Wouldn’t it be nice to view things through the eyes of a child?
To be as excited about feeding the goldfish as they are?
To be as thrilled about touching grass as they are?
To be as exhilarated by one frosted cupcake as they are?
Today we are looking at another eyewitness account of the resurrected Lord Jesus. In this account, the people who get to see Jesus are filled with wonder. Our goal is to (1) determine why they are filled with wonder (2) how they express that wonder (3) consider what that means for expressing our own wonder at Jesus.
Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Waiting for God
Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. (Jn. 21:1)
A brief timeline of events --- This occurs afterwards. After the encounter with Thomas which is already a week after Easter. Beyond that we don’t know for sure, but it might have taken some time, because the disciples meetup in Galilee.
The Sea of Galilee is important to note is located about 100 some miles north of Jerusalem, the last spot that the disciples saw Jesus. That means the disciples had taken a couple of days journey to get back to Galilee.
That’s important, because it isn’t as if Jesus keeps appearing in the same city, in the same house, in the same room. If that were the case, it’d be really easy to say: “There was something wrong with the room. Maybe there was some kind of mirror trick that was occurring. In the end, Jesus didn’t rise.”
The fact that this next account takes place up by the Sea of Galilee which is 100 miles away from the last appearances of Jesus lends credibility to the resurrection.
And the reason the disciples went up to the Sea of Galilee? Most likely they are responding to a command from Jesus that he had given them before his death and resurrection occurred. Look at Matthew 26:32. In it, Jesus said, “After I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
Since Jesus said he would die…and he did.
And he said he would rise…and he did.
He probably is going to go up to Galilee, because he said it…
So the disciples head on up to Galilee and they wait.
And they wait.
They are waiting for God to show up.
And Peter…well…he isn’t great at just sitting around and waiting. (Maybe you can relate.)
He isn’t good at just sitting around and twiddling his thumbs.
He has to do something.
So…he does. “I’m going out to fish,” Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” (Jn. 20:3)
Sometimes God says the same to us. Sometimes God calls us to wait…
God told the ancient Israelites to wait for a Savior.
Jesus told his disciples to wait for his resurrection.
And now he told them to wait in Galilee for him to show up.
And that’s okay, right? Because I know that ya’ll are really, really good at waiting.
I know that you don’t have any problem…
When I-440 gets backed up.
When your phone says there’s a 20 minute delay on the drive home from work.
When someone is entering on the “On Ramp” and they do that thing where they drive all the way up to where the lane ends, just so that you have to wait longer.
Humans are real good at waiting, right?
One of the things that Julianna and I have always been looking forward to is becoming parents.
Personally, I think it would be a blast.
I look forward to teaching my kids how to tie a shoe.
I look forward to reading them my favorite stories.
I look forward to training them how to ride a bike.
I look forward to opening the first bag of Doritos with them!
I look forward to telling them about the Savior, about God’s love, about all that Jesus has done.
And…honestly…it has been our prayer and hope for almost 8 years.
God has said.
Honestly, that’s hard.
In a society where we hardly have to wait for anything.
Waiting for God to show up is hard.
Whether it’s waiting for God to show up and cure a sickness…
Or to show up and help with finances.
Or to show up and reconcile your relationship.
Waiting for God is hard.
But I think if you learn anything from Peter here as he is waiting – it’s this. While you’re waiting for God, you do what you can.
What he could do was fish. In fact, it was his career before the three years of following Jesus. So…rather than sit around and do nothing – he did what he could. He got out the boat. He packed up the nets. He cast off from shore. He went about earning some kind of living.
He did what he could.
And if you’re waiting for God to show up and do something amazing, don’t do nothing.
Do what you can.
Go see a doctor.
Save up your money.
Reach out to those you’ve wronged.
Trust God but do something while you’re waiting for God to show up and do something amazing!
II. Jesus Shows Up
Which is exactly what happens next.
Because the disciples are out on that lake all night. They are on the lake all night and they catch nothing. (v.3)
And you can imagine that Peter didn’t take that lightly. He and James and John were all fishermen of Galilee. So, they probably said things like:
“We need to try over behind that reedy section. The fish always bite there.”
“Oh, that didn’t work, because I forgot that when the wind is blowing to the northeast at 12 mph, the fish move over by that log over there.”
“Sure. There weren’t any fish by the log, but I imagine that’s because you sneezed, Thomas. You gotta be quieter.”
As they are thinking about packing it up and getting back to shore, they are greeted by the voice of a gentleman about 100 yards off. He calls out:
“Friends, haven’t you any fish?” (v.5)
And the disciples respond with a simple: “No.” (v.5b)
But the stranger from shore responds: “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some fish.” (v.6)
They throw their nets on the right side of the boat…and…When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. (v.6)
I don’t know if you know this or not, but…this had already happened to Peter, James and John.
In Luke 5, way back when Jesus first met them…He stood on shore, told them where to cast their nets, and they caught so many fish they fell at Jesus’ feet and proclaimed Jesus as the Lord.
Maybe John remembers.
Because immediately he responds: “It is the Lord!” (v.7)
TRUTH: Jesus lives
It’s a bit different than the first truth from the last four weeks, but not really. Again – Jesus appears and does something miraculous by knowing exactly where a bunch of fish are, collecting them all to the side of the disciples’ boat, and telling them when and where to drop net while he’s 100 yards away on the shore.
This is Jesus.
Jesus is alive.
Jesus is alive and still has all of his miraculous, incredible power.
So…if you’re waiting for God.
And you’re thinking…when is he gonna show up.
And you’re thinking…maybe he’s not because he’s not real.
Because…again…Jesus lives. And all of his resurrected power still lives with him.
And maybe add this to your notes:
He lives…even during the everyday times.
Because what’s unique in this appearance is that it doesn’t occur as a group of people are going to the tomb to mourn Jesus.
It doesn’t happen as two people are walking to Emmaus and discussing Jesus.
It doesn’t occur while an entire room of disciples is trying to wrap their minds around the implications of Jesus’ empty tomb.
It’s while they’re fishing!
Here’s the truth:
God shows up.
He is alive.
He is with you…even during the everyday stuff.
Even when you are trying to get your kids ready for gymnastics and they’re being kinda whiny and hard to work with…Jesus lives.
Even when you are at work bogged down by paperwork after email after Excel spreadsheet…Jesus lives.
Even when you are in the hospital for another routine checkup…Jesus lives.
Jesus is alive…even during the everyday stuff.
That’s great news.
And it warrants a reaction.
III. Responding to Jesus!
As soon as Simon Peter heard John say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. (v.7)
Did you hear that?
Even – putting more clothes on – before he jumps int the water.
You might call that silly.
God calls it “worship.”
TRUTH: True worship flows from beholding the Risen Savior.
Granted. That might not be what you think of when you think of worship.
In fact, for some of you – especially if you’re not a worship goer – you might think of worship as something you were “forced” to do back when you were little.
Something that mom made you do.
Something that your dad insisted you do.
Something that your parents would do as they dragged you kicking and screaming to worship only so that you sat there with your arms folded “worshiping.”
Newsflash – If your heart isn’t into worship, it isn’t worship.
Look at John 4:23. Jesus says, True worshipers worship in spirit and truth.
That means true worship starts in your spirit.
True worship starts in your heart.
And it flows.
Like a natural spring of water.
Sometimes just like Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park.
True worship flows, naturally, freely, out of love for Jesus.
Now if you grew up as a Lutheran, you might hear the word “worship” and think of standing up and sitting down, singing beautifully worded hymns, and with four-part harmony coming from the back pews.
If you grew up from a different background, you might hear “worship” and think of candles, sprinkling oils, and chanting in Latin.
If you grew up from a still different background, you might hear “worship” and think of the music – guitars, piano and some drums.
If it’s a heart focused on Jesus.
Even if it’s a different type of worship.
Take a look at the different types of worship in this section!
John sees Jesus and says, “It is the Lord!”
Peter sees Jesus and jumps in the water.
The other disciples see Jesus and happily steward all the gifts he just gave them and row back to shore.
It’s important to remember that.
Because…if I start to believe that all people NEED to worship in one particular way…Do you know what that does?
If I turn to my friend and I say, “Listen, dude…If you aren’t on your knees when you’re worshipping God, then that’s not worship.”
Then, do you know what happens?
That guy will probably get onto his knees…
But it’s no longer flowing forth out of love for Jesus.
But out of being shackled to the mode of worship that you told him was necessary.
Almost like he’s now worshiping the worship.
Don’t shackle your friends.
Worship your Savior.
In a variety of beautiful ways.
And there are a lot.
You might stand. You might sit.
You might speak. You might shout.
You might play the organ. You might play the guitar. You might play the drums.
You might speak English. You might speak Spanish. You might speak Mandarin Chinese.
You might even do what some of the little children do and speak some form of “Baby!”
If it is a heart of praise proclaiming Jesus – it’s worship.
One more thing: Worship can be divided into two categories.
What we’ve talked about so far is WORTHSHIP. That’s what John did. John saw Jesus and proclaimed His Worth: It is the Lord! Lord is a name that means “Master.” It means “leader.” It means “ruler.” For the disciples, it means, “There’s the risen Jesus, king of heaven and earth who rules over death itself and now lives as our resurrected Savior.”
True worship expresses itself in WORTHSHIP.
That’s what we do every Sunday. We worship God by expressing His WORTH in our songs, hymns, prayers, Bible readings.
But that’s not the only way we worship
Because look at what Peter does. He jumps into the water.
And the other disciples start rowing that boat load of fish.
That’s worship, too.
But instead of proclaiming worth, they go to work.
True Worship expresses itself in WORK-ship.
Romans 12: 1 says this, “In view of God’s mercy, offer yourselves as living sacrifices. This is your spiritual act of worship.”
Because worship is not just a thing that you do by singing praises to God in one worship service on one day each week.
Worship is something you for the glory of God all week.
When you invite someone to worship for the glory of God.
When you give a gift to his ministry for the glory of God.
When you teach little children for the glory of God.
When you share a passage on social media for the glory of God
When you cook your family dinner for the glory of God.
When you do your family’s laundry for the glory of God.
Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
Because when God arrives, man does he do glorious things.
Look the last part of the account:
When they landed, the disciples saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it and some bread. (v.9)
Jesus had just given them 153 fish.
But that’s not all.
He gives them a net that doesn’t break.
But that’s not all.
He gives them a balanced breakfast!
That’s what happens when God arrives, God provides abundantly.
Think about it --
When Jesus arrived, after millennia of waiting for the Savior, He didn’t just provide forgiveness for one of your sins.
Not for two.
Not for 17.
But for all of your sins.
Friends, when God arrives, He provides abundantly.
That’s a reason a to wait.
It’s a reason to worship. Amen.
Last week, we heard about how the Apostle Peter brought the Gospel to the Jews that lived in Lydda and Joppa. Today we’re going to hear about the first time that Peter brought the Gospel to people that weren’t Jews at all. As we study God’s Word, we’re going to delve into some very important and timely truths about the Gospel and Race. Before we do that, a prayer:
Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
The lesson picks up right where we left off last week. Peter is still in Joppa. He’s still ministering to Tabitha. He’s still sharing the message of Jesus with people who were quite interested in hearing him, since he just brought a dead woman back to life.
But eventually, Peter needs a break. Acts 10:9 says, “About noon...Peter went up on the roof to pray.”
Now, you don’t need to picture Peter trying to balance on a 45-pitch roof. (OSHA is not involved with this story). At that time, roofs were mostly flat. Since homes were commonly built in close proximity to each other to maximize space – it was used like a porch. It was relaxing and quiet, a good place for uninterrupted prayer.
And there must have been a lot of exciting things on Peter’s mind:
He’s thankful the Outreach initiatives that have taken place in Lydda and Joppa.
He’s starting to brainstorm for a new group – a Jews for Jesus – outreach group for Jews about Jesus.
He’s thinking it might be wise to plan a church outing to the local Jewish Carpenter’s Baseball game.
He’s brainstorming how to take my favorite Jewish songs and melodies – and transform them into songs about Jesus.
In short, Peter is excited.
He’s happy to see God work on the hearts of his Jewish compatriots.
And he heads to the roof for guidance from God!
While he’s up there, praying and praying and praying, he starts to get hungry.
But before he can head downstairs to the kitchen, he sees some food….
…Coming down from the sky.
Peter saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners…. like a picnic cloth… It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” (10:12-13)
And Peter looks at the animals on the sheet.
And Peter’s tummy rumbled.
And Peter was hungry.
And Peter said:
“Surely not Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” (v.14)
A bit of an explanation.
In the Old Testament, God revealed himself through the people of Israel. He chose to interact with them, do miracles on their behalf when they followed him, and against them when they didn’t. God did this – not because he loved the people of Israel more than other people – but because…He needed to choose some group of people to reveal Himself as the true God, lest all worship the sun, the moon, the stars, a pile of rocks, some dead scorpion, or some really bad abstract art.
It's essentially the Krispy Kreme Principle. Krispy Kreme lights up its sign to let you know when there are fresh, hot donuts available. The point of the sign is to get you to pay attention to the doughy goodness’ availability.
To get the attention of the other nations, God did miracles among the nation of Israel. (He split the Red Sea. He sent bread from heaven. He made the walls of Jericho come tumbling down).
God did miracles in the Israelite nation so that people of any nation might see that he is the true God of all nations.
When God has the attention of the other nations, what does he want to teach them? Key truth #1: God is HOLY. He is a God who hated sin. A God who loved purity.
Why is this God’s number one truth? Because if we don’t realize that truth, we’ll just remain in our sin, blissfully unaware of how far short from perfection we have fallen. When we realize that God is HOLY and he demands HOLINESS and we aren’t HOLY and have zero HOLINESS, we fall to the ground and ask God for mercy – and he granted that mercy in sending a Savior – Jesus Christ.
Knowing God is HOLY is important in understanding the need for the Gospel.
One way God taught his HOLINESS to other nations was through the Israelite diet.
Leviticus 11. It’s probably not a section of Scripture that any of you have memorized. It isn’t a part of Scripture that makes its way to Social Media posts. It doesn’t make for very good Scripture art around your home. But within Leviticus 11, God reveals strict dietary restrictions for the people of Israel. His goal? Make their diet so drastically different from that of other nations that people take notice, ask about the diet, and learn that God is HOLY.
Some of the restrictions were as follows:
Only finned sea creatures. This allowed for fish. But it meant that you couldn’t have lobster, crab or any kind of sushi.
Only domestic birds. Chicken and turkey were cool; pheasant, owl, vulture? Not so much.
Only animals that have a divided hoof and chew the cud. Again, beef and lamb are fine, but not camels and (the biggest tragedy of all) pigs. (Understand: NO BACON!)
When Peter looked at the picnic blanket from heaven, there were some animals there that would make fine cuisine: Oysters Rockefeller. Buttered crab. Stuffed Pheasant. Bacon Wrapped Bacon! He was hungry, but every animal on the blanket was one of the Old Testament forbidden animals and Peter didn’t want to disobey God’s Old Testament laws, so he replied to God: Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean!
And Peter must have felt pretty good about his answer.
He had just listened to God’s voice in the Old Testament;
He just ignored God’s voice that had just spoken to him in order to do so…but…
“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (v.15)
At the end of the vision, while Peter was standing there – a bit dumbfounded– and deeply pondering the meaning: Is bacon OK now? Should I stop by the local BBQ shop? A knock came from the downstairs door. Being on the roof, Peter scooted to the ridgeline and peeked over at the visitors. From the third floor he could make out the unmistakable insignia of Roman soldiers. Gentiles. Non-Jews. Non-Jews that currently were enforcing an unwanted rule on their kingdom.
Peter’s first thought was to hide.
His second thought was “those lousy good for nothing Romans.”
His third thought was “I want nothing to do with their kind.”
Then, God spoke again:
“Simon…Get up. Go downstairs. Go with these men.” (v.19)
Remember I mentioned the Old Testament dietary law? It was one of the ways that God impressed his holiness upon Old Testament Israel. There were other ways. They wore certain clothing. They made certain altars. They sacrificed certain sacrifices. And – they worshipped with certain people.
To impress His holiness on all people – Old Testament Israelites circumcised their male children. That was different in ancient times. No other nation did it. God had Israel do it, as a symbol of cutting off the sinful nature and being made new in God’s mercy.
Since the Jews were circumcised and every other race of people wasn’t, this meant that oftentimes the Israelites did things by themselves.
In fact, over time Jewish leadership developed rules that helped to keep people obeying God. They made a rule that you could not eat with anyone who wasn’t a Jew. That you could not have someone who wasn’t a Jew enter your home; that you could not enter the house of someone who wasn’t Jewish, because you dare not spend time with people who were “impure.”
All Israel knew that.
All Israel practiced that.
Peter knew that.
Peter practiced that.
But God just said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
And God had just told him to follow these men to their home so…
Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. (v.23)
Peter started out with them the next day (v.23b)
Peter arrived at the house of a Roman centurion named Cornelius and he entered the home. (v.25)
Did you hear that? Peter just broke hundreds of years of Jewish tradition to follow the voice of God.
Then, Peter gets to talking with Cornelius and it turns out Cornelius had a vision, too. God had come to Cornelius and given him specific instructions to send a group of men to Joppa to the exact house that Peter was at and to ask for a guy named Peter.
This was no coincidence.
So… Peter says this:
“I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right.” (v.34-35)
And Peter went on to tell these non-Jews people about Jesus.
He told them about how Jesus died for them.
He told them about how Jesus rose for them.
He told them about how Jesus fulfilled God’s plan to save them.
He told them about how anyone who believes in Jesus – any Jew – and even any non-Jew – receives forgiveness of sins in His name. (v.36-43)
He told them this because Peter now understood this important (and still relevant) truth:
God does not have a favorite “race” of people.
In God’s eyes, people are people.
There’s not a racist bone in God’s body.
There’s not a racist tweet in the Bible.
There’s not an ounce of racism in His way of thinking.
God created every race of people.
God loved every race of people.
God saw that every race of people had fallen into sin.
God sent a Savior for every race of people.
God’s blood covered the sins of every person of every race of people.
In short, no matter who you are; no matter what race you are; no matter what culture you are:
Jesus loves you.
Jesus died for you.
And no matter who your neighbor is, no matter what race they are, no matter what culture they are:
Jesus loved them.
Jesus died for them.
II. What Now?
The point of all this is still relevant today. It means not feeling guilty about a BLT sandwich. Guilty about bacon-wrapped, deep fried, pork chops? Maybe – but the guilt is for other reasons!
The deeper truth isn’t about food; but people.
(1) Identify Your Own Prejudice (and Fight Against it)
Granted. You might be saying:
“But pastor! I don’t have any prejudice. I love all people. I love all cultures. I love all races of people.”
I would hope that none of you openly confess to hating a certain race of people.
If you do openly confess that certain races of people are better than others, repent! That’s sinful.
But even if you don’t openly confess it, be careful:
Our prejudices can be trickier than that.
For example, what if I had started preaching today in a turban?
Or what if I had planned for worship only Gospel songs? The ones with lots of clapping and plenty of “Amens.”
Or what if the snacks afterwards were nothing but sushi?
You might not love it.
You might complain about it.
You might say, “That’s not what we do.”
Friends, that’s prejudice.
And we shouldn’t be surprised that all of us suffer from prejudice, because that’s what sin does.
Sin selfishly, egotistically focuses inward and says, “I am the best. My culture is the best. My people are the best. God loves how we do it best.”
Repent. This is not Godly.
Thankfully God doesn’t have prejudice. (not even against people who are prejudiced – aka – all of us).
Jesus battled those sins of prejudice for us.
Jesus took them to the cross.
Jesus died for us and our subtle racism and all of our prejudices.
Thanks be to Jesus.
Now he asks us to lay them at his go out to fight against them.
And we do that by #2:
(2) Obey God’s Call
The voice from heaven was not the first time Peter learned the less that God doesn’t play favorites. Jesus had taught that, too! He spent time with Samaritans. He spoke to a woman at the well who was a Samaritan. He healed the servant of a Roman soldier. Jesus even ordered Peter directly: “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
Up to this point, Peter had been thinking that “Go and make disciples of all nations” meant, “Go and make disciples of the Jews living in all nations.”
He was wrong.
And to his credit, when he realizes this, he obeys God right away. He takes the men into his home. He follows them to their home. He enters and shares the Gospel with them.
Do the same thing.
God didn’t say, “Go and make disciples of all the white people in Raleigh.”
He didn’t say, “Go and make disciples of all the Midwestern transplants in Raleigh.”
He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
Here’s the thing – when we do that – that kind of love reaches out past racial lines and unites people.
Honestly, it’s just like those Old Testament dietary restrictions. Only instead of watching what we eat, we watch how we act towards those who are different.
Because the truth is that America is divided by race. Racist pride is touted as desirable trait that leads to more and more divisiveness.
The Cross of Jesus is different.
The Cross of Jesus unites.
The blood of Jesus covers us all.
The church (our church) is to be a place where God has brought people of all languages, cultures and backgrounds – together. That’s different. If done correctly, it will stick out like an Old Testament Jew ordering the lamb at a Pork BBQ place.
It’ll stick out in a good way.
How do we do this?
We love one another.
We reach out to those that are different from us.
We are willing to say, “My desires and my culture are different than yours. And that’s ok. In fact, my desires and culture will take a back seat for the sake of you, my friend, and your culture.”
When you do this…
When we go to work on the sharing of God’s Gospel with all nations…
God blesses it.
Look what happened with Peter. In the middle of his speech, The Holy Spirit came upon all who heard his message. (v.44) It was God’s way of saying: “Yes! I approved. I don’t show favoritism. I love all people. And I am bringing this people into my kingdom at the same level as – and at the same equality as – you Jews who are also a part of my kingdom.”
God is behind the sharing of his Gospel message.
God is behind the sharing of his Gospel message to all people.
Let’s go to work.
Let’s share the Gospel with all people.
Review of last week’s lesson. Philip and Simon.
The Unstoppable Gospel does not make its way only to cities. Sometimes it heads to much less populated areas.
Today we are going to be following the Unstoppable Gospel on its next stop. But this time, it doesn’t head to a big, populated area like Samaria, but somewhere a little less so. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
Account starts in Acts 8:26: An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”
A couple of notes:
“An angel of the Lord.” Incredible messenger! Angels glow. Angels are bathed in clean white. Angels shine like the sun. When an angel appears, it is obvious. Obvious it’s an angel and obvious it is from God. The appearance of an angel teaches us that this is not a feeling. Not a hunch. Not some weird dream. It’s a very clear directive from the angel of the Lord.
Go South…towards Gaza. Remember Philip was in Samaria. That was to the North of Judea. Gaza is south of Judea. This is a long journey. 150-mile foot journey to be exact. There would have to be a very impressive destination if I was going to walk 150 miles. (Doritos factory? Super Bowl? Something like that…)
Go…to the desert road. A few things make this request a bit strange. The last place Philip went was a city in Samaria. Cities have lots of people. Cities have a lot of opportunities to share the Gospel. Here? The Spirit wants Philip to head to “some desert road.”
Isn’t this a strange request? The Holy Spirit wants Philip to walk hundreds of miles in order to get to some unnamed desert road where very few people are traveling.
Who would follow such a request?
He trusts God.
He trusts God’s plan.
He trusts that if God wants him to walk 150 miles to some unnamed desert road, he should walk 150 miles to some unnamed desert road.
As Philip gets to walking. It becomes clear to him why God wanted him to on that unnamed desert road:
As he’s walking.
As he’s thinking.
As he wiping the sweat away from his brow.
As he stops to rub his feet – 70 plus miles completed.
He hears some noise in the distance.
It’s a low rumbling. Maybe it’s thunder.
Philip looks and sees a cloud of dust coming his way with a silvery, glistening metal in front.
It’s a chariot.
The kind of ride ridden by only the wealthiest.
As the chariot approaches, Philip notices the insignia on the side of the chariot.
It’s a royal chariot.
It’s a royal chariot from the country of Ethiopia.
The man sitting in the chariot – not the driver – but the passenger in back – looks very impressive.
He has royal insignia on his clothing.
He has royal insignia on his headgear.
He has royal insignia on his jewelry.
Philip steps out of the way.
It’s nice to see some other signs of life on this road, but…he’s royalty. I’m not. He won’t want anything to do with me.
And…right about the time Philip is ready to let him pass by without so much as a head nod…
The Holy Spirit speaks:
“Go to that chariot and stay near it.” (v.29)
Really? I’m just me. Just Philip. I’m dirty. I’m dusty. I’m a commoner. I am hardly dressed for a meeting with nobility.
You are the Holy Spirit so…
Philip approaches the chariot. And as he does so, he notices that the man is reading something.
He squints at the back of the scroll and notices a title on the seal – to help identify the scroll --
It says, “Isaias.”
“Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
“How can I,” the Ethiopian ruler said, “Unless someone explains it to me.” (v.30)
And the Ethiopian ruler commands the driver to slow down.
He swings open the door to the chariot.
He holds out his jewel studded hand to Philip.
“Join me. Teach me. Please.”
And Philip did.
He taught him about the Scripture in question.
He taught him that Jesus was the man the Scripture was talking about.
He told him how Jesus was like a lamb who was sent to slaughter.
About how Jesus was silent and willingly went.
About how he had his glory cut off.
About how he was shaved of his joy.
About how he was deprived of justice.
And about how Jesus did this for the Ethiopian eunuch.
About how Jesus died on the cross and shed his blood for his sins.
About how the Scriptures prophesied and predicted this.
About how the Scripture from Isaiah isn’t the end.
About how three days later…Jesus came back to life!
About how God loved that Ethiopian Eunuch very much.
About how the wealth and jewels and status of this world would mean nothing compared to the incredible riches of God’s forgiveness, eternal life, and peace with God that lasts forever.
About how royalty on earth does not translate to royalty in God’s kingdom.
About how…faith in Jesus does.
And the ruler?
He believes. And he says:
Look! There is some water. What can stand in the way of me getting baptized? (v.36)
And they stopped the chariot.
And they got into the water.
And Philip poured water into his head and said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
And the Ethiopian smiled.
He had been a part of nobility.
He had been a part of royalty.
He had been a part of the Ethiopian government.
Now he was a part of God’s kingdom.
II. The Gospel is Status-Less
This lesson is very important to our understanding of the Gospel, because it teaches us a very important lesson about status and the Gospel.
If you are successful by this world’s standards,
If you think you got there by yourself,
If you think you’re super impressive,
Do not forget:
You still need Jesus.
Because all the money in the world,
All the accolades at a company,
All the trophies from your peers will not stop God from judging your sins.
Here’s the truth then:
The Gospel is Status-less. No one is above the Gospel
Not your boss.
Not being cool.
Not being popular.
Not the president.
Not the guy with 2,000 Facebook friends.
Everyone needs the Gospel.
Everyone needs a Savior.
And if you aren’t the boss,
If you don’t feel cool,
If you aren’t popular,
And barely have 50 Facebook friends…
You need the same Savior.
And have the same Savior.
The Gospel is Status-less. No one is below the Gospel
When you realize that.
When you humble yourself.
When you seek God’s mercy, the Gospel bestows on you a status higher than anything you could imagine:
You are given the status of God’s eternal child.
The Ethiopian eunuch was high ranking. He was used to people doing whatever he told them to do. But…when he hears what God did for him. And what God wants him to do. He listens. He gets out of the chariot. He goes into the mucky, dirty, ‘’some water.” To be baptized.
He doesn’t wait for a big celebration.
Some impressive looking river.
A chance to make a royal show of it.
He knows he’s a sinner.
He knows he needs a Savior.
He humbles himself, believes and is baptized.
As a believer, you have that same status.
As an unbeliever, God wants to give that status to you.
Believe that the status God gives is the only status that matters!
III. What Now?
1. Avoid Same Status Sharing
Because our world is very status oriented.
Ever play apps like Bejeweled? Or Words with Friends? Or Subway Surfers? They’re just fun little games on your phone – but they have been enabled with the ability to share your status! The ability to put your ranking on Facebook. The ability to let everyone know that – HEY! You might be a C.E.O. at Lenovo, but I just added 12 chickens to my farm on Farmville!
Status is so important to this world.
And the devil will use this to play tricks on the way we perceive status that will affect the way we share the Gospel. He’ll make us think that person is too far above us or too far below us.
Especially in a few areas:
Financial Status. This was an issue at Jesus time, before Jesus’ time and it’s still an issue today!
It leads people to think things like: It looks like they have a lot of money, don’t bother them. There must be a rich church they can go to.
It looks like they are too poor, don’t bother them – they wouldn’t fit in here. UGH!
Financial status has nothing to do with whom we share the Gospel with.
Jesus told a story about a wedding banquet and how the one who threw the party invited rich and poor alike to his party. The point? Jesus invites all to his party.
There is no cover charge.
There is no required dress.
There is no down payment necessary.
Jesus paid our way in.
Jesus paid for others too.
Jesus wants us to share the Gospel with them regardless of status.
Age Status. Sometimes we think: “My kid doesn’t have the status of adult. They don’t have the status of ready. They don’t have the status of old enough to hear God’s Word.”
Jesus said, “Make disciples of all nations.”
Notice there aren’t status qualifications.
Are your kids a part of all nations?
Then share the Gospel with them.
Tell them of their Savior.
Bring them to church.
Teach them to be in church.
Have them baptized.
Give them Jesus and give them the status of being a member in God’s kingdom.
Christian Status. This is the most foolish of all. But I think it’s way too real.
Because we tend to think about adding to this church – and I know it, I’ve heard it.
It’s as if we have this checklist:
Are they WELS? I’ll totally invite them to church. Are they Christian? I’ll consider inviting them to church.
Are they unbelieving? No way am I inviting them to church.
Aren’t we missing the POINT when we think like that?
Jesus didn’t say go and hang out with the people that are already my disciples.
He said, “Go and make disciples…”
The implications? Make disciples of non-disciples.
Share the Gospel with those who don’t know the Gospel. The Status of Gospel believer is not a requirement for hearing the Gospel.
In fact, the status of unbeliever is all the more reason for sharing the Gospel.
2. Be Confident in Your Status
Because you might say, “I’m not impressive like Philip. I don’t have a high paying job. I don’t make a lot of money. I don’t have fancy clothes. I don’t own a 3-piece suit with one of those skinny ties and fancy scarves that you put in the right breast pocket. I can’t share the Gospel!”
But you’d be wrong.
What qualifies you for sharing the Gospel is not some kind of outward status.
It’s the inward promise of status as God’s child.
You have that. You have that status as God’s child. You are qualified to share the Gospel.
Your status is not what brings people into God’s kingdom.
God’s Word does.
God’s Word is God’s Word – there is no higher status.
You’ve got God’s Word? Then you are qualified to share in the work of the Gospel.
That’s what Philip did. He unleashed the Unstoppable Gospel and the Holy Spirit brought the Rich, Ethiopian Ruler to faith.
That same Gospel works for you. Amen.
I’m pretty excited today because we are beginning a brand-new series in which we study the book of Acts. Acts is a book that picks up right at the end of Jesus’ life and work on this earth. It chronicles the Early Christian Church and their struggles to maintain faith in Jesus and share Jesus in a society that was very much against Jesus. I’m particularly excited because I think we can learn a lot from this group and its early escapades.
Still – you might say:
Why are we studying the Early Church? That was over 2000 years ago. A lot has changed. We have iPhones. We have self-driving cars. We have Starbucks Coffee. We have the ability to order something at Walmart online and pick up curbside.
How, in the world, are we similar to the Early Church?
A lot of ways:
The Early Church was a relatively small group of people
We are a relatively small group of people.
The early church was trying to share Jesus with their community.
We are trying to share Jesus with our community.
The Early Church faced a society that was hostile to Christianity.
We face an American society increasingly hostile to Christianity.
The Early church was led by God.
We too are led by God.
We are very similar to the early Church. In a lot of ways, they underwent the same challenges that we are going through. Study their values, their goals, and their errors – will teach us some very important lessons.
Today we are beginning that journey in Acts 1. It’s the last interaction with Jesus and his disciples before he leaves them. Our goal is to listen to Jesus words, analyze them and take to heart a few valuable words about mission work here in North Raleigh. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The End of One Mission
Acts 1 is where we are going to be to start. “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.”
A couple of notes:
The book of Acts was written by a guy named Luke. When he talked about his “former book”, it’s a reference to a book in the Bible called – “Luke.” That book is all about Jesus’ life, ministry and death.
Interesting to note that Luke, as a character in his own historical account, doesn’t appear in the Gospel of Luke. In fact, he doesn’t appear in the book of Acts until about 2/3 of the way through the story. That’s important because it means Luke was not an eyewitness of most of his accounts. However, Luke was a journalist. A scholarly journalist. He investigated thoroughly the accounts of Jesus and the Early Church in order to write down first-and accounts of what happened.
His first book focused on Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
His second – on what takes place next.
Acts is the sequel. It’s the part two. It’s the Empire Strikes Back to Star Wars. It’s Weekend at Bernie’s II to Weekend at Bernie’s.
That’s why these first couple of verses require some knowledge of the first book. Because in the climax of the book of Luke, Jesus dies. He is killed on the cross. But then, three days later (spoiler alert) he comes back to life. After he comes back to life he presented himself to his disciples and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.
That’s because Jesus had died. The disciples had seen him die. Most dead people stayed dead.
It was hard to believe he had come back to life. And when the disciples first saw him – they were frightened and figured that they had seen a ghost or a vision or some kind of illusion.
If you read Luke’s book, you can read about those convincing proofs.
He appears to some women at the tomb.
He appears to two disciples on the road.
He appears to his disciples in a locked room.
He appears again and again to remove the disciples fears and convince them – HE IS ALIVE!
Fast Forward to the book of Acts. It’s the end of the 40 days. Jesus has appeared to them throughout those 40 days. The disciples are no longer frightened, and their doubts have dissipated.
So…they ask Jesus a question:
Lord, are you at this time going to restore your kingdom to Israel? (v.6)
Are you finally going to put the Roman government in its place?
Are you finally going to take your place as ruler on earth?
Are you going to set up a Christian Utopia here in Jerusalem?
Are you going to give us spots as princes and judges and cabinet members?
Are you going to get a palace where we can each lay down in a hammock, while someone waves a palm branch to cool us and someone else feeds us grapes?
Are you at this time going to restore your kingdom to Israel?
We could get into the inaccurate soteriology of the disciples.
We could discuss their incomplete understanding of God’s Will.
We could talk about their complete failure to correctly apply Messianic prophecy.
But for our purposes, it might be best to simply paraphrase Jesus’ response to their question.
The disciples ask: Lord, are you at this time going to restore your kingdom to Israel?
Jesus replies, “No.”
II. The Beginning of Another
But Jesus doesn’t dwell there. Look at his comments in verse 8. Because in verse 8, Jesus completely reverses the disciples’ concept of what comes next. Look at Jesus’ words:
You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (v.8)
(1) Spiritual, not Structural
The disciples had this concept of Jerusalem being actually, physically rebranded. They pictured the population sign being changed from “Jerusalem” to “Christ-a-topia.” They thought the Roman flagged being dropped and replaced by a flag with a giant cross. They figured that the “Knights of Columbus – Jerusalem Chapter;” would soon become the “Knights of Columbus – Jesus City Chapter.”
But they were wrong.
Jesus was never interested in setting up a physical kingdom of earth.
It didn’t ask for a throne.
He didn’t ask for political power.
He didn’t want the title of President.
He was interested in people’s hearts. He said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”
The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word.
The Holy Spirit brings people to faith.
The Holy Spirit builds people in faith.
The Holy Spirit builds people into God’s kingdom.
The Holy Spirit builds people as God’s kingdom.
Do you see the twist? The disciples thought that God’s kingdom would be a physical, geographical location.
Jesus taught that God’s kingdom would be spiritual.
That’s important for us to remember.
Precious Lambs’ expansion is getting closer and closer to completion. Trees are planted; the building is painted; inspections are done to start getting drywall hung in the building. Soon it’ll be complete. Soon it’ll be filled with children. Soon it’ll be a fixture of North Raleigh.
But that’s not the end game.
Our goal is not to simply cut the red ribbon.
Our goal is to use that building to build connections to the community.
Our goal is to use that building to build souls into Christ.
Our goal is to use that building to build God’s kingdom.
Remember – God’s kingdom is spiritual, not structural.
That (school) building is not the end.
This (church) building is not the end.
Jesus in people’s hearts is the end.
(2) Not on the Sidelines Anymore
The disciples had asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore...” They had this picture of Jesus heading out and giving speeches. Of Jesus physically leading the charge against the Romans and knocking out entire armies simply by calling down fire from heaven.
But that’s not how Jesus says it will work. Check out verse 8b. Jesus says, “You will be my witnesses.”
For years, the disciples had been on the sideline.
They had cheered Jesus on.
They had watched safely on the sidelines.
It was time to get in the game.
And that’s even more shocking when you consider who the disciples were:
“You” as in the disciples.
“You” as in Doubting Thomas.
“You” as in too nervous to say anything at my trial John.
“You” as in unknown, unimportant seeming Simon the Zealot.
“You” as in racist Nathanael.
“You” as in greedy Philip.
“You” as in loud mouthed, thinking without talking, denial of Jesus, Peter.
Since it is recorded for us to read…
“You” as in “you.”
Sinful, imperfect you.
That’s so important to remember. Because it is so easy to feel like “God could never work through me.”
I’m too old.
I’m too young.
I’m too quiet.
I’m too loud.
I’m too sinful.
But if you believe in Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit.
If you have the Holy Spirit, God has chosen you to be a part of his kingdom.
If you are a part of his kingdom, you aren’t just a brick. You’re a builder: God has tasked you with building his kingdom.
And God will build his kingdom through you.
He just might not build it where you expect.
(3) Not Local, but Global
Because again - final twist - the disciples asked Jesus if he was going to rebuild the kingdom “in Jerusalem.” With Jewish people, who spoke the Jewish language and celebrated Jewish holidays and got together to talk about how great the Jewish people were.
But look at Jesus’ response: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” (v.8b)
Jesus didn’t want the message to stay with the Jews.
Jesus wanted all places.
You know – places like Raleigh.
Places like Durham.
Places like Chapel Hill.
Places like Morrisville, Zebulon and Fuquay-Varina.
Do you understand?
And that’s our goal. Our goal is to #GatherToTheGarden. It is to Plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh.
Notice it doesn’t say, “To plant the message of Jesus in the Hearts of People who look like us…in North Raleigh.”
It doesn’t say, “Plant the message of Jesus in the Hearts of People who talk like us…in North Raleigh.”
It doesn’t even say, “Plant the message of Jesus in the Hearts of people who think like us…in North Raleigh.”
Plant the message of Jesus –everywhere.
Which is a bit intimidating.
Intimidating for us…and we’ve got over 100 gathered today.
The disciples. There were less than 12.
And they were supposed to bring the message to the ends of the earth?
And then, Jesus does something that makes the situation even more intimidating.
Because as he is talking…
As he is finishing his speech…
As he is smiling in their direction…
His feet lift off.
There’s about 6 inches of space between him and the ground – and the space keeps increasing.
Suddenly, Jesus is going up and up and up…
…like he’s a balloon without a balloon.
…Like he’s a kite only there’s not a kite.
…Like he’s being lifted by a drone, only drones are about 2000 years away from being invented.
He ascends past the trees.
He ascends past the birds.
He ascends past the clouds.
And the disciples – are stupefied.
In part, because that was incredible.
In part, because “HE LEFT THEM!?!” How can they ever continue his mission?
As the disciples are staring up into the sky…
They don’t notice two men join them.
“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come bac kin the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (v.11)
In other words, stop looking up.
Start looking around.
That’s what Jesus has called us to do.
Stop looking up.
He’s up there watching over you.
Stop waiting for Jesus to come back.
Stop waiting for Jesus to do the work.
He works through you.
Stop looking up.
Start looking around.
Start building his kingdom. Amen.
We are finishing up our series called GIVE this week. Brief review. We started by GIVING THE MANGER ANOTHER LOOK because in the manger we see the GIFT of God in our Savior Jesus Christ who gives forgiveness, eternal life and everlasting peace. Then, last week Pastor Zeratsky reminded us that this message of Hope is the greatest gift that we can give. If you remember he challenged us to make that our New Year’s Resolution: to spend 2018 giving the message of hope to others.
That’s great…but…to whom?
Because sometimes you don’t know who to give a gift to. It’s like that period after Christmas when you survey the gifts that you have and there’s that one gift – that one gift that you just can’t wait to regift. Maybe it’s the Nose Flute or Bacon Flavored Candy Canes or scented candle number 17. You don’t want it, but you aren’t really sure who would want it…so you scour Facebook and look through your address book unto you find Crazy Uncle Lou and look – his birthday is coming up in March!
The message of Jesus is a gift that’s meant to be regifted.
Who are you going to REGIFT it to?
Today our goal is to do a few things (1) learn who to give the Gospel to and (2) get some tips for sharing it. 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. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Who to Give the Gift To
The lesson comes from Isaiah 60. It says this, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.” This is an imperative from God. It’s a command. Specifically, a command to the His people – us. “Arise! Shine!” Or the more modern version: “Get off the couch, stop watching Netflix and get back to sharing my message!!!” God is urgent. God implores us to be urgent. God implores us to do this now.
Why? “Darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples…” (v.2) This is not a literal darkness. Go ahead. Look outside. There isn’t a blackout now, nor was there a blackout in Israel at the time of this writing.
It’s a spiritual darkness. And it’s a BIG Program.
Did you see the weather charts this week? The charts were filled with a different shade of blue to reflect how cold it was throughout the country. In fact, the blue just seemed to cover the entire United States – especially a deep, dark blue up in in the Midwest.
If there was a weather chart showing where this spiritual darkness has covered people, it would look just like that weather map! Across the United States, into Canada, down to Mexico.
Anywhere there are people – there are people covered in spiritual darkness.
People who cannot see the Way to heaven.
People who don’t know who God is or where to find him.
People who have had their eyesight obscured and they cannot find forgiveness and peace.
People who need Jesus.
And that’s where you come in! Because “Darkness covers the earth, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.” This is originally a reference to Israel. Jesus was born a Jew. The message about him started in Israel. It was first vocalized to a bunch of shepherds “out in some fields nearby Bethlehem.”
But the message has left Israel.
It has made its way across the ocean.
It’s in Raleigh.
Dear believer, it’s in you.
Think about it. You were in darkness, but now you have the Light.
And it’s awesome.
Maybe you remember what that’s like:
To catch the first glimpses of the way to heaven.
To find light in the midst of a very dark time.
To see your Savior revealed for the very first time.
To know the peace and forgiveness that you’ve always searched for.
You have the Light. It’s Jesus! Now God implores you – share that light because there are people everywhere who need that light! And God is very serious about bringing that light to all people.
Backtrack about 2000 some years ago. Jesus had just been born in Bethlehem. But we’re not in Bethlehem. We’re hundreds of miles to the east.
A couple of guys – probably older – are taking their nightly look up into the sky. They’re chatting about life. About their favorite sports teams. About whether or not they should order a pizza for later that night, when suddenly,
“Hey? Did you see that?”
“Something…up there. It’s different.”
“Over there? That’s just Orion’s belt.”
“No, no. Over there? It’s new. It’s bright.”
The man rushes over to the table and rolls out a chart. He looks up. He looks down. He looks up. He looks down. He looks up and squints, then looks down and using a compass. It continues until…
“Aha! Look. It’s different. Something. Different. A star. A new star. Some kind of NEW incredible celestial event!”
The others look down at the chart.
Then, up at the sky.
Then, at one another.
Until one of them thinks out loud – “You don’t suppose…”
Another rushes over to a large chest. He opens it up and rifles through the scrolls found within like a bunch of wrapping paper rolls after Christmas. Until final, he stops. He brings one over to the group. He unfurls it.
“A star will rise out of Judah, a scepter will rise from Israel.” Numbers 24:17
That star? It’s the star of the Messiah. If we follow its light, we will find THE Light.
And so they do. They pack up. They load the camels. They set off on a journey. They travel miles. They travel months. They travel years. All the while, the star thing? It keeps moving. It keeps guiding them. It keeps showing them with its LIGHT the way to THE Light.
Until eventually, it stops over Bethlehem. No longer a stable, but a house.
And… On coming to the house, they saw the child Jesus with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. (v.10)
God cared so much about getting the message of the Light to those wise men from way out east – not even Israelites-- to see the Light that He intervened in the natural order of things and created a miraculous, traversing, celestial sphere to unmistakably guide them to Jesus!
God still wants that message to get to people everywhere.
Only he doesn’t use a star anymore.
Now? God will be using – you.
II. Tips on Giving the Gift
That’s what “Arise and Shine” means. It means “Go and share the message of Jesus with the world.”
That might sound a bit intimidating. You might think, “how am I supposed to get the message of Jesus across the world to Timbuktu?” You don’t need to think so big. God doesn’t require any one of us to single handedly share the message of the Gospel with all people everywhere. Remember – He’s the One behind the message. He’s the One getting it to all corners of the earth through the many stars – aka believers – that he places throughout the world.
You don’t need to bring the message to everybody.
But… you do need to shine in the part of the sky God puts you.
Look at the rest of this section from Isaiah 60 – there are a few hints for how to go about “shining” and bringing the message of Jesus to others.
1. Look Up
Because it is so easy to think, “who do I possibly know to share Jesus with?” For some reason, we tend to get this picture of people in African tribes far away or Tibetan colonies with malnourished children as the only ones who need to hear the Gospel. (And to be fair they do). But you know people who lives much closer to you than that who need to hear the Gospel.
See what it says in verse 4, “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you…” Originally this is a reference to Israel. They are the one in whom Jesus first shows up and when he does – all eyes turn toward the city to learn about him!
But Jesus no longer lives in Jerusalem.
Now Jesus lives within you.
If Jesus is living in you, people will notice and come to you.
Look up. Pay attention. Don’t miss it.
That mommy playdate where your friend asks, “You really do seem to have it all together. Why is it?” Look up. Share Jesus.
That buddy who asks what you are doing this Sunday. Look up. Share Jesus.
That child who says they are sorry for doing that wrong thing. Look up. Share Jesus.
The teen who confesses that they hate themself and don’t think anyone could love them. Look up. Share Jesus.
That coworker with tear filled eyes who shares with you that her boyfriend broke up with her and its making her feel unloved. Look up. Share Jesus.
That brother who’s having a beer with you and laments that things aren’t so right in his life – what is he missing? Look up. Share Jesus.
That guy at the coffee shop who looks a bit cold and a bit rough and seems like he is in need of a friend. Don’t miss it. Look up. Share Jesus.
2. Think Multi-culturally
Because it is so easy for us to be under the impression that the only people we will be good at sharing the Gospel with are those people who look and act exactly like us. If that were the case, I’d be preaching to a group of middle aged white males who enjoy Doritos a bit more than they should.
But our commission from God is not just to teach the Gospel to those who look like us, but those who don’t look like us too. Verse six implies that very truth. Look at how multicultural it is: “Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come.” Those wise men weren’t from Israel. They are from the East. Arabia? India? China? Who knows? But they weren’t Israelites searching to hear the message from more Israelites. It’s a multicultural vision, stirred on by God’s Almighty hand, proving God’s desire to bring this message to many.
God’s point to you: Don’t just sit around waiting for people who look just like you to share the message of Jesus to. Share it with those who look different.
But Pastor. I really don’t know that many people who are different culture than me. I really don’t know that anybody else lives in our cul de sac of a different culture. We all have the same color houses as the H.O.A. told us and we all have the same color of brown in our skin.
If that’s the case, here’s a challenge for you – don’t just think multiculturally, but live multiculturally.
Did you know Raleigh is diverse? According to the last U.S. Census, Raleigh was only 55% Caucasian – and that’s all different types of Caucasians – with a plethora of African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans and others. Another interesting stat – only 41% of people in Raleigh grew up in NC! 13% are from outside the United States.
You don’t have to take my statistical word for it. Drive up and down Falls of Neuse. Keep your eyes open. There are people of all different cultures and backgrounds all around. Look at the food. By my house there’s a Vietnamese Noodle shop that opened up near the Japanese Sushi place next to the Puerto Rican Latin Quarters across from the Italian and Mexican restaurants. And I’ll never forget the time I was canvassing through the apartment complex over on Sandy Forks and in the same day I had the opportunity to speak with a refugee from Iran, greet a family from Iraq, converse with two sisters from Nigeria, make jokes with a man from Mexico, learn about a Japanese grandfather and have tea with a group of about 12 from Tibet.
Raleigh is global. There are people of all cultures who need to hear the message of Jesus. But how can you bring it to them if you don’t go near them.
So, here’s the challenge. This week – Live Multiculturally. That is look for opportunities to converse with someone who looks a bit different from you. Maybe they’re at Food Lion – maybe they are at Walmart. It doesn’t matter. Say a prayer – have confidence in God’s blessings and make conversation.
Or maybe you know someone like that who lives on your block. Pack up some Christmas cookies and go next door to greet them and wish them a good 2018.
Or maybe you know someone like that at work – ask them to grab lunch with you and YOU pick up the tab.
Live Multiculturally. Think multiculturally so that you can shine multiculturally.
3. Share What Enlightens You
And what will I share Pastor? Simple. Share what enlightens you. That was the call to arms from Isaiah. The people are in darkness, But the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. You know Jesus is the Savior. You know about his forgiveness. You know about the peace that his grace has given you with God.
It’s not that hard. Let me ask you – What’s that on the wall? (A cross). Who was on it? (Jesus.) What happened to him? (He died) Why? (To take away my sins.) And what happened three days later on Easter? (he came back to life.) And what does he promise will happen to all who believe in him? (They will live with him in Heaven!)
Your kids know the answer.
You know the answer. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Speak the truths that God has spoken to you!
And don’t be afraid.
Don’t’ be nervous about messing up.
Don’t be nervous about what you’ll say. Remember the promise: “The LORD rises upon you.” Because God literally has risen upon you. His message hit your ears, the Holy Spirit worked on your heart and he is with you wherever you go.
And he will be with you when you share the message of Jesus.
4. Have Fun!
Because it really is a blast to watch God transform people’s lives through the message of salvation in Jesus. In fact, that’s exactly what Isaiah describes: Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy (v.5)
It’s kind of like what happens when you show someone your favorite movie. (Have you ever done that?) Usually you set the scene. You get some popcorn, you turn down the lights. You give them a comfy pillow. Then, you sit down to watch – but you aren’t watching them. You turn your head towards them and you watch to see if they laugh at all of the jokes that you laugh at. (This happens to my wife and I all of the time. I had to keep rewinding and showing Julianna scenes a 2nd or 3rd time because obviously you missed it – that was hilarious!)
We love to share movies with people because it gives us joy to see them joyful!
How much more with the message of Jesus! I’ll tell you it is one of the coolest things in the world to watch someone “get it”, to watch them “see”, to watch them step out of darkness into God’s Wonderful light.
Case and point – Roberta. Roberta was at Brighton Gardens Retirement Home. She wasn’t one of the residents there…she was a worker. In fact, she wasn’t even supposed to be listening – she was supposed to be working. To be honest, she didn’t get to hear all of the little service that I do there on Mondays. I didn’t look at her more than once – as a passing acknowledgement…
…but something afterwards was up. She came to talk with me. She looked distraught. She told me about how her 1st husband and she got divorced. She told me about how he had hurt her. She told me about her second husband and how he had just left her, and she suspected infidelity. She told me about how hard it was to raise a son by herself. She told me about how she felt depressed and unloved and alone.
And I got nervous as I listened.
And I got frightened.
And I remembered: “Arise. Shine.”
Roberta, there is one man who loves you.
There is one man who will never leave you.
One man who – when we left him – went to a cross and died --- giving up his life for you.
Because of him.
You aren’t alone.
You aren’t unloved.
You are forgiven.
And I smiled.
What a privilege!
Brothers and sisters – Arise; shine; for your light has come and thick darkness is covering the peoples.
Arise; shine; share the message of Jesus -- #GatherToTheGarden. Amen.
Ever been on a family vacation before?
It always sounds so nice. You get in the car, everyone has their seat and pillow from home. Dad’s driving. Mom has the directions. The bag with all the food is in the back seat for Brother to turn around and deliver snacks. Sister is in control of the DVD player. It sounds nice. The family on a trip together.
But then dad takes the turns on the highway a bit too fast -- Sister is feeling sick to her stomach.
Mom is distracted by sister and forgets to tell dad to turn on I-75. The car goes an hour out of the way.
Dad needs some trail mix to calm himself down, but there’s not any left. Brother ate all of it!
Sister won’t let anyone put any DVD in that isn’t an iCarly original – so that you hear the theme song in the back of your head the whole time.
Sometimes it’s easier to travel alone.
No one to complain about driving.
No one to give wrong directions.
No one else to eat the trail mix.
But what about following Jesus? What about spiritual travel? Is it nicer alone or together?
Today we’re continuing our series called Follow and we’re discussing what it’s like to follow together – as a church family. We will hear about some of the biggest threats to following together and be reminded of the blessings. Before we do that, join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Divisions in Corinth
Our lesson comes from 1 Corinthians 1. A bit of background – 1 Corinthians is a letter written to a young church that was in a city called Corinth. The Corinthians had first learned about Jesus from a follower of Jesus named Paul. They were the ones who told them that they were sinners; that they needed a Savior; that Jesus was that Savior.
At first, the people were so excited about this message. They loved having salvation. They loved having freedom from sin. They loved the peace of God.
But then…something happened.
Paul left. Another Pastor – Pastor Apollos – showed up and took their place. It doesn’t appear he taught a much different message. He taught that they were sinners; that they needed a Savior and that Jesus was that Savior. (Same thing; same message.)
But Apollos must have done things a bit differently. (Maybe he didn’t choose the same worship music as Paul; maybe he bought a different kind of coffee for morning fellowship – I don’t know). Regardless, it started to cause some people to long for their past pastor.
I really miss Paul. He was so sarcastic.The type of guy you could grab a beer with and still be convicted.
Ok sure. But I’m a fan of Apollos. He’s no nonsense and he’s getting stuff done.
But some of his ideas are different. He doesn’t do things the same way that Paul does things. He’s #NotMyPastor.
Speak for yourself – I’m an Apollos guy. Times are changing. His way is better.
Well, I’ll always be a follower of Paul – first and foremost. I’m not a follower of Apollos.
I am. You can stay stuck in the past with the Paul way of doing things.
And then – into that culture – somehow the church became familiar with the teachings of a guy called Cephas (aka Peter). Peter was one of the original 12 disciples. Peter spoke with Jesus for 3 years. Peter must have introduced himself to them. Told about how he saw the resurrected Jesus and shared his ideas for the church of Jesus going forward.
Picture Peter the accomplished author you might find down at the Christian bookstore. A group of people moved to the area from Peter’s church in Jerusalem, joined the church, and ran every idea from the church council by the Apostle Peter.
Putting the sermon after the Bible study? WWPD (What Would Peter do?) – I don’t know if he’d think it was a good idea.
Welcoming Gentiles into the same congregation as Jews? WWPD? I’m not so sure.
Chocolate chip cookies for fellowship! WWPD? I think he’d buy Oreos.
Suddenly a shift started to take place in the church. Instead of one united group, there were different groups. They weren’t united Christians. They were Paulians, Peterites and Apollosians. A group of Paul followers would gather over here and badmouth the Barnabas brotherhood. The Barnabas brotherhood would meet over there and discuss ways to stop Apollos’ outreach plan. And Apollos’ selected church people would snap Instagram photos with the #ApollosChurch until it was trending.
Word got to Paul – the guy who first told them about Jesus. There weren’t phones back then. There wasn’t Snapchat. He couldn’t just TWEET his displeasure. So, he wrote a longhand letter. These divisions are one of the first things he addresses.
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”’ another, “I follow Cephas,” still another, “I follow Christ.”
I think this is interesting. Paul’s appeal is not for people to revert to doing things his way.
It isn’t for people to listen to all of his ideas.
It’s for people to stop be divided and started being united.
He asks some pretty poignant questions to get his point across:
(1) Is Christ divided? Are the Jews class A of Christians and the Gentiles class B? Did Jesus die once on a cross for the rich and once on a side street for the poor? Does John 3:16 say, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him and likes country music goes to heaven, but whoever believes in him and like rap music goes to a different heaven"? Not any worse, just not the same – not so that I have to listen to your country music the whole time I’m in heaven.
(2) Was Paul crucified for you? The quick answer is NO; he’s busy writing this very letter. Paul wasn’t crucified. Apollos wasn’t crucified. Peter, although some tradition suggests that he was eventually was crucified, was not crucified yet! And even when he did die – it didn’t have any incredible redemptive work. Ask the kids – Jesus died on the cross – not Paul, not Peter, not Apollos, not anyone or anything else.
(3) Were you baptized into the name of Paul? How would that have even sounded? “I baptize you in the name of Paul the Pharisee, Paul the persecutor, and Paul the reformed Christian missionary?"
And I love Paul’s parenthetical aside, “I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.)” Paul’s point isn’t that he didn’t want people to be baptized. (Baptism brings forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation. Things that Paul treasured dearly and dedicated the latter portion of his life preaching). Rather, Paul’s point is that people would have used being baptized by him as some kind of special badge that would have furthered division.
It’s like bringing home a gift for your kids. Maybe you get them each a PEZ dispenser. What if you got the PEZ dispenser for everyone in your family accept your middle child? How’s that go over? (“You love them more than me.”)
It’s the same thing with adults though. Imagine if your boss at work gives everyone a Valentine’s card with a PAYDAY chocolate attached to it. (Get it, PAYDAY?) What happens if you look around the office and you see everyone else has a delicious, chocolate, salty candy bar and you don’t? Division! You get angry. You whine.
Paul recognizes that – even with something as incredible as Baptism. As if people would wear ball caps that said, “Baptized by Paul” and others were visors that said, “Blessed by the hand of Apollos.”
TRUTH: People love taking good things and making them into divisive things. In the case of Baptism, they had taken something incredible – baptism – which unites you with God and with believers and they were now using it as a thing of division.
II. Divisions at Gethsemane?
Careful. Because the devil is still at work today. He is still trying to sabotage the church just as much as he did back then. He is still trying to sabotage our ministry here in Raleigh – just as much as he did then. By taking neutral things – even good things --- and making them into divisive things.
Here are three things that I think we have to be especially careful of.
Did you know it’s not sinful to engage in politics? It’s not sinful to watch political shows either. But what has happened is our country has such an incredible divide between the Republican and Democratic party – that we no longer view each other as people we politely disagree with. But people that we violently oppose! And let them know as much on Facebook and every other social media site we can get onto.
That can’t happen in this church.
That can’t happen when we are dedicated to sharing Jesus.
Jesus wasn’t Republican. Jesus wasn’t Democrat. (Neither of those were even around back then.)
Jesus is our God. He is our Savior. He is the Savior of your friend who votes in a different direction.
Don’t let politics get in the way and ruin the message of your Savior.
Culture is a great thing. It’s a view into God’s mind. That he created us so very different with so many different backgrounds, different food favorites and different styles of wearing our hair. It’s beautiful. Thanks to culture we have the ability to go to the Chinese restaurant on Monday, get Mexican on Tuesday, grab some soul food on Wednesday, try an Italian pizzeria on Thursday and finish it off with Japanese sushi on Friday.
Culture is great. But the temptation is to make it into something that divides – (See: Racism)
Racism has no place in the church. Jesus died for all. It says in the Bible Jesus died for Jews and for Gentiles – which means -- everyone who isn’t a Jew.
Don’t let culture get in the way and ruin the message of your Savior.
(3) Worship Styles.
I bring this up because we will be moving to two different services on Easter. Those two services may be different. One might be a more traditional style of worship (with robes and organ and old school hymns) while the other might be a more contemporary style of worship (without robes and with a band and new school songs).
Both are good. Both are different expressions of culture. Both share God’s Word.
Both could cause division.
Whether it’s “I’m a Traditional Christian” and "I’m a Contemporary Christian.”
Or whether it’s “I’m an early service Christian” and “I’m a late service Christian.”
Don’t let these causes division. Traditional worship didn’t die for you. You weren’t baptized into the name of Contemporary worship.
You were baptized into the name of Jesus.
III. Jesus Unites
In fact, Jesus died to stop division—division between us and God. Our sins had divided us from him. Read Isaiah 59:2 “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear.”
There’s this picture of this big thick bulletproof glass. You can see someone on the other side. It’s someone you love. You wish they could hear you. You’re banging on the glass for them to hear you and notice you and let you in.
But they don’t.
That’s the picture of sin and God. We see him. We know his power. We see the value in being with him. But our sins separate us. In a cruel, cruel joke reminding us how unworthy we are to approach a holy, divine God.
But Jesus is like a wrecking ball. Jesus comes in and smashed through the wall. Jesus comes in and knock down our sins. Jesus comes in and removes what separated us from God. Jesus unites us to our Heavenly Father.
TRUTH: God is not a God of division. God is a God of unity.
Paul recognized that. Look at how he continues the letter: Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For 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. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
Look at that again – “The cross, the message that Jesus died for us, destroys our sin, and unites us with God the Father, is a message that divides.” Unbelievers call it foolishness. It doesn’t make any sense – some Jewish guy, a carpenter, died a few thousand years ago, and because of him I’m right with God?
But that same message that divides unbelievers is the message that unites us. It is the power of God.
It is the power for salvation for the Jew.
It is the power of salvation for the Gentile.
It is the power of salvation for the guy who got along with Paul.
It is the power of salvation for the guy who really liked Apollos.
It is the power of salvation for the girl who votes Republican.
It is the power of salvation for the girl who votes Democrat.
It is the power of salvation for the Italian, the German, the Iraqi, the African American, the Hispanic, and the Native American.
It is the power of salvation for the guy who likes guitars.
It is the power of salvation for the guy who likes organ.
It is the power of salvation for all of us. It is the one, incredible, power of salvation that unites us all!
IV. What now?
(1) Focus on What Unites
That’s such an easy thing for us to do. To point out what’s different. But there’s so much that’s the same. We all have eyes. We all have noses. We all have hands and feet. We all have a need to be connected with family and friends. We all have a need to be connected with God.
Check out verse 26: “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. 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…it is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus.”
Paul is saying – Stop thinking about what makes you different. Think about what makes you the same:
Y’all were sinners.
Y’all were ignorant.
Y’all were in need of a savior.
And all y’all have a Savior. That Savior is Jesus. He is your wisdom.
(2) Boast in God
That’s Paul’s conclusion on this first chapter. He says in verse 31, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” Because what’s boasting? Boasting is speaking openly and proudly about something you like or accomplished.
The problem with boasting is that is usually causes someone to feel awful who hasn’t accomplished what you are boasting about.
Boast in Jesus. Don’t boast in your favorite style of worship. Don’t boast in your favorite political party.
Boast in Jesus.
Boast in God.
Boast in the one who actually and completely unites us in every way.
Then, you are able to follow together.
Then, you are able to follow peaceably.
Then, you are able to help each other on the road to heaven.
A brother of our passed away this past week. I won’t give every detail, but know that he was an older gentleman who had struggles with his lungs. He also didn’t have a lot of family in the area. He lived alone.
That’s a hard thing to go through alone.
I had gotten the message that it wouldn’t be much longer while I was in Arizona. It’s hard to do bedside ministry from Arizona. But…here’s where following together comes in.
Pastor Rockhoff helped with a visit.
One of our elders helped with a visit.
My wife graciously drove me late at night for a visit.
I wasn’t there at the exact time of his death. But one of our elders was. From what I heard about his final minutes – as he was struggling and life was leaving him – our elder was blessed to be able to share with him God’s Word. Literally – reading the blessing.
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you.
The Lord look on you with favor and give you peace.
And the Lord gave him peace.
And the Lord brought him into peace.
And he now lives in eternal peace.
That’s following Jesus.
That’s following Jesus together.
Lord help us do that now and always. Amen.
Have you ever heard of Angie’s List? It’s an online service that lets you hook up with various contractors in all kinds of areas. From painters to dry wallers, from lawn care to carpet care, from lizard wranglers to sheep shearers -- you can find the professional you need on Angie’s List
But you might wanna shop around. The truth is there are usually more than one company you can go with. Take plumbing, for example. If you need a plumber, you might like Plumberee – with lots of experience and fine craftsmanship, but a fine way of breaking the bank. Then again, there’s Bargain Plumbers less expensive, but so is their work. There’s Plumber’s R. Us. A bit corporate in its structure – so you know they can get the job done, but bad customer service. Then, there’s Frank’s Plumbing. Not as well known, but you can almost always get him on the phone and he does a fine job -- just as long as you don’t mind the smell of cigarettes that he brings with him everywhere he goes.
Who do you choose? The wise person shops around first, before making his decision.
Is the same thing true about grace? The last couple of weeks we’ve talked about the blessing of grace that Jesus brings. It’s without cost. It covers even the worst of sinners. It lasts into eternal life. It brings forgiveness for all your sins.
But…the wise person shops around first so…
What about Buddha? What type of grace does he offer?
What about Mohammed? I hear he has a good plan.
What about doing your best, trying your hardest, and earning some grace with the human spirit? That’s the American ideal. Plus you can get away with a lot more sins.
After all, doesn’t it kind of depend on your geography?
Different gods? Different traditions? Different religions?
Today we are finishing our series called Surprising Grace by looking at the exclusivity of grace. We’ll see why Grace must be from Jesus and how that’s true, no matter who you are or where you’re from. Before we do that, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Shopping Around for Other Options
Today’s account is taken from Revelation 5:1-12. Revelation is the final book in the Bible. It’s written by the Apostle John. It’s called Revelation because it’s a revelation that John received from God. A revelation of the future.
That’s why it has to be from God.
Remember: Time is like a jump rope. You and I are on the jump rope. Somewhere within this tiny ½ cm. It means we can only see behind us – as much as is preserved by history – and we can’t see too far in front of us – only making best guess predictions.
But God is of the timeline. He’s eternal. He sees everything from 6000 years ago to 15 years from now like it’s happening before his eyes.
That’s why God was able to tell John about the future in this revelation. He could see it happening. So, when we read Revelation, we find out about the future. We find out that sometimes – the future is comforting. Sometimes it’s scary. And sometimes…well…it’s strange.
John fell to his knees. The sight before him was too much.
For starters, there were these beasts. 4 incredible, terrifying beasts watching his every move. They were kind of like earthly beasts – and kind of not. One looked like an eagle. One like a lion. One like an ox. One like a man.
But they were only like these things. They were radiating. They were flying. They each had eyeballs all over them. Each eyeball blinking in tune with John’s every movement.
The beasts weren’t the only ones watching John. Surrounding him were 24 smaller thrones. Each throne had 24 elders – dressed in white and crowns of gold on their heads (v.4) Long, flowing, divine white hair gently flowing in the breeze – as if they were floating on water.
But the gentleness was interrupted. Flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder came from the center of the room. There stood a gigantic throne. There was a bright light radiating right in front of it. A white, bright light. The bright kind that makes you squint your eyes if you don’t have a pair of sunglasses.
But this light wasn’t coming from the sun. It wasn’t even coming from outside. It was coming from an ethereal rainbow that had fashioned itself at the top of the throne – marking and identifying the one who sat upon the throne.
Whose throne was it?
If John hadn’t figured it out yet – the melody of the elders made grew until it was at a thunderous level made him certain:
You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. (v.11)
John again looked to the ground in horror.
He was before God Almighty. He was before the Creator of heaven and earth.
He was before the one who makes volcanoes explode, tectonic plates shake, and flood water engulf the earth.
He, a sinner, was standing before the All holy, sin hating God.
But God wasn’t fixated on him. Not at the moment. At the moment, God was fixated on what he had in his hand.
It was a scroll. An ancient version of a eReader or book. Divine parchment tightly rolled up and sealed tightly with seven seals. (5:1)
What was in the scroll? Well there’s two books mentioned in the book of Revelation. One is called the Book of Life. That’s an important book. Because there is written the names of every person who has life – every person who is allowed to enter into heaven. Picture it like a divine guest list – only the bouncer isn’t some tough looking Italian guy named Guido.
It’s God himself.
Meaning this scroll was important. Without it, there was no way of knowing who it is that is allowed into heaven.
And…for whatever the reason, God wasn’t opening it.
In fact, one of the angels, a mighty angel, the king angel with bulging veins in his biceps and a heart tattoo on his left delt, started shouting in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” (v.2)
No one moved.
He repeated himself. Louder. “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?”
John looked around. Why wasn’t anyone trying to do it? Sure, the seals looked intimidating, but they were in God’s throne room. Why wasn’t he burly angel giving it a try? Why didn’t the ox-like thing try smashing it with his hoofs? Why didn't the eagle like thing try dive bombing it from on high? Why didn’t the 24 elders work together to develop some kind of divinely inspired Rube Goldberg machine to open it up?
But none of them were making their way to the scroll.
None of them were lifting a hand to break the seals.
Mostly, they were just shaking their heads – their divinely, haloed, eye-filled heads.
John began weeping. If that scroll wasn’t opened, then he wasn’t getting into heaven. Then, his friends weren’t getting into heaven. Then, none of his loved ones and fellow believers were getting into heaven.
v. 3 No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside of it.
Pay attention here. Because this has everything to do with God’s grace. Because we need God’s grace to get into heaven. We need God’s grace to get our names onto the pages of the Book of Life.
And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could write our names in there. In fact, they couldn’t even open the scroll or look inside of it.
Not anyone in that throne room. Not the mighty angel. Not the eagle. Not the ox. Not anyone on below that throne room either. Not Zeus. Not Hades. Not Hercules. Not Buddha. Not Mohammed. Not Vishnu.
Not a president. Not a king. Not any member of congress. Not a brilliant scientist. Not a billionaire business man.
Not even a guy who tries really hard and does his best and hopes that it’s enough to get his name in the book of Life.
There is no one else. No one who can get your name on the Book of Life.
No one who can win your forgiveness.
No one who can offer you’re an eternity in heaven.
II. The Exclusive Answer
“Do not weep!” cried one of the elders. His mouth agape in excitement. “Look! The Lion of the tribe of Judah has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
John took a deep breath. Of course! A lion. Lions are the King of the Jungle for a reason. They have majestic manes and fierce teeth for sinking into their prey. They have powerful jaws and swift, fierce claws. Lions were some of the most muscular and magnificent creatures on earth. A divine, heavenly version of it would have no problem destroying those seals!
John looked up with excitement. He covered his ears anticipating this miraculous roar!
But what he saw wasn’t a Lion.
It wasn’t fierce.
It wasn’t intimidating.
It didn’t roar.
Then, I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne. (5:6)
John turned his head in shock! A Lamb? Lambs aren’t intimidating! They don’t have claws – they have unbalanced hoofs. They don’t have majestic manes, but soft, gentle wool. They don’t roar – they baaa!
How was this creature – a creature of nursery rhymes and preschools – supposed to be the one to open the seals?
And this one wasn’t even in good health? It was looking as if it had been slain. (5:6) It looked like it was limping along. It needed to be held. It needed to be nourished. It didn’t need to be trying to open up these incredible seals.
John looked around. Is anybody going to stop this?
But no one else shared his concern. In fact, the others in the room – the elders, the winged creatures, the mighty angel – God himself – smiled at the sight of the Lamb and erupted into a magnificent song….
…to the Lamb:
You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain. (5:9)
Suddenly, it hit John.
The Lamb. The Lamb of God. He had heard that before.
He had read about it in the Old Testament – as the blood of innocent lambs foreshadowed this moment.
He had heard it from John the Baptist as he pointed at his leader “Look! The Lamb of God! Who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
He had seen it from his fellow disciple Peter who wrote, “-- a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:1
That’s who the Lamb was.
That’s why he was slain.
That’s why he alone could open the scroll.
Because that Lamb was Jesus!
Brothers and sisters, understand this! There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth who can open the scroll.
There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth who can get you into heaven.
There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth whose grace is enough for your eternal life.
No other being than Jesus Christ.
The Bible is simple then.
The Bible is clear.
God’s eternal vision has been revealed to you.
Do you desire forgiveness for your sins? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire to lose your guilt? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire to escape hell? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire eternal life? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire peace with God? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire eternal joy? Trust Jesus.
There is no one else who can provide these things – because the only one on the spiritual Angie’s List for salvation is The Lamb – Your Savior, Jesus Christ!!!
III. What Now?
(1) Celebrate this Exclusivity
Because what do they say? The only thing you don’t want to talk with people about are politics and religion. But…as this past election showed us – we had no problem talking politics. I’m friends with most of you on Facebook. I know this.
So why not religion?
Better yet…why not your Savior?
Better, better yet…why not the only one who provides forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation?
The elders didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
The four living creatures didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
The mighty angel didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
Even John – stopped being nervous and frightened and as he watched Jesus open up that scroll shouted: Worthy is the Lamb!
You do that too. In fact, why do you get on your Smartphone today and make that your status. #WorthyIsTheLamb
Don’t be afraid to let others know who it is that you trust. Don’t be afraid to let them know who it is they can trust.
(2) Celebrate Diversity
Because notice what it says about the Lamb in verse 9 You are worthy…because you were slain and with your blood you purchased persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
I love that. It means Jesus is your exclusive king no matter who you are.
It doesn’t matter what tribe you’re from. Which may be the closest Bible words for “race.” This is key, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, Asian or Latino, middle Eastern, Native American, combination of the above.
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And it doesn’t matter what language you speak. He’s the answer if you speak English or Spanish. Italian or German. Nigerian or Malawian. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Sign Language…even if you speak in emoji!
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And it doesn’t matter where you live. It doesn’t matter if you live in America or Iraq. Whether you live in Russia or China. Whether you live in Mexica or Canada. It doesn’t matter if you live in Durham or Cary or Chapel Hill or Knightdale or Morrisville or South Raleigh or North Raleigh or anywhere else on this planet!
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And if Jesus is king of us all – that means we’ve got to celebrate that diversity just like Jesus does. We’ve got hug those from different backgrounds. Speak with excitement – show excitement – to those who speak different languages. Grab hands and go to work with those from different places.
Celebrate Diversity because that’s what Jesus celebrates!
(3) Celebrate Unity
Because diversity…sometimes leads to division. I fear it’s happened to America. There’s so many different people in America that we let our differences get the best of us and we fight.
The same is true in Raleigh. It’s a global, multicultural, multigenerational community. It’s started to get divided.
The same could be true for our church. More and more God has enabled us to reflect the global, multicultural, diverse community that He will have in heaven.
How do we stay united?
Look carefully at verse 9 again You are worthy…because you were slain and with your blood you purchased persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom.
Did you hear that?
Not many kingdoms.
No a White kingdom and a Black kingdom and an Asian kingdom and a Hispanic kingdom.
Just a kingdom.
Jesus creates only one kingdom.
And we stand together as one kingdom, by remembering who it is that created that one kingdom.
And that’s kind of what happens at the end of the section. Everybody remembers that it’s all about Jesus and they started shouting – despite their differences – despite some being angels and some being lions and some being elders and some being many-eyed-flying-ox-like creatures.
Then, I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice, they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!"
But that’s not it. Because then, John prophesies about us. And he says this:
Then, I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea and all that is in them saying – (and since you are one of those creatures – please, say it with me ) “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!”
And the elders said “Amen!”
And I say “Amen.”
It’s been an eventful week. Three separate shootings – in Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Dallas -- have captured the attention and the anger of our nation.
There have been protests against police and protests for the police.
Angry words on Facebook; angry videos on YouTube.
Anger at the police. Anger at racism. Anger at the media. Anger at the shooters.
Anger at white people. Anger at black people.
Anger at each other.
Originally this was going to be a series entirely on anger within a family – and I still plan on mentioning it – but the unfortunate events of the past week have left me convinced we need to examine this at a greater level. We need to examine this as a diverse family of God. If we want to continue living, growing, and serving North Raleigh together as a diverse community of believers – we need to discuss how God’s Word wants us to deal with anger – especially when it comes as the result of seemingly racist events.
Today we’re going to do three things:
(1) discuss the root of anger
(2) examine how God dealt with his anger
(3) learn how God wants us to express anger
Ready? Let’s pray to God and ask his blessing on this difficult discussion.
Strengthen us O Lord by the truth; your Word is truth. Remove our anger and hatred from our perceptions, O God. Instead, open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you want us to believe. Amen.
I. Getting to the Root of Anger
Our study of anger actually starts in John 2.
John 2 is very interesting. In it, there is yelling and shouting. Some people are waving their hands in desperation. Others are taking cover. The sheep are bleating. The cattle are stampeding. Money is being tossed to the ground; Tables are being flipped in the air. A whip is cracking and keeping all who were trying to stop the mayhem at bay.
It almost kinda sounds like an out of control protest.
But it’s not.
It’s Jesus...sweet, kind, mild mannered, turn the other cheek and let children come to him, Jesus.
(John 2:14-15) In the temple courts, Jesus found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of the cords and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.
It’s one of the most interesting sections in the Bible. At first glance, it appears Jesus was in the wrong. He lost his temper and was seemingly violent.
But…Jesus is without sin. He’s God. Scripture is clear on that. 1 John 3:5 says, “In Jesus, there is no sin.” 2 Cor. 5:21 says, “Jesus… had no sin.’ 1 Peter calls him “a lamb without blemish or defect.”
And if what Jesus did was sinful here, He couldn’t have died for our sins. He would have had to die for his own sins. As it is, he rose from the dead proving that he didn’t sin – not any other time in his life – and not here either.
Reexamine the situation. The people at the temple had been using the temple to worship God. Right outside the doors of church – in the outer hallway – were all kinds of sellers and money changers (like a flea market in church). People were bartering and making sales. Customers were shouting at poor prices. Sellers were driving up the market. Greed and deception were replacing worship and meditation. These sellers were distracting people from the truth of Scripture. They were leading them from faith to unbelief.
They were distracting people to hell.
Can you understand why Jesus’ was angry? (Not wanting people in hell sounds like a righteous reason to me.)
Follow the logic then:
Jesus was angry.
Jesus was sinless.
Anger isn’t sinful.
So: Anger isn’t sinful; therefore I can be as angry as I want and it isn’t sinful.
Is that true? Can our anger be totally, completely righteous -
With God? Absolutely.
With humans? Probably not.
Ephesians 4:22 says this, “Put off your old self which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires.” That’s an interesting phrase. Deceitful – as in – seems good, but isn’t. As in, seems righteous, but really isn’t.
I think that if ever there was a righteous reason to be angry, people not attending church to worship God seems like a perfect example of righteous anger. As a pastor – that’s a very common feeling. At about 3 in the afternoon as I’m going through attendance, I get angry that there weren’t more people there and I feel really righteous in that anger. I think, "Aren't I awesome God?"
But can I let you in on a secret? The devil loves to deceive pastors. He loves to deceive me. Too often my righteous anger isn’t, “because I’m concerned for spiritual welfare,” or “because God’s Word is at the bottom of your list, “ but, “God, I’m angry that these guys are making me look bad! You’re making me feel like an inadequate pastor. You’re making me feel unimportant.”
In other words – my anger looks righteous (I can even convince myself that it is) but that’s deceptive. In reality, my anger is selfish. Tainted by sin.
HERE’S THE TRUTH: Even the “righteous” anger of sinful humans is tainted by sin. It has to be.
Oranges produces orange juice. Apples produce apple juice. Avocados produces avocados juice.
Sinful humans produces sinful ways of looking at things.
This means – at the outset of your anger – whatever it is – even for the most righteous reasons – it will be tainted.
So. Stop and think about your anger. Is it righteous?
I’m angry that you didn’t take out the garbage – not because you are shirking responsibility, but because I’m going to have to get off of the couch and do it!
I’m angry that you spent all of our money in the budget, not because it’s bad stewardship of what God has given us, but because that’s not how I wanted to spend it.
I’m angry that my kids are disrespecting me, not because it means they are sinning, but because it makes me feel bad about my parenting!
I’m angry at the death of the police officers because I’m white. I don’t really have the same sadness over the death of the Mr. Sterling because “he probably deserved it.”
I’m angry at the death of those black men because I’m black; but I’m not angry at the loss of the policemen – because they’re jerks and they deserve it!
I’m angry at my friends who are insinuating that it’s hard to be a black person in America – not because it’s not true, but because it makes me feel bad as a white guy. (And I don’t like feeling bad.)
I’m angry at my friend who is sharing her anger about her cause, because I don’t think it’s important as my anger at this cause!
And so it goes.
And anger leads to more anger.
And the world is at war.
And the devil wins.
And angers divide his people.
And deceptive angers divides the family of God.
And here’s the thing, when you’re sinfully angry with others, God gets angry with you. Romans 1:8 says, “the Wrath of God is being revealed against all the godlessness and wickedness of people.”
He’s mad when you shout at your spouse, because you are harming your spouse, his child.
He’s mad when you call your brother names, because you are harming your brother, his child.
He’s mad when you tell mom that you “hate her,” because you are harming your mom, his child.
He’s mad when you call a person of a different race derogatory names, because you are harming His children.
He’s mad when you post nasty message on the wall of a friend who disagrees with you because you are harming His child.
He’s mad when you refuse to listen to a brother or sister from another culture tell you some of the struggles they are going through because you are sending a message of “I don’t care,” to someone he cares very much about – His child!
Ultimately, he’s mad at all of these racial anger driven sins, because just like other sins, they separate God from another one of his children...
II. How God Deals with Anger
So…How does God deal with anger against you?
This is a picture of a punching bag. They are these big old bags. Heavy and hard to move with a soft outer padding to absorb any and every attack that hits it. You can hit it as hard as you want and it doesn’t scream. It doesn’t shout. No one gets hurt. It absorbs every last ounce of your anger.
This is what God did with His wrath. He absorbed it. But not with a punching bag. Not with a pillow. Not even with a little sister.
He absorbed his own wrath with himself.
Romans 5:9 says this, “We shall be saved from God’s wrath through Jesus!” Because Jesus took the brunt of God’s wrath. He took a nail in his right hand; and a nail in his left. He took a spear in his side; he took his last breath. Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me? (Mark 15:34) ” as the Triune God splintered Himself from Himself. The Father dumped his wrath against sin on his son and Jesus died.
But He came back to life. He rose because God’s wrath had been fully absorbed in his sacrifice and was no more.
It means that by faith in Jesus, God’s wrath against any racist anger has dissipated.
It means that by faith in Jesus, you will not be punished.
It means that by faith in Jesus, you will not suffer God’s anger against your sins.
You are forgiven. God’s wrath has dissipated. He won’t retaliate or get revenge. In fact, he’s protecting you because you are at peace with him.
III. WHAT NOW?
Take a look at Ephesians 4:24 “You were taught…to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Ever been to the beach? If you have, then you know the beach loves to come home with you. It’ll be stuck between your toes, in your ears, and in your shoes. It’ll get in your car, on the floor, and in your seat. Three weeks later you may even find some in your ears. It’s really uncomfortable.
So what is a beach goer to do? Take a shower. Then, put on new clothes! Don’t put on your sandy clothes. That would make the shower worthless. Put on new clothes and remain clean.
Do the same spiritually. God has washed you clean from your angry, sinful past. He removed it from every part of you. From your clenched fists to your gnashing teeth, from your spiteful thoughts to hateful heart, God has washed you clean.
Put on the new self. The selfish, angry way? That’s the sinful way of the past way. God has made you new and he wants you to follow a new way in dealing with anger. Ephesians teaches us about this new self:
(1) In your Anger Don’t Sin
In verse 22 Paul says this, “In your anger, do not sin.” It’s an interesting statement. It means that if you had a 100% pure, completely absolutely righteous in every way reason to be angry (tough as that might be) – you still need to be careful and not sin.
Say your brother upsets you. What are some sinful ways to let out anger against him? Punch him. Call him a name. Break his stuff. Tell them you “hate them.” Refuse to talk to him.
Remember God’s reaction to his anger? He suffered bitterly on the cross to make everything right between you two again. God was angry, but channeled that anger into a loving action.
Do the same. Channel your anger into a loving action. Talk about it. Write a note about it. Consult God’s Word about it. Pray about it. If you are really angry, pray really hard about it until your emotional anger lessens.
The result? There’s not another sin for anyone to get angry at. Emotions fade. That’s a good thing.
(2) Get Rid of Footholds
Ephesians 4:27 says this, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry and do not give the devil a foothold." Footholds are for climbing; festering anger allows the devil to climb right into your life and destroy your family.
He can do it with the smallest thing. Like a tube of toothpaste. As in, it makes you angry that your spouse leaves the cap off to make it “easier” to get to. It might seem like a minor annoyance at first, but over time…day after day of putting the cap back on – day after day of muttering under your breath…day after day of storing up anger – until the devil climbs up these tiny footholds of minty freshness and BOOM! Anger! Shouting! Destruction!
Don’t let it get that far. Talk about the point of tension as soon as possible.
This is true with your friends of a different race. If you let your anger get the best of you and you can feel the tension between you – you need to talk about it. Invite them out for coffee. Meet them at the gym. Message them on Facebook.
(3) Be Kind and Compassionate
And when you do talk about it? Do so in a Godly manner. Ephesians 4:31-32 says this, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another.”
The natural impulse is to pick up your weapons of anger in order to defend yourself. Be bitter to defend yourself against the bitterness of others. Be filled with rage as a defense mechanism against feeling bad that someone might have a legitimate beef with you.
But God says, put those sharp weapons away. Instead get out kindness – which seems a lot like bringing a pillow to a sword fight.
But remember: That’s how God dealt with anger! Remember? He laid down his wrath. He went to the cross. He absorbed His wrath. He absorbed your sins. Because that’s what kindness and compassion does. It absorbs wrath. It absorbs anger. It absorbs bitterness.
Even when it comes to race.
We need compassion right now. The media says the opposite. It says you should arm yourself with anger and fighting words -- ready to defend yourself. Rage in one hand – malice in the other. Ready for any attack against me and my color/me and my culture.
Put that away. Listen to their fears. Listen to their concerns. Consider – just for a moment – that your brother or sister in Christ – may have very different experiences from you and very real feelings about those experiences. Listen and be compassionate.
When you are listening with kindness and compassion, you’ll notice something:
That terror in the sound of the Alton Sterling’s wife -- it sounds very similar to the raw emotion in the voice of Nina—a wife of a slain Dallas cop.
The fear in the voice of the black man at the protest is very similar to the fear in the voice of the young cop protecting the protest.
The sadness in the voice of your friend is very similar to yours.
And when you realize that -- you’ll also realize that you have the answer -- the same answer that calms your fears -- the same answer that gives you peace - the same answer that settles your anger:
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
A crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”
Peter said, “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel," “In the last days, God says, 'I will pour out my Spirit on all people. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ "
I. Back When People were United
Take a look at Genesis 11. This takes place right after the worldwide flood. God had sent this flood to reset the world. There had been thousands of unbelievers – and only 8 – yes, 8 – believers. (If you ever feel alone in your faith right now, think about what it would have been like back then. That’s enough believers to maybe fill up 1 pew here in church).
In flooding the earth, God pressed the reset button. Genesis 10 talks about how that family of believers grew. They had kids and their sons and daughters had kids (and so on and so on). Which means that when you get to Genesis 11 – the people had one awesome, uniting factor. They were of the same family. They had the same lineage.
I don’t where you’re from, but whatever your culture, I imagine you’re proud of it. It’s ok to be proud of your culture. Maybe you enjoy that kind of food that reminds you of your culture. That’s great! I love cheese because of my German roots. You might love sushi because of your Japanese roots or barbecue because of your Southern roots. That fine. It’s good to be proud of your culture.
The problem is when we start setting up our culture as better than another culture. There will be problems. No one likes to hear that their culture is worse than another.
So can you imagine what is what like to not have that be an issue?
"What’s your favorite kind of food? Ancient human food. That’s where my family’s from.” "What!?! Me too! I’m a human too!” "That’s awesome. Let’s get together and eat human food, drink human drinks, and we can set up an ancient human restaurant!"
Besides making for a boring variety in food trucks, you get the drift. They didn’t have to argue about culture. That made them united.
That’s not all they had in common. Take a look at Genesis 11:1. Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. In the Hebrew, that literally means “They had a common lip.” That doesn’t mean they shared the same lip OR even that their lips looked similar. It’s a figure of speech meaning that they had the same language.
Have you ever tried to learn a language? It’s quite, difficult. I’m trying to learn Spanish right now using the DuoLingo app. I’ve been stuck at 53% fluency for about three months – Remembering to do it every day is difficult. It’s why I only know “un poquito Espanol”.
So can you imagine a world in which the Rosetta Stone language learning software did not exist? A world where there weren’t Second Language electives in school? A language in which you didn’t get upset that you couldn’t communicate with tech support from another country OR you went on a trip and didn’t have to carry a pocket dictionary with you just to order “ein Bier.”
What I’m saying is: Not having language barriers must have made for very pleasant communication. It must have really united those early humans.
Then, look at verse 2: “As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.” Now Shinar is eastward of where they were originally. Remember – Noah and his family had come down off of Mt. Ararat. It’s not a mountain that we can pinpoint today, but a good guess is that it’s somewhere in the middle east. The Plain of Shinar would be more East than that. A lot of scholar think that this would become Babylon.
This leads to one more commonality among these humans. They all shared the same land.
This means they all wanted the same geographic region to succeed! It was the Plains of Shinar Mets v. the Plains of Shinar Yankees – and everybody was cheering for the team from the Plains of Shinar. All the economic funding, all of their working, all of their prayers, all of their time, all of their effort went towards building up the Plains of Shinar.
In fact, this led to one more thing they all had in common. Check out verse 3-4. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a toward that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
In other words – they shared the same plan.
This wasn’t the idea of some dictator NOR was it a politic thought that was pushed through the media. Notice it says “They said to each other.” Everyone had the same thought. Everyone had the same desire. Everyone had the same goal – let’s build a giant tower so that this city becomes the best city of all time! A memorial to how awesome we are!
So they got to work. Brick material gatherers gathered brick materials. Brick makers made bricks. Oven heaters heated ovens. Bricklayers laid bricks. Architects sipped their coffees and architected. Everyone worked on it. Everyone supported it. Everyone was for it. Everyone was on board with it.
Everyone…except the One they forgot.
The Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The Lord said, “if as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
Not that God didn’t notice before. God knows all things. He sees all things. He is by all things. But verse 5 describes how God made a concerted examination of the building project; he examined the building & their hearts and he saw a few very ugly things.
1) They were united in their disobedience.
If you go back to when Noah got off the ark, God gave a pretty simple command. He had just saved them from complete destruction on earth by warning Noah and telling him about the flood. Secondly, by wiping out unbelief so that he didn’t lose his people forever in hell. In return, he says to them, “Be fruitful, increase in number & fill the earth.” (9:1)
This is the exact opposite of their reasoning for building the tower. “Let’s build ourselves a city so that we might not be scattered over the face of the earth.”
In fact, when you take a look at their building materials, they decide to bake the bricks (most likely in ovens) rather than let them sundry which was the common way of making bricks at that time. They decided to use tar for mortar – which was different than the common adhesive used at that time.
The result? The bricks were more permanent. The adhesive was more permanent. The building was more permanent.
And so was the people’s disobedience.
2) They were united in their pride.
Did you notice that about their brainstorming session? They said, “Let us make bricks…let us bake thoroughly…let us make a name for ourselves.”
This is entirely different from how the people of God had acted in the past. In Genesis 4:26 it says the people began “to glorify the name of the Lord.” That means they sang songs to the Lord. They built houses to show God’s glory. They grew crops to God’s glory.
Is God’s name anywhere on this building? No. The people didn’t even recognize God. They only thought of themselves. They only wanted their own glory.
It’s like the guy who goes on TV after a star basketball performance and he says, “I earned this. I did great. I’m number one. I want to keep winning so that I can cement my own legacy and get some more glory!”
Your legacy? Your glory? What about the God who created you?
Take a look at what God does. “Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
One minute – a guy is asking for a hammer; then next minute he is being told “No lo puedo descubrir.”
One minute – the foreman shouts: “Release the rock on three." The next he’s shouting "eins, zwei, drei!”
One minute everyone understand each other and everyone is getting along. The next minute? They’re confusing each other; arguing each other; and leaving their grand plan.
God scattered them from there over all the earth.
II. Now When People are Divided
But you know…What’s interesting? It wasn’t their new found differences that caused them to abandon their building project. It was the one thing they all had in common.
Pride. Sinful, disgusting, disobedient, pride.
It is the exact same thing that divides people today.
Instead of thinking what another’s culture is like and taking that into consideration, we think of our own and demand they take that into consideration.
Instead of saying, “How are things difficult for you?” we say, “Listen to how things are difficult for me!”
Instead of humbly accepting our failures in whatever culture we’re from, we love to blame others and force them to wear the label we’ve constructed.
Is it any wonder why we, as a people, are so divided? It’s because of what we have in common.
Jerusalem. A couple thousand years later.
The city was bustling. A group of Parthians are arguing with some Medes about the price of a horse. The Parthians are having a hard time understanding why that Arab wears his clothing that way. A Phrygian is having a hard time ordering off the local Hebrew menu and an Egyptian is giving the Roman guards an earful about why he hates their government.
Then, everyone quiets down. They hear something like a tornado wind coming from a small house in the corner of the market. From where they are looking, they see a group of men inside – little flames of fire on the top of their heads – as crowds start to gather, the men come out of the house. They begin speaking.
But not just in Hebrew. Not just in Latin either. In the languages of the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Jews, Cappadocians, Pontians, Asians, Phrygians, Pamphylians, Egyptians, Libyans, Cretans and Arabs.
While each person is hearing a different language, they are all hearing the same message – You’re sinners. You need a Savior. Jesus, who died and rose again is that Savior.
A few people mock them: “They have had too much wine.”
But one of the men stands up in reaction. He speaks with one voice – one voice heard by all their languages. 2 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: 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 deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,[d] put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 36 Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
The men looked around. Different faces. Different skin shades. Different cultures. Different headdresses. But they all had the exact same look of concern on their face. “Brothers,” a phrase absent of any cultural bias, “what should we do? How do we defeat our sins? How do we get on God’s good side? How do we return to our God?”
Listen to Peter’s reply if you are wondering the same thing – “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins “
Notice it wasn’t any different for the different people gathered that day. He didn’t tell some to pray. Some to dance. Some to sing and some to chant. Nope. This was no time for culture. This was time to address the One Shared Problem with their One Shared Savior.
Brothers and sisters – this is how God defeats division.
First, He defeats the division between us and God! Jesus lived perfectly when we couldn’t; he died innocently in our place and he rose triumphantly to proclaim us at peace with God.
It means that your selfishness is forgiven. Your racist attitude are forgiven. Your sinful ethnocentric cultural pride is forgiven.
Then, God defeats the division amongst humans.
It’s pretty interesting. The people wanted to build a big old tower – a tower so big that they would be united around their own awesomeness and never be lost. But then sinful pride got in the way and they never completed it.
Now God has something for all of us to unite around. Something else tall. Something else up.
It doesn’t matter if your Persian or Greek, Mede or Roman, Jew or non-Jew. It doesn’t matter if you are European American, African American, Asian American, Latino American, Middle Eastern American or any other kind of American – of if you don’t even consider yourself American at all.
The Cross unites us. Jesus unites us. One Savior. One Ruler. One Lord. One family.
God does all this because the Holy Spirit works through this.
As great as the miracles were that day – a whirlwind sounds without any wind, flames of fire without any burning, languages spoken without any learning – the most incredible miracle of all was thousands united – united to God & united to each other. The Holy Spirit does this in spite of our sinfulness, in spite of our pride, in spite of our misunderstanding, cultural confusions, and the straight up racism of this world.
The Holy Spirit unites us as family in one faith!
May he continue to do so, now and always. Amen.
This past week, a group of teens from Minnesota helped us spread the Gospel in North Carolina They went door to door learning about our community, telling people about our church, and offering them the good news of Jesus. (So far... have a list of 19 families who are interested in learning more about what we stand for. Praise be to God!)
But yesterday something amazing happened.
In the middle of North Raleigh, a somewhat rich area with fancy homes and good ol' Southerners whose family names can easily be traced into the history books of the United States, we came across a small apartment complex.
It was bustling with activity. A few women with burkas walking past a garden. A group of men who had come from Mexico to find a better life. A Nepali family that happily invited me into their humble home. An elderly gentleman from Somalia who explained the personal demons he faces from his own country. Kids of all colors kicking a soccer ball in the parking lot. People greeting one another with "Hello!" "Hola!" "Konnichiwa!" (And a few other phrases that I didn't recognize.)These people were very different from what I had come to know and expect from North Raleigh.
But then again...they are quite the same.
Each one of them is a sinner. Just like me.
Each one of them has a Savior. Just like you,
Each one of them needs to hear the Gospel. Just like the rest of North Raleigh!
How neat to watch a group of teens from Minnesota travel to North Carolina to tell a family from Nepal about the one person who is global.
The One God.
"Go and make disciples of all nations!" How neat to be able to do that by "going" only a few blocks away!
I hope you'll get a chance to join us for church this Sunday. Ask these teens about some of the people they have encountered this week. Their excitement, energy, and love for Jesus is infectious! Please join us in church and say Thank You to them for their invaluable work of spreading the Gospel.