It is 2020 and perhaps you’ve submitted your New Year’s Resolutions.
Exercise 3x per week.
Read more books.
Watch less Netflix.
Drink less coffee.
I just resolved to drink MORE coffee.
I’m telling you so that you can hold me accountable.
Sometimes people have spiritual resolutions.
Connect more with God.
Find inner peace.
Pray more often.
How many have BE MORE ACTIVE IN CHURCH as part of their resolutions?
According to a 2017 PEW Research poll, (www.perform.org/religious-landscape-study):
71% of Americans claim to believe in God.
56% think that religion is important.
58% pray daily.
That doesn’t sound horrible.
When it comes to religious service attendance….
Only 36% attend on a weekly basis.
And when you remove the non-Christian versions of those…
The number is even lower.
Maybe 15% of Americans in ‘church’ on a weekly basis.
Why so low?
Why such a low view of “the church?”
A big part of the answer lies in misconceptions about church.
This morning out goal is use the Bible to answer the question WHY CHURCH. Because, church is a GIFT from God. But 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. WHY Church
Before we get going, it’s important to define church, because the word “church” has at least three definitions:
1. A building (brick and mortar)
2. A corporation (See: “Church, Inc.” or “Gethsemane Church”)
3. A group of believers.
It’s that third definition that is the Biblical definition of church, because it is that third definition that brings about definitions 1 and 2.
And one of the greatest Biblical texts on church is found in Hebrews 10. Hebrews is a letter written shortly after the time of Jesus that connected Jesus to the Old Testament. And in chapter 10, it begins with a comparison of Old Testament and New Testament “priests.”
Look at verse 11 (In the case of Old Testament worship), every priest stood ministering day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which are never able to remove sin. (v.11)
The priest, an old testament version of pastor, attended a religious ceremony each day. He’d wake up, dress up in priestly garments, walk to the local temple, and begin his daily religious ceremonies.
One key ceremony was sacrifice. People would bring with them whatever animals they could afford: a ram, a goat, a bird, 0r a lamb. The priest would then take that lamb and sacrifice it on the altar to “atone for the sin of whoever brought.”
But here’s the thing. People sinned a lot. Sometimes on the way home from the temple.
“Hi Jehoiachin, what did you bring me today?”
“Hello priest. I brought a small dove to pay for my sin of lust. The next-door neighbor is very beautiful, and I couldn’t help myself.”
“Very well. I’ll take this dove and sacrifice it for your sins.”
2 minutes later.
“Yes, Jehoiachin why are you back so soon?”
“Yes, um. Sorry. Here’s another dove. I was on the way out and – another beautiful woman. My apologies.”
1 minute later.
“Jehoiachin!?! Another woman?”
“No. This time I just stubbed my toe on the corner rock and said some words I shouldn’t. Anyways…I’m out of birds. Do you take VISA?”
These priests offered the same sacrifices again and again.
But here’s the kicker:
These sacrifices can never take away sin.
All that sacrifice.
All that time.
All that repetition and religious ceremony.
None of it did anything.
It never took away any sin.
It never removed guilt.
It never removed actual shame before God.
Church isn’t FOR SACRIFICE
Sometimes we can be tempted to look at church like that.
I need to sacrifice some time this Sunday to make up for the time I spent overdrinking during the holidays.
I need to sacrifice some money this Sunday to make up for the money I spent on materialism this Christmas.
I need to sacrifice some energy this Sunday to make up for the energy I spent arguing with my spouse over New Year’s.
These “sacrifices” can NEVER take away sin.
These “sacrifices” can NEVER take away guilt.
These “sacrifices” can NEVER take away shame.
You can never sacrifice anything to pay for your sins.
But if sacrificing in the Old Testament didn’t take away sins, why did God command it?
Check out verse 12:
(A different) priest, after he offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God.
Do you get it?
Old Testament sacrifice never took away sin.
They simply pointed forward to the priest who would.
Church exists because GOD SACRIFICED for us.
That one priest is Jesus!
He made a sacrifice for us – for our sins…
For you – for your sins.
But if you remember the story of Jesus, there isn’t ever a story about him putting on priestly garments and entering the temple to sacrifice an animal.
He did things much differently than your common priest.
(1) He Sacrificed HIMSELF
This is truly different than any other priest.
Because there was never a priest that ever went up to the altar and said, “OK. Today, I think I’ll take my own life for the sake of Joe Schmo.”
But Jesus did.
In fact, the Bible calls Jesus the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
He is priest and Lamb.
The one who demands payment and the one who pays.
Sacrifice-er and sacrifce-ee.
But that’s why it worked! It wasn’t just the blood of some random animals, but the blood of God himself.
(2) He Sacrificed ONCE.
The Old Testament priest went home at the end of the day. They took off their bloody clothes, placed them in the wash, and went to bed only to do the same thing the very next day.
When Jesus was done with his sacrifice, he sat down at God’s right hand. (v.12) He never sacrificed again.
This means the payment was complete. You sin has been paid for.
Whatever you did wrong in 2019.
No matter how many times you did it.
No matter how big it was.
No matter how guilty you still feel about it.
Jesus paid for all your sins in 2019.
And for all your sins in 2018.
And for 2000—however many years you’ve been alive before that.
He paid for all your past sins and…
He has paid for all your coming sins.
(3) He Sacrificed FOR ALL TIME
Because look at what it says next;
Since then he has been waiting until his enemies are made a footstool under his feet. By only one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being sanctified. (v.13-14)
Notice Jesus isn’t up and ready to be a sacrifice for your 2020 sins.
Because Jesus’ one sacrifice has eternal value.
You don’t need to go into 2020 with absolute terror of sinning again.
Newsflash – you will.
Not that it is our goal to sin, it isn’t. God love empowers us to love others and fight sin.
When you do sin…
Do not despair.
When you do sin…
Simply look to the same Savior you looked to in 2019.
In Jesus, you have forgiveness.
And in Jesus, you will always have forgiveness.
Friends, this is the reason we are the church.
Church is not something that you need to FEAR.
Nor it is something that you need to do out of FEAR.
Rather it’s something Christ made us so we wouldn’t FEAR.
And something we participate in because we have no reason to FEAR.
II. Blessings of Church
But it doesn’t stop there. Because God gives us blessings through his gift of church.
(1) Access to God
Check out verse 19, “Brothers, we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place through the blood of Jesus. It is a new and living way he opened for us through the curtain, that is, his flesh.”
In the Old Testament, worship the temple area was separated into various parts.
There was the courtyard where people could enter with sacrifices.
There was a special area called the Holy Place where only priests could enter on behalf of the people.
And there was the Most Holy Place that only one High Priest could enter once a year.
To emphasize this, the Most Holy Place was even separated from the rest of the temple by thick heavy curtains.
God’s is MOST HOLY.
As a result, we sinful people could never commune with Him.
Do you know what happened when Jesus died on the cross?
The Bible says this:
The curtain of the temple was torn in two. (Matthew 15:38)
God’s holy requirements were gone.
The sin that separates unholy humans from Holy God has been removed.
Church is one of the ways God does that.
Because church is where we hear his Word.
Church is where we gather around sacraments.
Church is where God communes with us, whether it’s here in our worship space or around a round table for Growth Group at Starbucks.
We have access to God thanks to Jesus and that’s an amazing reason to be a part of church.
Because can you imagine if you were given high clearance, top secret government clearance to walk into a top-secret government agency?
Like FBI Headquarters or maybe Area 51. Wouldn’t you love to go?
The same thing has happened with God.
God has given you an all access pass to Him.
You don’t need a secret code.
You don’t need to put your fingerprints on file.
There isn’t a retina scanner out front. (Mostly because we can’t pay for it)
You have access to this group where God speaks to his people.
(2) A Clean Conscience
Verse 22 continues, “Let us approach with a sincere heart, in the full confidence of faith, because our hearts have been sprinkled to take away a bad conscience, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.”
Because it is so easy for the devil to get into our heads.
To tell us, “You used to be able to be near God, but you sinned this past week.”
“You did bad.”
“You did wrong.”
“You’re too guilty to be a part of church.”
But do you know why the devil wants you to believe that?
Because church is a place where God removes that guilt.
Where a pastor preaches a sermon with the conclusion, “Thanks to Jesus! We have forgiveness.”
Where a song points out: “Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
Where a friend quietly listens to your confession, grabs you by the hand, looks you in the eye and says, “Jesus died. Jesus rose. In him, you are forgiven.”
(3) A Strengthened Grip on Hope
Verse 23 says this, “Let us hold on firmly to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful.”
Because life is like driving a go-kart on a bumpy road. Have you ever tried that? The bumps, the divots, the gravel can make for a rough ride so much that you aren’t able to keep a steady, straight line as you travel. If you want to keep on course, you have to grip the steering wheel very tightly to make sure that you stay straight.
It’s the same way in life.
Bumps come in many forms.
And all of these bumps threaten to throw you off course.
And lose your grip on your hope.
But in the church, God gives you others who can help you steer for a bit.
Who can give you hope.
Who can say things like:
“I know this is tough, but God is still the victor. Stay faithful.”
“God has your back brother. Can I pray for you?”
“As hard as it is now, God promises he will take you home to heaven and I know that’s what he’s going to do.”
(4) Spurring Buddies
I’ve got a new workout group that I’m a part of and the current trainer has developed all kinds of ways to keep me active.
She spurs me on with emails: “Here’s the workouts for the week. Can’t wait to see you there!”
She spurs me on with Facebook group messages: “Workout tomorrow. Better be there.”
She spurs me on with text messages: “Hey Phil! Haven’t seen you for a while. Did you trade your dumbbells in for a bag of Doritos?”
She spurs me on with text messages from other trainers: “Hey Phil! Your trainer said I should message you to get you back in the gym. You in?”
At some point, I go back to the gym. Sometimes because I’m encouraged. Other times because I’m annoyed.
Both times? The result is a good thing.
In church, we do the same thing for each other spiritually. The exact phrase from Scripture is found in verse 24. It says, “Let us also consider carefully how to spur each other on to love and good works.”
Because on the one hand, you might be having a hard time being nice to a particular coworker. But then you hear a sermon on “Kindness,” someone mentions being kind to coworkers as an answer in Growth Group, and another church friend keeps putting “being a light” photographs on Instagram.
You’re spurred on to good works.
And vice versa!
Church isn’t just a place for you to be spurred on to good works, but a place where you spur others on to good works.
It happened not that long ago. Someone was super excited to say they had just invited a friend to Christmas worship.
And, feeling proud and sinfully vain, I thought: “Oh, they listened to my sermon…Hmmm.”
But this person said:
“It wasn’t even your sermon. I just heard another church member talking about doing it and it spurred me on to try it myself.”
But do you get it?
Prayerfully, I might give some encouragement in a sermon.
But prayerfully, you’re giving encouragement too.
(5) Preparation for the Day
God’s Word says, “Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have the habit of doing. Rather, let us encourage each other, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (v.25)
Because it’s easier to prepare for something with others.
It’s always easier to prepare a New Year’s celebration with others helping you. Together you can put up streamer decorations, turn on the live broadcast of the Acorn, cook some of those little hot dogs, and spending hours cutting out little pieces of construction paper to throw as confetti (and about 10 seconds actually tossing it).
It’s the same things for the Day!
Here’s the thing about The Day.
And by The Day, I mean, Judgment Day.
And by Judgment Day, I mean, when Jesus either ends your life on this earth or when Jesus returns to end all life on earth.
It’s easier to stay prepared for Jesus with others surrounding you.
In fact, it’s almost necessary!
That’s why God tells us to “not neglect meeting together, as some have the habit of doing. But to encourage each other, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Don’t think you’re the one person in the history of the world that’s going to be able to hold onto faith by yourself.
That’s foolish and in direct contradiction to what God is telling you here today.
And it may very well result in you not be prepared—at all.
Let us not give up meeting together.
Let us encourage one another.
And all the more as the day approaches!
It’s why CHURCH needs to be on your New Year’s Resolution.
Because church is a lot like charcoal.
There’s the story of a man who used to be a part of a church but had stopped coming for months on end. He wouldn’t answer phone calls. He wouldn’t answer email. He wouldn’t answer text messages. Finally, the pastor got into his car and went to see him.
The man saw the pastor as he approached the house, so he went to the front door to greet him.
“It’s fine pastor. You can come in, but I know why you’re here. And let me tell ya – it won’t work. I’m not coming back to church.”
The pastor simply nodded and listened as he sat next to the man’s fireplace.
“I won’t come back because someone was mean to me.”
The pastor grabbed the fire poker.
“He didn’t apologize, and no one came to get me.”
The pastor stirred the coals.
“Besides, I don’t think staying home hurts me…”
The pastor moved a single coal away from the other coals.
The man stopped talking.
Together they watched as that single coal started to fade.
To grow dim.
To stop burning.
“I’ll be there this Sunday,” the man said.
This is the gift of church.
A place where God lights a fire of faith in our hearts.
A place where we help each other keep that faith burning. Amen.
There’s a lot of different kinds of soap.
Irish spring soap.
Soap in the shape of little flowers.
Soap in the shape of cartoon characters.
Soap that’s big and manly (and smells of rich mahogany).
Over our sermon series, we’ve discussed the spiritual mess of sin. We talked about what it is, where it comes from and how serious it is. Today we want to talk about how to clean it -- what kind of spiritual soap should we use. 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 Wrong Kind of Soap
The Scripture for today is from the book of Isaiah. Isaiah was a prophet who lived 700 years before Jesus. He wrote this down at a time when the people of Israel had made a mess of their spiritual relationship with God. They had sinned by disobeying God. It had come from their hearts. They were in danger of spiritual death as a result of it.
But Israel wasn’t unaware of it. In fact, they had been taking actions to clean up their acts.
They had been attending worship.
They had been offering sacrifices.
They had been bringing offerings.
They did this in order to clean up their sinful mess.
But was it working?
Look at God’s response through the Prophet Isaiah:
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices--
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
Old Testament worship was very different from our worship of today.
Instead of bringing your offering in your wallet, purse, or iPhone, you’d bring it on a leash.
Instead of this pleasant altar with clean linens pressed upon it, there was a blood-stained altar with pieces of animal flesh hanging off the edges.
Instead of the beautiful music of organ or guitar, there was the loud, pained bleating of dying goats.
Instead of the nice smell of floral arrangements and morning coffee, there was the smell of burning and rotten corpses.
The reason the Israelites worshipped like this was that God had commanded it. In the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, you can still read about how God commanded that his people worship by offering sacrifices. The reason he did this was to impress upon his people the harsh reality that the wages of sin was death. (Because blood equals death.)
So, the Israelites sacrificed.
They sacrificed and assumed that the animal sacrifice would clean up their sins.
They were wrong.
Sin cannot be cleaned by ANIMAL SACRIFICES
And maybe you’re thinking “duh”. But remember this was the Old Testament version of worship. This is what they were used to. It was the way that they worshipped. In fact, I wonder if the Israelites might have thought that Isaiah was just telling them they had bad form!
Should the altar be relocated to the front right?
Is that the wrong kind of knife for the job?
Maybe we should be using penguins instead of lambs?
But the problem wasn’t the type of worship. It was that they thought their worship could clean them from sin.
Look at what God says next:
When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? (v.12) Can you believe that? God’s calling all the people coming to worship tramplers. As if he’s shaking his fist and shouting: “Get off my lawn!”
Stop bringing meaningless offerings! (v.13a) Whether the offering was an animal or some money or their latest supply of corn. It was meaningless. Even if they brought the best crop of corn they have ever grown: NC State Fair, best in show, blue ribbon corn – that corn couldn’t remove sin.
Your incense is detestable to me. (v.13b) It doesn’t smell like the sweet aroma of calamus and lily of the valley, but it still smells like the greed in your heart from work yesterday.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations-- These were special ceremonies. Special gatherings. Extra ceremonies and extra gatherings. The Israelites would come to worship on more than just one day a week.
Yet, God says: I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. (v.13c-14)
Did you hear that?
God is calling all these extra religious festivals and extra religious activities, a burden.
As if God looks at his watch on a Sabbath and says “Aw man! There’s worship in 5 minutes? Ugh. Not again…”
Is this a strange section of Scripture?
Why is God upset with their worship?
Why was he upset with this religious activity?
Check out verse 15:
When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!
A helpful note:
The Old Testament stance for prayer was to spread your legs apart, to raise your hands above your head, and open your hands towards God. The message this stance conveyed was “Dear God, hear my prayer.”
God said he wasn’t looking.
God said he wasn’t listening.
God said he wasn’t looking or listening because when they reached their hands up towards his heavenly throne, their hands were a mess.
They were filled with blood.
And he’s not talking about animal blood.
He’s talking about sin.
Sin cannot be cleaned by RELIGIOUS ACTIVITY.
It didn’t work for Old Testament Israel.
It doesn’t work for us.
If you think that your attendance today will wash away your sin…
If you think that the angle at which you bow your head for prayer will clean your soul…
If you think that the decibel at which you sing the upcoming hymns will knock lose sin from your heart…
If you think that because you do a certain kind of worship that kind of worship is designated to clean sin unlike any other kind of worship…
If you think that the offering you put in the plate will pay for your guilt….
If you think that the talent you display in serving will distract God from your shame…
If you think that the time you put in at 1100 Newton Road will counterbalance the time you put it sinning…
God still sees the greed all over your hands.
God still hears the words that you let out against your spouse.
God still sees the fingers that typed away to the latest porn site.
God still sees the finger that shot up in rage at your coworker.
Religious activity cannot wash away sin.
What then do we need to do?
Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. (v.16-17)
Instead of worrying about the cleanliness of your Sunday clothing; worry about the cleanliness of your heart.
Instead of taking a coin out of your pocket; take sin out of your life.
Instead of doing worship; just do good.
Figure out some way to remove all the guilt that you’ve amassed in your life up to this point.
Then, you’ll be clean.
Does this message from God leave anyone else in a panic?
This sounds impossible.
Because it is.
Here’s the truth:
Sin cannot be cleaned by YOU.
This is the truth God was impressing on the Israelites: They were worshiping with the idea that their worship would remove their sin.
This is the truth God is impressing on you. If you are worshiping God with the idea that YOU worshiping will remove your sins, you’re wrong.
In fact, if you are trusting that your worship is the key to your forgiveness.
It’s not only wrong.
II. The Right Kind of Soap
Then, what is the right kind of spiritual soap?
Check out what God says next: “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (v.18)
Did you see it? This is the part of the Scripture where God tells us how to clean our heart.
Don’t miss it.
It’s extremely important.
What does God tell us to do.
He doesn’t tell us to do anything to clean our sins, because there isn’t anything we can do to clean our sins.
But he still says our sins will be clean.
Because of him.
Sin is cleaned by OUR LORD.
It’s only fall, but briefly. Let’s talk about snow. The first snowfall is so very beautiful. The crisp, white flakes cover up everything in a nice, pristine blanket of white. In fact, if you look outside after a fresh snow fall you can’t see anything but snow.
Gone is the muddy area where grass wasn’t growing out back.
Gone is the pile of leaves that your kids forgot to clean up.
Gone are the piles of yuck that your dogs left behind.
Gone is the garbage.
Gone is the trash.
Gone is the oil spill from your nephew’s car.
All the gross is gone. Covered up by the clean snow.
That’s what God does to your sins.
They are covered.
White as snow.
Imagine you had a pair of wool socks. And as you wore those socks, tripped on a rock. In fact, you hit that rock so hard that you opened up the skin on your toe. It bled. Suddenly, your socks became crimson, the color of blood.
Blood is a tough stain to get out. It’s deep. It’s red. It’s obvious. You can’t hide it very well at all and you might not ever be able to get it out. Unless… you use the right kind of detergent. The right kind of bleach can do the miraculous. It can remove the blood red stain and leave behind nothing but wool.
As if the stain never existed.
That’s what God does to your sins.
They have been removed.
White as wool.
How does God cleanse us from the stain of sin?
Is it some divine form of bleach?
Does it involve a long soak in holy water?
Does he just use a bunch of holy elbow grease?
Take a look at Hebrews 11. It’s a New Testament book written after Jesus that makes a connection to Old Testament worship. It says:
The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ…cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death. (v.13-14)
Do you get it?
In the Old Testament, animal sacrifices never cleansed anyone’s sin.
But these sacrifices foreshadowed a sacrifice that would.
TRUTH: Sin is cleansed by JESUS’ BLOOD.
Jesus lived perfectly.
Jesus died innocently.
Jesus rose triumphantly.
As a result, the blood of Christ cleanses you from all acts that lead to death. (aka: sin)
Because of Jesus’ divine blood, the blood of sin on your hands has been removed.
Your heart is clean.
Your heart is pure.
Your heart is spotless because of the blood of the eternal lamb, Jesus Christ.
Of course, God need to connect us to this washing. And we can’t have a sermon on washing our souls clean without commenting on one very powerful way he connects us to the cleaning power of Jesus’ blood:
TRUTH: Sin is cleansed THROUGH BAPTISM.
Titus 3:5, “We were saved not because of the righteous things that we have done, but because of the washing with water through the Word.”
Baptism doesn’t look as impressive as the slaughtering of many sacrificial animals.
It’s just a little bit of water.
It’s just poured upon a head.
It looks like a regular old bath.
But it’s so much more.
Titus 3:5, ”we were saved not because of the righteous things that we have done, but because of the washing with water through the Word.”
That is baptism.
Baptism that washes.
It washes away our sins as it connects us to the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood.
III. What Now?
(1) Worship because you’ve been cleaned
Notice how that is phrased. It doesn’t say, “Worship in order to be clean,” but, “worship because you are clean.”
And you have been cleaned by Jesus’ Christ.
It’d be like if you had a party and the party left a big mess. Streamers everywhere. Drink glasses throughout. Birthday cake sprinkles all over the kitchen floor. Wrapping paper in the living room. And a spot of spit up from your young niece on the couch cushion.
And you lay down for a quick nap in order to get some energy to clean.
But when you wake up, it’s all done. Mom did it while you were sleeping. Everything’s clean: dusted, vacuumed, and picked up.
How do you react to that? With thanks!
It’s the same with Jesus.
We worship out of thanks for his forgiveness.
We worship out of thanks for the clean he left in our heart.
We worship out of thanks for the purity that he brought into our souls.
(2) Cherish Baptism
Baptism is one of the incredible ways God connects us to the powerful washing of his blood. So, we cherish it!
If you haven’t been baptized, cherish it – and be baptized.
If you have been baptized, cherish it – and thank God for your baptism.
Rather than an Old Testament sacrifice.
Baptism connects us to Jesus’ sacrifice.
Rather than something we do daily.
Baptism connects us to something Jesus did once.
Rather than something we hope might work.
Baptism connects us to Jesus’ death that worked completely.
Rather than leave you with bloody hands and a sinful heart.
Baptism leaves you with a wet head and a heart cleaned by your Savior.
So…You are clean.
We’re finishing up the sermon series all about the messiness of sin.
And maybe by the end of it you thought:
“Man, my sin has really made a mess.”
“My life’s a mess.”
“I’m a mess.”
If so, hear the message of today one last time:
Jesus cleans messes.
Jesus cleans your mess.
He doesn’t call you “Mess,” but, “clean.”
Whenever relatives come for a visit at our house, there is inevitably an argument.
Julianna says, “We need to clean up this mess.”
I say, “What mess? Looks good to me.”
She says, “There’s dog hair all over the floor.”
I say, “Define all over.”
She says, “There’s dirty dishes on the counter.”
I say, “They need to soak.”
She says, “There’s Dorito crumbs all over the couch.”
I say, “I wonder who did that.”
She says, “It’s messy.”
I say, “But how messy is it, really?”
Today we’re continuing our sermon series called MESSY. We’re going to ask the same question about sin. How messy is it, really? But before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Truth about “Minor” Sin
The Scripture today is from the book of James. It’s a letter written by a church leader named James to believers “scattered across the nations.” (1:1). Since we are believed and we are in a nation, it’s a letter written to us.
Look at what he encourages us to do: “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show FAVORITISM. (2:1)
Favoritism means to give partial treatment to someone at the expense of another.
For example, if you are stuck in traffic on I-440, haven’t been moving for minutes and suddenly a car comes from the on ramp and tries to cut in front of you, but before they do you notice a “Go Tarheels” sticker on their back bumper, well…
If you’re a UNC fan, you smile and let them in. Favoritism.
If you’re an NC State fan, you speed up to make sure that they stay behind you. Anti-favoritism.
Another example from James 2:2-4
Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes…The original Greek language of this letter actually says, “shiny” clothes. If you’re clothing is “shiny”, you’ve got some money: Jewel-studded Armani, diamond decorated Gucci, or maybe a big old Nike Symbol that glimmers in the sun.
And a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. (v.2) He’s got tears in his jeans and a stain on his shirt. He smells a bit stale – of sweat and cigarette smoke.
If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you…” In fact, take my seat. Let me fluff the pew cushion for you, I’ll go grab a bulletin. Did you want a coffee? Some sugars? Should I run to the store and get you a Frappucino? Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it. Just, sit by me.
But you say to the poor man, “You stand there.” We need to save the seats for the rich people.
Or “Sit on the floor by my feet.” (v.3) You’re dirty already, so a little more dirt shouldn’t hurt.
Partial treatment to someone at the expense of others.
And to be fair showing favoritism is common in this world.
Whether it’s favoritism because that person is rich.
Or a man.
Or a woman.
Or they enjoy a certain worship style.
Or they vote a certain way.
Or they were cheering for a certain college team yesterday.
That’s showing favoritism.
Because it’s so prevalent it might not seem like a huge deal.
But look what James says next: Have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with EVIL thoughts? (v.4)
To put it another way:
Wasn’t that favoritism…EVIL?
Even if it was just once.
Even if it was just a minor case.
Even if all that happened was that you took two chocolate chip cookies just to ensure that the person that you like got that last cookie and the other people you don’t favor as much didn’t, the favoritism is still evil.
TRUTH: “Minor” sin is a MAJOR mess.
It’s true for favoritism.
The same would be true for any other “minor” sin.
White lies? Evil.
A bit of gossip? Evil.
Secret racism? Evil.
Selfish pride? Evil.
Pinching your brother? Evil.
“Minor” sin is a MAJOR mess. Here’s some reasons why
(1) It Makes a MAJOR MESS of Kingdom Work
Look at what James writes next: Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? (v.5)
Jesus didn’t have favoritism.
He chose Bartimaeus, a blind beggar and went out to assure him of God’s love.
He chose a Samaritan woman, a non-Jew, non-male, and told her about her Savior.
He chose a prostitute, the type of person that no religious leader would ever choose and he told her about forgiveness.
Jesus didn’t show favoritism.
In fact, it’s because of that reason that you and I are ok. Because God is holy and favors holy things. Yet, he didn’t show favoritism to the “Holy”… (If he that would have been his mode of operation, he would have shown favoritism to no one.) Instead, Jesus showed love to sinners.
He showed love to you and me.
God’s kingdom doesn’t involve favoritism.
And if we, as part of God’s kingdom, show favoritism, then, we’re making a mess of his kingdom work.
In fact, if we do any minor sin, we’re making a mess of kingdom work.
Because kingdom work doesn’t involve sin.
A while back, a first-time visitor joined us for worship. When a visitor does that, I usually follow up with a THANK YOU email. In that email, is a brief survey they can take to talk about their experience. It’s a great way to gather feedback about what first time visitors feel about our worship.
And in the comments the person said: “I like the message. I like the music. But afterwards, in the fellowship hall I overheard some people complaining about the type of fellowship snacks available. To be honest, it really turned me off to the church.”
Even if the complaining was just a couple of seconds, a “Minor” sin.
It still left a big mess of kingdom work.
(2) “Minor” Sin makes you a Lawbreaker
Our Scripture continues: If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. (V.8-9)
Check out the word “convicted.” It’s a courtroom term. If you are convicted, then you have been called a lawbreaker.
You might be convicted of: speeding, a misdemeanor, fraud, even a felony.
Once you are convicted it’s on your record. Employers will look at your record and forever know you as a lawbreaker.
When you do a “minor” sin, it isn’t the circuit court convicting you.
It isn’t the district court.
It’s the county court.
It isn’t the state court.
The appellate court.
Or the Supreme Court.
It’s the Divine Court of our Heavenly King.
It’s God calling you a lawbreaker.
And it’s on your eternal record.
(3) “Minor” sin Leaves the Law Broken
Verse 10 says it this way: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”
It’s like God’s Law is a balloon. He blew it up. Full of divinely inspired air. He gave it to us and said: “Don’t pop it.” You’ll need this law, fully together and not broken in order to enter eternal life. So…be careful.
If you commit adultery, Kaboom!
If you commit murder, Kablam!
If you steal, Kablammo!
If you do anything wrong, the law will be broken!
And we take the Law.
And we don’t commit adultery.
We don’t murder.
We don’t steal.
And we think…you know…just a little bit of about some church members…and…POP!!!!
The law is broken.
That’s a big deal.
(4) “Minor” Sin means Eternal Death
Because we don’t have a fully together LAW necessary for eternal life.
Ezekiel 18:4 says, “the soul who sins even a “minor” sin is the one who will die.”
Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin any type of sin is death.
Matthew 5:19 says, “Anyone who breaks one of the least of my commands…will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”
“Minor” sin is a Major Mess.
II. Not a Minor Savior
Let’s do some math. If you averaged one sin per minute, not unlikely at all.
And you lived an average lifetime of 70 years.
And for every one sin during those seventy years, you place one inch of manure into a pile.
By the end of your life, that pile of manure would be 663 miles high.
When you realize that…
It can you leave you feeling mighty concerned.
Because if “minor” sin is a major mess.
If “minor” sin is actual sin.
Then, I’ve got a problem!
The things that I think…
The words that I’m not careful with…
The things I don’t without even thinking…
I’ve got lots more sin on my heart than I ever imagined.
How can I ever be free of this mess?
Look at what James says next:
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom. (v.12)
But…what Law gives freedom? It isn’t the Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments just pile up your guilt.
Pile up your shame.
Pile up with reminders of all your “minor” sin and how major their guilt is.
That’s not freedom.
The Law that gives freedom isn’t actually a law at all.
It’s the Gospel.
The Gospel is that Jesus lived perfectly without even a “minor” sin.
The Gospel is that Jesus suffered death for your “minor” sins
The Gospel is that Jesus resurrected and left that “minor” sin behind.
This is good news if you are feeling troubled by your “minor” sin, because…
The Gospel includes “minor” sin.
It’s not like the visit from the Health and Sanitation Inspector. When they visit, they peruse ever nook and cranny of your building. They rub their white glove for dust. They test waters for PH balance. They look under table, behind doors, and inside locked closets, on the back corner of the highest shelf for any unsanitary practice.
God isn’t like that.
He doesn’t miss a “minor’ sin hidden in some nook and cranny of your heart.
He found it all.
He didn’t miss a sin.
He didn’t forget to check for “favoritism.”
He didn’t accidently leave some “minor gossip” under a rug.
He thoroughly cleaned up all your sins.
All of your “Major” sins.
All of your “minor” sins.
All of your sins.
The reason isn’t because the minor sins aren’t a big mess, they are.
The reason is that
Jesus is bigger than the BIGGEST messes.
Even the mess of death.
Because crucifixions are BIG messes.
Sweat dripping on the ground.
Dirt & decay stuck to stained pieces of wood.
But Jesus was bigger than that mess.
He came out of the grave alive.
He came out of the grave and left the mess of death behind.
He was bigger than that HUGE, VISUAL mess…
…and that’s great news. Because it means Jesus is bigger than your HUGE, INVISIBLE mess:
In fact, look at verse 13: Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Mercy is Jesus.
Mercy is forgiveness.
Mercy is God’s message to you right now:
In Jesus, you are forgiven.
III. What Now?
(1) Live as Those Set Free
Look at James’ own WHAT NOW.
He says, because you are free in Jesus, Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom. (v.12)
Because it’s so easy to think that these “minor” sins are just part of life.
That we are stuck doing them.
That we’ll never be rid of them.
But that’s inaccurate.
You are free.
That means you are free
Free from gossip.
Free from white lies.
Free from occasional porn.
Free from complaining.
Free from arrogance.
Free from favoritism.
None of those sins control you.
You are free.
Free to speak kindly.
Free to speak truth.
Free to be pure.
Free to compliment.
Free to be humble.
Free to treat all people with respect and kindness.
(2) Be Merciful
Because we tend to want mercy for our “minor” sins.
“I know, I can be grouchy, please forgive me. It’s just a ‘minor’ thing.”
“It’s just one lie, please forgive.”
But when others do the same thing to us?
“He wasn’t polite to me, so I’ll be impolite to him.”
“He gossiped about me, so I’ll gossip about him.”
“He didn’t save me a spot in church, so I’ll hate him forever.”
James writes, “…judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.”
In other words:
If you want to judge others for their “minor” sins.
Then, God will judge you for yours.
And the punishment won’t be minor.
Instead, be merciful, because God has been merciful to you.
He forgave you all your sins, forgive others theirs.
It happened at PreK this past week.
A friend was riding his tricycle and he rode it directly into another friend’s leg.
The other friend began crying, sobbing, screaming.
So, the culprit came over.
It hadn’t been a purposeful hit.
It was relatively minor.
Yet he said to his tearful classmate:
The other friend immediately stopped crying and said: “I forgive you.”
Moments later they were playing together like nothing had happened.
Friends, that’s what God is talking about.
Recognizing sin is serious.
But recognizing we have a serious Savior.
We live freely apart from “minor” sin.
We forgive “minor” sins from our neighbors. Amen.
Looking for a job can be difficult.
Searching for jobs online.
Filing out applications.
Phoning, emailing, texting to check on those applications.
And the interview!
You rent a suit coat.
You part your hair ever so particularly.
You practice saying: “I’m not in it for the money, but because of the sheer joy I get from filling out spreadsheets and alphabetically filing documentation.”
As challenging as finding a job can be…
It gets exponentially more difficult if you have something on your record.
A terrible credit report.
A job history with a few firings.
Even an incriminating Facebook photo or post that you forgot to delete.
Past mistakes can make it difficult to find work in the now…
But what about God’s kingdom?
What if you have mistakes in your past?
Surely – if humans wouldn’t hire you – God, who is perfect, wouldn’t want you to work in his kingdom either…right?
Today’s EYEWITNESS account is about a guy named Peter, who had made some rather big blunders while working in God’s kingdom. We want to learn (1) what his failures were (2) how they affected his role in God’s kingdom and (3) what that means for our roles in kingdom work. 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. Peter’s Story
We are continuing where we left off last week. If you remember, Jesus had appeared to his disciples on the Sea of Galilee. When he appeared, he told them to toss their nets into the lake and – immediately – the net is full of fish. Amazing – because Jesus was 100 yards away on shore and the disciples had been out all night without catching anything.
But that wasn’t it – as the disciples row the boat to shore, Jesus already has fish sandwiches cooking over the fire for them to eat. It’d be similar to someone gifting you a $100 Starbucks gift card and then, when they invite you to Starbucks – they pay for the coffee for you.
Jesus did the same. He provided abundantly.
He provides abundantly.
And I’ll bet the disciples were loving this interaction.
Because Jesus was back!
He conquered death!
He was alive!
He was just as powerful as ever!
And he was with them.
This was great news --- for most of them.
While Peter was happy to see Jesus alive, it also reminded him of the last conversation that they shared.
It had been back before Jesus died.
Back before Jesus was arrested.
They had been sitting down for a meal and Jesus had said, “I tell you the truth. You will all fall away on account on me.” (Matthew 26:31)
And Peter heard it.
And believed most of it.
“Even if all fall away on account of you, Jesus, I never will.” (Matthew 26:33)
I mean…I’m Peter!
Jesus gave me that name.
It means “Rock.”
I am Peter and…I will not fall!
Turned to Peter.
Looked him straight in the eye.
And said this:
“Truly I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me – three times.” (v.34)
Peter would never forget those exact words.
Before that night was over a group of soldiers had come to arrest Jesus.
Swords, clubs, and spears – Peter was frightened like the rest of the disciples and ran away.
Then, sure, he regained his senses and made it into the courtyard where they were holding the illegal late-night trial of Jesus.
Only to deny knowing him.
But three times.
And then? The rooster crowed.
The one Jesus had predicted would crow - it crowed!
Peter hated roosters now.
Because now they were a reminder of how he had sinned.
A reminder of how he had failed…
A reminder of how he had fallen…
A reminder of his guilt.
Guilt is always tricky. It can easily burden a soul.
But Peter’s guilt was especially difficult for a trifecta of reasons that are especially hard to get over. For a few reasons:
He didn’t deny Jesus one time. He didn’t deny Jesus two times. He denied him three times in one evening. (Although during that third time it says that he called down curses upon himself, so even thought it was one “time period” perhaps it was a bunch of times within that time period).
Repeated guilt is hard.
We were given a good deal on a Prius a while back. Great car. Great gas mileage. Fun to drive.
But it’s extremely low to the ground. The bumper is about 2 inches from the street. So, when you come down our driveway which is on a decent incline…if you don’t turn the wheels at a specific angle to the right and back out at that exact angle – the front bumper scrapes.
Do you know how many times I’ve gotten that wrong? (I’m especially guilty of it every morning when I haven’t had my coffee yet) I keep messing up and I keep feeling guilty about it. In fact, the front bumper is cracked in all kinds of places. And it now serves as a 21st century, sheen black version of a rooster. Every time I look at it, I’m reminded of my failures!
Repeated guilt is hard.
Repeatedly drinking too much.
Repeatedly losing your temper.
Repeatedly looking at porn.
Repeatedly lying to your spouse.
Repeatedly being jerk at work.
Repeatedly being a bully to your family.
Repeated guilt is hard because there’s no excuse.
The devil comes along and says,
You know better!
But you did it anyway.
This is unforgivable.
Because Peter was a leader. He was a disciple; more than that – an apostle. There were only twelve of those hand selected and chosen by Jesus. And of those twelve disciples – Peter was definitely a leader among them: He had the privilege of walking on water. He saw Jesus heal a dead girl when many of them didn’t. He was chosen along with only two others to see Jesus go up on a mountain and reveal his heavenly brilliance. Peter was a leader.
And then he fell.
And when leaders fall…
They quickly become leaders in holding onto guilt.
Maybe you know.
Whether you’re a leader in your family.
Or a leader here at church.
Or a leader among your friends.
Or a teacher of kids.
Or even…you’re the only one at work who is Christian – making you a spiritual leader by default – and then you sin…?
How’s that feel?
The devil comes along and whispers:
“You’re a leader…and you did that?”
“I’m not sure you’re a leader anymore…”
“…I’m not even sure you’re a part of his kingdom.”
Because by the time Peter gets to the third denial, there’s a crowd of people gathered around him:
A crowd of people watch him as he shakes his head vigorously.
A crowd of people listening as cusses out Jesus.
A crowd of people taking mental note of his sin.
I wonder how many of those people Peter saw again.
I wonder how that went?
Public guilt is hard.
There’s this thing I receive every Monday called a Call Report. “Call” is a reference to the special “calling” that a ministry worker has to their particularly congregation. The “call report” details any changes in those ministry positions. It’ll say: “Pastor So-and-So retired.” “Pastor what’s-his-face is switching congregations.” And even “Pastor who’s-his-name has decided to remain at his current congregation.”
But every once in a while, it says this:
“Pastor removed for cause.”
To me, it’s a terrifying expression. It means “removed for doing some gross outward sin.” It’s a phrase that no pastor ever wants said about them. It’s terrifying among our pastor circles, because it is a phrase that screams: “Failure.”
And everyone now knows you as…
Not as a brother.
Not as a pastor.
Not even as your first name…
But as “Pastor, Removed for Cause.”
But as a non-pastor you can feel the same thing.
You might have a sin that your family knows about.
That your coworkers know about.
That your friends saw you do.
And now every moment you spend around them is spent like Peter:
Did they see me sin?
Do they know about my guilt?
Do they think of me as SINNER?
Like you’ve got a big old black marker on your forehead everywhere you go that says: “INSERT SIN HERE.”
Public sin is hard.
Any one of these three types of guilt are challenging on their own! If you’re dealing with any of these, they can overload you. Burden you. Suffocate you.
Peter had to deal with all three all at once. That’s an extreme amount of guilt.
And it needs an extreme amount of restoration.
II. Peter’s Restoration
Peter finished up his breakfast.
Another meal done.
Another visitation from Jesus without having to talk about the sinful things that I did.
If I just keep a low profile, stay quiet, and avoid eye contact, I should be able to avoid him altogether.
Peter turned around to find Jesus standing right in front of him.
Face to face.
Eye to eye.
Heart to heart.
“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
At this point, the conversation seemed a bit too familiar.
Three times? Really?
It reminded him of those three times that he denied Jesus.
Peter said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. (Jn. 21:15-17)
He doesn’t ream Peter out.
He doesn’t kick Peter out.
He doesn’t even respond to Peter’s claims of loving him with: “Umm…No, you didn’t. Remember?”
Jesus doesn’t bring guilt.
He brings restoration.
Restoration to God’s kingdom comes out of Jesus' work.
It didn’t come out of Peter earning it. Peter hadn’t done anything to make up for what he did.
But Jesus did do something.
Jesus did everything.
He lived perfectly when Peter could not.
He died innocently in his place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of Peter’s sin.
The same is true with you.
If you’ve sinned against God.
If you have repeated guilt.
If you have public guilt.
If you have leader guilt.
Jesus doesn’t make you do something to make up for it.
Jesus did everything for you.
He lived perfectly when you could not.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sin.
Remember earlier – when we talked about having a criminal record and how hard it is to find work with that record. One thing that you can do is you can get your record exponged.
It takes a lot of money.
A lot of time with lawyers. '
A lot of paperwork and a lot of pleading with a judge...
But it is sometimes possible to get it expunged, erased and cleared.
Understand this – Jesus has expunged your record.
He did all the work.
He paid for it completely.
Your guilt is expunged, erased, cleared.
In short – listen to Jesus’ message to you right now:
You are restored to my kingdom.
You are guilt free.
You are forgiven…and…You have work to do.
Restoration to God’s kingdom means Restoration to Kingdom Work.
That’s a bit unexpected. Because the devil would love to have you think:
“OK, fine. You are a part of his kingdom, but…Stay in the back. Go into the corner. Hide. Because you are not worthy of being on the front lines.”
But that’s not what Jesus says.
In Peter’s restoration, He goes straight to telling him to work for his kingdom.
He gives him a job.
He restores him not only to his kingdom, but to work in his kingdom.
And God has done the same for you.
He restored you to his kingdom.
He has restored you to kingdom work.
III. Kingdom Work
And what does that kingdom work look like? You get an idea in Jesus’ instruction to Peter.
Feed His Sheep.
Jesus says that is what true love for him is:
Feed my lambs. (v.15)
Take care of my sheep. (v.16)
Feed my Sheep. (v.17)
Does he own a farm I’ve never heard of?
Did he develop some petting zoo?
Does Jesus have a little lamb whose fleece was white as snow?
When Jesus talks about his lambs and his sheep, he’s talking about his people.
When Jesus talks about feeding those lambs and sheep, he’s talking about sharing the message of reconciliation with others.
You know the same message that gives you hope and comfort…
Give it to others!
Love for Jesus means sharing his message.
Telling your neighbor about Jesus.
Spreading the Gospel to your coworkers.
Sharing forgiveness with a church friend.
Teaching the little children about their Savior.
Inviting the community of North Raleigh to hear of God’s love.
He’s talking about our very mission:
To plant the Message of Jesus in the heart of north Raleigh.
When you are sharing the message of forgiveness, you are caring for sheep.
You’re leading someone to streams of living water.
You’re giving them some of God’s forgiveness.
You’re feeding them a steady diet of “Jesus died for you. Believe in him. You are forgiven.”
Here’s the challenge. The devil will love to convince that we aren’t worthy of sharing the message.
He’ll say that you aren’t qualified for that kind of work.
He’ll say that you are a failure.
He’ll say that you should leave that to others who aren’t as much of a failure.
But here’s the thing about feeding sheep.
It doesn’t matter if the farmer puts the food in the bucket.
It doesn’t matter if the farm hand puts the food into the bucket.
It doesn’t matter some disenfranchised, former farm hand puts the food into the bucket.
The sheep eat the food.
The food nourishes the sheep.
The sheep get the health benefits of the food -- no matter the moral background of the one who put the food into the buckets.
It’s the same with kingdom work.
The power is in the Word.
And those who are a part of kingdom are qualified to work with it.
And you…are an important part of his kingdom work.
Feed his lambs.
Take care of his sheep.
Feed them with the Gospel of Jesus.
You know, not that long ago I was watching an old TV show and this particular episode opened with the children in Sunday School. And the teacher was telling them about what an awful, horrible place hell was. How no one would ever, ever want to be there. Without being too graphic, she scared them quite a bit, which led to them asking the inevitable question, “Teacher, how do we make sure we don’t go to hell?”
“By following the ten commandments!”
Maybe for you that’s a facepalm moment. Maybe you know better. But really, out in the world, those who only know Christianity from pop culture… well that is what the answer is, right? Christianity is a system of rules designed to stop you from having any real fun and if you follow them (and just how often or how well you have to follow them is a little fuzzy), but if you follow them – the God rewards you with heaven… right?
I probably shouldn’t even ask that as a question. Because how many people who’ve never really looked into God actually think that? Too many. Too many who maybe feel scared for a bit about eternity at night when their mind is a little too quiet, but they calm themselves by saying, “No, I don’t have to worry. If there really is a God, I’m sure he’s a nice guy and I’m a pretty good person – I’m sure God will take me in if he exists.” That’s not just wishful thinking to many people, it’s what they really believe.
But… why? Why this perception of God? You and I know this is clearly not the case, God does not trade works for Heaven, at least not in the way we would make him out to do it. So why does this perception even exist? In fact, not just why does it exist…why is it the dominant thought of every person who doesn’t know Jesus for real? Why is it every false religion, even every erring branch of Christianity ends up with this notion that you must do something to be saved?
The fact is, it’s simply in our nature. Ever since the first humans betrayed God by reaching for that fruit in the garden. They were told they would be like God if they ate it. They wanted to be like God. They wanted to be in control of their own lives. We have not changed. Every single sin we commit comes back to this one basic principle: I want to be my own god. And that includes, if not saving myself directly, at least doing something to help or show that I’m worthy to be saved. It’s one of our strongest natural inclinations.
Can it work that way? Let’s look into history to see. Because there was a time when God made this deal with the people. It was pretty fair, all things considered. In fact, it was exactly the kind of deal that we want to hear. It was a list of rules, a list of conditions in order to remain in God’s good favor. Follow the rules, keep the law, and everything would be fine. God would be with you, he would protect you, and when the time came, he would take you to be with him forever.
Considering what God was offering, there shouldn’t have been anything he couldn’t ask of his people, and what God was asking wasn’t all that hard. If he was to be your God, then you had to give him the proper worship and honor as God and as far as relating to each other, it was all the sort of stuff anyone would consider basic human decency. Be nice, thoughtful, and fair. And if you messed up a bit here or there, not all hope was lost, you could make a repayment for your crime that would pay for the guilt of it. You would sacrifice something you had to pay for what you’d done. Something else could go in your place. All fair enough, really.
Except the problem was that for as “obvious” and “simple” as anyone would call these rules, nobody was able to keep them. Our society would call them basic human decency, and would say that anyone, properly educated, would be able to follow these rules that basically boil down to thinking about others first. But not one of them was able to do it. Nobody has managed to even go through one day without some selfish action or thought. And anyone who seriously understood how badly they’d failed this covenant would also understand that it was simply impossible to offer enough sacrifices for what they’d done wrong. Day and night they’ve have to be at the temple offering those penalties for breaking the law of God.
It couldn’t be done. No one could earn God’s favor.
And that has not changed in any group that claims there is something you can do to please God. It can’t be done. The demands can’t be met and the penance is never enough. And that was the point of the old covenant. This idea that something I do can make God happy with me; it comes from the depths of the sinful nature. The idea that God can be happy with what I do on my own is pure egotism. It is that old desire to replace God with the self. I can save myself, it says, I do not need God, I can be my own god. The Israelites and everyone since including you and me need to know and be convinced that I cannot make God happy on my own. God’s demands cannot be satisfied by us. The Old Covenant as this deal was called, the law, was never meant to save anyone, it was meant to teach us that we cannot save ourselves.
But that’s only part one of the overall lesson God wants to teach us. Because there is a new covenant, one that teaches us what we really need, what we’re ready for once we’ve learned that we can’t do this ourselves. The author to the Hebrews describes this for us in our reading this evening:
15The Holy Spirit also testifies in Scripture to us, for first he said: 16This is the covenant I will make with them after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws on their hearts and I will write them on their mind. 17Then he adds: And I will not remember their sins and their lawlessness any longer. 18Now where these sins are forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. 19Brothers, we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place through the blood of Jesus. 20It is a new and living way he opened for us through the curtain, that is, his flesh. 21We also have a great priest over the house of God. 22So let us approach with a sincere heart, in the full confidence of faith, because our hearts have been sprinkled to take away a bad conscience, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. 23Let us hold on firmly to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful. 24Let us also consider carefully how to spur each other on to love and good works. 25Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have the habit of doing. Rather, let us encourage each other, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Here it is. “I will not remember their sins and their lawlessness any longer.” (v17) This is the entire basis of the new covenant. The old covenant was a deal: “Do this, and you will be rewarded. Don’t, and you’ll be punished.” We saw how well that turned out. God came with a new covenant. “I will do everything, and you will be rewarded.”
Now this isn’t just arbitrary. God can’t just erase what he’d already set up in the old covenant. The law had to be followed and where it wasn’t followed there had to be sacrifice, in blood. The difference is that now God says, never mind all that. I’ll do it. That is what Jesus is all about. He lived an innocent life completely in line with the law. And he grants you complete and full credit for that life. All the things you are supposed to do, all the things you were supposed to do – as far as God is concerned you’ve done them.
And the failures? The crimes? Again, a payment does need to be made. In blood. And that is the foundation of the new covenant, the blood that was poured out to pay for our crimes. Not just any blood this time, though. The blood of God himself. Poured out for us on the cross, just as we celebrate each time we come to the Lord’s table. This blood is the full sacrifice for all sins. The blood of animals didn’t actually accomplish anything, it was just a symbol for what was coming. The blood of God is valuable enough for all.
This is the new covenant that we enjoy. As the author says here, “Now where these sins are forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.” (v18) There is nothing left to do. We cannot contribute anything to this covenant because it has all already been taken care of.
And the blessings it provides to us are immediate. It’s not just the promise of a future, better life. Yes, that will come. But it changes things here and now, too. By the blood of Jesus, we have the confidence to be able to enter into the Most Holy Place. That was the place of the temple where God’s presence dwelt. And by the law no one was allowed to approach except the high priest and then only once a year after special preparation. Sin divides us from God. But where sin has been forgiven, then there is nothing that stops us from approaching God. This point was driven home when Jesus poured out his blood to make this happen. We’ll see that tomorrow night as the curtain in the temple that separated the Most Holy Place was torn in two from top to bottom! Nothing separates us from our God now that the payment for sins has been made.
We can come before him now with our prayers and petitions, confident that we will be heard. We know that we don’t deserve to have our requests considered, we don’t even deserve to be given a hearing. But our God gives you 100% of his undivided attention whenever you approach him, because this new covenant has made it possible.
And this new covenant changes how we live now. As it’s written here, “I will put my laws on their hearts, and I will write them on their mind.” (v16) The law does not work like it used to. Before we had a heart full of sin and the law came to us from the outside, tried to browbeat us into submission out of fear of eternal death, but it never really changed the heart within. Now we have been cleansed from the inside out by our God and we are each a new creation. The new self that is holy at its core. This means the new self naturally does what God required in his law. Not because it is demanded of us, not because there is a threat if we don’t. The new self lives the law just because…that is who it is!
So as the author encourages us here, hold on to the hope that this new covenant brings. Don’t let anyone chain you back to the law and convince you that your actions are going to determine your salvation. As we grow individually weak, the fire of the group keeps your faith burning bright. Encourage each other to hold to the hope of Christ and let others be an encouragement for you. Keep up your meeting together to worship your Lord, not “because you always have,” or “because it’s what you’re ‘sposed to do,” but because of the benefits it brings your faith and your hope.
And as part of that ongoing building up and strengthening of your faith, celebrate the blood of that covenant that was poured out for you. Treat the supper with reverence, not taking it for granted or as some kind of rote formula you follow, but think about it! Treasure it! Celebrate it! Each time you come forward, let the blessings that God pours out to you through it continually strengthen and encourage you. Let it be another proof and reminder that God has done everything for you. The final day is approaching. Whether it is the last day of this world or the last day you set foot on it, let God prepare you, that your sure hope in eternity is built up and strengthened. This evening as we celebrate the institution of the Lord’s Supper, taste and see that the Lord is good. Rejoice in the new covenant he has made for you. Amen.
We are in the middle of our Fighting Temptation mini-series. So far, we’ve watched Jesus defeat the devil in a one-on-one temptation battle, learned some lessons from the champ, and contrasted the cost of fighting temptation with the cost of NOT fighting.
But maybe so far you have said, “Pastor, this has been nice. It sounds important. I should fight temptation. So…I’ll put it on the schedule for some time this summer.”
It’s like one of emails that goes to your junk mail. You peruse down the list and about 6 emails down is an email, written in all CAPITAL LETTERS, that says, “URGENT” with a few exclamation points behind it!!!
And you blink quickly, move the mouse, and click away.
Is someone in trouble?
Is a friend trying to reconnect?
Am I late on a bill?
“Hello sir. Just a note that there is currently a deal for 10% off pictures frames down at Michaels. We wanted to let you know – because you shopped here…one time…for your wife. This deal is only available for a limited time. So, act now! It’s urgent.”
Until…I get very similar email the very next week.
Maybe, it’s not so urgent.
Do you feel that way about fighting temptation? As if it isn’t urgent?
Today Jesus himself is going to explain to us the urgency of fighting temptation. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. An Urgent Warning
We are studying Luke 13 today. Look at what verse 1 says, “Now there were some…who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.”
This is a bit strange, so a bit of background. Galilee was a country that was in the northern area of the Holy Land. Galileans were people who lived in Galilee. Apparently, some Galileans had been in the temple offering sacrifice (aka worshipping God) when the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate (he’s going to become very important as we get closer to Good Friday) ordered that they be killed. It’d be similar to a church shooting. Which unfortunately, is not unheard of.
It wasn’t unheard of back then either! According to Josephus, a Jewish historian, Pilate did this about five different times during his reign. Each time it was violent. Each time it was awful. Each time it was a very disheartening event.
That’s why the people were talking to Jesus about it.
It was troubling.
Like some kind of awful current event (take your pick: shooting, bombing, kidnapping, rape, etc.), they were trying to make sense of what had happened.
The answer that was most popular?
These guys must have been terrible sinners.
They must have done something really, really, really bad.
I heard that they were running an illegal drug ring through the temple.
This was a punishment for them!
Jesus overhears it and, being true God, He offers a unique assessment that a sinful human being would never be able to offer:
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (v2-3)
First thing to understand about Jesus’ statement:
Sin is sin is sin. The Bible teaches that, “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) It teaches that “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.” (Romans 3:23) It teaches that “If you stumble at just one point, it’s as good as breaking all of God’s law.” (James 2:10) Sin is sin is sin. It’s all awful to God. Therefore, these Galileans killed in the temple were not worse sinners than any one else.
The slaughter in the temple wasn’t some kind of special judgment by God against a special breed of sinners.
But in case you’re reading this and you’re saying, “Well, okay. This wasn’t. It was done by Pilate. A sinful human being acting in a sinful, fallen world. But what about natural disasters? That’s the kind of stuff that only God can control. What about tornadoes down in Mississippi and flooding in the Midwest? Is that God’s judgment against them?”
Look at Jesus’ next words: “Those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them (a natural disaster. Not a murder. Still horrific.) —do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (v.4-5)
The Galilean slaughter was not a special punishment.
The Implosion of the Siloam tower was not a special punishment either.
Stop looking at these horrific events for the sake of others.
Look at them for the sake of yourself.
As a warning.
A reminder that life is short.
As a wakeup call to repent! To get right with God. To stop sinning before God acts against you!
Here's the first truth God wants you to get through your head this morning: “Don’t view disaster as an indictment of others, but as a warning to yourself.”
Stop pointing at others.
Stop ignoring your own sins.
Stop thinking, “I love this sermon. Go get ‘em pastor! In particular, look at this guy right next to me. He needs to hear this.”
You need to hear this.
Even if you’ve been a Christian for 40 plus years.
You need to hear this.
Because if you don’t…
Jesus continues. From horrific current events to gardening:
“A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any.“ (v.6)
Ever had a fig before? They’re pretty tasty. This man must have really liked them. In fact, I picture him having a gigantic, fig tree farm with thousands and thousands of fig trees growing. It makes him a lot of money for fig jam, fig jelly, and fig Pop Tarts.
Every once in a while, he takes a break from the paperwork of owning a fig tree farm to go and walk through his product line. He marvels at the beautiful of the trees. He samples some of the figs as he goes. He whistles to himself as he is so happy for how well everything is growing.
There’s that one tree again.
(He remembers it from last year)
Not a lot of green.
Seems kinda sickly looking.
“The owner said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to Look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any.’” (v.7a)
It isn’t producing. It isn’t doing what we planted it to do. A fig tree without figs on it is…worthless.
“Cut. It. Down!” (v.7b)
Friends. This is more than garden tip.
This story has a spiritual meaning.
God has brought you into his family.
To fight sin.
To bear fruit.
To bear the fruit of the spirit: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
And if God is walking through his rows of Spirit fruit trees…
And he walks past the section where you are planted…
And you aren’t bearing fruit?
Instead of love – hatred.
Instead of joy – complaint.
Instead of peace – grumbling.
Instead of fighting temptation – enjoying the sin that you’re doing.
What do you think the Father will say?
It’s the worst three words that God could ever say about you.
Cut. It. Down.
II. A Patient Promise
Thankfully for the fate of the fig tree this isn’t the end of the story. Because while the owner is the one who paid for him to be planted, he has another friend who cares for him.
The gardener is the one who has been watering this tree for three years.
He’s seen it struggle.
He’s weeded it.
He’s fertilized it.
He’s even gotten up at 5am to come out and sing Eric Clapton to it.
For three years, he’s put his heart and soul into getting that fig tree to bear figs.
And he isn’t ready to give up…not yet.
“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (v.8)
Friends, you have a gardener, too.
You have someone who cared so deeply for your soul that when he saw your fruitless, sin-filled life, he came to earth and died on a tree to save you.
Jesus is an advocate on our behalf! The Bible says, “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous one.” (1 Jn. 2:1) It says, “Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for us.” Romans 8:34) It says, “Jesus is our Great High Priest…that we approach God’s throne with confidence.” (Hebrews 4:14, 16)
Do you get it?
Jesus is pleading to the Father on your behalf, while pleading to you on behalf of Him!
And here’s the good news: It’s working.
How do I know?
Well, you’re here today.
You’re listening to this message.
You get to hear Jesus’ voice calling to you right now.
No matter how barren your branches are.
No matter how dead your spiritual life looks.
No matter how shriveled your attempts at fighting temptation have been.
God has been patient with you.
You have not been cut down.
And it isn’t as if the gardener said, “If it bears three times as much fruit next year in order to make up for the past three years of not bearing any at all, fine.”
He didn’t say, “I think that this tree will be worth the wait because it’s fruit will make some top-notch jam—better than the rest.”
He didn’t say, “As long as it produces 27 figs by this time next year, then we won’t cut it down.”
The fig tree doesn’t need to earn the right to be called a fig tree.
It simply needs to do what it was made to do.
And you don’t need to earn the right to bear fruit.
You simply do what God called you to do.
You won’t be cut down!
You’ll one day be transplanted from your life on this earth – to eternal life in heaven.
III. What Now?
With the urgency of death lingering and the promise of God’s grace patiently keeping us alive, WHAT NOW for this week? A few things:
It’s a phrase that appears twice, word for word in this section from Jesus. If Jesus thinks it is important enough to repeat, I think we should repeat it:
Unless you repent, then you too will perish. (v.3, 5)
Repent means to turn.
To do a 180.
To turn from sin to Savior.
To turn from falling to temptation to fighting temptation.
To turn from unbelief to faith in Jesus.
It’s like watching Pee Wee Football. And there’s that little running back, the one that looks like his pads are gonna swallow him up. It’s the end of the game and the team is up by 4 touchdowns, so the coach calls a play to give him the ball. After the quarterback hands it off, he turns, he runs…and goes in the exact opposite direction of his endzone.
And the coach is screaming, “TURN AROUND! TURN AROUND!”
And the crowd is shouting, “TURN AROUND! TURN AROUND!”
And his teammates are chasing after him to tackle him and stop him and turn him around!
That’s what God is doing with us here today.
When we sin, we go the wrong way.
Today, God calls out to you – repeatedly, persistently, patiently, lovingly – TURN AROUND!
Turn to Me.
Turn to salvation.
(2) Be Urgent about It
Because absolutely nothing in Jesus’ words today imply that you’ve got all the time in the world.
Nope. In fact, the point is that you don’t know how much time you have at all.
Before Pilate has you murdered.
Or a tower falls on top of you.
Or you get sick.
Or in a car accident.
Or have a stroke.
Our time is short.
Do not wait on repenting when you’re older.
Get urgent about fighting sin.
Fighting addiction? Seek help today.
Fighting greed? Give more money in the offering plate.
Fighting hatred? Ask God to soften your heart.
Fighting sexual temptation? Stop putting yourself in situations to sin.
If you’re fighting the temptation to continue to NOT follow Jesus – keep fighting against it!
Put your trust in your Savior.
Be urgent about fighting temptation because Jesus was urgent about fighting for you.
He came swiftly off his heavenly throne.
He suffered death.
He quickly and efficiently defeated it by rising from the dead.
(3) Be Patient about Others
Because it is so easy for us to be patient with ourselves, “C’mon guys. Greed is a hard thing. Give me time to get past this sin.”
But not so patient with others, “That dude was a jerk to me AND it’s the second time! God!?! Get him.”
But we can’t react like that. Not when God has every reason to cut us all down simultaneously right now, but he hasn’t.
Because God is patient with us, we are patient with others.
We forgive them.
We love them.
We kindly rebuke them…again and again and again and again.
We share the Gospel with them…even if it’s 8 years running.
There’s this one guy that I invite to Easter every year. I’ve invited him for seven years in a row – this year will be my eighth. Sometimes I invite with a text message. Sometimes with an email. Sometimes with a voice message. Sometimes it includes a graphic design. Sometimes it includes a Bible passage. Sometimes it includes a brief synopsis of the Gospel.
Every year? He doesn’t come.
I was thinking about not doing it this year.
About wiping my hands.
And shaking the dust off my feet.
I’ll guess I’ll invite him again.
Friends – be patient in your interactions with others.
Take advantage of the Easter season.
Share the Gospel.
Share the Gospel.
And after you’ve done that.
Share the Gospel some more.
Patiently planting while urgently fighting temptation! Amen.
Last week we started a sermon series called FRESH. The goal was to get a FRESH start in 2019. We started by getting a FRESH perspective on our relationship with God. We saw Jesus interact with a guy named Levi whom many religious leaders considered a ‘scum of the earth’ sinner to flip our perspectives on God and humans around. We learned that God came for sinners, not the righteous. The Savior from sin did not come for the sinless, but for the sinful.
This is exciting news.
But…maybe you don’t feel so excited.
Ever been to the farmer’s market? There’s one close by that bills itself as full of fresh, local produce. And to be fair – it is! As you walk around, there’s fresh asparagus, locally grown sweet potatoes, and dark green collards that will make delicious cooked greens.
But as you get somewhere near the midst of the market…
Amid Kinston, and even Raleigh proper…
There in the corner, you see it:
A big ol’ section of Florida Oranges.
They’ve even got the FLORIDA orange stickers on them as they sit right underneath the “Local, Fresh Market” sign.
Maybe you feel like that.
Maybe you feel like God’s kingdom is filled with religious looking people.
And, yes, Jesus came for sinners, but…Me? I’m a big, bad sinner.
Like a 3-week old Florida orange in a North Carolina Local Fresh market:
I don’t belong.
Today we are going to take the message of God’s love that brings a FRESH start and look at how it personally affects you. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Personally Given by God
The lesson for today comes from the book of Titus. Titus, the book, is a letter written to Titus, the person. Titus, the person, first appears in a few other New Testament books. He came to faith in Jesus from the preaching of a pastor named Paul. But Titus didn’t just become a peripheral believer. He became an active member of the early church. He worked with Paul. He became a missionary. He helped start churches.
Eventually all of this experience led Paul to appoint Titus as the Lead Pastor of the congregation in Crete.
Now I imagine this was an exciting new job for Titus:
He got to share the Gospel!
He got to lead a group of believers to share the good news with their community.
He got to high five kids in children’s lessons.
And he always got the leftovers from the fellowship after worship.
But being a pastor doesn’t come without its challenges.
And being a pastor in Crete didn’t come without challenges, too:
Hotheaded Elders. The elders in church were being quite hot-headed with each other. There were disagreements and arguments. Consider this: Titus was younger than them. It is not so easy to tell older men what to do, let alone rebuke them. (2:1-2)
A Sin-filled Ladies’ Aid. The ladies aid got together to drink wine and gossip. Again – Titus was a lot younger than them. It must have been difficult to go from the “cute, little pastor’s assistant” to their pastor who rebukes them. (2:4)
Peers Struggling with Impurity. The young men were struggling with purity. Titus’ job was to stick out like a sore thumb among his peers and tell them to live pure lives – to stop looking at porn and stop sleeping with people that they weren’t married to. Have you ever tried to tell your peers that what they are doing isn’t right? It’s not so easy. (2:6)
False Doctrine. Some in the church believed things that weren’t true about Jesus; and some of those who believed it were teaching it in their version of group Bible study. Titus’ job? To tell them they were wrong and show them why they were wrong…even if they have doctorates, even if they have master’s degrees, even if Titus was still fairly new to this whole pastor thing! (2:1)
With all these challenges, I imagine that Titus was having some doubts.
I know it, because I’ve experienced the same thing as a pastor.
How can I be their leader?
How can I tell them to stop sinning when I’ve done the same sins?
How can I be the one to give them wisdom when I struggle to make the wise decisions every day?
How could I ever be worthy of being in God’s kingdom? Let alone serving in it?
Paul thought Titus needed encouragement. That’s why he wrote the letter to his comrade. Look at some of the encouragement: At one time, we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. (3:3)
Wait a second.
Titus is struggling with his worthiness to be a leader in God’s church.
And Paul’s encouraging response is to remind him of his total unworthiness?
And yet that’s what Paul tells Titus:
You were foolish! You didn’t know anything about God’s word.
You were disobedient! You did the same lustful things that the young men are struggling with.
You were deceived – following all kinds of false teachings and wrong viewpoints.
You were enslaved – with sin, with temptation, with guilt and shame.
Why would these words of discouragement be the words Paul uses to encourage Titus?
Because Paul thinks it is vitally important for Titus to understand this:
A Spiritual FRESH Start is NOT of Oneself Personally.
Imagine for a moment if you were really sweaty. Like really, really sweaty.
Like a one-hour workout at the Crossfit gym – biking, running, sit-ups.
You want to freshen up, so…
You take a shower.
You wash with soap.
You even spray on some nice cologne.
Then, you put on the exact same sweaty gym clothes that you had before.
Think about it:
If Titus really was going to start his FRESH Position as a FRESH Titus, the same, non-fresh things would happen!
He’d mess up.
He’d wake up the next day.
And sin and fail and mess up.
He’d feel like he was putting on the same sweaty, stale unspiritual, sinful self every day.
And I’ll tell you the truth.
If you try to start the new year FRESH, by using the same old power, motivation and strength (namely – your own) as you have in the past – it won’t be long before you smell that same old stench of sin.
Instead, look elsewhere for spiritual freshness elsewhere
That’s where Paul directs Titus: When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (v.4-5)
Did you catch that?
It wasn’t because of Titus that Titus was personally saved.
It wasn’t because of Titus’ own accomplishments.
It wasn’t because of his own works.
It wasn’t because of he, himself, or him!
It was because of God!
It was because of God’s love.
It was because of God’s mercy.
The same is true with you.
Your fresh start isn’t personally of you but personally of God!
God, who is holy…
God, who is divine…
God, who doesn’t have an ounce of sin in him…
God, who is merciful to save you from your miserable state…
That God is the God who had a hand in your own personal fresh start!
It’s similar to going to a Five Star Restaurant. It is disappointing to find out that your food isn’t prepared by the Five Star Chef and will only be prepared by his assistant. It’s just not as good. There’s a bit too much seasoning; the fish is uncooked; and the chicken Cordon Bleu is chicken Cordon “Meh.”
But when the Five Star Chef personally has a hand in your dish, it is magnifique!
God personally had a hand in your worthiness.
His hand was nailed to a cross.
His hand shed His blood.
His hand went limp as He died for you.
Three days later…
His hand moved again.
His hand had blood rushing back into it.
His hand was raised in victory as the conquering hero who saved you!
He tells you.
That you, yes you.
You, and I’m not kidding about this.
You, my believing friend, are forgiven.
Because of this, you, yes, YOU; have a FRESH start.
II. Baptism – a Personalized Gift
But that’s not all. Because God is such a God that he doesn’t stop at personally giving you a FRESH start.
Nope. He proclaims it to you in one of the most personal ways ever.
He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.
Have you ever been to a church service – and the message is on point! And it’s filled with God’s grace and forgiveness and Jesus your Savior.
And you look around and you see everybody nodding their heads. They look enlightened. They are smiling. A few of them are even throwing in an “Amen.”
And you do too, fit in, but not to draw too much attention to yourself.
Yet…the reality is…
You feel like this message isn’t for you.
That nice-looking church lady over there. She’s even got one of those cross medallions fastened to her pocket. The message is definitely for her.
And that friendly church usher who is always so psyched for worship. It’s probably for him.
But not me.
I have sin.
I have a lot of sin.
The message is for them, not me.
In Baptism, God doesn’t leave you room for doubt. Because in Baptism…
…who else is having their sins washed away than the one whose body is being washed with water?
…who else is being welcomed by the triune God, then the one who is having the name of the Triune God spoken over him?
…who else is being covered in God’s love, then the one whose forehead is covered with water miraculous connected with God’s love?
…who else is being baptized into God’s kingdom, but the one who is being baptized into God’s kingdom!?!
In Baptism, God Gives a Fresh Start to you Personally.
And we know that it works! Because look at the power behind it: God saved us…by the Holy Spirit…through Jesus Christ. (v. 6)
Did you catch that? It is the Triune God himself! The real, divine, three persons in one God, God himself who is actively providing the power in Baptism.
That’s important because the power of this personalized fresh start isn’t dependent on the kind of water that is used. (Wait…has that water gone through three levels of purification?)
It isn’t dependent on the pastor’s morality! (“We’ll have to reschedule for tomorrow. Because I looked at my Facebook feed this morning and had all kinds of unchristian thoughts…”)
It isn’t even dependent on the sincerity of my personal confession. (“I’ll have to redo my baptism because I’m not so certain that I totally meant it.”)
It isn’t event dependent on my age. (“Was I old enough to try make MY baptism effective?”)
The power in Baptism is dependent on God.
The Holy Spirit.
Baptism is personally powered by the Triune God!
Your sins are no match for the volcano-erupting power of our Father!
Your guilt is no match for the holy, innocent blood of Jesus Christ.
Your doubts are no match for the faith producing power of the Holy Spirit.
And this isn’t a one-time power.
It isn’t as if God did this for you one time, but after that you were on your own.
Look again at what kind of a baptism it is: “A washing of rebirth and renewal.”
Rebirth implies a new life.
Rebirth implies a new identity.
Rebirth implies a new being entirely!
Think about it.
We were sinful, now we are forgiven.
We were enslaved, now we are free.
We were foolish, now we are called wise.
We were disobedient, now we are obedient.
We have been reborn!
For Titus, his baptism meant that he could approach his work in God’s kingdom with complete and utter confidence. He had a new identity in Jesus!
For you, your baptism means that you can approach your work in God’s kingdom with the same complete and utter confidence. You have a new identity in Jesus.
But it’s not just about rebirth; it’s also about renewal.
That’s a word that has a negative connotation for me. Because about 5 years ago we signed up for a 1-year magazine trial to Time Magazine and Real Simple Magazine. The deal was that we get an entire year of issues for $2. Every year come Christmas – because I’m not busy during Christmas – as I’m looking at our bank account to make sure that we will survive Christmas presents – I notice a charge from the magazine companies for about $200. And I call the number associated with it – and they are so thankful that I automatically renewed my subscription at full price for a full year!
Usually I select cancel and they tell me I can’t cancel, but GREAT NEWS! I have been selected for a 1 year’s subscription for $2.
Think of Baptism as the incredible, automatically renewing promise of God.
Because nowhere does God’s Word say: “You did wrong. You need another Baptism.” That would make Baptism into a temporal human work.
Instead, the Bible views it as God’s enduring, eternal promise. A promise that renews.
When you are done with an especially sin heavy day – But I am baptized! God made me his child.
When you are dealing with an especially strong temptation – but I am baptized! God put me in his kingdom.
When you are heavy laden with guilt – but I am baptized! – Jesus promised me forgiveness.
The promise of baptism offers personal renewal.
Every day renewal in God’s grace.
III. WHAT NOW?
1) If you aren’t Baptized, Be Baptized
If you haven’t been baptized, be baptized. Because in baptism, you receive the personalized gift of God for you personally in a very personal method.
If you haven’t been baptized, be baptized.
Or at least do this: Talk to me about it.
Write a note on your connection card.
Let’s have a conversation to answer your questions over coffee.
And you might say: “Well, I’m not sure if I’m ready. I’m not sure that I’m worthy of this blessing.”
You’re right. You aren’t.
But baptism isn’t something that you need to become worthy of receiving.
It’s something that by receiving you become worthy because of your connection to your Savior.
Do you believe in Jesus? Be baptized.
2) If you are Baptized, Remember it!
Sometimes during a birthday party, you open up a photo album or head to your iPhone and start to look at past birthdays.
There’s the one where you tried to put out the candle with your finger.
The one where crazy Uncle Joe tried to convince you that you were turning into a monkey.
The one where all your friends came over, ate up the cake, and ran around playing Ninja Turtles for 3 hours.
But don’t forget to reflect on your Rebirthday.
Because of your Rebirthday you have a new identity.
Because of your Rebirthday you have a new name – forgiven.
Because of your Rebirthday you have a fresh, new purpose!
This is the picture you need to remember no matter what you face in 2019.
You have a FRESH start.
It’s of God’s eternal promise and power.
It’s who you are today, tomorrow and always – thanks to God’s promise.
We are continuing our series called the Light of the World. We have already heard that the Light shines against the Darkness of this world and that it shines into the darkness of our own hearts. But today we want to unveil in Scripture how Jesus’ light shines through you.
Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Why Shine?
The lesson for this morning comes from Matthew 5:14-16. In this section, Jesus says: You are the light of the world… (v.14-16)
In context, the “you” is a reference to the people that were listening to Jesus out on a mountain.
By extension, it is a reference to people that listen to Jesus’ words in the 21st century.
By specific extension, it is a reference to people that are listening to Jesus in a cozy little church building in North Raleigh on December 23rd, 2018.
And Jesus has an important edict for you. He says, “You are the light of the world…Let your light shine.”
It’s similar to putting up Christmas lights. Maybe this happens to you. You put all of the lights up. You intricately string the lights around the tree. You pass over branches and under ornaments. You have it all nicely arranged and then? You gather the family around with a mug of hot cocoa to plug the lights in and…
You might say to the lights “SHINE! That’s what I bought you for. Shine already!” You might turn and twist and prod and poke and replace the little bulb that “I think it looks burnt out.” All along the way you start muttering: “Shine already.”
When you tell a light to shine, you are simply telling it to do what it is was made to do.
And when God tells us to shine, he is asking us to do exactly what he made us to do.
God tells you to shine:
Because that’s what light does.
Growing up, one of my sisters saved up some money and bought a little mechanical sunflower from Radio Shack. The little mechanical sunflower was an alarm clock that when it went it off – it didn’t make one of those loud BEEPING noises. Nor did it make one of those obnoxious CLANGING sounds.
It was worse.
Whenever the alarm went off it began to sing:
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey.
Haven’t you noticed, how much I love you; so don’t take my sunshine away.”
It always sang in this high-pitched chipmunk voice.
It always sang very early in the morning.
It always sang when I didn’t feel like being anybody’s sunshine!
Maybe Jesus’ words strike you like that.
Pastor, I don’t feel very much like shining. I’ve been really cranky this Holiday season.
Rather than jolly, I’ve been “jelly” of all the other mom friends on Facebook who have it together enough to get Christmas photos taken – and in the mail – and with actual words on them!
Rather than merry, I’ve been mercilessly badmouthing my coworker Fred so that I might get the biggest Christmas bonus this year.
Rather than cheery, I’ve been rather dreary. Because Christmas doesn’t distract from the fact that my life isn’t going so well right now!
And honestly…I FEEL like a screw up.
I FEEL like a sinner.
I FEEL like a no good, dirty rotten scoundrel.
I feel like a terrible husband, a horrible mom, and a very bad child.
I do not feel like a light at all.
How can I possible be one?
Do remember this phrase from a sermon or two ago?
“You were once darkness, but now…you are light in the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8)
Do you get it?
You are not a light based on what you do for God; but on what God has done for you.
You are not a light based on how you lived; but on how Christ lived.
You are not a light based on how you feel; but on what Christ felt for you.
And here’s what Christ did.
He lived perfectly when you could not.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly – in a brilliant flash of light – conquering sin and death.
And now He has made you a light.
Like a match that lights a candle, Christ lights the fabric of our hearts.
He calls you forgiven.
He calls you his child.
He calls you HIS LIGHT.
Even when you don’t feel like light.
That is exactly what you are.
Because that is what Christ made you.
But that’s not even the end game. Look at the next point:
“You are the light of the world…Let your light shine before people that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (v.14)
Glorify is an interesting verb. It means to make brilliant. To light up. To exalt brilliantly.
It’s a word associated with hosts of angels shining brightly in the sky on the very first Christmas.
With Jesus’ face when it shone brightly on a mountain outside Jerusalem.
With the glory of the light filled resurrection of Jesus.
And the word has a subtle shift when it comes to those who don’t have the ability to manifest actual, physical, visible light:
When we see the amazing thing of our Savior’s birth, we glorify God.
When we see the brilliance of his face on the mountain, we glorify God.
When we hear of the amazing truth of his resurrection, we glorify God.
And when we let our light shine before people, they see it and sometimes – they glorify God too.
It’s like a chain reaction.
God enlightens your heart.
You become a light.
Then, he uses you to share the message of his glory.
He brings them to the light, too.
God wants us to shine, because that’s how the light spread
To put it differently:
God wants us to share our faith because that’s how faith spreads.
II. Tips on Shining
1) Hide it Under a Bushel? NO!
That’s a phrase from a famous children’s song, but I think it finds its origins in this section from Matthew. Jesus says, “People do not light a lamp and put it under a bowl.” (Mt. 5:14)
That doesn’t make much sense does it? I doubt, for instance, that any of you spent hours adorning your Christmas tree with Christmas tree lights only to cover it with a big, black shroud.
Nor would it make any sense to buy ask for a brand-new lamp for Christmas. One from Joanna Gaine’s collection. Open up the present at Christmas, run over to a nearby outlet, plug it in, turn it on, and then place a big old bucket over the top of it.
It doesn’t make much sense to cover any kind of a lamp.
Similar – it doesn’t make sense to cover up your faith.
And yet, it’s so easy to do.
Don’t cover up your light.
Don’t hide it under a bushel.
Or a bowl.
Or a non-Christian everyday life veneer.
Don’t hide your faith.
Let it shine.
2) Put your Faith in a Prominent Place
Jesus says, “People do not light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand so that it gives light to everyone in the room.” (v.15)
We’ve been talking about getting some new LED lamps in the parking lot. And I was talking to the Duke Energy guy and he started discussing with me the amount lumens, the wattages and the shine radius. The shine radius allows you to see where the light of the new lamps will touch. He even had graph paper with little lines to show exactly how far we might expect light to go and the best position to place the fixture on the pole to get maximum exposure.
Why not do the same with our faith?
Why not position ourselves to maximize the sharing of our faith?
Rather than hide it, place your faith in a prominent place of your life.
Talk about your Savior with a family member who doesn’t believe in their Savior.
Make sure your Christmas cards mention the reason for the season.
Tell your kids that Jesus loves them.
Don’t shy away from posting inspirational Bible passages on social media.
Don’t stop asking your spouse to join you for worship.
Don’t remove the Jesus’ background from your computer just because that one guy in the cubicle next to you doesn’t love it.
And let your faith shine through your actions -
Hold more doors than normal.
Make someone else a cup of cocoa.
Give a very generous gift to someone that you know needs it.
Let your light have a prominent place in your life and then…
3) Be Non-Selective in Shining
Because it is so easy to be picky and choosy with whom we want to share the message of Jesus.
Let’s see – I’ll invite that coworker who I know already knows about Jesus. But that one guy – that I’m unsure about? I’ll just wish him Happy Holidays.
And I’ll be sure to give a nice Christmas card to neighbor A. But neighbor B? He’s kind of my enemy. So…no card for him.
I will absolutely share the message of Christmas with my family – except for cousin Bob, because his sexual preference makes sharing Jesus, kinda, uncomfortable.
Jesus says that when someone puts a light on a stand it “gives light to everyone in the room.” (v.15)
Lamps aren’t selective.
They don’t stop shining when they are around someone who makes them uncomfortable is around.
You don’t stop shining either.
So, here’s the challenge. You still have time.
Think about someone that makes you nervous.
Someone that you don’t necessarily like.
Got them in mind?
Cool. Now, go and shine.
Shine the light of your Savior into their heart.
For motivation? Think of your Savior!
He died for you while you were knee deep in disgusting sins.
He rose for you while you treated him like an enemy.
He brought his message of love to you while you were doing the very things that he hates!
Because of his non-selective way of shining on us, we are non-selective in the way that we shine, too!
4) Share in Your “House”
Because it mentions that the lamp on a stand gives light to everyone in the house. (v.15) It doesn’t give light to people outside the walls of the house, because it’s just a small table lamp. It can only be expected to shine so far.
Because it might be impossible for you to let your light shine to someone in China.
it will be really hard to let your light shine to someone in Australia.
It may even be difficult to let your light shine to someone across town.
That doesn’t mean that we stop shining.
We simply shine wherever God has placed us.
That means in your literal home.
…With your spouse.
…With your children.
…With the guests that join you for Christmas meals!
But it also means…anywhere you have spherical influence!
…at the hair salon.
…at the Starbucks.
…in line at the grocery store.
…to your mail person.
…to your UPS guy.
…The FedEx guy.
…to your Amazon Prime delivery guy.
…at the health club
…at the brewpub.
…even with your fellow friends at Raid night!
Whatever your sphere of influence is, be sure to shine!
Show love with your actions.
Share the message of Jesus.
Because we have kind of a big task.
God tells us to shine around the world.
Even when we understand our sphere of influence and we aim to let our light shine in North Raleigh…
But remember – you aren’t shining alone.
You aren’t responsible as one little candle with lighting up the whole city of Raleigh.
You have each other.
You have other Christians.
You have your Savior.
And Jesus? He’s not just another candle.
He’s like one of those gigantic, 10,000 lumen LED spotlights at a football stadium.
He shines brighter than anyone.
He shines brightly with you.
He shines brightly through you.
I have a dog who really, really, really loves us. His name is Clay and he is a black lab. He loves to be at home. He loves to have his people by him. If he is out in our backyard and the backdoor, glass sliding door is closed – he won’t go play in the backyard. He will sit by that back door and whine like a Hyena until you let him in.
He always likes to be by his people.
He always likes to be home.
The other day we were coming home. I opened the front door and had my hands full. So, I went inside to put the bags on the front counter and left the front door open so that I could get out quick and get the rest of the bags from the back of the car. Clay, of course, stayed happily next to me, licking my knees, hopping up and down, slobbering everywhere.
That is until Clay saw something far more interesting than me.
Clay looked past me.
He looked to the front yard.
Clay saw…a SQUIRREL!
Clay ran out the door, he started down the block, he was running down the street away from me.
And I shouted after him:
“Clay! Come back!”
“Clay! Come Home!”
But it wasn’t working. Then, as Clay was running down the block out of sight - I had an idea:
I think he set the record for fastest 200-meter dash in history.
When dogs go away from home, they need to be reminded of a reason to return.
The same is true with people and God.
Whether you’ve been completely away from God or away from his Word or away from his people in a church, when people have been away for a while, we need to be reminded of a reason to return.
That’s theme for Back to Church Sunday.
That’s the theme for our RETURN sermon series.
God is calling you to return to Him.
But what kind of bone does God have?
What reasons does He give for us to return?
Our goal this morning is to look at a story that Jesus told about sheep to identify the first and most powerful reason to return to God. 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 Religious Climate
The text for today coming from Luke 15 beginning at verse 1. It says, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (v.1-2)
A bit of background:
The Pharisees. The Pharisees were the religious elite of the day. They were the type that always looked like they had it all together. There were the Boy Scouts. Do-gooders. They were like Wally Cleaver in Leave it to Beaver. They were the model religious citizens. They wore fancy religious jewelry. They had fancy religious beards – cut at regulation length. If they would have Facebook, they were the type of people who would post every hour on the hour about all the awesome religious things that they have been doing. #WeArePerfectAndYou’reNot
To be fair Jesus was, too. He was kind. He was gentle. He didn’t do anything immoral. He knew his Scriptures well like a Pharisee. He knew the Old Testament well like a Pharisee. He knew the Jewish Ceremonial commands well like a Pharisee. In reality, Jesus was a dream candidate for being a Pharisee! He’s the kind of guy that the Pharisees would have loved to have in the group for no other reason than it would make them look good by association.
By all outward appearances, the Pharisees and Jesus should have gotten along.
But they didn’t.
To be fair – their teachings agreed to a certain point.
They both taught that God wants us to keep The Ten Commandments.
They both taught that God demands humans be perfect.
They both taught that humans are imperfect.
They both taught that this imperfection disqualified people from the perfect halls of heaven.
They both taught the same problem.
But they taught VERY different solutions:
The Pharisees taught: Try to be perfect “like us” and you might gain heaven.
Stop lusting so much.
Stop gossiping so much.
Wear religious jewelry like us.
Wear your regulation beard like us.
Always wash your hands before you eat, like us.
Try to be perfect “like us” and you might, maybe, possibly-ish, gain heaven…but probably not.
Jesus was one of the only common people in Israel who seemed to be able to do what the Pharisees did.
Jesus was one of the only common people who did what the Pharisees did BETTER than the Pharisees did.
But that’s not what he taught.
You can’t be perfect. Believe in me and you will gain heaven.
This is why Jesus had attracted a crowd very different from the Pharisees.
The Pharisees attracted those who liked to think that they had their life together.
Jesus attracted those who knew that they didn’t.
Like Tax Collectors. Tax Collectors were not very popular people in the first century because (1) they were collecting taxes (2) they worked for the Roman government that was enforcing their rule on the Jewish people (3) they cheated people. They told people who owed $10 that their tax was $20 and pocketed the extra $10. Tax collectors were shamed by Jewish society. Tax collectors were not welcomed with the religious leaders.
Jesus welcomed them.
Jesus promised them a friend.
Jesus promised them heaven.
“Sinners.” Which is such a strange phrase. Because the implication is not that the religious leaders were NOT sinners, they were; the implication was that some people were such sinners and doing such gross sins that the only word that could be used to describe them was: “Sinner.”
Like Prostitutes. They sold their bodies. They sinned against God’s plan for marriage. They hung out in the red-light district, not the temple. They were welcomed by clients, not the religious elite. They were shunned by society, and to be honest, might be shunned by us today.
But Jesus didn’t shun them.
Jesus didn’t think of them as too dirty or too gross.
Jesus welcomed them.
He promised them heaven.
II. The One Who Really, Really, Really Loved His Sheep
This whole situation rubbed the religious leaders of the day. How could God want anything to do with those scum of society people? How could Jesus claimed to be from God if He hung out with those scum of society people?
Hence – their interruption; “Look at THIS GUY, why does he hang out with tax collectors and sinners?” (v.2)
Jesus overhears them.
Jesus gets the crowd to quiet down.
Jesus walks over towards the religious leaders.
Jesus gives them the answer:
Suppose there’s a man that has a hundred sheep. Which is a decent amount of sheep. It meant that man could produce wool. It means that he could make money. It meant that he had money. It means the man was quite wealthy.
But on this particular evening, as the sheep are herded into the sheep pen for the night…the servants count:
“97, 98, 99…” Hmm. Let me do that again. “97, 98, 99…Oh.”
He heads up the dirt road to the owner’s house, knocks on the door and tells the owner the bad news. “Sir, we’ve lost one of the sheep. We counted a few times and number 57 isn’t there. I counted. Bob counted. 99 is all we have. I don’t know. He must have gotten lost or wandered or maybe a wolf got him.”
Regardless, it’s only one. There are 99 others? We’ll recover.
The man listens.
He wipes away a tear.
And shakes his head.
“No. I must go after him.”
He pushes off of the table, runs over to the door and grabs his outer cloak.
“Don’t wait up for me! I’m not coming back until I bring that sheep back with me.”
He goes out into the dark.
He goes out through the rain.
He searches for hoof prints.
He shouts his call at the top of the lungs: “Come sheep! Come Sheep! Come Sheep!”
Then, tired. Wearied. Ready to give up. His flashlight catches a glimpse of something.
A patch of wool – it’s caught on a bramble bush.
He approaches the bush:
“Sheep! Is that you sheep?”
A low, pained bleat replies.
The man wastes no time. He shoves his arms through the brambles. He’s scratched; he’s bleeding.
He cuts the sheep loose and frees him.
He gives him a hug.
Then, he puts the sheep on his shoulders and sprints to his house. All the while shouting:
“I found him! I found him.”
Waking the neighbors:
“I found him! I found my sheep!”
He’s going to get a misdemeanor for disorderly conduct:
“I found that sheep that was lost. My sheep! He was lost; he is found. He is…home.”
A touching story, right?
Thanks for telling it Jesus. It might make a really good children’s book.
But look carefully at the very last verse:
“I tell you the truth: There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who don’t need to repent.” (v.7)
Do you get it?
This story isn’t about a shepherd. It’s about God.
And it isn’t about sheep.
It’s about the tax collectors.
It’s about the prostitutes.
It’s about the sinners.
It’s about the porn actress, the drug dealer and the felon.
It’s about the divorcee, the alcoholic, and the failure.
It’s about the lost.
It’s about YOU.
This story is not about some shepherd’s love for his sheep…
But God’s incredible love for you.
III. The One who Really, Really, Really Loves You
That’s important to remember.
Because it’s easy to think that God doesn’t really love you.
It’s easy to think that you’ve been gone too long.
it’s easy to think that you’ve done too much wrong.
It’s easy to think that you aren’t the religious elite and God could NEVER love you.
But the truth is HE DOES.
The truth is HE REALLY, REALLY, REALLY DOES.
And you don’t even have to take my word for it!
Look at the Jesus’ words:
1) Though He has a Large Flock, God NOTICES if YOU are Missing
Because look at the parable. The man had 100 sheep! That’s plenty of sheep, wouldn’t you say?
He could’ve spent some of the money he made from their wool and gotten a new one.
He could’ve mated a few of the 99, waited a few months and gotten a new one.
He could’ve ignored his lack of sheep, allowed nature to run its course and gotten a new one.
But that’s not what the man does.
Instead, he immediately leaves his other sheep behind, heads out into the world and searches for his lost sheep.
The sheep was more than just number 57 to him; it was his sheep.
You are more than just a number to God; you are His child.
Maybe you are thinking – God doesn’t care about me.
He’s got plenty of people in his family.
He’s got plenty of people in his kingdom.
I imagine that all these other people here this morning are a part of his kingdom.
And there’s plenty of them.
And what would he care if he doesn’t have me.
Because “yep” there are a lot of Christians in this world.
And a church might even be big enough that they don’t notice if you are there or you aren’t.
But God notices.
God notices because he doesn’t just want a number in his kingdom.
He wants YOU in his kingdom.
2) God has Eternal Searching Stamina
It’s kinda like a missing kids’ toy. Has YOUR kid ever lost a toy? Maybe a Lego? Maybe a Shopkin? And when it’s missing, and you’ve searched under the cushion and behind the pillow, and you can’t find it – and your kid’s lips start quivering and eyes get teary and you say: “Don’t worry honey. I’m sure we’ll find that 1 inch high, grimy, piece of 1 cent plastic.”
Then you hope on Amazon, order the toy and voila! Three days later: “Oh Look! I found your Shopkin. It’s been right here in this envelope.”
It’s easy to think God acts like this.
He doesn’t need to find us, because he’s got other, newer, better people to be a part of his kingdom.
He doesn’t need me.
I’ve been gone for too long!
I went away from God way back in college.
I been lost in some very dark places.
Places that would make you blush.
Places that would you cringe.
Places that would make God say – “NOPE! You are too far gone. And I’m too tired.”
But that’s not how God works.
Notice in the parable – the man doesn’t plan on coming home until his sheep is found. The implication? God doesn’t quit searching for you – as long as you are alive – God will continue to come after you.
No matter how long you’ve been away.
No matter how long you’ve been gone.
God keeps coming!
3) God’s Greatest Joy is Having You Back Home
He lifts the sheep on his shoulders. He runs home. He tells all of his neighbors about the sheep he found. He has a celebration!
UNDERSTAND: That is God’s response to your return.
It isn’t “I told you so.”
It isn’t “Get out of here. I don’t have room for you.”
It isn’t “Here’s a list of things to do in order to get back in my good graces.”
God’s response to the one who returns to him is PURE JOY!
As verse 7 says: “There is more joy in heaven over the 1 who repents than the 99 who don’t need to repent!”
Think about that.
There’s a party in heaven when you return to him.
When you throw away your sin and return to Him, they’re throwing confetti!
When you get back into His Word, they’re serving ice cream with hot fudge– and the ice cream doesn’t even melt.
When you return to him after years of being away, they’re having a dance party – and look! In the corner, one of the angels is doing the Floss!
The point is that your returning to Him fills God with joy.
It filled Him with joy when you made your way into this church today.
And His heart will remain filled with joy as you continue to return to Him.
IV. What Now?
Return to the One Who Really, Really, Really Loves you!
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been away; God has forever planned for you.
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing that sin; God brings eternal blessings that sin cannot bring.
It doesn’t matter how deeply you’ve been engrossed in it; God’s love is deeper.
God’s love is strong enough to overcome whatever you have undergone.
That’s really the story of Jesus!
He came into this world to find those who were lost.
He found the tax collector.
He found the prostitute.
He found the sinners.
He found those lost in the dregs of society.
He found them even when the religious elite hated him for it…
And plotted against him for it…
They killed him for it.
Historically speaking, a few months after this parable, that’s what happened:
They arrested Jesus.
They falsely convicted him.
They bullied their way to the governor’s approval.
They nailed Jesus to two giant crisscrossing pieces of wood by his hands and feet.
And those “Sinners” …
Those who had found a friend.
Those who had turned their lives around.
Those who had seen a love from Jesus unlike anyone else in society.
Watched as his life slipped away.
As blood dropped from his forehead.
As his lungs took in one more breath…and stopped.
They had been lost.
He had found them.
Now…He was lost.
Three days later…
From the one place that no one in history has ever returned from.
Three days later…
From the one place that will keep you away from family and friends forever.
Three days later…
From death itself.
Return to him.
And even when you die, you’ll be home…
Today we are taking a look at a guy with some really, really bad sins who is confronted by the Risen Lord Jesus himself. Our goal is to apply what he learns about his really, really bad sins and apply it to our own really, really bad sins. But before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Background
The guy we want to talk about has already made a few cameo appearances in the book of Acts. Maybe you noticed? Maybe you didn’t.
First, flash back to the end of Acts 7. That’s the section about Stephen, the bread delivery guy who told widows about Jesus -- and got killed because he delivered bread to widows and told people about Jesus. At the end of his trial, as the religious leaders are angry and picking up stones to hurl them at Stephen, Acts 7:58 says this: “Members of the Sanhedrin laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul and he approved of their killing him.”
Have you ever tried throwing a baseball in a sports coat? Or toss the pigskin in a three-piece suit? It’s not very easy. Usually, you take off the coat, so your arms are a bit freer.
These guys? They took off their coats because they wanted as little friction as possible for throwing stones at the “Jesus lover’s” head.
And Saul – he’s not in the game – but on the sidelines – holding onto the non-violent-stone-hurling-clothing and nodding and approving.
Essentially, this Saul guy got his start as the equipment manager for Stephen’s murderers.
In fact, this spurs Saul on to action. He didn’t want to be a benchwarmer forever. Look at 8:3 “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.” He’s motivated. He sees a bunch of religious leaders kill an Ordinary Christian church member and he says, “Anything you can do, I can do better.” He goes on an assault as the main guy in charge of destroying the church.
He doesn’t just throw Apostles in jail.
He pursues ordinary church members.
And not just the guys either….
Saul crosses over into the field of throwing Christian women – usually untouchable because we should treat women with respect and take good care of them – but Saul brings his special form of violence against Christian women.
In short, if you are a Christian, you would have been a target for Saul.
Flashforward. The persecution in Jerusalem caused the church to spread. Christians scattered to the north south and west. As they spread, God’s Word spread.
The Unstoppable Gospel remained unstoppable. It’s what we talked about the last two weeks.
About how Philip shared the amazing, Unstoppable Gospel with Simon the dark arts magician and a town under his dark magic.
About how Philip dirty, rugged and sweaty shared the amazing, Unstoppable Gospel with the Ethiopian royalty in the middle of nowhere and he believed.
Saul persecuted the church in Jerusalem.
The church spread out and started growing outside of Jerusalem.
And Saul couldn’t stand it.
Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belong to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. (9:1-2)
It’s kinda like crabgrass. Any of you have crab grass? I’ve been trying to get rid of it by pulling the stuff that pops up or spraying on some crab grass killer. But then what happens is, I kill it in one spot and then it pops up in another spot. I’m thinking about torching the whole lawn, but the crab grass would probably be all that survived.
Saul viewed Christianity like crab grass.
He viewed it as a weed that needed to be destroyed.
He was willing to travel hundreds of miles to put a stop to it.
So, he asked the priests for letters – official recommendation letters stamped with the Pharisaical seal of approval – that he could take to synagogues in other towns. Letters he could give to his fellows Jews in the synagogue that read, “This is Saul. He’s cool. Let him kill off all the Christians in the area. It’s for the best.”
Saul asked for letters like that.
Saul received letters like that.
And Saul was empowered to kill because of letters like that.
II. The Confrontation
One particular eradication journey was to a place called Damascus. It was about 150 miles to the North East of Jerusalem.
That’s not an easy trip. But Saul goes – cause his hatred for all-things-Jesus is that much.
It was hot.
It was sweaty.
It was long.
But Saul kept himself occupied. As he travelled, surrounded by a group of vicious henchmen, he practiced swinging his sword, picturing it plunging into the heart of “a mouthy Christian” and he whistled. He was so happy to be doing God’s work and totally eradicating the message of Jesus.
He was carefree.
He was happy.
He was right.
A bright flash. (v.3)
Not the sun.
A brilliant, otherworldly like flash that filled the entirety of Saul’s vision.
Saul fell down.
He heard a voice:
Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? (v.4)
Who was it?
Was it Peter?
Was it John?
Was it one his friends playing a prank?
The voice spoke again:
I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. (v.5)
Jesus? As in the guy that I’m persecuting?
As in the guy that my associates killed?
As in the guy that was dead?
As in the guy that supposedly came back to life, but that’s impossible so I have been dedicating my life to completely and absolutely eradicating all of his followers?
Saul looked and believed the man.
And it wasn’t just the subtle glow of the light.
It wasn’t just the confidence in his voice.
It was the nail marks in his hands.
And a lump grew in Saul’s throat the size of a Passover matzo ball.
Jesus was real.
He had thought it was all a sham…
He had thought it was all phony…
He had thought it was all a demon inspired threat to the truth about God…
He was wrong.
Jesus wasn’t the demon inspired threat.
And Jesus? He must have come for revenge.
To zap him.
To destroy him.
To breathe murderous threats against him and take him as a prisoner to the tortures of hell.
Just not yet.
Get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do. (v.6)
Then, Jesus disappeared.
Thank God – he had a few more moments to live.
But…Saul blinked. He couldn’t see. The light was gone and there was only darkness. It was a chilling reminder of how he had been in darkness and completely wrong about Jesus.
He heard his companions voices:
Saul, are you alright?
Saul, we heard the voice?
Saul, what should we do next?
“Drop your swords.
Take my hand.
Get me to Damascus.”
III. The Change
Upon getting to Damascus, Saul changed his itinerary.
Instead of fighting Christians, he was fighting his own demons.
I was so wrong.
I am so guilty.
I persecuted God’s Son!
I killed his people.
I am a liar.
I am a murderer.
I am a sinner – guilty – and in danger of the fires of hell.
Saul didn’t eat.
Saul didn’t drink.
He allowed his physical body to go through the torture that his soul was going through. (v.9)
And then, on the third day…
A man named Ananias.
He was a disciple of Jesus.
He would have been one of the men that Saul came to kill.
Now he was blind.
He was weak.
Surely, Ananias had come to kill him.
“Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (v.17) You are his chosen instrument. He will work through you. He loves you. He died for you. He forgives you.
It was hard to believe!
He was such a sinner.
He was so guilty.
He had done so much wrong!
But …as soon as Ananias finished his message…God did something to emphatically prove Ananias’ point:
Immediately, something like scales fell from his eyes and he could see again. (v. 18a)
Visual proof of the invisible truth.
God had forgiven Saul.
But seeing spiritually that Jesus was his Savior.
Saul got up.
He got up and immediately was baptized. (v.18b)
He was loved.
He was accepted.
He was forgiven.
IV. The Truth
This true story is a true story about Saul.
It’s a true story about God’s grace to Saul.
But it’s also a true story with one very important truth for you.
Jesus died even for the really, really bad sins.
We shouldn’t rank sins. God doesn’t do that.
But humanly speaking, we rank sins all of the time.
There are certain sins that just stick with us. Certain sins we feel extra guilty for. Certain sins that we become convinced Jesus would never have died for.
Is that actually true?
Jesus died for all sins.
Jesus died for the small sins.
Jesus died for even the really, really bad sins.
For that arrest.
For cheating on your spouse.
For practicing homosexuality.
For those awful words you said.
For that violent thing you did.
For that racist blow-up at work.
Even the “worst” and most awful sins find their relief in Jesus.
Want proof? Saul later wrote this:
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1 Tim. 1:15)
Saul gets it.
He knows what it’s like to feel guilt.
Humanly speaking he did a great deal of sins.
Humanly speaking his sins rank up at the worst!
Yet he was forgiven.
If he was forgiven, you are forgiven too.
There is no sin too big.
No sin too bad.
No sin too “sin” for Jesus our Savior.
So…what now? Two things:
1) Lay Your Really, Really Big Sins at the Feet of Jesus
If Jesus removes even your really, really big sins, then stop carrying their guilt around.
You need to drop them.
You need to leave them at the foot of the cross.
At the gym, sometimes they make us carry Kettle Balls. Kettle Balls can be a lot of different weights. Sometimes, if you want to do the prescribed workout, the Kettle Ball can be up to about 70 lbs. You have to carry it in a lot of different ways. At your side. In a front rack. Even over your head. It can be tiring. Especially after walking a couple 100 meters.
Then, when you get to the end, you set them down at the rack and you stop carrying them. Like I never pick it up and go: “I wish we could carry these for another couple of hundred feet.” NEVER.
Why do the same thing with guilt?
Jesus died for your sin.
Jesus removed all your sin.
Jesus removed all your guilt.
There is no reason for you to pick it up and carry it with you.
God is strong enough.
God carried it to the cross.
Leave it at the cross.
2) Be Ananias for Others
Because Ananias had every reason to not share forgiveness with Saul! In fact, if we back up in the story – Ananias is a bit frightened to bring the message of Jesus to Saul, a known Christian persecutor, as he is a Christian.
I bet Ananias felt like saying: “Hi Saul! Ya big jerkface! I hope that God punishes you with hell.”
But he doesn’t.
Instead, he denies his own personal feelings and shares God’s forgiveness.
You do the same.
When someone has sinned greatly – against you – against someone else – share the Gospel.
Don’t do the thing where someone comes up to you and says, “I’m sorry,” and you’re like, “That was really, terrible and awful, what you did to me.”
And they say, “I know. I’m sorry.”
And you say, “Yes! It was awful! The worst!”
And they say, “I do regret it. I am terribly sorry.”
And you say, “You were so wrong. So very, very, very, very, very wrong.”
That’s not helpful.
That’s not God’s message to the repentant heart.
God’s message to the repentant heart is “Forgiven.”
That’s the message we share with the repentant heart. The message of “Forgiven in Jesus.”
This is not the end of Saul’s story. It’s only the page turn. Just wait – stick with it – you are going to watch Saul’s life totally transform in devotion to Jesus.
And that’s because Jesus was totally devoted to Saul.
That same Jesus was devoted to you.
That same Jesus devoted his life to you.
That same Jesus gave up his life for you.
In him, even the really, really bad sins are really, really forgiven. Amen.