We’ve been in the middle of our MIRACLE sermon series. In the course of this study, we’ve seen Jesus miraculously help people before it’s too late.
He met a man with incurable leprosy and cured him before it became fatal.
He’s heard about a man sick in bed and healed him before it became his deathbed.
He met a man with thousands of demons coursing through his body and drove out those demons before any permanent damage was done.
What happens when the damage has already been done?
This morning, we continue our series, by examining an interaction Jesus had with a man who was paralyzed. His legs had already stopped working. He had no hope of walking again. Could Jesus help? Before we do that, 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 Story
The account we’re looking is found in three different parts of Scripture. It’s found in Matthew 9, Mark 2, & Luke 5. Each writer adds different aspects to our understanding of this incredible miracle, so we’ll be looking at all of them.
Jesus got into a boat, crossed over, and came to his own town. (Mt. 9:1) This would be Nazareth. The place Jesus grew up. It’s where he learned carpentry from his dad, where he went to Hebrew school with his buddies, where he played a game of baseball out at the local sandlot.
The people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door…
That means people were doing everything possible to fit into this room.
The three-person couch had become a five person couch.
The kids had to sit crisscross applesauce on the floor.
There were probably even a few people doing wall sits over in the corner.
It was like one of our hallways during a Christmas or Easter service – it was jam-packed full.
And he preached the word to them. (Mk. 2:1-2)
But there was one group of people that weren’t quite there yet.
Walking through the streets…
Huffing, puffing, sweating…
And taking a quick break to catch their breath…
Were a group of five friends.
One of them was laying down on a stretcher.
The other four were carrying him on that stretcher.
The man on the cot was paralyzed.
In fact, that’s all the Bible tells us about him.
Not his first name.
Not his last.
Not his favorite drink at Starbucks.
Not any characteristic of his personality.
Just that he was paralyzed.
He couldn’t walk.
He couldn’t run.
He could hop.
He couldn’t skip.
He couldn’t jump.
He couldn’t even stand up.
But his friends had a hunch.
They had heard about Jesus.
They had about his miraculous power.
They had heard about his compassion.
They thought that if they could get their friend to Jesus, he could help.
So, they took a swig of “Passover Power” Gatorade and lifted the cot once more.
“I think the house is just ahead. Don’t worry. We’ll see Jesus soon enough.”
The problem was that many other people had that same idea.
And, since they weren’t carrying anyone on a cot, they had already gotten there.
In fact, when they found the house it was so full of people that some were crowding around the outside windows just to get a glimpse of the Savior.
“Guys, I don’t think we can make it in.”
“Especially not with this stretcher.”
“What a waste of a morning. All this – for nothing!”
“Hey, paralyzed friend. I’m sorry. But I think you’ll have to remain paralyzed. Things just aren’t looking up.”
Did you say, “looking up?”
In 1st century Israel, roofing was a bit different than now. Rather than solid rain deterrent shingles made of fiberglass and asphalt granules that can withstand wind forces of up to 60mph from fine shingle companies like Owens Corning, GAF and CertainTeed that you nail gun into a wooden roofing frames, roofs at the time of Jesus were thatched of straw and mud. The higher-class citizens could afford pieces of tile that would be placed them into the mud concoction on top.
It wasn’t common practice for people to come into a house through a roof.
But in order to see Jesus…
The men took turns climbing up to the roof. With two on top, the two on the bottom hoisted up the cot containing their friend, grabbed a nearby rope and they climbed up themselves. Then, they began praying off the tiles, digging with their hands, and making a hole right in the middle of the roof.
On the underside, Jesus was in the middle of teaching. People were so interested in what he had to say that they had ignored the little kid crying. They had ignored the man with the cough in the corner.
But they couldn’t ignore this.
Because right above Jesus’ head, dirt started to fall.
Pieces of tile started to crack.
Light suddenly streamed in.
…lowered by ropes…
…with a man on it…
“Ummm….. Hiya Jesus!?!”
The room was silent.
What would Jesus do?
What would Jesus say?
How dare anyone interrupt him!
But Jesus smiled.
“Take heart Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2)
Do you remember how the room was filled with people? The Gospel of Luke makes note that some of those people were the Pharisees. These were the religious leaders of the time that didn’t like Jesus very much. After all, these crowds of people that were there to see him, used to be crowds of people that came to see them.
And upon hearing what Jesus said, they started muttering.
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Lk. 5:17-21)
Then some of the experts in the law said among themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming! (Mt. 9:3)
Blasphemy means saying you are God, when you aren’t.
That terrible sin in ancient Israelite society.
And with good reason.
If you tell people you are God (and you aren’t) and some of them believe (even though you aren’t), you’ll will be personally responsible for leading them to hell.
And since Jesus was telling this man that his sins were forgiven.
And only God can forgive sins.
Jesus was setting himself up as God!
Which would be blasphemy!
Jesus responded to their question with another question:
“Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? (Mt. 9:4)
To understand what Jesus is getting at, think of yourself in a conversation with a relative who can no longer walk.
Which is easier to write on a greeting card to that person:
“Your sins are forgiven” or “Get up and walk.”
I’ve visited a lot of hospitals.
I’ve visited a lot who are sick.
At Elmcroft retirement home, I run into people who can’t walk.
It’s not hard to tell them, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Have I ever said to one of these people, ‘Get up and walk.”
Why the difference?
If I tell someone their sins are forgiven, no one has any idea if that’s true or not.
Sins don’t go flying into the area.
A halo doesn’t appear on their head.
There isn’t a loud chorus of “Hallelujah.”
But if you tell someone who can’t walk to get up and walk…
If they don’t do that immediately?
You’re a fraud.
You’re a liar.
It didn’t work.
It is harder to claim a VISUAL miracle than an INVISIBLE one.
So, follow Jesus’ logic:
It’s harder to claim the visual miracle than the invisible one.
…so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. (Mt. 9:6)
Allow me to claim the hard one.
Jesus turned to the paralyzed man.
Looked up right in the eye.
And said, “Get up. Take your stretcher. Go home.”
And the man….
Looked at Jesus.
Looked at his friends
Wiggled his toes…and…
Took his stretcher.
And went home.
II. The Truth about Jesus
Jesus’ miracles are VISUAL proof of the INVISIBLE truth.
Remember: There was a room full of people in that room.
And since this was a local miracle involving a local man, they probably knew him.
And their responses:
This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mk. 2:12)
They were filled with awe and glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (Mt. 9:8)
Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.” (Lk. 5:26)
Jesus speaks the truth.
Even when the truth is invisible.
That’s really important.
Because most of you here today aren’t physically paralyzed.
You can stand.
You can walk.
You can job.
You can run (just maybe not for all that long)
You may be able to walk, but you might still understand what it’s like to be paralyzed.
Paralyzed with guilt from that one sin you did last week.
Paralyzed with shame from the way you’ve been acting in front of your spouse.
Paralyzed with fear that God has abandoned you completely.
Paralyzed with sadness that God could never forgive you.
What’s easier to say?
“Your sins are forgiven” or “Kill me and three days later I’ll come back to life.”
But to prove that Jesus has the authority to forgive sins….
Jesus was said he would rise from the dead – and he did.
And this is proof that when Jesus tells you that your sins are forgiven – they are.
And does this throughout Scripture:
Your sins have been forgiven on account of Jesus’ name. (1 Jn. 2:12)
If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins.” (1 John 1:9)
Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16)
Jesus’ power is real.
Forgiveness is real.
Your forgiveness is real.
Not trusting Jesus’ power to FORGIVE is EVIL.
Look back at what Jesus said about the people who didn’t trust his power to forgive. He said, “Why are you thinking EVIL in your hearts?” (Mt. 9:4)
They were thinking that it was evil for someone who wasn’t God to claim to be God by forgiving sins.
But what if that person who is claiming to be God is God.
Then, the evil isn’t coming from God who is claiming to be God.
The evil is come from the one claiming that God isn’t God.
And granted – you might not actually say that Jesus isn’t God.
But you might say,
“I’ve sinned too much, Jesus.”
“I should have to do something.”
“God needs me to help myself.”
Which is another way of saying:
Jesus, you don’t have authority to forgive sins.
Friends, that’s evil.
If that’s you, turn to Jesus.
And ask him forgiveness.
And trust that he grants it.
Jesus has all AUTHORITY to forgive.
It’s like a set of church keys:
If you asked me to unlock the front door of church for you, I could because I have the key & authority to do so.
If you asked me to unlock the janitor’s closet, I could because I have the key and the authority to do so.
If you asked me to unlock the door to Precious Lambs, I could because I have the key and the authority to do so.
If you asked Jesus to unlock you from the guilt of your sins, He could…
…and he would…
…and he did…because he has the key and authority to do so.
And the key was his blood.
Jesus lived perfectly.
Jesus died innocently.
Jesus rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins.
When he tells you that he unlocked guilt, he means it.
III. What Now?
(1) Do Whatever It Takes to Get to Jesus
Do a quick case study of this man’s friends:
They were willing to carry him great distances.
They were willing to climb a roof.
They were willing to cut a hole in that roof…
They were doing whatever it took to get to Jesus…
…all because they trusted Jesus’ power to heal.
Do the same.
Because it’s so easy in this life to feel paralyzed.
Things happen during the weak that can paralyze you with shame, guilt, sadness, and fear.
Jesus heals that paralysis.
So, do whatever you can to get to him.
That means making worship a can’t-miss for the week.
It means Group Study is something that you don’t let a little traffic deter you from.
It means that you reach over to your bedside table – and open the Bible.
(2) Do Whatever it Takes to Get Your Friends to Jesus
Because these men didn’t get to Jesus for themselves. They did whatever it took to get their friend to Jesus.
Do you know someone in need of the forgiveness Jesus brings?
Could be a friend.
A family member.
Someone paralyzed by fear, guilt, and shame.
Do whatever it takes to get them to Jesus.
Because Jesus has power over paralysis.
Power to free from any paralysis.
Power to free so that you can walk.
With Jesus. Amen.
This morning, we will begin our miracle series, by examining God’s incredible power of sickness. But before we do that, 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. Defining Miracle
I think it’s important to start a study on miracles by defining the word “miracle.” So, here it is:
A miracle is an occurrence outside the NATURAL laws of the Universe.
Because miracle can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. Over time, I think we’ve “dumbed down” the phrase.
For instance, we use it at childbirth. A baby is born and people post on Instagram: “Check out my child! #Miracle”
Is childbirth amazing? Yes. Is it a miracle though? Not really. That’s how God set up the universe.
We even use it in sports. “I can’t believe my favorite football team made the playoffs. It’s a miracle!” Might it have been impressive? Sure. But is it a miracle? Not so much.
But when the New Testament uses the word miracle it actually is talking about events that occur outside the natural order of things.
Seawater standing up like drywall? That’s not how water usually works.
A heavy rock wall tumbling because of trumpet noise? Not normal.
Three men being thrown into a fiery furnace and coming out unsinged? Let’s not test it.
A virgin giving birth to a child? Miracle.
In the New Testament, the number one miracle doer is Jesus.
But did you know that Jesus miracles aren’t often called miracles as much as they are called signs.
That’s interesting. Because a sign functions by pointing you in the right direction.
We have signs in our hallways that say “Restrooms” with a little arrow putting in a certain direction. The point of the sign? To direct you to the restrooms.
Even a traffic light. GREEN means “GO”, red means “STOP, and yellow means, “hurry up it’s about to turn red.”
Jesus’ miracles were SIGNS pointing people to his DIVINITY.
Think about it:
If God’s the one that set the laws of the universe into motion, then he is the only one able to act outside of those laws.
It’s like STAYING UP LATE. If the rule of your house is that kids need to be in bed by 9 pm, the kids need to go to bed, but the adult can stay up. (Granted, they might not. They might be in bed on the couch around 7:15 pm, but you get the point.)
Your kids can’t. You can. You set up the law; you can act outside of it.
Jesus acts outside of the laws of the universe set up by God, in all of his miracles.
Because he is God himself.
II. The Man with Leprosy
But it enough talking about it. Let me show you.
When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed him. Just then, a leper came to him and bowed down to him, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Mt. 8:1-2)
Notice. There are large crowds of people with Jesus. They had just heard Jesus give the Sermon on the Mount, a very famous sermon. They were all drawn in by Jesus’ speech and his ideas.
But someone that hadn’t made it up to the mountain was waiting as they came down.
He was a leper which means that he had the disease known as leprosy. It was a flesh-eating disease that slow dried out your cartilage and cause the tips of your fingers, your toes, your nose, and your ears to (brace yourself) fall off.
Leprosy was awful. Still is! If you want to know how awful, do a Google image search. (But not if you’re faint of heart.)
Besides being awful…
Leprosy was INCURABLE. This isn’t true anymore. There is a cure. But at the time, there weren’t any medicines, any acupuncture, any essential oil, any healthy diet, or any operation that anyone knew about in order to cure it. That means that if you were diagnosed with leprosy you had to quickly resign yourself to the fact that you would not be healed.
Leprosy was CONTAGIOUS. It was so contagious that if you were diagnosed with leprosy, you were sent into quarantine. Only the quarantine wasn’t a room in your house. You were sent outside the city walls, into the desert to live in what they called “leper colonies”.
Leprosy was FATAL. The end result, 100 percent of the time was death.
All these truths about leprosy left this man was without hope.
He had heard doctor after doctor tell him there was no cure.
He was alone, banished outside the city.
He knew what had happened to other friends – they died.
This meant -
He wouldn’t get to see his family again.
He wouldn’t get to hold his children again.
He wouldn’t get to kiss his wife again.
He wouldn’t feel better.
He wouldn’t regain strength.
He wouldn’t go back to his job.
He’d be by himself.
Outside the city walls.
Did you notice something about this man?
He approached Jesus with confidence.
He didn’t say: “If you are able…”
Or, “If you have the strength…”
Or, “If you have the right medicine…”
He said, “If you are willing…”
Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean.”
And after Jesus says that, there aren’t months of radiation.
There aren’t weeks of chemo.
There aren’t even 15 minutes to allow the medicine to take effect.
Jesus simply speaks and…
IMMEDIATELY he was healed of his leprosy.
And if you’re thinking, “That’s impossible.”
Remember – there’s a crowd of people present.
It wasn’t Jesus by himself.
There were hundreds of witnesses to this miracle.
Many who had undoubtedly seen that man sitting around outside the city gates day after day after day.
In fact, Jesus has professionals corroborate the healing. He tells him to “Go, show (himself) to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (v.4) The priests at this time were similar to doctors. They were able to pronounce people as diseased or not.
They were probably the same people who once told the man, “You are diseased, away from us!”
Now? They were saying to him, “You’re healed! Celebrate with us.”
And remember – while this is 2000 years after the fact, this book is not. These words that we are reading right now were written down at a time when the majority of the people who witnessed this would have still been alive.
Jesus is able to CURE the INCURABLE.
Here’s where this is important:
You might know someone who has been diagnosed with disease.
You may have been diagnosed with disease.
And internet articles might not give you a chance.
Social media anecdotes might not give you a chance.
Doctors might not give you a chance.
You have Jesus. And Jesus can cure the incurable.
Do you want a second instance of this? How about sin!?!
It’s CONTAGIOUS – passed down from parents to children.
It’s INCURABLE – nothing we can do will ever remove it.
It’s FATAL – “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)
But Jesus cured the incurable!
He lived perfectly when we couldn’t.
He died innocently on the cross.
He rose triumphantly and cured you of all sin, guilt and shame!
By faith in Jesus, you are forgiven.
Incurable guilt – CURED!
This means that whatever you’re dealing with, as long as you have Jesus, you have hope.
Because Jesus provides HOPE in any ILLNESS.
He cured the incurable disease of leprosy with his hand.
He cured the incurable disease of sin with his death.
There is nothing that Jesus can’t do.
There is no disease too incurable.
There is no disease too contagious.
There is no disease too fatal for Jesus.
III. The Centurion’s Servant
Word of this miracle got around.
In fact, it made its way outside the Jewish community to a Roman centurion whose servant was deathly ill.
He must have heard stories of Jesus.
Yet he had a lot working against him. In fact, I’m sure his advisors gave him a host of reasons not to waste his time:
“Jesus is Jewish. You’re Roman. There’s too big a racial divide. He won’t help you.”
“You’re a high ranking official. What will it look like for a Roman elite to go looking for help from a homeless carpenter?”
“You’re a sinner. From what I’ve heard, this man is a holy man. He won’t give you the time of day.”
For some reason…
He trusted Jesus.
And as he looked at his servant growing pale, soaked in sweat, and approaching death.
[the] centurion came to [Jesus] and pleaded with him, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed and suffering terribly.” (v.5)
Despite the racial difference…
Despite the social difference...
Despite the man’s sin…
Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” (v.6)
But the man, thought this was too much.
He was a high ranking official and he didn’t make house visits.
And Jesus was higher ranking than him.
He didn’t need to do a house visit.
And so, the high-ranking government official said, “Lord, I am not worthy for you to come under my roof.” I’m a sinful man. You’re holy. I don’t deserve anything from you.
But only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am also a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (v. 8-9)
You have authority too.
You tell diseases to leave and they do.
You tell health to return and it does.
You tell bodies to be healed and they listen, because you have authority over them.
When Jesus heard this, he marveled. He said to those who were following him, “Truly, I tell you: I have not found such great faith in anyone in Israel… Go. Let it be done for you as you have believed.” (v.10)
Here’s where it gets extra amazing.
Because when the man turned to leave, he made note of the position of the sun.
Maybe just to the right of the west of the cloud.
And when he returned home, he found the servant well.
But that’s not the amazing part.
After giving him a hug.
After doing the “happy dance.”
He asked one of the other servants.
When did this happen?
“At the time the sun was right to the west of the clouds! I remember. Because I was so excited, I ran outside to tell the others.”
Make no mistake.
This was a miracle.
This was Jesus.
Jesus provides HOPE even when he’s not VISIBLY PRESENT.
Because you won’t be able to see Jesus.
Look for Dr. Jesus.
He doesn’t work at Duke.
He doesn’t work at UNC.
He doesn’t work at Rex.
He doesn’t work at Wake Med.
He grants healing to those within those walls.
You can’t see Jesus.
But that doesn’t he isn’t with you.
And it doesn’t mean he won’t provide healing.
He’s all powerful. ‘
His power goes beyond physical, tangible presence.
Again – just like sin.
You and I weren’t physically there when Jesus died on the cross.
And yet Jesus didn’t have to come to 2020 in order to die in our physical presence.
His death and resurrection cross physical, temporal boundaries to bring healing and forgiveness.
His same healing power gives us hope in the face of illness.
IV. When Healing Doesn’t Happen
People die all the time from disease.
Some are even believers.
What’s the deal?
To answer that question – I want you to remember two significant things that these the two men in today’s accounts said.
(1) Lesson from the Centurion
Remember what the centurion said to Jesus?
“I’m not worthy…”
That’s a strange statement, because this centurion was a high ranking, Roman official.
He oversaw hundreds of soldiers. (Hence the name “Century-on”)
He had a good career.
Plenty of people who looked up to him.
And yet he didn’t say, “Jesus. I demand this, because I deserve it.”
He knew he was a sinner.
He knew he only deserved death.
He knew that any healing Jesus could grant was out of his mercy.
We need to remember the same thing.
I remember that I got sick for one of my birthday’s awhile back. And I thought….
“This isn’t fair! I work hard. I serve God. I serve God’s people. And now I get a day off to celebrate my birthday and I’m sick? God I deserve to be healed.”
Is that actually true?
Did I deserve healing?
Remember – the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.”
It’s easy to think:
I deserve healing.
I’ve done nice things.
I’ve been a good parent.
I’m worthy of being healed.
None of us are.
If God heals us physically, it’s not because we deserve it.
It’s because of his mercy.
But in God’s mercy is real hope.
Because unlike human ‘goodness’ which isn’t nearly as good as we think it is.
God’s mercy? Is a mercy that caused him to die on a cross for our sins.
Mercy that saved us to eternal life – where there won’t be any sickness.
And mercy that sometimes heals us from sickness.
(2) Lesson from the Leper
Remember what the leper said to Jesus?
“If you are willing…”
It wasn’t a question of whether healing was possible,
But whether it was God’s will.
In this man’s instance? It was.
But sometimes God’s will is that the sickness won’t be cured.
Is it because he loved that person less?
If you are suffering a sickness and you haven’t been healed yet, is it because God loves you less than the healthy?
He died on the cross for you.
He doesn’t love you less.
He loves you the same as those who are health.
In fact, it’s because of his LOVE combined with his incredible wisdom, that God sometimes allows a disease to run its course.
Sickness has a way of driving people towards Jesus.
Sickness can be God’s way of
Bringing you to faith…
Or strengthening your faith…
Or working through you to be a witness to our friends and family of our faith in Jesus.
Bringing you ultimate healing in heaven.
In heaven, there isn’t any leprosy.
In heaven, there isn’t any cancer.
In heaven, there isn’t any sickness.
In heaven, there is only health.
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.
I'm excited to get the chance to talk to you all this morning. I know I'm not Pastor Phil, but I spent a lot of time getting today's message ready for you, and I really hope you find it just as beneficial as his.
Did that sound believable?
Honestly, I'm not that concerned about it, moreso that I wanted to demonstrate just how hollow our use of the word “hope” can be. Have you noticed that? I mean, it's a word that's meant to elicit – well – hope! But when you think about how we use the word, about what our typical hope really is... hope is not much comfort.
Think about how you use the word. Most of the time we're actually using it to express the idea that we don't really think something will happen, or that we don't really believe what we've been told.
“The party is going to be a blast. Sure, hope my cousin remembered to reserve the venue.”
“Just got my hair done, sure hope it doesn't rain.” (I wouldn't know about that one.)
I mean, what are we really saying when we use that word "hope"? Seems to me it's just a way of expressing that this is the outcome I would prefer but I have no actual reason to believe that it's going to go my way. It's what I'd like – but my wishes aren't going to influence the outcome. It's basically an empty word of wishing. In fact, sometimes we even use the word to indicate we don't actually expect the outcome!
“Dad says we're finally getting together for dinner tonight!” “Really? Well, I sure hope so.”
This can get a little more bleak when we get to more serious examples of when we throw this word around and then start to realize exactly how hollow it rings.
“I hope I have enough money to pay the bills this month.”
“I hope this relationship works out.”
“I hope my health improves.”
How are those kinds of sentiments any better than just outright wishing and the horses they would conjure? Let's be honest, they're not. And yet we cling to these empty "hopes" so tightly, invest so much in them that what happens when they're crushed? When we don't get what we're hoping for (which, depending on how good you are at tempering expectations, can happen a lot)… when we don't get that outcome we're hoping for... what happens?
Fear? This was how I pictured my life. This was the only way I saw my life proceeding normally. Now, I can't pay these bills. Now, I won't have that someone I think I need in my life. Now, I won't be in this life much longer. I thought, wished, hoped life would be one way and now it's not going to be. What is going to happen? It's not alright the way it should have been so what is going to happen?? I can't handle the uncertainty of this road I did not plan for.
Disappointment? This was to be my life. That was the only way I thought I would live. And any alternative isn't worth bothering with. I might as well sit here and just pine after what should have been. I don't know how to deal with this.
Anger? I deserved this. This is what is owed me. It should have been this way! And now it's not. It's someone's fault. I don't know whose but I'll figure it out and I'll blame everyone I can along the way until I get what was coming to me.
And all that leads me to this extremely dangerous conversation that I am sure you have heard before and probably even spoken part of in your life. When trouble or difficulty hits, when bad stuff happens that we struggle to react to:
“It's going to be okay.”
“I hope so.”
If we're trying to offer hope in bleak circumstances, what could possibly ring more hollow than some kind of statement like that without anything behind it? “It's going to be okay.” By what authority, proof, or truth can you state that? And the response is just as hollow. “I hope so.” Sure would be nice but on what basis do you even hope that it will be? And when that is crushed too? Then what?
What if instead of all that muck and mire of empty hope that's no better than wishing, what if instead there was a different kind of hope that was guaranteed? What if I could say, “It's going to be okay,” and that were a fact not an empty platitude? We can, because of the NEW kind of hope that Jesus offers us through Easter.
And that's where this new kind of hope actually begins. In the grave. I mean, that's the real problem, isn't it? Looming out there beyond all the other things in life that could go wrong, and all the problems we might face here for a time is the one that we can't avoid and the one that can cause the most fear, anger or sadness: death.
What will happen when I die? What will happen to me after I die? Will it be good? Bad? We can hem and haw and fret about everything that happens in the meantime, about every wish or hope we have for this life but in the end they all add up to zero and conclude at this one question, same for you or me or anyone else.
In Jesus, this one all-consuming question is answered, and it is answered definitively. Though St. Paul speaks from the negative, this is his conclusion for us. Listen again to his words to the Corinthians:
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
I don't want to get too far into it, but the problem in Corinth was that some people had started saying we wouldn't actually be raised from the dead. But, Paul, says, you didn't think that through! If no one is raised from the dead, guess who else wasn't raised from the dead? Jesus! Jesus was a new kind of raised from the dead, you know. He wasn't just brought back to life like some of the miracles he did: Lazarus or Jairus' daughter or the like. Those people came back to life, lived a normal life and then... well they died again at the end of it.
Jesus was a new kind of being raised. He was raised forever. He lived a normal life, he died, and then he came back to life forever. And he did that not just because he is God, he did it to model for us what would happen to us now. He was the prototype, the first, the firstfruits as Paul calls him here. His journey is what we all follow.
So, Paul says here, if you're saying that no one is raised from the dead like that, well then neither was Jesus. And if Jesus was not raised from the dead...you're in serious trouble. Because Jesus being raised from the dead was like a promise to us. A promise that because he did what he did, that is what would happen to us too.
Jesus lived as a human. He never doubted the love of the Father, he never questioned the will of his Father, and he always obeyed his Father perfectly. Kind of exactly not like us. But for us. In your place. And then, as we watched just a little over a week ago, he walked willingly to death for you. He took your place in hell and handed you the perfect life he lived. And he died.
If he had stayed dead, all of this would have meant nothing. He would've been a liar. His sacrifice would've been rejected by God. And we would still be trapped in our debt to God. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. You are forgiven. Your debt is paid. Jesus was and did everything he said. His resurrection is proof.
And again, more than proof of what his death means, it's proof of where you're going. It's proof that you will rise. He is the firstfruits from the dead. He is the first one to die and be alive forever and ever but he is just the first. All who sleep in him will follow that path. Which includes you!
So you want a new kind of hope? Here it is. Everyone who dies will rise. Everyone who dies in Jesus will rise with Jesus, like Jesus, to eternal life in Jesus. Not a well-wish, not a daydream, not a “sure would be nice”. This is a fact. If you're ever troubled by doubt look to the cross and ask yourself, “Did Jesus die?” Look to the grave and ask, “Did Jesus rise?” The answers are yes. And so the answer to the biggest question of “how will this all end?” is: in the best possible way.
In the end, everything from this life will be left behind. Whatever hurts between now and then will be washed away and forgotten, it is temporary. You'll be alive forever in eternal glory and perfection. That is real hope. It's a fact of a better future that cannot fade or be taken away and will never end when you get there. It doesn't get better than that.
And the beauty of that hope is that combined with God's promises, this changes our perspective on all hope throughout the rest of this life. God promises you this end. And on top of that promise, he promises that everything he allows or causes in this life is designed to get you to that end safely.
I want you to think about that.
It is a promise that because Jesus died and rose, you are going to heaven. Your end is the best possible end that anyone could ever imagine. And it is a promise that everything in between is managed by God to get you there. That means everything's covered. That's a certain hope that lasts from now until forever.
Gone are the symptoms of false hope because we don't need them anymore.
Fear? Fear is a result of not knowing what's coming. You know what's coming and how it will end. Look to the promise of the empty tomb and fear evaporates.
Disappointment? That comes because what we have doesn't measure up to what we think or expect we should have. But the promise God makes to us – it literally cannot be better than that. Eternity in heaven with our Creator. You can't go higher and it won't fail you.
Anger? At what? You might feel like circumstances in your life are unjust and the things that happen to you, the things that people do to you or others demand an angry response... but God allowed them to happen to accomplish his promise – to see you safely home to heaven. Can you really get angry at that?
Brothers and sisters let's replace this meaningless and stale conversation with something far better, with something that means something. Something based on truth that cannot change. Something that reminds us of real hope.
“It's going to be okay.”
“I know it will. Because of Jesus.”
Guest preacher, Pastor Doug Lange shares with us an important message: we don't need to get angry for Jesus or think we have to watch out for him. Our attempts usually hurt Jesus instead of helping him out. Jesus does take of things himself. He shows this to Peter and to us today.
I. Joseph’s Plan
He looked down at the receipt that he had from the local florist and smiled. He had just purchased tens of dozens of flowers. Lilies, crocuses, wildflowers and roses. Some in vases, some in bundles and some to be attached directly to his bride’s dress and pinned to her hair. He didn’t have them yet, but at the right time on the right day, they would be arranged, delivered and set up.
Joseph made a check mark next to “flowers.”
Another stop made.
Another arrangement finished.
Another part of the plan – done.
Joseph was engaged to be married. It was a part of his plan. Rather – Mary, his bride-to-be, was a part of his plan. He had been looking forward to being with her for quite some time. He had seen her around the village of Nazareth. He had spoken with her as he delivered a table to a neighbor in his community. He had fallen for her. He had spoken to his parents. He had spoken to her parents. He had arranged to pay a dowry – a sum of money to show commitment to her and thankfulness to the family – he had worked hard, saved up, and asked her to be his wife.
Now – he looked forward to the next part of the plan. First, the wedding. Then, a family --- walking the streets with this lovely lady in his arm. Lifting his head up a little higher: “How’d a gruff carpenter like you end up with such a lady?” He dreamt of sitting down to Passover meal with his family. He dreams of children – a girl with Mary’s eyes – a boy with Joseph’s eyes. Family gatherings filled with comments from aunts and uncles: “Doesn’t he look like you?” “Doesn’t she have her father’s charm?”
But that was going to come. For now he’s waiting. Joseph was a righteous man. He was faithful to God and God’s Word. He wouldn’t sleep with her until he’d made his commitment. Until he’d commit his life, his spirit, his wallet, his love, and all the rest of himself, he wasn’t going to commit to unbuttoning his pants. And he wasn’t going to ask Mary for that special gift until he had given her everything!
So he waited.
He waited for that part of that plan.
He waited patiently.
One day as he worked on a brand-new piece of cabinetry for the Rabbi, his beautiful bride to be entered his workshop. He wiped the dust of his hands. He brushed it off of his pants. He made his way over and gave her a kiss on the cheek. He was excited to see her. Excited to hear her news. Excited to hear what other parts of the plan for the wedding he could cross off the list.
“The invitations? Are they out?”
“The food? Did you make a decision?”
“The music? Are we really letting your cousin Larry’s timbre band play the reception?”
“Joseph,” Mary interrupted. “I’m pregnant.”
Joseph’s smile faded faster than the dust on a board when the wind caught it. Pregnant? That wasn’t part of the plan. Not now. That wasn’t the part of the plan until later.
And Joseph knew his biology. This child wasn’t his. He had a been waiting. He had been waiting – hard as it was to wait – he had been waiting, patiently. But apparently, Mary hadn’t. Apparently, Mary didn’t care. Apparently the here and the now and a moment of pleasure was more important than the plan!
Joseph – I wasn’t unfaithful. Joseph – this child isn’t from an earthly guy. This child is of the Holy Spirit. (v.19)
Holy Spirit, huh? Is that what they’re calling it. Joseph, was it?
Bill the fancy city lawyer who had moved from Jerusalem?
Jacob, the butcher’s son?
Or was it Zacharias – the Rabbi’s kid? He had seen the way that he had been looking at her.
Joseph’s mind was swimming.
This was a DISASTER! This wasn’t the plan! And the plan was blowing up in his face.
Gone was the wedding.
Gone were the well wishes of family and friends.
Gone were the family meals.
Gone was the little boy with his nose and the little girl with his eyes – they wouldn’t even have his chin!
II. God’s Plan
Joseph was wandering the streets in distress – with his breath tinted with stale wine -- when he passed by the local synagogue:
You know, what was the point God?
I tried to listen to you. I tried to wait. I tried to do it by the book!
Why did this have to happen to me?
Why not some other guy?
Why not one of those non-religious, non-believing types?
Why did you let my plan change?
Still – he loved her.
He was thankful for her.
He didn’t want to embarrass her.
So, Joseph decided on a new plan: (v.19) Joseph had in mind to divorce her quietly.
No loud announcements. No complaining at the bar. No posting it in Facebook for all to see.
A quiet cancellation.
No more meeting with the venue.
No need to meet with the priest.
Maybe he could get his money back on the flowers.
Joseph made it home and started reformulating his plan. He put finishing touches on his NEW plan: who to tell, how to cancel, how to avoid embarrassment, and how to get his money back on the flowers -- written down bullet point by bullet point on a tablet at his bedside.
Until finally, he was exhausted enough to fall asleep.
That night, as he dreamt of that horrible moment that Mary told him this horrible news -- as he looked at the nervous expression on her face and heard the anger in his own voice – something was different.
Someone else was in the scene.
Someone who was shining brilliantly.
An angel of the LORD appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, Joseph, Son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. (v.20)
It’s from God.
The God who is always good.
The God who gave you life.
The God who gave you wonderful parents.
The God who blessed you with those talented, carpentry hands.
The God who blessed you with money for the dowry, money for the wedding, and money for those wedding flowers.
The God who blessed you with Mary.
Is the same God blessing you with this child.
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (v.21)
Because Joseph – this child means more than a family for you.
This child means you are a part of God’s family.
This child means that you are forgiven for doubting me.
This child means that through faith in him you will be God’s child.
III. What now?
How’s that for a story? How’s that for a change in plans? While this story is Joseph’s story – and there are elements that are unique to his story – there are two important truths for you and I to take away when it comes to our plans in 2017.
(1) God’s Plan is Better
Take this note: Mary and Joseph’s plan wasn't a bad plan. They were going to get married. They were going to wait to sleep together until after they publicly committed. They were protecting each other’s hearts – even as they followed God’s plan for marriage.
But that plan – while it wasn’t bad or wrong – wasn’t as good as God’s plan.
Look at his name again: Jesus – because he will save the people from his sins. That’s the God part. That’s the part that humans didn’t plan NOR could they manufacture if they did plan it!
God’s plan involved much more for Joseph -- more than a game of touch football in the yard. More than a young apprentice to help with carpentry work. More than somebody to carry on his family name.
God’s plan gave Joseph a Savior.
God’s plan is always better. Keep that in mind. It was true for Joseph. It’s true for you.
Scripture says this, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
That’s an interesting passage. Because how believable that passage is usually depends on what’s going on in our life. For instance, when things are going well, that passage is so easy to believe:
I got a new job – part of God’s plan!
I came into some money – this is God!
I have a clean bill of health – Thank you Lord!
We’re having a baby – What a blessed part of God’s plan.
But what happens when things aren’t so great? Is this passage, suddenly untrue?
I lose my job –God, where are you?
I am out of money – God must have forgotten his plan.
I have a disease – Way to go God.
We can’t have a baby – God, you don’t have any good plans for me, do you?
But even when things look bad, God is still planning things for our God – for your good:
Take Jesus – the little unborn baby in our story.
He grows up.
He is arrested when he hadn’t done anything wrong.
He is beaten, slapped, whipped, falsely accused, wrongfully imprisoned and hung up on a cross to die!
That looks awful!
But with those words – the angel’s promise to Joseph came true. Jesus saved the people from their sins!
He saved us from our doubts.
He saved us from accusing God.
He saved us from accusing God of not having good plans for us, by accomplishing his good plans for us.
That cross looks awful – but it means the most good for us.
Trust his plan --- even if it’s different. It’s always better.
Like my friend’s dad—Tad. I had met him a few times when we went over to my friend’s house to play video games. Tad was always busy. He had a job. He wore nice suits. He made lots of money. He had a nice car. He owned a very nice boat that he would use to go up on the lake and fish on weekends. He had an NFL ticket – and would sit in his easy chair all Sunday watching his teams. He didn’t have time for God. He had a plan that was going just fine without God!
But then, Tad got sick. Stage 4 cancer. Suddenly – work didn’t matter as much. Money didn’t matter as much. Nothing mattered as much as God.
He met with his son’s pastor. He spent a month vigorously studying the Bible. He came to faith in Jesus. He was baptized into Jesus name. He received Lord’s Supper for the first time. He was reminded of God’s promises in Scripture that Whoever believe in Jesus, will not perish but have eternal life. (Jn. 3:16)
Then, Tad died. But he didn’t perish, he went on to eternal life.
Cancer sounds bad. But God used that cancer as part of his plan for Tad – to take him away from hell – and bring him to eternal life in heaven!
Wow. God’s plans are good. God’s plans are better.
(2) God’s Plan is Planned
This is a second thing to take comfort in. God’s plans are made well in advance – hundreds of years in advance.
Look at what it says about God’s plan for Joseph in verses 22-23: All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel,’ which means – ‘God with us'.”
Understand then, that God’s plan for Joseph was not a last second, last ditch effort. Notice that God didn’t just come to Joseph and do a last second switcheroo. This wasn’t like heading out to eat, seeing that the line is too long for Chick-fil-A, so you stop at Taco Bell instead. Nope.
This good plan was on God’s heart and put into motion long before Joseph’s heart was ever put into motion.
The same is true for you. God’s plan is guiding your life
Now understand – this doesn’t mean that we are puppets. It’s not like we have strings and God moves us accordingly. God isn’t telling me, “Move your right arm now,” and “turn and smile right now.” Nope.
God gives us the freedom to choose. Freedom to choose whether to drink coffee or not. Freedom to choose whether to drink Folgers or Starbucks. Freedom to choose whether to drink another – or three or four.
We have choices, but God is still guiding us.
Think of it like a preschooler coloring a page. (Maybe a picture of a party hat and confetti for New Year’s). Dad might sit down behind this child. He might grab the crayon. He might help them keep the coloring in the lines. He guides; he leads; he directs.
God does the same for you. He guides. He leads. He directs. He did it in 2016. Maybe you can see how!
He’ll do it again in 2017. He will guide you. He will lead you. He will direct you!
Granted: You know that preschooler can whine and complain that his dad is helping him. In fact, he can even have a breakdown and push dad off of him – simply because he wants to go where he wants!
And, granted: You can do the same to God. You can whine and complain and push him off of you because you don’t want to follow his directions.
But that will eventually lead you to hell.
Because God’s plan is for you to get to heaven.
Trust him. Trust his Word. Trust his Son Jesus – and he will get you there. No matter what turns your life takes or what happens to you in 2017. God is guiding you to eternal life.
That’s what Joseph did. Our section ends like this: When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (v.24-25)
Do the same. Trust God. Follow him in 2017….no matter where you go and what happens to your plans.