Presents are exciting. Even as a grown man of nearly *cough* years old, it would be hard for me to say that the pile of gifts under our tree doesn’t get me excited, that one of the best parts of the holiday for me is finding out what’s in all those brightly colored packages that have been sitting there taunting me for weeks.
Of course, presents are awesome, but we all know they’re not the reason we celebrate, we talked about that last night as God gave us his Son. We’ll look at that gift again today of course, it’s Christmas! But there’s more to unwrap from God, that’s why we’re all here this morning instead of playing with the new toys we unwrapped. (And I hope you got some proper toys. You’re never too old for toys.) So, this morning, we’re going to take some time and unwrap a few more presents, presents from God himself, presents that truly give us reason to celebrate.
I. Our Gift to God
We all know the expression, it gets repeated year-round, just more often at Christmas: “’Tis better to give than to receive.” So, with that in mind I thought maybe we’d start off at looking not at what God has given us but what we got God this year.
So? What did you get the big guy? Maybe an extra donation in the offering plate? Spend some extra time volunteering for the special services or in the community? Maybe you tried to reach out and make peace with that one family member.
Except… didn’t God give you that money to start with? Isn’t he the one that gave you the time and the strength and the ability to contribute here and out there? And if we’re being honest, wasn’t it partly your stubbornness and pride that caused the family rift to begin with?
I’m just shooting in the dark here with these but we could go on and on. The fact is, we can’t GIVE God anything he doesn’t already have. Everything we have came from him first. And on top of that, we daily ignore him, defy him, and act contrary to him. Our gift to him this year has been nothing…plus grief.
Let’s humbly remember this as we consider God’s gifts to us. We have given him nothing. He owes us nothing. In fact, we ought to be punished for our behavior. Our reading from Romans 3 reminds us of our default state:
Just as it is written:
There is no one who is righteous, not even one.
There is no one who understands. There is no one who searches for God.
They all turned away; together they became useless.
There is no one who does what is good; there is not even one.
Their throat is an open grave.
They kept deceiving with their tongues.
The poison of asps is on their lips.
Their mouth is filled with cursing and bitterness.
Their feet are quick to shed blood.
They leave a trail of destruction and suffering wherever they go.
The way of peace they did not know.
There is no fear of God in front of their eyes.
II. God's Gift: Himself
Between what little we have done for God and the grief we have given him, it’s shocking enough that he would offer us a way out of our situation at all. We committed the crime, we earned the punishment. He should refuse to ever come near us again. And even if God were to offer a way out, you would expect some kind of bargain, right? Rather than the jail time we could pay the fine as it were.
We’d expect that since we made the mess between us and God, his solution would be for us to clean it up. Some herculean effort, some list of labors that we had to perform to get back into his good graces. And that would be utterly fair. But instead of sending a list of demands to us, God does what he usually does, he takes what would make perfectly normal human sense...and then does the opposite.
He does not send a list of demands. He does not send some cruel taskmaster to get us back on track. Instead he sends...his Son. He sends, himself. The all-powerful, limitless God of creation, becomes part of his creation, joins us as a helpless baby and sets in motion the chain of events that will lead to our rescue and freedom from the mess we made. Because he is human, he goes in our place. Because he is God, everything he does can count for everyone. God’s first gift is, quite plainly, himself.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governing Syria. And everyone went to register, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the town of Nazareth, into Judea, to the town of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was from the house and family line of David. He went to be registered with Mary, his wife, who was pledged to him in marriage and was expecting a child.
And so it was that while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
There were in the same country shepherds staying out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified! But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. For behold, I bring you good news of great joy, which will be for all people: Today in the town of David, a Savior was born for you. He is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude from the heavenly army, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward mankind.”
III. God's Gift: A Perfect Life
Of course, God did not come here to walk around, take in the sights, and see what all was going on planet-side. He came here on a mission. You see, God, as a holy being, has two major requirements for anyone to be part of him or in his presence. It’s not arbitrary, it’s sort of like the laws of physics. Because he’s holy, certain requirements have to be met.
And the first one is a perfect, obedient, life. This makes sense. To be in God’s holy presence, you need to be holy yourself. And it’s not like his demands are unreasonable or cruel. In fact, the core of his command is love! Love God first and love each other equally. All his other commands flow from these. And yet as we confessed, we haven’t. We have been selfish and cruel, ignoring God and hurting each other.
We could not live a perfect life, so Jesus did. His entire lifespan as a human was carried out in perfect obedience to his Father. From birth to his march to the cross, he kept God’s will perfectly and when he was finished, he handed that life over to you to wear as a white robe that covers you completely. Your life is perfect in God’s eyes through Jesus’ gift.
We see just one example of Jesus’ obedience during his temptation in Matthew 4:
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. After he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The Tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.”
But Jesus answered, “It is written:
Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.”
Then the Devil took him into the holy city. He placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, and he said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you.
And they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”
Jesus said to him, “Again, it is written:
You shall not test the Lord your God.”
Again the Devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He said to him, “I will give you all of these things, if you will bow down and worship me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written:
Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”
Then the Devil left him, and just then angels came and served him.
IV. God's Gift: Forgiveness
I said before that God has two major requirements to be in his presence. One is the perfect life he lived for us and gave to us, the life that covers us now and makes us holy in his eyes. The other is that we be totally free of sin.
Well, wait, you might say, isn't that just the other side of the same coin? If we have a holy life, aren’t we automatically free from sin? Sure, we would be, if you had actually lived a holy life. But as we’ve established, you didn’t. The holy life you have is a gift, it covers you, it shows you as holy to God, but there’s still the problem of your debt.
You see, God has a justice system. It’s utterly perfect, utterly fair. Every sin is a crime against that system and like any other system of justice, every crime must be paid for. Whether that payment is community service, a fine, or jail time—reparation must be made. In this case, the payment that needs to be made for crimes against God himself… well it’s eternal death. It’s the agony of hell.
That is… a stern penalty. It is not a debt we could easily pay. And so the next gift God gives us through Jesus is full payment for our crimes.
On the cross, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” You see, hell is nothing less than to be completely abandoned by God. And that is what happened to Jesus on the cross. It was there that God abandoned him, that he suffered hell itself in your place.
And when it was done, knowing that your payment was made, he uttered that famous word “tetelestai”. “It is finished” in our reading. Also translated as “paid in full”. Jesus’ work was complete, the debt was paid, and God’s gift of forgiveness is entirely yours. From John 19:
After this, knowing that everything had now been finished, and to fulfill the Scripture, Jesus said, “I thirst.”
A jar full of sour wine was sitting there. So they put a sponge soaked in sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.
When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished!” Then, bowing his head, he gave up his spirit.
V. God's Gift: Eternal Life
God’s gifts: giving himself through Jesus, the perfect life lived on your behalf, the sacrifice on the cross to pay the debt for your sins are all leading up to this final gift that we now look forward to. Because of the baby we celebrate today, we have the confidence and peace of knowing our end.
This section from Revelation 7 stands on its own. Know that this is what belongs to you as a gift from God. Without further introduction:
After these things I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing in front of the throne and of the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and with palm branches in their hands. They called out with a loud voice and said:
Salvation comes from our God, who sits on the throne, and from the Lamb.
All the angels stood around the throne, the elders, and the four living creatures. They fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, saying:
Amen. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and might belong to our God forever and ever. Amen.
One of the elders spoke to me and said, “These people dressed in white robes, who are they and where did they come from?”
And I answered him, “Sir, you know.”
And he said to me:
These are the ones who are coming out of the great tribulation.
They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Because of this they are in front of the throne of God,
and they serve him day and night in his temple.
He who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
They will never be hungry or thirsty ever again.
The sun will never beat upon them, nor will any scorching heat,
for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Did you buy any good gifts this year?
I think that the best way to know what someone wants would be to hack into their Facebook feed. Here’s why – Facebook tracks the things that you do on their platform and (maybe you’ve noticed this) over the holiday season they send advertisements that are specifically tailored to what you.
So – in case you hadn’t gotten me anything yet – here’s a list of some gifts that Facebook thinks a pastor may like:
A mug (because Facebook knows I like coffee).
It says: “May suddenly start talking about theology” Because Facebook must know I’m a pastor.
Also, because I’m a pastor: A T-shirt that reads: “Pastor, because devil stomping ninja isn’t a real title.”
A Kevin Malone broccoli clock. Which is probably on there because I’m a big fan of the Office.
Socks with my face on them. I’m not sure what that says about me.
Tonight, I want to talk to you about the BEST gift ever…
A gift that just so happens to be for you.
Before we begin unwrapping it, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Giver
First, let’s examine who the giver is. Look in John 3:16,
“For GOD so loved the world that he gave…”
When you’re younger, isn’t it true that sometimes the excitement you have for a gift is based entirely on whose name is on the giving tag?
From Aunt Matilda, who always sends a box of chocolate covered peanut butter Bon-bons? Excited.
From Aunt Zelda, who always sends a box of quinoa covered carrot cakes? Less excited.
From Uncle Carl, who sends items from his world travels? Very excited.
From Uncle Merle, who always sends Werther’s caramel candies? Not so much.
From the grandma who always gets you all the Lego toys, and actions figures and video games you ever wanted? Jackpot!
From the grandma who always gets you money for your school trust fund? Not so much.
Who is this gift from?
It’s not an aunt.
It’s not an uncle.
It’s not any kind of measly, old human.
He holds up the planets.
He rotates the earth around the sun.
He has store house after store house filled with beautiful snowflakes – no two are alike!
He knows exactly what you truly, deeply want and need.
TRUTH: There is no better giver than GOD.
You can put anyone up against him.
Rich Uncle Joe.
Even Santa! Cause from what I hear – he’s a good toy maker.
But if you put him up against God?
Santa is pretty good at making toy blocks that you can use to build towers.
God? He put together the literal mountains out in Ashville.
Santa has perfected how to make a model train go by plugging it into electricity.
God has perfected how to make the coal that makes the real 18,000-ton trains go across country.
Santa, if he works hard enough on it, he can produce a lifelike baby doll.
God? He knits together real babies and gives them real life.
This gift is from God, so you already know It’s the best gift ever!
II. The Recipient
Right next to the giver’s name on a gift tag is usually the recipient’s name. It’s no different with God’s BEST EVER gift.
For God so loved THE WORLD that he gave…
Did you catch that?
Do you see the recipient?
It’s a quite unique name tag.
God is giving his gift to the world.
TRUTH: God gave to the ENTIRE WORLD.
Did you know that there are currently an estimated 7.7 billion people in the world today?
From Raleigh to Durham.
From the U.S. to Mexico.
From North America to South America.
From Ethiopia to Sweden.
From Russia to China.
From Iraq to Iran.
Even to the scientists down in Antarctica!
God got a gift for the whole world!
Can you imagine doing shopping for that many people?
I don’t want to even guess what Amazon would charge for shipping.
But at the same time this gift is for the whole world, you need to pay special attention.
Because it isn’t just talking about all the people on the other side of the world.
It isn’t just talking about all the other people in Raleigh.
it isn’t just talking about all the other people in this church right now.
This gift is given FOR YOU.
Because while God’s big enough to make a gift for the whole world.
He’s knows you intimately enough to tailor his gift for you.
Especially for you.
Specifically, for you.
Uniquely for you.
This isn’t like a plate of cookies that is given to your whole family. It’s OK. It’s good. But you don’t get all of it.
You must share.
You must give some to your sister.
And she gets to keep the green sprinkled Christmas tree that you wanted!
But not this gift.
It’s a gift that is fully and completely for the world.
At the same time, it’s a gift that’s fully and completely for you.
Only God can do that.
And he did.
It’s his gift.
III. The Why
But hold on one more time…
We’ll have a better appreciation for the gift if we understand the WHY behind the gift.
Why did God get us a gift? Check out John 3:16 again:
For God so loved the world that he gave…
Did you catch that?
God gave because he SO LOVED.
Notice. This is much different than human reasoning for gifts:
“I bought you this new type of coffee, because I know you love coffee.”
“I got you this beautiful ornament, because it reminds me how beautiful you are.”
“I got you a new toothbrush, because…you need to brush your teeth.”
“I got you this five-dollar gift card, because the office Christmas party gift exchange said that I have to.”
God gave because he loved.
Yet… you might get a gift from someone that says, “Because I love you.”
That’s why we need to examine the word even more closely.
Because the word for love here is agape.
It means, “Unconditional.”
And we’ve got to understand that love is UNCONDITIONAL.
That’s good news. Because if someone has been a jerk to you throughout the year, how much do you want to get them a present?
Quick question – how many of you are getting lovely Christmas gifts for someone that has been awful to you?
I’m guessing – not many.
Here’s the truth – We’ve been awful to God.
All he asked this past year is that we follow him.
That we love others.
That we stop being selfish.
That we stop being jerks.
That we worship him.
That we pray to him.
That we spend time with him.
How well did you do with that?
God GAVE because he LOVED UNCONDITIONALLY.
Doesn’t matter if you’ve lied.
Doesn’t matter if you’ve stolen.
Doesn’t matter if you’ve lost friends.
Doesn’t matter if your marriage is ruined.
Doesn’t matter if you yelled at your kids.
Doesn’t matter if you’ve struggled with addiction.
Doesn’t matter if you’ve been in prison.
God’s gift is for you, because God loved you.
And God loves you.
Are you excited to check out the gift?
IV. The GIFT
To find out the gift, we need to go backwards…
About 2000 years ago…
A virgin became pregnant.
Then, she travelled.
To a town.
A small town.
A town called Bethlehem.
Across the desert.
Across hundreds of miles.
While she as 8 months pregnant…
Only to find there was no room.
Not in the Days Inn.
Not in the Holiday Inn.
Not even in the Motel Six.
“I don’t have a room. But I do have a stable.”
And into the stable…
And they hold their noses from the animal’s smells.
And cover their ears from the animal noises.
And Mary sets herself up on some hay.
And she sweats.
And she groans.
“While they were there the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a Son, she wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger...” (Luke 2:6)
Was God’s gift.
TRUTH: God’s gift is a baby.
And you might think: A baby? That’s God’s gift for me.
I’ve had my fill of babies.
I’m not fit to be a daddy.
How can I take care of a baby, if I’m not even old enough to take care of myself?
But look deeper:
Because there in the manger.
Wrapped up in hay.
Wrapped up in swaddling clothes.
Wrapped up in flesh.
Is something more…
For God so loved the world that he gave HIS ONE AND ONLY Son…
Notice the phrase there.
One and only Son.
Because, in one sense, we’re all God’s children.
He created all of us.
He gave each of us life.
God doesn’t have just one child.
The word for Son here.
References one who is begotten.
Some translations even clarify that…
Only BEGOTTEN son.
Just like humans birth humans.
And reindeer birth reindeer.
And elves birth elves.
God births God.
Do you get it?
This is God’s Son.
And since God begets God.
This is God himself!
TRUTH: God’s gift is Himself!
God knew your sin.
God knew your struggles.
God knew your failures.
God knew your pain.
God send Jesus to do something about it.
And when that baby grew up?
He’d live perfectly.
He’d die innocently.
He’d rise triumphantly for the forgiveness of all your sins.
Such that John 3:16 remains true:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that WHOEVER believes in him will not perish but have ETERNAL LIFE.
Do you see why this is the greatest gift ever?
Because in Jesus, we have eternal life.
Because there’s nothing that will ruin any gift more than death.
Like my grandma Jan.
She was one of the best gift givers in my family.
She always knew what I wanted.
Always got me the toy that I wanted.
Stood in line for hours at Toys ‘R Us.
Stayed up late making sure to get the best Christmas goodies ready for our visit.
…There aren’t any packages in the mail from her this year.
There won’t be any goodies.
There won’t be any visit.
God gave Grandma the gift of a Savior.
Grandma believed God.
Grandma now enjoys the gift of eternal life.
That same gift is wrapped up in Jesus for you. Amen.
If I were to ask you to sum up your life in a word or phrase…especially this time of year… I’m going to just hazard a guess that “peaceful” was not the word that came to mind. “Hectic” perhaps. “Controlled chaos” maybe. Or perhaps it’s a little darker. “Oppressive”, “Grim”, “Painful”.
But peaceful? No, no not really.
And yet, why not? How often do we say the word “peace” in our readings, our songs, our liturgies? Isn’t peace one of the most prolific gifts that God brings us? Why do we so often seem to utter lack this promised blessing?
If you’re not feeling the peace this holiday season, then perhaps Advent is exactly what you need.
Let me just unpack that for a minute for the uninitiated. The seasons of our church year revolve around the life of Jesus. His birth, life, death, resurrection, and spread of his church thereafter. We just wrapped up the season of End Times and we’re starting the church year anew with Advent today. Advent is a neat little wrapper of the church year because it overlaps both ends. It focuses on the coming of Jesus. It’s at the same time a look back to anticipate celebrating the first coming of Jesus at Christmas, and a look ahead to celebrate the time when Jesus will come again to end this world.
So, Advent is all about God coming here. Whichever way you look at it. God coming to be with us. That should help bring some peace, right?
Should I be happy that God is coming here? Any one of us could spend all day listing examples of ways we don’t put God first, don’t trust him first, and basically don’t make him our God. Every day is littered with the choices I make, deliberately, to not have God as my true god. I break God’s commands. I sin. And God is literally at war with sin. St Paul tells us elsewhere the sinful mind is hostile to God. Our default state is to be enemies of God. And what a dumb thing to do! Yes, let’s pick a fight with the ruler of the universe, that will end well. If he’s coming here, that is not something to look forward to so much, it’s more on the end of terrifying. Maybe it’s no wonder I can’t find any peace in my life.
But let’s not forget the double meaning of Advent. It’s not just about Jesus coming again, it’s about his first coming as well. I think we’re all pretty familiar with the holiday “Christmas”. But look past the trees and lights and presents and cookies and parties and remember the manger. God came to this earth before and he didn’t come to terrify us or judge us then. He came to restore peace between God and his creation.
Our sin is a debt we owe God. Our lives are not the perfect lives that God demands of us. But Jesus is our payment. Jesus is our perfect life. And all this before anything we do. Which is good… cause we would mess it up! Paul writes here:
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
While we were enemies, while we fought God, while we had nothing to offer and wanted nothing to do with him…God lived and died for us. Jesus, God, came here and died as one of us so that your sins could be paid for, so that his perfect life could be counted as yours and he sent the Holy Spirit to you to change your heart, teach you this truth, and make you someone who loves God as much as he loves you. Because of his work, we are not enemies of God anymore. God looks at you and sees someone who always did what he asked, always loved him, and did everything right. There’s no reason to fight.
God loves you. And because he loves you so much, he literally took your place so he wouldn’t have to punish you. He lived, died, and rose for you. As Paul says here:
[Jesus] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…
The God who rules over this world is not your enemy anymore. He is your loving Father. Imagine all that power, wisdom, and goodwill all applied for your benefit. Not only does the all-powerful God of creation no longer consider you an enemy, but he actively is interested in your well-being and when this life ends he will come to take you to paradise. What greater peace is there to know that whatever happens to you, you have God behind it all helping you out?
When God comes here to judge the world, we don’t have to look at that with fear but rather we can look up and say, “finally!” We can set down our hard labor and rest with our God forever. Yes, he’s coming to judge, but because of Jesus, the judgment is going to be, “Not guilty!” And God will say, “Come home. Be with me. I’ll care for you forever. No suffering, pain, or trouble ever again.” And we will live in perfect peace and harmony with God forever.
That’s really good news. The peace between you and God brings a profound internal peace to our lives, come what may. But there is still a problem. See, I doubt I said anything new to most of you. These are all things you know. And yet when I asked the question of you at the start, again, I’d guess “peaceful” is not how you would describe yourself. Maybe now, being reminded of it all, you’re feeling the peace. Maybe you’re feeling relaxed and ready to go back out and face life, knowing God is on your side now and for eternity.
But…how long do you suppose that feeling is going to last you this week? How long until you hit the first roadblock, problem, tough choice, impossible to-do list, bad news, or whatever it is that steals this peace away from you? Maybe all the current troubles you’ve got right now are keeping you from even feeling at peace right here and now!
Why? Why does that happen? God has called a truce! And we didn’t do anything to make it happen, he did all the work! He lived, died, and rose before we even wanted anything to do with him. Why… are we still not at peace?
Well…engage with me in a little bit of logical deduction with me, if you will. God is… God. He’s perfect. He’s perfectly wise, perfectly loving, and all-powerful. He does everything he does without mistake. So, if that’s who has worked this peace between us and him… and we’re still not feeling the peace…
Well, it’s not a huge logical leap to guess where the problem is. It’s not with God.
It’s because even though God has done everything that he has for you and declared peace between you both… you are still fighting him.
Either we’re fighting him through our active choices or we’re fighting him because we won’t accept his will in our lives. Both rob us of peace that we should have in him. Not that this life will ever be smooth sailing, nor should it be, but we can be at peace because of the peace we have with our God and what that means for everything else.
So how do we fight God? We fight him whenever we refuse to do what he commands. God is our good Father. He does not impose his will arbitrarily. Like a good parent, he only commands his children whatever is best for them! How many of you remember the times you didn’t listen to your parents because they told you to do something you didn’t want to do or didn’t understand why you should? I do…and one whole bag of Oreos later, I did understand why that was a bad idea.
Don’t touch the stove. Don’t run into the street. Don’t play with the outlet. We don’t tell children these things to stop them having fun, we say these things to protect them.
Every single one of God’s commands is designed to protect you. And when we ignore him, when we defy him, or even worse, when we don’t even bother to learn or study his rules… we hurt ourselves. We suffer unnecessarily. It’s fighting God after he’s declared peace and it only hurts ourselves. So, take the time to study his will, study his word and learn what he wants from you so you can live that will in your lives. The more we listen to our Father and stay at peace with him, the more trouble we will avoid, and the more we stay at peace.
But that still does not guarantee a trouble-free life. God actually promises us trouble. That’s a good thing. Remember last week how we talked about the lukewarm church that had it too easy? Too many creature comforts? They forgot how much they needed God. They forgot the point of this life was to look forward to the next. We need God to send us trouble so we don’t forget we need him. Paul tells us here for that very reason we glory in our suffering.
When trouble finds us, do we let it shatter our peace? Do we even try to blame God? The correct, eternal, godly perspective can help us stay at peace no matter what happens to us here. But we fight God when we live only to be satisfied now instead of living for him forever. God keeps us from getting too comfortable so we don’t forget.
When suffering comes, don’t fight God over it. Instead, say “Thank you, Father.”
When a job is lost, say, “Thank you, Father, for reminding me you are the one who provides all I have.”
When an illness is diagnosed, say, “Thank you, Father, for reminding me that my life, my strength, and all my abilities are in your hands.”
When we lose things or people leave us, say, “Thank you, Father, for reminding me that you are all I truly need to be content.”
And when death comes for you or your loved ones, say, “Thank you, Father, for reminding me I don’t belong here, that what is waiting for me is so much better, I have no reason to cling desperately to this life, I can let go in peace knowing you have me.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you can’t use your abilities and gifts to correct trouble or alleviate pain. But there’s no reason the trouble needs to steal our peace at all. And if we can’t fix the trouble, whatever it is, we are still at peace with God.
There will be trouble. But we can be at peace with God through the troubles. He allows the troubles to help you. Don’t fight him. Let the troubles bring you closer to him.
In all these things it is the strength of God and not our own strength that lets us keep this attitude. He promises to give you the power you need to carry out his will in this life and stay at peace with him. He promises to give you this power through the Holy Spirit working in study of his word. Read and study his word to stay in his power and keep the peace with him. And for the times we fail, which will not stop happening here, there is always the forgiveness of Jesus to bring us back to peace.
Brothers and Sisters, through Jesus you have peace with God. He has given you a new life in him. You are forgiven and perfect in his eyes. God has established the peace. And through his Word he provides the power of the Holy Spirit to you so that you can keep the peace on your end. Even this is his power working through you.
Stay in and study God’s Word and God’s will for you. By the power of his spirit, don’t fight him anymore. Look to him for everything good now and forever, and know the peace that he has established.
We have a leak on our roof. The rain comes down through a circular vent that was installed through the shingles and OSB without a line of caulk to protect the space surrounding it. My first attempt at fixing it (cover the area with tin foil) only worked until the tin toil blew off the roof. (About 2 days) On my second attempt, I went up to the roof with a caulking gun that I had loaded with roofing tar. I took that tar and did a nice circle around the opening. Case closed. (Julianna, man do you have handy husband.)
But that wasn’t it. It was still leaky. I went back to the roof, but couldn’t find an opening, so I decided to approach it from the other side. I went up into our crawl space attic, maneuvered around the insulation and shined a tiny flashlight up to the hole from the other direction. Sure enough! There were a few tiny little holes that were still allowing water into our place.
So, I picked up the caulking gun, pressed it against the holes and…
I tried again.
I pumped it a solid 7 or 8 times more until…
Apparently, I had forgotten to open up the top of the caulking tube. As a result, it busted out the back and all over my hands.
That tar was messy.
I used soap.
I used a second kind of soap.
I used a third kind of soap.
It was messy.
Today we’re starting our sermon series called MESSY. It’s all about something that’s the spiritual equivalent of tar all over your hands: something called sin. Something that can get all over your life, all over your relationships, and all over your relationship with God. Today we just wanted to identify what sin is and how we deal with it. But before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. What is Sin?
The Scripture that we’re looking at today is from the book of Mark. Mark is a guy who was an eyewitness to Jesus’ life. So, it’s likely that he was there for the event that we’re taking a look at today. Listen to what happens: As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17)
This story is actually recorded in two other places of Scripture. In Matthew’s version, we learn that he was a young man. (Mt. 19:20) In Luke’s version, we learn that he was a ruler. (Lk. 18:18) In all of the stories, we learn that he was rich.
So, here’s what you need to understand…
This guy was impressive.
He was the kind of guy who worked hard throughout his life. Maybe he was first chair trumpet, captain of the soccer team and the homecoming king all while graduating Cum Laude with three sets of honor cords.
The kind of guy that was no stranger to inheritance. His grandpa’s 401k. His dad’s H&R Block business. He was….
The kind of guy with a family boat house on Lake Gaston.
The kind of guy who’d gotten on Shark Tank and received a royalty deal from Mr. Wonderful.
The kind of guy who’d be an Instagram influencer – literally paid by companies — just to include a shot of himself drinking a Coca-Cola on his next social media post.
He was successful.
He also knew that none of this stuff was eternal life.
The assets would eventually run out.
The Lexus would stop running.
The six pack of abs would eventually fade to fat…then dust.
But he had earned everything else in his life.
Hence the question:
Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
Why do you call me good? There is no one good, but God alone. (v.18)
Understand what Jesus is saying:
God is good.
And eternal life is God’s.
Then eternal life must be good.
And since God is good.
And his commands are God’s.
Then, his commands are good.
And since eternal life is good.
And God’s commands are good.
To get to eternal life, one simply needs to do the good that your good God commands you to do:
Do not murder. Murder bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Do not commit adultery. Unfaithfulness is bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Do not steal. Theft is bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Do not give false testimony. Lying is bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Do not defraud. Gossip is bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Honor your Father and Mother. Disrespect is bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Do the good things. You inherit eternal life.
Do the bad things. You won’t.
Sin is the MESSINESS of OPPOSING God.
It’s like eating healthy. If you’re trying to eat healthy, then food is either good for your body or good for your taste buds.
Carrot mush. Good for your body, not for taste.
Deep friend Carrot Cake. Good for taste, not for body.
Bran Flakes. Good for body.
Frosted Flakes. Good for taste.
Kombucha. Good for body.
Vanilla Dr. Pepper. Good for taste.
Brussel sprouts. Good for body.
Doritos. Good for taste.
Brussel sprout flavored Doritos? Not good for either. Let’s make sure that it’ll never happen.
Sin and God are like that.
They are in opposition.
What’s good for sin is not good for God.
What’s good for God is not good for sin.
II. Sin is Messy
And one of the reasons that God has assigned the sinful things as sin is because sin causes all kinds of messiness in our lives.
Thinks about it:
(1) Sin Messes up Relationships
Just consider some of the sins that Jesus mentions here.
Stealing? It messes up your relationship with the friend you stole 20 bucks from.
Gossip? It messes up your relationship with the person who finds out you have been gossiping about them.
Adultery? It messes up your relationship with your spouse, with the person you’re commit adultery with, with the spouse of the person you’re committing adultery with, with your parents, with your spouse’s parents, with your parents of the person you’ve committed adultery with, with the parents of the spouse of the persons you’ve committed adultery with, with your siblings, with your siblings in law, with their friends, with your friends, and, God forbid, any children that are in the mix.
Now you might say:
Only if I get caught!
Is that really true?
Because even if you don’t get caught stealing, the relationship with your friend is affected because now you have to think of ways to lie to your friend and remember the lies that you said in order not to get caught.
And even if you don’t get caught by the person you’re gossiping about, the people you’re gossiping to hear what you’re saying, recognize what you’re doing, and are making mental notes to keep you at a distance.
And even if you don’t get caught in adultery, you quickly find yourself nitpicking and complaining about any minor offense from your spouse because you need to soothe your conscience and come up with tangible reasons to tell yourself: “It’s ok what I’m doing.”
Sin messes up relationships with others.
(2) Sin Messes Up Self Image
Because what happens when you sin?
You don’t usually feel good about you it.
You feel anxious.
You feel sad.
You feel guilty.
And here’s the thing, when people say things like “You’re such a good person.”
You nod and accept, but deep down there’s this little voice that says: “If they only knew…”
They wouldn’t call me good.
They’d call me -- unfaithful.
Which leads to our next issue…
(3) Sin Messes Up Your Relationship with God
It’s Back to Church Sunday. One thing I’ve been doing this week is reaching out to people who used to worship here but haven’t in a while. Just a simple message telling them that we missed them and would love for them to return.
In the process, I invited one friend of mine. And the person responded: “I’ll think about it.”
So, I followed up yesterday and asked if they might make it? They said they didn’t have a car. I said, “We could give a ride.”
They responded: “I don’t think I can get up that early.” I said: “The last service is at 11 am.”
Finally, they said: “Pastor, I can’t come, because life is mess right now. I need to get it together first. I can’t let God see me like this. I’m too guilty.”
How sad. Sin drives people apart from God.
It causes us to distance ourselves from him.
We miss out on knowing we have his protection.
We miss out on being uplifted by his love.
We miss out on hearing about his incredible plan for us.
We just kind of drift…away.
But none of this worries our impressive young man. When he hears Jesus’ answer, he’s feeling pretty good. Because Jesus mentioned a bunch of commands, that he hasn’t broken.
He hasn’t murdered.
He hasn’t committed adultery.
He hasn’t lied.
He’s done good.
He says to Jesus:
All these I have kept since I was a boy. (v.20)
Jesus looked at him.
Jesus loved him.
Jesus spoke to his heart:
One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have. Sell your 401k. Sell your internet business. Sell your stock in Disney. Sell your 70” HD TV. Sell your XBOX. Sell your Coach Handbag. Sell your Air Jordans. Sell your season tickets. Sell everything.
And give to the poor. To the homeless. To the impoverished. To the elderly man who can’t afford healthcare. To the guy at the I-540 on ramp asking for change. To the immigrant who can’t get a job because of the way he looks.
And you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come follow me. (v.21)
But the young man didn’t follow Jesus.
His face fell.
He grew sad.
He turned and left.
Because you see, Jesus had exposed his sin.
Did you catch it?
He loved earthly treasure more than heavenly treasure.
He loved STUFF more than the CREATOR of stuff.
He broke the 1st Commandment: You shall have no other gods.
He did bad.
He wasn’t good.
But more intriguing than the young man’s response, is what Jesus says next.
How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!... It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. (v.23,24)
Have you ever seen a camel before? It’s a big old animal. The average camel is 6 feet tall at the shoulder, 7 feet tall at the hump. It weighs about 1500 pounds.
The eye of a needle? It’s much tinier. It’s so tiny because it is designed for only a thread to pass through it.
I don’t have a camel with me. (The Greensboro Zoo wouldn’t get back to my request to borrow one)
But I do have this stuffed camel.
And this needle.
No matter how hard I smush it.
No matter how hard I jam it.
No matter how hard I push it.
It is impossible for this stuffed camel to go through the eye of this needle.
It is impossible for a real camel to go through the eye of a needle.
And it is impossible for a rich young man earn his way through the gates of heaven.
In fact, it is impossible for anyone to earn their way into the gates of heaven.
(4) Sin Messes Up Our Entrance into Heaven
Heaven is a good place.
Heaven is a divinely good place.
It is a place without any sin.
And if you’ve got sin on you…
If you’ve got a big sin…
If you’ve got a little sin…
If you’ve got any sin…
…it is impossible for you to earn your way into heaven.
III. The Solution
Jesus’ disciples are shocked all this. Because this impressive young gentleman, who had earned all varieties of accolades in his lifetime, wasn’t able to earn the accolade of heaven.
If he wasn’t getting in, then…
What about us?
Because he’s got it together, we don’t.
He’s impressive; we’re not.
He’s got everything going for him; not us.
He was the Bill Gates, the Mark Zuckerberg, the Elon Musk.
If he wasn’t getting in, then…
Who can be saved? (v.26)
Listen to Jesus’ response:
With humans, this is impossible. But not with God; with God all things are possible. (v.27)
Do you get it?
Heaven is impossible for any being with sin to earn.
He doesn’t have any sin.
He doesn’t struggle with wrong.
He isn’t messy…at all.
(1) Sin hasn’t MESSED UP God
Unlike all of the rest of us, God is sinless. He’s still good. He doesn’t do wrong. He doesn’t have any mess on his eternal being. He remains pure.
You won’t catch God in the fellowship area after church gossiping about that one guy.
You can’t Google for God’s criminal record because he doesn’t have any.
You won’t find photos of God from 2011 on Social Media in which he’s engaged in lewd activity.
You won’t find any racists tweets that have been deleted from God’s account.
God is incorruptible.
God is perfect.
God is sinless.
Sin hasn’t messed up God.
And it never will.
Which is big news.
Because it means
(2) God is the ONE to Clean the Mess Up
Think about it:
When I had that tar all over my hands, one of the worst things that could have done would be to try and wipe it off by rubbing my dirty hands together.
(It’s what I did), but it failed miserably.
Messy hands cannot clean up messy hands.
Sinful hands cannot clean up sinful hands.
But God’s hands aren’t dirty.
God’s hands aren’t messy.
God’s hands are holy.
God’s hands are pure.
God’s hands are divine.
God is the one to clean the mess up.
God is the one to clean YOUR mess up.
He is the ONLY one to clean your mess up.
He had to act.
And he did.
Back to the story. Peter is the name of one of Jesus’ disciples and he is having a hard time believing that he can’t earn heaven. So, he says to Jesus this: “WE have left everything to follow you.” (v.28)
That’s what you told the young man to do.
That’s what we did.
Granted, we didn’t have as much as he did, but we still left it.
We are following you.
Does that count for something?
Look at Jesus’ response:
Truly I tell you…no one who has left home for me and the Gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age…and in the age to come eternal life. (v.29-30)
Isn’t that strange?
Jesus just promised Peter eternal life.
It wasn’t because Peter could earn it. He couldn’t.
It wasn’t because Peter was perfect. He was a sinner.
It was because Peter followed Jesus.
But why would that work?
Jesus is God.
(3) The MESSINESS of Sin is Removed by Jesus
He is God come into this messy world.
He is God dealing with the messiness of humanity.
He is God who suffered a messy, bloody death at the hands of humans on the cross.
But when he died.
He took the messiness of your sins with him.
He took the messiness of your guilt to the cross.
He through the messiness of your sins into the grave…and the stone door was slammed shut.
And there they remained.
Jesus and our sins in the grave.
On the third day?
Jesus came out alive.
But our sins? They stayed there…dead.
Jesus has removed the messiness of your sins.
In Jesus you are clean.
In Jesus you are messiness-less.
In Jesus, you are forgiven.
You might think -
All the sins I have.
All the ways I’ve made a mess of it.
All the messiness in my heart.
But not for God.
God specializes in the impossible.
Like rising from the dead.
He did the visually impossible to prove the invisibly impossible
He did the visually impossible: rising from the dead, to prove the invisible impossible: removal of all the messiness of your sins.
IV. What Now?
It’s what the rich young man didn’t do. Follow Jesus.
It’s what the poor disciples did do. Follow Jesus.
And it’s what God is calling you to do: Follow Jesus.
It’s the way out of your sinful mess. Follow Jesus.
It’s the way out of your messy guilt. Follow Jesus.
It’s the way out of this messy world to place where there’s never any mess…
I was once called to a hospital room late at night. The elderly man I went to see was in grave condition. He was hooked up to a breathing machine. He was unable to move. His eyes were red and there were purple splotches creeping up his neck.
But when I got there…whatever brightness could come to his eyes, did.
Pastor, I’m so glad you’re here.
Pastor, I’m not gonna last much longer.
Pastor, I’ve been thinking about my life.
About how I messed things up with my wife.
About how I messed things up with my children.
About how I messed…things…up.
But…as big of a mess up as I was…
I know it’s not too big of a mess for Jesus.
Because ain’t nothing too big of a mess for Jesus.
He was right.
And he is right with Jesus.
Follow your Savior friends. He’ll fix your eternal mess and bring you to eternal life. Amen.
We are restarting a sermon series that we did last summer. If you remember last summer, we went through a book in the Bible called “ACTS.” Acts is a book that describes the “ACTS of the Early Church.” This, by the way, is the Early Church in which our church finds its roots. The goal of the series was to discover (1) What the Early Church found important to do and (2) Consider how we might refocus on doing the very things that they did.
Because I think it’s really easy for a modern church to get distracted.
Maybe you know this, but Facebook knows what you think. Their website records everything you do on Facebook. Then, they distract you with ads for the very things you’ve been searching for on your Facebook profile.
For instance, Friday was a teacher workday. The teachers had some food delivered from McAllister’s deli. And even though I wasn’t in charge of ordering that food…my account must have been logged into the computer that was used for ordering and... coincidence? I am getting all kinds of ads for McAllister’s Deli.
The same is true for being a pastor. Because I am a pastor, the majority of the ads I see on Facebook are about church from businesses aimed at churches. The ads usually go something like this: “Your Church NEEDS this!” It’ll lead to articles that say things like:
Now these things could be beneficial.
But when it comes to what church NEEDS to be doing…
I’m thinking the answer should come from God, not the advertiser paying good money to track my internet usage habits.
Today we are going to dive into chapter 2 of ACTs and use the story of Pentecost as a base point for review of the last year’s sermon series. (That’s about 14 chapters in one sermon). Our goal is to identify the thing “Above All Else” that the Early Church needed to be engaged in and understand why we need to be doing that same thing.
Before we do that, a prayer:
Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. God’s “Above All Else”
Acts 2 take places during Pentecost. It was an Old Testament festival that occurred “fifty days after Passover.” “Pente” a root form meaning “five.” That’s where we get the word “pentagon,” or “five-sided shape.” “Pente” meaning “fifty” hence, a festival fifty days after Passover.
It was a big festival. It happened every year. It drew thousands of practicing Jews to Jerusalem. This year was no different. The streets were filled with people. They were up early shopping the marketplaces and getting the items necessary for celebrating the festival later that day. It was just like every other year.
At about 8 o’clock in the morning, there was the sound of a hurricane-like wind. Only it wasn’t coming from the sky, but a small corner house.
After that sound was going for a while, out of the house, burst a group of men with what appeared to be flames of fire ignited on the top of their heads.
Men who, being from Israel, should not have known the 20-some different languages of the various people there in Jerusalem for the festival.
Yet they spoke clearly. Efficiently. Fluently.
It was amazing.
It was incredible.
It was…too good to be true.
Someone shouted: “They have had too much wine.” (2:13)
Because…getting drunk usually increases your language skills?
But the reality was that this was more than a house party.
This was more than a regular celebration.
This was divine and miraculous.
This was God!!!
And now with everyone’s attention focused exactly where God wanted it, God moves one of the men, Peter to stand up and speak this message:
“15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people…’” (Acts 2:15-16)
That’s what’s happening! With the hurricane sound. With tongues of fire. With the different languages. This is God’s way of getting your attention.
About 50 days ago.
It wasn’t just 50 days until your 50 days celebration.
About 50 days ago.
You guys killed Jesus.
And this Jesus?
Wasn’t just some rebel.
Wasn’t just some teacher.
Wasn’t just some nice guy.
He was God.
He did miracles exactly like what you’re seeing here today!
He didn’t just cause storms; he stopped them.
He didn’t just make fire appear; but bread and wine and water.
He didn’t just speak different languages, but he spoke to dead people to make them alive.
He did the very things that only God could do because he was God Himself.
And you killed him.
You killed God.
And death didn’t stick.
I saw Him.
Now at this point the group that was listening started to get very uncomfortable.
Because some of the people who heard this were the very people that had been in Jerusalem 50 days earlier shouting for Jesus to be crucified.
And…if this was true…
Then, they had sinned.
And if this was true…
Jesus would be coming back to vaporize them.
What shall we do?” They cried.
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. (Acts 2:38)
And that’s it.
God’s message to the very people who killed Jesus…
About how they could get right with Jesus was simply this:
Turn from sin. Turn to Jesus.
To turn from unbelief to turn to belief.
Their way into God’s kingdom was simply belief in Jesus!
And be baptized.
To have someone pour water on you in Jesus’ name.
And the miraculous God who did these very miracles here today will work through that water to bring you forgiveness.
Does that seem too easy for those sinners?
Does that seem too easy for any sinner?
Does that seem too easy for you, a sinner?
Guess what? That’s the main message of the God powered, God inspired Early Christian Church.
The Early Church’s main message, also known as the Gospel, places you above all else.
It’s kind of like an internet troll. Someone who logs in and gets updates on your social media page or your blog…only because they can’t wait to go on your profile and argue…maybe post an obscene emoji and make you generally angry. Send inappropriate emails to every in your contact list, too.
How many of you wake up on a day to day basis and say: “I hope that internet troll guy is doing good today. Hey, maybe I should call him to check in. Better yet…Let me send him some Uber Eatz…what’s his favorite? Chicken wings?”
We have rebelled against God.
Like a spiritual internet troll to God we have repeatedly gone against him.
Consciously or not – when we complain about his rules, sin, do the opposite - we are completely against God.
Yet, He still did everything to save us!
In fact, he put YOU above everything else. Peter’s words bring that truth to the forefront.
(1) Above the Father’s Other Plans
Check out verse 23: “Jesus was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge.”
This Jesus thing wasn’t an accident.
It wasn’t an incident that got out of control.
It wasn’t an UNPLANNED thing.
It was planned by the Father eternities before you were ever you.
In fact, God set things in motion from the beginning of time to achieve your salvation, to bring you forgiveness and to connect you to his kingdom.
God’s ultimate plan isn’t a fireworks celebration for himself.
It isn’t millions of people bowing down to him.
It isn’t to have his name be the most Googled name of all time.
In heaven with him.
(2) Above Jesus’ Own Life
Peter continues, “Jesus was handed over to you…and you put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (v.23b) Notice the phrase “Handed over.” It doesn’t say, “You actively took him by force,” but he was passively “handed over.”
Jesus knew God’s plan was to have him die.
And he still volunteered for it.
Not because it would be easy. It isn’t as if Jesus said, “You know what would be a lot of fun? To have nails jammed into my hands, to have my metatarsals separated by a spike, to press a crown of thorns deeply into my skull and to hang up there while everyone ridiculed me until my lungs gave up and I died.”
Jesus went to the cross because…YOU.
Because He placed you above HIS OWN LIFE.
(3) Above the Holy Spirit’s Inconspicuousness
Peter continues, “Jesus has sent…the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” (v.33)
How much do you know about the Holy Spirit?
Briefly: He’s God.
One of the three persons in the ONE Triune God.
He’s always been around.
In fact, he appears at the very beginning of the Bible. In Genesis 1 it says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…Now…the earth was formless and empty and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.”
The Holy Spirit is there.
He is only mentioned in passing in a few vague Psalms and prophecies.
He prefers to do his work in inconspicuous mystery.
And the Holy Spirit goes out of his way to draw our attention to his presence.
The Holy Spirit wants you to pay attention.
He wants you to see how Jesus’ put YOU above his own life.
He wants you to know how God put YOU above his other plans.
He wants you to know that the Gospel places YOU above all else.
II. The Early Church’s “Above All Else”
Now the scene is a courtroom.
Peter is there.
But this time…he’s in chains.
And the people surrounding him are not a crowd of believers.
Violent angry men.
The same violent angry men that killed Jesus.
And unlike some of the people at Pentecost, these people want nothing to do with Jesus.
In fact, that’s the reason they have Peter arrested!
They want him to stop teaching about Jesus.
They want him to stop preaching the Gospel.
They want him to stop…or else.
And Peter looks around.
They’re glaring at him.
He knows they’re serious.
Serious…and blood thirsty.
He doesn’t care.
“We must obey God; rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
In other words:
The Early Church would keep preaching the Gospel.
They would keep telling people about Jesus.
Because they would place the Gospel above all else.
This is just one story that illustrates that.
Because throughout the book of Acts, the devil does everything possible to try and shove the Gospel to the bottom of the Early Church’s priority list.
But the Book of Acts is filled with stories where the Gospel triumphs!
Where it is placed above…
(1) 1st Century Racial Prejudices
Because the Gospel started among the Jewish people.
And the Jewish people – they had developed a superiority complex.
They thought themselves as God’s special people.
Afterall, the Old Testament was all about them.
They were God’s special people – to the point that they wouldn’t interact with non-Jewish people.
They wouldn’t eat a meal with them.
They would definitely not spend time with them unless they were forced to!
Enter a guy named Philip.
He’s on the road to Gaza.
He comes across a man who is an Ethiopian.
Normally Jews avoided non-Jews, but the Gospel doesn’t discriminate. “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’” (Acts 8:29)
Philip walked right up to the chariot, got into the chariot, sat right next to him in the chariot and shared the Gospel.
The Early Church placed the Gospel above Racial Prejudices.
This isn’t the only time.
Acts 8, says Philip also went to Samaria to continue telling non-Jewish people about Jewish.
Acts 13 and 14, chronicles an entire missionary journey specifically to non-Jewish people!
At Pentecost itself, the Gospel was presented in languages beyond Hebrew of the common Jewish people!
The Early Church placed the Gospel above Racial Prejudices.
(2) Social Status
This is a big deal. Because at that time, the most common religious entity – the Pharisees—loved rich people.
They loved people who could contribute to the upkeep of their gathering spaces.
They loved people who could also afford fine jewelry and fancy robes.
They loved people who would make them look cool by association.
Peter and John?
In Acts 3, the very first individual described hearing the Gospel?
A blind beggar.
A blind, homeless beggar.
A blind, homeless beggar at the bottom of social status.
And yet Peter is sure to bring him the message about how Jesus gives him the status of God’s eternal kingdom.
The Early Church placed the Gospel above Social Status.
(3) Jewish Traditions
To be fair, the Gospel is above any tradition.
Specifically, for the Early Church, Jewish traditions had become an obstacle to the Gospel.
And some of the staunchest Jewish traditions at that time had to do with food.
The tradition was that Jews only ate certain foods.
The tradition was that Jews only ate after washing their hands in a ceremonial way.
The tradition was that Jews never at in the home of a non-Jewish person.
Acts 11, Peter, who is 100% Jewish and 100% a follower of Jewish tradition…receives a vision.
In the vision, God tells him to go ahead – to eat meat – from…traditionally, unclean animals.
In other words, God tells him to break tradition. Peter refused by saying, “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” (Acts 10:14)
As soon as the vision is over, Peter receives a knock at his front door.
It’s a servant from a Roman Centurion – a non-Jewish, Roman centurion – who has invited him over to eat.
That’d be breaking tradition…but God had told Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15)
Peter went because he placed the Gospel above even his own traditions – all God’s doing. Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” Acts 10:34-35
The Gospel was above Jewish Traditions.
(4) Above Personal Vendettas
One of the more famous accounts in the first half of Acts is the account of a guy named Saul.
Saul, who did not like the Gospel.
He did not like Jesus.
In fact, he persecuted those who followed Jesus by threatening them, beating them up, and throwing them in prison.
Jesus appeared to him.
Then he became a believer.
In fact, Saul became such a committed believer that he wanted to help the disciples share the Gospel.
Acts 9:20, 26-27 “At once he began to preach in the synagogues [in Damascus] that Jesus is the Son of God…When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles.”
Because it’s not about them and what they feel. It’s about Jesus. We support others who want to share God’s Word
They put the GOSPEL above their own personal issues.
(5) Above Their Own Safety
Back to where we started.
The disciples began shouting the message of Jesus…
…in the middle of the very streets where Jesus had been put to death.
…surrounded by the very people who had supported his death.
But they didn’t care.
And this continues.
In Acts 3, they are put on trial.
In Acts 5, they are imprisoned.
In Acts 7, Stephen has stones thrown at him until he is killed.
In Acts 8, they undergo the aforementioned persecution of Saul.
In Acts 12, Peter is put on death row.
And at no point do they stop preaching.
At no point do they stop telling about Jesus.
At no point do they put their own lives above the Gospel.
Because the Gospel is about how Jesus put US above his own life.
III. WHAT NOW?
Consider these two truths:
The Gospel places you above all else. The Early Church placed the Gospel above all else.
Because of God’s work with the Early Church, you have the Gospel in your heart.
A simple What Now?
Put the Gospel Above All Else
I mentioned those Facebook ads at the beginning.
I think the devil works pretty similarly in our lives.
He’s smart. He watches us.
He knows the things that will distract us.
The things that will tempt us to think:
“God didn’t love you that much.” And “The Gospel’s not that important.”
Rather than the GOSPEL above all else…
He wants you to place the ALL ELSE above the Gospel.
Don’t let him.
PLACE THE GOSPEL ABOVE ALL ELSE!
Throughout this summer I am praying that God works in your heart to:
(1) understand more fully how God placed you above all else,
(2) throw light on areas in which you have placed other things above the Gospel,
(3) guide us, as a church, to refocus on placing THE GOSPEL above all else. Amen.
Over this sermon series, we’ve talked a lot about Fighting Temptation. But…How confident do you feel that you can fight temptation and win?
Today we’re going to study God’s Word and my goal is to teach you why you have every reason in the world to Fight Temptation confidently. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Reasons for Lacking Confidence
The lesson for this morning comes from Isaiah. He was a prophet who lived around 640 B.C. Mainly he preached warnings about what would happen to the Israelites if they didn’t start fighting temptation.
But most people didn’t listen.
God, through Isaiah, even predicted that they wouldn’t listen.
It’s why he prophesied that they would be taken into captivity.
Which…is exactly what happened. In 597 B.C., the Babylonian army ransacked the country of Judah. They destroyed the infrastructure and took hundreds of thousands of Israelites captive as prisoners back to Babylon.
It was then, in captivity, that many of the people began to listen.
They looked back at the prophesies of Isaiah and discovered sections like this:
“Who handed Jacob over to become loot, and Israel to the plunderers? Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned? For they would not follow his ways;
they did not obey his law. So he poured out on them his burning anger, the violence of war. It enveloped them in flames, yet they did not understand; it consumed them, but they did not take it to heart.” (v.24-25)
Can you imagine?
Being in captivity.
We didn’t follow his ways.
We did not obey his law.
We are in flames because of our sinful failures!
I can’t imagine that the Israelites had a lot of confidence.
Just a lot of “if onlys.”
If only I’d listened to God.
If only I had fought back against temptation.
If only I had told that merchant, “No. We don’t need your bejeweled god statues. We worship the one true, invisible God, the Lord.”
If only I had told my wife, “No, we aren’t going to teach our kids that worship isn’t important. We’ll tell them that worship is the most important thing to their eternal relationship with God.”
If only I had told my friends, “No, I’m not going to get drunk with you tonight…then I never would have done a lot of other things that I wish I had never done.”
If only I had told myself, “Get up. Fight these temptations. Stop being complacent and follow your God.”
Then, I wouldn’t be in captivity.
It feels too late.
I’ve failed too many times.
God has abandoned me.
Temptation will always win.
Can you relate?
Maybe your record against temptation isn’t good.
Maybe you keep losing in your personal battle against your personal demons.
Maybe you have a weakness that you’re so ashamed of – you question if you even belong in this church family.
Maybe you feel weighed down by guilt, alone in your battle, like you are in captivity to a particular sin!
Maybe you’ve tried psyching yourself up, waking up in prayer, saying, “Today is the day I beat that temptation,” only…to attempt your day…and…lose.
Maybe you feel alone like you are the only one who is fighting against a particular sin.
And, maybe, all of these thoughts convince you…
That you’ll never win.
That you’ll always fail against temptation.
That you have NO reason to be confident in ever winning again.
If that’s how you think…
II. Confidence from God Himself
Listen to Isaiah 43.
It’s written for God’s people.
It’s written for God’s people in captivity to Babylon.
It’s written for God’s people in captivity to their own sinful choices.
It’s written to God’s people – like you.
And it’s filled with confidence-boosting statements from God himself.
But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isaiah 43:1-3)
Look at those words.
Do you hear God’s voice?
He’s speaking to you.
And giving you all kinds of confidence.
(1) “You are my Creation.”
Look at the first verse. It says, “This is what the LORD says, he who created you, O Jacob; he who formed you, O Israel.” (43:1) It’s not even an actual statement of God yet, but through it, God still communicates something to you.
“You are my creation.”
Over at Precious Lambs, the kids take their artwork very, very seriously. They are proud of their artwork. They love to show off their artwork. They love to show me their artwork. They love to bring artwork home for mom and dad.
And they get really, really upset if they lose their artwork.
There was a girl the other day whose conversation with mom went something like this:
“Calm down. Honey. What’s wrong!”
“You threw my artwork away!”
“Are you sure? I just threw some of the pictures with scribbles on them away.”
“It wasn’t scribbles. It was a picture of a unicorn!”
Kids love their artwork because it’s their artwork.
They created it.
They put it on paper.
Their imagination developed the piece.
The same is true with God and you.
You come from the annals of God’s divine mind.
He thought you up before you ever thought your first word.
He knit you together with his own powerful, yet gentle hands. (Psalm 139:13)
Do you think God will just leave you to suffer?
Do you think God won’t come to your rescue?
Do you think God won’t work tirelessly to get you back even after your own sins have left you feeling like garbage?
(2) “You are Redeemed.”
Verse 2 says this, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.” (Isaiah 43:2a)
Redeem means to “buy back.” To “pay for.” To “purchase again.”
And God has redeemed YOU.
Because yes! We fell to sin.
Yes, we were owned by our guilt.
We were owned by our shame.
We were owned by our addictions.
We were owned by our brokenness.
Jesus came to earth.
He offered the most precious currency of all:
His perfect blood.
Jesus bought you.
Jesus paid for you.
Jesus redeemed you.
You do not belong to your addiction.
You do not belong to your temptation.
You do not belong to your sins.
You belong to God!
It’s like at Sola café: They have this little card at Sola café that if you remember to have it stamped every time you order a drink, the 10th drink is free! Even if you do what I do and order a small coffee, the cheapest thing on the menu, for the other 9 drinks, you can get a large, 6-dollar Caramel Macchiato for FREE. Fully paid for.
You have been fully paid for.
No matter how much sin you have fallen to.
You belong to God – fully and completely.
(3) “I know you.”
God says, “I have called you by name.” (Isaiah 43:2b) That’ s an uplifting truth.
Because it’s easy to feel like you are just a number.
It’s easy to feel as if God’s redemptive power is big and great, but not that personal.
It’s like calling for tech support. And you say, “Hi! I’m Phil calling from Gethsemane Church” and they say, “What’s your equipment ID number?” And you say, “I don’t know that. But I’m from Gethsemane Church, we have an account with you.” And they say, “Equipment ID Number please.” And you say, “I spoke with you about 15 minutes ago? Don’t you remember me?” And they say, “I remember you. You haven’t given me the Equipment ID Number yet.”
God says you are more than an Equipment ID Number to him.
You are you.
He knows your name.
He knows your first name.
He knows your last name.
He knows your middle name.
He knows your nickname.
He knows your maiden name.
He knows your username.
He knows your pet name.
He knows your surname.
He even knows your Superhero name – that you found out from that one Facebook quiz you took way back in 2014.
God knows you.
Personally knows you.
He knows your struggles.
He knows your weaknesses.
He knows the things you’ve told your friends.
He knows the things you’ve told your counselor.
He knows the things you haven’t told your counselor.
He stands beside you.
And whispers: “You have a new name.”
I will call you, “Mine.”
This is why he also whispers:
(4) “I am With You.”
God has Isaiah write this, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:3)
This is a metaphor.
Because in the Old Testament, the Israelite people had once been surrounded by their enemies and a deep, vast sea. They had no where to go! They were as good as dead.
But God was with them.
He split the waters and they crossed through on dry ground – fish and sea weed and currents on each side.
And again in the Old Testament, some men were thrown into a fiery furnace because they didn’t bow down and worship a giant golden statue of the king.
But God was with them.
He kept them safe in the flames so that not a hair, not a thread, not even a little piece of beard was singed in the fire. Neither did they smell of smoke.
And you…when you are surrounded by temptation.
When you feel all alone.
When you think there’s no way out.
When you are terrified of what’s going on in your life.
God is with you.
He will keep you safe.
He will help you out.
He will lead you safely – undrowned.
Victorious over temptation!
And here’s how he does it:
(5) “I am your Savior.”
God has Isaiah write this, “I am the LORD, your God, the holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (v.3)
That same powerful God who defeated split the Red Sea.
That same powerful God who kept the men safe in the furnace.
That same powerful God who died on the cross and saved you from sin – is your Savior.
It isn’t like waiting in the doctor’s office to see your specific specialist about your specific special problem and then someone walks into the room.
You don’t recognize them. You look closely at their name badge and it says: “Intern.”
God is your Savior.
Not your “might be Savior.”
Not your “Try-the-hardest-to-save-but-failing Savior.”
Not even “Everyone else’s Savior.”
No. Your Savior.
Which leads to a very powerful passage. Friends – write this down. Memorize it. Bring it from God’s heart to your heart:
“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions. I will forget your sins and remember your wickedness no more.” (v.25)
God has destroyed your sins so completely that he can’t even remember a single sin.
He can’t even remember that you’ve failed.
He can’t even remember that you’re a failure.
Because of him.
You are a winner.
III. What Now?
Fight like a champion.
And let me tell you:
Champions don’t come on out and let the other punch first.
They come out swinging.
They come out dodging.
They come out with a plan.
Do you have a temptation that you struggle against?
Come out swinging.
Come out dodging.
Come out with a plan.
(1) Come out Swinging
Because too often we are reactive against temptation. We wait for it to strike and hope that we can react when it does.
It’s like coffee. I drink too much.
Maybe…some of you knew that.
But here’s the thing…I know I drink too much yet, I put myself in the same situation each day.
I stay up later than I should.
I don’t have anything to drink until I have my morning coffee.
I hang out for the first hour of every weekday – within about 50 steps of the coffee pot.
No wonder I keep failing.
Why not go on the offensive? Romans 8:13 says: “By the Spirit, put to death the misdeeds of the body.” Don’t just punch them in the mouth or put them in a headlock. The language is stronger. Put them to death!
Talking about my caffeine struggle:
Why not drink 2 glasses of water before the coffee pot gets put on?
Why not go to bed 30 minutes earlier so that I’m not so tired?
Why not tell an entire congregation about it so that they can hold you accountable and tell you to drink a bit less?
Whatever your temptation is, think about it: how can you attack it?
(2) Come out Dodging
But there will be times when temptation blindsides you.
When suddenly you find yourself in situations in which things don’t look good.
When Satan pulls some guerrilla warfare on you.
The Bible tells the story about a guy named Joseph. He worked as a servant in the house of a rich government official. He loved working there. He respected his master. He wanted to keep his job.
One day – the government official’s wife – she developed a crush on Joseph – he was young and handsome – one day when noticed him working in the house when no one else is around. She said to him, “Come to bed with me. Sleep with me. No one is around. No one will know. You’ll be all mine.”
And Joseph said?
“I’m out of here.”
Literally – the Bible says that he runs away.
He dodges the temptation.
Why not do that?
Too often I think we tried to play the hero. We try to put ourselves in situations that we know we fail at – and wait to see if we might beat temptation.
The Bible says differently. 2 Timothy 2:2 says, “Flee youthful passions.”
Don’t hover over the page with all the scantily clad women -- click the “x” and get out of there.
Don’t hang around the coffee pot or water cooler that’s bringing up your favorite gossip. Leave.
Don’t sit at the dinner table, getting angrier and angrier ready to blow your top on your spouse – say, “Honey. Give me a second.” Walk away. Cool down. Don’t sin.
(3) Come out with a Plan
I imagine that’s what the final two teams in the NCAA tournament are doing right now. They are planning how to defeat each other. They are coming up with plays, they are coming up with values, they are getting ready to explain to their teams: “When we are in this situation, do this. When we are in this other situation, do this.”
It would be ludicrous for a team to be in the finals of the NCAA tournament and have their plan be, “I don’t have a plan. Try to win.”
It’s ludicrous for us to attempt to fight temptation without a plan.
Proverbs 14:22 says this, “Do not those who plot evil go astray? But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness.”
Friends, champions make a plan.
In Jesus, you are a champion.
Make a plan to fight against temptation.
If you have a sin that you struggle with…repeatedly, why not come up with a plan?
Why not take a moment and write it up. Literally write it up in a notebook.
Pray about it. Seek God’s wisdom about it. Ask a trusted friend about it. Then, write up your plan.
If you need help in this – I will help you.
So will the others at church.
That’s what I hope you’ll do for others.
Because that’s what church is.
Our goal is to help out, swing, dodge, and plan for your fight against temptation.
Which leads to our final point.
(4) View Yourself as the Champ!
Because it’s so easy to view yourself as nothing more than a sinner.
And to a certain extent that’s important. It leads us to Jesus.
But once we have heard the promise of God’s forgiveness and we leave these walls to battle temptation, it is so important that we see ourselves as God sees us – as winners in Jesus.
It’s like what happens during a basketball game. If you go into the game thinking, “We’ll probably lose because we are losers,” you’ll probably lose.
But if the coach can get you to think you have a chance or even that you’ll win, you have an advantage because you are already in a winning frame of mind.
Friend, you are a winner in Jesus.
Think of yourself as a winner.
Envision yourself squashing the devil and all of his foolish attempts – even if it’s a temptation by which he has squashed you over and over again.
Because you are in Christ.
Christ is in you.
He stomped the devil.
He stomped sin.
He stomped guilt.
He stomped shame.
He stomped death itself when…three days later…
Three days later, he rose from the grave.
Friends, as Christ is the winner, you are a winner.
Fight temptation. Amen.
In the early 1990s, there was a SURE deodorant commercial that would start with a man at a sporting event next to a beautiful woman. His arms would be raised in excitement. He smiles at her. She looked impressed. Meanwhile in the background, a low-key beat accompanied a voice which sang: “Sure. Sure. Sure.” Then, the camera would pan past the woman to another guy – also looking to court the woman – raising his arms, but quickly catching a whiff of his underarms and immediately lowering them into a not-as-excited, half-touchdown pose…while the musical refrain changed from a deep “Sure. Sure. Sure.” to a wimpier sounding, “Unsure. Unsure. Unsure.”
The trend would continue for the duration of the 30 second ad.
From the classroom. (Sure hands raised; unsure hands not so much).
To adjusting the overhead light on an airplane (The person who’s sure is able to; the unsure person…just deals with it).
To (my personal favorite) the weather woman who is SURE and certain of a snowy forecast and the weather man who is as UNSURE about his pit stains as he is about the precipitation index.
The point? Using SURE deodorant will keep you SURE that you are STAYING FRESH.
Over the last weeks we have learned a lot about being FRESH in 2019. We talked about getting a FRESH start, out FRESH identity, the personalized FRESHness of baptism, how to have reFRESHing friendships, how to have FRESH speech, what our FRESH purpose is and how to be a part of that purpose and be a breath of FRESH air for the North Raleigh community. Today’s goal is to learn how to be sure that we’re staying FRESH for God’s purposes throughout the entire year. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Feeling Tired…?
The section from God’s Word that we’re going to focus in on today is an Old Testament Lesson from the book of Isaiah. Isaiah was a guy who lived around 740-700 B.C. He served as a prophet. That is – he spoke messages from God that God told him to speak. Usually it was through visions or dreams that God would give him these messages.
The main message of Isaiah had to do with the Assyrian army. For years, God had warned the people of Israel to stop sinning, to stop worshipping false Gods, to worship the True God, to stop abandoning Him and return to Him.
But the people didn’t listen. While Isaiah was still prophesying, God allowed the Assyrian army, a terrible, violent army, to ransack the countryside of Israel. They went along destroying villages, burning houses, and killing any stragglers, destroying everything in the North Kingdom of Israel, from there the army made its way south to the Southern Kingdom of Judah, eventually culminating in a siege of Jerusalem, the capital city.
Have you ever been under siege? The closet I can think is whenever it snows around here. The city shuts down. The streets shutdown. If you live on any kind of side road, the snow plows don’t come, and you are under siege. You can’t go outside. You can’t go to the store. You can’t grab a coffee at Starbucks…you have to (gasp)…make your own coffee!
But it was much worse for the people of Jerusalem.
They couldn’t get outside to the well waters, so they had to ration water that was located in their storage areas. Many were dehydrated.
They couldn’t get any food from the farms, so they had to ration the flour for making bread – maybe one slice once a day. They were lacking nutrients.
They needed to be on constant alert – watching from the watchtowers at the top of the wall – to ensure that the Assyrians weren’t making an attempt at scaling the wall and climbing in. And when they weren’t in charge of visually watching them, they were in the city trembling and worrying that any day the siege could break!
Israel was tired of being under siege.
Because being under siege is exhausting.
But…maybe you already know that.
Maybe you are under siege by bill collectors.
Or under siege by a pile of work.
Or under siege to the demands of raising a child.
Or under siege in a relationship that seems filled with anger and resentment.
Or under siege to depression and anxiety.
That’s not fun.
I’m sorry you’re dealing with that.
When you are under siege – it is easy to blame God.
That’s exactly what the Israelites did, they said: “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God!” (Isaiah 40:27)
Think about that. Their claim was that God couldn’t see them.
As if there was some type of obstruction in God’s sight - and that’s why he can’t see what’s going with me.
Or maybe God can see, but just doesn’t care! Like an old sticky note that He’s tired of looking at – God just crumples up my needs and disregards them into the waste basket.
But Israel wasn’t under siege because God didn’t care about them.
In fact, he had sent Isaiah and about 20 something prophets before Isaiah to delivers constant warnings to the people so that this besiegement would NEVER take place.
The issue wasn’t that God grew tired of caring about Israel.
It was that Israel grew tired of caring about God.
Truth: Spiritual tiredness exists when we tire of caring about God.
When we remove ourselves from his promises of grace…
When we remove ourselves from his love…
When we remove ourselves from doing the things that God says, “Won’t cause you grief and pain and stress!”
We will get spiritually tired.
It’s the most oddball thing. But I’ve seen it again and again…
A terrible thing happens.
Someone is struggling spiritually.
So, what do they do?
They remove themselves from God.
They remove themselves from their only source of strength.
If that’s you, today God says, “Repent.”
He says, “Return to me.”
He says, “Return to me because…”
I. Never. Tire.
II. The One who NEVER Tires
Check out what Isaiah writes next, he says, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary and his understanding no one can fathom.” (v.28)
I love that beginning.
Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?
Do I need to teach you a fundament thing about God?
The fundamental thing is that God NEVER gets tired.
And Isaiah gives us three reasons this is true:
1) God is Everlasting
Not to be stuck in 80’s commercials, but do you remember the Energizer bunny rabbit. He was a pink rabbit that had on a cool pair of shades as he drummed across cities, forests, deserts and Antarctic wastelands. The point? The energizer bunny keeps going and going and going and going and going and going and going and…You get the point.
But I remember one time I bought that Energizer battery and I was playing on my Gameboy. And guess what? That battery died!
It stopped going and going and going…
God isn’t like that.
God is everlasting and unending.
He doesn’t get sleepy.
He doesn’t get lethargic.
He doesn’t need to catch his breath.
God has been around from before the beginning of the world.
He will be around after the end of the world.
God is everlasting.
2) God is All-Powerful
Isaiah says, “The LORD…is the Creator of the ends of the earth.” (v.28)
Creating things usually takes energy. For me, I know that if I’m creating something, I get pretty tired. At the end of a long day of creating a birdhouse for our backyard – or even half the bird house – I get tired and want to quit.
He created lofty mountain ranges
He fashioned tens of thousands of tree types.
He crafted this gigantic, burning ball of gas known as the sun.
And then, when he was done creating, he immediately shifted to the work of sustaining the very universe that he just created:
Sending rain on the earth to water the new plants.
Holding earth in its rotation around the sun.
Revolving all the other the planets across our galaxy.
And all of universe sustaining? It’s like lifting up a cotton swab to God.
It’s not tiring.
Because God is all powerful.
That’s important to remember, because sometimes the most tiring kind of tired isn’t a physical kind of tired at all.
It’s a mental kind.
Spending mental energy to figure out the next step in fixing this relationship.
Contemplating the next step in trying to raise a kid.
Stressing over how to fix issues at work.
Mental exhaustion is a real thing for humans. But not for God.
Isaiah writes, “God will not grow tired or weary and his understanding no one can fathom.” (v.28c)
God knows all things.
He knows how to fix whatever issue you’re having.
He knows how to fix the issues that you don’t know you’re having.
He knows how to fix the issues that eventually one day you’ll be having.
He knows how to fix all of your issues.
And all of my issues.
And all of the issues of every person sitting here today.
And it does not stress Him out.
He doesn’t tire, because He’s all-knowing.
These three truths – everlasting, all-powerful and all-knowing are proof that nothing can tire God out.
But…maybe you need one more example?
Do you remember what happened to Jesus near the end of his time at earth?
He dealt with immense physical suffering: arrested, beaten, bruised, bloodied, and nailed hand and foot to a cross!
He dealt with intense emotional suffering, convicted by his own people, betrayed by one disciple, denied by another, abandoned by the rest.
And that was nothing compared to the massive spiritual suffering: of the world’s guilt, shame and sin.
Eventually, his body gave out.
Don’t think that God stopped working.
Because, while his body died, God, as God, was holding the entire world together.
And God, as human, was simply biding his time.
Three days later…
Jesus came back to life!
If death can’t stop Jesus, nothing will.
He’s not too tired to care for you.
He’s not too tired to keep you safe.
He’s not too tired to protect your family.
He’s not too tired to rebuild your relationship
He’s not too tired to strengthen your faith.
He’s not too tired to guide your kids.
He’s not too tired to defeat addiction.
He’s not too tired to remove guilt.
He’s not too tired to defeat death.
God doesn’t get tired.
III. The Source of your reFRESHment
And God doesn’t keep his strength to himself. Look at his promise in verse 29. “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”
Notice it doesn’t say that he makes us earn this gift of strength by doing some kind of spiritual heavy lifting.
Or gives until he can’t give anymore.
And gives some more.
This is different from the way it works with humans.
Because even the best of humans gets tired.
Even the best of humans runs out of energy.
Even the best of humans has to stop giving of themselves.
It’s like a 2 Liter Bottle of Coca-Cola. If I walk around and pour people a glass of Coca-Cola and all day long I pour people a glass of Coca-Cola with my 2 liter bottle, but I never stop to refill my bottle of Coca-Cola…eventually I run out.
But God’s different.
He’s got more than 2 liters of strength and grace and mercy.
He’s got a gushing water fall’s amount.
A never ending, ever flowing fountain of power, grace and mercy.
That’s really important.
Because take a look at something Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
Do you hear him?
Do you hear your Savior’s voice?
He’s calling. And he says:
“Take a break from ‘worrying that you won’t be able to do it.’”
“Because I got this.”
“Take a break from the anxiety of ‘I don’t have enough.’”
“Take a break from ‘the stress of guilt, sin, and shame.’”
“You are forgiven.”
IV. What Now?
1. Practice a Spiritual Sabbath
Do you know about the Sabbath?
In the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to keep something called “the Sabbath.” In fact, that’s the third commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” What happened on that Sabbath day was that the Israelites rested. They didn’t go to work. They didn’t do a business trip. They stayed at home and rested.
Over time, the religious leaders developed some rules to ensure that people were really resting.
It was illegal to do work at work.
It was illegal to do work at home.
You couldn’t turn off the lamp because that would be work.
You couldn’t sweep up that piles of dirt, because that would be work.
In fact, you were only allowed to take a couple thousand steps before stepping would be work, too.
All these laws meant to bring rest led the whole Sabbath experience not being very restful.
I just husked the corn for supper…was that work?
Don’t tell the rabbi. I think I went over by about 76 steps.
I’m sorry God! On this day of rest, I lifted the salt shaker and have added more sin to my spirit!
When Jesus came along, he corrected the people.
He said that people weren’t made to keep the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for people.
The Sabbath was to be a spiritual rest.
A time for them to take a break from the stress of everyday life and focus in on God.
To hear his voice.
To be uplifted by his promises.
To find rest in God.
Friends, do the same.
That’s what we’re doing here today. We are here to take a break from the everyday and focus in on God.
But don’t let that be it.
Take a 5-minute Sabbath in the morning before you begin your day by listening to your Bible app.
Take a 5-minute Sabbath at noon as you read a devotion.
Take a 5-minute Sabbath at night as you say your prayers.
Spend time each week – each day with God. When you do so, he will renew your spiritual strength.
2. Practice a Physical Sabbath
Because even though the main point of the Sabbath wasn’t physical rest, it was an ancillary benefit.
The Bible is clear – physical rest is important.
Jesus, as a human, took rest breaks.
We probably don’t need anymore proof than that.
In fact, being physically well-rested helps you spiritually.
You don’t feel as much like being a jerk.
You don’t feel too tired to care for others.
You don’t feel too sleepy to say nice things to your coworkers in the morning.
As a result, you don’t have to deal with as much guilt and shame that zaps you of spiritual strength.
Here’s the point: Physical rest is a good thing.
And even though we live in a ‘go, go, go’ culture – today, God gives us encouragement to slow down.
Have you ever seen an eagle in flight? Compared to most birds, they are pretty majestic. Cause most birds, take a sparrow, flap their wings like crazy. They flap and flap and flap and use up all kinds of energy just to keep themselves up.
The eagle? Not so much.
He opens up his majestic wings, he pushes off of whatever ledge he is sitting on…and he soars.
He trusts the wind to hold himself up and as a result, he soars.
Isaiah writes this, “Those who hope in the Lord will soar on wings like eagles.” (v.31)
Too often we hope in ourselves.
And we’re like a tiny sparrow – flapping and flopping and panicking and trying to keep ourselves up.
Instead, our encouragement today is to be an eagle. To open our wings. To trust God. To soar.
God will keep you up. He doesn’t tire.
Friends, may God keep us refreshed and enable you to soar! Amen.
Last week we heard God’s call to RETURN to His Way because His Way is Good! This week God calls us to return to Him because He is Faithful unlike any other kind of faithful person ever! Before we dig into Scripture, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Hosea’s Strange Choice for a Wife
Background of Hosea. Last week we read a section from 2 Kings that took place around 600 B.C. This week we are in the book of Hosea which takes place about 120 years earlier. It also doesn’t take place in country of Judah and Jerusalem, but in a sister country up north called --Israel.
A little bit about the climate of 8th century B.C. Israel. The people had gotten very into worshipping a statue called “Baal.” Baal was a ‘god’ of the neighboring nations. People worshipped Baal in a much different way than we worship the Lord today.
Instead of visiting the temple to worship the Lord, they visited Baal’s temple to worship a statue.
Instead of adopting the Ten Commandments, they had adopted the magical practices of fertility cults.
Instead of being intimate in prayer with God, they were “intimate with Baal” by being intimate with Baal’s shrine prostitutes.
Hmm…Seems like yet another situation where God needs to call his people to RETURN to Him.
Hosea is a prophet.
Hosea works for the Lord.
Hosea goes wherever God tells him to go.
Hosea does whatever God tells him to do.
Hosea is also a single young man.
He is a single young man who understood God’s plan for marriage:
That one man marries one woman and be united to that one woman for a lifetime.
He knew that such unity would be proclaimed via a public marriage ceremony and practice with exclusive intimate relations.
So…I doubt Hosea took marriage lightly.
He looks at ancient papyrus dating profile and swiped RIGHT on the women he was interested in knowing.
He took them out for dinner and watched to see if they ordered a BLT or respected his religious wish not to eat pork.
He made sure to ask them his make or break question: “Do you worship GOD or BAAL?”
And up to this point in his life --- Hosea did not have a wife!
Imagine Hosea’s excitement…when the long arduous process of finding a faithful wife for himself came to an end.
God called out to Hosea.
God had found a wife for Hosea.
God had found the perfect woman for Hosea.
He fell to his knees.
He said, “Yes, Lord! I can’t wait to meet her.”
And the Lord said:
“Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her.” (1:2a)
Would you marry someone who is promiscuous? That’s a kind Bible word from someone who is sexually intimate with lots of people. Would you marry the woman who kisses 12 other boys on your first date? Would you marry the man that has text messages from 6 of his exes on his phone? Would you marry a spouse that made you think: “There’s no way that person will ever be faithful.”
You might date them.
They might be fun.
BUT...! They are NOT marriage material.
Yet the Lord told Hosea told Hosea to seek out a woman just like that.
It wasn’t his bad judgment.
It wasn’t even a few too many gin and tonics in Law Vegas.
The LORD told Hosea to marry a promiscuous woman.
Check out the answer in verse 2:
“For like an adulterous wife; this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” (1:2b)
Hosea’s life is a living, breathing parable.
It’s a lifelong illustration.
It’s a picture of God’s relationship with his people of Israel.
It’s a picture of God’s relationship with his people of the Triangle.
II. The Unfaithful One
What do I mean? Take a look at chapter 2. Chapter 2 gets into the nitty gritty about how the people’s relationship is going with God. Pay attention -- Chapter 2 is going to reference a wife and a husband. At no point is it ever a reference to an actual wife and an actual husband. It is a reference to God as the husband, and his wife as his people. Look at verse 2:
“Rebuke your mother,” and mother is a reference to Israel…God’s wife. “Rebuke her, for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband.” (2:2a)
Why would God say that?
Why would God break his covenant?
A new study published in The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships surveyed 232 people who had been cheated on. The study showed that those who were cheated reported “experiencing great bouts of depression, anxiety, and distress.” (Psypost.org)
Why is it so damaging? I think the Bible answered that a long time ago:
The Bible says that marriage is a very special relationship.
There is a very emotional promise of faithfulness at an engagement.
There is a very public commitment to faithfulness in front of family and friends.
There is the physical promise of faithfulness that exclusive sexual intimacy implies.
The promise, the commitment, the exclusivity of intimacy bonds the two together as one!
One incredible being.
What the Bible calls “One flesh.” (Genesis 2)
To break the marriage bond with unfaithfulness is to sever the marriage bond – and leave spiritual, emotional blood of that one flesh all over the floor.
Keep that in mind and listen to God’s heart for those who are unfaithful:
“Rebuke her, for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband.
Let her remove the adulterous look from her face and her unfaithfulness.” (2:2b)
It wasn’t God who stopped being a husband.
It was his people.
Let her remove her adulterous look! Because God’s people have been flirtatious. They have been looking for other gods.
“Baal, you are so cute! And not as oppressive as the God of Israel!”
“Asherah pole, you are in style. Not stuffy and old fashioned like the Lord.”
“Dear money, you really care about me and let me do what I want. God is always lecturing me.”
“Oh pornography! You are the best thing for me; so much better than God. I wish I was with you”
“Oh lovely beer bottle. I come to you and you make everything better – unlike God – who makes me feel so uptight.”
“Mmmm. Pride. I always knew that the perfect one for me, is me!”
And these adulterous looks lead to actual unfaithfulness.
It’s not just flirting with the idea of other gods.
But being intimate with them.
The intimate desires of a heart revealed in prayer to Baal.
The intimate time of worship spent in the temple of Asherah.
The intimate trust that all will be ok – placed in a few dollar bills.
The intimate need for value discovered in digital photos where the woman gives you whatever you want when you want it.
The intimate need for comfort looked for in a bottle of PBR – and another 16 or so.
The intimate need for acceptance found in the callous embrace of one self.
Brothers and sisters, this is unfaithful Israel.
Brothers and sisters, this is unfaithful us.
And that’s harsh.
Look at what happens to those who are no longer a part of God’s family. The Bible calls them…
Stripped. Verse 3 says: I will strip her naked and make her as bare as on the day she was born. Because God is the one who brings home the bacon in the relationship with his people. God is the one who provides all the physical blessings! And in the settlement between God and the people who have been unfaithful to him? He gets everything! He gets the house. He gets the home. He gets the clothing. He gets the 401K. He gets the Jaguar. He gets the Xbox. He gets it all, because He is the one who has been providing everything to begin with!
And the unfaithful? They are naked. Everyone can see their sin. Everyone can see their shame. Everyone can see their guilt.
Parched. Verse 3b says: “I will make her like a desert, turn her into a parched land, and slay her with thirst.” For Israel, it meant that God was going to send a drought on the land of Israel. They would no longer receive rain. Without rain, their crops would die. Without crops, they would no longer receive nourishment. Because God is the one who nourishes us all and God stopped nourishing them.
And…So…Consider this: What if God didn’t provide for you? Where would you be?
A soup kitchen?
Eating the old dog food at the bottom of the dumpster behind the local kennel?
TRUTH: If God didn’t provide for you, you would not be nourished.
And why would he provide for those who aren’t part of his family?
And why would He keep the unfaithful as part of His family?
Blocked. Verse six says this: “Therefore I will block her path with thornbushes; I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way.
When I read this verse, I get this picture of this high-ranking jaded spouse. They are high up in government. They have been scorned and publicly humiliated.
And they will get revenge.
They talk to the city officials and make it impossible for their spouse to find a job. They make it impossible for them to find a living. They see to it that – you never work in this town again!
God’s Word says that if you are unfaithful to God, you will be against him.
And He will be against you.
And there’s no way that you will win.
And to be fair, you can turn to your other lovers!
You can turn to money.
You can turn to porn.
You can turn to alcohol.
You can turn to pride.
You can turn to whatever it is that has led you to be unfaithful to God.
You can Look for your lovers…but the unfaithful one will not find them.
Do you know why?
Because these “lovers” don’t care about you.
Not at all.
And you left the only One who did love you to go after them.
(And now…I’m alone.)
The Unfaithful one.
III. The Faithful One
Then…the only thing left…is despair.
Despair and return.
The unfaithful spouse will say, ‘I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now.’
I will go back to God.
I will return to my husband.
I will return to the One who really loves me, who always provides for me and who will never leave me!
I will return to the faithful One.
And they return.
And they fall on the floor.
And with tears in our eyes, they beg for God to take us back.
They beg for one more change.
They beg for forgiveness.
Who has been wronged.
Who has been wronged repeatedly
Who has been hurt.
Who has been betrayed by the One He loved most…says:
“I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, In love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness.” (v.19-20)
If you have been unfaithful to God and you seek reconciliation with your faithful husband, hear his promise of betrothal again:
He will betroth in righteousness. Remember earlier when it talked about being without clothes and sin exposed? Not anymore! God covers up your sin and your shame. He clothes you with the impenetrable beauty of His forgiveness and the gorgeous fashion of His righteousness.
He will betroth in justice. He defends his spouse. He brings justice on his enemies. He defeats the devil. He defeats sin. He defeats death for the sake of his beloved wife.
He will betroth in love. Not just emotional, flighty Disney love, but real, tested, unconditional action love. Love that sends him to the cross. Even when we’ve been unfaithful.
He will betroth in compassion. Not lashing out – as would be understandable and as He should – but speaking…With kindness, gentleness, and forgiveness: whispering sweet nothings of HIS divine love.
He will betroth in faithfulness. Never getting “back” at you. Never getting revenge. Never being unfaithful.
Always, always, always faithfully loving you.
Every day of this life.
Every day of eternity.
Friends, hear God’s call to you today. If you have been unfaithful to Him, RETURN. Return to THE Faithful One. Amen.
The Olympics are officially underway. One of my favorite parts is the behind the scenes documentaries that appear on the various athletes. They’re pretty exciting because you get to learn more about their background, their personality, and what drives them.
Like Mamee Birney. She’s a Short Track speed skater originally from Ghana, immigrated when she was 5 and now skating for the U.S. She’s one of the breakout stars of the Olympics and the very first black woman to qualify for the U.S. speedskating team. She’s intimidating. She’s bubbly. She’s excitable. She’s also 18 and just got her own cell phone for the very first time.
That’s fun. What’s nice about social media is that it connects us to these celebrities in an intimate way.
We really get to know them.
But what about Jesus?
Then disciples had followed him for 2 years.
They had seen amazing thing, heard amazing promises, and listened to amazing speeches.
But Jesus didn’t have an Instagram. How would they get to know the real Him?
Today we are travelling along with the disciples to an intimate retreat on a mountain. Our goal is to witness an event that teaches us intimate details about who Jesus is and talk about what that means for being His disciples. 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. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
Context wise – this lesson takes a huge leap forward in time from last week’s sermon. It’s about 2 years after those early chapters in Mark and lots of things have happened.
There are more disciples. The original 4 fishers of men have grown to be 12 including political activists, accountants, and others from throughout the land of Judea.
There have been many miracles. The disciples have seen Jesus make the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, storms stop, and bread multiply out of thin air. They have seen a host of incredible, miraculous things.
They have become very familiar with Jesus’ mercy. Because in spite of His divine miracles, Jesus has been reaching out to the non-divine. He has spent time with prostitutes, eaten dinner with tax collectors, and helped the dregs of society that most religious leaders would not have touched.
After seeing all of these things, the disciples knew they were following someone great. But on this particular day, they were going to get a chance to really know the man behind the powers. They were going on a Retreat – not to Disney World – not to Great Wolf Lodge – but to a quiet mountaintop. This was their chance to really understand more about their leader.
You can almost hear them practicing their questions:
Who are you really?
What are your hopes and dreams?
What’s your favorite color?
Jesus, what is it that makes you tick?
But as they made their way up to the top of the mountain – and Peter cleared his throat ready to finally ask some of those tougher, get-to-know-you questions -- Jesus was already answering those questions.
Just not with words.
It began with a glow…A white like glow emanating from Jesus’ clothing. It was a bit strange because there wasn’t a washing machine located on the top of this mountain -- and last they had checked Jesus’ tunic it was stained with the dirt that had rubbed against him from night after night of sleeping under the stars.
And certainly not glowing.
But not as strange as what they saw next. Jesus’ face was also glowing. It wasn’t a mask. It wasn’t a trick of the sun. He wasn’t shining a flashlight on his face. In fact, he hadn’t done anything differently than simply set foot on the mountain.
Yet, his face was bright. Bright–bright. Wish you were wearing sun glasses bright. It was a brilliant shining white light that was emanating from the face of Jesus in a way unlike anything they had ever seen.
But before the disciples could make any hypotheses as to why the luminescence of their leader, another mystery…Two men. (A couple of hermits? Mountain men?) appeared with Jesus.
The disciples listened more closely. They didn’t speak like mountain men. They spoke like men of God. They talked about what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah, about God’s promises about the Messiah in the Old Testament, about the next stages of Jesus’ plans for saving the people.
Who were these guys? They listened closely to what Jesus called them:
“Moses, it’s just like God prophesied through you. I am the prophet like you from among the Israelite brothers.”
“And Elijah, it’s just like God worked through you – I have done miracle after miracle – only at an even more impressive clip.”
Peter’s jaw dropped.
He turned to John and mouthed those names again:
If that’s who these two were, that would be amazing!
They were heroes of the Old Testament.
They were legends of God’s Word.
They were rock stars in the world of the Jewish faith.
They were also…dead. At least, they had been for hundreds of years.
Now about this time Peter had an idea. What was going on was breathtaking! Bodily luminescence? Material translucence? An encounter with two souls from heaven itself? This was worth sticking around for.
Ummm…Jesus. Ummm….so it looks like you are having a good time here. Me too. Really. Would you like me to set up a tent for each of you? I can use those big leaves from the fig tree over there. I’ll even set up some rocks as a bed. I’m sure that’ll be way more comfy than whatever beds there are in heaven…?
Before Peter’s could think better of his suggestion – things changed again. An ethereal fog began to drift in. Deeper than a fog a cloud! It slowly began enveloping the entire seen: Jesus. Moses. Elijah. The sycamore trees. The rocks. The disciples – until a white condensation covered everything with a white glow coming from where Jesus’ face previously had been.
And then? A voice.
Not Moses’ voice.
Not Elijah’s voice.
Not Jesus’ voice.
Not Isaiah’s voice or Jeremiah’s voice or the voice of Abraham himself.
This voice was too loud.
“This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”
Peter and the others fell to the grounds. Frightened.
Because without seeing where this voice came from.
Without seeing where the voice was looking.
Without seeing who was talking.
It was God.
It was God talking to them.
“You must listen to him.”
II. The Truth about Who You’re Following
If the disciples didn’t understand before who it was they were following, suddenly things became very clear. Amazing? Yes. Hard to believe? Absolutely. But as plain as the bright light coming from Jesus’ face – they were following God’s Son.
And since God begets God from eternity – meaning He’s always there and his begotten – his Son is always there too—they were hearing from God about God – namely Jesus!
Their leader was the divine God of heaven and earth itself.
Think about the proof:
1. Fabric Luminescence
This might be the smallest of the miracles, but still pretty amazing! Tunics didn’t get changed often and they were worn in a desert community. In addition, Jesus had just climbed up the mountain. To expect it to be bright white, Clorox bleached white at the top of the mountain was pretty incredible.
In fact, it’s amazing to see that kind of a bright white clarity out of the washing machine. Right? It’s why when they run those Oxy Clean commercials and they dunk the ketchup and grass stained white tie into the bowl of product (because who doesn’t wear a bright white tie while eating hot dogs), it’s amazing how clean the product makes the garment.
This happened to Jesus.
Without any product.
Without any washing machine.
This was amazing. This was God.
2. Facial Luminescence.
I think this one is the next step up. Because this is not something that anyone had ever noticed about Jesus before. Think about it: his face was shining to the point of it being challenging to look at him. Even if the sun was shining, I don’t think it’s ever reflected off of anyone’s face to the point of making it difficult to look at them.
Perhaps a bald man’s head might produce that effect – ish. But Jesus wasn’t bald. He was 32 years old.
And there was something else on his face that would have completely prevented his skin from reflecting the sun’s rays in any kind of way that would imitate a ‘glitter shimmer.’
Again – Jesus’ face shining like a light is absolutely was amazing.
This was God.
3. Talking with Dead Celebrities.
And I think we need to focus in on that “dead” aspect. Because as amazing as it is that Jesus knew these celebrities of Jewish culture – it was even more amazing that he was talking to them hundreds of years after they had died.
For instance, what’s more impressive --
Hey! I just took a selfie with Justin Timberlake?
or Hey! I just took a selfie with Elvis Presley?
I don’t care what your taste is in music, the second one is way more impressive, because Elvis has been long dead!
And that’s the same thing that disciples witnessed.
And the men appeared out of nowhere.
And the men disappeared out of nowhere.
This was amazing.
This was God.
4. The Voice from the Ethereal Cloud
Which – I understand that the cloud itself might be explained. Clouds sometimes hang around the mountains. Sometimes they even hang around the lowlands – we call that fog.
But what are the chance a thick cloud envelopes the entire scene at the exact moment that Jesus’ clothes are glowing, his face is glowing and he’s speaking with two long dead celebrities?
I’m guessing – it’s not so much coincidence anymore.
And then – the VOICE!!! And remember – this is long before microphones.
It’s long before mini speakers.
It’s long before drones flying in noise from above.
This is nothing short of amazing.
This is nothing short of God.
Which is the point! The point of this account is pretty simple.
JESUS IS GOD!
You want to learn more about his character, his likes? His dislikes?
He’s the eternal God.
He dwells in the holiness of heaven itself.
He hates evil.
He loves good.
He is God eternal, immortal, invisible, all powerful from eternal himself.
III. WHAT NOW?
And this is key.
Because it leads to 3 very important truths about following Jesus.
1. Listen to Him
This is exactly what God’s voice said. “This is my Son; listen to him.”
That’s interesting. Because in a lot of groups/clubs there is a certain level of dialogue when it comes to action. For instance, the “Legion of Professional PEZ Collectors” will take votes to determine where they would like to host their next rally. What city will they be in? What type of PEZ themed candies will they eat? What hotel will they use?
People discuss plans.
Not with God.
When you’re in a group with God, the all-powerful, all wise, all eternal being gets the final say.
I bring that up because oftentimes we don’t treat God like that.
We get to discuss…– “Jesus, I get it. You think that’s sinful. I don’t. We live in a modern era after all. You’re going to have to compromise with me.”
TRUTH: If you think you can discuss, negotiate or compromise with God, then who are you treating as God?
That’s not wise. Because you can’t make your face glow.
You can’t make your clothes gleam.
You’ve never met Elijah.
You don’t know what Moses looked like.
A cloud has never enveloped you on your birthday to claim you as his perfect child.
And you can’t save yourself to heaven.
You aren’t God.
So…listen to the one who is.
Listen to Jesus.
2. Reconsider Jesus’ next Mountain
Because the very next mountain that Jesus comes to after this Transfiguration, isn’t so glorious looking.
It’s a mountain called the place of the skull.
A mountain where crucifixions occurred.
A mountain called Calvary.
There aren’t a few special friends; but thousands in angry opposition!
There isn’t a shining brilliance emanating from his face; but blood. And sweat…and more blood.
There aren’t two returned to life prophets; but two dying criminals.
There isn’t the voice of God himself; but the bitter silence of the Father turning his back on him.
It sure doesn’t look glorious.
…when you remember who Jesus is.
When you remember that’s God himself.
When you remember that is Eternal Holy God, entering mortality and suffering death and pain for me!
Calvary becomes beautiful.
More glorious than the mount of transfiguration.
Because it means you’re forgiven.
It means you’re His.
it means you are loved.
And it means you’ve gotta get down from the Mountain.
3. Get Down from the Mountain
Because I understand why Peter wanted to set up the tents. When he was on that mountain, it was obvious! Jesus is the Savior. Jesus is the true God. Jesus is worth following.
And sometimes in church, the same thing is obvious. We hear these stories. We learn God’s Word. We become convinced “Yes! Jesus is the Savior. Jesus is the true God. Jesus is worth following!” When you’re here, you might feel excited, pumped up, and convinced of that truth. It sure beats being out there in the world with coworkers who call you an idiot, social media that ridicules your faith, and friends are make you have doubts.
It’s nice to stay on the mountain.
But you can’t.
Jesus didn’t stay. Jesus had to get down that mountain. He still had to complete his mission. He had to suffer and die to accomplish our salvation.
And the disciples didn’t stay. They had to get down that mountain. They had to learn God’s Word deeply. They had to begin their ministry in sharing this message of God’s grace.
And you can’t stay either.
If you think discipleship is only thing that happens within these walls, you’re wrong.
Discipleship continues out there in the world.
We have people to tell.
We have people to tell that the one we follow is the TRUE God.
We have people to #GatherToTheGarden!
Here’s the thing – you’ve had a behind the scenes look at whom Jesus really is. Just like you might get excited to share a good interview about an Olympic hero, please share this truth about Jesus your Eternal Hero.
He is true God.
He is your savior.
He is the one you’re following. Amen.
Joshua dabbed at the perspiration on his forehead.
They’re almost all here, Mr. Joshua Sir.
Joshua nodded from his seat behind a tree and took a sip of water. It was an important day. Joshua, the general of the Israelite army, was about to make a speech to tens of thousands of Israelites. They had gathered in Shechem – a place centrally located to the entire land of what – until recently – had been called Canaan.
Now it was known as Israel.
Joshua smiled at the thought. This is exactly what God had said. Over 500 years ago, God had promised this land would be theirs. God had said that he would give it to them. God had promised that he was going to do some awesome things to get them to this point even when they were slaves in Egypt!
And God had.
When they faced a roaring flood stage river and were unable to cross, God was with them…and split the waters in half for them to cross.
When they faced a gigantic 12-foot-thick wall surrounding the city of Jericho, God was with them…and knocked the walls at the sound of a trumpet.
When they were running out of daylight to defeat their enemies, God was with them and held the earth in its place, on its axis, pausing the universe to give them the land he desired to give!
The land was theirs.
It was all thanks to God.
But…recently…people seemed to be forgetting that.
He had overhead some of the soldiers talking about “What a great thing it was that they had done. And how they had won this land for themselves.”
He had seen fliers being passed around for a new group’s weekly meetings: the W.I.A.A.S. We Israelites Are Awesome Society.
He had noticed fewer and fewer people had been attending worship services on a weekly basis.
Even as Joshua watched the people file into the makeshift amphitheater, he could see signs of it.
The “Baal, golden calf god” t-shirts were speckled throughout the arena.
A tattoo could be seen that read “Praise to Asherah! The cool NEW god”
The look of annoyance on the teenager who could clearly be seen mouthing the words, “Why do we have to listen to what the LORD has to say? He isn’t relevant anymore.”
Joshua shook his head
And his eyes got a bit teary eyed.
How could they forget? How could they forget the LORD?
He got the signal from his assistants. The people were ready.
He took a deep breath.
He may have been old. He may not be hip. He may not be cool.
But he knew…EXACTLY what needed to be said:
Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served or the gods of the Amorites in whom you are now living. But…as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. (24:15)
Today we look at the final chapter in the book of Joshua. We will unpack this statement from Scripture as we learn (1) why serving two gods doesn’t work (2) which household gods to throw away (3) which God to serve and (4) how to ensure that our households serve that God. Before we do that, a prayer: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. 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. Is it Possible to Serve Two gods?
Maybe this seems a bit strange to you. Why is God so jealous? Shouldn’t he be content if people worship him sometimes? Think about it:
People have two dogs.
People have two cats.
People have two kids.
People have two Netflix series that they watch at the same time.
Why can’t people have two gods?
The answer lies within the definition of a god. A god is “whomever or whatever you love, fear, and trust the most.” Makes sense. God is who you view as most powerful. God is who you view as most protecting. God is the one to whom you are most thankful for things. God is the one to whom you turn when you are in trouble.
Notice. God is a superlative. He is MOST. If we think back to English class, do you remember what a superlative means? It means there is nothing that holds a higher content of whatever adjectival quality is attributed to it.
The spiciest chili pepper is the ghost pepper. Nothing is spicier.
The tallest mountain in North Carolina is Mt. Mitchell. No mountain is taller.
The best biscuits in Raleigh are at Rise Bakery. No biscuits are better.
When faced with a superlative, the reality is that there can only be one.
I’m a pastor. Pastors should be all things to all people. In other words, I want to enjoy the things people enjoy so that I can serve them with the message of God’s Word. That means I like coffee with the coffee drinkers and tea with the tea drinkers. It means I high five those who like high fives and shake hands with those who like to shake hands. It means I cheer for UNC with UNC fans and the Wolfpack with Wolfpack fans. I am neutral.
At least, in theory.
A couple of years ago the two teams were playing in a football showdown. I thought to myself, “I don’t know who I’m going to cheer for.” But as the game went on, I noticed something. There was definitely a team that was I was cheering for. There was definitely a team that I like better.
Now...I’m not telling which one. I don’t need to get mugged after this. But do you get the point? When pitted against one another, one team becomes more important than the other. You can’t have two superlatives.
And if that’s true for football teams, wouldn’t it be true with “god?”
Jesus said this, “You cannot serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Mt. 6:24)
Because when Jesus says, “Serve me only” and Allah says, “Serve me only.” You can’t serve one without immediately breaking the command of the other.
You can’t serve two gods.
II. Society’s Household Idols
That was the problem that ancient Israel was facing. There were a bunch of different options that were suddenly available to them in their new land. Joshua mentions the “gods of your ancestors and the gods the Amorites.” Those were the ‘false gods’ that were a part of their society. There were a few:
There was Baal – a bronze god that was ½ human and ½ cow.
There was Dagon – a stone gold that was ½ human and ½ fish.
There was Asherah – a formless fertility goddess that you worshipped by having intercourse in front of the statue.
They were new.
They were interesting.
They seemed to allow more “fun.”
The only problem? None of them were real.
Baal was a bronze statue.
Dagon was a stone statue.
Asherah a piece of wood that had etchings, paint, and a bit of glitter tossed on it.
How could any of these things be “most” powerful if they didn’t even come into existence without the artistic hands of the human being?
How could any of them be “most” loving if they couldn’t even have emotions?
How could you put their trust in any of them, if you got into a bit of trouble and, “Oh no, I left my god in my other pair of pants?”
Baal, Dagon and Asherah are not as popular today. (You might not have even heard of them until today.) But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of false gods in our society. Here are a few:
Have you heard of this god before? He’s very popular in our society. Sometimes he’s green with one dead president on it. Sometimes he’s a little piece of metal that fits in your pocket. Sometimes he’s just a bunch of numbers that appear in that frequently used banking app on your phone.
Money is not bad. We need money. But the problem is society tells us to trust money to fix our lives. And when we believe that, we start trusting money more than God.
Yes. I know God is there, but things are going well, because I have money. Thanks be to you, O money.
Things aren’t going well. It’s because I don’t have enough money.
If I want things to be good for my kids and for them to have opportunities, I’d better work more, I’d better make more money, because money will fix us.
Money doesn’t care about you.
Money didn’t create you.
Money was created in some US Government mint machine.
Money will not save you to eternity.
It will just get spent.
Don’t choose it for your household god.
Academics are a big deal in America. There’s all kinds of pressure to teach your kids lots of things and lots of stuff. The goal is so that they have a 5th grade education by the time they are five. We do it because we figure that they’ll get ahead. If they are only smart enough, then they get a job and life will be wonderful for them.
But what happens if we trust Academics as the key to a good life—more so than God?
Yes. Bible study is important, but if my girl gets a 4.0 then she’ll be set for life!
I’m sorry honey, there’s no time for devotion tonight; you need to be working on homework!
Yeah, I know…Sunday School and getting you ready for eternal life, but…this online course? It might get you to Harvard.
Academia is good, but Academia is also not god.
Don’t make it your household god.
I asked a mom what she had going on that weekend. She response that she was taking her kids to soccer in the morning, then get karate, then swim lessons, then chess club, and finally home for piano lessons. In other words – she was working for Uber.
But this is a common thing. The notion is that the only good parents are the ones that get their kids involved in at least seven extra curriculars. (And almost none of them are ever God related. Because God is the one extracurricular that society frowns on, but…I digress.) The point is that there’s this pressure to devote your life and your kids to extracurriculars. Because maybe they’ll be the next Lebron James…and then they’ll be set.
Extracurriculars aren’t bad. But when you start to devote more of your life to them than God then…there’s trouble.
School House Rock songs become more important than God songs.
Swimming lessons become more important than baptism.
Kids Cooking class becomes can’t miss while worship becomes…I suppose, if there’s time.
Extracurriculars are fine. They are also not god.
Don’t make them your household gods.
(4) Your Kids Themselves
That might be a bit strange. You might not label your kid as god, yet – we mentioned earlier a god is whoever you fear, love and trust most in your life.
Do you ever do something solely because you have a fear of not getting your daughter’s approval?
Have you ever not disciplined a kid for sin because you love their visible smile more than God’s invisible one?
Do you find yourself trusting that as long as my kid is happy (even if the happy is artificial flavoring induced) life will work out?
And suddenly we don’t feed God’s Word to our kids because – they really like it and I gotta keep them happy.
Here’s the truth: If you devote yourself to serving your kid’s desires instead of serving them the truth of God (and His Word), then you aren’t serving your kid.
Because happy people still die.
But people with faith in their Savior, live with eternal life.
And if you aren’t serving your kids a steady diet of their Lord, then…
You aren’t telling them about their Savior.
You aren’t telling them about his forgiveness.
You aren’t telling them about the peace he won for us.
You aren’t telling them about the One, the Only One who can get them into the promised Land!
III. The God who Serves You
Because he is the only option for household God – who has served you.
“I did not come to be served, but to serve and to give my life as a ransom payment for many.” (Mt. 20:28)
Think about this. Jesus said that His purpose was not to be served. He didn’t come to earth so that his disciples could kiss his feet, set him up in a hammock, and start waving palm branches at him. He did come to earth because he needed us to sing songs to Him, give money to Him, and say prayers to Him.
He came to serve.
And not just a glass of Coca Cola – or a bowl of Tostitos.
He came to serve with his whole life.
Even giving up his life as a ransom payment.
Because there is probably nothing worse than having a part of your family kidnapped. Can you imagine that? If someone was kidnapped, one of your kids, and there was nothing but one of those notes with only newspaper cutout letters that said, “Bring me $1 million dollars by Wednesday or else, you’ll never see your loved one again,” that would be awful! You’d probably do anything to get that $1 million. Take out a loan. Call al your family and friends. Sell all of your stuff on Amazon. Whatever it takes to get back your family member.
That’s what happened to us.
We followed other gods.
We fell into sin.
We were trapped – ransomed away from God’s family!
Only the ransom payment wasn’t a million dollars.
It wasn’t a bag full of gold.
It wasn’t even a getaway chopper.
It was the death of God.
So that’s what God did.
He gave up his life to save you.
And as we were being released from our sins.
As we were being released from our imprisonment to guilt.
As we were getting ready to mourn our God who gave up his life for us…
…three days later? He rose! He came back to life! He not only set us free but defeated our captors once and for all with his life and death on the cross!
Which means he still serves us.
He serves us peace in His Words.
He serves us forgiveness with His Promise.
He serves us adoption papers with baptism.
He serves us daily – with his promise of protection!
Which leads to this important truth:
God wants us to serve him because then he is truly serving you!
If you don’t serve God – if you reject him – if you want nothing to do with him, all of his gifts mean nothing! You’ve thrown them away.
But when we serve God.
IV. What Now?
(1) Throw Away your False gods
That was what Joshua told the Israelites. Take those false gods. Pick up those stone statues. Take those wooden poles and…toss ‘em. Burn ‘em. Destroy ‘em. Have nothing to do with them ever again.
Today God is calling us to do exactly that. Take those false gods…take that false god love and throw it away. Throw it at the feet of the cross. That’s confession. Jesus will take it to the cross, beat it with a hammer, nail it to a few pieces of wood, then take it down and throw it away into a tomb.
And…here’s a thought. Is there something that is taking up all of your time? Is there something that is getting in the way of you and God? Cut it out. Maybe you think you can’t do that, well, then why not cut it back? Remove the false gods so there’s time for worshipping the real God. Because when you worship the real God – he will be serving you!
(2) Make the LORD Your ONLY Household God
Don’t just do this for you; do it for all of your house. In fact, make the LORD your only household God.
Because contrary to what society tells you today, God is all you need.
When there are family struggles, God is all your need.
When there is sickness, God is all you need.
When there is sadness, God is all you need.
When there is guilt, God is all you need.
When there is death, God is all you need.
That’s what Joshua knew.
It’s what got Joshua to the Promised Land.
It’s what got Joshua to THE Promised Land.
It’s what will get you and your family there as well. Amen.