We’re in the middle of our MIRACLE sermon series where we’ve seen Jesus’ power over a variety of things.
We saw his power over SICKNESS as he cured a man with incurable leprosy.
We saw his power over DEMONS as he expelled a legion of demons from a man’s soul.
We saw his power over PARALYSIS as he helped a man walk who had never walked before.
We saw his power over DEATH as he brought a recently dead, 12-year-old girl, back to life.
But, to be fair, each of these miracles was very INDIVIDUAL in nature.
Jesus focused his power and did a miracle over one INDIVIDUAL person.
What if the element that Jesus needs to control isn’t in the body, but in nature?
This morning, we going to pit Jesus’ power against the power of NATURE itself. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Miracle
The miracle is written about in Matthew 14:
Jesus urged the disciples to get into the boat and to go ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed the crowd, he went up onto the mountain by himself to pray.
Jesus had just completed a day filled with preaching and teaching and he needed a moment.
Notice Jesus doesn’t take a moment to get on Facebook.
He doesn’t take a moment to get on Twitter.
He doesn’t even take a moment to check to see if he has the highest score on Candy Crush.
Jesus takes a moment…and prays.
There’s a lesson in that.
But before he goes to pray, Jesus sends his disciples on a boat across the lake. He tells them, “Go on ahead. Row across. I’ll catch up.”
When evening came, he was there alone. This signifies the end of his prayer time. Jesus comes down the mountain and is ready to catch up to his disciples.
But…how is he going to do it? By then the boat was quite a distance from shore, being pounded by the waves because the wind was against it. (v.24b)
He doesn’t have a jet ski.
Plus – the waves are roughing up the boat. It’s not the kind of weather that anyone should think about swimming.
It’s the kind of weather that the lifeguard blows his whistle and makes everyone leave the beach – a RED warning – high hazard.
Unfortunately, the disciples are in the middle of the lake when the worst of the weather hits.
The waves keep pounding the boat.
They are so rough that if a disciple pauses rowing to take a break – the waves push them back a couple of boat lengths completely negating their progress.
This slows them down.
In fact, they are still rowing during the fourth watch of the night (v.25). That’s a reference to the division of labor among the night watchmen. In the 1st century, the first watch was from 6pm-9pm. That’s evening. The time the disciples started rowing. The second watch was from 9pm-midnight, the third watch was from midnight-3am, and the fourth watch was from 3am-6am.
The disciples have been rowing from the 1st watch to the 4th watch - around 9 hours.
They must have been tired.
They must have been exhausted.
They must have been wishing that their Savior, their Powerful Savior, would have been with them.
In the fourth watch of the night, Jesus came toward them, walking on the sea. (Matthew 14:22-24)
Read those words carefully:
It doesn’t say Jesus was doing a backstroke.
It doesn’t that he’s rowing a tiny boat.
It doesn’t say that he’s wading near shore.
He’s walking on the water.
Even the most common assumption among skeptics: that Jesus is walking on some strategically placed rocks, couldn’t be.
According to John, they were 3-4 miles out from shore. They had left from Tiberias down to the southeast and were headed for Capernaum to the North.
According to depth maps, that’d put them somewhere in the 25 to 30 feet deep region of the lake.
Way above any steppingstones.
Jesus has power over NATURE.
Whether or not an object sinks or floats depends on its density. The density of an object is based on the mass, size, and arrangement of the atoms.
To put it simply:
If atoms are more tightly compacted than water, the object will sink.
If atoms are less tightly compacted than water, the object will float.
A flat wax candle will float. The atoms are less tightly compacted than water.
But a piece of clay that weighs even less than the wax candle will sink. The atoms are more tightly compacted than the water.
For the record, a human foot supporting an entire human body sinks too.
More tightly compacted than water.
The human will sink.
Anecdotally, I remember trying this when I was younger. I’d go the local Aquatic Center, head over to the five-foot section and try to see how far I could walk on water before I would sink.
I never made it more than a step.
Even if I ran as fast as I could…
Humans don’t have power over nature.
But Jesus does.
Because Jesus is more than just a human.
Jesus is the one who INVENTED nature.
Jesus invented the moon.
Jesus invented the light.
Jesus invented the stars that were shining during the 4th watch of that night.
Jesus invented water.
Jesus invented storms.
Jesus invented winds that cause waves to pound.
Jesus invented the foot.
Jesus invented the human body.
Jesus invented the laws of density making it impossible for a human to walk on water.
Yet, it wasn’t (and isn’t) difficult for him to use his divine knowledge of nature to do things outside the natural laws of nature that were naturally set up!
In fact, this isn’t a very high degree of difficulty for him.
It’s not like me on a balance beam where I’m shaking and flailing my arms, and able to take about 3 steps before I come tumbling off.
He’s like a seasoned Olympic gymnast on the balance beam.
He’s walking on the very water that he invented.
II. The Response
Now remember – the disciples had been stuck in the middle of the lake for hours.
They were exhausted.
They were tired.
It was early in the wee hours of the morning.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified and cried out in fear, “It’s a ghost!” (v.26)
To the disciples, it was more logical to assume that a ghost was attacking them, than that Jesus was walking on the water.
Look at Jesus’ response:
“Take heart! It is I! Don’t be afraid.” (v.27)
I, the one who cured that incurable diseases of leprosy.
I, the one who healed the centurion’s servant from across town.
I, the one who drove out a legion of demons.
I, the one who gave that paralytic the ability to walk.
I, the one who brought that dead girl back to life.
I, the one who has traveled with you the past two years.
I, the one who has taught you the things of God.
I, the one who is your friend.
Jesus identifies himself as FRIEND.
It’s like when you come home late at night and your dog starts barking, even viciously. She’s afraid that you are there to break into the house and steal all her bones. She assumes you’re a bad guy or a, worse yet, a cat guy.
But, then, you identify yourself.
“Sparky, take heart. It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
Jesus is doing something crazy, incredible, and miraculous.
But they needn’t fear!
Because while he is God, he is also their friend.
And with GOD as a friend, there is no reason to FEAR.
That’s important to remember.
You might not be on a boat in the middle of a storm.
But you might be in the middle of a life storm
Cutbacks at work.
Feeling betrayed by your friends.
Separation papers from your spouse.
Trying to get enough finances to keep your home.
The death of a dear friend.
You might be metaphorically paddling and rowing with all of you might to get out of danger!
Terrified that you might sink.
If that’s you, listen to Jesus:
“Take heart! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
Jesus’ presence calmed the fears of at least one disciple.
Peter…said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” (v.28)
You commanded the leprosy to leave the leper.
You commanded the demons to leave the demon possessed man.
You commanded life to return to Jairus’ little girl.
If you want, command my feet to be buoyant – and they will.
To which, Jesus simply replied, “Come!” (v.29)
Can you picture what happened next?
Peter took a deep breath.
He grabbed a hold of the side of the boat.
He stood up.
He balanced himself.
He lifted one foot.
He hoisted it over the edge.
His sandal hit the cold liquid.
He took another deep breath.
He shifted his weight.
He planted his foot.
He lifted his other foot.
He planted it on the water.
He took a step.
He walked on water.
BOLD faith walks with Jesus, even among the STORMS.
Because for Peter, he didn’t see the storm anymore.
He only saw his Savior.
He saw his friend.
He saw his God.
He was filled with BOLD faith that Jesus would keep him up – and he did.
Granted, Jesus didn’t command us to walk on water.
But he did command us to walk with him.
To be PURE, even when our boyfriend doesn’t want to be.
To WORSHIP, even when none of our friends are.
To TRUST, even when the diagnosis is bad.
To BE GENTLE, even when everyone around you is harsh.
To MEDITATE on his Word, even when something cool is on Netflix.
To WALK WITH HIM, even when it means no longer walking with others.
This is hard to do.
Especially when the storms of life are happening all around you.
III. When Walking becomes Drowning
But that’s what Peter was doing.
And he was doing it well.
Maybe, even starting to strut a bit:
This was amazing!
The fish are underneath me.
The water is flowing under my feet.
My hair isn’t even that wet…
Off in the distance….
In his peripheral vision…
A big old wave.
Peter took his eyes off Jesus.
He took eyes of faith off Jesus.
Do you see his error?
Peter was able to walk among the storms as long as his eye was on Jesus.
But when he focuses was on the storm…
It’s the same for you and me.
Taking your eyes off Jesus will cause you to SINK.
You might be walking the walk of faith in the middle of a terrifying life storm.
But…the moment you take our eyes off Jesus?
Because life is overwhelming.
Life is challenging.
Life is filled with storms.
And on your own…
We’re like Peter.
Wildly splashing about.
Water in his nose.
Waves in his eyes.
Seaweed wrapping his feet.
As he’s sputtering and flailing, he manages a cry for help:
“Lord, save me!” (v.30)
To be fair, Jesus doesn’t say, “You’re on your own.”
He doesn’t say, “Ask me again when you have more faith.”
He doesn’t say, “Get to one knee and we can talk.”
Jesus stretched out his hand, took hold of him, and saved him.
“You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
I was walking on water.
You were walking on water.
Did you really think I’d let some wave ruin that?
When we’re drowning, GOD gives us a HAND.
He doesn’t abandon us.
He doesn’t leave us on our own.
He doesn’t just throw us a life preserver, tell us to float to shore and then, walk on ahead.
He rescues us.
Like when we were drowning in sin!
We were being slapped in the face by waves of guilt.
Shame was washing over us.
And death was about to take us to our watery grave.
Reached out his hands.
He reached out his hands to die on a cross.
He lifted us out of certain eternal death.
And rescued us to eternal life.
PRAISE THE LORD!
IV. What Now?
But maybe a few things from this lesson, to keep us from feeling like you’re drowning.
(1) Keep Your Eyes on Jesus
Because it was the moment that Peter took his eyes off Jesus, that’s when he began to drown.
It’s the same thing for us – the more time we focus on the storm and the less time we focus on Jesus, the more it feels like we’re drowning.
Keep your eyes on Jesus.
That’s why worship is so important. We’re putting our eyes on Jesus.
This is why group study is so important. We’re putting our eyes on Jesus.
It’s why studying the Bible, each day, is so important. You’re putting your eyes on Jesus.
Take a moment.
Think about it.
Are you keeping your eyes on Jesus?
If not, what are you going to do to keep your eyes on Jesus?
Make worship an every week thing.
Join a growth group.
Commit to an online Bible study.
Set aside 15 minutes each day to read and reflect on your Savior.
Keep your eyes on the one who walks on water which will empower you to walk on water.
(2) Worship Jesus as God
That is what the disciples did at the end of this event. When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. Those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God!” (v.32-33)
They bow down.
They start shouting Jesus’ praises.
They say to him, “You are God.”
God calls us to do the same thing.
To worship Jesus, not as a nice guy, nor a powerful angel, but as the Almighty, Divine Creator of Nature itself.
That makes all the difference.
Not that long ago I was spending time with a woman named Kaliyah.
She was struggling with finances because she was a single mother of two and didn’t have a job.
She had kids to feed and she didn’t have enough money for rent.
She also felt very guilty about this – if only she had made it work with the children’s father, then maybe they wouldn’t be in this mess.
After listening for a while, I said to her, “Why don’t we say a prayer and ask for Jesus to help?”
To which she responded, “Do you think he can handle it?”
Do you see the problem?
She didn’t see Jesus as God.
She saw him as someone wanting to help, but not able to help.
As a well-meaning human, but not God.
No wonder she didn’t have any idea if he could handle it.
When you worship Jesus as God,
You know that it’s the one walking on water who invites you to walk, too.
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.
ACTS, All Powerful, Atheism, Attitude, Authority, Believe, Christian Living, Church, Comfort, Education, Faith, False Teachings, Impossible, North Raleigh, Raleigh, Repentance, Seriousness, Sin, True Heart, Urgency
Today we are continuing our walk through the second missionary journey of the Apostle Paul. Before we study God’s Words, 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. About Athens
Last we left Paul, he had been in Thessalonica sharing the Gospel and he was run out of the city by a mob of people that had a volatile reaction to the message of Jesus. From there he went to Berea, where the people were of noble character and examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:1-11)
But after Paul was in Berea for a while, Acts 17:13 says: When the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the Word of God at Berea, they went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. They found out where Paul would be preaching. They marched around shouting “Down with Paul.” They held signs that had a picture of Paul’s face with a mustache drawn on it.
In response, the mission team split up. Since the believers and church in Berea were still young in faith, Silas, Timothy, and Luke stayed behind to teach them, meanwhile, Paul, the main guy the crowds were protesting, went to the next city by himself. The next city was called Athens.
A bit about Athens:
Athens had been a key city state in that Greek empire. It was a place for thinkers and movers. It was the birthplace of democracy. It was the home of Plato, Aristotle and many other philosophers. It had been important to Alexander the Great and it was still important under the Roman empire. It was artsy. It was academic. It was scholarly.
It was filled with idols.
While Paul was waiting…in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. (v.16)
Idols in the temples.
Idols on the street corners.
Idols at work.
Idols at home.
Idols at lunch.
Idols at breakfast.
Idols at dinner.
Idols at the local restaurant.
Idols at the museum.
Idols at the sports arena, the fishing harbor and the laundromat.
It almost sounds like Dr. Seuss:
Idols, idols in a box.
Idols, idols with a fox.
Idols, idols here and there.
Idols, idols everywhere!
For Paul, this was strange. Athens was supposed to be a place of wisdom. Yet, here were all these wise people bowing down to worship tiny, stone statues.
So, Paul spoke: He reasoned in the synagogue and in the marketplace. (v.17) He told them about Jesus. He told them about the Savior.
While Paul was there two different groups of people heard him speak:
One group was Epicurean. The Epicureans followed the philosophy of Epicurus who lived from 341-270 B.C. His philosophy was that there was no afterlife. The gods existed but didn’t really care what humans did. They were too busy with the own affairs to care. Their slogan: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!”
The other group was Stoic. The Stoics followed the philosophy of Zero who lived from 340-265 B.C. He had the perspective that you had to do more than waste your life away. The gods put people here for a reason and that reason was to work. It was the highest form of pleasure to work (and to do so every day). Their slogan was a bit different: “Eat, Drink, and do work, for tomorrow…we do more work.”
These two philosophies were common opponents.
It was blue-collar worker versus free thinking hippie.
It was the constant busyness of Wall Street versus the laid-back jazz of Bourbon Street.
It was “Whatever man” versus “Get to work, man.”
They were common opponents.
But when Paul came to town, these common opponents had a common enemy:
What do you mean there’s more to life than pleasure?
What do you mean there’s more to life than work?
They asked: “What is this babbler trying to say?”…And they took Paul to the Areopagus. (v.19)
The Areopagus was the place for new ideas. It was named after the god of war: “Ares.” His name literally meant: “Hill of the war god.” It was an appropriate name for the place where people would go to battle for their new ideas against some of the brightest minds of the ancient world.
That is the reason that they brought Paul to the Areopagus.
They wanted him to battle for his new idea.
They wanted him to go to war for Jesus.
And Paul did.
II. About the Unknown God
Paul began his sermon:
Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. (v.22)
You have gods for everything.
A god of the sun.
A god for the moon.
A god for the sea; a god for the land.
A god for love; a god for war.
You even have a god for beer!
In fact, as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I…found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. (v.23)
You covered your bases.
Just in case you missed some god, you made him an altar.
Here’s the thing:
What you worship as unknown…
…I am going to proclaim to you… (v.23)
For starters, the Unknown God is not in HUMAN BUILT DWELLINGS.
He doesn’t reside in some epic stone arena.
He doesn’t kick up his feet in some tiny, jewel studded mausoleum.
You won’t find him down on 71st and Elm at a corner apartment with a jacuzzi and a view of the city.
He isn’t like Athena. The goddess for whom you built your city and for whom you built that gigantic Parthenon.
With its impressive columns.
And marble grandeur.
The Unknown God?
He doesn’t need that.
The Unknown God…
He made the world and everything in it does not live in temples built by hands. (v.24)
And he isn’t IN NEED OF SERVICE.
I’ve seen how ya’ll run about.
If things don’t go well for you. Maybe you lost your job.
Here’s what you do:
You go to the marketplace, buy a couple of apples, you run to the temple of Athena and place them on a silver bowl.
Maybe you lost your job because Athena was hungry.
The Unknown God isn’t like that.
He is not some pet that you need to feed.
He doesn’t need to be taken for a walk.
He doesn’t need you to scratch him behind the ears so that he’ll be pleased with you.
The Unknown God is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all people life and breath and everything else. (v.25)
He’s all powerful.
But he isn’t ALOOF.
He’s not like Zeus, King of the gods. He isn’t up on Mount Olympus having a banquet with fine wines and beautiful goddesses, throwing grapes down his throat and afterwards gathering with Ares and Poseidon for a couple of rounds of Wii Bowling.
He doesn’t say: “Eat, drink…I don’t care if you’re passed out in a ditch tomorrow morning.”
Nor does he say: “Work; work…I don’t care if you’re stressed out all week long.”
The Unknown God is not aloof.
Because listen to this:
He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. (v.26)
Did you hear that?
He made you.
He cared about you.
He placed you here.
He placed you now.
He determined your steps to take you to this exact moment.
Because he is not WANTING TO REMAIN UNKNOWN.
That’s why he did this.
That’s why you’re all gathered here in the Areopagus.
God brought you here.
God brought you now.
That you might seek him and perhaps reach out to him and find him, though he is not far from each of us. (v.27)
Finding God is what you want, isn’t it?
You’re here to find God.
It’s why you discuss the latest ideas.
It’s why you reason out the latest thoughts.
It’s why you talk about the latest meditations and popular trends for fasting.
It’s why you have been doing this day after day after day…
All in hopes that you will find God.
That desire to find God? It comes from God.
That mind for finding God? It comes from God.
Do you know what else comes from God?
And pay attention.
Because this message is important.
The Unknown God is NOT PATIENT FOREVER.
For a long time, God has been.
Think about it:
You’ve been worshiping rocks.
You’ve been bowing down to stone.
You’ve been shouting the praises of pieces of paper covered in glitter.
All the while the Lord is the one who created you, made you, sustains you, and nourishes you.
You’re giving thanks to a pet rock?
God has been patient.
He’s hasn’t struck you down yet.
In the past, God has overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. (v.30-31a)
You won’t be judged by some stone.
You won’t be judged by some rock.
You won’t be judged by some imperfect Mount Olympian with questionable morals who’s in a romantic relationship with some half-man, half-horse.
You will be judged by the Universe Creating, Almighty, Eternal, invested in your life, knowing everything about your life, God himself.
He will judge you.
All your sins.
God will judge you.
And he’s got Holy Fire in his eyes.
How do you think you’ll be judged if you’ve been worshiping rocks?
And you want proof?
This is not UNPROVEN.
Because that man that will judge the world for God?
He’s his Son.
He’s a guy named Jesus.
And God has given proof that Jesus will judge.
What kind of proof?
He did the one thing that Zeus couldn’t do.
He did the one thing that Aphrodite couldn’t do.
He did the one thing that your dear Athena couldn’t do.
He did the one thing that you and all your wisdom could never figure out how to do.
He raised Jesus from the dead. (v.31b)
III. WHAT NOW?
And it was right about that time, that the people stopped Paul from speaking. They said, “We’ll have to see more about this some other time.”
They let him go.
They didn’t throw him in prison.
They “tolerated” his message.
But…they didn’t believe it.
Don’t just tolerate the message of Jesus.
(1) Stop Searching
The other day I was down near the capitol building and I hear some music. On the north side near the street was a group of people. They were dressed in full religious garb. They had on jewels and bangles. They were playing tambourines and acoustic guitars. And as they were dancing, they were chanting a phrase: “Hare Krishna.”
Have you heard of it?
It’s a stranger type of religion made popular by John Lennon. The tenet is that the best way to connect with God is through music. Specifically – through playing the music to and chanting the words “Hare Krishna.” Through singing and chanting, you become centered in God. You become one with God. You find God…. (And the Beatles make some money as you buy their album).
Whether it’s musical chant.
Doing good work after good work after good work.
People are in search of God.
And maybe you are, too.
But you know what?
You can stop searching.
God’s right here.
God is Jesus.
That’s one of the reasons the resurrection happened!
It’s like one of those nighttime cyclists who is wearing neon green with flashing lights on his vest. He’s bright. He’s colored. He’s put his outfit together in such a way so that you don’t miss him!
The resurrection is like that.
It’s the Unknown God’s way of saying to you:
Here I am!
Don’t miss me.
I have made myself known.
I am Jesus.
I am your Savior.
I am your Redeemer.
And my message is this:
Repent means “to turn.”
To turn from sin.
To turn to God.
Whether you are a first-time hearer of this message or a long-time listener.
We are sinners who need to hear this message from God.
Turn from that sin.
You know the one I’m talking about.
Turn from that sin.
God knows the one I’m talking about.
Turn from that sin.
God isn’t stone who couldn’t possibly know…
Turn from that sin.
God is the Unknown God who knows you so deeply.
Turn from sin.
And turn to God to be saved.
Because when you turn to the Unknown God…
When you turn to Jesus…
Something else becomes unknown…
God, who KNOWS all of your sins, says your sins are now UNKNOWN, because he KNEW the cross and you KNOW his resurrection from the grave that the God who was formerly UNKNOWN is now KNOWN by you and who says:
I KNOW you.
Jesus poses two questions tonight as he gets at an issue so important for our spiritual health. The topic we’re digging into is: being neither hypocritical in action, nor paralyzed into inaction. Take a listen. Jesus tells us:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."
Do you agree with this statement? “Hypocritical actions are one of the great damaging forces in our world.” I’m thinking especially of damaging to relationships, like friendships. Do you agree? Any disagreement?
Okay, now let me focus the statement in a little further: “Hypocritical actions are one of the great damaging forces in our world …and within churches.” If they are present, if they are allowed to go unchecked, do you agree? Yes.
We might be led to ponder adopting the minimalist approach that is popular in our culture today, namely “I’ll just keep myself from commenting on anything that anyone else does, to avoid the impression of being unlovingly hypocritical.” But before you go there, or if you’ve bought into that thinking to some degree, I’ve got an additional statement for us to consider:
“Inaction is also a great damaging force in our culture in our age.” Make the statement specific to when someone else with whom you are connected – family or close friend – is involved in something harmful. Adopting an “I’ll do nothing, say nothing, in order to avoid the impression of being unloving or hypocritical” approach, results many times in a great deal of damage impacting lives. Do you agree?
Let’s pinpoint the type of toxic effects for relationships that are in play with either one of the problematic approaches we’ve identified: being hypocritical in action, as well as being paralyzed into inaction. And keep in view there is more than our relationships with one another involved here. There is also the relationship for each one of us, as Christians, with our God that is connected here.
If we see someone in our family in Christ doing something harmful, if we do nothing we allow something toxic to go on working its damaging effects. Think about that proposition. It sounds silly! I’m sure you see the disconnect in that. We, as a family in Christ, want to help one another with identifying whatever is causing hurt or harm.
Doing that is important. And how we go at that goal is equally critical. If any “holier-than-thou” / any pride or self-righteous attitude is in the offering, the “help” being offered is actually likely to multiply the harm, rather than help remove it. Why? For starters, any correction offered with such an attitude is harmful to the one offering it. Pride or a self-righteous spirit would indicate some spiritual infection in thoughts and actions of that individual. And in many cases, the recipient of the correction too will experience additional hurt or harm. How so? Either they’ll see the self-righteous attitude for the hypocrisy that it really is, and be understandably turned off by it…. Or, there is this possibility: they can be potentially misled by the appeal of self-righteousness and pride. They may pursue the corrected behavior being offered, but if they do that with the wrong motivation of self-righteousness themselves, it is still spiritually harmful.
One word helps us guard against the immensely damaging attitude of hypocrisy when we step in to help someone else. It’s Jesus word: “first.” Matthew 7:5 - "You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."
Now as you see Jesus’ “first,” I want you to look at 1 Timothy 1:15, and see the apostle Paul use this “first” for himself:
This saying is trustworthy and worthy of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” of whom I am the first."
That “first” is a literal rendering where many English translations say “worst.”
As we place Jesus’ “first” in Matthew 7:5 beside the “first” here in Paul’s statement, we can each see a personal perspective for us to make our own. As we view ourselves - and everyone else in relation to us - I’m “first” among the sinners. If you’re standing “first” in line, seeing your sin, and then being on the receiving end of Jesus’ full and fully undeserved forgiveness and peace, - got it? - think of how that affects every interaction you have as you turn back to everyone else you face and encounter in your relationships.
Then you and I are not coming from any attitude of “holier than thou” or pride, but from an awareness of “here is a sinner who has received Jesus’ healing.” “Then” also “here is someone happy to share the healing medicine of God’s truth and love.”
Just think how different that is than if I were to be turning around to the people around me, without first standing before Jesus with the issue of my sin addressed… If I came to someone else to talk to them about their problem, but I go about that thinking I don’t have any problems myself or my problems are minor compared theirs… how much help am I going to be? That’s a recipe for turning them off (to disregard anything I offer), or tempting them to join in hypocrisy / pride themselves.
You could find example after example of harm done by those trying to correct others when they themselves have spiritual planks unaddressed.
Notice I say, unaddressed. But once addressed, don’t leave Jesus’ “then” undone. Jesus gives a 2nd part to his answer to the questions he poses here: “First… then.” How important is this “then”?
I’ve got another statement I want you to evaluate: “The opposite of love isn’t always hateful action. It is, maybe even sometimes more powerfully, felt in apathy.” Do you agree? Can lack of action cause such a negative impact in lives? Can it cause such negative kind of impact in a church, a Christian family?
Our Savior knows what He is talking about when he teaches us this “first… then” truth.
Hypocritical actions do harm in churches. Think of the conclusion people are likely to draw if such actions are left unaddressed.
Let’s follow Jesus’ direction. When we see / hear something wrong from someone in our group, let’s lovingly, humbly act.
Pastor Earle Treptow wrote an article entitled “Judge Me, Please!” I’m going to wrap up our topic with a few of his encouragements [2015/05/31/in FIC Features, Forward in Christ - Judge me, please! Earle D. Treptow].
While standing in line to board a plane, I noticed her tattoo. “No one can judge me,” it said. What struck me later about her tattoo was its placement. It was on the back of her neck, a place she probably didn’t see all that often. The words of the tattoo, then, weren’t really intended as words of comfort or encouragement for her. The tattoo meant to sound a warning to others. “You are going to judge me? Please! Who are you to talk to me about my attitude or my words or my actions? You’re no better than I am.”
We know exactly where she’s coming from! We don’t particularly care to have people question our attitudes or confront us about our actions. If they want to praise us for what we do, we are willing to listen. But should they wish to address some failing, we definitely don’t want to hear it.
That, however, is not the community in which the Lord wants his people to live. He brought us into his church and gave us our fellow believers for our benefit. Because he wants you to live with him forever, the Lord puts fellow believers into your life. He moves them to love you enough to judge you, to confront you with your sinful attitudes, and to rebuke your sinful actions. He does so for your everlasting good, to lead you to repentance and rescue you from death. Knowing our Savior’s love for our souls, we humbly ask our brothers and sisters in Christ, “Judge me, please!”
Or, to put that in terms of Jesus’ encouragement from Matthew 7… As we turn to one another after walking to the foot of our Savior, we say, “Please, help me see the ‘specks’ in my life.” May God grant this for His glory and for our good! Amen.
Last week we started our Fighting Temptation series by looking at Jesus’ one-on-one battle against the devil. We watched him effortlessly defeat Satan’s attempt at trying to make him sin. Jesus is the Undisputed, Undefeated, Unblemished Champion against Temptation.
But maybe you also noticed that the battle had some cost for Jesus.
It cost him time with his friends.
It cost him a stress-free month.
It cost him a delicious meal for about 40 days.
Truth is that temptation costs…
Is it worth it?
A couple of years back one of the dads at Precious Lambs taught karate. With some encouragement, I tried it out. And I enjoyed it! I liked learning the proper way to punch. I enjoyed learning a few combos. I think I looked pretty good in the ghee.
But after about a month of training, the Sensei invited me to a sparring match against another gym. I wouldn’t do any sparring, but I could watch more experienced classmates in action. He said, “In the future, this could be you.”
So, I watched.
It looked pretty fun.
I thought, “I sure would like to do that.”
Until about 30 minutes in. One gentleman began a reverse turn while lifting up his back leg (almost parallel to his head). As he completed his revolution, he brought his heel down in a striking manner towards his opponent’s head. Now – his opponent was ready and put his arm up to block the heel kick.
He did everything right.
And I thought: “I think I’ve had enough karate…”
It cost too much.
Today we’ll examine fighting temptation when it costs. Our goal this morning is to identify those costs, compare them to the costs of NOT fighting temptation and get some motivation to keep fighting even when it costs. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Costs of Fighting Temptation
The lesson for this morning comes from Philippians 3:17-21. A brief bit of background. This is from a letter written by a pastor named Paul to his former congregation in a city called Philippi. One of the key parts of the letter is to encourage the believers in Philippi to fight against temptation.
In 1:10 he says, “Be pure” and fight sexual temptation.
In 2:1-3 he says, “In humility consider others better than yourself” and fight selfish temptation.
In 2:14 he says, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing” and fight temptation to discord.
In 3:2 he says, “Watch out mutilators of the flesh” guys who taught you needed to be circumcised to be saved and fight the temptation of trusting your own works more than God.
All of this fighting temptation talk leads up to verse 17. Paul writes, “Join together in my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.”
Fight temptation like I, Paul, have fought temptation.
That sounds nice.
Paul was an apostle.
He fought temptation well.
It’d be good to fight like him.
Do you know what happened to Paul for fighting temptation?
I don’t know exactly how this letter got to the Philippians. But if it is anything like today, there’d be a return address up on in the corner of the envelope containing the letter. And…based on where Paul was when he wrote this, the return address would have said something like this:
Roman Inmate #1764
Roman Federal Prison
Rome, Italy 2761 Jailbird
And I bet the church thought:
Did we break some kind of legal code?
Is someone asking our church for money?
Did one of our youths from youth group get in a bunch of trouble?
It’s just your former pastor…
And yet Paul tells them! I’m in Chains for Christ!
“I’m in jail not because I fell to sin. But because I didn’t fall to sin.
Because I kept preaching the Word of God.
Because I kept telling others about Jesus.
Because I kept sharing the Gospel even when the temptation (and the temptation was great) even when the temptation was to stop sharing the Gospel.”
And now Paul tells the to join in his example, to fight temptation just like him.
But if I’m one of the Philippians reading this message, I’m not so sure!
Because if fighting temptation means going to prison, then…
Fighting temptation has a cost.
It costs you time with your family.
It costs you your job.
It costs you your freedom.
It costs you 6 am fresh coffee from Sola Coffee Café!
It’s like one of those commercials for a new drug. The voiceover tells you that this new, simple pill will allow you to grow back your hair in only 3 months. Everyone in the commercial looks happy. They all have a full head of hair. And you think: “Sure I’m interested. I’d love to get rid of my balding look.” Then, at the end of the commercial, there’s that part where they run through a few of the side effects in 10-point font:
Side effects include: nausea, headache, joint pain, dizziness, loss of sleep, too much sleep, loss of taste, loss of vision, loss of hearing and loss of hair.
Fighting temptation has side effects.
Fighting temptation has costs.
Here are a few common costs to fighting temptation
1) Earthly Relationships
I remember one time that I found a pretty good devotional. It was talking about a hot topic social issue. I posted this pretty good devotional on a hot topic social issue despite the temptation to maybe…move on. The result? I had a friend message me that if I ever did that again – he would block me. We wouldn’t be friends on Facebook.
Fighting temptation can cost you relationships.
“No, I won’t meet together for coffee and complaining anymore.” And they reply, “I guess you’re not our friend.”
“No, I won’t support your addiction and tell you that you don’t have a problem.” And they respond, “Okay. I’m done with you.”
“Significant other…I love you, but NO I won’t be sexually intimate with you until the promises of marriage.” And they say, “Well, then. You don’t love me. And we’re done here.”
2) Career Path
If you’re looking at Paul’s career strictly from an economic perspective, he made a big mistake by using his oratory skills to preach Jesus. Before he did that, he followed the Pharisees. He was an up and comer. Rich people liked him. He was a made man – a future leader in the city of Jerusalem. Thankfully Jesus intervened and taught Paul the truth – about what to believe and what to preach.
But then he taught about Jesus.
That landed him in jail.
Fighting Temptation can cost you your career path.
“No, I won’t fudge the numbers of my sales calls…and I’ll probably lose the promotion to the guy who does.”
“No, I won’t bad-mouth my coworkers…and I’ll probably lose the bonus to the guys who do.”
“No, I won’t hide my faith at work…and I’ll probably have to get a talking to from HR.”
3) Bodily Pleasure
Easy example. Think of the temptation to overeat. The temptation to have the third eclair is great! To say, “No!” comes with the cost of not having the pleasure of enjoying it.
Fighting temptation can cost you bodily pleasure.
“If I say NO to porn, it will cost me an excited feeling.”
“If I say NO to getting drunk, it’ll cost me a wonderful relaxation.”
“If I say NO to letting all of my rage out on that loser over there, then It’ll cost me the opportunity to get my stress out.”
4) Human Glory
For Paul, he lost all kinds of glory! He could have been something big. He could have been a guy that people walked by and said, “Now that guy’s impressive. He’s really good at following God’s laws. He’s so religious. He’s so holy.”
Instead? “That Paul guy is a loser.”
Fighting temptation can cost you human glory.
“If I say NO to racism and stop bad-mouthing people of another culture, it’ll make me feel inadequate because I won’t be able to distract people from my own flaws.”
“If I say NO to berating my wife, she might feel valuable and worthwhile to this family at the expense of me feeling like the sole provider!”
“If I say NO to pride, it’ll cost me all those people over there knowing how awesome I am!”
“If I say NO to making that funny dirty joke, all my grade school friends won’t think I’m cool anymore”
“If I say NO to drugs, all my high school friends will think I’m a loser.”
“If I say NO to supporting that sinful thing society says is “OK,” all my adult friends will think I’m a bigot.”
There is no doubt that Fighting Temptation comes with costs.
There is no doubt that Fighting Temptation will be painful.
There is no doubt that the temptation to not Fight Temptation is enticing.
II. The Cost of NOT Fighting
Before we give up on fighting temptation and give in to whatever sin is tempting us, we need to look at this from the other side.
We need to compare the cost of Fighting temptation with the cost of NOT fighting Temptation.
That’s exactly Paul’s next point. Look at what “not” fighting temptation costs:
For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. (v.18-20)
Did you catch it? Let’s break it apart to find some of the costs of not fighting temptation:
1) A Relationship with God
Specifically, Paul writes, “Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” (V.18) Before we said, a cost of fighting temptation is that you might lose some relationships: friends, family members, boyfriends, girlfriends, etc.
But if you stop fighting temptation and live in sin? You’ll forfeit your friendship with God.
And it isn’t that you’ll be an acquaintance or some guy on the bus that you have a neutral feeling with.
But you’ll be an enemy of God!
Why do that?
Why would you want to be an enemy of the One who gave his life for you to save you from sin and death?
Why would you want to be an enemy of the One who is all powerful? Who conquered death itself and will have no problem conquering YOU?
Understand: Giving up on Fighting Temptation means that you will be giving up on your relationship with God.
2) Eternal Path
Paul writes, “(Those people who don’t fight temptation) their destiny is destruction.” (v.19a) Contrast this with the loss of our career path.
Because “Yes,” fighting temptation may mean you lose out on the career prestige of this world, but NOT fighting temptation leads to a change in your eternal destiny.
Instead of the promise of eternal life forever in heaven?
It’s like a soda can. When you are done with a Pepsi, you might throw it on the ground and crush it. Destruction.
Do you really want your destiny to be the same as that of an aluminum 7-Up can?
That’s the cost of not fighting temptation.
3) Heavenly Pleasure
Paul writes, “Their god is their stomach.” (v.19b) Think about that. If your stomach is your ‘god,’ that means that it is the most important thing to you. Everything that you do in life is for your stomach and to serve your stomach.
But…what can your stomach give you?
A full feeling…for about 2 hours.
How about constipation?
If your stomach…better yet…if your physical body is your God, then your pleasure will be momentary.
But if Jesus is your God?
You have the pleasure of forgiveness.
You have the pleasure of a peace with God.
You have the pleasure of knowing your salvation is certain.
Not fighting temptation costs you that heavenly pleasure.
4) God’s Glory
Paul writes, “Their glory is their shame.” (v.19c) It’s an interesting verse. Because we said earlier that if you fight temptation, you might lose some of your own glory! Pride helps you feel good about yourself. Pride makes the world pay attention. Pride makes everyone in church pay attention to how awesome you are! It gives you a human version of glory.
But at the same time that it earns your momentary, human glory, it forfeits eternal heavenly glory.
And heavenly glory lasts!
Heavenly glory lasts forever.
Heavenly glory comes from the mouth of God himself as he says,
“You are forgiven.”
“You are mine.”
“Come, dwell with me…forever.”
Giving up on saying “No” to temptation forfeits that glory.
It forfeits heaven.
III. Other Reasons to Fight
Do you know the process for becoming a citizen in the United States?
You must have a valid Green Card for at least 5 years. There are costs involved in that.
You must apply and do paperwork and do some more paperwork. There are costs involved in that.
You must attend classes, take tests, and await results. There are costs involved in that.
Finally, you must be approved and take an oath of citizenships. Again – there are costs involved in that.
It costs a lot of money.
It takes a lot of work.
It involves a lot of time.
But that’s nothing compared to becoming a citizen of heaven!
God says we need to be holy.
God says that we need to be perfect.
God says that we need to love him with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind…all of the time!
We could never earn his citizenship. We fall to temptation too often.
The fact remains…
Dear believing friends…
Our citizenship is in heaven. (v.20)
Jesus paid for all of it.
Jesus did all of the paperwork.
Jesus has made you a citizen of his kingdom.
God the Father has approved you because of Jesus’ work.
You are a citizen of God’s kingdom.
And as a result, you have an incredible reason to fight temptation:
1) You are a Citizen of God’s Kingdom
A citizen of the United States may join the military and fight for our country.
Athletic citizens of the United States may join the Olympic team and win a gold medal for the U. S. flag.
Ambassador citizens of the U.S. may go to another country to watch out for and keep safe the U.S. Citizens in that foreign country.
If you are United States citizen, you do things on its behalf.
If you are a citizen of God’s kingdom? You do things on its behalf.
You fight temptation.
You are part of the one and only eternal kingdom of God Himself.
He fought for you and gave up his life to get you there.
Live like a citizen of His kingdom.
2) Fight on the Winning Side
Paul writes, “And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (v.21b)
Savior implies that he does saving.
Which implies that he is successful at saving.
Which implies that he wins every battle against anyone that tries to stop him from saving.
Which implies that he is a winner.
Which implies that whoever is on his side…is also a winner!
In Christ, you are a winner, too.
Remember – Jesus destroyed the devil in that one-on-one temptation battle last week.
Then he went on to crush Satan’s head with his work on the cross.
And as an encore, he destroyed death by emerging victoriously from the grave.
And in him – you are victorious.
In Jesus, you are a winner.
In Jesus, you will receive all of the victory spoils.
3) The Promise of a Glorious Body
Paul writes: “Jesus, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (v.21c)
Our bodies are lowly.
I can sleep for 8 hours and I’m still tired.
I can do about 30 pushups and then I just lay on my stomach.
I can resist putting a second Dorito into my mouth – for about 5 seconds.
Our bodies are lowly.
They are tired, weak and dying.
God promises that our bodies will be transformed.
After our bodies die.
After our souls are in heaven.
On the Last Day, when God does an incredible miracle and brings our bodies back to life.
They will still be our bodies, but…
They will be glorious!
Just like what happened to Jesus.
When rose from the dead, he made his way to see his disciples on that first Easter evening.
Think about all he went through.
Surely, his body would be weak.
But when Jesus walked in…
He was different.
He had nail marks in his hands, but they weren’t bleeding, bruised, or scabbed. His body was without pain.
He had a smile on his face and no sweat on his forehead. His body was without weakness.
The sin that he had taken on his body – our sins – was gone! His body was without shame.
That same kind of body is promised to you.
In eternal life, there will be no pain.
In eternal life, there will be no weakness to temptation.
In eternal life, there will be no remembrance of sinful failures.
There will be no guilt.
There will be no shame.
Friends, the benefits to following Jesus and fighting temptation far outweigh the benefits to not fight temptation.
May Jesus empower us to keep fighting temptation even when it costs.
Our sermon series is all about the fight that goes on between humans and temptation.
Fighting temptation is something that we all are familiar with in some shape or form…
Fighting temptation is something that we all struggle with in some shape or form.
I have every confidence that this will be a good series for you to be a part of.
To start our study of temptation, we’re going to watch a film.
If you’ve ever been in a sport before, maybe you’ve done that. You’ve watched films of those who are good at the sport in hopes that you’ll learn how to be better at the sport.
And if you wanted to be a better fighter, there is no shortage of epic fights that you could watch.
Muhammad Ali against Joe Frazier in the Thrilla at Manilla.
The Immortal Hulk Hogan versus Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania III.
Holly Holm defying the odds and taking out Ronda Rousey at UFC 193.
If you want to learn to be a fighter, it is valuable to watch the best fighters battle against some of their most feared opponents.
Today we’ll do that. We’ll examine a one-on-one battle between the Undefeated Against Temptation, Jesus, and the Master of Temptation, Satan, the devil himself. Before we do, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Stakes
The battle we’ll look at today is recorded in Luke 4:1-13. But before we get into the specifics of the fight, I think it’s important to look at how high the stakes were.
Because epic fights, usually have high stakes:
A championship belt.
A gold medal.
Even a $100,000,000 purse.
What were the stakes in Luke 4?
1. Title of “Most Powerful”
The devil is powerful.
He has been winning temptation battle after temptation battle since way back in the Garden of Eden! Back then, in the first temptation battle ever – Satan did not really break a sweat in getting Adam and Eve, two people who had never sinned, to…sin.
Since then, the devil had been on a rampage causing person after person after person to fall to temptation.
Hundreds of millions of people…
All people in all of history up to the point of Luke 4…
All losers to the devil.
Along came Jesus.
He was supposed to be the Savior…
Could he be the One to break the devil’s power?
2. Unblemished Record
Up to this point, Jesus hasn’t sinned. The reason takes a bit of explanation:
Jesus, unlike any other human ever, was born differently.
He was born of a virgin and God.
As a result, he didn’t have a naturally sinful heart like all other humans do.
And was not tempted by his own sinful heart like all other humans are.
In short, he had no sin.
But in Luke 4, the devil gets a chance to go at Jesus in a one-on-one attack out in the desert, away from other people, in a desert wasteland. All with the goal of taking Jesus’ perfect record and adding one blemish to it.
If he can only do that, he can do more than ruin Jesus’ perfect record against temptation, he can also ruin…
3. Your Salvation
The Bible teaches that “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) We have sinned; we deserve death; even eternal death in hell. The Bible also teaches that Jesus came to be our substitute. He would pay the wage of our sins for us by dying on the cross.
In order for Jesus to be able able to pay for our sins, Jesus needed to live his own life without any sin.
Otherwise, when he went to the cross to pay for our sins, the Father would look down at Jesus’ record, see his own sinful blemish, and say, “The wages of sin is death.”
It’d be similar to me having one dollar and wanting to pay for your Dollar Menu Item at McDonalds and the cashier at the register says, “Sir, before you can pay for your friend’s McChicken, I’m going to need you to pay for your own Dollar Fries.”
Sorry, dude. No McChicken for you.
If Jesus sinned – even once, he would have to give his life to pay for it.
And then he couldn’t pay for ours.
And then we wouldn’t be saved.
II. The Fight
The stakes are high. Let’s look at what happens:
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. (Lk. 4:1-3)
Right away, did you notice that the deck is stacked against Jesus?
He’s Alone. No one else is around. No one to encourage him not to sin. No one to tell him, “Hey, don’t do that.” Sometimes the harshest temptations hit us when we’re alone. That’s not a good start.
In the Wilderness. There aren’t any amenities around to get his mind off the temptation. He can’t relax in the hot tub. He can’t grab a drink from the minibar. He can’t just ignore the devil while watching HBO in the hotel room.
He’s hungry. Like…he hasn’t eaten in over 40 days. That’s crazy. Because…I have a hard time fighting off the temptation if I don’t eat every two hours!!! We call that hangry.
And the devil knows it.
This is the opportune time.
Hit ‘em, while he’s weak.
1. Round One
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” (v.3)
It wouldn’t be hard for you. You control the elements. I know you changed water into wine not that long ago. This should be as easy as a snap of your fingers.
Because…yes…I know the Father promised to care for you but…. 40 days!?! Without food? That’s love!?!
He forgot about you.
He doesn’t love you.
And those pangs in your stomach?
Take matter into your own hands.
Make that stone into some bread.
At first, does that even seem like it’d be sinful. Because Jesus absolutely had the power to change stones into bread.
He once turned five loaves of bread into food for 5,000.
He also turned 7 loaves of bread into food for 4,000.
It wouldn’t have been hard for Jesus to turn stones into a nice warm loaf of Subway herbs and cheese bread, smothered in butter!
But that’s not really the heart of the temptation.
Because Jesus had gone into the wilderness because the Spirit led him there.
He went into the wilderness because it was part of his Father’s plan.
He went into the wilderness trusting his Father loved him and would keep him alive.
The heart of the temptation isn’t: “Use your powers,” it’s, “Distrust God’s Love.”
That’s important to recognize.
Because specifically speaking this is a temptation that the devil could never bring to you or me. Because if the devil told me, “Change that stone into bread,” I would simply say, “I can’t.”
But categorically? He uses this all the time.
“If God loved you, you wouldn’t be so far behind on your rent. Better take it into your own hands. Commit a little fraud on your taxes.”
“If God really loved you, why would he let your relationship be so difficult? Go ahead. Start flirting with other women.”
“If God really loved you, your sister wouldn’t be so sick. Denounce him. Move on.”
The temptation to distrust God’s love is great.
I’ve failed at this plenty of times, too.
But look at Jesus. He says, “It is written: (pay attention to that phrase, we’ll hear it again) ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” (v.4)
In other words:
It isn’t bread that sustains. God does.
It isn’t bread that determines that God loves me, the fact that I’m alive does.
And I’m alive so…
Devil, you lie.
I trust God’s love; not your words…
It’s like the devil came in with a few left jabs, Jesus blocked them and countered with a punch to the gut.
Round One. Jesus.
2. Round Two
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. (This is a bit of a miracle. Don’t forget. The devil is powerful. Not all-powerful, but powerful. And in an instant he shows him the kingdom of Israel, the Roman Empire, parts of Asia, down into Africa and maybe the futuristic Kingdom of Raleigh NC in 2019.)
And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” (v.6-7)
Because Jesus… I know God’s plan.
I’ve read the Scriptures.
He said that once you’ve finished your work on earth, that you will sit at his right hand and rule over all things.
Once you’ve finished your work…
Doesn’t your work involve betrayal?
Doesn’t it involve being arrested?
Doesn’t it involve you being punched, beaten, whipped, crowned with thorns, nailed hand and foot to a cross, and dying by asphyxiation on two old, blood stained pieces of wood?
That sounds awful.
That sounds terrible.
That sounds…like a BAD plan.
Jesus, I’ve got a better plan.
Bow down to me.
It’ll be quick.
It’ll be painless.
All of this will be yours.
And it will all be yours.
Never mind the fact that the devil doesn’t actually rule anything.
Never mind the fact that the devil’s promise was something he couldn’t deliver on.
Focus in on the temptation.
Because the heart of the temptation isn’t: “Bow down to me, but “Distrust God’s Plan.”
Specifically, this isn’t a temptation that could apply to us. God’s plan is not for you to suffer and die on a cross.
Categorically this temptation is something I am sure you have dealt with.
Is God’s plan really that you be kind to your enemies at work? That’s foolish. We need to go call them a few very specific names.
Is God’s plan really that you stay faithful to your spouse? You’re missing out. Check out this xxx website and you’ll feel instantly better.
Is God’s plan really that you sweat your way up the ladder? That’ll take too long. Go on Facebook and spread rumors about your coworkers. You’ll get the promotion faster…
Is God’s plan really that you share the Gospel? They’ll probably ridicule you. Just listen to my plan. Clam up. It’ll be a lot easier.
Wow. That’s a good temptation.
I’ve failed at it too many times to count!
But Jesus responds his way, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’” (v.8)
In other words:
It isn’t you who is all-knowing, God is.
It isn’t you who is all-loving, God is.
It isn’t you who is all-powerful, God is!
Devil, you lie.
I trust the Father’s plan, not yours…
The devil tried to come back with sideswipe, but Jesus stepped out of the way and clocked him in the back of the head.
Round Two. Jesus.
But the devil hasn’t given up. He slugs some water, spits out some blood and heads to the final round.
3. Round Three
The devil led Jesus to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.” (v.9)
Because, I get it. I misjudged you, Jesus. I really did.
You trust the Father implicitly!
You trust His love.
You trust His Plans.
You trust His Word.
Let’s do something to show that trust. Just jump. The southern most part of the temple is only about 450 feet about the ground. It’s scary. But…you’re so good at trusting. Look at what God promised:
For it is written: (“I know you’ll like that Jesus. It’s the Scriptures.”) “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
You won’t strike your foot.
And you won’t splat.
Trust your Father, Jesus.
Wow. Talk about tricky.
The devil makes jumping off the Wells Fargo Building in downtown Raleigh sound like it should be our next church outing.
Something like that would be sinning if we didn’t do it!
But it isn’t.
Because God never told us to.
This temptation is tricky.
It isn’t a temptation to MISTRUST, but to TRUST.
Specifically: It’s a temptation to Trust Presumptuously.
To trust beyond what God promised.
To let your trust lead you into a realm that God has clearly forbidden!
To be fair – you’ve dealt with similar temptations:
It’s good to trust God. He promised to always protect you. So, go ahead: Drink and drive.
It’s good to trust God. He promises to hold you in faith. So, go ahead: Stop going to worship.
It’s good to trust God. He promises to always forgive you. So, go ahead: Sin as much as you want. In fact, if you don’t go on sinning, you aren’t very good in trusting God’s forgiveness.
If you are a long-time Christian, be especially careful of this one. Because the devil plays on our desire to feel like a good Christian at the expense of being a good Christian!
He only tells half the story.
He only brings up half the truth.
And Jesus knew that: Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (v.12)
Because the Father is the one who sets limits.
And the Father is the one who determines when those limits are broken.
Devil. You’re wrong. God is the one testing, not the one to be tested.
And the devil unleashes a barrage of jabs to Jesus’ stomach,
But Jesus just stands there, absorbing the blows.
And delivers a killer upper cut to knock the devil out.
The Most Powerful of All.
The Unblemished by Sin.
Your Salvation-Winning-Savior – Jesus Christ.
III. WHAT NOW?
1. Celebrate His Victory!
Because you may have fallen to temptation.
You might have lost to the devil.
You might have lost to the devil so often that you feel like your record is 0 - 76,845.
You might feel like a loser.
But you aren’t.
Because Jesus won.
He defeated the devil.
He didn’t sin.
When he died, he paid the price for your sins!
And then – three days later…He rose triumphantly defeating the devil’s counterpart known as death!
Jesus is victorious!
And as a result…
You are victorious.
You are forgiven.
For all the times you have mistrusted God’s love, you are forgiven.
For all the times you have mistrusted God’s plans, you are forgiven.
For all the times you have trusted God presumptuously, you are forgiven.
Take a moment.
When the devil tries to get you to think about all the times that you have lost to him…
Remind him about how he lost to Jesus!
2. Fight with your Greatest Weapon
A phrase that Jesus uses time and again throughout this entire fight is “It is written.” It’s a reference to Old Testament Scripture. And it’s Jesus’ favorite way of fighting temptation.
I think that’s incredible!
Because if I was predicting how this battle would go, I would imagine that Jesus would have sent lighting bolts to turn the devil to a crisp.
Or maybe called down a bunch of flying monkeys to toss him off the top of the 450-foot temple point.
Or even imprisoned him inside of a heavenly cage where he isn’t allowed to eat bread for 40 some odd days!
Jesus doesn’t use his miraculous power.
He simply uses God’s Word.
A weapon – that you and I have access, too.
Hebrews 4:12 says this, “The word of God is living and active sharper than any double-edged sword.”
Friends, use God’s Word to battle temptation.
I don’t mean pick it up and swing at the devil.
I mean use God’s Word.
It tends to knock the devil out.
When he tempts you to lust, tell him, “It is written: Don’t lust.”
When he temps you to hate, tell him, “It is written: Don’t hate.”
When he tempts you to doubt God, tell him, “It is written – that Jesus kicked you in a one-on-one temptation battle. Then he died and rose again. Tell me again…Why should I doubt God?”
3. Fight Alongside Jesus
You don’t need to fight on your own.
You don’t need to take on temptation by yourself.
You have the Savior on your side.
And what happens when Jesus fights the devil?
Check out the last verse.
When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left… (v.13)
Did you catch that?
He gave up.
He submitted at the hands of Jesus.
That is what Satan will do when you fight along Jesus.
And as a believer in Jesus, you fight along Jesus.
May God give you confidence to fight temptation this week and always. Amen.
Today we are continuing our series called The Kingdom of God is Like. It’s a series all about parables. Parables are short earthly stories that teaching about the eternal kingdom of God. So far, we have heard that the kingdom of God is like buried treasure—which, to be fair, seems like a very flattering comparison.
Treasure is valuable
Treasure is beautiful.
Treasure is worth selling anything and everything to make yours.
Treasure seems like a great comparison for God’s kingdom.
We compare God’s kingdom to a fishing net.
Fishing nets are stinky.
Fishing nets are smelly.
Fishing nets come with those some of those little algae goobers encrusted on around the edge.
It’s not as flattering of a comparison.
Why is God’s kingdom like a fishing net? Before we look at this strange comparison which teaches us some very important truths about God’s kingdom, 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. 1st Century Fishing
Jesus’ parable is from the parable-filled Matthew 13. It comes right after the parable of the treasure and stands in stark contrast to it. Remember – each parable emphasizes a different aspect of the Kingdom of God. The parable of the Treasure reveals the value of God’s kingdom; the parable of the net reveals methodology.
Look at what the parable says:
Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. (v.47-48)
Anybody here go fishing? Nowadays fishing consists of packing up a rod and reel, stopping by the local bait shop, picking out a nice, big juicy earthworm (or maybe a wriggly, black leech), then heading out to the local pond, casting, stopping to untangle the line from the tree branch behind you, casting again, watching as your line drifts into the middle of the lake…and then…
And waiting some more.
Eventually some fish grabs the hook, line and sinker.
You pull him in and…
If he’s an acceptable length and weight – you keep him.
If not …plop!
If it’s a delicious looking salmon, in the basket.
If it’s a creepy looking dogfish, not so much.
Back at Jesus’ time, the fishing is a bit different. Fishermen would drag their nets to the shore and paddle to the middle of the lake. Then, they’d toss a weighted net overboard. Then, slowly they’d move along with the waves, while their net dragged against the bottom collecting any and every fish that happened to get in the way of the net. When they’re done fishing, they pull up the ropes, cinch the corners and pull the net up.
But here’s the thing:
Can you tell which fish are bad?
Can you tell which fish are good?
Can you tell which fish are future 5-star restaurant menu items?
And which fish belong on some Discovery Channel documentary on deep sea monsters?
No. It’s too much of a jumbled-up mess!
So…what do the fishermen do?
They take the net back to the shore.
They open the net and begin separating:
Too much like Uncle Joe…
Fishing at Jesus’ time required a lot of sorting. But…
The fish cannot be sorted from the good from the bad while they are in the net; rather they are sorted when the fishing is finished.
II. A Priceless Treasure
But remember – this is a parable.
Parables are short earthly stories that teach about the kingdom of God.
Things are about to get real.
Real and a bit uncomfortable.
Look at the meaning of the parable:
This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (v.49-50)
At first glance, this might seem to be another parable.
The parable of the furnace…
But – let’s be clear: The second half of the parable the part about the blazing furnace and the angels, that’s not the illustration part.
It’s the explanation.
It’s not an illustration, but the reality.
In fact, this parable is all about realities.
Realities that are quite uncomfortable.
(1) Hypocrisy is Real
Because… that dragging net represents the kingdom of God at work. And there is no greater representation of the kingdom of God at work than visible local churches.
In a church, God’s Word is proclaimed.
In a church, people are baptized.
In a church, people celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
In a church, people pool resources to go and plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh.
In a church, God’s kingdom is at work.
And when God’s kingdom is at work, it’s like a big old net that collects people of all type and varieties.
Big and small.
Young and old.
Black and white.
Tarheel fans, Wolfpack fans and Duke fans.
But most importantly to this parable…
People that are a part of God’s kingdom.
And people that only look like it.
NOW STOP! Immediately. Because what some of you are about to do is quietly, sheepishly raise your finger and slyly point at someone else here. “Pastor, I think it’s him…”
NOPE. That’s not the point.
In fact, the point is the exact opposite. Because remember – while the net is in use – that is, while the people of God are using God’s Word – it’s impossible to see which are true believers and which are hypocrites.
It’s kinda like trying to identify which fish are good and which fish are bad when they’re still in the net.
You won’t be able to tell who’s a hypocrite and who isn’t in a church simply by looking at them.
You won’t be able to tell most hypocrites simply by looking at them.
But there is one person in the church…
That you should be able to identify as good or bad.
You know you.
You know your heart.
You know if your heart is following Jesus or if this is all just some big show.
Something you do because your parents told you to do.
Something you do so pastor will get off your back.
When it comes to facing the reality of hypocrisy, it doesn’t start by looking into the world…
Or looking into another Christian church…
Or looking at other people in this church…
It starts by looking in your heart.
(2) The End is Real
The second reality has less to do with now and more to do with later.
Take a look at Jesus’ words – This is how it will be at the end of the age. (v.49) He then goes on to describe angels, divine, holy messengers of God – no longer invisible – fully and completely perceptible - picking people up like fish and separating them.
If you are a hypocrite, you need to pay very close attention to this section.
Because, truth is, you might be able to fool other Christians.
You might be able to fool them with a fish sticker on the back of your car and “Christian” listed on your Facebook profile’s religious preference.
You might be able to fool others at church.
You might be able to fool me.
You can’t fool God.
And at the end, you will be separated.
And placed wherever it is you belong.
And can I say something obvious? There’s one place that you don’t want to be your final destiny.
(3) Hell is Real
Look at the description of where the bad fish go:
“The blazing furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (v.50)
Notice. The verbs are present tense.
Notice. The verbs are continuous.
That’s because this is eternal.
Stop – real quick – because the devil is doing everything possible right now to make you say:
“Pastor has gone off the deep end. Pastor is talking all mean like. Pastor is saying thing I wish he wouldn’t.”
I am because I love you.
And I don’t want you to go to this very real and very awful place.
But more importantly Jesus loves you.
After all, look at whose words about hell these are:
The same guy who told the blind guy to see…and he did.
The same guy who told the deaf guy to hear…and he did.
The same guy who told the lame guy to walk…and he did.
The same guy who told the storms to stop…and they did.
The same guy who told the Pharisees to go ahead and kill him because he would come back to life…
And they did…
And he did.
Jesus has street cred.
Whatever he says will happen, will happen.
And to those who reject Him?
This hell thing?
(4) Good Fish are Real
I’m not gonna lie.
Thus far this is one of the least uplifting sermons of all time.
Because – if we are talking about bad fish – how do you not begin to be filled with absolute fear!
We are sinners.
All of us.
And I am included!
I’m like some ugly carp at the bottom of a mutant ooze infested landfill with three eyeballs where his gill should be.
I’m gross and my sins are gross.
I think -- There is no reason that God would ever want to collect me in his basket and take me to heaven!
Here’s something interesting. When Jesus uses the word “end” here in verse 50, he uses the word: syntelia. That’s a form of the world telos which means: the end.
The end is when judgment will happen.
The end is when God will bring justice against sinners.
Now – here’s where things get really interesting.
Because about a year and a half after Jesus spoke this parable --
Jesus spoke something else.
On the cross.
Right before he died.
Which is the exact same root words that Jesus used in our parable to denote the end times.
IT IS FINISHED.
In other words, judgment has happened! From God’s perspective – Jesus has been judged as the bad fish.
And you – friends—you have been judged righteous.
Think about that!
We are sinners.
We are filled with a yucky past.
We are grody to the touch.
Yet because of what Jesus has done, you have been declared GOOD.
Ready to take home in the take basket.
And understand this point too:
We are not judged by our good merits.
We are not judged by our good deeds.
We are not judged by our good tries.
We are judged entirely by what Jesus did for us on the cross!
And we are judged righteous.
And by faith in Jesus, we are the good fish!
We will not be thrown out.
We will be collected and taken home.
(5) Heaven is Real
Because that’s what the good fish have to look forward to.
This parable just touches the surface of it. It says that the good fish, will be placed into baskets.
But what it doesn’t say is that those baskets have someone’s name written on the handle.
They have someone’s name written in Black, Permanent Marker.
Because the good fish – that is – those made holy by faith in Jesus Christ – will be brought to God’s home.
The kingdom of righteousness.
The home of peace.
And unlike this world --
With danger lurking on every corner…
And predators chasing after us…
And giant waves of life hitting us again and again…
Heaven is peaceful.
Heaven is a place of forgiveness.
Heaven is a place of peaceful rest.
Heaven is yours.
Friends! Praise the Lord for being caught in the net and taken home to heaven. Amen.
Today we are continuing our series called The Kingdom of God is like… and hearing yet another parable from Jesus about the kingdom of God. Remember, a parable is an earthly story that tells about the kingdom of God. We’ve heard two – both centered around farming.
We’ve heard so far…
…The Kingdom of God is like a farmer sowing seed – it lands on a lot of different soil types and has a lot of different results; just as God’s Word falls on lots of different heart types and has a lot of different results.
…The Kingdom of God is like a growing seed – the seed grows with repetitive, repeated, faithful, and persistent care; just as the seed of faith grows with repetitive, repeated, faithful and persistent use of God’s Word.
Today we are adding yet another farming parable to our list of Jesus’ parables and it’s going to teach us yet another facet of God’s kingdom. Before we begin, let’s pray: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story of the Mustard Seed
The parable is taken from Mark 4 which is the same chapter that the last two parables are from. So, it’s quite likely that Jesus tells it as a follow up to the other two parables that we mentioned before.
I love Jesus’ opening introduction to the parable in verse 30:
Again Jesus said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?”
You kind of get the impression that the disciples need some help.
They sat through two parables of Jesus – two teachings about the kingdom of God.
The first one they were confused about.
After the second one, didn’t seem to help much.
They must have been a lot of blank stares.
And now Jesus, the omniscient, Lord of heaven and earth, is trying to explain the divinely complete and eternally developed kingdom of God to these temporal, finite, and much simpler humans.
It’s kind of like trying to give directions to someone who doesn’t really know the area. Has that ever happened to you? Maybe you’re trying to get them to church. You tell them:
Head south on Falls of Neuse until you get to Newton Rd. Turn left and then it’ll be the little brown church to the right.
Do you know where Ravenscroft is? The library? It’s in that general vicinity.
Scratching their heads.
Go to the Han Dee Hugo Station. Turn left. Go 2500 feet. Turn left into the Parking lot with the sign for Gethsemane Lutheran Church.
SIGH. Just take my GPS.
Jesus shares that frustration. Trying to teach the things of God to puny minded humans beings.
So he says…
The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. (v.31)
If you wanted a BIG plant to grow in your garden, how big a seed would you need to plant?
The bigger the seed; the bigger the plant, right?
A sunflower seed.
A pumpkin seed.
An avocado pit.
They’re pretty big in the world of seeds; they must produce big plants. It makes sense.
What about a mustard seed?
Have you ever seen one of those? (Think of the Grey Poupon Mustard jar.) They are super tiny and barely visible if I held one up for you in the front of church.
In fact, it’s so tiny – that if I planted it – and if anything grew from it – I’d expect it to be a tiny, little grass sprout.
When planted, the seed grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade. (v.32)
It’s bigger than a sunflower.
Bigger than a pumpkin plant.
Bigger than an avocado bush.
It’s basically a tree. About 6, 7, 8 foot high.
Big enough that birds land in its branch.
All of that happens from this little seed.
Such a small, insignificant seed leads to an incredibly significant plant!
II. False Expectations
What’s the point of Jesus’ story?
Is Jesus just a really big fan of mustard?
Should we all go to Food Lion and grab a yellow, squeezable bottle of French’s mustard to put in the offering plate next Sunday?
Remember – a parable is an earthly story that teaches us about the kingdom of God.
Think about it…
What is God trying to teach us about His kingdom?
This past Monday at 9:30am I went to a local retirement home. It’s something that I’ve been doing for about 5 years now. I head to the home. I do an acapella, communion-less version of today’s service. I tell the people there about Jesus.
To be fair – when we first started, they put me on in the big living room area. And…I’m pretty loud. It wasn’t hard to get people’s attention. There was plenty of room. Usually we’d gather together about 20 some people to worship Jesus on a given Monday.
Recently they relocated me to a much smaller side room because some thought I was a bit of a distraction.
Recently the Lifestyle Coordinator that I worked with was replaced with a new coordinator.
Recently that side room has become a storage room of sorts - scrunching the chairs and causing us to lose space to Thanksgiving decorations.
This past Monday morning...there was one lady who joined me for worship.
It wasn’t the one who shouts “Amen.”
It wasn’t the one who sings along.
It wasn’t the one who nods at key points of the sermon.
It was the one who falls asleep about 3 minutes in.
I will not lie. I started to think:
What’s the point?
Why be here?
It isn’t anything BIG.
It isn’t anything SIGNIFICANT.
This can’t be the work of God because it isn’t BIG and SIGNIFCANT enough!
You ever thought like that? Have you ever thought…
Why am I attending this INSIGNIFICANT church service? It’s not even Christmas Eve. It’s some random service in October.
Why am I telling my kids this INSIGNIFCANT Bible story? They don’t even look like they’re listening.
Why am I making this INSIGNIFICANT invite to worship? My friend couldn’t care less.
Why am I prepping for this INSIGNIFCANT Sunday School class? There’ll be, what, 2 kids here?
Why would I have my child baptized? It’s an INSIGNIFICANT splash of water. What could it possibly do!
Friends, we are buying into a LIE.
Work in God’s Kingdom needs to SEEM SIGNIFICANT or it will BE INSIGNIFICANT.
The lie suddenly becomes:
Every time I share the message of Jesus; it needs to be greeted with SHOUTS of joy or it was worthless…
Each worship service needs strobe lights and smoke machines or it’s not really work in God’s kingdom.
Each Bible passage on Facebooks need to go viral or it will be utterly worthless.
Each time I teach kids, I need about 30 of them, lined up – like soldiers – listening to my words like the kids from Sound of Music or I might as well quit trying.
Careful. You’re listening to The Lie.
And it’s most dangerous when it comes to personally connecting with God.
Because we think:
I need to go to climb some mountain, in some freezing Antarctic culture and find a Sherpa on the very summit. That’s SIGNIFICANT and that’s connecting with God.
I need to go to some forest, deep in the jungle, to find a TEMPLE OF DOOM and an ancient artifact that will solve God for me. That’s SIGNIFICANT. That’s the way to God.
I need to spend hours in a laboratory, dissecting, experimenting, and divulging in order to unlock the secret God particle. That would be SIGNIFICANT and that would be the way to Him.
I need to give thousands of dollars to some charity to get my name on one of their plaques to ensure that God might like me. That’s SIGNIFICANT and maybe then God would pay attention to me!
We envision these grandiose ideals on how to connect with God, when God has simply, clearly made himself absolutely accessible through something seemingly insignificant.
Friends, if this what you believe -
That’s God’s Kingdom only shows up in the SEEMINGLY SIGNIFICANT.
In the BIG Seed.
In the FLASHING LIGHTS seed.
In the ABSOLUTELY IMPRESSIVE seed…
You are in danger of missing it altogether.
III. The Unexpected Reality
Like many of the people at Jesus’ time…
They expected the Savior to be look like someone SIGNIFICANT.
Like a king coming from a beautiful palace.
Like some soldier with a giant sword.
Like a general with a myriad of soldiers behind him.
Like an activist enacting visibly massive political upheaval.
But that’s not what they saw in Jesus.
Instead of a beautiful palace, he came from a feeding trough in some dilapidated barn.
Instead of a giant sword, he swung a carpenter’s hammer.
Instead of a myriad of soldiers, he had 12 disciples – 4 fishermen, an accountant, a political activist, a betrayer and 5 guys whose jobs were so insignificant they aren’t even written down in Scripture.
Instead of massive visual political upheaval, thee enacted invisible personal, spiritual change.
Even in his death – He seemed insignificant!
He didn’t die fighting a dragon.
He wasn’t fending off some super villain.
He didn’t go in some epic explosion.
He hung on a cross.
Where many common criminals hung before.
Where many common criminals hung after.
Jesus’ LIFE seem insignificant, but there is no LIFE more eternally important.
Because with his death he removed all of your sins.
With his blood he removed all of your guilt.
With his resurrection he declared heaven to be yours!
It might look common.
It might seem insignificant.
It might seem like a mustard seed of a teaching.
But belief in Jesus leads to a mustard plant like growth into the Kingdom of God itself.
If Jesus’ LIFE seemed insignificant, but there is no life more eternally important…
Jesus WORK might seem insignificant, but there is no WORK more eternally important.
That insignificant looking church service, can reinvigorate and replenish your faith in the Savior.
That insignificant looking Bible story – can fill your kids with trust in their Savior.
That insignificant invite to worship, might be one of a series of calls from God to bring that person to His kingdom.
That insignificant looking Sunday School class, could strengthen the faith of a future SS teacher who will continue to multiply God’s kingdom long after your gone.
Those insignificant looking drops of water, wash away sin and bring you into God’s eternal kingdom.
That insignificant looking, off-key acapella worship service in that stuffy, back storage room with only one person in attendance…might strengthen that person’s faith just enough to bring them home to heaven.
Like an insignificant looking mustard seed, God’s kingdom grows into the most eternally significant.
IV. What Now?
1. Do the Seemingly Insignificant
Work on memorizing Scripture.
Sing “Jesus Loves Me” with your kids.
Bring your kids to worship – even when they don’t want to.
Bring yourself to worship – even when it’s not a celebration Sunday.
Tell a coworker about Jesus – even if it’s not some incredible doctrinal statement.
Do the seemingly insignificant work this week and you will be doing the eternal important work of God’s kingdom.
And it’s not just personal…
When you’re leaving today, look behind across the parking lot. There’s an incredible new ministry center out there with an incredible ability to Plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh.
To be fair – it looks SIGNIFICANT.
But the work surrounding it – hasn’t always been…
Phone calls on hold to subcontractors.
Emails typed to potential parents.
Fixing the little tiny door latch for the cabinet in the janitor’s closet.
On its own, the work seemed insignificant.
Keep doing the insignificant when that opens.
Spend an extra minute talking to a parent about their life.
Add a dollar to the offering plate.
Paint a wall in the Fellowship Hall.
Do the Seemingly Insignificant work of God’s kingdom because there is nothing of more eternal significance.
2. Remember the Eternal Significance
Segue with me.
To something that isn’t a parable.
Segue with me.
To something that is a glimpse into the future.
Segue with me.
To the reality of heaven itself – the ultimate goal of God’s kingdom.
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9, 10, 13, 14)
Look at that multitude.
Look at those people.
It’s eternally significant.
If you look closely enough you might see…
There’s that person that you shared that seemingly insignificant Bible verse with.
There’s your neighbor that you shared a seemingly insignificant church invitation with.
There’s your child that you shared a seemingly insignificant 5-minute Bible story with.
You can't say for sure, so we must keep sharing God's Word. It's important!
The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed…
The work can look insignificant, but there is no work of more eternal significance.
Things had finally settled down. For the very first time, you could call the Promised Land – Israel. The majority of the land had been conquered. The Israelites had moved in; they had planted their gardens; picked out the right backsplash; they had even set up a few of those little lawn gnomes on the front lawn.
The land was at rest.
What could they possibly have to worry about?
Today we are looking at the second to last chapter in Joshua. It’s essentially the first of two final sermons that Joshua preaches to his people. This one he speaks directly to the leaders of all 12 tribes. Listen as Joshua warns Israel of the danger that lay before them; a danger that we have to watch out for, too. Before we begin, a prayer: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. 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. Identify Bad Company
Chapter 23 starts by mentioning that Joshua is well advanced in years. He’s older than he was in the last sermon – and that was pretty old. And he summons all the leaders of Israel together to give them one final speech. Check out verse 7 in chapter 23. It’s a key verse in Joshua’s sermon. It says this, “Do not associate with the remaining nations; do not invoke the name of their gods or swear by them…but hold fast to the LORD your God, as you have until now.”
Maybe you get to that part and you wonder, why?
What was wrong with the Canaanite people?
Is God some kind of racist?
First of all, absolutely not.
God made all people.
God made the Canaanite people.
God loved the Canaanites.
But that was the problem. The Canaanites didn’t love God. Rather the Canaanites loved to take pieces of wood, cut them to the appropriate length, sand them down, use their carving knives to make a face, six eyes, a couple of noses -- sprinkle on some glitter and …voila! “This is my new god.” Even though…it didn’t exist until about 5 minutes ago.
And what’s interesting is that these Canaanites still held to their belief in these gods – even after all that had happened over the previous years!
Even when they heard of how the LORD held up the Jordan River.
And how the LORD knocked down the wall of Jericho with a couple of trumpet blasts.
And how the LORD caused the sun to stand in the sky and expand the daylight 24 hours.
And how the LORD had drastically changed the borders and boundaries of their land over the last couple of years.
The Canaanites still held to other gods.
The Canaanites still held to their own “pretend gods.”
And if Israel got too close, they would gladly teach Israel to do the same.
It’s easy to see how that would happen.
It starts with a trip to the local Canaanite Restaurant that everyone was raving about. The food was good and…the decorations were interesting. “Bartender…sir? What are those decorations?” “Those? Those are Asherah poles. They are devoted to the goddess Asherah. She’s pretty awesome. She lets you drink as much as you want and sleep with whomever you want.” (He nodded in the direction of one of the waitresses.) “Does your God let you do that?” “Um...no?”
Then, there was the time little Avram went for a sleep over in Little Philistine. And he came back so excited – “Mom and dad! It was so much fun. They have this god ‘Dagon.’ He’s part man and part fish. I saw his action figure. He has big muscles and karate chop action. PLUS, each package comes with a piece of gum. Can we get Dagonite action figure? Please!?!”
And then, there was the wedding. I don’t know. I like Bob. But? Should we really be entering Baal’s temple for a wedding? I’d feel weird about praying to a golden statue in order to bless them? But…then again. They are nice people. And…I heard there’s gonna be a Chocolate Fountain, so….
And I kinda like it.
And I kinda see where they are coming from.
And I kinda believe this isn’t so bad
And I kinda think that God might not be the only God.
And I kinda think I’m not a God follower anymore…
Scripture says this: “Bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Cor. 15:33) That was the point of what God was saying through Joshua. These Canaanites were bad company. These Canaanites could lead Israel into their own sin. These Canaanites could lead them away from faith in the true God.
One of the first steps in avoiding bad company is identifying bad company.
Because the thing about bad company is that it isn’t always so obvious. In fact, it’s usually not. For instance, you probably aren’t going to have a group of Satanists come to your door dressed in “Satan rules” t-shirts with matching tattoos and an invite card in their hand that says, “Join us for Back to Satan Worship Sunday.” It’s never that obvious. It’s usually much subtler. Here are three modern areas where bad company tends to hideout:
This isn’t just a warning for cyber sexual predators. (Although there is that and please watch out). It’s a warning against cyber spiritual predators.
And they look nice. They become friends with you. You have cheerful dialogue via social media. You comment on their cat pictures and they comment on the photo of your dog.
But then, you notice something different in their social feed. A steady stream of attacks on Jesus, followed by a constant promotion of sinful things. And at first you think – this doesn’t affect me. And at first you give them a LIKE because “They’re my friend.” And then later you give them a LIKE because “They made a good point.” And finally, you give them LIKES left and right because, “They’re right. God is awful.”
Bottom-line: If one of your friend keeps posting stuff from AtheistsAreTheBest.com…Please Be Careful. Bad company corrupts good character.
We all probably know this, but TV executives are not all that interested in helping you lead a holy life. Not even remotely. They want money and sin sells. So, they promote sin.
Please be careful. Because suddenly some of our favorite characters end up being a virtual version of bad company.
Homer Simpson may lead you to believe that drinking beer and hanging out on the couch is a great way to treat your wife.
Anything on HBO might make you think that those filthy words aren’t so big a deal.
Grey’s Anatomy could have you believe that sleeping around with anyone and everyone is just how life is.
Careful. Bad company corrupts good character.
That might sound crazy! Isn’t church supposed to be the place where we go for good company? Absolutely. It is. Yet – the devil works hard at church. And it’s easy for him to watch friendships be made, relationships be strengthened, and then…inject a bit of sin.
I’ll never forget about the time when I was at another church…and some of the older ladies invited me to join them for a Bible group. So, I went. And the Bible study opened like this:
Did you hear about so and so?
Oh I know. She’s terrible.
And did you hear about what that person did?
I know they are the worst.
And can you believe pastor did that?
I can’t and I think he’s pretty terrible.
I was there for about five minutes when I realized…
I wasn’t at a Bible group.
I was at a gossip group.
Bad company can exist even a church. Even when we don’t want it to.
If there’s a group that loves to get together and gossip, politely break it up.
Because this shouldn’t be a place for bad company…
…but sometimes…it can be.
So, we are careful and watch each other’s back because…Bad company corrupts good character (even in church).
II. The Problem with Bad Company
Yet it can be hard to leave bad company.
Oftentimes because bad company has something to offer in return:
Even “they think I’m cool.”
But the reality is that bad company has very little to offer. Listen to Joshua’s reminders:
(1) “Bad company” does not Save
The LORD has driven out before you powerful nations…the LORD your God fights for you...so be careful to love the LORD. (v.10-11)
Because their new Canaanite friends didn’t split the Jordan River.
And their “idol”- didn’t cause the walls of Jericho to come tumbling down.
To put it simply:
It was not some pile of rocks splashed with red paint and glitter that protected you from your enemies! It was the LORD.
Those false gods that the Canaanites promoted would not protect them! Neither will whatever it is that is causing you to want to remain in bad company.
Money won’t save.
Fame won’t save.
A promotion at work won’t save.
“Being cool” won’t save.
None of these things are god and none of them will save.
(2) God is the Opposition
In fact, they lead to big trouble. Joshua said, “If you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you…then you may be sure that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations before you.”
Because how else would you expect God to react? He brought them out of Egypt, provided for them in the desert, and conquered the Promised Land for them. In return, they hang around a pile of rocks and sing, “How Great is this Pile of Rocks.”
Here’s how God reacts. God doesn’t fight for bad company.
God fights against them.
And if you are a part of that bad company…
God fights against you.
(3) Bad company are Deathtraps
Joshua says it this way, “These nations will become snares and traps for you, whips on your back and thorns in your eyes, until you perish…” (v.13)
Have you ever used a sticky ant trap? It’s especially useful if you have lots of ants in your home. It’s a trap that you place on the ground around the area where they seem to get in. It lets off a really nice and pleasing smell to the ants (I don’t know. Sugar or something.) and the ants follow the smell. They walk onto the trap and…they get stuck. They can’t move. They are trapped. They die.
And that’s exactly what would happen to the Israelites.
These flashy new gods might seem nice.
The beautiful Canaanite fertility dancer might seem beautiful…
The handsome Asherah worshipper might seem like a gentleman…
But it was nothing more than a trap.
It would lead to false belief.
Which would lead to falling way from God.
Which would lead to falling away from salvation.
Which would lead to HELL.
TRUTH: Bad company always leads to death. Even if they aren’t promoting obvious idolatry, if they are promoting sin…sin leads to death. Thus: They are promoting death.
They are a trap.
Get out before it’s too late! Before these traps get ahold of you; get ahold of the LORD.
III. Why God?
These scary warnings drive us back to the true LORD.
They drive us back to Jesus.
And when we hold to Jesus, we need not be afraid. Here’s why:
You yourselves have seen everything the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake; it was the Lord your God who fought for you…The Lord your God himself will push the remaining nations out for your sake. He will drive them out before you, and you will take possession of their land, as the Lord your God promised you. (23:3-5)
1) Look at What God’s Done!
For Israel, He split the Jordan River in half in the middle of flood season. He caused the walls of Jericho to come tumbling down with a few blasts of a trumpet. He stopped the sun in the sky, gave you 24 extra hours of daylight, and led you to victory over five vicious armies. And look down at your feet! He gave you the very land that he promised to give their great, great, great, great, great, great-grandfather 500 years ago!
And since then?
He appeared on this earth. He lived perfectly, completely apart from bad company.
He died innocently, at the hands of bad company.
He rose triumphantly, defeating the bad company of sin, death, and the devil.
God saved you from sin! Nothing bad has ever come from Him.
Hold fast to the LORD.
2) Look at What God Will Do
He would knock out any nations that remained. He would give Israel the final 5% of the land. He would have no problem completing the job.
He will have no problem completing the job for you.
God is not like a credit card. His goodness doesn’t get maxed out…so that you have to put him back in your wallet and pull out a different credit card, because “I’m out of money, but those rhinestone studded slippers are really nice.”
God’s love is infinite.
God’s love is unending.
His resources are unlimited.
He will not fail you.
He will bring you home to heaven.
He will give you eternal rest.
He will give you peace.
IV. What now?
1) Identify Bad Company
That doesn’t mean just avoid people you don’t like.
It doesn’t mean that you avoid people who don’t believe like you do. The Bible says, “Be the light of the world.” In order to be that light…you have to be in the world.
But it does mean be careful. And if the situation warrants, avoid them.
If you struggle with gossip, avoid those who gossip.
If you struggle with alcohol, avoid the bar.
If you struggle with faith, avoid those who are making you question it.
Identify what your bad company is and be careful.
2) Be Good Company
Again, the Bible says, “Be the light of the world.” Be that good company that influences others back towards God!
Whether it’s at work, with friends, at school – be that light.
Even at church! Because (we said this earlier) that’s what God would have us be – an encouragement to one another to keep serving Him and keep sharing His message! We are to be the good company for one another.
3) Hold fast to the LORD
Because the LORD is all Israel ever needed. And the LORD is all you need. And the LORD is all will ever need.
Think about how you can hold fast to the LORD.
Do your own Bible reading.
Join a small group.
Make worship a weekly priority.
Whatever you’re doing – great – do more! Fill yourself with as much God as you fill yourself with social media.
And God will hold fast to you.
In fact, do you remember that earlier phrase? Bad company corrupts good character?
With God, the opposite is true. Because God-company purifies corrupted character.
May God purify us and make us good company for one another. Amen.
Over the past couple of weeks, we have heard some amazing stories. About the Jordan River splitting in half, the walls of Jericho tumbling down, God’s grace in keeping the prostitute Rahab safe, his wrath against the greedy Achan and his incredible power that extended the daylight for 24 extra hours!
Today’s sermon is a bit different. Because we are getting to the part of Joshua that isn’t so jammed packed with action. The literature switches from narrative to a legal listing; from storytelling to atlas. It’s one of those parts of the Bible that might not seem like it’s got a lot to do with you.
You’d be wrong.
Today we’re going to take our first of two looks at the non-narrative parts of Joshua. This is from Joshua 13-21. Our goal is to discover a couple of different ways these listings are a blessing for 21st century Raleighians.
Before we do that, let’s pray: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. Your word is truth. Open our eyes to see what YOU want us to see. Open our ears to hear what YOU want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what YOU would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Temptation to Grow Tired
Chapter 13 starts right after Israel has finished conquering a vast majority of the land. Joshua 13:1. When Joshua had grown old and was well along in years, the LORD said to him, “You are now very old…”
Notice that there seems to be a repetitive theme. The Bible calls Joshua “old” and then, it rephrases it so that we don’t get confused, “well along in years.” Finally, the LORD himself approaches Joshua and the very first thing he says to him is, “You are…very old!”
Sheesh, God. Thanks a lot.
I doubt Joshua needed the reminder. The white hairs, the creaky knees and the wrinkles probably told him enough. In fact, if you jump forward in the book – Caleb, Joshua’s contemporary, is identified as 85 years old. Joshua, probably a bit older, might be around 90.
That means – things were not as easy as they used to be.
Each morning he would stand and straighten his back very slowly.
He would grab his pair of glasses and squint in order to read the 14-point font of Moses’ OT Writings.
Soldiers would pretend not to notice his inability to remember any of their names. Marty? Abimelech?
Joshua was no spring chicken.
So, what does God want?
Is this the talk where he tells him to slow things down?
Is this the talk where he told Joshua he probably shouldn’t drive anymore?
Is this the talk where he told Joshua about the new retirement village they had set up in the confines of Ai?
Joshua…there are still large areas of land to be taken over. (v.1b)
I still have plans for you.
I still have work for you.
You are not too old to serve me.
That’s a key truth I want to focus on for a moment. You are never too old to serve God.
I was sitting down next to a friend for coffee the other day. And in the midst of our conversation, the man began to tell me about his children. How he had fallen away from church and wasn’t a believer anymore.
And then…he sighed: But...what am I going to do? I’m old.
Is that really how it works?
Is Jesus just for young kids?
Is Jesus not for adults?
Do you get to a point where you’re so old that even God can’t use you?
Look at these Scriptures:
Matthew 28 says, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
Galatians 5 says, “Serve one another in love.”
Matthew 5, “Let your light shine.”
Notice Scripture does not say, “Go and make disciples – unless you have arthritis.”
It doesn’t say, “Serve one another in love…unless you are over 73. Then, serve in grouchiness.”
It doesn’t say, “Let your light shine…unless you live in a retirement community.”
There are no qualifiers.
These commands are all inclusive.
These commands are for you – no matter how old you are.
Because you are never too old to serve God!
Joshua was 90 years old and God still called on him to lead the Israelite army throughout the rest of Canaan!
But Joshua wasn’t alone.
Moses was 80 years old when God used him to get Israel out of Egypt.
Daniel was 87 when he was thrown into the lion’s den for confessing faith in Jesus.
Sarah was 99 when she gave birth to Isaac – forefather of Jesus.
Noah was 600 when God used him to build an ark and save humanity!
How old are you?
How will God use?
Don’t listen to the devil:
You are never too old to serve God.
II. The Temptation to Give Up
That’s what God wanted Joshua to do. Listen to his command: There are still very large areas of land to be taken over…be sure to allocate this land to Israel for an inheritance, as I have instructed you. (v.1b, 6) Because up to this point Israel hasn’t conquered everything. They only possess about 2/3 of the Promised Land. They had won many battles and driven out many armies, but they still needed to win victories up in the North kingdom and they still needed to drive out armies in the southwest.
The temptation might be to call it good.
The temptation might be to say close enough.
The temptation might be to grab a PBR and relax.
God doesn’t want them to quit.
God wants them to finish it.
And with good reason.
My initial favorite sports teams were based in Minnesota. Did you know this? I was 2 when I moved there from Baton Rouge, LA and I was 4 when I watched my first baseball and football games. The Twins and the Vikings. Then, in first grade I moved to Wisconsin. And in week one of the NFL season I was one of the only kids wearing Viking purple – while everyone else wore green and gold.
And there was polite joking.
And there was polite ribbing.
And…there was the time in fourth grade when Brett Favre led the Packers deep into the playoffs – and the Vikings were not so deep in the playoffs – that I finally switched allegiances.
People influence you. In sports teams, favorite restaurants, binge worthy TV shows and religion.
This is one of the main reasons for God driving out the Canaanites. He doesn’t want the Canaanites’ idol worship to influence the Israelites God worship. He doesn’t want the Canaanite unbelievers to lead Israelite believers to unbelief…
And Joshua gets it. He sends out each tribe into its particular region of the Promised Land in order to drive out all the nations. That’s exactly what chapters 11-19 entail. Numbers, places and results of their victories. But…hidden in the midst of these victories – in the midst of this long historical commentary on how they followed through on God’s commands – are a few verses which show that…they didn’t.
13:13 The Israelites did not drive out the people of Geshur and Maacah so they continue to live among Israel to this day.
15:53 Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites.
16:10 They did not dislodge the Canaanites in Gezer.
17:11-12 They were not able to occupy Beth Shan, Ibleam, Dor, Endor, Taanach and Megiddo...for the Canaanites lived in their region.
19:47 But the Danites had difficulty taking possession of their territory…so they moved up to Leshem.
Perhaps this seems like no big deal. Perhaps this seems like “at least they tried hard.”
Perhaps you can understand them being tired and saying – “Good enough. We don’t bother you and you don’t bother us.”
And everything seems fine.
Jump forward with me:
After Joshua died…another generation grew up who neither knew the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. Then, the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD…they followed and worshiped various gods of the people around them. So…the hand of the LORD was against them…and he sold them into the hand of their enemies all around them. (Judges 2:8-13)
Do you see the problem?
They didn’t listen to God.
They didn’t drive out the Canaanites.
And the Canaanites led them to worshipping false gods.
Just. Like. God. Said.
God has not asked us to conquer any kind of land or people in any kind of way. But God does tell us to fight against sin and drive it out of our lives – completely!
However – I wonder if sometimes we don’t do the same thing Israel does. Go about 90% of the way and call it good. I don’t commit adultery. Especially when it comes to something I like to call Peripheral Sins.
What’s a Peripheral Sin? Peripheral vision describes the vision to the right and the left of what you are focusing on. For example, if you look straight at the cross right now and I stand over here --- peripheral vision is me. Maybe you can tell that I’m there, but I’m not clear. I’m fuzzy. (Try and guess how many fingers I am holding up. Not easy)
Peripheral sins are the sins that we don’t focus on. Sins that we refuse to focus on. Sins that we can maybe kind of see in our life – but they aren’t big and clear like murder OR cheating on your wife so…we just kind of let those be.
For example – three common Peripheral Sins:
Granted, if you’ve struggled with lust, there may have been a moment when this wasn’t in the peripheral. And you fought pornography. And you stopped seeing that person who was threatening your marriage.
But at some point, the devil loves to get us to stop the fight.
I’m not looking at porn anymore; so, I’ll just look around at the gym. That should be ok.
I’m not planning on sleeping with that guy at work; I’m just flirting. My husband would be cool with it.
This right here? It’s just the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. I only read it for the articles…on sports.
Lust is not a small thing. It’s always a big thing. Drive it out.
(2) Sinful Anger.
Because for whatever the reason, anger is one of those sins that people say, “Well everyone gets angry.” (Which is true) and “Anger isn’t necessarily a sin.” (also, true) and “Anyways…it’s probably not a big deal the way I showed my anger there.” (Which is a bald-faced lie.)
Humans aren’t God.
Humans are sinful.
Human anger – even ‘righteous sounding anger’ will be tainted by sin.
And oftentimes is acted out sinfully.
Anger cannot be ignored.
It kills relationships at home.
It kills relationships at work.
It kills relationships at church.
It kills your relationship with God.
Anger is not a small thing. It’s a big thing. Drive it out.
After recent events in Virginia, this deserves to be revisited. Because I think the common sentiment is: I’m not a member of the KKK. I’m not a Neo-Nazi. I’m good. Stop telling me I’m racist.
But Jesus calls us to look deeper.
Jesus tells us sin affect us.
Jesus tells us that sinful selfishness easily affects the way that we think and act.
And when we see the problems – even small problems – drive them out.
If I befriend that guy who looks like me, but don’t even try to befriend that guy because…he doesn’t. There’s a problem. Drive the racism out.
If I make a joke here and a comment there, and say…but “it’s just a funny stereotype that’s all.” There’s a problem. Drive the racism out.
If I dismiss the struggles of my friend (who looks different) because I never had to deal with those kinds of struggles (since I look different) and it would make me uncomfortable to consider that people who do look like me might be part of the reason this friend who doesn’t look like you is struggling. There’s a problem. Drive the racism out.
In fact, drive all of these peripheral sins out. Because the reality is that they are sin. And sin destroys.
Lust destroys marriage.
Anger destroys churches.
Racism destroys society.
Drive it out before the destruction takes place!
III. God Finishes What He Started
Here’s the good news for Israel. In spite of their failure to completely drive out their enemies, God still blessed Israel. He gave them the Promised Land. He kept that in their possession. He made sure that Israelites were in that land when he finally sent the Savior from there.
God finished what he started.
In Bethlehem, Jesus was born.
In Nazareth, Jesus grew up.
In Cana, he turned water into wine.
At the Jordan, he revealed himself as Lord.
In Jericho, he healed a blind man.
Just outside Jerusalem he died…and just outside Jerusalem he rose from the dead.
God finished what he started.
And he was complete about it! Scripture says, “The blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin.”
Please note the all. It doesn’t say “some.” It doesn’t say “a few.” It doesn’t say, “Just the obvious big ones.”
His blood purifies you from peripheral lust.
His blood purifies you from seeping anger.
His blood purifies you from that hidden racism.
Jesus died and his blood completely purifies you from all sin.
It’s like a water purification system. If you put that on your faucet, the water goes through the first filter and the big sediment it blocked. Then, it goes through the secondary system and the little sediment it blocked. Finally, it goes through a laser purification process and even the hidden particles are destroyed.
Jesus purifies us from all sin.
And that empowers us to drive out all sin.
That’s exactly what God tells Joshua. Right after he tells Joshua about all of the nations that he still needs to drive out – God says this in verse 6: I myself will drive out the nations. He was still fighting with them. Even if they didn’t see gigantic miracles like the river splitting in half or the walls tumbling down or the sun sitting in the sky for an extra 24 hours – God was still with them and would not withdraw his support.
And God is still with you.
He’s not like some big athletic sponsorship that withdraws their sponsorship because the athlete tweets something they don’t agree with or posts a picture of something that they shouldn’t.
In spite of our sins – for the sake of Jesus – God will not withdraw his support. He is in your corner.
When you are old.
When you are young.
Whether you’re fighting lust, holding back anger or working against subtle racism, God is in your corner.
God has your back.