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.
For Humbling Us
Of all the things that get in our own way, pride is our own biggest obstacle. Why? Because it’s entirely unjustified. We are not good. We have nothing good in ourselves. We can produce nothing objectively good. Only God can do that. Only God can make us good. Only God can help us. Only God and his blessings are worth being proud of. When we start to have pride in ourselves, we need to be humbled.
Like Joseph. Joseph had gotten a bit of a big head. Dad liked him best of all his brothers. He had dreams that his family would bow down to him someday, and he was a little too happy to talk about that. And so, God humbled him. God took Joseph from his cushy place as Dad’s darling and sold him into slavery to remind him that he had no power of his own, that everything worth anything comes from God alone.
And so when we get too proud of ourselves, too confident in ourselves, we thank God that he takes the effort to humble us again, to take our power away, to show us how little we have on our own, so that we can return to the source of our real strength, God alone.
19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.” 21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22 “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father. 23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing—24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it. 25 As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.
26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.
28 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.
For His Own Timing
In an age of microwaves, the internet, smartphones, and other marvels, life has not gotten easier because of the conveniences, it has gotten more hectic. We expect everything immediately. I sent you a message an hour ago! I can’t believe it’ll take a full day before this is ready! These expectations only make life harder on us, we only contribute to it when we expect the same of others. And even moreso when we expect it of our God.
But God has his own timetable. With a perspective of time that we can’t match and wisdom beyond our understanding, God knows exactly when the right time to act is. And despite our best efforts to advise God, the time is not always what we think it should be, which would usually be “now”. God says be patient, I have better in mind for you.
Joseph had to understand this. He probably had hopes that he could be released from prison after helping one of Pharaoh’s own. But the time was not right. We’ll see shortly, he needed to stay where he was for now so that he could be in the right place to deliver a message from God to Pharaoh and in doing so save entire nations starvation.
For Daily Bread
The land of Egypt and surrounding nations were about to be in trouble. There would be seven very good years of harvest, but they would be followed by seven years of drought and famine. Imagine being lulled into the security of seven years of abundance, growing wasteful, and suddenly it’s all taken away from you. Maybe you don’t have to imagine. Maybe you’ve had that moment in your life where it felt like all was lost. But the God of grace and mercy promises to provide. Even to people who did not know him or worship him as God. So God put Joseph in the right place at the right time to warn Pharaoh of what was coming.
We thank God for providing. We are utterly dependent on our God in all ways, but sometimes we forget just how much we depend on him daily, even hourly. We need food and drink. Shelter and clothes. And our God provides daily. We don’t earn it. We don’t deserve it, but our God gives it to us all the same. It doesn’t always come in the way we expect, but our God never lets us down. And for that we give thanks. And we show our thanks by offering part of his gifts back to him.
For Joseph, things seemed to turn out alright. Yes, he had difficulty, but now he was second in command of Egypt. Not bad for starting as a slave. Joseph could have let the power and authority go to his head, but instead he recognized that he was only where he was by God’s hand and that God had only given him this honor in order to serve a greater good, the saving of lives.
It was this attitude that allowed him to face another challenge with a godly attitude; the reunion with his brothers. He had it within his authority to have them jailed the moment he saw them, even executed if he saw fit. But he didn’t. He recognized that he was as much a sinner as they each were. He recognized that through their sinful actions God had worked a greater good as he always does. Such understanding allowed him to face his brothers without anger and instead with forgiveness.
We give thanks to God that he allows the same in us. That by his spirit he creates hearts within us that are able to forgive just as he forgave us. We give great thanks that we are pardoned by the blood of Jesus, but we also give thanks that by his power we are able to release old hurts and grudges and live at peace with those who have wronged us. What a great gift to not need to be burdened and burned up from within by anger and rage but rather to be at peace, knowing that our God worked good for us even through the hurts, and knowing that the blood of Jesus paid for the crimes against us even as it paid for the crimes we ourselves committed. We give thanks that we are able to forgive.
For Our True Home
Despite all the good that happened with Joseph’s life, there was still a problem at the end of it. He wasn’t where he was supposed to be. Egypt was fine, and his family was provided for, but this wasn’t the place that God promised his great-grandfather. As fine as the living was, Joseph knew they wouldn’t stay. And he didn’t want them to stay, it wasn’t what God had in mind for them. Sure enough, down the road that would become very clear when the time came for Moses to lead the people out.
Despite everything that we have to be thankful for here and now, all the blessings God gives us, it is not perfect. It is far from it. Every day has its own pains and heartaches and troubles. Sometimes they pile on so deep and so quickly it could lead a person to despair. And so, we give thanks to our God that we are not staying here. This is not our true home, that is still to come.
There is much to be thankful for here and reasons to be happy while here. But we give thanks that God keeps our eyes down the path, in good times and bad, looking ahead to our true home that he has promised us. It is our greatest encouragement in all parts of life, that by the blood of Jesus we have an eternity with God to look forward to.
For the Savior
You might be surprised to hear that for as much attention as Joseph gets in the Bible, he’s not actually part of the line of the savior. That was his brother, Judah. Still, his life did serve one very important purpose. His actions and intervention during the Egyptian famine ensured that his family did not starve. His brothers lived, and their families lived. And through Judah, down through the line, was eventually born David the King and through David’s line was the ancestry of both Joseph and Mary, and from them, Jesus.
God made a promise in Eden, that someone would come to crush the serpent’s head. Jesus has done this for us. By Jesus we are saved. By Jesus are sins forgiven. By Jesus is the eternal home opened to us. Without him, this would all be meaningless. All the other things we might be thankful for are just dust in the wind, here and gone. Without Jesus the eternal gifts would not exist. Without Jesus we would have pale comforts for a short time until an eternal death.
And so more than anything this evening and every day, we give thanks for the Savior. We could lose everything, have all our earthly possessions taken from us, our family dead or gone, our health destroyed and be in pain every moment the rest of our lives and we could STILL be thankful, because it will end and Jesus will take us home. Above everything and at every moment, we give thanks for the savior Jesus.
Are you tired of feeling guilty from sin?
Do you stay up late tossing and turning because of something wrong you did?
Do you struggle with guilt and anxiety about what God will do to you?
Introducing a brand-new product made just for you: The Indulgence.
That’s right folks now you can have the assurance that your sins are forgiven on this certificate looking paper!
Display it in your living room.
Over your sofa.
On your desktop and work.
…and viola – proof that you have God’s forgiveness.
What’s that? A produce like this might cost millions? Usually it would. But now it can be yours for one easy payment of $49.95. That’s $49.95 for forgiveness assurance of up to 100 sins!
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Want to gift one for a relative? These make great Christmas presents for the ornery teenager in your house.
And if you are order right now – we’ll throw in this mini certificate of forgiveness – good up to 10 free swear word sins – absolutely FREE!
So what are your waiting for?
Get your indulgence and get on the road to a guilt-free existence!
Because that sounded ridiculous.
Even made up.
Surely, that’s never really happened, right?
500 years ago, that’s exactly what was happening.
500 years ago, people were eating this up.
500 years ago, this ridiculous practice was the only thing that made sense.
Today we’re celebrating the Reformation – a time when God used a simple monk to reform these ideas and return the truth to the truth about forgiveness. Our goal in this sermon is: (1) learn why this buying God’s forgiveness isn’t as archaic and ridiculous as it sounds (2) see from Scripture why it’ll never work and (3) learn about the only way to know true forgiveness. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Heart of the Problem
Let’s do a bit of church history. Leo X was pope in Rome. He was the head of the only Christian organization that was in existence in the early 16th century – the Roman Catholic church. And…he was getting short on money. Under his reign, he had plans to build a Cathedral – St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome – a beautiful piece of architectural to help people reflect on God (and how awesome Pope Leo X was).
The problem? He had run out of money. The Medici family, who had been funding the construction of the incredible building, stopped funding the incredible building. Leo was stuck. How would he finish his basilica? How would he finish his building?
The answer was the indulgence. Pieces of paper signed by the Pope guaranteeing the buyer forgiveness for a certain number of sins. The proceeds? They would go to fund the unfinished basilica project under the following guise:
It is by INDULGENCES that you are saved.
Sound shady? It is.
Surely no one would fall fort it, right?
Enter Johann Tetzel. He might not look like much, but he was essentially the ShamWow guy of 16th century Europe. He was an infomercial king! He was a skilled orator and skilled salesmen. He would travel into towns. He’d set up shop. He’d start doing his best informercial:
Buy you’re indulgence now and you won’t have to pay for your sin in hell later.
If you aren’t worried about your sin, what about your dead Aunt Flo? What if she’s stuck in hell and this piece of paper is what springs her to heaven?
LOOK! The Pope guaranteed it. It must be true!
And Tetzel sold.
And people bought.
And people were convinced that it was by INDULGENCES that they were saved.
But...to be fair, this really isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds.
Husbands, have you ever forgotten an important event with your wife? Maybe an anniversary or a birthday or an anniversary of the first time that you ate at an Italian restaurant? What do you do? You buy some flowers, do the dishes, give his wife a massage and hope that after a few days of doing that – everything is ok.
Naturally people assume that is how it works with God. “I’ve done wrong, but I’ll just do some good things to make up for the bad things and tip the eternal scales in my favor.” It’s not surprising then that the Catholic church in the 16th century taught a version of this in their churches: It is by WORKS that you are saved.
And suddenly everyone is playing a divine game of addition and subtraction. “Let’s see. I opened the door with prayer (that’s good), but then I was rude to my wife (bad). I helped an old lady across the street (good), but I told my friends that she smelled (bad). I listened to my wife (good), but really, I was just thinking about the football game the whole time (bad).
Well, if you do this long enough you’ll realize one very important thing:
There is no peace in the spiritual balancing game of good works.
Because that was good. I think.
And that was wrong. I think.
And that was good, but then I got angry in the middle of it and ended up with more sin when I started than I had to begin with!
So what people needed was an improvement.
They needed something that was bigger.
Something that was worth more.
Something that could really outweigh sin.
Enter the church with another idea and another adjective: It is by CHURCH WORKS that you are saved.
Kinda like the Power Rangers – a bigger, better power.
The bigger better power for 16th century people was the “church work”.
Say the Lord’s prayer 10 times a day for forgiveness.
Say the Lord’s prayer in the church 10 times a day for extra forgiveness.
Buy a picture of Jesus and say the Lord’s prayer in front of that in the church for extra, extra forgiveness.
Because of this theological theory, men became monks. Women became nuns. Men took vows of silence and women took vows of celibacy. People everywhere listened to whatever the priest told them to do: Cross themselves – say 10 Hail Mary’s – hold onto a rosary real tight – even…buy an indulgence….
And suddenly, we’re back where we started. The indulgence wasn’t crazy. It was just the grossest abuse of human idea of works righteousness.
The idea that works are what save you.
An idea --- might I add – that hasn’t left us in the 21st century.
An idea – might I add – that hasn’t left the church in the 21st century.
An idea – might I add – that might not have left us.
II. The Truth about Works Righteousness
You’ve got your bulletins in your folder. There should be a blank spot. Here’s a quick question that I want you to answer. You have 30 seconds to answer.
Will you be in heaven? And if so, why?
What was your answer?
I’m a good person.
I try really hard.
I’m better than that guy.
If that was your answer, what are you basing heaven on? Yourself. Your works. Cause – that’s the exact same thing the church was telling people to do.
And maybe your answer is more sophisticated. And you said: I’m not just a good person, I serve at a church. I’ve been an usher for years. That’s how I know I’m going to heaven.
But isn’t that just basing your faith on church works? Are they really any better?
And maybe you’ve gone all the way and thought: But I gave 10% of my income at this church for years. Look at the 3rd hymnal from the front. Inside is MY Family’s name! I paid for it. And I know I’ll be in heaven because of it.
AKA – I know it, because of my indulgence.
This whole works righteousness thing is not a 16th century thing.
Because it’s a human thing.
It’ll always be around.
And it’ll always be wrong.
Because here’s what the Bible has to say about our works:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins. (Ephesians 2:1)
Notice what the Bible calls us: dead. Obviously, not physically, because here we are. But spiritually dead. Think about what it means that we are spiritually dead. It means we were motionless. It means we were rotting. It means we were decomposing.
And it means we couldn’t do…anything.
Because just this past week I saw a dead squirrel on the side of the road.
Do you know what it was doing? Nuttin. (Get it?)
Bad joke aside – dead things don’t do anything.
Dead things can’t do anything.
Spiritually dead human beings cannot do anything toward spiritual salvation.
Yesterday, I was at the Food Bank. We were sorting donations of sweet potatoes. And some of them were disgusting. They were filled with mold. They were rotting. They were squishy at the touch.
And I was thinking – even the best cooks couldn’t make anything good with that stuff. If you took those rotten sweet potatoes home and mixed them and baked them and put them into the oven and made sweet potato pie -- it would still taste awful.
That’s the reality of being dead in sin – even our best – is still rotten to the core. It’s selfish. It’s done for our own sake. It’s done so that I feel good and I get closer to heaven, not simply because I love that person.
Which means we don’t earn heaven.
The only thing we have earned with our works?
We were by nature objects of wrath. (Ephesians 2:3)
Because our works are tainted by sin.
Because we are tainted by sin.
Because we are dead in sin.
And God hates sin.
To put it simply – It is by works you CANNOT BE saved.
III. The Truth About What Saves
Which is devastating.
Especially if you’ve been basing your whole eternity on your own good works.
That’s what Martin Luther had done.
Martin Luther was a 16th century man. He had gone to school to be a lawyer. He had learned that wrong was wrong and that wrong deserved punishment.
And he knew he had done wrong…and deserved punishment.
And so, he tried to do good works! But even when he did the good works he did so with a heart that hated God for making him do the good works --- thus spoiling the good works – and leaving him in worse straights than before.
So, he became a monk! He did a church work. But that didn’t help. The vows of silence didn’t keep his thoughts from sin. The time alone didn’t keep his thoughts form hating others.
So, he heard of indulgences! And he saw a promise of heaven. And he saw that with a simple paper he could have guilt removed.
And he thought - this is crazy!
And he thought – this can’t be the way!
And he thought – I wonder what the Bible has to say about this.
Now remember – back then the Bible wasn’t available in thousands of languages via a cell phone app.
It was written in 3 languages – (Hebrew, Greek and Latin) and it was only at the monastery chained to a wall. So, for centuries people just accepted whatever priests told them because they didn’t know any better.
They accepted work righteousness, because they didn’t know any better.
But when Luther was in the monastery he no longer had to accept it.
He could read it for himself.
And what he found was vastly different from what was being taught:
Because of God’s great love or us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ – even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.
Did you see that?
It’s not works righteousness at all. But something entirely different.
It says: God made us alive with Christ! It makes sense. We were dead – dead can’t do anything. Dead definitely can’t bring itself back to life.
But you know who could? How about the guy who made Jairus dead daughter sit up?
How about the guy who made a young man in a coffin stand on his feet?
How about the guy who made Lazarus dead in the grave for 4 days come walking out like he was just checking the place out on House Hunters?
How about the guy who said: “Kill me and I’ll come back to life,” so they killed him and then – he came back to life?
God made us alive with Christ! He gave us spiritual life by paying God’s wrath. He died. He suffered the payment for our sin. He suffered the complete payment for our sin!
And if you’re thinking: “But my sins are pretty big,” look at what it says here: God is rich in mercy. He’s a tycoon. He’s a gazillionaire of mercy. He has so much that it covers completely the payment for your sin! It covers completely the payment for your little sins. It covers completely the payment for your big, nasty, ugly sins that you hope no one else finds out about.
It's like Scrooge McDuck. Remember him from Duck Tales? He had this gigantic 40-story tower that he filled with gold coins. He had so many gold coins that he would put on a swim suit and go swimming in his wealth.
That’s God and his mercy. He’s swimming in mercy. He doles out that mercy to you through Jesus Christ.
But, pastor, surely, he only gives that out to the people he likes.
Surely, he only gives it out to the people who do church things.
Surely, he only gives it out to the people who do enough good church things.
Look at the passages again: Because of his God’s great love for us.
It doesn’t say: “Because we did enough good works.”
It doesn’t say: “Because we served enough cookies at church…”
It doesn’t say: “Because I said enough Hail Mary’s OR memorized the Lord’s prayer…”
It doesn’t say: “Because I gave enough money…”
Because of God’s great love.
Because he loved you.
Because he wanted to save you.
Because he loved you, he died and paid the ultimate price to save you.
It changes our salvation equation.
God’s not telling you to pay for his love.
God’s telling you that he already paid it for you:
It is by GRACE you have been saved through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God! (Eph. 2:8)
And Martin Luther? When he read this, it changed his life.
His guilt was removed.
His conscience was unburdened.
He was free.
So…On October 31st, 1517. He marched through the streets of Wittenberg. He pulled his cloak close to his nose.
He marched right up to the main doors of the castle church – the big castle church – the church that thousands attended – the doors that thousands passed.
He marched up.
He knew he’d get in some trouble.
But he also knew Jesus had gotten him out of worse trouble.
So, he pounded.
He pounded a list calling out the false teaching of indulgences and the false practices of the church.
His goal? Bring people back to the truth.
Bring people back to God’s grace.
Here we are 500 years later.
God’s grace is still the truth.
God’s grace is still what saves.
Jesus died for you.
Brothers and sisters, may we return to GRACE and NEVER leave. Because it is by grace we have been saved! Amen.
During midweek Lenten services we will be having some guest speakers come and visit. What would you do if I told you that next Wednesday Stephen Hawking – professed atheist and extreme evolutionist were leading worship here. Then, a week later the highest ranking ISIS officer we could get a hold of would be preaching. Finally, to wrap up our series Ozzy Osbourne – the self professed “Prince of Darkness” would come to challenge your minds.
Some of you are shaking your head. The people I just mentioned are enemies of Christianity. They are enemies of Jesus. They don’t agree with his theology. They don’t believe in him. They don’t want his message to succeed. An enemy of Jesus would make for a bad sermon…
Over these coming weeks we will have guest speakers and they will not be enemies of Jesus. They will be fellow Christian pastors. However in our sermons we will be examining a few key statements of Jesus’ enemies. Statements that unwittingly and unbeknownst to them made for some great sermons in Jesus’ favor.
The first sermon we’ll look at took place in bad guy headquarters. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and all the Teachers of the law – a collection of men who hated Jesus -- had gathered together to plan evil things. They were like the Secret Society of Supervillains that used to fight against Superman, Batman, and the Justice League.
Now these groups of people didn’t normally get along. The Pharisees believed in a resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees did not. Often they would quarrel about who was right.
Not on this day. On this particular day they gathered together with one express purpose. They only had one item on the agenda –Jesus.
Jesus had been significantly weakening their religious status. The people were listening to Him and not them. Each one of their groups saw less and less people gathering for their Thursday night Rabbinical studies.
But it was more than that. Jesus had been embarrassing them. He had embarrassed them with his knowledge of the Sabbath. He had pointed out where they were wrong in Scripture. He had called them sinners –perish the thought – and then went to spend time with dirty thieves and prostitutes. Real “sinners.”
Jesus had been making them look bad. But that wasn’t what bothered them the most. Take a look at John 10:47-48 “The chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
Do you see the problem? It wasn’t just that Jesus was speaking a message opposed to the message that they promoted. They had dealt with that before. It was that Jesus’ message was accompanied by signs.
A man with a shriveled hand had it restored to full health by Jesus.
A man who couldn’t see had his sight restored by Jesus.
Most recently a man who had died – Lazarus – had his life restored by Jesus.
Note this – these leaders don’t question whether these miracles happened. They don’t gather together to send out a task force investigating whether these were real or not. They believed they were. They believed the miracles had happened. They knew Lazarus had died and they had heard solid evidence that he was alive again.
They didn’t disbelieve the miracles. They just didn’t believe in Jesus.
“If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
It was becoming chaotic in the room. Sniveling. Whining. Anger. Everyone talking at once. Everyone offering their concerns. No one knew what to do? How could they stop this Jesus!
Then, one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up.
Caiaphas was not your run of the mill temple officials. He garnered respect. He had earned respect. His position as high priest warranted respect. When he spoke, picture the whole room quieting down. He had something important to say:
“You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
Everyone quieted down. Everyone nodded. They agreed.
From that time on they plotted to kill him.
But the other teachers weren’t the only ones who agreed with what Caiaphas had to say. Take a look at these Old Testament passages:
“He was led like a lamb to the slaughter…He was cut off from the land of the living…He was assigned a grave with the wicked. He poured out his life.” (Isaiah 53)
"And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced…" (Zechariah 12:10)
"(The Messiah will be) poured out like water, and all (his) bones are out of joined….God lays (him) in the dust of death.” (Psalm 22:14-15)
Caiaphas, who taught Old Testament, didn’t believe that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament, was now agreeing with the Old Testament about Jesus’ death on earth?
It wasn’t just the Old Testament that agreed with Caiaphas. Jesus himself had spoken similarly.
1 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)
Jesus was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” (Mark 9:31)
33 “We are going up to Jerusalem,” Jesus said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” (Mark 10:33-34)
Caiaphas, who hated Jesus, was now in complete agreement with Jesus on what should happen to Jesus next.
But it wasn’t just Jesus.
Remember what the Jewish people referred to the Old Testament as. They called it the Word of God. Remember what God the Father had spoken from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. With him I am well pleased!”
If God the Father was the ultimate author of the Old Testament and He had spoken from the cloud approval with Jesus, then it was his plan too. It was God the Father’s plan that Jesus would die in place of many people!
But while Caiaphas was in agreement that one man should die for the people. His reasoning was much different than God’s reasoning. Caiaphas thought they needed to kill Jesus to keep him from stirring up the people more. If they got too stirred up, the Roman government which was in control at the time would certainly put a stop to his rebellion. They would send soldiers. They would send more soldiers. They would slaughter the rebellious Jews. Caiaphas wanted Jesus dead before that could happen.
But God the Father wanted Jesus to die for an altogether different reason:
Scripture says this:
“The Wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23)
“The one who sins is the one who will die.” (Ezekiel 18:4)
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
God wasn’t concerned with the Romans killing the Jews. God was concerned with sin killing them. Eternally.
God wasn’t just concerned with the Jews either. God was concerned with all people. He was concerned for you and me.
God wasn’t just concerned about a physical death. But an eternal death. A forever death in hell.
So God planned it as Caiaphas said it, “It is better…that one man die for the people…”
If you had a chance to go back in time and kill Hitler as a young man, would you do it? You’d probably save hundreds of thousands of lives. How about Osama bin Laden? What if you could prevent 9/11?
Do you understand God’s reasoning for killing Jesus? This is exactly what John explains about Caiaphas’ statement. 51 "He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.”
It wasn’t as if Jesus was an enemy who would kill me. It wasn’t as if Jesus needed to die because he was bad.
Jesus needed to die because he was good. He was the only one who was good. He was the only one who didn’t earn a punishment in death and therefore was the only one who could be a substitute in death.
· Jesus died as a ransom to set them free from sins. (Hebrews 9:17)
· God made (Jesus) who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)
· He died for sins once for all. (Hebrews 7:27)
God’s plan worked. God’s plan was better.
Do you question it?
If it wasn’t for God’s plan and Jesus’ death, then what?
You’d gather to confess your sins tonight and I’d say, “Too bad.”
You’d pray to God for forgiveness and search the Bible only to find, “God hates you. There’s nothing you can do.”
You’d turn to me in counseling, confess a sin, and I’d say, “Here’s a bottle of Scotch. I don’t know what else might make you feel better about your impending doom.”
But Jesus did die.
He did die for your sins.
You gather to confess your sins tonight and God says, “You’re forgiven.”
You pray to God for forgiveness and find in the Bible, “You are my child.”
You turn for help from a Christian friend and hear, “Jesus died for you. Your sins are forgiven. You will not die, but live.”
That’s better. Better by far.
Thanks be to Jesus for making it so. Amen.
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret to being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength. –Philippians 4:11-13
How thankful are you this year?
Maybe, you are feeling really thankful. You made lots of money. You got a new house. You added to your family. You got a boyfriend! This is an all caps, big THANK YOU with turkey stickers on the front Thanksgiving.
Maybe it hasn't been your year. You don't have a lot of money. You lost your job. Your meal isn't going to be much more than Ramen noodles with a few Ketchup packets of contents as topping. For you, this is a "Meh. I guess I'm thankful," kind of year.
Oftentimes circumstances determine exactly how thankful we are at Thanksgiving—and in everyday life.
Yet, in today’s lesson from Philippians 4, the Apostle Paul claims to know the secret to being content--no matter the circumstances. He says in verse 11, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret to being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
There are really three types of circumstances that we find ourselves in --
1) Without Need.
Paul calls it, "living with plenty." Really it means that he doesn't have a single need.
This is the feeling you might get at the end of a two hour epic Thanksgiving meal. The turkey is in your belly. The triptophan is at work. The cranberry sauce is dribbling between the spaces in your tummy left by the stuffing.
To be without need means that one is truly blessed! Oftentimes, this is the circumstance we find ourselves in. We are clothed. We are full. We have a roof over our head.
Yet, when this is our circumstance, how often are we content?
While I was preparing for this sermon on Thanksgiving morning, my cell phone buzzed about 6 times. No, it wasn't last second text messages trying to determine what time Thanksgiving service started. They were emails. Emails from Best Buy, Amazon, and a host of other businesses letting me know about things that I needed and could get a good deal on!
With the world constantly in our face telling us what we need, how long is it before we begin to believe that we are in need!
This leads to the second circumstance we might find ourselves in:
2) Perceived Need.
“I need an iPad. I need a Fiat. I need a Starbucks coffee in the morning and a treat receipt for the afternoon. I need all 8 seasons of the Office on DVD. I need to be first in line to see the Hunger Games sequel!"
Kids do it too: “I need a cookie!" – as if they will faint without the nutrition contained within the chocolate chip. And "I need the Lala Loopsy," because Christmas will be ruined, if she doesn't have it.
Of course, the truth is that we don’t need this stuff. Yet our minds do such a good job of convincing ourselves of this need that we aren’t always so thankful in perceived need. We aren't thankful because our house isn't as nice as our neighbors, our family isn't as polite, and our job isn't as fun.
And if we aren't that thankful when we have perceived need, what does that mean for when we have...
3) Real Need.
You need help in order to pay the rent. You need transportation. You need food. Thanksgiving for people in real need may be a bowl of Ramen with some Heinz Ketchup packets ketchup on top and a can of cold meat.
It is very difficult to be content when you are in real need. When your stomach is growling from hunger, when your legs are tired from walking everywhere, when your eyes are bloodshot red from staying up and working hard.
What kind of circumstance was Paul in when he wrote the letter to the Philippians?
One would expect him to have been 'without need.' It's easy to talk big about being thankful when you have everything you need.
He was in jail.
In other words, Paul was in real need!
Yet, you saw how he reacted. If these verses don’t convince you, read Philippians 4:4 when you have a chance. That says, “Rejoice in the LORD always, I will say it again rejoice!”
How could someone in jail be so thankful?
It wasn’t because he was looking back. Dwelling on memories of times past with the Philippians. While that may temporarily put a smile on a face, and certainly it will for ours too, it only lasts so long as life doesn’t happen!
At some point, you have to realize that you no longer own that 84 Mustang convertible that you loved so much. Remembering a full belly food coma from a Thanksgiving past will not fill your belly in this year’s Thanksgiving.
The secret to contentment is not looking back. Nor is the secret to contentment looking forward.
Paul didn’t just think: “I’m sure I’ll be out of this jam soon. Chin up!” That works for awhile, until a soldier jingling some keys snapped him back to the reality of his situation.
To be fair, there is something to be said for positive thinking in the future. It’s good to have goals. “I plan on having my own house. I plan on having my debts paid.” Good things.
But if that’s our source of contentment, what happens when we never get there? At some point you feel worse off than you are now!
And if you do get there, don’t be surprised to find the “perceived needs” to kick in. “Actually, I need a bigger house.” “Actually, I want to be out of debt and rolling in money.”
The secret to contentment is not looking forward either.
Listen to what Paul says, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.”
In other words, Paul found contentment from looking up.
Because what do you find when you look up? The God who provides all things. He takes care of our earthly needs. He takes care of our earthly wants. He has an endless supply of food, drink, clothing, and shelther.
Beyond that, he gives us what no one else can: forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and the promise of spending eternity with him in the glorious riches of heaven!
When your focus is upwards, it doesn’t matter where you are int his life. Whether whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want…in any and every situation, you are content.
Content to be forgiven.
Content to be God’s child.
Content to be in God’s good graces.
So, how will your Thanksgiving weekend play out? I suppose it depends on the circumstances.
As look up, you will be reminded of your circumstances: Jesus loves you. You have a Savior. You are blessed.
Circumstantially, you couldn’t be in a better place.
It’s Labor Day weekend. You know what that means?
It’s time for a break.
A long weekend.
A release from the grind.
A chance to relax.
All kinds of people will get a special break. Postal workers. Governors. Judges. Garbage men. Librarians. Teachers. Dentists. Doctors. Almost everyone..!?!
Not the Walmart worker. Not the McDonald’s cashier. Neither the hotel staff that keeps things clean while we all take a break nor the gas station attendant who keeps the pumps running so we can make it to work on Tuesday. Even an unlucky few police officers are working.
But at least they get breaks at the end of the day. No one can work endlessly. That'd be impossible. eventually our bodies shut down. We need rest. no one can go without rest!
Except for maybe one. Always on the job. 24/7. 365 days a year. Never sleeps. Never rests. Never has Labor Day Off.
Jesus said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.”
What’s he doing? Providing you with food. Holding the sun in its gravitational spot so you don’t melt. Taking care of sparrows, dragonflies, and polliwogs.
But it’s deeper than that.
God is working on you.
He’s calling to you with his Word. “Repent! Stop sinning! Stop doing the awful work of offending me and look at the work that my Son has accomplished!"
Consider Jesus' job description: "Go to earth. Always defeat temptation. Suffer immensely. Do the work no one else could. Die and finish the work that everyone else should. Finish my plan of salvation for all people.
Your tools? A few nails. Some rugged boards. A work hat made of thorns.
Oh yes, and while you're doing this for everyone's eternal salvation, understand that most will not give a hoot about that most of their lives. In fact, they'll hate you. Despise you. Do all kinds of things that go against workplace ethics."
Sounds like a terrible job.
But Jesus did it. He did it so that you may have rest. Rest from the impossible labor of trying to please me. Rest from the burden of old sins rehashed. Rest from the fear of an eternity of punishment. Rest in knowing that you will one day rest from the sweats, aches, and pains of this world of work…in heaven.
Don’t forget to thank those working this Labor Day. Don't forget to thank the one who is working endlessly for you. Take a break from everything else, but not worshipping him. Find a church nearby your resort. Read through the Gospel of Mark and see all the work Jesus accomplished for us. Thank God in your prayers and teach your children to do the same thing.
God’s blessings as your rest on Labor Day Weekend. May the God who never rests watch over you! Amen.
Luke 4:14-21 “Let Freedom Ring!”
“Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
These are the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior's famous “I Have A Dream” speech. He spoke these words in protest against the awful way that African-Americans were being treated at that time. He spoke these words to support those who were being shackled and oppressed by racism and segregation. He spoke these words hoping to inspire others to join him in his cause against injustice. He spoke these words to all who desired freedom.
This is just one example of the many times in history where people have spoken up and fought for their freedom. Wars have raged and battles have been contested for the sake of freedom, because everyone wants freedom. People seem to have a natural desire to be free from certain things that would bind us and keep us down. We wish to be free to make our own choices when it comes to religion and government. We want to be free to live our lives our own way, and to be considered equal alongside everyone else. We wish to be free from tyranny and oppression; we wish to be free from violence and danger. And perhaps most of all, we want to live our lives without fear. Yes, indeed, everybody wants to have this freedom.
Did you know that this is the very reason Jesus came to earth? For freedom! That's exactly what the Scripture from Isaiah said and exactly what Jesus fulfilled. Luke 4 tells us, The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Jesus. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Did you see that? The whole section is about freedom? Freedom for the poor from their states of poverty. Freedom for prisoners from their chains. Freedom for the blind from their inability to see. Freedom for the oppressed from their oppression!
When we look at these Scriptures, we see that Jesus was all about freedom.
There was just one problem: the people who heard this message didn't have any idea what kind of freedom Jesus was talking about. They knew their Bible and knew that many of the prophecies of Isaiah spoke of the restoration of Jerusalem and freedom for Israel. So they wrongly took these prophecies to refer to an earthly king that would give them release from a physical oppression.
More specifically, they thought it would mean the release from Roman rule. It would mean that they would stop hearing loud commands barked at them in Latin. They would stop hearing the clanking of Centurion metal as the soldiers marched by. It would mean that they would no longer fear the grotesque ways of Roman punishment -- such as battles with the lions and crucifixion.
But as bad as the Romans were, this was the least of the Israelite's worries. They had a much worse ruler that enslaved them. Sin.
Sin handcuffed their lives. It enslaved their thoughts. It ruined their relationships. And it was too great for them to break free from! Then, sin slapped on another shackle: namely, the belief that their sins weren’t that big of a deal, and they could easily make up for them by following a few laws. Then they were gagged by their own spiritual leaders who promoted and taught such false doctrine and unbelief. Finally they were tied up by their own blindness, unable to see the truth when it was right in front of their face. Oh, how they needed freedom, and oh, how they needed Jesus.
We are the same way. We need freedom from our sins. Just think of how sin infects your day:
You get up and immediately start grumbling because "This isn't the day, the Lord has made; but another day I have to go to work." Already the chain of sin has been attached. Soon more links will be added. You complain about breakfast because it wasn’t what you wanted. You worry about that day, failing to trust in God to care for you. You say something unpleasant as you have to adjust the seat in your car, because the last person to drive was a bit shorter. You pound the steering wheel in frustration at the 'jerk' who cuts in front of you on the way to work. You get to work and bad mouth your boss to another coworker. Then, you spend the next three hours trying to waste time on Facebook and doing anything but work. You take a longer lunch break than allowed, but are sure to sign in that you were there the whole time. When work is over, you come home and ignore your spouse. You neglect your chores. You refuse to do your homework! Then, you watch a few shows that would make your grandma blush, before you drink a few too many shots of alcohol and go to bed before even thinking about saying a prayer to the Lord.
Brothers and sisters, there is just no stopping it. Sins come one right after the other. We are so tied down by our sins that we soon don’t even recognize most of them. And once they are there, what can be done?
"Oh to be released from this bondage and oppression! Won’t someone offer us some help? Won’t someone get us out of this jail of evil?"
And then Jesus speaks...
“He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Do you hear Jesus' message to you? In him, we are free!
Because Jesus became a slave to our sin! He took it on himself and followed our sin to the cross. He was crucified for our sin. Brutally punished. Then, he became a slave to death. Into the grave he went!
And with his death, one by one the links of the chain release, fall to the ground, and disappear.
Then, the miraculous! The Son of God breaks free from death. He comes out of the grave that held him as a slave to death. He comes to the freedom of life and declares, “I release you from the burden of your sin. I declare you not guilty of your crimes against me and against others. I free you from the debt that you owe. It is now on me. Come, taste my freedom! Come enjoy life apart from the guilt of sin! Come, to the freedom of heaven!"
There has been a lot of talk lately about captivity and freedom with release of the three women from their home made prison of 10 years in Ohio! I think that's hard to imagine what it must have been like to live imprisoned in a basement or backyard. Chained to the wall. Unable to see family or friends. Barely even remembering family or friends! How painful to think of!
But how great do you suppose it felt the first moment each woman knew she was free? How awesome do you think that feeling of liberation was when it finally came? I doubt words can adequately describe it!
And yet even as great as that may be, it doesn’t compare to the freedom that we have through Christ. To know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are no longer bound to hell. To know with 100% certainty that our sins have been paid for. To have the ultimate hope of eternal blessedness and happiness with God. Can there be anything better? Not a chance. The words of Martin Luther King seem so appropriate here. “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
Jesus was sent to proclaim the joyous message of freedom to the world. And no doubt it gave him great pleasure every time that he did so. And now he gives us that pleasure as well. We now have the message of freedom from sin and death, the greatest message in all the world, the greatest message for the world. Let freedom ring! Every time that we share the news of a loving Savior with someone else, we get to experience it all over again. How cool is that? God gives us the opportunity for never ending joy while we serve him.
Every time you get to say, “Jesus Christ has died to free you from your sins and rose to life so you could live with him forever.” The Holy Spirit speaks in your heart as well saying, “Yes, and all this he has done for you too.”
So let freedom ring! Let it ring from your homes as you gather around the Word. Let it ring from this church as we worship and celebrate the sacraments. Let freedom ring from you in the workplace. Let it ring from you in the car. Let it ring from the soccer fields and basketball courts to the band rooms and the classrooms. Let freedom ring from North Raleigh, to South Raleigh. From Durham to Cary. To Duke to UNC. Let freedom ring in and amongst these places and everywhere in between and beyond. Let the message of Christ’s freedom be heard again and again as we always say with joy, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
A sermon based on Luke 7:34-50
What do you suppose a Pharisee dinner party would have been like?
Pretty ritzy? After all, Pharisees were men who considered themselves the holiest of people AND the most qualified to handle the Scriptures. They dressed in the fanciest of holy clothing. They spoke with an air of 'impressed with myself"-ness.
Don't you think their dinner parties were similar. Only the finest non-pork meats served at just the right temperature. The aged wine was an expensive offering from a rich man looking for forgiveness from God. Everyone probably drank the wine from cups that allowed them to hold their Pharisaical pinky in the air.
I imagine Simon's party was no different. He invited the finest guests, the sharpest scholars and wisest minds in the greater Jerusalem area. Not only did it make them feel important to be invited to this event, but--even more-- it made him feel important to have such important people at his house.
That's why he had invited Jesus. He too was a scholar. A different breed, mind you, but a Bible scholar nonetheless. He didn't dress as fancy. Nor did he grow up immersed in their Pharisaical law 101 classes, but he certainly qualified as important. He had quite a following.
As these guests arrived, I'm sure Simon smiled. Smiled as he thought to himself, "Just look at all these people. Just look at how important I am. Rabbi Schweitz. Reb Tevye. Jesus, the Prophet. That fleusy Sadie from the back alley...the....
There. At Jesus' feet. Was a woman. Unimpressive. Disheveled. Her eyes were stained with tears. Her hair was stringy. Wet in clumps where she had been wiping up the tears from Jesus' feet. Her lips were shaking as they slowly kissed the tops of the good teacher's dusty sandals.
Simon was embarrassed. "What are you doing here? Why is this sinful woman in my house!"
Sinful woman, of course, is unnecessarily repetitive. Just like sinful man. Or sinful human. Because all humans are sinful. It's like saying "Wet water" or "delicious Doritos."
But the word "sinful" had taken a new meaning for this woman. It had become her identity. She was obviously guilty of some very public and very taboo sins that caused regular sinful people to feel the need to quantify her as sinful.
At the very least, she was guilty of sins that Simon, himself, would never be guilty of. (Or at least so he thought). Sins that a Pharisee would never be caught dead doing. Drunkenness. Drug abuse. Prostitution. Lesbianism.
Whatever it was...it had given her a bad reputation. Such that appearing at this type of party was social suicide!
And Simon knew it! "What's she doing over there anyway? This isn't that bar in the dark alley behind the marketplace! Her kind aren't welcome here. And she's kissing his feet? Is this her pathetic way of hitting on the good teacher? Disgusting."
But perhaps more disgusting to Simon was that Jesus wasn't reacting with disdain: "Surely, if he were a prophet, he would understand what type of woman was touching him." The logic was simple. Prophets are holy. They don't like unholy people. This person was unholy. If he were a prophet, he would know it and be repulsed.
But he wasn't.
In fact, Jesus called Simon over to him.
"Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"
Simon replied, "I supposed the one who had the bigger debt canceled."
"You have judged correctly," Jesus said.
Then, he revealed his point.
"Simon, you invited me over here to eat. In our culture, when guests enter a home, it's customary to provide a bowl of water to wash off feet left dusty from the desert walk. You didn't do that. But this woman, she has used her very own tears to wash my feet and her hair to clean it off.
Simon, in our culture, it's customary for friends to greet one another with a kiss. You didn't do that to me. But this woman has been continuously kissing my feet...my dusty, stinky, smelly feet...since I came in!
Simon, in our culture, it is customary, especially among the finer guests, that the host anoint his guest's head with oil. It gets rid of the stink and musk of a long day's travel. You didn't do that. But she anointed my feet with fine perfume.
Here's the main point, Simon, You call her a sinner. And to be sure, she is one! In fact, she's sinned much! But she has also been forgiven much. Through faith in me,all of her sin has been forgiven.
This is why she's acting the way she is. She loves me. She's thankful. In other words, what you see as a nuisance and a distraction to your party, is actually a beautiful display of worship. It's her love for me...proof of the forgiveness that is hers!"
Now what about Simon? I'm gonna to assume he was like most of the Pharisees. They were much different from the woman. They didn't have any thankfulness to Jesus, because they assumed, wrongly, that they didn't have any sin.
So I picture Simon gritting his teeth. He had been upstaged by this Jesus. He felt foolish. He felt tiny.
But he would get revenge on Jesus. Maybe, what his Pharisee friends had mentioned wasn't so peculiar after all. Maybe, the only way to stop this Jesus, would be with death.
But Jesus had moved on. He was more concerned with the woman. Lifting her chin. His holy, loving, forgiving eyes met hers. And he reminded her of what she already had: "Your sins have been forgiven. You faith--not your works, but your faith in me--has saved you. Go in peace."
The account is touching. A brave woman. A haughty party. A spiteful villain. A forgiving Jesus. But what does it mean for us?
1. It reminds us that sin is terrible. It can ruin your social status. It can ruin people's perspective of you. It can fill you with guilt and despair.
Sin certainly ruins our relationships on earth.
But more than that, it ruins our relationships with God. Notice Jesus never accepted the woman's sin as not a big deal. In fact, he called it what it was. Sin. In fact he said much sin!
Would Jesus use that adverb when he was referring to your past? (He would for mine.)
2. God forgives sin.
This is what Jesus implied when he forgave the woman.
But, as the other party goers themselves wondered, "Who is this that he even forgives sins?"
This after all is the one who would live without sin! The only person in that party that really didn't need forgiveness from God! The only person, whom the Pharisees would be completely unable to pin a single false deed on.
Yet, he would die. Killed by these Pharisees. Killed by sinners.
Yet, hidden in their murderous attempt at his life, was the truth. The truth that because of Jesus' death, God forgives.
3. Think about this for you. Maybe you could compare yourself to the sinful woman. Maybe your sins are different, but just as haunting. Maybe you've done things that have made you a stench to your family. Or ostracized you in society. Or made you feel lonely at church. Maybe you've done the taboo. Maybe you feel like an outsider.
Think about your sin. Then think about your Savior. Think about your Forgiving God.
The words that Jesus spoke to the woman? He speaks to you after his death on the cross: "Your sins have been forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."
Did you hear that? I'll repeat it: "Your sins have been forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."
That's it. That's the kind of forgiveness our God has for all who seek it. Real forgiveness. Complete forgiveness. Done forgiveness. Sweet forgiveness.
Brothers and sisters, go and praise the LORD! Praise him with tears. With songs. With smiles. With gifts. With lives that live apart from past sins. However you do it, go and praise the Lord!
But, you know, Christians are kind of funny. We love and cherish that forgiveness is for us. But we have a hard time believing that forgiveness is for others.
Because the devil is tricky. It's easy for him to get us to think like Simon: "I can't believe that person is going to our church. I know he usually loves hanging out at the bar. " "I can't believe that person on Facebook is singing praise to God now. I grew up with them. I know the awful things he's done. He can't be a real Christian" "I can't believe this person is on our member board. Pastor, do we just let anyone in now?"
God's forgiveness is for all. And it belongs to all who believe in him. So why judge others for past sins?
Rather avoid Simon syndrome. Watch out for thinking that everyone else is a sinner and you aren't.
Instead, bow before God. Remember he is a God for forgiveness. Forgiveness for you and all of your sinful pride, but also a God of forgiveness for others too. Forgiveness for those of different cultures. Forgiveness for those with different sins. Forgiveness for people of all walks of life.
What incredible forgiveness is found through faith in Jesus! It's full. It's complete. It's all encompassing. It requires nothing but hearts that believe!God's forgiveness is something to glory in.
So...Glory in it.
But be prepared for that to be different too. Maybe even strange. (Think of the woman on the floor wiping Jesus' feet with her hair.) Because (here's a shocker) people are different. These different people give glory to God in different ways.
You may see someone clapping in church to praise God! Don't judge, but give thanks for faith in God's forgiveness worked in her.
You may see someone crying in church. Don't pull off the, "I wonder what that person did that was so awful!!" Instead, give thanks to God for the his forgiveness for her.
You may even see someone cross themselves in thankfulness for the Lord's forgiveness (gasp a Catholic thing). But don't you judge! Instead, give thanks to God for the forgiveness he has worked in that person too!
Brothers and sisters, glory in God's forgiveness.
Forgiveness, which was not only offered to the woman, but through faith it became her new identity: FORGIVEN.
Forgiveness, which is not only offered to us, but through faith in our Savior Jesus, it has become our new identity: FORGIVEN.
Give thanks to our forgiving God, oh forgiven children of God. Amen.