We are in the middle of our IDOLATRY sermon series. This week we want to learn about living how to BE FREE and how to LIVE FREE. Before that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Proof that You’re Free
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve learned a lot about IDOLATRY.
Idolatry is placing something that isn’t God in God’s place.
Our idols are the things that lead us to fear, love, and trust in them more than God.
Church is a place where subtle idols can creep up and take God’s place in or hearts.
All of this awareness of idolatry has begun to make me think it’s a lot like Coronavirus
It feels like it’s everywhere.
You can’t see it coming.
It can make you do all kind of things that you don’t normally do.
Like a slave.
Jesus agrees. Look at John 8:34 “Everyone who keeps committing sin is a slave to sin.”
Since sin happens when you don’t treat God as your true god, it follows that, “Everyone who keeps committing sin is a slave to idolatry.”
If you keep lusting after photos of your gym mates online, you’re a slave to the idol of your sex drive.
If you keep getting hammered on Jack Daniel’s, you’re a slave to the idol of alcohol.
If you keep spending hours upon hours on Facebook checking how many likes your post received, you’re a slave to the idol of your pride.
If you keep telling lies about your struggles to your church family, you’re a slave to the idol of reputation.
If you keep being lazy around the house, you’re a slave to the idol of sloth.
If you keep getting angry with your family, you’re a slave to the idol of “It’s my way or the highway.”
If you keep SINNING, idolatry is ENSLAVING you.
So…how does one break free?
Jesus said, “A slave does not remain in the family forever. A son does remain forever.”
Jesus is referencing the ancient system of servanthood. In that system, you would sign on to work as a “slave” or a “servant” to pay off a debt or to borrow money for a mortgage. For our sakes, imagine you took a job at a local pig farm and were contracted to work until the end of summer. You live on the farm. You’re greeted as a family member. You get to eat at the big family-style table for BBQ and greens every evening.
But when your time was up, you leave. And you don’t get to be at the farm anymore.
On the other hand, if you were a child of that family?
You would always be a part of the family.
You’d be greeted as part of the family.
You’d have a bed waiting for you on the farm.
Even if you were away for a long period of time, when you returned mom would make sure there’s a spot at the table with your favorite, Lemon Meringue Pie, waiting for you.
Brothers and sisters, you are God’s child.
You are a part of his family.
And always will be.
You ARE NOT a slave.
But you are free.
In fact, Jesus says, “If the Son sets you free, you really will be free. (John 8:34-36)
Did you hear that?
If Jesus sets your free, you’ll be free indeed.
Jesus did set you free.
Here’s the truth then:
You are FREE from idolatry because JESUS set you FREE.
Because Jesus doesn’t do anything half way.
He didn’t get you some of the way free.
He didn’t attempt at freeing you and fail.
He doesn’t say, “You free yourself.”
He set you FREE.
You are not a SLAVE to idolatry.
You are FREE!
II. “The Free” Flee
The Corinthians were a group of believers who lived in Corinth. Corinth was a city filled with idol worship. There was a large temple to Aphrodite the goddess of love, another impressive temple to Poseidon, the god of the sea, and various miniature temples to Apollo, Isis, Venus and Demeter.
Some of the believers in the Corinthians church had formerly been practicing idol worshippers.
But Jesus had set them free.
In his letter to this group of former slaves to idol worship, Paul encourages them in how to LIVE Free. He says, “Therefore, my dear friends, FLEE from idolatry.” (1 Cor. 10:14)
Flee means get out of there.
It means “run.”
It means “sprint.”
It means be like my dog Frankie. Frankie hates… (that probably isn’t a strong enough word)… Frankie loathes laundry baskets. I don’t know why. Maybe a laundry basket bullied her for days on end before she came to our family. Regardless, when she sees a laundry basket near her, she cowers in the corner with her tail between her legs and as soon as there’s a space for her to get out of the room, she sprints outside and goes to the corner farthest from the basket.
“Flee” means to run out of the room as fast your four legs can carry you and get as far away from idolatry as possible!
But the thing about humans is that we tend to be more like my cat, Minnie. The other day Minnie found a bunch of string and played with it until she was tangled up within it. She started meowing. I let her out.
No more than about 5 minutes later, she was meowing again, because she was back in the string.
“Flee” does not mean getting entangled in the idolatry that you were just released from.
The FREE from idolatry FLEE from idolatry
In Corinth, there were often feasts for the different idols. (Think about it like Lenten meals…just…dedicated to a false god.)
Zesty Chicken Sunday dedicated to Zeus.
Apple Pie-Apple Turnovers dedicated to Apollo.
Doritos Dinner dedicated to Demeter.
These meals would allow the community to gather for FREE food in the name of the idol.
Now remember the people of Corinth had been freed from idol worship by the message of Christ.
Yet when they were walking by the local idol temple and saw that there was FREE FOOD?
They joined in.
Would you consider that “FLEEING” from idolatry?
Paul didn’t. Allow him to explain. “Judge for yourselves what I am saying. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ? (v.15-16)
The answer to both questions is YES.
When we eat the bread of Lord’s Supper, we are intimately connected with Jesus’ body that was broken so we might have life.
When we drink the wine at Lord’s Supper, we are intimately connected with the blood Jesus shed for our forgiveness.
When we sit at the Lord’s Table, we are intimately connected with the REAL GOD.
More than that we are connected to God’s people. Paul writes, “Because there is one bread, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (v.17)
This is a simple principle:
If you’re connected to Jesus in Lord’s Supper…
And I’m connected to Jesus in Lord’s Supper…
Then we are connected.
This is an awesome truth.
But if that’s true about the Lord’s table, then it’s true about an idol’s table too!
Paul writes, “Those who eat the sacrifices are partners of [that] altar, aren’t they? (v.18)
He adds, “What am I saying? That food from idol sacrifices is anything, or that an idol is anything? No. (v.19)
An idol is nothing more than some wood, some paints, and a bunch of glitter.
An idol isn’t real.
Therefore, you can’t be united with an idol, because an idol isn’t anything.
But this wasn’t a harmless offense.
Because while idols aren’t real, the demons that make you believe that idols are real…
“What [these idol worshippers] sacrifice, “they sacrifice to demons, and not to God” and I do not want you to become partners of demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and of the table of demons.” (v.20)
Because here’s the truth:
Continuing in idolatry connects you with DEMONS.
Using the internet to worship God on a Sunday morning, partners you with GOD! But using that same internet to look up dirty pictures on a Sunday night, partners you with demons.
Typing “Praise Jesus” on social media now, partners you with God! But typing “curse this person” later, partners you with demons.
Tuning in for the family devotion now, partners you with GOD! But getting the popcorn ready for the R-rated horror flick later, partners you with demons.
Giving online to the church now, partners you with GOD! But giving the rest of our funds to internet gambling later, partners you with demons.
If Paul still hasn’t convinced you to FLEE from idolatry, look at verse 21.
Are we trying to provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he is? (v.21)
It’s a call back to the 1st Commandment: “You shall have no other gods” Why? “Because the LORD your God is a jealous God, punishing those who hate him.” (Exodus 20:5)
Because the truth is that GOD wants you badly.
That’s why he invites you to his altar.
At an idols’ altar, people want the idol’s help so badly they would shed blood for the idol.
At God’s altar, God wants you in his family so badly, GOD gives his blood for you.
At his altar, God speaks to you and says:
You are FREE.
Live FREE & FLEE.
III. “The Free” Serve
This is not all God has to say about how the FREE, live FREELY. He writes,
“Everything is permitted”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permitted”—but not everything builds up. Let no one seek his own good, but that of others.
The concept in Greek culture was, “do whatever you want, because who cares!?!” For Greeks, this way of thinking revolved around their moral law. It’s the reason that GREEK culture is the culture that later is associated with frat house party.
Paul pits that logic against God’s logic.
There are some things in life that are permissible.
They are neither commanded nor forbidden by God.
Let’s call those “Free-to-Choose Things”
“Free-to-choose things” include…
…what kind of socks you’re wearing right now.
…what kind of donut you had for breakfast.
…how much cream you put in your coffee.
…whether you should eat turkey bacon or pig bacon.
All of these things are neutral. We are “Free-to-choose.”
Yet, in these “free-to-choose” things, the FREE, must be careful of making these neutral things into an idol.
The FREE must be careful not to use these “Free-to-choose” items to serve themselves.
Rather, The FREE use their freedom to SERVE others.
Besides meals dedicated to idols which Paul already identified as something believers should not participate in, there was the issue of “food that had formerly been sacrificed to idols, but was now being sold at the local farmer’s market for a value menu price.” Leftovers were often sold by the pagan priests to the merchant, who in turn would sell it to the people.
Now Paul had just told the believers to never eat at the table of the idol worshipping feasts.
What about this formerly sacrificed to idols meat?
The answer? It depends.
Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without asking questions for the sake of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” (v.26) That includes this chicken and asparagus plate. It is from God, so go ahead. Just don’t ask questions. Otherwise, the devil will make your conscience over sensitive and you’ll think you’re doing wrong.
If one of the unbelievers invites you over and you want to go, eat whatever you are served without asking questions for the sake of conscience. (v.27) Again, don’t ask. Eat! Enjoy. Make friends with unbelievers in the hopes that you can share the Gospel with them.
But if someone says to you, “This is from a sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. I mean the other person’s conscience, not your own. (v.29) Because imagine you are with a recent believer, who had just stopped worshipping Aphrodite. They just learned the 1st Commandment in Starting Point class. And now, you are about to eat piece of Tiramisu that had been sacrificed to a false god?
Best case scenario? You’ll leave them really confused.
Worst case? They’ll head to the next Aphrodite fest, participate in the things of demons, and be pulled away from faith.
Sometimes serving others means we DON’T.
You don’t have a beer, even though you can, because you’re sitting next to a former alcoholic.
You don’t call Peter a saint, even though it’s Biblical, because you’re talking with someone who occasionally prays to saints.
You don’t watch a movie in the basement with the lights off, alone, with your girlfriend – even though it’s not wrong to do so – because you’re both trying to be pure. And this is counterproductive.
But Paul continues, “I mean the other person’s conscience, not your own. Why is my freedom judged by someone else’s conscience? If I eat the food with thankfulness, why am I criticized for something for which I give thanks?”
I think this is included because of one particular group that Paul knew would read this letter and totally abuse his words.
The Judaizers were a group of believers who believed that people were saved by faith in Jesus and by adhering to Old Testament Jewish customs.
The Judaizers didn’t struggle with whether idols were real.
They struggled with humility.
Meaning they could take what Paul just said and respond:
You’re right. This is just food.
It’s not wrong to eat, but we won’t because we’re better than you.
And you better not…
…or you’ll be sinning against our conscience.
In this instance?
Paul recommends you take a big old bite.
You’re not dealing with a young in faith believer struggling with a lack of knowledge.
You’re dealing with a “mature” in faith believer struggling with a lack of humility.
Sometimes serving others means we DO.
For instance, baptism. We baptize at Gethsemane church by pouring water over people’s heads. This is because the word Jesus when he tells us to “baptize” simply means to “wash with water.” That means, however you wash with water, is baptism.
But some church groups confess, “You must put someone completely under the water or it isn’t baptism.”
We could capitulate.
We could get a baptismal tank and only dunk people.
After talking and explaining and showing from God’s Word what God actually says,
We could “serve them by DOING.”
By pouring water, our action speaks to them, “This is permissible. Stop making YOUR WAY into an idol.”
Sometimes serving others means we DO; sometimes serving others means we DON’T.
How do we know when to do what? Paul gives us 2 questions to apply to any situation.
(1) Is it for God’s Glory?
That’s our goal as Christians to bring God glory as we freely serve him. Paul says, “Whether you eat or drink, or do anything else, do everything to the glory of God.” (v.31)
Because ultimately, that’s what we’re here for.
This is an important question our leadership asked this week.
Does refraining from in-person worship and going online give glory to God?
It obeys the Fourth Commandment by honoring our government.
It obeys the Fifth Commandment by honoring the lives of others.
It obeys the Third Commandment by bringing God’s Word to God’s people.
A question for you to reflect these coming weeks will be --
Is the way I’m worshipping giving glory to God?
Should I watch in front of Netflix? Or in a quiet area of the room?
Should I scroll on my phone? Or set my phone aside?
Should I sing along with the music? Or not even click on them?
Do everything to the glory of God.
(2) Does it lead others to Jesus?
The ultimate way that God has glory is when someone comes to faith in him as their Savior. We are God’s church, so that’s our goal too. Paul writes, “Do not give offense to Jews, or Greeks, or God’s church, just as I also try to please all people in all things, by not seeking what is best for me but for the many, so that they may be saved.” (v.32)
If eating that exotic food dish gives me an opportunity to discuss Jesus’ love with my Hindu friends? I do.
If throwing that BLT away, allows me a chance to talk to my Jewish friends and share Jesus with them? I do.
If worshipping with an organ causes someone to check out of church before we can share Jesus with them, we don’t.
If worshipping with a drum set causes someone to walk out of church before we can share Jesus with them, we don’t.
If using hand sanitizer soothe someone’s worries so that they might listen to me calm their fears about Jesus, even if I just hand sanitized out in my car and I’ve already sanitized about 15 times today and I’m not even planning on high fiving them anyways? Hand sanitizer it is.
Because our goal as the FREE is to live FREE that others might also be FREE. Amen.
We are in the middle of our IDOLATRY sermon series. So far, we have…
(1) defined idolatry as PLACING anything in God’s PLACE.
(2) identified personal idols as those things that we FEAR, LOVE or TRUST more than God.
(3) marveled as Jesus loved US more than himself by going to the cross to win forgiveness for our idolatry.
(4) been empowered to discover our own idols and get rid of them
In order to do this, I think it’s helpful to consider the places you visit each week and identify the idols that tempt you in each location. For example…
…work, where your boss sends you email reminders to worship idols of money and career every five minutes on the five minutes.
…the local bar, where you go every Thursday to practice some Thirsty Thursday Theology.
…your gym, where bowing down to do burpees quickly becomes bowing down to your bodacious body.
…your couch, here you have a nice little altar set up to the Netflix God.
… the bedroom down the hall from yours, where this tiny little 5-year-old God that demands all of your time and energy be spent pretending to be a Paw Patrol Character with them.
But, as you consider places where idols tempt you to worship them, how many of you thought of…
If we were playing Family Feud and the topic was “Place You’d Find an Idol in Modern America”, giving the answer “Church” is something that would cause Steve Harvey to do a double take.
Today we will be warned from God’s Word not to be deceived: church can absolutely be a place where idolatry lays hold of our hearts. We’ll consider if any idols have taken their way into our hearts and ask God’s help exposing and removing those idols. Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Background of Ezekiel
The lesson for this morning comes from Ezekiel 8. A bit of background:
In 597 B.C. the Babylonian Empire defeated the people of Israel and carried many people back into Babylon as exiles. These people were apart from their country, apart from where they grew up, and apart from their families.
But the truth was that God had ordained this exile. For years, God had been warning the people of Israel through prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, that this would unless they stopped worshipping idols and returned to worshipping the true God.
They didn’t listen.
So, God allowed the exile.
One might expect the exile to be what finally caused the people to change their ways, right?
Enter Ezekiel. Ezekiel is one of the priests of God who had been carried off with the exiles to Babylon. In Babylon, God transforms Ezekiel from a priest that brings requests from the people to God to a prophet that brings messages from God to the people. God had Ezekiel present these messages to the people in strange ways.
Once, God had Ezekiel go the city square and lie down on his side for 390 days. This was to represent how the 390 years that the people had been engaged in the sin of idolatry. (Ezekiel 4:5)
Another time, God had Ezekiel build a miniature model of Jerusalem. Then, he took an iron pan and placed it as a wall against the model, representing a Babylonian siege that God would send against the people of Jerusalem. (Ezekiel 4:3)
Yet one more time, God had Ezekiel shave off his beard. Then, he took a third of the beard shavings and burned them (to represent the third of Jerusalem that would be set on fire), a third of his beard shavings he threw into the wind (to represent the third that would flee the city and be scattered), and a third of the beard shavings he threw into the air and slashed with his sword (to represent the third of Jerusalem that would die by the sword). All these things would happen if the people didn’t return from idols to the true God.
These action prophecies led to Ezekiel garnering quite a following. Many of the elders in the city spent time with Ezekiel hoping to be present for another strange prophecy.
On the fifth day of the sixth month, in the sixth year of the exile, Ezekiel is chilling in his house with some of the elders. (I imagine they’re drinking some wine and watching the latest episode of the Bachelor).
When suddenly, Ezekiel goes into a trance.
He sees the figure of a man.
Chest of blazing fire.
Legs of glowing metal.
It’s the LORD.
And the LORD reaches out his hands,
Grabs Ezekiel by the hair,
And lifts him into the air.
He soars with Ezekiel out of the walls of Babylon.
He skyrockets him past the desert plains.
He lifts him up past the mountains.
And sets him down in Jerusalem.
Right in front of God’s temple.
I’m sure Ezekiel was filled with excitement:
This is my home!
This is my temple.
This is where I worked!
That is where I carved my name into a rock.
Over there is where little Suzy Lou gave me a kiss on the cheek in grade school!
As Ezekiel’s looked around his home…
He saw something…
II. Church Idols
(1) The Idol of JEALOUSY
The Spirit…brought me to the entrance of the north gate into the inner courtyard of the Temple, where the idolatrous image of jealousy, which provokes jealousy, was located. (8:3)
Can you imagine that? This is God’s holy temple. The place where you worship God and only God. And yet, there at the entrance welcoming you as you come in, is an idol.
At the entrance of our church, we’ve got some flowers.
We’ve got a bench.
We’ve got a sign that says, “worship this way.”
How would you feel if next week there was a big old statue of Buddha out front?
The idol that was in front of the temple is simply identified as jealousy.
While churches today might not have an actual, statue like idol at the entrance to their church, the IDOL OF JEALOUSY is absolutely a threat.
A while back, I noticed a young child that was in tears throughout the worship service.
Having a hard time.
Afterwards, he was still having a difficult time, so I asked him, “What’s wrong?”
“My brother ate the last goldfish. I didn’t get as many!”
Mom said, “Yep. That’s pretty much all we cared about throughout worship.”
Jealousy is a threat to take over your time of worship and craft an idol in your heart.
“Would you look at that person? He’s got so many friends. I wish I was more like him.”
“Really? She’s engaged and I’m not? How is that even possible? I’m way better looking.”
“That musician is very talented. So…it’s kinda cool they just made a mistake…Knock them down a peg or two.”
“That guy shouldn’t be on church leadership. I’d do a much a better job than him.”
“Look! There’s pastor capitulating to the new people again. When he’s gonna spend more time talking to me!?!”
The thing about the idol of jealousy is that it provokes jealousy.
Remember the first sermon in this series? God said, “You shall have no other Gods… for I am a jealous God visiting punishment on those who hate me.” (Exodus 20:3)
You might be consuming with jealousy for other people.
That leaves God jealous for you.
And Ezekiel was in shock.
And God tapped him on the shoulder.
And said, “You will see even great abominations than these.” (v.6)
(2) The Idol of REPUTATION
Next, he brought me to the entrance to the courtyard, and I looked and saw that there was a hole in the wall. (v.7)
Instead of telling Ezekiel to get out his spackle and a trowel to fix it, God tells him, “to dig through the wall.” So, Ezekiel does. I don’t know that he had some kind of Ancient Hebraic shovel, but he dug until he had a space big enough for his body to fit through.
Then, God told him, “Look around at the abominations in this room.” (v.8)
As Ezekiel enters, he notices the walls are engraved with “Every form of creeping creature and every kind of detestable animal and all the filthy idols.” (v.10) This is most likely a reference to the Gods of the Egyptians. Hieroglyphics – that glorified hawks, cats, and beetles as Gods.
But Ezekiel hadn’t discovered ancient room that no one knew existed.
People knew about it
Temple people knew about it.
In fact, inside the room was a group of about 70 Israelite elders, burning incense and praying to the carvings.
But what’s interesting is that these men were hidden! From the outside, the room looked like a temple of God, but hidden deep within the inside? Idolatry.
They wanted to protect their REPUTATION. It’s the only reason that they kept up appearances as “priests” of God. They craved the REPUTATION of God followers even though their hearts were far from him.
REPUTATION is just as much an idol today.
“I don’t want to be at worship today. But I better go so that it looks good to others.”
“Lots of prayers on social media for the Coronavirus. I’d better post one too so I look like a good Christian.”
“I can’t confess my secret sin of pornography to the elders, because they might look at me funny. I’ll just put on a smile, act like everything’s ok, and keep sinning.”
Want to know the ironic part of this?
REPUTATION worshippers think that everyone is fooled.
According to verse 12, the worshippers in the secret room were saying:
‘The Lord does not see us.’ (v.12)
Because the one that was seeing them do this, was the very one they claimed didn’t see them.
And God sees it when reputation becomes our idols.
And he hates it.
But God wasn’t done yet.
God grabbed him by the hand.
And said, “You will see even greater abominations...” (v.13)
(3) The Idol of PROSPERITY
Next, God brought Ezekiel to the entrance of the gateway of the House of the Lord that is on the north side, and right there (he) saw women sitting and wailing for Tammuz. (v.14)
Tammuz was the ancient Mesopotamian God of fertility. According to religious myth, when Tammuz was healthy then the land would be fertile. He’d bless the farmer with healthy crops. He’d give them an abundance of grain. He’d make sure that there was a BULL market in ancient crops.
But when things went poorly, perhaps during winter or a famine, Tammuz had died. Then, it was up to the worshippers of Tammuz to bring Tammuz back to life through mourning and crying.
(Sounds like some kind of Disney movie: “If you shed a tear of true love for your idol, then Tammuz will come back to life.”)
But really, it wasn’t Tammuz they loved.
It wasn’t Tammuz they were sad that died.
It was their PROSPERITY.
PROSPERITY is a big idol in the modern church.
People that worship just to get a better job.
People that worship just to get more money.
People that worship just to find themselves a happily family.
Not that any of those things are bad on their own.
But LOVING them more than God is.
Even right now. There’s a pandemic of COVID-19.
And we’re praying to God to get us through this.
To keep us from illness.
To keep our jobs strong.
To keep our economy prosperous.
Are we doing so because we LOVE God?
Or because we LOVE prosperity?
Because we TRUST God to take care of us…
Or we don’t TRUST life without stuff?
Because we FEAR God and know he’s in control…
Or because we FEAR the virus and think it is?
Worship is not a means for you to get PROSPERITY.
It’s a way to show trust in God when there isn’t PROSPERITY.
Because think about this.
You don’t have to mourn to bring the real God back from the dead.
He did that on his own.
God turned Ezekiel around.
And led him away from the entrance.
And said, “You will see even greater abominations than these.” (v.15)
(4) The Idol of REBELLION
Finally, God brought (Ezekiel) to the inner courtyard of the House of the Lord, and there at the entrance to the temple of the Lord, between the vestibule and the altar.
This is the main event.
It’s the place where priests would offer sacrifices to God.
It’s the place where priests would offer prayers to God.
It’s the place where priests would sing worship songs to God.
Usually that was done facing the altar (not that God was the altar), but it was a visual reminder that all of their worship was directed to God.
These men weren’t facing the altar.
Their backs were.
There were twenty-five men, showing their backsides to the temple of the Lord with their faces toward the east, and they were bowing down to the sun. (v.16)
They didn’t care what God wanted.
They did what they wanted.
And what they wanted was to be like all the other nations.
Worship isn’t about you.
It isn’t about what you want.
It isn’t about what you like.
It isn’t about what you desire.
It’s about God.
And here’s the warning, if you are making worship all about YOU, then it’s as if your back is turned to the altar.
As if you’re worshipping the sun.
As if you’re stinking a branch up God’s nose.
Look at that figure of speech in verse 17, “They are even sticking the branch up my nose!”
It’s the Old Testament equivalent to thumbing your nose at God.
Only the phrase is usually “stick a branch to my nose.”
God says that this open rebellion isn’t just a branch to his nose, but a branch up his nose.
This seems like a TERRIBLE idea.
III. The Church’s Real God
How does the REAL God feel about all this idolatry among his people?
“I also will act in wrath. My eye will not show pity, and I will have no compassion. They will call out to my ears with a loud cry, but I will not hear them.”
This segues directly into the very next chapter. Where God tells his servants to go through out Jerusalem and bring destruction to all who worship idols. And the messenger is about to go.
But before he does, he gives the messenger one last instruction:
The Lord said, “Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a TAV on the foreheads of those who moan and lament over the abominations being committed in her.” (v.4)
Those were the ones that God wouldn’t destroy.
Those who heard his message and repented.
But we need to talk about this “tav”. It’s a Hebrew letter that makes the sound of a “t”.
In the modern world, it looks similar to a lower case “n” just with a rocking chair like foot to the bottom left and a crossing between the two strokes at the top.
If you trace the history of the tav back to the time of Ezekiel?
It’s a cross.
Not that anyone who read this at Ezekiel’s time said, “There is a savior who will come and die on the cross to remove our sins of idolatry in God’s temple…” But as we look back and see what Ezekiel was saying, “Isn’t this amazing?”
Jesus has covered your sins.
His death on the cross has covered.
He has covered your idolatry of jealousy.
He has covered your idolatry of reputation.
he has covered your idolatry of prosperity.
He has covered your idolatry of rebellion.
He has covered you with his blood, called you his child, and made you his church.
Rejoice! You are forgiven!
IV. What Now?
(1) Honor God in Church
This is the main principle of worship. We want everything we do to be Christ centered.
It’s why Jesus comes up so much throughout the service:
In the songs.
In the prayers.
In the lessons.
In the kids’ lesson.
In the artwork.
In the bulletin.
On the powerpoint.
in the sermon, etc.
That’s absolutely what God has called us as church leadership to do.
But God also calls you to honor God in worship.
To throw out your jealousies.
To throw out your worries about reputation.
To throw out your desires for prosperity.
To throw out your own sinful wants and desires.
To worship God.
(2) Honor God AS Church
The Bible teaches in 1 Corinthians 6:19 that “you are the temple of God and the Holy Spirit lives in you.”
God loved you.
He bought you.
He threw out your idols.
And made your heart his temple.
In your heart, there’s a sign outside that says, “God is worshipped here.”
Because when you do, this whole thing about idolatry in church flips.
Instead of idols entering God’s domain of the church,
God’s church enters the idol’s domain of the world.
Last week we defined IDOLATRY. It is worshipping something that is NOT GOD as GOD. In the Old Testament, idolatry was very OPEN. People crafted statues, bowed to them, and offered sacrifices to them.
If that were the only version of idolatry, then today’s sermon on identifying idols would be pretty simple.
Step One. Go to your house.
Step Two. Identify any statues that you regularly pray to.
Step Three. Use a Sharpie and write on that statues – THIS IS AN IDOL.
Step Four. Throw those statues in the garbage.
But there’s a second definition of idolatry that we looked at last week. It happens when people unknowingly place something or someone in God’s place. We call this HIDDEN idolatry.
How does one identify hidden idols?
Today we will learn from God’s Word how to identify idols in our hearts. Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A “Gotcha” Question
The Scripture we’re searching today comes from Matthew 22:32-40. It takes place on the Tuesday before Jesus died. Tensions were between Jesus and the religious leaders of the city. So, that day was filled with theological showdowns. With a large crowd of people watching, the various religious groups asked Jesus questions in order to make him look like a fool.
It was GOTCHA journalism. Their questions were designed to make Jesus look like a fool or heretic in front of the public. If Jesus answered the wrong way, they were able to tell everyone that Jesus was a fool or a heretic.
If this would have happened in in 2020, social media would have jumped down Jesus’ throat.
There would have been ads on Facebook that said, “Expert in the Law EXPOSES Jesus” CLICK HERE.
Instagram memes making fun of what Jesus said.
Hashtags on Twitter: #JesusGetsOwned
Look at the question that one expert in the law comes up with:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” (v.36)
All of God’s commands are important.
All of God’s commands are good.
If they can get Jesus to pick one over the other…
If Jesus says, “Honor your Father and Mother” is most important, then can respond by saying, “So it’s not that big of a deal to kill someone?”
If Jesus says, “You shall not commit adultery” is most important, they can spread the word, “Jesus says stealing isn’t really that bad.”
If Jesus says, “You shall remember the Sabbath Day” is most important, they can tell others that “Jesus support coveting!”
If they could get Jesus to seemingly contradict what Scripture says,
He’d be an easy target for a smear campaign.
It’s not wise to try and pull one over on Jesus.
Look at Jesus’ response:
Jesus said to him, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets depends on these two commandments.” (v.38-40)
Notice that Jesus answers the questions about the singular greatest commandment by giving two.
The first command he lists is a version of the first commandment that God had written down on the two tables of stone given to Moses. (We talked about that story last week). That command is, “You shall have no other gods.” Jesus’ version is similar. “Love God more than anything.”
But then Jesus continues and mentions a second command in conjunction with the first: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
This command isn’t labelled as second in importance or value.
Just as the second command he’s going to list.
Jesus means that there is a link between the two:
One can’t love a neighbor as himself without loving God above all things.
One can’t love God above all things without loving their neighbor as themselves
In other words, all God’s commands are great, because all God’s commands are about love for God.
Love for GOD is the HEART of all commands.
Just like a heart needs to be pumping in order to send blood into all the area of the body so that your fingers pinch, your knees bend, and your tongue blows raspberries, so love for God pumps love throughout spiritual veins that we follow his commands.
Think about it:
Love for God leads to keeping the 3rd commandment in worship of God.
Love for God leads to keeping the 4th commandment and honoring the parents God gave you.
Love for God leads to keeping the 5th commandment and not harboring hatred for people God loves.
Love for God leads to keeping the 6th commandment and not viewing a soul that God created as being there for your pleasure.
Love for God leads to keeping the 7th commandments and not stealing what God has provided for his people.
Love for God leads to keeping the 8th commandment and not gossiping about people that God says he cares deeply about.
Love for God leads to keeping the 9th & 10th commandments and totally trusting that God has given you exactly what you need.
II. Identifying Idols
Jesus wins the battle of wits with the Pharisees. But that’s not all Jesus does. In his words, Jesus provides a blueprint for identifying idols in our lives. How? Look at Jesus’ words again.
(1) Your Idols are things that vie for YOUR HEART
The heart has always been used as a symbol for love. Although the actual human heart doesn’t exactly like the Valentine’s Day shape (there aren’t four ventricles), it is what keeps your blood pumping. As a result, the ancient world began to use the heart as a symbol to describe what “got your blood pumping.”
Therefore, we want to LOVE the Lord our God with all our heart!
Imagine for a moment that you were happily married.
Your heart was completely and absolutely in love with your spouse.
In fact, you were celebrating your anniversary down at Sullivan’s steakhouse.
You decide to reveal to your spouse that for your anniversary, you signed both of you up for a dating app.
Of course not, you’d be putting your marriage in jeopardy by allowing others who aren’t your spouse to attempt to vie for your heart with text message, with photos, with flirty, heart shaped emojis!
It’s the same with idols.
Your idols are the things that are vying for God’s place in your heart.
Could be your career.
Your bank account.
Careful. The things you love will try to crowd God out of your heart.
(2) Your Idols are things that vie for YOUR SOUL
The soul is a word used to describe the miraculous life within each of us. Our soul is who we are. In the Bible, the soul is often in need of rest.
Psalm 62 says, “My soul rests in God.”
Psalm 116 says, “Return to rest my soul, for God has been good to you.”
In Matthew 11, Jesus says, “In Me…You will find rest for your souls.”
If you’re resting, you’re doing so because you have faith everything will be ok while you’re sleeping.
If you’re awake, you’re not confident. You’re staying up late at the campfire watching for bobcats to attack.
GOD is the one we are to trust in.
So, idols are the things that vie for the TRUST of your soul.
I remember a Starting Point class that I did once. We were on lesson two – the lesson that really focuses in on sin and God’s grace. It’s the Gospel – the truth that we are sinner in need of a savior and we have a Savior in Jesus, trust him.
And this one guy said --
Nah. There’s gotta be more. I just don’t trust that Jesus did it all.
I’m a pretty good person.
I give a couple thousand dollars each year to charity.
I volunteered at the homeless shelter recently.
I think I TRUST that way more than some guy who died 2000 years ago.
Did you see what happened?
“Good things that he did” had become an idol.
It was crowded God out of his soul.
Careful. Things you trust will try to do the same.
(3) Your Idols are things that vie for YOUR MIND
The mind is a rational place. It is the place that looks as a situation and determines how scary it is. For instance, your mind is the thing that says, “Wow. There is an angry gorilla on the loose. I think I’ll stay in my locked house out of respect for the mad gorilla.”
Your mind houses FEAR.
Honestly, there is no being that should induce more FEAR than GOD!
God is all powerful.
God controls lighting
God controls thunder.
God controls tornados, volcanoes and hurricanes.
God is not to be crossed!
Your idols will try to convince you that they are scarier than God.
“I know God says this and it’d be scary to face him, but…it’s probably scarier to face the ridicule of society.”
“I know God hates sin and he threatens to exclude sinners from heaven, but…if you don’t do this sin you might be excluded from your friend group.”
“I know God says it’d be better for those who don’t teach their kids about God to be thrown into a lake with a millstone around their neck, but if you don’t take your kids to that birthday party, the other parents will *GASP* think you’re a bad parent.”
Careful. Things you fear will try to crowd God out of your mind.
Here’s the concluding truth to all of this:
Idolatry occurs when we FEAR, LOVE, or TRUST anything more than GOD.
Have you been practicing hidden idolatry?
If you go back to the connection between the two commandments though, there’s a foolproof test to determine this.
Because if love for God leads to an ability to keep the commandments.
Then an inability to keep the commandments is indicative of loving something other than God.
It means there another something else in my heart.
Pumping out its own agenda.
Shouting at the parents that GOD gave you because YOU don’t like what they did? Idolatry.
Holding a grudge against the church people that GOD loves because YOU don’t want to give them the satisfaction of forgiveness? Idolatry.
Staring down that blouse of the coworker that GOD created because YOU like the way it excites YOU? Idolatry.
Stealing that dollar bill from the billfold of your friend that GOD gave you, because YOU want it? Idolatry.
Badmouthing a friend via text message, a friend that God loves and died for and calls his beloved child, because her success makes YOU feel bad? Idolatry.
If you didn’t catch the point, idolatry happens whenever we sin.
And God hates idolatry.
III. The Only Non-Idolater
Thankfully there is good news.
Thankfully there is one who lived his whole life as a non-idolater.
In fact, he’s the only person in the history of humanity who never, ever committed idolatry.
(1) Jesus FEARED, LOVED, and TRUSTED God above All.
Jesus was in heaven.
Jesus never had to deal with anything difficult.
He could have chosen to sit up there in a divine heavenly hammock eating a heavenly four course meals!
But he didn’t.
He loved God more than his divine existence, so he came into this sin filled earth.
He feared God more than he feared what might happen to him, so he became a mortal being.
He trusted God more than he trusted the devil’s plan to “bow down and worship him”, so he followed God’s plan.
He loved God more than his own body, so he allowed humans to arrest him.
He feared God more than his captors, so he allowed them to lead him to the courtroom.
He trusted God more than his disciples’ plan to destroy all those awful Pharisees, and he allowed himself to die.
But God’s love wasn’t the only reason that Jesus did this.
(2) Jesus loved YOU as himself.
In fact, we might even say, “more than himself.”
When things got bad.
When he saw the back of the last prisoner to be whipped…
When he saw the sharp point of the nails…
When he saw the blood-stained wood of the cross…
When he saw the gravestones of those who had been crucified…
Jesus said, “OK.”
Because he loved you.
He loved you more than his breath.
He loved you more than his life.
He loved you as himself.
As his brother.
As his sister.
As his dear friend.
And the result?
Because of Jesus death, you are forgiven of all your idolatry.
For all the times you feared other things more than God, you are forgiven.
For all the times you trusted other things more than God, you are forgiven.
For all the times you loved other things more than God, you are forgiven.
There’s a reason you want GOD to fill your hearts,
Because GOD filled his heart with YOU.
IV. What Now?
(1) Identify Your Idols
Take advantage of the fact that God has forgiven you.
He has made you a part of his kingdom.
He has equipped you with guidance on identifying your idols.
I want you to take a moment and think about it.
What are the things you fear, love and trust more than GOD?
You can NOT do that. But if that’s your choice, understand it’ll be as if you had the choice between God on high and the Mr. Potato head idol from last week and for some reason you said to God – I think I need both.
You need only God.
Work on identifying your idols.
Write them down.
(2) Throw them Out
Sometimes, the idol is inherently sinful, and you absolutely should throw it out.
Got a bottle of booze that you love more than God? Toss it.
Got a prescription drug that you trust more than God? Stop abusing it.
Got a group of friends that you fear more than God? Stop hanging around them.
Sometimes, the idol isn’t something you can simply throw out.
In that case, spend some time each day identifying these things for what they are:
This is my spouse. I love her, but she’s not God.
This is my job. I appreciate it, but it’s not my job.
This is a dollar bill. It’s helpful, but it’s not my God.
While you might not be able to throw them out in an actual garbage can,
God calls us to throw them out of his place in your heart.
(3) Fill Your Heart with God.
Because here’s the truth about your heart.
When it’s filled with God, there isn’t room for any idols to get in.
It’s like a glass of water.
If you fill it with God, there’s no room for anything else.
And how do you fill your heart with God?
By spending time with him.
A personal bible study.
A group bible study.
A worship service.
A midweek service.
A morning devotion.
A bible reading.
A lunchtime devotion.
A devotion with your spouse.
Just having a conversation with your family about your savior.
God’s Word fills us with the message of Jesus.
We see how much he loves us.
And God convinces us…
We don’t need any phony idols.
We have the real GOD.
Today we’re beginning a new series called IDOLATRY. We’re going to examine the Scriptures and our hearts that we might be more devoted to our Savior. Today our goal is to get a definition for what idolatry is. To do that, we’re going to deeply examine the very first commandment. Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Defining “god” and “God”
The Ten Commandments are recorded in Exodus 20. But it might be helpful to set the scene for these commandments. Nowadays we are used to laws being made by a bunch of people in suits. They argue on CSPAN, campaign with voters, enter a board room, and, after months of discussion, come back with 47 pages of rules that aren’t that much different from the last set of rules.
This isn’t that.
A man named Moses and a group of people called the Israelites are at the foot of a mountain called Sinai. They have been told that God will soon be giving them the Ten Commandments.
Suddenly, they begin to hear thunder.
Flashes of lightning streak the sky.
The mountain itself begins to quake.
And a thick cloud of smoke begins to come from the top of the mountain.
Then, a booming voice calls MOSES to join him at the summit.
But to leave everyone else at the foot of the mountain.
And Moses turns to the people,
“You guys cool with staying down here?”
Moses makes his way up the mountain and it becomes very clear. He will only be a messenger.
There will be no discussion.
There will be no campaigning.
There will be give and take.
There will be only Moses listening to this powerful voice.
And then, the voice introduces itself:
I am the Lord your God. (Exodus 20:2)
The book of Exodus was written down by Moses in the Hebrew language, because that is what the people of Israel spoke. As we examine that Hebrew, we grasp a better understand of exactly what is meant.
The Hebrew word for God is Elohim. It is a noun that is formed from a verb roof “eleh” that means “to adore.” That means…
You might “eleh” your newborn child.
You might “eleh” your spouse.
You might “eleh” tiramisu.
The noun, “Elohim”, is really a participle form of the verb “to adore.” The literal root meaning is “an adored one”. When “eleh” is used with “eloyhim” the word has a higher level than simple adoration.
It means “worship.”
According to the Hebrew language, then…
A “god” is something or someone that is ADORED or WORSHIPED.
The being that is speaking identifies himself as the one that Moses worships. But for Moses’ sake, and for ours, he lists his credentials for being worshiped.
(1) He is the LORD.
That’s the name of the Divine Being that first spoke to ancestor of Israelite people.
It is the name of the One that promised to make them into a great nation.
It is the name of the One that promised to send a Savior for all of humanity through their genealogy.
(2) He is the One who brought them out of Egypt where they were slaves.
And he did it in a powerful way!
When the King of Egypt wouldn’t listen to his plan to set the Israelites free from slavery,
The LORD turned all the water of Egypt into blood.
He sent plagues of flies, gnats, frogs, and locusts.
He turned the daylight into darkness.
He destroyed all the Egyptian crops with hail.
He infected the Egyptian’s skin with boils.
He warned the Egyptian King, but when he didn’t listen. He put to death every firstborn son in all of Egypt.
He split a sea of water into two walls for the Israelites to escape.
He had that sea of water come crashing down onto the Egyptians that were giving chase.
He fed them with bread from above.
And…he just caused the thunder, lightning, earthquake, and smoke spectacle on Mount Sinai.
And this One with all the credentials, has one simple, starting command for the people of Israel.
“You shall have no other gods before me.” (v.3)
The reason? There are no other beings, things, people, or stuff that are more worthy of being praised than me!
GOD is the One WORTHY of being MOST adored.
It’s like the MVP award in ACC basketball. There might be a lot of players who are valuable players, but they don’t give out 47 Valuable Player awards at the end of the season. They give only one. They give out one Most Valuable Player Award for Most Valuable Player.
GOD is the Most Valuable “god” because there is no being more worthy of worship than Him.
II. Defining “Idolatry”
But our sermon series is called “idolatry”, not “God.” So…what exactly is idolatry and what does that have to do with God?
Read the next part of God’s command:
You shall not make any carved image for yourself or a likeness of anything in heaven above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow down to them or be subservient to them. (v.5a)
What GOD is describing here is the ancient practice of IDOLATRY. This was actually a very common practice among many nations in the world. A people group would create a piece of art from wood or stone. They’d set it up in their homes and then, they would bow down to it. They’d pray to it. They’d give it gifts.
They’d adore it and make it their “god.”
To be fair, they often took their inspiration from some of the things that GOD created.
From the heavens. The Egyptian people had worshipped the sun god, named Ra! The theory was that the sun was big. It was amazing. It kept people warm. It was responsible for photosynthesis and if you didn’t respect it, you’d get sunburn. Surely, the SUN was worthy of worship.
From the Earth below. Another popular “god” was Baal! Baal was a large bull-like creature. The thought was that bull were muscular. Bulls were strong. Bulls would destroy you if you wore red. Bulls were not to be trifled with, so…worship a BULL!
From the waters under the earth. “Dagon” was a big fish-like god. It was worshipped in Ancient Babylonian culture. Again – the thought was that the sea was big. The sea was strong. The sea provided all kinds of food. If you didn’t respect the sea, then you’d be drowned. And what better to represent the sea than a giant fish man! So…worship giant fish man.
An idol is something CREATED to be most ADORED.
Wouldn’t THAT be an art project to do with your child? Go to Michael’s. Grab some markers, feathers, glitter, a variety of beads, and then you go home and take time gluing them into a rock.
Viola! We have something to worship.
That just doesn’t seem to make any sense, does it?
Especially if you are the people of Israel and you have been firsthand witnesses to God’s glorious acts.
Fast forward a bit --
Moses had been on the mountain top for days. God had just finished up writing down all his commands on two large pieces of stone. They were literally written by the finger of the LORD GOD himself.
Moses must have been excited to get down the mountain and show the people of Israel.
To show them what their great, incredible God had told him.
To show them, tell them about the very first command:
“It says, ‘You shall have no other gods.’ It means that we just shouldn’t make one of those idols like the other nations. We’ve got that one down, right?”
But as Moses made his way down the mountain.
He heard singing.
He heard partying.
He heard laughter.
As he made his way around the corner of a rock, the camp came into view.
There were the people.
And this large golden statue.
One they had just freshly made.
A statue of a golden calf.
That they were worshipping.
Idolatry is WORSHIPPING something NOT-GOD, as GOD.
In anger, Moses lifts the stone tablets and slams them to the ground.
A metaphor for how the Israelite people had shattered the very first commandment.
Is it that simple?
Just don’t make yourself an arts & craft IDOL and you’re in the clear on this commandment?
It still seems like an ancient command for ancient people, doesn’t it?
My high school senior year I was HONORABLE MENTION in the now defunct, Parkland Football conference as a linebacker. It came with a certificate and everything.
Shortly afterwards, I received an offer letter from the University of Wisconsin -Whitewater to try out for their football program. (Granted – all my other Senior Teammates received the same letter, but I digress.)
I remember feeling so good about that. I immediately envisioned myself becoming a starter and most valuable player for the Martin Luther College football team. (A small ministry college in Minnesota.) Over summer, I spent the summer in the weight room, running hills, and perfecting my high knees so that I could make this dream come true.
The very first game of my college career was on the road. Since we were a small Division 3 school, we could only take so many players.
I was cut.
And I was so angry. I remember going back to my dorm room and packing some things up in a duffel bag! I thought my world was over. I didn’t know if I’d ever be happy again. I was angry.
I thought, “If I didn’t make the football team, then what is the purpose going to this college designed at training you to go serve Jesus?”
If I could talk to 19-year-old me, I would say…
I don’t know.
Perhaps going into the ministry…
… and serving Jesus.
Did you see what I did?
I placed FOOTBALL in place of GOD.
I placed HONORABLE MENTION CERTIFICATE in place of GOD.
I placed FAME & FORTUNE (division 3 fame and fortune) in place of our SAVIOR.
I created an idol.
That leads to a more modern definition of idolatry.
Idolatry is PLACING something in GOD’S PLACE.
God said it this way, “You shall have no other gods BESIDES me.”
The word translated in English “beside” is sometimes translated “in front of.”
This makes for an excellent visual.
All you need is a few Duplos (or any child’s size block will do.)
Take one Duplos and write on it, “GOD” in all caps. That represents our Lord.
Then, take some others and write on them “IDOLS.” These represents anything that gets in the way.
What happens when you place these idols IN FRONT OF the LORD GOD.
God is important. But FOOTBALL is too. It’s only a small thing. I’ll just place it right here.
God is important. I still see that. But MY BANK ACCOUNT is. Can’t survive without money.
God is important. But so is a RELATIONSHIP. Even if I must compromise a few of my beliefs, God…well…you understand.
God is important…I think...But so is SOCIETY. Even God tells me to do something, I better check and see if society is ok with it.
And I’m an adult now. so…God I’ll get to you. After I take care of my CHILDREN.
God is kind of valuable…but so is my POPULARLITY. I’ll have to skip church while I check my social media likes.
God is ok I guess…but this BEER tastes really good.
God is fine…unless he gets in the way of my relationship. Because that’s the person whose approval I really want.
This is idolatry.
And idolatry is a big deal.
III. Why such a BIG Deal?
(1). God is JEALOUS.
…for I the Lord your God am a jealous God. (v.5b)
Sometimes people read that phrase and they think, “Jealousy?”
Isn’t that a sin?
Is God being sinful?
There’s an extreme difference between HOLY God jealousy and SINFUL human jealousy.
If you were up for an Employee of the Month award at Burger King and in that month you worked overtime every week, you sold more burgers than anyone else and you got there earlier than anyone else to scrub more grease on the floor than anyone else. You even came in at your manager’s request when that one guy was “sick”, the one whose Facebook status said, “Playing hooky today. Pity the fool that had to take my place.”
And at the employee meeting, the Boss reveals the employee of the month.
And it’s that guy.
When you are giving all your LOVE to something that doesn’t love you like God does.
When you are giving all your RESPECT to something that isn’t as powerful as God.
When you are giving all your TRUST to something that isn’t God.
God is jealous.
(2). God is VENGEFUL.
I follow up on the guilt of the fathers with their children, their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren, if they also hate me, but I show mercy to thousands who love me and keep my commandments (v.5c)
The phrase “follow up” comes from a Hebrew word that means “to make an official visit to bring punishment” upon someone.
Think of it like the cops showing up at a house to arrest someone during a domestic dispute.
Or the principal coming to your classroom to take someone to his office.
Or your mom coming to the toy room, to grab you by the ear and take you upstairs.
GOD is a just God.
GOD is a holy God.
It is unjust to call something GOD that isn’t GOD.
It is just to punish the injustice of calling something GOD that isn’t GOD.
In simple language,
idolatry is a sin.
it deserves God’s punishment.
Considering GOD makes thunder.
And the lightning strike.
And the mountain tremble.
And the smoke simmer.
GOD isn’t someone you want to cross.
But why is God so angry?
It’s deeper than simply God is jealous that you aren’t giving him the glory due him.
(3). God is SAVIOR.
Fast forward thousands of years from Moses.
The Law of Moses is still in place.
And a group of men have caught a woman in the act of adultery.
They grab her.
They bring her outside.
They throw her to the ground.
And, passing by at the time, Jesus.
He’s a righteous teacher.
Jesus! Join us. She committed sin. She committed adultery and by doing so she committed idolatry.
She has made SEX her God.
She has made INTIMACY her God.
She’d rather obey her urges then the one who created her.
Let’s help God out and FOLLOW UP on her guilt.
Jesus replied, “OK. Sounds good. Let’s let the one without sin throw the first stone.”
And the woman was in tears.
They were right.
She had sinned.
She had made something God that wasn’t God.
And that “god” couldn’t save her.
Surely, she had broken the first commandment.
She deserved to have God “follow up on her guilt.”
By leading these men in hurling stone at her.
She braced herself.
And heard a rock hit something.
But it wasn’t her skin.
It was the ground.
In fact, piles and piles of rocks hit the ground.
And all the men left.
And Jesus said this, “I do not condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.”
Do you get it?
Jesus gave mercy.
Jesus gave forgiveness.
Jesus loved her.
And this is the reason that GOD wants us to keep him as our number one God!
Because he is the Savior.
He lived perfectly.
He died innocently.
He rose triumphantly.
To save us.
Look at the end of verse 6. But I show mercy to thousands who love me and keep my commandments. (v.6)
When we turn to IDOLs that fail miserably at saving us from sin, it fills him with eternal frustration.
Because they can’t show mercy,
Only the real GOD can.
And he did.
And he does.
Do you get it?
The number one reason for you to ADORE God above all else,
The reason that God gets angry when IDOLS take your attention away from him.
Is because God ADORED you above all else.
Even his own life, breath, and heartbeat.
The God we serve is the one who served us.
The God we adored is the one who adored us.
The God we worship is the only one who saves. 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.
What is your purpose in 2019?
Pay off the mortgage – and every action that you take, every decision that you make is with the goal of paying off that house?
Maybe it’s just to look good – and every food you eat, every movement you make has the goal of looking more like you did in your twenties?
Help your business grow – and every Facebook post that you share has the goal of taking your entrepreneurship to the next level?
We recently got a cat. Yep. A cat. It’s my first one – and I guess it’s not as bad as I thought because I’m still living. Her name is Minnie. Her full name is Minnie, Warrior Kitty.
Now – she can’t talk, but after watching her interact with our house for the past two weeks – I think I understand what her mission is for 2019. I think her mission is to defend the world at all costs against any button, any remote control, any dust ball and any stray tissue that dares cross her path!
Pretty lofty goals…I know.
We’re in the middle of a sermon series called FRESH. This week our topic is PUPORSE. We want to find a fresh purpose in God for 2019 – what kind of mission statement can we adopt in our personal lives to fulfill that purpose! 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. A 1st Century Purpose
The section of God’s Word that we’ll study this morning comes from 1 Timothy 2. Timothy is a letter written to a young pastor named Timothy. It is written by Paul who was an older pastor that had a lot of experience starting churches. In this section, he is giving Timothy some instructions on what he should be teaching the people. He writes:
I urge, first of all, that prayers, petitions, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people and for kings and all in authority. (1 Timothy 2:1)
Note the “First of all.” It identifies the first thing in a list of things that Paul will be telling Timothy to teach the congregation. But it also denotes a certain level of importance. This first teaching is of great importance to God’s kingdom; so, it is listed first. It’s important, by the way, in both the 1st century AND the 21st century. So…listen up.
The first thing that’s of great importance for Christians to do?
(1) Pray for All people.
That’s not easy. Usually people like to pray for people that they (1) know and that they (2) like. It’s why people pray for themselves (they like themselves). Also their family, their kids, their spouse, and maybe even a few people from church…but probably not all of them.
Paul’s instruction is more all-encompassing than that. Paul says to pray for all people.
That includes not only the people that we know and like…
But the people that we don’t know and might not like.
For the stranger across town.
For the stranger across the world.
For the coworker that you don’t like.
For the friend that’s no longer your friend.
For the rich guy who owns a mansion.
For the homeless guy on the street.
Even for the internet troll who puts an angry face on all of your political posts.
God’s Word says to pray for all of those people.
And then to top it all off - he says to pray for a group of people that probably ranks high on most people’s list of people that they don’t want to pray for:
It’s like the coup de grace of un-prayable people.
(2) Pray for the Government.
This is interesting timing. Because we just completed a month-long government shut down. And it is highly possible that there will be another one. A shut down where lawmakers and elected officials can’t coexist and are costing people their salaries; not their own, but the people who aren’t involved in those decisions and use that money to live on.
Does it seem hard to pray for those Washington guys right about now?
If so, think about this:
The letter we are reading was written at a time when there was no democracy. There weren’t term limits. There wasn’t an opportunity to vote someone out of office if you didn’t agree with their methods.
There was the Roman emperor.
Using violent Roman soldiers.
To enforce his will.
And his most recent will? It was to throw Christians in jail, separate families, and even murder them.
Yet…Christians were still supposed to PRAY for the government.
Since it’s been recorded for us, we are still supposed to pray for our government.
That’s hard, too.
But…maybe it depends on the prayer!
Maybe it makes sense for us to pray for the government to enact laws to make our lives better.
Or to make laws that give US a tax break.
Or to make laws that fit our own political agendas.
Is that what our prayers are for?
Nope. Look at verse 2:
Pray…That we may live peaceful and quiet lives in godliness and holiness. (v.2b)
For our godliness and holiness.
For a culture that amplifies our godliness and holiness.
To put it another way –
We are to pray that God helps us let HIS light shine.
II. God’s Mission Statement
Now – this prayer request comes from God’s Word.
So…Maybe that seems a bit – selfish.
Maybe that seems a bit – vain.
Let me get this straight God...YOU want me to pray to YOU for opportunities to make YOU more well- known?
This is not about God. Take a look at verse 3:
God our Savior wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
You can learn a lot about an organization by its mission statement.
Do you know PETA? People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Their mission is to support the rights of all animals.
Habitat for Humanity? Their mission is to bring people together to build homes and hope.
Starbucks? To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one cup at a time…
Domino’s mission statement? To sell more pizza.
What is God’s mission Statement?
Let everyone know how awesome I am?
Reign terror on all people.
Confuse people about what His plans?
God’s mission statement is this:
Save All People.
That’s really a God-sized mission statement, right?
Because God’s mission is not that some might be saved.
Or a lot.
Or even most.
God wants all people to be saved.
And that mission is what guides his every action!
We saw it in our Gospel lesson for today.
Jesus had spent all night doing miracles.
He made the blind see.
He made the deaf hear.
He made the lame walk.
He made the guy with the cold better.
He made the woman with cancer well.
He made the child with epilepsy calm, healthy.
Jesus did miracle after miracle until it was too dark for people to come find him at the house he was at.
Early the next morning, before he got back to doing miracles, Jesus went up on a hillside to pray.
As he was praying, he heard a commotion in the distance.
It was his disciples:
Jesus! There you are. We’ve been looking all over for you.
I know it’s early but they’re here. The sick. The lame. Some kid who has a whooping cough. Some guy who can’t walk. There’s a woman who has a very bad fever. They’re all here – waiting at the house – waiting for you to heal them. We told them to wait but – Jesus, if we want to stay ahead of this, you’d better get back so that you can help them.
And Jesus listened.
He got to his feet.
And said something – rather strange:
“Let us go someplace else – to the nearby villages – that I may preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1:38)
Doesn’t that seem strange?
Jesus usually helps people, right?
And that is the exact reason that he doesn’t go back to down to heal the people who were physically ill.
He needed to head to other villages in order to help others who were spiritually ill.
In short, Jesus understood his mission: TO SAVE ALL PEOPLE.
He understood his mission even when the prayers and requests of all people were – “Don’t do that eternal soul saving mission; come over here and do the ‘make my life better now’ mission.”
It’s proof that Jesus wasn’t all talk.
He wasn’t like some CEO who says that he wants to help lots of people, but when the going gets tough – isn’t willing to give up a cent.
Jesus… gave himself as a ransom for all people. (v.6)
When the only way to save people from their sins was for him to give up his life…
Jesus didn’t bat an eye.
He came down to earth.
He lived perfectly when we couldn’t.
He died innocently in our place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of all of our sins.
And to be fair – we’ve talked about it very broadly.
God’s goal is to save all people.
But Narrowly, God’s mission has always been To. Save. You.
It’s why he’s speaking to you today.
It’s why he’s speaking to you in these words.
It’s why he’s speaking to your heart and imploring you.
Believe in Jesus.
III. Our Mission Statement
But that’s not the end of this lesson. Look at what Paul writes next:
For this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles. (v.7)
A herald was specifically associated with royalty. The herald would give messages on behalf of the king. He’d carry one of those long, large golden trumpets – he’d blow the trumpet and deliver a message from the King. “Hear ye; hear ye; Whoppers are now 2 for $3 at the Burger King’s restaurant.” We use the word in a famous Christmas song – “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Herald angels are not a bunch of angels with the same first name: “Harold, I told you to put your halo back on!” Herald angels were messengers delivering a message from the Divine King: “A Savior has been born!”
Paul was a herald, too. His job was to herald the message of Jesus, the Savior.
To herald it in the marketplace.
To herald it in the synagogue.
To herald it at Uncle Lou’s backyard cookout.
Everywhere he went he heralded the message of Jesus.
Paul was also an apostle. That’s a very specific job. An apostle is a word used to describe the 12 apostles and Paul. The twelve apostles were men who (1) saw the risen Lord Jesus, (2) were sent out by Jesus (3) were given the ability to do miracles by the Holy Spirit.
Undoubtedly that was very helpful for Paul! Because as he heralded the message of the Savior, the miracles that he was able to do would help to prove that his message was truth.
(It’s very similar to why Jesus’ did miracles. It was a supplement to his mission of Saving all people) Paul was able to do miracles as a supplement to help him share the message of Jesus which saved all people!
But what about you?
You might not be able to do miracles.
So…how do you fit into this mission?
Have you ever heard Mt. 28:19? It says, “Go and make disciples of all nations…by teaching them everything I have commanded you.”
Part of what the apostles heralded was the message of Jesus.
And another part of what the apostles heralded was the importance of sharing the message of Jesus. Take a look:
2 Corinthians 5:20, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors as if God were making his appeal through us.”
1 Peter 3:15, “Be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have.”
Mark 16:15, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation.”
Do you get it?
You have purpose.
Your purpose is to be a supporter and a part of Jesus’ mission.
That’s a big deal.
Your purpose isn’t just temporal, it’s eternal.
Your purpose isn’t just human, it’s divine.
Your purpose isn’t just to help something with something that will last a moment; your purpose it to help someone with something that will last for eternity.
You have purpose.
And that purpose is specific!! The apostle Paul did this in a very specific context. The Bible says that he was a teacher of the Gentiles. He didn’t just stay in the synagogues. He didn’t just stay with the people that were Jewish. He was specifically called to bring the message to the Middle East and Southern Europe.
You have a specific purpose, too.
In fact, you have a specific purpose that is key to God’s kingdom.
Because you can to share the message with people that Paul never will be able to do.
You are can share the message with people that I can’t.
You are called to be a part of Jesus’ mission for your people.
Your Facebook friends.
Not only do you have purpose, but you are key to God’s mission.
God will work through you to bring the message of Jesus to the people that you are connected to!
IV. What Now?
1. Pray for Mission Work
Do you remember what Paul was telling Timothy to tell the people? They were to be prayer warriors for the mission of God.
Since that message has been preserved for you and me to read today, we can say with confidence that God wants you to participate in his mission by being a prayer warrior for his kingdom.
That’s important. Because it’s really easy to pray for yourself.
It’s really easy to pray for God to help you with your cold.
To pray for God to help you with your work.
To pray for God to help you with your finances.
And to be fair – you should pray for those things.
But God also wants us to pray for the spiritual.
God wants us to pray for His Mission.
In fact, that’s what he tells us to do in the Lord’s prayer.
In God’s prayer we say, “Thy Kingdom Come.”
That’s not a reference to God becoming president of America in 2020.
It isn’t a reference to God setting up a Christian utopia on this earth.
It’s a reference to mission work!
Pray for mission work.
Add it to your Google calendar.
Write reminders to pray on your bedside post.
Pray for people you know that need to hear about Jesus.
Pray for people you don’t know that need to hear about Jesus.
And pray for the people that you plan to share Jesus with.
If you are a teacher, you need to teach.
If you are writer, you need to write.
Because if you are a coal miner, the most important thing for you to do is to mine coal.
If you are a herald, then the most important thing for you to do is herald!
To share the saving message of Jesus.
To herald at home.
To herald at work.
To herald at the dinner table.
To herald on a night out with friends.
To herald online.
To herald via text message.
To herald in person.
To herald in the heart of North Raleigh.
And, here’s the thing: when it comes to being a herald – it doesn’t do a lot of good to herald when no one is looking.
It doesn’t do a lot of good to herald quietly.
Speak loudly the message of Jesus for all to here.
Which may be a bit intimidating.
You might feel like you can’t do it.
But you’re never alone. God is always with you and may He continue to bless you as you live out your purpose. Amen.
Last week we heard God’s call to RETURN to Him – to return to the God who really, really, really loves you! This week we’re taking it a step farther and we’re going to hear God’s call to return to HIS way. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The 4th Century B.C. Israelite Way
The text for today is an Old Testament lesson coming from 2 Kings 22. 2 Kings is a history book. It goes together with 1st kings. Both books detail the history of the kings among the Israelite nation. 1st Kings is the 1st book about the history of kings in the Israelite nations. And 2nd Kings is…wait for it…the 2nd book about the history of kings in the Israelite nation.
If you follow the history throughout these books, the kingship starts in 1st Kings 1 with King David. He’s fairly well known and a king that was well connected to God. He built God’s temple, wrote hundreds of Psalms about God and led the nation in worshipping the true God. King David reigns in about 1025 BC. That means about 400 years of time take place before we get to chapter 22 of 2nd Kings.
The king at the end of those 400 years is a guy by the name of Manasseh. He is THE reason that there aren’t a lot of kids named Manasseh. As opposed to King David who 400 years earlier set up a temple and temple worship for the One True God, King Manasseh…well...ruled much differently:
Manasseh did evil in the eyes of the Lord. (2 Kings 21:2)
He increased the number of statues and worship centers to gods like Baal and Asherah – made up gods who weren’t really gods at all (21:3)
He set up some of those statues to other gods in the temple of the true GOD, the LORD himself. (21:4)
He sought advice from sorcery and Satanic rituals (v.5)
Ponder for those things for a minute:
It’d be as if all of our mission money went to handing out pamphlets about how we needed to worship Poseidon in order to stop hurricane Florence from hitting us.
It’d be as if one Sunday you came to worship and underneath the cross up front was a big statue of Buddha – with portraits of a Hindu elephant God hanging on the banners.
It’d be as if instead of having you all to open up your Bibles, I asked you to open up your Ouija boards.
Manasseh was bad. But…even if you don’t think so yet…one more thing Scripture included to help us understand just how bad he was:
Manasseh sacrificed his own children in the fire. (2 Chronicles 33:6)
If that is the morality of the leader of Israel, where do you think the rest of the nation was at?
Enter chapter 22. In chapter 22, Manasseh’s grandson Josiah becomes king. Manasseh died. His son was killed, and Josiah becomes king at 8 years old.
Now, an 8-year-old king might not sound like the greatest idea. I imagine there’d be some good things: Free Twizzlers for everyone! A public transit system of piggy back rides. The police officers would literally be PAW PATROL! Yet…you could make a good argument that it isn’t the wisest to elect a kid to be in charge of the government.
Yet, in spite of that solid opinion and logic:
God’s Word says that Manasseh did evil in the eyes of the Lord. (2 Kings 21:2)
Josiah did good in the eyes of the Lord (2 Kings 22:2)
God preferred a God loving 8-year-old boy to a Satanic, child-sacrificing adult.
But as Josiah grew up, governing with the aid of officials and other governors, he was still governing in a mostly godless nation. Since his grandpa didn’t care about God’s way, he also didn’t teach Josiah God’s way and since Josiah didn’t know what God’s way, he could not lead his people in God’s way.
Then, one day - when Josiah is 18…
Temple maintenance was up for the month on Josiah’s kingly task list. Maybe some of the paint was chipping or some of the stone was cracking, I don’t know. But King Josiah sent his servants to the temple to obtain money from the treasury so that they might begin a temple repair project.
When the servants returned, they didn’t just bring the bags of money.
They brought a really old book that the priest had called “the Book of the Law.”
The Book of the Law is a reference to the books written by Moses.
Moses wrote Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Number and Deuteronomy – the first five books of the Bible – the same first five books that you and I have today.
When Josiah’s servants found that book, it was the very first time that Josiah had ever seen it! Maybe it was locked up. Maybe it was hidden. Maybe it was on some back shelf in the storage room of the temple, collecting dust and housing spiders.
Josiah reads the book for the very first time in his life and…
He isn’t excited.
He isn’t intrigued.
He is absolutely terrified:
Josiah said, “Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.” (v.13)
Because Josiah read the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods,” and looked around at his own temple with statues of other gods for worshipping.
He read the sixth commandment: “You shall not commit adultery,” and looked out at the red light district nearby where people could pay cheap for a night with a prostitute!
He read the fifth commandment: “You shall not commit murder,” and he remember his own uncle who had been killed at the age of 3 at the hands of his own grandfather.
He read all of this and he read that God brings punishment against those who do evil.
And Josiah tore his clothing.
And Josiah was cut to the heart.
And Josiah was grief stricken.
Josiah started the day wanting to repair the temple – but now he realized the repairs were beyond what a tube of caulk could fix.
The people needed to RETURN.
They needed to RETURN from their own way.
They needed to RETURN to God’s Way.
II. The Problem with Human Ways
One of Josiah’s first actions after reading the book of the Law is to inquire of a prophet. The prophet gives this message from God: “These people have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.” (v.16-17)
Which maybe that seems a bit harsh.
Why is God’s anger burning? Why is He so wrathful?
That doesn’t seem like something a good God would do.
Sometimes preschool kids hit each other. It happens. What’s interesting is that if one of the kids is mean to another kid and leaves a mark, the parents want to know (1) Is my child ok? (2) What are you doing to ensure that kid is properly punished?
And fair enough. Parents need to know that we are not supporting and encouraging violent and wrong behavior.
Can you imagine if we did? Can you imagine if some little kid pushed another down and I ran up to him and said, “KID! That was awesome. Give me a high five.”
That doesn’t go so well, does it?
Or even if I did nothing and simply said, “Meh! No big deal?”
That doesn’t go well either.
There needs to be justice.
There needs to be a reaction against wrong doing.
A good teacher needs to react against wrong doing.
And a good God will always react against wrong doing.
He doesn’t react because He is wrong.
He reacts because He is Good.
If he didn’t react to Manasseh leading thousands astray into the worship of pieces of wood…
If he didn’t react to Manasseh calling to Satan for help…
If he didn’t react to Manasseh sacrificing his own children in the fire…
Then, he wouldn’t be a Good God.
He would be an Evil God.
Yet when we hear about God’s wrathful reaction against wrongdoing, it can still seem harsh. Many people don’t like reading the Old Testament and they sometimes treat the Old Testament God like a supervillain! He’s Thanos from Infinity War.
I think what’s helpful in this is to look at how God reacted to the reigns of Manasseh and Josiah respectively:
Manasseh did evil in the eyes of the Lord. (2 Kings 21:2)
Josiah did good in the eyes of the Lord (2 Kings 22:2)
“In the eyes of the Lord.” That’s seems to be an important phrase. Because I don’t imagine that Manasseh said to himself, “I can’t wait to do evil today. I can’t wait to do wrong. I think it’s the best part of my week.”
I imagine that he thought he was doing good:
“I’ll set up statues to other gods just in case there are other gods. That’ll be a good thing.”
“I’ll go inquire of the devil in case he gives me an insight that I can’t get anywhere else. That’s a good thing.”
“I’ll go ahead and sacrifice my children to this Molech guy because if he is real, he’ll be flattered by such an action that he’ll probably give me a good luck – which is a good thing.”
Manasseh’s actions were good in his own eyes.
But they were evil in the eyes of the Lord.
Do you see the rub then?
When God is wrathful, the problem is not an evil God…
The problem is an evil people.
And when we get angry with God because His Word clearly claims wrath against one of our own actions…
The problem isn’t with God.
It’s with us.
Think of it logically:
If a good God calls an action evil, it’s evil.
If a sinful human calls an action good, it might not be good at all. (He has sinful, imperfect reasoning which prevents him from accurately labelling the action).
If a good God calls something evil, but a sinful human calls the same action good, then…
God’s right. The human is wrong. End of story.
If you think sleeping with you boyfriend before marriage is good because it feels good, but God calls it wrong. It’s wrong.
It you think stealing that money at work is good because your boss deserves it, but God calls it wrong. It’s wrong.
If you think gossiping about that person is good because it makes you look better, but God calls it wrong. It’s wrong.
If you think not helping the poor is good because you are teaching them a lesson, but God calls it wrong. It’s wrong.
If you think racism is ok because those people have brought it on themselves, but God calls it wrong. It’s wrong.
If you think homosexuality is right because ‘love is love’, but God calls it wrong. It’s wrong.
And if you keep following your sinful ways, they will lead you where you don’t want to go:
They will lead you against a good God.
They will lead you into his wrath.
Return to God’s Way!
Return because…God’s Ways are Beyond Good.
III. God’s Ways are BEYOND Good
Look at God’s response to Josiah. He says this:
“Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.” (v.19-20)
This is amazing!
Josiah sees the problem his people are in.
He realizes it is beyond what a sinful human can fix.
Josiah simply turns to the only one with the inherent good to fix it all -
And when Josiah turns to God, God offers him peace.
Keep in mind! Josiah hasn’t even done anything to course correct yet.
He hasn’t fixed any of the problem in Israel.
He hasn’t destroyed any statues.
He hasn’t given any money.
He hasn’t DONE anything but turned to God for mercy.
And God’s ways are so beyond good—that God is merciful to Josiah.
It is that same merciful God who hears your cry.
It is that same merciful God who heard your cry 2000 years in advance and went to the cross to achieve peace for you.
Romans 5:1 says this:
Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Because, as we mentioned before, God is so good – he needed to pour out wrath for our sins.
And God is so beyond Good – He didn’t want to pour out that wrath against you!
And so, in a way that can only be described as God’s own, incredible, beyond good Way:
God suffered his own wrath against our sins to save us from wrath and bring us peace.
This is truth.
Jesus died to bring you peace.
It means no matter what sin you have done.
No matter how wrong you have been.
No matter how far off from following God’s ways you have gone – even if you’ve gone so far as to think you’re way is right and His way is wrong – God’s way is so incredibly Good that when you return He says the same thing to YOU that he did to Josiah:
IV. What Now?
Our WHAT NOW is similar to last week’s WHAT NOW? Return to God. Return to His Way. Return to God because He is good. Return to His way because it is good.
But more specifically – how do we respond to his grace and follow his ways? A few clues from the text:
1) Read God’s Law
Take note that in verse 16 God mentions that the people had gone against “Everything written in the book of the Law” and his wrathful reaction would happen “according to the book of the Law.”
In other words – God’s ways are NOT a surprise.
They aren’t a mystery.
They aren’t hidden.
He wrote them down clearly. They’re only a mystery to us when we don’t study them.
Read God’s Word. Study God’s Word. Learn God’s Word.
Read it if you don’t know what God’s way is.
Read it if you think you do.
Because REMEMBER: There is a big difference between what God wants me to do and what I want God to want me to do.
Reading what God wants from his clear Word helps to set you straight.
2) Use your Influence
Because when Josiah saw that 6th Century B.C. Israelite society was far from God’s ways – he used his influence on their behalf.
He went up to the temple of the Lord with the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets—all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the Lord. (23:2)
There is no doubt that modern American society is far from God’s ways, too.
But unfortunately, none of us have the influence that King Josiah did to influence the whole nation.
Use the influence you do have:
Share His Word with your kids. Teach them the Ten Commandments.
Make Bible stories a part of your daily time with your family.
Memorize Bible Verses with your spouse.
Don’t be afraid to speak up for God’s way with friends and coworkers.
Use your influence to teach God’s way just like Josiah did.
3) Repair the Temple
This was Josiah’s original goal. But instead of spending money on caulk and fresh paint, he ends up buying sledge hammers and crow bars.
The king removed from the temple of the Lord all the articles made for the false gods.
He burned their statues.
He did away with the fake priests.
He took the Asherah pole from the temple of the Lord, ground it to powder and scattered the dust. (23:4-6)
Where in your life have you been following your own ways?
Where in your life have you been moving away from God?
Ask God to reveal it to you and then…
Repair the temple.
Repair YOUR temple.
Clean up the filth.
Take a sledge hammer to the wrong.
Throw away the evil.
God will help you do this! God is good AND He has declared you good because of what Jesus did for you!
That good God – who is excellent at destroying evil – even destroying evil on the cross – will fight beside you.
2 Kings 23:25 says that King Josiah “turned to the Lord with all his heart.”
Not some of his heart.
Not a bit of his heart.
Not most of his heart.
All of his heart.
Friends, it is my prayer that God inspires our hearts to turn as well.
And I know God will work to do this…
Because God has already turned all of His heart to you. Amen.
We are in Joshua 10 this morning – and quick review – last week we heard about how 5 kings – the Fearsome Five – decided that they were going to gang up on God. They decided to pool their resources, join their armies, and attack the ally of God’s people. They figured – their collective armies would outnumber Israel, give them a tactical advantage and result in their victory.
They were thrown into confusion.
They were routed by the Israelites.
They were pegged by deadly hailstones from the sky.
The daylight was extended an extra 24 hours just so Israel could completely annihilate them.
Today we are picking up right in the midst of the retreat. We’ll see what the five evil leaders – the 5 kings – try to do in order to keep themselves safe from annihilation. In the midst of this chapter, we will learn (1) a hard lesson about fighting against God (2) a wonderful lesson about fighting with God. Before we do, let’s say 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. The People Against God
This section picks up with the Israelites in hot pursuit of these armies. But while the men of the armies are in pursuit, the 5 kings who incited this fight against God, are slipping away. Now the five kings had fled and hidden in the cave at Makkedah. (v.16)
You can almost imagine the conversation that they are having:
Did anyone see us? Did they see us run in?
I don’t know. I don’t see anyone following us.
This was a disaster AZ! (Adoni Zedek) We got annihilated. We weren’t just fighting men. We were fighting hailstones, confusion and a sun that won’t go down!
Yeah, we weren’t fighting just Israel. We were fighting God.
We almost died! We’re going to die! This is all your fault AZ! This is all your idea.
And as the men took turns blaming one another, AZ stroked his beard.
He held up his finger.
Calm down. Calm down. Listen. We’ll be ok. The Israelites are too distracted. They’ll chase our men. We’ll hide out here. When the coast is clear, we can slip out, pack our bags and travel to Rio de Janeiro. I hear it’s lovely this time of year. Anyways – don’t worry. We may have lost to God. We may not have been able to defeat him…but we should be able to hide from him. He can’t find us.
And as AZ finished speaking those confident words, the kings heard a noise coming from the front of the cave. Like a rock scraping against the ground. As it grew louder, the cave grew dimmer. Until – darkness.
What was that? AZ said with fright.
Another king approached. That? That was the LORD. I think he found us.
So, Joshua and the Israelites defeated the armies completely…And Joshua said, “Open the mouth of the cave and bring those five kings out to me.” So, they brought the five kings out of the cave…He summoned all the men of Israel and said to the army commanders…and said, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous. This is what the LORD will do to all the enemies you are going to fight.” Then, Joshua put the kings to death and exposed their bodies on five poles and they were left hanging on the poles until evening. (v.21-25)
I’ll stop and let you ponder that.
It’s kind of disturbing, isn’t it?
It’s one of those parts of the Bible that you probably wish wasn’t a part of the Bible.
It’s one of those parts of the Bible that you probably aren’t going to teach in Sunday School.
But it’s important.
Do you remember the old anti-drug commercials? They’d say, “This is your brain,” and show an egg. Then, they’d say, “This is your brain on drugs,” and show the egg frying. I was always a bit disturbed by those commercials. (Who wants to think of their brain sizzling on a skillet?) But that was the point: Don’t do drugs and this won’t happen.
Similarly, are those anti-smoking commercials. They show a regular set of lungs—health- looking and good—next to a blackened, charred set of lungs. Kind of gross. The point? Don’t smoke cigarettes and this will not happen.
Joshua 10:26 is one of those moments in the Bible. These men fought against God. These men were defeated. And Joshua parades their bodies like a public service announcement: This is what happens when you fight against God.
Don’t fight against God and this won’t happen.
It was a warning for his armies.
It was a warning for Israelites to come.
It was a warning for North Raleigh residents thousands of years later.
Sure. You might not be preparing an ambush at the church. You might not own a spear that you plan on hurling at the pastor. (Hopefully…Thankfully?) You might not be leading a formal rebellion against God.
Bur fighting against God? That’s what sin is.
And fighting against God has severe consequences.
That means sin has severe consequences.
Sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death (James 1:15)
This isn’t me being mean.
It isn’t the Bible being mean.
It isn’t God being mean.
It is us being mean (sin) and God being nice (and warning us) and ultimately God doing what is really nice and annihilating the bad!
Stop fighting against God.
If you are doing something that you know is wrong, repent!
If you keep saying things that you know are wrong, stop!
If you are in a relationship that you know is sinful, get out!
If you keep bad mouthing God to your friends, watch out now!
Quit fighting against God.
You will not win.
You will only suffer.
II. Fighting with God
Which makes me think – maybe – maybe we should have similar PSA.
A painting of some kings hanging on a tree? I know it sounds antique and even barbaric – but better to be offended than dead, right?
But then...I got to thinking.
We already have a piece of art like that.
In fact, we look at it every Sunday.
A grotesque reminder of sin.
Because on the cross, someone hung on a tree.
On the cross, someone died on the tree.
On the cross, someone died in our place.
Remember that James passages? Sin, when it is full grown gives birth to death?
Jesus didn’t do any sin.
Jesus didn’t fight against the Father.
Jesus even went to the cross to die when it was a part of the Father’s plan!
Why did he hang on a tree?
Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
That “for” is a very important word.
It explains why Jesus died.
It explains his reasoning.
It explains the purpose.
It explains whose place he took on that cross:
It’s like in baseball when they make a substitute in the middle of the game. They’ll say, “Now batting for the pitcher -- # 27.” That means the pitcher is out and the new player is in. He’s a substitute. He’s taking his place.
Jesus is your substitute.
Jesus took your sins.
That you might live.
This means that God fought on our side…even when we weren’t on his side.
This means that God will fight on our side…if we stay on his side.
It means that if we fight with God, there will be an entirely different outcome.
Because if you skim through chapters 10 and 11, you’ll find a list of countries that Israel has defeated: Maakedah, Libnah, Lachish, Gezer, Eglon, Hebron, Debir, Hazor, Shimron, Acshaph, Mizpah.
Then, you’ll hear a list of lands that the Israelites receive as inheritance: the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills, the mountain slopes, Arabah, Mt. Halak, Baal Gad and the Valley of Lebanon.
In short, the Israelites dominate. God defeats their enemies. God gives them the land of Canaan.
But here’s where it gets interesting. Because at the end of chapter 11, the author explains to us what the secret was behind the Israelite success.
It wasn’t a strong military.
It wasn’t great tactics.
it wasn’t a military grade tank.
It was God.
All these nations were conquered in one campaign because the LORD, the God of Israel fought for Israel. (11:42)
That is what it is like with God on your side.
He defeats your enemies.
He defeats your worries.
He defeats your doubts.
He defeats your guilt.
He defeats your shame.
He defeats your demons.
He defeated your sin.
He defeated the devil.
He defeated death itself.
And you? You get the spoils.
Peace with God.
III. What Now?
(1) Fight with God
Because God wins! If you’re with God, you win!
What’s cool is that when you fight with God, God supplies the weapons. They aren’t Nerf guns or water balloons. They are the spiritual version of AK47s! They are perfect for assaulting the devil and our own sinful desires.
Check out Ephesians 6: Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm, then with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, the with breastplate of righteousness (That I have been declared innocent by God) in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. (Feet ready to go and share that Jesus is our Savior)
In addition, take up the shield of faith, (That I am saved in Jesus), take the helmet of salvation (that I am on the winning team) and the sword of the Spirit which is God’s Word. Hurling the truth of Scripture in the face of temptation and doubt!
(2) Watch Him Fight for You!
And it isn’t as obvious anymore. God doesn’t usually send hailstorms in our favor nor does he extend the daylight for 24 hours so that we can get everything done that we need to.
But he does fight for us.
A while back – I was visiting a friend who had visited our church. I thanked them for coming to worship and they thanked me for having them. They invited me inside and we chatted for a while at the breakfast table.
And while we were chatting, I couldn’t help but notice something on top of the refrigerator. It was a couple of clear cookie jars. Which would get anyone’s attention, but there weren’t any cookies in there. No Oreos. No Nilla Wafers. Not even homemade chocolate chip cookies.
There were simply scraps of paper.
So…I asked. “What are those?”
My friend went up grabbed a jar with a few pieces of paper in it and brought it down.
“This is my prayer jar. These are things that we are praying to God for. We pray them and then we put them in the jar – and wait for God to be God.”
Cool. I thought. And what are the other jars for?
She set the prayer jar on top of the fridge again and pulled down two more jars both full of scraps.
These aren’t prayer jars. These are blessing jars. Once God answers our prayers – we take them out of the prayer jar and place them into blessing jar. Because God has fought for us, and we get the spoils.
Cool, huh? I know it’s the same in your life too. With God on your side, you will be blessed. Peace, forgiveness, and even some temporal blessings – until you receive the eternal blessing of heaven itself.
Thank you, God, for fighting on our side. Amen.