When I was growing up I worked for a restaurant manager whom we affectionately called Larry the Scary Rex. The nickname came from the fact that he managed about how you’d expect a Tyrannosaurus Rex to manage.
He was loud like a T-Rex.
He ate like a T-Rex.
He drank like a T-Rex.
He fired people left and right – leaving destruction in his path -- like a T-Rex.
One time – he threw a sack of potatoes at my head – not so much like a T-Rex (I don’t know that they could lift it with their arm), but…it was mean like a T-Rex.
The point: Larry was not the greatest leader.
Maybe you know a leader like that.
Maybe you know one that flies off the handle.
Or one that only cares about himself.
Or one that you only work for because you are afraid of what would happen when you are no longer on the job market.
Is Jesus like one of those leaders?
Better? Somewhere in between?
Today we look at what kind of a leader Jesus is; and why he’s worth following. Before that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Background
The lesson for today comes from John 10. But a bit of background: in John 9, there is a man who has been blind from birth. He’s never been able to see anything. Not the green trees, not the blue sky, not his mother’s smile. Until he meets Jesus. Jesus heals him, and he sees.
But not everyone thought it was amazing. A group of religious leaders – called the Pharisees – saw this miracle and were furious. Rather than focusing on the fact that Jesus healed the man simply by touching his eyes, they focused on the fact that the healing took place on the Sabbath. After all, ‘any good religious leader knew that you never do any work on the Sabbath.’
The Pharisees are upset with this event because it caused even more people to follow Jesus and stop following them.
So…they hold an investigation.
They investigate the blind man.
They investigate his parents.
They investigate the blind man again.
Their goal is to prove that the man wasn’t blind, and Jesus was a phony.
But they couldn’t.
Because it was real.
But after a day of investigation, the jaded courtroom fails to convict Jesus of anything – Jesus has an opportunity to speak to them. The Pharisees are insistent that He is a disastrous leader to follow. Jesus argues otherwise:
Very truly I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice. (Jn. 10:1-5)
This is what we call a parable. It is a common literary device that Jesus uses in his teachings. In it, Jesus uses a simple everyday story to teach a deep spiritual truth.
In this parable, the everyday story revolves around a shepherd. Shepherding which was very, very familiar to the people of his time. It was an agrarian society. Sheep were used heavily. For clothing, for blankets, but also for sacrifices and food. To speak of shepherds in the 1st century was like speaking about Smartphones today.
That’s important. Because Jesus uses this parable to get his people thinking.
Not about “sheep shepherds”…
…but spiritual shepherds.
II. The Shepherd and the Front Gate
Check out verse 1 again. “Anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way is a thief and a robber.”
This is pretty simple illustration. If you see someone jumping a chain link fence, they might not be legit. Best case scenario? They need to retrieve a soccer ball that went over the wall. Worst case scenario – they are up to no good. Regardless, they don’t have authority to go through the main gate. The only option they have is to hop the fence, hope it’s not electrified and avoid the barbed wire.
But the shepherd? The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. He doesn’t have to put his body in danger. He belongs there. Whether the gate is a simple keylock, a retina scanner or requires a security code, he enters through the main gate. In fact, the gatekeeper opens the gate for him. He says, “What’s up Bob? Hope your day is going well. Did you catch the game last night? Can’t believe Lebron lost again! Anyways – have a good day tending to the sheep.” He doesn’t question the shepherd, because the shepherd belongs in the sheep pen.
Now this is where the parable gets a bit tricky. We are talking about spiritual shepherds, not actual shepherds. Therefore, we are talking about a spiritual gate, not an actual gate. It is important that we identify the gate correctly, because identifying the right gate helps us identify the shepherd because he will be leading people through that gate.
So…what’s the right spiritual gate?
An invisible forcefield?
The place where the rainbow meets the sunset in the morning?
Some kind of Sci Fi channel thing?
“I am the gate for the sheep. …whoever enters through me will be saved.” (v.7)
Jesus is the gateway to eternal life. He is the gateway to forgiveness. He is the gateway to peace with God.
He alone offers forgiveness.
He alone promises peace.
He alone died and rose form the dead to prove his authority to do this.
He is the gate and he is the only way for you and me to enter eternal life.
That’s 1/ 2 the solution. Because if Jesus is the gate, then the shepherd is the one who comes to his people with the message of Jesus.
The message that he is the Savior.
The message of forgiveness.
The message of God’s grace.
Do you get it?
Jesus is not just the gate.
He’s also the Shepherd.
III. The Gate Jumpers
But that reverses the Pharisees thought process.
Because they were convinced that they were the right shepherds and Jesus was wrong.
They told people to wear fancy religious jewelry, to keep all the Sabbath laws, to try harder, do better and achieve moral greatness like them and that would be their gateway to eternal life.
But that wasn’t the gate.
It was throwing a grappling hook over the top of the fence, scaling it, jumping off the other side and tossing the sheep over the top to their ski masked buddy on the other side.
Do you get it?
The Pharisees were leading people away from Jesus. (the Gate)
They weren’t shepherding people in the right direction.
They weren’t shepherding people at all.
They were robbers.
Now maybe that doesn’t seem relevant to you. Because Pharisaism as a legitimate religious organization is not a big part of our culture.
There isn’t a Pharisaical Christian Church of America.
There isn’t a #PhariseesRule hashtag.
They aren’t even registered as a non-profit organization.
But that doesn’t mean that spiritual robbers aren’t something to be concerned about.
A spiritual robber is anyone trying to lead you spiritually apart from Jesus and his message.
Thing is that a spiritual robber usually doesn’t identify themselves that way: “Hi, I’m a spiritual robber. I am here to lead you away from eternal life. Nice to meet you.”
They are much sneakier than that.
I hear Jesus’ voice to wait until marriage, but…my girlfriend is so hot. It’ll feel good; I’ll follow the voice of lust.
Yes, I hear Jesus’ voice that I should give to Caesar what is Caesar’s but…I owe a lot of money on taxes and they won’t check to see if my mileage is correct so…I’ll follow the tax cheating voice.
I know…Jesus says he is the only way to heaven, but that seems intolerant. At least, that’s what social media tells me. And I want those voice to like me, so…I’ll listen to the world’s voice instead.
If you are following any voice other than Jesus…
You aren’t following the shepherd.
You are following the robber.
And…if you are telling people to stop following Jesus,
If you are guiding people apart from God’s Word,
If you are leading your children away from Jesus, you aren’t just a lost sheep…
You are a thief.
You are stealing from God.
…nobody steals from God and gets away with it.
V. The Voice of the Shepherd
Jesus mentions it in this section. There’s another difference between shepherd and robber. A robber doesn’t know the sheep’s names. He simply grab’s a bit of sheep food, crouches on his knee and shouts, “Here Sheepy, Sheepy!”
The shepherd? He knows each sheep by name.
He knows Fluffy is the one that’s extra fluffy.
He knows Patch is the one with the patch over his eye.
He knows Marvin is the one that bears a striking resemblance to Uncle Marvin.
The shepherd knows his sheep.
He calls them by name.
Even when they have gone astray – he calls them by name.
And today – He is calling you.
By your first name.
By your middle name.
By your last name.
By your nickname.
By your maiden name.
By your online gamer name.
He knows the names you call yourself.
But he doesn’t call you by those names.
He calls you the names He has given you:
V. WHAT NOW?
Follow Your Shepherd
One of the most interesting things that I’ve ever seen is the way that a sheep responds to the shepherd’s voice. It works kind of like how it does with pets. When you call your dog, he comes running. When he hears your voice, he comes running. When he hears your voice, outside the house, on the driveway, barely even through the door, he jumps up onto your laps and starts running in circles because he is so excited that you are home!
Jesus said this: “The shepherd goes on ahead of the sheep and they follow him because they know his voice.” (v.4)
Are you one of Jesus’ sheep?
Not the voice of the world.
Not the voice of false teachers.
Not the voice of your emotions.
Follow your Savior’s voice.
He is leading your somewhere wonderful!
No matter what he has to give up to get you there.
Because that’s the sign of a Good Shepherd.
They are willing to give up things for the sake of their sheep.
A good shepherd gives up a bit of money to buy some extra sheep food for a hungry lamb.
A good shepherd gives up his time to stay until the next shift shepherd arrives.
A good shepherd gives up his sleep to hyper vigilantly keep watch for wolves.
How good a shepherd is Jesus?
I lay down my Life for the Sheep. (v.11)
Jesus gave up his life for you.
He gave up everything for you.
That’s how much your shepherd loves you.
Follow him. There is no better shepherd. Amen.
The Olympics are officially underway. One of my favorite parts is the behind the scenes documentaries that appear on the various athletes. They’re pretty exciting because you get to learn more about their background, their personality, and what drives them.
Like Mamee Birney. She’s a Short Track speed skater originally from Ghana, immigrated when she was 5 and now skating for the U.S. She’s one of the breakout stars of the Olympics and the very first black woman to qualify for the U.S. speedskating team. She’s intimidating. She’s bubbly. She’s excitable. She’s also 18 and just got her own cell phone for the very first time.
That’s fun. What’s nice about social media is that it connects us to these celebrities in an intimate way.
We really get to know them.
But what about Jesus?
Then disciples had followed him for 2 years.
They had seen amazing thing, heard amazing promises, and listened to amazing speeches.
But Jesus didn’t have an Instagram. How would they get to know the real Him?
Today we are travelling along with the disciples to an intimate retreat on a mountain. Our goal is to witness an event that teaches us intimate details about who Jesus is and talk about what that means for being His disciples. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
Context wise – this lesson takes a huge leap forward in time from last week’s sermon. It’s about 2 years after those early chapters in Mark and lots of things have happened.
There are more disciples. The original 4 fishers of men have grown to be 12 including political activists, accountants, and others from throughout the land of Judea.
There have been many miracles. The disciples have seen Jesus make the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, storms stop, and bread multiply out of thin air. They have seen a host of incredible, miraculous things.
They have become very familiar with Jesus’ mercy. Because in spite of His divine miracles, Jesus has been reaching out to the non-divine. He has spent time with prostitutes, eaten dinner with tax collectors, and helped the dregs of society that most religious leaders would not have touched.
After seeing all of these things, the disciples knew they were following someone great. But on this particular day, they were going to get a chance to really know the man behind the powers. They were going on a Retreat – not to Disney World – not to Great Wolf Lodge – but to a quiet mountaintop. This was their chance to really understand more about their leader.
You can almost hear them practicing their questions:
Who are you really?
What are your hopes and dreams?
What’s your favorite color?
Jesus, what is it that makes you tick?
But as they made their way up to the top of the mountain – and Peter cleared his throat ready to finally ask some of those tougher, get-to-know-you questions -- Jesus was already answering those questions.
Just not with words.
It began with a glow…A white like glow emanating from Jesus’ clothing. It was a bit strange because there wasn’t a washing machine located on the top of this mountain -- and last they had checked Jesus’ tunic it was stained with the dirt that had rubbed against him from night after night of sleeping under the stars.
And certainly not glowing.
But not as strange as what they saw next. Jesus’ face was also glowing. It wasn’t a mask. It wasn’t a trick of the sun. He wasn’t shining a flashlight on his face. In fact, he hadn’t done anything differently than simply set foot on the mountain.
Yet, his face was bright. Bright–bright. Wish you were wearing sun glasses bright. It was a brilliant shining white light that was emanating from the face of Jesus in a way unlike anything they had ever seen.
But before the disciples could make any hypotheses as to why the luminescence of their leader, another mystery…Two men. (A couple of hermits? Mountain men?) appeared with Jesus.
The disciples listened more closely. They didn’t speak like mountain men. They spoke like men of God. They talked about what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah, about God’s promises about the Messiah in the Old Testament, about the next stages of Jesus’ plans for saving the people.
Who were these guys? They listened closely to what Jesus called them:
“Moses, it’s just like God prophesied through you. I am the prophet like you from among the Israelite brothers.”
“And Elijah, it’s just like God worked through you – I have done miracle after miracle – only at an even more impressive clip.”
Peter’s jaw dropped.
He turned to John and mouthed those names again:
If that’s who these two were, that would be amazing!
They were heroes of the Old Testament.
They were legends of God’s Word.
They were rock stars in the world of the Jewish faith.
They were also…dead. At least, they had been for hundreds of years.
Now about this time Peter had an idea. What was going on was breathtaking! Bodily luminescence? Material translucence? An encounter with two souls from heaven itself? This was worth sticking around for.
Ummm…Jesus. Ummm….so it looks like you are having a good time here. Me too. Really. Would you like me to set up a tent for each of you? I can use those big leaves from the fig tree over there. I’ll even set up some rocks as a bed. I’m sure that’ll be way more comfy than whatever beds there are in heaven…?
Before Peter’s could think better of his suggestion – things changed again. An ethereal fog began to drift in. Deeper than a fog a cloud! It slowly began enveloping the entire seen: Jesus. Moses. Elijah. The sycamore trees. The rocks. The disciples – until a white condensation covered everything with a white glow coming from where Jesus’ face previously had been.
And then? A voice.
Not Moses’ voice.
Not Elijah’s voice.
Not Jesus’ voice.
Not Isaiah’s voice or Jeremiah’s voice or the voice of Abraham himself.
This voice was too loud.
“This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”
Peter and the others fell to the grounds. Frightened.
Because without seeing where this voice came from.
Without seeing where the voice was looking.
Without seeing who was talking.
It was God.
It was God talking to them.
“You must listen to him.”
II. The Truth about Who You’re Following
If the disciples didn’t understand before who it was they were following, suddenly things became very clear. Amazing? Yes. Hard to believe? Absolutely. But as plain as the bright light coming from Jesus’ face – they were following God’s Son.
And since God begets God from eternity – meaning He’s always there and his begotten – his Son is always there too—they were hearing from God about God – namely Jesus!
Their leader was the divine God of heaven and earth itself.
Think about the proof:
1. Fabric Luminescence
This might be the smallest of the miracles, but still pretty amazing! Tunics didn’t get changed often and they were worn in a desert community. In addition, Jesus had just climbed up the mountain. To expect it to be bright white, Clorox bleached white at the top of the mountain was pretty incredible.
In fact, it’s amazing to see that kind of a bright white clarity out of the washing machine. Right? It’s why when they run those Oxy Clean commercials and they dunk the ketchup and grass stained white tie into the bowl of product (because who doesn’t wear a bright white tie while eating hot dogs), it’s amazing how clean the product makes the garment.
This happened to Jesus.
Without any product.
Without any washing machine.
This was amazing. This was God.
2. Facial Luminescence.
I think this one is the next step up. Because this is not something that anyone had ever noticed about Jesus before. Think about it: his face was shining to the point of it being challenging to look at him. Even if the sun was shining, I don’t think it’s ever reflected off of anyone’s face to the point of making it difficult to look at them.
Perhaps a bald man’s head might produce that effect – ish. But Jesus wasn’t bald. He was 32 years old.
And there was something else on his face that would have completely prevented his skin from reflecting the sun’s rays in any kind of way that would imitate a ‘glitter shimmer.’
Again – Jesus’ face shining like a light is absolutely was amazing.
This was God.
3. Talking with Dead Celebrities.
And I think we need to focus in on that “dead” aspect. Because as amazing as it is that Jesus knew these celebrities of Jewish culture – it was even more amazing that he was talking to them hundreds of years after they had died.
For instance, what’s more impressive --
Hey! I just took a selfie with Justin Timberlake?
or Hey! I just took a selfie with Elvis Presley?
I don’t care what your taste is in music, the second one is way more impressive, because Elvis has been long dead!
And that’s the same thing that disciples witnessed.
And the men appeared out of nowhere.
And the men disappeared out of nowhere.
This was amazing.
This was God.
4. The Voice from the Ethereal Cloud
Which – I understand that the cloud itself might be explained. Clouds sometimes hang around the mountains. Sometimes they even hang around the lowlands – we call that fog.
But what are the chance a thick cloud envelopes the entire scene at the exact moment that Jesus’ clothes are glowing, his face is glowing and he’s speaking with two long dead celebrities?
I’m guessing – it’s not so much coincidence anymore.
And then – the VOICE!!! And remember – this is long before microphones.
It’s long before mini speakers.
It’s long before drones flying in noise from above.
This is nothing short of amazing.
This is nothing short of God.
Which is the point! The point of this account is pretty simple.
JESUS IS GOD!
You want to learn more about his character, his likes? His dislikes?
He’s the eternal God.
He dwells in the holiness of heaven itself.
He hates evil.
He loves good.
He is God eternal, immortal, invisible, all powerful from eternal himself.
III. WHAT NOW?
And this is key.
Because it leads to 3 very important truths about following Jesus.
1. Listen to Him
This is exactly what God’s voice said. “This is my Son; listen to him.”
That’s interesting. Because in a lot of groups/clubs there is a certain level of dialogue when it comes to action. For instance, the “Legion of Professional PEZ Collectors” will take votes to determine where they would like to host their next rally. What city will they be in? What type of PEZ themed candies will they eat? What hotel will they use?
People discuss plans.
Not with God.
When you’re in a group with God, the all-powerful, all wise, all eternal being gets the final say.
I bring that up because oftentimes we don’t treat God like that.
We get to discuss…– “Jesus, I get it. You think that’s sinful. I don’t. We live in a modern era after all. You’re going to have to compromise with me.”
TRUTH: If you think you can discuss, negotiate or compromise with God, then who are you treating as God?
That’s not wise. Because you can’t make your face glow.
You can’t make your clothes gleam.
You’ve never met Elijah.
You don’t know what Moses looked like.
A cloud has never enveloped you on your birthday to claim you as his perfect child.
And you can’t save yourself to heaven.
You aren’t God.
So…listen to the one who is.
Listen to Jesus.
2. Reconsider Jesus’ next Mountain
Because the very next mountain that Jesus comes to after this Transfiguration, isn’t so glorious looking.
It’s a mountain called the place of the skull.
A mountain where crucifixions occurred.
A mountain called Calvary.
There aren’t a few special friends; but thousands in angry opposition!
There isn’t a shining brilliance emanating from his face; but blood. And sweat…and more blood.
There aren’t two returned to life prophets; but two dying criminals.
There isn’t the voice of God himself; but the bitter silence of the Father turning his back on him.
It sure doesn’t look glorious.
…when you remember who Jesus is.
When you remember that’s God himself.
When you remember that is Eternal Holy God, entering mortality and suffering death and pain for me!
Calvary becomes beautiful.
More glorious than the mount of transfiguration.
Because it means you’re forgiven.
It means you’re His.
it means you are loved.
And it means you’ve gotta get down from the Mountain.
3. Get Down from the Mountain
Because I understand why Peter wanted to set up the tents. When he was on that mountain, it was obvious! Jesus is the Savior. Jesus is the true God. Jesus is worth following.
And sometimes in church, the same thing is obvious. We hear these stories. We learn God’s Word. We become convinced “Yes! Jesus is the Savior. Jesus is the true God. Jesus is worth following!” When you’re here, you might feel excited, pumped up, and convinced of that truth. It sure beats being out there in the world with coworkers who call you an idiot, social media that ridicules your faith, and friends are make you have doubts.
It’s nice to stay on the mountain.
But you can’t.
Jesus didn’t stay. Jesus had to get down that mountain. He still had to complete his mission. He had to suffer and die to accomplish our salvation.
And the disciples didn’t stay. They had to get down that mountain. They had to learn God’s Word deeply. They had to begin their ministry in sharing this message of God’s grace.
And you can’t stay either.
If you think discipleship is only thing that happens within these walls, you’re wrong.
Discipleship continues out there in the world.
We have people to tell.
We have people to tell that the one we follow is the TRUE God.
We have people to #GatherToTheGarden!
Here’s the thing – you’ve had a behind the scenes look at whom Jesus really is. Just like you might get excited to share a good interview about an Olympic hero, please share this truth about Jesus your Eternal Hero.
He is true God.
He is your savior.
He is the one you’re following. Amen.
Andrew looked around as he held his finger to his lips. Through the dim candlelight, the expression on the faces of his comrades was very clear:
Eyes were wide.
Perspiration beaded on their foreheads.
They were scared.
Ok. I think they’ve past. It’s alright to whisper (and make sure you whisper!)
Slowly faint murmurs trickled back into the night air.
I thought that was chainmail for sure.
Sooner or later it will be and the soldiers will knock down the door and they’ll corner us and they’ll arrest us and we’ll be crucified too.
They will if you can’t keep your voice down!
It was an undisclosed room in the heart of the city. The building was non-descript and unlabeled. The old sandy bricks blended in with the bricks next door. The lights were low – to not attract attention and the doors were barred – to not let anyone in. Because of the wind, it was hard to hear any noise come from inside the building.
For all intents and purposes, the building was abandoned.
But inside the building? It was full of life – hearts beating at a steady 120 bpm. It looked like a triage unit…for spiritual warriors. These men had seen their leader die no more than three days earlier. It was an awful death. They had seen blood dripping from his forehead, blood spurting out of his wrists, blood falling down his back and blood coughing up and dripping down his beard as his lungs breathed his last.
That’s what the Jewish leaders had done to Jesus.
That’s what the Jewish leaders were going to do to them.
But that wasn’t the worst of it.
A few hours ago – one of their friends had told them that Jesus was alive. Some women had seen him. Mary Magdalene had seen him. Peter had seen him. And about half an hour ago – two more disciples had burst through the door saying the same thing.
That should have been exciting.
It was confusing.
Confusing and a bit terrifying.
Because last they saw Jesus – Jesus who loved them – who cared for them – who gave them hope – who gave them purpose and meaning – who healed them and promised them peace – that Jesus – last they saw that Jesus?
They abandoned him.
They left him for dead.
They pretended like they didn’t even care for him.
If the reports were true, then…he had conquered death.
He was unstoppable.
He was God.
And He was out for vengeance.
James could picture it now. Soon Jesus would show up, eyes like fire – and zap them with his miracles. He’d send Legions of demons into Andrew. (Mark 5) He’d stuff Philip full of all 12 baskets of bread. (Jn. 6) He’d warp Peter into a raging sea where he wouldn’t reach down and rescue him from drowning. (Mt. 14) And give the rest of them advanced stages of leprosy. (Lk. 5)
And me? James gulped. He couldn’t escape the feeling that Jesus would call down fire on him – the very fire he had once asked Jesus to call down on those who didn’t follow him. On those who abandoned him. On those who pretended like they didn’t know him.
You know. People like him.
I. Be Afraid to Hide
I know how the disciples feel.
They had sinned against God.
They had sinned against Jesus.
They had done it – even after they had become convinced that Jesus was God.
I’ve done that.
It’s kind of like when you’re shopping at Kohl’s – and there’s a sale, because there’s always a sale – and as you’re rifling through the dresses you catch a glimpse through the CLEARANCE rack of that one friend – that former friend – that you badmouthed and wronged and called four letter names. What do you do? Duck down real low and seem real, real interested in whether that blouse is cotton or polyester.
Or if you’re at a restaurant, having a good time with your family, stuffing a piece of pizza into your mouth and suddenly you almost choke on your pepperoni. There’s that one gal you used to date that ended when you were a jerk. So, what do you do? Keep your eye on where she is sitting and be sure to look everywhere but where she is sitting when you are leaving.
It’s so easy to do that with God.
In fact, it’s really easy.
Here’s a quick 5 steps to avoiding God:
1) Don’t Open your Bible. Read Facebook. Read Harry Potter Books. Just don’t read the book about God and what he expects of us. In fact, to be sure that you don’t open it on accident, why not simply glue it shut?
2) Don’t Even LIKE Any Jesus Things. The Instagram algorithm will see that you liked a passage and they will star to show you (horror of horrors) more Bible passage. Just remember – Swipe left.
3) Screen Pastor’s Calls. In fact – block him and all of the elders completely. Then you won’t even be bothered by guilty feelings for not answering.
4) Never drive by church. In fact, enter it into your GPS as a route to completely avoid church. Live right next to church? Simple. Just get an UBER and sit in the back with a blindfold.
5) Get rid of all your Jesus friends. Peer pressure isn’t good. Why would you want peer pressure to spend time with God? Instead – drop all of your church friends. Don’t talk to them. Don’t text them. Don’t snap them. Ignore them. Sooner or later they’ll get the hint…leave you alone…and you’ll never have to think about God again!
But here’s the problem with this fear – hiding from God doesn’t fix anything!
Your sin remains and you can’t hide from him.
Just ask Adam and Eve. (Genesis 3)
Or Jonah. (Jonah 4)
Or Saul. (Acts 9)
Or how about Psalm 139:
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
You can’t hide from God.
Eventually God and you will meet.
Eventually you will stand before the center of his throne.
Eventually you will face Him.
Where were you?
And if you’re response is: Sorry, God. I was hiding from you.
How do you think he’ll respond? (HINT: Divine fireballs from heaven; that isn’t too far off. )
II. Don’t Be Afraid to Come Near
This was why James was on edge.
This is why he was frightened.
This is why he was watching that front door like a hawk.
It’s also why he almost passed out when someone appeared behind him.
On the evening of the first day of the week…the disciples were together with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus appeared among them. (Jn. 20:19)
Pay careful attention to what it says. There is no knock. There is no ringing of the doorbell. This is no verbal conversion, no opening of the door, and no sneaking in the back.
Jesus simply appears – a miracle.
And it’s silent.
James’ heart is racing.
James’ fear is at an all-time high.
It’s him. He’s here to get us!
Jesus looks at them.
Jesus looks at him.
Jesus opens his mouth.
He lifts up his hands.
James ducks for fear of the fireball death.
And Jesus speaks:
Peace be with you.
As in – My brothers.
As in – I defeated your sin.
As in – I defeated death.
As in – I am alive.
As in – Your sins are remembered no more.
As in – I forgive you.
As in – I. Love. You.
But Pastor – that’s what Jesus said to the 12 disciples. I’m not one of those. They were only gone for 3 days. I’ve been gone lots longer.
Check out Romans 5:1. It says this, “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And that “we” there? That’s the Apostle Paul talking to the citizens of Rome. Citizens who didn’t know Jesus – citizens who had been apart from God their entire life.
Paul is announcing what God announced at Jesus’ resurrection: “You – humans – have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I am announcing what Paul announced that God announced at Jesus’ resurrection: You have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The reason for the peace? It isn’t that your sin isn’t so bad. It isn’t that you weren’t gone so long. It isn’t that at least you weren’t as bad as your neighbor.
“Since we have been declared innocent through faith…” (Rom. 5:1)
That faith? It’s in Christ.
That Christ? He declares us innocent.
That innocence? It declares us at peace with God.
To put it simply: God isn’t angry at you, because of Jesus.
And yes! That’s hard to believe. It was hard for the disciples. So, what does Jesus do? After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. He proved that he had risen. He proved that he was alive. He proved that he had defeated death and sin and everything that separated them from God.
The response? The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
He had risen.
He wasn’t angry.
They were no longer afraid.
III. WHAT NOW?
1. Come Near God
Disciples go towards Jesus – see his open hands – and are encouraged. In fact, Overjoyed!
You go near Jesus. Heed his words of warning – hear his words of comfort.
Julianna – a text of forgiveness – how much better to hear it from her lips – same with God.
2. Share Peace
Because it’s really interesting what Jesus says next: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21)
Do you know someone who needs peace? I bet you do. Listen to what Jesus tells. It isn’t ignoring them. It isn’t send them a Facebook like. It’s sharing PEACE with them.
Tell them about Jesus. Tell them about the cross. Tell how he lived for them. Died for them. Rose for them. Tell them about how he forgives sins and proclaims peace to all who believe.
Did you watch the latest Presidential debate?
Call me old fashioned, but I remember a time when candidates talked about issues and policies and how they would address those issues and policies. This latest debate?
Here’s why you’re terrible.
And here’s why you’re terrible.
And here’s why you’re even more terrible -er.
It seemed a bit more like I was watching an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
I don’t think I’m alone. According to the latest polls, neither candidate has a majority. In fact, they are barely hovering around 40%. That means – the eventual winner will have more than half the country against them! It’s is going to be one of the largest third candidate votes in American history. Time and time again – I see people’s reason for voting for Hillary or Trump as – They’re bad – just not as bad as the other one.
What’s a person to do?
What’s a Christian to do?
Who should we trust to make our lives better?
Today we are continuing our series called God & Country. We’re looking at the Christian and voting. I wanna say right off the bat: I am not endorsing any candidates. You can give me a lifetime supply of Nacho Cheese Doritos and I’m not endorsing any candidates. I’m a pastor; not a politician. I care about spiritual -- way more than temporal.
Yet there’s a spiritual aspect to casting a vote. Because there’s trust involved in casting a vote.
Today we want to look into God’s Word and see (1) who should we trust while casting our vote and (2) what principles do we keep in mind while voting. But before we study God’s Word, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Voting & Trust
Our lesson for today comes from 1 Samuel 8. That's actually before where we were last week in our God & Patriotism lesson. It's before David was king. In fact, it was before Israel even had kings or a human government.
Which is what makes this biblical studying on voting for a political candidate difficult. There isn’t any democracy in the Bible. Democracy is relatively new. In the Old Testament – most governments were Monarchies – that means – they were governments run by kings.
But not in Israel. Not in 1 Samuel. At that time Israel was different. Israel was run by a theocracy. Theos is the Greek word for "god." That means a theocracy is a government run by God. Literally. God, their heavenly Father, was actively involved in the government of Israel.
He would give guidance to a leader -- Moses or Joshua -- who would then lead the Israelites in battle and citizenship -- How to live, what to celebrate, what's good and what's bad. This system went well for Israel as long as they listened to God. When they listened to him, they were blessed. When they didn't listen to God, they were in trouble.
The same thing happened when Samuel (the person for whom the book of 1 Samuel is named) became the go between for God and the people. Things went well. The Israelites had been in captivity, but after Samuel led -- they were not.
People were generally happy with this theocracy.
Until one day….
…Samuel heard a rock tumble down his gravel walkway. He looked up from his morning devotion and went to the front window: A group of men was walking up his driveway. He recognized them. They were leaders from various tribes and various families in this Israelites nation. A congress of elected officials – that was neither elected nor official.
Samuel went to the front door to let them in. It was always good to see them. Together they enforced God’s Will. They helped pass on God’s Word of wisdom. God talked to Samuel; Samuel talked to these men; these men talked to the people.
Together they guided Israel.
And it worked! 30 some years earlier, Israel was a broken mess. Various sections of the country had splintered off and been captured by the Philistines and the Amorites. They were oppressed, taxed, and beaten. But, after the country repented and listened to God’s leadership through Samuel – Israel was at peace. The country was restored. The nation was blessed and had been for years.
Maybe the guys are here to talk about the good old days OR maybe they want me to speak at a high school graduation again.
But the people didn’t come for high fives.
They weren’t bringing him a gift of appreciation.
They didn’t even want to take selfies with him.
v.5 “You’re old." You’re not young. It’s a new era; a modern era. You don’t connect with the younger generation anymore. You can’t keep up like you used to. You should be in the hall of fame; not on the front lines.
"You’re sons aren’t like you." They aren’t. They just want money and they only care about themselves. They aren’t doing a good job doing the legwork for you.
"Appoint a king to lead us, just like all the other nations have."
Samuel’s smile faded. He nodded and listened as they spoke. “OK, Ok. I hear you.” But his heart wasn’t in it. Why were they rejected him? Was it something he said? Was it something he did? Was he not wearing the right clothing? Did he need a new hair style?
Samuel excused himself for a moment. He went out back to a private room. He got on his knees and he prayed to God. God, is this right? Should I listen to them? God why are they rejecting me?
God responded – with one of the truest statement Samuel had heard in a long time.
v.7 Samuel…It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.
Do any of you know who Chumbawamba is? They’re a one hit wonder from the nineties. But…I remember back when I was a preteen, all of my classmates were obsessed with Chumbawamba’s number 1 hit song: Tubthumper. It goes “I get knocked down, but I get up again; you ain’t ever gonna keep me down.” (Sound familiar?)
So here’s what I did. I found a BMG Music ad in the newspaper. I ordered the Chumbawamba CD. I had to order another 10 CDs (based solely on whether or not I had heard my classmates talking about them) and I spent my whole allowance to get them.
The CD came. And Tubthumper was alright…the other songs? Awful.
All so I could be like the other kids.
Essentially that’s what the Israelites were wanting. They were willing to give up the leadership of their holy, perfect, all loving, never failing, completely on their side, miracle making God – all for the sake of being like the other nations.
They wanted someone they could see.
They wanted someone that was like them.
They wanted someone who was invested in the human race.
They wanted to be like other, sinful, godless, heading toward hell people.
But then again – this is what Israel had always done. For years, they had been rejecting God’s rule. For years, they had been doing the opposite of what God said. For years, they had been appearing to follow God – but really following sinful human beings.
God and Samuel finished their campaign meeting. Samuel returned to the Israelites with some talking points. He had a chance to debate; to give a final warning as to why God was a way better leader than a human being. His defense is found in verses 10-18, but here are the highlights:
1) Take your kids and make army fodder. Instead of having the hand of God doing the work for you, protecting you and keeping you safe, he’ll grab your sons. They’ll be maimed and die in battle. And it won’t always be for your best interested. It’ll be for the king’s interest and the king’s legacy. For his own, selfish, human reasons.
2) You’ll lose your freedom. You won’t be able to choose your lifestyle and choose your occupation. If the king needs a farmer, you’ll be a farmer. If the king needs a baker, you’ll be a baker. If the king needs a outhouse repairman, you’ll be an outhouse repairman. He won’t keep in mind your desire and dreams for this life – he’ll give you a job…for his own, selfish, human reasons.
3) The Taxes… Oh the taxes will increase. You’ll give up a portion of your food and your goats, and your oxen and chicken, and everything that you have. Some will go to protect you, but once that king gets a taste of wealth, the majority of taxes will not happen to improve your life, they will happen for the king’s own, selfish, human reasons.
4) You’ll be slaves. Because eventually, eventually someone will become king whose sinful, selfish human reasons overtakes his policies. He’ll make you serve him – not your country and not yourself. He’ll be filled with vengeance and a complete disregard for you – and you shouldn’t be surprised! That’s what sinful, selfish, human beings do!
And you’ll call out to God for help. You’ll regret the decision you are making right now. But, v.18 the LORD will not answer you.
The Israelites thought about it.
They pondered it.
They deeply considered the thoughts of their holy, perfect, all knowing God.
…for about 2 seconds.
v.18 “No! We want a king over us! We want to be like the other nations.”
Did you see the problem? The Israelites trusted humanity more than God. Soon, they’d put their trust in Saul – their very first human king – more than God.
It’s foolish to do.
God is holy; humans are sinful.
God is all loving; humans love themselves first.
God is all powerful; humans are weak.
God is all knowing; humans know whatever their very biased advisors tell them to know.
But this trusting of humans more than God is something that was happening back then…
…and is still happening now.
Who do you trust this election?
Hillary? Donald? Do you trust Jill or Gary or Scott?
Are you panicking because you don’t trust any of them?
Do you expect a president to completely change your life?
To fix your problems? To fix your money situation? To improve your job and heal your health issues?
If you do, your trust is in the wrong place.
Hillary Clinton will not fix your life.
Donald Trump will not make your life great again.
A third party candidate will not put your life in the right direction.
The only one who can do that; is not on the ballot.
Isaiah 43:11 says this, “God is the Lord and there is no other Savior.”
Cause when you look at our lives apart from God – there’s been a Great Recession.
And you know how good candidates are at lying? We’re good at it too. Telling ourselves “I’m fine. Everything’s great. I have no spiritual problems.”
But we’re wrong. It’s a mess. And it's beyond any human being!!
But it isn't beyond God.
Here’s the truth:
Your Savior isn't on the ballot; he's on the cross.
To be fair, this may not mean that you make more money. It may not mean that your health care payments go down. It may not mean that you get all of the benefits that you t think you deserve.
But what you’ll get; is beyond your wildest imagination.
Jesus said this, “My kingdom is not of this world.” That means he’s concerned with your life on this earth, yes, but he’s even more concerned with your spiritual, eternal life in heaven. His decisions, when it comes down to one or the other, are always going to be in favor of your heavenly glory.
Because that's better.
Because that lasts.
Because that's how He fixes this broken world.
Because that's how He fixes this broken you.
II. Principles for this Election
Jesus is the only Savior. But he's also not on the ballot. I'm not suggesting that you write in his name. (He wouldn't take the job and sadly, he probably wouldn't win anyways).
What are you to do? What does the Bible encourage us to do in an earthly election? Keep in mind that the Bible doesn’t exactly address voting. Democracy isn’t a part of the Ten Commandments and it was never a part of Israelite government. There's not even a mandate to vote! But there’s a few Biblical principles that I think you should keep in mind.
The Bible tells us to pray continually. It doesn’t say, “Pray continually until an election comes up; then stop praying and start making decisions on your own without seeking God’s help.” Nope. God tells us to pray about big things and little things – to help grandma get over cancer and to help me do well on this 10 question math quiz.
The presidential election fits under the category of things to pray for.
Won’t you keep it in your prayers?
Pray for God to bless America.
Pray for God to bless your heart.
Pray for God to guide you toward the best decision that you can make.
2) Use the Wisdom God gave You.
That really has a twofold meaning. The Bible says that God made us "Fearfully and wonderfully." Therefore, we should use that wonderful mind that God gave us and the wisdom he bestowed on us.
But also he gave us wisdom beyond that. Wisdom within his Word.
Now, there is not a Bible book called. “2nd What-to-Do-in-the-2016-American-Presidential-Elections.” It just isn’t there. That means this will take some time. You'll need to learn about the candidates and then search in God's Word for what a godly leader looks like. You'll find examples of godly leaders and godly characteristics of leaders. You'll learn godly morals and godly mandates.
It takes some time, but it's worth it.
Don’t just do something cause all your friends are saying so on Facebook.
That’s what the Israelites did and it didn’t work out to well for them.
Take time to think about the issues and vote using the wisdom God gave you.
DID YOU KNOW: There will be some friends, some family members, even some church members who vote differently in you?
Kick them out pastor! Right?
You do realize that every candidate in this election is a sinner?
Every candidate has sinful human reasoning?
Every candidate has sinful human motives?
There is no perfect candidate. If you’re going to disown a friend because they voted for a sinful candidate, then you’ll have to disown yourself.
Relax. Christians can make different choices for President; just as they make different choices for what type of car to drive and different choices for different types of chewing gum. You don’t need to crucify them or call them names. You don’t need to send them angry blog post after angry blog post.
You need to pray with them. You need to work with them.
You need to share God’s Word to them and with them.
And you have important work to do:
4) Move on.
Which leads to the final point – after you make your vote – move on!
Because God didn't call us to sit around and wring our hands and worry about our government. Nope.
God called us to share the Gospel of Jesus.
We’ve got way too important of work to keep doing together. We need to Gather to the Garden. We need to share Jesus with our community. We need to keep telling others about our incredible Savior, Jesus Christ.
And you need to be a part of that.
Here’s where God helps with that.
Because the more our trust is in him, the more we calm God gives us.
To be honest, this election is quite the opportunity for trust in God. Because if I think back to the elections that I can remember – people were voting because they were confident in the candidate to do the good job. George W. Bush will fix things. Barack Obama will fix things.
This year – They won’t mess it up as much as the other person.
Which means – when trust in the candidates is at all time low – we have an opportunity to place trust in God at an all-time high.
Put your trust in the Lord, the Only Savior.
Share your trust it the Lord, the Only Savior.
“It is my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself.” These words began Franklin Roosevelt’s first inauguration speech, given in the darkest days of the Great Depression to give comfort, confidence, and courage to a desperate American populace. The fear of fear was something Roosevelt practiced through the even more trying days of WWII until his death 70 years ago. Inspiring words given by an inspirational leader. Yet what limits our fear so that it is contained by itself? Fear can grow and move with any of our many new challenges in our lives. When attacks by the devil and the world are at the point of overwhelming us, fear paralyzes our faith and trust in God. Yet God tells us to always trust the powerful Savior. Our human weakness cannot hinder his power and love.
Putting trust in God is something that is often talked about but less often done; “In God we Trust” is our nation’s motto after all. When we are faced with difficult circumstances it is natural to look to a stronger power. As children we turn to our parents, grandparents and teachers, later to friends, bosses, spouses, doctors and banks, corporations, and governments to aid us where we fall short. Yet all of those things can and have let us down. Who else can we turn to when all else fails? Sadly, we often turn to God as a last resort and ask him to help us. Many people did turn to Jesus when he walked on this earth, often in the most desperate of circumstances. Yes, they put their faith in Jesus, yet it was a faith that was timid and nervous.
In today’s reading we find the account of Jairus, the synagogue leader, begging Jesus to save his ill daughter’s life. We don’t know exactly where Jesus and his disciples landed after crossing the Sea of Galilee, but many believe that he returned to his base of ministry operations in Capernaum. By this time Jesus had already preached, driven out demons and healed many in this area. No doubt Jairus had heard of Jesus and he had ample opportunity to witness his ministry. Jairus was a lay leader in the synagogue, something similar to an elder or president in the congregation. He was a man who seemed to have a rather happy life. Jairus was a man blessed with a wife and daughter, a girl of 12 whom he still viewed as a dear little child. He had the respect of those in his community, and was wealthy enough to have servants. Yet, just like today, status cannot prevent a person from suffering hardships and disaster.
Whether his daughter’s illness came suddenly or progressed slowly, we do not know, but it is clear that the little girl’s life was in danger. It is a terrible feeling any parent has when he or she looks down on an ill child who is suffering in pain; all that is made worse by feeling powerless to help. Very quickly the perfect life can be clouded over by hopelessness. But Jairus had not lost all hope, he turned to only one who could help. In his time of need he looked Jesus.
One can see how distressing this situation was to Jairus, once he saw Jesus he immediately fell to his feet and begged for his precious little girl’s life. No words were necessary, of course Jesus was willing to go and help him. It was a desperate and urgent situation. Every minute counted. Yet, Jairus wasn’t the only one who desperately put hope in Jesus that day. A woman had been suffering for 12 years from internal bleeding, 12 years! That was the entire lifespan of Jairus’ daughter. She had spent her whole fortune on doctors, operations, and medicine in attempting to fix her condition. Yet despite their best human efforts, her bleeding became worse. We ourselves have experienced many similar stories. An illness or medical condition is no light matter. It can easily consume a person’s time and money and leave them a hollow shell of their former selves. Yet this woman too, had a glimmer of hope. At last she put her faith and trust in the power of Jesus and her faith was rewarded. She was healed.
Yet there is something disturbing in the faith of both Jairus and this woman. They both were hindered by fear. They had seen and heard of Jesus’ merciful healings and the love that he had to offer to everyone freely. Yet the woman too fell at Jesus’ feet and trembled with fear. While all this was happening, Jairus must have been standing by anxiously as precious time was lost by this woman’s distraction. Then he was dealt the heavy blow he was so desperately trying to avoid. Word came that his daughter had died, and this message was followed by very poor advice to leave Jesus alone and not to trouble him. “Don’t trouble the teacher anymore.” The servants thought it was hopeless now, a done deal. Jairus’ weak hope had been transformed by doubt into fear. Nothing could change the fact that his little girl was dead and gone forever.
Jairus must have been visibly distressed and afraid when he heard of his daughter’s death, for Jesus himself said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe!” A few days before Jesus came to heal Jairus’ daughter he calmed a storm on the Sea of Galilee. During that storm his very own disciples were afraid that they would lose their lives. After calming their fears as well as the storm Jesus taught them that they should trust him. He would always care for them; with him their lives were secure. Jesus tells Jairus the same thing when it seems like all hope is lost.
As Jesus arrived at Jairus’ house he came across professional mourners who were already hard at work; wailing and crying loudly. Their job was to set and maintain a mood of sadness and defeat. The shaken Jairus would find no comfort in them. Once Jesus arrived there was no need of despair or distress. He sent them away, the girl was not gone forever, but only “sleeping.”
How often do we find ourselves in similar situations? No matter where we are in life you and I have hard things to do and many challenges to overcome. Homework and chores add up, responsibilities at home and at work can come into conflict. That nice nest you were building yourself may not look so cozy anymore. Relationships and health deteriorate, and yes, loved ones leave and die. Our natural reaction is to turn to ourselves first, we like to be self-reliant we like to be in control. But we are open to the idea of asking for help when we need it. We turn to family and friends, and professionals. Yet they too fail us; they cannot love and care for us perfectly. All this time we ignore the one standing by to strengthen, help and support us. God our Father, Savior and Comforter is always there in his Word and Sacraments. We know that our weakness in health or faith cannot stop God’s love and power. We know we don’t have to be afraid because Jesus teaches us not to be! He tells us clearly who he is. He is our prophet, priest and king, our sacrificial lamb who atoned for all our sins. Through baptism we are buried with him and raised with him. We cannot be separated from his love.
You see, all people have three common enemies: sin, death, and the devil. Jesus has defeated all of them. Throughout the Gospels we see how Jesus drove out demons, resisted temptation, healed frail bodies and forgave sins that only God could forgive. The whole time he also had power over death. Death was no longer final but temporary. A simple rest before we are raised and renewed After reassuring Jairus and encouraging his faith, he showed Jairus, his disciples, the mourners, and us that death cannot stop him. With two simple, yet powerful words, he fully restored life and health to that 12 year old girl; immediately she got up and even needed food. Jesus overcame the death which had claimed this girl. With his own death and resurrection Jesus has secured our own inevitable resurrection at the final call of the last trumpet of victory.
The pressures and distresses of this world can make us feel desperation and despair. We often face challenges that make us afraid for ourselves and our future. We are comforted by Jesus’ words to lose all fear, and simply trust and believe in him. Instead of turning to ourselves to find courage in dark times, turn to the one who heals and saves us from sin and death. Jairus and the suffering woman turned to Jesus in faith yet were hindered by fear. We have God’s own reassurances we need not have any fear at all, not even our weakness can kinder Jesus’ power and love. Whatever else happens, we know that Jesus is our life and eternal resurrection. Amen.
It was finally time.
They were a who’s who of discipleship. The real followers of Jesus. 11 men who had followed him everywhere for the past 3 years. They had left their families, their jobs, their identities…They had left their lives in order to follow Jesus.
Now it felt like it was about time.
After all the travelling, all of the missing home, all of the time away from kids, all of the sleeping under random bushes, all of the wondering where their next meal would be from, all of the time being basically “homeless”, all of the holding back crowds who desperately wanted to see Jesus, all of the confusing teachings, all of the nerve wracking speeches, all the angry glares from the religious leaders, all of the hiding, all of the terror, all of the horror in seeing their leader dead, and all of the glory in seeing him back to life…now it seemed like it was time. Time for them to get their reward.
“Lord are you at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel?”
Because surely, if now was the time to set up an earthly kingdom with Jesus at the head, they would be high up there too. Then, it would all have been worth it. They could trade in their dirty travel garments for the purple robes of a king. They could trade in scaling fish for scaling the statue of them that would go in their own hometowns. They would be princes in God’s kingdom – each of them would be assigned a personal Pharisees who would feed them grapes and wave palm branches to cool the hot Middle Eastern air – as they lounged on their limited edition, gold studded, discipleship lawn chairs while sampling an endless supply of 2 Loaf bread direct from Jesus’ power.
Jesus began to answer them. He gave another speech about how that’s not really his reason in coming to earth – but I imagine the disciples missed it. They were too busy dreaming about how they would GQ their outfits to process what he was saying.
Then, something happened that they couldn’t miss.
Jesus feet moved. Not forward. Not backwards. But upwards. They kept moving upwards.
The disciples looked around expecting to see Peter behind Jesus lifting Jesus up in a big bear hug –but he too was staring in amazement with them. There was no strings, no jetpack, no helicopter. They weren’t in Kitty Hawk and Jesus wasn’t testing out Wilbur and Orville’s flying machine thousands of years before they were even born.
This was a miracle. Jesus was levitating off the ground.
And he kept going up! He went past the tree lines. He went past the birds. He went past the mountain peaks. He went past up until the clouds hid him from their sight.
The disciples? Well, they did about the only thing that they could at that moment. They opened their mouths and stared.
They, literally, had an out of this world leader.
Today we are starting a new sermon series. It’s called CounterCulture. It will explore how Jesus and his teachings are completely CounterCulture to Modern Society. Can’t think of any other way to start than by learning the very truth about Jesus that the disciples were reminded of on Ascension: Jesus Himself is Counter Culture.
1. CounterCultural Power
Again. Jesus lifted himself off the ground, into the sky, and into heaven without the help of any magician’s assistants or a really big fishing pole hooked up to his tunic. He did it with his power.
I haven’t seen President Obama do that recently. Nor did I see President Bush do it. Nor do I suggest that you should base who you are going to vote for in the next election on which one of them can jump to the top of the White House in a single bound.
Earthy leaders have skills. Skills get them to be the head of their field. The incredible quarterback has a rocket for an arm. The gifted musician can play a tune by memory. The C.E.O. highlighted in Forbes has vision and a keen sense for business.
Jesus had skills too. He healed the sick faster than any other doctor and with less medicine – he just used his words. He walked on water with more grace and stability than an Olympian water skiing – only he did it without skiis and only his two feet. He did a better job making sure the weather was good for you to head out on a church picnic than a weatherman – predicting, hoping. He said “Stop raining.” And it did. He was the top of his field in winemaking without any grapes, curing paralysis without therapy, removing blindness with saliva, defeating deafness with his Word, glowing his face brighter than the sun, feed tens of thousands with a picnic basket of food, and restoring lives without a defibrillator days before a defibrillator was invented.
Then, when he died, Jesus showcased a skill that no one else in the history of the world has ever had before nor will they have again: He brought himself back to life.
Do you see how Jesus’ power is CounterCultural? It is out of this world. Where we are weak, he is strong. Where we are powerless, He is powerful. Where we can do nothing, He says, “Watch this.”
But Jesus didn’t use his power for power’s sake. He wasn’t trying to get on the front of the Wheaties box and he wasn’t trying to win the World’s Strongest Man Competition.
Jesus’ power helped him accomplish his goal!
2. CounterCultural Goals
What was Jesus’ goal? It was more than what he disciples thought. He wasn’t gathering a secret army to go and ransack the Roman palace in hopes of setting up a political power on earth.
In Mark 10:45, Jesus says this, “The Son of Man came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
To serve and to save. A goal that would result in his untimely death!?!
Anyone here watch SharkTank? It’s a show in which these world renowned entrepreneurs listen to the plans of young innovator’s and then decide whether or not they should invest in their business. My guess? Mr. Wonderful, Kevin O’Leary would have hated Jesus’ business plan.
“So…You have all the power in the world. You have a cure for blindness. You have a cure for paralysis. You have a cure for deafness. And…you’re not charging any money? You aren’t planning on building a supply warehouse. In fact, you’re planning to die – leaving your business worthlessly bankrupt?” Not even Mark Cuban would have invested in Jesus’ business plan.
Jesus’ goal was not money. It was not power. It was not fame. It was not prestige.
His goal was greater. It was your salvation.
“The Son of Man came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Here’s the God’s honest truth about our condition. We are sinful. We have been trapped in the world by our sinful vices – selfishness, envy, greed, lust, sloth, hatred. These themselves are such a common part of our sinful world that they grab onto us and lodge themselves into our souls and take us captive promising to lead to a wonderful life and brothers and sisters, they fail so miserably.
But Jesus has in mind to take us out of this world. He has in mind to take us with him where all that sin is gone.
But here’s the problem. Have any of you been in an airport recently? Maybe you had to lift your hands above your head, place your feet a foot apart, and wait as that big whirly machine scans your entire body for weapons. If they find something out of place, a weapon or a misplaced bobby pin, then you can’t go through.
Heaven is the same way. Except God doesn’t scan for sharp metal. He scans for sin. And God’s sin scanner has come back and it’s so dark with sin that you’d think the machine was broken.
God says this, “All have sinned, they have together become worthless, there is no one who does good; not even One.”
And today’s leaders. Today’s earthly leaders don’t care. Selfishness would kick in, “Good luck with that. I’ll take my money, I”ll take my jet, I’ll take my HD Google watch over here and pretend that I didn’t see you.”
Not Jesus. Jesus came to rid you of that awful condition. He came to free you from the sin that had taken hold of your soul. Even when the only way sin would release you would be through His death – Jesus willingly, freely, and swiftly offered his body for you.
“Christ redeemed you from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us.”
You know how we know that this all worked? This is the guy who floated up to heaven. It’s the guy who came back to life. It’s the guy who did all powerful, impossible things, one after another.
Can he really remove your sin one time for all time? Absolutely. Whoever believes in Jesus will not perish, but have eternal life.
3. CounterCultural Instructions
Look at what Jesus told his disciples: Be witness of all this to the ends of the earth. He didn’t want them to set up a statue in his arm. He didn’t ask them to build and make a foundation named after him. He didn’t tell them to invest his money in upcoming stocks. He didn’t ask for them to start a brand new political party.
He simply told them to spread his message.
These are the same instructions he has given us. As a family of believers at Gethsemane & Precious Lambs – this is our goal. Not to make money. Not to keep our furnishings updated, not to impress others with ‘how godly we are’, not to ‘fill the pews’, not to ‘make sure kids know their ABCs, 123s, and the difference between an Alligator & a Crocodile.”
Our mission is to tell people about Jesus. Our mission is to tell North Raleigh about Jesus. Our missions is to tell our kids Jesus.
You are a part of this mission!
But Pastor. I'm not professional. I don't have a Masters of Divinity. I'm not that good at talking to others.
That's the way of our world isn't it? Hire the people from Yale and Harvard. Make sure they've won some awards. The more fancy diplomas on the wall, the more likely one is to be hired.
Jesus? He called some fisherman to work for him. An accountant. A political activist. Jesus called regular people to share his out of this world message with regular people.
It's the same today.
Are you a mechanic? Share Jesus.
Do you work at Whole Foods? Share Jesus.
Are you a teacher? Share Jesus.
Are you in 4th grade? Share Jesus.
4. CounterCultural Timeline
Deadlines run our world. Yet what’s pretty nice about a deadline, is that it kind of gives you ability to slack off. If you’ve got until next week, why not schedule a golf outing on Monday? If you’ve got to the end of the day, why not see what goofy things Uncle Carl has been up to on Facebook? If you’ve got a sermon that isn’t preached until Sunday, why not get distracted by binge watching Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D? – you might get some inspiration.
God’s timeline? Well, He doesn’t tell. Jesus said to his disciples, “It is not for you to know the times and dates set by my Father.”
Which means it could be anytime.
Which means it could be now.
Which means there is no time like now – for you to believe -- for you to share God’s Message.
This past Friday I flew through Bible study at the retirement home I visit. I made sure to start on time and tried to finish a bit early because it was a busy morning. Bible study at 9:30am. And a meeting at 10:30am. Then, because Precious Lambs was having early release, I had to get back and get Chapel ready. I was under the gun.
I was literally out the door and ready to walk back to Gethsemane when she stopped me. I had seen her before. She had been coming to my Bible studies for awhile, but hadn’t said much. I wasn’t even sure that what I was saying was tracking.
She looked at me with tearful eyes. “Are you a pastor?”
“I have a problem. I just moved here. I left my family in Jersey. I am all alone. I have made a mistake. I have sinned. Will God ever forgive me? Will God ever love me?”
I didn’t even look at my watch.
Some things are so much more important than the busy things. Nothing is more important than THE Eternal thing.
Put eternal things first. Because the Eternal One put you first.
5. CounterCultural Promise
Steve Jobs was an incredible leader. His company, Apple, changed the world. It skyrocketed up the Stock Market. It is an incredible company. I'm using an iPhone to keep Bible passages up during this sermon writing!
Steve Jobs was a great leader.
Steve Jobs is dead.
Jesus is not.
And though he ascended to heaven, Jesus has not left us. He said, "Surely I am with you always to the very end of the age."
How can that be Jesus? We can't see you.
"Remember how I ascended to heaven? That was impossible too huh, yet I did it. So am I with you."
It's quite a bumpy ride following Jesus. It's tough living counter to culture (as the coming weeks will show us), but Jesus is an out of this world leader. He won't leave you. He won't leave me.
Won't you follow him?
Easter is here. Little girls are wearing colorful Easter dresses. Houses are decorated in light pastel colors. Neon colored Easter eggs are sitting on the dining room table. There’s candy and bunnies, and marshmallow, sprinkled baby chickens. The greatest time of year is here.
It's scary isn't it?
Now you might be thinking, “Pastor, I think you’ve got Easter confused with Halloween. There are no zombies or werewolves at Easter. I mean, I’m scared that someone might eat the ears off of my chocolate bunny, but that’s about it.” No…Easter isn’t scary.
Did you know that the very first Easter was very scary? Especially for Jesus’ own disciples.
Today we’re going to take a look at why it was scary for them, why it might be scary for us, and how Jesus calms all those fears.
We’re taking a look at John 20:19-23. This is the account of what happened to the disciples on the first Easter Sunday. A disciple is a follower of Jesus. It’s also a special term used to denote twelve men who were hand selected by Jesus to learn from him and grow in faith by him. They loved him. They followed him. He was their leader.
Only a few days earlier, he had died.
So can you imagine their state of mind? Take a look at verse 9. On the evening of that first day of the week…the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders…That’s not even a full sentence and already we’ve learned a lot. Take note of a few things to better understand the disciples state of mind.
“Evening of that first day of the week.” This gives us a time frame for when this is taking place. The last day of the Jewish week was Saturday. The first day was Sunday. Jesus had died on a Friday. So this means that Jesus has been dead for three days now. The disciples have now spent the better part of three days dissecting Jesus’ death: They were leaderless. They were directionless. What would become of them? Why did they spend all that time following him? They feared for their future.
I imagine they were exhausted. It’s hard to be that level of stress for that long a time. The exhaustion would have only increased their jumpiness.
Take a look at just how jumpy they were. It says, “the disciples were together with the doors locked…”
Now why do you lock your doors? Ever been to a shady looking neighborhood at night? Maybe you click the lock shut. Guys, if you don’t want your honey to see you uneasy, you do it real sly like.
The disciples locked the door for the same reason They were scared. Not just cover their eyes scared, but lock the doors scared.
But it wasn’t just because of their future without a leader. Scripture says, “The doors were locked for fear of the Jews,” that is, the Jewish religious leaders who had been behind Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, and death.
If these men did that to Jesus, what would they do to his followers? If they didn’t lock the doors and stay quiet, maybe the door would break down any moment with Roman soldiers slaughtering every last one of them. They locked the doors in fear. They didn't want anyone to get in.
Except…someone did. When the doors were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them.
Now you might expect the disciples to be joyous. Afterall, their leader was back. But far from it. In fact, Luke tells us that their first reaction was one of fear -- a greater fright than before.
Why? Here's three reasons:
Fear of the Supernatural. After all Jesus had died! If they were looking at Jesus right now, then he must be some kind of ghost or a zombie. It was as if they were stuck inside of an Alfred Hitchcock horror film. They were afraid of the supernatural.
Fear of the Insane. Because if it wasn’t a ghost, then what? A hallucination? Hard to believe that the same hallucination would come upon all of them at once, but perhaps each of them individually thought that they might be going insane. Was a straight jacket OR the Shalom Insane Asylum in their future?
Then, there was the scariest option of all: This was all real.
Because, if it was, well, the last time that many of them had seen Jesus, was with quick glances over their shoulders as they ducked between trees. He had been arrested and they had run away.
They had abandoned them. They had hidden. They had stayed away. They had let Jesus die on that cross. Peter, one of their more vocal members, had at least made it to Jesus’ trial, but when he was there he didn’t support Jesus at all.
He had pretended that he didn’t even know him.
If this was the real Jesus then, then a real miracle just happened and he really was the Son of God. What would He say to them?
Hence their final fear. The Fear of Failure.
Perhaps they could hear Jesus' voice scolding them:
“You ignorant fools. You traitors. How dare you abandon me? How could you let me die? After all that time I spent with you – three years I was your friend – three years I instructed you – you promised to never leave me and then, at the first sign of trouble – you leave me all alone! You pathetic excuse for human beings. I will destroy you with hellfire from my Almighty Father in heaven.”
The disciples trembled. They had failed.
I asked earlier if Easter made you afraid. Maybe it doesn’t. But if not, what does make you afraid?
I was watching a show on Hulu called “Solitairy.” It’s a Reality TV show in which they lock you into a room and you stay all by yourself for a long time. On one episode they do an experiment. They turn off all the lights and the computer animated voice tells them to begin describing their greatest fears.
It was interesting. No one said “snakes.” No one said “spiders.” No one said “clowns.”
Repeatedly. Repeatedly everyone’s greatest fear was FAILURE! Failures in the past resurfacing or failures in the future.
How big a role does failure play on your fears? Do you have any failures that you are dealing with this Easter? Failure to have enough money. Failure to keep that job. Failure to find a job. Failure to make your marriage perfect. Failure to make that relationship turn into marriage. Failure to stay healthy. Failure to keep your promises to your kids.
Failure to God? Because that's a whole other level. This is where the reality of Easter gets real scary. Because if Jesus really rose, then he also really died for the very real reasons that he said he died. He died for your failures before God. He died for your sins.
That’s hard to face. It’s extremely frightening for humans beings to face their failures. It’s why on Fear Factor they have people eat bugs or bungee jump off a building. Those things are scary. But not as scary as listing all your failures on national television. Can you imagine that as a challenge? “Now tell everybody our deepest, and darkest failures. Don’t minimize them. Don’t blame others. Own up to them. Face them.” No one would do it.
Maybe that’s why so many prefer to think of Easter as a fairy tale. It’s why the world loves candy, chickens, and fluffy bunnies. They are a good distraction from the scary reality of Easter. Because the reality of Easter begins in a graveyard and ends with God coming back to face all those who have failed Him.
It ends with God coming face to face with you.
Back to that tense locked room again. The disciples are shaking with fear. Their fists are clenched. Their hearts are beating. Their minds are racing. All of their eyes are on Jesus.
He speaks, “Peace be with you.”
Not, “You fools.” Not “You failures.” But “Peace.”
Remember who’s talking!?! This is the guy who claimed to be the Son of God and then, when he died, he came back to life. Three days earlier he had been dead. Many saw him die. The soldiers took his body down. Men wrapped him in cloths for burial. They placed his body in a tomb. Soldiers guarded the entrance.
Yet…here he was alive. It’s impossible. It’s a miracle. It’s a God thing!
Understand then who it was speaking peace to his disciples: It was God himself! The one whom the disciples had wronged, the one whom the disciples had failed, the one who had the power to destroy them, just spoke peace to them. He had forgiven their failures.
But it almost seems too good to be true.
Jesus gives the disciples plenty of reason to believe him. He showed them his hands and side. He let them touch his flesh. He let them examine his bones. He let them tangibly feel the very wounds that three days earlier had been formed by nails and a spear.
The disciples were overjoyed. This was no fake. This was reality. They were really seeing the Lord and they were really forgiven.
They must have shouted: Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!
Look at what Jesus closes with. Again Jesus said, “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. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
This was another encouraging word for the disciples. Soon – Jesus would ask them to preach this good news. Soon they would be arrested. Soon they would be standing before courts and soldiers with the authority to kill them.
They needn’t fear. Jesus would be with them. The Holy Spirit would be with them. God the Father, in charge of the whole plan, would be with them!
Why would they ever need to fear again? They had had ENOUGH!
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
How can Easter drive out your fears? What does the Easter message mean for you? Three things to take home in your heart this week:
1) At Easter, God speaks Peace
You might be frightened to approach God. You might be scared because of your past to get involved at church. You might be nervous to really dive into this God thing because your past failures really do haunt you -- and you don't know how God will react.
Does today's lesson give you an indication?
Scripture says this, “When you were dead in your sins…God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.”
This means that when you approach God in confession, when you approach God with your sins, when you approach God with your failures, God forgives. He is at peace with you.
Now God isn't at peace because suddenly he decided sin isn't that big of a deal. It is! If you reflected on Good Friday, you understand that our sins caused Jesus to die a gruesome death on the cross. That's how big of a deal it was.
But we do have peace with God because of Jesus. Because of his death. Because of his resurrection.
2) This Easter Peace is Real.
The other day was April Fools Day. I was reminded on my Facebook feed that you've gotta be careful of your sources when reading headlines on April Fools Day. I read that Aaron Rodgers -- my beloved Green Bay Packer Quarterback -- had been traded to the archrival Bears.
My heart skipped and then I saw where the story was coming from -- The Onion.com
What is the source for this message of Easter? It's God's Word. Inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit -- he caused the very men who saw these things about Jesus to write them down for us. These men told the account of how Jesus was seen in various times, in various places, by various people. In fact, at one time over 500 saw Jesus at once!
To combat this story, all the bad guys had to do was find the dead body. If they got it out of the grave all this resurrection stuff would have stopped.
The Easter bunny’s story isn’t as impressive. Here’s some real chocolate and some real jelly beans – they really taste like blueberries.
Jesus says this to you today: “You really did fail. You really did sin. But I really did die. I really did rise. Through faith in me, you really are forgiven. You really will live in heaven.”
3) This Resurrected, Real Jesus is With you.
Financial struggles? God is with you. Broken relationship repair? God is with you. Reconciling with a spouse? God is with you. Looking for a job? God is with you. Sick? God is with you. In the Hospital? God is with you. Past failures? God is with you. He forgives you because of Jesus. Your future? God is with you. He will guide you in Jesus.
1 John 4:8 says this, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.”
There is no other perfect love than this: Jesus died for your sins. His perfect love rose from the dead. The message of Easter drives out fear. It says, “In Christ I am forgiven. In Christ, I see the reality of my forgiveness. In Christ, I know God is with me every step of the way.”
What do I have to fear? Christ is Risen; He is risen indeed!
I Witnessed an example of this the other day.
I met a woman from a far away country who didn't know much about Jesus. Honestly she was kind of scared to find out about Jesus and about God. She said that she had done many wrong things. She had cheated on friends and as a result had been called many awful names.
She was frightened to hear what God might call her.
I told her about Jesus. I told about his life. I told about his death. I told of his resurrection. I told what Jesus means for her.
She said, "This is amazing. God loves me that much. I feel different. I feel loved. I feel….brave."
“There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out fear.”
Today is Easter. Today Jesus says, “Enough Fear!” There is no need for fear anymore. And we believe it. We believe it because Christ is risen; He is risen indeed! Amen.
Genesis 1 paints a really a beautiful picture doesn’t it?
A man, newly formed, searches throughout all of creation for the perfect partner. But his work is in vain. He realizes that he doesn’t have the perfect partner. He has no one to share his life with.
Enter God. He causes the man to fall into a deep sleep. He removes one of the man’s ribs. He uses that rib to create the perfect partner. From man he created "out of man” or, as English speakers say, “Woman.”
When the man awakes, he is astonished. Mystified. He speaks her a love poem, “This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” She isn’t just another person. She isn’t just my partner. She is me. She and I are one. He holds her in his arms. She looks up at him and beams. She is pleased to call this wonderful man her leader.
Fast forward a thousands of years.
Again a man is sleeping. But it’s not because of God. It’s because of a few too many Busch Lights. He opens his eyes to watch the TV commercials on the ball game – if only his wife were more like those cheerleaders!
She’s in the other room. Literally on the phone complaining about the big oaf next door. What a fool! Why did she marry? He’s lazy, ignorant, and unattractive. She doesn’t respect him AND don’t worry, she lets him know every chance that she gets.
Suddenly, the man speaks. It’s poetic…
“Honey dear, can you get me another beer?!”
So what happened? Why the difference? How come modern marriages have fallen so far apart from the perfect union that God intended it?
The answer, or course, is sin.
Today God’s Word from 1 Peter 3 reminds us what God’s plan for marriage is. It speaks to wives about what Women of God will bring to a marriage and to husbands about what Men of God will bring to a marriage.
Scripture talks to women first in 1 Peter 3:1, “Wives, in the same way submit to your husbands.”
Immediately you see the “what” of what God calls you to do. It’s that word -- submit. It’s the same word that God used in our past two sermons on Chapter 21 Peter. Submit to the Government. Submit to your employers. Now wives are to submit to their husbands.
Remember what submit means. It deals with respect and honor. But with wives, it goes a bit farther. It is unforced. It’s not the husband’s job to make his wife submit. (And men, this is not talking to you!) The wife submits out of love.
It’s like the car turning left onto Falls of Neuse. It waits, out of love, for the pedestrian crossing the walk. Concession is necessary for things to work. Even if the car is carrying a vital organ to take up to Wake Med North and the pedestrian is a bum – concession happens. Out of love, unforced, and completely removed from one person being more important than another.
Submission then speaks of a loving, unforced concession of the leadership position to the husband.
Now, dear wives, maybe to a godly man that sounds fine. The logic is simple: He loves Jesus. He loves you. He should love you with a Jesus-like love!
But what if he is a jerk? What if he is rude? What if you are married to an unbeliever who doesn’t have your best spiritual interests in mind? Do you have to submit then?
God’s Word says this, “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.”
Now certainly God’s Word doesn’t not want us to follow husbands into unbelief (or any sin). Yet it is precisely because of a wife’s faith in Christ that God wants you to submit even to an unbelieving husband. Because it is by this godly submission that the husband will notice a direct contrast to the unbelieving way of the world.
He will see it is better. He will say, “What’s the difference between my wife and my buddy’s wives? Why is she kinder? Why is she gentler? Could it be the Christian thing? Maybe I should learn more about this Jesus!”
It is clear. God’s Word tells wives to submit to their husbands.
Now when you think of it in theory. This should be easy, right? There’s an intimate relationship between husband and wife. You chose him as your husband. You love him. It should be way easier to submit to him than the government or your boss.
But how good are you at this submission thing really? Here’s a little test to see if you struggle with respecting your husband as your leader:
Women if you struggle with submission repent and turn to the one who submitted to your eternal, spiritual needs. Jesus, who was Master of the Universe, yet he submitted himself to a life on this earth. Then he submitted himself to your sins of selfishness, pride, and disrespect for your husband. He let hem overtake him and he submitted to death.
In doing so, He saved you. In Christ, you are forgiven. In Christ’s forgiveness for you sinful thoughts and attitudes as a wife, you are a WOMAN of GOD.
Be that woman of God. Verse 3 explains more: 3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. 4 Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
About a week ago Beyonce performed at the VMAs. I didn’t see it, but I did read a review. Apparently there were stripper poles, backup dancers wearing lingerie, and songs about doing things in the back of cars with boys. Then, near the end of our performance a big LED sign lit up behind her displaying what was apparently her message – “FEMINISM.”
Really? Sexy? Lewd? That’s feminism? Bowing to society’s expectations and self consciously trying to allure men to do what you want by playing on their physical attractions? That’s power?
Do not be deceived. Scripture says to worry less about how you look and more about what’s in your heart. Instead of striving to be like Beyonce; strive to embody real, Biblical feminism. Verse 5 says this, “This is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”
How’s that for a romantic term? Not “Cutie.” Not “babe,” Not even “Love muffin.” But “Master.”
But before you throw her under the bus as “Ancient” and “old fashioned,” consider what this Old Testament patriarchess meant with such an endearing name: “Abraham, I trust you. I trust God. I’m going to ignore my pride and I’m going to ignore my selfishness and I’m going to let you be my leader.”
Wow. That’s real feminism. She defined herself not by her looks, not by her role in marriage, but by God’s love for her.
God’s Word shifts its attention to the men in the family next. Look at verse 7, “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers."
The directive is simple. It’s clear: Be considerate about her. Think for her. Act for her. Love her.
Yes, you see that word about the weaker partner. The simplest and easiest way to interpret this is physically. Guys are generally strong and have bigger muscles.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? God gave the leaders the greater physical strength NOT so they can show off. Not so that they can hold it against their wives, but so that they could honor, cherish, protect, and provide for them! Ephesians 5 adds to it, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
In other words, God’s perfect plan for marriage involves a woman’s unforced, loving submission, but it also involves a husband loving leadership that submits itself to his wife’s needs.
A man is to love his wife more than his life!
But we aren’t all that good at this are we gentlemen? Men too have a problem with selfishness. We too have a problem with pride. We too have sinful attitudes that have infected the way we treat our wives.
Sometimes we don’t even love our wives more than the football game on TV.
Think if you don’t showcase these same sinful attitudes:
Men, if you do these things and have this attitude you are wrong. You are not leading your wife. You are heeding and impeding her.
Thank God Jesus wasn’t selfish. Thank God Christ didn’t get to the end of his work, to the end of his perfectly lived, perfectly obedient life and say, “Well, I’ve worked hard. I know the next part is for me to die and substitute myself to save these people – the church, but I’m not gonna. I’ve worked too hard. They’ve done nothing. It’s their sins they are in trouble for, so they can take care of it themselves.”
Instead, Christ gave up his life. He led us all the way to eternal life. Even when it means giving up his life, Christ did it because he was the perfect leader – completely submissive to his people’s needs. GOD OUR SAVIOR did what it took lead MEN to God. Now he asks you to be MEN OF GOD who do what it takes to bring your wives to God!
Be those men of God!
Do you have any collectibles at home? Maybe it’s an autographed baseball. Maybe it’s a sports card. Maybe it’s a hotrod car. Maybe it’s a PEZ dispenser. (Some collections are more manly than others.)
I’ll be you treat that collection with care. You got a case for your sports collections. A pedestal for the baseball. A full wax treatment everytime you head into the garage for your car.
Love your wives in the same way. That’s what MEN OF GOD do. They cherish their wives dearly. Put their needs before yours. Treat them like that autographed baseball that you never treat harshly and take care of them nicely. They treat their wives. Their buy their wives gifts. They give their wives hugs. They do the laundry so their wives can rest. They take them aside and whisper, “I love you!” They give everything to take care of this precious gift God has given them. The one with whom they share everything.
Men of God love your wife more than your life! Talk about romantic. That can only come from a man of God!
I want you to focus back on a phrase in verse 7. “Heirs together” Not HEIRS APART. Not heirs of SEPARATE THINGS. Heirs together.
Men and women are different. But we aren’t different to oppose each other. And, if you are married, you and your husband are different, but you aren’t different to oppose each other. You are to complement each other. To encourage each other. To walk hand and hand together till you reach eternal life.
You know – perfection. Like the Garden of Eden. United with each other. United with God.
It’s a beautiful picture again. Amen.
“Watch out for False prophets!”
That was the theme of today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 7:15.
How high does that passage rank on your list of all time favorite Bible passages?
Did you have it memorized?
Does it hang on your wall?
Do you have it written on your favorite mug?
Has it ever been on one of those pictures of a scenic landscape with a Bible passages written in a fancy font that you post on your wall on Facebook?
Anybody have that as a confirmation verse?
Probably not, huh?
Yet…Jesus spoke it. The Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to write it down. It’s a command and it’s important.
We’ve talked about setting our hearts on things above, using our voices to speak God’s plan, and taking our minds captive to God’s Word. Today we’re going to talk about what Christ would have us do with our eyes. Watch out for false prophets!
I. Why is This a Big Deal?
Now you may be thinking, “Why is this a big deal? Why are we going to spend time talking about this?”
Maybe, you picture a false prophet as some obviously off the wall, loopy guy whom you would never listen to – like David Karesh, Nostradamus, or Lord Voldemort.
But it’s not that simple. Listen to what Jesus says, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing….”
Notice Jesus doesn’t say, “Watch out for false prophets. They’ll be easy to spot, because they’ll look just like wolves.” Not so much. They’ll look like sheep. Innocent. Cute. Harmless.
They’ll smile nicely when you meet them. They’ll wear nice looking suits. They’ll take residence in nice looking churches. They’ll have books in the “Christian” book store. They have a weekly sermon spot on the “Christian radio station.” They wear nice priestly, very religious looking robes. They may even be have a nice, Christian sounded title.
You know. Like “the pope.”
Spotting false prophets is tricky. They look cute, but they are so dangerous. Jesus says, “They are ferocious wolves.”
This, by the way, is long before Looney Tunes came along and gave us this picture of a goofy, cartoonish wolf bungling around as he fails to capture any sheep and gets an anvil dropped on his head. False prophets are way more dangerous than that.
Jesus calls them ‘ferocious’. Vicious. Sometimes knowingly, othertimes, unknowingly, their false teachings rip at the flesh of your faith. They tear your respect for God’s Word apart. They feed on your respect for the truth of God’s Word until there isn’t any left.
This is a BIG deal.
To illustrate how bad a false prophet is, I’d ask you to think about Satanism. It is probably one of the most open and obvious forms of false teaching out there. It’s so bad that even Atheists recognize it as ‘no good.’
Yet, there aren’t that many Satanists. It’s way less than .1% of the population. This means that there are way more unbelievers on the road to hell who listen to leaders that look and act like ‘good’ religious leaders…that look and act like “Christians.”
o Churches that teach “Jesus died, but you need to do good to earn your way to heaven.” Causing people to despair until they no longer have any faith that Jesus can save them.
o Churches that teach “it doesn’t matter what you believe." Then one dangerously assumes it doesn’t matter if you believe in Jesus or not…so he stops. Which is quite different from what Jesus taught.
o Churches that teach, “Don’t worry. That’s not a sin. God didn’t mean it when he had his people write it down.” Leading all kinds of people to ignore and refuses the very words of “Christ” that the leader claimed to support.
Churches that teach: “There is no hell and that sin you’re doing isn’t really that bad and you won’t suffer for it,” People believe it. Live in relief. Stop worrying about faith and Jesus so much. Then, they die…and find out that teaching was false as they are, in fact, in this not so ‘non-existant’ hell.
Do see why WATCHING OUT for false teachers is big deal? It keeps you safe from destructive teachings that will work to try and destroy your faith – which, if faith isn’t there…leads to eternal destruction!
II. How Do I Identify Them?
Now that we see the reason for watching out, Jesus goes on to explain how to watch out for false teachers. In verse 16 he says, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
If you plant carrots, but the plants grow up and don’t produce carrots. They aren’t carrot plants. If instead, they give you painful, itchy sores, they are poison ivy!
This is more than good gardening advice. You recognize false teachers by their works and by their words.
If the Christian teacher you are listening too isn’t teaching ‘Christian things’, then his teaching may be false. If the Christian teacher you are listening to is repeatedly doing non-Christian things in his worship service, then his teaching may be poison.
*If the Christian organization you have joined is doing non Christian things with it’s money…
* If the Christian book you are reading urges you to do non Christian things with your life…
* If the Christian camp you want to send your kid to teaches things that aren’t true to your kids…
Remember: A “good” tree cannot bear “bad” fruit.
III. How Common a Problem is It?
Perhaps you get that false teaching is a problem. But you aren’t convinced that it happens all the often. It seems awful, but…it could never happen to you. You won’t be hurt by false doctrine.
But listen to how common Jesus says it is: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 3 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers."
Look at verse 22 again. Suddenly, false teaching doesn’t sound so uncommon. According to verse 22, “Many…many" will pretend to be Jesus’ followers. Many will teach falsely. Many will believe falsely. Many will say they are Christians, that aren’t. Many will look like believers that aren’t. May will think they are doing the will of the Lord, but that very Lord won’t even know them.
So, Jesus is telling you watch out! False teaching is common. Especially in our hyper information world. It’s so easy to see something or hear something and think it’s good, simply because it has the name “Christian” on it.
Watch out! Watch out! Watch out! False teaching it’s everywhere!
IV. How Do I Combat It?
I don’t know about you, but when I’ve been awake long enough my eyes start to get tired. They sometimes, literally, start burning. Tired of watching.
Defending against false teaching sounds tiring. It’s such a big deal and so common that it seems impossible to defend against it!
Which can lead to what is probably the number 1 reason for not avoiding false teaching. Not “I don’t know enough about the Bible,” not, “They’re pretty tricky about it,” rather
Too much time? Can making sure that your soul isn’t being poisoned by false teaching which works to destroy faith that, if it is destroyed, could land you in everlasting hell really, ever take up TOO MUCH time?
I don’t think so.
Repent. Turn from the lethargic, "I don’t think false teaching is a big deal”-like attitude to the one in whom there is nothing false. Turn to the one who spoke the truth and is the Truth.
And the truth about the Truth is this: He loves you. He died for you. He rose from the dead. He says that those who trust in him will be forgiven. Forgiven for falling to false teaching. Forgiven for not taking false teaching seriously. Forgiven for not spending the time to defend against false teaching.
Brothers and sisters, this your truth too. Believe it. Turn to Jesus.
He isn’t a wolf at all. Rather he is the precious lamb of God—without blemish or defect. He died to save you. He doesn’t want to tear you apart. He wants to build you. He wants to make you new. He wants you to spend eternity with him in heaven.
Listen to what he says, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”
Brothers and sisters, stand on the rock. Stand on the words of Jesus. Stand on the true promises of his grace.
In other words: read the Bible
The more and more you read the Bible, the easier it will be to defend against false teachings. It will be easier to recognize them. It will be easier to guard against them. It will be easier to speak against them. It will be easier to teach your kids the truth!
This means investing time. More than once a month at church. Probably more than once a week too.
It means immerse yourself in Jesus. Weekly church attendance. Weekly Bible study attendance. Daily Bible reading. Read the Bible and you will stand on the Rock.
And when you’re on the rock, it’s a lot easier to watch out.
This is why lighthouses, and there are a lot of them in North Carolina, are built on rocky cliffs. They are higher up and allow people to look in the distance and watch.
On the rock that is God’s Word, you will see false prophets come. You will be able to defend against them. You will be able to avoid them.
And as you are watching for false prophets, one day you will see the true prophet, Jesus Christ coming into the world. He will return to take us away from the scary world of false teaching. He will, in truth, take you home to heaven to be with him –where there are no ferocious wolves—only the loving embrace of your heavenly Father.
So…keep looking. Keep watching.
He’s watching over you.
I joined Twitter this past week. A pastoral leadership magazine told me to. I joined, but I wasn’t quite sure how a pastor might use it, so I followed a few famous pastors to see how they were using it.
One pastor with over 10,000 followers tweets Bible passages. On Tuesday he tweeted, John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him…will have eternal life.”
That’s sounds nice, right?
Then, I read the responses:
“Only he didn’t stay dead. He came back to life. So he only played dead. Foolish much?”
“Humans live to their low 100s at best. Eternal life? That’s a bit of a stretch." #Atheist #Atheism
“Stop feeding your people junk.” (Only he didn’t use the word junk.)
It’s a battle out there. It’s a battle on the internet. A battle in the media. A battle in our own personal lives. A battle during life on this earth.
Unbelievers taunt. The world tempts. The devil causes doubts. The past haunts. Death creates fears.
Maybe it's starting to wear on you. You're only human. It's tiring to defend your faith. It's exhausting to fight temptation. It's energy zapping to live your faith in God in a godless world.
Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll examine the Battleground that 21st Century Christians live in and look to Scripture for guidance.
But before we go through our strategy, it is absolutely important to become familiar with who our leader is.
If we don’t trust him, we can’t trust his plan. We might start to think: “What’s the point!?! Why not join the world? Why not give up on religion? Why not give up on Sunday worship, turn off the SNOOZE and sleep in!?!”
This is why NFL teams don't hire little league soccer coaches and expect that they'll be experts.
It's why Fortune 500 companies don't hire assistant managers at Burger King.
It's why military Generals need a better resume than simply, "I won a game of Risk once."
We're talking about our spiritual leader. In a world, where the physical is heralded and the spiritual is despised, we need a good one.
A Christian has chosen to follow Jesus. But...what are his qualifications? How is he a better leader than Ghandi, Buddha, or Mohammed? Why should we put all of our faith in him and devoted our lives to following him?
I imagine that the disciples were asking the same questions.
Right before our text from Matthew 17 takes place, the local religious leaders had increased their pressure on this tiny group. They were constantly being challenged and carefully watched in hopes that a political case might be built against them. The end goal being that Jesus’ and his followers be stopped.
But it wasn’t just these human leaders that opposed them. There were dark spiritual forces that were engaged in this battle. Not that long ago, they had horrifically watched as demons possessed a man and vigorously opposed Jesus. It was downright frightening.
Through it all, there had been a calming force. Their leader, Jesus, was with them. He was powerful. He spoke with authority. He was protecting them. But that was about to change. Jesus had just explained to them, for the very first time, that he would go to Jerusalem, suffer, and die.
Do you suppose the disciples began to question themselves?
“Why are we following him again? This is getting less and less fun.”
“People have gone from being annoyed with me to hating me. I don’t like it. I know it would change, if I followed someone else.”
“Life isn’t as peaceful as it was back when I would simply spend the morning fishing.”
“He’s going to die. Will that put me in danger? I’m out!”
They came to a mountain. Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him up a hill. Perhaps they thought that on top of the hill they could have a heart to heart and get some answers. They needed to be reminded why they had followed Jesus in the first place. They needed to be told who he was.
Immediately, Jesus began to clue them in.
1.) Scripture tells us that his face began to shine. Literally, it says that it looked just like the sun.
Remember this is before the days of the flashlight and glow in the dark face paint. There isn’t any kind of trick going on here. In fact, verse 1 tells us that Jesus led Peter, James, and John…up the mountain by themselves.”
This means there weren’t any tricks going on. Jesus’ face was literally shining so brightly that the disciples would have needed to squint and shade their eyes. If they had a pair of Oakleys, they might have slipped them on.
This wasn’t normal. It was divine.
2.) Scripture also tells us Jesus clothing became as white as the light.
Again Jesus is not appearing in some hidden camera commercial for Jerusalem dry cleaning. This isn’t the point in history when Clorox bleach was invented. In fact, I don’t know that Oxyclean could do as good of a job making clothes that clean.
Sometimes there are those little brown stains that appear on socks or under shirts or even around the collar of a nice church shirt, that just don’t go away without some good scrubbing.
Jesus had been walking in the desert! Think he got some dirt on him? And yet now, without doing any wash at all, his clothes were as white as the light. Almost blinding with cleanliness.
This wasn’t normal. It was divine.
3.) Finally, Scripture describes in verse 3 that then there appeared before the disciples Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
Now this isn’t like heading to Lake Lynn and coming across your buddy from art class who is jogging around the lake with his bulldog.
Moses had been dead for around 1500 years. Elijah went up to heaven 900 years ago.
And this isn’t anybody dressed up as Moss or Elijah waiting to play a trick on the disciples. Remember: They went up to the mountain by themselves. Jesus was talking with the heavenly world.
This wasn’t normal. It was divine.
Which leads us to put the clues together just as if we were reading an Encyclopedia Brown book:
Who could cause human skin to break out in radiant light?
Who could cause fabric to glow a majestically clean color?
Who holds the heavenly realm and interacts with its residents on a daily basis?
WHO ELSE BUT GOD HIMSELF?
So let’s be clear. The disciples as they followed Jesus were not just following some guy with some nice ideas about how to change the world. They weren’t just entrusting their livelihood to a good politician. They weren’t just being spiritually cared for by a Seminarian . They weren’t just putting their lives in danger for a good friend.
They were following God himself!
Take a moment to consider what that means for you.
Either way consider: How do those who oppose Jesus compare? Scientists are just people. Bloggers are only humans. Atheistic politicians. They are just people too!
The Jesus you follow? He is the divine, world creating, spirit world controlling, all cleansing, totally pure and all powerful God of heaven and earth himself!
Looking at Jesus’ divinity, Peter was impressed. All the fears, worries, and anxieties of following Jesus simply faded into the background as he gazed at his Savior. In verse 4, “Peter said to Jesus, “Lord it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
Ever feel that way about church? It’s a sanctuary. A place away from all the negativity that comes with being Christian. An oasis where traditional values are still preached. A place where the pastor doesn’t try to present ‘scientific’ documentation that God doesn’t exist. A place where you aren’t persecuted for your belief in God. A place where Pastor's goal isn't to get you to renounce your Christian upbringing. A place where your sins aren’t used to judge you, ridicule you, call you a hypocrite, and get you into trouble.
A place where you are encouraged. Inspired. Forgiven.
A place where you gaze at God’s glory in peace.
Who wouldn’t we want to be in a place like that?! Certainly, church is an awesome thing. And Peter was right, It is good for us to be here! But as the story continues, God teaches us a valuable lesson.
Listen to what happens while Peter is still speaking those words, “A bright cloud enveloped them and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
Again. This is no joke! There isn’t anyone dumping dry ice into the air and moving it across the top of the mountain with a portable fan. This isn’t the set for a rap music video. This is the glory of the LORD! A cloud of brightness very similar to the pillar of cloud that guided the Israelites during the day for 40 years in the desert appears and envelopes them!
In that cloud, God the Father speaks, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Then, God gives instructions. "Listen to him!”
Think of what that meant for the disciples. “Listen to what he has told you. Know that he will die for the people. Listen to the truth that he will rise again." Then, listen to his directive to “Go and He must go to Jerusalem and die. There will be hardships. Then, you will continue to spread this message.”
Think about what that means to us. Jesus words to us are very similar: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (i.e. “Tell your neighbor about Jesus.” “Explain to your husband the reason you go to church.” “Invite your co workers to visit church with you.”)
In other words, God is telling us that we can’t stay on our spiritual mountain.
WE MUST GO INTO THE WORLD!
That can be scary. No one likes to be called a bigot, a fool, or a moron. No one likes to be threatened. No one likes to be hated.
It certainly scared the disciples. Instead of saluting the voice of God himself, the disciples do what humans do when they are faced with the divine Word of the Lord. “They fell facedown to the ground, terrified.”
Faced with two options – obeying God and suffering at the hands of men or agreeing with men and disobeying the Almighty God. They were frightened.
I’m guessing you’ve felt that same fear.
That’s why what Jesus does next is so important. He doesn't berate them for their fear. Look at verse 7. “Jesus came and touched them."
Note that this isn’t a divine slap of God’s wrath like the disciples deserved. It was gentle. It was loving.
That is how God works! When we are terrified from our sins, from persecution, from temptation, from fear, he reaches out to us. He really reaches. With both arms stretched out as far as he can. He touches us with his love. On the cross, the actions say, “I love you. You are forgiven. Trust in me – God himself crucified for you!”
If you have lived your life against him up to this point, know this: He gave his life for you. Through these words, I pray, God touches you. "Believe: I love you. You are forgiven. I, God himself, have been crucified for you!"
Then Jesus gives gentle encouragement to his disciples, “Get up!” This is the same gentle encouragement he gives to us. Get up. I have work for you to do. But I will be with you. I will hold you.
Again, we know this to be true, there are people all over North Raleigh that need to hear about God crucified for them. They are right in our neighborhood.
I know, we’ve grown as a congregation in the past months, but we cannot be satisfied to simply let our church work be nothing more than “gather on Sunday, make each other feel good, and then go hide in our homes until next Sunday.”
God has a directive for us! Get up. Let that directive speak to you. Get up! Gethsemane! Get up! Get off of the mountain. You have work to do!
If that work is daunting to you, listen to the divine directive of comfort from Jesus. “Don’t be afraid.”
Yes, I know it is scary outside these walls. There are people who disagree with us. People who ridicule us. People who openly mock and scorn us.
But none of these people are God. God is on your side. God is the one enlisting you. God is the one that will lead you into battle! You have no reason to fear.
Brothers and sisters, as we leave here today and go out into the world. As we enter the battleground. Remember who your leader is. Remember he is God himself! Then, listen to your marching orders:
Get up. Get off your mountain. Share Jesus.