We are in the middle of our IDOLATRY sermon series. So far, we have…
(1) defined idolatry as PLACING anything in God’s PLACE.
(2) identified personal idols as those things that we FEAR, LOVE or TRUST more than God.
(3) marveled as Jesus loved US more than himself by going to the cross to win forgiveness for our idolatry.
(4) been empowered to discover our own idols and get rid of them
In order to do this, I think it’s helpful to consider the places you visit each week and identify the idols that tempt you in each location. For example…
…work, where your boss sends you email reminders to worship idols of money and career every five minutes on the five minutes.
…the local bar, where you go every Thursday to practice some Thirsty Thursday Theology.
…your gym, where bowing down to do burpees quickly becomes bowing down to your bodacious body.
…your couch, here you have a nice little altar set up to the Netflix God.
… the bedroom down the hall from yours, where this tiny little 5-year-old God that demands all of your time and energy be spent pretending to be a Paw Patrol Character with them.
But, as you consider places where idols tempt you to worship them, how many of you thought of…
If we were playing Family Feud and the topic was “Place You’d Find an Idol in Modern America”, giving the answer “Church” is something that would cause Steve Harvey to do a double take.
Today we will be warned from God’s Word not to be deceived: church can absolutely be a place where idolatry lays hold of our hearts. We’ll consider if any idols have taken their way into our hearts and ask God’s help exposing and removing those idols. Before we do that, 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; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Background of Ezekiel
The lesson for this morning comes from Ezekiel 8. A bit of background:
In 597 B.C. the Babylonian Empire defeated the people of Israel and carried many people back into Babylon as exiles. These people were apart from their country, apart from where they grew up, and apart from their families.
But the truth was that God had ordained this exile. For years, God had been warning the people of Israel through prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, that this would unless they stopped worshipping idols and returned to worshipping the true God.
They didn’t listen.
So, God allowed the exile.
One might expect the exile to be what finally caused the people to change their ways, right?
Enter Ezekiel. Ezekiel is one of the priests of God who had been carried off with the exiles to Babylon. In Babylon, God transforms Ezekiel from a priest that brings requests from the people to God to a prophet that brings messages from God to the people. God had Ezekiel present these messages to the people in strange ways.
Once, God had Ezekiel go the city square and lie down on his side for 390 days. This was to represent how the 390 years that the people had been engaged in the sin of idolatry. (Ezekiel 4:5)
Another time, God had Ezekiel build a miniature model of Jerusalem. Then, he took an iron pan and placed it as a wall against the model, representing a Babylonian siege that God would send against the people of Jerusalem. (Ezekiel 4:3)
Yet one more time, God had Ezekiel shave off his beard. Then, he took a third of the beard shavings and burned them (to represent the third of Jerusalem that would be set on fire), a third of his beard shavings he threw into the wind (to represent the third that would flee the city and be scattered), and a third of the beard shavings he threw into the air and slashed with his sword (to represent the third of Jerusalem that would die by the sword). All these things would happen if the people didn’t return from idols to the true God.
These action prophecies led to Ezekiel garnering quite a following. Many of the elders in the city spent time with Ezekiel hoping to be present for another strange prophecy.
On the fifth day of the sixth month, in the sixth year of the exile, Ezekiel is chilling in his house with some of the elders. (I imagine they’re drinking some wine and watching the latest episode of the Bachelor).
When suddenly, Ezekiel goes into a trance.
He sees the figure of a man.
Chest of blazing fire.
Legs of glowing metal.
It’s the LORD.
And the LORD reaches out his hands,
Grabs Ezekiel by the hair,
And lifts him into the air.
He soars with Ezekiel out of the walls of Babylon.
He skyrockets him past the desert plains.
He lifts him up past the mountains.
And sets him down in Jerusalem.
Right in front of God’s temple.
I’m sure Ezekiel was filled with excitement:
This is my home!
This is my temple.
This is where I worked!
That is where I carved my name into a rock.
Over there is where little Suzy Lou gave me a kiss on the cheek in grade school!
As Ezekiel’s looked around his home…
He saw something…
II. Church Idols
(1) The Idol of JEALOUSY
The Spirit…brought me to the entrance of the north gate into the inner courtyard of the Temple, where the idolatrous image of jealousy, which provokes jealousy, was located. (8:3)
Can you imagine that? This is God’s holy temple. The place where you worship God and only God. And yet, there at the entrance welcoming you as you come in, is an idol.
At the entrance of our church, we’ve got some flowers.
We’ve got a bench.
We’ve got a sign that says, “worship this way.”
How would you feel if next week there was a big old statue of Buddha out front?
The idol that was in front of the temple is simply identified as jealousy.
While churches today might not have an actual, statue like idol at the entrance to their church, the IDOL OF JEALOUSY is absolutely a threat.
A while back, I noticed a young child that was in tears throughout the worship service.
Having a hard time.
Afterwards, he was still having a difficult time, so I asked him, “What’s wrong?”
“My brother ate the last goldfish. I didn’t get as many!”
Mom said, “Yep. That’s pretty much all we cared about throughout worship.”
Jealousy is a threat to take over your time of worship and craft an idol in your heart.
“Would you look at that person? He’s got so many friends. I wish I was more like him.”
“Really? She’s engaged and I’m not? How is that even possible? I’m way better looking.”
“That musician is very talented. So…it’s kinda cool they just made a mistake…Knock them down a peg or two.”
“That guy shouldn’t be on church leadership. I’d do a much a better job than him.”
“Look! There’s pastor capitulating to the new people again. When he’s gonna spend more time talking to me!?!”
The thing about the idol of jealousy is that it provokes jealousy.
Remember the first sermon in this series? God said, “You shall have no other Gods… for I am a jealous God visiting punishment on those who hate me.” (Exodus 20:3)
You might be consuming with jealousy for other people.
That leaves God jealous for you.
And Ezekiel was in shock.
And God tapped him on the shoulder.
And said, “You will see even great abominations than these.” (v.6)
(2) The Idol of REPUTATION
Next, he brought me to the entrance to the courtyard, and I looked and saw that there was a hole in the wall. (v.7)
Instead of telling Ezekiel to get out his spackle and a trowel to fix it, God tells him, “to dig through the wall.” So, Ezekiel does. I don’t know that he had some kind of Ancient Hebraic shovel, but he dug until he had a space big enough for his body to fit through.
Then, God told him, “Look around at the abominations in this room.” (v.8)
As Ezekiel enters, he notices the walls are engraved with “Every form of creeping creature and every kind of detestable animal and all the filthy idols.” (v.10) This is most likely a reference to the Gods of the Egyptians. Hieroglyphics – that glorified hawks, cats, and beetles as Gods.
But Ezekiel hadn’t discovered ancient room that no one knew existed.
People knew about it
Temple people knew about it.
In fact, inside the room was a group of about 70 Israelite elders, burning incense and praying to the carvings.
But what’s interesting is that these men were hidden! From the outside, the room looked like a temple of God, but hidden deep within the inside? Idolatry.
They wanted to protect their REPUTATION. It’s the only reason that they kept up appearances as “priests” of God. They craved the REPUTATION of God followers even though their hearts were far from him.
REPUTATION is just as much an idol today.
“I don’t want to be at worship today. But I better go so that it looks good to others.”
“Lots of prayers on social media for the Coronavirus. I’d better post one too so I look like a good Christian.”
“I can’t confess my secret sin of pornography to the elders, because they might look at me funny. I’ll just put on a smile, act like everything’s ok, and keep sinning.”
Want to know the ironic part of this?
REPUTATION worshippers think that everyone is fooled.
According to verse 12, the worshippers in the secret room were saying:
‘The Lord does not see us.’ (v.12)
Because the one that was seeing them do this, was the very one they claimed didn’t see them.
And God sees it when reputation becomes our idols.
And he hates it.
But God wasn’t done yet.
God grabbed him by the hand.
And said, “You will see even greater abominations...” (v.13)
(3) The Idol of PROSPERITY
Next, God brought Ezekiel to the entrance of the gateway of the House of the Lord that is on the north side, and right there (he) saw women sitting and wailing for Tammuz. (v.14)
Tammuz was the ancient Mesopotamian God of fertility. According to religious myth, when Tammuz was healthy then the land would be fertile. He’d bless the farmer with healthy crops. He’d give them an abundance of grain. He’d make sure that there was a BULL market in ancient crops.
But when things went poorly, perhaps during winter or a famine, Tammuz had died. Then, it was up to the worshippers of Tammuz to bring Tammuz back to life through mourning and crying.
(Sounds like some kind of Disney movie: “If you shed a tear of true love for your idol, then Tammuz will come back to life.”)
But really, it wasn’t Tammuz they loved.
It wasn’t Tammuz they were sad that died.
It was their PROSPERITY.
PROSPERITY is a big idol in the modern church.
People that worship just to get a better job.
People that worship just to get more money.
People that worship just to find themselves a happily family.
Not that any of those things are bad on their own.
But LOVING them more than God is.
Even right now. There’s a pandemic of COVID-19.
And we’re praying to God to get us through this.
To keep us from illness.
To keep our jobs strong.
To keep our economy prosperous.
Are we doing so because we LOVE God?
Or because we LOVE prosperity?
Because we TRUST God to take care of us…
Or we don’t TRUST life without stuff?
Because we FEAR God and know he’s in control…
Or because we FEAR the virus and think it is?
Worship is not a means for you to get PROSPERITY.
It’s a way to show trust in God when there isn’t PROSPERITY.
Because think about this.
You don’t have to mourn to bring the real God back from the dead.
He did that on his own.
God turned Ezekiel around.
And led him away from the entrance.
And said, “You will see even greater abominations than these.” (v.15)
(4) The Idol of REBELLION
Finally, God brought (Ezekiel) to the inner courtyard of the House of the Lord, and there at the entrance to the temple of the Lord, between the vestibule and the altar.
This is the main event.
It’s the place where priests would offer sacrifices to God.
It’s the place where priests would offer prayers to God.
It’s the place where priests would sing worship songs to God.
Usually that was done facing the altar (not that God was the altar), but it was a visual reminder that all of their worship was directed to God.
These men weren’t facing the altar.
Their backs were.
There were twenty-five men, showing their backsides to the temple of the Lord with their faces toward the east, and they were bowing down to the sun. (v.16)
They didn’t care what God wanted.
They did what they wanted.
And what they wanted was to be like all the other nations.
Worship isn’t about you.
It isn’t about what you want.
It isn’t about what you like.
It isn’t about what you desire.
It’s about God.
And here’s the warning, if you are making worship all about YOU, then it’s as if your back is turned to the altar.
As if you’re worshipping the sun.
As if you’re stinking a branch up God’s nose.
Look at that figure of speech in verse 17, “They are even sticking the branch up my nose!”
It’s the Old Testament equivalent to thumbing your nose at God.
Only the phrase is usually “stick a branch to my nose.”
God says that this open rebellion isn’t just a branch to his nose, but a branch up his nose.
This seems like a TERRIBLE idea.
III. The Church’s Real God
How does the REAL God feel about all this idolatry among his people?
“I also will act in wrath. My eye will not show pity, and I will have no compassion. They will call out to my ears with a loud cry, but I will not hear them.”
This segues directly into the very next chapter. Where God tells his servants to go through out Jerusalem and bring destruction to all who worship idols. And the messenger is about to go.
But before he does, he gives the messenger one last instruction:
The Lord said, “Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a TAV on the foreheads of those who moan and lament over the abominations being committed in her.” (v.4)
Those were the ones that God wouldn’t destroy.
Those who heard his message and repented.
But we need to talk about this “tav”. It’s a Hebrew letter that makes the sound of a “t”.
In the modern world, it looks similar to a lower case “n” just with a rocking chair like foot to the bottom left and a crossing between the two strokes at the top.
If you trace the history of the tav back to the time of Ezekiel?
It’s a cross.
Not that anyone who read this at Ezekiel’s time said, “There is a savior who will come and die on the cross to remove our sins of idolatry in God’s temple…” But as we look back and see what Ezekiel was saying, “Isn’t this amazing?”
Jesus has covered your sins.
His death on the cross has covered.
He has covered your idolatry of jealousy.
He has covered your idolatry of reputation.
he has covered your idolatry of prosperity.
He has covered your idolatry of rebellion.
He has covered you with his blood, called you his child, and made you his church.
Rejoice! You are forgiven!
IV. What Now?
(1) Honor God in Church
This is the main principle of worship. We want everything we do to be Christ centered.
It’s why Jesus comes up so much throughout the service:
In the songs.
In the prayers.
In the lessons.
In the kids’ lesson.
In the artwork.
In the bulletin.
On the powerpoint.
in the sermon, etc.
That’s absolutely what God has called us as church leadership to do.
But God also calls you to honor God in worship.
To throw out your jealousies.
To throw out your worries about reputation.
To throw out your desires for prosperity.
To throw out your own sinful wants and desires.
To worship God.
(2) Honor God AS Church
The Bible teaches in 1 Corinthians 6:19 that “you are the temple of God and the Holy Spirit lives in you.”
God loved you.
He bought you.
He threw out your idols.
And made your heart his temple.
In your heart, there’s a sign outside that says, “God is worshipped here.”
Because when you do, this whole thing about idolatry in church flips.
Instead of idols entering God’s domain of the church,
God’s church enters the idol’s domain of the world.
Last week we defined IDOLATRY. It is worshipping something that is NOT GOD as GOD. In the Old Testament, idolatry was very OPEN. People crafted statues, bowed to them, and offered sacrifices to them.
If that were the only version of idolatry, then today’s sermon on identifying idols would be pretty simple.
Step One. Go to your house.
Step Two. Identify any statues that you regularly pray to.
Step Three. Use a Sharpie and write on that statues – THIS IS AN IDOL.
Step Four. Throw those statues in the garbage.
But there’s a second definition of idolatry that we looked at last week. It happens when people unknowingly place something or someone in God’s place. We call this HIDDEN idolatry.
How does one identify hidden idols?
Today we will learn from God’s Word how to identify idols in our hearts. Before we do that, 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; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A “Gotcha” Question
The Scripture we’re searching today comes from Matthew 22:32-40. It takes place on the Tuesday before Jesus died. Tensions were between Jesus and the religious leaders of the city. So, that day was filled with theological showdowns. With a large crowd of people watching, the various religious groups asked Jesus questions in order to make him look like a fool.
It was GOTCHA journalism. Their questions were designed to make Jesus look like a fool or heretic in front of the public. If Jesus answered the wrong way, they were able to tell everyone that Jesus was a fool or a heretic.
If this would have happened in in 2020, social media would have jumped down Jesus’ throat.
There would have been ads on Facebook that said, “Expert in the Law EXPOSES Jesus” CLICK HERE.
Instagram memes making fun of what Jesus said.
Hashtags on Twitter: #JesusGetsOwned
Look at the question that one expert in the law comes up with:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” (v.36)
All of God’s commands are important.
All of God’s commands are good.
If they can get Jesus to pick one over the other…
If Jesus says, “Honor your Father and Mother” is most important, then can respond by saying, “So it’s not that big of a deal to kill someone?”
If Jesus says, “You shall not commit adultery” is most important, they can spread the word, “Jesus says stealing isn’t really that bad.”
If Jesus says, “You shall remember the Sabbath Day” is most important, they can tell others that “Jesus support coveting!”
If they could get Jesus to seemingly contradict what Scripture says,
He’d be an easy target for a smear campaign.
It’s not wise to try and pull one over on Jesus.
Look at Jesus’ response:
Jesus said to him, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets depends on these two commandments.” (v.38-40)
Notice that Jesus answers the questions about the singular greatest commandment by giving two.
The first command he lists is a version of the first commandment that God had written down on the two tables of stone given to Moses. (We talked about that story last week). That command is, “You shall have no other gods.” Jesus’ version is similar. “Love God more than anything.”
But then Jesus continues and mentions a second command in conjunction with the first: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
This command isn’t labelled as second in importance or value.
Just as the second command he’s going to list.
Jesus means that there is a link between the two:
One can’t love a neighbor as himself without loving God above all things.
One can’t love God above all things without loving their neighbor as themselves
In other words, all God’s commands are great, because all God’s commands are about love for God.
Love for GOD is the HEART of all commands.
Just like a heart needs to be pumping in order to send blood into all the area of the body so that your fingers pinch, your knees bend, and your tongue blows raspberries, so love for God pumps love throughout spiritual veins that we follow his commands.
Think about it:
Love for God leads to keeping the 3rd commandment in worship of God.
Love for God leads to keeping the 4th commandment and honoring the parents God gave you.
Love for God leads to keeping the 5th commandment and not harboring hatred for people God loves.
Love for God leads to keeping the 6th commandment and not viewing a soul that God created as being there for your pleasure.
Love for God leads to keeping the 7th commandments and not stealing what God has provided for his people.
Love for God leads to keeping the 8th commandment and not gossiping about people that God says he cares deeply about.
Love for God leads to keeping the 9th & 10th commandments and totally trusting that God has given you exactly what you need.
II. Identifying Idols
Jesus wins the battle of wits with the Pharisees. But that’s not all Jesus does. In his words, Jesus provides a blueprint for identifying idols in our lives. How? Look at Jesus’ words again.
(1) Your Idols are things that vie for YOUR HEART
The heart has always been used as a symbol for love. Although the actual human heart doesn’t exactly like the Valentine’s Day shape (there aren’t four ventricles), it is what keeps your blood pumping. As a result, the ancient world began to use the heart as a symbol to describe what “got your blood pumping.”
Therefore, we want to LOVE the Lord our God with all our heart!
Imagine for a moment that you were happily married.
Your heart was completely and absolutely in love with your spouse.
In fact, you were celebrating your anniversary down at Sullivan’s steakhouse.
You decide to reveal to your spouse that for your anniversary, you signed both of you up for a dating app.
Of course not, you’d be putting your marriage in jeopardy by allowing others who aren’t your spouse to attempt to vie for your heart with text message, with photos, with flirty, heart shaped emojis!
It’s the same with idols.
Your idols are the things that are vying for God’s place in your heart.
Could be your career.
Your bank account.
Careful. The things you love will try to crowd God out of your heart.
(2) Your Idols are things that vie for YOUR SOUL
The soul is a word used to describe the miraculous life within each of us. Our soul is who we are. In the Bible, the soul is often in need of rest.
Psalm 62 says, “My soul rests in God.”
Psalm 116 says, “Return to rest my soul, for God has been good to you.”
In Matthew 11, Jesus says, “In Me…You will find rest for your souls.”
If you’re resting, you’re doing so because you have faith everything will be ok while you’re sleeping.
If you’re awake, you’re not confident. You’re staying up late at the campfire watching for bobcats to attack.
GOD is the one we are to trust in.
So, idols are the things that vie for the TRUST of your soul.
I remember a Starting Point class that I did once. We were on lesson two – the lesson that really focuses in on sin and God’s grace. It’s the Gospel – the truth that we are sinner in need of a savior and we have a Savior in Jesus, trust him.
And this one guy said --
Nah. There’s gotta be more. I just don’t trust that Jesus did it all.
I’m a pretty good person.
I give a couple thousand dollars each year to charity.
I volunteered at the homeless shelter recently.
I think I TRUST that way more than some guy who died 2000 years ago.
Did you see what happened?
“Good things that he did” had become an idol.
It was crowded God out of his soul.
Careful. Things you trust will try to do the same.
(3) Your Idols are things that vie for YOUR MIND
The mind is a rational place. It is the place that looks as a situation and determines how scary it is. For instance, your mind is the thing that says, “Wow. There is an angry gorilla on the loose. I think I’ll stay in my locked house out of respect for the mad gorilla.”
Your mind houses FEAR.
Honestly, there is no being that should induce more FEAR than GOD!
God is all powerful.
God controls lighting
God controls thunder.
God controls tornados, volcanoes and hurricanes.
God is not to be crossed!
Your idols will try to convince you that they are scarier than God.
“I know God says this and it’d be scary to face him, but…it’s probably scarier to face the ridicule of society.”
“I know God hates sin and he threatens to exclude sinners from heaven, but…if you don’t do this sin you might be excluded from your friend group.”
“I know God says it’d be better for those who don’t teach their kids about God to be thrown into a lake with a millstone around their neck, but if you don’t take your kids to that birthday party, the other parents will *GASP* think you’re a bad parent.”
Careful. Things you fear will try to crowd God out of your mind.
Here’s the concluding truth to all of this:
Idolatry occurs when we FEAR, LOVE, or TRUST anything more than GOD.
Have you been practicing hidden idolatry?
If you go back to the connection between the two commandments though, there’s a foolproof test to determine this.
Because if love for God leads to an ability to keep the commandments.
Then an inability to keep the commandments is indicative of loving something other than God.
It means there another something else in my heart.
Pumping out its own agenda.
Shouting at the parents that GOD gave you because YOU don’t like what they did? Idolatry.
Holding a grudge against the church people that GOD loves because YOU don’t want to give them the satisfaction of forgiveness? Idolatry.
Staring down that blouse of the coworker that GOD created because YOU like the way it excites YOU? Idolatry.
Stealing that dollar bill from the billfold of your friend that GOD gave you, because YOU want it? Idolatry.
Badmouthing a friend via text message, a friend that God loves and died for and calls his beloved child, because her success makes YOU feel bad? Idolatry.
If you didn’t catch the point, idolatry happens whenever we sin.
And God hates idolatry.
III. The Only Non-Idolater
Thankfully there is good news.
Thankfully there is one who lived his whole life as a non-idolater.
In fact, he’s the only person in the history of humanity who never, ever committed idolatry.
(1) Jesus FEARED, LOVED, and TRUSTED God above All.
Jesus was in heaven.
Jesus never had to deal with anything difficult.
He could have chosen to sit up there in a divine heavenly hammock eating a heavenly four course meals!
But he didn’t.
He loved God more than his divine existence, so he came into this sin filled earth.
He feared God more than he feared what might happen to him, so he became a mortal being.
He trusted God more than he trusted the devil’s plan to “bow down and worship him”, so he followed God’s plan.
He loved God more than his own body, so he allowed humans to arrest him.
He feared God more than his captors, so he allowed them to lead him to the courtroom.
He trusted God more than his disciples’ plan to destroy all those awful Pharisees, and he allowed himself to die.
But God’s love wasn’t the only reason that Jesus did this.
(2) Jesus loved YOU as himself.
In fact, we might even say, “more than himself.”
When things got bad.
When he saw the back of the last prisoner to be whipped…
When he saw the sharp point of the nails…
When he saw the blood-stained wood of the cross…
When he saw the gravestones of those who had been crucified…
Jesus said, “OK.”
Because he loved you.
He loved you more than his breath.
He loved you more than his life.
He loved you as himself.
As his brother.
As his sister.
As his dear friend.
And the result?
Because of Jesus death, you are forgiven of all your idolatry.
For all the times you feared other things more than God, you are forgiven.
For all the times you trusted other things more than God, you are forgiven.
For all the times you loved other things more than God, you are forgiven.
There’s a reason you want GOD to fill your hearts,
Because GOD filled his heart with YOU.
IV. What Now?
(1) Identify Your Idols
Take advantage of the fact that God has forgiven you.
He has made you a part of his kingdom.
He has equipped you with guidance on identifying your idols.
I want you to take a moment and think about it.
What are the things you fear, love and trust more than GOD?
You can NOT do that. But if that’s your choice, understand it’ll be as if you had the choice between God on high and the Mr. Potato head idol from last week and for some reason you said to God – I think I need both.
You need only God.
Work on identifying your idols.
Write them down.
(2) Throw them Out
Sometimes, the idol is inherently sinful, and you absolutely should throw it out.
Got a bottle of booze that you love more than God? Toss it.
Got a prescription drug that you trust more than God? Stop abusing it.
Got a group of friends that you fear more than God? Stop hanging around them.
Sometimes, the idol isn’t something you can simply throw out.
In that case, spend some time each day identifying these things for what they are:
This is my spouse. I love her, but she’s not God.
This is my job. I appreciate it, but it’s not my job.
This is a dollar bill. It’s helpful, but it’s not my God.
While you might not be able to throw them out in an actual garbage can,
God calls us to throw them out of his place in your heart.
(3) Fill Your Heart with God.
Because here’s the truth about your heart.
When it’s filled with God, there isn’t room for any idols to get in.
It’s like a glass of water.
If you fill it with God, there’s no room for anything else.
And how do you fill your heart with God?
By spending time with him.
A personal bible study.
A group bible study.
A worship service.
A midweek service.
A morning devotion.
A bible reading.
A lunchtime devotion.
A devotion with your spouse.
Just having a conversation with your family about your savior.
God’s Word fills us with the message of Jesus.
We see how much he loves us.
And God convinces us…
We don’t need any phony idols.
We have the real GOD.
Today we’re beginning a new series called IDOLATRY. We’re going to examine the Scriptures and our hearts that we might be more devoted to our Savior. Today our goal is to get a definition for what idolatry is. To do that, we’re going to deeply examine the very first commandment. Before we do that, 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; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Defining “god” and “God”
The Ten Commandments are recorded in Exodus 20. But it might be helpful to set the scene for these commandments. Nowadays we are used to laws being made by a bunch of people in suits. They argue on CSPAN, campaign with voters, enter a board room, and, after months of discussion, come back with 47 pages of rules that aren’t that much different from the last set of rules.
This isn’t that.
A man named Moses and a group of people called the Israelites are at the foot of a mountain called Sinai. They have been told that God will soon be giving them the Ten Commandments.
Suddenly, they begin to hear thunder.
Flashes of lightning streak the sky.
The mountain itself begins to quake.
And a thick cloud of smoke begins to come from the top of the mountain.
Then, a booming voice calls MOSES to join him at the summit.
But to leave everyone else at the foot of the mountain.
And Moses turns to the people,
“You guys cool with staying down here?”
Moses makes his way up the mountain and it becomes very clear. He will only be a messenger.
There will be no discussion.
There will be no campaigning.
There will be give and take.
There will be only Moses listening to this powerful voice.
And then, the voice introduces itself:
I am the Lord your God. (Exodus 20:2)
The book of Exodus was written down by Moses in the Hebrew language, because that is what the people of Israel spoke. As we examine that Hebrew, we grasp a better understand of exactly what is meant.
The Hebrew word for God is Elohim. It is a noun that is formed from a verb roof “eleh” that means “to adore.” That means…
You might “eleh” your newborn child.
You might “eleh” your spouse.
You might “eleh” tiramisu.
The noun, “Elohim”, is really a participle form of the verb “to adore.” The literal root meaning is “an adored one”. When “eleh” is used with “eloyhim” the word has a higher level than simple adoration.
It means “worship.”
According to the Hebrew language, then…
A “god” is something or someone that is ADORED or WORSHIPED.
The being that is speaking identifies himself as the one that Moses worships. But for Moses’ sake, and for ours, he lists his credentials for being worshiped.
(1) He is the LORD.
That’s the name of the Divine Being that first spoke to ancestor of Israelite people.
It is the name of the One that promised to make them into a great nation.
It is the name of the One that promised to send a Savior for all of humanity through their genealogy.
(2) He is the One who brought them out of Egypt where they were slaves.
And he did it in a powerful way!
When the King of Egypt wouldn’t listen to his plan to set the Israelites free from slavery,
The LORD turned all the water of Egypt into blood.
He sent plagues of flies, gnats, frogs, and locusts.
He turned the daylight into darkness.
He destroyed all the Egyptian crops with hail.
He infected the Egyptian’s skin with boils.
He warned the Egyptian King, but when he didn’t listen. He put to death every firstborn son in all of Egypt.
He split a sea of water into two walls for the Israelites to escape.
He had that sea of water come crashing down onto the Egyptians that were giving chase.
He fed them with bread from above.
And…he just caused the thunder, lightning, earthquake, and smoke spectacle on Mount Sinai.
And this One with all the credentials, has one simple, starting command for the people of Israel.
“You shall have no other gods before me.” (v.3)
The reason? There are no other beings, things, people, or stuff that are more worthy of being praised than me!
GOD is the One WORTHY of being MOST adored.
It’s like the MVP award in ACC basketball. There might be a lot of players who are valuable players, but they don’t give out 47 Valuable Player awards at the end of the season. They give only one. They give out one Most Valuable Player Award for Most Valuable Player.
GOD is the Most Valuable “god” because there is no being more worthy of worship than Him.
II. Defining “Idolatry”
But our sermon series is called “idolatry”, not “God.” So…what exactly is idolatry and what does that have to do with God?
Read the next part of God’s command:
You shall not make any carved image for yourself or a likeness of anything in heaven above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow down to them or be subservient to them. (v.5a)
What GOD is describing here is the ancient practice of IDOLATRY. This was actually a very common practice among many nations in the world. A people group would create a piece of art from wood or stone. They’d set it up in their homes and then, they would bow down to it. They’d pray to it. They’d give it gifts.
They’d adore it and make it their “god.”
To be fair, they often took their inspiration from some of the things that GOD created.
From the heavens. The Egyptian people had worshipped the sun god, named Ra! The theory was that the sun was big. It was amazing. It kept people warm. It was responsible for photosynthesis and if you didn’t respect it, you’d get sunburn. Surely, the SUN was worthy of worship.
From the Earth below. Another popular “god” was Baal! Baal was a large bull-like creature. The thought was that bull were muscular. Bulls were strong. Bulls would destroy you if you wore red. Bulls were not to be trifled with, so…worship a BULL!
From the waters under the earth. “Dagon” was a big fish-like god. It was worshipped in Ancient Babylonian culture. Again – the thought was that the sea was big. The sea was strong. The sea provided all kinds of food. If you didn’t respect the sea, then you’d be drowned. And what better to represent the sea than a giant fish man! So…worship giant fish man.
An idol is something CREATED to be most ADORED.
Wouldn’t THAT be an art project to do with your child? Go to Michael’s. Grab some markers, feathers, glitter, a variety of beads, and then you go home and take time gluing them into a rock.
Viola! We have something to worship.
That just doesn’t seem to make any sense, does it?
Especially if you are the people of Israel and you have been firsthand witnesses to God’s glorious acts.
Fast forward a bit --
Moses had been on the mountain top for days. God had just finished up writing down all his commands on two large pieces of stone. They were literally written by the finger of the LORD GOD himself.
Moses must have been excited to get down the mountain and show the people of Israel.
To show them what their great, incredible God had told him.
To show them, tell them about the very first command:
“It says, ‘You shall have no other gods.’ It means that we just shouldn’t make one of those idols like the other nations. We’ve got that one down, right?”
But as Moses made his way down the mountain.
He heard singing.
He heard partying.
He heard laughter.
As he made his way around the corner of a rock, the camp came into view.
There were the people.
And this large golden statue.
One they had just freshly made.
A statue of a golden calf.
That they were worshipping.
Idolatry is WORSHIPPING something NOT-GOD, as GOD.
In anger, Moses lifts the stone tablets and slams them to the ground.
A metaphor for how the Israelite people had shattered the very first commandment.
Is it that simple?
Just don’t make yourself an arts & craft IDOL and you’re in the clear on this commandment?
It still seems like an ancient command for ancient people, doesn’t it?
My high school senior year I was HONORABLE MENTION in the now defunct, Parkland Football conference as a linebacker. It came with a certificate and everything.
Shortly afterwards, I received an offer letter from the University of Wisconsin -Whitewater to try out for their football program. (Granted – all my other Senior Teammates received the same letter, but I digress.)
I remember feeling so good about that. I immediately envisioned myself becoming a starter and most valuable player for the Martin Luther College football team. (A small ministry college in Minnesota.) Over summer, I spent the summer in the weight room, running hills, and perfecting my high knees so that I could make this dream come true.
The very first game of my college career was on the road. Since we were a small Division 3 school, we could only take so many players.
I was cut.
And I was so angry. I remember going back to my dorm room and packing some things up in a duffel bag! I thought my world was over. I didn’t know if I’d ever be happy again. I was angry.
I thought, “If I didn’t make the football team, then what is the purpose going to this college designed at training you to go serve Jesus?”
If I could talk to 19-year-old me, I would say…
I don’t know.
Perhaps going into the ministry…
… and serving Jesus.
Did you see what I did?
I placed FOOTBALL in place of GOD.
I placed HONORABLE MENTION CERTIFICATE in place of GOD.
I placed FAME & FORTUNE (division 3 fame and fortune) in place of our SAVIOR.
I created an idol.
That leads to a more modern definition of idolatry.
Idolatry is PLACING something in GOD’S PLACE.
God said it this way, “You shall have no other gods BESIDES me.”
The word translated in English “beside” is sometimes translated “in front of.”
This makes for an excellent visual.
All you need is a few Duplos (or any child’s size block will do.)
Take one Duplos and write on it, “GOD” in all caps. That represents our Lord.
Then, take some others and write on them “IDOLS.” These represents anything that gets in the way.
What happens when you place these idols IN FRONT OF the LORD GOD.
God is important. But FOOTBALL is too. It’s only a small thing. I’ll just place it right here.
God is important. I still see that. But MY BANK ACCOUNT is. Can’t survive without money.
God is important. But so is a RELATIONSHIP. Even if I must compromise a few of my beliefs, God…well…you understand.
God is important…I think...But so is SOCIETY. Even God tells me to do something, I better check and see if society is ok with it.
And I’m an adult now. so…God I’ll get to you. After I take care of my CHILDREN.
God is kind of valuable…but so is my POPULARLITY. I’ll have to skip church while I check my social media likes.
God is ok I guess…but this BEER tastes really good.
God is fine…unless he gets in the way of my relationship. Because that’s the person whose approval I really want.
This is idolatry.
And idolatry is a big deal.
III. Why such a BIG Deal?
(1). God is JEALOUS.
…for I the Lord your God am a jealous God. (v.5b)
Sometimes people read that phrase and they think, “Jealousy?”
Isn’t that a sin?
Is God being sinful?
There’s an extreme difference between HOLY God jealousy and SINFUL human jealousy.
If you were up for an Employee of the Month award at Burger King and in that month you worked overtime every week, you sold more burgers than anyone else and you got there earlier than anyone else to scrub more grease on the floor than anyone else. You even came in at your manager’s request when that one guy was “sick”, the one whose Facebook status said, “Playing hooky today. Pity the fool that had to take my place.”
And at the employee meeting, the Boss reveals the employee of the month.
And it’s that guy.
When you are giving all your LOVE to something that doesn’t love you like God does.
When you are giving all your RESPECT to something that isn’t as powerful as God.
When you are giving all your TRUST to something that isn’t God.
God is jealous.
(2). God is VENGEFUL.
I follow up on the guilt of the fathers with their children, their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren, if they also hate me, but I show mercy to thousands who love me and keep my commandments (v.5c)
The phrase “follow up” comes from a Hebrew word that means “to make an official visit to bring punishment” upon someone.
Think of it like the cops showing up at a house to arrest someone during a domestic dispute.
Or the principal coming to your classroom to take someone to his office.
Or your mom coming to the toy room, to grab you by the ear and take you upstairs.
GOD is a just God.
GOD is a holy God.
It is unjust to call something GOD that isn’t GOD.
It is just to punish the injustice of calling something GOD that isn’t GOD.
In simple language,
idolatry is a sin.
it deserves God’s punishment.
Considering GOD makes thunder.
And the lightning strike.
And the mountain tremble.
And the smoke simmer.
GOD isn’t someone you want to cross.
But why is God so angry?
It’s deeper than simply God is jealous that you aren’t giving him the glory due him.
(3). God is SAVIOR.
Fast forward thousands of years from Moses.
The Law of Moses is still in place.
And a group of men have caught a woman in the act of adultery.
They grab her.
They bring her outside.
They throw her to the ground.
And, passing by at the time, Jesus.
He’s a righteous teacher.
Jesus! Join us. She committed sin. She committed adultery and by doing so she committed idolatry.
She has made SEX her God.
She has made INTIMACY her God.
She’d rather obey her urges then the one who created her.
Let’s help God out and FOLLOW UP on her guilt.
Jesus replied, “OK. Sounds good. Let’s let the one without sin throw the first stone.”
And the woman was in tears.
They were right.
She had sinned.
She had made something God that wasn’t God.
And that “god” couldn’t save her.
Surely, she had broken the first commandment.
She deserved to have God “follow up on her guilt.”
By leading these men in hurling stone at her.
She braced herself.
And heard a rock hit something.
But it wasn’t her skin.
It was the ground.
In fact, piles and piles of rocks hit the ground.
And all the men left.
And Jesus said this, “I do not condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.”
Do you get it?
Jesus gave mercy.
Jesus gave forgiveness.
Jesus loved her.
And this is the reason that GOD wants us to keep him as our number one God!
Because he is the Savior.
He lived perfectly.
He died innocently.
He rose triumphantly.
To save us.
Look at the end of verse 6. But I show mercy to thousands who love me and keep my commandments. (v.6)
When we turn to IDOLs that fail miserably at saving us from sin, it fills him with eternal frustration.
Because they can’t show mercy,
Only the real GOD can.
And he did.
And he does.
Do you get it?
The number one reason for you to ADORE God above all else,
The reason that God gets angry when IDOLS take your attention away from him.
Is because God ADORED you above all else.
Even his own life, breath, and heartbeat.
The God we serve is the one who served us.
The God we adored is the one who adored us.
The God we worship is the only one who saves. Amen.
We’re in the middle of our MIRACLE sermon series where we’ve seen Jesus’ power over a variety of things.
We saw his power over SICKNESS as he cured a man with incurable leprosy.
We saw his power over DEMONS as he expelled a legion of demons from a man’s soul.
We saw his power over PARALYSIS as he helped a man walk who had never walked before.
We saw his power over DEATH as he brought a recently dead, 12-year-old girl, back to life.
But, to be fair, each of these miracles was very INDIVIDUAL in nature.
Jesus focused his power and did a miracle over one INDIVIDUAL person.
What if the element that Jesus needs to control isn’t in the body, but in nature?
This morning, we going to pit Jesus’ power against the power of NATURE itself. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Miracle
The miracle is written about in Matthew 14:
Jesus urged the disciples to get into the boat and to go ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed the crowd, he went up onto the mountain by himself to pray.
Jesus had just completed a day filled with preaching and teaching and he needed a moment.
Notice Jesus doesn’t take a moment to get on Facebook.
He doesn’t take a moment to get on Twitter.
He doesn’t even take a moment to check to see if he has the highest score on Candy Crush.
Jesus takes a moment…and prays.
There’s a lesson in that.
But before he goes to pray, Jesus sends his disciples on a boat across the lake. He tells them, “Go on ahead. Row across. I’ll catch up.”
When evening came, he was there alone. This signifies the end of his prayer time. Jesus comes down the mountain and is ready to catch up to his disciples.
But…how is he going to do it? By then the boat was quite a distance from shore, being pounded by the waves because the wind was against it. (v.24b)
He doesn’t have a jet ski.
Plus – the waves are roughing up the boat. It’s not the kind of weather that anyone should think about swimming.
It’s the kind of weather that the lifeguard blows his whistle and makes everyone leave the beach – a RED warning – high hazard.
Unfortunately, the disciples are in the middle of the lake when the worst of the weather hits.
The waves keep pounding the boat.
They are so rough that if a disciple pauses rowing to take a break – the waves push them back a couple of boat lengths completely negating their progress.
This slows them down.
In fact, they are still rowing during the fourth watch of the night (v.25). That’s a reference to the division of labor among the night watchmen. In the 1st century, the first watch was from 6pm-9pm. That’s evening. The time the disciples started rowing. The second watch was from 9pm-midnight, the third watch was from midnight-3am, and the fourth watch was from 3am-6am.
The disciples have been rowing from the 1st watch to the 4th watch - around 9 hours.
They must have been tired.
They must have been exhausted.
They must have been wishing that their Savior, their Powerful Savior, would have been with them.
In the fourth watch of the night, Jesus came toward them, walking on the sea. (Matthew 14:22-24)
Read those words carefully:
It doesn’t say Jesus was doing a backstroke.
It doesn’t that he’s rowing a tiny boat.
It doesn’t say that he’s wading near shore.
He’s walking on the water.
Even the most common assumption among skeptics: that Jesus is walking on some strategically placed rocks, couldn’t be.
According to John, they were 3-4 miles out from shore. They had left from Tiberias down to the southeast and were headed for Capernaum to the North.
According to depth maps, that’d put them somewhere in the 25 to 30 feet deep region of the lake.
Way above any steppingstones.
Jesus has power over NATURE.
Whether or not an object sinks or floats depends on its density. The density of an object is based on the mass, size, and arrangement of the atoms.
To put it simply:
If atoms are more tightly compacted than water, the object will sink.
If atoms are less tightly compacted than water, the object will float.
A flat wax candle will float. The atoms are less tightly compacted than water.
But a piece of clay that weighs even less than the wax candle will sink. The atoms are more tightly compacted than the water.
For the record, a human foot supporting an entire human body sinks too.
More tightly compacted than water.
The human will sink.
Anecdotally, I remember trying this when I was younger. I’d go the local Aquatic Center, head over to the five-foot section and try to see how far I could walk on water before I would sink.
I never made it more than a step.
Even if I ran as fast as I could…
Humans don’t have power over nature.
But Jesus does.
Because Jesus is more than just a human.
Jesus is the one who INVENTED nature.
Jesus invented the moon.
Jesus invented the light.
Jesus invented the stars that were shining during the 4th watch of that night.
Jesus invented water.
Jesus invented storms.
Jesus invented winds that cause waves to pound.
Jesus invented the foot.
Jesus invented the human body.
Jesus invented the laws of density making it impossible for a human to walk on water.
Yet, it wasn’t (and isn’t) difficult for him to use his divine knowledge of nature to do things outside the natural laws of nature that were naturally set up!
In fact, this isn’t a very high degree of difficulty for him.
It’s not like me on a balance beam where I’m shaking and flailing my arms, and able to take about 3 steps before I come tumbling off.
He’s like a seasoned Olympic gymnast on the balance beam.
He’s walking on the very water that he invented.
II. The Response
Now remember – the disciples had been stuck in the middle of the lake for hours.
They were exhausted.
They were tired.
It was early in the wee hours of the morning.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified and cried out in fear, “It’s a ghost!” (v.26)
To the disciples, it was more logical to assume that a ghost was attacking them, than that Jesus was walking on the water.
Look at Jesus’ response:
“Take heart! It is I! Don’t be afraid.” (v.27)
I, the one who cured that incurable diseases of leprosy.
I, the one who healed the centurion’s servant from across town.
I, the one who drove out a legion of demons.
I, the one who gave that paralytic the ability to walk.
I, the one who brought that dead girl back to life.
I, the one who has traveled with you the past two years.
I, the one who has taught you the things of God.
I, the one who is your friend.
Jesus identifies himself as FRIEND.
It’s like when you come home late at night and your dog starts barking, even viciously. She’s afraid that you are there to break into the house and steal all her bones. She assumes you’re a bad guy or a, worse yet, a cat guy.
But, then, you identify yourself.
“Sparky, take heart. It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
Jesus is doing something crazy, incredible, and miraculous.
But they needn’t fear!
Because while he is God, he is also their friend.
And with GOD as a friend, there is no reason to FEAR.
That’s important to remember.
You might not be on a boat in the middle of a storm.
But you might be in the middle of a life storm
Cutbacks at work.
Feeling betrayed by your friends.
Separation papers from your spouse.
Trying to get enough finances to keep your home.
The death of a dear friend.
You might be metaphorically paddling and rowing with all of you might to get out of danger!
Terrified that you might sink.
If that’s you, listen to Jesus:
“Take heart! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
Jesus’ presence calmed the fears of at least one disciple.
Peter…said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” (v.28)
You commanded the leprosy to leave the leper.
You commanded the demons to leave the demon possessed man.
You commanded life to return to Jairus’ little girl.
If you want, command my feet to be buoyant – and they will.
To which, Jesus simply replied, “Come!” (v.29)
Can you picture what happened next?
Peter took a deep breath.
He grabbed a hold of the side of the boat.
He stood up.
He balanced himself.
He lifted one foot.
He hoisted it over the edge.
His sandal hit the cold liquid.
He took another deep breath.
He shifted his weight.
He planted his foot.
He lifted his other foot.
He planted it on the water.
He took a step.
He walked on water.
BOLD faith walks with Jesus, even among the STORMS.
Because for Peter, he didn’t see the storm anymore.
He only saw his Savior.
He saw his friend.
He saw his God.
He was filled with BOLD faith that Jesus would keep him up – and he did.
Granted, Jesus didn’t command us to walk on water.
But he did command us to walk with him.
To be PURE, even when our boyfriend doesn’t want to be.
To WORSHIP, even when none of our friends are.
To TRUST, even when the diagnosis is bad.
To BE GENTLE, even when everyone around you is harsh.
To MEDITATE on his Word, even when something cool is on Netflix.
To WALK WITH HIM, even when it means no longer walking with others.
This is hard to do.
Especially when the storms of life are happening all around you.
III. When Walking becomes Drowning
But that’s what Peter was doing.
And he was doing it well.
Maybe, even starting to strut a bit:
This was amazing!
The fish are underneath me.
The water is flowing under my feet.
My hair isn’t even that wet…
Off in the distance….
In his peripheral vision…
A big old wave.
Peter took his eyes off Jesus.
He took eyes of faith off Jesus.
Do you see his error?
Peter was able to walk among the storms as long as his eye was on Jesus.
But when he focuses was on the storm…
It’s the same for you and me.
Taking your eyes off Jesus will cause you to SINK.
You might be walking the walk of faith in the middle of a terrifying life storm.
But…the moment you take our eyes off Jesus?
Because life is overwhelming.
Life is challenging.
Life is filled with storms.
And on your own…
We’re like Peter.
Wildly splashing about.
Water in his nose.
Waves in his eyes.
Seaweed wrapping his feet.
As he’s sputtering and flailing, he manages a cry for help:
“Lord, save me!” (v.30)
To be fair, Jesus doesn’t say, “You’re on your own.”
He doesn’t say, “Ask me again when you have more faith.”
He doesn’t say, “Get to one knee and we can talk.”
Jesus stretched out his hand, took hold of him, and saved him.
“You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
I was walking on water.
You were walking on water.
Did you really think I’d let some wave ruin that?
When we’re drowning, GOD gives us a HAND.
He doesn’t abandon us.
He doesn’t leave us on our own.
He doesn’t just throw us a life preserver, tell us to float to shore and then, walk on ahead.
He rescues us.
Like when we were drowning in sin!
We were being slapped in the face by waves of guilt.
Shame was washing over us.
And death was about to take us to our watery grave.
Reached out his hands.
He reached out his hands to die on a cross.
He lifted us out of certain eternal death.
And rescued us to eternal life.
PRAISE THE LORD!
IV. What Now?
But maybe a few things from this lesson, to keep us from feeling like you’re drowning.
(1) Keep Your Eyes on Jesus
Because it was the moment that Peter took his eyes off Jesus, that’s when he began to drown.
It’s the same thing for us – the more time we focus on the storm and the less time we focus on Jesus, the more it feels like we’re drowning.
Keep your eyes on Jesus.
That’s why worship is so important. We’re putting our eyes on Jesus.
This is why group study is so important. We’re putting our eyes on Jesus.
It’s why studying the Bible, each day, is so important. You’re putting your eyes on Jesus.
Take a moment.
Think about it.
Are you keeping your eyes on Jesus?
If not, what are you going to do to keep your eyes on Jesus?
Make worship an every week thing.
Join a growth group.
Commit to an online Bible study.
Set aside 15 minutes each day to read and reflect on your Savior.
Keep your eyes on the one who walks on water which will empower you to walk on water.
(2) Worship Jesus as God
That is what the disciples did at the end of this event. When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. Those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God!” (v.32-33)
They bow down.
They start shouting Jesus’ praises.
They say to him, “You are God.”
God calls us to do the same thing.
To worship Jesus, not as a nice guy, nor a powerful angel, but as the Almighty, Divine Creator of Nature itself.
That makes all the difference.
Not that long ago I was spending time with a woman named Kaliyah.
She was struggling with finances because she was a single mother of two and didn’t have a job.
She had kids to feed and she didn’t have enough money for rent.
She also felt very guilty about this – if only she had made it work with the children’s father, then maybe they wouldn’t be in this mess.
After listening for a while, I said to her, “Why don’t we say a prayer and ask for Jesus to help?”
To which she responded, “Do you think he can handle it?”
Do you see the problem?
She didn’t see Jesus as God.
She saw him as someone wanting to help, but not able to help.
As a well-meaning human, but not God.
No wonder she didn’t have any idea if he could handle it.
When you worship Jesus as God,
You know that it’s the one walking on water who invites you to walk, too.
Whenever relatives come for a visit at our house, there is inevitably an argument.
Julianna says, “We need to clean up this mess.”
I say, “What mess? Looks good to me.”
She says, “There’s dog hair all over the floor.”
I say, “Define all over.”
She says, “There’s dirty dishes on the counter.”
I say, “They need to soak.”
She says, “There’s Dorito crumbs all over the couch.”
I say, “I wonder who did that.”
She says, “It’s messy.”
I say, “But how messy is it, really?”
Today we’re continuing our sermon series called MESSY. We’re going to ask the same question about sin. How messy is it, really? But before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Truth about “Minor” Sin
The Scripture today is from the book of James. It’s a letter written by a church leader named James to believers “scattered across the nations.” (1:1). Since we are believed and we are in a nation, it’s a letter written to us.
Look at what he encourages us to do: “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show FAVORITISM. (2:1)
Favoritism means to give partial treatment to someone at the expense of another.
For example, if you are stuck in traffic on I-440, haven’t been moving for minutes and suddenly a car comes from the on ramp and tries to cut in front of you, but before they do you notice a “Go Tarheels” sticker on their back bumper, well…
If you’re a UNC fan, you smile and let them in. Favoritism.
If you’re an NC State fan, you speed up to make sure that they stay behind you. Anti-favoritism.
Another example from James 2:2-4
Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes…The original Greek language of this letter actually says, “shiny” clothes. If you’re clothing is “shiny”, you’ve got some money: Jewel-studded Armani, diamond decorated Gucci, or maybe a big old Nike Symbol that glimmers in the sun.
And a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. (v.2) He’s got tears in his jeans and a stain on his shirt. He smells a bit stale – of sweat and cigarette smoke.
If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you…” In fact, take my seat. Let me fluff the pew cushion for you, I’ll go grab a bulletin. Did you want a coffee? Some sugars? Should I run to the store and get you a Frappucino? Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it. Just, sit by me.
But you say to the poor man, “You stand there.” We need to save the seats for the rich people.
Or “Sit on the floor by my feet.” (v.3) You’re dirty already, so a little more dirt shouldn’t hurt.
Partial treatment to someone at the expense of others.
And to be fair showing favoritism is common in this world.
Whether it’s favoritism because that person is rich.
Or a man.
Or a woman.
Or they enjoy a certain worship style.
Or they vote a certain way.
Or they were cheering for a certain college team yesterday.
That’s showing favoritism.
Because it’s so prevalent it might not seem like a huge deal.
But look what James says next: Have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with EVIL thoughts? (v.4)
To put it another way:
Wasn’t that favoritism…EVIL?
Even if it was just once.
Even if it was just a minor case.
Even if all that happened was that you took two chocolate chip cookies just to ensure that the person that you like got that last cookie and the other people you don’t favor as much didn’t, the favoritism is still evil.
TRUTH: “Minor” sin is a MAJOR mess.
It’s true for favoritism.
The same would be true for any other “minor” sin.
White lies? Evil.
A bit of gossip? Evil.
Secret racism? Evil.
Selfish pride? Evil.
Pinching your brother? Evil.
“Minor” sin is a MAJOR mess. Here’s some reasons why
(1) It Makes a MAJOR MESS of Kingdom Work
Look at what James writes next: Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? (v.5)
Jesus didn’t have favoritism.
He chose Bartimaeus, a blind beggar and went out to assure him of God’s love.
He chose a Samaritan woman, a non-Jew, non-male, and told her about her Savior.
He chose a prostitute, the type of person that no religious leader would ever choose and he told her about forgiveness.
Jesus didn’t show favoritism.
In fact, it’s because of that reason that you and I are ok. Because God is holy and favors holy things. Yet, he didn’t show favoritism to the “Holy”… (If he that would have been his mode of operation, he would have shown favoritism to no one.) Instead, Jesus showed love to sinners.
He showed love to you and me.
God’s kingdom doesn’t involve favoritism.
And if we, as part of God’s kingdom, show favoritism, then, we’re making a mess of his kingdom work.
In fact, if we do any minor sin, we’re making a mess of kingdom work.
Because kingdom work doesn’t involve sin.
A while back, a first-time visitor joined us for worship. When a visitor does that, I usually follow up with a THANK YOU email. In that email, is a brief survey they can take to talk about their experience. It’s a great way to gather feedback about what first time visitors feel about our worship.
And in the comments the person said: “I like the message. I like the music. But afterwards, in the fellowship hall I overheard some people complaining about the type of fellowship snacks available. To be honest, it really turned me off to the church.”
Even if the complaining was just a couple of seconds, a “Minor” sin.
It still left a big mess of kingdom work.
(2) “Minor” Sin makes you a Lawbreaker
Our Scripture continues: If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. (V.8-9)
Check out the word “convicted.” It’s a courtroom term. If you are convicted, then you have been called a lawbreaker.
You might be convicted of: speeding, a misdemeanor, fraud, even a felony.
Once you are convicted it’s on your record. Employers will look at your record and forever know you as a lawbreaker.
When you do a “minor” sin, it isn’t the circuit court convicting you.
It isn’t the district court.
It’s the county court.
It isn’t the state court.
The appellate court.
Or the Supreme Court.
It’s the Divine Court of our Heavenly King.
It’s God calling you a lawbreaker.
And it’s on your eternal record.
(3) “Minor” sin Leaves the Law Broken
Verse 10 says it this way: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”
It’s like God’s Law is a balloon. He blew it up. Full of divinely inspired air. He gave it to us and said: “Don’t pop it.” You’ll need this law, fully together and not broken in order to enter eternal life. So…be careful.
If you commit adultery, Kaboom!
If you commit murder, Kablam!
If you steal, Kablammo!
If you do anything wrong, the law will be broken!
And we take the Law.
And we don’t commit adultery.
We don’t murder.
We don’t steal.
And we think…you know…just a little bit of about some church members…and…POP!!!!
The law is broken.
That’s a big deal.
(4) “Minor” Sin means Eternal Death
Because we don’t have a fully together LAW necessary for eternal life.
Ezekiel 18:4 says, “the soul who sins even a “minor” sin is the one who will die.”
Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin any type of sin is death.
Matthew 5:19 says, “Anyone who breaks one of the least of my commands…will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”
“Minor” sin is a Major Mess.
II. Not a Minor Savior
Let’s do some math. If you averaged one sin per minute, not unlikely at all.
And you lived an average lifetime of 70 years.
And for every one sin during those seventy years, you place one inch of manure into a pile.
By the end of your life, that pile of manure would be 663 miles high.
When you realize that…
It can you leave you feeling mighty concerned.
Because if “minor” sin is a major mess.
If “minor” sin is actual sin.
Then, I’ve got a problem!
The things that I think…
The words that I’m not careful with…
The things I don’t without even thinking…
I’ve got lots more sin on my heart than I ever imagined.
How can I ever be free of this mess?
Look at what James says next:
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom. (v.12)
But…what Law gives freedom? It isn’t the Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments just pile up your guilt.
Pile up your shame.
Pile up with reminders of all your “minor” sin and how major their guilt is.
That’s not freedom.
The Law that gives freedom isn’t actually a law at all.
It’s the Gospel.
The Gospel is that Jesus lived perfectly without even a “minor” sin.
The Gospel is that Jesus suffered death for your “minor” sins
The Gospel is that Jesus resurrected and left that “minor” sin behind.
This is good news if you are feeling troubled by your “minor” sin, because…
The Gospel includes “minor” sin.
It’s not like the visit from the Health and Sanitation Inspector. When they visit, they peruse ever nook and cranny of your building. They rub their white glove for dust. They test waters for PH balance. They look under table, behind doors, and inside locked closets, on the back corner of the highest shelf for any unsanitary practice.
God isn’t like that.
He doesn’t miss a “minor’ sin hidden in some nook and cranny of your heart.
He found it all.
He didn’t miss a sin.
He didn’t forget to check for “favoritism.”
He didn’t accidently leave some “minor gossip” under a rug.
He thoroughly cleaned up all your sins.
All of your “Major” sins.
All of your “minor” sins.
All of your sins.
The reason isn’t because the minor sins aren’t a big mess, they are.
The reason is that
Jesus is bigger than the BIGGEST messes.
Even the mess of death.
Because crucifixions are BIG messes.
Sweat dripping on the ground.
Dirt & decay stuck to stained pieces of wood.
But Jesus was bigger than that mess.
He came out of the grave alive.
He came out of the grave and left the mess of death behind.
He was bigger than that HUGE, VISUAL mess…
…and that’s great news. Because it means Jesus is bigger than your HUGE, INVISIBLE mess:
In fact, look at verse 13: Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Mercy is Jesus.
Mercy is forgiveness.
Mercy is God’s message to you right now:
In Jesus, you are forgiven.
III. What Now?
(1) Live as Those Set Free
Look at James’ own WHAT NOW.
He says, because you are free in Jesus, Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom. (v.12)
Because it’s so easy to think that these “minor” sins are just part of life.
That we are stuck doing them.
That we’ll never be rid of them.
But that’s inaccurate.
You are free.
That means you are free
Free from gossip.
Free from white lies.
Free from occasional porn.
Free from complaining.
Free from arrogance.
Free from favoritism.
None of those sins control you.
You are free.
Free to speak kindly.
Free to speak truth.
Free to be pure.
Free to compliment.
Free to be humble.
Free to treat all people with respect and kindness.
(2) Be Merciful
Because we tend to want mercy for our “minor” sins.
“I know, I can be grouchy, please forgive me. It’s just a ‘minor’ thing.”
“It’s just one lie, please forgive.”
But when others do the same thing to us?
“He wasn’t polite to me, so I’ll be impolite to him.”
“He gossiped about me, so I’ll gossip about him.”
“He didn’t save me a spot in church, so I’ll hate him forever.”
James writes, “…judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.”
In other words:
If you want to judge others for their “minor” sins.
Then, God will judge you for yours.
And the punishment won’t be minor.
Instead, be merciful, because God has been merciful to you.
He forgave you all your sins, forgive others theirs.
It happened at PreK this past week.
A friend was riding his tricycle and he rode it directly into another friend’s leg.
The other friend began crying, sobbing, screaming.
So, the culprit came over.
It hadn’t been a purposeful hit.
It was relatively minor.
Yet he said to his tearful classmate:
The other friend immediately stopped crying and said: “I forgive you.”
Moments later they were playing together like nothing had happened.
Friends, that’s what God is talking about.
Recognizing sin is serious.
But recognizing we have a serious Savior.
We live freely apart from “minor” sin.
We forgive “minor” sins from our neighbors. Amen.
Have you seen that meme from the movie ELF? I saw it back on December 26th last year -- where Will Ferrell’s character is panicking with excitement because "There’s only 363 more days until Christmas!?!"
But now it’s not funny anymore. Now we are into the holiday stretch. Now we’re on the clock.
And there’s a lot of things that will be vying for your attention this Christmas season.
Macys’ will be wanting you to shop their sales.
Amazon will be wanting you to surf the net.
ABC Family will be wanting you to watch Christmas movies.
Your friends at work will be wanting you to attending an Ugly Sweater party.
Church will be wanting you to do “churchy” Christmas things.
And you’ll be wanting to wrap presents, drink some spiked egg nog, and curl up to some Bing Crosby at around 5pm.
There’s a lot of ways to prepare for Christmas. But are all of them good?
And I checked – you can find all kinds of Google articles on the “10 Most important Christmas things to spend time on” this holiday season.
But as cool and awesome as the internet is – maybe there’s somewhere else we can look for guidance on the holiday season.
Something that’s been around a lot longer.
Something that’s been around for every Christmas ever celebrated – and even a few before Christmas even happened.
Today we are going to start our series from God’s Word called Old Fashioned Christmas. We are going to look at how people prepared for Christmas – before there was Christmas! As we take a look at these Old Testament (before Jesus) Scripture readings, we’re going to get some divine guidance on our holiday season. Before we do that today, please join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Time Without God?
We’re going to start this week in Isaiah chapters 1 and 2. Isaiah is a prophet who lived about 600 some years before Jesus was ever born. That means – he lived hundreds of years before anyone ever heard of Christmas – thousands of years before Walmart ever put their first Christmas tree display up in July.
At the time of Isaiah, the scene wasn’t exactly the peaceful, Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire situation that we think of today.
Look at what Isaiah writes about the state of Israel:
Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness—only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged…your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by strangers. Daughter Zion (that’s an ancient phrase meaning “Jerusalem”) is left like a shelter in a vineyard, like a hut in a cucumber field…” (1:6-8)
Ever been to a cucumber farm before? Me neither. But I love that illustration. Because during the peak cucumber season, the little cucumber storage huts are completely full. They are filled with vitamins and minerals – and big, plump juicy cucumbers that just can’t wait to be pickles.
But at the end of the harvest – after they’ve all been sold, and the left overs have been given to the local food shelter and the deer have found the mushy remains and eaten them up, there’s not much left. Just dirt. Bugs. A few rotten pieces in the corner. It’s desolate.
That’s how Isaiah describes Israel. They are dirty. They are bug ridden. They are desolate. There isn’t anything nutritious or beneficial about their existence.
But this message would have been strange to the Israelite people.
It says in 1:1 that this was written during the reign of Uzziah. You can learn more about the specifics of his reign in 2 Chronicles 26, but the general impression of his reign is that things weren’t all that bad when he was in charge. In fact, he probably had a good approval rating. He rebuilt Elath – a city that had been destroyed in southern Judah. He defeated the fierce, terrorist like enemies, the Philistines. (v.6) He worked a trade agreement where the Ammonites brought taxes and tribute (v.8) to him. He built towers, and walls, and cisterns (v.9); he had plenty of livestock (v.l0) and he had a well-trained army. (v.11)
The description in 2 Chronicles doesn’t match the description of Isaiah.
But Isaiah wasn’t commenting on the economic state.
He wasn’t commenting on the power of the Israelite drachma.
He wasn’t commenting on the scope of Israelite political power.
He was commenting on Israel’s spiritual condition. Isaiah 1:2 says, “Israel is a sinful nation. They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy one of Israel and turned their backs on Him.”
As in, they didn’t have time for God.
As in, they were too busy.
As in, he was last on their To Do List.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
I think this is a good time to stop and ask that question. How much time are you allotting for God this holiday season? You know – the One who created you, gave you life, has been taking care of you for years and sustains you each day so that you even have enough money and strength to celebrate Christmas in the first place…
How much time are you going to give Him?
An hour a Sunday – because I can use a lot of the service to write down my shopping list plan for the rest of Christmas!
A minute to skim through a Bible passage or two on social media – because it makes me feel better about lingering on angry political posts for an entire lunch break!
Hours at church each week – because To God Be the Glory! And also Me! I hope people see how awesome I am at Christmas – and to Me be the Glory!
We just had Black Friday. Hundreds of thousands in Raleigh hit the shops and the malls -- many of them at 4am! They spent all day shopping and even continued shopping into the night on their computer. Invigorated and excited by the deals that they found online.
But think about it:
4am is no problem for shopping, yet 10:30am on Sunday is too early for God?
An entire day is no problem devoted to parking at Crabtree Mall, but an hour is too long for God?
A weekend of shopping takes months of planning and couponing and mapping out the right area that I should go to at just the right time to get the best deals on the best items at the best times...but I’ll only consider mapping out my time with God, because Pastor said so.
It’s an epidemic in America. It can get us too! Even if you aren’t into shopping. Even if you’re only into Holiday marathons, party planning, wrapping, Christmas concert going, hunting, watching football or just making money to pay the credit card bills in January, it’s so easy to make God the very last One to spend time with.
And that’s where it gets serious. Even though Isaiah was only speaking of the spiritual condition of the Israelites his first prophecy, he was also offering a warning. If the people didn’t have time for God, eventually God wasn’t going to have time for them. And if He didn’t have time for them, then this spiritual destitution, would become very real. It would become very physical.
It would become eternal.
The same warning is true for you. If you don’t have time for God, why should He have time for you?
Eventually – He won’t!
It’s kind of like if you got into a Thanksgiving spat. Ever had one of those? You have some relatives and friends over to your house. You eat some turkey. You talk about the recipe for the dressing. But then, you start talking politics. Suddenly, your good friend is a big enemy. And you argue – crudely and rudely—for the entirety of the Halftime show.
What happens if you don’t apologize and make up before Thanksgiving is over? If they pick up their coat and leave without an apology for you, because you didn’t want to talk to them? Well…The sin festers. The bitterness intensifies. A friendship is ruined.
If you don’t return to God. If you don’t come back to your Savior. If you prepare for Christmas without God, eventually it will be too late.
And He’ll be gone.
II. God’s Time for Us
But don’t think that God wasn’t ever at work for you. Inside these harsh, scary, challenging words of Isaiah is one of the greatest promises of God’s love in the Old Testament:
“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” (1:18)
I used to be up in Wisconsin. Here’s the thing about living up North—sometimes you don’t get all of the leaves raked up before snow comes. Because -- it snows sometime in early September. Regardless – when that snow melts in mid-March, the ground is a mess. There’s mud, decayed leaves, an old McDonald’s Happy Meal bag, and a brownish, grey apple peel on the grass.
But then – it snows again. The next morning you wake up and there isn’t an inch of grass.
There isn’t a hint of trash.
You can’t see any of the mud.
Just this brilliant, sparkling, scene of fluffy, white snow.
God says that is what he would do for Israel.
God says that is what he would do for you.
Those filthy disgusting sins – the stuff that will ruin a Christmas celebration:
Rude words spoken.
Sex had…and lingering on your heart.
A past filled with yuck! and gross! and God could never love me.
Covered by God’s love.
Covered by divine forgiveness.
Covered by Jesus Christ.
Understand: God was always at work to do this for you. From before you were born – from Ancient times – from times long before the First Christmas ever took place – God was planning to send a Savior. God was spending all of his time working for you. He was keeping a small group of Israel alive from whom the Savior would emerge. He was maintaining promises in His Word. He was working miracle after miracle in the Old Testament to prove that He means his promises and keep faith growing.
At just the right time, He set up a Roman Government that would ask for a census at just the right time to move a young man named Joseph and his bride to be named Mary into the town of Bethlehem – long promised to be the home of the Savior. The Bible says this, "When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law – that’s us – that we might receive the full rights of His Children.” (Galatians 4:4-5)
Talk about incredible! God used all of His time for you.
And when the Savior did finally come…
He dedicated every hour of his life to you.
He dedicated the last moments of his breath to you.
He gave up his time on earth for you!
He rose triumphantly from the grave to offer you an eternity of time with Him in heaven.
III. What now?
(1) Go to His Mountain
The next chapter says this, “In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains…and all nations will flock to it.” (2:2)
That’s because things that are lifted high are easily seen.
Think about it -- how many times have you been driving down I-40 – it’s late in the day. You’re tired. You’re hungry. It’s late. You’re about to pull over and give up, but then, in the distance, you see it: The Golden arches. They mean delicious is on the way.
That’s why churches had steeples. So that no matter what’s going on – no matter where you are – no matter what kind of awful is going on in your life, you can look up and see – a cross. See the place where you can go and find God.
So -- Go to His mountain. Make sure that you have time to be in church this Christmas preparation season. Put it down on your Google calendar as a can’t miss event of the week. In fact, I think you can even lock it into Google calendar as an “unchangeable time.”
But we’re not open all the time. Does that mean God’s mountain is only open on Sundays? Of course not! You can go to God’s mountain without even leaving the comforts of your home. Pick up a Bible. Open it up. Use the Advent reading suggestion that is stuffed into your bulletin this week – Go to God’s mountain.
And please keep in mind that simply having this advent planner, doesn’t mean you’ve actually made it to God’s mountain. That’d be like assuming that once Google Maps is fired up, you’re at your destination. It doesn’t work like that. You’ve got to actually get in the car and drive.
And you’ve got to get into God’s Word to arrive at his mountain.
(2) Walk in His Footsteps
What do you do there? Look at what Isaiah says,
“Let us go to the mountain of the Lord to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways so that we may walk in his paths.” (v.3)
Because when you get to God’s mountains, that’s what you see: Footprints! And just like when there’s a fine dusting of snow and you walk outside, see your dad’s footsteps and try to follow them, that’s what we do on God’s mountain. We follow his footsteps. God’s footsteps lead to some incredible truths.
You see his steps throughout history to ready for the coming of the Savior.
You see his steps throughout prophecy to prepare for saving you.
You see his steps toward the cross – to take away all your sins.
You see his steps off the cross – with a tiny hole in each footprint – showing you just how much he loved you!
This means when you’re at God’s mountain – you don’t just chill. You’re active. Actively listening. Actively learning.
Not playing games on your iPhone.
Not looking up fantasy scores.
Not getting distracted by text messages.
Actively coming up with a plan to put God’s Word into your life.
(3) Live in Peace
Isaiah talks about this on God’s mountain: God will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords and make them into gardening tools. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore!
Which is something that happens during the holiday season. Supposedly, people lay down their differences and stop hating on one another.
Then, come December 26th it’s right back to hating on one another.
Calling people racist names on Facebook.
Gossiping about that coworker on the day back to work.
Leaving a nasty message for your parents about why you’ll never go to their house for Christmas again.
It’s funny. Things and stuff and gifts and cookie and garland and mistletoe and Santa – can make you happy, but they can’t bring peace. Deep down – the problems you have before Christmas are still there during Christmas – and still there after Christmas.
But Jesus deals with those problems.
The mountain of God brings peace.
The mountain of God brings you peace with God.
If you’ve got peace with God, it’s a lot easier to have peace with other.
So what do you do this Christmas season?
It just started. You’ve still got plenty of time. Add “Time with God” to your holiday list. Make it the most important part of your list. Listen to the words of Isaiah:
“Come, descendant of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
It was incredible.
While Jesus was teaching, a man possessed by a demon had interrupted him. He had shouted at Jesus. He had challenged him to show his power. Jesus did just that. With mere words, he defeated he demon. The man was released by the demon. He was healed.
As Peter watched this, something cliicked in his mind. A question. A thought.
Could Jesus do the same thing with a fever?
Granted a fever is not the same as a demon. A fever is an inanimate virus. You can’t just speak it away. You need medicine. But Jesus certainly had incredible power. His mother-in-law had been sick at home. Her fever was bad enough that she had missed today’s activities by being in bed. They could go the herbals and medicine route, fill her with water and wait. Or...since Jesus was powerful enough, maybe he'd be compassionate enough too...
“Hey Jesus! You busy tonight?”
I. Compassionate…To Close Friends
29 As soon as they left the synagogue they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her.
Jesus doesn’t make excuse. He doesn’t mention that he’s off the clock. He doesn’t say that he needs to get home. He doesn’t get annoyed that he’s been asked to do another miracle. He doesn’t refuse because there’s not a large crowd there to watch.
31 Jesus went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.
Notice what he uses to heal her. It isn’t Nyquil, Dayquil, Robitussin, Theraflu, Tylenol Cold & Flu, Advil Cold & Flu, or even a bowl of good old fashioned chicken soup.
Jesus went to her, took her hand and helped her up.
This isn’t just coincidence. She had been in bed before this. She was tired. Her body was probably achy. Her knees shaking. Her hands were probably doing that things where they were sweating from within, but cold and clammy to the touch. She was in no condition to do much of anything.
But as soon as Jesus touched her that changed. She began doing things just like many other loving mother-in-lawn who expect company. She waited on them! Maybe she fixed her hair, cleaned up in the corner of the room, delivered everyone some appetizers, set the table, and put a pot on the stove for a meal.
You know--things you don’t do, when you have a fever.
This is amazing. Another incredible miracle of Jesus. One that wasn’t so life or death. Yet – one that he performed. It shows his COMPASSION. Compassion for his friends.
What about you? If you are Jesus' friend there is reason to be encouraged. He is loving and compassionate to his friend.
But what if you aren’t sure if you are a friend of Jesus? What if you haven't treated him much like a friend lately? What if you barely spend any time with him (at church), never speak to him (in prayer), and list him at the bottom of your priority list (below work friends, Hulu friends, and just about anything else.)
Even if you think you have been a good friend, certainly you'd agree that you aren't at the same level as Jesus' disciples were. You weren’t in his inner circle. You weren’t invited to intimate meals with him. You didn’t stay up late telling stories with him. You weren’t one of Jesus’ closest friends.
Why then would Jesus help you? Is he compassionate to those who aren't his friends? Or is he like other humans who kindly bring their friends a lemon tea when they are sick, but complain to the boss that your 'non-friend' co-worker is "pretending" to be sick!
Think Jesus is like that?
II. Compassionate…To All Who Seek Him
32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
Can you imagine what that night was like? (Good thing Peter’s mother-in-law was up and ready to serve.) Disease after disease. Sickness after sickness was knocking at the door.
“Is Jesus here? I ran back to my house after what happened at the temple today because…well…here is my daughter. She isn’t feeling well. Can you help?"
“Hey Jesus, this is my grandma. She has cancer. Can you help?”
“Hi Jesus. My great uncle Mordecai is back there. He didn’t come to the door because he has leprosy. Can you help?”
“Hey Jesus. *Cough *Cough* I have a cold. Can you help?”
Some who came to that door were probably deathly sick. Others maybe not so much. But it didn’t matter. Jesus had compassion. He healed them. He had compassion and healed all who sought him.
He never stopped and said, “No not you. I don’t like you.” Or “I will heal you, you, and you…but not you because you like the Tarheels.” NEVER! Jesus had compassion on all who sought him. No matter who they were!
No matter who you are. No matter what is wrong. Jesus has compassion for you.
Keep that in mind. There is zero reason for any of you to feel like Jesus won’t help you! We just saw it. He listens to all who approach him. He has compassion for all! He has compassion for you.
Maybe you know this, but do you practice it? When you are sick, what do you do? Look up your symptoms on WebMD? Head to Walgreens? Ask around for a good doctor?
Those are all fine. But did you notice what was missing? Why not do what the crowd does first of all? Why not ask Jesus for compassion!?!
You don't even have to go to Simon Peter's house to find him.
Feeling bad at work? Go to him in prayer.
Sneezing in the car? Go to him in prayer.
Headache keeping you in bed? Go to him in prayer.
He is compassionate to all who seek him!
III. Compassionate…By Doing Nothing!?!
Now. Perhaps you are thinking. "Fine. But why doesn’t he help me? Why doesn’t he listen to my prayers? Why hasn’t my financial situation gotten easier? I've had arthritis for years. I"ve prayed for it to get better. It hasn't. It has gotten worse!?! Why hasn’t my friend gotten better? Why aren’t I in better health? Why did my dear friend have to die? Why does Jesus continue to help me by doing nothing!?!"
"Maybe he's uncompassionate after all."
The mood has changed. So has the narrative:
35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: "Everyone is looking for you!"
It’s easy to understand why Jesus went off by himself. He needed a little bit of a break. He needed a rest. A time to reflect on yesterday and a time to get guidance for the coming day. He needed some quiet time with God. (Something that…if you don’t take time to do, I highly recommend it. God loves to hear from you and speak to you in his Word. Grab a bible. Grab a coffee. Start off your day with God.)
But then the disciples come after him. A little groggy-eyed, but moving quickly. As soon as light had hit people started showing up at the house. Peter’s mother-in-law was entertaining again. The disciples were saying things like “I’m sure he’ll be back any moment.” Maybe – Matthew had stayed back at the house to entertain the visitors with the best Tax Collector jokes that he knew. But these people needed Jesus. They wanted his compassion.
We’d expect Jesus to give it to them. He is compassionate after all. In fact, there’s another instance in the Bible when a very similar situation happens and Jesus goes out to the people out of compassion.
This is why his response is so surprising.
38 Jesus replied, "Let us go somewhere else--to the nearby villages--so I can preach there also. That is why I have come."
Does that seem unfair to you? Does that seem like Jesus doesn't have any compassion? Maybe he's tired. Maybe he's selfish. Maybe he's annoyed. But not compassionate.
Are you sure? Listen to him explain himself: “Let us go…so I can preach. That is why I have come.”
A couple of weeks back we heard a sermon that said JESUS IS URGENT. In that sermon Scripture recorded that Jesus began his ministry by preaching. He preached, "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near."
This is what Jesus came to do.
In our text, Jesus could have returned. He could have healed people. He could have helped them all day long with their physical desires an their physical health. Once he got rid of all the serious stuff he could have moved on to less serious stuff. He could have helped people lose weight. He could have given people 20/20 vision. He could have made money appear magicaly in people’s pockets.
But he didn’t. He didn't because there was a much more serious matter to address.
If all he did was play pro bono doctor all day long, then he wouldn’t have gotten around to preaching God’s Word. He never would have gotten around to healing what really mattered. The sin sick heart. A problem that results in guilt, shame, death, and eternity in hell!
If Jesus would have ignored this problem, then he’d be like the doctor who sees the cancer on the MRI, but only prescribes a Band Aid and some Neosporin to get rid of the hangnail.
Jesus knew better. It’s why he said no. It’s why he moved on. It’s why he had to preach. It’s why He was compassionate by doing nothing!
Maybe that’s the answer. Maybe that’s the answer for you.
Are you sick? Do you hurt? Have you been going to Jesus in prayer because of arthritis? Have you been calling on him to heal your terminally ill relative? Have you been praying every morning, afternoon, and evening for his compassion and help?
Good. Keep doing that. He hears you.
But perhaps he won’t respond as you like. This isn’t because he isn’t compassionate. It isn’t because he isn’t compassionate for you. We just saw that in today’s lesson.
But perhaps it is because He is compassionate. Because he does love you. Because he loves you more than you can imagine.
Thinks of what happens during sickness. You are more connected to Him than ever. It’s the sad truth of the human spirit. God wants that for you. God wants you connected to Him. He wants you to believe in Him, to trust in Him, to grow in his Word, to come and hear the Gospel about Him, because Jesus is the only one who can save you from an eternity in hell. He is the only one who can save you from your sins!
So understand this: Jesus has compassion for you. This is truth! Even when he does nothing, he has compassion for you. He has compassion for your body, yes. But he is most passionate about showing compassion for your souls.
He died to heal you from the guilt of your terrible sins with God’s forgiveness.
He longs to heal you from the shame of your past actions with God’s love.
He desires to heal your nervousness of God's approvals with the promise of His peace.
He wants so very badly to heal your loneliness with his eternal presence.
In Jesus he does just that.
More than preach about it, Jesus accomplished the message of his preaching. He lived perfectly, died innocently, and rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins and the salvation of your soul. This isn’t something you deserve. This isn’t something you could do on your own. This is something he did out of his compassion for you.
I was having a spiritual conversation with a fried recently. She was very sad. She had a lot of guilt on her shoulders. She had lost her job. She admitted it was mostly her fault. Her child had suffered because of it. There wasn’t enough clothing. There wasn’t enough food. There wasn’t always a good place to live.
Now she realized it. It ate away at her. She was heartbroken.
But then…God. Colossians 2:13 is what did it.
“When you were dead in your sins…God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.”
Now the tears were different.
Now they were tears of thanksgiving.
Now they were tears that had experienced compassion.
An otherworldly compassion. Jesus’ incredible compassion.
May his healing compassion be with you always! Amen.
The other day something earth shattering happened. My computer got a virus. The thing is my computer wasn’t running slow. It wasn’t struggling to run Microsoft Office. It wasn’t flickering on and off whenever I tried to turn it out.
Nope, I found out that the new computer I received for Christmas had a virus on it from a website I visited. A “pop up” ad appeared. It had a big warning on it: “You have thousands of viruses on your computer. Click here to download our software now which is the only way to ensure that you’ll get rid of it.”
Do you download things by clicking the “x” in the upper right hand corner? Cause that’s what I did.
Sometimes people tell us things are urgent that aren’t all that urgent.
What about Jesus? How urgent is the message of Jesus?
I. …Not on Our Time.
For King Herod the message of Jesus was not very urgent. He had heard it from John the Baptist and he had kind of liked what he heard at first. He liked that John was helping to “clean up the city” and calling out various people for their immoral sins. Herod wouldn’t have had a problem with that. It made his job easier as ruler easier. (Mark 6:20)
That is until John accused Herod of sin. John told him it was sinful because Herod was living with and sleeping with his own brother’s wife. Not his. He wasn’t married. That was sinful.
Herod didn’t listen. He didn’t find that message very urgent. Instead, Herod had John arrested. He put him in prison. He decided he would much rather continue in his sinful lifestyle. (v.17-18)
As much as Herod didn’t want to listen to John – his woman – desired to listen even more. So when Herod promised to his “fling’s” daughter that he would give her whatever she wanted up to half his kingdom, Herod’s mistress took advantage of this foolishness.
“Ask Herod for the head of John the Baptist,” she said.
Her daughter asked.
John was killed.
No one had to listen to John anymore.
No one had to listen to God.
Now, I imagine that many of you reading this haven't just been accused of beheading someone. (If so, we need to talk.) But isn't it possible that you have done the same thing as John did? Not cutting off John's head, but cutting off God's Word?
It's easy to do. It's easy to tell God's Word to take a back seat. It's easy to say "I'll follow God...later..
· ...when they come out with a Bible that doesn’t mention the sin I struggle with.
· …when I’ve had the chance to experience life.
· …when I’m older.
· …when I’m less tired.
· …when I’m settled down.
· …when my friends think it’s cool.
· …when I get a special calling.
· …when I own my own house.
· …when that person that I don’t like that much isn’t at church anymore.
…when I am married.
· …when I have children.
· …when the children leave the house.
· …when I go to the retirement home.
Or, if we're being entirely honest about all of these reasons...
· …WHEN I WANT TO.
Is that how it works? Can you ignore God until you are good and ready? Does God work on your time? Is God cool when you give him a raincheck?
There is nothing worse than hearing your alarm go off in the morning. I was having trouble getting up really early to work out. So not that long ago I downloaded the “I Can’t Wake Up” Alarm. It plays an obnoxiously loud song and it doesn’t turn off until you complete an array of mental tasks: Answering addition questions, solving word problems, putting a puzzle together. It was working really well too.
Until I discovered a brand new way to turn it off. Take the battery out.
Guess what? That doesn’t stop time from coming. It doesn’t stop the sun from rising. It doesn’t stop the day from happening. The same is true with Jesus. If you ignore God’s message to stop your sin, follow him, and study his Word – that doesn’t stop it from being true.
Bottom line – your unbelief and your sinful lifestyle will not slow down God’s coming!
It’s coming all the same.
II... On God’s Time.
Look at the words from our Mark 1:15. That verse alone gives us three reasons to listen to Jesus right now!
1. “The Time has come.” Jesus doesn’t say, “The time is coming,” “the time will come eventually,” or even “Don’t worry you have years until it will be important for you to listen!” It’s a perfect tense. For the people who heard Jesus, the time had come for them to listen.
That was 2000 some years ago. What does that tell you about the importance of listening now?
2. The Kingdom is near. Literally for the people Jesus talked to the kingdom was very near them. Jesus himself is the one who rules the kingdom of God. Thus – he was literally feet away from them. It was time for them to listen.
Jesus speaks to us today in his Word. Where’s the closest Bible to you now? Listening to this in church? It’s about a foot in front of you. Are you a Christian? Listen to Jesus because Jesus is in you. It doesn’t get much closer to you than that!
3. “Repent” and “Believe.” These are imperative directives of Jesus. He doesn’t say “repent” later. He doesn’t say “believe” later. He implores you to repent and believe right now!
Why wait? Do you really want to continue going on a path farther away from God? Do you really want to continue feeling guilt associated with sin? Do you really want to stay away from the peace, the joy, and the confidence of God’s love that come with the knowledge of sins forgiven?
In another part of Scripture Jesus tells the parable of a very rich man. He was so rich that he didn’t have time for God. He was too busy buying fancy suits and investing his dividends to make even more money. In fact, he was so rich that he decided to build himself a huge barn in his backyard. It was like his own bank in which he’d store all the riches that he had collected.
When he finished, it he partied! It was done. His “urgent work” of collecting things and stuff” was done.
Then God came to the party. “You fool!” he said, “This very night your life will be demanded of you.”
Do you understand the urgency? Repent. Believe. The time has come. The kingdom of heaven is near!
III. …God’s Time…is the Best Time for You!
Now maybe you’re wondering. Why does God care so much? Why does God want me to follow him now? Why can’t he wait for a time that’s better for me? I don't go around sticking my nose in my neighbor's business and telling them there's a better way to spend his time than playing video games all the time -- so why should God care about what I do? It's my business.
The answer is simple. God cares for you. And following God on God's time is the best thing for you!
Take a look at verse 15 again. Jesus went about preaching the good news.
Do you know what the good news is? The good news is…
….that when you were too distracted by the urgency of worldly things to follow God, Jesus was not.
…that as death was sneaking up on you to take you to hell, he urgently confronted it to take you to heaven.
…that as the bodies of all humans rested without any urgency in the grave, Jesus came back to life early in the morning – to urgently spread his message that in him I have life!
I’ll tell you the truth – the urgency God expresses is for YOUR Benefit! Not God’s. Here are three reasons why believing on God's Time (right now) is of great benefit!
1. God Loves You Urgently! This is why he came to earth. It's why he keeps calling out to you. It's because he knows the struggles that life brings when you depend on things and people that don't even have you on their priority list.
But God placed you as number one. He died for you! Come and revel in that love.
2. God Wants You to Punch your Ticket to Heaven...before it's too Late! Scripture says the the end of time will come like a thief in the night. God doesn't want you to miss it. The only way to heaven is through faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior.
I don't know any stats on how often people die in this world, but I do know that it always seems like, "it could never happen to me." How foolish! Repent and believe now for the confidence of heaven.
3. God Wants You to have Peace Now. Why wait? Why wait to hear that God loves you? Why wait to know that you are forgiven? Why go through life nervous and frightened that God is against you?
Repent and believe in Jesus – God will not be slow in responding. God says to all who turn from their sin: “You are forgiven!” He rushes to say “You are mine.” He quickens his Spirit to speak to all believers “You will be in heaven!”
It’s very interesting that in direct contrast to the actions of Herod, chapter 1 tells us about a few fishermen. Guys who found their livelihood in hard work. Men who needed to find fish, clean fish, and sell fish so that their families could eat.
Look at verse 17 Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
Their response? Verse 18 At once, they left their nets and followed Jesus.
Then Jesus meets some others. Verse 20 Without delay, he called them.
Their response? They left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
Their urgency in following Jesus is impressive. They realized Jesus was greater than work. They realized Jesus was greater than money. They realized Jesus was greater than their family!
God is calling you to abandon work, money or family. These things are not bad. In fact, they can be very good. But God is calling you to place Jesus as the highest priority. To order your life and make him Number One!
Will you delay? Or will you follow without hesitation? All it takes is the next step.
Because if these disciples were serious about following Jesus, they couldn't just say, "I'm following you." They had to literally put one foot front of the other and follow him from town to town.
They needed to take the next step.
What's your next step? For all of us it's different. Maybe your next step is contacting me by email to talk more about Jesus. Maybe you are ready to be baptized into his name. Maybe you come to church once in a while and now is the time to make it an every week affair. Maybe you are ready to join our church. Maybe you are ready to get involved in Bible class. Maybe you need to leave behind that sin that has been gnawing as your souls.
Everyone's steps are different, but everyone's step is the same. Follow Jesus!
The time has. The Kingdom is near. Believe and follow Him. Amen.
From Luke 1:26-38
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
1. How do you think Mary felt before the angel spoke to her. (Keep her recent engagement in mind).
2. What about the angel's message might have caused her to feel even more afraid?
3. At the end, Mary seemed to be at peace. Why?
4. How are you doing with trusting Jesus right now? What things do you trust him for? What things make you afraid?
5. What promises of the LORD can you remember to help you find peace in this busy season?
PRAYER: LORD forgive me for being too frantic during the Christmas season. Forgive me for all of the times that I get nervous about not having enough money for Christmas or worried about how seeing family again will go. Instead, help me to look forward to Christmas with confidence --knowing that your all powerful hand is with me. The same All Powerful hand that removed my sins on the cross. Give me Mary's courage today and always. Amen.
It's only seven days till Christmas. Prepare your heart by following this section and pondering the questions at the end.
1 Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
3 A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
6 A voice says, “Cry out.”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All people are like grass,
and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
7 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God endures forever.”
9 You who bring good news to Zion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.
QUESTION FOR PONDERING:
1. What kind of comfort does Jesus bring?
2. How does that comfort speak to you?
3. How do you need to 'make straight a path' in your own life for Jesus?
4. How has Jesus been like a shepherd to you?
PRAYER: Oh Lord, good Shepherd, thank you for your comfort. I don't deserve it. In fact, I oftentimes flee from your comforting rod. Forgive me. Forgive me for not preparing the way for you. Forgive me for seeking my own way. Forgive me for the sake of Jesus, who came to bring us real comfort. He died on the cross for the full forgiveness of my sins.Thank you Jesus. Praise and glory be to you! Help me share this message of comfort this Christmas and always. Amen.