This morning, we will begin our miracle series, by examining God’s incredible power of sickness. But before we do that, 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. Defining Miracle
I think it’s important to start a study on miracles by defining the word “miracle.” So, here it is:
A miracle is an occurrence outside the NATURAL laws of the Universe.
Because miracle can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. Over time, I think we’ve “dumbed down” the phrase.
For instance, we use it at childbirth. A baby is born and people post on Instagram: “Check out my child! #Miracle”
Is childbirth amazing? Yes. Is it a miracle though? Not really. That’s how God set up the universe.
We even use it in sports. “I can’t believe my favorite football team made the playoffs. It’s a miracle!” Might it have been impressive? Sure. But is it a miracle? Not so much.
But when the New Testament uses the word miracle it actually is talking about events that occur outside the natural order of things.
Seawater standing up like drywall? That’s not how water usually works.
A heavy rock wall tumbling because of trumpet noise? Not normal.
Three men being thrown into a fiery furnace and coming out unsinged? Let’s not test it.
A virgin giving birth to a child? Miracle.
In the New Testament, the number one miracle doer is Jesus.
But did you know that Jesus miracles aren’t often called miracles as much as they are called signs.
That’s interesting. Because a sign functions by pointing you in the right direction.
We have signs in our hallways that say “Restrooms” with a little arrow putting in a certain direction. The point of the sign? To direct you to the restrooms.
Even a traffic light. GREEN means “GO”, red means “STOP, and yellow means, “hurry up it’s about to turn red.”
Jesus’ miracles were SIGNS pointing people to his DIVINITY.
Think about it:
If God’s the one that set the laws of the universe into motion, then he is the only one able to act outside of those laws.
It’s like STAYING UP LATE. If the rule of your house is that kids need to be in bed by 9 pm, the kids need to go to bed, but the adult can stay up. (Granted, they might not. They might be in bed on the couch around 7:15 pm, but you get the point.)
Your kids can’t. You can. You set up the law; you can act outside of it.
Jesus acts outside of the laws of the universe set up by God, in all of his miracles.
Because he is God himself.
II. The Man with Leprosy
But it enough talking about it. Let me show you.
When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed him. Just then, a leper came to him and bowed down to him, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Mt. 8:1-2)
Notice. There are large crowds of people with Jesus. They had just heard Jesus give the Sermon on the Mount, a very famous sermon. They were all drawn in by Jesus’ speech and his ideas.
But someone that hadn’t made it up to the mountain was waiting as they came down.
He was a leper which means that he had the disease known as leprosy. It was a flesh-eating disease that slow dried out your cartilage and cause the tips of your fingers, your toes, your nose, and your ears to (brace yourself) fall off.
Leprosy was awful. Still is! If you want to know how awful, do a Google image search. (But not if you’re faint of heart.)
Besides being awful…
Leprosy was INCURABLE. This isn’t true anymore. There is a cure. But at the time, there weren’t any medicines, any acupuncture, any essential oil, any healthy diet, or any operation that anyone knew about in order to cure it. That means that if you were diagnosed with leprosy you had to quickly resign yourself to the fact that you would not be healed.
Leprosy was CONTAGIOUS. It was so contagious that if you were diagnosed with leprosy, you were sent into quarantine. Only the quarantine wasn’t a room in your house. You were sent outside the city walls, into the desert to live in what they called “leper colonies”.
Leprosy was FATAL. The end result, 100 percent of the time was death.
All these truths about leprosy left this man was without hope.
He had heard doctor after doctor tell him there was no cure.
He was alone, banished outside the city.
He knew what had happened to other friends – they died.
This meant -
He wouldn’t get to see his family again.
He wouldn’t get to hold his children again.
He wouldn’t get to kiss his wife again.
He wouldn’t feel better.
He wouldn’t regain strength.
He wouldn’t go back to his job.
He’d be by himself.
Outside the city walls.
Did you notice something about this man?
He approached Jesus with confidence.
He didn’t say: “If you are able…”
Or, “If you have the strength…”
Or, “If you have the right medicine…”
He said, “If you are willing…”
Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean.”
And after Jesus says that, there aren’t months of radiation.
There aren’t weeks of chemo.
There aren’t even 15 minutes to allow the medicine to take effect.
Jesus simply speaks and…
IMMEDIATELY he was healed of his leprosy.
And if you’re thinking, “That’s impossible.”
Remember – there’s a crowd of people present.
It wasn’t Jesus by himself.
There were hundreds of witnesses to this miracle.
Many who had undoubtedly seen that man sitting around outside the city gates day after day after day.
In fact, Jesus has professionals corroborate the healing. He tells him to “Go, show (himself) to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (v.4) The priests at this time were similar to doctors. They were able to pronounce people as diseased or not.
They were probably the same people who once told the man, “You are diseased, away from us!”
Now? They were saying to him, “You’re healed! Celebrate with us.”
And remember – while this is 2000 years after the fact, this book is not. These words that we are reading right now were written down at a time when the majority of the people who witnessed this would have still been alive.
Jesus is able to CURE the INCURABLE.
Here’s where this is important:
You might know someone who has been diagnosed with disease.
You may have been diagnosed with disease.
And internet articles might not give you a chance.
Social media anecdotes might not give you a chance.
Doctors might not give you a chance.
You have Jesus. And Jesus can cure the incurable.
Do you want a second instance of this? How about sin!?!
It’s CONTAGIOUS – passed down from parents to children.
It’s INCURABLE – nothing we can do will ever remove it.
It’s FATAL – “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)
But Jesus cured the incurable!
He lived perfectly when we couldn’t.
He died innocently on the cross.
He rose triumphantly and cured you of all sin, guilt and shame!
By faith in Jesus, you are forgiven.
Incurable guilt – CURED!
This means that whatever you’re dealing with, as long as you have Jesus, you have hope.
Because Jesus provides HOPE in any ILLNESS.
He cured the incurable disease of leprosy with his hand.
He cured the incurable disease of sin with his death.
There is nothing that Jesus can’t do.
There is no disease too incurable.
There is no disease too contagious.
There is no disease too fatal for Jesus.
III. The Centurion’s Servant
Word of this miracle got around.
In fact, it made its way outside the Jewish community to a Roman centurion whose servant was deathly ill.
He must have heard stories of Jesus.
Yet he had a lot working against him. In fact, I’m sure his advisors gave him a host of reasons not to waste his time:
“Jesus is Jewish. You’re Roman. There’s too big a racial divide. He won’t help you.”
“You’re a high ranking official. What will it look like for a Roman elite to go looking for help from a homeless carpenter?”
“You’re a sinner. From what I’ve heard, this man is a holy man. He won’t give you the time of day.”
For some reason…
He trusted Jesus.
And as he looked at his servant growing pale, soaked in sweat, and approaching death.
[the] centurion came to [Jesus] and pleaded with him, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed and suffering terribly.” (v.5)
Despite the racial difference…
Despite the social difference...
Despite the man’s sin…
Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” (v.6)
But the man, thought this was too much.
He was a high ranking official and he didn’t make house visits.
And Jesus was higher ranking than him.
He didn’t need to do a house visit.
And so, the high-ranking government official said, “Lord, I am not worthy for you to come under my roof.” I’m a sinful man. You’re holy. I don’t deserve anything from you.
But only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am also a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (v. 8-9)
You have authority too.
You tell diseases to leave and they do.
You tell health to return and it does.
You tell bodies to be healed and they listen, because you have authority over them.
When Jesus heard this, he marveled. He said to those who were following him, “Truly, I tell you: I have not found such great faith in anyone in Israel… Go. Let it be done for you as you have believed.” (v.10)
Here’s where it gets extra amazing.
Because when the man turned to leave, he made note of the position of the sun.
Maybe just to the right of the west of the cloud.
And when he returned home, he found the servant well.
But that’s not the amazing part.
After giving him a hug.
After doing the “happy dance.”
He asked one of the other servants.
When did this happen?
“At the time the sun was right to the west of the clouds! I remember. Because I was so excited, I ran outside to tell the others.”
Make no mistake.
This was a miracle.
This was Jesus.
Jesus provides HOPE even when he’s not VISIBLY PRESENT.
Because you won’t be able to see Jesus.
Look for Dr. Jesus.
He doesn’t work at Duke.
He doesn’t work at UNC.
He doesn’t work at Rex.
He doesn’t work at Wake Med.
He grants healing to those within those walls.
You can’t see Jesus.
But that doesn’t he isn’t with you.
And it doesn’t mean he won’t provide healing.
He’s all powerful. ‘
His power goes beyond physical, tangible presence.
Again – just like sin.
You and I weren’t physically there when Jesus died on the cross.
And yet Jesus didn’t have to come to 2020 in order to die in our physical presence.
His death and resurrection cross physical, temporal boundaries to bring healing and forgiveness.
His same healing power gives us hope in the face of illness.
IV. When Healing Doesn’t Happen
People die all the time from disease.
Some are even believers.
What’s the deal?
To answer that question – I want you to remember two significant things that these the two men in today’s accounts said.
(1) Lesson from the Centurion
Remember what the centurion said to Jesus?
“I’m not worthy…”
That’s a strange statement, because this centurion was a high ranking, Roman official.
He oversaw hundreds of soldiers. (Hence the name “Century-on”)
He had a good career.
Plenty of people who looked up to him.
And yet he didn’t say, “Jesus. I demand this, because I deserve it.”
He knew he was a sinner.
He knew he only deserved death.
He knew that any healing Jesus could grant was out of his mercy.
We need to remember the same thing.
I remember that I got sick for one of my birthday’s awhile back. And I thought….
“This isn’t fair! I work hard. I serve God. I serve God’s people. And now I get a day off to celebrate my birthday and I’m sick? God I deserve to be healed.”
Is that actually true?
Did I deserve healing?
Remember – the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.”
It’s easy to think:
I deserve healing.
I’ve done nice things.
I’ve been a good parent.
I’m worthy of being healed.
None of us are.
If God heals us physically, it’s not because we deserve it.
It’s because of his mercy.
But in God’s mercy is real hope.
Because unlike human ‘goodness’ which isn’t nearly as good as we think it is.
God’s mercy? Is a mercy that caused him to die on a cross for our sins.
Mercy that saved us to eternal life – where there won’t be any sickness.
And mercy that sometimes heals us from sickness.
(2) Lesson from the Leper
Remember what the leper said to Jesus?
“If you are willing…”
It wasn’t a question of whether healing was possible,
But whether it was God’s will.
In this man’s instance? It was.
But sometimes God’s will is that the sickness won’t be cured.
Is it because he loved that person less?
If you are suffering a sickness and you haven’t been healed yet, is it because God loves you less than the healthy?
He died on the cross for you.
He doesn’t love you less.
He loves you the same as those who are health.
In fact, it’s because of his LOVE combined with his incredible wisdom, that God sometimes allows a disease to run its course.
Sickness has a way of driving people towards Jesus.
Sickness can be God’s way of
Bringing you to faith…
Or strengthening your faith…
Or working through you to be a witness to our friends and family of our faith in Jesus.
Bringing you ultimate healing in heaven.
In heaven, there isn’t any leprosy.
In heaven, there isn’t any cancer.
In heaven, there isn’t any sickness.
In heaven, there is only health.
Over this sermon series, we’ve talked a lot about Fighting Temptation. But…How confident do you feel that you can fight temptation and win?
Today we’re going to study God’s Word and my goal is to teach you why you have every reason in the world to Fight Temptation confidently. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Reasons for Lacking Confidence
The lesson for this morning comes from Isaiah. He was a prophet who lived around 640 B.C. Mainly he preached warnings about what would happen to the Israelites if they didn’t start fighting temptation.
But most people didn’t listen.
God, through Isaiah, even predicted that they wouldn’t listen.
It’s why he prophesied that they would be taken into captivity.
Which…is exactly what happened. In 597 B.C., the Babylonian army ransacked the country of Judah. They destroyed the infrastructure and took hundreds of thousands of Israelites captive as prisoners back to Babylon.
It was then, in captivity, that many of the people began to listen.
They looked back at the prophesies of Isaiah and discovered sections like this:
“Who handed Jacob over to become loot, and Israel to the plunderers? Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned? For they would not follow his ways;
they did not obey his law. So he poured out on them his burning anger, the violence of war. It enveloped them in flames, yet they did not understand; it consumed them, but they did not take it to heart.” (v.24-25)
Can you imagine?
Being in captivity.
We didn’t follow his ways.
We did not obey his law.
We are in flames because of our sinful failures!
I can’t imagine that the Israelites had a lot of confidence.
Just a lot of “if onlys.”
If only I’d listened to God.
If only I had fought back against temptation.
If only I had told that merchant, “No. We don’t need your bejeweled god statues. We worship the one true, invisible God, the Lord.”
If only I had told my wife, “No, we aren’t going to teach our kids that worship isn’t important. We’ll tell them that worship is the most important thing to their eternal relationship with God.”
If only I had told my friends, “No, I’m not going to get drunk with you tonight…then I never would have done a lot of other things that I wish I had never done.”
If only I had told myself, “Get up. Fight these temptations. Stop being complacent and follow your God.”
Then, I wouldn’t be in captivity.
It feels too late.
I’ve failed too many times.
God has abandoned me.
Temptation will always win.
Can you relate?
Maybe your record against temptation isn’t good.
Maybe you keep losing in your personal battle against your personal demons.
Maybe you have a weakness that you’re so ashamed of – you question if you even belong in this church family.
Maybe you feel weighed down by guilt, alone in your battle, like you are in captivity to a particular sin!
Maybe you’ve tried psyching yourself up, waking up in prayer, saying, “Today is the day I beat that temptation,” only…to attempt your day…and…lose.
Maybe you feel alone like you are the only one who is fighting against a particular sin.
And, maybe, all of these thoughts convince you…
That you’ll never win.
That you’ll always fail against temptation.
That you have NO reason to be confident in ever winning again.
If that’s how you think…
II. Confidence from God Himself
Listen to Isaiah 43.
It’s written for God’s people.
It’s written for God’s people in captivity to Babylon.
It’s written for God’s people in captivity to their own sinful choices.
It’s written to God’s people – like you.
And it’s filled with confidence-boosting statements from God himself.
But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isaiah 43:1-3)
Look at those words.
Do you hear God’s voice?
He’s speaking to you.
And giving you all kinds of confidence.
(1) “You are my Creation.”
Look at the first verse. It says, “This is what the LORD says, he who created you, O Jacob; he who formed you, O Israel.” (43:1) It’s not even an actual statement of God yet, but through it, God still communicates something to you.
“You are my creation.”
Over at Precious Lambs, the kids take their artwork very, very seriously. They are proud of their artwork. They love to show off their artwork. They love to show me their artwork. They love to bring artwork home for mom and dad.
And they get really, really upset if they lose their artwork.
There was a girl the other day whose conversation with mom went something like this:
“Calm down. Honey. What’s wrong!”
“You threw my artwork away!”
“Are you sure? I just threw some of the pictures with scribbles on them away.”
“It wasn’t scribbles. It was a picture of a unicorn!”
Kids love their artwork because it’s their artwork.
They created it.
They put it on paper.
Their imagination developed the piece.
The same is true with God and you.
You come from the annals of God’s divine mind.
He thought you up before you ever thought your first word.
He knit you together with his own powerful, yet gentle hands. (Psalm 139:13)
Do you think God will just leave you to suffer?
Do you think God won’t come to your rescue?
Do you think God won’t work tirelessly to get you back even after your own sins have left you feeling like garbage?
(2) “You are Redeemed.”
Verse 2 says this, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.” (Isaiah 43:2a)
Redeem means to “buy back.” To “pay for.” To “purchase again.”
And God has redeemed YOU.
Because yes! We fell to sin.
Yes, we were owned by our guilt.
We were owned by our shame.
We were owned by our addictions.
We were owned by our brokenness.
Jesus came to earth.
He offered the most precious currency of all:
His perfect blood.
Jesus bought you.
Jesus paid for you.
Jesus redeemed you.
You do not belong to your addiction.
You do not belong to your temptation.
You do not belong to your sins.
You belong to God!
It’s like at Sola café: They have this little card at Sola café that if you remember to have it stamped every time you order a drink, the 10th drink is free! Even if you do what I do and order a small coffee, the cheapest thing on the menu, for the other 9 drinks, you can get a large, 6-dollar Caramel Macchiato for FREE. Fully paid for.
You have been fully paid for.
No matter how much sin you have fallen to.
You belong to God – fully and completely.
(3) “I know you.”
God says, “I have called you by name.” (Isaiah 43:2b) That’ s an uplifting truth.
Because it’s easy to feel like you are just a number.
It’s easy to feel as if God’s redemptive power is big and great, but not that personal.
It’s like calling for tech support. And you say, “Hi! I’m Phil calling from Gethsemane Church” and they say, “What’s your equipment ID number?” And you say, “I don’t know that. But I’m from Gethsemane Church, we have an account with you.” And they say, “Equipment ID Number please.” And you say, “I spoke with you about 15 minutes ago? Don’t you remember me?” And they say, “I remember you. You haven’t given me the Equipment ID Number yet.”
God says you are more than an Equipment ID Number to him.
You are you.
He knows your name.
He knows your first name.
He knows your last name.
He knows your middle name.
He knows your nickname.
He knows your maiden name.
He knows your username.
He knows your pet name.
He knows your surname.
He even knows your Superhero name – that you found out from that one Facebook quiz you took way back in 2014.
God knows you.
Personally knows you.
He knows your struggles.
He knows your weaknesses.
He knows the things you’ve told your friends.
He knows the things you’ve told your counselor.
He knows the things you haven’t told your counselor.
He stands beside you.
And whispers: “You have a new name.”
I will call you, “Mine.”
This is why he also whispers:
(4) “I am With You.”
God has Isaiah write this, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:3)
This is a metaphor.
Because in the Old Testament, the Israelite people had once been surrounded by their enemies and a deep, vast sea. They had no where to go! They were as good as dead.
But God was with them.
He split the waters and they crossed through on dry ground – fish and sea weed and currents on each side.
And again in the Old Testament, some men were thrown into a fiery furnace because they didn’t bow down and worship a giant golden statue of the king.
But God was with them.
He kept them safe in the flames so that not a hair, not a thread, not even a little piece of beard was singed in the fire. Neither did they smell of smoke.
And you…when you are surrounded by temptation.
When you feel all alone.
When you think there’s no way out.
When you are terrified of what’s going on in your life.
God is with you.
He will keep you safe.
He will help you out.
He will lead you safely – undrowned.
Victorious over temptation!
And here’s how he does it:
(5) “I am your Savior.”
God has Isaiah write this, “I am the LORD, your God, the holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (v.3)
That same powerful God who defeated split the Red Sea.
That same powerful God who kept the men safe in the furnace.
That same powerful God who died on the cross and saved you from sin – is your Savior.
It isn’t like waiting in the doctor’s office to see your specific specialist about your specific special problem and then someone walks into the room.
You don’t recognize them. You look closely at their name badge and it says: “Intern.”
God is your Savior.
Not your “might be Savior.”
Not your “Try-the-hardest-to-save-but-failing Savior.”
Not even “Everyone else’s Savior.”
No. Your Savior.
Which leads to a very powerful passage. Friends – write this down. Memorize it. Bring it from God’s heart to your heart:
“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions. I will forget your sins and remember your wickedness no more.” (v.25)
God has destroyed your sins so completely that he can’t even remember a single sin.
He can’t even remember that you’ve failed.
He can’t even remember that you’re a failure.
Because of him.
You are a winner.
III. What Now?
Fight like a champion.
And let me tell you:
Champions don’t come on out and let the other punch first.
They come out swinging.
They come out dodging.
They come out with a plan.
Do you have a temptation that you struggle against?
Come out swinging.
Come out dodging.
Come out with a plan.
(1) Come out Swinging
Because too often we are reactive against temptation. We wait for it to strike and hope that we can react when it does.
It’s like coffee. I drink too much.
Maybe…some of you knew that.
But here’s the thing…I know I drink too much yet, I put myself in the same situation each day.
I stay up later than I should.
I don’t have anything to drink until I have my morning coffee.
I hang out for the first hour of every weekday – within about 50 steps of the coffee pot.
No wonder I keep failing.
Why not go on the offensive? Romans 8:13 says: “By the Spirit, put to death the misdeeds of the body.” Don’t just punch them in the mouth or put them in a headlock. The language is stronger. Put them to death!
Talking about my caffeine struggle:
Why not drink 2 glasses of water before the coffee pot gets put on?
Why not go to bed 30 minutes earlier so that I’m not so tired?
Why not tell an entire congregation about it so that they can hold you accountable and tell you to drink a bit less?
Whatever your temptation is, think about it: how can you attack it?
(2) Come out Dodging
But there will be times when temptation blindsides you.
When suddenly you find yourself in situations in which things don’t look good.
When Satan pulls some guerrilla warfare on you.
The Bible tells the story about a guy named Joseph. He worked as a servant in the house of a rich government official. He loved working there. He respected his master. He wanted to keep his job.
One day – the government official’s wife – she developed a crush on Joseph – he was young and handsome – one day when noticed him working in the house when no one else is around. She said to him, “Come to bed with me. Sleep with me. No one is around. No one will know. You’ll be all mine.”
And Joseph said?
“I’m out of here.”
Literally – the Bible says that he runs away.
He dodges the temptation.
Why not do that?
Too often I think we tried to play the hero. We try to put ourselves in situations that we know we fail at – and wait to see if we might beat temptation.
The Bible says differently. 2 Timothy 2:2 says, “Flee youthful passions.”
Don’t hover over the page with all the scantily clad women -- click the “x” and get out of there.
Don’t hang around the coffee pot or water cooler that’s bringing up your favorite gossip. Leave.
Don’t sit at the dinner table, getting angrier and angrier ready to blow your top on your spouse – say, “Honey. Give me a second.” Walk away. Cool down. Don’t sin.
(3) Come out with a Plan
I imagine that’s what the final two teams in the NCAA tournament are doing right now. They are planning how to defeat each other. They are coming up with plays, they are coming up with values, they are getting ready to explain to their teams: “When we are in this situation, do this. When we are in this other situation, do this.”
It would be ludicrous for a team to be in the finals of the NCAA tournament and have their plan be, “I don’t have a plan. Try to win.”
It’s ludicrous for us to attempt to fight temptation without a plan.
Proverbs 14:22 says this, “Do not those who plot evil go astray? But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness.”
Friends, champions make a plan.
In Jesus, you are a champion.
Make a plan to fight against temptation.
If you have a sin that you struggle with…repeatedly, why not come up with a plan?
Why not take a moment and write it up. Literally write it up in a notebook.
Pray about it. Seek God’s wisdom about it. Ask a trusted friend about it. Then, write up your plan.
If you need help in this – I will help you.
So will the others at church.
That’s what I hope you’ll do for others.
Because that’s what church is.
Our goal is to help out, swing, dodge, and plan for your fight against temptation.
Which leads to our final point.
(4) View Yourself as the Champ!
Because it’s so easy to view yourself as nothing more than a sinner.
And to a certain extent that’s important. It leads us to Jesus.
But once we have heard the promise of God’s forgiveness and we leave these walls to battle temptation, it is so important that we see ourselves as God sees us – as winners in Jesus.
It’s like what happens during a basketball game. If you go into the game thinking, “We’ll probably lose because we are losers,” you’ll probably lose.
But if the coach can get you to think you have a chance or even that you’ll win, you have an advantage because you are already in a winning frame of mind.
Friend, you are a winner in Jesus.
Think of yourself as a winner.
Envision yourself squashing the devil and all of his foolish attempts – even if it’s a temptation by which he has squashed you over and over again.
Because you are in Christ.
Christ is in you.
He stomped the devil.
He stomped sin.
He stomped guilt.
He stomped shame.
He stomped death itself when…three days later…
Three days later, he rose from the grave.
Friends, as Christ is the winner, you are a winner.
Fight temptation. Amen.
We are four weeks into our Fighting Temptation series.
Question: How is it going with that?
Are you on a hot streak against temptation like never before?
Have you been sinless for three weeks?
Are you a perfect, 1,567-0 against every temptation in the month of March?
Maybe a better question is:
Have you won any temptation battles?
Today we’re going to talk about what to do when you have failed at fighting temptation. 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. Two Different Reactions
The lesson we are going to look at is from the book of James 4. James is a letter written by James, a pastor in the early Christian church to Christians everywhere. In his letter, James gives all kinds of guidance to FIGHT temptation. He tells them to not be prideful (1:11), to be slow to anger (1:19), to get rid of moral filth (1:20), to watch their tongues (1:24), to not show favoritism (2:1), to care for others (2:15), to not curse (3:10), to not be envious (3:14), to be peace-loving (3:17), to not fight amongst each other (4:1), to not covet (4:3), and to not be romantic with someone that isn’t your spouse (4:4).
That’s a lot of commands.
That’s a lot of opportunity for temptation.
But about midway through chapter 4, James begins to talk about what to do if you find yourself falling to temptation. He identifies two completely different approaches to losing: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (4:6)
Have any of you been watching the NCAA Tournament? Teams win and teams lose. It’s interesting to listen to teams when they lose – whether it’s in an interview or Twitter – there’s really two different reactions to losing:
Some say, “We lost. We didn’t play well. We didn’t deserve to win. We failed.”
Others say, “It was the refs’ fault.” “My teammate didn’t play up to his potential.” “I read a mean tweet and I wasn’t able to focus like I should.”
Two different reactions:
Humility and Pride.
It’s the same thing when we fail at temptation.
We can respond in humility or pride.
God opposes the proud.
God gives grace to the humble.
II. Types of Pride
But it’s not necessarily that easy.
One of the trickiest things about pride is that pride tends to be very good at disguising itself.
It’s very good at not realizing its own sinfulness.
It’s very good at making you think – that it’s not prideful at all.
Because of that – I would submit that each and every one of us -- even long time Christians – struggle with some version of pride when we fail to temptation.
Here’s a list of a few different prideful ways that we respond when we fall to temptation. Which one are you?
1. The Bar-lower-er
It’s like the high jump. Did any of you have to do the high jump back in high school gym class? It isn’t easy. You have to time your run, time your approach, plant off the back foot while arching your back in the air, throwing your feet back and then jack-knifing over the top.
If you aren’t very good at it, what happens? The coach lowers the bar. From 5 foot to 4 foot 6 inches to 4 foot to…maybe let’s try laying the bar on the ground.
Bar-lower-ers do the same thing with the bar of conduct that God has set:
“God, I know you said to love my spouse – but marriage is hard. You should be happy! I wasn’t that rude.”
“I know the Bible says, ‘Don’t lust,’ but that’s unrealistic. God’s probably happy that I didn’t actually sleep with her…for long.”
“I know the Bible says, ‘Love your neighbor,’ but have you met my neighbors? I’ll tolerate them. What more can you really ask for?”
And there’s no sorrow.
There’s no humility.
Because the bar-lower-er makes it over the fake bar that he set up – while ignoring the divine bar that God set up way over his head.
2. The Fixer
That name comes from politics. A fixer is the person on your political team who has the ability to fix any negative, dirty laundry news story and make you into the hero of the narrative. If you’ve ever watched Scandal, this is Olivia Pope’s job. She finds out the bad story that’s going to hurt her client, she reworks it, and feeds that story out instead in order to make her client look good.
The Spiritual Fixer responds to sin the same way.
Bitter and angry at work? No. I was just standing my ground against all the bitter and angry people who were challenging my ideas!
Cheated on my wife? Nope. I’m just a romantic. A fan of true love. I’m the good guy in the story.
Said something racist? Nope. I was baited into it…by some other friends…who knew it would happen. They’re the real racists.
And there’s no sorrow.
There’s no humility.
Because the fixer imagines himself the hero of his story --- even when God says he’s clearly not.
3. The Accountant
Kudos to actual accountants. They do impressive work. They take numbers. They take receipts. They take line items and mistakes and put them all together to try and make the numbers balance – no matter how it is.
This is hard work. It’s why Kevin from The Office developed a “Keleven” It’s a made up, magic number he uses to balance the numbers when he can’t figure out the mistake.
The Spiritual Accountant does the same thing. They try to take the seeming “good” that they’ve done and balance it against the bad that they just committed. Like some kind of magic number, they try to make it balance.
Sure. I was grumpy this morning. But I was nice from like 1:15-3:30p yesterday afternoon so…
I have been gossiping a lot lately. But I did go to church Sunday and Wednesday for the Meditation service.
I know I told a lie there. But this morning I told like 4 truths. Things like “Good morning” and “I had an egg for breakfast.” It all balances out.
And there’s no sorrow.
There’s no humility.
Because the Spiritual Accountant thinks they’ve made up for their wrongdoing – even when God says the only way to make up for sinful wrongdoing is death.
4. The Bootstrapper
This type of person “Pulls themselves up by their Bootstraps.” Have you heard that phrase? Apparently, it means to be lying on the ground with your boots on and then, to grab ahold of the strap at the top of the boot until you are standing. This isn’t actually that possible. It’s really, really, really hard. Hence the phrase, “Pulling yourself up by your bootsteps” being an exemplary thing. If you can do that, then people will forget all about the fact that you fell – they’ll be way too impressed by the fact that you pulled yourself up by the bootstraps.
Spiritual Bootstrappers think they can do the same thing. They focus on how they’ll get themselves out of sin to distract themselves – and God – from the fact that they have sinned.
I know. I know. I got drunk for the 8th day in a row You might even call me addicted. No worries. When I get out of this, it’ll be that much more impressive.
Yes, I lost it on my kids again. But I’m gonna keep improving, keep working harder, and I’ll figure out how to deal with 4 whining kids all by myself.
And…I said things that made my spouse mad at me. But I’ll fix it. I’ll buy flowers. I’ll buy a nice card. I’ll send her a cutesy emoji. I’ll pull myself out of the pit I dug.
And there’s no sorrow.
There’s no humility.
Because the Bootstrapper distracts himself from his severe sin by looking at his half-hearted, sin-tainted, feeble efforts at righting it.
5. The Humble Looking
This seems a bit like an oxymoron. Because this type of response to sinning doesn’t seem prideful at all. In fact, they sound humble. They say things like, “I am a miserable sinner.” “I did an awful job.” “I am a horrible, no good, very bad person – God!”
It sounds humble.
God, I have so much sin, that it’s too much for you to handle on your own. I’ll try to help.
God, I’ve done so much wrong. I don’t think your blood can cover it all.
God, I really messed up. I can’t ask you to help. I don’t belong in church. That wouldn’t be right.
There’s false sorrow.
There’s false humility.
And there’s this strange clinging to a tiny ounce of sinful dignity, because “I’ll feel better about myself if I can help God out with getting rid of my sins.”
Here’s the truth:
All five of these responses to sin are prideful.
All five of these responses to sin set oneself up against God.
The Bar-lower-er says, “God, your bar wasn’t good enough. I’ll make my own.”
The Fixer says, “God, you don’t know the whole story. You’re wrong for rebuking me.”
The Accountant says, “God, if you don’t accept all the good I do for you, you’re the one who isn’t any good.”
The Bootstrapper says, “God, don’t patronize me. I don’t need your help. Even if you tell me I do need your help.”
The Humble Looking says, “God, you can’t do this on your own. You need my help.”
All five of these responses to falling at sin will leave you…imagining that you’re up and on your feet again.
When in reality…
You’re still lying on the ground.
You’re still beaten.
You. Aren’t. Getting. Up.
God opposes the proud…
God gives grace to the humble. (v.6)
III. Blessings of Humility
Our Old Testament lesson was from the book of Judges. Have you ever read the book of Judges? It fits in really well with today’s lesson, because it is filled with a very repetitive theme:
Repeated, repetitive failures to temptation.
It’s a cycle.
Israel falls to temptation.
God warns them to stop.
Israel has too much pride to listen.
God warns them again.
Israel still doesn’t listen and…
God is against them.
God sends a foreign nation to overtake them.
Israel is overrun by the Assyrians, the Moabites, the Philistines.
The once proud people of Israel are defeated – lying flat on their backs.
As they are on their backs…
They realize that they cannot get themselves out of the predicament.
Their story changes.
They ask God for mercy.
He sends a conqueror.
He sends a hero.
He fights for his people and gives them the victory!
Friends, there is blessing in humility. Look at what James says:
1. The Devil Flees
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (v.7)
Which seems strange. Because you would expect your best chance at beating the devil to involve puffing your chest out, getting really big, really prideful. Like scaring off a grizzly bear. You act as impressive as possible so as to scare him off.
The devil is not scared of you.
Not one bit.
On the other hand, when you are humble…
When you admit that you can’t do it alone…
When you call out for help…
He’s absolutely terrified!
2. God Comes Near
This is the reason the devil is terrified. Look at what James writes, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (v.8)
Because God is a God of mercy.
He is a God of compassion.
He is a God who helps those who need help.
He erupts volcanos.
He flicks his wrists to send hurricane like winds.
He pours out rushing flood waters.
He is the undisputed, undefeated, champion against temptation – and there is no love lost between him and the devil.
God shows up and the devil runs.
He does one of those things that the Roadrunner used to do in Looney Tunes and leaves a cloud of dust behind.
James writes, “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (v.8b)
Because the reality is that falling to temptation can feel awfully icky.
It can feel like the end of a long day working outside.
There’s dried sweat on your forehead.
Dirt under your finger nails.
And this…stench that just seems to be deeply entrenched in your skin.
He washes us cleans.
He washes away your guilt.
He washes away your shame.
He washes away the stink and the stench.
And replaces it with the beautiful perfume of the phrase: “Forgiven.”
4. Uplifting to the Highest Heights
James writes, “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (v. 9-10)
The truth is the humbling yourself means that you will be lowering yourself.
There’s a moment when you say, “I am a sinner.”
A moment when you say, “I failed, again.”
A moment when you say, “I can’t do this on my own.”
During that time, you can feel really low.
God forgives you.
God uplifts you.
God lifts you up beyond where you were before – and places you up beside Him – in His kingdom!
Do you get it? If you fall and a friend picks you up, your feet are back on solid ground.
But if you fall and God picks you up…your feet are on heavenly ground.
IV. What Now?
The one WHAT NOW? It’s pretty simple:
When you fail against temptation…
Humbly seek God’s help.
Humbly hear his promise of forgiveness.
No matter how many times you’ve fallen to temptation.
Like the son in the story that Jesus told.
Remember what he did?
He came up to his dad – long before his dad was dead – and said, “Give me my inheritance! I’ve had enough of living under your roof. I’m sick and tired of doing what you tell me to do. I’m sick of being here. There’s a whole world full of life out there. Give my money. Give my money so I can leave and never have to look at your ugly face again.”
And his dad was sad.
But he gave him the inheritance.
A couple hundred thousand dollars.
And the son takes the money.
He heads to the city.
He goes downtown.
He rents a high-rise $4,000 a month apartment.
Every night he goes to the finest steak restaurants.
He drinks top notch scotch after drinking top shelf vodka after drinking a $25 dollar shot of whiskey.
And he buys for his friends.
And he buys illegal drugs for him and his friends.
And he buys women for him and his friends.
And he wakes up around 2 pm the next day.
And does it all over again.
The money’s out.
No one will hire him.
He gets evicted.
His “friends” ignore his text messages.
He pretends to have enough cash for an Uber out of the city – only to pretend like he left his wallet in the other pants when he gets to a local pig farm that’s hiring.
And he gets a job.
Feeding the pigs.
He gives them slimy old applesauce.
He gives them moldy old cheese.
He gives them this greenish, brownish muck that he’s not sure – isn’t snot.
It looks so good.
He’s so hungry.
And he says to himself, “I should never have done it. I should never have left my dad. I had it good in my dad’s house. I was fed. I was clothed. I was…home.”
I don’t deserve to be his son.
But…maybe he’ll let me clean the outhouse. And gives me a few pieces of bread for supper.
He makes his way to his dad’s house.
When he reaches the dirt road, the long dirt road that leads to his Father’s house…
He takes a deep breath…before he walks up.
But before he can get far, way off in the distance…his dad. He sees him! And he takes off down the dirt road.
And the son thinks, “Here he comes. He’s going to give it to me. He’s going to scream at me. He’s going to tell me how awful and terrible I messed up and that I should buzz off and never be around again.”
And as his dad approaches.
He lifts up his hand.
And his son braces himself to be smacked on the cheek.
His hand doesn’t hit his face.
It embraces him.
But the son shrugs him off! “Seriously, Dad! I sinned. I did wrong. I don’t deserve to be your son! Let me work my way back. Let me do my own thing. Let me be a worker on the lowest run in your farm.”
But the dad…isn’t listening.
“Hey Walter! My son’s back!! Run; tell the cooks to get the steaks from the freezer. Go grab some of my finest wines. And text everyone that I know. There’s a party at my house tonight.”
Because…This son of mine is lost; but NOW? is found.
Friends, this is God’s reaction to you.
When you fail against temptation, humbly return.
And you’ll be welcomed home.
I’ve been experiencing some problems in my prayer life recently.
The things that I pray for don’t seem to be happening.
This has been going on for years!
I prayed for a pony when I was younger; never happened.
I’ve prayed for it to rain Doritos. Not once.
I’ve prayed for a couple million bucks to show up in my bank account. (I don’t know that there’s ever been a million that passed through the account since its inception)
On a more serious note – my wife and I have been praying for a child.
But…we’re about seven years in.
No little pastor.
No little Julianna.
Maybe the same thing has happened to you.
Maybe you’ve asked for something “good” and God has answered with something “bad.”
What’s the deal? Doesn’t God understand how prayer works?
Jesus has something to say on the matter. Check out his words from Matthew 7: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?”
Think about it:
If your son came up to you with his big, tear-filled eyes and said to you, “Mommy, my tummy’s grumbling. Can I have a piece of bread?” Would any of you say: “Sure, son!” Walk away. Grab a plate, a knife and some butter and then SLAM a big old rock onto the plate. “Bon Appetite!”
If your daughter really wanted a pet and said to you, “Daddy, I want to get a gold fish and name it Princess.” How many of you would say, “Sure, honey. Anything for you.” Get into car, you head to the pet store, and come back with a poisonous King Cobra. “Here you go sweetie. Although…I don’t know if we should name him Princess.”
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (v.11)
If you then, though you are an imperfect, sin-tainted, selfish human being, know to give a good gift to your child…
What do you think your perfect, holiness-radiating, selfless God will give to you?
God can ONLY give good gifts.
So…what’s the rub then? Why does God’s answers to our prayers sometimes seem disappointing? Two reasons. And they both involve inaccurate assumptions on our part.
(1) Assuming Your Request is Good
Think back to the Doritos prayer. I thought raining Doritos would be good.
It would also ruin the ecosystem, result in my digesting all kinds of germs, and probably ruin the Cool Ranch flavor!
Your child may think they know what is best. They may truly believe that staying up late and eating ice cream is what’s best – it’s certainly what they want most at that moment. However, a father who truly loves his children knows that staying up late and eating ice cream will result in children who don’t feel good shortly after and will have a following 12-hour period of crabbiness. The father looks at the whole picture, and knowing better than his child, may tell his child no – out of love!
The same is true for some of our real deal, difficult requests…
They may not always be centered in ‘goodness.’
They may be centered in “our sinful, imperfectness.”
Back to the prayer for a child.
One of the main reasons that I am praying for one?
I want one.
I want to be a father.
I want to teach them how to play catch.
I want to teach them how to ride a bike.
It sounds nice…
Did you hear what I was praying?
I want…I want…I want.
What about what God wants?
What about God’s desire to increase his eternal family?
What about planting the message of Jesus in the Heart of North Raleigh?
What about God’s desire to shape and mold myself and my wife and grow our faith as we dig deeper into His Word for answers?
What about the fact that I might not know what is good – eternally, absolutely, perfectly…good?
Friends, I don’t know your prayer requests.
But I know you too are an imperfect, broken, human being.
Could it be that our imperfect, broken human heart requests imperfect, broken things from our Father?
Thank God he doesn’t give us exactly what we want.
Thank God that he gives us exactly what is good.
Thank God that when I ask for a snake…God gives me a fish.
Thank God that when I ask for a stone…God gives me some bread.
(2) Assuming God’s Answers Can Be Bad
Because sometimes at the end of your prayers, God’s answer may be, “Yes. Your boyfriend is leaving you.”
Sometimes at the end of your prayers, God’s answer may be, “Yes, you will lose that job.”
Sometimes at the end of your prayers, God’s answer may be, “Yes. It’s confirmed. You have cancer.”
The temptation might be to say, “God, bad answer.”
The reality? God doesn’t give bad answers.
We might not always know how.
We might not always know why.
We might not always know much of anything.
But we do know one certain and sure reality:
God’s answers are only good.
Because God is only good.
Case and point? The cross.
We asked for a Savior.
We asked for God to send someone to help us.
We asked for God to get rid of our guilt, grief, and shame.
We probably pictured some type of superhero-looking guy.
A modern-day Avenger.
With an epic Thor like weapon and luscious, Chris Hemsworth looks.
We didn’t get that.
We got a carpenter’s apprentice.
A guy without a home.
A mild mannered dude who got roughed up and physically beaten on more than one occasion.
He was cursed at.
Arrested, convicted, bloodied, and killed.
And it’s easy to look up at the cross.
At his broken, bloodied, beaten body…
And say, “This can’t be any good. God, you didn’t answer my prayer. God, you don’t know what you’re doing!”
But we’d be wrong.
Because three days, later…
Three days later, Jesus didn’t just beat evil.
He didn’t just destroy sin.
He didn’t just wipe out death forever.
He guaranteed eternal life to you.
Do you see it? God answered your prayers.
Praying for a better life? God answered.
Praying for removal of guilt? God answered.
Praying for a Savior from all the junk you’re dealing with? God answered when he sent Jesus.
And Now? God keeps giving good gifts.
God isn’t hit or miss.
His gifts are always good.
That boyfriend? Could lead you away from faith.
That job? Could distract you from teaching your kids about their Savior.
That cancer? It’s will draw you closer in faith to me AND allow you all kinds of opportunity to witness to your family and friends until you join him in heaven apart from cancer…forever.
Because that’s the ultimate good.
Brothers and sisters, God’s answers all always good. Trust Him.
Whether he gives you some bread, some fish, or an eternal Savior…
God’s answers are always good. Amen.
Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
Have you ever had one of those moments of sheer terror at being caught? I mean the total anxiety panic of knowing… there is no way out of this. If you know what I mean, it was probably when you were younger? Though maybe not, contrary to what we like to think of ourselves, the youth do not corner the market on stupid decisions.
Whatever it was you were doing or did, I’m sure it was very attractive. The thought of all you could gain from going down that path was irresistible. It was so simple, required so little effort, and the benefits, well, they were pretty amazing. I’m guessing that the thought of being caught or the consequences never actually entered your mind. Maybe you had to think about one or two ways to smartly keep it hidden, but the fact that it was just wrong never really was part of the decision-making process.
At least, until you were caught.
You were… not so clever as you thought. Or you over-reached out of greed and arrogance. And if you’re remembering that moment from your life right now just like I am, you can feel the panic. Feel the fear grip your heart as you face whatever might be coming.
And that might be the worst of it. You don’t know what might be coming. I suppose it depended on what it was, how old you were and the like? Maybe privileges would be taken away. Maybe it would just be the shame of letting someone else down. Maybe it would break a relationship. Maybe it would be legal action. But the fear of knowing you’d been caught and there was no getting out of it, that tightening of your heart… that’s what I’m talking about.
Now why… why would I make you relive something like that this evening? It’s bad enough when those memories haunt us at quiet moments during the day or night. Why drag them up on purpose?
Well because that is exactly the feeling I want you to think of when you picture what it’s like to stand before God almighty and try to justify yourself to him.
To better appreciate this evening, I’d like to walk you through… well it’s a metaphor. This isn’t really how things will happen at the end, not literally. But the truth of it holds. So, imagine with me. Imagine the moment comes. Your earthly life has ended, and you are waiting to see what happens next. You’ve heard that Heaven is the place to be and Hell, well not so much.
Though there is some nervous anticipation, you’re feeling – pretty good about what’s to come. You’re a good person. You were a good son or daughter, a good spouse or a good parent. You did right by the people around you. You worked your job, you went to church, you helped those in need. This should go well.
And the time comes that your name is called. You are escorted from a waiting area into a courtroom. There is no jury, only the judge. And there are no witnesses, only the judge. God. One look from his piercing stare and it all comes crashing down. The intensity of that gaze opens your own eyes and you know. You know, and you remember everything he knows about you.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way;
The façade of goodness that you wear becomes as flimsy and fragile as tissue paper. All the selfishness that backed all those “good” deeds. All the times that the cost of doing the right thing was a little too high for you so you just walked by on the other side of the street. The secret thoughts, the greed, the lust, the selfishness, the anger, and more than any of that all the times you just thought you knew better than God.
That’s the panic moment. You’re caught, there’s nowhere to go, and you are utterly guilty. You did all of it, thinking no one was looking, no one would notice, but he saw it. There’s nothing to say in your defense. Anything you could think of in your own mind falls so flat that you can’t even utter the words.
Is there nothing to be done? You survey the crowd. Surely someone could speak up on your behalf and ask for leniency, mercy, or just to ask the judge to let this one go? Someone some authority or power or charisma or money could maybe do something for you…
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
A man does step forward. Not the one you were looking for. He is not wearing anything fancy. He has no regal bearing about him. You do not recognize him as anyone rich or influential. He instead looks like someone in as much need of help as you are. If you were not simply frozen by the terror of the moment you might motion for him to blend back into the crowd.
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,
He draws the judge’s attention. The man speaks.
“I did it.”
“Every charge you are about to read. That was me. I openly confess to every one of those crimes. I did it.”
“You are aware of the punishment?” the judge asks.
“I am. It was me.”
The confession is accepted. The man is bound and led away. What could you do? It might seem dishonorable to let him go in your place, but the terror of what waits at that end is too much to face. You let him go.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
You know what it means for that man. You know what you were expecting. The terror of hell itself. That the mercy and grace of God would be completely cut off from you. Absolutely lost in the outer darkness where there is no light and no hope and nothing but terror and pain forever. Maybe you didn’t grasp it before but you do now. That’s death. To be cut off from the source of life and creation is death.
It should’ve been you, but it wasn’t. What he suffers is of your making, no mistake. You earned and created the hell he is suffering now. You can’t help but stare at the door they led him through. It’s conflicting. You’re haunted by what he suffers in your place but there is still relief that it won’t be you.
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
As you muse, the judge speaks again.
“The guilty party having confessed and punishment rendered, the accused is declared not guilty. With no outstanding accusations, you are free to enter the Kingdom of God.”
Dumbfounded, you step forward. Heaven? You started with confidence you had no right to. It was quickly crushed and for what seems like an eternity you stood there with no hope, trying to accept the fact that you were going to die. And now so quickly that has changed to heaven? It seems so impossibly unlikely, but it’s happened.
You walk to the exit of the courtroom and the entrance of the kingdom. The reward is not just a perfect kingdom, it’s a perfect you. The last remnants of evil within yourself are stripped away and now you not only live in a place that will never cause you pain – you yourself will not be the cause of your own pain anymore.
This is your end. The eternal, loving, unchangeable God as your perfect king. The one who cares for you perfectly. You, made perfect, and living the life you were meant to live from the beginning. All the things from before that gripped your heart with fear are just… gone. There absolutely cannot be a better end. And this is your end.
And what of that man that so boldly confessed to your crimes? The one that was led away to die in your place?
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
He lives. He is your king. He is the judge. He is your God. He died. He lives. You live.
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.
Sometimes humans don’t know when to quit.
You ever played UNCLE? If you’re a guy, chances are good. To play uncle – you put your friend in some kind of submission lock in order to get them to say “UNCLE.” Could be a noogie, a headlock or maybe a pinkie lock – something that eventually will cause your friend to give up.
I remember one time in high school – a friend put me in a head lock -- with his legs. And it hurt. He kept saying, “Say uncle. Say uncle.”
For a minute.
For ten minutes.
For like half an hour. (Which is a real long time to have your skull pressed between two thighs.)
And it hurt. And I was a sweaty mess. And I was tired.
But I didn’t say UNCLE!
Sometimes humans don’t know when to quit. But when it comes to God, we better know.
Today we are continuing our series on the book of Joshua. This will be interesting because we will be looking at the conquest of the Promised Land from the perspective of the Canaanites. As the Israelites get ready to attack, we will get a glimpse about how the people in Canaan were reacting to the impending invasion – particularly in 2 ways – fight or forfeit. Our goal is to examine both of those reactions and see which one is the reaction God wants. (It might not be the reaction you expect.)
Before we do, let’s say a prayer – O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
Our lesson this morning comes from Joshua 2. It takes place right after Joshua and those leaders start gathering forces together for the invasion. Subsequently, a few members go to do some special ops for Joshua. It says, Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.
A couple things to note:
Shittim (Shi-team) is an area just to the east of the Jordan river. It was not in the Promised Land. That was where the Israelites were camping out.
Jericho was in the promised land. In fact, it was the closest metropolis – near to where he Israelites were located. It was a place that had a booming population. It was also well known for its giant stone wall.
And finally, when the spies get there – they stay at the house of a prostitute named Rahab. I really wish that we knew how exactly this happened. Since it’s not written, there could be a lot of ways. Here’s a possible scenario:
The spies enter the city – wearing head coverings and keeping their heads low. (They even have fake moustaches.) They walk through the streets making note of the wall’s height, looking for weaknesses and counting the guards. As evening arrives, they make their way to the local pub, order a couple of pints and sit down in the corner to discuss strategy.
But they don’t go unnoticed. At a table close by, is a group of soldiers. One of them with a blue sash indicating his status as a captain. They keep looking over at them. Did they know? In fact, I think I saw one of them point? Should we get out of here/ --- Nah, play it cool. Play it cool.
And then as they shakily bring up a lager to their lips – the group of men get up. They begin walking in their direction. Slowly, methodically, from across the bar. One of the spies reaches down and puts his hand on the dagger attached to his thigh.
Then, a voice: Hey, do you need a place to stay?
They jump. But turn around to find a beautiful woman. Big hooped earrings, long flowing hair, paintings and tattoos adorning her body – piercing blue eyes and a gentle smile.
I said – Do you need a place to stay tonight?
The spies look at her. They look at the soldiers and decide quickly.
They grab her arm and head out of the bar – quickly getting lost in the downtown shuffle of people. They walk quickly – not too fast to arouse suspicion – but not so slow that the soldiers might catch them. Until they make their way to a tiny apartment. Through here! She says. As the men walk in and the woman begins to lock the door, they look around her one roomed habitat. There’s a tattered run on the floor, a few dead bugs on the window sill and dirty pots near the corner of a big barrel which was supposed to be the kitchen.
“I’m Rahab,” the woman said as she fetched a glass of water. “Welcome to my home. What’s your name?”
Before the men could answer, there’s a loud knock at the door. Everyone stopped. Rahab held a finger to her lips. The knock happened again. Who is it?
The Jericho Police. Open up!
Just a minute – I’m powdering my nose. She motioned for the men to head out back where they found a rickety wooden ladder. She pointed up. Coming! She repeated, as mouthed the words, “up there.”
The men wandered to the top of the ladder and found themselves on the roof. Quickly, they rearranged the flax stalks – ancient shingles – and hide beneath them.
Meanwhile, Rahab unbarred the door. How can I help you gentlemen?
We’ve been sent by order of the king. Now…Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land. (v.3)
From their flax hiding space, the spies’ hearts began to race.
Now – she knew what they were.
Now – she knew their intentions.
Surely, she was about to give them up.
“Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” (v.4-5)
The captain looked at her. He looked around the house. He looked at her beautiful eyes one more time and said, “OK. Well…It’s not your fault. We’ll go get them. Don’t you worry about it. I’ll make sure you’re protected.’ And with that, they turned and left.
After the captain and his men were a good distance away, Rahab opened the back door and went up to the men on the roof. Thank you, ma’am. You didn’t have to do that.
Yes, I did. She said, “I know who you are. I know what you’ve done. I know who you serve. I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt...When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my family—and that you will save us from death.” (v.9-13)
The men looked at one another.
Was she serious?
She was a foreigner.
She wasn’t an Israelite.
And…I mean, she was a prostitute – that was against all kind of God’s commandments.
Should they really spare her?
Would God really spare her?
Would God really show her mercy?
The answer was obvious:
“Our lives for your lives! If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land.”
In other words:
Yes. You will be spared.
Yes. God will have mercy.
This story is very interesting. Rahab’s fear of God’s power and appeal to his mercy is very compelling. But – do note – that was NOT the most common response to the reality of the impending invasion. All the people were afraid, but the majority of them did what the King wanted to do – FIGHT.
I’ll tell you the truth -- it’s the same thing today.
This past week the MN youth group was going door-to-door with fliers that talk about our church. While they weren’t doing any kind of Jehovah’s Witness type stuff, they were knocking on doors and inviting people to church – inviting people to hear about Jesus.
One guy – when they introduced themselves and handed him a flier – were interrupted – as he reached behind his door and pulled out a flier of his own. The flier? A brief print out of trespassing laws here in Raleigh. “I’ll give you five minutes to leave or I’m calling the police.”
Now you might argue that it’s not very much fun to have strangers knock at your door – but the fact remains that he threatened police involvement with a pair of teens that were simply inviting them to come hear about Jesus’ love and forgiveness.
The reality is deeper, because God was working through those kids.
God approached that man.
He saw God coming.
And he decided to fight.
This is not uncommon. Romans 8:7 says this, “The sinful mind is hostile to God.” Hostile means unfriendly – a foe. It means that the sinful mind of humans is naturally an enemy of God. That’s why when God approaches – when God comes with his law and his word – our natural response is to fight!
Sometimes it sounds like, “Get off my porch.”
Sometimes it sounds like:
That’s an antiquated Law.
I don’t like that command from God.
God’s the one who’s the bully – why doesn’t he let me live my life?
And suddenly, we’re just like the king of Jericho.
We’re fighting God.
The problem? Notice the promise of the spies – they were going to keep Rahab safe – but all the other people? The king? The soldiers? Those who knew what God was capable of and still decided to fight him?
God would battle them.
And God would win.
Because you can’t fight God and win.
TRUTH #1: Fighting God Fails For Sure in other words – It never works!
It’s even more true with God. Don’t fight Him.
You can’t win.
He never loses.
Instead, do as Rahab did. Rahab’s response – is so different. She forfeits.
And look at her reason: I know that the Lord has given you this land…I know how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt. And I know that God helped you win battles.
In other words – Rahab knew the LORD.
And that’s the difference. While all of her fellow countrymen were ready to fight, Rahab was ready to forfeit.
I give up. Lord, please spare me.
God, have mercy.
And HE does.
TRUTH #2: A faith-filled forfeit is exactly what it takes to achieve victory!
In fact, that’s exactly what Scripture says about Rahab’s victory. Take a look at Hebrews 11:31 “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” Notice the reason she wasn’t killed. It was faith. Faith in God’s mercy.
What’s incredible here is the sheer number of factors that were running against her faith.
And she was right.
What that means is that it does not matter if you’ve been a prostitute.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a drugs dealer.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a pornography producer, an abortionist or even a terrorist supporter.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been anything that’s led to any kind of sin, when you appeal to God’s grace, you will be forgiven!
Because God’s mercy is greater than your sins.
So – don’t fight him. Forfeit. Know when to give up and submit to your Lord.
A faith-filled forfeit is the key to victory. Amen.
Last week we started up our summer sermon series on Joshua. If you remember, we learned about a few themes: (1) the theme of the Promised Land – that God promised Abram and all his descendants they would one day possess the land of Canaan – just to the East of the Mediterranean Sea and (2) the leadership of Moses through whom God did awesome miracles in leading the Israelites for 40 years.
If you remember, both these things weighed on the heart of Joshua – our lead character. With the pressure of fulfilling the promise and the intimidation of following after Moses, God told Joshua – “As I was with Moses, I will be with you.” And Joshua was filled with confidence – he knew that he could trust God’s promises. And perhaps Joshua took a moment to contemplate the Red sea splitting, swarms of locusts sending, earth quaking, sky shaking, pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night God was with him! And there’s no one who could stop Joshua from reaching the Promised Land!
But then…there’s an extreme shift that takes place from verse 6 to verse 7. A shift that could have taken Joshua from a very high confidence to a terrified stupor.
What was it? Today we’re going to see what God told Joshua to do next, why it was so terrifying and yet why Joshua shouldn’t fear.
I. The Obedience Regiment
The message picks up in Joshua 1:7. God said to Joshua, Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night., so that you will be careful to do everything written in it. Then, you will be prosperous and successful. (1:7-8)
Perhaps that doesn’t sound all that intimidating to you. God just told him to obey him. No big deal. That’s what we’re doing right now. We’re gathering to worship. We’re obeying him.
But…look closer. It quickly becomes apparent how downright terrifying this command was:
(1) Obey it All
Notice that opening phrase. Obey all the law my servant Moses gave you. (v.7a)
One of the last things that Moses did before he died was write down the first five books of the Old Testament. He wrote Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. We call it the Pentateuch. (That’s definitely a Jeopardy question). It means the first five books of the Bible. (Take it home – tell your mom, she’ll be happy you learned something at church.) Granted there weren’t paperbacks or eReaders back then, so it was most likely etched on stone or written on papyrus parchment, but it was definitely there and available for people to read.
But get this – Hebrew scholars have identified over 613 laws if you add up all the different laws throughout these five OT books. Some of them are ceremonial – what to wear, when to eat, what holidays to celebrate and others are civil – what to do when someone wrongs you, how to sue someone if your horse falls into a pit -- and still other moral laws.
Now compare those laws with what God told Joshua here. How many of those was Joshua to obey?
Even if we are talking the simplest form of these laws – the moral laws – the 10 commandments. Notice that God does not say, “Obey some of what I said,” or “obey the parts that you like best.” He tells Joshua to obey it all.
This prevents Joshua (and us) from saying, “’Do not murder?’ No problem God! That’s not a temptation to me. I like people. But… this next one, the ‘do not commit adultery’ one? Well, I’m a guy so…I’ll just smudge some dirt on this piece of parchment and there! It’s gone. Forget white out; try dirt out!”
That’s not how it works. The reality is that you can put dirt, permanent marker or white out over God’s commands in the Bible, but that doesn’t remove the reality of that command. It does not remove God’s demand for comprehensive obedience.
As in – do everything.
(2) No Rights or Lefts
God continues. He tells Joshua, Do not turn to the right or the left. (v.7b)
Ever gone the wrong way when you’re using a GPS? It doesn’t matter if it’s Siri, Alexa or Cortana – they cannot get you where you are going if you do not listen to them. They’ll yell, speak in persistent, robotic annoyance (Make U-turn. Make U-turn. Make U-turn now!) – but if you keep going the wrong way you won’t get there! This is an especially big deal if you don’t actually know where you’re going.
For instance, if I turn left on Falls of Neuse and think heading north past I-540 will get me to downtown Raleigh. I will not get there. Ever.
God tells Joshua the same thing happens with obeying his commands. If they turn to the right or left and change course, they don’t end up in comprehensive obedience lane. They end up at the corner of Disobedience Avenue and Rebellion Boulevard.
The imperatives continue. Keep this book of the Law always on your lips; Meditate on it day and night. (v.8)
You’d get the impression that there’s a test coming up – and Joshua needs to study for the test. Only it’s not a verbal test. It’s not a written test. It’s not even one of those fill in the oval with a number 2 pencil tests.
It’s a 24/7 life evaluation test.
And in order to do well, look at the commitment needed! You thought studying for your SAT was hard. Study God’s Law day and night. When it’s light and when it’s dark.
AKA – all the time.
That’s what God is saying:
Do my commands.
Do them all.
Do them all the time.
And if you do them? You will be successful.
Don’t do them? Well…the implication is obvious.
Joshua knew all too well what happened.
He had seen it from the Egyptians – they were drowned in the Red Sea.
He had seen it from rebellious Israelites – they were banished to the wilderness.
He had seen even seen it from Moses…
Which was surprising.
Because Moses had done a pretty good job of listening to God’s commands. He had spoken to Pharaoh when told; he had raised his staff over the Red Sea when commanded; he had delivered the Ten Commandments as directed.
But one time – Moses had enough.
One time – Moses couldn’t handle the people’s whining.
One time – Moses got so angry that the people were complaining – You’ve left us out here to die Moses. We’re thirsty Moses. We don’t believe you have our best interests in mind Moses.
Moses was supposed to speak to the rock.
Instead, he hit it.
With a stick.
It was only a bit different than one God said.
Only a bit to the right…
But God’s punishment was complete: Moses, because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy…you will not bring this community into the land I give them. (Numbers 20:12)
God warns the same will happen to us.
God warns that disobedience will deny us access into the Promised Land of heaven itself.
And outside that Promised Land?
There’s only death.
2) Regimental Strength
And again – just like last week – Joshua feels the pressures of the situation.
Again, Joshua is confronted with the inability of his humanity to do what God wants.
Again, Joshua realizes that he cannot do this on his own.
And that’s good.
To that God says this, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (v.9)
Take note of this. Joshua was already a sinner. Joshua had already failed to do everything God said all the time. Scripture is clear “All have sinned.” (Romans 3:23) That includes Joshua.
Yet God comes to Joshua, the sinner, and says, I will be with you wherever you go. (v.9)
Today I’m speaking to you what God spoke.
I’m speaking to you God’s Word.
I’m speaking to you and God is speaking through me to you.
In other words --- God is coming to you, the sinner, and saying, I will be with you wherever you go. (v.9)
And we know that’s truth! Because of what Jesus did!
He removed all your sins of partial obedience.
He removed your turning to the right and to the left.
He removed your sporadic and episodic keeping of a minor portion of his commands.
God is saying to you, “I will be with you wherever you go,” because I have always been with you.
I reached forward through eternity and gathered up your sins.
I took you to the cross.
I died with you.
Three days later I rose and in doing so I implanted my obedience onto your soul.
My perfect, round the clock, straight and narrow, comprehensive, never turning to the right or left, obedience on your soul.
That’s what God sees when he looks at you.
That’s what God sees through faith in Jesus Christ.
III. What Now?
1. Be Very Courageous
Did you notice that in verse 7? It is the only part of this section that increases the courageous command by one word: Very.
Part of that relates to the challenge before him – because obeying God’s every word, completely, all the time—all the time – all the time--- is eons more challenging than driving out millions of people from fortified cities over thousands of miles of lands.
That’s what attempting to obey the holy commands of a holy God is like for the sinful.
But then again – that be very courageous statement comes from God --- with good reason! Not only is He all powerful, but he is the one who told us to do the very things he promises to be with us for in the first place.
It’d be like if I told you to get Doritos and you came back, a bit sheepishly to tell me, “I looked through the chip section and sadly Pastor all I could find was Doritos – so I got 5 bags. Please don’t be mad.”
I’m not. You did what I asked.
It’s the same with God. He loves it when you do what he asks, because he asked it!
It’s the same with God.
He empowers you to do his commands. And he wants you to do his commands.
That makes us courageous.
2. Enjoy Success
There is a very interesting thing that God’s Word says in verse 8, Keep the book of the Law – Then you will be prosperous and successful.
That does not mean that upon completing an hour of obeying God’s Law – suddenly you can check your Wells Fargo Account and fine a deposit of $1000 into your checking account.
It also doesn’t mean that if you keep the law perfectly for the next minute, you will have earned one minute in heaven. Again – that’s not how it works. Heaven is a gift of God’s grace obtained by faith.
Yet that does not mean that God doesn’t gift us with blessings as we follow his Word.
What am I talking about?
What happens if you honor your Father and mother? God gifts you with the fact that you aren’t grounded and you can play your video games after dinner.
What happens if you are faithful to your wife? God gives an incredible intimacy or closeness that only you both share.
What happens if you don’t steal? God gifts you with the blessing of – wait for it – not going to jail!
In short, God’s an awesome giver. Because he should have just said, “Obey me – just cause!” But he shapes his commands in such a way that obedience to them leads to incredible blessings. Not that we’ve earned it, but God provides grace upon grace that following him leads to prosperity!
Yet Joshua didn’t feel that prosperity. He felt the weight of his task. The words of God echoed in his ear, but they were no longer audible. He sat on a cold rock – alone. God is with me. Be strong and courageous. He promises blessings…be strong and very courageous. Then, he began his very first obedience tasks.
He had to gather the troops in order to begin the push into the promised land. But here’s the problem:
There were 12 tribes in Israel. (named after the 12 sons of the guy named – Israel) 2 ½ of those tribes: the tribe of Reuben, the tribe of Gad and ½ the tribe of Manasseh had already settled on the east side of the Jordan. Before they had asked Moses and he had allowed them under the conditional promise that their fighting men come and help them when the time was right to enter the Promised Land.
But…Moses was dead.
It had been twenty years.
Did these men really want to leave their nice new homes and risk losing their lives for the sake of some other Israelites that they barely knew?
Or was it more likely they’d say, “Nah, man. I’m good.”
But God had promised.
So, Joshua took a deep breath.
He approached their leadership.
He did what God commanded.
And God blessed Joshua.
Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and whoever you send us we will go. Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the LORD your God be with you as he was with Moses. Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous! (v.16-18)
Did you hear that last phrase? It’s exactly the phrase that God had already told Joshua.
I can’t help but think that God engineered that.
Another reminder – that God was with Joshua.
And another reminder – brothers and sister – God is with you.
Can you imagine going to the doctors and finding out that you aren’t covered?
And that they can’t remove the cancer?
Can you imagine standing before God and finding out that you aren’t covered?
That your sins are still there.
That your guilt is still there.
That the guilt you feel from that big ol’ sin, that bogs you down, day after day will be with you forever.
That you won’t be getting eternal life, but…
Today we are continuing our sermon series called Surprising Grace. Our goal is to look at the case study of the Apostle Paul and see why he was so sure that he was covered and to gain confidence that we are also covered. I want you to leave here today confident that you’re covered in God’s grace. But in order to do that, we’re going to need to hear God’s Word. Let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Case Study: Paul
To learn about just who it is that God’s grace covers, we’re going to head to 1 Timothy 1. 1 Timothy is a letter written by one of Jesus’ disciples. His name was Paul. The Apostle Paul. Maybe you’ve heard of him? In fact, he’s probably one of the top 5 -- outside of Jesus -- famous people me in the Bible. Moses, David, Mary, Peter and Paul.
Paul is kind of a man’s man of Christianity. He always puts me to shame when I read about how he preached God’s message to an angry group of men that told him to stop or they would kill him. Paul went on a missionary journey by foot, traveled hundreds of miles, started about 10 churches, and then returned home to grab a Pop Tart, take a shower, and head on another missionary journey.
Paul went on 4 missionary journeys.
He started over 20 churches.
He wrote 13 books of the Bible.
It’s why we shouldn’t be surprised to find out that Paul is covered: I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. (v.12)
Paul’s a part of God’s service.
No one is a part of God’s service that isn’t covered in his salvation plan.
Paul is covered in God’s salvation plan.
And that’s probably not all that encouraging.
Paul is a answer to Bible trivia.
Paul has had churches named after him.
Paul has had hundreds of thousands of sermons preached about him.
Of course, he’s getting covered!
That’d be like an insurance company saying, “Don’t worry. We’ll cover you. Look over there? Do you see that insanely in shape 22-year-old? The one with the bulging biceps, no history of heart problems, and the lesson than 2% body fat? He’s covered. No worries.”
But I do worry. Cause I’m not in that kind of shape.
And I’m not in the kind of spiritual shape that Paul was in. You?
But that’s not entirely accurate. There’s more to Paul’s story than the famous Apostle portion of his story. Check out verse 13. “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man….”
Do you know the first time Paul shows up in the Bible? He actually has a different name. It’s like a superhero. He’s not originally known as the Batman, but billionaire Bruce Wayne. And Paul is not originally known as the incredible Apostle Paul, but lowly, mild-mannered Saul.
In fact, Saul was kind of an apprentice. But he didn’t work for the Daily Planet or work as a lab technician in a government factory.
He worked for the Pharisees.
The very people that hated Jesus.
The very people who spearheaded the movement to kill Jesus.
In fact, when we first see Saul it’s in Acts 7. Saul is on the job helping the Pharisees stop the message of Jesus as the Savior of the world.
How are they doing it?
They aren’t blogging against it.
They aren’t writing articles against it.
They aren’t even spray painting the disciple’s headquarters.
They were throwing stones at one of Jesus’ followers.
One by one.
Until he was dead.
57 At Stephen’s confession that Jesus was the Savior, the Pharisees covered their ears and yelling at the top of their voices,they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named – Saul.
“Nice shot sir. Hit that no good Jesus-lover in the throat.”
“Well, don’t guys. I love how he’s moaning for mercy.”
“Oh look out…you got a bit of blood on your coat. No worries. I’ll wash it out. You just keep killing.”
That’s the same guy from 1 Timothy?
I haven’t even finished yet. Because if you read on, the scriptures say that Saul was really moved by this gang murder. So much so that he spearheaded the movement to put an end to Christianity. In chapter 8, it says, he persecuted the church in Jerusalem and began to destroy the church…Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison…And in chapter 9 -- He was breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.
Yes. This same guy. This same guy writes this in 1 Timothy 1:13 “Though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy…because I acted in ignorance and unbelief."
Which is such a strange reason for mercy. Because usually ignorance and unbelief do not lead to mercy.
Sorry officer I didn’t know that I was going 30 mph over the speed limit.
Sorry, officer. I saw the stop sign; I just didn’t believe that I needed to stop. No worries, right?
That’s not how it works. Ignorance and unbelief do not result in good things!
Ignorance and unbelief do NOT earn God’s mercy.
Sin deserves death.
Saul deserved death.
But he didn’t get death. Because of God’s mercy.
In fact, it had to be about God’s mercy. Just like we talked about last week. No one can earn God’s grace – God’s grace is a free gift to be given. Jesus came to Saul – literally when he was on the road to go throw more Christian men and women and children into jail, literally when he was about to take a sledge hammer to whatever house churches he could find – literally when he was going to post signs everywhere stated that “Any man or woman found practicing Christianity would be put to death,”
Jesus had mercy.
And it covered Saul! Not because his sins weren’t too bad. (we just heard – they were really bad!) God’s mercy covered Saul because God’s mercy was more than enough. (v.14) The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
It’s kind of like filling up a tea pot. Any of you have a teapot? I have a teapot that I use for coffee. But if you’re like me, I put it under the sink and let it start filling up --- then I go do something. I comb my hair. I brush my teeth. I pet the dogs. I read an article in Time magazine. I get distracted by a Facebook post. I put on my shoes. I get ready to leave and then I hear it!
I run back to the sink and find the teapot overflowing. And since the teapot is sitting over the drain, the teapot looks like it is soaking in a hot tub of water. There’s an abundant, overflowing amount.
That’s God’s grace. It overflowed to Saul. It overflowed so much that his past was completely washed away from God’s sight. It even washed away his old identity. He was no longer – Saul the blasphemer, but Paul the believer. He was no longer Saul the persecutor, but Paul the Apostle. He was no longer Saul the violent, but Paul – whom Christ suffered violently for.
Paul was completely covered by God’s grace.
II. A Case Study of You
And that’s awesome. Because it means something really, awesome for you.
And I don’t know how you take notes. But when you take notes and it’s an important point, you might do something to draw your attention to it. You might put an ink star. You might underline it. You might highlight it. You might highlight, underline and star it. You might put a bookmark in the Bible. You might make an audio recording of it. You might do something – anything to let you know about the note!
In the next verse, Paul has such an important note for you that he even takes the liberty of drawing attention to it for you. He says, in verse 15, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance…” That means: “LISTEN! PAY ATTENTION! IF YOU HAVEN’T BEEN PAYING ATTENTION TO ANY OTHER PART OF THIS SERMON, YOU NEED TO PAY ATTENTION NOW!”
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the worst!
This is so interesting, because usually the Bible puts us on equal footing. It says – “All have sinned and fall short and all are justified freely by Jesus.” (Romans 3:23) All are on the same playing field. That’s still true.
But humanly speaking we do put levels on sins.
“I didn’t really commit adultery – I didn’t have complete intercourse.”
“I’m not as bad as that guy because I wasn’t a knock out drunk.”
Paul knows the human heart. God knows the human heart. God has Paul write on that level of human wisdom. He says, “16 For that very reason, I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”
He says, “Do you really think you’re so bad that Jesus couldn’t save you? Do you really think you’ve done too much bad that Jesus’ forgiveness couldn’t cover you? Well. Let me ask you this:
Have you ever killed anyone for telling an elderly widow about Jesus?
Have you ever gone to church in order to tackle the pastor, handcuff him, and throw him into jail?
Have you ever taken a sledge hammer to the foundation of a church?
Have you ever sent email after email after email to a Christian friend – telling them they were the most vile person on earth and if they didn’t stop, you’d kill them!?!
God still had enough grace to cover him.
Paul was that bad.
But Jesus’ salvation was that good.
If God did that for Paul, won’t he do that for you?
In fact – that’s why Jesus came into the world: To save sinners! If you’re a sinner, Jesus came to die for you. He came to provide complete coverage for every last one of your sins. He came to completely cover you in his blood and conceal you in his pure and sweet forgiveness.
This is true for you.
No matter the sin.
Struggle with lust? Jesus came for you.
Struggle with hatred? Jesus came for you.
Struggle with greed? Jesus came for you.
Done something to get you in jail? Jesus came for you.
Done something to ruin your marriage? Jesus came for you.
Done something to ruin your relationship with your children? Jesus came for you.
If you’ve done something or anything sinful, Jesus came into this world to save you.
And? He did.
He lived perfectly.
He died innocently.
He rose triumphantly.
Jesus came into this world to save sinners – Jesus came into this world to save you!
Which means…You are fully covered.
III. What Now?
1) Revel in your New Identity
That’s what Paul did. He didn’t stay in the realm of “Woe is me! I’ve done so much wrong. I’m the worst of sinners.” He didn’t see himself like that because God didn’t see himself like that. In fact, the only reason he ever talked about it was to help others understand how incredible God’s grace was and is.
It’s like Halloween. At Halloween, you may have put on a mask. You may have been someone else. For the rest of the night – depending on how good you are at playing the part – you became a Dr. Who, Doc McStuffins or a Pokemon!
In fact, I came across one little kid who was doing an awesome job with his costume. He was pretending to be a ninja. He was such a good ninja. He was always tip toeing. He tried to sneak up on me a few times. He talked in a whisper. And when his mom came calling him to get him into the car, he was so into his character that he forgot about who he really was. He hid!
Understand this: Paul is not advocating that you play a character. He advocates that you revel in who you really are.
Child of God!
2) Honor the King!
Because there’s no reason to feel sorry anymore! We are forgiven. We are given grace. We are a part of his kingdom!
That’s exactly how Paul closes that section…which is so interesting, because it’s not even the end of his letter. He’s still at the beginning. But he can’t mention God’s incredible grace without breaking into praise. He says, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen!”
Make that your refrain.
Instead of posting on Facebook about how bad you’ve got it; post about the awesome you’ve got it in God.
Instead of getting to work to complain about the unfortunate consequences of sin; get to work tell others about the awesome consequences of God’s grace.
Instead of avoiding God in fear; come, worship Him – because his grace had completely covered you!
Today is Last Judgment Sunday. A day that we remember what’s coming up. A day when the Bible reminds us that one Day, Our King, Our Immortal, Incredible, Divine, earth shaking, mountain quaking, flood pouring, lightning storing God comes to earth and judges us.
Each of us.
And without coverage – that’s a terrifying thing.
But you have been covered.
You are covered.
By faith in Jesus, you will be covered.
Your words to him will not be – Please don’t! But filled with praise “To the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever!” (v.17)
Jonah took a deep breath.
This was it. He was out of the fish. He was on dry land. He had marched for miles across the middle east in order to get to Nineveh.
This wouldn’t be easy. The city had close to a million people living in it. It took 3 days to walk through – if you didn’t stop and tell people God’s Word all along the way. But Jonah didn’t have a lot of time.Jonah had 40 more days. 40 more days and Nineveh will be destroyed.
It was a strange message. A message from the LORD to a people who didn’t believe in the LORD.
Jonah didn’t think this would work. But…he didn’t really feel like being inside a giant Nemo again, so:
“40 More Days! 40 More Days and Nineveh will be destroyed. 40 more days for you to repent and turn to the Lord.”
And Jonah sweated. And Jonah shouted. And looked like one of those street preachers that you see downtown from about 2 blocks away and cross to the other side of the street just to avoid them. And Jonah finished going throughout the city. And Jonah finished. And Jonah left the city. And Jonah thought “There’s no way that worked.”
…The people started talking:
Did you see that strange fellow? He was talking about God.
I know it seemed weird, but I know he’s right. We haven’t been doing right.
I feel terrible. I don’t want to be destroyed. Maybe…the God, this Lord will have mercy.
v.5 The Ninevites believed God.
And they began to fast. Each one refusing to eat food, because suddenly it didn’t seem that important.
And they put on sackcloth. A harsh, itchy, scratchy substances that was extremely uncomfortable. It represented on the outside the discomfort they felt on the inside.
And they prayed. LORD we’ve sinned. LORD, I didn’t know. LORD, I was wrong. LORD, please don’t. LORD, have mercy.
And they all did it. From the greatest to the least. From the rich merchant that owned a chain of restaurants, to one of his dishwashers who worked for food scraps. From the elderly scholar who needed a cane to get to the sackcloth store – to the young preschooler who needed his mom’s help in getting it on. From the lifelong Ninevites who prayed in the language of Nineveh, to the foreigner who prayed using completely different words.
Even the King! The King himself who was in charge of the whole city and who never felt threatened by his people – felt threatened by God. He was convicted. He repented. He traded in his royal robes for sackcloth. He refused to eat the pork roast he was going to have for breakfast. He stopped making people kneel before him and instructed all to kneel before God.
They thought: “Who knows? Maybe God will have mercy…”
And God? He did.
v.10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he threatened.
This is an amazing chapter. It kind of changes the story of Jonah. It isn’t so much about him. Literary analysis shows us that it’s more about God. God saved Jonah in the fish and he saved the people of Nineveh with Jonah’s words. God was merciful. God loved the city of Nineveh and didn’t want to see it destroyed.
But Nineveh isn’t the only city God loves.
Today we want to dig into that chapter in order to compare Raleigh with Nineveh. Our goal is to see that (1) Raleigh is in dire need of saving just as much as Nineveh was and (2) we want to learn who it is that God has sent to bring that message of salvation to Raleigh. Before we study God’s Word, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The New Nineveh
A) Same Sin.
Go back with me to Jonah 1:2. God gives the reason for his anger against Nineveh. He says, “Its wickedness has come up before me.”
What was so wicked? This is a picture of Dagon. Dagon looks like a fish. He’s not a Transformer or a TMNT. He’s a false god. A stone statue that people prayed and worshipped.
And they didn’t do it in the most pleasant way.
How did they do it? By having group sex! Together. In the temple. In front of their statue of a god.
Why they did do it? For money! More and more money. They thought Dagon would bless them with money – even if they had to gouge the poor and steal from the rich.
Wicked, right? That seems like a good word to describe Nineveh.
But is it a good word to describe Raleigh?
I like Raleigh. The people are fairly pleasant. People hold doors as I enter Starbucks. I get high fives from people at the dog park. My neighbors sit out on their porch and greet me – any time of the day!
I think Raleigh is pleasant. But I’m sinful. My opinion is skewed.
Understand this: You and I see people as sinful and think, “Well, we’re just imperfect. We’re still pretty good.” But God looks at Raleigh and sees people. People who sin. Sin that he hates. Sin he calls wicked.
To be honest – there are plenty of things in Raleigh – Plenty of things in our own hearts that we might even call wicked:
Racist hate blogs.
Worship of self on social media.
Business with extracurricular and no time for God.
Worship of nature and outside and no time for God.
But it’s not what they were doing at the time of Nineveh!
True. Our sins are different. (We’ve got 21st century sins.) But they’re the same. (They are detestable to God).
It’s kind of like all the different kinds of Doritos. Have you seen them? They make Cool Ranch and Nacho Cheese. There’s Cooler Ranch and Nacho Cheesier. There’s Taco flavor, Blue Cheese Flavored, Sweet and Spicy flavored, even Pizza flavored! There are different Dorito types, but the same result: high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and a tummy ache.
It’s the same thing with sin. There are different sin types – Old Testament Ninevite sin and 21st century Raleighian sin – it’s sin. Still. It’s sin. In God’s eyes, it's the same awful sin. Sin that God will remove.
Through total Annihilation.
I’m not just being doomsday-ish. Look at Jesus’ own words about the last day. He says "Those who have done wrong will go away to eternal punishment.”
He means business.
B) Same Need of Mercy.
The Ninevites were in trouble. They had done wrong. The LORD himself was breathing down their necks. They had no other choice than to wave the white flag, to confess their sins, and plead for God’s mercy.
And? God did. V. 10 God did not bring on them the destruction he threatened – Mercy.
They didn’t try to make it better. They didn’t try to pay God off. They simply grew sorrowful. They pleaded with God. They put on sackcloth and fasted sure. Mostly because they were super sorry! They didn’t think: “If I stop eating, that’ll make up for my sins. Or if I put on uncomfortable clothing, God will forgive me for messing with my neighbor’s wife.” No!
They thought: “I’ve sinned. I can’t get away from God’s judgment. O Lord. Be merciful.”
They were right. God’s mercy saved them.
We need the same thing. People of Raleigh -- we need the mercy of our Lord.
Romans 9:16 says it this way, “It does not depend on man’s desire or effort.” Meaning you aren’t going to escape God’s wrath from trying your best. It doesn’t come from doing better than others. It doesn’t come from being a "generally good person.” Nope. It doesn’t come from fasting. It doesn’t come from praying. It doesn’t come from wearing sackcloth. It doesn’t come from having been a Christian or having been a part of church.
…It depends on God’s mercy.
And God had mercy! He came down out of heaven. He became a human being. He lived perfectly when you could not. He died innocently in your place. He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of all of your sins.
He has had mercy on you. It’s what we need. It’s what all of Raleigh needs.
And remember: It didn’t matter who you were in Nineveh – from the greatest to the least – you needed God’s mercy. Whether you were Jewish or Ninevite, rich or poor, king or 1st grader. You needed God’s mercy.
And when they turned their hearts to God, it still didn’t matter who they were. They all received it! It wasn’t just the king. It wasn’t just the king’s court. It wasn’t just the people with lots of money.
They all received God’s mercy.
The same is true for you. Turn to the Lord; he will have mercy.
It doesn’t matter who you are.
It doesn’t matter if you’re the boss or jobless.
It doesn’t matter if you have a Doctor’s degree or no degree.
It doesn’t’ matter if you’re in good health or very sick.
It doesn’t matter if you have lots of followers on Instagram or if you don’t know what Instagram is.
It doesn’t matter if you are 7 foot 1 or 5 foot 2.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or woman. White or black. Asian or Latino.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve done something that even you are having a hard time forgiving yourself for.
God has had mercy. Jesus died for you.
By faith in Jesus, God will have mercy. God will forgive you.
And when others in Raleigh hear this message and turn to him – God will have mercy on them too!
It’s why we need to tell them. It’s why you need to tell them.
C) Same Command.
Maybe you’re thinking. Hold it! “I’m not a Jonah.” I don’t have a directive from God. If I did, sure. But thank goodness I didn’t.
Take a look at what Jesus said to his disciples – his followers – his men and women who believed in him and followed his teachings: "Go and make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Are you a believer? He’s talking to you.
Do we live in a nation? He’s talking about Raleigh.
God wants us to go. He wants us to go with his message to the people of North Raleigh. It’s why we exist. “Gather to the Garden.” That means to bring people to the message of Jesus. And when we can’t get them here – to bring the message of Jesus to them!
Which means we’ve got to keep our eyes open.
God wants it to be kind of like Play-Doh. I don’t know about you, but every time I get close to a thing of Play-Doh I feel the urge to open up the container. Get the Play-Doh out and roll a Play-Doh snake. Every time.
God wants us to see this world the same way. Every time we see a someone – anyone – from any background – any culture – any social status – any sin that they are struggling with – God wants us to bring the message of repentance to them. He wants us to share the Savior.
He wants us to. In fact, he wants us to so much that he commanded us.
Go and Make. Baptize and Teach.
D) Same Urgency.
Remember what Jonah was telling the people of Nineveh 40 more Days! 40 More Days! That’s not a lot of time.
Then again, there’s a lot that you could accomplish in 40 days. You could make enough money to pay off your credit card. You could make a list of things to do in Raleigh and do them. You could watch the entire Doctor Who series on Netflix. You could do a lot in 39 days and then on the 40th day, set your Smartphone to go off to the “End of the World as we Know it,” and quick get to church to confess your sins and turn your life around!
40 more days has some urgency – some.
How long do we have? How long do the people of Raleigh have?
Here’s the thing: We don’t know! Jesus said this, “No one knows the day or the hour – not even the Son, even the Father.” That means it’s even hidden from Jesus. God’s own Son.
That means the end could be 40 years from now. It could be 40 days. It could be 40 minutes. We don’t know when the world will end; we don’t know when each other will end.
Hence the urgency.
Don’t wait to tell your husband about the Savior. It could be too late. Don’t wait to invite your neighbor to church; you may miss your chance. Don’t wait to start sharing posts on Facebook; Facebook may be destroyed before your click send!
Life is short. Jesus is eternal. Share Jesus now.
II. What Now?
1) Share it whether you’re greatest or least
This is not just a pastor thing. I can’t do it by myself. I don’t do it by myself. You are a part of this.
YOU are a part of sharing God’s Word.
You are a part of saving Raleigh.
Did I tell you about one of the preschool parents? She stopped in my office a while back and told me this story. She said that she had been on Falls of Neuse. She said that it had been loaded with traffic. She had had a bad work day and was very stressed, so that when the car in front of her cut her off she slammed her fists on the steering wheel and muttered to herself.
And her daughter spoke up from the back, "It’s ok, Mommy. Jesus it taking care of you."
Mom told me that she wanted faith like her daughter.
You’re never too old to share Jesus. You’re never too young. You’re never too rich; too poor; too tall; too short; too sinful; too blameless; too anything.
And neither are the people who you are sharing with:
2) Share It with Greatest and Smallest
All people means all people.
The guy who has a BMW and the guy who has an old minivan held together by Duct tape.
The worker at Starbucks and the worker at Dunkin' Donuts.
The UNC fan. The Duke fan. The State fan.
Your mom. Your child.
Your black friend. Your white friend. Your Asian friend. Your Latino friend. Your Middle Eastern friend. Your enemy!
All people need God’s mercy. Your neighbors need God’s mercy. You have God’s mercy. Share with them God’s mercy.
So what I want you to do today is to think about someone who you can share God’s mercy with. Someone that you want to tell about Jesus. Someone you want to invite to church. Do you have them on your mind? Good. I want you to write their name down on the back of this connection card. What I’m going to do is I’m going to keep that in prayer this week and contact you to encourage in sharing God’s Word.
Because all of this can be intimidating. It was intimidating for Jonah.
But remember: Jonah wasn’t alone. He had a God who had controlled a storm to get Jonah back. A God who found Jonah in the bottom of a boat. A God who sent a giant fish to swallow Jonah alive.
You’ve got that same powerful God. The God who was with Jonah is the same God on the cross is the same God out of the tomb is the same God who is with you.
Share His Message. He’s got your back. Amen.