We are in the middle of our sermon series on Acts. In this series we have been to a lot of different places and learned a different lesson in each place. Today we’re getting a potpourri of lessons from one place and all on hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy comes from the Greek word “hypokrusis.” The word was used in Greek theater. It meant: “to play a part,” which, in Greek theater, often meant “wearing a mask.” It’s a part of theater still today – specifically known as the Marvel Big Screen.
Chris Evans dons a mask and becomes Captain America.
Chadwick Boseman dons a mask and becomes Black Panther.
Evangeline Lilly dons a mask and becomes The Wasp.
Hypocrisy, then, is when someone claims to be one thing, when they are not.
Before we begin our study of hypocrisy, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. One Kind of Hypocrisy
The lesson from Acts 19 is the first big stop on Paul’s 3rd missionary journey. Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. (19:1a) Ephesus was the Capital of the Ancient province of Asia and a bustling commercial center. Paul had briefly been there at the end of the 2nd missionary journey. Before he left, he promised to return if God allowed. Paul’s appearance in chapter 19 is a fulfillment of that promise.
When Paul arrives, he finds some disciples. (v.1b) These men claimed to be followers of the Christ. Paul greets them pleasantly. (Maybe with some high fives, jokes about not having rocks thrown at him, and an invitation to go grab lunch at the local Smashburger).
As they are hanging out, Paul asks them some conversational questions:
What’s your favorite worship song?
What do you do to serve at the church?
Do you like your coffee dark or light roast?
Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? (v.2)
The Holy Spirit is absolutely in the heart of all believers. 1 Corinthians 12:3 says, “No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.” It’s simple. It’s clear. If you believe in Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit, because you need the Holy Spirit in order to believe.
But what Paul is talking about here is something different. Early in the history of the Christian church, during key faith-filled events, the Holy Spirit would visibly manifest his presence within a group of believers. This would serve to prove the truthfulness of the Gospel through miraculous signs. It happened at Pentecost (Acts 2) when tongues of fire appeared on the Apostles’ heads as they spoke in languages that they had never learned. It happened again in the house of the Roman Centurion Cornelius (Acts 10). In both instances, God was making it clear that this faith – and the message that this faith was placed in – was a very real and very divine message.
Paul’s question was about whether that had happened with them.
Did you get to speak in tongues?
Did fire appear on your heads?
Did you open your mouth and rainbows started shooting out?
The answer was a bit surprising:
“We hadn’t heard there was a Holy Spirit…” (v.3)
Paul responded, “Wait. What!?! You don’t know the Holy Spirit? He’s a key part of our teachings. He’s the one who brings us to faith. He’s the one who came down on Jesus like a dove. And Baptism! Haven’t you been baptized? Into whose name were you baptized? Because as far as I know…believers are baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the HOLY SPIRIT.”
The men responded, “We were baptized into John’s Baptism, into the name of the Christ who is going to come in the future.”
“OK… The Christ. Good. Did you know he has already come? Did you know he already did his Christ work? Did you know his name?”
And the men looked on at another, shrugged, and replied, “I don’t know…maybe…Bob?”
Divine forehead slap.
Here’s the truth: Sometimes hypocrisy comes from IGNORANCE.
It’s like the time I was at Buffalo Wild Wings and a lady near me was decked out in Tarheel gear as she watched them battle on the football field. A while later, the Tarheels had their quarterback sacked in the end zone. The woman stood up, clapped, and shouted, “Great job! Way to go.”
Until, her friends (also in Tarheel gear) motioned for her to sit down: “Stop cheering. That was a safety. That means its two points for the other team.”
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from IGNORANCE.
Yes, I’m a believer in Jesus…and I believe you can sleep with whomever you want. Does the Bible say differently?
Yes, my social profile says: “Christian”; I like all kinds of quotes from the Bible. Also quotes from the KKK. Is there something wrong?
Yes, I’m a Christian. I’ve been my whole life. But what do you mean when you are talking about salvation by grace? Never heard of it? I thought I’d get to heaven, simply because I was good enough….
Before you say, “But if someone doesn’t know, it’s no big deal.”
Remember that ignorant hypocrisy is still hypocrisy.
It’s still wrong.
If your son winds up and punches your little daughter in the face, you don’t say, “It’s ok. He didn’t know. Let him be.” No! You course correct immediately!
In the same way, it’s still wrong when we say we are followers of Jesus, but then do the opposite of followers of Jesus, even if we simply didn’t know followers of Jesus don’t do that.
There’s a simple cure for this kind of hypocrisy. It’s called knowledge. That’s what Paul gave these men. He said to them in verse 4, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”
Jesus is the Christ.
He lived perfectly when you couldn’t.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins. I saw it with my own eyes!
And the group believes.
They are baptized into Jesus’ name.
And that Holy Spirit that they didn’t know about? He makes himself visibly known. They began to speak in tongues, and they prophesied. (v.6) Visual proof of the invisible truth that their faith in Jesus wasn’t fake; it was real.
The same is true for you. Repent of your any hypocrisy of ignorance.
To do that, look at the truth.
The truth may be that what you’ve been doing is sin.
But the truth also is that you have a Savior.
And in Jesus, you are forgiven.
II. Another Kind of Hypocrisy
But not all hypocrisy is caused by ignorance.
Next Paul entered the synagogue, a place where they studied God’s Word.
He went and spoke boldly there for three months. (v.9a)
You would expect this to produce real believers.
These people wore religious jewelry.
They went to worship.
They knew lots of the Bible.
They knew all the words to all their favorite religious songs.
They knew prayers.
They knew religious logos.
They knew God’s Word.
And yet…when Paul was done speaking…
Some of them were obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. (v.9b)
And think about the hypocrisy of it all:
They studied God’s Word.
They knew God’s Word.
Then, they refused to believe God’s Word.
And even openly mocked God’s Word.
Only to sit around congratulating each other for following that Word that they were mocking.
It’s would be like sitting in the Fellowship Hall after worship and gossiping about another believer not being a very good believer and then congratulating yourselves on being such good believers even though you’re doing things that believers aren’t supposed to do.
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from ignorance; but sometimes hypocrisy comes from obstinance.
In fact, the Greek word there means “hardened.” Tough, rough, impenetrable.
Like a rock. There’s nothing getting through the exterior into the heart of the rock. Try it. You can punch the rock. You can hit the rock with a blow dart. You could try karate chopping the rock. Nothing. Even if you took a hammer to it - that rock isn’t splitting.
The same can happen with people’s hearts.
Even the hearts of long-time Christians.
I know racism is wrong. God is for all people. You should go tell it to those people over there. They’re the racist ones. In fact, that’s how all people like them are!
I know it says that sex outside of marriage is wrong. And I haven’t had it! Look at my purity ring! Now excuse me…the adult film. I uploaded on my iPhone is coming after it’s done buffering.
I know it! Pride is wrong. Preach it pastor! Especially at that guy over there. But don’t you preach it at humble me. There’s nobody humbler than I am.
And God’s Word connects with the heart.
And the heart hardens.
And hypocrisy ensues.
If you are a long-time church goer, take extra warning!
Don’t harden your heart to God’s Word.
And then sit around congratulating yourself for following God’s Word.
Instead of hardening your heart, look at God’s heart.
Because God’s heart was not hard.
His heart was filled with compassion.
His heart was filled with love for you…even when you repeatedly hardened your heart against him.
His heart was not hardened like a rock.
When he hung on that cross…
The soldiers reached up with a spear.
They plunged it into his him.
But softened with love for you.
Even now. Even if you’ve hardened your heart before, listen to his heart for you.
Repent of your hypocrisy.
And do it quickly.
III. All Kinds of Hypocrisy
As Paul continued his ministry, God continued to bless Paul. In fact, look at the amazing things that God did through Paul: Even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul were taken to the sick and their illnesses were cured, and the evil spirits left them. (v.12)
That’s amazing! Paul’s handkerchiefs cured from the flu and his aprons drove out evil spirits. But look at what happened, “Seven sons of Sceva (Which…Listen to the name. It sounds shady. Almost like an evil muppet or something) they went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon possessed. They would say, “In the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” (v.12-13)
To be fair, this doesn’t look hypocritical.
It looks like they are trying to help.
They aren’t ignorant of Jesus’ name. They use it.
They aren’t obstinately opposed to Jesus. God is against demons, too.
Yet, look at what happened.
One day an evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. (v.15)
Do you see the problem?
But God could.
Maybe they weren’t doing this out of love for Jesus.
But out of love for power.
Maybe they weren’t doing this out of love for others.
But out of love for themselves.
They were hypocrites.
Good ones too! It was hard to tell that they were doing anything wrong.
But here’s the truth:
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from ignorance.
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from obstinance.
But hypocrisy is always exposed.
A family member finds out.
A pastor discovers the truth.
Your spouse learns about what you were trying to hide.
Always hypocrisy is exposed.
Even if you successfully hide it from all other human beings, God knows.
God knows and he will expose it.
At the end of time, you won’t be able to hide it.
And he won’t be able to hide his displeasure.
He’ll simply say:
Jesus, I know…
And Paul I know…
Who are you?
IV. What Now?
Therefore, God calls us to repent.
To turn from hypocrisy.
To turn to our Savior.
And the way to do that is to:
(1). Switch Your Mask
We said that hypocrisy is putting on a mask. Covering up our sins with a nice looking, “Christian” façade.
Make me think of Halloween. That’s a time for masks. There’s a wide variety of them at Precious Lambs. I remember there was one kid who made his own mask. It was made of string and paper. The paper covered up…one of his eyebrows. He said: “You don’t know who I am.” And I said: “Uh-huh.”
Hypocrisy? That’s like hiding behind the paper eyebrow mask.
We think it hides our sinfulness from God.
Instead, check out Galatians 3:27
All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
Just like a full-fledged mask, it fully and completely covers up all your sins.
Jesus covers up your obstinance.
Jesus covers up your ignorance.
Jesus covers up your sin so much so that when God looks at you, He only sees – His child.
So much so that God calls us to our second WHAT NOW:
(2). Go Public
Look at the reaction of the people to what had occurred. Many who believed came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. (v.18)
Think about that: Believers gathered in the middle of the city with their arms filled of books that they had been storing in their homes. Books that weren’t about the Bible. Books that were about Satan, witchcraft, and sexual immorality.
It’d be like someone coming to the front of church and making a pile of a raunchy racist DVDs, two illegal drug baggies, and an iPhone loaded with pornographic content.
That’s take courage to do in front of everyone, right?
But they had the courage.
Because they were covered in Christ’s righteousness.
Because they knew they were God’s children.
Because they knew God’s children were serious about getting rid of sin.
Because they knew God’s other children wouldn’t ridicule them, but support them.
They went public with it.
Do the same.
Examine your heart.
Find your hypocrisy
And Go public with it.
Go public with a friend, a pastor, or a family member!
And if someone trusts you enough to publicly confess a secret sin to you, don’t say:
“Just a second while I share what you did on social media.”
Share the Gospel.
Remind them of Christ’s mask.
Help them incinerate whatever it is they are struggling with!
Because in that, God’s Word is spread.
In fact, look at the last verse:
In this way, the word of the Lord spread widely. (v.20)
Because when God’s Word gets us to stop being hypocrites and start being real, then God’s Word really spreads.
If we’re real -- real with God and real with each other -- then the community will notice.
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.
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.
I. The Wall
As the soldiers peered at it through the thick foliage of the distance, they couldn’t help but feel a bit intimidated.
The city was named after the “moon god.” One could see why. It had an abundance of water and a pleasant year-round climate. Everything was impressive. Impressive gardens. Impressive marketplaces. Impressive culture and night life. From the distance, one could see ancient skyscraper-like apartments.
But the thing that was most noticeable about Jericho?
A double wall.
A thick double wall.
A wall of solid stone.
A wall of solid stone wrapping completely around the city.
And because of the impending invasion, the city gate was closed.
There was no way in.
There was no way out.
There was no way under – without having the guards at the top of the wall pin you to the ground with spears.
There was no way over – without taking an arrow to the chest.
For some reason…
They were planning on going through it.
The LORD said to Joshua, “March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have the priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven time with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them around a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse.” (6:2-5)
In other words: March around the city and make some music.
The 6-foot-deep, 15-foot-high double wall will be no match for some jazz.
This had to be one of the greatest faith tests that the Israelites had ever faced. Yes, they had just seen God’s Almighty power as he split the Jordan river in half, but there’s a couple of reasons that this faith test was more challenging.
(1) The Composition
Because this wall isn’t made of liquid. It wasn’t easily transported like the Jordan River might have been. It wasn’t able to be manipulated by the simple touch of a hand. This was a solid wall of stone.
Just to give us a better understanding of what that wall was, archaeology in the 1950 has uncovered remains of a wall around the area where Jericho would have been. Based on their finding, the mound of the city was surrounded by a great earth rampart with a stone retaining wall at its base. The retaining wall was some 12-15 feet high. On top of that was a mudbrick wall of about 6 feet thick and 20-26 feet high.
The third little pig would have been proud of the people of Jericho. How in the world would you get past that wall? This task was humanly impossible. There was no technology of any kind that would allow them to destroy it.
So… God’s plan.
(2) The Tools
A bomb? Didn’t exist yet.
A battering ram? That allows the defenders to attack the single spot – for the hours you’d be at work.
A ladder? You’ll take an arrow to the chest before you get very high.
God says that they should walk.
I was playing BIG JENGA last week with Julianna. Have you ever played BIG JENGA? It’s the board game where you remove one brick from the tower at a time without having it fall over – only it’s a giant version of it.
I remember as I started to get nervous that I might lose. I started marching around, stomping my feet, jumping up and down in hopes that the vibrations might cause the tower to fall during Julianna’s turn.
If marching around a toy the whole point of which is to make it fall doesn’t make that toy fall down, how likely do you think marching around a giant 6-foot-deep, 15-foot-high double wall until it falls down will be?
Because in order to split the Jordan River all that had to happen was the priests touching the river with their feet. Then – instant miracle. This miracle was going to take days. It was going to repetition. It was going to take repetition of the same thing without any visible results.
And the people of Jericho would have noticed:
You idiots. What are you doing?
Oh no, Bob! They’re walking again! Duck!
I’m cowering in fear at the sight of those deadly, deadly trumpets!
In fact, if you’ve ever seen Veggie Tales, this is where the people of Jericho – played by a bunch of peas – come up with this doozy of a song: “Keep walking, but you won’t knock down our wall. Keep walking. But it isn’t going to fall. It’s plain to see that your brains are very small, so keep walking, but you won’t knock down our wall.”
Question – how likely are you to keep doing something if you don’t see any results?
God says, “Pray to me and I will hear it.” But…what if you don’t get what you’re praying for?
God says, “Study my Word and I will grow your faith.” When it feels like that isn’t doing anything, do you keep it up?
God says, “Trust in me.” When finances are tight, you’re behind on your mortgage, your ant’s in the hospital and there’s all kinds of stress at work – it sure seems a lot easier to just give up?
When it seems impossible, when it seems like there’s nothing going on, when it seems like God’s not doing anything…
God is at work.
And God specializes in demolishing walls.
II. The Demolition
At least, Joshua thought so.
And he was the commander.
So, no matter how foolish it sounds or how impossible it seemed, the soldiers obeyed.
They obeyed for six days.
They endured ridicule.
They endured doubt.
They endured sore calves.
Then, the seventh day.
They walked again.
They walked a third time and heard the ridicule from the soldiers at the wall.
They walked a fourth time and heard the doubting from the soldiers behind them.
They walked a fifth time and started to doubt themselves.
They walked a sixth time and heard Joshua’s command, “Keep going. God is with us. This will happen. Trust him.”
Then, they walked a seventh time. And as they made their way around to the same rock that they had seen so many times this past week – the priests stopped.
They lifted up their trumpets.
They pressed them to their lips.
They blew with all of their might.
And Joshua commanded them, “Shout! For the LORD has given you this city!”
The soldiers looked at one another.
They shrugged their soldiers.
And as they shouted, suddenly, they heard a bass added to their music.
It wasn’t coming from the trumpet.
It wasn’t coming from a fellow soldier.
It was coming from the wall.
The rocks began to tremble.
The fortification began to give way.
And the men shouted even louder.
When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet the wall collapsed. (v.20)
And they took the city. (v.21)
III. What Now?
1. Hire the Same Demolitionist
Nobody has the power to knock down walls like our God.
Not Home Builders, Inc.
Not Demolitions ‘R Us.
Not even the U.S. Army with all its fire power.
No one is an expert demolitionist like our God.
And the greatest wall torn down isn’t even this one from Joshua 6. Take a look at what Isaiah 30 says: Sin is like a high wall. That’s because sin does what walls do: It separates. Us from God. It makes it so that God’s on one side and we’re on the other side.
There is a disconnect.
There is a barrier.
There is a barrier of sin between us and God!
Maybe you’ve done sins and you’ve felt that.
Apart from God.
And there’s nothing we can do about it. No dynamite of doing good has any effect. The TNT of trying hard doesn’t make a dent. Even the hard-swung wrecking ball of “I’m really doing my best God,” will fail to tear that wall of sin down.
No one human can tear that wall down.
You can’t tear that wall down.
Only God can.
And He did.
Ephesians 2 says this, “Formerly you…were separate from Christ…without hope and without God in the world. But…in Christ you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace! Jesus has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility!” (v.10-14)
Understand what it’s saying:
Jesus is the spiritual TNT.
Jesus is the spiritual dynamite.
Jesus is the wrecking ball to knock down the wall of sin and leave us barrier-less…connected to God!
And finally….it means God is the one to turn to no matter what kind of wall your facing.
God destroyed the wall of sin. God destroyed the wall of Jericho.
Whatever wall you got? It’s no problem for him.
Hire him for all of your problems.
2. Appeal to His Grace
But…what if you’re part of the wall?
Do you remember Rahab? She was not an Israelite. She had a job that was not remotely God honoring – she was a prostitute. Yet when she heard that God was going to take back the Promised Land – she didn’t fight.
She appealed to God’s mercy.
Look what happens in verse 22 - Joshua said, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring her out and all that belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her.” So…the young men went in and brought out Rahab and all who belong to her.”
And here’s what’s most interesting. Her house – had been built into the wall. Yet it was the wall that was destroyed! How did Rahab make it out?
Even though she was a part of the wall (and by her sins against God was a part of the spiritual wall), God had mercy on her. God kept her alive. God brought her out. God spared her.
Have you built your own wall of sin between you and God?
Do you feel like you are a part of that wall?
Do you figure – there’s no way he’ll spare me?
Appeal to his grace.
Because while God is powerful – knocking down walls, our God is merciful to spare those who built the wall.
Without Jesus, you aren’t getting to God.
With Jesus, you are.
Call on his mercy.
Believe in Jesus.
You will not be destroyed with the wall.
You will be saved.
You will be a recipient of God’s incredible mercy.
Because those battle cries must have turned into cries of praise! God had done the impossible. God had knocked a wall down. God had kept his promises.
God had done the same for you:
He did the impossible.
Jesus knocked down the wall of sin.
Jesus kept his promise.
Shout for joy!
Don’t just do it here – but do it out there.
Do it when you go home to see the rest of your family.
Do it when you’re around your friends.
Do it on Facebook.
DO it on Instagram.
Do it at work, at the coffee shop and at the workout club.
Wherever you are – shout God’s praise! Tell others about the GREAT Things he has done.
Tell others about our God – and the walls he has brought down.
We are a chapter away from some big-time action in this Joshua series. But before we get there, chapter 5 reveals some final preparations that God does before he acts. As we take a look at these, it’s interesting to note that God uses very similar things to prepare us before we enter the Promised Land above.
So as always, before we begin, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Preparations for Jericho
Take a look at the first preparation. It isn’t even a preparation on the hearts of the Israelites. It’s on the hearts of the Canaanites. Take a look:
Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the LORD had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until they had crossed over, their hearts melted in fear and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites. (5:1)
It makes sense that the Canaanites are afraid. Because if you remember when we were talking about Rahab – the people of Jericho had already heard of God’s awesome work in the desert. They had heard of God’s promise to give the Promised Land to the Israelites. They had heard of all the miracles he had done in the desert to get them to the Promised Land’s borders.
Now? They heard that their God had split a raging, white water rapids in half – wide enough for a million some odd people to cross!
This miracle was from God.
This miracle caused the people of Jericho to be afraid.
God caused the people of Jericho to be afraid.
…this was a blessing.
This fits in well with a question that a few different people have asked me recently.
What did Jericho do wrong?
And to be fair that’s a question I’ve pondered before. They seem to be minding their own business. They weren’t like the Egyptians who held the Israelites in slavery. They weren’t like the kings in the desert that attacked the Israelites. They were just enjoying life in the land of Canaan.
What’d they do to get kicked out of their city?
Why was God attacking them?
Why is God being so mean?
While I understand where that line of questioning comes from (and there’s a lot of forms in it when it comes to Old Testament God), that line of questioning makes two incorrect assumptions:
(1) “People are generally good.”
Do you know what bias is? Bias is the underlying worldview or notion that someone has when they look at a particular event. Bias isn’t always a bad thing, but bias can absolutely affect the way that you react to or report on a certain event.
Take the new:
One network says, “Republican does dumb thing.”
Another network says in the exact same story, “Republican stands up for what is right.”
One network says, “Democratic is whiny.”
Another network says, “Democratic defends freedom!”
Did you know that there’s a bias that humans naturally read the Bible with? A bias that humans are naturally good. Why do we have that bias? Because…(Wait for it)…we’re humans! I like to think of myself as good.
So…when I come across instances in the Bible where it pits God against humans and I don’t find an immediate obvious sinful thing (like Pharaoh horribly mistreating hundreds of thousands of Israelite slaves) my human bias tends to demonize God.
He’s being a jerk.
He did wrong.
He is a monster.
Is that right?
Is God a monster?
Think about it!
Our God created us – he didn’t have to.
Our God gave us this wonderful world – he didn’t have to.
Our God died for us – he didn’t have to.
Our God rose to save us – he did not have to.
Our God did this because our God is good.
All the time good.
When God and humanity clash?
That’s not on God.
That’s on us.
In fact, this is exactly what Scripture says, “The sinful mind is hostile to God.” (Romans 8:7) Hostile means an enemy. A violent enemy. A violent enemy with a bias on the opposite side of God.
Don’t be surprised when your sinful human bias look at a Bible story and wants to rewrite the history to make God the villain!
That’s the wrong narrative.
It’s the sinful, broken, imperfect narrative.
The narrative is not about a good people and a cruel God.
The narrative is about a good God and a cruel people.
And…maybe you know that?
Because you know this world is broken.
To name a few.
And at least a few of those made your heart squirm because you’ve walked a bit close to those lines.
Let me tell you.
That uncomfortable feeling?
Proof that God’s always in the right.
(2) “That God didn’t care about the people of Jericho.”
If you were here last week, do you remember one of the purposes of the memorial that God had his people build? It was so that “all the nations on earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful.” (v.24) That’s a key purpose. Because it shows you that with these miracles – with this memorial – with the message that was striking fear into the hearts of the Canaanites – God was making it very obvious:
I am the LORD.
That’s what Rahab did! Remember the prostitute? She concluded that God was with the Israelites. She concluded that God was going to use the Promised Land for HIS purposes! And…rather than fight, she concluded that she would follow the true God.
Was Rahab the only one who knew about God’s power and Strength?
Nope. She’s just the only one who decided not to fight God.
But even after that…Chapter 5:1 is proof – yet again – that God wanted these Canaanites to recognize him as the one true God. He splits the Jordan River. (1) to get Israel across (2) to give Israel confidence (3) to give the Canaanites a warning! They were up against the One and Only God of Heaven and earth! That fear they were feeling? Was a gift! – a warning – a divine smack in the back of the head – to listen to him and follow him, lest they be destroyed!
The fear then is proof that God cared about the people of Jericho.
1 Timothy 2:4 says this about this God of the Old Testament, “God our Savior, wants all to be saved.”
That includes the people Israel, sure.
But it also includes the people of Jericho.
In fact, that’s the ultimate purpose of Israel having ownership of the Promised Land, isn’t it?
God wanted the Promised Land because…
God promised a man named Abraham his descendants (the Israelites) would dwell in the Promised Land, because…
God also promised that same man a Messiah would be born in the Promised Land, because…
God would one day send his son Jesus to be born in the Promised Land, because…
God wanted it to be clear and simple and obvious that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah, because…
God wanted all people – even the people of Jericho – to read these prophecies, trust in this Messiah and be saved.
What does this mean?
It means this fear isn’t God being a big meanie.
This fear is a gift from God.
A gift to get them on his side.
A gift to get them to listen to him.
A gift to cause them to be just like their friend Rahab – and turn to him as their Savior.
It’s a wonderful blessing from God--
They just didn’t listen.
II. Preparations for Israel
Let’s shift. While this fear spreads over Jericho, Joshua is following God’s instructions to prepare the Israelites. Look at verse 2 (Yes, we are at least ten minutes in and haven’t even made it past the first verse…but I digress):
1. The Preparation of Circumcision
2 The Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” 3 So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites…
I’ll say it once so we don’t linger on it. Circumcision is exactly what circumcision is today. It’s the cutting off of skin in the male private area. Interesting note – this was done amongst the ancients for a lot of reasons: health benefits, a tribal mark, a rite of passage, or even simple hygiene.
Biblical circumcision was a visual, outward reminder of God’s personal promise to the recipient. It’s similar to a tattoo of a cross or a key chain that says John 3:16. It’s a very personal reminder of God’s promise.
And it’s permanent! You can’t undo it. Just like you couldn’t undo God’s promise – Even when you faced terrifying things:
In battle and surrounded by the enemy? I have been circumcised – God has promised to be with me.
Walking around a giant, impenetrable wall? I have been circumcised. God has promised to be with me.
Setting up my home for my first year in the Promised Land? I have been circumcised. God has promised to be with me.
2. The Preparation of the Passover
10 On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover.
Remember – the Passover was a reminder of how God saved the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. In the final plagues, he sent the angel of death to kill the firstborn son of every family in Egypt. But to those who trusted God, they need only take an innocent lamb, slaughter it and paint its blood on the wooden frame of the door. Then, the angel of death would “pass over” them and they would be safe.
The Passover was a bit different from circumcision then. The Passover was a visual, outward reminder of God’s public promise to the recipients. He would be with them. He would deliver them to the Promised Land.
And I love the very special meaning behind this Passover. Because it was the first Passover that had ever been eaten in the Promised Land. Look at verse 11: The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. (5:11) Because they were where God had promised the nation that they would be.
Can you imagine the patriotic spirit that night?
4th of July was cool, but…think of it like the 4th of July in 1779 – they year after the Revolutionary War was over!
That’s what was going on for the Israelites.
They had made it.
God had made it for them.
That night -
They reminded each other.
They celebrated together.
They encouraged each other in God’s promises.
III. What Now?
A couple things from these lessons –
1. Thank God for Fear
Because maybe earlier…you felt a bit uneasy when we talked about sin and being enemies of God. That’s a good thing.
It’s similar to the uneasy feeling that you might get if you head to the zoo and you get a bit close to the giant jungle python. It’s behind bars. It’s behind the glass that’s supposed to not break – but still you don’t tap on the glass because you’ve got a healthy fear and respect for the giant serpent.
Same thing with God.
Fear means a healthy respect and awe and wonder and yes – even a bit of – unease. It recognizes the danger we are in as we, sinners, approach God.
Don’t fight him.
Fall at his feet.
Ask for forgiveness.
Ask for his mercy.
Ask for his compassion.
Be confident that he has sent it – in the form of his Son Jesus Christ dying on the cross for your sins.
Moving us from enemies – to friends.
2. Remember God’s NEW Personal Promise
Because circumcision is no longer a church ceremony. Still – we have a ceremony – a beautiful, divine ceremony in which God places his personal promise onto our hearts.
In Him [Christ] you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism. (Colossians 2:11-12)
See the connection? Just as Old Testament circumcision involves the cutting off of flesh, so baptism involves the spiritual cutting off of sin from our hearts! And what’s more? That sin that’s been cut off has been tossed into the grave.
It’s been left behind.
It is no longer who you are.
Have you been baptized? This is God’s personal promise to you.
Want to be baptized? Wonderful. Let’s talk. And God will make his personal promise to you.
3. Remember God’s NEW Public Promise
In fact, as related as circumcision seems to be to baptism; there is an even simpler and easier to see correlation between the Passover and a different New Testament ceremony.
While Jesus and his disciples were eating the Passover Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28)
The connection is greater than just Jesus started the Lord’s Supper in the middle of the Passover meal.
Scripture calls Jesus the “Lamb of God.” (John 1:29)
In fact, the “Passover Lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7)
And “The blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin.” (1 Jn. 1:7)
In other words, because of Jesus blood – God’s wrath passes over us.
That’s what’s going on when we partake of the Lord’s Supper.
It’s a big deal.
It’s one of the reasons that we ask people who haven’t been through our newcomer’s class to go through our newcomer’s class before they come up here for Lord’s Supper. Because this is a big deal what’s going on up here and I don’t want you to miss it.
And honestly, if you have kind of forgotten why it’s a big deal – come back to newcomer’s class. I’ll call it “review class.” Learn again what your Savior did for you.
I love the ending to this section: The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan. (5:12)
Cool. They are no longer desert dwellers.
They are no longer warriors.
They are home.
Though there are battles to come, because of God’s promises – they are as good as home.
The same is true for you.
Humbled by our fear of God.
Trusting in God’s mercy.
Dwelling in the promise of baptism.
Meditating on the promise of Lord’s Supper.
We aren’t home.
But we’re as good as home.
Previously, we saw how God helped the Israelites pass into the land of Canaan. He didn’t use a boat or a connecting flight in Miami. He caused an entire river to wall up by his invisible hand. The entire nation, close to a million Israelites, crossed on dry ground.
What’s do you think would be the first thing you did if you were an Israelite entering the Promised Land after a 40+ year desert journey?
Take a nap?
Eat some of the famous Milk and Honey?
Take a selfie by the WELCOME TO CANAAN sign?
The Israelites choose to do none of these. In fact, before they can leave the Jordan River they have some very important business to take care of. Before we dive in to God’s Word and learn what that is, pray with me: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Original Memorial
1When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, 3 and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.” (4:1-3)
Take note – God’s next command for Joshua comes right after the nation has successfully navigated to the dry riverbed. That means every last one of them is safe. Every last one of them is on dry ground. Every last one of them is in the Promised Land.
God has kept his promise.
What God tells them to do next isn’t a requirement to enter the Promised land; it’s a response to entering. They choose 12 men -- a man from every tribe in Israel. And head to the middle of the river where the Priests are still standing – still holding up the ark – which is still holding up the water-- and the men remove 12 stones. Not rocks or pebbles. Joshua tells them to put them up on their shoulder (v.4) – meaning they were big enough that they needed to be carried like a sack of flour – and take them back and set them on the river’s edge.
This not an easy task. It sounds like a bit like a Crossfit workout. Had these guys been snacking on so much manna that they really needed a workout?
Not exactly. In fact, the one who wanted the stones was God. Not an overzealous exercise guru.
Was God really that vain?
Did God have a big stone collection?
Was God a fan of fine art?
Not so much.
God might have commissioned the project.
But it wasn’t for Him.
It was for His people.
Particularly four different groups:
1. For the Kids
In verse 4, Joshua said, “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord.” This memorial was going to be used just like any other memorial – to teach kids history that they themselves had not seen. But the history was not about how awesome Joshua was, or how incredible Moses was or how believing dad was in walking across the water.
It was about God.
About his grace.
About his power.
About how He keeps his promises.
2. For their Grandkids – and beyond!
Joshua continued, “These stones are to be a memorial for the people of Israel forever.” This wasn’t just for their kids. It was for their grandkids. It was for their great-grandkids. It was for their great-great-great-great-great-great-grandnephews -- twice removed. It would be a way for the Israelites who had just witnessed God’s grace and mercy to share God’s grace and mercy with generations beyond them.
3. For Non-Israelites
Jump to verse 23 after the memorial is set up. Joshua identifies another group blessed by this memorial 23 “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 24 God did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful.”
This wasn’t just for the people of Israel. It was for the Canaanites --- the Girgashites, Perizzites, the Shechemites, and all the other “ites” that existed.
People who didn’t care for God.
People who refused to acknowledge God.
People who were far off from God.
People whom God loved.
People whom God hoped would turn to him.
People to whom God would use this memorial to speak to their hearts and lead them to saving faith in Him.
Finally, God wanted this memorial constructed for the sake of one more, very important group: Themselves. Check out the end of verse 23 “God did this…so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”
Because God wasn’t going to do these miracles every day.
It wasn’t going to be so obvious that He was on their side.
It wasn’t even going to be so obvious that He was there.
But this memorial reminded them that he was.
It reminded them to follow Him.
It reminded them to keep their faith in the Lord.
So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them.
They got the stones.
Set them up.
And a memorial was built.
II. A Replica in Your Life?
So…The obvious question that keeps flooding my mind as I read this:
What memorial are you leaving behind?
For your kids…
For your neighbors…
For generations to come…
What will they remember about you?
What did you stand for?
What did you do?
In my room growing up, there was a shelf that was literally dedicated to trophies. The goal was to put all of my achievements and accomplishments up there. And after a few years – it was crowded. With really impressive stuff:
A dozen relay participation ribbons.
A third place 6th grade boys high jump finish.
A consolation basketball tournament plaque.
About 5 certificates of 1* trombone achievements
And 1 bowling trophy – that my dad won – and I pretended was mine.
Here’s the thing – I thought it was so impressive. And I loved to have it up there (pathetic as it was) because I wanted to broadcast me.
I wanted to memorialize myself.
I wanted to people to remember – me!
I know I’m not alone. The honest truth is that people are more interested in memorializing themselves than they are in memorializing God.
Look at my beautiful diploma I’ve got displayed.
Check out my Facebook page and all of my accomplishments.
Listen to me tell you about me and how awesome I am.
This is a heart problem.
A heart problem in America.
A heart problem with Christians in America.
Because you are nothing without God.
He gave you life.
He gave you new life.
He gave you eternal life.
Why do you want to steal the credit from him?
Still – here’s the awesome truth about God. In spite of us, God has still found a way to leave memorials on this earth. And I’m not talking about rocks. I’m not talking about crosses. I’m not even talking about memorial plaques “dedicated to God.”
I’m talking about you.
Have you been to Pullen Park before? It’s the world’s 16th oldest, continuously operating park. But being around that long has caused some rust, some dirt, some falling apart. From 2009 to 2011, they dealt with those issues.
The train was repainted.
The plants were replanted.
The animals on the carousel were cleaned, painted, and polished to perfection.
Now – it’s as good as new.
2 Corinthians 5:17 says this, “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
In other words -- Jesus did the same with us that Raleigh did with Pullen Park.
Jesus refurbished us.
He scrubbed off the sin.
He removed the gummy guilt “yuck.”
He fixed our brokenness and brought us into working condition.
He polished, shined and displayed us in righteousness.
He made you like new!
He placed you on the trophy case complete with the crown of life – such that when the angels pass by in the heavenly halls he says – “Look at what I won! Look at what I paid for with my death and resurrection. Look at my dear brother – Check out my sister. Aren’t they awesome?”
III. What Now?
Well…maybe you’re itching to set up a memorial to God. He’s awesome. He’s wonderful. He’s done great things. So…Pastor…Do you know of a place that sells any river stones close by?
Here’s the thing. I love the enthusiasm – but I don’t know that we need river stones to make a memorial.
In fact, the memorial that God’s looking for is already in this church.
1. Be a Memorial
I love this passage from 1 Peter 2:5 and I think it fits in well with this lesson on Memorial Stones. Peter wrote, “You (are) living stones...” Literal…memorial stones. Showcases of God’s glory!
Think about it:
We were lost. We were sinners. We were deserving of God’s wrath. We were selfish people on the road to hell.
But Jesus saved us. He lived for us. He died for us. He rose for us. He placed you on the path to heaven and uses you to display his glory to the world.
Be that memorial. Live for God each Sunday. Let your kids see how important Jesus is. Let your husband see how important Jesus is. Let your friends see how important Jesus is as you head off to worship your Lord and God.
Be that memorial. Live for God during the week. Live for God at home. Live for God at work. Live for God at the gym. Live for God in the grocery aisle. Live for God at the library, the coffee shop, and the comic book store. Wherever you are – live for God.
Be a memorial to his love and grace. Be so obviously full of love -- people stop. People ask. What makes you tick? And you tell him – that it’s because of my Lord and Savior. He rescued me from sin and death.
2. Be a part of This Memorial
Back to that passage from Peter. It says, “You are living stones…being built into a spiritual house.” That’s us. Together.
Because the reality is that if the monument looks like that (picture of rock by itself), it’s not all that noticeable. A few people might see it; not a lot. Especially not a lot from far away.
But when you build the rocks together – It’s visible from miles away!
That’s the goal of God’s church.
That’s the goal of this church.
That’s our goal fellow memorial stones.
Which got me to thinking:
If tomorrow Gethsemane ceased to exist, would anybody notice?
Particularly – anybody outside this church?
Granted. We’ve got Precious Lambs. It reaches the community. A lot of parents would be missing the childcare that they receive.
But outside of that? I wonder.
Here’s an encouragement for us. We need to keep reaching.
We need to keep outreaching.
We need to keep getting into the community and letting the memorial stones be seen.
Not to our own glory.
Not to the glory of our church.
But to the glory of God!
Yesterday at the Food Bank was a great example of that. We need to keep thinking about more ways to do that together as a church – If you have some ideas let me know. And if you see opportunities like that – Let’s take them.
Again the goal – making these memorials to God clear for all to see.
3. Stop Criticizing Other Memorials
Because while we all have the same Savior, the reality is that as different people we have different memorials.
Just like artists are different.
One uses pointillism.
One uses realism.
One uses abstract shapes.
It doesn’t do a lot of good for one person to say, “I don’t like that you are giving your money to that church fund.”
“I don’t think you serve in that way...”
“I think you should serve in this church and do this job in this particular way that I always do it…or else maybe you shouldn’t have the job.”
This is criticism.
This is ungodly criticism.
Case and point – The woman from Bethany. She comes into the room where Jesus is staying and stoops down near his feet. She opens up a bottle of perfume – hundreds of dollars of perfume – Eau de Expensive Perfume And she pours… it onto Jesus’ head.
The disciples are indignant!
This was a waste of money.
This memorial could have been used better.
This memorial is not the memorial that I would have given.
And Jesus? He says this, “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me…Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached through the world, what she has done will also be told.”
Instead of criticizing each other; encourage.
Practically speaking it means --
If someone makes the cookies differently than you would, thank them for making the cookies.
If someone trims the flowers differently than you would, thank them for trimming the flowers.
If someone plays the music differently than you would, thank them for playing the music.
If the thing they are doing isn’t sinful, encourage them.
It’s just another stone to add to our memorial for the community of North Raleigh to see –
That they might see Jesus.
In fact, that’s kind of what happened in our Joshua story. Because did you see what happened in verse 12?
And (at the time of the Book of Joshua’s original writing) the stones are there to this day.
The memorial did its job.
The testimony to God was there for generations.
How long will your testimony be there?
How long will our testimony?
By God’s strength – may we make our testimony tall and our memorial enduring. Amen.
Ever been on a family vacation before?
It always sounds so nice. You get in the car, everyone has their seat and pillow from home. Dad’s driving. Mom has the directions. The bag with all the food is in the back seat for Brother to turn around and deliver snacks. Sister is in control of the DVD player. It sounds nice. The family on a trip together.
But then dad takes the turns on the highway a bit too fast -- Sister is feeling sick to her stomach.
Mom is distracted by sister and forgets to tell dad to turn on I-75. The car goes an hour out of the way.
Dad needs some trail mix to calm himself down, but there’s not any left. Brother ate all of it!
Sister won’t let anyone put any DVD in that isn’t an iCarly original – so that you hear the theme song in the back of your head the whole time.
Sometimes it’s easier to travel alone.
No one to complain about driving.
No one to give wrong directions.
No one else to eat the trail mix.
But what about following Jesus? What about spiritual travel? Is it nicer alone or together?
Today we’re continuing our series called Follow and we’re discussing what it’s like to follow together – as a church family. We will hear about some of the biggest threats to following together and be reminded of the blessings. Before we do that, join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Divisions in Corinth
Our lesson comes from 1 Corinthians 1. A bit of background – 1 Corinthians is a letter written to a young church that was in a city called Corinth. The Corinthians had first learned about Jesus from a follower of Jesus named Paul. They were the ones who told them that they were sinners; that they needed a Savior; that Jesus was that Savior.
At first, the people were so excited about this message. They loved having salvation. They loved having freedom from sin. They loved the peace of God.
But then…something happened.
Paul left. Another Pastor – Pastor Apollos – showed up and took their place. It doesn’t appear he taught a much different message. He taught that they were sinners; that they needed a Savior and that Jesus was that Savior. (Same thing; same message.)
But Apollos must have done things a bit differently. (Maybe he didn’t choose the same worship music as Paul; maybe he bought a different kind of coffee for morning fellowship – I don’t know). Regardless, it started to cause some people to long for their past pastor.
I really miss Paul. He was so sarcastic.The type of guy you could grab a beer with and still be convicted.
Ok sure. But I’m a fan of Apollos. He’s no nonsense and he’s getting stuff done.
But some of his ideas are different. He doesn’t do things the same way that Paul does things. He’s #NotMyPastor.
Speak for yourself – I’m an Apollos guy. Times are changing. His way is better.
Well, I’ll always be a follower of Paul – first and foremost. I’m not a follower of Apollos.
I am. You can stay stuck in the past with the Paul way of doing things.
And then – into that culture – somehow the church became familiar with the teachings of a guy called Cephas (aka Peter). Peter was one of the original 12 disciples. Peter spoke with Jesus for 3 years. Peter must have introduced himself to them. Told about how he saw the resurrected Jesus and shared his ideas for the church of Jesus going forward.
Picture Peter the accomplished author you might find down at the Christian bookstore. A group of people moved to the area from Peter’s church in Jerusalem, joined the church, and ran every idea from the church council by the Apostle Peter.
Putting the sermon after the Bible study? WWPD (What Would Peter do?) – I don’t know if he’d think it was a good idea.
Welcoming Gentiles into the same congregation as Jews? WWPD? I’m not so sure.
Chocolate chip cookies for fellowship! WWPD? I think he’d buy Oreos.
Suddenly a shift started to take place in the church. Instead of one united group, there were different groups. They weren’t united Christians. They were Paulians, Peterites and Apollosians. A group of Paul followers would gather over here and badmouth the Barnabas brotherhood. The Barnabas brotherhood would meet over there and discuss ways to stop Apollos’ outreach plan. And Apollos’ selected church people would snap Instagram photos with the #ApollosChurch until it was trending.
Word got to Paul – the guy who first told them about Jesus. There weren’t phones back then. There wasn’t Snapchat. He couldn’t just TWEET his displeasure. So, he wrote a longhand letter. These divisions are one of the first things he addresses.
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”’ another, “I follow Cephas,” still another, “I follow Christ.”
I think this is interesting. Paul’s appeal is not for people to revert to doing things his way.
It isn’t for people to listen to all of his ideas.
It’s for people to stop be divided and started being united.
He asks some pretty poignant questions to get his point across:
(1) Is Christ divided? Are the Jews class A of Christians and the Gentiles class B? Did Jesus die once on a cross for the rich and once on a side street for the poor? Does John 3:16 say, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him and likes country music goes to heaven, but whoever believes in him and like rap music goes to a different heaven"? Not any worse, just not the same – not so that I have to listen to your country music the whole time I’m in heaven.
(2) Was Paul crucified for you? The quick answer is NO; he’s busy writing this very letter. Paul wasn’t crucified. Apollos wasn’t crucified. Peter, although some tradition suggests that he was eventually was crucified, was not crucified yet! And even when he did die – it didn’t have any incredible redemptive work. Ask the kids – Jesus died on the cross – not Paul, not Peter, not Apollos, not anyone or anything else.
(3) Were you baptized into the name of Paul? How would that have even sounded? “I baptize you in the name of Paul the Pharisee, Paul the persecutor, and Paul the reformed Christian missionary?"
And I love Paul’s parenthetical aside, “I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.)” Paul’s point isn’t that he didn’t want people to be baptized. (Baptism brings forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation. Things that Paul treasured dearly and dedicated the latter portion of his life preaching). Rather, Paul’s point is that people would have used being baptized by him as some kind of special badge that would have furthered division.
It’s like bringing home a gift for your kids. Maybe you get them each a PEZ dispenser. What if you got the PEZ dispenser for everyone in your family accept your middle child? How’s that go over? (“You love them more than me.”)
It’s the same thing with adults though. Imagine if your boss at work gives everyone a Valentine’s card with a PAYDAY chocolate attached to it. (Get it, PAYDAY?) What happens if you look around the office and you see everyone else has a delicious, chocolate, salty candy bar and you don’t? Division! You get angry. You whine.
Paul recognizes that – even with something as incredible as Baptism. As if people would wear ball caps that said, “Baptized by Paul” and others were visors that said, “Blessed by the hand of Apollos.”
TRUTH: People love taking good things and making them into divisive things. In the case of Baptism, they had taken something incredible – baptism – which unites you with God and with believers and they were now using it as a thing of division.
II. Divisions at Gethsemane?
Careful. Because the devil is still at work today. He is still trying to sabotage the church just as much as he did back then. He is still trying to sabotage our ministry here in Raleigh – just as much as he did then. By taking neutral things – even good things --- and making them into divisive things.
Here are three things that I think we have to be especially careful of.
Did you know it’s not sinful to engage in politics? It’s not sinful to watch political shows either. But what has happened is our country has such an incredible divide between the Republican and Democratic party – that we no longer view each other as people we politely disagree with. But people that we violently oppose! And let them know as much on Facebook and every other social media site we can get onto.
That can’t happen in this church.
That can’t happen when we are dedicated to sharing Jesus.
Jesus wasn’t Republican. Jesus wasn’t Democrat. (Neither of those were even around back then.)
Jesus is our God. He is our Savior. He is the Savior of your friend who votes in a different direction.
Don’t let politics get in the way and ruin the message of your Savior.
Culture is a great thing. It’s a view into God’s mind. That he created us so very different with so many different backgrounds, different food favorites and different styles of wearing our hair. It’s beautiful. Thanks to culture we have the ability to go to the Chinese restaurant on Monday, get Mexican on Tuesday, grab some soul food on Wednesday, try an Italian pizzeria on Thursday and finish it off with Japanese sushi on Friday.
Culture is great. But the temptation is to make it into something that divides – (See: Racism)
Racism has no place in the church. Jesus died for all. It says in the Bible Jesus died for Jews and for Gentiles – which means -- everyone who isn’t a Jew.
Don’t let culture get in the way and ruin the message of your Savior.
(3) Worship Styles.
I bring this up because we will be moving to two different services on Easter. Those two services may be different. One might be a more traditional style of worship (with robes and organ and old school hymns) while the other might be a more contemporary style of worship (without robes and with a band and new school songs).
Both are good. Both are different expressions of culture. Both share God’s Word.
Both could cause division.
Whether it’s “I’m a Traditional Christian” and "I’m a Contemporary Christian.”
Or whether it’s “I’m an early service Christian” and “I’m a late service Christian.”
Don’t let these causes division. Traditional worship didn’t die for you. You weren’t baptized into the name of Contemporary worship.
You were baptized into the name of Jesus.
III. Jesus Unites
In fact, Jesus died to stop division—division between us and God. Our sins had divided us from him. Read Isaiah 59:2 “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear.”
There’s this picture of this big thick bulletproof glass. You can see someone on the other side. It’s someone you love. You wish they could hear you. You’re banging on the glass for them to hear you and notice you and let you in.
But they don’t.
That’s the picture of sin and God. We see him. We know his power. We see the value in being with him. But our sins separate us. In a cruel, cruel joke reminding us how unworthy we are to approach a holy, divine God.
But Jesus is like a wrecking ball. Jesus comes in and smashed through the wall. Jesus comes in and knock down our sins. Jesus comes in and removes what separated us from God. Jesus unites us to our Heavenly Father.
TRUTH: God is not a God of division. God is a God of unity.
Paul recognized that. Look at how he continues the letter: Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
Look at that again – “The cross, the message that Jesus died for us, destroys our sin, and unites us with God the Father, is a message that divides.” Unbelievers call it foolishness. It doesn’t make any sense – some Jewish guy, a carpenter, died a few thousand years ago, and because of him I’m right with God?
But that same message that divides unbelievers is the message that unites us. It is the power of God.
It is the power for salvation for the Jew.
It is the power of salvation for the Gentile.
It is the power of salvation for the guy who got along with Paul.
It is the power of salvation for the guy who really liked Apollos.
It is the power of salvation for the girl who votes Republican.
It is the power of salvation for the girl who votes Democrat.
It is the power of salvation for the Italian, the German, the Iraqi, the African American, the Hispanic, and the Native American.
It is the power of salvation for the guy who likes guitars.
It is the power of salvation for the guy who likes organ.
It is the power of salvation for all of us. It is the one, incredible, power of salvation that unites us all!
IV. What now?
(1) Focus on What Unites
That’s such an easy thing for us to do. To point out what’s different. But there’s so much that’s the same. We all have eyes. We all have noses. We all have hands and feet. We all have a need to be connected with family and friends. We all have a need to be connected with God.
Check out verse 26: “Think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong…it is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus.”
Paul is saying – Stop thinking about what makes you different. Think about what makes you the same:
Y’all were sinners.
Y’all were ignorant.
Y’all were in need of a savior.
And all y’all have a Savior. That Savior is Jesus. He is your wisdom.
(2) Boast in God
That’s Paul’s conclusion on this first chapter. He says in verse 31, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” Because what’s boasting? Boasting is speaking openly and proudly about something you like or accomplished.
The problem with boasting is that is usually causes someone to feel awful who hasn’t accomplished what you are boasting about.
Boast in Jesus. Don’t boast in your favorite style of worship. Don’t boast in your favorite political party.
Boast in Jesus.
Boast in God.
Boast in the one who actually and completely unites us in every way.
Then, you are able to follow together.
Then, you are able to follow peaceably.
Then, you are able to help each other on the road to heaven.
A brother of our passed away this past week. I won’t give every detail, but know that he was an older gentleman who had struggles with his lungs. He also didn’t have a lot of family in the area. He lived alone.
That’s a hard thing to go through alone.
I had gotten the message that it wouldn’t be much longer while I was in Arizona. It’s hard to do bedside ministry from Arizona. But…here’s where following together comes in.
Pastor Rockhoff helped with a visit.
One of our elders helped with a visit.
My wife graciously drove me late at night for a visit.
I wasn’t there at the exact time of his death. But one of our elders was. From what I heard about his final minutes – as he was struggling and life was leaving him – our elder was blessed to be able to share with him God’s Word. Literally – reading the blessing.
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you.
The Lord look on you with favor and give you peace.
And the Lord gave him peace.
And the Lord brought him into peace.
And he now lives in eternal peace.
That’s following Jesus.
That’s following Jesus together.
Lord help us do that now and always. Amen.
8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
12 With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. 13 She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. 14 Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.
1 Peter 5:8-14
Over this Pentecost season, we’ve been in the book of 1 Peter. We’ve learned what it is to be People of God. Strangers on this earth. Heirs of heaven. Holy in God’s sight and imperishable. Hungry for God and revelling in being chosen by Him! People of God serve as citizens, employees, and spouses. They are saved, but remain clear minded through suffering always remembering you are in this together!
It’s nice, isn’t it? Nice to be People of God.
Have you ever gotten one of those urgent emails from your In-Store Credit Card company? WARNING: You are about to lose your membership benefits! Your account has been inactive and unless you buy something in the next three months, we’ll close your credit card membership and you’ll lose all your privileges: No more rewards points. No more special deals. No more ability to buy things without having any money. No more privilege of paying them 25% interest on all purchases!
This morning at the end of Peter’s letter – the Apostle leaves us with a similar warning. He wants Christians everywhere – he wants me; he wants you – to remain a person of God and continue to enjoy all the privileges associated with it. Today he warns us of One whose very goal is the destruction of your faith! Listen then to his warning as he tells us to stand FIRM.
I. Why to Stand Firm
Peter wants us to stand firm in faith. Read verses 8-10 with me. “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
The first striking command is to be alert and of sober mind. To be alert is to be awake. It’s to be watchful. To be ready for anything.
With our new puppy, I’ve been learning to be alert. I fell asleep for a 15 minute nap this past week and awoke to 5 shoes out on the floor, some ripped up toilet paper and a few little presents beside. Had I been alert, this wouldn’t have happened.
Peter wants you to be alert so that you don’t lose your spot in the People of God. He wants you to pay attention so that you remain saved. He wants you to be aware so that you can prevent someone from taking these privileges from you!
But…you might ask…who would want to take these privileges from me?
The answer is as simple as it is scary: THE DEVIL.
He is the father of lies. The demon of destruction. The one who caused humanity to fall into sin. The one who brought death into the world. The one who brought pain into the world. The one who tempted the people at the time of Noah’s flood to continue to rebel against God and face their own destruction. The one who came into Judas and caused him to betray Jesus. The one who has caused countless people to disregard God and join him in hell!
He’s as formidable a foe now as he was in that ancient garden long ago.
Pay attention to what Peter calls the devil in verse 8. He calls him “your enemy.” He doesn’t call him God’s enemy, although he is. But Peter’s stress here is that he is YOUR enemy. He hates you.
“Jesus loves me this I know.” That’s what the children’s song says. We don’t sing a song for the devil. But if we would, do you know what it would say, “Satan hates me this I know…”
Don’t get me wrong. There are times when it feels like the devil is the good guy. “He just wants me to have fun. God’s the One who’s a prude. God needs to lighten up on his hatred for sin…it isn’t that bad.” We picture him like the cool guy enlightening us on how to live the good life.
BUT THAT IS NOT THE DEVIL! Make no mistake about it: THE DEVIL HATES YOU!
And this hate isn’t something to scoff at. Notice Peter doesn’t call him an “annoyed rabbit.” He doesn’t call him a “frightened Chihuahua.” He doesn’t call him “a declawed kitty that doesn’t like you all that much.” Peter calls him “a roaring lion…prowling…looking for someone to devour.” Ruthless. Powerful. Dangerous.
Tell me, would you like to cuddle with a hungry lion that hasn’t eaten for days?
Be even more frightened as the devil. He is that dangerous! Because listen again to his end game, “He is looking for someone to devour,” “to completely swallow up.” But the devil isn’t interested in physical food; he feeds on souls.
Think of those National Geographic specials where they show the unfortunate carcass of the slowest antelope as the lion has antelope hanging from his lips.
This is the very real picture of what the devil wants to happen to your soul! He wants you to disown God, abandon your faith, turn to sin, and spend forever in terrible torment of his lair – hell itself. He wants to tear apart your obedience to God, to rip to shred’s your faith in Jesus, to devour any hope of heaven that remains, and feast on your fear, doubt, and hatred!
Peter says, “Resist him!” But rather than just saying it, I feel like Peter could be shouting it like a safari guide whose tourists have gotten too close, “Resist him! Resist him…..because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
The call is urgent. The devil is dangerous. The devil is vengeful. The devil is…here.
Look at our scary world.
I heard this past week about a group of Christians in Nepal. In Nepal these Christians are viewed as the lowest class of society. They are the bottom of the cast system. It is illegal to share your faith there and could result in prison.
It isn’t the worst is it? Beheadings in the Middle East. Imprisonment in China. Hatred in Africa.
But don’t forget about the United States – where the devil presents a sneakier front. The Bible mocked. Sexual sin at new levels of perversity. Social media encouraging everyone to disavow the real God of the Bible. Unbelief in America is climbing at an incredible rate!
"The most dangerous trick the devil ever played is in getting people to believe that he doesn't exist!"
Isn't that America? And isn't that true for you too? It's dangerous out there. Dangerous FOR YOU!
So…I need you to answer this question for yourself: Are you ready? Are you prepared?
We should go on a field trip. Let’s drive up and down Falls of Neuse, there are a lot of churches. If you head over to Six Forks, you could add even more. But what do they look like right now on a Sunday morning? Bustling and filled with People of God getting ready to fight the devil?
Or empty. Half full. Hard to notice that there’s anything going on as you drive on by?
Actually, we could probably play a decent game of kick ball in our parking lot – and for the ball? Why not roll up all the papers from our church mailboxes of people who haven’t been here in awhile, because it doesn’t seem all that important.
Would some of your papers be used?
Brothers and sisters WAKE UP! If you think the devil isn’t a big deal, wake up and resist him! Stop sinning. Stop ignoring God’s call. Hear God’s message and stand firm against the foe!
II. How to Stand Firm
Of course, you might be feeling a little nervous right about now. The devil sounds like an awful foe. And to be honest – I’m no match for him. His temptations are too strong. The doubts are too much. He’s worked on former Christian after former Christian – even member of my family. How can I withstand him? How can I defeat. I don’t stand a chance alone!
You’re right. Our frail human flesh cannot withstand the wily and dangerous traps of the hellfire breathing dragon himself. Not alone.
But you aren’t alone.
The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. (v.10-11)
Do you not remember who you are? You are the People of God. As people of God that means you are of God! He is with you. And he will support you.
What is our military campaign doing against ISIS right now? They are sending air support. Drones that are dropping bombs with the goal of helping the people of Iraq defeat the terrorists there.
God is the support you need in fighting the devil. Only he doesn’t miss. He doesn’t accidently hit citizens. He doesn’t have all kinds of squabble and politics tying up each and every time you ask him for help.
Peter says, Cast all your anxiety on him because He cares for you! And His help is swift. It’s quick. It’s powerful.
Take note this support from God comes by his grace! That’s why it says, “The God of all grace.” Be careful, because it’s easy to think, “He’ll help me when I show him I’m worthy of being helped.”
But that’s not real grace. That’s like “If you earn it, then possibly I’ll think you’ll worthwhile enough to help you” grace.
Remember this is how Jesus worked. Scripture says, “When we were dead in our sins…God made us alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins!” (Colossians 2:13)
And God isn’t someone who loves you, but can only send the occasional letter of encouragement that helps you out sometime.
God is powerful. All powerful. “To him be the power…forever and ever.” (v.10) The truth is: Satan is powerful, but God is more powerful. He doesn’t say God has a little power, a bit of power, or some power. He doesn’t say he will have this power in the future OR only for a limited time.
He has all the power – which is way more than necessary to defeat Satan – and Jesus has it now and forever.
Here’s a little math for you:
The Devil > You.
God > Devil (Because I don't know if there is a mathematical symbol for "Much greater than.")
You +God > Devil.
Didn’t God already prove this power on the cross? Is that not when he completely destroyed any power that the devil truly had? Did he not defeat sin – which the devil brought into the world? Didn’t he defeat death – another comrade of the devil’s – by walking out of the grave on Easter Sunday morning? Didn’t he stomp on Satan’s power to accuse you? Didn’t he get rid of any excuse the devil had to say, “But they're sinful, God send them to hell!” Did our Lord completely and utterly destroy Satan in every way?
This too is great news. It’s what Peter repeats in verse 11 with his little doxology. To him that’s God, to God be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Now, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to pour a bowl full of Wheaties – filled with vitamins and nutrients for a championship day – and then not to eat it. It would also be foolish, if you made a delicious meal of pasta for the marathon you had coming up, but you didn’t eat a single noodle.
It is equally – and even more foolish than that — to avoid God. It is just as foolish to stay apart from His Word where he gives our faith the nutrients it needs to stay in faith. It does harm to not run to church and receive the service prepared like a pasta dinner for a runner in order to convict you of sin, strengthen you in faith, and keep you standing firm forever!
So -- run to God. Get the strength you need. And listen to his promise once more, “The God of all grace...will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
Now we come to the final words of 1 Peter. Verses 12-14. And as we look at them we are reminded – this letter – this script we’ve been following throughout summer – is no story. It is no fantasy. It is not the end of a historical fiction novel.
With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. 13 She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark.
A very real letter to very real people. People of God. A letter from people of God (Mark, Peter, and Silas) to people of God – Christians everywhere, Christians here. You.
And this very real letter to very real people from the very real Apostle of Christ? It is has the very real blessing of the very real Savior of the World – of the very real God himself.
People of God. Listen to these words and receive their very real blessing.
Stand fast in God’s Word.
Greet one another with a kiss of love.
Peace to all of you who are in Christ.
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
5 Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
1 Peter 5:1-6
What would your dream church look like?
Does this describe your perfect church?
If so, do you realize that this perfect church is all about you?
Don’t get me wrong. That’s true to a certain extent. Church is a lot about you. You and your relationship with God. But think about it, if church was all about you…tailored to your likes, your interests, your preferences in every way, shape and form--- how many people do you think would come…
In today’s lesson, Peter tells us that we are not alone. We don’t attend a church as a PERSON of God, but as PEOPLE of God. And as People of God, we are in this TOGETHER.
I. Notes about Caring for Others
Take a look at Peter’s words in 5:1-4. These describe how important it is to care for each other. Peter writes, “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”
Caring for others was so important to do that already at the time 1 Peter was written—twenty some years after Jesus ascended into heaven – there was a special position in churches that involved doing just that: Caring for others. Here it is called “an elder.” The word means more than just being physically mature or older. It refers to one who is spiritually mature who is asked to care for the spiritual health of others.
At Gethsemane, we still have that position. We have a group of men specifically tasked with caring for the spiritual well being of the congregation’s member.
Does that mean if you aren’t a pastor or an elder that this section doesn’t have anything to say to you?
Not so much.
Because this section talks to people who have been tasked with caring for others, it therefore has principles that apply to anyone who has been tasked with caring for others. It speaks to members of the ladies group who care for each other. It speaks to parents who lead their children. It speaks to husbands who care for their wives and wives who care for their husbands. It speaks to Christians who care about their friends…friends who care for those they serve cookies with, and congregation members who care for others who sit in their row!
In other word, If you are a Christian, you have been called to care for other Christians!
Peter knew this was especially important for the church during times of persecution. That’s why he notes in verse 1, “I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings…”
Peter had truly witnessed Christ’s sufferings. He saw Jesus arrested. He saw him on trial. He saw him battered and beaten. He saw him crucified. And Peter saw what this persecution did for Jesus’ followers. They fled. They betrayed him. They denied knowing him. They hid away in fear.
Since the church at Peter’s time would be undergoing very similar persecutions (remember what we talked about last week), Peter knew the same struggles of doubt, fear, and denial would be facing those Christians.
In the same way, our flock facing struggles. Temptations to sin, temptations to doubt, persecutions at work, on the internet, in the media. Therefore, it is imperative that we listen to Peter’s solution: Be shepherds of God’s flock under your care.
Ever notice the difference in caring for your own stuff versus caring for someone else’s stuff. For instance, if you spill some ketchup on your shirt, you might think, “No big deal. I have more at home." I might dab at it a bit, but you don’t stress over it.
But if you are borrowing someone else’s shirt, how does that change? Suddenly, you run to the bathroom and use the entire soap dispenser’s worth of liquid soap to get the stain out. IT’S NOT YOUR SHIRT! You go to the store and pay for a couple of Tide sticks. You pray that the stain will come out, because it’s not your shirt!
The group of people that have been placed into our congregational lives? It isn’t our congregation. It isn’t Gethsemane’s congregation. It’s God’s congregation.
Think about what that means for pastors – this isn’t my people, but God’s people. It isn’t People of Kiecker, but people of God! Same thing goes for the elders. It isn’t: “This person is under my care, but not that person…I don’t have time to pray for them,” But this person is God’s person and I’ll remember them in my prayers. Even Sunday School teachers: “This is God’s child. He’s entrusted me to serve them the best I am able. I will care for their souls…” For all of us, it says, “I will encourage this person for God’s sake, not for my own sake!”
Keeping our mind on this truth will help guards us against three pitfalls that come in while caring for others:
1. Pitfall of Begrudging.
Peter warns against begrudging in verse 3, "Not because you must, but because you want to." This is an easy trap to fall into. It's so easy as a pastor to say, "I have to do this it's my job. Ugh. That person doesn't even like me that much and I'm not that fond of talking to them. Time to get it over with."
It's just as easy for the Christian laymen to fall into. “God just isn’t fair. I have no desire to talk to others. I have no desire to dampen my Sunday morning listening to another person complain. I just want to get to my pew, sing my favorite songs, and leave. I don’t want to leave my comfort zone, so if God wants me to talk, He’s being unfair!”
Let’s get this straight. I’m not going to grab you by the hand as I usher you out and walk you to a sister’s row in back, introduce you, and then stand there with my arms crossed glaring at you until you make that person feel encouraged.
But I will remind you of what Jesus did for you. How he went totally out of his comfort zone. Actually, how he went out of anyone’s comfort zone. He allowed nails to be driven into his hands and his feet in order to take away your sins.
Jesus suffered in order to care for you—spiritually and eternally.
Don’t care for others, “because you must but because you want to.” Because you want to serve your awesome Savior and because you want to serve others with the message of your awesome Savior.
2. Pitfall of Greed.
Still in verse 3 Peter touches on this. He writes, "Shepherd others...not greedy, but with eagerness."
Of course, this speaks to pastors and elders as a reminder not to serve others in hopes that “we’ll keep enough people in church to pay the bills for September…” It also speaks to the awful attitude of the pastor who says, “I really need to pump up my numbers in hopes that they’ll give more offerings and I’ll get more money!” Terrible. To all in such positions watch out for greed!
But what does it say to you as an unpaid church volunteer?
Well, greed might get in the way again, “This isn’t my job! Who cares if ‘so-and-so’ has been missing from church! Who cares, if 'so-and-so' had a bad week. It isn’t up to me to email them an encouragement. I’m too busy with my own job to spend a lunch break calling a church friend of mine.”
You’re right. There isn’t any reward check for $100 given to the lay person who does the most ministry in the next week. There isn’t even a “church member of the month” pin.
But there is our Savior. Our Savior who wasn’t paid anything but suffering and death for saving you!
Don’t serve because of greed, but because you are eager. Eager to tell others about the free gift of salvation in Christ. Eager to live in peace knowing that salvation has already been paid for by Christ.
3. Pitfall of Pride
THIRD, Peter warns of pride. He writes, “Don’t lord it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”
This is another easy pitfall. To get to thinking, “I’m the church going one. I help all of the time. I make sure to invite people to church like pastor says. I forward on emails like pastor says. I help get the church ready for Sunday like pastor says. In fact, when you think about it, just about every person who comes to church or comes back to church is really a badge of honor for me!”
A badge of honor for you? Really?
You aren’t even a badge of honor for you.
Remember the Bible says, “We were dead in our sins and the uncircumcision of our sinful nature.” We were gross. We were awful. There is nothing anyone of us could do to earn our own salvation or impress God with our faith!
It is Jesus who died for us. God who called us. The Holy Spirit who brought us to faith! We are God’s badge of honor.
The same is true for all whom he uses us to bring to faith. The same is true for all whom we care for. They too are blood bought sons and daughters of God. They too are loved by him. They too are being called to him!
Don’t care for others just to feel important, but because they need an example. An example of love. An example of humility. An example of one who knows how important it is to go to church and who reflects on his Word week after week.
They’ll see you. They’ll follow suit. And God will have used you to draw them closer to Him.
So what’s in it for you? It isn’t pride. It isn’t money. It isn’t recognition. It lasts much longer:
Peter writes, “When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” A crown of life. Heaven. A gift readied for you by your chief shepherd. A place of quiet waters. A place to drink from the river of life. A place where you will lie down in the eternal pastures of God’s love.
Don’t serve others to earn a gift. To earn anything. But care for others because God cared for you!
II. Notes about Being Cared for by Others
Of course, throughout your time in this church there may be times when you are not caring for others, but you need to be cared for by others. Meaning: Others might rebuke you. Others might pray for you. Others might call you on the phone to say, “Hey! I haven’t seen you in church for awhile? I’m concerned about you.”
How then do you react when you are being cared for? How do you react when you are being shepherded?
Well, here’s what our sinful nature would have us do: HANG UP. Ignore them. Tell them to “buzz off.” Harden our hearts and resolve even more to continue doing whatever sin we’re doing and to continue to stay away from church.
Of course, our sinful nature wants us away from church! It’s there where it is confronted with God’s Law. It is there where it is reminded of it’s ugliness. It is there where God’s Gospel empowers you to rid yourself of this ugly lifestyle.
So, instead of getting mad at whomever approaches you to rebuke you, Peter tells us to be submissive. He says, “Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older.” Listen. Respect them. Take it to heart. Check God’s Word to see if what they say is found in God’s Word. And if what that person is telling you is also found in God’s Word? Then listen.
And if you don’t…
Then, it is important to note who you are ignoring. It isn’t your pastor. It isn’t your elder. It isn’t your church friends.
Don’t let pride get in the way of you being cared for!
I went to the dentist this past week. She told me I needed to floss more. (Ever happened to you?) The interesting thing is that as she said this (and as this has happened in the past) I started to think, “Don’t judge me! I don’t have time to floss. I brush twice a day with a very minty tasting toothpaste. Leave me alone. I’m fine.”
How foolish! Especially when I am getting a root canal.
Don’t let pride get in the way of you being cared for! Not in the area of tooth decay, but also in the area of soul decay. When someone comes to you to tell you to get back to church, take them to heart! When someone tells you to rid your life of sin, rid your life of sin!
And stay calm. This is accomplished by doing what Peter commands in verse 5, “Clothe yourself with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time."
This is nothing more than the Gospel. God lifts up the humble. To those who humble themselves and say, “I am a sinner.” God lifts up. To those who humble selves and say, “I need help.” God lifts up. To those who humbles themselves and say, “I’ve been a Christian all my life, but lately I’ve failed miserably. I’ve struggled with sin. I’ve fallen into the pit of repeated sin. I am in despair. God forgive me!”
God lifts up. He forgives. He restores.
The picture of a perfect church changes, doesn’t it? It isn’t all about you anymore.
The perfect church. It isn't about you. It isn’t all about me. It isn’t all about others.
It’s about us.
Us and God.
Us and love.
Us and being together...until we are together forever with Jesus. Amen.
12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” 19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
Do you know who Joel Osteen is? He’s pastor at a huge Mega church. He wears nice suits. He has very pearly whites and a flashy smile.
He is also famous for teaching something called the Theology of Glory. The Theology of Glory is simply this: Become a Christian and God will give you a good life. In other words, the more and more you follow God…the more and more glorious your life will become. Here’s an example from his book: Your Best Life Right Now: 7 Steps to Living at your Full Potential.
God wants you to have a good life, a life filled with love, joy, peace, and fulfillment. That doesn’t mean it will always be easy, but it does mean that it will always be good.
That seems nice right? God wants us to have good things happen in this life. The implication? If, then, your life isn't so good, it's because you aren't believing hard enough.
I wonder what would happen if you preached that to Stephen-- the man who confessed Jesus as Savior until the Pharisees hurled stones at his head until he died. Or to the Apostle James who was put to death by King Herod, or to the Apostle Paul stoned, arrested, imprisoned, and banished for the sake of Jesus.
Did these guys have it wrong? Were the suffering because they didn't believe enough? Were they bad Christians?
Today’s message from 1 Peter 4:12-19 describes a much different picture of faith in Christ. It describes a picture where the People of God suffer just for being Christians!
1. Suffering isn't Surprising!
Take a look at 4:12, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
Notice that Peter writes it isn’t strange at all to suffer for being a Christian. In fact, we should expect it. Like I expect the drinking fountain to splash out cool H20 when I press the lever and not warm chocolate milk, so we should expect to suffer for the sake of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Why should we expect it? Consider Jesus. He himself suffered for his teachings. He told the Pharisees that they needed a Savior and they told him that he needed to shut up. He told them he came to save them and they came to crucify them. He said that He’d die for them and they said they’d kill Him for them.
Jesus and his message earned him suffering.
Should his followers expect anything less?
Should those early Christians expect anything less?
Should modern Christians expect anything less?
Should you expect anything less?
Maybe you do. Ask yourself:
Not true. In fact, the opposite seems to be more likely. If you aren't experiencing hardship simply for being a Christian, then maybe you aren't making that fact known well enough! Because being a Christian means enduring suffering for being a Christian!
And it’s bad.
Christians in the Middle East being beheaded for the faith.
Christians in China being deported or throne into prison.
Christians in America being ridiculed and mock for ‘archaic’ belief in the Bible.
Suffering as a Christian isn’t surprising, but it is still suffering. Even terrible.
So…you might be thinking: “This is all terrible news. How can suffering be a good thing? How can Christianity be a good thing? Maybe I’ve still got time to change my allegiance and join a Buddhist meditation room instead!”
When we consider how Christians suffer for following Jesus, we might get sad. But Peter tells us to do the exact opposite. Look at verse 13. He says, “Rejoice!”
II. Suffering Isn't Saddening
Because at our Preschool, sometimes the little ones fall and scrape their knees. Sometimes there is a scratch; sometimes a little bit of blood; and sometimes the ever popular "invisible wound.”
But there is always tears.
In fact, never once has a child popped up with a smile and both arms in the air shouting, “I did it! I’m so happy. I’m suffering with an injury!”
But this is exactly what God is telling us to do in response to suffering for Jesus. 1 Peter 4:13 says, “Rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ…"
Weird? Not so much. Peter isn’t a sadist. In fact, he gives four wonderful reasons to rejoice in suffering:
1) The Glory Revelation is Coming!
Verse 13 says that suffering happens So that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. That glory is nothing else than that glorious moment when we become a member of God’s incredible kingdom in heaven.
Why is that so important?
As bad as suffering might get, whether it’s insults, lost friends on Facebook, frowns from your coworkers, prison, physical harm or even death…
…what is that compared to eternal glory in heaven?
The answer? Worth it.
· What are a few angry glances from people compared to the eternal loving smile of your Father in heaven?
· What are a few uneasy feelings compared to the constant peace of forgiveness from God?
· What are a few bad names compared to the name of “MY CHILD” spoken by God himself?
· What are a few broken bones compared to the healing glory of your Divine brother’s love?
Suffering on earth reminds us of how glorious life will be without suffering in heaven! It fixes our eyes on Jesus not on trying to build up wealth on earth. In doing so, it strengthens our faith and our grip on eternal, forever riches in heaven!
2) The Spirit of the Lord is on You
Peter tells us a second reason to rejoice in suffering. Check out verse 14, “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”
How do Atheists feel about God? They hate him. How about people who love doing their sins? They hate him.
If people hate you for your faith in God, understand this awesome truth: That means God is in you! Your faith is real.
Think about what would happen if you walked into an NC State bar with a UNC hat on? You’d get jeered out of there!
Think about what happens when you have Jesus, whom the sinner hates, on your side? You suffer!
But this is great news. Because it means that the Lord is in you! It means that the Spirit of God is with you. If you are faithfully suffering for Jesus, that means you are in faith and have saving faith! Your friends, your coworkers, your family, the world does not hate you, but they hate God! And, if you had to choose which side to be on, wouldn’t you want to be on the side of the Almighty? The only One who matters? The only One who will judge on Judgment Day?
3) You Bear Christ’s Name
Thirdly, Peter writes, If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
If you are a UNC Tarheel fan, you might suffer this past weekend. They kind of got clobbered by ECU. But, if you are Tarheel faithful, you will grin and bear it. Happy to be an alumni, willing to be a part of the club, even if you have to take your licks in doing so.
If you suffer for Christ as a Christian, don’t focus on the sadness of being insulted; instead praise God that you are a part of Christ's team! Thank the Lord that your sins have been removed; you have been called by Christ; you have been baptized into his name; you are together with the LORD almighty.
You are a Christian. You are Christ’s. You bear his Name before your Father in heaven.
That means you are saved!
4) God will Judge the Enemies of Christ.
And thank the Lord. Because what will it be like for those against Christ? Which is our final reason for rejoicing during suffering. Take a look at the final verses from our text: It is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
Truth is, when you think of judgment, even as a Christian, who knows Jesus died for you and took away your sins, it’s still hard. Hard to truly believe that Jesus died for our sins. Tough to trust that God is in fact faithful to his word of forgiveness. With prayers and thanks to God, we ask Him to hold us in faith and keep us trusting in God for salvation.
But what will unbelievers do? What will all those who persecute and destroy the church of God do at that time? Will they persecute God? Will they destroy Him? Will they mock Him?
Or will they come face to face with their Maker? Will they have to confront the Almighty fiery eyed hatred of the One they have been against? Won’t God our Lord avenge us? Won’t God the Lord avenge himself?
Go back to that Osteen quote. Joel says, “God wants you to have a good life.” But as we look at the suffering being a Christian leads to in this life, we realize that isn’t true.
Because God doesn’t just want you to have a good life on this earth…
…he wants you to spend a blessed eternity forever in heaven with him!
Peter concludes his text this way: So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
Because suffering for God isn’t so bad. It’s a blessing. A blessing that reminds us of heaven. A blessing that shows we have the Spirit of Christ and Christ’s name on us. A blessing that means we will not face the full wrath of God in heaven.
A blessing that shows that God loves us.