When COVID-19 is finally over, I think church should have a party.
A non-socially distant party.
A party where everyone who enters gets good, old fashioned, human contact.
Even European cheek kisses?
There’ll be Juicy Juices available in the snack area – with two giant straws for you to share with a complete stranger!
Out back, we’ll have a giant game of twister…
And we’ll end the party by doing one of those things where everyone puts their hands in and then raise them by shouting something encouraging like: “Go Social Near Proximity!”
A non-social distance party sounds nice…
We aren’t there yet.
Not at all.
Some of you wonder.
When will that party happen?
Will that party EVER happen?
That party will absolutely happen.
In fact, the Bible guarantees such a party.
Only this party, it doesn’t happen on earth.
Today we hear from God’s Word about the ETERNAL VICTORY PARTY awaiting us in heaven. Before we get into it, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Vision of the Party
The lesson comes from the very last book in the Bible. It’s called Revelation. Revelation was written by one of Jesus’ 12 disciples named John. John was very close to Jesus. He had spent three years learning from Jesus, he was at the cross when Jesus died, he saw Jesus risen from the dead, and interacted with his risen Savior on multiple occasions. John was a key part of the early church and spreading the Gospel.
Unfortunately, that got John into trouble. He was exiled to an island called Patmos where he finished life by himself.
Think of it like his own quarantine.
But God didn’t let John’s time go to waste. While on the island of Patmos, God revealed to John some amazing things about the future. God came to John in several vision to reveal truths about the end times. These visions are written down in Revelation.
That’s why Revelation is called Apocalyptic Literature. Apocalyptic literature is pretty fantastic. It includes otherworldly creatures, strange metaphors, and complicated similes.
It’s like verbal art. Each word is like an artist’s brush stroke. The strokes come together to create a fantastic piece that speaks deep truth about the end times. For us, the challenging part is that the Holy Spirit’s work in Revelation is something like a Picasso – strange, out of place, hard to understand at first glance.
That’s important to keep in mind.
The temptation might be to take it apart piece by piece. To focus in on singular details.
But the Holy Spirit motivated John to write the vision as one continuous piece.
There’s value in backing up and looking at it in its entirety.
Let’s dive into the vision.
John was having a normal day.
It’s quiet on an exile island.
I imagine he woke up at the rays of sunlight.
He went and poured his drip coffee, “Patmos Perk Blend.”
He grabbed his scrolled copy of the first three chapters of Revelation.
Because these were Jesus’ words.
He went outside to use them for his morning devotion.
As he’s sitting on his patio, with the waves gently crashing in the background, he warms his hands on his mug and takes a deep breath:
“What a beautiful sunrise.
What a beautiful skyline.
Nothing could be more beautiful.”
Just then, something happened.
After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. (v.1)
And John did a double take.
It wasn’t as if the clouds parted.
It wasn’t as if the sun was shining more brightly.
The physical, earthly atmosphere opened to reveal the hidden, metaphysical realm of heaven
Then, a loud sound.
No, a voice.
No, a voice like trumpet.
No, a trumpet like voice.
The same voice that had spoken to him as he wrote those letters.
The same powerful voice that had spoken God’s Word.
The voice of Jesus.
(Jesus’) Voice…said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” (v.1)
No sooner had Jesus’ voice spoken, than John was in the Spirit. (v.2)
John was suddenly looking back at his body.
His spirit was entering the spirit realm and he was being led by the Spirit…
Through the air.
Through the sky.
Through the clouds.
Through the Ozone Layer.
Through the metaphysical doorway.
Once John got his bearings. He looked around.
And there before (him) was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. (v2b)
It was hard to make out who that someone was.
Because this Being.
And this Throne.
They were gleaming.
They were glowing with an otherworldly glow.
And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby.
Jasper is a beautiful, clear, diamond-like rock.
Ruby is a gorgeous, dark red gemstone.
John had seen them before as tiny stones worn by the religious leaders back on earth. The high priests wore the stones on his breastplate. They served as a beautiful reminder of the God’s grace and sovereignty.
Thus far in John’s life he had only seen these stones worn by someone.
Never as someone.
Above the One seated on the throne was an emerald-colored shape. (v.3)
It encircled the throne.
It encircled the jasper & ruby like being.
It encircled them like a rainbow.
In the Old Testament, the rainbow was given by God as reminder of God’s grace and mercy.
Unfortunately, all the rainbows that John had seen…faded.
Not this one.
This rainbow – endured.
Where God’s grace – stayed.
It took a couple of minutes. But John noticed that there were others in the room.
Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. (v.4)
They looked like princes.
All in uniform.
All in a holy, divine uniform.
John was about to compliment the nearest elder on his golden head gear, when…
From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. (v.5)
It was louder than any storm John had ever heard before.
Probably because he was closer to the source of a storm than John had ever been before.
This was the throne room of heaven.
This is the place where God controlled the weather.
This is the place where God told tornadoes where to go…
…and hurricanes to develop into category 4s.
…and earthquakes to rumble.
…and volcanoes to erupt.
…and wildfires to burn.
Speaking of burning…
In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. (v5b)
They didn’t seem to be going out.
Not at all.
They weren’t fading.
Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. (v.6)
In fact, that water was unlike any water John had ever seen before.
Most of the water he had seen was murky.
This greenish, brown from algae and mud.
Even the shores of the Mediterranean Sea on his island, which were clearer than lake water, weren’t as clear as this divine deluge.
This sea and how it got that way?
Was surpassing all John’s understanding.
In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures. (v.7)
And you’ll have to forgive John for the description. Because these creatures were unlike any creatures he had ever seen on earth.
For starters, they were covered with eyeballs all down their front and all down their backs. It would be enough to give anyone jitters.
But not John.
Not beside that peaceful water.
Not in the protection of the One on the throne.
The first living creature was like a lion, powerful and wild.
The second was like an ox, domestic and loyal.
The third had a face like a man, wise and beloved.
Th fourth was like a flying eagle, soaring and free.
Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. (v8)
John couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
This was incredible.
It was awesome.
It was worth giving a shout.
The living creatures beat him to it:
“ ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.” (v.8b)
“ ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.”
“ ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.”
It was a beautiful symphony.
But it wasn’t over.
Suddenly, the elders got down from their thrones.
They turned to face the Seated One.
They fell to the ground.
They took off their crowns.
And joined in the worship of the Seated One.
They cried, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (v.8)
He didn’t need to be afraid.
He didn’t need to be worried.
He didn’t need to be anything anymore…
Other than joyful.
He was with God.
II. Truths about the Eternal Victory Party
This revelation paints a beautiful picture for us of that eternal victory party. There’s a lot to talk about. But I’m going to limit myself to five things that will have value for our lives right now.
GOD is at the CENTER of the Victory Party.
The first things John sees is the One seated on the Throne. (v.2) His eyes are naturally drawn to him.
Then, there are these concentric circles going out and around the throne.
Verse 3 says the rainbow encircled the throne.
Verse 4 says the 24 elders were surrounding the throne.
Verse 6 says the 4 living creatures were around the throne.
Verse 9 says the elders bow down and praise the One on the throne.
In fact, if we read a bit farther in chapter 5:11, it says that 10,000 times 10,000 angels encircled the throne to praise God.
The point? God is at the center of this victory party.
Since God’s there? This is a good party.
This is a DIVINELY good party.
It’s not like human parties.
Sometimes human parties aren’t very good.
The punch isn’t bitter.
The taco dip isn’t overrun with too many refried beans.
The Enya music in the background isn’t ruining the mood.
This isn’t like a human party.
This party is good.
Sometimes human parties have sin at them. Sin that spoils the party and gives you a bad after taste for days!
Like the headache you have because you drank too much.
Or the drunken text message you need to explain because you were mad at someone.
Or the two of your friends who aren’t speaking together anymore because one got together with the other’s boyfriend.
This isn’t a human party.
This is a GOD party.
It isn’t a sinful party with horrid after-effects.
This is a God party.
With amazing forever effects.
At this party…
There’s no sadness.
There’s no pain.
There’s no fighting.
There’s no backstabbing.
There’s no gossip.
There’s no embarrassment.
There’s no sickness.
There’s no sin.
There’s no COVID-19.
There’s no economic downturn.
There’s no loss of job.
There’s no anxiety.
There’s only good.
The guest list includes ALL BELIEVERS
John describes 24 elders in front of the throne. This seems very likely to be a summation of two very important groups from the Bible. One from the Old Testament before Jesus and another group from the New Testament at the time of Jesus.
There were 12 tribes of Israel in the Old Testament. (This nation was chosen by God to preserve the promise of the Savior.)
There were 12 apostles in the New Testament. (These were chosen by the Savior to work closely with him.)
Putting those two together seems to symbolize a complete gathering of the Chosen from the Old and New Testament.
In other words:
Do you grasp what this means?
If you are a believer in Jesus as your Savior, you will be at this divine party.
That’s what happened when the Gospel was preached to you.
God wrote up one of those little invitations cards and sent it to you.
Of course, he didn’t send it on one of those Pinterest level cuties cards – although if the first way you learned about Jesus was through a Pinterest card with “Jesus Loves You” written on it, I suppose that’s exactly what he did.
And if you aren’t a believer, this is your invitation right now!
You are invited to the party.
A party without any pain, shame, or sadness.
If you’d like to be in that party, you’ve got to listen to the instructions on the invitation.
What are those instructions?
Do you remember how John got to the party?
He didn’t use GPS.
He didn’t use Google maps.
He didn’t ask Alexa.
The voice called to him.
It was the voice of Jesus.
The ONLY way to the eternal victory party is through JESUS.
And that’s good news.
Cause while these the most impressive party of all time,
There isn’t an exclusive list.
You don’t have to pay your way in.
You don’t have to be invited based on your humanitarian efforts.
You won’t be disqualified because you have that one sin in your past.
Jesus is your way to the victory party.
It’s only through Jesus that you get into the party.
He lived for you.
He died for you.
He rose for you.
It’s as simple as trusting Jesus’ invitation.
And you’ll be at that party.
The party is JOYFUL!
The living creatures with the eyeballs and the wings. I don’t know exactly what they represent. It seems the safest and easiest choice would be a representation of all living creatures.
The lion represents wild animals.
The ox represents domesticated animals.
The human represents humans.
The eagle represents birds.
Don’t ask me why there isn’t a slug with a bunch of eyes on it representing mollusks.
But did you notice this?
These living creatures praise God.
So do the angels.
So do the elders – aka – the Redeemed.
Everyone and everything are joyfully praising God!
No one is stopping to complain.
No one is stopping to argue.
No one is thinking about COVID-19.
No one is worried that they need to get home by 9 so they don’t get charged double by the babysitter.
Do you remember the last time you were just joyful?
You will be.
When you join the eternal victory party, you will be joyful!
But here’s where it gets interesting. Look closely at verse 9 again:
Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to the one who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four…worship the one who lives forever and ever…saying: You are worthy, Lord our God! (v.9-10)
Did you catch that?
It isn’t a one-time occurrence.
It isn’t a thing in the future.
It’s a “whenever” occurrence.
As in, this praise for our God is going on right now.
You don’t need to WAIT to join the party.
Whenever you see a beautiful sunrise and you are amazing at God’s artistry? Praise God!
Whenever you see a majestic wild animal on one of those National Geographic shows and you are amazed at God’s power? Praise God!
Whenever you look through your kids’ books on animals and you see a photo of one of those weird fish with the light on its head and you think: “That’s so creative.” Praise God!
Whenever you wake up to the beautiful face of your bride and think, “How blessed am I?” Praise God!
Whenever your family gathers together on the sofa for game night, safe and healthy? Praise God!
Whenever you see the gorgeous smile of your child on the screen saver of your cell phone? Praise God.
Whenever you wake up and realize you woke up. Praise God! It’s a day worth partying!
Whenever you hear about what your Savior did for you on the cross. Praise God!
Whenever you are reminded that you are redeemed? Praise God!
Whenever you think of the eternal victory party awaiting you? Praise God!
Friends, we’ve got all kinds of reasons to celebrate. Join God in the eternal victory party today!
When you spend a long period of time alone, you get to thinking.
At first, the thoughts might be fun.
It isn’t fair that coffee stains your teeth brown, but milk doesn’t stain your teeth white.
My dog probably thinks "fetch" is a game that I made up and he loves me for that.
Who is Mr. Dorito and where do I find him? And is the factory just like Willy Wonka’s? And if I attended would I eventually fold to pressure, sample the Cool Ranch Carnations will I be turned into a Dorito and be trapped there forever?
The things you think about, become less fun.
“Look! On Facebook, there’s that one girl you knew way back in high school. Do you remember what you did to her? That was awful. You’re a terrible person.”
“Do you see that couch over there? It’s a nice and comfy place to rest and be very rude to your spouse. Remember? You did it, yesterday!”
“Check out the empty beer cans in the trash. Remember when you drank way too many of them and made a fool of yourself and everyone saw!”
“Oh Listen! Do you hear that? It’s quiet. Because your kids don’t live here any more and they don’t call you because of the awful way you’ve treated them. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
Shame is difficult thing to master.
It can come out of nowhere.
Today we’ll see how Jesus gives us VICTORY OVER SHAME. Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Corinthian Shame
Today’s lesson is from a book in the Bible called 1st Corinthians. It is the first letter written by a pastor named Paul to a church in a Greek city called Corinth. He writes this letter to encourage the believers, because a lot of these church members had been feeling ashamed.
In Corinth, there weren’t a lot of believers.
Most people believed in reason.
They believed in science.
They believed in what was socially acceptable.
Some guy dying on a cross to take away our sins?
That wasn’t reasonable.
That same guy coming back to life?
That wasn’t scientific.
That guy being the one and only true God?
That wasn’t very socially acceptable.
Society shamed the believers.
The produce merchant grabbed the shiny red apple from the believer. “You believe in Jesus. Here. Have him bring this rotten, worm-infested apple back to life.”
The neighbor knocked on their front door. “Listen! I heard you praying out loud from your front window. I don’t need to hear that. Keep that junk to yourself.”
The church’s maintenance man got to church and did a double take. The decorated cross? It had more decorations in the form of a graffiti telling them to get out of town.
The shame affected the believers.
Some were questioning their resurrected Lord.
Some were engaging in sinful things of the world in order to fit in.
Some were trying to make themselves feel better by shaming other believers.
In fact, there was a whole group that made it a point at each church to be divisive:
“You were baptized by Pastor P? Ha. He’s kind of a dork. I was baptized by Pastor A. Pastor A is the real deal and so are his followers. The world might shame us, but at least I’m not as shameful as you.”
God inspired Pastor Paul to write this letter to correct their thinking.
He writes, “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. (1 Cor. 1:26)
Take note of the verb.
It’s past tense.
The adjectival quality ascribed to the Corinthians by the verb was true before they were believers.
But now that they are believers.
It’s no longer valid.
They were not wise.
They were not influential.
They were of not of noble birth.
They were not, not wise.
They were not, not influential.
They were not, not of noble birth.
To put it simply, the Corinthian believers had no reason for shame. If they were still feeling shameful? it was because…
They were measuring their level of SHAME with the WRONG STANDARDS.
It’s kind of like baking a cake. You need to follow the directions and use the correct measuring devices.
If the recipe calls for a teaspoon of vanilla, putting in a tablespoon may mess up the consistency.
If it calls for a ½ cup of flour, putting in a full cup may cause it to taste starchy.
If it calls for one cup of sugar and you put in one quart, well, you’re following some six-year-old’s recipe for Kool-aid.
The same thing is true for believers. When we’re measuring shame, we can’t use the wrong measuring device.
II. Human Standards of Shame
What were some of the wrong measuring devices?
If you examine verse 26-27 closely, you can see the very standards. They are standards that are still around today and that can infect our mindset on shame.
Paul begins by writing, “Not many of you were wise by human standards… (v.26)
In preparation for our trip to Colombia, I am studying Spanish. I’ve been using phone book, telephone apps, and children’s books to practice. The other day I go to practice Spanish with one of my Spanish-speaking neighbors.
And I said something to him in Spanish, the neighbor said, “Tu hablas Espanol?” which means, “Do you speak Spanish?”
I replied, nonchalantly, “Si. Yo hablo un poco,” which means, “Yes, I speak a little.”
To which my wife Julianna replied, “No. Tu hablas un poquito,” which means, “No, you speak a very little bit.”
To be fair, that’s accurate.
But I felt embarrassed and couldn’t wait to be described as “un poco” Spanish speaker. I use that phrase to bolster my Spanish speaking ability, because I was ashamed.
I was ashamed because I was measuring my shame by intelligence.
This happens to all of us.
When our friends are mentioning the high-level universities they graduated from, we might feel ashamed of our Community College experience.
When we’re in a conversation with people and they tell a joke that we don’t understand, we feel ashamed and laugh anyways to appear smarter.
When someone points out that we misspelled some words on our social media post, we get mad. And block them from future posts.
Even if you are intelligent, when the knowledge is from an area that you don’t know much about you downplay it.
Like if you’re playing one of those trivia games at the local pub and you’ve been knocking it out of the park as you showcase your knowledge of history, arts, and literature.
But the next question is:
What is the biggest Football Game of the National Football League?
And you answer: The world series?
To save face, you start talking about how, “sports are the drudgery of society,” and, “true intellect is not measured by your ability to name batting averages.”
But we say that, because we are ashamed.
We’re ashamed because we’re measuring shame by intelligence.
But your intelligence doesn’t determine your level of shame.
Paul continues, “Not many of you were influential…” (v.26) The word in Greek refers to “being able to do something” or “to be powerful”. This word is used to describe two different types of power, both of which, we often use to measure whether we should feel shame or not.
(2a) Physical Power
This is the reason that people can be so very intimidated to go to the gym. We measure worth by how much we can lift. If the muscle-bound monkeys are throwing a couple hundred pounds over their heads over there and I’m over here pulling apart a pink rubber band, I feel ashamed because I’m measuring greatness by physical power.
Maybe this happens to you:
Maybe you feel ashamed because your physical health isn’t where it should be.
Maybe you feel ashamed because you aren’t as athletic as your friends.
Maybe you feel ashamed because you ate a whole bag of Doritos for morning snack.
But there’s a second kind of power that also induces feelings of shame:
(2b) Influential Power
This is the type of power that fits better into the context of 1 Corinthians. It has to do with influence in the community, at your job, in your family, or even in your church.
Are you embarrassed by how many YouTube followers you have?
Do you like your own Facebook posts just so it looks like you have more influence?
Are you self-conscious about how your spouse has a better job title than you? So, you made up a title for yourself?
Are you jealous of someone at church because they are in a leadership position? So, at every chance you get, you say things like, “That position’s really unimportant.”
Your level of influence doesn’t determine your level of shame.
(3) Social Status
Finally, Paul writes, “Not many of you were of noble birth… (v.26) The word in Greek here literally means “well-born”, that is, “born while well off.” It has to do with your genealogy and, as a result, your social status. Paul is reminding the Corinthians that not many of them were born into social privilege. It wasn’t as if they lost social privilege by becoming Christians.
The point? Don’t measure your shame by your social status.
Because the world would love to tell you when your social status should cause you shame.
If you listen to it, it’s easy to feel ashamed.
It’s easy to feel ashamed if your family doesn’t have a lot of money.
It’s easy to feel ashamed if your family was homeless.
It’s easy to feel ashamed if your dad was in jail.
It’s easy to feel ashamed if you can’t afford the clothes to make you feel as put together as the other job applicants.
It’s easy to feel ashamed if your family has a history of alcoholism.
It’s easy to feel ashamed if you grew up in foster care.
But if you’re feeling ashamed because of your social status, you’re believing the world’s lie.
Social status doesn’t determine your level of shame.
III. God’s Standards of Shame
What does determine actual shame?
It isn’t our standards.
It is God’s standards.
Look at what Paul writes next:
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (v.27-29)
Some of the most shameless people at the time of Jesus were a group called the Pharisees.
The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the day.
And to be fair…
They were intelligent.
They were quite rich.
They were influential in their neighborhoods.
But they were also quite shameless.
They’d flaunt their intelligence by using big Hebrew words that commoners couldn’t follow.
They’d flaunt their riches by walking around in expensive robes.
They’d flaunt their influence by reminding people daily, “Did you know I’m a Pharisee?”
As a result of their influence, intelligence, and social status, they were praised by society!
Imagine how they felt when Jesus left them out.
When he selected “idiot” fishermen…
When he ministered to “street beggars”…
When he rubbed shoulders with prostitutes, thieves, and outcasts.
Only to turn to the Pharisees and say.
These ones that you shame.
These ones are valued members of God’s family.
Why did Jesus do this?
So the Pharisees would be jealous.
So the Pharisees would be forced to think.
So the Pharisees would realize they were using the wrong measurement.
God chose the “SHAMEFUL” things (according to human standards) so the “UNASHAMED” (according to human standard) would realize their SHAME (according to his standards).
God finds value in holiness.
God finds value in godliness.
God finds value in “without-sin-ness.”
So many people miss that.
God must love me ‘cause I’m smart.
…‘cause I’m pretty.
…‘cause I’m muscular.
…‘cause I’m successful.
…‘cause I’m privileged.
God doesn’t use human standards.
God uses God standards.
God says, “Be holy as I am holy.” (Lev. 19:2)
God says, “Be perfect as I am perfect.” (Mt. 5:48)
God finds value in holiness.
God finds shame in sin.
Therefore, Jesus came to earth.
To remove our sin.
Which would remove our shame.
Which would leave God unashamed to have us in his family.
But if worldly things get in the way…
If you think like a Pharisee and use your own human standards.
Then, you miss out on the Savior.
TRUTH: Real shame comes from missing out on your SAVIOR from SHAME.
IV. The Savior from Shame
When you see your REAL shame.
When you see your REAL Savior from shame.
When you see Jesus?
Shame goes away.
Paul writes, “It is because of God that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (v.30)
To be “in Christ Jesus” means to have faith in him.
It means you are not in shame.
But you are in Jesus.
Believers in Christ are no longer in shame.
And look at the benefits of being in Jesus:
Because true wisdom comes from knowing Jesus. Knowing Jesus is knowing forgiveness of sins. It’s knowing removal of guilt. It’s knowing how to get to heaven.
You don’t get that from achieving a high-level degree.
You don’t get that from having honor cords.
You don’t get that from answer 49 out of 50 IQ question on a Facebook quiz.
You get to heaven by knowing and trusting Jesus.
By God’s standard, knowing Jesus means you are wise.
It doesn’t matter if you retook the 4th grade.
It doesn’t matter if you got a high school diploma.
It doesn’t matter what your GPA was.
If you know Jesus, by God’s standards you’re wise.
Righteousness is a courtroom term. It’s a term used by a judge. In fact, a judge determines if you are righteous or not.
If you aren’t? Then you’re guilty. That’s shameful.
The news will report that you’re guilty.
Twitter will trend with your guilty verdict.
Your face will appear on the front page of the Slammer.
But in Jesus?
You aren’t guilty.
You are unashamed because there’s not any wrongdoing anyone can pin on you.
Holiness has to do with purity.
In the Old Testament, if there was something impure about you, you need to do a ceremonial washing.
If you touched a dead body, unclean. Wash your hands.
If you ate the wrong food, unclean. Wash your hands.
If you had bled, unclean. Wash your hands.
If you were impure, then you dare not come anywhere near the temple.
You’d better stay outside the temple.
Across the street.
Near all the dirty scoundrels.
But in Jesus?
Cross the street.
Walk up the temple steps.
Go through the temple door.
Walk all the way up to the front altar…
Imagine for a second that you’re a young man taking a young girl out for a first date. You promised you’d pay. They’re excited. You pick them up. You take them to the restaurant. You let them order up as my appetizers as they want. You’re excited to show them that you’re a working man at your newspaper deliver job.
But when you get the bill.
You don’t have enough money.
You excuse yourself to the restroom and text your mom to wire you some money.
Because it’s way less shameful than saying to your date, ‘Can you spot me a $5?”
Jesus is our redemption.
In Jesus, we have enough of a payment.
In Jesus we have heaven.
We are a part of God’s family.
We are UNASHAMED.
V. What Now?
(1) Be Unashamed about Jesus!
All of this leads to Paul’s final point for the Corinthians, “Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
What’s his point?
Stop worrying about earthly standards.
Stop finding your glory in how wise you are.
Stop finding your glory in how influential you are.
Stop finding your glory in how high your social status is.
Stop bringing other people down just to make yourself look better.
Instead, find your value in Jesus.
Boast about his love for you.
Boast about your Savior.
Be unashamed of the one who removed your shame. Amen.
Social distancing isn’t my favorite.
Maybe it isn’t yours either.
But if you ever feel like you’re social distancing life isn’t very fun for you, google #SocialDistancingFails. You’ll quickly realize maybe you don’t have it so bad.
Like this guy who wanted some bananas, because he wanted to stay safe, he ordered 3 bananas for delivery –and received three bunches instead.
Or the guy whose phone stopped working, but because the repair shop was closed, he bought himself a brand-new phone – which he proceeded to drop as he opened the package.
Or this family, whose kid heard his mom talking about how she’d have to give him a haircut since the barber was closed, so - he tried it himself.
Social distancing is necessary for preventing the spread of the virus.
But it may also exacerbate another struggle:
Loneliness has been a problem in America before social distancing was ever a thing.
Today we’re going see how Jesus gives us VICTORY OVER LONELINESS. Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. What Makes the Good Shepherd “Good”
The Scripture we’re going to start with today comes from John 10.
Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd.” (John 10:11)
Shepherding was very common at the time of Jesus. Shepherds would usually take their flocks outside the city. They’d watch over them as they grazed. They’d lead them to water. They’d protect the sheep from any dangerous predators.
If you were a good shepherd, the sheep would be generally well fed.
You’d be awake watching the flock, for as long as your shift lasted.
And when the owner showed up to ask how you were doing, you were amicable.
That’s the human definition of “good” shepherd.
But that’s not God’s definition of a GOOD shepherd:
The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired man, who is not a shepherd, does not own the sheep. He sees the wolf coming, leaves the sheep, and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the sheep and scatters them. Because he works for money, he does not care about the sheep. (John 10:11-13)
In the literal sense of what Jesus says, let’s not judge the hired hand too harshly.
We see the passage and we think – how awful that hired hand is – he runs away from those poor sheep.
How could he do that?
If you worked at Starbucks, would you be willing to mix up a Latte, if it meant dodging machine gun fire over your head?
If you were a dog walker, would you keep doing your job, even if there were reports of land mines planted up and down your street?
If you were an accountant, would you be willing to do people’s taxes, even if alligators kept attacking you every time you started a spreadsheet (because they love “crunching” numbers)?
Of course not.
These are just jobs.
They might not be worth your life.
This is happening right now.
People aren’t going to work, because it isn’t worth getting the Coronavirus and possibly dying.
It’s the same thing with shepherding.
Shepherding was a regular line of work.
You got paid to watch sheep.
Most shepherds would not lay down their lives for their sheep.
Because $10 bucks an hour is not worth becoming a deli sandwich for a wolf pack.
Most shepherds wouldn’t lay down their lives for the sheep.
Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)
Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
You are his sheep.
Jesus lays down his life for you.
Key TRUTH 1:
The Good Shepherd would rather lose HIS LIFE than lose YOU.
II. The Good Shepherd Rescues
And you ask, “How was God about to lose me?”
Do you want to know the honest truth about sin?
Sin is reprehensible to God.
Granted – some sins are repulsive to us too.
But not all sin is.
You probably don’t have a problem with a few lies.
A gossipy comment on Facebook.
A lustful look every now and then.
A brief headache from a night of overdrinking.
Even a short, three-minute complaint session about your spouse.
Here’s where God is different.
God won’t allow SIN in his PRESENCE.
It’s like that one friend on Facebook that gets a bit too political for your taste.
They post every hour on the hour.
Unfortunately, you’ve paused to get angry at his posts long enough that Facebook recognizes your interests and shows you more and more of his political commentary.
Until eventually, you can’t stand it anymore.
You click in the upper right-hand corner.
You SNOOZE him for 30 days.
You have successfully removed him from your presence.
That’s how God feels about sin.
He hates sin so much that he wants sin completely removed from his presence.
But it’s deeper than that.
The other day there was a stink coming from our house. I couldn’t exactly identify what the stink was, so I tried various things.
Open the windows? Didn’t get rid of it.
Grab some Febreeze and cover the couches? Nope.
Burn a Pumpkin Spiced Latte candle? Now it just smells like Pumpkin Spiced Latte stink.
Finally, I got a bit too close to my dog, Clay.
I gave him a sniff.
And immediately took him outside.
If you want to treat the stink, remove the source of the stink.
God truly wants to treat sin.
But he knows that he can’t just treat the symptoms of sin.
He must remove the source.
And what’s the source of a sin? A sinner.
What’s the source of your sin?
Look at what Isaiah 59:2,
Your sins have separated you from your God!
Read that again. Slowly.
Your sins have separated YOU from God.
It doesn’t say, “Your sins have separated themselves from God!”
It says, “Your sins have separated YOU from God. “
God won’t allow SINNERS in His PRESENCE.
Friend, listen to God’s Word.
If this isn’t corrected, you’ll be socially distanced from God for all of eternity.
It’s the worse social isolation of all time.
Hell is eternal social distancing from God!
It’s a place where God isn’t there.
Sometimes on earth – things are bad.
But…at least we’ve got God.
There’s no GOD in hell.
There’s only LONELINESS.
But you see, this is where the Good Shepherd comes in.
Even though God, as Holy Judge, can’t stand your sin,
God, as Good Shepherd, can’t stand losing you.
He noticed that you were missing.
He noticed that you weren’t with the flock.
He noticed that you weren’t safely in God’s pastures.
The Good Shepherd picked up his staff.
The Good Shepherd put on his cloak.
The Good Shepherd walked out of his pasture.
The Good Shepherd came into Valley of the Shadow of Death. (We call it: Earth.)
And on earth, he found you.
Surrounded by wolves:
All led by that alpha dog, Satan.
But the Good Shepherd wasn’t afraid.
The Good Shepherd didn’t turn back.
The Good Shepherd made a deal with the wolves.
“Let my sheep go.”
“You can have me instead.”
And the wolves tore him to shreds.
They surrounded him!
They roughed him up.
They barked insults at him.
They tore his clothing.
They salivated as his blood.
And howled with delight as he died.
Why did the Shepherd allow this?
Why didn’t he run?
To save you.
The Good Shepherd allowed the wolves to HARM him that they wouldn’t harm YOU.
Allow me to give you a straightforward message from God’s word.
Because of what the Good Shepherd did, the wolf of sin no longer surrounds you.
Because of what the Good Shepherd, the wolf of guilt cannot lick its chops.
Because of what the Good Shepherd did, you will not be eternally isolated.
Because of what the Good Shepherd did, you are not separated from God.
Because of what the Good Shepherd did, you…have been brought…home.
KEY TRUTH 2:
The Good Shepherd saved you from ETERNAL ISOLATION.
III. The Good Shepherd Lives
Granted, that is great news!
You aren’t alone.
You are in God’s flock.
You are a part of God’s pasture.
You aren’t spiritually isolated from God.
It’s a bit dissatisfying.
We’re out of isolation.
But we had to lose the Good Shepherd in order to get here.
It’s too bad he couldn’t overpower the wolves.
Look at what Jesus says in verse 18:
No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it up again. (v.18)
Do you see that?
The wolves didn’t take the Good Shepherd’s life,
The Good Shepherd gave his life to them.
And why did he give it?
Because he knows he could take his life back again.
The Good Shepherd let the wolves OVERPOWER him because he knew he could overpower DEATH.
Talk about a skillset!
I don’t think any other shepherd had that skill.
Some were skilled at navigating to find water.
Others were skilled at identifying non-poisonous plants for the sheep to eat.
A few could probably sheer the wool into a killer mohawk.
But the Good Shepherd’s greatest skill?
Mastery over death.
And that’s exactly what happened!
Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead.
He came out of the grave.
He resurrected his own body.
And he lives!
KEY TRUTH 3:
The Good Shepherd LIVES!
Right now, he’s with you.
Right now, he’s watching over you.
Even if you’re at home alone.
Even if you’re in a hospital bed alone.
Even if you haven’t seen another person in 16 days!
Jesus is with you.
You aren’t alone.
IV. The Good Shepherd Knows You
Sometimes you’d rather be alone than with someone.
For instance, I have no desire to be left alone with any kind clown.
Not a creepy one.
Not a regular one.
Not Bozo the clown.
I’d rather be alone than with any of those clowns.
Maybe it’s similar for you.
Maybe you don’t want to be alone with your 7th grade math teacher.
Maybe you don’t want to be alone with your ex-spouse.
Maybe you don’t want to be alone with that former friend who dragged your name through the mud.
Maybe you don’t want to be alone with a stranger!
Picture that. Imagine you were isolated with someone who didn’t know you and you didn’t know them.
I see that you have hair.
So…what’s your favorite flavor of Dorito?
Jesus isn’t a stranger.
“I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.” (V.15)
Granted, there are billions of people in the world. It would be downright impossible for any one human to know them all.
In fact, I doubt there’s anyone in Raleigh who knows everyone in Raleigh.
Honestly, I don’t think I know all the people on my Facebook feed.
But Jesus knows all of those people.
And Jesus knows YOU.
And he knows you WELL.
Jesus knows YOU as intricately as he knows his FATHER.
God is Triune.
That means he is three in one.
The Father is God.
Jesus is God.
The Holy Spirit is God.
Yet there aren’t three gods, but one God.
The Father is God.
Jesus is God.
The Holy Spirit is God.
Yet there isn’t just one person, but three distinct persons.
This is impossible to fully grasp and understand.
But God gets it.
He understands how the three persons in the Godhead intersect.
He knows where one ends and the other begins.
He grasps how they are all three perfectly united as one Being.
And that’s how well God knows you.
He knows your fears.
He knows your sadness.
He knows your heartaches.
He knows what you’re going through right now.
And he is there with you.
Jesus knew your SECRET sin – and still DIED for you.
That’s what he repeats in verse 15. He says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.”
But Jesus isn’t repeating it just to show off.
He wants you to know how well he knows you.
He knows that it was YOU who stole the cookie from the cookie jar way back when you were 6.
He knows that it was YOU who graffitied that bathroom stall in high school.
He knows that it was YOU who passed on that gossip about your best friend.
He knows what YOU did behind closed doors.
He knows what YOU did under cover of darkness.
He knows what YOU did and have never told anyone.
He knows it.
And he still died for you.
KEY TRUTH 4:
The Good Shepherd KNOWS you better than ANYONE.
He knows your strengths.
He knows your weaknesses.
He knows exactly how he’ll work through you to bring more sheep into his sheep pen.
This leads to the “What Now?” for the week.
V. What Now?
(1) Call Out to Sheep Outside the Pen!
Jesus says this, “I also have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. (v.16)
Jesus isn’t satisfied with the sheep that are in his sheep pen now.
There are others who don’t know about his love.
There are others who aren’t believers.
There are others who aren’t a part of his sheep pen...
If that’s you, listen to his voice right now.
He’s calling you.
Come into the sheep pen.
But for those of us already in the sheep pen, this is Jesus command to us.
Call out to those other sheep.
Tell them about Jesus.
Share with them the Gospel message.
If you know someone who doesn’t know about Jesus, write their name down.
Write it down and then, here’s what I want you to do.
Look for ways to share Jesus with them.
You could talk with them about Jesus.
You could send them a text message with a link to this video.
You could send them an inspirational scripture.
Do this today – and then – put the note on your fridge –
So that you can do it again later this week.
The truth is that sometimes you must keep calling and calling.
If you have a pet, you understand this.
As you keep calling and calling, the Good Shepherd’s voice will be heard through your voice…
Calling them home.
(2) Call Out to Sheep Inside the Pen
Right now, we can’t physically get together.
But we need to still stay connected.
Look at what verse 17 says:
Then there will be one flock and one shepherd.
We are one flock.
We have one shepherd.
Write down someone that you know from our church community.
You can use the same piece of scratch paper.
Write down someone that you know and haven’t talked to in a while.
Got it down?
Reach out to them today.
Text to see how they’re doing.
Call to see what’s been going on.
Facetime so that you can smile at them.
Not only will they be hearing your voice.
Not only will you be hearing theirs.
But together, you’ll be hearing the Good Shepherd’s.
Because sheep know their shepherd’s voice.
There’s this video on YouTube of a field trip to a farm.
They came to the pasture with the sheep and the shepherd asked them to each take a shot at calling the sheep over to the gate.
The first kid tried, “Here sheepy! Sheepy!”
The second kid tried, “C’mon! Sheep. This way!”
A chaperone tried, “Baa! Baa! Come over here!”
Finally, it was the shepherd’s turn.
Now, it’s in Norwegian, so I’ll give you my best guess, but…
The shepherd calls out: “Alright sheep. Time to go!”
As soon as they hear his voice, the sheep look up.
As soon as he finishes his sentence, the sheep start moving.
Within 15 seconds, the whole flock comes running to their shepherd’s voice.
The sheep know the voice of their shepherd.
We know the voice of our shepherd.
And our shepherd says, “We aren’t alone.” Amen.
We are in the middle of our VICTORIOUS sermon series. So far, we’d talked about how Jesus gives us victory over DEATH and FEAR.
Maybe you listened to both of those messages.
You felt encouraged.
But then, a few days later, you started to DOUBT.
Today we’re going see how Jesus gives us VICTORY OVER DOUBT. Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Why Thomas Doubted
As a case study for doubt, we’re going to look at the story of one disciple named Thomas.
In fact, Thomas is such a good case study for doubt that he has developed the nickname “Doubting Thomas.”
This is unfortunate.
I bet he wishes he was remembered as “Believing Thomas,” “Courageous Thomas”, or even “Good Dental Hygiene Thomas.”
I doubt Thomas wanted to be known for Doubt.
But Thomas, one of the Twelve, the one called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. (John 20:24)
This account occurs late into the evening on that first Easter.
This after the women see the stone rolled open from the tomb.
This is after the women talk to angels who tell them about the resurrection.
This is after Mary Magdalene sees Jesus near the tomb.
This is after the other women meet Jesus outside the cemetery.
This is after two disciples traveling to Emmaus meet and speak with Jesus for three-plus hours.
This is after Peter gets a one-on-one visit from Jesus.
And this is after Jesus enters the locked room filled with 10 of the Twelve apostles - minus Judas, who took his own life and Thomas.
And I don’t know what Thomas was doing.
…Was he out shopping?
…Was he out visiting friends?
…Was he out grabbing some Starbucks orders?
…Was he stocking up on hand sanitizer for the group?
I don’t know.
The point is that he missed Jesus’ appearance.
So, the other disciples kept telling him, “We have seen the Lord!” (v.5)
You wouldn’t believe it Thomas – He was alive!
Peter was scared. He thought it was a ghost. But it was real!
He let us touch his hands.
We put our fingers into the nail holes.
We placed our hands into the speak mark in his side.
He is alive! Isn’t it amazing!?!
And Thomas listened.
He stroked his beard.
And said, “It is amazing…how absolutely gullible you think I am!”
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25)
Thomas didn’t trust his friends’ words.
Not as much as his eyesight.
Not as much as his sense of touch.
But it was more than just not trusting his friends.
Thomas trusted him OWN ABILITIES more than Jesus’ DIVINE ABILITIES
Thomas trusted his own ability to determine the veracity of the resurrection.
More than Jesus’ ability to accomplish one.
This is foolish when you consider the differences in Thomas and Jesus.
Thomas had the ability to defeat a cold, if he drank a lot of Orange Juice.
Jesus could beat a cold by speaking to it.
Thomas had the ability to float on water.
Jesus had the ability to walk on it.
Thomas had the ability to go to the local McDonalds and buy a Fish Filet.
Jesus had the ability to make 5000 more out of thin air.
It’s silly to trust a human being more than a Divine being.
It’s silly to trust a human being – even if that human being is yourself – more than Divine God.
II. Why We Doubt
This is not political, but pastoral.
In New York, the number of diagnoses each day has been going down. That’s good news. And maybe you saw that in response to that, the governor said this:
“The number is down because we brought the number down.” “God did not do that. Faith did not do that. Destiny did not do that. A lot of pain and suffering did that... That’s how it works. It’s math. And if you don’t continue to do that, you’re going to see that number go back up. And that will be a tragedy if that number goes back up.”
I get it. He was trying to tell people to keep social distancing, because it’s working.
But to say that it’s working apart from God?
Why can’t God have worked through a variety of messages, to turn people to do the kind thing and stay home… in addition to providing doctors and nurses the know how to work with patients and government leaders the wisdom to make wise policies.
Doubting that God is alive and working.
Sounds a lot like Thomas doubting that Jesus is alive and working.
Why do humans doubt God so much?
A few reasons…
(1) Doubt Arises from trusting HUMAN SENSES more than Jesus.
This was Thomas’ simple reason for not believing.
Unless he saw Jesus, touched Jesus, smelled Jesus, and heard Jesus, he wouldn’t believe.
It’s the same with us.
I don’t see God helping me with my finances, I only see it going down.
I don’t hear God’s voice calming my fears. I only hear the cries of panic from the rest of the world.
I can’t touch Jesus and give him a hug. I can’t touch anyone and give them a hug!
God doesn’t care.
God isn’t helping.
God isn’t there. y cares.
Do you realize how unreliable human senses really are?
Have you ever been to the eye doctor and had to cover up one of your eyes to read the eye chart? And they ask you to read line 4 and you’re like, “I think that’s a F. I know that’s an F. It must be an F.” So, you say, “I think it’s an F” and they say, “Nope. That’s an E.”
Our eyes are not totally reliable.
Have you ever seen those Febreze commercials where they blindfold people and put them in a room filled with garbage! Old banana peels, dirty diapers, mounds of pet hair. But…they cover it up with Febreze and the people think, “We must be in some kind of a rose a garden.”
Our noses are not totally reliable.
Auditory hallucination occurs when a person’s brain rewires itself to believe that certain thoughts or segments of music are being heard when in fact they are not. This can be caused by a concussion, a brain lesion, psychiatric disease or even high levels of caffeine. In an article published by the Scientific American, an estimated 15% of American Adults aged 18-64 regularly struggle with audio hallucinations, while that number doubles to 33% after the age of 65.
Our ears are not totally reliable.
He told a paralytic to walk and he did.
He told a blind man to see and he did.
He told a deaf man to hear and he did.
Trust Jesus more than your Senses.
(2) Doubt Arises from trusting HUMAN FEELINGS more than Jesus.
It wouldn’t make a lot of sense to conclude, “I’m feeling gloomy today, therefore, the sun must not be in existence anymore.”
Nor it is sensible to say, “I’m feeling scared, therefore, giant spider aliens must have invaded earth.”
Objective truth is not tied to subjective feeling.
Yet, we do this with God all the time.
I don’t feel very happy about the pandemic, God, so this must be the wrong choice.
The virus is making me sad, God, so you must not care about me.
I feel angry at the economic ramifications, so I’ve concluded that God is in the wrong.
There are all kinds of problems with trusting human emotions.
Human emotions are flimsy. They change rapidly and repeatedly.
Human emotions are singular. They consider one’s self and ignore how someone across the country is affected.
Human emotions are tied to health. If you get good sleep, it’s easier to feel happy.
But perhaps most importantly, the problem is that human feelings are tainted by sin.
You might feel sad that you aren’t able to go back to work, because making money was a great distraction from having to interact with your children.
You might feel angry that you can’t go to the gym, because you miss flirting with the instructor – even though she’s married and so are you.
I can feel sad that we’re doing online church. Some of the reasons for that sadness may be that I’m not able to feed my ego like I used to. Sinful.
But Jesus’ emotions were not tainted by sin.
When Jesus was about to go to the cross, it was the disciples who yelled at him and told him not to do it, because it made them sad.
If Jesus would have listened, they may have been happy for a moment – and currently sad as they spend forever in hell.
Instead, Jesus ignored human emotion and did what was necessary to save them – and us – with his death on the cross.
(3) Doubt Arises from trusting HUMAN REASON more than Jesus.
Here’s human reason on the coronavirus.
The coronavirus pandemic is causing suffering.
Therefore, the coronavirus pandemic isn’t good.
Therefore, God is either…
…good, but not really in control.
…in control, but not good.
…not existent at all.
Here’s some logic.
Humans aren’t perfect.
Therefore, their reasoning is imperfect.
Humans don’t know everything
Therefore, their reasoning is limited.
Humans aren’t always right.
Therefore, their reasoning is morally flawed.
If human reason is limited, imperfect, and morally flawed, then…
Maybe our reasoning about God during crisis is limited, imperfect, and flawed too.
It is unlimited.
It is perfect.
It is always right.
It is still unlimited.
it is still perfect.
it is still right.
III. Why We Shouldn’t Doubt
Like in the case of Thomas.
It didn’t make sense to Thomas that Jesus was alive.
It wasn’t rational.
It wasn’t reasonable.
Thomas didn’t understand it.
He gave his ultimatum.
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25)
After eight days, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Take your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting but believe.” (John 20:26-27)
Thomas touches the goosebumps on Jesus arms.
He runs his fingers over the nail marks in his hands.
He puts his hand through the spear mark in his side.
“My Lord and my God!” (v.28)
That’s a total transformation.
Jesus has driven away Thomas’ doubt.
Instead asking “Why should I believe?” he begins to ask, “Why did I ever doubt?”
Jesus changes “why believe” into “why doubt.”
When you think about this story objectively, there were all kinds of reasons to believe.
There had been twenty-some eyewitness reports.
These reports came from a variety of appearances.
The tomb was empty.
There had been a group of trusted friends telling him that they had seen Jesus.
There had even been Jesus’ own promises that he would rise from the dead – long before it ever happened.
Jesus changes “why believe” into “why doubt.”
That’s true for you too.
Because Jesus conquered death.
Jesus conquered your sin.
Jesus lives on high.
He is still in control.
He is still in love with you.
And he is still working all things for your eternal good.
Stop doubting and believe.
IV. How to battle Doubt
Yet…we do struggle.
We are sinners.
We are weak.
We are imperfect.
If we live, we will face doubts.
How do we battle doubt?
A few lessons from Scripture:
(1) Recognize YOU Can’t Stop Doubt
This is an important point. Because what I fear some of you might do when you are done with this worship service is to say to yourself, “I need to stop doubting. I can do it.” Then, you head into the corner, scrunch your face up, and say, “Stop doubting. Stop doubting. Stop doubting.”
This will not work.
It won’t be long before you say, “I doubt that I can keep this up.”
After Thomas’ confession of faith, look at Jesus’ response:
“Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (v.29)
Did you hear that?
Jesus called people who believe without seeing as BLESSED.
Blessed can mean “gifted.”
People who believe without seeing didn’t develop that ability on their own.
God gave it to them.
Faith is a GIFT.
It isn’t something you earn.
It isn’t something you do.
It is something that God gives.
(2) Let God Battle Doubt for You
Though Jesus’ implies that faith without seeing is something that’s impossible for a human to accomplish on their own, in that same sentence, Jesus also implies that people do believe.
Look at John’s answer:
Jesus, in the presence of his disciples, did many other miraculous signs that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (v.30-31)
Did you see it?
God wants you to know the reality of the risen Jesus.
God wants you to know so that you live forever in heaven with him.
God wants you to know and – in order that you would know – he inspired John to write it down for you.
God’s Word Battles Doubt for Us
Doubting that God will take care of your family? God’s Word says, “The Lord is my shepherd. He leads me beside quiet water. He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23)
Doubting that God will be able to conquer COVID-19? God’s Word says, “Praise the Lord, my soul, forget not God’s benefits – He forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.” (Psalm 103)
Doubting that God will give you the finances you need? God’s Word says, “Look at the birds of the air; they don’t work, yet our heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable?” (Matthew 6)
Doubting that God isn’t mad at you from all your sin? God’s Word says, “In Jesus we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Ephesians 1:7)
God’s Word battles doubt for us.
When you are starting to doubt.
When you are feeling like God isn’t in control.
When your senses, emotions, and reason are battling you, run to God’s Word and let God battle for you.
And then, once the doubts subside…
(3) Anchor Yourself to God’s word
The one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6)
Because life is very much like a sea.
Our senses smack us in the face like waves.
Our emotions swirl around us.
Reason flies into our face like the wind.
When you are anchored in God’s Word.
When you are clinging to God’s promises.
When you are holding to Jesus…
You will not sink into doubt.
But stand on Jesus. Amen.
Last week we began our sermon series called VICTORY and were reminded how Jesus won the VICTORY over death with his glorious resurrection. Today we’re going back to the very first Easter to learn something else that Jesus gives use victory over. Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. When Fear Reigns
On the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were together…(Jn. 20:19)
I don’t think I’ve ever read this portion of Scripture before and felt so envious.
They weren’t practicing social distancing.
They got to be together.
They didn’t have to ZOOM.
They didn’t have to log on to YouTube.
Andrew didn’t have to tell Peter to turn his sound off when he wasn’t talking so that you could hear James the Less.
The disciples were together.
They weren’t having a meal.
They weren’t playing Settlers of Catan.
They weren’t enjoying drinks and throwing darts.
They were scared.
…the disciples were together… behind locked doors because of their fear of the Jews. (Jn. 20:19)
A latch at the top of the door.
A key lock from the inside.
A circular deadbolt.
A square deadbolt.
A combination lock.
One of those big old pieces of wood that you slide in front of the door.
A couple of chains.
A metal boot.
Even a bunch of chairs, tables, and boxes pushed in front.
The doors were locked because of the fear of the Jews.
They were talking about the religious leaders.
These guys were murderers.
They were vicious.
They had plotted.
They had planned.
They had pushed their agenda until Jesus had been brutally crucified.
If they did that to their leader, they might not stop until each of them was nailed to a cross.
But their fears were more than that…
The disciples were out of a job! With Jesus gone, their whole corporation had folded.
They couldn’t get out and make an income. They’d be risking arrest.
They were afraid for the future of their careers, afraid for the future of their families, and afraid for the future of their church
I bet they were even afraid of how they were going to get food through the night.
Without Jesus, FEARS reigns.
Because if Jesus were here, they’d be protected from the Roman soldiers. Jesus even drove out demons.
If Jesus were here, they didn’t need to worry about money. He once caught a fish with the exact amount of money needed to pay taxes.
If Jesus were here, they’d be taken care of, he fed over 5000 people with a few loaves of bread and two fish. He could use that leftover ground beef in the fridge and turn it into a Taco Supreme with the snap of his fingers.
Jesus wasn’t there.
And without Jesus,
This is a big problem in our world right now.
The devil is trying to distract us with bad report after bad report, terrible news after terrible news, horrible thing after horrible thing.
So that we miss out on Jesus.
Without Jesus, Fear reigns.
If I’m honest…
It’s worked on me.
I’ve been afraid.
What are some things that pastors are afraid of during COVID-19? I’ll tell you.
Afraid of never getting another high five.
Afraid that having to stay between lines will condition me not to move back and forth while I preach.
I’m afraid that we will lose momentum.
Afraid that those Sanctuary Updates…may never happen?
Afraid that our idea for a satellite church in Durham will stall.
Afraid that offerings will go down and we’ll have to trim our ministries?
Afraid that Precious Lambs will barely survive.
Afraid that we’ll lose families.
Afraid that we’ll lose workers.
Afraid that the virus might get to one of you.
Afraid that the virus might be spread by me.
Afraid that because of quarantine laws, one of our members might be dying and I won’t be able to see you in person before your final breath.
Afraid that we might not be able to get to little Daniela.
Afraid that she’ll get sick.
Afraid that since she’s immunocompromised that if she gets sick…
…I’ll never get to meet her.
That’s how it feels when the devil distances me from Jesus.
Because without Jesus, FEAR reigns.
II. Replacing Fear
But here’s the good news for you and me:
…The devil can never do that for very long.
…Because Jesus always finds his people.
…even behind locked doors.
Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, “Peace be with you!” (Jn. 20:19)
To be honest, their initial reaction was probably fear. In fact, the Gospel of Luke tells us that, “they were terrified and thought they were looking at a ghost.” (Luke 24:37)
To help with their fears, “Jesus showed them his hands and side” (20:20a)
Here. Feel the bumps on my skin.
Put your hands on my face. Warm, right?
Touch the ridges of the nail scars.
Notice the spear shaped mark in my side.
I’m not a ghost
I’m not a figment of your imagination.
And here’s what happens next
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. (v.20b)
Did you see that?
It had been a room filled with fear.
But when Jesus enters the room?
He turns it all around.
And its replacement?
Jesus replaces FEAR with JOY.
Afraid of lost income? Jesus offers your eternal riches that will never run out.
Afraid of a lost job? Jesus gives you a place working aside him in his kingdom.
Fearful of the virus? Jesus defeated death itself!
Fearful for your family? Jesus says you will always be a part of his.
Fearful for your church? Jesus is the church’s One foundation. It will not lose.
Afraid of being alone? Jesus is with you now and will never leave you.
III. Proclaiming Peace
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Look at what he does next:
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you! Just as the Father has sent me, I am also sending you.” (Jn. 20:21)
Notice how that starts: PEACE. Jesus says it again!
And I don’t think any of the disciples were upset that Jesus repeated himself. (Honestly, there shouldn’t be a limit in the number of times that God’s people can hear him say: “PEACE.”)
But I think there’s a reason he does this specifically here.
As they realize that it’s all true.
As they realize that Jesus really rose from the dead.
As they realize that he truly was standing before them…
It’s quite possible that another fear hit them.
He’s come to get us back!
Last we saw him, we abandoned him.
We denied him.
We went and hid while he faced death by himself.
We are sinners. Our Holy God has returned to get us!
Oh no! Please shoot your lightning bolts in Peter’s direction. It was all his idea!
But Jesus didn’t shoot them with a lightning bolt.
He didn’t yell at them.
He didn’t even give them a stern look.
He simply said:
I’m not here to hurt you.
Your sins are forgiven.
I’m not here to hurt you.
I’m here to recruit you.
PEACE-filled people proclaim PEACE.
Imagine with me what it will be like.
You’re watching the news.
Suddenly, there’s a breaking report.
The quarantine is over.
The virus is in remission.
What are you going to do when your spouse comes into the room and ask, “Has anything interested happened?”
Are you gonna say, “Nah.”?
No, you’ll tell her the good news.
You’ll text message a friend.
You’ll Facebook live yourself doing a Coronavirus is conquered dance.
We have better news than that.
Our sins have been forgiven.
Jesus conquered death.
We have the promise of eternal life.
This is worth sharing.
IV. What Now?
How do you do it? How do we proclaim peace in a COVID-19 world? I want to switch gears and head to the book of 1 John. That is the first letter written to believers everywhere by the Apostle John. John was one of the Apostles in that room on the first Easter Sunday. He was a guy that had been filled with fear until Jesus showed up and transformed it into joy.
He knows a thing or two about driving fear from people’s hearts,
Because Jesus drove fear from his own heart.
Listen to what he writes in 1 John 4:16-18.
God is love. He who remains in love remains in God and God in him. In this way his love has been brought to its goal among us, so that we may have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are just like Jesus. There is no fear in love, but complete love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. (1 John 4:16-18)
I love how that starts.
God is love.
Love is God.
It doesn’t say that God is FEAR.
It doesn’t say that God is ANXIETY.
It doesn’t say that God is TERRIFYING.
God is love.
Because God is love, he drives our FEAR.
And, because you are loved, God drives out FEAR through YOU.
How might God drive out fear through you? A few points
(1) Fill Your Heart with God
This is an important point. Because it is hard to be loving towards others when you’re afraid.
Do you remember my dog Frankie? The one that’s absolutely terrified of laundry baskets? Usually she’s friendly.
Usually she licks your hands.
Usually she has no problem cuddling next to you and showing you puppy love.
If that laundry basket is there?
She runs away.
No love is shown.
Because it’s hard to be loving towards others when you’re afraid.
So, how do we keep fear out of our hearts? Look at verse 16 again:
He who remains in love remains in God and God in him. (1 John 4:16)
This is a cup. It’s filled with air. You know it. I know it. We all know it .
If I wanted to get rid of the air, it would be difficult.
I can pour it out? Still filled with air.
I can dump it upside down? Still filled with air.
I could crush it. It’s still filled with air.
The same is true with fear.
If you have it in your heart, it’s there.
You can try to hide.
You can try to distract.
You can drink a lot.
You can yell a lot.
In the end, fear is still there.
Do you know the only way to remove the air?
Fill it with something else.
It’s the same thing with FEAR.
The only way to DRIVE OUT fear from your heart is to FILL your heart with JESUS.
That’s what we’re doing right now. Keep doing it.
Join a daily devotional.
Add an afternoon devotional.
Add an evening devotional.
Add a bible reading before bed.
Go to sleep to the Bible app (and the guy on the Bible app has such a gentle voice)…
Go to sleep to the Bible app reading from the Psalms.
If you want to drive out fear from OTHERS, fill your own heart with JESUS.
(2) Live God’s Love
In this way his love has been brought to its goal among us, so that we may have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are just like Jesus. (1 Jn. 4:17)
Because God’s Love is much different than the world’s love. The world’s love is very emotion based. “It’s about people making you feel butterflies and fireworks and sparks.”
God is love.
And I doubt God felt butterflies for you and me on the cross.
Because we were still sinners that
Yet God is love.
He still died for us. He still rose for us. He still saved us
God’s love is not an emotional reaction.
God’s love is an action DESPITE an emotional reaction.
And God isn’t calling you to feel butterflies with everyone you meet.
He’s calling you to perform actions of love even when others make us feel like we don’t want to
God’s calling you to…
…get up from the couch, do the dishes, even if your spouse didn’t ask in a nice voice.
…text message something nice to that person at work, even if they’ve just been badmouthing you on the group chat.
…give a call to your grandma, even if she’s mostly grouchy.
…spend time with your kids, even if they’re really cranky.
…help out that neighbor, who’s never friendly and always frowning.
Live God’s action-centered love.
(3) Speak the Gospel
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. (v.18)
Perfect love? That’s impossible for sinful humans to achieve.
Perfect love? That’s exactly who Jesus is.
He lived for us.
He died for us.
He rose for us.
That’s the message of love that drives out fear!
Remember earlier – how I described my fears.
Those were real fears.
But I don’t have them anymore. Know why?
I was talking to a pastoral friend. He let me vent. He let me share my fears.
And then…do you know what he said?
Even if all that happened, you’d be ok.
Because even if all that happened, you’d still have Jesus.
In fact, you have Jesus right now.
Don’t be afraid.
Without Jesus, fear reigns.
With Jesus, fear runs.
Share Jesus. Amen.
I love Peeps.
There’s something about gooey, sugary, artificially dyed animal shapes that really get a person hyped for Easter.
I enjoy trying to smoosh them together and see how many I can fit into my mouth at once.
And usually…they are the first thing to remind me that Easter is on its way.
Suddenly, they appear in a giant display at Food Lion visible as soon as I enter.
Not this year.
This year when I went to Food Lion?
Hand sanitizing stations.
And plastic barricades.
Doesn’t it feel a bit like Easter has been overshadowed?
To be fair – this pandemic is still scary.
There have been 1,577,360 cases of COVID-19 and 93,637 deaths.
6.6 million Americans filed for Unemployment last week.
The stock market continues to volatilely jump up and down.
Experts warn that the curve hasn’t slowed down yet.
When do we get a victory?
When do we get a win?
Today we’re going to look at the very first Easter and remember the victory that’s ours Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Sadness of Easter
The lesson this morning chronicles a group of a women who were very close to Jesus. Their story doesn’t start on Easter, but on Good Friday:
Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last...But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
They saw the nails pierce his hands.
They saw the thorns break his skull.
They saw him bleed.
They saw the soldiers mock him.
They saw the religious leaders mock him.
They saw random travelers mock him.
They saw him face.
They saw him weaken
They saw his life slowly slip away…
He was no more.
Instead of Jesus, there was a cold lifeless body.
What ensued next was a bit of a hurried event.
It was Friday afternoon.
By 6 pm, the Jewish Sabbath would start.
It was against religious law to have a dead person exposed and unburied once the holy evening began.
(Granted, you might expect it to be against religious law to kill the Son of God, but…who’s keeping track really…)
The soldiers took his body down.
They quickly carried it to Pilate.
Pilate gave it to a volunteer,
who quickly wrapped up the body.
Linens around the head.
Linens around the body.
Linens around the feet.
Skip the ointments.
Skip the oils.
Skip the perfumes…
There wasn’t much time left.
Grab some soldiers.
Carry the body to a tomb.
Put it inside.
And roll a giant stone in front.
Get home in time for supper.
While all of this was going on, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. (v.55-56)
On that day of rest…
I imagine they couldn’t help but think of what they’d seen.
Flashes of the horrors that Jesus went through interrupting their daily thoughts.
Every door shut triggering the memory of that hammer.
Even the red liquid of the tomato soup matching the red of his blood.
Every unpleasant smell generating a nausea at what they’d seen.
They tried to busy their minds by busying their hands.
Crushing some herbs.
Mixing some ointments.
Heating things to the right temperature.
They needed to properly bury his body.
To do the things that time had not allowed them to do.
To give him the respect he deserved.
To get some closure on this death that was hanging over their heads.
Death over their heads.
On the very first Easter.
I can’t help but notice that this year’s Easter and the first Easter have that in common because…
Like Easter 2020, the very first Easter began with DEATH hanging over the day.
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. (v.1)
“Mary, you pour the myrrh on his feet.”
“I’ll take some frankincense to his head.”
“Other Mary, you put sprinkle some of your special blend near the torso.”
“Salome! How are we even going to do this? There’s that giant stone. It must weigh hundreds of pounds. Do you think the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb will even be willing to let us insi-”
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. (v.3)
The women looked at each other.
Their question changed from who WILL roll away the stone to who DID roll away the stone.
Was it the soldiers?
Was it those nasty pharisees?
Was it some kind of grave robber?
But inside, they found nobody.
And no body.
While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. (v.4)
Messengers of the most high!
Divine servants of the All Mighty.
The women fell to the ground with their faces in the dirt.
The only things more terrifying than DEATH is facing the one who CONTROLS it.
Angels were from God.
God hated sin.
They had sin.
Were they about to be struck down?
But the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!”
You came here searching for a tomb.
Death sealed within.
But there’s no death here.
There’s no DEATH in Jesus’ tomb. He LIVES.
Stop being sad.
Start being joyful.
II. Victory Truths
Because Jesus lives, the Bible has some important truths for us to consider.
(1) When it comes to Death, Your Level of FEAR Depends on whom You’re TRUSTING to Defeat It
I remember growing up we had a neighborhood Easter egg hunt. Beforehand, we divided up into teams in order to go and find as many Easter eggs as we could and put them in our basket. My team? We had Jon Lindloff on our team. Jon was the fastest kid on the block. He was the most athletic. He could jump the farthest. Whatever team he was on would end up winning whatever athletic contest he was in because he was that impressive. He was like the 7-year-old, small midwestern town version of Lebron James.
When we were about to start the egg hunt challenge, we were pretty confident.
We weren’t afraid of losing.
Because we had Jon Lindloff.
As you face COVID-19, where do you find confidence for victory?
A latex glove? These can break.
Some sanitizer bottle? They only kill 99.99%
Social distancing rule? What if someone else doesn’t follow it?
Doctors? What if they’re so sleep deprived and tired they can’t give you the best care?
The government? What if can’t get along and come to a partisan agreement to help?
Scientists? What if they don’t discover a vaccine before it’s too late?
Trusting in an EARTHLY things to defeat death leads to High levels of FEAR
Because all those things?
Earthly things die.
You can’t trust in a thing that dies to defeat the things that causes those earthly things to die.
You need to trust in something that doesn’t die.
Back in the tomb, as the women were trying to process what the angels were saying about Jesus, the angels were trying to process how the women didn’t expect this resurrection. They said,
Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words. (v.6b-8)
They remembered about the time Jesus said he was like Jonah. Jonah had been inside the belly of a big old fish for three day, then come out alive. Like how Jesus had been in the belly of the earth for three days, then come out alive. (Matthew 12:40)
They remembered about the time Jesus said the Pharisees should go destroy the temple, but he would rebuild it in three days. At the time, they had thought he meant the gigantic stone structure in which they worshiped, but he had really meant his body. (John 2:19)
They remembered when Jesus said he was the kind of Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep. But one who did so confidently, because he had the authority to raise his body back to life again. (John 10)
They remembered when Jesus said plainly, “I am going to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill him. But three days after he is killed, he will rise.” (Mk. 9:31)
The truth is that…
Trusting in the HEAVENLY ONE leads to high levels of CONFIDENCE.
He defeated death just as he said.
Jesus is trustworthy.
He’ll get you through what’s going on.
(2) Jesus Holds an UNBLEMISHED Record against Death.
This is the reason that the angel says to the women: “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”
Not just because Jesus is living.
But Jesus is the LIFE.
A paraphrase might be:
“You really thought measly old death could defeat Jesus? Ha! Hey, Clarence. Put down your harp. You gotta hear this. It’s a good one.”
In fact, Jesus had already proven his power over death.
He met a young girl who had died a few hours before he made it to her room. Jesus grabbed her hand and brought her back to life.
Jesus stopped a procession for a young man who had died just yesterday. Jesus touched the casket and the brought him back to life.
Jesus missed the funeral of a friend of his and approached the tomb where his friend had been buried for over four days. Jesus opened the tomb and brought him back to life.
Jesus holds an UNBLEMISHED Record against Death.
And to the victor goes the spoils!
If you win at the Olympics, you get the gold medal.
If you win at the Super Bowl, you get a super bowl ring.
If you win a boxing match, you get the winner’s purse. (Which…I always thought was an actual purse. And I wondered why manly boxers carried purses, but…turns out they just meant money…whatever).
To the winner goes the spoils.
What are the spoils for Jesus’ victory?
Peace with God.
But here’s the thing.
Jesus didn’t take these spoils for himself.
He gives them to you.
Jesus’s VICTORY over death means you receive the SPOILS.
You have forgiveness.
You have peace with God.
You have eternal Life.
This means that when it comes to the Corona Virus, you will get the victory.
Regardless of how it comes.
God keeps you safe and you never get COVID-19. You win.
You get sick, but God heals your body. You win.
You get sick. You don’t heal. You die. But then you live forever in heaven!
(3) With hope in JESUS, there is ZERO reason to fear Death.
There’s a pretty fabulous Bible passage that talks about the victory Jesus had over death. It’s found in Corinthians 15:55, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
There was a dad who was sitting outside with his little girl. They were playing. Enjoying the nice day.
When suddenly, a bee flew near them.
This was a bigger deal to the girl than to most. She was allergic.
She began to cry.
She began to wail.
Dad wrapped her up in his big bear arms.
He protected her.
The bee landed on his bicep and stung him.
After the sting, dad let the girl go.
The bee was still flying around, but dad wasn’t worried.
The bee’s stinger was stuck in him.
It couldn’t sting his daughter anymore.
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (v.56-57)
Death has lost its sting.
IT cannot sting you any longer.
It’s no longer separation from God,
But an entrance into the joys of heaven.
III. What Now?
(1) Share the Victory
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. (v.9)
There are others who are fearful.
There are others who are afraid.
There are others who are spending this Easter…with death hanging over their heads.
Give them Jesus.
It’s what the women were so excited to do. They ran out of the tomb. They left their spices behind.
Because suddenly all that mattered was telling others about Jesus’ victory over death.
Do the same.
Put everything else down.
Go to tell a neighbor.
Go tell a friend.
Go tell a family member.
Christ is Victorious!
Presents are exciting. Even as a grown man of nearly *cough* years old, it would be hard for me to say that the pile of gifts under our tree doesn’t get me excited, that one of the best parts of the holiday for me is finding out what’s in all those brightly colored packages that have been sitting there taunting me for weeks.
Of course, presents are awesome, but we all know they’re not the reason we celebrate, we talked about that last night as God gave us his Son. We’ll look at that gift again today of course, it’s Christmas! But there’s more to unwrap from God, that’s why we’re all here this morning instead of playing with the new toys we unwrapped. (And I hope you got some proper toys. You’re never too old for toys.) So, this morning, we’re going to take some time and unwrap a few more presents, presents from God himself, presents that truly give us reason to celebrate.
I. Our Gift to God
We all know the expression, it gets repeated year-round, just more often at Christmas: “’Tis better to give than to receive.” So, with that in mind I thought maybe we’d start off at looking not at what God has given us but what we got God this year.
So? What did you get the big guy? Maybe an extra donation in the offering plate? Spend some extra time volunteering for the special services or in the community? Maybe you tried to reach out and make peace with that one family member.
Except… didn’t God give you that money to start with? Isn’t he the one that gave you the time and the strength and the ability to contribute here and out there? And if we’re being honest, wasn’t it partly your stubbornness and pride that caused the family rift to begin with?
I’m just shooting in the dark here with these but we could go on and on. The fact is, we can’t GIVE God anything he doesn’t already have. Everything we have came from him first. And on top of that, we daily ignore him, defy him, and act contrary to him. Our gift to him this year has been nothing…plus grief.
Let’s humbly remember this as we consider God’s gifts to us. We have given him nothing. He owes us nothing. In fact, we ought to be punished for our behavior. Our reading from Romans 3 reminds us of our default state:
Just as it is written:
There is no one who is righteous, not even one.
There is no one who understands. There is no one who searches for God.
They all turned away; together they became useless.
There is no one who does what is good; there is not even one.
Their throat is an open grave.
They kept deceiving with their tongues.
The poison of asps is on their lips.
Their mouth is filled with cursing and bitterness.
Their feet are quick to shed blood.
They leave a trail of destruction and suffering wherever they go.
The way of peace they did not know.
There is no fear of God in front of their eyes.
II. God's Gift: Himself
Between what little we have done for God and the grief we have given him, it’s shocking enough that he would offer us a way out of our situation at all. We committed the crime, we earned the punishment. He should refuse to ever come near us again. And even if God were to offer a way out, you would expect some kind of bargain, right? Rather than the jail time we could pay the fine as it were.
We’d expect that since we made the mess between us and God, his solution would be for us to clean it up. Some herculean effort, some list of labors that we had to perform to get back into his good graces. And that would be utterly fair. But instead of sending a list of demands to us, God does what he usually does, he takes what would make perfectly normal human sense...and then does the opposite.
He does not send a list of demands. He does not send some cruel taskmaster to get us back on track. Instead he sends...his Son. He sends, himself. The all-powerful, limitless God of creation, becomes part of his creation, joins us as a helpless baby and sets in motion the chain of events that will lead to our rescue and freedom from the mess we made. Because he is human, he goes in our place. Because he is God, everything he does can count for everyone. God’s first gift is, quite plainly, himself.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governing Syria. And everyone went to register, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the town of Nazareth, into Judea, to the town of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was from the house and family line of David. He went to be registered with Mary, his wife, who was pledged to him in marriage and was expecting a child.
And so it was that while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
There were in the same country shepherds staying out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified! But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. For behold, I bring you good news of great joy, which will be for all people: Today in the town of David, a Savior was born for you. He is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude from the heavenly army, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward mankind.”
III. God's Gift: A Perfect Life
Of course, God did not come here to walk around, take in the sights, and see what all was going on planet-side. He came here on a mission. You see, God, as a holy being, has two major requirements for anyone to be part of him or in his presence. It’s not arbitrary, it’s sort of like the laws of physics. Because he’s holy, certain requirements have to be met.
And the first one is a perfect, obedient, life. This makes sense. To be in God’s holy presence, you need to be holy yourself. And it’s not like his demands are unreasonable or cruel. In fact, the core of his command is love! Love God first and love each other equally. All his other commands flow from these. And yet as we confessed, we haven’t. We have been selfish and cruel, ignoring God and hurting each other.
We could not live a perfect life, so Jesus did. His entire lifespan as a human was carried out in perfect obedience to his Father. From birth to his march to the cross, he kept God’s will perfectly and when he was finished, he handed that life over to you to wear as a white robe that covers you completely. Your life is perfect in God’s eyes through Jesus’ gift.
We see just one example of Jesus’ obedience during his temptation in Matthew 4:
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. After he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The Tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.”
But Jesus answered, “It is written:
Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.”
Then the Devil took him into the holy city. He placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, and he said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you.
And they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”
Jesus said to him, “Again, it is written:
You shall not test the Lord your God.”
Again the Devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He said to him, “I will give you all of these things, if you will bow down and worship me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written:
Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”
Then the Devil left him, and just then angels came and served him.
IV. God's Gift: Forgiveness
I said before that God has two major requirements to be in his presence. One is the perfect life he lived for us and gave to us, the life that covers us now and makes us holy in his eyes. The other is that we be totally free of sin.
Well, wait, you might say, isn't that just the other side of the same coin? If we have a holy life, aren’t we automatically free from sin? Sure, we would be, if you had actually lived a holy life. But as we’ve established, you didn’t. The holy life you have is a gift, it covers you, it shows you as holy to God, but there’s still the problem of your debt.
You see, God has a justice system. It’s utterly perfect, utterly fair. Every sin is a crime against that system and like any other system of justice, every crime must be paid for. Whether that payment is community service, a fine, or jail time—reparation must be made. In this case, the payment that needs to be made for crimes against God himself… well it’s eternal death. It’s the agony of hell.
That is… a stern penalty. It is not a debt we could easily pay. And so the next gift God gives us through Jesus is full payment for our crimes.
On the cross, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” You see, hell is nothing less than to be completely abandoned by God. And that is what happened to Jesus on the cross. It was there that God abandoned him, that he suffered hell itself in your place.
And when it was done, knowing that your payment was made, he uttered that famous word “tetelestai”. “It is finished” in our reading. Also translated as “paid in full”. Jesus’ work was complete, the debt was paid, and God’s gift of forgiveness is entirely yours. From John 19:
After this, knowing that everything had now been finished, and to fulfill the Scripture, Jesus said, “I thirst.”
A jar full of sour wine was sitting there. So they put a sponge soaked in sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.
When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished!” Then, bowing his head, he gave up his spirit.
V. God's Gift: Eternal Life
God’s gifts: giving himself through Jesus, the perfect life lived on your behalf, the sacrifice on the cross to pay the debt for your sins are all leading up to this final gift that we now look forward to. Because of the baby we celebrate today, we have the confidence and peace of knowing our end.
This section from Revelation 7 stands on its own. Know that this is what belongs to you as a gift from God. Without further introduction:
After these things I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing in front of the throne and of the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and with palm branches in their hands. They called out with a loud voice and said:
Salvation comes from our God, who sits on the throne, and from the Lamb.
All the angels stood around the throne, the elders, and the four living creatures. They fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, saying:
Amen. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and might belong to our God forever and ever. Amen.
One of the elders spoke to me and said, “These people dressed in white robes, who are they and where did they come from?”
And I answered him, “Sir, you know.”
And he said to me:
These are the ones who are coming out of the great tribulation.
They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Because of this they are in front of the throne of God,
and they serve him day and night in his temple.
He who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
They will never be hungry or thirsty ever again.
The sun will never beat upon them, nor will any scorching heat,
for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Thanksgiving is less than one week away. Maybe you already started on the stuffing about three days ago! Because one of the greatest parts of Thanksgiving is the food.
There’s hot food.
Hot turkey, fresh out of the oven.
Hot potatoes, mashed with a butter melted down the top of the mound.
Even hot green bean casserole with the crispy things at the top acting as some kind of barrier.
There’s cold food.
Cold cranberries sauce – with just the right kick of tang.
Cold desserts each more delicious than the last.
A cold drink to wash it all down.
How many of you are looking forward to a lukewarm Thanksgiving meal?
Lukewarm cranberry sauce.
And a lukewarm drink.
Today’s letter is to a church that was lukewarm. (And to Jesus – it’s just as disgusting as lukewarm mashed potatoes.)
Today’s goal is to determine what it means to spiritually lukewarm and to ask the difficult question: “Are we lukewarm?” Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Lukewarm Laodicea
This letter starts in Revelation 3:14, “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.
Laodicea was located just south of the Lycus river. It was a fertile area lush with green landscapes. It was great for sheep and led to an impressive wool industry in the city. This industry made Laodicea into one of the wealthiest cities. In fact, in 60 AD an earthquake destroyed the city. But Laodicea didn’t need Roman help to rebuild. They paid for the rebuild on their own.
Within Laodicea was a church. This church is mentioned four times in the letter to the Colossians. In that letter, Paul even mentions a letter he penned for the Laodicean church that never made it into the Bible. Laodicea was an important center in early Christianity.
Similarly to the other letter, Jesus begins by introducing himself. He reminds the church that he is Faithful and true. This prepares the people for what he’s about to tell them: whether they see it or not, whether they believe it or not, whether they want to believe it or not, he speaks the truth.
It matters too! Because Jesus is the Ruler of God’s Creation! He’s the one who provides the fertile land for their rich sheep and wool industry. He’s the one who cares for the sheep that are grazing. He’s the one who gave the merchants the abilities to develop this industry. If it wasn’t for him, their wealth wouldn’t exist. And if it wasn’t for his loving kindness, he’d just send another earthquake to destroy Laodicea.
This truthful, powerful God is the one speaking to them. He says:
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15)
Another well-known feature of Laodicea was the natural springs of water that occurred there. The water bubbled up from within the earth. It was warm. It was clean. It came packed with minerals. The water relaxed the muscles, melted stress away and promoted healing.
And the temperature was just right.
Not freezing like an ice bath.
Not hot that it’d burn their skin.
But imagine for a moment that instead of soaking in the lukewarm bathwater, you decided to drink it.
How’s it taste?
You’d spit it out?
So would Jesus.
Only he’s not talking about bathwater in Revelation 3.
He’s talking about the spiritual temperature of the Laodiceans.
Jesus hates a LUKEWARM spiritual temperature.
Because when the Bible speaks about faith, it lauds faith that’s on fire for Jesus.
On fire with love for the Savior.
On fire for his teachings.
On fire for sharing his message.
Cold? That’s a reference to unbelief. It’s the cold heart of someone who has never come to faith and never been on fire for the Gospel. Don’t get this wrong – Jesus is not saying that he wishes the Laodiceans were unbelievers. But rather, that a cold heart might know it needs something – a warmth that only the Gospel can provide.
But the Laodiceans…they couldn’t care less.
They knew the Gospel and…were APATHETIC.
They were APATHETIC about their need for a Savior.
They were APATHETIC about their Savior.
They were APATHETIC about their spiritual state.
And Jesus? Was disgusted by it.
Jesus hates spiritual APATHY.
It’s easy to understand why:
Apathy leads his people away from faith.
Apathy leads his people away from their savior.
Apathy leads his people away from heaven.
Apathy leads his people away from sharing their faith.
Apathy leads his people away from people who need the Gospel.
Apathy leads people, that he wants in heaven, away from heaven.
Apathy kills his church.
II. Causes of Apathy
As we start thinking about whether or not we are apathetic, I think it’s helpful to identify what leads to spiritual apathy. Look at what Jesus says: Revelation 3:17, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”
The text reveals a few things that lead to spiritual apathy.
(1) Being Presently Cared For
Laodicea was one of the wealthiest cities in the ancient world. The church was blessed by the economic boom. The people were physically, temporally, and presently cared for. They had enough things and stuff that they began to think – “Do I really need Jesus?”
Of course, Jesus said: “You need me.”
Laodicea said: “I think I’ve got all I need in this big old bag of money.”
Jesus said: “I’ll give you nourishment.”
Laodicea said: “No worries. I can pay for a night at the Angus Barn on my own.”
Jesus said: “I’ll quench your thirst.”
Laodicea said: “I’m not actually that thirsty Jesus. I just got done with my second glass of Merlot. It’s from 17 AD. A good year, no?”
Being presently cared for isn’t bad. (That’s why God takes care of us.)
As a pastor, I’ve seen it often.
Someone comes seeking God’s help in time of trouble.
Low on funds.
Job was lost.
Sick, in need of prayer.
We study God’s Word.
We seek God because the person feels poor and in need of Jesus.
But then, life turns around.
Finances are ok.
Job is ok.
Relationship is ok.
Health is ok.
It isn’t long…
I mark absent on their worship attendance record for the 12th week in a row.
(2) Past Accolades
Past accolades can also lead us into a lukewarm faith. Look at the brag of the Laodiceans. They said: “I have acquired wealth.” That’s past tense. The Laodiceans had worked hard for their money and success – even making their church a success.
So now, when they were reminded that God called them to share the Gospel, they responded: “Why? We did that 10 years ago.”
Try to tell that to your boss sometime:
“Boss, I don’t think I need to come into work today. I worked a Monday in 2016.”
That won’t work.
It doesn’t work with Jesus.
He doesn’t care about past accolades.
And your past accolades cannot get you to heaven.
(3) Future Needs
The final brag in verse 13 says, “You say…You do not need a thing.” There’s a future sense in that implication. The Laodiceans looked at their wealth, at the 70” HD TVs, at their brand new iPhones linked to their Apple Watches, at their kids being in the number 1 academic school in Laodicea and said:
“Thanks for getting me here Jesus, but I can’t fathom having any need for you anymore.”
It’s almost as if the Laodiceans couldn’t foresee life happening.
Worse --- they couldn’t see death happening.
The warning is for you too.
If you think you’ll never need Jesus.
If you think you’ll never get sick…
…never lose a job…
…never lose a home.
Your faith will grow lukewarm.
This is a big deal because…
Jesus isn’t APATHETIC about APATHY
I think that’s important to hear.
Because usually, the Christian church, even apathetic Christians, can find some sins they aren’t apathetic towards:
Since that we are convinced Jesus would love to spit out:
And to be fair – these things are sin.
God is not apathetic about them.
But he isn’t apathetic about apathy either.
He violently spits the apathetic out.
Because to the Savior who cared so much for you that he came out of heaven, lived in this sin filled world, and suffered a violent death for you...
III. The Solution for Apathy
Because Jesus is not apathetic towards apathy so he offers the solution in verse 18, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
Take a look at the ways that Jesus provides the solution for apathy.
(1) Spiritual Gold
The Laodiceans were so rich that they had their own mint to mint their own money. To take copper and silver, to melt it, to mold it, and to put little designs on it.
None of this money would be a valid payment for forgiveness.
None of it could earn heaven.
None of it could buy eternal life.
But gold from Jesus?
It is refined in the fire.
It has been purified from all impurifies.
It is righteous.
That’s important. Because righteousness is the payment required from heaven.
God says, “You want to get in? Pay me righteousness.”
But righteousness means perfection.
So…we are fresh out of righteousness.
That’s where Jesus’ comes in.
He has righteousness.
He has no problem making the payment for us.
If you’ve been apathetic towards Jesus and need righteousness to pay for that sin…
…the very one that you’ve been apathetic towards is the one who will make the un-apathetically make the payment for your apathy.
(2) Spiritual Clothing
Jesus said, “You think you’re rich…but you’re naked.”
You think that the Versaci dress can cover your vanity. It can’t.
You think that your Gucci watch can cover your greed. It can’t.
You think that your Slim fitting suit can cover your sin. It can’t.
God can see your heart.
God can see your being.
God can see the ugliness of your sin.
But the clothing Jesus’ offers? It covers your completely.
It covers all of your sin.
All of your ugliness.
All of your pride.
All of your greed.
All of your lust.
All of your really big sins that you figure everyone knows about!
Jesus death and resurrection covers our sins completely.
…that when God looks at us –
People who are wretched with sin.
He says, “My you look nice tonight.”
Praise God for covering us!
(3) Spiritual Salve
Another thing documented about Laodicea is that they would use water from the natural springs to make ointment salves. The natural minerals were helpful in healing all kinds of ailments in the body. The purity of the water went well with medicines to heal people – especially when it came to eyesight.
Yet even the finest Laodicean salve could fix the fact that the Laodicean church couldn’t see its own sin.
His salve is eternal.
His salve is perfect.
His salve is healing.
His salve is God’s Word that gives us the proper spiritual eyesight – to see our great need for our Savior and the eternally important value of sharing his message.
Because of Jesus’ salve…
I don’t just see a clerk at Food Lion. I see a soul in need of saving.
I don’t just see a snotty nosed kid next door. I see a soul in need of saving.
I don’t just see a friend who was mean to me that one time on Facebook. I see a soul in need of saving.
IV. What Now?
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. (v.19-20)
Understand what Jesus means.
He loves his people.
He wants to be with them.
Yet our apathy threw Jesus out of the church.
He speaks through these words to the apathetic Laodiceans.
“Repent! And I will come in and dwell with you.”
If you’re apathetic…
He is knocking.
He is speaking.
He is saying to you right now…
I want to be with you.
Repent or your apathy.
Turn back to me.
Because when we do, he promises to sit down with us.
That’s the intimate part of Thanksgiving. Everyone sits down and eats together.
They eat with you because you love them.
You love them because they eat with you.
Look at what Jesus says to the formerly apathetic, now repentant:
“I’ll sit with you.”
“Even though I found you so gross that I spat you out, because of my love – I’ll sit by you.”
Through the good times.
Through the bad times.
Through all the times.
I’ll sit with you now.
And in the future..?
To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.
“Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Amen.
Today’s letter is to a church that needs to wake up! Our goal is to examine what Jesus means by that, consider if our church is sleeping, and learn from God’s Word what to do to wake up. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.