Did you buy any good gifts this year?
I think that the best way to know what someone wants would be to hack into their Facebook feed. Here’s why – Facebook tracks the things that you do on their platform and (maybe you’ve noticed this) over the holiday season they send advertisements that are specifically tailored to what you.
So – in case you hadn’t gotten me anything yet – here’s a list of some gifts that Facebook thinks a pastor may like:
A mug (because Facebook knows I like coffee).
It says: “May suddenly start talking about theology” Because Facebook must know I’m a pastor.
Also, because I’m a pastor: A T-shirt that reads: “Pastor, because devil stomping ninja isn’t a real title.”
A Kevin Malone broccoli clock. Which is probably on there because I’m a big fan of the Office.
Socks with my face on them. I’m not sure what that says about me.
Tonight, I want to talk to you about the BEST gift ever…
A gift that just so happens to be for you.
Before we begin unwrapping it, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Giver
First, let’s examine who the giver is. Look in John 3:16,
“For GOD so loved the world that he gave…”
When you’re younger, isn’t it true that sometimes the excitement you have for a gift is based entirely on whose name is on the giving tag?
From Aunt Matilda, who always sends a box of chocolate covered peanut butter Bon-bons? Excited.
From Aunt Zelda, who always sends a box of quinoa covered carrot cakes? Less excited.
From Uncle Carl, who sends items from his world travels? Very excited.
From Uncle Merle, who always sends Werther’s caramel candies? Not so much.
From the grandma who always gets you all the Lego toys, and actions figures and video games you ever wanted? Jackpot!
From the grandma who always gets you money for your school trust fund? Not so much.
Who is this gift from?
It’s not an aunt.
It’s not an uncle.
It’s not any kind of measly, old human.
He holds up the planets.
He rotates the earth around the sun.
He has store house after store house filled with beautiful snowflakes – no two are alike!
He knows exactly what you truly, deeply want and need.
TRUTH: There is no better giver than GOD.
You can put anyone up against him.
Rich Uncle Joe.
Even Santa! Cause from what I hear – he’s a good toy maker.
But if you put him up against God?
Santa is pretty good at making toy blocks that you can use to build towers.
God? He put together the literal mountains out in Ashville.
Santa has perfected how to make a model train go by plugging it into electricity.
God has perfected how to make the coal that makes the real 18,000-ton trains go across country.
Santa, if he works hard enough on it, he can produce a lifelike baby doll.
God? He knits together real babies and gives them real life.
This gift is from God, so you already know It’s the best gift ever!
II. The Recipient
Right next to the giver’s name on a gift tag is usually the recipient’s name. It’s no different with God’s BEST EVER gift.
For God so loved THE WORLD that he gave…
Did you catch that?
Do you see the recipient?
It’s a quite unique name tag.
God is giving his gift to the world.
TRUTH: God gave to the ENTIRE WORLD.
Did you know that there are currently an estimated 7.7 billion people in the world today?
From Raleigh to Durham.
From the U.S. to Mexico.
From North America to South America.
From Ethiopia to Sweden.
From Russia to China.
From Iraq to Iran.
Even to the scientists down in Antarctica!
God got a gift for the whole world!
Can you imagine doing shopping for that many people?
I don’t want to even guess what Amazon would charge for shipping.
But at the same time this gift is for the whole world, you need to pay special attention.
Because it isn’t just talking about all the people on the other side of the world.
It isn’t just talking about all the other people in Raleigh.
it isn’t just talking about all the other people in this church right now.
This gift is given FOR YOU.
Because while God’s big enough to make a gift for the whole world.
He’s knows you intimately enough to tailor his gift for you.
Especially for you.
Specifically, for you.
Uniquely for you.
This isn’t like a plate of cookies that is given to your whole family. It’s OK. It’s good. But you don’t get all of it.
You must share.
You must give some to your sister.
And she gets to keep the green sprinkled Christmas tree that you wanted!
But not this gift.
It’s a gift that is fully and completely for the world.
At the same time, it’s a gift that’s fully and completely for you.
Only God can do that.
And he did.
It’s his gift.
III. The Why
But hold on one more time…
We’ll have a better appreciation for the gift if we understand the WHY behind the gift.
Why did God get us a gift? Check out John 3:16 again:
For God so loved the world that he gave…
Did you catch that?
God gave because he SO LOVED.
Notice. This is much different than human reasoning for gifts:
“I bought you this new type of coffee, because I know you love coffee.”
“I got you this beautiful ornament, because it reminds me how beautiful you are.”
“I got you a new toothbrush, because…you need to brush your teeth.”
“I got you this five-dollar gift card, because the office Christmas party gift exchange said that I have to.”
God gave because he loved.
Yet… you might get a gift from someone that says, “Because I love you.”
That’s why we need to examine the word even more closely.
Because the word for love here is agape.
It means, “Unconditional.”
And we’ve got to understand that love is UNCONDITIONAL.
That’s good news. Because if someone has been a jerk to you throughout the year, how much do you want to get them a present?
Quick question – how many of you are getting lovely Christmas gifts for someone that has been awful to you?
I’m guessing – not many.
Here’s the truth – We’ve been awful to God.
All he asked this past year is that we follow him.
That we love others.
That we stop being selfish.
That we stop being jerks.
That we worship him.
That we pray to him.
That we spend time with him.
How well did you do with that?
God GAVE because he LOVED UNCONDITIONALLY.
Doesn’t matter if you’ve lied.
Doesn’t matter if you’ve stolen.
Doesn’t matter if you’ve lost friends.
Doesn’t matter if your marriage is ruined.
Doesn’t matter if you yelled at your kids.
Doesn’t matter if you’ve struggled with addiction.
Doesn’t matter if you’ve been in prison.
God’s gift is for you, because God loved you.
And God loves you.
Are you excited to check out the gift?
IV. The GIFT
To find out the gift, we need to go backwards…
About 2000 years ago…
A virgin became pregnant.
Then, she travelled.
To a town.
A small town.
A town called Bethlehem.
Across the desert.
Across hundreds of miles.
While she as 8 months pregnant…
Only to find there was no room.
Not in the Days Inn.
Not in the Holiday Inn.
Not even in the Motel Six.
“I don’t have a room. But I do have a stable.”
And into the stable…
And they hold their noses from the animal’s smells.
And cover their ears from the animal noises.
And Mary sets herself up on some hay.
And she sweats.
And she groans.
“While they were there the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a Son, she wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger...” (Luke 2:6)
Was God’s gift.
TRUTH: God’s gift is a baby.
And you might think: A baby? That’s God’s gift for me.
I’ve had my fill of babies.
I’m not fit to be a daddy.
How can I take care of a baby, if I’m not even old enough to take care of myself?
But look deeper:
Because there in the manger.
Wrapped up in hay.
Wrapped up in swaddling clothes.
Wrapped up in flesh.
Is something more…
For God so loved the world that he gave HIS ONE AND ONLY Son…
Notice the phrase there.
One and only Son.
Because, in one sense, we’re all God’s children.
He created all of us.
He gave each of us life.
God doesn’t have just one child.
The word for Son here.
References one who is begotten.
Some translations even clarify that…
Only BEGOTTEN son.
Just like humans birth humans.
And reindeer birth reindeer.
And elves birth elves.
God births God.
Do you get it?
This is God’s Son.
And since God begets God.
This is God himself!
TRUTH: God’s gift is Himself!
God knew your sin.
God knew your struggles.
God knew your failures.
God knew your pain.
God send Jesus to do something about it.
And when that baby grew up?
He’d live perfectly.
He’d die innocently.
He’d rise triumphantly for the forgiveness of all your sins.
Such that John 3:16 remains true:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that WHOEVER believes in him will not perish but have ETERNAL LIFE.
Do you see why this is the greatest gift ever?
Because in Jesus, we have eternal life.
Because there’s nothing that will ruin any gift more than death.
Like my grandma Jan.
She was one of the best gift givers in my family.
She always knew what I wanted.
Always got me the toy that I wanted.
Stood in line for hours at Toys ‘R Us.
Stayed up late making sure to get the best Christmas goodies ready for our visit.
…There aren’t any packages in the mail from her this year.
There won’t be any goodies.
There won’t be any visit.
God gave Grandma the gift of a Savior.
Grandma believed God.
Grandma now enjoys the gift of eternal life.
That same gift is wrapped up in Jesus for you. Amen.
If I were to ask you to sum up your life in a word or phrase…especially this time of year… I’m going to just hazard a guess that “peaceful” was not the word that came to mind. “Hectic” perhaps. “Controlled chaos” maybe. Or perhaps it’s a little darker. “Oppressive”, “Grim”, “Painful”.
But peaceful? No, no not really.
And yet, why not? How often do we say the word “peace” in our readings, our songs, our liturgies? Isn’t peace one of the most prolific gifts that God brings us? Why do we so often seem to utter lack this promised blessing?
If you’re not feeling the peace this holiday season, then perhaps Advent is exactly what you need.
Let me just unpack that for a minute for the uninitiated. The seasons of our church year revolve around the life of Jesus. His birth, life, death, resurrection, and spread of his church thereafter. We just wrapped up the season of End Times and we’re starting the church year anew with Advent today. Advent is a neat little wrapper of the church year because it overlaps both ends. It focuses on the coming of Jesus. It’s at the same time a look back to anticipate celebrating the first coming of Jesus at Christmas, and a look ahead to celebrate the time when Jesus will come again to end this world.
So, Advent is all about God coming here. Whichever way you look at it. God coming to be with us. That should help bring some peace, right?
Should I be happy that God is coming here? Any one of us could spend all day listing examples of ways we don’t put God first, don’t trust him first, and basically don’t make him our God. Every day is littered with the choices I make, deliberately, to not have God as my true god. I break God’s commands. I sin. And God is literally at war with sin. St Paul tells us elsewhere the sinful mind is hostile to God. Our default state is to be enemies of God. And what a dumb thing to do! Yes, let’s pick a fight with the ruler of the universe, that will end well. If he’s coming here, that is not something to look forward to so much, it’s more on the end of terrifying. Maybe it’s no wonder I can’t find any peace in my life.
But let’s not forget the double meaning of Advent. It’s not just about Jesus coming again, it’s about his first coming as well. I think we’re all pretty familiar with the holiday “Christmas”. But look past the trees and lights and presents and cookies and parties and remember the manger. God came to this earth before and he didn’t come to terrify us or judge us then. He came to restore peace between God and his creation.
Our sin is a debt we owe God. Our lives are not the perfect lives that God demands of us. But Jesus is our payment. Jesus is our perfect life. And all this before anything we do. Which is good… cause we would mess it up! Paul writes here:
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
While we were enemies, while we fought God, while we had nothing to offer and wanted nothing to do with him…God lived and died for us. Jesus, God, came here and died as one of us so that your sins could be paid for, so that his perfect life could be counted as yours and he sent the Holy Spirit to you to change your heart, teach you this truth, and make you someone who loves God as much as he loves you. Because of his work, we are not enemies of God anymore. God looks at you and sees someone who always did what he asked, always loved him, and did everything right. There’s no reason to fight.
God loves you. And because he loves you so much, he literally took your place so he wouldn’t have to punish you. He lived, died, and rose for you. As Paul says here:
[Jesus] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…
The God who rules over this world is not your enemy anymore. He is your loving Father. Imagine all that power, wisdom, and goodwill all applied for your benefit. Not only does the all-powerful God of creation no longer consider you an enemy, but he actively is interested in your well-being and when this life ends he will come to take you to paradise. What greater peace is there to know that whatever happens to you, you have God behind it all helping you out?
When God comes here to judge the world, we don’t have to look at that with fear but rather we can look up and say, “finally!” We can set down our hard labor and rest with our God forever. Yes, he’s coming to judge, but because of Jesus, the judgment is going to be, “Not guilty!” And God will say, “Come home. Be with me. I’ll care for you forever. No suffering, pain, or trouble ever again.” And we will live in perfect peace and harmony with God forever.
That’s really good news. The peace between you and God brings a profound internal peace to our lives, come what may. But there is still a problem. See, I doubt I said anything new to most of you. These are all things you know. And yet when I asked the question of you at the start, again, I’d guess “peaceful” is not how you would describe yourself. Maybe now, being reminded of it all, you’re feeling the peace. Maybe you’re feeling relaxed and ready to go back out and face life, knowing God is on your side now and for eternity.
But…how long do you suppose that feeling is going to last you this week? How long until you hit the first roadblock, problem, tough choice, impossible to-do list, bad news, or whatever it is that steals this peace away from you? Maybe all the current troubles you’ve got right now are keeping you from even feeling at peace right here and now!
Why? Why does that happen? God has called a truce! And we didn’t do anything to make it happen, he did all the work! He lived, died, and rose before we even wanted anything to do with him. Why… are we still not at peace?
Well…engage with me in a little bit of logical deduction with me, if you will. God is… God. He’s perfect. He’s perfectly wise, perfectly loving, and all-powerful. He does everything he does without mistake. So, if that’s who has worked this peace between us and him… and we’re still not feeling the peace…
Well, it’s not a huge logical leap to guess where the problem is. It’s not with God.
It’s because even though God has done everything that he has for you and declared peace between you both… you are still fighting him.
Either we’re fighting him through our active choices or we’re fighting him because we won’t accept his will in our lives. Both rob us of peace that we should have in him. Not that this life will ever be smooth sailing, nor should it be, but we can be at peace because of the peace we have with our God and what that means for everything else.
So how do we fight God? We fight him whenever we refuse to do what he commands. God is our good Father. He does not impose his will arbitrarily. Like a good parent, he only commands his children whatever is best for them! How many of you remember the times you didn’t listen to your parents because they told you to do something you didn’t want to do or didn’t understand why you should? I do…and one whole bag of Oreos later, I did understand why that was a bad idea.
Don’t touch the stove. Don’t run into the street. Don’t play with the outlet. We don’t tell children these things to stop them having fun, we say these things to protect them.
Every single one of God’s commands is designed to protect you. And when we ignore him, when we defy him, or even worse, when we don’t even bother to learn or study his rules… we hurt ourselves. We suffer unnecessarily. It’s fighting God after he’s declared peace and it only hurts ourselves. So, take the time to study his will, study his word and learn what he wants from you so you can live that will in your lives. The more we listen to our Father and stay at peace with him, the more trouble we will avoid, and the more we stay at peace.
But that still does not guarantee a trouble-free life. God actually promises us trouble. That’s a good thing. Remember last week how we talked about the lukewarm church that had it too easy? Too many creature comforts? They forgot how much they needed God. They forgot the point of this life was to look forward to the next. We need God to send us trouble so we don’t forget we need him. Paul tells us here for that very reason we glory in our suffering.
When trouble finds us, do we let it shatter our peace? Do we even try to blame God? The correct, eternal, godly perspective can help us stay at peace no matter what happens to us here. But we fight God when we live only to be satisfied now instead of living for him forever. God keeps us from getting too comfortable so we don’t forget.
When suffering comes, don’t fight God over it. Instead, say “Thank you, Father.”
When a job is lost, say, “Thank you, Father, for reminding me you are the one who provides all I have.”
When an illness is diagnosed, say, “Thank you, Father, for reminding me that my life, my strength, and all my abilities are in your hands.”
When we lose things or people leave us, say, “Thank you, Father, for reminding me that you are all I truly need to be content.”
And when death comes for you or your loved ones, say, “Thank you, Father, for reminding me I don’t belong here, that what is waiting for me is so much better, I have no reason to cling desperately to this life, I can let go in peace knowing you have me.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you can’t use your abilities and gifts to correct trouble or alleviate pain. But there’s no reason the trouble needs to steal our peace at all. And if we can’t fix the trouble, whatever it is, we are still at peace with God.
There will be trouble. But we can be at peace with God through the troubles. He allows the troubles to help you. Don’t fight him. Let the troubles bring you closer to him.
In all these things it is the strength of God and not our own strength that lets us keep this attitude. He promises to give you the power you need to carry out his will in this life and stay at peace with him. He promises to give you this power through the Holy Spirit working in study of his word. Read and study his word to stay in his power and keep the peace with him. And for the times we fail, which will not stop happening here, there is always the forgiveness of Jesus to bring us back to peace.
Brothers and Sisters, through Jesus you have peace with God. He has given you a new life in him. You are forgiven and perfect in his eyes. God has established the peace. And through his Word he provides the power of the Holy Spirit to you so that you can keep the peace on your end. Even this is his power working through you.
Stay in and study God’s Word and God’s will for you. By the power of his spirit, don’t fight him anymore. Look to him for everything good now and forever, and know the peace that he has established.
Last week we started our summer sermon series called ACTS: The Early Church Initiative by reviewing the first fourteen chapters of the book of Acts. In it, we learned that a priority for the Early Church was to place the GOSPEL above all else…because in the Gospel, Jesus placed YOU above all else.
Today we are picking up where we left off last year. Which was action packed. Last year we heard about:
Fire appearing on the disciples’ heads.
A paralytic healed.
A Jesus-hater blinded.
A sorcerer converted.
Thousands baptized into Jesus’ name.
And as exciting as those things were, today we’re going to dive into something just as exciting.
Something just as thrilling.
Today we are going to hear about a marvelous, amazing, incredible, action packed…Meeting.
As we go through the events leading up to the first Church Council meeting, pay attention – you’ll see theme of Gospel above all else – running throughout the discussions. Our goal is to learn from that. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Problem
The account is from Acts 15 which begins right at the end of Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey. A journey that was successful. They had brought the message of the Gospel to people living in different countries who had never heard of Jesus.
And when they returned to their home congregation in Antioch Syria – the congregation that sponsored the mission trip – they shared their success!
About Cyprus where the Gospel overpowered the lies of a Satanist.
About Pisidian Antioch where they preached on the streets in front of thousands of people.
About being chased out of the city, mistaken for God, and narrowly avoiding attempted murder.
And about how through it all the Gospel was preached, and hundreds of souls came to faith in the saving message of Jesus.
And the congregation was thrilled.
As the night was winding down, Paul noticed a sign that had been affixed to the congregation’s 1st century version of a bulletin board: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” (15:1)
He went and got Barnabas.
Can you believe what they’re teaching?
This is the church that had convinced me it was by God’s grace apart from any Jewish custom that we’re saved.
A church sponsored OUR mission trip in which we were told to teach - people were saved by God’s grace apart from anything else.
A mission trip on which we taught that people were saved by Jesus apart from anything, anything, anything else.
Over the next couple days, there were heated discussions:
Paul and Barnabas said the Gospel was all about Grace.
The opposing leaders argued that it was about God’s grace…and following Old Testament Jewish Law.
A good portion of the people sat back and nodded in agreement with whomever made the last point.
Finally, they decided to send this question to the leadership of the Christian movement.
“Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.” (v.3)
Because the Apostles were the original twelve, they were the men who had followed Jesus.
Who had been taught by Jesus.
Who had been EYEWITNESESS of the Risen Lord Jesus.
Who had been commission by Jesus to preach the Gospel.
On whom the Holy Spirit had come in a hurricane like sounded, landed on their heads in tongues of fire and taught them languages they never learned.
If anyone knew what the Gospel was really about -- it was them.
II. The Very First Council Meeting
So, the group set off from Syria and headed south to Jerusalem.
As they went, they stopped at other churches where Paul and Barnabas told of the incredible works of God.
About the Gospel overpowering the lies of a Satanist.
About preaching in the streets in front of thousands of people.
About being chased out of the city, mistaken for God, and narrowly avoiding attempted murder.
And about how through it all, the Gospel was preached, and hundreds of souls came to faith in the saving message of Jesus.
And how all the churches were thrilled!
They were excited.
They were excited with how the saving message of Jesus had made its way even to non-Jewish people.
And the excitement continued in Jerusalem.
The Apostles welcomed them.
They hugged them.
They sat down and listened to Paul and Barnabas talk all about their journeys.
They got teary-eyed.
They were ready to sing “Praise God from whom All Blessings Flow” when…
Some…stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” (v.5)
Because in the Old Testament, God required obedience!
Don’t believe me? Read Leviticus. Read Numbers.
They had to be circumcised.
They had to cover their heads.
They had to wear prayer shawls.
And that’s our tradition.
A tradition added to by great men.
A tradition passed down by great men.
Traditions not to eat pork.
Traditions not to eat shellfish.
Traditions not to join in fellowship with anyone who doesn’t follow these traditions.
We’re supposed to drop them?
Centuries of Traditions, gone?
For the sake of some “Dirty Gentiles?”
I don’t think so.
At this Peter stood up.
Peter, the leader of the Apostles….
Peter who had preached a phenomenal sermon on Pentecost:
“Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the Gospel…”(v.7)
Do you remember that?
I was up on the roof doing some meditation when I went into a trance.
In that trance, God gave me a vision of a sheet filled with all kinds of animals.
Animals that we TRADITIONALLY don’t eat.
Food like pork chops, bacon, and oysters on the half shell.
And I said to God, “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
And God said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (vs. 14-15)
And then God repeated this sequence two more times.
And right at the end of it, when I was wondering what it all meant, three men sent by Cornelius, a Roman, stopped at the gate of my house. The Holy Spirit said to me, “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” (vs. 19-20)
I went down to answer. The men were sent here by his master, Cornelius, who had a vision from God – about me being in that house.
Wouldn’t I come to tell about Jesus?
Because that’s was the point of the vision.
God’s message wasn’t just for Jews anymore.
It was a message of Grace for Gentiles…
But you don’t’ have to take my word for it!
Because when I was there and when I preached the message of the Gospel.
The people believed…Something that only happens by the Holy Spirit.
And they began speaking in tongues – a miracle that happens only by the Holy Spirit.
A miracle as proof that this was real faith given by the Holy Spirit.
Guess what!?! That happened in a home that didn’t have any Jewish traditions.
They weren’t circumcised.
They weren’t wearing prayers shawls.
“God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.” (v.8-9)
“Now then, why do you try to test God?” (vs. 10)
Because you might think that you’re testing the Gentiles.
You might think that you’re testing their faith to see if it’s real and if they’re willing to become followers of Jesus.
You’re testing God.
You’re telling him:
“Hey God, I know you said that it’s by grace through faith in Jesus that we’re saved, but…I’m gonna preach the opposite. I want to test how long it takes for you to strike me down with a lightning bolt for teaching the opposite of you.”
Because…think about it!
You’re putting yokes on the necks of these Gentiles.
A yoke just like you put on your donkey.
Something that makes general movement in life much more difficult.
You’re putting yokes on their necks by demanding that they keep all these Old Testament Traditions…
When you couldn’t even keep them yourself.
Avram, look at that prayer shawl. That’s not regulation length.
And Jeremiah, I saw you last Sabbath. That walk was lots longer than the allotted 3000 steps according to our tradition.
And Ezekiel…I’ve got a guy over there who told me that he saw you eating a BLT last week.
And don’t even get me started on the lies, the greed, the lust, the moral failures of each and everyone of you.
Brothers, for centuries, we were under the yoke of a law that we could not keep.
The message of Jesus freed us from that yoke.
Why put that yoke on someone else?
Why not lift that yoke?
We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are. (v.7)
Until eventually, Paul and Barnabas took the opportunity to tell all about what happened on their missionary journey.
About the Gospel overpowering the lies of a Satanist.
About preaching in the streets in front of thousands of people.
About being chased out of the city, mistaken for God, and narrowly avoiding attempted murder.
And about how through it all, the Gospel was preached, and hundreds of souls came to faith in the saving message of Jesus.
When they were done…
James stood up.
James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem.
James, a Jew through and through.
We’ve heard from Peter.
We’ve heard from Paul.
We’ve heard from Barnabas.
But perhaps we need to hear from one more witness.
A witness that’s Jewish.
A witness that’s traditional.
A witness that cannot tell a lie.
The Old Testament Jewish Scriptures:
Amos 9:11-12 says:
“After this I will…rebuild David’s fallen tent.
…17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name.” (Acts 15:16-17)
Grace is grace.
We can’t force them to be Jewish and we don’t need to. And we don’t need to keep these traditions because Jesus fulfilled them all with His perfect life, death and resurrection. God doesn’t require sacrifices anymore!
It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. (Acts 15:19)
Brothers and sisters,
This is the truth.
Grace is grace.
It’s a truth that was discussed in Jerusalem.
By the Apostles of Jesus himself.
They came to a conclusion.
It hasn’t been overruled.
It hasn’t been overturned.
Grace is grace.
It isn’t worked for.
It isn’t earned.
It isn’t given in response to following Old Testament customs.
It isn’t given in response to following human customs.
It’s all about Jesus.
He lived perfectly when you couldn’t.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins.
Forgiveness is yours.
By God’s grace.
III. WHAT NOW?
Therefore, we follow the advice of James, the leader in Jerusalem. Don’t make Grace difficult.
1) For Yourself
How good are you at puzzles?
I can usually handle them if they are 20 pieces or less.
I’m really good if they have an outline for each shape.
I’m especially good at the puzzles for 4 years old and younger.
But I have a friend who is so good at puzzles, do you know what he does?
He flips the puzzles upside down.
He does them cardboard side facing up.
He wants to make it more difficult…
Sometimes I think we do the same thing with grace.
We add in the qualification of “perfection.”
We need to be the perfect mom.
We need to be a stellar dad.
We need to be the best teacher, an incredible provider and the best keeper of Christian customs ever.
We tell ourselves that in order to receive grace we need to follow God’s Laws perfectly.
just to be sure…
…we add in some of our own human customs and laws just to make it really difficult.
Grace is grace.
And because of God’s grace in Jesus, you are forgiven.
Jesus said this, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)
He said that because by grace salvation is yours.
By grace, you don’t have to earn God’s love.
By grace, you already have it.
2) For Others
I was at pastor’s conference this past week. And I was talking to a pastor who was telling me about something that happened to him recently. He had a gentleman join his worship service whom he had been trying to get to come for a long time.
A friend who wasn’t a part of a church.
Who didn’t actively worship and hadn’t known much about Jesus.
As he finally attended worship, the man was moved by the Gospel.
He was emotional as he listened.
He even shouted: “Amen,” at the end of the sermon.
Afterwards, the pastor was excited, and he went to talk to a member of his to share his excitement.
And he said, “Wasn’t it awesome having him join us?”
And the person he told this to simply rolled their eyes and said, “You better talk to him and tell him that we don’t shout AMEN around here. Especially if he plans on coming back.”
Friends, don’t make grace difficult for others.
Don’t add to God’s grace.
Don’t require human things.
Let grace be grace.
Grace for you.
Grace for the people you talk to.
As unyoked children of God, be in the business of unyoking those with heavy burdens to bear.
Because…the Gospel teaches that God placed YOU above all else.
And we, as an extension of the early church, need to place the Gospel above all else.
Looking for a job can be difficult.
Searching for jobs online.
Filing out applications.
Phoning, emailing, texting to check on those applications.
And the interview!
You rent a suit coat.
You part your hair ever so particularly.
You practice saying: “I’m not in it for the money, but because of the sheer joy I get from filling out spreadsheets and alphabetically filing documentation.”
As challenging as finding a job can be…
It gets exponentially more difficult if you have something on your record.
A terrible credit report.
A job history with a few firings.
Even an incriminating Facebook photo or post that you forgot to delete.
Past mistakes can make it difficult to find work in the now…
But what about God’s kingdom?
What if you have mistakes in your past?
Surely – if humans wouldn’t hire you – God, who is perfect, wouldn’t want you to work in his kingdom either…right?
Today’s EYEWITNESS account is about a guy named Peter, who had made some rather big blunders while working in God’s kingdom. We want to learn (1) what his failures were (2) how they affected his role in God’s kingdom and (3) what that means for our roles in kingdom work. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Peter’s Story
We are continuing where we left off last week. If you remember, Jesus had appeared to his disciples on the Sea of Galilee. When he appeared, he told them to toss their nets into the lake and – immediately – the net is full of fish. Amazing – because Jesus was 100 yards away on shore and the disciples had been out all night without catching anything.
But that wasn’t it – as the disciples row the boat to shore, Jesus already has fish sandwiches cooking over the fire for them to eat. It’d be similar to someone gifting you a $100 Starbucks gift card and then, when they invite you to Starbucks – they pay for the coffee for you.
Jesus did the same. He provided abundantly.
He provides abundantly.
And I’ll bet the disciples were loving this interaction.
Because Jesus was back!
He conquered death!
He was alive!
He was just as powerful as ever!
And he was with them.
This was great news --- for most of them.
While Peter was happy to see Jesus alive, it also reminded him of the last conversation that they shared.
It had been back before Jesus died.
Back before Jesus was arrested.
They had been sitting down for a meal and Jesus had said, “I tell you the truth. You will all fall away on account on me.” (Matthew 26:31)
And Peter heard it.
And believed most of it.
“Even if all fall away on account of you, Jesus, I never will.” (Matthew 26:33)
I mean…I’m Peter!
Jesus gave me that name.
It means “Rock.”
I am Peter and…I will not fall!
Turned to Peter.
Looked him straight in the eye.
And said this:
“Truly I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me – three times.” (v.34)
Peter would never forget those exact words.
Before that night was over a group of soldiers had come to arrest Jesus.
Swords, clubs, and spears – Peter was frightened like the rest of the disciples and ran away.
Then, sure, he regained his senses and made it into the courtyard where they were holding the illegal late-night trial of Jesus.
Only to deny knowing him.
But three times.
And then? The rooster crowed.
The one Jesus had predicted would crow - it crowed!
Peter hated roosters now.
Because now they were a reminder of how he had sinned.
A reminder of how he had failed…
A reminder of how he had fallen…
A reminder of his guilt.
Guilt is always tricky. It can easily burden a soul.
But Peter’s guilt was especially difficult for a trifecta of reasons that are especially hard to get over. For a few reasons:
He didn’t deny Jesus one time. He didn’t deny Jesus two times. He denied him three times in one evening. (Although during that third time it says that he called down curses upon himself, so even thought it was one “time period” perhaps it was a bunch of times within that time period).
Repeated guilt is hard.
We were given a good deal on a Prius a while back. Great car. Great gas mileage. Fun to drive.
But it’s extremely low to the ground. The bumper is about 2 inches from the street. So, when you come down our driveway which is on a decent incline…if you don’t turn the wheels at a specific angle to the right and back out at that exact angle – the front bumper scrapes.
Do you know how many times I’ve gotten that wrong? (I’m especially guilty of it every morning when I haven’t had my coffee yet) I keep messing up and I keep feeling guilty about it. In fact, the front bumper is cracked in all kinds of places. And it now serves as a 21st century, sheen black version of a rooster. Every time I look at it, I’m reminded of my failures!
Repeated guilt is hard.
Repeatedly drinking too much.
Repeatedly losing your temper.
Repeatedly looking at porn.
Repeatedly lying to your spouse.
Repeatedly being jerk at work.
Repeatedly being a bully to your family.
Repeated guilt is hard because there’s no excuse.
The devil comes along and says,
You know better!
But you did it anyway.
This is unforgivable.
Because Peter was a leader. He was a disciple; more than that – an apostle. There were only twelve of those hand selected and chosen by Jesus. And of those twelve disciples – Peter was definitely a leader among them: He had the privilege of walking on water. He saw Jesus heal a dead girl when many of them didn’t. He was chosen along with only two others to see Jesus go up on a mountain and reveal his heavenly brilliance. Peter was a leader.
And then he fell.
And when leaders fall…
They quickly become leaders in holding onto guilt.
Maybe you know.
Whether you’re a leader in your family.
Or a leader here at church.
Or a leader among your friends.
Or a teacher of kids.
Or even…you’re the only one at work who is Christian – making you a spiritual leader by default – and then you sin…?
How’s that feel?
The devil comes along and whispers:
“You’re a leader…and you did that?”
“I’m not sure you’re a leader anymore…”
“…I’m not even sure you’re a part of his kingdom.”
Because by the time Peter gets to the third denial, there’s a crowd of people gathered around him:
A crowd of people watch him as he shakes his head vigorously.
A crowd of people listening as cusses out Jesus.
A crowd of people taking mental note of his sin.
I wonder how many of those people Peter saw again.
I wonder how that went?
Public guilt is hard.
There’s this thing I receive every Monday called a Call Report. “Call” is a reference to the special “calling” that a ministry worker has to their particularly congregation. The “call report” details any changes in those ministry positions. It’ll say: “Pastor So-and-So retired.” “Pastor what’s-his-face is switching congregations.” And even “Pastor who’s-his-name has decided to remain at his current congregation.”
But every once in a while, it says this:
“Pastor removed for cause.”
To me, it’s a terrifying expression. It means “removed for doing some gross outward sin.” It’s a phrase that no pastor ever wants said about them. It’s terrifying among our pastor circles, because it is a phrase that screams: “Failure.”
And everyone now knows you as…
Not as a brother.
Not as a pastor.
Not even as your first name…
But as “Pastor, Removed for Cause.”
But as a non-pastor you can feel the same thing.
You might have a sin that your family knows about.
That your coworkers know about.
That your friends saw you do.
And now every moment you spend around them is spent like Peter:
Did they see me sin?
Do they know about my guilt?
Do they think of me as SINNER?
Like you’ve got a big old black marker on your forehead everywhere you go that says: “INSERT SIN HERE.”
Public sin is hard.
Any one of these three types of guilt are challenging on their own! If you’re dealing with any of these, they can overload you. Burden you. Suffocate you.
Peter had to deal with all three all at once. That’s an extreme amount of guilt.
And it needs an extreme amount of restoration.
II. Peter’s Restoration
Peter finished up his breakfast.
Another meal done.
Another visitation from Jesus without having to talk about the sinful things that I did.
If I just keep a low profile, stay quiet, and avoid eye contact, I should be able to avoid him altogether.
Peter turned around to find Jesus standing right in front of him.
Face to face.
Eye to eye.
Heart to heart.
“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
At this point, the conversation seemed a bit too familiar.
Three times? Really?
It reminded him of those three times that he denied Jesus.
Peter said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. (Jn. 21:15-17)
He doesn’t ream Peter out.
He doesn’t kick Peter out.
He doesn’t even respond to Peter’s claims of loving him with: “Umm…No, you didn’t. Remember?”
Jesus doesn’t bring guilt.
He brings restoration.
Restoration to God’s kingdom comes out of Jesus' work.
It didn’t come out of Peter earning it. Peter hadn’t done anything to make up for what he did.
But Jesus did do something.
Jesus did everything.
He lived perfectly when Peter could not.
He died innocently in his place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of Peter’s sin.
The same is true with you.
If you’ve sinned against God.
If you have repeated guilt.
If you have public guilt.
If you have leader guilt.
Jesus doesn’t make you do something to make up for it.
Jesus did everything for you.
He lived perfectly when you could not.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sin.
Remember earlier – when we talked about having a criminal record and how hard it is to find work with that record. One thing that you can do is you can get your record exponged.
It takes a lot of money.
A lot of time with lawyers. '
A lot of paperwork and a lot of pleading with a judge...
But it is sometimes possible to get it expunged, erased and cleared.
Understand this – Jesus has expunged your record.
He did all the work.
He paid for it completely.
Your guilt is expunged, erased, cleared.
In short – listen to Jesus’ message to you right now:
You are restored to my kingdom.
You are guilt free.
You are forgiven…and…You have work to do.
Restoration to God’s kingdom means Restoration to Kingdom Work.
That’s a bit unexpected. Because the devil would love to have you think:
“OK, fine. You are a part of his kingdom, but…Stay in the back. Go into the corner. Hide. Because you are not worthy of being on the front lines.”
But that’s not what Jesus says.
In Peter’s restoration, He goes straight to telling him to work for his kingdom.
He gives him a job.
He restores him not only to his kingdom, but to work in his kingdom.
And God has done the same for you.
He restored you to his kingdom.
He has restored you to kingdom work.
III. Kingdom Work
And what does that kingdom work look like? You get an idea in Jesus’ instruction to Peter.
Feed His Sheep.
Jesus says that is what true love for him is:
Feed my lambs. (v.15)
Take care of my sheep. (v.16)
Feed my Sheep. (v.17)
Does he own a farm I’ve never heard of?
Did he develop some petting zoo?
Does Jesus have a little lamb whose fleece was white as snow?
When Jesus talks about his lambs and his sheep, he’s talking about his people.
When Jesus talks about feeding those lambs and sheep, he’s talking about sharing the message of reconciliation with others.
You know the same message that gives you hope and comfort…
Give it to others!
Love for Jesus means sharing his message.
Telling your neighbor about Jesus.
Spreading the Gospel to your coworkers.
Sharing forgiveness with a church friend.
Teaching the little children about their Savior.
Inviting the community of North Raleigh to hear of God’s love.
He’s talking about our very mission:
To plant the Message of Jesus in the heart of north Raleigh.
When you are sharing the message of forgiveness, you are caring for sheep.
You’re leading someone to streams of living water.
You’re giving them some of God’s forgiveness.
You’re feeding them a steady diet of “Jesus died for you. Believe in him. You are forgiven.”
Here’s the challenge. The devil will love to convince that we aren’t worthy of sharing the message.
He’ll say that you aren’t qualified for that kind of work.
He’ll say that you are a failure.
He’ll say that you should leave that to others who aren’t as much of a failure.
But here’s the thing about feeding sheep.
It doesn’t matter if the farmer puts the food in the bucket.
It doesn’t matter if the farm hand puts the food into the bucket.
It doesn’t matter some disenfranchised, former farm hand puts the food into the bucket.
The sheep eat the food.
The food nourishes the sheep.
The sheep get the health benefits of the food -- no matter the moral background of the one who put the food into the buckets.
It’s the same with kingdom work.
The power is in the Word.
And those who are a part of kingdom are qualified to work with it.
And you…are an important part of his kingdom work.
Feed his lambs.
Take care of his sheep.
Feed them with the Gospel of Jesus.
Over this sermon series, we’ve talked a lot about Fighting Temptation. But…How confident do you feel that you can fight temptation and win?
Today we’re going to study God’s Word and my goal is to teach you why you have every reason in the world to Fight Temptation confidently. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Reasons for Lacking Confidence
The lesson for this morning comes from Isaiah. He was a prophet who lived around 640 B.C. Mainly he preached warnings about what would happen to the Israelites if they didn’t start fighting temptation.
But most people didn’t listen.
God, through Isaiah, even predicted that they wouldn’t listen.
It’s why he prophesied that they would be taken into captivity.
Which…is exactly what happened. In 597 B.C., the Babylonian army ransacked the country of Judah. They destroyed the infrastructure and took hundreds of thousands of Israelites captive as prisoners back to Babylon.
It was then, in captivity, that many of the people began to listen.
They looked back at the prophesies of Isaiah and discovered sections like this:
“Who handed Jacob over to become loot, and Israel to the plunderers? Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned? For they would not follow his ways;
they did not obey his law. So he poured out on them his burning anger, the violence of war. It enveloped them in flames, yet they did not understand; it consumed them, but they did not take it to heart.” (v.24-25)
Can you imagine?
Being in captivity.
We didn’t follow his ways.
We did not obey his law.
We are in flames because of our sinful failures!
I can’t imagine that the Israelites had a lot of confidence.
Just a lot of “if onlys.”
If only I’d listened to God.
If only I had fought back against temptation.
If only I had told that merchant, “No. We don’t need your bejeweled god statues. We worship the one true, invisible God, the Lord.”
If only I had told my wife, “No, we aren’t going to teach our kids that worship isn’t important. We’ll tell them that worship is the most important thing to their eternal relationship with God.”
If only I had told my friends, “No, I’m not going to get drunk with you tonight…then I never would have done a lot of other things that I wish I had never done.”
If only I had told myself, “Get up. Fight these temptations. Stop being complacent and follow your God.”
Then, I wouldn’t be in captivity.
It feels too late.
I’ve failed too many times.
God has abandoned me.
Temptation will always win.
Can you relate?
Maybe your record against temptation isn’t good.
Maybe you keep losing in your personal battle against your personal demons.
Maybe you have a weakness that you’re so ashamed of – you question if you even belong in this church family.
Maybe you feel weighed down by guilt, alone in your battle, like you are in captivity to a particular sin!
Maybe you’ve tried psyching yourself up, waking up in prayer, saying, “Today is the day I beat that temptation,” only…to attempt your day…and…lose.
Maybe you feel alone like you are the only one who is fighting against a particular sin.
And, maybe, all of these thoughts convince you…
That you’ll never win.
That you’ll always fail against temptation.
That you have NO reason to be confident in ever winning again.
If that’s how you think…
II. Confidence from God Himself
Listen to Isaiah 43.
It’s written for God’s people.
It’s written for God’s people in captivity to Babylon.
It’s written for God’s people in captivity to their own sinful choices.
It’s written to God’s people – like you.
And it’s filled with confidence-boosting statements from God himself.
But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isaiah 43:1-3)
Look at those words.
Do you hear God’s voice?
He’s speaking to you.
And giving you all kinds of confidence.
(1) “You are my Creation.”
Look at the first verse. It says, “This is what the LORD says, he who created you, O Jacob; he who formed you, O Israel.” (43:1) It’s not even an actual statement of God yet, but through it, God still communicates something to you.
“You are my creation.”
Over at Precious Lambs, the kids take their artwork very, very seriously. They are proud of their artwork. They love to show off their artwork. They love to show me their artwork. They love to bring artwork home for mom and dad.
And they get really, really upset if they lose their artwork.
There was a girl the other day whose conversation with mom went something like this:
“Calm down. Honey. What’s wrong!”
“You threw my artwork away!”
“Are you sure? I just threw some of the pictures with scribbles on them away.”
“It wasn’t scribbles. It was a picture of a unicorn!”
Kids love their artwork because it’s their artwork.
They created it.
They put it on paper.
Their imagination developed the piece.
The same is true with God and you.
You come from the annals of God’s divine mind.
He thought you up before you ever thought your first word.
He knit you together with his own powerful, yet gentle hands. (Psalm 139:13)
Do you think God will just leave you to suffer?
Do you think God won’t come to your rescue?
Do you think God won’t work tirelessly to get you back even after your own sins have left you feeling like garbage?
(2) “You are Redeemed.”
Verse 2 says this, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.” (Isaiah 43:2a)
Redeem means to “buy back.” To “pay for.” To “purchase again.”
And God has redeemed YOU.
Because yes! We fell to sin.
Yes, we were owned by our guilt.
We were owned by our shame.
We were owned by our addictions.
We were owned by our brokenness.
Jesus came to earth.
He offered the most precious currency of all:
His perfect blood.
Jesus bought you.
Jesus paid for you.
Jesus redeemed you.
You do not belong to your addiction.
You do not belong to your temptation.
You do not belong to your sins.
You belong to God!
It’s like at Sola café: They have this little card at Sola café that if you remember to have it stamped every time you order a drink, the 10th drink is free! Even if you do what I do and order a small coffee, the cheapest thing on the menu, for the other 9 drinks, you can get a large, 6-dollar Caramel Macchiato for FREE. Fully paid for.
You have been fully paid for.
No matter how much sin you have fallen to.
You belong to God – fully and completely.
(3) “I know you.”
God says, “I have called you by name.” (Isaiah 43:2b) That’ s an uplifting truth.
Because it’s easy to feel like you are just a number.
It’s easy to feel as if God’s redemptive power is big and great, but not that personal.
It’s like calling for tech support. And you say, “Hi! I’m Phil calling from Gethsemane Church” and they say, “What’s your equipment ID number?” And you say, “I don’t know that. But I’m from Gethsemane Church, we have an account with you.” And they say, “Equipment ID Number please.” And you say, “I spoke with you about 15 minutes ago? Don’t you remember me?” And they say, “I remember you. You haven’t given me the Equipment ID Number yet.”
God says you are more than an Equipment ID Number to him.
You are you.
He knows your name.
He knows your first name.
He knows your last name.
He knows your middle name.
He knows your nickname.
He knows your maiden name.
He knows your username.
He knows your pet name.
He knows your surname.
He even knows your Superhero name – that you found out from that one Facebook quiz you took way back in 2014.
God knows you.
Personally knows you.
He knows your struggles.
He knows your weaknesses.
He knows the things you’ve told your friends.
He knows the things you’ve told your counselor.
He knows the things you haven’t told your counselor.
He stands beside you.
And whispers: “You have a new name.”
I will call you, “Mine.”
This is why he also whispers:
(4) “I am With You.”
God has Isaiah write this, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:3)
This is a metaphor.
Because in the Old Testament, the Israelite people had once been surrounded by their enemies and a deep, vast sea. They had no where to go! They were as good as dead.
But God was with them.
He split the waters and they crossed through on dry ground – fish and sea weed and currents on each side.
And again in the Old Testament, some men were thrown into a fiery furnace because they didn’t bow down and worship a giant golden statue of the king.
But God was with them.
He kept them safe in the flames so that not a hair, not a thread, not even a little piece of beard was singed in the fire. Neither did they smell of smoke.
And you…when you are surrounded by temptation.
When you feel all alone.
When you think there’s no way out.
When you are terrified of what’s going on in your life.
God is with you.
He will keep you safe.
He will help you out.
He will lead you safely – undrowned.
Victorious over temptation!
And here’s how he does it:
(5) “I am your Savior.”
God has Isaiah write this, “I am the LORD, your God, the holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (v.3)
That same powerful God who defeated split the Red Sea.
That same powerful God who kept the men safe in the furnace.
That same powerful God who died on the cross and saved you from sin – is your Savior.
It isn’t like waiting in the doctor’s office to see your specific specialist about your specific special problem and then someone walks into the room.
You don’t recognize them. You look closely at their name badge and it says: “Intern.”
God is your Savior.
Not your “might be Savior.”
Not your “Try-the-hardest-to-save-but-failing Savior.”
Not even “Everyone else’s Savior.”
No. Your Savior.
Which leads to a very powerful passage. Friends – write this down. Memorize it. Bring it from God’s heart to your heart:
“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions. I will forget your sins and remember your wickedness no more.” (v.25)
God has destroyed your sins so completely that he can’t even remember a single sin.
He can’t even remember that you’ve failed.
He can’t even remember that you’re a failure.
Because of him.
You are a winner.
III. What Now?
Fight like a champion.
And let me tell you:
Champions don’t come on out and let the other punch first.
They come out swinging.
They come out dodging.
They come out with a plan.
Do you have a temptation that you struggle against?
Come out swinging.
Come out dodging.
Come out with a plan.
(1) Come out Swinging
Because too often we are reactive against temptation. We wait for it to strike and hope that we can react when it does.
It’s like coffee. I drink too much.
Maybe…some of you knew that.
But here’s the thing…I know I drink too much yet, I put myself in the same situation each day.
I stay up later than I should.
I don’t have anything to drink until I have my morning coffee.
I hang out for the first hour of every weekday – within about 50 steps of the coffee pot.
No wonder I keep failing.
Why not go on the offensive? Romans 8:13 says: “By the Spirit, put to death the misdeeds of the body.” Don’t just punch them in the mouth or put them in a headlock. The language is stronger. Put them to death!
Talking about my caffeine struggle:
Why not drink 2 glasses of water before the coffee pot gets put on?
Why not go to bed 30 minutes earlier so that I’m not so tired?
Why not tell an entire congregation about it so that they can hold you accountable and tell you to drink a bit less?
Whatever your temptation is, think about it: how can you attack it?
(2) Come out Dodging
But there will be times when temptation blindsides you.
When suddenly you find yourself in situations in which things don’t look good.
When Satan pulls some guerrilla warfare on you.
The Bible tells the story about a guy named Joseph. He worked as a servant in the house of a rich government official. He loved working there. He respected his master. He wanted to keep his job.
One day – the government official’s wife – she developed a crush on Joseph – he was young and handsome – one day when noticed him working in the house when no one else is around. She said to him, “Come to bed with me. Sleep with me. No one is around. No one will know. You’ll be all mine.”
And Joseph said?
“I’m out of here.”
Literally – the Bible says that he runs away.
He dodges the temptation.
Why not do that?
Too often I think we tried to play the hero. We try to put ourselves in situations that we know we fail at – and wait to see if we might beat temptation.
The Bible says differently. 2 Timothy 2:2 says, “Flee youthful passions.”
Don’t hover over the page with all the scantily clad women -- click the “x” and get out of there.
Don’t hang around the coffee pot or water cooler that’s bringing up your favorite gossip. Leave.
Don’t sit at the dinner table, getting angrier and angrier ready to blow your top on your spouse – say, “Honey. Give me a second.” Walk away. Cool down. Don’t sin.
(3) Come out with a Plan
I imagine that’s what the final two teams in the NCAA tournament are doing right now. They are planning how to defeat each other. They are coming up with plays, they are coming up with values, they are getting ready to explain to their teams: “When we are in this situation, do this. When we are in this other situation, do this.”
It would be ludicrous for a team to be in the finals of the NCAA tournament and have their plan be, “I don’t have a plan. Try to win.”
It’s ludicrous for us to attempt to fight temptation without a plan.
Proverbs 14:22 says this, “Do not those who plot evil go astray? But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness.”
Friends, champions make a plan.
In Jesus, you are a champion.
Make a plan to fight against temptation.
If you have a sin that you struggle with…repeatedly, why not come up with a plan?
Why not take a moment and write it up. Literally write it up in a notebook.
Pray about it. Seek God’s wisdom about it. Ask a trusted friend about it. Then, write up your plan.
If you need help in this – I will help you.
So will the others at church.
That’s what I hope you’ll do for others.
Because that’s what church is.
Our goal is to help out, swing, dodge, and plan for your fight against temptation.
Which leads to our final point.
(4) View Yourself as the Champ!
Because it’s so easy to view yourself as nothing more than a sinner.
And to a certain extent that’s important. It leads us to Jesus.
But once we have heard the promise of God’s forgiveness and we leave these walls to battle temptation, it is so important that we see ourselves as God sees us – as winners in Jesus.
It’s like what happens during a basketball game. If you go into the game thinking, “We’ll probably lose because we are losers,” you’ll probably lose.
But if the coach can get you to think you have a chance or even that you’ll win, you have an advantage because you are already in a winning frame of mind.
Friend, you are a winner in Jesus.
Think of yourself as a winner.
Envision yourself squashing the devil and all of his foolish attempts – even if it’s a temptation by which he has squashed you over and over again.
Because you are in Christ.
Christ is in you.
He stomped the devil.
He stomped sin.
He stomped guilt.
He stomped shame.
He stomped death itself when…three days later…
Three days later, he rose from the grave.
Friends, as Christ is the winner, you are a winner.
Fight temptation. Amen.
Today is a Transfiguration Sunday and we are celebrating the Transfiguration of Jesus. Yet – you might not have ever heard about that.
It isn’t a national holiday.
Nobody takes off of work.
There isn’t a Charlie Brown Transfiguration Special.
There isn’t a Transfiguration Sunday section of the Greeting Cards.
So, our goal today is simple: (1) understand what the Transfiguration is and (2) determine how it affects us. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. What is it?
First, we should define “transfiguration.” Because it isn’t a word that we use on a day to day basis. People don’t say things like “My Molly, you really have transfigured since yesterday!” If you did, Molly might respond by saying: “Take that back…you!”
The dictionary definition of transfiguration is this: “A complete change of appearance into a more beautiful or more spiritual state.”
The first thing I think of is the movie “She’s All That.” Remember that 90s movie with Freddie Prinze Jr? It’s about a guy who is challenged by his friends to turn the “geek” of the school into the prom queen. But…I don’t know how hard it is. Basically, all he does is have her take off her glasses and let her hair down and – voila – Prom Queen.
The transfiguration we are celebrating today is about whole lot more than letting your hair down and taking off your glasses.
It started out like a normal day. Jesus took a few of his disciples up a small mountain. He wanted to get some time for peace, quiet, restoration and prayer.
And when they get to the top, Jesus went over to the nearest rock.
Got down on his knees.
Propped up his elbows on the rock and immediately devoted himself to deep prayer.
The disciples follow suit.
They found their own rock.
They propped their own elbows up.
They began their prayers:
“Dear Lord, Thank you so much for your…ZZZZZZ.”
“Huh? I mean…thank you so much for the manamanamah.”
They were sleepy.
They were tired.
I imagine Peter enjoyed a pleasant dream of fishing on the Galilean Sea – and pictures himself holding up the prize-winning bass about 5 feet long.
A bright light.
It isn’t the camera flash of the Paparazzi photographing his fish.
The bright light isn’t coming from the dream world.
Peter opens his eyes and immediately is blinded.
Squinting cautiously, he tries again.
“It must be the sunset,” he thinks. “I must have been sleeping for a while.”
But Peter feels the warmth of the sun overhead.
That means the light isn’t coming from a sunup or sundown.
He squints harder.
It’s coming from the face of Jesus.
Like the sun.
But it’s not just his face! It was his clothing, too.
To be fair – Jesus wore a white tunic. That was common. But they had been out in a desert-like climate. Over time dirt affects pure whites. They start to yellow with some brown climbing up from the bottom of the tunic.
They hadn’t come up to do laundry.
And yet – Jesus’ clothes were a brilliant white.
A shining white.
A gleaming white.
Then, Peter’s eyes went to the right. Next to Jesus stood an older man with a long beard. I always picture him with two giant tablets of stone with what appears to be 10 commands written on them.
Peter thinks: “Wait. I know my Sunday School stories. That can be none other than Moses. The prophet God used to lead Israel out of slavery in Egypt. But…wait…isn’t he…”
Before he could finish, another man…a bit younger looking.
‘Elijah and I are excited to be here!” Moses said. “It’s amazing really! I lived thousands of years ago – Elijah lived hundreds. But both of us were doing our work, preaching what we did, telling the people about the coming Messiah. And that Messiah is YOU Jesus! We are so excited to see your work in progress.”
Peter listened as they continued.
He listened as they spoke about God’s plan of salvation.
He listened as they spoke about Old Testament prophecy.
He listened as they spoke about God’s love for his people.
Until…he couldn’t handle it anymore!
I’m…I’m…Peter. I fish!
It’s amazing to see you here! That you took time out of heaven to join us.
And Jesus – you’re glowing and shimmering and doing an incredible miraculous thing!
You can do anything!
So…um…I know you’re visiting from heaven, but…how I can help your stay more comfortable?
I know! I can build a tent for you out of a few olive branches! It’ll be just like you’re at home…
Before anyone could answer, a cloud began developing.
A thick, dark cloud.
It enveloped Elijah.
It enveloped Moses.
It enveloped Jesus.
It enveloped the other disciples.
It enveloped Peter.
He could no longer see Jesus, but a faint, glowing light from where he had been standing.
Then, the fog did something else unusual.
“This is my Son, whom I have chosen. You must listen to him.” (Luke 9:35)
Peter fell to the ground.
This wasn’t fun and games ANYMORE!
He was in the presence of the Holy, All-powerful, Sin-hating and sin-punishing God of heaven and earth!
And…he, Peter, was a sinner.
Peter made himself as flat as he could to the ground.
Pretending that he was mud.
Because he felt like mud.
And he thought that if he blended in with the mud, God might just leave him.
Which would be better than being left a pile of smoke at the hands of God’s almighty wrath.
Things grew quiet.
The voice stopped speaking.
A bird cawed in the distance.
A hand gently patted Peter’s back.
“Peter, it’s okay. Get up.”
He looked up to see the warm smile of his Savior.
The cloud was gone.
The light was gone.
The prophets were gone.
It was only Jesus.
And Peter got up.
And Peter dusted himself off.
And Peter followed Jesus.
Nobody said anything about what they had seen.
Not James or John.
They just let things get…back…to normal?
II. Why is it Important?
This is the Transfiguration. Whether Peter knew the word or not, that’s what he saw.
And it’s not just “a transfiguration” because I don’t know that there ever is a more incredible, more divine, more fantastic change in one person’s appearance than THE face shining, tunic gleaming, heavenly people entertaining, cloud encompassing, divine voice speaking, Transfiguration of our Lord and Savior.
But why would God go to this trouble?
What message is He bringing to his disciples?
What message is He bringing to You?
A few things:
1) Jesus is Divine
Have you ever seen an episode of Scooby Doo before? At the end of the episode, after the kids in the Mystery Van have trapped the bad guy in some kind of comical, haphazard way – there’s the unmasking. Velma, the smartest of the group, walks over to the ghoul or goblin and grabs him by the scruff of their neck to reveal – it was the Janitor! (He would have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for those meddling kids).
In the Transfiguration, Jesus unmasks. Not that He is wearing any kind of mask at all. But for the majority of his lifetime Jesus appears to be an everyday, ordinary a human.
He eats like humans do.
He sleeps like humans do.
He grows like humans do.
He does humans things like humans do.
He is 100% human.
But along the way, every once in a while, he also does things that ordinary humans can NOT do.
He speaks to a blind man’s eyes, and those are instantly able to see.
He walks on liquid water.
He tells storms to stop and they do.
He changes water into wine.
He raises the dead.
Think of these miracles like glimpses into the fact that Jesus is not just human – but something else spectacular.
Someone else spectacular.
At the Transfiguration?
The mask is off.
He’s not just a human being.
He’s also true GOD.
He is divine.
He is able to make his face glow, his clothing gleam, souls from heaven appear, a cloud to envelope and the simultaneous voice of the Father speak.
That’s even what the voice says! The voice says, “This is my Son.”
When a human says that about a person, he is generally referring to a different person.
A human fathers another human.
But when God calls Jesus his Son.
God fathers God.
But since God is eternal.
And God is one.
Jesus is not a lesser God.
But the one true God who always has been.
Maybe stop with the logic of the situation and look only at the miracle of the Transfiguration.
Jesus is God.
And if you have been spending your lifetime looking for God…
If you’ve practiced yoga and drank tea to get in touch with the Spirit…
If you’ve read books and studied world religions to find the ONE…
If you’ve done experiments and tried to identify the specific God…
There’s no need to look any father.
Jesus is God. And he came to earth with a purpose.
Which leads to our second main truth about the Transfiguration:
2) Jesus’ Main Purpose was Dying for You!
Because you would think that once God was up on that mountain surrounded by people in awe of Him, he would love it.
He would tell Peter to build him a throne.
He’d tell James and John to go get others.
He’d sit up on the mountain, gleaming brilliantly and waiting for people to come and worship Him.
Jesus returns to his human appearance.
He walks down the mountain.
He begins his journey to Jerusalem where he will eventually die on the cross.
The Transfiguration makes it clear! Jesus’ death wasn’t unstoppable.
If he wished….
…he could have dazzled so brightly that the crowd coming to arrest him would have been blinded.
…he could have called down from heaven every believer who’d passed and handed them a sword of fire to vanquish the soldiers who came to arrest him.
…he could have swallowed the crowd of people who were going to convict him in the courtroom and had the booming voice of the Father speak to his accusers: “This is my Son! Let Him Go.”
He could have prevented his death.
But He didn’t.
Because His death didn’t happen on accident! His death happened because it was His main purpose was saving you.
Think about it: God could have remained up in heaven.
God could have said “Ya’ll messed up this world with your sin and the only thing I’ll send is a few lightning bolts to destroy you.”
Instead, God said, “I will send…myself.
I will live perfectly when you can’t.
I will die innocently in your place.
I will rise triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins!
I will save YOU!”
3) Our Salvation is CERTAIN
If I could underline, bold, italicize and put in 160-point font and still fit it on the Power Point slide, I would. Because that is only a smidgen of the confidence that we have of our forgiveness.
Jesus is not just some nice guy.
He isn’t just a well-meaning friend.
He isn’t just some person who says, “Let me know how I can help,” but when you mention a way to help says, “I’m playing golf that day.”
Jesus is God.
God always helps.
He always wins.
He always saves.
And since Jesus is God.
He saved you.
And it is absolutely, 100% certain.
No matter what you think.
No matter what others say: “You’ve done a lot of wrong.”
No matter what the devil says: “You aren’t worthy of being helped.”
No matter what you might think in your darkest hour: “I am not loveable.”
God’s voice is BIGGER.
God’s voice is LOUDER.
God’s voice comes from within the ethereal, divine cloud and says:
This is my Son, Jesus.
I chose Him.
He saved you.
You are forgiven.
III. WHAT NOW?
1. Fear God, but Don’t Fear God
That might seem like an oxymoron. But it’s the tension that the disciples who were on the mountain had to live with.
Because when they were on top of that mountain, enveloped in the cloud, with the booming voice of God shaking the earth under their feet, they were terrified! They fell to the ground, hoping and pleading with God not to destroy them.
We need the same respect for our God.
When we gather to worship, it isn’t just to hang out with some people we like.
It isn’t just to sing some songs that we like.
It isn’t just to eat some cookies that we like.
It’s to come as sinners to worship the divine, Holy, Almighty God.
And yet…don’t be terrified.
Just like Jesus, who just revealed himself to be that divine Holy God, touched his disciples on the shoulder and gently said to them, “Follow me.”
God says the same to you.
You are forgiven.
You are at peace with God.
Come into his presence without fear.
Come without terror.
2. Listen to Him!
Do you know what Bible story comes right before this? About 8 days earlier, Jesus gathers all 12 of his disciples together and he tells them that he will very soon go to Jerusalem where he will be arrested, convicted, suffer and died.
And Peter’s response?
“ABSOLUTELY NOT! I won’t allow it. That’s a terrible idea Jesus, I have a better one.”
Fast forward eight days, to Jesus’ transfiguration, when the Father’s voice speaks to him: “This is my Son…LISTEN TO HIM!”
A few days later…when Jesus again gathers his disciples together and repeats: “We are going to Jerusalem where I will be arrested, convicted, suffer and die.”
Peter doesn’t fight him this time.
Do the same.
Even if you think you know better. Listen to Jesus.
Even if your friend tells you differently. Listen to Jesus.
Even if your society makes a sophisticated argument. Listen to Jesus.
Even if a university professor tells you they know better. Listen to Jesus.
Even if you feel differently than what Jesus is saying…Listen to Jesus.
Even if your own voice tells you: “You don’t matter. You are worthless. You aren’t valuable.” Listen to Jesus.
You do matter.
You are worthwhile.
You are valuable enough to die for.
Listen to Jesus.
3. Come Down the Mountain
Examine Peter’s only words on recorded on the mountain: “Let’s setup three tents – one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah.” Part of the reason behind that statement, is that Peter is in love with what he is seeing. It’s so encouraging. It’s so obvious. It’s so uplifting. It is so certain that Jesus is God – that he doesn’t have any doubts at all. And rather than go back down that mountain to the world where people doubt, where people question, where people make fun, where Peter isn’t feeling so confident…Peter would prefer to stay on that mountain.
But he couldn’t.
Jesus had a mission to do.
Peter had a mission to do.
And you can’t either.
You have a mission to do.
Because while it’s nice to hang out together…
And it’s wonderful to be uplifted by God’s Word...
And Jesus tells us to spend time together in His Word…
Eventually we need to go.
We need to leave the mountain.
We need to leave these walls and go on our mission to Plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh.
Guys – this isn’t my idea.
This is God’s.
The face-shining, tunic-gleaming, cloud-encompassing, divine voice-speaking Transfiguration of our Lord and Savior.
Listen to Him.
Come down from the mountain.
Share His Word.
We’re in the middle of a sermon series called FRESH. This week our topic is refreshing friendships. We want to learn how to seek refreshing friendships and how to be refreshing friends. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Friendship and Its Blessings
To start – a bit of a study on the Greek word for friendship: “Philia”. Philia is actually one of four Greek words for “love”:
Storge is the word used for parental love. In parental love, love develops downward between the parent and their child. The parent loves the child because he sees the child’s need for love. The child loves the parent because of their providing.
Eros is the word for romantic love. In romantic love, love develops between two people that are facing each other. Picture them looking into each other’s eyes romantically. This is a back and forth relationship. The man loves the woman because she is gorgeous. The woman loves the man because he is studly.
Philia is a bit different. Rather than a love that involves people looking at each other, friendship love develops between two people that are standing side by side. They are side by side as they face something together.
To put it another way, friendship develops as you go through life together:
Friendship develops as you cheer for your favorite football team together.
Friendship develops as you talk about being a mom together.
Friendship develops as you watch The Bachelor together.
Friendship develops as you pretend to be the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles together.
Unlike the other two types of love which point the people at each other, philia love points people at their shared goal.
Friendship is a love between two people who share a common goal.
For me, some of my best friends have come from my time playing football. I shared some common experiences with those guys. I remember sweating with them. I remember getting bruised with them. I remember waking up at 5am to go and run sprints around the football field with them. I remember rolling around in the mud in the middle of a torrential downpour with them. I remember practicing in 10-degree weather, snow falling everywhere, wearing these big yellow, football coats in order to stay warm with them.
I remember winning with them.
I remember losing with them.
I remember sharing the common goal of playing football with them.
And here’s the thing – I can call up some of those friends even today and instantly get into an argument about whose fault it is that in round 2 of State tournament. We gave up a 65-yard TD run to lose the game in the closing minutes (Spoiler: It wasn’t me. My assignment was the fullback)
Maybe you have a few friends like that, too. The Bible describes the blessings of friendship:
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. (Ecclesiastes 4:9) This is like that old Math problem. If I can paint a house in 45 hours and you can paint it in 40 hours, how fast do we paint it together? The answer is – that it’s faster. Two people with the shared goal of work, have the blessings of doing that work together.
If one falls down, one can help the other up. (v.10) You get the picture of two friends whose shared goal is running a Tough Mudder. If one of them falls down into the mud, the friend will stop to help them up. Their shared goal develops a bond where it is mutually beneficial to help each other along the goal.
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. (v.11) This is the blessing of protection. Remember – this is written at a time when people walked dangerous ancient roads from city to city – where bandits could easily attack a solo travel. Two people? That increases your eyes on attack; it increases your hands in the fight; it increases the muscle power on your team. Modernly speaking, two sets of thumbs increase your chances of defeating other teams in Fortnite.
Friendship is a Biblical concept. The Bible agrees that it is a blessing for people go through life together with other people.
II. Where to Avoid Friendship
The Bible also has something say about where to find our friendships.
It has something to say about the difference between a beneficial friendship and a not so beneficial friendship.
Take a look at James 4:4-5 -
Don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who choose to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
The Bible is not saying, “Don’t be friends with anyone in this world.” Nope. If that were the case, we’d have to pay closer attention to NASA’s trips searching for life on other planets. Chewbacca or ALF might be the only options.
But the Bible is telling us to be careful that earthly friendships do not lead us to loving the world – and worldly things – more than God.
Specifically – I think it warns against two types of friendships:
1) Sin Based Friendships.
This may seem obvious… at least…theoretically.
Friendships that lead you into sin are not refreshing.
Again – obviously, in theory; but oblivious in practicality.
It’s so easy for friendship to revolve around sin:
The friend with whom you share the goal of getting drunk – and the guilt of having done stupid things.
The friends with whom you share the joy of gossiping about others – and the insecurity that they’re probably doing that about you in some other group.
The friends with whom you share the goal of getting together and bad mouthing the government – and lack giving of attention to my own inadequacies and failures.
Friendships that revolve around sin also revolve around guilt.
There’s nothing refreshing about guilt.
2) Material Things.
This is more challenging to see, because material things are not inherently sinful.
It isn’t wrong to have money.
It isn’t wrong to like politics.
It isn’t wrong to enjoy the sandwiches at Chick-fil-A.
And it isn’t wrong to have friendship that are based on these things.
But…what happens when material things are your focus?
Let me tell you about the Corinthian congregation. The Corinthian congregation was a group of believers that lived in a very materially focused society. Corinth was a trading area. Corinth had a big marketplace. Corinth was about money, money, money, money. The here. The now. The everyday. The material.
And some of the Corinthians had a lot of friends that were very focused on material things.
So…the Corinthian believers had a bit of a disconnect going on in their lives.
On Sundays, they’d gather for worship and be reminded: “It’s all about Jesus! He is our Savior. He leads to eternal life.”
The rest of the week? “Jesus doesn’t matter. He isn’t real. Worry about money. That’s real.”
The end result? Quite a few of the Corinthian believers stopped believing in the resurrection.
That’s why Paul writes this: “You know that bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Cor. 15:54)
It’s like adding one rotten, fuzzy, moldy apple to the apple cider mixture. As soon as that apple’s is a part of the mixture, the whole thing gets disgusting.
The Corinthians were believers, but you have so many friendships based on non-believing things – Christianity started to fall away.
This is a big deal question -- Do you have friends like that?
Friends who threaten to take away your faith?
Understand -- the Bible isn’t telling us to drop all of those friends. Nope.
But it is telling us this:
The more time you spend on friendships that have little to no focus on the spiritual, the less you will be focused on the spiritual.
The less you are focused on the spiritual, the less you are focused on your Savior.
The less you are focused on your Savior, the more your faith will weaken.
The more your faith weakens, the closer you are to drifting away from faith forever.
III. Where to Seek Friendship
But if that’s where we should avoid seeking friendships,
What kind of friendships should we seek?
The Centurion paced back and forth in his office.
If ever he needed friends, it was right now.
You see – one of his trusted associates, a comrade, a friend, a coworker was very ill.
He was in need of a friend…
…But not just any friend.
He didn’t need a friend who could express platitudes and offer his “thoughts” being with them.
He was in need of a friend who could help.
A friend who could heal.
Because of his high position in the Roman government, he had plenty of places to look for that friend.
He could ask his higher ups for access to Caesar’s doctors.
He could ask his wealthy friends for contact in upcoming medicine.
He could ask his well-travelled commanders if they knew anyone from their travels who might be able to help.
But he didn’t turn to them.
Instead, he turned to the country he had conquered.
Instead, he turned to someone who wasn’t a doctor.
Instead, he turned to a lowly carpenter’s apprentice that he had never met.
And he said, “Heal my servant, but Lord, don’t trouble yourself (to come here), for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.” (v.6-7)
Jesus, I don’t deserve your help.
I might be a Roman centurion that commands a myriad of soldiers that enforce their rules of the country that you are but a lowly traveling minister of, but…I know, full well…that I don’t deserve your friendship.
Because you are more than a lowly carpenter.
You. Are. God Himself.
Jesus didn’t ignore Him.
Jesus didn’t say, “I have other friends.”
Jesus didn’t say, “And…who are you?”
He simply healed his servant.
There is no better friend than Jesus.
There is no friend more helpful.
There is no friend more worthy of being sought.
No friend more kind.
No friend more powerful.
No friend more merciful.
No friend more forgiving.
No friend who loves you more than Jesus Christ himself.
In fact, John 15 says this: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Understand – that’s what Jesus did for you. He not only said, “I’ll be your friend…even when you’ve sinned against me.”
He’ll said, “I’ll be your friend. And as my first act of friendship, I will die for you.”
And then, look at what Jesus says in John 15, “I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
Jesus calls you His friend.
And it means – you can call him YOURS.
And it means – there is no greater friendship that you can seek than your friendship with your Lord.
2. People who Point You to Jesus
If your friendship with Jesus is the number one friendship to seek, then a secondary type of friendship is people who point you to Jesus.
Maybe you’ve got a friend like that.
A friend who points you to Jesus.
A friend who reminds you of your Savior.
A friend who encourages you in the faith.
If you you’re having trouble thinking, look around. Do you see all these people? That’s why they exist.
You need them.
They need you.
In fact, Hebrews 10 says this, “Let us not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
The point? Find friends who point you to Jesus.
Be a friend who points people to Jesus.
IV. WHAT NOW?
1) Meetup with Church Friends
This is essentially the writer’s point in Hebrews when he says, “Do not give up meeting together.” The reason is twofold: (1) Don’t give up meeting with those who can refresh your faith. (2) Don’t give up meeting with those whose faith you can refresh.
And this isn’t just a Sunday thing.
It’s not just friends that you see for one hour a week each Sunday.
These are friends that God’s Word tells us to uplift throughout the week.
Question – You ever hung out with anyone at church during the week before? You should do it.
Are you nervous to ask them? Don’t worry they’re nervous, too.
Grab a coffee.
Send a Facebook message.
Have them over to your house.
And don’t just make a text message group. Is there any wonder that we are more connected now than ever before? Social media apps, 15 different ways to stay connected all within the palm of our hand – and yet – suicide rates are higher than ever in the U.S. Depression rates are high. Loneliness is high.
Because even though this is a blessing, if it is our only form of communication – we are missing something.
Actual. Physical. Interaction.
A high five.
A fist bump.
The Bible says, “Meet together.” Christians at the time of writing Hebrews, would have longed for a safe place to meet together, without the Roman government that wanted to KILL them.
We have the ability to meet together.
Let’s do so.
2) Encourage Each Other
Then, when we do meet together, look at what we’re to do: Encourage one another.
Notice it doesn’t say: “Let us not give up complaining to each other.”
Nor does it say: “Let us not give up gossip with one another.”
Nor does it even say: “Let us not give up getting together to fight.”
Meet together and encourage each other.
May I dare say that if you’re looking for something encouraging to say – there is nothing more encouraging than the message of Jesus.
3) Bring God into the Friendship
Because God doesn’t want you to only associate with believers. Look at Matthew 5, “You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before people that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven.”
If your light is going to shine before people who are in darkness, it necessitates that you interact with those in darkness.
Make friends in the world. Make friends with people who don’t believe. Make friends with those who aren’t focused on Jesus.
Tell them about Jesus.
Bring them the light of the world.
And I’ll tell you this – you will be the most REFRESHING friend they’ve ever met!
Do you remember earlier? We mentioned there were four types of love. I only talked about three. The fourth type of love is called AGAPE. Agape love is different than all the other loves. Because all the other loves are conditional.
I’ll love my child; if he acts like my child.
I’ll love my spouse; if she loves me.
I’ll love my friend; if we have things in common.
But Agape LOVE? It’s unconditional.
It’s one sided.
It’s love that just loves because that’s what this kind of love does.
That’s a kind of love that humans aren’t very good at.
But it is a kind of love that GOD specializes in.
And now, think about this: The God who has undeserved, constant, undisputed love for you – is the same God who is your friend!
The God with Agape love is your God of your Philia love.
And that’s the same refreshing message that God has called you to prepare for others.
Because the hearts of a REFRESHING friendship is none other than Jesus.
Well it’s about that time of year again. That time when time is usually on our minds. In just two short days it will be one year later than it was a year ago, which usually prompts us to look back over that last year and figure out what we liked and usually more often what we didn’t like that we want to change next year. My mailbox has already been flooded with flyers for local gyms trying to guess what those goals might be for me.
But never minding the failed resolutions that inevitably come out of this, the real problem with all of that is that it tends to have a failed focus. The things we are proud of the year before and the things we strive to change in the next… well… are they the right things?
Today, let’s look at what the apostle Paul had to say and consider our past and our future in light of those words that God had him write. At the beginning of our section he writes:
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
If anyone had reason to be proud and confident, it was Paul. He was a paragon of virtue. He was born of the right people, God’s own chosen nation. He followed every command from God and every tradition of his people. He was part of the moral elite, the Pharisees. If he was around today, he could be bragging on Facebook about how all three of his perfect children were excelling in their own extra-curriculars while showing photos from his last tropical vacation, the new house he’s building, the promotion he got this year, and how he hit his target weight in half the time expected.
And what does Paul say about all these things he should be bragging about?
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
And now what does he say about that life? He considers it a loss. He doesn’t just find that entire life to be worthless, he actually considers it detrimental to his life. In fact, he considers everything a loss when it is compared to the greatness of simply knowing his Lord Jesus Christ. Now, if you remember back, if you were here for our summer series on the book of Acts, you may remember that this was not a conclusion that Paul came to on his own. He didn’t suddenly realize that all that was wrong and worthless. God had to reveal it to Paul.
In that confrontation on the road to Damascus, God appeared to him and made Paul aware of exactly how wrong and backward his life had been from start to finish. God taught Paul that everything of his own he thought he should be proud of was in reality something to be ashamed of, and there was nothing good in himself. The house, the job, the vacation, the perfect life – those things were all hurting him, not helping.
Why? Because they weren’t good enough. They couldn’t save him. No matter how hard he tried to do everything right and have the perfect life and have people love him and all that, it wasn’t good enough for God. God demands perfection. What’s more, God requires that he himself be the focal point of our lives. That we do everything for him. Paul hadn’t done all those things for God, he did them for himself! Everything he thought was worth anything wasn’t just a waste of time, it was actively keeping him away from the God who could save him.
It was at this point, at the bottom of everything, when Paul had all hope in himself cut out from under him, that God showed him his mercy and grace in Jesus. And Paul understood the only thing worth anything in this life is Christ himself. Paul gave up hope in himself and clung to the hope of Jesus as his savior, trusting that Jesus alone is the only way he can possibly be rescued.
Now Paul’s experience may sound outlandish, and maybe the circumstances are. But those aside, this is the experience that every Christian goes through to come to a knowledge of their savior, the same Christ. Each one of us has to realize: I am sinful. I cannot save myself. I need Jesus. Only he can help me. Only he is worth anything in my life.
And so, the question now is, as I’m looking back over 2018 and looking on to my plans for 2019 – do my thoughts show that I’m convinced of this truth?
Do I really consider everything I have apart from Christ is a loss? Do we really “buy” that, or are we feebly clinging to the notion that some of what we have or do or are is worthwhile, profitable, useful? Sure, there’s plenty of stuff it’s easy to look at and identify as useless and harmful. We know that indulging our sinful temptations is harmful to us. Sin damages faith, it hurts our relationship with our God and it risks our eternal life.
But of course, God himself gives us great things to be used for our recreation and enjoyment…what about those? Even with those we must be cautious. These gifts are to be used to enrich our lives of service to him. They are a means to an end. They help us relax, recharge, lift our spirits so we can continue our work for God. But when the gift becomes the purpose, when all our time and energy gets poured into one hobby or recreational pursuit, it ultimately becomes a loss for us, because again, it is distracting us and taking us away from the only thing that is to our gain, our Lord Christ.
But even that doesn’t go as far as Paul was talking here. Remember he listed off all the great things about himself that he had claim to. Every achievement or source of pride – what did he say about them? He considered a loss. And for the same reason: they served to distract and take him away from our God. It is the same for us.
We need to see that there is no difference here. It could be the grossest display of sinful indulgence or it could be chasing a goal that isn’t our Lord or it could just be plain old pride in myself and my abilities and accomplishments. They all do the same thing: they lead us away from God. The best of who we are, the best of what we have and do in our lives…these too are a loss! Pardon me for a moment while I get a little complicated. They are a loss when we view them this way. Let me elaborate.
If I look see the best I have as the best I have, then where is the focus? If the best I can do I view as the best I do, then where is the focus? If I am proud of myself for my accomplishments, for the things I have done with the strength of my hands or the skill of my intellect, then I am worshiping myself and am taken away from God. Even if I take pride in all the good things I do for God, that I give him my money and my time without complaint, that I am a helpful member of the church body, then I am still worshiping myself for how great I am.
It doesn’t matter what does it, it doesn’t matter how it comes about, whatever it is, if our focus slips from looking ahead to eternity, then it is a loss to us! What is to our gain, what we do need is to keep our eyes forward, on Christ, as Paul tells us here. He had plenty to be proud of, plenty to indulge in, but his reaction was anything that kept him apart from Christ, anything that caused him to focus on himself or anything that wasn’t Christ was a loss to him. And why? Because only Christ had what he truly needed. Forgiveness of sins and the gift of righteousness.
This is why it is so dangerous to let the things of this life steal our focus away from Christ. Just like Paul, all the best we have… can’t save us. We do not measure up to God’s standards. Without Jesus, we are dead. We would be cut off from God and left to an eternity without any of his mercy or grace. There is nothing worse than that. There is no goal to set that is more important than avoiding that outcome. But we cannot avoid it ourselves. Nothing we have changes this for ourselves.
Only Jesus makes a difference. And it makes all the difference. Where we are unworthy and have nothing good to offer, Christ makes us worthy. His life of obedience is credited to us, and his innocent sacrifice on the cross eliminates the debt we owe our God. In Christ, and only in him, are we saved. We are declared innocent before God our Father and we are promised a heavenly home is prepared for us at the end of our time here. Through him we will, as Paul says here, obtain the resurrection of the dead.
When we understand and accept this dynamic between us and our God, it changes how we view our lives and it changes why we do whatever it is we do. When we recognize that nothing we have to offer is good in its own merit, we no longer do things out of pride or for praise or for any reward. Rather we do the good we do because God has made it possible. He gives us the strength, the time, the ability, and it’s the blood of Christ that washes our actions and makes them good for God. And we keep this attitude by keeping our looking ahead to Christ. With eyes on him, on what he’s done for us and on where he’s waiting for us – that sets our goals and mind straight for the coming year. As Paul concludes our section today:
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
As Paul says, we have not yet fully attained this goal of looking ahead to our God. We have not fully become as like Christ as we would like. But we do strive always to be better at it. Not by waking up each day and promising to “do better”, that will get us nowhere or even take us backwards. The way to pursue Christ is by renewing our focus each day on him. Learning from him, studying him, growing closer to him. That is what Paul is striving for here.
And when we do that, there’s a natural side-effect: Christ’s power will work through us to accomplish what we cannot on our own. We will grow to be more like him. Now, we recognize that this work will never be completed in this life. We will always have room to grow in him. But that is not an excuse for us to simply give up and say “good enough!” We should never be satisfied with how far our devotion to Christ has progressed! This should be our number one goal every year!
But if you look back over the last year and think: well I sure didn’t do that, then I have good news for you. Our devotion to God is not perfect and we should not despair when we do not live up to God’s standards. We strive, strive, strive… but never despair when we fail. It is because we fail that we have a savior. It is because we fail that Jesus died. And it is because of Jesus that our failures are forgiven. Forgotten. We show our love to God by showing him what he’s worth to us, but our expressions of love to God are simply that, they are not what keeps us in his favor, they are not what make him love us. There will be times of failure and every time we return to him, he has forgiveness for us.
Brothers and sisters, forget what is behind. Forget the things that drag you down to this world and hold you here. Forget your pride and yourself. And don’t look back with regret either. Forget your own failures; God already has. Leave the past in the past. Strain toward what is ahead. Look ahead to the prize that God won for you. Press on toward it. Make that your goal for 2019 and beyond. Reach for Christ every day like your life depends on it. God is reaching back for you, taking hold of you, guarding and guiding you every step of every day. Stay close to him, draw close to him. You are a forgiven child of God, you have absolutely everything to look forward to in him. Amen.
Join us as we hear about the very special and important message: the arrival of The Light of the World? What does this mean for me? How does it apply to my life today? Listen and find out!
Do you know someone rallies around this cry? Or maybe the more modern YOLO – You Only Live Once? Or going way back to classic Latin carpe diem? Seize the day! Whichever one it is, it’s a call to live life to the fullest, to get the most out of it, and never shrink from an opportunity that you might regret missing out on later.
Maybe you know that person, maybe you try to do it yourself. Today, as we continue our series on The Kingdom of God is Like, we’re going to look at some people who lived that way.
First, a little bit of recap and context. Maybe you’re aware, maybe you’re not, but this is our third week in what we call the End Times season of the church year. It’s a time when we focus on what the end of this world will be like, what we’re looking forward to, and where our ultimate confidence is.
Last week was the Sunday of Final Judgment, and appropriately enough we looked at the parable of the net. We saw how the angels would gather up all the people at the end of the age and separate them, good from bad – judging them, as it were. And we heard pretty clearly what would happen to those bad fish.
Today, we look more at the outcome for those good fish in the Sunday we call Saints Triumphant. This day celebrates the end that awaits the holy people of God, the triumphant celebration in the kingdom of heaven after this is all over. And our parable today, again appropriately, revolves around a great banquet being held. So, let’s take a look at the start of that story Jesus tells:
15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ ”
Let’s pause there. What do we have so far? A man, with apparently significant resources, prepares a grand banquet. Out of the blue, no apparent reason, just to celebrate. And he sends invitations out to all his friends, to all the movers and shakers and well-to-do people of the area. To anyone worth inviting. To this grand feast. Let’s think about that part first. Now, maybe you’re like me and you just love food and good times with friends. The idea of this could appeal to you a lot. But let’s try to put it more into our context. A dinner party today is, hey that’s great, but it’s not the end-all, be-all of our lifestyles. It was perhaps a bigger deal at that time. So maybe translate that into something that really speaks to you. A Caribbean cruise? A wilderness retreat? A Disney vacation package? A massive party in an airplane hangar?
Think about it, whatever comes to mind as the best kind of time you can think of having. Think about that grand time and then think about getting a card in the mail inviting you to it. It’s from someone you trust, it’s not a prank or a scam, it’s real. Imagine the excitement of holding that invite in your hand. Someone else is going to the trouble of getting this all set up, taking care of all the arrangements, the travel, the catering, the cost, the guest list, whatever it is. All you have to do is show up.
Now imagine… what on earth could possibly stop you from being there at the appointed time?
Okay, maybe there’s a few things. A sudden death in the family or severe illness. Natural disaster getting in your way. Some stuff that’s not really in your control. But that’s not what happens here. The call goes out, the banquet is ready. Just show up and enjoy it! And the servant sent to gather the guests gets… excuses.
And I mean, it’s not like they’re terrible excuses. They all have something to do that is more important to them than enjoying a nice banquet. One wants to check out a new purchase of land. Another needs to field-test his new oxen. Still another has a wife he needs to take care of. Seems reasonable. But on the other hand, would an evening out of their lives to attend the banquet really have ruined these other things? You could kind of see it going either way, right?
See, here’s the problem with the “No Regrets” lifestyle. You can’t do everything. Every day you’re faced with choices of doing one thing over another. And we all value activities differently. Maybe for you living life to its fullest means going out and being social every evening. Maybe for me it means eating a whole bag of Oreos and reading comic books all night. But at every juncture, at every decision point – how do you know which one you won’t regret?
You can’t. You just can’t for any earthly activity. But we’re not really talking about earthly activities, are we? Remember a parable is an earthly story that teaches us about the Kingdom of God. So this banquet is not a banquet, it’s God inviting us to best celebration there ever is and ever will be. The triumph of heaven.
Last week we talked about the uncomfortable reality that hell is real. But just as real is heaven. It’s better than you or I could imagine. It’s better than the best cruise where you don’t get seasick, better than the best camping trip with no mosquitoes, better than a Disney vacation without any lost luggage or crying children and better than the biggest celebration without the awkward relative who drinks too much. Better than any and all of that put together. It’s utterly peaceful, utterly joyful, completely exciting, and without any pain, ache, or fatigue. It’s a grand celebration that never gets boring or tiresome. It is, quite plainly, the best.
Now imagine… what on earth could possibly stop you from being there?
So why do we make excuses all the time? Because we think we don’t want to regret missing things that come up here and now. Some of them are utterly mundane and trivial. “I’ll get to God later, for now I need to try out this new Xbox game.” Those should be easy to spot. Some…like the excuses in our parable, well they seem more reasonable. “I’ll get to God later, but right now I have to sort out our finances.” “I’ll get to God soon, but right now I have to get the shopping for Christmas done.” “I’ll get to God, but this new relationship needs attention first.” “I’d like to have time for God, but my family needs me to do so much for them.”
We think we’ll regret it if we don’t do these things we “should” or “have to” do. Switch your perspective on regrets. We said before there’s no way to know which earthly activity you might regret missing. Sure. But I can tell you this for a fact: When your end comes, when the banquet is ready, you will regret it if you’re not there. I can also promise you this: when you’re there, you will not regret a single thing you missed here.
Think that over a second time. Let it sink in. You will not be in heaven saying to yourself, “You know this sure is a great time, but I’m sorry I didn’t get to see the Grand Canyon before I got here.” How absurd! Replace that with whatever you want. There is nothing you can miss here that will somehow regret in heaven. But whenever we put something ahead of time with God, whenever we cut him out of our lives because we’re afraid of missing out on something else, that’s exactly what we’re doing! Day by day, inch by inch, God gets squeezed out of our lives because we fear missing out on something else here.
Now, perhaps I’ve got you thinking, just like I’ve got me thinking, about all the times I’ve turned down God’s invitation in order to do something utterly trivial in comparison. That’s not a great feeling. Might have you feeling a little worthless overall from that behavior. If that’s how I treat his invitation, why should God even bother to invite me?
If so, take a look at what happens next.
21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
22 “ ‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’ ”
The choice guests don’t come. They all think they have better things to do. But the meal’s prepared, the celebration is ready, it can’t just go to waste! So, the master sends his servant back out. Go and get anyone you can find. Get those that have nothing better in their lives, those that would never turn down such an invitation. I don’t care that they can’t pay me back, if I get no favors or a return invitation someday. Gather everyone who’s worth nothing to anyone.
They do. But there’s still room. So, he sends his servant back out. Go even further out. In fact, there’s an interesting connotation in the original language here. The places the servant is sent the second time are places that robbers and highwaymen were known to lurk. In other words, you’ve got all the worthless people in here? Go and gather the criminals as well! I don’t care who they are or what they’ve done – I don’t want a single space to be wasted.
My brothers, my sisters, it doesn’t matter that you have nothing good to offer God for a place at the banquet. It doesn’t matter if you’re not worth inviting. None of us are. But Jesus himself has prepared this feast. He is the one who ensured there were more than enough places to go around. And God the Father wants none to be wasted.
Here’s the plain facts: Jesus died and rose for all. Because he is God, his death on the cross is valuable enough to pay the price for every person who has ever and will ever live. Heaven can never run out of room. Everyone is invited. You are invited. The only people who will not be there are those that turned away because they had something “better” to do. Anyone who looks to Jesus, who actually shows up is welcome to come in.
And it doesn’t matter what you’re worth to God. He’s God. He doesn’t need anything, there was never a chance that you could bring him something he didn’t already have. More than that, even if you’re a criminal, if you’ve fought against him in the past, he still wants you there. He wants everyone to enjoy the banquet prepared by his Son.
Being there in the end is all that matters. That banquet celebration in heaven is the only thing you’ll regret missing out on. It is the only important thing in your life. A hundred, a thousand other things will scream for your attention demanding that they be dealt with before the most important one, but don’t mistake urgent for important.
Your relationship with God will almost never seem urgent. So, you have to make it the priority. You have to make sure God gets time on your calendar and the best of your gifts first, every time. Make that happen first, because it is the most important, it is the one thing you will regret if you don’t. Then, after you’ve given God your first and best, then you can continue dealing with the other urgent matters in your life.
The kingdom of heaven is like the grandest banquet you can think of, it is the best party, the best vacation, the best experience you can imagine multiplied by more than you can imagine. And you’re invited. Jesus bought you a place. Don’t meander towards that end, run towards it. Don’t ever think for a moment you’ll regret spending time with him, in his word, doing his work over something else in this life. Nothing here even comes close.
Live with that banquet feast in mind. Live for God. No regrets.