We are in the middle of our VICTORIOUS sermon series. So far, we’d talked about how Jesus gives us victory over DEATH and FEAR.
Maybe you listened to both of those messages.
You felt encouraged.
But then, a few days later, you started to DOUBT.
Today we’re going see how Jesus gives us VICTORY OVER DOUBT. Before we do that, 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; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Why Thomas Doubted
As a case study for doubt, we’re going to look at the story of one disciple named Thomas.
In fact, Thomas is such a good case study for doubt that he has developed the nickname “Doubting Thomas.”
This is unfortunate.
I bet he wishes he was remembered as “Believing Thomas,” “Courageous Thomas”, or even “Good Dental Hygiene Thomas.”
I doubt Thomas wanted to be known for Doubt.
But Thomas, one of the Twelve, the one called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. (John 20:24)
This account occurs late into the evening on that first Easter.
This after the women see the stone rolled open from the tomb.
This is after the women talk to angels who tell them about the resurrection.
This is after Mary Magdalene sees Jesus near the tomb.
This is after the other women meet Jesus outside the cemetery.
This is after two disciples traveling to Emmaus meet and speak with Jesus for three-plus hours.
This is after Peter gets a one-on-one visit from Jesus.
And this is after Jesus enters the locked room filled with 10 of the Twelve apostles - minus Judas, who took his own life and Thomas.
And I don’t know what Thomas was doing.
…Was he out shopping?
…Was he out visiting friends?
…Was he out grabbing some Starbucks orders?
…Was he stocking up on hand sanitizer for the group?
I don’t know.
The point is that he missed Jesus’ appearance.
So, the other disciples kept telling him, “We have seen the Lord!” (v.5)
You wouldn’t believe it Thomas – He was alive!
Peter was scared. He thought it was a ghost. But it was real!
He let us touch his hands.
We put our fingers into the nail holes.
We placed our hands into the speak mark in his side.
He is alive! Isn’t it amazing!?!
And Thomas listened.
He stroked his beard.
And said, “It is amazing…how absolutely gullible you think I am!”
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25)
Thomas didn’t trust his friends’ words.
Not as much as his eyesight.
Not as much as his sense of touch.
But it was more than just not trusting his friends.
Thomas trusted him OWN ABILITIES more than Jesus’ DIVINE ABILITIES
Thomas trusted his own ability to determine the veracity of the resurrection.
More than Jesus’ ability to accomplish one.
This is foolish when you consider the differences in Thomas and Jesus.
Thomas had the ability to defeat a cold, if he drank a lot of Orange Juice.
Jesus could beat a cold by speaking to it.
Thomas had the ability to float on water.
Jesus had the ability to walk on it.
Thomas had the ability to go to the local McDonalds and buy a Fish Filet.
Jesus had the ability to make 5000 more out of thin air.
It’s silly to trust a human being more than a Divine being.
It’s silly to trust a human being – even if that human being is yourself – more than Divine God.
II. Why We Doubt
This is not political, but pastoral.
In New York, the number of diagnoses each day has been going down. That’s good news. And maybe you saw that in response to that, the governor said this:
“The number is down because we brought the number down.” “God did not do that. Faith did not do that. Destiny did not do that. A lot of pain and suffering did that... That’s how it works. It’s math. And if you don’t continue to do that, you’re going to see that number go back up. And that will be a tragedy if that number goes back up.”
I get it. He was trying to tell people to keep social distancing, because it’s working.
But to say that it’s working apart from God?
Why can’t God have worked through a variety of messages, to turn people to do the kind thing and stay home… in addition to providing doctors and nurses the know how to work with patients and government leaders the wisdom to make wise policies.
Doubting that God is alive and working.
Sounds a lot like Thomas doubting that Jesus is alive and working.
Why do humans doubt God so much?
A few reasons…
(1) Doubt Arises from trusting HUMAN SENSES more than Jesus.
This was Thomas’ simple reason for not believing.
Unless he saw Jesus, touched Jesus, smelled Jesus, and heard Jesus, he wouldn’t believe.
It’s the same with us.
I don’t see God helping me with my finances, I only see it going down.
I don’t hear God’s voice calming my fears. I only hear the cries of panic from the rest of the world.
I can’t touch Jesus and give him a hug. I can’t touch anyone and give them a hug!
God doesn’t care.
God isn’t helping.
God isn’t there. y cares.
Do you realize how unreliable human senses really are?
Have you ever been to the eye doctor and had to cover up one of your eyes to read the eye chart? And they ask you to read line 4 and you’re like, “I think that’s a F. I know that’s an F. It must be an F.” So, you say, “I think it’s an F” and they say, “Nope. That’s an E.”
Our eyes are not totally reliable.
Have you ever seen those Febreze commercials where they blindfold people and put them in a room filled with garbage! Old banana peels, dirty diapers, mounds of pet hair. But…they cover it up with Febreze and the people think, “We must be in some kind of a rose a garden.”
Our noses are not totally reliable.
Auditory hallucination occurs when a person’s brain rewires itself to believe that certain thoughts or segments of music are being heard when in fact they are not. This can be caused by a concussion, a brain lesion, psychiatric disease or even high levels of caffeine. In an article published by the Scientific American, an estimated 15% of American Adults aged 18-64 regularly struggle with audio hallucinations, while that number doubles to 33% after the age of 65.
Our ears are not totally reliable.
He told a paralytic to walk and he did.
He told a blind man to see and he did.
He told a deaf man to hear and he did.
Trust Jesus more than your Senses.
(2) Doubt Arises from trusting HUMAN FEELINGS more than Jesus.
It wouldn’t make a lot of sense to conclude, “I’m feeling gloomy today, therefore, the sun must not be in existence anymore.”
Nor it is sensible to say, “I’m feeling scared, therefore, giant spider aliens must have invaded earth.”
Objective truth is not tied to subjective feeling.
Yet, we do this with God all the time.
I don’t feel very happy about the pandemic, God, so this must be the wrong choice.
The virus is making me sad, God, so you must not care about me.
I feel angry at the economic ramifications, so I’ve concluded that God is in the wrong.
There are all kinds of problems with trusting human emotions.
Human emotions are flimsy. They change rapidly and repeatedly.
Human emotions are singular. They consider one’s self and ignore how someone across the country is affected.
Human emotions are tied to health. If you get good sleep, it’s easier to feel happy.
But perhaps most importantly, the problem is that human feelings are tainted by sin.
You might feel sad that you aren’t able to go back to work, because making money was a great distraction from having to interact with your children.
You might feel angry that you can’t go to the gym, because you miss flirting with the instructor – even though she’s married and so are you.
I can feel sad that we’re doing online church. Some of the reasons for that sadness may be that I’m not able to feed my ego like I used to. Sinful.
But Jesus’ emotions were not tainted by sin.
When Jesus was about to go to the cross, it was the disciples who yelled at him and told him not to do it, because it made them sad.
If Jesus would have listened, they may have been happy for a moment – and currently sad as they spend forever in hell.
Instead, Jesus ignored human emotion and did what was necessary to save them – and us – with his death on the cross.
(3) Doubt Arises from trusting HUMAN REASON more than Jesus.
Here’s human reason on the coronavirus.
The coronavirus pandemic is causing suffering.
Therefore, the coronavirus pandemic isn’t good.
Therefore, God is either…
…good, but not really in control.
…in control, but not good.
…not existent at all.
Here’s some logic.
Humans aren’t perfect.
Therefore, their reasoning is imperfect.
Humans don’t know everything
Therefore, their reasoning is limited.
Humans aren’t always right.
Therefore, their reasoning is morally flawed.
If human reason is limited, imperfect, and morally flawed, then…
Maybe our reasoning about God during crisis is limited, imperfect, and flawed too.
It is unlimited.
It is perfect.
It is always right.
It is still unlimited.
it is still perfect.
it is still right.
III. Why We Shouldn’t Doubt
Like in the case of Thomas.
It didn’t make sense to Thomas that Jesus was alive.
It wasn’t rational.
It wasn’t reasonable.
Thomas didn’t understand it.
He gave his ultimatum.
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25)
After eight days, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Take your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting but believe.” (John 20:26-27)
Thomas touches the goosebumps on Jesus arms.
He runs his fingers over the nail marks in his hands.
He puts his hand through the spear mark in his side.
“My Lord and my God!” (v.28)
That’s a total transformation.
Jesus has driven away Thomas’ doubt.
Instead asking “Why should I believe?” he begins to ask, “Why did I ever doubt?”
Jesus changes “why believe” into “why doubt.”
When you think about this story objectively, there were all kinds of reasons to believe.
There had been twenty-some eyewitness reports.
These reports came from a variety of appearances.
The tomb was empty.
There had been a group of trusted friends telling him that they had seen Jesus.
There had even been Jesus’ own promises that he would rise from the dead – long before it ever happened.
Jesus changes “why believe” into “why doubt.”
That’s true for you too.
Because Jesus conquered death.
Jesus conquered your sin.
Jesus lives on high.
He is still in control.
He is still in love with you.
And he is still working all things for your eternal good.
Stop doubting and believe.
IV. How to battle Doubt
Yet…we do struggle.
We are sinners.
We are weak.
We are imperfect.
If we live, we will face doubts.
How do we battle doubt?
A few lessons from Scripture:
(1) Recognize YOU Can’t Stop Doubt
This is an important point. Because what I fear some of you might do when you are done with this worship service is to say to yourself, “I need to stop doubting. I can do it.” Then, you head into the corner, scrunch your face up, and say, “Stop doubting. Stop doubting. Stop doubting.”
This will not work.
It won’t be long before you say, “I doubt that I can keep this up.”
After Thomas’ confession of faith, look at Jesus’ response:
“Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (v.29)
Did you hear that?
Jesus called people who believe without seeing as BLESSED.
Blessed can mean “gifted.”
People who believe without seeing didn’t develop that ability on their own.
God gave it to them.
Faith is a GIFT.
It isn’t something you earn.
It isn’t something you do.
It is something that God gives.
(2) Let God Battle Doubt for You
Though Jesus’ implies that faith without seeing is something that’s impossible for a human to accomplish on their own, in that same sentence, Jesus also implies that people do believe.
Look at John’s answer:
Jesus, in the presence of his disciples, did many other miraculous signs that are not written in this book. But these are written 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)
Did you see it?
God wants you to know the reality of the risen Jesus.
God wants you to know so that you live forever in heaven with him.
God wants you to know and – in order that you would know – he inspired John to write it down for you.
God’s Word Battles Doubt for Us
Doubting that God will take care of your family? God’s Word says, “The Lord is my shepherd. He leads me beside quiet water. He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23)
Doubting that God will be able to conquer COVID-19? God’s Word says, “Praise the Lord, my soul, forget not God’s benefits – He forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.” (Psalm 103)
Doubting that God will give you the finances you need? God’s Word says, “Look at the birds of the air; they don’t work, yet our heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable?” (Matthew 6)
Doubting that God isn’t mad at you from all your sin? God’s Word says, “In Jesus we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Ephesians 1:7)
God’s Word battles doubt for us.
When you are starting to doubt.
When you are feeling like God isn’t in control.
When your senses, emotions, and reason are battling you, run to God’s Word and let God battle for you.
And then, once the doubts subside…
(3) Anchor Yourself to God’s word
The one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6)
Because life is very much like a sea.
Our senses smack us in the face like waves.
Our emotions swirl around us.
Reason flies into our face like the wind.
When you are anchored in God’s Word.
When you are clinging to God’s promises.
When you are holding to Jesus…
You will not sink into doubt.
But stand on Jesus. Amen.
Last week we began our sermon series called VICTORY and were reminded how Jesus won the VICTORY over death with his glorious resurrection. Today we’re going back to the very first Easter to learn something else that Jesus gives use victory over. Before we do that, 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; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. When Fear Reigns
On the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were together…(Jn. 20:19)
I don’t think I’ve ever read this portion of Scripture before and felt so envious.
They weren’t practicing social distancing.
They got to be together.
They didn’t have to ZOOM.
They didn’t have to log on to YouTube.
Andrew didn’t have to tell Peter to turn his sound off when he wasn’t talking so that you could hear James the Less.
The disciples were together.
They weren’t having a meal.
They weren’t playing Settlers of Catan.
They weren’t enjoying drinks and throwing darts.
They were scared.
…the disciples were together… behind locked doors because of their fear of the Jews. (Jn. 20:19)
A latch at the top of the door.
A key lock from the inside.
A circular deadbolt.
A square deadbolt.
A combination lock.
One of those big old pieces of wood that you slide in front of the door.
A couple of chains.
A metal boot.
Even a bunch of chairs, tables, and boxes pushed in front.
The doors were locked because of the fear of the Jews.
They were talking about the religious leaders.
These guys were murderers.
They were vicious.
They had plotted.
They had planned.
They had pushed their agenda until Jesus had been brutally crucified.
If they did that to their leader, they might not stop until each of them was nailed to a cross.
But their fears were more than that…
The disciples were out of a job! With Jesus gone, their whole corporation had folded.
They couldn’t get out and make an income. They’d be risking arrest.
They were afraid for the future of their careers, afraid for the future of their families, and afraid for the future of their church
I bet they were even afraid of how they were going to get food through the night.
Without Jesus, FEARS reigns.
Because if Jesus were here, they’d be protected from the Roman soldiers. Jesus even drove out demons.
If Jesus were here, they didn’t need to worry about money. He once caught a fish with the exact amount of money needed to pay taxes.
If Jesus were here, they’d be taken care of, he fed over 5000 people with a few loaves of bread and two fish. He could use that leftover ground beef in the fridge and turn it into a Taco Supreme with the snap of his fingers.
Jesus wasn’t there.
And without Jesus,
This is a big problem in our world right now.
The devil is trying to distract us with bad report after bad report, terrible news after terrible news, horrible thing after horrible thing.
So that we miss out on Jesus.
Without Jesus, Fear reigns.
If I’m honest…
It’s worked on me.
I’ve been afraid.
What are some things that pastors are afraid of during COVID-19? I’ll tell you.
Afraid of never getting another high five.
Afraid that having to stay between lines will condition me not to move back and forth while I preach.
I’m afraid that we will lose momentum.
Afraid that those Sanctuary Updates…may never happen?
Afraid that our idea for a satellite church in Durham will stall.
Afraid that offerings will go down and we’ll have to trim our ministries?
Afraid that Precious Lambs will barely survive.
Afraid that we’ll lose families.
Afraid that we’ll lose workers.
Afraid that the virus might get to one of you.
Afraid that the virus might be spread by me.
Afraid that because of quarantine laws, one of our members might be dying and I won’t be able to see you in person before your final breath.
Afraid that we might not be able to get to little Daniela.
Afraid that she’ll get sick.
Afraid that since she’s immunocompromised that if she gets sick…
…I’ll never get to meet her.
That’s how it feels when the devil distances me from Jesus.
Because without Jesus, FEAR reigns.
II. Replacing Fear
But here’s the good news for you and me:
…The devil can never do that for very long.
…Because Jesus always finds his people.
…even behind locked doors.
Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, “Peace be with you!” (Jn. 20:19)
To be honest, their initial reaction was probably fear. In fact, the Gospel of Luke tells us that, “they were terrified and thought they were looking at a ghost.” (Luke 24:37)
To help with their fears, “Jesus showed them his hands and side” (20:20a)
Here. Feel the bumps on my skin.
Put your hands on my face. Warm, right?
Touch the ridges of the nail scars.
Notice the spear shaped mark in my side.
I’m not a ghost
I’m not a figment of your imagination.
And here’s what happens next
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. (v.20b)
Did you see that?
It had been a room filled with fear.
But when Jesus enters the room?
He turns it all around.
And its replacement?
Jesus replaces FEAR with JOY.
Afraid of lost income? Jesus offers your eternal riches that will never run out.
Afraid of a lost job? Jesus gives you a place working aside him in his kingdom.
Fearful of the virus? Jesus defeated death itself!
Fearful for your family? Jesus says you will always be a part of his.
Fearful for your church? Jesus is the church’s One foundation. It will not lose.
Afraid of being alone? Jesus is with you now and will never leave you.
III. Proclaiming Peace
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Look at what he does next:
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you! Just as the Father has sent me, I am also sending you.” (Jn. 20:21)
Notice how that starts: PEACE. Jesus says it again!
And I don’t think any of the disciples were upset that Jesus repeated himself. (Honestly, there shouldn’t be a limit in the number of times that God’s people can hear him say: “PEACE.”)
But I think there’s a reason he does this specifically here.
As they realize that it’s all true.
As they realize that Jesus really rose from the dead.
As they realize that he truly was standing before them…
It’s quite possible that another fear hit them.
He’s come to get us back!
Last we saw him, we abandoned him.
We denied him.
We went and hid while he faced death by himself.
We are sinners. Our Holy God has returned to get us!
Oh no! Please shoot your lightning bolts in Peter’s direction. It was all his idea!
But Jesus didn’t shoot them with a lightning bolt.
He didn’t yell at them.
He didn’t even give them a stern look.
He simply said:
I’m not here to hurt you.
Your sins are forgiven.
I’m not here to hurt you.
I’m here to recruit you.
PEACE-filled people proclaim PEACE.
Imagine with me what it will be like.
You’re watching the news.
Suddenly, there’s a breaking report.
The quarantine is over.
The virus is in remission.
What are you going to do when your spouse comes into the room and ask, “Has anything interested happened?”
Are you gonna say, “Nah.”?
No, you’ll tell her the good news.
You’ll text message a friend.
You’ll Facebook live yourself doing a Coronavirus is conquered dance.
We have better news than that.
Our sins have been forgiven.
Jesus conquered death.
We have the promise of eternal life.
This is worth sharing.
IV. What Now?
How do you do it? How do we proclaim peace in a COVID-19 world? I want to switch gears and head to the book of 1 John. That is the first letter written to believers everywhere by the Apostle John. John was one of the Apostles in that room on the first Easter Sunday. He was a guy that had been filled with fear until Jesus showed up and transformed it into joy.
He knows a thing or two about driving fear from people’s hearts,
Because Jesus drove fear from his own heart.
Listen to what he writes in 1 John 4:16-18.
God is love. He who remains in love remains in God and God in him. In this way his love has been brought to its goal among us, so that we may have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are just like Jesus. There is no fear in love, but complete love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. (1 John 4:16-18)
I love how that starts.
God is love.
Love is God.
It doesn’t say that God is FEAR.
It doesn’t say that God is ANXIETY.
It doesn’t say that God is TERRIFYING.
God is love.
Because God is love, he drives our FEAR.
And, because you are loved, God drives out FEAR through YOU.
How might God drive out fear through you? A few points
(1) Fill Your Heart with God
This is an important point. Because it is hard to be loving towards others when you’re afraid.
Do you remember my dog Frankie? The one that’s absolutely terrified of laundry baskets? Usually she’s friendly.
Usually she licks your hands.
Usually she has no problem cuddling next to you and showing you puppy love.
If that laundry basket is there?
She runs away.
No love is shown.
Because it’s hard to be loving towards others when you’re afraid.
So, how do we keep fear out of our hearts? Look at verse 16 again:
He who remains in love remains in God and God in him. (1 John 4:16)
This is a cup. It’s filled with air. You know it. I know it. We all know it .
If I wanted to get rid of the air, it would be difficult.
I can pour it out? Still filled with air.
I can dump it upside down? Still filled with air.
I could crush it. It’s still filled with air.
The same is true with fear.
If you have it in your heart, it’s there.
You can try to hide.
You can try to distract.
You can drink a lot.
You can yell a lot.
In the end, fear is still there.
Do you know the only way to remove the air?
Fill it with something else.
It’s the same thing with FEAR.
The only way to DRIVE OUT fear from your heart is to FILL your heart with JESUS.
That’s what we’re doing right now. Keep doing it.
Join a daily devotional.
Add an afternoon devotional.
Add an evening devotional.
Add a bible reading before bed.
Go to sleep to the Bible app (and the guy on the Bible app has such a gentle voice)…
Go to sleep to the Bible app reading from the Psalms.
If you want to drive out fear from OTHERS, fill your own heart with JESUS.
(2) Live God’s Love
In this way his love has been brought to its goal among us, so that we may have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are just like Jesus. (1 Jn. 4:17)
Because God’s Love is much different than the world’s love. The world’s love is very emotion based. “It’s about people making you feel butterflies and fireworks and sparks.”
God is love.
And I doubt God felt butterflies for you and me on the cross.
Because we were still sinners that
Yet God is love.
He still died for us. He still rose for us. He still saved us
God’s love is not an emotional reaction.
God’s love is an action DESPITE an emotional reaction.
And God isn’t calling you to feel butterflies with everyone you meet.
He’s calling you to perform actions of love even when others make us feel like we don’t want to
God’s calling you to…
…get up from the couch, do the dishes, even if your spouse didn’t ask in a nice voice.
…text message something nice to that person at work, even if they’ve just been badmouthing you on the group chat.
…give a call to your grandma, even if she’s mostly grouchy.
…spend time with your kids, even if they’re really cranky.
…help out that neighbor, who’s never friendly and always frowning.
Live God’s action-centered love.
(3) Speak the Gospel
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. (v.18)
Perfect love? That’s impossible for sinful humans to achieve.
Perfect love? That’s exactly who Jesus is.
He lived for us.
He died for us.
He rose for us.
That’s the message of love that drives out fear!
Remember earlier – how I described my fears.
Those were real fears.
But I don’t have them anymore. Know why?
I was talking to a pastoral friend. He let me vent. He let me share my fears.
And then…do you know what he said?
Even if all that happened, you’d be ok.
Because even if all that happened, you’d still have Jesus.
In fact, you have Jesus right now.
Don’t be afraid.
Without Jesus, fear reigns.
With Jesus, fear runs.
Share Jesus. Amen.
The other day I was sitting over at the Preschool eating some peanuts.
A young friend happened to pass by. She entered the room and asked, “Whatcha eatin’?”
“Peanuts,” I said.
She said, “May I have one?”
There were only a few peanuts left. I gave her some and I popped the others into my mouth.
As I was lowering my hand from this delicious bite, I noticed another young friend at the door.
She came up to me.
Held out her hand and said, “Peanuts?”
Unfortunately, I didn’t have any left.
Even after five minutes of tears and loud screams, I’m not sure that I was able to explain it to her.
I was out of food – and there’s nothing I could do about it.
We’ve been going through the MIRACLES of Jesus and we have seen his power over INDIVIDUAL health challenges and over NATURE itself. But what happens when a bunch of individuals need help at the same time?
Does Jesus have enough power?
Before we get into a miracle with that exact challenge, 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 God of YOU
The miracle is written about in Matthew 15. It starts at verse 29:
Jesus moved on from there and went along the Sea of Galilee. He went up onto the mountain and sat there. (Matthew 15:29-31)
Jesus again stays near the Sea of Galilee. This has been one of his favorite places. It isn’t because the Sea of Galilee is such a “spiritual” place. There isn’t a temple there or quiet retreat center. Jesus went there because the people were there.
There’s a lesson for us. God wants us as his church to not just bring his message to this building, but to bring this message where the people are.
If Jesus were around today, he’d frequent a Starbucks.
He’d love the local library.
He’d be a big fan of Crabtree Valley Mall.
He’d be where people are – and we, as his people, need to be where the people are.
And the people, large crowds of people came to him. They brought the lame, the blind, the crippled, those unable to speak and many others. They put them down at Jesus’ feet and he healed them.
Granted – there aren’t any details in that sentence.
Maybe he grabbed the lame by the hand and pulled them to their feet or simply spoke, “Get up.”
Maybe he put his hands directly over a mute’s mouth or divinely patted them on the back to loosen their vocal cords.
Maybe he threw water on those with leprosy or maybe he had them dive into the Sea of Galilee.
Or maybe he just looked at the crowd and said, “All y’all are healed.”
I don’t know.
The point is that it happened. Jesus healed a crowd of people who came to him.
That’s important. Because look at the next sentence:
As a result, the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healed, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel.
The Bible had mentioned the mountains earlier. More than likely, this is a reference to a group of hills down to the south east of the Sea of Galilee. That’s important because this was an area that wasn’t inhabited by the Israelites alone. It was filled with Gentiles (that is, non-Israelites). Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, North Africans, and West Asians.
This explains the exclamation! They call Jesus “The God of Israel.”
“He’s the God that dwells in Israel.”
“He’s a real powerful God, too. He healed my cousin. The ‘gods’ of my country couldn’t do that.”
“And apparently, he cares about me, too. Even though I’m not Jewish and I don’t dwell anywhere near Jerusalem.”
Jesus is the God of ALL PEOPLE.
Sometimes it’s easy to picture Jesus like the Genie from Aladdin. If you remember the plot, the Genie is only able to grant wishes and help the last person to rub the lamp. It’s the reason that near the end of the movie, Aladdin tries to get him to save his life, but the Genie can’t, because Jafar was the last person to rub the lamp and the Genie must listen to him.
You might think Jesus can’t help you.
As if Jesus only helps those people of one particular race.
Or Jesus only helps those “churchy” looking people over there.
Or Jesus only listens to people who have a middle-class salary or above.
Jesus is the God of all people.
He helps all people.
He died, rose, and proclaims the kingdom of heaven for all people.
Jesus is the God of YOU.
You don’t have to look any farther.
It’s not like looking for a Valentine.
You don’t have to create a dating app profile.
You don’t have to worry about God swiping left.
You don’t have to get yourself hyped up to go to a bar late at night hoping to bump into the “right god,” at least for a night.
Jesus is the God of YOU.
He came to earth for YOU.
He lived perfectly for YOU.
He died innocently for YOU.
He rose triumphantly for YOU.
He brings forgiveness for YOU.
He gives the promise of heaven for YOU.
He proclaims peace with the Father for YOU.
Talk about a Valentine?
This is more than just a picture of a Thomas the tank engine that says, “I chooo-chooo—choose you.”
This is Jesus, your God, giving his blood, to be with you now – and in eternity.
II. The Miracle
But we haven’t even gotten to the BIG miracle yet. Look at the next verse:
Jesus summoned his disciples and said, “I feel compassion for the people, because they have remained with me already three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they might faint on the way.” (v.34)
Jesus was preaching out on the mountain and some people had been sitting there, staying there, and listening to him there for three days. (Like some kind of Christian overnight camp…
…just without the egg & spoon races.)
Apparently, on the third day, the camp food that people had packed had run out. They didn’t have any bread. They didn’t have any meat. They didn’t have a Fruit Roll up, a Twizzler or even a marshmallow for a s’more.”
Jesus recognizes that.
And he cares about that.
And he speaks to the disciples about this.
The disciples respond, “Where can we get so many loaves in the wilderness to satisfy such a large crowd?” (v.33)
They were in the middle of the wilderness.
There wasn’t any civilization around.
It’s not like right here at church where there’s bound to be food in the Fellowship Hall. But…if we did run out we could head over to Chick-fil-A, Moe’s, Tropical Smoothie, Smashburger, the Mediterranean place, or even the gas station down the block (They’ve got a great deal of two hot dogs for $3).
“Jesus,” they said, “we can’t get food from anywhere close.”
“Emphasis on we.”
You on the other hand…
Jesus asked them, “How many loaves do you have?”
They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” (v.34)
Understand: a normal loaf of bread in Ancient Israelite culture would be about the size of a pita bread with a bit thicker substance to it. That’s not bad for one person to eat.
But seven of them?
That could maybe feed seven.
Or fourteen, but it wouldn’t fill them.
Plus, they have a few small fish. Currently, there is a list of 27 different types of fish that dwell in the Sea of Galilee. Some of the most commonly referenced in antiquity writing include are salmon and red-bellied tilapia.
The tilapia is the smaller. It’s about 12 inches in length.
A few of those? Feed a small family.
Add that to the bread? Maybe 15. But those 15 are all still hungry.
Look what Jesus does.
He instructed the crowd to sit down on the ground.
He took the seven loaves and the fish.
He gave thanks.
He broke them.
He gave them to the disciples.
The disciples gave them to the people.
They all ate and were filled. They picked up seven basketfuls of the broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children. (v.35-37)
Dissect those words.
(1) All Ate
Not some. Not a few. Not half. Not even most. ALL ate.
It wasn’t as if one little kid missed out because his brother ate his portion.
It wasn’t as if dad had to forego food so his wife could eat.
It wasn’t as if there was some guy who stepped out to use the restroom and by the time he came back there wasn’t any.
Jesus cared for all of them.
He used his power to provide for ALL of them.
The word implies that food was completed in their tummies. There wasn’t any space left for anything else.
We’re talking full—full.
Golden Corral full.
Three bags of Family Sized Doritos full.
Jesus provided enough that ALL were FULL.
(3) 4,000 Plus
Back in the day, a group of people was counted by the able-bodied men. Men were the ones who joined the army. It made sense to have an accurate account of people that you could use as makeshift soldiers.
Scripture tells us that there were about 4,000 men who ate.
But there were also women and children.
If half of the guys had wives present…
And half those wives had one child present.
7,000 people isn’t hard to get to.
And yet all 7,000 some were fed by 7 loaves of bread.
(Can you imagine finding a loaf of bread in the grocer’s aisle that said that? Feeds 1,000).
(4) Seven Baskets Full of Leftovers
When Jesus is done, he has the disciples collect all of the leftovers. Remember – they only had one basket to begin with. After feeding 4,000 plus people, I would imagine there to be ZERO basketfuls left.
But the disciples…
Bring back seven.
This is a miracle.
It’s an amazing miracle!
It was witnessed by thousands!
And just like any miracle.
The miracle is a sign of Jesus’ power.
Here’s the TRUTH:
Jesus has power over the TINIEST MOLECULES of MATTER
He had power to create bread out of no more bread.
He created flour – without having to thresh the wheat.
He created salt – without having to mine the Galilean Sea.
He created yeast – without having to get yeast from wherever yeast comes from.
He created matter out of thin air because he has power over even the tiniest of molecules.
He has power over making sure you’re getting enough oxygen.
He has power to make sure that the hairs on your head remain on your head.
He has power to ensure that the raindrops don’t make the ground so wet that your car slides off course.
He has power to create a one celled little human life without the womb of a mother.
Since Jesus has power over the tiniest molecules…
And Jesus is the God of you…
Jesus has power in the TINIEST MOMENTS of YOUR LIFE.
Because sometimes there are moments in our lives that seem TOO small for Jesus.
Too unworthy of being cared about.
When you’re feeling a little blue, because your friends didn’t invite you to the movies, Jesus cares and has power to heal.
When you’re feeling a little guilty about those words you said, Jesus cares and has power to forgive.
When you’re feeling a little bit sick with a tiny headache coming, Jesus cares and has power to make you feel better.
When you’re feeling a bit nervous, because you’re the new kid at school, Jesus cares and has power to remain beside you always.
When you’re feeling a little intimidated at the work you have to do, Jesus cares and says, “I am with you.”
Look again at how well Jesus cares during those moments. During this miracle, he provided for the hunger of the crowd.
But he didn’t just dissipate it.
He didn’t just tide the people over.
He gave them food until they had ENOUGH.
Jesus changes the “I’m hungry” to “enough!”
He did that for the people physically. He literally created matter where there wasn’t any in order to make that happen.
Yes, I suppose he could do the same thing for us.
But normally Jesus provides for us in different ways.
He provides through…
…giving you strength to work and make some money.
…a Valentine’s Day gift card from a loved one.
…a night out with friend who pays for the appetizers.
…an awesome fellowship snack table after worship.
…a financial gift of a caring church member.
God provides so that we have enough physically.
But he also provides….spiritually. Because though the focus of this miracle is the bread that satisfies their bodies, but we can’t forget about what Jesus did the three days before this. He spoke to them the Gospel message.
In fact, that’s the reason that the people stayed listening to Jesus!
They were so enthralled by his three-day sermon.
Can you imagine a sermon that good? (Don’t answer that question).
Jesus provides spiritually even today.
He provides a plate full of forgiveness.
He provides a smorgasbord of salvation.
He provides an “eating out of your ears” amount of eternal life.
He provides for all your spiritual needs.
IV. What Now?
(1) Give Thanks
Did you see that in the story? Jesus, who is God, before he goes about created matter out of nothing, he takes a moment and gives thanks.
That moment focused everyone’s hearts on what God was about to do.
Do the same thing.
This isn’t just an encouragement to say your table prayers. You should.
Have you ever thought about the common table prayer?
The one from the Psalms?
“Oh, give thanks unto the Lord…”
That before a meal.
But also before.
Also after being able to buy a new pair of socks at Target.
Also after ordering a new DVD on Amazon.
Also after getting a stick of gum from your grandpa.
Also after receiving a 10th Starbucks drink free because of the Starbucks app.
All of these gifts are from God.
May we take a moment to GIVE THANKS.
(2) Find Satisfaction in Jesus
Because we are a nation of unsatisfied people.
The world knows that, and it tells you that it will offer you satisfaction….
…in THIS BEER.
…in this plate of NACHOS BELLGRANDE.
…in this CUP OF COFFEE.
…In this LEWD INTERNET PHOTO.
…In this RAUNCHY COMEDY clip.
…In this ANGRY Facebook rant.
…In this approval from other church members.
…in this approval from other family members.
…in this approval from a significant other.
But all those things?
Won’t fully satisfy.
All those things?
Will go away.
“I am the Bread of Life. The one who comes to me will NEVER be hungry.” (John 6:35)
Did you hear that?
In Jesus you are…
We’ve been in the middle of our MIRACLE sermon series. In the course of this study, we’ve seen Jesus miraculously help people before it’s too late.
He met a man with incurable leprosy and cured him before it became fatal.
He’s heard about a man sick in bed and healed him before it became his deathbed.
He met a man with thousands of demons coursing through his body and drove out those demons before any permanent damage was done.
What happens when the damage has already been done?
This morning, we continue our series, by examining an interaction Jesus had with a man who was paralyzed. His legs had already stopped working. He had no hope of walking again. Could Jesus help? Before we do that, 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
The account we’re looking is found in three different parts of Scripture. It’s found in Matthew 9, Mark 2, & Luke 5. Each writer adds different aspects to our understanding of this incredible miracle, so we’ll be looking at all of them.
Jesus got into a boat, crossed over, and came to his own town. (Mt. 9:1) This would be Nazareth. The place Jesus grew up. It’s where he learned carpentry from his dad, where he went to Hebrew school with his buddies, where he played a game of baseball out at the local sandlot.
The people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door…
That means people were doing everything possible to fit into this room.
The three-person couch had become a five person couch.
The kids had to sit crisscross applesauce on the floor.
There were probably even a few people doing wall sits over in the corner.
It was like one of our hallways during a Christmas or Easter service – it was jam-packed full.
And he preached the word to them. (Mk. 2:1-2)
But there was one group of people that weren’t quite there yet.
Walking through the streets…
Huffing, puffing, sweating…
And taking a quick break to catch their breath…
Were a group of five friends.
One of them was laying down on a stretcher.
The other four were carrying him on that stretcher.
The man on the cot was paralyzed.
In fact, that’s all the Bible tells us about him.
Not his first name.
Not his last.
Not his favorite drink at Starbucks.
Not any characteristic of his personality.
Just that he was paralyzed.
He couldn’t walk.
He couldn’t run.
He could hop.
He couldn’t skip.
He couldn’t jump.
He couldn’t even stand up.
But his friends had a hunch.
They had heard about Jesus.
They had about his miraculous power.
They had heard about his compassion.
They thought that if they could get their friend to Jesus, he could help.
So, they took a swig of “Passover Power” Gatorade and lifted the cot once more.
“I think the house is just ahead. Don’t worry. We’ll see Jesus soon enough.”
The problem was that many other people had that same idea.
And, since they weren’t carrying anyone on a cot, they had already gotten there.
In fact, when they found the house it was so full of people that some were crowding around the outside windows just to get a glimpse of the Savior.
“Guys, I don’t think we can make it in.”
“Especially not with this stretcher.”
“What a waste of a morning. All this – for nothing!”
“Hey, paralyzed friend. I’m sorry. But I think you’ll have to remain paralyzed. Things just aren’t looking up.”
Did you say, “looking up?”
In 1st century Israel, roofing was a bit different than now. Rather than solid rain deterrent shingles made of fiberglass and asphalt granules that can withstand wind forces of up to 60mph from fine shingle companies like Owens Corning, GAF and CertainTeed that you nail gun into a wooden roofing frames, roofs at the time of Jesus were thatched of straw and mud. The higher-class citizens could afford pieces of tile that would be placed them into the mud concoction on top.
It wasn’t common practice for people to come into a house through a roof.
But in order to see Jesus…
The men took turns climbing up to the roof. With two on top, the two on the bottom hoisted up the cot containing their friend, grabbed a nearby rope and they climbed up themselves. Then, they began praying off the tiles, digging with their hands, and making a hole right in the middle of the roof.
On the underside, Jesus was in the middle of teaching. People were so interested in what he had to say that they had ignored the little kid crying. They had ignored the man with the cough in the corner.
But they couldn’t ignore this.
Because right above Jesus’ head, dirt started to fall.
Pieces of tile started to crack.
Light suddenly streamed in.
…lowered by ropes…
…with a man on it…
“Ummm….. Hiya Jesus!?!”
The room was silent.
What would Jesus do?
What would Jesus say?
How dare anyone interrupt him!
But Jesus smiled.
“Take heart Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2)
Do you remember how the room was filled with people? The Gospel of Luke makes note that some of those people were the Pharisees. These were the religious leaders of the time that didn’t like Jesus very much. After all, these crowds of people that were there to see him, used to be crowds of people that came to see them.
And upon hearing what Jesus said, they started muttering.
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Lk. 5:17-21)
Then some of the experts in the law said among themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming! (Mt. 9:3)
Blasphemy means saying you are God, when you aren’t.
That terrible sin in ancient Israelite society.
And with good reason.
If you tell people you are God (and you aren’t) and some of them believe (even though you aren’t), you’ll will be personally responsible for leading them to hell.
And since Jesus was telling this man that his sins were forgiven.
And only God can forgive sins.
Jesus was setting himself up as God!
Which would be blasphemy!
Jesus responded to their question with another question:
“Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? (Mt. 9:4)
To understand what Jesus is getting at, think of yourself in a conversation with a relative who can no longer walk.
Which is easier to write on a greeting card to that person:
“Your sins are forgiven” or “Get up and walk.”
I’ve visited a lot of hospitals.
I’ve visited a lot who are sick.
At Elmcroft retirement home, I run into people who can’t walk.
It’s not hard to tell them, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Have I ever said to one of these people, ‘Get up and walk.”
Why the difference?
If I tell someone their sins are forgiven, no one has any idea if that’s true or not.
Sins don’t go flying into the area.
A halo doesn’t appear on their head.
There isn’t a loud chorus of “Hallelujah.”
But if you tell someone who can’t walk to get up and walk…
If they don’t do that immediately?
You’re a fraud.
You’re a liar.
It didn’t work.
It is harder to claim a VISUAL miracle than an INVISIBLE one.
So, follow Jesus’ logic:
It’s harder to claim the visual miracle than the invisible one.
…so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. (Mt. 9:6)
Allow me to claim the hard one.
Jesus turned to the paralyzed man.
Looked up right in the eye.
And said, “Get up. Take your stretcher. Go home.”
And the man….
Looked at Jesus.
Looked at his friends
Wiggled his toes…and…
Took his stretcher.
And went home.
II. The Truth about Jesus
Jesus’ miracles are VISUAL proof of the INVISIBLE truth.
Remember: There was a room full of people in that room.
And since this was a local miracle involving a local man, they probably knew him.
And their responses:
This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mk. 2:12)
They were filled with awe and glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (Mt. 9:8)
Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.” (Lk. 5:26)
Jesus speaks the truth.
Even when the truth is invisible.
That’s really important.
Because most of you here today aren’t physically paralyzed.
You can stand.
You can walk.
You can job.
You can run (just maybe not for all that long)
You may be able to walk, but you might still understand what it’s like to be paralyzed.
Paralyzed with guilt from that one sin you did last week.
Paralyzed with shame from the way you’ve been acting in front of your spouse.
Paralyzed with fear that God has abandoned you completely.
Paralyzed with sadness that God could never forgive you.
What’s easier to say?
“Your sins are forgiven” or “Kill me and three days later I’ll come back to life.”
But to prove that Jesus has the authority to forgive sins….
Jesus was said he would rise from the dead – and he did.
And this is proof that when Jesus tells you that your sins are forgiven – they are.
And does this throughout Scripture:
Your sins have been forgiven on account of Jesus’ name. (1 Jn. 2:12)
If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins.” (1 John 1:9)
Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16)
Jesus’ power is real.
Forgiveness is real.
Your forgiveness is real.
Not trusting Jesus’ power to FORGIVE is EVIL.
Look back at what Jesus said about the people who didn’t trust his power to forgive. He said, “Why are you thinking EVIL in your hearts?” (Mt. 9:4)
They were thinking that it was evil for someone who wasn’t God to claim to be God by forgiving sins.
But what if that person who is claiming to be God is God.
Then, the evil isn’t coming from God who is claiming to be God.
The evil is come from the one claiming that God isn’t God.
And granted – you might not actually say that Jesus isn’t God.
But you might say,
“I’ve sinned too much, Jesus.”
“I should have to do something.”
“God needs me to help myself.”
Which is another way of saying:
Jesus, you don’t have authority to forgive sins.
Friends, that’s evil.
If that’s you, turn to Jesus.
And ask him forgiveness.
And trust that he grants it.
Jesus has all AUTHORITY to forgive.
It’s like a set of church keys:
If you asked me to unlock the front door of church for you, I could because I have the key & authority to do so.
If you asked me to unlock the janitor’s closet, I could because I have the key and the authority to do so.
If you asked me to unlock the door to Precious Lambs, I could because I have the key and the authority to do so.
If you asked Jesus to unlock you from the guilt of your sins, He could…
…and he would…
…and he did…because he has the key and authority to do so.
And the key was his blood.
Jesus lived perfectly.
Jesus died innocently.
Jesus rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins.
When he tells you that he unlocked guilt, he means it.
III. What Now?
(1) Do Whatever It Takes to Get to Jesus
Do a quick case study of this man’s friends:
They were willing to carry him great distances.
They were willing to climb a roof.
They were willing to cut a hole in that roof…
They were doing whatever it took to get to Jesus…
…all because they trusted Jesus’ power to heal.
Do the same.
Because it’s so easy in this life to feel paralyzed.
Things happen during the weak that can paralyze you with shame, guilt, sadness, and fear.
Jesus heals that paralysis.
So, do whatever you can to get to him.
That means making worship a can’t-miss for the week.
It means Group Study is something that you don’t let a little traffic deter you from.
It means that you reach over to your bedside table – and open the Bible.
(2) Do Whatever it Takes to Get Your Friends to Jesus
Because these men didn’t get to Jesus for themselves. They did whatever it took to get their friend to Jesus.
Do you know someone in need of the forgiveness Jesus brings?
Could be a friend.
A family member.
Someone paralyzed by fear, guilt, and shame.
Do whatever it takes to get them to Jesus.
Because Jesus has power over paralysis.
Power to free from any paralysis.
Power to free so that you can walk.
With Jesus. 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 are in the middle of our Eyewitness sermon series and so far, we have heard Eyewitness reports from Mary Magdalene and from the Emmaus Disciples (Named? Cleopas and the other guy). In addition, we heard there’s a group of at least three other women (Mary the mother of James, Joanna and others—Lk. 24:10) who saw Jesus alive as well. That means by evening on Easter Sunday there are 5 people who have witnessed Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
The unlikely story is building credibility.
DNA testing was introduced into our court system in the early 90s. Did you know that hundreds of people who were previously convicted by eyewitness reports have been found not-guilty thanks to the DNA Testing? In 70% of those cases, the reason for conviction was the eyewitness testimony of one or two people.
John Wixted, a psychologist for the University of California, San Diego – wanted to see how useful eyewitness testimony was. He conducted an experiment with police that focused on 348 robberies in 2013 that involved an eyewitness and a single suspect. He showed the eyewitness a group of 5 photos in which one was the convicted robber. The eyewitnesses got the correct suspect 1/3 of the time.
But…in addition to quizzing eyewitnesses on the correct suspect, he also asked them about their certainty – whether they were unsure, certain, or very certain.
Of the people who were very certain? They correctly identified the suspect 75% of the time.
And when there was even one other supporting eyewitness, the rate of correct identification shot up to 90%.
By evening on the very first Easter, Jesus was identified as risen by at least 5 eyewitnesses.
And their confidence? It was through the roof! They didn’t see Jesus running away or from a distance, but up close and personal.
But…they aren’t even the beginning of the eyewitness accounts.
Today we’ll look an eyewitness account that probably quadruples the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. The goal? Gain your confidence that Jesus is alive. 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
The eyewitness account is recorded in both the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Luke. We’re going be in both, starting with John. It says, “On the evening of that first day of the week...the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders…” (Jn. 20:19)
The section starts by describing a group of disciples together. The Gospel of Luke helps us better define who the group was gathered together.
A few notes:
It doesn’t involve Judas – he betrayed Judas and took his life because of the guilt.
It doesn’t involve Thomas – take note – we’ll talk more about that next week.
It does involve the Emmaus disciples – Cleopas and what’s-his-name show up to tell them all about their eyewitness experience.
It involves the women – Mary Magdalene, other Mary and Joanna, the other woman – who had seen Jesus rise from the dead.
And…maybe even a few others.
In short, the group is somewhere around 15-20 people.
And the doors were locked. It’s almost a horror film like setting. The disciples have the doors locked, latched, barred, with a couple pieces of furniture stacked against the door – all because they are afraid of the Jewish leaders.
The Jewish leaders just killed Jesus.
They crucified him.
They acted like a mob, wrongfully arrested him, falsely accused him, illegally convicted him, and forced Pilate’s hand to have him crucified.
What if the leaders did the same to them?
What if they had 12 more crosses just waiting to be filled with 12 more disciples?
What if any encounter with a Jewish leader would end the same way that Jesus’ encounter did…death?
And so, they hid.
And…all day long people had been entering the room with really weird accounts.
“We went to the grave and we thought he’d be dead, but the stone was moved!”
“An angel. A brilliantly bright angel. He saw us and spoke to us and said Jesus was alive.”
“It’s true. We listened to Mary. We ran to look. There wasn’t a body in the tomb.”
“I came back later and saw Jesus himself! I know it…because I heard his voice. A voice that healed me from demons.”
“We walked on the road with him. We talked with him. Would we have come all the way back here from Emmaus – a 7-mile sprint? – if we hadn’t really seen something?”
And to be fair – the reports brought excitement.
They brought mystery.
They brought questions.
But mostly…they brought fear.
Lots and lots of fear.
Because this fear of the Jews – had obviously caused their friends – delusions….
…their mind was playing tricks on them!
…a slow descent into madness.
How long until it hit them?
In the midst of the fear, confusion and hushed conversations…
Another guest appeared into the room.
Everyone was so distracted that they did not hear him enter.
Granted --- he didn’t knock.
He just appeared.
While they were…talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (Luke 24:36-37)
And the disciples…have anything but peace!
It’s the ghost!
He’s seeking vengeance.
He’s back to haunt us.
Jesus lifted up his hands.
The disciples braced themselves for the inevitable plasma-ball to come out and consume them.
Jesus said this, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (v.38)
One by one…the disciples looked at each other.
“Touch him? Touch the ghost?”
“You do it.”
“No, you do it.”
“I’m not touching the ghost!”
Finally, Peter pushes his brother Andrew forward.
He lifts up his hand.
He places it on Jesus’ hand…and…
“Whoa…Guys. It’s real.”
The other disciples quickly come over.
They feel the bumps on his skin.
They feel the hairs on his arms.
They touched the holes near his hands.
He has flesh and bone – just like any other living human has.
Jesus asks, “Do you have anything here to eat?” (v.42)
One of them hands over the fish sandwich.
They pass it to Jesus.
It’ll probably fall to the floor – he’s a spirit.
Jesus ate it in their presence. (v.43)
It went into his mouth.
Chewed by his teeth.
Tasted by his tongue.
Into his throat
Into his belly.
Just like it does with any living human being.
Then, Jesus gave them something else.
He said to them, “This is what I said would happen. Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Old Testament.” (v.44)
I had to die.
And I had to rise.
Just as it was written:
“God, you will not abandon my soul to the grave, nor let your Holy One see decay.” (Psalm 16:10)
“After he has suffered, the Messiah will see the light of life…” (Isaiah 53:11)
“Just as Jonah was three days and night in the belly of a fish, so the Son of man will be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth.” (Mt. 12:40)
Friends I am alive.
Jesus’ words echoed…
And the disciples came to a realization.
This wasn’t a hallucination.
This wasn’t a vision.
This wasn’t even a ghost.
This was something much worse.
This was real.
And it couldn’t be more terrifying!
Because the last time most of them saw Jesus?
It was in a garden, late at night, running away as he got arrested.
They had abandoned him.
They had denied him.
They had watched…without doing anything…as he died a slow, painful death on the cross.
They sinned against him…
Now he was back.
Proof that He was who He said He was.
Proof that He was God Almighty who controlled hurricanes, volcanoes and flash floods.
Proof that He was real --- and He was back – and He was back for one reason only:
One by one by the disciples looked towards the grounds.
They knew they were sinners and they were awaiting their sin-hating God to utterly destroy them.
Instead he repeated:
“Peace be with you.”
I am God.
I am alive.
I have the power of life and death.
But I am not angry. (Isaiah 27:4)
I am not here to get you.
I am not here for revenge.
I am here because we won.
Because your sins are forgiven.
Because we are at peace.
II. Resurrection Truth
There it is. The biggest, most populated eyewitness account that we’ve encountered to date.
It’s filled with reasons for confidence.
It’s filled with truth.
What is that truth? Three things:
(1) Jesus Rose from the Dead
Yep. Third time that it’s come up as a truth to learn from the eyewitness account.
Think about it. Jesus goes out of his way to prove that His physical, tangible body is in working order again.
His digestive system works.
His joints work.
His skin works.
He even invites the disciples – all 20-some of them – to do a full, thorough investigation.
Don’t you think they did everything possible to determine if it really was real or not?
Some tapped him.
Someone pinched him.
I gotta imagine someone might have even tried to pluck his arm hair out.
And Jesus allows it! Because it’s real.
And, it’s not just any old tangible working body, but his own working body.
He’s had the nail marks in his hands to prove it.
He’s had holes in his feet to prove it.
He had a big, old slit in his side to prove it.
If this was all one big ruse, then Jesus would have had to convince someone, “Hey, do you mind posing as me after I die on the cross? Really? Cool. Now…I know it sounds crazy, but would you be willing to shove nails into your hands, a stake through your feet and a spear into your side? We’re gonna need those wounds to heal up in order to convince people that it’s really me.”
It didn’t happen.
What did happen?
Jesus really, absolutely, complete rose from the dead.
And that’s important.
Because that means…
(2) We Have Peace
It’s a phrase that Jesus repeats a few times.
“Peace be with you.”
“Peace be with you.”
Because as hard as it might be to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, it might be harder to believe that we have peace with God.
Because we have guilt.
We have sinned.
We have shame.
Truth is – you might be believing that God is so angry with you.
Because of past sins.
Because of BIG past sins.
Because of repeated sins.
Because of unbelief.
Because of not following Jesus.
Because you haven’t been whom God called you to be!
And so…you don’t believe.
And the biggest reason you don’t believe in the resurrection is not be a lack of evidence.
But your biggest reason for not believing in the resurrection is the ramifications.
I am a sinner and lo, God hates me!
But…if Jesus rose.
Then, sin has been defeated.
And…if Jesus rose,
Your sin has been paid for.
And…if your sin has been paid for. Completely. 100% perfectly.
Then, God’s wrath has subsided.
And if God’s wrath has subsided.
Then, you have no reason to be afraid.
Hear Jesus’ words to you:
“Peace be with you.”
Understand. It isn’t because your sin isn’t a big deal – it’s a huge deal.
It isn’t because God doesn’t hate sin and evil – He absolutely does.
It isn’t because you’ve done enough to make up for it – you can’t, and you won’t.
It’s because of Jesus.
Unbelievable as it is – it’s true.
About as unbelievable as a resurrection – also true.
The visible nature of the resurrection provides tangible proof of the invisible truth of reconciliation with God. (Romans 4:25)
The resurrection is the visible proof of the invisible truth:
You have peace with God.
Which leads to our final truth:
(3) You have been Sent
To end his encounter with the disciples, Jesus says, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Do you get it?
God sent Jesus to bring us back to peace with Him.
And He sent risen Jesus to His disciples to confirm that peace with Him.
And He is sending us to share that peace with others.
He is sending YOU to share that peace with others.
Because there are people out there who are far apart from God.
Who are entangled in sin.
Who are covered in guilt.
Who are like those disciples huddled in that room afraid to face the world because they have no peace.
You give them that peace.
You tell them about Jesus.
And there aren’t any qualifications!
He doesn’t say, “If you have Seminary Certification then you have been sent.” Nope.
Qualifications for sharing Jesus include:
(1) Believing in Jesus.
(2) Hearing his call to “Go” and “Be sent.”
Which you just heard…
SO…this means you!
If you’ve known about Jesus since you were a child? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you’ve known about Jesus since this last Easter. Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are a 40 plus year member of this church? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you aren’t even a member yet? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are going home to a retirement community? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are going home to hang out in your playroom? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a master’s degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a bachelor’s degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a high school degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you don’t have any degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live near people who look and act like you? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you live near people who don’t look and don’t act like you? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a Republican? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a Democrat? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a political agnostic? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Raleigh? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Durham? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Wake Forest? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
IF you live in Chapel Hill? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Cary, Zebulon, Fuquay Varina, Rolesville, Louisburg…or any other villle or burg that I’m forgetting to mention here:
Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are a someone or an anyone who knows about Jesus…
(And friends – Jesus is talking to you)
You have been sent. Go and tell about Jesus.
And the Holy Spirit will be with you. Amen.
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.
I. The Wall
As the soldiers peered at it through the thick foliage of the distance, they couldn’t help but feel a bit intimidated.
The city was named after the “moon god.” One could see why. It had an abundance of water and a pleasant year-round climate. Everything was impressive. Impressive gardens. Impressive marketplaces. Impressive culture and night life. From the distance, one could see ancient skyscraper-like apartments.
But the thing that was most noticeable about Jericho?
A double wall.
A thick double wall.
A wall of solid stone.
A wall of solid stone wrapping completely around the city.
And because of the impending invasion, the city gate was closed.
There was no way in.
There was no way out.
There was no way under – without having the guards at the top of the wall pin you to the ground with spears.
There was no way over – without taking an arrow to the chest.
For some reason…
They were planning on going through it.
The LORD said to Joshua, “March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have the priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven time with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them around a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse.” (6:2-5)
In other words: March around the city and make some music.
The 6-foot-deep, 15-foot-high double wall will be no match for some jazz.
This had to be one of the greatest faith tests that the Israelites had ever faced. Yes, they had just seen God’s Almighty power as he split the Jordan river in half, but there’s a couple of reasons that this faith test was more challenging.
(1) The Composition
Because this wall isn’t made of liquid. It wasn’t easily transported like the Jordan River might have been. It wasn’t able to be manipulated by the simple touch of a hand. This was a solid wall of stone.
Just to give us a better understanding of what that wall was, archaeology in the 1950 has uncovered remains of a wall around the area where Jericho would have been. Based on their finding, the mound of the city was surrounded by a great earth rampart with a stone retaining wall at its base. The retaining wall was some 12-15 feet high. On top of that was a mudbrick wall of about 6 feet thick and 20-26 feet high.
The third little pig would have been proud of the people of Jericho. How in the world would you get past that wall? This task was humanly impossible. There was no technology of any kind that would allow them to destroy it.
So… God’s plan.
(2) The Tools
A bomb? Didn’t exist yet.
A battering ram? That allows the defenders to attack the single spot – for the hours you’d be at work.
A ladder? You’ll take an arrow to the chest before you get very high.
God says that they should walk.
I was playing BIG JENGA last week with Julianna. Have you ever played BIG JENGA? It’s the board game where you remove one brick from the tower at a time without having it fall over – only it’s a giant version of it.
I remember as I started to get nervous that I might lose. I started marching around, stomping my feet, jumping up and down in hopes that the vibrations might cause the tower to fall during Julianna’s turn.
If marching around a toy the whole point of which is to make it fall doesn’t make that toy fall down, how likely do you think marching around a giant 6-foot-deep, 15-foot-high double wall until it falls down will be?
Because in order to split the Jordan River all that had to happen was the priests touching the river with their feet. Then – instant miracle. This miracle was going to take days. It was going to repetition. It was going to take repetition of the same thing without any visible results.
And the people of Jericho would have noticed:
You idiots. What are you doing?
Oh no, Bob! They’re walking again! Duck!
I’m cowering in fear at the sight of those deadly, deadly trumpets!
In fact, if you’ve ever seen Veggie Tales, this is where the people of Jericho – played by a bunch of peas – come up with this doozy of a song: “Keep walking, but you won’t knock down our wall. Keep walking. But it isn’t going to fall. It’s plain to see that your brains are very small, so keep walking, but you won’t knock down our wall.”
Question – how likely are you to keep doing something if you don’t see any results?
God says, “Pray to me and I will hear it.” But…what if you don’t get what you’re praying for?
God says, “Study my Word and I will grow your faith.” When it feels like that isn’t doing anything, do you keep it up?
God says, “Trust in me.” When finances are tight, you’re behind on your mortgage, your ant’s in the hospital and there’s all kinds of stress at work – it sure seems a lot easier to just give up?
When it seems impossible, when it seems like there’s nothing going on, when it seems like God’s not doing anything…
God is at work.
And God specializes in demolishing walls.
II. The Demolition
At least, Joshua thought so.
And he was the commander.
So, no matter how foolish it sounds or how impossible it seemed, the soldiers obeyed.
They obeyed for six days.
They endured ridicule.
They endured doubt.
They endured sore calves.
Then, the seventh day.
They walked again.
They walked a third time and heard the ridicule from the soldiers at the wall.
They walked a fourth time and heard the doubting from the soldiers behind them.
They walked a fifth time and started to doubt themselves.
They walked a sixth time and heard Joshua’s command, “Keep going. God is with us. This will happen. Trust him.”
Then, they walked a seventh time. And as they made their way around to the same rock that they had seen so many times this past week – the priests stopped.
They lifted up their trumpets.
They pressed them to their lips.
They blew with all of their might.
And Joshua commanded them, “Shout! For the LORD has given you this city!”
The soldiers looked at one another.
They shrugged their soldiers.
And as they shouted, suddenly, they heard a bass added to their music.
It wasn’t coming from the trumpet.
It wasn’t coming from a fellow soldier.
It was coming from the wall.
The rocks began to tremble.
The fortification began to give way.
And the men shouted even louder.
When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet the wall collapsed. (v.20)
And they took the city. (v.21)
III. What Now?
1. Hire the Same Demolitionist
Nobody has the power to knock down walls like our God.
Not Home Builders, Inc.
Not Demolitions ‘R Us.
Not even the U.S. Army with all its fire power.
No one is an expert demolitionist like our God.
And the greatest wall torn down isn’t even this one from Joshua 6. Take a look at what Isaiah 30 says: Sin is like a high wall. That’s because sin does what walls do: It separates. Us from God. It makes it so that God’s on one side and we’re on the other side.
There is a disconnect.
There is a barrier.
There is a barrier of sin between us and God!
Maybe you’ve done sins and you’ve felt that.
Apart from God.
And there’s nothing we can do about it. No dynamite of doing good has any effect. The TNT of trying hard doesn’t make a dent. Even the hard-swung wrecking ball of “I’m really doing my best God,” will fail to tear that wall of sin down.
No one human can tear that wall down.
You can’t tear that wall down.
Only God can.
And He did.
Ephesians 2 says this, “Formerly you…were separate from Christ…without hope and without God in the world. But…in Christ you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace! Jesus has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility!” (v.10-14)
Understand what it’s saying:
Jesus is the spiritual TNT.
Jesus is the spiritual dynamite.
Jesus is the wrecking ball to knock down the wall of sin and leave us barrier-less…connected to God!
And finally….it means God is the one to turn to no matter what kind of wall your facing.
God destroyed the wall of sin. God destroyed the wall of Jericho.
Whatever wall you got? It’s no problem for him.
Hire him for all of your problems.
2. Appeal to His Grace
But…what if you’re part of the wall?
Do you remember Rahab? She was not an Israelite. She had a job that was not remotely God honoring – she was a prostitute. Yet when she heard that God was going to take back the Promised Land – she didn’t fight.
She appealed to God’s mercy.
Look what happens in verse 22 - Joshua said, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring her out and all that belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her.” So…the young men went in and brought out Rahab and all who belong to her.”
And here’s what’s most interesting. Her house – had been built into the wall. Yet it was the wall that was destroyed! How did Rahab make it out?
Even though she was a part of the wall (and by her sins against God was a part of the spiritual wall), God had mercy on her. God kept her alive. God brought her out. God spared her.
Have you built your own wall of sin between you and God?
Do you feel like you are a part of that wall?
Do you figure – there’s no way he’ll spare me?
Appeal to his grace.
Because while God is powerful – knocking down walls, our God is merciful to spare those who built the wall.
Without Jesus, you aren’t getting to God.
With Jesus, you are.
Call on his mercy.
Believe in Jesus.
You will not be destroyed with the wall.
You will be saved.
You will be a recipient of God’s incredible mercy.
Because those battle cries must have turned into cries of praise! God had done the impossible. God had knocked a wall down. God had kept his promises.
God had done the same for you:
He did the impossible.
Jesus knocked down the wall of sin.
Jesus kept his promise.
Shout for joy!
Don’t just do it here – but do it out there.
Do it when you go home to see the rest of your family.
Do it when you’re around your friends.
Do it on Facebook.
DO it on Instagram.
Do it at work, at the coffee shop and at the workout club.
Wherever you are – shout God’s praise! Tell others about the GREAT Things he has done.
Tell others about our God – and the walls he has brought down.
Today we’re looking at a time in Scripture where a few people felt all alone and completely outnumbered. It’s the next sermon in our series on Old Testament FaithTests As you listen, think about your life. Would you have trusted God in that situation? Do you trust God even when you feel all alone?
I. The Intrigue
This test is found in 2 Kings 6:8-17. Take a look at the background that verse 8 gives us. “The King of Aram was at war with Israel.” Now commonly in ancient battles warfare was a lot like you see it in the movies. One army lined up facing the other army. Then they would fight in hand to hand combat.
The king appears to have been getting creative in his warfare. Verse 8 continues, “After conferring with his officers, he said, “I will set up my camp in such and such a place.” He had in mind a surprise attack and was hoping to catch the Israelites off guard.
But it wasn’t working. Every time they went and hid behind a hill or in the forest…they would wait. And wait. And wait. The Israelites would never come.
Here’s why: 9 Elisha, the man of God, sent word to the king of Israel: “Beware of passing that place, because the Arameans are going down there.” 10 So the king of Israel checked on the place indicated by the man of God. Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he was on his guard in such places.”
As you might expect, the Aramean king was getting upset. 11 This enraged the king of Aram. He summoned his officers and demanded of them, “Tell me! Which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?” He suspects a mole and begins a full scale investigation into who was leaking their tactical information.
But the answer surprises him. 12 “None of us, my lord the king,” said one of his officers, “but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.”
How did Elisha know?
It wasn’t because he had a spy camera. He hadn’t paid off an Aramean servant. He didn’t place a wire tap in the back room. Elisha knew because God informed him. He had divine information. The “little bird” that told him about the Aramean plot was none other than the Divine, All powerful, Eternal Lord of Heaven and earth.
It’s nice to have God on your side.
But the Aramean king didn’t give up. “Go, find out where Elisha is,” the king ordered, “so I can send men and capture him.” The report came back: “He is in Dothan.” 14 Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city.
II. The Test
The next morning Elisha’s servant awoke. I imagine he went about his daily business. Rubbed his eyes. Said his prayers. Combed his beard. Got dressed and walked outside to grab some water from the well. Maybe he was sipping his morning coffee, trying to get awake.
But something else woke him up before any caffeine would have an effect. 15 The servant of the man of God (saw) an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city.
Can you imagine the fright? The jumping of his heart? The terror that was in his mind? Here they were in a small city of Dothan. The Israelite army wasn’t near them. They didn’t have anything to defend themselves with. They were severely outnumbered.
He felt alone.
“Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.
Elisha remained calm. “16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
Can you imagine the servants response?
“Don’t be afraid!?! What are you talking about? We’re surrounded. They have chariots. They have horses. They have an army. We have a few buckets, a broom, and some seminary students. How can you be so calm? This is the perfect time to panic! We’re outnumbered. We’re alone!”
There isn’t really a word for “smirk” in Hebrew. But if there was, that might describe what Elisha did next.
17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. God’s divine army was on their side. Though it looked like they were alone, they never were. Angels were with them. Angel armies were with them.
GOD was with them.
III. What about You?
Ever feel like Elijah’s servant? Ever feel like you are all alone? Ever feel like the world has surrounded you and is all against you?
Maybe you’re a single mom trying to have a career, pay for school, and pay for doctor visits all alone.
Maybe you’re a college student far away from home and far away friends.
Maybe you’re surrounded by bill collectors asking for money you don’t have.
Maybe you live on a block where people of a difference race avoid you because of yours.
Maybe you’re the only one at work who’s Christian and all your coworkers love to remind you of it.
Maybe you’re a widower who spends long, quiet hours at home alone.
That’s about the time the devil comes along. He convinces you that you’re all alone. He whispers that no one cares about you and that you'll never get out of the jam you’re in.
When that happens. Remember these three truths:
1) God is Always With YOU.
I don’t have the same connection as Elisha did. God isn’t going to open up our eyes to see the flaming chariots of fire that are parked next to my Ford Explorer outside. Nor do I own any kind of X Ray scanner to show you where the angels are sitting right now in this church.
But that doesn’t mean God isn’t with you.
Remember the passage we read from Psalm 139. “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
What’s the point? God is omnipresent. He is present everywhere. That’s what makes him God. When you’re downtown at night, God is there. When you’re alone on the weekend, God is there. When you’re up to your ears in bills, God is there. When you’re coworkers are making fun of your faith, God is there. When racism makes you feel ostracized, God is there. When you’re depressed, saddened, and you feel like giving up – DON’T! God is there.
2) GOD is Always With You.
I’ve gotta be honest. I feel more comfortable walking around with some people than others. If I’m downtown late at night, I’d rather have a 95 pound German Shepherd that can produce a mean sounding growl with me rather than my 20 pound puppy that runs underneath the bed because it thinks it heard a chipmunk.
Understand who it is that is always with you. It’s not your grandma. It’s not your nana. It’s not your childhood friend or the tough guy at your work. It’s not even a UFC fighter or a member of secret service.
It’s the almighty God and Father of this earth. It is the divine—earth creating Lord. It’s the one who destroyed the sin that surrounded your soul. It’s the one who conquered death! It’s the one who reigns on high and reigns in your heart. God Almighty is the one who is with you.
3) God is Always With Us.
Easter is coming up. Did you know that? 2 weeks away. Have I mentioned it?
We’ve got our sights set high. 4500 invitations mailed. 500 personal invitations passed out. 10,000 impressions on Facebook. A church jam packed for Easter.
How can we do that? We’re the tiniest church on Newton Road. Some people pass by and think we look like a Doctor’s office. We are approaching it, but still don’t quite average 100 people a Sunday. How can we possibly think we can affect the community with the Word of God?
We are not alone. We have God with us. We have God blessing us. With God’s blessing, we will share his Word in this hurting, lonely community.
Do you know someone who’s lonely? Someone’ who surrounded by negativity? Someone who is heartbroken by the guilt of their past. Someone who is surrounded by the constant reminders of their sin?
Be with them. Tell them God is with them. Tell them what Jesus did for them. Tell them about Easter.
I know you can get pumped about it, ready to do it, about to ask them, and then…the butterflies in our time frighten you and scare you away.
You’re not alone. God Almighty is with you. Amen.
TRUST GOD…When It Doesn’t Make Sense
Have you ever needed the help of the Geek Squad? These guys specialize in fixing your computer when it’s got a virus.
I always enjoy the explanation when I go to pick up the computer:
“There was a problem with the beta delta that was hidden in the drop files of the D drive’s code code. So I bypassed the cortex backup using the dual processor 12 and recovered 15 gigabytes which I transferred to the RAM. That was enough to help me break into the BIOS, rediscover the syntax binary, perform a Carthusian wipe on the system, wipe out the virus, and restore power to your system. Make sense?”
I don’t get it. But they’re the experts. I trust them. Just as long as they can get me back up and running before my latest Trivia Crack game expires.
Today we’re looking at something else that doesn’t make sense. It’s the next sermon in our series on Old Testament Faith Tests. In it God asks the Israelites to do something that doesn’t make any sense at all. As you listen, think about your life. Would you have trusted God in that situation? Will you trust God even when it doesn’t makes sense?
I. The Snakes
This test is found in Numbers 21:4-9. A little bit of background. At this point the Israelites had been wandering in the desert for years. They had adding up a lot of mileage by foot and horseback. Israelite parents were sick of hearing the question: “Are we there yet?”
The Israelites were fed up. This aimless wandering didn’t make sense anymore! They made themselves clear with this complaint to the Almighty: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
Let’s examine their four complains:
1) Wandering didn’t make any sense.
If you go back to chapters 13 & 14 of Numbers, the Israelites had actually come to the promised land. Unfortunately when they saw the size of the people living there, they were frightened. The majority agreed that they should turn back to Egypt.
God heard their request. He responded by turning them around. Just not to Egypt. He said they would wander around for 40 more years before their children would return to the Promised Land.
Obviously this was punishment for doubting God. But the Israelites didn’t seem to see it this way. To them it didn’t make sense. Why make it so far to turn back? Did God even care about them?
2) The desert didn’t make any sense for food.
At this point there were thousands of Israelites. That meant there were thousands of mouths to feed. Thousands of little voices complaining “Mom, what’s for dinner?” A scorpion? A tumbleweed? Dust mush?
True—God was providing them miraculous food that fell from the sky. But they didn’t think that wasn’t sustainable. Why hadn’t God taken them to a place with fertile soil? Why hadn’t he helped them set up some kind agricultural infrastructure? Why did he continue to have them dwell in a place that didn’t grow so much as a stalk of celery?
3) The Desert didn’t make sense as a source of water.
That’s what a desert is. Hot. Dry. Not a lot of lakes. Not a lot of water.
True, God had provided water to them in miraculous forms – whenever Moses spoke to a rock – a river came out. But that too wasn’t sustainable. Who gets the first drink? Who gets to shower first? How much water do you get to wash your hair? How were they supposed to set up a water park at this rate?
4) The taste--didn’t make sense.
Maybe you’ve been to a restaurant where that’s the case. They put so many spices on it and try to be so creative that it just doesn’t taste that good.
For Israel, they were tired of eating the same food all the time. Yes, God was providing for them, but couldn’t he do so in a more delicious way. Chocolate manna? Cinnamon manna? Buttered manna? Dorito flavored manna?
This just didn’t make sense. They complained to God, “What’s the point of all this? It doesn’t seem like we are ever going to get to our destination. We aren’t getting to the promised land! THIS DOESN’T MAKE SENSE!”
It isn’t recorded that God said anything in response to these complaints. He didn’t defend himself. He didn’t point out the fact without him they’d still be brutally beaten slaves in Egypt. He didn’t point out that without Him they would have been slaughtered at the banks of the Red Sea. He didn’t point out that without Him they wouldn’t have gotten any food or any water. He didn’t even mention the fact that they had been to the gates of the Promised Land once already, but it was the Israelites, not God, who were too frightened to enter.
The Lord didn’t speak. He simply did.
The Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.
One of the many complains of Atheists and unbelievers in our society is that the God of the Old Testament is a terrifying and awful character. They claim that he is one big jerk and is very cruel to his people.
At first glance, this account doesn’t seem to help his case.
But take a break with me for a second. Here are two reasons that God is absolutely in the right by sending the poisonous snakes:
1) God Hates Sin
Basketball season is upon us. The ACC Tournament is in full swing. That means when Duke is playing UNC, UNC fans won’t be cheering for Duke. Nor will Duke fans be cheering for UNC. State fans won’t be cheering for either of those teams—at least—until they are out of the playoffs altogether.
God is like that. He is good and against sin. Therefore, God loves everything good and hates everything that isn’t good. In the same way, sin loves everything that’s bad and hates everything that is good. Sin and God are utterly opposed to one another. They can’t stand together. God can’t condone bad ever—not even remotely!
That’s exactly what the Israelites were doing. We call it complaining or doubting. God called it evil.
If God didn’t do anything about this evil, then we should be concerned that God just doesn’t care. Racism is wrong. Hatred is wrong. Sexual immorality is wrong. Violence is wrong. Complaining, doubting, and rebelling against God…is wrong! God proves that He thinks so in verse 6. And no amount of – ‘we are God’s special people’ – can stop him from punishing evil.
2) The Real Poison was Unbelief
If you look carefully at the first words of this section, it says that the Israelites were invoked to anger. That verb gives us the sense of stirring up and inciting a feeling. It’s like a sibling who’s poking his brother with no other reason than he wants to get his brother angry.
This is what was happening in Israel. A few people were stirring up other people. It had happened already with a man named Korah. You can check out the story in Numbers 16. It was happening again a few chapters later. People who no longer trusted God were inciting other people to stop trusting in him as well.
Thank goodness social media wasn’t around yet.
Yes—God could have spared their lives. He could have let them continue in unbelief and rebellion against him. But then – eventually – there’d be nothing but unbelief left. As each family taught their children, “God is a big terrifying and awful being. Have nothing to do with him.”
God didn’t want this for the people – even if they deserved it. Because ultimately unbelievers gets exactly what they want– an eternity apart from God in hell.
Can you blame God for thinking that a few people dying physically was worth saving thousands of lives from dying eternally?
TRUTH OF THE WEEK:
The snakes weren’t sent because God is some terrifying and awful being.
The snakes were sent because God is good.
II. The Test
God’s plan worked. As the snakes went throughout the Israelite camp terrorizing the people. The Israelites came to repentance. Check out verse 7, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you.”
The Israelites understood. They realized that they were the ones who didn’t make any sense. God had been protecting them. Yet they had opposed Him. It didn’t make any sense for them to ever question God.
They asked for God’s help. “Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” Their hope was that God would just help control collateral damage. Maybe he would send the vipers away before they all died.
Here’s where you see God’s character. Take a look at God’s response: “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”
That’s a very strange prescription isn’t it. Who here has ever went to the doctor and been told, “You’re cold isn’t so bad. Stop at Walgreen’s. Buy a box of Kleenex. Duct tape it to a broom stick. Then…look at it. You’ll be cured.”
That doesn’t make any sense.
How much less sense with a snake bite? Why didn’t God gift Moses with a vile of medicine? Why didn’t he give the people directions to a nearby plant with healing powers? Why didn’t God make any sense!?!
That’s the test. Did the Israelites really trust him? Did they truly trust Him…even when it didn’t make sense? They weren’t before, would they now?
Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. And you can see God’s mercy by what happens next. When anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived. They were healed. The poison was gone from their body – physically. The poison was gone from their hearts—spiritually.
They trusted God once again. God saved them physically. But he also saved them spiritually.
III. What about You?
Three things to keep in mind as you go about the rest of your week.
1) Get Rid of the Poison In your Life
This isn’t a rant about watching out for chemicals and growth hormones in your food which slowly poison your body. This is a rant about chemicals and growth hormones in your spiritual life which slowly poison your soul.
Think about it: What or who causes you to doubt God?
Is it someone on Facebook who repeatedly sends out messages blasting Christianity and its teachings?
Is it your drinking buddy who mocks you for not going drinking with him?
Is it your boyfriend who constantly nags you to sleep with him?
Is it song lyrics that teach you sin isn’t that big of a deal?
Is it a cute social media video which pushes a non-Christian message?
There is a pretty popular video on YouTube that calls Christianity into question. If you look in the comments section, there are lots of people who respond with things like “I knew it wasn’t real. I knew Jesus wasn’t to be trusted. Thanks for helping me with the truth.”
You can Google it later to find a whole website devoted to exposing the lies in this video. But what we’re interested in is the premise: When did looking at an amateur YouTube video produced by a man called TheAngryAtheist sound like a better way to discover truth than going to God himself?
Stop looking to the world to see if God should be trusted! Instead, look to God to see if the world should be trusted. This is what the Israelites should have done. They didn’t and paid the price.
Learn from them.
If there is something in your life not trustworthy – get it out of your life! Do it now before the spiritual poison ruins your faith.
Block those posts on Facebook.
Stop hanging out with the friends that are leading you to sin.
Stop listening to false teachings.
Stop going with your gut reaction to whether something is right or wrong.
Stop scouring science, atheism, and pop culture for answers – when God has given you the answers right here!
Why go to God?
2) REMEMBER: God Has Your Best Interest in Mind.
We saw that in the case of the Israelites. Even when poisonous snakes were attacking, God allowed it to save them eternally.
This is why parents discipline their children. Whether it’s a spanking to keep them away from running in the road or three weeks of grounding to make sure that they don’t get involved in that illegal drug…parents discipline out of love. Even if the kid is screaming and yell and says something like “I hate you.” The parent still does it—because it’s for the good of their child.
God has that same kind of love for you. A love willing to do anything—even the hard things – even shaking you up and making you a little uncomfortable – in order to save your soul.
3) Trust God When it Doesn’t Make Sense--
Is God’s Word hard? It is counterculture? Might it get our laughed at because “that doesn’t make any sense!?!”
Nowhere is this more clear than in the matter of your spiritual salvation. Take a look at this passage from the Gospel for this morning: "14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
Consider what Scripture is teaching you: Some guy 2000 years ago, said some nice things, did some nice things, then he was arrested and killed, but with his death he made you right with God? He forgave you all your sins? If you simply trust in him as your Savior you will be in heaven, not in hell? Is that really what we believe?
Does it make sense? Not to the world. The world doesn’t get God. It can’t. God has heavenly wisdom. Psalm 145 says this, “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.”
But just because we can’t fathom it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
Take Easter for example. There’s a reason that I’m so excited for Easter – 3 weeks away – because it is the heart and soul of our faith. Jesus had told his disciples he was going to do something that didn’t make sense. He told them he would die and come back to life.
Then -- he did just that.
If he did that why wouldn’t he be able to forgive all your sins?
If he did that why wouldn’t he be able to bring you at peace with God?
If he did that why wouldn’t he be able to secure your place in heaven?
If he did that why wouldn’t he be able to make whatever strange, countercultural, opposite of modern thought thing he asks you to do in Scripture work out for your eternal good?
Brothers and sisters – TRUST God. He is the expert on a lot of things. He is the expert on you. He is the expert on getting rid of sin. He is the expert of getting to eternal life. He is the expert on living int his world. He is the expert on living for the next world. He is the expert of eternity, divinity, and true love.
He is the expert. Won’t you trust him…even when it doesn’t make sense? Amen.