We are continuing our summer sermon series on the Early Church. Last week we heard how God directed the missionaries to the west, across the sea, into a foreign colony, down by a river – all for the sake of one woman named Lydia.
Lydia heard the Gospel, believed, and was baptized. Then, she became a partner in kingdom work.
That’s where we pick up. Lydia’s home was now the base of operations for Paul, Silas, and their mission crew.
Today we’re going to see how God worked through their mission work in Philippi to proclaim FREEDOM. Before we begin, let’s pray: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Freedom from Evil
Acts 16:16 picks up the story some weeks later. The missionaries had gone back to the river where they met Lydia. It was a decent place for them to meet with people, preach sermons, and share the message of Jesus. They even started to get a bit of a following -- just not one they wanted: Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” (Acts 16:16-17)
A few notes:
This girl was a female slave. Unfortunately, you read that right. It was the 1st century and slavery was very common. Slaves were used to by their owners for housework, for fieldwork, for work down at the local harbor, and for any type of job that could earn the owner some money.
This slave worked for her owners by predicting the future. She read people’s palms. She gazed into crystal balls. She flipped over cards and told them about whether their dreamy new boyfriend was going to end up being Mr. Right.
She was able to do this because she had a spirit.
This was not a spirit of ambition.
It isn’t the type of “spirit” that gets people to work hard and end up on America’s Got Talent.
It wasn’t a good spirit.
It wasn’t the Holy Spirit.
It was an evil spirit.
This might be an undesirable truth, but it’s true nonetheless. Evil spirits are real. The Bible says that they are fallen angels. The devil was the first to fall by rebelling against God. But he wasn’t the only one. Others followed. They lost their godliness. They became evil. They became demons.
And it’s the truth.
Think about it:
If Jesus said he would rise from the dead…And he did.
Then, we need to believe what Jesus said.
And Jesus said that angels were real.
And so are demons.
One of those demons had possessed this slave girl. While this allowed her to do some amazing things like tell the future, it was a wretched life:
She was a prisoner in her own body.
She was influenced by demonic forces.
She was a slave in her own mind.
But not just to the demons! Her owners didn’t care one bit. She made them money! She was their ticket to the fancy new home theater with the 70” HD TV that they wanted. It didn’t matter if she suffered; she made them cash.
But now she found herself a second job. She followed the missionaries around shouting to the crowds: “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days…Paul became…annoyed. (Acts 16:17-18a)
That might seem strange. Because if you look at her words, they are filled with truth!
The missionaries were the servant of the God? Truth.
That God is the Most High God? Truth.
They were telling people the way to be saved? Yes, through Jesus.
Why is Paul annoyed at this addition to their missionary team?
Imagine for a minute that someone stumbled into church right now. They reeked of booze. They smelled of alcohol and cigarettes. In fact, they’d been on a booze bender ever since the 4th of July. They made their way to the front. And every time I made a point in the sermon, they lifted their bottle of Mad Dog 20/20, took a swig and shouted: “This guy’s speaking the truth about Jesus.”
Best case scenario? It’s annoying.
Worst case scenario? People leave before they hear the saving Gospel of Jesus.
It was the same thing for Paul. People were beginning to think: “If this Paul guy is associated with that demon-possessed slave girl, then they probably just want our money. It’s another hoax. Time to move on.”
But what could Paul do?
She was possessed by a demon.
She was held captive by the evil spirit.
She was a prisoner in her own body and mind – terrified and corned by a powerful devil.
Paul couldn’t do anything.
Paul said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her. (v.18b)
“At that moment.”
Not: “After a long period of time.”
Not: “After a struggle.”
Not even: “After a while.”
“At that moment.”
Because “at that moment” Jesus defied Satan.
“At that moment” the demon cowered at God’s power.
“At that moment” the evil spirit went running at the mention of Jesus’ name.
“At that moment” Jesus freed her.
Free from demonic influence.
Free from her owners’ heavy hand.
Free from her life as a sideshow.
She was free.
Here’s the first truth for this morning:
Jesus frees us from the power of evil.
We had an ant problem at our house. On top of the front banister there were hundreds of ants crawling around near our front door and making their home out of rotted a piece of wood. So, I went to the store and looked at pest control options.
There was a poisonous spray.
There was a baited trap.
There was a good old fly swatter, if I wanted to spend the next 48 hours waiting and swatting.
I came home with a little tube of gunk. (Call it “anti-ant gunk”) The directions state to take the gunk, spread it across the area that the ants will be crawling and wait. What happens is that it smells so sweet to the ants that they can’t help but make their way onto it. But then? It’s so sticky they can’t get away from it.
They become trapped.
Evil is just like that.
It seems nice.
Then, it traps you.
The fun of a mildly racist joke that leads to racism firmly entrenched in every conversation made throughout the workday.
The allure of pornography’s next exciting click leading to click number 178.
The pull of greed’s desire for more – even if that greed is standing over me, like a master – forcing me to work more and more and more…
The initial high of a drug. The chemical induced desire to give over all your money for just one more taste.
The feeling of release from letting your rage on your spouse – a moment you’ll need to defend – by releasing the rage all over again.
Evil takes over.
Evil takes control.
Evil leave us as prisoners.
Jesus lived perfectly against evil.
He died innocently for the evil you have committed.
He rose triumphantly after having conquered evil on the cross!
Jesus frees from the power of evil.
Jesus frees YOU from the power of evil.
In fact, Jesus said this:
If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (Jn. 8:36)
And Jesus did set you free.
And you are free.
You are free…
Whatever evil you’re fighting against.
Whatever evil feels like it’s controlling you.
He is your leader.
He is your Savior.
He is your Rescuer.
II. Freedom from Fear
Unfortunately, not everybody was thrilled with the freedom that this young woman was now experiencing. When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. (Acts 16:19)
Because they didn’t care that she was free from the demon that possessed her.
They were losing money!
It might be like a strip club owner that is losing a dancer.
Or a drug dealer that’s losing one of his customers.
Or even a boss that’s losing a worker’s availability to make him more money on a Sunday morning.
Sometimes when you try to abandon sin, people get upset that you’re doing so.
That’s what happened to this girl. Her former employers became angry and they had some weight with the city. They got leaders to listen to their side of the story…
That Paul and Silas had broken their merchandise.
That they had ruined their income.
That they had looted their business.
And the leadership listened.
Paul and Silas were stripped.
They were beaten with rods.
They were flogged.
They were thrown into prison.
And as they were thrown into prison, the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. (16:23) So, he put them into the inner cell. The maximum-security part of the prison with extra doors and extra locks. In addition, he fastened their feet in the stocks. (v.24) They couldn’t even stand up to begin investigating an escape route.
The jailer brushed his hands together:
“That should hold them. I’ve done my job. Nothing can break those bonds.”
About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. And the other prisoners were listening to them. (v.25)
“The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want.” (Psalm 23:1)
“Surely it is God who saves me, I will trust in him and not be afraid.” (Isaiah 12:2)
“This is the Day the Lord has made. Rejoice! And be so very glad.” (Psalm 118:24)
The jailer could hear them in the distance:
How could they sound so free when they were so…NOT!?!
I wouldn’t be like that. I’d be terrified.
I already am.
Because if I were to mess this job up, well…
I’d rather just go to sleep rather than consider the outcome of that.
Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. (v.26)
And the jailer woke up in a panic!
The doors are open!
If those prisoners are gone, then I’m as good as dead.
I won’t see my family again.
I won’t see my kids again.
If the Romans don’t kill me, then that angry mob will.
The jailer threw himself on the floor.
He drew his swords and was about to kill himself…
“Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” (v.28)
The jailer stopped.
He sniffled back a few tears.
He recognized that voice. It was the one that had just been singing to God.
He set the sword down and made his way to the jail cells to find the prisoners still there.
His job wasn’t in jeopardy.
His life wasn’t in jeopardy.
A rush of emotion came over the jailer. His eyes were filled with tears of thankfulness as he looked at the men who had a chance to leave the jail cell but remained.
He spoke: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved.” (v.29)
Because I’ve lived my whole life in fear.
I’ve lived my life afraid of death.
Afraid of losing everything.
Afraid of punishment and eternal hellfire.
What must I do to be saved? (v.29)
Paul didn’t state it explicitly.
But it’s implied.
The jailer couldn’t do anything to save himself.
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. (v.31-32)
Friends, the same is true for you.
Jesus provides freedom from evil’s power.
But he also provides freedom of another variety.
TRUTH: Jesus brings freedom from fear.
If you’re a dog, the 4th of July must be on the scariest holiday. There are strange people attending backyard BBQs, their owners’ hands turning into sparking things, and loud booms, signifying the end of the world…all night long.
But if you’re a human, there’s plenty to fear as well.
That some terrorist will be part of an Independence Celebration.
That war will break in America – ending many lives.
That the sickness will end in death.
And there’s nothing scarier in the world than our natural spiritual state before God.
We are sinners.
We are guilt.
We deserve death.
And it’s coming for each one of us.
Jesus removed our sins.
Jesus removed our guilt.
Jesus removed our eternal death sentence.
Jesus transformed death from a separation from God and our believing loved ones.
Into an eternal reunion together with our Father and them.
Praise the Lord! There is no reason to be afraid.
Look at the change in the jailer:
At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wound. No longer afraid.
He had himself and all his household baptized. No longer afraid.
The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them. No longer afraid.
He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household. No longer afraid of death, because death would not stop him. (v.32-34)
You don’t have to be afraid any longer.
The worst thing that could happen to you in this life, it’s also the best:
Your death means your eternal life. All because of Jesus!
Friends, Jesus means freedom.
Freedom from sin.
Freedom from guilt.
Freedom from shame.
Be free from fear.
Be free from evil.
Because FREE is who you are in Jesus. Amen.
Looking for a job can be difficult.
Searching for jobs online.
Filing out applications.
Phoning, emailing, texting to check on those applications.
And the interview!
You rent a suit coat.
You part your hair ever so particularly.
You practice saying: “I’m not in it for the money, but because of the sheer joy I get from filling out spreadsheets and alphabetically filing documentation.”
As challenging as finding a job can be…
It gets exponentially more difficult if you have something on your record.
A terrible credit report.
A job history with a few firings.
Even an incriminating Facebook photo or post that you forgot to delete.
Past mistakes can make it difficult to find work in the now…
But what about God’s kingdom?
What if you have mistakes in your past?
Surely – if humans wouldn’t hire you – God, who is perfect, wouldn’t want you to work in his kingdom either…right?
Today’s EYEWITNESS account is about a guy named Peter, who had made some rather big blunders while working in God’s kingdom. We want to learn (1) what his failures were (2) how they affected his role in God’s kingdom and (3) what that means for our roles in kingdom work. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Peter’s Story
We are continuing where we left off last week. If you remember, Jesus had appeared to his disciples on the Sea of Galilee. When he appeared, he told them to toss their nets into the lake and – immediately – the net is full of fish. Amazing – because Jesus was 100 yards away on shore and the disciples had been out all night without catching anything.
But that wasn’t it – as the disciples row the boat to shore, Jesus already has fish sandwiches cooking over the fire for them to eat. It’d be similar to someone gifting you a $100 Starbucks gift card and then, when they invite you to Starbucks – they pay for the coffee for you.
Jesus did the same. He provided abundantly.
He provides abundantly.
And I’ll bet the disciples were loving this interaction.
Because Jesus was back!
He conquered death!
He was alive!
He was just as powerful as ever!
And he was with them.
This was great news --- for most of them.
While Peter was happy to see Jesus alive, it also reminded him of the last conversation that they shared.
It had been back before Jesus died.
Back before Jesus was arrested.
They had been sitting down for a meal and Jesus had said, “I tell you the truth. You will all fall away on account on me.” (Matthew 26:31)
And Peter heard it.
And believed most of it.
“Even if all fall away on account of you, Jesus, I never will.” (Matthew 26:33)
I mean…I’m Peter!
Jesus gave me that name.
It means “Rock.”
I am Peter and…I will not fall!
Turned to Peter.
Looked him straight in the eye.
And said this:
“Truly I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me – three times.” (v.34)
Peter would never forget those exact words.
Before that night was over a group of soldiers had come to arrest Jesus.
Swords, clubs, and spears – Peter was frightened like the rest of the disciples and ran away.
Then, sure, he regained his senses and made it into the courtyard where they were holding the illegal late-night trial of Jesus.
Only to deny knowing him.
But three times.
And then? The rooster crowed.
The one Jesus had predicted would crow - it crowed!
Peter hated roosters now.
Because now they were a reminder of how he had sinned.
A reminder of how he had failed…
A reminder of how he had fallen…
A reminder of his guilt.
Guilt is always tricky. It can easily burden a soul.
But Peter’s guilt was especially difficult for a trifecta of reasons that are especially hard to get over. For a few reasons:
He didn’t deny Jesus one time. He didn’t deny Jesus two times. He denied him three times in one evening. (Although during that third time it says that he called down curses upon himself, so even thought it was one “time period” perhaps it was a bunch of times within that time period).
Repeated guilt is hard.
We were given a good deal on a Prius a while back. Great car. Great gas mileage. Fun to drive.
But it’s extremely low to the ground. The bumper is about 2 inches from the street. So, when you come down our driveway which is on a decent incline…if you don’t turn the wheels at a specific angle to the right and back out at that exact angle – the front bumper scrapes.
Do you know how many times I’ve gotten that wrong? (I’m especially guilty of it every morning when I haven’t had my coffee yet) I keep messing up and I keep feeling guilty about it. In fact, the front bumper is cracked in all kinds of places. And it now serves as a 21st century, sheen black version of a rooster. Every time I look at it, I’m reminded of my failures!
Repeated guilt is hard.
Repeatedly drinking too much.
Repeatedly losing your temper.
Repeatedly looking at porn.
Repeatedly lying to your spouse.
Repeatedly being jerk at work.
Repeatedly being a bully to your family.
Repeated guilt is hard because there’s no excuse.
The devil comes along and says,
You know better!
But you did it anyway.
This is unforgivable.
Because Peter was a leader. He was a disciple; more than that – an apostle. There were only twelve of those hand selected and chosen by Jesus. And of those twelve disciples – Peter was definitely a leader among them: He had the privilege of walking on water. He saw Jesus heal a dead girl when many of them didn’t. He was chosen along with only two others to see Jesus go up on a mountain and reveal his heavenly brilliance. Peter was a leader.
And then he fell.
And when leaders fall…
They quickly become leaders in holding onto guilt.
Maybe you know.
Whether you’re a leader in your family.
Or a leader here at church.
Or a leader among your friends.
Or a teacher of kids.
Or even…you’re the only one at work who is Christian – making you a spiritual leader by default – and then you sin…?
How’s that feel?
The devil comes along and whispers:
“You’re a leader…and you did that?”
“I’m not sure you’re a leader anymore…”
“…I’m not even sure you’re a part of his kingdom.”
Because by the time Peter gets to the third denial, there’s a crowd of people gathered around him:
A crowd of people watch him as he shakes his head vigorously.
A crowd of people listening as cusses out Jesus.
A crowd of people taking mental note of his sin.
I wonder how many of those people Peter saw again.
I wonder how that went?
Public guilt is hard.
There’s this thing I receive every Monday called a Call Report. “Call” is a reference to the special “calling” that a ministry worker has to their particularly congregation. The “call report” details any changes in those ministry positions. It’ll say: “Pastor So-and-So retired.” “Pastor what’s-his-face is switching congregations.” And even “Pastor who’s-his-name has decided to remain at his current congregation.”
But every once in a while, it says this:
“Pastor removed for cause.”
To me, it’s a terrifying expression. It means “removed for doing some gross outward sin.” It’s a phrase that no pastor ever wants said about them. It’s terrifying among our pastor circles, because it is a phrase that screams: “Failure.”
And everyone now knows you as…
Not as a brother.
Not as a pastor.
Not even as your first name…
But as “Pastor, Removed for Cause.”
But as a non-pastor you can feel the same thing.
You might have a sin that your family knows about.
That your coworkers know about.
That your friends saw you do.
And now every moment you spend around them is spent like Peter:
Did they see me sin?
Do they know about my guilt?
Do they think of me as SINNER?
Like you’ve got a big old black marker on your forehead everywhere you go that says: “INSERT SIN HERE.”
Public sin is hard.
Any one of these three types of guilt are challenging on their own! If you’re dealing with any of these, they can overload you. Burden you. Suffocate you.
Peter had to deal with all three all at once. That’s an extreme amount of guilt.
And it needs an extreme amount of restoration.
II. Peter’s Restoration
Peter finished up his breakfast.
Another meal done.
Another visitation from Jesus without having to talk about the sinful things that I did.
If I just keep a low profile, stay quiet, and avoid eye contact, I should be able to avoid him altogether.
Peter turned around to find Jesus standing right in front of him.
Face to face.
Eye to eye.
Heart to heart.
“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
At this point, the conversation seemed a bit too familiar.
Three times? Really?
It reminded him of those three times that he denied Jesus.
Peter said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. (Jn. 21:15-17)
He doesn’t ream Peter out.
He doesn’t kick Peter out.
He doesn’t even respond to Peter’s claims of loving him with: “Umm…No, you didn’t. Remember?”
Jesus doesn’t bring guilt.
He brings restoration.
Restoration to God’s kingdom comes out of Jesus' work.
It didn’t come out of Peter earning it. Peter hadn’t done anything to make up for what he did.
But Jesus did do something.
Jesus did everything.
He lived perfectly when Peter could not.
He died innocently in his place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of Peter’s sin.
The same is true with you.
If you’ve sinned against God.
If you have repeated guilt.
If you have public guilt.
If you have leader guilt.
Jesus doesn’t make you do something to make up for it.
Jesus did everything for you.
He lived perfectly when you could not.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sin.
Remember earlier – when we talked about having a criminal record and how hard it is to find work with that record. One thing that you can do is you can get your record exponged.
It takes a lot of money.
A lot of time with lawyers. '
A lot of paperwork and a lot of pleading with a judge...
But it is sometimes possible to get it expunged, erased and cleared.
Understand this – Jesus has expunged your record.
He did all the work.
He paid for it completely.
Your guilt is expunged, erased, cleared.
In short – listen to Jesus’ message to you right now:
You are restored to my kingdom.
You are guilt free.
You are forgiven…and…You have work to do.
Restoration to God’s kingdom means Restoration to Kingdom Work.
That’s a bit unexpected. Because the devil would love to have you think:
“OK, fine. You are a part of his kingdom, but…Stay in the back. Go into the corner. Hide. Because you are not worthy of being on the front lines.”
But that’s not what Jesus says.
In Peter’s restoration, He goes straight to telling him to work for his kingdom.
He gives him a job.
He restores him not only to his kingdom, but to work in his kingdom.
And God has done the same for you.
He restored you to his kingdom.
He has restored you to kingdom work.
III. Kingdom Work
And what does that kingdom work look like? You get an idea in Jesus’ instruction to Peter.
Feed His Sheep.
Jesus says that is what true love for him is:
Feed my lambs. (v.15)
Take care of my sheep. (v.16)
Feed my Sheep. (v.17)
Does he own a farm I’ve never heard of?
Did he develop some petting zoo?
Does Jesus have a little lamb whose fleece was white as snow?
When Jesus talks about his lambs and his sheep, he’s talking about his people.
When Jesus talks about feeding those lambs and sheep, he’s talking about sharing the message of reconciliation with others.
You know the same message that gives you hope and comfort…
Give it to others!
Love for Jesus means sharing his message.
Telling your neighbor about Jesus.
Spreading the Gospel to your coworkers.
Sharing forgiveness with a church friend.
Teaching the little children about their Savior.
Inviting the community of North Raleigh to hear of God’s love.
He’s talking about our very mission:
To plant the Message of Jesus in the heart of north Raleigh.
When you are sharing the message of forgiveness, you are caring for sheep.
You’re leading someone to streams of living water.
You’re giving them some of God’s forgiveness.
You’re feeding them a steady diet of “Jesus died for you. Believe in him. You are forgiven.”
Here’s the challenge. The devil will love to convince that we aren’t worthy of sharing the message.
He’ll say that you aren’t qualified for that kind of work.
He’ll say that you are a failure.
He’ll say that you should leave that to others who aren’t as much of a failure.
But here’s the thing about feeding sheep.
It doesn’t matter if the farmer puts the food in the bucket.
It doesn’t matter if the farm hand puts the food into the bucket.
It doesn’t matter some disenfranchised, former farm hand puts the food into the bucket.
The sheep eat the food.
The food nourishes the sheep.
The sheep get the health benefits of the food -- no matter the moral background of the one who put the food into the buckets.
It’s the same with kingdom work.
The power is in the Word.
And those who are a part of kingdom are qualified to work with it.
And you…are an important part of his kingdom work.
Feed his lambs.
Take care of his sheep.
Feed them with the Gospel of Jesus.
It’s getting very close.
A night full of the scariest things you’ve ever seen.
A night that you might cover yourself with a blankie as you watch spooky things on TV.
A night filled with treats, and quite a few tricks.
Yep, it’s almost time…for Election Night.
(Did you think I meant Halloween?)
I guarantee that there are many more people fearful of the Election than Halloween this year. Halloween is make believe. People wear masks. But the Election is real life! What will happen? How will we survive if so-and-so is president? Is this the end of America?
Today our goal is to take a look at God’s Word and we want to do 2 things: (1) see why it is this election is not nearly as scary as some websites would have you believe and (2) see how it is Christians should react to whoever is president next. But before we study God’s Word, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Not-So-Scary Night
I direct your attention to Romans 13. Romans is a book that a disciple named Paul wrote. It was actually a letter to Christians and future Christians in Rome. In fact, it’s a good letter for all Christians. It talks about sin and our Savior. Then, it discusses Christian living. Finally, in Chapter 13 – there’s this directive about the government:
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. (v.1)
Take a look at that word “authority” to start out with. Authority means to “be in charge of” or “to have power.”
There’s a lot of different authorities in this world. There’s the “authorities” as in police officers and highway patrol. In each family, parents have authority – although sometimes husbands joke that the “wife” has authority. You might have authority at work to do some things that others can’t and you might not be able to do some things that others can.
There’s lots of different authorities. Even in the government. There’s the President of the United States. There’s the Vice President. There’s the governors and senators and representatives – there’s the mayor and district representatives and even the city clerk! They are all very different in size of authority, shape of authority, and form of authority.
But they also have one thing in common.
There is no authority except that which God has established.
Have you ever seen ‘est’d.’ on the front of a building? Usually it’s on cornerstone – or in some easy to see spot. It means this is when the building was made and this is who paid for it. We’ve got a plague in the hallway that says something similar about our fellowship hall. Maybe we’ll have something like that for the new Precious Lambs building.
Do you understand what Romans 13:1 is saying? If someone is in authority – no matter where the authority is – no matter when the authority is – no matter how the authority is – God is the one who set it up. Because God is the ultimate authority.
And that means – that on the morning of November 9th – we will know who is in control.
No matter who wins the election. No matter who becomes President of the United States (POTUS). No matter who is elected – you can envision a little ‘estd’ on the name badge above their breast pocket.
Established by God.
Do you believe that? Imagine for a minute that it’s November 9th. You are waking up the day after the election and after you grab your coffee and you read the headline on the newspaper OR the tweet on your phone – the other candidate won.
Not the one you voted for – who you maybe didn’t even like all that much – the candidate that you didn’t vote for because you were terrified of that candidate becoming president.
How do you react?
Add a little spike to your morning coffee?
Immediately tweet about how America is over?
Do you go online and start searching for the price of houses in Canada?
When less than 40% of America is behind a candidate, November 9th is bound to be a scary day. Someone will be in authority that more than 60 percent of the country doesn’t even want!
We'll start thinking!
This is because our no-good country elected that person.
This is because of the no-good media.
This is because other countries interfered.
This is because it’s rigged.
Some – or all of that might be true. But there’s a bigger, deeper reason behind the Next President.
Romans 13:1 again: There is no authority except that which God has established.
II. God’s Choice
But that’s hard. Because it means that whoever gets elected on Election Day, will do so under God’s authority!
And if we were to end the sermon there, you’ll probably leave thinking:
That was crazy. Because if so-and-so wins, that one is an awful no good unbeliever – How could God be behind that?
To be fair: It was hard for the people who were hearing this message originally. Because at that time, the Roman government was in charge. The Roman government was the authority. The Roman government wasn’t Christian. In fact, Romans didn’t like Christians all that much. Romans viewed Christianity as a cult that would lead to a revolution and loss of authority for the Roman government.
One of the worst offenders was a guy called Nero. He’s gonna show up very early in the history of the Christian church – shortly after the letter to the Romans is circulated. Nero hated Christians. There are accounts and records of Nero burning Christians at the stake and throwing them into the Lion’s Den. Christians were probably very wary of the Roman government and very nervous about what it might bring them!
Then, they read this letter form Paul. I bet they thought: Here’s the section about government. I can’t wait to read it. I can’t wait for him to tell us about how we should fight back against Roman soldiers. I can’t wait to read about how we should burn Nero’s palace down. I can’t wait to hear about how this is all a bit misunderstanding and God will give us a new ruler soon.
So…let’s see. It says, “The authorities that exist have been established by God?”
Is this a typo?
But this must be true! If we believe in an all knowing, all powerful, all incredible God, then we believe he has all authority. Otherwise you make him into some feeble, old ruler who can’t prevent his own overthrow or some non-caring, jerk, who doesn’t care about you.
God establishes authority.
And no, we don’t always know why God establishes the government that he establishes. If you look at Bible history, there are some reasons that are explained --
(1) Sometimes it’s for good order. To keep believers and unbelievers and people of different cultures, races, belief systems and backgrounds from beating each other up.
(2) Other times it’s for prosperity. God used kings like David to bring prosperity on the nation.
(3) Sometimes? It’s for discipline.
Take Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar was a Babylonian ruler. He didn’t know God. He didn’t care for God. He didn’t consult God. But God used them. He used them to punish his people. He used them to bring them to their knees. He used them to discipline his children and bring them back to faith in him.
Here’s the truth. We don’t know why God establishes the authorities that he does. But we do know that whatever the reason – It’s for our eternal good.
Check out this passage from the same letter to Rome – “All things work for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
Here’s a second truth: We don’t know why God will establish the authority that he does on November 8th. But…we do know that whoever he established, “All things – including the American election – will for your good.” For your, eternal good.
Like Pontius Pilate. He was a Roman. He didn’t care a lick about the Jewish people. He could be harsh and uncaring – like the time that he allowed an innocent man to be crucified on a cross just so that he wouldn’t lose his authority.
But God had a purpose. An eternal purpose. Your eternal purpose.
That innocent man that he killed just happened to be the Son of God – Jesus Christ. The one of whom it was prophesied, would die on a cross. (Isaiah 53) A cross that the no good, unbelieving, Roman government used as a punishment.
God used Pontius Pilate to fulfill his plan.
God used the Roman government to sacrifice the Savior.
God used those authorities – to save you.
God will use the next president for your good—your eternal good.
III. What Now?
Because there might be a Next President that you don’t like. A president that you don’t trust. Even if you vote for that person, you might not trust them.
But Trust God.
It doesn’t matter what earthly person is in authority, they can’t out-authority God.
They can’t take away the salvation that Jesus won for you on a cross.
They can’t pass a law that says "You aren’t forgiven."
They can’t change legislation to make you into an enemy of God.
They can’t amend history and keep Jesus from dying and rising from the dead.
God is in control.
So…here’s what I think you should do. Before you open up your newsfeed on November 8th. Before you check Facebook or the news. Before you watch the news later that night after you vote --- Open the Bible. Find Psalm 46. Read “God is our Refuge and strength and ever present help in trouble; Therefore we will not fear, though the earth quakes and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea. God says, “Be still and know that I am God.”
2) Don’t Rebel
Ever had a babysitter? Me too. I, like many young boys, didn’t think that I had to listen to my babysitters. In fact, one of my first babysitters – I refused to listen to. I stayed up late. I jumped on my bed. I ate way more cookies than she said I could have. I rebelled against her authority and I thought that it wasn’t a big deal. I figured if I wasn’t disobeying my mom and dad, then it was okay.
I was wrong.
The same is true with the next president: if you rebel against whoever it is – you’ll be rebelling against God. Look at what it says in verse 2, “Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” You’ll have to answer to God.
You might be thinking, “I’m not gonna rebel. I’m not gonna grab a sign and go downtown to picket…because I don’t know where to buy picket signs.”
But that’s not necessarily rebellion. Rebellion means “to go against authority.” To attack; to fight against; to tear down.
So here’s something to ask yourself about your action. Is it building up? Or tearing down?
Ask yourself. Is this email joke really building anybody up?
Is this SNL skit just attacking someone?
Are my swear words really a blessings?
Is this illegal way that I’m trying to not pay so many taxes, really supporting our government?
Not so much? Then, you’re rebelling. Against authorities and God.
3) Give Respect.
Instead, give what you owe the next president. Look at what Romans 13:6 says, “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
Instead, give respect. Give honor. Give prayers. Give kind words.
And if you’re having a hard time doing that – please look at God! Because God is the one who established that person. I know you want to give glory to God. He won salvation for you; he forgave you; he loves you; and he’ll take you to heaven.
Treating his representative with respect is treating God, your Savior, with respect.
4) Remember Where you are “of”
In John 17, Jesus says this about his disciples, “They are not of the world any more than I am of the world…Protect them from the evil one.”
Because the truth is, we are in this world. While we are in this world, we will always have sinful human leaders. Because there are only sinful, human leaders to choose from.
While you can’t avoid that, you need to remember that you are more than that. You are in the world; but you aren’t of it.
Be different this election.
When others are frightened, be confident.
When others are complaining, give praise.
When others are planning rebellion, show respect.
When others think the world is following apart, show them God’s World and how he put you back together.
No matter what's going on -- remember that your kingdom is not of this world.
Your kingdom is God's kingdom.
That kingdom is above.
Did you watch the latest Presidential debate?
Call me old fashioned, but I remember a time when candidates talked about issues and policies and how they would address those issues and policies. This latest debate?
Here’s why you’re terrible.
And here’s why you’re terrible.
And here’s why you’re even more terrible -er.
It seemed a bit more like I was watching an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
I don’t think I’m alone. According to the latest polls, neither candidate has a majority. In fact, they are barely hovering around 40%. That means – the eventual winner will have more than half the country against them! It’s is going to be one of the largest third candidate votes in American history. Time and time again – I see people’s reason for voting for Hillary or Trump as – They’re bad – just not as bad as the other one.
What’s a person to do?
What’s a Christian to do?
Who should we trust to make our lives better?
Today we are continuing our series called God & Country. We’re looking at the Christian and voting. I wanna say right off the bat: I am not endorsing any candidates. You can give me a lifetime supply of Nacho Cheese Doritos and I’m not endorsing any candidates. I’m a pastor; not a politician. I care about spiritual -- way more than temporal.
Yet there’s a spiritual aspect to casting a vote. Because there’s trust involved in casting a vote.
Today we want to look into God’s Word and see (1) who should we trust while casting our vote and (2) what principles do we keep in mind while voting. But before we study God’s Word, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Voting & Trust
Our lesson for today comes from 1 Samuel 8. That's actually before where we were last week in our God & Patriotism lesson. It's before David was king. In fact, it was before Israel even had kings or a human government.
Which is what makes this biblical studying on voting for a political candidate difficult. There isn’t any democracy in the Bible. Democracy is relatively new. In the Old Testament – most governments were Monarchies – that means – they were governments run by kings.
But not in Israel. Not in 1 Samuel. At that time Israel was different. Israel was run by a theocracy. Theos is the Greek word for "god." That means a theocracy is a government run by God. Literally. God, their heavenly Father, was actively involved in the government of Israel.
He would give guidance to a leader -- Moses or Joshua -- who would then lead the Israelites in battle and citizenship -- How to live, what to celebrate, what's good and what's bad. This system went well for Israel as long as they listened to God. When they listened to him, they were blessed. When they didn't listen to God, they were in trouble.
The same thing happened when Samuel (the person for whom the book of 1 Samuel is named) became the go between for God and the people. Things went well. The Israelites had been in captivity, but after Samuel led -- they were not.
People were generally happy with this theocracy.
Until one day….
…Samuel heard a rock tumble down his gravel walkway. He looked up from his morning devotion and went to the front window: A group of men was walking up his driveway. He recognized them. They were leaders from various tribes and various families in this Israelites nation. A congress of elected officials – that was neither elected nor official.
Samuel went to the front door to let them in. It was always good to see them. Together they enforced God’s Will. They helped pass on God’s Word of wisdom. God talked to Samuel; Samuel talked to these men; these men talked to the people.
Together they guided Israel.
And it worked! 30 some years earlier, Israel was a broken mess. Various sections of the country had splintered off and been captured by the Philistines and the Amorites. They were oppressed, taxed, and beaten. But, after the country repented and listened to God’s leadership through Samuel – Israel was at peace. The country was restored. The nation was blessed and had been for years.
Maybe the guys are here to talk about the good old days OR maybe they want me to speak at a high school graduation again.
But the people didn’t come for high fives.
They weren’t bringing him a gift of appreciation.
They didn’t even want to take selfies with him.
v.5 “You’re old." You’re not young. It’s a new era; a modern era. You don’t connect with the younger generation anymore. You can’t keep up like you used to. You should be in the hall of fame; not on the front lines.
"You’re sons aren’t like you." They aren’t. They just want money and they only care about themselves. They aren’t doing a good job doing the legwork for you.
"Appoint a king to lead us, just like all the other nations have."
Samuel’s smile faded. He nodded and listened as they spoke. “OK, Ok. I hear you.” But his heart wasn’t in it. Why were they rejected him? Was it something he said? Was it something he did? Was he not wearing the right clothing? Did he need a new hair style?
Samuel excused himself for a moment. He went out back to a private room. He got on his knees and he prayed to God. God, is this right? Should I listen to them? God why are they rejecting me?
God responded – with one of the truest statement Samuel had heard in a long time.
v.7 Samuel…It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.
Do any of you know who Chumbawamba is? They’re a one hit wonder from the nineties. But…I remember back when I was a preteen, all of my classmates were obsessed with Chumbawamba’s number 1 hit song: Tubthumper. It goes “I get knocked down, but I get up again; you ain’t ever gonna keep me down.” (Sound familiar?)
So here’s what I did. I found a BMG Music ad in the newspaper. I ordered the Chumbawamba CD. I had to order another 10 CDs (based solely on whether or not I had heard my classmates talking about them) and I spent my whole allowance to get them.
The CD came. And Tubthumper was alright…the other songs? Awful.
All so I could be like the other kids.
Essentially that’s what the Israelites were wanting. They were willing to give up the leadership of their holy, perfect, all loving, never failing, completely on their side, miracle making God – all for the sake of being like the other nations.
They wanted someone they could see.
They wanted someone that was like them.
They wanted someone who was invested in the human race.
They wanted to be like other, sinful, godless, heading toward hell people.
But then again – this is what Israel had always done. For years, they had been rejecting God’s rule. For years, they had been doing the opposite of what God said. For years, they had been appearing to follow God – but really following sinful human beings.
God and Samuel finished their campaign meeting. Samuel returned to the Israelites with some talking points. He had a chance to debate; to give a final warning as to why God was a way better leader than a human being. His defense is found in verses 10-18, but here are the highlights:
1) Take your kids and make army fodder. Instead of having the hand of God doing the work for you, protecting you and keeping you safe, he’ll grab your sons. They’ll be maimed and die in battle. And it won’t always be for your best interested. It’ll be for the king’s interest and the king’s legacy. For his own, selfish, human reasons.
2) You’ll lose your freedom. You won’t be able to choose your lifestyle and choose your occupation. If the king needs a farmer, you’ll be a farmer. If the king needs a baker, you’ll be a baker. If the king needs a outhouse repairman, you’ll be an outhouse repairman. He won’t keep in mind your desire and dreams for this life – he’ll give you a job…for his own, selfish, human reasons.
3) The Taxes… Oh the taxes will increase. You’ll give up a portion of your food and your goats, and your oxen and chicken, and everything that you have. Some will go to protect you, but once that king gets a taste of wealth, the majority of taxes will not happen to improve your life, they will happen for the king’s own, selfish, human reasons.
4) You’ll be slaves. Because eventually, eventually someone will become king whose sinful, selfish human reasons overtakes his policies. He’ll make you serve him – not your country and not yourself. He’ll be filled with vengeance and a complete disregard for you – and you shouldn’t be surprised! That’s what sinful, selfish, human beings do!
And you’ll call out to God for help. You’ll regret the decision you are making right now. But, v.18 the LORD will not answer you.
The Israelites thought about it.
They pondered it.
They deeply considered the thoughts of their holy, perfect, all knowing God.
…for about 2 seconds.
v.18 “No! We want a king over us! We want to be like the other nations.”
Did you see the problem? The Israelites trusted humanity more than God. Soon, they’d put their trust in Saul – their very first human king – more than God.
It’s foolish to do.
God is holy; humans are sinful.
God is all loving; humans love themselves first.
God is all powerful; humans are weak.
God is all knowing; humans know whatever their very biased advisors tell them to know.
But this trusting of humans more than God is something that was happening back then…
…and is still happening now.
Who do you trust this election?
Hillary? Donald? Do you trust Jill or Gary or Scott?
Are you panicking because you don’t trust any of them?
Do you expect a president to completely change your life?
To fix your problems? To fix your money situation? To improve your job and heal your health issues?
If you do, your trust is in the wrong place.
Hillary Clinton will not fix your life.
Donald Trump will not make your life great again.
A third party candidate will not put your life in the right direction.
The only one who can do that; is not on the ballot.
Isaiah 43:11 says this, “God is the Lord and there is no other Savior.”
Cause when you look at our lives apart from God – there’s been a Great Recession.
And you know how good candidates are at lying? We’re good at it too. Telling ourselves “I’m fine. Everything’s great. I have no spiritual problems.”
But we’re wrong. It’s a mess. And it's beyond any human being!!
But it isn't beyond God.
Here’s the truth:
Your Savior isn't on the ballot; he's on the cross.
To be fair, this may not mean that you make more money. It may not mean that your health care payments go down. It may not mean that you get all of the benefits that you t think you deserve.
But what you’ll get; is beyond your wildest imagination.
Jesus said this, “My kingdom is not of this world.” That means he’s concerned with your life on this earth, yes, but he’s even more concerned with your spiritual, eternal life in heaven. His decisions, when it comes down to one or the other, are always going to be in favor of your heavenly glory.
Because that's better.
Because that lasts.
Because that's how He fixes this broken world.
Because that's how He fixes this broken you.
II. Principles for this Election
Jesus is the only Savior. But he's also not on the ballot. I'm not suggesting that you write in his name. (He wouldn't take the job and sadly, he probably wouldn't win anyways).
What are you to do? What does the Bible encourage us to do in an earthly election? Keep in mind that the Bible doesn’t exactly address voting. Democracy isn’t a part of the Ten Commandments and it was never a part of Israelite government. There's not even a mandate to vote! But there’s a few Biblical principles that I think you should keep in mind.
The Bible tells us to pray continually. It doesn’t say, “Pray continually until an election comes up; then stop praying and start making decisions on your own without seeking God’s help.” Nope. God tells us to pray about big things and little things – to help grandma get over cancer and to help me do well on this 10 question math quiz.
The presidential election fits under the category of things to pray for.
Won’t you keep it in your prayers?
Pray for God to bless America.
Pray for God to bless your heart.
Pray for God to guide you toward the best decision that you can make.
2) Use the Wisdom God gave You.
That really has a twofold meaning. The Bible says that God made us "Fearfully and wonderfully." Therefore, we should use that wonderful mind that God gave us and the wisdom he bestowed on us.
But also he gave us wisdom beyond that. Wisdom within his Word.
Now, there is not a Bible book called. “2nd What-to-Do-in-the-2016-American-Presidential-Elections.” It just isn’t there. That means this will take some time. You'll need to learn about the candidates and then search in God's Word for what a godly leader looks like. You'll find examples of godly leaders and godly characteristics of leaders. You'll learn godly morals and godly mandates.
It takes some time, but it's worth it.
Don’t just do something cause all your friends are saying so on Facebook.
That’s what the Israelites did and it didn’t work out to well for them.
Take time to think about the issues and vote using the wisdom God gave you.
DID YOU KNOW: There will be some friends, some family members, even some church members who vote differently in you?
Kick them out pastor! Right?
You do realize that every candidate in this election is a sinner?
Every candidate has sinful human reasoning?
Every candidate has sinful human motives?
There is no perfect candidate. If you’re going to disown a friend because they voted for a sinful candidate, then you’ll have to disown yourself.
Relax. Christians can make different choices for President; just as they make different choices for what type of car to drive and different choices for different types of chewing gum. You don’t need to crucify them or call them names. You don’t need to send them angry blog post after angry blog post.
You need to pray with them. You need to work with them.
You need to share God’s Word to them and with them.
And you have important work to do:
4) Move on.
Which leads to the final point – after you make your vote – move on!
Because God didn't call us to sit around and wring our hands and worry about our government. Nope.
God called us to share the Gospel of Jesus.
We’ve got way too important of work to keep doing together. We need to Gather to the Garden. We need to share Jesus with our community. We need to keep telling others about our incredible Savior, Jesus Christ.
And you need to be a part of that.
Here’s where God helps with that.
Because the more our trust is in him, the more we calm God gives us.
To be honest, this election is quite the opportunity for trust in God. Because if I think back to the elections that I can remember – people were voting because they were confident in the candidate to do the good job. George W. Bush will fix things. Barack Obama will fix things.
This year – They won’t mess it up as much as the other person.
Which means – when trust in the candidates is at all time low – we have an opportunity to place trust in God at an all-time high.
Put your trust in the Lord, the Only Savior.
Share your trust it the Lord, the Only Savior.
Today we want to start our series called God & Country. We’re looking at how a Christian balances God and Patriotism. Our goal for today is to see (1) when patriotism can become a danger (2) what good patriotism looks like. We’re going to do that by focusing in on a section from 1 Chronicles. That’s old school. It talks about the nation of Israel and its relationship with God. If you want to open your Bibles to it, it’s in the Old Testament close to the books of Kings. You can also search for it on your iPhones.
But before we study God’s Word, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Bad Patriotism
King David took the final steps out of his palace into the early morning streets of Jerusalem.
It was quiet. Quiet because the city had been partying late into the night. There had been another victory. Another victory for Israel. With that victory came another welcoming home of the victorious soldiers. Chants of “Is-ra-el! Is-ra-el!” had filled the streets. Street musicians played “I am proud to be an Israelian!” as little old ladies waved Israelite flags to the beat. Little kids held up their GI Israel action figures and older teens had pledged to ‘join the army’ when they were a bit older.
It was a good time. A time of national pride.
A time of Patriotism.
With good reason. Under King David, the nation had expanded its borders; it had defeated its enemies. They had gained national wealth, improved the economy and brought prosperity for even the poor. They were the United States of the Ancient World. Other countries feared them; many wanted to be them; no one dared cross them.
David knew that. He knew that and yet…he knew the worries. He knew the nervousness that comes with the economy. He knew the whispers of terrorism and war. He knew that some didn’t think Israel was as great as they thought they were.
A pile of confetti blew past his face. David needed something. Something to comfort the people. Something to dispel their doubts. Something to assure them they were safe. Something to assure himself he was safe.
Then, David had an idea. In a brilliant, politically tactical move, he would order a census. He’d number the fighting men. He’d get a count on how large his army was. He’d post that census on billboards throughout Jerusalem. He’d let himself and his country know how great the land of Israel really was!
David returned to the palace and called for the general of his army to stand before him. “Go; gather your commanders. Set into motion a census. Find out for me just how great the Israelite army is.”
Joab protested. “Majesty -- the country is huge. The army is great. Why do you need a census to prove that? Why do you need to boast? Whose ego are we trying to feed? Mine? Theirs? Yours?”
But David was king. That was that. Joab went out. He travelled. He counted. He tallied. He added. He subtracted. He numbered and reported:
“There are over 1.6 million soldiers in the army of Israel.”
David smiled. David swelled with patriotism.
The others who heard; they smiled. They swelled with patriotism.
But God didn’t smile. He didn’t swell with Patriotism.
“But this command was evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel.”
This seems strange at first. David took a census. Is census taking sinfully wrong? Is it as bad as theft and adultery? Should we feel as uncomfortable around census takers as we might around pornography directors and terrorists?
No. Of course not. Census taking isn’t wrong.
The problem wasn’t the census. The problem was the motivation behind the census.
It’s kinda like eating yogurt. There’s nothing wrong with eating yogurt. There isn’t a commandment that says, “Thou shalt not commit yogurt eating.” If you’re eating yogurt because you’re hungry, no worries. If you’re eating yogurt because you like yogurt, no worries. If you’re eating yogurt, because there’s nothing else in your fridge, no worries.
But if you’re eating yogurt, because your wife implied that you’re a bit out of shape and you’re upset at her for doing that and you hope she sees you eating yogurt and feels bad about the fact that she was being such a meanie – That’s wrong.
What was the bad motivation behind David? Pride. Pride in himself as King. Pride in his country. He trusted the great number of troops; the awesomeness of his army; his nation more than his God.
Because did you notice, there is no mention of God in his request. He doesn’t tell the people – “Be calm; everything is good in Israel because of God.” Nope. With the census he was saying, “Everything is good in Israel because of Israel. Because of our nation. Because of our patriotism.”
That’s bad patriotism. In fact, you might call it “Patriolatry,” – the worship of nation…rather…than…God.
So. I ask. At the time of this election – where’s your trust?
Recently there’s been a controversy around Colin Kaepernick and the national anthem. Did you know this? He and some other athletes have been kneeling during the national anthem. And I’m not here to give a long winded reaction to all of this.
Yes, it’s important to show respect to the men and women who serve our country in war and standing during the national anthem is a way to do that. But it’s also important to listen to a large portion of the black community (our family) when they are telling us about struggles that we might not know anything about.
But I’m more interested in the reaction that I’ve seen these past couple of weeks to it. People have been downright vengeful. There are comments on social media and in the mainstream media about how awful anyone who doesn’t put their hand on the heart for the flag is awful. About how they are traitors About how they are the worst. About how they are “swear word; swear word; swear word.” About how there is nothing more important than showing respect to our flag.
OK. I’m gonna challenge you.
If you’ve got that outrage over a lack of respect for our sinful country, where is that outrage over lack of respect to God?
Where’s your outrage over the family member who doesn’t show God respect and devote one hour a week to him at church?
Where’s your outrage when someone takes God’s name in vain?
Where’s your respect when you can’t even stay awake for a 20-minute message from God’s Word?
Why is there post after post after post (and conversation after conversation) about America and Debate and Vote this way, but there is no mention of God – no mention of our Savior?
I heard someone say this recently: “The thing you defend the most passionately is the thing that you love the most passionately.” I’ll say that again. “The thing you defend the most passionately is the thing you love most passionately.”
There’s truth there.
Think about your love. What’s that for you? The USA? Or God?
Scripture says this. In fact, it’s one of the Ten Commandments. “You shall have no other gods.” You shouldn’t trust anything more than God. You shouldn’t love anything more than God. You shouldn’t fear anything more than God.
This isn’t God being a big jealous jerk! It’s God loving you. It’s God reminding you that He is the only one that can save. Because the truth is:
The United States will not pass some law to get you to heaven.
George Washington didn’t die for your sins.
Abraham Lincoln didn’t rise form the dead.
Uncle Sam isn’t your Savior.
God did and God is.
And if you ignore this truth. If you stay at the temple of Patriology and your country is more important than God, then that’s bad patriotism.
And God will act swiftly.
II. Good Patriotism
Just like he did with David.
God sent a prophet. The prophet told David, v.10-12 "This is what the Lord says: I am giving you three options…Take your choice: three years of famine, three months of being swept away before your enemies…or three days of plague in the land, with the angel of the Lord ravaging every part of Israel."
Now. If I were David and I thought that my nation was so great (and it was), I might pick option one. Three years of famine would be no problem for the booming economy of Israel. He could tell his secretary of agriculture to start gathering food the very next day and start rationing the day after that.
Or I might pick option two. Because three months of enemy combat…After all, they had over 1.6 million soldiers in their army. They might be able to fend off these attacks. They might be able to defend the country.
But option three, three days of plague in the land? If that started immediately, Israel could do nothing. They wouldn’t be able to set up vaccination sites. They wouldn’t be able to combat it. They’d be entirely at the mercy of God.
Which is exactly why David picked it:
v. 13 “Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into human hands.”
Notice the change in trust. No longer does David trust his country. He doesn’t trust his army. He doesn’t trust his nation.
He trusts God. He trusts God to be merciful simply because he’s merciful.
So the pestilence starts. The angel of the Lord stands like a stalwart statue with his sword directed over the land. Soldiers start dropping. Heart attacks. Strokes. Other sudden illnesses. 70,000 people died. It looks like more will die. It looks like a terrible decision. And the angel of the Lord approaches Jerusalem – and the capital city was about to experience the complete wrath of God. But then….
That’s what happens when you trust God and his mercy. God has mercy.
And if you read a bit farther it says that God commands the angel to put his sword away and the angel does. Because God was in control the whole time. Not just at the beginning of this story. It was about God the whole time. From the start of the Israelite nation and throughout King David’s reign, to the kings after David and even the destruction of Jerusalem way in the future. Israel was ok. But God was Great!
It doesn’t depend on the size of the army. Remember the size that David came up with? 1.6 million soldiers? That’s huge. It wasn’t even everyone. Joab had intentionally not counted the men of Levi and Benjamin – probably to keep people from being so prideful.
But God has never needed millions to win battles.
With Gideon he used 300 men to defeat close to 120,000.
In Egypt, he used the wind and the waves to destroy the thousands of Egyptian chariots chasing the Jews.
In the small town of Dothan, his prophet Elisha was trapped, but not a single human soul came to save him. For that God used chariots of fire and angels of vengeance.
But none of those are anything compared to his greatest battle.
Jesus fought millions of billions of sins and death and the devil, all by himself.
He didn’t use a sword. In fact, as the battle started he told his disciples to put their swords away. They did and they ran away. He was betrayed, abandoned, beaten, scorned, whipped, and crucified. He died!
But – with that dead body, he won a war. He came out of the grave and won salvation.
It means that if you have been trapped in Patriology, if you have been trusting in nation rather than God, God is ready to forgive. He defeated your sins. By faith in him, you are forgiven. You are victorious. You are a part of his heavenly kingdom.
III. WHAT NOW?
1) Redefine Patriotism
Webster’s dictionary defines patriotism as (sorry if that sounds like a lame segue for a speech) “the love of one’s country.”
You are American. Love your country. But you are a part of a country much greater than that. A country that you’ll be a part of, if you travel abroad, if you move to Mexico, if you retire in the Caribbean, even if America ceases to exist.
You are a part of God’s kingdom.
Take pride in that. Make that the conversation you have at work. Make that the encouragement you post on the internet. Brag on God’s kingdom and brag on your God.
God’s Word is often described like a mirror. A mirror shows you where you need some help. It tells me where I missed shaving and where I have some asparagus in my teeth. But too often in America, as Christians in America, we pick up the mirror and hold it like this. We run around telling others to look in the mirror and forget to look in the mirror ourselves.
Turn the mirror around. Reflect on your own attitudes and reactions. Reflect on how you’ve done wrong. Like King David – cry out: “Oh dear Lord, forgive me! Forgive me for my wrong doing.”
And then? Hear God’s Word of forgiveness. Reflect on his love. Reflect on his mercy. Reflect on how you can show his love and mercy to other citizens closest to you.
3) Get on Your Knees
That’s what King David did. When he saw the destruction that was coming on his country, he got on his knees and prayed. He prayed because of God’s mercy. He prayed for God’s mercy. God gave it.
Let’s do the same thing. Rather than getting on our feet and arguing with one another – let’s first get on our knees and pray. For God’s kingdom – for our country. Prayer for the salvation of souls in America. Prayer for the coming to faith of our leaders. Pray for opportunities to share his love in our land of North Raleigh.
Pray for God’s blessings on our nation.
Which is actually the very prayer that we will say in the very last hymn for today. Maybe you peeked. It’s God Bless Our Native Land.
Notice something about song. We are asking God to bless our native land.
Not our army.
Not the president.
God bless our native land. God bless the USA. God bless all of us in the USA.
Christmas is over. I am filled with all kinds of preservatives and saturated fats. I have a few more PEZ dispensers to add to my collection. I’ve seen my fair share of sappy Christmas movies.
I’m feeling quiet, meditative and reflective. So muse with me…WHY?
Not WHY did I eat that whole bag of Chex Mix in one sitting, but why?
Why Christmas in the first place?
Why did Jesus come to earth and become a man?
Why didn’t God come up with some other plan for our salvation? Why the incarnation?
This morning we’re going to let God answer that question in his Word according to Hebrews 2. (It’s kind of a follow up to Hebrews 1 – which went through on Christmas Day. If you haven’t heard that sermon yet, check it out online after this.) Page to Hebrews 2 in your Bibles and let’s get ready to come up with 5 answers from Hebrews chapter 2 alone as to WHY Christmas.
1) To Call you Brother/Sister
Check out verse 11 and 14. “Both the one who makes men holy, that’d be Jesus, and those who are made holy, believers in him, are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers…Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity.”
If you have been getting any Christmas cards or been on Facebook these past days, then you’ve probably noticed how families look alike. They might share in the same color hair. The same eyes. The same jawline. The same love for Duke basketball!
I saw a Facebook post from my seventh grade teacher (yes, I’m Facebook friends with my seventh grade teacher) and he’s about 7 feet tall. Now his kids are all grown up and in his family’s Christmas picture, all five of his kids are just about as tall too.
For Jesus and us to be a family, we needed to share in some traits too. For that to be the case, he needed to have something in common with us. He needed to become human.
Because it doesn’t work the other way. In spite of what the Mormon church teaches, human beings cannot become God.
Did you do any miracles this Christmas?
Did you snap your fingers and clean up all the Christmas wrapping paper like that?
Did you heal your kids’ runny nose with a wave of your hand?
Were you able to make it a white Christmas just by walking outside and saying, “SNOW.”
We can’t become God.
Or to think of it another way, we can’t become perfect. Have you ever tried that? Have you tried to be perfect? Were you even perfect over Christmas Day? Honestly the only way you will have succeeded in being perfect is if you are lying….which is a sin…and means you’re imperfect.
We can’t become like God; so God became like us.
2) To Destroy the Devil.
"Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power over death, that is, the devil.”
This goes back to the Garden of Eden. It was the devil who walked away from God. It was the devil who dressed up as a snake. It was the devil who tempted Adam and Eve to sin. It was the devil who got them to take a bite of forbidden fruit. It was the devil who brought sin into the world. It was the devil who brought death into the world.
He still has that power today.
It’s kind of like how someone might tempts you with some leftover fruitcake OR a nice sausage. “C’mon. Have a bite. Don’t you like it? Do you think I’m a bad cook? Prove it by eating twenty pieces.” Their temptation causes you to put on calories. In a sense, they have power over the calories you eat.
Same thing with the devil. He tempts. He causes to sin. Sin causes death. He has the power over death.
That’s a sobering reality. Thought about that lately? Death doesn’t come from cancer. It doesn’t come from terrorism. It doesn’t come from drunk driving, smoking, overeating, or icy roads.
It comes from sin. Sin comes from the devil.
But here’s the good news in the above verse. Jesus came to earth to destroy the devil. NOT to beat him. Not to rough him up a bit. Not even to put him in a full nelson for awhile.
Jesus came to destroy the devil. To annihilate him. To completely wipe him out forever! To take him out of power.
Did you watch the Poinsettia Bowl? Boise State 55 Northern Illinois 7. It wasn’t even close.
It wasn’t even close with Jesus and the devil. It was a route. Jesus blanked him.
3) To Free Us from Fear
He shared in their humanity so that by his death…he might free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
It’s interesting how that’s stated. All their lives held in slavery by their fear of death. It’s true, isn’t it? Death casts a looming shadow over all of us – from childhood to adulthood to seniorhood.
When you’re young and grandpa passes away, "Why is he in the casket? Why can’t his body move?”
When you’re a teen and see your first rated R movie with a scary murder scene that keeps repeating as you drift to sleep.
When you’re an adult and see another terror attack reported on the nightly news.
When you’re at your Doctor’s appointment and he says “This is more serious than we thought.”
When you’re at the hospital – surrounding by the sanitized smell of death – will this be my last night alive?
Death is scary. Maybe this is why we treasure times like Christmas so much. It might be our last time together as a family. It might be our last time to enjoy each other. It might be our last time in merriment, because…you never know.
But what if you did know?
What if you always knew there would be another day?
What if death wasn’t really a threat?
What if someone made it so that you would always be?
Understand this: That’s exactly why Jesus came. So you…wouldn’t have to fear. So you…would always be.
How did he do it? Why did he have to be human to do it? (I told you we would come back to this.)
4) To Sacrifice…Himself.
Check out verse 17 He had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.
A high priests. High priests were an integral part of Old Testament Israelite life. They were Old Testament pastors. They were go between between the people and God. They would sacrifice for the people’s sins.
Day after day this happened.
A man comes in tears because of the sin he has committed. The priest sharpens his knife. Grab the rope. Leads he goat, lamb or cow by the rope. Walks through the eerily quiet hall ways of the temple. Stop at the steps of the altar. Grabs the knife. Sharpens the knife. Take a deep breath and kills the animals.
It’s kind of disgusting to think about.
But it illustrated a very important, eternal truth: The wages of sin is death. Death is the only payment that God will accept to allow a sinner back into his family.
Enter Jesus. Jesus came to earth to be a high priest. He came to make atonement for the sins of the people. But nowhere in Scripture do you ever hear of Jesus offering a sacrifice. Not a bull. Not a calf. Not a goat or even a lamb.
What did he sacrifice?
This is key in answering why he needed to become human. Because God is eternal. God doesn’t die. God can’t die. God is unending.
But the moment, Jesus became a one celled little organism within the body of his mother Mary, Jesus could die. In fact, he would die. He did die to make atonement for the sins of the people.
To make atonement for the sins of you.
It’s amazing too. We struggle to sacrifice for the sake of reconciliation. The holidays teach us that.
5) To Help You BEAT Temptation
This last one is kind of a BONUS result. Because number 4 was key. Being a sacrifice of atonement was definitely Christ’s number one goal in becoming man. But number 5 is a pretty neat byproduct.
Verse 18, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Because that’s what happens when you are a human on this earth – you are tempted. The same was true for Jesus.
Case in point:
Jesus is 12 years old. He is in Jerusalem – the big city. He came with his mom and dad, his aunts and uncles, his cousins and all his family. They were to stay for a few days, do some religious things, and then return home to Nazareth.
But when the family left for home, Jesus wasn’t with them.
What should a 12 year old boy do when his parents aren’t there?
There certainly are plenty of temptations:
I wonder if Mary and Joseph’s minds did think about any and all of these behaviors as they rushed back to Jerusalem frantically searching for him.
But they found him in the temple.
With the religious teachers.
Telling them about the Bible.
That’d be like discovering your kid's light on way past their bed time, rushing in to see the iPad on, expecting to find Subway Surfer being played, but instead seeing Biblegateway.com up on the screen.
Same with Jesus. This time. Every time. He beat temptation every time. It’s why the whole sacrifice thing worked. If He had had sinned, then ”The wages of sin is death.”
But he didn’t. He took on our sins. He beat them for us.
AND he knows exactly what you’re going through.
It’s easy to feel like no one does. If you are struggling against a sin, it’s easy to feel like no one understands – addition to drugs, homosexual attraction, not sleeping with your boyfriend, not being so greedy, doubting God’s Word at every turn.
True or false: It’s easy to feel like no one will get you?
Still. That statement is dead wrong. When no one else gets you, Jesus does. He gets it. He gets you. He gets your temptation.
AND he beat your temptation.
This isn’t like like trying to get advice from a drunkard on how to stop drinking OR how to stop looking at porn from a porn director. This isn’t like trying to get advice from me on how to eat less Doritos. I have no idea. I haven’t mastered it.
Jesus wins every time. He’s on your side. He’s got your back. Whatever you’re struggling with, he has set you free from sin’s consequences and he will set you free from temptation’s power!
This leads us back to where we were Christmas Eve night. Because all these reasons for Jesus becoming a baby on that first Christmas – lead back to you. To be your brother. To destroy the devil’s power over you. To set you free from fear. To make atonement for you. To help you beat temptation.
These are all a result of Jesus’ work.
Jesus’ work is all a result of Christmas.
Christmas is a result of you. It happened because of you.
Keep that in your heart. Meditate on it the rest of the week. That’s how much God loves you.
Why Christmas? Because…you. Amen.
Last week our sermon was called Sola Gratia. That means “by grace alone.” We talked about how salvation has to be a gift from God. It has to be because the cost is too much for us. Salvation costs a perfect life. That’s something none of us own. But it is what Jesus had – and it is what Jesus completely paid for and freely gifted you and me when he died on the cross. Salvation is ours. It’s a gift by grace alone. It’s yours. New phrase – sola fide – which means "by faith alone.”
The professors at seminary always described faith like an empty hand – an empty hand that receives gifts. Not a hand that earns salvation by sweeping the broom. Not a hand that holds onto a credit card and pays its way in. An empty hand.
Think about it. At your birthday, people give your gifts and you receive them. You take them up. They are yours. You don’t earn the gifts by your hands. Your grandma doesn’t say, “This sweater is yours – if you can catch it from me.” (Although that might make for a mighty fun party game.) No, you don’t do anything to get the gifts. You simply receive them.
God’s gracious gift of salvation is received by faith alone!
But…just like last week’s teaching of salvation by grace alone gets attacked by the devil, so this week’s teaching gets attacked by the devil, too. Today we want to (1) be made aware of ‘common ways the devil ruins the teaching of faith alone’ in our lives and (2) be assured that faith alone is the true teaching of God’s Word.
I. Common Additions to “By Faith Alone”
The Jewish Addition.
Jesus was a Jew. So the message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone started among the Jews. The apostles did what Jesus said and told people that Jesus died to pay the price of their salvation. Many believed. They loved it. They treasured it. After all those years of living like a Jew, wearing the right clothes, eating the right food, observing the proper traditions and still hearing form their own religious leaders that “they weren’t good enough,” salvation sola gratia was joyous news.
But then the message made it’s way to those who weren’t Jewish – the sexually immoral Greeks, the hard-nosed violent Romans, even multi-god worshipping residents of Africa. Suddenly, salvation seem too easy.
It got to be too much for one group. They began to add to the original Apostles’ message. Their additions?
“Yes, you are saved by Jesus…BUT ALSO being circumcised.”
“Yes, salvation is a gift…that you pay for by never eating pork.”
“Yes, you have salvation as long as you become Jewish.”
Suddenly, just like that, the Jewish people had their swagger back. Now they felt like they had earned it. Salvation came from Jesus, but mostly from their DNA. Those who were Jewish? Happy. Those who became Jewish? Proud. Those who weren’t Jewish? They despaired.
Sounds silly doesn’t it? Yet the same devil that tricked people back then is the same devil at work among Christians today. Here are a few modern additions.
The “Emotion” Addition.
This is from desiringgod.org It’s an evangelical blog. Take a moment and listen to this pastor’s response on “How To Know You’re Saved.” He says, “To be sure (of your salvation)…say what you feel about this: “Jesus is my Lord…” If you say it and mean it, God is at work in your life, you have the Holy Spirit."
What do you think? Good way to know that you're saved.
I’ll tell you what I thought. I thought, “Yes, I think Jesus is my Savior. And I feel really good about it too. At least I think I do. I’m not sure if I really feel good about it right now or I’m just manufacturing a good feeling about it because I’m in front of a hundred people and I don’t want them to be disappointed. Honestly, I might feel alright about it right now, but after saying something nasty to my wife OR watching a TV show that reminds me of some past sins – then I don’t feel as good about it. So am I saved now…maybe…perhaps…but next week when I’m struggling with depression – not so much?”
Do you see what happened here? “Emotions” have been added to the salvation equation. That’s foolish. Emotions go up and down. They are about as steady as a kite in a thunderstorm. If you add that to the “by faith alone” equation, you’ll feel better when you feel good. (But you’ll feel better because you believe you're feeling better is proof of your salvation. Not Jesus.) When you feel bad, you’ll only feel worse!
If this is the case, we should invest in an endless supply of laughing gas from the dentist. That way we’ll always feel good and we’ll always be saved.
The “Time” Addition.
Jesus told a story about this. He said there were a bunch of workers hanging out at the local marketplace hoping to find work for the day. At 7am, the farmer hired a group to work a full day until five. He promised to pay them a day’s wages and then got them situated for the day. Then, he went back to the marketplace and hired some more people at about 9am. He did the same at 11am, 1pm, and even 3pm – when there was only an hour to be oriented and an hour to work – he still hired them.
Then, at quitting time he called the people who had only worked for two hours. He gave them a full day's pay which got them excited, but it excited the full day's workers most of all. They thought, “We’ve been here all day. He’s going to give us 10 times that amount! Awesome. I can’t waited to order a steak dinner tonight."
But then the workers got the same as everyone else. They got a day’s pay. Which wasn’t wrong. It was exactly what they had been promised.
The parable illustrates our human way of thinking. "Yes, salvation is by faith alone, but you’ve gotta be a believer for awhile. You can’t just believe at the last second. There must be some timeline associated with it. There must be something that I get for going to this church every Sunday, for the last hundreds Sundays, without missing a Sunday. Maybe, that something is salvation. I’ve been a believer for 40 years. I know I’ll be saved because I’ve been a believer all my life.”
Unless this arbitrary cut off point (which isn’t in the Bible) isn’t 40 years, but 40 years and 1 day. In which case, you are wrong. You aren’t saved.
Do you see the danger? Do you see how foolish that is?
The “Religious” Addition.
The last is very similar. It’s the Christian version of what the Pharisees. They thought, "I am going to heaven, because I'm awesome. I do religious things. I say religious things. I think religious things. My religiousness gets me to heaven."
Be careful of the Christian version of this: “I’m saved as long as I do religious things. I’m saved because I serve on the Council. I’m saved because I sing in the choir. I’m saved because I bring sliced cheese once every other month for fellowship. I’m saved because I used to do bad stuff, but now I do good stuff. I’m saved because I…because I…Because I."
What happened to because Jesus?
II. The Truth About Additions to Faith
Have you ever made Kool Aid before? My favorite is tropical punch – or as I called it growing up – ‘The red one.’ To make Kool Aid you have to get a Kool Aid packet, pour it into the pitcher. Then, a cup of sugar and then some water. You mix it all together and get a delicious, comforting drink.
But there’s also that Koo lAid that comes in the jar. It already has sugar mixed into the “Red Dye Number 6” flakes. To make that kind of Kool Aid, you only need water alone. Nothing else.
I remember one of the first time I tried making it like that. I was nervous that it wouldn’t be any good. “No sugar? I doubt it. It must need sugar. I’ve always made it with sugar. I think it needs sugar. I better put some sugar in. Two cups.”
Needless to say – I had ruined the drink. I think it ended up down the sink.
Additions ruin salvation in the same way. Here are three ways:
1. Additions Ruin Jesus' Work.
Galatians 2:21 says Paul was talking about how he didn’t add to faith. He said, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
In other words, if there were a need for any of these additions, then what would be the point of Jesus on the cross? What would be the point of his sacrifice?
I can see Jesus right now. He's up in heaven rubbing his wrists after having hung on the cross. Then, he looks to his left and sees a group of people getting into heaven without putting faith in him.
He looks at the Father, "Really?"
If we add things to salvation by faith alone, we are essentially ruining Jesus' work.
Now what's interesting is that we usually do these things and make these additions because we feel like we are being more faithful than others.
Sadly, the opposite is true.
2. Additions Show a Weak Faith.
One time Jesus told his disciples to watch out for the ‘yeast’ of the Pharisees and the disciples got nervous. “He’s mad because we forgot bread for lunch. We’re all going to go hungry.” Which – by the way – is a conversation that takes place right after Jesus fed over 5,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Then, another time he fed over 4,000 people with 7 loaves of a bread and a few fish. In both instances he had basketfuls left over!
So when they began to think that they had failed to “do their part” in order to make his “miraculous part” work. He said this, “You of little faith...?” Why do you think you need to add something to my power in order to make it work?
The same is true when we believe these additions are necessary. Our faith isn’t strong; it’s weak!
3. It Comes from Pride
Do you remember those phrases from earlier? I’m saved because I’m Jewish. I’m saved because I feel good about it. I’m saved because I do good. I’m saved because I have been a Christian for awhile. I’m saved because I do Jesus stuff. I’m saved because I….because I…because I…I ….I.
Did you notice that theme? Besides being rooted in unbelief, these additions really stem from pride.
It’s why God calls us to repentance as more than a one time thing. Scripture doesn’t tell us to say, “I was a sinner undeserving of heaven, until I met Jesus. Then, I put my faith in Jesus and now I’m saved because I’m awesome!” Nope.
Repentance is a daily thing. In repentance we drown our pride and we put our faith in Jesus.
With faith in Jesus, you will be saved. That's all you need!
III. Faith Alone Saves
Here's some proof of the "by faith alone" message of Scripture. Open up your Bibles to Romans 4.
He was man of the year. If there would have been a Time Magazine back then, he would have been on the cover. If there would have been a Nobel prize, he would have had a cave full. He did a lot of incredible things!
But those things weren’t what saved him. Romans 4:1-3 says this, “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."
Did you see that? “Abraham believed God.” Faith. “And it was credited to him as righteousness.” Not because faith was a meritorious work that impressed God, but because Abraham’s faith – his empty hand – simply held onto God’s promises. He believed God would send a Savior – a righteous Savior. He believed God would provide the righteousness he needed to get into heaven.
God is righteous. He knew the requirements. He provided exactly what Abraham needed in the gift of Jesus as his Savior.
The same is true for you. God provided a gift of a Savior. Believe it!
2. Gifts vs. Obligation
Take a look at the next verses in Romans 4. 4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.
Do you see the difference? An obligation is something that is owed you because you earned it. Which means if someone owes you something, you better do what you need to do to earn it.
But a gift – is a gift. It doesn’t require anything from you. You simply receive.
When it comes to salvation, you receive forgiveness. Forgiveness for pride. Forgiveness for unbelief. Forgiveness for a weakness of faith.
And forgiveness? It's sweet.
Just ask King David.
You remember him, right? David slayed Goliath. David became King of Israel. David won many battles. David had a beautiful palace.
One night on the palace David went to the roof and looked out over his kingdom. There in the distance he saw a beautiful woman bathing. He looked. He desired. He sent for her. He brought her to his room and had sex with her. (Forget about being married.)
A few days later she sent word that she was pregnant. SCANDAL. He sent for her husband who served as a soldier in David's army. David brought him to the palace. David got him drunk and told him to go home and sleep with his wife.
The man didn't. He didn't want to enjoy what his comrades out in the field couldn't enjoy.
So David sent him back to the battle with a note. The note went to the general. It said that this man was to be placed in the front line of battle. Then, when the fighting was fiercest, the general was to give the retreat signal. But he wasn't to tell this man about the signal so that the fighting would get to him and he would die.
The general listened. The army drew back. The man died. And David was consumed with guilt.
Finally, a prophet of God came to David and convicted him of his sin. David confessed, "I have sinned."
The prophet's response? "God has forgiven your sins."
David understood what salvation by faith alone meant. Romans reminds us of what David wrote in the Psalms, "6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them."
Insert yourself. Insert yourself and believe God.
"Blessed are you whose transgressions are forgiven."
"Blessed are you whose sins are covered."
"Blessed are you whose sin the Lord will never count against him/her."
The Final Word
Therefore, Romans asks this question, "3:27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law."
Make sense? This week work hard on boasting in Jesus. Not in yourself. In Jesus. Think about ways you can boast in your Savior and share the message of your salvation.
A salvation by grace alone...by faith alone. Amen.
Happy Fourth of July weekend! It’s a weekend in which people all over America celebrate Freedom.
Did you? Did you grab a sparkler and spell out the letters ‘F-R-E-E-D-O-M’ in cursive?
Did you throw a bunch of poppers on the ground and yell “freedom”?
Did you launch a bottle rocket and sing?
Everyone celebrates freedom on Fourth of July weekend. Yet throughout most of the year we complain about not being free.
What does freedom entail? What does freedom really mean? Are you really free?
Today we’re going to look at what freedom means to our culture and what it means to God.
I. The Source of Real Freedom
Ever visited ffrg.org? That’s the official website for the Freedom From Religion Foundation. It is a website that heralds “free thought” and “free thinkers.” Sounds nice right?
Under the “About FFRF” tab on the website they tell you more about what they mean by free thinking: “The history of Western civilization shows us that most social and moral progress has been brought about by persons free from religion...”
In other words – if you want to be really free, you need to be free from religion.
It’s interesting though. Take a look at the first statement again. “…the most moral and social progress has been brought about by persons free from religion.” Isn’t the statement highly subjective – as in – it’s their opinion?
Isn’t it their opinion who the most influential people were in a movement?
Isn’t it their opinion how ‘free of a thinker’ and uninfluenced by religion a certain thinker was?
Isn’t it their opinion what moral and social progress is in the first place?
If all of these opinions must fit within the realm of the “free thinkers” established code of what established free thinking, then what about the thoughts that are free from free thinking?
I wonder what would happen if I sent them an email. “Dear Free thinkers, I have a free thought. It was developed apart from your website. I freely think that there is a God. It’s a freeing thought. Could you please add me into your Foundation? Thanks!”
Hmmm…I’m guessing there’s a reason that all of the people who are members of the organization are declared Atheists.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has become slaves to its own thoughts.
Jesus speaks differently. He says, “If you hold to my teachings, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” This is such an interesting statement especially if you combine it with something Jesus will say in just a few chapters of John. “I am the Truth.”
Meld those thoughts together for a minute. Understand what’s going on. The Truth sets free. Jesus is the Truth, therefore Jesus sets free. “Then you will know the truth, me, Jesus, and the truth, I, your Lord, will set you free.”
Our world claims true freedom comes apart from all religion –including Jesus. Jesus says true freedom comes from Himself.
Who do you believe?
Let’s make it objective. Let’s objectively look at which one is understand freedom better.
Jesus was not bound by the laws of physics – he walked on water.
I Google searched it. There aren’t any atheists been able to that recently.
Jesus was not bound by the laws of medicine – he healed people of incurable diseases simply by touching them.
You can check scholarly journals. There aren’t any records of doctors able to work outside the realm of medicine.
Jesus was not bound by the laws of the universe – he stopped storms with a wave of his hand.
Scientists can’t even predict them correctly, let alone stop them. They are bound by their inability to control the weather.
Jesus was not bound by death – he died and came back to life!
If you go to the Free Thinker website, you’ll see that many "free thinkers” were unable to free themselves from death. In fact, they’ll freely admit that they aren’t expecting to escape it!
Objectively speaking – Jesus lived in real freedom. He’s the only one who lives in real freedom. So only he can bring real freedom!
II. Freedom from What?
The Pharisees didn’t. When the Pharisees heard Jesus’ claim that true freedom came from him, they immediately started to rebuke him. “We are Abraham’s descendant and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
They didn’t see any chains around their ankles. They weren’t wearing computer chips to let their masters know where they were. They weren’t even slaves to the cruel Egyptians like their forefathers had been at the time of Moses. They didn’t see themselves as slaves. They didn’t see any reason for them to need freedom.
“Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”
Think of what Jesus is saying:
If you are a sinner, you are enslaved by sin. Whether you believe sin exists or not, you are a slave to sin. Whether you are religious or not, you are a slave to sin. Whether you are a ‘free thinker’ or not, you are still a slave to sin.
If you were in prison, a good old fashioned, locked down, no TV, behind bars, sleep on a cold metal bed prison, it may seem “freeing” to think that you aren’t in prison. It might seem freeing to imagine yourself only a beautiful Pacific island. It might seem freeing to imagine that you can do whatever you want whenever you want.
But it will only seem freeing. You’ll still be in prison.
If we are honest, being a slave to sin is awful. Have you ever felt it?
I slept with that guy again and I feel so ashamed. I don’t want to do it again, but I feel like the only thing that will make me forget the shame will be to be with him again!
I have a terrible headache. I’ve caused all kinds of friction in my family. I cussed out my wife. I’m dealing with all kinds of guilt. I’d stop doing it, except that’s all there is to cure me of this guilt.
I just got done losing my temper. I don’t like that. I won’t do it again. I hurt people. Except – what’s that? Someone is coming to confront me? I won’t stand for that. I must lose my temper again!
I’m a very proud person. I hear you saying that in order to be saved I have to admit that I’m a sinner, just like anyone else. See I would do it, except the thing is, my pride won't let me do it – literally! It doesn’t want to be destroyed and has too much of a grip on me. My pride rules my life.
I’m trapped in despair. I feel terrible. I feel not good. I can’t get out of this feeling. I hear God coming for me, but I can’t see where He is.
Brothers and sisters, if you are slave to sin – it’s easy to feel like things are out of control and there’s nothing you can do. No matter which sin it is that enslaves you – hear the Good News of Freedom from Jesus himself, “If the Son, if I, set you free, you will be free indeed.”
This makes so much sense. This is like someone from the free world – a jailer – someone with freedom – coming down to your prison cell with a key to unlock the door. Who are you gonna believe knows the way to freedom? The guy who came from freedom? Or the curmudgeonly old prisoner in the back who long ago gave up on freedom being a true thing?
Jesus is free.. Follow him to freedom!
He gives us freedom from sin in three awesome ways:
Free from Sin’s Guilt. Jesus freely came to this earth as no slave of sin. He never let sin take a hold of him either. Not till the cross. And then, it wasn’t his sin. It was yours. It didn’t have a hold of him, he had a hold of it.
Jesus took your sinful slave drivers – addition, sexual immorality, pride, despair, lust, greed, and whatever else might have hold of you – Jesus took those sins captive and he took them to the cross. He forced them to die with him – never to return to God’s sight.
This means you are forgiven. Be free from your guilt. Hear that again. You. Are. Forgiven.
Free from Sin’s Punishment. God punishes only sin and those enslaved to it. You aren’t enslaved anymore. You’ve been set free from sin. You will not be punished by God’s Almighty wrath!
If you were on death row and new evidence came to light exonerating you from all crime, you’d be release. You wouldn’t be punished.
New evidence came to our eternal Father. It’s the perfect life of Jesus. It means you will be set free from punishment in hell. Rather, you will spend eternity in the freedom of God’s peace.
Free from Sin’s Power. This is the part that really affects your day to day living. Before Jesus, sin is your master. It controls you. It tells you what to do.
But after Jesus, it can’t do that anymore. You aren’t a slave. You are a son. You are a daughter. You are a child of God who lives and breathes to serve his father.
Galatians 5:1 empowers us to do just that, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Let us stand firm then and not be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
I mentioned in the children’s lesson how much my dog loves getting off of his leash. He runs around with his tail wagging and the dumbest dog smile on his face.
That’s what happens – usually.
Every once in awhile I let him off his leash and he lazily lays down by my feet. It’s like he’s still chained up. He won’t move.
Same thing with his kennel. Sometimes he just sits inside. I open the door and he doesn’t move.
“Come on! You’re free!”
That’s what God is frantically urging you this morning. “You’re free! Get out of your sin. Stop your addiction. Turn to me for forgiveness and live apart from that sinful relationship.”
Brothers and sisters, won’t you listen to his beckoning call? Won’t you follow the one who set you free?
Angry protests. Tens of arrests. Molotov cocktails. Smoke bombs. Tear gas. Riot Gear.
Nope, we’re not talking about gang violence. We’re talking about people desiring political change. And I’m not just talking about ISIS, Ukraine, or parts of Gaza. But even the heartland of America – Ferguson, MO has turned to violence to get answers.
Is this the way to deal with political problems? Is this the way to get answers from the government?
If it is, don’t you think we Christians should get to marching? Certainly you could make the case that government is turning against Christian values. There is a fear out there that this is not as Christian a nation as it used to be and it’s just plain harder to be a Christian than it used to be.
So should we join the trend? Do we need to make up degrading signs and march around the city? Shall we mix up some Molotov cocktails to throw at the limousines of government workers who vote against Christian values? Maybe we should break church early and go load up on assault rifles, take a Humvee to D.C. and attack the White House in the name of God?
Before we start a rebellion, let’s check to see what our leader wants us to do. When it comes to the government, you’ll find some of his marching orders in 1 Peter 2:13. Read it with me what the LORD inspired the apostle Peter to write, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority.”
1. What To Do.
Look at verse 13 again. It says, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority.” We see that word “submit” and immediately think that there must be some kind of mistake. It should probably read “Sub…merge yourself in armor so that you can quickly attack the government,” or, “Sub…stitute your own ideas when you don’t like the ideas that the government has.” The Holy Spirit must have made a mistake.
Not so much. The Holy Spirit is God. He’s perfect. There is no mistake here.
Besides, this is not the only time submission to the government is listed in the Bible. It is repeated in Romans 13 “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities.” It is a theme showcased by Daniel as he respectfully refused to pray to the King Darius. It is a theme lived out by Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as they respectfully refused to bow down to a statue of the King of Babylon It is a theme modeled by Jesus himself as he dealt with Pilate. It is a theme of peace and respectful disagreement.
Peter repeats this theme and makes it more specific.
He says, first, to submit to the emperor or to those who rule. At the time Peter wrote this he was referring to the Roman emperor. An emperor who was non Christian. An emperor, who soon, would hate Christians and violently put them into jail.
What about us? We don’t have a king or an emperor. We have a president, a governor, and congress. You know…the people that our society and media encourage us not to submit to.
Those are the ones God encourages us to submit to.
Second, it says submit to those who punish. For first century Christians, this meant the governor. Think Pontius Pilate the guy in charge of crucifying Jesus. For us, it refers to police officers, the military, even judges. From the comical Judge Judy to the royal Supreme Court Justices.
Finally, it says submit to those who commend or praise those who do right. Think of the DMV who rewards you by not imposing fines on you if you keep the speed limit or the IRS who rewards you with tax breaks for installing eco friendly lighting throughout your home.
Submit to any and every authority on earth!
Notice that it doesn’t say, “Submit to every republican authority,” nor does it say, “submit to every democratic authority,” nor does it say, “submit to every authority that you agree with.” There is no difference to God. Authority is there because God placed it there.
But what if they do really, awful, anti-Christian things? What if they bad mouth God? What if they are unbelievers? …What if I don’t like them!
Think about this: If you have a boss that you like who is going on vacation and while he’s gone he puts someone else in charge. If you don’t like them, you might not listen to them. When your boss returns and asks why, you might say, “I didn’t like him being in charge. He was a bad choice.”
Who are you really complaining about? The guy in charge or the guy who put the guy in charge?
When we complain against the government, who are you really complaining about? The guy in charge or the guy who put the guy in charge?
Listen again to what Peter wrote: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority.” Not “Because I agree with them,” Not “Because they speak well.” Not “Because they hold my political perspective.” Submit to them because of God!
But shouldn’t the government have to submit to God?
Yes. Of course. They are to govern justly, fairly, and right in God’s eyes. If they don’t, they’ll have to answer to God.
But this section isn’t talking to the government. It’s talking to you. Don’t try to make it about the government. God’s Word today says, “Submit to the government out of reverence for God because God placed them in charge and he wants you to submit to them.”
When you think about it that way, it changes things. Because while a particular government official might not care much about you personally and your issues, God does. In fact, he cared so much about the biggest and deepest issue that you have – the issue of sin – that He came down to earth in order to save you from that sin. He personally –as the Almighty King above—walked into the fire of the problem. He took on sin and he defeated it for us with his death on the cross.
Talk about love!
By the way, He didn’t die for you to abandon you and stop loving you. Instead, He still cares for you – even through His choice of government. All He asks is that you trust Him.
2. But Why Do It this Way?
You might be asking, “OK, fine that’s what God wants. He wants me to submit to the government. But why? Why would God want us to do that? How can we have a Christian society if we don’t hostilely take over the things that aren’t Christian and make them Christian! Crusades style!”
Listen to God’s reasoning. In verse 14 it says, “It is God’s will that…you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.” Because the truth is that there are a lot of unChristian views of the world. Both the Republican and the Democratic party have been fused with sinful ideas and attitudes.
God’s goal is to silence those. It is to turn off mouths, turn on minds, and open hearts to hear the message of Jesus. 1 Timothy tells us, “God our Savior wants all humans to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” That includes political parties, government officials, even that guy at work who thinks differently than you on political issues!
But listen to how God accomplishes silencing these mouths. He says, “by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.”
Unfortunately, that’s not how Christians usually read this verse. I fear that instead of trying to silence others with our actions, we usually to silence them with louder foolish talk.
That doesn’t work.
Sometimes the preschoolers get to talking at lunch. They get to talking and making funny noises that are so loud they totally forget to eat lunch. So – what I tried once was to make louder and sillier noises! I thought it would shock them into being quiet and eating their food.
That was probably one of my worst ideas of all time.
Why? It wasn’t quieter – it was louder. My voice added to the noise and they simply raised their voices in order to be heard!
Here then is the truth: Louder foolish talk doesn’t silence foolish talk. It just makes more noise. Think about how that works in America today. We think:
But here’s the scariest part. The devil loves angry words – especially when they come from Christians. He uses them to cloud an unbeliever's judgment. He uses angry words to say, “That Christian is a jerk and so is their Christ. What would I want to do with their Jesus?” He uses these words to harden an unbeliever's heart.
He uses you to harden an unbeliever’s heart.
Instead, deal differently with people. Respond to hateful political talk with loving actions. “It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.”
Think of Jesus. The Pharisees and teachers of the Law bring Jesus to Pilate. They accuse him of being a rebel and inciter of hatred. They tell Pilate that Jesus is a danger to the Roman empire. They tell Pilate Jesus is a danger to his job. They tell Pilate that Jesus needs to die.
But Jesus didn’t throw the Pharisees under the bus. He didn’t call them names. He didn’t attack Pilate for being a pansy who didn’t stand up to the angry crowd of his citizens.
He remained silent. He remained gentle. He spoke patiently and lovingly to Pilate. He walked to his own death.
Why? Because Jesus always had his goal right. His goal was dealing with sin. His goal was saving you from your sin. His goal was winning for you eternal salvation at all costs – even if it cost Him a chance at political power! (Something that was never really on his mind in the first place.)
The point? Make your minds like Jesus’ mind. Make the salvation of others the most important part of your conversations – not Christian political power – but Christ’s power. Not a kingdom on earth – but the kingdom of heaven. Not Jesus’ reign in America – but Jesus’ reign in your neighbor’s heart.
Then, imitate Jesus. And perhaps your neighbor will begin to think, “You know, I used to think Christians are a bunch of judgmental, bigoted jerks. But…maybe Christians aren’t so bad. I like how kindly and nicely they have spoken to me about their differing opinions on politics. I’d like to hear more.”
Live lives of love. Silence foolish talk. Share Jesus.
3. How Do we Do it This Way
This is all easier said than done. The normal human reaction to vengeful words is to speak vengeful words back. How can sinful human people like us ever be expected to overcome our sinful attitudes and respond with graciousness?
Listen to God’s reminder: “Live as free people.” (v16)
Focus on that word ‘free.’ Remember this was written to Christians living under the Roman Empire. They weren’t free. So that word “free” isn’t referring to being in political freedom of democracy like we Americans are today.
What does it refer to?
Jesus said this at the start of his ministry, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim…freedom for the prisoners.” (Luke 4:18) But Jesus spoke to more than just prisoners. He spoke to merchants, market workers, farmers, fishermen, even church workers.
That’s because Jesus wasn’t proclaiming political freedom. He was proclaiming spiritual freedom. This is why he went from human to human proclaiming, “Your sins are forgiven. You are free from your sins.”
This is the same freedom Jesus speaks to you hear today. “Believe in me. Trust in what I’ve done. I have freed you from your sins. I died as a ransom that you would be released from your sins, from their eternal consequences, and from guilt…forever! Sin no longer rules you, I do!"
Think about it. Without Jesus, sin would rule over us. When people disagreed with us politically, sin would tell us to call them names. When the government upset us, sin would tell us to complain. When the president did something we didn’t like, sin would tell us to curse Him!
But Jesus freed you from that! Sin no longer rules over you. You are free! And how you use that freedom is of the utmost importance to God. Verse 12 says, “Do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; but live as God’s servants.”
If you were a slave under a tyrannical empire, waiting in solitude, gloom, and pestilence to be set free for years, then you are set free as an opposing army breaks the power of the empire. Would it make any sense…any sense at all to say, “I’m free! So I’m going to find that tyrannical leader and ask him, if he can mistreat me and I can be his slave again!”
Of course not! Why then would you return to sin and evil after having been set free from it!?
Instead, remember who rules you. It isn’t sin. It’s Jesus, your Lord of love.
This means you don’t have to listen to your sinful desires. They aren’t in control of you.
Peter concludes with a final imperative for the People of God. In verse 13 he writes, “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”
Think about what Peter is saying as he lists ways of honoring God. Honoring Government = Honoring God.
But it isn’t as if the Spirit isn’t calling us to battle. He is. Just with different weapons: the Sword of the Spirit. The helmet of salvation. The love of Jesus.
Stage a rebellion then. In America – in Raleigh – start a rebellion with God’s Word. Use it. Live it. Share it.
Easter is 8 days away. There are a lot of different ways to celebrate. Some people I have talked to will be visiting the beach in order to relax. That’s nice. Others will spend money on nice new Easter clothes and 2 for 1 chocolate bunnies at the Dollar Tree. That’s nice too. Still others will pack up and go visit family. That’s usually nice.
But Christians…They’re planning on spending the week doing final cleaning at church. Some are making sure music is practiced and ready to go for worship. Others have volunteered time to go and invite the community to the service. Still more will attempt to reconnect with friends and family by inviting them one last time to Easter Sunday Worship.
Why not relax? Kick back? And Catch “It’s the Easter Bunny Charlie Brown,” on TV and call it an Easter celebration? Why get up and follow Jesus?
Over the past weeks, we have discussed how life is a Battleground. We fight temptations. We are in conflict with doubts. We alter our perspective. We fight alongside others who may be very different than us. We even stare death in the face with confidence.
It isn’t easy. So…why do it? Why follow Jesus?
Our Words from Zechariah will work to answer that question for us. Listen as he describes who Jesus is and what he brings. Then, see if there is any good reason not to follow him?
I. Consider Who He Is
Zechariah wrote, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey!” These words describe Palm Sunday 400 some years before it happened! And what it says about the one riding in on a donkey is astounding!
First, he’s righteous! Totally upright and completely just! How many politicians do you know like that? Yet, it sounds good when a political leader calls for some kind of moral improvement – even if they aren’t so moral themselves.
There are a few politicians who are taking flack for wanting to defend “Marriage.” They call homosexuality a sin (which it is) all while asking others to excuse the fact that they are on their third marriage.
Righteous? Not so much.
Here’s how righteous Jesus is:
Then, to top it all off, Jesus never sinned even once! It’s why the Pharisees had such a hard time condemning him. They couldn’t pin a single immoral word or action on him!
This ties into the second thing about Jesus. He is called victorious!
It’s good to follow a perpetually victorious leader. It’s why Duke fans always rest securely between basketball seasons. They’ve got Coach K. It’s proven to be victorious. They’ll be in the Title hunt next year – no worries!
Jesus marched into Jerusalem having won battle after battle.
Anybody else you know defeat death?
You might be thinking, “Jesus rode into Jerusalem righteous and victorious! But I’m lowly. I’m sinful. He wouldn’t want anything to do with me. I don’t know if he even wants me to follow him.”
Listen to the third thing about his ride into Jerusalem. See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey!
I could probably think of about a thousands scenarios in which a hero of Jesus’ fames ride into Jerusalem that seem more appropriate. A white stallion. A chariot. An elephant. He could have come as the Messiah year’s later and chosen a tank. Air Force One. A Hummer. A Limousine! Even a moped wouldn’t have been so smelly.
Yet there he was…on a stinky, stubborn, braying donkey. Bumping up and down as he tried to balance on the stubborn mammal’s back.
Why would Jesus choose such a ride?
Philippians 2 offers us a clue. It says, "Jesus, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
Jesus’ entire life had been one incredible paradox! With his miracles and works, he proved himself divine. He was God worthy of all worship. Yet he humbled himself by coming down from heaven and becoming a man! Understand how that’s humbling:
o He has all authority, yet he lived by the rules of his mom and dad.
o He is all knowing. Yet he grew and learned just like the other children.
o Jesus is God. Almighty! Yet, he became a man and needed rest.
o He is eternal – yet he would – later on this Holy Week – die.
o And not even a noble death! He was crucified with the worst of sinners.
This paradox is clear on Palm Sunday! Jesus is totally righteous and absolutely victorious and completely worthy of the palm branches and songs of praise. Yet he rides on a donkey. Humble.
This is only a microcosm for how he comes to you! Sin separated you from him. He had to go through this sin to get to you. So he did! Even if the only way to do this was to suffer and die a terrible death on the cross for your sins. Jesus was willing to humiliate himself in this way in order to get to you.
And the gifts he offers you? Those are incredible too!
II. Consider What He Brings.
A) Peace for the nations
Listen to what Zechariah describes: 10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations.
And what a marvelous thing peace is! At times of political unrest among other nations (even within our nation) how beautiful peace is.
But, you might be thinking, “Jesus came and went…and there’s still war. There’s still violence. There’s not peace.”
Not among humans…not now, no. But the peace Jesus proclaims is greater than that. It’s the divine kind of peace. Peace with God!
Because on your own, there is no peace between you and God. You’re a sinner. You’ve offended God – who hates anything not associated with perfect love – with your thoughts, words, and actions.
But with Jesus, that sin is forgiven. There is reconciliation. There is a peace that says, “God, the Almighty sin hating, fire in his eyes, righteous Lord of heaven and earth, whom I’ve countlessly offended…
…is my friend.”
B) A Global Rule
Look at the next part of verse 10: His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. King Jesus brings a global rule!
Just think about it. We’re reading about Jesus’ Palm Sunday ride today. That happened in the Middle East long before iPhones, Twitterfeeds, and TV. There weren’t even printing presses!
Yet, here we are today. Jesus’ news of peace with has crossed the Atlantic ocean. It’s in Raleigh. Think of how incredible this is!
I know that not all parents are excited about the school district that their kid might go to here in the Triangle. Where you live determines the district. Many think that therefore, some schools are better and the same opportunities aren’t available in all schools so you might even have to move in order to get your kid into a good school.
There’s no need to change districts to fall under God’s love. Jesus lived perfectly, died innocently, and rose triumphantly for every school district in America! “Whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life!” (John 3:16)
C) Freedom from the Pit!
These gifts really lead to the third one. Listen to how verse 11 describes it: As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.
A waterless pit doesn’t sound like a good place to spend spring break. Dark. Treacherous. No nourishment. No hope of survival. Just a slow, sad, lonely, pointless death.
Whether your pit is real or spiritual, Jesus sets you free. When you are haunted by your sins, when you are longing for love, when you are frightened by the darkness of your guilt and screaming for help.
Jesus reaches out. Not just with one arm, but with both. (on the cross) And he lifts you out of the pit. He frees you.
But Jesus doesn’t free you and let you go get entangled in some other messy, abysmal pit. He has a place for you to be.
D) A Fortress of Hope.
Listen to verse 12: “Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you!”
Do you know where the President goes in a time of crisis? To a fortress. Hidden underground this fortress is able to withstand nuclear holocaust! Bombs, bullets, and explosions will have no effect and all that are inside will be safe.
Jesus is an even stronger fortress. A mighty fortress of hope. With our eyes on him and his promises of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life in heaven – nothing that the devil attacks us with can make us hopeless! God’s Word surrounds us with hope that refuses to give up. That knows God’s love is unfailing and unending.
And when you’ve spent plenty of time in that fortress of hope, then you will undoubtedly be given the final blessing of Jesus.
E) A Wake Up Call.
Verse 13 has God’s promise, “I will bend Judah as I bend my bow and fill it with Ephraim.” In other words, and this is a cool picture, God’s going to use his people of Judah and his followers in Ephraim, as a weapon. To accomplish his purpose.
And with archer like precision that’s better than Robin Hood or William Tell, God chooses his arrows and shoots! He awakens his people in order to share his message with the world!
Who is God shooting you at?
It’s one week till Easter! The highlight of the church year. We’ve been inviting people for three weeks now.
Who is God aiming you at? A friend. A relative. A neighbor.
If God has aimed you than, don’t backfire! God wants to use you to share that message of love! Could one more invitation do the trick? Could one more email reminder be helpful? Could a quiet conversation where you open your heart and explain why Easter is so important be the conversation that person needs?
“But I don’t feel up for the task!”
Don’t worry. It’s not about you. Listen to the last part of verse 13. I will rouse your sons, Zion, against your sons, Greece, and make you like a warrior’s sword.
Did you see that? "I rouse you. I will make you.” In other words, God is the one in charge. He has equipped you with his love and a knowledge of his Word to share this wonderful message this Easter. Don’t be frightened. Aim and shoot! Follow in your King's footsteps and share the message of his love!
There's a lot of leads to follow this Easter. Peter Cottontail. Hershey's chocolate. The call of the beach. Whatever you feel like doing.
Why not follow Jesus? He's our righteous, victorious, and humble king. A king who brings peace around the world. A king who has rescued you from the pit and placed you in a fortress of hope. A king who needs you!
Follow his lead this Holy Week and always! Amen.