We’re on the final lesson in our three-part PEACE series. Back on December 1st, Pastor Robin reminded us that, as believers, we have PEACE with God because of what Jesus did for us. Two weeks ago, we talked about how that PEACE with God leads us towards PEACE with our family and friends.
But if we stopped the series there, it wouldn’t be complete.
It’d be like an unfinished Dot-to-Dot puzzle. Ever you seen one of those in a coloring book? You connected dot 1 to dot 2, dot 2 to dot 3, —all the way to dot 57 until there is a completed picture.
But what if you leave 58 to 79 unfinished? The picture isn’t complete. What was supposed to be a cookie ends up looking like the letter “c”.
The same thing is true with our sermon series.
If we forget to connect the final dot in God’s plan for PEACE, the picture ends up being completely different.
Because God’s declaration of PEACE to us and guidance in PEACE with family and friends isn’t just so that YOU have a peaceful Christmas.
God brings us to PEACE with him and guides us to live in PEACE with others so that we can deliver HIS PEACE to them.
Our goal for today is to:
(1) identify the BEST gift you can give anyone this Christmas
(2) understand WHAT MAKES this gift the best gift ever
(3) make a game plan for bringing this gift to people in your life
Before we begin: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Best Gift
The lesson for today comes from the book of Isaiah. It was written 700 years before the very first Christmas, at a time when the people of Judah didn’t have a lot to feel peaceful about.
Recently, the Assyrian army had been conquering countries, devastating cities, and violently tearing apart armies. Now, the army had gotten very close to the country of Judah -- even completely destroying and devastating their sister country of Israel – where many of their relatives and friends resided.
It was a time of war.
People were anxious.
People were concerned.
People lived in fear.
Young men were afraid to walk outside by themselves at night.
Fathers were nervous that a letter may contain news of another relative killed in battle.
Mothers cuddled their children closely, afraid they might not have many days left.
It was to that kind of atmosphere that God brought this message:
Rise up, sit enthroned, Jerusalem.
Free yourself from the chains on your neck…
For this is what the Lord says;
“You were sold for nothing,
And without money you will be redeemed… (Isaiah 52:2-4)
Did you catch it?
God’s message to the people of Judah was that Assyrian would not defeat them.
God would free them from their oppression.
Soon, they would be redeemed.
But here’s what I want you to do.
Put yourself in Isaiah’s shoes.
He just heard from God’s mouth the very good news that the war would end soon and there would be PEACE.
This is where there’s a shift in chapter 52.
Because to this point, Isaiah has been recording what God has told him to tell others.
Now, Isaiah comments on the job that God just gave him:
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (v.7)
Feet aren’t normally that beautiful.
They can be stinky.
They can be smelly.
They can have ingrown toenails.
They can have thick pieces of black hair on the big toe.
If you want beautiful feet, you’ve usually got to work hard at it.
You need to scrub off the calluses.
You need to clip your toenails.
You need to rub essential oils on them to keep them smelling good.
Even at Christmas, if you’re opening up present on your living room floor, you might want to throw on a pair of elf slippers or maybe some socks with jingle bells on them.
Feet aren’t normally very beautiful.
How beautiful on the feet of those who bring good news.
They got to walk to tell the young men; they were safe.
They got to deliver the message to the dad; that their relatives would come home.
They got to tell the mother’s; it’s ok to send your children outside now.
There is no greater GIFT than the gift of GOOD NEWS.
Think about it:
How awesome when a friend text message you, “There’s a 50% off sale down at Kohl’s.”
How wonderful when you get the email: “Your Amazon Prime order has shipped.”
How excited do your kids get when you say: “There’s only 2 more days until Christmas!”
The message of Jesus is also good news.
In fact, the word commonly used to describe the message of Jesus is “the Gospel.”
Did you know that the word “Gospel” literally means, “Good news.”
It’s the “good news” that we have a Savior.
Friends, there’s no greater gift than good news.
And there’s is no greater GOOD NEWS than the GOSPEL.
II. The Beauty of the Gospel
If you believe the Gospel, then perhaps you understand the incredible effect the Gospel has had on you.
But for a moment, I don’t want you to apply the Gospel to yourself.
I want you to apply it to someone you know that doesn’t’ believe it.
Think about it:
What kind of an effect would the Gospel have on them?
A few things:
(1) It brings PEACE
Christmas is a time that a lack of peace becomes very evident.
Kids proclaim STRESS: “You didn’t get me what I wanted.”
Parents proclaim STRESS: “You didn’t get your child what you should.”
Friends proclaim STRESS: “I can’t believe you aren’t spending more time with me.”
Spouses proclaim STRESS: “Christmas reminds me of how terrible of a spouse you are.”
People proclaim stress to each other.
But with the message of Jesus you get to proclaim PEACE. That out of all their relationships that they have…spouse, friend, coworker, parent, child, sibling, 2nd cousin twice remove, there is ONE relationship that they are guaranteed to have peace with and it just so happens to be the one being that they have sinned against the most:
(2) It brings GLAD TIDINGS from God
One thing that has been popular in Christmases past is the Christmas letter. People used to write down all the good things that happened over the past year and update friends and relatives on it. I remember receiving a letter from a nice elderly couple up from North Minnesota that only included the latest updates to their garden: “The colerabi came in good this year.” Even the millennial version of it – no letter; just a picture from Shutterfly – announces some kind of good news; “We’re still a family.”
When you tell your neighbors about Jesus, it’s really like you’re delivering God’s Christmas letter to them. And it’s one of the only Christmas letters with good news for the recipients: “Dear friend, Things are going well in heaven. My Son Jesus is still the Savior. His death and resurrection 2000 some years ago still paid for all of your sins. You are still forgiven. You are still at peace with me. You are saved.”
(3) It brings SALVATION
Particularly verse 7 says that when you proclaim the message of Jesus, you proclaim salvation. (v.7)
It’s kind of like participating in a giving (or angel) tree. We’ve got one in our hallway. If you happen to be the one that delivers the presents, you’ll be deliving to some people who didn’t have enough money to buy gifts for their kids. You’ll be “saving” Christmas.
But how much greater when it comes to the message of Jesus.
They owe a debt that they could never pay.
But when you tell them the message of Jesus?
That big guilt that they feel? They’re saved from it.
That big sin that they did? They’re saved form it.
That terrible death that they’re facing? They’re saved from it.
(4) It says, “GOD REIGNS”
Which is another layer to the Gospel message.
Because if the God who saved them, has good tidings for them, and is at peace with them is also the KING of the universe…
Then, whatever they’re going through…
…estrangement from family.
…their loving God is in control.
…and all will work out for their good.
III. Game Plan
Friends, it is eternally important to share the message of Jesus this Christmas. So…here’s what we’re going to do next. We’re going to game plan.
Because if you are one of the College Football teams you are currently game-planning for their upcoming Bowl game.
If you’re UNC, you’re game planning for Temple.
If you’re Wake Forest, you’re game planning for Michigan State.
If you’re Duke or NC State, you’re game planning for whoever you play in the opening game next year.
If you’re a believer listening to this today, you’ve got to game plan for how you’re going to share the Peace of Jesus this Christmas.
(1) Share TOGETHER
Because look at what Isaiah writes next: “Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy.” (v.8)
Notice it’s a plural. You have more than one watchman so that you can get the message out to the entire city, quickly and efficiently.
It’s the same for us. We share the message of Jesus TOGETHER.
TOGETHER we pool our funds for social media ads inviting people to Christmas Eve.
TOGETHER we work together to put on the best Gospel proclamation service Tuesday night.
TOGETHER we sharpen our skills in sharing faith through Bible study.
TOGETHER we challenge each other to share our faith.
TOGETHER we pray for each others’ efforts.
TOGETHER we plan to follow up on those who join us and connect them with the message of peace.
And it has to be TOGETHER.
Because the effect is larger when it’s TOGETHER.
It’s like going in with your siblings on a gift for mom and dad. If you pool you’re money, you can get the next HD TV. But on your own? You never will.
It’s the same thing.
TOGETHER, we reach North Raleigh.
But only TOGETHER.
On our own, we NEVER will.
(2) Identify your End of the Earth
Verse 10 says, “All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” (v.10) It’s a promise of our God. He died for ALL and he wants ALL to know about their Savior.
It’s kind of hard to invite someone who lives in Australia to worship in Raleigh.
Remember though – Christianity is a team sport.
God isn’t calling you personally to go to the ends of the earth.
He’s just calling you to go to the ends of YOUR earth.
To the ends of your block.
To the end of your cubicle.
To the end of your couch.
Who are the people you know who don’t know Jesus? Look at the bottom of your note sheet. There’s a spot for writing some of those people down. Take a moment, write them down. Plan to share Jesus with them.
(3) Include ALL Nations
Because its’ really, really, really, really, really easy to say, “I can’t think of anyone who looks like me to share the Gospel of jesus with, so I don’t know if there is any one for me to share the message of Jesus with.”
Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
That includes the people who look like you.
And the people who don’t.
The people who have the same culture as you.
And who don’t.
The people who have the same religion as you.
And who don’t.
Do you know someone like that? Don’t be too nervous to write them down. God’s peace is for them too!
(4) Rejoice TOGETHER
The final thing that I want to include is found in verse 9:
“Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.” (v.9)
And this is where I think we could do better.
Because, we all agree that many need to hear about Jesus.
And we agree that sharing Jesus is challenging to do.
Let’s celebrate when it happens.
Let’s rejoice when someone invites someone to Christmas via text message.
Let’s rejoice when someone shares a scripture on Facebook.
Let’s rejoice when someone brings someone along to worship.
Let’s rejoice together, because we share Jesus together.
Celebrating these accomplishments, pumps us up.
Gives glory to God.
And motivates us to keep sharing Jesus.
Friends, there is no better gift than the message of Jesus.
May God be with you as you share the message of Jesus.
Today we are FINISHING up our summer sermon series, as we are FINISHING up summer and the Apostle Paul is FINISHING up his third missionary journey. The last time Paul had been on the continent of Asia, things had ended abruptly. He had been in Ephesus and there had been a riot. People thirsty for his blood had chanted against him for over two hours. For his own safety, Paul left early the next morning. He left the congregation that he had served for over two years very abruptly without any kind of final, farewell sermon.
Knowing what it’s like to be a pastor.
And how easy it is to love a congregation.
I’ll bet Paul wished he had that chance.
Similarly, I imagine the Ephesians also wanted one more sermon. Because without Paul, ministry questions came to them.
Should they keep preaching in Bob’s home downtown or should they move to Bill’s home in the suburbs?
Should they serve the community of widows or focus on the community of the homeless?
Would their new fellowship hall look better with Neutral Gray or Eggshell White trim?
How should we do ministry?
That’s a good question.
Even for us at Gethsemane Church.
Today we’re going to look at Paul’s encore sermon to the Ephesians and we’ll consider his encore sermon to us this summer. Our goal is to learn from Paul some key principles for Gospel ministry in Raleigh, NC in 2019. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Lessons about Ministry
The lesson starts with a bit of geography. Check out verse 17: From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church.
Paul had been up in Troas. He wanted to get back to Jerusalem. An easy route would have taken him right past the Ephesians that he wanted to encourage. But Ephesus was still filled with people who weren’t very welcoming. So, rather than risk a riot, Paul took a trip down around Ephesus to Miletus. It was a city about 30 miles to the Southwest of Ephesus. From there, he sent words for the leadership of the Ephesian church to meetup with him.
When they arrived, they hugged.
They high fived.
They swapped stories about things that have happened without him.
Then, Paul got to teaching:
You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility… (v.18-19)
This is strange. Because by the time Paul had gotten to Ephesus, he had already started over ten different churches. He had preached to thousands of people. He had even begun writing a few books of the Bible.
You would imagine that Paul would come to town full of pride.
Talking about how impressive he was…
…and how the people needed to listen to him for community revitalization,
…as he handed out T-Shirts with his smiling face on them.
Paul was humble.
Paul reminded people how he was the chief of sinners,
How it was Jesus who saved him.
And Jesus who worked through him to do anything worthy of praise.
Here’s the lesson:
(1) Gospel Ministry is HUMBLE.
Gospel ministry points people to Jesus.
It lowers the importance of self.
It gives all glory to God.
Because if it doesn’t…
I’ve got this long-distance social media friend who recently underwent a bit of a transformation. He had been an alcoholic, now he’s been clean for a couple of months. He was a smoker; now he doesn’t own a pack. He had been drinking three coffees a day and now he drinks one lightly caffeinated tea.
He’s been sharing the story and, to be fair, when he first started doing this, he gave a lot of credit to Jesus. Jesus was the one who influenced him. The one who became the purpose behind his life. The one who empowered him to give up his addictions.
But it recently changed. His most recent post sounded something like this:
“Man, I’m feeling the change. I’m transforming myself. I reached down. I dug deep. I can give up all my vices. It feels good. It feels empowering. I love what I’ve become. If you need help, talk to me. I’ll get you the transformation that you need.”
Did you hear it?
All about him.
If Gospel ministry is about YOU, it’s NOT Gospel ministry.
If you tell your family that you’ve been on leadership for years and that’s why Gospel ministry is good at Gethsemane, that’s NOT Gospel ministry.
If you tell your friends that YOU have been teaching your kids some awesome values and YOUR devotion is the reason their life will be good, that’s NOT Gospel ministry.
If you post on social media that YOUR life has changed since YOU accepted Christ and YOU chose to change your life, that’s NOT Gospel ministry.
In those scenarios, there isn’t Gospel ministry going on, because none of those scenarios involve teaching the Gospel.
And, (this is a shocker), Gospel ministry involves teaching the Gospel.
It points people to Jesus.
It points people to their Savior.
It points people to the one who lived for them, died for them, and rose for them.
You didn’t do that for you, Jesus did.
And you didn’t do that for your friends, Jesus did.
You can’t save you, Jesus does.
You can’t save your friends, Jesus will.
Share the Gospel by humbly pointing to Jesus.
(2) Gospel Ministry is BOLD.
But don’t think of Gospel ministry as this meek, milquetoast thing. (Like the guy at Food Lion who is being forced for donations because his boss told him to. “Do you want to roundup and donate to the local hospital? It’s ok. I totally understand if you don’t. My boss makes me ask.”)
Nope. Gospel ministry is humble, but it’s also BOLD. Check out what Paul says next:
You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. (v.20-21)
Think back to some of the ways that Paul was bold on his missionary journeys:
In Athens, he preached that Greeks gods weren’t gods at all, to a group of people who had devoted themselves to worship of these gods.
In Thessalonica, he taught that people are saved by Jesus and not Jewish customs, to a group of people who were firmly entrenched in the fact that their Jewish customs saved them.
In Corinth, he told people that sexual immorality was sinful, in a culture that sexual immorality was what all the cool kids were doing.
In Ephesus, he taught that money wasn’t everything, Jesus was; to a group of rioters who were upset that he was costing them money.
Gospel ministry is BOLD.
In fact, if you look closely at what Paul says, he mentions two different ways that Gospel ministry is bold.
First, Gospel ministry BOLDLY preaches ALL of God’s Word.
It isn’t like a timeshare salesman. (Ever listened to one of those?) The venue is marvelous. The site is incredible. You’ll have a wonderful vacation and it’ll be so great for your and your family. This week-long vacation at a five-star resort will be yours for only one yearly payment of $500!
…Plus, monthly maintenance fees.
…and monthly checking fees.
…and you’ll probably never be able to book a room when you want.
…and you’ll have this timeshare forever.
…and we own your soul.
Paul wasn’t a timeshare salesman. He didn’t hide anything.
If you want to participate in Gospel ministry, you don’t either.
And don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean that the starting point becomes… “Friends, let me tell you what hell is like.”
Nope. But it does mean that we don’t shy away from truth in Scripture, even when it’s difficult to hear.
We BOLDLY preach ALL of God’s Word.
Second, Gospel ministry BOLDLY preaches to ALL.
Again, think of Paul. Some of the people he had to preach to might have been kind of nerve-wracking to talk to.
There were the Athenians, whose entire city was so foreign to him. Instead of the familiarity of churches, there were statues of other gods, another religion, everywhere.
Paul was bold. Paul preached to them.
There were the Jews. People who looked like him and talked like him, but when Paul told them they needed Jesus, they repeatedly persecuted him.
Paul was still bold. Paul preached to them.
The same is still true today. God is calling us at Gethsemane to share the Gospel with people who look like us, sure.
Those who look differently than us.
Those who dress differently than us.
Those who speak differently than us.
Those who cover their heads.
Those with tattoos all over their arms.
Those with three children from three different fathers.
Those who like the sports team that we can’t stand.
Those who came from a different state.
Those who moved from a different country.
Those who have a legal visa and those who don’t.
God simply calls us to BOLDLY share Jesus with ALL.
(3) Gospel Ministry is DANGEROUS
Look at what Paul says next, “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (v.22-24)
Because when Paul preached, sometimes people didn’t like it.
In Philippi, he was thrown into jail.
In Thessalonica, his friends were fined.
In Ephesus, a riot filled the streets.
The truth is that Gospel ministry is DANGEROUS to the sharer. In fact, when we are doing it right by boldly preaching ALL God’s Word to ALL people, there’s going to be an element of danger. Whether that danger is…
…Danger of losing a job. “You don’t bring up Jesus at work.”
…Danger of losing a friend. “We’re done. Keep your stupid mumbo jumbo to yourself.”
…Danger of losing a relationship. “I like you, but if you’re all about Jesus? We’re through.”
Gospel ministry is dangerous to the sharer.
But before you call it quits and say: “It’s too dangerous! I can’t handle that.” Consider this:
It’s even more dangerous if you don’t share the Gospel.
That loved one? Is in danger of never knowing God’s love.
That friend? Is in danger of a lifetime of guilt and shame.
That family member? Is in danger…of hell.
Share the Gospel.
It might be momentarily dangerous to you.
But…it will be eternally dangerous to the devil.
When the Gospel is preached, the devil’s stronghold on a person’s heart weakens.
When the Gospel is preached, Satan’s hold on a person’s conscience is lifted.
When the Gospel is preached, death is defeated.
That’s why Paul preached. In fact, look at what he says next:
“Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.
Paul didn’t know what might happen next.
But Paul didn’t hesitate either.
Because God had his back.
God also has yours.
Don’t hesitate either.
II. What Now?
These lessons from Paul lead up to a shift in his sermon. First, the sharing lessons from his own ministry and now give straight up imperatives on what to do next. It’s kind of like his own WHAT NOW? section. Secondly, he shifts from talking about outreach to talking about inreach. Look at Paul’s own WHAT NOW’s:
(1) Be a Shepherd
Paul says, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God. which he bought with his own blood.” (v.28)
Paul isn’t that interested in the Agrarian lifestyle. He doesn’t love wool so much that he wants whatever shepherds are in the congregation to “keep on sheering those sheep!”
This is an illustration of life in a church.
Because shepherds care for sheep. They feed the sheep. They give the sheep water. They protect the sheep. They go looking for the sheep when one of them is lost. They comfort the sheep when they are scared.
It’s the same way in a church.
A pastor (which is the Greek word for “shepherd”) cares for his people. He feeds them God’s word. He gives them the water of life. He protects them from doubts. He goes after them when they are straying from Jesus. He comforts them with God’s promises when they are scared.
Here Paul is sharing this with the Ephesian leadership.
But it’s also written down.
Which means it applies to you.
First, shepherd those assigned to you. If you’re an elder in the church, check in with those sheep. If you’re a spiritual mother to someone at this church, care for them. If you have been assigned children in your family, make sure they’re being fed God’s Word. If you are a Garden Kids’ teacher, guide your little ones to the Savior. If you’re a Precious Lambs teacher, keep your Precious Lambs safe.
Second, shepherd each other. We’ve got a great opportunity to do that. Back to Church Sunday is coming up next week. You might know someone who had been attending this church who hasn’t in a while.
Go after them.
Ask them how life is.
Tell them you miss them at worship.
Remind them the importance of being fed the Gospel.
If next week is Back to Church Sunday, consider this: Be a Shepherd Sunday…
…and…you get the point.
(2) Guard against Wolves
Paul says: I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! (v.29-31)
Spiritual wolves are those who distort the truth.
They are those who change the Gospel.
Those who feed their pride by leading others away from Jesus and to following them.
We need to be on our guard.
First, that we aren’t those wolves.
Second, that those wolves don’t get us.
Third, that those wolves don’t get others.
That can be hard. Because sometimes the wolf is in disguise. Sometimes he looks like a lamb. Sometimes the wolf looks nice.
But you’ll be able to tell who they are. Based on if they are someone leading you closer to Jesus or away from him.
Guard against wolves.
A wolf could be a coworker, a friend, a neighbor, even a boyfriend.
If they are leading you away from Jesus, be on your guard.
(3) Commit to the Word
Paul says it this way: “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (v.32)
Because if we are going to be shepherds of each other, we need a tool. Just like the shepherd has his staff, you have God’s Word. And…just like a shepherd commits himself to learning how to use that staff to protect his flock, we commit ourselves to learning how to use God’s Word to protect each other.
That means more than just being able to conk a spiritual wolf on the head.
We learn to graze its pages for spiritual food.
We learn to drink deeply from its well of life.
We learn to wield its truth like a sword driving away sin and doubt.
We learn to dwell within its pages, protect from death itself.
Look at how Paul ends: I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (v.33-35)
Because the main reason that Paul was so involved in ministry wasn’t to get rich.
It’s the same for you and me.
We don’t participate in ministry so that God blesses us financially.
We don’t participate in church so other might bless us financially.
We don’t become part of this ministry in order to get something.
Because we’ve already got all we need in Jesus.
Instead, we GIVE.
We give gifts to help others.
We give time to help others.
We give talents to help others.
Ministry is all about giving because the one our ministry is about is all about giving!
It’s about God who gave his life.
God who gives forgiveness…
God who will gives eternal life…
After Paul says all of this. He left.
But he left with confidence.
Because that church was in God’s hands.
Friends, we leave with confidence.
We are in God’s hands. Amen.
We are restarting a sermon series that we did last summer. If you remember last summer, we went through a book in the Bible called “ACTS.” Acts is a book that describes the “ACTS of the Early Church.” This, by the way, is the Early Church in which our church finds its roots. The goal of the series was to discover (1) What the Early Church found important to do and (2) Consider how we might refocus on doing the very things that they did.
Because I think it’s really easy for a modern church to get distracted.
Maybe you know this, but Facebook knows what you think. Their website records everything you do on Facebook. Then, they distract you with ads for the very things you’ve been searching for on your Facebook profile.
For instance, Friday was a teacher workday. The teachers had some food delivered from McAllister’s deli. And even though I wasn’t in charge of ordering that food…my account must have been logged into the computer that was used for ordering and... coincidence? I am getting all kinds of ads for McAllister’s Deli.
The same is true for being a pastor. Because I am a pastor, the majority of the ads I see on Facebook are about church from businesses aimed at churches. The ads usually go something like this: “Your Church NEEDS this!” It’ll lead to articles that say things like:
Now these things could be beneficial.
But when it comes to what church NEEDS to be doing…
I’m thinking the answer should come from God, not the advertiser paying good money to track my internet usage habits.
Today we are going to dive into chapter 2 of ACTs and use the story of Pentecost as a base point for review of the last year’s sermon series. (That’s about 14 chapters in one sermon). Our goal is to identify the thing “Above All Else” that the Early Church needed to be engaged in and understand why we need to be doing that same thing.
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. God’s “Above All Else”
Acts 2 take places during Pentecost. It was an Old Testament festival that occurred “fifty days after Passover.” “Pente” a root form meaning “five.” That’s where we get the word “pentagon,” or “five-sided shape.” “Pente” meaning “fifty” hence, a festival fifty days after Passover.
It was a big festival. It happened every year. It drew thousands of practicing Jews to Jerusalem. This year was no different. The streets were filled with people. They were up early shopping the marketplaces and getting the items necessary for celebrating the festival later that day. It was just like every other year.
At about 8 o’clock in the morning, there was the sound of a hurricane-like wind. Only it wasn’t coming from the sky, but a small corner house.
After that sound was going for a while, out of the house, burst a group of men with what appeared to be flames of fire ignited on the top of their heads.
Men who, being from Israel, should not have known the 20-some different languages of the various people there in Jerusalem for the festival.
Yet they spoke clearly. Efficiently. Fluently.
It was amazing.
It was incredible.
It was…too good to be true.
Someone shouted: “They have had too much wine.” (2:13)
Because…getting drunk usually increases your language skills?
But the reality was that this was more than a house party.
This was more than a regular celebration.
This was divine and miraculous.
This was God!!!
And now with everyone’s attention focused exactly where God wanted it, God moves one of the men, Peter to stand up and speak this message:
“15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people…’” (Acts 2:15-16)
That’s what’s happening! With the hurricane sound. With tongues of fire. With the different languages. This is God’s way of getting your attention.
About 50 days ago.
It wasn’t just 50 days until your 50 days celebration.
About 50 days ago.
You guys killed Jesus.
And this Jesus?
Wasn’t just some rebel.
Wasn’t just some teacher.
Wasn’t just some nice guy.
He was God.
He did miracles exactly like what you’re seeing here today!
He didn’t just cause storms; he stopped them.
He didn’t just make fire appear; but bread and wine and water.
He didn’t just speak different languages, but he spoke to dead people to make them alive.
He did the very things that only God could do because he was God Himself.
And you killed him.
You killed God.
And death didn’t stick.
I saw Him.
Now at this point the group that was listening started to get very uncomfortable.
Because some of the people who heard this were the very people that had been in Jerusalem 50 days earlier shouting for Jesus to be crucified.
And…if this was true…
Then, they had sinned.
And if this was true…
Jesus would be coming back to vaporize them.
What shall we do?” They cried.
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. (Acts 2:38)
And that’s it.
God’s message to the very people who killed Jesus…
About how they could get right with Jesus was simply this:
Turn from sin. Turn to Jesus.
To turn from unbelief to turn to belief.
Their way into God’s kingdom was simply belief in Jesus!
And be baptized.
To have someone pour water on you in Jesus’ name.
And the miraculous God who did these very miracles here today will work through that water to bring you forgiveness.
Does that seem too easy for those sinners?
Does that seem too easy for any sinner?
Does that seem too easy for you, a sinner?
Guess what? That’s the main message of the God powered, God inspired Early Christian Church.
The Early Church’s main message, also known as the Gospel, places you above all else.
It’s kind of like an internet troll. Someone who logs in and gets updates on your social media page or your blog…only because they can’t wait to go on your profile and argue…maybe post an obscene emoji and make you generally angry. Send inappropriate emails to every in your contact list, too.
How many of you wake up on a day to day basis and say: “I hope that internet troll guy is doing good today. Hey, maybe I should call him to check in. Better yet…Let me send him some Uber Eatz…what’s his favorite? Chicken wings?”
We have rebelled against God.
Like a spiritual internet troll to God we have repeatedly gone against him.
Consciously or not – when we complain about his rules, sin, do the opposite - we are completely against God.
Yet, He still did everything to save us!
In fact, he put YOU above everything else. Peter’s words bring that truth to the forefront.
(1) Above the Father’s Other Plans
Check out verse 23: “Jesus was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge.”
This Jesus thing wasn’t an accident.
It wasn’t an incident that got out of control.
It wasn’t an UNPLANNED thing.
It was planned by the Father eternities before you were ever you.
In fact, God set things in motion from the beginning of time to achieve your salvation, to bring you forgiveness and to connect you to his kingdom.
God’s ultimate plan isn’t a fireworks celebration for himself.
It isn’t millions of people bowing down to him.
It isn’t to have his name be the most Googled name of all time.
In heaven with him.
(2) Above Jesus’ Own Life
Peter continues, “Jesus was handed over to you…and you put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (v.23b) Notice the phrase “Handed over.” It doesn’t say, “You actively took him by force,” but he was passively “handed over.”
Jesus knew God’s plan was to have him die.
And he still volunteered for it.
Not because it would be easy. It isn’t as if Jesus said, “You know what would be a lot of fun? To have nails jammed into my hands, to have my metatarsals separated by a spike, to press a crown of thorns deeply into my skull and to hang up there while everyone ridiculed me until my lungs gave up and I died.”
Jesus went to the cross because…YOU.
Because He placed you above HIS OWN LIFE.
(3) Above the Holy Spirit’s Inconspicuousness
Peter continues, “Jesus has sent…the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” (v.33)
How much do you know about the Holy Spirit?
Briefly: He’s God.
One of the three persons in the ONE Triune God.
He’s always been around.
In fact, he appears at the very beginning of the Bible. In Genesis 1 it says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…Now…the earth was formless and empty and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.”
The Holy Spirit is there.
He is only mentioned in passing in a few vague Psalms and prophecies.
He prefers to do his work in inconspicuous mystery.
And the Holy Spirit goes out of his way to draw our attention to his presence.
The Holy Spirit wants you to pay attention.
He wants you to see how Jesus’ put YOU above his own life.
He wants you to know how God put YOU above his other plans.
He wants you to know that the Gospel places YOU above all else.
II. The Early Church’s “Above All Else”
Now the scene is a courtroom.
Peter is there.
But this time…he’s in chains.
And the people surrounding him are not a crowd of believers.
Violent angry men.
The same violent angry men that killed Jesus.
And unlike some of the people at Pentecost, these people want nothing to do with Jesus.
In fact, that’s the reason they have Peter arrested!
They want him to stop teaching about Jesus.
They want him to stop preaching the Gospel.
They want him to stop…or else.
And Peter looks around.
They’re glaring at him.
He knows they’re serious.
Serious…and blood thirsty.
He doesn’t care.
“We must obey God; rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
In other words:
The Early Church would keep preaching the Gospel.
They would keep telling people about Jesus.
Because they would place the Gospel above all else.
This is just one story that illustrates that.
Because throughout the book of Acts, the devil does everything possible to try and shove the Gospel to the bottom of the Early Church’s priority list.
But the Book of Acts is filled with stories where the Gospel triumphs!
Where it is placed above…
(1) 1st Century Racial Prejudices
Because the Gospel started among the Jewish people.
And the Jewish people – they had developed a superiority complex.
They thought themselves as God’s special people.
Afterall, the Old Testament was all about them.
They were God’s special people – to the point that they wouldn’t interact with non-Jewish people.
They wouldn’t eat a meal with them.
They would definitely not spend time with them unless they were forced to!
Enter a guy named Philip.
He’s on the road to Gaza.
He comes across a man who is an Ethiopian.
Normally Jews avoided non-Jews, but the Gospel doesn’t discriminate. “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’” (Acts 8:29)
Philip walked right up to the chariot, got into the chariot, sat right next to him in the chariot and shared the Gospel.
The Early Church placed the Gospel above Racial Prejudices.
This isn’t the only time.
Acts 8, says Philip also went to Samaria to continue telling non-Jewish people about Jewish.
Acts 13 and 14, chronicles an entire missionary journey specifically to non-Jewish people!
At Pentecost itself, the Gospel was presented in languages beyond Hebrew of the common Jewish people!
The Early Church placed the Gospel above Racial Prejudices.
(2) Social Status
This is a big deal. Because at that time, the most common religious entity – the Pharisees—loved rich people.
They loved people who could contribute to the upkeep of their gathering spaces.
They loved people who could also afford fine jewelry and fancy robes.
They loved people who would make them look cool by association.
Peter and John?
In Acts 3, the very first individual described hearing the Gospel?
A blind beggar.
A blind, homeless beggar.
A blind, homeless beggar at the bottom of social status.
And yet Peter is sure to bring him the message about how Jesus gives him the status of God’s eternal kingdom.
The Early Church placed the Gospel above Social Status.
(3) Jewish Traditions
To be fair, the Gospel is above any tradition.
Specifically, for the Early Church, Jewish traditions had become an obstacle to the Gospel.
And some of the staunchest Jewish traditions at that time had to do with food.
The tradition was that Jews only ate certain foods.
The tradition was that Jews only ate after washing their hands in a ceremonial way.
The tradition was that Jews never at in the home of a non-Jewish person.
Acts 11, Peter, who is 100% Jewish and 100% a follower of Jewish tradition…receives a vision.
In the vision, God tells him to go ahead – to eat meat – from…traditionally, unclean animals.
In other words, God tells him to break tradition. Peter refused by saying, “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” (Acts 10:14)
As soon as the vision is over, Peter receives a knock at his front door.
It’s a servant from a Roman Centurion – a non-Jewish, Roman centurion – who has invited him over to eat.
That’d be breaking tradition…but God had told Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15)
Peter went because he placed the Gospel above even his own traditions – all God’s doing. Then Peter began to speak: “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.” Acts 10:34-35
The Gospel was above Jewish Traditions.
(4) Above Personal Vendettas
One of the more famous accounts in the first half of Acts is the account of a guy named Saul.
Saul, who did not like the Gospel.
He did not like Jesus.
In fact, he persecuted those who followed Jesus by threatening them, beating them up, and throwing them in prison.
Jesus appeared to him.
Then he became a believer.
In fact, Saul became such a committed believer that he wanted to help the disciples share the Gospel.
Acts 9:20, 26-27 “At once he began to preach in the synagogues [in Damascus] that Jesus is the Son of God…When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles.”
Because it’s not about them and what they feel. It’s about Jesus. We support others who want to share God’s Word
They put the GOSPEL above their own personal issues.
(5) Above Their Own Safety
Back to where we started.
The disciples began shouting the message of Jesus…
…in the middle of the very streets where Jesus had been put to death.
…surrounded by the very people who had supported his death.
But they didn’t care.
And this continues.
In Acts 3, they are put on trial.
In Acts 5, they are imprisoned.
In Acts 7, Stephen has stones thrown at him until he is killed.
In Acts 8, they undergo the aforementioned persecution of Saul.
In Acts 12, Peter is put on death row.
And at no point do they stop preaching.
At no point do they stop telling about Jesus.
At no point do they put their own lives above the Gospel.
Because the Gospel is about how Jesus put US above his own life.
III. WHAT NOW?
Consider these two truths:
The Gospel places you above all else. The Early Church placed the Gospel above all else.
Because of God’s work with the Early Church, you have the Gospel in your heart.
A simple What Now?
Put the Gospel Above All Else
I mentioned those Facebook ads at the beginning.
I think the devil works pretty similarly in our lives.
He’s smart. He watches us.
He knows the things that will distract us.
The things that will tempt us to think:
“God didn’t love you that much.” And “The Gospel’s not that important.”
Rather than the GOSPEL above all else…
He wants you to place the ALL ELSE above the Gospel.
Don’t let him.
PLACE THE GOSPEL ABOVE ALL ELSE!
Throughout this summer I am praying that God works in your heart to:
(1) understand more fully how God placed you above all else,
(2) throw light on areas in which you have placed other things above the Gospel,
(3) guide us, as a church, to refocus on placing THE GOSPEL above all else. Amen.
Today we are looking at the final sermon in our EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS sermon series. It is based on the final time Jesus appeared to his group of disciples.
Have you counted up the appearances so far?
How many are there?
The other women.
The Emmaus Disciples.
The group of disciples on Easter.
The group of disciples - plus Thomas – one week later.
The group of disciples on the fishing trip.
That’s six accounts so far.
But that’s not all of them.
There’s another time that Jesus saw Peter – one-on-one. (1 Cor. 15:5)
There’s a time that Jesus appeared to a guy called James – either the disciple or Jesus’ half-brother. (1 Cor. 15:7)
There’s a time where Jesus gives his disciples the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19-21)
There’s a time that Jesus appeared to more than 500 disciples all at one time (1 Cor. 15:6)
There’s even a time when Jesus appears to a guy named Saul who was hell-bent on destroying Christianity, but Jesus’ appearance transforms his heart into a guy named Paul who goes on 4 missionary journeys, starts 20 churches, and writes 13 books of the Bible (Acts 9).
If you were counting – that’s 11 different appearances to over 500 different people.
The resurrection is not made up.
It is REAL.
But if so…maybe you still struggle with this.
Because would it be so much easier if you could SEE Jesus?
If you could take a trip to the Holy Land and get a selfie with him?
If you could check out his Twitter handle for his perspective on any cultural situation?
If you could text him every time you had a question on a Bible passage…
Why did Jesus leave?
Why did he disappear?
Today’s EYEWITNESS account is the 12th recorded account in Scripture. It is the last one that occurs before he physically disappears. Today we want to learn (1) where Jesus went (2) why he disappeared (3) and what he wants us to do in the meantime. 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 open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The “Disappearance”
The lesson we are looking at to begin with comes from Luke 24:50-51: When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.
Timeline wise this is the 40th day after Easter. We find that out from Acts 1 – which is an expanded version of this same exact account.
Note that this final appearance starts with Jesus leading his disciples. That’s appropriate. He had led his disciples for 3 years. He had led him the last 40 days. He would lead them up until his last day on earth. In fact, that’s literally what disciple means: “follower.”
And he led them to Bethany. Bethany is a small town just to the east of Jerusalem. The city is the place where Jesus commandeered the donkey for his entrance into Jerusalem. In this instance, they are just outside of Bethany where a few hills are located.
And as they get to the top of the hill…
He disciples his disciples just like he had done so many times before.
Unlike so many times before…
His feet go up.
They lift off the ground.
And his body begins floating.
And he goes up.
And up. Until…
A cloud hid him from their sight.
Do any of you know who Criss Angel is? He’s like a tattooed, goth version of David Copperfield. He is famous for street magic.
One of the tricks that he did was he began to levitate in the air. Mind you – this is on the sidewalk, in the street, apart from a magician’s stage.
I thought that was amazing.
There’s a YouTube video of him explaining the trick. Essentially, he is wearing a special pair of pants that (1) break away in the front (2) have a mannequin’s foot attached to the back of it. This enables him to plant his real foot on the ground, balance, and go into a squat that makes it look like he is beginning to float parallel to the ground. The rest is misdirection and camera positioning.
And voila! Magic.
Jesus’ ascension is not a magic trick.
He isn’t floating on a false leg.
There isn’t camera misdirection.
He doesn’t hitch a ride on a hot air balloon, a jet pack or even a drone.
He goes all the way up to the sky
Without any strings attached.
Until he is hidden by a cloud.
This is a miracle!
This is Jesus’ ascension.
Jesus didn’t disappear; he ASCENDED into heaven.
This is a really important distinction.
Because if Jesus disappeared – we’re left confused and frightened.
But Jesus didn’t just disappear.
He ascended to heaven.
That word is really important. If any of you watched Game of Thrones – and I haven’t – but I think I can reveal this without giving a spoiler. I heard that at the end someone conquers all of the other people and ascended to the throne. He wins the Game of Thrones. He ascended to his position of power.
He did it because the struggle was over!
Jesus ascended because He conquered sin.
Jesus ascended because He conquered guilt.
Jesus ascended because He conquered shame.
Jesus ascended because He conquered death.
Jesus ascended because the work of salvation was completed.
That’s so important to remember!
Because Jesus’ whole purpose on earth was to defeat all of our spiritual enemies.
If he ascended to heaven? That’s because his work is done.
Remember that – it’s really easy to think:
I’ve got more to do.
I’ve got to become the perfect mom.
Jesus weakened sin, guilt and shame – but I have to finish them.
There’s even churches out there that preach – you’ve got more to do!
You’ve gotta get to perfection.
You’ve gotta improve.
You’ve gotta do some things to complete Jesus’ work for him.
Jesus doesn’t leave tasks unfinished.
Jesus always completes.
And Jesus completed completely conquering your sin.
If he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have left!
Jesus ascended where he rules over all.
Ephesians says this: “He raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” (1:20-21)
Did you hear that?
The one who loves you more than you could ever dream is in control of all things.
He’s ruler over cities, counties, and states.
He’s ruler over kings, despots, and presidents.
He’s ruler over wind, waves, and the hot temperature outside right now!
He’s is ruler over all things!
Nothing’s more powerful.
Nothing can defeat him.
There’s one more place that he would love to rule:
I went to McDonald's the other day with a coupon for a free meal that someone had given me. After I ordered Value Meal number seven, I handed them the card and the person said: “Just a second. I can’t authorize this.”
She called over her coworker who looked at the card and said: “We need a manager to authorize this.”
She called over a shift manager who looked at the card and said: “I’m sorry. I can’t authorize this.”
She called over her manager who looked at the card, entered the code and authorized it.
It’s the same thing with life.
We want peace.
We want joy.
We want courage.
And we try to find it from all the things that don’t have the authority to give it:
Things like lust.
Things like greed.
Things like money, fame, career…a desire to be perfect!
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” (Colossians 3:15)
Because Christ is God.
Christ is the one true ruler.
Christ offers true peace.
And Christ also offers us direction.
II. Our Mission
Because if the boss leaves and you don’t know what to do, it can be stressful:
Should we finish the reports?
Should we work on new clients?
Should we try to recover old ones?
UGH! Maybe we should just drink all of the coffee.
Christ didn’t leave us unclear with what to do. Look at what he told his disciples before his ascension:
Jesus told his disciples, “This is what is written (that’s a reference to Old Testament prophecy.) The Messiah will suffer (Jesus suffered) and rise from the dead on the third day (Jesus did), and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”(That hadn’t happened yet…)
But then look at what Jesus says next:
“You are witnesses of these things.” (Lk. 24:46-48)
Do you get it?
The final part of God’s plan is bringing the message of forgiveness to everyone.
And while all the other parts happened through Jesus…
This is the part that happens through you:
Before being UPLIFTED, Jesus commanded us to UPLIFT.
You don’t need to be confused about your task on this earth.
You see a coworker who is down? Approach them, listen to them, and share the message of Jesus.
Tucking your kids in for the night? Tuck them in, kiss their forehead, and share the message of Jesus.
Have a spouse who doesn’t believe? Go home, give them a hug, and share the message of Jesus.
Serve in ministry here at school? Do the lesson plans, cut out the art project, and share the message of Jesus.
Serve in leadership here at church? Think about funding, consider maintenance, but don’t forget our goal is to SHARE THE MESSAGE OF JESUS!
But don’t think you have to do it alone.
“I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” More specifically in Acts: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you….” (1:8)
Ten days later.
The disciples are in Jerusalem just like Jesus told them to be.
There’s the sound of a hurricane like wind without the wind coming from within the room they are staying.
They look around and they see tongues of fire appear on the top of each other’s heads.
They are able to speak fluently in languages that they have never even studied.
The Holy Spirit was with them.
And they immediately find courage. Because they go out that day and do some sidewalk preaching – in the middle of downtown Jerusalem – with the end result that over 3,000 people are baptized and believe.
The Holy Spirit was with them.
And the Holy Spirit is with you.
Jesus left you with the promise of the HOLY SPIRIT.
By faith, the Holy Spirit is with you and he does the impossible.
He made fire appear on the heads of disciples.
He made them speak in language they never learned.
He made the sound of a hurricane occur without any hurricane winds.
He does the incredible!
The seemingly impossible.
Working through you.
To bring others to faith!
But that’s not all.
Look at verses 49-50 of Luke 24:
When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, Jesus lifted up his hands and blessed them.
Throughout Scripture, whenever Jesus’ hands are involved, there are some amazing blessings:
In Luke 13 he lays his hands on a woman who had never been able to straighten her back…and instantly she did.
In Mark 7, he lays his hands on a man who is deaf and mute and…instantly he hears and speaks.
In Mark 8, he lays his hands on a blind man’s eyes and…instantly he sees.
In Mark 6, it simply says, “He laid his hands on…sick people and healed them.” (v.5)
Talk about blessings.
And then, there’s the final blessing that pours from his hands.
He heads to a cross.
They take his hands and nails them.
And then blood flows forth.
But not just blood.
Jesus left, but left us with BLESSINGS pouring from his HANDS.
Even though you can’t see his hands.
Even though you can’t touch them.
The truth is no less true.
The blessings are no less real.
It’s one of the reasons that pastors for centuries have continued this tradition. Using the words of Scripture – God’s Word – they lift up their hands. They communicate God’s blessings on the congregation. They say: “The Lord bless you and keep you.”
This is more than just wishful thinking.
This is God’s real blessing given to you.
III. What Now?
I think that if you were a passerby and saw the aftermath of the Ascension, you might have laughed.
Because there were 20 some dudes.
Eyes lifted upwards.
Staring into the cloud.
Gazing into the sky.
Mouths dropped wide open.
And this continued…
A tap on the shoulder:
“The angel said, ‘Why do you stand there staring up into the sky? This same Jesus who left you…will come back in the same way you saw him go into heaven.’” (Acts 1:10)
In other words:
You have a job to do.
Stop looking into heaven.
And start looking around.
Don’t you see…?
There are souls who need this message.
Souls in your office.
Souls at the garage.
Souls in your neighborhood.
Souls in your kid’s room.
Souls in your kitchen.
Souls in the easy chair across from you while watching Netflix tonight.
Everywhere you look there is work that needs to be done!
What a privilege God wants to work through YOU!
Keep your eyes on the task that Jesus has given you
Be a WITNESS of the EYEWITNESS truth of your Risen Savior. 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.
Today we are finishing up our ACTS series for this summer and finishing up the first delegated and sponsored mission trip in the history of the Early Christian Church. To be fair – it’s had ups and down. From the highs of bringing governor Sergius Paulus to faith to the lows of being run out of Iconium, from the high of watching a host of Greeks believe in their Savior, to the low of watching their Jewish brethren hurl stones at Paul – the trip has been quite eventful.
Today we are going to find out what comes next. After they have “done mission work,” shared the Gospel and those who have heard have become believers – what comes next? That’s an important question for the Early Christian Church, but also for us.
Next weekend is Back to Church Sunday. You might invite someone to hear about Jesus. They might come. But after they’ve come, WHAT NEXT?
Curl up in these pews and take a nap?
Our goal is to examine what Paul and Barnabas do next to find guidance for what we should be involved in after “DOING OUTREACH.” 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.
Our chapter starts with one verse that bring us to the end point of the mission trip: They preached the Gospel in Derbe and won a large number of disciples. (v.21) Then, they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch…
First, praise God! They preached the Gospel in Derbe. It seems uneventful, but it is very eventful! There aren’t any stones or riots, but there are people whose broken sinful hearts are healed with the message that Jesus is their Savior form sin. It might not look all that impressive on the outside, but inwardly – it’s amazing! They have come to faith in their Savior. They are forgiven. They are saved. They now have the promise of heaven!
Second, they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch.
Do you remember what happened there?
In Pisidian Antioch, a mob chased them out of the city.
In Iconium, a mob plotted to kill him.
In Pisidian Antioch, a mob threw stones at Paul in an attempt to kill him!
Why would Paul and Barnabas go back there?
To argue with the Jews?
To find a phone charger they left behind?
To stop at their favorite Chicken Wing joint?
They went strengthening the disciples (v.22)
Have you ever had a personal trainer? I had one that seemed like a lot of fun. They smile a lot. They are excited to have you in their gym. They give you a lot of high fives. They work you until you start to sweat.
But then, about half way through the workout, something changes. You get tired. You drop the weight. You put your hands on your hips to take a break and they walk over to you, smile and shout:
“WHAT ARE YOU, LAZY? PICK THAT BACK UP! YOU NEED TO GET STRONGER!!!”
And you pick that weight up.
You cry a little. But you pick it up.
Why do coaches do that? To strengthen you. A good coach will push you in order to strengthen you, so you can be stronger.
Essentially that is why Paul and Barnabas return to these cities.
They knew that there were believers in each of those cities.
They knew that those believers would be under attack.
They knew that those believers would need their faith exercised so it would be strong enough to endure those future attacks.
Here’s the truth for us: NEW believers/young in faith believers need their faith strengthened. No matter who it is; no matter how strong they seem to believe; our work is not done when someone says, “Thanks for inviting me to church that one time. I enjoyed it.” Nope. It doesn’t end when they confess their faith in Jesus for the first time. It doesn’t end with Baptism. It doesn’t even end when they become a member of our congregation. It doesn’t end with Confirmation, either.
After evangelism, the next step is discipleship.
Discipleship was key for the early Christian church.
Discipleship needs to be key for us.
Here are some of the ways that Paul and Barnabas went about discipleship:
New Christians needed encouragement. While their life might be transformed by Jesus, they were still relatively new to this whole Jesus thing. They needed encouragement to remain true to the faith. It’s easy to see why:
Those around them worshipped other gods.
Those around them hated Christianity.
Those around them did not think they should be Christians and would have no problem reporting them to the authorities to get them to renounce their faith.
It was very important for Christians to encourage each other.
The same is true today.
Brothers and sisters, we need to encourage each other.
Encourage each other with God’s Word.
Encourage each other in prayer.
Encourage each other via email.
Encourage each other via text message.
Encourage each other via high five.
Encourage each other via an invitation out to lunch where you ask them how things are going, listen to their struggles and speak the Gospel to uplift them.
And while you are encouraging, don’t forget the second key thing for Church members to offer each other:
2) Reminders of the End Game
I remember when we were in Arizona at the beginning of summer, we had the chance to go down into the Grand Canyon. There is a 6-mile down walk that you can go down to get to this ledge in the middle of the canyon that is supposedly gorgeous.
About the first mile down, I was super excited.
About the third mile, I was still feeling ok about it.
About 5 miles in, soaked in sweat, sweltering in the desert heat and muscles aching, I thought: “Eh! You know what…I bet there are pictures of the Grand Canyon on Google Images…”
But we pushed through and can I tell you – it was beautiful.
It was gorgeous.
It was worth it.
The truth is that living the Christian faith can be very challenging.
Because the devil will do anything and everything to make you fall from faith.
Coworkers ridicule you.
Family members question you.
You start to feel a bit of the heat that Paul and Barnabas felt on their journey.
That’s why Paul reminded early Christians of the end game!
Because in the end, they would see Jesus.
In the end, they would see heaven.
In the end, they would be guilt free.
In the end, they would live forever.
This is important for us to remember.
It’s important for us to remind new believers about.
It’s important for us to remind long time believers about.
3) Developed Ministry Positions to Address Discipleship
Specifically, Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord. (v.23) Because the reality was that Paul and Barnabas could not be in Iconium, Pisidian Antioch and Lystra all at once. If you add in Derbe and Cyprus and all the places that they still wanted to go, this was downright impossible. There needed to be people in the congregation whose specific job it was to disciple the other believers in the congregation.
It's kind of like when you delegate chores to your kids. Someone has to clean the bathroom. And here’s the thing – if you ever give kids the choice of what they’d like to do for a chore, none of them ever pick CLEANING THE BATHROOM! Who says, “I would really love to scrape old toothpaste scum from sister’s toothbrush off of the sink!” No one.
So, you delegate. Someone is assigned the chore. It gets done.
That’s exactly what Paul and Barnabas did at these churches that they went to. In each church, they delegated and specifically assigned leaders to the church with the express purpose of strengthening and encouraging the members when Paul and Barnabas weren’t there.
We have similar positions in our church. Did you know that? We have leadership whose specific purpose it is to disciple you. That’s what a pastor is. My goal is to share the Gospel with the unbelieving in the community and disciple you believers in this congregation.
We also have elders who help specifically with the discipling aspect. They encourage you to get into church and Bible study. In other words, they tell you to get into God’s Word because they want you to grow your faith and stay strong against Satan’s attacks.
Could you do me a favor?
If one of these elders calls to talk to you or send you an email to encourage you to join us for church…
Please don’t be rude.
Don’t be upset.
Don’t start thinking “How dare they!”
Be thankful because they care.
Be thankful because they are doing the task assigned to them by our church.
Be thankful because they are doing the task commanded by God.
Be thankful because they want you to have a strong faith.
Be thankful because they want you in heaven.
After Paul and Barnabas finish their tour of these new churches, they went back down to their home church in Antioch Syria. That’s the church that funded and commissioned the mission trip. When they arrived, Paul and Barnabas did not just segue into congregational life. They don’t just go back to their daily business. They don’t just grab snacks and cookies from the fellowship hall and blend in near the back.
Nope. They had a task to do – even in this more mature in faith congregation.
What was it?
They celebrated the work that God has done.
They gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. (V.27)
I think that’s key for us. We need to stay encouraged as people “doing outreach.” One way to stay encouraged is to share stories of God’s grace and love.
Like Lowell. Lowell was the brother-in-law of my Professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. A few weeks ago, my professor called me on the phone and left a message for me to call back. (Initially, I thought I was in trouble – maybe they found out that I was missing an assignment or something). But no – that wasn’t the case. He was calling to tell me that Lowell, who lived in Raleigh, hadn’t visited church since we had the Seminary Choir visit us – the choir that this professor directed – about 7 years ago.
He was sick.
He was near hospice.
He was troubled by his sins and needed a pastor.
I was able to visit him.
I was able to talk with him.
I was able to tell him about his Savior.
I was able (privileged and blessed) to hear him confess his faith in his Savior.
That’s awesome! Friends – we were a part of ushering someone to faith in Jesus – and ultimately – to his home in heaven!
And I do mean we!
I’m not here if you didn’t call me.
I’m not joyful if you don’t encourage me.
I’m not freed up to do that ministry if you don’t bless us with gifts.
We do mission work TOGETHER.
Paul thought the same way. That’s why he gathered the church “Together” to talk about the mission work. The whole church was a part of this mission work. The whole church had a part in the governor coming to faith, the Gentiles seeing the light, the Gospel making its way to Derbe! It wasn’t just Paul. It wasn’t just Barnabas. It was all of them.
And make no mistake.
When we do New Member Sunday in a week…
When visitors join us for Back to Church Sunday…
When new believers confess their faith…
It isn’t a testament to me.
It’s a testament to GOD.
Specifically, it’s a testament to God’s work through all of us…
Together we celebrate.
And…Together we recommence.
Because it isn’t that long.
It isn’t that many words.
It isn’t that many chapters in Acts before the church decides to do this mission trip thing again.
In chapter 16, Paul and companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia…(16:6)
New mission trip.
New people with Paul.
Same message of Jesus.
Friends, Paul got it. The Great Commission is continuous.
Mission work is continuous.
And for us – the same is true.
The Great Commission is continuous.
Mission work is continuous.
As a church – the school being built is not the end. We need to use that building to share the Gospel with the many that will come.
Back to Church Sunday is not the end. We need to use the opportunity to follow up on family and friends who join us.
Baptizing our kids is not enough. We need to keep teaching them and uplifting them and sharing the Gospel with them.
One adult confession of faith in Confirmation is not the end. We need to be encouraged by that confession of faith, to confess our faith before others, in hopes that one day they might confess their faith in Jesus, too.
So…that’s what next!
When you get done doing mission work – you do some more mission work.
Whether that’s discipling, encouraging, or sharing the Gospel again – we keep on doing mission work.
Until God, our Savior, calls us home to heaven – and loving says; “Well done.” Amen.
We’ve been in the book of Acts this summer. And maybe you’ve noticed – the book of ACTS is all about the ACTS of the Apostles. The Twelve guys that Jesus spend three years teaching. In Acts, Jesus had gone to heaven. The Apostles are going around preaching and teaching all by themselves.
And up to this point – over 3000 people believed their message. Amazing!
But not everyone believed.
Because sure, they like that Jesus guy.
Sure, they knew this Jesus guy was something special.
And yes, the disciples had been with Jesus…sure.
But…they weren’t Jesus.
So…was God still with them?
Was God’s power still with them?
Was their message the same?
Today we are going to answer that very question – which is SUPER important for us today, because the Apostle’s Teachings are what we have recorded in the New testament of the Bible. Before we begin our study, 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. Same Power.
The lesson in Acts 3 seems takes places days after Pentecost. By this time, the news about the Apostles had started to spread. News about the incredible events at Pentecost – that there was a tornadolike sounds emanating from the middle of a house, the apostles had something like fire on top of their heads and could speak in languages they had never learned – had spread.
People were interested.
The disciples kept preaching.
The disciples kept teaching.
But at the start of Acts 3, that’s not what they’re doing.
The Apostles are just living their life.
True story – even today – pastors don’t always work. (It’s true.) I don’t just preach and teach and counsel all day long. Sometimes I go to Food Lion to pick up deodorant. Sometimes I stop by the gym to workout. Sometimes I go to Home Depot for advice on Lawn Care Supplies.
The Apostles were doing the same thing.
Peter and John were heading into the temple.
Not to preach.
Not to teach.
But simply to pray.
The temple was rather large. It was so large that it had a bunch of different entrances that one could use to get into it. Each entrance had a specific name. (It might be like the PNC Arena – and the different entrances that they have).
One of the entrance was simply called BEAUTIFUL. It called to mind the notion that God and worship of God was Beautiful.
But at entrance of the gate.
Right under the incredible archways and the beautiful jewel studs.
Was something – not so beautiful.
A dirty middle-aged man.
A dirty middle-aged man sat on the ground.
A dirty middle-aged man sat on the ground and begged.
This man was paralyzed. He had never been able to walk a day in his life. Because he couldn’t walk, he also couldn’t work. (There weren’t a lot of desk jobs back in the day). The only thing that he could do was hold out his hand, ask for money, or ask others to grab some food for him.
And that’s what he did:
Sir, could you spare a few dollars?
Ma’am, do you have some extra money?
Friend, could you help me? Anything will do.
And as he asked, undoubtedly people responded in a lot of different ways:
Sorry bud. I don’t care cash on me.
Give you something? Why don’t you get a job?
Honey, please look the other way. Who knows where that guy has been!
Here you go – I suppose – Here’s a $10 – but I’d like 9 dollars in change please.
This was his life.
He was “the Paralyzed Beggar at the Gate called Beautiful.”
All the time.
And that was what he was doing as Peter and John walked by on their way to the temple for prayer:
“Good sirs! Do you have some money? Can you help a brother out?”
And the disciples stopped.
And the turned to the Paralyzed Man.
And the man got excited. Maybe they’d give him a dollar or two.
And Peter looked him straight in the eye.
And he said this, “Silver and gold, I do not have. But what I have, I give you. In the name of Jesus, WALK.” (v.6)
And the man looked at Peter.
Was Peter serious?
The man had never walked in day in his life.
If Peter didn’t have any money, he could just say so and get on his way – why did he need to rub it in like this?
But…then again…he looks sincere.
And I do really want to walk. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.
To do what I’ve never been able to do.
The man reached out his hand.
He took a hold of Peter’s
And instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. (v.7-8)
Because notice Peter didn’t give him some kind of pill to swallow.
He didn’t inject him with some kind of steroid.
He didn’t affix a robotic leg.
He spoke, and the man walked.
And he did much more than walk! Because check out verse 8, “He went with the disciples into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God!”
He wasn’t hobbling around.
It wasn’t like he took his first step and then sat down for a rest.
He was instantly walking and running and jumping and skipping and doing cartwheels and practicing his breakdancing!
This was amazing!
What’s the point?
This is a miracle.
A miracle that only God could do.
A miracle that Jesus had done on more than one occasion a couple of years earlier.
That meant this:
The disciples weren’t doing their work on their own.
God’s power had to be with them.
And if you’re skeptical, remember – this happened in the middle of the temple courts.
Surrounded by thousands of people.
And when people saw this formerly paralyzed man walking around – they recognized him as the paralyzed man who sat at the Gate called Beautiful!
And when they asked what happened and they heard what the Apostle’s did – it became absolutely, 100% certain of what happened.
God did a miracle.
God’s power was with the Apostles.
And that’s important to note.
II. Same Message.
I am working out a CrossFit Gym. And sometimes at the CrossFit Gym – people that I work out with tend to give me advice. There was a guy a few months back who started critiquing my clean and jerk method. He told me to get my shoulders up, to hold it close to my body and shift my weight onto my heels.
And as he said it, I started thinking, “Whatever dude. You’re just some guy like me trying to do this. What do you know? Why should I listen to you?”
Then we started the workout. And he was able to do about 150 more pounds than me.
Turns out – he knew what he was talking about.
This miracle was proof that the Apostles knew what they were talking about.
They would not have been able to do that miracle without God’s authority.
Which means if they have God’s authority to do miracles…
They have God’s authority to teach his message.
And we better pay close attention.
Look at what at that message:
Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? (We didn’t. We couldn’t. This was obviously God!) The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers (the God in the Old Testament, the God who does miracles, the ONLY God) has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One. You killed the author of Life…
Do you see what he says about Jesus?
God glorified Him!
He was the Messiah.
He was the Savior.
He was God himself.
You handed him over to be killed.
You disowned him.
You killed Him.
You killed the Author of Life.
You killed God.
But what could the crowd say?
Peter had just healed that paralyzed man that no one had been able to heal for over 40 years.
His message had to be sponsored by God – as divine truth.
Now…Peter’s words were directed at the crowd that had gathered.
However – they have been recorded.
We are reading them right now.
And in other parts of Scripture the Bible says:
“Jesus was pierced for our transgressions.” (Isaiah 53:5)
“He was delivered to death for our sins.” (Romans 4:25)
“Jesus bore our sins in his body on the cross.” (1 Peter 2:24)
In other words:
You handed Jesus over to be killed.
You disowned Jesus.
You killed Him.
You killed the Author of Life.
You killed God.
Again – we did not do this actively.
We didn’t swing the hammer.
We weren’t even alive back then.
But that doesn’t make it less true. Your sins are the reason that Jesus died. In fact, the miracle that occurred right before Peter did this, proved that this message is true.
And if you’re offended by that message, realize that it doesn’t’ make it any less true. You might not want to think of your sins as killing Jesus, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t.
Listen to Peter’s, God powered, approved message with a humble heart.
Your sins killed Jesus.
And then, listen with a heart ready for some good news.
Your sins killed Jesus, But God raised Jesus from the dead. (v.15)
That means sin didn’t kill him.
Jesus killed sin.
Sin didn’t overpower Jesus.
Jesus overpowered sin.
Your sin did not defeat Jesus.
Jesus defeated your sin.
And again. The disciples knew what they were talking about. Peter says, We are witnesses of this! (v.15)
And they were! Literal witnesses. They had seen Jesus alive after his death.
They touched his hands.
They touched his feet.
The saw the nails marks.
They could confirm that Jesus was alive.
And the miracle of the lame man walking could confirm that they were not lying.
Not to the crowds.
Not to you.
Jesus rose from the dead. It’s truth.
Turn to God.
Your sins will be wiped out. (v.19)
Think about that. Your sins will be…
Put your faith in Jesus and you’ll be witness to a miracle even greater than what happened with the Paralyzed Beggar at the Gate called Beautiful.
You’ll have God’s grace.
You’ve have sins forgiven.
You will be free of guilt.
You will have the promise of heaven.
And if you do believe.
Let me switch the language.
You have God’s grace.
Your sins are forgiven.
You are free of guilt.
You have the promise of heaven.
III. What Now?
1. Think Bigger
Because too often we think like the paralyzed man. When he saw the disciples, he thought – maybe they can help. Maybe they can give me a dollar – a few coins – a sandwich – or a Starbucks gift card. But what the disciples offered was so much greater! The ability to walk.
But even then, that wasn’t it. If we think that’s the extent of God’s grace, we’re wrong. Because he offered the man something greater than the ability to walk on earth – he offered him the ability to walk in heaven.
So often we think too small.
So often we think too ‘now.”
If only God could take this cold away.
If only God could get me that 1% raise.
If only God could help me find the right guy.
If only God could keep the sun out this morning.
But God has in mind to give you something much bigger.
Something that lasts much longer.
Something that is beyond your wildest imagination.
Absolute God authorized forgiveness of all your sins. Think BIG, Think ETERNAL. Think DIVINE in your prayers and have confidence God will give it.
2. Praise God!
We’re here today at the picnic and we are celebrating.
Celebrating good weather.
Celebrating a year of learning at Precious Lambs.
Celebrating fellowship at church.
Celebrating new members.
Celebrating good food.
And that’s great.
But– those aren’t the main reason for our celebration.
Our main reason for celebrating is the incredible news of our sins being wiped away.
Celebrate God’s goodness.
The Olympics are officially underway. One of my favorite parts is the behind the scenes documentaries that appear on the various athletes. They’re pretty exciting because you get to learn more about their background, their personality, and what drives them.
Like Mamee Birney. She’s a Short Track speed skater originally from Ghana, immigrated when she was 5 and now skating for the U.S. She’s one of the breakout stars of the Olympics and the very first black woman to qualify for the U.S. speedskating team. She’s intimidating. She’s bubbly. She’s excitable. She’s also 18 and just got her own cell phone for the very first time.
That’s fun. What’s nice about social media is that it connects us to these celebrities in an intimate way.
We really get to know them.
But what about Jesus?
Then disciples had followed him for 2 years.
They had seen amazing thing, heard amazing promises, and listened to amazing speeches.
But Jesus didn’t have an Instagram. How would they get to know the real Him?
Today we are travelling along with the disciples to an intimate retreat on a mountain. Our goal is to witness an event that teaches us intimate details about who Jesus is and talk about what that means for being His disciples. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
Context wise – this lesson takes a huge leap forward in time from last week’s sermon. It’s about 2 years after those early chapters in Mark and lots of things have happened.
There are more disciples. The original 4 fishers of men have grown to be 12 including political activists, accountants, and others from throughout the land of Judea.
There have been many miracles. The disciples have seen Jesus make the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, storms stop, and bread multiply out of thin air. They have seen a host of incredible, miraculous things.
They have become very familiar with Jesus’ mercy. Because in spite of His divine miracles, Jesus has been reaching out to the non-divine. He has spent time with prostitutes, eaten dinner with tax collectors, and helped the dregs of society that most religious leaders would not have touched.
After seeing all of these things, the disciples knew they were following someone great. But on this particular day, they were going to get a chance to really know the man behind the powers. They were going on a Retreat – not to Disney World – not to Great Wolf Lodge – but to a quiet mountaintop. This was their chance to really understand more about their leader.
You can almost hear them practicing their questions:
Who are you really?
What are your hopes and dreams?
What’s your favorite color?
Jesus, what is it that makes you tick?
But as they made their way up to the top of the mountain – and Peter cleared his throat ready to finally ask some of those tougher, get-to-know-you questions -- Jesus was already answering those questions.
Just not with words.
It began with a glow…A white like glow emanating from Jesus’ clothing. It was a bit strange because there wasn’t a washing machine located on the top of this mountain -- and last they had checked Jesus’ tunic it was stained with the dirt that had rubbed against him from night after night of sleeping under the stars.
And certainly not glowing.
But not as strange as what they saw next. Jesus’ face was also glowing. It wasn’t a mask. It wasn’t a trick of the sun. He wasn’t shining a flashlight on his face. In fact, he hadn’t done anything differently than simply set foot on the mountain.
Yet, his face was bright. Bright–bright. Wish you were wearing sun glasses bright. It was a brilliant shining white light that was emanating from the face of Jesus in a way unlike anything they had ever seen.
But before the disciples could make any hypotheses as to why the luminescence of their leader, another mystery…Two men. (A couple of hermits? Mountain men?) appeared with Jesus.
The disciples listened more closely. They didn’t speak like mountain men. They spoke like men of God. They talked about what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah, about God’s promises about the Messiah in the Old Testament, about the next stages of Jesus’ plans for saving the people.
Who were these guys? They listened closely to what Jesus called them:
“Moses, it’s just like God prophesied through you. I am the prophet like you from among the Israelite brothers.”
“And Elijah, it’s just like God worked through you – I have done miracle after miracle – only at an even more impressive clip.”
Peter’s jaw dropped.
He turned to John and mouthed those names again:
If that’s who these two were, that would be amazing!
They were heroes of the Old Testament.
They were legends of God’s Word.
They were rock stars in the world of the Jewish faith.
They were also…dead. At least, they had been for hundreds of years.
Now about this time Peter had an idea. What was going on was breathtaking! Bodily luminescence? Material translucence? An encounter with two souls from heaven itself? This was worth sticking around for.
Ummm…Jesus. Ummm….so it looks like you are having a good time here. Me too. Really. Would you like me to set up a tent for each of you? I can use those big leaves from the fig tree over there. I’ll even set up some rocks as a bed. I’m sure that’ll be way more comfy than whatever beds there are in heaven…?
Before Peter’s could think better of his suggestion – things changed again. An ethereal fog began to drift in. Deeper than a fog a cloud! It slowly began enveloping the entire seen: Jesus. Moses. Elijah. The sycamore trees. The rocks. The disciples – until a white condensation covered everything with a white glow coming from where Jesus’ face previously had been.
And then? A voice.
Not Moses’ voice.
Not Elijah’s voice.
Not Jesus’ voice.
Not Isaiah’s voice or Jeremiah’s voice or the voice of Abraham himself.
This voice was too loud.
“This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”
Peter and the others fell to the grounds. Frightened.
Because without seeing where this voice came from.
Without seeing where the voice was looking.
Without seeing who was talking.
It was God.
It was God talking to them.
“You must listen to him.”
II. The Truth about Who You’re Following
If the disciples didn’t understand before who it was they were following, suddenly things became very clear. Amazing? Yes. Hard to believe? Absolutely. But as plain as the bright light coming from Jesus’ face – they were following God’s Son.
And since God begets God from eternity – meaning He’s always there and his begotten – his Son is always there too—they were hearing from God about God – namely Jesus!
Their leader was the divine God of heaven and earth itself.
Think about the proof:
1. Fabric Luminescence
This might be the smallest of the miracles, but still pretty amazing! Tunics didn’t get changed often and they were worn in a desert community. In addition, Jesus had just climbed up the mountain. To expect it to be bright white, Clorox bleached white at the top of the mountain was pretty incredible.
In fact, it’s amazing to see that kind of a bright white clarity out of the washing machine. Right? It’s why when they run those Oxy Clean commercials and they dunk the ketchup and grass stained white tie into the bowl of product (because who doesn’t wear a bright white tie while eating hot dogs), it’s amazing how clean the product makes the garment.
This happened to Jesus.
Without any product.
Without any washing machine.
This was amazing. This was God.
2. Facial Luminescence.
I think this one is the next step up. Because this is not something that anyone had ever noticed about Jesus before. Think about it: his face was shining to the point of it being challenging to look at him. Even if the sun was shining, I don’t think it’s ever reflected off of anyone’s face to the point of making it difficult to look at them.
Perhaps a bald man’s head might produce that effect – ish. But Jesus wasn’t bald. He was 32 years old.
And there was something else on his face that would have completely prevented his skin from reflecting the sun’s rays in any kind of way that would imitate a ‘glitter shimmer.’
Again – Jesus’ face shining like a light is absolutely was amazing.
This was God.
3. Talking with Dead Celebrities.
And I think we need to focus in on that “dead” aspect. Because as amazing as it is that Jesus knew these celebrities of Jewish culture – it was even more amazing that he was talking to them hundreds of years after they had died.
For instance, what’s more impressive --
Hey! I just took a selfie with Justin Timberlake?
or Hey! I just took a selfie with Elvis Presley?
I don’t care what your taste is in music, the second one is way more impressive, because Elvis has been long dead!
And that’s the same thing that disciples witnessed.
And the men appeared out of nowhere.
And the men disappeared out of nowhere.
This was amazing.
This was God.
4. The Voice from the Ethereal Cloud
Which – I understand that the cloud itself might be explained. Clouds sometimes hang around the mountains. Sometimes they even hang around the lowlands – we call that fog.
But what are the chance a thick cloud envelopes the entire scene at the exact moment that Jesus’ clothes are glowing, his face is glowing and he’s speaking with two long dead celebrities?
I’m guessing – it’s not so much coincidence anymore.
And then – the VOICE!!! And remember – this is long before microphones.
It’s long before mini speakers.
It’s long before drones flying in noise from above.
This is nothing short of amazing.
This is nothing short of God.
Which is the point! The point of this account is pretty simple.
JESUS IS GOD!
You want to learn more about his character, his likes? His dislikes?
He’s the eternal God.
He dwells in the holiness of heaven itself.
He hates evil.
He loves good.
He is God eternal, immortal, invisible, all powerful from eternal himself.
III. WHAT NOW?
And this is key.
Because it leads to 3 very important truths about following Jesus.
1. Listen to Him
This is exactly what God’s voice said. “This is my Son; listen to him.”
That’s interesting. Because in a lot of groups/clubs there is a certain level of dialogue when it comes to action. For instance, the “Legion of Professional PEZ Collectors” will take votes to determine where they would like to host their next rally. What city will they be in? What type of PEZ themed candies will they eat? What hotel will they use?
People discuss plans.
Not with God.
When you’re in a group with God, the all-powerful, all wise, all eternal being gets the final say.
I bring that up because oftentimes we don’t treat God like that.
We get to discuss…– “Jesus, I get it. You think that’s sinful. I don’t. We live in a modern era after all. You’re going to have to compromise with me.”
TRUTH: If you think you can discuss, negotiate or compromise with God, then who are you treating as God?
That’s not wise. Because you can’t make your face glow.
You can’t make your clothes gleam.
You’ve never met Elijah.
You don’t know what Moses looked like.
A cloud has never enveloped you on your birthday to claim you as his perfect child.
And you can’t save yourself to heaven.
You aren’t God.
So…listen to the one who is.
Listen to Jesus.
2. Reconsider Jesus’ next Mountain
Because the very next mountain that Jesus comes to after this Transfiguration, isn’t so glorious looking.
It’s a mountain called the place of the skull.
A mountain where crucifixions occurred.
A mountain called Calvary.
There aren’t a few special friends; but thousands in angry opposition!
There isn’t a shining brilliance emanating from his face; but blood. And sweat…and more blood.
There aren’t two returned to life prophets; but two dying criminals.
There isn’t the voice of God himself; but the bitter silence of the Father turning his back on him.
It sure doesn’t look glorious.
…when you remember who Jesus is.
When you remember that’s God himself.
When you remember that is Eternal Holy God, entering mortality and suffering death and pain for me!
Calvary becomes beautiful.
More glorious than the mount of transfiguration.
Because it means you’re forgiven.
It means you’re His.
it means you are loved.
And it means you’ve gotta get down from the Mountain.
3. Get Down from the Mountain
Because I understand why Peter wanted to set up the tents. When he was on that mountain, it was obvious! Jesus is the Savior. Jesus is the true God. Jesus is worth following.
And sometimes in church, the same thing is obvious. We hear these stories. We learn God’s Word. We become convinced “Yes! Jesus is the Savior. Jesus is the true God. Jesus is worth following!” When you’re here, you might feel excited, pumped up, and convinced of that truth. It sure beats being out there in the world with coworkers who call you an idiot, social media that ridicules your faith, and friends are make you have doubts.
It’s nice to stay on the mountain.
But you can’t.
Jesus didn’t stay. Jesus had to get down that mountain. He still had to complete his mission. He had to suffer and die to accomplish our salvation.
And the disciples didn’t stay. They had to get down that mountain. They had to learn God’s Word deeply. They had to begin their ministry in sharing this message of God’s grace.
And you can’t stay either.
If you think discipleship is only thing that happens within these walls, you’re wrong.
Discipleship continues out there in the world.
We have people to tell.
We have people to tell that the one we follow is the TRUE God.
We have people to #GatherToTheGarden!
Here’s the thing – you’ve had a behind the scenes look at whom Jesus really is. Just like you might get excited to share a good interview about an Olympic hero, please share this truth about Jesus your Eternal Hero.
He is true God.
He is your savior.
He is the one you’re following. Amen.
Brothers and sisters, how would you feel if myself or any pastor started a sermon like this: “Look at how many seats are filled today. Look at the crowd who has come to hear the word of the Lord. I am absolutely livid that there are so many people who think they have a right to be here in God’s presence!”
Brothers and sisters, I don’t really feel this way about you or about our Lord. Hopefully it struck you as absolutely un-Christian, and rightly so. But it’s pretty similar to what we’re about to hear. When we look at Jonah here in a minute, we better be offended at his attitude toward what happened. But before we start lining up to hurl rocks in his direction, we also better take a close look at our own hearts and make sure his attitude isn’t still alive and kicking within ourselves, showing itself in ways that aren’t so obvious and absurd.
So to start with, let’s go back to our final chapter of Jonah. It’s been a real up and down ride through his story so far, but we left off on a pretty high note last week. Things seemed to have turned around and come out well. In fact, it was a satisfying conclusion to the whole mess and would’ve made any modern Hollywood producer happy. Jonah had been called to come preach a message of repentance to the city of Nineveh. He ran away. God pursued him. Jonah gave up running and threw himself on God’s mercy, and God had mercy. God rescued him and brought him home to try again. And it looked like Jonah learned his lesson. He went to Nineveh and he preached the message. “40 more days and Nineveh will be overturned!” And in a miracle greater than the fish, the people listened. All of them, from the king down to the smallest child repented and called on God for mercy. And God relented. They would not be destroyed. Jonah’s work bore the kind of fruit we dream about. God’s mission through Jonah had succeeded.
And now in our last chapter, we finally get some psychological insight into what’s been driving Jonah this whole time. Up until now we’ve kind of had to guess what’s been going through his head as he acted. Now we get to see what’s really been going on. It is a shocking contrast when you come across it. Especially when you remember that these chapter and verse numbers we see in our Bibles are not something God gave us but just a human invention to help us find certain parts. So let’s ignore those numbers and just look at the flow of the account. We end up reading this, “When God saw what [the Ninevites] did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.”
What? You want to run that by me again Jonah? Your mission was an unprecedented, miraculous success, and you’re angry? In fact, if you’ll permit me, I’d like to take a moment to give you an insight into the original language here in the Hebrew of this line. It comes out much stronger. It’s not good English, but a literal read of the Hebrew might sound something like this, “But this was evil to Jonah, a great evil and it burned to him.” Do you see that? This didn’t just upset Jonah some, he literally felt that what God did for the Ninevites was evil. An utter miscarriage of justice we might say! And that last bit, “it burned to him.” This isn’t the kind of anger where you just sit kind of fuming quietly in the corner, this is the kind of angry where the blood floods your face and you get red and hot from it. He was foaming at the mouth furious over this.
We can just picture Jonah now, going through the streets, going through the city, proclaiming his message. And he notices a change. People are starting to wear that unbearable sackcloth. They’re shouting to the Lord begging mercy. They’re sitting in the dust praying relentlessly with tears in their eyes. And he knows what this means. They’re listening to God’s message. And he knows what’s coming next. Or more to the point, he knows what’s not coming next. He figures out that God is going to forgive these people instead of destroying them, and we can just imagine the scowl that clouds his face as he continues his mission.
Why? He tells God exactly why. At the end he prays to the Lord and says. “I told you, God, I told you this would happen! This is exactly what I was afraid of from the start. You wondered why I ran away so quickly when you called me the first time? This is why! I know you. You’re a compassionate God, you’re so slow to anger and quick to forgive. I knew if I came out here and warned these people, they’d show some kind of repentance and you’d change your mind and let them go. Haven’t you been paying attention? Don’t you know what these people have done? Haven’t you seen how violent and sexually immoral they are? They should be destroyed! Good riddance! But no, you had me come and warn them and since they feel sorry about it and apologized you’re going to let them off the hook without any repercussions. This is so infuriating I would rather be dead than see it.”
We can see now that Jonah didn’t run away at the beginning because he was afraid of persecution. He wasn’t afraid of the enormity of his task. He wasn’t intimidated by the work involved or by having to carry it out himself, alone against a half-million people. He wasn’t afraid to tell all those people they were bad people and were going to die for it. No, he was afraid that he would succeed. He was afraid that they would listen. He hated those godless Ninevites and the last thing he wanted was for them to be spared God’s wrath. So he ran the other direction. And we can see now that even when God turned him around and sent him back, he still didn’t want his mission to work. Even now, after God decides to relent, we will see he still hopes that maybe it’ll change back.
God is patient and compassionate, of course, and his response to Jonah is a simple, calming rebuke, “Do you have any right to be angry?” he asks.
Jonah apparently has no response to this. Instead, his appointed task complete, he storms out of the city like a pouting child leaving the room. And does he go home? Does he put this whole thing behind him and go back to his daily life? No. He feels so strongly about this that he goes out east of the city and finds a place where he can sit and look out at the city. Forty days wasn’t up yet. Maybe, just maybe God will change his mind back and wreck the place. He builds himself a little makeshift shelter. And he sits in the desert sun and he waits and he watches. He is so single-minded in wanting these people punished that his life is literally brought to a standstill by this.
God cares just as much about Jonah as the entire city of Nineveh, and so he prepares a unique object-lesson to help Jonah understand. As Jonah sits and watches, his little shelter of twigs and dried leaves doesn’t do a whole lot to keep out the beating sun, but then miraculously, a plant of some sort springs to life overnight and provides a shade. Much better. Jonah’s liking this. His anger subsides some and he just enjoys relaxing there. This plant is his new best friend. But then the next day something has eaten away at the root of the plant and it withers away just as quick as it showed up. The sun rises and a scorching wind tears across the sands, the temperature jumps about 20 degrees and sucks all the moisture out of the air and now Jonah starts to act again like a teenager who just got embarrassed by Mom or Dad at school. He’s so angry that the plant is gone that he says he’d rather be dead than live without it.
Again God asks this question, “Do you have any right to be angry about this vine?”
We’re not at our rational best when we’re angry, so Jonah’s probably not thinking about his reply when he says, “I sure do! I’m so angry I could die!”
And the Lord, in love, drops the truth on Jonah. “Jonah you’re angry about the loss of this vine, right? But why? You had nothing invested in it. You didn’t tend to it. You didn’t make it grow. You didn’t raise it from a seedling. In fact, it was here one day and gone the next. And yet look at how important it was to you. A plant that lasted a day. Now turn back around and look at this city. People. Human souls. There are more than a hundred and twenty thousand children just in that city, never minding adults. People I created. Souls I care for. I raised them all. I caused them all to grow. And you want to be angry that I just didn’t wipe them out because I had an excuse to? Consider how precious they are to me. Instead of looking for a reason to punish them, shouldn’t I look for any reason to pardon them? Shouldn’t I look for any reason to forgive them?”
The story of Jonah ends here. And if we’re not careful, we can walk away from it thinking that this is a cautionary tale of one guy with a bad attitude who learned a lesson we already know. And yeah, I’m guessing not one of us has ever gotten so furious at the evil of a city that you went and sat out and watched to see if God would wipe it off the face of the earth (though maybe that fantasy occurred to you). No, to really watch ourselves for Jonah’s attitude we have to backpedal all the way to the start of the story. The word of the Lord came to Jonah and said, “Go preach against Nineveh.” Go and tell the Ninevites exactly about their evil and how I as God feel about it so they have a chance to change their ways and be saved. Jonah didn’t want them saved. Jonah didn’t think they deserved to be saved. So he went the other way.
Do we do this? Perhaps not literally run from the Lord but do we just ignore the same command he gives us? Do we treat someone differently because we have determined they’re not worth it? By God’s grace I should hope we’re never as overt about it as Jonah, but I know my own heart and I think if any of us are sitting here today thinking “I’ve never judged myself to be better than someone else,” then we’re lying to ourselves. We always do this. In many different ways. But before we wrap up this morning let’s look at first the root of where this attitude tends to come from and then at what God gives us to fight against it.
Like I said, this attitude of Jonah can manifest in many ways. Maybe we just don’t tell someone about Jesus because we don’t think they’re worth it, because we want them punished for what they’ve done. Usually it’s even more subtle than that. Maybe we’re just indignant that someone we know is forgiven at all. They come in here, unkempt, disrespectful, fresh from a life of blatant sin and they smile when God says they’re forgiven and we’re upset that this is it. Where’s the lesson learned? Where’s the guilt and shame poured out for a while? Where’s the consequences?
Okay I could keep going, but the point is, where does this all come from? Where did it come from in Jonah? It comes from a false sense of self-worth. You think you’re better than the other person. Again, you’d probably never say or even think those words as such. But the attitude is there. I deserve to have God save me because I’m worth it. I take my faith seriously. I try really hard for him. I’m a good person that God should be glad to have on his side unlike those slackers over there.
And at the same time, like Jonah, we are undervaluing the lives, the souls of those others. Rather than treasuring them and wanting them saved by any means possible, we’re more concerned with justice and fairness. And humanly speaking, maybe we’d be on to something.
But let’s balance this value-equation. Let’s consider our value, and their value. Do you know the answer to this question, “What is something worth?” Let me say that again in a different way, “How do you know what something, anything is worth?” You might think that’s a nonsense question that can’t have a real answer, but it does have one. A thing is worth what someone else is willing to pay for it.
Now as you consider your value on your own, as you consider the value of those we try to devalue, look to the cross and balance the equation. God himself became a human being so he could go in your place. Your own sin, your own lack of value meant God had to make up that worth himself. He had to pay for you. How much did he have to pay to bring you up to an acceptable level? Look at the cross. It was the blood of God himself. God himself had to suffer and die to complete your worth. I should hope that gives you insight into how worthless you are to start with.
But now consider it from the other side. How valuable are you to God? How much was he willing to pay for you? He was willing to pay for you in his own blood. And the same is true of that other soul you would like to consider yourself above. He or she is worth the blood of God. And before we start to devalue the blood of God saying something like “well, sure but that was a once for all shot. Jesus dying included everybody no matter who they were.” Sure, that’s true. But that’s because we are all equal sinners. If you and you alone were the only one who ever sinned, Jesus still would have done it. If that person we’re tempted to look down on was the only one who ever needed it, Jesus still would have done it.
Brothers, sisters, I call you that because that’s what you are to me. We are family in Christ, each equally important, each equally valued. Each soul out there is equally in need of the same salvation we have come to know. When we find ourselves struggling with that equality, when we start to think ourselves above or better than someone else, more deserving of God’s love and salvation, look back at that great equalizer; the cross. Remember what about you drove Christ there. Remember why he went anyway. He loves you. He treasures you. May that same love show itself through you to others in everything you do. Amen.
1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. 4 Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 6 The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.” 7 Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” 9 He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.) 11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” 12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” 13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. 17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
I cried like a baby.
The other day I stumbled across a YouTube clip. It was of the ending to Homeward Bound. Have you ever seen that? It’s a Disney movie – great family movie by the way – it’s about 3 animals – a funny boxer, a sassy Siamese cat and a wise, old Golden Retriever that think their owners run away from them. They drop them off at a doggie day care and the animals get away. What results is a wise cracking, heartwarming, courageous Disney adventure through the wilderness.
But near the near of the movie, right before they get home. Right before they find their owners – the old dog, Shadow. Falls into a pit. He hurts his legs. He can’t get out. The camera pans out as the golden Retriever does one of the saddest puppy dog faces you’ll ever see and sinks into the dirt.
The movie continues. The family is shown having a BBQ – at this point assuming that they’ll never see their animals again –when they hear a bark. The Boxer comes running up and licks the boy’s face. Then, they hear a meow. The feline bounds over to her owner for hugs and cuddles.
But then, there’s a pause. The music gets real sad. Zoom in on the oldest boys face with disappointment that his Golden Retriever didn’t make it. He turns to return to the house.
But then, over the hill, limping, dirty, panting, comes the Golden Retriever.
That’s when I lose it.
But it’s so wonderful. That’s love. The dog relentlessly pursues his friend – He doesn’t want to lose him. His love was so great that nothing could separate him from the one he loved.
Today we’re going to begin our series called Runaway – and throughout this series we’re going to hear about a man named Jonah. Have you heard of him – Jonah and the Big Fish OR Jonah & the Whale. But this is more than just another good idea for a Disney movie. Because within the very real story of Jonah, there are some very truths that we need to consider: (1) what running away from God looks like (2) Why it’s a horrible idea & (3) why God relentless pursues runaways.
Before we study God’s Word, 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. Jonah Runs
Take a look at Jonah 1:1. The story starts like this: The Word of the Lord came to Jonah. I think that’s interesting. The whole story starts with God speaking to Jonah. Maybe it was a dream. Maybe it was a vision. Maybe God spoke directly to him. Whatever way it was – there was no that this message was from God.
God had a task for Jonah “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
A little bit about Nineveh. Nineveh was a large city. Estimates are at close to 1 million people. It was on the harbor. It was very rich. Yet as large and rich as it was, there were scarcely any worshipers of the true God and even fewer people who lived according to God’s Word. They were sexually immoral, rude, violent, and greedy.
It’s a huge city.
It was an anti-God city.
And God wanted Jonah to go tell them they were wrong.
Does that sound easy? It’s not like God told Jonah to go find a few of the believers and say to them, “C’mon guys. You know we probably shouldn’t be saying those words. Let’s clean up our language or I’ll have to give you a noogie!”
This is way more intimidating. God told Jonah to go tell a people who don’t believe in God that the God whom they didn’t believe in would destroy them unless then turned to belief in him.
And it wasn’t like Jonah just had to tell a few people. If that were the case – Jonah could have just ran in, found the smallest 5 year old available, mentioned something about God and got out of there. Nope. Jonah wasn’t supposed to tell just a few people, but the whole city!
So. Look what Jonah does. “Jonah ran away from the LORD.” He headed to Joppa. He hopped on a boat to Tarshish which was the western-most city in the ancient world. It was the farthest place int he opposition direction. He was trying to get out of God's jurisdiction.
But it wasn’t enough. He walked down the stairs to the lower part of the ship. He searched for a small, compact space and when he had found it he wedged himself between two boxes. He draped a blanket or two or three over himself. And breathed a sigh of relief. “God won’t find me here.”
He drifted off to sleep.
He thought he had run away from God.
Have you ever done that? Have you ever run from God? Got up from church and bolted out of these doors? Probably not. Maybe you’re thinking, “I would never do what Jonah did. I would never run from God.”
But…notice when Jonah started running from God. It wasn’t when he got on the boat; it wasn’t when he got to port; it wasn’t when he packed his bags. It was before that.
It was when he decided not to listen to God.
Understand this: Running from God starts with not listening to His Word.
It doesn’t mean that you sprint out of the church service.
It doesn’t mean that you literally run away with your hands over your ears whenever you hear Amazing Grace.
It doesn’t mean that you get in your car after church today and drive until you reach San Francisco.
If you’re not listening to God, you are running from him.
I’ve run from him.
In fact, I’m all too good at running from him.
II. God Catches up
But maybe it’s not a big deal.
You ever done something wrong before and not been caught? Me too. Maybe you stole a pencil from work and now have over 17 in your car dashboard. The wrong is no big deal anymore and you think nothing of it.
You can sleep without any problem.
Like Jonah. He slept at the bottom of the bottom a deep sleep. He dreamed of being in Tarshish far away from his responsibilities in Nineveh. Maybe there were lollipops and rainbows there. He probably sat on a hammock under a tree being fed the finest Tarsishian grapes available.
BAM! A large wave crashed against the side of the boat. Jonah awoke to a bottle of beer rolling across the lower deck floor.
Jonah closed his eyes and tried to go back to sleep.
CRACK! A bolt of lightning went off as the doors to the cabin flung open. A quick series of thuds followed as crew members trudged downstairs. “Guy! Hebrew man. What was his name? Jonah! Jonah are you here! We need you.”
Jonah pretended to be asleep.
Suddenly the blanket was torn off of his head. The men began shouting at him. It was a storm – a terrible storm. There weren’t going to make it. They had tried bailing water. They had tried throwing cargo overboard. Each man had tried praying to their gods – the wind god, the rain god, the lightning god – but it wasn’t working! Was it him? Could he do something? Could he speak to his God & save them?
Jonah explained. “Yes, he could save us. He could save us, because I serve the only God – the God of heaven and earth…. but…”
A glimmer of hope appeared in the men’s eyes. They rushed him upstairs to the captain’s office where more men were busy praying to their respective God’s. Jonah closed his eyes. He mumbled to fit in. But his heart wasn’t in it.
They were interrupted by a deckhand in a panic! “We need to do something quick or the whole boat will capsize.” The men needed to decide whose fault it was so they starting throwing dice to see whose fault it was. (Hoping that the universe – that God would reveal it to them.)
They captain divided up the group. If it lands on an odd number; it’s the guys on the left. Evens? It’s one of us on the right.” Evens. Odds its one of you two; even its one of you two. Evens again.
A lump grew in Jonah’s throat.
They cast the final lot.
It fell to Jonah.
They asked him. “What is it you have done? Who is your God? How have you wronged him?”
Jonah explained. My God? He’s not just the God of the waves. He’s not just a demon hovering over this part of the ocean. He is the LORD – the God of heaven and earth. The one who made the land, the seas, and the oceans.
And…I…ran away from him. Or I thought I did. Foolishly. I sinned against him. And now? We’re going to pay for it. Unless. Unless you give him what He wants.
Jonah said, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (v.12)
The sailors looked at him in terror. They didn’t want to do that. They tried to talk him out of that. But as their voices grew in panic, the waves rose in a thunderous approval to Jonah’s statement.
The men said one more prayer. They asked God’s forgiveness. They lift Jonah up & tossed him overboard.
God had found him.
You can drive past the church a couple mph’s faster whenever you’re on Newton Rd.
You can scroll real fast through all the scriptures that appear on your Facebook page.
You can click DELETE to the email after email that you receive inviting you to Back to Church Sunday.
You can come to church, be in church and get up to go to the bathroom whenever pastor starts talking about ‘that one sin.’
But you can’t hide from God.
God knows where you are.
God will find you.
Eventually he finds us all.
We will all face him.
I’ll face him.
You’ll face him.
Then, what do you say to him?
Don’t know? God knows what he’ll say. Scripture tells us. He’ll say, “You wanted to be away from me. Fine. Have it your way. There's one place where I'm not...
It's called hell.
III. God Saves Jonah
Jonah knew that was coming for him. As his body hit the cold water, the cold darkness of the water, soon ran over him. He kicked wildly as he tried to stay afloat. He reached for the surface and took a breath – only to inhale half a lung of seawater. He flailed his arms and kicked his feet for a until it burned deep in his muscles. A wave hit him in the face.
I’ve done wrong. I crossed God. I ran away from him. I’m getting what I deserve. It’s over.
He let his body grow limp.
He sank as the water grew dark over his face.
He awaited his death.
But it didn't happen.
The LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah.
And Jonah? He awoke. It saw stinky. It was smelly. It wasn’t a holiday inn, but he wasn’t dead either. He was alive.
God saved him.
Understand – This is key in the story of Jonah. God was only pursuing Jonah because he loved him! God didn’t want him to be lost forever. God didn’t want him to be thrown into the darkness of hell. God didn’t want him to be a part from him, because he loved him and knew Jonah couldn’t exist without him. God wanted him back. God wanted to save him. In fact, God would stop at nothing to save him. Even if it meant churning up a huge, terrifying storm in his life in order that Jonah might be at his mercy – see his mercy – and return to him again.
God does that in our lives too. Maybe you’ve never been on a lake in a storm – but maybe you’re going through a life storm right now.
A devastating failed relationship.
A terrifying eviction notice.
A disastrous loss of job.
A depression. A sadness. A feeling of guilt that has overcome you to the very core.
Something that has happened to you to make you realize you can’t do this alone. You need Him.
And you made it this far. You’re hear. And the devil’s in your ear, “He’s not serious. This isn’t real. God couldn’t love you. God won’t have you back. You’ve abandoned him too many times for too long. He’s done with you.”
But listen to God’s voice. Now. Today. Right now. God says to you, “Return. Come back. I love you. Be mine.”
And God will save you! In the most unlikely of ways! That’s how he saved Jonah. Not with a rescue boat. The coast guard didn’t show up with a life saver. There wasn’t even a piece of driftwood for him to float on.
He was swallowed by a fish! There’s nothing more unlikely than that!
Except maybe this: Some guy, 2000 years ago, gathers a bunch of followers, says that he’s God, angers a group of religious zealots, is executed falsely on a terrifying instrument of torture, dies, and saves you.
This is exactly how God saved you. It isn’t from within. He doesn’t say, “Try harder.” “Do Better.” Or “Give me lots of money and I’ll think about it.”
He says, “I’ll die for you. I’ll die for you to save you. I’ll die for you; to forgive you. I’ll die for you; to make you mine.”
Colossians 1:13 says this, “God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in Him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Do you understand that? When you return to God, who has been relentlessly pursuing you his whole life – even dying for you – he offers full and complete forgiveness.
But you’re right, we don’t always recognize that. That’s why God comes after us with this message – even in an unlikely way!
Through an over-caffeinated, Raleigh transplant.
Through a few kids singing his praises.
Through a few drops of water.
Through a few words on a page in a book with a torn cover in the back of a wooden pew.
Unlikely as it is – God pursues you. God is pursuing you. Right now. Relentlessly.
Because he loves you with every fiber of his Divine heart.
It’s a pursuit worth crying about.
Like my friend Beulah. Beulah is a young 90 years old. Beulah has been attending some of my Bible studies at an assisted living home close by. Beulah had come every once in a while over the years. I’ve met her a few times. Some days she’d be awake; other days she’d drift asleep.
But one day a few months back, she listened. Her eyes didn’t come after me. When we were done, she asked to talk to me in private.
Is what you’re saying true? Does God really love me? I’m old. I’m alone. I’m forgotten about. I’ve done wrong; lots of wrong. I’ve hated God. I’ve abandoned him.
Could God really love me?
I opened up my Bible. Beulah, God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in Him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. All sins. Your sins.
God’s love will make you do that.