When COVID-19 is finally over, I think church should have a party.
A non-socially distant party.
A party where everyone who enters gets good, old fashioned, human contact.
Even European cheek kisses?
There’ll be Juicy Juices available in the snack area – with two giant straws for you to share with a complete stranger!
Out back, we’ll have a giant game of twister…
And we’ll end the party by doing one of those things where everyone puts their hands in and then raise them by shouting something encouraging like: “Go Social Near Proximity!”
A non-social distance party sounds nice…
We aren’t there yet.
Not at all.
Some of you wonder.
When will that party happen?
Will that party EVER happen?
That party will absolutely happen.
In fact, the Bible guarantees such a party.
Only this party, it doesn’t happen on earth.
Today we hear from God’s Word about the ETERNAL VICTORY PARTY awaiting us in heaven. Before we get into it, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Vision of the Party
The lesson comes from the very last book in the Bible. It’s called Revelation. Revelation was written by one of Jesus’ 12 disciples named John. John was very close to Jesus. He had spent three years learning from Jesus, he was at the cross when Jesus died, he saw Jesus risen from the dead, and interacted with his risen Savior on multiple occasions. John was a key part of the early church and spreading the Gospel.
Unfortunately, that got John into trouble. He was exiled to an island called Patmos where he finished life by himself.
Think of it like his own quarantine.
But God didn’t let John’s time go to waste. While on the island of Patmos, God revealed to John some amazing things about the future. God came to John in several vision to reveal truths about the end times. These visions are written down in Revelation.
That’s why Revelation is called Apocalyptic Literature. Apocalyptic literature is pretty fantastic. It includes otherworldly creatures, strange metaphors, and complicated similes.
It’s like verbal art. Each word is like an artist’s brush stroke. The strokes come together to create a fantastic piece that speaks deep truth about the end times. For us, the challenging part is that the Holy Spirit’s work in Revelation is something like a Picasso – strange, out of place, hard to understand at first glance.
That’s important to keep in mind.
The temptation might be to take it apart piece by piece. To focus in on singular details.
But the Holy Spirit motivated John to write the vision as one continuous piece.
There’s value in backing up and looking at it in its entirety.
Let’s dive into the vision.
John was having a normal day.
It’s quiet on an exile island.
I imagine he woke up at the rays of sunlight.
He went and poured his drip coffee, “Patmos Perk Blend.”
He grabbed his scrolled copy of the first three chapters of Revelation.
Because these were Jesus’ words.
He went outside to use them for his morning devotion.
As he’s sitting on his patio, with the waves gently crashing in the background, he warms his hands on his mug and takes a deep breath:
“What a beautiful sunrise.
What a beautiful skyline.
Nothing could be more beautiful.”
Just then, something happened.
After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. (v.1)
And John did a double take.
It wasn’t as if the clouds parted.
It wasn’t as if the sun was shining more brightly.
The physical, earthly atmosphere opened to reveal the hidden, metaphysical realm of heaven
Then, a loud sound.
No, a voice.
No, a voice like trumpet.
No, a trumpet like voice.
The same voice that had spoken to him as he wrote those letters.
The same powerful voice that had spoken God’s Word.
The voice of Jesus.
(Jesus’) Voice…said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” (v.1)
No sooner had Jesus’ voice spoken, than John was in the Spirit. (v.2)
John was suddenly looking back at his body.
His spirit was entering the spirit realm and he was being led by the Spirit…
Through the air.
Through the sky.
Through the clouds.
Through the Ozone Layer.
Through the metaphysical doorway.
Once John got his bearings. He looked around.
And there before (him) was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. (v2b)
It was hard to make out who that someone was.
Because this Being.
And this Throne.
They were gleaming.
They were glowing with an otherworldly glow.
And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby.
Jasper is a beautiful, clear, diamond-like rock.
Ruby is a gorgeous, dark red gemstone.
John had seen them before as tiny stones worn by the religious leaders back on earth. The high priests wore the stones on his breastplate. They served as a beautiful reminder of the God’s grace and sovereignty.
Thus far in John’s life he had only seen these stones worn by someone.
Never as someone.
Above the One seated on the throne was an emerald-colored shape. (v.3)
It encircled the throne.
It encircled the jasper & ruby like being.
It encircled them like a rainbow.
In the Old Testament, the rainbow was given by God as reminder of God’s grace and mercy.
Unfortunately, all the rainbows that John had seen…faded.
Not this one.
This rainbow – endured.
Where God’s grace – stayed.
It took a couple of minutes. But John noticed that there were others in the room.
Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. (v.4)
They looked like princes.
All in uniform.
All in a holy, divine uniform.
John was about to compliment the nearest elder on his golden head gear, when…
From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. (v.5)
It was louder than any storm John had ever heard before.
Probably because he was closer to the source of a storm than John had ever been before.
This was the throne room of heaven.
This is the place where God controlled the weather.
This is the place where God told tornadoes where to go…
…and hurricanes to develop into category 4s.
…and earthquakes to rumble.
…and volcanoes to erupt.
…and wildfires to burn.
Speaking of burning…
In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. (v5b)
They didn’t seem to be going out.
Not at all.
They weren’t fading.
Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. (v.6)
In fact, that water was unlike any water John had ever seen before.
Most of the water he had seen was murky.
This greenish, brown from algae and mud.
Even the shores of the Mediterranean Sea on his island, which were clearer than lake water, weren’t as clear as this divine deluge.
This sea and how it got that way?
Was surpassing all John’s understanding.
In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures. (v.7)
And you’ll have to forgive John for the description. Because these creatures were unlike any creatures he had ever seen on earth.
For starters, they were covered with eyeballs all down their front and all down their backs. It would be enough to give anyone jitters.
But not John.
Not beside that peaceful water.
Not in the protection of the One on the throne.
The first living creature was like a lion, powerful and wild.
The second was like an ox, domestic and loyal.
The third had a face like a man, wise and beloved.
Th fourth was like a flying eagle, soaring and free.
Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. (v8)
John couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
This was incredible.
It was awesome.
It was worth giving a shout.
The living creatures beat him to it:
“ ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.” (v.8b)
“ ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.”
“ ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.”
It was a beautiful symphony.
But it wasn’t over.
Suddenly, the elders got down from their thrones.
They turned to face the Seated One.
They fell to the ground.
They took off their crowns.
And joined in the worship of the Seated One.
They cried, “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.8)
He didn’t need to be afraid.
He didn’t need to be worried.
He didn’t need to be anything anymore…
Other than joyful.
He was with God.
II. Truths about the Eternal Victory Party
This revelation paints a beautiful picture for us of that eternal victory party. There’s a lot to talk about. But I’m going to limit myself to five things that will have value for our lives right now.
GOD is at the CENTER of the Victory Party.
The first things John sees is the One seated on the Throne. (v.2) His eyes are naturally drawn to him.
Then, there are these concentric circles going out and around the throne.
Verse 3 says the rainbow encircled the throne.
Verse 4 says the 24 elders were surrounding the throne.
Verse 6 says the 4 living creatures were around the throne.
Verse 9 says the elders bow down and praise the One on the throne.
In fact, if we read a bit farther in chapter 5:11, it says that 10,000 times 10,000 angels encircled the throne to praise God.
The point? God is at the center of this victory party.
Since God’s there? This is a good party.
This is a DIVINELY good party.
It’s not like human parties.
Sometimes human parties aren’t very good.
The punch isn’t bitter.
The taco dip isn’t overrun with too many refried beans.
The Enya music in the background isn’t ruining the mood.
This isn’t like a human party.
This party is good.
Sometimes human parties have sin at them. Sin that spoils the party and gives you a bad after taste for days!
Like the headache you have because you drank too much.
Or the drunken text message you need to explain because you were mad at someone.
Or the two of your friends who aren’t speaking together anymore because one got together with the other’s boyfriend.
This isn’t a human party.
This is a GOD party.
It isn’t a sinful party with horrid after-effects.
This is a God party.
With amazing forever effects.
At this party…
There’s no sadness.
There’s no pain.
There’s no fighting.
There’s no backstabbing.
There’s no gossip.
There’s no embarrassment.
There’s no sickness.
There’s no sin.
There’s no COVID-19.
There’s no economic downturn.
There’s no loss of job.
There’s no anxiety.
There’s only good.
The guest list includes ALL BELIEVERS
John describes 24 elders in front of the throne. This seems very likely to be a summation of two very important groups from the Bible. One from the Old Testament before Jesus and another group from the New Testament at the time of Jesus.
There were 12 tribes of Israel in the Old Testament. (This nation was chosen by God to preserve the promise of the Savior.)
There were 12 apostles in the New Testament. (These were chosen by the Savior to work closely with him.)
Putting those two together seems to symbolize a complete gathering of the Chosen from the Old and New Testament.
In other words:
Do you grasp what this means?
If you are a believer in Jesus as your Savior, you will be at this divine party.
That’s what happened when the Gospel was preached to you.
God wrote up one of those little invitations cards and sent it to you.
Of course, he didn’t send it on one of those Pinterest level cuties cards – although if the first way you learned about Jesus was through a Pinterest card with “Jesus Loves You” written on it, I suppose that’s exactly what he did.
And if you aren’t a believer, this is your invitation right now!
You are invited to the party.
A party without any pain, shame, or sadness.
If you’d like to be in that party, you’ve got to listen to the instructions on the invitation.
What are those instructions?
Do you remember how John got to the party?
He didn’t use GPS.
He didn’t use Google maps.
He didn’t ask Alexa.
The voice called to him.
It was the voice of Jesus.
The ONLY way to the eternal victory party is through JESUS.
And that’s good news.
Cause while these the most impressive party of all time,
There isn’t an exclusive list.
You don’t have to pay your way in.
You don’t have to be invited based on your humanitarian efforts.
You won’t be disqualified because you have that one sin in your past.
Jesus is your way to the victory party.
It’s only through Jesus that you get into the party.
He lived for you.
He died for you.
He rose for you.
It’s as simple as trusting Jesus’ invitation.
And you’ll be at that party.
The party is JOYFUL!
The living creatures with the eyeballs and the wings. I don’t know exactly what they represent. It seems the safest and easiest choice would be a representation of all living creatures.
The lion represents wild animals.
The ox represents domesticated animals.
The human represents humans.
The eagle represents birds.
Don’t ask me why there isn’t a slug with a bunch of eyes on it representing mollusks.
But did you notice this?
These living creatures praise God.
So do the angels.
So do the elders – aka – the Redeemed.
Everyone and everything are joyfully praising God!
No one is stopping to complain.
No one is stopping to argue.
No one is thinking about COVID-19.
No one is worried that they need to get home by 9 so they don’t get charged double by the babysitter.
Do you remember the last time you were just joyful?
You will be.
When you join the eternal victory party, you will be joyful!
But here’s where it gets interesting. Look closely at verse 9 again:
Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to the one who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four…worship the one who lives forever and ever…saying: You are worthy, Lord our God! (v.9-10)
Did you catch that?
It isn’t a one-time occurrence.
It isn’t a thing in the future.
It’s a “whenever” occurrence.
As in, this praise for our God is going on right now.
You don’t need to WAIT to join the party.
Whenever you see a beautiful sunrise and you are amazing at God’s artistry? Praise God!
Whenever you see a majestic wild animal on one of those National Geographic shows and you are amazed at God’s power? Praise God!
Whenever you look through your kids’ books on animals and you see a photo of one of those weird fish with the light on its head and you think: “That’s so creative.” Praise God!
Whenever you wake up to the beautiful face of your bride and think, “How blessed am I?” Praise God!
Whenever your family gathers together on the sofa for game night, safe and healthy? Praise God!
Whenever you see the gorgeous smile of your child on the screen saver of your cell phone? Praise God.
Whenever you wake up and realize you woke up. Praise God! It’s a day worth partying!
Whenever you hear about what your Savior did for you on the cross. Praise God!
Whenever you are reminded that you are redeemed? Praise God!
Whenever you think of the eternal victory party awaiting you? Praise God!
Friends, we’ve got all kinds of reasons to celebrate. Join God in the eternal victory party today!
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.
We are restarting a sermon series that we did last summer. If you remember last summer, we went through a book in the Bible called “ACTS.” Acts is a book that describes the “ACTS of the Early Church.” This, by the way, is the Early Church in which our church finds its roots. The goal of the series was to discover (1) What the Early Church found important to do and (2) Consider how we might refocus on doing the very things that they did.
Because I think it’s really easy for a modern church to get distracted.
Maybe you know this, but Facebook knows what you think. Their website records everything you do on Facebook. Then, they distract you with ads for the very things you’ve been searching for on your Facebook profile.
For instance, Friday was a teacher workday. The teachers had some food delivered from McAllister’s deli. And even though I wasn’t in charge of ordering that food…my account must have been logged into the computer that was used for ordering and... coincidence? I am getting all kinds of ads for McAllister’s Deli.
The same is true for being a pastor. Because I am a pastor, the majority of the ads I see on Facebook are about church from businesses aimed at churches. The ads usually go something like this: “Your Church NEEDS this!” It’ll lead to articles that say things like:
Now these things could be beneficial.
But when it comes to what church NEEDS to be doing…
I’m thinking the answer should come from God, not the advertiser paying good money to track my internet usage habits.
Today we are going to dive into chapter 2 of ACTs and use the story of Pentecost as a base point for review of the last year’s sermon series. (That’s about 14 chapters in one sermon). Our goal is to identify the thing “Above All Else” that the Early Church needed to be engaged in and understand why we need to be doing that same thing.
Before we do that, a prayer:
Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. God’s “Above All Else”
Acts 2 take places during Pentecost. It was an Old Testament festival that occurred “fifty days after Passover.” “Pente” a root form meaning “five.” That’s where we get the word “pentagon,” or “five-sided shape.” “Pente” meaning “fifty” hence, a festival fifty days after Passover.
It was a big festival. It happened every year. It drew thousands of practicing Jews to Jerusalem. This year was no different. The streets were filled with people. They were up early shopping the marketplaces and getting the items necessary for celebrating the festival later that day. It was just like every other year.
At about 8 o’clock in the morning, there was the sound of a hurricane-like wind. Only it wasn’t coming from the sky, but a small corner house.
After that sound was going for a while, out of the house, burst a group of men with what appeared to be flames of fire ignited on the top of their heads.
Men who, being from Israel, should not have known the 20-some different languages of the various people there in Jerusalem for the festival.
Yet they spoke clearly. Efficiently. Fluently.
It was amazing.
It was incredible.
It was…too good to be true.
Someone shouted: “They have had too much wine.” (2:13)
Because…getting drunk usually increases your language skills?
But the reality was that this was more than a house party.
This was more than a regular celebration.
This was divine and miraculous.
This was God!!!
And now with everyone’s attention focused exactly where God wanted it, God moves one of the men, Peter to stand up and speak this message:
“15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people…’” (Acts 2:15-16)
That’s what’s happening! With the hurricane sound. With tongues of fire. With the different languages. This is God’s way of getting your attention.
About 50 days ago.
It wasn’t just 50 days until your 50 days celebration.
About 50 days ago.
You guys killed Jesus.
And this Jesus?
Wasn’t just some rebel.
Wasn’t just some teacher.
Wasn’t just some nice guy.
He was God.
He did miracles exactly like what you’re seeing here today!
He didn’t just cause storms; he stopped them.
He didn’t just make fire appear; but bread and wine and water.
He didn’t just speak different languages, but he spoke to dead people to make them alive.
He did the very things that only God could do because he was God Himself.
And you killed him.
You killed God.
And death didn’t stick.
I saw Him.
Now at this point the group that was listening started to get very uncomfortable.
Because some of the people who heard this were the very people that had been in Jerusalem 50 days earlier shouting for Jesus to be crucified.
And…if this was true…
Then, they had sinned.
And if this was true…
Jesus would be coming back to vaporize them.
What shall we do?” They cried.
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. (Acts 2:38)
And that’s it.
God’s message to the very people who killed Jesus…
About how they could get right with Jesus was simply this:
Turn from sin. Turn to Jesus.
To turn from unbelief to turn to belief.
Their way into God’s kingdom was simply belief in Jesus!
And be baptized.
To have someone pour water on you in Jesus’ name.
And the miraculous God who did these very miracles here today will work through that water to bring you forgiveness.
Does that seem too easy for those sinners?
Does that seem too easy for any sinner?
Does that seem too easy for you, a sinner?
Guess what? That’s the main message of the God powered, God inspired Early Christian Church.
The Early Church’s main message, also known as the Gospel, places you above all else.
It’s kind of like an internet troll. Someone who logs in and gets updates on your social media page or your blog…only because they can’t wait to go on your profile and argue…maybe post an obscene emoji and make you generally angry. Send inappropriate emails to every in your contact list, too.
How many of you wake up on a day to day basis and say: “I hope that internet troll guy is doing good today. Hey, maybe I should call him to check in. Better yet…Let me send him some Uber Eatz…what’s his favorite? Chicken wings?”
We have rebelled against God.
Like a spiritual internet troll to God we have repeatedly gone against him.
Consciously or not – when we complain about his rules, sin, do the opposite - we are completely against God.
Yet, He still did everything to save us!
In fact, he put YOU above everything else. Peter’s words bring that truth to the forefront.
(1) Above the Father’s Other Plans
Check out verse 23: “Jesus was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge.”
This Jesus thing wasn’t an accident.
It wasn’t an incident that got out of control.
It wasn’t an UNPLANNED thing.
It was planned by the Father eternities before you were ever you.
In fact, God set things in motion from the beginning of time to achieve your salvation, to bring you forgiveness and to connect you to his kingdom.
God’s ultimate plan isn’t a fireworks celebration for himself.
It isn’t millions of people bowing down to him.
It isn’t to have his name be the most Googled name of all time.
In heaven with him.
(2) Above Jesus’ Own Life
Peter continues, “Jesus was handed over to you…and you put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (v.23b) Notice the phrase “Handed over.” It doesn’t say, “You actively took him by force,” but he was passively “handed over.”
Jesus knew God’s plan was to have him die.
And he still volunteered for it.
Not because it would be easy. It isn’t as if Jesus said, “You know what would be a lot of fun? To have nails jammed into my hands, to have my metatarsals separated by a spike, to press a crown of thorns deeply into my skull and to hang up there while everyone ridiculed me until my lungs gave up and I died.”
Jesus went to the cross because…YOU.
Because He placed you above HIS OWN LIFE.
(3) Above the Holy Spirit’s Inconspicuousness
Peter continues, “Jesus has sent…the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” (v.33)
How much do you know about the Holy Spirit?
Briefly: He’s God.
One of the three persons in the ONE Triune God.
He’s always been around.
In fact, he appears at the very beginning of the Bible. In Genesis 1 it says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…Now…the earth was formless and empty and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.”
The Holy Spirit is there.
He is only mentioned in passing in a few vague Psalms and prophecies.
He prefers to do his work in inconspicuous mystery.
And the Holy Spirit goes out of his way to draw our attention to his presence.
The Holy Spirit wants you to pay attention.
He wants you to see how Jesus’ put YOU above his own life.
He wants you to know how God put YOU above his other plans.
He wants you to know that the Gospel places YOU above all else.
II. The Early Church’s “Above All Else”
Now the scene is a courtroom.
Peter is there.
But this time…he’s in chains.
And the people surrounding him are not a crowd of believers.
Violent angry men.
The same violent angry men that killed Jesus.
And unlike some of the people at Pentecost, these people want nothing to do with Jesus.
In fact, that’s the reason they have Peter arrested!
They want him to stop teaching about Jesus.
They want him to stop preaching the Gospel.
They want him to stop…or else.
And Peter looks around.
They’re glaring at him.
He knows they’re serious.
Serious…and blood thirsty.
He doesn’t care.
“We must obey God; rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
In other words:
The Early Church would keep preaching the Gospel.
They would keep telling people about Jesus.
Because they would place the Gospel above all else.
This is just one story that illustrates that.
Because throughout the book of Acts, the devil does everything possible to try and shove the Gospel to the bottom of the Early Church’s priority list.
But the Book of Acts is filled with stories where the Gospel triumphs!
Where it is placed above…
(1) 1st Century Racial Prejudices
Because the Gospel started among the Jewish people.
And the Jewish people – they had developed a superiority complex.
They thought themselves as God’s special people.
Afterall, the Old Testament was all about them.
They were God’s special people – to the point that they wouldn’t interact with non-Jewish people.
They wouldn’t eat a meal with them.
They would definitely not spend time with them unless they were forced to!
Enter a guy named Philip.
He’s on the road to Gaza.
He comes across a man who is an Ethiopian.
Normally Jews avoided non-Jews, but the Gospel doesn’t discriminate. “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’” (Acts 8:29)
Philip walked right up to the chariot, got into the chariot, sat right next to him in the chariot and shared the Gospel.
The Early Church placed the Gospel above Racial Prejudices.
This isn’t the only time.
Acts 8, says Philip also went to Samaria to continue telling non-Jewish people about Jewish.
Acts 13 and 14, chronicles an entire missionary journey specifically to non-Jewish people!
At Pentecost itself, the Gospel was presented in languages beyond Hebrew of the common Jewish people!
The Early Church placed the Gospel above Racial Prejudices.
(2) Social Status
This is a big deal. Because at that time, the most common religious entity – the Pharisees—loved rich people.
They loved people who could contribute to the upkeep of their gathering spaces.
They loved people who could also afford fine jewelry and fancy robes.
They loved people who would make them look cool by association.
Peter and John?
In Acts 3, the very first individual described hearing the Gospel?
A blind beggar.
A blind, homeless beggar.
A blind, homeless beggar at the bottom of social status.
And yet Peter is sure to bring him the message about how Jesus gives him the status of God’s eternal kingdom.
The Early Church placed the Gospel above Social Status.
(3) Jewish Traditions
To be fair, the Gospel is above any tradition.
Specifically, for the Early Church, Jewish traditions had become an obstacle to the Gospel.
And some of the staunchest Jewish traditions at that time had to do with food.
The tradition was that Jews only ate certain foods.
The tradition was that Jews only ate after washing their hands in a ceremonial way.
The tradition was that Jews never at in the home of a non-Jewish person.
Acts 11, Peter, who is 100% Jewish and 100% a follower of Jewish tradition…receives a vision.
In the vision, God tells him to go ahead – to eat meat – from…traditionally, unclean animals.
In other words, God tells him to break tradition. Peter refused by saying, “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” (Acts 10:14)
As soon as the vision is over, Peter receives a knock at his front door.
It’s a servant from a Roman Centurion – a non-Jewish, Roman centurion – who has invited him over to eat.
That’d be breaking tradition…but God had told Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15)
Peter went because he placed the Gospel above even his own traditions – all God’s doing. Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” Acts 10:34-35
The Gospel was above Jewish Traditions.
(4) Above Personal Vendettas
One of the more famous accounts in the first half of Acts is the account of a guy named Saul.
Saul, who did not like the Gospel.
He did not like Jesus.
In fact, he persecuted those who followed Jesus by threatening them, beating them up, and throwing them in prison.
Jesus appeared to him.
Then he became a believer.
In fact, Saul became such a committed believer that he wanted to help the disciples share the Gospel.
Acts 9:20, 26-27 “At once he began to preach in the synagogues [in Damascus] that Jesus is the Son of God…When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles.”
Because it’s not about them and what they feel. It’s about Jesus. We support others who want to share God’s Word
They put the GOSPEL above their own personal issues.
(5) Above Their Own Safety
Back to where we started.
The disciples began shouting the message of Jesus…
…in the middle of the very streets where Jesus had been put to death.
…surrounded by the very people who had supported his death.
But they didn’t care.
And this continues.
In Acts 3, they are put on trial.
In Acts 5, they are imprisoned.
In Acts 7, Stephen has stones thrown at him until he is killed.
In Acts 8, they undergo the aforementioned persecution of Saul.
In Acts 12, Peter is put on death row.
And at no point do they stop preaching.
At no point do they stop telling about Jesus.
At no point do they put their own lives above the Gospel.
Because the Gospel is about how Jesus put US above his own life.
III. WHAT NOW?
Consider these two truths:
The Gospel places you above all else. The Early Church placed the Gospel above all else.
Because of God’s work with the Early Church, you have the Gospel in your heart.
A simple What Now?
Put the Gospel Above All Else
I mentioned those Facebook ads at the beginning.
I think the devil works pretty similarly in our lives.
He’s smart. He watches us.
He knows the things that will distract us.
The things that will tempt us to think:
“God didn’t love you that much.” And “The Gospel’s not that important.”
Rather than the GOSPEL above all else…
He wants you to place the ALL ELSE above the Gospel.
Don’t let him.
PLACE THE GOSPEL ABOVE ALL ELSE!
Throughout this summer I am praying that God works in your heart to:
(1) understand more fully how God placed you above all else,
(2) throw light on areas in which you have placed other things above the Gospel,
(3) guide us, as a church, to refocus on placing THE GOSPEL above all else. Amen.
Today we are looking at the final sermon in our EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS sermon series. It is based on the final time Jesus appeared to his group of disciples.
Have you counted up the appearances so far?
How many are there?
The other women.
The Emmaus Disciples.
The group of disciples on Easter.
The group of disciples - plus Thomas – one week later.
The group of disciples on the fishing trip.
That’s six accounts so far.
But that’s not all of them.
There’s another time that Jesus saw Peter – one-on-one. (1 Cor. 15:5)
There’s a time that Jesus appeared to a guy called James – either the disciple or Jesus’ half-brother. (1 Cor. 15:7)
There’s a time where Jesus gives his disciples the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19-21)
There’s a time that Jesus appeared to more than 500 disciples all at one time (1 Cor. 15:6)
There’s even a time when Jesus appears to a guy named Saul who was hell-bent on destroying Christianity, but Jesus’ appearance transforms his heart into a guy named Paul who goes on 4 missionary journeys, starts 20 churches, and writes 13 books of the Bible (Acts 9).
If you were counting – that’s 11 different appearances to over 500 different people.
The resurrection is not made up.
It is REAL.
But if so…maybe you still struggle with this.
Because would it be so much easier if you could SEE Jesus?
If you could take a trip to the Holy Land and get a selfie with him?
If you could check out his Twitter handle for his perspective on any cultural situation?
If you could text him every time you had a question on a Bible passage…
Why did Jesus leave?
Why did he disappear?
Today’s EYEWITNESS account is the 12th recorded account in Scripture. It is the last one that occurs before he physically disappears. Today we want to learn (1) where Jesus went (2) why he disappeared (3) and what he wants us to do in the meantime. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The “Disappearance”
The lesson we are looking at to begin with comes from Luke 24:50-51: When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.
Timeline wise this is the 40th day after Easter. We find that out from Acts 1 – which is an expanded version of this same exact account.
Note that this final appearance starts with Jesus leading his disciples. That’s appropriate. He had led his disciples for 3 years. He had led him the last 40 days. He would lead them up until his last day on earth. In fact, that’s literally what disciple means: “follower.”
And he led them to Bethany. Bethany is a small town just to the east of Jerusalem. The city is the place where Jesus commandeered the donkey for his entrance into Jerusalem. In this instance, they are just outside of Bethany where a few hills are located.
And as they get to the top of the hill…
He disciples his disciples just like he had done so many times before.
Unlike so many times before…
His feet go up.
They lift off the ground.
And his body begins floating.
And he goes up.
And up. Until…
A cloud hid him from their sight.
Do any of you know who Criss Angel is? He’s like a tattooed, goth version of David Copperfield. He is famous for street magic.
One of the tricks that he did was he began to levitate in the air. Mind you – this is on the sidewalk, in the street, apart from a magician’s stage.
I thought that was amazing.
There’s a YouTube video of him explaining the trick. Essentially, he is wearing a special pair of pants that (1) break away in the front (2) have a mannequin’s foot attached to the back of it. This enables him to plant his real foot on the ground, balance, and go into a squat that makes it look like he is beginning to float parallel to the ground. The rest is misdirection and camera positioning.
And voila! Magic.
Jesus’ ascension is not a magic trick.
He isn’t floating on a false leg.
There isn’t camera misdirection.
He doesn’t hitch a ride on a hot air balloon, a jet pack or even a drone.
He goes all the way up to the sky
Without any strings attached.
Until he is hidden by a cloud.
This is a miracle!
This is Jesus’ ascension.
Jesus didn’t disappear; he ASCENDED into heaven.
This is a really important distinction.
Because if Jesus disappeared – we’re left confused and frightened.
But Jesus didn’t just disappear.
He ascended to heaven.
That word is really important. If any of you watched Game of Thrones – and I haven’t – but I think I can reveal this without giving a spoiler. I heard that at the end someone conquers all of the other people and ascended to the throne. He wins the Game of Thrones. He ascended to his position of power.
He did it because the struggle was over!
Jesus ascended because He conquered sin.
Jesus ascended because He conquered guilt.
Jesus ascended because He conquered shame.
Jesus ascended because He conquered death.
Jesus ascended because the work of salvation was completed.
That’s so important to remember!
Because Jesus’ whole purpose on earth was to defeat all of our spiritual enemies.
If he ascended to heaven? That’s because his work is done.
Remember that – it’s really easy to think:
I’ve got more to do.
I’ve got to become the perfect mom.
Jesus weakened sin, guilt and shame – but I have to finish them.
There’s even churches out there that preach – you’ve got more to do!
You’ve gotta get to perfection.
You’ve gotta improve.
You’ve gotta do some things to complete Jesus’ work for him.
Jesus doesn’t leave tasks unfinished.
Jesus always completes.
And Jesus completed completely conquering your sin.
If he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have left!
Jesus ascended where he rules over all.
Ephesians says this: “He raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” (1:20-21)
Did you hear that?
The one who loves you more than you could ever dream is in control of all things.
He’s ruler over cities, counties, and states.
He’s ruler over kings, despots, and presidents.
He’s ruler over wind, waves, and the hot temperature outside right now!
He’s is ruler over all things!
Nothing’s more powerful.
Nothing can defeat him.
There’s one more place that he would love to rule:
I went to McDonald's the other day with a coupon for a free meal that someone had given me. After I ordered Value Meal number seven, I handed them the card and the person said: “Just a second. I can’t authorize this.”
She called over her coworker who looked at the card and said: “We need a manager to authorize this.”
She called over a shift manager who looked at the card and said: “I’m sorry. I can’t authorize this.”
She called over her manager who looked at the card, entered the code and authorized it.
It’s the same thing with life.
We want peace.
We want joy.
We want courage.
And we try to find it from all the things that don’t have the authority to give it:
Things like lust.
Things like greed.
Things like money, fame, career…a desire to be perfect!
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” (Colossians 3:15)
Because Christ is God.
Christ is the one true ruler.
Christ offers true peace.
And Christ also offers us direction.
II. Our Mission
Because if the boss leaves and you don’t know what to do, it can be stressful:
Should we finish the reports?
Should we work on new clients?
Should we try to recover old ones?
UGH! Maybe we should just drink all of the coffee.
Christ didn’t leave us unclear with what to do. Look at what he told his disciples before his ascension:
Jesus told his disciples, “This is what is written (that’s a reference to Old Testament prophecy.) The Messiah will suffer (Jesus suffered) and rise from the dead on the third day (Jesus did), and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”(That hadn’t happened yet…)
But then look at what Jesus says next:
“You are witnesses of these things.” (Lk. 24:46-48)
Do you get it?
The final part of God’s plan is bringing the message of forgiveness to everyone.
And while all the other parts happened through Jesus…
This is the part that happens through you:
Before being UPLIFTED, Jesus commanded us to UPLIFT.
You don’t need to be confused about your task on this earth.
You see a coworker who is down? Approach them, listen to them, and share the message of Jesus.
Tucking your kids in for the night? Tuck them in, kiss their forehead, and share the message of Jesus.
Have a spouse who doesn’t believe? Go home, give them a hug, and share the message of Jesus.
Serve in ministry here at school? Do the lesson plans, cut out the art project, and share the message of Jesus.
Serve in leadership here at church? Think about funding, consider maintenance, but don’t forget our goal is to SHARE THE MESSAGE OF JESUS!
But don’t think you have to do it alone.
“I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” More specifically in Acts: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you….” (1:8)
Ten days later.
The disciples are in Jerusalem just like Jesus told them to be.
There’s the sound of a hurricane like wind without the wind coming from within the room they are staying.
They look around and they see tongues of fire appear on the top of each other’s heads.
They are able to speak fluently in languages that they have never even studied.
The Holy Spirit was with them.
And they immediately find courage. Because they go out that day and do some sidewalk preaching – in the middle of downtown Jerusalem – with the end result that over 3,000 people are baptized and believe.
The Holy Spirit was with them.
And the Holy Spirit is with you.
Jesus left you with the promise of the HOLY SPIRIT.
By faith, the Holy Spirit is with you and he does the impossible.
He made fire appear on the heads of disciples.
He made them speak in language they never learned.
He made the sound of a hurricane occur without any hurricane winds.
He does the incredible!
The seemingly impossible.
Working through you.
To bring others to faith!
But that’s not all.
Look at verses 49-50 of Luke 24:
When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, Jesus lifted up his hands and blessed them.
Throughout Scripture, whenever Jesus’ hands are involved, there are some amazing blessings:
In Luke 13 he lays his hands on a woman who had never been able to straighten her back…and instantly she did.
In Mark 7, he lays his hands on a man who is deaf and mute and…instantly he hears and speaks.
In Mark 8, he lays his hands on a blind man’s eyes and…instantly he sees.
In Mark 6, it simply says, “He laid his hands on…sick people and healed them.” (v.5)
Talk about blessings.
And then, there’s the final blessing that pours from his hands.
He heads to a cross.
They take his hands and nails them.
And then blood flows forth.
But not just blood.
Jesus left, but left us with BLESSINGS pouring from his HANDS.
Even though you can’t see his hands.
Even though you can’t touch them.
The truth is no less true.
The blessings are no less real.
It’s one of the reasons that pastors for centuries have continued this tradition. Using the words of Scripture – God’s Word – they lift up their hands. They communicate God’s blessings on the congregation. They say: “The Lord bless you and keep you.”
This is more than just wishful thinking.
This is God’s real blessing given to you.
III. What Now?
I think that if you were a passerby and saw the aftermath of the Ascension, you might have laughed.
Because there were 20 some dudes.
Eyes lifted upwards.
Staring into the cloud.
Gazing into the sky.
Mouths dropped wide open.
And this continued…
A tap on the shoulder:
“The angel said, ‘Why do you stand there staring up into the sky? This same Jesus who left you…will come back in the same way you saw him go into heaven.’” (Acts 1:10)
In other words:
You have a job to do.
Stop looking into heaven.
And start looking around.
Don’t you see…?
There are souls who need this message.
Souls in your office.
Souls at the garage.
Souls in your neighborhood.
Souls in your kid’s room.
Souls in your kitchen.
Souls in the easy chair across from you while watching Netflix tonight.
Everywhere you look there is work that needs to be done!
What a privilege God wants to work through YOU!
Keep your eyes on the task that Jesus has given you
Be a WITNESS of the EYEWITNESS truth of your Risen Savior. Amen.
Last week we started out our summer ACTS series by looking at the mission that Jesus gave the Early Christian Church. It’s a mission that still is the mission of the church today. It’s the mission of our church today.
And we learned that it was different from what his disciples expected in three ways:
1) The mission to build the kingdom was spiritual, not physical.
2) The mission required them to get off the sidelines and into the game.
3) The mission wasn’t going to just be local, but global.
Which is how we got to know about Jesus.
And it’s how we got to have the same mission.
And that’s a bit intimidating.
Even if we focus just on our specific end of the earth.
North Raleigh is where we are located. Boundary wise it runs from up at Falls Lake down to Millbrook, from Creedmoor over to Durant Nature Park. It’s a couple some square miles in each direction that holds over 115,000 people. The population is made up from lifelong Raleighians, to Northerners, to Midwesterners, to Southwesterners, to Northwesterners. It has people from Ethiopia, Nigeria, Kenya, Congo, Nepal, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Russia, Ukraine, Iraq, Iran, and many other places. And in the latest demographic study of the area, the most common religious group for all of these people was NONE.
God has given us – a church of about 200 – the mission to reach those 115,000 with the Gospel.
And that’s if we limit ourselves to North Raleigh.
That’s not to mention Durham, Chapel Hill, Morrisville and many others.
How can we do that all by ourselves?
Today we are continuing our study of Acts by looking at chapter 2, the story of Pentecost. In this section, God makes it very clear to us that our BIG, INTIMIDATING mission is not so intimidating, because we aren’t doing it…ALONE. Before we study, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Pentecost Scene
The scene we’re starting from is Acts 2. It takes place in a small room in the middle of Jerusalem. If you remember, that’s where Jesus told his disciples to go. “Do not leave, Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised.” (1:4)
So…after the disciples heard about their BIG, INTIMIDATING mission and Jesus left them for heaven (something else very intimidating), they went back to their house in Jerusalem ...and sat…
…and sat some more.
I imagine, things got a bit antsy.
When’s this gift coming?
How much longer do you think we have to wait?
I hope it never comes so we never have to start on this impossible mission!
Eventually, the disciples started doing things to stay busy:
In the corner, Matthew worked on an ancient Excel spreadsheet on funding for their mission.
In the kitchen, crumbs all over the table as James had been anxiety eating.
On the other side of the room was the dartboard where Philip and Nathanael had taken turns throwing darts at a rough sketch of the world – as if those darts would determine who would have to go where.
The BIG chair was occupied by Mary Magdalene who was sewing arch supports into Jude’s sandals because “to the ends of the earth,” seemed like a lot of walking.
And they sat….
…and sat some more.
When WAS this gift coming?
Suddenly, on the 10th day…Something happened.
It started as a low hum.
A few of the disciples took notice.
One went to check the kitchen garbage disposal.
As they listened, it grew louder and louder.
It sounded more like a storm. A loud, rushing, wind – a thunderstorm – a squall – something they experienced on the lake from time to time.
But they weren’t on a lake.
They were in the middle of the house. And this noise, this tornado like noise was coming right over the top of them!
As James scoured the room looking for the source of the sound, his eyes happened upon something else entirely.
A flame. A fire appeared on the top of his brother John’s head.
James panicked. He reached down, grabbed the nearest rug and threw it over John’s head as he tackled him to the floor. He smothered him in the blanket and helped him stop, drop and roll.
But after John grunted and asked him to get off, James removed the covering to discover the fire was still there.
Yet that wasn’t as shocking as to what he saw reflected in John’s eyeballs: there was fire on his own head too.
In fact, every disciple suddenly resembled a candlestick.
Fire was brimming off the top of their heads.
As if someone was turning 12 and they were the candles on the cake!
Peter looked across the room. He was marveling at the spectacle, until he saw the fire start to light off the top of Jude’s head. He noticed that the flame was dangerously close to the covering on Mary Magdalene’s head.
He shouted a warning:
Jude looked confused: “Que hablas amigo?”
“Kenichiwa.” said Matthew.
“Oui, Oui; French fries,” said Bartholomew.
The disciples looked at each other in amazement.
They hadn’t learned?
This. Was. The Gift.
Not the languages.
Not the fires.
Not the tornadolike sound.
This was the POWERFUL, UNSTOPPABLE, INCREDIBLE, DIVINE, Holy Spirit.
And He was with them.
And He was empowering them.
And suddenly…that BIG, INTIMIDATING mission?
Didn’t seem so scary anymore…
II. The Powerful Holy Spirit
This is the Pentecost story. It’s a celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Although it’s not the first time the Holy Spirit is mentioned throughout the Scriptures. It is probably THE time that He reveals Himself in such a magnificent fashion.
Think again about what the disciples witnessed the Holy Spirit doing.
(1) Tornado like Noise without the Tornado
Have you ever heard a tornado? Up in Minnesota, I remember hearing them from a distance, but (Thank the LORD) I’ve never heard them up close and personal. I’ve heard that it sounds something like a freight train coming through your living room. It’s loud. It’s harsh. It’s intense.
That’s the kind of noise that the disciples hear.
Only…as they look around…
Nobody’s hair is blowing to the side.
No one’s tunic is flopping in the wind.
Nobody’s beard is out of place.
The Holy Spirit is able to remove the visual and tangible qualities of a tornado and bring just the sound to the disciples.
It’d be like taking a soundtrack, putting it on some computer audio software and scrubbing out background noises.
The Holy Spirit does that with a storm.
Amazing! If he can empower the dead room temperature air with such a sound, imagine the incredible Gospel words He would do through the disciples.
(2) Flamelike Apparitions
The Bible is clear. These things looked like little flames of fire, but they weren’t fire. The disciples don’t get hurt, but they clearly see this glimpse into the divine manifesting itself above their heads.
They are like candles without the wax.
Like blowtorches without the gasoline.
Like campfires without the logs.
By the way – if you are feeling skeptical about this whole scene and you think it’s just a figment of one disciples’ imagination, remember – There were at least 12 people in that room. Probably more. I imagine that when they saw the fire on each other’s heads, they too were skeptical. They too investigated. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them touched it.
But…none of them came to the conclusion that this is all a big illusion similar to the illusion of our leader Jesus dying on the cross and rising form the dead…the illusion we’ve seen over 7 times.
Jesus was real.
Pentecost was real.
And if the Holy Spirit had no problem lighting a fire without fuel on their heads, he would have no problem lighting the fire of faith in people’s hearts.
(3) Instantaneous Foreign Language Fluency
I have an app on my phone for Duolingo. It pops up on a daily basis and tells me to practice my Spanish by going through quick three-minute lessons. I’ve been doing it for about a year and 1/2. I am only recently 50% fluent in Spanish. It takes that long to learn a language.
It was a lot faster.
And we know it isn’t just gibberish. At what happens when the people outside the house hear what’s going on.
Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
That’s over 15 languages represented.
Over 15 languages clearly communicated.
Unless the disciples have each been secretly learning one of those languages without telling the others…which just so happen to be the very languages needed for that Pentecost Day – This is a miracle!
If the Holy Spirit can teach them human languages like that, he would certainly teach them the spiritual words to say to convert hearts to their Savior.
This all leads to one awesome truth about the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is God
He is the third person of the Triune God.
He is all powerful, all knowing and all divine.
And on Pentecost, he proves that he is with the disciples on their mission.
III. The Holy Spirit and You?
But Pastor…Who cares? That’s nice that the disciples had the Holy Spirit with them, but how does that help me?
I can’t conjure up tornado noises.
I can’t snap my fingers and make flamelike apparitions appear.
I can’t speak any language beyond English – and dog; at least I can tell when he’s hungry – but I don’t have those powerful signs with me.
You might not.
But that doesn’t mean that same Powerful Holy Spirit isn’t with you.
Look at the following three passages:
“No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’, except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:3)
“Your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 6:19)
“Our gospel comes…with the Holy Spirit.” (1 Thess. 1:5)
The first passage is clear. If you believe that Jesus is Lord. If you authentically trust Jesus as your Savior, then guess what? You’ve got the Holy Spirit inside of you.
The second passage is speaking to believers. It reiterates that point – the Holy Spirit dwells within you! His temple is your body.
Finally, the last passage points out that the message of Jesus – that he is our savior from sin – comes packed with the power of the Holy Spirit.
Here’s the truth:
The powerful Holy Spirit of Pentecost is with you, too.
His power to teach instantaneous language has spoken the message of grace to your heart.
His power to light a flamelike apparition lights a fire for God in your hearts.
His powerful to conjure up the sound of the storm is infused with your message that “Jesus saves.”
The Holy Spirit of Pentecost is with you, too.
You need not fear the BIG, INTIMIDATING mission.
You need not fear telling your spouse about their Savior.
You need not fear inviting your friends to church.
You need only BE BOLD.
That’s what he disciples did. They went from sitting around, nervously waiting in a room, constantly thinking about this BIG INTIMIDATING task to running into the streets. Many who had shouted for Jesus’ death no more than 53 days earlier. The disciples found some steps and a few soap boxes; they stood up and started street preaching!
You ever done any street preaching before? It’s intimidating.
Imagine that as a downtown activity later today!
But the disciples didn’t fear that because the Holy Spirit was with them.
That same Holy Spirit is with you.
And…to be fair…I’m not asking that you start with street preaching. Not today. 😊
But, if I could challenge you, why not do some living room preaching?
Or maybe some employee’s break room teaching?
Or some social media gospel sharing?
Don’t be afraid. The Holy Spirit is with you.
In fact, here’s verse 21. It’s the main verse in Peter’s sermon that he gives to tens of thousands in the middle of Downtown Jerusalem. Look at his message: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” It’s a pretty awesome summary of the Gospel message, because it (1) implies our need for saving and (2) points out who the Savior is and (3) gives confidence that all who believe will be saved.
Write it down. Memorize it. If you’ve got your phone here today, why wait to share this until later? Do this. Go to your social media. Write it down. Check in at Gethsemane. Boldly share the message of Jesus.
And later this afternoon, take your family aside. Talk to the one who isn’t here today. Share this passage. Boldly share the message of Jesus.
Granted. You might be thinking. Will it work?
Check out the following verse.
It happens at the end of Pentecost.
It happens at the end of the impromptu street preaching.
It happens after Peter calls out the very men and women who crucified Jesus!
“Those who received the message were baptized, and about 3000 were added to their number that day.” (2:41)
Does the Holy Spirit work? Absolutely.
Will someone you tell immediately come to faith? Maybe not.
But the message will work.
Because the Holy Spirit works.
And the Holy Spirit is with you.
Share the Gospel. Amen.
We have an interesting board game at our house called What’s Yours Like? Let me tell you how it works. One player is identified as the guesser. The guesser takes turn asking the others playing What’s Yours Like?
The other players answer with one adjective based on what the drawn card for the round says. Here’s the catch. The people will be talking about the same thing, but they’ll all be talking about a different version of the same thing.
For example, imagine the card says, “Hair.” Julianna says, “Beautiful.” Another one of you says, “Curly.” Another says, “Short.” I say, “Thinning.”
It’s kind of fun. You use one adjective to describe your version of the category – all the guesser has to do is identify what category is on the card.
This got me thinking. What if the card that we got was “God.” What’s your God Like? Let’s play the game right now. If you had to come up with one word to describe your God – what would it be?
Big? Powerful? Merciful? Ancient?
I. The Fractured Human Perspective of God’s Greatness
Let’s pretend we’re playing that game with King David. Take a look at his adjective in Psalm 153:3. He writes, “Great is the Lord and most-worthy of praise.”
What do you think? Is that a fair adjective to use? Is God really Great?
I imagine that here at church just about all of your will agree. In part, because we’re surrounded by the great things God has done. Partly because who wants to say in front of the pastor “He’s not all that great.” Great is a “great” adjective to use in church. Later in this very service we’re singing the song “How Great is our God!” Makes sense. You probably believe it, too.
But is that always the adjective you would use?
What about when you are surrounded by a bunch of unbelievers who will ridicule unless you use the adjective “non-existent?”
What about when you are months behind on the rent and the McDonald's buy one get one sundae coupon is all you have for your kid's evening meal?
What about when you sabotaged your relationship, you prayed to God about it and he hasn’t fixed it yet?
What about when you’re in the hospital. You’re sick. You’re dying.
What about when you’ve moved to Raleigh and feel…lost? Alone?
Is great really the adjective you’re using to describe God then?
Or is it more like:
This contrasts David’s words. Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise.
Granted. You might be thinking: Isn’t he kinda God’s boy? Didn’t God help him slay a giant named Goliath? Didn’t God help him become King of Israel? Didn’t God help him with military victory after military victory? If my life was like David’s, sure I’d say God is great.
But it isn’t.
Ever seen Bruce Almighty? It’s a movie starring Jim Carrey. In it, God -- played by Morgan Freeman -- takes a vacation and gives Jim Carey all his powers. What ensues is a bumbling, mistake making, slapstick hilarity. Bruce is a fractured human. He is constantly messing up while being God.
It's easy to think of God like that. A bumbling, stumbling, mistake making, slapstick comedy God. That’s because it’s all we know!
Ever seen the Geico commercial where humans happen to humans? The one human shuts the garage door on the other human's car – the one human accidently clips off another person’s car door as he opens it up. The one human hits the other human's parked card as he’s trying to parallel park.
We’re flawed. The things we do are flawed. Therefore, since it’s all we know – we assume God is flawed.
But TIME OUT! Isn’t the thing that we base the ‘flawness’ of God upon, the very thing that should cause us to question our own perception of God?
In other words – If we’re flawed, how can we trust our flawed interpretation that God is flawed?
Isn’t it, flawed?
II. The Unfathomability of God’s Greatness.
Take a look at what God’s Word says. God’s Word isn’t flawed. It says this: “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise.” That’s God’s Word. It’s flawless. It should be enough to settle the argument for us.
But you might be thinking – isn’t that God’s Word? Isn’t that God saying God is great? Our flawed logic will think – why should I trust him? That’s like stopping by for a cup of coffee simply because the sign in the window says “It’s the best cup of coffee.” When you taste that three day old Folgers – you won’t be all that impressed.
1) The Father is Great
Instead of just hearing God says he’s great, listen to the great things it tells us about God. Judge for yourselves. Take a look at 1 John 5:4. "Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.”
The world is exactly what we’ve been trying to overcome. It’s the flawed state of our world – it’s the flawed state of ourselves.
It’s sin. Sinful reasoning. Sinful actions. Sinful consequences. Sinful harming of one another. Sinful words leading to sinful decisions leading to sinful results. And ultimately sinful consequences. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.”
But look at who has the power to overcome the world; its sin and its death. It isn’t us! It’s everyone born of God. Everyone who has God as our Father!
Because this is how great the Father is! He is completely perfect. There isn’t a flaw in his being. He perfectly made a plan to overcome the awful nature of sin and the terrible plans of the devil. He guided history throughout time to lead to our salvation. He hatched an incredible plan that no flawed human would ever be able to engineer, recreate, or bring to completion.
The Father did what we could not do. He saved us from sin and He saved us from death. That’s GREAT!
Let’s keep reading and see why else the Father is so great…
2) The Son is Great
Verse 4 says, “Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”
Wait a second. That seems different. I thought we said that those who overcome are the ones who have God as their Father – born of God! This gives the credit to someone else – someone who is called the Son God.
And it’s true! Because it was the Son who fulfilled the Father’s plan. Jesus was born on earth of a virgin mother. He lived a life on this earth without a single flawed decision and without a single flawed action. (He didn’t have any sin!) He lived perfectly – which is a great feat in and of itself – but then he died innocently. In a GREAT EXCHANGE. He took on your imperfections and died for you. By faith in Him, he gives you his perfection – he releases your body from frailty (you will live eternally) and he removes from the Father’s perspective all of your imperfections. (You are forgiven.)
The Father’s greatest and The Son is greatest!?!
But – how can there be two greatests?
3) The Holy Spirit is Great!
Before you get to thinking too hard – Why don’t we let God’s Word throw one more monkey wrench into the question. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.
In other words – we wouldn’t even know who Jesus is NOR would we know God’s plan for us, if the Spirit – the Holy Spirit – wasn’t involved. He’s the Truth. He speaks the Truth.
This means the Holy Spirit is Great, too! He works on our sin deadened hearts and brings them to life. He takes totally sin darkened lives and transforms them for good! He crosses cultural barriers and unites Christians together of all walks of life. He spends time and unites us together with those already in heaven.
The Holy Spirit does great things! It’s not unfair to say He’s the greatest. He’s God.
Is this just a matter of subjective perspective? It’s like trying to pick between Pizza Hut and Papa John’s and Little Caesars. They both come pretty quickly. They both taste fairly meaty. They all offer stuffed crust. Papa John’s gives pepperoncinis; but Pizza Hut has better commercials. But only Little Caesars let’s you walk in and out in less time than it takes to go to the ATM with a Hot N’ Ready to go pizza!
The Father is the great.
The Son is the great.
The Holy Spirit is the great.
But…which do we properly call the Greatest? Whom do we properly call God? Is it the Father, is it the Son, or is it the Holy Spirit?
7 There are three that testify: 8 the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. There’s some interesting ways to interpret that. One interpretation is that this is a reference to the three that we just talked about. The Spirit refers to the Spirit. The water – refers to the flood – something that came from the mind of the Father himself. The Blood? That refers to our Savior Jesus Christ – who came to suffer the law breaking consequences that we deserved.
Notice what is says. All three are in agreement.
But this is about more than just three superbeings being on the same team. This isn’t the Avengers, the Justice League or the Powerpuff Girls.
The Father, the Son and the Spirit are in agreement, because they are one. Three in person. One in being. Triune God. Three-in-One.
This flies in the face of all human reason. I get it. But remember what we talked about earlier? Human logic is flawed. It’s sinful. It’s not God logic. Listen to what it says next: We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.
It’s the Greatness of our Father – Holy, powerful, Creator and eternal planner; the greatness of the Son – perfect, loving, mercifully and risen; AND the greatness of the Spirit – life giving, faith producing, world changing Counselor ---- all combined into One.
III. WHAT NOW?
1) Make Him Your God.
Make the Triune God yours. Believe him. There are incredible benefits:
1 John 5:11-12 tells us about all those benefits: And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life!
Is that you? Think about this – even though the world may be tough. Even though life may be flawed. Even though things might not always feel great…
…they are great. Great because in our Triune God, you've overcome.
You’ve overcome sin.
You’ve overcome the devil.
You’ve overcome death.
You’ve overcome whatever this world can throw at you.
You’ve overcome, because God – Father, Son and Spirit!
2) Make Your Adjective Clear!
Back to the What’s Yours Like? game. As fun as it is, there is probably not a worse adjective to give than simply “great.” Because what does that really mean? Great like big? Great like awesome? Great like Frosted Flakes? If you want to win, give that adjective. It’ll confuse the guesser. If you want to be fair, make the adjective clear.
Make your adjective for God clear!
Because it's very easy for our adjectives to be unclear to others.
Daddy, you say God is great -- but why isn’t he greater than your pillow on a Sunday morning?
Honey, I know you say God is great -- but why is the sixth episode of Arrested Development on Netflix more important than a Bible study?
Friend, I know you say God is great -- why do you believe that your problems are beyond him?
Make sure that people understand who you think is the Greatest. Because our God is the Greatest – and unfathomably so.
And God? He's given an adjective for you. When the devil comes and asks Him, What's Yours Like? and his crooked, nailed finger is pointing at you...God uses an interesting adjective to describe you:
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
A crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”
Peter said, “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel," “In the last days, God says, 'I will pour out my Spirit on all people. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ "
I. Back When People were United
Take a look at Genesis 11. This takes place right after the worldwide flood. God had sent this flood to reset the world. There had been thousands of unbelievers – and only 8 – yes, 8 – believers. (If you ever feel alone in your faith right now, think about what it would have been like back then. That’s enough believers to maybe fill up 1 pew here in church).
In flooding the earth, God pressed the reset button. Genesis 10 talks about how that family of believers grew. They had kids and their sons and daughters had kids (and so on and so on). Which means that when you get to Genesis 11 – the people had one awesome, uniting factor. They were of the same family. They had the same lineage.
I don’t where you’re from, but whatever your culture, I imagine you’re proud of it. It’s ok to be proud of your culture. Maybe you enjoy that kind of food that reminds you of your culture. That’s great! I love cheese because of my German roots. You might love sushi because of your Japanese roots or barbecue because of your Southern roots. That fine. It’s good to be proud of your culture.
The problem is when we start setting up our culture as better than another culture. There will be problems. No one likes to hear that their culture is worse than another.
So can you imagine what is what like to not have that be an issue?
"What’s your favorite kind of food? Ancient human food. That’s where my family’s from.” "What!?! Me too! I’m a human too!” "That’s awesome. Let’s get together and eat human food, drink human drinks, and we can set up an ancient human restaurant!"
Besides making for a boring variety in food trucks, you get the drift. They didn’t have to argue about culture. That made them united.
That’s not all they had in common. Take a look at Genesis 11:1. Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. In the Hebrew, that literally means “They had a common lip.” That doesn’t mean they shared the same lip OR even that their lips looked similar. It’s a figure of speech meaning that they had the same language.
Have you ever tried to learn a language? It’s quite, difficult. I’m trying to learn Spanish right now using the DuoLingo app. I’ve been stuck at 53% fluency for about three months – Remembering to do it every day is difficult. It’s why I only know “un poquito Espanol”.
So can you imagine a world in which the Rosetta Stone language learning software did not exist? A world where there weren’t Second Language electives in school? A language in which you didn’t get upset that you couldn’t communicate with tech support from another country OR you went on a trip and didn’t have to carry a pocket dictionary with you just to order “ein Bier.”
What I’m saying is: Not having language barriers must have made for very pleasant communication. It must have really united those early humans.
Then, look at verse 2: “As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.” Now Shinar is eastward of where they were originally. Remember – Noah and his family had come down off of Mt. Ararat. It’s not a mountain that we can pinpoint today, but a good guess is that it’s somewhere in the middle east. The Plain of Shinar would be more East than that. A lot of scholar think that this would become Babylon.
This leads to one more commonality among these humans. They all shared the same land.
This means they all wanted the same geographic region to succeed! It was the Plains of Shinar Mets v. the Plains of Shinar Yankees – and everybody was cheering for the team from the Plains of Shinar. All the economic funding, all of their working, all of their prayers, all of their time, all of their effort went towards building up the Plains of Shinar.
In fact, this led to one more thing they all had in common. Check out verse 3-4. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a toward that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
In other words – they shared the same plan.
This wasn’t the idea of some dictator NOR was it a politic thought that was pushed through the media. Notice it says “They said to each other.” Everyone had the same thought. Everyone had the same desire. Everyone had the same goal – let’s build a giant tower so that this city becomes the best city of all time! A memorial to how awesome we are!
So they got to work. Brick material gatherers gathered brick materials. Brick makers made bricks. Oven heaters heated ovens. Bricklayers laid bricks. Architects sipped their coffees and architected. Everyone worked on it. Everyone supported it. Everyone was for it. Everyone was on board with it.
Everyone…except the One they forgot.
The Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The Lord said, “if as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
Not that God didn’t notice before. God knows all things. He sees all things. He is by all things. But verse 5 describes how God made a concerted examination of the building project; he examined the building & their hearts and he saw a few very ugly things.
1) They were united in their disobedience.
If you go back to when Noah got off the ark, God gave a pretty simple command. He had just saved them from complete destruction on earth by warning Noah and telling him about the flood. Secondly, by wiping out unbelief so that he didn’t lose his people forever in hell. In return, he says to them, “Be fruitful, increase in number & fill the earth.” (9:1)
This is the exact opposite of their reasoning for building the tower. “Let’s build ourselves a city so that we might not be scattered over the face of the earth.”
In fact, when you take a look at their building materials, they decide to bake the bricks (most likely in ovens) rather than let them sundry which was the common way of making bricks at that time. They decided to use tar for mortar – which was different than the common adhesive used at that time.
The result? The bricks were more permanent. The adhesive was more permanent. The building was more permanent.
And so was the people’s disobedience.
2) They were united in their pride.
Did you notice that about their brainstorming session? They said, “Let us make bricks…let us bake thoroughly…let us make a name for ourselves.”
This is entirely different from how the people of God had acted in the past. In Genesis 4:26 it says the people began “to glorify the name of the Lord.” That means they sang songs to the Lord. They built houses to show God’s glory. They grew crops to God’s glory.
Is God’s name anywhere on this building? No. The people didn’t even recognize God. They only thought of themselves. They only wanted their own glory.
It’s like the guy who goes on TV after a star basketball performance and he says, “I earned this. I did great. I’m number one. I want to keep winning so that I can cement my own legacy and get some more glory!”
Your legacy? Your glory? What about the God who created you?
Take a look at what God does. “Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
One minute – a guy is asking for a hammer; then next minute he is being told “No lo puedo descubrir.”
One minute – the foreman shouts: “Release the rock on three." The next he’s shouting "eins, zwei, drei!”
One minute everyone understand each other and everyone is getting along. The next minute? They’re confusing each other; arguing each other; and leaving their grand plan.
God scattered them from there over all the earth.
II. Now When People are Divided
But you know…What’s interesting? It wasn’t their new found differences that caused them to abandon their building project. It was the one thing they all had in common.
Pride. Sinful, disgusting, disobedient, pride.
It is the exact same thing that divides people today.
Instead of thinking what another’s culture is like and taking that into consideration, we think of our own and demand they take that into consideration.
Instead of saying, “How are things difficult for you?” we say, “Listen to how things are difficult for me!”
Instead of humbly accepting our failures in whatever culture we’re from, we love to blame others and force them to wear the label we’ve constructed.
Is it any wonder why we, as a people, are so divided? It’s because of what we have in common.
Jerusalem. A couple thousand years later.
The city was bustling. A group of Parthians are arguing with some Medes about the price of a horse. The Parthians are having a hard time understanding why that Arab wears his clothing that way. A Phrygian is having a hard time ordering off the local Hebrew menu and an Egyptian is giving the Roman guards an earful about why he hates their government.
Then, everyone quiets down. They hear something like a tornado wind coming from a small house in the corner of the market. From where they are looking, they see a group of men inside – little flames of fire on the top of their heads – as crowds start to gather, the men come out of the house. They begin speaking.
But not just in Hebrew. Not just in Latin either. In the languages of the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Jews, Cappadocians, Pontians, Asians, Phrygians, Pamphylians, Egyptians, Libyans, Cretans and Arabs.
While each person is hearing a different language, they are all hearing the same message – You’re sinners. You need a Savior. Jesus, who died and rose again is that Savior.
A few people mock them: “They have had too much wine.”
But one of the men stands up in reaction. He speaks with one voice – one voice heard by all their languages. 2 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,[d] put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 36 Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
The men looked around. Different faces. Different skin shades. Different cultures. Different headdresses. But they all had the exact same look of concern on their face. “Brothers,” a phrase absent of any cultural bias, “what should we do? How do we defeat our sins? How do we get on God’s good side? How do we return to our God?”
Listen to Peter’s reply if you are wondering the same thing – “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins “
Notice it wasn’t any different for the different people gathered that day. He didn’t tell some to pray. Some to dance. Some to sing and some to chant. Nope. This was no time for culture. This was time to address the One Shared Problem with their One Shared Savior.
Brothers and sisters – this is how God defeats division.
First, He defeats the division between us and God! Jesus lived perfectly when we couldn’t; he died innocently in our place and he rose triumphantly to proclaim us at peace with God.
It means that your selfishness is forgiven. Your racist attitude are forgiven. Your sinful ethnocentric cultural pride is forgiven.
Then, God defeats the division amongst humans.
It’s pretty interesting. The people wanted to build a big old tower – a tower so big that they would be united around their own awesomeness and never be lost. But then sinful pride got in the way and they never completed it.
Now God has something for all of us to unite around. Something else tall. Something else up.
It doesn’t matter if your Persian or Greek, Mede or Roman, Jew or non-Jew. It doesn’t matter if you are European American, African American, Asian American, Latino American, Middle Eastern American or any other kind of American – of if you don’t even consider yourself American at all.
The Cross unites us. Jesus unites us. One Savior. One Ruler. One Lord. One family.
God does all this because the Holy Spirit works through this.
As great as the miracles were that day – a whirlwind sounds without any wind, flames of fire without any burning, languages spoken without any learning – the most incredible miracle of all was thousands united – united to God & united to each other. The Holy Spirit does this in spite of our sinfulness, in spite of our pride, in spite of our misunderstanding, cultural confusions, and the straight up racism of this world.
The Holy Spirit unites us as family in one faith!
May he continue to do so, now and always. Amen.
What could I do?
I was on I-85. Driving back from our Pastor’s Conference in Roanoke, VA on Wednesday evening. Pastor Lange from Ascension in Jacksonville was with me. We were cracking some kind of funny pastor jokes when traffic started slowing down. Up – ahead of us – was a minivan, flipped upside down.
There weren’t any police cars yet, so we stopped. We got out and jogged toward the scene. There, underneath the wheel well was a woman.
I don’t need to get into the details, but it was gruesome. Gruesome and quiet. There were about 12 of us who had stopped. And after the lady in nursing scrubs began whispering to her gently and I called 911. We all looked around thinking the same thing…
What can I do?
Have you ever felt like that? Not so much at a car accident, but have you ever seen a friend who was in real spiritual trouble? In such a scenario, what do you do? Should you just walk right on by? It’s not your responsibility, right?
Today we are continuing our series called BREATHE and we are going to learn about how our God has equipped and empowered us to offer Spiritual life support to others.
Take a look at John 20:20-21. This takes place on Easter Sunday. It’s after Jesus rose from the dead, after he appeared to Mary Magdalene, after he appeared to his disciples, and right after he let them touch his hands and side.
I imagine they had some questions:
What was death like?
What were you doing during those ‘death’ days?
Did you go to heaven? Did you see my Aunt Edna? How does she look?
But Jesus had other plans:
“Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Have you had anyone breathe on your lately? That’s not usually polite. Maybe with mints, definitely not with garlic.
But Jesus didn’t breathe on them to have them check his breath. He commissioned them to do a job. He sent them to continue his work. As God the Father had sent Jesus from heaven to save humanity, Jesus was sending his disciples into the world to save humanity. Which really makes us – disciples -- rethink our purpose.
Because…What’s our job as Christians? Attend church? Sing songs? Put fish symbols on the back of our car bumpers? Is it really our job to help sin burdened spirits?
Yes. According to this passage Jesus has commanded his disciples – disciples means followers, so if you follow Jesus this is talking about you -- to help save souls.
Now – if you’re gonna save souls, you need the right equipment to do so. The fireman needs his firehose. The police man need his police gear. The surgeon needs his scalpel. And the Christian needs to be armed with the very tool for saving souls that Jesus has given him:
If you forgive anyone their sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.
Matthew 16 speaks similarly. In it Jesus tell the disciples that he has given them the keys to heaven. What is the only way sinful human beings like you and me are getting to heaven? It’s God’s forgiveness. That’s the key. We need God’s forgiveness to unlock the gates of heaven. This whole forgiveness thing – forgiving or not forgiving – is something that the Christian church has called the KEYS. The keys to salvation. The keys to heaven. The keys to saving souls. There are two keys.
(1) THE LOCKING KEY.
Take a look at the first key. It says, "If you do not forgive someone, that is pass on God’s forgiveness, they are not forgiven.” The word “forgiveness” here paints the picture of loosening or untying bonds. Not forgiving, then, means to tie up, to tighten, to bind. It means to take the spiritual key that God has given you and tightening the chains of unforgiveness on someone.
I hope you’re thinking HOW IS THIS HELPFUL? Since when is tying someone up any kind of way to heal anyone? That’s not usually the way I approach healing the cold. Some tea? Yes. Orange juice? Sure. Tying someone up so they can’t move? Not so much.
But take a look at 1 John 1:8. It says this, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
It’s kind of like a toddler. You’re in your living room after a long day’s trip –watching The Land Before Time 8 and she keeps nodding off. Falling asleep. It gets so bad that her head is literally slumped to the floor.
You say, “You should go to bed.” She says, “NO! I’m not tired!” She’s claiming to be without tired. She’s deceiving herself. The truth isn’t in her.
Same thing with people and sin. If anyone claims to be without sin and “cool” with God on our own, probably getting to heaven because “I’m not so bad,” they are wrong. God’s Word says differently.
Binding someone’s conscience by proclaiming “That is a sin. Repent.” is important. It speaks the truth to them. It causes them to rethink their actions. It usually hurts their feelings.
Pastor are you suggesting that we hurt people’s feelings? That sounds kind of mean. In America, we don’t say anything that might hurt anyone’s feeling at any time.
Understand this: We aren’t hurting people’s feelings for the sake of hurting people’s feelings. We are hurting their feelings for the sake of their salvation.
Like in Corinth. Corinth was an ancient town with a young Christian church that had been formed there by the Apostle Paul – Paul was one of Jesus’ disciples. He had been going around telling people that Jesus was their Savior. Many people believed in Corinth and they started a church there. They probably had some kind of opening ceremony. They probably ate a very large potluck. They probably hugged and were excited to be in God’s church.
But after awhile they had problems. One of the problems was that there was a man who was sleeping with his father’s wife. A sin that Paul said “was so bad that even the pagans – people who don’t remotely believe in Jesus – do not tolerate.” A sin that – I can’t imagine any of you, believer or unbeliever would be willing to say “That sound pretty morally right.”
So how did Paul want them to deal with it? He wanted them to expel them to call him out. He wanted them to hurt his feelings. He wanted them to even expel him from the congregation.
“Hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”
Think about that phrase? Destruction of the flesh. It describes what happens when you hear about your sins. You get a gurgly feeling in your tummy. Your muscles tighten up. You feel stress. It isn’t pleasant. I know this for a fact –when Julianna calls me out for something – I don’t usually say, “Oh thank you so kindly.” I get upset! It hurts.
But that was the point! This binding, this hurting was necessary to show the man his sins that he might turn to his Savior and live.
Same thing for us. When someone is sinning, when someone is living a sinful lifestyle, when someone is unrepentant, it is our duty to bind them, to show them their sin. To lock up their conscience not because we enjoy seeing people squirm, but in order to save them.
Because if we don’t turn them, if they don’t realize their sins, if they don’t turn to their Savior, their feelings won’t be hurt, but one day – their soul will hurt…
We don’t want that. We want people in heaven. In fact, that’s why we lock people up. We lock people up, so that we can set them free.
2) THE UNLOCKING KEY.
Can you imagine what it is like to be bound up?
To have sin and guilt weighing down your every move?
To constantly be concerned that God hates you?
To be convinced that you have done too much wrong to ever be forgiven?
Imagine the joy of being able to use the second key to a guilt trapped conscience. If you forgive anyone their sins, they are forgiven. That word “forgive” literally means “to loosen, untie, unbind.” It means to “release!”
And if you think it's nice to be set free from some ropes that have been holding you captive, imagine what it’s like to be set free from guilt that has been holding you captive?
That’s the message we get to proclaim. Not just “I forgive you,” but “God forgives you.” God forgives you because Jesus lived innocently without any guilt. God forgives you because Jesus died innocently in your place. God forgives you because Jesus rose triumphantly to prove that God’s forgiveness is yours.
Of course, sometimes, sometimes this is even harder than pronouncing forgiveness. “Pastor, I don’t want to forgive him. I don’t want to forgive him because his sin was against me. We should forgive all the other sinners who ask for forgiveness, sure…but not that guy. Pastor, I want you to kick him out of the church and never let him in because his sin was against me.”
Remember the Corinthians? Remember how Paul told them to expel the man who was sleeping with his dad’s wife? They did. They expelled him. And it worked. The man was cut to the heart. Guilt overtook him. He stopped sleeping with his dad’s wife and asked for repentance.
But the church wasn’t giving it to him. He had been an embarrassment to them. He had caused the Apostle Paul to write a letter that would be written down for 2000 years and give the Corinthian church a bad name. Why should they forgive them?
So Paul wrote them another letter. 2 Corinthians. Look at what he wrote, “Forgive and comfort him so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow...Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven…I have forgiven in the sight of Christ.”
This really transforms forgiveness doesn’t it? Think about it – if someone has sinned against you, you have the unique opportunity to share God’s love. Usually we want revenge. Usually we want to yell. But God has gifted you a chance to show incredible Godlike love, Godlike forgiveness that may save his soul.
Now, I get it. This might sound unnerving. It might sound intimidating. I can’t tell someone their sins are endangering them to hell. I can’t comfort someone with God’s love – I don’t know what to say.
Look back at what Jesus told his disciples – Receive the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is all powerful.
The Holy Spirit is all wise.
The Holy Spirit is always present.
The Holy Spirit is God.
God is with you. You have him. He will not leave you to do this on your own.
I felt this at the car crash. After I had called 911, the firemen and paramedics came quickly. They got out the jaws of life and they began saving the woman.
I looked over – and next to me was a man who looked very frantic. It was one of those things – this tragedy caused him to open up to a stranger. He said, “Life is so fragile. It’s so quick. I don’t know if I was able to do all I could to save her. In fact, I haven’t been there for my wife. I haven’t been there for my kids.”
I put my hand on his back. He sobbed. The Holy Spirit took over.
“Friend, that's why we've got Jesus. He defeated death. He defeated sin for us. He offers forgiveness."
May God enable you to see the opportunities to share his Law and Gospel...to offer spiritual life support.
In the wake of Father’s Day, it’s always nice to reflect on fatherly wisdom. Dads teach us how to change the oil in our cars, how to open a bottle without a bottle opener, and to always brush your teeth before putting on your necktie.
I saw a Father’s Day card that said, “Happy Father’s Day Dad! Thank you for all the advice you have given me over the years. Today, I’d like to say that I’m finally going to follow some of your advice.” On the inside it read: “I’m not going to waste money on a gift for you.”
Dads are good for all kind of practical, quirky, and useful wisdom. But what about your other Dad? What about your Heavenly Dad? What kind of wisdom has God the Father passed on to you?
In the past two weeks we’ve talked about the Christian heart and the Christian voice. Today we’re going to learn about the Christian mind and the wisdom it possesses.
Our lesson comes from 1 Corinthians 1 beginning at verse 26. “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”
In this paragraph, Paul is writing to a young Corinthian congregation. In the Corinthian world where many types of wisdom were lauded and sought after, Paul reminds them to search foremost for the wisdom of God.
What is that wisdom? Paul starts by identify three things it is not.
1) Christianity is not about BOOK SMART WISDOM.
Paul writes, “Not many of you were wise by human standards…”. That’s still true today. We don’t require that you get a high sore on your SAT. We don’t exclude people from the church until they’ve gotten a Bachelor of Arts degree. And we don’t hold periodic games of Jeopardy with the high scorer being written in as the next Council member.
Christianity is not about BOOK SMART WISDOM. In fact, the teachings of Christianity often go against conventional wisdom.
Today is Trinity Sunday. Do you know what Trinity means? Three in One. Today is a celebration of the fact that we have a God who is ONE and yet is three PERSONS. Three persons who are divine and distinct and yet there is not three gods, but ONE God. In other words, we are saying, “1 + 1 + 1 = 1”
But it’s more than just the Trinity. Scripture says other things that are not reasonable to the human mind.
Jesus is one hundred percent God and one hundred percent man. The world was created in only 6 days and the age of the earth is only thousands of years, not billions of years. Some guy died on a cross. And somehow, that takes away all of the punishment for my sins? If you follow Christian logic, you will fail Math, Science, and possibly Social Studies.
Christian wisdom is not about book smart wisdom.
2) Christianity is not about STREET SMART WISDOM.
Society might agree that book smart wisdom isn’t necessary for success in this world. There are plenty of people who have made it big without so much as a high school education. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerburg are all multibillionaires who didn’t finish college
Is Christian wisdom simply street smarts then?
Paul writes, “not many of you were influential…” To be influential in Corinthian society meant you were a business man. This was a place of the market. The better your business did the more influence you had in rules and laws that were made – even if it were simply through a few extra bucks slipped to the government.
This being said. There was no requirement in the ancient church that prospective members had to have good business sense. They simply preached the Gospel to the rich, the poor, and everyone in between.
This is still true today. To become a member of our church, we don’t have a sit down interview where you prepare a PowerPoint presentation explaining how you think we can maximize revenue and get our brand out into the North Raleigh area. We aren’t a collection of business owners. We aren’t about ‘growing a business.’ When we canvass, we don’t skip the apartments and head directly to the homes that are 1.5 million or above -- because they might have some business wisdom.
In fact, Christian wisdom is not all the smart for business. Think for a moment what might happen if you follow the following business practices in the dog eat dog American business world. “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Mt. 5:39) “Humble yourself – don’t exalt yourself.” (Luke 14) “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” (Mark 10:31) “Don’t be greedy.” (Luke 12:15)
Ever seen Shark Tank? In the show, you get a chance to pitch your entrepreneurial business model to multibillion dollar business sharks. They aren’t too kind if they think you idea stinks.
How do you think they’d react to such Christian ideals?
The point? Christian wisdom is not about influential wisdom.
3) Christianity is not about POPULAR WISDOM
Paul adds one more negation to the type of wisdom that is involved with Christianity. He writes, “Not many were of noble birth.” In the ancient world, these were princes and princess. Governors daughters and centurions sons. While this is, in part, a genealogical position, there is still a certain type of wisdom involved with being royalty. (i.e. Walk with your chin raised and always lift up your pinky finger when you drink tea.)
In America, there aren’t kings and queens as such, but we still have royalty. Musicians, actors, actresses, even reality TV stars garner our constant attention.
These pop culture icons also have their own a wisdom and culture. In fact, if you don’t follow it, you’ll never make it into Hollywood.
I’m thinking about Matthew McCauneghey winning an Oscar for best actor, thanking the Academy to raucous cheers, and then thanking God – to crickets. “Who’s God again?”
Or it leaks into our ‘non Hollywood lives” as well, doesn’t it? Popular wisdom tries to dictate our decisions.
Maybe you already knew this, but God's wisdom is not always (usually) popular.
In fact, the world might not consider Christian wise at all. It doesn’t make rational sense. It doesn’t fit into academia. It isn’t even all that popular. Some might call it (and have called it) stupid!
….That’s, the point.
Look at verse 27-29. God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Corinthians 1:27-29)
Grasp what Scripture is telling us in that section. God chose things that the world would consider foolish! God looked down at human knowledge of physics, human business sense, and human popular opinion and he chose things that were the exact opposite!
There are some very good reasons why God chose to do things in such a splendidly opposite way of human beings.
1) God is eternal!
His knowledge is way beyond you or me. It’s way beyond some Scientist who’s been alive for 40 years. It’s beyond some politicians who's lived to 50. It’s way, way, way beyond some actress who specializes in Science. Of course, his wisdom is different!
It’s like how a child and an adult tie their shoes differently. The adult carefully bends over and politely and precisely ties the shoelaces into a perfect bow. The child bends over, wiggles his fingers around his laces, and finally stuffs the knotty mess into the back of the shoes.
The adult is wiser because they’ve been around longer. God is wiser than any human being because he is eternal! He has always been!
2) God is holy.
Humans, scripture tells us, are sinful. We are selfish. We are greedy. We are hateful. We worry about ourselves.
Now think about this, it means that our collective thought process will always be sinful. It will always be influenced by this hatred. There will be traces of selfishness in every single attitude we have.
God? He doesn’t have that. This means that it will be naturally the exact opposite of human thought. And he can never support these sinful human thoughts, because then, he’d be sinful!
It’s why State fans are never caught dead into Tarheel blue. They can never support Carolina!
God can never support sin. NEVER. Yet, humans are so stupidly sinful that we look at God’s ways and say, “You’re hateful. Not me!”
3) The final reason is God chose to do things in a way that is so drastically different from human reason?
1 Corinthians reveals it to us this way, “God chose the foolish things…the lowly things…the things that are not…so that no one may boast before him.”
God knew that because of sin, not a single person would ever be wise enough to gain heaven. And he also knew that our sinfulness would affect our thinking such that we wouldn’t even acknowledge it. Instead, we find ourselves thinking, “I’m doing just fine. I’m good enough. I can figure it out on my own.”
Is it any wonder that every religion in this world, why there are shallow differences, preach the same basic doctrine? Buddhism says, “Live a peaceful life and earn heaven.” Mormonism says, “Life a like like Jesus and earn your own planet.” Islam says, “Follow Islamic Law and earn paradise.”
Why are they the same? This is the best that sinful human beings can come up with is to try our sinful best to remove sinfulness by doing sinful things.
Thank God that his plan is different:
This is God’s plan. So different and so marvelous, endorsed by all three persons in the Triune God.
What does all of this mean?
It isn’t about you. Thank God. In fact, it isn't about anyone even remotely similar than you! (Can you imagine a salvation plan enacted by a sinful human being? It will result in sinful people sinful failing to win a sinful result!)
Salvation is about Jesus, our Savior. It’s about the Father our perfect Justifier. It’s about the Spirit, our Sanctifier. Through faith in Jesus Christ, you are saved! And praise be to God for making this plan so different that it sticks out as Divine wisdom!
Otherwise, we’d be stuck in our sinful human head: “I’m awesome. I figured out God. I have the smarts to make it to heaven. I deciphered it with my decoder ring. God, of course, selected me for heaven, because of my wisdom!”
But it’s not about you. Paul said it this way, “It is because of God that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (v. 29-31)
Kids love to boast about their dads. “He’s the smartest guy I know.” He’s stronger than your dad. He was awesome at baseball. If only he hadn’t of hurt his leg, he’d probably be more famous than Babe Ruth.”
Why not boast about your heavenly Father?
“My heavenly Father is so wise he planned my salvation before the beginning of the world.”
“My heavenly Father is so powerful he raised my Brother Jesus from the dead!”
“My heavenly Father is so loving he forgives me for my sinful pride and arrogance.”
“My heavenly Father is the best. Holy. Incredible. Absolute.”
Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord. Amen.
There are a lot of famous spokesmen in the world. Tony the Tiger. Mr. Clean. Ronald McDonald. Lebron James. The Honey Bee from Honey Nut Cheerios. (Although I have to admit that I have no idea what his name is.)
A spokesman is important. These spokesmen help to sell the product. They tell you to invest in what the company sells. They tell you "you aren’t as cool as Lebron James if you don’t eat the Club Hamburger!”
If you had to name one spokesman for Christianity, whom would you name?
The whimsical and kind words of Max Lucado? The theologically heavy, yet humanly raw writings of Martin Luther? How about the wise, well-known voice of Billy Graham? The Gospel sing-song voice of Reverend T.D. Jakes?
All of these Christian speak and write in very different ways. Which one is the best? Which one is most correct?
What does the voice of Christianity sound like?
I wonder if the post Ascension disciples were pondering that very question. They had just received their marching orders. They were to “go and make disciples of all nations by baptizing them…and by teaching them to obey everything (Jesus) had commanded them.” (Mt. 28:19) Teaching involved talking. They would have to use their voice.
Should they be hellfire and brimstone like the Old Testament prophets? Should they speak mildly in one on one conversation? Should they hire speech writers to help them write the first sermon OR should they just hire someone to preach it for them? Maybe they could buy big rolls of papyrus, make bolded posters with crosses on them and place them all over the Colisseum?
As they sat their quietly in that Jerusalem room and pondered what the Christian voice might sound like, little did they know that God was about to reveal to them exactly what it sounded like.
1. What does the Christian Voice Sound Like?
Suddenly, they heard the sound like the blowing of a violent wind. Think of a hurricane without the rain. A tornado without the wind. Then, they saw what appeared to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. Finally, Scripture says they were filled with the Holy Spirit and then it describes how they went and immediately began preaching sermons. (Acts 2)
Understand what this means. These disciples – ordinary men – fishermen, accountants, untrained, unschooled – suddenly knew what the Christian voice sounded like. It was familiar.
It was their own.
What does it sound like today?
Look at what the prophet Joel has to say about Pentecost and the time after it in chapter two of his prophecy. He says, “Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants – both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” (Joel 2:28-29)
Consider then what the Christian voice sounds like.
Sometimes, Joel says, it sounds like sons and daughters.
If you have older children who have grown up and left the house, you might be nodding your head. But notice that Joel puts no age limit on this prophecy. Meaning that if your kid is still a kid, this prophecy is no less valid.
Now you may be thinking, “My kid? The voice of Christianity? Not so much. She’s inquisitive (always asking “Why?”) to be sure and she’s knows all the words to “Let It Go,” but the voice of Chrsitianity? That might be taking it too far.”
…Think of those Precious Lambs last weekend. They are nothing more than preschool . Not even tall enough to ride the Ferris Wheel at an amusement park. Last week they sang in church. High pitched? A little. Off key? Some. Off beat? Definitely.
But did that change their message? It was the Word of God from Matthew 28: “Surely, I will be with you always to the very end of the age.”
Wonderful. Beautiful. God’s Word.
Sometimes the voice of the Christian sounds like the voice of a child!
But that’s not all the Christian voice sounds like. Joel writes, “Your young men will see visions.” (2:28)
Again, that might sound a little strange. Teenage boys aren’t usually thought of for their responsibility. Culturally, we think of them as talking about the latest cheat codes on a video game, the stats of their favorite football team, and whether Marci Fischer has a crush on them or not!
But Joel tells us that “your young men will see visions.” High schoolers will challenge their public school teachers on the origins of the world. Teens from New Ulm join forces with some of our teens and go door-to-door inviting people to church. In a few weeks, the WELS Youth rally will gather over 2000 teens from across the United States united in singing praises to God. Shortly after that we will have teen confirmation and two young adults will confess their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ before all of us!
Sometimes, the voice of the Christian sounds like the voice of a teenager!
But that’s not all the Christian voice sounds like. Joel writes, “your old men will dream dreams.” (2:28)
Again, you might struggle to think this possible. Especially with a much older man who lives in a retirement home. One might think, “They need help with every aspect of living. They need someone to push the wheelchair. Someone to bring them food. If I want to hear anything they are saying, I have to lean in close and listen intently! How could they be the spokesmen of the Lord?”
Monday mornings I head over Brighton Gardens retirement home. The majority of the residents who join me for worship there have to be wheeled in. They need help finding the page in the bulletin. They need help finding a spot to sit.
They don’t need any help singing Amazing Grace! They sing “How Great Thou Art” at the top of their lungs. Sure, their fingers might write a with a tad more of a crook, but they can still write letters of blessing. Sure, their ways might be a bit old fashioned, but if you listen…really listen, you might learn wonderful lessons about God.
Respect your elders. Because sometimes the voice of Christianity sounds just like the voice of your grandparent!
But young men, old men, and young children are not all that the voices of Christians sound like. Joel tells us "I will pour out my Spirit on all people….even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” (Joel 2:28, 29)
In other words, at different times the voice of Christianity will sound like the voice of every believer.
But here’s where you really need to pay attention.
First, make sure no one’s around. Close a door. Breath deeply. Then, hum a bit. Softly a first, then a bit louder.
Did you hear it?
You just heard the voice of Christianity! You just heard the voice of one of God’s spokesmen.
2. How does a Christian Voice Speak?
Now I’m sure you are immediately objecting:
“I’m terrible at speaking.”
“I freeze up and say silly things.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“If I can’t convince my kids to eat their broccoli, how can I convince others to believe in Jesus?”
I’m sure the disciples might have had similar objections. In Jerusalem that first Pentecost was a United Nations of the Ancient World: Parthians, Median, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Cappadocians, Pontians, Asians, phyrgians, Pamphylians, Egyptians, Libyans, Romans, Cretans, and Arabs!
Yet, Scripture tells us that they heard the message of Jesus – clearly—and each in their own language.
This was long before the time of the Rosetta Stone. How could the disciples have been able to speak all these different languages so quickly?
Were they studying in their off time? When? They had been following Jesus for over three years. Were they naturally brilliant? Not necessarily. Some of them were fishermen and farmers. Were they drunk? Not at all!
Peter answers by pointing to the words of the prophet Joel: "I will pour out my Spirit on all people….I will pour my Spirit in those days.”
In other words, the disciples weren’t in it alone. Their voices didn’t speak by themselves. They had the Holy Spirit of God guiding them.
The same is true for you.
Now you might not have a tongue of fire on your head. You probably can’t speak in tongues and I don’t want you to even try picking up a poisonous snake.
Yet, if you are a believer, know this: You have the Holy Spirit with you!
How do I know this?
Scripture says, “No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3) You can’t be a believer unless the Holy Spirit is with you – in your heart.
This is comforting isn’t it? You, dear believer, are an instrument of the Holy Spirit. As you speak his Word, he is using you for his purposes.
Which means that there is no reason to worry!
I imagine that a rickety old violin might feel a little worried in the way that he will sound as a concert approaches. But, if that old violin hears that it will be played by a world renowned violinist, all that worry fades away!
You are an instrument that is in the hands of the Holy Spirit of God! He is world renowned for the faith that he works and strengthens through the Word. Though you may be broken and rusty in your speaking skills, that does not mean that He can’t use you to beautifully share God’s Word!
Scripture tells us, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)
This is true. It’s true even when you, yes, you, speak God’s Word.
3. What Does a Spokesman Say?
Now about the only objection you might have left is to ask the simple question, “what does the Christian voice say?”
Take a look at Peter’s speech in Acts 2 and you see that answer. Peter continues in his Pentecost address to speak of the past. Specifically, the past 50 days. He tells how Jesus lived. How Jesus died. How Jesus rose again. He tells them of how they sinned and how Jesus save them from their sins.
You know this. You know it well. So speak it. Speak of how your Savior lived perfectly, died innocently, and rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of sins.
Then, don’t just speak the past, but speak the future.
Now, you might be thinking, “The future? How am I to do that? I don’t own a crystal ball. I don’t get visions. I can’t read palms. My magic 8 ball is broken. How am I to speak about the future, if I don’t know it!?!”
But, dear Christian, as a believer in Jesus, might I add that you do know the future. Look at the words of Joel for a reminder:
God says, "I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood on the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” (Joel 2:30-32)
In other words, you know the Law. The end is coming. It comes as death for many of us. For others, it will come as Judgment day. And without Jesus, it will be dreadful.
But, you also know the Gospel. Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance! (Joel 2:33)
Don’t shudder in proclaiming comfort for the future. Confidently and boldly speak the good news of Jesus!
When Peter and the disciples had finished their work on the first Pentecost, Scripture tells us that over 3,000 were added to their number that day.
Brothers and sisters, you may not see thousands of people coming to faith as soon as you start sharing your faith, but don’t be surprised to start seeing results. The LORD is at work! He will cause people to think. He will cause people to ask questions. He will be at work as you share his word!
So, be a spokesman!
Just about the only time that a spokesman doesn’t do his job is when he doesn’t speak for the product he represents.
You represent Jesus. Do your job. Speak of him. At home, at work, on the job, with your neighbors, at the dog park, in the coffee shop, online. Be a spokesman for Jesus! Amen.