Looking for a job can be difficult.
Searching for jobs online.
Filing out applications.
Phoning, emailing, texting to check on those applications.
And the interview!
You rent a suit coat.
You part your hair ever so particularly.
You practice saying: “I’m not in it for the money, but because of the sheer joy I get from filling out spreadsheets and alphabetically filing documentation.”
As challenging as finding a job can be…
It gets exponentially more difficult if you have something on your record.
A terrible credit report.
A job history with a few firings.
Even an incriminating Facebook photo or post that you forgot to delete.
Past mistakes can make it difficult to find work in the now…
But what about God’s kingdom?
What if you have mistakes in your past?
Surely – if humans wouldn’t hire you – God, who is perfect, wouldn’t want you to work in his kingdom either…right?
Today’s EYEWITNESS account is about a guy named Peter, who had made some rather big blunders while working in God’s kingdom. We want to learn (1) what his failures were (2) how they affected his role in God’s kingdom and (3) what that means for our roles in kingdom work. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Peter’s Story
We are continuing where we left off last week. If you remember, Jesus had appeared to his disciples on the Sea of Galilee. When he appeared, he told them to toss their nets into the lake and – immediately – the net is full of fish. Amazing – because Jesus was 100 yards away on shore and the disciples had been out all night without catching anything.
But that wasn’t it – as the disciples row the boat to shore, Jesus already has fish sandwiches cooking over the fire for them to eat. It’d be similar to someone gifting you a $100 Starbucks gift card and then, when they invite you to Starbucks – they pay for the coffee for you.
Jesus did the same. He provided abundantly.
He provides abundantly.
And I’ll bet the disciples were loving this interaction.
Because Jesus was back!
He conquered death!
He was alive!
He was just as powerful as ever!
And he was with them.
This was great news --- for most of them.
While Peter was happy to see Jesus alive, it also reminded him of the last conversation that they shared.
It had been back before Jesus died.
Back before Jesus was arrested.
They had been sitting down for a meal and Jesus had said, “I tell you the truth. You will all fall away on account on me.” (Matthew 26:31)
And Peter heard it.
And believed most of it.
“Even if all fall away on account of you, Jesus, I never will.” (Matthew 26:33)
I mean…I’m Peter!
Jesus gave me that name.
It means “Rock.”
I am Peter and…I will not fall!
Turned to Peter.
Looked him straight in the eye.
And said this:
“Truly I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me – three times.” (v.34)
Peter would never forget those exact words.
Before that night was over a group of soldiers had come to arrest Jesus.
Swords, clubs, and spears – Peter was frightened like the rest of the disciples and ran away.
Then, sure, he regained his senses and made it into the courtyard where they were holding the illegal late-night trial of Jesus.
Only to deny knowing him.
But three times.
And then? The rooster crowed.
The one Jesus had predicted would crow - it crowed!
Peter hated roosters now.
Because now they were a reminder of how he had sinned.
A reminder of how he had failed…
A reminder of how he had fallen…
A reminder of his guilt.
Guilt is always tricky. It can easily burden a soul.
But Peter’s guilt was especially difficult for a trifecta of reasons that are especially hard to get over. For a few reasons:
He didn’t deny Jesus one time. He didn’t deny Jesus two times. He denied him three times in one evening. (Although during that third time it says that he called down curses upon himself, so even thought it was one “time period” perhaps it was a bunch of times within that time period).
Repeated guilt is hard.
We were given a good deal on a Prius a while back. Great car. Great gas mileage. Fun to drive.
But it’s extremely low to the ground. The bumper is about 2 inches from the street. So, when you come down our driveway which is on a decent incline…if you don’t turn the wheels at a specific angle to the right and back out at that exact angle – the front bumper scrapes.
Do you know how many times I’ve gotten that wrong? (I’m especially guilty of it every morning when I haven’t had my coffee yet) I keep messing up and I keep feeling guilty about it. In fact, the front bumper is cracked in all kinds of places. And it now serves as a 21st century, sheen black version of a rooster. Every time I look at it, I’m reminded of my failures!
Repeated guilt is hard.
Repeatedly drinking too much.
Repeatedly losing your temper.
Repeatedly looking at porn.
Repeatedly lying to your spouse.
Repeatedly being jerk at work.
Repeatedly being a bully to your family.
Repeated guilt is hard because there’s no excuse.
The devil comes along and says,
You know better!
But you did it anyway.
This is unforgivable.
Because Peter was a leader. He was a disciple; more than that – an apostle. There were only twelve of those hand selected and chosen by Jesus. And of those twelve disciples – Peter was definitely a leader among them: He had the privilege of walking on water. He saw Jesus heal a dead girl when many of them didn’t. He was chosen along with only two others to see Jesus go up on a mountain and reveal his heavenly brilliance. Peter was a leader.
And then he fell.
And when leaders fall…
They quickly become leaders in holding onto guilt.
Maybe you know.
Whether you’re a leader in your family.
Or a leader here at church.
Or a leader among your friends.
Or a teacher of kids.
Or even…you’re the only one at work who is Christian – making you a spiritual leader by default – and then you sin…?
How’s that feel?
The devil comes along and whispers:
“You’re a leader…and you did that?”
“I’m not sure you’re a leader anymore…”
“…I’m not even sure you’re a part of his kingdom.”
Because by the time Peter gets to the third denial, there’s a crowd of people gathered around him:
A crowd of people watch him as he shakes his head vigorously.
A crowd of people listening as cusses out Jesus.
A crowd of people taking mental note of his sin.
I wonder how many of those people Peter saw again.
I wonder how that went?
Public guilt is hard.
There’s this thing I receive every Monday called a Call Report. “Call” is a reference to the special “calling” that a ministry worker has to their particularly congregation. The “call report” details any changes in those ministry positions. It’ll say: “Pastor So-and-So retired.” “Pastor what’s-his-face is switching congregations.” And even “Pastor who’s-his-name has decided to remain at his current congregation.”
But every once in a while, it says this:
“Pastor removed for cause.”
To me, it’s a terrifying expression. It means “removed for doing some gross outward sin.” It’s a phrase that no pastor ever wants said about them. It’s terrifying among our pastor circles, because it is a phrase that screams: “Failure.”
And everyone now knows you as…
Not as a brother.
Not as a pastor.
Not even as your first name…
But as “Pastor, Removed for Cause.”
But as a non-pastor you can feel the same thing.
You might have a sin that your family knows about.
That your coworkers know about.
That your friends saw you do.
And now every moment you spend around them is spent like Peter:
Did they see me sin?
Do they know about my guilt?
Do they think of me as SINNER?
Like you’ve got a big old black marker on your forehead everywhere you go that says: “INSERT SIN HERE.”
Public sin is hard.
Any one of these three types of guilt are challenging on their own! If you’re dealing with any of these, they can overload you. Burden you. Suffocate you.
Peter had to deal with all three all at once. That’s an extreme amount of guilt.
And it needs an extreme amount of restoration.
II. Peter’s Restoration
Peter finished up his breakfast.
Another meal done.
Another visitation from Jesus without having to talk about the sinful things that I did.
If I just keep a low profile, stay quiet, and avoid eye contact, I should be able to avoid him altogether.
Peter turned around to find Jesus standing right in front of him.
Face to face.
Eye to eye.
Heart to heart.
“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
At this point, the conversation seemed a bit too familiar.
Three times? Really?
It reminded him of those three times that he denied Jesus.
Peter said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. (Jn. 21:15-17)
He doesn’t ream Peter out.
He doesn’t kick Peter out.
He doesn’t even respond to Peter’s claims of loving him with: “Umm…No, you didn’t. Remember?”
Jesus doesn’t bring guilt.
He brings restoration.
Restoration to God’s kingdom comes out of Jesus' work.
It didn’t come out of Peter earning it. Peter hadn’t done anything to make up for what he did.
But Jesus did do something.
Jesus did everything.
He lived perfectly when Peter could not.
He died innocently in his place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of Peter’s sin.
The same is true with you.
If you’ve sinned against God.
If you have repeated guilt.
If you have public guilt.
If you have leader guilt.
Jesus doesn’t make you do something to make up for it.
Jesus did everything for you.
He lived perfectly when you could not.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sin.
Remember earlier – when we talked about having a criminal record and how hard it is to find work with that record. One thing that you can do is you can get your record exponged.
It takes a lot of money.
A lot of time with lawyers. '
A lot of paperwork and a lot of pleading with a judge...
But it is sometimes possible to get it expunged, erased and cleared.
Understand this – Jesus has expunged your record.
He did all the work.
He paid for it completely.
Your guilt is expunged, erased, cleared.
In short – listen to Jesus’ message to you right now:
You are restored to my kingdom.
You are guilt free.
You are forgiven…and…You have work to do.
Restoration to God’s kingdom means Restoration to Kingdom Work.
That’s a bit unexpected. Because the devil would love to have you think:
“OK, fine. You are a part of his kingdom, but…Stay in the back. Go into the corner. Hide. Because you are not worthy of being on the front lines.”
But that’s not what Jesus says.
In Peter’s restoration, He goes straight to telling him to work for his kingdom.
He gives him a job.
He restores him not only to his kingdom, but to work in his kingdom.
And God has done the same for you.
He restored you to his kingdom.
He has restored you to kingdom work.
III. Kingdom Work
And what does that kingdom work look like? You get an idea in Jesus’ instruction to Peter.
Feed His Sheep.
Jesus says that is what true love for him is:
Feed my lambs. (v.15)
Take care of my sheep. (v.16)
Feed my Sheep. (v.17)
Does he own a farm I’ve never heard of?
Did he develop some petting zoo?
Does Jesus have a little lamb whose fleece was white as snow?
When Jesus talks about his lambs and his sheep, he’s talking about his people.
When Jesus talks about feeding those lambs and sheep, he’s talking about sharing the message of reconciliation with others.
You know the same message that gives you hope and comfort…
Give it to others!
Love for Jesus means sharing his message.
Telling your neighbor about Jesus.
Spreading the Gospel to your coworkers.
Sharing forgiveness with a church friend.
Teaching the little children about their Savior.
Inviting the community of North Raleigh to hear of God’s love.
He’s talking about our very mission:
To plant the Message of Jesus in the heart of north Raleigh.
When you are sharing the message of forgiveness, you are caring for sheep.
You’re leading someone to streams of living water.
You’re giving them some of God’s forgiveness.
You’re feeding them a steady diet of “Jesus died for you. Believe in him. You are forgiven.”
Here’s the challenge. The devil will love to convince that we aren’t worthy of sharing the message.
He’ll say that you aren’t qualified for that kind of work.
He’ll say that you are a failure.
He’ll say that you should leave that to others who aren’t as much of a failure.
But here’s the thing about feeding sheep.
It doesn’t matter if the farmer puts the food in the bucket.
It doesn’t matter if the farm hand puts the food into the bucket.
It doesn’t matter some disenfranchised, former farm hand puts the food into the bucket.
The sheep eat the food.
The food nourishes the sheep.
The sheep get the health benefits of the food -- no matter the moral background of the one who put the food into the buckets.
It’s the same with kingdom work.
The power is in the Word.
And those who are a part of kingdom are qualified to work with it.
And you…are an important part of his kingdom work.
Feed his lambs.
Take care of his sheep.
Feed them with the Gospel of Jesus.
We are four weeks into our Fighting Temptation series.
Question: How is it going with that?
Are you on a hot streak against temptation like never before?
Have you been sinless for three weeks?
Are you a perfect, 1,567-0 against every temptation in the month of March?
Maybe a better question is:
Have you won any temptation battles?
Today we’re going to talk about what to do when you have failed at fighting temptation. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Two Different Reactions
The lesson we are going to look at is from the book of James 4. James is a letter written by James, a pastor in the early Christian church to Christians everywhere. In his letter, James gives all kinds of guidance to FIGHT temptation. He tells them to not be prideful (1:11), to be slow to anger (1:19), to get rid of moral filth (1:20), to watch their tongues (1:24), to not show favoritism (2:1), to care for others (2:15), to not curse (3:10), to not be envious (3:14), to be peace-loving (3:17), to not fight amongst each other (4:1), to not covet (4:3), and to not be romantic with someone that isn’t your spouse (4:4).
That’s a lot of commands.
That’s a lot of opportunity for temptation.
But about midway through chapter 4, James begins to talk about what to do if you find yourself falling to temptation. He identifies two completely different approaches to losing: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (4:6)
Have any of you been watching the NCAA Tournament? Teams win and teams lose. It’s interesting to listen to teams when they lose – whether it’s in an interview or Twitter – there’s really two different reactions to losing:
Some say, “We lost. We didn’t play well. We didn’t deserve to win. We failed.”
Others say, “It was the refs’ fault.” “My teammate didn’t play up to his potential.” “I read a mean tweet and I wasn’t able to focus like I should.”
Two different reactions:
Humility and Pride.
It’s the same thing when we fail at temptation.
We can respond in humility or pride.
God opposes the proud.
God gives grace to the humble.
II. Types of Pride
But it’s not necessarily that easy.
One of the trickiest things about pride is that pride tends to be very good at disguising itself.
It’s very good at not realizing its own sinfulness.
It’s very good at making you think – that it’s not prideful at all.
Because of that – I would submit that each and every one of us -- even long time Christians – struggle with some version of pride when we fail to temptation.
Here’s a list of a few different prideful ways that we respond when we fall to temptation. Which one are you?
1. The Bar-lower-er
It’s like the high jump. Did any of you have to do the high jump back in high school gym class? It isn’t easy. You have to time your run, time your approach, plant off the back foot while arching your back in the air, throwing your feet back and then jack-knifing over the top.
If you aren’t very good at it, what happens? The coach lowers the bar. From 5 foot to 4 foot 6 inches to 4 foot to…maybe let’s try laying the bar on the ground.
Bar-lower-ers do the same thing with the bar of conduct that God has set:
“God, I know you said to love my spouse – but marriage is hard. You should be happy! I wasn’t that rude.”
“I know the Bible says, ‘Don’t lust,’ but that’s unrealistic. God’s probably happy that I didn’t actually sleep with her…for long.”
“I know the Bible says, ‘Love your neighbor,’ but have you met my neighbors? I’ll tolerate them. What more can you really ask for?”
And there’s no sorrow.
There’s no humility.
Because the bar-lower-er makes it over the fake bar that he set up – while ignoring the divine bar that God set up way over his head.
2. The Fixer
That name comes from politics. A fixer is the person on your political team who has the ability to fix any negative, dirty laundry news story and make you into the hero of the narrative. If you’ve ever watched Scandal, this is Olivia Pope’s job. She finds out the bad story that’s going to hurt her client, she reworks it, and feeds that story out instead in order to make her client look good.
The Spiritual Fixer responds to sin the same way.
Bitter and angry at work? No. I was just standing my ground against all the bitter and angry people who were challenging my ideas!
Cheated on my wife? Nope. I’m just a romantic. A fan of true love. I’m the good guy in the story.
Said something racist? Nope. I was baited into it…by some other friends…who knew it would happen. They’re the real racists.
And there’s no sorrow.
There’s no humility.
Because the fixer imagines himself the hero of his story --- even when God says he’s clearly not.
3. The Accountant
Kudos to actual accountants. They do impressive work. They take numbers. They take receipts. They take line items and mistakes and put them all together to try and make the numbers balance – no matter how it is.
This is hard work. It’s why Kevin from The Office developed a “Keleven” It’s a made up, magic number he uses to balance the numbers when he can’t figure out the mistake.
The Spiritual Accountant does the same thing. They try to take the seeming “good” that they’ve done and balance it against the bad that they just committed. Like some kind of magic number, they try to make it balance.
Sure. I was grumpy this morning. But I was nice from like 1:15-3:30p yesterday afternoon so…
I have been gossiping a lot lately. But I did go to church Sunday and Wednesday for the Meditation service.
I know I told a lie there. But this morning I told like 4 truths. Things like “Good morning” and “I had an egg for breakfast.” It all balances out.
And there’s no sorrow.
There’s no humility.
Because the Spiritual Accountant thinks they’ve made up for their wrongdoing – even when God says the only way to make up for sinful wrongdoing is death.
4. The Bootstrapper
This type of person “Pulls themselves up by their Bootstraps.” Have you heard that phrase? Apparently, it means to be lying on the ground with your boots on and then, to grab ahold of the strap at the top of the boot until you are standing. This isn’t actually that possible. It’s really, really, really hard. Hence the phrase, “Pulling yourself up by your bootsteps” being an exemplary thing. If you can do that, then people will forget all about the fact that you fell – they’ll be way too impressed by the fact that you pulled yourself up by the bootstraps.
Spiritual Bootstrappers think they can do the same thing. They focus on how they’ll get themselves out of sin to distract themselves – and God – from the fact that they have sinned.
I know. I know. I got drunk for the 8th day in a row You might even call me addicted. No worries. When I get out of this, it’ll be that much more impressive.
Yes, I lost it on my kids again. But I’m gonna keep improving, keep working harder, and I’ll figure out how to deal with 4 whining kids all by myself.
And…I said things that made my spouse mad at me. But I’ll fix it. I’ll buy flowers. I’ll buy a nice card. I’ll send her a cutesy emoji. I’ll pull myself out of the pit I dug.
And there’s no sorrow.
There’s no humility.
Because the Bootstrapper distracts himself from his severe sin by looking at his half-hearted, sin-tainted, feeble efforts at righting it.
5. The Humble Looking
This seems a bit like an oxymoron. Because this type of response to sinning doesn’t seem prideful at all. In fact, they sound humble. They say things like, “I am a miserable sinner.” “I did an awful job.” “I am a horrible, no good, very bad person – God!”
It sounds humble.
God, I have so much sin, that it’s too much for you to handle on your own. I’ll try to help.
God, I’ve done so much wrong. I don’t think your blood can cover it all.
God, I really messed up. I can’t ask you to help. I don’t belong in church. That wouldn’t be right.
There’s false sorrow.
There’s false humility.
And there’s this strange clinging to a tiny ounce of sinful dignity, because “I’ll feel better about myself if I can help God out with getting rid of my sins.”
Here’s the truth:
All five of these responses to sin are prideful.
All five of these responses to sin set oneself up against God.
The Bar-lower-er says, “God, your bar wasn’t good enough. I’ll make my own.”
The Fixer says, “God, you don’t know the whole story. You’re wrong for rebuking me.”
The Accountant says, “God, if you don’t accept all the good I do for you, you’re the one who isn’t any good.”
The Bootstrapper says, “God, don’t patronize me. I don’t need your help. Even if you tell me I do need your help.”
The Humble Looking says, “God, you can’t do this on your own. You need my help.”
All five of these responses to falling at sin will leave you…imagining that you’re up and on your feet again.
When in reality…
You’re still lying on the ground.
You’re still beaten.
You. Aren’t. Getting. Up.
God opposes the proud…
God gives grace to the humble. (v.6)
III. Blessings of Humility
Our Old Testament lesson was from the book of Judges. Have you ever read the book of Judges? It fits in really well with today’s lesson, because it is filled with a very repetitive theme:
Repeated, repetitive failures to temptation.
It’s a cycle.
Israel falls to temptation.
God warns them to stop.
Israel has too much pride to listen.
God warns them again.
Israel still doesn’t listen and…
God is against them.
God sends a foreign nation to overtake them.
Israel is overrun by the Assyrians, the Moabites, the Philistines.
The once proud people of Israel are defeated – lying flat on their backs.
As they are on their backs…
They realize that they cannot get themselves out of the predicament.
Their story changes.
They ask God for mercy.
He sends a conqueror.
He sends a hero.
He fights for his people and gives them the victory!
Friends, there is blessing in humility. Look at what James says:
1. The Devil Flees
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (v.7)
Which seems strange. Because you would expect your best chance at beating the devil to involve puffing your chest out, getting really big, really prideful. Like scaring off a grizzly bear. You act as impressive as possible so as to scare him off.
The devil is not scared of you.
Not one bit.
On the other hand, when you are humble…
When you admit that you can’t do it alone…
When you call out for help…
He’s absolutely terrified!
2. God Comes Near
This is the reason the devil is terrified. Look at what James writes, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (v.8)
Because God is a God of mercy.
He is a God of compassion.
He is a God who helps those who need help.
He erupts volcanos.
He flicks his wrists to send hurricane like winds.
He pours out rushing flood waters.
He is the undisputed, undefeated, champion against temptation – and there is no love lost between him and the devil.
God shows up and the devil runs.
He does one of those things that the Roadrunner used to do in Looney Tunes and leaves a cloud of dust behind.
James writes, “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (v.8b)
Because the reality is that falling to temptation can feel awfully icky.
It can feel like the end of a long day working outside.
There’s dried sweat on your forehead.
Dirt under your finger nails.
And this…stench that just seems to be deeply entrenched in your skin.
He washes us cleans.
He washes away your guilt.
He washes away your shame.
He washes away the stink and the stench.
And replaces it with the beautiful perfume of the phrase: “Forgiven.”
4. Uplifting to the Highest Heights
James writes, “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (v. 9-10)
The truth is the humbling yourself means that you will be lowering yourself.
There’s a moment when you say, “I am a sinner.”
A moment when you say, “I failed, again.”
A moment when you say, “I can’t do this on my own.”
During that time, you can feel really low.
God forgives you.
God uplifts you.
God lifts you up beyond where you were before – and places you up beside Him – in His kingdom!
Do you get it? If you fall and a friend picks you up, your feet are back on solid ground.
But if you fall and God picks you up…your feet are on heavenly ground.
IV. What Now?
The one WHAT NOW? It’s pretty simple:
When you fail against temptation…
Humbly seek God’s help.
Humbly hear his promise of forgiveness.
No matter how many times you’ve fallen to temptation.
Like the son in the story that Jesus told.
Remember what he did?
He came up to his dad – long before his dad was dead – and said, “Give me my inheritance! I’ve had enough of living under your roof. I’m sick and tired of doing what you tell me to do. I’m sick of being here. There’s a whole world full of life out there. Give my money. Give my money so I can leave and never have to look at your ugly face again.”
And his dad was sad.
But he gave him the inheritance.
A couple hundred thousand dollars.
And the son takes the money.
He heads to the city.
He goes downtown.
He rents a high-rise $4,000 a month apartment.
Every night he goes to the finest steak restaurants.
He drinks top notch scotch after drinking top shelf vodka after drinking a $25 dollar shot of whiskey.
And he buys for his friends.
And he buys illegal drugs for him and his friends.
And he buys women for him and his friends.
And he wakes up around 2 pm the next day.
And does it all over again.
The money’s out.
No one will hire him.
He gets evicted.
His “friends” ignore his text messages.
He pretends to have enough cash for an Uber out of the city – only to pretend like he left his wallet in the other pants when he gets to a local pig farm that’s hiring.
And he gets a job.
Feeding the pigs.
He gives them slimy old applesauce.
He gives them moldy old cheese.
He gives them this greenish, brownish muck that he’s not sure – isn’t snot.
It looks so good.
He’s so hungry.
And he says to himself, “I should never have done it. I should never have left my dad. I had it good in my dad’s house. I was fed. I was clothed. I was…home.”
I don’t deserve to be his son.
But…maybe he’ll let me clean the outhouse. And gives me a few pieces of bread for supper.
He makes his way to his dad’s house.
When he reaches the dirt road, the long dirt road that leads to his Father’s house…
He takes a deep breath…before he walks up.
But before he can get far, way off in the distance…his dad. He sees him! And he takes off down the dirt road.
And the son thinks, “Here he comes. He’s going to give it to me. He’s going to scream at me. He’s going to tell me how awful and terrible I messed up and that I should buzz off and never be around again.”
And as his dad approaches.
He lifts up his hand.
And his son braces himself to be smacked on the cheek.
His hand doesn’t hit his face.
It embraces him.
But the son shrugs him off! “Seriously, Dad! I sinned. I did wrong. I don’t deserve to be your son! Let me work my way back. Let me do my own thing. Let me be a worker on the lowest run in your farm.”
But the dad…isn’t listening.
“Hey Walter! My son’s back!! Run; tell the cooks to get the steaks from the freezer. Go grab some of my finest wines. And text everyone that I know. There’s a party at my house tonight.”
Because…This son of mine is lost; but NOW? is found.
Friends, this is God’s reaction to you.
When you fail against temptation, humbly return.
And you’ll be welcomed home.
I’ve been experiencing some problems in my prayer life recently.
The things that I pray for don’t seem to be happening.
This has been going on for years!
I prayed for a pony when I was younger; never happened.
I’ve prayed for it to rain Doritos. Not once.
I’ve prayed for a couple million bucks to show up in my bank account. (I don’t know that there’s ever been a million that passed through the account since its inception)
On a more serious note – my wife and I have been praying for a child.
But…we’re about seven years in.
No little pastor.
No little Julianna.
Maybe the same thing has happened to you.
Maybe you’ve asked for something “good” and God has answered with something “bad.”
What’s the deal? Doesn’t God understand how prayer works?
Jesus has something to say on the matter. Check out his words from Matthew 7: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?”
Think about it:
If your son came up to you with his big, tear-filled eyes and said to you, “Mommy, my tummy’s grumbling. Can I have a piece of bread?” Would any of you say: “Sure, son!” Walk away. Grab a plate, a knife and some butter and then SLAM a big old rock onto the plate. “Bon Appetite!”
If your daughter really wanted a pet and said to you, “Daddy, I want to get a gold fish and name it Princess.” How many of you would say, “Sure, honey. Anything for you.” Get into car, you head to the pet store, and come back with a poisonous King Cobra. “Here you go sweetie. Although…I don’t know if we should name him Princess.”
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (v.11)
If you then, though you are an imperfect, sin-tainted, selfish human being, know to give a good gift to your child…
What do you think your perfect, holiness-radiating, selfless God will give to you?
God can ONLY give good gifts.
So…what’s the rub then? Why does God’s answers to our prayers sometimes seem disappointing? Two reasons. And they both involve inaccurate assumptions on our part.
(1) Assuming Your Request is Good
Think back to the Doritos prayer. I thought raining Doritos would be good.
It would also ruin the ecosystem, result in my digesting all kinds of germs, and probably ruin the Cool Ranch flavor!
Your child may think they know what is best. They may truly believe that staying up late and eating ice cream is what’s best – it’s certainly what they want most at that moment. However, a father who truly loves his children knows that staying up late and eating ice cream will result in children who don’t feel good shortly after and will have a following 12-hour period of crabbiness. The father looks at the whole picture, and knowing better than his child, may tell his child no – out of love!
The same is true for some of our real deal, difficult requests…
They may not always be centered in ‘goodness.’
They may be centered in “our sinful, imperfectness.”
Back to the prayer for a child.
One of the main reasons that I am praying for one?
I want one.
I want to be a father.
I want to teach them how to play catch.
I want to teach them how to ride a bike.
It sounds nice…
Did you hear what I was praying?
I want…I want…I want.
What about what God wants?
What about God’s desire to increase his eternal family?
What about planting the message of Jesus in the Heart of North Raleigh?
What about God’s desire to shape and mold myself and my wife and grow our faith as we dig deeper into His Word for answers?
What about the fact that I might not know what is good – eternally, absolutely, perfectly…good?
Friends, I don’t know your prayer requests.
But I know you too are an imperfect, broken, human being.
Could it be that our imperfect, broken human heart requests imperfect, broken things from our Father?
Thank God he doesn’t give us exactly what we want.
Thank God that he gives us exactly what is good.
Thank God that when I ask for a snake…God gives me a fish.
Thank God that when I ask for a stone…God gives me some bread.
(2) Assuming God’s Answers Can Be Bad
Because sometimes at the end of your prayers, God’s answer may be, “Yes. Your boyfriend is leaving you.”
Sometimes at the end of your prayers, God’s answer may be, “Yes, you will lose that job.”
Sometimes at the end of your prayers, God’s answer may be, “Yes. It’s confirmed. You have cancer.”
The temptation might be to say, “God, bad answer.”
The reality? God doesn’t give bad answers.
We might not always know how.
We might not always know why.
We might not always know much of anything.
But we do know one certain and sure reality:
God’s answers are only good.
Because God is only good.
Case and point? The cross.
We asked for a Savior.
We asked for God to send someone to help us.
We asked for God to get rid of our guilt, grief, and shame.
We probably pictured some type of superhero-looking guy.
A modern-day Avenger.
With an epic Thor like weapon and luscious, Chris Hemsworth looks.
We didn’t get that.
We got a carpenter’s apprentice.
A guy without a home.
A mild mannered dude who got roughed up and physically beaten on more than one occasion.
He was cursed at.
Arrested, convicted, bloodied, and killed.
And it’s easy to look up at the cross.
At his broken, bloodied, beaten body…
And say, “This can’t be any good. God, you didn’t answer my prayer. God, you don’t know what you’re doing!”
But we’d be wrong.
Because three days, later…
Three days later, Jesus didn’t just beat evil.
He didn’t just destroy sin.
He didn’t just wipe out death forever.
He guaranteed eternal life to you.
Do you see it? God answered your prayers.
Praying for a better life? God answered.
Praying for removal of guilt? God answered.
Praying for a Savior from all the junk you’re dealing with? God answered when he sent Jesus.
And Now? God keeps giving good gifts.
God isn’t hit or miss.
His gifts are always good.
That boyfriend? Could lead you away from faith.
That job? Could distract you from teaching your kids about their Savior.
That cancer? It’s will draw you closer in faith to me AND allow you all kinds of opportunity to witness to your family and friends until you join him in heaven apart from cancer…forever.
Because that’s the ultimate good.
Brothers and sisters, God’s answers all always good. Trust Him.
Whether he gives you some bread, some fish, or an eternal Savior…
God’s answers are always good. Amen.
Guest Preacher Pastor Tom Glende
Life-changing questions. Identity & purpose. Matthew 5:13-16.
It’s a question that might sound deceptively simple if we just kind of get surface deep. If salt loses its saltiness, what good is it? And you’d answer, ‘well, none.’ But the question proves to be huge when we actually dig in, and see the deeper truth to which Jesus’ question is attached, namely: our identity and purpose in life. That’s what we want to meditate on tonight.
This is a rather light example to begin with, but I want to use it to lead into our deeper issue. Has anyone konmaried their home yet? Konmari is a pretty big movement. Marie Kondo wrote the best-seller, the Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. It has spun into a Netflix show. And she has even been named one of Times 100 most influential people. There’s organizational elements to her method, like folding clothes so that they stand vertically for storage, and thus are all easily seen and accessed. Sounds intriguing. And when you get to the part about what to get rid of… The tactic used in Konmari is: hold each item, and evaluate its worth by answering, “does it spark joy?” You keep only those things that bring joy.
I think this could really help one de-clutter. But it might get taken too far. If none of your socks spark joy when you hold them, you might still want to hold on to some. (Please, if not for your own sake, then for the sake of us all.)
Pastor James Hein in a blog picking up on these limits of the “does it spark joy” method of decluttering life commented: “If you’re holding a screaming, poopy-diapered baby in your arms, it’s unlikely that unmitigated joy is running through you.” It wouldn’t be good to just discard everything in life, and every task in life, that doesn’t spark joy.
He went on to talk about the bigger picture of life…
“The method itself is logically too simplistic to be a significant life tool. Though the method’s popularity is clearly tapping into a public sentiment – i.e. in a postmodern, subjective, ‘you do you’ world.”
Think about that outlook, or worldview: a ‘you do you’ approach to life. Do you hear any indication of what an individual’s purpose in life is going to look like, if this is the focus? It’s a view that our sinful flesh could leverage to a lot of harm.
In contrast to that, as we hear Jesus tonight asking the question “what good is salt if it has lost its flavor,” we are directed to the kind of purpose he gives to our lives as Christians. And from purpose, we’re going to get back to the issue of identity as well.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. - Matthew 5:13-16
Jesus makes the statements: “You are salt. You are light.”
With these examples Jesus describes a very different outlook for us. What salt and light have in common is: they stand out. Jesus talks about us being distinct and different in the world, with the ultimate goal being that people would be directed to God, our Savior.
You are salt. You are light. Now those talk about purpose you have as a Christian. But… and this is huge to keep this distinction in view… these statements, connected to Jesus’ question about salt, don’t tell the story of what made you a Christian. If you want to see what made you – and what makes you – a Christian, you have to look back further.
Where does your identity come from?
Earlier in Matthew 5 we hear the very telling description of “the poor in spirit.” That’s you and me when we recognize our sin. We lack holiness. We “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” We turn to the Lord. We plead for His mercy. We trust in Him to make us right.
That’s what we gather in the Lenten season to hear and see.
Now rewind to Jesus’ words to us: You are salt; You are light. Being salt and light describes the purpose God has for us as His people, but it doesn’t speak to how we become – and how we remain – God’s children.
Do you see how important it is to keep that distinction in place?
Where would we be left if our identity would come from what we do, from how well we are salt or light?
And that is precisely what enables us to be salt and light.
In a really great book on this topic, “Through the Looking Glass, Your Passport to Identity,” it states it like this:
“Not ‘living up to’ requirements, but ‘living out’ our identity in Christ describes the Christian’s life.” &
“True humility is knowing that in Christ you are everything you could ever be, have everything there is worth having. You have nothing to prove, nowhere to climb. From that position of strength you, like your Savior, can find great joy in serving.” – Through the Looking Glass, Your Passport to Identity.
To wrap up, just think about how much this issue of identity plays into our day-in-day out lives.
Teenagers, and even you children who are younger, this topic - “where do you and I look to find our identity” – is important for you too.
Where do you look for your identity? In other words, does your identity ever seem tied up with… a) how good of a student you are (heading toward a career goal you have targeted); b) having good friends & being a friend, or another way maybe to view that is how much positive social interaction you have; c) being successful at an activity – whether that is as an athlete, or a musician, or some other interest? Or if you’re a little older, some additional possibilities may arise: d) a relationship with that special someone; and even, e) how your children turn out – if they’re stable, productive, successful.
It’s good for us to look closely – do some evaluating – to see: have I slipped and shifted from seeing my identity coming from Jesus, and turned my attention to other things for answering the question of where my identity comes from?
You might score 32 on the ACT, you might be the varsity sports star, you may end up making a six figure salary with the profession you arrive at, you may be adored by the special someone or be appreciated for your role in the family. But none of that determines your identity of what makes you who you are in God’s sight.
You might work your best to get average grades, you might get cut at the tryouts for the sports team, you might have a blue-collar job at a trade that will never get you to a six-figure salary. But none of that touches your identity. None of that changes the fact of where you stand with God.
Think about the joy and relief to be able to come time and time again back to the truth: your identity in God’s sight is entirely based on Jesus. He has made you who you are: holy, forgiven, loved by him, with His truth planted in your heart. And from that position, you get the wonderful purpose in life: to be a reflector of His love. You’re enabled to pass on what He has given to you: His Truth, love, forgiveness, self-less service. This is Jesus’ life-changing truth for us. Amen.
Today is a Transfiguration Sunday and we are celebrating the Transfiguration of Jesus. Yet – you might not have ever heard about that.
It isn’t a national holiday.
Nobody takes off of work.
There isn’t a Charlie Brown Transfiguration Special.
There isn’t a Transfiguration Sunday section of the Greeting Cards.
So, our goal today is simple: (1) understand what the Transfiguration is and (2) determine how it affects us. 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. What is it?
First, we should define “transfiguration.” Because it isn’t a word that we use on a day to day basis. People don’t say things like “My Molly, you really have transfigured since yesterday!” If you did, Molly might respond by saying: “Take that back…you!”
The dictionary definition of transfiguration is this: “A complete change of appearance into a more beautiful or more spiritual state.”
The first thing I think of is the movie “She’s All That.” Remember that 90s movie with Freddie Prinze Jr? It’s about a guy who is challenged by his friends to turn the “geek” of the school into the prom queen. But…I don’t know how hard it is. Basically, all he does is have her take off her glasses and let her hair down and – voila – Prom Queen.
The transfiguration we are celebrating today is about whole lot more than letting your hair down and taking off your glasses.
It started out like a normal day. Jesus took a few of his disciples up a small mountain. He wanted to get some time for peace, quiet, restoration and prayer.
And when they get to the top, Jesus went over to the nearest rock.
Got down on his knees.
Propped up his elbows on the rock and immediately devoted himself to deep prayer.
The disciples follow suit.
They found their own rock.
They propped their own elbows up.
They began their prayers:
“Dear Lord, Thank you so much for your…ZZZZZZ.”
“Huh? I mean…thank you so much for the manamanamah.”
They were sleepy.
They were tired.
I imagine Peter enjoyed a pleasant dream of fishing on the Galilean Sea – and pictures himself holding up the prize-winning bass about 5 feet long.
A bright light.
It isn’t the camera flash of the Paparazzi photographing his fish.
The bright light isn’t coming from the dream world.
Peter opens his eyes and immediately is blinded.
Squinting cautiously, he tries again.
“It must be the sunset,” he thinks. “I must have been sleeping for a while.”
But Peter feels the warmth of the sun overhead.
That means the light isn’t coming from a sunup or sundown.
He squints harder.
It’s coming from the face of Jesus.
Like the sun.
But it’s not just his face! It was his clothing, too.
To be fair – Jesus wore a white tunic. That was common. But they had been out in a desert-like climate. Over time dirt affects pure whites. They start to yellow with some brown climbing up from the bottom of the tunic.
They hadn’t come up to do laundry.
And yet – Jesus’ clothes were a brilliant white.
A shining white.
A gleaming white.
Then, Peter’s eyes went to the right. Next to Jesus stood an older man with a long beard. I always picture him with two giant tablets of stone with what appears to be 10 commands written on them.
Peter thinks: “Wait. I know my Sunday School stories. That can be none other than Moses. The prophet God used to lead Israel out of slavery in Egypt. But…wait…isn’t he…”
Before he could finish, another man…a bit younger looking.
‘Elijah and I are excited to be here!” Moses said. “It’s amazing really! I lived thousands of years ago – Elijah lived hundreds. But both of us were doing our work, preaching what we did, telling the people about the coming Messiah. And that Messiah is YOU Jesus! We are so excited to see your work in progress.”
Peter listened as they continued.
He listened as they spoke about God’s plan of salvation.
He listened as they spoke about Old Testament prophecy.
He listened as they spoke about God’s love for his people.
Until…he couldn’t handle it anymore!
I’m…I’m…Peter. I fish!
It’s amazing to see you here! That you took time out of heaven to join us.
And Jesus – you’re glowing and shimmering and doing an incredible miraculous thing!
You can do anything!
So…um…I know you’re visiting from heaven, but…how I can help your stay more comfortable?
I know! I can build a tent for you out of a few olive branches! It’ll be just like you’re at home…
Before anyone could answer, a cloud began developing.
A thick, dark cloud.
It enveloped Elijah.
It enveloped Moses.
It enveloped Jesus.
It enveloped the other disciples.
It enveloped Peter.
He could no longer see Jesus, but a faint, glowing light from where he had been standing.
Then, the fog did something else unusual.
“This is my Son, whom I have chosen. You must listen to him.” (Luke 9:35)
Peter fell to the ground.
This wasn’t fun and games ANYMORE!
He was in the presence of the Holy, All-powerful, Sin-hating and sin-punishing God of heaven and earth!
And…he, Peter, was a sinner.
Peter made himself as flat as he could to the ground.
Pretending that he was mud.
Because he felt like mud.
And he thought that if he blended in with the mud, God might just leave him.
Which would be better than being left a pile of smoke at the hands of God’s almighty wrath.
Things grew quiet.
The voice stopped speaking.
A bird cawed in the distance.
A hand gently patted Peter’s back.
“Peter, it’s okay. Get up.”
He looked up to see the warm smile of his Savior.
The cloud was gone.
The light was gone.
The prophets were gone.
It was only Jesus.
And Peter got up.
And Peter dusted himself off.
And Peter followed Jesus.
Nobody said anything about what they had seen.
Not James or John.
They just let things get…back…to normal?
II. Why is it Important?
This is the Transfiguration. Whether Peter knew the word or not, that’s what he saw.
And it’s not just “a transfiguration” because I don’t know that there ever is a more incredible, more divine, more fantastic change in one person’s appearance than THE face shining, tunic gleaming, heavenly people entertaining, cloud encompassing, divine voice speaking, Transfiguration of our Lord and Savior.
But why would God go to this trouble?
What message is He bringing to his disciples?
What message is He bringing to You?
A few things:
1) Jesus is Divine
Have you ever seen an episode of Scooby Doo before? At the end of the episode, after the kids in the Mystery Van have trapped the bad guy in some kind of comical, haphazard way – there’s the unmasking. Velma, the smartest of the group, walks over to the ghoul or goblin and grabs him by the scruff of their neck to reveal – it was the Janitor! (He would have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for those meddling kids).
In the Transfiguration, Jesus unmasks. Not that He is wearing any kind of mask at all. But for the majority of his lifetime Jesus appears to be an everyday, ordinary a human.
He eats like humans do.
He sleeps like humans do.
He grows like humans do.
He does humans things like humans do.
He is 100% human.
But along the way, every once in a while, he also does things that ordinary humans can NOT do.
He speaks to a blind man’s eyes, and those are instantly able to see.
He walks on liquid water.
He tells storms to stop and they do.
He changes water into wine.
He raises the dead.
Think of these miracles like glimpses into the fact that Jesus is not just human – but something else spectacular.
Someone else spectacular.
At the Transfiguration?
The mask is off.
He’s not just a human being.
He’s also true GOD.
He is divine.
He is able to make his face glow, his clothing gleam, souls from heaven appear, a cloud to envelope and the simultaneous voice of the Father speak.
That’s even what the voice says! The voice says, “This is my Son.”
When a human says that about a person, he is generally referring to a different person.
A human fathers another human.
But when God calls Jesus his Son.
God fathers God.
But since God is eternal.
And God is one.
Jesus is not a lesser God.
But the one true God who always has been.
Maybe stop with the logic of the situation and look only at the miracle of the Transfiguration.
Jesus is God.
And if you have been spending your lifetime looking for God…
If you’ve practiced yoga and drank tea to get in touch with the Spirit…
If you’ve read books and studied world religions to find the ONE…
If you’ve done experiments and tried to identify the specific God…
There’s no need to look any father.
Jesus is God. And he came to earth with a purpose.
Which leads to our second main truth about the Transfiguration:
2) Jesus’ Main Purpose was Dying for You!
Because you would think that once God was up on that mountain surrounded by people in awe of Him, he would love it.
He would tell Peter to build him a throne.
He’d tell James and John to go get others.
He’d sit up on the mountain, gleaming brilliantly and waiting for people to come and worship Him.
Jesus returns to his human appearance.
He walks down the mountain.
He begins his journey to Jerusalem where he will eventually die on the cross.
The Transfiguration makes it clear! Jesus’ death wasn’t unstoppable.
If he wished….
…he could have dazzled so brightly that the crowd coming to arrest him would have been blinded.
…he could have called down from heaven every believer who’d passed and handed them a sword of fire to vanquish the soldiers who came to arrest him.
…he could have swallowed the crowd of people who were going to convict him in the courtroom and had the booming voice of the Father speak to his accusers: “This is my Son! Let Him Go.”
He could have prevented his death.
But He didn’t.
Because His death didn’t happen on accident! His death happened because it was His main purpose was saving you.
Think about it: God could have remained up in heaven.
God could have said “Ya’ll messed up this world with your sin and the only thing I’ll send is a few lightning bolts to destroy you.”
Instead, God said, “I will send…myself.
I will live perfectly when you can’t.
I will die innocently in your place.
I will rise triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins!
I will save YOU!”
3) Our Salvation is CERTAIN
If I could underline, bold, italicize and put in 160-point font and still fit it on the Power Point slide, I would. Because that is only a smidgen of the confidence that we have of our forgiveness.
Jesus is not just some nice guy.
He isn’t just a well-meaning friend.
He isn’t just some person who says, “Let me know how I can help,” but when you mention a way to help says, “I’m playing golf that day.”
Jesus is God.
God always helps.
He always wins.
He always saves.
And since Jesus is God.
He saved you.
And it is absolutely, 100% certain.
No matter what you think.
No matter what others say: “You’ve done a lot of wrong.”
No matter what the devil says: “You aren’t worthy of being helped.”
No matter what you might think in your darkest hour: “I am not loveable.”
God’s voice is BIGGER.
God’s voice is LOUDER.
God’s voice comes from within the ethereal, divine cloud and says:
This is my Son, Jesus.
I chose Him.
He saved you.
You are forgiven.
III. WHAT NOW?
1. Fear God, but Don’t Fear God
That might seem like an oxymoron. But it’s the tension that the disciples who were on the mountain had to live with.
Because when they were on top of that mountain, enveloped in the cloud, with the booming voice of God shaking the earth under their feet, they were terrified! They fell to the ground, hoping and pleading with God not to destroy them.
We need the same respect for our God.
When we gather to worship, it isn’t just to hang out with some people we like.
It isn’t just to sing some songs that we like.
It isn’t just to eat some cookies that we like.
It’s to come as sinners to worship the divine, Holy, Almighty God.
And yet…don’t be terrified.
Just like Jesus, who just revealed himself to be that divine Holy God, touched his disciples on the shoulder and gently said to them, “Follow me.”
God says the same to you.
You are forgiven.
You are at peace with God.
Come into his presence without fear.
Come without terror.
2. Listen to Him!
Do you know what Bible story comes right before this? About 8 days earlier, Jesus gathers all 12 of his disciples together and he tells them that he will very soon go to Jerusalem where he will be arrested, convicted, suffer and died.
And Peter’s response?
“ABSOLUTELY NOT! I won’t allow it. That’s a terrible idea Jesus, I have a better one.”
Fast forward eight days, to Jesus’ transfiguration, when the Father’s voice speaks to him: “This is my Son…LISTEN TO HIM!”
A few days later…when Jesus again gathers his disciples together and repeats: “We are going to Jerusalem where I will be arrested, convicted, suffer and die.”
Peter doesn’t fight him this time.
Do the same.
Even if you think you know better. Listen to Jesus.
Even if your friend tells you differently. Listen to Jesus.
Even if your society makes a sophisticated argument. Listen to Jesus.
Even if a university professor tells you they know better. Listen to Jesus.
Even if you feel differently than what Jesus is saying…Listen to Jesus.
Even if your own voice tells you: “You don’t matter. You are worthless. You aren’t valuable.” Listen to Jesus.
You do matter.
You are worthwhile.
You are valuable enough to die for.
Listen to Jesus.
3. Come Down the Mountain
Examine Peter’s only words on recorded on the mountain: “Let’s setup three tents – one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah.” Part of the reason behind that statement, is that Peter is in love with what he is seeing. It’s so encouraging. It’s so obvious. It’s so uplifting. It is so certain that Jesus is God – that he doesn’t have any doubts at all. And rather than go back down that mountain to the world where people doubt, where people question, where people make fun, where Peter isn’t feeling so confident…Peter would prefer to stay on that mountain.
But he couldn’t.
Jesus had a mission to do.
Peter had a mission to do.
And you can’t either.
You have a mission to do.
Because while it’s nice to hang out together…
And it’s wonderful to be uplifted by God’s Word...
And Jesus tells us to spend time together in His Word…
Eventually we need to go.
We need to leave the mountain.
We need to leave these walls and go on our mission to Plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh.
Guys – this isn’t my idea.
This is God’s.
The face-shining, tunic-gleaming, cloud-encompassing, divine voice-speaking Transfiguration of our Lord and Savior.
Listen to Him.
Come down from the mountain.
Share His Word.
It is the new year and I’ll bet that you, like many other Americans, are ready for a FRESH start. Even though time is always flowing at the same pace as it always has, as soon as 364 days have taken place and the number changes on our cell phones – we get really motivated to start FRESH in our lives.
Maybe you want a FRESH start with your health: You resolve to eat healthier, join a gym and only eat one big of Doritos per day.
Maybe you want a FRESH start with your finances: You resolve to start an IRA, to talk to a financial planner, to budget your money and stay in that budget.
Maybe you want a FRESH start in your relationships: “I resolve to be kind, wiser and gentler to the people that I work with…which reminds me of another resolution: ‘Get a new job.’”
You want a FRESH start with God.
Today we are starting a new sermon series called FRESH. The goal is to FRESHEN our relationship with God. Before we get started, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. a FRESH kind of religious leader
The lesson for today starts in Luke 5:27. Look at what it says: “Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his collection booth.”
I think this is a great section of God’s Word for the start of a new year. Because it’s a true story about a guy who could use a fresh start in his relationship with God. I say that because Levi was a tax collector. That might not sound awful to you and me, but there are a few cultural things about tax collectors that would have caused the religious leaders of the time to consider Levi a “lost cause” that was “far away from God.”
1. Greedy. This is a bit obvious. But money has this weird effect on people: they like it. Sometimes they like it an appropriate amount. Sometimes a more than appropriate amount. The thought of the religious elite was that in a job like tax collector where you are constantly working with money, you develop an unhealth desire for money. A desire that drives a wedge between you and others. A desire that drives a wedge between you and your God – especially if that God is a God that is all about giving.
2. Traitors to the Pagans. Because the government that was collecting taxes in Jerusalem where the Jews lived was not a Jewish government. It was the Romans. Romans that didn’t worship the true God. Romans that worshipped Zeus, Aphrodite, Hades and other pagan gods. This meant that tax collections could be used to fund temples for false gods, to fund renovations on Caesar’s palace, and to help construct a wing in the Aphrodite temple for Roman soldiers to have wild parties.
The Jewish people didn’t worship those pagan gods. The Jewish people worshipped the one true God. A tax collector that was working with that pagan government? They were, at best, foolish; at worst, traitors to God’s people.
3. Deception. Tax collectors were not paid a lot of money. Yet most of them were fairly well-to-do. Why?
Imagine that you owe some taxes. I, the tax collector, would come to your door. I’d get out your file. I’d know that you owe about $10 in taxes. But instead of giving you a bill for $10…I’d just add an extra zero to it. I’d take the extra $90 for myself.
To be fair – that is something that God commands us not to do. The 7th Commandment is “You shall not steal.” Meaning that those who are stealing, really do put themselves in danger of being far from God!
This trifecta of reasons led to a perfect storm of a sinful lifestyle.
A lifestyle that convinced the religious leaders tax collectors were FAR from God.
A lifestyle that convinced the community that they were FAR from God.
A lifestyle that convinced the tax collectors themselves, that they were FAR from God – and could never get close again.
As he counted his money at the tax table and mentally made note of how many shots he would be able to buy down at L’chiam’s Bar and Grill – and whether or not that was enough to wash away the loneliness and guilt that permeated his everyday life…
I doubt that the religious leaders approached him.
They turned up their noses.
They shook their heads.
They whispered loudly enough for others to hear: “That man is a sinner. The scum of the earth. A lost cause.”
I doubt that Levi had often been approached by religious leaders.
Levi saw him across the street setting down the tea that he had just sipped at the local restaurant.
He had heard Jesus speak before. Not in the synagogue – he wasn’t really allowed there – but on the streets.
Jesus knew what he was talking about.
Jesus was a religious leader.
Jesus was close to God.
Jesus was on his way over.
Levi tried to look busy counting money. Bracing himself for Jesus to wag his finger and tell them how much of a sinner he was for all to hear – almost like a living object lesson for the community of worshippers that had gathered.
But Jesus didn’t wag his finger.
Jesus extended his hand:
“Follow me,” Jesus said to him.
And Levi got up and followed him. (v27-28)
And the religious that were watching this started to throw a fit!
“What was he doing? Did he support tax collectors?
Did he support their sin?
Did he support greed and debauchery and deception and sexual immorality that all of the tax collectors stood for?
How could he, a so—called religious teacher, get anywhere near someone so sinfully disgusting!”
But that wasn’t the end of it.
A short time later, Levi held a banquet for Jesus at his home and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. (v.29)
And even if Levi is starting to act a bit more godly at this point – I doubt that the other tax collectors were. So, don’t picture a real polite, nice dinner meal where everyone is wearing religious jewelry and remembering to pray before anyone takes a bite.
It’s a lot shadier than that.
Picture cigar smoke as Lenny tries to show off the expensive cigar he bought from somewhere down south all with the money he had stolen on his last collection day.
Picture cheap perfume permeating the air from Patsy, the prostitute. She’s the girlfriend…well, that Nahum pays to be intimate with him, rubbing his big muscles and smiling flirtatiously at the disciples.
Picture the faint smell of alcohol – becoming less faint as Dave the drunk approaches. He’s drowning in the smell of Jim Beam because it’s the only way that he gets rid of that void.
Picture a seedy meal filled with a who’s who of sinners.
Which is why the spiritual leaders are losing it! They complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (v.30)
Why do you get so close to the filthy, spiritual vermin?
Why do you befriend…sinners?
And Jesus overhears them.
He pauses his conversation.
He stands from the table.
He approaches the leaders.
And says this:
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (v.31-32)
Do you get it?
It’d be like Julianna having a headache. One of those awful, nasty pounding migraine headaches. It’s so bad that she can’t move and she lays down on the couch. And I run to Walgreens. I pick up some Advil, a bottle of Aleve and some essential oils. I get back to the house. She’s still in pain but is happy to see me.
I go to the faucet.
I fill a glass of water.
I open up the bottle of aspirin.
She holds out her hand.
And I down the aspirin myself.
It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. (v.31)
And it is not the sinless who need a Savior from sin, but sinners.
This is why Jesus came.
And if you are a sinner.
If you have big sins from 2018.
If you had a sin you struggled with throughout 2018.
If you had a sin that you’ve already brought with you into 2019…making you a sinner!
Jesus came for you.
II. a FRESH perspective
Jesus’ words and actions in this account throw our preconceived notions about our relationship with God into a tizzy. (Honestly, I don’t know what a tizzy is; but these words certainly turn our conceptions around).
1) God is for the Righteous Sinners
That’s how we normally think. In the same vein as those religious leaders, we think – God is only for the “Righteous.” He’s only for the people who wear crosses around their neck; the people who have never missed a worship service; the people who share three inspirational Scripture memes a day. The people that look like they’ve got it all together! The “professional” Christians.
But that’s not accurate.
If God was only for the righteous, then God is not for any of us, because none of us are righteous!
In fact, that’s the most ironic thing about the Pharisees dismissal of Jesus’ behavior. They say, “Why do you eat with sinners?” Jesus could have responded:
You’re right. I shouldn’t. I am the sinless Son of God. I will no longer eat with sinners. So, let’s cancel our dinner date next Thursday, because you’re sinners, too.
God didn’t come for the righteous, but sinners. And he didn’t just come for sinners; he died for them. Look at this passage from Romans 5:5-8 “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
That is God’s love for sinners.
That is God’s love for you.
If you think you are too steeped in sin that God could never have a relationship with you, you’re wrong.
Jesus lived perfectly, died innocently and rose triumphantly to restore his relationship with you.
And now!?! He calls you righteous! Since we have now been justified…That means “Declared innocent,” “Forgiven,” declared “righteous” by his blood. And that’s a lot more powerful than pencil, more powerful than a blue pen. More powerful than a sharpie. It’s the divine blood of Jesus himself! how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! (v.9)
Because our relationship has been restored.
Because your relationship has been restored.
Because your relationship with God is FRESH. Apart from sin. Apart from the guilt of last year.
Apart from the guilt of the last hour.
You are steeped in his love.
You are forgiven.
2)God is the One who Waits Seeks
A second switch has to do with God’s activity in bringing this message of forgiveness. Because, to be fair, He had already done a lot! Coming to earth, battling sin, and dying for sins seems like a lot of work! We might expect Jesus to go back to heaven, grab his favorite Lazy Boy, turn on the latest Jim Gaffigan Netflix special and wait for us to come to Him.
And sometimes that’s how we view getting closer to Him!
I need to try harder.
I need to seek harder.
I need to say prayers with my eyes winced and my fists clenched, mustering all the sinful seeking that I possibly can to get him to pay attention to me!
But God isn’t a God who waits.
God is a God who seeks.
Think about it! Levi wasn’t seeking anything. Levi was literally at his table, counting his money, doing his normal, everyday tax collector things. Then, Jesus went out to him! Jesus called him to follow. Jesus did the seeking!
And God doesn’t get tired.
God keeps seeking.
Even today. Even with you.
Even if you’ve been far away from God.
Even if you’re really, really, really good at hiding!
It’s not playing Hide and Seek with your cousins. Did this ever happen to you? You find a really good hiding spot. You stay super quiet. You hear them walk by talking as they try to find you. Then, it gets quiet. And you stay quiet because “they could be tricking me.” And you stay quiet for 10, 20, 30 minutes. Until…eventually you realize. They aren’t coming to find you. They gave up seeking you.
God doesn’t give up seeking you.
God hasn’t given up seeking you.
God is seeking you.
With these words.
3) God’s Message Belongs Among the Righteous Sinners
This leads to the final perspective change. Because the religious leaders felt that God and his message only belonged among those people that already knew it. It belonged in the synagogue. It belonged amongst their clique. It belonged among their very own, special, “we look religious” club.
But that’s not what Jesus did.
He brought the message outside that religious clique.
He brought that message to sinners.
He brought that message to a lot of sinners.
And he asks us to do the same.
Right before Christmas with the staff here working at Precious Lambs -- we had a challenge to see who could bring the most Christmas Eve worship invitations to parents, family and friends who don’t have a Christmas Eve worship place. It’s part of our “Planting the Message of Jesus in the Heart of North Raleigh.”
And after I explained it to the staff – a couple of them laughed – and immediately began inviting each other to worship.
One of them invited me. (I told them I was busy).
It was humorous, but sometimes that is all too real the way that we approach sharing Jesus.
I’ll invite my church going friend.
I’ll share the Gospel with my Gospel believing coworker.
I’ll tell others about Jesus …as long as I’m already at worship.
This isn’t a bad thing. Christians need encouragement, too.
But it’s not what Jesus calls us to do.
He wants us to take that message to the fringes of society.
To the homeless.
To the drug dealer.
To the drunkard.
To the guy struggling with his sexuality.
To the porn addict.
To the porn director.
To the dirty politician.
To the vehement atheist!
God calls us to bring the message of his love to them. Because that’s where his message needs to be.
As a church that’s our FRESH start for the year. We need to plant the message of Jesus in the hearts of North Raleigh and by North Raleigh we don’t just mean within these walls.
We mean outside of them, too.
Like Levi! After Jesus comes to him, after he fills him with grace and forgiveness, what does he do? He holds a party! He invites friends. He invites Jesus. He brings Jesus’ message directly to others that he knew needed it so badly.
God is calling you and me to do the same.
To hold our own banquets.
To bring the message of Jesus to the people that we might think will NEVER like the message of Jesus!
To understand this FRESH perspective – and not to see the religious and irreligious – but sinners in need of their Savior’s love.
We talk about getting a fresh start – and if you’re trying to get a fresh start on your health, there might be a lot of things that you are told to do.
To get a gym membership.
To use that gym membership.
To eat only greens.
To eat organic.
To drink 8 glasses of water a day.
To get 8 hours of sleep.
To make healthy choices all day long.
It’s easy to think the list for a FRESH connected to Jesus would be just as long!
But it isn’t.
It’s as simple as the two words that Jesus spoke to Levi:
Follow me and be REFRESHED with the message of my forgiveness.
Follow me and get a FRESH start as my child.
Follow me and feel the FRESHNESS of my love on a daily basis.
It’s simple really. You want a FRESH start in 2019?
Follow your Savior. Amen.
Today we are taking a look at a guy with some really, really bad sins who is confronted by the Risen Lord Jesus himself. Our goal is to apply what he learns about his really, really bad sins and apply it to our own really, really bad sins. But 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 Background
The guy we want to talk about has already made a few cameo appearances in the book of Acts. Maybe you noticed? Maybe you didn’t.
First, flash back to the end of Acts 7. That’s the section about Stephen, the bread delivery guy who told widows about Jesus -- and got killed because he delivered bread to widows and told people about Jesus. At the end of his trial, as the religious leaders are angry and picking up stones to hurl them at Stephen, Acts 7:58 says this: “Members of the Sanhedrin laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul and he approved of their killing him.”
Have you ever tried throwing a baseball in a sports coat? Or toss the pigskin in a three-piece suit? It’s not very easy. Usually, you take off the coat, so your arms are a bit freer.
These guys? They took off their coats because they wanted as little friction as possible for throwing stones at the “Jesus lover’s” head.
And Saul – he’s not in the game – but on the sidelines – holding onto the non-violent-stone-hurling-clothing and nodding and approving.
Essentially, this Saul guy got his start as the equipment manager for Stephen’s murderers.
In fact, this spurs Saul on to action. He didn’t want to be a benchwarmer forever. Look at 8:3 “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.” He’s motivated. He sees a bunch of religious leaders kill an Ordinary Christian church member and he says, “Anything you can do, I can do better.” He goes on an assault as the main guy in charge of destroying the church.
He doesn’t just throw Apostles in jail.
He pursues ordinary church members.
And not just the guys either….
Saul crosses over into the field of throwing Christian women – usually untouchable because we should treat women with respect and take good care of them – but Saul brings his special form of violence against Christian women.
In short, if you are a Christian, you would have been a target for Saul.
Flashforward. The persecution in Jerusalem caused the church to spread. Christians scattered to the north south and west. As they spread, God’s Word spread.
The Unstoppable Gospel remained unstoppable. It’s what we talked about the last two weeks.
About how Philip shared the amazing, Unstoppable Gospel with Simon the dark arts magician and a town under his dark magic.
About how Philip dirty, rugged and sweaty shared the amazing, Unstoppable Gospel with the Ethiopian royalty in the middle of nowhere and he believed.
Saul persecuted the church in Jerusalem.
The church spread out and started growing outside of Jerusalem.
And Saul couldn’t stand it.
Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belong to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. (9:1-2)
It’s kinda like crabgrass. Any of you have crab grass? I’ve been trying to get rid of it by pulling the stuff that pops up or spraying on some crab grass killer. But then what happens is, I kill it in one spot and then it pops up in another spot. I’m thinking about torching the whole lawn, but the crab grass would probably be all that survived.
Saul viewed Christianity like crab grass.
He viewed it as a weed that needed to be destroyed.
He was willing to travel hundreds of miles to put a stop to it.
So, he asked the priests for letters – official recommendation letters stamped with the Pharisaical seal of approval – that he could take to synagogues in other towns. Letters he could give to his fellows Jews in the synagogue that read, “This is Saul. He’s cool. Let him kill off all the Christians in the area. It’s for the best.”
Saul asked for letters like that.
Saul received letters like that.
And Saul was empowered to kill because of letters like that.
II. The Confrontation
One particular eradication journey was to a place called Damascus. It was about 150 miles to the North East of Jerusalem.
That’s not an easy trip. But Saul goes – cause his hatred for all-things-Jesus is that much.
It was hot.
It was sweaty.
It was long.
But Saul kept himself occupied. As he travelled, surrounded by a group of vicious henchmen, he practiced swinging his sword, picturing it plunging into the heart of “a mouthy Christian” and he whistled. He was so happy to be doing God’s work and totally eradicating the message of Jesus.
He was carefree.
He was happy.
He was right.
A bright flash. (v.3)
Not the sun.
A brilliant, otherworldly like flash that filled the entirety of Saul’s vision.
Saul fell down.
He heard a voice:
Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? (v.4)
Who was it?
Was it Peter?
Was it John?
Was it one his friends playing a prank?
The voice spoke again:
I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. (v.5)
Jesus? As in the guy that I’m persecuting?
As in the guy that my associates killed?
As in the guy that was dead?
As in the guy that supposedly came back to life, but that’s impossible so I have been dedicating my life to completely and absolutely eradicating all of his followers?
Saul looked and believed the man.
And it wasn’t just the subtle glow of the light.
It wasn’t just the confidence in his voice.
It was the nail marks in his hands.
And a lump grew in Saul’s throat the size of a Passover matzo ball.
Jesus was real.
He had thought it was all a sham…
He had thought it was all phony…
He had thought it was all a demon inspired threat to the truth about God…
He was wrong.
Jesus wasn’t the demon inspired threat.
And Jesus? He must have come for revenge.
To zap him.
To destroy him.
To breathe murderous threats against him and take him as a prisoner to the tortures of hell.
Just not yet.
Get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do. (v.6)
Then, Jesus disappeared.
Thank God – he had a few more moments to live.
But…Saul blinked. He couldn’t see. The light was gone and there was only darkness. It was a chilling reminder of how he had been in darkness and completely wrong about Jesus.
He heard his companions voices:
Saul, are you alright?
Saul, we heard the voice?
Saul, what should we do next?
“Drop your swords.
Take my hand.
Get me to Damascus.”
III. The Change
Upon getting to Damascus, Saul changed his itinerary.
Instead of fighting Christians, he was fighting his own demons.
I was so wrong.
I am so guilty.
I persecuted God’s Son!
I killed his people.
I am a liar.
I am a murderer.
I am a sinner – guilty – and in danger of the fires of hell.
Saul didn’t eat.
Saul didn’t drink.
He allowed his physical body to go through the torture that his soul was going through. (v.9)
And then, on the third day…
A man named Ananias.
He was a disciple of Jesus.
He would have been one of the men that Saul came to kill.
Now he was blind.
He was weak.
Surely, Ananias had come to kill him.
“Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (v.17) You are his chosen instrument. He will work through you. He loves you. He died for you. He forgives you.
It was hard to believe!
He was such a sinner.
He was so guilty.
He had done so much wrong!
But …as soon as Ananias finished his message…God did something to emphatically prove Ananias’ point:
Immediately, something like scales fell from his eyes and he could see again. (v. 18a)
Visual proof of the invisible truth.
God had forgiven Saul.
But seeing spiritually that Jesus was his Savior.
Saul got up.
He got up and immediately was baptized. (v.18b)
He was loved.
He was accepted.
He was forgiven.
IV. The Truth
This true story is a true story about Saul.
It’s a true story about God’s grace to Saul.
But it’s also a true story with one very important truth for you.
Jesus died even for the really, really bad sins.
We shouldn’t rank sins. God doesn’t do that.
But humanly speaking, we rank sins all of the time.
There are certain sins that just stick with us. Certain sins we feel extra guilty for. Certain sins that we become convinced Jesus would never have died for.
Is that actually true?
Jesus died for all sins.
Jesus died for the small sins.
Jesus died for even the really, really bad sins.
For that arrest.
For cheating on your spouse.
For practicing homosexuality.
For those awful words you said.
For that violent thing you did.
For that racist blow-up at work.
Even the “worst” and most awful sins find their relief in Jesus.
Want proof? Saul later wrote this:
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1 Tim. 1:15)
Saul gets it.
He knows what it’s like to feel guilt.
Humanly speaking he did a great deal of sins.
Humanly speaking his sins rank up at the worst!
Yet he was forgiven.
If he was forgiven, you are forgiven too.
There is no sin too big.
No sin too bad.
No sin too “sin” for Jesus our Savior.
So…what now? Two things:
1) Lay Your Really, Really Big Sins at the Feet of Jesus
If Jesus removes even your really, really big sins, then stop carrying their guilt around.
You need to drop them.
You need to leave them at the foot of the cross.
At the gym, sometimes they make us carry Kettle Balls. Kettle Balls can be a lot of different weights. Sometimes, if you want to do the prescribed workout, the Kettle Ball can be up to about 70 lbs. You have to carry it in a lot of different ways. At your side. In a front rack. Even over your head. It can be tiring. Especially after walking a couple 100 meters.
Then, when you get to the end, you set them down at the rack and you stop carrying them. Like I never pick it up and go: “I wish we could carry these for another couple of hundred feet.” NEVER.
Why do the same thing with guilt?
Jesus died for your sin.
Jesus removed all your sin.
Jesus removed all your guilt.
There is no reason for you to pick it up and carry it with you.
God is strong enough.
God carried it to the cross.
Leave it at the cross.
2) Be Ananias for Others
Because Ananias had every reason to not share forgiveness with Saul! In fact, if we back up in the story – Ananias is a bit frightened to bring the message of Jesus to Saul, a known Christian persecutor, as he is a Christian.
I bet Ananias felt like saying: “Hi Saul! Ya big jerkface! I hope that God punishes you with hell.”
But he doesn’t.
Instead, he denies his own personal feelings and shares God’s forgiveness.
You do the same.
When someone has sinned greatly – against you – against someone else – share the Gospel.
Don’t do the thing where someone comes up to you and says, “I’m sorry,” and you’re like, “That was really, terrible and awful, what you did to me.”
And they say, “I know. I’m sorry.”
And you say, “Yes! It was awful! The worst!”
And they say, “I do regret it. I am terribly sorry.”
And you say, “You were so wrong. So very, very, very, very, very wrong.”
That’s not helpful.
That’s not God’s message to the repentant heart.
God’s message to the repentant heart is “Forgiven.”
That’s the message we share with the repentant heart. The message of “Forgiven in Jesus.”
This is not the end of Saul’s story. It’s only the page turn. Just wait – stick with it – you are going to watch Saul’s life totally transform in devotion to Jesus.
And that’s because Jesus was totally devoted to Saul.
That same Jesus was devoted to you.
That same Jesus devoted his life to you.
That same Jesus gave up his life for you.
In him, even the really, really bad sins are really, really forgiven. Amen.
Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
Have you ever had one of those moments of sheer terror at being caught? I mean the total anxiety panic of knowing… there is no way out of this. If you know what I mean, it was probably when you were younger? Though maybe not, contrary to what we like to think of ourselves, the youth do not corner the market on stupid decisions.
Whatever it was you were doing or did, I’m sure it was very attractive. The thought of all you could gain from going down that path was irresistible. It was so simple, required so little effort, and the benefits, well, they were pretty amazing. I’m guessing that the thought of being caught or the consequences never actually entered your mind. Maybe you had to think about one or two ways to smartly keep it hidden, but the fact that it was just wrong never really was part of the decision-making process.
At least, until you were caught.
You were… not so clever as you thought. Or you over-reached out of greed and arrogance. And if you’re remembering that moment from your life right now just like I am, you can feel the panic. Feel the fear grip your heart as you face whatever might be coming.
And that might be the worst of it. You don’t know what might be coming. I suppose it depended on what it was, how old you were and the like? Maybe privileges would be taken away. Maybe it would just be the shame of letting someone else down. Maybe it would break a relationship. Maybe it would be legal action. But the fear of knowing you’d been caught and there was no getting out of it, that tightening of your heart… that’s what I’m talking about.
Now why… why would I make you relive something like that this evening? It’s bad enough when those memories haunt us at quiet moments during the day or night. Why drag them up on purpose?
Well because that is exactly the feeling I want you to think of when you picture what it’s like to stand before God almighty and try to justify yourself to him.
To better appreciate this evening, I’d like to walk you through… well it’s a metaphor. This isn’t really how things will happen at the end, not literally. But the truth of it holds. So, imagine with me. Imagine the moment comes. Your earthly life has ended, and you are waiting to see what happens next. You’ve heard that Heaven is the place to be and Hell, well not so much.
Though there is some nervous anticipation, you’re feeling – pretty good about what’s to come. You’re a good person. You were a good son or daughter, a good spouse or a good parent. You did right by the people around you. You worked your job, you went to church, you helped those in need. This should go well.
And the time comes that your name is called. You are escorted from a waiting area into a courtroom. There is no jury, only the judge. And there are no witnesses, only the judge. God. One look from his piercing stare and it all comes crashing down. The intensity of that gaze opens your own eyes and you know. You know, and you remember everything he knows about you.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way;
The façade of goodness that you wear becomes as flimsy and fragile as tissue paper. All the selfishness that backed all those “good” deeds. All the times that the cost of doing the right thing was a little too high for you so you just walked by on the other side of the street. The secret thoughts, the greed, the lust, the selfishness, the anger, and more than any of that all the times you just thought you knew better than God.
That’s the panic moment. You’re caught, there’s nowhere to go, and you are utterly guilty. You did all of it, thinking no one was looking, no one would notice, but he saw it. There’s nothing to say in your defense. Anything you could think of in your own mind falls so flat that you can’t even utter the words.
Is there nothing to be done? You survey the crowd. Surely someone could speak up on your behalf and ask for leniency, mercy, or just to ask the judge to let this one go? Someone some authority or power or charisma or money could maybe do something for you…
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
A man does step forward. Not the one you were looking for. He is not wearing anything fancy. He has no regal bearing about him. You do not recognize him as anyone rich or influential. He instead looks like someone in as much need of help as you are. If you were not simply frozen by the terror of the moment you might motion for him to blend back into the crowd.
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,
He draws the judge’s attention. The man speaks.
“I did it.”
“Every charge you are about to read. That was me. I openly confess to every one of those crimes. I did it.”
“You are aware of the punishment?” the judge asks.
“I am. It was me.”
The confession is accepted. The man is bound and led away. What could you do? It might seem dishonorable to let him go in your place, but the terror of what waits at that end is too much to face. You let him go.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
You know what it means for that man. You know what you were expecting. The terror of hell itself. That the mercy and grace of God would be completely cut off from you. Absolutely lost in the outer darkness where there is no light and no hope and nothing but terror and pain forever. Maybe you didn’t grasp it before but you do now. That’s death. To be cut off from the source of life and creation is death.
It should’ve been you, but it wasn’t. What he suffers is of your making, no mistake. You earned and created the hell he is suffering now. You can’t help but stare at the door they led him through. It’s conflicting. You’re haunted by what he suffers in your place but there is still relief that it won’t be you.
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
As you muse, the judge speaks again.
“The guilty party having confessed and punishment rendered, the accused is declared not guilty. With no outstanding accusations, you are free to enter the Kingdom of God.”
Dumbfounded, you step forward. Heaven? You started with confidence you had no right to. It was quickly crushed and for what seems like an eternity you stood there with no hope, trying to accept the fact that you were going to die. And now so quickly that has changed to heaven? It seems so impossibly unlikely, but it’s happened.
You walk to the exit of the courtroom and the entrance of the kingdom. The reward is not just a perfect kingdom, it’s a perfect you. The last remnants of evil within yourself are stripped away and now you not only live in a place that will never cause you pain – you yourself will not be the cause of your own pain anymore.
This is your end. The eternal, loving, unchangeable God as your perfect king. The one who cares for you perfectly. You, made perfect, and living the life you were meant to live from the beginning. All the things from before that gripped your heart with fear are just… gone. There absolutely cannot be a better end. And this is your end.
And what of that man that so boldly confessed to your crimes? The one that was led away to die in your place?
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
He lives. He is your king. He is the judge. He is your God. He died. He lives. You live.
Have you ever heard of Angie’s List? It’s an online service that lets you hook up with various contractors in all kinds of areas. From painters to dry wallers, from lawn care to carpet care, from lizard wranglers to sheep shearers -- you can find the professional you need on Angie’s List
But you might wanna shop around. The truth is there are usually more than one company you can go with. Take plumbing, for example. If you need a plumber, you might like Plumberee – with lots of experience and fine craftsmanship, but a fine way of breaking the bank. Then again, there’s Bargain Plumbers less expensive, but so is their work. There’s Plumber’s R. Us. A bit corporate in its structure – so you know they can get the job done, but bad customer service. Then, there’s Frank’s Plumbing. Not as well known, but you can almost always get him on the phone and he does a fine job -- just as long as you don’t mind the smell of cigarettes that he brings with him everywhere he goes.
Who do you choose? The wise person shops around first, before making his decision.
Is the same thing true about grace? The last couple of weeks we’ve talked about the blessing of grace that Jesus brings. It’s without cost. It covers even the worst of sinners. It lasts into eternal life. It brings forgiveness for all your sins.
But…the wise person shops around first so…
What about Buddha? What type of grace does he offer?
What about Mohammed? I hear he has a good plan.
What about doing your best, trying your hardest, and earning some grace with the human spirit? That’s the American ideal. Plus you can get away with a lot more sins.
After all, doesn’t it kind of depend on your geography?
Different gods? Different traditions? Different religions?
Today we are finishing our series called Surprising Grace by looking at the exclusivity of grace. We’ll see why Grace must be from Jesus and how that’s true, no matter who you are or where you’re from. Before we do that, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Shopping Around for Other Options
Today’s account is taken from Revelation 5:1-12. Revelation is the final book in the Bible. It’s written by the Apostle John. It’s called Revelation because it’s a revelation that John received from God. A revelation of the future.
That’s why it has to be from God.
Remember: Time is like a jump rope. You and I are on the jump rope. Somewhere within this tiny ½ cm. It means we can only see behind us – as much as is preserved by history – and we can’t see too far in front of us – only making best guess predictions.
But God is of the timeline. He’s eternal. He sees everything from 6000 years ago to 15 years from now like it’s happening before his eyes.
That’s why God was able to tell John about the future in this revelation. He could see it happening. So, when we read Revelation, we find out about the future. We find out that sometimes – the future is comforting. Sometimes it’s scary. And sometimes…well…it’s strange.
John fell to his knees. The sight before him was too much.
For starters, there were these beasts. 4 incredible, terrifying beasts watching his every move. They were kind of like earthly beasts – and kind of not. One looked like an eagle. One like a lion. One like an ox. One like a man.
But they were only like these things. They were radiating. They were flying. They each had eyeballs all over them. Each eyeball blinking in tune with John’s every movement.
The beasts weren’t the only ones watching John. Surrounding him were 24 smaller thrones. Each throne had 24 elders – dressed in white and crowns of gold on their heads (v.4) Long, flowing, divine white hair gently flowing in the breeze – as if they were floating on water.
But the gentleness was interrupted. Flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder came from the center of the room. There stood a gigantic throne. There was a bright light radiating right in front of it. A white, bright light. The bright kind that makes you squint your eyes if you don’t have a pair of sunglasses.
But this light wasn’t coming from the sun. It wasn’t even coming from outside. It was coming from an ethereal rainbow that had fashioned itself at the top of the throne – marking and identifying the one who sat upon the throne.
Whose throne was it?
If John hadn’t figured it out yet – the melody of the elders made grew until it was at a thunderous level made him certain:
You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. (v.11)
John again looked to the ground in horror.
He was before God Almighty. He was before the Creator of heaven and earth.
He was before the one who makes volcanoes explode, tectonic plates shake, and flood water engulf the earth.
He, a sinner, was standing before the All holy, sin hating God.
But God wasn’t fixated on him. Not at the moment. At the moment, God was fixated on what he had in his hand.
It was a scroll. An ancient version of a eReader or book. Divine parchment tightly rolled up and sealed tightly with seven seals. (5:1)
What was in the scroll? Well there’s two books mentioned in the book of Revelation. One is called the Book of Life. That’s an important book. Because there is written the names of every person who has life – every person who is allowed to enter into heaven. Picture it like a divine guest list – only the bouncer isn’t some tough looking Italian guy named Guido.
It’s God himself.
Meaning this scroll was important. Without it, there was no way of knowing who it is that is allowed into heaven.
And…for whatever the reason, God wasn’t opening it.
In fact, one of the angels, a mighty angel, the king angel with bulging veins in his biceps and a heart tattoo on his left delt, started shouting in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” (v.2)
No one moved.
He repeated himself. Louder. “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?”
John looked around. Why wasn’t anyone trying to do it? Sure, the seals looked intimidating, but they were in God’s throne room. Why wasn’t he burly angel giving it a try? Why didn’t the ox-like thing try smashing it with his hoofs? Why didn't the eagle like thing try dive bombing it from on high? Why didn’t the 24 elders work together to develop some kind of divinely inspired Rube Goldberg machine to open it up?
But none of them were making their way to the scroll.
None of them were lifting a hand to break the seals.
Mostly, they were just shaking their heads – their divinely, haloed, eye-filled heads.
John began weeping. If that scroll wasn’t opened, then he wasn’t getting into heaven. Then, his friends weren’t getting into heaven. Then, none of his loved ones and fellow believers were getting into heaven.
v. 3 No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside of it.
Pay attention here. Because this has everything to do with God’s grace. Because we need God’s grace to get into heaven. We need God’s grace to get our names onto the pages of the Book of Life.
And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could write our names in there. In fact, they couldn’t even open the scroll or look inside of it.
Not anyone in that throne room. Not the mighty angel. Not the eagle. Not the ox. Not anyone on below that throne room either. Not Zeus. Not Hades. Not Hercules. Not Buddha. Not Mohammed. Not Vishnu.
Not a president. Not a king. Not any member of congress. Not a brilliant scientist. Not a billionaire business man.
Not even a guy who tries really hard and does his best and hopes that it’s enough to get his name in the book of Life.
There is no one else. No one who can get your name on the Book of Life.
No one who can win your forgiveness.
No one who can offer you’re an eternity in heaven.
II. The Exclusive Answer
“Do not weep!” cried one of the elders. His mouth agape in excitement. “Look! The Lion of the tribe of Judah has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
John took a deep breath. Of course! A lion. Lions are the King of the Jungle for a reason. They have majestic manes and fierce teeth for sinking into their prey. They have powerful jaws and swift, fierce claws. Lions were some of the most muscular and magnificent creatures on earth. A divine, heavenly version of it would have no problem destroying those seals!
John looked up with excitement. He covered his ears anticipating this miraculous roar!
But what he saw wasn’t a Lion.
It wasn’t fierce.
It wasn’t intimidating.
It didn’t roar.
Then, I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne. (5:6)
John turned his head in shock! A Lamb? Lambs aren’t intimidating! They don’t have claws – they have unbalanced hoofs. They don’t have majestic manes, but soft, gentle wool. They don’t roar – they baaa!
How was this creature – a creature of nursery rhymes and preschools – supposed to be the one to open the seals?
And this one wasn’t even in good health? It was looking as if it had been slain. (5:6) It looked like it was limping along. It needed to be held. It needed to be nourished. It didn’t need to be trying to open up these incredible seals.
John looked around. Is anybody going to stop this?
But no one else shared his concern. In fact, the others in the room – the elders, the winged creatures, the mighty angel – God himself – smiled at the sight of the Lamb and erupted into a magnificent song….
…to the Lamb:
You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain. (5:9)
Suddenly, it hit John.
The Lamb. The Lamb of God. He had heard that before.
He had read about it in the Old Testament – as the blood of innocent lambs foreshadowed this moment.
He had heard it from John the Baptist as he pointed at his leader “Look! The Lamb of God! Who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
He had seen it from his fellow disciple Peter who wrote, “-- a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:1
That’s who the Lamb was.
That’s why he was slain.
That’s why he alone could open the scroll.
Because that Lamb was Jesus!
Brothers and sisters, understand this! There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth who can open the scroll.
There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth who can get you into heaven.
There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth whose grace is enough for your eternal life.
No other being than Jesus Christ.
The Bible is simple then.
The Bible is clear.
God’s eternal vision has been revealed to you.
Do you desire forgiveness for your sins? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire to lose your guilt? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire to escape hell? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire eternal life? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire peace with God? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire eternal joy? Trust Jesus.
There is no one else who can provide these things – because the only one on the spiritual Angie’s List for salvation is The Lamb – Your Savior, Jesus Christ!!!
III. What Now?
(1) Celebrate this Exclusivity
Because what do they say? The only thing you don’t want to talk with people about are politics and religion. But…as this past election showed us – we had no problem talking politics. I’m friends with most of you on Facebook. I know this.
So why not religion?
Better yet…why not your Savior?
Better, better yet…why not the only one who provides forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation?
The elders didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
The four living creatures didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
The mighty angel didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
Even John – stopped being nervous and frightened and as he watched Jesus open up that scroll shouted: Worthy is the Lamb!
You do that too. In fact, why do you get on your Smartphone today and make that your status. #WorthyIsTheLamb
Don’t be afraid to let others know who it is that you trust. Don’t be afraid to let them know who it is they can trust.
(2) Celebrate Diversity
Because notice what it says about the Lamb in verse 9 You are worthy…because you were slain and with your blood you purchased persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
I love that. It means Jesus is your exclusive king no matter who you are.
It doesn’t matter what tribe you’re from. Which may be the closest Bible words for “race.” This is key, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, Asian or Latino, middle Eastern, Native American, combination of the above.
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And it doesn’t matter what language you speak. He’s the answer if you speak English or Spanish. Italian or German. Nigerian or Malawian. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Sign Language…even if you speak in emoji!
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And it doesn’t matter where you live. It doesn’t matter if you live in America or Iraq. Whether you live in Russia or China. Whether you live in Mexica or Canada. It doesn’t matter if you live in Durham or Cary or Chapel Hill or Knightdale or Morrisville or South Raleigh or North Raleigh or anywhere else on this planet!
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And if Jesus is king of us all – that means we’ve got to celebrate that diversity just like Jesus does. We’ve got hug those from different backgrounds. Speak with excitement – show excitement – to those who speak different languages. Grab hands and go to work with those from different places.
Celebrate Diversity because that’s what Jesus celebrates!
(3) Celebrate Unity
Because diversity…sometimes leads to division. I fear it’s happened to America. There’s so many different people in America that we let our differences get the best of us and we fight.
The same is true in Raleigh. It’s a global, multicultural, multigenerational community. It’s started to get divided.
The same could be true for our church. More and more God has enabled us to reflect the global, multicultural, diverse community that He will have in heaven.
How do we stay united?
Look carefully at verse 9 again You are worthy…because you were slain and with your blood you purchased persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom.
Did you hear that?
Not many kingdoms.
No a White kingdom and a Black kingdom and an Asian kingdom and a Hispanic kingdom.
Just a kingdom.
Jesus creates only one kingdom.
And we stand together as one kingdom, by remembering who it is that created that one kingdom.
And that’s kind of what happens at the end of the section. Everybody remembers that it’s all about Jesus and they started shouting – despite their differences – despite some being angels and some being lions and some being elders and some being many-eyed-flying-ox-like creatures.
Then, I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice, they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!"
But that’s not it. Because then, John prophesies about us. And he says this:
Then, I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea and all that is in them saying – (and since you are one of those creatures – please, say it with me ) “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!”
And the elders said “Amen!”
And I say “Amen.”
We were vacuuming up the dog hair (that gets all over your carpet when you have two dogs), when the vacuum stopped picking up the dog hair. It was just collecting it into a nice pile and not picking it up.
Then, it made a loud noise.
Then, it stopped making noise.
It was dead.
So, I went to the file folders that we have in our guest closet – and began looking for the warranty. Perhaps the company would fix it? Maybe they’d send a new one? Maybe we wouldn’t have to go out shopping?
I read the warranty.
Expired. About a month and a half ago.
Has something like that ever happened to you? Again – it’s not any good to never get coverage, yet it’s almost worse to have coverage and then lose coverage because the time has run out!
But what about God’s grace? We learned last week that it completely covers even the worst of sinners…
But for how long?
What are the terms?
Will it cover you 10 years from now?
Will it cover you 20 years from now?
Will it cover you…even after you die?
Today we are continuing our sermon series called Surprising Grace. Our goal is to examine the duration of God’s grace. We want to see: (1) How long his grace lasts (2) How long its benefits last (3) If you need to go looking for a replacement coverage anytime soon. Before we do that, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Duration of God’s Coverage
To learn about the duration of God’s grace – we’re going to turn to a man who had been under God’s grace for quite some time: The Apostle John. John is interesting, because he is one of the first disciples to learn about God’s grace. He is one of the first disciples that Jesus recruits while John is busy fishing. John gets to follow Jesus and see his grace throughout his ministry on earth. He seems him graciously cause the blind to see, the lame to walk, to deaf to hear – and the guilty to hear about God’s forgiveness.
It’s later on in life, after he’s known about God’s grace for years, that the Apostle John writes the letter known as 1 John. It’s a letter written to Christians everywhere and in chapter 2 he writes about the duration of God’s grace:
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the father, but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God the Father lives forever. (v.15-17)
I suppose the biggest problem with believing the long-lasting endurance of God’s grace is that nothing on earth lasts for that long of a time.
It’s true about neutral things.
A tree may last hundreds of years but eventually it falls down.
A flower may last for a season then winter comes and it dies.
A bag of Doritos is delicious, but lasts all about 3 minutes.
But it’s also true about sinful, worldly things. That’s essentially what John is referring to when he talks about the world and its desires in this section. “Things of the world” means “things born from the mind of the sinful world.”
What’s interesting is that we turn to these things for relief – for comfort.
A momentary high from that illegal drug.
A few hours of relaxation from drinking too much.
A few minutes rush from screaming obscenities at your family.
A few minutes rush from typing obscenities at that other political party on Twitter.
A few moments of private excitement with that person you aren’t married to.
These things offer moments of happiness…
…and a lifetime of regret.
A headache that lasts all morning.
An argument that lasts for hours.
An addiction that lasts for years.
A friendship spoiled for the rest of your life.
A guilty feeling that stays with you whenever you look at your spouse – for the rest of your life.
But should we be surprised? Look at where these highs are coming from. John writes, “These things do not come from the father, but from the world.”
Do any of you remember Oakley sunglasses? They were all the rage growing up. They had awesome aviator shades. They had a deep jet black frame. They were very durable and very cool.
But they also cost $250.
So -- many kids got imitation Oakleys. The ones from Walmart for $15 bucks. Problem is? You could tell they were phony. You could tell they were fake when they came apart at the hinges the first time you dropped them.
Should we be surprised that earthly things only last for a moment? They come from an earth that (in the grand scheme of eternity) will only last for a moment.
But God’s grace isn’t like that.
God’s grace isn’t from the world.
God’s grace is from God.
The world and its desires pass away, but the one who does the will of the Father lives forever.
What’s the will of the Father?
To believe in Jesus Christ.
To put your faith in the one who died, hit his expiration date, and then came back to life again.
To trust in the one who is indestructible, because his grace is indestructible – so that you too will be indestructible.
John knew this. He had seen it happen.
Lazarus was a friend of John’s. He was a friend of the entire family of disciples. He had sung hymns with them, said prayers with them, and told jokes with them.
Lazarus was also human.
Because he was a human he was susceptible to germs.
Because he was susceptible to germs, he got sick.
Because he was sick, he grew weak.
Because he grew weak, he started to die!
His body was from the earth which meant it was going to pass away.
And it died.
And he died.
They wrapped his body up in linens.
They placed him in a grave.
His family mourned their loss.
Then, Jesus came.
And Jesus spoke.
And Lazarus went right back to living.
It’s interesting, right before that happens Jesus explains why. He says this, “I am the Resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies; whoever lives and believes in me will never die!” (John 11:25-26)
Because God’s grace comes from God.
And God lasts forever.
So, his grace – lasts forever!
Another passage repeated throughout the old Testament says this, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good and his love endures forever!” Of course it does! God is eternal. He isn’t on the timeline. He doesn’t have an end and set time. His grace doesn’t have an end time. “His love endures forever,” is a phrase that lasts “forever!”
And this is comforting.
Because I heard about God’s grace a long time ago. I believed. God’s grace was mine.
But here’s a secret: I’ve sinned since then. I’ve even sinned since we talked about it last week.
Is God’s grace still enough?
Think of a jump rope. Maybe about 12 feet long? I want you to imagine for a minute that this jump rope covers all of eternity. That’s a long time. You and I exist on this tiny half centimeter right here.
God’s grace lasts longer than you.
It lasts longer than me.
What do you think? Can you outlast God’s grace?
God’s grace is forever.
But Pastor! People still die and miss out on God’s grace.
You’re right. That’s hell. But the problem isn’t with God’s grace. It's with people. People who throw away God's’ grace because they figure they can last on their own that’s like throwing away your insurance plan because you think you don’t need it. The problem isn’t the insurance plan. It's you.
And if you throw out God’s grace because you don’t think you need it anymore…The problem isn’t God’s grace. That’s on you.
But John continues, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us all our sins.” Even if that sin has been going on for a while – for your whole life – listen to God’s Word right now.
And be confident.
His grace is there.
II. The Duration of God’s Blessings
And its blessings are forever.
Take a look with me at a Bible book that was written even after 1 John. In fact, it’s the last book of the Bible to be written. It was written by the same John but at the end of his life. It’s a book called Revelation. It’s called Revelation because in the book, God gives John a revelation of what will happen in the future. Things that are easy for God to see, since He is beyond this whole timeline thing.
He writes this about heaven:
Believers are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
This is eternity. It mentions a few awesome things about the blessings that God has in store for us in heaven. Blessings that will endure forever:
(1) God’s Presence
That’s the first thing that pops out. The people are serving God day and night. They are with him. He’s at the center of the throne. You always know that he’s there.
Which isn’t always the case on earth.
We get nervous.
We get frightened.
We think: God, you left me! I’m all alone.
That’s never the case in heaven. Not that God has left us on this earth, he’s always there; but that we don’t always believe it. In heaven, that doubt is gone and God’s presence is completely obvious in a new, incredible way – as we serve him day and night.
Which sounds like work – except – notice – God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
It isn’t sad in heaven.
People don’t lose their jobs.
Finances aren’t difficult.
Friends don’t fight about politics.
Kids don’t tell parents that they hate them.
Parents don’t abandon kids.
People don’t call each other awful, racist names.
Because they are too joyful!
In fact, right before this section John writes down what those believers in heaven are saying. It’s isn’t complaining. It isn’t fighting. It isn’t arguing about who should get to take a break. It’s this: “Honor and glory and praise and thank be to our God and to the Lamb forever and ever! Amen!”
Do you have arthritis? Arthritis is something that kinda sorta can get the best of you. It’s this dull, achy, constant pain that affects your joints. So…how do you handle it? You take a pill. You have an Advil and water and you’re pain free! For about 4 hours. Then, you better take another pill before the pain comes back. And at the very best you can fall asleep and escape pain for 6 hours! Until it’s time to wake up and then the pain is even worse because the joint has been stiff all night long.
Heaven is final relief.
God’s grace brings forever relief. Revelation said, The sun won’t beat down on them nor any scorching heat. It won’t hurt. There won’t be any sunburn in heaven. That’s because there is no pain in heaven and that will last forever!
Think about it:
No hangnails ever.
No headaches ever.
No scraped knees ever.
No allergies ever.
No cancer ever.
No getting old…ever.
And no death.
John writes, “The Lamb will lead them…to springs of living water.” Springs that give eternal life. Springs that outlast death. Springs that allow us to say “that person is in a better place.”
Which is key.
Because death stinks.
This past Friday I went to Elmcroft Retirement home. It’s a place where I go to do a Bible study. I’ve been doing it for the past five and half years. And just about every one of those last five and a half years – an older woman by the name of Ms. Fannie has been there. It hurt her to get there. She had pain in her knees and she had struggles seeing. But she’d always be there.
Until this past Friday.
Because she couldn’t.
Because she passed away.
And it hurt. I was sad. This dear friend of mine had passed so quickly, so effortlessly, and life just moved on.
But then…I got to thinking – that’s why she always made sure she was there for Bible study. Because Ms. Fannie knew that life was short. Because Ms. Fannie knew that arthritis was temporary. Because Ms. Fannie knew that her momentary pain was just that – momentary.
And that Bible study? It contained the only thing that lasts:
Brothers and sisters, may we have that same attitude and do everything to hold until the truth that lasts forever. Amen.