Jesus poses two questions tonight as he gets at an issue so important for our spiritual health. The topic we’re digging into is: being neither hypocritical in action, nor paralyzed into inaction. Take a listen. Jesus tells us:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."
Do you agree with this statement? “Hypocritical actions are one of the great damaging forces in our world.” I’m thinking especially of damaging to relationships, like friendships. Do you agree? Any disagreement?
Okay, now let me focus the statement in a little further: “Hypocritical actions are one of the great damaging forces in our world …and within churches.” If they are present, if they are allowed to go unchecked, do you agree? Yes.
We might be led to ponder adopting the minimalist approach that is popular in our culture today, namely “I’ll just keep myself from commenting on anything that anyone else does, to avoid the impression of being unlovingly hypocritical.” But before you go there, or if you’ve bought into that thinking to some degree, I’ve got an additional statement for us to consider:
“Inaction is also a great damaging force in our culture in our age.” Make the statement specific to when someone else with whom you are connected – family or close friend – is involved in something harmful. Adopting an “I’ll do nothing, say nothing, in order to avoid the impression of being unloving or hypocritical” approach, results many times in a great deal of damage impacting lives. Do you agree?
Let’s pinpoint the type of toxic effects for relationships that are in play with either one of the problematic approaches we’ve identified: being hypocritical in action, as well as being paralyzed into inaction. And keep in view there is more than our relationships with one another involved here. There is also the relationship for each one of us, as Christians, with our God that is connected here.
If we see someone in our family in Christ doing something harmful, if we do nothing we allow something toxic to go on working its damaging effects. Think about that proposition. It sounds silly! I’m sure you see the disconnect in that. We, as a family in Christ, want to help one another with identifying whatever is causing hurt or harm.
Doing that is important. And how we go at that goal is equally critical. If any “holier-than-thou” / any pride or self-righteous attitude is in the offering, the “help” being offered is actually likely to multiply the harm, rather than help remove it. Why? For starters, any correction offered with such an attitude is harmful to the one offering it. Pride or a self-righteous spirit would indicate some spiritual infection in thoughts and actions of that individual. And in many cases, the recipient of the correction too will experience additional hurt or harm. How so? Either they’ll see the self-righteous attitude for the hypocrisy that it really is, and be understandably turned off by it…. Or, there is this possibility: they can be potentially misled by the appeal of self-righteousness and pride. They may pursue the corrected behavior being offered, but if they do that with the wrong motivation of self-righteousness themselves, it is still spiritually harmful.
One word helps us guard against the immensely damaging attitude of hypocrisy when we step in to help someone else. It’s Jesus word: “first.” Matthew 7:5 - "You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."
Now as you see Jesus’ “first,” I want you to look at 1 Timothy 1:15, and see the apostle Paul use this “first” for himself:
This saying is trustworthy and worthy of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” of whom I am the first."
That “first” is a literal rendering where many English translations say “worst.”
As we place Jesus’ “first” in Matthew 7:5 beside the “first” here in Paul’s statement, we can each see a personal perspective for us to make our own. As we view ourselves - and everyone else in relation to us - I’m “first” among the sinners. If you’re standing “first” in line, seeing your sin, and then being on the receiving end of Jesus’ full and fully undeserved forgiveness and peace, - got it? - think of how that affects every interaction you have as you turn back to everyone else you face and encounter in your relationships.
Then you and I are not coming from any attitude of “holier than thou” or pride, but from an awareness of “here is a sinner who has received Jesus’ healing.” “Then” also “here is someone happy to share the healing medicine of God’s truth and love.”
Just think how different that is than if I were to be turning around to the people around me, without first standing before Jesus with the issue of my sin addressed… If I came to someone else to talk to them about their problem, but I go about that thinking I don’t have any problems myself or my problems are minor compared theirs… how much help am I going to be? That’s a recipe for turning them off (to disregard anything I offer), or tempting them to join in hypocrisy / pride themselves.
You could find example after example of harm done by those trying to correct others when they themselves have spiritual planks unaddressed.
Notice I say, unaddressed. But once addressed, don’t leave Jesus’ “then” undone. Jesus gives a 2nd part to his answer to the questions he poses here: “First… then.” How important is this “then”?
I’ve got another statement I want you to evaluate: “The opposite of love isn’t always hateful action. It is, maybe even sometimes more powerfully, felt in apathy.” Do you agree? Can lack of action cause such a negative impact in lives? Can it cause such negative kind of impact in a church, a Christian family?
Our Savior knows what He is talking about when he teaches us this “first… then” truth.
Hypocritical actions do harm in churches. Think of the conclusion people are likely to draw if such actions are left unaddressed.
Let’s follow Jesus’ direction. When we see / hear something wrong from someone in our group, let’s lovingly, humbly act.
Pastor Earle Treptow wrote an article entitled “Judge Me, Please!” I’m going to wrap up our topic with a few of his encouragements [2015/05/31/in FIC Features, Forward in Christ - Judge me, please! Earle D. Treptow].
While standing in line to board a plane, I noticed her tattoo. “No one can judge me,” it said. What struck me later about her tattoo was its placement. It was on the back of her neck, a place she probably didn’t see all that often. The words of the tattoo, then, weren’t really intended as words of comfort or encouragement for her. The tattoo meant to sound a warning to others. “You are going to judge me? Please! Who are you to talk to me about my attitude or my words or my actions? You’re no better than I am.”
We know exactly where she’s coming from! We don’t particularly care to have people question our attitudes or confront us about our actions. If they want to praise us for what we do, we are willing to listen. But should they wish to address some failing, we definitely don’t want to hear it.
That, however, is not the community in which the Lord wants his people to live. He brought us into his church and gave us our fellow believers for our benefit. Because he wants you to live with him forever, the Lord puts fellow believers into your life. He moves them to love you enough to judge you, to confront you with your sinful attitudes, and to rebuke your sinful actions. He does so for your everlasting good, to lead you to repentance and rescue you from death. Knowing our Savior’s love for our souls, we humbly ask our brothers and sisters in Christ, “Judge me, please!”
Or, to put that in terms of Jesus’ encouragement from Matthew 7… As we turn to one another after walking to the foot of our Savior, we say, “Please, help me see the ‘specks’ in my life.” May God grant this for His glory and for our good! Amen.
We are in the middle of our Fighting Temptation mini-series. So far, we’ve watched Jesus defeat the devil in a one-on-one temptation battle, learned some lessons from the champ, and contrasted the cost of fighting temptation with the cost of NOT fighting.
But maybe so far you have said, “Pastor, this has been nice. It sounds important. I should fight temptation. So…I’ll put it on the schedule for some time this summer.”
It’s like one of emails that goes to your junk mail. You peruse down the list and about 6 emails down is an email, written in all CAPITAL LETTERS, that says, “URGENT” with a few exclamation points behind it!!!
And you blink quickly, move the mouse, and click away.
Is someone in trouble?
Is a friend trying to reconnect?
Am I late on a bill?
“Hello sir. Just a note that there is currently a deal for 10% off pictures frames down at Michaels. We wanted to let you know – because you shopped here…one time…for your wife. This deal is only available for a limited time. So, act now! It’s urgent.”
Until…I get very similar email the very next week.
Maybe, it’s not so urgent.
Do you feel that way about fighting temptation? As if it isn’t urgent?
Today Jesus himself is going to explain to us the urgency of fighting temptation. 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. An Urgent Warning
We are studying Luke 13 today. Look at what verse 1 says, “Now there were some…who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.”
This is a bit strange, so a bit of background. Galilee was a country that was in the northern area of the Holy Land. Galileans were people who lived in Galilee. Apparently, some Galileans had been in the temple offering sacrifice (aka worshipping God) when the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate (he’s going to become very important as we get closer to Good Friday) ordered that they be killed. It’d be similar to a church shooting. Which unfortunately, is not unheard of.
It wasn’t unheard of back then either! According to Josephus, a Jewish historian, Pilate did this about five different times during his reign. Each time it was violent. Each time it was awful. Each time it was a very disheartening event.
That’s why the people were talking to Jesus about it.
It was troubling.
Like some kind of awful current event (take your pick: shooting, bombing, kidnapping, rape, etc.), they were trying to make sense of what had happened.
The answer that was most popular?
These guys must have been terrible sinners.
They must have done something really, really, really bad.
I heard that they were running an illegal drug ring through the temple.
This was a punishment for them!
Jesus overhears it and, being true God, He offers a unique assessment that a sinful human being would never be able to offer:
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (v2-3)
First thing to understand about Jesus’ statement:
Sin is sin is sin. The Bible teaches that, “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) It teaches that “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.” (Romans 3:23) It teaches that “If you stumble at just one point, it’s as good as breaking all of God’s law.” (James 2:10) Sin is sin is sin. It’s all awful to God. Therefore, these Galileans killed in the temple were not worse sinners than any one else.
The slaughter in the temple wasn’t some kind of special judgment by God against a special breed of sinners.
But in case you’re reading this and you’re saying, “Well, okay. This wasn’t. It was done by Pilate. A sinful human being acting in a sinful, fallen world. But what about natural disasters? That’s the kind of stuff that only God can control. What about tornadoes down in Mississippi and flooding in the Midwest? Is that God’s judgment against them?”
Look at Jesus’ next words: “Those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them (a natural disaster. Not a murder. Still horrific.) —do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (v.4-5)
The Galilean slaughter was not a special punishment.
The Implosion of the Siloam tower was not a special punishment either.
Stop looking at these horrific events for the sake of others.
Look at them for the sake of yourself.
As a warning.
A reminder that life is short.
As a wakeup call to repent! To get right with God. To stop sinning before God acts against you!
Here's the first truth God wants you to get through your head this morning: “Don’t view disaster as an indictment of others, but as a warning to yourself.”
Stop pointing at others.
Stop ignoring your own sins.
Stop thinking, “I love this sermon. Go get ‘em pastor! In particular, look at this guy right next to me. He needs to hear this.”
You need to hear this.
Even if you’ve been a Christian for 40 plus years.
You need to hear this.
Because if you don’t…
Jesus continues. From horrific current events to gardening:
“A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any.“ (v.6)
Ever had a fig before? They’re pretty tasty. This man must have really liked them. In fact, I picture him having a gigantic, fig tree farm with thousands and thousands of fig trees growing. It makes him a lot of money for fig jam, fig jelly, and fig Pop Tarts.
Every once in a while, he takes a break from the paperwork of owning a fig tree farm to go and walk through his product line. He marvels at the beautiful of the trees. He samples some of the figs as he goes. He whistles to himself as he is so happy for how well everything is growing.
There’s that one tree again.
(He remembers it from last year)
Not a lot of green.
Seems kinda sickly looking.
“The owner said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to Look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any.’” (v.7a)
It isn’t producing. It isn’t doing what we planted it to do. A fig tree without figs on it is…worthless.
“Cut. It. Down!” (v.7b)
Friends. This is more than garden tip.
This story has a spiritual meaning.
God has brought you into his family.
To fight sin.
To bear fruit.
To bear the fruit of the spirit: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
And if God is walking through his rows of Spirit fruit trees…
And he walks past the section where you are planted…
And you aren’t bearing fruit?
Instead of love – hatred.
Instead of joy – complaint.
Instead of peace – grumbling.
Instead of fighting temptation – enjoying the sin that you’re doing.
What do you think the Father will say?
It’s the worst three words that God could ever say about you.
Cut. It. Down.
II. A Patient Promise
Thankfully for the fate of the fig tree this isn’t the end of the story. Because while the owner is the one who paid for him to be planted, he has another friend who cares for him.
The gardener is the one who has been watering this tree for three years.
He’s seen it struggle.
He’s weeded it.
He’s fertilized it.
He’s even gotten up at 5am to come out and sing Eric Clapton to it.
For three years, he’s put his heart and soul into getting that fig tree to bear figs.
And he isn’t ready to give up…not yet.
“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (v.8)
Friends, you have a gardener, too.
You have someone who cared so deeply for your soul that when he saw your fruitless, sin-filled life, he came to earth and died on a tree to save you.
Jesus is an advocate on our behalf! The Bible says, “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous one.” (1 Jn. 2:1) It says, “Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for us.” Romans 8:34) It says, “Jesus is our Great High Priest…that we approach God’s throne with confidence.” (Hebrews 4:14, 16)
Do you get it?
Jesus is pleading to the Father on your behalf, while pleading to you on behalf of Him!
And here’s the good news: It’s working.
How do I know?
Well, you’re here today.
You’re listening to this message.
You get to hear Jesus’ voice calling to you right now.
No matter how barren your branches are.
No matter how dead your spiritual life looks.
No matter how shriveled your attempts at fighting temptation have been.
God has been patient with you.
You have not been cut down.
And it isn’t as if the gardener said, “If it bears three times as much fruit next year in order to make up for the past three years of not bearing any at all, fine.”
He didn’t say, “I think that this tree will be worth the wait because it’s fruit will make some top-notch jam—better than the rest.”
He didn’t say, “As long as it produces 27 figs by this time next year, then we won’t cut it down.”
The fig tree doesn’t need to earn the right to be called a fig tree.
It simply needs to do what it was made to do.
And you don’t need to earn the right to bear fruit.
You simply do what God called you to do.
You won’t be cut down!
You’ll one day be transplanted from your life on this earth – to eternal life in heaven.
III. What Now?
With the urgency of death lingering and the promise of God’s grace patiently keeping us alive, WHAT NOW for this week? A few things:
It’s a phrase that appears twice, word for word in this section from Jesus. If Jesus thinks it is important enough to repeat, I think we should repeat it:
Unless you repent, then you too will perish. (v.3, 5)
Repent means to turn.
To do a 180.
To turn from sin to Savior.
To turn from falling to temptation to fighting temptation.
To turn from unbelief to faith in Jesus.
It’s like watching Pee Wee Football. And there’s that little running back, the one that looks like his pads are gonna swallow him up. It’s the end of the game and the team is up by 4 touchdowns, so the coach calls a play to give him the ball. After the quarterback hands it off, he turns, he runs…and goes in the exact opposite direction of his endzone.
And the coach is screaming, “TURN AROUND! TURN AROUND!”
And the crowd is shouting, “TURN AROUND! TURN AROUND!”
And his teammates are chasing after him to tackle him and stop him and turn him around!
That’s what God is doing with us here today.
When we sin, we go the wrong way.
Today, God calls out to you – repeatedly, persistently, patiently, lovingly – TURN AROUND!
Turn to Me.
Turn to salvation.
(2) Be Urgent about It
Because absolutely nothing in Jesus’ words today imply that you’ve got all the time in the world.
Nope. In fact, the point is that you don’t know how much time you have at all.
Before Pilate has you murdered.
Or a tower falls on top of you.
Or you get sick.
Or in a car accident.
Or have a stroke.
Our time is short.
Do not wait on repenting when you’re older.
Get urgent about fighting sin.
Fighting addiction? Seek help today.
Fighting greed? Give more money in the offering plate.
Fighting hatred? Ask God to soften your heart.
Fighting sexual temptation? Stop putting yourself in situations to sin.
If you’re fighting the temptation to continue to NOT follow Jesus – keep fighting against it!
Put your trust in your Savior.
Be urgent about fighting temptation because Jesus was urgent about fighting for you.
He came swiftly off his heavenly throne.
He suffered death.
He quickly and efficiently defeated it by rising from the dead.
(3) Be Patient about Others
Because it is so easy for us to be patient with ourselves, “C’mon guys. Greed is a hard thing. Give me time to get past this sin.”
But not so patient with others, “That dude was a jerk to me AND it’s the second time! God!?! Get him.”
But we can’t react like that. Not when God has every reason to cut us all down simultaneously right now, but he hasn’t.
Because God is patient with us, we are patient with others.
We forgive them.
We love them.
We kindly rebuke them…again and again and again and again.
We share the Gospel with them…even if it’s 8 years running.
There’s this one guy that I invite to Easter every year. I’ve invited him for seven years in a row – this year will be my eighth. Sometimes I invite with a text message. Sometimes with an email. Sometimes with a voice message. Sometimes it includes a graphic design. Sometimes it includes a Bible passage. Sometimes it includes a brief synopsis of the Gospel.
Every year? He doesn’t come.
I was thinking about not doing it this year.
About wiping my hands.
And shaking the dust off my feet.
I’ll guess I’ll invite him again.
Friends – be patient in your interactions with others.
Take advantage of the Easter season.
Share the Gospel.
Share the Gospel.
And after you’ve done that.
Share the Gospel some more.
Patiently planting while urgently fighting temptation! Amen.
For Humbling Us
Of all the things that get in our own way, pride is our own biggest obstacle. Why? Because it’s entirely unjustified. We are not good. We have nothing good in ourselves. We can produce nothing objectively good. Only God can do that. Only God can make us good. Only God can help us. Only God and his blessings are worth being proud of. When we start to have pride in ourselves, we need to be humbled.
Like Joseph. Joseph had gotten a bit of a big head. Dad liked him best of all his brothers. He had dreams that his family would bow down to him someday, and he was a little too happy to talk about that. And so, God humbled him. God took Joseph from his cushy place as Dad’s darling and sold him into slavery to remind him that he had no power of his own, that everything worth anything comes from God alone.
And so when we get too proud of ourselves, too confident in ourselves, we thank God that he takes the effort to humble us again, to take our power away, to show us how little we have on our own, so that we can return to the source of our real strength, God alone.
19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.” 21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22 “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father. 23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing—24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it. 25 As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.
26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.
28 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.
For His Own Timing
In an age of microwaves, the internet, smartphones, and other marvels, life has not gotten easier because of the conveniences, it has gotten more hectic. We expect everything immediately. I sent you a message an hour ago! I can’t believe it’ll take a full day before this is ready! These expectations only make life harder on us, we only contribute to it when we expect the same of others. And even moreso when we expect it of our God.
But God has his own timetable. With a perspective of time that we can’t match and wisdom beyond our understanding, God knows exactly when the right time to act is. And despite our best efforts to advise God, the time is not always what we think it should be, which would usually be “now”. God says be patient, I have better in mind for you.
Joseph had to understand this. He probably had hopes that he could be released from prison after helping one of Pharaoh’s own. But the time was not right. We’ll see shortly, he needed to stay where he was for now so that he could be in the right place to deliver a message from God to Pharaoh and in doing so save entire nations starvation.
For Daily Bread
The land of Egypt and surrounding nations were about to be in trouble. There would be seven very good years of harvest, but they would be followed by seven years of drought and famine. Imagine being lulled into the security of seven years of abundance, growing wasteful, and suddenly it’s all taken away from you. Maybe you don’t have to imagine. Maybe you’ve had that moment in your life where it felt like all was lost. But the God of grace and mercy promises to provide. Even to people who did not know him or worship him as God. So God put Joseph in the right place at the right time to warn Pharaoh of what was coming.
We thank God for providing. We are utterly dependent on our God in all ways, but sometimes we forget just how much we depend on him daily, even hourly. We need food and drink. Shelter and clothes. And our God provides daily. We don’t earn it. We don’t deserve it, but our God gives it to us all the same. It doesn’t always come in the way we expect, but our God never lets us down. And for that we give thanks. And we show our thanks by offering part of his gifts back to him.
For Joseph, things seemed to turn out alright. Yes, he had difficulty, but now he was second in command of Egypt. Not bad for starting as a slave. Joseph could have let the power and authority go to his head, but instead he recognized that he was only where he was by God’s hand and that God had only given him this honor in order to serve a greater good, the saving of lives.
It was this attitude that allowed him to face another challenge with a godly attitude; the reunion with his brothers. He had it within his authority to have them jailed the moment he saw them, even executed if he saw fit. But he didn’t. He recognized that he was as much a sinner as they each were. He recognized that through their sinful actions God had worked a greater good as he always does. Such understanding allowed him to face his brothers without anger and instead with forgiveness.
We give thanks to God that he allows the same in us. That by his spirit he creates hearts within us that are able to forgive just as he forgave us. We give great thanks that we are pardoned by the blood of Jesus, but we also give thanks that by his power we are able to release old hurts and grudges and live at peace with those who have wronged us. What a great gift to not need to be burdened and burned up from within by anger and rage but rather to be at peace, knowing that our God worked good for us even through the hurts, and knowing that the blood of Jesus paid for the crimes against us even as it paid for the crimes we ourselves committed. We give thanks that we are able to forgive.
For Our True Home
Despite all the good that happened with Joseph’s life, there was still a problem at the end of it. He wasn’t where he was supposed to be. Egypt was fine, and his family was provided for, but this wasn’t the place that God promised his great-grandfather. As fine as the living was, Joseph knew they wouldn’t stay. And he didn’t want them to stay, it wasn’t what God had in mind for them. Sure enough, down the road that would become very clear when the time came for Moses to lead the people out.
Despite everything that we have to be thankful for here and now, all the blessings God gives us, it is not perfect. It is far from it. Every day has its own pains and heartaches and troubles. Sometimes they pile on so deep and so quickly it could lead a person to despair. And so, we give thanks to our God that we are not staying here. This is not our true home, that is still to come.
There is much to be thankful for here and reasons to be happy while here. But we give thanks that God keeps our eyes down the path, in good times and bad, looking ahead to our true home that he has promised us. It is our greatest encouragement in all parts of life, that by the blood of Jesus we have an eternity with God to look forward to.
For the Savior
You might be surprised to hear that for as much attention as Joseph gets in the Bible, he’s not actually part of the line of the savior. That was his brother, Judah. Still, his life did serve one very important purpose. His actions and intervention during the Egyptian famine ensured that his family did not starve. His brothers lived, and their families lived. And through Judah, down through the line, was eventually born David the King and through David’s line was the ancestry of both Joseph and Mary, and from them, Jesus.
God made a promise in Eden, that someone would come to crush the serpent’s head. Jesus has done this for us. By Jesus we are saved. By Jesus are sins forgiven. By Jesus is the eternal home opened to us. Without him, this would all be meaningless. All the other things we might be thankful for are just dust in the wind, here and gone. Without Jesus the eternal gifts would not exist. Without Jesus we would have pale comforts for a short time until an eternal death.
And so more than anything this evening and every day, we give thanks for the Savior. We could lose everything, have all our earthly possessions taken from us, our family dead or gone, our health destroyed and be in pain every moment the rest of our lives and we could STILL be thankful, because it will end and Jesus will take us home. Above everything and at every moment, we give thanks for the savior Jesus.
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.
Peter made his way over to the wash basin and splashed himself with the cool aquatic stimulant. He looked around at the other men – near him. Philip was trying to get a stain off his tunic. Matthew was joking around with Jude. Nathanael was still sleeping under the fig tree.
Peter smiled. These were his “brothers in the faith”, his "fellow disciples," his "family." They had spent months together. They had learned together. They had eaten together. They had defended each other. They were a wonderful little family filled with people that he loved.
WHACK! A heavy slap hit Peter in the middle of his back. He turned around as he felt a familiar hand ruffle his hair. “What’s up Pete?”
That was Andrew. Peter’s real brother and the only part of this little “family” who knew just how to annoy him. He knew just how get under Peter’s nerves. Before they were disciples, they had been fishermen together. Andrew was known for taking credit for the haul of fish. Everyone once in awhile he took fish guts and stuffed them into Peter’s tunic while he wasn’t looking. There was that one time that Peter lost his net, searched for it everywhere, and then found Andrew calmly fishing with a brand new net offshore. He insisted that it was his, but Peter knew better.
Andrew was the one who made this whole family feel like a family. He sinned against Peter on more than one occasion.
But unfortunately, being a part of this whole Jesus movement meant that he was supposed to forgive Andrew. That’s what Jesus talked about. “Forgive each other.” Jesus harped on it.
Peter began to towel off his beard as Jesus approached him with a warm smile. “There must be a limit though,” he thought. "There must be a moment when the sins are too great, when forgiveness is impossible."
“Master,” he asked as he got Jesus’ attention, “how many times shall I forgive my brother?” His eyes were fixed on Andrew. “Up to seven times?"
To be fair that seemed legitimately compassionate. It “took the plank out of his eyes” and “treated others as he wanted to be treated.” It “loved his named as himself” and was a “salt of the earth” decision. It was just a bit crazy from the normal way of doing things…which was the way that Jesus rolled.
It just wasn’t crazy enough.
22 Jesus replied, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven times."
Today we’re going to continue our series called Family Matters. We just got done talking about communication and how to deal with anger. This will wrap up this whole section on interacting with one another. We’re going to answer Peter’s Question:
(1) How much We are to Forgive
(2) How We go about Forgiving People Who have Hurt Us
Ready? Let’s pray to God and ask his blessing:
Strengthen us O Lord 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 want us to believe. Amen.
I. How Much Are We to Forgive
To teach his disciples about how much they ought to forgive, he told this story.
There was a King. Since he was king, the modern equivalent might be a C.E.O. (Think Shark on Shark Tank). He had many servants. He had many cooks. He had many massage therapists. He had lots of people who did whatever he said.
He had a gigantic place. A mansion to rival the Biltmore. He wore a Gucci robe. He had a chair decked out with the softest plush seat and the most beautiful diamond studs. He had the latest iPhone update – the one that didn’t even hit stores yet. He had his own drone, a piece of the original Millennium Falcon, and he had Hulu without the commercial interruptions.
He was rich.
Because he was rich he often had helped out his servants. He would loan them some money. He would get some income. They would use it to start their own business. Others would use it to buy a car. He had become a rival to Visa and Mastercard.
On this day he was going to settle his accounts. Servant after servant came in and made payments on what they owed him.
One servant came in who owed the King 10,000 bags of Gold or about a million dollars.
But all he had to offer the king? A crumpled up IOU.
“Seize him!” the CEO told his guards. And rightly so. The man had basically stolen millions of dollars from him. He wasn’t ever going to pay him back. He had frauded him out of his possessions. He had broken the seventh commandment – “You shall not steal.” He was worthy of punishment. The law was on his side.
And the servant knew it. “Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything." "I’ll work 100 hours a week. I’ll ransack my closet and sell things on eBay. I’ll take surveys online for an extra dollar. Please don’t send me to jail. Please don’t rip me from my family. Please don’t punish them for my failure. Please …have mercy.”
The C.E.O. looked down at the servant. He saw his tears. He saw his distress. He saw his sadness.
And he had compassion. He cancelled the debt and let him go.
Isn’t that amazing? One million dollar debt – cancelled. Not lessened to a hundred thousand. Not changed to a work equivalent. Not worked out through property seizure.
And this isn’t just a nice puff piece that makes it way onto the last few minutes of the nightly news. REMEMBER: Jesus told this story in order to teach his disciples about forgiveness. There is a deeper spiritual meaning to this story.
The king represents God. God is way richer than the king or our modern equivalent C.E.O. Since we serve God, we are his servants.
We owe God a lot. Millions really.
Imagine for a moment that one sin was equal to $1. Every time you sinned, you had to pay God $1. Now let’s imagine that you had 1 sin per minute. (Yes, there may be moments where there are less sins – while you are sleeping. But there are others minutes where you get real mad and sin about 20 times in your thoughts in the span of 15 seconds.) 1 sin per minute at $1 per sin is $60 for an hour of sinning.
Now there are 24 hours in a day. That’s $1440 per day. 365 days in a year? That’s $525,600 per year. (Do you make that much?) The average age in this congregation is 40. That’s $21,024,000 owed to God as the average debt for people at Gethsemane.
I’m not positive, but I imagine we wouldn’t even be able to gather enough funding to pay for one of us.
But here’s the deal. The price of sin isn’t a dollar. It’s a death. One death for every sin. Romans 6:13 says, “the wages of sin is death.”
That’s an impossible price! Even if we died one death that would still only pay for one sin. At millions of sins over a lifetime that’s millions of deaths!
Or eternal death.
There’s only one who had the spiritual funding to pay for our millions of sin.
There’s only one who has the spiritual funding to pay your bill completely.
There is only One who had the divine value in his blood necessary to pay for our eternal debt.
His blood had divine value and infinite amount of funding. When he died on the cross, he paid for your first sin, your second sin, your third sin and so on and so on…until every last sin was paid for.
And your debt? Was cancelled. Millions of millions of sins cancelled – on the cross.
Millions and millions of deaths owed? Paid for with his death.
You want proof? He lives! That doesn’t happen if it didn’t work. He’d still be working on paying the next sin.
The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life. Consider the glorious truth contained in those words. You owed a debt you could not pay; Jesus paid a debt He did not owe. God forgave you all of your sins.
II. How We are to Forgive
That feels pretty awesome doesn’t it? It almost makes you want to go celebrate. Go get some streamers; go grab some of those squeaky noise makers; turn on the Pandora party station and jam!
But that’s not what the servant in our story did.
Instead, he found his friends. Maybe at the local pub. The place where all the other servants hung out. He had a celebratory drink, but then in the corner of his eye he saw a fellow servant (Let’s call him Bob.) Bob owed him some money – 100 silver coins. He had lent Bob the money years ago, but Bob still hadn’t paid him back. It wasn’t a small amount; it was a few months wages. But it wasn’t unpayable either.
The servant took a glug of his beer. He slammed it to the table. He walked across the room and grabbed Bob by the throat. “Pay back what you owe me!” he demanded.
His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, “Be patient with me, and I will pay it back!”
Sound familiar? Those words had been spoken before. They must have echoed in the ears of the servant –reminding him about how he had been in the same, much – much worse situation hours earlier.
Same situation; same result? Not so much.
The servant refused. He found the local law enforcement by the door. He brought charges against the man for fraud. He had the man arrested. He mocked him as he was thrown into prison. Then, he went on his way home.
But some other servants were at the pub. Some other servants saw the whole thing. Some other servants remembered how he had been boasting about having his debt forgiven by the C.E.O Some others servants couldn’t help but tell the king what had happened.
The next morning, the man made his way into work and found an email saying that he needed to see the King immediately. He packed his things up and whistled on his way to the C.E.O.’s office – they were such good buds now. He probably wanted to be his friends on Facebook.
But when he entered the room and he saw the anger in his boss’s eyes, something told him this wasn’t going to be a pleasant visit.
32 "You wicked servant…I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?”
The man stood there speechless. There was nothing to say. He had been forgiven an impossibly large amount. He had been unforgiving about a much smaller one.
In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured until he should pay back all he owed. That means he never paid it back. (You don’t make a lot of money for being tortured in jail.)
What do you think? Did the man deserve it? Yes? Sounds good right?
Here’s the turn...Jesus says this, “This –unforgiveness and making you pay the debt that you owe – millions of deaths in hell – is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive you brother or sister from your heart.”
Does it still sound good?
This happens so often in family. There’s not anyone you’re going to sin against more than your family simply because there’s no one you will be in proximity to more than your family. As a result – unforgiveness is a huge temptation. A huge temptation and it’s wrong.
If you are refusing to forgive your wife because she keeps going over budget…
Or refusing to forgive your husband because he keeps losing his temper…
Or refusing to forgive your kid because they keep disobeying…
Or refusing to forgive your brother because he keeps using your dolls as action figures…
Or refusing to forgive your loved one OR an ex-loved one because they did something awful to you…
…You are putting yourself in danger of God doing the same to you.
But pastor, what they did is too repetitive and too awful. You don’t know what it’s like.
You’re right. I don’t. But God does. God does because that sin against you was also a sin against God. He felt it. He suffered for it. He died for it and now he says to you, “Do you really want to be fair? Do you really want God’s family to be about unforgiveness? Do you want to see what it’s like when I do that to you?
Forgive us Lord. Forgive us for our unforgiving hearts.
Thankfully. When Jesus died on the cross, he also died for unforgiveness. It means if you are convicted by God’s Word right now, repent. Look at the cross. See your sins – even your sins of an unforgiving heart – on Jesus.
Listen to God’s Word. “In Jesus you are forgiven. You are forgiven for your unforgiveness.”
III. WHAT NOW?
Zero in on verse 35 again. It says “Forgive your brothers and sisters from the heart.” That’s what God did. He removed the pain and hurt that was in his heart and he made you right with him.
That means it isn’t enough to say, “I forgive you.” It isn’t enough to simply text, “No worries.” It isn’t enough to say “We’re cool,” only to bring it up again and again whenever you want something from your spouse.
That heart needs to let it go. It needs to let it go for you. It needs to let it go for them. It needs to let it go for God.
And yes, I know that wasn’t the point of the song Let It Go from Frozen. Elsa was talking about her magical ice freezing powers. But, I’ll tell you what, forgiveness is freeing. Gone is the tension whenever you hear that person’s name. Gone is the nervousness whenever you are alone with them. Gone is the yelling and the anger.
It’s replaced with God’s love. With God’s heart. With God’s mercy. With God’s compassion.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. 3 “About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6 About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ 7 “ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
The disciples were confused.
Not that long ago some parents had brought their young children to Jesus. The disciples immediately tried to send them away. How could these young ones follow Jesus? He didn’t have time for them. They’ll just play around and get in the way without anything of merit to contribute.
Jesus told them that “the kingdom of heaven belonged to such as these.” (Mt. 19:14)
“Ok, Jesus wants them in the kingdom, even though they have nothing to contribute, but a bit of drool.”
Then, a rich, young man had approached. An entrepreneur. He had the know how, the drive, and the economic resources to really boost this whole discipleship movement.
But Jesus put up such a high standard: keep all the commandments and then sell everything and follow their movement that the man ended up walking away dejectedly.
What was going on? Why was Jesus extending grace to those without merit, but turning away those with much merit!?!
The disciples were confused. So. Jesus told this parable
“A landowner…went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard.” Most likely he headed to the marketplace where workers would go to be hired. It’s the old fashioned equivalent of heading to Lowe’s or Home Depot where you will find workers for hire waiting outside near the carts.
He found some workers and He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. (v.2) A denarius was a common day’s wage. Eleven hours of work for about a hundred dollars. Fair enough. They’ll start work at 7am and go until 6pm.
After going back and setting them up with the work they had to do, he went back to the market to get more workers. In fact, he goes back four separate times. Once at 9am, once at noon, and once at three. Then he comes back at 5pm when there’s only 1 hour left. He finds a few guys who haven’t done any work all day. They are just lounging around – perhaps they are even finishing up a PBR—giving up on any work for that day.
Somehow the Vineyard owner persuades them. They go to work in the vineyard…maybe thinking, “I’ll make enough money for another beer.”
Then, it’s quitting time. He calls them all to get paid. First in line are the guys who came at 5pm.
Imagine their surprise when he reaches into his pouch and pulls out one shiny new denarius for each worker. $100 for an hour of work? Not bad.
But as excited as those workers were, imagine the excitement that those who had been working all day felt. They’d been there 11 hours. If these guys got $100 for one hour, then they’d get $100 x 11, $1100 dollars.
Think of what you could buy with that! It’s a nice down payment on a car. A whole month’s worth of rent. 275 bags of Doritos! Suddenly, the long hard day of work in the hot sun of the vineyard field was well worth it.
Picture what happens next. The boss calls them forward. They are trying to withhold their excitement as they step up to the front. They hold out their hands…maybe even close their eyes just to be a bit more surprised. The boss places his payment into their hands. They open their eyes.
Yep. The exact same amount that the guys who only worked for an hour got.
Jesus says, “When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.”
That’s not fair! We worked all day. What an unfair boss you are. Don’t you appreciate a hard worker? I’m reporting you to the Better Business Bureau of Jerusalem for unfair labor conditions!!! We have merited so much more.
The business owner doesn’t blink. ”Excuse me? Am I being unfair? Didn’t we make a deal? Weren’t you willing to work for a fair wages of a denarius? Didn’t I give you just that? I gave them a day’s wage, yes. But what is it to you? You didn’t lose any money. You got paid exactly what I said you would. I didn’t have to hire you and give you anything! Be thankful for what I am giving you, take your money, and go.”
Now Jesus doesn’t tell us this story so that we can put it to the test of our justice system and see if there needs to be a Labor Union set up for Vineyard workers in order to prevent the exploitation of others.
It’s a parable. There’s a spiritual meaning behind it. Jesus is warning us to watch out for entitlement!
Entitlement is a part of our society today. Entitlement means “This is what I’m entitled to. It’s what I’ve earned.” A coworker gets a raise and we better get the same raise. Someone gets off of work an hour early; we better get that same perk. If someone gets paid $15 an hour for a job that requires a college level education, I should get paid $15 for a job that doesn’t require a college level education?
It even happens with kids. They get upset if they don’t get a birthday party with a pony, a clown, and $500 in gifts because “My friend got that and so should I!”
Be wary that our culture of entitlement. It doesn’t take over your views on spiritual matters. Watch out for spiritual entitlement. It’s dangerous and it leads you to feel like God owes you.
Be careful. This entitlement comes in three areas:
· TIME. I’m entitled to more blessings from God because I’ve spent more time a Christian. I’ve logged in more hours at Gethsemane. I’m one of the stable members of Adult Bible class. I sat through even the boring parts!
· WORK. God has got to be more pleased with me than your average church goer because of all the good things I’ve done. I’ve been a part of many maintenance projects at church, I’ve been on the Council, the altar guild, the cookie makers, the lawn mowing team, the ushers, the nursery, the Sunday School teachers...I even have picked up litter in the parking lot, so I’m basically the WELS version of Greenpeace.
· MONEY. God has to be impressed with all the money I’ve given...10% of my paycheck always has gone to church. In fact, there are a few years I’ve given 10.1% by accident…but I didn’t complain. It makes me a little better than those who don’t…I know. God’s got a special place in heaven for me. I should get a plaque on this church’s wall.
Hmmm…? Does that sound familiar at all?
Then, in spite of our feeling of being entitled to specific things: God comes out in his Word and says this to all people, “Whoever believes in me will not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16) He says, “All have sinned…and all are justified freely by God’s grace in Jesus.” (Romans 3:23) He says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mk. 16:15)
No time requirements. No money amounts. No work awards. There’s no difference – God gives the same promise to all.
That’s when entitlement attitude really starts to kick in:
Really God? That guy? He hasn’t done anything. He’s barely been at church. He’s not a part of any service group. I’ve never seen him put a dime in the offering basket! And you’re offering him the same promise of love and forgiveness? I even see Pastor spending extra time talking to him after church? What did he do to deserve that? And why are we having a New Member Sunday? Shouldn’t we be having a “Long Time Member" Sunday?
That’s unfair God! You should give him as he deserves. You should give me as I deserve.
Really? You want God to be fair. You want God to “give you what you deserve.”
Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin is death.” You ever sinned? If so, what do you deserve?
I’m reminded of that time in a college English class when I approached the English Professor and asked him for a better grade on my test. I had a B and I thought I deserve an A!
Then, he said, “Oh, you wanted me to give you what you deserved? I had thrown out a few questions and graded on a curve, but I guess I could put those questions which you got wrong back into the test and drop the curve. Would you be happy with a C-?”
Trust me on this. In Spiritual matters, you don’t want what you deserve. Because what you, I, we deserve is hell.
So let’s go back to God’s promises. In spite of your sin he says, ‘’You who believe in Jesus as their Savior, will not perish, but have eternal life.” "You who have sinned…are justified freely by God’s grace.” You who “believe and are baptized will be saved.”
Think about what God is offering you. Heaven. A place you can’t get into unless you are perfect! Yet God offers it to you. Not because you earned it, but as a gift. Romans 6:23 continues, “The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.”
And this gift is more than just heaven. It is the forgiveness for all of your sins. Peace with God. A new life on this earth serving God. An eternal life in the pain free, sin free, glorious streets of heaven!
That’s a pretty fair deal, isn’t it? We deserve hell, but we get heaven. All for believing his promise!
Then, instead of grumbling when others receive this message, why not rejoice!?!
If someone puts a picture of something they are happy about online, how do people react? A cute puppy picture? LIKE! A new outfit! COMMENT: That looks fantastic! “You just had a baby? I’ll SHARE it with my friends.”
Why not do the same thing with new believers? Why not celebrate? Celebrate when they are but a child OR celebrate when they are much older. Have a party! Give a bunch of high fives! Pray countless prayers of thanks AND sing the hymns in worship with a whole new vigor.
And understand this, it isn’t a celebration of THEM. It’s not a celebration of YOU. It’s a celebration of GOD!
So…here’s your challenge this week:
1) Read Romans 3. The first part of the chapter will remind you of what you really deserve, while the second part of the chapter will fill your heart with the amazing nature of God’s love! Read it and be thankful for the gifts you have been given.
2) Share the Message of Jesus with someone who doesn’t look like he deserves it. Specifically reach out to someone with a tattoo OR at a bar. I’m gonna have my business cards available after church. Why not just grab a few, have them on hand, and be ready to say, “Hey, I wanted to invite you to our church on Sunday! I want you to learn about grace.”
3) Meet and talk with newer members. This is something to put into practice right after worship. Find someone you haven’t talked to before. Find someone who looks new to you. Introduce yourself. If you know everyone’s name already, then find someone that you don’t know much about. Show that you care about them. Show that you are thankful they are here. Show that you happy to marvel at God’s grace together with them. Tell them, “It’s a joy to have you here!”
At the beginning, we mentioned how the disciples were confused by Jesus, but it’s my hope that today’s parable hasn’t left you confused at all. Because, it’s clear. God doesn’t base the reward of his forgiveness on our merits. God bases it on his grace!
Praise God it is so. Amen.