We are in the middle of our VICTORIOUS sermon series. So far, we’d talked about how Jesus gives us victory over DEATH and FEAR.
Maybe you listened to both of those messages.
You felt encouraged.
But then, a few days later, you started to DOUBT.
Today we’re going see how Jesus gives us VICTORY OVER DOUBT. 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. Why Thomas Doubted
As a case study for doubt, we’re going to look at the story of one disciple named Thomas.
In fact, Thomas is such a good case study for doubt that he has developed the nickname “Doubting Thomas.”
This is unfortunate.
I bet he wishes he was remembered as “Believing Thomas,” “Courageous Thomas”, or even “Good Dental Hygiene Thomas.”
I doubt Thomas wanted to be known for Doubt.
But Thomas, one of the Twelve, the one called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. (John 20:24)
This account occurs late into the evening on that first Easter.
This after the women see the stone rolled open from the tomb.
This is after the women talk to angels who tell them about the resurrection.
This is after Mary Magdalene sees Jesus near the tomb.
This is after the other women meet Jesus outside the cemetery.
This is after two disciples traveling to Emmaus meet and speak with Jesus for three-plus hours.
This is after Peter gets a one-on-one visit from Jesus.
And this is after Jesus enters the locked room filled with 10 of the Twelve apostles - minus Judas, who took his own life and Thomas.
And I don’t know what Thomas was doing.
…Was he out shopping?
…Was he out visiting friends?
…Was he out grabbing some Starbucks orders?
…Was he stocking up on hand sanitizer for the group?
I don’t know.
The point is that he missed Jesus’ appearance.
So, the other disciples kept telling him, “We have seen the Lord!” (v.5)
You wouldn’t believe it Thomas – He was alive!
Peter was scared. He thought it was a ghost. But it was real!
He let us touch his hands.
We put our fingers into the nail holes.
We placed our hands into the speak mark in his side.
He is alive! Isn’t it amazing!?!
And Thomas listened.
He stroked his beard.
And said, “It is amazing…how absolutely gullible you think I am!”
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25)
Thomas didn’t trust his friends’ words.
Not as much as his eyesight.
Not as much as his sense of touch.
But it was more than just not trusting his friends.
Thomas trusted him OWN ABILITIES more than Jesus’ DIVINE ABILITIES
Thomas trusted his own ability to determine the veracity of the resurrection.
More than Jesus’ ability to accomplish one.
This is foolish when you consider the differences in Thomas and Jesus.
Thomas had the ability to defeat a cold, if he drank a lot of Orange Juice.
Jesus could beat a cold by speaking to it.
Thomas had the ability to float on water.
Jesus had the ability to walk on it.
Thomas had the ability to go to the local McDonalds and buy a Fish Filet.
Jesus had the ability to make 5000 more out of thin air.
It’s silly to trust a human being more than a Divine being.
It’s silly to trust a human being – even if that human being is yourself – more than Divine God.
II. Why We Doubt
This is not political, but pastoral.
In New York, the number of diagnoses each day has been going down. That’s good news. And maybe you saw that in response to that, the governor said this:
“The number is down because we brought the number down.” “God did not do that. Faith did not do that. Destiny did not do that. A lot of pain and suffering did that... That’s how it works. It’s math. And if you don’t continue to do that, you’re going to see that number go back up. And that will be a tragedy if that number goes back up.”
I get it. He was trying to tell people to keep social distancing, because it’s working.
But to say that it’s working apart from God?
Why can’t God have worked through a variety of messages, to turn people to do the kind thing and stay home… in addition to providing doctors and nurses the know how to work with patients and government leaders the wisdom to make wise policies.
Doubting that God is alive and working.
Sounds a lot like Thomas doubting that Jesus is alive and working.
Why do humans doubt God so much?
A few reasons…
(1) Doubt Arises from trusting HUMAN SENSES more than Jesus.
This was Thomas’ simple reason for not believing.
Unless he saw Jesus, touched Jesus, smelled Jesus, and heard Jesus, he wouldn’t believe.
It’s the same with us.
I don’t see God helping me with my finances, I only see it going down.
I don’t hear God’s voice calming my fears. I only hear the cries of panic from the rest of the world.
I can’t touch Jesus and give him a hug. I can’t touch anyone and give them a hug!
God doesn’t care.
God isn’t helping.
God isn’t there. y cares.
Do you realize how unreliable human senses really are?
Have you ever been to the eye doctor and had to cover up one of your eyes to read the eye chart? And they ask you to read line 4 and you’re like, “I think that’s a F. I know that’s an F. It must be an F.” So, you say, “I think it’s an F” and they say, “Nope. That’s an E.”
Our eyes are not totally reliable.
Have you ever seen those Febreze commercials where they blindfold people and put them in a room filled with garbage! Old banana peels, dirty diapers, mounds of pet hair. But…they cover it up with Febreze and the people think, “We must be in some kind of a rose a garden.”
Our noses are not totally reliable.
Auditory hallucination occurs when a person’s brain rewires itself to believe that certain thoughts or segments of music are being heard when in fact they are not. This can be caused by a concussion, a brain lesion, psychiatric disease or even high levels of caffeine. In an article published by the Scientific American, an estimated 15% of American Adults aged 18-64 regularly struggle with audio hallucinations, while that number doubles to 33% after the age of 65.
Our ears are not totally reliable.
He told a paralytic to walk and he did.
He told a blind man to see and he did.
He told a deaf man to hear and he did.
Trust Jesus more than your Senses.
(2) Doubt Arises from trusting HUMAN FEELINGS more than Jesus.
It wouldn’t make a lot of sense to conclude, “I’m feeling gloomy today, therefore, the sun must not be in existence anymore.”
Nor it is sensible to say, “I’m feeling scared, therefore, giant spider aliens must have invaded earth.”
Objective truth is not tied to subjective feeling.
Yet, we do this with God all the time.
I don’t feel very happy about the pandemic, God, so this must be the wrong choice.
The virus is making me sad, God, so you must not care about me.
I feel angry at the economic ramifications, so I’ve concluded that God is in the wrong.
There are all kinds of problems with trusting human emotions.
Human emotions are flimsy. They change rapidly and repeatedly.
Human emotions are singular. They consider one’s self and ignore how someone across the country is affected.
Human emotions are tied to health. If you get good sleep, it’s easier to feel happy.
But perhaps most importantly, the problem is that human feelings are tainted by sin.
You might feel sad that you aren’t able to go back to work, because making money was a great distraction from having to interact with your children.
You might feel angry that you can’t go to the gym, because you miss flirting with the instructor – even though she’s married and so are you.
I can feel sad that we’re doing online church. Some of the reasons for that sadness may be that I’m not able to feed my ego like I used to. Sinful.
But Jesus’ emotions were not tainted by sin.
When Jesus was about to go to the cross, it was the disciples who yelled at him and told him not to do it, because it made them sad.
If Jesus would have listened, they may have been happy for a moment – and currently sad as they spend forever in hell.
Instead, Jesus ignored human emotion and did what was necessary to save them – and us – with his death on the cross.
(3) Doubt Arises from trusting HUMAN REASON more than Jesus.
Here’s human reason on the coronavirus.
The coronavirus pandemic is causing suffering.
Therefore, the coronavirus pandemic isn’t good.
Therefore, God is either…
…good, but not really in control.
…in control, but not good.
…not existent at all.
Here’s some logic.
Humans aren’t perfect.
Therefore, their reasoning is imperfect.
Humans don’t know everything
Therefore, their reasoning is limited.
Humans aren’t always right.
Therefore, their reasoning is morally flawed.
If human reason is limited, imperfect, and morally flawed, then…
Maybe our reasoning about God during crisis is limited, imperfect, and flawed too.
It is unlimited.
It is perfect.
It is always right.
It is still unlimited.
it is still perfect.
it is still right.
III. Why We Shouldn’t Doubt
Like in the case of Thomas.
It didn’t make sense to Thomas that Jesus was alive.
It wasn’t rational.
It wasn’t reasonable.
Thomas didn’t understand it.
He gave his ultimatum.
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25)
After eight days, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Take your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting but believe.” (John 20:26-27)
Thomas touches the goosebumps on Jesus arms.
He runs his fingers over the nail marks in his hands.
He puts his hand through the spear mark in his side.
“My Lord and my God!” (v.28)
That’s a total transformation.
Jesus has driven away Thomas’ doubt.
Instead asking “Why should I believe?” he begins to ask, “Why did I ever doubt?”
Jesus changes “why believe” into “why doubt.”
When you think about this story objectively, there were all kinds of reasons to believe.
There had been twenty-some eyewitness reports.
These reports came from a variety of appearances.
The tomb was empty.
There had been a group of trusted friends telling him that they had seen Jesus.
There had even been Jesus’ own promises that he would rise from the dead – long before it ever happened.
Jesus changes “why believe” into “why doubt.”
That’s true for you too.
Because Jesus conquered death.
Jesus conquered your sin.
Jesus lives on high.
He is still in control.
He is still in love with you.
And he is still working all things for your eternal good.
Stop doubting and believe.
IV. How to battle Doubt
Yet…we do struggle.
We are sinners.
We are weak.
We are imperfect.
If we live, we will face doubts.
How do we battle doubt?
A few lessons from Scripture:
(1) Recognize YOU Can’t Stop Doubt
This is an important point. Because what I fear some of you might do when you are done with this worship service is to say to yourself, “I need to stop doubting. I can do it.” Then, you head into the corner, scrunch your face up, and say, “Stop doubting. Stop doubting. Stop doubting.”
This will not work.
It won’t be long before you say, “I doubt that I can keep this up.”
After Thomas’ confession of faith, look at Jesus’ response:
“Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (v.29)
Did you hear that?
Jesus called people who believe without seeing as BLESSED.
Blessed can mean “gifted.”
People who believe without seeing didn’t develop that ability on their own.
God gave it to them.
Faith is a GIFT.
It isn’t something you earn.
It isn’t something you do.
It is something that God gives.
(2) Let God Battle Doubt for You
Though Jesus’ implies that faith without seeing is something that’s impossible for a human to accomplish on their own, in that same sentence, Jesus also implies that people do believe.
Look at John’s answer:
Jesus, in the presence of his disciples, did many other miraculous signs that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (v.30-31)
Did you see it?
God wants you to know the reality of the risen Jesus.
God wants you to know so that you live forever in heaven with him.
God wants you to know and – in order that you would know – he inspired John to write it down for you.
God’s Word Battles Doubt for Us
Doubting that God will take care of your family? God’s Word says, “The Lord is my shepherd. He leads me beside quiet water. He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23)
Doubting that God will be able to conquer COVID-19? God’s Word says, “Praise the Lord, my soul, forget not God’s benefits – He forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.” (Psalm 103)
Doubting that God will give you the finances you need? God’s Word says, “Look at the birds of the air; they don’t work, yet our heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable?” (Matthew 6)
Doubting that God isn’t mad at you from all your sin? God’s Word says, “In Jesus we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Ephesians 1:7)
God’s Word battles doubt for us.
When you are starting to doubt.
When you are feeling like God isn’t in control.
When your senses, emotions, and reason are battling you, run to God’s Word and let God battle for you.
And then, once the doubts subside…
(3) Anchor Yourself to God’s word
The one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6)
Because life is very much like a sea.
Our senses smack us in the face like waves.
Our emotions swirl around us.
Reason flies into our face like the wind.
When you are anchored in God’s Word.
When you are clinging to God’s promises.
When you are holding to Jesus…
You will not sink into doubt.
But stand on Jesus. Amen.
Last week we began our sermon series called VICTORY and were reminded how Jesus won the VICTORY over death with his glorious resurrection. Today we’re going back to the very first Easter to learn something else that Jesus gives use victory over. 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. When Fear Reigns
On the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were together…(Jn. 20:19)
I don’t think I’ve ever read this portion of Scripture before and felt so envious.
They weren’t practicing social distancing.
They got to be together.
They didn’t have to ZOOM.
They didn’t have to log on to YouTube.
Andrew didn’t have to tell Peter to turn his sound off when he wasn’t talking so that you could hear James the Less.
The disciples were together.
They weren’t having a meal.
They weren’t playing Settlers of Catan.
They weren’t enjoying drinks and throwing darts.
They were scared.
…the disciples were together… behind locked doors because of their fear of the Jews. (Jn. 20:19)
A latch at the top of the door.
A key lock from the inside.
A circular deadbolt.
A square deadbolt.
A combination lock.
One of those big old pieces of wood that you slide in front of the door.
A couple of chains.
A metal boot.
Even a bunch of chairs, tables, and boxes pushed in front.
The doors were locked because of the fear of the Jews.
They were talking about the religious leaders.
These guys were murderers.
They were vicious.
They had plotted.
They had planned.
They had pushed their agenda until Jesus had been brutally crucified.
If they did that to their leader, they might not stop until each of them was nailed to a cross.
But their fears were more than that…
The disciples were out of a job! With Jesus gone, their whole corporation had folded.
They couldn’t get out and make an income. They’d be risking arrest.
They were afraid for the future of their careers, afraid for the future of their families, and afraid for the future of their church
I bet they were even afraid of how they were going to get food through the night.
Without Jesus, FEARS reigns.
Because if Jesus were here, they’d be protected from the Roman soldiers. Jesus even drove out demons.
If Jesus were here, they didn’t need to worry about money. He once caught a fish with the exact amount of money needed to pay taxes.
If Jesus were here, they’d be taken care of, he fed over 5000 people with a few loaves of bread and two fish. He could use that leftover ground beef in the fridge and turn it into a Taco Supreme with the snap of his fingers.
Jesus wasn’t there.
And without Jesus,
This is a big problem in our world right now.
The devil is trying to distract us with bad report after bad report, terrible news after terrible news, horrible thing after horrible thing.
So that we miss out on Jesus.
Without Jesus, Fear reigns.
If I’m honest…
It’s worked on me.
I’ve been afraid.
What are some things that pastors are afraid of during COVID-19? I’ll tell you.
Afraid of never getting another high five.
Afraid that having to stay between lines will condition me not to move back and forth while I preach.
I’m afraid that we will lose momentum.
Afraid that those Sanctuary Updates…may never happen?
Afraid that our idea for a satellite church in Durham will stall.
Afraid that offerings will go down and we’ll have to trim our ministries?
Afraid that Precious Lambs will barely survive.
Afraid that we’ll lose families.
Afraid that we’ll lose workers.
Afraid that the virus might get to one of you.
Afraid that the virus might be spread by me.
Afraid that because of quarantine laws, one of our members might be dying and I won’t be able to see you in person before your final breath.
Afraid that we might not be able to get to little Daniela.
Afraid that she’ll get sick.
Afraid that since she’s immunocompromised that if she gets sick…
…I’ll never get to meet her.
That’s how it feels when the devil distances me from Jesus.
Because without Jesus, FEAR reigns.
II. Replacing Fear
But here’s the good news for you and me:
…The devil can never do that for very long.
…Because Jesus always finds his people.
…even behind locked doors.
Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, “Peace be with you!” (Jn. 20:19)
To be honest, their initial reaction was probably fear. In fact, the Gospel of Luke tells us that, “they were terrified and thought they were looking at a ghost.” (Luke 24:37)
To help with their fears, “Jesus showed them his hands and side” (20:20a)
Here. Feel the bumps on my skin.
Put your hands on my face. Warm, right?
Touch the ridges of the nail scars.
Notice the spear shaped mark in my side.
I’m not a ghost
I’m not a figment of your imagination.
And here’s what happens next
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. (v.20b)
Did you see that?
It had been a room filled with fear.
But when Jesus enters the room?
He turns it all around.
And its replacement?
Jesus replaces FEAR with JOY.
Afraid of lost income? Jesus offers your eternal riches that will never run out.
Afraid of a lost job? Jesus gives you a place working aside him in his kingdom.
Fearful of the virus? Jesus defeated death itself!
Fearful for your family? Jesus says you will always be a part of his.
Fearful for your church? Jesus is the church’s One foundation. It will not lose.
Afraid of being alone? Jesus is with you now and will never leave you.
III. Proclaiming Peace
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Look at what he does next:
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you! Just as the Father has sent me, I am also sending you.” (Jn. 20:21)
Notice how that starts: PEACE. Jesus says it again!
And I don’t think any of the disciples were upset that Jesus repeated himself. (Honestly, there shouldn’t be a limit in the number of times that God’s people can hear him say: “PEACE.”)
But I think there’s a reason he does this specifically here.
As they realize that it’s all true.
As they realize that Jesus really rose from the dead.
As they realize that he truly was standing before them…
It’s quite possible that another fear hit them.
He’s come to get us back!
Last we saw him, we abandoned him.
We denied him.
We went and hid while he faced death by himself.
We are sinners. Our Holy God has returned to get us!
Oh no! Please shoot your lightning bolts in Peter’s direction. It was all his idea!
But Jesus didn’t shoot them with a lightning bolt.
He didn’t yell at them.
He didn’t even give them a stern look.
He simply said:
I’m not here to hurt you.
Your sins are forgiven.
I’m not here to hurt you.
I’m here to recruit you.
PEACE-filled people proclaim PEACE.
Imagine with me what it will be like.
You’re watching the news.
Suddenly, there’s a breaking report.
The quarantine is over.
The virus is in remission.
What are you going to do when your spouse comes into the room and ask, “Has anything interested happened?”
Are you gonna say, “Nah.”?
No, you’ll tell her the good news.
You’ll text message a friend.
You’ll Facebook live yourself doing a Coronavirus is conquered dance.
We have better news than that.
Our sins have been forgiven.
Jesus conquered death.
We have the promise of eternal life.
This is worth sharing.
IV. What Now?
How do you do it? How do we proclaim peace in a COVID-19 world? I want to switch gears and head to the book of 1 John. That is the first letter written to believers everywhere by the Apostle John. John was one of the Apostles in that room on the first Easter Sunday. He was a guy that had been filled with fear until Jesus showed up and transformed it into joy.
He knows a thing or two about driving fear from people’s hearts,
Because Jesus drove fear from his own heart.
Listen to what he writes in 1 John 4:16-18.
God is love. He who remains in love remains in God and God in him. In this way his love has been brought to its goal among us, so that we may have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are just like Jesus. There is no fear in love, but complete love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. (1 John 4:16-18)
I love how that starts.
God is love.
Love is God.
It doesn’t say that God is FEAR.
It doesn’t say that God is ANXIETY.
It doesn’t say that God is TERRIFYING.
God is love.
Because God is love, he drives our FEAR.
And, because you are loved, God drives out FEAR through YOU.
How might God drive out fear through you? A few points
(1) Fill Your Heart with God
This is an important point. Because it is hard to be loving towards others when you’re afraid.
Do you remember my dog Frankie? The one that’s absolutely terrified of laundry baskets? Usually she’s friendly.
Usually she licks your hands.
Usually she has no problem cuddling next to you and showing you puppy love.
If that laundry basket is there?
She runs away.
No love is shown.
Because it’s hard to be loving towards others when you’re afraid.
So, how do we keep fear out of our hearts? Look at verse 16 again:
He who remains in love remains in God and God in him. (1 John 4:16)
This is a cup. It’s filled with air. You know it. I know it. We all know it .
If I wanted to get rid of the air, it would be difficult.
I can pour it out? Still filled with air.
I can dump it upside down? Still filled with air.
I could crush it. It’s still filled with air.
The same is true with fear.
If you have it in your heart, it’s there.
You can try to hide.
You can try to distract.
You can drink a lot.
You can yell a lot.
In the end, fear is still there.
Do you know the only way to remove the air?
Fill it with something else.
It’s the same thing with FEAR.
The only way to DRIVE OUT fear from your heart is to FILL your heart with JESUS.
That’s what we’re doing right now. Keep doing it.
Join a daily devotional.
Add an afternoon devotional.
Add an evening devotional.
Add a bible reading before bed.
Go to sleep to the Bible app (and the guy on the Bible app has such a gentle voice)…
Go to sleep to the Bible app reading from the Psalms.
If you want to drive out fear from OTHERS, fill your own heart with JESUS.
(2) Live God’s Love
In this way his love has been brought to its goal among us, so that we may have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are just like Jesus. (1 Jn. 4:17)
Because God’s Love is much different than the world’s love. The world’s love is very emotion based. “It’s about people making you feel butterflies and fireworks and sparks.”
God is love.
And I doubt God felt butterflies for you and me on the cross.
Because we were still sinners that
Yet God is love.
He still died for us. He still rose for us. He still saved us
God’s love is not an emotional reaction.
God’s love is an action DESPITE an emotional reaction.
And God isn’t calling you to feel butterflies with everyone you meet.
He’s calling you to perform actions of love even when others make us feel like we don’t want to
God’s calling you to…
…get up from the couch, do the dishes, even if your spouse didn’t ask in a nice voice.
…text message something nice to that person at work, even if they’ve just been badmouthing you on the group chat.
…give a call to your grandma, even if she’s mostly grouchy.
…spend time with your kids, even if they’re really cranky.
…help out that neighbor, who’s never friendly and always frowning.
Live God’s action-centered love.
(3) Speak the Gospel
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. (v.18)
Perfect love? That’s impossible for sinful humans to achieve.
Perfect love? That’s exactly who Jesus is.
He lived for us.
He died for us.
He rose for us.
That’s the message of love that drives out fear!
Remember earlier – how I described my fears.
Those were real fears.
But I don’t have them anymore. Know why?
I was talking to a pastoral friend. He let me vent. He let me share my fears.
And then…do you know what he said?
Even if all that happened, you’d be ok.
Because even if all that happened, you’d still have Jesus.
In fact, you have Jesus right now.
Don’t be afraid.
Without Jesus, fear reigns.
With Jesus, fear runs.
Share Jesus. Amen.
The other day I was sitting over at the Preschool eating some peanuts.
A young friend happened to pass by. She entered the room and asked, “Whatcha eatin’?”
“Peanuts,” I said.
She said, “May I have one?”
There were only a few peanuts left. I gave her some and I popped the others into my mouth.
As I was lowering my hand from this delicious bite, I noticed another young friend at the door.
She came up to me.
Held out her hand and said, “Peanuts?”
Unfortunately, I didn’t have any left.
Even after five minutes of tears and loud screams, I’m not sure that I was able to explain it to her.
I was out of food – and there’s nothing I could do about it.
We’ve been going through the MIRACLES of Jesus and we have seen his power over INDIVIDUAL health challenges and over NATURE itself. But what happens when a bunch of individuals need help at the same time?
Does Jesus have enough power?
Before we get into a miracle with that exact challenge, 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 God of YOU
The miracle is written about in Matthew 15. It starts at verse 29:
Jesus moved on from there and went along the Sea of Galilee. He went up onto the mountain and sat there. (Matthew 15:29-31)
Jesus again stays near the Sea of Galilee. This has been one of his favorite places. It isn’t because the Sea of Galilee is such a “spiritual” place. There isn’t a temple there or quiet retreat center. Jesus went there because the people were there.
There’s a lesson for us. God wants us as his church to not just bring his message to this building, but to bring this message where the people are.
If Jesus were around today, he’d frequent a Starbucks.
He’d love the local library.
He’d be a big fan of Crabtree Valley Mall.
He’d be where people are – and we, as his people, need to be where the people are.
And the people, large crowds of people came to him. They brought the lame, the blind, the crippled, those unable to speak and many others. They put them down at Jesus’ feet and he healed them.
Granted – there aren’t any details in that sentence.
Maybe he grabbed the lame by the hand and pulled them to their feet or simply spoke, “Get up.”
Maybe he put his hands directly over a mute’s mouth or divinely patted them on the back to loosen their vocal cords.
Maybe he threw water on those with leprosy or maybe he had them dive into the Sea of Galilee.
Or maybe he just looked at the crowd and said, “All y’all are healed.”
I don’t know.
The point is that it happened. Jesus healed a crowd of people who came to him.
That’s important. Because look at the next sentence:
As a result, the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healed, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel.
The Bible had mentioned the mountains earlier. More than likely, this is a reference to a group of hills down to the south east of the Sea of Galilee. That’s important because this was an area that wasn’t inhabited by the Israelites alone. It was filled with Gentiles (that is, non-Israelites). Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, North Africans, and West Asians.
This explains the exclamation! They call Jesus “The God of Israel.”
“He’s the God that dwells in Israel.”
“He’s a real powerful God, too. He healed my cousin. The ‘gods’ of my country couldn’t do that.”
“And apparently, he cares about me, too. Even though I’m not Jewish and I don’t dwell anywhere near Jerusalem.”
Jesus is the God of ALL PEOPLE.
Sometimes it’s easy to picture Jesus like the Genie from Aladdin. If you remember the plot, the Genie is only able to grant wishes and help the last person to rub the lamp. It’s the reason that near the end of the movie, Aladdin tries to get him to save his life, but the Genie can’t, because Jafar was the last person to rub the lamp and the Genie must listen to him.
You might think Jesus can’t help you.
As if Jesus only helps those people of one particular race.
Or Jesus only helps those “churchy” looking people over there.
Or Jesus only listens to people who have a middle-class salary or above.
Jesus is the God of all people.
He helps all people.
He died, rose, and proclaims the kingdom of heaven for all people.
Jesus is the God of YOU.
You don’t have to look any farther.
It’s not like looking for a Valentine.
You don’t have to create a dating app profile.
You don’t have to worry about God swiping left.
You don’t have to get yourself hyped up to go to a bar late at night hoping to bump into the “right god,” at least for a night.
Jesus is the God of YOU.
He came to earth for YOU.
He lived perfectly for YOU.
He died innocently for YOU.
He rose triumphantly for YOU.
He brings forgiveness for YOU.
He gives the promise of heaven for YOU.
He proclaims peace with the Father for YOU.
Talk about a Valentine?
This is more than just a picture of a Thomas the tank engine that says, “I chooo-chooo—choose you.”
This is Jesus, your God, giving his blood, to be with you now – and in eternity.
II. The Miracle
But we haven’t even gotten to the BIG miracle yet. Look at the next verse:
Jesus summoned his disciples and said, “I feel compassion for the people, because they have remained with me already three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they might faint on the way.” (v.34)
Jesus was preaching out on the mountain and some people had been sitting there, staying there, and listening to him there for three days. (Like some kind of Christian overnight camp…
…just without the egg & spoon races.)
Apparently, on the third day, the camp food that people had packed had run out. They didn’t have any bread. They didn’t have any meat. They didn’t have a Fruit Roll up, a Twizzler or even a marshmallow for a s’more.”
Jesus recognizes that.
And he cares about that.
And he speaks to the disciples about this.
The disciples respond, “Where can we get so many loaves in the wilderness to satisfy such a large crowd?” (v.33)
They were in the middle of the wilderness.
There wasn’t any civilization around.
It’s not like right here at church where there’s bound to be food in the Fellowship Hall. But…if we did run out we could head over to Chick-fil-A, Moe’s, Tropical Smoothie, Smashburger, the Mediterranean place, or even the gas station down the block (They’ve got a great deal of two hot dogs for $3).
“Jesus,” they said, “we can’t get food from anywhere close.”
“Emphasis on we.”
You on the other hand…
Jesus asked them, “How many loaves do you have?”
They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” (v.34)
Understand: a normal loaf of bread in Ancient Israelite culture would be about the size of a pita bread with a bit thicker substance to it. That’s not bad for one person to eat.
But seven of them?
That could maybe feed seven.
Or fourteen, but it wouldn’t fill them.
Plus, they have a few small fish. Currently, there is a list of 27 different types of fish that dwell in the Sea of Galilee. Some of the most commonly referenced in antiquity writing include are salmon and red-bellied tilapia.
The tilapia is the smaller. It’s about 12 inches in length.
A few of those? Feed a small family.
Add that to the bread? Maybe 15. But those 15 are all still hungry.
Look what Jesus does.
He instructed the crowd to sit down on the ground.
He took the seven loaves and the fish.
He gave thanks.
He broke them.
He gave them to the disciples.
The disciples gave them to the people.
They all ate and were filled. They picked up seven basketfuls of the broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children. (v.35-37)
Dissect those words.
(1) All Ate
Not some. Not a few. Not half. Not even most. ALL ate.
It wasn’t as if one little kid missed out because his brother ate his portion.
It wasn’t as if dad had to forego food so his wife could eat.
It wasn’t as if there was some guy who stepped out to use the restroom and by the time he came back there wasn’t any.
Jesus cared for all of them.
He used his power to provide for ALL of them.
The word implies that food was completed in their tummies. There wasn’t any space left for anything else.
We’re talking full—full.
Golden Corral full.
Three bags of Family Sized Doritos full.
Jesus provided enough that ALL were FULL.
(3) 4,000 Plus
Back in the day, a group of people was counted by the able-bodied men. Men were the ones who joined the army. It made sense to have an accurate account of people that you could use as makeshift soldiers.
Scripture tells us that there were about 4,000 men who ate.
But there were also women and children.
If half of the guys had wives present…
And half those wives had one child present.
7,000 people isn’t hard to get to.
And yet all 7,000 some were fed by 7 loaves of bread.
(Can you imagine finding a loaf of bread in the grocer’s aisle that said that? Feeds 1,000).
(4) Seven Baskets Full of Leftovers
When Jesus is done, he has the disciples collect all of the leftovers. Remember – they only had one basket to begin with. After feeding 4,000 plus people, I would imagine there to be ZERO basketfuls left.
But the disciples…
Bring back seven.
This is a miracle.
It’s an amazing miracle!
It was witnessed by thousands!
And just like any miracle.
The miracle is a sign of Jesus’ power.
Here’s the TRUTH:
Jesus has power over the TINIEST MOLECULES of MATTER
He had power to create bread out of no more bread.
He created flour – without having to thresh the wheat.
He created salt – without having to mine the Galilean Sea.
He created yeast – without having to get yeast from wherever yeast comes from.
He created matter out of thin air because he has power over even the tiniest of molecules.
He has power over making sure you’re getting enough oxygen.
He has power to make sure that the hairs on your head remain on your head.
He has power to ensure that the raindrops don’t make the ground so wet that your car slides off course.
He has power to create a one celled little human life without the womb of a mother.
Since Jesus has power over the tiniest molecules…
And Jesus is the God of you…
Jesus has power in the TINIEST MOMENTS of YOUR LIFE.
Because sometimes there are moments in our lives that seem TOO small for Jesus.
Too unworthy of being cared about.
When you’re feeling a little blue, because your friends didn’t invite you to the movies, Jesus cares and has power to heal.
When you’re feeling a little guilty about those words you said, Jesus cares and has power to forgive.
When you’re feeling a little bit sick with a tiny headache coming, Jesus cares and has power to make you feel better.
When you’re feeling a bit nervous, because you’re the new kid at school, Jesus cares and has power to remain beside you always.
When you’re feeling a little intimidated at the work you have to do, Jesus cares and says, “I am with you.”
Look again at how well Jesus cares during those moments. During this miracle, he provided for the hunger of the crowd.
But he didn’t just dissipate it.
He didn’t just tide the people over.
He gave them food until they had ENOUGH.
Jesus changes the “I’m hungry” to “enough!”
He did that for the people physically. He literally created matter where there wasn’t any in order to make that happen.
Yes, I suppose he could do the same thing for us.
But normally Jesus provides for us in different ways.
He provides through…
…giving you strength to work and make some money.
…a Valentine’s Day gift card from a loved one.
…a night out with friend who pays for the appetizers.
…an awesome fellowship snack table after worship.
…a financial gift of a caring church member.
God provides so that we have enough physically.
But he also provides….spiritually. Because though the focus of this miracle is the bread that satisfies their bodies, but we can’t forget about what Jesus did the three days before this. He spoke to them the Gospel message.
In fact, that’s the reason that the people stayed listening to Jesus!
They were so enthralled by his three-day sermon.
Can you imagine a sermon that good? (Don’t answer that question).
Jesus provides spiritually even today.
He provides a plate full of forgiveness.
He provides a smorgasbord of salvation.
He provides an “eating out of your ears” amount of eternal life.
He provides for all your spiritual needs.
IV. What Now?
(1) Give Thanks
Did you see that in the story? Jesus, who is God, before he goes about created matter out of nothing, he takes a moment and gives thanks.
That moment focused everyone’s hearts on what God was about to do.
Do the same thing.
This isn’t just an encouragement to say your table prayers. You should.
Have you ever thought about the common table prayer?
The one from the Psalms?
“Oh, give thanks unto the Lord…”
That before a meal.
But also before.
Also after being able to buy a new pair of socks at Target.
Also after ordering a new DVD on Amazon.
Also after getting a stick of gum from your grandpa.
Also after receiving a 10th Starbucks drink free because of the Starbucks app.
All of these gifts are from God.
May we take a moment to GIVE THANKS.
(2) Find Satisfaction in Jesus
Because we are a nation of unsatisfied people.
The world knows that, and it tells you that it will offer you satisfaction….
…in THIS BEER.
…in this plate of NACHOS BELLGRANDE.
…in this CUP OF COFFEE.
…In this LEWD INTERNET PHOTO.
…In this RAUNCHY COMEDY clip.
…In this ANGRY Facebook rant.
…In this approval from other church members.
…in this approval from other family members.
…in this approval from a significant other.
But all those things?
Won’t fully satisfy.
All those things?
Will go away.
“I am the Bread of Life. The one who comes to me will NEVER be hungry.” (John 6:35)
Did you hear that?
In Jesus you are…
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.
Well it’s about that time of year again. That time when time is usually on our minds. In just two short days it will be one year later than it was a year ago, which usually prompts us to look back over that last year and figure out what we liked and usually more often what we didn’t like that we want to change next year. My mailbox has already been flooded with flyers for local gyms trying to guess what those goals might be for me.
But never minding the failed resolutions that inevitably come out of this, the real problem with all of that is that it tends to have a failed focus. The things we are proud of the year before and the things we strive to change in the next… well… are they the right things?
Today, let’s look at what the apostle Paul had to say and consider our past and our future in light of those words that God had him write. At the beginning of our section he writes:
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
If anyone had reason to be proud and confident, it was Paul. He was a paragon of virtue. He was born of the right people, God’s own chosen nation. He followed every command from God and every tradition of his people. He was part of the moral elite, the Pharisees. If he was around today, he could be bragging on Facebook about how all three of his perfect children were excelling in their own extra-curriculars while showing photos from his last tropical vacation, the new house he’s building, the promotion he got this year, and how he hit his target weight in half the time expected.
And what does Paul say about all these things he should be bragging about?
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
And now what does he say about that life? He considers it a loss. He doesn’t just find that entire life to be worthless, he actually considers it detrimental to his life. In fact, he considers everything a loss when it is compared to the greatness of simply knowing his Lord Jesus Christ. Now, if you remember back, if you were here for our summer series on the book of Acts, you may remember that this was not a conclusion that Paul came to on his own. He didn’t suddenly realize that all that was wrong and worthless. God had to reveal it to Paul.
In that confrontation on the road to Damascus, God appeared to him and made Paul aware of exactly how wrong and backward his life had been from start to finish. God taught Paul that everything of his own he thought he should be proud of was in reality something to be ashamed of, and there was nothing good in himself. The house, the job, the vacation, the perfect life – those things were all hurting him, not helping.
Why? Because they weren’t good enough. They couldn’t save him. No matter how hard he tried to do everything right and have the perfect life and have people love him and all that, it wasn’t good enough for God. God demands perfection. What’s more, God requires that he himself be the focal point of our lives. That we do everything for him. Paul hadn’t done all those things for God, he did them for himself! Everything he thought was worth anything wasn’t just a waste of time, it was actively keeping him away from the God who could save him.
It was at this point, at the bottom of everything, when Paul had all hope in himself cut out from under him, that God showed him his mercy and grace in Jesus. And Paul understood the only thing worth anything in this life is Christ himself. Paul gave up hope in himself and clung to the hope of Jesus as his savior, trusting that Jesus alone is the only way he can possibly be rescued.
Now Paul’s experience may sound outlandish, and maybe the circumstances are. But those aside, this is the experience that every Christian goes through to come to a knowledge of their savior, the same Christ. Each one of us has to realize: I am sinful. I cannot save myself. I need Jesus. Only he can help me. Only he is worth anything in my life.
And so, the question now is, as I’m looking back over 2018 and looking on to my plans for 2019 – do my thoughts show that I’m convinced of this truth?
Do I really consider everything I have apart from Christ is a loss? Do we really “buy” that, or are we feebly clinging to the notion that some of what we have or do or are is worthwhile, profitable, useful? Sure, there’s plenty of stuff it’s easy to look at and identify as useless and harmful. We know that indulging our sinful temptations is harmful to us. Sin damages faith, it hurts our relationship with our God and it risks our eternal life.
But of course, God himself gives us great things to be used for our recreation and enjoyment…what about those? Even with those we must be cautious. These gifts are to be used to enrich our lives of service to him. They are a means to an end. They help us relax, recharge, lift our spirits so we can continue our work for God. But when the gift becomes the purpose, when all our time and energy gets poured into one hobby or recreational pursuit, it ultimately becomes a loss for us, because again, it is distracting us and taking us away from the only thing that is to our gain, our Lord Christ.
But even that doesn’t go as far as Paul was talking here. Remember he listed off all the great things about himself that he had claim to. Every achievement or source of pride – what did he say about them? He considered a loss. And for the same reason: they served to distract and take him away from our God. It is the same for us.
We need to see that there is no difference here. It could be the grossest display of sinful indulgence or it could be chasing a goal that isn’t our Lord or it could just be plain old pride in myself and my abilities and accomplishments. They all do the same thing: they lead us away from God. The best of who we are, the best of what we have and do in our lives…these too are a loss! Pardon me for a moment while I get a little complicated. They are a loss when we view them this way. Let me elaborate.
If I look see the best I have as the best I have, then where is the focus? If the best I can do I view as the best I do, then where is the focus? If I am proud of myself for my accomplishments, for the things I have done with the strength of my hands or the skill of my intellect, then I am worshiping myself and am taken away from God. Even if I take pride in all the good things I do for God, that I give him my money and my time without complaint, that I am a helpful member of the church body, then I am still worshiping myself for how great I am.
It doesn’t matter what does it, it doesn’t matter how it comes about, whatever it is, if our focus slips from looking ahead to eternity, then it is a loss to us! What is to our gain, what we do need is to keep our eyes forward, on Christ, as Paul tells us here. He had plenty to be proud of, plenty to indulge in, but his reaction was anything that kept him apart from Christ, anything that caused him to focus on himself or anything that wasn’t Christ was a loss to him. And why? Because only Christ had what he truly needed. Forgiveness of sins and the gift of righteousness.
This is why it is so dangerous to let the things of this life steal our focus away from Christ. Just like Paul, all the best we have… can’t save us. We do not measure up to God’s standards. Without Jesus, we are dead. We would be cut off from God and left to an eternity without any of his mercy or grace. There is nothing worse than that. There is no goal to set that is more important than avoiding that outcome. But we cannot avoid it ourselves. Nothing we have changes this for ourselves.
Only Jesus makes a difference. And it makes all the difference. Where we are unworthy and have nothing good to offer, Christ makes us worthy. His life of obedience is credited to us, and his innocent sacrifice on the cross eliminates the debt we owe our God. In Christ, and only in him, are we saved. We are declared innocent before God our Father and we are promised a heavenly home is prepared for us at the end of our time here. Through him we will, as Paul says here, obtain the resurrection of the dead.
When we understand and accept this dynamic between us and our God, it changes how we view our lives and it changes why we do whatever it is we do. When we recognize that nothing we have to offer is good in its own merit, we no longer do things out of pride or for praise or for any reward. Rather we do the good we do because God has made it possible. He gives us the strength, the time, the ability, and it’s the blood of Christ that washes our actions and makes them good for God. And we keep this attitude by keeping our looking ahead to Christ. With eyes on him, on what he’s done for us and on where he’s waiting for us – that sets our goals and mind straight for the coming year. As Paul concludes our section today:
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
As Paul says, we have not yet fully attained this goal of looking ahead to our God. We have not fully become as like Christ as we would like. But we do strive always to be better at it. Not by waking up each day and promising to “do better”, that will get us nowhere or even take us backwards. The way to pursue Christ is by renewing our focus each day on him. Learning from him, studying him, growing closer to him. That is what Paul is striving for here.
And when we do that, there’s a natural side-effect: Christ’s power will work through us to accomplish what we cannot on our own. We will grow to be more like him. Now, we recognize that this work will never be completed in this life. We will always have room to grow in him. But that is not an excuse for us to simply give up and say “good enough!” We should never be satisfied with how far our devotion to Christ has progressed! This should be our number one goal every year!
But if you look back over the last year and think: well I sure didn’t do that, then I have good news for you. Our devotion to God is not perfect and we should not despair when we do not live up to God’s standards. We strive, strive, strive… but never despair when we fail. It is because we fail that we have a savior. It is because we fail that Jesus died. And it is because of Jesus that our failures are forgiven. Forgotten. We show our love to God by showing him what he’s worth to us, but our expressions of love to God are simply that, they are not what keeps us in his favor, they are not what make him love us. There will be times of failure and every time we return to him, he has forgiveness for us.
Brothers and sisters, forget what is behind. Forget the things that drag you down to this world and hold you here. Forget your pride and yourself. And don’t look back with regret either. Forget your own failures; God already has. Leave the past in the past. Strain toward what is ahead. Look ahead to the prize that God won for you. Press on toward it. Make that your goal for 2019 and beyond. Reach for Christ every day like your life depends on it. God is reaching back for you, taking hold of you, guarding and guiding you every step of every day. Stay close to him, draw close to him. You are a forgiven child of God, you have absolutely everything to look forward to in him. Amen.
Last week we heard God’s call to RETURN to the One who is Faithful even when we’ve been unfaithful because He will be Faithful Forever! This week God calls us to return to Him for Abundant blessings! Before we dig into Scripture, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Severe Lack of Blessing?
Our lesson for today comes from 2 Kings 4. Chronologically we’re going even farther back in time than the last couple of weeks; though the situation is similar:
Two weeks ago, we heard God’s call to his 7th century B.C. people to leave idol worship behind and RETURN to Him.
Last week we heard God’s call to 8th century B.C. people to leave idol worship behind and RETURN to Him.
This week we get to hear God’s call to 9th century B.C. people to leave idol worship behind and RETURN to Him.
It’s a bit like my high school Football coach. “Furious Feet! Furious Feet! Furious Feet!” He said it all the time.
When we were in practice: “Furious Feet!”
When we were in the 1st quarter: “Furious Feet!”
When we were tied in the 4th quarter: “Furious Feet!”
When we were in Pizza Hut after the game; “Furious Feet!” (OK, maybe not that last one)
You get the point? We kept forgetting. He kept rebuking.
The same was true with God. The people kept forgetting Him, He kept rebuking them:
“RETURN to me.”
In fact, in all of 1st and 2nd Kings you would hear the call of “RETURN to me,” so often that it makes you wonder if anyone ever stayed close to God.
Enter 2 Kings 4. It’s an account that takes place within a small community of prophets. It was a group of people that had dedicated themselves and their families to serving the Lord. They spoke His message and stayed closed to Him.
Unfortunately, for one woman who had not abandoned God, recent events had made it seem like God was the one who had abandoned her:
“The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as slaves.” (2 Kings 4:1)
A couple of notes as to why this woman was in such despair:
(1) Recently Widowed. It doesn’t matter how tough you are – losing your spouse is hard. Your spouse is someone that you’ve known for a long time. Someone you’ve partnered with for a long time. Someone you’ve gone through ups and downs with for a long time. The Bible says in marriage that “two become one flesh.” When one of those two are removed from this world – that flesh is torn apart.
(2) She’s a Widow in a Society that wasn’t Friendly to Widows. In the 9th century B.C. world, society wasn’t that friendly to women – at all. There wasn’t equal pay. There weren’t equal job opportunities. In fact, there wasn’t much for women to do besides care for the family and help tend to whatever vegetables they were growing.
Now that this woman’s husband was dead, the family’s source of income was dead. She had to feed herself. She had to feed her kids. She had to pay the rent, feed the animals and pay the bills. The last of which leads to the third problem.
(3) She had an Old Testament Credit Shark after Her. Yes. Even back then, in Old Testament Israel, there were bill collectors. They couldn’t call you on the phone. They couldn’t send you email after email. They couldn’t text message you or lower your credit score, so…they showed up at her front door.
For some reason, I’m picture this guy with one of those curly moustaches and a maniacal laugh.
Because this guy tells her that if she doesn’t pay him back, he’s going to take away both of her sons and make them into slaves. They will work for years trying to pay back what was rightfully his.
And to be fair – this wasn’t illegal. In Old Testament society, it was common for:
(1) families to be held responsible for other family member’s debts
(2) people to be taken as slaves in order to work off debts.
This was why she was in need.
This was why she was turmoil.
This was why she was in need of help from an Almighty, All Loving, Always Faithful, Shepherd God!
But she was having a hard time reaching out to him. Because…
(4) She was Struggling with Faith. Look carefully at her words to the lead prophet Elisha, “YOUR servant is dead and YOU KNOW that he revered the Lord.” It’s almost an accusation against the company of prophets, against the work that they did together, again Elisha, against…God:
Where is this God guy?
He’s supposed to be a shepherd?
He’s supposed to have Good Ways?
He’s supposed to always be faithful?
My husband is dead.
I have no job.
I have no money.
I’m going to lose my sons.
Where is this God guy?
All those prophets that worship Baal? They’re doing fine. Their wives wear diamonds. Their kids have Xboxes. They have fully founded 401Ks.
We’ve been following God our whole lives. Even devoting our lives to him – and now we’re losing everything.
I don’t think God can help.
I don’t think God cares.
I don’t think God is real.
Can you relate?
II. The Real Issue
To be fair – Elisha does not get very defensive.
He listens to her.
He hears her complaints.
Then, he offers his response: How can I help you? (v.2)
I have to confess the first couple of times that I read that I read it like this: “How can I help you?” as in “What types of things do you think I could do to be helpful?” But – the thing is Elisha follows up by asking her about what she has in her house. It becomes obvious that he knows exactly what she wants and exactly how to help her.
That’s why I think we’re supposed to read this not as “What things can I do to be helpful?” but “How can I help you?”
As in, I’m just a human.
As in, I’m just a sinner.
As in, why not go to God?
Why not seek the One who is faithful?
Why not reach out to the One who cares for you?
Do you see the implication? She was looking for help Away from The Helper.
And that’s the first WHAT NOW for you and me as well.
If you’ve got problems and you’ve got issues and you’re looking for help, but you aren’t seeking the Helper…how do you expect to find help?
That’s like walking into Home Depot. Not having any idea where to find the 7” Circular band saw that you’re looking for. Walking right past the Help Desk. Ignoring the Customer service counter. And when the nice gentlemen in the orange apron asks, “How can I help you?” responding with “I’m good. No help needed.”
God is our Help.
God is always faithful.
God is always good.
God is always shepherding his flock.
That woman didn’t seem to recognize it.
Now…God as going to prove it.
III. God’s Incredible Abundance
Elisha asks the woman a second question, “Tell me, what do you have in your house?” (v.2)
Which seems like good advice.
Ransack your home for something to sell.
Perhaps a rummage sale – or a lemonade stand.
But the woman responds that she has nothing…nothing besides a one small jar of olive oil.
Something she could use for a couple of meals.
Something she could cook up a meal or two – if she had anything to put in the olive oil.
Something that might last a day or two before it was totally gone.
Elisha tells her, “Go around and ask all of your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few.” (v.3)
If I’m that woman, I’m a bit confused.
Empty jars? That’s like the ancient version of Tupperware.
Everyone had a lot of empty jars.
Empty, clay, worthless jars. They stored everything from water to oil to food.
But you want me to get empty jars?
Sure, Elisha, I’ll go ask them for empty jars and then I’ll open a business where I sell the Tupperware to people who have lids that don’t fit on any of their current Tupperware – because everyone has 20 some odd Tupperware and 20 some odd Tupperware lids that don’t’ fit any of those 20 some odd Tupperware.
She might have been a bit frazzled.
But she listens.
Until she gets to the next part of Elisha’s instruction:
Go inside. Lock all the doors behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all of the jars and as each is filled, put it to one side. (v.4)
My jar is little. These jars are big.
My jar is one. These jars are many.
Yet – you want me to pour my oil into this big jar?
You want me to pour this tiny bit of oil into that gigantic jar?
Done. It’ll take me about three seconds.
She lifts up the little jar.
Her son brings over a large jar.
She takes a deep breath.
And the jar is full, “Son, get another one.”
And she pours
And she pours some more.
And she says, “Get a couple to stand by.”
And she pours.
And she pours.
And she pours.
And she fills up every jar in that room with oil.
Until she gets to the last jar…
And she asks her son for one more.
And he says, “Mom, we don’t have anymore!”
And just like that – the oil stops.
She takes the oil.
She sells the oil.
She pays off her debts.
Friends, there is no explanation for why the oil kept pouring.
It wasn’t the other jars – they were empty.
It wasn’t from her friends – the doors were locked.
It wasn’t from Mary Poppins – this isn’t 18th century London.
This was God.
A miracle from God.
A miracle from the abundant blessings of God.
The Bible says this, “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” (James 1:17)
It says this, “Test me and see if I won’t throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour open so much blessing that there will not be enough room to store my blessings.” (Malachi 3:10)
It says this, “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor. 9:8)
God has an abundant number of blessings.
It’s like if you take all of our needs, all of our wants, all of our desires – clothing, shoes, food, drink, money, health – and we fit them into one of those little Dixie cups with a Disney character on the side.
We think about bringing that Dixie cup to God, but then for some reason we conclude:
He can’t handle this.
This is too much.
I’ve gotta do this on my own.
But the truth is that as we bring our Dixie cup sized requests to God – He begins pouring – pouring out abundant blessings.
And it’s like Niagara Falls in that Dixie cup.
God is able to abundantly provide for you.
God does abundantly provide for you.
And you might say, “But why don’t I get the million dollars that I asked God for way back in 5th grade? God must not be that abundant.”
Do you remember what happened with the oil?
It only stopped flowing because the family couldn’t handle anymore.
It’s not like God couldn’t produce more; the family didn’t have the ability to handle more.
Here’s the truth:
The problem isn’t God’s abundance; it’s our ability to handle God’s abundance.
God says, “You can’t handle that million dollars. You’d spend it all on Doritos and end up on the street.”
God says, “You aren’t yet strong enough to handle fame. You’d trust yourself and stop trusting me.”
God says, “If I bless you with that job, you’ll forget about me, disown me, and remove yourself from eternal life.”
God says, “I’ll provide for you abundantly, even abundantly providing for you means barely providing for you so that you keep your eyes on me and receive the MOST abundant blessing that I have to offer.
Case and point:
We have our own legal indebtedness. It’s true.
And now – I don’t have a hold of your Credit Card score, nor have I been compromised by the Lizard Lick Repo.
The Bible says that we are legally indebted to God.
We are supposed to live perfectly.
Every time we sin, we owe him the legal debt of death. “The Wages of sin is death.” (Romans 3:23)
But God has an abundance.
He came to earth.
He lived perfectly without incurring any sin debt of his own.
He died innocently to pay for your sin debt.
And the payment was abundant.
Because his blood began to pour from his side…
It covered your first sin.
His blood kept pouring from his side…
Enough to cover your second.
It kept pouring…
37th sin covered.
It kept pouring….
Bring me the 2,708th!
It kept pouring…
That’s sin number 120,262 completely covered.
God’s blood poured out on the cross until every last one of your sins was covered.
Such that YOU are abundantly forgiven.
And the blessings don’t stop there!
You now peace with God.
You are a part of his kingdom.
You are His child.
You are loved.
You are in His care.
You are never alone.
You are empowered by His Spirit.
You are given gifts of the spirit.
You have the promise of heaven.
You will conquer death.
You will live forever with him because of His abundant blessings in Jesus!
Friends, God provides abundantly.
Return to Him and take part of his abundant blessings. Amen.
We are continuing our series on the book of Acts. Throughout the book, we have seen how the Gospel of Jesus confronts all kinds of sins. The self-righteousness of the Pharisees, the Satanic worship of Simon, the persecution of Saul…
But today, we are going to look at a time when the Gospel confronted a weird kind of sin. A kind of sin that is STRANGE, but not all that uncommon in our modern world. In fact, if we’re not careful, it can become a problem here at Gethsemane. In the next minutes, we want to identify (1) what the weird kind idol worship is (2) how does it manifest itself in our own lives and (3) how do we defend against it? Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Weird Kind of Idol Worship
The lesson starts in Acts 14:8 in a place called Lystra. Before we get into what happens there, let’s briefly recap where Paul and Barnabas have been so far:
Pisidian Antioch. While there, Paul and Barnabas had the opportunity to preach in the synagogue. The response? A few believed; others argued with them; shouted at them; and verbally abused them. When Paul responded by taking the Gospel outside the synagogue and to areas where people that weren’t even associated with the synagogue were, the opposers tracked him down, orchestrated a mob and threw Paul and Barnabas outside the city.
Iconium. While there, Paul and Barnabas again preached in the synagogue. Again, some believed. And again, some resorted to verbal abuse to get Paul to shut up. Paul responds by speaking boldly for the Lord (v. 4), but again the opposition is strong. The people of Iconium begin to plot, not just to throw Paul out the city, but to stone him to death – a fate avoided because of a few loving friends who sneak them out of the city.
In short, things weren’t going that well for Paul and Barnabas.
The Mission Trip had become a bit of a downer.
I imagine they hoped things would get better soon.
In Lystra, there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking> Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk. (v.8-10)
If you’ve been following this entire series, maybe you’re starting to think: “Another paralyzed man made to walk?” Isn’t that like three times already?
Peter did it. (Acts 3)
Philip did it. (Acts 8)
Peter did it again. (Acts 9)
And now Paul did it.
But it doesn’t get any less impressive, does it?
He had been lame…from birth.
That means he had never walked.
He had never stood.
He had never taken a step.
Never done a burpee.
And all it takes is him hearing about Jesus’ incredible power…
About how He healed the paralyzed.
About how He healed the lame.
About how He walked again after his own predicament – this thing called death – where you really can’t move at all – and yet Jesus rose from the dead and walked again!
About how He promised all who believed in Him healing in heaven.
The man hears all of that, believes and is healed.
This wows the crowd!
They see the man healed.
And they started chanting…
…but not for God.
When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas they called Zeus and Paul they called Hermes. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas. (v. 11-13)
In the world of the Early Church, Greek was the main language that just about everyone knew. It was useful for trade and communicating between countries. It’s similar to English in today’s world. If you know English, you’ll be able to communicate in just about any country.
Paul had probably been speaking in Greek with the crowd. But when the crowd sees what happens, they are so excited that they immediately revert back to their Lycaonian language.
It’s kind of like if you’re practicing Spanish. And you’re thinking really long and hard about words to use. You’re considering tense and voice and mood. Until…you a get text message that your grades are in and you got an A” and you start shouting: “Awesome!” No Spanish; just English. It’s your heart language that speaks when you’re excited.
That’s the reaction of the crowd. They begin shouting in their native tongue with excitement because they believe that Paul and Barnabas are gods. More specifically; they call Zeus and Hermes. Those are the names of the Greek gods which had a very prevalent religious following in the Ancient World. Zeus was the god of thunder. He’s the one who hurls lightning bolts from the sky. Hermes was the messenger god – he’s the one who brought messages from the gods of Mt. Olympus to the people of earth.
Nowadays there aren’t a lot of people that still believe in these gods. It’s kind of an ancient, defunct religion. But it still holds some power in Hollywood. Including one of my favorite versions from the movie Hercules: Zeus and Hermes. (If this is what people thought of when they mentioned Hermes, I’d be a bit upset if I was Paul… Why does Barnabas get the big muscular guy?)
The people don’t stop at calling Paul and Barnabas gods; they want to worship them like gods. The priest of Zeus was nearby. He runs to the local temple. He opens it up with his keys. He grabs some of the oxen that they were going to sacrifice to Zeus later that week; he takes down some of the incredible, ornamental wreaths around the temple, and he makes his way back to the crowd – ready to offer his gifts to Paul and Barnabas.
The people are smiling.
They people are shouting.
The people are thinking that Paul and Barnabas are gods!
How are Paul and Barnabas going to react?
To be fair – this must have been pretty nice.
Recently, they had been verbally abused, rejected and threatened with being stoned.
It must have been nice to have a crowd that loved them so much that they LITERALLY: worshipped the ground they walked on.
Paul could tell them to “Go, get us a hammock.”
To “Go, grab us a margarita.”
To “Go, cut down some palm branches and keep them waving as we, your gods, begin our cushy new life and reign over the city.”
It might be nice to have people worship you like a god…
That’s not what Paul and Barnabas do…
They get an interpreter.
They find out that the crowd thinks their gods.
They tear their clothes in agony.
And rush out into the crowd shouting:
“Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God.” (v.14-15)
Did you hear that?
Their message is to turn from THESE worthless things.
As turn from this worthless kind of idol worship.
And that worship kind of idol that you are worshipping…
WRITE THIS DOWN: Idol worship is fearing, loving or trusting anything more than God. The specific weird kind of idol worship that the people of Lystra were dealing in was fearing, loving and trusting in Paul and Barnabas more than God. It was putting people – even Jesus preaching people - above God.
II. A Not So Weird Kind of Idol Worship
But we are 21st century Americans.
We are an enlightened people.
We wouldn’t worship humans…right?
Remember the definition of idol worship:
It doesn’t necessarily mean that you bow down and worship them or that you hold worship services where you sing at a big statue of some person.
It means, loving, trusting, or fearing something or someone more than God.
And if that’s the definition, maybe this weird kind of idol worship is more common than we thought.
Here are a few ways that this weird kind of sin is plaguing society and maybe even plaguing your life.
This might be an easy one to see. Because the truth is that humans spend more on Instagram to see if the Kardashians have any new hairstyles than they do in the Bible to see if God has anything holy we need to emulate.
And it’s not just looking up to them either.
Imagine for a second that there a new social issue comes up. Some people say one thing about it. Other people say another thing.
But before you make a decision on how to react to the issue, you check to see –
What does Emma Stone have to say about that?
Did Arnold Schwarzenegger approve?
I can’t weigh in on the issue until the Rock posts a witty comment and tells me how to think.
Why go to a sinful people for how to think on an issue?
Why not go to God who is ALWAYS good and in fact invented absolute morality?
To trust a celebrity over God, that’s a weird kind of idolatry.
Notice I didn’t say science. I am not anti-science at all. I enjoy making a baking soda volcano as much as the next guy. Science is good. Science is valuable. Science helps you understand the complexities of God’s creation.
But science also has subjective presuppositions that go with it. When a scientist has the presupposition that there is no God and can be no God and anything not explainable by science must be a lie – then scientists will tell you that…
There’s no way that the miracles described in the Bible can happen.
There’s no way some dude died and then came back to life.
There’s no way some dude walked on water.
There’s no way some God made this world in 6 24-hour days.
There’s no way some dude made some paralyzed guy walk by just telling him to.
Here’s where it gets dangerous: If you trust that scientist, more than the God’s Word, then who you are really trusting?
God wants us to use His Word to inform our understanding of science.
Not scientists to inform your understanding of the Bible.
Because that’s trusting a scientist whose been here 40, 50, 60 years? More than God who was around since before eternity and has shown no signs of aging.
To trust a scientist over God… that’s a weird kind of idolatry.
This happens every time that elections roll around whether you are Democrat or Republican or any other kind of party. We listen to our favorite candidate speak. We become engrossed in their promises. We live and breathe whatever it is they are saying – and we put our trust in them to make our lives on this earth better.
And then when it doesn’t? We have a tendency to double down.
We have a tendency to defend that person no matter what they say and do.
Even if what they say and do is not godly. (And by the way. If you think I’m talking about one particular person right now, you’re wrong. This applies to a plethora of politicians from a plethora of political parties).
If the words of a sinful, fibbing politician become bigger dogma than the words of God, that’s a weird kind of idolatry.
Maybe you saw this one coming. This is essentially what happened with Paul and Barnabas. The people worshipped those who told them about worshipping the true God more than the true God. To be fair – this isn’t as obvious as it was in the story. There aren’t any hymns sung to the glory of me.
But…this is a danger.
A couple of years ago. I had been helping someone out over a few months. There had been counseling. There had been teaching. There had been phone conversations where I pointed them to Jesus and they found comfort.
But one week – as I had told this person – I was on vacation. I went up to the Midwest. I was visiting family and I saw his phone call. I saw it and tried to focus on my wife. They called again; I said …Nope I gotta focus on my wife. Finally, a third time… I figured it was an emergency.
“Yes, this is Pastor.”
“Pastor! We’ve got a problem. My wife said this, and I think she’s wrong. Can you please tell her so?”
Well…I’m kind of on my vacation.
Please, pastor? You’re the only one that can help.
Actually. No. God can help. Right now, I’m working on my family and I’m working on connecting with my wife.
But God can help. He speaks in his Word. He answers prayers.
Did you try any of that?
“So, you’re not gonna help then?”
Did you know that I have never seen that person again? It wasn’t for lack of trying, but I think it highlighted an issue:
That person trusted me more than God.
And that cannot happen.
And if you trust me, or some other pastor, or some other theological speaker more than God…
That’s a weird kind of idolatry.
To be fair – we could keep going on with this list, but I think you get the point.
If you fear, love or trust a person…any person more than God, then you are just like those people in Lystra. You are committing idolatry.
If you have been committing idolatry, you need to do exactly God, the real God says and “Repent. Turn from these worthless things to the Living God.” (v14)
III. The Real God
Because the REAL GOD? He is capable of immensely more than any human being. Listen to three quick reasons that Paul gives for worshipping the Living God:
1. He made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them…(v. 15)
We aren’t just talking about some celebrity who made one platinum record, but God who forged the very minerals necessary to make the entirety of all platinum within the bellows of earth.
We aren’t just talking about some scientist who has invented a way to identify one strand of DNA, but the God who invented and distributed every single strand of infinitesimal DNA in the history of the universe ever!
God is so much more powerful than any human could dream to be.
2. He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons…and plenty of food... (v.17)
We aren’t just talking about some politician who might make your life on earth better for a bit…if they can get their laws to pass and if they don’t change their mind, but we are talking about the God
who has provided food for the whole world.
Who keeps the sun shining.
Who keeps the rain raining.
Who keeps the plans growing.
Who has given you broccolis and bananas, grapes and grape wine, corn on the cob and the corn necessary to make the Dorito!
God takes cares of you – even when you don’t believe in HIM and don’t give HIM glory – he takes cares of you.
And beyond that – God promises to take care of you for eternity.
God is so much more consistent than any human being could ever be.
3. He Fills your hearts with Joy. (v.17)
We aren’t talking about some pastor -- who might be able to help you feel a bit better…if he isn’t distracted, if his training allows and if he’s not sleeping.
God is always able to help.
He’s never distracted.
He knows all things.
He has never slept and will never sleep…not even for an afternoon nap.
God is constant.
And God brings the ultimate joy! Because…who else do you know that can save you from sin?
No human can save from sin.
Only God himself who came down as a human to save us from sin.
Want proof? Easy.
Most humans die. Many humans that many have looked up to over history have died:
Julius Caesar? Dead.
Stephen Hawking? Dead.
Jesus? He died, but then…He did the one thing that no living human has ever been able to do – He brought Himself back to life.
This is Jesus.
This is the REAL, LIVING GOD.
If you put your faith in Jesus, He provides complete, absolute forgiveness for all your sins of idolatry.
For all the times you have trusted others more…
For all the times you have feared others more…
For all the times you have loved others more…
Jesus brings absolute forgiveness.
IV. WHAT NOW?
Look at how this lesson ends. Paul tells them that he’s not God and the people get rather upset.
In fact, what happens is that the riot group from Antioch meets up with the people who plotted in Iconium, they make their way to Lystra – rile up the crowds there and suddenly:
The very group that had previously been worshipping Paul, drag him outside the city.
They throw him on the ground.
They shout violent and vicious things.
They pick up stones.
They hurl them at his head.
He falls to the ground in the heap.
And the people? They cheer.
They high five.
They leave feeling pretty good – they’ve killed that God lover.
But Paul? He’s not dead.
God has given him life.
And he gets up.
And he brushes himself off.
He meets up with Barnabas and keeps preaching about Jesus.
Friends, you do the same.
Keep trusting in the TRUE God.
Keep preaching about the TRUE God.
And the true God…He will give you Life. Amen.
We’re picking up right where we left off last week in the book of ACTS. If you remember, last week we heard about a guy named Saul. Saul was the Commander-in-Chief of Destroying the Gospel and murdering any Christian he came across. He hated Jesus. He hated Christians. He persecuted Christians to death.
Then, something happened.
Jesus appeared to him.
Jesus spoke to him.
Jesus brought him to repentance.
Jesus forgave him.
And Saul came to faith. He was baptized. He learned from other Christians and soon began preaching the very message he had been persecuting.
Jesus visibly appeared to Saul.
And empowered Saul to turn his life around.
Do you ever wish Jesus would do that to you?
Do you ever wish he would appear to you in the flesh, holes in hands, a reassuring pat on the back and a few magic tricks to prove that your faith is the truth?
Today we’re going to follow the Gospel as it makes its way to a few different cities filled with people who didn’t get to personally see Jesus and who hadn’t gotten to witness His miracles. Our goal is to discover, along with those people, that the Gospel is ABSOLUTELY TRUE. It’s powerful. It’s public. It’s proven.
But before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Two Stories of the Gospel’s Power
The true stories we want to look at start in Acts 9:32. Both these stories center around the Apostle Peter. He is one of the original 12 disciples. He lived with Jesus, worked with Jesus, and learned from Jesus. He saw Jesus die. He saw Jesus rise from the dead. He was personally commissioned by Jesus to “go and preach the good news of forgiveness in Jesus.”
At this point – Peter had done that. He had preached a sermon to over 3000 people at Pentecost. He had stood up for the Gospel in front of the enemies of Jesus. He had taught, commissioned and sent out newer disciples to share the Gospel.
Peter is kinda like District President (DP) Don Tollefson.
Who’s Don Tollefson? He’s a pastor. But a Pastor of a lot of people. Pastor Tollefson is the President of the North Atlantic District of our group of Lutheran churches. He encourages all the churches in the district. He helps facilitate ministry ideas. He shares resources. He travels from city to city to city, up and down the North Atlantic Coast uplifting congregations with the Gospel. Over the past couple of weeks, I know he’s been to Harrisburg, PA to help a mission congregation ready to get a pastor; he went up to Orleans, Ontario, Canada to commission a new pastor for our congregation up there; he made his way to Milwaukee, WI to meet with other District Presidents and develop plans for continuing to share the Gospel throughout the U.S In short, district presidents rack up quite the good number of frequent flier miles.
Peter was doing something very similar – without the frequent flier miles. He was travelling about the country. And he went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda. (v.32) Lydda was 27 miles to the Northwest of Jerusalem. Christians from Jerusalem had fled there during Saul’s persecution in Jerusalem and a tiny congregation had formed. Peter went to that small congregation at Lydda to encourage them.
While he was there, Peter did what pastors sometimes do when they visit other pastors. He went with local leadership into the community. Maybe grabbed some local fare, stopped by the local coffee shop and went by the park. It’s good to get to know the leaders of the local church and their community so that you can offer the proper advice and encouragement.
While Peter was doing this, he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden for 8 years. (v.33)
He hasn’t been able to walk.
He lays on the side of the street.
He never leaves the bed-like mat that his friends set up.
And the local congregation leaders must have been like: “Oh him!?! He’s there all the time. It’s a sad story really. He can’t get a job. He doesn’t have a lot of money. Sometimes we stop and give him bits of leftover sandwich from our last potluck, but…he’s kind of a lost cause. Anyways Peter, have you ever tried Potato Rounds before…eh…What are you doing?”
Peter moved away from the other leaders.
Peter moved towards the bedridden man.
Peter said to him:
“Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.”
And immediately Aeneas got up. (v.34)
Let that sink in.
No physical therapy.
No knee braces.
Not even an Essential Oil treatment.
Just words spoken in the name of Jesus.
And immediate, incredible, complete healing.
Meanwhile – 11 miles Northwest of this miracle – another congregation is having a tough time. In the town of Joppa, a very important member of the congregation had just passed away. Her name is Tabitha. According to Scripture, Tabitha was always doing good and helping the poor. (v.36)
It appears she made clothes for them.
She made food for them.
She delivered food to them.
She helped a lot of people.
But she had gotten sick and died.
When the disciples in Joppa heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!” (v.37)
Because this was a hard one.
Tabitha was such a blessing to the church and the community. Why would God take her? Why would she die?
Her death was confusing, maddening and saddening!
They needed answers. They needed comfort. They needed someone with a connection to Jesus like Peter had to uplift them with Godly words.
And Peter quickly realized this. He hurried up to Lydda. He went to Tabitha’s home.
When he arrived, it was filled with people.
Holding up shawls and dresses that Tabitha had made for them.
Handing him a piece of cake – in the style of which Tabitha used to make.
Falling to their knees and asking Peter, “Why?”
Eventually, they led him upstairs.
They showed him to the room where there lay Tabitha’s body.
Her cold, dead body.
Peter fought back tears.
If only he had gotten here earlier. He could have asked Jesus to do what he did for Aeneas.
He could have helped her.
He could have healed her just like Jesus had done.
There was something else Jesus had done, too…
Peter asked everyone to leave the room.
They obliged because – “Peter probably needs a moment or two to process…”
When he was alone, he fell to his knees.
Then, he looked up.
He turned to Tabitha’s cold, lifeless body and said:
“Tabitha, get up!”
She opened her eyes and seeing Peter she sat up. (v.40)
II. Three Truths about the Gospel
There are a lot of interesting themes to explore in these two stories. We could talk about the importance of working for the Lord like Tabitha. We could talk about the value of getting into the community how Peter found Aeneas. We could discuss the value in sending Synod Leadership to encourage congregations in faith.
But the heart of these stories – is the heart of the entire Bible – Jesus.
And Jesus is directly tied to the Gospel.
Here are three truths about the Gospel from these lessons:
(1) Jesus is Powerful
Look closely. Peter didn’t do the healing by himself.
Peter said to Aeneas, “Jesus Christ heals you.” (v.34)
Peter got down on his knees and prayed. Then Tabitha was healed. (v.40)
Notice Peter didn’t say: “I heal you,” nor did he get down on his knees and pray: “Dear Me, Please help Me and Heal this lady for me.”
Peter turns to God.
Peter turns to his Savior.
Peter turns to Jesus.
Jesus heals Aeneas and Tabitha!
To be fair – we shouldn’t be surprised! Jesus did the same thing while he physically walked the earth. He made the blind to see; the deaf to hear; the lame to walk; the sick to be well; the water to become a walking surface; the storms to become quiet; the bread to multiply; the water to become wine; the dead to come back to life.
But – I guess the only incredible caveat with these miracles, is that Jesus does them while he’s not even physically, visibly, tangibly there!
I’ve got some power. Sometimes the Office Supply company we work with delivers boxes of paper. Each box holds about 10 packages of 500 sheets of paper. They’re pretty heavy. About 50 pounds.
If I am around, I can lift it and put it away.
If I’m not around, I can’t do squat.
Jesus wasn’t even physically around, yet his power was able to:
(1) Instantly heal a man who had not been able to walk for the last 8 years.
(2) Bring to life a woman who had died!
Jesus is still Powerful.
He removes all your sins.
He destroys all your guilt.
He busts through the gates of hell itself.
He powerfully penetrates the preventive walls of unbelief and brings believers into his family.
(2) Jesus is Public
But you might say:
Yeah, right! Peter is in on it! It’s all a big scam. Aeneas pretended to be unable to walk for 8 years just so that Peter could appear to be the hero with the message of Jesus – even though Peter probably wasn’t even a follower of Jesus when Aeneas began his ruse?
And Tabitha pretended to be dead – she held her breath (for days?) and got the hundreds of people mourning at the house to believe that she was dead just so that Jesus would “appear” powerful.
Here’s the deal. Both of these miracles are extremely public.
They aren’t done in private.
In regard to Aeneas it says: All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw Aeneas and turned to the Lord. (v.35)
Notice it doesn’t say “All of Aeneas’ friends who were in on the 8-year ruse.” Nope. All the city. Everyone. Even the people who were kind of annoyed with Aeneas being bedridden, asking for money, day after day after day. Peter meets Aeneas. Many are watching. Aeneas stands up. They don’t think: “Faker.” They think: “Savior.”
And with Tabitha it’s just as public. Remember – She died. The people washed her body and cleaned it. They sent for Peter. Peter arrived when they were in the middle of the Ancient version of the “wake.” They are throwing Tabitha’s blankets in Peter’s face and everyone is talking about how she is dead and how sad it is.
No one is saying; “I think she’s faking it, Peter.”
After Jesus raises her through Peter: Peter called for the believers, especially the widows and presented Tabitha to them alive. This became known all over Joppa and many people believed in the Lord. (v.41-42)
Because…She was dead and now. She was alive.
This is key for you and me. Because what Luke wrote down for us in Acts; he wrote down only a maximum of 10 years later. And this book of Acts was circulated throughout the churches. The people in Lydda read it and said, “Yep. That’s right. I remember when he healed Aeneas.” And the people in Joppa read it and said, “Yes. They got it right. I remember when Tabitha came back to life.”
The point? This stuff is public. It’s real.
It’s not that way in other religion.
It’s not like…
The Prophet Mohammed who went up on a mountain by himself.
Or Joseph Smith, found of Mormonism, who went into the forest by himself.
Or some scientist who hypothesizes this world must have started this way – even though I wasn’t even there.
Jesus’ power is public. Real, visible, viewed by many.
Even at the highlight of his story…
Jesus died before hundreds.
He hung on a cross before hundreds.
He was confirmed dead by hundreds.
Then, he rose.
He appeared before hundreds.
He showed himself before hundreds.
He spoke again with hundreds.
Jesus is public!
(3) Jesus is Proven
This leads to our third “P” word.
If Jesus is powerful and public. Then, Jesus, is also proven.
Throughout the Gospel, Jesus offers visual proof of invisible truth.
Public visual proof of private invisible truth.
Aeneas visibly gets to his feet before hundreds.
Tabitha comes back to life before hundreds.
Jesus visibly dies and visibly is buried and visibly comes back to life.
Proof that the Jesus is truth.
Proof of the invisible miracles that Jesus claims for us:
Proof that your sins are forgiven.
Proof that you have peace with God.
Proof that Jesus is the Savior.
Proof that by believing in him you will enter eternal life.
If you doubt!?! You’re doubting the power of a Savior that has done countless visible miracles in the face of tens of thousands of witnesses.
If you doubt!?! You’re doubting God. You’re doubting the Holy Spirit. You’re doubting Jesus.
Don’t doubt. Believe.
III. What Now?
I don’t mean do a physical turn right here, right now. This isn’t P90x.
The Bible tells us to “turn” spiritually.
That’s what the people in Lydda did. They saw the power of Jesus in healing Aeneas. They turned to the Lord. (v.35)
They stopped trusting themselves.
They stopped trusting their own abilities.
They stopped trusting some statue god.
They trusted their Savior.
Do the same. Even if you are a longtime Christian! Turn. Because the devil has a way of getting us to turn to ourselves, to money, to things and stuff and to trust them rather than Jesus.
Examine your heart.
See where you’re wrong.
Turn back to Jesus.
And if you’ve never trusted in Jesus, hear God’s plea:
Stop trusting yourself.
Stop trusting your money.
Stop trusting your abilities.
Stop trusting your own modern fake gods and start trusting the real, only true God, Jesus Christ, who died to save you.
And he did so.
Because when Peter was faced with a dire situation. When he came face to face with death in the face of Tabitha. When he said to himself, there is literally nothing I can do to help – he got on his knees and prayed.
Do the same thing.
Too often when things get out of hand; when things are out of our control; when things are beyond our control we keep thinking:
I can do this. I can figure this out. I can stand.
Jesus doesn’t want us standing.
He wants us kneeling.
Humbly in prayer before our God.
This isn’t necessarily physically; but a ‘kneeling’ in your heart. Humbly agreeing that you are a sinner and the situation is beyond your control and you need your almighty, all powerful, paralyzed man healing, dead widow raising, out of the grave conquering God.
Turn to your God.
Fall on your knees.
Trust in your powerful, public, and proven Savior.
Thus far in Acts we’ve heard a lot about the Apostles – the guys that were the leaders in the church – the guys that Jesus promised the powerful Holy Spirit – the guys that Jesus hand-picked to spread the Gospel around the world. These men were integral to the Early Church.
But…what about the rest of the church?
What about the “ordinary” Church member?
Today we are going to look at an “ordinary” church member named Stephen. As we do that, we’ll learn some things about ourselves as “ordinary” church members here in Raleigh. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The “Ordinary” Church Member named Stephen
The majority of Stephen’s story come from Acts 7. But before we get there, I think we should actually start with a phrase from Acts 5:29:
“We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
Stephen didn’t say that.
But I imagine that phrase bounced around in his head as the sharp tip of a spear pressed against his lower back directing him to an angry mob of Jewish opposition.
“We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
The phrase had first been uttered by the Apostle Peter. While Stephen didn’t exactly hear it from Peter’s mouth, it had become somewhat of a rallying crying for the Early Christians. In fact, it played a key part in bringing Stephen into the Early Church. Yes, he was first intrigued by the message of Jesus – full and free forgiveness because of Jesus’ death at the cross, but then, it was the conviction that drove him to being actively involved.
The apostles were willing to obey God and teach the message of Jesus…
…Even when others opposed them.
…Even when they were put on trial.
…Even when the opposition threatened death.
…Even when their backs were torn to a bloody mess by the violent lashings (floggings) as a result of their preaching the Gospel.
“We must obey God rather than men.”
That’s why Stephen had signed up.
That’s why Stephen had gotten into this mess.
A few weeks earlier the Apostles had requested some help. The church had been growing so quickly – which was a blessing. There were over 10,000 people who confessed Jesus as Savior. But since it had grown so quickly the work had gotten beyond the scope of 12 men and some of their ministries had started to be neglected.
Case and point – the distribution of bread for the widows. There were quite a few widows in the church and, at the time, widows were treated as the bottom rung of society. They couldn’t get jobs. They couldn’t make money. They were usually in poverty.
The church had been dealing with that by setting up a mobile food bank. Members were to give contributions of money; Christians that worked in the bakery would make some bread, and the disciples would grab a big old cardboard box, stuff some bread into it, and deliver it to the widows in need.
But…the program had gotten too big.
The disciples had other priorities.
Some widows had been forgotten.
Doubly unfortunately, the issue had gotten racial. The widows that were Greek began to complain that they were being ignored because they were Greek and the only ones to receive bread were the widows that were Jews…because they were Jews. Granted, that wasn’t what the Apostles were doing; they were simply too busy preaching and teaching. Still they did recognize that racial tensions and divisions were not a good look for a church whose entire premise was “Jesus died for everyone.”
So…the Apostles made a plan. They decided to choose seven men to help them in the distribution of food. Seven men who would deliver the bread and visit the shut ins. Seven men who could share the message of Jesus as they went; and free the disciples up to share the message of Jesus all day long.
One of the men they chose was Stephen.
And Stephen accepted the appointment.
And Stephen was awesome at it.
He loved seeing the smiling widows answer the door.
He loved helping them restock their empty shelves.
He even enjoyed it when the older widows squeezed his cheeks, told him how they wish they had a grandson like them and gave him a Werther’s for his trouble.
And that’s what Stephen did.
He did the ordinary job of delivering bread.
He did the ordinary job of sharing Jesus with those he met with.
He did the ordinary job of sharing what he was doing and why he was doing it with the people he met with.
And that – was why he was arrested.
By the same men that had arrested Peter.
He was arrested for delivering bread and teaching the message of Jesus.
So, he stood.
Hands cuffed behind his back.
A spear implanted into his lower back.
A room filled with vicious, angry, violent opposition.
And they were telling him to stop.
Now they were telling him to never mention Jesus again.
Now they were telling him to shut up or die.
He wasn’t an apostle….
He wasn’t trained for this…
This wasn’t in the job description!
“We must obey God rather than men.”
There was that voice again.
And Stephen couldn’t help himself:
“Brothers…friends…well trained and high respected scholars of the Old Testament Scriptures!”
Ya’ll are Old Testament scholars, so can I ask you a few questions about the Old Testament?
Do ya’ll remember Abraham? God made a promise to him to move to a country he’d never heard of and he’d bless him. People rejected that message. But God fulfilled that promise.
And do you remember Joseph? God promised him in a dream that he would one day be a ruler. His brothers rejected that message and threw him into slavery. But God fulfilled that promise.
And do you remember Moses? God promised to leader Israel out of Egypt through him. The people rejected Moses and didn’t believe him. But God fulfilled his promised. He performed 10 miraculous plagues. He split the Red Sea. He brought them out. And then…they still rejected Moses and worshipped a golden statue of a cow.
And do you remember Elijah? And Elisha? Isaiah? Jeremiah? Joel and Habakkuk? God prophesied through them. But the people rejected them. They beat them, imprisoned them and killed them.
Friends, that’s what our ancestors did.
And that’s what you are now doing.
You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears; you always resist the Holy Spirit. (7:51)
You always resist God’s truth.
You are resisting the very Savior God sent for you – Jesus Christ.
And with that…the room erupted.
There were loud shouts.
There were swear words.
There was tearing of clothes and clenching of fists.
There were stiff-necked, with uncircumcised hearts and ears; resisting the Holy Spirit.
And Stephen dropped to his knees.
He looked up.
And he smiled:
“Look, I see heaven open and I see Jesus Christ standing at God’s right hand.” (7:56)
And the men charged the floor.
And they grabbed Stephen.
And they threw him outside.
And they began to throw stone after stone, rock after rock at Stephen.
Eyes swollen, mouth bleeding, lungs gasping for breath, said one last thing:
“Jesus, receive my spirit and don’t hold this sin against them.” (v.59)
And then, he died.
II. Lessons from Stephen about being an “Ordinary” Church Member
I think Stephen’s story is one of the most powerful in the entire Bible.
I think it’s incredible because Stephen was your average everyday church member with an average everyday church job.
Yet there are some incredible lessons that we can learn from this ordinary Church member. Here are a few things the ordinary Christian does…
(1) “Ordinary” Church Members Serve (Even when It’s Delivering Boxes of Bread)
Because that was probably not the most glamorous job.
It wasn’t that job that got your name in lights.
It wasn’t a job that would get you on a social media post.
It’s not the kind of job that develops its own hashtag: #ServingBreadIsAwesome
But Stephen did it anyway.
Because service is key.
Jesus said, “I didn’t come to be served, but to serve and give my life as a ransom for many.” (Mt. 20:28)
Stephen remembered how Jesus served him (by dying on the cross for his sins) and was motivated to serve others.
Here’s the thing – we have a lot of people that are a part of our church community.
And some of ya’ll are very smart. I know which ones I shouldn’t have a conversation about medical terms and which ones to avoid talking about computer coding with because the conversation will quickly go over my head.
Some of ya’ll are smart enough to do top level, top notch, sophisticated stuff…
…We need to be like Stephen.
We need to be willing to do the less glamorous jobs.
We need to be willing to humbly serve others…whether we have a master’s degree, a college degree or a high school diploma.
We need to be willing to deliver bread, to serve cookies, to water plants, to pick weeds, to change the classroom hamster bedding.
That’s the heart of service.
It’s the heart Stephen had.
It’s the heart Christ wants us to have.
(2) “Ordinary” Church Members …Knows God’s Word is MOST Important
That is why the Apostles came up with the position of bread deliverers.
And its why Stephen took the job.
Because God’s word was most important. And the Apostle’s needed to be spending their time doing that.
It’s why Stephen took advantage of the personal conversation and opportunities he had to share the message of God’s Word.
It’s why Stephen refused to compromise on God’s Word – even when faced with death.
Again – this is a key point of us today.
Because sometimes the things that we volunteer for at church don’t seem to be related to God’s Word.
There are things that are easy to relate – preaching, teaching, worship music playing, eldering….
…But other things are harder to see the connection. Things like: weed pulling, coffee making, website maintenance, and watching kids in the nursery.
In the bigger picture, these things free me up to share God’s Word. They free up Precious Lambs teachers to teach God’s Word. They free up guests and visitors to focus on God’s Word. They are absolutely, important and integral to a congregation’s Planting the Message of Jesus in the Heart of North Raleigh.
May I take a brief moment to free up all of you Stephens out there. To thank all of you who have been serving throughout this past year – as we grow, and more things are on my plate and more things are on our plans – thank you for your service to keep God’s Word as most important.
And a brief what now – consider ways you can continue to do that. Keep your eyes open as you serve for ways that you can share Jesus on a personal level.
Whether it’s talking to a fellow volunteer while trimming weeds…
Or welcome a visitor while you greet.
Or simply not complaining – like the people were doing – to help us stay less focused on complaints and more focused on our Savior Jesus.
(3) “Ordinary” Church Members …Suffer for their Faith
Because Stephen didn’t do anything wrong.
Stephen was simply delivering bread.
He was helping the sick.
And he was telling about Jesus.
But he suffered. He suffered even giving his life over to death.
Here’s the reality. Sometimes church Members, even “ordinary” church members suffer for their faith.
In fact, I sometimes wonder if it isn’t more often? Because Pastors deal a lot with church people.
Pastor have to spend a good amount of time in God’s Word prepping a sermon.
Pastors often get to teach people on their turf.
You work in the world.
You live in the world.
You have friends and family in the world.
You do life among the people that reject His Word and sometimes –reject you for following Jesus.
Expect to suffer.
A mean comment on Facebook.
A tension at work.
An angry speech from a family member.
Expect to suffer for following Jesus. Because honestly, it’d be extraordinary if ordinary church members didn’t suffer for their faith.
It’s entirely ordinary for ordinary church members to suffer.
And that’s ok.
It’s ok, because of our final point:
(4) “Ordinary” Church Members…Receive the Extraordinary Crown of Life
That’s the message that empowered Stephen to be willing to die for his faith.
He knew his Savior.
He knew that Jesus conquered death.
He knew that Jesus promised that he too would conquer death.
And then – after his sermon – after the crowd is already angry – Stephen looks up and sees Jesus’ standing in heaven.
That’s really interesting.
Because usually in the Bible, God is presented as “sitting on his throne.”
But here Jesus is standing.
You have to picture the same thing.
You have to picture the same thing, because it’s truth.
When you are suffering, when you encounter opposition, when you are struggling to maintain faith in an opposing to faith world, see Jesus standing and calling to you.
Revelation 2:10, Jesus says this, “Be faithful even to the point of death and I will give you the crown of life.”
That’s an extraordinary promise.
It’s an extraordinary promise to even ordinary people like you and me.
And it’s true.
When you cling to that extraordinary promise, God will work through ordinary you to do extraordinary things.
Isn’t that what happened with Stephen? His story is written in Scripture. His passion is recorded for us to read. His confident holding to God’s Word motivates us to stand up for God’s Word.
The “ordinary” church member – through whom God worked extraordinary things.
Brothers and sisters may our God do the same through you.
May he work extraordinary things as we work to Plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh. Amen.