Kitty Hawk and Jesus wasn’t testing out Wilbur and Orville’s flying machine thousands of years before they were even born.
This was a miracle. Jesus was levitating off the ground.
And he kept going up! He went past the tree lines. He went past the birds. He went past the mountain peaks. He went past up until the clouds hid him from their sight.
The disciples? Well, they did about the only thing that they could at that moment. They opened their mouths and stared.
They, literally, had an out of this world leader.
Today we are starting a new sermon series. It’s called CounterCulture. It will explore how Jesus and his teachings are completely CounterCulture to Modern Society. Can’t think of any other way to start than by learning the very truth about Jesus that the disciples were reminded of on Ascension: Jesus Himself is Counter Culture.
1. CounterCultural Power
Again. Jesus lifted himself off the ground, into the sky, and into heaven without the help of any magician’s assistants or a really big fishing pole hooked up to his tunic. He did it with his power.
I haven’t seen President Obama do that recently. Nor did I see President Bush do it. Nor do I suggest that you should base who you are going to vote for in the next election on which one of them can jump to the top of the White House in a single bound.
Earthy leaders have skills. Skills get them to be the head of their field. The incredible quarterback has a rocket for an arm. The gifted musician can play a tune by memory. The C.E.O. highlighted in Forbes has vision and a keen sense for business.
Jesus had skills too. He healed the sick faster than any other doctor and with less medicine – he just used his words. He walked on water with more grace and stability than an Olympian water skiing – only he did it without skiis and only his two feet. He did a better job making sure the weather was good for you to head out on a church picnic than a weatherman – predicting, hoping. He said “Stop raining.” And it did. He was the top of his field in winemaking without any grapes, curing paralysis without therapy, removing blindness with saliva, defeating deafness with his Word, glowing his face brighter than the sun, feed tens of thousands with a picnic basket of food, and restoring lives without a defibrillator days before a defibrillator was invented.
Then, when he died, Jesus showcased a skill that no one else in the history of the world has ever had before nor will they have again: He brought himself back to life.
Do you see how Jesus’ power is CounterCultural? It is out of this world. Where we are weak, he is strong. Where we are powerless, He is powerful. Where we can do nothing, He says, “Watch this.”
But Jesus didn’t use his power for power’s sake. He wasn’t trying to get on the front of the Wheaties box and he wasn’t trying to win the World’s Strongest Man Competition.
Jesus’ power helped him accomplish his goal!
2. CounterCultural Goals
What was Jesus’ goal? It was more than what he disciples thought. He wasn’t gathering a secret army to go and ransack the Roman palace in hopes of setting up a political power on earth.
In Mark 10:45, Jesus says this, “The Son of Man came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
To serve and to save. A goal that would result in his untimely death!?!
Anyone here watch SharkTank? It’s a show in which these world renowned entrepreneurs listen to the plans of young innovator’s and then decide whether or not they should invest in their business. My guess? Mr. Wonderful, Kevin O’Leary would have hated Jesus’ business plan.
“So…You have all the power in the world. You have a cure for blindness. You have a cure for paralysis. You have a cure for deafness. And…you’re not charging any money? You aren’t planning on building a supply warehouse. In fact, you’re planning to die – leaving your business worthlessly bankrupt?” Not even Mark Cuban would have invested in Jesus’ business plan.
Jesus’ goal was not money. It was not power. It was not fame. It was not prestige.
His goal was greater. It was your salvation.
“The Son of Man came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Here’s the God’s honest truth about our condition. We are sinful. We have been trapped in the world by our sinful vices – selfishness, envy, greed, lust, sloth, hatred. These themselves are such a common part of our sinful world that they grab onto us and lodge themselves into our souls and take us captive promising to lead to a wonderful life and brothers and sisters, they fail so miserably.
But Jesus has in mind to take us out of this world. He has in mind to take us with him where all that sin is gone.
But here’s the problem. Have any of you been in an airport recently? Maybe you had to lift your hands above your head, place your feet a foot apart, and wait as that big whirly machine scans your entire body for weapons. If they find something out of place, a weapon or a misplaced bobby pin, then you can’t go through.
Heaven is the same way. Except God doesn’t scan for sharp metal. He scans for sin. And God’s sin scanner has come back and it’s so dark with sin that you’d think the machine was broken.
God says this, “All have sinned, they have together become worthless, there is no one who does good; not even One.”
And today’s leaders. Today’s earthly leaders don’t care. Selfishness would kick in, “Good luck with that. I’ll take my money, I”ll take my jet, I’ll take my HD Google watch over here and pretend that I didn’t see you.”
Not Jesus. Jesus came to rid you of that awful condition. He came to free you from the sin that had taken hold of your soul. Even when the only way sin would release you would be through His death – Jesus willingly, freely, and swiftly offered his body for you.
“Christ redeemed you from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us.”
You know how we know that this all worked? This is the guy who floated up to heaven. It’s the guy who came back to life. It’s the guy who did all powerful, impossible things, one after another.
Can he really remove your sin one time for all time? Absolutely. Whoever believes in Jesus will not perish, but have eternal life.
3. CounterCultural Instructions
Look at what Jesus told his disciples: Be witness of all this to the ends of the earth. He didn’t want them to set up a statue in his arm. He didn’t ask them to build and make a foundation named after him. He didn’t tell them to invest his money in upcoming stocks. He didn’t ask for them to start a brand new political party.
He simply told them to spread his message.
These are the same instructions he has given us. As a family of believers at Gethsemane & Precious Lambs – this is our goal. Not to make money. Not to keep our furnishings updated, not to impress others with ‘how godly we are’, not to ‘fill the pews’, not to ‘make sure kids know their ABCs, 123s, and the difference between an Alligator & a Crocodile.”
Our mission is to tell people about Jesus. Our mission is to tell North Raleigh about Jesus. Our missions is to tell our kids Jesus.
You are a part of this mission!
But Pastor. I'm not professional. I don't have a Masters of Divinity. I'm not that good at talking to others.
That's the way of our world isn't it? Hire the people from Yale and Harvard. Make sure they've won some awards. The more fancy diplomas on the wall, the more likely one is to be hired.
Jesus? He called some fisherman to work for him. An accountant. A political activist. Jesus called regular people to share his out of this world message with regular people.
It's the same today.
Are you a mechanic? Share Jesus.
Do you work at Whole Foods? Share Jesus.
Are you a teacher? Share Jesus.
Are you in 4th grade? Share Jesus.
4. CounterCultural Timeline
Deadlines run our world. Yet what’s pretty nice about a deadline, is that it kind of gives you ability to slack off. If you’ve got until next week, why not schedule a golf outing on Monday? If you’ve got to the end of the day, why not see what goofy things Uncle Carl has been up to on Facebook? If you’ve got a sermon that isn’t preached until Sunday, why not get distracted by binge watching Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D? – you might get some inspiration.
God’s timeline? Well, He doesn’t tell. Jesus said to his disciples, “It is not for you to know the times and dates set by my Father.”
Which means it could be anytime.
Which means it could be now.
Which means there is no time like now – for you to believe -- for you to share God’s Message.
This past Friday I flew through Bible study at the retirement home I visit. I made sure to start on time and tried to finish a bit early because it was a busy morning. Bible study at 9:30am. And a meeting at 10:30am. Then, because Precious Lambs was having early release, I had to get back and get Chapel ready. I was under the gun.
I was literally out the door and ready to walk back to Gethsemane when she stopped me. I had seen her before. She had been coming to my Bible studies for awhile, but hadn’t said much. I wasn’t even sure that what I was saying was tracking.
She looked at me with tearful eyes. “Are you a pastor?”
“I have a problem. I just moved here. I left my family in Jersey. I am all alone. I have made a mistake. I have sinned. Will God ever forgive me? Will God ever love me?”
I didn’t even look at my watch.
Some things are so much more important than the busy things. Nothing is more important than THE Eternal thing.
Put eternal things first. Because the Eternal One put you first.
5. CounterCultural Promise
Steve Jobs was an incredible leader. His company, Apple, changed the world. It skyrocketed up the Stock Market. It is an incredible company. I'm using an iPhone to keep Bible passages up during this sermon writing!
Steve Jobs was a great leader.
Steve Jobs is dead.
Jesus is not.
And though he ascended to heaven, Jesus has not left us. He said, "Surely I am with you always to the very end of the age."
How can that be Jesus? We can't see you.
"Remember how I ascended to heaven? That was impossible too huh, yet I did it. So am I with you."
It's quite a bumpy ride following Jesus. It's tough living counter to culture (as the coming weeks will show us), but Jesus is an out of this world leader. He won't leave you. He won't leave me.
Won't you follow him?