This morning, we will begin our miracle series, by examining God’s incredible power of sickness. But before we do that, 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. Defining Miracle
I think it’s important to start a study on miracles by defining the word “miracle.” So, here it is:
A miracle is an occurrence outside the NATURAL laws of the Universe.
Because miracle can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. Over time, I think we’ve “dumbed down” the phrase.
For instance, we use it at childbirth. A baby is born and people post on Instagram: “Check out my child! #Miracle”
Is childbirth amazing? Yes. Is it a miracle though? Not really. That’s how God set up the universe.
We even use it in sports. “I can’t believe my favorite football team made the playoffs. It’s a miracle!” Might it have been impressive? Sure. But is it a miracle? Not so much.
But when the New Testament uses the word miracle it actually is talking about events that occur outside the natural order of things.
Seawater standing up like drywall? That’s not how water usually works.
A heavy rock wall tumbling because of trumpet noise? Not normal.
Three men being thrown into a fiery furnace and coming out unsinged? Let’s not test it.
A virgin giving birth to a child? Miracle.
In the New Testament, the number one miracle doer is Jesus.
But did you know that Jesus miracles aren’t often called miracles as much as they are called signs.
That’s interesting. Because a sign functions by pointing you in the right direction.
We have signs in our hallways that say “Restrooms” with a little arrow putting in a certain direction. The point of the sign? To direct you to the restrooms.
Even a traffic light. GREEN means “GO”, red means “STOP, and yellow means, “hurry up it’s about to turn red.”
Jesus’ miracles were SIGNS pointing people to his DIVINITY.
Think about it:
If God’s the one that set the laws of the universe into motion, then he is the only one able to act outside of those laws.
It’s like STAYING UP LATE. If the rule of your house is that kids need to be in bed by 9 pm, the kids need to go to bed, but the adult can stay up. (Granted, they might not. They might be in bed on the couch around 7:15 pm, but you get the point.)
Your kids can’t. You can. You set up the law; you can act outside of it.
Jesus acts outside of the laws of the universe set up by God, in all of his miracles.
Because he is God himself.
II. The Man with Leprosy
But it enough talking about it. Let me show you.
When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed him. Just then, a leper came to him and bowed down to him, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Mt. 8:1-2)
Notice. There are large crowds of people with Jesus. They had just heard Jesus give the Sermon on the Mount, a very famous sermon. They were all drawn in by Jesus’ speech and his ideas.
But someone that hadn’t made it up to the mountain was waiting as they came down.
He was a leper which means that he had the disease known as leprosy. It was a flesh-eating disease that slow dried out your cartilage and cause the tips of your fingers, your toes, your nose, and your ears to (brace yourself) fall off.
Leprosy was awful. Still is! If you want to know how awful, do a Google image search. (But not if you’re faint of heart.)
Besides being awful…
Leprosy was INCURABLE. This isn’t true anymore. There is a cure. But at the time, there weren’t any medicines, any acupuncture, any essential oil, any healthy diet, or any operation that anyone knew about in order to cure it. That means that if you were diagnosed with leprosy you had to quickly resign yourself to the fact that you would not be healed.
Leprosy was CONTAGIOUS. It was so contagious that if you were diagnosed with leprosy, you were sent into quarantine. Only the quarantine wasn’t a room in your house. You were sent outside the city walls, into the desert to live in what they called “leper colonies”.
Leprosy was FATAL. The end result, 100 percent of the time was death.
All these truths about leprosy left this man was without hope.
He had heard doctor after doctor tell him there was no cure.
He was alone, banished outside the city.
He knew what had happened to other friends – they died.
This meant -
He wouldn’t get to see his family again.
He wouldn’t get to hold his children again.
He wouldn’t get to kiss his wife again.
He wouldn’t feel better.
He wouldn’t regain strength.
He wouldn’t go back to his job.
He’d be by himself.
Outside the city walls.
Did you notice something about this man?
He approached Jesus with confidence.
He didn’t say: “If you are able…”
Or, “If you have the strength…”
Or, “If you have the right medicine…”
He said, “If you are willing…”
Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean.”
And after Jesus says that, there aren’t months of radiation.
There aren’t weeks of chemo.
There aren’t even 15 minutes to allow the medicine to take effect.
Jesus simply speaks and…
IMMEDIATELY he was healed of his leprosy.
And if you’re thinking, “That’s impossible.”
Remember – there’s a crowd of people present.
It wasn’t Jesus by himself.
There were hundreds of witnesses to this miracle.
Many who had undoubtedly seen that man sitting around outside the city gates day after day after day.
In fact, Jesus has professionals corroborate the healing. He tells him to “Go, show (himself) to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (v.4) The priests at this time were similar to doctors. They were able to pronounce people as diseased or not.
They were probably the same people who once told the man, “You are diseased, away from us!”
Now? They were saying to him, “You’re healed! Celebrate with us.”
And remember – while this is 2000 years after the fact, this book is not. These words that we are reading right now were written down at a time when the majority of the people who witnessed this would have still been alive.
Jesus is able to CURE the INCURABLE.
Here’s where this is important:
You might know someone who has been diagnosed with disease.
You may have been diagnosed with disease.
And internet articles might not give you a chance.
Social media anecdotes might not give you a chance.
Doctors might not give you a chance.
You have Jesus. And Jesus can cure the incurable.
Do you want a second instance of this? How about sin!?!
It’s CONTAGIOUS – passed down from parents to children.
It’s INCURABLE – nothing we can do will ever remove it.
It’s FATAL – “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)
But Jesus cured the incurable!
He lived perfectly when we couldn’t.
He died innocently on the cross.
He rose triumphantly and cured you of all sin, guilt and shame!
By faith in Jesus, you are forgiven.
Incurable guilt – CURED!
This means that whatever you’re dealing with, as long as you have Jesus, you have hope.
Because Jesus provides HOPE in any ILLNESS.
He cured the incurable disease of leprosy with his hand.
He cured the incurable disease of sin with his death.
There is nothing that Jesus can’t do.
There is no disease too incurable.
There is no disease too contagious.
There is no disease too fatal for Jesus.
III. The Centurion’s Servant
Word of this miracle got around.
In fact, it made its way outside the Jewish community to a Roman centurion whose servant was deathly ill.
He must have heard stories of Jesus.
Yet he had a lot working against him. In fact, I’m sure his advisors gave him a host of reasons not to waste his time:
“Jesus is Jewish. You’re Roman. There’s too big a racial divide. He won’t help you.”
“You’re a high ranking official. What will it look like for a Roman elite to go looking for help from a homeless carpenter?”
“You’re a sinner. From what I’ve heard, this man is a holy man. He won’t give you the time of day.”
For some reason…
He trusted Jesus.
And as he looked at his servant growing pale, soaked in sweat, and approaching death.
[the] centurion came to [Jesus] and pleaded with him, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed and suffering terribly.” (v.5)
Despite the racial difference…
Despite the social difference...
Despite the man’s sin…
Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” (v.6)
But the man, thought this was too much.
He was a high ranking official and he didn’t make house visits.
And Jesus was higher ranking than him.
He didn’t need to do a house visit.
And so, the high-ranking government official said, “Lord, I am not worthy for you to come under my roof.” I’m a sinful man. You’re holy. I don’t deserve anything from you.
But only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am also a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (v. 8-9)
You have authority too.
You tell diseases to leave and they do.
You tell health to return and it does.
You tell bodies to be healed and they listen, because you have authority over them.
When Jesus heard this, he marveled. He said to those who were following him, “Truly, I tell you: I have not found such great faith in anyone in Israel… Go. Let it be done for you as you have believed.” (v.10)
Here’s where it gets extra amazing.
Because when the man turned to leave, he made note of the position of the sun.
Maybe just to the right of the west of the cloud.
And when he returned home, he found the servant well.
But that’s not the amazing part.
After giving him a hug.
After doing the “happy dance.”
He asked one of the other servants.
When did this happen?
“At the time the sun was right to the west of the clouds! I remember. Because I was so excited, I ran outside to tell the others.”
Make no mistake.
This was a miracle.
This was Jesus.
Jesus provides HOPE even when he’s not VISIBLY PRESENT.
Because you won’t be able to see Jesus.
Look for Dr. Jesus.
He doesn’t work at Duke.
He doesn’t work at UNC.
He doesn’t work at Rex.
He doesn’t work at Wake Med.
He grants healing to those within those walls.
You can’t see Jesus.
But that doesn’t he isn’t with you.
And it doesn’t mean he won’t provide healing.
He’s all powerful. ‘
His power goes beyond physical, tangible presence.
Again – just like sin.
You and I weren’t physically there when Jesus died on the cross.
And yet Jesus didn’t have to come to 2020 in order to die in our physical presence.
His death and resurrection cross physical, temporal boundaries to bring healing and forgiveness.
His same healing power gives us hope in the face of illness.
IV. When Healing Doesn’t Happen
People die all the time from disease.
Some are even believers.
What’s the deal?
To answer that question – I want you to remember two significant things that these the two men in today’s accounts said.
(1) Lesson from the Centurion
Remember what the centurion said to Jesus?
“I’m not worthy…”
That’s a strange statement, because this centurion was a high ranking, Roman official.
He oversaw hundreds of soldiers. (Hence the name “Century-on”)
He had a good career.
Plenty of people who looked up to him.
And yet he didn’t say, “Jesus. I demand this, because I deserve it.”
He knew he was a sinner.
He knew he only deserved death.
He knew that any healing Jesus could grant was out of his mercy.
We need to remember the same thing.
I remember that I got sick for one of my birthday’s awhile back. And I thought….
“This isn’t fair! I work hard. I serve God. I serve God’s people. And now I get a day off to celebrate my birthday and I’m sick? God I deserve to be healed.”
Is that actually true?
Did I deserve healing?
Remember – the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.”
It’s easy to think:
I deserve healing.
I’ve done nice things.
I’ve been a good parent.
I’m worthy of being healed.
None of us are.
If God heals us physically, it’s not because we deserve it.
It’s because of his mercy.
But in God’s mercy is real hope.
Because unlike human ‘goodness’ which isn’t nearly as good as we think it is.
God’s mercy? Is a mercy that caused him to die on a cross for our sins.
Mercy that saved us to eternal life – where there won’t be any sickness.
And mercy that sometimes heals us from sickness.
(2) Lesson from the Leper
Remember what the leper said to Jesus?
“If you are willing…”
It wasn’t a question of whether healing was possible,
But whether it was God’s will.
In this man’s instance? It was.
But sometimes God’s will is that the sickness won’t be cured.
Is it because he loved that person less?
If you are suffering a sickness and you haven’t been healed yet, is it because God loves you less than the healthy?
He died on the cross for you.
He doesn’t love you less.
He loves you the same as those who are health.
In fact, it’s because of his LOVE combined with his incredible wisdom, that God sometimes allows a disease to run its course.
Sickness has a way of driving people towards Jesus.
Sickness can be God’s way of
Bringing you to faith…
Or strengthening your faith…
Or working through you to be a witness to our friends and family of our faith in Jesus.
Bringing you ultimate healing in heaven.
In heaven, there isn’t any leprosy.
In heaven, there isn’t any cancer.
In heaven, there isn’t any sickness.
In heaven, there is only health.
Last week we investigated the very first church meeting in the history of the church. The main outcome of that meeting was that grace means grace. Jewish believers couldn’t make a theological case for requiring non-Jewish believers to follow Jewish customs. Similarly, we shouldn’t make grace difficult for ourselves or others.
Grace means grace.
When the decision was finalized by all of the leadership, the next step was to make that decision known. Since this is the 1st century A.D., they couldn’t just tweet out their decision.
They needed to hand deliver the decision to the churches.
Paul and Barnabas volunteer to deliver the message. They figure while they’re doing that, they can also visit new places and do some more mission work (Acts 15:35)
So… they head home.
They pack up extra pairs of sandals.
They put on their fanny packs.
And meetup at the church to see if there’s any leftover outreach material that they can take with them.
Unfortunately, that’s where things go wrong.
Barnabas wants to bring along a young man named Mark. Mark had joined them in their first missionary journey, but halfway through, he deserted them.
As a result, Paul doesn’t trust Mark. He doesn’t want any wishy-washy folk on his mission trip. He figures that Mark will just do the same thing and won’t be a valuable partner.
Barnabas is more forgiving.
They part ways.
Which - it isn’t necessarily wrong to disagree.
It’s wrong to be jerks about disagreements.
And I’m sure that’s what the devil wanted to happen so that the message of the Savior never made it out of Antioch again!
But…you can see God’s hand in the midst of the disagreement because now there’s no longer one mission trip, but two.
Barnabas and Mark head to the island of Cyprus.
Paul and a believer named Silas head to the northern countries of Galatia.
The devil loses.
The kingdom is multiplied.
The Gospel is above all else.
The book of Acts focuses in on Paul’s journey. As it does, it introduces us to a young man named Timothy. He is the focus of our sermon today. Before we dive into his story, let us pray: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Timothy’s Story
Acts 16 says this, “Paul came to…Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek.” (Acts 16:1)
Lystra was one of the cities that Paul visited on his first missionary journey. (Acts 14) If you remember, that’s the place where God worked a miracle through Paul and Barnabas in order to heal a man who had been lame from birth. As a result, many of the people started to worship…Paul and Barnabas. When Paul told them to stop, they tried to murder them by tossing stones at their heads.
Timothy was probably not a part of that.
He was one of the few that believed what Paul said about Jesus being the promised Savior.
In fact, Timothy had a mother who was a believer. He had been raised by his mother to know the promise of the Messiah.
His mother took him to their version of Sunday School.
His mother read him stories about Creation, Noah’s Ark, and the parting of the Red Sea.
He probably did some finger paint art of David defeating the giant goliath.
As he got older, he got involved: ushering, saying hi, making the coffee!
And when Paul came to town teaching that Jesus was the Messiah…
He examined the Old Testament prophecies.
He examined Paul’s teaching about Jesus’ life.
He listened to Paul’s eyewitness account of the Resurrection.
And he changed his faith in the coming Messiah into faith in the Messiah who had just come.
And quickly he became a well-liked leader in the church, even as a young person…
The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. (16:2)
Notice those aren’t just the people in Lystra, but the people in the neighboring church of Iconium as well.
Maybe he attended worship in Iconium when he was on vacation.
Maybe he helped the people of Iconium run a Vacation Bible School.
Maybe he ran a young person’s small group somewhere between the two cities.
Maybe he played church softball where he crushed a few home runs but was Christ-filled and polite while he did so.
Timothy’s faith was evident in all that he did.
Such that Paul wanted to take him along on his journey…(16:3) But the issue was that Timothy wasn’t circumcised.
Now, you might be thinking: Why is this a big deal? Wasn’t the whole point of the Jerusalem meeting that we talked about last week – that Jewish traditions were not a requirement for grace?
Remember – the meeting in Jerusalem had a lot of discussion.
It had a lot of disagreement.
It was challenging for the leaders of the church to accept that their longstanding Jewish traditions weren’t needed.
If the leadership had a hard time with it, what about the average laymen?
It might be similar to you having a bunch of tattoos up and down your arms. One with a big old heart that says “Mom.” You believe in Jesus, but you know that if you head to the local retirement home people might not want to listen to anything you have to say if they see tattoos on your arms.
Rather than have them miss the Gospel of Jesus…you wear a turtleneck.
That’s the same thing Paul is thinking. Rather than have groups of dissenters following and jeering them as “uncircumcised heathen,” Paul said: “Maybe…it’d be wise if…you were circumcised.”
And you know what? Timothy didn’t hesitate.
Even though he didn’t have to, Timothy was willing to be circumcised in order to remove any obstacles to sharing the Gospel.
That’s amazing faith!
That’s a mature faith.
That’s putting the Gospel above all else.
Paul takes Timothy along. As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reach by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers. (16:4-5) Timothy proves himself so mature that he works with Paul throughout the 2nd and 3rd missionary journeys. Paul even trusts him enough to go to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:2), to go Macedonia (Acts 19:22), and to Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:17). Ultimately, it culminates in Timothy being the pastor assigned to the church in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3)
Talk about impressive.
Timothy is the kind of guy living a faith that any Christian parent would want for their children.
That any believer would want for themselves.
II. Lessons from Timothy
How did Timothy do it?
How did he get to such a strong faith?
Maybe you’re wondering:
What does Timothy have that I don’t have?
There’s no Heirloom Greater than Jesus
Take a look at what Paul wrote to Timothy, many years later when he was that pastor in Ephesus:
I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. (2 Tim. 1:5)
Have you ever seen Antiques Roadshow? It’s probably the best show to come out of PBS since Mister Rogers. It’s a reality show in which people bring their antiques, heirlooms, and collectables to a panel of experts who examine their piece and give them an estimated value of what their item would bring in an auction. Sometimes it’s more than they expect. Sometimes…a lot less.
There was a woman on their recently named Rose. She brought along a painting that had been in her grandmother’s toy room for years. She had always played by it. She had conversed right under it. She had seen that painting in her grandmother’s room for her decades.
When her grandmother died, the family was rummaging through some of her things and came across the painting. Rose said that she would take it because it gave her fond memories of grandma.
She put it up in her attic. She didn’t even hang it up.
But one day as she was cleaning in the attic, she noticed a mosquito on the painting. She swatted at it and as her hand hit the painting she noticed that she could feel the texture of the paint. It wasn’t a copy, but an original. She took it to Antiques roadshow to get it appraised.
How much? Close to $300,000.
Friends: There is no greater heirloom than Jesus.
That’s the heirloom that was passed down in Timothy’s family
From his Grandma Lois
To his mother Eunice.
Friends, you have been given the same heirloom.
Maybe it isn’t from a Grandma Lois or a mother Eunice…
Maybe it’s from an aunt, an uncle, a friend, or a coworker.
Regardless, understand this:
(1) There is no greater heirloom than Jesus.
Because no other heirloom brings peace with God.
No other heirloom brings forgiveness of sins.
No other heirloom wipes out guilt.
No other heirloom defeats evil.
No other heirloom conquers death.
No other heirloom gives eternal life.
Only Jesus can and does.
(2) Fan into Flame
This is a priceless heirloom.
One that needs to be cared for.
That’s the whole point of the next verse: Fan into flame the gift given to you by the laying on of hands. (2 Timothy 1:6)
Do you understand that reference? Air is necessary for a flame to grow. It’s why when you’ve got a pile of charcoal and it appears to be going out, you open up the lid of the grill, blow on the embers and they come back to life. In the past, they even had this big accordion-like thing that would blow air on the fire when you pushed it together. It was a safer option than get your face right next to the glowing hot rocks.
Paul reminds Timothy to keep fanning into flame the gift he’s been given.
And what gift was that? Two scholarly options and both are theologically sound.
First of all, the gift of faith. That’s the gift that we share with Timothy. When you come to faith in Jesus, it’s as if a single flame has been lit in the fireplace of your heart.
But if you don’t feed that flame, if you don’t tend to it.…eventually it goes out.
And, dear brother and sisters, if you don’t fan your faith into flame with the truth of God’s Word, it will fade away.
If you stay away from worship…faith grows dimmer.
If you stop reading your Bible…the flame starts to flicker.
If you drop out of your group study…the flame becomes a lone ember.
If you remove yourself from Jesus…the flame may go out.
When the gentle message of God’s Word comes to your heart again…
When you study God’s Word…
When you get into a Bible group…
When you hear God’s promises of his love.
When you meditate on the truth of his sacrifice.
When you worship and contemplate the words of praise.
That single flame?
Becomes a roaring fire.
A Timothy-like fire.
Stoked and ready to serve in His kingdom.
Want to be like Timothy? Fan that faith flame with God’s Word.
But the gift may also be a reference to the gift of talent. In fact, Paul reference the “Laying on of hands,” which literally means, “laying on hands.” It’s something that the early Apostles did as a way to confer special gifts on members of the church.
Timothy had special gifts! He was a pastor. He was outgoing. He was smart. He was patient. He was gifted with the skills to be a pastor.
You might not have pastor gifts.
But you have some kind of gifts.
Kid care skills.
Flower planting skills.
Whatever skill you have been given…
Recognize it’s a gift from God;
Put it to work in God’s kingdom.
And fan it into flame.
There’s a woman at the retirement home that I serve who loves coloring. Every day I make it there for Bible study; she’s working on coloring pictures. I asked her if she enjoyed doing it and she said that she did. She said that she colors because it’s a way that she can give thanks to God – even if it’s more difficult for her to do much else. And then…she said that she was practicing because she wanted to get better at color choices and shading so that she might give glory to God through her artwork.
Friends, that’s fanning the flame…
For God’s glory.
(3) Be Bold
Because it could be easy to be intimidated by all of this Jesus stuff.
It would easy for Timothy to feel unqualified or inadequate.
To feel uneducated.
To feel nervous, anxious and frightened.
He might be tempted to be timid.
And you might be, too.
But look at what Paul reminds Timothy that is also a reminder to you:
“The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power…” (2 Timothy 1:7)
The Spirit of God is not timid.
He made flames appear on the heads of his disciples.
The Spirit of God is not timid.
He roared like a tornado without an actual tornado.
The Spirit of God is not timid.
He gave the disciples the ability to speak in languages they have never learned.
The Spirit of God is not timid.
He worked through fishermen, accountants, political activists…and even a young boy like Timothy to spread the message of the Gospel.
And that same Spirit will work through you.
Will be with you.
Will guide you as you serve in his kingdom.
(4) Be Loving
Because if the Spirit were only powerful…well…
Suddenly evangelism isn’t about winning souls.
Suddenly evangelism is about winning…
Maybe you’ve seen this in action.
Christians head to online forums, find a blog, and spending all day trying to give them spiritual complexes with God’s Word in order to prove that I am godlier than they are!
It’s as if we view God’s Word like a chair that we’re slamming onto someone’s head in order to stand over them in superiority.
But God didn’t just give us a spirit of power. He gave us a spirit of love. (2 Timothy 1:7)
He didn’t crush us with God’s law, but crushed sin with the Gospel.
He didn’t dominate sinners, but saved sinners from domination.
He didn’t destroy us for our sins, he destroyed our sins for us.
We do the same.
Empowered by God.
Loved by God.
We speak boldly.
But we speak lovingly.
We remember the goal isn’t “to win,” but “to save souls from eternal hellfire.”
(5) Be Disciplined
That was Paul’s whole point to Timothy. It was his main reason for writing to him.
Even though he was no longer a rookie…
Even though he was now a long-time pastor…
Even though he was a veteran of faith…
Paul’s main directive to Timothy was to be disciplined.
Because God didn’t give us a spirit of timidity…but a spirit…of self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7)
Part of preparation for youth confirmation is memory work.
Memorizing truths about God’s Word.
It may not have always been easy.
It may not have always been fun.
It may not have always been something you looked forward to.
But that’s being disciplined.
That’s taking the truth that God loves you.
And taking it from the page.
Planting it into your brain.
Guiding it into your heart.
When you kids bully you and you feel unloved, you remember: “God so loved the world (me) that he gave his one and only Son (for me) that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
When you feel confused about what path to take in the future, you remember: “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
When you are tempted by friends to do things that you’ll regret for the rest of your life, you remember: “You are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the Light.” (Ephesians 5:8)
When you are in college, alone, as if no one will be there for you: Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)
So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus…(2 Timothy 1:8-10)
Do you remember at the beginning we talked about the heirloom of eternity that has been given to you.
We said it goes back to your parents.
Even to your grandparents.
But here…we’re reminded it goes farther.
It goes back to the beginning.
It goes back to before the beginning.
The heirloom of eternity comes from before eternity.
Brothers and sisters…
Cherish that heirloom.
Fan your faith into flame.
Until God confirms your faith eternally and takes you home to heaven. Amen.
Over this sermon series, we’ve talked a lot about Fighting Temptation. But…How confident do you feel that you can fight temptation and win?
Today we’re going to study God’s Word and my goal is to teach you why you have every reason in the world to Fight Temptation confidently. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Reasons for Lacking Confidence
The lesson for this morning comes from Isaiah. He was a prophet who lived around 640 B.C. Mainly he preached warnings about what would happen to the Israelites if they didn’t start fighting temptation.
But most people didn’t listen.
God, through Isaiah, even predicted that they wouldn’t listen.
It’s why he prophesied that they would be taken into captivity.
Which…is exactly what happened. In 597 B.C., the Babylonian army ransacked the country of Judah. They destroyed the infrastructure and took hundreds of thousands of Israelites captive as prisoners back to Babylon.
It was then, in captivity, that many of the people began to listen.
They looked back at the prophesies of Isaiah and discovered sections like this:
“Who handed Jacob over to become loot, and Israel to the plunderers? Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned? For they would not follow his ways;
they did not obey his law. So he poured out on them his burning anger, the violence of war. It enveloped them in flames, yet they did not understand; it consumed them, but they did not take it to heart.” (v.24-25)
Can you imagine?
Being in captivity.
We didn’t follow his ways.
We did not obey his law.
We are in flames because of our sinful failures!
I can’t imagine that the Israelites had a lot of confidence.
Just a lot of “if onlys.”
If only I’d listened to God.
If only I had fought back against temptation.
If only I had told that merchant, “No. We don’t need your bejeweled god statues. We worship the one true, invisible God, the Lord.”
If only I had told my wife, “No, we aren’t going to teach our kids that worship isn’t important. We’ll tell them that worship is the most important thing to their eternal relationship with God.”
If only I had told my friends, “No, I’m not going to get drunk with you tonight…then I never would have done a lot of other things that I wish I had never done.”
If only I had told myself, “Get up. Fight these temptations. Stop being complacent and follow your God.”
Then, I wouldn’t be in captivity.
It feels too late.
I’ve failed too many times.
God has abandoned me.
Temptation will always win.
Can you relate?
Maybe your record against temptation isn’t good.
Maybe you keep losing in your personal battle against your personal demons.
Maybe you have a weakness that you’re so ashamed of – you question if you even belong in this church family.
Maybe you feel weighed down by guilt, alone in your battle, like you are in captivity to a particular sin!
Maybe you’ve tried psyching yourself up, waking up in prayer, saying, “Today is the day I beat that temptation,” only…to attempt your day…and…lose.
Maybe you feel alone like you are the only one who is fighting against a particular sin.
And, maybe, all of these thoughts convince you…
That you’ll never win.
That you’ll always fail against temptation.
That you have NO reason to be confident in ever winning again.
If that’s how you think…
II. Confidence from God Himself
Listen to Isaiah 43.
It’s written for God’s people.
It’s written for God’s people in captivity to Babylon.
It’s written for God’s people in captivity to their own sinful choices.
It’s written to God’s people – like you.
And it’s filled with confidence-boosting statements from God himself.
But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isaiah 43:1-3)
Look at those words.
Do you hear God’s voice?
He’s speaking to you.
And giving you all kinds of confidence.
(1) “You are my Creation.”
Look at the first verse. It says, “This is what the LORD says, he who created you, O Jacob; he who formed you, O Israel.” (43:1) It’s not even an actual statement of God yet, but through it, God still communicates something to you.
“You are my creation.”
Over at Precious Lambs, the kids take their artwork very, very seriously. They are proud of their artwork. They love to show off their artwork. They love to show me their artwork. They love to bring artwork home for mom and dad.
And they get really, really upset if they lose their artwork.
There was a girl the other day whose conversation with mom went something like this:
“Calm down. Honey. What’s wrong!”
“You threw my artwork away!”
“Are you sure? I just threw some of the pictures with scribbles on them away.”
“It wasn’t scribbles. It was a picture of a unicorn!”
Kids love their artwork because it’s their artwork.
They created it.
They put it on paper.
Their imagination developed the piece.
The same is true with God and you.
You come from the annals of God’s divine mind.
He thought you up before you ever thought your first word.
He knit you together with his own powerful, yet gentle hands. (Psalm 139:13)
Do you think God will just leave you to suffer?
Do you think God won’t come to your rescue?
Do you think God won’t work tirelessly to get you back even after your own sins have left you feeling like garbage?
(2) “You are Redeemed.”
Verse 2 says this, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.” (Isaiah 43:2a)
Redeem means to “buy back.” To “pay for.” To “purchase again.”
And God has redeemed YOU.
Because yes! We fell to sin.
Yes, we were owned by our guilt.
We were owned by our shame.
We were owned by our addictions.
We were owned by our brokenness.
Jesus came to earth.
He offered the most precious currency of all:
His perfect blood.
Jesus bought you.
Jesus paid for you.
Jesus redeemed you.
You do not belong to your addiction.
You do not belong to your temptation.
You do not belong to your sins.
You belong to God!
It’s like at Sola café: They have this little card at Sola café that if you remember to have it stamped every time you order a drink, the 10th drink is free! Even if you do what I do and order a small coffee, the cheapest thing on the menu, for the other 9 drinks, you can get a large, 6-dollar Caramel Macchiato for FREE. Fully paid for.
You have been fully paid for.
No matter how much sin you have fallen to.
You belong to God – fully and completely.
(3) “I know you.”
God says, “I have called you by name.” (Isaiah 43:2b) That’ s an uplifting truth.
Because it’s easy to feel like you are just a number.
It’s easy to feel as if God’s redemptive power is big and great, but not that personal.
It’s like calling for tech support. And you say, “Hi! I’m Phil calling from Gethsemane Church” and they say, “What’s your equipment ID number?” And you say, “I don’t know that. But I’m from Gethsemane Church, we have an account with you.” And they say, “Equipment ID Number please.” And you say, “I spoke with you about 15 minutes ago? Don’t you remember me?” And they say, “I remember you. You haven’t given me the Equipment ID Number yet.”
God says you are more than an Equipment ID Number to him.
You are you.
He knows your name.
He knows your first name.
He knows your last name.
He knows your middle name.
He knows your nickname.
He knows your maiden name.
He knows your username.
He knows your pet name.
He knows your surname.
He even knows your Superhero name – that you found out from that one Facebook quiz you took way back in 2014.
God knows you.
Personally knows you.
He knows your struggles.
He knows your weaknesses.
He knows the things you’ve told your friends.
He knows the things you’ve told your counselor.
He knows the things you haven’t told your counselor.
He stands beside you.
And whispers: “You have a new name.”
I will call you, “Mine.”
This is why he also whispers:
(4) “I am With You.”
God has Isaiah write this, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:3)
This is a metaphor.
Because in the Old Testament, the Israelite people had once been surrounded by their enemies and a deep, vast sea. They had no where to go! They were as good as dead.
But God was with them.
He split the waters and they crossed through on dry ground – fish and sea weed and currents on each side.
And again in the Old Testament, some men were thrown into a fiery furnace because they didn’t bow down and worship a giant golden statue of the king.
But God was with them.
He kept them safe in the flames so that not a hair, not a thread, not even a little piece of beard was singed in the fire. Neither did they smell of smoke.
And you…when you are surrounded by temptation.
When you feel all alone.
When you think there’s no way out.
When you are terrified of what’s going on in your life.
God is with you.
He will keep you safe.
He will help you out.
He will lead you safely – undrowned.
Victorious over temptation!
And here’s how he does it:
(5) “I am your Savior.”
God has Isaiah write this, “I am the LORD, your God, the holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (v.3)
That same powerful God who defeated split the Red Sea.
That same powerful God who kept the men safe in the furnace.
That same powerful God who died on the cross and saved you from sin – is your Savior.
It isn’t like waiting in the doctor’s office to see your specific specialist about your specific special problem and then someone walks into the room.
You don’t recognize them. You look closely at their name badge and it says: “Intern.”
God is your Savior.
Not your “might be Savior.”
Not your “Try-the-hardest-to-save-but-failing Savior.”
Not even “Everyone else’s Savior.”
No. Your Savior.
Which leads to a very powerful passage. Friends – write this down. Memorize it. Bring it from God’s heart to your heart:
“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions. I will forget your sins and remember your wickedness no more.” (v.25)
God has destroyed your sins so completely that he can’t even remember a single sin.
He can’t even remember that you’ve failed.
He can’t even remember that you’re a failure.
Because of him.
You are a winner.
III. What Now?
Fight like a champion.
And let me tell you:
Champions don’t come on out and let the other punch first.
They come out swinging.
They come out dodging.
They come out with a plan.
Do you have a temptation that you struggle against?
Come out swinging.
Come out dodging.
Come out with a plan.
(1) Come out Swinging
Because too often we are reactive against temptation. We wait for it to strike and hope that we can react when it does.
It’s like coffee. I drink too much.
Maybe…some of you knew that.
But here’s the thing…I know I drink too much yet, I put myself in the same situation each day.
I stay up later than I should.
I don’t have anything to drink until I have my morning coffee.
I hang out for the first hour of every weekday – within about 50 steps of the coffee pot.
No wonder I keep failing.
Why not go on the offensive? Romans 8:13 says: “By the Spirit, put to death the misdeeds of the body.” Don’t just punch them in the mouth or put them in a headlock. The language is stronger. Put them to death!
Talking about my caffeine struggle:
Why not drink 2 glasses of water before the coffee pot gets put on?
Why not go to bed 30 minutes earlier so that I’m not so tired?
Why not tell an entire congregation about it so that they can hold you accountable and tell you to drink a bit less?
Whatever your temptation is, think about it: how can you attack it?
(2) Come out Dodging
But there will be times when temptation blindsides you.
When suddenly you find yourself in situations in which things don’t look good.
When Satan pulls some guerrilla warfare on you.
The Bible tells the story about a guy named Joseph. He worked as a servant in the house of a rich government official. He loved working there. He respected his master. He wanted to keep his job.
One day – the government official’s wife – she developed a crush on Joseph – he was young and handsome – one day when noticed him working in the house when no one else is around. She said to him, “Come to bed with me. Sleep with me. No one is around. No one will know. You’ll be all mine.”
And Joseph said?
“I’m out of here.”
Literally – the Bible says that he runs away.
He dodges the temptation.
Why not do that?
Too often I think we tried to play the hero. We try to put ourselves in situations that we know we fail at – and wait to see if we might beat temptation.
The Bible says differently. 2 Timothy 2:2 says, “Flee youthful passions.”
Don’t hover over the page with all the scantily clad women -- click the “x” and get out of there.
Don’t hang around the coffee pot or water cooler that’s bringing up your favorite gossip. Leave.
Don’t sit at the dinner table, getting angrier and angrier ready to blow your top on your spouse – say, “Honey. Give me a second.” Walk away. Cool down. Don’t sin.
(3) Come out with a Plan
I imagine that’s what the final two teams in the NCAA tournament are doing right now. They are planning how to defeat each other. They are coming up with plays, they are coming up with values, they are getting ready to explain to their teams: “When we are in this situation, do this. When we are in this other situation, do this.”
It would be ludicrous for a team to be in the finals of the NCAA tournament and have their plan be, “I don’t have a plan. Try to win.”
It’s ludicrous for us to attempt to fight temptation without a plan.
Proverbs 14:22 says this, “Do not those who plot evil go astray? But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness.”
Friends, champions make a plan.
In Jesus, you are a champion.
Make a plan to fight against temptation.
If you have a sin that you struggle with…repeatedly, why not come up with a plan?
Why not take a moment and write it up. Literally write it up in a notebook.
Pray about it. Seek God’s wisdom about it. Ask a trusted friend about it. Then, write up your plan.
If you need help in this – I will help you.
So will the others at church.
That’s what I hope you’ll do for others.
Because that’s what church is.
Our goal is to help out, swing, dodge, and plan for your fight against temptation.
Which leads to our final point.
(4) View Yourself as the Champ!
Because it’s so easy to view yourself as nothing more than a sinner.
And to a certain extent that’s important. It leads us to Jesus.
But once we have heard the promise of God’s forgiveness and we leave these walls to battle temptation, it is so important that we see ourselves as God sees us – as winners in Jesus.
It’s like what happens during a basketball game. If you go into the game thinking, “We’ll probably lose because we are losers,” you’ll probably lose.
But if the coach can get you to think you have a chance or even that you’ll win, you have an advantage because you are already in a winning frame of mind.
Friend, you are a winner in Jesus.
Think of yourself as a winner.
Envision yourself squashing the devil and all of his foolish attempts – even if it’s a temptation by which he has squashed you over and over again.
Because you are in Christ.
Christ is in you.
He stomped the devil.
He stomped sin.
He stomped guilt.
He stomped shame.
He stomped death itself when…three days later…
Three days later, he rose from the grave.
Friends, as Christ is the winner, you are a winner.
Fight temptation. Amen.
It is the new year and I’ll bet that you, like many other Americans, are ready for a FRESH start. Even though time is always flowing at the same pace as it always has, as soon as 364 days have taken place and the number changes on our cell phones – we get really motivated to start FRESH in our lives.
Maybe you want a FRESH start with your health: You resolve to eat healthier, join a gym and only eat one big of Doritos per day.
Maybe you want a FRESH start with your finances: You resolve to start an IRA, to talk to a financial planner, to budget your money and stay in that budget.
Maybe you want a FRESH start in your relationships: “I resolve to be kind, wiser and gentler to the people that I work with…which reminds me of another resolution: ‘Get a new job.’”
You want a FRESH start with God.
Today we are starting a new sermon series called FRESH. The goal is to FRESHEN our relationship with God. Before we get started, 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 FRESH kind of religious leader
The lesson for today starts in Luke 5:27. Look at what it says: “Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his collection booth.”
I think this is a great section of God’s Word for the start of a new year. Because it’s a true story about a guy who could use a fresh start in his relationship with God. I say that because Levi was a tax collector. That might not sound awful to you and me, but there are a few cultural things about tax collectors that would have caused the religious leaders of the time to consider Levi a “lost cause” that was “far away from God.”
1. Greedy. This is a bit obvious. But money has this weird effect on people: they like it. Sometimes they like it an appropriate amount. Sometimes a more than appropriate amount. The thought of the religious elite was that in a job like tax collector where you are constantly working with money, you develop an unhealth desire for money. A desire that drives a wedge between you and others. A desire that drives a wedge between you and your God – especially if that God is a God that is all about giving.
2. Traitors to the Pagans. Because the government that was collecting taxes in Jerusalem where the Jews lived was not a Jewish government. It was the Romans. Romans that didn’t worship the true God. Romans that worshipped Zeus, Aphrodite, Hades and other pagan gods. This meant that tax collections could be used to fund temples for false gods, to fund renovations on Caesar’s palace, and to help construct a wing in the Aphrodite temple for Roman soldiers to have wild parties.
The Jewish people didn’t worship those pagan gods. The Jewish people worshipped the one true God. A tax collector that was working with that pagan government? They were, at best, foolish; at worst, traitors to God’s people.
3. Deception. Tax collectors were not paid a lot of money. Yet most of them were fairly well-to-do. Why?
Imagine that you owe some taxes. I, the tax collector, would come to your door. I’d get out your file. I’d know that you owe about $10 in taxes. But instead of giving you a bill for $10…I’d just add an extra zero to it. I’d take the extra $90 for myself.
To be fair – that is something that God commands us not to do. The 7th Commandment is “You shall not steal.” Meaning that those who are stealing, really do put themselves in danger of being far from God!
This trifecta of reasons led to a perfect storm of a sinful lifestyle.
A lifestyle that convinced the religious leaders tax collectors were FAR from God.
A lifestyle that convinced the community that they were FAR from God.
A lifestyle that convinced the tax collectors themselves, that they were FAR from God – and could never get close again.
As he counted his money at the tax table and mentally made note of how many shots he would be able to buy down at L’chiam’s Bar and Grill – and whether or not that was enough to wash away the loneliness and guilt that permeated his everyday life…
I doubt that the religious leaders approached him.
They turned up their noses.
They shook their heads.
They whispered loudly enough for others to hear: “That man is a sinner. The scum of the earth. A lost cause.”
I doubt that Levi had often been approached by religious leaders.
Levi saw him across the street setting down the tea that he had just sipped at the local restaurant.
He had heard Jesus speak before. Not in the synagogue – he wasn’t really allowed there – but on the streets.
Jesus knew what he was talking about.
Jesus was a religious leader.
Jesus was close to God.
Jesus was on his way over.
Levi tried to look busy counting money. Bracing himself for Jesus to wag his finger and tell them how much of a sinner he was for all to hear – almost like a living object lesson for the community of worshippers that had gathered.
But Jesus didn’t wag his finger.
Jesus extended his hand:
“Follow me,” Jesus said to him.
And Levi got up and followed him. (v27-28)
And the religious that were watching this started to throw a fit!
“What was he doing? Did he support tax collectors?
Did he support their sin?
Did he support greed and debauchery and deception and sexual immorality that all of the tax collectors stood for?
How could he, a so—called religious teacher, get anywhere near someone so sinfully disgusting!”
But that wasn’t the end of it.
A short time later, Levi held a banquet for Jesus at his home and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. (v.29)
And even if Levi is starting to act a bit more godly at this point – I doubt that the other tax collectors were. So, don’t picture a real polite, nice dinner meal where everyone is wearing religious jewelry and remembering to pray before anyone takes a bite.
It’s a lot shadier than that.
Picture cigar smoke as Lenny tries to show off the expensive cigar he bought from somewhere down south all with the money he had stolen on his last collection day.
Picture cheap perfume permeating the air from Patsy, the prostitute. She’s the girlfriend…well, that Nahum pays to be intimate with him, rubbing his big muscles and smiling flirtatiously at the disciples.
Picture the faint smell of alcohol – becoming less faint as Dave the drunk approaches. He’s drowning in the smell of Jim Beam because it’s the only way that he gets rid of that void.
Picture a seedy meal filled with a who’s who of sinners.
Which is why the spiritual leaders are losing it! They complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (v.30)
Why do you get so close to the filthy, spiritual vermin?
Why do you befriend…sinners?
And Jesus overhears them.
He pauses his conversation.
He stands from the table.
He approaches the leaders.
And says this:
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (v.31-32)
Do you get it?
It’d be like Julianna having a headache. One of those awful, nasty pounding migraine headaches. It’s so bad that she can’t move and she lays down on the couch. And I run to Walgreens. I pick up some Advil, a bottle of Aleve and some essential oils. I get back to the house. She’s still in pain but is happy to see me.
I go to the faucet.
I fill a glass of water.
I open up the bottle of aspirin.
She holds out her hand.
And I down the aspirin myself.
It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. (v.31)
And it is not the sinless who need a Savior from sin, but sinners.
This is why Jesus came.
And if you are a sinner.
If you have big sins from 2018.
If you had a sin you struggled with throughout 2018.
If you had a sin that you’ve already brought with you into 2019…making you a sinner!
Jesus came for you.
II. a FRESH perspective
Jesus’ words and actions in this account throw our preconceived notions about our relationship with God into a tizzy. (Honestly, I don’t know what a tizzy is; but these words certainly turn our conceptions around).
1) God is for the Righteous Sinners
That’s how we normally think. In the same vein as those religious leaders, we think – God is only for the “Righteous.” He’s only for the people who wear crosses around their neck; the people who have never missed a worship service; the people who share three inspirational Scripture memes a day. The people that look like they’ve got it all together! The “professional” Christians.
But that’s not accurate.
If God was only for the righteous, then God is not for any of us, because none of us are righteous!
In fact, that’s the most ironic thing about the Pharisees dismissal of Jesus’ behavior. They say, “Why do you eat with sinners?” Jesus could have responded:
You’re right. I shouldn’t. I am the sinless Son of God. I will no longer eat with sinners. So, let’s cancel our dinner date next Thursday, because you’re sinners, too.
God didn’t come for the righteous, but sinners. And he didn’t just come for sinners; he died for them. Look at this passage from Romans 5:5-8 “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
That is God’s love for sinners.
That is God’s love for you.
If you think you are too steeped in sin that God could never have a relationship with you, you’re wrong.
Jesus lived perfectly, died innocently and rose triumphantly to restore his relationship with you.
And now!?! He calls you righteous! Since we have now been justified…That means “Declared innocent,” “Forgiven,” declared “righteous” by his blood. And that’s a lot more powerful than pencil, more powerful than a blue pen. More powerful than a sharpie. It’s the divine blood of Jesus himself! how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! (v.9)
Because our relationship has been restored.
Because your relationship has been restored.
Because your relationship with God is FRESH. Apart from sin. Apart from the guilt of last year.
Apart from the guilt of the last hour.
You are steeped in his love.
You are forgiven.
2)God is the One who Waits Seeks
A second switch has to do with God’s activity in bringing this message of forgiveness. Because, to be fair, He had already done a lot! Coming to earth, battling sin, and dying for sins seems like a lot of work! We might expect Jesus to go back to heaven, grab his favorite Lazy Boy, turn on the latest Jim Gaffigan Netflix special and wait for us to come to Him.
And sometimes that’s how we view getting closer to Him!
I need to try harder.
I need to seek harder.
I need to say prayers with my eyes winced and my fists clenched, mustering all the sinful seeking that I possibly can to get him to pay attention to me!
But God isn’t a God who waits.
God is a God who seeks.
Think about it! Levi wasn’t seeking anything. Levi was literally at his table, counting his money, doing his normal, everyday tax collector things. Then, Jesus went out to him! Jesus called him to follow. Jesus did the seeking!
And God doesn’t get tired.
God keeps seeking.
Even today. Even with you.
Even if you’ve been far away from God.
Even if you’re really, really, really good at hiding!
It’s not playing Hide and Seek with your cousins. Did this ever happen to you? You find a really good hiding spot. You stay super quiet. You hear them walk by talking as they try to find you. Then, it gets quiet. And you stay quiet because “they could be tricking me.” And you stay quiet for 10, 20, 30 minutes. Until…eventually you realize. They aren’t coming to find you. They gave up seeking you.
God doesn’t give up seeking you.
God hasn’t given up seeking you.
God is seeking you.
With these words.
3) God’s Message Belongs Among the Righteous Sinners
This leads to the final perspective change. Because the religious leaders felt that God and his message only belonged among those people that already knew it. It belonged in the synagogue. It belonged amongst their clique. It belonged among their very own, special, “we look religious” club.
But that’s not what Jesus did.
He brought the message outside that religious clique.
He brought that message to sinners.
He brought that message to a lot of sinners.
And he asks us to do the same.
Right before Christmas with the staff here working at Precious Lambs -- we had a challenge to see who could bring the most Christmas Eve worship invitations to parents, family and friends who don’t have a Christmas Eve worship place. It’s part of our “Planting the Message of Jesus in the Heart of North Raleigh.”
And after I explained it to the staff – a couple of them laughed – and immediately began inviting each other to worship.
One of them invited me. (I told them I was busy).
It was humorous, but sometimes that is all too real the way that we approach sharing Jesus.
I’ll invite my church going friend.
I’ll share the Gospel with my Gospel believing coworker.
I’ll tell others about Jesus …as long as I’m already at worship.
This isn’t a bad thing. Christians need encouragement, too.
But it’s not what Jesus calls us to do.
He wants us to take that message to the fringes of society.
To the homeless.
To the drug dealer.
To the drunkard.
To the guy struggling with his sexuality.
To the porn addict.
To the porn director.
To the dirty politician.
To the vehement atheist!
God calls us to bring the message of his love to them. Because that’s where his message needs to be.
As a church that’s our FRESH start for the year. We need to plant the message of Jesus in the hearts of North Raleigh and by North Raleigh we don’t just mean within these walls.
We mean outside of them, too.
Like Levi! After Jesus comes to him, after he fills him with grace and forgiveness, what does he do? He holds a party! He invites friends. He invites Jesus. He brings Jesus’ message directly to others that he knew needed it so badly.
God is calling you and me to do the same.
To hold our own banquets.
To bring the message of Jesus to the people that we might think will NEVER like the message of Jesus!
To understand this FRESH perspective – and not to see the religious and irreligious – but sinners in need of their Savior’s love.
We talk about getting a fresh start – and if you’re trying to get a fresh start on your health, there might be a lot of things that you are told to do.
To get a gym membership.
To use that gym membership.
To eat only greens.
To eat organic.
To drink 8 glasses of water a day.
To get 8 hours of sleep.
To make healthy choices all day long.
It’s easy to think the list for a FRESH connected to Jesus would be just as long!
But it isn’t.
It’s as simple as the two words that Jesus spoke to Levi:
Follow me and be REFRESHED with the message of my forgiveness.
Follow me and get a FRESH start as my child.
Follow me and feel the FRESHNESS of my love on a daily basis.
It’s simple really. You want a FRESH start in 2019?
Follow your Savior. Amen.
Martin Luther took the piece of paper and held it a bit closer to his face – allowing the kingly font of the Papal Bull to come into focus:
...we…condemn, reprobate, and reject completely the books and all the writings and sermons of Martin Luther -- whether in Latin or any other language, containing the said errors or any one of them; and we wish them to be regarded as utterly condemned, reprobated, and rejected. We forbid each and every one of the faithful…to read, assert, preach, praise, print, publish, or defend them...Indeed, immediately after the publication of this letter these works, wherever they may be, shall be sought out carefully and… shall be burned publicly!
He took a deep breath.
He had only meant to bring people back to God’s Word.
He had only meant to bring people back to the truth.
He had only meant to point people back to the grace of God – not through works righteousness, the buy your way into heaven deception that was being taught.
But the Pope wasn’t having any of it.
The Pope was threatening the mass burning of all his writing.
The Pope was threatening the public burning…of him.
And to be fair – this had happened before. The 16th century European world had seen the Roman Catholic charge plenty of “heretics” with death via burning at the stake.
Joan of Arc.
All of this meant, it wasn’t a lie.
It wasn’t a fib.
It was clear.
The Roman Catholic church was very angry with Luther.
The Roman Catholic church would kill him just as he had clearly seen before.
But the Bible?
It was different.
It talked of a Jesus whom Luther never met.
It talked of a resurrection that Luther didn’t see.
It talked of God’s grace—for forgiveness of sins – an unseen, invisible concept that could not be proved via ocular testing in the slightest.
It also said this.
Whoever holds to my teachings is really my disciple. – Jesus
Luther took a deep breath.
What should he trust?
The visible and violent words of the Pope?
Or the words about the invisible from an unseen God?
Today we’re continuing our series called 500 that celebrates the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. We will be looking at the second key truth about the Reformation – that salvation comes by faith alone. Our goal in this sermon is to: (1) identify what humans tend to trust in (2) why trusting in the invisible isn’t insane (3) how to strengthen our trust in the unseen. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Faith in the Seen?
Hebrews 11:1 says this about faith, “Now faith is confidence…and assurance...” This is an extremely interesting take on faith. It talks about confidence and assurance. These are both very solid words. They imply an unwavering, complete, and absolute trust that what is said or stated is 100% true.
It’s kind of like holding dumbbells. Ever done that? If it’s really light (say one pound), then it’s really easy to hold onto. I can hold it up really easy. I smile while I do it. I maybe even get a bit cocky “this is no problem at all. I could do curls in my sleep!”
On the other hand, if you hand me a 75-pound dumbbell, I’m not so sure. My grip isn’t very good. I can hold it for a bit and then it gets a bit shaky. I waver. I drop it.
That’s not faith. That’s uncertainty. That’s a struggle.
True faith doesn’t struggle.
True faith simply believes.
Faith shows confidence and assurance.
This might lead you to ask: How then do we get such a confidence? How do we get such a certain faith?
I would propose this: Usually we use our five senses. We use vision to confirm reality. We allow the light to reflect off of the object, and if it comes back to our eyes, our brain confirms – that thing does exist. It is real. Believe. The human way of confident faith is this: have faith in things that our senses confirm.
For instance, I am 100% certain that there is a bag of chips in my hand.
I can see the triangular shape.
I can smell the artificial cheese.
I can feel the bumpy texture of corn goodness.
I can hear the crunch of deliciousness.
I can taste them – oh I can taste them - and they taste good.
My five senses confirm it. It’s real. I have faith that this is a bag of chips – and it’s not even remotely wavering.
That’s how human faith tends to work.
It trusts in what our senses confirm.
That becomes a big problem when it comes to spiritual things.
Because we can’t see God.
If you were planning on seeing him at church today, he’s not making a visible appearance. (It’s why I usually don’t advertise for him).
We can’t see God and we can’t see Jesus.
We don’t see the nail marks in his hands.
We don’t see his risen body.
We see only a cross and that cross is only a representation of something that supposedly happened a long time ago.
We don’t see God and that makes trusting in him…hard.
Because again – we tend to look for visible clues in our lives and oftentimes the visual close do not support the idea of God.
God, I thought you said you’d be with me always – but based on how awful this past week was, I’m not so sure you’re here.
God, you said that you’d love me – but I lost my job, I’m behind on rent, and I’m having relationship problems. It can’t be true.
God, you said that you have good things in mind for me – but I just got diagnosed by this awful disease. I feel terrible and the MRI looks bad. None of this looks good like you said!
This even makes its way into the realm of salvation! In fact, do you remember the works righteousness concept that we discussed last week? Works righteousness is the theological idea that humans save themselves by what they do. As we discussed last week, this is completely not true. The Bible describes us as sinful. The Bible describes us as spiritually dead. The Bible describes us as completely unable to do anything, let alone save ourselves from our own sins.
As impossible as this is…
As completely 100% impossible as it is for anyone to be perfect…
Works righteousness is the number one favorite things for people to have faith in.
The answer is simple.
It’s something that we can see!
Did you see what I just did? I just saw myself bending over and helping a little preschool kid clean up his juice spill. That’s really good of me God. I saw it.
Did you hear my kinds words? I just said that girl’s dress was really pretty...I sounded so nice.
Did you smell that? Those are the delicious baked good that I made for church FOR FREE! The good things I do, smell so good.
And here’s the reality – our good works are tangible.
So, we trust our good works.
We trust in them simply because it’s easy to trust in something that our senses confirm.
But head back to your senses.
Because if you’re honest, it’s easy to see – there’s more than just good in you.
Sure, you can see yourself stooping down to help that preschooler clean up the mess – but you can also see yourself make the visual sign of complete disgust in annoyance for having to help the little one.
Yes, you can hear the nice words that you said about the girl’s dress; but if you listen for about a minute longer, you can also hear your voice whispering to your friend that “actually, that’s a really gross looking dress and I think she looks ugly.”
And OK – you can smell the delicious baked cookies that you made for church – they can almost cover up the hint of alcohol left on your breath from the all-night Saturday bender you went through the day before.
HERE’S THE POINT: We tend to trust what our senses confirm.
And our senses confirm this – We are sinners and works righteousness does NOT work.
II. Faith in the Unseen
Is faith really a result of the senses then?
Think of the Cloud. Not that there actually is a cloud, but the cloud is that big invisible data center that can store all kinds of computer data. If you have converted your data storage to the cloud, then here’s the thing – you don’t actually see the storage happen. You don’t see it go up into the air. You don’t see the photo of Uncle Glen pass out of the window and past a blue bird into the sky.
All you see is that little icon change to SAVED.
And then you trust.
Even though you can’t see...you trust that it will be there.
Here’s the truth – Faith is not in the seen. Faith is in the unseen. Take a look at Hebrews 11:1 again, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” This is Biblical faith. It’s faith in the unseen, the invisible, the imperceptible!
This starts with Jesus. Because Jesus is good at showing us that what we see visually is not always indicative of the truth invisibly.
The people saw 5 jugs of well water. But when they dipped in a cup at the request of Jesus, they tasted a delicious, red merlot.
The people saw a man who was lame that they saw begging near the temple doors for years – that could not be healed. And Jesus healed him.
The people – thousands of people – saw five loaves of bread and 2 fish; Jesus saw a feast that fed them all…till they were full…and there were 12 baskets of leftovers!
The people - hundreds of people - saw Jesus body, dead and bloodied on the cross. Placed lifelessly into the grave. And some even went back to the grave to confirm it. But when they got there he wasn’t dead. But alive.
At the heart of the invisibly impossible is what we talked about last week: Salvation by grace alone.
That God simply loves us.
That God simply died for us.
That God simply saved us.
That God simply said, “Whoever has faith in me will be saved.”
Yet -- Jesus made the visually impossible into reality.
He has no problem making the invisibly impossible into reality too.
Even though you didn’t see it; Jesus died for you.
Even though you don’t see it; God has forgiveness for you.
Even though you can’t touch it; God has heaven in mind for you.
It is by grace you are saved through faith.
This leads to something really, really interesting.
It leads to trusting the invisible in spite of the visible:
Martin Luther had this to say about faith. “A Christian is hidden from himself, so that he does not see his holiness, and virtue but only his lack of virtue and his lack of holiness, … In a word, our holiness is in heaven, where Christ is; it is not in the world, before the eyes of men, like a commodity on the market.”
Do you see the point? Each day I can pretend to see my good, but the reality is that each of us knows ourselves all too well. We know our sins. We know our faults. At the end of the day we know this – we are NOT perfect; not even remotely.
But God, in his word – without any visuals – says to you:
In Christ you are forgiven.
In Christ, I see you as holy.
In Christ you are mine.
And it’s true. Because God doesn’t fail! His track record is too good. Amen.
Are you tired of feeling guilty from sin?
Do you stay up late tossing and turning because of something wrong you did?
Do you struggle with guilt and anxiety about what God will do to you?
Introducing a brand-new product made just for you: The Indulgence.
That’s right folks now you can have the assurance that your sins are forgiven on this certificate looking paper!
Display it in your living room.
Over your sofa.
On your desktop and work.
…and viola – proof that you have God’s forgiveness.
What’s that? A produce like this might cost millions? Usually it would. But now it can be yours for one easy payment of $49.95. That’s $49.95 for forgiveness assurance of up to 100 sins!
Are you heavy sinner? No worries. Get the deluxe edition for only $99.95 and double your sin count.
Need more for next month? With our new app -- you can set up recurring payments so that an indulgence will be sent to your home without having to think about it.
Want to gift one for a relative? These make great Christmas presents for the ornery teenager in your house.
And if you are order right now – we’ll throw in this mini certificate of forgiveness – good up to 10 free swear word sins – absolutely FREE!
So what are your waiting for?
Get your indulgence and get on the road to a guilt-free existence!
Because that sounded ridiculous.
Even made up.
Surely, that’s never really happened, right?
500 years ago, that’s exactly what was happening.
500 years ago, people were eating this up.
500 years ago, this ridiculous practice was the only thing that made sense.
Today we’re celebrating the Reformation – a time when God used a simple monk to reform these ideas and return the truth to the truth about forgiveness. Our goal in this sermon is: (1) learn why this buying God’s forgiveness isn’t as archaic and ridiculous as it sounds (2) see from Scripture why it’ll never work and (3) learn about the only way to know true forgiveness. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Heart of the Problem
Let’s do a bit of church history. Leo X was pope in Rome. He was the head of the only Christian organization that was in existence in the early 16th century – the Roman Catholic church. And…he was getting short on money. Under his reign, he had plans to build a Cathedral – St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome – a beautiful piece of architectural to help people reflect on God (and how awesome Pope Leo X was).
The problem? He had run out of money. The Medici family, who had been funding the construction of the incredible building, stopped funding the incredible building. Leo was stuck. How would he finish his basilica? How would he finish his building?
The answer was the indulgence. Pieces of paper signed by the Pope guaranteeing the buyer forgiveness for a certain number of sins. The proceeds? They would go to fund the unfinished basilica project under the following guise:
It is by INDULGENCES that you are saved.
Sound shady? It is.
Surely no one would fall fort it, right?
Enter Johann Tetzel. He might not look like much, but he was essentially the ShamWow guy of 16th century Europe. He was an infomercial king! He was a skilled orator and skilled salesmen. He would travel into towns. He’d set up shop. He’d start doing his best informercial:
Buy you’re indulgence now and you won’t have to pay for your sin in hell later.
If you aren’t worried about your sin, what about your dead Aunt Flo? What if she’s stuck in hell and this piece of paper is what springs her to heaven?
LOOK! The Pope guaranteed it. It must be true!
And Tetzel sold.
And people bought.
And people were convinced that it was by INDULGENCES that they were saved.
But...to be fair, this really isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds.
Husbands, have you ever forgotten an important event with your wife? Maybe an anniversary or a birthday or an anniversary of the first time that you ate at an Italian restaurant? What do you do? You buy some flowers, do the dishes, give his wife a massage and hope that after a few days of doing that – everything is ok.
Naturally people assume that is how it works with God. “I’ve done wrong, but I’ll just do some good things to make up for the bad things and tip the eternal scales in my favor.” It’s not surprising then that the Catholic church in the 16th century taught a version of this in their churches: It is by WORKS that you are saved.
And suddenly everyone is playing a divine game of addition and subtraction. “Let’s see. I opened the door with prayer (that’s good), but then I was rude to my wife (bad). I helped an old lady across the street (good), but I told my friends that she smelled (bad). I listened to my wife (good), but really, I was just thinking about the football game the whole time (bad).
Well, if you do this long enough you’ll realize one very important thing:
There is no peace in the spiritual balancing game of good works.
Because that was good. I think.
And that was wrong. I think.
And that was good, but then I got angry in the middle of it and ended up with more sin when I started than I had to begin with!
So what people needed was an improvement.
They needed something that was bigger.
Something that was worth more.
Something that could really outweigh sin.
Enter the church with another idea and another adjective: It is by CHURCH WORKS that you are saved.
Kinda like the Power Rangers – a bigger, better power.
The bigger better power for 16th century people was the “church work”.
Say the Lord’s prayer 10 times a day for forgiveness.
Say the Lord’s prayer in the church 10 times a day for extra forgiveness.
Buy a picture of Jesus and say the Lord’s prayer in front of that in the church for extra, extra forgiveness.
Because of this theological theory, men became monks. Women became nuns. Men took vows of silence and women took vows of celibacy. People everywhere listened to whatever the priest told them to do: Cross themselves – say 10 Hail Mary’s – hold onto a rosary real tight – even…buy an indulgence….
And suddenly, we’re back where we started. The indulgence wasn’t crazy. It was just the grossest abuse of human idea of works righteousness.
The idea that works are what save you.
An idea --- might I add – that hasn’t left us in the 21st century.
An idea – might I add – that hasn’t left the church in the 21st century.
An idea – might I add – that might not have left us.
II. The Truth about Works Righteousness
You’ve got your bulletins in your folder. There should be a blank spot. Here’s a quick question that I want you to answer. You have 30 seconds to answer.
Will you be in heaven? And if so, why?
What was your answer?
I’m a good person.
I try really hard.
I’m better than that guy.
If that was your answer, what are you basing heaven on? Yourself. Your works. Cause – that’s the exact same thing the church was telling people to do.
And maybe your answer is more sophisticated. And you said: I’m not just a good person, I serve at a church. I’ve been an usher for years. That’s how I know I’m going to heaven.
But isn’t that just basing your faith on church works? Are they really any better?
And maybe you’ve gone all the way and thought: But I gave 10% of my income at this church for years. Look at the 3rd hymnal from the front. Inside is MY Family’s name! I paid for it. And I know I’ll be in heaven because of it.
AKA – I know it, because of my indulgence.
This whole works righteousness thing is not a 16th century thing.
Because it’s a human thing.
It’ll always be around.
And it’ll always be wrong.
Because here’s what the Bible has to say about our works:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins. (Ephesians 2:1)
Notice what the Bible calls us: dead. Obviously, not physically, because here we are. But spiritually dead. Think about what it means that we are spiritually dead. It means we were motionless. It means we were rotting. It means we were decomposing.
And it means we couldn’t do…anything.
Because just this past week I saw a dead squirrel on the side of the road.
Do you know what it was doing? Nuttin. (Get it?)
Bad joke aside – dead things don’t do anything.
Dead things can’t do anything.
Spiritually dead human beings cannot do anything toward spiritual salvation.
Yesterday, I was at the Food Bank. We were sorting donations of sweet potatoes. And some of them were disgusting. They were filled with mold. They were rotting. They were squishy at the touch.
And I was thinking – even the best cooks couldn’t make anything good with that stuff. If you took those rotten sweet potatoes home and mixed them and baked them and put them into the oven and made sweet potato pie -- it would still taste awful.
That’s the reality of being dead in sin – even our best – is still rotten to the core. It’s selfish. It’s done for our own sake. It’s done so that I feel good and I get closer to heaven, not simply because I love that person.
Which means we don’t earn heaven.
The only thing we have earned with our works?
We were by nature objects of wrath. (Ephesians 2:3)
Because our works are tainted by sin.
Because we are tainted by sin.
Because we are dead in sin.
And God hates sin.
To put it simply – It is by works you CANNOT BE saved.
III. The Truth About What Saves
Which is devastating.
Especially if you’ve been basing your whole eternity on your own good works.
That’s what Martin Luther had done.
Martin Luther was a 16th century man. He had gone to school to be a lawyer. He had learned that wrong was wrong and that wrong deserved punishment.
And he knew he had done wrong…and deserved punishment.
And so, he tried to do good works! But even when he did the good works he did so with a heart that hated God for making him do the good works --- thus spoiling the good works – and leaving him in worse straights than before.
So, he became a monk! He did a church work. But that didn’t help. The vows of silence didn’t keep his thoughts from sin. The time alone didn’t keep his thoughts form hating others.
So, he heard of indulgences! And he saw a promise of heaven. And he saw that with a simple paper he could have guilt removed.
And he thought - this is crazy!
And he thought – this can’t be the way!
And he thought – I wonder what the Bible has to say about this.
Now remember – back then the Bible wasn’t available in thousands of languages via a cell phone app.
It was written in 3 languages – (Hebrew, Greek and Latin) and it was only at the monastery chained to a wall. So, for centuries people just accepted whatever priests told them because they didn’t know any better.
They accepted work righteousness, because they didn’t know any better.
But when Luther was in the monastery he no longer had to accept it.
He could read it for himself.
And what he found was vastly different from what was being taught:
Because of God’s great love or us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ – even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.
Did you see that?
It’s not works righteousness at all. But something entirely different.
It says: God made us alive with Christ! It makes sense. We were dead – dead can’t do anything. Dead definitely can’t bring itself back to life.
But you know who could? How about the guy who made Jairus dead daughter sit up?
How about the guy who made a young man in a coffin stand on his feet?
How about the guy who made Lazarus dead in the grave for 4 days come walking out like he was just checking the place out on House Hunters?
How about the guy who said: “Kill me and I’ll come back to life,” so they killed him and then – he came back to life?
God made us alive with Christ! He gave us spiritual life by paying God’s wrath. He died. He suffered the payment for our sin. He suffered the complete payment for our sin!
And if you’re thinking: “But my sins are pretty big,” look at what it says here: God is rich in mercy. He’s a tycoon. He’s a gazillionaire of mercy. He has so much that it covers completely the payment for your sin! It covers completely the payment for your little sins. It covers completely the payment for your big, nasty, ugly sins that you hope no one else finds out about.
It's like Scrooge McDuck. Remember him from Duck Tales? He had this gigantic 40-story tower that he filled with gold coins. He had so many gold coins that he would put on a swim suit and go swimming in his wealth.
That’s God and his mercy. He’s swimming in mercy. He doles out that mercy to you through Jesus Christ.
But, pastor, surely, he only gives that out to the people he likes.
Surely, he only gives it out to the people who do church things.
Surely, he only gives it out to the people who do enough good church things.
Look at the passages again: Because of his God’s great love for us.
It doesn’t say: “Because we did enough good works.”
It doesn’t say: “Because we served enough cookies at church…”
It doesn’t say: “Because I said enough Hail Mary’s OR memorized the Lord’s prayer…”
It doesn’t say: “Because I gave enough money…”
Because of God’s great love.
Because he loved you.
Because he wanted to save you.
Because he loved you, he died and paid the ultimate price to save you.
It changes our salvation equation.
God’s not telling you to pay for his love.
God’s telling you that he already paid it for you:
It is by GRACE you have been saved through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God! (Eph. 2:8)
And Martin Luther? When he read this, it changed his life.
His guilt was removed.
His conscience was unburdened.
He was free.
So…On October 31st, 1517. He marched through the streets of Wittenberg. He pulled his cloak close to his nose.
He marched right up to the main doors of the castle church – the big castle church – the church that thousands attended – the doors that thousands passed.
He marched up.
He knew he’d get in some trouble.
But he also knew Jesus had gotten him out of worse trouble.
So, he pounded.
He pounded a list calling out the false teaching of indulgences and the false practices of the church.
His goal? Bring people back to the truth.
Bring people back to God’s grace.
Here we are 500 years later.
God’s grace is still the truth.
God’s grace is still what saves.
Jesus died for you.
Brothers and sisters, may we return to GRACE and NEVER leave. Because it is by grace we have been saved! Amen.
Have you ever heard of Angie’s List? It’s an online service that lets you hook up with various contractors in all kinds of areas. From painters to dry wallers, from lawn care to carpet care, from lizard wranglers to sheep shearers -- you can find the professional you need on Angie’s List
But you might wanna shop around. The truth is there are usually more than one company you can go with. Take plumbing, for example. If you need a plumber, you might like Plumberee – with lots of experience and fine craftsmanship, but a fine way of breaking the bank. Then again, there’s Bargain Plumbers less expensive, but so is their work. There’s Plumber’s R. Us. A bit corporate in its structure – so you know they can get the job done, but bad customer service. Then, there’s Frank’s Plumbing. Not as well known, but you can almost always get him on the phone and he does a fine job -- just as long as you don’t mind the smell of cigarettes that he brings with him everywhere he goes.
Who do you choose? The wise person shops around first, before making his decision.
Is the same thing true about grace? The last couple of weeks we’ve talked about the blessing of grace that Jesus brings. It’s without cost. It covers even the worst of sinners. It lasts into eternal life. It brings forgiveness for all your sins.
But…the wise person shops around first so…
What about Buddha? What type of grace does he offer?
What about Mohammed? I hear he has a good plan.
What about doing your best, trying your hardest, and earning some grace with the human spirit? That’s the American ideal. Plus you can get away with a lot more sins.
After all, doesn’t it kind of depend on your geography?
Different gods? Different traditions? Different religions?
Today we are finishing our series called Surprising Grace by looking at the exclusivity of grace. We’ll see why Grace must be from Jesus and how that’s true, no matter who you are or where you’re from. Before we do that, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Shopping Around for Other Options
Today’s account is taken from Revelation 5:1-12. Revelation is the final book in the Bible. It’s written by the Apostle John. It’s called Revelation because it’s a revelation that John received from God. A revelation of the future.
That’s why it has to be from God.
Remember: Time is like a jump rope. You and I are on the jump rope. Somewhere within this tiny ½ cm. It means we can only see behind us – as much as is preserved by history – and we can’t see too far in front of us – only making best guess predictions.
But God is of the timeline. He’s eternal. He sees everything from 6000 years ago to 15 years from now like it’s happening before his eyes.
That’s why God was able to tell John about the future in this revelation. He could see it happening. So, when we read Revelation, we find out about the future. We find out that sometimes – the future is comforting. Sometimes it’s scary. And sometimes…well…it’s strange.
John fell to his knees. The sight before him was too much.
For starters, there were these beasts. 4 incredible, terrifying beasts watching his every move. They were kind of like earthly beasts – and kind of not. One looked like an eagle. One like a lion. One like an ox. One like a man.
But they were only like these things. They were radiating. They were flying. They each had eyeballs all over them. Each eyeball blinking in tune with John’s every movement.
The beasts weren’t the only ones watching John. Surrounding him were 24 smaller thrones. Each throne had 24 elders – dressed in white and crowns of gold on their heads (v.4) Long, flowing, divine white hair gently flowing in the breeze – as if they were floating on water.
But the gentleness was interrupted. Flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder came from the center of the room. There stood a gigantic throne. There was a bright light radiating right in front of it. A white, bright light. The bright kind that makes you squint your eyes if you don’t have a pair of sunglasses.
But this light wasn’t coming from the sun. It wasn’t even coming from outside. It was coming from an ethereal rainbow that had fashioned itself at the top of the throne – marking and identifying the one who sat upon the throne.
Whose throne was it?
If John hadn’t figured it out yet – the melody of the elders made grew until it was at a thunderous level made him certain:
You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. (v.11)
John again looked to the ground in horror.
He was before God Almighty. He was before the Creator of heaven and earth.
He was before the one who makes volcanoes explode, tectonic plates shake, and flood water engulf the earth.
He, a sinner, was standing before the All holy, sin hating God.
But God wasn’t fixated on him. Not at the moment. At the moment, God was fixated on what he had in his hand.
It was a scroll. An ancient version of a eReader or book. Divine parchment tightly rolled up and sealed tightly with seven seals. (5:1)
What was in the scroll? Well there’s two books mentioned in the book of Revelation. One is called the Book of Life. That’s an important book. Because there is written the names of every person who has life – every person who is allowed to enter into heaven. Picture it like a divine guest list – only the bouncer isn’t some tough looking Italian guy named Guido.
It’s God himself.
Meaning this scroll was important. Without it, there was no way of knowing who it is that is allowed into heaven.
And…for whatever the reason, God wasn’t opening it.
In fact, one of the angels, a mighty angel, the king angel with bulging veins in his biceps and a heart tattoo on his left delt, started shouting in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” (v.2)
No one moved.
He repeated himself. Louder. “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?”
John looked around. Why wasn’t anyone trying to do it? Sure, the seals looked intimidating, but they were in God’s throne room. Why wasn’t he burly angel giving it a try? Why didn’t the ox-like thing try smashing it with his hoofs? Why didn't the eagle like thing try dive bombing it from on high? Why didn’t the 24 elders work together to develop some kind of divinely inspired Rube Goldberg machine to open it up?
But none of them were making their way to the scroll.
None of them were lifting a hand to break the seals.
Mostly, they were just shaking their heads – their divinely, haloed, eye-filled heads.
John began weeping. If that scroll wasn’t opened, then he wasn’t getting into heaven. Then, his friends weren’t getting into heaven. Then, none of his loved ones and fellow believers were getting into heaven.
v. 3 No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside of it.
Pay attention here. Because this has everything to do with God’s grace. Because we need God’s grace to get into heaven. We need God’s grace to get our names onto the pages of the Book of Life.
And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could write our names in there. In fact, they couldn’t even open the scroll or look inside of it.
Not anyone in that throne room. Not the mighty angel. Not the eagle. Not the ox. Not anyone on below that throne room either. Not Zeus. Not Hades. Not Hercules. Not Buddha. Not Mohammed. Not Vishnu.
Not a president. Not a king. Not any member of congress. Not a brilliant scientist. Not a billionaire business man.
Not even a guy who tries really hard and does his best and hopes that it’s enough to get his name in the book of Life.
There is no one else. No one who can get your name on the Book of Life.
No one who can win your forgiveness.
No one who can offer you’re an eternity in heaven.
II. The Exclusive Answer
“Do not weep!” cried one of the elders. His mouth agape in excitement. “Look! The Lion of the tribe of Judah has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
John took a deep breath. Of course! A lion. Lions are the King of the Jungle for a reason. They have majestic manes and fierce teeth for sinking into their prey. They have powerful jaws and swift, fierce claws. Lions were some of the most muscular and magnificent creatures on earth. A divine, heavenly version of it would have no problem destroying those seals!
John looked up with excitement. He covered his ears anticipating this miraculous roar!
But what he saw wasn’t a Lion.
It wasn’t fierce.
It wasn’t intimidating.
It didn’t roar.
Then, I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne. (5:6)
John turned his head in shock! A Lamb? Lambs aren’t intimidating! They don’t have claws – they have unbalanced hoofs. They don’t have majestic manes, but soft, gentle wool. They don’t roar – they baaa!
How was this creature – a creature of nursery rhymes and preschools – supposed to be the one to open the seals?
And this one wasn’t even in good health? It was looking as if it had been slain. (5:6) It looked like it was limping along. It needed to be held. It needed to be nourished. It didn’t need to be trying to open up these incredible seals.
John looked around. Is anybody going to stop this?
But no one else shared his concern. In fact, the others in the room – the elders, the winged creatures, the mighty angel – God himself – smiled at the sight of the Lamb and erupted into a magnificent song….
…to the Lamb:
You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain. (5:9)
Suddenly, it hit John.
The Lamb. The Lamb of God. He had heard that before.
He had read about it in the Old Testament – as the blood of innocent lambs foreshadowed this moment.
He had heard it from John the Baptist as he pointed at his leader “Look! The Lamb of God! Who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
He had seen it from his fellow disciple Peter who wrote, “-- a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:1
That’s who the Lamb was.
That’s why he was slain.
That’s why he alone could open the scroll.
Because that Lamb was Jesus!
Brothers and sisters, understand this! There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth who can open the scroll.
There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth who can get you into heaven.
There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth whose grace is enough for your eternal life.
No other being than Jesus Christ.
The Bible is simple then.
The Bible is clear.
God’s eternal vision has been revealed to you.
Do you desire forgiveness for your sins? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire to lose your guilt? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire to escape hell? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire eternal life? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire peace with God? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire eternal joy? Trust Jesus.
There is no one else who can provide these things – because the only one on the spiritual Angie’s List for salvation is The Lamb – Your Savior, Jesus Christ!!!
III. What Now?
(1) Celebrate this Exclusivity
Because what do they say? The only thing you don’t want to talk with people about are politics and religion. But…as this past election showed us – we had no problem talking politics. I’m friends with most of you on Facebook. I know this.
So why not religion?
Better yet…why not your Savior?
Better, better yet…why not the only one who provides forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation?
The elders didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
The four living creatures didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
The mighty angel didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
Even John – stopped being nervous and frightened and as he watched Jesus open up that scroll shouted: Worthy is the Lamb!
You do that too. In fact, why do you get on your Smartphone today and make that your status. #WorthyIsTheLamb
Don’t be afraid to let others know who it is that you trust. Don’t be afraid to let them know who it is they can trust.
(2) Celebrate Diversity
Because notice what it says about the Lamb in verse 9 You are worthy…because you were slain and with your blood you purchased persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
I love that. It means Jesus is your exclusive king no matter who you are.
It doesn’t matter what tribe you’re from. Which may be the closest Bible words for “race.” This is key, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, Asian or Latino, middle Eastern, Native American, combination of the above.
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And it doesn’t matter what language you speak. He’s the answer if you speak English or Spanish. Italian or German. Nigerian or Malawian. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Sign Language…even if you speak in emoji!
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And it doesn’t matter where you live. It doesn’t matter if you live in America or Iraq. Whether you live in Russia or China. Whether you live in Mexica or Canada. It doesn’t matter if you live in Durham or Cary or Chapel Hill or Knightdale or Morrisville or South Raleigh or North Raleigh or anywhere else on this planet!
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And if Jesus is king of us all – that means we’ve got to celebrate that diversity just like Jesus does. We’ve got hug those from different backgrounds. Speak with excitement – show excitement – to those who speak different languages. Grab hands and go to work with those from different places.
Celebrate Diversity because that’s what Jesus celebrates!
(3) Celebrate Unity
Because diversity…sometimes leads to division. I fear it’s happened to America. There’s so many different people in America that we let our differences get the best of us and we fight.
The same is true in Raleigh. It’s a global, multicultural, multigenerational community. It’s started to get divided.
The same could be true for our church. More and more God has enabled us to reflect the global, multicultural, diverse community that He will have in heaven.
How do we stay united?
Look carefully at verse 9 again You are worthy…because you were slain and with your blood you purchased persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom.
Did you hear that?
Not many kingdoms.
No a White kingdom and a Black kingdom and an Asian kingdom and a Hispanic kingdom.
Just a kingdom.
Jesus creates only one kingdom.
And we stand together as one kingdom, by remembering who it is that created that one kingdom.
And that’s kind of what happens at the end of the section. Everybody remembers that it’s all about Jesus and they started shouting – despite their differences – despite some being angels and some being lions and some being elders and some being many-eyed-flying-ox-like creatures.
Then, I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice, they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!"
But that’s not it. Because then, John prophesies about us. And he says this:
Then, I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea and all that is in them saying – (and since you are one of those creatures – please, say it with me ) “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!”
And the elders said “Amen!”
And I say “Amen.”
We were vacuuming up the dog hair (that gets all over your carpet when you have two dogs), when the vacuum stopped picking up the dog hair. It was just collecting it into a nice pile and not picking it up.
Then, it made a loud noise.
Then, it stopped making noise.
It was dead.
So, I went to the file folders that we have in our guest closet – and began looking for the warranty. Perhaps the company would fix it? Maybe they’d send a new one? Maybe we wouldn’t have to go out shopping?
I read the warranty.
Expired. About a month and a half ago.
Has something like that ever happened to you? Again – it’s not any good to never get coverage, yet it’s almost worse to have coverage and then lose coverage because the time has run out!
But what about God’s grace? We learned last week that it completely covers even the worst of sinners…
But for how long?
What are the terms?
Will it cover you 10 years from now?
Will it cover you 20 years from now?
Will it cover you…even after you die?
Today we are continuing our sermon series called Surprising Grace. Our goal is to examine the duration of God’s grace. We want to see: (1) How long his grace lasts (2) How long its benefits last (3) If you need to go looking for a replacement coverage anytime soon. Before we do that, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Duration of God’s Coverage
To learn about the duration of God’s grace – we’re going to turn to a man who had been under God’s grace for quite some time: The Apostle John. John is interesting, because he is one of the first disciples to learn about God’s grace. He is one of the first disciples that Jesus recruits while John is busy fishing. John gets to follow Jesus and see his grace throughout his ministry on earth. He seems him graciously cause the blind to see, the lame to walk, to deaf to hear – and the guilty to hear about God’s forgiveness.
It’s later on in life, after he’s known about God’s grace for years, that the Apostle John writes the letter known as 1 John. It’s a letter written to Christians everywhere and in chapter 2 he writes about the duration of God’s grace:
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the father, but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God the Father lives forever. (v.15-17)
I suppose the biggest problem with believing the long-lasting endurance of God’s grace is that nothing on earth lasts for that long of a time.
It’s true about neutral things.
A tree may last hundreds of years but eventually it falls down.
A flower may last for a season then winter comes and it dies.
A bag of Doritos is delicious, but lasts all about 3 minutes.
But it’s also true about sinful, worldly things. That’s essentially what John is referring to when he talks about the world and its desires in this section. “Things of the world” means “things born from the mind of the sinful world.”
What’s interesting is that we turn to these things for relief – for comfort.
A momentary high from that illegal drug.
A few hours of relaxation from drinking too much.
A few minutes rush from screaming obscenities at your family.
A few minutes rush from typing obscenities at that other political party on Twitter.
A few moments of private excitement with that person you aren’t married to.
These things offer moments of happiness…
…and a lifetime of regret.
A headache that lasts all morning.
An argument that lasts for hours.
An addiction that lasts for years.
A friendship spoiled for the rest of your life.
A guilty feeling that stays with you whenever you look at your spouse – for the rest of your life.
But should we be surprised? Look at where these highs are coming from. John writes, “These things do not come from the father, but from the world.”
Do any of you remember Oakley sunglasses? They were all the rage growing up. They had awesome aviator shades. They had a deep jet black frame. They were very durable and very cool.
But they also cost $250.
So -- many kids got imitation Oakleys. The ones from Walmart for $15 bucks. Problem is? You could tell they were phony. You could tell they were fake when they came apart at the hinges the first time you dropped them.
Should we be surprised that earthly things only last for a moment? They come from an earth that (in the grand scheme of eternity) will only last for a moment.
But God’s grace isn’t like that.
God’s grace isn’t from the world.
God’s grace is from God.
The world and its desires pass away, but the one who does the will of the Father lives forever.
What’s the will of the Father?
To believe in Jesus Christ.
To put your faith in the one who died, hit his expiration date, and then came back to life again.
To trust in the one who is indestructible, because his grace is indestructible – so that you too will be indestructible.
John knew this. He had seen it happen.
Lazarus was a friend of John’s. He was a friend of the entire family of disciples. He had sung hymns with them, said prayers with them, and told jokes with them.
Lazarus was also human.
Because he was a human he was susceptible to germs.
Because he was susceptible to germs, he got sick.
Because he was sick, he grew weak.
Because he grew weak, he started to die!
His body was from the earth which meant it was going to pass away.
And it died.
And he died.
They wrapped his body up in linens.
They placed him in a grave.
His family mourned their loss.
Then, Jesus came.
And Jesus spoke.
And Lazarus went right back to living.
It’s interesting, right before that happens Jesus explains why. He says this, “I am the Resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies; whoever lives and believes in me will never die!” (John 11:25-26)
Because God’s grace comes from God.
And God lasts forever.
So, his grace – lasts forever!
Another passage repeated throughout the old Testament says this, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good and his love endures forever!” Of course it does! God is eternal. He isn’t on the timeline. He doesn’t have an end and set time. His grace doesn’t have an end time. “His love endures forever,” is a phrase that lasts “forever!”
And this is comforting.
Because I heard about God’s grace a long time ago. I believed. God’s grace was mine.
But here’s a secret: I’ve sinned since then. I’ve even sinned since we talked about it last week.
Is God’s grace still enough?
Think of a jump rope. Maybe about 12 feet long? I want you to imagine for a minute that this jump rope covers all of eternity. That’s a long time. You and I exist on this tiny half centimeter right here.
God’s grace lasts longer than you.
It lasts longer than me.
What do you think? Can you outlast God’s grace?
God’s grace is forever.
But Pastor! People still die and miss out on God’s grace.
You’re right. That’s hell. But the problem isn’t with God’s grace. It's with people. People who throw away God's’ grace because they figure they can last on their own that’s like throwing away your insurance plan because you think you don’t need it. The problem isn’t the insurance plan. It's you.
And if you throw out God’s grace because you don’t think you need it anymore…The problem isn’t God’s grace. That’s on you.
But John continues, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us all our sins.” Even if that sin has been going on for a while – for your whole life – listen to God’s Word right now.
And be confident.
His grace is there.
II. The Duration of God’s Blessings
And its blessings are forever.
Take a look with me at a Bible book that was written even after 1 John. In fact, it’s the last book of the Bible to be written. It was written by the same John but at the end of his life. It’s a book called Revelation. It’s called Revelation because in the book, God gives John a revelation of what will happen in the future. Things that are easy for God to see, since He is beyond this whole timeline thing.
He writes this about heaven:
Believers are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
This is eternity. It mentions a few awesome things about the blessings that God has in store for us in heaven. Blessings that will endure forever:
(1) God’s Presence
That’s the first thing that pops out. The people are serving God day and night. They are with him. He’s at the center of the throne. You always know that he’s there.
Which isn’t always the case on earth.
We get nervous.
We get frightened.
We think: God, you left me! I’m all alone.
That’s never the case in heaven. Not that God has left us on this earth, he’s always there; but that we don’t always believe it. In heaven, that doubt is gone and God’s presence is completely obvious in a new, incredible way – as we serve him day and night.
Which sounds like work – except – notice – God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
It isn’t sad in heaven.
People don’t lose their jobs.
Finances aren’t difficult.
Friends don’t fight about politics.
Kids don’t tell parents that they hate them.
Parents don’t abandon kids.
People don’t call each other awful, racist names.
Because they are too joyful!
In fact, right before this section John writes down what those believers in heaven are saying. It’s isn’t complaining. It isn’t fighting. It isn’t arguing about who should get to take a break. It’s this: “Honor and glory and praise and thank be to our God and to the Lamb forever and ever! Amen!”
Do you have arthritis? Arthritis is something that kinda sorta can get the best of you. It’s this dull, achy, constant pain that affects your joints. So…how do you handle it? You take a pill. You have an Advil and water and you’re pain free! For about 4 hours. Then, you better take another pill before the pain comes back. And at the very best you can fall asleep and escape pain for 6 hours! Until it’s time to wake up and then the pain is even worse because the joint has been stiff all night long.
Heaven is final relief.
God’s grace brings forever relief. Revelation said, The sun won’t beat down on them nor any scorching heat. It won’t hurt. There won’t be any sunburn in heaven. That’s because there is no pain in heaven and that will last forever!
Think about it:
No hangnails ever.
No headaches ever.
No scraped knees ever.
No allergies ever.
No cancer ever.
No getting old…ever.
And no death.
John writes, “The Lamb will lead them…to springs of living water.” Springs that give eternal life. Springs that outlast death. Springs that allow us to say “that person is in a better place.”
Which is key.
Because death stinks.
This past Friday I went to Elmcroft Retirement home. It’s a place where I go to do a Bible study. I’ve been doing it for the past five and half years. And just about every one of those last five and a half years – an older woman by the name of Ms. Fannie has been there. It hurt her to get there. She had pain in her knees and she had struggles seeing. But she’d always be there.
Until this past Friday.
Because she couldn’t.
Because she passed away.
And it hurt. I was sad. This dear friend of mine had passed so quickly, so effortlessly, and life just moved on.
But then…I got to thinking – that’s why she always made sure she was there for Bible study. Because Ms. Fannie knew that life was short. Because Ms. Fannie knew that arthritis was temporary. Because Ms. Fannie knew that her momentary pain was just that – momentary.
And that Bible study? It contained the only thing that lasts:
Brothers and sisters, may we have that same attitude and do everything to hold until the truth that lasts forever. Amen.
Can you imagine going to the doctors and finding out that you aren’t covered?
And that they can’t remove the cancer?
Can you imagine standing before God and finding out that you aren’t covered?
That your sins are still there.
That your guilt is still there.
That the guilt you feel from that big ol’ sin, that bogs you down, day after day will be with you forever.
That you won’t be getting eternal life, but…
Today we are continuing our sermon series called Surprising Grace. Our goal is to look at the case study of the Apostle Paul and see why he was so sure that he was covered and to gain confidence that we are also covered. I want you to leave here today confident that you’re covered in God’s grace. But in order to do that, we’re going to need to hear God’s Word. Let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Case Study: Paul
To learn about just who it is that God’s grace covers, we’re going to head to 1 Timothy 1. 1 Timothy is a letter written by one of Jesus’ disciples. His name was Paul. The Apostle Paul. Maybe you’ve heard of him? In fact, he’s probably one of the top 5 -- outside of Jesus -- famous people me in the Bible. Moses, David, Mary, Peter and Paul.
Paul is kind of a man’s man of Christianity. He always puts me to shame when I read about how he preached God’s message to an angry group of men that told him to stop or they would kill him. Paul went on a missionary journey by foot, traveled hundreds of miles, started about 10 churches, and then returned home to grab a Pop Tart, take a shower, and head on another missionary journey.
Paul went on 4 missionary journeys.
He started over 20 churches.
He wrote 13 books of the Bible.
It’s why we shouldn’t be surprised to find out that Paul is covered: I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. (v.12)
Paul’s a part of God’s service.
No one is a part of God’s service that isn’t covered in his salvation plan.
Paul is covered in God’s salvation plan.
And that’s probably not all that encouraging.
Paul is a answer to Bible trivia.
Paul has had churches named after him.
Paul has had hundreds of thousands of sermons preached about him.
Of course, he’s getting covered!
That’d be like an insurance company saying, “Don’t worry. We’ll cover you. Look over there? Do you see that insanely in shape 22-year-old? The one with the bulging biceps, no history of heart problems, and the lesson than 2% body fat? He’s covered. No worries.”
But I do worry. Cause I’m not in that kind of shape.
And I’m not in the kind of spiritual shape that Paul was in. You?
But that’s not entirely accurate. There’s more to Paul’s story than the famous Apostle portion of his story. Check out verse 13. “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man….”
Do you know the first time Paul shows up in the Bible? He actually has a different name. It’s like a superhero. He’s not originally known as the Batman, but billionaire Bruce Wayne. And Paul is not originally known as the incredible Apostle Paul, but lowly, mild-mannered Saul.
In fact, Saul was kind of an apprentice. But he didn’t work for the Daily Planet or work as a lab technician in a government factory.
He worked for the Pharisees.
The very people that hated Jesus.
The very people who spearheaded the movement to kill Jesus.
In fact, when we first see Saul it’s in Acts 7. Saul is on the job helping the Pharisees stop the message of Jesus as the Savior of the world.
How are they doing it?
They aren’t blogging against it.
They aren’t writing articles against it.
They aren’t even spray painting the disciple’s headquarters.
They were throwing stones at one of Jesus’ followers.
One by one.
Until he was dead.
57 At Stephen’s confession that Jesus was the Savior, the Pharisees covered their ears and yelling at the top of their voices,they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named – Saul.
“Nice shot sir. Hit that no good Jesus-lover in the throat.”
“Well, don’t guys. I love how he’s moaning for mercy.”
“Oh look out…you got a bit of blood on your coat. No worries. I’ll wash it out. You just keep killing.”
That’s the same guy from 1 Timothy?
I haven’t even finished yet. Because if you read on, the scriptures say that Saul was really moved by this gang murder. So much so that he spearheaded the movement to put an end to Christianity. In chapter 8, it says, he persecuted the church in Jerusalem and began to destroy the church…Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison…And in chapter 9 -- He was breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.
Yes. This same guy. This same guy writes this in 1 Timothy 1:13 “Though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy…because I acted in ignorance and unbelief."
Which is such a strange reason for mercy. Because usually ignorance and unbelief do not lead to mercy.
Sorry officer I didn’t know that I was going 30 mph over the speed limit.
Sorry, officer. I saw the stop sign; I just didn’t believe that I needed to stop. No worries, right?
That’s not how it works. Ignorance and unbelief do not result in good things!
Ignorance and unbelief do NOT earn God’s mercy.
Sin deserves death.
Saul deserved death.
But he didn’t get death. Because of God’s mercy.
In fact, it had to be about God’s mercy. Just like we talked about last week. No one can earn God’s grace – God’s grace is a free gift to be given. Jesus came to Saul – literally when he was on the road to go throw more Christian men and women and children into jail, literally when he was about to take a sledge hammer to whatever house churches he could find – literally when he was going to post signs everywhere stated that “Any man or woman found practicing Christianity would be put to death,”
Jesus had mercy.
And it covered Saul! Not because his sins weren’t too bad. (we just heard – they were really bad!) God’s mercy covered Saul because God’s mercy was more than enough. (v.14) The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
It’s kind of like filling up a tea pot. Any of you have a teapot? I have a teapot that I use for coffee. But if you’re like me, I put it under the sink and let it start filling up --- then I go do something. I comb my hair. I brush my teeth. I pet the dogs. I read an article in Time magazine. I get distracted by a Facebook post. I put on my shoes. I get ready to leave and then I hear it!
I run back to the sink and find the teapot overflowing. And since the teapot is sitting over the drain, the teapot looks like it is soaking in a hot tub of water. There’s an abundant, overflowing amount.
That’s God’s grace. It overflowed to Saul. It overflowed so much that his past was completely washed away from God’s sight. It even washed away his old identity. He was no longer – Saul the blasphemer, but Paul the believer. He was no longer Saul the persecutor, but Paul the Apostle. He was no longer Saul the violent, but Paul – whom Christ suffered violently for.
Paul was completely covered by God’s grace.
II. A Case Study of You
And that’s awesome. Because it means something really, awesome for you.
And I don’t know how you take notes. But when you take notes and it’s an important point, you might do something to draw your attention to it. You might put an ink star. You might underline it. You might highlight it. You might highlight, underline and star it. You might put a bookmark in the Bible. You might make an audio recording of it. You might do something – anything to let you know about the note!
In the next verse, Paul has such an important note for you that he even takes the liberty of drawing attention to it for you. He says, in verse 15, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance…” That means: “LISTEN! PAY ATTENTION! IF YOU HAVEN’T BEEN PAYING ATTENTION TO ANY OTHER PART OF THIS SERMON, YOU NEED TO PAY ATTENTION NOW!”
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the worst!
This is so interesting, because usually the Bible puts us on equal footing. It says – “All have sinned and fall short and all are justified freely by Jesus.” (Romans 3:23) All are on the same playing field. That’s still true.
But humanly speaking we do put levels on sins.
“I didn’t really commit adultery – I didn’t have complete intercourse.”
“I’m not as bad as that guy because I wasn’t a knock out drunk.”
Paul knows the human heart. God knows the human heart. God has Paul write on that level of human wisdom. He says, “16 For that very reason, I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”
He says, “Do you really think you’re so bad that Jesus couldn’t save you? Do you really think you’ve done too much bad that Jesus’ forgiveness couldn’t cover you? Well. Let me ask you this:
Have you ever killed anyone for telling an elderly widow about Jesus?
Have you ever gone to church in order to tackle the pastor, handcuff him, and throw him into jail?
Have you ever taken a sledge hammer to the foundation of a church?
Have you ever sent email after email after email to a Christian friend – telling them they were the most vile person on earth and if they didn’t stop, you’d kill them!?!
God still had enough grace to cover him.
Paul was that bad.
But Jesus’ salvation was that good.
If God did that for Paul, won’t he do that for you?
In fact – that’s why Jesus came into the world: To save sinners! If you’re a sinner, Jesus came to die for you. He came to provide complete coverage for every last one of your sins. He came to completely cover you in his blood and conceal you in his pure and sweet forgiveness.
This is true for you.
No matter the sin.
Struggle with lust? Jesus came for you.
Struggle with hatred? Jesus came for you.
Struggle with greed? Jesus came for you.
Done something to get you in jail? Jesus came for you.
Done something to ruin your marriage? Jesus came for you.
Done something to ruin your relationship with your children? Jesus came for you.
If you’ve done something or anything sinful, Jesus came into this world to save you.
And? He did.
He lived perfectly.
He died innocently.
He rose triumphantly.
Jesus came into this world to save sinners – Jesus came into this world to save you!
Which means…You are fully covered.
III. What Now?
1) Revel in your New Identity
That’s what Paul did. He didn’t stay in the realm of “Woe is me! I’ve done so much wrong. I’m the worst of sinners.” He didn’t see himself like that because God didn’t see himself like that. In fact, the only reason he ever talked about it was to help others understand how incredible God’s grace was and is.
It’s like Halloween. At Halloween, you may have put on a mask. You may have been someone else. For the rest of the night – depending on how good you are at playing the part – you became a Dr. Who, Doc McStuffins or a Pokemon!
In fact, I came across one little kid who was doing an awesome job with his costume. He was pretending to be a ninja. He was such a good ninja. He was always tip toeing. He tried to sneak up on me a few times. He talked in a whisper. And when his mom came calling him to get him into the car, he was so into his character that he forgot about who he really was. He hid!
Understand this: Paul is not advocating that you play a character. He advocates that you revel in who you really are.
Child of God!
2) Honor the King!
Because there’s no reason to feel sorry anymore! We are forgiven. We are given grace. We are a part of his kingdom!
That’s exactly how Paul closes that section…which is so interesting, because it’s not even the end of his letter. He’s still at the beginning. But he can’t mention God’s incredible grace without breaking into praise. He says, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen!”
Make that your refrain.
Instead of posting on Facebook about how bad you’ve got it; post about the awesome you’ve got it in God.
Instead of getting to work to complain about the unfortunate consequences of sin; get to work tell others about the awesome consequences of God’s grace.
Instead of avoiding God in fear; come, worship Him – because his grace had completely covered you!
Today is Last Judgment Sunday. A day that we remember what’s coming up. A day when the Bible reminds us that one Day, Our King, Our Immortal, Incredible, Divine, earth shaking, mountain quaking, flood pouring, lightning storing God comes to earth and judges us.
Each of us.
And without coverage – that’s a terrifying thing.
But you have been covered.
You are covered.
By faith in Jesus, you will be covered.
Your words to him will not be – Please don’t! But filled with praise “To the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever!” (v.17)