What’s on your NEED-TO-DO List?
A NEED-TO-DO list are things that you need to get done in 2018. Maybe it’s things you’ve always wanted to do; things that fit into your goals; things that the internet tells you that you need to do.
What are they?
Do you need to lose weight?
Do you need to join a gym?
Do you need to join a gym and use that gym?
Do you need to get a degree?
Make more money?
Find the right guy or gal?
Maybe your NEED-TO-DO List is kid focused.
Need to get them learning their ABCs.
Need to get them learning their 123s.
Need to get them memorizing the order of Vice Presidents of the U.S. – because, “How can they get a job if they don’t have that memorized?”
Need to get them in karate.
Need to get them in ballet.
Need to get them playing basketball, knitting and making sorbet.
Question: How many of you have “get baptized” on your NEED-TO-DO List?
Or “get your kid baptized?”
Or, if you’ve been baptized, “reflect on your baptism daily?”
Today is a day all about Baptism. Our goal is to see that Baptism NEEDS to be a priority. We’re going to examine Scripture and see why it’s so important. Before we do so, let’s say 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. Why is Baptism so Important?
There are a lot of places in the Bible that discuss the importance of Baptism. We are going to dig deeply into one section in 1 Peter 3. A bit of background: 1 Peter is the first letter written by (wait for it) Peter. Hence the name: 1st Peter. He writes the letter to Christians spread throughout the 1st century world and (since his words have been saved for us in 2018) he writes his letter to us.
In chapter 3 Peter directs Christians to do good even when suffering for it. Because (1) it’s better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil (2) suffering for doing good will always bring good.
Example? Jesus. Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (v.18-19) He suffered. He suffered on the cross. He did that because he wanted to bring you to God. That’s exactly what Jesus is accomplished! He rose and brought you and I back to peace with God.
…Before Jesus came back to life and brought this good news to us, he made another stop:
It’s thousands of years before Jesus.
The earth is filled with violence. Hundreds of thousands (if not million) of people – all filled with violence.
They beat each other up for money. They attack one another for food. They pillage; they rape; and they want absolutely nothing to do with good and even less to do with God.
Noah isn’t violent.
Noah fears God.
Noah loves God.
Noah worships God.
Noah and his family of 8 make up the entire church at this time. They are the only God worshippers in whole world. Talk about a minority -- Their belief system encompasses less than .000001% of the world’s population.
But Noah isn’t alone.
Noah’s heart skips a beat. Have they come to kill him?
Noah cleans out his ears. “Who was that?” It sounds like it is coming from above.
Noah, this is God.
I have a task for you.
Build an ark – it’s like an ancient wooden ocean-liner in the shape of a rectangle.
Build the ark.
Built it by yourself.
Build it here in the desert.
In 40 years, I will send a flood that covers the whole earth and destroys this sinful, violent, godless generation.
Noah gets up from the ground.
Takes a deep breath.
And gets to work.
He chops trees.
He saws wood.
He hammers nails.
He and his family get to work on the construction of the ocean-liner like contraption in the middle of the desert.
But it isn’t without some suffering:
You idiot! What are you doing wasting your time on this project?
Hey weatherman, what’s the chance of rain today? Is there No-ah chance?
Hey Noah! When you’re done, come talk with me. I could use a 450 boat to cruise around the sand!
But Noah keeps working.
He works through the shoulder pains from hammering the nautical trusses.
He works through the pain in his thumb from the splinter he got putting the second-floor storage together.
He works through the tweaked back muscle from trying to pull the hippopotamus into the proper room.
Then, things change.
In fact, a group heads their way toward Noah for their daily routine of ridiculing that believing idiot:
“Hey Noah! You got a minute? I was about to cross the desert, but I figure I’d better be prepared in case it floods. You got time to start on an ark for me?”
And in the middle of the joke:
A drop of water.
“Wait? What was that on my face? Fred, is that you? Stop spitting when you laugh!?”
“What are you talking about? I wasn’t spitting. That didn’t come from me – in fact, I just felt it myself.”
“If you didn’t get me wet then…oh…no.”
And the rains came down.
And the rains turned into a torrential downpour.
And geysers from within the earth sprang up.
And the people start screaming.
And water starts to pile up.
And water begins to rush.
And some people are washed away.
And others tried to climb trees.
And some slip.
And finally, the last one outside looks up towards heaven. Curses God and God curses him.
Meanwhile, Noah stood near the 4th story window of his ark.
Drinking some coffee.
What’s interesting is that Peter references this account because these events are not the end of the story for those people. Because years later, After being made alive, Jesus went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. (v.19)
Do you see it?
These people aren’t drowning anymore.
Now they’re burning.
And Jesus says to them,
“You all were wrong.
You should have listened.
To my warnings.
To my warnings through Noah.
To 40 years of my warnings through that the gigantic wooden structure Noah built in the middle of the desert.
Do you see Noah here?
That’s because I saved him.
I saved him through water.”
In it, only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water. (v.20)
Saved from sin.
Saved from unbelief.
Saved from falling into the same traps that the other 99.9999% of the population was in.
And here’s where it gets good – and very relevant, this water (the water at the time of the ark) symbolizes baptism which now saves you. (v.21)
Do you see it?
Baptism is related to the flood in that it’s water.
But it’s related to the ark in that it saves.
It saves from sin.
It saves from death.
It saves from the same eternal destruction that the violent people from Noah’s time underwent and are undergoing.
Why get baptized? Same reason Noah built the ark, because in it, God saves.
And why baptize your kids? Same reason Noah told his kids about the ark, in it God saves.
II. How Does Baptism Save?
And maybe you’re thinking; Hold it! Pastor, aren’t we saved by Jesus? Isn’t it by faith on the cross? Isn’t it faith alone that saves?
Faith in Jesus saves.
Here’s why both of those are true. Look at verse 21 Baptism now saves you, not the removal of dirt from the body, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Let’s break it apart:
1. Not Some Outward Act
This truth might seem obvious. Baptism doesn’t save by removing dirt from the body. It isn’t like some poison rubbed on us and we need to wash it off quickly lest we have to call the poison control center. It isn’t like the chemistry classroom when you accidentally spill some chemicals on yourself and have use that special chem lab shower to wash it off immediately.
Baptism’s point isn’t just a physically cleaning. That’s what showers and baths are for. It’s not like we need to scrub behind our ears get all of the sin off. Nor is baptism just an outward act. It’s not just a nice ceremony where you approach the font, throw some water on a kid, and say a nice prayer for his life – never to return him to church again.
And it isn’t some magic holy water that’s so special it removes 40% more sin than regular forgiveness. That makes it worth about 210 lies, 170 lusts, and 17 brother pinches.
Baptism is not some outward act.
It’s not something we do to earn God’s love.
It’s a gift.
2. Pledge of a Good Conscience
How do we know that? Look at the next part of the verse. “Baptism saves…the pledge of a good conscience towards God.”
QUESTION: In Baptism, how does one get a good conscience?
Just really mean it when you get baptized?
Like…really, really mean it?
Does baptism get super charged the more perfect faith that you, sinful, imperfect, individual can muster?
Because if that’s how you view baptism, think about this:
What happens when you don’t feel that good about your faith anymore?
What happens when you start to doubt?
What happens when your friend tells you about his baptism and “Man, his sounded way better than mine.”
Does your baptism still count?
Did it ever count?
Do you need a do over?
The pledge of a good conscience towards God cannot come from ourselves.
The pledge of a good conscience towards God comes from God.
It comes from his promise of forgiveness.
It comes from his promise of sins washed away.
it comes from his promise that you are his child.
3. Powered by Jesus
This is important. Because God doesn’t need a Do Over. God always keeps his pledges. In fact, look at the last part. Baptism saves…by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
While on earth, Jesus made a different kind of pledge. He swore to die and come back to life. He said,
“Go ahead. Kill me. Nail me to a cross. Leave me to die. Watch me breath my very last. Laugh all you want as you see me die.
…3 days later…
…I will return…
…I will live.”
If Jesus’ promise remained true past death, don’t you think his promise to you will remain true in this life?
If you’ve been baptized, he made a promise to you. You are his.
If you haven’t been baptized, he is waiting to make that promise to you.
One more thing about this passage. This is where it all gets connected. Jesus and faith and baptism.
1st - -Jesus saves.
2nd –Faith saves - - when that faith is in Jesus.
3rd – Baptism saves because it works faith in that Jesus.
It works faith because it is a pledge from God of his love.
It’s like holiday cards. Did you get any? Maybe you got a card from mom and dad, from your brother and your sister, from your coworker, from your good friends, from cousin Bob, and from your dental hygienist team.
But you didn’t send one to Aunt Sally. Because you weren’t sure Aunt Sally still liked you. She hasn’t sent one in years.
Then, you get one. And it’s pretty nice. And she signs it, “Love, Aunt Sally.” And that card gives you faith – she still cares about me.
Baptism is a pledge from God that he loves about you.
And it gives you faith that God loves you.
And it gives you faith that God will pledge to love you eternally.
This is why Jesus said this, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”
Because Baptism is an act of faith, but it also works faith.
Faith in Jesus saves.
III. What Now?
1. Be Baptized
I’m sorry if this is an obvious first WHAT NOW? Point but please. God is holding out his promises to you. He promises to connect you to Jesus. He promises to make you a part of his kingdom. He promises to wash you from sins and make you a part of his family.
What are you waiting for?
Your parents to get here?
Your friends to get on board?
To feel readier?
These things are nice, but they don’t increase God’s promise power.
They don’t supercharge baptism.
Baptism is powered by God’s promise.
Don’t put it off.
The only one who wants you to put it off, is the devil. Because he can increase doubt when God’s personal promise has not been given.
Don’t give him that foothold.
2. Baptize Your Kids
Because your kids tend to have your genetics. They have your eyes. They have your brown hair. They have your chin. They may even have your propensity for baldness.
Unfortunately, they also have you sin. John 3 says, “Flesh gives birth to flesh,” meaning, “Sinful humans give birth to sinful humans.”
Kids need the promise of Jesus in baptism, too.
And this isn’t like a ride at an amusement park. God doesn’t say, “You must be this old to ride this ride.” If you have ever heard of an “age of accountability,” that’s essentially a human practice. God’s rule isn’t: “Wait until you are 16 until you can get baptized,” No. God’s rule is: “Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Mt. 28:19)
All nations? That includes kids.
Get them baptized.
3. Celebrate Your Baptism
Because each year we all celebrate our birthdays. Even if you don’t like to have a party – generally people celebrate with you. They give you high fives. They give you cake. They give you a present. They give you messages on your Facebook wall.
It’s nice to celebrate the year we were born into this life.
But what is that compared to the year we were born into eternal life?
Celebrate your baptism.
Because on that day, God called you child.
On that day, God called you forgiven.
On that day, God called you – His. Amen.
Well, it’s been about a week since Christmas…and it’s New Year’s Eve today now. How’d that week go for you? It’s always a really weird week for me. I feel kind of stalled. Like, Christmas is over and it’s time to move on, but New Year’s is right around the corner, so I can’t really get any traction or momentum going on anything during that time. Maybe it’s a mental block from back when I was a kid and had Christmas vacation between those two holidays.
For whatever reason and wherever it comes from, for me there’s always a tricky mental shift moving between those two. Christmas is over for all intents and purposes. The gifts are mostly given, the parties are attended, and the sweets have been eaten. So much time was spent over the last month or two building up for that, now I have to remember what life was like before and shift back to that.
And at the same time, it’s the New Year, a time when many of us take the opportunity to try to refresh our lives symbolically with resolutions to do things differently once the calendar turns over. That does seem to make an amount of sense, it’s a nice logical flow. Christmastime is over, it’s time to leave that behind and move on to something new.
Maybe though, maybe let’s not do that this year. After all, the story of Jesus wasn’t over with Christmas. It wasn’t like there was this great build-up to the birth of Jesus and then everyone came by and saw how amazing he was and then …the lights went out and end scene. People didn’t turn away, go home and forget all about it after that. Christmas was the start of Jesus, not the end.
And it was the start of something amazing, something wonderful that we would do just as well to not leave behind once December 25th is passed. What began there is something that so many people want, and even more people need without knowing they want. It’s something we need ourselves just as much and the closer we hold it, the better our lives are going to be year-round, and that’s going to pour out and affect the lives of those around us.
Maybe that’s the thing we do differently this year. Maybe that can be the resolution. To not let Christmas be “over”, but to carry that beginning forward into the new year. Like I mentioned a moment ago, that’s really the way it was meant to be. The celebration of Christ didn’t stop after his birthday.
After all, we’re only a week out from celebrating the birth of Jesus. In our account for today, we see that even forty days later he was still being celebrated. (Next week when we celebrate Epiphany we’ll see that even up to two years later he was still being celebrated!)
But for today we turn our eyes to the Temple in Jerusalem. As I said it’s about forty days since Jesus’ was born. Forty days since those shepherds maybe came over from the neighboring town of Bethlehem and ran through the streets telling wild stories about angels and a Savior born. And living in Jerusalem was a man who was waiting: Simeon.
He was a devout Jewish man. And so he was waiting, like all the true Jewish believers, for God to send the one he promised. The one anointed to save his people. The Messiah in the Hebrew language. The Christ in Greek. God had literally been promising this since the beginning of the world and Simeon trusted that this Savior would happen.
Maybe Simeon heard the rumors from the shepherds and got excited, realizing this was really happening. But he was still waiting. See, he had a special insight from the Holy Spirit, “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” That’s what he was waiting for.
And so on this particular day, he is moved by the Holy Spirit to visit the temple. And good thing, too. Mary and Joseph are there to present their firstborn, according to the law. Simeon sees them, sees the baby, and he knows. He knows who that is. He knows what it means for him. And just can’t help himself. He runs forward – at least, as fast as he can for his age – scoops up the baby, and bursts into one of the greatest songs of truth, joy, and praise that we have recorded. So great, in fact, that we hear it every month as part of our liturgy. Maybe you recognize it more like this.
There’s a reason this song is part of our regular liturgy. It so perfectly encapsulates what it means to be a Christian, to be someone who has seen and believes in Christ, though I’m not sure we think about it as often as we hear it. Do you understand what Simeon was saying here? He had been promised that he would live to see the Christ. Now he had. He was ready to depart in peace. And he didn’t mean leave the temple. He meant he was ready to die. To leave this life.
How could he say that? I mean, maybe at one point you’ve said something like, “Well, now I can die happy,” but I doubt you really meant you wanted to drop dead right there and leave this life. Simeon did though. Because he…really understood. Everything he needed from this life, everything he truly wanted, it was here in this infant in his arms. This boy meant he was saved. It meant the world was saved. He was forgiven and at peace with God. Heaven was open to him. What more could possibly happen here that could improve on that? What was left to do here? And so, his response: Take my life or leave it Lord, I don’t need it anymore. I can depart in peace.
That is the kind of peace you can just drink in. I love every chance I get to sing this song because of the peace it reminds me I have in Christ. The kind of peace I think we all wish we could have a little more often. And brothers and sisters, we absolutely can if we just cling to Christ after Christmas as tightly as Simeon did. If we make holding him our resolution this year.
After all, why do we make resolutions year after year? Well, think about them. Very few of us resolve to watch more TV in a week or eat more cookies each night after dinner. We pick things that we think are good for us, things we think will make us better. Either we resolve to do things that will improve our health or we resolve to do something we’ve always meant to or get rid of bad habits or start good habits. Whatever it is, we’re trying to do something to make our lives better, to accomplish something meaningful. Why? Because we don’t feel complete yet, we want to improve, we want to be good enough, we want something more out of life. We just want to be better.
I get the drive. It makes perfect sense. But the resolutions we usually chase to reach that goal are a fool’s errand. Even if we manage to hold on to the resolution (and how many do?), accomplishing those things won’t make the feeling go away. Saving more money, losing weight, quitting a nasty habit…I’m not saying don’t try to do those things – but they won’t make the feeling go away. You’ll still feel like there needs to be more before you’re done, before you’re good enough… before you’re really complete.
It makes sense why we try. You don’t feel like you’re complete or good enough (and you’re not), so that’s where you focus your effort, on yourself. You work on making yourself better. But it doesn’t and it won’t work. We, ourselves are the problem. You can’t save a burning building by using the burning building. You can’t fix the problem with the problem. This internal need to want to do better, to be better, to feel complete, it comes from the fact that we’re not all those things. We’re not good. We’re not complete. We’re broken.
We’re born apart from God. Born in sin. And instinctively we know this. So our default reaction is, as we said, to try to chase whatever in this life we think will fix that, even as Christians who should know better. And maybe the worst part is that on our own, we never really learn. When was the last time in your life you didn’t have some goal in front of you that you thought, “When this is done, when I have this, when I accomplish this, I’ll be happy. I’ll be complete, I’ll be content.” How many of those have you gone through so far? I’ve lost count. I still fall for it.
It doesn’t work. But the Christ. He makes the difference. We cannot be better enough for God. He is. We should be punished for what we’ve done. He was instead. Christ fixes what’s wrong with us, Christ makes us complete, Christ gives us the only thing we truly need from this life: peace with God himself. Christ finishes the work of our life.
Do you get that? Jesus died and rose so that your crimes would be paid for and so that the Father would see you as perfect. You are going to heaven. That’s a done deal. You do not need anything else from this life. That thing you think you have to finish before you run out of time? Don’t need it. All the nagging things that need doing before you can feel rested? Not so much. Look back to the manger and let the peace of these words just wrap you up, “Lord you let your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation.”
I’m not saying this is a license to sit idle, God has given us work to do here while we’re here. I’m saying see the Christ, embrace him in the joy of knowing what he means for you and realize you don’t need this life anymore. He completes your life by bringing you peace with God, and that’s all you needed. Work for God out of joy, not a driving desperation to accomplish. The real work is done.
And what is that work that God asks of us while we’re still here? There are a few things, but one of the greatest is to Give this message of hope to others. And this is not a chore. This is making Christmas our lives. Look again at Simeon. He saw the gift, he saw the hope, and he was complete. He did not smile, embrace Jesus and move on quietly. His heart overflowed with what was done for him and it poured out in song, it poured out in telling the people around him how amazing this gift was. He couldn’t help but share.
We see the same a little further on in our reading with Anna on that same day, who herself saw Jesus and couldn’t help but talk about it. She talked about it anyone who would listen, anyone who was also waiting for the Messiah to make them complete. She didn’t smile, think “that’s nice” and go on with her day. She had to see, and she had to tell.
This is the uncontrollable natural response to the real peace and completeness that the gift of Christmas brings us. Last week we talked about giving the manger another look. Keep doing that. Look in it again to see the fullness of your life. See the baby there that grew to a man, who died in your place and gave you everything you ever need. Feel the peace, the relief that comes from knowing your life is complete, and there’s nothing else you need to chase after or give up or do harder to make it better.
So, take all that time and effort and energy you would’ve used chasing those things you don’t need, and use it for God instead. Use it for something that matters. Give that same message of hope to others this year. Make that your resolution. To not leave Christmas behind but to take that truth out into our lives every day, to keep the peace with you and to let the joy and relief of that peace overflow to those around us.
Keep on giving, long after Christmas. Give the one thing that anyone needs. Give the gift that gives them the same peace and joy you know. Give a message of Hope. Amen.
Today we’re continuing our sermon series called FOLLOW. It’s all about following Jesus in 2017. Today we want to talk about following Jesus when No One else is. We’re going to look at a very powerful piece of scripture. It’s only two verses long. But it’s two verses packed with a lot of meaning. Our goal is to hear from Jesus himself (1) two very good reasons to not follow him and then (2) one even better reason TO follow him. Before we do that, join me in 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. Two Good Reasons NOT to Follow Jesus
Today’s Scripture comes from the middle of the Sermon on the Mount – it’s a very famous sermon that Jesus gave all about what it’s like to truly follow God. We’re in Matthew 7:13-14. It’s near the end of the sermon and it’s kind of a good summation of everything that Jesus has been talking about in the two chapters prior to this. It does an excellent job of describing to us what following Jesus is like. He says,
"Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it."
(1) It's Lonely
Let me direct your attention first of all to the number of people on each road – the popular opinion if you will. One road has many on it; the other road has few on it.
This might be something called the Popular Principle. Think about that. If you were downtown Raleigh and there were a bunch of food trucks set up – one with a line of about 30 people and the other without anybody in line, which one would you go to? If you’re in a hurry, maybe the shorter line. But there’s something about the longer line that says to you, “That might be better food. If there’s so many people who like it, I might like it too.”
Well, what about Jesus? Was he popular?
Jump back with me to presumably a bit earlier in Jesus’ life. In Luke 4, Jesus is in Nazareth, the town he grew up in. He makes his way to their weekly church service at the synagogue and everyone’s excited to see him.
“My how you’ve grown. I haven't seen you since you were a young whipper snapper”
“I hear you’re a teacher now. I’m sure your parents are proud of you.”
“Do you remember that time when you finger painted with my son Ezekiel? It was so funny how your people looked just like trees!”
As the synagogue service starts, the people settle down and the local rabbi asks Jesus to come up front, read some scripture and share a teaching. The reading for that Sunday just so happens to be an Old Testament reading about the coming of the Messiah.
As Jesus spoke, they all smiled at him. What a nice young man. A rabbi is a noble calling. We are excited to hear his exposition – as in – we’re excited for him to say what every rabbi says about this part of Scripture: The Messiah is coming and we must prepare our hearts for his arrival.
But after Jesus gets done reading, after he rolls up the scroll, after he sets it back in its protective case, Jesus preaches a different sermon:
“Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)
As in, “The Messiah is no longer coming.”
As in, “The Messiah is already here.”
As in, “I am that Messiah.”
The people are shocked. Isn’t this Joseph’s son? Didn’t he grow up by us? How does he think he’s the Messiah?
And Jesus rebukes them. “No prophet is accepted in his hometown.” (Lk. 4:24)
And I am a prophet.
And you aren’t accepting me.
And you are sinning—You are rejecting your Messiah.
And do you know how the people respond?
No one claps.
No one says, “Amen.”
No one squeezes his cheeks, tells him how cute he is and hands him a lemon bar refreshment.
They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built in order to throw him off the cliff. (Lk 4:29)
Now Jesus escapes, but can you imagine the word that got around? Why would anyone want to follow Jesus if it meant you’d have to face an angry mob? Wouldn’t it be much easier to be a part of the angry mob? It doesn’t get any easier. There are hundreds, if not thousands, who shouted for his crucifixion just two years later!
It’s just what Jesus said, “Many and Few."
As in many don’t follow Jesus.
As in few do.
It was true back then, but is it true today?
Take a look at some research. This is from the Barna Pew Research group. From 2007 to 2012 they did a survey to discover the growth of certain religious groups. Check out some of the trends:
What’s the point? Christianity is declining. It is not the bandwagon anymore. To be fair, it may have been at one point – and maybe that’s why it was higher in the past. “I’m Christian. Why? Because everyone I know is Christian.” But it’s fading, quickly in the U.S.
But maybe you don’t need facts. Maybe you’ve noticed on your own.
Maybe you’re the only Christian at work, on your block, in your family, at your house!
It feels lonely.
It feels lonely when you’re the only one bowing your head for a prayer.
It feels lonely when your Jesus comment sits on Facebook without any likes.
It feels lonely when your minivan that sits 6 only sits 1 each Sunday…every Sunday…again & again.
It feels lonely to follow Jesus when no one else does…But understand it’s exactly what Jesus said it would be: “Many follow the other roads….Few follow Me.”
(2) It's Hard
But why? Why is it that so many people are not following Jesus? He offers forgiveness of sins, eternal life, & salvation! That’s sounds pretty good, right?
I suppose we could look at all the stats, pour over my Barna research polls, read book after book written on the subject. (There might be some value in doing so). But if you’re looking for the short, quick and entirely accurate answer. Look no farther than Jesus. Hear the second good reason not to follow Jesus.
For…broad is the road that…many enter through it. But narrow the road that... a few find it.
How many of you like going into a crawl space? It’s narrow. The ceiling is low. It’s easy to bump your head. You might even have to drag your knees across sharp gravel. Wouldn’t you rather pick a big door? Maybe one of those doors that they have at the mall where both sides of a door open up at the same time with plenty of room on both sides for you to walk, hand in hand, with a friend!
It’s the same spiritually. One is an easy walk. One is very challenging. That word narrow there means “hard pressed, squeezed.” Who likes being hard pressed? Who likes being squeezed? That’d be like going through each day while a professional wrestler is putting you in a sleeper hold! Who would choose that?
Jesus says that’s exactly why so few follow him. It’s not easy. It’s hard.
That’s what happened even at the time of Jesus. Look at John 6. Jesus had just gotten done feeding close to 10,000 people with a few loaves of bread and two fish. (A miracle). People were full. People were happy. Many wanted to make him their king.
But then Jesus began teaching again. He told people that “whoever believe(d) in him would never be thirsty.” (v.36) He said that “everyone who looks to Me and believes in me shall have eternal life and He would raise them up on the last day.” (v.40) He told them that “He was the bread of life & unless people ate his flesh and drank his blood, that would not have eternal life!” (v.53)
And the people said…
You’re crazy. Your flesh isn’t bread. Your blood isn’t drink.
You’re crazy. You can’t bring us back to life.
You’re crazy. You aren’t the Messiah. I won’t trust in you. I’m a good enough person on my own to get to heaven without – some carpenter from Nazareth!
v. 66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
People who had seen the miraculous feeding of the nearly 10,000…People who ate of his bread and tasted the fish. People who saw the 12 baskets left over. People who had no problem taking his food – that was easy – found it too hard to follow him.
And they left him.
Isn’t it the same thing today?
Do you know what a MEME is? It’s a photo or graphic with a brief message on it. Some are funny. Some are interested. Some exist to make a point. And in our YouTube, I don’t want to read, show me a photo society – these one sentence picturesque memes are popular. They’re all over social media.
Some aren’t very flattering to Christians. Try this sometime. Google “Stupid Christian memes.” Make sure you put a filter on your search phrase though, because they can get very crude and profanity filled, very quickly. I found one that’s not super crass – but still makes my skin crawl. Ready for it?
Religion - Helping stupid people feel important since the dawn of man.
How’s that make you feel? Good? Do you like it? It’s ok to say “no who would?“
Here’s where the devil does his best work:
Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to be on the bandwagon?
Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to just be quiet?
Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to not have to hear people call you awful names?
Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to stop following Jesus?
Here’s the reality. It would be.
It would be less lonely – There’s lot of people on the other road.
It would be easier – It’s wide and you aren’t hard pressed on any side.
Why, then? Why then would we keep following Jesus?
One reason. LIFE.
II. One Even Better Reason TO Follow Jesus
Read the passage from Matthew one more time. Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it.
Zero in on that word destruction. Honestly there’s not a way that I can fluff up that word. There’s not any way to sugar coat it. That big road? The one that’s easy? The one that’s apart from Jesus? The one that lots of people are on and is such a nice & pleasant trip?
When you get to the end it stops being pleasant – real quick.
There’s the burning, incredible wrath of a sin-hating, all powerful, holy God.
There’s hellfire. Forever. In Hellfire.
But the other road? The one that’s lonely. The one that’s tough. The one that isn’t all that pleasant. The one that’s filled with ridicule and scorn and memes mocking you for taking the road?
That road leads to life.
As in, no destruction.
As in, no annihilation.
As in, no hell.
As in, eternal life.
As in, everlasting peace.
As in, glory — forever.
If you’re thinking that sounds crazy – remember that’s the very reason the road is challenging. It seems crazy.
Kind of like when Jesus said he would feed 10,000 some people with a few loaves of bread and two fish—and he did.
And kind of like when Jesus said they could kill him, but he would come back to life three days later – and he did.
The stark contrast in the two roads couldn’t be more clear.
One road seems nice but leads to eternal destruction.
The other road seems tough, but leads to eternal life.
If you’ve been following the wrong road.
If you’ve been choosing the broad road, feel your pulse. Your time is not up. There’s still room on the road to life.
Jesus walked a tough, awful, lonely road to get you back on the right road.
He was left behind by his followers.
He was betrayed by a dear friend.
He was beaten by the people he came to save.
He was crucified by the humans he created.
He died as His Heavenly Father forsook him & abandoned him because of our sins.
But he did all this to make you a path – the only path – to God.
A path of forgiveness.
A path of peace with God.
A path to heaven.
III. What now?
1) Watch Out for Bandwagonism
The Super Bowl is today -- and while I’ve gotten over the fact that this is #NotMySuperBowl – I’m still not certain who I’ll cheer for. I’ll probably just hop on the bandwagon of whatever team the majority of people at the Super Bowl party are cheering for.
What’s a bandwagon you ask? A bandwagon is…
Hopping on the bandwagon, then, is a phrase that means you will cheer for a team, not because you like the way they are coached. Not because you think they’re good. Not even because you think their mascot is cute. Hopping on the bandwagon means that you cheer for a team, simply because everyone else is.
And the bandwagon is fun! You get high fives from lots of people. You cheer with lots of people. You get to sample people’s hot wings & bratwurst – just cause “You’re a fan of my time.” No one mocks you. No one makes fun of you. You laugh together. You win together. You lose together.
It is much more difficult to go against the bandwagon. If you are the only one at your Super Bowl party today cheering for the Falcons & everyone else is decked out in Tom Brady jerseys – that’s not as much fun. You can’t celebrate with all the gusto you want. You feel like you have to smile politely when something good happens – that’s all your celebrations are limited to. You have to endure teasing & raucous cheering when things go bad. Essentially – you, by yourself – are the enemy.
Don't be a bandwagon fan when it comes to Jesus.
Don't do it just because your family did.
Don't follow just because your friends do.
Follow because Jesus leads to life.
(2) Remember the Goal
As Jesus watched the backs of thousands of people, people who had been sitting at his feet just yesterday – but now were leaving him because he was crazy. He looked back at his closest friends – Peter, Andrew, James and John – the men that he had called from the fishing boat “Follow me.” He said, “You don’t want to leave too, do you?”
It was quiet.
The men looked at each other.
All eyes focused on Peter.
He nodded his head and stood up.
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Peter was right.
There was no other road for him.
There was no other road for the other disciples.
There was no other road for life.
And even if it was hard, even if it was lonely. There was no way he was turning around.
May God impress upon us the exact same confidence to follow Jesus…even when we’re all alone. Amen.
Today we’re continuing our series called Follow. It’s all about following Jesus in 2017. Since it’s Baptism Sunday, our goal is to focus on following Jesus to the waters of Baptism. One simple goal – to understand the host of blessings that God provides those who follow him into the baptismal waters. Before we do that, join me in 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 Water of Life
We’re beginning our study in John 4 – It’s a section of Scripture that is not directly related to Baptism, at least – not at first. But it continues the story from where we left Jesus last week. Remember -- he had been identified by John the Baptist near the Jordan river. He called the disciples to follow him by the Sea of Galilee. Now they want to get to Judea. In order to get to Judea, they need to travel through a place called Samaria. That’s about a 60-mile journey!
This long before the invention of the minivan. Can you imagine that? All the disciples piled in a minivan. Peter wants to drive. John is trying to change the radio station dial. Andrew is in back: “Are we there yet?” There was no minivan. There was no car. This wasn’t even by horse. This was by foot – which was Jesus’ preferred method of travel. Still that’s a long way to walk by foot. So the group stopped near the Ancient civilization version of the rest stop: A stone well.
Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said, to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
And the woman was startled. “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” Now that might seem a bit rude, but there were some cultural reasons for her surprise.
(1) He was a Jew. She was a Samaritan. Scripture makes this note (Jews do not associate with Samaritans). If you think relations in America are bad today, they were worse amongst Jews and Samaritans. Jews purposefully would not spend time with Samaritans. So…this meeting and Jesus’ greeting was strange. It might be similar to a man in a turban approaching a young white woman or an older white man talking with a young black woman. It happens. It even happens in this church – praise the Lord – that’s a good thing. But it’s not the norm and people might think it a bit strange.
(2) In addition, he was a man – she was a woman – and they were alone. People were a lot more polite back then. Women didn’t want to unwittingly cause a man married to another woman to lust after them. Men tried hard not to woo and flirt a young woman into his bed before they were married. In fact, they were so serious about this (and perhaps as a culture we could learn a thing or two from this – but that’s another topic for another day) they refrained from speaking with members of the opposite sex in lonely places. That way there wouldn’t be any temptation.
Racism. Temptation. Both reasons for a conversation between the two of them to be strange. But I’m not sure that either of those really get to the heart of her surprise.
(3) Look at the time. Verse 6 says that, “It’s noon.” That tells us that the majority of well-visitors had gone for the day. Usually townsfolk would get there first thing in the morning to draw water for the day's’ activities. They would each take a bucket, put it on their head, bring it to the well, chat about the latest gossip in town, fill up each bucket, and then make their way back with enough water for cooking, cleaning, and drinking the rest of that day.
The only people who came at noon would have been travelers, like Jesus.
And anyone who didn’t want to meet anyone else at the well like this woman.
Jesus responds to her concerns, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (v.10)
Living water? Seriously? Sir – you don’t have anything to get the water with. It’s deep. You need something to get the water out. You can’t just lean down with your hand and scoop me some water. Unless this is some lame attempt at a pickup line. I’ll tell you what. If you can get water without a bucket and a rope – if you can get “living water” out of thin air – then you must be pretty great. You must be a magician. A great magician – even greater than Jacob – the guy who dug this well for us!
“Everyone…” Jesus interrupted her train of thought…“who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (v.13-14)
And the woman turns around with disdain on her face. Sure dude. Get me some of that water. I’d love that water. I hate having to come out here, fill up the buckets and bring them back each day – only to do it again tomorrow. If you’ve got living water, give it to me. I’d be more than happy to never have to do this stupid job again.
The woman smirked. That should have been enough sarcasm to get him to shut up. She called his bluff and now she can go back to getting the water out of the --
“Go,” Jesus said, “Call your husband and come back.” (v.16)
Immediately, the nerves throughout her body tightened. This was the reason that she didn’t come with the other women earlier in the day. "I don’t have a husband." She spoke shortly. She spoke sharply.
“You’re right. You don’t have a husband. The truth is that you’ve had five husbands – and the guy that you’re sleeping with right now; he isn’t your husband. What you have just said it quite true.” (v.16)
The woman froze. She let the bucket drop. How did he know? She had worked hard to avoid the embarrassment, to avoid the shame, to avoid the guilt. That’s why she came to the well when she did! How did this foreigner know? Who was he?
Still – that was a conversation that she did not want to have. That was sins that she did not want to drag up. So, she dropped the sarcasm and changed the subject:
Sir, you must be a prophet of some kind. Can I ask you a prophet question? We Samaritans worship on this mountain. Jewish people worship in the temple of Jerusalem. Who’s right?
And as she finished that question – the woman breathed a sigh of relief. Crisis avoided. Her past avoided. Her sins avoided.
Or so she thought.
“Woman, believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. (The place doesn’t really matter.) You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. (As in God did miracles among them and revealed his saving plan to them.) Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth…” (v.21-23)
As in making their marriage commitments true – the first time, not just the sixth time.
As in sleeping with their husband, not some guy she has no intention of staying with.
Worshipers worship in truth. Because God is spirit and his worshipers worship in truth. (v.24)
At this point – the woman’s heart must have been pounding. Her eyes widening. Sweat dripping. These were her secrets. These were her sins. These were the things that she couldn’t wash off of her soul – off of her mind and off her reputation. These were the things that had mucked up her life so much that she had given up trying – simply succumbed to the sins – and tried to avoid any reminder of her wrongdoing.
She stared at the ground. The only hope she had seemed like a fairy tale. It seemed so far off. It’s something that she remembered from her few days of Sunday School. She fought back tears. It was the only hope she had. "I know the Messiah called Christ is coming – he will explain everything to us." (v.25)
At this, Jesus leaned in. He lifted her chin. He looked into her eyes: “I, who speak to you, am He.” (v.26)
Break from the story. Do you understand what that means? Do you understand what that means for you?
Because we’re exactly like that woman. We’ve got problems. We’ve got aches. We’ve got pains. We try to deal using earthly things – money, home improvements, friends, career status, raising kids to be better than us! And we try to deal using sinful things – too much alcohol, self-medication, lust, fantasy, writing angry bitter things on our Facebook status.
But here’s the thing – all that stuff is just like that water in the well. It fills you up for a bit. Then, it fades. The money stops coming in. Your friends leave you. You lose your job. Your kids move. The drunken stupor turns into a headache. The self-medication turns into the shakes. The pornography turns into a broken relationship. The fantasy turns into a broken marriage. The bitter things on Facebook leave you without any friends.
These things are nothing more than regular water. H20. Dirty, mucky, bottom of the well wet molecules that quench thirst for a moment – but then fades away.
He’s the Water of Life.
He says to you:
I am the One who will fix it.
I am the One who will clean your soul.
I will clean up your past.
I will clean up your present.
I will clean up your future.
I am the water of life.
And the water of life is water that lasts!
He quenches our thirst for righteousness with his true righteousness gifted to us through us perfect life.
He quenches our thirst for forgiveness with his incredible sacrifice that he made on the cross.
He quenches our thirst for peace with God with his blood, shed to make peace with God.
He quenches our thirst for immortality with his incredible resurrection from the dead.
In short – you’re forgiven.
In Jesus, you are forgiven.
In Jesus, you will find a constant, eternal, never changing, unending source of spiritual nourishment.
II. The Water that Connects us to the Water of Life
Now – I said this is a message on baptism but we are now 1800 words in and I haven’t even mentioned it! That’s because baptism gets its power from Jesus. Baptism without Jesus is just water. It’s just like taking a shower, washing your hands, spraying off your dog or running through the sprinkler on a hot day.
Baptism is just water, unless Baptism is in Jesus. Then, Baptism is water that connects you to the water of life.
Listen to what Jesus said about baptism in Matthew 28:19. He said, “Go and make displaces of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
I’ve been working on fixing up our new house recently. Part of that is painting. Usually we’ve been using latex painting which comes off fairly easy. Usually with just water – but maybe a bit of soap. The other day I was staining a piece of wood. I dipped my paintbrush in. I stained the wood. Then, I took it to the sink. The paint didn’t come off like it should. In fact, it was just causing it to congeal. I went to look at the can of stain – it wasn’t latex, but oil paint. The kind that you can only get off when you wash it in paint thinner.
Here’s the deal with sin. It doesn’t come off in just water. It doesn’t come off in water and soap. It doesn’t come off in paint thinner.
Sin comes off when you wash in the Father who pours out his love for us in the promise of a Savior.
Sin comes off when you wash in the Son who shed his blood through the nail marks in his hands to win your forgiveness.
Sin comes off when you wash in the Holy Spirit who floods our hearts with God’s promises in His Word.
Sin comes off in baptism, not because of the water, but because of the Holy, incredible, divine, everlasting, all powerful, all complicated, all mysterious, all loving, Triune God of heaven and earth.
That’s why baptism isn’t just water. But water that connects you to the water of life.
This water of life gives you three blessings. Three awesome reasons to be baptized. Three awesome reasons to give thanks for your baptism:
(1) Baptism Cleans
Acts 2:38 says this, “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.” That’s a pretty powerful stand-alone statement on its own. God gives forgiveness of sins through baptism.
But it’s even more powerful when you understand the context. Because the guy preaching is Peter. The time he’s preaching is 53 days after Jesus’ crucifixion. And the people he is preaching to are literally people who stood in a crowd 53 days earlier and chanted “Crucify him! Crucify him!” about Jesus.
A bit earlier in this sermon Peter tells them that Jesus came back to life.
He tells them that this resurrection is proof that Jesus is God.
He tells them that this means they killed God.
And—not that we should rank sins – but let’s rank sins. Killing the author of Life himself is pretty high up there!
The people are hurt. The people are ashamed. The people are filled with guilt and cry out, “What must we do?” (Acts 2:37)
Peter’s response: “Repent – turn from sin and turn to God, turn from unbelief and turn to faith, And be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.” Even the sin of murdering Jesus.
That’s the cleansing power of Jesus in baptism. It washes you from your sins – no matter what your sin is!
Yelled at my wife to the point of her leaving me and now I have been bitterly blaming her for the whole ordeal and living a quiet angry, life on my own? Washed.
Baptism connects you to the cleansing power of Jesus.
(2) Baptism Rejuvenates
Titus 3:5 says this, “God saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal in Jesus.”
Because the truth is that sin is tiring. Feeling guilty is tiring. You and I – even if we’re Christians – still sin each day. At the end of the day, we’re disappointed in ourselves. We’ve failed. We may even be disgusted.
How awesome to hear: You are forgiven and be rejuvenated again.
Just like Jesus. He died. (out of energy) But three days later, Jesus came back to life. He lambasted the grave – he walked again!
By that same resurrection power, baptism resurrects you--- each day. It drowns the old, sinful you, but resurrection is the new you. The new man – the new woman – created to be apart from sin – created to live for Jesus.
(3) Baptism Uniforms You
The Super Bowl is next week. And each Super Bowl there are always people who don’t get their due. There will be lots of talk about Tom Brady and Matt Ryan. Talk about their coaches. Talk about their teams, their trainers, even their general managers. But not a lot of talk about their uniform specialists. That’s not fair. Without the uniform makers, we wouldn’t know who’s on who’s team! They wouldn’t know. The whole thing would be chaos!
Uniforms are important. Check out what Galatians 3:27 says, “All of you who have been baptized into Christ, have clothed yourselves with Christ.” You are no longer on the team of sin. You are no longer on the devil’s side. You are no longer on team ‘you.’
You are on God’s team. You are wearing the "Team Jesus" jersey.
What a team it is! It’s a team that has people of all different background and all different experiences and all different ages on it. Black and white, Asian and Latino, elderly and teenage, male and female, Republican and Democrat, Raleighian and Durhaminian. All united in Jesus Christ. All united in his family.
All on the same team.
Can I show you one last interesting note on John 4? After the woman hears that Jesus is the Messiah Scripture says that, “She left her bucket.” Interesting huh? She came with the bucket because she needed water!
She left without it because she received so much more.
If you’ve been baptized, leave content! God has done amazing things for you. You’ve been washed clean in Jesus.
If you haven’t been baptized, what are you waiting for? Jesus offers amazing blessings – all the blessings you need – Blessings that well up to eternal life.
Have you ever asked your kid to clean his room in the middle of video gaming? It never works very well.
I’m coming. Just after this level.
I’ll be there soon just a few more minutes.
Mom! I’m battling Bowser for control of the Mushroom Kingdom! If I don’t help now, the toadstools will be under his control forever. How can you talk about dirty sneakers at a time like this?
Of course – the same thing happens when you’re a grown-up.
Ever heard of a Honey-Do-List? What amazes me is how long honey do lists can become. They become long for two reasons. (1) One spouse will keep adding to it. Fix the toaster. Paint the garage. I think the heater’s broken! Could you set up a hanger system in my closet for all of my pocket scarves? (2) The other spouse will come up with reasons not to fix it. I’m going fishing. I’ve got work to do. Somebody’s gotta watch this football game, it won’t watch itself.
It makes me think: Putting things off is human nature. Procrastination is a key part of being a human.
But what about when procrastination makes its way into your spiritual life?
No big deal thing?
Today we’re continuing our series called Follow. It’s about following Jesus. Our focal point this morning is urgency. We want to learn why following Jesus is so urgent and how we can be urgent about Jesus in 2017. Before we do that, join me in 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 Urgency of Near
The main lesson comes from Matthew 4. This takes place after our lesson from last week. Remember? John had pointed at Jesus and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) The heavens opened at Jesus’ baptism. A dove landed on his shoulder and a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:15-17) Highlights.
That was a highlight for John. He had beheld the reality of his message – that a Savior was coming – with clear eyes. He must have felt pretty good.
Then, a lowlight. John, motivated by what he has seen in Jesus, keeps preaching. He preaches to the tax collectors. He preaches to prostitutes. He preaches to Pharisees. He even begins to preach to King Herod – the guy in charge of Judah. And Herod is interested in him. He wants to hear what this crazy preacher will say. He loves to hear him talk about those Pharisees. He loves to see those religious officials squirm. He loves John’s message.
Until – it hits home.
John turns and says to Herod, “And you? Stop sleeping with your brother’s wife. You aren’t married to her. She isn’t married to you. That sexual immorality. That’s one of the commandments: You shall not commit adultery. What you’re doing is wrong. It’s wrong and if you don’t change, you’re going to hell!”
Can you imagine Herod sweating? He’s embarrassed. (Thank goodness there wasn’t Twitter at that time.) He thinks it over. I can’t repent. That would make me look weak—like some crazy preacher has control over me. So instead Herod has John arrested and thrown into prison. Herod thinks, “There I’ve dealt with that. No more grand revolutionary spiritual voices for people to follow.”
And things are quiet.
When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee…From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:12,17)
What do you know about heaven? The Bible doesn’t provide a full architectural schematic of heaven. There aren’t any illustrations. You can’t find heaven on Zillow. Google Earth does not allow you to zoom in and see Peter’s car parked on a side street near the holy donut shop.
But the Bible does say this: In heaven, there is no sadness. There is no mourning. There is no sin. There is no pain. There is no hunger. There is no thirst. There is no loneliness. There is no evil. There is no cancer. There is no AIDS. There is no terror. There is no racism. There is no death. (Revelation 21)
There is God. There is his love. There is joy. There is love. There is family. There is friends. There is a peaceful forever existence in the happiness of eternity. (Revelation 21)
Sounds awesome, right?
Ok Pastor. How do I get there? Again – Heaven isn’t physical. Rand McNally doesn’t know the way. You can ask Siri and she will not know. Heaven isn’t a place you drive to, walk to, or ride a motorcycle to.
Heaven is spiritual.
Heaven is invisible.
Heaven is a place you go after this life.
Heaven is a place you go when you die.
Heaven is place you go for eternity.
Which means – God has to get you there. And since God is the one who does the transporting, understand that God is the one deciding whether you can come or not.
It’s kind of like driving in a car. I know that some people have rules when you ride in their car. No sodas. No chips. No food and drink. No melty chocolate. Why? Well – they probably have had kids spill all over the carpets as they hit a bump on the road. They would like a clean car. It is their car, so makes sense that they get to set the rules for it. I remember once trying to get into the car of my friend’s mom and she wouldn’t let me until I took off my dirty, muddy, shoes. I couldn’t be mad. It was her car, her rules. God’s the same way. Although it doesn’t bother God whether or not you are drinking a Coca-Cola when he comes to get you. There is something that God doesn’t want in heaven:
Do not be deceived: Evildoers will enter into the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
Back to Jesus. Jesus said, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” It means this – Abandon sin! Turn away from sin and follow God. Stop following lust. Stop following greed. Stop following pride. Stop following gossip. Stop following your vengeful desire to yell at your wife. Stop sin and turn to God. Because sin has no place in the kingdom of heaven. God doesn’t want sin in heaven. If you have sin, God doesn’t want you in heaven.
Pause with me for a moment. Here’s what the devil tempts us to think when you see that: Ok. I’ll work on it – eventually. I’m sure I won’t die for quite some time. I’m a young person. I just reached the age that you’re able to rent a car. I’ve got a long life left. Now? I need to worry about this life. I need to work on my job. I need to work on money. I need to work on my house. I need to work on my family. I need to work on my retirement package. I need to enjoy retirement.
I’ll deal with God later.
Look at what Jesus said again. Notice he did not say, “The Kingdom of God is later.”
He didn’t say: It’s not even close.
He didn’t say: It’s way in the distance.
He didn’t say: Don’t you worry about it. You have plenty of time.
He said, “It’s near.”
As in, close.
As in, soon.
As in, you could die in the next year, in the next month, 15 minutes after worship.
As in you could choke on a cookie (God forbid) after worship in the fellowship hall!
You don’t know when it will be time. You only know that it’s near. That means you need to follow Jesus – NOW!
Do you sense the urgency?
II. The Problem of Procrastination
Maybe you’re thinking:
Pastor, this is a young person's’ thing. When people get older, they get wiser and they come to their senses.
Here's the thing. I’ve met people of all ages. Teens who have said, “Later.” People in their twenties: Later. People in their thirties: Later. People in their forties: later. People in their sixties: later. People at the end of life – at the retirement homes I visit – where I don’t even know if I’ll see them next week – that I ask to come learn about Jesus with - Later.
It’s always later. This means that the problem isn’t maturity.
A couple of years back I saw that a friend of mine on Facebook was coming to Raleigh. It was a friend from the Seattle area where I was an intern pastor. A pretty good friend. We had gone to their house and hung out — plenty of times.
But this time I only saw it on Facebook. She knew that I was in Raleigh so…why didn’t she reach out? I left a note on the Facebook wall – If you’re in the area, come visit! She said, “Sure. I might be busy, but maybe I can get away.” A week later I saw a photo on Facebook of her relaxing and drinking an iced tea at Beasley’s downtown – I left a passive aggressive comment, “That place is awesome.”
Nothing. No response. Didn’t seek to hang out. Didn’t come to church.
Suddenly, I came to a harsh realization. I just wasn’t that important. It wasn’t a matter of too busy or unable. But not important. It's the same problem when it comes to following Jesus. The reality is that if you aren’t following Jesus, then he isn’t that important to you.
You can say, I just don’t have the time. But if Jesus is important enough, you’ll make the time.
I don’t have the time for Bible study – He’s not that important.
I’m too busy for church – He’s not that important.
I’ve got too much going on to be baptized – He’s not that important.
If Jesus was important to you, you’d do everything possible to make time for him.
If you haven’t, it’s your fault. Not your boss’ scheduling. Not your health. Not the weather.
If you don’t follow God, you don’t value Him.
If you don’t value Him, that’s sin.
If you’ve got sin, you can’t get into heaven.
If you can’t get into heaven, repent!
If you repent, do so now – because the kingdom of God is near!
III. Near (Revisited)
Near. Let’s revisit that phrase, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” We’ve been talking about that temporally – in relationship to time. Any day. Any minute. Any hour. That’s exactly what Jesus meant.
But sometimes there’s more than meets the eye with Jesus. Sometimes Jesus means more. Sometimes the answer is so much closer than you think. Maybe you’ve heard this passages before: Jesus said, “I am the way – no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Put that next to the last passage. “The Kingdom of heaven is near.” Do you see it?
If you were the listening to Jesus speak, then, yes, the kingdom of heaven was near – you could die any time – it’s temporal. But it’s also spatial. As in – the entrance to the kingdom of heaven is a few feet in front of you. He’s speaking with you. He’s sitting by you. He’s Jesus.
Remember what we heard John say about Jesus last week – “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” That’s what Jesus came to do on the cross. Because the reality is that every human being has sin – sin that they can’t remove on their own – sin that disqualifies them from heaven.
Jesus came to wash us from our sins. Jesus came to clean us up. Jesus came to make us ready for heaven.
Here’s why: Jesus understood urgency. Jesus understood that if he didn’t fix the problem of sin then you would not make it to heaven with him. Jesus understood that he had to live perfectly when you couldn’t, die innocently in your place, and rise triumphantly for all of your sins. Jesus knew that he had to do this in order to get you into heaven. He knew it and in fact -- It was a priority to him.
You were a priority to him.
Do you believe this?
Do you believe in Jesus? Are you ready to follow him?
Then, there’s something very important that you need to hear:
If you haven’t made Jesus a priority, you’re forgiven.
If others things have been more important than following him, you’re forgiven.
If you follow him – even if you’ve never followed him til right now, you are forgiven.
You will be in his kingdom.
IV. What Now?
How do you react to this awesome message? How do you make following Jesus a more important part of your life?
(1) Be Willing to Leave your Nets
Look at the account that takes place right after we hear about Jesus’ ministry: 18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.
Did you see that? They left their nets. That’s not a big deal if you’ve never touched a fish in your life and can’t tell the difference between a catfish and a guppy. But for these guys – it was everything! They left their nets – their livelihood. They left what made them money and followed him.
Do the same. Money is important, but not important enough to jeopardize your eternal future. Not important enough to jeopardize heaven.
If you are so busy, that you don’t have anytime to actively follow Jesus – make a change. Talk to your boss. Get Sundays off. Get a weekday off to join a small group. Turn off your work email at home and turn on your Bible.
Might you make less money? Might you not get promoted? Of course. That’s the reality of a world that doesn’t see the importance in following Jesus. But there’s eternal value in following Jesus. He will strengthen your faith in his Word. He will encourage you through his people. He will promote you – all the way to heaven.
(2) Be Willing to Leave Your Family
Look at the next verse: 21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
These guys go a step farther. They leave their family – not that their dad was necessarily against their leaving or putting up a big stink about it – but it’s still a challenge to leave family. And sometimes family can be one of the biggest challenges to following Jesus:
You’re still believing that? I don’t like how it’s changed you. I think you should give it up.
You’re going to church? Can’t you stay home and have breakfast in bed with me instead?
You can’t come hang out because you’re serving God? That’s crazy! If that’s how you’re going to act, don’t bother spending time with me.
But God isn’t saying – Have nothing to do with your family. We can see them. We love them. They love us. But God is saying don’t make them more important than following Jesus.
Because they don’t love you more than Jesus.
Because they didn’t give up their lives for you, Jesus did that.
Because your family can’t get you to heaven, only Jesus can.
(3) Embrace your New Family
Still that’s hard. How do you do leave behind family?
With your new family.
That’s what happened to the disciples. They became brothers. They became brothers and sisters. That was key because they were travelling around Asia minor spreading God’s Word. We still use that today when we talk about each other.
This is important. Because if you’re the only one in your family who believes in Jesus – that’s tough. It’s hard. But you’ve got family here. People who love you. People who care about you. People who will encourage you to follow Jesus all the way to heaven. Lean on them.
And if you’ve got lots of believing family – understand that about people who don’t – it’s hard. They need you to be their family. You can come here and catch up with your family sure. But branch out! There are others here who need your encouragement. They need your uplifting. Be someone to lean on.
Hebrews says this, “Let us encourage each other—and all the more as we see the Day approaching.” Do you hear the urgency? It isn’t just in following Jesus, but urgency in encouraging one another…because you never know when Jesus will come back. Be ready. Amen.
Who do you follow?
It’s interesting because thanks to Social Media, it is now very easy to see who you follow on Twitter or Instagram. If you looked at my profile, you’d find out that I follow a bunch of famous pastors, Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, Randall Cobb (there's a lot of Packers), and like 17 versions of Jesus.
But the most followed people on Social Media? Kim Kardashian – probably because people like to see her fashion and learn what’s hip and in. Lebron James – because people like to get insights into the life of such an incredible baller. Taylor Swift-- millions of followers aiming to see what her latest music is.
And here’s something interesting – you can now advertise to get more people to follow you. For instance, you might be scrolling through Facebook and an ad will pop up of a delicious looking cup of coffee “Follow Sola Coffee and get a free coffee NOW,” or there might be a cute cat video, “To see more cute cat videos, follow cutecatvideos.com.”
Of course, what goes on in Social Media is just a minuscule version of what happens to each of us – spiritually. Lots of voices – each day – calling to us “Follow me. Follow us. Follow our way of thinking.”
And while following the wrong person on Social Media might mean a few months of lame jokes and some of your friends thinking you aren’t as cool as they thought you were, following the wrong one spiritually has much worse consequences:
It determines your relationship with God.
It determines the peace you have in your life.
It determines where you spend eternity.
Today we are going to begin a sermon series called FOLLOW. We’re going to discuss what it means to follow Jesus as a 21st century, millennial, Raleighian. Today, we want to start by sifting through the voices that call us to follow them. We want to (1) become wary of voices (even religious voices) that point us in the wrong direction and (2) hear Jesus’ voices – and the incredible results of following him.
Before we do that, join me in 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. Be Wary of the Voices
Our lesson today takes place in John 1: 29. A bit of background on John 1 – This takes place around 30 AD. At the time, the Roman Empire is in control of large portions of Europe, Asia, Northern Africa – and even Israel. But while the government was controlled by these foreigners, the day-to-day religious life was governed by the reflections and suggestions of the religious leaders – a group of men called the Pharisees.
The Pharisees were zealots. They loved God’s law. They loved it so much that they couldn’t help but improve upon it. God’s law said to wear a prayer shawl which were giant, jewel studded aprons. God’s law said to rest on Saturday; they made sure to not take more than 500 steps. God’s law said to give 10% of your income; they gave up 10% of their salt shaker – measuring it, funneling it, and taking it to the temple for all to see: “Here’s my ten percent of salt. Did you remember your 10% of salt? I’m just 10% of salt better than you at connecting with God.”
They sound like wonderful guys, right?
But honestly – they were viewed that way. The people at the time looked up to them. From the outward perspective, these guys seemed to have it all together. They had money. They had religious things to say. They looked like they knew just what it took to get to God and to heaven. So many followed them. They listened to them. They learned from them. They hoped to be them.
John was different.
John ditched the long flowing robes and prayer shawls for camel skin clothing.
He ditched the bread baked for the holy show bread table for locusts and grasshoppers.
He ditched the decadence of the temple for the desert.
He ditched the quiet argumentation of the wise at the synagogue for the loud, hellfire and brimstone of a sports fan who's had too much to drink!
John was different. Compared to the Pharisees he looked like a perennial homeless guy complete with wily hair and a pungent odor. You wouldn’t expect that many people to follow him on spiritual matters.
But people did. In fact, the Gospel of Luke says that there were “crowds of people coming to him.” (3:7) The word, in the singular, gives you a picture of a church full. A crowd. But it’s in the plural – crowds of people. Like a group gathering downtown at the amphitheater to listen to Taylor Swift – that’s the kind of crowds that John was drawing to him.
More importantly – that’s the kind of crowd that the Pharisees were losing to him.
So they went to investigate. Take a look at John 1:19. “The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask John who he was.” Follow that question – Who are you? Who in the world do you think you are? Knowing what we know about the Pharisees in every other part of Scripture, you almost expect an element of "What gives you a right to take all these followers away from us?"
And if you’re John – looking around at all these people – seeing how they hang on your every word -realizing that so many of them had left the flock of Pharisees to come and hear you – wouldn’t you expect a bit of pride to swell in his heart? Maybe a sarcastic answer:
I’m everything you guys aren’t.
I’m a better leader than you.
I’m the guy these people are following. Who are you?
But instead look at how John replies – He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” (1:20)
Let’s talk about that. Messiah is a Hebrew word. It means “Anointed One.” The Anointed One was a part of the Jewish faith. Thousands of years earlier God had promised Abraham – the man from whom the entire genealogy of Israel was based – that one day someone would come from his family – one anointed to bless all people. That promise was repeated by God, “The Anointed One is coming! The Anointed One is coming!”
Prophet after prophet came.
Prophet after prophet spoke about the Anointed One.
Prophet after prophet was not the Anointed One.
Now a group of people was convinced that John might be the Messiah. He spoke so powerfully and his message was so intriguing. Maybe he was the Messiah. Maybe he was the one to lead them away from Roman power. Maybe he was the one to save them.
John could have said, “Yes, I am. Give me your money. Get me a hammock. Get me some of those big bunches of dark purple grapes and a few beautiful ladies to feed me – and I’ll tell you what to do next.”
But he doesn’t. He confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” (1:20)
Ok. But he still seemed pretty important and they still wanted to follow him. Follow their train of thought, “Then, who are you? Are you Elijah? He’s a really famous prophet from ancient Israel. He’s dead, but…maybe you are him come back from the dead? We’ll follow you!"
Are you the Prophet? A prophecy about Moses – arguably the most famous prophet of ancient Israel and how a prophet would come that was greater than him! Are you that prophet?
Then, who are you? We give up. Tell us who you are and we can start your fan club.
John said this, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (v.23)
Do any of you have a GPS? What’s pretty neat about a GPS is it tells you everywhere you want to go. It tells you step by step, turn by turn directions on how to get to Cameron for a Duke game or PNC for a State game or how to get to Asheville to go skiing.
What’s also cool about a GPS is that you can change the voice of the one talking to you. You can have it speak with a pleasant Southern accent, “Ya’ll turn right.” A Northern Wisconsin accent, “You betcha that’s a left turn there.” OR you can even have it speak as Mr. T. “I pity the fool who don’t make a U-turn right now!”
But Mr. T doesn’t really know what all these directions. He’s not sitting in some suite in downtown Raleigh with a headset on, Google maps pulled up and giving you directions where to go. He’s simply a voice – telling you what he’s been told to say.
That’s what John was. He was a voice. A voice that had been prophesied about by another voice – but a voice nonetheless.
A voice who would come before the Messiah.
A voice who would point people to the Messiah.
A voice who was not the Messiah.
A voice who told people – I’m not the Messiah.
Of course, that’s not always how it goes, is it? People don’t always say, “Don’t follow me. I’m not the answer.” Oftentimes people give you the impression that they are the Messiah – or at least that they’ll fix all of your problems.
And I think there are three areas of society where this is especially true:
We just got done with a political season in which people put all their hopes and dreams on various political candidates. He’s my Messiah. No, she’s my Messiah. He’s going to make my life better. No, she’s going to change my world.
People follow them. People put their hopes in him. People think they are the one who are going to fix things for them and are horribly disappointed when they don’t.
Understand this when politicians are running for office they need to do everything possible to explain why they are the best person for the job and why they will be your personal Messiah – even if they know they can’t be.
What I mean is – it wouldn’t be a very good political campaign if I said, “Vote for Kiecker. I’m ok – not terrible, but not great either. I’ll try hard…most of the time. I probably won’t make that much change in your personal life anyways.”
In the end, politicians have voices. Their voices elevate themselves. But be careful. Political candidates are not the Messiah.
This is interesting. Because pastors are supposed to be voices pointing people to the Messiah. But sometimes it becomes all about them.
Sometimes, it might not even be their fault. Listen to that pastor. He has it all together. He’ll turn your life around and if he ever leaves, it’ll be a disaster again!
Sometimes, it is their fault. Here’s what I did in my life. Here’s why it worked. Here’s why you need to follow me and do what I did (and send some money my way in the process.)
But here’s the problem: The pastor is not the Messiah. I’m not the Messiah. Joel Osteen is not the Messiah. Joyce Meyers is not the Messiah.
There is not a pastor right now who is the Messiah.
If a pastoral voice tells you to follow the Lord, awesome.
If a pastoral voice tells you to follow himself, be careful. Be very careful.
And if I ever start doing that – somebody slap me.
And then, there’s probably the trickiest voice to deal with. It’s one that you’ve heard before. It’s one that has influenced you throughout your life. It’s one that I guarantee you struggle with.
Your own voice.
We are so cleverly, stupid:
ON. MY. OWN.
Here’s the reality that John the Baptist realized – he was not the Messiah (and he had crowds of people following him!) You don’t have crowds of people following you. You might have hundreds of people following you on Instagram, but guess what – none of them think you can fix their life!
You are not the Messiah.
So stop trusting yourself as the Messiah.
It will have eternal consequences.
II. Follow the Lamb
Who is the Messiah then? Who should we put our trust in?
Read a bit farther with me. In fact, it’s the very next day. The crowds have returned. Some are disappointed. John isn’t the one. They have to keep searching, keep looking, and keep hoping to find the Messiah one day. John sense their frustration. John himself has that same frustration.
But then…he sees him. Walking slowly. Head down. Covered up in a tunic. Unassuming and unimpressive.
But John knows him and John points: John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Look at the Lamb.
See the Lamb.
Follow the Lamb.
That’s a really interesting name for the Savior. Because Lambs are not really that intimidating.
There aren’t any NFL teams calls the Lambs.
There isn’t any professional wrestler called “Lonnie, the Lamb.”
Where you hear that word – it doesn’t strike me with fear. I’m not suddenly concerned that the Lamb is going to suffocate me with his wool.
Why would you follow a lamb? Wouldn’t you just be counting him jumping over the same gate over and over until you fall asleep?
Don’t tune out just yet. John gives three awesome reasons to follow the man referred to as the Lamb.
(1) He Takes Away the Sin of the World.
This one has a lot to do with the culture of Ancient Israel. In the Old Testament, God had people sacrifice animals. Sometimes out of thanks. Sometimes out of trust. And sometimes for the forgiveness of sins.
When it was for the forgiveness of sins, God was making something clear to the Israelites: I hate sin. I hate it because it wrongs your fellow brothers and sisters. I hate it because it wrongs my children. I hate so much that I must punish it with death!
When lambs were sacrificed for sins, it was a constant reminder to the people of the divine, eternal consequence of their sins.
The only problem? If you were an Old Testament Israelite you probably saw lots of lambs killed. A lamb for my morning sin. A lamb for my 2 pm sin. A lamb for my evening sins. Lambs for the sins that I missed last week. Lambs for your sins and my sins and lambs for Uncle John’s sins. Lambs here, there, everywhere, up, down and in between. Lambs everywhere that Dr. Seuss could think of to describe it!
The sad reality?
Animal blood cannot take away sin.
But Jesus wasn’t an animal.
He wasn’t an cute, fluffy lamb.
He wasn’t even a man.
He was God’s Son.
With his death, he would take away the sins of the world.
With his death, he took away the sins of the world.
That means this: When you follow Jesus, your sins are forgiven.
The sin that can’t seem to leave your mind? Forgiven.
That sin your friends won’t let your forget on Facebook? Forgiven.
That sin that cost you your job? Forgiven.
That sin you struggled with for the past twelve years of your life? Forgiven.
Forgiven because the Lamb of God gave his blood for you.
(2) He’s Been Around Awhile.
One of the key talking points in a political race is experience. How many years have they been in government? How much experience do they have serving people? How many years of tenure do they have under their belt?
Look at what John says about Jesus, "The one who comes after me (Jesus) was before me.” Literally, he existed long before me!
This doesn’t mean John was bad at math. Because if you follow the story of Jesus, John’s birth was announced about six months before Jesus’. John was ½ a year older than Jesus.
But Jesus was not just human.
Jesus was also God.
It means he’s been around the block. He’s been around since the beginning. He’s been around since the formation of the earth. He’s been around since an eternity and half before there was an earth.
Talk about experience. He’s seen it all. He’s been through it all.
Making him the perfect one to follow.
Think about what you’re going through. Jesus gets it.
Financial struggles? He’s seen that and helped people through it.
Relationship struggles? He’s seen it before and comforted through it.
Struggles with guilt and shame?
Nervousness about a sickness?
Problems at school?
Doubts about the direction of your life?
Jesus has seen it. Jesus has helped people through it. Jesus will help you through it.
(3) Awesome stuff happens around Him.
In fact, John lets us in on a secret - the reason he was so confident that Jesus was the Lamb of God and the one to follow.
He says this “I saw the heavens open up.” And can you imagine that? We’re not talking about the clouds parting and there being a sunny day. We’re talking about some incredible, divine, never before seen moment – the sky is rendered. There’s a glimpse into heaven. There’s a brilliant light that even sunglasses won’t allow you to look into.
And a silhouette – a divine dove – starts hovering down from the split in the sky. It hovers to the right. It hovers to the left. All eyes are on it. Until it comes to rest right on Jesus’ shoulder.
And then, a voice – not John’s voice – a voice – a booming voice – a voice – not coming from some microphone system because microphone systems didn’t exist yet!
A voice from God himself says this, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
It was a moment that made John go “wow.”
It was a moment that made everyone else who saw it go, “That was incredible.”
It was a moment that made people stop and think – This guy is worth following.
My prayer is that it makes you stop and think the same – This guy, this God, this Lamb is worth following.
Recommit yourself to following Jesus in 2017. Amen.
I. Joseph’s Plan
He looked down at the receipt that he had from the local florist and smiled. He had just purchased tens of dozens of flowers. Lilies, crocuses, wildflowers and roses. Some in vases, some in bundles and some to be attached directly to his bride’s dress and pinned to her hair. He didn’t have them yet, but at the right time on the right day, they would be arranged, delivered and set up.
Joseph made a check mark next to “flowers.”
Another stop made.
Another arrangement finished.
Another part of the plan – done.
Joseph was engaged to be married. It was a part of his plan. Rather – Mary, his bride-to-be, was a part of his plan. He had been looking forward to being with her for quite some time. He had seen her around the village of Nazareth. He had spoken with her as he delivered a table to a neighbor in his community. He had fallen for her. He had spoken to his parents. He had spoken to her parents. He had arranged to pay a dowry – a sum of money to show commitment to her and thankfulness to the family – he had worked hard, saved up, and asked her to be his wife.
Now – he looked forward to the next part of the plan. First, the wedding. Then, a family --- walking the streets with this lovely lady in his arm. Lifting his head up a little higher: “How’d a gruff carpenter like you end up with such a lady?” He dreamt of sitting down to Passover meal with his family. He dreams of children – a girl with Mary’s eyes – a boy with Joseph’s eyes. Family gatherings filled with comments from aunts and uncles: “Doesn’t he look like you?” “Doesn’t she have her father’s charm?”
But that was going to come. For now he’s waiting. Joseph was a righteous man. He was faithful to God and God’s Word. He wouldn’t sleep with her until he’d made his commitment. Until he’d commit his life, his spirit, his wallet, his love, and all the rest of himself, he wasn’t going to commit to unbuttoning his pants. And he wasn’t going to ask Mary for that special gift until he had given her everything!
So he waited.
He waited for that part of that plan.
He waited patiently.
One day as he worked on a brand-new piece of cabinetry for the Rabbi, his beautiful bride to be entered his workshop. He wiped the dust of his hands. He brushed it off of his pants. He made his way over and gave her a kiss on the cheek. He was excited to see her. Excited to hear her news. Excited to hear what other parts of the plan for the wedding he could cross off the list.
“The invitations? Are they out?”
“The food? Did you make a decision?”
“The music? Are we really letting your cousin Larry’s timbre band play the reception?”
“Joseph,” Mary interrupted. “I’m pregnant.”
Joseph’s smile faded faster than the dust on a board when the wind caught it. Pregnant? That wasn’t part of the plan. Not now. That wasn’t the part of the plan until later.
And Joseph knew his biology. This child wasn’t his. He had a been waiting. He had been waiting – hard as it was to wait – he had been waiting, patiently. But apparently, Mary hadn’t. Apparently, Mary didn’t care. Apparently the here and the now and a moment of pleasure was more important than the plan!
Joseph – I wasn’t unfaithful. Joseph – this child isn’t from an earthly guy. This child is of the Holy Spirit. (v.19)
Holy Spirit, huh? Is that what they’re calling it. Joseph, was it?
Bill the fancy city lawyer who had moved from Jerusalem?
Jacob, the butcher’s son?
Or was it Zacharias – the Rabbi’s kid? He had seen the way that he had been looking at her.
Joseph’s mind was swimming.
This was a DISASTER! This wasn’t the plan! And the plan was blowing up in his face.
Gone was the wedding.
Gone were the well wishes of family and friends.
Gone were the family meals.
Gone was the little boy with his nose and the little girl with his eyes – they wouldn’t even have his chin!
II. God’s Plan
Joseph was wandering the streets in distress – with his breath tinted with stale wine -- when he passed by the local synagogue:
You know, what was the point God?
I tried to listen to you. I tried to wait. I tried to do it by the book!
Why did this have to happen to me?
Why not some other guy?
Why not one of those non-religious, non-believing types?
Why did you let my plan change?
Still – he loved her.
He was thankful for her.
He didn’t want to embarrass her.
So, Joseph decided on a new plan: (v.19) Joseph had in mind to divorce her quietly.
No loud announcements. No complaining at the bar. No posting it in Facebook for all to see.
A quiet cancellation.
No more meeting with the venue.
No need to meet with the priest.
Maybe he could get his money back on the flowers.
Joseph made it home and started reformulating his plan. He put finishing touches on his NEW plan: who to tell, how to cancel, how to avoid embarrassment, and how to get his money back on the flowers -- written down bullet point by bullet point on a tablet at his bedside.
Until finally, he was exhausted enough to fall asleep.
That night, as he dreamt of that horrible moment that Mary told him this horrible news -- as he looked at the nervous expression on her face and heard the anger in his own voice – something was different.
Someone else was in the scene.
Someone who was shining brilliantly.
An angel of the LORD appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, Joseph, Son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. (v.20)
It’s from God.
The God who is always good.
The God who gave you life.
The God who gave you wonderful parents.
The God who blessed you with those talented, carpentry hands.
The God who blessed you with money for the dowry, money for the wedding, and money for those wedding flowers.
The God who blessed you with Mary.
Is the same God blessing you with this child.
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (v.21)
Because Joseph – this child means more than a family for you.
This child means you are a part of God’s family.
This child means that you are forgiven for doubting me.
This child means that through faith in him you will be God’s child.
III. What now?
How’s that for a story? How’s that for a change in plans? While this story is Joseph’s story – and there are elements that are unique to his story – there are two important truths for you and I to take away when it comes to our plans in 2017.
(1) God’s Plan is Better
Take this note: Mary and Joseph’s plan wasn't a bad plan. They were going to get married. They were going to wait to sleep together until after they publicly committed. They were protecting each other’s hearts – even as they followed God’s plan for marriage.
But that plan – while it wasn’t bad or wrong – wasn’t as good as God’s plan.
Look at his name again: Jesus – because he will save the people from his sins. That’s the God part. That’s the part that humans didn’t plan NOR could they manufacture if they did plan it!
God’s plan involved much more for Joseph -- more than a game of touch football in the yard. More than a young apprentice to help with carpentry work. More than somebody to carry on his family name.
God’s plan gave Joseph a Savior.
God’s plan is always better. Keep that in mind. It was true for Joseph. It’s true for you.
Scripture says this, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
That’s an interesting passage. Because how believable that passage is usually depends on what’s going on in our life. For instance, when things are going well, that passage is so easy to believe:
I got a new job – part of God’s plan!
I came into some money – this is God!
I have a clean bill of health – Thank you Lord!
We’re having a baby – What a blessed part of God’s plan.
But what happens when things aren’t so great? Is this passage, suddenly untrue?
I lose my job –God, where are you?
I am out of money – God must have forgotten his plan.
I have a disease – Way to go God.
We can’t have a baby – God, you don’t have any good plans for me, do you?
But even when things look bad, God is still planning things for our God – for your good:
Take Jesus – the little unborn baby in our story.
He grows up.
He is arrested when he hadn’t done anything wrong.
He is beaten, slapped, whipped, falsely accused, wrongfully imprisoned and hung up on a cross to die!
That looks awful!
But with those words – the angel’s promise to Joseph came true. Jesus saved the people from their sins!
He saved us from our doubts.
He saved us from accusing God.
He saved us from accusing God of not having good plans for us, by accomplishing his good plans for us.
That cross looks awful – but it means the most good for us.
Trust his plan --- even if it’s different. It’s always better.
Like my friend’s dad—Tad. I had met him a few times when we went over to my friend’s house to play video games. Tad was always busy. He had a job. He wore nice suits. He made lots of money. He had a nice car. He owned a very nice boat that he would use to go up on the lake and fish on weekends. He had an NFL ticket – and would sit in his easy chair all Sunday watching his teams. He didn’t have time for God. He had a plan that was going just fine without God!
But then, Tad got sick. Stage 4 cancer. Suddenly – work didn’t matter as much. Money didn’t matter as much. Nothing mattered as much as God.
He met with his son’s pastor. He spent a month vigorously studying the Bible. He came to faith in Jesus. He was baptized into Jesus name. He received Lord’s Supper for the first time. He was reminded of God’s promises in Scripture that Whoever believe in Jesus, will not perish but have eternal life. (Jn. 3:16)
Then, Tad died. But he didn’t perish, he went on to eternal life.
Cancer sounds bad. But God used that cancer as part of his plan for Tad – to take him away from hell – and bring him to eternal life in heaven!
Wow. God’s plans are good. God’s plans are better.
(2) God’s Plan is Planned
This is a second thing to take comfort in. God’s plans are made well in advance – hundreds of years in advance.
Look at what it says about God’s plan for Joseph in verses 22-23: All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel,’ which means – ‘God with us'.”
Understand then, that God’s plan for Joseph was not a last second, last ditch effort. Notice that God didn’t just come to Joseph and do a last second switcheroo. This wasn’t like heading out to eat, seeing that the line is too long for Chick-fil-A, so you stop at Taco Bell instead. Nope.
This good plan was on God’s heart and put into motion long before Joseph’s heart was ever put into motion.
The same is true for you. God’s plan is guiding your life
Now understand – this doesn’t mean that we are puppets. It’s not like we have strings and God moves us accordingly. God isn’t telling me, “Move your right arm now,” and “turn and smile right now.” Nope.
God gives us the freedom to choose. Freedom to choose whether to drink coffee or not. Freedom to choose whether to drink Folgers or Starbucks. Freedom to choose whether to drink another – or three or four.
We have choices, but God is still guiding us.
Think of it like a preschooler coloring a page. (Maybe a picture of a party hat and confetti for New Year’s). Dad might sit down behind this child. He might grab the crayon. He might help them keep the coloring in the lines. He guides; he leads; he directs.
God does the same for you. He guides. He leads. He directs. He did it in 2016. Maybe you can see how!
He’ll do it again in 2017. He will guide you. He will lead you. He will direct you!
Granted: You know that preschooler can whine and complain that his dad is helping him. In fact, he can even have a breakdown and push dad off of him – simply because he wants to go where he wants!
And, granted: You can do the same to God. You can whine and complain and push him off of you because you don’t want to follow his directions.
But that will eventually lead you to hell.
Because God’s plan is for you to get to heaven.
Trust him. Trust his Word. Trust his Son Jesus – and he will get you there. No matter what turns your life takes or what happens to you in 2017. God is guiding you to eternal life.
That’s what Joseph did. Our section ends like this: When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (v.24-25)
Do the same. Trust God. Follow him in 2017….no matter where you go and what happens to your plans.
It’s 2016. The beginning of a New Year. And, here's a behind the scenes note, usually at the beginning of the year it is a time for the church leadership to assess the state of the church and make plans for the coming year. The same is here at Gethsemane. We talk about worship. We talk about in reach. We talk about what flavor coffee tastes best in the hallway. We talk about a lot of things and make plans for the New Year.
But one of the key things that we talk about in the church is something called OUTREACH. Outreach is "reaching out." But not just for a high five. It's reaching out with the life saving message of Jesus.
Think about it. Somebody reached out to you. It might have been your mom. Maybe a pastor. Maybe a friend. Maybe a Facebook post OR a coworker's invite. Whoever it was someone reached out to you and said, "Come and hear about your Savior. "
That's why Outreach is in the DNA of a Christian. In Jesus, we know forgiveness, the promise of eternal life, and victory over the devil. We desire for others to know that as well.
Today we’re starting our first sermon in our Firsts sermon series of 2016. We’re going to take a look at a few key firsts in the life of Jesus. I want to look at one of the very first OUTREACH Programs.
I. The Program's Goal
We’re going to look at Matthew 2. Take a look at it. This takes place somewhere around 1-2 years after Jesus’ birth. It says, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
It says that "magi" came to investigate Jesus' birth. Magi appear to have been some kind of astronomers, hence the term "wise" men. They had been observing the skies and recording the shapes of constellation patterns and star movements throughout their lives.
Why did they suddenly drop what they were doing and embark on a long journey across the desert? They noticed a different kind of star. Something new. Something peculiar. A star so divine in it's presence that it was obvious there was something amazing at the end.
A star that God had put there.
Think about how badly God wanted to do this outreach and get this news of Jesus' birth to them. He didn't send an email. He didn't call them on the telephone. He didn't even send a text message. He didn't even boost a post on Instagram!
HE MADE A GIANT BALL OF GAS EXPLODE INTO THE SKY.
It's kind of like one of those big spot lights that businesses might shine up in the sky at a grand opening. It can lead to a car dealership or a casino or a brand new mall. I saw one in the sky once and decided to followed it. The spotlight led to a small Minnesota country town's grand opening of a local gas station.
God's spotlight directs the world to a much bigger prize than a 2 for 1 slushie sale. God's spotlight directs the magi to the Son of God. The Savior. The Messiah. A Messiah that God desperately desired for these men to learn about.
That's the first thing about God's first outreach program. God had a DIVINE DESIRE for it's message to be shared. This must be our desire too. To tell the coworker who has been cheated on by her husband - that there is a God who is faithful and just and will never leave her. To tell our friend who has hated God -- that God took his best insults and went to the cross for him, to die for him. To tell the man who has struggled with drug abuse -- there is hope. It's your Savior. It's Jesus.
II. The Program's Reach
Now some of you might be saying, "What about the shepherds? Didn't God reach out to them with this message as well?" That's true. He did. On the night of Jesus' birth, the skies lit up with their message.
But the shepherds were only a couple of hills away from Jesus. They were of the people Israel. That means they should have been familiar with the promise of the Messiah, because the promise of the Messiah had been made to the Jewish people, was recorded by the Jewish people, and passed on by the Jewish people.
it's not so much outreach, but inreach.
But this divine star outreach, God doesn't stop within the borders of Israel. These Magi were "from the east." Scholarly study suggests that they must have known about the prophesies of a Messiah from Scripture. Scripture would have made its way east in the Babylonian captivity -- which segued into the reign of the Persian Empire. An empire in which Daniel (of Daniel and the Lion's Den fame) became a key part.
That would place these men in Ancient Persia -- Modern Day Iraq. That's hundreds of miles away from Jerusalem.
That's real outreach.
It's proof that a godly outreach program isn't just for people that like Mary and Joseph. It's for people from the East. It's for people from the West. It's for people from the North and the South ...and 2000 years in the future across the atlantic ocean just south of I-540 in the triangle!
Its' for us!
But it isnt' just for people like us. We can't just be concerned with looking for Christians who move down to the area and need a church. (Don't get me wrong those people need a church home. I'm happy to provide it and I hope they'll take up the outreach message with us.)
But if that's all we're doing, we aren't doing what God has called us to do. Check out the Great Commission. It says, "God and make disciples of all nations!" Not "of all the Midwesterners already a part of your Synod that look just like you." Nope. He says, "Go into all the nations."
We've got that opportunity here in Raleigh. We've got people from all over. I've met people from Russia and Nigeria, Congo and Korea, China and Chinatown, Mexico and Canada, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Nepal, New York, Bew Nampshire, New Guinea, Florida, Panama and Ecuador. I've met people who speak Spanish> People who speak French. People who speak with an accent. People from all over!
And they all need to hear about our Savior. They all need to be a focus of our outreach.
III. The Program's Message
But what do we tell them? "Come. We've got good coffee." "Come hear how you should vote in the next election." Come, eat some delicious cookies." Come, Hang out. Pastor's cool. Kind of?"
Listen to the message that the magi had heard. "Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews. We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
They came looking for a King. They came looking for one who ruled over sin. They came looking for one who ruled over the devil. They came looking for one who ruled over death. They came looking for one who would release them from the bondage of sin. One who would crusht eh power of death, One who would defeat the enemy -- Satan himself.
They came looking for one who would issue in a time of peace -- with God and an era of joy -- in salvation.
This was the message of the star. The King has come. It's Jesus.
That is our Message as well. Our message is beautiful in its simplicity. It's a message that our youngest members know very well. "What's that?" A cross. "Who was on it?" Jesus. "What happened to him?" He died." Why?" To take away our sins.
You know it too. Our message isn't, "Hey-- everything's cool-- no worries mon." It's "You have a savior from Sin death and hell. His name is Jesus!"
This has to be what our Sunday School teaches. It has to be what our Adult Bible classes teach. it has to be what our Facebook posts lead people to. it has to be what you tell otehrs when you invite them to church. Come and hear about the Savior!
IV. The Program's Success Rate
"But Pastor," you might be thinking, "How will this work? I've got this one friend who hates chruch and this other friend I invite all the time and they don't seem to care at all. There's no way this is gonna work. It's impossible.
Tell that to the Magi.
They were from the East. They saw a change in the stars. They packed their bags. they left their homes. They travelled by animal across the desert. They followed a star. They came to a home over which the star shone. They knocked on the door.
And they saw...a toddler.
This can't be right. We're looking for a king. Where is the giant muscles? Where is the palace? Where is the golden crown? Were we supposed to take a right at the sycamore tree?
But, then again, the Star. The Scritpures. The hand of God.
They approached the child. They knelt down on their knees. They bowed down and worshipped him.
Then, they opened up their bags and delviered him gifts for a king gold, frankincense and myrrfh. There weren't any shopkins in sight!
These men travelled hundreds of miles. They followed a star They bowed to a toddler. They gave him gifts for a king.
The Outreach Program worked.
God is behind the same outreach program today. He works through his Word. he works faith in the hearts of people. Keep that in mind. Our task isn't that impossible, because we have an impossible doing God behind it! He made a star appear out of nowhere. He can make faith appear in a person's heart out of nowhere. He will be behind our outreach in 2016!
V. The Program's Tool
Of course, there is one key difference in God's outreach program now as opposed to the plan in Matthew 2. Then, he used a star.
Now? Last I looked outside I didn't see a star shining down upon Gethsemane's steeple. we did get a nice new lamp that shines ont eh words "Gethsemane Lutehran" on the side of the building, but you can't see that unless you're on Newton Road.
What are we supposed to use?
Take a look at Jesus' words in Matthew 5: "You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men."
We don't depend on a star. We depend on us.
This is humbling. God could use another exploding ball of gas to bring people to the Savior. Intead, he chooses you. He chooses me. He chooses a bunch of sinful, failing, mistake making human beings to carry his message.
God has chosen Christians to be his light. He has chosen you and I to reflect his love. He has chosen you and I to pass on the message of the Savior!
This isn't just a pastor's job. You are a part of this. That "you" is plural. It encompasses us all. It encompasses you. You are so important in this.
Think about it. If only one of us invites a person to church, that means we have one light shining. One person coming. It's addition.
But if two people invite one person. That's 2 times 1. If ten people do it, that's ten times 1. If 100 people do it -- invite and bring just 1 person in the month of January -- that's not addition anymore.
Do you see why you are key in all of this? Whether you are young or old, male or female, long term Chrsitian or just come to faith, you are a key part in this outreach!
May God bless your outreach. Amen.
You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you will declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his most wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are a people. Once you hadn't been shown mercy, but now you have been shown mercy."
-- 1 Peter 2:9-10
The beginning of a New Year is often a time for reflection and self-realization:
“I'm out of shape.” “I'm a work-a-holic.” “I'm addicted to my iPhone.” “I'm in love.” “I'm not in love.” "I'm watching way too many reruns of Friends on Hulu." We take stock. We count our blessings. We plan for the New Year accordingly.
Today God's Word is going to help you with some self-realization. It reveals something about believers that is totally incredible about who we are and what God wants us to do!
The lesson is from the book of 1 Peter, a letter written by the Apostle Peter to “believers everywhere.” In the ancient world, yes, but as the letter has been preserved by God's grace...it is a letter that speaks directly to our group of believers here in Raleigh, NC.
In other words, it's a letter to us.
Listen to what Peter calls us first: “You are a chosen people.” This is huge for anyone anyone who was ever chosen last in kickball, anyone who was ever left unchosen at the prom's final dance, to anyone who wasn't chosen for that raise, to anyone who was not chosen to go to the sleepover.
When others in the world have rejected you, what an awesome truth to realize that God has chosen you!
Now watch out. This isn't anything to be prideful about. It's easy to start thinking, “Of course, Jesus chose me! He must have known how awesome I am at singing hymns. And he probably knows my commitment to upholding good morals. Obviously, he'd choose me over my tattooed neighbor.”
Before your ego outgrows the size of your head, look at verse 10 and remember: “Once,” Peter reminds us, "you were not a people!" Hear that again. “Once you were not a people.” Singularly: You were not a person. You were lost. You were nothing. Nothing to God.
It makes sense. Because honestly, what do you have to offer Jesus-- the Almighty Lord of heaven and earth? A substance addiction? An out of control temper? Laziness? The colorful language you use at work? The ability to gossip faster and more often than any other person in Raleigh?
Brother and sisters, know this: God chose you! But it wasn't because of you. It was in spite of you and your sinful self. God chose you simply because of him. Because of his love.
Let this change your attitude. Don't go around with that selfish vocabulary that a lot of Christians use: “I chose Jesus!” “I made a choice for him. And he's happy I did that.” As if we were the ones who did Jesus a favor by letting him be a part of our gang.
We are the ones to be honored! God is incredible. He is Almighty! He is holy. He has no reason to even be near sinners!
Yet in Jesus he has chosen us to be his people. And that's not without incredible benefits:
Look at what this choosing means for us in the next thing Peter tell calls us: A Royal Priesthood.
Just about every little girl's dream is to be a princess! To live in a Disney castle. To wear Disney jewels and Disney rings and go to a Disney dance.
But the idea of a royal treatment isn't just a kid thing. We live in a economic turmoil. Adults can feel as far away from riches as possible. We dream of owning five cars fully paid, as opposed to the one jaloppy that we can barely make the payment on. We dream of eating at a five star restaurant, not slurping the third bowl of ramen in the same week. We dream of living in a mansion, not moving from small apartment to smaller apartment in hopes that we'll save money.
If you are feeling like less than royalty because of your financial situation, then hear this: God has called you royalty!
This means more than taking a trip to Sleeping Beauty's castle. By faith in Jesus, you have the royal riches of God himself. The crown of life. The jewels of God's love. You are an heir to his royal palace in the ethereal streets of heaven itself.
Of course, princes and princesses act a certain way. They have a royal air about them. They lift their chin up as they walk and drink tea with their pinky lifted into the air.
Call it royal. Call it pompous. But they certainly act a certain way.
The royalty of heaven have a way about them too. In fact, it's the only way of heaven. It's the way of holiness.
Which leads to the third thing God reminds us that we are. “A holy people.”
This is so hard to grasp so hard to belive, because of what holy really means. It means that God is declaring you to be without sin.
Even for Christians, it is hard to believe this. The devil tells us the opposite. “You're unholy!” The world tells us the same, “You're imperfect.” Even our own memories betray us: “ How can you be holy? Remember that one sin you can't seem to wash off? And that other sin you can't seem to conquer? And that other sin that is so awful that if anyone else in this church ever found out then they wouldn't hesitate to kick you out! You're phony. You're pathetic. You're anything but holy.”
Certainly those voices in our head are loud.
But God's voice is louder.
And so was his cry on Calvary: "It is finished!" Equally loud was his cry as he conquered the grave on Easter Sunday.
In other Words, God has called you holy through faith in Jesus! Believe it. Don't question your Lord.
It's true because it isn't about you. Look at verse 10. This is not from us! It is from Jesus. His holy blood covers us. His holy life was exchanged for us. His holy sacrifice purifies us. His holy baptism seals us as God's holy people!
What's it like to hear that God has declared you to be without sin and not deserving of punishment?
It's akin to a cancer patient who has been dealing with the pain and fear of knowing that there is something unholy in his body, being told by the doctor that the cancer is gone.
This is us! We know our sin. We know what it deserves. And in Jesus, we hear God say: The sin is gone! You have been cured. You are pure! Through faith in Jesus, you are holy!
IV. A People Belonging to God.
God loves things that are holy. So we shouldn't be surprised but to hear what Peter reminds us of next, you are a people belonging to God.
I think of a child who loves his action figures. Spiderman. Superman. Batman. He loves them so much that he tells other kids they can't play with them. He wants them. He doesn't want them to get hurt. He doesn't want them to get broken.
That's why God warns us of sin! He is telling our sinful natures to back off! He is warning us of the pain sin causes. He is warning us of the devil's deceptions and the doubts that they cause.
God doesn't want anything else to have control of you. Not addictions. Not immorality. Not anything.
Again. Think back to the action figures. Kids may write their names on the bottom of them with permanent marker forever claiming the toys as their own.
God has written his name on you in Baptism. Through it, God sends his Holy Spirit into your heart to claim you as his own. To mark you as his. To say “You belong to me.”
God has a reason for all of this. He has a reason for making you his own. Peter tells us that reason. Follow along with verse 9 again: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God to declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."
God has given us a purpose. This is a great purpose for our church – for you as an individual in 2014: Declare God's praises! There's' two ways to do this:
First with your actions. Live differently. Fight addiction. Have morals. Have Biblical morals. Live by them. Live by them fearlessly. Speak boldly. Pray constantly. Raise Christian children. Worship regularly.
Declare God's praises by the way that you live. By living in accordance to his will.
Secondly, with your words.
There are some awesome restaurants in Raleigh. What I've noticed is that when people go to a good one, they are super excited. They pass it on. They tell their friends. They put it on Facebook. They suggest it to anyone who is asking.
Why not do the same with Jesus? This is what God is calling us to do! It is Jesus himself speaking to you in this passage: Telling you. You! To tell others about himself!
I know we've worked a lot last year inviting people to church last year. And by God's blessing we had all kinds of people to share the Gospel with. Even a few Sundays where we surpassed the apparent firecode.
But this year God is ready to challenge us in a new way. God wants us to continue to invite people to come, but now I think it is time we focus on going. Bringing the message of the Gospel to those who need to hear it.
I want you to take a moment and think. Think of someone who needs to hear about Jesus. We all know someone. Don't even try to suggest that you don't. The greater Raleigh area is over 1 million people strong. And, as we found out in our community surveys this summer, the greatest numer of households identify as “NOTHING”...not followers of Jesus.
Think about that person and write his name down. Do it right now. It could be a guy you work out with. A lady you drink coffee with. A coworker. A buddy. A neighbor. A cousin. A long lost friend on Facebook. Even your spouse!
Think about that name. Write it down. Now, I want you to do three simple things:
1. PRAY. Pray about that person pray that God would work in their lives to bring them to faith. Pray that God would give you opportunities to share the Gospel with that person.
2. LOOK. Look for opportunities to share the Gospel with them. It could be an inquisitive quesiton. Or a difficult time they are going through. Pay attention and look for chance to tell them about Jesus.
3. SHARE. Don't forget to share. Share about your all powerful God. Share your Savior. Share with others whom God loves that God loves them! Share that he sent his Son to die for them. Share that through faith in Him they too will be God's chosen people, royalty. Holy. Belonging to God.
Why should I do this? Don't do it to grow this church. Don't do it because I said so. Don't do it because it will make you feel good or because you might find a new friend.
Do it because it's who you are. You are a person chosen for God's Work. You are God's royalty with all the riches of his kingdom at your disposal. You are holy in his sight without fear of punishment. You are belong to your loving Lord and he will watch out for you.
May this self-realization empower you this week as you look to do the Lord's work.
This day. This week. This year.
Did you get any gift cards for Christmas? Sometimes you might get a gift card to a place that you have never heard of before. Sometimes they're not gift cards, so much as gift certificates, or pieces of paper that the small business owner wrote "$10 free" on in blue ink.
What do you do when you get a gift card to a place that you don't know where it is? Google it. Use your map App on your iPhone. Guys, we pretend like we know where it is and then trust our man-sense to get there.
However you choose to do it -- this may be one thing you are doing this POST Christmas season: SEEKING out stores in order to use a gift card or maybe just return a gift. Today God's Word reminds us that these places are not the only things we should seek after Christmas. But that we should also SEEK GOD!
Open up to Isaiah 55. Remember Isaiah was a prophet at a time when the people of Israel didn't seek God. Instead, they sought their own sexual desires, their own greedy wants, and their own earthly happiness. That was what was most important to them. God was not.
It was Isaiah's job to tell them differently. He says, Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near."
I. When to Seek Him
Do you remember Beanie Babies? People used to go crazy for those things! Moms would pull up in their soccer vans, sprint out of the door, hurdle a baby stroller and get to the McDonald's counter in order to get a tiny bean-filled stuffed wallaby.
Why did people go nuts for that stuff? Because they were only available for a limited time. The value was increased because once they were gone, there were no more!
Isaiah's words are similar. Find God now while he may be found! Find Him while he is available. He will only be available for a limited time. Once that time is over, if you haven't found him, then you'll never find him.
Of course, are most people more urgent about God or Beanie babies? About God or some post Christmas deal? About God or getting home to watch the NFL playoffs because "the game is only on for a limited time!"
Brothers and sisters, we need to change our urgency!
You might be asking, "Why? I've got all the time in the world. When won't I be able to find God anymore?"
Answer: When you are dead. Dead people can't find God. Dead people can't find much of anything. The Bible tells us, "Man is destined to die once and after that to face judgment."
Did you hear that? Die Once. That passage alone eliminates a host of false teachings: There is no purgatory. There is no millenial reign on earth. There is no reincarnation. There is no second chance to find God later. Stop thinking there isn't urgency and find God him now before it's too late!
II. Where NOT to Seek Him!
Isaiah is pretty clear of where God is not. "Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts." Because God is not in wicked ways and you won't find him in unrighteous thoughts.
He's not at the bottom of a liquor bottle. There's nothing heavenly found on the 14th page of pornographic search results. You won't experience and find God through liberal sexuality. The high from whatever will not lift you up so you can see God. Sin does not lead to God!
Yet by the amount of time we spend seeking out sin, you'd think it does lead to God. "I need to clear up my schedule so I can have drinks with the ladies and make fun of all my neighbors." "I need to work all weekend so I can have more things and stuff." "I need to stop doing everything else and watch a couple of hours of this TV show with awful language and adult situations."
Brothers and sisters, stop seeking sin and seek God!
III. Where TO Seek God?
Look back at the Gospel of John. We read more of this chapter on Christmas Eve. The beginning verses are all about someone called "The Word." After some detective work in those surrounding verses, it was determined The Word was referring to Jesus Christ. Now read verse 18: No one has ever seen God, but God the One and only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known."
In other words, we see God in the Word himself. We see God in Jesus and we see Jesus in the Word -- The Bible.
Now let's be clear. I'm not asking you to pick up the book and put it under your feet as you stand at the top of the Blue Ridge parkway so you can get a better glimpse of God in nature. Nor do I want you to use the book to prop open the door to a theological discussion at some liberal university where "they determine what God must be." Nor should you use this book to hold up your keyboard so your wrists won't get tired and you can better search for "What's God like?" on the Google.
God wants you to read it. To hear it. To study it. Because in his Word, you will find God.
Find God in a barn quietly sleeping next to his mother. Find God in the carpenter's shop handing his dad a hammer. Find God on the hillside, smiling as children play near him. Find God, smiling softly as he raises a girl from the dead. Find God standing in a courtroom, listening to the insults hurled at him. Find God on the streets, buckling under the weight of his cross. Find God on a hill, nailed to that cross and dying.
It's really quite amazing! Because instead of revealing himself in some loud, thundering lightning bolts or a glowing, magnificent rainbow, God reveals himself most clearly in a human. A condemned, dying human.
OK pastor, but how do I know this Jesus is God? And how do I know this book about him isn't just the mistaken words of a few human beings?
It really is a matter of trusting Jesus. Because Jesus called the Bible -- the Old Testament portion -- he called it God's Word. Then, his apostles the very people sent out by Jesus' to teach Jesus' teachings wrote the New Testament and declared Jesus -- who was God -- his Words and teachings.
Again the skeptic might say: "But why should I trust Jesus? You said earlier he was a sad pathetic man who died on a cross."
Simple. Jesus came back to life! No other human being has ever been able to bring himself back to life! If Jesus didn't do that, his legacy would live on in books and that's it. But Jesus returned from the dead! He did what only God can do!
And there were hundreds who saw Him alive again! At least 500 to be exact. Most of whom were still alive when this book was completed. Who read what it said about Jesus and who confirmed: "Yep. He was alive. Yep. He was God. Yep. This book is of extreme importance! This holy book is how you will find God!"
IV. Why Seek Him.
That might be the best question to consider. Why seek God at all? Because if the Bible is God's Word, then doesn't it describe how God wipes out sinner after sinner? Doesn't it tell of a worldwide flood? Fire and brimstone destroying to sinful cities? A sinner swallowing earthquake? And these are all nothing compared to the eternal fires of hell it describes! Why would I want to seek Him?
Because there's more to God. Read what Isaiah tells us in the next part of verse: Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them.
Not "he might have mercy." Not "He'll consider having mercy." "Not he will have mercy, if..."
Simply: "He will have mercy on them."
That's why you need to seek God! Because God will give you mercy. Forgiveness. Eternal life. Salvation. To all who turn to him.
This mercy that God bestows is not a limited time offer. It didn't expire at the end of 2013 so that any sin you sinned in 2014 isn't covered under Jesus' death on the cross. No. God's mercy keeps on repeating! God will have mercy for the addiction that you struggle to get past. God will have mercy for those awful sinful thoughts you had yesterday evening. God will have mercy for the big sins. God will have mercy for the little sins.
Simply put, God will have mercy, because He has been merciful! He showed us himself in Jesus who died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.
And the Bible keeps telling you that! It tells you God loved you that he gave his one and only Son for you that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. IT tells you It is by grace you have been saved through faith in Jesus Christ. It tells you God has clothed you with garments of salvation. And In Jesus we have redemption!
It's like that $30 Mug you can get at Starbucks. You pay for it once and then you can get as much free coffee as you want in it. God's Word repeatedly declares to the trouble conscience the forgiveness of sins.
Except it doesn't even cost $30. It's free! Isaiah emphasizes that with the final words of our text: "Let them turn to our God and he will freely pardon."
It would be a downer if it wasn't true. If after spending your entire life trying to find God, you finally stumbled upon him and he spoke to you and said "Glad you found me. Did you bring the righteous deeds I require? No? Come back when you've figured out the secret to being perfect."
That would be sad. But that's not what God will say. Instead, as we sinners find God in the message of Jesus found in his Word, God smiles. He simply says, "My child, you are forgiven."
Brothers and sisters, seek this compassionate LORD in 2014. Seek him while he may be found. Forsake wicked ways. Receive his mercy! Amen.