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!
We’re on the final lesson in our three-part PEACE series. Back on December 1st, Pastor Robin reminded us that, as believers, we have PEACE with God because of what Jesus did for us. Two weeks ago, we talked about how that PEACE with God leads us towards PEACE with our family and friends.
But if we stopped the series there, it wouldn’t be complete.
It’d be like an unfinished Dot-to-Dot puzzle. Ever you seen one of those in a coloring book? You connected dot 1 to dot 2, dot 2 to dot 3, —all the way to dot 57 until there is a completed picture.
But what if you leave 58 to 79 unfinished? The picture isn’t complete. What was supposed to be a cookie ends up looking like the letter “c”.
The same thing is true with our sermon series.
If we forget to connect the final dot in God’s plan for PEACE, the picture ends up being completely different.
Because God’s declaration of PEACE to us and guidance in PEACE with family and friends isn’t just so that YOU have a peaceful Christmas.
God brings us to PEACE with him and guides us to live in PEACE with others so that we can deliver HIS PEACE to them.
Our goal for today is to:
(1) identify the BEST gift you can give anyone this Christmas
(2) understand WHAT MAKES this gift the best gift ever
(3) make a game plan for bringing this gift to people in your life
Before we begin: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Best Gift
The lesson for today comes from the book of Isaiah. It was written 700 years before the very first Christmas, at a time when the people of Judah didn’t have a lot to feel peaceful about.
Recently, the Assyrian army had been conquering countries, devastating cities, and violently tearing apart armies. Now, the army had gotten very close to the country of Judah -- even completely destroying and devastating their sister country of Israel – where many of their relatives and friends resided.
It was a time of war.
People were anxious.
People were concerned.
People lived in fear.
Young men were afraid to walk outside by themselves at night.
Fathers were nervous that a letter may contain news of another relative killed in battle.
Mothers cuddled their children closely, afraid they might not have many days left.
It was to that kind of atmosphere that God brought this message:
Rise up, sit enthroned, Jerusalem.
Free yourself from the chains on your neck…
For this is what the Lord says;
“You were sold for nothing,
And without money you will be redeemed… (Isaiah 52:2-4)
Did you catch it?
God’s message to the people of Judah was that Assyrian would not defeat them.
God would free them from their oppression.
Soon, they would be redeemed.
But here’s what I want you to do.
Put yourself in Isaiah’s shoes.
He just heard from God’s mouth the very good news that the war would end soon and there would be PEACE.
This is where there’s a shift in chapter 52.
Because to this point, Isaiah has been recording what God has told him to tell others.
Now, Isaiah comments on the job that God just gave him:
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (v.7)
Feet aren’t normally that beautiful.
They can be stinky.
They can be smelly.
They can have ingrown toenails.
They can have thick pieces of black hair on the big toe.
If you want beautiful feet, you’ve usually got to work hard at it.
You need to scrub off the calluses.
You need to clip your toenails.
You need to rub essential oils on them to keep them smelling good.
Even at Christmas, if you’re opening up present on your living room floor, you might want to throw on a pair of elf slippers or maybe some socks with jingle bells on them.
Feet aren’t normally very beautiful.
How beautiful on the feet of those who bring good news.
They got to walk to tell the young men; they were safe.
They got to deliver the message to the dad; that their relatives would come home.
They got to tell the mother’s; it’s ok to send your children outside now.
There is no greater GIFT than the gift of GOOD NEWS.
Think about it:
How awesome when a friend text message you, “There’s a 50% off sale down at Kohl’s.”
How wonderful when you get the email: “Your Amazon Prime order has shipped.”
How excited do your kids get when you say: “There’s only 2 more days until Christmas!”
The message of Jesus is also good news.
In fact, the word commonly used to describe the message of Jesus is “the Gospel.”
Did you know that the word “Gospel” literally means, “Good news.”
It’s the “good news” that we have a Savior.
Friends, there’s no greater gift than good news.
And there’s is no greater GOOD NEWS than the GOSPEL.
II. The Beauty of the Gospel
If you believe the Gospel, then perhaps you understand the incredible effect the Gospel has had on you.
But for a moment, I don’t want you to apply the Gospel to yourself.
I want you to apply it to someone you know that doesn’t’ believe it.
Think about it:
What kind of an effect would the Gospel have on them?
A few things:
(1) It brings PEACE
Christmas is a time that a lack of peace becomes very evident.
Kids proclaim STRESS: “You didn’t get me what I wanted.”
Parents proclaim STRESS: “You didn’t get your child what you should.”
Friends proclaim STRESS: “I can’t believe you aren’t spending more time with me.”
Spouses proclaim STRESS: “Christmas reminds me of how terrible of a spouse you are.”
People proclaim stress to each other.
But with the message of Jesus you get to proclaim PEACE. That out of all their relationships that they have…spouse, friend, coworker, parent, child, sibling, 2nd cousin twice remove, there is ONE relationship that they are guaranteed to have peace with and it just so happens to be the one being that they have sinned against the most:
(2) It brings GLAD TIDINGS from God
One thing that has been popular in Christmases past is the Christmas letter. People used to write down all the good things that happened over the past year and update friends and relatives on it. I remember receiving a letter from a nice elderly couple up from North Minnesota that only included the latest updates to their garden: “The colerabi came in good this year.” Even the millennial version of it – no letter; just a picture from Shutterfly – announces some kind of good news; “We’re still a family.”
When you tell your neighbors about Jesus, it’s really like you’re delivering God’s Christmas letter to them. And it’s one of the only Christmas letters with good news for the recipients: “Dear friend, Things are going well in heaven. My Son Jesus is still the Savior. His death and resurrection 2000 some years ago still paid for all of your sins. You are still forgiven. You are still at peace with me. You are saved.”
(3) It brings SALVATION
Particularly verse 7 says that when you proclaim the message of Jesus, you proclaim salvation. (v.7)
It’s kind of like participating in a giving (or angel) tree. We’ve got one in our hallway. If you happen to be the one that delivers the presents, you’ll be deliving to some people who didn’t have enough money to buy gifts for their kids. You’ll be “saving” Christmas.
But how much greater when it comes to the message of Jesus.
They owe a debt that they could never pay.
But when you tell them the message of Jesus?
That big guilt that they feel? They’re saved from it.
That big sin that they did? They’re saved form it.
That terrible death that they’re facing? They’re saved from it.
(4) It says, “GOD REIGNS”
Which is another layer to the Gospel message.
Because if the God who saved them, has good tidings for them, and is at peace with them is also the KING of the universe…
Then, whatever they’re going through…
…estrangement from family.
…their loving God is in control.
…and all will work out for their good.
III. Game Plan
Friends, it is eternally important to share the message of Jesus this Christmas. So…here’s what we’re going to do next. We’re going to game plan.
Because if you are one of the College Football teams you are currently game-planning for their upcoming Bowl game.
If you’re UNC, you’re game planning for Temple.
If you’re Wake Forest, you’re game planning for Michigan State.
If you’re Duke or NC State, you’re game planning for whoever you play in the opening game next year.
If you’re a believer listening to this today, you’ve got to game plan for how you’re going to share the Peace of Jesus this Christmas.
(1) Share TOGETHER
Because look at what Isaiah writes next: “Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy.” (v.8)
Notice it’s a plural. You have more than one watchman so that you can get the message out to the entire city, quickly and efficiently.
It’s the same for us. We share the message of Jesus TOGETHER.
TOGETHER we pool our funds for social media ads inviting people to Christmas Eve.
TOGETHER we work together to put on the best Gospel proclamation service Tuesday night.
TOGETHER we sharpen our skills in sharing faith through Bible study.
TOGETHER we challenge each other to share our faith.
TOGETHER we pray for each others’ efforts.
TOGETHER we plan to follow up on those who join us and connect them with the message of peace.
And it has to be TOGETHER.
Because the effect is larger when it’s TOGETHER.
It’s like going in with your siblings on a gift for mom and dad. If you pool you’re money, you can get the next HD TV. But on your own? You never will.
It’s the same thing.
TOGETHER, we reach North Raleigh.
But only TOGETHER.
On our own, we NEVER will.
(2) Identify your End of the Earth
Verse 10 says, “All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” (v.10) It’s a promise of our God. He died for ALL and he wants ALL to know about their Savior.
It’s kind of hard to invite someone who lives in Australia to worship in Raleigh.
Remember though – Christianity is a team sport.
God isn’t calling you personally to go to the ends of the earth.
He’s just calling you to go to the ends of YOUR earth.
To the ends of your block.
To the end of your cubicle.
To the end of your couch.
Who are the people you know who don’t know Jesus? Look at the bottom of your note sheet. There’s a spot for writing some of those people down. Take a moment, write them down. Plan to share Jesus with them.
(3) Include ALL Nations
Because its’ really, really, really, really, really easy to say, “I can’t think of anyone who looks like me to share the Gospel of jesus with, so I don’t know if there is any one for me to share the message of Jesus with.”
Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
That includes the people who look like you.
And the people who don’t.
The people who have the same culture as you.
And who don’t.
The people who have the same religion as you.
And who don’t.
Do you know someone like that? Don’t be too nervous to write them down. God’s peace is for them too!
(4) Rejoice TOGETHER
The final thing that I want to include is found in verse 9:
“Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.” (v.9)
And this is where I think we could do better.
Because, we all agree that many need to hear about Jesus.
And we agree that sharing Jesus is challenging to do.
Let’s celebrate when it happens.
Let’s rejoice when someone invites someone to Christmas via text message.
Let’s rejoice when someone shares a scripture on Facebook.
Let’s rejoice when someone brings someone along to worship.
Let’s rejoice together, because we share Jesus together.
Celebrating these accomplishments, pumps us up.
Gives glory to God.
And motivates us to keep sharing Jesus.
Friends, there is no better gift than the message of Jesus.
May God be with you as you share the message of Jesus.
We are finishing up our Fighting Temptation sermon series this morning. If you’ve been here following along, this is the culmination. We’re going to take everything we’ve learned about fighting temptation and apply it to enduring in the fight against temptation.
If you haven’t been here, that’s okay. Because we’re going to be talking about how to endure your walk of faith -- in a world filled with doubt, shame, guilt, and other things that make it feel like you should just give up on faith.
In short, if you want to enjoy eternal life…this is for you.
Before we study, 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. Surrounded by Witnesses
The section we’re going to look at it from the book of Hebrews 12: 1-3. Briefly – Hebrews is a letter written to believers anywhere at any time. We are believers. We are somewhere and sometimes – so…this is written to us.
This is written to you.
Look at the encouragement in chapter 12:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Right away, I get this picture of a track and field meet. The stadium seating is filled with people. They’ve got their popcorn. They’ve got their sports drinks. They’ve got their sunglasses on and a granola bar for the kids. They are cheering on your behalf – “You can do it! You’ve got this! Keep running.”
There’s even that coach running alongside the infield. He’s the one’s that’s running by you as you hit the corner – he’s screaming. He’s yelling. He’s waving his arms in big old circles – (because I think he thinks that it’ll help with the airflow so you can run faster.) He’s part of the crowd of people that are encouraging you and cheering you on.
But who is this group of people that the Bible is talking about?
Who are these witnesses?
(1) Those who have Finished the Race
It is usually in good taste, once you finish a race, to turn around and cheer for those who are still finishing up. You’re letting them know it’s possible by the fact that you already made it.
Scripture is filled with those who have finished the race.
Scripture is filled with those who have fought the fight against temptation.
Scripture is filled with those who have walked the walk of faith.
Like a guy named Abraham -- God said to him, “Get up. Move your family. Go to a different country. Even though I won’t tell you where, it’ll be good, just…trust me.”
And Abraham did.
And God gave him the land of Israel that would lead to the entire nation of Israel as we know them today.
Like a woman named Sarah – God said to her, “Even though you’re 90 years old and are barren, I will come back in a year and you will have a son – trust me.”
And Sarah did.
And God gave her a child named Isaac --- the great, great, great, great, many times over, grandfather of Jesus Christ.
Like a guy named Moses – God said to him, “I will work through you to do miraculous signs and lead my people out of slavery in Egypt – trust me.”
And Moses did.
And God sent locusts, frogs, hail, bugs, darkness and blood until the king of Egypt finally let them go.
And a young boy named David – God said to him, “Even though you are small, I will take care of you. Trust me.”
And David did.
And God protected him – guiding a tiny little stone from a sling shot into the gap of the giant goliath’s helmet – knocking him down – dead.
And a young man named Joshua – God said to him, “Even though there’s a gigantic wall surrounding the city, I will help you defeat Jericho and it will be yours…trust me.”
And Joshua did.
And God roared, Jericho trembled, God shook the city of Jericho and sent the walls of Jericho a tumbling down.
And a guy named Daniel – God said to him, “Even though the king has threatened a night in the lion’s den for not worshipping him, don’t do it. I’ll protect you…trust me.”
And Daniel did.
And God sent angels to calm those ferocious beasts – that come the next morning – the lions were snuggling up to Daniel purring like housecats.
And a young woman named Mary – God said to her, “Even though you’ve never slept with anyone – and biology says it’s impossible, trust me…You will have a Son and will call his name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
And she did.
And God did. And Jesus was born of a virgin.
And a guy named Peter…And Andrew. And James and John…and Thomas and Philip and hundreds more – to whom Jesus himself said, “They will kill me…. But…three days later…I will come back to life. Trust me.”
And they… didn’t.
But God did anyway. He came back to life.
The Bible is filled with people who have finished the race of faith.
And through the pages of Scripture – they cheer you on:
You will win.
(2) Those who are Running the Race with you
Because when you run a race – it’s good to run a race with friends. It’s nice to have people there to push you. People there to encourage you. People there to say, “You know what. Why don’t we walk for a bit.”
God has given you people to encourage you.
God has given you people to uplift you.
God has given you people to witness to God’s grace and run the race with you.
I remember Pastor John Jeske. He was a pastor of mine growing up. He preached rather long sermons. (Some of you are wondering – “How long does he think a ‘long sermon’ is…?”) He was a kind, gentle, older man – who always took the time to shake my hand and ask how my day was going.
He encouraged me.
One of the interactions that I ever had was a graduation card that I received from him. It said, “Philip, keep holding onto Jesus and keep sharing him with others.”
It wasn’t much.
A few simple words.
Yet – even today –
Years after I received that card.
Years after Pastor Jeske became a member of God’s congregation in heaven.
I hear his encouragement.
I want you to take a moment and think about some of the people God has given you to encourage you.
A grandma? A grandpa?
A church friend?
Because that’s really the point of church. It’s a group of people who gather together to encourage, uplift, run beside, pull each other along, and occasionally -- give someone a ride on their back as we run the race of faith together.
If you don’t have that group of people, God says you need it.
If you have that group of people, God says, “Don’t forget to encourage them too.”
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Because you wouldn’t do very well in a race if your shoelaces were tied together.
You wouldn’t do very well in a race if you were wrapped up in toilet paper.
You wouldn’t do very well in a race if you are the only one with a weighted backpack of about 50 pounds. (Unless you’re that one guy at my gym – who always wears the 50-pound backpack…I think he wears it when he brushes his teeth.)
But you get the point? You can’t run well when things are tangling you up and slowing you down.
And you can’t run the race of faith when things are tangling you up and slowing you down.
Again, what might entangle you? Two things:
(1) Sin that Entangles
This one seems easy.
Sin is bad.
God is good.
Sin is wrong.
God is opposed to wrong.
If you are trying to run the race of faith with God, then you’re going to be immensely slowed down.
And we’re not necessarily talking about tripping up in sin – that happens to all Christians all the time because we are all sinners.
But we’re talking about sin that entangles.
Sin that’s repeated.
Sin that’s repetitive.
Sin that’s got you all wrapped up.
Because think about it:
It’s hard set your heart after God, when your heart is after a bunch of porn on the internet.
It’s hard to run with all your strength, when most of your strength is boasting on social media.
It’s hard to run with joy, when you’re harboring bitterness in your heart.
It’s hard to share Jesus with people of all cultures, when you’d rather share your racist thoughts about other cultures.
It’s hard to trust God’s forgiveness of you, when you’re struggling with forgiving in your heart.
It’s hard to work together to share the Gospel, when you’re working on your own to share gossip about others at church.
Throw off the sin that entangles.
(2) Anything that Hinders
But it’s not just that. Scripture says to throw off anything that hinders.
Meaning things that aren’t necessarily sin.
Cause there’s all kinds of things in this world that aren’t necessarily sin. They are spiritually neutral. Things like: TV, sleep, food, money, career, sports, Rice Krispy Bars, Pokémon, and vegetables – (except for brussels sprouts – those are probably sinful – just kidding…kind of.)
Neutral things are not wrong on their own.
They become wrong, when they consume you to the point of slowing your spiritual race.
Like video games. I enjoy video games. Not the violent, intense, R rated games that have all kinds of questionable content.
But the light-hearted, goofy video games – that leave you questioning how old I am.
But here’s the thing. If those video games start to take up my time, if they start to envelop my thoughts, if I start thinking more about “How can I save princess Peach from Bowser” – rather than – “How can I share Jesus who saves eternally with that person…”
Video games have become a hindrance.
They need to be thrown off.
Think about you and your life.
What is slowing you down?
I bet it’s different than mine.
But I also bet there is one.
The devil will do everything possible to make you think that’s most important.
But it’s not.
So…whatever has become a hindrance to growing in faith, following Jesus, and sharing his message.
Identify and throw it off.
III. Eyes on the Prize
One more thing that Scripture implores us to do as we run the race of faith:
Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. (v.2)
Over at Lafayette Village, every September they hold Octoberfest. Let me say that again – Every September, they hold Octoberfest. (I think that the 4th of July is celebrated on August 10th this year, too). Part of the celebration is the Annual Wiener Dog Race. (Picture it.) It is exactly what you picture. A race with wiener dogs. The race isn’t long. It’s probably the length of a pew. And the dogs are dropped off at the starting line. They are positioned behind a starting gate and then, their owner goes down to the finish line – ready to call for the dog and cheer them to victory.
Sounds simple, right?
But…here’s what happens.
The announcer says, “On your mark. Get set. Go!”
The gates open…and…
One of them immediately runs over to the walls and starts trying to jump over them to get to the crowd.
Another sees a butterfly in the air and chases it to the other side.
A third was on his way to the end but stops when he sees the little kid eating a “hot dog.”
And a fourth – just kinda settles down for a nap.
I remember watching a race. It’s literally 30 feet in length, but it took about 5 minutes because the dogs couldn’t keep their attention on the endgame.
The same thing is true in this life.
We can’t get distracted by shiny, flashy things.
We can’t lose focus from Christ – and drift to career, money, friendship, physique…
None of those things lead to the finish line of eternal life.
None of those things lead to the finish line of heaven.
Only one thing does --
So fix your eyes on Jesus.
Why Jesus? Three reasons…
(1) He is the author of your faith
An author is someone who writes a book. They are the ones who come up with the ideas and write it on a page. People like Dr. Seuss, Maya Angelou and Nathaniel Hawthorne. All authors – all wrote their ideas and thoughts down on paper.
Jesus is the author of faith.
Its contents: He looked down upon earth. He saw that we were mired in sin, guilt and shame. He saw that we couldn’t get ourselves out of it – and eternal death was our destiny. So…he wrote “Faith.”
He came down to earthly willingly.
Lived perfectly when we couldn’t.
Died innocently in our place.
And rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of all of our sins!
He said, “Put your faith in ME, in ME, in ME, not in yourself, in ME!”
Jesus authored the contents of our faith – but – more than that – he authored your faith.
He came to you through Scripture.
He came to you through the words of someone who knew Scripture.
He came to you through the waters of baptism.
He brought you the message that we are sinners and are in need of a Savior.
He wrote on your heart the words of faith:
“I belong to Jesus.”
“He is my Savior.”
“I will follow him.”
Think about it: If he is the one who set you on this journey of faith!
Since he’s the one who started you on it, keep your eyes on him – he’ll help you through it.
(2) He is the Perfecter of Your Faith
In fact, he’ll get you to the end! The Scripture says, “He is the perfecter of your faith.” That means – you can’t do this race without him. You can’t do this race without your Savior. You can’t do this race on your own.
Be careful with that. It’s so common for Christians to say – “Thanks Jesus for starting me out on faith. I appreciate it. But…I don’t want you to get tired…Let me run it on my own.”
And a couple of paces – they’re passed out in a spiritual ditch.
Jesus said this, “I am the Vine; you are the branches. If someone remains in me and I in them, they will bear much fruit. Apart from me; they can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
If you think you can do this race without Jesus, you’ll be like one of those old branches lying in the woods. Brittle. Withered. Dead.
But…if you stay connected to Jesus, hear his promise: you will grow.
You will be nourished.
Your faith will flourish.
You will run and you will run fast.
(3) He’s Excellent at Keeping His Eye on the Prize
One more reason to keep your eyes on Jesus.
Today is Palm Sunday. It’s the day we remember how Jesus came to Jerusalem in a festive fashion.
He rode on a donkey.
People were cheering for him.
They were waving Palm branches in the air.
They were pumping their fists in the air.
They were laying their coats on the ground so the donkey didn’t have to step on mud.
The entire city of Jerusalem was watching this one-person parade of Jesus and shouting:
HOSANNA! HOSANNA TO THE SON OF DAVID!
The scene is impressive.
And you might think – I can understand why Jesus wanted to go to Jerusalem.
If that was his goal…Who wouldn’t want to have an entire city singing your adulation and giving praise and attention to you.
That’s not why Jesus went to Jerusalem.
“We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him.” (Luke 18:31-33)
Do you see it?
Jesus reason for going to Jerusalem wasn’t Palm Sunday; it was Good Friday.
He didn’t come to earth for the adulation of the crowd; but the ridicule of the soldiers.
He didn’t come to hear “Hosanna!”; but to hear “Crucify him.”
He didn’t come to have palms waves at him, but to have nailed driven into his him.
He didn’t come to ride on a donkey, but to hang from a cross.
He didn’t come to gain glory for himself; he came to gain glory for you.
Jesus’ eyes were on the prize.
And the prize wasn’t himself.
The prize was YOU.
Hebrews says, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
That ultimate joy of God.
That ultimate joy of God that powered Jesus to go through with dying on the cross.
Was the promise of eternity with you.
What helped Jesus endured his immensely painful moments on the cross, was considering eternity with you.
What will help you endure the intense painful moments in this life, the moments that make you doubt, the moments that make you want to give up…
Is considering Jesus.
You will not grow weary and lose heart.
You will run.
All the way.
To your Savior’s waiting arms. Amen.
What is your purpose in 2019?
Pay off the mortgage – and every action that you take, every decision that you make is with the goal of paying off that house?
Maybe it’s just to look good – and every food you eat, every movement you make has the goal of looking more like you did in your twenties?
Help your business grow – and every Facebook post that you share has the goal of taking your entrepreneurship to the next level?
We recently got a cat. Yep. A cat. It’s my first one – and I guess it’s not as bad as I thought because I’m still living. Her name is Minnie. Her full name is Minnie, Warrior Kitty.
Now – she can’t talk, but after watching her interact with our house for the past two weeks – I think I understand what her mission is for 2019. I think her mission is to defend the world at all costs against any button, any remote control, any dust ball and any stray tissue that dares cross her path!
Pretty lofty goals…I know.
We’re in the middle of a sermon series called FRESH. This week our topic is PUPORSE. We want to find a fresh purpose in God for 2019 – what kind of mission statement can we adopt in our personal lives to fulfill that purpose! Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A 1st Century Purpose
The section of God’s Word that we’ll study this morning comes from 1 Timothy 2. Timothy is a letter written to a young pastor named Timothy. It is written by Paul who was an older pastor that had a lot of experience starting churches. In this section, he is giving Timothy some instructions on what he should be teaching the people. He writes:
I urge, first of all, that prayers, petitions, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people and for kings and all in authority. (1 Timothy 2:1)
Note the “First of all.” It identifies the first thing in a list of things that Paul will be telling Timothy to teach the congregation. But it also denotes a certain level of importance. This first teaching is of great importance to God’s kingdom; so, it is listed first. It’s important, by the way, in both the 1st century AND the 21st century. So…listen up.
The first thing that’s of great importance for Christians to do?
(1) Pray for All people.
That’s not easy. Usually people like to pray for people that they (1) know and that they (2) like. It’s why people pray for themselves (they like themselves). Also their family, their kids, their spouse, and maybe even a few people from church…but probably not all of them.
Paul’s instruction is more all-encompassing than that. Paul says to pray for all people.
That includes not only the people that we know and like…
But the people that we don’t know and might not like.
For the stranger across town.
For the stranger across the world.
For the coworker that you don’t like.
For the friend that’s no longer your friend.
For the rich guy who owns a mansion.
For the homeless guy on the street.
Even for the internet troll who puts an angry face on all of your political posts.
God’s Word says to pray for all of those people.
And then to top it all off - he says to pray for a group of people that probably ranks high on most people’s list of people that they don’t want to pray for:
It’s like the coup de grace of un-prayable people.
(2) Pray for the Government.
This is interesting timing. Because we just completed a month-long government shut down. And it is highly possible that there will be another one. A shut down where lawmakers and elected officials can’t coexist and are costing people their salaries; not their own, but the people who aren’t involved in those decisions and use that money to live on.
Does it seem hard to pray for those Washington guys right about now?
If so, think about this:
The letter we are reading was written at a time when there was no democracy. There weren’t term limits. There wasn’t an opportunity to vote someone out of office if you didn’t agree with their methods.
There was the Roman emperor.
Using violent Roman soldiers.
To enforce his will.
And his most recent will? It was to throw Christians in jail, separate families, and even murder them.
Yet…Christians were still supposed to PRAY for the government.
Since it’s been recorded for us, we are still supposed to pray for our government.
That’s hard, too.
But…maybe it depends on the prayer!
Maybe it makes sense for us to pray for the government to enact laws to make our lives better.
Or to make laws that give US a tax break.
Or to make laws that fit our own political agendas.
Is that what our prayers are for?
Nope. Look at verse 2:
Pray…That we may live peaceful and quiet lives in godliness and holiness. (v.2b)
For our godliness and holiness.
For a culture that amplifies our godliness and holiness.
To put it another way –
We are to pray that God helps us let HIS light shine.
II. God’s Mission Statement
Now – this prayer request comes from God’s Word.
So…Maybe that seems a bit – selfish.
Maybe that seems a bit – vain.
Let me get this straight God...YOU want me to pray to YOU for opportunities to make YOU more well- known?
This is not about God. Take a look at verse 3:
God our Savior wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
You can learn a lot about an organization by its mission statement.
Do you know PETA? People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Their mission is to support the rights of all animals.
Habitat for Humanity? Their mission is to bring people together to build homes and hope.
Starbucks? To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one cup at a time…
Domino’s mission statement? To sell more pizza.
What is God’s mission Statement?
Let everyone know how awesome I am?
Reign terror on all people.
Confuse people about what His plans?
God’s mission statement is this:
Save All People.
That’s really a God-sized mission statement, right?
Because God’s mission is not that some might be saved.
Or a lot.
Or even most.
God wants all people to be saved.
And that mission is what guides his every action!
We saw it in our Gospel lesson for today.
Jesus had spent all night doing miracles.
He made the blind see.
He made the deaf hear.
He made the lame walk.
He made the guy with the cold better.
He made the woman with cancer well.
He made the child with epilepsy calm, healthy.
Jesus did miracle after miracle until it was too dark for people to come find him at the house he was at.
Early the next morning, before he got back to doing miracles, Jesus went up on a hillside to pray.
As he was praying, he heard a commotion in the distance.
It was his disciples:
Jesus! There you are. We’ve been looking all over for you.
I know it’s early but they’re here. The sick. The lame. Some kid who has a whooping cough. Some guy who can’t walk. There’s a woman who has a very bad fever. They’re all here – waiting at the house – waiting for you to heal them. We told them to wait but – Jesus, if we want to stay ahead of this, you’d better get back so that you can help them.
And Jesus listened.
He got to his feet.
And said something – rather strange:
“Let us go someplace else – to the nearby villages – that I may preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1:38)
Doesn’t that seem strange?
Jesus usually helps people, right?
And that is the exact reason that he doesn’t go back to down to heal the people who were physically ill.
He needed to head to other villages in order to help others who were spiritually ill.
In short, Jesus understood his mission: TO SAVE ALL PEOPLE.
He understood his mission even when the prayers and requests of all people were – “Don’t do that eternal soul saving mission; come over here and do the ‘make my life better now’ mission.”
It’s proof that Jesus wasn’t all talk.
He wasn’t like some CEO who says that he wants to help lots of people, but when the going gets tough – isn’t willing to give up a cent.
Jesus… gave himself as a ransom for all people. (v.6)
When the only way to save people from their sins was for him to give up his life…
Jesus didn’t bat an eye.
He came down to earth.
He lived perfectly when we couldn’t.
He died innocently in our place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of all of our sins.
And to be fair – we’ve talked about it very broadly.
God’s goal is to save all people.
But Narrowly, God’s mission has always been To. Save. You.
It’s why he’s speaking to you today.
It’s why he’s speaking to you in these words.
It’s why he’s speaking to your heart and imploring you.
Believe in Jesus.
III. Our Mission Statement
But that’s not the end of this lesson. Look at what Paul writes next:
For this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles. (v.7)
A herald was specifically associated with royalty. The herald would give messages on behalf of the king. He’d carry one of those long, large golden trumpets – he’d blow the trumpet and deliver a message from the King. “Hear ye; hear ye; Whoppers are now 2 for $3 at the Burger King’s restaurant.” We use the word in a famous Christmas song – “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Herald angels are not a bunch of angels with the same first name: “Harold, I told you to put your halo back on!” Herald angels were messengers delivering a message from the Divine King: “A Savior has been born!”
Paul was a herald, too. His job was to herald the message of Jesus, the Savior.
To herald it in the marketplace.
To herald it in the synagogue.
To herald it at Uncle Lou’s backyard cookout.
Everywhere he went he heralded the message of Jesus.
Paul was also an apostle. That’s a very specific job. An apostle is a word used to describe the 12 apostles and Paul. The twelve apostles were men who (1) saw the risen Lord Jesus, (2) were sent out by Jesus (3) were given the ability to do miracles by the Holy Spirit.
Undoubtedly that was very helpful for Paul! Because as he heralded the message of the Savior, the miracles that he was able to do would help to prove that his message was truth.
(It’s very similar to why Jesus’ did miracles. It was a supplement to his mission of Saving all people) Paul was able to do miracles as a supplement to help him share the message of Jesus which saved all people!
But what about you?
You might not be able to do miracles.
So…how do you fit into this mission?
Have you ever heard Mt. 28:19? It says, “Go and make disciples of all nations…by teaching them everything I have commanded you.”
Part of what the apostles heralded was the message of Jesus.
And another part of what the apostles heralded was the importance of sharing the message of Jesus. Take a look:
2 Corinthians 5:20, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors as if God were making his appeal through us.”
1 Peter 3:15, “Be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have.”
Mark 16:15, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation.”
Do you get it?
You have purpose.
Your purpose is to be a supporter and a part of Jesus’ mission.
That’s a big deal.
Your purpose isn’t just temporal, it’s eternal.
Your purpose isn’t just human, it’s divine.
Your purpose isn’t just to help something with something that will last a moment; your purpose it to help someone with something that will last for eternity.
You have purpose.
And that purpose is specific!! The apostle Paul did this in a very specific context. The Bible says that he was a teacher of the Gentiles. He didn’t just stay in the synagogues. He didn’t just stay with the people that were Jewish. He was specifically called to bring the message to the Middle East and Southern Europe.
You have a specific purpose, too.
In fact, you have a specific purpose that is key to God’s kingdom.
Because you can to share the message with people that Paul never will be able to do.
You are can share the message with people that I can’t.
You are called to be a part of Jesus’ mission for your people.
Your Facebook friends.
Not only do you have purpose, but you are key to God’s mission.
God will work through you to bring the message of Jesus to the people that you are connected to!
IV. What Now?
1. Pray for Mission Work
Do you remember what Paul was telling Timothy to tell the people? They were to be prayer warriors for the mission of God.
Since that message has been preserved for you and me to read today, we can say with confidence that God wants you to participate in his mission by being a prayer warrior for his kingdom.
That’s important. Because it’s really easy to pray for yourself.
It’s really easy to pray for God to help you with your cold.
To pray for God to help you with your work.
To pray for God to help you with your finances.
And to be fair – you should pray for those things.
But God also wants us to pray for the spiritual.
God wants us to pray for His Mission.
In fact, that’s what he tells us to do in the Lord’s prayer.
In God’s prayer we say, “Thy Kingdom Come.”
That’s not a reference to God becoming president of America in 2020.
It isn’t a reference to God setting up a Christian utopia on this earth.
It’s a reference to mission work!
Pray for mission work.
Add it to your Google calendar.
Write reminders to pray on your bedside post.
Pray for people you know that need to hear about Jesus.
Pray for people you don’t know that need to hear about Jesus.
And pray for the people that you plan to share Jesus with.
If you are a teacher, you need to teach.
If you are writer, you need to write.
Because if you are a coal miner, the most important thing for you to do is to mine coal.
If you are a herald, then the most important thing for you to do is herald!
To share the saving message of Jesus.
To herald at home.
To herald at work.
To herald at the dinner table.
To herald on a night out with friends.
To herald online.
To herald via text message.
To herald in person.
To herald in the heart of North Raleigh.
And, here’s the thing: when it comes to being a herald – it doesn’t do a lot of good to herald when no one is looking.
It doesn’t do a lot of good to herald quietly.
Speak loudly the message of Jesus for all to here.
Which may be a bit intimidating.
You might feel like you can’t do it.
But you’re never alone. God is always with you and may He continue to bless you as you live out your purpose. Amen.
Today we are finishing up our ACTS series for this summer and finishing up the first delegated and sponsored mission trip in the history of the Early Christian Church. To be fair – it’s had ups and down. From the highs of bringing governor Sergius Paulus to faith to the lows of being run out of Iconium, from the high of watching a host of Greeks believe in their Savior, to the low of watching their Jewish brethren hurl stones at Paul – the trip has been quite eventful.
Today we are going to find out what comes next. After they have “done mission work,” shared the Gospel and those who have heard have become believers – what comes next? That’s an important question for the Early Christian Church, but also for us.
Next weekend is Back to Church Sunday. You might invite someone to hear about Jesus. They might come. But after they’ve come, WHAT NEXT?
Curl up in these pews and take a nap?
Our goal is to examine what Paul and Barnabas do next to find guidance for what we should be involved in after “DOING OUTREACH.” Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
Our chapter starts with one verse that bring us to the end point of the mission trip: They preached the Gospel in Derbe and won a large number of disciples. (v.21) Then, they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch…
First, praise God! They preached the Gospel in Derbe. It seems uneventful, but it is very eventful! There aren’t any stones or riots, but there are people whose broken sinful hearts are healed with the message that Jesus is their Savior form sin. It might not look all that impressive on the outside, but inwardly – it’s amazing! They have come to faith in their Savior. They are forgiven. They are saved. They now have the promise of heaven!
Second, they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch.
Do you remember what happened there?
In Pisidian Antioch, a mob chased them out of the city.
In Iconium, a mob plotted to kill him.
In Pisidian Antioch, a mob threw stones at Paul in an attempt to kill him!
Why would Paul and Barnabas go back there?
To argue with the Jews?
To find a phone charger they left behind?
To stop at their favorite Chicken Wing joint?
They went strengthening the disciples (v.22)
Have you ever had a personal trainer? I had one that seemed like a lot of fun. They smile a lot. They are excited to have you in their gym. They give you a lot of high fives. They work you until you start to sweat.
But then, about half way through the workout, something changes. You get tired. You drop the weight. You put your hands on your hips to take a break and they walk over to you, smile and shout:
“WHAT ARE YOU, LAZY? PICK THAT BACK UP! YOU NEED TO GET STRONGER!!!”
And you pick that weight up.
You cry a little. But you pick it up.
Why do coaches do that? To strengthen you. A good coach will push you in order to strengthen you, so you can be stronger.
Essentially that is why Paul and Barnabas return to these cities.
They knew that there were believers in each of those cities.
They knew that those believers would be under attack.
They knew that those believers would need their faith exercised so it would be strong enough to endure those future attacks.
Here’s the truth for us: NEW believers/young in faith believers need their faith strengthened. No matter who it is; no matter how strong they seem to believe; our work is not done when someone says, “Thanks for inviting me to church that one time. I enjoyed it.” Nope. It doesn’t end when they confess their faith in Jesus for the first time. It doesn’t end with Baptism. It doesn’t even end when they become a member of our congregation. It doesn’t end with Confirmation, either.
After evangelism, the next step is discipleship.
Discipleship was key for the early Christian church.
Discipleship needs to be key for us.
Here are some of the ways that Paul and Barnabas went about discipleship:
New Christians needed encouragement. While their life might be transformed by Jesus, they were still relatively new to this whole Jesus thing. They needed encouragement to remain true to the faith. It’s easy to see why:
Those around them worshipped other gods.
Those around them hated Christianity.
Those around them did not think they should be Christians and would have no problem reporting them to the authorities to get them to renounce their faith.
It was very important for Christians to encourage each other.
The same is true today.
Brothers and sisters, we need to encourage each other.
Encourage each other with God’s Word.
Encourage each other in prayer.
Encourage each other via email.
Encourage each other via text message.
Encourage each other via high five.
Encourage each other via an invitation out to lunch where you ask them how things are going, listen to their struggles and speak the Gospel to uplift them.
And while you are encouraging, don’t forget the second key thing for Church members to offer each other:
2) Reminders of the End Game
I remember when we were in Arizona at the beginning of summer, we had the chance to go down into the Grand Canyon. There is a 6-mile down walk that you can go down to get to this ledge in the middle of the canyon that is supposedly gorgeous.
About the first mile down, I was super excited.
About the third mile, I was still feeling ok about it.
About 5 miles in, soaked in sweat, sweltering in the desert heat and muscles aching, I thought: “Eh! You know what…I bet there are pictures of the Grand Canyon on Google Images…”
But we pushed through and can I tell you – it was beautiful.
It was gorgeous.
It was worth it.
The truth is that living the Christian faith can be very challenging.
Because the devil will do anything and everything to make you fall from faith.
Coworkers ridicule you.
Family members question you.
You start to feel a bit of the heat that Paul and Barnabas felt on their journey.
That’s why Paul reminded early Christians of the end game!
Because in the end, they would see Jesus.
In the end, they would see heaven.
In the end, they would be guilt free.
In the end, they would live forever.
This is important for us to remember.
It’s important for us to remind new believers about.
It’s important for us to remind long time believers about.
3) Developed Ministry Positions to Address Discipleship
Specifically, Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord. (v.23) Because the reality was that Paul and Barnabas could not be in Iconium, Pisidian Antioch and Lystra all at once. If you add in Derbe and Cyprus and all the places that they still wanted to go, this was downright impossible. There needed to be people in the congregation whose specific job it was to disciple the other believers in the congregation.
It's kind of like when you delegate chores to your kids. Someone has to clean the bathroom. And here’s the thing – if you ever give kids the choice of what they’d like to do for a chore, none of them ever pick CLEANING THE BATHROOM! Who says, “I would really love to scrape old toothpaste scum from sister’s toothbrush off of the sink!” No one.
So, you delegate. Someone is assigned the chore. It gets done.
That’s exactly what Paul and Barnabas did at these churches that they went to. In each church, they delegated and specifically assigned leaders to the church with the express purpose of strengthening and encouraging the members when Paul and Barnabas weren’t there.
We have similar positions in our church. Did you know that? We have leadership whose specific purpose it is to disciple you. That’s what a pastor is. My goal is to share the Gospel with the unbelieving in the community and disciple you believers in this congregation.
We also have elders who help specifically with the discipling aspect. They encourage you to get into church and Bible study. In other words, they tell you to get into God’s Word because they want you to grow your faith and stay strong against Satan’s attacks.
Could you do me a favor?
If one of these elders calls to talk to you or send you an email to encourage you to join us for church…
Please don’t be rude.
Don’t be upset.
Don’t start thinking “How dare they!”
Be thankful because they care.
Be thankful because they are doing the task assigned to them by our church.
Be thankful because they are doing the task commanded by God.
Be thankful because they want you to have a strong faith.
Be thankful because they want you in heaven.
After Paul and Barnabas finish their tour of these new churches, they went back down to their home church in Antioch Syria. That’s the church that funded and commissioned the mission trip. When they arrived, Paul and Barnabas did not just segue into congregational life. They don’t just go back to their daily business. They don’t just grab snacks and cookies from the fellowship hall and blend in near the back.
Nope. They had a task to do – even in this more mature in faith congregation.
What was it?
They celebrated the work that God has done.
They gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. (V.27)
I think that’s key for us. We need to stay encouraged as people “doing outreach.” One way to stay encouraged is to share stories of God’s grace and love.
Like Lowell. Lowell was the brother-in-law of my Professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. A few weeks ago, my professor called me on the phone and left a message for me to call back. (Initially, I thought I was in trouble – maybe they found out that I was missing an assignment or something). But no – that wasn’t the case. He was calling to tell me that Lowell, who lived in Raleigh, hadn’t visited church since we had the Seminary Choir visit us – the choir that this professor directed – about 7 years ago.
He was sick.
He was near hospice.
He was troubled by his sins and needed a pastor.
I was able to visit him.
I was able to talk with him.
I was able to tell him about his Savior.
I was able (privileged and blessed) to hear him confess his faith in his Savior.
That’s awesome! Friends – we were a part of ushering someone to faith in Jesus – and ultimately – to his home in heaven!
And I do mean we!
I’m not here if you didn’t call me.
I’m not joyful if you don’t encourage me.
I’m not freed up to do that ministry if you don’t bless us with gifts.
We do mission work TOGETHER.
Paul thought the same way. That’s why he gathered the church “Together” to talk about the mission work. The whole church was a part of this mission work. The whole church had a part in the governor coming to faith, the Gentiles seeing the light, the Gospel making its way to Derbe! It wasn’t just Paul. It wasn’t just Barnabas. It was all of them.
And make no mistake.
When we do New Member Sunday in a week…
When visitors join us for Back to Church Sunday…
When new believers confess their faith…
It isn’t a testament to me.
It’s a testament to GOD.
Specifically, it’s a testament to God’s work through all of us…
Together we celebrate.
And…Together we recommence.
Because it isn’t that long.
It isn’t that many words.
It isn’t that many chapters in Acts before the church decides to do this mission trip thing again.
In chapter 16, Paul and companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia…(16:6)
New mission trip.
New people with Paul.
Same message of Jesus.
Friends, Paul got it. The Great Commission is continuous.
Mission work is continuous.
And for us – the same is true.
The Great Commission is continuous.
Mission work is continuous.
As a church – the school being built is not the end. We need to use that building to share the Gospel with the many that will come.
Back to Church Sunday is not the end. We need to use the opportunity to follow up on family and friends who join us.
Baptizing our kids is not enough. We need to keep teaching them and uplifting them and sharing the Gospel with them.
One adult confession of faith in Confirmation is not the end. We need to be encouraged by that confession of faith, to confess our faith before others, in hopes that one day they might confess their faith in Jesus, too.
So…that’s what next!
When you get done doing mission work – you do some more mission work.
Whether that’s discipling, encouraging, or sharing the Gospel again – we keep on doing mission work.
Until God, our Savior, calls us home to heaven – and loving says; “Well done.” Amen.
Have you ever played Laser Tag before? It’s a game where you are armed with a computerized flashlight gun that you aim at another person’s computerized laser receiver pack. It’s kind of like a backpack. What you do is you get split into teams and then you aim the laser at the targets on the other person’s pack and you get points for zapping them.
So, I was playing at Frankie’s recently. They have a giant room where about 20 people can play at once. The Red Team and the Blue Team. Our team thought we were doing pretty well. We thought that we were really zapping the other team and racking up a lot of points.
But on the scores afterwards, our team got dominated. Why? One of the little kids had been zapping his own teammates. He had a giant negative score which was dropping our total score down.
He didn’t know who was on his team.
And it cost the team.
It’s hard to have unity when you don’t even know who’s supposed to be on your team. Today we are continuing our disciple series and we’re going to discuss that key issue of UNITY in discipleship. We want to learn (1) who is for us (2) what is against us and (3) how to remain united. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. 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. Who is for Us
This lesson starts in Mark 9:38 with a report from the Apostle John about a commotion going on up the road. He says, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop because he was not one of us.”
A couple of notes:
First, what the man is doing, he’s doing this In Jesus’ name. That means he’s probably shouting, “In Jesus’ name.” He’s telling people, “I’m doing this in Jesus’ name.” He’s handing out bumper stickers that say, “In Jesus’ name.” His Twitter handle is @InJesusName. Everything he’s doing – he’s doing for the sake of Jesus’ name.
Which can be either a good thing or a bad thing:
Giving groceries in Jesus’ name? Good thing.
Stealing groceries in Jesus’ name? Bad thing.
Running a 5k in Jesus’ name? Good thing.
Running a drug dealership in Jesus’ name? Bad thing.
Building an orphanage in Jesus’ name? Good thing.
Building a strip club? Awful.
The man’s actions are God pleasing. He’s driving out demons. Demons are bad. Jesus is good. The Bible describes demons as angels that rebelled against God and are constantly at war with him. Jesus is God’s son who loves his Father and is constantly at peace with him.
The point? This man being opposed to demons is a good thing. He’s not misrepresenting Jesus in anyways.
And what he’s doing to the demons isn’t very easy. It says, “He’s driving out demons.” About 5 sermons ago, we talked about how very real and very powerful demons are. They are supernatural beings. They tend to defeat humans in temptation after temptation. There’s a reason that humans get very nervous when watching them in a movie.
But this man is driving them out.
He isn’t ‘’trying to drive them out.”
He isn’t “attempting to drive them out.”
He isn’t “failing to drive them out.”
He’s doing the job.
Which makes John’s tattling a bit surprising.
Is John against demon driving out?
Is he for demon rights?
Nope. Look at his reason: “I told him to stop because he is not one of us.” (v.38b)
“He’s not one of the 12.”
“He’s not one of the apostles.”
“He’s not a part of our club Jesus.”
“You hired us to be demon-caster-outers, Jesus. Not that guy! He’s out of turn!”
And at the end of this report, John must have been feeling pretty good. Feeling like he did the right thing. Feeling like he did what Jesus wanted. I bet he even had his palm open above his head -- waiting for Jesus to slap him a high five.
But Jesus leaves him hanging.
“Don’t stop him. No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.” (v.39-40)
Think about it logically for a second:
If this man is casting demons in Jesus’ name,
And Jesus is against demons…
And this man accomplishes his task…
A task only possible if God empowers him to do so…
He’s on God’s side.
And if this man is on God’s side…
And John is on God’s side…
Then John and this man are on the same side.
And if John is opposed to this man…
And this man is on God’s side…
Then, John is opposed to God himself.
About 7 years ago when I was a pastoral intern, I remember hanging out in the fellowship area eating donuts and drinking coffee with one of the elders in the congregation. A young man approached and was really excited. He said, “I’m super pumped because I’ve got a couple of my coworkers getting together for a Bible study this week. It’s gonna be awesome. A great chance for me to share Jesus and I’ll try to invite them to church afterwards.”
And before I could say anything, the elder responded sternly: “You can’t do that. You’ve gotta run that by the elders first. You aren’t really qualified.”
I asked him why he said that. “Because he’s not an elder. He’s not a teacher. He’s barely even a member of this church.”
And I said, “Oh, that’s right. I forgot about Matthew 28. It says, “Go and make disciples of all nations– if you are one of the elders of the church – otherwise, sit on your hands and don’t do anything except clean the restrooms.”
The problem there was the same problem John had and it’s the same problem that threatens our unity today--mistaking those on our side for those against our side.
This is really John’s fault more than anything. Look again at the first verse. What is John’s reason for assuming the man is wrong? He “saw” someone driving out demons.
He didn’t talk to him.
He didn’t investigate him.
He didn’t have a conversation.
He saw (and he saw something good) and he reacted.
Guys – the problem was pride. John didn’t want to consider that someone else could even be in the club because it would ruin his own status – at least in his mind.
Don’t think it doesn’t happen here either!?! I’ve heard it before.
Hey! He can’t fix that toilet at church because he’s not part of the maintenance crew. I am!
She better not bring cookies for fellowship because she’s not a part of the cookies for fellowship group.
Honestly, their opinion isn’t really all that important because they haven’t been here 25 years like I have.
Pastor should tell them that person to stop saying “Amen” during the sermon because that’s not how we do it here – so that person should stop or get out!
Listen. “Whoever is not against us is for us.” That’s the reality expressed by Jesus himself. If someone is a believer in Jesus, they are not our opposition. They are on our side. John, that demon-caster-outer-guy is not against us, but for us. Stop opposing him!
Take a moment. Look around.
Do you see the people here today? These people – are not against us.
They are for us.
God doesn’t want us to fight with others on our side; but fight for others on our side.
Why? Because he fought for them.
Just like he died for you; he died for them.
Just like he shed his blood for you; he shed his blood for them.
Just like he shared this message of love with you; he has shared that message with them.
We are not against us – but we are for us.
II. What is Against Us
But that doesn’t mean we don’t have some opposition. In fact, there is something that’s very much a part of this church right now and was very much a part of the church back then – that threatens unity and should not be a part of his church.
What is it?
Look at the very next verse:
If anyone causes one of these littles ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. (v42)
Do you know what a millstone is? It’s a giant 500 lb circular rock that was used to crush grain. The idea was that the grain would come by on an old-fashioned conveyer belt and the stone which was flush with the shelving would roll on top of it, instantly crushing it.
Millstones are great for crushing grain.
They are excellent for grinding flour.
They are super stones in the bread making process.
They are also TERRIBLE flotation devices.
Jesus says, “It would be terrible to have a giant stone like that tied around your neck and to be hurled into the sea – because you would drown.”
Do you know what would be worse?
Leading a little one to sin.
Because sin is not in unity with God.
Sin is opposed to God.
And people who lead kids to sin are not in unity with God…
…they are opposed to Him.
We aren’t just talking about having an at home school where one of the classes is: “Thievery 101.” No one besides Robin Hood does that. The reality is this subtler. We teach kids by being an example.
Otherwise, if we said out loud what we teach kids by our actions, I don’t know that we would teach them:
This morning kids we will be learning how God’s Word is important, but not as important as sleeping in and videos games.
Listen here kids – these four-letter words that I am saying – those are great ways to sinfully express your anger. Try it!
Follow my example children – Do you see how I am terribly I’m treating your mom? Yelling and screaming at her? Guess what – that’s how you should treat all women.
Our examples teach kids.
Our sinful examples teach kids to sin.
Teaching kids to sin is teaching them to be opposed to God’s kingdom.
And here’s how opposed to God’s kingdom sin is:
“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed then to go into hell where the fire never goes out. If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to go into hell where ‘the worms that eat them to don’t die and the fire is not quenched.” (v.43-49)
By the way! It is absolutely awful to lose body parts. No one ever wants that to happen. In fact, it’s so bad that amputation is one of the last resorts in surgery – something doctors turn to only when amputation stops certain death from spreading.
Amputation is awful.
But amputation is nothing compared to being wholly amputated from God’s kingdom.
That’s called hell.
And no, don’t go home and amputate your hand. The reality is if you want to rid yourself of sin, you’d have to amputate your own heart! The point of this section is not go and do some kind of horror movie thing.
The point is that sin is awful.
Sin is dangerous.
And the only hope against sin…?
It all depends on his mercy. No amount of cutting, plucking or maiming could save us. There needs to be a wholesale removal of our entire sinfulness from our souls.
And that’s what Jesus did. He did a wholesale removal of your souls’ sins. With divine, surgical precision and accuracy, he remove the entirety of your sinful being and took it to the cross and he completely eradicated it.
Jesus has separated sin and its consequences from your body.
Jesus has separated what separates you from unity with God.
Jesus has united you with his Father’s kingdom.
Jesus has united us into his Father’s kingdom.
And now He calls us to separate ourselves from the real cause of disunity: sin.
III. What Now
(1) Fight the Real Cause of Disunity
Again – this doesn’t mean cutting off your hand, but it does mean cutting off that anger at another member of this church.
It doesn’t mean cutting out your foot, but it does mean cutting out the bad example for your children.
It doesn’t mean plucking out your eye, but it does mean looking deeply at your heart, examining your thoughts and plucking out every bit of sinful pride, envy and racism that could ruin ministry here.
It’s kind of like that pair of pants that always gets lint on it. Do you have one of those? It’s the one that you like a lot but it seems to be a magnet for doghair, lint, and little pilly things. And for whatever reason it’s always a dark color and the little pieces are light colored. Embarrassing. You get a lint roller. You get a piece of packaging tape. You go repeatedly and repetitively over that pair of pants until it’s clean.
Do that to your heart.
Ask God for wisdom and in seeing the ugly realities that are there.
Ask God to empower you to separate yourself from the things within you that divide the kingdom of God!
(2) Celebrate Unity
Because it is a pretty amazing thing that God does. He takes people with completely different background, completely different races, completely different cultures, and completely different ACC basketball teams and he unites them. He unites them in the saving blood of Jesus our Savior.
That’s worth celebrating!
To be honest – that’s how the disciples should have reacted! They should have run over to that guy, hoisted him on their shoulders and thanked him for their hard work. They had someone else to share the load with – someone else whose faith in Jesus was so strong that he felt compelled to head to demon possessed people, say nothing more than “leave in the name of Jesus,” and God worked through him to drive the demon out!
We need to be doing the same thing.
We celebrate the additions to our family.
We celebrate the guy who is excited to post invites on Facebook and the guy who passes paper invites to his friend.
We celebrate the one with vision for Precious Lambs, the technical skills to build the building and the teachers with the skills to help kids build with Legos.
We celebrate the woman who makes delicious double chunk chocolate chip cookies for fellowship and the woman who brings Brussel sprouts!
We celebrate because we’re on the same side and it’s worth celebrating that unity!
Speaking of, we have a bit thing coming up. We have this year’s Easter celebration. We have two services. We have an awesome Easter breakfast. We have an egg hunt for the kids. We have two different but incredible musical plans for the services. We have the awesome opportunity to reflect on our risen Savior AND we have an incredible chance to plant the message of Jesus in the hearts of North Raleigh.
Here’s the truth. If we’re too busy planting seeds of discord in our own home, then we will miss out.
But if we work together…
If we plant together…
If we share the awesome message of Jesus together!
This year’s Easter harvest will be one for the ages.
To God be the Glory!
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
5 Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
1 Peter 5:1-6
What would your dream church look like?
Does this describe your perfect church?
If so, do you realize that this perfect church is all about you?
Don’t get me wrong. That’s true to a certain extent. Church is a lot about you. You and your relationship with God. But think about it, if church was all about you…tailored to your likes, your interests, your preferences in every way, shape and form--- how many people do you think would come…
In today’s lesson, Peter tells us that we are not alone. We don’t attend a church as a PERSON of God, but as PEOPLE of God. And as People of God, we are in this TOGETHER.
I. Notes about Caring for Others
Take a look at Peter’s words in 5:1-4. These describe how important it is to care for each other. Peter writes, “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”
Caring for others was so important to do that already at the time 1 Peter was written—twenty some years after Jesus ascended into heaven – there was a special position in churches that involved doing just that: Caring for others. Here it is called “an elder.” The word means more than just being physically mature or older. It refers to one who is spiritually mature who is asked to care for the spiritual health of others.
At Gethsemane, we still have that position. We have a group of men specifically tasked with caring for the spiritual well being of the congregation’s member.
Does that mean if you aren’t a pastor or an elder that this section doesn’t have anything to say to you?
Not so much.
Because this section talks to people who have been tasked with caring for others, it therefore has principles that apply to anyone who has been tasked with caring for others. It speaks to members of the ladies group who care for each other. It speaks to parents who lead their children. It speaks to husbands who care for their wives and wives who care for their husbands. It speaks to Christians who care about their friends…friends who care for those they serve cookies with, and congregation members who care for others who sit in their row!
In other word, If you are a Christian, you have been called to care for other Christians!
Peter knew this was especially important for the church during times of persecution. That’s why he notes in verse 1, “I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings…”
Peter had truly witnessed Christ’s sufferings. He saw Jesus arrested. He saw him on trial. He saw him battered and beaten. He saw him crucified. And Peter saw what this persecution did for Jesus’ followers. They fled. They betrayed him. They denied knowing him. They hid away in fear.
Since the church at Peter’s time would be undergoing very similar persecutions (remember what we talked about last week), Peter knew the same struggles of doubt, fear, and denial would be facing those Christians.
In the same way, our flock facing struggles. Temptations to sin, temptations to doubt, persecutions at work, on the internet, in the media. Therefore, it is imperative that we listen to Peter’s solution: Be shepherds of God’s flock under your care.
Ever notice the difference in caring for your own stuff versus caring for someone else’s stuff. For instance, if you spill some ketchup on your shirt, you might think, “No big deal. I have more at home." I might dab at it a bit, but you don’t stress over it.
But if you are borrowing someone else’s shirt, how does that change? Suddenly, you run to the bathroom and use the entire soap dispenser’s worth of liquid soap to get the stain out. IT’S NOT YOUR SHIRT! You go to the store and pay for a couple of Tide sticks. You pray that the stain will come out, because it’s not your shirt!
The group of people that have been placed into our congregational lives? It isn’t our congregation. It isn’t Gethsemane’s congregation. It’s God’s congregation.
Think about what that means for pastors – this isn’t my people, but God’s people. It isn’t People of Kiecker, but people of God! Same thing goes for the elders. It isn’t: “This person is under my care, but not that person…I don’t have time to pray for them,” But this person is God’s person and I’ll remember them in my prayers. Even Sunday School teachers: “This is God’s child. He’s entrusted me to serve them the best I am able. I will care for their souls…” For all of us, it says, “I will encourage this person for God’s sake, not for my own sake!”
Keeping our mind on this truth will help guards us against three pitfalls that come in while caring for others:
1. Pitfall of Begrudging.
Peter warns against begrudging in verse 3, "Not because you must, but because you want to." This is an easy trap to fall into. It's so easy as a pastor to say, "I have to do this it's my job. Ugh. That person doesn't even like me that much and I'm not that fond of talking to them. Time to get it over with."
It's just as easy for the Christian laymen to fall into. “God just isn’t fair. I have no desire to talk to others. I have no desire to dampen my Sunday morning listening to another person complain. I just want to get to my pew, sing my favorite songs, and leave. I don’t want to leave my comfort zone, so if God wants me to talk, He’s being unfair!”
Let’s get this straight. I’m not going to grab you by the hand as I usher you out and walk you to a sister’s row in back, introduce you, and then stand there with my arms crossed glaring at you until you make that person feel encouraged.
But I will remind you of what Jesus did for you. How he went totally out of his comfort zone. Actually, how he went out of anyone’s comfort zone. He allowed nails to be driven into his hands and his feet in order to take away your sins.
Jesus suffered in order to care for you—spiritually and eternally.
Don’t care for others, “because you must but because you want to.” Because you want to serve your awesome Savior and because you want to serve others with the message of your awesome Savior.
2. Pitfall of Greed.
Still in verse 3 Peter touches on this. He writes, "Shepherd others...not greedy, but with eagerness."
Of course, this speaks to pastors and elders as a reminder not to serve others in hopes that “we’ll keep enough people in church to pay the bills for September…” It also speaks to the awful attitude of the pastor who says, “I really need to pump up my numbers in hopes that they’ll give more offerings and I’ll get more money!” Terrible. To all in such positions watch out for greed!
But what does it say to you as an unpaid church volunteer?
Well, greed might get in the way again, “This isn’t my job! Who cares if ‘so-and-so’ has been missing from church! Who cares, if 'so-and-so' had a bad week. It isn’t up to me to email them an encouragement. I’m too busy with my own job to spend a lunch break calling a church friend of mine.”
You’re right. There isn’t any reward check for $100 given to the lay person who does the most ministry in the next week. There isn’t even a “church member of the month” pin.
But there is our Savior. Our Savior who wasn’t paid anything but suffering and death for saving you!
Don’t serve because of greed, but because you are eager. Eager to tell others about the free gift of salvation in Christ. Eager to live in peace knowing that salvation has already been paid for by Christ.
3. Pitfall of Pride
THIRD, Peter warns of pride. He writes, “Don’t lord it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”
This is another easy pitfall. To get to thinking, “I’m the church going one. I help all of the time. I make sure to invite people to church like pastor says. I forward on emails like pastor says. I help get the church ready for Sunday like pastor says. In fact, when you think about it, just about every person who comes to church or comes back to church is really a badge of honor for me!”
A badge of honor for you? Really?
You aren’t even a badge of honor for you.
Remember the Bible says, “We were dead in our sins and the uncircumcision of our sinful nature.” We were gross. We were awful. There is nothing anyone of us could do to earn our own salvation or impress God with our faith!
It is Jesus who died for us. God who called us. The Holy Spirit who brought us to faith! We are God’s badge of honor.
The same is true for all whom he uses us to bring to faith. The same is true for all whom we care for. They too are blood bought sons and daughters of God. They too are loved by him. They too are being called to him!
Don’t care for others just to feel important, but because they need an example. An example of love. An example of humility. An example of one who knows how important it is to go to church and who reflects on his Word week after week.
They’ll see you. They’ll follow suit. And God will have used you to draw them closer to Him.
So what’s in it for you? It isn’t pride. It isn’t money. It isn’t recognition. It lasts much longer:
Peter writes, “When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” A crown of life. Heaven. A gift readied for you by your chief shepherd. A place of quiet waters. A place to drink from the river of life. A place where you will lie down in the eternal pastures of God’s love.
Don’t serve others to earn a gift. To earn anything. But care for others because God cared for you!
II. Notes about Being Cared for by Others
Of course, throughout your time in this church there may be times when you are not caring for others, but you need to be cared for by others. Meaning: Others might rebuke you. Others might pray for you. Others might call you on the phone to say, “Hey! I haven’t seen you in church for awhile? I’m concerned about you.”
How then do you react when you are being cared for? How do you react when you are being shepherded?
Well, here’s what our sinful nature would have us do: HANG UP. Ignore them. Tell them to “buzz off.” Harden our hearts and resolve even more to continue doing whatever sin we’re doing and to continue to stay away from church.
Of course, our sinful nature wants us away from church! It’s there where it is confronted with God’s Law. It is there where it is reminded of it’s ugliness. It is there where God’s Gospel empowers you to rid yourself of this ugly lifestyle.
So, instead of getting mad at whomever approaches you to rebuke you, Peter tells us to be submissive. He says, “Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older.” Listen. Respect them. Take it to heart. Check God’s Word to see if what they say is found in God’s Word. And if what that person is telling you is also found in God’s Word? Then listen.
And if you don’t…
Then, it is important to note who you are ignoring. It isn’t your pastor. It isn’t your elder. It isn’t your church friends.
Don’t let pride get in the way of you being cared for!
I went to the dentist this past week. She told me I needed to floss more. (Ever happened to you?) The interesting thing is that as she said this (and as this has happened in the past) I started to think, “Don’t judge me! I don’t have time to floss. I brush twice a day with a very minty tasting toothpaste. Leave me alone. I’m fine.”
How foolish! Especially when I am getting a root canal.
Don’t let pride get in the way of you being cared for! Not in the area of tooth decay, but also in the area of soul decay. When someone comes to you to tell you to get back to church, take them to heart! When someone tells you to rid your life of sin, rid your life of sin!
And stay calm. This is accomplished by doing what Peter commands in verse 5, “Clothe yourself with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time."
This is nothing more than the Gospel. God lifts up the humble. To those who humble themselves and say, “I am a sinner.” God lifts up. To those who humble selves and say, “I need help.” God lifts up. To those who humbles themselves and say, “I’ve been a Christian all my life, but lately I’ve failed miserably. I’ve struggled with sin. I’ve fallen into the pit of repeated sin. I am in despair. God forgive me!”
God lifts up. He forgives. He restores.
The picture of a perfect church changes, doesn’t it? It isn’t all about you anymore.
The perfect church. It isn't about you. It isn’t all about me. It isn’t all about others.
It’s about us.
Us and God.
Us and love.
Us and being together...until we are together forever with Jesus. Amen.
This Thursday is the Fourth of July. A time when we celebrate our nation. A time when we celebrate our Freedom. A time when we the birthday of the United States.
But are we really that United?
Just last week, a monumental decision took place in the Supreme Court about gay marriage. Many people celebrated in the streets, while others took to blogs to express their supreme disgust.
The Presidential election wasn't that long ago. The nation was basically split in half! 51% to 49%. This split wasn't just laxadasical either. Rather, these people were vehemently split in half!
How come? The Economy. Foreign relations. Gay marriage. Tax cuts. Health care reform.. Gun control. Abortion. Immigration laws. These are just some of the many topics that have deeply, ruthlessly divided the nation, emotionally charging people and putting them on polar opposite ends of belief!
It's enough to make the United States feel more like the Divided States.
But, you know what? We shouldn't be surprised. Unity is hard to come by. Rock bands break up because having your name appear first on the CD cover is more important than sharing the message of your music. Championship football teams break apart because money is more important than winning another Super Bowl. Business partnership fall apart because the bottom line is more important than working together to serve the world.
Why is unity so hard to accomplish?
I think the answer lies in what we all have in common.
I saw something a bit comical at the dog park the other day. A woman, who was possibly dog sitting, came into the park with six different dogs attached to these large leash carrying device. Before she entered the park, controlling the dogs seemed to be very easy. All the dogs sat nicely, because they wanted her to open the door that they might get into the park.
But then, things changed drastically. As the gate swung open, the German Shepherd tried to run to the right because he wanted to sniff the trees. The Black Lab ran straight forward to run and greet all his friends in the park. The two collies took notice of the tennis ball that just landed to the left, while the poodle jumped at her knees to be picked up and the big old American bull dragged behind because he wanted to go slow.
Isn't the same true for human beings? We only remain united with others as long as we get what we want. In other words, the one thing we all have in common is that we are all selfish! The very thing that destroys unity!
It's what happens in destroyed marriages. People get married because they want the loving feeling and romantic companionship they feel from the other person. When that feeling is no longer what the person wants or when one decides that he wants a new romantic companionship, the marriage suffers if it isn't over.
Now let's talk church. A church is a generally large group of people united around a system of beliefs that have the same goal. How can a group of people, of all different ages, of all different backgrounds, and of all different likes and dislikes possibly remain united?
I think our text for today, Romans 15:4-6 shares the answer. Listen to what it says:
4 Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, 6so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Did you see the word unity in there? Notice where it comes from. God. God gives unity.
And it has to be this way!?! How else would a group of sinful, selfish people, of all different background and experiences ever be or remain united?
Afterall, we are sinful, selfish human beings. And it isn't that hard for our sinful selfishness to rear it's ugly head...even when it comes to church matters: “I want the walls painted this color because I like that color. If someone thinks otherwise, they can stick it!” “I think the palm trees up front look better to the right of the pulpit. Grrr! I'm so upset I won't be able to go to church for weeks! “I like this style of music best. There really isn't any other style of music that's any good. Those who think differently than me can leave!” “I love having the Kroger brand Oreos from the store. Plus they are cheap. That's the only thing that should be served at fellowship time. If any thing else gets served, fine. I'll just leave.”
With such a selfish, sinful attitude, we could never be nor ever remain united.
You know what's strange though? This is the very first truth that God's Word unites us in.
For the Bible teaches that we are all the same. Sinful. Selfish. Humans. Deserving of God's wrath. In need of saving. There is no difference among us. It doesn't matter if you grew up in North Carolina or North Dakota. If you speak English, Spanish, or Hindi. If you like Duke, UNC, or NC State. You are a sinner!
But this only gives way to a second important truth: Jesus died to save us all. All of us. The young, single Hispanic mother. The well-off, Arabian Entrepeneur. The older pair of snowbirds who recently moved into their retirement home. The struggling family which is on their third apartment this past year. The African American gentleman. The Asian grandmother. Even...(And this is the hardest for me to believe because I know him too well)...even that 28 year old white guy preacher from Wisconsin. Jesus died to save all of us. We are united in this truth!
And what's interesting is that in order to win salvation for us, Jesus had to unite himself with the worst parts of us. He literally united himself with the unruly, selfish, awful, sinful part of us that no one would ever want to unite with. Yet Jesus did. He united himself with our sinful self and took it on as his own. It's why he suffered. It's why he died.
But, because they were united with him, our sins died as well. They were buried in the tomb. The dark door of no return slammed shut on them.
But then Jesus separated himself from our sins. Jesus returned from the grave, but our sins remained. Earlier in Romans 6:3-5, Paul makes that very asseration, “Don't, you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”
Brothers and sisters. This Jesus is our hope. The very hope that Paul describes in verse 5 of our text. The very hope that unites us.
No longer are we completely defined by the words: North Carolinian. Northern. Southern. White. African American. Asian American. Arabian American. Native American. Old. Young. Married. Single. Any of these.
We are Christians. Followers of Jesus. Walking Together.
God's love is greater than that. For not only does God give us unity through the Scriptures, but God keeps us united in this hope through the Scriptures! Look at what verse 4 says, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
Look at how Scripture unites us. First, it teaches us endurance.
Moms know about endurance. Say they are taking their child to the Doctor. And the entire way there their child in the back seat is screaming, crying, and pitching a fit! Mom wants to stop. Mom wants to turn around. Mom wants to drop kids off at the corner McDonalds and pick him up later today. But she doesn't. She endures in order to take her kid to the Doctor.
Scripture teaches us to endure just like those moms. But instead of enduring whining and screaming, we endure something a lot simpler. Differences of opinion.
Ever heard the big religious word "adiaphora?" Adiaphora is the neutral zone. It is the zone where something is neither commanded nor forbidden by God.
It is in this zone of adiaphora that Scriptures teaches us NOT to be selfish, but to endure different opinions that are different from ours in order to remain united with Christ! The stuff that IS commanded and forbidden by God? That's untouchable. That remains the same. But anything we endure for the sake of Christ.
It's why UNC fans worship opposite NC State fans. It's why Democrats worship opposite Republicans. It's why people who like modern Christian praise songs worship opposite people who enjoy the classic hymns. It's why people who have no idea how to turn on a computer sit opposite of those that have at least three mini computers with them in this church!
In other words, we endure one another, because in Jesus we are no longer focusing on ourselves, but we focus on others!
Endurance isn't the only way Scripture keeps us united. It also encourages us. For “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
Did you know that Wisconsin Synod Conservative Lutheran is not the religion of choice in this area. Raleigh is not Lutheransville. In fact, as our area becomes more and more global (and more and more secular) it's not necessarily Christianville anymore either.
These facts could leave us feeling like Elijah. He was up in a cave—hiding, because he was afraid he was the only one who was left that believed in the LORD.
Just as God comforted Elijah reminding him that he was not alone, but that God had reserved thousands in Israel who had not yet bowed down to Baal, so Scripture comforts us. It reminds us that we are not alone. It encourages by reminding us that we are united with hoards of Christians who have gone before. Disciples. Prophets. Ordinary people.
Finally, Scriptures encourages us that we are united with Jesus—who promises “Surely, I will be with you always to the very end of the age.” (Mt. 28:19)
God has blessed us even beyond that. Because there are other Christians in this world. In fact, we even have half a million other people who are completely united in our beliefs. Members of our Synod. Members who are trained by pastors who teach the Word in its truth and purity. Pastors who are trained by professors who teach the Word in its truth and purity. Professors who were trained by professors who teach the Word in its truth and purity.
The common thread? Scripture. The Word. It is the blessing of God that unites us in Christ. As Paul says in verse 5, May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus.”
God's Word is powerful! It has kept us united in the past. It keeps us united right now. It will keep us united in the future!
United, we walk together toward a goal. Verse 6 tells us this goal, “so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
What else will glorify God more than sharing the truths of His Word with the world!
This is what we do when we gives 10 percent of our church offering to our Wisconsin Synod. Those funds go to support mission work around the world. Sharing the Gospel in 30 different countries. Serving 150,000 more souls worldwide. Opening 10 new home missions each year. Translating good, truthful Bible materials into languages that do not have good truthful Bible materials. Training pastors and teachers to go and share the truths of God's Word in the world for generations to come!
Blessing upon blessing! We even get blessings in return! Synod dollars from Arizona, Alaska and Louisiana, helped to train me in God's Word that I might in turn train you.
A teen group from Ohio came and delivered 1700 fliers about Precious Lambs to the community. (2 families signed up already.) Another group from New Ulm, MN will be coming in late July.
Walking together in mission work is beautiful!
This is our goal in North Raleigh too.
With that group from New Ulm, we will be getting out into the community. Getting to know our neighbors. Learning about our neighbors. Showing we care for our neighbors that we might have a better idea of how to serve this area with the Gospel! sec
Then, we're going to take that information and dissect it. We'll determine what outreach ministries we can do to best serve the community. We'll learn what worship songs we might include in worship to make this place feel more like home to the community. We'll the people are who don't know about Jesus and we'll 'hit 'em hard' with the Gospel!
Maybe, based on that information, we'll end up doing things in worship and as outreach that aren't our personal favorites! So what! We will be fine with it, because we are united in sharing the true message of Jesus! United, Paul says, with one voice and heart!
It's kind of like a choir. In a big choir, there there are hundreds of different voices singing 8 or more different parts. But what's amazing is when a choir with so many different voice and different parts practices and sings together, the message is beautiful. It's louder than before. It's as if the angels themselves are singing
Brothers and sisters, may this be the way we work together. United...as many different individuals with many different backgrounds...united as one voice. Sharing the Gospel message with our community. Through the Synod, sharing the Gospel message with the World.
May God hold us united in these goals to the Glory of God the Father and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.