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Today we are continuing our walk through the second missionary journey of the Apostle Paul. Before we study God’s Words, 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. About Athens
Last we left Paul, he had been in Thessalonica sharing the Gospel and he was run out of the city by a mob of people that had a volatile reaction to the message of Jesus. From there he went to Berea, where the people were of noble character and examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:1-11)
But after Paul was in Berea for a while, Acts 17:13 says: When the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the Word of God at Berea, they went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. They found out where Paul would be preaching. They marched around shouting “Down with Paul.” They held signs that had a picture of Paul’s face with a mustache drawn on it.
In response, the mission team split up. Since the believers and church in Berea were still young in faith, Silas, Timothy, and Luke stayed behind to teach them, meanwhile, Paul, the main guy the crowds were protesting, went to the next city by himself. The next city was called Athens.
A bit about Athens:
Athens had been a key city state in that Greek empire. It was a place for thinkers and movers. It was the birthplace of democracy. It was the home of Plato, Aristotle and many other philosophers. It had been important to Alexander the Great and it was still important under the Roman empire. It was artsy. It was academic. It was scholarly.
It was filled with idols.
While Paul was waiting…in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. (v.16)
Idols in the temples.
Idols on the street corners.
Idols at work.
Idols at home.
Idols at lunch.
Idols at breakfast.
Idols at dinner.
Idols at the local restaurant.
Idols at the museum.
Idols at the sports arena, the fishing harbor and the laundromat.
It almost sounds like Dr. Seuss:
Idols, idols in a box.
Idols, idols with a fox.
Idols, idols here and there.
Idols, idols everywhere!
For Paul, this was strange. Athens was supposed to be a place of wisdom. Yet, here were all these wise people bowing down to worship tiny, stone statues.
So, Paul spoke: He reasoned in the synagogue and in the marketplace. (v.17) He told them about Jesus. He told them about the Savior.
While Paul was there two different groups of people heard him speak:
One group was Epicurean. The Epicureans followed the philosophy of Epicurus who lived from 341-270 B.C. His philosophy was that there was no afterlife. The gods existed but didn’t really care what humans did. They were too busy with the own affairs to care. Their slogan: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!”
The other group was Stoic. The Stoics followed the philosophy of Zero who lived from 340-265 B.C. He had the perspective that you had to do more than waste your life away. The gods put people here for a reason and that reason was to work. It was the highest form of pleasure to work (and to do so every day). Their slogan was a bit different: “Eat, Drink, and do work, for tomorrow…we do more work.”
These two philosophies were common opponents.
It was blue-collar worker versus free thinking hippie.
It was the constant busyness of Wall Street versus the laid-back jazz of Bourbon Street.
It was “Whatever man” versus “Get to work, man.”
They were common opponents.
But when Paul came to town, these common opponents had a common enemy:
What do you mean there’s more to life than pleasure?
What do you mean there’s more to life than work?
They asked: “What is this babbler trying to say?”…And they took Paul to the Areopagus. (v.19)
The Areopagus was the place for new ideas. It was named after the god of war: “Ares.” His name literally meant: “Hill of the war god.” It was an appropriate name for the place where people would go to battle for their new ideas against some of the brightest minds of the ancient world.
That is the reason that they brought Paul to the Areopagus.
They wanted him to battle for his new idea.
They wanted him to go to war for Jesus.
And Paul did.
II. About the Unknown God
Paul began his sermon:
Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. (v.22)
You have gods for everything.
A god of the sun.
A god for the moon.
A god for the sea; a god for the land.
A god for love; a god for war.
You even have a god for beer!
In fact, as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I…found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. (v.23)
You covered your bases.
Just in case you missed some god, you made him an altar.
Here’s the thing:
What you worship as unknown…
…I am going to proclaim to you… (v.23)
For starters, the Unknown God is not in HUMAN BUILT DWELLINGS.
He doesn’t reside in some epic stone arena.
He doesn’t kick up his feet in some tiny, jewel studded mausoleum.
You won’t find him down on 71st and Elm at a corner apartment with a jacuzzi and a view of the city.
He isn’t like Athena. The goddess for whom you built your city and for whom you built that gigantic Parthenon.
With its impressive columns.
And marble grandeur.
The Unknown God?
He doesn’t need that.
The Unknown God…
He made the world and everything in it does not live in temples built by hands. (v.24)
And he isn’t IN NEED OF SERVICE.
I’ve seen how ya’ll run about.
If things don’t go well for you. Maybe you lost your job.
Here’s what you do:
You go to the marketplace, buy a couple of apples, you run to the temple of Athena and place them on a silver bowl.
Maybe you lost your job because Athena was hungry.
The Unknown God isn’t like that.
He is not some pet that you need to feed.
He doesn’t need to be taken for a walk.
He doesn’t need you to scratch him behind the ears so that he’ll be pleased with you.
The Unknown God is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all people life and breath and everything else. (v.25)
He’s all powerful.
But he isn’t ALOOF.
He’s not like Zeus, King of the gods. He isn’t up on Mount Olympus having a banquet with fine wines and beautiful goddesses, throwing grapes down his throat and afterwards gathering with Ares and Poseidon for a couple of rounds of Wii Bowling.
He doesn’t say: “Eat, drink…I don’t care if you’re passed out in a ditch tomorrow morning.”
Nor does he say: “Work; work…I don’t care if you’re stressed out all week long.”
The Unknown God is not aloof.
Because listen to this:
He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. (v.26)
Did you hear that?
He made you.
He cared about you.
He placed you here.
He placed you now.
He determined your steps to take you to this exact moment.
Because he is not WANTING TO REMAIN UNKNOWN.
That’s why he did this.
That’s why you’re all gathered here in the Areopagus.
God brought you here.
God brought you now.
That you might seek him and perhaps reach out to him and find him, though he is not far from each of us. (v.27)
Finding God is what you want, isn’t it?
You’re here to find God.
It’s why you discuss the latest ideas.
It’s why you reason out the latest thoughts.
It’s why you talk about the latest meditations and popular trends for fasting.
It’s why you have been doing this day after day after day…
All in hopes that you will find God.
That desire to find God? It comes from God.
That mind for finding God? It comes from God.
Do you know what else comes from God?
And pay attention.
Because this message is important.
The Unknown God is NOT PATIENT FOREVER.
For a long time, God has been.
Think about it:
You’ve been worshiping rocks.
You’ve been bowing down to stone.
You’ve been shouting the praises of pieces of paper covered in glitter.
All the while the Lord is the one who created you, made you, sustains you, and nourishes you.
You’re giving thanks to a pet rock?
God has been patient.
He’s hasn’t struck you down yet.
In the past, God has overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. (v.30-31a)
You won’t be judged by some stone.
You won’t be judged by some rock.
You won’t be judged by some imperfect Mount Olympian with questionable morals who’s in a romantic relationship with some half-man, half-horse.
You will be judged by the Universe Creating, Almighty, Eternal, invested in your life, knowing everything about your life, God himself.
He will judge you.
All your sins.
God will judge you.
And he’s got Holy Fire in his eyes.
How do you think you’ll be judged if you’ve been worshiping rocks?
And you want proof?
This is not UNPROVEN.
Because that man that will judge the world for God?
He’s his Son.
He’s a guy named Jesus.
And God has given proof that Jesus will judge.
What kind of proof?
He did the one thing that Zeus couldn’t do.
He did the one thing that Aphrodite couldn’t do.
He did the one thing that your dear Athena couldn’t do.
He did the one thing that you and all your wisdom could never figure out how to do.
He raised Jesus from the dead. (v.31b)
III. WHAT NOW?
And it was right about that time, that the people stopped Paul from speaking. They said, “We’ll have to see more about this some other time.”
They let him go.
They didn’t throw him in prison.
They “tolerated” his message.
But…they didn’t believe it.
Don’t just tolerate the message of Jesus.
(1) Stop Searching
The other day I was down near the capitol building and I hear some music. On the north side near the street was a group of people. They were dressed in full religious garb. They had on jewels and bangles. They were playing tambourines and acoustic guitars. And as they were dancing, they were chanting a phrase: “Hare Krishna.”
Have you heard of it?
It’s a stranger type of religion made popular by John Lennon. The tenet is that the best way to connect with God is through music. Specifically – through playing the music to and chanting the words “Hare Krishna.” Through singing and chanting, you become centered in God. You become one with God. You find God…. (And the Beatles make some money as you buy their album).
Whether it’s musical chant.
Doing good work after good work after good work.
People are in search of God.
And maybe you are, too.
But you know what?
You can stop searching.
God’s right here.
God is Jesus.
That’s one of the reasons the resurrection happened!
It’s like one of those nighttime cyclists who is wearing neon green with flashing lights on his vest. He’s bright. He’s colored. He’s put his outfit together in such a way so that you don’t miss him!
The resurrection is like that.
It’s the Unknown God’s way of saying to you:
Here I am!
Don’t miss me.
I have made myself known.
I am Jesus.
I am your Savior.
I am your Redeemer.
And my message is this:
Repent means “to turn.”
To turn from sin.
To turn to God.
Whether you are a first-time hearer of this message or a long-time listener.
We are sinners who need to hear this message from God.
Turn from that sin.
You know the one I’m talking about.
Turn from that sin.
God knows the one I’m talking about.
Turn from that sin.
God isn’t stone who couldn’t possibly know…
Turn from that sin.
God is the Unknown God who knows you so deeply.
Turn from sin.
And turn to God to be saved.
Because when you turn to the Unknown God…
When you turn to Jesus…
Something else becomes unknown…
God, who KNOWS all of your sins, says your sins are now UNKNOWN, because he KNEW the cross and you KNOW his resurrection from the grave that the God who was formerly UNKNOWN is now KNOWN by you and who says:
I KNOW you.
Last week we looked at the beginning of the second missionary journey. The purpose of the journey was to:
There were plenty of mission fields to choose from! The Gospel had its origins in Judea, a smaller country with a land area of a couple hundred square miles. Since the rest of the world was untouched by the Gospel, there was a lot more of the world that needed to hear about the Savior.
As a result, you might expect the mission team to head out to some largely populated area as quickly as possible to share the Gospel with the most amount of people.
That would make the most sense because it would be the easiest way for Paul to “pad his stats.”
Have you ever heard that phrase? It’s a sports term. Sometimes you need to “pad your stats” in sports, because stats (or statistics) are key. They have been around since baseball cards started including them on the back of a player’s card. (Think about it: You don’t want to be that one guy with the .067% batting average. They can flip the card, look at your face and forever associate you with “not being that good at baseball.”)
Good stats, on the other hand, might increase the value of your card. It could improve your legacy. You might even get a reward. Stats are the reason that players sometimes stay in a game – even when their team is winning by a lot – to get a couple more hits and “pad their stats.”
If there was an apostolic version of baseball cards, you might expect Paul to “pad his stats.” He had a good run in his first season as missionary. In his second? It’d be an opportunity to bring his total number of people evangelized to the tens of thousands, to double the number of churches he started, and to better his average of “conversions” to “sermons preached.”
In today’s lesson God does the opposite. He guides the missionary team far away from the logical next steps in mission work, far away from what made them comfortable, and far away from what would have “padded Paul’s stats.”
Why? We’ll investigate God’s Word for the answer. Before we do, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
Acts 16 says this: “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.” (Acts 16:6-8)
A little bit of geography:
Phrygia and Galatia are to the north of Judea. They region starts to curve around the Mediterranean Sea to the east. This is essentially the route of the first missionary journey. In fact, Galatia is the name for the whole region of churches from that first missionary journey. It’s also the reason that Paul’s letter to these churches is called “Galatians.”
Paul and his missionary team went there to deliver the message from the Jerusalem council that “Grace meant grace.”
But then, they tried to head to the west to the province of Asia. There’s a lot of people in Asia. Some of the largest populations in the world are in Asia: China, India, Russia, even Bangladesh. While these countries wouldn’t have been as populated back then, there were still plenty of people in Asia who needed to hear about Jesus.
This seems like a logical next choice for mission work.
But they were kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. (v.6)
Now, Scripture doesn’t tell us how this happened.
An invisible force field?
Roads that were shut down?
A donkey that got sick?
Scripture doesn’t say.
But somehow, they concluded that they couldn’t go to Asia at this time.
So, they tried to go north. They came to the border of Mysia and tried to enter Bithynia… (v.7a) Bithynia is modern-day Turkey, a gateway into the northern kingdoms of modern-day Ukraine, Romania, and Bulgaria. Again, there were plenty of people who need to hear about Jesus up there and it was a logical next step: just head north and BAM – you’re there!
But The spirit of Jesus would not allow them to… (v.7b)
And again, there’s no indication of how this happened:
A sinkhole in the road?
Timothy got the flu?
Soldiers force them to turn around?
Or maybe the Holy Spirit simply says: “Nope.”
They can’t go west.
They can’t go north.
They came from the south.
They go east and went down to Troas. (v.8)
I imagine Paul was a bit confused:
Isn’t the Gospel for all people?
Aren’t there thousands of people to the West?
Aren’t there thousands of people to the North?
O Lord, why do you keep blocking our route?
As they settled down that evening, God gives them an answer:
…Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” (v.9)
I don’t know how Paul knew he was Macedonian. (I’m unsure that I’m that familiar with genealogical and racial features enough to pinpoint someone from Macedonia just by viewing them)
Maybe he was waving a Macedonian flag.
Or eating Macedonian food.
Or maybe he had on one of those t-shirts with the outline of Macedonia on it and the phrase: “Home.”
However, it happens, Paul immediately shared the news with his friends: “Guys, I know what God wants us to do! I saw a man…a Macedonian man. He asked us to come to Macedonia. He pleaded with us. So…get up! Pack up. He needs our help. They need the Gospel of Jesus now!”
The next morning, they do just that.
They head to the local harbor.
They obtain a ride on the boat across the Mediterranean.
It’s a couple days journey until they get to Neapolis.
From there they head to a leading city of Macedonia, Philippi.
And Paul might have been thinking:
This is great. God must have big plans.
If he had us travel 500 miles from our last stop in Phrygia, there must be a large amount of people he wants us to preach to.
If he had us jump on a ship, risk a shipwreck, and possibly get seasick, there must be crowds awaiting us.
If he is having us enter a Roman colony, with the danger of Roman soldiers and racism against Jews like us, there must be a second Pentecost awaiting us!
When they get there…
There’s no Jewish synagogue to go preach at.
There’s barely any Jews in the city at all.
The whole atmosphere is foreign, confusing, and difficult.
The missionaries are there for a few days without the Bible recording anything of substance.
Finally, they go outside the city gate to the river. (v.13)
Away from the population.
Away from the confusion.
As they are praying, a group of women comes to the river.
Most likely, they’re bringing their laundry to the river to do some wash.
And as they are washing their clothes…
…Paul can’t help himself.
Nice water, huh? Water…It’s important. But I know of something called “Living Water.”
I see you’re cleaning your clothing. But what have you done lately to cleanse your soul?
Look out that you don’t trip on a rock. Speaking of rocks – Jesus is my Rock. Is he yours?
And most of the women?
They don’t listen.
Just an annoyed smirk and a “Just let me do my laundry, weird religious dude.”
One of those listening was a woman named Lydia….
The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. (v.14)
The Bible doesn’t tell us a lot about Lydia.
The Greek text of the Bible literally says that she was a purple dealer. A purple dealer wasn’t someone who passed out Crayola crayons. Her job was to dye clothing the color purple. It was a fine business to be in, because purple clothing was quite expensive. In fact, wearing purple was a sign of being rich. It was a status symbol (like wearing a Gucci dress with a Coach handbag or dressing in an Armani Suit with a pair of Air Jordan’s on your feet).
We don’t know much else about Lydia.
She was a person.
A sinful person.
And just like any sinful person, she had reason for a Savior.
Maybe she’d gotten a good portion of her wealth in less than upright ways.
Maybe she’d spent so much time pursuing riches that her life felt void and empty.
Maybe she’d gone through a recent divorce with her husband; kept the money…and a lot of shame.
Maybe her visit to Philippi left her on the fringes of society, a refugee, alone.
Maybe she knew that the purple clothing she sold was only a façade; that could not cover the guilt upon her soul.
But when she heard about Jesus.
She heard about forgiveness for all her less than upright ways.
She heard about how Jesus brings eternal riches that will never leave you void or empty.
She heard about how Jesus’ death repaired her relationship with God and removed all her guilt and shame.
She heard about how Jesus rose from the dead and promised to be with his disciples so that they are never alone.
She heard about how Jesus’ gives us a robe, even more gorgeous than a robe of purple.
About how Jesus gave a robe of righteousness to completely cover her sins!
Lydia heard all of this.
II. Notes about the Eternal Importance of One
That’s the point of this whole story.
It’s the point of the 500-some mile journey.
It’s the point of the trip on the ship.
It’s the point of the foreign Roman colony.
It’s the point of the trip to the river.
The point was getting the Gospel message to Lydia.
And this wasn’t Paul’s plan.
It was God’s.
Think about how God goes out of his way to save Lydia:
He came out of heaven…for Lydia.
He lived on earth…for Lydia
He died on the cross…for Lydia.
He rose from the dead…for Lydia.
Then, God guided Paul.
Blocked some paths.
Got him to Philippi.
Got her to Philippi.
So that there is a seemingly chance encounter at the river which leads to the eternal salvation of her soul.
God did this because God placed eternal importance on one person, Lydia.
And…God has also placed eternal importance on YOU.
(1) See the Eternal Importance of You
Have you ever received a canned email from a company about how special you are?
I got one of those from Netflix recently.
I quit the subscription and they sent me a message that said they “loved having me as a customer” and they “hated to see me, Philip Kiecker, go.”
So…I signed up again.
Because they cared about me so deeply.
A while later, I was having trouble connecting, so I used the help app for Netflix to try and connect with a customer service representative and the representative texted me:
“Hi! How can I help?”
“I can’t get my Netflix connection to work.”
“Happy to help. Please provide your full name.”
I thought: “That’s odd. I thought they loved me as a customer and hated to see me go, but…”
I gave them my name.
Then, they said: “I’m sorry. There’s an outage. There’s nothing we can do to help, Fred.”
I thought they cared!
Maybe you feel that way about God.
Maybe you’ve been tempted to believe that God doesn’t care.
That you aren’t important.
That you are forgotten.
God went out of his way to save YOU.
He came out of heaven…for YOU.
He lived on earth…for YOU
He died on the cross…for YOU.
He rose from the dead…for YOU.
And God arranged events in your life to bring you to saving faith.
Maybe he had your mom bring you along, kicking and screaming to church, since you’ve been 4 years old.
Maybe he had a friend invite you to worship, invite you again, invite you, invite you, invite you and invite you some more.
Maybe you had a chance encounter with a stranger at our modern-day version of the Philippian River –the local laundromat.
Somehow God brought saving faith to you.
Because you were eternally important to him.
And if you aren’t a believer yet, understand this:
God has arranged events in your life to bring you to this message right here.
Jesus loves you.
Jesus died for you.
Jesus rose for you.
Jesus is your Savior.
(2) See the Eternal Importance of Others
Because Lydia didn’t stop with herself. Look at what happens next: She and the members of her household were baptized. (v.15a)
It isn’t likely that all her household was already down at that river doing laundry.
And yet – the baptism appears to have happened in the river, because it takes place before “She invited [the missionaries] to her home.” (v.15b)
That means Lydia must have went back home:
Told her family about Jesus.
Told her kids.
Any servants that might have been working at her purple factory!
Then, she led them all back to Paul.
Paul told them about Jesus.
And they were all baptized into his name.
Why did Lydia do this?
Because she saw the eternal value of her family.
She saw them as eternal souls in need of a Savior.
Just as God did.
Just as God wants us to do.
Mr. Rogers used to have a song that he sung on occasion: “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” The song goes on to identify common 1980s neighbors – the mailman, the police officer, and the fire fighter.
That was in the eighties. It might be fun to hear an update:
Who are the people in your 2019 neighborhood?
The Whole Foods clerk.
The Starbucks barista.
The Uber driver.
The Amazon Delivery woman.
Even…the Google fiber installation crew. (They’re in everybody’s neighborhood…all the time.)
But these are more than just people in your neighborhood.
They are eternal souls in need of their Savior.
The mailman? An eternal soul in need of the Savior.
The police officer? An eternal soul in need of the Savior.
The fire fighter? An eternal soul in need of the Savior.
The Whole Foods clerk? An eternal soul in need of the Savior.
The Starbucks barista? An eternal soul in need of the Savior.
The Uber drive, the Amazon Delivery woman and the Google fiber installation crew…. Eternal souls in need of the Savior.
That’s what they are.
And you, as a believer in Jesus, have what they need.
See the eternal importance of others.
(3) See the Eternal Importance of Your Part in Kingdom Work
After Lydia’s household is baptized into Christ’s family, she doesn’t just bid adieu to the missionaries and go back to who everyday life.
She invited the missionaries to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house.” (v.16)
She realized that God’s work wasn’t done in Philippi.
She figured that they would need a place to stay as they shared the Gospel in Philippi.
She might not have been an eloquent speaker like them, but she wanted to partake in the ministry in whatever way she could.
She saw the eternal importance of her part in kingdom work and she served…
The same is true here.
We have a big mission: To Plant the Message of Jesus in the Heart of North Raleigh (and Beyond).
That’s a lot of people.
In the triangle, that’s close to 2 million people.
We can’t do it alone.
So, we do it together.
Together with Jesus.
Let me tell you the story of Priscilla.
Priscilla had a child in need of childcare.
Priscilla searched online for a Childcare Center.
Priscilla found an ad that some of you developed.
Priscilla found an ad that your offerings helped support.
Priscilla visited Precious Lambs where some of you spend all kinds of time planning for, decorating, and building.
Priscilla enrolled her child in Precious Lambs where some of you taught her child about Jesus.
Priscilla brought her child for worship where some of you greeted her, made friends with her, high fived her.
Priscilla now knows about her Savior.
Priscilla now knows about his love for her.
Priscilla now knows about his love for her – because God works through all of you to make that happen.
That’s the eternal importance of one.
May God guide us to see our eternal importance as we are motivated to see the eternal importance of others. Amen.
Last week we investigated the very first church meeting in the history of the church. The main outcome of that meeting was that grace means grace. Jewish believers couldn’t make a theological case for requiring non-Jewish believers to follow Jewish customs. Similarly, we shouldn’t make grace difficult for ourselves or others.
Grace means grace.
When the decision was finalized by all of the leadership, the next step was to make that decision known. Since this is the 1st century A.D., they couldn’t just tweet out their decision.
They needed to hand deliver the decision to the churches.
Paul and Barnabas volunteer to deliver the message. They figure while they’re doing that, they can also visit new places and do some more mission work (Acts 15:35)
So… they head home.
They pack up extra pairs of sandals.
They put on their fanny packs.
And meetup at the church to see if there’s any leftover outreach material that they can take with them.
Unfortunately, that’s where things go wrong.
Barnabas wants to bring along a young man named Mark. Mark had joined them in their first missionary journey, but halfway through, he deserted them.
As a result, Paul doesn’t trust Mark. He doesn’t want any wishy-washy folk on his mission trip. He figures that Mark will just do the same thing and won’t be a valuable partner.
Barnabas is more forgiving.
They part ways.
Which - it isn’t necessarily wrong to disagree.
It’s wrong to be jerks about disagreements.
And I’m sure that’s what the devil wanted to happen so that the message of the Savior never made it out of Antioch again!
But…you can see God’s hand in the midst of the disagreement because now there’s no longer one mission trip, but two.
Barnabas and Mark head to the island of Cyprus.
Paul and a believer named Silas head to the northern countries of Galatia.
The devil loses.
The kingdom is multiplied.
The Gospel is above all else.
The book of Acts focuses in on Paul’s journey. As it does, it introduces us to a young man named Timothy. He is the focus of our sermon today. Before we dive into his story, let us pray: 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. Timothy’s Story
Acts 16 says this, “Paul came to…Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek.” (Acts 16:1)
Lystra was one of the cities that Paul visited on his first missionary journey. (Acts 14) If you remember, that’s the place where God worked a miracle through Paul and Barnabas in order to heal a man who had been lame from birth. As a result, many of the people started to worship…Paul and Barnabas. When Paul told them to stop, they tried to murder them by tossing stones at their heads.
Timothy was probably not a part of that.
He was one of the few that believed what Paul said about Jesus being the promised Savior.
In fact, Timothy had a mother who was a believer. He had been raised by his mother to know the promise of the Messiah.
His mother took him to their version of Sunday School.
His mother read him stories about Creation, Noah’s Ark, and the parting of the Red Sea.
He probably did some finger paint art of David defeating the giant goliath.
As he got older, he got involved: ushering, saying hi, making the coffee!
And when Paul came to town teaching that Jesus was the Messiah…
He examined the Old Testament prophecies.
He examined Paul’s teaching about Jesus’ life.
He listened to Paul’s eyewitness account of the Resurrection.
And he changed his faith in the coming Messiah into faith in the Messiah who had just come.
And quickly he became a well-liked leader in the church, even as a young person…
The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. (16:2)
Notice those aren’t just the people in Lystra, but the people in the neighboring church of Iconium as well.
Maybe he attended worship in Iconium when he was on vacation.
Maybe he helped the people of Iconium run a Vacation Bible School.
Maybe he ran a young person’s small group somewhere between the two cities.
Maybe he played church softball where he crushed a few home runs but was Christ-filled and polite while he did so.
Timothy’s faith was evident in all that he did.
Such that Paul wanted to take him along on his journey…(16:3) But the issue was that Timothy wasn’t circumcised.
Now, you might be thinking: Why is this a big deal? Wasn’t the whole point of the Jerusalem meeting that we talked about last week – that Jewish traditions were not a requirement for grace?
Remember – the meeting in Jerusalem had a lot of discussion.
It had a lot of disagreement.
It was challenging for the leaders of the church to accept that their longstanding Jewish traditions weren’t needed.
If the leadership had a hard time with it, what about the average laymen?
It might be similar to you having a bunch of tattoos up and down your arms. One with a big old heart that says “Mom.” You believe in Jesus, but you know that if you head to the local retirement home people might not want to listen to anything you have to say if they see tattoos on your arms.
Rather than have them miss the Gospel of Jesus…you wear a turtleneck.
That’s the same thing Paul is thinking. Rather than have groups of dissenters following and jeering them as “uncircumcised heathen,” Paul said: “Maybe…it’d be wise if…you were circumcised.”
And you know what? Timothy didn’t hesitate.
Even though he didn’t have to, Timothy was willing to be circumcised in order to remove any obstacles to sharing the Gospel.
That’s amazing faith!
That’s a mature faith.
That’s putting the Gospel above all else.
Paul takes Timothy along. As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reach by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers. (16:4-5) Timothy proves himself so mature that he works with Paul throughout the 2nd and 3rd missionary journeys. Paul even trusts him enough to go to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:2), to go Macedonia (Acts 19:22), and to Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:17). Ultimately, it culminates in Timothy being the pastor assigned to the church in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3)
Talk about impressive.
Timothy is the kind of guy living a faith that any Christian parent would want for their children.
That any believer would want for themselves.
II. Lessons from Timothy
How did Timothy do it?
How did he get to such a strong faith?
Maybe you’re wondering:
What does Timothy have that I don’t have?
There’s no Heirloom Greater than Jesus
Take a look at what Paul wrote to Timothy, many years later when he was that pastor in Ephesus:
I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. (2 Tim. 1:5)
Have you ever seen Antiques Roadshow? It’s probably the best show to come out of PBS since Mister Rogers. It’s a reality show in which people bring their antiques, heirlooms, and collectables to a panel of experts who examine their piece and give them an estimated value of what their item would bring in an auction. Sometimes it’s more than they expect. Sometimes…a lot less.
There was a woman on their recently named Rose. She brought along a painting that had been in her grandmother’s toy room for years. She had always played by it. She had conversed right under it. She had seen that painting in her grandmother’s room for her decades.
When her grandmother died, the family was rummaging through some of her things and came across the painting. Rose said that she would take it because it gave her fond memories of grandma.
She put it up in her attic. She didn’t even hang it up.
But one day as she was cleaning in the attic, she noticed a mosquito on the painting. She swatted at it and as her hand hit the painting she noticed that she could feel the texture of the paint. It wasn’t a copy, but an original. She took it to Antiques roadshow to get it appraised.
How much? Close to $300,000.
Friends: There is no greater heirloom than Jesus.
That’s the heirloom that was passed down in Timothy’s family
From his Grandma Lois
To his mother Eunice.
Friends, you have been given the same heirloom.
Maybe it isn’t from a Grandma Lois or a mother Eunice…
Maybe it’s from an aunt, an uncle, a friend, or a coworker.
Regardless, understand this:
(1) There is no greater heirloom than Jesus.
Because no other heirloom brings peace with God.
No other heirloom brings forgiveness of sins.
No other heirloom wipes out guilt.
No other heirloom defeats evil.
No other heirloom conquers death.
No other heirloom gives eternal life.
Only Jesus can and does.
(2) Fan into Flame
This is a priceless heirloom.
One that needs to be cared for.
That’s the whole point of the next verse: Fan into flame the gift given to you by the laying on of hands. (2 Timothy 1:6)
Do you understand that reference? Air is necessary for a flame to grow. It’s why when you’ve got a pile of charcoal and it appears to be going out, you open up the lid of the grill, blow on the embers and they come back to life. In the past, they even had this big accordion-like thing that would blow air on the fire when you pushed it together. It was a safer option than get your face right next to the glowing hot rocks.
Paul reminds Timothy to keep fanning into flame the gift he’s been given.
And what gift was that? Two scholarly options and both are theologically sound.
First of all, the gift of faith. That’s the gift that we share with Timothy. When you come to faith in Jesus, it’s as if a single flame has been lit in the fireplace of your heart.
But if you don’t feed that flame, if you don’t tend to it.…eventually it goes out.
And, dear brother and sisters, if you don’t fan your faith into flame with the truth of God’s Word, it will fade away.
If you stay away from worship…faith grows dimmer.
If you stop reading your Bible…the flame starts to flicker.
If you drop out of your group study…the flame becomes a lone ember.
If you remove yourself from Jesus…the flame may go out.
When the gentle message of God’s Word comes to your heart again…
When you study God’s Word…
When you get into a Bible group…
When you hear God’s promises of his love.
When you meditate on the truth of his sacrifice.
When you worship and contemplate the words of praise.
That single flame?
Becomes a roaring fire.
A Timothy-like fire.
Stoked and ready to serve in His kingdom.
Want to be like Timothy? Fan that faith flame with God’s Word.
But the gift may also be a reference to the gift of talent. In fact, Paul reference the “Laying on of hands,” which literally means, “laying on hands.” It’s something that the early Apostles did as a way to confer special gifts on members of the church.
Timothy had special gifts! He was a pastor. He was outgoing. He was smart. He was patient. He was gifted with the skills to be a pastor.
You might not have pastor gifts.
But you have some kind of gifts.
Kid care skills.
Flower planting skills.
Whatever skill you have been given…
Recognize it’s a gift from God;
Put it to work in God’s kingdom.
And fan it into flame.
There’s a woman at the retirement home that I serve who loves coloring. Every day I make it there for Bible study; she’s working on coloring pictures. I asked her if she enjoyed doing it and she said that she did. She said that she colors because it’s a way that she can give thanks to God – even if it’s more difficult for her to do much else. And then…she said that she was practicing because she wanted to get better at color choices and shading so that she might give glory to God through her artwork.
Friends, that’s fanning the flame…
For God’s glory.
(3) Be Bold
Because it could be easy to be intimidated by all of this Jesus stuff.
It would easy for Timothy to feel unqualified or inadequate.
To feel uneducated.
To feel nervous, anxious and frightened.
He might be tempted to be timid.
And you might be, too.
But look at what Paul reminds Timothy that is also a reminder to you:
“The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power…” (2 Timothy 1:7)
The Spirit of God is not timid.
He made flames appear on the heads of his disciples.
The Spirit of God is not timid.
He roared like a tornado without an actual tornado.
The Spirit of God is not timid.
He gave the disciples the ability to speak in languages they have never learned.
The Spirit of God is not timid.
He worked through fishermen, accountants, political activists…and even a young boy like Timothy to spread the message of the Gospel.
And that same Spirit will work through you.
Will be with you.
Will guide you as you serve in his kingdom.
(4) Be Loving
Because if the Spirit were only powerful…well…
Suddenly evangelism isn’t about winning souls.
Suddenly evangelism is about winning…
Maybe you’ve seen this in action.
Christians head to online forums, find a blog, and spending all day trying to give them spiritual complexes with God’s Word in order to prove that I am godlier than they are!
It’s as if we view God’s Word like a chair that we’re slamming onto someone’s head in order to stand over them in superiority.
But God didn’t just give us a spirit of power. He gave us a spirit of love. (2 Timothy 1:7)
He didn’t crush us with God’s law, but crushed sin with the Gospel.
He didn’t dominate sinners, but saved sinners from domination.
He didn’t destroy us for our sins, he destroyed our sins for us.
We do the same.
Empowered by God.
Loved by God.
We speak boldly.
But we speak lovingly.
We remember the goal isn’t “to win,” but “to save souls from eternal hellfire.”
(5) Be Disciplined
That was Paul’s whole point to Timothy. It was his main reason for writing to him.
Even though he was no longer a rookie…
Even though he was now a long-time pastor…
Even though he was a veteran of faith…
Paul’s main directive to Timothy was to be disciplined.
Because God didn’t give us a spirit of timidity…but a spirit…of self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7)
Part of preparation for youth confirmation is memory work.
Memorizing truths about God’s Word.
It may not have always been easy.
It may not have always been fun.
It may not have always been something you looked forward to.
But that’s being disciplined.
That’s taking the truth that God loves you.
And taking it from the page.
Planting it into your brain.
Guiding it into your heart.
When you kids bully you and you feel unloved, you remember: “God so loved the world (me) that he gave his one and only Son (for me) that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
When you feel confused about what path to take in the future, you remember: “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
When you are tempted by friends to do things that you’ll regret for the rest of your life, you remember: “You are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the Light.” (Ephesians 5:8)
When you are in college, alone, as if no one will be there for you: Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)
So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus…(2 Timothy 1:8-10)
Do you remember at the beginning we talked about the heirloom of eternity that has been given to you.
We said it goes back to your parents.
Even to your grandparents.
But here…we’re reminded it goes farther.
It goes back to the beginning.
It goes back to before the beginning.
The heirloom of eternity comes from before eternity.
Brothers and sisters…
Cherish that heirloom.
Fan your faith into flame.
Until God confirms your faith eternally and takes you home to heaven. Amen.
We’re continuing our sermon series about EYEWITNESS Easter accounts where we read reports from people who saw Jesus come back to life with their own eyes.
We heard from a group of three women at the tomb.
We heard from Mary Magdalene a bit later.
We heard from 2 disciples on a road trip to Emmaus.
We heard from about 20 disciples in a locked room.
In total on Easter Sunday, there’s around 25 eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ resurrection.
In 4 different locations.
At 4 different times.
That’s a lot of proof.
And yet…maybe you’re not convinced…
Have you ever played the game of OLD MAID before?
What happens is you are dealt a hand of cards. Once it’s your turn you draw cards from any other player on the table. The goal is to get pairs until you run out of cards in your hand. And you never, ever want to get the Old Maid.
Which I’m not sure why anyone doesn’t want the Old Maid.
Generally speaking – I’d love an Old Maid.
It’d be great to have someone help around the house…but I digress.
What happened when I was growing up is my dad used to take his hand.
He’d spread it out in a fan.
He’d take one card and put it up…enticing-like.
And he’d say, “You should take this one. Trust me. It’ll be good.”
And I’d believe him.
Eventually. I didn’t take that card.
I was burned too many times.
I was skeptical.
Maybe you’ve gotten the Old Maid too many times.
Maybe you’ve been burned too often.
Maybe you’ve believed too many sinful people who have let you down too many times.
Maybe you’re skeptical about Jesus.
Today we’ll look an eyewitness account from a guy that was filled with skepticism. Our goal is to listen to how Jesus transforms his skepticism to faith – and see how we might transform ours into faith. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Eyewitness Account
Thomas’ eyewitness account comes from John 20. It starts in verses 24 with a caveat, “Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.“ It doesn’t say what Thomas was doing when Jesus appeared to all of the other disciples. Picture what you’d like. Maybe he was out for a walk. Maybe he was visiting a relative.
I like to think he was out getting coffee.
Probably a Venti black coffee.
And as he was sipping the coffee – because the coffee is taking his mind off the terrible events that have happened recently - he sighs.
This is really awful.
We spent years following that guy.
He’s no Messiah.
And we’ve got no hope.
As Thomas gets close to the door of the house, he takes a deep breath.
They are my friends. I should try and cheer them up. Get them ready to move on.
But from within the house –
Thomas doesn’t hear sadness.
He doesn’t hear crying.
Thomas has to really knock on the door to get them to hear him over their talking.
Finally, the door bursts open:
Alive! Thomas! He’s alive.
We saw him. We saw him. We saw him.
Thomas – we touched him. We put our fingers in his hands. We put our hands into his side.
Jesus’ resurrection is real!
And this goes on for a while.
Thomas’ friends trying to share their exuberance with their friend.
Ya’ll are crazy.
I don’t know happened. If you had too much to drink or you’re hallucinating.
But.. I do know what didn’t happen.
Jesus didn’t visit you.
He isn’t alive.
When will you guys get it through your thick skulls!
But one of them approaches:
We aren’t crazy.
We aren’t drunk.
Look around. There’s like 20 of us in the room.
20 of your closest, most sincere, loving friends in this room.
All of whom are telling you the truth – Jesus is alive!
We saw it with our eyes.
We touched him with our hands.
We’re telling you with our words.
Doesn’t that count for something?
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (v.26)
One week later.
Same time of day.
Only this time…
Thomas is with them.
Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” (v.26)
Then, Jesus made a bee-line for Thomas.
Hey friend. “Do you see me?” I’m right here.
Put your finger here. That’s where the nails were.
Put your hand into my side. Isn’t that what you wanted?
While you’re at it. Close your eyes and listen…Can you hear my lungs breathing?
Put your ear against my chest. That’s my heart.
If you won’t listen to your friends.
Listen to me:
Stop doubting and believe. (v.27)
To which Thomas.
Doubting, skeptical Thomas.
Can only say:
“My Lord and my God!” (v.28)
In other words:
II. Resurrection Truth
There it is. Thomas’ eyewitness account.
An account that has made Thomas forever known as Doubting Thomas.
Which – not super flattering.
I think, anxious Thomas, kinda-believing Thomas. or even average, everyday common Thomas would have been preferable.
But Doubting Thomas it is…and that’s important. Because his skepticism leads us to three incredible resurrection truths:
(1) Jesus Rose from the Dead
Fourth time it’s been key truth #1. It’ll keep coming.
But for real this time – because if last week’s account of 20 some odd people seeing, feeling, touching the risen Jesus … if that wasn’t enough.
Then, Thomas’ account is for you.
If you don’t believe this happened, Thomas’ words are for you.
He says, “I get it. I was skeptical too. Some guy dying and rising for the forgiveness of sins? It sounds crazy. It doesn’t happen. But it did. I saw him with my own eyes. I touched him with my own hands. I did a thorough investigation – And it led me to this truth: Jesus is alive!”
And here’s the really cool part.
If Jesus is really alive.
Then so is his forgiveness.
Even for the doubter.
Because…notice what Jesus does when he enters the room.
The first thing he says is: “Peace to you.”
That “you” is plural.
It is all encompassing.
It includes Thomas.
Jesus didn’t say, “Peace be to most of you…but not you Thomas. You can sit over there and be anxious for a bit.”
Jesus brought real forgiveness.
Even to the doubter.
Because maybe you’ve been doubting God.
Maybe you doubt this resurrection.
Maybe you’ve been doubting this Jesus thing.
Maybe you’ve never believed before.
Maybe you doubt God is with you, that God cares for you, that God loves you.
And listen to Jesus’ voice:
“Peace be to you.”
(2) Faith is a Gift
Thomas had said, “Unless I see Jesus with my own eyes and touch him with my own hands, I will not believe.”
Stop and listen to what just happened.
Sinful, imperfect Thomas just gave Holy, Righteous God…an ultimatum.
God doesn’t owe Thomas anything.
And yet – God gives Thomas exactly what he asks for.
He GIFTS Thomas exactly what he asked for.
He gives him the opportunity to be an eyewitness.
He gives Thomas faith.
And in fact, go a bit farther:
Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (vs. 29)
People who haven’t seen Jesus.
Who is Jesus talking about?
You see Jesus?
Dear believer, he’s talking about you.
But don’t get a big head. Listen again to Jesus’ words:
Blessed means given a gift.
And if you believe in Jesus…
If you believe that some dude died 2000 years ago, came back to life, and in him you are forgiven of all your sins?
That…is a gift.
A miraculous gift.
Don’t forget that.
I was talking with a woman the other day who was pretty excited to tell me that she got saved.
I said, “Oh. That sounds nice. What do you mean?”
And she said, “Well…I was already living a pretty perfect life. So, I though I might as well do it and decide to bring Jesus into my life. And Pastor, you should have seen it. I really did it.”
Did you catch that?
I did it. I did it. I did it.
I thought she said that she “got saved.”
But what she meant was, “I saved myself.”
Here’s the thing:
Faith isn’t something you do.
Faith isn’t something that you make happen.
Faith isn’t something that you get down on the ground, clench really hard and will into happening.
Faith is a gift of God.
If the devil has made you think that it’s something you do – be careful. It’s a line of thinking that leads to two scenarios:
(1) Pharisaical. AKA – Trust that I’m really awesome at believing.
(2) Despair. Because I’ll never be able to bring myself to believe this.
In both of those instances, faith isn’t in Jesus.
Faith is in oneself.
And that’s NOT saving faith.
Friends, faith is a gift.
Take a moment.
Give thanks to God for your Savior Jesus, yes.
But also gives thanks to God for your gift of faith.
(3) The Gift of Faith Comes through the Gospel
Because maybe you’re thinking – “God! I want this gift of faith. How are you going to send it?”
Maybe you can send me it via USPS?
But look at what John writes right after this eyewitness account. He says this: Jesus did many other miracles in the presence of his disciples – some that we didn’t even get to hear about – but these words are written – why? – that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (v.30-31)
Faith is a gift that comes through God’s Word.
Faith is a gift that comes through the words about Jesus.
Faith is a gift that comes from hearing about your Savior.
Scripture says this, “Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:8,9)
There’s not any fireworks.
There isn’t any magic incantations.
There isn’t any incredible 60 day fast that you need to do in order to cleanse your body and pray yourself into the kingdom of faith.
You simply need to hear the Gospel.
Because the Gospel brings the gift of faith.
How does it do that?
Because it’s not just some person’s words.
It’s the Word of God Himself.
The all-powerful, all loving, doing everything it can to reveal to you Jesus’ saving work to get you to heaven: God’s Word.
That leads me to two very simple WHAT NOWs:
(1) Immerse Yourself in God’s Word
Because if you have doubts, if you are unsure, if you are a skeptic…
The cure is not an ultimatum to God.
The cure is God’s Word.
His gentle, powerful, faith creating Word.
I love you.
I died for you.
I rose for you.
If you want a stronger faith – study God’s Word.
In church. In a group. With others. On your own. In your family.
If you think your faith will grow without God’s Word – that’s like thinking your home garden will grow without any water.
It won’t happen.
Some of ya’ll need to hear God’s Word on this. Immerse yourself in the only thing that gifts faith in order to grow your faith: God’s Word.
(2) Share God’s Word
Because you probably know someone who is a skeptic.
You probably know someone who is unsure.
You probably know someone who is doubting.
You might even think – I don’t know what needs to be done.
You know the solution.
It’s God’s Word.
Bring them God’s Word.
Tell them about Jesus.
Tell them about the Savior.
Because it is through that message of God’s Word and only through that message of God’s Word that God gifts faith. Why it’s so important to share it with others.
Go and tell!
We recently got a cat.
I know. I know…this sounds like a confessional.
But, it’s true. After 33 years of claiming that I would never own a cat, I caved, and I did.
And it’s been fun.
She enjoys keeping us safe from any fuzz balls and dust balls that she sees.
She loves to go hunting for leaves.
She even enjoys a playful, piercing bite to my front toe.
But the other day, my wife told me that she had done something crazy. Julianna texted me that we needed to close the windows so that the cat couldn’t climb the screen.
I said, “Yeah. How could she do that?”
Julianna said, “I see holes in the screen right now.”
I said, “Those are probably from bugs or some severe storm.”
She said, “I’m pretty positive it’s from the cat.”
I said, “Oh yeah. Prove it. How do you know?”
My wife texted me a photo of the cat climbing the screen.
Eyewitnesses are important. They are verbal proclaims of the visual truth. They are the difference between…
Fiction and non-fiction.
A fairy tale and history.
A lie and truth.
Over the next couple of weeks, we will be starting our sermon series called EYEWITNESS. It’s all about the eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. I think we need to do this because the resurrection of Jesus is too big a deal to rely on hearsay, to trust maybes and to listen to theories.
Our goal today is to look at a real eyewitness accounts…
Of real people…
Who had real interactions…
With the really risen Jesus…
As real proof of your real salvation.
Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Mary’s Background
The first eyewitness account that we are going to look at comes from a woman named Mary Magdalene. What interesting about Mary is that she doesn’t play a big part in Jesus’ three years of ministry on earth. In fact, there’s very little that is written about her except for this:
Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus had driven out seven demons. (Mark 16:9)
It’s not even a full sentence. Just a passing adjective comment.
But…one that’s pretty heavy.
She had been possessed by 7 demons. Evil spirits. Fallen angels. Powerful. They had taken hold of her mind. Something that Bible theorists will suggest happens from dabbling in the demonic activity (the occult, psychics, blood sacrifices) and excessive drug use.
Regardless how it happened to Mary, we know it was terrible.
She had no control of her personality.
She was a prisoner in her own mind.
In a state of deep depression.
With a helplessness that doesn’t go away.
Except, it did.
Mary was possessed.
Jesus healed her.
I don’t know exactly how, but if it is anything like Jesus’ other miracles, then it was probably as simple as Jesus lifting his hand and saying:
Which…Can you imagine?
If you’ve ever had a counselor help you with a breakthrough.
Or a pastor help you grasp God’s forgiveness.
Or a fatal diagnosis that a doctor diagnosed, prescribed medicine and helped you defeat.
You know the kind of deep connection that Mary had with Jesus.
That’s why she had become a follower of his:
She had been trapped, Jesus freed her.
She had been guilty, Jesus brought her forgiveness.
She had been depressed, Jesus brought her joy.
She had been lonely, Jesus brought her family.
She had been hopeless, Jesus made her hopeful.
He was violently, publicly, cruelly crucified on a cross.
And all of her hope?
All of her joy?
All of her sanity…
Started to slip away….
She could feel the devil’s grip tightening on her again.
II. The Eyewitness Account
That’s why she got up so early Sunday morning.
You see -- Jesus had been killed Friday evening. They buried him. She would have gone to his grave to mourn, but they have this Sabbath rule where you can’t go to visit the dead on a Saturday.
But Saturday was over.
It was still dark.
It’s not like she was sleeping anyways.
She threw on her sandals.
Fastened on her cloak.
And walked off to her friend’s house.
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!
“What do you want?”
“It’s Sunday. We were going to go to his grave. We were going to go to Jesus’ grave so that we can honor him.”
“But Mary. It’s not even light out yet. It’s still night time. It’s…just gonna take me a second while I get ready.”
As they walked through the slowly evaporating darkness, it was mostly quiet.
Whenever her friends tried to make small talk, Mary quieted them. “We’ve just gotta get to Jesus’ grave.”
As they approached the garden, Mary worked into a sprint walk.
She began opening up the bottle of perfume she had brought to pour on his grave and anoint his body.
“Mary, did you think about how we were going to get into the grave? There is that giant stone that the soldiers put there to make sure that no one could get in. I saw some of those guys. They’re built like models. It took about 5 of them to move it, I don’t see how we…”
She stopped talking.
Off in the distance was Jesus’ grave.
The giant stone?
It was moved.
Immediately, Mary burst into tears:
“What did they do? What have they done? They couldn’t just leave him alone. Those jerks! Those losers! How could they do this? How could they leave us like this? Without even a chance…to heal.”
She broke down.
Her friends tried to console her.
But Mary shrugged them off.
She turned around and sprinted back towards town.
She could barely see where she was going with tears clouding her vision.
She made her way to where some of the twelve disciples were staying.
She pounded at the door.
She screamed at the door.
She made a commotion till their let her in:
“They took his body. They took his body. They book his body…the tomb is empty!”
Two of the disciples rushed out.
They sprinted to see what she was saying.
And Mary tried to follow, but she grew too tired.
Her legs got wobbly.
She slammed her back against tree trunk.
And fell to the floor.
After sobbing for a good 15 minutes, She stood up.
She didn’t have any tears left.
She had to get to the bottom of this.
She had to get back to the tomb and find some kind of a clue…a witness…a footprint that would lead her to Jesus’ body.
She went back to the tomb.
Her friends were gone.
The disciples were gone.
The stone…was still gone.
This time…she took a deep breath…and approached the tomb.
Inside the tomb, she found some men.
Dressed in white.
A gleaming, blinding white light.
Radiating from their clothes.
Radiating from their faces.
Both sitting on the bier where Jesus’ body had been.
Between them? Grave clothes. Folded ever so nicely, ever so gently, as if they were no longer necessary.
“Woman, why are you crying?” they asked.
“They have taken my Lord away! And I don’t know where they have put them!”
Mary turned around. The men were nice. And it was strange that they were glowing, but…she didn’t have time. She needed to find his body.
Outside the tomb, someone else.
Hard to tell who – with the tears blurring her vision.
It was probably the gardener.
“Woman, why are you crying?”
This is the one. He must have taken the body. He must have moved it at the requests of the Pharisees!
“Tell me sir. Tell me…Please…Where did you take his body? Why did you leave the grave….empty?”
The air was still.
Mary’s breath paused for a moment.
She had heard that voice before.
She had heard that voice teach her about God.
She had heard that voice proclaim forgiveness.
She had heard that voice drive away her own demons!
It was Jesus!
“Teacher!” She cried as she grabbed a hold of him with a hug.
As she hugged, she knew it was real! She felt his shoulders.
She held him by the back.
She felt the warmth of his breath.
Jesus was alive.
III. Resurrection Truth
This is the eyewitness account of Mary.
It is an eyewitness account that is recorded for us in Scripture.
The guy who wrote it? John – he was one of the disciples that went running to the tomb after Mary told him it was open!
And the book of John? It was written down and passed around at a time when Mary Magdalene would have still been alive.
And she didn’t say “Nah, man. That’s wrong. It didn’t happen this way.”
She said, “That’s the truth.”
There are three really important divine truths that we need to take home with us today.
(1) Jesus Rose from the Dead
Granted. You might be skeptical of that truth.
Because most people when they are dead? They can’t do much. Their bodies just lie there and slowly decompose.
And even people who are living – they haven’t figured out a way to bring people that are dead back to life either.
But if this is true…
When Jesus was dead, he figured out one thing that no one else could ever figure out while they were alive – conquering death itself!
If you’re skeptical, Mary’s account is for you. Because think about how long it took her recognize that Jesus was alive.
She saw the immovable stoned – moved and her first reaction?
“They took his body.”
She went into the tomb and saw two angels –glowing with divine splendor. Her reaction?
“They took his body!”
She went outside the tomb and saw Jesus – but was so overcome with emotion that she says to Jesus,
“You must have taken his body!”
She wasn’t wrong.
It isn’t until Jesus…
Calls her name…
That she realizes the incredible truth right in front of her!
Friends, you might be dealing with sadness.
You might be dealing with difficulties in your marriage.
With challenges at work.
With a financial crisis.
With a terrifying diagnosis.
With guilt, shame, and sin.
And sometimes that can all cover our hearts and close our eyes and make us say, “There is no HOPE in this world! This Jesus’ thing can’t be true.”
When that happens…
Hear Jesus’ voice…
He’s calling to you.
“I am alive.”
(2) The Work of Salvation is Finished
Check out verse 17:
“Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
The reason Jesus came to earth was to win your salvation.
He came to suffer death for your sins.
He came to earn your way to heaven.
He came to pay for eternal life.
If he’s heading up to heaven, guess what?
That work is done.
Granted – that can be hard to believe.
It’s like Easter weekend. Maybe you are planning on having relatives to your house. Maybe you wanted to clean for your relatives -- so you make a check list: Sweep the floor, dust the counters, disinfect the countertops, clean the bathrooms, do the laundry, make the beds, clean up the toys, etc.
And you go to work.
And you come home and….
Your husband says, “Surprise! I did it already. It’s finished. You don’t have to clean anymore!”
How do you respond?
Probably…by sweeping the floor, dusting the counters, disinfecting the countertops, etc.
When Jesus tells you that it is finished.
It is finished.
Your salvation is won.
Your sins are forgiven.
Eternal life is yours.
Heaven is your home!
“It is finished.”
You don’t need to try and earn his love.
You don’t need to complete your salvation.
You don’t need to pay your way into heaven by working hard and becoming perfect.
Jesus did it for you.
(3) Go and Tell
Because right after Mary realizes that Jesus is standing right in front of her…
Having conquered sin and death…
Renewing her hope again…
She’s overcome with emotion.
She holds onto him.
She doesn’t want to ever go back to guilt and loneliness and despair. Never again!
But Jesus says something interesting:
“Do not hold onto me. Instead, go and tell.” (v.17)
Because there were others who had lost their hope.
There were others who were in despair.
There were others who were shacked to guilt.
Mary’s eyewitness message – would change that.
She would give them hope.
She would give them joy.
She would give them freedom.
Friends, there are still people like that today.
There are people who don’t know their Savior.
People who don’t know the resurrection story.
People who think Easter is all about sugary yellow marshmallow chicks
They are overcome with guilt.
They are dealing with a lack of joy.
They are struggling with despair.
Can you do me a favor?
Listen to your Savior.
Go and tell.
Later today at your Easter party, turn to the people who didn’t come to worship to celebrate this message and share the story of Easter. Go and Tell.
Later this evening when you are on your phones, take a note or two from this sermon and share on social media. Go and tell.
Tomorrow morning as you head to work – gather around the coffee pot, talk with your coworkers about why you liked Easter and how amazing this message of the risen Savior is. Go and tell.
And understand this.
You won’t be just giving them a story.
You won’t be just telling them a fairy tale.
You’ll be giving them true hope.
Today we are continuing our series called The Kingdom of God is Like. It’s a series all about parables. Parables are short earthly stories that teaching about the eternal kingdom of God. Last week, so far, we have heard that the kingdom of God is like a sower, a growing seed, a mustard seed, a homeless fox, an abandoned burial plot and a plow.
Today’s parable is well timed, because it fits in perfectly with a certain holiday.
I don’t know about you, but this past Wednesday, there seemed to be an extreme increase in the number of pirates that live in Raleigh.
Over at the new school, we have a security system with a key fob and you’d think it would lock out pirates, but these pirates were tricky and made their way into the school -- little 3-foot-tall pirates. With eye patches and stuffed parrots.
Pirates love treasure: gold necklaces, silver artifacts, coins, jewelry, bottles of rum. They loved treasure so much that they’d run ashore near a local port, approach someone’s front step and force them to give them treasure.
Not at all unlike what some little 3-foot-tall pirates did around my house on Wednesday!
And then, pirates take the treasure, sail to some deserted isle and bury it.
Deep under the ground.
With a few pieces of wood lain across the top:
“X” marks the spot.
Jesus’ parable today says this: “The kingdom of God is like a hidden treasure.” Before we look at it, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Hidden Treasure
Jesus’ parable is from Matthew 13. Take a look: The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. (v.44) In his parable, the treasure is found by a man at work in a field.
It’s the middle of the hot day.
He’s using a fence post digger to dig a hole for the fence post he’s installing around the back of his owner’s property.
He’s slams and digs.
He slams and digs.
He slams and digs.
All day long.
Sometime around quitting time….
He slams and…
He slams and…
At first, he thinks it’s a rock. He looks around to see if he can adjust the post hole so he doesn’t have to go through the trouble of moving the rock. But right as he’s about to adjust the hole to the right and he’s thinking of his company’s slogan: “THE RIGHT HOLE IN THE RIGHT SPOT ALL THE TIME,” the glint of the evening sun shines off of something in the middle of the ground.
What is it?
He reaches down.
He brushes the dirt off the top to reveal – a metal crest on the top of an ancient chest.
His heart starts pounding.
To the front.
To the back.
To the side.
Until he gets enough of the dirt out of the way to pull the chest out of the hole and look inside.
It must be worth millions of dollars.
The man looks around.
The thing is – this isn’t his land. It isn’t his property. And the chest isn’t his property.
If he lets anyone know that he found it on this land, then the treasure will no longer be his. It’ll belong to the guy who’s fence he’s digging.
He puts the chest back into the hole.
He covers it with dirt.
He takes two twigs and aligns them in an “x”.
He heads up to his employer, wishes him a good evening and leaves for the day.
But his work isn’t done.
Later that night, he gets onto his bank account and empties his 401k into his checking account.
He goes on Facebook marketplace and begins placing anything he owns on sale:
His bass fishing boat.
His Mickey Mantle Rookie Card.
Even his Xbox!
The next morning, he heads to the bank and he puts his house on mortgage!
He takes all of this money.
He heads to work.
He slams a check worth 3 times the amount of the property onto his client’s desk:
I’ll buy this property.
I just think it’s nice.
I figure if I put fence post holes into it; it might as well be mine.
At 3 times the price, his client can’t say no.
The man buys the property.
The property is his.
Everything on the property is his.
But he doesn’t care about most of it.
He only wants THE TREASURE.
II. A Priceless Treasure
Jesus says this: “The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field.” (v.44)
Because here is the truth:
God’s kingdom is eternally priceless.
There is nothing as valuable.
… nothing as precious.
…nothing as eternally priceless as the kingdom of God.
It lasts forever.
Brings enduring peace.
And connects you to your heavenly father.
If you’ve ever searched for kingdom of God, then, you understand the digging for treasure scenario.
Because the religious landscape can be a lot like the Sahara Desert.
Places to dig everywhere. Where is the treasure…?
And so you start digging near a very peaceful looking pile of dirt.
A lotus flower is growing nearby.
“Oh! This must be the Sand of Spirituality. I’ve heard of that. Maybe this is where I’ll find the treasure of God’s kingdom.”
And you dig
And you learn breathing practices.
And you fold your body into a pretzel.
And you listen to Yanni.
And you think that you are closer to God…
Because you stopped feeling stress…
And started feeling nothingness.
Oh, the wonderful nothingness.
Suddenly – you think of that jerk Bob from work.
He should be slapped.
And you realize…
You are the same.
You still sin.
You still feel guilty.
Now you just own a bunch of Yanni CDs.
This is not a treasure worth keeping.
You walk a bit farther and you find a big old pile of rocks.
It’d be tough work to dig over there. But then again – that’d make it the perfect place to put the treasure – under the stones of Self-Righteousness.
And you dig and work hard because you figure if you work harder than anyone else, God will be impressed!
You work hard at being nicer to your family.
You work hard at never saying a mean thing.
You work hard to give extra money to charity.
You work hard at never taking a second glance a member of the opposite sex.
You work hard at being self-righteous.
Until you’re scrolling through Facebook after a day of finding self-righteousness and…
An ad pops up for a TRIAL offer of something…with a scantily clad lady telling you to buy it.
And you look her a bit longer than you should.
And you think about using some of the money penned for God to buy that thing to make the pretty lady happy.
And your spouse walks in and sees what you’re looking at, so you say something mean in response.
And then you want to get rid of the guilty your feeling, so you tell her about all the bad things she has done.
Those stones of self-righteousness come tumbling in on top of you.
This isn’t the treasure.
And you dig other places.
You dig in the mine of Material Wealth. No treasure.
You dig under the sands of self-allegation. No treasure.
You dig in the pile of filth known as Facebook. No treasure.
No connection with God.
In fact, you start to notice a pattern – all these attempts at getting closer to God are the same:
Do Mormon things and God will like you.
Do Islamic things and God will like you.
Do Jewish things and God will like you.
Do Hindu things and God will like you.
Do Tom Cruise things and…well…Tom Cruise will get richer.
It’s all the same! It’s all worthless! It’s all meaningless!
When you’re about to give up.
When you’re tired.
When you’re exhausted.
When you say: “I’m through! I’m done with this religious stuff. God hates me and that’s that. I might as well give up. I might as well put down my shovel and…”
What was that?
There appears to be something here.
There appears to be something different here.
This is the Gospel.
It’s the message of sins forgiven.
It’s the message of the true God.
It’s the message that Jesus lived for you.
It’s the message that Jesus died for you.
It’s the message that Jesus rose for you.
It’s the message that Jesus has removed every last one of your sins.
It’s the message that you are his child, you are forgiven, and you will be in heaven with Him.
It’s this message:
You know it is was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18-19)
Think about it!
That’s the value of Jesus’ blood.
It’s more valuable than gold.
It’s more valuable than silver.
It’s more valuable than a treasure chest of jewels, a treasure chest of rubies or even a treasure chest of those golden foil wrapped coins with chocolate inside.
It’s more valuable than good works.
It’s more valuable than good feelings.
It’s more valuable than any halfhearted, sin-tainted attempts at being holy.
It’s the blood of Jesus.
Our sacrificial lamb.
The perfect Son of God.
His blood has infinite value.
And friends – it pays for your sins.
It pays for your guilt.
It means forgiveness – full forgiveness – free forgiveness – absolute forgiveness --
III. WHAT NOW?
(1) Give up Untreasures
That’s what the man who found the buried treasure did. He sold everything he had. He made room for the real treasure.
He made certain the REAL treasure would be his.
Do the same with God’s kingdom.
Because here’s the truth:
The devil will do everything possible to make you think that something that’s NOT the treasure…IS the REAL treasure.
Don’t get rid of that addiction; it’s too valuable to feeling good.
Don’t get rid of that priority; it’s too valuable to being cool.
Don’t get rid of that self- righteousness; that’s the secret treasure that truly connects you to God.
It’s all lies.
Lies that will prevent you from keeping the true treasure buried within your heart.
And if you listen to the devil, instead of burying the Gospel deep in your heart, you cling to something utterly worthless.
It’s like someone trying to offer you a check for a hundred, billion dollars!
But you really like the piece of mushed banana that you have in your left hand right now so…I’ll pass.
Don’t be foolish!
Don’t fall for the devil’s lies.
The Gospel is eternally priceless!
Get rid of the fake treasure that’s taking up the spot where you’re the REAL treasure of Jesus needs to be.
And bury the treasure of the Gospel deep in your heart.
(2) Bury the Treasure
That doesn’t mean: “Hide the Gospel and tell no one about Jesus.” Nope.
That’s entirely contradictory to Jesus’ own directive to “Go and make disciples of all nations…by teaching them.” (Matthew 28)
Rather it means to hide the Gospel deep within your own heart.
To bury it deep within your soul.
To place it into the very core of your being and who you are.
How do you do that? Get a surgery with one of the fine doctors at Duke and have him implant one of those little Bibles from the Gideons?
You spend time in God’s Word.
You read The Gospel message.
You study the Gospel message.
You gather for worship.
You gather for Bible study.
You spend time with Jesus, because in doing so – his message – the message of the Gospel – moves…
From the pages of Scripture
To your eyes.
To your brain.
To your heart.
It’s like a beautiful diamond. You go down to the Jeweler’s and look at it in the light --
And if it’s cut well – no matter how you look at it – you see something magnificent.
It’s the same with the Gospel message.
Here’s I see God’s incredible compassion.
Here I look at God’s amazing power.
Here I look at the value of Christ’s redemption.
Here I enjoy the view of my atonement.
Here I see the mesmerizing perspective of peace with God.
And here I see the glories of heaven itself.
Bury God’s kingdom deep in your heart.
** The audio has an extra story in it. You can find it here **
I said the parable of the treasure fits well into a recent holiday.
But I wasn’t referring to Halloween.
Wednesday was also the 501st Anniversary of the Reformation. It’s the anniversary of a time when the treasure of Gospel was rediscovered.
Because the religious climate at that time – in the Christian church – was such that there was no treasure.
If you wanted to get God’s’ forgiveness, you needed to…
Do good things.
Say prayers to Mary.
Cross yourself in the right way.
Give money to charity.
And buy pieces of paper that said: “You are forgiven.”
And it was in that climate – in that treasure-less church that God re-revealed the TRUE treasure of the Gospel.
That Jesus is your Savior.
That in Him you are forgiven.
That by faith you are saved.
Friends, it’s 500 years later.
That treasure is at our fingertips again.
Don’t lose it.
Bury it deep within.
Today we are continuing our series called The Kingdom of God is like… and hearing yet another parable from Jesus about the kingdom of God. Remember, a parable is an earthly story that tells about the kingdom of God. We’ve heard two – both centered around farming.
We’ve heard so far…
…The Kingdom of God is like a farmer sowing seed – it lands on a lot of different soil types and has a lot of different results; just as God’s Word falls on lots of different heart types and has a lot of different results.
…The Kingdom of God is like a growing seed – the seed grows with repetitive, repeated, faithful, and persistent care; just as the seed of faith grows with repetitive, repeated, faithful and persistent use of God’s Word.
Today we are adding yet another farming parable to our list of Jesus’ parables and it’s going to teach us yet another facet of God’s kingdom. Before we begin, let’s pray: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story of the Mustard Seed
The parable is taken from Mark 4 which is the same chapter that the last two parables are from. So, it’s quite likely that Jesus tells it as a follow up to the other two parables that we mentioned before.
I love Jesus’ opening introduction to the parable in verse 30:
Again Jesus said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?”
You kind of get the impression that the disciples need some help.
They sat through two parables of Jesus – two teachings about the kingdom of God.
The first one they were confused about.
After the second one, didn’t seem to help much.
They must have been a lot of blank stares.
And now Jesus, the omniscient, Lord of heaven and earth, is trying to explain the divinely complete and eternally developed kingdom of God to these temporal, finite, and much simpler humans.
It’s kind of like trying to give directions to someone who doesn’t really know the area. Has that ever happened to you? Maybe you’re trying to get them to church. You tell them:
Head south on Falls of Neuse until you get to Newton Rd. Turn left and then it’ll be the little brown church to the right.
Do you know where Ravenscroft is? The library? It’s in that general vicinity.
Scratching their heads.
Go to the Han Dee Hugo Station. Turn left. Go 2500 feet. Turn left into the Parking lot with the sign for Gethsemane Lutheran Church.
SIGH. Just take my GPS.
Jesus shares that frustration. Trying to teach the things of God to puny minded humans beings.
So he says…
The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. (v.31)
If you wanted a BIG plant to grow in your garden, how big a seed would you need to plant?
The bigger the seed; the bigger the plant, right?
A sunflower seed.
A pumpkin seed.
An avocado pit.
They’re pretty big in the world of seeds; they must produce big plants. It makes sense.
What about a mustard seed?
Have you ever seen one of those? (Think of the Grey Poupon Mustard jar.) They are super tiny and barely visible if I held one up for you in the front of church.
In fact, it’s so tiny – that if I planted it – and if anything grew from it – I’d expect it to be a tiny, little grass sprout.
When planted, the seed grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade. (v.32)
It’s bigger than a sunflower.
Bigger than a pumpkin plant.
Bigger than an avocado bush.
It’s basically a tree. About 6, 7, 8 foot high.
Big enough that birds land in its branch.
All of that happens from this little seed.
Such a small, insignificant seed leads to an incredibly significant plant!
II. False Expectations
What’s the point of Jesus’ story?
Is Jesus just a really big fan of mustard?
Should we all go to Food Lion and grab a yellow, squeezable bottle of French’s mustard to put in the offering plate next Sunday?
Remember – a parable is an earthly story that teaches us about the kingdom of God.
Think about it…
What is God trying to teach us about His kingdom?
This past Monday at 9:30am I went to a local retirement home. It’s something that I’ve been doing for about 5 years now. I head to the home. I do an acapella, communion-less version of today’s service. I tell the people there about Jesus.
To be fair – when we first started, they put me on in the big living room area. And…I’m pretty loud. It wasn’t hard to get people’s attention. There was plenty of room. Usually we’d gather together about 20 some people to worship Jesus on a given Monday.
Recently they relocated me to a much smaller side room because some thought I was a bit of a distraction.
Recently the Lifestyle Coordinator that I worked with was replaced with a new coordinator.
Recently that side room has become a storage room of sorts - scrunching the chairs and causing us to lose space to Thanksgiving decorations.
This past Monday morning...there was one lady who joined me for worship.
It wasn’t the one who shouts “Amen.”
It wasn’t the one who sings along.
It wasn’t the one who nods at key points of the sermon.
It was the one who falls asleep about 3 minutes in.
I will not lie. I started to think:
What’s the point?
Why be here?
It isn’t anything BIG.
It isn’t anything SIGNIFICANT.
This can’t be the work of God because it isn’t BIG and SIGNIFCANT enough!
You ever thought like that? Have you ever thought…
Why am I attending this INSIGNIFICANT church service? It’s not even Christmas Eve. It’s some random service in October.
Why am I telling my kids this INSIGNIFCANT Bible story? They don’t even look like they’re listening.
Why am I making this INSIGNIFICANT invite to worship? My friend couldn’t care less.
Why am I prepping for this INSIGNIFCANT Sunday School class? There’ll be, what, 2 kids here?
Why would I have my child baptized? It’s an INSIGNIFICANT splash of water. What could it possibly do!
Friends, we are buying into a LIE.
Work in God’s Kingdom needs to SEEM SIGNIFICANT or it will BE INSIGNIFICANT.
The lie suddenly becomes:
Every time I share the message of Jesus; it needs to be greeted with SHOUTS of joy or it was worthless…
Each worship service needs strobe lights and smoke machines or it’s not really work in God’s kingdom.
Each Bible passage on Facebooks need to go viral or it will be utterly worthless.
Each time I teach kids, I need about 30 of them, lined up – like soldiers – listening to my words like the kids from Sound of Music or I might as well quit trying.
Careful. You’re listening to The Lie.
And it’s most dangerous when it comes to personally connecting with God.
Because we think:
I need to go to climb some mountain, in some freezing Antarctic culture and find a Sherpa on the very summit. That’s SIGNIFICANT and that’s connecting with God.
I need to go to some forest, deep in the jungle, to find a TEMPLE OF DOOM and an ancient artifact that will solve God for me. That’s SIGNIFICANT. That’s the way to God.
I need to spend hours in a laboratory, dissecting, experimenting, and divulging in order to unlock the secret God particle. That would be SIGNIFICANT and that would be the way to Him.
I need to give thousands of dollars to some charity to get my name on one of their plaques to ensure that God might like me. That’s SIGNIFICANT and maybe then God would pay attention to me!
We envision these grandiose ideals on how to connect with God, when God has simply, clearly made himself absolutely accessible through something seemingly insignificant.
Friends, if this what you believe -
That’s God’s Kingdom only shows up in the SEEMINGLY SIGNIFICANT.
In the BIG Seed.
In the FLASHING LIGHTS seed.
In the ABSOLUTELY IMPRESSIVE seed…
You are in danger of missing it altogether.
III. The Unexpected Reality
Like many of the people at Jesus’ time…
They expected the Savior to be look like someone SIGNIFICANT.
Like a king coming from a beautiful palace.
Like some soldier with a giant sword.
Like a general with a myriad of soldiers behind him.
Like an activist enacting visibly massive political upheaval.
But that’s not what they saw in Jesus.
Instead of a beautiful palace, he came from a feeding trough in some dilapidated barn.
Instead of a giant sword, he swung a carpenter’s hammer.
Instead of a myriad of soldiers, he had 12 disciples – 4 fishermen, an accountant, a political activist, a betrayer and 5 guys whose jobs were so insignificant they aren’t even written down in Scripture.
Instead of massive visual political upheaval, thee enacted invisible personal, spiritual change.
Even in his death – He seemed insignificant!
He didn’t die fighting a dragon.
He wasn’t fending off some super villain.
He didn’t go in some epic explosion.
He hung on a cross.
Where many common criminals hung before.
Where many common criminals hung after.
Jesus’ LIFE seem insignificant, but there is no LIFE more eternally important.
Because with his death he removed all of your sins.
With his blood he removed all of your guilt.
With his resurrection he declared heaven to be yours!
It might look common.
It might seem insignificant.
It might seem like a mustard seed of a teaching.
But belief in Jesus leads to a mustard plant like growth into the Kingdom of God itself.
If Jesus’ LIFE seemed insignificant, but there is no life more eternally important…
Jesus WORK might seem insignificant, but there is no WORK more eternally important.
That insignificant looking church service, can reinvigorate and replenish your faith in the Savior.
That insignificant looking Bible story – can fill your kids with trust in their Savior.
That insignificant invite to worship, might be one of a series of calls from God to bring that person to His kingdom.
That insignificant looking Sunday School class, could strengthen the faith of a future SS teacher who will continue to multiply God’s kingdom long after your gone.
Those insignificant looking drops of water, wash away sin and bring you into God’s eternal kingdom.
That insignificant looking, off-key acapella worship service in that stuffy, back storage room with only one person in attendance…might strengthen that person’s faith just enough to bring them home to heaven.
Like an insignificant looking mustard seed, God’s kingdom grows into the most eternally significant.
IV. What Now?
1. Do the Seemingly Insignificant
Work on memorizing Scripture.
Sing “Jesus Loves Me” with your kids.
Bring your kids to worship – even when they don’t want to.
Bring yourself to worship – even when it’s not a celebration Sunday.
Tell a coworker about Jesus – even if it’s not some incredible doctrinal statement.
Do the seemingly insignificant work this week and you will be doing the eternal important work of God’s kingdom.
And it’s not just personal…
When you’re leaving today, look behind across the parking lot. There’s an incredible new ministry center out there with an incredible ability to Plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh.
To be fair – it looks SIGNIFICANT.
But the work surrounding it – hasn’t always been…
Phone calls on hold to subcontractors.
Emails typed to potential parents.
Fixing the little tiny door latch for the cabinet in the janitor’s closet.
On its own, the work seemed insignificant.
Keep doing the insignificant when that opens.
Spend an extra minute talking to a parent about their life.
Add a dollar to the offering plate.
Paint a wall in the Fellowship Hall.
Do the Seemingly Insignificant work of God’s kingdom because there is nothing of more eternal significance.
2. Remember the Eternal Significance
Segue with me.
To something that isn’t a parable.
Segue with me.
To something that is a glimpse into the future.
Segue with me.
To the reality of heaven itself – the ultimate goal of God’s kingdom.
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9, 10, 13, 14)
Look at that multitude.
Look at those people.
It’s eternally significant.
If you look closely enough you might see…
There’s that person that you shared that seemingly insignificant Bible verse with.
There’s your neighbor that you shared a seemingly insignificant church invitation with.
There’s your child that you shared a seemingly insignificant 5-minute Bible story with.
You can't say for sure, so we must keep sharing God's Word. It's important!
The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed…
The work can look insignificant, but there is no work of more eternal significance.
Today we are starting a brand-new sermon series called “The Kingdom of God is Like…” It is all about the Kingdom of God. (Hence, the rainbow-ish, otherworldly colors in the logo) I’m excited because we are going to be learning about the kingdom of God from the foremost expert in the Kingdom of God.
No, I’m not talking about myself.
I’m not talking about some scholar at Duke.
I’m not even talking about flying in some professor from the Seminary.
I’m talking about Jesus.
Because when it comes to the Kingdom of God, there is no one better to learn from than the One who came from God’s Kingdom.
He’s the “of God” in Kingdom of God.
He’s the foremost expert becomes He is the One who developed the concepts behind it.
So, what we’ll be doing is looking at 10 parts of Scripture where Jesus himself tells about the Kingdom of God.
10 sections of Scripture.
10 glimpses into the Kingdom of God.
Now because the Kingdom of God is such an otherworldly thing, I want to introduce you to a concept that we’re going to become very familiar with over the next 10 weeks. It’s something called a “Parable.” A parable is a short earthly story that teaches about the Kingdom of God.
It’s kind of like Aesop’s fables. Have you heard any of those? The Gnat and the Bull. The Puffed-up Frog. I think the most famous is the Ant and the Grasshopper.
The ant works hard; the grasshopper is lazy.
The ant carries some food; the grasshopper takes a nap.
The ant carries 10 times his body weight, back and forth, all day; the grasshopper gets to level 12 on Minecraft.
But…when winter comes, the ant has plenty of food; the grasshopper is starving.
The lesson? Do work.
Jesus’ parables are similar to Aesop’s fables in that they both use earthly elements to tell the story.
But the parables of Jesus are a bit different from Aesop’s Fables in this:
Aesop’s fables teach an earthly lesson.
Jesus’ parables teach a heavenly lesson – a spiritual lesson – an eternal lesson.
Today we are looking at a parable from Mark 4. It teaches us that the Kingdom of God is like a Sower. How? And what does it mean for you? We’ll examine that in a moment, but first a prayer:
Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
The story that Jesus told his disciples starts in Mark 4:3. Jesus is teaching to a very large crowd. Sometimes to deal with the large crowds, Jesus taught at the top of the hill and the crowds sat at the bottom, looking up to see him. But on this particular occasion he was next to a lake, so…what Jesus does is pretty genius. He gets into a boat and casts out to sea -- it’s a floating pulpit of sorts so that all could see and hear him.
Granted, of the people that came to listen to Jesus, they came for different reasons.
Some thought he was a phony. Others were intrigued.
Some wanted to see a magic show. Others had fully devoted themselves to him – their Savior.
From his floating pulpit surrounded by crowds of people with varying opinions of him, Jesus said this:
“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed.”
Have you ever planted anything before? On a farm? In a garden?
If you’ve ever planted a lot of seed before, you know it can be time consuming. If you plant seed in a garden, you get on your hands and knees push the seed into the perfect part of the soil. But if you’ve had to get more seed into larger section of soil, you might use one of those little wheelie grass sower thingies. Know what I’m talking about? You fill it with seed, a propeller spins as you move, and it hurls out grass seed in all directions. Some of the seed that comes out will grow; other seeds will not.
Back at Jesus’ time, they didn’t have such incredible inventions as the little wheelie grass sower thingy. Instead, the one who needed to sow a lot of seed simply reach into a pouch and tossed the seed into the air.
The seed then landed in a lot of different places.
As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Maybe that path was concrete. Maybe it was gravel. Maybe it was just really, really hard from lots of travel. Regardless – when the seed fell on the hard ground – it didn’t stand a chance. The birds thought it was some kind of gourmet meal, descended onto the feast and ate up the seed.
And – well – seed doesn’t grow well inside the belly of a raven, so…
The seed didn’t grow.
Some fell on rocky places where it did not have much soil. (v.6) Thus the seed had a better chance than the seed that fell on the sidewalk. At least, there was some dirt for the roots to move through. In fact, because of the little rocks that were in the soil – the soil held water fairly well and the seed grew quickly. The moisture was trapped in the first ½ inch of dirt. The soaked seed grew quickly.
It’s the same thing that happens in the “wrap a seed in a wet paper towel and place it in a plastic baggy” experiment from Kindergarten. At first, the seed does well.
But – eventually little Jimmy forgets to add water to the towel.
And – the roots can’t make their way past the plastic bag.
So…the little plant runs out of water and dies.
And little Jimmy throws a fit.
The same principle applies in real gardening.
The rocks allow the water to fast track the seed.
The seed grows quickly while it’s raining.
But then…the sun gets hot, there’s no water and…
The plant dies.
The seed didn’t grow.
Other seed fell among thorns. (v.7)
Have you ever noticed that weeds don’t need to be watered?
Nobody ever says, “Scuse me. I need to go water the weeds so that they don’t die.”
Nobody ever buys a bag of “Miracle Thistle Grow” at Home Depot.
Nobody ever says, “I’m taking this can of poison to my Rose Bush so that the poison ivy will grow a bit better.”
Nobody wants weeds in their gardens because they take over.
They grow too big.
They sap the soil of nutrients, soak up all the water and block the sun from starting photosynthesis in our little plant.
Unfortunately, the seed that’s surrounded by weeds has the same thing happen.
It grows – it just doesn’t have a lot of fruit.
Maybe, one little rotten tomato – that’s about it.
The seed didn’t work like it was supposed to.
Still other seed fell on good soil; it came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times. (v.8)
Because sometimes, the seed works.
Sometimes the soil is soft enough.
Sometimes the roots can grow deep enough.
Sometimes the weeds are weeded enough and then...
The seed grows into a plant.
The plant grows into a mature plant.
The mature grows into a natural sower.
It plans seeds and produces a crop of thirty, sixty, even a hundred times what was originally sown.
I’ll tell you what – it’s amazing when this happens.
For instance, last year – we planted carrots. They grew – ish.
They were crooked, brown, and ugly. I pulled most of them because I figured it wasn’t worth it.
But this year – low and behold – a few more had sprouted. Planted, not by me, but by the ugly, brown carrots I had previously planted.
It’s amazing when a plant grows so well that it doesn’t planting all on its own.
And that’s what happens with the seed on the good soil.
It does what it’s supposed to.
Jesus finishes the parables and says: “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (v.9)
You’ve got ears.
I’ve got ears.
Let us hear us take to heart the parable.
II. The Truth about the Kingdom of God
But…what are we supposed to take to heart?
The challenges of farming?
That Jesus was a big Agricultural Enthusiast?
Remember: A parable is a short earthly story that teaches about the Kingdom of God. This is more than just an article for Better Homes and Gardens.
It’s talking about heaven.
It’s talking about the spiritual.
It’s talking about God’s kingdom.
To be fair, the disciples were confused, too.
They came to Jesus and asked him to explain it to them.
Thankfully – Mark wrote down Jesus’ explanation.
Let’s take it one seed at a time:
The farmer sows the word. (v.14) The seed is God’s message. The message that we are sinners. The message that we deserve God’s punishment. The message that we need a Savior. The message that we have a savior in Jesus. The message that Jesus died on the cross to take away all of our sins.
The farmer, then, is anyone who proclaims God’s Word.
a Preschool teacher.
A dad reading a dinnertime devotion.
A mom reading a bedtime Bible story.
A friend telling his coworker about what he believes.
The farmer is anyone who proclaims God’s Word. Because every time he speaks this message of Jesus – it’s as if that person is tossing seed onto the ground.
Think about that – every time you speak the message of Jesus, you are tossing seed onto the ground of someone’s hearts.
But what happens next?
(1) Hardened Rejection
(v.15) Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.
You met someone like this?
They want nothing to do with Jesus.
They tell you do change your cross screensaver at work.
They love not believing there is a God so much that they won’t even consider the fact that God might exist.
They are hardened in sin.
They are hardened in unbelief.
They are hardened in absolute, complete rejection of Jesus.
I had this happen recently. I posted one of those ads on social media that invited people to church to hear about forgiveness in Jesus.
And someone commented: “You stupid bleepity, bleep. This is a bunch of bleepity, bleep.”
(2) Quick to Grow, Quick to Fade
Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. (v.16-17)
And these types of people get on fire for God’s Word!
They love the message of Jesus.
They fly through Bible Basics.
Get their kids baptized.
They sign up for all the ways to serve.
They help on all the work days at church.
They tell all of their friends about Jesus!
…one of their friends…
Tells them to: Shut up. I don’t care about Jesus. And I can’t believe you believe that foolishness.
I didn’t know people could treat us like that.
I don’t like this.
If that’s what it means to be a Christian, maybe…
I stop serving.
I stop going to group.
I get rid of all Christian themes on Social media.
And I stop attending church. Don’t want Pastor to put a picture of me doing Christian stuff on Social media.
Quick to Grow; Quick to Fade.
(3) Choked by Worry and Wealth Weeds
Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. (v.19)
This type of person hears the word and believes.
Not just for a short time; for a while.
They might even be a longtime member of a church.
They have given lots of money.
They have their name on a plaque!
The boss offers a new job.
The new job takes more hours at work.
The new hours get more money.
The more money buys new things.
The longtime Christian thinks – “Boss wants me to work this Sunday? It’s ok. I will. It’s only one Sunday. I need the money.”
One Sunday becomes two Sundays.
Becomes – a complete and utter lack of faith.
The weeds of worry and wealth; choke the plant.
The faith stops bearing fruit.
(4) Grown and Multiplying
Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown. (v.20)
This type of person hears the word and believes.
And grows in faith.
And keeps growing in faith.
And bears fruit.
And becomes a sower, too.
A good plant.
III. What Now?
(1) Garden Your Own Heart
The first question that always pops into my mine when I read this is: What kind of soil am I?
What kind of soil are you?
A heart full of hardened rejection?
A heart that was quick to believe and now is quickly falling away?
A heart that is slowly being choked by worries and wealth?
Or are you the good soil on which faith is growing? And bearing fruit? And being a super impressive, gorgeous plant?
Except – if you are trusting that you’ve got a faith growing heart…Isn’t the plant that’s growing the plant of faith in one’s ability to grow faith?
Here’s the deal.
No matter what kind of heart you have and what kind of faith plant is growing in your heart – the solution is the same:
Therefore – What Now Number 1:
Garden Your Heart with God’s Word.
God’s Word softens hearts. Ezekiel 11:19 says, “I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
God’s Word removes obstacle rocks. Luke 3:5 says, “The rough ways will become smooth.”
God’s Word cuts weeds. Hebrews 4:12 says, “The Word of God is living and active; sharper than a double-edged sword.”
God’s Word causes faith to grow. Isaiah 55:9 says, “Like rain and snow that nourish the earth, so is God’s Word.”
In other words:
God’s Word softens our rejection.
God’s Word removes our doubts.
God’s Word grows deep roots.
God’s Word cuts down weeds.
God’s Word nourishes our faith plants so that they grow…
…and bear fruit.
…and become a sower.
(2) Expect Varied Results
I think this is the main point of Jesus’ parable -- When I plant seed (share God’s Word), what kind of response should I expect?
Because remember – Jesus is telling this is to the disciples. The disciples who – if you remember our ACTS Sermon series – planted all kinds of faith seed up and down the Middle Eastern coast as they shared God’s Word.
Some people believed.
Others? Threw stones at them until they were thought to be dead.
Jesus is preparing his disciples by telling them that the result will not always be great.
That their work will not always lead to a confession of faith.
That many times they share the Gospel will lead to nothing more than a Meh.
Think the same way.
Don’t expect awesome results all the time.
If you do, then, it’s so easy to get discouraged.
I know this as a pastor.
Honest truth – a lot of times people don’t follow through on Bible studies.
People don’t seem to listen to encouragements to get into God’s Word.
People don’t care much for the message of Jesus.
If I was expecting it to work all the time, then…I would have given up.
But Jesus tells us to expect various result.
Which means – it’s going exactly how he said it would.
And so…that leads to our final what now:
(3) Keep Sowing
Because just about the only thing that will ensure a plant never grows is if you never plant the seed.
And just about the only thing that will ensure a person never comes to faith is if you never tell them about Jesus.
Notice. Your job is simple.
It isn’t to convert a heart.
It isn’t to make faith grow.
It isn’t to make a faith blossom into a mature plant.
Your job is simply to plant the seed.
God’s job is to make it grow.
And God? He’s awesome at making faith grow.
The Kingdom of God is like a Sower.
Are you a part of the kingdom of God?
Last week we heard God’s call to RETURN to the One who is Faithful even when we’ve been unfaithful because He will be Faithful Forever! This week God calls us to return to Him for Abundant blessings! Before we dig into Scripture, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Severe Lack of Blessing?
Our lesson for today comes from 2 Kings 4. Chronologically we’re going even farther back in time than the last couple of weeks; though the situation is similar:
Two weeks ago, we heard God’s call to his 7th century B.C. people to leave idol worship behind and RETURN to Him.
Last week we heard God’s call to 8th century B.C. people to leave idol worship behind and RETURN to Him.
This week we get to hear God’s call to 9th century B.C. people to leave idol worship behind and RETURN to Him.
It’s a bit like my high school Football coach. “Furious Feet! Furious Feet! Furious Feet!” He said it all the time.
When we were in practice: “Furious Feet!”
When we were in the 1st quarter: “Furious Feet!”
When we were tied in the 4th quarter: “Furious Feet!”
When we were in Pizza Hut after the game; “Furious Feet!” (OK, maybe not that last one)
You get the point? We kept forgetting. He kept rebuking.
The same was true with God. The people kept forgetting Him, He kept rebuking them:
“RETURN to me.”
In fact, in all of 1st and 2nd Kings you would hear the call of “RETURN to me,” so often that it makes you wonder if anyone ever stayed close to God.
Enter 2 Kings 4. It’s an account that takes place within a small community of prophets. It was a group of people that had dedicated themselves and their families to serving the Lord. They spoke His message and stayed closed to Him.
Unfortunately, for one woman who had not abandoned God, recent events had made it seem like God was the one who had abandoned her:
“The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as slaves.” (2 Kings 4:1)
A couple of notes as to why this woman was in such despair:
(1) Recently Widowed. It doesn’t matter how tough you are – losing your spouse is hard. Your spouse is someone that you’ve known for a long time. Someone you’ve partnered with for a long time. Someone you’ve gone through ups and downs with for a long time. The Bible says in marriage that “two become one flesh.” When one of those two are removed from this world – that flesh is torn apart.
(2) She’s a Widow in a Society that wasn’t Friendly to Widows. In the 9th century B.C. world, society wasn’t that friendly to women – at all. There wasn’t equal pay. There weren’t equal job opportunities. In fact, there wasn’t much for women to do besides care for the family and help tend to whatever vegetables they were growing.
Now that this woman’s husband was dead, the family’s source of income was dead. She had to feed herself. She had to feed her kids. She had to pay the rent, feed the animals and pay the bills. The last of which leads to the third problem.
(3) She had an Old Testament Credit Shark after Her. Yes. Even back then, in Old Testament Israel, there were bill collectors. They couldn’t call you on the phone. They couldn’t send you email after email. They couldn’t text message you or lower your credit score, so…they showed up at her front door.
For some reason, I’m picture this guy with one of those curly moustaches and a maniacal laugh.
Because this guy tells her that if she doesn’t pay him back, he’s going to take away both of her sons and make them into slaves. They will work for years trying to pay back what was rightfully his.
And to be fair – this wasn’t illegal. In Old Testament society, it was common for:
(1) families to be held responsible for other family member’s debts
(2) people to be taken as slaves in order to work off debts.
This was why she was in need.
This was why she was turmoil.
This was why she was in need of help from an Almighty, All Loving, Always Faithful, Shepherd God!
But she was having a hard time reaching out to him. Because…
(4) She was Struggling with Faith. Look carefully at her words to the lead prophet Elisha, “YOUR servant is dead and YOU KNOW that he revered the Lord.” It’s almost an accusation against the company of prophets, against the work that they did together, again Elisha, against…God:
Where is this God guy?
He’s supposed to be a shepherd?
He’s supposed to have Good Ways?
He’s supposed to always be faithful?
My husband is dead.
I have no job.
I have no money.
I’m going to lose my sons.
Where is this God guy?
All those prophets that worship Baal? They’re doing fine. Their wives wear diamonds. Their kids have Xboxes. They have fully founded 401Ks.
We’ve been following God our whole lives. Even devoting our lives to him – and now we’re losing everything.
I don’t think God can help.
I don’t think God cares.
I don’t think God is real.
Can you relate?
II. The Real Issue
To be fair – Elisha does not get very defensive.
He listens to her.
He hears her complaints.
Then, he offers his response: How can I help you? (v.2)
I have to confess the first couple of times that I read that I read it like this: “How can I help you?” as in “What types of things do you think I could do to be helpful?” But – the thing is Elisha follows up by asking her about what she has in her house. It becomes obvious that he knows exactly what she wants and exactly how to help her.
That’s why I think we’re supposed to read this not as “What things can I do to be helpful?” but “How can I help you?”
As in, I’m just a human.
As in, I’m just a sinner.
As in, why not go to God?
Why not seek the One who is faithful?
Why not reach out to the One who cares for you?
Do you see the implication? She was looking for help Away from The Helper.
And that’s the first WHAT NOW for you and me as well.
If you’ve got problems and you’ve got issues and you’re looking for help, but you aren’t seeking the Helper…how do you expect to find help?
That’s like walking into Home Depot. Not having any idea where to find the 7” Circular band saw that you’re looking for. Walking right past the Help Desk. Ignoring the Customer service counter. And when the nice gentlemen in the orange apron asks, “How can I help you?” responding with “I’m good. No help needed.”
God is our Help.
God is always faithful.
God is always good.
God is always shepherding his flock.
That woman didn’t seem to recognize it.
Now…God as going to prove it.
III. God’s Incredible Abundance
Elisha asks the woman a second question, “Tell me, what do you have in your house?” (v.2)
Which seems like good advice.
Ransack your home for something to sell.
Perhaps a rummage sale – or a lemonade stand.
But the woman responds that she has nothing…nothing besides a one small jar of olive oil.
Something she could use for a couple of meals.
Something she could cook up a meal or two – if she had anything to put in the olive oil.
Something that might last a day or two before it was totally gone.
Elisha tells her, “Go around and ask all of your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few.” (v.3)
If I’m that woman, I’m a bit confused.
Empty jars? That’s like the ancient version of Tupperware.
Everyone had a lot of empty jars.
Empty, clay, worthless jars. They stored everything from water to oil to food.
But you want me to get empty jars?
Sure, Elisha, I’ll go ask them for empty jars and then I’ll open a business where I sell the Tupperware to people who have lids that don’t fit on any of their current Tupperware – because everyone has 20 some odd Tupperware and 20 some odd Tupperware lids that don’t’ fit any of those 20 some odd Tupperware.
She might have been a bit frazzled.
But she listens.
Until she gets to the next part of Elisha’s instruction:
Go inside. Lock all the doors behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all of the jars and as each is filled, put it to one side. (v.4)
My jar is little. These jars are big.
My jar is one. These jars are many.
Yet – you want me to pour my oil into this big jar?
You want me to pour this tiny bit of oil into that gigantic jar?
Done. It’ll take me about three seconds.
She lifts up the little jar.
Her son brings over a large jar.
She takes a deep breath.
And the jar is full, “Son, get another one.”
And she pours
And she pours some more.
And she says, “Get a couple to stand by.”
And she pours.
And she pours.
And she pours.
And she fills up every jar in that room with oil.
Until she gets to the last jar…
And she asks her son for one more.
And he says, “Mom, we don’t have anymore!”
And just like that – the oil stops.
She takes the oil.
She sells the oil.
She pays off her debts.
Friends, there is no explanation for why the oil kept pouring.
It wasn’t the other jars – they were empty.
It wasn’t from her friends – the doors were locked.
It wasn’t from Mary Poppins – this isn’t 18th century London.
This was God.
A miracle from God.
A miracle from the abundant blessings of God.
The Bible says this, “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” (James 1:17)
It says this, “Test me and see if I won’t throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour open so much blessing that there will not be enough room to store my blessings.” (Malachi 3:10)
It says this, “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor. 9:8)
God has an abundant number of blessings.
It’s like if you take all of our needs, all of our wants, all of our desires – clothing, shoes, food, drink, money, health – and we fit them into one of those little Dixie cups with a Disney character on the side.
We think about bringing that Dixie cup to God, but then for some reason we conclude:
He can’t handle this.
This is too much.
I’ve gotta do this on my own.
But the truth is that as we bring our Dixie cup sized requests to God – He begins pouring – pouring out abundant blessings.
And it’s like Niagara Falls in that Dixie cup.
God is able to abundantly provide for you.
God does abundantly provide for you.
And you might say, “But why don’t I get the million dollars that I asked God for way back in 5th grade? God must not be that abundant.”
Do you remember what happened with the oil?
It only stopped flowing because the family couldn’t handle anymore.
It’s not like God couldn’t produce more; the family didn’t have the ability to handle more.
Here’s the truth:
The problem isn’t God’s abundance; it’s our ability to handle God’s abundance.
God says, “You can’t handle that million dollars. You’d spend it all on Doritos and end up on the street.”
God says, “You aren’t yet strong enough to handle fame. You’d trust yourself and stop trusting me.”
God says, “If I bless you with that job, you’ll forget about me, disown me, and remove yourself from eternal life.”
God says, “I’ll provide for you abundantly, even abundantly providing for you means barely providing for you so that you keep your eyes on me and receive the MOST abundant blessing that I have to offer.
Case and point:
We have our own legal indebtedness. It’s true.
And now – I don’t have a hold of your Credit Card score, nor have I been compromised by the Lizard Lick Repo.
The Bible says that we are legally indebted to God.
We are supposed to live perfectly.
Every time we sin, we owe him the legal debt of death. “The Wages of sin is death.” (Romans 3:23)
But God has an abundance.
He came to earth.
He lived perfectly without incurring any sin debt of his own.
He died innocently to pay for your sin debt.
And the payment was abundant.
Because his blood began to pour from his side…
It covered your first sin.
His blood kept pouring from his side…
Enough to cover your second.
It kept pouring…
37th sin covered.
It kept pouring….
Bring me the 2,708th!
It kept pouring…
That’s sin number 120,262 completely covered.
God’s blood poured out on the cross until every last one of your sins was covered.
Such that YOU are abundantly forgiven.
And the blessings don’t stop there!
You now peace with God.
You are a part of his kingdom.
You are His child.
You are loved.
You are in His care.
You are never alone.
You are empowered by His Spirit.
You are given gifts of the spirit.
You have the promise of heaven.
You will conquer death.
You will live forever with him because of His abundant blessings in Jesus!
Friends, God provides abundantly.
Return to Him and take part of his abundant blessings. Amen.