Peter took a seat around the fire. It had been a rough couple of months. When he first started following Jesus, things had been pretty awesome. Jesus healed his mother in law. Jesus helped him catch hundreds of fish in just one net cast. Jesus even took him to a wedding and transformed a couple of jugs of water into wine with just the snap of his fingers.
It was fun. He had wanted to be a part of whatever it was they were building!!!
But lately…things weren’t so fun. The other religious leaders were getting angrier. Call it jealousy. Call it pride. They were getting angrier and heckling them as they went about teaching. In fact, the heckling had started to get a bit violent: One of Jesus’ ministry partners – his cousin named John the Baptist – had just been beheaded and there had begun to be rumblings that they wanted to kill Jesus, too.
Peter took sip of wine as he stared into the fire. It was good to get a break. Good to take a moment. Good to contemplate.
What were they really building?
Was it worth it?
Did he, Simon, really want to be a part of it?
And apparently...Jesus was doing the same thing:
Who do people say I am? (v.15)
Peter looked up. So, did the other disciples. Some still had ½ eaten pieces of fish hanging from their mouths.
I’m serious. Who do the people say that I am?
The disciples looked at one another. And then began to talk all at once: Some say, “John the Baptist” – dead, but come back to life. Other says “Elijah” – an even deader prophet come back to life. Jeremiah or Malachi or Zephaniah or some kind of prophet whose name is hard to pronounce. Honestly, Jesus there are all kinds of ideas about you: From nice guy to demon; to good teacher to scoundrel. I mean – those Pharisees look serious about shutting you down.
Jesus shook his head. Then, he looked directly at Peter.
“And what about you? Who do YOU say that I am?” (v.15)
Peter’s eyes darted to avoid the intensity of the question. He looked to John – who shrugged. He looked at James – who shook his head. He looked to the ground. He thought about what he had seen Jesus do. He thought about how Jesus’ hands had made blind people see and how his words had made deaf people hear. He could still picture Jesus stopping the lighting and raising the little dead girl back to life.
He nodded his head.
And he spoke confidently:
“You are the Christ. The Son of the Living God.” (Mt. 16:16)
Jesus didn’t slap him.
He didn’t facepalm.
He didn’t even say, “Good answer, but no…”
Jesus said this: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter – which means “Rock” – and on this rock of a confession I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it!” (v.17-18)
In other words.
Today we will apply Jesus’ own words to what we are doing with that 10,000-square foot building over there. We’re going to learn (1) who we need to build on and (2) what we are really building. Before we do, join me in prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Who to Build On
I think this is a really interesting section of Scripture because it gives you a glimpse into what people who lived and talked with Jesus thought about Jesus. Notice their answers. They name three prophets. Prophets were people who received messages from God and spoke message from God. And Elijah, John the Baptist and Jeremiah were some of the most well-known.
But more than that. They were all dead! Think about it: If I asked who you thought I was and you said, Elvis Presley, that’d be a compliment. If you really believed it, that’d be amazing. It would mean you have a high opinion of me.
Not only did these people think Jesus was a prophet, but they thought he was a dead prophet come back from the dead. They had a high opinion of Jesus.
Just. Not. High. Enough.
To be fair – most people today think highly of Jesus. They think he’s a good moralist. A good teacher. A nice guy.
Kinda like…Mr. Rogers.
Do you know Mr. Rogers?
Do you like Mr. Rogers?
I don’t know anyone that has ever complained about Mr. Rogers. He’s kind. He’s nice. He wears sweaters. He teaches kids to enjoy the land of Make-Believe, how crayons are made, and how to deal with slightly annoying mailmen—kindly.
Sometimes people think of Jesus just like Mr. Roger. Kind. Nice. Good teacher. But that’s about it.
Is that who we are building this school on?
Are we building it on some nice guy?
If so, how is it any different than George Washington University – ok guy, famous president, OR Johns Hopkins University – he had a lot of money and gave it to a hospital OR William Bucknall University – I don’t know even who he is!
We are not building this school in the name of some nice guy.
It’s not in the name of good morals.
It’s not in the name of good education.
It’s not in the name of good athletics.
If you want any of those, you can find those at just about any location down the street.
We are building this school in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Which was Peter’s confession. And it holds two important truths:
(1) Jesus is the Christ!
Really quick – Christ is the Greek word for “the Anointed One.” It matches up with the Hebrew word Messiah which also means “Anointed One.” If you are a fan of literature, it sounds a lot like the “Chosen One” trope that appears throughout it. Like Luke Skywalker being “the One” to bring balance to the Force, or Neo being the “One” to save people from the Matrix, or “Harry Potter” to defeat “he-who-must-not-be-named.”
It’s like that.
Only the literature we are talking about was around over 4000 years before those stories. And it finds very real fulfillment in a guy named Jesus 2000 years later.
He was born in Bethlehem as prophecy said.
He grew up in Nazareth as prophecy said.
He was Jewish as prophecy said.
He did miracles as prophecy said.
He died on a cross as prophecy said.
He rose from the dead as prophecy said.
And all of these visual fulfillments of prophecy – help us to understand some invisible prophecies he fulfilled.
He paid for our sins as prophecy said.
He won us forgiveness as prophecy said.
He defeated the devil as prophecy said.
He gave us eternal life as prophecy said.
He was our Savior as prophecy said.
Our school is about so much more than some nice guy.
It is about the One prophesied to save the world.
It is about the One prophesied to save us.
It is about the One prophesied to save – our kids.
(2) The Son of God
But Peter’s statement is two-fold. He calls Jesus more than just the Messiah. He calls him the “Son of God.”
My sister had a baby about a year ago. Harper Grace. I saw pictures of her and watched videos of her on Facebook. After a couple of months, I finally had the chance to confirm it in person.
My sister had given birth to a human.
From humans come humans.
From dogs come dogs.
From cats come cats.
From African Pigmy Hippopotamuses come African Pigmy Hippopotamuses.
And from God comes God.
Not that it’s quite the same. God is eternal. So, while Jesus is from God, he also always has been. Even you want to learn more about that – join me in Bible study this week to talk mind bending theology.
But for our purposes it is imperative you understand this truth:
Peter’s confession attributes “Godness” to Jesus!
That’s why he stopped storms.
That’s why he made the blind to see.
That’s why he made the deaf to hear and the lame to walk and the sick to be well.
That’s why he made the dead to rise and when he was dead he was able to do what most living people could not do – he brought himself back to life!
Our school is about so much more than some nice guy!
It is about THE Living God of Heaven above.
It is about the True GOD with his Almighty Power.
It is about the One who has always been around.
It is about the One who is always with us.
It is about the One who will never leave us – or our kids.
II. What are We Building
I want you to look out here. It’s just mud and sticks and stones. But I want you to close your eyes and visualize what will be. Close your eyes and visualize the final product. Close your eyes and visualize – what we are building. Close your eyes and visualize – a church!
Ummm…Pastor? Was there a mistake in the blueprints? I thought we were building a school?
Before you go grab the Construction Manager, look at what Jesus said to Peter. He said, “On this rock of a confession I will build my church.” Did you know that’s the first time Jesus uses the word “Church” in the Bible? The word is “ecclesia” and on its own it simply means an “assembly” a “group.”
But notice what Jesus calls it. “My church.”
This means a few things:
Understand this – church is not a building.
Church is not an organization.
Church is people.
People build on Jesus.
It means Jesus has been building onto “his church” for centuries.
He built onto his church when he brought us to faith in his family.
And God willing – he will build onto his “church” through our preschool building.
Every time a teacher tells a Bible story, God is building his church.
Every time a toddler sings the song “Jesus Loves Me,” God is building his church.
Every time an infant baptized, God is building his church.
Every time a parent talks to another parent and they hear about their Savior, God is building his church.
Every time a teacher gets down on her knees, explains that hitting is wrong, and the little child has tears in their eyes, blurts out, “I’m sorry,” and the director doesn’t just say, “It’s ok” she doesn’t say, “Try harder.” She says, “Jesus died for you. That means he forgives and I forgive you,” – God is building his church.
He’s bringing people to faith.
He’s adding to his kingdom.
He’s saving people to heaven.
III. What Now?
1. Be Confident Builders
Which might be a bit intimidating. Because we aren’t talking about simple numbers and letters anymore. The task is a lot bigger. The task is eternal. There will be temptations to fight against it. There will be temptations to fight about it. There will be people who don’t like it. There will be things that cause us to worry, numbers that cause us to fret and problems that cause us to vent.
Why wouldn’t there be problem? The devil will do anything to prevent a building dedicated to the good work of Jesus from happening.
But Look at Jesus’ promise: “I will build my church…and the gates of hell will not overcome it.” (v.17)
In other words – the building will happen.
Maybe not the brick and mortar building – but the building of God’s kingdom will happen.
Nothing can stop it. Nothing can stop us.
Not with God on our side.
Because Groundbreaking isn’t the end. The building isn’t finished yet. Neither the brick and mortar building or the building of God’s kingdom. If we stopped here to give each other high fives and say, “We did it!” We’d be wrong. There’s more building yet to do!
So…get to work.
If you can’t swing a hammer, pray.
If you can’t saw a saw, encourage.
If you don’t have any idea what a 7/8 wrench looks like, share the message of your Savior.
Be a part of this.
Be a part of building God’s kingdom.
And God bless us as we build on Jesus. Amen.
The other day a few of the preschoolers were playing in the block center together. They had taken down the blocks, settled onto the carpet, and built a foundation, when they began discussing design plans.
“I want to build a castle for Elsa!”
“No, I think we should build an ice cream shop for the Transformers.”
And without a clear focus in designs – the building got difficult.
“That block is for Elsa to sing on!”
“No, it’s for the Transformers to eat ice cream on.”
And each one grabbed a hold of the block. They pulled. They tugged. Someone fell over. And there was lots of crying.
And no one built anything.
It’s hard to work together with others in a building project. People are so different. We have different ideas. Different likes. Different dislikes.
If it’s hard on a small project, how will it work on a big project? (Like a Preschool Expansion? Or sharing the Gospel in all of North Raleigh?)
Today we’re continuing our series called Building Project and see how Nehemiah was able to get an even greater group of people work together on the even bigger Building Project of Rebuilding Jerusalem. As we learn about how they worked together, we can grab a few tips for working together as a church here. Before we study, let’s say a prayer and ask God to bless us. O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Nehemiah’s Crew
The section describing Nehemiah’s crew is found in Nehemiah 3. If you get a chance to read the whole thing, it’s one of the chapters that can be kind of difficult to read. There are names that are hard to pronounce. There are place names that are hard to pronounce. It’s kind of repetitive.
Which teaches us one important thing right away: This is not fiction. If it were, it would be terrible fiction. Dr. Seuss would never include such mundane details. If J.K. Rowling wrote like this, Harry Potter would never have been that popular.
But beyond the historical, true vibe that we get from this detailed information is an incredible portrait of Nehemiah’s work crew.
Nehemiah exits his house at the first hint of sunlight. He’s got a tall cup of coffee in his hands that he sips as he picks up his morning bagel. Then, he heads to the Northwest corner of the city.
Good morning Eliashib!
Nehemiah watched as a large, jovial man made his way over to him. God’s blessings, Nehemiah! We’re hoping to get the second layer of brick set today.
Nehemiah smiled. Eliashib (3:1) was a hard worker. Still, it was strange to see him working like this. He was high priest. In fact, all of the people working with Eliashib were priests. There were men who usually were in the temple. They wore fancy robes. They wore fancy jewels. They worked with incense and prayer books.
Now? They were wearing cut off sleeves. They had traded in their quills for hammers. They smelled less like incense and more like they had been working outside.
A few blocks down Nehemiah met up with Uzziel and Hananiah. (v.8) This was an interesting pairing indeed. Uzziel was a goldsmith. Hananiah was a perfumer. The two of them were rivals. In the marketplace, they were each vying for the attention of the consumer.
“Buy a new golden bracelet for your girl?”
“Don’t spend your money there, his gold is fake. Get some perfume for her.”
“Perfume? Ha! Only if you’re trying to attract skunks.”
The desolation of Jerusalem had made money scarce and the marketplace difficult.
But these two weren’t fighting. They weren’t even running the business. They were building the wall together.
Hand me a hammer!
Nehemiah turned at the sound of a heavy accent. There were some of the men from Gibeah and Mizpah – cities over 30 miles away from Jerusalem. Country folk. They had heard of the project from some traveling merchants and came into town with a leather tent on their back. They had promised Nehemiah that they would help and they certainly were helping. Even though they didn’t live in Jerusalem, they knew how important this project was to restoring glory to Israel and to God.
As far as those men had come to help with the project – a few steps later, Nehemiah came across a group that came a much shorter distance.
Benjamin! Grab my tool belt while you’re in there.
Nehemiah shook the hand of Hasshub. He was repairing the wall that was literally a few 50 feet away from his house. Apparently, he had been running back and forth to his home all morning to grab forgotten tools and shove an extra Jewish Pop Tart into his mouth.
Still, Nehemiah admired his desire. When Nehemiah mentioned the project, Hasshub and Benjamin were some of the first men to sign up. They knew the destruction. They knew the need. They knew the importance of returning Jerusalem to its former glory.
Those are only a few of the names. We don’t have the time to talk of Rerum and the Levites, Binui the ruler, or Baruch, the zealous and hardworking.
Still – one thing is certain. As Nehemiah looked around that morning, he saw something beautiful.
Not the project. It was far from done. It was still in progress. In fact, the city was dustier, dirtier and as a result – uglier than ever, but that was only the materials. As he looked around and saw people coming together – different people with different cultures and different ideas, all working together on the project – Nehemiah saw something beautiful.
He saw people working together for God.
II. Lessons for Our Crew
It’s the same thing that’s going on here at Gethsemane. We’ve got something beautiful going on here. I’ve been here five years and when you stop and look around, it’s beautiful!!!
But we’ve got a big Building Project going on. That’s a test of our ability to work together. How can we work together in the same wonderful way that Nehemiah’s crew did? Remember a few lessons:
(1) The Building Project Needs You
Did you notice this phrase: “they laid the doors and bolts and bars in place”? (v. 3, 6, 13, 14, 15) It appears 5 times in Nehemiah 3.
How many times do you pass doors and stop and think, “Man, I am thankful for whoever put the hinges on that door in the right space. It opened so easily. I’m so thankful. I should find out and write a letter.”
Probably, you don’t. We take it for granted. And I’m sure that the people in charge of bolts and nuts and the little tiny hinges hidden in the back portions of the walls must have known that they weren’t going to get a lot of accolades.
But what happens if you don’t have doors?
You can’t get into anything.
It’s like 1 Corinthians 12:15. If the foot should say “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be a part of the body.
Imagine if your foot was thinking that. “I wish I were a hand. I’m sick and tired of being all cooped up inside this shoe. I wish I was free to move and high five and play video games. Instead, I sit. I stay on the ground. I’m not nearly as important as a hand. I’m not as cool as a hand. Or as good looking as a hand. The body needs the hand, but it doesn’t need me.”
But then, when the foot gets its wish and becomes a hand, suddenly the body…doesn’t go anywhere.
It’s so easy to feel like there’s not a lot you could do to contribute to our Building Project. You might think, “I don’t have a lot of money. I can’t preach like pastor. I can’t do architecture drawings; I don’t know anything about preschool and I don’t know the difference between a bandsaw and a handsaw. I’m not that valuable to this congregation.”
But that’s the devil talking.
If you think that you aren’t that important to this congregation because you don’t have the skills and money and talents like others, you’re wrong.
God thinks you matter. A lot. He died for you. He hung and bled and died on the cross for you. He saved you from your sins. He rose triumphantly to save you from death. He washed you in your baptism to make you a part of his family. He offers you his true body and blood to reassure you that you have a part of him.
He wants you a part of His Building Project. He wants you to be a part of adding soul after soul to his kingdom.
No matter what you do.
If you do painting, then do painting for the Glory of God.
If you do singing, then do singing for the Glory of God.
If you do friendly, then do friendly for the Glory of God.
If you do numbers, then do numbers for the Glory of God.
If you do speaking, then do speaking for the Glory of God.
If you do giving, then give for the Glory of God.
If you do anything, then do something for the glory of God.
(2) Our Project Needs More than just You
But be careful. Once you are invested in God's kingdom, the devil works a second trick.
It is described in 1 Corinthians 12:2. “The eye cannot say to the other body part, ‘I don’t need you.’” Imagine if your eye started to think, “I’m the best. I get to see beautiful, color changing trees. I get to watch Simone Biles do Olympic flip after Olympic flip. I get to read tweets and blogs and newspaper articles. I am the most important part of this body. No one and nothing is as important as me. Especially your ear – all you do is sit there, looking all open and kind of dopey.”
But if the ear packed up its bags and moved to Vermont, the eye struggles. “I see the doctor, but I can’t understand what he’s saying. How serious is the injury?"
If you think that you are more important to our Building Project or to our congregation than others, you’re wrong. Others matter too.
God thought they mattered. He died for them. He hung and bled and died on the cross for them. He saved them from their sins. He rose triumphantly to save them from death. He washed them in baptism and made them a part of this family. He offers them the true body and blood in the Lord’s Supper to reassure them that they are a part of Him.
And since you are a part of Him, they are a part of you.
Nehemiah’s group knew this. It’s why they were on the same page.
Some worked on the Sheep Gate -- where they brought in the sheep for sacrifices at the temple. Very important.
Some worked on the Fish Gate – where they brought the fish in for the marketplace. It was a bit fishy smelling, but equally as important.
Some worked on the Dung Gate – essentially the restrooms! Also important.
Everyone is important here. No matter what they do.
Can you help me make sure that they know that?
Whether it’s someone on the front lines of evangelism or in the back printing off the invites.
Whether it’s someone giving a large amount of money to the project or a large amount of prayers.
Whether it’s someone telling a bunch of people about Jesus all at once or someone telling one other person about Jesus all by himself.
We are all important. Important to making this whole thing work.
Treat each other like that.
(3) Don’t be a Tekoite
Verse 5 says, “The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.”
I think that’s a very interesting because this is the only part of chapter 3 that’s negative. The Tekoites worked on the wall, but apparently they weren’t very agreeable. They were stinkers.
Which leads us to a very powerful truth, if you work well with others awesome. If not, others will notice that, too.
If all of us are Tekoites, being selfish and only thinking about ourselves, then not a lot will get done.
Don’t let the devil stall our project. Don’t be a Tekoite.
(4) Remember Ezer, Son of Jeshua
Do you know who he is? He makes an appearance in verse 19. It doesn’t say much about him. It simply says that he was involved in a section of the wall near the armory. That’s it.
I have feeling that not a lot of people knew that. I have a feeling that plenty of people walked by that wall without so much as ever knowing the name of Ezer. Essentially his work was forgotten.
Except…not everyone forgot.
He is in the Bible.
That’s because God didn’t forget. God doesn’t forget the works of faith done to his glory no matter how small. From sanitizing a Pre-K toy to loading the dishwasher after Fellowship. From loading a sermon onto the website to handing a bulletin to a visitor. God remembers it all. It’s to His glory.
Rest assured that whatever you do, big or small – he sees it all.
And it’s all to His Glory. Amen.
Have you been watching the weight lifting in the Olympics? (It’s usually on ESPN 7 at about 2am in the morning, but it’s good.)
These men – huge men – busting out of their Olympic gear with muscles, veins, and eyeballs lift these huge barbells. On each end is plate after plate after plate – which isn’t so bad at first glance – until you realize each plate is about 100 lbs.! These guy take 650 lbs., clean it and throw it above their heads without much of a problem.
If I were in the Olympics and I had to lift that above my head, I think I’d have to settle for a participation medal. Because there’s no way I could lift something like that. There’s no way I could do it. I don’t have the physical strength.
The task is too big!
Does your life ever feel like that?
Do you ever encounter something that feels like a 497 lb. barbell?
Does it ever look like too much?
Today we’re continuing our series called Building Project by looking at the Big Task that Nehemiah discovered awaiting him in Jerusalem. In fact, it was a huge task! A task that would definitely qualify under “it looks way bigger than one person can handle!”
And yet – Nehemiah was confident he could handle it.
Why? Let’s go to God’s Word and find out. Before we do, let’s say a prayer and ask God to bless us. O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Big Tasks Look Big
Last we left Nehemiah, he had just gotten permission, protection, and a promise for supplies from King Artaxerxes. Verse 11 picks up after Nehemiah gathers his stuff, selects his crew, passes through city after city, and journeys 1000 some miles to Jerusalem. It says, “I went to Jerusalem and after staying there three days, I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem.”
Initially Nehemiah simply reintroduces himself to Jerusalem. He probably meets up with some old friends for coffee. Grabs a bite to eat with his 2nd cousin twice removed. Catches a local wrestling match for entertainment and settles into the area.
Notice -- he hadn’t yet told anyone about his plans for Jerusalem. That’s probably just a reference to the people of Jerusalem -- not so much the guards who came with him – He hadn’t yet told them that he planned to rebuild.
I think he just wanted to come up with a plan first. He wanted to propose a simple plan that would be easy and not that much time and effort. A plan that people could easily get on board with.
Think about it. Are people more likely to choose things that are easy or difficult?
Would you prefer to move the mulch from the parking lot to the playground with your bare hands or a wheelbarrow?
Would you prefer to move from one house to another using a full service moving company or by yourself using a single passenger smart car?
Would you prefer to get a college credit from a course called “A Review of Addition and Subtraction” or “Advanced Trigonometry and Calculus formulas Approaching the Infinity Limit”?
And that’s what I think Nehemiah is trying to accomplish. He wants to be able to tell people it won’t be so hard before he gives them the idea.
So he begins his investigation at night. Like a celebrity wearing a moustache and sunglasses, he doesn’t want to be seen until he’s done with his investigation.
He approaches the first area. He gets off his horse. He holds up his lantern ...and is shocked.
Piles and piles of rubble. Stone on top of stone on top of stone. Charred marks from the first fire still mark the gates. The whole thing looks like an old dump, not the impressive wall of Jerusalem he was expecting.
Ok. It’s a bit rough. Maybe there are other parts that won’t be so bad.
So he heads toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s pool but…there it’s even worse! In fact, the rubble is so bad that he gets to a point where his horse, which needs a couple feet of space on each side to maneuver, has to turn back! The destruction is everywhere – so bad that he has to head to the outside of the wall to finish his investigation.
That was worse. But I’m sure once we ride around the city a bit, we’ll find at least a few entrances that don’t need much work other than a fresh coat of paint.
He was wrong. He couldn’t even get back into the city other than through the gate that he had just entered.
This was a big task.
Then, Nehemiah remembers something. Check out verse 16 The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews, or the priests or the nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work. Suddenly, that itself was a tall task. He was going to have to convince all those people that this complete dump was worth all the cleanup, all the hard work, and all the funding to be restored!
This task seemed a lot bigger than originally anticipated.
Do you have a task in your life like that?
Something that seems so big you wonder how you could ever do it?
I don’t know how I’ll ever repair this marriage. Too much damage has been done.
I think it’s impossible for me to make a connection with my son. We’re too different.
I don’t think I’m ever going to get out of poverty. It’s too much a way of life.
I know my body will never recover from that surgery. Recovery is too tough.
I don’t know that I’ll ever reconnect with God. I’ve done too much wrong. I’ve been too far away. I destroyed my life. I’ve left it in shambles. Relationships have fallen apart. My bridge to God has been burned. There’s grief lying around every corner. Sin has stained my walls and there’s hateful graffiti reminding me of my past actions.
The worst realization? This is all my fault!
It’s impossible for me to do.
Well…do you know what God’s Word says to you today? It says, “You’re right. It is impossible for you to do.”
II. Our God is Bigger
Segue with me to the Gospel. A rich man approaches Jesus. Everything he has in his life, he’s built. He’s built a career. He’s built a family. He’s built his stock portfolio. He’s built his riches. He’s pretty sure that he’s already built up some eternal riches, but he wants to ask Jesus to make sure.
“What do I need to do to gain eternal life?”
Jesus gives him the formula. Keep God’s commands. Love God. Love others. Do so all the time and perfectly.
The man considers his life. A grin comes across his face. He brushes off his shoulders: “You bet. I’ve done that. Anything else?”
“Sell everything you have and devote your life to me.”
The man’s face drops. He looks around in shock. He stares at Jesus to see if he’s bluffing but – he’s not. He turns around and walks away – dejected.
The disciples who have been watching this are even more dejected! If he can’t do it, who can? He’s handsome. He’s rich. He’s got it all. If he can’t build himself a way to heaven, then how can any of us? We’re fishermen. We’re sinful tax collectors. We don’t have it together anywhere near as much as he does. How can anyone do what you are asking?
He says, “With man this is impossible…but…nothing is impossible with God.”
And that’s the point, isn’t it? When it comes to salvation…when it comes to forgiveness and peace with God and the path to heaven…we cannot. It’s impossible! But not with God.
Look up at that cross. That’s a symbol for the best reconstruction crew of all time. Because on that cross – Jesus fixed your life.
He replaced the broken bridge to God with a cross.
He cleaned up all the stains of your sin.
He removed the rubble of guilt.
He power-wash cleaned you inside and out.
He paved you with the jewels of his righteousness at every street lamp.
He built a wall of protection made out of the Holy Spirit himself.
He says, “Here I will dwell; you will be mine.”
God did that impossible thing! Something that not one construction crew, band of workers, or a Habitat for Humanity group could even approach building.
He built your salvation.
That’s the same God who is with you whatever your task is.
He was with Nehemiah! Nehemiah knew it. And so in spite of how difficult, challenging and tall of a task the rebuilding of Jerusalem was going to be, look at what he does the next morning. V17 I said, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem!”
And the people don’t refuse. They don’t say It’s too hard. They don’t tell Nehemiah to do it on his own.
They said yes. They said yes, because they knew they had a pair of very capable hands behind them.
I’m not talking about young Jake’s hands that didn’t quite know how to make brick yet.
Nor elder Malachi’s hands that shook as he lifted up a saw.
Not even Eli the carpenter’s hands that swung a hammer at slightly above average speed.
But the hands of the Almighty, Eternal, All powerful, world creating, volcano shaking, God were with them.
And as big as the project was – God’s hands were bigger.
And as big as the task that you are going through may be. Remember: God’s hands are bigger.
III. WHAT NOW?
Now take a look at a picture of the universe. It’s huge. We haven’t even explored all of it. What’s interesting is that if you take a look at a picture like this, you need to realize that earth is such a very tiny speck. But then, if you take a look at a map of the world. It’s gigantic. On it, Raleigh is so very tiny small. Not even identifiable. And if you take a look at a map of Raleigh – zoomed out on Google maps – Gethsemane is so tiny. And the field across the way for our Building Project is so tiny as well.
So…if that field is tiny compared to Raleigh compared to NC compared to the world compared to the universe compared to God!
What is our Building Project to Him?
And what is your big, impossible task to him?
Nothing. Nothing in fact is impossible with God.
Keep that in perspective. You’ll gain a lot of confidence.
(2) Start Building
That’s what happened when the people decided to do what they were going to do. They started building! Scripture says, “They began this good work.”
Maybe they put together a Building Committee, volunteered for a design group, set out sign-up sheets for making bricks and a sign-up sheet for making noontime meals for the workers. They gathered money. They said prayers. They did whatever it was they could do to make the project work!
Do the same thing. Whatever your task is – get to work.
And if you are able to help with our building project! Please do. Give and volunteer and pray. Email me to find out some of the ways that you can help.
(3) Ignore the Haters
Did you notice chapter 2 doesn’t end all that pleasantly? Scripture says that a host of foreigners – non believers – mocked and ridiculed us. They said, “What is it you’re doing? Are you rebelling against the king?”
That makes things tougher. When someone is telling you, you can’t.
But look at Nehemiah’s response. “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding.”
In other words – You’re right. We can’t. But God can. And as his children, we see that. WE see God. We see his hand at work and we know he’s working for us.
You don’t see that. And that’s ok. It won’t stop God from getting the job done.
Ignore the haters.
Ignore the blog posts that talk about how you’ll never rebuild your life.
Ignore your friends who say you’ll never fix that relationship because it’s just too big of a job.
They don't see what you see.
They don't see that your God is big.
And there isn't any task too big for Him.
Today we’re continuing our series called Building Project.
In short – Nehemiah needed courage to get the building project off the ground -- similar to how getting our Building Project off the ground has taken and will continue to take courage. Similar to how whatever building project you’re undergoing (architectural, relational, or spiritual) will take courage.
Where do you get courage when you’re lacking it? Let’s go to God’s Word and find out. Before we do, let’s say a prayer and ask God to bless us. O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Nehemiah’s Courage
Last week we read through Nehemiah chapter 1 and learned about Nehemiah’s idea to rebuild his home city of Jerusalem. He heard about its destruction, got an idea, and he humbly prayed to God for his blessing in moving forward with the building project.
But…approaching God? That was the easy part. God is merciful and kind. God wants what’s best for the people.
The King of Persia? A little less so.
His name was King Artaxerxes. He ruled from 465 B.C. to 424 B.C. During his reign, he came to power through an intriguing murder that saw his brother and father dead, he squashed an Egyptian revolt, and he weakened his enemies in Greece by funding a rebellion within Athenian walls.
He wasn’t to be trifled with.
And he had already hated the idea of rebuilding Jerusalem. If you look at Ezra 4, it records that King Cyrus, Artaxerxes’ grandpa, had allowed the rebuilding of Jerusalem to commence. But when Artaxerxes is in control and finds out about the rebuilding – he issues an edict from his throne to tell the Israelites to “stop work so that this city will not be built.” His reasoning? Jerusalem was a city that had rebelled against foreign governments time and time again. There was no reason for it to be rebuilt and threaten Artaxerxes’ kingdom.
Nehemiah must have known that. As he poured the wine from his ladle into the king’s chalice. Nehemiah must have known that the King had previously stopped the rebuilding Jerusalem. (It had been three months since Nehemiah had heard about the abysmal state of Jerusalem, yet he hadn’t said anything to the king yet.) Call it fear. Call it putting it off. He just hadn’t summed up the courage to talk about it yet.
With good reason. In Persian court, servants were not to speak to the king unless they were spoken to. (Similar to the old rule for children – Don’t speak at the dinner table, unless spoken to – which would be fine by me. Then, I can just focus on eating as much meatloaf as possible. But – I digress). If a servant spoke without being spoken to, there might be punishment.
A pink slip.
A prison sentence.
An “off with your head” type order.
Approaching the King was nerve wracking stuff.
But on this particular day, Nehemiah couldn’t withhold his grief. Whether he was contorting his face on purpose (like a young child trying to get you to notice that they’re sad) or he was literally unable to control his emotions – Nehemiah wasn’t the same.
The King noticed. The King spoke.
“Cupbearer, why does your face look so sad? You aren’t ill? (which would be an acceptable reason to look sad before the king) This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”
The implication is there. Why are you sad? Your sadness is making me sad. You better have a good reason for making me sad or else…
Nehemiah gulped. Scripture says, “I was very much afraid.” And if you look at the Hebrew there – Besides using the word for Afraid – it uses two qualifiers that intensify Nehemiah’s state of being afraid.
We might better translate: “He was very, very, very, very, very afraid.”
He could shrug it off. “Nothing, King. What would like to drink?”
He could lie. “I’m just feeling a bit sick that’s all. I’m sure it was something I ate. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”
He could flatter the king. “I was just sad that I hadn’t seen your handsome face all day long. Tell me, Artaxerxes, have you been working out?”
Or he could choose to do something immensely scarier:
He could tell the truth.
3 “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”
The king shifted in his seat. He placed his finger below his chin.
What do you want?
This was Nehemiah’s last chance. He could abort mission. He could call an audible. He could simply ask the King for a royal Kleenex and let that be that.
But… he couldn’t. He knew he had an opportunity. He knew he couldn’t let this opportunity go.
And what he did next is very telling. It gave him courage to seize the opportunity and ask the king for permission to rebuild Jerusalem.
4b I prayed to the God of heaven.
Because the God of heaven could help him.
Artaxerxes may have been the king of Persia. But God was the King of the Universe.
Artaxerxes’ kingdom stretched throughout Asia minor. God heaven’s kingdom spanned from Pluto to Mercury.
Artaxerxes had thousands of people listening to his commands. God had hundreds of thousands of angels riding chariots of fire at his instant disposal.
And Nehemiah had courage. 5 I answered the King, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.”
The king considers it.
He asks how long he is gone for the sake of his Google calendar.
Then, he grants him permission to begin his building project.
And Nehemiah is feeling even more confident! He asked the king for letters – which were essentially passports – that would allow him free passage as he traveled and he asks the king for a letter to Asaph – the keeper of the national park – to allow him some timber to rebuild the city AND he asks the king for even more timber so that he can build a temporary residence while he’s there.
The king grants it.
Nehemiah asks for the king to pay for his travel, supply him with building materials, and arrange his lodging – and the King grants it.
Nehemiah gives credit where it’s due. Nehemiah knows exactly why he has been so blessed. Nehemiah knows why he had the courage to ask.
The gracious hand of God was upon me.
II. Your Courage
What about you? What level is your courage at?
Have you ever noticed that when some kind of amazing opportunity shows up in your life, the devil does everything possible to remind us everything that can go wrong?
They offered you a raise? It’ll probably mean way more work than you can handle.
That guy seems perfect? There’s probably some dark secret he’s hiding.
That house on the market fits all of your criteria? There’s probably structural damage.
So. In the interest of being up front – I thought it might be valuable to discuss a comprehensive list of things that could go wrong with our preschool building project. (I tried not to leave any out).
We might run out of money.
We might run out of volunteers.
We might run out of students.
All of our teachers might catch the Zika virus.
There might not be any babies born from 2016-2020 and thus zero students available.
Everyone in Raleigh might move to Fuquay-Varina.
The contractor might order the wrong flooring and install an ice rink in the middle of our mini gym.
There might be a group of Lambs Rights protestors that hate our name and picket the expansion!
State Regulations might insist that every pre-K be made out of Donut Batter – and since we didn’t make it out of donut batter – we’re going to be shut down!
Do you get the point? There’s always something bad that can happen. If you focus on that, the fear will be crippling.
Like the disciples.
There they were in the middle of the lake. The sea was raging, the clouds were thundering, and the lightning was flashing! The disciples rowed and rowed and rowed, but weren’t getting anywhere.
Finally, they give up and they shout! “Lord, don’t you care that we’re drowning!”
Jesus rolls over; he yawns. He stretches and sits up. “Why are you all so afraid?”
He speaks to the storm.
The storm dissipates.
And so does their fear.
That’s what God does. God dissipates fear.
And when you focus on Him, your fears will dissipate.
That’s what happened with Nehemiah. Look at what he said, “The hand of God was upon me.” God’s hand is big. God’s hand is powerful. God’s hand is eternal. If the hand of God is on you, then you’ll be feeling courageous!
But Pastor…how do we know if God’s hand is upon us? How do I know if God’s hand is on my building project?
Because that’s exactly where God tells us that His hand is.
Isaiah 41:10 says, “I, the Lord am with you. I uphold you with my righteous, right hand.”
That’s the right hand that has always been with you.
A hand that carefully knit you together in your mother’s womb.
A hand that gently has been leading you through your life.
A hand that has comforted you in your sadness and calmed you in your fears.
A hand that took hold of your sins, transported them backwards 2000 years and nailed them to a cross.
A hand that made sure those sins were really nailed up there by holding onto them as it too was nailed to the wooden death device.
A hand that bled.
A hand that sweated.
A hand that went limp.
A hand that three days later touched the side of the open grave.
A hand that let his disciples examine the resurrection miracle.
A hand that was raised victorious – champion of sin, death, and the devil.
A hand that moved through God’s Word to comfort your soul with forgiveness, life, and salvation.
A hand that has not left you and will not leave you and will not leave us.
III. WHAT NOW?
Do you know who Brad Snyder is? He is a swimmer who will swim in Rio. He’s like most swimmers in Rio. He’s fast. He glides through the water. He wears one of those funny swimming caps.
But he’s also blind.
He is a Navy veteran who served in Iraq. While there, he stepped on an IED. The IED exploded. He was severely injured. Doctors worked hard to save his life, but they couldn’t fix his eyesight.
Now, he swims. Which sounds crazy! How would you know where you’re at in the pool? Wouldn’t you be afraid that you’ll hit the wall? Wouldn’t you be afraid that you won’t be able to find your way out of the watery course and it will become your watery grave?
But Brad doesn’t look all that scared. Because Brad has a coach. A tapper. A tapper is literally a coach that stands near the edge and using a long stick to “tap” his back as he approaches the wall – to let him know – Now is the time to turn. Now is the time to go that way.
That’s what God hand does to us. He’s our guide. He’s in control. He didn’t die on the cross to abandon us.
He won’t abandon us in our Building Project.
The hand of the Lord is on us. Don’t be afraid. Amen.
We are starting a Building Project. Have I told you?
After years of planning, pursuing, praying, discussion, dreaming, and dollar raising, we are getting much closer to make the Precious Lambs Expansion a reality. We’ve got the loan. We’ve got plans headed to the City of Raleigh. We’ve got design people designing. An architect architecting. Prayer warriors praying. It’s exciting.
But as exciting as it is, there’s another truth that has been entering my mind a lot lately. Hidden behind the excitement is this truth: I’ve never done a Building Project. My church at home did one, but all I did to support it was collect about 2 dollars in dimes. Now it’s a bit different. Now I’m the pastor. It feels a bit overwhelming.
Maybe you feel that way, too.
Then, again you may have other building projects that are intimidating. Maybe you’re building a marriage. Maybe you’re building a family. Maybe you’re building a career, a reputation, or a new faith connection to Jesus – building these things can be just as intimidating.
Where do we start?
The answer is the same – whether you’re building something architectural, familial, or spiritual -- We start with God’s Word.
Over the next four weeks, we’re going to be taking a look at God’s Word – as it describes a very large building project that the ancient Israelites underwent. Our goal is to glean some knowledge from looking at that Building Project that we can put into practice for this Building Project – and our own, personal building projects.
Before we do, let’s say a prayer and ask God to bless us. O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Grand Idea
The building project we’re looking at is you may not have known was in the Bible. Open up your Bibles to Nehemiah. That’s right Nehemiah. His book is in the Old Testament right between Ezra and Esther. A guy who’s usually known for being super short (Get it? Knee – high – miah.)
Nehemiah lived around 445 B.C. That’s about 140 years after the Israelites had been exiled from Jerusalem. Here’s what happened. The Israelites had been ransacked by the Babylonian empire. They had attacked Jerusalem, destroyed the city, and take the survivors to Babylon as captives.
Nehemiah’s ancestors had been a part of that exile. But thankfully God had blessed the Israelites while they were there. Famous names like Daniel (the guy in the Lion’s Den) and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (the three guys who were thrown in the fiery furnace) were giving high government positions. They kept those positions when the Babylonian Empire fell to the Persian empire.
Nehemiah lived during the time of that Persian empire – and he too was blessed. He worked for the government and had a highly respected job in the king’s court as the king’s cupbearer.
One day -- perhaps as Nehemiah is drying off one of the beautiful crystal goblets that the king drank from -- his own brother shows up at the palace. This is a big deal. His brother had been in Israel – which was over 900 miles away – so it had been awhile.
And I’m sure Nehemiah was excited to see him.
How have you been? How is the family? Did you bring me anything?
But then Nehemiah asked about his homeland. How are things in Israel? How are my people? How is Jerusalem?
The question made his brother’s face droop.
What is it? What’s wrong?
It’s…Nehemiah, it’s not good.
What’s not good?
Well, Nehemiah, do you remember all those stories we used to listen to from Grandpa? About how Jerusalem was a magnificent city. About how it was the holiest of sanctuaries. About how Solomon and David had made it the grandest sight-seeing place on earth? Well, it’s not such a sight anymore. Now it’s a disaster.
Nehemiah 1:3 -- Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and distress. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates have been burned with fire.
The same fire that had been used to destroy the city 142 years earlier. That means the city wasn’t doing any better than it had been after the destruction. It was still a disaster.
After Nehemiah hears that report, something very interesting happens in the Scriptures. Suddenly, it changes from the 3rd person perspective, (i.e. he, she, it) and the writing style changes to the 1st person.
4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
I think that’s really telling. Nehemiah is so hurt, so disappointed, so torn apart by this news about Jerusalem that he personally invests himself in the story when he’s reflecting on it years later.
And he fell to the floor! Have you ever been that sad? So sad that you literally fall to your knees in disappointment? That’s the kind of stuff Olympians will be doing in the upcoming days. Nehemiah does it when he hears about the dismalness of a city that he’s most likely never been to!
And he weeps. A grown man! A Government official! Crying. With tears of sadness.
And he mourns. The sadness becomes a way of life. Day after day. He’s in a funk. His Facebook posts would have received plenty of encouragement.
And he fasts. He refuses food, drinks nothing but water, and focuses himself on the situation at hand.
And he got an idea. A rather big idea.
What if…what if I heard about this for a reason?
What if I’ve been given my job here in the palace for a purpose?
What if I return to Jerusalem? What if I reenergize my people? What if we reorganize?
What if we rebuild our city?
II. A Humble Prayer
This was no small task. He would have to travel for months. He would have to uplift a people that was down in the dumps. He would have to oversee a grand architectural project. He would have to get permission from the king to make this happen. He would have to be contractor, governor, cheerleader and visionary –all in one!
What made Nehemiah believe he could do this? Look at his prayer:
(1) Acknowledges God’s Character
5 O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome, God who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands.
Notice right away what Nehemiah starts talking about. He doesn’t start talking about how great he is, how wealthy he is, how great his social status is or even how smart he is. Nope.
He starts by talking about His God.
5 O Lord, God of heaven! That’s a big God! A God much bigger than Nehemiah! A God who made the universe in six days. A God who caused mountains to spring up and grand canyons to be made. A God who grew plants out of nothing, trees out of nothing, flowers out of nothing…A God, for whom, rejuvenating Jerusalem would be no problem!
And (side note) if rebuilding a destroyed city would be no problem for God –an Early Childhood Ministry center would be no problem for God. Neither will rebuilding your marriage, building your family or building a closer connection between you and God.
And Nehemiah notes why God will do this. He’s a God who keeps his covenant of God. A God who would love to do it because -- because of your awesome love. Because of the love that withholds the promise of the Savior. Because of a love that is remarkably unlike human love. Because of a love that is love is incredible, unconditional and constant!
God – do it, because you’re God.
(2) Confesses His (and his People’s) Sin
6-7 I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house have committed again you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the laws and commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
Now this is interesting. Because sometimes, when something awful happens we blame God. We might expect Nehemiah’s prayer to be a lot like that. “God you jerk! God, how could you let this happen? God, you’re a joke and your city is a joke.”
But Nehemiah knows better. Nehemiah was a student of history. He knew that God allowed Jerusalem to be ransacked only after he sent prophet after prophet after prophet, scripture after scripture after scripture to warn them – stop worshipping other Gods! Stop committing sexual immorality. Stop sinning! Stop remaining in unbelief and heading on a one track path to hell!
Nehemiah doesn’t claim that God was wrong. He confesses that they were wrong.
And not just the nation of Israel. He repents of those sins -- which, if you’re keeping track, had happened 142 years earlier! Long before Nehemiah was even born. But he also includes himself. He recognizes his own sins, he confesses his own failures and he repents of his own sinfulness.
This is the exact opposite of a job application. In your resume, you talk about your credentials, how much good you’ve done and how great of a fit you are for a job. Nehemiah’s application for God’s help is essentially – I’m from a family of sinners. We’ve sinned a lot. WE caused our own destruction.
And – oh yeah– I’m really good at the family business – because I’m a horrible, no good, very bad sinner too.
(3) Appeals to God’s Promise
Hmm. It kinda seems like Nehemiah should have rehearsed his prayer. Because now that he’s mentioned how awful he and the Israelites have been – he’s basically disqualified them for any help, right?
Wrong. Because that’s not the reason that he is asking for help. It’s not based on their merit.
It’s based on God’s promise.
8 Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, “if you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations…Which is exactly what the Israelites had done. They had sinned, broken God’s commands, and suffered the consequences for their own actions. But – And this “but” means there was more to the promise –But if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.
Essentially – We didn’t keep our promise; O God, keep Yours.
But Nehemiah’s not wrong. Because that’s what God does. 1 Timothy 2:13 says, “If we are faithless, he is faithful; for he cannot deny himself. That’s what God did in Jesus. He sent Jesus even though we hadn’t even remotely kept his commands! He lived perfectly in our place, when we had lived for our own sinful desires. He died innocently in our place, when we had earned that death. He rose triumphantly from the grave – to promise us heaven which we hadn’t done anything to get!
That’s why Nehemiah is so confident in God’s blessing. Not because of himself, but because of God and who He is.
III. WHAT NOW?
It’s so easy for us to get confused.
I was talking to a few people recently about our building project plans. I was really excited as I was talking about it – as I usually am – and I told them about all the cool things that were going to happen as a result of it. I talked about how we’d be able to reach more families, tell more kids about Jesus, connect with more people in the community, use our old space to connect with refugees, reinvigorate our youth group, and in general – do awesome things!
When I finally got done (or rather – I needed to take a breath) the person I was talking to said, “Good. You deserve it.”
Hmm? Really? Do we? We’ve worked hard? There have been countless members of this congregation saying prayers, offerings gifts, teaching, supporting, assistant teaching, cooking, serving on committees, planning, and generally envisioning a building over there for years. Don’t we deserve it?
Do you remember why Jerusalem was in ruins? It's because they hadn’t kept God’s commands. Commands like “Love your neighbor as yourself. Love God more than anything else. Don’t lie. Don’t steal. Don’t lust. Don’t hate.”
Have you done that? Have we done that?
Here’s the truth. We don’t deserve God’s blessing. We don’t deserve salvation and we don’t deserve to build a big building.
Honestly, whatever it is your building – a new house, a family, a reputation, a career – be very careful of that false concept. We don’t deserve anything – anything besides – what God’s Word says we deserve, “What has been earned because of sin is death."
But that doesn’t mean we won’t get God’s blessings. It doesn’t mean we can’t be confident.
Look at the end of Nehemiah’s prayer in verse 11 He’s confident even though he’s speaking on behalf of a people filled with sin: “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”
That doesn’t sound like the request of a nervous man. That’s the sounds of confidence. Not in himself. Not in his people. Not in their goodness. But confidence in God.
It’s the same confidence we have.
Confidence that Jesus lived for us.
Confidence that Jesus died for us.
Confidence that Jesus rose for us.
Confidence that we are forgiven.
And confidence that He will hear us and bless us, whatever our building Project.
Confidence that He will hear you and bless whatever your building project is.
Because He’s God and that’s what God does.
And God’s…pretty good at building. Amen.
Last week, we heard that God wants his people to hungry for his Word. That’s why we issued the Gospel of Mark challenge. If you took part, great! Keep it up and choose another part of God’s Word for this upcoming week. If not, go ahead and read through Mark this upcoming week.
Today we ask the question: Why? Why does God want us to feed our faith with his Word? What’s his endgame? What’s he getting at?
I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention outside next to the Preschool fence, but a couple of months ago big pieces of wood started to appear. Heavy beams. 2x4s and 2x6s. Even some OSB Plankwood. Maybe if you saw it, you thought: “What’s that for? What are they going to do with that stuff?”
If you look outside now, you’ll get your answer. Those pieces of wood – all different sizes, different types – have become a shed for the kids to put their toys in.
Today God’s Word tells us that God is interested in building something, too. It’s why He is so interested in you growing your faith through his Word. Today we’ll learn about God’s special building project as it is described in 1 Peter 2 beginning at verse 4, “As you come to him, the living Stone--rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him-- you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
1. The Builder
First things, first we’ve gotta identify is who it is that is building the house described in verses 4-5. Take a look at verse 4. It tells us that in this pile of materials is a "Living Stone…Chosen by God.” Again in verse 5 “living stones are being built through Jesus Christ.”
These verses are kind of like one of those signs that is posted on the corner of a construction site. It tells you who it is that’s at work just in case you ever want to hire them for business. It also tells you if you think you’re gonna like what they are building. “The Professional Mansion Building Lawfirm” is a more reliable name than “CheapoHouseRUs.”
Listen to who is at work in those verses. It’s God! The divine Lord of heaven and earth. The Creator who creator the heavens and the earth in 6 days—forming the deepest seas on one day and the highest mountains on another. There is no greater and more reliable construction company on earth.
God’s in charge – so you know it’ll be good.
2. The Materials
Especially considering his resources! He could use some the shiniest gold and gorgeous silver. He could use diamonds and rubies. The rays of the sun. The glistening surface of a waterfall. The nearly perfect colors of a rainbow. With all of those materials at his disposal in unlimited quantity, it’s bound to be beautiful!
So what kind of materials did he use?
…as in, you believers, as in you people gathered at this Lutheran church here in Raleigh, NC, you "…are being built into a spiritual house.”
Are you impressed with God’s choice in materials?
Now maybe you are a pessimist and maybe you are thinking, “Really God? Us? We are a mismatched bunch here. We are sinners who, while we believe we are saved through Jesus our Savior, we still struggle with sin. We struggle with addiction, greed, and lust. We gossip, betray, and struggle to forgive. Sometimes we are lazy. Other times we are fearful. Personally, I’m not feeling like I’m that great of a speaker or that good at telling people about Jesus. God, there are probably better people to build your house with. Shouldn’t you go use them?”
God – you may have made a foolish choice in materials.
But is God foolish? Doesn’t he know what he’s doing? Didn’t we just get done saying He is an awesome builder? Yes, sin ruins things. Yes, we are sinners. But didn’t Jesus die for our sins? And haven’t you heard this message to make you believers in the truth?
And having heard the truth, aren’t you a part of his building?
Look at what Scripture says. He calls you “All those who have come to him, believers, are like living stones.” Stones are powerful and sturdy, but aren’t alive. Living things are personal and breathing, but they eventually die.
Living stones? How cool is that? It’s the best of both worlds.
Think about things that are living. We were dead in our sins, but God made us alive with Christ! He forgave us all our sins. Now we live because of him.
And we live, not to be carbon copies of each other, but we have variety. We have character. We have personalities. One that is outgoing. One that is introspective. One that is musical. Another that is athletic. Still another that is artistic, right along one that is creative.
God’s building materials are living. Each one alive with its own personality!
And they are stones. Isn’t that an interesting choice? God doesn’t call us bricks. Bricks would each be the same size. The same color. They are made to match, a uniform house or wall perfect for a very specific subdivision.
God calls us stone. Stones are always different. Some bumpy. Some lumpy. Some long. Some short. Darker, lighter, jagged, rough around the edges.
Doesn’t that describe this collection of human beings right here? We are so very different. Different ages, different cultures, different backgrounds – yet together, we make up God’s beautiful spiritual house!
3. The Purpose
Now God didn’t just build us into a wall just for kicks. There is a purpose to what He has built just like any building has purpose.
The new Walgreens that just went up on Falls of Neuse is so that people can quickly and easily gets prescription medications at all times of the day. North on Six Forks there are a bunch of new apartments that just went up. The purpose of those buildings are to house people. There’s a Fitness Center being put in just south of 540. The purpose of that building is to provide a place to get in shape – or --- if you’re like me – a place to buy an expensive membership to that you will never use.
God has given his spiritual house purpose too. Take a look at verse 5 "to offer spiritual sacrifices to God.”
In the Old Testament, the building that offered people a chance to do this was the Temple. Beautiful too. Whether it was the first gold enlaced building of Solomon’s or the rebuild at the hands of the Remnant, the temple was beautiful.
But it wasn’t long after Peter wrote this very letter that the second building was torn down. Another Jewish temple was never to be built again. There is no building there anymore.
No matter. God’s temple for offering spiritual sacrifices is right here. He also isn’t asking you to go and grab a farm animal and give it up for him.
No. God wants you to give up your very self to him. To worship him in all you do. To love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.
Now, you might be concerned right about now. Because maybe you haven’t done a good job worshipping Christ in every aspect of your life. Perhaps you think, “I didn’t know I was apart of this spiritual house.” There are certain things I do that definitely wouldn’t qualify me for being part of that house.
But take a look at verse 5. Peter reminds us that our sacrifices are acceptable to God through the Lord Jesus Christ. (v.5)
Do you sing a little off key in church? Do you lack the organizational skills to become a member on the Council? Do you give only a few dollars a week to the Lord? Do you prepare a Sunday School lesson that falls l a little flat? Do you struggle to get the kids to come to church and struggle even more to get them to stay in church? Do you struggle to find the right words to say when you speak up for Jesus among your friends?
You may not wow the crowds of people here at Gethsemane. But done with faith in Jesus, you’ve wowed God.
You see God looks at your lives kind of like a dad who just got a coloring picture from his kids. The house is five different colors, there are scribbles all over it, and sometimes it goes outside the lines. Yet God is thrilled. With you as a believer in his spiritual house, he is pleased with all of your Christian living done for him!
4. The Foundation
But that doesn’t mean it won’t get hard. That doesn’t mean that as a congregation we won’t struggle to do God’s Will. It doesn’t mean that sin won’t rear it’s ugly head. It doesn’t mean that jealousies won’t infect our work together. It doesn’t mean that the outside world won’t make life hard for Bible abiding Christians.
That’s when it’s important to remember who our foundation is.
Look at verse 6, “I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Now to you who believe this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.”
There are two words for stones in those verses. The first is a cornerstone. The cornerstone is the first stone laid by the mason. It needs to be set just right, because all of the other walls and every other brick will be based off of the measurements of that stone.
The cornerstone is important it keeps everything straight.
Then you see the Word “capstone.” The capstone was used in building arches. Back in Roman times, you’d build the archways using a wooden frame and then carefully building up the arch using bricks lined up next to the frame. When you reached the top, there’d be that stone. Curved. Placed directly in the middle. It counteracts the wait of both sides and holds the walls up.
The cornerstone is important because it holds everything up!
Who is the cornerstone in this house? Did you figure out who this cornerstone is? It’s not the pastor. It’s the elders. It’s not the "guy who's been here the longest.” It’s not Martin Luther OR Peter OR Paul.
It’s none other than the Lord Jesus Christ.
Peter calls Jesus "rejected by men…" In verse 7 he calls Jesus, “rejected.” Isn’t that exactly what the Pharisees and teachers of the law did? They despised this Jewish carpenter who was telling them what to do? They hated being told they were wrong. They couldn’t believe he could be the Messiah without the Pharisaical upbringing that they had so…
They rejected him. Like the builder who tosses aside a dusty, crumbling old stone as a terrible choice for the foundation, they tossed Jesus aside as worthless.
Some people still do that today: “Jesus is a myth.” “He’s not real.” “He’s archaic.” “His teachings are bigoted.” “His stuff doesn’t matter enough for me to build my life on him!”
Rejected. Rejected then. Rejected now.
But though humans reject Him, God chose him. God – remember – the One who is awesome at building eternal building – He chose Jesus.
In fact, God found him precious. He didn’t look at the exterior. He didn’t see some meek carpenter.
Instead, he saw his holy and perfect Son. He saw Jesus Christ a Mighty Lord and Savior. He saw one who did not sin. He saw one whose innocent death would be the foundation and very reason that we are built into God’s spiritual house. He is the one who died, but could not remain destroyed. He went down into the fires of hell laughing at the Devil for his failed attempts at defeating him. He rose from the dead –eternal, incredible, Victorious!
And Jesus saves the rest of God’s house from shame. Take a look at verse 6 again, “I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
It’s as if God’s cornerstone is so incredible, so beautiful, so glorious and majestic that the other less majestic, less beautiful, less glorious pieces – us – can’t even be spoken against!
This is huge. Because people will mock you. For belonging to a church, they will make fun of you. They will call you a bigot, a fool, and an arrogant person.
But you’ve got Jesus on your side. When people oppose you, they oppose Him. And when they oppose him, well, listen to verse 8, "A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. They stumble because they disobey the message--which is also what they were destined for."
You see no one can topple Jesus. No one can make him crumble. With him as our foundation, our cornerstone, our capstone, we will not fall either. Not to people. Not to the devil. Not to our own sinful natures. Not even to death.
Until one day. One day we enter the gates of heaven. A spiritual house. No longer temporal, but eternal. No longer sin ridden, but perfect. No longer opposed, but glorified.
Sometimes buildings have plaques of dedication. Built in 1995 by “so and so.” Dedicated to “So and So.” Even church buildings have plaques, “Dedicated to the Lord.”
Brothers and sister, may this spiritual house – not the building – our fellowship of believers – be dedicated to the Lord. May we serve him in all that we do. May we offer spiritual sacrifices in Jesus. May we continue to be build on this foundation.– stone by stone—brick by brick—person by person—believer by believer.
If you are musical, join in singing praises at our worship service.
If you are mechanical, join in helping to build the shed or maintaining the lawn.
If you are outgoing, help us with outreach at Duke and inviting people to Back2Church Sunday.
If you are caring, please keep us in your prayers.
If you are good with kids, please help teach Sunday School.
If you aren't in a church, join one and work together with your fellow stones to keep serve the Lord!
If you are something – use it to build God’s house! Join believers and work together for the Lord!
It is a privilege to be built into God’s spiritual house. To you God, the ultimate builder, may this building be dedicated! Amen.
Are you significant?
One of the things I like about CNN.com is that as soon as you get to their webpage you are able to see what the most important stories of the day are. They have a "Buzzworthy" bar up in the corner that keeps track of which stories have had the most views.
About three weeks ago is when the chemical warfare attack in Syria happened. I signed on to that site thinking that the talks that ensued and the investigation that followed were significant.
And, to a certain extent, it was. I found it ranked the number two most trending story.
But it wasn't number one. There was lots more web traffic devoted to an entirely different topic.
If you don't know what that is, it's ok. Don't Google it. You're better off not knowing. Just know that a young Miley Cyrus did something that wasn’t so appropriate at an awards show.
It's amazing how our culture defines significance. We have become convinced that significance comes when you have millions of views on your YouTube video, thousands of Facebook friends, and hundreds of Twitter followers.
This is why people film their children biting one another's fingers and dress their cats up like Yankee Doodle! Because they think that these stunts will make them significant?
This is the same reason that reality stars act over the top. For rating and invites back to the All Star version (As if they didn't know that they'd be on an island fending for food when they signed up for Survivor.) It's why pop stars come to music awards shows in dresses made entirely of meat. These are all ways for people to say: "Hey World, I'm significant!"
In this world of self-made stardom, I wonder if we aren't affected. Maybe, you have the idea that unless you develop some sort of talent and get past the first round of America's Got Talent you cannot truly say that you're significant. And maybe, that's a dream of your. Maybe, you long to have your name in 14 point bold print at the bottom of the CNN website highlighting how "You did something significant."
And since you haven't made it yet, then, maybe, you've begun to think of yourself as insignificant. Pathetic. Never going to do anything worthwhile.
If that's the case, may I suggest that we look beyond B -rate daytime TV to discover what really makes someone significant. Let's look to Jesus, a man whose words and work are only growing in significance thousands of years later.
We’re looking at John 13:34-35. And it sure is significant. Jesus calls their attention to what he's about to tell them by saying, "A new command I have for you..."
Perhaps the disciples’ ears perked up. They had devoted years of their life to Jesus and now, maybe, it was going to pay off. Maybe, this was finally the time that he would tell them how they were going to make a difference. How they would overtake the Roman empire. How they would become significant and be Jesus’ secretary of state and treasury in his earthly kingdom.
But Jesus had something entirely different in mind.
He said, "A new command I have for you: love one another as I have loved you."
Do you think the disciples were just a little bit disappointed? No glorious battle. No fanfare. No revelation. Just love one another.
Maybe you're disappointed too. "Is that all there is to being significant? It doesn't take much to impress this Jesus does it? Because if all Jesus wants me to do is to love one another, then, I've done that. Most of the time. So, I guess, I've earned my significance, right?”
There are two letters you aren’t paying attention to. Jesus didn't simply say, "love one another." He also included a little word that changes the scope of what we're talking about. "as" Two letters in English. Two letters in the original Greek. Same concept. "Similar to, the same as, in the same way." It changes the entire scope of what Jesus is asking us to do.
Look at the passage again: "Love one another, as I have loved you."
Do you love your friends and family like Jesus? Consider the following:
1. First off, Jesus' love was never too busy for anyone! He always helped whenever people needed it, even if he was supposed to be doing something else. It's why he stopped to help the bleeding woman as he was heading to help a sick girl—a matter of life and death! It's why, when he went up to a mountain to catch a quick break, he heard a crowd, turned around, and gave his attention to thousands of people who were looking for his help!
Compare Jesus to you. Do you always take the time to show love to others? Do you drop the TV remote to go help your spouse with the groceries? After a long, hard day at work, are you super willing and ready to listen to your friends day at work on the phone? When you are supposed to be at the Day Spa appointment, do you respond to your kids request to "play a game?"
If you have ever been too busy to show love, then you haven't loved like Jesus.
2. One of the reasons Jesus was always ready to help, was that Jesus always thought of other people first! His actions were backed up by his thought process. He thought of helping others before his own safety. He was hungry and he fed others. He was tired and he got up to deal with everyone else's fears.
What about you? When you are filling out your schedule, is it more important for you to block out "HELPING OTHERS" time or "ME" time? When it comes to spending money, do you insist it go towards something for someone else in the family? Or do you think it would be better spent on your hobby? Do you ever help some one out because it's helpful to them? Or because it makes you feel good? Or maybe they'll owe you a favor later?
If you have ever been thinking about yourself, instead of thinking of others, then you haven't loved like Jesus.
3. Finally, consider this: Jesus put others first, that included: his enemies! He healed the daughter of one who was his enemy's friend. He reached out and healed the ear of a soldier who had come to arrest him. Goodness, even when his enemies were nailing him hand and foot to a crosss, Jesus cried out, "Father, forgive them for they don't know what they are doing!"
What about you and your enemies? Are you always nice to them? Maybe, a better question is are you ever nice to them? Do you say nice things about them to your other coworkers? Do you always send them nice emails? Do you always send nice Facebook messages about them? Do you love calling up your estranged brother to see how he's doing?
Not so much? Then, again, you haven't loved like Jesus.
So, show of hands. Who here has loved like Jesus? Who here qualifies as "Significant"?
This is a big deal! Because if we don't qualify as significant in God's eyes. Then, we are insignificant. Worthless.
Why? Because “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) And anything that isn't loving, is worthless to him! Evil. Selfish. Sin. These are the things that are worthless to God. 1 John 4:8 says, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
It makes sense too. It's like a dentist being given a tube of toothpaste made entirely out of Hershey’s chocolate syrup. Not only is it worthless for what he has in mind, but it actually works against him!
So it is with God. He hates evil. He hates evil doers. They are worthless to his good plans.
And what do you do with worthless things?
Well, garbage men takes worthless things to the incinerator. They have it burned.
God threatens the same burning destruction to all evildoers.
Do you see the horror of our situation? We are the evil ones. We are the one's whose love is worthless in God's sight. And we are the ones who deserve to be treated as the worthless, insignificant creatures that we are.
We have not loved like Jesus, but thank God Jesus still loved like Jesus.
When you think about Jesus' last days, they don't seem very significant. He was arrested in a garden. He was quickly put on trial without any audience. He was beaten and bloodied till he looked like any other criminal who had been in a brawl. Then, he went to the hill where they killed every other criminal. There, he was nailed to a big piece of wood like every other criminal. There he was spat on. Ridiculed. Mocked. Despised.
Thought of as worthless.
And when he died, I'm sure everyone was convinced that Jesus was exactly that: worthless.
That is, until Sunday morning. Until the soldiers on guard fainted at the sight of an angel. Until a few women discovered an empty tomb. Until one woman--then a man---then a few more--than a large group--- saw Jesus...alive!
Now in my book that doesn''t happen too often. In fact, it never happens. There aren't any resurrections on YouTube. Nor will you find any "I will rise from the dead." Tweets from beyond the grave.
But Jesus did rise from the dead! And it's absolutely significant!
But it's not remotely significant on the CNN radar compared with what happened behind the curtain.
Picture a courtroom. There sits the judge. It’s God Almighty. Eyes of blazing red. His gavel, a lightning bolt. HE hates sin and he hates injustice.
Before him stands the one on trial. Sad. Nervous. Scared before the All Powerful judge.
The Prosecution steps forward. It’s the devil. He smirks, "This person is a sinner! He sold his soul to me. I offered him a chance to be significant in his earthly life and he fell for it! He chose significance. The temporal. The day to day in exchange for spending eternity with me. Now it's time to finish our agreement. God, send this person to hell!”
There's silence. The angels in the courtroom look toward the ground with sadness. The devil smirks, because he thinks he's won. God Almighty in all his wrath lifts his gavel. Soon it will come thundering down with a verdict of "guilty!"
Everyone looks across the courtroom. It's Jesus. Hand raised.
He says, "Don't punish him/her. I'll take the punishment. I'll do it God. I'll suffer hell as long as they don't have to."
And the devil gets incredulous! "Why? This is ludicrous! Why? Why would you do that?" It's what they deserve.”
"Because," Jesus says, "because I love that one."
Think about that. Jesus thought (and still thinks) you are most significant.
Want proof? Jesus came to earth and he suffered for you. He died for you. He rose from the dead for you! You were worth his blood. You were worth his soul. You were worth every awful, terrible moment on that awful, terrible cross.
And now, think about this, even if your name is never in big Hollywood light or on the front page of the CNN website or running around the bottom scroller of WRAL news, your name is written in heaven! It's reserving a spot for you. A spot that's your through faith in Jesus!
Jesus says, “I find you significant. Now, do significant things!? Love one another. Jesus says "because this is how they will know that you are my disciples when you love one another."
Think about that: Jesus wants you to show love, not to gain a better name for yourself, but to share his name with others.
Think about what we've already talked about in this series. : Jesus wants others to share the peace of sins forgiven that you already know. He wants others to share the joy of salvation that you have in your heart. He wants others to hold to the hope of eternal riches that get us through the struggles of the day to day. He wants others to feel love, perfect love. The love of a God who gave his life for you and for me.
So...love one another! It's so significant!
You can almost read the heavenly headlines now: "Mother, gets three children dressed and brings them all to church on Sunday--people are impressed" "Dad, reads a devotion to his family at the dinner table, even though the game was on." "Wife forgives husband." "Husband forgives wife." "Grandma offers to take child to Sunday School." "Man overcomes fear and invites neighbor to Back to Church Sunday!"
Brothers and sisters, these are the things of significance. The day to day. The love. The sharing of Jesus' love for the sake of Jesus' love.
May our prayer be that God guide us to live lives of love for him, because that's significant. Amen.
What do you hope for your kids?
Maybe your hope is that they'll be academically successful. If this is you, then school has become life! Year round school. Summer school. After school school. Weekend school. If this is you, then you even have the unique ability to make fun into school! This is why parents get upset if their three year old isn't reading sentences half way through Preschool. They have already started to look into the best university for your 4th grader. You may have gotten your kids a French tutor at the age of six! I tr
Another common hope for parents is that their kids will be financially stable. That means a lot in this unstable economy. So you work long hard hours. You forget to eat. You forget to drink. All to make sure that you can save up so your kid doesn't have any ridiculous students loans from college. You may even let them stay at home to save on rent.
Maybe, you hope is that they'll take care of finances on their own., Maybe, you hope that your kid will be athletically successful! This is where things get crazy right? Parents say, “My kid needs to have chosen the one sport that he will excel at by the end of 2nd grade. Then, I can sign him up for every sports camp that comes my way! I'll buy him all the latest Nike gear, because then he'll be able to jump higher and move quicker. I'll even get him a personal trainer so that he from a professional. I know costs a lot of money and it's 1 in every 10 million kids that actually make it to the NBA, but my kid's different. He'll be the one to make it."
Jesus' hope for your kids.
They are much different. Jesus had entirely different hopes. In his high priestly prayer, a prayer that he prayer to his Father, a prayer that he prayed out loud for all his disciples to hear, Jesus explained his hope for all people. For us. For your children. In John 17:2-3 he said, “Father the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people,” Why? “That he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.”
Think about how incredible this is! Jesus was about to die. That very night he'd be arrested. The next day he'd be on the cross. And he knew all of this would happen. Yet, the main thing he hopes for in his prayer is not that the pain would be over quickly or that it wouldn't be so intense orthat it wouldn't happen at all.
It was that all people... you...your child might have eternal life.
So...Which hope is better?
Did you know that, according to a recent Deloitte Center for Finances study, only .54 percent of the world's population will become millionaires? And that includes people who save and strive for that until the end of their life!
Did you know that this past year only 7.2% of the 30,000 that applied to Harvard were accepted into the prestigious university!?! That's only those people who applied.
Did you know that out of every 10 million high school, varsity basketball players only 40 will make it to the NBA? Again. Those are only the kids who make the varsity basketball team!
What are the chances of going to heaven? With faith in Jesus, it is 1 in 1. 100% certain. There is no doubt!
This is the first key difference between earthly hopes and heavenly hopes. Hope of eternity in Jesus is certain! Victory is certain. Success over sin is certain. Even a home of heavenly riches is completely and absolutely certain!
And considering who the promises is from, this makes sense! After all, in his prayer Jesus calls God, “the only true God.” That means, this isn't a promise made by Zeus, the made up God of Greek myth. It isn't a promise made by scientists, in an attempt to explain future origins of the universe.
It's a promise made by God. The God as real as the blood stained cross he hung on. The God as real as the graveyard tomb he left behind.
Jesus' hope for our kids is way more certain than our own earthly hopes for our kids.
And think about something else:
JaMarcus Russel and Ryan Leaf were both drafted number one over all in their respective NFL drafts. They both made over $40,000,000.
Neither of them still play. One of them went to jail. The other is bankrupt.
But then again, it doesn't matter if it is money, athleticism, or even smarts. None of these things last forever!
Money can be spent. Athleticism goes away with age. Memory and the mind can be attacked by Alzheimer's and other diseases.
But the hope of eternal life?
That lasts forever.
Think of what it's called after all: eternal life. That means life without end. Life that is outside of time. Life that lasts forever.
And it comes from an eternal God! Another reason why this truth can be trusted. It's not like some out of work gentleman promising to pay you back $1000 that he doesn't have.
This is God. Promising to pay you eternity. Which he invented and controls!
Jesus' hope for our kids is longer lasting than our hopes for our kids.
So...Why do we Focus our Kids on temporary, uncertain Hopes?
Think back to our opening examples: “Yes, I spend all my money and time to make sure my child is academically successful. That way I can get one of those “my child is an honor student” bumper stickers and put it on the back of my vehicle! People will be impressed!"
“Yes, I am doing everything possible to make sure that My kid doesn't have the big money problems that I had growing up. In fact, my hope is that one day he'll make it big and then he can lend old dad some money to take care of himself.”
“Yes, I my life revolves around my child's fledgling sporting career, but I look at it as an investment! One day he'll be famous and I'll be on an ESPN special...interviewed on my commitment to athletics!”
Do you see why our hopes for our children are the way they are? Because our hopes are focused on temporal, uncertain things as well.
It's like a pair of binoculars. If you find a rare bird off in a tree, you keep your eyes on him as you bring your child over. You have to be focused in order to focus them in the right direction. If not, who knows where you are pointing him.
If our focus is on temporary, uncertain earthly hopes for our children, it's because that's where our hopes are focused as well.
And the sad thing is that if we focus our thoughts and hopes on earthly things then we will completely miss out on the only hope that lasts and is completely certain. Instead, we'll be completely uncertain of our eternal future.
But God is certain. He is certain that apart from him there is only eternal pain and misery in hell.
But if your hope is the same as that of Jesus, change your focus.
Jesus explains how eternal life comes about verse 3: “This is how people have eternal life...they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
It's what Jesus said in our Gospel for today from John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.”
Do you see the urgency?
This is why teaching your kids about Jesus is of the utmost importance. Because by teaching them about their Savior, you will be giving them hope. Real hope. Certain hope.
The only Hope that lasts forever.
Take advantage of opportunities for your child to grow in their knowledge about Jesus. Let them experience Jesus as they learn about him in Sunday School. I know that's early. But get up. Bring them to Sunday School. And church! Teach them about the cross up front. Explain what the songs we sing mean. Tell them that Jesus loves them in your family devotions. At your bedtime prayers.
You will be giving them real hope. Hope that lasts forever.
There is no better gift!
When I was in my final year at the Seminary, I made hospital visits to a lady in a mental care facility. One day, as I rode up the secure elevator to the Alzheimer's wing, I heard shouting and screaming. I looked around and warily approached the front desk. I told them whom I was there to see.
“HA!” she replied. “Good luck. She's the one that's screaming. She's locked herself in that room and won't come out.”
I said a prayer.
Then approached anyways. I introduced myself as the intern pastor. I asked if I could read from the Gospel of John. She nodded. I began to read about the Good Shepherd. She quieted down. She listened. I said, “Remember: Jesus is the Good shepherd and you are his sheep. He loves you.”
“He loves me,” she repeated.
We sang “Jesus Loves Me” together.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus offers real hope! Hope that is certain. Hope that lasts. From a child when you first learn about his love all the way to death when you need his love more than ever!
May this certain hope of our certain Savior be with you always. Amen.
The beginning of a new school year isn't a very peaceful time.
For kids, it means new teachers. New friends. A new class schedule. New classes. New people who like them. New people who don't like them.
They think, “Will I know everything I need to know? Will I remember everything I need to remember? If I don't will the kids make fun of me? Will they refuse to be my friend? Will the teachers like me? Will I like my teachers?”
After the first day, they come home, slouch in an easy chair and sigh, “I wish it was still summer vacation.”
But it's not so easy for parents either. “Do I have all the school supplies I need? Do I have enough money for all the school supplies I need? Will I like my child's teacher? Will kids be nice to my child? Will he do well in school? Will I need to help him with homework? Will I remember everything I need to know for my homework? UGH!” With a sigh, the parent slouches into the easy chair next to her child, “I wish it was still summer vacation.”
Whether you are embarking on a new school year or you are in the midst of one, school can be hectic! How will you combat this? How will you defeat the 'busy'-ness of your day to day schedule? How will you find peace amidst the fears that school brings?
Today Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”
Why We Need Peace.
I bet it was supposed to be a pretty peaceful night.
The Passover meal was a time for celebration. A time to eat good food. A time to reflect on God’s love. A time to share with family and friends.
The disciples were prepared for just that. The food was ready. All their friends were their. Their Lord, Jesus Christ was there.
The night was supposed to be peaceful!
But then, Jesus spoke.
He accused Judas of a plot to betray him, causing their friend to leave in a huff. (Jn. 13:26-28) He predicted they would all abandon him. (Mk. 14:27) He told Peter that he would deny even knowing him. (Jn. 13:38) He said that he himself would leave them in only a little while. (Jn. 13::33) He would be killed by their enemies!
Talk about a change in the atmosphere of the night. The tension was palpable. I imagine hearts were beating fast. Sweat was forming on lips. Insides were clenching.
This night wasn’t remotely peaceful!
That’s when Jesus spoke again.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’ (Jn. 14:27)
How is your peace level? Do you ever feel just like those disciples? You want peace. You yearn for peace, but in today’s world, it just seems hard to find.
It’s easy to see why.
When I was growing up I was frightened of the monster under my bed. In my imagination, he had three bigs eyes, two horns, and extra sharp teeth. It’s why I couldn’t go under my bed. My mom figured it was because I didn’t want to clean under it.
Made up imaginary monsters are the least of our children’s worries! Our world is filled with terrors! People shoot one another. People bomb one another. People poison one another. People hate one another. And…it’s real In the airport, you need to have your shoes checked just in case someone is trying to explode the plane with your shoes. You must pass through the metal detector at school. You better be paying attention to your surroundings…whether you are at the mall, a movie theater, or a marathon!
Not to mention how scary our own personal lives can be! The fear of losing a job. The fear of losing a loved one. The fear of a relationship falling to pieces. The fear of no one loving you!
I haven’t even begun to mention the host of scary things that we never even think of! Like the Black Widow under your pillow. Or the copper head out on the playground. Or the devil. That no good rotten scoundrel whose only desire is to muck up your life with sin. Make things a mess. And, in his own disgusting, devious mind, treat you to an eternal life with him in the bowels of hell.
To be frank, this world is not a peaceful place!
Where then, do you turn to find peace?
To be fair there are alot of different places to turn for peace. God has given us a host of blessings. Friends. Chocolate cake. A good book. Peaceful gardens.
But how long does this kind of peace really last?
Consider our options.
First, we might turn to what I’ll call “abstractions.” That is things that aren’t so much real, but possibilities. Phrases like “I’ll be alright.” “It’s for the best” or “I’ll work it out.” These are nothing more than empty platitudes. Is cancer really going to be alright? Try telling that to the person who has gone through 3 years of chemotherapy? Are the angry words of hatred that your boss screamed at you really for the best? Will the terrorist battles really work themselves out?
The truth is: You don’t know that any of these things will happen. You don’t know that life will get better. It may not! If these words are all you have, they are empty!
That kind of peace isn’t real peace at all. It’s as phony as the monster under my bed!
Next, we may turn to neutral distractions. Things that keep us busy so that we don’t dwell on the scary things of this world. Being endlessly busy at work. Picking up a new hobby of wood working. Watching marathons of Iron Chef on the food channel.
But do these things solve the problem? Not at all. Because when work is done. When you’re tired of fishing. When you’ve reached the latest episode of Iron Chef, the scary things in life are still there.
So we turn to even more powerful distractions. Ones that literally alter the chemicals in our brains. The highs produced by drugs. The mind numbing ability of drunkenness. The thrill of “no strings attached” sex. The escape of internet pornography, internet gambling, and internet romances.
These things don’t make life more peaceful either. When the drug wears off. When your immoral partner leaves. When the internet connection goes out, your problems are still there!
Brothers and sisters, we’ve got it all wrong. The world is what is causing our fears in the first place! Why then would we turn to the world to heal our fears!?!
That's like trying to heal a snake bite by injecting a syringe full of venom!
Doesn't make much sense does it? Why turn to what has left us without peace to get peace?
Because the world cannot give us real peace. Not lasting peace. Whether it's sinful or not, it will not give us the peace of a purpose in life, sins forgiven, and the devil defeated!
We need to turn outside of this world.
III. The Right Place to Turn.
It was a dark night. A group of shepherd sat on a hill. Looking up at the stars, perhaps they were filled with wonder. Where is God? Who is God? What does he wants with me? Does he know all the wrong I have done? Does he care about how awful this world is getting? Does he want us to sit around in fear?
Who would’ve known that God would answer any of those questions that night!
From heavens, a supernatural being. An angel glowing with joy. “Do not be afraid. For I bring you good new of great joy that will be for all the people. Today, in the town of David, a savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord!”
Then, this majestic being was joined by a host of other beings. A divine chorus rang out: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth PEACE to men on whom his favor rests.”
Did you hear that? Peace. Peace came to the world that night.
And peace didn’t come in theform of a victorious warrior. He wasn't a witty physician. He wasn't even an exotic dietician.
Peace was a baby.
This is Jesus. He is the Prince of Peace himself. He alone brings peace to a terror filled world. A world where nothing makes sense. Where terror fills of waking moment. He comes. He whispers. “I love you. I am there for you. I went to the cross for you and will never leave you.”
Certainly, he accomplishes this. For he was the one who brought us peace with the Almighty God of holiness. The Lord who hates our sin. Jesus appease him. He died on the cross and appeased God’s holy wrath. Literally, because Jesus died you have peace with God! He solved your problem of sin.
And talk about peace? This means we have peace in knowing that the devil cannot harm us. We have peace in knowing that Jesus is more powerful. We have peace in knowing that our sins will not be counted against us. We have peace in knowing that we will not enter the eternal fires of hell that we deserve, but into the peace filled courts of the prince of peace himself!
Brothers and sisters, think about that peace! There is no terrorist. No bad guy. No monster under the bed. No amount of awful thing on earth that can change this truth: Jesus loves you! He died for you! You are his! He will bring you home to heaven!
Think again about what Jesus said to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you ; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”
Because Jesus’ peace lasts forever. It does not end at the commercial break. It doesn’t wear off when the substance fades. It is always true.
What Jesus did for you cannot change!
And it deals with things that worldly peace cannot. He gives peace to the guilty conscience by actually, physically, erally suffering and dying on the cross as payment for our sins! He doesn’t just distract us or numb us. He literally takes care of the problem.
And he really, completely defeats that devil! He is of no threat to us now! Turn to him and shout your peace of mind! “I am saved through faith in Jesus!”
Where to Find Peace.
Brothers and sisters, crave this peace for yourselves. Give it to your children.
But where will I find him?
In the verse right before this, Jeuss explains where His peace comes from. He says, “When the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everyting I have said to you.”
In other words. He’ll remind you of the peace you have in me.
He reminded the disciples. The disciples wrote it down. Now through the disciples’ words, the Holy Spirit reminds us. He gives us peace as we learn God’s Word!
So give that gift to your children!
It’s a new school year. There are big changes for them. New teachers. New classes. New classmates. When you combine it with all the other troubles of this world, it can be a scary place.
Give them the gift of peace. Teach them about Jesus. Tell them a Bible story. Read them a devotion.
Need help? Bring your kid to Sunday School. We are starting Sunday School for PreK-Kindergarten, 1st-4th, and 5th-8th grade on September 8th at 9:30am. Don't miss it!
Then, come to Adult Sunday School. We're studying the same lessons so that you will be ready to answer questions your kids might have. We'll also learn practical suggestions for teaching them the lesson and incorporating it into your daily routine for the week.
And...you'll get some peace for yourself!
Sometimes, therapists will talk about your happy place. When the world gets scary, they say find a happy place. You might think about sitting on a beach, sipping a margarita and listening to the Beach Boys. Or maybe you'd think of sitting by your garden in a hammock while reading the latest Debbie MacComber book.
Would you ever consider your happy place to be a dark hill with a blood encrusted wooden cross upon it?
Brothers and sisters, this is our happy place! It is the place where Jesus died. It is the place where our sin was defeated. It was the place where we were guaranteed peace in this life and the next!
Peace not of this world. Otherworldly peace.
Prince of peace --- peace.