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.
Last week we talked about our FRESH purpose and that is to be a part of God’s mission to SAVE ALL PEOPLE by Planting the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh. It’s an incredible purpose. It’s a BIG purpose and it’s a privilege to be a part of this purpose.
Maybe you left last week thinking – What is the biggest thing that I can do to help accomplish this goal?
I could use my biceps! And help tear out old bushes, carry Bibles during Bible hour and lift children in need of diaper changes at the Preschool.
I could use my head! And start planning Sanctuary updates, outreach opportunities and how to improve our Youth Group.
I could use my money! And fund exterior improvements, advertisements to church events and tuition assistance for the kids.
Today, God’s Word wants you to consider something else.
A part of the body that’s not as BIG as your biceps.
Nor as SMART as your brain.
Nor as VALUED as your money.
Yet, this body part has the ability to be MOST VALUABLE when it comes to sharing the kingdom of God.
Today our topic is SPEECH. Our goal is to consider the great power of our tongues and how we might can use it on our mission to Plant the Message of Jesus in the hearts of North Raleigh. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Power of the Tongue
The section of God’s Word that we’ll study this morning comes from James 3. The book of James is a letter written by an important disciple in the early church called James. James was the leader in the church in Jerusalem. A very large church. The mother church, if you will of all the other churches. It’s where the message of Jesus started and spread to other parts of Asia Minor, to Europe…even to Raleigh, NC.
In Chapter 3, James is writes to Christians everywhere about how they use their tongues. Take a look:
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. (v.3-5a)
Anyone ever ridden a horse before? They are large animals. They are powerful animals. They have the ability to draw the Wells Fargo Wagon or the Budweiser beer carriage. Horses are the reason that we compare the power of a motor vehicle’s engine as horse power.
And if you try to move a horse with your hands, just by pushing them around? It ain’t gonna work. Instead, they developed something called a bit. It’s a small piece of technology (a rope) that fits into their mouth and attached to more rope. By pulling that rope (either on horseback or walking along the side) you can easily control which way you want the large powerful horse to go!
Gigantic power, tiny device.
Or how about a large ship? Think of a cruise ship. It’s filled with thousands of people. It has hundreds of pounds of margarita mix and suntan lotion. It has little to no problem carrying an entire set of conga line dancers in the little space in its cabin. It’s large. It’s powerful. If you are a small canoe boat in the way of a cruise ship, you better move.
But…in the back of the ship, right near the water, is a rudder. A small little part in comparison to the rest of the ship. This little rudder directs the wave flow and turns the gigantic ship.
Gigantic power; tiny device.
The Tongue is the exact same. It isn’t big. In comparison to the rest of the body, it’s rather small. Yet. The tongue wields great power.
It has the power to set your life’s course: “Honey, will you marry me?”
It has the power to get your career on track: “Yes. I do accept your offer and I will be regional manager of sales!”
It has the power to save your life: “Yes, I will go through with the chemo treatment.”
Though the tongue is small, its power is great.
Think about it.
George Washington used his tongue to win a revolution.
Abraham Lincoln used his tongue to end slavery.
Martin Luther King Jr. used his tongue to bring about great strides in equality.
And people are still using their tongues to accomplish all kinds of things – to this day.
II. Spitting Fire (Bad Uses of the Tongue)
But…because the tongue has such a great ability to accomplish powerful things…
It becomes imperative that we use them to accomplish positive, powerful things.
That is the very next thing that James writes:
Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire. (v.5b-6)
Do you remember Smokey the Bear? He always said, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” That wasn’t his way of saying, “stop using a blow torch to set the forest on fire.” In fact, I’m not sure that any forest fire has ever been started via blow torch. It was his way of saying, “Be sure to truly and completely douse your campfire in water. Because even the smallest ember or spark can set the entire forest on fire.” Think of that…some of the biggest forest fires in California – fires that have made people evacuate their homes – were caused by a simple, tiny flame.
When simple tiny words are used in the wrong way – they can cause just as great of damage. Here’s three things that your tongue can set fire to:
(1) Your Body
Look at the next part of the passage. James write, “The tongue is a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body.” (v.7) How does that work? The tongue leads you into sin which corrupts not only our tongue, but the whole body. ln other words, it is the gateway to sin that is happening right now.
“Why yes! I’ll go ahead and have that 7th shot of Jack Daniels!” And the whole body is corrupted with drunkenness.
“Why yes! I’ll go ahead and speak gossip with you!” And the whole body is corrupted with jealousy.
“Why yes! I think you’re a moron, too!” And the whole body is corrupted with rage and anger.
“Why no! I refuse to forgive you!” And the body remains corrupted with bitterness.
(2) Your Course
Look at the next part of the passage. James write, “The tongue…sets the course of one’s life on fire.” (v.7b) In other words – the tongue doesn’t just lead you to current sin, but it also leads to future sin.
“Why yes! I’ll tell you a lie about what I did for work last week!” And now I am on course with future lies to keep that lie going.
“Why yes! Even though I’m married, I find you to be quite attractive.” And now I am on course with future flirting, lust…even adultery!
“Why no! I don’t think that we should listen to the Bible on that point.” And now I have set my children on course to a life where we don’t listen to what God’s Word has to say!
(3) Its Own Eternal Destiny
James finishes by writing, “The tongue is itself set on fire by hell.” (v.7c)
Because…wicked words are sin.
The wages of sin is death.
Even eternal death in hell.
God doesn’t love it when we speak evil against His created beings or lead His created beings into sin.
He hates it so much he threatens punishment.
Even punishment in hell.
To be fair – the last one is probably good enough reason.
But combined, we have plenty of reason to tame our tongues…
To watch what we say.
To not use our tongues for evil.
III. Taming the Tongue
But…how does one tame their tongue?
Have you ever tried it?
James says this about taming the tongue:
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (v.7)
Think about how true that is.
Humans can tame Elephants. They’re gigantic creatures and yet, in India, they knock down trees and haul the logs wherever their trainers tell them to deliver it.
Humans can tame Lions. At the circus, the lion tamer turns to the king of the jungle, the sharp toothed, alpha predator and tells the ferocious cat to open his jaws and then – places his skull directly inside.
Humans can tame Killer Whales. At SeaWorld, Shamu, an aquatic animal of over 2,000 pounds – listens to his trainers as they hold up one tiny finish to get him to splash the crowd on demand.
Humans can train all of these different animals….
The elephant trainer struggles to stop his tongue from dropping four letter words when he steps in a pile of dung.
The lion tamer struggles to stop his tongue from boasting to his assistant because he thinks he is the greatest.
The SeaWorld trainer struggles to stop his tongue from lying – Yes, he did remember to feed the walruses – even though he didn’t.
Humans are terrible at taming their tongues.
No human can tame their own tongue.
Which means… the only one that can tame the tongue is someone isn’t human at all…
Do you know who has one of the worst tongues?
It’s the devil.
He’s been using his tongue to set the world on fire…ever since the beginning.
He spoke to God and said, “I should be God. Not you.”
He lied to Adam and Eve said, “Sin won’t be such a bad thing, trust me.”
He lies to you and me and says, “Your tongue has gotten you into so much trouble – there’s no way that God could ever forgive you.”
Satan has a powerful tongue.
His words can cause you to despair.
To be overwhelmed with guilt.
To be filled with regret.
To lose all hope.
While Satan’s tongue is powerful…
It’s not powerful enough.
If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One… (1 John 2:1)
Did you see that? Jesus is our Advocate.
That means he talks on our behalf.
And when the devil comes along and says, “Throw that person in hell! They have done so many sins.”
Jesus says, “Shut up!”
“I died for them.”
“I rose for them.”
“I defeated sin for them.”
“I defeated death for them.”
“They are forgiven.”
Jesus tames the devil’s tongue and speaks on our behalf.
His speech is more powerful!
It’s not just human speech. But it is God’s own speech.
God’s tongue? It can tame things that even humans cannot.
It tamed a storm when Jesus said, “Stop.”
It tamed an incurable skin disease when Jesus said, “Be healed.”
It tamed death itself when Jesus said to the young man’s corpse, “Live!”
And it tamed your guilt and shamed when Jesus said to you:
But that’s not it. Check out this passage:
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22)
Here’s the truth. With faith in Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit.
And with the Holy Spirit in our hearts we are able to tame our tongues.
Because the holy Spirit – he’s God.
He doesn’t speak any evil.
In addition, the Holy Spirit empowers you to tame your tongue,
And use it for HIS purpose.
To speak love.
To speak joy.
To speak peace.
To speak patience.
To speak goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
IV. What Now?
If you take a look at the next part of James’ letters – here’s a few rapid-fire instructions from James:
1) Produce a Singular Flow
James writes: With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (v.9-12)
Because if you bent down to grab a drink from a small area of fresh water and after bringing it to your lips, and got a mouth full of salt? That’s not good.
And if you went over to your fig tree and found some olives growing on it – I’d be really concerned about those olives.
If you have a fresh identity in Jesus, it will seem very odd if you mix your “praise Jesus” with the same old sinful language.
That means we’ve got to work hard by God’s grace to keep our language pleasant, kind, and loving -- not just on Sunday for an hour a week – but all the time.
With our family.
With our friends.
With our enemies.
May we produce a singular flow of refreshed language.
2) Keep it In
To do that, we’ve got to learn to keep it in. James said, “If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it!” (v.14)
Don’t say the angry thing that comes to mind.
Don’t drop the four-letter word.
Don’t just relay gossip without thinking about it.
We need to develop some self-control, that every time we’ve got something on our tongues, we stop. Think about it. And consider:
Does this work with my mission of Planting the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of my friends and family?
If not…don’t say it.
There’s nothing worse than a Christian working against his own mission by being uncareful with his tongue. Don’t hurt others’ work of sharing Jesus by gossiping about them.
I’ll never forget the time I was excited to follow up on a visitor to church to see if they wanted to come back. I asked them if they enjoyed the music? Yes. The message? Yes. The coffee? Yes.
But would they be back?
They had overheard a few ‘members’ at their fellowship table complaining about others in church.
They heard salty language in what was supposed to be a fresh water environment.
Keep those negative comments to yourself. Don’t infect others.
3) Purify your Language
Just like trying to purify your tap water so that you can drink it…
We’ve gotta purify our language so that it accomplishes our mission.
To do that, we’ve gotta run it through the best purity filter of all. God’s Word: “The wisdom that comes from heaven is PURE.” (v.17)
If you want to know if the thing you want to say is pure or not, run it by the God’s Word filter.
Is it a lie? God’s Word says don’t lie.
Is it gossip? God’s Word says don’t gossip. And true things are gossip, too!
Is it loving? God’s Word says, “Be loving.” Good…I can say that.
Familiarity with God’s Word will help install this permanent filter in our hearts - to prevent any disgusting outpouring of filth from our tongues.
4) Sow Peace
James writes, “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap in righteousness.” (v.18) Because when we are talking about the best, most positive, and on-the-mission things to speak – nothing comes close to speaking the peace of God’s Word.
There’s nothing more uplifting than telling others about their Savior.
There’s nothing more encouraging than reminding them of his love.
There’s nothing more heartening than telling someone they are forgiven.
And that Gospel message is like a seed that’s planted.
And after planting it carefully…
Again – again and again.
Eventually – that message might grow.
Grow into a harvest of righteousness.
A soul saved.
Friends, may God bless our speech as we used our tongues to the glory of God’s kingdom. Amen.
I have a dog who really, really, really loves us. His name is Clay and he is a black lab. He loves to be at home. He loves to have his people by him. If he is out in our backyard and the backdoor, glass sliding door is closed – he won’t go play in the backyard. He will sit by that back door and whine like a Hyena until you let him in.
He always likes to be by his people.
He always likes to be home.
The other day we were coming home. I opened the front door and had my hands full. So, I went inside to put the bags on the front counter and left the front door open so that I could get out quick and get the rest of the bags from the back of the car. Clay, of course, stayed happily next to me, licking my knees, hopping up and down, slobbering everywhere.
That is until Clay saw something far more interesting than me.
Clay looked past me.
He looked to the front yard.
Clay saw…a SQUIRREL!
Clay ran out the door, he started down the block, he was running down the street away from me.
And I shouted after him:
“Clay! Come back!”
“Clay! Come Home!”
But it wasn’t working. Then, as Clay was running down the block out of sight - I had an idea:
I think he set the record for fastest 200-meter dash in history.
When dogs go away from home, they need to be reminded of a reason to return.
The same is true with people and God.
Whether you’ve been completely away from God or away from his Word or away from his people in a church, when people have been away for a while, we need to be reminded of a reason to return.
That’s theme for Back to Church Sunday.
That’s the theme for our RETURN sermon series.
God is calling you to return to Him.
But what kind of bone does God have?
What reasons does He give for us to return?
Our goal this morning is to look at a story that Jesus told about sheep to identify the first and most powerful reason to return to God. 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. The Religious Climate
The text for today coming from Luke 15 beginning at verse 1. It says, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (v.1-2)
A bit of background:
The Pharisees. The Pharisees were the religious elite of the day. They were the type that always looked like they had it all together. There were the Boy Scouts. Do-gooders. They were like Wally Cleaver in Leave it to Beaver. They were the model religious citizens. They wore fancy religious jewelry. They had fancy religious beards – cut at regulation length. If they would have Facebook, they were the type of people who would post every hour on the hour about all the awesome religious things that they have been doing. #WeArePerfectAndYou’reNot
To be fair Jesus was, too. He was kind. He was gentle. He didn’t do anything immoral. He knew his Scriptures well like a Pharisee. He knew the Old Testament well like a Pharisee. He knew the Jewish Ceremonial commands well like a Pharisee. In reality, Jesus was a dream candidate for being a Pharisee! He’s the kind of guy that the Pharisees would have loved to have in the group for no other reason than it would make them look good by association.
By all outward appearances, the Pharisees and Jesus should have gotten along.
But they didn’t.
To be fair – their teachings agreed to a certain point.
They both taught that God wants us to keep The Ten Commandments.
They both taught that God demands humans be perfect.
They both taught that humans are imperfect.
They both taught that this imperfection disqualified people from the perfect halls of heaven.
They both taught the same problem.
But they taught VERY different solutions:
The Pharisees taught: Try to be perfect “like us” and you might gain heaven.
Stop lusting so much.
Stop gossiping so much.
Wear religious jewelry like us.
Wear your regulation beard like us.
Always wash your hands before you eat, like us.
Try to be perfect “like us” and you might, maybe, possibly-ish, gain heaven…but probably not.
Jesus was one of the only common people in Israel who seemed to be able to do what the Pharisees did.
Jesus was one of the only common people who did what the Pharisees did BETTER than the Pharisees did.
But that’s not what he taught.
You can’t be perfect. Believe in me and you will gain heaven.
This is why Jesus had attracted a crowd very different from the Pharisees.
The Pharisees attracted those who liked to think that they had their life together.
Jesus attracted those who knew that they didn’t.
Like Tax Collectors. Tax Collectors were not very popular people in the first century because (1) they were collecting taxes (2) they worked for the Roman government that was enforcing their rule on the Jewish people (3) they cheated people. They told people who owed $10 that their tax was $20 and pocketed the extra $10. Tax collectors were shamed by Jewish society. Tax collectors were not welcomed with the religious leaders.
Jesus welcomed them.
Jesus promised them a friend.
Jesus promised them heaven.
“Sinners.” Which is such a strange phrase. Because the implication is not that the religious leaders were NOT sinners, they were; the implication was that some people were such sinners and doing such gross sins that the only word that could be used to describe them was: “Sinner.”
Like Prostitutes. They sold their bodies. They sinned against God’s plan for marriage. They hung out in the red-light district, not the temple. They were welcomed by clients, not the religious elite. They were shunned by society, and to be honest, might be shunned by us today.
But Jesus didn’t shun them.
Jesus didn’t think of them as too dirty or too gross.
Jesus welcomed them.
He promised them heaven.
II. The One Who Really, Really, Really Loved His Sheep
This whole situation rubbed the religious leaders of the day. How could God want anything to do with those scum of society people? How could Jesus claimed to be from God if He hung out with those scum of society people?
Hence – their interruption; “Look at THIS GUY, why does he hang out with tax collectors and sinners?” (v.2)
Jesus overhears them.
Jesus gets the crowd to quiet down.
Jesus walks over towards the religious leaders.
Jesus gives them the answer:
Suppose there’s a man that has a hundred sheep. Which is a decent amount of sheep. It meant that man could produce wool. It means that he could make money. It meant that he had money. It means the man was quite wealthy.
But on this particular evening, as the sheep are herded into the sheep pen for the night…the servants count:
“97, 98, 99…” Hmm. Let me do that again. “97, 98, 99…Oh.”
He heads up the dirt road to the owner’s house, knocks on the door and tells the owner the bad news. “Sir, we’ve lost one of the sheep. We counted a few times and number 57 isn’t there. I counted. Bob counted. 99 is all we have. I don’t know. He must have gotten lost or wandered or maybe a wolf got him.”
Regardless, it’s only one. There are 99 others? We’ll recover.
The man listens.
He wipes away a tear.
And shakes his head.
“No. I must go after him.”
He pushes off of the table, runs over to the door and grabs his outer cloak.
“Don’t wait up for me! I’m not coming back until I bring that sheep back with me.”
He goes out into the dark.
He goes out through the rain.
He searches for hoof prints.
He shouts his call at the top of the lungs: “Come sheep! Come Sheep! Come Sheep!”
Then, tired. Wearied. Ready to give up. His flashlight catches a glimpse of something.
A patch of wool – it’s caught on a bramble bush.
He approaches the bush:
“Sheep! Is that you sheep?”
A low, pained bleat replies.
The man wastes no time. He shoves his arms through the brambles. He’s scratched; he’s bleeding.
He cuts the sheep loose and frees him.
He gives him a hug.
Then, he puts the sheep on his shoulders and sprints to his house. All the while shouting:
“I found him! I found him.”
Waking the neighbors:
“I found him! I found my sheep!”
He’s going to get a misdemeanor for disorderly conduct:
“I found that sheep that was lost. My sheep! He was lost; he is found. He is…home.”
A touching story, right?
Thanks for telling it Jesus. It might make a really good children’s book.
But look carefully at the very last verse:
“I tell you the truth: There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who don’t need to repent.” (v.7)
Do you get it?
This story isn’t about a shepherd. It’s about God.
And it isn’t about sheep.
It’s about the tax collectors.
It’s about the prostitutes.
It’s about the sinners.
It’s about the porn actress, the drug dealer and the felon.
It’s about the divorcee, the alcoholic, and the failure.
It’s about the lost.
It’s about YOU.
This story is not about some shepherd’s love for his sheep…
But God’s incredible love for you.
III. The One who Really, Really, Really Loves You
That’s important to remember.
Because it’s easy to think that God doesn’t really love you.
It’s easy to think that you’ve been gone too long.
it’s easy to think that you’ve done too much wrong.
It’s easy to think that you aren’t the religious elite and God could NEVER love you.
But the truth is HE DOES.
The truth is HE REALLY, REALLY, REALLY DOES.
And you don’t even have to take my word for it!
Look at the Jesus’ words:
1) Though He has a Large Flock, God NOTICES if YOU are Missing
Because look at the parable. The man had 100 sheep! That’s plenty of sheep, wouldn’t you say?
He could’ve spent some of the money he made from their wool and gotten a new one.
He could’ve mated a few of the 99, waited a few months and gotten a new one.
He could’ve ignored his lack of sheep, allowed nature to run its course and gotten a new one.
But that’s not what the man does.
Instead, he immediately leaves his other sheep behind, heads out into the world and searches for his lost sheep.
The sheep was more than just number 57 to him; it was his sheep.
You are more than just a number to God; you are His child.
Maybe you are thinking – God doesn’t care about me.
He’s got plenty of people in his family.
He’s got plenty of people in his kingdom.
I imagine that all these other people here this morning are a part of his kingdom.
And there’s plenty of them.
And what would he care if he doesn’t have me.
Because “yep” there are a lot of Christians in this world.
And a church might even be big enough that they don’t notice if you are there or you aren’t.
But God notices.
God notices because he doesn’t just want a number in his kingdom.
He wants YOU in his kingdom.
2) God has Eternal Searching Stamina
It’s kinda like a missing kids’ toy. Has YOUR kid ever lost a toy? Maybe a Lego? Maybe a Shopkin? And when it’s missing, and you’ve searched under the cushion and behind the pillow, and you can’t find it – and your kid’s lips start quivering and eyes get teary and you say: “Don’t worry honey. I’m sure we’ll find that 1 inch high, grimy, piece of 1 cent plastic.”
Then you hope on Amazon, order the toy and voila! Three days later: “Oh Look! I found your Shopkin. It’s been right here in this envelope.”
It’s easy to think God acts like this.
He doesn’t need to find us, because he’s got other, newer, better people to be a part of his kingdom.
He doesn’t need me.
I’ve been gone for too long!
I went away from God way back in college.
I been lost in some very dark places.
Places that would make you blush.
Places that would you cringe.
Places that would make God say – “NOPE! You are too far gone. And I’m too tired.”
But that’s not how God works.
Notice in the parable – the man doesn’t plan on coming home until his sheep is found. The implication? God doesn’t quit searching for you – as long as you are alive – God will continue to come after you.
No matter how long you’ve been away.
No matter how long you’ve been gone.
God keeps coming!
3) God’s Greatest Joy is Having You Back Home
He lifts the sheep on his shoulders. He runs home. He tells all of his neighbors about the sheep he found. He has a celebration!
UNDERSTAND: That is God’s response to your return.
It isn’t “I told you so.”
It isn’t “Get out of here. I don’t have room for you.”
It isn’t “Here’s a list of things to do in order to get back in my good graces.”
God’s response to the one who returns to him is PURE JOY!
As verse 7 says: “There is more joy in heaven over the 1 who repents than the 99 who don’t need to repent!”
Think about that.
There’s a party in heaven when you return to him.
When you throw away your sin and return to Him, they’re throwing confetti!
When you get back into His Word, they’re serving ice cream with hot fudge– and the ice cream doesn’t even melt.
When you return to him after years of being away, they’re having a dance party – and look! In the corner, one of the angels is doing the Floss!
The point is that your returning to Him fills God with joy.
It filled Him with joy when you made your way into this church today.
And His heart will remain filled with joy as you continue to return to Him.
IV. What Now?
Return to the One Who Really, Really, Really Loves you!
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been away; God has forever planned for you.
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing that sin; God brings eternal blessings that sin cannot bring.
It doesn’t matter how deeply you’ve been engrossed in it; God’s love is deeper.
God’s love is strong enough to overcome whatever you have undergone.
That’s really the story of Jesus!
He came into this world to find those who were lost.
He found the tax collector.
He found the prostitute.
He found the sinners.
He found those lost in the dregs of society.
He found them even when the religious elite hated him for it…
And plotted against him for it…
They killed him for it.
Historically speaking, a few months after this parable, that’s what happened:
They arrested Jesus.
They falsely convicted him.
They bullied their way to the governor’s approval.
They nailed Jesus to two giant crisscrossing pieces of wood by his hands and feet.
And those “Sinners” …
Those who had found a friend.
Those who had turned their lives around.
Those who had seen a love from Jesus unlike anyone else in society.
Watched as his life slipped away.
As blood dropped from his forehead.
As his lungs took in one more breath…and stopped.
They had been lost.
He had found them.
Now…He was lost.
Three days later…
From the one place that no one in history has ever returned from.
Three days later…
From the one place that will keep you away from family and friends forever.
Three days later…
From death itself.
Return to him.
And even when you die, you’ll be home…
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.
Everybody loves a good conspiracy theory.
That we never landed on the moon.
That Area 51 houses all kinds of aliens.
That JFK was murdered by members of his own cabinet.
Did you know the NT Church was not without conspiracy?
Today we are going to read about a conspiracy that took place in the early church, learn a thing or two about our own hearts and see why God is the ultimate detective of truth. 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. The Conspiracy
The conspiracy starts in Acts 5. But to really understand it well, we need to get some of the context from Acts 4:32-35. It says this:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet and it was distributed to anyone who had need. (4:32-35)
Did you follow what was going on? The Early Church took care of each other. When they noticed someone in need, they not only gave money to help that person out, but they sold property to get money to help that person out.
Verse 36 identifies one specific instance of that. It says, “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought he money and put it as the apostles’ feet.”
And I love that his nickname becomes “Son of Encouragement.” Because it is super encouraging when you are out of a job, when you don’t have enough money to feed your family, when you are running out of money to keep the lights on at church, for someone to give you a gift to help out. Now imagine if someone sells their property and gives all of the money to the work of the Lord!
What Barnabas did encouraged the Early Church: People said:
Look at what God did!
Look at what he worked in Barnabas’ heart!
Look at God’s grace to his people.
Segue to chapter 5 and there’s a guy named Ananias.
He has a wife named Sapphira.
Ananias was a part of the early church and had heard all about Barnabas’ awesome gift.
He heard his church friends talk about: “What an awesome gift that Barnabas gave!”
He saw it in the monthly report: “Thanks to Barnabas for his gift.”
He saw the Facebook post from the Early Church with Barnabas’ smiling face attached to the caption: “Thanks to Barnabas for his incredible gift – we helped 5 widows!”
Ananias saw all of this.
And he wanted in.
He wanted in, but he didn’t want to give up what Barnabas did to get in order to get it. So…
He came up with a plan:
Ananias together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge, he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. (5:1-2)
Did you follow what he did?
Say Ananias had a beach house (because beach houses are pretty awesome). He put that beach house on Zillow.com and ended up selling it for $500,000. Ananias took $250,000 of that beach house sale and put in the bank. Then, he took the rest -- $250,0000 and gave it to the Early Church. Only back then it wasn’t in a checkbook, but a big old bag filled with coins – copper, bronze and gold. (I imagine he looked kind of like the Monopoly guy as he came in and placed that bag before the disciples).
Ananias was expecting to hear the same kind of praise that was lavished on Barnabas to be lavished on him:
This is amazing Ananias!
You are wonderful Ananias.
I can’t wait to tell everyone, Ananias, about how you are such a wonderful man.
But that’s not what he got:
Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings, but to God.” (v.3-4)
When Ananias heard this, he fell down…and died. (v.5)
Let that sink in.
He sold a field.
He brought ½ the money and gifted it to the church.
He was rebuked.
And he died.
And that’s not the end of the story. Look at what happened next. About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened, Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” Did you really give all the money to the church?
And Sapphira – who knows full well that it isn’t – has no problem smiling, and saying, “Yep. That’s the full price. We gave it all to the church.”
And Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door and they will carry you out also.” (v.9)
And at that moment, she fell down at his feet and died. (v.10)
This might be one of the most shocking deaths in the Bible. It seems to come out of nowhere and when our imperfect, human nature reads this it seems to put God in a bad light! As a result, there are three main ways that scholars interpret this parable.
(1) It’s a propaganda myth – a propaganda story used to scare people into giving money to the church.
But if it were a mere propaganda myth, I think it would be a terrible choice. If I started telling people at Bible Basics, “After you’re a member, you’d better give about $1000 per month or God will give you a heart attack,” I’m not so sure our membership would be trending upward.
The point is that if the disciples made this up, it seems like a terrible advertising choice. If their goal was to make up and start a religious movement, this would be a fairly foolish and strange story to include in its origin story.
(2) It’s a weird coincidence -- a weird one at that. They were shocked at having been discovered so their blood pressure increased, genetic problems surfaced and…death.
But to believe, you have to believe that husband and wife both have that condition.
That husband and wife both die from that same condition within hours of each other.
That husband and wife both die right after Peter calls them out for their deception.
Not likely? It only leaves option 3.
(3) It’s the truth. While this is the least popular theory, it’s the only one that makes sense. People knew Ananias and Sapphira. They were a part of the church. People knew that they died – in fact a group of church people was there when Ananias brought the funds and died at Peter’s rebuke!
This is real.
This is truth.
This story circulated at a time when people said, “Oh yeah. I remember that…”
But IF IT’S TRUTH. What does it mean?
Is God a big meanie for doing this? That’s always our sinful, imperfect response and I’m asking you right now to fight it. Remember – we are imperfect. We are sinners. We are the ones whose hearts have been affected by evil. Before you bite on this, consider for just a moment the alternate perspective that God is not the bad guy in the story. That what happens is a good God fighting evil.
Ok. Ananias did evil. But what was his evil? Does it mean that our good God wants us to give 100% of your paycheck to him? No. In the Old Testament, God demanded 10% as an offering. In the NT, God demands that we give our first fruits, that we give cheerfully and that we give generously. God doesn’t demand 100% of our money. (Although if he did – he is the One who gives us all things, so it wouldn’t be unfair for him to ask for what he already owns.)
What’s the real problem?
Look at a few key phrases:
“You have lied to the Holy Spirit…” (v.3)
“You have not lied to human beings, but to God.” (v.4)
“How could you conspire to test the Spirit?” (v.9)
The problem wasn’t that they kept ½ the money, but that they pretended to give it all.
The problem wasn’t that he wanted to keep some cash, but that he wanted the label of super godly without being super godly.
The problem wasn’t that they stole God’s money, but that they wanted to steal God’s glory.
II. Conspiracy within Us
What about you?
Do you belong to a conspiracy?
Do you conspire to steal God’s glory?
Of course, as any good, conspirator your first response will be to deny it.
But…examine your life…if you’re involved in spiritual conspiracy to steal God’s glory…the clues are there.
Telling your friend “I give 10% of my money to church.” When you know by 10% you meant 10 % of 10% of your spending money which is 10% of your take home pay.
Spending more time getting the right filter for the photo of you studying the Bible to post on Instagram, than actually studying the Bible.
Making sure everyone here knows you as a devoted follower of Jesus, while your secret internet history shows you are a devoted follower of XXX.com.
Telling your coworker “I belong to Gethsemane Church,” and by belong you mean, “I show up and barely pay attention for about an hour every month.”
Stop stealing God’s glory as an individual.
But what really strikes me in this text is the word “conspire” in verse 9. Because conspire involves more than one person. Ananias and Sapphira conspired together.
Our goal as a church is to aim towards God’s glory. But…
We need to be oh so careful that don’t let this place become a secret hideout for conspirators against God.
A place where we high five each other and talk about how awesome we are at following God…and forget all about the God we are following.
A place where we build a state of the art Early Childhood Center and remind everyone about how hard we worked at making the ECC --- with no mention of the One who empowered us to do so.
A place where you tell me how great I am for coming here and I tell you how great I am for coming here – and we talk about how awesome we are at ministry without actually participating in any ministry.
We can’t be a church of lies.
We can’t be a church of deception.
Even though we might fool each other.
Even though we might fool others.
We can’t fool God.
Ananias and Sapphira couldn’t hide the truth from God.
God knows all things.
God sees all things.
God knew their sin.
God knew their heart.
And our good God judged their evil sin.
And you can’t hide the truth from God.
God knows all things.
God sees all things.
God knew their sin.
God knew their heart.
And our good God will judge your evil sins.
III. Good News in a Conviction Text?
As Christian preachers, we believe that the ultimate end to the story of the Bible is good. That a good sermon convicts people of sin, but then offers the solution for their sin in Jesus their Savior. Good news. It’s not hard to find the convicting part in this text. Don’t conspire, don’t lie to, don’t try to deceive the Holy Spirit! And we have, and we are convicted. Forgive us Lord.
But what about the good news?!?
Do you see it?
The good news in this text is simply this:
You aren’t dead yet.
Neither am I
God has mercifully, patiently, kindly continued to grant us life in spite of our deceptions and lies.
God has mercifully, patiently, kindly continued to reach out to us and call for truth.
God is mercifully, patiently, kindly reaching out to you with the truth right now.
And the truth about every human heart is this –
We are sinful.
We need a Savior.
We have a Savior.
Our Savior Jesus came to this world without a deceptive bone in his body.
And he died at the hands of men who conspired to steal God’s glory.
And when he died – he died far apart from any glory!
Yet – three days later – he rose and attained all glory.
But that glory, rightfully His, he offers up to you and to me.
That’s truth. It’s no conspiracy. It’s truth. God loves you dearly.
IV. What Now?
1. Be Truth-Filled
It always seems easier to lie.
It might seem easier to talk a big game.
To tell everyone you’ve got it all together.
To save face and make sure everyone knows “you’re a good Christian.”
But that’s not truthful.
1 John says this:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make God out to be a liar and his word is not in us. If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. (1 John 1:8-2:1)
Isn’t that crazy? When we deceive and try to steal God’s glory, all glory is removed from us. People will find out. Your glory façade will fall. (That’s what happened to Ananias).
But when we confess our sins and are truthful about our utter lack of glory, God gives us His own divine glory in Christ.
The glory of Jesus means that when God our Father examines with his divine-magnifying glass every aspect of our lives – our hearts, our thoughts, our hidden longings – the only thing that He finds – is righteousness. Sinlessness. Perfection.
Be truthful. Receive REAL glory.
2. Inspire Each Other
We do not want to be a church conspiring together to steal God’s glory.
But how awesome to be a church known for inspiring each other with God’s glory!
To inspire with the message that Jesus died for us!
To inspire with the message that Jesus rose for us!
To inspire with the message that Jesus forgives us.
To inspire with the message that His heavenly riches are ours!
The other day I met lady at a coffee shop while I was working on this very sermon. She found out that I was a pastor and she asked if she could give me some advice. She told me that I needed to stop mentioning the word sin. That I needed to stop mentioning the need for some Savior. That I needed to tell people they could do it and they were alright, and they were generally doing pretty well.
And I thought…
So…you want me to lie?
Because with all the love in my heart and motivated by the love in my heart, God tells us that is not true.
Things are not alright.
Helping each other pretend that things are alright might give the gift of momentary, phony, human glory.
But telling the truth and seeking the true Savior – gives eternal, real, lasting, divine glory.
God wants us to live in truth.
God wants to heal you.
In fact, if you continue Acts 5, right after the account of Ananias and Sapphira, the text returns to telling of God’s incredible healing power. It tells of how God made the lame walk, the sick healed and the injured well.
That’s the truth.
That’s what God wants for us.
That’s what God wants for you.
Be truthful about who you are. And you will be truth-filled with who Jesus made you to be. Amen.
Today we are going to continue our NEW series by talking about how Jesus’ love for us transforms our love for each other into a NEW kind of love. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The OLD Definition of Love
The lesson for this morning comes from a letter written by the Apostle John written to believers everywhere and describing the aspects of a Christianity. Now – remember that Christianity was still relatively new. Jesus had died and risen within 15 years of this letter. For many believers, they were very recent converts from Old Testament Judaism or Greek Mythology. In this part of the letter, John reminds the believers that not every concept of Christianity is new. In fact, he points out that the heart of Christianity is an ancient command. Check out verse 11, “This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another.”
In Genesis 1 (which is as beginning as it goes), God creates a marvelous world for all of humanity. He loves humanity and he teaches them to love. He tells them to love by caring for the animals, by caring for one another and by caring enough to not eat that the fruit on that one tree that God asked them not to eat from.
It’s a simple way to show God love, but it’s a good way. (It’d be similar to not eating your mom’s chocolate brownies that she spent hours creating from scratch until she gives the ok. It’s loving to respect her wishes, since she’s the one who made them in the first place.)
In the very first loveless act of all time…
God selflessly gives them everything and they selfishly take something.
God loves, and people fail to love.
But let’s not dwell there. Surely, that little mistake can’t change everything? Surely the formerly love filled world, won’t plunge into lovelessness…
Fast forward a generation. Adam and Eve have two sons – one named Cain and another named Abel. And since Adam and Eve had failed so miserably at showing love, I am certain they went out of their way to tell their boys TO love….
Their mom and dad.
Now by this time, the tree that Adam and Eve could show love by not eating from it, was gone. They no longer lived in the beautiful garden; they had been banished to the wilderness. So, they would show love to God in a different way. They would take the best of their resources, put them on a stone, dedicate them to the Lord and set them on fire. It was a way to give back to God who had given them all things.
It looked like this:
Abel was a shepherd. He would bring one of his favorite sheep. One of his best sheep. One of his prized possessions, put it on an altar and set fire to it.
And Cain was a farmer. Cain would bring some of his vegetables, even his best vegetables, put them in a pile, place them on an altar and set fire to it.
Outwardly, the two offerings looked about the same.
Abel loved God.
Cain? Not so much.
“This is such a dumb rule. Why should I have to give something back to God? Sure, he gave us this world. Sure, he makes the sun rise up, but sometimes the sun burns the food. And he’s not the one working like I work. I sweat. I bleed. I get blisters. I break my back to make this stuff grow and he wants me to give it back to him? Really? I will. I don’t want him to strike me dead, but…I won’t be happy about it.
And look over there? It’s my stupid brother with his big old goofy grin on his face. “Praise God from whom all blessing flow!” What a joke. Tell you what -- I’ll make something flow. It won’t be praise. It’ll be blood. From his head.
And… …That’s what happened:
While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. (Genesis 4:8)
This is pretty awful.
This is pretty cold blooded.
This is not love in the slightest.
Good thing we are so much farther along and would never stoop to such awful lovelessness…
Agree or Disagree?
Love is following your heart.
To be fair, the world would tell us that this is true. Have you ever seen Once Upon a Time? It’s a TV show where storybook characters come to life and live in the modern 21st century. Snow White is in it. Prince Charming is in it. Pinocchio is in it. It’s kind of fun and interesting to watch these characters in our environment. Snow White trying to talk to bunch of real life robins. Prince Charming is not so charming. Pinocchio lives in the forest and lights a fire…of wood.
There’s a phrase that gets used over and over again on the drama “The heart wants what the heart wants.”
The idea is that if the beautiful Belle’s heart longs for the ugly beast, she should go for it. “The heart wants what the heart wants.”
Or if the pauper Aladdin wants the royal Jasmine, then he should go for it: “The heart wants what the heart wants.”
But what if that same logic gets applied to the villains?
What if what the Evil Queen wants to destroy Snow White? Reason to do it?
What if the evil Jafar wants to put Aladdin in a bottle? It’s cool right – the heart wants what the heart wants.
What if the selfish Gaston wants Belle just as much as the Beast does? Is it cool when he kidnaps her and forces her to be his?
Of course not. The reality is that following your heart does not always lead to noble choices.
Oftentimes it leads to hateful choices.
That’s what happened with Cain. Look at what it says about him, “Do not be like Cain, who (was of evil) and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brothers were righteous.”
Cain followed his heart.
His heart hated giving offerings.
His heart hated his brother.
His heart hated his heavenly Father.
And the murder was just Cain following his heart.
But it wasn’t love.
I would submit that you and I have the same problem.
When we follow our hearts, it isn’t always love.
I felt really, really angry at her pastor, that’s why I flew off the handle and called her those ugly names. My heart felt upset. I was just following it.
I know I promised to be faithful to my spouse, but that other person is so sexy….and well…the heart wants what the heart wants. You don’t want to stop love…do you?
Follow my heart is absolutely how I live my life, Pastor. I just do whatever I feel like. Which is why I’m in jail for drinking too much and driving.
Here’s the truth: Love is NOT following your heart.
Because we have sinful hearts.
Sinful hearts always do sinful actions.
And sin--filled actions aren’t love.
They are hatred.
It’s like opening up a jar of peanut butter and expecting to find fresh asparagus. It’s foolish! Peanut butter is made from peanuts. Asparagus is not on the ingredients list. There isn’t any in sight. (And if there is…you need to find a new place to buy asparagus)
Our hearts are filled with sin.
We can’t expect their desires to lead us to true love!
Only to true sin.
Only to hatred.
And if there’s one thing that God hates – it’s hatred. In fact, God hates hatred so much that he must destroy it! In fact, the Bible says this: “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murder and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.” (1 Jn. 3:14-15)
Do you see the warning?
Stop following your sinful hearts.
Those desires will lead you to death.
II. a NEW definition of love
But…if following your heart isn’t the definition of love…then what is?
Remember what we read earlier: This is a message that has been there from the beginning: Love one another. (v.10)
That means love was a concept that was possible for Adam and Eve to accomplish even though they failed miserably at it.
It also means that love was a concept that was in existence before Adam and Eve…were.
And who “was” before Adam and Eve?
And that only leave one option:
God is love (1 Jn. 4:8.)
Because God is not sinful.
God is holy.
God is not hateful.
God is loving.
God is not selfish.
God doesn’t take.
God doesn’t kill,
And God gives you an excellent example of all this: Look at verse 16: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. In a complete reversal of Cain, God gives up his own life. Rather than killing someone else when he was mad, God is killed in order to save those who sinned against him! He gives himself as a sacrifice in order to appease his own hatred of hatred.
Do you get what I am saying?
Jesus died for Cain.
Jesus died for Abel.
Jesus died for you.
Even when there was nothing he desired about you.
Remember – he hates sin. It’s like if God had a dating profile, he would list sin as the one trait that he is totally unattracted to. Picture your sin like the most unattractive traits that you can imagine. A bunch of pimples. A terrible stench. Broccoli stuck between his teeth. A 1970s mullet and conversation that only revolves around himself.
That’s how God views our sin, totally and completely unattractive.
And that’s how we look to him.
But God didn’t ignore you.
He didn’t swipe left.
He didn’t forget all about you.
He loved you.
He loved you enough to die for you.
Here’s the truth then:
Love is NOT following your heart.
Love is following God’s heart.
It’s thinking of his desires first, not my own.
It’s loving like he loves, not like I love.
III. What Now?
And what is God’s love like? Three things to keep in mind as you strive to love like him.
1) Love by Giving Up
Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in them? (V.16-17) God gave up heaven and came to earth for us. He gave up perfection and entered a sinful world for us. He gave up his life and purchased eternal life for us.
May we give up as God gives up.
Here’s what I want you to do. Right now – write down one practical thing that you can give up this week in order to show love.
Maybe it’s money – you give up some of your “fun budget” to help a friend in need.
Maybe it’s time – and you give up that binge watch on Netflix to spend time with your spouse.
Maybe it’s strength – and you give up your strength as you finally attack that honey-do-list that’s been sitting on the fridge for the past 12 months.
Remember – love is not about taking for yourself.
But giving up for others.
Just like God gave up himself for us.
2) Love with Action
Because one of the easiest things to do is to mistake the phrase “I love you” as actual love.
It’s like the husband sitting on the couch playing Fortnight for three hours and shouting, “I love you honey,” as his wife vacuums the house for him. And then is offended when his wife asks him later, “Do you really love me?” “I told you while I was playing video games. Isn’t that enough?”
Nope. That’s not what love is.
Love is an action.
It’s why John writes, “Dear children, let us not love with words…but with actions.” (v.18)
It’s how God loved us. He didn’t just say “I love you,” but he showed that he loved us.
He acted by coming to earth, living perfectly, dying innocently and rising triumphantly for us.
Put your love into practice by acting in love for your family.
Put your love into practice by acting in love for your friends.
Put your love into practice by acting in love for your church family.
Put your love into practice by acting in love for your enemies.
Love with action.
3) Love in Truth
Because it wouldn’t be very loving if you saw a black widow spider hanging off a spiderweb and dangling near your friend’s ear and your response was: “Don’t worry about him. He’s not poisonous. If he bites you, you’ll be fine.”
That’s not loving.
That’s a lie.
And God teaches the same thing. “Dear children, let us not love with…speech, but in truth.” (v.18)
Love tells your friends when they are making bad life choices.
Love tells your husband when that tie doesn’t match with that jacket.
Love tells your wife when she has a piece of lettuce stuck in her teeth.
Love tells the truth.
And there’s no greater truth than the message of Jesus’ loves.
Some of you may know this already. A few weeks ago, Southwest Flight 1380 was en route from New York to Dallas. About 20 minutes in to the flight, the engine blew up and it hit one of the windows on the plane – busted it completely open, sucking a woman half way out the window and sending the plane hurtling to the earth.
Pastor Tim Bourman and his wife Amanda were on that plane.
Friends of mine.
A pastor in our synod.
He said that while he was in the air he was very scared, very frightened, very horrified. He thought that he was about to die.
But what can you do? He couldn’t fly the plane. So…he did all that he could.
He reached into his pocket.
He pulled out his phone.
He texted his two kids who were on the ground safe at home.
He texted them.
But not them.
His message said this:
“Never lose your faith in God. Jesus loves you.”
Amazing. That’s true.
You do the same.
Share that truth this week.
Share that love of Jesus – today.
Love like Jesus today. Amen.
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.”
I was looking at an old version of my high school handbook the other day. It’s pretty interesting how things have changed.
CD players were not allowed during study hall.
If you needed to make a phone call, you’d head down to the office and dial home on the fancy new cordless phone. (The one about the size of a shoe).
The Computer Lab was to be used to type up papers. So, you needed to sign up ahead of time to take turns on the 5 available machines.
That’s a lot different from now:
CD players aren’t even mentioned – although you’ve gotta keep the music emanating from your iPhone down.
No need to go to the secretary’s office for a phone call, just text mom (or Snap or Facetime or Google Hangout or facebook message or…whatever).
The computer lab doesn’t have computers, because people bring their own!
Things change. Times change.
A lot of words and ideas change.
School handbooks need to be updated.
Is it the same with God’s Word?
Does this Bible need an update?
Today we’re continuing our 500th Anniversary of the Reformation Series. We’re examining a question that Martin Luther -- the monk at the heart of the Reformation, examined 500 years ago. If you remember, he was faced with a Catholic church that had changed God’s Word. Instead of salvation by grace alone, they taught that works were necessary to earn God’s love. Instead of describing works as good deeds done for your neighbor, they described them as special religious ceremonies prescribed by the priests. Instead of finding moral authority from the Bible, the Catholic church claimed moral authority came from the Pope.
Was the church right?
Did God’s Word need an update?
Before we answer that question and grasp what the answer means for our lives, join me in prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. An Enduring Authority
Our answer comes from 1 Peter 1:23. It says this, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you. Notice the key adjectives: “living” as in “it hasn’t died yet.” “Enduring,” as in, “it’s still around.” “Imperishable,” as in, “It is unable to perish.”
How is that possible? Look at the simple phrase “word of God.” That’s what we call a subjective genitive. It’s a grammar term telling us that the word spoken were spoken from God himself. It labels him as the ultimate author of God’s Word.
That makes sense.
It would be a bit presumptive to say that I am the ultimate author of God’s Word. I’m the author of my own words.
It would be a bit presumptive to say that the prophet or the apostle are the authors of God’s Word. They are just men.
Ultimately, it’s called God’s Word because it comes from God himself.
This is a really important point. Because the authority of a piece of literature is determined by the authority of the author.
If you find a note that says, “Class is cancelled” and one of your high school buddies wrote it, class isn’t canceled.
If you find a note that says, “Class is cancelled” on official school letterhead with the signature of the school principal, it has authority. Stay home and turn on Netflix.
If a piece of literature comes from God, then it has ultimate authority because God has ultimate authority.
In fact, it has enduring authority, because God has enduring authority.
We notice this with U.S. Presidents all the time. After they are done with their tenure in office, they try not to comment too often on policy and implementation of the current administration. If they do and they say, “I would have done it differently,” that’s really all they can do. Because they no longer have authority. Their authority has expired.
But if God is God…
And God, in its terminology, indicates a divine eternal being…
Then he has eternal authority.
He has not been usurped.
He has not been overthrown.
He is still completely and absolutely in control.
And His words are still completely and absolutely in control.
He still tells the sun to shine.
He still tells the thunder when to thunder and where.
He still tells the wind to blow what direction and when.
He is in control as he has always been in control.
II. An Unenduring Submission
Yet – Is He?
A friend of mine gave me this. It’s a copy of the Catholic Study Bible. Most of it – is the Bible as we know it –NIV Version. But the study notes cause caution. Take a look at the note on the very first page:
The stories of the Bible are legends passed on for hundreds of years through oral tradition to teach important truths to each succeeding generation. ...One way to not read the Bible is as a “literalist”—someone who takes every word in Scripture as literal truth …families can discover and interpret the meaning of Scripture by asking not “is the Bible true?’ but “How is the Bible true?”
In other words --
Choose what you want.
Determine it for yourself.
I’m sure you’ll find at least something valuable.
And if you think the Bible is true and filled with authority? You’re reading the Bible wrong.
Which is interesting.
Because that means that there’s someone very important to the church that was doing it wrong.
Someone very important to the Bible.
Maybe you know him.
Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
The problem with this perspective?
There’s no authority.
In fact, the authority resides with the individual.
Because when you define God and morality as you think they should be, you are no longer worshipping God.
You’re really worshipping your own preferences.
Your own preferences become God’s Word.
Are you God?
You been around from before eternity?
Do you control hurricanes with your words?
Can you make the blind see by telling them to be blind?
Will you be able to ensure your safe departure from this world into heaven?
Then, you aren’t God.
You can’t treat your own opinions, emotions, and human thoughts as the ultimate authority!
“All people are like grass…” Remarkable really. They are tiny, little singular blades held up by one little tiny root. Facing the world and still standing!
“And all their glory is like the flowers” Man, it looks pretty for a moment! Have you seen how smart and successful I am?
“But the grass withers.” It gets old. It loses strength. It loses its job. It becomes forgetful. It’s replaced with the newer and shinier. It gets placed in an assisted living home and people forget all about it.
“And the flowers fall.”
From their position at work.
From standing in the family.
From standing in an upright position.
To laying in a bed until – they go back to the ground from whence they came.
Grass is temporary.
Flowers are temporary.
Humans are temporary.
And their words are temporary.
But the Word of God endures forever!
III. Enduring Promises
This is great news.
Because God’s Word isn’t just filled with enduring commands.
It also is filled with enduring promises.
Just back up in 1 Peter a bit for one of those promises. It says this:
You know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (vs. 18-19)
I love the connection to the imperishable here. Because we just talked about how God’s Word is imperishable because it comes from an imperishable God. Don’t be surprised then that the only thing that can saves us from the imperishable punishment prescribed for those who break God’s imperishable Word is nothing else than the imperishable blood of God himself.
He covers your sins.
He forgives you for trusting human thoughts more than his.
He forgives you for listening to your own emotions more than him.
He forgives you for loving society’s ideas more than His.
He forgives you and by faith in what Jesus did – God changes you.
He transforms you from a withering blade of grass to an enduring oak of righteousness.
He converts you from a falling flower into an ever-standing monument of His grace.
I don’t come up with this on my own.
Some fictional writers didn’t come up with this on their own.
It wasn’t even a bunch of smart well-meaning pastors…
It was God.
In fact, look at the next part of 1 Peter: He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (vs. 20-21)
God’s Word said that a Savior would come – and he did.
God’s Word said that the Savior would die – and he did.
God’s Word said that the Savior would rise – and he did.
And God’s Word says that you will rise – and you will.
God’s Word says that you will be declared innocent by God – and you will.
God’s Word says that by faith in Jesus you will be in heaven – and you will.
IV. WHAT NOW?
1. Look at God’s Word Differently
Because if the Bible is God’s Word, it changes how we look at it.
For instance, have you ever read Dr. Seuss? He has some great books. But we don’t treat them the same way we treat God’s Word.
We don’t teach kids that the First Commandment is that all should try Green Eggs and Ham.
Next week’s sermon text will be not be on the Cat and the Hat.
You’ll never hear me reading, “The word of the Lord says: One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.”
Dr. Seuss doesn’t claim to write from God; the Bible does.
Jesus confirms it; he does miracles to prove it.
Look at God’s Word as exactly what it says it is: God’s Word.
That means you don’t read it like a kid’s book – “What a nice story.”
You don’t read it like homework – “Is this over yet?”
You don’t read it like the fine print on an internet contract – “Scroll to the bottom; click YES I have read the terms and conditions.”
You read it with passion.
You read it as the enduring Word of God himself.
You read it as the Word of the One in Ultimate authority.
You read it as the promises -- the very promises -- that sustain you and I each day and lead to eternal life.
Practically speaking it means you make time for it.
You turn off your email.
You remove your phone.
You go to a quiet place.
You write down questions.
You think about it some more.
You talk about it.
You treat it as really, really, really divinely, eternally important because it is really, really, really divinely, eternally important.
2. Grow in Imperishable Love
It is so interesting that this whole section on the imperishable nature of God’s Word is linked directly to verse 22. Verse 22 says this, “Now that you have purified yoiurselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.” Apparently there was some struggle going on with 1st century Christians to live by the truth.
They thought “Love one another” meant once a week during church.
They thought “Be kind to one another,” meant “as long as they are being kind to me.”
They thought, “Love your enemies,” was more of a suggestion than a command.
Peter says this, “Jesus’ love for your lasts and the words about Jesus’ love for your lasts so your love need to last too.”
That means we grow daily in imperishable love.
We love each other on Sunday – and Monday.
We love each other when people love us and when they won’t get off the couch to help with weekend housework.
We love each other even when – gasp – they are my political enemy!
God’s Word endures; not your emotions.
God’s Word has authority; not your sinful thoughts.
God’s Word has made you imperishable; live your life with imperishable love!
3. Cling to Its Truth
And in order to do so, we need to cling to the truth of God’s Word.
That’s what Luther did.
Even though the priests said differently.
Even though scholars said differently.
Even though the Pope himself said differently.
Luther clung to God’s Word.
And the result? God promises an enduring existence with him in heaven.
Which is a pretty appropriate reflection today. Because today is a day in the church year called Saints Triumphant Sunday. A day when we remember believers in Christ who like grass have withered and like flowers have fallen. But in the midst of all those physical failures, their faith endured in the One who endures.
Where are they now?
What do they experience?
Where will we be as believers in God’s enduring promise.
Listen to what the enduring God of revealed in Revelation:
There was the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
God’s saints dwelling in a holy city. In the city, there is not a temple, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
It was written by God.
It was written with Jesus’ blood.
It has your name written in it.
It will endure. Amen.
We are in Joshua 9 this morning – and quick review – we’ve seen a lot of amazing things happen so far. We saw the rushing white water rapids of the Jordan river split in half; we saw the walls of Jericho come tumbling down; and we saw Israel defeat Jericho & Ai – with the incredible help of their God.
It’s a joy.
But imagine you are not a Christian living in North Raleigh years removed from these events.
Imagine you live in Canaan and hear about these attacks.
Not so exciting.
One of the nations – the nation of Gibeon – heard about Israel’s miracles streak and decided to do something about it. Before we look at their plan and see how Israel handles it; let us pray: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. Your word is truth. Open our eyes to see what YOU want us to see. Open our ears to hear what YOU want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what YOU would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Gibeonite’s Deception
When the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they resorted to a ruse. To help us be understand the ruse – Israel was not supposed to make a treaty with anyone in the Promised Land. Why? (1) God wanted to give the entire Promised Land to the people of Israel. (2) God wanted to protect them from the false god worship that was prevalent among the Canaanites.
Gibeon understood that, so they make a plan: Trick Israel into thinking that they aren’t from Canaan. Here’s the plan:
It says they went and grabbed worn out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended. A sack is a sack. Not hard to interpret. But a wineskin is a bit less familiar. It was literally the skin of an animal, sewn up to hold wine. When it was new it was plump. It was fresh. It held the wine with no problem. But the Gibeonites go and grab the wineskins that have been in Uncle Joe’s basement for the past 7 years. They’re old, dusty, and are starting to leak.
Why visit Joshua with the worn-out wineskins and old sacks? Remember – they are going to tell Joshua that they are from far away. If their stuff looked new, it wouldn’t look like they were from far away. They were travelled in the desert for a long time.
So, they bring the old stuff. Hoping that the little drip of wine coming off through the broken wineskin will be enough to convince Israel they are legit.
But just in case…
They put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. This is literally walking the extra mile. Because when your shoes start to develop holes in them – they are not all that comfortable. You get rocks in them, sand in them, prickers in them. It’s uncomfortable.
I can almost picture one of them saying, “It hurts. I’m getting blisters. I don’t like the way it feels. The sand is scorching my feet. Can I take it off?”
Well that depends:
Do you value your life?
Wear the shoes.
(3) Gross Food.
This is where they go all in. Because they must have searched through the garbage to put together the meals for the trip. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy. The idea? They want Joshua to think they baked the bread weeks ago – but the journey was long. The journey was hard – the journey was arduous – and they didn’t have Air Tight Ziploc Bags – so the bread went stale.
Which is a travesty! Ever been on a long trip and somewhere along the trip – someone forgets to fully seal the Doritos before they put them back into the snack bag? It’s a travesty! Nacho Cheese goodness now tasting like cardboard – (I still eat them) – but still…
They are going all in on this ruse. Even willing to waste a perfectly good road snack.
(4) The Script.
Then there’s the script. Check out verse 6. It says, “We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us.” It’s interesting. Joshua and the Israelites don’t buy the story at first. “Perhaps you live near us, so how can we make a treaty with you? Where are you from?” (v.7-8)
Listen to their response. We come from a very distant country. They don’t give a name. They don’t mention the place. They don’t even make up name. Just – “It’s very far away. I’m sure you haven’t heard of it. We won’t burden you with such trite details. Just know it’s very far – and it definitely is not—in any way – a part of the Promised Land.”
In fact – and this is sneaky – listen to their reasoning: We have heard about your God – all that he did in Egypt and all that he did to Sihon and Og.
Both of which are amazing stories of God’s might.
Both of which are stories of God’s might that happened decades ago.
Both of which are stories of God’s might that didn’t happen in Canaan.
Notice – these men ignore the miracles that would have happened by them: the crossing of Jordan River, the wall of Jericho and the battle at Ai. That would give them away! It would prove that they must be locals because how else would they know about these local events which happened within the last month. Remember – Joshua did not have his own Twitter handle yet and there weren’t any Vines of the walls tumbling to the ground.
Besides—the Gibeonites do not let the Israelites ponder it for all that long. They switch gears:
Touch the holes in my shoes.
Look at the moldy bread.
Smell the gross wine.
Do you remember Wil E. Coyote? He would order those Roadrunner catching kits from Acme. One of those was a refrigerator strapped to his back with a fast-acting ice maker that shot the ice in front of him allowing him to ski after the Roadrunner and catch him.
It didn’t work.
The plan from the people of Gibeon similar.
It's seems silly.
It won’t work.
II. Israel’s Terrible Detective Work
But as outrageous as this ruse is, it’s not as outrageous as the Israelite response. Look at their detective work skills: The Israelites sampled their provisions… Think about that: They ate the moldy bread. They ignored the maggots.
But they did not inquire of the Lord.
Which is especially terrible considering what God had just done.
Remember what happened in chapter 7? It was the caper of the stolen goods. The account of Achan stealing some silver and gold – and it causing Israel to fail at Ai. It was quite the detective story – trying to find the few pieces of gold among the hundreds of thousands of tents of the millions of Israelites. It was an impossible task.
But God did it.
He showed them exactly who did it.
He gave them the truth.
After God did that, why in the world didn’t they ask God for help on this one?
Instead: “But they did not inquire of the Lord.”
I wonder how often that would appear in our lives.
I wonder how often I’ve decided what my plans are for the weekend and I think, and I plan and at the end of the week, the caption underneath my Instagram photo should read: But he did not inquire of the Lord…
Whether it’s what to do for the weekend, which boyfriend to choose, which doctor to go with, how to react to the coworker, which job to get, or whatever…
How often is the tagline on our exploits: But he did not inquire of the Lord…
Or how often do we look to Facebook for the answer…
Or a horoscope…
Or a magic 8 ball…
Or my friend…
Or type into Google “What to do in this particular instance” and read a 5-step article on Wiki-How-To…
Or think and ponder and come to a conclusion myself. And at the end of the day the decision is made… But he did not inquire of the Lord.
TRUTH: Not inquiring of God is foolish.
God knows all things.
God knows the best things.
God loves you more than all things.
God loves you better than any other advice giver out there.
We should listen to him.
If you haven’t, listen to Him right here:
III. The Truth Revealed
Because look at the result of not inquiring from God. Three days after they made the treaty with the Gibeonites, the Israelites heard that they were neighbors, living near them.
They approach the Gibeonites: What gives!?! How could you trick us?
The Gibeonite’s response is simple: We feared you. We feared your God. We didn’t want to die – so we signed the treaty. Do with us as you wish.
And now the leadership is in a tough spot.
God had told them to completely, destroy every nation in the Promised Land.
But God had also told them to keep their oaths – one of which they just made to NOT destroy the Gibeonites.
What should they do?
The rest of the Israelites are getting testy…How could you leaders have done this?
So, they respond:
We have given them our oath by the Lord, the God of Israel, and we cannot touch them now. This is what we will do to them: We will let them live, so that God’s wrath will not fall on us for breaking the oath we swore to them. (v.19-20)
In other words:
We are representing God.
We have given his Word.
And in His Word he tells us that His Word is never broken.
That’s a huge truth for Israel, too! Because it means:
Even if Israel had sinned, God would not break his promise to win them the Promised Land.
Even if Gibeon had sinned, God would not break his promise to keep them safe, too.
Even if all them all had sinned, God would not break his promise to send his Messiah.
No matter how hard it got.
Because keeping your word can be hard.
There’s unexpected expenses, a meeting you forgot, health issues that prevent it or even distance.
But nothing’s too hard for God.
There is no harder time for anyone to keep their Word than God about 2000 years ago. He had promised to send a Savior. He had promised to be that Savior. He had come to earth, live 33 perfect years and was ready for the final part of his promise.
But it got hard.
He was abandoned by his friends, arrested, beaten, nailed to a across, slowly suffocated, all with the sins of the world on his back and God the Father’s wrath against him!
Having the hellfire wrath of God against you? Nothing sounds more difficult.
But Jesus did it.
He kept his Word
And he keeps his Word.
And in his Word, he declares you forgiven.
Don’t take my word for it. Inquire of His Word yourself:
Colossians 1:14 -- In Jesus we have the forgiveness of sins.
Ephesians 1:7 -- In Jesus we have…the forgiveness of sins.
1 John 2:2 – Your sins have been forgiven…on account of his name.
Acts 13:38 Through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed.
IV. How to Inquire?
Since you have been forgiven, God wants you to be confident. To inquire of him.
But how to you do that? A few things to keep in mind:
In the Old Testament, the Israelites had this special thing called Urim and Thummim. It’s a strange word without a translation because it spoke to very special items that the Israelites would use to inquire of God. Not a lot is known about these items – other than that they were items of chance. It sounds a bit like picking the shortest straw to find the answer – except that God had given them these items and told the Israelites to use them to find answers.
You don’t have to wait for archaeologist to find the Urim and Thummim.
God has given you prayer.
Prayer is a conversation with God.
And God loves you.
So, ask him for anything.
For help figuring out your health.
For help figuring out if that relationship is for you.
For help figuring out where to go on vacation.
For help figuring out how to handle that coworker.
From the big to the small – God has no limits on prayer. He simply tells you to pray to him. Inquire of him. If it’s important to you, it’s important to God.
(2) Listen to His Clear Word
Because there’s this idea out there that after we pray, we just kind of listen. As if you might here God’s voice in the wind and he’ll tell you what to do – or he’ll give you a good feeling and that’ll tell you what to do. (Unless you mistake an old burrito feeling for God’s voice.)
There’s a simpler place to look for God’s voice.
There’s a clearer place to look for God’s voice.
Do examine God’s Word when you are making a decision.
For instance, if I’m at Kroger and a guy cuts in front of me in line when I get distracted by the latest National Inquirer Headline – and I’m trying to figure out how to react and I wonder “Should I punch this guy in the face?” I look in God’s Word. God’s Word says, “Love one another.”
I have my answer: Don’t punch him.
Simply put –
If God’s Word says do it; do it.
If God’s Word says don’t do it; don’t do it.
(3) Seek His Will
But what about the neutral zone? You know the neutral zone in hockey. It’s the area that’s neither on one team’s side or another’s. The spiritual neutral zone is neither on the commanded side nor the forbidden side.
Like what kind of jelly to put on my peanut butter sandwich.
Neither commanded nor forbidden.
I can eat strawberry.
I can eat grape.
I can eat apricot.
But even in the area of the neutral zone – remember God’s Word.
God wants us to love him.
God wants us to love each other.
Suddenly, that affects my jelly choice.
I might remember that my wife doesn’t like the smell of grape jelly on my breath, so I don’t pick that.
I remember that my kid likes strawberry and there’s only a spoonful left so I don’t pick that.
I remember that apricot is the healthiest – which allows me to keep the body God has given me in good shape so that I can go and share his Word and give him the glory – so I pick that.
That’s just one scenario. Whether the decision is big or small – seek God’s Will! Inquire of God.
Because God speaks the truth.
Here’s where it gets really interesting. In the final verse it says, “Joshua made the Gibeonites woodcutters and watercarriers.” Servants. If you go backwards in Scripture all the way to Genesis 9 – Noah (the guy with the ark) tells his son Canaan who is the patriarch for the Canaanites that he will one day serve his brother Shem – the patriarch of the Israelites.
Here – it comes true.
They don’t die. They live. It’s better to be a servant in God’s house than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
God has made the same promise to you.
The truth is you will one day be in his Promised Land.
Don’t believe Him? Inquire about it. He’ll gladly tell you again. Amen.
Who do you follow?
It’s interesting because thanks to Social Media, it is now very easy to see who you follow on Twitter or Instagram. If you looked at my profile, you’d find out that I follow a bunch of famous pastors, Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, Randall Cobb (there's a lot of Packers), and like 17 versions of Jesus.
But the most followed people on Social Media? Kim Kardashian – probably because people like to see her fashion and learn what’s hip and in. Lebron James – because people like to get insights into the life of such an incredible baller. Taylor Swift-- millions of followers aiming to see what her latest music is.
And here’s something interesting – you can now advertise to get more people to follow you. For instance, you might be scrolling through Facebook and an ad will pop up of a delicious looking cup of coffee “Follow Sola Coffee and get a free coffee NOW,” or there might be a cute cat video, “To see more cute cat videos, follow cutecatvideos.com.”
Of course, what goes on in Social Media is just a minuscule version of what happens to each of us – spiritually. Lots of voices – each day – calling to us “Follow me. Follow us. Follow our way of thinking.”
And while following the wrong person on Social Media might mean a few months of lame jokes and some of your friends thinking you aren’t as cool as they thought you were, following the wrong one spiritually has much worse consequences:
It determines your relationship with God.
It determines the peace you have in your life.
It determines where you spend eternity.
Today we are going to begin a sermon series called FOLLOW. We’re going to discuss what it means to follow Jesus as a 21st century, millennial, Raleighian. Today, we want to start by sifting through the voices that call us to follow them. We want to (1) become wary of voices (even religious voices) that point us in the wrong direction and (2) hear Jesus’ voices – and the incredible results of following him.
Before we do that, join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Be Wary of the Voices
Our lesson today takes place in John 1: 29. A bit of background on John 1 – This takes place around 30 AD. At the time, the Roman Empire is in control of large portions of Europe, Asia, Northern Africa – and even Israel. But while the government was controlled by these foreigners, the day-to-day religious life was governed by the reflections and suggestions of the religious leaders – a group of men called the Pharisees.
The Pharisees were zealots. They loved God’s law. They loved it so much that they couldn’t help but improve upon it. God’s law said to wear a prayer shawl which were giant, jewel studded aprons. God’s law said to rest on Saturday; they made sure to not take more than 500 steps. God’s law said to give 10% of your income; they gave up 10% of their salt shaker – measuring it, funneling it, and taking it to the temple for all to see: “Here’s my ten percent of salt. Did you remember your 10% of salt? I’m just 10% of salt better than you at connecting with God.”
They sound like wonderful guys, right?
But honestly – they were viewed that way. The people at the time looked up to them. From the outward perspective, these guys seemed to have it all together. They had money. They had religious things to say. They looked like they knew just what it took to get to God and to heaven. So many followed them. They listened to them. They learned from them. They hoped to be them.
John was different.
John ditched the long flowing robes and prayer shawls for camel skin clothing.
He ditched the bread baked for the holy show bread table for locusts and grasshoppers.
He ditched the decadence of the temple for the desert.
He ditched the quiet argumentation of the wise at the synagogue for the loud, hellfire and brimstone of a sports fan who's had too much to drink!
John was different. Compared to the Pharisees he looked like a perennial homeless guy complete with wily hair and a pungent odor. You wouldn’t expect that many people to follow him on spiritual matters.
But people did. In fact, the Gospel of Luke says that there were “crowds of people coming to him.” (3:7) The word, in the singular, gives you a picture of a church full. A crowd. But it’s in the plural – crowds of people. Like a group gathering downtown at the amphitheater to listen to Taylor Swift – that’s the kind of crowds that John was drawing to him.
More importantly – that’s the kind of crowd that the Pharisees were losing to him.
So they went to investigate. Take a look at John 1:19. “The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask John who he was.” Follow that question – Who are you? Who in the world do you think you are? Knowing what we know about the Pharisees in every other part of Scripture, you almost expect an element of "What gives you a right to take all these followers away from us?"
And if you’re John – looking around at all these people – seeing how they hang on your every word -realizing that so many of them had left the flock of Pharisees to come and hear you – wouldn’t you expect a bit of pride to swell in his heart? Maybe a sarcastic answer:
I’m everything you guys aren’t.
I’m a better leader than you.
I’m the guy these people are following. Who are you?
But instead look at how John replies – He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” (1:20)
Let’s talk about that. Messiah is a Hebrew word. It means “Anointed One.” The Anointed One was a part of the Jewish faith. Thousands of years earlier God had promised Abraham – the man from whom the entire genealogy of Israel was based – that one day someone would come from his family – one anointed to bless all people. That promise was repeated by God, “The Anointed One is coming! The Anointed One is coming!”
Prophet after prophet came.
Prophet after prophet spoke about the Anointed One.
Prophet after prophet was not the Anointed One.
Now a group of people was convinced that John might be the Messiah. He spoke so powerfully and his message was so intriguing. Maybe he was the Messiah. Maybe he was the one to lead them away from Roman power. Maybe he was the one to save them.
John could have said, “Yes, I am. Give me your money. Get me a hammock. Get me some of those big bunches of dark purple grapes and a few beautiful ladies to feed me – and I’ll tell you what to do next.”
But he doesn’t. He confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” (1:20)
Ok. But he still seemed pretty important and they still wanted to follow him. Follow their train of thought, “Then, who are you? Are you Elijah? He’s a really famous prophet from ancient Israel. He’s dead, but…maybe you are him come back from the dead? We’ll follow you!"
Are you the Prophet? A prophecy about Moses – arguably the most famous prophet of ancient Israel and how a prophet would come that was greater than him! Are you that prophet?
Then, who are you? We give up. Tell us who you are and we can start your fan club.
John said this, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (v.23)
Do any of you have a GPS? What’s pretty neat about a GPS is it tells you everywhere you want to go. It tells you step by step, turn by turn directions on how to get to Cameron for a Duke game or PNC for a State game or how to get to Asheville to go skiing.
What’s also cool about a GPS is that you can change the voice of the one talking to you. You can have it speak with a pleasant Southern accent, “Ya’ll turn right.” A Northern Wisconsin accent, “You betcha that’s a left turn there.” OR you can even have it speak as Mr. T. “I pity the fool who don’t make a U-turn right now!”
But Mr. T doesn’t really know what all these directions. He’s not sitting in some suite in downtown Raleigh with a headset on, Google maps pulled up and giving you directions where to go. He’s simply a voice – telling you what he’s been told to say.
That’s what John was. He was a voice. A voice that had been prophesied about by another voice – but a voice nonetheless.
A voice who would come before the Messiah.
A voice who would point people to the Messiah.
A voice who was not the Messiah.
A voice who told people – I’m not the Messiah.
Of course, that’s not always how it goes, is it? People don’t always say, “Don’t follow me. I’m not the answer.” Oftentimes people give you the impression that they are the Messiah – or at least that they’ll fix all of your problems.
And I think there are three areas of society where this is especially true:
We just got done with a political season in which people put all their hopes and dreams on various political candidates. He’s my Messiah. No, she’s my Messiah. He’s going to make my life better. No, she’s going to change my world.
People follow them. People put their hopes in him. People think they are the one who are going to fix things for them and are horribly disappointed when they don’t.
Understand this when politicians are running for office they need to do everything possible to explain why they are the best person for the job and why they will be your personal Messiah – even if they know they can’t be.
What I mean is – it wouldn’t be a very good political campaign if I said, “Vote for Kiecker. I’m ok – not terrible, but not great either. I’ll try hard…most of the time. I probably won’t make that much change in your personal life anyways.”
In the end, politicians have voices. Their voices elevate themselves. But be careful. Political candidates are not the Messiah.
This is interesting. Because pastors are supposed to be voices pointing people to the Messiah. But sometimes it becomes all about them.
Sometimes, it might not even be their fault. Listen to that pastor. He has it all together. He’ll turn your life around and if he ever leaves, it’ll be a disaster again!
Sometimes, it is their fault. Here’s what I did in my life. Here’s why it worked. Here’s why you need to follow me and do what I did (and send some money my way in the process.)
But here’s the problem: The pastor is not the Messiah. I’m not the Messiah. Joel Osteen is not the Messiah. Joyce Meyers is not the Messiah.
There is not a pastor right now who is the Messiah.
If a pastoral voice tells you to follow the Lord, awesome.
If a pastoral voice tells you to follow himself, be careful. Be very careful.
And if I ever start doing that – somebody slap me.
And then, there’s probably the trickiest voice to deal with. It’s one that you’ve heard before. It’s one that has influenced you throughout your life. It’s one that I guarantee you struggle with.
Your own voice.
We are so cleverly, stupid:
ON. MY. OWN.
Here’s the reality that John the Baptist realized – he was not the Messiah (and he had crowds of people following him!) You don’t have crowds of people following you. You might have hundreds of people following you on Instagram, but guess what – none of them think you can fix their life!
You are not the Messiah.
So stop trusting yourself as the Messiah.
It will have eternal consequences.
II. Follow the Lamb
Who is the Messiah then? Who should we put our trust in?
Read a bit farther with me. In fact, it’s the very next day. The crowds have returned. Some are disappointed. John isn’t the one. They have to keep searching, keep looking, and keep hoping to find the Messiah one day. John sense their frustration. John himself has that same frustration.
But then…he sees him. Walking slowly. Head down. Covered up in a tunic. Unassuming and unimpressive.
But John knows him and John points: John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Look at the Lamb.
See the Lamb.
Follow the Lamb.
That’s a really interesting name for the Savior. Because Lambs are not really that intimidating.
There aren’t any NFL teams calls the Lambs.
There isn’t any professional wrestler called “Lonnie, the Lamb.”
Where you hear that word – it doesn’t strike me with fear. I’m not suddenly concerned that the Lamb is going to suffocate me with his wool.
Why would you follow a lamb? Wouldn’t you just be counting him jumping over the same gate over and over until you fall asleep?
Don’t tune out just yet. John gives three awesome reasons to follow the man referred to as the Lamb.
(1) He Takes Away the Sin of the World.
This one has a lot to do with the culture of Ancient Israel. In the Old Testament, God had people sacrifice animals. Sometimes out of thanks. Sometimes out of trust. And sometimes for the forgiveness of sins.
When it was for the forgiveness of sins, God was making something clear to the Israelites: I hate sin. I hate it because it wrongs your fellow brothers and sisters. I hate it because it wrongs my children. I hate so much that I must punish it with death!
When lambs were sacrificed for sins, it was a constant reminder to the people of the divine, eternal consequence of their sins.
The only problem? If you were an Old Testament Israelite you probably saw lots of lambs killed. A lamb for my morning sin. A lamb for my 2 pm sin. A lamb for my evening sins. Lambs for the sins that I missed last week. Lambs for your sins and my sins and lambs for Uncle John’s sins. Lambs here, there, everywhere, up, down and in between. Lambs everywhere that Dr. Seuss could think of to describe it!
The sad reality?
Animal blood cannot take away sin.
But Jesus wasn’t an animal.
He wasn’t an cute, fluffy lamb.
He wasn’t even a man.
He was God’s Son.
With his death, he would take away the sins of the world.
With his death, he took away the sins of the world.
That means this: When you follow Jesus, your sins are forgiven.
The sin that can’t seem to leave your mind? Forgiven.
That sin your friends won’t let your forget on Facebook? Forgiven.
That sin that cost you your job? Forgiven.
That sin you struggled with for the past twelve years of your life? Forgiven.
Forgiven because the Lamb of God gave his blood for you.
(2) He’s Been Around Awhile.
One of the key talking points in a political race is experience. How many years have they been in government? How much experience do they have serving people? How many years of tenure do they have under their belt?
Look at what John says about Jesus, "The one who comes after me (Jesus) was before me.” Literally, he existed long before me!
This doesn’t mean John was bad at math. Because if you follow the story of Jesus, John’s birth was announced about six months before Jesus’. John was ½ a year older than Jesus.
But Jesus was not just human.
Jesus was also God.
It means he’s been around the block. He’s been around since the beginning. He’s been around since the formation of the earth. He’s been around since an eternity and half before there was an earth.
Talk about experience. He’s seen it all. He’s been through it all.
Making him the perfect one to follow.
Think about what you’re going through. Jesus gets it.
Financial struggles? He’s seen that and helped people through it.
Relationship struggles? He’s seen it before and comforted through it.
Struggles with guilt and shame?
Nervousness about a sickness?
Problems at school?
Doubts about the direction of your life?
Jesus has seen it. Jesus has helped people through it. Jesus will help you through it.
(3) Awesome stuff happens around Him.
In fact, John lets us in on a secret - the reason he was so confident that Jesus was the Lamb of God and the one to follow.
He says this “I saw the heavens open up.” And can you imagine that? We’re not talking about the clouds parting and there being a sunny day. We’re talking about some incredible, divine, never before seen moment – the sky is rendered. There’s a glimpse into heaven. There’s a brilliant light that even sunglasses won’t allow you to look into.
And a silhouette – a divine dove – starts hovering down from the split in the sky. It hovers to the right. It hovers to the left. All eyes are on it. Until it comes to rest right on Jesus’ shoulder.
And then, a voice – not John’s voice – a voice – a booming voice – a voice – not coming from some microphone system because microphone systems didn’t exist yet!
A voice from God himself says this, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
It was a moment that made John go “wow.”
It was a moment that made everyone else who saw it go, “That was incredible.”
It was a moment that made people stop and think – This guy is worth following.
My prayer is that it makes you stop and think the same – This guy, this God, this Lamb is worth following.
Recommit yourself to following Jesus in 2017. Amen.