I love a peace-filled holiday evening.
The gentle glow of the Christmas lights on the tree.
A cup of cocoa warming your hands.
The potpourri filling the air with the soothing aroma of balsam and pine.
A pair of fuzzy Rudolph slippers cozying your feet.
The quiet melodies of Bing Crosby crooning in the background.
The voice coming from your child’s bedroom down the hall, “Mommy! Bobby’s looking at me funny.”
The shrill reply coming right back, “Nu-uh! He’s lying.”
The eye-rolling gaze from your spouse, “You’re turn to deal with it. I’m really into this episode of “The Great Christmas Bake-off.”
Your sharp response, “You never do any of the work around here.”
Your spouse’s reply, “I always do all the work!”
An interrupting DING to reveal a text from your coworker: “Hey loser! I can’t believe you said that about me at work today.”
And the Facebook reply from Uncle Marvin: “I vehemently disagree with your political stance, snowflake!”
All while Bing Crosby’s crooning is interrupted by Alexa: “Phone call from your monster-in-law. Shall I answer?”
Today we’re continuing our sermon series on PEACE and we’re going to talk about the one of the big things that can ruin a peace filled holiday evening: people.
Our goal is to identify types of peace that actually lead to unrest, determine how Jesus’ peace affects our relationship with others, and get guidance from God’s Word for a peace-filled Christmas with people. Before we begin: 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. False Peace
The text we’re studying for this morning comes from the book of Colossians. Colossians is a letter written to the church in Colosse. Even though it was a church that existed 2000 some years ago, thousands of miles across the ocean from North Carolina, in a language very different from us, it shared one very important similarity:
People who had arguments with their parents.
People who were estranged from their children.
People who were separated from their spouses.
People who were gossiped about at work.
People who sat on one side of the church because they didn’t want to fight with someone on the other side of the church.
Since they were people, we know the Colossian church didn’t have perfect peace.
In spite of all the sin…
In spite of all the anger…
In spite of all the reasons that people gave other people not to have peace,
Look at what God calls them to do: “Let Peace…rule in your hearts.” (v.15)
It’s written down for us too, so today the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts and says:
“Let Peace…rule in your hearts.” (v.15)
But there’s a lot of different types of peace in the world.
Which type rules your heart?
(1) Avoidance Peace
The person with this type of peace does what it describes…
They avoid talking about difficult issues with his wife.
They avoid that one person at work.
They avoid one person on Facebook
The theory is that if this person causes me unrest, I’ll avoid them so that things are peaceful.
And to be fair, that’s not a terrible idea in some situations. Especially if you’re amped up and emotionally charged,
What happens when you can’t quite avoid that person?
For example, I saw two kids on the playground the other day. One of them thought it was hilarious to follow the other one while making goose sounds in the ear of the other child. The other child didn’t like it. But instead of telling her friend to stop, she simply ran to the other side of the playground.
Until the other kid caught up. “HONK!”
Then, she went to the sandbox.
Finally, she went underneath the slide – the secret lair of the 4 year old playground.
And it was peaceful for a bit,
And suddenly, she stopped trying to hide and shouted, screamed, and generally had a full-fledged meltdown because of her friend.
The same thing happens to adults.
When the avoider can no longer avoid, the peace is disturbed.
And there’s one epic explosion.
Because avoidance peace, isn’t really peace at all.
It just aims to manage the tension.
(2) Substance-Induced Peace
Holiday parties mean that we may have to interact with people that are difficult. That causes anxiety. In anticipation, what can happen is that we self-medicate:
A shot of whiskey.
A six pack of beer.
An entire bag of Doritos.
Anything to distract us from our anxieties and give us peace.
But do substances really lead to lasting peace?
A shot of whiskey can loosen up your tension, and it can loosen your tongue as argue with your friend.
A six pack of beers leads to a calmness on your body – which leads to you calmly calling your coworker names – something they’ll remember on Monday.
A bag of chips can help you feel content when you feel discontent about a conversation with your spouse, but come 7 am? Sluggish and cranky. (And sluggish and cranky aren’t good for fostering peace in a marriage.)
Substances don’t give lasting peace. They simply numb us to the anxiety in our bodies.
Now, understand what I’m saying:
It’s not wrong to have a beer.
And it’s not wrong to eat a cookie.
But it is wrong to try to find peace in those things rather than your God.
(3) “Sneaky” Peace
This kind of peace LOOKS peaceful.
It LOOKS like you get along with others.
it LOOKS like you’re doing fine with your family.
It LOOKS like you enjoy your friends even when they’re planning something that you don’t like at all.
Instead of talking about it with them.
You talk about them with others.
Did you hear that coworker’s idea? It’s awful…
Here’s a funny meme about my brother eating a snack with the words “PIG” plastered over it.
Text, text, text. Everyone thinks I’m having a good time, but really, I hope that the tinsel suffocates them.
Sneaky peace isn’t peace.
Because when the gossip catches up to you, how do you think that goes over?
(4) Exhausted from Yelling Really, Really, Loudly Peace
This type of peace is also known as ‘Professional Wrestling” peace.
Because to these people, the answer to disagreement is simply to fight people!
They let people have it.
They write an angry email.
They blog incessantly – typing as loudly as their fingers can type.
And they get all their anger out and…
…They feel better.
Because they’re exhausted.
But this peace is not peace.
Because while you might feel ok for a moment.
The people you yelled at? Not so much.
This isn’t what people called to peace do.
(5) Selfish Peace
The selfish peace can be one of the trickiest of all. It’s a type of peace that exists, as long as, people agree with you.
Gingerbreads are the best kind of cookie, right? I’ll fight you if you disagree.
I think we should hold the work party on Friday night…, RIGHT EVERYONE!?!!
We should spend exactly $20 on each kid for Christmas. $20 is the right amount. We can peacefully get these presents, if you buy them for only $20.
But it’s even worse if someone disagrees with this type of person. Because instead of entertaining the idea that maybe, they, a sinful, imperfect human being, could possibly be incorrect, they blame all the discord on the other person.
It’s like the Grinch! He hated Christmas. He hated toys. He hated carols. He hated the Christmas feast and the roast beast.
And he hated it because the Whos liked it.
And he was convinced the Whos down in Whoville were all jerks.
And the disagreement was all their fault.
And it had nothing to do with the fact that he went and hid up on a mountain and was generally unpleasant to people all the time.
And so, the night he steals Christmas, he’s at peace, because it was all their fault anyway!
Stealing the toys? They deserve it.
Breaking the ornament? This is on them.
Losing the Roast Beast? Cindy Lou Who is the One to blame!
This type of thinking doesn’t lead to peace.
It just leads to people wanting nothing to do with you.
Here’s the truth:
Any peace other than JESUS’ peace creates DISHARMONY.
Picture your life like this piano.
You have a note.
You play it well – it sounds nice.
When you play well with others – there’s harmony.
When you and your family are at peace – beautiful.
When you and your friends are at peace – wonderful.
When you and your church family are at peace – phenomenal.
When you avoid disagreement and prefer growing bitter– CLANG!
When you self-medicate with substances – WHAM!
When you gossip – BANG!
With you rage – DISSONANCE!
When you stay self-centered – DISHARMONY!
False peace drives people apart.
If you’re in the business of driving people apart.
If you’re in the business of creating disharmony with people that God created…
You’re also creating disharmony with God.
II. The Peace of Jesus
Speaking of disharmony.
Mary was a young woman who was about ready to become harmoniously united to a guy named Joseph.
Like most, it was a day she dreamt of.
A beautiful wedding.
A beautiful ceremony.
A beautiful reception.
All leading up to a beautiful marriage.
As each day got closer to their SAVE the DATE, Mary’s anticipation for a harmonious marriage to start grew.
Standing right in front of her!
And his message to her:
You will give birth to a Son and call him Jesus. (v31)
Talk about something that could ruin a relationship.
Something that could cause disharmony and non-peace.
Mary was suddenly pregnant with a child that wasn’t from her soon-to-be husband!
Do you know what she says at the end of it all?
Do you know what she says after finding out this disruptive news?
“I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” (v.38)
Did you hear that?
There’s Peace for her.
And, if you read the rest of the story, peace for Joseph.
And the reason they have peace in their relationship?
It’s because they have peace with God.
Peace that only Jesus can bring.
Here’s a few unique things about the peace of Jesus:
(1) It’s Divine
This is the main point of last week’s sermon. You have peace with God!
Remember this memory verse from Romans 5:1
Therefore, since we have been declared innocent through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Is God’s peace.
Think about it.
It’s not peace with your dog or your cat.
it’s not peace with your two-year-old.
it’s not peace with your sister, your mom, your dad.
Or some random acquaintance that you haven’t talked to for years on Facebook.
You have peace with the ruler of the universe!
There’s no higher level of peace in existence.
(2) It’s Unearned
Note that this is totally different from the people. Usually, you have to earn their peace. If you wrong them by “accidently” eating all of their Christmas BonBons, you might need to…
…send them a humorous BonBon GIF.
…spend hours making your own version of chocolatey, peanut-buttery goodness.
But with God?
You have peace.
Because of Jesus.
Not because of you.
You don’t need to try harder.
You don’t need to do better.
You don’t need to give more.
You don’t need to believe better.
Jesus was born miraculously, lived perfectly, died innocently and rose triumphantly.
Because of him, you have peace.
(3) It’s Complete
That’s important to remember.
Because sometimes in our earthly relationships, there’s peace…but only in certain areas:
You might have peace with your Uncle, as long as you don’t talk about politics.
You might have peace with your spouse, as long as, you don’t talk about finances.
You might have peace with your children, as long as, you don’t ever tell them that they have to go to bed.
But with God? It’s a complete peace.
You have peace with God in the morning and at night.
You have peace with God on a Sunday and a Monday.
You have peace with God during church and afterwards.
You have peace with God when you’re feeling peaceful and even when you’re not.
God’s peace is complete.
And God’s peace is a peace that God has called us to with others.
III. How to Be Peaceful with People
How do you do it?
Look at the text again. Colossians offers some guidance.
(1) Let Jesus’ Peace Rule
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” (v.15)
Focus in on the word “rule”. The Greek word actually has to do with refereeing in sports.
As in, the guy in the striped shirt has the final say.
As in, the guy with the whistle determines what’s legal.
As in, some guy on a power trip gets to determine that the three point basket I shot as time expired to win the Consolation prize at a 6th grade boy’s basketball tournament, didn’t count! (I’m not bitter).
God says to let PEACE be the deciding factor in our hearts.
Let it determine our actions.
Let it determine our words.
But, not just any peace, this is Christ’s peace.
Remember – Christ’s peace is…
…DIVINE! Peace with your parents is a godly thing.
…UNEARNED! Be peaceful even if your someone hasn’t earned back peace.
…COMPLETE! Don’t just be peaceful while other family members are around…be peaceful all the time.
(2) Be Thankful!
Verse 15 ends with the instruction, “Be Thankful.” (v.15b)
Because if you are thankful, it is a lot more challenging to be cranky. In fact, it is scientifically proven that thankfulness releases a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is the chemical that is release when you exercise that makes you feel good.
So…when you’re feeling unrest from somebody else, take a moment – and be thankful.
Be thankful to God! He loves you. He gave you life. You are his.
Be thankful to Jesus! He loves you. He died for you. He rose for you. You are forgiven.
Be thankful for that person you are angry with!
If it’s a family member or a friend, there are things that you are thankful for about them.
You might not be thinking about it at the moment.
But when you practice thankfulness for that person, unrest starts to fade away.
For example, I just met someone whose mother gave them up when they were an infant.
The story goes that the mother was too addicted to drugs to be a good mother, so she gave her up for adoption.
But do you know what this formerly abandoned infant – now full-grown adult said?
I’m thankful for her.
Thankful she gave me life.
Thankfulness works against unrest.
(3) Digest a Wealth of God’s Word
This is the obligatory part of the sermon where I remind you to study more of God’s Word. But that’s what God’s Word says about God’s Word. Verse 16 says this, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another.”
Think about it.
The more that you know that you have peace with God, the more peaceful you’ll be with others.
Usually I tell you that you that spending time in God’s Word is a blessing for you.
And it is.
But flip the script today – because your time in God’s Word is also a blessing for others.
You won’t be so irritable.
You won’t react to every little thing someone says.
You won’t let the unpeaceful things of others hurt you because you will find peace in your Savior!
In fact, if you’re wondering whether or not you need more of God’s Word, ask yourself if you’re perfectly peaceful with your family.
If the answer is no, then…you need God’s Word.
Check out verse 16: “Teach And admonish one another with Psalm, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts towards God.” (v.16)
Did you know that God tells us to sing? Because music is a special gift from God. A special gift that can bring peace on its own. It’s why they science tells you that beautiful melodies of classical music can put your brainwaves at ease and help you study more peacefully and efficiently.
Now combine the peace of music with God’s Word.
Joy to the world the Lord has come! I have no reason to be mad at you.
Silent Night! Holy Night! It’s ok, I lost my place in line.
Oh Come, Oh come Emmanuel! Help me stay calm with my brother…Mel!
It’s a real thing though.
Music brings peace.
Music used to teach us the great things our God has done for us – divine peace.
(5) Act in Jesus’ Name
Check out verse 17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Because that’s really the whole point.
We are acting in Jesus’ name.
And if you are going around being a non-peaceful jerk, who’s going to believe that you have the message of peace?
On the other hand, if you’re able to stay calm, stay peaceful, stay joyful.
You’ll bring peace.
They’ll want peace.
You get to show them peace.
That’s really the whole point.
You have an incredible opportunity this season to share the peace of Jesus.
May God give us peace to do so. Amen.
We are in the middle of our sermon series on Acts. In this series we have been to a lot of different places and learned a different lesson in each place. Today we’re getting a potpourri of lessons from one place and all on hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy comes from the Greek word “hypokrusis.” The word was used in Greek theater. It meant: “to play a part,” which, in Greek theater, often meant “wearing a mask.” It’s a part of theater still today – specifically known as the Marvel Big Screen.
Chris Evans dons a mask and becomes Captain America.
Chadwick Boseman dons a mask and becomes Black Panther.
Evangeline Lilly dons a mask and becomes The Wasp.
Hypocrisy, then, is when someone claims to be one thing, when they are not.
Before we begin our study of hypocrisy, 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. One Kind of Hypocrisy
The lesson from Acts 19 is the first big stop on Paul’s 3rd missionary journey. Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. (19:1a) Ephesus was the Capital of the Ancient province of Asia and a bustling commercial center. Paul had briefly been there at the end of the 2nd missionary journey. Before he left, he promised to return if God allowed. Paul’s appearance in chapter 19 is a fulfillment of that promise.
When Paul arrives, he finds some disciples. (v.1b) These men claimed to be followers of the Christ. Paul greets them pleasantly. (Maybe with some high fives, jokes about not having rocks thrown at him, and an invitation to go grab lunch at the local Smashburger).
As they are hanging out, Paul asks them some conversational questions:
What’s your favorite worship song?
What do you do to serve at the church?
Do you like your coffee dark or light roast?
Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? (v.2)
The Holy Spirit is absolutely in the heart of all believers. 1 Corinthians 12:3 says, “No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.” It’s simple. It’s clear. If you believe in Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit, because you need the Holy Spirit in order to believe.
But what Paul is talking about here is something different. Early in the history of the Christian church, during key faith-filled events, the Holy Spirit would visibly manifest his presence within a group of believers. This would serve to prove the truthfulness of the Gospel through miraculous signs. It happened at Pentecost (Acts 2) when tongues of fire appeared on the Apostles’ heads as they spoke in languages that they had never learned. It happened again in the house of the Roman Centurion Cornelius (Acts 10). In both instances, God was making it clear that this faith – and the message that this faith was placed in – was a very real and very divine message.
Paul’s question was about whether that had happened with them.
Did you get to speak in tongues?
Did fire appear on your heads?
Did you open your mouth and rainbows started shooting out?
The answer was a bit surprising:
“We hadn’t heard there was a Holy Spirit…” (v.3)
Paul responded, “Wait. What!?! You don’t know the Holy Spirit? He’s a key part of our teachings. He’s the one who brings us to faith. He’s the one who came down on Jesus like a dove. And Baptism! Haven’t you been baptized? Into whose name were you baptized? Because as far as I know…believers are baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the HOLY SPIRIT.”
The men responded, “We were baptized into John’s Baptism, into the name of the Christ who is going to come in the future.”
“OK… The Christ. Good. Did you know he has already come? Did you know he already did his Christ work? Did you know his name?”
And the men looked on at another, shrugged, and replied, “I don’t know…maybe…Bob?”
Divine forehead slap.
Here’s the truth: Sometimes hypocrisy comes from IGNORANCE.
It’s like the time I was at Buffalo Wild Wings and a lady near me was decked out in Tarheel gear as she watched them battle on the football field. A while later, the Tarheels had their quarterback sacked in the end zone. The woman stood up, clapped, and shouted, “Great job! Way to go.”
Until, her friends (also in Tarheel gear) motioned for her to sit down: “Stop cheering. That was a safety. That means its two points for the other team.”
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from IGNORANCE.
Yes, I’m a believer in Jesus…and I believe you can sleep with whomever you want. Does the Bible say differently?
Yes, my social profile says: “Christian”; I like all kinds of quotes from the Bible. Also quotes from the KKK. Is there something wrong?
Yes, I’m a Christian. I’ve been my whole life. But what do you mean when you are talking about salvation by grace? Never heard of it? I thought I’d get to heaven, simply because I was good enough….
Before you say, “But if someone doesn’t know, it’s no big deal.”
Remember that ignorant hypocrisy is still hypocrisy.
It’s still wrong.
If your son winds up and punches your little daughter in the face, you don’t say, “It’s ok. He didn’t know. Let him be.” No! You course correct immediately!
In the same way, it’s still wrong when we say we are followers of Jesus, but then do the opposite of followers of Jesus, even if we simply didn’t know followers of Jesus don’t do that.
There’s a simple cure for this kind of hypocrisy. It’s called knowledge. That’s what Paul gave these men. He said to them in verse 4, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”
Jesus is the Christ.
He lived perfectly when you couldn’t.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins. I saw it with my own eyes!
And the group believes.
They are baptized into Jesus’ name.
And that Holy Spirit that they didn’t know about? He makes himself visibly known. They began to speak in tongues, and they prophesied. (v.6) Visual proof of the invisible truth that their faith in Jesus wasn’t fake; it was real.
The same is true for you. Repent of your any hypocrisy of ignorance.
To do that, look at the truth.
The truth may be that what you’ve been doing is sin.
But the truth also is that you have a Savior.
And in Jesus, you are forgiven.
II. Another Kind of Hypocrisy
But not all hypocrisy is caused by ignorance.
Next Paul entered the synagogue, a place where they studied God’s Word.
He went and spoke boldly there for three months. (v.9a)
You would expect this to produce real believers.
These people wore religious jewelry.
They went to worship.
They knew lots of the Bible.
They knew all the words to all their favorite religious songs.
They knew prayers.
They knew religious logos.
They knew God’s Word.
And yet…when Paul was done speaking…
Some of them were obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. (v.9b)
And think about the hypocrisy of it all:
They studied God’s Word.
They knew God’s Word.
Then, they refused to believe God’s Word.
And even openly mocked God’s Word.
Only to sit around congratulating each other for following that Word that they were mocking.
It’s would be like sitting in the Fellowship Hall after worship and gossiping about another believer not being a very good believer and then congratulating yourselves on being such good believers even though you’re doing things that believers aren’t supposed to do.
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from ignorance; but sometimes hypocrisy comes from obstinance.
In fact, the Greek word there means “hardened.” Tough, rough, impenetrable.
Like a rock. There’s nothing getting through the exterior into the heart of the rock. Try it. You can punch the rock. You can hit the rock with a blow dart. You could try karate chopping the rock. Nothing. Even if you took a hammer to it - that rock isn’t splitting.
The same can happen with people’s hearts.
Even the hearts of long-time Christians.
I know racism is wrong. God is for all people. You should go tell it to those people over there. They’re the racist ones. In fact, that’s how all people like them are!
I know it says that sex outside of marriage is wrong. And I haven’t had it! Look at my purity ring! Now excuse me…the adult film. I uploaded on my iPhone is coming after it’s done buffering.
I know it! Pride is wrong. Preach it pastor! Especially at that guy over there. But don’t you preach it at humble me. There’s nobody humbler than I am.
And God’s Word connects with the heart.
And the heart hardens.
And hypocrisy ensues.
If you are a long-time church goer, take extra warning!
Don’t harden your heart to God’s Word.
And then sit around congratulating yourself for following God’s Word.
Instead of hardening your heart, look at God’s heart.
Because God’s heart was not hard.
His heart was filled with compassion.
His heart was filled with love for you…even when you repeatedly hardened your heart against him.
His heart was not hardened like a rock.
When he hung on that cross…
The soldiers reached up with a spear.
They plunged it into his him.
But softened with love for you.
Even now. Even if you’ve hardened your heart before, listen to his heart for you.
Repent of your hypocrisy.
And do it quickly.
III. All Kinds of Hypocrisy
As Paul continued his ministry, God continued to bless Paul. In fact, look at the amazing things that God did through Paul: Even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul were taken to the sick and their illnesses were cured, and the evil spirits left them. (v.12)
That’s amazing! Paul’s handkerchiefs cured from the flu and his aprons drove out evil spirits. But look at what happened, “Seven sons of Sceva (Which…Listen to the name. It sounds shady. Almost like an evil muppet or something) they went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon possessed. They would say, “In the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” (v.12-13)
To be fair, this doesn’t look hypocritical.
It looks like they are trying to help.
They aren’t ignorant of Jesus’ name. They use it.
They aren’t obstinately opposed to Jesus. God is against demons, too.
Yet, look at what happened.
One day an evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. (v.15)
Do you see the problem?
But God could.
Maybe they weren’t doing this out of love for Jesus.
But out of love for power.
Maybe they weren’t doing this out of love for others.
But out of love for themselves.
They were hypocrites.
Good ones too! It was hard to tell that they were doing anything wrong.
But here’s the truth:
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from ignorance.
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from obstinance.
But hypocrisy is always exposed.
A family member finds out.
A pastor discovers the truth.
Your spouse learns about what you were trying to hide.
Always hypocrisy is exposed.
Even if you successfully hide it from all other human beings, God knows.
God knows and he will expose it.
At the end of time, you won’t be able to hide it.
And he won’t be able to hide his displeasure.
He’ll simply say:
Jesus, I know…
And Paul I know…
Who are you?
IV. What Now?
Therefore, God calls us to repent.
To turn from hypocrisy.
To turn to our Savior.
And the way to do that is to:
(1). Switch Your Mask
We said that hypocrisy is putting on a mask. Covering up our sins with a nice looking, “Christian” façade.
Make me think of Halloween. That’s a time for masks. There’s a wide variety of them at Precious Lambs. I remember there was one kid who made his own mask. It was made of string and paper. The paper covered up…one of his eyebrows. He said: “You don’t know who I am.” And I said: “Uh-huh.”
Hypocrisy? That’s like hiding behind the paper eyebrow mask.
We think it hides our sinfulness from God.
Instead, check out Galatians 3:27
All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
Just like a full-fledged mask, it fully and completely covers up all your sins.
Jesus covers up your obstinance.
Jesus covers up your ignorance.
Jesus covers up your sin so much so that when God looks at you, He only sees – His child.
So much so that God calls us to our second WHAT NOW:
(2). Go Public
Look at the reaction of the people to what had occurred. Many who believed came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. (v.18)
Think about that: Believers gathered in the middle of the city with their arms filled of books that they had been storing in their homes. Books that weren’t about the Bible. Books that were about Satan, witchcraft, and sexual immorality.
It’d be like someone coming to the front of church and making a pile of a raunchy racist DVDs, two illegal drug baggies, and an iPhone loaded with pornographic content.
That’s take courage to do in front of everyone, right?
But they had the courage.
Because they were covered in Christ’s righteousness.
Because they knew they were God’s children.
Because they knew God’s children were serious about getting rid of sin.
Because they knew God’s other children wouldn’t ridicule them, but support them.
They went public with it.
Do the same.
Examine your heart.
Find your hypocrisy
And Go public with it.
Go public with a friend, a pastor, or a family member!
And if someone trusts you enough to publicly confess a secret sin to you, don’t say:
“Just a second while I share what you did on social media.”
Share the Gospel.
Remind them of Christ’s mask.
Help them incinerate whatever it is they are struggling with!
Because in that, God’s Word is spread.
In fact, look at the last verse:
In this way, the word of the Lord spread widely. (v.20)
Because when God’s Word gets us to stop being hypocrites and start being real, then God’s Word really spreads.
If we’re real -- real with God and real with each other -- then the community will notice.
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.
Jesus poses two questions tonight as he gets at an issue so important for our spiritual health. The topic we’re digging into is: being neither hypocritical in action, nor paralyzed into inaction. Take a listen. Jesus tells us:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."
Do you agree with this statement? “Hypocritical actions are one of the great damaging forces in our world.” I’m thinking especially of damaging to relationships, like friendships. Do you agree? Any disagreement?
Okay, now let me focus the statement in a little further: “Hypocritical actions are one of the great damaging forces in our world …and within churches.” If they are present, if they are allowed to go unchecked, do you agree? Yes.
We might be led to ponder adopting the minimalist approach that is popular in our culture today, namely “I’ll just keep myself from commenting on anything that anyone else does, to avoid the impression of being unlovingly hypocritical.” But before you go there, or if you’ve bought into that thinking to some degree, I’ve got an additional statement for us to consider:
“Inaction is also a great damaging force in our culture in our age.” Make the statement specific to when someone else with whom you are connected – family or close friend – is involved in something harmful. Adopting an “I’ll do nothing, say nothing, in order to avoid the impression of being unloving or hypocritical” approach, results many times in a great deal of damage impacting lives. Do you agree?
Let’s pinpoint the type of toxic effects for relationships that are in play with either one of the problematic approaches we’ve identified: being hypocritical in action, as well as being paralyzed into inaction. And keep in view there is more than our relationships with one another involved here. There is also the relationship for each one of us, as Christians, with our God that is connected here.
If we see someone in our family in Christ doing something harmful, if we do nothing we allow something toxic to go on working its damaging effects. Think about that proposition. It sounds silly! I’m sure you see the disconnect in that. We, as a family in Christ, want to help one another with identifying whatever is causing hurt or harm.
Doing that is important. And how we go at that goal is equally critical. If any “holier-than-thou” / any pride or self-righteous attitude is in the offering, the “help” being offered is actually likely to multiply the harm, rather than help remove it. Why? For starters, any correction offered with such an attitude is harmful to the one offering it. Pride or a self-righteous spirit would indicate some spiritual infection in thoughts and actions of that individual. And in many cases, the recipient of the correction too will experience additional hurt or harm. How so? Either they’ll see the self-righteous attitude for the hypocrisy that it really is, and be understandably turned off by it…. Or, there is this possibility: they can be potentially misled by the appeal of self-righteousness and pride. They may pursue the corrected behavior being offered, but if they do that with the wrong motivation of self-righteousness themselves, it is still spiritually harmful.
One word helps us guard against the immensely damaging attitude of hypocrisy when we step in to help someone else. It’s Jesus word: “first.” Matthew 7:5 - "You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."
Now as you see Jesus’ “first,” I want you to look at 1 Timothy 1:15, and see the apostle Paul use this “first” for himself:
This saying is trustworthy and worthy of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” of whom I am the first."
That “first” is a literal rendering where many English translations say “worst.”
As we place Jesus’ “first” in Matthew 7:5 beside the “first” here in Paul’s statement, we can each see a personal perspective for us to make our own. As we view ourselves - and everyone else in relation to us - I’m “first” among the sinners. If you’re standing “first” in line, seeing your sin, and then being on the receiving end of Jesus’ full and fully undeserved forgiveness and peace, - got it? - think of how that affects every interaction you have as you turn back to everyone else you face and encounter in your relationships.
Then you and I are not coming from any attitude of “holier than thou” or pride, but from an awareness of “here is a sinner who has received Jesus’ healing.” “Then” also “here is someone happy to share the healing medicine of God’s truth and love.”
Just think how different that is than if I were to be turning around to the people around me, without first standing before Jesus with the issue of my sin addressed… If I came to someone else to talk to them about their problem, but I go about that thinking I don’t have any problems myself or my problems are minor compared theirs… how much help am I going to be? That’s a recipe for turning them off (to disregard anything I offer), or tempting them to join in hypocrisy / pride themselves.
You could find example after example of harm done by those trying to correct others when they themselves have spiritual planks unaddressed.
Notice I say, unaddressed. But once addressed, don’t leave Jesus’ “then” undone. Jesus gives a 2nd part to his answer to the questions he poses here: “First… then.” How important is this “then”?
I’ve got another statement I want you to evaluate: “The opposite of love isn’t always hateful action. It is, maybe even sometimes more powerfully, felt in apathy.” Do you agree? Can lack of action cause such a negative impact in lives? Can it cause such negative kind of impact in a church, a Christian family?
Our Savior knows what He is talking about when he teaches us this “first… then” truth.
Hypocritical actions do harm in churches. Think of the conclusion people are likely to draw if such actions are left unaddressed.
Let’s follow Jesus’ direction. When we see / hear something wrong from someone in our group, let’s lovingly, humbly act.
Pastor Earle Treptow wrote an article entitled “Judge Me, Please!” I’m going to wrap up our topic with a few of his encouragements [2015/05/31/in FIC Features, Forward in Christ - Judge me, please! Earle D. Treptow].
While standing in line to board a plane, I noticed her tattoo. “No one can judge me,” it said. What struck me later about her tattoo was its placement. It was on the back of her neck, a place she probably didn’t see all that often. The words of the tattoo, then, weren’t really intended as words of comfort or encouragement for her. The tattoo meant to sound a warning to others. “You are going to judge me? Please! Who are you to talk to me about my attitude or my words or my actions? You’re no better than I am.”
We know exactly where she’s coming from! We don’t particularly care to have people question our attitudes or confront us about our actions. If they want to praise us for what we do, we are willing to listen. But should they wish to address some failing, we definitely don’t want to hear it.
That, however, is not the community in which the Lord wants his people to live. He brought us into his church and gave us our fellow believers for our benefit. Because he wants you to live with him forever, the Lord puts fellow believers into your life. He moves them to love you enough to judge you, to confront you with your sinful attitudes, and to rebuke your sinful actions. He does so for your everlasting good, to lead you to repentance and rescue you from death. Knowing our Savior’s love for our souls, we humbly ask our brothers and sisters in Christ, “Judge me, please!”
Or, to put that in terms of Jesus’ encouragement from Matthew 7… As we turn to one another after walking to the foot of our Savior, we say, “Please, help me see the ‘specks’ in my life.” May God grant this for His glory and for our good! Amen.
Last week we talked about our FRESH purpose and that is to be a part of God’s mission to SAVE ALL PEOPLE by Planting the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh. It’s an incredible purpose. It’s a BIG purpose and it’s a privilege to be a part of this purpose.
Maybe you left last week thinking – What is the biggest thing that I can do to help accomplish this goal?
I could use my biceps! And help tear out old bushes, carry Bibles during Bible hour and lift children in need of diaper changes at the Preschool.
I could use my head! And start planning Sanctuary updates, outreach opportunities and how to improve our Youth Group.
I could use my money! And fund exterior improvements, advertisements to church events and tuition assistance for the kids.
Today, God’s Word wants you to consider something else.
A part of the body that’s not as BIG as your biceps.
Nor as SMART as your brain.
Nor as VALUED as your money.
Yet, this body part has the ability to be MOST VALUABLE when it comes to sharing the kingdom of God.
Today our topic is SPEECH. Our goal is to consider the great power of our tongues and how we might can use it on our mission to Plant the Message of Jesus in the hearts of North Raleigh. 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. The Power of the Tongue
The section of God’s Word that we’ll study this morning comes from James 3. The book of James is a letter written by an important disciple in the early church called James. James was the leader in the church in Jerusalem. A very large church. The mother church, if you will of all the other churches. It’s where the message of Jesus started and spread to other parts of Asia Minor, to Europe…even to Raleigh, NC.
In Chapter 3, James is writes to Christians everywhere about how they use their tongues. Take a look:
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. (v.3-5a)
Anyone ever ridden a horse before? They are large animals. They are powerful animals. They have the ability to draw the Wells Fargo Wagon or the Budweiser beer carriage. Horses are the reason that we compare the power of a motor vehicle’s engine as horse power.
And if you try to move a horse with your hands, just by pushing them around? It ain’t gonna work. Instead, they developed something called a bit. It’s a small piece of technology (a rope) that fits into their mouth and attached to more rope. By pulling that rope (either on horseback or walking along the side) you can easily control which way you want the large powerful horse to go!
Gigantic power, tiny device.
Or how about a large ship? Think of a cruise ship. It’s filled with thousands of people. It has hundreds of pounds of margarita mix and suntan lotion. It has little to no problem carrying an entire set of conga line dancers in the little space in its cabin. It’s large. It’s powerful. If you are a small canoe boat in the way of a cruise ship, you better move.
But…in the back of the ship, right near the water, is a rudder. A small little part in comparison to the rest of the ship. This little rudder directs the wave flow and turns the gigantic ship.
Gigantic power; tiny device.
The Tongue is the exact same. It isn’t big. In comparison to the rest of the body, it’s rather small. Yet. The tongue wields great power.
It has the power to set your life’s course: “Honey, will you marry me?”
It has the power to get your career on track: “Yes. I do accept your offer and I will be regional manager of sales!”
It has the power to save your life: “Yes, I will go through with the chemo treatment.”
Though the tongue is small, its power is great.
Think about it.
George Washington used his tongue to win a revolution.
Abraham Lincoln used his tongue to end slavery.
Martin Luther King Jr. used his tongue to bring about great strides in equality.
And people are still using their tongues to accomplish all kinds of things – to this day.
II. Spitting Fire (Bad Uses of the Tongue)
But…because the tongue has such a great ability to accomplish powerful things…
It becomes imperative that we use them to accomplish positive, powerful things.
That is the very next thing that James writes:
Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire. (v.5b-6)
Do you remember Smokey the Bear? He always said, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” That wasn’t his way of saying, “stop using a blow torch to set the forest on fire.” In fact, I’m not sure that any forest fire has ever been started via blow torch. It was his way of saying, “Be sure to truly and completely douse your campfire in water. Because even the smallest ember or spark can set the entire forest on fire.” Think of that…some of the biggest forest fires in California – fires that have made people evacuate their homes – were caused by a simple, tiny flame.
When simple tiny words are used in the wrong way – they can cause just as great of damage. Here’s three things that your tongue can set fire to:
(1) Your Body
Look at the next part of the passage. James write, “The tongue is a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body.” (v.7) How does that work? The tongue leads you into sin which corrupts not only our tongue, but the whole body. ln other words, it is the gateway to sin that is happening right now.
“Why yes! I’ll go ahead and have that 7th shot of Jack Daniels!” And the whole body is corrupted with drunkenness.
“Why yes! I’ll go ahead and speak gossip with you!” And the whole body is corrupted with jealousy.
“Why yes! I think you’re a moron, too!” And the whole body is corrupted with rage and anger.
“Why no! I refuse to forgive you!” And the body remains corrupted with bitterness.
(2) Your Course
Look at the next part of the passage. James write, “The tongue…sets the course of one’s life on fire.” (v.7b) In other words – the tongue doesn’t just lead you to current sin, but it also leads to future sin.
“Why yes! I’ll tell you a lie about what I did for work last week!” And now I am on course with future lies to keep that lie going.
“Why yes! Even though I’m married, I find you to be quite attractive.” And now I am on course with future flirting, lust…even adultery!
“Why no! I don’t think that we should listen to the Bible on that point.” And now I have set my children on course to a life where we don’t listen to what God’s Word has to say!
(3) Its Own Eternal Destiny
James finishes by writing, “The tongue is itself set on fire by hell.” (v.7c)
Because…wicked words are sin.
The wages of sin is death.
Even eternal death in hell.
God doesn’t love it when we speak evil against His created beings or lead His created beings into sin.
He hates it so much he threatens punishment.
Even punishment in hell.
To be fair – the last one is probably good enough reason.
But combined, we have plenty of reason to tame our tongues…
To watch what we say.
To not use our tongues for evil.
III. Taming the Tongue
But…how does one tame their tongue?
Have you ever tried it?
James says this about taming the tongue:
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (v.7)
Think about how true that is.
Humans can tame Elephants. They’re gigantic creatures and yet, in India, they knock down trees and haul the logs wherever their trainers tell them to deliver it.
Humans can tame Lions. At the circus, the lion tamer turns to the king of the jungle, the sharp toothed, alpha predator and tells the ferocious cat to open his jaws and then – places his skull directly inside.
Humans can tame Killer Whales. At SeaWorld, Shamu, an aquatic animal of over 2,000 pounds – listens to his trainers as they hold up one tiny finish to get him to splash the crowd on demand.
Humans can train all of these different animals….
The elephant trainer struggles to stop his tongue from dropping four letter words when he steps in a pile of dung.
The lion tamer struggles to stop his tongue from boasting to his assistant because he thinks he is the greatest.
The SeaWorld trainer struggles to stop his tongue from lying – Yes, he did remember to feed the walruses – even though he didn’t.
Humans are terrible at taming their tongues.
No human can tame their own tongue.
Which means… the only one that can tame the tongue is someone isn’t human at all…
Do you know who has one of the worst tongues?
It’s the devil.
He’s been using his tongue to set the world on fire…ever since the beginning.
He spoke to God and said, “I should be God. Not you.”
He lied to Adam and Eve said, “Sin won’t be such a bad thing, trust me.”
He lies to you and me and says, “Your tongue has gotten you into so much trouble – there’s no way that God could ever forgive you.”
Satan has a powerful tongue.
His words can cause you to despair.
To be overwhelmed with guilt.
To be filled with regret.
To lose all hope.
While Satan’s tongue is powerful…
It’s not powerful enough.
If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One… (1 John 2:1)
Did you see that? Jesus is our Advocate.
That means he talks on our behalf.
And when the devil comes along and says, “Throw that person in hell! They have done so many sins.”
Jesus says, “Shut up!”
“I died for them.”
“I rose for them.”
“I defeated sin for them.”
“I defeated death for them.”
“They are forgiven.”
Jesus tames the devil’s tongue and speaks on our behalf.
His speech is more powerful!
It’s not just human speech. But it is God’s own speech.
God’s tongue? It can tame things that even humans cannot.
It tamed a storm when Jesus said, “Stop.”
It tamed an incurable skin disease when Jesus said, “Be healed.”
It tamed death itself when Jesus said to the young man’s corpse, “Live!”
And it tamed your guilt and shamed when Jesus said to you:
But that’s not it. Check out this passage:
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22)
Here’s the truth. With faith in Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit.
And with the Holy Spirit in our hearts we are able to tame our tongues.
Because the holy Spirit – he’s God.
He doesn’t speak any evil.
In addition, the Holy Spirit empowers you to tame your tongue,
And use it for HIS purpose.
To speak love.
To speak joy.
To speak peace.
To speak patience.
To speak goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
IV. What Now?
If you take a look at the next part of James’ letters – here’s a few rapid-fire instructions from James:
1) Produce a Singular Flow
James writes: With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (v.9-12)
Because if you bent down to grab a drink from a small area of fresh water and after bringing it to your lips, and got a mouth full of salt? That’s not good.
And if you went over to your fig tree and found some olives growing on it – I’d be really concerned about those olives.
If you have a fresh identity in Jesus, it will seem very odd if you mix your “praise Jesus” with the same old sinful language.
That means we’ve got to work hard by God’s grace to keep our language pleasant, kind, and loving -- not just on Sunday for an hour a week – but all the time.
With our family.
With our friends.
With our enemies.
May we produce a singular flow of refreshed language.
2) Keep it In
To do that, we’ve got to learn to keep it in. James said, “If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it!” (v.14)
Don’t say the angry thing that comes to mind.
Don’t drop the four-letter word.
Don’t just relay gossip without thinking about it.
We need to develop some self-control, that every time we’ve got something on our tongues, we stop. Think about it. And consider:
Does this work with my mission of Planting the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of my friends and family?
If not…don’t say it.
There’s nothing worse than a Christian working against his own mission by being uncareful with his tongue. Don’t hurt others’ work of sharing Jesus by gossiping about them.
I’ll never forget the time I was excited to follow up on a visitor to church to see if they wanted to come back. I asked them if they enjoyed the music? Yes. The message? Yes. The coffee? Yes.
But would they be back?
They had overheard a few ‘members’ at their fellowship table complaining about others in church.
They heard salty language in what was supposed to be a fresh water environment.
Keep those negative comments to yourself. Don’t infect others.
3) Purify your Language
Just like trying to purify your tap water so that you can drink it…
We’ve gotta purify our language so that it accomplishes our mission.
To do that, we’ve gotta run it through the best purity filter of all. God’s Word: “The wisdom that comes from heaven is PURE.” (v.17)
If you want to know if the thing you want to say is pure or not, run it by the God’s Word filter.
Is it a lie? God’s Word says don’t lie.
Is it gossip? God’s Word says don’t gossip. And true things are gossip, too!
Is it loving? God’s Word says, “Be loving.” Good…I can say that.
Familiarity with God’s Word will help install this permanent filter in our hearts - to prevent any disgusting outpouring of filth from our tongues.
4) Sow Peace
James writes, “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap in righteousness.” (v.18) Because when we are talking about the best, most positive, and on-the-mission things to speak – nothing comes close to speaking the peace of God’s Word.
There’s nothing more uplifting than telling others about their Savior.
There’s nothing more encouraging than reminding them of his love.
There’s nothing more heartening than telling someone they are forgiven.
And that Gospel message is like a seed that’s planted.
And after planting it carefully…
Again – again and again.
Eventually – that message might grow.
Grow into a harvest of righteousness.
A soul saved.
Friends, may God bless our speech as we used our tongues to the glory of God’s kingdom. Amen.
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.
It is the new year and I’ll bet that you, like many other Americans, are ready for a FRESH start. Even though time is always flowing at the same pace as it always has, as soon as 364 days have taken place and the number changes on our cell phones – we get really motivated to start FRESH in our lives.
Maybe you want a FRESH start with your health: You resolve to eat healthier, join a gym and only eat one big of Doritos per day.
Maybe you want a FRESH start with your finances: You resolve to start an IRA, to talk to a financial planner, to budget your money and stay in that budget.
Maybe you want a FRESH start in your relationships: “I resolve to be kind, wiser and gentler to the people that I work with…which reminds me of another resolution: ‘Get a new job.’”
You want a FRESH start with God.
Today we are starting a new sermon series called FRESH. The goal is to FRESHEN our relationship with God. Before we get started, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. a FRESH kind of religious leader
The lesson for today starts in Luke 5:27. Look at what it says: “Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his collection booth.”
I think this is a great section of God’s Word for the start of a new year. Because it’s a true story about a guy who could use a fresh start in his relationship with God. I say that because Levi was a tax collector. That might not sound awful to you and me, but there are a few cultural things about tax collectors that would have caused the religious leaders of the time to consider Levi a “lost cause” that was “far away from God.”
1. Greedy. This is a bit obvious. But money has this weird effect on people: they like it. Sometimes they like it an appropriate amount. Sometimes a more than appropriate amount. The thought of the religious elite was that in a job like tax collector where you are constantly working with money, you develop an unhealth desire for money. A desire that drives a wedge between you and others. A desire that drives a wedge between you and your God – especially if that God is a God that is all about giving.
2. Traitors to the Pagans. Because the government that was collecting taxes in Jerusalem where the Jews lived was not a Jewish government. It was the Romans. Romans that didn’t worship the true God. Romans that worshipped Zeus, Aphrodite, Hades and other pagan gods. This meant that tax collections could be used to fund temples for false gods, to fund renovations on Caesar’s palace, and to help construct a wing in the Aphrodite temple for Roman soldiers to have wild parties.
The Jewish people didn’t worship those pagan gods. The Jewish people worshipped the one true God. A tax collector that was working with that pagan government? They were, at best, foolish; at worst, traitors to God’s people.
3. Deception. Tax collectors were not paid a lot of money. Yet most of them were fairly well-to-do. Why?
Imagine that you owe some taxes. I, the tax collector, would come to your door. I’d get out your file. I’d know that you owe about $10 in taxes. But instead of giving you a bill for $10…I’d just add an extra zero to it. I’d take the extra $90 for myself.
To be fair – that is something that God commands us not to do. The 7th Commandment is “You shall not steal.” Meaning that those who are stealing, really do put themselves in danger of being far from God!
This trifecta of reasons led to a perfect storm of a sinful lifestyle.
A lifestyle that convinced the religious leaders tax collectors were FAR from God.
A lifestyle that convinced the community that they were FAR from God.
A lifestyle that convinced the tax collectors themselves, that they were FAR from God – and could never get close again.
As he counted his money at the tax table and mentally made note of how many shots he would be able to buy down at L’chiam’s Bar and Grill – and whether or not that was enough to wash away the loneliness and guilt that permeated his everyday life…
I doubt that the religious leaders approached him.
They turned up their noses.
They shook their heads.
They whispered loudly enough for others to hear: “That man is a sinner. The scum of the earth. A lost cause.”
I doubt that Levi had often been approached by religious leaders.
Levi saw him across the street setting down the tea that he had just sipped at the local restaurant.
He had heard Jesus speak before. Not in the synagogue – he wasn’t really allowed there – but on the streets.
Jesus knew what he was talking about.
Jesus was a religious leader.
Jesus was close to God.
Jesus was on his way over.
Levi tried to look busy counting money. Bracing himself for Jesus to wag his finger and tell them how much of a sinner he was for all to hear – almost like a living object lesson for the community of worshippers that had gathered.
But Jesus didn’t wag his finger.
Jesus extended his hand:
“Follow me,” Jesus said to him.
And Levi got up and followed him. (v27-28)
And the religious that were watching this started to throw a fit!
“What was he doing? Did he support tax collectors?
Did he support their sin?
Did he support greed and debauchery and deception and sexual immorality that all of the tax collectors stood for?
How could he, a so—called religious teacher, get anywhere near someone so sinfully disgusting!”
But that wasn’t the end of it.
A short time later, Levi held a banquet for Jesus at his home and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. (v.29)
And even if Levi is starting to act a bit more godly at this point – I doubt that the other tax collectors were. So, don’t picture a real polite, nice dinner meal where everyone is wearing religious jewelry and remembering to pray before anyone takes a bite.
It’s a lot shadier than that.
Picture cigar smoke as Lenny tries to show off the expensive cigar he bought from somewhere down south all with the money he had stolen on his last collection day.
Picture cheap perfume permeating the air from Patsy, the prostitute. She’s the girlfriend…well, that Nahum pays to be intimate with him, rubbing his big muscles and smiling flirtatiously at the disciples.
Picture the faint smell of alcohol – becoming less faint as Dave the drunk approaches. He’s drowning in the smell of Jim Beam because it’s the only way that he gets rid of that void.
Picture a seedy meal filled with a who’s who of sinners.
Which is why the spiritual leaders are losing it! They complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (v.30)
Why do you get so close to the filthy, spiritual vermin?
Why do you befriend…sinners?
And Jesus overhears them.
He pauses his conversation.
He stands from the table.
He approaches the leaders.
And says this:
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (v.31-32)
Do you get it?
It’d be like Julianna having a headache. One of those awful, nasty pounding migraine headaches. It’s so bad that she can’t move and she lays down on the couch. And I run to Walgreens. I pick up some Advil, a bottle of Aleve and some essential oils. I get back to the house. She’s still in pain but is happy to see me.
I go to the faucet.
I fill a glass of water.
I open up the bottle of aspirin.
She holds out her hand.
And I down the aspirin myself.
It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. (v.31)
And it is not the sinless who need a Savior from sin, but sinners.
This is why Jesus came.
And if you are a sinner.
If you have big sins from 2018.
If you had a sin you struggled with throughout 2018.
If you had a sin that you’ve already brought with you into 2019…making you a sinner!
Jesus came for you.
II. a FRESH perspective
Jesus’ words and actions in this account throw our preconceived notions about our relationship with God into a tizzy. (Honestly, I don’t know what a tizzy is; but these words certainly turn our conceptions around).
1) God is for the Righteous Sinners
That’s how we normally think. In the same vein as those religious leaders, we think – God is only for the “Righteous.” He’s only for the people who wear crosses around their neck; the people who have never missed a worship service; the people who share three inspirational Scripture memes a day. The people that look like they’ve got it all together! The “professional” Christians.
But that’s not accurate.
If God was only for the righteous, then God is not for any of us, because none of us are righteous!
In fact, that’s the most ironic thing about the Pharisees dismissal of Jesus’ behavior. They say, “Why do you eat with sinners?” Jesus could have responded:
You’re right. I shouldn’t. I am the sinless Son of God. I will no longer eat with sinners. So, let’s cancel our dinner date next Thursday, because you’re sinners, too.
God didn’t come for the righteous, but sinners. And he didn’t just come for sinners; he died for them. Look at this passage from Romans 5:5-8 “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
That is God’s love for sinners.
That is God’s love for you.
If you think you are too steeped in sin that God could never have a relationship with you, you’re wrong.
Jesus lived perfectly, died innocently and rose triumphantly to restore his relationship with you.
And now!?! He calls you righteous! Since we have now been justified…That means “Declared innocent,” “Forgiven,” declared “righteous” by his blood. And that’s a lot more powerful than pencil, more powerful than a blue pen. More powerful than a sharpie. It’s the divine blood of Jesus himself! how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! (v.9)
Because our relationship has been restored.
Because your relationship has been restored.
Because your relationship with God is FRESH. Apart from sin. Apart from the guilt of last year.
Apart from the guilt of the last hour.
You are steeped in his love.
You are forgiven.
2)God is the One who Waits Seeks
A second switch has to do with God’s activity in bringing this message of forgiveness. Because, to be fair, He had already done a lot! Coming to earth, battling sin, and dying for sins seems like a lot of work! We might expect Jesus to go back to heaven, grab his favorite Lazy Boy, turn on the latest Jim Gaffigan Netflix special and wait for us to come to Him.
And sometimes that’s how we view getting closer to Him!
I need to try harder.
I need to seek harder.
I need to say prayers with my eyes winced and my fists clenched, mustering all the sinful seeking that I possibly can to get him to pay attention to me!
But God isn’t a God who waits.
God is a God who seeks.
Think about it! Levi wasn’t seeking anything. Levi was literally at his table, counting his money, doing his normal, everyday tax collector things. Then, Jesus went out to him! Jesus called him to follow. Jesus did the seeking!
And God doesn’t get tired.
God keeps seeking.
Even today. Even with you.
Even if you’ve been far away from God.
Even if you’re really, really, really good at hiding!
It’s not playing Hide and Seek with your cousins. Did this ever happen to you? You find a really good hiding spot. You stay super quiet. You hear them walk by talking as they try to find you. Then, it gets quiet. And you stay quiet because “they could be tricking me.” And you stay quiet for 10, 20, 30 minutes. Until…eventually you realize. They aren’t coming to find you. They gave up seeking you.
God doesn’t give up seeking you.
God hasn’t given up seeking you.
God is seeking you.
With these words.
3) God’s Message Belongs Among the Righteous Sinners
This leads to the final perspective change. Because the religious leaders felt that God and his message only belonged among those people that already knew it. It belonged in the synagogue. It belonged amongst their clique. It belonged among their very own, special, “we look religious” club.
But that’s not what Jesus did.
He brought the message outside that religious clique.
He brought that message to sinners.
He brought that message to a lot of sinners.
And he asks us to do the same.
Right before Christmas with the staff here working at Precious Lambs -- we had a challenge to see who could bring the most Christmas Eve worship invitations to parents, family and friends who don’t have a Christmas Eve worship place. It’s part of our “Planting the Message of Jesus in the Heart of North Raleigh.”
And after I explained it to the staff – a couple of them laughed – and immediately began inviting each other to worship.
One of them invited me. (I told them I was busy).
It was humorous, but sometimes that is all too real the way that we approach sharing Jesus.
I’ll invite my church going friend.
I’ll share the Gospel with my Gospel believing coworker.
I’ll tell others about Jesus …as long as I’m already at worship.
This isn’t a bad thing. Christians need encouragement, too.
But it’s not what Jesus calls us to do.
He wants us to take that message to the fringes of society.
To the homeless.
To the drug dealer.
To the drunkard.
To the guy struggling with his sexuality.
To the porn addict.
To the porn director.
To the dirty politician.
To the vehement atheist!
God calls us to bring the message of his love to them. Because that’s where his message needs to be.
As a church that’s our FRESH start for the year. We need to plant the message of Jesus in the hearts of North Raleigh and by North Raleigh we don’t just mean within these walls.
We mean outside of them, too.
Like Levi! After Jesus comes to him, after he fills him with grace and forgiveness, what does he do? He holds a party! He invites friends. He invites Jesus. He brings Jesus’ message directly to others that he knew needed it so badly.
God is calling you and me to do the same.
To hold our own banquets.
To bring the message of Jesus to the people that we might think will NEVER like the message of Jesus!
To understand this FRESH perspective – and not to see the religious and irreligious – but sinners in need of their Savior’s love.
We talk about getting a fresh start – and if you’re trying to get a fresh start on your health, there might be a lot of things that you are told to do.
To get a gym membership.
To use that gym membership.
To eat only greens.
To eat organic.
To drink 8 glasses of water a day.
To get 8 hours of sleep.
To make healthy choices all day long.
It’s easy to think the list for a FRESH connected to Jesus would be just as long!
But it isn’t.
It’s as simple as the two words that Jesus spoke to Levi:
Follow me and be REFRESHED with the message of my forgiveness.
Follow me and get a FRESH start as my child.
Follow me and feel the FRESHNESS of my love on a daily basis.
It’s simple really. You want a FRESH start in 2019?
Follow your Savior. Amen.
Animals have amazing instincts. It’s true.
Geese know to migrate cross country during the weather change.
Baby kangaroos instinctively climb into their mother’s pouches to suckle.
Honeybees dance to communicate the whereabouts of pollen to each other.
Animals have amazing instincts, usually.
Sometimes they get confused. Sometimes they get confused enough that they forget exactly who they are.
Like the lion who is playing around with his food – I mean – his friend – the deer…
Or this dog trying to get his fellow pups (and by that, I mean baby chickens) to throw the ball…
Or this turtle that thinks that turtle shaped sandbox is long lost Uncle Earl…
In the animal kingdom, mistaken identity is cute.
But what about in the spiritual kingdom?
What happens when you have a spiritual identity crisis?
Today we are going to talk about the very real identity crisis that Christian can suffer from – you might even be going through it right now. Our goal? To reexamine what our NEW identity is in Jesus and be confident of that NEW identity. Before we do, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Corinthian Identity
The lesson for this morning comes from a letter written by a pastor named Paul to church in a city called Corinth. A bit about Corinth – It was a harbor town located on the coast of Greece. It was a popular trade center which saw all kinds of goods and ideas pass through its marketplace.
Around 49 A.D. Pastor Paul went on a missionary journey. On this journey, he went from city to city in southern Europe sharing the message of Jesus with people who had never heard of Jesus. When he went, he had a method for how he brought the Gospel to a new city. (He would start by bringing the message to the Jewish synagogue located in town. He was Jewish. They were Jewish. He figured they had a connection). After that, Paul would go the non-Jewish part of town. He would enter the marketplace and the town square. He would encounter people who were completely unfamiliar with Jesus, completely unaware of God’s grace and completely unlearned in the Old Testament promises of the Savior.
That’s what Paul did in Corinth.
He spoke about Jesus to the Biblically learned Jews expecting the Messiah and the Biblically illiterate non-Jews not even knowing he exists…
Which group do you think would be Paul’s message?
The answer is surprising:
Many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized. (Acts 18:8)
That means the Corinthian church was filled with brand new believers in every sense of the world.
The believers were people who had previously NEVER heard the Good news of Jesus before and were in love with that good news of Jesus.
As a result, Paul stayed with this church for a while. He told them about Jesus. He told them about forgiveness. He told them about the peace they had with God.
But Paul was a missionary.
Eventually…he had to move on to the next city.
And after about a year, he did.
Fast forward a couple of years.
Things had changed in Corinth.
The church was not as joyful as it once was.
The church was filled with bitterness.
The church people were overwhelmed with guilt.
Without Paul around, their fellow Corinthians from the marketplace began to question their Christianity:
“You mean you don’t stay out late and get drunk on the weekends? What about the benders? The ragers? The good ol’ days? That’s not who I remember.”
“What do you mean marriage is important? You used to sleep with me and my sister on the same night? This Christian thing has changed who you are.”
“I thought you were a Corinthian. Corinthians worship Poseidon! Come on. Here’s some money. Let’s go have sex with the prostitutes in front of his temple to receive Poseidon’s blessing.”
And…it was working.
The Corinthians were listening to their friends, their coworkers, their neighbors.
They were falling into sin.
Worse yet – when they failed – on Sunday mornings as they made their way to church shaking off a hangover – the Jews -- the ones who hadn’t believed in Jesus – were waiting for them along the way:
“Oh look! If it isn’t Ned! He’s looking so religious this morning. He worshipped his god all last night by getting drunk.”
“Yep. He’s not a Christian. Unless there’s a denomination called “Christian drunkards.”
“And here’s the worst part. They’re going to get together and talk about forgiveness today. Ya’ll are fools!”
You aren’t loved; but hated.
You aren’t forgiven; but filled with sin.
You aren’t righteous; but absolute scum.
And the Corinthian congregation was in shambles.
And they argued with each other.
And they pointed out each other’s sins in order to make themselves feel better about their own.
And they fled back to their addictions.
And they were filled with shame.
And they were in the middle of a spiritual identity crisis.
Pastor Paul heard of this and he was compelled to respond. He wrote this to them: “Listen…we regard no one from a worldly point of view.” (2 Cor. 5:16) You aren’t just a bag of bones. You aren’t just stressed muscles that need to let off some steam. You aren’t just sex organs that need to be fulfilled. You aren’t just an object for someone else’s pleasure. No, we regard you as much more than that.
Why? Because we used to regard Christ in that way, though we do so no longer. (v. 16b)
We thought of Christ as a common Jewish man.
He wasn’t especially attractive.
He wasn’t especially powerful.
He was a former carpenter’s apprentice who had a few bruises on his knees from bending over to nail tables together.
And he sure didn’t look all that special on the cross.
He sweated like a common earthly man.
And bled like a common earthly man.
And died like a common earthly man.
But then…do you remember what I preached to you? Then…Jesus came back to life!
Unlike any man ever, Jesus came back to life.
Unlike any man ever, Jesus walked the earth again.
Unlike any man ever, Jesus rose from the grave.
Do you see Paul’s point?
Jesus proved there was more to him than the earthly man.
As believers in Jesus…
There’s more to you too!!!
II. a NEW identity
Has anyone here seen Remember the Titans? It’s a film that follows a high school football team in the segregated south. The coach works hard to integrate the team and help them work together at a time when people who looked different from one another – didn’t even attempt to.
At one point – things get heated. Players are being divisive. The team isn’t working out.
So…coach makes them look at their jerseys.
He tells them to look at their helmets.
He tells them to notice that they are the same.
Because under that helmet and jersey, the players aren’t black and white, rich and poor, educated and uneducated.
They are Titans.
Paul says the same thing to the Corinthians – and to you. If you are in Christ, the old has gone; the new has come…God has reconciled us to himself.
You are no longer “addict.”
You are no longer “slut.”
You are no longer “failure.”
You are no longer “convict.”
You are no longer “homo.”
You are no longer “bitter old man.”
You are no longer “gossip.”
You are no longer “sinner.”
You are forgiven.
You are loved.
You are righteous.
You are pure.
You are God’s child.
You are reconciled.
That’s your identity!
And that’s the identity that Paul was trying to get the Corinthians to remember.
It’s the identity that Paul had taught them about.
It’s an identity that you and I have learned about.
It’s an identity that is as true for you as it was for a Corinthian.
You are reconciled.
III. Identity Origins?
Granted. You might say, “That sounds nice, but how do I know it’s true? How do I know it’s not just a bunch of psycho babbles?” Look at what Paul says next and there you’ll find a few answers:
1. It’s from God
Verse 18 literally says, “All of this is from God who was reconciling himself to you in Christ!” God’s the ultimate source. He’s the ultimate reason behind the new identity of “reconciled.” And that’s good news – because it means that no other identity really counts.
It’s like the name that your parents give you. That’s the name that’s on your birth certificate. That’s the name that’s on your social security card. That’s the name that’s on your taxes. Your friends might give you a nickname. They might call you something for short, but that’s not your real name. Your parents had the authority to name you and they did.
And there is not greater authority than your spiritual Father – God himself.
And God himself has named you “Reconciled.”
And there is no other name the world can give you that has the authority to conquer this.
2. It’s through God’s people
Because it’s true! God did not speak in some loud booming voice to the Corinthians.
But he spoke through the Apostle Paul. Paul wrote, “We are Christ’s ambassadors, as if God were making his appeal through us!”
And it’s true! God might not have spoken to you in some loud, booming, obviously God voice.
But he has spoken to you.
Through the stern yet loving voice of your Sunday School teacher.
Through the tearful voice of a concerned friend.
Through the tremoring words of your great grandfather.
Through the gentle lullaby of your mother singing: “Jesus loves you.”
Through words that sound a lot like mine right now.
God may speak through his people. But they are still his words.
“We are Christ’s ambassadors, making his appeal to you: Be reconciled to God!”
3. It’s paid for by Jesus
Up to the east of church is Falls of Neuse Rd. We used to live right across the street by the apartments complex there. Behind the apartments are million dollars homes situated on a beautiful golf course called the North Ridge Country Club. There’s 36 beautiful holes, a private swimming area, tennis courts and a private club for dining events.
How do you get in? You pay your membership dues. Those dues would include up to $30,000/year.
I could not afford to be a member there. I don’t have enough money.
And the cost to be a member of God’s kingdom? It’s a life of perfection.
I can’t afford that.
You can’t either.
But we are members.
Because Jesus paid the price for us.
2 Corinthians 5:21 says just that, “God made him who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God.”
In other words, your identity is paid for.
It can’t be taken away.
You are NEW in Jesus.
III. What Now?
Two major things that I want you to take away and put into practice this coming week. They both come from verse 16. Look at it again, “From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.”
(1) Regard Yourself from God’s Point of View
Because it won’t be long after this service that you hear those worldly thoughts again:
You’re only humans – have some fun.
You’re one of us – enjoy this sin a little.
(And then) You are the worst of sinners that God could never ever, ever love.
Stop regarding yourself from the worldly point of view.
Start regarding yourself from God’s point of view.
Start regarding yourself as your NEW identity.
The NEW YOU doesn’t do the things of your old sinful way of life.
The NEW YOU doesn’t live selfishly.
The NEW YOU doesn’t live for your bodily desires.
The NEW YOU doesn’t live frightened of God’s eternal wrath.
The NEW YOU lives for Jesus.
The NEW YOU lives for others.
The NEW YOU lives for the Spirit.
The NEW YOU lives confidently in God’s forgiveness.
The more you understand God's forgiveness, the more confidence you'll have in God's love.
(2) Regard Others from God’s Point of View
This is doubly important. Because as easy as it is to view yourself from a worldly perspective, it is even easier to view others that way:
“Oh her? That’s the adulteress. God does not forgive her.”
“That guy has a bunch of tattoos! He’s not one of us.”
“That guy? Over there? I think he’s Islamic. We need him to leave immediately!”
Stop regarding people from a worldly point of view.
That’s what worldly people do.
Rather, from God’s point of view.
Because that’s what God’s people do.
Regard them as souls that Jesus died for.
Regard them as souls that need to hear that Jesus died for them.
Regard them as future – brothers and sisters.
That’s what Paul did! It’s why he wrote them this letter as brothers and sisters and not as “you no good, awful, dirty rotten sinners from Corinth!”
That’s because Paul understood one more thing about his identity. He wasn’t just a member of God’s kingdom, he was an ambassador.
And as believers in Jesus, you are ambassadors, too.
Think about what an ambassador does. He heads off to foreign countries. He represents his country. He speaks on behalf of his country.
You are God’s ambassadors. You are about of his country. You represent his country. You speak on behalf of your Lord.
That’s an important task. Who is up for such a task?
Can I tell you about Susie? Susie is 4 years old.
Susie attends Precious Lambs.
Susie loves Jesus.
She loves Bible Times.
She loves Jesus songs.
She loves going to chapel.
Susie’s mother told me the other day that Susie talks about Jesus even when she isn’t at school.
She talks about Jesus at home.
She talks about Jesus at her brother’s basketball practice.
She talks about Jesus at the grocery store.
She talks about Jesus before she goes to bed.
Susie has not forgotten her identity.
Susie knows she’s four years old (ask her; she’ll tell you).
But Susie also knows that she is an ambassador for Jesus.
Don’t you forget it either because you have a NEW identity in Jesus. Amen.
Today we are going to continue our NEW series by talking about how Jesus’ love for us transforms our love for each other into a NEW kind of love. 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. The OLD Definition of Love
The lesson for this morning comes from a letter written by the Apostle John written to believers everywhere and describing the aspects of a Christianity. Now – remember that Christianity was still relatively new. Jesus had died and risen within 15 years of this letter. For many believers, they were very recent converts from Old Testament Judaism or Greek Mythology. In this part of the letter, John reminds the believers that not every concept of Christianity is new. In fact, he points out that the heart of Christianity is an ancient command. Check out verse 11, “This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another.”
In Genesis 1 (which is as beginning as it goes), God creates a marvelous world for all of humanity. He loves humanity and he teaches them to love. He tells them to love by caring for the animals, by caring for one another and by caring enough to not eat that the fruit on that one tree that God asked them not to eat from.
It’s a simple way to show God love, but it’s a good way. (It’d be similar to not eating your mom’s chocolate brownies that she spent hours creating from scratch until she gives the ok. It’s loving to respect her wishes, since she’s the one who made them in the first place.)
In the very first loveless act of all time…
God selflessly gives them everything and they selfishly take something.
God loves, and people fail to love.
But let’s not dwell there. Surely, that little mistake can’t change everything? Surely the formerly love filled world, won’t plunge into lovelessness…
Fast forward a generation. Adam and Eve have two sons – one named Cain and another named Abel. And since Adam and Eve had failed so miserably at showing love, I am certain they went out of their way to tell their boys TO love….
Their mom and dad.
Now by this time, the tree that Adam and Eve could show love by not eating from it, was gone. They no longer lived in the beautiful garden; they had been banished to the wilderness. So, they would show love to God in a different way. They would take the best of their resources, put them on a stone, dedicate them to the Lord and set them on fire. It was a way to give back to God who had given them all things.
It looked like this:
Abel was a shepherd. He would bring one of his favorite sheep. One of his best sheep. One of his prized possessions, put it on an altar and set fire to it.
And Cain was a farmer. Cain would bring some of his vegetables, even his best vegetables, put them in a pile, place them on an altar and set fire to it.
Outwardly, the two offerings looked about the same.
Abel loved God.
Cain? Not so much.
“This is such a dumb rule. Why should I have to give something back to God? Sure, he gave us this world. Sure, he makes the sun rise up, but sometimes the sun burns the food. And he’s not the one working like I work. I sweat. I bleed. I get blisters. I break my back to make this stuff grow and he wants me to give it back to him? Really? I will. I don’t want him to strike me dead, but…I won’t be happy about it.
And look over there? It’s my stupid brother with his big old goofy grin on his face. “Praise God from whom all blessing flow!” What a joke. Tell you what -- I’ll make something flow. It won’t be praise. It’ll be blood. From his head.
And… …That’s what happened:
While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. (Genesis 4:8)
This is pretty awful.
This is pretty cold blooded.
This is not love in the slightest.
Good thing we are so much farther along and would never stoop to such awful lovelessness…
Agree or Disagree?
Love is following your heart.
To be fair, the world would tell us that this is true. Have you ever seen Once Upon a Time? It’s a TV show where storybook characters come to life and live in the modern 21st century. Snow White is in it. Prince Charming is in it. Pinocchio is in it. It’s kind of fun and interesting to watch these characters in our environment. Snow White trying to talk to bunch of real life robins. Prince Charming is not so charming. Pinocchio lives in the forest and lights a fire…of wood.
There’s a phrase that gets used over and over again on the drama “The heart wants what the heart wants.”
The idea is that if the beautiful Belle’s heart longs for the ugly beast, she should go for it. “The heart wants what the heart wants.”
Or if the pauper Aladdin wants the royal Jasmine, then he should go for it: “The heart wants what the heart wants.”
But what if that same logic gets applied to the villains?
What if what the Evil Queen wants to destroy Snow White? Reason to do it?
What if the evil Jafar wants to put Aladdin in a bottle? It’s cool right – the heart wants what the heart wants.
What if the selfish Gaston wants Belle just as much as the Beast does? Is it cool when he kidnaps her and forces her to be his?
Of course not. The reality is that following your heart does not always lead to noble choices.
Oftentimes it leads to hateful choices.
That’s what happened with Cain. Look at what it says about him, “Do not be like Cain, who (was of evil) and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brothers were righteous.”
Cain followed his heart.
His heart hated giving offerings.
His heart hated his brother.
His heart hated his heavenly Father.
And the murder was just Cain following his heart.
But it wasn’t love.
I would submit that you and I have the same problem.
When we follow our hearts, it isn’t always love.
I felt really, really angry at her pastor, that’s why I flew off the handle and called her those ugly names. My heart felt upset. I was just following it.
I know I promised to be faithful to my spouse, but that other person is so sexy….and well…the heart wants what the heart wants. You don’t want to stop love…do you?
Follow my heart is absolutely how I live my life, Pastor. I just do whatever I feel like. Which is why I’m in jail for drinking too much and driving.
Here’s the truth: Love is NOT following your heart.
Because we have sinful hearts.
Sinful hearts always do sinful actions.
And sin--filled actions aren’t love.
They are hatred.
It’s like opening up a jar of peanut butter and expecting to find fresh asparagus. It’s foolish! Peanut butter is made from peanuts. Asparagus is not on the ingredients list. There isn’t any in sight. (And if there is…you need to find a new place to buy asparagus)
Our hearts are filled with sin.
We can’t expect their desires to lead us to true love!
Only to true sin.
Only to hatred.
And if there’s one thing that God hates – it’s hatred. In fact, God hates hatred so much that he must destroy it! In fact, the Bible says this: “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murder and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.” (1 Jn. 3:14-15)
Do you see the warning?
Stop following your sinful hearts.
Those desires will lead you to death.
II. a NEW definition of love
But…if following your heart isn’t the definition of love…then what is?
Remember what we read earlier: This is a message that has been there from the beginning: Love one another. (v.10)
That means love was a concept that was possible for Adam and Eve to accomplish even though they failed miserably at it.
It also means that love was a concept that was in existence before Adam and Eve…were.
And who “was” before Adam and Eve?
And that only leave one option:
God is love (1 Jn. 4:8.)
Because God is not sinful.
God is holy.
God is not hateful.
God is loving.
God is not selfish.
God doesn’t take.
God doesn’t kill,
And God gives you an excellent example of all this: Look at verse 16: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. In a complete reversal of Cain, God gives up his own life. Rather than killing someone else when he was mad, God is killed in order to save those who sinned against him! He gives himself as a sacrifice in order to appease his own hatred of hatred.
Do you get what I am saying?
Jesus died for Cain.
Jesus died for Abel.
Jesus died for you.
Even when there was nothing he desired about you.
Remember – he hates sin. It’s like if God had a dating profile, he would list sin as the one trait that he is totally unattracted to. Picture your sin like the most unattractive traits that you can imagine. A bunch of pimples. A terrible stench. Broccoli stuck between his teeth. A 1970s mullet and conversation that only revolves around himself.
That’s how God views our sin, totally and completely unattractive.
And that’s how we look to him.
But God didn’t ignore you.
He didn’t swipe left.
He didn’t forget all about you.
He loved you.
He loved you enough to die for you.
Here’s the truth then:
Love is NOT following your heart.
Love is following God’s heart.
It’s thinking of his desires first, not my own.
It’s loving like he loves, not like I love.
III. What Now?
And what is God’s love like? Three things to keep in mind as you strive to love like him.
1) Love by Giving Up
Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in them? (V.16-17) God gave up heaven and came to earth for us. He gave up perfection and entered a sinful world for us. He gave up his life and purchased eternal life for us.
May we give up as God gives up.
Here’s what I want you to do. Right now – write down one practical thing that you can give up this week in order to show love.
Maybe it’s money – you give up some of your “fun budget” to help a friend in need.
Maybe it’s time – and you give up that binge watch on Netflix to spend time with your spouse.
Maybe it’s strength – and you give up your strength as you finally attack that honey-do-list that’s been sitting on the fridge for the past 12 months.
Remember – love is not about taking for yourself.
But giving up for others.
Just like God gave up himself for us.
2) Love with Action
Because one of the easiest things to do is to mistake the phrase “I love you” as actual love.
It’s like the husband sitting on the couch playing Fortnight for three hours and shouting, “I love you honey,” as his wife vacuums the house for him. And then is offended when his wife asks him later, “Do you really love me?” “I told you while I was playing video games. Isn’t that enough?”
Nope. That’s not what love is.
Love is an action.
It’s why John writes, “Dear children, let us not love with words…but with actions.” (v.18)
It’s how God loved us. He didn’t just say “I love you,” but he showed that he loved us.
He acted by coming to earth, living perfectly, dying innocently and rising triumphantly for us.
Put your love into practice by acting in love for your family.
Put your love into practice by acting in love for your friends.
Put your love into practice by acting in love for your church family.
Put your love into practice by acting in love for your enemies.
Love with action.
3) Love in Truth
Because it wouldn’t be very loving if you saw a black widow spider hanging off a spiderweb and dangling near your friend’s ear and your response was: “Don’t worry about him. He’s not poisonous. If he bites you, you’ll be fine.”
That’s not loving.
That’s a lie.
And God teaches the same thing. “Dear children, let us not love with…speech, but in truth.” (v.18)
Love tells your friends when they are making bad life choices.
Love tells your husband when that tie doesn’t match with that jacket.
Love tells your wife when she has a piece of lettuce stuck in her teeth.
Love tells the truth.
And there’s no greater truth than the message of Jesus’ loves.
Some of you may know this already. A few weeks ago, Southwest Flight 1380 was en route from New York to Dallas. About 20 minutes in to the flight, the engine blew up and it hit one of the windows on the plane – busted it completely open, sucking a woman half way out the window and sending the plane hurtling to the earth.
Pastor Tim Bourman and his wife Amanda were on that plane.
Friends of mine.
A pastor in our synod.
He said that while he was in the air he was very scared, very frightened, very horrified. He thought that he was about to die.
But what can you do? He couldn’t fly the plane. So…he did all that he could.
He reached into his pocket.
He pulled out his phone.
He texted his two kids who were on the ground safe at home.
He texted them.
But not them.
His message said this:
“Never lose your faith in God. Jesus loves you.”
Amazing. That’s true.
You do the same.
Share that truth this week.
Share that love of Jesus – today.
Love like Jesus today. Amen.
MERCY. We want to learn (1) just how deep Jesus’ mercy is (2) how deep God wants our mercy to be. 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. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
It was all he had ever known. Darkness.
He was blind. His eyes opened. Light touched his pupils, but…no reception.
The beautiful reds of the rose bush? Darkness.
The incredible blues of the sky? Also, darkness
The warm smile of his mother? Darkness yet again.
It was lonely.
And he spent a lot of time to himself because he had never been able to get a job. He had tried his best, but…the problem was always the same.
Where to plant the seeds? Darkness.
Where to hammer the nails? Darkness.
Where the sugar was that he needed for the sweet bread? Darkness.
He couldn’t get a job.
He sat on the side of the road.
In the dirt.
In the mud.
And people treated him like they treat beggars:
“What a good for nothing.”
“Why doesn’t he get a job?”
“Oh, honey, get over here. Don’t go near that man, who knows when he last had a bath.”
He heard, and he ignored. Not because it didn’t hurt (it did), but because he needed to! If he wasn’t begging as people passed by, he might miss the handout from the 1 out of every 500 people that was willing to help.
It’s who he was.
A blind beggar.
A non-descript blind beggar that everyone knew as a non-description blind beggar.
It was a rotten life.
But on this day, he forgot all that. The conversation that he listened to in order to entertain himself on the side of the road was interesting:
“I heard that he’s on his way here.”
“Jesus? Really? Here? I wonder if he’ll do any miracles.”
“Yeah. I hope so. I heard he made a lame guy walk and a sick woman well…and a blind man…to be able to see.”
A bit later the noise became a bit louder…A murmur, the kind of commotion that sounds like a crowd, but most wouldn’t be able to distinguish voices from each other.
Not the blind man.
He heard a young lad shout: “Jesus is this way!”
He heard his mom reply, “Wait up and stay out of his way.”
He heard another gentleman shout, “Hail Jesus! Hail to the Savior.”
He heard a low grumble from off to the left, “I hope this good for nothing keeps his mouth shut. He’s no Pharisee and we’re sick of having him alive.”
And then…off in the distance…
Up on the road…
He heard HIS voice.
It was authoritative.
It was clear.
It was filled with loved.
And it seemed to be speaking directly to him.
“Repent and seek God’s mercy!”
Suddenly, without warning, the blind beggar found his voice uttering something that he had not uttered ever before: HOPE.
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (v.38)
He repeated it:
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
He shouted even louder:
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
And soon, he got a reaction. Just not from Jesus.
“Shut up! You. Beggar. Be quiet. Jesus is way too busy. He’s way too important. He doesn’t have time for you. You don’t deserve his attention.”
The beggar listened to them. He nodded. He agreed. He didn’t deserve it, but…that’s why he was shouting: “JESUS! SON OF DAVID, HAVE MERCY ON ME!!!”
It continued: “Have mercy!” “Be Quiet.” “Have mercy!” “Be quiet.” “Have Mercy!” “Be Quiet.”
Until… a hush came over the crowd, as if someone had motioned for silence. Then, that voice—the authoritative, merciful one “Bring him over to me.” (v.40)
He heard a group of men running toward them. Feet hitting the dirt. Lungs panting. Voices uttering, “Quiet you! Look what you’ve done. You’re gonna get it.” As they grabbed him under the shoulders and dragged him aside.
They threw him on the ground.
He looked up – nothing but black.
“What do you want me to do for you” the voice asked. (v.41)
The blind man took a deep breath. As he did, he heard the voices chuckling in the background.
“How about a bath?”
But he ignored them.
He had hope.
He had hope in Jesus’ mercy.
“Lord, I want my sight.”
The man listened.
He heard the wind rustling the leaves.
He heard the tweet of a bird.
He heard his own heart beating abnormally fast.
Then he heard the voice:
“Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” (v.42)
And…before the man could hear the “u” in “you.” A flash of color– greens of trees, blues of sky and the white of his Savior’s merciful eyes.
He could see.
Jesus had mercy.
II. The Deep Need for Mercy
Have you ever cried out to God like this man? Have you ever cried out loud and with such reckless abandon that you don’t care who hears you?
Think about it – This man was willing to make a fool of himself!
Why? I’ll submit that he didn’t have anything to lose. He knew his situation was dire. He knew that he could never heal himself from blindness. He knew that he had nothing to offer Jesus in exchange for this miracle.
The only thing he had was a deep understanding of his own need for mercy.
QUESTION: How well do you understand your need for mercy?
The apostle Paul recorded this truth about the human heart in Romans 3. “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
The thing is we tend to see this passage and say: “That’s right! The world is a disaster. The politicians are a disaster. The people who do thing are a disaster. Our world is a slimy pit filled with scumbags. Yes, Bible. You’re right. There is no one good, not even one.”
But…did I miss something?
Are you a robot?
Some kind of alien?
Are you human?
Then this passage is talking about you.
To say otherwise is like the little boy whose mom comes in and sees that her chocolate cookie is missing. She looks at him and he smiles with big chocolatey teeth, chocolate stained hands and a breath that smells like the Hershey’s factory. Yet when she asks, did you eat the cookie – he says, “NO!”
To say you are not a sinner is foolish.
Which means – we fit into this passage and we are in deep need of mercy. Let me read it again. I’ll change a word. “You are not righteous, not even a bit. You don’t understand. You don’t seek God. You have turned away, you have become worthless, you have not done good, not even a bit!” (Romans 3)
But pastor. That’s not me.
I’m not a drug dealer.
I’m not a lying, good for nothing politician.
I’ve not been convicted of rape and I don’t have a terrorist bone in my body!
But…you are a sinner, right?
And God is holy, right?
And holiness can have nothing to do with sin, right?
Then, how will a holy, sin hating, sin despising God let you into his kingdom?
Your sin not that bad?
Be less sinful than the other sinners?
Give him some money?
The only way you enter God’s kingdom,
The only way you have forgiveness,
The only way you get to heaven, have eternal life and can have peace with God…
…is if Jesus has mercy.
Son of David, have mercy on us!
The only thing more impressive than the blind beggar’s confidence, is his confidence that Jesus will provide mercy.
And you can be just as confident.
Because Jesus does provide mercy.
In fact, he already did.
Because, right before the events of the blind beggar, do you know what Jesus tells his disciples? He tells them this:
We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. (v.31-33)
That sounds terrible.
That sounds awful.
That sounds like it should be avoided.
You want to know what Jesus did? He went to Jerusalem!
He was delivered to the hands of Gentiles, mocked, insulated, spat upon, flogged and killed.
Why? “He saved us…because of his mercy.” (Titus 3:5)
Because he heard your cry. In the sea of the millions of billions of people throughout time and on this planet – He heard your voice and acted.
He had mercy.
He lived perfectly when you couldn’t.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of all of your sins.
Fellow believers, you needed mercy and he gave it to you. It’s yours.
And unbelievers – don’t think that – because I didn’t realize my need for mercy until now – I can’t have it. Wrong. Jesus already had mercy and died for you. Trust in him and his mercy is yours.
And then – you will see.
You will see your Savior.
Your will see forgiveness.
Your will see your place God’s kingdom.
III. What Now
(1) Never Forget your Need for Mercy
I can’t imagine that the blind beggar did. Each day he could wake up, open his eyes, and smile. He could see! I’m sure it made him very thankful and very humble.
We can’t forget our need either. Because it’s easy, after you’ve been a believer for a long time…even a couple of weeks. The devil does this thing where he makes you think you don’t need mercy as much as you used to…
Now, you’ve been to church for a couple of months.
Now you’ve been serving in church.
Now there have been like 50 people who have joined church since you did so…you don’t need mercy as much as they do.
We are still sinners.
We still have a deep need for God’s mercy.
We will always have a deep need for God’s mercy.
Take a moment each day. Start with a prayer. Look humbly at your life. Confess your sins. Consider your need for mercy. Ask God for mercy and praise him that you have received it in Jesus Christ your Savior.
This keeps you from thinking you don’t need mercy.
This keeps you from running away from the very mercy that you so desperately need.
(2) Be Merciful
Briefly think about the disciples in this section – They tried to stop the blind beggar from meeting with Jesus. They figured that the man didn’t deserve time with Jesus.
But what they had forgotten is that they didn’t deserve it either.
And that’s the point.
Jesus’ mercy is always undeserved.
If you have it, it’s underserved.
If you are considering sharing it, don’t look for deserving individuals – the only one you’ll find is Jesus – and he doesn’t need it!
Share his mercy with the undeserved.
In other words – share it with people.
Do this right now:
Think about people that you know.
Think about the biggest sinners.
The ones that upset you most.
The ones that have repeatedly ignored your requests to come to God.
The ones that you think don’t deserve God’s mercy.
Got them in your minds?
Here’s what God wants you to do – God wants you to have mercy.
Here’s one way to have mercy:
Take an invite card.
Share the message of Jesus with them.
Invite them to Easter.
Have mercy by inviting them to hear the message of mercy – this Easter.
Because that’s what disciples do.
We share God’s undeserved mercy with the undeserving of mercy because we have received his undeserved mercy. PRAISE GOD!
May God have mercy and bless our outreach of mercy. Amen.