Today we are finishing up our series called the Kingdom of God is Like. Throughout this series we have looked at a variety of parables that teach us a variety of things about the Kingdom of God. Do you remember them all? There should be 10.
We learned that God’s kingdom is like…
A sower that throws seed on the ground because sometimes faith grows; sometimes it doesn’t.
A growing seed because faith grows through repeated, repetitive, consistent and persistent use of God’s Word.
A mustard seed because it is seemingly insignificant work that is of eternal significance.
A homeless fox because it is greater than any material wealth.
An abandoned burial plot because it is greater than any earthly task.
A plow because it is greater than any human relationship.
A treasure because it is worth giving up everything to make sure it’s yours.
A net because it collects all sorts of people on this earth – people that will be sorted when the kingdom work is over.
A banquet because the party will be so awesome in heaven there won’t be any regrets about unaccomplished earthly work here.
One thing that all of those parables have in common is that they focused on future fulfillment. Jesus was teaching his disciples about something that would happen later on.
Today’s parable deals with immediate fulfillment. As in – as soon as Jesus gets done telling it – the exact things he had just predicted to happen began to happen.
Intrigued? This is the parable of the Vineyard Crime Scene. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Parable of the Vineyard Crime Scene
This parable comes from Matthew 21:33. The timeline of this parable is important. It takes place at the end of Jesus’ three years of ministry.
For three years he has preached the good news of God.
For three years he has proclaimed forgiveness to ‘sinners.’
For three years he has befriended the lowly, scum of society.
For three years….
He has infuriated the religious leaders of the day.
In fact, they hated Jesus!
In fact, it would not have been a stretch to say: They hated Jesus!
Crowds had stopped following them and started following Jesus. They hated that.
Crowds had stopped listening to them and started listening to Jesus. They hated that.
Jesus called them “sinners” lumping them in with the scum of society – ‘regular, common, disgusting people.’ They hated that most of all.
And Jesus knows this.
He knows they hate him.
He knows they want to kill him.
He tells the following parable to them:
There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He does a lot of the hard work to get the place up and running. He tills the ground. He plants the seeds. He builds an irrigation system. He installs that fence-like apparatus up and down the rows so that the grape vines can grow onto it.
Then, when he has the winery up and running, he realizes – I could make a decent amount of money on this. After all, winery tourism is a huge deal. He builds a wall around it, installs a wine press, adds a watch tower, maybe even a nice patio for visitors to enjoy sipping on a Merlot while the sun sets on the chateau in the distance.
Then, when it’s ready to make some money: He rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. (v.33b) Not that he didn’t still have some involvement. (Our guy is smarter than that) He makes a deal with the farmers to pay him his share of the profits that they make on his winery. Maybe, 25%? (It’s one of those royalty deals that Mr. Wonderful loves to do on Shark Tank.) As long as they are making money on it, he’s making money on it too.
It’s his land and it’s nice they are able to use it at a low price and make some money too.
The time comes for him to pick up his money.
He checks the mail – nothing there.
He looks at his Google Money Request – no dice.
He searches his email for ‘winery royalty’ and there are ZERO search results.
He sends one of his trusted servants. “Could you go to my winery tomorrow and pick up the royalty payment for me? Here’s some spending cash and a first-class airline ticket. Thanks!”
And the servant goes.
And the man waits for him to return.
And he never comes back.
So he says to a second servant: “Maybe Bob wasn’t the most trustworthy. Maybe he took the spending money and went gambling or something? I don’t know. Here. You go to that winery and bring me the royalty check.”
And that servant goes.
And the man waits for his return.
And he never comes.
This goes on for three, four, five servants – until finally, one of them makes his way back to his master.
He in a cast.
The farmers did this to me. I introduced myself politely as your representative. I reminded them that this was your land and it was a kind thing for you to let them use it. And then, they smiled—and sucker punched me. They started kicking me. One of them grabbed a vine to strangle me. If it wasn’t for the pepper spray that I packed on my key chain, I would never have gotten out of there.
Worse. Some of the other servants weren’t so lucky.
I saw a company vehicle that had been torched.
I came across Bob’s blood-stained company jacket.
I hacked into some security footage that shows one of our guys being murdered because he asked for the money.
These aren’t farmers! They’re murderers! Let’s get ‘em.
But the entrepreneur doesn’t get angry.
He doesn’t call the police.
He doesn’t seek revenge…yet.
He says, “Let’s send my son.” They will respect my son. (v.37)
Entrepreneur Jr. gets called into the office.
They explain the situation to him.
They figure – he’s so well-known and so heavily photographed by paparazzi, surely the farmers won’t harm him because such a crime would result in obvious retribution.
But when his son gets there.
And steps out of the company limousine.
And he greets them with a smile and a hearty handshake:
“Gentlemen, I know you’ve had some differences in the past, but I am not here to take everything away from you. I’m just here to collect the portion of rent that is rightfully, legally my dad’s. If you can hand me that check, I’ll be on my way and you can go back to working this vineyard – my Father’s vineyard – in peace. Does that sound like a deal?”
He holds out his hand for the check.
And he smiles.
And the farmers smile.
And they reach in their back pockets.
But not for their wallets,
For their weapons:
“This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.” So they took him out of the vineyard and killed him.” (v.39)
II. The Reality of God’s Kingdom
This may be the darkest of the parables.
It seems like it belongs on HBO programming and not in the Bible.
But remember – every parable is an earthly story that teaches us about God’s kingdom.
And Jesus told this parable to teach the angry, hate-filled religious leaders something about God’s kingdom.
When he gets done with the parable he asked them:
When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants? (v.40)
And they respond correctly.
He’ll bring those wretches to a wretched end. (v.41)
He’ll get revenge.
He’ll avenge the death of his son.
He’ll get the police involved and all of those murders will be arrested!
Then, he’ll get some new tenants – some better tenants – and rent out the vineyard to them.
Look at Jesus’ response to their answer:
Have you never read in the Scriptures: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone…” (v.42)
It’s one more mini parable. This one is about construction. Because in construction, when you are building a house – especially in the ancient world of stone built, brick by brick walls, one of the most important parts of building was the cornerstone.
A cornerstone needs to be a perfectly right angle. The 90-degree bend ensures that every other wall is aligned perfectly in the square. If it’s 89.9 degrees? The whole building will be off. If it’s 90.01 degrees, the building will be off.
It needs to be perfectly straight.
And perfectly hefty as it is foundational for the whole house.
Well, apparently when the builders were looking for the cornerstone – they came across a pretty ugly stone.
It’s not square.
It’s not straight.
It’s just a rock that doesn’t deserve a place anywhere really.
They pick it up and toss it into the construction dumpster.
They don’t need it.
Do you get it yet?
Do you understand the parables?
Because the religious leaders did.
In fact, mark it down!
This is the only parable that they ever understood perfectly. Look:
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. (v.45)
They were the ones who had rejected Jesus, the cornerstone.
They were the ones who kept rejecting God’s servants.
In fact, they were the ones who were literally plotting the death of God’s only Son!
And instead of repenting when they hear Jesus call them out…
Instead of asking forgiveness…
Instead of seeking compassion…what do they do?
They bring the parable to fulfillment:
They looked for a way to arrest Jesus. (v.45)
They looked for a way to arrest the Vineyard owners’ son.
They looked for a way to dispose of the rejected stone.
III. A Familiar Crime Scene…
Why? Why did the Religious leaders do it?
Why did they reject Jesus as Savior and plot his death?
They wanted to steal God’s glory.
PROBLEM: They wanted God’s kingdom to be about their glory.
They didn’t want to depend on someone else, they wanted the glory of depending on themselves.
They didn’t want to have to trust in someone else, they wanted to trust in their own awesomeness.
They didn’t want to have faith in some carpenter from Galilee, they wanted trust in their own sinful selves from Idiotville.
And they were so confident that they wanted no part of Jesus – they were willing to KILL him and fulfill the parable that he just told about them – forever etching themselves in the annals as wretched wretches…
…just to steal some of God’s glory for themselves.
But that’s the part where the crime feels eerily familiar.
It’s kinda like a calling card left by a serial criminal.
The Joker in Batman leaves behind a Joker card.
The local gang leaves behind their brand of graffiti.
The Wet Bandits in Home Alone leave behind a flooded sink.
This “STEALING GOD’S GLORY” thing is a calling card of a very familiar criminal:
Did ya’ll have a good Thanksgiving dinner? Maybe you had some delicious potatoes and some of those green beans with the crispy onions sprinkled on top. Maybe you had some delicious oven roasted turkey with gravy.
And maybe you were involved in making that meal happen!
You spent hours putting it together.
You have blisters from holding the French Chef knife.
Your wallet has a burn hole from the money you spent on the food.
You’re ready to enjoy the meal that you have earned.
And then, right before that first bite of potatoes and gravy, someone inevitably says : “Let’s all take turns saying one thing we’re thankful for.”
And someone thanks God.
And someone else thanks Jesus.
And someone else thanks this God guy again.
And finally, it’s your turn and you get your chance to speak and say: I’m thankful that…I didn’t get too tired this year to make the meal. I mean, I was, but I pulled through. I just buckled down and made the meal. You know – the one that you’re all eating! I did that. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Thank you! I mean – Thank me for making this a great year for me”
Friends, watch out for self-righteousness.
He resides in each of us.
He wants us to steal God’s glory.
“Sure, God loves you. It’s because you’re so lovable.”
“You don’t need Jesus. You’re a pretty good person on your own.”
“OK! Fine, Jesus died for you! But YOU’RE the one who believed in Him so…who’s the real hero here anyway?”
Today, God approaches you like that vineyard owner and asks that you give him what is rightfully his – HIS GLORY!
And the warning from Jesus’ parable is this:
Don’t boot God from God’s kingdom.
Because without God? It’s not God’s kingdom.
And without God’s kingdom… well?
That’s just you. Facing God’s vengeance.
IV. The Cornerstone
Do you remember the rejected stone?
The one with all the bumps.
The one that looked like a terrible choice for any kind of stone, so the builders threw it into the dumpster?
This isn’t in the parable, but I imagine that before they left work for that day the workers went to clock out And as they left, they told their boss that the stone he recommended, didn’t work out! So, they threw it away.
And the boss apologizes. “No worries guys. I’ll work on it. I’ll find the perfect cornerstone and have it in by the morning.
The next day…
As they are drinking their coffee and preparing for another day of work, they come to the construction site and…WHOA! There in the corner – where the best of the best – the visually perfect and totally right stone should be – is that stone that they, the builders, had rejected.
It has become the cornerstone.
And despite the Pharisees’ rejection of Jesus!
And despite their dumping of him into the rejection heap of the cross
And throwing him into a make shift dumpster –called a grave…
Three days later.
Three days later…
Three days later, he comes back to life.
“The stone the builders rejected has become the Cornerstone. The LORD has done this and it is marvelous in his eyes.” (v.42b)
Because no one else could have done this!
No one else could remove our sins.
No one else could win our forgiveness.
No one else could rise form the dead and then promise us eternal life as well.
Except God himself.
Here’s the truth: God’s kingdom is ALL about GOD’S glory.
It’s not about you achieving some kind of glory on your own.
It’s not about you getting enough glory so that God might like you.
It’s not about you earning your way to heaven.
It’s about his grace.
it’s about his forgiveness.
It’s about his glory.
But here’s the thing! Wouldn’t it have been much easier for God to win glory if he just put on some really cool laser light show?
Why didn’t he just stick to making a beautiful sunset?
Why did he go through with all of this awful, suffering and death…he obviously knew it was coming and went through with it anyway?
God went through with this suffering and death in order to bring you into his glory.
Because while God’s kingdom is all about God’s glory…, it’s also true that God’s kingdom is about YOU sharing in God’s GLORY.
That’s why Jesus did what he did.
He loved you that much.
In fact, that’s really the point of all these parables. Whether it’s about planting faith in our heart or preparing a banquet in heaven, whether it’s collecting us in the net of his kingdom work or being the cornerstone to build our eternal lives upon…It’s all about God’s glory and it’s all about YOU sharing in God’s glory.
Glory be to God!
God’s kingdom is marvelous in His eyes!
And…I hope…it’s marvelous in yours too. Amen.
So... how’s life? Everything cruising along just fine? Nothing troubling or difficult come up lately?
I’m going to guess that's not the case. I’m going to guess that you've got at least one something, probably many somethings that are giving you grief and potentially causing some lost sleep, robbing you of some peace of mind, and just overall taking up your time and energy that you’d rather be spending elsewhere. How are you handling that? Are you trying to face it, confront it, and put it to bed? It’ll be hard but at least you’ll have won and probably come out the other side with something good to show for it. Or are you trying to just figure out some way to get the issue rid of, forget about it, take it out of your life and move on? No victory there but at least there’s no cost to you in fighting it.
It can be a tough call when we face a challenge to balance that risk/reward relationship, to decide if the fight is worth it. There’s a branch of the path that costs us something but we benefit at the end… or we choose not to fight and there’s no immediate cost.
But there is one of those choices in our lives that’s kind of a no-brainer. The difficult side is full of hardship that you wouldn't deal with if you chose the other branch of the path. It's full of self-sacrifice, pain, and ridicule. And the reward you earn for walking it is: absolutely nothing. Plenty of pain, no gain. All you can see is that one side is going to cost you, the other side doesn’t.
When I talk here about a difficult path versus an easy one, I'm speaking of course about the difference between being a disciple of Jesus, following him, or not. Now, I’m speaking about this like it's a one-time choice but it's not. It's really a fork in the road that we face a dozen or more times every single day. We usually don't think about it in such conscious terms, but this is really what we're facing.
The moment approaches when we have a decision to make. On the one side is the path that God calls us to follow as his disciple. To think, act, or speak as he’s taught us. It’s the path that costs us something. If you go down that road, you’ll have to give up… something. You’ll have to give up some of your time or your treasures or your pride or your peace. You’ll have to endure some kind of emotional or physical pain. And at the end of that branch you will have received nothing you do not already have. No benefit. The other branch is a straight line, level ground, no trouble and it looks like it ends at the same place, but there’s no cost. So really, no-brainer.
You’re at work and overhear a conversation where a co-worker is bashing the church. He can’t stand how they’re deluding people constantly. And for what? They’re only after your money and they’re all filled with hypocrites who don’t practice what they preach. The easy path is to stay quiet. Maybe pass a little silent judgment on the person, be sure to treat them a little differently from now on. Mark that person in your mind as a fool. God’s path instead says to look at that person with compassion. To give up pride of thinking yourself better because that could just as easily be you. And to give up the safety of staying silent but rather in love inviting the coworker to come and see that they might be mistaken in their assumptions of the church. Isn’t just easier to stay quiet?
It’s payday. In fact, it’s a special payday because this paycheck has a bonus and a raise attached. The easy path is to think of all the things you can do for yourself or your family now. Pay off some debt? Take a vacation? Remodel a bit like you always wanted? Maybe just rework the budget to have more spending money each month. After all, you’ve earned it. God’s path tells you that you did not earn it. That he gave that to you. And he asks you to set aside some of the things you want to show him thanks first. To give to him in proportion to how much he’s given you. And that means giving up some of those dreams of things you want. Wouldn’t be easier just to keep it for yourself?
Someone close to you is rude. Heartless. Hurts you through indifference. And it keeps happening. The easy path is to be angry. To hurt them back. To badmouth them to others. To carry a grudge and hold a bad opinion of them. God says love even those who hurt you. God says leave justice and judgment and vengeance to him. God says to speak well of everyone, to hold your tongue even when the bad stuff is true. But God’s path means giving up your hurt pride, it means letting go of the pain and anger. It means abandoning the idea that this person is “bad”. But isn’t it easier to just stay angry at the bad people?
We face moments like these constantly, and when you look at it like that the decision seems obvious. One path costs, the other path is free. Even for the Christian, there does not appear to be a tangible reward for choosing the path that costs. You do not come out the end “more saved” than you already were. You are already forgiven, right? God already loves you, he already died for you, so... you don’t get anything more for making yourself miserable by paying the cost of his path right?
It’s a compelling argument. I hope I didn’t make it too compelling for you. It is what is whispered in our ear. It is what the devil would love for us to listen to. And it's very tempting. Don’t go that way, it’s not worth it. But it is short-sighted, in the moment, and ignores the larger picture of our salvation. Being a disciple of Jesus means carrying this cross, this cost of following him. It is a necessary part of the experience.
Jesus says as much in our Gospel that we just read. He tells us, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
So just in case it isn’t already clear, let’s start with the obvious question: What is our cross? Sometimes we like to think that it is just everything unpleasant that we endure in this life, but that’s not exactly accurate. Not that God doesn’t have something to say about those things, but that’s not really what we’re talking about here. When Jesus calls for you to take up your cross and follow him, he’s talking about the cost of being his disciple. He’s talking about what you endure, what you suffer, what you give up as a result of choosing the path that he’s on instead of the world’s.
Your cross can be as overt as the ridicule you endure from family or coworkers over the fact that you believe in some magical God who created the world in seven days. It can be as difficult as giving up your time or your money because God asks it. It can be as subtle as just giving up your right to feel like you’re justified in your anger and judgment of another person. Whatever it costs you to follow the path of the disciple, that’s your cross.
So, what makes it so necessary? After all, we say that God’s forgiveness is full and free right? Freely given, without cost or demand. And all this before we even come to know him. If the forgiveness is given first, what makes taking up the cross such a vital part of being Jesus’ disciple?
I could go into the scriptural definition and explanation, about how faith is a living gift from God and faith by its definition shows itself in actions that love God more than yourself and making those choices for God is just a natural result of having faith. But let’s maybe approach it a little more simply, in a terms that are easier to grasp with the theme we’ve been using: Disciple.
So here is the plain question: what kind of disciple are you if you refuse to follow the instructions of your teacher? What if you were learning a trade under a master and every direction he gave, you ignored it and did things the way you thought would work better instead? Not only would that make you foolish for not listening to the one who had the experience, who actually knew better, but it wouldn't make you much of a disciple either. In fact, if you kept up that behavior you probably wouldn't be retained as a disciple for very long.
That might be a little less than encouraging if you're anything like me. After all, I know how I make my choices. Sure, sometimes I listen to Jesus and accept the cross that comes with his path. But more often than I want to admit, I take the road that looks easier and costs me less. And if that’s the kind of disciple I am, one that says “no thanks” to the cross when it looks uncomfortable, then what hope do I have?
The best kind, actually. Take a look at what the Apostle Paul has to say in our reading today:
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
In a very real sense, it’s encouraging when you can’t do the work in front of you. Why? Because that's the point of Jesus. You are not the treasure, you are the jar of clay. Unimpressive, worthless, ugly. That’s okay. Because you are filled with the treasure. The treasure is Jesus.
Jesus took up his literal cross for you. He carried it to Calvary. He let himself be hung on it. And there he took up your cross. He took the real cost on himself. The payment you owed for every failure to be his disciple. Every time you took the selfish path created a debt to God. Jesus took the debt and paid it in blood. As he endured the pain of Hell itself he paid your price, he carried your cross for you.
Jesus’ death and resurrection means that in the eyes of the Father you have always carried your cross perfectly. You are filled with the treasure that he has won for you, and that treasure can never be spent out. There is always more there than you will ever need, it is an eternity of God’s treasure filling you up. The outside is attacked, there is cost demanded, but the treasure never runs out. The final part of our reading for today points out some vital truths as we prepare to shoulder our cross in the world:
13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Truth number one: we believe, therefore we speak. Faith speaks, faith shows itself. Being a disciple of Jesus means that you follow his teachings and that means even when there's a cost. Because he paid your cost. For the believer it is as natural as the sun rising and the flowers blooming.
Truth number two: outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. Here is a far more important fact about the costs of being a disciple. You are not the one paying them. Because everything God asks of you, every cost to every cross you must carry, it's all paid out of what God has given you. All you have, and all you are you have only because he's given it to you. All your time, all your treasures, all your strength within and without come from him. And so whatever the cost of following him is, he's given you enough to pay that price. However difficult that cross may look to carry, he's standing right there with you ready to shoulder the burden. It's not really on you.
And truth number three: our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. Being a disciple of Jesus is listening to him and putting what he says into action. Even if there’s a cost. Because the fact is that in his discipline, he is the master. He knows the best ways. He knows what will actually spare you the most pain and bring you the most blessing. You just might not be able to see it.
So instead of looking at what the paths might look like to you, we trust his judgment. We fix our eyes not on what is seen but what is unseen. Jesus has shouldered your cross. He continues to give you everything you need to bear it. And his path leads to eternal glory in heaven. Don’t trust what you see, trust the one who saved you. So what now? You’re a disciple of Jesus. Pick up your cross, go out there, and follow him. Amen.
We are starting up our series called Fixer Upper this morning. It is all about how God fixes the brokenness in families. To be honest, no matter who you are and no matter what your family looks – families hurt each other. We are broken people living in a broken world with broken people. We will, and do, and have, hurt each other.
Today we will apply Biblical teaching to the topic of household hurts. Before we do, join me in prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Truth about Household Hurts
We are going to look at a few different Bible sections today, but our base lesson for learning about Household Hurt is from Genesis 16. Because Genesis 16 features a family – it features hurt; it features a family that hurt each other. Take a look:
Sarai, Abram’s wife, had born him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my servant; perhaps I can build a family through her.” (v.1-2)
Briefly: This introduces us to the three main characters in this family. There’s Abram, the husband; Sarai, the wife; and Hagar, the Egyptian maidservant. Briefly – servant or slaves back then would have been a lot different than the violent slavery that we think of in America’s past. Generally, the head of household – in this case – Abram – would have servants who dwelt with his family. They helped fed the sheep, herded the cattle and helped to grow veggies. In exchange, Abram offered protection, food and housing.
He was kind to them. He cared for them.
In essence: they were ‘part of the family.’ Part of the household.
But this family has one key problem: Abram and Sarai, the patriarch and matriarch, didn’t have any children. He had lots of servants. These servants were like sons and daughters to them…but none of them were biological sons and daughters to them.
And if you’ve ever struggled with having children. That’s hard.
But these two had a particular hope. God had promised Abram and Sarai that they would have a child. About 7 years earlier, when Abram was 75 years old (which is already a long time to wait for having a child) God promised Abram that he would have a son. He promised that his son would have children. He promised that from his descendants the Savior of the world would come – namely – Jesus.
That was 11 years ago.
At the time of chapter 16 – Abram is now 86 years old. Was it ever going to happen? Were they ever going to have a child? Would they forever be – that rich couple that can’t have kids?
In verse 2, Sarai has enough. Look at her plan: “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go; sleep with my servant; perhaps I can build a family through her.”
Do you sense the desperation? Her idea is simply: “Go; have sex with that attractive employee of ours – then, I can be an adoptive mother of sorts.”
What do you think?
There are a lot of morals lacking in today’s world – but just about everyone – including non-believers and non-church goers would agree that cheating on your spouse is NOT a good idea. It’s morally reprehensible; it hurts trust. It causes all kinds of pain. Even cheating on your boyfriend isn’t good! I was catching a bit of Bachelor in Paradise the other day – not exactly the moral pinnacle of life – and one of the reality stars was upset that the boy she had been dating for 2 days was caught kissing another woman.
That’s after 2 days.
And it’s only a kiss.
How much more pain is there after years of marriage with a lot more than kissing?
To be fair – God was in agreement. Way back at the beginning of the world God said, “For this reason a man will be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) Because this sleeping together is an extremely intimate thing. It’s not like a high five. You high five lots of people. You high five your friends, your coworkers, your boss, even that guy at the local pub who’s cheering for the same team as you.
Sleeping together? That’s much more intimate. God’s plan was for it to only be between one other person.
Yet Sarai suggests that they go against God’s plan.
She suggests that they take it into their own hands.
She suggests that Abram sleep with her employee.
And to be fair – Abram doesn’t stop her.
Abram doesn’t say, “This will drive us apart.”
Abram doesn’t say, “But I am a one-woman kind of guy and you are my one woman.”
Essentially, he says, “Cool.”
And Abram slept with Hagar, and she conceived. (v.4)
Guess how well things turn out.
To start, Hagar starts to feel very special when it comes to Abram.
She views him at the very least as the baby daddy – if not a husband of sorts.
But the reality is, she wasn’t. Sarai was Abram’s wife. Nothing could change that.
And that hurts. Because she had been used.
So, since she can’t be his wife and that hurts, she helps herself feel better by rubbing in her motherhood in the face of Sarai.
“I am so glad that I get to be a mother, aren’t you? Oh…wait…that’s right.”
“Oh, sorry Sarai, I can’t join you for a glass of wine – the baby.”
“Isn’t Abram so nice? He’s big and strong and muscular and…oh, is that making you uncomfortable?”
In response, Sarai comes running to Abram: “You jerk! Abram, you are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me.” Notice she doesn’t blame herself for coming up with and encouraging the idea. She blames Abram – and don’t get me wrong, he is to blame. And yes, in Scripture, it is only one sentence. But I imagine this conversation went on for a while. Sarai yelling at Abram. Abram getting defensive. Sarai saying, “You never listen to me.” Abram saying, “You always do this.”
Until eventually Abram has had enough. And he tells Sarai – “Do whatever you want with her.”
Sarai mistreated her. (v.6a)
At least verbally.
“Oh, there’s that (insert female name for other females that sleep around). Were you off sleeping with the rancher? IS that why you’re late?”
The emotional toll is so great that the result is this: Hagar fled from her. (v.6b)
She fled from her household.
She fled from her friends.
She fled from her family.
Does this sound at all similar to your family story? Maybe not the not having children and sleeping with someone else in order to have a child part, but the circular hurt part?
Because pay attention to the cycle of hurt:
Abram and Sarai are hurt; so, they use Hagar and hurt her.
Hagar is hurt. So, she hurts Sarai.
Sarai is hurt so she hurts Abram.
Abram is hurt so he gives Sarai permission to hurt Hagar. And he hurts her in the process, too.
Hagar is hurt – so she hurts them both and runs away with Abram’s baby in tow.
One gets hurt by another.
One hurts the other.
And the other who gets hurt.
Hurts them back.
TRUTH #1: Hurting others never fixes hurt. It only increases it.
And yet that’s how we act in families!
If I call my sister that name, I feel less hurt.
If I look at this porn, I’ll probably hurt my wife, but I’ll feel less hurt for a moment.
If I text mom that I don’t love her anymore, I’ll feel less hurt.
If I flirt with this coworker, my husband might be hurt, but good – I’ll feel better if he knows what it feels like.
It does not work like that.
That’s be like somebody throwing a kickball in your face from about 3 feet away. It would hurt. And so, in order to stop the hurt, you throw a kickball at their face.
Do you feel better?
Not at all.
Hurting others in your family does not help the hurt in your heart.
It only brings more hurt.
And ultimately? It hurts God.
It hurts God and your relationship with God.
Because now you feel guilt.
Now you feel far apart from God.
Now the devil starts to make you question if you are worthy of God’s love.
And suddenly, the other person isn’t the only one that’s hurt. Because the truth is…
TRUTH #2: Hurting others also hurts you.
II. God Sees Your Hurt
Still… Household hurts hurt.
And you might have been very hurt by your family.
By your spouse.
By your son.
By your daughter.
By your sister.
By your brother.
By your mom.
Or your dad.
You might feel like no one understand.
You might feel like no one cares.
You might feel all alone dealing with this hurt.
That’s how Hagar felt. Sarai hated her. Abram hated her. She was despised by the other servants.
She felt used and abused and totally alone in this hurt.
So, she sneaks out at night.
She puts a few of her belongs into a sack.
She runs as fast as her pregnant legs can carry her outside of the camp.
She heads to the desert.
She hits the grounds.
She wets the dry sand with her tears.
No one loved her.
Everyone used her.
No one cared about her pain.
And as she sat there in the darkness of the early morning hours, she felt a darkness overcome her soul that seems impenetrable.
…she saw the light.
It wasn’t the sun.
It wasn’t the moon.
It wasn’t a flashlight out looking for her.
It was something else, something different, something…divine.
The angel of the Lord found Hagar. (v.7)
And he said, “Where are you coming from and where are you going?” Not that he didn’t already know – but he was already giving something that Hagar needed, an ear to listen.
“I am running away from my mistress!” (v.9) She hates me and Abram hates me. And the others hate me. And no one cares about me and no one cares about my pain. No one!
“Hagar. I care about you. I care about you and I see you. Go back home.”
I. Will. Bless you.
And Hagar got up.
And Hagar’s pain subsided some.
And Hagar went back to her family.
TRUTH: The LORD cares for you.
No matter how alone you think you are.
No matter what other family members have told you.
No matter how icy cold they are to you.
No matter how much they have hurt you.
Here is the reality: The LORD still cares for you.
And you might be saying “Prove it! Prove that God feels my pain.”
God so loved the world (are you in the world? Answer: yes. Meaning God so loved you) that he gave his One and only Son (gave him to earth. Gave him up to death. Gave him up to bitterly painful death on a cross for the pains that you have caused) that whoever believes in Him will not perish (meaning you won’t be forgotten about. You won’t spend eternity alone. You won’t be ignored and left to eternal pain) but have eternal life. (Life without hurt. Life without pain. Life surrounded by the One who loves you most – your Father. Your brother. Your family.)
In fact, if you are still doubting it. If you are still thinking that no one cares about you and God probably doesn’t care about you, well, what about these words right now? They aren’t mine; they are God’s! It is God, your Father, speaking to you: “I love you.” It is Jesus your brother beckoning to you: “Come on home.” It is God the Holy Spirit holding up your adoption papers signed in Jesus’ blood to show you: “Yes, you are a part of this family.”
III. What Now?
1. See the God Who Sees You
Because this truth – that God cares, that God is there, that God sees you and sees your pain and is actively doing things to help with that pain – even as he has already done all that’s necessary (on the cross) to take away that pain eternally – this truth helps with our household hurts right now.
In fact, it helped Hagar so much that she stopped drowning her sorrows in the desert and instead focused on this incredible God who saw her and spoke to her. She called him, “The God who sees me.”
It’s kind of like a kid…late at night. He’s nervous because it’s dark and he heard a mysterious hooting coming from outside his window. And he’s trying to be big and he’s trying to be strong, but he’s still a bit nervous. So, he gets out of bed, sneaks to the stairs, and looks at the living room.
They are still here.
And he is no longer afraid.
It’s the same when we spend time in God’s Word.
We are reminded that we aren’t alone.
We aren’t dealing with family pain alone.
We are dealing with family pain – in the presence of the Head of our Spiritual family.
We are in the presence of God.
So…spend time in God’s Word.
Spend time at worship.
Spend time in study.
If you don’t, it will only be that much harder to deal with hurt, but with that truth – the hurt will subside.
2. See the Pain of Others
Because the reality of Hagar’s story is that she wasn’t the only one hurting.
Abram and Sarai both were, too.
If any of them had been able to look past their own hurt and see the hurt of the others around them, the cycle of hurt would have been stopped.
The hurting would have stopped.
There would have been time for healing.
I know it’s hard, but when you are hurting from a fellow family member – trying to focus less on your pain but more on theirs.
That’s what Jesus did! He looks past his pain – that we had sinned against him countless and rejected him as God – and he went to the cross in order to heal our pain and guilt and win us an endless, pain free existence in heaven!
Let the truth that Jesus selflessly sought to heal your pain; to empower you to selflessly heal the pain of your family.
Because the truth is, what I’ve noticed is that when you start focusing on the pain of others in your family, your pain subsides, too.
It’s silly because when we hurt, we tend to only focus on our hurt – again and again and again.
That’s like the time that I had a splinter – and this is a recent time – and I had this splinter and I just sat there and held my thumb and said, “It hurts. It hurts. It hurts.” Guess what? That didn’t make it feel any better. Not at all!
Focus on the hurt of your family.
Watch your own hurt fade, too.
3. Remember: The One Who Sees, Also Hears
In fact, Scripture says this, “Cast all of your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7 That passage is awesome. It’s a command from God in which he says, “Listen to me! I want you to speak to me so that I can listen to you.”
And notice – he wants all of our anxiety.
All of the pain.
Because – Americans are pretty private people. We love to smile politely. Singsong our hellos and say things like, “How are you?” “I’m fine thank you.” – even when things are falling apart at home.
We want to keep our hurt private.
Not with God.
He knows you already.
Share your pain with him.
Tell him about your deepest hurts.
Tell him about how people have hurt you.
Tell him about how the way you have hurt others is hurting you too.
Tell him the things that you don’t feel comfortable telling anyone else.
Cast all your anxiety on him; because he cares for you.
That’s what the man in the Gospel for today did. He had a lot of hurt and a lot of pain.
Physical pain from the incurable leprosy that was eating away at his flesh.
Social pain from being cast away from his friends and family.
Emotional pain from the look of disgust that his own wife gave him as “You’ve gotta get away from me so I don’t get sick.”
He felt alone.
He felt hurt.
He felt like no one cared…until….
“Lord, Jesus have mercy on me?”
And Jesus heard him.
And Jesus saw him.
And Jesus cared for him.
May God begin to heal all of our pain as well. Amen.
It’s still tastes good, doesn’t it?
Peter looked over at Andrew as he sat down with a bowl of fish stew and a hearty loaf of bread. He stuffed a bite into his mouth.
I mean: It was amazing wasn’t it, Peter? We had 5 loafs of bread. That’s it! That’s like barely enough for Simon to eat his fill. He’s a zealot after all. But somehow, all of a sudden, there’s more than five loaves. I didn’t go to the store. You didn’t go to the store. Suddenly, out of thin air -- there’s thousands of loaves. We feed all 5,000 plus of them. No one asks for seconds. No one goes hungry. In fact – we’ve get 12 baskets left over – and it’s still good! This bread from basket number is delicious tonight. Isn’t that right John?
John slapped Andrew a high five as he joined the two for dinner.
It was amazing. But that’s what Jesus does, right? Think about what we saw earlier today. A man – born blind – never able to see. And he calls for Jesus. Jesus comes over. Jesus doesn’t give him money. Doesn’t give him food. Doesn’t give him medicine. He gives him spit. On His Eyes.
And there’d never been a better gift. He can see!
Andrew agreed. He’s amazing, isn’t he? It’s so great that we’re able to follow him.
And…Just exactly who are you following?
A hooded figure emerged from the shadows. The fire identified him as this Jesus – the guy they were following.
Tell me, he said, Who do the people say that I am? Who do they think you’re following?
You mean – besides the Pharisees? They think you’re a blasphemer. They think you’re a liar. They think you don’t have powers – but I don’t see how you do that blind man thing or this bread thing without having some kind of divine power.
John continued – But as for the others: Some say you are John the Baptist – back from the dead; Others say you are Elijah – back from the even deader, dead. Still others call you some kind of a prophet – They think that you’re something special, they just don’t know what! (v.19)
Jesus nodded. John put another bite of bread into his mouth. The other disciples gathered around the conversation.
Jesus spoke again, “What about you? Who do you say that I am?”
It was quiet, except for the gentle noise of soft chewing that covered up the turning gears of the disciples’ minds. Eyes darted back and forth – Who would answer?
Peter stood up.
“You, Jesus, are the Christ. The Son of the living God.” (v.20)
There was silence. The words hung in the gentle hillside air. But judging by Jesus’ smile – Peter knew he was right.
Suddenly, shouts of “Amen!” and “Preach it!” began to drown out the chirping of the crickets. The disciples slapped high fives and praised God! Peter had it right. That’s exactly who Jesus was. Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus was the long awaited, promised Savior. Jesus was the fulfillment of every Old Testament prophecy that they had ever read.
And that was awesome. Because it meant parties. It meant royalties. It meant that they were kind of like his cabinet. They’d have t-shirts with their names on them. They’d be sitting in a palace soon sipping on Long Island iced teas and letting the little bubbles from the jacuzzi hit their calf muscles. Hollywood would probably make spin off television shows about all of them!
Jesus watched the excitement in his disciples’ eyes. He let them feel that joy for a moment. Then, he interrupted: “I am your Savior. But…Don’t tell anyone.” (v.21)
The hooting and hollering stopped abruptly -- Lord, why not? Isn’t that the point?
Because. It’s not time yet. You know – the Pharisees don’t believe I’m the Messiah. The fact is, they are so angry about it that they are plotting to kill me. But there will be a time to tell others I’m the Messiah. There will be a time when I tell them I am the Messiah. Then, I must suffer many things. And I must be rejected by the elders. And I must be killed. (v. 22)
Peter broke the silence again: Never Lord! Never will that happen! You’re the Messiah. You’re our Messiah! We’ll fight for you. We’ll help you take the palace that is rightfully yours. We’ll make sure that you get the glory you deserve and we get the glory we deserve too. We won’t let you die! I won’t let you die! (Mt. 16:22)
As Peter spoke, the gentle expression from Jesus faded. It was replaced with eyes blazing full of anger: Get behind me Satan! You don’t have in mind the things of God, but of men. (Matthew 16:23)
Because here’s the truth…I must suffer. I must bear my cross. It is an absolute necessity for God’s salvation plan. It’s absolutely necessary to save you. And… you will bear a cross too. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it." (v.23-24)
Peter sat down. Embarrassment rushed to his face. The other disciples were silent too. The joy-filled aura from earlier had been replaced with a terrifying reality. As the words repeated:
If you want to follow me…
Take up your cross.
Come out of that story with me. The disciples go from the high of having identified the Messiah to the low of realizing what that meant. Our goal today – since we’re followers of Jesus too – is to understand two bitter realities of following Jesus and to learn one incredible truth that implores us to follow anyways. Pray with me: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. There’s a Cross for Jesus.
Here’s the first thing that we learn and I need you to write this down in your notes. Since Jesus is the Messiah, there needed to be a cross for Jesus.
Take a look at this Greek word up here. (The New Testament part of the Bible was originally written in Greek.) This is a key word in Luke 9:21. DEI. DEI means “it is necessary.” That means that it “has to happen.” It “must happen.” It means that if whatever it is that is necessary doesn’t happen, the whole things a mess.
Think of work. Your boss might tell you “DEI” it is necessary for you to come to work. If you don’t, he will fire you.
Or it might be “DEI” necessary that you get a report done for your superiors or you will lose the big account.
Or at the Theme Park it might be “DEI” necessary for you to be 5-foot-tall to ride Space Mountain or you will not ride Space Mountain.
Look what Jesus says it necessary, “it is necessary for the Son of Man, that’s Jesus’ name for himself, to suffer, to be rejected and to be killed.” (Lk. 9:22)
As in, without the cross there is no salvation.
As in, without the cross there is no Messiah.
As in, without the cross you do not have a Savior.
And understand what we mean by cross. This doesn’t mean that Jesus would get a beautiful, jeweled necklace like you can get down at Lifeway bookstore. The cross wasn’t wall art. It wasn’t fine craftsmanship out of olive wood from Jerusalem.
It was a horror. It was a torture device. It was a wooden instrument stained with blood, sweat, and the stench of death.
It was awful.
But it was also necessary.
Scripture says this, “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 3:23) Jesus didn’t have sin. We did. He didn’t deserve death. We did. He didn’t die for himself. He died for us.
Jesus’ death was necessary for the payment to be made!
In a book, long before Jesus came to earth, Scripture says, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” (Deut. 21:23) Then, in a book written after Jesus came to earth and went up on that cross, Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”
In other words – a bullet wouldn’t do. A mobbing wouldn’t do. Slipping on a banana peel wouldn’t do. In order to assure us yet again that Jesus was in fact the Messiah – it labeled a very specific kind of death at a very specific kind of time that just adds itself into all the prophecies that point to Jesus as the very specific Messiah that you need. Old Testament prophesied that Jesus would die on a cross therefore…
Jesus’ death on a cross was necessary to identify him as Savior.
And if you want to follow Jesus, so is yours.
II. There’s a Cross for You.
That’s exactly what Jesus said. “Whoever (notice he doesn’t say, “You Twelve who are here with me right now,”) Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
So…Where’s your cross? I don’t have a big pile of wooden crosses stored in that back room up here. That’s not what it’s for. If that were true, I suppose that every Christian would have died from crucifixion. That’s just not the case.
A cross is painful.
A cross is hard.
Our definition of a cross: It is something that is painful and hard.
Is a cross a splinter then? That’s painful. That’s hard.
Can a cross be a cold? I’ve had some head colds that are painful & hard.
There’s more to the definition than that. Jesus continued, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. (v.24)
A cross is something painful. It’s something hard. It’s something painful and hard because of following Jesus.
It could be a splinter – If the splinter comes because you’ve been out building a tree house for the kids at Precious Lambs and so that more parents are impressed with the center, decide to bring their kids to Precious Lambs and learn about the salvation of Jesus.
It could be a cold – If the cold comes from spending a week in the preschool, exposing yourself to the germ sponges known as little children, just so that they might be exposed to their Savior.
A cross is something painful & hard because of following Jesus.
It’s not sleeping with your boyfriend, no matter how much the sexual tension burns, because you’re following Jesus.
It’s not yelling at everyone at work, keeping the anger & stress from being released, because you’re following Jesus.
It’s making a friendship uncomfortable because you can’t help but tell them about their Savior.
It’s giving a bit more money from your funds to the work of the Lord – even if it hurts – because you’re following Jesus.
Maybe you’re thinking: “This is hard. This isn’t what I signed up for. I wanted peace & joy & for life to be easier when I became a Christian. Can’t I follow Jesus without the pain & hardship? Can’t I follow Jesus without carrying the cross?”
Let me ask you this. Scenario. If I’m feeling super hungry, maybe I haven’t eaten for hours & mom sets some delicious, fresh-out-of-the-oven cookies onto the countertop. They smell delicious. Your mouth starts watering. But mom says, “Don’t eat them till after dinner.” And Jesus says, “Honor your Father and mother.” But you say, “Mom isn’t looking and I’m super hungry so, I’ll just take one.”
Who are you following?
It’s not Jesus.
You’re following yourself.
In fact, anytime you choose sin, you’re not following Jesus.
You’re not bearing your cross.
You’re setting it down, because “Man, Jesus this cross is too heavy.”
Here’s the problem. It says in verse 24, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it.” This is intriguing. The very thing we want to save is the very thing we will lose! Because our trust is in our own life – which is the very thing in need of saving – how then can it do the saving?
That’s like seeing a kitten drowning in a raging river and shouting out to the kitten, “Can you help me tie my shoe?” It won’t happen!
And the one who is in the position to do the saving? The Savior, Jesus? “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the Holy angels.” (v.25-26)
Picture fire. Picture heaven. Picture glory. Picture Jesus but not coming for you…
…coming after you.
Don’t have Jesus coming after you.
Have Jesus coming for you.
Pick up your cross & follow Him.
III. Jesus Defeated the Cross
There’s a part of Jesus’ words that I think the disciples miss the first time. That Peter must have completely glossed over. Look at what Jesus said one more time, “The Son of man must suffer, be rejected, kill AND…on the third day rise again from the dead.” (v.22)
Here’s the deal. Jesus was right about the suffering – A crown of thorns pierced his head, fists punched his face, a metal laced strap of seven cut through his back, nails went through his hands and his feet, and his lungs slowly lost the ability to breath.
And Jesus was right about the rejection. It was the chief priests and teachers of the law – the very people who knew the Old Testament enough to identify Jesus as Savior – who convicted him, who stormed the Roman governor’s house, who sat on his lawn chanted, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” until the government gave the go ahead for them to do so.
And Jesus was right about his death. Because the way he came down off that cross was limp, lifeless, dead.
Jesus was also right about his resurrection. Three days later he came out of his tomb – alive!
Jesus carried a cross.
Jesus defeated that cross.
Jesus will help you carry & defeat yours, too.
That’s the promise of heaven. Whatever you’re going through as a result of following Jesus, one day it will be no more.
There won’t be any hurt feelings from angry Facebook posts.
There won’t be any more struggles with finances from giving to Him.
There won’t be any more stress & struggle against temptation & sin.
There won’t be any friendships ruined because you were following Jesus first!
All of those crosses will be defeated.
Following Jesus, your cross will be defeated.
(1) Forfeit the World
What good is it in you gain the whole world, but forfeit your soul? (v.26)
Think of the scenario. What if you got the whole world – billions of dollars, a brand-new iPhone every time a new version came out, hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram, a clean bill of health & one of the little robots that does the vacuuming for you.
What good is it if you gain all that, but lose your soul?
Usually, it’s not even that much that we get.
What good is it if you gain a moment of sexual pleasure?
An extra dollar or two?
A better reputation among friends?
A release of anger?
The feeling of I showed him?
What good is it if you gain that minor moment of bodily happiness for an eternity of torture in hell?
It’s not good.
That’s like trading in your 1957 Chevy Corvette for half a chicken nugget. It’s a terrible idea! Don’t do it.
(2) Pick it up Daily.
What’s in your daily routine? Comb your hair? Brush your teeth? Put in your contacts? If you skip one of those, doesn’t your day feel incomplete? If you can taste the film from not brushing your teeth, you might try to scrub with your finger. Who wants to miss that?
What about picking up your cross? Same feeling.
Each day put on Christ. Each day live like a Christian. Each day prepare to let your let shine in a world where there isn’t a lot of light.
(3) See the Kingdom of God
Jesus concludes with a strange statement. Some of them wouldn’t taste death until they saw the kingdom of God. Probably doesn’t mean that there are disciple hiding out in some mountain somewhere never having died. In fact – in the coming verses a few of the disciples see God’s Kingdom in a glorious transfiguration atop a mountain. If that’s not what Jesus is talking about, maybe he’s talking about the apostle John seeing God’s kingdom in the revelation for the book of Revelation.
Regardless of what the exact reference is the result is not lost on us. Pick up your cross. Follow Jesus. And you will see the kingdom of God.
You’ll approach in awe.
You’ll see the joys of heaven.
You’ll set your cross down outside the gate.
Jesus will put his arm around you and say, “Well done. Put your cross down now & follow me.”
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.
12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” 19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
Do you know who Joel Osteen is? He’s pastor at a huge Mega church. He wears nice suits. He has very pearly whites and a flashy smile.
He is also famous for teaching something called the Theology of Glory. The Theology of Glory is simply this: Become a Christian and God will give you a good life. In other words, the more and more you follow God…the more and more glorious your life will become. Here’s an example from his book: Your Best Life Right Now: 7 Steps to Living at your Full Potential.
God wants you to have a good life, a life filled with love, joy, peace, and fulfillment. That doesn’t mean it will always be easy, but it does mean that it will always be good.
That seems nice right? God wants us to have good things happen in this life. The implication? If, then, your life isn't so good, it's because you aren't believing hard enough.
I wonder what would happen if you preached that to Stephen-- the man who confessed Jesus as Savior until the Pharisees hurled stones at his head until he died. Or to the Apostle James who was put to death by King Herod, or to the Apostle Paul stoned, arrested, imprisoned, and banished for the sake of Jesus.
Did these guys have it wrong? Were the suffering because they didn't believe enough? Were they bad Christians?
Today’s message from 1 Peter 4:12-19 describes a much different picture of faith in Christ. It describes a picture where the People of God suffer just for being Christians!
1. Suffering isn't Surprising!
Take a look at 4:12, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
Notice that Peter writes it isn’t strange at all to suffer for being a Christian. In fact, we should expect it. Like I expect the drinking fountain to splash out cool H20 when I press the lever and not warm chocolate milk, so we should expect to suffer for the sake of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Why should we expect it? Consider Jesus. He himself suffered for his teachings. He told the Pharisees that they needed a Savior and they told him that he needed to shut up. He told them he came to save them and they came to crucify them. He said that He’d die for them and they said they’d kill Him for them.
Jesus and his message earned him suffering.
Should his followers expect anything less?
Should those early Christians expect anything less?
Should modern Christians expect anything less?
Should you expect anything less?
Maybe you do. Ask yourself:
Not true. In fact, the opposite seems to be more likely. If you aren't experiencing hardship simply for being a Christian, then maybe you aren't making that fact known well enough! Because being a Christian means enduring suffering for being a Christian!
And it’s bad.
Christians in the Middle East being beheaded for the faith.
Christians in China being deported or throne into prison.
Christians in America being ridiculed and mock for ‘archaic’ belief in the Bible.
Suffering as a Christian isn’t surprising, but it is still suffering. Even terrible.
So…you might be thinking: “This is all terrible news. How can suffering be a good thing? How can Christianity be a good thing? Maybe I’ve still got time to change my allegiance and join a Buddhist meditation room instead!”
When we consider how Christians suffer for following Jesus, we might get sad. But Peter tells us to do the exact opposite. Look at verse 13. He says, “Rejoice!”
II. Suffering Isn't Saddening
Because at our Preschool, sometimes the little ones fall and scrape their knees. Sometimes there is a scratch; sometimes a little bit of blood; and sometimes the ever popular "invisible wound.”
But there is always tears.
In fact, never once has a child popped up with a smile and both arms in the air shouting, “I did it! I’m so happy. I’m suffering with an injury!”
But this is exactly what God is telling us to do in response to suffering for Jesus. 1 Peter 4:13 says, “Rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ…"
Weird? Not so much. Peter isn’t a sadist. In fact, he gives four wonderful reasons to rejoice in suffering:
1) The Glory Revelation is Coming!
Verse 13 says that suffering happens So that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. That glory is nothing else than that glorious moment when we become a member of God’s incredible kingdom in heaven.
Why is that so important?
As bad as suffering might get, whether it’s insults, lost friends on Facebook, frowns from your coworkers, prison, physical harm or even death…
…what is that compared to eternal glory in heaven?
The answer? Worth it.
· What are a few angry glances from people compared to the eternal loving smile of your Father in heaven?
· What are a few uneasy feelings compared to the constant peace of forgiveness from God?
· What are a few bad names compared to the name of “MY CHILD” spoken by God himself?
· What are a few broken bones compared to the healing glory of your Divine brother’s love?
Suffering on earth reminds us of how glorious life will be without suffering in heaven! It fixes our eyes on Jesus not on trying to build up wealth on earth. In doing so, it strengthens our faith and our grip on eternal, forever riches in heaven!
2) The Spirit of the Lord is on You
Peter tells us a second reason to rejoice in suffering. Check out verse 14, “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”
How do Atheists feel about God? They hate him. How about people who love doing their sins? They hate him.
If people hate you for your faith in God, understand this awesome truth: That means God is in you! Your faith is real.
Think about what would happen if you walked into an NC State bar with a UNC hat on? You’d get jeered out of there!
Think about what happens when you have Jesus, whom the sinner hates, on your side? You suffer!
But this is great news. Because it means that the Lord is in you! It means that the Spirit of God is with you. If you are faithfully suffering for Jesus, that means you are in faith and have saving faith! Your friends, your coworkers, your family, the world does not hate you, but they hate God! And, if you had to choose which side to be on, wouldn’t you want to be on the side of the Almighty? The only One who matters? The only One who will judge on Judgment Day?
3) You Bear Christ’s Name
Thirdly, Peter writes, If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
If you are a UNC Tarheel fan, you might suffer this past weekend. They kind of got clobbered by ECU. But, if you are Tarheel faithful, you will grin and bear it. Happy to be an alumni, willing to be a part of the club, even if you have to take your licks in doing so.
If you suffer for Christ as a Christian, don’t focus on the sadness of being insulted; instead praise God that you are a part of Christ's team! Thank the Lord that your sins have been removed; you have been called by Christ; you have been baptized into his name; you are together with the LORD almighty.
You are a Christian. You are Christ’s. You bear his Name before your Father in heaven.
That means you are saved!
4) God will Judge the Enemies of Christ.
And thank the Lord. Because what will it be like for those against Christ? Which is our final reason for rejoicing during suffering. Take a look at the final verses from our text: It is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
Truth is, when you think of judgment, even as a Christian, who knows Jesus died for you and took away your sins, it’s still hard. Hard to truly believe that Jesus died for our sins. Tough to trust that God is in fact faithful to his word of forgiveness. With prayers and thanks to God, we ask Him to hold us in faith and keep us trusting in God for salvation.
But what will unbelievers do? What will all those who persecute and destroy the church of God do at that time? Will they persecute God? Will they destroy Him? Will they mock Him?
Or will they come face to face with their Maker? Will they have to confront the Almighty fiery eyed hatred of the One they have been against? Won’t God our Lord avenge us? Won’t God the Lord avenge himself?
Go back to that Osteen quote. Joel says, “God wants you to have a good life.” But as we look at the suffering being a Christian leads to in this life, we realize that isn’t true.
Because God doesn’t just want you to have a good life on this earth…
…he wants you to spend a blessed eternity forever in heaven with him!
Peter concludes his text this way: So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
Because suffering for God isn’t so bad. It’s a blessing. A blessing that reminds us of heaven. A blessing that shows we have the Spirit of Christ and Christ’s name on us. A blessing that means we will not face the full wrath of God in heaven.
A blessing that shows that God loves us.
I suppose an inheritance depends on the wealth of the one giving the inheritance.
For instance, if your father was a farmer, you might get the family farm. If your father was a carpenter, you might get a couple of band saws and 700 sheets of sandpaper. If your father was a Doritos salesmen (how awesome would that be), you might get bags and bags of that delicious chip.
As People of God, we are God’s children. That means our Dad is the divine ruler of heaven and earth – the stars, the planets, and the far reaches of the galaxy.
What exactly does an inheritance from such an awesome Dad look like?
Our lesson from 1 Peter 1:3-12 talks about this inheritance. It talks about us as heirs. It tells us about the glorious gifts that our heavenly Father has waiting for us.
1. A Brand New Kind of Inheritance
Look at verse 3. It says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
Peter calls this inheritance new. It’s not old. It’s not your everyday inheritance of “a few thousands dollars invested in Mutual Funds.” It’s not the cliché “stock certificates” or “collection of neckties.” God’s inheritance for us is something new.
Praise the Lord, too. Because the promise of inheritance from every other religion in the world is old and tired.
We had a youth group spend time in the community this past week. They went door to door learning more and more about the people in our area. As they asked them questions about their religious preferences one thing became certain. There are a lot of different religions in North Raleigh, but they have a very similar sounding inheritance:
“I have led a good life, so I think I might get to heaven.”
“I’ll keep trying really hard and maybe I’ll make it to Nirvana.”
“I have followed Islamic law. So if I keep that up I’ll be in paradise.”
“I don’t know if there is a god. But if there is, I’m sure he’ll let me into heaven, because I’m a relatively good person.”
Different religions. Same promise. Be good and get to heaven.
But what happens if you follow this way to heaven? Say you get upset during the day and say a bad word. Haven’t you now failed at being good? What if you betray a friend? How do you know if you’ve done enough good to overcome that sin? (And if you are only doing good to outdo the bad you do, isn’t that selfish? Doesn’t that nullify any good action with selfish intentions?)
Why play the game of divine scale tipping? It doesn’t matter how you wrap it up. With burka headdresses or papal caps, it’s still the same sad OLD story. The same old false premise. The same old guilt. The same old doubts. The same old fear. The same old result:
But that God has something NEW for you. It isn’t guilt. It isn’t sin. It isn’t death. It is a new birth into living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It’s Jesus is alive. It’s the promise that through faith in Jesus you too will be alive. It’s the promise that your sins are gone. It’s an inheritance of life without guilt. It’s an inheritance of certainty: I will be in heaven, just as Jesus certainly rose from the grave!
Which, by the way, is something totally new. Because many people had died before Jesus. That wasn’t new. That was old. What was new was what happened next. Jesus died and three days later, he came back to life. He rose from the dead. He proved that what he had talked about was a BRAND NEW theology with BRAND NEW power from God to back it up.
Now you might be thinking, “That’s nice. But there’s no way it will be mine. I’m not good enough. I haven’t behaved well enough. I haven’t even given God the time of day that I should. I have not equally given to God what he is willing to give me. I’m guilty and I don’t deserve this gracious gift.”
But it’s not about you. Scripture says, In his great mercy God gave us…”
Not – “In his being impressed by your life.”
Not – “in his being thankful for the good things you’ve done.”
Not – “In appreciation for the fact that you’re better than your neighbor.”
Just - “in His great mercy.” In his love. Because he loves you.
Jesus died. Because he loved you. Jesus took your sin. Because he loved you. Jesus rose from the dead. Because he loved you.
Jesus promises you an inheritance in heaven, because He loves you.
2. An Imperishable Inheritance
Surely this seems too good to be true. Perhaps you are thinking that way about this new inheritance from God. Maybe you are thinking: It can’t last. It must be a limited time offer. It must only be available to me when I was young. Now I am old. I have sinned too much. The time has passed on me. I can’t possibly be a recipient of this inheritance.
Look at verse 4. God’s promise is “into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”
Compare this to visiting your grandpa’s attic. God’s promise is much different than any kind of inheritance you can find in an attic. It doesn’t perish like newspapers in your Grandpa’s attic that crumple and break as you pick them up. It doesn’t fade like an old family picture album in which grandpa’s old blue jeans look a dull shade of grey. It doesn’t spoil like bottles in a Coke collection from 1921.
God’s promises is still glorious. It’s is still as strong as ever. It still forgives sins. It’s love will never fade. It does not spoil.
We might spoil our faith. We may be overcome by doubts. We may love sin more than God. But that never changes what Jesus has done. It never changes Jesus’ offer. It never changes the fact that in Christ, your sins are forgiven!
Through faith in Him, you will be in heaven.
How is that possible? Everything on earth spoils, perishes, and fades. Even promises spoil, perish, and fade.
Look at the second part of verse 4. “This inheritance is kept in heaven for you.” Heaven is not earth. Earth IS a place of decay. Earth is a place where things fade, spoil, and die. Heaven is much different.
It’s like those special protective cases you can get for photographs. They are supposed to keep oxidization out and prevent from fading. You may have gone to great lengths with such coverings for your baseball card collection or your wedding dress.
You’ve got way more than a thin strip of plastic preventing God’s promise of your salvation from fading. Peter says it this way, “You through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” In heaven under the safeguard of our Father, sin can’t get at God’s promises. They do not get ruined. There is no expiration date. God’s promise of forgiveness and love is as strong today as it was at your Baptism as it will be on your deathbed!
3. An Inheritance Worth Suffering For
If your Uncle gave you an inheritance in the stock market, it may be wise to let it stay in the market for awhile. Even if it means eating Ramen noodles and paying for rent in an apartment a while longer, by suffering through the hard times, you will allow the money to grow. It will be worth it in the long run.
Consider then what Peter says about suffering for the inheritance God has given us, “6 In all this you greatly rejoice though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”
Notice it says, “Rejoice!” Not just "put up with” sufferings. But “rejoice" in sufferings! Our promises inheritance in heaven is so awesome that we still rejoice even when we have to suffer.
*A friend vehemently spewing angry words on Facebook is worth the kingdom of heaven.
* A co-worker rolling his eyes at your saying a prayer is worth the kingdom of heaven.
* People at telling you to “SCRAM” from their front porch is worth the kingdom of heaven.
* That uneasy feeling when you know you should take a stand on God’s Word with your family is worth the kingdom of heaven.
* Staying at home, rather than going out to a party of heavy drinking, while it may not seem like much fun, is worth it for the kingdom of heaven.
Our inheritance is worth the suffering that might come with it!
What’s incredible is that these sufferings actually serve to increase our grip on our inheritance. Peter writes in verse 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
How does suffering increase your faith?
If you are feeling sad and start to question your parent’s love for you, one thing you may do is approach them and ask, “Do you love me?” When they say “yes” you are reassured.
Now, you can’t approach your Heavenly Father with that question. He’s invisible. But you can turn to his letter to you. A book that tells you how much he loves you. A book that shows you how much he loves you by explaining what he did for you.
So what happens when you suffer?
You are forced back into Scripture.
You read about God’s love.
You are strengthened in faith.
You hold onto your inheritance more tightly than ever before.
Peter writes in verse 8, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
4. A Long Time Coming
This inheritance sounds pretty awesome doesn’t it. It is just as awesome as our awesome God actually is. And you might be saying, “I’m glad that he finally decided to give such a gift away.”
But this isn’t a recent decision.
Peter writes, “10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, -- Old Testament, thousands of years ago prophets like Moses, Elijah, and Isiah who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow." In other words, they had this message of an inheritance. They knew that Jesus would come to bring this awesome gift to human beings. And they couldn’t wait for it to come! In fact, it was so great that (jump to the end of verse 12) Even angels long to look into these things!
But. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.
This doesn’t mean that Jesus’ work didn’t count for the Old Testament believers like Moses, Elijah, and Isaiah. Certainly, Jesus’ eternal work of salvation stretches forwards and backwards in history.
But as believers blessed to look back at what Jesus did and the inheritance he won for us, we see in the Old Testament that this has long been the plan. Old Testament Scripture describes how Jesus would be “the offspring who would crush Satan’s head,” (Genesis 3) how Jesus would be called “Lord” and sit at God’s right hand.” (Psalm) How Jesus would be "pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace would be on him and by his wounds we would be healed.” (Isaiah 53)
Wives enjoy gifts from their husbands. Especially on anniversaries. And, to be sure, they appreciate going out for dinner or receiving a special bracelet on the date of the anniversary.
But, tell me if I’m wrong, gentlemen, if you buy the gift long beforehand. Say from a trip you took months earlier. Or you have been secretly collecting photos for a picture album or spent months putting together a video with Windows Movie Maker that chronicles your love, doesn’t she appreciate that even more?
Think about the inheritance God has won for you. He’s been planning it since before the creation of the world. He loves you just that much! And again, it isn’t because you have done anything special to earn it, it is simply because God is God. God is love. God is merciful. And he wants to share heaven with you.
We have an awesome God. How incredible then is the inheritance he has in mind for you.
But I have a confession. I once received a model John Deere tractor from my grandpa. It was pretty cool. An awesome reminder of his work as a farmer.
But I lost it. Now I don’t have it. Now I can’t enjoy it at all.
Don’t lose the inheritance God has in mind for you. Keep your faith focused on Jesus.
What do you think the disciples felt after watching Jesus ascend to heaven?
Jaw dropping awe? Certainly.
But I also wonder if they didn't feel a sigh of relief?
Matthew, the tax collector says, "Phew. Now that he's gone, I can finally get back to work. I've fallen behind on my work and I gotta catch up on my collecting."
Peter might have chimed in, "You guys have no idea how long my wife's 'honey-do-list' is. I need to get to work on that."
James says, "Hmmm. That speech ran a little long. Now I gotta book it in order to get little Avram to swim practice at the Sea of Galilee on time."
Simon the political Zealot says, "I can go back to devoting my time to politics. There's a protest at Pontius' Pilate's palace tomorrow and I need to get a few witty signs painted before then!"
I think it's a fair assessment that they had thoughts like this. After all, the disciples were human. Humans struggle to stay focused. In our age of hyper-busyness and attention span shortening SmartPhones, this couldn’t be more true. Even (or perhaps “especially” is better) with spiritual things!
Now we can’t go the Ascension mountain to test this theory out, but...consider for a moment how well you focus on spiritual things for an hour in church on a Sunday morning.
Listen to what it says in Colossians 3:1-3 "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God."
Hidden. That word jumps out at me. This section explains that when our hearts are set on Christ above, then we are hidden with him.
But we don’t usually hide in Christ. In fact, this is one of the big reasons that we are so focused on earthly pursuits. We want to hide. We have failures, guilt, terrible past decisions that we cannot get past. So we find ourselves trying to 'cover up' our past sins with earthly solutions:
"If I just finish this bottle of whiskey, then the 'booze fog' will cover up all the things I've done wrong in my life and I won't have to think about it."
"If I just have another sexual experience, it'll be the only thing that makes me stop feeling guilt and shame from the last sexual experience I had."
"If I just get a respectable enough career, then I will no longer be remember in my family as the black sheep that I was in my younger days."
“If I just make enough money, then it doesn't matter that my marriage is a mess.”
“If I just keep myself busy with extracurricular activity after extracurricular activity for the kids, then I can hide myself from the feelings of inadequacy and failure from the early years in raising this child.”
When I went to Wisconsin where I grew up last week, I have to admit that I was doing a lot of this. I caught myself thinking, "I'm a pastor. I'm respectable. I can't wait for my former principal and Kindergarten teacher to see me and comment things like, "How respectable that man is."
But as respectable as I thought I was, it didn’t stop me from feeling guilty as we passed a classroom that I used to cause a ruckus in. It didn’t stop me from struggling to look the teacher in the eye whom I had been disrespectful to in high school. It didn’t stop me from looking down in shame after seeing a former classmate whom I had not been all that nice to.
Here's the problem: Covering up our pasts with earthly pursuits is like taking a blanket and tossing it over your head during a game of hide or seek. It doesn't work. Sometimes, in front of people, yes, it does. But before God? Not at all.
God can see past a blanket. And God can see past your earthly pursuits to the very core of your soul. He sees and knows who you are. Raw. Pained. Sinful. Rebellious.
Do you feel confident standing before the all holy, divine, all powerful God in the cesspool of your sins? Because he can't stand sin and threatens eternal hell for it!
There is a better way. Rather than turning to earthly things in order to set ourselves right before God, Scripture urges us to turn to God himself!. "Therefore, set your hearts on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God."
Note what it says: "your life is hidden with Christ in God." Not "part of your life." Not "the first three years of your life." Not "the smaller moment of your life." Not even "most of your life, but you need to do some good things to help fill in the gaps of this eternal blanket of love."
Your life is hidden with Christ in God. Every part of it. The sins of your youth. The repeated sins of your teenage years. The dark sins that you can't even hide from yourself no matter the amount of pursuit you put in to earthly things.
All of your sinful life is hidden in Christ!
How does that work?
Well, how does it work that a human being could be talking out on a hill. Then, without any wires or tricks of the camera. Without any smokes and mirrors, he is lifted up above the clouds?
For that matter, how does it work that the same man healed people with incurable diseases simply by speaking? How does it work that he stopped storms with his words? How does it work that people died and he raised them with his touch? How does it work that he died and rose again!?!
It worked because Jesus is God! And through faith in Christ, your life is covered with Christ, because you are being covered with God!!!
Sometimes, when I'm getting dressed for the day, I put on a sweater vest. Not because it looks good, but because it covers up wrinkles, a missing button, or a mustard stain. No one can see these things!
Covered with God. Covered with Christ, your heavenly Father cannot see your sins. Jesus completely covers up every sinful stain and every guilty wrinkle. In Jesus God sees you only as “without guilt” and he promises to give you the reward of heaven in the future.
That's one of the biggest problems with setting your hearts on earthly things. You never know if they will come true.
Will I ever get my dream job?
Will I ever get the raise?
Will I ever have the 5 kids, 2 dogs, and a cat that I desire?
WIll I ever retire in the Outer Banks like I hope to?
Maybe. Then, again maybe not. Or maybe you accomplish your goal, but then it isn't what it was cracked up to be or it only lasts for awhile. It's temporal.
With faith in Jesus, God gives you a promise for the future that is CERTAIN and EVERLASTING. "Set your minds on things above...When Christ who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory!" (v.2 ,4)
Listen to the certainty of God's promise! When Christ appears, whether it's at your death or at the last day of this earth, you will appear with him.
It doesn't say, "You might appear with him." Not, "You could possibly appear with him." Not even, "Let's Hope you appear with him." Through faith in Jesus, you will appear with Jesus. In glory!
Brothers and sisters, that's heaven. The eternal escape from the guilt of our sins, the pain of our past, and the struggles of the present life.
And heaven lasts forever! It's not your dream home that one day needs repairs. It's not your dream relationship that grows farther apart from the dream. It's not your dream job which becomes obsolete. Heaven lasts forever! It is yours through faith in your ascended Savior!
So, friends, set your heart on things above!
I have a friend named Georg that I visit on Fridays. He has been coming religiously to a Bible Study that I hold at a retirement close to this church. Afterwards, he tells a joke. We talk about politics and he appreciates the banter.
But not the other day. The other day he had a tear in his eyes. He told me it was an anniversary. The anniversary of his wife’s death.
They had been married over 60 years. He told me how much he missed her. He told me how much he loved her. He told me about what she was like.
Then….then he told me something that I will never forget.
He said, “This is why I come here. This is why I learn about Jesus. Because the only way I’ll see her again, is through Jesus.”
Talk about setting your heart on things above.
Brothers and sisters, set your heart on Jesus. Set your kids hearts on Jesus. Do it this summer when you will be pulled in hundreds of different earthly directions. Come to church. Read your Bible. Listen to devotions. Pray with your kids. Teach them about Jesus. Surround your life with the Lord. Set your heart on the One above. The One who set his heart on you.
This week I'm trying to get in shape. Yesterday went alright. The workout called "Insanity" was tough, but I felt good after it. I was looking forward to this morning's workout and feeling the exercise endorphin high afterwards.
Not so much.
Maybe, it was the power squats. Perhaps it was the leg kicks. I know that the walking pushups certainly had something to do with it. Regardless, at the end of the workout I couldn't move. My stomach hurt. My
legs were sore. The only thing I could do was lay and soak.
My dog was amused.
Immediately, I began thinking, "I need to stop this. There's no point. This isn't fun anymore. I think I'm done with Shaun T."
Ever have that happen with church?
You enjoy the first Sunday you attend. It's all about God's grace. The second Sunday is fun too. You are reminded that God is with you every step of the way.
Then, there's that Sunday where the preacher seems to be talking directly to you. He challenges you with a sin that you have been struggling with. Then, he uses God's Word to back it up. Now God is against you.
You don't like it. You feel uncomfortable. It isn't fun.
Time to quit?
"All Scripture is god-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness."
Notice that this verse never makes mention of Scripture always being fun. In fact, it can be difficult! Scripture calls us to deny ourselves. It tells us to fight against our natural bodily urges. It tells us that some things we love are in fact dangers to our eternal welfare!
But just because it isn't fun, doesn't mean it isn't of extreme importance. Because these words of Scripture drive us to repentance. They turn our eyes to the Lord. These spiritual training sessions causes us to fall to our knees in prayer for God's mercy. They turn our hearts to the only way for salvation -- Jesus Christ our Lord!
Then, God gives it! Like a Blue PowerAde after an exercise, God pours out the Gospel of his Son Jesus Christ into our tired hearts. He promises forgiveness of sins, grace, eternal salvation, and his never failing love to those seeking him.
Our spirits hurt. But God heals them. They are now stronger than ever before. Spiritual exercise (aka studying the Bible in church, alone, in a group study) is full of benefits. Pride is cut. Faith is strengthened. Knowledge of God's goodness is increased. Courage mounts. Hope renews. Doubts subside!
Even though I didn't have a lot of fun, I think I will return to working out tomorrow. The benefits are simply too great to not continue.
May I suggest that you return to the Word as well? Make your way back into spiritual exercise - no matter what your reasons were for stopping.
The benefits are simply too great not to!
I remember when I was younger. A tween, actually. I came across a foldout in the Sunday newspaper. It was for the BMG Record club. They had a great deal! 12 CDS for the price of a penny. Which sounded awesome! This was my chance to become a hipster music lover just like a few of my friends. I could build my own CD collection of Chumbawamba, Hootie and the Blowfish and Blue Traveler CDs.
But, there was a catch! You had commit to buying just one more CD in the next year.
That doesn't seem like a big deal now. A $10 CD plus $2 shipping and handling would get you 12 more CDs for a penny.
But I remember agonizing over that decision! How could I commit? Was I ready to commit? Could I make that commitment?
Today's question is of a bit more importance than your commitment to popular music CDs. Today's question deals with your commitment to Jesus.
How committed do you have to be to follow Jesus? Come to church every once in a while? Buy a few “Jesus' songs" for your iPhone. Own a Bible (or at least a Bible app)?
In the Gospel of Luke 9:57-62, through three different episodes, Jesus teaches us that following him is not so easy and that it takes total commitment.
1) More Committed to Jesus than Stuff!
Take a look at verses 57-58:
57 As Jesus and his disciples were walking along the road, a man said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
Think about that situation. A man wants to join Jesus. He makes what seems to be a bold statement. “I WILL FOLLOW YOU WHEREVER YOU GO!” In other words, “I am committed!”
We might expect Jesus to be excited. To offer the man quick and easy access into following him.
But Jesus warns him.
Think about a fox. He's committed to doing fox stuff. He chases chickens and tricks gingerbread men. But he does get to take a break from this commitment to rest in the comfort of his den. It's similar with the birds. They are committed to doing bird stuff: building nests, finding worms, singing loud songs right outside my window early on a Saturday morning. But in the end, they too get to come home, take a break from their commitment and rest in the aforementioned nest.
Following Jesus? Well, there's no guarantee that there will be these comforts.
For Jesus, these comforts didn’t exist! He left his home. He traveled from city to city. He didn't make reservations at the local Super 8 either. He didn't always know where he'd be sleeping.
If this man was going to follow Jesus, he could expect the same thing. He would have to be more committed to Jesus than his own stuff!
What about you? Are more committed to Jesus than stuff?
Are you committed enough to give up tickets to the 11pm showing of Man of Steel in order to not miss worshipping Jesus the following morning?
Would you give up the pictures on Facebook of you partying hard with in order to be a better witness for Jesus?
Would you give up the next episode of The Bachelorette in order to attend a Bible study with Christian friends?
Would you give up your internet access in order to keep your eyes from sinful images and better follow Jesus?
Would you give up your bottle of Jack Daniels in order to better focus on pleasing your Lord?
Are you committed enough to Jesus to give up stuff for him?
In fact, sometimes we are more committed to the thought of stuff, than Jesus. “I'm committed to my job every Sunday and late into the night. I need to keep this job so that I can one day buy myself a better home. That’s the only reason I’m not more involved with my church and in personal Bible study. I’m working hard. Trying to save up for my retirement home. I'm committed to it!”
Certainly this isn’t the kind of commitment that God was talking about when he said, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Luke 10:26)
Thank God for Jesus.
Even though we haven't been more committed to him than stuff, he was more committed to us than stuff. All stuff. All his stuff.
Think about what he said, “no place to lay his head.” Meaning, Jesus, true God, creator of the Universe, who owns all things (trees, stones, mountains, valleys...and everything that humans make we these resources) gave all of this up! He didn't care if never laid on a memory foam mattress. He didn't need a Buckwheat stuffed pillow. He didn't care if he never had his own man-cave!
Jesus wasn't committed to any of his stuff, because Jesus was committed to you! You, worshipper of stuff, entrenched in sin and destined for hell, were the object of Jesus' desire. This is why he gave up everything to come to earth for you!
Although, maybe, he didn't give up everything. He did have one place to lay his head. A place that he was committed to. A place he was destined for:
An old, wooden plank. The cross.
Jesus was committed to this cross, because he was committed to you! Committed to save you from your sins! He forgives you for valuing stuff more than him!
And having done so, think about this, God promises you eternal rewards. Heavenly stuff. Other worldly stuff. Stuff without tarnish and beyond battery life. Bodies--imperishable. Ruby lined streets—remarkable!
A room in our Father's kingdom. Your own room. Never foreclosed. Never run down. Always warmed by the love of the Lord.
Brothers and sisters, commit yourself to the LORD more than the stuff of this earth, because he was commited to you!
2) More Committed to Jesus than To Do Lists.
But Commitment to Jesus means more than being willing to give up stuff to follow him. Listen to what he says to another man in verse 59. 59 Jesus said to another man, “Follow me.”But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
This seems kind of harsh. If the man's dad had died, why wouldn't Jesus let the man go and say his good byes?
But the truth is that he hadn't. If his father had died, culture would have dictated that he would be engrossed in funeral arrangements already.
So it seems that this man's father hadn't yet died. But he was getting older. Ready for hospice. Death was at the door.
This changes what the man was saying. In essence, “Jesus. I'll give you my promise. I'll follow you. Just not now. First, I need to wait for my father to die. That'll be a whole process. Then, I give you my word, then I'll be committed to you.”
Interesting. But what do you suppose would have happened when his dad did die?
“Jesus, I know I said I'd be committed to you now, but I've really gotta work on my career first, then I'll follow you. And I need a family, so can you wait until I'm married with three kids? But...wait, before I do that I'm gonna want to see the world, have all kinds of fun in college, make mistakes, and enjoy earthly life. So...can I get back to you after I retire? Then, I'll commit to you! I promise.”
It's what we so often do! Instead of viewing Jesus as more important than anything else on our ToDoList, we put him on the ToDoList....and he's at the bottom!
Even in the Day-to-Day! We get up. “Ok today's the day, that I start the day with a morning devotion. But first, I'd better go work out, because it's nice out.” Then, “I stink, so I need a shower. I can't possibly read God's Word while I stink.” Then, “I better eat breakfast now. Jesus wouldn't want me to be distracted from his Word because of an empty stomach.” Next, “Shoot. I better leave for work in order to beat the traffic.” Then, “Jesus wants me to work hard. So I better work hard and not focus on anything but work for now. I can do the devotion later.” Then, “I got a quick break. It's probably only enough time to check out Facebook. But hey God, maybe they'll be a devotion on there.”
Brothers and sisters, here's the truth: Often, we aren't more committed to Jesus than our own ToDoLists! That's not any commitment at all!
Instead, Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their own dead, (a great play on words) Let the spiritually dead, bury the physically dead. But you go and proclaim the kingdom of God!” Meaning: make this your most important thing on the ToDoList!
This is what Jesus did. There wasn't a single thing that he found more important to do than wining us the kingdom of God! He didn't pursue masters in carpentry. He didn't gather a following to become king of Judea. We never see him talking about retiring in a small country shack by the Sea of Galilee.
To Jesus, there was nothing more important than gathering into the kingdom of God!
And, on a personal note, there is nothing more important to him than gathering you into the kingdom of God.
This is why he's worked on you throughout your life. He opened the door to God's kingdom with his death and resurrection. Then, he brings us through that door with his Word. By the power of his Holy Spirit! He does this through friends who spoke God's Word to us. Devotions that empowered us. Baptism which washed us clean! Communion which empowers us! In other words, God is still working tirelessly on the number one item on his ToDolist: Bringing you to heaven!
Brothers and sisters, make him number one on your ToDoList. Make him greater than your ToDoList. If you don't get all your work done each day, so what? As long as you are sharing Jesus with your words and actions, you are accomplishing the most important goal!
Didn't get to retirement as quickly as you wanted? So what! As long as you were a faithful witness to the one who made you his number one priority, you will have done all that’s needed.
Be committed to Jesus. More than anything on your ToDoLists!
3) More Committed to Jesus than Relationships
But that's not it. For Jesus commitment to him is greater than commitment above stuff and todolists.
Check out verse 61, Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.”
That's a fair request isn't it? He's asking to go give his mom a hug. His wife a kiss. His kids a high five. Isn't that important enough? Wouldn't Jesus allow that?
“Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
I don't assume that a lot of you have been plowing in your lifetime. But perhaps you've pushed a lawnmower. If so, you know it's important to watch where you are going while you mow. That way you have straight lines and done run into anything.
You ever tried to mow while looking backwards? It's not so pretty. The lines are crooked. You stumble. Eventually you hit a stump.
It’s the same way as we go through life following Jesus. He wants us to remain focused.
I think that we'd like to think that family and friends will be a help to us as we follow Jesus.
But not always:
“Why do you go to church anyways? They just want your money. It's all a big sham!”
“You're telling me that what I'm doing is a sin? You're being judgmental. You're not being loving to me...your own son! Stop talking about it or I'm not going to be talking to you ever again”
“Sins forgiven? Really!?! I know what you did growing up. I know how awful you are. You're going to have to work hard to win my forgiveness and certainly God's!”
How do you react to family criticisms of your faith? If you're like me then, perhaps there are times you've said nothing. You've stayed quiet. Backed down. Tried to preserve friendship at the expense of no longer following Jesus.
“But blood is thicker than anything!”
What about the one who gave his blood for you?
Think about Jesus once more. His own brothers, scripture tells us, didn't even believe in him. They thought him crazy! They thought he was speaking hogwash. (John 7:5)
Did Jesus stop what he was doing so his brothers wouldn't be so embarrassed and would go grab a beer with him at the local pub?
Not so much.
And what about us!?! We, his brothers and sisters, who have denied him, ignored him, pretended not to care about him in order to save our earthly relationships. Has he quieted down in order not to embarrass us? Has he backed down his stance on social sins in order not to turn us into bigots?
Not at all.
Yet, in spite of us. In spite of his brothers. Without their support. Without our support. He marched to the cross. He did what was more loving. He continued his mission to save us. To save us family!
It meant he was alone. On that cross abandoned by family and friends. Abandoned by his heavenly Father!
But none of that mattered to Jesus. What mattered was saving his family.
What mattered was saving you.
So what’s interesting is that by not following his brother’s requests, by making ‘turmoil’ in his family, Jesus was actually showing greater love for his family than ever before! (After his death and resurrection, two of his brothers put their faith in him and probably wrote two books of the Bible: James and Jude).
The same is true for us. Because there is no greater care for family, than care of souls! That means that when we are more committed to Jesus than our family, we are actually more committed to our family than we were before!
It's why we are willing to suffer the ridicule of our brother in order that we might lead them to faith in Jesus. It's why we suffer estrangement from cousins that God might work through your warnings to bring them closing to his family. It's why we are willing to deal with the crying and shouting of kids who don't want to go to church, in order to bring them to church where God takes care of his family!
It was the 1970s.
The Communist soldiers had discovered their illegal bible study. As the Pastor was reading from the bible, men with guns suddenly broke into the home, terrorizing the believers who had gathered to worship. They shouted insults and threatened to kill the Christians. The leading officer pointed his gun at the pastor’s head. “Hand me your bible” he demanded. Reluctantly the pastor handed over his bible, his prized possession. With a sneer on his face, the guard threw the bible to the floor. He glared at the small congregation. “We will let you go” he growled, “but first you must spit on this book of lies. Anyone who refuses will be shot.” The believers had no choice but to obey the officer’s order.
A soldier pointed his gun at one of the men. “You first." The man slowly got up and knelt down by the Bible. Reluctantly, he spat on it, praying, “Father, please forgive me.” He stood up and walked to the door. The soldiers stood back and allowed him to leave.
“Okay, you!” the soldier said, nudging a woman forward. In tears, she could barely do what he demanded. She spat only a little, but it was enough. She too was allowed to leave.
Quietly a young girl came forward. Overcome with love for her Lord, she knelt down and picked up the bible. She wiped off the spit with her dress. “What have they done to your Word? Please forgive them,” she prayed.
It was only moments later that she saw her committed Lord’s forgiving face.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus calls for total commitment. But he does so, only because he is totally committed to you! He proved it in his innocent life. He proved it on the cross. He proved coming out of the triumphant tomb!
May this message of total commitment build you up and lift you up into total commitment for him. Amen.