We are in the middle of our Eyewitness sermon series and so far, we have heard Eyewitness reports from Mary Magdalene and from the Emmaus Disciples (Named? Cleopas and the other guy). In addition, we heard there’s a group of at least three other women (Mary the mother of James, Joanna and others—Lk. 24:10) who saw Jesus alive as well. That means by evening on Easter Sunday there are 5 people who have witnessed Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
The unlikely story is building credibility.
DNA testing was introduced into our court system in the early 90s. Did you know that hundreds of people who were previously convicted by eyewitness reports have been found not-guilty thanks to the DNA Testing? In 70% of those cases, the reason for conviction was the eyewitness testimony of one or two people.
John Wixted, a psychologist for the University of California, San Diego – wanted to see how useful eyewitness testimony was. He conducted an experiment with police that focused on 348 robberies in 2013 that involved an eyewitness and a single suspect. He showed the eyewitness a group of 5 photos in which one was the convicted robber. The eyewitnesses got the correct suspect 1/3 of the time.
But…in addition to quizzing eyewitnesses on the correct suspect, he also asked them about their certainty – whether they were unsure, certain, or very certain.
Of the people who were very certain? They correctly identified the suspect 75% of the time.
And when there was even one other supporting eyewitness, the rate of correct identification shot up to 90%.
By evening on the very first Easter, Jesus was identified as risen by at least 5 eyewitnesses.
And their confidence? It was through the roof! They didn’t see Jesus running away or from a distance, but up close and personal.
But…they aren’t even the beginning of the eyewitness accounts.
Today we’ll look an eyewitness account that probably quadruples the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. The goal? Gain your confidence that Jesus is alive. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Eyewitness Account
The eyewitness account is recorded in both the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Luke. We’re going be in both, starting with John. It says, “On the evening of that first day of the week...the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders…” (Jn. 20:19)
The section starts by describing a group of disciples together. The Gospel of Luke helps us better define who the group was gathered together.
A few notes:
It doesn’t involve Judas – he betrayed Judas and took his life because of the guilt.
It doesn’t involve Thomas – take note – we’ll talk more about that next week.
It does involve the Emmaus disciples – Cleopas and what’s-his-name show up to tell them all about their eyewitness experience.
It involves the women – Mary Magdalene, other Mary and Joanna, the other woman – who had seen Jesus rise from the dead.
And…maybe even a few others.
In short, the group is somewhere around 15-20 people.
And the doors were locked. It’s almost a horror film like setting. The disciples have the doors locked, latched, barred, with a couple pieces of furniture stacked against the door – all because they are afraid of the Jewish leaders.
The Jewish leaders just killed Jesus.
They crucified him.
They acted like a mob, wrongfully arrested him, falsely accused him, illegally convicted him, and forced Pilate’s hand to have him crucified.
What if the leaders did the same to them?
What if they had 12 more crosses just waiting to be filled with 12 more disciples?
What if any encounter with a Jewish leader would end the same way that Jesus’ encounter did…death?
And so, they hid.
And…all day long people had been entering the room with really weird accounts.
“We went to the grave and we thought he’d be dead, but the stone was moved!”
“An angel. A brilliantly bright angel. He saw us and spoke to us and said Jesus was alive.”
“It’s true. We listened to Mary. We ran to look. There wasn’t a body in the tomb.”
“I came back later and saw Jesus himself! I know it…because I heard his voice. A voice that healed me from demons.”
“We walked on the road with him. We talked with him. Would we have come all the way back here from Emmaus – a 7-mile sprint? – if we hadn’t really seen something?”
And to be fair – the reports brought excitement.
They brought mystery.
They brought questions.
But mostly…they brought fear.
Lots and lots of fear.
Because this fear of the Jews – had obviously caused their friends – delusions….
…their mind was playing tricks on them!
…a slow descent into madness.
How long until it hit them?
In the midst of the fear, confusion and hushed conversations…
Another guest appeared into the room.
Everyone was so distracted that they did not hear him enter.
Granted --- he didn’t knock.
He just appeared.
While they were…talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (Luke 24:36-37)
And the disciples…have anything but peace!
It’s the ghost!
He’s seeking vengeance.
He’s back to haunt us.
Jesus lifted up his hands.
The disciples braced themselves for the inevitable plasma-ball to come out and consume them.
Jesus said this, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (v.38)
One by one…the disciples looked at each other.
“Touch him? Touch the ghost?”
“You do it.”
“No, you do it.”
“I’m not touching the ghost!”
Finally, Peter pushes his brother Andrew forward.
He lifts up his hand.
He places it on Jesus’ hand…and…
“Whoa…Guys. It’s real.”
The other disciples quickly come over.
They feel the bumps on his skin.
They feel the hairs on his arms.
They touched the holes near his hands.
He has flesh and bone – just like any other living human has.
Jesus asks, “Do you have anything here to eat?” (v.42)
One of them hands over the fish sandwich.
They pass it to Jesus.
It’ll probably fall to the floor – he’s a spirit.
Jesus ate it in their presence. (v.43)
It went into his mouth.
Chewed by his teeth.
Tasted by his tongue.
Into his throat
Into his belly.
Just like it does with any living human being.
Then, Jesus gave them something else.
He said to them, “This is what I said would happen. Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Old Testament.” (v.44)
I had to die.
And I had to rise.
Just as it was written:
“God, you will not abandon my soul to the grave, nor let your Holy One see decay.” (Psalm 16:10)
“After he has suffered, the Messiah will see the light of life…” (Isaiah 53:11)
“Just as Jonah was three days and night in the belly of a fish, so the Son of man will be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth.” (Mt. 12:40)
Friends I am alive.
Jesus’ words echoed…
And the disciples came to a realization.
This wasn’t a hallucination.
This wasn’t a vision.
This wasn’t even a ghost.
This was something much worse.
This was real.
And it couldn’t be more terrifying!
Because the last time most of them saw Jesus?
It was in a garden, late at night, running away as he got arrested.
They had abandoned him.
They had denied him.
They had watched…without doing anything…as he died a slow, painful death on the cross.
They sinned against him…
Now he was back.
Proof that He was who He said He was.
Proof that He was God Almighty who controlled hurricanes, volcanoes and flash floods.
Proof that He was real --- and He was back – and He was back for one reason only:
One by one by the disciples looked towards the grounds.
They knew they were sinners and they were awaiting their sin-hating God to utterly destroy them.
Instead he repeated:
“Peace be with you.”
I am God.
I am alive.
I have the power of life and death.
But I am not angry. (Isaiah 27:4)
I am not here to get you.
I am not here for revenge.
I am here because we won.
Because your sins are forgiven.
Because we are at peace.
II. Resurrection Truth
There it is. The biggest, most populated eyewitness account that we’ve encountered to date.
It’s filled with reasons for confidence.
It’s filled with truth.
What is that truth? Three things:
(1) Jesus Rose from the Dead
Yep. Third time that it’s come up as a truth to learn from the eyewitness account.
Think about it. Jesus goes out of his way to prove that His physical, tangible body is in working order again.
His digestive system works.
His joints work.
His skin works.
He even invites the disciples – all 20-some of them – to do a full, thorough investigation.
Don’t you think they did everything possible to determine if it really was real or not?
Some tapped him.
Someone pinched him.
I gotta imagine someone might have even tried to pluck his arm hair out.
And Jesus allows it! Because it’s real.
And, it’s not just any old tangible working body, but his own working body.
He’s had the nail marks in his hands to prove it.
He’s had holes in his feet to prove it.
He had a big, old slit in his side to prove it.
If this was all one big ruse, then Jesus would have had to convince someone, “Hey, do you mind posing as me after I die on the cross? Really? Cool. Now…I know it sounds crazy, but would you be willing to shove nails into your hands, a stake through your feet and a spear into your side? We’re gonna need those wounds to heal up in order to convince people that it’s really me.”
It didn’t happen.
What did happen?
Jesus really, absolutely, complete rose from the dead.
And that’s important.
Because that means…
(2) We Have Peace
It’s a phrase that Jesus repeats a few times.
“Peace be with you.”
“Peace be with you.”
Because as hard as it might be to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, it might be harder to believe that we have peace with God.
Because we have guilt.
We have sinned.
We have shame.
Truth is – you might be believing that God is so angry with you.
Because of past sins.
Because of BIG past sins.
Because of repeated sins.
Because of unbelief.
Because of not following Jesus.
Because you haven’t been whom God called you to be!
And so…you don’t believe.
And the biggest reason you don’t believe in the resurrection is not be a lack of evidence.
But your biggest reason for not believing in the resurrection is the ramifications.
I am a sinner and lo, God hates me!
But…if Jesus rose.
Then, sin has been defeated.
And…if Jesus rose,
Your sin has been paid for.
And…if your sin has been paid for. Completely. 100% perfectly.
Then, God’s wrath has subsided.
And if God’s wrath has subsided.
Then, you have no reason to be afraid.
Hear Jesus’ words to you:
“Peace be with you.”
Understand. It isn’t because your sin isn’t a big deal – it’s a huge deal.
It isn’t because God doesn’t hate sin and evil – He absolutely does.
It isn’t because you’ve done enough to make up for it – you can’t, and you won’t.
It’s because of Jesus.
Unbelievable as it is – it’s true.
About as unbelievable as a resurrection – also true.
The visible nature of the resurrection provides tangible proof of the invisible truth of reconciliation with God. (Romans 4:25)
The resurrection is the visible proof of the invisible truth:
You have peace with God.
Which leads to our final truth:
(3) You have been Sent
To end his encounter with the disciples, Jesus says, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Do you get it?
God sent Jesus to bring us back to peace with Him.
And He sent risen Jesus to His disciples to confirm that peace with Him.
And He is sending us to share that peace with others.
He is sending YOU to share that peace with others.
Because there are people out there who are far apart from God.
Who are entangled in sin.
Who are covered in guilt.
Who are like those disciples huddled in that room afraid to face the world because they have no peace.
You give them that peace.
You tell them about Jesus.
And there aren’t any qualifications!
He doesn’t say, “If you have Seminary Certification then you have been sent.” Nope.
Qualifications for sharing Jesus include:
(1) Believing in Jesus.
(2) Hearing his call to “Go” and “Be sent.”
Which you just heard…
SO…this means you!
If you’ve known about Jesus since you were a child? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you’ve known about Jesus since this last Easter. Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are a 40 plus year member of this church? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you aren’t even a member yet? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are going home to a retirement community? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are going home to hang out in your playroom? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a master’s degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a bachelor’s degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a high school degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you don’t have any degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live near people who look and act like you? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you live near people who don’t look and don’t act like you? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a Republican? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a Democrat? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a political agnostic? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Raleigh? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Durham? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Wake Forest? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
IF you live in Chapel Hill? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Cary, Zebulon, Fuquay Varina, Rolesville, Louisburg…or any other villle or burg that I’m forgetting to mention here:
Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are a someone or an anyone who knows about Jesus…
(And friends – Jesus is talking to you)
You have been sent. Go and tell about Jesus.
And the Holy Spirit will be with you. Amen.
We are in the middle of our Fighting Temptation mini-series. So far, we’ve watched Jesus defeat the devil in a one-on-one temptation battle, learned some lessons from the champ, and contrasted the cost of fighting temptation with the cost of NOT fighting.
But maybe so far you have said, “Pastor, this has been nice. It sounds important. I should fight temptation. So…I’ll put it on the schedule for some time this summer.”
It’s like one of emails that goes to your junk mail. You peruse down the list and about 6 emails down is an email, written in all CAPITAL LETTERS, that says, “URGENT” with a few exclamation points behind it!!!
And you blink quickly, move the mouse, and click away.
Is someone in trouble?
Is a friend trying to reconnect?
Am I late on a bill?
“Hello sir. Just a note that there is currently a deal for 10% off pictures frames down at Michaels. We wanted to let you know – because you shopped here…one time…for your wife. This deal is only available for a limited time. So, act now! It’s urgent.”
Until…I get very similar email the very next week.
Maybe, it’s not so urgent.
Do you feel that way about fighting temptation? As if it isn’t urgent?
Today Jesus himself is going to explain to us the urgency of fighting temptation. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. An Urgent Warning
We are studying Luke 13 today. Look at what verse 1 says, “Now there were some…who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.”
This is a bit strange, so a bit of background. Galilee was a country that was in the northern area of the Holy Land. Galileans were people who lived in Galilee. Apparently, some Galileans had been in the temple offering sacrifice (aka worshipping God) when the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate (he’s going to become very important as we get closer to Good Friday) ordered that they be killed. It’d be similar to a church shooting. Which unfortunately, is not unheard of.
It wasn’t unheard of back then either! According to Josephus, a Jewish historian, Pilate did this about five different times during his reign. Each time it was violent. Each time it was awful. Each time it was a very disheartening event.
That’s why the people were talking to Jesus about it.
It was troubling.
Like some kind of awful current event (take your pick: shooting, bombing, kidnapping, rape, etc.), they were trying to make sense of what had happened.
The answer that was most popular?
These guys must have been terrible sinners.
They must have done something really, really, really bad.
I heard that they were running an illegal drug ring through the temple.
This was a punishment for them!
Jesus overhears it and, being true God, He offers a unique assessment that a sinful human being would never be able to offer:
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (v2-3)
First thing to understand about Jesus’ statement:
Sin is sin is sin. The Bible teaches that, “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) It teaches that “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.” (Romans 3:23) It teaches that “If you stumble at just one point, it’s as good as breaking all of God’s law.” (James 2:10) Sin is sin is sin. It’s all awful to God. Therefore, these Galileans killed in the temple were not worse sinners than any one else.
The slaughter in the temple wasn’t some kind of special judgment by God against a special breed of sinners.
But in case you’re reading this and you’re saying, “Well, okay. This wasn’t. It was done by Pilate. A sinful human being acting in a sinful, fallen world. But what about natural disasters? That’s the kind of stuff that only God can control. What about tornadoes down in Mississippi and flooding in the Midwest? Is that God’s judgment against them?”
Look at Jesus’ next words: “Those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them (a natural disaster. Not a murder. Still horrific.) —do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (v.4-5)
The Galilean slaughter was not a special punishment.
The Implosion of the Siloam tower was not a special punishment either.
Stop looking at these horrific events for the sake of others.
Look at them for the sake of yourself.
As a warning.
A reminder that life is short.
As a wakeup call to repent! To get right with God. To stop sinning before God acts against you!
Here's the first truth God wants you to get through your head this morning: “Don’t view disaster as an indictment of others, but as a warning to yourself.”
Stop pointing at others.
Stop ignoring your own sins.
Stop thinking, “I love this sermon. Go get ‘em pastor! In particular, look at this guy right next to me. He needs to hear this.”
You need to hear this.
Even if you’ve been a Christian for 40 plus years.
You need to hear this.
Because if you don’t…
Jesus continues. From horrific current events to gardening:
“A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any.“ (v.6)
Ever had a fig before? They’re pretty tasty. This man must have really liked them. In fact, I picture him having a gigantic, fig tree farm with thousands and thousands of fig trees growing. It makes him a lot of money for fig jam, fig jelly, and fig Pop Tarts.
Every once in a while, he takes a break from the paperwork of owning a fig tree farm to go and walk through his product line. He marvels at the beautiful of the trees. He samples some of the figs as he goes. He whistles to himself as he is so happy for how well everything is growing.
There’s that one tree again.
(He remembers it from last year)
Not a lot of green.
Seems kinda sickly looking.
“The owner said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to Look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any.’” (v.7a)
It isn’t producing. It isn’t doing what we planted it to do. A fig tree without figs on it is…worthless.
“Cut. It. Down!” (v.7b)
Friends. This is more than garden tip.
This story has a spiritual meaning.
God has brought you into his family.
To fight sin.
To bear fruit.
To bear the fruit of the spirit: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
And if God is walking through his rows of Spirit fruit trees…
And he walks past the section where you are planted…
And you aren’t bearing fruit?
Instead of love – hatred.
Instead of joy – complaint.
Instead of peace – grumbling.
Instead of fighting temptation – enjoying the sin that you’re doing.
What do you think the Father will say?
It’s the worst three words that God could ever say about you.
Cut. It. Down.
II. A Patient Promise
Thankfully for the fate of the fig tree this isn’t the end of the story. Because while the owner is the one who paid for him to be planted, he has another friend who cares for him.
The gardener is the one who has been watering this tree for three years.
He’s seen it struggle.
He’s weeded it.
He’s fertilized it.
He’s even gotten up at 5am to come out and sing Eric Clapton to it.
For three years, he’s put his heart and soul into getting that fig tree to bear figs.
And he isn’t ready to give up…not yet.
“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (v.8)
Friends, you have a gardener, too.
You have someone who cared so deeply for your soul that when he saw your fruitless, sin-filled life, he came to earth and died on a tree to save you.
Jesus is an advocate on our behalf! The Bible says, “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous one.” (1 Jn. 2:1) It says, “Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for us.” Romans 8:34) It says, “Jesus is our Great High Priest…that we approach God’s throne with confidence.” (Hebrews 4:14, 16)
Do you get it?
Jesus is pleading to the Father on your behalf, while pleading to you on behalf of Him!
And here’s the good news: It’s working.
How do I know?
Well, you’re here today.
You’re listening to this message.
You get to hear Jesus’ voice calling to you right now.
No matter how barren your branches are.
No matter how dead your spiritual life looks.
No matter how shriveled your attempts at fighting temptation have been.
God has been patient with you.
You have not been cut down.
And it isn’t as if the gardener said, “If it bears three times as much fruit next year in order to make up for the past three years of not bearing any at all, fine.”
He didn’t say, “I think that this tree will be worth the wait because it’s fruit will make some top-notch jam—better than the rest.”
He didn’t say, “As long as it produces 27 figs by this time next year, then we won’t cut it down.”
The fig tree doesn’t need to earn the right to be called a fig tree.
It simply needs to do what it was made to do.
And you don’t need to earn the right to bear fruit.
You simply do what God called you to do.
You won’t be cut down!
You’ll one day be transplanted from your life on this earth – to eternal life in heaven.
III. What Now?
With the urgency of death lingering and the promise of God’s grace patiently keeping us alive, WHAT NOW for this week? A few things:
It’s a phrase that appears twice, word for word in this section from Jesus. If Jesus thinks it is important enough to repeat, I think we should repeat it:
Unless you repent, then you too will perish. (v.3, 5)
Repent means to turn.
To do a 180.
To turn from sin to Savior.
To turn from falling to temptation to fighting temptation.
To turn from unbelief to faith in Jesus.
It’s like watching Pee Wee Football. And there’s that little running back, the one that looks like his pads are gonna swallow him up. It’s the end of the game and the team is up by 4 touchdowns, so the coach calls a play to give him the ball. After the quarterback hands it off, he turns, he runs…and goes in the exact opposite direction of his endzone.
And the coach is screaming, “TURN AROUND! TURN AROUND!”
And the crowd is shouting, “TURN AROUND! TURN AROUND!”
And his teammates are chasing after him to tackle him and stop him and turn him around!
That’s what God is doing with us here today.
When we sin, we go the wrong way.
Today, God calls out to you – repeatedly, persistently, patiently, lovingly – TURN AROUND!
Turn to Me.
Turn to salvation.
(2) Be Urgent about It
Because absolutely nothing in Jesus’ words today imply that you’ve got all the time in the world.
Nope. In fact, the point is that you don’t know how much time you have at all.
Before Pilate has you murdered.
Or a tower falls on top of you.
Or you get sick.
Or in a car accident.
Or have a stroke.
Our time is short.
Do not wait on repenting when you’re older.
Get urgent about fighting sin.
Fighting addiction? Seek help today.
Fighting greed? Give more money in the offering plate.
Fighting hatred? Ask God to soften your heart.
Fighting sexual temptation? Stop putting yourself in situations to sin.
If you’re fighting the temptation to continue to NOT follow Jesus – keep fighting against it!
Put your trust in your Savior.
Be urgent about fighting temptation because Jesus was urgent about fighting for you.
He came swiftly off his heavenly throne.
He suffered death.
He quickly and efficiently defeated it by rising from the dead.
(3) Be Patient about Others
Because it is so easy for us to be patient with ourselves, “C’mon guys. Greed is a hard thing. Give me time to get past this sin.”
But not so patient with others, “That dude was a jerk to me AND it’s the second time! God!?! Get him.”
But we can’t react like that. Not when God has every reason to cut us all down simultaneously right now, but he hasn’t.
Because God is patient with us, we are patient with others.
We forgive them.
We love them.
We kindly rebuke them…again and again and again and again.
We share the Gospel with them…even if it’s 8 years running.
There’s this one guy that I invite to Easter every year. I’ve invited him for seven years in a row – this year will be my eighth. Sometimes I invite with a text message. Sometimes with an email. Sometimes with a voice message. Sometimes it includes a graphic design. Sometimes it includes a Bible passage. Sometimes it includes a brief synopsis of the Gospel.
Every year? He doesn’t come.
I was thinking about not doing it this year.
About wiping my hands.
And shaking the dust off my feet.
I’ll guess I’ll invite him again.
Friends – be patient in your interactions with others.
Take advantage of the Easter season.
Share the Gospel.
Share the Gospel.
And after you’ve done that.
Share the Gospel some more.
Patiently planting while urgently fighting temptation! Amen.
What is your purpose in 2019?
Pay off the mortgage – and every action that you take, every decision that you make is with the goal of paying off that house?
Maybe it’s just to look good – and every food you eat, every movement you make has the goal of looking more like you did in your twenties?
Help your business grow – and every Facebook post that you share has the goal of taking your entrepreneurship to the next level?
We recently got a cat. Yep. A cat. It’s my first one – and I guess it’s not as bad as I thought because I’m still living. Her name is Minnie. Her full name is Minnie, Warrior Kitty.
Now – she can’t talk, but after watching her interact with our house for the past two weeks – I think I understand what her mission is for 2019. I think her mission is to defend the world at all costs against any button, any remote control, any dust ball and any stray tissue that dares cross her path!
Pretty lofty goals…I know.
We’re in the middle of a sermon series called FRESH. This week our topic is PUPORSE. We want to find a fresh purpose in God for 2019 – what kind of mission statement can we adopt in our personal lives to fulfill that purpose! Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A 1st Century Purpose
The section of God’s Word that we’ll study this morning comes from 1 Timothy 2. Timothy is a letter written to a young pastor named Timothy. It is written by Paul who was an older pastor that had a lot of experience starting churches. In this section, he is giving Timothy some instructions on what he should be teaching the people. He writes:
I urge, first of all, that prayers, petitions, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people and for kings and all in authority. (1 Timothy 2:1)
Note the “First of all.” It identifies the first thing in a list of things that Paul will be telling Timothy to teach the congregation. But it also denotes a certain level of importance. This first teaching is of great importance to God’s kingdom; so, it is listed first. It’s important, by the way, in both the 1st century AND the 21st century. So…listen up.
The first thing that’s of great importance for Christians to do?
(1) Pray for All people.
That’s not easy. Usually people like to pray for people that they (1) know and that they (2) like. It’s why people pray for themselves (they like themselves). Also their family, their kids, their spouse, and maybe even a few people from church…but probably not all of them.
Paul’s instruction is more all-encompassing than that. Paul says to pray for all people.
That includes not only the people that we know and like…
But the people that we don’t know and might not like.
For the stranger across town.
For the stranger across the world.
For the coworker that you don’t like.
For the friend that’s no longer your friend.
For the rich guy who owns a mansion.
For the homeless guy on the street.
Even for the internet troll who puts an angry face on all of your political posts.
God’s Word says to pray for all of those people.
And then to top it all off - he says to pray for a group of people that probably ranks high on most people’s list of people that they don’t want to pray for:
It’s like the coup de grace of un-prayable people.
(2) Pray for the Government.
This is interesting timing. Because we just completed a month-long government shut down. And it is highly possible that there will be another one. A shut down where lawmakers and elected officials can’t coexist and are costing people their salaries; not their own, but the people who aren’t involved in those decisions and use that money to live on.
Does it seem hard to pray for those Washington guys right about now?
If so, think about this:
The letter we are reading was written at a time when there was no democracy. There weren’t term limits. There wasn’t an opportunity to vote someone out of office if you didn’t agree with their methods.
There was the Roman emperor.
Using violent Roman soldiers.
To enforce his will.
And his most recent will? It was to throw Christians in jail, separate families, and even murder them.
Yet…Christians were still supposed to PRAY for the government.
Since it’s been recorded for us, we are still supposed to pray for our government.
That’s hard, too.
But…maybe it depends on the prayer!
Maybe it makes sense for us to pray for the government to enact laws to make our lives better.
Or to make laws that give US a tax break.
Or to make laws that fit our own political agendas.
Is that what our prayers are for?
Nope. Look at verse 2:
Pray…That we may live peaceful and quiet lives in godliness and holiness. (v.2b)
For our godliness and holiness.
For a culture that amplifies our godliness and holiness.
To put it another way –
We are to pray that God helps us let HIS light shine.
II. God’s Mission Statement
Now – this prayer request comes from God’s Word.
So…Maybe that seems a bit – selfish.
Maybe that seems a bit – vain.
Let me get this straight God...YOU want me to pray to YOU for opportunities to make YOU more well- known?
This is not about God. Take a look at verse 3:
God our Savior wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
You can learn a lot about an organization by its mission statement.
Do you know PETA? People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Their mission is to support the rights of all animals.
Habitat for Humanity? Their mission is to bring people together to build homes and hope.
Starbucks? To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one cup at a time…
Domino’s mission statement? To sell more pizza.
What is God’s mission Statement?
Let everyone know how awesome I am?
Reign terror on all people.
Confuse people about what His plans?
God’s mission statement is this:
Save All People.
That’s really a God-sized mission statement, right?
Because God’s mission is not that some might be saved.
Or a lot.
Or even most.
God wants all people to be saved.
And that mission is what guides his every action!
We saw it in our Gospel lesson for today.
Jesus had spent all night doing miracles.
He made the blind see.
He made the deaf hear.
He made the lame walk.
He made the guy with the cold better.
He made the woman with cancer well.
He made the child with epilepsy calm, healthy.
Jesus did miracle after miracle until it was too dark for people to come find him at the house he was at.
Early the next morning, before he got back to doing miracles, Jesus went up on a hillside to pray.
As he was praying, he heard a commotion in the distance.
It was his disciples:
Jesus! There you are. We’ve been looking all over for you.
I know it’s early but they’re here. The sick. The lame. Some kid who has a whooping cough. Some guy who can’t walk. There’s a woman who has a very bad fever. They’re all here – waiting at the house – waiting for you to heal them. We told them to wait but – Jesus, if we want to stay ahead of this, you’d better get back so that you can help them.
And Jesus listened.
He got to his feet.
And said something – rather strange:
“Let us go someplace else – to the nearby villages – that I may preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1:38)
Doesn’t that seem strange?
Jesus usually helps people, right?
And that is the exact reason that he doesn’t go back to down to heal the people who were physically ill.
He needed to head to other villages in order to help others who were spiritually ill.
In short, Jesus understood his mission: TO SAVE ALL PEOPLE.
He understood his mission even when the prayers and requests of all people were – “Don’t do that eternal soul saving mission; come over here and do the ‘make my life better now’ mission.”
It’s proof that Jesus wasn’t all talk.
He wasn’t like some CEO who says that he wants to help lots of people, but when the going gets tough – isn’t willing to give up a cent.
Jesus… gave himself as a ransom for all people. (v.6)
When the only way to save people from their sins was for him to give up his life…
Jesus didn’t bat an eye.
He came down to earth.
He lived perfectly when we couldn’t.
He died innocently in our place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of all of our sins.
And to be fair – we’ve talked about it very broadly.
God’s goal is to save all people.
But Narrowly, God’s mission has always been To. Save. You.
It’s why he’s speaking to you today.
It’s why he’s speaking to you in these words.
It’s why he’s speaking to your heart and imploring you.
Believe in Jesus.
III. Our Mission Statement
But that’s not the end of this lesson. Look at what Paul writes next:
For this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles. (v.7)
A herald was specifically associated with royalty. The herald would give messages on behalf of the king. He’d carry one of those long, large golden trumpets – he’d blow the trumpet and deliver a message from the King. “Hear ye; hear ye; Whoppers are now 2 for $3 at the Burger King’s restaurant.” We use the word in a famous Christmas song – “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Herald angels are not a bunch of angels with the same first name: “Harold, I told you to put your halo back on!” Herald angels were messengers delivering a message from the Divine King: “A Savior has been born!”
Paul was a herald, too. His job was to herald the message of Jesus, the Savior.
To herald it in the marketplace.
To herald it in the synagogue.
To herald it at Uncle Lou’s backyard cookout.
Everywhere he went he heralded the message of Jesus.
Paul was also an apostle. That’s a very specific job. An apostle is a word used to describe the 12 apostles and Paul. The twelve apostles were men who (1) saw the risen Lord Jesus, (2) were sent out by Jesus (3) were given the ability to do miracles by the Holy Spirit.
Undoubtedly that was very helpful for Paul! Because as he heralded the message of the Savior, the miracles that he was able to do would help to prove that his message was truth.
(It’s very similar to why Jesus’ did miracles. It was a supplement to his mission of Saving all people) Paul was able to do miracles as a supplement to help him share the message of Jesus which saved all people!
But what about you?
You might not be able to do miracles.
So…how do you fit into this mission?
Have you ever heard Mt. 28:19? It says, “Go and make disciples of all nations…by teaching them everything I have commanded you.”
Part of what the apostles heralded was the message of Jesus.
And another part of what the apostles heralded was the importance of sharing the message of Jesus. Take a look:
2 Corinthians 5:20, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors as if God were making his appeal through us.”
1 Peter 3:15, “Be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have.”
Mark 16:15, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation.”
Do you get it?
You have purpose.
Your purpose is to be a supporter and a part of Jesus’ mission.
That’s a big deal.
Your purpose isn’t just temporal, it’s eternal.
Your purpose isn’t just human, it’s divine.
Your purpose isn’t just to help something with something that will last a moment; your purpose it to help someone with something that will last for eternity.
You have purpose.
And that purpose is specific!! The apostle Paul did this in a very specific context. The Bible says that he was a teacher of the Gentiles. He didn’t just stay in the synagogues. He didn’t just stay with the people that were Jewish. He was specifically called to bring the message to the Middle East and Southern Europe.
You have a specific purpose, too.
In fact, you have a specific purpose that is key to God’s kingdom.
Because you can to share the message with people that Paul never will be able to do.
You are can share the message with people that I can’t.
You are called to be a part of Jesus’ mission for your people.
Your Facebook friends.
Not only do you have purpose, but you are key to God’s mission.
God will work through you to bring the message of Jesus to the people that you are connected to!
IV. What Now?
1. Pray for Mission Work
Do you remember what Paul was telling Timothy to tell the people? They were to be prayer warriors for the mission of God.
Since that message has been preserved for you and me to read today, we can say with confidence that God wants you to participate in his mission by being a prayer warrior for his kingdom.
That’s important. Because it’s really easy to pray for yourself.
It’s really easy to pray for God to help you with your cold.
To pray for God to help you with your work.
To pray for God to help you with your finances.
And to be fair – you should pray for those things.
But God also wants us to pray for the spiritual.
God wants us to pray for His Mission.
In fact, that’s what he tells us to do in the Lord’s prayer.
In God’s prayer we say, “Thy Kingdom Come.”
That’s not a reference to God becoming president of America in 2020.
It isn’t a reference to God setting up a Christian utopia on this earth.
It’s a reference to mission work!
Pray for mission work.
Add it to your Google calendar.
Write reminders to pray on your bedside post.
Pray for people you know that need to hear about Jesus.
Pray for people you don’t know that need to hear about Jesus.
And pray for the people that you plan to share Jesus with.
If you are a teacher, you need to teach.
If you are writer, you need to write.
Because if you are a coal miner, the most important thing for you to do is to mine coal.
If you are a herald, then the most important thing for you to do is herald!
To share the saving message of Jesus.
To herald at home.
To herald at work.
To herald at the dinner table.
To herald on a night out with friends.
To herald online.
To herald via text message.
To herald in person.
To herald in the heart of North Raleigh.
And, here’s the thing: when it comes to being a herald – it doesn’t do a lot of good to herald when no one is looking.
It doesn’t do a lot of good to herald quietly.
Speak loudly the message of Jesus for all to here.
Which may be a bit intimidating.
You might feel like you can’t do it.
But you’re never alone. God is always with you and may He continue to bless you as you live out your purpose. Amen.
We’re in the middle of a sermon series called FRESH. This week our topic is refreshing friendships. We want to learn how to seek refreshing friendships and how to be refreshing friends. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Friendship and Its Blessings
To start – a bit of a study on the Greek word for friendship: “Philia”. Philia is actually one of four Greek words for “love”:
Storge is the word used for parental love. In parental love, love develops downward between the parent and their child. The parent loves the child because he sees the child’s need for love. The child loves the parent because of their providing.
Eros is the word for romantic love. In romantic love, love develops between two people that are facing each other. Picture them looking into each other’s eyes romantically. This is a back and forth relationship. The man loves the woman because she is gorgeous. The woman loves the man because he is studly.
Philia is a bit different. Rather than a love that involves people looking at each other, friendship love develops between two people that are standing side by side. They are side by side as they face something together.
To put it another way, friendship develops as you go through life together:
Friendship develops as you cheer for your favorite football team together.
Friendship develops as you talk about being a mom together.
Friendship develops as you watch The Bachelor together.
Friendship develops as you pretend to be the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles together.
Unlike the other two types of love which point the people at each other, philia love points people at their shared goal.
Friendship is a love between two people who share a common goal.
For me, some of my best friends have come from my time playing football. I shared some common experiences with those guys. I remember sweating with them. I remember getting bruised with them. I remember waking up at 5am to go and run sprints around the football field with them. I remember rolling around in the mud in the middle of a torrential downpour with them. I remember practicing in 10-degree weather, snow falling everywhere, wearing these big yellow, football coats in order to stay warm with them.
I remember winning with them.
I remember losing with them.
I remember sharing the common goal of playing football with them.
And here’s the thing – I can call up some of those friends even today and instantly get into an argument about whose fault it is that in round 2 of State tournament. We gave up a 65-yard TD run to lose the game in the closing minutes (Spoiler: It wasn’t me. My assignment was the fullback)
Maybe you have a few friends like that, too. The Bible describes the blessings of friendship:
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. (Ecclesiastes 4:9) This is like that old Math problem. If I can paint a house in 45 hours and you can paint it in 40 hours, how fast do we paint it together? The answer is – that it’s faster. Two people with the shared goal of work, have the blessings of doing that work together.
If one falls down, one can help the other up. (v.10) You get the picture of two friends whose shared goal is running a Tough Mudder. If one of them falls down into the mud, the friend will stop to help them up. Their shared goal develops a bond where it is mutually beneficial to help each other along the goal.
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. (v.11) This is the blessing of protection. Remember – this is written at a time when people walked dangerous ancient roads from city to city – where bandits could easily attack a solo travel. Two people? That increases your eyes on attack; it increases your hands in the fight; it increases the muscle power on your team. Modernly speaking, two sets of thumbs increase your chances of defeating other teams in Fortnite.
Friendship is a Biblical concept. The Bible agrees that it is a blessing for people go through life together with other people.
II. Where to Avoid Friendship
The Bible also has something say about where to find our friendships.
It has something to say about the difference between a beneficial friendship and a not so beneficial friendship.
Take a look at James 4:4-5 -
Don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who choose to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
The Bible is not saying, “Don’t be friends with anyone in this world.” Nope. If that were the case, we’d have to pay closer attention to NASA’s trips searching for life on other planets. Chewbacca or ALF might be the only options.
But the Bible is telling us to be careful that earthly friendships do not lead us to loving the world – and worldly things – more than God.
Specifically – I think it warns against two types of friendships:
1) Sin Based Friendships.
This may seem obvious… at least…theoretically.
Friendships that lead you into sin are not refreshing.
Again – obviously, in theory; but oblivious in practicality.
It’s so easy for friendship to revolve around sin:
The friend with whom you share the goal of getting drunk – and the guilt of having done stupid things.
The friends with whom you share the joy of gossiping about others – and the insecurity that they’re probably doing that about you in some other group.
The friends with whom you share the goal of getting together and bad mouthing the government – and lack giving of attention to my own inadequacies and failures.
Friendships that revolve around sin also revolve around guilt.
There’s nothing refreshing about guilt.
2) Material Things.
This is more challenging to see, because material things are not inherently sinful.
It isn’t wrong to have money.
It isn’t wrong to like politics.
It isn’t wrong to enjoy the sandwiches at Chick-fil-A.
And it isn’t wrong to have friendship that are based on these things.
But…what happens when material things are your focus?
Let me tell you about the Corinthian congregation. The Corinthian congregation was a group of believers that lived in a very materially focused society. Corinth was a trading area. Corinth had a big marketplace. Corinth was about money, money, money, money. The here. The now. The everyday. The material.
And some of the Corinthians had a lot of friends that were very focused on material things.
So…the Corinthian believers had a bit of a disconnect going on in their lives.
On Sundays, they’d gather for worship and be reminded: “It’s all about Jesus! He is our Savior. He leads to eternal life.”
The rest of the week? “Jesus doesn’t matter. He isn’t real. Worry about money. That’s real.”
The end result? Quite a few of the Corinthian believers stopped believing in the resurrection.
That’s why Paul writes this: “You know that bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Cor. 15:54)
It’s like adding one rotten, fuzzy, moldy apple to the apple cider mixture. As soon as that apple’s is a part of the mixture, the whole thing gets disgusting.
The Corinthians were believers, but you have so many friendships based on non-believing things – Christianity started to fall away.
This is a big deal question -- Do you have friends like that?
Friends who threaten to take away your faith?
Understand -- the Bible isn’t telling us to drop all of those friends. Nope.
But it is telling us this:
The more time you spend on friendships that have little to no focus on the spiritual, the less you will be focused on the spiritual.
The less you are focused on the spiritual, the less you are focused on your Savior.
The less you are focused on your Savior, the more your faith will weaken.
The more your faith weakens, the closer you are to drifting away from faith forever.
III. Where to Seek Friendship
But if that’s where we should avoid seeking friendships,
What kind of friendships should we seek?
The Centurion paced back and forth in his office.
If ever he needed friends, it was right now.
You see – one of his trusted associates, a comrade, a friend, a coworker was very ill.
He was in need of a friend…
…But not just any friend.
He didn’t need a friend who could express platitudes and offer his “thoughts” being with them.
He was in need of a friend who could help.
A friend who could heal.
Because of his high position in the Roman government, he had plenty of places to look for that friend.
He could ask his higher ups for access to Caesar’s doctors.
He could ask his wealthy friends for contact in upcoming medicine.
He could ask his well-travelled commanders if they knew anyone from their travels who might be able to help.
But he didn’t turn to them.
Instead, he turned to the country he had conquered.
Instead, he turned to someone who wasn’t a doctor.
Instead, he turned to a lowly carpenter’s apprentice that he had never met.
And he said, “Heal my servant, but Lord, don’t trouble yourself (to come here), for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.” (v.6-7)
Jesus, I don’t deserve your help.
I might be a Roman centurion that commands a myriad of soldiers that enforce their rules of the country that you are but a lowly traveling minister of, but…I know, full well…that I don’t deserve your friendship.
Because you are more than a lowly carpenter.
You. Are. God Himself.
Jesus didn’t ignore Him.
Jesus didn’t say, “I have other friends.”
Jesus didn’t say, “And…who are you?”
He simply healed his servant.
There is no better friend than Jesus.
There is no friend more helpful.
There is no friend more worthy of being sought.
No friend more kind.
No friend more powerful.
No friend more merciful.
No friend more forgiving.
No friend who loves you more than Jesus Christ himself.
In fact, John 15 says this: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Understand – that’s what Jesus did for you. He not only said, “I’ll be your friend…even when you’ve sinned against me.”
He’ll said, “I’ll be your friend. And as my first act of friendship, I will die for you.”
And then, look at what Jesus says in John 15, “I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
Jesus calls you His friend.
And it means – you can call him YOURS.
And it means – there is no greater friendship that you can seek than your friendship with your Lord.
2. People who Point You to Jesus
If your friendship with Jesus is the number one friendship to seek, then a secondary type of friendship is people who point you to Jesus.
Maybe you’ve got a friend like that.
A friend who points you to Jesus.
A friend who reminds you of your Savior.
A friend who encourages you in the faith.
If you you’re having trouble thinking, look around. Do you see all these people? That’s why they exist.
You need them.
They need you.
In fact, Hebrews 10 says this, “Let us not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
The point? Find friends who point you to Jesus.
Be a friend who points people to Jesus.
IV. WHAT NOW?
1) Meetup with Church Friends
This is essentially the writer’s point in Hebrews when he says, “Do not give up meeting together.” The reason is twofold: (1) Don’t give up meeting with those who can refresh your faith. (2) Don’t give up meeting with those whose faith you can refresh.
And this isn’t just a Sunday thing.
It’s not just friends that you see for one hour a week each Sunday.
These are friends that God’s Word tells us to uplift throughout the week.
Question – You ever hung out with anyone at church during the week before? You should do it.
Are you nervous to ask them? Don’t worry they’re nervous, too.
Grab a coffee.
Send a Facebook message.
Have them over to your house.
And don’t just make a text message group. Is there any wonder that we are more connected now than ever before? Social media apps, 15 different ways to stay connected all within the palm of our hand – and yet – suicide rates are higher than ever in the U.S. Depression rates are high. Loneliness is high.
Because even though this is a blessing, if it is our only form of communication – we are missing something.
Actual. Physical. Interaction.
A high five.
A fist bump.
The Bible says, “Meet together.” Christians at the time of writing Hebrews, would have longed for a safe place to meet together, without the Roman government that wanted to KILL them.
We have the ability to meet together.
Let’s do so.
2) Encourage Each Other
Then, when we do meet together, look at what we’re to do: Encourage one another.
Notice it doesn’t say: “Let us not give up complaining to each other.”
Nor does it say: “Let us not give up gossip with one another.”
Nor does it even say: “Let us not give up getting together to fight.”
Meet together and encourage each other.
May I dare say that if you’re looking for something encouraging to say – there is nothing more encouraging than the message of Jesus.
3) Bring God into the Friendship
Because God doesn’t want you to only associate with believers. Look at Matthew 5, “You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before people that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven.”
If your light is going to shine before people who are in darkness, it necessitates that you interact with those in darkness.
Make friends in the world. Make friends with people who don’t believe. Make friends with those who aren’t focused on Jesus.
Tell them about Jesus.
Bring them the light of the world.
And I’ll tell you this – you will be the most REFRESHING friend they’ve ever met!
Do you remember earlier? We mentioned there were four types of love. I only talked about three. The fourth type of love is called AGAPE. Agape love is different than all the other loves. Because all the other loves are conditional.
I’ll love my child; if he acts like my child.
I’ll love my spouse; if she loves me.
I’ll love my friend; if we have things in common.
But Agape LOVE? It’s unconditional.
It’s one sided.
It’s love that just loves because that’s what this kind of love does.
That’s a kind of love that humans aren’t very good at.
But it is a kind of love that GOD specializes in.
And now, think about this: The God who has undeserved, constant, undisputed love for you – is the same God who is your friend!
The God with Agape love is your God of your Philia love.
And that’s the same refreshing message that God has called you to prepare for others.
Because the hearts of a REFRESHING friendship is none other than Jesus.
We are continuing our series called the Light of the World. We have already heard that the Light shines against the Darkness of this world and that it shines into the darkness of our own hearts. But today we want to unveil in Scripture how Jesus’ light shines through you.
Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Why Shine?
The lesson for this morning comes from Matthew 5:14-16. In this section, Jesus says: You are the light of the world… (v.14-16)
In context, the “you” is a reference to the people that were listening to Jesus out on a mountain.
By extension, it is a reference to people that listen to Jesus’ words in the 21st century.
By specific extension, it is a reference to people that are listening to Jesus in a cozy little church building in North Raleigh on December 23rd, 2018.
And Jesus has an important edict for you. He says, “You are the light of the world…Let your light shine.”
It’s similar to putting up Christmas lights. Maybe this happens to you. You put all of the lights up. You intricately string the lights around the tree. You pass over branches and under ornaments. You have it all nicely arranged and then? You gather the family around with a mug of hot cocoa to plug the lights in and…
You might say to the lights “SHINE! That’s what I bought you for. Shine already!” You might turn and twist and prod and poke and replace the little bulb that “I think it looks burnt out.” All along the way you start muttering: “Shine already.”
When you tell a light to shine, you are simply telling it to do what it is was made to do.
And when God tells us to shine, he is asking us to do exactly what he made us to do.
God tells you to shine:
Because that’s what light does.
Growing up, one of my sisters saved up some money and bought a little mechanical sunflower from Radio Shack. The little mechanical sunflower was an alarm clock that when it went it off – it didn’t make one of those loud BEEPING noises. Nor did it make one of those obnoxious CLANGING sounds.
It was worse.
Whenever the alarm went off it began to sing:
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey.
Haven’t you noticed, how much I love you; so don’t take my sunshine away.”
It always sang in this high-pitched chipmunk voice.
It always sang very early in the morning.
It always sang when I didn’t feel like being anybody’s sunshine!
Maybe Jesus’ words strike you like that.
Pastor, I don’t feel very much like shining. I’ve been really cranky this Holiday season.
Rather than jolly, I’ve been “jelly” of all the other mom friends on Facebook who have it together enough to get Christmas photos taken – and in the mail – and with actual words on them!
Rather than merry, I’ve been mercilessly badmouthing my coworker Fred so that I might get the biggest Christmas bonus this year.
Rather than cheery, I’ve been rather dreary. Because Christmas doesn’t distract from the fact that my life isn’t going so well right now!
And honestly…I FEEL like a screw up.
I FEEL like a sinner.
I FEEL like a no good, dirty rotten scoundrel.
I feel like a terrible husband, a horrible mom, and a very bad child.
I do not feel like a light at all.
How can I possible be one?
Do remember this phrase from a sermon or two ago?
“You were once darkness, but now…you are light in the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8)
Do you get it?
You are not a light based on what you do for God; but on what God has done for you.
You are not a light based on how you lived; but on how Christ lived.
You are not a light based on how you feel; but on what Christ felt for you.
And here’s what Christ did.
He lived perfectly when you could not.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly – in a brilliant flash of light – conquering sin and death.
And now He has made you a light.
Like a match that lights a candle, Christ lights the fabric of our hearts.
He calls you forgiven.
He calls you his child.
He calls you HIS LIGHT.
Even when you don’t feel like light.
That is exactly what you are.
Because that is what Christ made you.
But that’s not even the end game. Look at the next point:
“You are the light of the world…Let your light shine before people that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (v.14)
Glorify is an interesting verb. It means to make brilliant. To light up. To exalt brilliantly.
It’s a word associated with hosts of angels shining brightly in the sky on the very first Christmas.
With Jesus’ face when it shone brightly on a mountain outside Jerusalem.
With the glory of the light filled resurrection of Jesus.
And the word has a subtle shift when it comes to those who don’t have the ability to manifest actual, physical, visible light:
When we see the amazing thing of our Savior’s birth, we glorify God.
When we see the brilliance of his face on the mountain, we glorify God.
When we hear of the amazing truth of his resurrection, we glorify God.
And when we let our light shine before people, they see it and sometimes – they glorify God too.
It’s like a chain reaction.
God enlightens your heart.
You become a light.
Then, he uses you to share the message of his glory.
He brings them to the light, too.
God wants us to shine, because that’s how the light spread
To put it differently:
God wants us to share our faith because that’s how faith spreads.
II. Tips on Shining
1) Hide it Under a Bushel? NO!
That’s a phrase from a famous children’s song, but I think it finds its origins in this section from Matthew. Jesus says, “People do not light a lamp and put it under a bowl.” (Mt. 5:14)
That doesn’t make much sense does it? I doubt, for instance, that any of you spent hours adorning your Christmas tree with Christmas tree lights only to cover it with a big, black shroud.
Nor would it make any sense to buy ask for a brand-new lamp for Christmas. One from Joanna Gaine’s collection. Open up the present at Christmas, run over to a nearby outlet, plug it in, turn it on, and then place a big old bucket over the top of it.
It doesn’t make much sense to cover any kind of a lamp.
Similar – it doesn’t make sense to cover up your faith.
And yet, it’s so easy to do.
Don’t cover up your light.
Don’t hide it under a bushel.
Or a bowl.
Or a non-Christian everyday life veneer.
Don’t hide your faith.
Let it shine.
2) Put your Faith in a Prominent Place
Jesus says, “People do not light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand so that it gives light to everyone in the room.” (v.15)
We’ve been talking about getting some new LED lamps in the parking lot. And I was talking to the Duke Energy guy and he started discussing with me the amount lumens, the wattages and the shine radius. The shine radius allows you to see where the light of the new lamps will touch. He even had graph paper with little lines to show exactly how far we might expect light to go and the best position to place the fixture on the pole to get maximum exposure.
Why not do the same with our faith?
Why not position ourselves to maximize the sharing of our faith?
Rather than hide it, place your faith in a prominent place of your life.
Talk about your Savior with a family member who doesn’t believe in their Savior.
Make sure your Christmas cards mention the reason for the season.
Tell your kids that Jesus loves them.
Don’t shy away from posting inspirational Bible passages on social media.
Don’t stop asking your spouse to join you for worship.
Don’t remove the Jesus’ background from your computer just because that one guy in the cubicle next to you doesn’t love it.
And let your faith shine through your actions -
Hold more doors than normal.
Make someone else a cup of cocoa.
Give a very generous gift to someone that you know needs it.
Let your light have a prominent place in your life and then…
3) Be Non-Selective in Shining
Because it is so easy to be picky and choosy with whom we want to share the message of Jesus.
Let’s see – I’ll invite that coworker who I know already knows about Jesus. But that one guy – that I’m unsure about? I’ll just wish him Happy Holidays.
And I’ll be sure to give a nice Christmas card to neighbor A. But neighbor B? He’s kind of my enemy. So…no card for him.
I will absolutely share the message of Christmas with my family – except for cousin Bob, because his sexual preference makes sharing Jesus, kinda, uncomfortable.
Jesus says that when someone puts a light on a stand it “gives light to everyone in the room.” (v.15)
Lamps aren’t selective.
They don’t stop shining when they are around someone who makes them uncomfortable is around.
You don’t stop shining either.
So, here’s the challenge. You still have time.
Think about someone that makes you nervous.
Someone that you don’t necessarily like.
Got them in mind?
Cool. Now, go and shine.
Shine the light of your Savior into their heart.
For motivation? Think of your Savior!
He died for you while you were knee deep in disgusting sins.
He rose for you while you treated him like an enemy.
He brought his message of love to you while you were doing the very things that he hates!
Because of his non-selective way of shining on us, we are non-selective in the way that we shine, too!
4) Share in Your “House”
Because it mentions that the lamp on a stand gives light to everyone in the house. (v.15) It doesn’t give light to people outside the walls of the house, because it’s just a small table lamp. It can only be expected to shine so far.
Because it might be impossible for you to let your light shine to someone in China.
it will be really hard to let your light shine to someone in Australia.
It may even be difficult to let your light shine to someone across town.
That doesn’t mean that we stop shining.
We simply shine wherever God has placed us.
That means in your literal home.
…With your spouse.
…With your children.
…With the guests that join you for Christmas meals!
But it also means…anywhere you have spherical influence!
…at the hair salon.
…at the Starbucks.
…in line at the grocery store.
…to your mail person.
…to your UPS guy.
…The FedEx guy.
…to your Amazon Prime delivery guy.
…at the health club
…at the brewpub.
…even with your fellow friends at Raid night!
Whatever your sphere of influence is, be sure to shine!
Show love with your actions.
Share the message of Jesus.
Because we have kind of a big task.
God tells us to shine around the world.
Even when we understand our sphere of influence and we aim to let our light shine in North Raleigh…
But remember – you aren’t shining alone.
You aren’t responsible as one little candle with lighting up the whole city of Raleigh.
You have each other.
You have other Christians.
You have your Savior.
And Jesus? He’s not just another candle.
He’s like one of those gigantic, 10,000 lumen LED spotlights at a football stadium.
He shines brighter than anyone.
He shines brightly with you.
He shines brightly through you.
Today we are starting a brand-new sermon series called “The Kingdom of God is Like…” It is all about the Kingdom of God. (Hence, the rainbow-ish, otherworldly colors in the logo) I’m excited because we are going to be learning about the kingdom of God from the foremost expert in the Kingdom of God.
No, I’m not talking about myself.
I’m not talking about some scholar at Duke.
I’m not even talking about flying in some professor from the Seminary.
I’m talking about Jesus.
Because when it comes to the Kingdom of God, there is no one better to learn from than the One who came from God’s Kingdom.
He’s the “of God” in Kingdom of God.
He’s the foremost expert becomes He is the One who developed the concepts behind it.
So, what we’ll be doing is looking at 10 parts of Scripture where Jesus himself tells about the Kingdom of God.
10 sections of Scripture.
10 glimpses into the Kingdom of God.
Now because the Kingdom of God is such an otherworldly thing, I want to introduce you to a concept that we’re going to become very familiar with over the next 10 weeks. It’s something called a “Parable.” A parable is a short earthly story that teaches about the Kingdom of God.
It’s kind of like Aesop’s fables. Have you heard any of those? The Gnat and the Bull. The Puffed-up Frog. I think the most famous is the Ant and the Grasshopper.
The ant works hard; the grasshopper is lazy.
The ant carries some food; the grasshopper takes a nap.
The ant carries 10 times his body weight, back and forth, all day; the grasshopper gets to level 12 on Minecraft.
But…when winter comes, the ant has plenty of food; the grasshopper is starving.
The lesson? Do work.
Jesus’ parables are similar to Aesop’s fables in that they both use earthly elements to tell the story.
But the parables of Jesus are a bit different from Aesop’s Fables in this:
Aesop’s fables teach an earthly lesson.
Jesus’ parables teach a heavenly lesson – a spiritual lesson – an eternal lesson.
Today we are looking at a parable from Mark 4. It teaches us that the Kingdom of God is like a Sower. How? And what does it mean for you? We’ll examine that in a moment, but first a prayer:
Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
The story that Jesus told his disciples starts in Mark 4:3. Jesus is teaching to a very large crowd. Sometimes to deal with the large crowds, Jesus taught at the top of the hill and the crowds sat at the bottom, looking up to see him. But on this particular occasion he was next to a lake, so…what Jesus does is pretty genius. He gets into a boat and casts out to sea -- it’s a floating pulpit of sorts so that all could see and hear him.
Granted, of the people that came to listen to Jesus, they came for different reasons.
Some thought he was a phony. Others were intrigued.
Some wanted to see a magic show. Others had fully devoted themselves to him – their Savior.
From his floating pulpit surrounded by crowds of people with varying opinions of him, Jesus said this:
“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed.”
Have you ever planted anything before? On a farm? In a garden?
If you’ve ever planted a lot of seed before, you know it can be time consuming. If you plant seed in a garden, you get on your hands and knees push the seed into the perfect part of the soil. But if you’ve had to get more seed into larger section of soil, you might use one of those little wheelie grass sower thingies. Know what I’m talking about? You fill it with seed, a propeller spins as you move, and it hurls out grass seed in all directions. Some of the seed that comes out will grow; other seeds will not.
Back at Jesus’ time, they didn’t have such incredible inventions as the little wheelie grass sower thingy. Instead, the one who needed to sow a lot of seed simply reach into a pouch and tossed the seed into the air.
The seed then landed in a lot of different places.
As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Maybe that path was concrete. Maybe it was gravel. Maybe it was just really, really hard from lots of travel. Regardless – when the seed fell on the hard ground – it didn’t stand a chance. The birds thought it was some kind of gourmet meal, descended onto the feast and ate up the seed.
And – well – seed doesn’t grow well inside the belly of a raven, so…
The seed didn’t grow.
Some fell on rocky places where it did not have much soil. (v.6) Thus the seed had a better chance than the seed that fell on the sidewalk. At least, there was some dirt for the roots to move through. In fact, because of the little rocks that were in the soil – the soil held water fairly well and the seed grew quickly. The moisture was trapped in the first ½ inch of dirt. The soaked seed grew quickly.
It’s the same thing that happens in the “wrap a seed in a wet paper towel and place it in a plastic baggy” experiment from Kindergarten. At first, the seed does well.
But – eventually little Jimmy forgets to add water to the towel.
And – the roots can’t make their way past the plastic bag.
So…the little plant runs out of water and dies.
And little Jimmy throws a fit.
The same principle applies in real gardening.
The rocks allow the water to fast track the seed.
The seed grows quickly while it’s raining.
But then…the sun gets hot, there’s no water and…
The plant dies.
The seed didn’t grow.
Other seed fell among thorns. (v.7)
Have you ever noticed that weeds don’t need to be watered?
Nobody ever says, “Scuse me. I need to go water the weeds so that they don’t die.”
Nobody ever buys a bag of “Miracle Thistle Grow” at Home Depot.
Nobody ever says, “I’m taking this can of poison to my Rose Bush so that the poison ivy will grow a bit better.”
Nobody wants weeds in their gardens because they take over.
They grow too big.
They sap the soil of nutrients, soak up all the water and block the sun from starting photosynthesis in our little plant.
Unfortunately, the seed that’s surrounded by weeds has the same thing happen.
It grows – it just doesn’t have a lot of fruit.
Maybe, one little rotten tomato – that’s about it.
The seed didn’t work like it was supposed to.
Still other seed fell on good soil; it came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times. (v.8)
Because sometimes, the seed works.
Sometimes the soil is soft enough.
Sometimes the roots can grow deep enough.
Sometimes the weeds are weeded enough and then...
The seed grows into a plant.
The plant grows into a mature plant.
The mature grows into a natural sower.
It plans seeds and produces a crop of thirty, sixty, even a hundred times what was originally sown.
I’ll tell you what – it’s amazing when this happens.
For instance, last year – we planted carrots. They grew – ish.
They were crooked, brown, and ugly. I pulled most of them because I figured it wasn’t worth it.
But this year – low and behold – a few more had sprouted. Planted, not by me, but by the ugly, brown carrots I had previously planted.
It’s amazing when a plant grows so well that it doesn’t planting all on its own.
And that’s what happens with the seed on the good soil.
It does what it’s supposed to.
Jesus finishes the parables and says: “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (v.9)
You’ve got ears.
I’ve got ears.
Let us hear us take to heart the parable.
II. The Truth about the Kingdom of God
But…what are we supposed to take to heart?
The challenges of farming?
That Jesus was a big Agricultural Enthusiast?
Remember: A parable is a short earthly story that teaches about the Kingdom of God. This is more than just an article for Better Homes and Gardens.
It’s talking about heaven.
It’s talking about the spiritual.
It’s talking about God’s kingdom.
To be fair, the disciples were confused, too.
They came to Jesus and asked him to explain it to them.
Thankfully – Mark wrote down Jesus’ explanation.
Let’s take it one seed at a time:
The farmer sows the word. (v.14) The seed is God’s message. The message that we are sinners. The message that we deserve God’s punishment. The message that we need a Savior. The message that we have a savior in Jesus. The message that Jesus died on the cross to take away all of our sins.
The farmer, then, is anyone who proclaims God’s Word.
a Preschool teacher.
A dad reading a dinnertime devotion.
A mom reading a bedtime Bible story.
A friend telling his coworker about what he believes.
The farmer is anyone who proclaims God’s Word. Because every time he speaks this message of Jesus – it’s as if that person is tossing seed onto the ground.
Think about that – every time you speak the message of Jesus, you are tossing seed onto the ground of someone’s hearts.
But what happens next?
(1) Hardened Rejection
(v.15) Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.
You met someone like this?
They want nothing to do with Jesus.
They tell you do change your cross screensaver at work.
They love not believing there is a God so much that they won’t even consider the fact that God might exist.
They are hardened in sin.
They are hardened in unbelief.
They are hardened in absolute, complete rejection of Jesus.
I had this happen recently. I posted one of those ads on social media that invited people to church to hear about forgiveness in Jesus.
And someone commented: “You stupid bleepity, bleep. This is a bunch of bleepity, bleep.”
(2) Quick to Grow, Quick to Fade
Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. (v.16-17)
And these types of people get on fire for God’s Word!
They love the message of Jesus.
They fly through Bible Basics.
Get their kids baptized.
They sign up for all the ways to serve.
They help on all the work days at church.
They tell all of their friends about Jesus!
…one of their friends…
Tells them to: Shut up. I don’t care about Jesus. And I can’t believe you believe that foolishness.
I didn’t know people could treat us like that.
I don’t like this.
If that’s what it means to be a Christian, maybe…
I stop serving.
I stop going to group.
I get rid of all Christian themes on Social media.
And I stop attending church. Don’t want Pastor to put a picture of me doing Christian stuff on Social media.
Quick to Grow; Quick to Fade.
(3) Choked by Worry and Wealth Weeds
Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. (v.19)
This type of person hears the word and believes.
Not just for a short time; for a while.
They might even be a longtime member of a church.
They have given lots of money.
They have their name on a plaque!
The boss offers a new job.
The new job takes more hours at work.
The new hours get more money.
The more money buys new things.
The longtime Christian thinks – “Boss wants me to work this Sunday? It’s ok. I will. It’s only one Sunday. I need the money.”
One Sunday becomes two Sundays.
Becomes – a complete and utter lack of faith.
The weeds of worry and wealth; choke the plant.
The faith stops bearing fruit.
(4) Grown and Multiplying
Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown. (v.20)
This type of person hears the word and believes.
And grows in faith.
And keeps growing in faith.
And bears fruit.
And becomes a sower, too.
A good plant.
III. What Now?
(1) Garden Your Own Heart
The first question that always pops into my mine when I read this is: What kind of soil am I?
What kind of soil are you?
A heart full of hardened rejection?
A heart that was quick to believe and now is quickly falling away?
A heart that is slowly being choked by worries and wealth?
Or are you the good soil on which faith is growing? And bearing fruit? And being a super impressive, gorgeous plant?
Except – if you are trusting that you’ve got a faith growing heart…Isn’t the plant that’s growing the plant of faith in one’s ability to grow faith?
Here’s the deal.
No matter what kind of heart you have and what kind of faith plant is growing in your heart – the solution is the same:
Therefore – What Now Number 1:
Garden Your Heart with God’s Word.
God’s Word softens hearts. Ezekiel 11:19 says, “I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
God’s Word removes obstacle rocks. Luke 3:5 says, “The rough ways will become smooth.”
God’s Word cuts weeds. Hebrews 4:12 says, “The Word of God is living and active; sharper than a double-edged sword.”
God’s Word causes faith to grow. Isaiah 55:9 says, “Like rain and snow that nourish the earth, so is God’s Word.”
In other words:
God’s Word softens our rejection.
God’s Word removes our doubts.
God’s Word grows deep roots.
God’s Word cuts down weeds.
God’s Word nourishes our faith plants so that they grow…
…and bear fruit.
…and become a sower.
(2) Expect Varied Results
I think this is the main point of Jesus’ parable -- When I plant seed (share God’s Word), what kind of response should I expect?
Because remember – Jesus is telling this is to the disciples. The disciples who – if you remember our ACTS Sermon series – planted all kinds of faith seed up and down the Middle Eastern coast as they shared God’s Word.
Some people believed.
Others? Threw stones at them until they were thought to be dead.
Jesus is preparing his disciples by telling them that the result will not always be great.
That their work will not always lead to a confession of faith.
That many times they share the Gospel will lead to nothing more than a Meh.
Think the same way.
Don’t expect awesome results all the time.
If you do, then, it’s so easy to get discouraged.
I know this as a pastor.
Honest truth – a lot of times people don’t follow through on Bible studies.
People don’t seem to listen to encouragements to get into God’s Word.
People don’t care much for the message of Jesus.
If I was expecting it to work all the time, then…I would have given up.
But Jesus tells us to expect various result.
Which means – it’s going exactly how he said it would.
And so…that leads to our final what now:
(3) Keep Sowing
Because just about the only thing that will ensure a plant never grows is if you never plant the seed.
And just about the only thing that will ensure a person never comes to faith is if you never tell them about Jesus.
Notice. Your job is simple.
It isn’t to convert a heart.
It isn’t to make faith grow.
It isn’t to make a faith blossom into a mature plant.
Your job is simply to plant the seed.
God’s job is to make it grow.
And God? He’s awesome at making faith grow.
The Kingdom of God is like a Sower.
Are you a part of the kingdom of God?
Review of last week’s lesson. Philip and Simon.
The Unstoppable Gospel does not make its way only to cities. Sometimes it heads to much less populated areas.
Today we are going to be following the Unstoppable Gospel on its next stop. But this time, it doesn’t head to a big, populated area like Samaria, but somewhere a little less so. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
Account starts in Acts 8:26: An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”
A couple of notes:
“An angel of the Lord.” Incredible messenger! Angels glow. Angels are bathed in clean white. Angels shine like the sun. When an angel appears, it is obvious. Obvious it’s an angel and obvious it is from God. The appearance of an angel teaches us that this is not a feeling. Not a hunch. Not some weird dream. It’s a very clear directive from the angel of the Lord.
Go South…towards Gaza. Remember Philip was in Samaria. That was to the North of Judea. Gaza is south of Judea. This is a long journey. 150-mile foot journey to be exact. There would have to be a very impressive destination if I was going to walk 150 miles. (Doritos factory? Super Bowl? Something like that…)
Go…to the desert road. A few things make this request a bit strange. The last place Philip went was a city in Samaria. Cities have lots of people. Cities have a lot of opportunities to share the Gospel. Here? The Spirit wants Philip to head to “some desert road.”
Isn’t this a strange request? The Holy Spirit wants Philip to walk hundreds of miles in order to get to some unnamed desert road where very few people are traveling.
Who would follow such a request?
He trusts God.
He trusts God’s plan.
He trusts that if God wants him to walk 150 miles to some unnamed desert road, he should walk 150 miles to some unnamed desert road.
As Philip gets to walking. It becomes clear to him why God wanted him to on that unnamed desert road:
As he’s walking.
As he’s thinking.
As he wiping the sweat away from his brow.
As he stops to rub his feet – 70 plus miles completed.
He hears some noise in the distance.
It’s a low rumbling. Maybe it’s thunder.
Philip looks and sees a cloud of dust coming his way with a silvery, glistening metal in front.
It’s a chariot.
The kind of ride ridden by only the wealthiest.
As the chariot approaches, Philip notices the insignia on the side of the chariot.
It’s a royal chariot.
It’s a royal chariot from the country of Ethiopia.
The man sitting in the chariot – not the driver – but the passenger in back – looks very impressive.
He has royal insignia on his clothing.
He has royal insignia on his headgear.
He has royal insignia on his jewelry.
Philip steps out of the way.
It’s nice to see some other signs of life on this road, but…he’s royalty. I’m not. He won’t want anything to do with me.
And…right about the time Philip is ready to let him pass by without so much as a head nod…
The Holy Spirit speaks:
“Go to that chariot and stay near it.” (v.29)
Really? I’m just me. Just Philip. I’m dirty. I’m dusty. I’m a commoner. I am hardly dressed for a meeting with nobility.
You are the Holy Spirit so…
Philip approaches the chariot. And as he does so, he notices that the man is reading something.
He squints at the back of the scroll and notices a title on the seal – to help identify the scroll --
It says, “Isaias.”
“Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
“How can I,” the Ethiopian ruler said, “Unless someone explains it to me.” (v.30)
And the Ethiopian ruler commands the driver to slow down.
He swings open the door to the chariot.
He holds out his jewel studded hand to Philip.
“Join me. Teach me. Please.”
And Philip did.
He taught him about the Scripture in question.
He taught him that Jesus was the man the Scripture was talking about.
He told him how Jesus was like a lamb who was sent to slaughter.
About how Jesus was silent and willingly went.
About how he had his glory cut off.
About how he was shaved of his joy.
About how he was deprived of justice.
And about how Jesus did this for the Ethiopian eunuch.
About how Jesus died on the cross and shed his blood for his sins.
About how the Scriptures prophesied and predicted this.
About how the Scripture from Isaiah isn’t the end.
About how three days later…Jesus came back to life!
About how God loved that Ethiopian Eunuch very much.
About how the wealth and jewels and status of this world would mean nothing compared to the incredible riches of God’s forgiveness, eternal life, and peace with God that lasts forever.
About how royalty on earth does not translate to royalty in God’s kingdom.
About how…faith in Jesus does.
And the ruler?
He believes. And he says:
Look! There is some water. What can stand in the way of me getting baptized? (v.36)
And they stopped the chariot.
And they got into the water.
And Philip poured water into his head and said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
And the Ethiopian smiled.
He had been a part of nobility.
He had been a part of royalty.
He had been a part of the Ethiopian government.
Now he was a part of God’s kingdom.
II. The Gospel is Status-Less
This lesson is very important to our understanding of the Gospel, because it teaches us a very important lesson about status and the Gospel.
If you are successful by this world’s standards,
If you think you got there by yourself,
If you think you’re super impressive,
Do not forget:
You still need Jesus.
Because all the money in the world,
All the accolades at a company,
All the trophies from your peers will not stop God from judging your sins.
Here’s the truth then:
The Gospel is Status-less. No one is above the Gospel
Not your boss.
Not being cool.
Not being popular.
Not the president.
Not the guy with 2,000 Facebook friends.
Everyone needs the Gospel.
Everyone needs a Savior.
And if you aren’t the boss,
If you don’t feel cool,
If you aren’t popular,
And barely have 50 Facebook friends…
You need the same Savior.
And have the same Savior.
The Gospel is Status-less. No one is below the Gospel
When you realize that.
When you humble yourself.
When you seek God’s mercy, the Gospel bestows on you a status higher than anything you could imagine:
You are given the status of God’s eternal child.
The Ethiopian eunuch was high ranking. He was used to people doing whatever he told them to do. But…when he hears what God did for him. And what God wants him to do. He listens. He gets out of the chariot. He goes into the mucky, dirty, ‘’some water.” To be baptized.
He doesn’t wait for a big celebration.
Some impressive looking river.
A chance to make a royal show of it.
He knows he’s a sinner.
He knows he needs a Savior.
He humbles himself, believes and is baptized.
As a believer, you have that same status.
As an unbeliever, God wants to give that status to you.
Believe that the status God gives is the only status that matters!
III. What Now?
1. Avoid Same Status Sharing
Because our world is very status oriented.
Ever play apps like Bejeweled? Or Words with Friends? Or Subway Surfers? They’re just fun little games on your phone – but they have been enabled with the ability to share your status! The ability to put your ranking on Facebook. The ability to let everyone know that – HEY! You might be a C.E.O. at Lenovo, but I just added 12 chickens to my farm on Farmville!
Status is so important to this world.
And the devil will use this to play tricks on the way we perceive status that will affect the way we share the Gospel. He’ll make us think that person is too far above us or too far below us.
Especially in a few areas:
Financial Status. This was an issue at Jesus time, before Jesus’ time and it’s still an issue today!
It leads people to think things like: It looks like they have a lot of money, don’t bother them. There must be a rich church they can go to.
It looks like they are too poor, don’t bother them – they wouldn’t fit in here. UGH!
Financial status has nothing to do with whom we share the Gospel with.
Jesus told a story about a wedding banquet and how the one who threw the party invited rich and poor alike to his party. The point? Jesus invites all to his party.
There is no cover charge.
There is no required dress.
There is no down payment necessary.
Jesus paid our way in.
Jesus paid for others too.
Jesus wants us to share the Gospel with them regardless of status.
Age Status. Sometimes we think: “My kid doesn’t have the status of adult. They don’t have the status of ready. They don’t have the status of old enough to hear God’s Word.”
Jesus said, “Make disciples of all nations.”
Notice there aren’t status qualifications.
Are your kids a part of all nations?
Then share the Gospel with them.
Tell them of their Savior.
Bring them to church.
Teach them to be in church.
Have them baptized.
Give them Jesus and give them the status of being a member in God’s kingdom.
Christian Status. This is the most foolish of all. But I think it’s way too real.
Because we tend to think about adding to this church – and I know it, I’ve heard it.
It’s as if we have this checklist:
Are they WELS? I’ll totally invite them to church. Are they Christian? I’ll consider inviting them to church.
Are they unbelieving? No way am I inviting them to church.
Aren’t we missing the POINT when we think like that?
Jesus didn’t say go and hang out with the people that are already my disciples.
He said, “Go and make disciples…”
The implications? Make disciples of non-disciples.
Share the Gospel with those who don’t know the Gospel. The Status of Gospel believer is not a requirement for hearing the Gospel.
In fact, the status of unbeliever is all the more reason for sharing the Gospel.
2. Be Confident in Your Status
Because you might say, “I’m not impressive like Philip. I don’t have a high paying job. I don’t make a lot of money. I don’t have fancy clothes. I don’t own a 3-piece suit with one of those skinny ties and fancy scarves that you put in the right breast pocket. I can’t share the Gospel!”
But you’d be wrong.
What qualifies you for sharing the Gospel is not some kind of outward status.
It’s the inward promise of status as God’s child.
You have that. You have that status as God’s child. You are qualified to share the Gospel.
Your status is not what brings people into God’s kingdom.
God’s Word does.
God’s Word is God’s Word – there is no higher status.
You’ve got God’s Word? Then you are qualified to share in the work of the Gospel.
That’s what Philip did. He unleashed the Unstoppable Gospel and the Holy Spirit brought the Rich, Ethiopian Ruler to faith.
That same Gospel works for you. Amen.
A bit of review: Last week we heard about how the disciples began their BIG, INTIMIDATING mission to reach the ends of the earth with the Gospel. They did so empowered by their BIGGER, MORE INTIMIDATING God. At the end of the events of Pentecost, 3000 people were baptized!
Think about that:
In one day, the church had gone from a group of about 20 to over 3000 people.
From very tiny to megachurch.
And it was big
And it was exciting.
Now that they were a bigger, more formidable organization what should the “church” do next?
Decide on a church name?
Setup the constitution and bylaws?
Argue about whose turn it is to mow the lawn?
Today we look at the priorities of the early church and consider what they thought was important. Particularly we will consider how much their priorities should be a part of our church in 2018. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Early Priorities
Acts 2:42 takes place right after they 3000 were added to the church. It says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
First, look at the word “devoted.” The Greek literally means “to adhere to,” or “to stick closely to.”
That makes the verb kinda like Gorilla Glue. Ever used Gorilla Glue? It’s very popular here at Precious Lambs. It is the repair glue of choice for a broken chair leg, or a broken plastic fireman’s leg. It holds together puzzle pieces that have been snapped in half and plastic hamburgers that some little kids treated like a real hamburger. It works well because it dries and seals the pieces together, holding them tightly, so that the two things will always stay connected.
That’s how the early Church was treating their priorities. They found them so integral to the survival and growth of the church that they didn’t just do them, they “devoted themselves” to them.
What were these priorities?
1. Devotion to God’s Word
Verse 42 says they were “Devoted to the apostles’ teaching.” The apostles are the very guys who learned directly from Jesus. They are the ones who saw him die and became convinced of his resurrection through his various appearances. They are the ones to whom Jesus said, “I’ll send my Holy Spirit to help you do the mission,” and to whom he gave the Holy Spirit in an incredible way at Pentecost!
In other words – the apostle’s teachings were not just their own ideas.
It wasn’t just their thoughts on the best way to fix a meatloaf.
It wasn’t just their opinion on the latest political controversy.
Their teachings were the very words of Jesus.
People are sinners.
People need a Savior.
Jesus is that Savior.
Jesus lived perfectly when they could not.
Jesus died innocently in their place.
Jesus rose triumphantly and conquered death.
Because of Jesus’ work, they were loved, forgiven and going to live forever in heaven!
This is an awesome message.
The people wanted to hear it a lot.
They needed to hear it a lot.
So, they devoted themselves to it.
Not once a year.
Not once a month.
Not even once a week.
“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.” (v.46)
It didn’t matter what was going on.
It didn’t matter if their boss gave them an extra project at work.
It didn’t matter if little Ezekiel had a soccer practice to get to.
It didn’t matter if the Royal Wedding was on the television!
They met at the temple and devoted themselves to God’s Word…
QUESTION: Are you that devoted?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot – and I’d say the Early Church’s devotion to God’s Word would put our devotion levels to shame:
They had to travel to the temple to get to the one copy of the scroll that was on hand. We just have to pick up our phones.
They had to travel to the temple to meet and hear the Apostle’s teachings. Again – we’ve got phones.
They had to deal with persecutions and death threats. We have to deal with someone on Facebook calling us a loser.
And yet – Whose is more in contact with God’s Word?
If you’re feeling convicted, pray with me:
Lord, forgive me.
Forgive me for my lack of devotion to you!
And here’s the thing – when you devote yourself to God’s Word, you’ll find out.
God does forgive you.
Because God’s Word says that God is devoted to you.
He devoted himself to – coming to earth and dying to make you apart of his family.
He is devoted to you – bringing you this message of His devotion to you – even as I speak these words to you.
He will always be devoted to you – because He promised He would and He does not break his promises.
And His devotion to us reinvigorate and repowers us to be devoted to him.
That’s challenge #1 Today. Re-devote yourself to Jesus who is completely devoted to you.
2. Devotion to Each Other
But God’s Word is not the only thing the Early Church was devoted to. Check out the next couple of verses:
They devoted themselves to fellowship. Fellowship means spending time together. It means being with one another. It means talking, conversing, swapping stories of the week, telling jokes, slapping high fives, giving hugs, and fist bumps.
Note that the Early Church didn’t just do fellowship; they devoted themselves to fellowship. They made sure that fellowshipping with others was high on their ToDoList. If they would have smartphones, they would have had Google Calendar reminders pop up to remind them to “check in with Mary – just to make sure she knows that you care.”
They devoted themselves to breaking bread together. That doesn’t mean they got together and karate chopped French baguettes. It means that they ate together. (Which is a is a pretty personal thing. There’s a reason it’s a common choice for a first date). The Early Church got personal. They shared meals together. They had lunch together. They had supper together. They got up early and had brunch together.
When’s the last time you did that? When’s the last time you grabbed someone else here right now and said, “Let’s grab a Chipotle Bowl together?” It’d be worth it.
They devoted themselves to prayer. They prayed for God to bless the Apostles’ work. They asked God to reach hearts with the Gospel. They asked God to help Edna who was at home with the flu. They asked God to help Jedediah who just started a new job last week. They asked God to reconnect with Lydia who they hadn’t seen in their church group for about a week and a half.
They devoted themselves to sharing. In fact, the Scripture says this about their sharing: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (v.44-45) That sounds incredible. They didn’t just give some extra money to help each other out (although they did do that – the Bible is filled with cases of them doing that). They sold things that they owned, in order to get the money to help each other out.
What’s that? Ned needs a root canal and doesn’t have enough money? I can’t pay for it right now but let me put my HD TV on Facebook Marketplace – and I’ll be able to help out in a bit.
This another level of being connected, isn’t it? Because people love money. Husbands – we have a hard time giving up some of the funds for our bass fishing boats to buy our wife flowers – and we live with them! Yet these people were helping out people they didn’t live with. People they weren’t related to. People that they didn’t have a financial obligation to help.
People they helped simply because…Jesus.
Because he had given them eternal riches.
Because he was their greatest treasure.
Because he provided all things to them anyways – and these were their brothers and sisters – a part of the same family.
Here’s the Point.
The Early Church’s first priority was God’s Word.
The second? EACH OTHER.
That’s important for us to consider.
Because there’s this notion out there among modern Christians that Christianity is something you can do by yourself.
I fear it’s a notion that some of us have.
Just study God’s Word by yourself.
Read the Bible by yourself.
No need for church. No need for fellowship.
No need for other Christians.
Is that actually true?
Well, that’s not what the Early Church thought.
It’s not what the Early Church practiced.
In fact, the Bible writers of the Early Church wrote, “Let us not give up meeting together.” (Heb. 11)
And “Let us encourage one another.” (Heb. 11)
Learn this lesson: You might be able to hold onto faith without others and by simply doing Bible reading on your own.
But… If you are devoted God’s Word, then you will devote yourself to others.
If you aren’t devoting yourself to others, then you aren’t really devoting yourself to God’s Word.
Devote yourself to God’s Word.
Re-devote yourself to each other.
Because when you are devoted to God’s Word, you see God’s devotion to you which will drive your devotion others.
And that’s important. Because it’s not always easy being devoted to others.
Sometimes the others are bitter.
Sometimes they are angry.
Sometimes they are sinful, not-always-that-pleasant people.
But remember that’s what Christ saw when he looked at you.
He saw a bitter, angry, sinful, not-always-that-pleasant person.
But He still devoted himself to you.
And He still devoted himself to the others here today.
Be devoted to who Christ is devoted to.
Be devoted to your family.
II. Awesome Results
Because when we are devoted to God’s Word and to each other there are some incredible results.
Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles… They were filled with awe. They were reinvigorated. They saw God’s power and God’s mercy again and again. They were strengthened in faith.
The same thing happens here. We see God at work and are strengthened in faith. We see this through the Bible as we hear about God’s incredible miracles – walking on water, making the blind to see, raising the dead. But we also see this with one another.
Seeing a friend who was very much against Christianity join us for worship for the very first time.
Listening as a man whose wife has been begging him to believe confess his faith in front of everyone.
Watching as a young infant is adopted into God’s family through the miraculous waters of baptism.
Rejoicing as a fellow believer dies; but we know we will see them again in heaven!
Being devoted to God’s Word and being devoted people devoted to God’s Word will strengthen your faith.
(2) Attention Gained
Look at verse 47. It says, “They were enjoying the favor of all the people.” That’s not just talking about other Christians or others in the church. But all the people surrounding them. Their devotion to God’s Word and to each other was so powerful that others were taking notice.
To be fair – if we are jerks to one another, others will take note of that too. They’ll take note and vow never to give Christianity a chance.
But if we are practicing this Biblical concept of devotion to each other…
…they’ll see you checking in with a church friend. “They had a bad week and I just want to uplift them.”
…or asking for praying for a church friend. “He’s going through a rough patch.”
…or hanging out with a church friend. “I love my church family and they are blessing to me.”
They will take notice.
They will want to be a part of it.
They will open a way for you to share the Gospel.
And from there, well…
(3) God Goes to Work
“And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (v.48) Granted. God does not state that all people will automatically believe. They don’t. And it’s entirely possible to sow the seed of God’s Word and people still reject it.
The more we devote ourselves to Jesus; the more will we share Jesus.
The more we devote ourselves to each other; the more we will work together to share Jesus.
The more Jesus is shared?
Around February, I threw a lot grass seed on my back grounds. A lot. A lot, a lot. Two whole bags to be precise. Our backyard is kind of woodsy. There’s a lot of pine straw and plenty of clay. It’s not exactly a place where you’d expect seeds to grow.
And a lot didn’t.
I threw enough on there that – lo and behold – some.
The more you sow seed the more seed will grow.
The more we share Jesus, the more faith will grow.
This is the purpose of the church, is it not? To plant the message of Jesus to the end of the earth. It’s our mission to plant the message of Jesus in the heart of North Raleigh.
And here’s the reality – if we stick to the priorities of the Early Church – devotion to God’s Word and devotion to each other.
We will accomplish our mission. Amen.
Today we’re in our final lesson of the Rise Up series. We’re going to learn that Jesus wants us to Rise Up and Go to Make Disciples. Our goal is to learn (1) Where Jesus wants us to go, why we should go, and (2) What we should do when we get there. Before we do that, let’s say a prayer and ask God to help us.
I. Go and Do What?
The lesson comes from Matthew 28. It’s another appearance of Jesus after his death and resurrection. Timeline wise, it takes place after the appearance to Thomas. We know this because a reference is made to the Eleven – which would include Thomas. In fact, lots of scholars point to the finality of Jesus’ language in this section to place this appearance near the end of his 40 days on earth after Easter.
Let’s start by reading the command that Jesus gave them. He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28)
I want you to put yourself in the disciple’s shoes for a moment. They had heard Jesus’ teaching. They had seen him die for making disciples!
Can you hear the collective gulp?
You mean, keep preaching your Words?
The very words that got you killed?
And to the nations? Like not just our families, but to strangers?
Because that’s what Jesus meant with those words. He wanted them to take the message beyond their group of Eleven!
He wanted them to…
Go to the Jews.
Go to the Samaritans.
Go to the Greeks and the Romans and the Egyptians.
Go to the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the teachers of the law.
Go to the prostitutes and the drunkards and the tax collectors.
Go to the people wherever they are people!
And he wants you and me to do the same.
Because – here’s the deal. Modern day believers are Jesus’ disciples and as Jesus’ disciples they carry on the disciples’ mission. DO YOU BELIEVE IN JESUS? Then, you have the same mission: Go and make disciples of all nations.
Go to your neighbor who speaks more Spanish than English.
Go to the immigrant who only moved here a month ago.
Go to the tattooed barista with the big stones in his ear holes.
Go to the coworker whose skin is a different shade of brown than yours.
Go to your cousin who’s gay.
Go to your husband even when he’s made it clear that he’s sick of you talking about Jesus with him.
Jesus wants you to GO!
Jesus wants Gethsemane to GO!
He wants us to go and make disciples!
II. Do What?
Now if you’re thinking, “OK. I’m going home. I’m going to put my dad in a headlock and force him to believe.” Don’t. That’s not what I’m saying. (And I don’t need a lawsuit). Jesus explained how to make disciples in his commission. “Go and make disciples by … teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
You may be thinking, “Pastor, how do I know what Jesus said? I’m not one of the Eleven?” Easy. You read what a few of the Eleven wrote down that Jesus said. That just so happens to be in the Bible.
Granted. You might not have the Bible memorized yet. (You probably never will.) Nor do you need to start sharing the message of Jesus by outlining the genealogy of Jesus with all of the names in order. Start with the main message.
What is that message? Do you remember the phrase S.O.S? It’s a series of letters that first started in WWI as a way for ships to communicate with others ships that they were in need of help. If they were in danger of sinking or under attacked, they’d use over Morse code to deliver the signal S.O.S. It communicates immensely important information very quickly.
When you are sharing the message of Jesus just remember S.O.S. to communicate the two most important concepts to your friends.
1) Show Our Sins
That’s what the Bible does. It shows us we haven’t measured up. It shows us our sin. It shows us that we need a Savior.
How so? It tells us what sin is and when we read what sin is – we think – it sounds familiar. For instance, the Bible says, “Don’t hate.” When I read that, I think, “Wait. I’ve done that. I couldn’t be?” Then, I keep reading and the Bible says, “Don’t lust.” I think, “Wait, I did that last week.” The Bible doesn’t miss a beat and says, “Love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.” I think, “Uh oh.” And if for some reason that doesn’t work, the Bible straight up says this, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 – In fact, write that down and memorize it for an easy way to share the Gospel.
The Bible shows our sin. It’s like a mirror that shows you where a stray whisker is or an x-ray that shows where the problem is – it shows our problem of sin. When you are talking with a friend, it will show them their problem of sin, too.
2) Show Our Savior
Thankfully the Bible doesn’t stop there. Thankfully, the Bible has a second S.O.S. In fact, it’s the bigger and more important message. The Bible also Shows our Savior. It tells us about Jesus, that he lived perfectly, died innocently and rose triumphantly for us in order to save us from all of our sins! To put it another way – it gives us the solution to the problem it exposes – it gives us Jesus, the solution for sin!
And I’ll tell you guys. There’s nothing better than looking someone in the tear-filled eye, struggling with guilt, up all night because their sins have been bothering them and causing them to feel like they will always be far apart from God eyes and telling them – Jesus lived for them. Jesus died for them. They are forgiven!
You can be a part of that. Remember: S.O.S. Show our Savior to your friends. In fact, remember Romans 3:23? Write down the second half right now (verse 24). All have sinned and fall short of the glorified God (vs. 23) and all are justified freely through grace in Christ Jesus (vs. 24). If you don’t feel comfortable explaining all this, then simply share that passage with a friend.
Not comfortable speaking? Email them.
Facebook message them.
Worst case scenario? Just invite them to church where they’ll be Shown the Savior! That’s part of going!
This is a separate point, but related to the past two. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (v.19) Baptism too make disciples. It’s an incredible blessing from God. It’s physical, tangible, visual Gospel.
Think of baptism like a Sharpie. I used Sharpies when I was younger to write my initials on the bottom of my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures. That way I wouldn’t lose the toys when my friends took their toys home.
In Baptism, God writes his name on you. He says that you are his through the death and resurrection of Jesus. He calls you his own. In order to make you his own, he cleansed you; purifies you; and makes you holy. He bathes you in the love of God the Father, in the precious blood of Jesus Christ and in the faith strengthening power of the Holy Spirit.
Pastor, I’m in. I’ll go get a firehose and a loud speaker. Let’s go downtown and baptize the whole city of Raleigh.
No! (Again – no need for a lawsuit.)
For adults, we baptize those who have heard God’s Word and ask to be baptized.
But there are some people you could baptize…
Some people who are apart of all nations and whom God has called you to go to!
Some people who are little people.
Baptize your child. If you haven’t done it yet, you need to. Jesus says it to you hear, “Go and make disciples of all nations – your kid is included – by baptizing.” Listen to Jesus. Make your child a disciple of Jesus. Baptize them in God’s name.
If you want to do this, email me. Text me. Talk to me after church. We’ll make happen! There’s no need to delay. We need to heed his direction and go!
III. But Why?
Granted. You might not want to do this. Telling your friends, your family, a stranger about religion might not seem like a very 21st century thing to do. It might not even be on your bucket list. Why should you?
Check out verse 19: Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
(1) Jesus said So
Have you ever worked in fast food? Imagine you were at McDonalds and you normally work the drive thru – the drive thru that your manager said you were to manage all night and never leave that post unless you wanted a “McDock” in salary.
What happens when the guy at the counter who just started his job says, “I need you to clean out the bathrooms.” Hopefully, you don’t listen. He doesn’t have the authority. But what if your manager, who told you to stay, who wears a special manager’s shirt, and even has a name tag that says, “Manager’ comes over and says, “Go and arrange the ketchup packets.”
Well…then you go and construct the Taj Mahal of ketchup packets. He has the authority.
Why listen to Jesus? Simply put. He has the authority. Not just some authority. Not just a little authority. But all authority in heaven and on earth.
If you questioned him on this, think of what happened a couple of weeks before this command. He rose from the dead. I can almost hear Jesus now:
Ya’ll remember a few days ago? Remember when you thought I was dead forever? Remember when I came back to life, but instead proved my authority over death? Remember how I have authority over life and death for you?
You should listen to me.
It makes sense. If you listen to him for the way to eternal life, why not listen to him for purpose in life? Why not Go?
(2) It’s of Eternal Importance
The second reason is a bit hidden. Listen again to Jesus’ words, “Go and makes disciples…” A disciple is a follower. A follower is a believer. According to Jesus himself who has the authority to authorize such things, “All who believe in me will be saved.”
In other words:
Jesus alone saves us to heaven.
Jesus alone saves us from hell.
Jesus alone saves us from eternal damnation to eternal life.
To put it simply – It’s of eternal importance to go and make disciples!
Granted. Most modern Americans do not see it this way. They see going and sharing your faith as unloving:
You’re forcing your beliefs onto me.
You’re trying to make me feel bad and yourself feel better.
Let me believe what I want and let me live my life. You’re being selfish!!!
But is sharing Jesus really selfish?
What if you were going on a date and you asked me how I looked and as you smiled at me, I saw a big, old, green, leafy spinach sticking out of your teeth. And what if I thought, “I don’t want this to get uncomfortable and I don’t want to hurt their feelings because I don’t want them to speak gruffly to me, so…You look great!”
Is that loving?
Nope. It’s selfish.
It’s the same thing with faith on a grander scale. If you are convinced that Jesus is your Savior and it is by faith in him alone that we are saved, you have to share this message. Sharing your faith isn’t selfish; not sharing is!
And Jesus isn’t about selfishness.
That’s why he went through the uncomfortable death on the cross for you.
Maybe it’s worth going through a much less uncomfortable moment with your friends?
(3) God has Your Back
Finally, remember that God has your back. Because this can be very intimidating. Go and make disciples of all nations! So Jesus told them that they would not be alone. He said this, “Surely I will be with you always to the very end of the age.” (Mt. 28:21)
That’s good news. Because Jesus wasn’t afraid of even the scariest of situations.
He wasn’t afraid of storms in the middle of the sea; he stopped them.
He wasn’t afraid of legions of demons; he drove them out.
He wasn’t afraid of fatal illness; he cured it with a snap of his fingers.
He wasn’t afraid of death; he rose triumphantly on the third day.
He isn’t afraid of your uncle getting a bit cranky.
He isn’t afraid of a few friends calling you a loser.
He isn’t afraid of someone BLOCKING him on Facebook.
Don’t you be either. He’s with you. He’ll protect you.
We’ve got a mission. And that’s the main message for this morning. Jesus has a mission for you and me – to go!
So don’t lollygag.
That’s what happened with the disciples. A couple of days after this commission, Jesus took them out to a hill and something amazing happened. He literally lifted off of the ground and levitated up to heaven.
No jet packs.
Just Jesus and his God power heading up into the clouds.
It was amazing enough that the response of the disciples was to stare, mouth open up into the sky.
That is, until a stranger tapped their shoulders.
The angel said, “Why do you stand there staring up into the sky? This same Jesus will come back in the same way you saw him go. But ya’ll? Go to Jerusalem. Wait for God’s gift. And then? Begin your work.”
Go and make disciples.
Allow this to be your divine shoulder tap:
Stop staring and go make disciples! Amen.
Do you know what a guy romper is?
Apparently, it’s a thing. A romper is a shirt and short combo. It’s a onesie – first made popular by women and that kind of makes sense. But the other day someone told me that they had made it into a guy thing. I didn’t believe. I doubted.
Maybe you’re doubting.
But it’s real. I saw it. Pictures of guy’s rompers unbuttoned near the top and exposing manly chest hairs in all their glory.
Sometimes things are unbelievable.
Sometimes things are “guy romper” unbelievable.
And somethings things are dead guy, put in the tomb, and three days later risen from the dead unbelievable.
Do you believe the unbelievable? Or do you doubt?
Today we’re going to hear about a disciple who doubted and we’re going to listen to how Jesus handled the situation. My hope is that it helps to remove some of your doubts. Before we do that, let’s pray:
I. Waiting to See?
Our lesson for today comes from John 20:24. It says: Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.
Now…I don’t know what Thomas was doing.
Maybe he was out grabbing some Chinese takeout.
Maybe he was working out with his run club.
Maybe he was applying for jobs – since the disciple gig fell through.
For whatever the reason Thomas missed the very first Easter. When all the other disciples were filled with joy, wonder and amazement at the appearance of the resurrected Lord, Thomas was being filled with disappointment as he waited in line at the grocery store with only one checkout attendant.
So…when Thomas carefully approached the unmarked apartment that the disciples had made their hideout, he braced himself for the sadness that he was about to encounter: Grown men crying. Grown men scared. Grown men grieved by the reality that the Savior that they loved, that they devoted years of their life to, that they hoped in, was dead.
Thomas looked in his shopping bag.
I hope this bucket of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream will do the trick. Passover Pecan – it’s a new flavor.
But as Thomas opened the door, he didn’t find the melancholy that he expected.
Thomas! Where were you? I can’t believe you missed it!
It’s Jesus. He’s alive. We saw him.
I didn’t believe it at first either…but it’s really him. Truly him…I touched his hands. I felt his side!
It’s Jesus! It’s Jesus! Jesus is alive!
Thomas’ words had quite the bite. Enough! Stop being crazy. I don’t know what happened or what you think you saw – but whatever it was …it wasn’t Jesus. He’s dead. His body bled out. His lungs collapsed. The soldiers, who are paid professionals at killing people, killed him. They took his body down from the cross. They confirmed his death. They brought his body to others who confirmed his death. Our friend, Joseph, buried him! I think he would have stopped if he had noticed the lungs moving. But he didn’t. They buried him. They closed the grave…Do you know why?
The other disciples humored him.
Because he was DEAD!! D.E.A.D. DEAD! Dead – dead. Dead…dead…DEAD! And our discipleship is dead! If you want to stay here and make up stories and follow some imaginary friend, go right ahead. As for me, I’m going to go live. I won’t follow what’s dead. Because dead things are dead and dead things stay…DEAD!
It was quiet for a moment. Thomas’ chest stopped speaking to catch his breath – as his blood pressure sky rocketed.
Then, someone spoke.
Thomas. I know how you feel. I felt the same way. Even when I saw him…I thought it was just a ghost.
But then…Then, I touched him. I felt the hand that had helped me away from my sinful life. Then, I put my finger into the nail marks and I placed my hand into his side. I saw him eat – bread and fish --- just like a living human being. I thought he was dead. But, Thomas, I saw Him. I felt him. I was with him.
And all the other disciples concurred. They took turns telling how they had seen him, how they had touched him, how they had felt him. Surely, they couldn’t all be seeing things. Surely, they couldn’t all have been tricked. Surely, they couldn’t all be so foolish.
And Thomas listened.
And Thomas thought.
And Thomas laid down one simple ultimatum:
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands with my own eyes and touch the wound mark on his side with my own hands – I will not believe.” (20:25)
That’s Thomas. Affectionately known forevermore as Doubting Thomas. Which is unfortunate. Perhaps the man would have preferred to be known as Believing Thomas or Ravishing Thomas or Muscular Thomas. But he’s remembered mostly for one thing – doubting.
What about you? Is that the adjective that could describe you? Do you doubt or do you believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Do you believe he’s your Savior?
You have basically the same information:
You know that he died. Thomas knew that.
You have people telling you that Jesus rose – Thomas did too.
You know that typically dead people stay dead. That was something that Thomas knew and Thomas believed…deeply.
To be fair, Thomas had the miracles:
He saw the blind man see – and when he doubted it – he asked the blind man how many fingers he was holding up – and the blind man told him. Repeatedly.
He saw the lame man walk…and when he doubted it – he asked the man to stand – and he started doing the Electric Slide.
He saw the men with leprosy cured…and when he doubted it – and after much coaxing – he touched skin that felt as fresh and new as a Neutrogena model’s face.
Yet when Thomas is faced with the biggest and most impressive miracle of all – he doesn’t believe.
He gives an ultimatum.
Good idea? Bad idea? Giving an ultimatum to God. That’s like a little preschooler turning to his parent and saying, “Unless I see these so called ‘germs’, then I won’t wash my hands…!” The ultimatum is silly. The child should trust the parent. He knows way more. She understands way more.
And the ultimatum for God is just as silly. The child – (read: human) – should trust the parent— (read: God). He knows way more. He understands way more.
He is way more!
And yet. We aren’t that unfamiliar with ultimatums. In fact, Thomas’ nickname, did you see it? It’s Didymus. Didymus means “twin.” It probably meant that Thomas was a twin.
But I can’t help but notice how my language, sometimes, twins Thomas’?
Yes, God. I’ll believe that you’re with me as a pastor – as long as you add 12 new church members by the end of the week.
Yes God. I’ll believe that you’re with us, as long as you get groundbreaking going on the preschool by next Thursday.
Yes, God. I’ll believe that you love me as long as you stop people from being mean to me.
And when I talk like that. I can’t help but think that my last name must be Didymus.
I can’t help but think that I am Thomas’ brother.
Are you our relative too?
Sure, I’ll become a believer in Jesus – when he appears to me and proves it.
I’ll trust you more God…if you find me a job by the end of the week.
I will be an awesome believer – once you get me the perfect boyfriend.
I’ll really devoted myself to you – when you finally give me a kid.
I’ll believe in God – if he heals me from this cancer.
Here’s the deal with ultimatums -- If anyone should be giving anyone ultimatums, it’s God giving it to us.
He created the earth.
He provides for it.
He created you.
He provides for you.
He sent his Son.
He lived perfectly for you.
He rose from the dead.
He is the one with the right to an ultimatum because he’s the One with the power!
And (to be honest) he has given an ultimatum? Wanna hear it?
John 3 says this, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life…but whoever does not believe will be condemned, because they haven’t believed in his Son!”
In other words:
God came off his throne.
God became human.
God lived 33 perfect years when you couldn’t.
God died innocently in your place so you wouldn’t have to.
God rose triumphantly to prove it to you!
Finally, God used someone in your life – maybe a mom, maybe a dad, maybe a Sunday School Teacher…maybe me right now – to bring this message to you.
And if, after all that, your response is: I don’t believe it.
Well… God says you’ll believe it one day.
One day – when it won’t be a matter of faith.
One day when you feel the hand of his wrath.
One day when it’s too late.
II. Believing to See!
But don’t believe out of fear. Believe in the risen Jesus because it’s true.
Fast forward our story one week. The day of the week is the same. The time of day is the same. The cast of characters is the same. The door is locked the same. And Jesus appeared among them – the same. Listen to this. Verse 26 is almost a carbon copy of verse 19: Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
But one thing is different. This time Thomas is there. And Jesus walks right up to him.
“Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (v.27)
Thomas felt the flesh of his hand.
Thomas felt the ridged remainders of the nail marks.
Thomas felt the jagged edges that the spear had left behind.
Thomas looked Jesus in the eyes.
And this time? He fell to the ground:
“My Lord and My God!” (v.28)
Jesus lifted him up. Jesus hugged him. Jesus forgave him.
And then, Jesus said something very interesting:
“Because you have seen me, you have believed. Thomas, blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
Is that you?
Do you believe even though you haven’t seen?
Do you believe even though you’ve only heard?
Then, you are blessed.
The blessings are numerous:
You have forgiveness with God.
You have forgiveness from all of your doubts.
You have forgiveness for your unbelief.
You have peace with God.
You have joy in your salvation.
You have God’s love.
You have none of God’s wrath and all of his blessing.
You have the promise that you will see him.
Can you picture that? That’s what heaven is. The moment when you and I will see our Savior with our own eyes!
You will see the nail marked hands – a testimony to his love for you.
You will see the flesh wound in his side – a testimony to his compassion for you.
You will see Jesus – move and breathe and being alive – a testimony to His Power.
Thomas believed because he saw.
Don’t ask to see and then believe; but believe and you will see.
That’s what faith is. Hebrews says this, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for; and certain of what we do not see.”
And what do we hope for? That we too will conquer death. That we too will be in heaven. That we too will be with God. That we too are forgiven!
And what we do not see? Jesus’ hands. Jesus’ feet. Jesus’ side. We don’t see the risen Lord Jesus.
But just like Thomas didn’t see Jesus; it doesn’t mean that Jesus isn’t risen.
And, in fact, it almost makes you wonder if Thomas’ absence wasn’t God ordained.
God knew Thomas would doubt.
And God knew we would doubt.
So, God led Thomas away.
And Thomas doubted.
But then Jesus appeared.
And Thomas’ doubts went away.
And if doubting Thomas, doubting skeptic, I’ve seen Jesus do all kinds of miracles, but I won’t believe this miracle to be true – Thomas doubts, but then believes.
That means the truth? Is true.
It’s not a myth.
It’s not fake new.
It’s not a fairy tale.
Jesus has risen. You are his.
Stop doubting and believe. Amen.