Last week we looked at the beginning of the second missionary journey. The purpose of the journey was to:
There were plenty of mission fields to choose from! The Gospel had its origins in Judea, a smaller country with a land area of a couple hundred square miles. Since the rest of the world was untouched by the Gospel, there was a lot more of the world that needed to hear about the Savior.
As a result, you might expect the mission team to head out to some largely populated area as quickly as possible to share the Gospel with the most amount of people.
That would make the most sense because it would be the easiest way for Paul to “pad his stats.”
Have you ever heard that phrase? It’s a sports term. Sometimes you need to “pad your stats” in sports, because stats (or statistics) are key. They have been around since baseball cards started including them on the back of a player’s card. (Think about it: You don’t want to be that one guy with the .067% batting average. They can flip the card, look at your face and forever associate you with “not being that good at baseball.”)
Good stats, on the other hand, might increase the value of your card. It could improve your legacy. You might even get a reward. Stats are the reason that players sometimes stay in a game – even when their team is winning by a lot – to get a couple more hits and “pad their stats.”
If there was an apostolic version of baseball cards, you might expect Paul to “pad his stats.” He had a good run in his first season as missionary. In his second? It’d be an opportunity to bring his total number of people evangelized to the tens of thousands, to double the number of churches he started, and to better his average of “conversions” to “sermons preached.”
In today’s lesson God does the opposite. He guides the missionary team far away from the logical next steps in mission work, far away from what made them comfortable, and far away from what would have “padded Paul’s stats.”
Why? We’ll investigate God’s Word for the answer. Before we do, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
Acts 16 says this: “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.” (Acts 16:6-8)
A little bit of geography:
Phrygia and Galatia are to the north of Judea. They region starts to curve around the Mediterranean Sea to the east. This is essentially the route of the first missionary journey. In fact, Galatia is the name for the whole region of churches from that first missionary journey. It’s also the reason that Paul’s letter to these churches is called “Galatians.”
Paul and his missionary team went there to deliver the message from the Jerusalem council that “Grace meant grace.”
But then, they tried to head to the west to the province of Asia. There’s a lot of people in Asia. Some of the largest populations in the world are in Asia: China, India, Russia, even Bangladesh. While these countries wouldn’t have been as populated back then, there were still plenty of people in Asia who needed to hear about Jesus.
This seems like a logical next choice for mission work.
But they were kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. (v.6)
Now, Scripture doesn’t tell us how this happened.
An invisible force field?
Roads that were shut down?
A donkey that got sick?
Scripture doesn’t say.
But somehow, they concluded that they couldn’t go to Asia at this time.
So, they tried to go north. They came to the border of Mysia and tried to enter Bithynia… (v.7a) Bithynia is modern-day Turkey, a gateway into the northern kingdoms of modern-day Ukraine, Romania, and Bulgaria. Again, there were plenty of people who need to hear about Jesus up there and it was a logical next step: just head north and BAM – you’re there!
But The spirit of Jesus would not allow them to… (v.7b)
And again, there’s no indication of how this happened:
A sinkhole in the road?
Timothy got the flu?
Soldiers force them to turn around?
Or maybe the Holy Spirit simply says: “Nope.”
They can’t go west.
They can’t go north.
They came from the south.
They go east and went down to Troas. (v.8)
I imagine Paul was a bit confused:
Isn’t the Gospel for all people?
Aren’t there thousands of people to the West?
Aren’t there thousands of people to the North?
O Lord, why do you keep blocking our route?
As they settled down that evening, God gives them an answer:
…Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” (v.9)
I don’t know how Paul knew he was Macedonian. (I’m unsure that I’m that familiar with genealogical and racial features enough to pinpoint someone from Macedonia just by viewing them)
Maybe he was waving a Macedonian flag.
Or eating Macedonian food.
Or maybe he had on one of those t-shirts with the outline of Macedonia on it and the phrase: “Home.”
However, it happens, Paul immediately shared the news with his friends: “Guys, I know what God wants us to do! I saw a man…a Macedonian man. He asked us to come to Macedonia. He pleaded with us. So…get up! Pack up. He needs our help. They need the Gospel of Jesus now!”
The next morning, they do just that.
They head to the local harbor.
They obtain a ride on the boat across the Mediterranean.
It’s a couple days journey until they get to Neapolis.
From there they head to a leading city of Macedonia, Philippi.
And Paul might have been thinking:
This is great. God must have big plans.
If he had us travel 500 miles from our last stop in Phrygia, there must be a large amount of people he wants us to preach to.
If he had us jump on a ship, risk a shipwreck, and possibly get seasick, there must be crowds awaiting us.
If he is having us enter a Roman colony, with the danger of Roman soldiers and racism against Jews like us, there must be a second Pentecost awaiting us!
When they get there…
There’s no Jewish synagogue to go preach at.
There’s barely any Jews in the city at all.
The whole atmosphere is foreign, confusing, and difficult.
The missionaries are there for a few days without the Bible recording anything of substance.
Finally, they go outside the city gate to the river. (v.13)
Away from the population.
Away from the confusion.
As they are praying, a group of women comes to the river.
Most likely, they’re bringing their laundry to the river to do some wash.
And as they are washing their clothes…
…Paul can’t help himself.
Nice water, huh? Water…It’s important. But I know of something called “Living Water.”
I see you’re cleaning your clothing. But what have you done lately to cleanse your soul?
Look out that you don’t trip on a rock. Speaking of rocks – Jesus is my Rock. Is he yours?
And most of the women?
They don’t listen.
Just an annoyed smirk and a “Just let me do my laundry, weird religious dude.”
One of those listening was a woman named Lydia….
The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. (v.14)
The Bible doesn’t tell us a lot about Lydia.
The Greek text of the Bible literally says that she was a purple dealer. A purple dealer wasn’t someone who passed out Crayola crayons. Her job was to dye clothing the color purple. It was a fine business to be in, because purple clothing was quite expensive. In fact, wearing purple was a sign of being rich. It was a status symbol (like wearing a Gucci dress with a Coach handbag or dressing in an Armani Suit with a pair of Air Jordan’s on your feet).
We don’t know much else about Lydia.
She was a person.
A sinful person.
And just like any sinful person, she had reason for a Savior.
Maybe she’d gotten a good portion of her wealth in less than upright ways.
Maybe she’d spent so much time pursuing riches that her life felt void and empty.
Maybe she’d gone through a recent divorce with her husband; kept the money…and a lot of shame.
Maybe her visit to Philippi left her on the fringes of society, a refugee, alone.
Maybe she knew that the purple clothing she sold was only a façade; that could not cover the guilt upon her soul.
But when she heard about Jesus.
She heard about forgiveness for all her less than upright ways.
She heard about how Jesus brings eternal riches that will never leave you void or empty.
She heard about how Jesus’ death repaired her relationship with God and removed all her guilt and shame.
She heard about how Jesus rose from the dead and promised to be with his disciples so that they are never alone.
She heard about how Jesus’ gives us a robe, even more gorgeous than a robe of purple.
About how Jesus gave a robe of righteousness to completely cover her sins!
Lydia heard all of this.
II. Notes about the Eternal Importance of One
That’s the point of this whole story.
It’s the point of the 500-some mile journey.
It’s the point of the trip on the ship.
It’s the point of the foreign Roman colony.
It’s the point of the trip to the river.
The point was getting the Gospel message to Lydia.
And this wasn’t Paul’s plan.
It was God’s.
Think about how God goes out of his way to save Lydia:
He came out of heaven…for Lydia.
He lived on earth…for Lydia
He died on the cross…for Lydia.
He rose from the dead…for Lydia.
Then, God guided Paul.
Blocked some paths.
Got him to Philippi.
Got her to Philippi.
So that there is a seemingly chance encounter at the river which leads to the eternal salvation of her soul.
God did this because God placed eternal importance on one person, Lydia.
And…God has also placed eternal importance on YOU.
(1) See the Eternal Importance of You
Have you ever received a canned email from a company about how special you are?
I got one of those from Netflix recently.
I quit the subscription and they sent me a message that said they “loved having me as a customer” and they “hated to see me, Philip Kiecker, go.”
So…I signed up again.
Because they cared about me so deeply.
A while later, I was having trouble connecting, so I used the help app for Netflix to try and connect with a customer service representative and the representative texted me:
“Hi! How can I help?”
“I can’t get my Netflix connection to work.”
“Happy to help. Please provide your full name.”
I thought: “That’s odd. I thought they loved me as a customer and hated to see me go, but…”
I gave them my name.
Then, they said: “I’m sorry. There’s an outage. There’s nothing we can do to help, Fred.”
I thought they cared!
Maybe you feel that way about God.
Maybe you’ve been tempted to believe that God doesn’t care.
That you aren’t important.
That you are forgotten.
God went out of his way to save YOU.
He came out of heaven…for YOU.
He lived on earth…for YOU
He died on the cross…for YOU.
He rose from the dead…for YOU.
And God arranged events in your life to bring you to saving faith.
Maybe he had your mom bring you along, kicking and screaming to church, since you’ve been 4 years old.
Maybe he had a friend invite you to worship, invite you again, invite you, invite you, invite you and invite you some more.
Maybe you had a chance encounter with a stranger at our modern-day version of the Philippian River –the local laundromat.
Somehow God brought saving faith to you.
Because you were eternally important to him.
And if you aren’t a believer yet, understand this:
God has arranged events in your life to bring you to this message right here.
Jesus loves you.
Jesus died for you.
Jesus rose for you.
Jesus is your Savior.
(2) See the Eternal Importance of Others
Because Lydia didn’t stop with herself. Look at what happens next: She and the members of her household were baptized. (v.15a)
It isn’t likely that all her household was already down at that river doing laundry.
And yet – the baptism appears to have happened in the river, because it takes place before “She invited [the missionaries] to her home.” (v.15b)
That means Lydia must have went back home:
Told her family about Jesus.
Told her kids.
Any servants that might have been working at her purple factory!
Then, she led them all back to Paul.
Paul told them about Jesus.
And they were all baptized into his name.
Why did Lydia do this?
Because she saw the eternal value of her family.
She saw them as eternal souls in need of a Savior.
Just as God did.
Just as God wants us to do.
Mr. Rogers used to have a song that he sung on occasion: “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” The song goes on to identify common 1980s neighbors – the mailman, the police officer, and the fire fighter.
That was in the eighties. It might be fun to hear an update:
Who are the people in your 2019 neighborhood?
The Whole Foods clerk.
The Starbucks barista.
The Uber driver.
The Amazon Delivery woman.
Even…the Google fiber installation crew. (They’re in everybody’s neighborhood…all the time.)
But these are more than just people in your neighborhood.
They are eternal souls in need of their Savior.
The mailman? An eternal soul in need of the Savior.
The police officer? An eternal soul in need of the Savior.
The fire fighter? An eternal soul in need of the Savior.
The Whole Foods clerk? An eternal soul in need of the Savior.
The Starbucks barista? An eternal soul in need of the Savior.
The Uber drive, the Amazon Delivery woman and the Google fiber installation crew…. Eternal souls in need of the Savior.
That’s what they are.
And you, as a believer in Jesus, have what they need.
See the eternal importance of others.
(3) See the Eternal Importance of Your Part in Kingdom Work
After Lydia’s household is baptized into Christ’s family, she doesn’t just bid adieu to the missionaries and go back to who everyday life.
She invited the missionaries to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house.” (v.16)
She realized that God’s work wasn’t done in Philippi.
She figured that they would need a place to stay as they shared the Gospel in Philippi.
She might not have been an eloquent speaker like them, but she wanted to partake in the ministry in whatever way she could.
She saw the eternal importance of her part in kingdom work and she served…
The same is true here.
We have a big mission: To Plant the Message of Jesus in the Heart of North Raleigh (and Beyond).
That’s a lot of people.
In the triangle, that’s close to 2 million people.
We can’t do it alone.
So, we do it together.
Together with Jesus.
Let me tell you the story of Priscilla.
Priscilla had a child in need of childcare.
Priscilla searched online for a Childcare Center.
Priscilla found an ad that some of you developed.
Priscilla found an ad that your offerings helped support.
Priscilla visited Precious Lambs where some of you spend all kinds of time planning for, decorating, and building.
Priscilla enrolled her child in Precious Lambs where some of you taught her child about Jesus.
Priscilla brought her child for worship where some of you greeted her, made friends with her, high fived her.
Priscilla now knows about her Savior.
Priscilla now knows about his love for her.
Priscilla now knows about his love for her – because God works through all of you to make that happen.
That’s the eternal importance of one.
May God guide us to see our eternal importance as we are motivated to see the eternal importance of others. 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 do you value?
Maybe even your God?
Let me ask again: What do you value?
And I don’t mean what SHOULD you value?
Or what do you think that I AM expecting you to say that you value.
But…reflect…what do you really value?
Sometimes my wife and I have a hard time deciding what we value. For instance, on a Friday evening we might be trying to figure out what we want to do. We could head over to Gonza’s Taco and have a delicious Mexican food style evening, or we could head to the local Pho joint for some delicious Vietnamese soup.
And I say, “I Don’t care.”
And she says, “You pick.”
And I say, “It doesn’t bother me.”
And she says, “I don’t know.”
So…what we do is we throw fingers. It’s a game used to decide what to do – kinda like casting lots. I count to three (1-2-3) and then we both hold out any combination of fingers (1, 9, or maybe 3). Then, we add up the total between the two of us. If the number is even, we go out for Vietnamese; if it’s odd, we go out for tacos.
It usually works.
But sometimes, what happens is that we throw out the number, it’s odd and I say, “Good. We’re going to tacos. It’s settled.”
But Julianna says, “Yes, but…can we go for Pho?”
Isn’t how much you value a “thing” best revealed in your reaction to not having the thing?
It’s the difference between missing out on your morning orange juice and missing out on your morning coffee.
It's the difference between missing a non-Conference game AND the UNC/Duke showdown.
It’s the difference between missing the “women tell all” episode of the Bachelor and the “After the Final Rose” episode.
It’s the difference between not getting a birthday present from an acquaintance and not receiving one from your spouse.
How much you value a “thing” best revealed in your reaction to not having the thing.
If that’s the case…
The biggest problem.
Not that it isn’t true, but that it reveals the things we really value…to. Our. Shame.
“Should I get some sleep or stay up late talking to my friend in need?” I choose sleep, because I value it more.
“I could go home and spend time with my kids, but…I want my boss to be impressed.” I value my career more.
“I could sit down and ask my spouse about their day…OR I could watch a rerun of the Office on Netflix…” I value it more?
Jesus has something to say about value. He says, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Mt. 6:25-26)
Birds don’t seem to have a lot of value.
They aren’t very big.
Most are the size of my hand.
They can’t get jobs in the tech industry.
They don’t often receive medical internships.
They aren’t even valued enough to get a job in fast food!
Yet…God cares for them.
He gets the nightcrawler out of the ground for the little robin to eat.
He reserves a few kernels after the squirrel’s ambush for the sparrow to be nourished.
He uses a few bread crumbs tossed by a three-year-old down at Lake Lynn to give the duck a kinda fat gut!
Birds don’t have a lot of value.
Yet…God cares for them.
And if God cares for birds of little value, how much more will he care for you…of great value!
He’ll feed you (and if you were at the Fellowship meal – he maybe fed you more than enough).
He’ll clothe you. (and it appears he did that for all of you today)
He’ll give you a roof over your head. (And we have one over ours right now!)
More than that – Jesus died for you.
Because Jesus didn’t come to earth to save sparrows.
He didn’t die on the cross to redeem robins.
He didn’t rise triumphantly to triumph trumpet swans!
He did that for you.
You are more than a body.
You are more than organs, blood and bones.
You are more than a temporal, physical vessel that will be here for 70 years – 80 if we have the strength.
You are more than evolved slime.
You are more than a smart animal.
You are more than just “the dominant species.”
You have a soul.
You have an eternal soul.
You have an eternal soul that God wants to spend eternity with – so much so that He is willing to shed His Own divine blood on the cross!
Do you get that? When God was faced with the choice between losing you OR losing his life…
He didn’t haven’t to throw fingers.
He couldn’t bear the thought of losing you eternally and so he gave up his life just to be with you.
So…What Now? Two things:
(1) Understand Your Eternal Value
Because it is easy to feel valueless.
It’s easy to feel worthless.
It’s easy to look at how other’s treat us, get in our head, and conclude: “I really, don’t have a lot of value. If any!”
When that happens, hear God’s voice.
Your value isn’t determined by how many hours a week you work.
Your value isn’t determined by how many pounds you can lift at the gym.
Your value isn’t determined by how many followers you have on Instagram.
Your value isn’t determined by how perfectly you parent.
Your value is determined by God.
And God was willing to die for you.
Because to God, you are invaluable.
(2) See the Eternal Value of Things
I used to collect baseball cards. I collected baseball cards because my friends collected baseball cards. It was the thing to do.
I remember that I was trading cards with my friends and I saw this card pop up: A Juan Beringer.
I thought he looked cool.
He looked intimidating.
Also – it was signed!
I offered to trade for it.
What would I give my friend?
I’ll give him the Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Card!
Turns out? Bad assessment of value.
Griffy Jr. Rookie? Worth over a hundred.
Juan Beringer? About five cents.
The more we understand our intrinsic, eternal value to God, the more we will value the things that have intrinsic, eternal value.
Things like a midweek Lenten meditation.
Things like personal Bible study.
Things like Baptism.
Things like Lord’s Supper.
Things like singing Jesus Loves Me with your kids.
Things like meditation.
Things like sharing the Gospel with your coworker.
Things like sharing the Gospel with our spouse.
Things like sharing the Gospel with our neighbor.
Friends, this is easier said than done. We live in a world that tells us to value anything but our Savior.
Best case it’s confusing, worst case – soul damning.
But tonight’s message is that Jesus values you.
More than His own life.
And you will have eternal life. 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 Christmas I took a car ride with my family up in WI. When you go home to family, sometimes you assume the role that you did back when you were younger. Meaning that, on the car trip, I was relegated to the back seat next to my 2-year-old niece named Harper.
And she wanted to watch the Cookie Monster, “C is for Cookie” video on her mom/my sister’s phone. So, my sister passed it back to me and I thought I’d set it up.
I pressed what I thought was the YouTube button.
The screen stalled.
I tried to get to the settings.
It remained stalled.
I swiped up and swiped right.
I was stuck on a screen of death.
I said, “I think I broke your phone.”
I said to Harper, “I don’t think you’ll be able to watch Cookie Monster.”
I held up the frozen screen, “See? It’s stuck.”
Harper shook her head.
She grabbed the phone from me.
Touched a few buttons.
Cookie Monster Video.
Sometimes you can learn from a kid.
Whether that kids is 12, 6 or 2 years old, sometimes you can learn from a kid.
Maybe you’ve had a similar experience – especially with technology or Paw Patrol character names.
But…what about theology?
What about the deep mysterious things about our relationship with the Almighty, All Holy, divine, eternal God?
That’s probably NOT a kid thing…
At Jesus’ time, the religious elite did not think they could learn anything from little kids.
They didn’t think they could learn anything from common folk.
They thought a relationship with God is something that only the best of us (and you probably aren’t the best of us) could accomplish.
They believed in ascetic morality. “I have studied the amount of beard hair necessary to properly please God and I have grown my facial follicles accordingly. Trimming them each at exactly 30 cm – the number of holiness.”
They believed in exponential giving. “Here is my 10% tithe of cash for the church. And here is my 10% gift of seasonal spices – cumin, dill, nutmeg. And here’s 10% of the nutmeg that I bought down at Food Lion. And here’s 10% of the candy cane that my toddler was just licking.”
They believed in master-level scholarship. “I got straight A’s in Hebrew school, studied under Professor Gamaliel, and have been a part of the synagogue’s Torah reading club for 20 years! I think I just barely have enough knowledge for God to kind of like me. You? A plumber? Hmm…Well…I’ll pray for you…”
Essentially, they believed that a relationship with God is something that only the best of the best, the top of the top, the most impressive of the most impressive could ever hope to obtain at the end of an 80 plus year life of impressiveness!
But Jesus spoke differently. He said:
I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden the things of God from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. (Mt. 11:25)
As in, God didn’t make His message some kind of Mensa level puzzle.
As in, God doesn’t need you to buy his love with a Fortune 500 stock investment.
As in, God doesn’t reveal himself ONLY to hermits, who live on some snow mountain in the Himalayas, sipping green tea, fasting, and meditating within himself to remove all sinful urges.
God reveals himself in a message so simple that children can understand it.
A while back one of my little friends was having a hard time with some of his friends. He had knocked down a block tower, called the teacher “stupid” and hit an assistant.
I asked him to calm down and when he did, we talked about how what he did was wrong. And God didn’t like it when we hurt other people that he had made.
And my little friend got very sad. Lip quivering. Tears in his eyes.
And I said to him, “But do you remember what that thing is on the wall?”
His eyes perked up immediately:
“And who was on it?”
A smile formed on his face: “Jesus.”
And what did he take away on the cross?”
He lifted his hands in the air: “Our sins!”
I said, “That means Jesus forgives you. I forgive you. And…”
He interrupted: “And God loves me.”
He was absolutely right.
But here’s the thing: I have sat in the counseling office with adults. Grown men and women – learned men and women – long time Christian men and woman -- who have confessed their sins to me – who have struggled with guilt and shame – who have been in tears over the things that they have done wrong…
And I have asked: What’s that thing on the wall there?
That’s a cross, but…that doesn’t help me?
Sure He’s the Savior…but Pastor do you realize how bad what I did was?
Pastor…I just don’t know if I believe it. Do you have a list of things I can do to make up for it?
Just because a child says it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
Just because a child says it doesn’t mean it isn’t DIVINE truth.
And here’s the divine truth – that those little children are about to teach us:
God looked down from heaven.
God saw our sins.
God sent His Son Jesus to be born as a human.
To live perfectly.
To die innocently.
To rise from the dead triumphantly.
To give us the absolute, complete forgiveness of sins.
And then…because God wanted us to have forgiveness and a peace filled eternal relationship with Him so badly…God made his message so simple, so divinely accessible that even a child could know it.
Even a child could teach it.
Even a child could preach it.
That is what is about to happen.
With the kids' program, you’ll probably see a couple things.
You’ll probably see a few kids cry.
You’ll probably see a few kids fidget.
You’ll probably see one kid in the back wave to his whole family.
It’ll probably be a bit off key.
It’ll sometimes be too quiet; it’ll sometimes be too loud.
It’ll probably be very, very cute.
It’ll also be true.
It’ll also be divine.
It will also be life changing.
It’ll also be eternal life giving.
Listen to them.
Because you can learn something from kids.
And today… you must learn something from them.
This isn’t just a kids’ message…
It’s God’s message.
Today we are continuing our series called The Kingdom of God is like… and hearing yet another parable from Jesus about the kingdom of God. Remember, a parable is an earthly story that tells about the kingdom of God. We’ve heard two – both centered around farming.
We’ve heard so far…
…The Kingdom of God is like a farmer sowing seed – it lands on a lot of different soil types and has a lot of different results; just as God’s Word falls on lots of different heart types and has a lot of different results.
…The Kingdom of God is like a growing seed – the seed grows with repetitive, repeated, faithful, and persistent care; just as the seed of faith grows with repetitive, repeated, faithful and persistent use of God’s Word.
Today we are adding yet another farming parable to our list of Jesus’ parables and it’s going to teach us yet another facet of God’s kingdom. Before we begin, let’s pray: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story of the Mustard Seed
The parable is taken from Mark 4 which is the same chapter that the last two parables are from. So, it’s quite likely that Jesus tells it as a follow up to the other two parables that we mentioned before.
I love Jesus’ opening introduction to the parable in verse 30:
Again Jesus said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?”
You kind of get the impression that the disciples need some help.
They sat through two parables of Jesus – two teachings about the kingdom of God.
The first one they were confused about.
After the second one, didn’t seem to help much.
They must have been a lot of blank stares.
And now Jesus, the omniscient, Lord of heaven and earth, is trying to explain the divinely complete and eternally developed kingdom of God to these temporal, finite, and much simpler humans.
It’s kind of like trying to give directions to someone who doesn’t really know the area. Has that ever happened to you? Maybe you’re trying to get them to church. You tell them:
Head south on Falls of Neuse until you get to Newton Rd. Turn left and then it’ll be the little brown church to the right.
Do you know where Ravenscroft is? The library? It’s in that general vicinity.
Scratching their heads.
Go to the Han Dee Hugo Station. Turn left. Go 2500 feet. Turn left into the Parking lot with the sign for Gethsemane Lutheran Church.
SIGH. Just take my GPS.
Jesus shares that frustration. Trying to teach the things of God to puny minded humans beings.
So he says…
The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. (v.31)
If you wanted a BIG plant to grow in your garden, how big a seed would you need to plant?
The bigger the seed; the bigger the plant, right?
A sunflower seed.
A pumpkin seed.
An avocado pit.
They’re pretty big in the world of seeds; they must produce big plants. It makes sense.
What about a mustard seed?
Have you ever seen one of those? (Think of the Grey Poupon Mustard jar.) They are super tiny and barely visible if I held one up for you in the front of church.
In fact, it’s so tiny – that if I planted it – and if anything grew from it – I’d expect it to be a tiny, little grass sprout.
When planted, the seed grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade. (v.32)
It’s bigger than a sunflower.
Bigger than a pumpkin plant.
Bigger than an avocado bush.
It’s basically a tree. About 6, 7, 8 foot high.
Big enough that birds land in its branch.
All of that happens from this little seed.
Such a small, insignificant seed leads to an incredibly significant plant!
II. False Expectations
What’s the point of Jesus’ story?
Is Jesus just a really big fan of mustard?
Should we all go to Food Lion and grab a yellow, squeezable bottle of French’s mustard to put in the offering plate next Sunday?
Remember – a parable is an earthly story that teaches us about the kingdom of God.
Think about it…
What is God trying to teach us about His kingdom?
This past Monday at 9:30am I went to a local retirement home. It’s something that I’ve been doing for about 5 years now. I head to the home. I do an acapella, communion-less version of today’s service. I tell the people there about Jesus.
To be fair – when we first started, they put me on in the big living room area. And…I’m pretty loud. It wasn’t hard to get people’s attention. There was plenty of room. Usually we’d gather together about 20 some people to worship Jesus on a given Monday.
Recently they relocated me to a much smaller side room because some thought I was a bit of a distraction.
Recently the Lifestyle Coordinator that I worked with was replaced with a new coordinator.
Recently that side room has become a storage room of sorts - scrunching the chairs and causing us to lose space to Thanksgiving decorations.
This past Monday morning...there was one lady who joined me for worship.
It wasn’t the one who shouts “Amen.”
It wasn’t the one who sings along.
It wasn’t the one who nods at key points of the sermon.
It was the one who falls asleep about 3 minutes in.
I will not lie. I started to think:
What’s the point?
Why be here?
It isn’t anything BIG.
It isn’t anything SIGNIFICANT.
This can’t be the work of God because it isn’t BIG and SIGNIFCANT enough!
You ever thought like that? Have you ever thought…
Why am I attending this INSIGNIFICANT church service? It’s not even Christmas Eve. It’s some random service in October.
Why am I telling my kids this INSIGNIFCANT Bible story? They don’t even look like they’re listening.
Why am I making this INSIGNIFICANT invite to worship? My friend couldn’t care less.
Why am I prepping for this INSIGNIFCANT Sunday School class? There’ll be, what, 2 kids here?
Why would I have my child baptized? It’s an INSIGNIFICANT splash of water. What could it possibly do!
Friends, we are buying into a LIE.
Work in God’s Kingdom needs to SEEM SIGNIFICANT or it will BE INSIGNIFICANT.
The lie suddenly becomes:
Every time I share the message of Jesus; it needs to be greeted with SHOUTS of joy or it was worthless…
Each worship service needs strobe lights and smoke machines or it’s not really work in God’s kingdom.
Each Bible passage on Facebooks need to go viral or it will be utterly worthless.
Each time I teach kids, I need about 30 of them, lined up – like soldiers – listening to my words like the kids from Sound of Music or I might as well quit trying.
Careful. You’re listening to The Lie.
And it’s most dangerous when it comes to personally connecting with God.
Because we think:
I need to go to climb some mountain, in some freezing Antarctic culture and find a Sherpa on the very summit. That’s SIGNIFICANT and that’s connecting with God.
I need to go to some forest, deep in the jungle, to find a TEMPLE OF DOOM and an ancient artifact that will solve God for me. That’s SIGNIFICANT. That’s the way to God.
I need to spend hours in a laboratory, dissecting, experimenting, and divulging in order to unlock the secret God particle. That would be SIGNIFICANT and that would be the way to Him.
I need to give thousands of dollars to some charity to get my name on one of their plaques to ensure that God might like me. That’s SIGNIFICANT and maybe then God would pay attention to me!
We envision these grandiose ideals on how to connect with God, when God has simply, clearly made himself absolutely accessible through something seemingly insignificant.
Friends, if this what you believe -
That’s God’s Kingdom only shows up in the SEEMINGLY SIGNIFICANT.
In the BIG Seed.
In the FLASHING LIGHTS seed.
In the ABSOLUTELY IMPRESSIVE seed…
You are in danger of missing it altogether.
III. The Unexpected Reality
Like many of the people at Jesus’ time…
They expected the Savior to be look like someone SIGNIFICANT.
Like a king coming from a beautiful palace.
Like some soldier with a giant sword.
Like a general with a myriad of soldiers behind him.
Like an activist enacting visibly massive political upheaval.
But that’s not what they saw in Jesus.
Instead of a beautiful palace, he came from a feeding trough in some dilapidated barn.
Instead of a giant sword, he swung a carpenter’s hammer.
Instead of a myriad of soldiers, he had 12 disciples – 4 fishermen, an accountant, a political activist, a betrayer and 5 guys whose jobs were so insignificant they aren’t even written down in Scripture.
Instead of massive visual political upheaval, thee enacted invisible personal, spiritual change.
Even in his death – He seemed insignificant!
He didn’t die fighting a dragon.
He wasn’t fending off some super villain.
He didn’t go in some epic explosion.
He hung on a cross.
Where many common criminals hung before.
Where many common criminals hung after.
Jesus’ LIFE seem insignificant, but there is no LIFE more eternally important.
Because with his death he removed all of your sins.
With his blood he removed all of your guilt.
With his resurrection he declared heaven to be yours!
It might look common.
It might seem insignificant.
It might seem like a mustard seed of a teaching.
But belief in Jesus leads to a mustard plant like growth into the Kingdom of God itself.
If Jesus’ LIFE seemed insignificant, but there is no life more eternally important…
Jesus WORK might seem insignificant, but there is no WORK more eternally important.
That insignificant looking church service, can reinvigorate and replenish your faith in the Savior.
That insignificant looking Bible story – can fill your kids with trust in their Savior.
That insignificant invite to worship, might be one of a series of calls from God to bring that person to His kingdom.
That insignificant looking Sunday School class, could strengthen the faith of a future SS teacher who will continue to multiply God’s kingdom long after your gone.
Those insignificant looking drops of water, wash away sin and bring you into God’s eternal kingdom.
That insignificant looking, off-key acapella worship service in that stuffy, back storage room with only one person in attendance…might strengthen that person’s faith just enough to bring them home to heaven.
Like an insignificant looking mustard seed, God’s kingdom grows into the most eternally significant.
IV. What Now?
1. Do the Seemingly Insignificant
Work on memorizing Scripture.
Sing “Jesus Loves Me” with your kids.
Bring your kids to worship – even when they don’t want to.
Bring yourself to worship – even when it’s not a celebration Sunday.
Tell a coworker about Jesus – even if it’s not some incredible doctrinal statement.
Do the seemingly insignificant work this week and you will be doing the eternal important work of God’s kingdom.
And it’s not just personal…
When you’re leaving today, look behind across the parking lot. There’s an incredible new ministry center out there with an incredible ability to Plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh.
To be fair – it looks SIGNIFICANT.
But the work surrounding it – hasn’t always been…
Phone calls on hold to subcontractors.
Emails typed to potential parents.
Fixing the little tiny door latch for the cabinet in the janitor’s closet.
On its own, the work seemed insignificant.
Keep doing the insignificant when that opens.
Spend an extra minute talking to a parent about their life.
Add a dollar to the offering plate.
Paint a wall in the Fellowship Hall.
Do the Seemingly Insignificant work of God’s kingdom because there is nothing of more eternal significance.
2. Remember the Eternal Significance
Segue with me.
To something that isn’t a parable.
Segue with me.
To something that is a glimpse into the future.
Segue with me.
To the reality of heaven itself – the ultimate goal of God’s kingdom.
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9, 10, 13, 14)
Look at that multitude.
Look at those people.
It’s eternally significant.
If you look closely enough you might see…
There’s that person that you shared that seemingly insignificant Bible verse with.
There’s your neighbor that you shared a seemingly insignificant church invitation with.
There’s your child that you shared a seemingly insignificant 5-minute Bible story with.
You can't say for sure, so we must keep sharing God's Word. It's important!
The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed…
The work can look insignificant, but there is no work of more eternal significance.
Last week we started a new series called “The Kingdom of God is like…” It’s a series in which Jesus himself, the expert in the Kingdom of God, teaches us all about God’s kingdom through parables. A parable is a short earthly story that teaches about the Kingdom of God.
Last week’s parable taught there are many different reactions to the Gospel message. Some instantly reject it. Some quickly grow faith and quickly lose faith. Some have faith for a long time, but then worries and wealth choke out their faith. Some believe, grow, and reproduce – planting Gospel seeds in the hearts of others.
If you were listening last week, maybe you started thinking…
How do I make sure that every soil is like the good soil?
How do I ensure that everyone I tell about Jesus believes in him?
Afterall, Christianity has been around for over 2,000 years.
There have been a lot of smart Christians.
Surely, someone must have come up with some kind of identifiable, outlinable process to growing faith in someone’s heart with 100% accuracy!
It’s kind of like HelloFresh. Have any of you tried it? They send you recipes for a meal, all of the ingredients for the meal, and the exact amount of each ingredient for the meal. It’s broken down in such a simple, step by step process that even people like me (who previously were only really good at making Pop Tarts) able to cook Chicken Cordon Bleu w/ braised Asparagus.
And it’s edible.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was something like that for sharing Jesus?
Something with 100%, all the time, positive results.
Today we are looking at a second parable from Mark 4. It shares with us the secret to planting seed in the kingdom of God. 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. How to Grow a Seed
The parable is from Mark 4:26. That’s the same chapter we were in last time. That means Jesus told it to his disciples shortly after telling them about the 4 different types of ways that the seed would grow.
Perhaps they were wondering the same thing we wondered earlier: Jesus, how can we ensure that all the plants grow!?! Give us some kind of a Ten Step Process.
Jesus gives them the answer.
With another parable:
This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.
Sound familiar? That’s almost the exact same thing as the previous parable.
Only instead of a farmer sowing seed, it’s just a man sowing seed.
And instead of focusing on the various result, it’s focusing on the process involved with achieving the desired result:
Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. (v.27)
Focus in on what the man is up to. He is not always sowing.
Sometimes he’s sleeping.
Sometimes he’s awake.
Sometimes he’s eating a hearty sower breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage and a bowl of hot grits with a slice of butter melting from the top down.
Sometimes he’s reading his copy of Farmer’s Digest magazine.
Sometimes he’s watching HGTV.
Sometimes he’s on Facebook marketplace looking for a good deal on a pair of coveralls.
To be fair, in the midst of this – he takes time to plant, time to water, time to weed, time to add fertilizer.
He absolutely tends to the plants.
But…for a long time, nothing seems to be growing!
Nothing seems to be happening.
It’s just a pile of dirt with a stick and the seed packet over the top of it – so he doesn’t forget where he planted.
After many days.
After many nights.
There is a plant.
And when he’s excitedly talking to his spouse that night he tells her:
It grew! And I don’t know how.
I don’t know if it was the watering.
Or the fertilizer.
Or playing my Weird Al hitlist on Pandora for it.
I don’t know exactly what happened to make it grow, but…it grew.
God made it grow.
Here’s the first key truth of the parable:
The secret to faith growing is that there’s no secret!
There’s no special phrase to say.
No special Kool Aid to drink.
No special pressure point you need to push to make faith grow.
Faith grows from using God’s Word.
It’s no secret.
It’s simple, everyday use of God’s Word.
That’s really important to remember.
Because sometimes, we get the sense that we need to concoct the perfect scenario to grow faith in someone’s heart.
The coffee needs to be bold.
The signage needs to be exquisite.
The ushers need to be on point.
The band needs to be well rehearsed.
The sermon needs to be energetic.
And the call to faith afterwards needs to be dramatic and it needs to happen in about 3 minutes or less -- or faith will fade.
And we should probably add a smoke machine and fireworks just to help their faith grow.
Don’t get me wrong. Those things are fine. (Some of those things are fine) They might even be good. We want to do our best for God.
But what those things don’t create faith.
God’s Word creates faith.
Because remember – God’s Word is the seed.
The seed contains all the power within it to grow!
When it didn’t grow in last week’s parable, the problem was never the seed. It was the soil.
When faith doesn’t grow in someone’s heart, the problem isn’t God’s Word – it’s the heart.
Therefore - the secret to the growing faith is faithful use of God’s Word.
It’s reading a passage from the Bible to your kids.
It’s typing a few words from the sermon on Facebook.
It’s telling a friend that Jesus is their Savior.
It’s texting your cousin a message from the Psalms.
It’s inviting your friend to join us for worship for Pentecost 21.
The mysterious secret to growing faith is found in the common, everyday use of God’s Word.
And while that might seem common…
It is far from it.
Because constant reminder of God’s forgiveness melts the disgusting guilt of sin away.
The simple melody of Jesus Loves Me may chase away the devil himself.
The ums and the ahs of a mediocre sermon – becomes the powerful, booming, authoritative voice of God himself declaring YOU. To. Be. His Child.
Keep planting God’s word in common, everyday ways and God’s Word will work to grow faith.
II. The Sprout Timeline
Next question: How long you need to do it?
I remember Miracle Gro. Do any of you? Its claim was that you toss one little thing of Miracle Grow into your watering can and it would immediately and efficiently cause your plants to grow. All it took was one application and soon you would be on your way to a prize-winning pumpkin!’
How long does it take to grow faith? Check out verse 27 again: Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. (v.27)
Notice there’s no time frame on how long he cares for the seed.
37 some odd years trying to get something to grow in that soil?
It’s indefinite, because the answer is indefinite.
Faith growing might take a day.
37 some odd years.
I’ll just go ahead and say I’ve witnessed this firsthand.
There have been people like Rebecca. We met. I got them into Bible Basics. I shared the Gospel. It took 1, maybe 2 plantings and faith grew.
Then, there are people like Eliza. We met. I, and the PL teachers, spent a year sharing Jesus with their kids. Then, the kids helped share Jesus with the parents. Then, there was another year of it. Then, a third year of it. Then a 4th year of it. Then, sometime around year 5 of it, I was able to get her into Bible Basics – Share faith, get her to church, wait another couple of months of that happening until finally: A plant of faith.
Do you understand the take home? It’s easy to get discouraged. Easy to think that faith is never going to grow. Easy to doubt that your attempts at sharing Jesus with your kid, your friend, your spouse will never work.
But the truth is:
The Timeline of faith growing is indefinite.
It’s different for different people.
You don’t stop sharing God’s Word with your spouse because I’ve been doing it for so long. It probably won’t work.
You don’t stop inviting your friend, because I’ve been doing it for so long...it probably won’t work.
You don’t stop telling your coworker about Jesus because I’ve been done that twice. If it hasn’t worked now, it won’t work ever.
If the person you want to share Jesus with is still alive, there’s still a chance for God’s Word to work.
If you think you should stop because they’ve kept telling you no, perhaps you’ve focusing too much on their reaction AND not enough on the powerful seed you have in your hand.
God’s powerful seed.
Share God’s Word.
III. The Rate of Faith Growth
One more thought.
Sometimes when someone comes to faith…
Sometimes when they confess their faith on a New Member Sunday…
I get super excited!
I think they are going to get so involved.
They’ll be here every weekend.
They’ll be fantastic givers.
They’ll be itching at every chance to get into God’s Word and do Bible Study.
That doesn’t happen.
And when that doesn’t happen, the temptation can be to say:
Fine then! Get out of this church.
Fine then! I’m taking your photo off the photo wall.
Fine then! Don’t expect me to keep after you; you’re on your own now!
But here’s the deal. Just as initial faith-growth is varied; so is maturing faith-growth. What I mean is that you the seed doesn’t get put into the ground and the next day you have an ear of corn stick straight out of the dirt. Nor do you get an apple popping out of an apple tree when it’s simply a twig on the ground.
There’s an order to growth. Check out verses 28-29:
All by itself the soil produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.
Again - the length of that growth can vary.
Oftentimes, it’s an issue with the soil.
It’s an issue with someone not getting into God’s Word.
But…when we are talking about other people -- Your job? It isn’t saying: “This thing isn’t growing as fast as I want. I’ll get out my garden hoe and dig it out of the ground.”
Your job is simply to tend to the plant with God’s Word.
It’s why you baptize your child, but then, you keep telling your kid about Jesus.
It’s why you bring your spouse to church once, but then you ask them to come again.
It’s why you get excited about the new believer getting connected to God's Word, but then you keep them connected to God’s Word.
But the endgame is the harvest.
It’s the end game of the apple lover. They plant the apple tree in order to taste that delicious bite of the first apple.
It’s the end game of the carrot lover. They plant the carrot plant in order to take a crunchy bite of that first carrot.
It’s the end game of the Brussels sprout lover. They plant the Brussels sprout bush in order to torture their children. No…because they want Brussels sprouts.
And that’s why God planted faith in you, he wants you to join him in heaven.
It’s why God grows faith through His Word he wants many in the harvest of heaven.
It’s why you will share your faith with those that you do, because you want them to share in the harvest of heaven.
Keep that in mind.
That’s the end game.
The Harvest of heaven. Amen.
Today we are starting a brand-new sermon series called “The Kingdom of God is Like…” It is all about the Kingdom of God. (Hence, the rainbow-ish, otherworldly colors in the logo) I’m excited because we are going to be learning about the kingdom of God from the foremost expert in the Kingdom of God.
No, I’m not talking about myself.
I’m not talking about some scholar at Duke.
I’m not even talking about flying in some professor from the Seminary.
I’m talking about Jesus.
Because when it comes to the Kingdom of God, there is no one better to learn from than the One who came from God’s Kingdom.
He’s the “of God” in Kingdom of God.
He’s the foremost expert becomes He is the One who developed the concepts behind it.
So, what we’ll be doing is looking at 10 parts of Scripture where Jesus himself tells about the Kingdom of God.
10 sections of Scripture.
10 glimpses into the Kingdom of God.
Now because the Kingdom of God is such an otherworldly thing, I want to introduce you to a concept that we’re going to become very familiar with over the next 10 weeks. It’s something called a “Parable.” A parable is a short earthly story that teaches about the Kingdom of God.
It’s kind of like Aesop’s fables. Have you heard any of those? The Gnat and the Bull. The Puffed-up Frog. I think the most famous is the Ant and the Grasshopper.
The ant works hard; the grasshopper is lazy.
The ant carries some food; the grasshopper takes a nap.
The ant carries 10 times his body weight, back and forth, all day; the grasshopper gets to level 12 on Minecraft.
But…when winter comes, the ant has plenty of food; the grasshopper is starving.
The lesson? Do work.
Jesus’ parables are similar to Aesop’s fables in that they both use earthly elements to tell the story.
But the parables of Jesus are a bit different from Aesop’s Fables in this:
Aesop’s fables teach an earthly lesson.
Jesus’ parables teach a heavenly lesson – a spiritual lesson – an eternal lesson.
Today we are looking at a parable from Mark 4. It teaches us that the Kingdom of God is like a Sower. How? And what does it mean for you? We’ll examine that in a moment, but first 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 Story
The story that Jesus told his disciples starts in Mark 4:3. Jesus is teaching to a very large crowd. Sometimes to deal with the large crowds, Jesus taught at the top of the hill and the crowds sat at the bottom, looking up to see him. But on this particular occasion he was next to a lake, so…what Jesus does is pretty genius. He gets into a boat and casts out to sea -- it’s a floating pulpit of sorts so that all could see and hear him.
Granted, of the people that came to listen to Jesus, they came for different reasons.
Some thought he was a phony. Others were intrigued.
Some wanted to see a magic show. Others had fully devoted themselves to him – their Savior.
From his floating pulpit surrounded by crowds of people with varying opinions of him, Jesus said this:
“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed.”
Have you ever planted anything before? On a farm? In a garden?
If you’ve ever planted a lot of seed before, you know it can be time consuming. If you plant seed in a garden, you get on your hands and knees push the seed into the perfect part of the soil. But if you’ve had to get more seed into larger section of soil, you might use one of those little wheelie grass sower thingies. Know what I’m talking about? You fill it with seed, a propeller spins as you move, and it hurls out grass seed in all directions. Some of the seed that comes out will grow; other seeds will not.
Back at Jesus’ time, they didn’t have such incredible inventions as the little wheelie grass sower thingy. Instead, the one who needed to sow a lot of seed simply reach into a pouch and tossed the seed into the air.
The seed then landed in a lot of different places.
As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Maybe that path was concrete. Maybe it was gravel. Maybe it was just really, really hard from lots of travel. Regardless – when the seed fell on the hard ground – it didn’t stand a chance. The birds thought it was some kind of gourmet meal, descended onto the feast and ate up the seed.
And – well – seed doesn’t grow well inside the belly of a raven, so…
The seed didn’t grow.
Some fell on rocky places where it did not have much soil. (v.6) Thus the seed had a better chance than the seed that fell on the sidewalk. At least, there was some dirt for the roots to move through. In fact, because of the little rocks that were in the soil – the soil held water fairly well and the seed grew quickly. The moisture was trapped in the first ½ inch of dirt. The soaked seed grew quickly.
It’s the same thing that happens in the “wrap a seed in a wet paper towel and place it in a plastic baggy” experiment from Kindergarten. At first, the seed does well.
But – eventually little Jimmy forgets to add water to the towel.
And – the roots can’t make their way past the plastic bag.
So…the little plant runs out of water and dies.
And little Jimmy throws a fit.
The same principle applies in real gardening.
The rocks allow the water to fast track the seed.
The seed grows quickly while it’s raining.
But then…the sun gets hot, there’s no water and…
The plant dies.
The seed didn’t grow.
Other seed fell among thorns. (v.7)
Have you ever noticed that weeds don’t need to be watered?
Nobody ever says, “Scuse me. I need to go water the weeds so that they don’t die.”
Nobody ever buys a bag of “Miracle Thistle Grow” at Home Depot.
Nobody ever says, “I’m taking this can of poison to my Rose Bush so that the poison ivy will grow a bit better.”
Nobody wants weeds in their gardens because they take over.
They grow too big.
They sap the soil of nutrients, soak up all the water and block the sun from starting photosynthesis in our little plant.
Unfortunately, the seed that’s surrounded by weeds has the same thing happen.
It grows – it just doesn’t have a lot of fruit.
Maybe, one little rotten tomato – that’s about it.
The seed didn’t work like it was supposed to.
Still other seed fell on good soil; it came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times. (v.8)
Because sometimes, the seed works.
Sometimes the soil is soft enough.
Sometimes the roots can grow deep enough.
Sometimes the weeds are weeded enough and then...
The seed grows into a plant.
The plant grows into a mature plant.
The mature grows into a natural sower.
It plans seeds and produces a crop of thirty, sixty, even a hundred times what was originally sown.
I’ll tell you what – it’s amazing when this happens.
For instance, last year – we planted carrots. They grew – ish.
They were crooked, brown, and ugly. I pulled most of them because I figured it wasn’t worth it.
But this year – low and behold – a few more had sprouted. Planted, not by me, but by the ugly, brown carrots I had previously planted.
It’s amazing when a plant grows so well that it doesn’t planting all on its own.
And that’s what happens with the seed on the good soil.
It does what it’s supposed to.
Jesus finishes the parables and says: “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (v.9)
You’ve got ears.
I’ve got ears.
Let us hear us take to heart the parable.
II. The Truth about the Kingdom of God
But…what are we supposed to take to heart?
The challenges of farming?
That Jesus was a big Agricultural Enthusiast?
Remember: A parable is a short earthly story that teaches about the Kingdom of God. This is more than just an article for Better Homes and Gardens.
It’s talking about heaven.
It’s talking about the spiritual.
It’s talking about God’s kingdom.
To be fair, the disciples were confused, too.
They came to Jesus and asked him to explain it to them.
Thankfully – Mark wrote down Jesus’ explanation.
Let’s take it one seed at a time:
The farmer sows the word. (v.14) The seed is God’s message. The message that we are sinners. The message that we deserve God’s punishment. The message that we need a Savior. The message that we have a savior in Jesus. The message that Jesus died on the cross to take away all of our sins.
The farmer, then, is anyone who proclaims God’s Word.
a Preschool teacher.
A dad reading a dinnertime devotion.
A mom reading a bedtime Bible story.
A friend telling his coworker about what he believes.
The farmer is anyone who proclaims God’s Word. Because every time he speaks this message of Jesus – it’s as if that person is tossing seed onto the ground.
Think about that – every time you speak the message of Jesus, you are tossing seed onto the ground of someone’s hearts.
But what happens next?
(1) Hardened Rejection
(v.15) Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.
You met someone like this?
They want nothing to do with Jesus.
They tell you do change your cross screensaver at work.
They love not believing there is a God so much that they won’t even consider the fact that God might exist.
They are hardened in sin.
They are hardened in unbelief.
They are hardened in absolute, complete rejection of Jesus.
I had this happen recently. I posted one of those ads on social media that invited people to church to hear about forgiveness in Jesus.
And someone commented: “You stupid bleepity, bleep. This is a bunch of bleepity, bleep.”
(2) Quick to Grow, Quick to Fade
Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. (v.16-17)
And these types of people get on fire for God’s Word!
They love the message of Jesus.
They fly through Bible Basics.
Get their kids baptized.
They sign up for all the ways to serve.
They help on all the work days at church.
They tell all of their friends about Jesus!
…one of their friends…
Tells them to: Shut up. I don’t care about Jesus. And I can’t believe you believe that foolishness.
I didn’t know people could treat us like that.
I don’t like this.
If that’s what it means to be a Christian, maybe…
I stop serving.
I stop going to group.
I get rid of all Christian themes on Social media.
And I stop attending church. Don’t want Pastor to put a picture of me doing Christian stuff on Social media.
Quick to Grow; Quick to Fade.
(3) Choked by Worry and Wealth Weeds
Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. (v.19)
This type of person hears the word and believes.
Not just for a short time; for a while.
They might even be a longtime member of a church.
They have given lots of money.
They have their name on a plaque!
The boss offers a new job.
The new job takes more hours at work.
The new hours get more money.
The more money buys new things.
The longtime Christian thinks – “Boss wants me to work this Sunday? It’s ok. I will. It’s only one Sunday. I need the money.”
One Sunday becomes two Sundays.
Becomes – a complete and utter lack of faith.
The weeds of worry and wealth; choke the plant.
The faith stops bearing fruit.
(4) Grown and Multiplying
Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown. (v.20)
This type of person hears the word and believes.
And grows in faith.
And keeps growing in faith.
And bears fruit.
And becomes a sower, too.
A good plant.
III. What Now?
(1) Garden Your Own Heart
The first question that always pops into my mine when I read this is: What kind of soil am I?
What kind of soil are you?
A heart full of hardened rejection?
A heart that was quick to believe and now is quickly falling away?
A heart that is slowly being choked by worries and wealth?
Or are you the good soil on which faith is growing? And bearing fruit? And being a super impressive, gorgeous plant?
Except – if you are trusting that you’ve got a faith growing heart…Isn’t the plant that’s growing the plant of faith in one’s ability to grow faith?
Here’s the deal.
No matter what kind of heart you have and what kind of faith plant is growing in your heart – the solution is the same:
Therefore – What Now Number 1:
Garden Your Heart with God’s Word.
God’s Word softens hearts. Ezekiel 11:19 says, “I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
God’s Word removes obstacle rocks. Luke 3:5 says, “The rough ways will become smooth.”
God’s Word cuts weeds. Hebrews 4:12 says, “The Word of God is living and active; sharper than a double-edged sword.”
God’s Word causes faith to grow. Isaiah 55:9 says, “Like rain and snow that nourish the earth, so is God’s Word.”
In other words:
God’s Word softens our rejection.
God’s Word removes our doubts.
God’s Word grows deep roots.
God’s Word cuts down weeds.
God’s Word nourishes our faith plants so that they grow…
…and bear fruit.
…and become a sower.
(2) Expect Varied Results
I think this is the main point of Jesus’ parable -- When I plant seed (share God’s Word), what kind of response should I expect?
Because remember – Jesus is telling this is to the disciples. The disciples who – if you remember our ACTS Sermon series – planted all kinds of faith seed up and down the Middle Eastern coast as they shared God’s Word.
Some people believed.
Others? Threw stones at them until they were thought to be dead.
Jesus is preparing his disciples by telling them that the result will not always be great.
That their work will not always lead to a confession of faith.
That many times they share the Gospel will lead to nothing more than a Meh.
Think the same way.
Don’t expect awesome results all the time.
If you do, then, it’s so easy to get discouraged.
I know this as a pastor.
Honest truth – a lot of times people don’t follow through on Bible studies.
People don’t seem to listen to encouragements to get into God’s Word.
People don’t care much for the message of Jesus.
If I was expecting it to work all the time, then…I would have given up.
But Jesus tells us to expect various result.
Which means – it’s going exactly how he said it would.
And so…that leads to our final what now:
(3) Keep Sowing
Because just about the only thing that will ensure a plant never grows is if you never plant the seed.
And just about the only thing that will ensure a person never comes to faith is if you never tell them about Jesus.
Notice. Your job is simple.
It isn’t to convert a heart.
It isn’t to make faith grow.
It isn’t to make a faith blossom into a mature plant.
Your job is simply to plant the seed.
God’s job is to make it grow.
And God? He’s awesome at making faith grow.
The Kingdom of God is like a Sower.
Are you a part of the kingdom of God?
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.